تغذية طبيعتي التجوال!


I just returned from a truly epic thirteen-day adventure through the spectacular, history-steeped landscapes of Jordan and Egypt. We wandered the ancient city of Petra, bathed in the Dead Sea, experienced firsthand the true hospitality and friendliness of the Bedouin people. Saw the great Giza pyramids in Cairo, toured this land of mighty pharaohs, and returned with amazing memories of a land and people, hardly ever depicted in the news.  I spent a few extra days solo in Egypt, which has not seen the last of my face!

Coincidentally, less than a week before I was due to leave, a friend from the UK was vacationing in Petra. He posted about the recent flash floods, which killed more than 20 people, including school children, whose bus was swept away by the floods. Tourists were evacuated from the same gorge, I was planning on exploring with the group. It was the worse flash flood related deaths; the country had experienced in more than 50 years. As for Egypt, well, we all know what happened in recent years. One cannot escape a certain amount of uneasiness, that the media portrays.  I had looked forward to this vacation for months. It is not often that I would get to see two ancient wonders of the Middle Ages and modern world in one trip. I had faith it would all be okay. It turned out more than okay. It was spectacular!

أهلا وسهلا بك إلى الأردن

I arrived in Jordan a day early to ward off jet-lag and see the sights not included on the itinerary.  The hotel was simple and functional. The following evening, we had a group meeting, where the leader asked everyone to introduce themselves; I got serious travel envy when I heard two members had visited 114 and 86 countries! The rest of the trip would was spent living out of suitcases, with never more than two nights in the same place. I adored the people of Jordan, who, thankfully, lived up to their reputation for being hospitable, kind and helpful. Everywhere we went, locals, with wide smiles on their faces often shouted: “Welcome to Jordan!”

Highlights

Mt Nebo: the spot where the prophet Moses saw the ‘promised land’ and is supposedly buried. We had time to explore sanctuary and view the remarkable mosaics of the 4th century church. Luckily enough, we were blessed with glorious weather, which gave us magnificent views over the Dead Sea, to Israel, and neighboring countries. I reveled in the experience, as I stood in the same are the prophet Moses did, thousands of years ago. You can’t help but wonder how he and the Israelites felt overlooking this majestic place

The Dead Sea: considered the lowest point on earth, at 420 meters below sea level. A few of us, covered our entire bodies with nutrient-rich natural mineral mud bath, which is supposed to have healing properties. A good soak in the sea, with a delicious meal, is a must. I wished we had more time here!

Petra: most arguably, the highlight of any visit to Jordan. The magnificent Jewel of Jordan, and lost city of the biblical Nabateans, an impressive series of tombs and dwellings hidden behind ornate facades carved directly into the rock, and one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. We left the hotel at 7:30 am, and never made it back until around 5:30, having walked some 20+km.

I’ve seen hundreds of photos, of this magnificent wonder of the world. However, when I walked through the passageway and came upon the stunning vision of the Treasury, all I could think of was the song “This is what you came for”.  I challenged myself to climb 800+ steps to the Monastery, and another 600+ to the Hill of Higher Sacrifice. It was very tiring, my feet ached, I wanted to turn back, BUT, once I got to the top of both places, nothing to could prepare me for the obvious sense of accomplishment, elation,  surprise, and of course the views!

Meeting Raami : and having my photo taken with him. He is the son of Marguerite, the author of Married to a Bedouin. In summary, she was from NZ visiting Jordan many years ago with a friend, when she met Mohammad. They fell in love, she moved to Petra, married him, and lived a cave. They had three children. She wrote a book about her experience. I purchased a copy, which was signed by her. So, freaking cool!

Wadi Rum:  the extraordinary desert scenery and rugged moonscape of huge sandstone mountains. This Wadi Rum is full of weird and beautiful lunar-like rock formations, and traces of ancient civilizations can be seen in the many carved inscriptions found throughout the area. We arrived at camp shortly before sunset, which we watched together as a group. We then enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked in an earthen oven by our Bedouin hosts, and slept in a simple desert tent. My heart was overflowing by this point in the journey. I didn’t know I had to make room for even more joy as the journey continued.

