Adventure Is Worthwhile


Balkans- Part One

I wore my Fitbit during the 16-day Balkan adventure, over seven countries. The stats are staggering: 199,693 steps, climbed 387 floors, walked 92 miles, averaged 3500 daily calories, and returned home 10 lbs lighter. Whew! I’ve always loved traveling, but only decided to get serious about it, upon my return to the USA, three years ago. As I edge towards my mid-forties, my goal is to visit sixty countries by the time I hit my fiftieth birthday. I am more than halfway there and with a lot of traveling to do, between now and then.

By far, this was the longest, most extensive and tiring trip I’ve taken. I decided to use group travel, with no idea, the company, while it does have a range of ages traveling, mostly catered to an older crowd. Other than myself, there was a 33-year-old from Nottingham, all the others were over 60 years old, with the oldest being 77, an American from Boston. It didn’t take me long to get over the massive age barrier, as I threw myself into the experience, and really enjoyed every single day! We stayed in 11 hotels, took an untold number of bus and train rides, with the longest journeys being 11.5 by train, and 9 by bus. By the last day, I couldn’t care less what happened to my suitcase-I would have been happy if someone took it off me for good.

Slovenia. Our trip started in the capital city of Ljubljana, often called Europe’s green capital. It’s a perfect eco-friendly place! Filled with culture, art, music and German architecture Our guide informed us, it’s one of the richest and most developed of the Former Yugoslavia, and by far THE cleanest place I’ve ever visited. Endless vehicle restricted areas, underground parking, etc. I did not see one piece of trash on the ground! People were incredibly helpful and friendly. A shopkeeper gave me a free magnet after I bought a handmade ring, another immediately altered a belt that was too big. Locals went above and beyond to ensure our time there was memorable. Lake Bled is one of the most beautiful and tranquil lakes, I’ve ever laid eyes on. The view overlooking the city from the Ljubljana Castle tower is magnificent. I found a calligraphist in the church’s chapel making bookmarks; my request simply stated: “Live Your Dreams” Grabbing a bite one of the city’s cozy “Grostilnas” gives you a chance to taste a wide variety of mouth-watering local dishes.

Croatia. The women in the city of Zagreb truly look after themselves- even the elderly with canes and walkers, were well kitted out. Wowsers. Zagreb has a large mix of Austra-Hungarian architecture, with wide socialist buildings. The Cathedral and 13th century St Mark’s church is a highlight. Most tourists spend their time in the more popular cities of Split and Dubrovnik, which made Zagreb a delight to explore, without rubbing shoulders with strangers at every turn.  If you’re ever in Croatia, please plan a visit to the stunning tourist attraction of Plitvice National Park- a pride for Croatians! The park boasts 16 interconnecting lakes, waterfalls, and beautiful wildlife. Dubrovnik, the old city, and World Heritage site, was crawling with tourists. The popularity of Game of Thrones is a huge factor. Locals explained the municipality is thinking of a way to have fewer cruiser ships dock daily. I have this love affair with Cathedrals, and Dubrovnik has a particularly breathtaking one. The old pharmacy, thousands of years old, marketplace, and impressive sweet shops are not to be missed either. Dubrovnik took my breath away!

Bosnia & Herzegovina. Put it on your list. Especially if you like history! First stop- Sarajevo. We arrived at the train station where the time stood still. Ironically, on the day of our tour, it would be the coldest day, with nonstop rain. Other than Macedonia, it was one of my favorite countries on the trip! We visited the symbolical bridge, where the events which took place there, eventually led to WW1. There is a LOT of history here. Eye witness accounts relayed stories of the thousands of lives lost in the siege in the early nineties, the infamous tunnel, built by the Bosnians in an effort to maintain some method of control. The tunnel meant they could organize theatres, schools for their children, etc. The father of our local guide still has shrapnel in one of his legs. He saw his best friend killed before his eyes. Too many nations stood by and watched women and children die in the streets.

Despite what happened here, the resilient spirit of its people is reflected in their kind and easy smiles, eagerness to help, and generous hospitality! Apparently, it’s not unusual to be invited in for dinner/tea, even if you just met. The visit to the tunnel will always be etched into memory. There is a wall lined with photos of volunteers and servicemen, who worked for years, using manual tools. A water pump was the only available type of machinery used. A sweet older lady, whose home still stands with shrapnel in its walls, and is still alive, often waited with water, to give the weary men and soldiers, as they exited the tunnel. The original was about 800m long. Today, visitors can only walk about 25m, due to airport security. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, and Robert De Niro have visited and walked through portions of it. Please visit if you can!

