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Solo Female Travel: Women in the Wilderness

Written by Karo Wieczorek

Despite the fact that women have been successfully traveling and having adventures alone in nature for centuries, the solo woman who announces she’s going on a back-country adventure still seems to be a topic that gets people’s emotions going. The majority of support for solo female activities outdoors goes to the women on the billboards – the extreme sports heroines, the pioneers reaching for the ultimate heights.

But what about the rest of us? What about all other women who want to get out there and live their own small adventures?

For us, the situation can look a little different. Our dreams and plans come up against a wall of doubt, distrust, fear and disbelief. We face it not only from the people around us (“Are you sure you’re ready for this kind of trip?”), but also the doubts that live inside our own minds (“Can I really do this?”).

If you’re a woman who wants to take a solo trip into the wilderness, but is having a hard time dealing with the reactions from the people around you (not to mention the doubts coming up in your own head), this post is for you.

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Social Stigma

You have great dreams, you make plans, you test your gear, and you’re happy to go out and embrace the wilderness. Excited, you announce your plans to your family and friends and the moment you do, you face an irritating reality – no one shares your feelings of excitement. Instead, you get the opposite reactions:

You’re Going Alone!?

One of the first things that can come up when the adventurous woman shares her travel and adventure plans with people who care about her is shock and difficulty comprehending why she would want to risk going alone.

And not just going anywhere…but going alone into the woods, mountains, desert. For people around her, it’s unimaginable. They might not believe that a woman would be courageous enough to do such a thing. No boyfriend going with her? No other girlfriends? No hiking buddy?

The underlying question they’re asking is why? Why would she ever want to go alone?

The need to be constantly surrounded by people is embedded into our society. It’s how humans have survived as long as we have. Being alone used to mean certain death.

Nowadays, being alone is not a death sentence, but it does mean having to have to deal with yourself. It means having to confront your own deepest thoughts and emotions, your inner shadows you would rather not think about. Being alone, you might even hear your heartbeat for the first time, and confront your own humanity…your own mortality.

For many of us, being alone is something to avoid.

But for the courageous ones, we have our reasons to wander into wilderness alone.

It’s up to us if we try to make others understand. The thing to remember is not to get discouraged — just stick to your decision and trust yourself.

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But You Don’t Know Anything About [insert outdoor activity/location here]!

The next thing that the adventurous woman has to deal with is the denial of her skills, often wrapped in the form of “concerned questions” that downplay what she is capable of on her own.

Will you manage to set up camp?

Do you really know how to make a fire?

How will you stay safe?

How could you possibly be able to do all that on your own?

All the time she has spent reading, educating herself, taking courses and practicing wilderness survival skills seems to be irrelevant compared to the fact that she’s still a woman.

People may believe that outdoor skills are difficult to master, something out of reach of the average person working a desk job in a city.

That of course is not true, and the wild woman knows that. She’s also confident and aware of her skills and has no problems facing obstacles and conquering them.

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But…The World “Out There” Is A Dangerous Place!

This is one of most common fears, the argument the adventurous woman hears the most when people are trying to persuade her away from the idea of a solo wilderness trip.

There are so many dangers out there!

Opinions that if you go “out there”, every human will try to harm you, every animal will try to eat you, and you will fall in every possible hole are common. They’re created by a general fear of the unknown.

For the adventurous woman, the unknown is something exciting. For others, the unknown only brings trouble and danger. These fears that loved ones or friends have are the hardest to explain away. Realistically, it will take the adventurous woman a couple expeditions and just as many safe returns to convince the people who care about her that she can actually thrive “out there”. Even then, there will likely be resistance to each new trip she plans to take.

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Build a Strong Inner Mindset

The fact that people around us doubt our skills and abilities can always be expected. What is much harder to overcome is the doubt and distrust that dwells within us.

No matter how hard she tries, the adventurous woman will face a point where she starts to feel the seeds of fear within her.

Can I really do this?

Are my skills really good enough?

What if they were right…What if I don’t make it?

All these questions and many more will race through her mind. She will experience moments of discouragement and doubt. The key to her success will be to stay strong and cultivate her self-awareness and self-confidence.

But the adventurous woman travels prepared. She will remind herself that she knows exactly what she’s capable of. She knows her gear and the place she will travel to. Trusting herself is her main asset. In the end, she will be on her own out there and she will be the only person she can rely on, so she prepares herself and trusts herself to tackle challenges, one by one.

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Be Prepared

The key to a successful outdoor adventure is preparedness. There are a couple of important things the adventurous woman needs to think about before going into the wild:

Manage Your Risks

It’s probably one of the most important aspects of your preparations. Knowing exactly what to expect and mitigating any possible risks should be one of your core skills.

The wilderness is unpredictable, yes, but you can and should make sure you have as much information as possible in advance about the following…

  • Weather conditions: what can you expect during your trip?

Knowing your forecast will allow you to prepare your gear accordingly and prepare for quickly changing weather.

  • Trail conditions: is your trail open at this time of year?

Make sure you check if the trail you have chosen is open to the public and if any other difficulties or obstacles will be in your path.

  • Day length: how much daylight will you have during your hike?

This will allow you to plan and time your trek, especially if it’s a long stretch.

  • Wild animals: what wildlife activity can you expect in the area you chose?

This especially applies to regions where bear and/or mountain lions live, where you should be extra cautious with carrying and storing food and other smelly products like sunscreen and lotion!

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Skills and Education

You’ll acquire both skills and knowledge over time, mostly through experience. However there’s a good chunk of knowledge you can get before your adventures.

Educate yourself by reading books and articles (like this onethis one, and this one), listening to podcasts like The First 40 Miles, DirtBag Diaries, and Sounds of the Trail, and watching some wilderness survival videos (like “Magnetic Declination Demystified“, “How to Tie the Simplest (But Also The Most Useful) Knot in the World” and the “Ultimate Hiking Gear & Skills Clinic“. Whenever possible, attend trainings and get first-hand experience in a safe, controlled setting.

Try and test things out yourself as well! Trying to start a fire for the first time on the trail is not a good idea. Put effort in acquiring as much knowledge as possible in advance; it will pay off once you’re out there in the wild!

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Equipment

The gear you carry is everything you will have to survive on your own in the wild. Make sure you know how to use it, make sure you can rely on each and every piece in your backpack.

To do that you MUST test out ALL of your gear in advance. Every part of your equipment should be checked long before you take your first steps on the trail. Go walking or hiking in your shoes for several miles, wear your backpack while doing so, try cooking something on your small camp stove.