This following day, the group boarded a ferry to cross over into Egypt.  I was particularly nervous about this part of the trip, as I suffer from sea sickness. I didn’t need to worry, I had taken precautions, prepared, and fared very well. We arrived into Egypt around 1:30 am, where we were met by our Egyptian guide, Ahmed. It was close to 3 am, by the time we fell into bed, nestled in beautiful beach huts, on the Red Sea.

Egypt: Land of Pharaohs and Gods

I didn’t know, prior to this trip, that the men in Egypt, are notorious flirts, and the country is listed as one of the top ten most aggressively flirtatious countries! I see why now 😊.

Dahab: before heading off to Cairo, we spent two nights in Dahab; once a Bedouin fishing village, but now a very popular tourist town. While I was not keen to explore the 100-meter-deep, Blue Hole, which is second only to Australia, for some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world, Dahab will always be remembered as having some of the best food I’ve eaten on the trip, and impeccable customer service.

Cairo: a short one-hour plane ride took us to Cairo. Sure, I’d heard about the traffic situation in this chaotic city. The experience on the other hand, was out of this world!  One-word TRAFFIC LIGHTS. I saw about four lights, and two pedestrian crossings, in all the days I spent in the city. My guide told me that they are only found at major intersections. I did see a few traffic Police directing traffic, otherwise, it’s every man and woman for themselves. To cross the street, you simply motion for the drivers to stop, and take a risk. Car horns serve as traffic lights.

The Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx: yet again, I was transported to a time, when I gazed in wonder and awe at the photos posted on travel sites and in groups.  These marvelous structures have managed to stand tall for 4500+ years, and maintained their mystique and power. Being up close to these tombs is amazing. I chose not to enter the largest tomb during this visit, preferring instead to take the time allotted to us, to walk around them outside. What can I say about the Pyramids?! Just visit, if you haven’t been already!

The Egyptian Museum: a building which boasts the world’s great collections of antiquities. Of course, I couldn’t come this far without paying a bit extra to see the mummy room. No visit to the museum is complete without it.  The recovered tomb of Tutankhamun is among some of the treasures of this place; the gold jewelry to the famous golden death mask and his gilded sarcophagi. Egypt is now building the world’s largest museum, set to open in about two years. Interestingly enough, there are thousands of items in the current museum’s basement, that has never been seen by the public, but will be displayed in the new space. Another reason for me to return to this historically steeped country!

I had two days on my own, one of which I spent in Alexandria. In America, I would never jump into a vehicle with two strangers, who happen to be men, drive 2.5 hours each way, and spend an entire day in their company. I didn’t feel any fear. I had talked to the guide for months before my arrival, researched him, got referrals, and even though he sent his colleagues to be my guides for the day, there was nothing for me to fear.

Alexandria: Egypt’s second largest city, main port, and once the capital. We headed underground and delve into the mysteries of the Kom ash-Shuqqafa catacombs. A donkey fell into a shaft thousands of years ago, and incidentally, led to the discovery of this Roman burial site,  the largest of its kind in Egypt. I was taken to Pompey’s Pillar, Mohammad Ali Mosque, Alexandria Lighthouse, which at one point, was a wonder of the Middle Ages. The last stop was the Alexandria Library; one cannot visit this amazing city and not step foot inside the strikingly beautiful building, which holds over 8 million books, with 200 more being collected every day.

Islamic Cairo Tour: I decided to spend my last day, touring the city’s renowned Islāmic sites. Highlights of which includes Citadel of Salah Ed-Din. Located high atop Cairo, the Citadel boasts magnificent views of the city, the famous Sultan Hassan Mosque, which dates to the 13th century, and considered to be one of the masterpieces of Islamic art and architecture. The Mohamed Ali Mosque, one of Cairo’s most visible landmarks, is not to be missed. The last stop was to the local bazaar, Khan el-Khalili, one of the world’s largest bazaars, dating back to 1382.

I had the most magical time visiting these two wonderful countries, with warm welcoming people, whose only wish was to make sure we had a great time, only asking one thing of us; to be ambassadors and spread the word that the Jordan and Egypt are open for business, and safe to visit. I live in NYC for the time being, and felt ten times safer on my vacation, than I do in NYC!