The particularly scenic rail journey to Mostar was fantastic! We traveled through mountains once occupied by the Serbian army. The scenery gave nothing about the region’s dark period away. Cobblestoned streets, old stone buildings, and the famed Mostar Bridge, which spans the Neretva village, is something out of a fairy tale. Traditionally, local men go around collecting money from tourists. Once they get to about 30 Euros, a swimmer, dressed in trunks, jump into the lake below, which is some 23 meters high, to the delight of onlookers. The Genocide Museum sobers, but I was encouraged by thousands of handwritten, kind notes, lining the walls of an entire room. From strangers to visitors and locals alike. I always take time to add notes to places like this, and mine was a simple “Thank you” next to my name, along with one of my favorite quotes “If we judge people, we have no time to love them”. The ethnic cleansing in Bosnia is a huge stain on the world. Lest we forget.

One post cannot is enough, to squeeze the beautiful magic of my Balkan adventure into. Naw. I will conclude next week. Happy to answer any questions you have, if you’re considering a visit to these parts!

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

Before You Go!


Views on The Inca Trail

Who LOVES to travel?

I do!

I get a massive buzz from it. For the past several years, my life has followed somewhat of a pattern. I work, save money, travel, return, rinse, and repeat! In the US, vacation days are like gold dust! There is something to be said, about the thrill of hopping on a plane, to a place you’ve never been, where no one knows your name, and the excitement of a different experience every day! I’ve told a loving universe, of my desire to travel for months at a time, volunteering from one country to the next, without the worry of having to return home, because I’m out of vacation days, or need to earn money!

Getting away can also be stress-inducing, especially as your departure gets closer. Years ago, I put off my trip preparation for weeks! The anxiety drove me nuts. I am so much better now at planning. In recent months, I’ve gotten inboxes, asking travel-related questions, from friends and co-workers alike. I am always happy to share my love of travel. I come alive giving tips, and hacks. Recently, I found myself reliving so many experiences, as I looked through multiple photo albums, containing years of memories. I am so grateful for the people, experiences, and opportunities presented to me.

In a month, I am off on a two-week adventure to Europe. I am so damn excited. This vacation is different, because it’s the longest one I’ve taken to date, coupled with the number of countries I plan to visit. Earlier this year, I set a goal to visit fifty countries, by the time I am fifty. I am approaching my mid-forties, and only just realized, by the time my birthday rolls around next year, forty countries will be off my list! So, I figured, why settle for fifty? Not me! So, it’s now sixty I am certainly going to try and smash this number!

The questions gave me an idea for this topic. Listed below, are things you should take into account before you go. Of course, the list is not exhaustive. If you find them helpful, have suggestions, or questions, I’d like to know! You can also email me, using the contact form above. In the future, I plan to blog about more travel-related topics; surviving the airport wait, long haul flights, trip planning, in-country support, etc. Follow my blog to get instant updates on new posts.

Ready. Set. Go.

What are the vaccination requirements for your destination?! If you are traveling to parts of South America, Africa, and Asia for instance, you need to be prepared. In some cases, you will not be allowed to leave the airport without proof of certain vaccinations. Consider the fact there might be a nationwide shortage of the one (s) you need. Always check at least 3 months in advance. There is a chance, you have not graced the door of your Doctor’s office in a while, for an annual checkup, no time like the present. Some health insurance plans, do not cover certain travel related vaccines. I needed Yellow Fever for Ghana, and was close to $200 out of pocket.

Seriously consider getting travel insurance! This aspect of trip planning is often hotly debated in groups. To me, it’s a no brainer. While I love the excitement and unknown in distant lands, there are some things I need to prepare for. Sickness, accidents, evacuation, repatriation, and yes, even death! I have seen, one too many Go Fund Me’s on social media, from families, begging for donations to bring their loved ones back home. Have you planned, and paid for a trip you can no longer take? You’ve lost out on thousands, in most instances. Consider annual plans if you’re a frequent traveler. Buy shortly after your initial trip payment, to save time and get better coverage.

If you are traveling with a friend or spouse, try selecting the middle and aisle seats respectively. Not many travelers want to sit in the middle. Unless the flight is full, you will end up with a seat between you two, giving you space to get a bit more comfortable. Go to sites such as Seat Guru, enter your flight details, and get advice. Sitting in the back of the plane, is also a good way to go if you are not fussy.