The very best way to prepare your gear is to embark on smaller hikes and walks where you can test most of it before you take your big wilderness trip!

Fitness

You need to be able to trust your body as much as your gear.

Knowing your abilities and limits is important because it lets you set boundaries and manage your own expectations. How much weight can you carry for a couple of hours? How many miles can you hike before you need to rest? How will your feet react to constant use?

These are the questions you need to know answers to before you start your adventure. I recommend starting a small training routine to strengthen your legs, core and back as well. This will make all your hikes much easier and allow you enjoy your adventures even more!

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You Did It!

When you meet a woman in the wilderness, you know she’s special.

She has a particular energy about her, a kind of strength and power. That’s what solo adventures give you.

They empower you, give you self confidence, and build your trust in your skills and abilities. They make you realize that you can handle so much more than you thought you could.

The adventurous woman who travels, hikes, backpacks, or does any other kind of solo outdoor trip becomes a better version of herself. She is healthier, happier and more fulfilled — and she doesn’t leave that behind on the trail. She takes all those positive things back into her everyday life.

No challenge at work is comparable to that last stretch with no water and an aching body… No fight is as threatening as that terrible storm that almost blew her off the mountain. Her inner self gets stronger with every trip she takes. Now, she makes decisions with confidence; her mind is sharp and fast.

The truth is that the ability to survive in the wild on your own makes you a strong, confident and self-aware person. The energy you get on your adventure will influence others around you, too. You’ll inspire your friends to be more courageous. To trust themselves more. To take on challenges directly and not shy away from something that might stretch their comfort zone.

So follow your dreams, adventurous woman, and don’t get discouraged. Have respect for nature on your solo trip, but have no fear.

About Karo

Photo - KaroKaro is a passionate hiker with a true calling. Every trail is an adventure and every adventure is a lesson. When not hiking she’s either planning her next tattoo or writing to her blog where she shares her knowledge and experience with other outdoors-loving people. Connect with Karo at Trail Maiden.

July 18, 2016
Cuba: In-Depth With Hillary Griffith

What was the very first reason you traveled to Cuba, over 15 years ago?

I have a long love of dance. I was dancing salsa when the Afro-Cuban all-stars came through Boulder, Colorado many years ago. I mentioned to them that I had just finished dancing for famous salsa artist El Canario’s music video, who was finishing shooting in Denver then. I took them to meet him, and we all became friends.

As they were leaving the country, they called me for help with some sound gear issues. They were so grateful I helped them out, and told me to come visit them as a thank you. I went there initially with that invitation. This was in the 90s.

I was dancing at a large congress event that was happening in Puerto Rico every summer at that time. I was on my way there with one of my dancer friends when I went to Cuba with a research license. In Cuba, I stayed in a little town just outside of Havana with one of the families of one of the artists.

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

I fell in love with Cuba after the first five days, mainly because the people are incredibly beautiful. If there’s a place where you’re going to experience community and the most non-judgmental culture ever, it’s Cuba! Everybody has struggled there, so there’s so much compassion for surviving. People know that everyone has to work together to survive.

During that first trip, we had dinner one night with some family members and friends. One of the guys who lived in the house was so excited for one of their good friends to come. He wouldn’t stop going on about her, telling me she would be the most beautiful woman I’ll ever meet.

When this woman arrived, a bunch of neighbors came together and carried her in her wheelchair up to the third floor of the apartment building. This guy treated her like the most beautiful, incredible woman in the world. I had never seen somebody treat a disabled person with so much admiration and love and inclusion. It was amazing.

Once I went to Cuba that first time, I was sold. I had to go back and see more. Five days was not enough.

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

As you went back multiple times over the years, how did you get into Cuba?

Over the years, people have found many creative ways to get into Cuba. It was never illegal to go to, but it was illegal to spend money there. The Cubans were never against having Americans there.

There were a lot of legal ways to get there. In some cases, I was involved with an organization or a group that had permission to go. I was able to do that for example, with the Cuban Sister City Organization for many years.

There were a lot of ways one could travel to Cuba, for example to do research, for religious reasons, or for educational purposes. I traveled that way too in some cases. These days, it’s very easy to go.

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Are there direct flights now for people who want to go from the U.S. to Cuba?

No, there aren’t many. American Airlines, for example, has been flying out of Miami for many years. Last I saw, a lot of the airlines were fighting over which ones would get to fly directly into Cuba. I think it’s supposed to be 20 daily flights into Havana, and another 10 throughout the rest of the country starting in November 2016.

Right now, the best way to go from Colorado is probably to Cancun and then to Cuba, because it’s the shortest travel distance. Cancun is the cheapest place to get accommodation if you have to spend the night.

 

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Have you already seen things start to change in Cuba despite little outside influence from the developed West?

Remember that though the American embargo was in place for years, very few other countries in the world have had travel restrictions for Cuba. Europeans have been going there for a while. I don’t know if it seemed as hot of a destination, because it didn’t get the same sort marketing that it does now.

A lot of people say, “I want to get to Cuba before it changes,” but Cuba has been changing all the time. When I started going there, things were still raw, in a way. There has been a change in the urban landscape. You used to see Santeria ceremonies, the main religion in Cuba, in neighborhoods that are now more touristic locations.

Santeria is a blend of Yoruban polytheism and Catholicism. In this religion, there are multiple gods and goddesses who come onto Earth and possess people, and then through those people they offer wisdom and blessings. There are certain rhythms that are played only for ceremonies, which open the door to the heavens. Anybody can become possessed in a ceremony. It’s quite an experience.

People of that religion greet one another with the same kind of deep admiration and respect that they would a god or goddess, because anyone is a potential vessel for the god or goddess to run through.

As a dancer, I love it. I discovered Santeria for the first time when I was wandering down the street and heard those rhythms. I thought, “What is this rhythm that I’ve never danced to?” I went to go check it out, people invited me in, and I discovered this whole new experience.

A lot of people are very scared when looking at another religion, but it’s amazing to experience and witness and contemplate an entirely different mindset.

I live part of the year in West Africa too, and I see where some of the roots in indigenous villages there have evolved in Cuba. It’s quite fascinating to see the parts of Cuban culture that are really African.

I think that one of the reasons why communism became attractive as a political system in Cuba is because in African culture, you share everything. In Africa, everyone sits around and eats form the same bowl, no matter how much food there is. A certain amount is cooked, and if more people from the village show up, it goes to smaller portions. People who work come home and share with their entire family compound, which could be around 50 people. Sharing is a very natural African value and psychology.