There are some things to be aware of; in Jordan, your hotel will most likely be near a mosque. Every morning, apart from when we were in the desert, we were awoken at 4:30 am, by the prayer calls.

Egypt’s traffic is not be trifled with, especially in Cairo! When visiting the tourist sites, you’ll be harassed by local vendors, trying to make a living. Tipping is always expected. The men are incredibly flirtatious, I did find this harmless. No one takes stock of the time…if you prepare for your visit, with these caveats in mind, and stay open-minded to having a wonderful time, you will have one of the best vacations of your life.

I’m so grateful that I didn’t let the media influence my decision to visit two incredible countries, meet some amazing people, receive the best customer service I’ve ever had, and form new friendships. I’ll be back to Egypt, as I only scratched the surface of this magical and mythological place.

Jordan and Egypt, tour guides Mohammed, Ahmed, Sherif, Mido, and Dalia, and the people I met in the group I traveled with, thanks for the memories!

I’ve already made plans to travel to South America, India, Nepal, and Iran next year. Life is meant for living. A few years ago, I discovered my passion for travelling, haven’t stop. Have no intention of doing so. If you are planning a visit, or thinking of doing so, and have questions, please either post them below, or send me a message using the contact form above. I’ll be more than happy to help

I’ll be back with my last post of 2018!

Until then, take care of yourselves, and your families.

Best,

Juan

 

 

 

Mama Africa. Thank You!


A week ago yesterday, I was in Turkey, waiting for the last leg of my flight back to the US. As I sat in the lounge wafting for the flight to begin boarding, I took time to look at the hundreds of photos I had taken over the past two weeks. You see, I was returning from a multi dimensional trip to the Motherland. My time in Ghana is indescribable. I had no expectations going in, but by the time I left, a new, bolder, and very ambitious vision had taken shape. One that is set to change the course of my life!

One post cannot deliver a suitable narrative for all the things I did, the experiences I reveled in, people I met and formed instant, long-lasting bonds with, and the emotions which overtook me every day.  I spent the first week volunteering at a village orphanage, and would wrap up my two-week stay exploring the sights and sounds of Ghana! What an incredible life-changing and affirming experience.

The overcrowded village orphanage houses more than 140 children and young adults, ranging in ages from 0 to 26 years.  Frequent medical care is needed. At least 2-3 children share a single bunk bed. Children sleep outside on the veranda. School is also held outside and under a mango tree. Many orphans have experienced bullying, when they tried to attend regular schools. Basic toilet/bathroom facilities are nonexistent.  Malaria is prevalent, and some of the children have HIV. The orphanage is in dire straits in many ways, but thriving in some areas. A new facility is being built, but progress has been slow. More on that later.

First I wanted to tell you a bit about some of the children I met, and have now become my adopted 6.  As soon as we pulled up to the volunteer house, six-year-old *Shelly * (names have been changed) and three other girls ran out to meet us. She and I bonded instantly! Shelly has called the orphanage home for the past two years. You see, her mother has sickle-cell anemia, and is often hospitalized for weeks, as she battles the life threatening disease.  The father had long since abandoned her mother. Unable to care for Shelly any longer, she was handed over to the orphanage. Apparently, African men often abandon their families without a second thought.

*Jenny* is smart, beautiful, talkative, and very intelligent. She enjoyed the crossword puzzles I bought, and often asked for help finding difficult words. On my birthday, a celebration was held for me; they sang, some danced, and performed, while I sat at a table looking on. They asked for blessings on my life, health, and everything else. Good thing I had it recorded. Jenny, wrote me a beautiful letter, and by some miracle, gave me a pair of earrings. I don’t know how she did so, but that night as I read the sweet, beautifully penned words, the tears were free-flowing. I don’t know much more about her story (I did ask). Her parents are still alive, however, they don’t visit as often as they use to.

*Erika*, is from a family of 6 siblings, however, she was the only one who ended up at the Orphanage. Apparently, the house they were living in fell down on her mother, killing her. The father left, and she ended up there. The older siblings visit when they could. Erika always has a smile on her face. She is one of 5 girls who were chosen to help out at the volunteer house. Erika works tirelessly, and not once did I hear a complaint. One day, she will become a respected Dentist.