Make copies of your flight information, itineraries, and other travel documents, especially your passport. Take an extra step, and email a copy of the front page to yourself. There is nothing worse than being the victim of pickpocketing, lost/delayed luggage, etc., and not having access to this most important document. In the unfortunate event, you need to apply for a new one, it will speed things up. Always give a copy of your travel plans/itinerary, to at least one trusted person back home. Notify your State Department/Foreign Office of your travel plans (can be done online in most instances). Write down the address and phone number of your country’s embassy.

I don’t know about you, but I easily get lost in my handbags; so it’s crucial to be able to navigate new surroundings. Duh, get a map! Of course, some have a preference for paper versions. Furthermore, you might not have access to Wi-Fi/data to access one electronically. I love offline maps, such as maps.me, which gives turn by turn directions, of practically anywhere in the world! The app is FREE, detailed, and very functional. Another good option is Tripso; which doubles as a guide and map. Roam at your own pace, and discover thousands of locations, packed with experiences to suit a variety of tastes. There are many paid apps available.

Take a mini first aid kit, or at least, the essentials. Use items already in your medicine cabinet. When I hiked the Inca Trail earlier this year, altitude sickness was a beast! Headaches every day, lack of sleep, tiredness, and sore muscles, only contributed to the discomfort. I didn’t need to purchase extras. Walking around all day can result in calluses, blisters, and tired, aching feet.

Roll clothing, or fold them the Marie Kondo way. I have not used her methods. However, I can attest to using packing cubes and rolling clothes. Cubes are space-saving, allows for easy identification of items, and avoids clutter. Total game-changers. I have not reverted to my old habits! I always pack two extra outfits in my carry on. If your checked baggage doesn’t arrive the same time you do, you’ll have clean clothing to tide you over.

Regardless of what’s in your suitcase, mark FRAGILE on the outside! This tip came directly from an airline employee. I’m willing to bet, all of us have seen videos of the total disregard shown by baggage handlers. Marking your items as fragile reduces the risk, of them being tossed around, and protect them from damage.

Invest in a decent international adapter, and a portable charger. When I volunteered in Dodowa, Ghana, electricity was unstable. To my dismay, I couldn’t charge my phone using the outlets. To make matters worse I had left my charger at home, relying solely on the mercy of others. Ugh. An extra battery would have come in handy. I was a lot more prepared for the Inca Trail, as we couldn’t charge our devices for almost four days.

Today, with so much technology readily available, it’s easier for us to remain in touch with family and friends while traveling. Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are great for this purpose. Add your friends and family, on the latter, before you leave. Notify your cellphone carrier of your travel plans. Turn OFF data roaming BEFORE you land. Unlock your phone before you leave, this allows you to purchase a cheap local sim plan if you chose to. Most major US carriers, have long-distance plans either already included or available to purchase, with slow speed data.

Look up monetary conversions ahead of time, though exchange rates change daily. Buy local currency before you go. With proper notice, most banks will order these for you, charge the regular exchange rate, minus fees. Avoid airport exchange counters. If you need more, use a bank or ATM at your destination. Some travelers prefer to load money on a cash card. Find what works for you!

Finally, let your bank/credit card companies know you are traveling! Nothing worse than having a transaction declined abroad, for being flagged as fraudulent. Same thing for credit cards. A simple phone call will do, or in many cases, use the mobile banking app. One extra thing to note, if you live in the West, look into travel hacking. Please be responsible with credit! With that being said, you are already paying monthly cellphone, cable, rent, and other bills, but are they translating into rewards for flights, hotels, activities, etc? Stop leaving money on the table. Travel hacking has revolutionalised the game for me.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Traveling has changed my life, which only began, outside my comfort zone.

Where will you travel to next? Perhaps a fun quiz can help!

Wherever your next flight takes you, remember, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal.”

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

تغذية طبيعتي التجوال!


Our group, watching the Sunset in Wadi Rum

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

I Was The One


On my page “Think to Thank”, I find something to be grateful for each day. No matter how small. Or trivial. The going often gets rough. Often, it’s often difficult to see the blessings. Many days reviewing small daily miracles offer consolation. And hope. They serve to remind me I have so much. In this post, I wish to share some experiences which have affected me over the past few months. The times when I was the one.

To Louise, the owner of Passionate about Flowers on Lower Bristol Road in Bath. I thank you. A few weeks ago, I was invited for a job assessment in Bath. If I was successful, it would mean returning the next day for a face to face interview. Upon arrival at the station, I went against my better judgment and decided to walk the 15 minute journey to the destination. Well, after getting hopelessly lost and asking for and receiving wrong directions more than once, I was about to give up. However, I decided to try one last business.  I walked into Passionate About Flowers  and explained what I was about. Louise immediately got online in an attempt to pinpoint the location. Taking it a step further, she asked if I wanted her to give me a lift there! And she did. This one simple act of kindness derailed all the bad luck I had moments before. Louise left her business, to help a stranger she might never, ever see again. I will never forget her act of kindness. Thanks Louise.