It’s very difficult for an African living in that context to step up from a quality of life standpoint. They get stuck sharing their income with the larger group. It’s interesting to see both the beauty of that as well as the challenges that come with it.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

 

What would you say to someone who wants to be a little more adventurous, to convince him or her to go to Cuba and discover what it has to offer? Is there something in particular that Cuba can unlock in a traveler who goes there for the first time?

I think Americans tend to feel isolated, but in Cuba you really feel what it’s like to be fully welcomed and taken in. When you’ve experienced all that nurturing and love from strangers who take you right in like you’re family, you know how to bring that back and share that with others.

Some women go to Cuba and feel a little overwhelmed, because men talk a lot on the streets. It’s a very macho culture, but also one that has a lot of love, appreciation, and respect for women. What the men value about women they fully value, and they acknowledge that and speak it out loud.

I always tell women to not take it so seriously. I feel like it’s a form of entertainment for Cubans. They don’t have access to a lot of things, like cable TV or the internet, so they sit on the street in front of their houses in Havana, watch people parade by, and find ways to say interesting, poetic comments and see which ones catch. It’s like going fishing with your words.

People will always speak. The choice is yours to respond or not respond. Americans tend to be very friendly. In Cuba you want to look the other way and kind of smile, but not engage with the other person unless you want that contact.

It’s okay to be really feminine in Cuba, which I think is sometimes hard to do in American culture with all the issues around sexual harassment or what’s politically correct. I feel like people have to be very gender neutral in the United States. In Cuba, women get a chance to rediscover parts of their femininity that they don’t always get to express or experience.

Men are also forced into being more gender neutral in the United States. I think that men here are terrified of doing something wrong. It might be refreshing for them to be in a place where they can also be more traditional and feel that role.

Anytime you travel or find yourself in an international scene, you have to learn how that culture sees the world. Anytime you step out of your own culture and place, the first thing to do is to observe the people around you carefully, and see what it is they’re doing to learn the lay of the land. That way, you will move through the challenging parts more quickly.

 

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Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

How do the things that you would normally purchase in America on a daily basis differ in Cuba, and how are they similar? What should travelers prepare for?

I would say that Cuba is changing about every three months at an “avalanche-turbo-rate” right now. Years ago, for example, I would never have thought of eating out at a restaurant. They were all state run.

About three to five years ago, Cuba had a policy change so that people can now own private property and start an enterprise. This has started to take off within the last year.

In the one neighborhood that I usually live in, there are about six great restaurants that opened up, and they’re all fantastic. It’s great, creative food. There are no Starbucks or that kind of thing, but we don’t know at what rate things will progress and in what direction they will go. You might go to a smaller town though, and still see what things were like in the past.

As a tourist, what would you do in that situation? Would you have to go into a family’s home and ask to share with them?

In the past, the best food you would eat would always be in people’s homes. Some people have formalized those into paladar, where they have their little restaurant in the front living room of their house.

In other cases, you would maybe ask around a neighborhood, or you’d ask the family you were staying with who the best cook is in the neighborhood. You could go to different neighbors and spread out the wealth by giving them some money and having them cook your dinner that night. That’s pretty much how I always ate.

The food is incredible, because about 90 percent of it is grown locally, and it’s organic. There’s nothing like fresh guava juice in the morning, and fresh coffee from a little organic farm.

Another funny thing for travelers is that it’s good money to sell a pig. I was staying in one house just before New Years. The family next door had been raising three pigs and decided to kill them at 7:00 one morning. It was quite horrible to hear the pig scream, but that’s the reality of real food and what it takes to get that food.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

What was the most surprising thing or things that you’ve experienced in or about Cuba so far?

That’s hard, because I’ve been going there for so many years. I think one thing people will find very curious is that Cubans live a kind of double life. In the past, everyone was required to have his or her state job, and almost everyone also had an additional ‘under the table’ job to survive.

Then Cuba started allowing free enterprise, which has been transitioning into people starting their own businesses. Almost everyone is a small business owner, unless they’re still working for the state. They might be taxi drivers, or own a house and rent rooms, or have a restaurant, or sew clothes. People can now start registering those as private enterprises.

Because it was illegal to have a second job in the past, Cuba never had any marketing or advertising. There are no signs or billboards there now. People traveling to Cuba might find it very refreshing to be in a non-commercial space.

In the case of second jobs, people had to work only with people they trusted. Any time you wanted to find or buy something, you had to go through a network of trust. Cuba still operates that way, because these are patterns that are really ingrained in people.

You could also look at how collective trauma happens. Unfortunately, it’s happening all over the world right now. Cuba has had it’s own, too, like the repercussions of the embargo and the “special period”  that have left their mark on how Cubans function in the world. It’s interesting to observe a culture where people have lived under a lot of repression, and see all the ways they have learned to survive.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

I’ve heard that the average Cuban is joyful and self-expressed. Despite the destruction, trauma, and human rights issues, how are Cubans still so happy?

Cubans have also had many great things. Not that they live well on government subsidies, but they have always had food, healthcare, education, housing, and transportation covered in a basic way.

I feel like Cuba came through a time where it responded to a very urgent issue, like the Special Period, when Russia stepped out and the American embargo was in place. Suddenly grandparents were starving to death to make sure their grandchildren were being fed. When you see that happening with your people, you want to get that figured out. So what do you do?

There are policies such as if you kill a cow, you go to prison for life. It’s pretty damn straight.  Some people would say that’s ridiculous for someone to be in prison for life for killing a cow, but they look at it like if you’re killing a cow, you’re killing six people, because six people don’t have access to the milk.

The laws are also changing in Cuba. It used to be illegal to hold American dollars, but it’s not anymore. So what should happen with the people who are still in prison from 10 years ago who did it, because it’s no longer illegal? Are they going to be given amnesty? All these things are rapidly evolving.

I think this is very positive, but it’s also part of a natural evolution of coming out of a place of chaos and moving towards a place of stability. I think growing too fast has also been a challenge for Cuba. They’ve been sort of fast-tracking many things to try to really work with this time that Obama is in office, because the policies of the people who are running for office now could be radically different. This is creating this hyper speed for change, and that also comes with its risks and challenges. They’re dealing with choices, and what the consequences are of the different scenarios.

 

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Do you now take people to Cuba with you? Is this a business for you, or is it for fun?

I started a company called Havana Creative. It started out because people—my family, friends, and acquaintances—knew I spent a lot of time in Cuba and everyone had questions. As it has started to open, many people have been coming to me to ask for advice on where to go, where to stay, what to see and what to do.