*Deborah*, is one of four siblings at the orphanage. After her father died, her mother was suspected of having a role in the death (this is unfounded). His family shunned her, and she was no longer able to take care of them. She was left to make the heart breaking decision, to turn them over to the Orphanage. *Deborah’s* dream is to one day become a banker.

Deborah’s sister *Hannah* is more quiet and reserved. She reminds me a lot of myself at her age. Still trying to figure out the world around her. I could tell she misses her family being together. I think if I had more than a week there, we would have developed a stronger bond. I could tell something was very much troubling her, and tried to get her to open up, but she held back. The sadness in her eyes broke my heart in so many pieces. She wasn’t interested in much of the activities;however, she did want to skip. So on my last day, I gifted her a pink skipping rope.

*Suzy* was one of the older girls who fixed us delicious meals, and took charge in Auntie B’s absence. She spoke with a smile, and just brought so much joy to the experience of us being there. She is in senior high school, and does a great job of keeping things running smoothly. On our last night, I wrote her and the other girl’s letters of encouragement and support. I could tell they were surprised by the gesture. They all happily returned the favor.

I decided to spend a lot of time with as many kids at the orphanage as I could; their dreams are so much bigger than I had at that time in my life! If you met them on the outside, you would never guess their plight. The stories will break your heart, BUT, the smiles, playfulness, and all around good nature, is beyond anything I have ever seen, from a people who have absolutely nothing. I bought puzzles, games, play doh, stickers etc. You CANNOT imagine how joyful they were to take part in these activities. Once they completed an activity, they were rewarded with stickers. Such a small reward, but to them, it meant so much more. I made sure that on my last day, I would have nothing left over.

As mentioned above, my birthday was spent at the orphanage, and a celebration was held for me. There was music dancing, singing and well wishing. I sat a table, and looked on as the children and adults wished me well. It’s not often I will have the opportunity to spend my birthday in this most special way! I was asked to say a few words, and could only manage just that much, as the tears were free-flowing. As I looked over the faces of so many young ones, I tried very hard to memorize them all. It was incredibly important for me to immortalize this moment. According to tradition, the birthday person supplies the drinks and snacks, and a friend gets the cake. The guide I had been talking to for more than a year, before my trip, did just that. The pure delight at being treated to something so simple and abundant in the West, brought me to tears. We gave out seconds and thirds. My heart was heavy, and bursting with so much love for people, I had only known for a few days.

It was very difficult to say goodbye, especially to *Shelly*. As we piled into the SUV to leave for the last time, she and I started crying. We hugged for a long time, but it wasn’t enough, could never be enough. I hoped she knew how much I had come to love her, and just how much I plan on helping her for as long, as I walk this earth. I left a donation to the orphanage, and two of the girls for simple things they needed. I knew then, what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I will always have more than I will ever need. I made a choice to help change the generations that will come from these loving and gentle souls.

My British bestie, Maggie, joined me for the second part of the trip. It was a perfect way to wrap up my first visit to the motherland. We journeyed to Cape Coast; the main attraction is the slave castle, which once housed thousands of slaves, before they were shipped off to the Americas and Caribbean, bound for a life, they were certainly afraid of. We saw the room and conditions the rebellious slaves were kept in. After being publicly flogged, they were left to die in a windowless room. No food or water was given. A soldier would occasionally check in, to see if they had passed on. Once this was the case, the bodies were dumped in the ocean. For effect, the guide closed the door for less than a minute, while we were inside. Chilling.

We toured the male dungeons, where coincidentally, church services were held just above. Female slaves and children were housed together. We saw the observation rooms, where soldiers stood guard and kept on eye out for any planned rebellions. To overcome the language barrier, spies were planted among real slaves. Their sole purpose was to bring back word to the Governors.  The Door of No Return symbolized the end of one nightmare, and the beginning of another. Once the slaves passed through, they were loaded onto ships, bound for their new homes. I now understand fully, the meaning of the phrase “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, for they knew that death was better than bondage”

It was also in Cape Coast, where I was blessed with a beautiful African Naming and Welcome Home Ceremony. The proceedings were watched over, and performed by the third Queen of the one of the tribes, and a village Father. The love, warmth, welcome, and total acceptance directed at me, was indescribable. I honestly felt that I was HOME. The Queen invited me to visit her home, the next time I’m in Ghana. For now, she welcomed me back, and expressed gratitude for the visit. It was a proud moment.