In another instance, while waiting for my BRP to be finalized, I was hired on a temp basis for a local health and social services organization. I relied heavily on public transportation. One day, I changed handbags, and to my chagrin discovered I somehow forgot my money purse on the bus. I am person who has never forgotten her keys. Run out of gas. Or locked herself out of her car! To make matters worse I did not discover my purse was missing for more than 8 hours. To my utter amazement, when it was in my possession again, everything was as I left it. Down to the 1.50 pence I had received as change that morning. I called the bank and made the necessary cancellations, but no one had tried to use it or withdraw funds. I was stunned. The chances of this happening in the USA are nil. To the unknown person who turned my purse into the driver, I thank you.

Once last experience. I got the job in Bath. It meant relocating. Bath is a lovely city! I was helped in unimaginable ways. Perhaps the one-act of kindness which has left an indelible impression on my mind, is the moving process itself. Paul, a kind bloke drove 500 miles round trip to do just that. To be ready for the return trip on Saturday, he spent Friday night at a local hotel. All on his own dime. Moving company fees would have cost me approx 250 pounds. I contributed to his petrol cost. He was not done. Yet. Going the extra mile, he took me around to find items for the new place. Cheered me up during challenging times when I could not see perspective. Checked up on me often. Reminded me over and over that even though things were not what I expected, greater things were happening around me. Paul, I wont ever forget this. Thank you.

Amidst all the ills in the world and the people who perpetrate them, it’s gratifying to know good people still walk the earth. I am acquainted with them. I am grateful for people who make the world a better place for the rest of us. If you are one of those people: NEVER cease to do good. NEVER underestimate the power of your actions upon the lives of others. NEVER think that your contribution does not matter. Because it does. I have been on the receiving end. The one whose life was affected. The one who, because of your kindness, my struggles were easier. Thank you.

Until the next post,

Best,

Juan

1 yr l8tr


A year ago today, I returned to the blogging world. What a literary adventure!We are here. First, some housekeeping. As of today, chindeepinlife have been viewed 912 times. I blogged 24 times.There are 29 comments. Not too shabby. Roll on next year. The freedom of self expression continues. Please know your views and comments are welcomed. And encouraged. Always. Furthermore, do you have a topic/issue you would like me to address? Want to write a guest post? In box me at jstarr2600@aol.co.uk. Come along for the ride.

So, here is my year. In a paragraph. Since March, I travelled back to the USA. Returned to my homeland (SVG), after more than a decade. Visited New York, Boston, Ireland, Italy,Tenerife, and other parts of the UK for the first time. I filed for and received USA permanent residency for my mother. I visited the birthplace of JFK. I was awarded my MSc in Psychology degree. Published my first anthology of poems. You can read a sample, purchase, or win a free copy here Bookbuzzr. One of my pieces,”Too Little Too Late was selected and included in Outskirtspress Fandemoniun Volume 1. For the first time in my life, I lost my wallet. Fortunately, everything was returned. I marched in a worldwide event to celebrate International Women’s Day. I was humbled to write a piece in celebration of it, aptly titled Meet Us on the Bridge. Received my UK residency permit. And oh yeah, I dated. After more than 8 yrs. One day it will happen for me. This mysterious, and elusive enigma. Called love.

Back to finding my voice.I started this blog to keep in touch with friends and family.It has evolved.Taken on a life of its own.Really.Being able to share some of my experiences, has enabled me to see the bigger picture.I am eternally grateful. I wish to thank those who return faithfully. Time after time. The ones following by email. The kind comments. The friends who mentioned me in their blogs. I appreciate every contribution. Every acknowledgement. Word of encouragement. Act of kindness. Help. And thought.

For my next post, I will share something of a very personal nature. A lifetime burden. One I can no longer carry. I have to get rid of it. If I hope to be truly free. To find any real happiness in this life. It’s the beginning of a healing process, that is decades late. A revelation which will surprise those who know me best. I am ready. Of course I could give a hint.But I prefer you to conjure up your own ideas. Some will never guess. However, I can no longer hide behind smiles. Or the stiff upper lip. Not when it comes to this.

Until the next post, let me finish with the quote from my first post: “Life is a ticket to the greatest show on earth”

Best,

Juan