It’s a place that I love, so I love to send people and to encourage them to go and discover it. It became so much of a full-time activity, that I decided I needed to formalize it. I’m at the very early phases of creating a website that is a portal for information.

I’m just building the website now. It’ll be located at www.havanacreative.com when it’s live. Basic things that I’ve been helping with have been facilitating lodging and housing for people. These are things that you can kind of get online and see photographs of sometimes, but I want to help people in really knowing what neighborhood they’re in, that it’s the right neighborhood, that you’re in a clean, safe and good house with good people. A place that’s not just about the photographs, but is also a really great spot with amazing people.

I want to be able to connect people to really local resources, like a university professor who could take them on a walking tour of architecture or urban planning, or help them create a custom itinerary based on some special interests. So it’s a very personalized, local perspective, getting people comfortable but integrated into what people on an average day experience.

And yes, there are still a lot of challenges with traveling in Cuba.

You’ll wait in line for so many things. There aren’t many banks. You only change money in the change house, or CADECA, but the line is very long. If you’re buying an Internet card, the line is very long.

You can do things on the street, but not everybody is comfortable changing their money on the black market, or if they don’t speak the language, not knowing whom they’re buying the card from. And that guy probably spent a couple hours waiting in line to buy the legal limit of like three half an hour Internet cards, and he’s going to sell two. It becomes a business for him.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

People make a business out of waiting in line in Cuba.

Around New Years Eve, a lot of people kill pigs for the holidays. They come and they deliver pigs in these giant trucks. People will be out there just like on black Friday, and they’ll be there the day before to get their ticket to get their place in line to buy the pig. They’ll resell their ticket to people, so some people don’t have to wait in line.

If you’re going for a short holiday, you don’t want to spend half of it waiting in lines. One thing that Havana Creative can facilitate is helping with things like internet cards and bus tickets, or getting things that you’d otherwise have to spend a lot of time waiting to get. In addition, I am really interested in helping facilitate people who also want to bring small groups down, especially any sort of creative arts, or entrepreneurial activities.

One of the things I’ve done is blocked inventory of a lot of really great casas that have 6 to 10 rooms for 10 to 20 people, because there’s not enough infrastructure to support the influx of tourism right now. I’ve made the reservations and paid the deposits to have certain inventory. So with some of these pieces, as well as the contacts I have, I can make it easy for a small group to come down and have a great experience there.

There are a few trips that I’m personally facilitating and leading, in addition to helping other people who want to do that. I am bringing about 25 business students from the University of Colorado-Boulder Global Creativity and Innovation MBA class down for a two-week tour at the end of April. We’re doing things like having dinner with Cuban entrepreneurs, who are some of the people that Obama met with. We have lectures on economics, legal structures, import and export, and manufacturing.

There were also fun things mixed in with that, like an activity called Havana Hacks, where people can go out and look for creative hacks for how Cubans have solved small problems in creative ways. So it might be that they reused a water bottle to create a watering system. We will be looking for these kinds of things, then facilitating some sort of dialogues and discussions around it.

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

Photo by Adria Ellis, @aconica

I’m doing a dance trip from July 18th through the 22nd. I’m bringing people for dance workshops, and it’s overlapping with the carnival period in Santiago. Carnival time is not based on religion there, but on the Día de la Revolución on the 26th, so it focuses around this Cuban independence celebration.

In the future, I would really like to do more things that facilitate the arts from a tourism standpoint. A fantasy end goal would be to work with a lot of Cuban artists who are friends of mine and who are jazz artists, musicians, dancers, and painters. I want to work with everybody in the arts and create a collaborative, creative space. Cuba has such a vibrant, creative culture, and for me to bring people together in that environment and collaborate on creative work would be very special.

There’s nothing like having an informal jazz jam session, and letting people bring in whatever their instrument or background is and create fusions. It’s the same thing with dance. What happens when you mix tango with salsa, or some other dance form? It creates a really interesting, invigorated space!

Where is the best place to go for people who want to find out more about you or your work?

At this moment, if they’re interested in doing anything with Cuba, they should email info[at]havanacreative.com.

 

About Hillary

d77646_a642eeb026ef457787cafbcadabf5669Hillary Griffith has been traveling to Cuba for over 15 years, as a dancer, an artist, and a social entrepreneur. She is the founder of Havana Creative, a company that facilitates group travel to Cuba for people who want to experience the country in-depth. For more information or to join a group, email her at info[at]havanacreative.com.

May 15, 2016
Traveling with a Purpose: Anita Wing Lee

Anita Wing Lee is a 25-year-old blogger turned international broadcaster, humanitarian, and meditation guide. She is the founder of Project Soul Fam and has done international development work over the past couple years.

She recently found her passion through Periscope, an site that lets you explore the world through someone else’s eyes, that allows her to produce content and share her story in real time, evolve with her audience, and build a community. On her Periscope @anitawinglee she shares daily scopes of guided meditation, her travels, spiritual guidance, book clubs and more.

Anita knows it’s hard to make that initial leap to travel. Once she did, and once she discovered her purpose, she couldn’t get enough of it.

Her advice? It’s not about being where you are in the world, she says, but about the state of mind that you have (the traveler’s mindset!) — being alive, aware, empathetic, and compassionate.

Check out the interview with Anita below to find out how to find and fund travel opportunities with a purpose everywhere — even in your own neighborhood!

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April 13, 2016
Beautiful Cuba: Deeper Than A Journey ‘Back In Time’

What was your experience in Cuba like, Adria?

Everyone is talking about Cuba and wanting to go to Cuba, but many people don’t quite understand how to travel there. What I have learned after just having gone to Cuba is that it can indeed be a tricky place to travel. When I arrived, I nearly forgot that it’s a communist country. The little things I could easily overlook became bizarre when I really started to pay attention.

The first big thing I came across that was surprising and interesting was that even finding a bottle of water to purchase isn’t easy. I had been out for a long time, probably three or four hours, and it was hot. I was thirsty and wanted to buy a bottle of water, but there were no corner stores or small shops that sold it. It took me an hour of walking around to find a place and when I did, I waited in line for about 30 minutes.

The other thing I noticed was that there is no media. There are no corner stores, bookstores, magazines, or newspapers—nothing that isn’t produced by the government. I imagine the government is not interested in people having access to it, and the Cuban people don’t have the money to buy media-related things.

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There are also no ATMs in Cuba and credit cards aren’t used, so you will have to bring enough U.S. dollars for your entire trip.