Back in Accra, we got involved in so many activities; survived the infamous, and nerve-racking canopy walk at Kakum National Park, toured the magnificent Aburi Botanical Gardens, visited the Mausoleum of the country’s first prime minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, learned how to play drums, ate too much delicious, freshly prepared dishes. Shopping is quite the experience, as we left it up to our guide to haggle for us. We had to spend the last night at the DC 10 Restaurant. It’s housed in an old airplane, formerly belonging to Ghana Airlines. We got dressed up in matching outfits. While waiting in the lobby for our guide/driver, we attracted the attention of the male hotel guests, who began taking our photos:). The front desk clerk asked if it was okay, to place the photo on the website.  How cool is that?!

I’m back in the US now, and trying to catch up on my projects, business, and platforms. I had the most amazing time in Ghana. There is work for me to do, and a lot of newly adopted kids who to help. Working in Social Services, I know the difference it makes in the lives of my clients. However, the work I’m about to embark on, is so much bigger than anything I have ever done. I’m asking for prayers to guide my steps. My heart is full, my eyes are wet, so help me Lord, lest I forget.

A myriad of life choices led me to a small village in Ghana, where I am convinced; they were waiting to change my life, instead of the other way around. I have been given much, and now I must share with those who have nothing, in ways I’ve never dreamed of. Thank you Mama Africa, and especially to the wonderfully kind people of Ghana…till we meet again.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

Distracted or Captivated?


Photo: Google Images

Rrecently, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak at my first Virtual Summit. An exciting experience! I based my topic around this quote:”We will not be distracted by comparison, if we are captivate with purpose“. Today, I wish to share some tidy tidbits from my talk. It’s normal to wonder how we measure up to other people; this is part of our basic desire to understand our place in this world. Social media is primarily responsible for every reminder of our various inadequacies. Open any app or page, and you will be immediately greeted with snapshots of work promotions, busy social lives, family outings, new cars, idyllic vacations, remodeled kitchens, etc. It becomes increasingly difficult to ignore our own frustrations and struggles.

Social comparison is wrong for many reasons; it’s mostly based on others so-called “perfection of illusion”. How many of us are privy to the whole truth? We might not feel so inadequate, if we knew how carefully they crafted the public images of perfection. We must also remember life isn’t fair; some are born with more advantages than others. Comparing ourselves with others can turn friends into rivals, which in turn, can cripple our ability to share in the joys of those around us.

My dear friends, find purpose in your life! Is there some type of injustice you can help make right? Find a cause. Do more of what sets your soul on fire. What are you willing to sacrifice for? Use your inner GPS and rely on it more often than you do now. Continually ask yourself questions such as “Am I where I want to be?” “Have I accomplished all I thought I would by now?” “Am I fulfilled in my career or business?”. While you are still searching for your purpose, support the innovators game changers around you. Comparison is the thief of joy. Focus on your blessings, count your blessings, and learn to be happy with enough.  If we are captivated with purpose, we will not be distracted by comparison!

Enjoy the video below!

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

 

Six Ways To Practice Joy


6 Ways to Practice Joy, by Sara Voyard

Oh, the powerful three-letter word J-O-Y. Joy is a word that has so many meanings for so many people. It’s a feeling we all want to enjoy but many times find it difficult to achieve. As a life coach and the CEO & Founder of SV Elite Coaching, I often work with clients that say, “I wish I could experience joy and be happier.” Or the classic, “I know I have what I need, but that feeling of joy is still missing”. Does that mean that joy is something we stumble upon or “find along the way”? Not even close! Joy is defined as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness”. Just like happiness is a choice, joy is too. We choose to practice joy every single day of our lives (or not for that matter!). So how do we move from wanting joy to actually practicing joy in our everyday lives? Here are six simple ways.

  • Start your day with gratitude: First things first! When you wake up in the morning, take time to think of the many things you can be grateful for as you rise to another day. Research shows that gratitude leads to higher levels of happiness. Therefore, the two go hand in hand. Every time you can think of why you are grateful for being on this earth, you are significantly and consistently building your levels of joy. Now THAT’S called practicing joy!
  • Keep a “JOY Journal”: Find a journal that makes you smile and warms your heart when you take it out. Label it “JOY Journal”. As you’re going about your daily routine, jot down at least 3 things you acknowledge you should be joyful about. Did you barely avoid a traffic accident? Did a coworker invite you to lunch and pay for your meal? Did your mate have coffee ready when you woke up this morning? Did your kids actually wake up on time today? No matter how small that “something” may seem, it matters. The more you can write in your “JOY Journal”, the more deeply you are choosing to practice joy.
  • Keep “Thank You” cards handy: One of the things I actively practice and recommend is to keep “Thank You” cards handy. Make it a habit to write thank you notes. The message inside can be sweet and to the point as long as it’s genuine. In this age of technology, this is even easier to do. Did someone go out of their way to help you at work? Send them a “Thank You” email for having being so helpful. For an added punch, copy their boss and thank them for having the kind of employees on their team that strive to go above and beyond. If nothing else, it will encourage the person to continue being kind with others, which is huge. Every drop of kindness served onto humanity brings us one step closer to true happiness and fulfillment.
  • Surround yourself with joyful people: Yes, I know, you’ve heard this before! But how many of us can say we’re actually doing it? How can we realistically practice joy when we choose to surround ourselves with negative people? Indeed, we don’t NEED other people around us practicing joy for us to CHOOSE to do the same. However, I don’t think anyone can deny the effect the “energy” in our surroundings can have on us. Life presents enough problems for us to deal with. Don’t make it harder for yourself by choosing to keep negative company. Stick with the people you see making an effort to practice joy. Encourage them to continue. Ask them what their practices are and copy the ones that speak to you. Allow that type of energy to help create the joyful life you really want to have.
  • Forgive (and forget?): If it’s one thing that instantly kills joy in our lives it’s resentment. Has someone done something to you that you feel you just can’t get over? Do you feel sick just thinking about it? If you do nothing else on this list, LET IT GO! Joy can’t find a place at the table when resentment is the main course. Most people will say forgive AND forget. But we all know…. It’s not easy!! Start with forgiveness. Once you’ve done that, start forgetting one day at a time. Forgiving is already a major step in the right direction. Take control and choose to let forgiveness lead you to joy’s doorstep.
  • Practice joy with someone else: One of the best ways to practice joy is to do it with others. Find ways to enjoy someone else’s happiness with them. Since we all have the need for love and belonging, sharing positive experiences with others makes us feel joyful as well. Did your coworker get a promotion? Take them to lunch to celebrate it. Did a friend buy a new house? Take over a bottle of wine, sit with them on the floor, and visualize all the memories you will have within those four walls. In doing this you’re also teaching another person how to practice joy. You never know the kind of difference this can make in their lives.

In case you find joy hard to experience, I hope this article has shown you that it’s easier than you may think. We often make things a lot more complicated than they really are. Practicing joy is a choice available to all of us and one we should all choose. Let joy be a small yet powerful word that defines your life. I guarantee it will change you, your mind, and your future for the better.

Author Bio

Sara Voyard is a certified life coach, master NLP practitioner, and the CEO & Founder of SV Elite Coaching. For over a decade she has helped people transform their thoughts, enjoy fulfilling relationships, deepen their spirituality, and find true purpose in life. Her mission is to create an empowering and motivational space where her clients can let their authentic selves shine so they can enjoy the lives they have always dreamt of. The motto at SV Elite Coaching is,“Be You. Be Real. Be Extraordinary”.

 

Connect with Sara by visiting the following links:

www.svelitecoaching.com

www.facebook.com/svelitecoaching

www.instagram.com/svelitecoaching

www.twitter.com/svelitecoaching

www.pinterest.com/svelitecoaching

 

 

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE


Happy New Year!

I can still say that right?!

Do you have 18 minutes to spare today? I absolutely love the message in the video below. Go watch it now.

If you are not obsessed with your life, change it. Bob Goff once said: “We wont be distracted by comparison, if we are captivated with purpose”

Friends, family, well wishers, followers, and the curious, say it with me : Risk being seen in all of your glory!

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

ขอบคุณสำหรับความทรงจำที่ประเทศไทย!