Hardly any windows at street level in Cuba have glass; it’s common to see bars and shutters that close firmly. Everyone’s doors and windows are always open, so when you’re walking down the street, you can just look directly into everyone’s homes and you get a clear taste of exactly how people are living.

Another interesting thing is that Cuba’s literacy rate ranks among the highest in the world. Basic medical and healthcare is 100 percent provided for. But the average salary is $40 a month regardless if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, or a bus driver, or if you’re 20 years old and making Cuban ham sandwiches in a restaurant—everyone makes the same amount of money.

It’s fascinating to observe and it made me appreciate certain aspects of our lives and our government in the U.S. that many people are critical of.

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The main job that Cubans get that is outside of the government control is that of a taxi driver. Taxi drivers get a license from the government to have their car be a taxi. They get paid cash, primarily from tourists. A taxi ride from the airport to Old Havana is about $25, versus $40 for a standard monthly salary. The number of taxi drivers that are educated doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers is incredible, simply because they can make so much more money driving a taxi.

The majority of the people who travel to Cuba rent rooms in people’s houses. It’s like Airbnb, but the Cubans were renting rooms well before Airbnb became popular. Many people don’t have telephones or Internet, so the main way to find places to stay is to knock on doors as you go around. Everyone has a little symbol on the outside of his or her doors, which looks like a little blue anchor.

If you do want to stay in a hotel in Cuba, you could check out the H10 Hotels in Havana or Varadero.

What I noticed while traveling in Cuba is that people change their minds quickly. For instance, you could have a room set up, but perhaps the guest that was supposed to leave decides to stay longer. If that happens, you’re out of luck. Or maybe someone the host likes or knows better shows up, and they give “your” room to them instead. You really have to be ready and willing to just go with whatever comes up.

From this short trip, I’ve connected with two people I can trust so that the next time I go I can stay with them easily. Having the connections is part of what makes travel in Cuba rich and interesting, and it’s amazing to have even just a little support when traveling there.

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Are Cubans friendly towards tourists?

Everyone I came across was very friendly and quite a few of them speak English. They’re not used to seeing many Americans, so they got excited to speak with me. I was there one week before Obama visited, so everyone was talking about that. The U.S. is the biggest thing in their news right now, and there I was, an American walking in their streets.

But it’s a little curious—my friend Hillary told me this would happen, and at first it sounded weird to me: Cubans might invite you to do things, but they will never have money to pay for anything.

No one begs on the streets, but there is hardly anyone you talk to who, upon realizing you’re an American, doesn’t ask you for money. You really have to think about how you feel about giving people money, and choose how you want to deal with it. A lot of people bring gifts for the people they meet, like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, pens, and paper.

I always just try to be genuine and to connect with the people on a human level. Every once in a while, there will just be something about that person’s energy or their eyes, something that I can feel in them, and I feel moved to give them the change in my pocket. But most of the time I tried to avoid it.

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Why do you think it’s important for people to travel to Cuba now, despite the difficulties they might face?

I think what most Americans feel, and what I feel, is that Cuba is getting ready to change. We have a feeling that it’s kind of untouched, and it hasn’t changed. In that way it feels a bit like a time capsule. It’s fascinating to go and experience that.

I don’t feel that there are all that many places left in the world that are still this particular way. I’ve traveled all over the world, and I haven’t been to many places where there’s not a 7/11 and a rack of magazines. That doesn’t exist in Cuba.

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Do the Cuban people want change?

My friend Hillary was having a conversation with a Cuban friend one time, and she asked him what his dreams are.

His response to her was, “I’m Cuban. We don’t dream.”

She asked him what his wildest dream would be. The biggest thing that he could imagine was to get his passport and be able to leave the country to see something else in the world.

There’s little concept of dreaming, culturally. There has never been anything introduced in the Cuban psyche to want things to be different than they are. If we think back to immigrants who came to America, their dreams were simply to have a roof over their heads and raise a family. This is similar to the ethos that the Cubans are living in. It’s a whole different way of thinking and the idea of movement, freedom, and seeing the world is a newer thing.

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There’s a positive flip side to this, which I recognized and admired: Cubans live in the present. They are present in their lives, right where they are, no matter what.

As Americans, we are so wired. Our entire country was based on the idea of coming here and developing it to be able to have freedom and to be able to create what we wanted. I think that has created a society of people that are constantly looking for something else, something more, and nothing is ever good enough. Sometimes we get it in our minds that people should want change, or that people should want to be “like us”. But Cubans have a kindness and brightness in their eyes and spirit that’s so genuine, despite not changing or seeking change as many of us in the U.S. do.

One of the things that I really notice is that when I’m traveling, I’m more present. I am present to what is in front of me and to what I’m experiencing. There is something in me where I almost feel like I need that sense of newness. I was so aware of watching it change as I was in Cuba for just 10 days.

I believe that being present is valuable, that it’s one of the keys in the big picture of life. I also notice I’m not as present at home and I take things around me for granted. See, I’ve seen everything around me at home a thousand times, whereas when I’m traveling, everything is new and I focus on exactly where I am in each moment.

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How did photography allow you to see Cuba differently?

As a photographer, I feel that I see a lot of the specific details. I see little nuances of daily life and of people. I like watching people–how they interact, how they move, how their expressions change. I feel like photography sort of sucks me into seeing minute details.

I noticed that all the falling-down buildings had white marble staircases and beautiful iron work, and the walls used to be hand-painted. The floors were made of old, concrete, painted floor tiles, that then change on every floor and in every room. They were all multi-colored, with geometric or floral patterns.

On this last trip, the barbers got my attention–big time. Cubans hair and grooming culture is so detailed, more specifically for men more than women. Their haircuts have lower shaved sections with designs etched into the hair, often with a longer piece, gelled, coming down, with jagged edges, and manicured eyebrows, arched high, plucked and shaved. Their arms and chests are shaved. It was a huge contrast to see these young men so image aware.

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I always have this little phrase in the back of my mind: “the new normal.” I love it when you go somewhere and the new normals are not in place yet.

The way I take pictures has changed significantly in the last four or five years. I shoot 100 percent with my iPhone, so I’m technically an iPhoneographer.

When I am shooting with my iPhone, I find that I am more present, and feel more connected to what is going on around me. It’s a spontaneous experience: I feel more freedom, and there is so little weight. For me, less is more. I choose to trade the controls and sophistication for simplicity and freedom.

When I am taking a picture I feel what I see and the internal satisfaction is immense. I see a sense of balance in the frame and then I feel that sense of balance in my body. I like to imagine that the viewer can feel this as well. I experience a visual joy, I feel it in my entire being and I am happy. My photography is truly a meditation that allows me to connect with my surroundings and then share what it is that I see and experience.

About Adria

d77646_ba4e5e06cb8c418ba3a08d15e65bde78Adria Ellis is an artist, a photographer, and a creator. She loves to document and share what she sees. She spent years in school learning to use a 4 X 5 camera, process film, print in the dark room, and produce technically perfect images. In the last four years, her creative process has morphed into something so much more enjoyable and simple, more pleasing to her senses. She has transitioned to shooting with her iPhone. She loves the simplicity and the accessibility. She shoots more than ever, and finds that her images carry a new sense of freedom and depth. The shift has resulted in an immense body of work. She loves shooting landscapes, the ocean, fruit, flowers, people are her daily comings and goings. For the moment she has an unsatiated need for love and travel. In the last year, she has been to Cuba, India, Russia, Mexico, Canada, and all over the U.S. Southeast Asia is scheduled for April 2016!

April 8, 2016
Climate Change Work & Life Abroad In The Philippines

TM: What kind of work do you do with climate change in the Philippines?

Naima: I am working under two different hats in the Philippines: one a policy hat, the other a private sector hat, but both hats share the same “green” color.

Under the policy hat, I work as a research fellow for the Ateneo School of Government towards collaborating with the private sector on developing policies and incentives consistent with sustainable development and climate change objectives in the Philippines.

Under the private sector hat, I work with WEnergy Global, a one-stop renewable energy solution provider with a regional focus in ASEAN countries.

How did you come to work internationally?

After graduating high school, I decided to take a gap year and volunteer in Guatemala, where I taught English and health to the children of migrant coffee workers. It was during that year that I was first exposed to both the challenges and excitement of living in another country. I have since become addicted to that environment.

During university, I spent a summer in Uganda working on malaria prevention. I also returned to Guatemala to carry out my thesis research. Since then, I have also lived and worked in Bangladesh, Germany, Spain, and now the Philippines, with a two-year New York City stint in between.

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What are the effects of climate change on a country made up of islands?

The Philippines constantly ranks in the top three most vulnerable countries to climate change. A country made up of 7,000 islands, the Philippines is in a part of the world that gets a lot of big tropical storms. In the past few years, the Philippines has experienced some of the worst storms ever to make landfall on Earth. The mayor of Tacloban, one of the cities that was hit in 2013, continues to find cadavers around every two weeks.

As a developing country, with very little access to vital resources, the Philippines has a low ability to adapt and cope with disasters brought about by climate change impacts.

A report by the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources identifies five different risk factors that contribute to its vulnerability: A rise in sea levels, extreme rainfall events, extreme heating events, increased ocean temperatures, and a disturbed water budget. Given the Philippines’ vast shorelines and built-in geographic susceptibility, any one of these could be disastrous.

Debris lines the streets of Tacloban, Leyte island. This region was the worst affected by the typhoon, causing widespread damage and loss of life. Caritas is responding by distributing food, shelter, hygiene kits and cooking utensils. (Photo: Eoghan Rice - Trócaire / Caritas)

Climate change will continue to affect sectors that are strategically important for economic growth, e.g. agriculture, fisheries, and water resource management.

Given the island remoteness of much of the population, many people are not connected to the main electricity grid and have to buy expensive diesel instead.

In addition, while the country is committed to reducing 70 percent of its emissions by 2030, the government is considering approving 20+ coal plants. This is clearly a big case for transitioning to renewable energy!

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How does life as a non-native give you a different perspective on the country?

More than 10 percent of Filipinos are OFW (overseas foreign workers), a majority of these living in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Compared to the reputation of the U.S. among most other countries in the world, Filipinos actually adore the U.S. They fanatically follow politics, sports (especially basketball), and pop culture. Most of my colleagues here know more about the latest Kardashian update and Trump idiocy than I do. So be prepared, if you plan to visit here, to answer A LOT of questions about the U.S.

One of the most startling realizations I made here was how many Filipinos work in call centers. Because of the Philippines’ history under U.S. rule, most Filipinos speak English and learn it in school. The accent is very light compared to other call-center-heavy countries (e.g. India), so the U.S. prefers to hire them (to lessen the harassment that some rude Americans give to people who speak English with any hint of a foreign accent).

The unfortunate consequence of this outsourcing is the negative impacts of the work on the health and psyche of these mostly young employees. They work shifts ranging from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. (given the 12 hour time difference to EST). This leads to unnatural biorhythms, high HIV rates, and increasing rates of depression–thanks to the monotony of the job and abusiveness of the clients. So next time you call customer service, think about what time of night it may be for the other person on the line.

Children greet the aircrew of an SH-60F Seahawk helicopter in Balasan, Philippines, July 1, 2008, after they delivered humanitarian supplies to their school. The helicopter and its crew are assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 4, Carrier Air Wing 14, which is embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) under way in the Sulu Sea off the coast of the Philippines. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to victims of Typhoon Fengshen, which struck the Philippines June 23, 2008. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)

Nonetheless, no matter what difficulty Filipinos face (including probably the most annoying one of all–the inescapable traffic of Manila), they always maintain a light-hearted spirit.

I have never come across a people as sympathetic, happy, friendly, welcoming, smiley, positive, fun-loving, generous, and hospitable as the Filipinos. The vibe here feels like the exact opposite as that of New York City.

Several times, I have had an experience such as the following one: I wait forever at the bank, for an Uber driver, or at a cashier due to some technical issue, system failure, or crappy Wi-Fi connection. I am exasperated by the time I am finally attended to, and want to make some snarky remark.

But within 10 seconds, that cashier, driver, or bank teller has won me over with their smile, sincere apology, and go-lucky attitude. And I am once again feeling so happy to be here.

 

About Naima

d77646_5588ead6fb934947b5d44cf026e848cbBorn in Guatemala to Costa Rican and German parents, Naima proudly brings a global perspective to whatever she does. Previously working as a strategist to accelerate public mobilization on sustainable solutions, she has also worked with GIZ in Bangladesh, and UN Women in New York. She is now based in the Philippines. Naima earned her degree in Public Policy from Duke University and wrote her thesis on the use of efficient cookstoves in Guatemala. Alongside her work, Naima is a trained salsa dancer/acro-yogi and loves performing.

March 31, 2016

Northern Ireland coastline

TM: What’s not to love about Northern Ireland?