Typical Day At Elephant Nature Park

A week ago, I was saying teary goodbyes to a group of like-minded folks. We volunteered for a week, supporting a cause, greater than any of us. We cleaned elephant poo from their enclosures, built walkways, went on to cement our initials in the freshly poured concrete, bathe them (so much fun!) prepared food and fed them, unloaded multiple fruit trucks, collected firewood to build fires when they were cold, and cried while listening to the stories of their rescue. The week was topped off, when we sat in the presence of Pioneer and Elephant Whisperer, Lek, as she detailed the work she has been involved in. It was an emotional time; exchanging warm hugs, thank you’s, email addresses and phone numbers, vowing to see one another again in the coming years. We all recognized the path we had just traveled. No one wanted to leave. Our time at Elephant Nature Park had changed us, individually and collectively.

When I told people I was embarking on a solo trip to Thailand, more than 8K miles away, to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary for a week, I got two distinct reactions; the looks of complete dismay and fear (their own), when they asked “You are going by yourself?!” “But why?” And of course, the free-spirited, open-minded ones who gleefully exclaimed: “Omg that is absolutely amazing! Safe travels, and take care of yourself!” I had always wanted to do a volunteer vacation, and after much research, and preparation, I found myself jetting off on the 32-hour journey to the mountains of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand.

One of the self-discoveries I made earlier this year, is that Elephants are my spirit animal. My wish to get to know these gentle giants was fueled even more, when I came across a heated discussion on social media. Someone posted a photo of themselves riding an elephant, and the “PETA” folks came at her, hard. I decided to go to place where I could learn, grow, and help in this awareness. When you visit a circus, ride an elephant, see them painting or begging in the streets, you could never imagine the cruel process, they must endure, in order to be ready to for what you see.

A little education. Not long after an elephant (in captivity) cow gives birth, the babies are taken away. The mother doesn’t get to raise them. Elephants are very sociable animals, and live in groups. They take care of one another; have excellent memories, and experience joy, sadness, and grief. They even cry real tears. Soon, the elephant must go through a week-long Phajan, aka, Elephant Crushing phase, which is intended to break its spirit, and eventually force it to do the will of the trainers. Babies have been known to step on their trunks, and kill themselves, as sometimes the treatment is too much for them. We watched five minutes of a heart wrenching documentary, and within seconds I was a puddle of mush. I will update the post, when I remember the name. I wept through the entire thing.

An elephant can live up to 80-100 years old. They often have multiple owners, and will work for, five, six or more decades. A lucky few are rescued by an organization like Elephant Nature Park. Lek, has been interviewed many times by major news networks, and received multiple awards for her work in their rescue and rehabilitation. The sanctuary allows them live the rest of their lives, free to wander, and do as they please.

I spent a great deal of time researching the facility, as not all sanctuaries are created equal. Some still allow tourists to ride elephants, and other forms of industry. Elephant Nature Park is completely saddle off, and as of next year, tourists and volunteers will no longer be able to touch them. A fact which made the time there, even more memorable, to be a part of the last set of volunteers, allowed to intimately interact with them in this way.

I cannot begin to encapsulate the emotions and experiences. Breakfast is at 7 every morning, and one day, I woke early to enjoy the last bit of sunrise. I sat down on the balcony to breathe in the fresh mountain air. Moments later, a few feet below, at least four elephants, and their mahouts strolled leisurely by. Where else could I go and have this type of heart stopping experience?! I will forever treasure my time and experiences there.

I want to share a brief story of one of the “eles”, whose care I will be following, as her story affected me deeply. Her name is Dalah. She was rescued a few months ago, from an owner who force bred her, Basically, she was chained to was chained up, and bull elephants tried to get her pregnant. In the process, she suffered a dislocated elbow, torn ligaments, and was being treated for abscesses. The owners would finally agree to release her, but for a price. She now walks very slowly, with a noticeable limp, and uses her trunk to help take the pressure off her injured leg. The project was in the midst of building a therapy pool, to help with her recovery.