Helen: The rugged coastline and majestic Mourne Mountains of our home town of Newcastle, pictured above, are just one of the many great sights in Northern Ireland. Landmarks like Balintoy Harbour and Dark Hedges (made famous in Game of Thrones) have firmly put Northern Ireland on the map. Not forgetting, of course, the stunning Fermanagh Lakes, the legendary Giants Causeway, the walled city of Derry, and the Cathedral city of Armagh.

There’s so much to see and do in Northern Ireland, with outdoor activities, surfing, cycling, and hiking now as popular as ever. From a foodie point of view, Northern Ireland is making big waves with two new Michelin starred restaurants and countless fine dining gems spread across the country.

Our personal favorite has to be Brunel’s Restaurant in Newcastle. We’re a bit biased, as it’s on our doorstep, but it truly is something special – an intimate setting worth checking out if you visit the area of Newry & Mourne on your trip to Northern Ireland.

Here’s a blog post we did recently on our home town of Newcastle complete with video (which was viewed over 40,000 times on Facebook). This should give you a glimpse of what’s ahead!

To start you off, we wanted to share with you a recipe that will bring a taste of Northern Ireland to your home, wherever you are in the world.

An Irish Twist on Classic Crêpe Suzette

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A visit to the Jameson Distillery in Dublin inspired us to incorporate the whiskey into some of our favorite recipes. We purchased some Jameson marmalade on our visit to the distillery and instantly thought of several dishes to use this in.

The dish that stood out the most was the French classic – crêpe suzette. This is a great breakfast or brunch recipe to try out for those of you with a sweet tooth. Crêpe suzette is traditionally made with brandy or orange liqueur but we have been inspired to try the Jameson marmalade in place of this. The Jameson adds a subtle undertone to the zesty orange sauce.

Ingredients

(Makes 8 – 10 crêpes)

For the crêpe batter:
  • 8 oz (220g) plain flour
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 4 large free range eggs
  • 14 fl oz (400ml) milk
  • 6 fl oz (150ml) water
  • Grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 3 oz (85g) melted butter
For the sauce:
  • Juice from 2 – 3 large oranges
  • Grated zest and segments of 1 large orange
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 heaped tbsp Jameson marmalade (or Jameson whiskey)
  • 2 tbsp clear honey

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Directions

1. Preparing your batter:

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a small well in the center of the flour and break the eggs into it. Begin whisking, ensuring to incorporate all the flour. Mix the milk and water into a jug and gradually add this to the egg mix. Keep whisking this mix until all lumps are removed. Add the orange zest and caster sugar and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter to the mix. Once this is done, your batter is now ready.

Tip: Half fill a saucepan with boiling water and set a dinner plate on top. Keep the heat under the saucepan and set a piece of kitchen paper on top of the dinner plate. This will be used to keep the crêpes warm during the cooking process.

2. Making your sauce:

Pour the orange juice, caster sugar and honey into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the orange zest and segments at this stage and lower the heat. Allow the sauce to simmer for 10 – 15 minutes or until it develops a syrupy consistency. Add the Jameson marmalade (or Jameson whiskey) to the syrup mix and keep on a low heat until your crêpes are ready.

3. Creating your crêpes:

Pre-heat a large, non stick pan to a medium heat. Dip some folded kitchen paper into the remaining melted butter and grease the pan. Using a ladle, transfer some of the batter into the centre of the pan, tipping the pan to spread evenly. Cook until bubbles begin to appear and the crêpe moves freely once pan is shook. Flip the crêpe using a fish slice or spatula and cook on the other side for approximately 30 seconds.

4. Serve and enjoy:

Once all the crêpes have been made, fold into quarters and serve with the warm, zesty sauce. For extra indulgence, add a dollop of whipped cream.

About Nial & Helen

d77646_410e7b66c0cb48d6bf376dc7f3b0c2abNial and Helen are a newly married couple from Northern Ireland who share a passion for food and travel. They want to share their food and travel adventures through their blog Pikalily as they share some of their favorite recipes, dining experiences, and travel experiences.

March 18, 2016
Come Alive In Nicaragua With Viviendas León

TM: How is León a transformative destination?

Evan: León is in many ways an ideal location for students. It is a large Spanish colonial city rich in architecture and culture. It is the center of academic life in Nicaragua, boasting the national university of law, medicine, business, and other graduate level disciplines, undergraduate degree programs, and numerous other college institutions. It has been the center of international aid programs since before the revolution, and a great destination for travelers of all ages.

What is Viviendas León?

Viviendas León is an international sustainable development organization, founded in 2003. Our goal is to alleviate poverty in the rural communities of Nicaragua through a human centered model of development. This is supported by capacity-building partnerships, and the involvement of student volunteers and interns through our global citizenship travel program.

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How do you support Nicaraguans?

Nicaragua ranks among the lowest countries economically in the western hemisphere. Rural communities suffer with chronic undernourishment, struggle with an unreliable food supply, and rely on international food aid. 23 percent of children under the age of 5 suffer from these conditions.

Levels of education among the adult population averages just 5.8 years, while school age children attend for an average of 10.8 years. The combined gross enrollment in 2012 was 70 percent.

48 percent of the national population lives below the poverty line. 79.9 percent of this group lives on less than $2 per day, and 80 percent of the indigenous population lives on less than $1 per day. More than 50 percent of the national population is either unemployed or underemployed. Nearly 4 out of 5 of the population of Nicaragua lives in rural communities, many of which are within proximity to large towns or cities.

Viviendas León works with rural communities in León, a region with an urban population of 201,000 and a rural population of 188,600 (as of 2005), including an indigenous population of 10,863. Rural communities are characterized by clusters of family lands ranging in size from less than one acre to more than ten. These communities share similar characteristics of poverty, including apathy and lack of capacity; low levels of education, civic engagement, and youth development; and undernourishment, unemployment, and chronic diseases.

Viviendas León focuses on the most widely available resource in Nicaragua: human potential.

We work with people who have been marginalized by generations of poverty to help them regain their self esteem and capacity to become productive and successful citizens. Our development philosophy emphasizes direct engagement of the population through education, training, and project based programs to help them be the agents of their own transformation. Student volunteers and interns play a critical role in assisting families in their development through direct project involvement, research, and logistical support.

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How does your work impact the local communities?

Since 2003, Viviendas León has worked in Goyena, a population of 1,250 within the indigenous population of Sutiaba. Our deep involvement in this community has allowed us to closely examine the needs, deficits, and assets of a rural community, as well as to design, implement, and evaluate a variety of programs for adults and youth that create sustainable development.