Derek, Lek’s husband, was guarded, when our group asked if she was going to make it. We all hoped she did. She was on large daily doses of Tramadol, light therapy, and massages. She spent most of her time in the enclosure to prevent her injuries from getting worse. Dipor, another elephant and friend, visits her very often, to check on her well-being. The park suspected she might pregnant, but it couldn’t be confirmed for a little while longer. All in all, she was holding on, despite everything. I remember whispering to this beautiful creature, the words” I’m so sorry”. She had every reason not to trust humans, but she remains as loving as ever.

Nothing could have prepared me for this most beautiful of experiences. I went in with no expectations or preconceptions. A week later, I left with phenomenal new friends, a humbled heart, and a profound sense of gratitude for what I witnessed, and been a part of. Furthermore, my hope was renewed by the people working hard every single day, to give rescued elephants, the life they should be living. Despite, the cruelties they have suffered, some do live the rest of their lives in peace.

So what can we do? Well, if you love animals, please do not support this type of industry. Once the need for riding, painting, street begging etc is no longer paid for by tourists, then the industry eventually go out of practice. I understand people must make a living, and in their minds, feeding their families comes first. However, they existed before this practice. Education is the key here. Through Lek, many businesses are slowly turning huge corners. However, there is so much work to be done. If you are not moved by anything in this post, then seek that which sets your soul on fire!

While elephants are the main reasons people visit the sanctuary, there are more than four hundred dogs up for adoption, as many cats, some rescued horses, pigs, water buffaloes etc. I found joy in watching elephant families interact, babies stealing bananas (their favorite food), the cat who sat on my lap for hours, the village school we visited, and whose many industries we supported. The children, some as young as three, who performed for us during our last dinner hour. Once my time at the sanctuary was over, the land of smiles would continue to deliver, over and over; from the world-renowned temples I walked through, visiting the Golden Triangle, crossing into the Thailand/Myanmar border, spending time the Akka Hill Tribe, and so much more! For more info about the projects, visit Elephant Nature Park

Come next year, I will be back into the volunteer vacation habit. Mama Africa has been calling my name for a very long time, it’s about time I answered.

I sincerely hope you make the most of what’s left of 2017. This past year has been so favorable and kind to me, it has succeeded in wiping out a disastrous 2016. Euphoric feelings have often enveloped my entire being, as an abundant universe reminded me, that I am loved and worthy. True happiness can only come from within. I know the reasons behind my smile. I’m putting the finishing touches to several noteworthy projects, due to be released next year, and couldn’t be more excited!

My prayer is for each of us to find joy in life. To understand what Atticus meant when he said these profound, yet simple words “Don’t give up now. Chances are your best kiss, your hardest laugh, and your greatest day, are still yet to come”

See you in a few weeks.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

Dream Catcher.


Photo: Prexels

In the past several weeks, on my way to work, I’ve made it a habit to listen to a randomly chosen Mindshift/Inspiration series on YouTube. I noticed within a short time of doing so, I’m more prepared for the day ahead. Social Services can be hard and draining. Many people suffer burnout, several times in their careers. I absolutely love what I do; it’s rewarding to see people go from the lowest points in their lives to independence. However, I don’t see myself doing it into retirement. There are other mountains to climb, projects to complete, and dreams to seize.

I once dreamt of collaborating with other authors. Recently the opportunity presented itself, and I had to grab it! I’m happy to announce, come February 2018, we will be releasing a book together. We held an online meeting this past week, and I couldn’t be more thrilled! There will be photo shoots, radio interviews, launch parties, book signings etc. We are working with an International Best Selling Author, and the hope is this project will land us on this list too. As the project gets ready to launch, I will keep my followers updated.

This project was a dream years ago. One I could have pursued, but didn’t. I wasn’t ready. Was it a coincidence, the moment my thinking started to shift, that this opportunity should fall into my hands? It’s a possibility. However, I’m at a wonderful place in life. I’m ready, and not afraid or ashamed to speak my truth. My dear friends and well wishers, your dreams are not dead unless you bury them. It’s hard, BUT go get yours! Above all, remain thankful for all the small victories. Except for one incident, this month has been incredibly kind to me. The things I envisioned for myself are being granted. I couldn’t be more grateful, for the decision I made to get out of my own way.

I hope you find some gems from the video below.

I wish you joy, peace, and a type of love that encompasses all your understanding!

Until the next post,

 

Best,

 

Juan