The work of the last 12 years has underscored relationship building and trust as a fundamental value in successful development. The importance of adult and youth parallel pathways to address the immediate needs of families, and create long term development throughout the population.

How can people in the U.S. get involved?

Viviendas León offers student volunteer and internship programs throughout the academic year for students as young as 7th grade, to internships for high school, college students, and professionals in the summer months.

About the Author

d77646_8c46c68e4dce4aa59ab6cf335c8a23e7Evan Markiewicz is the Founder and Executive Director of Viviendas León. He is responsible for overseeing program development, communications, and financial management. Until 2003, Mr. Markiewicz worked under the auspices of the New Haven/León Sister City Project, an internationally recognized non-governmental organization, where he developed Viviendas León and other programs targeting the needs of rural Nicaraguan communities. Mr. Markiewicz graduated from the University of Southern California in Architecture and holds a Master of Architecture degree from Yale University.

March 9, 2016
Settling Down Without Settling: A Sketch Artist’s Serendipitous Encounter with Thailand's Moken Tribe

TM: What key things should people know about the Moken tribe?

Candace: The Moken are a tribe of nomadic people who traditionally live on boats, but have recently been forced to settle on the mainland of Thailand. There are all sorts of tribes scattered all along the Megui Archieplago, which consists of about 800 islands off the coast of Thailand and Burma. The Moken would travel between these islands.

When they were nomadic, their homes were dug-out wooden boats called kabongs. They lived on the boats for nine months out of the year, and then built temporary huts in which they would stay for three or four months during the monsoon season. They cooked, slept, and even gave birth and died on the boats. It was an entire life cycle taking place on the water. Their livelihood was diving, and they would collect all sorts of underwater creatures. Children would swim just as naturally as we might grow up running.

Since the Moken didn’t belong to any particular country, there have been a lot of issues with citizenship in the last 20 or 30 years. The Thai and Burmese governments are now forcing the Moken to settle down, in order to have a sense of control over these people for whom movement was a way of life. There are now about two or three hundred Moken who live on the Surin Islands.

It is a human rights issue, because there are many restrictions placed on them. They can’t travel very far or leave their province. This is a group of people whose entire livelihood and way of life was built on movement, and who are now being forced to be completely still. It is just a complete reversal of everything that they were used to and had built their lives on.

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How did you get the most out of your time with the Moken?

I’ve never had a more profound week in my life. I had hardly any internet access while I was there. I was so completely immersed — I did nothing but sit there and take notes constantly, just watching, observing, and interacting when I had the chance. I’ve never felt more engaged in and aware of a new culture. I wanted to learn every single thing I could while I was there that week.

I’m fascinated by the idea now that if you’re completely alive and aware of a new place, a week could feel much longer, and each day could almost feel like a week, because you’re engaged the entire day.

I tried to live as fully as possible when I was with them, and since my time with them, I’ve been reading and talking about the Moken tribe as much as I can.

Is there a difference in how the children are growing up now on land instead of on the water?

I was struck by how, even though these kids were born on land and are living their lives on land, they are still so comfortable in the water. They had a very natural relationship with water. It’s different for them now, but they do seem to be holding on to some aspects of their beautiful culture.

My favorite revelation was discovering how to communicate with the kids through art. I don’t speak Thai, so communication was difficult. I saw one of the girls drawing in the sand with a stick one day, and I gave her a paper and pen. The other kids caught on, and by the end of the week we had a group of 10 or 12 kids sitting around and drawing together.

The first thing they did was draw a wavy line across the middle of the paper. Then they’d draw a scene on land, and then a scene under water. So many of them did this over and over again. I was struck by how vivid and detailed their underwater scenes were. They were drawing anemones and seaweed, and their fish were gorgeous, with fins and scales.

Sketching is wonderful because anyone can speak art. It’s a universal language. It’s a way for someone of a different culture to instantly understand what I’m doing, what my impressions are of their home, and what I’m thinking and taking in about that place. They can get all of that without a single word needing to be spoken.

As a traveler, and as someone who’s often traveling to places where I don’t speak the language, art has become the most extraordinary tool to still be able to have conversations and connections, just visually instead of verbally.

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How have the Moken been influential in your life?

When I visited them, I was struggling to figure out how I could settle down in my own life. I had been traveling for several years at that point and living overseas, so movement had become a way of life for me. I felt myself yearning for a home and longing for a stable community, but there was this gap between my current movement and my dream of settling.

To me, settling felt like death. I love the world. I love being out in the world. I love being with other cultures. How could I bring myself to a place where I could be settled down without traveling and moving all the time? How do you settle down without settling?

The Moken were going through the same exact process and transition when I visited them. What I loved about my week with them was that I would get these little glimmers of how they had really held on to their love of movement and to their love for the water. It was incredibly influential to see my own struggle made manifest in a much larger way, and with much greater ramification.

My own little nomadic problem pales in comparison to this great human rights issue, but it was still very uncanny that I happened to find myself with these people from whom I learned a great deal.

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How can the Moken be influential to other travelers as well?

It comes down to change and how we deal with it in our lives. Everybody transitions at one point or another in his or her lifetime.

I have been very scared of change. I don’t like change in my life. I like to rely on things. When you go through a deep change, you’re not going to be the same person on the other side. It can be very scary.

The Moken are changing while also holding on to a very distinct and special part of themselves. I think that’s something that anyone, whether you’re a traveler or just a human being trying to make your way through the world, can learn from.

It’s important to learn how to move through change gracefully while still holding on to the essence of your identity.

How did you overcome your fear of change?

It’s been very gradual, for sure. It was such a profound experience that it took me a whole year after I was with them to start writing about them. It just felt like something I really needed to protect for a while until I understood what it meant.

I always encourage people who experience change and transformation to just give themselves time, and to let the ideas that are percolating in your head take full form before making any drastic movements or actions. It’s like a stone dropped in a pond that just continues to make ripples.

candace rose moken child thailand

Is there anything being done now to help the Moken?

There is an NGO that is very involved there. I have friends in Thailand who are still researching them. The problems are still ongoing, so I try to keep some of those things abreast as best I can. The Moken are getting more attention in the press, and a documentary has been made about them.

It’s a positive thing that their plight is being put more and more in the international spotlight. There’s a great concern with indigenous tribes all around the world. We have to figure out how to honor and protect their indigenous ways of life, while also moving them into modernity. Access to education and healthcare are good things, but I also feel very strongly that their ways of life are beautiful and shouldn’t be completely lost.

I always try to make clear that it is something of a human rights issue, and that there is the issue of citizenship at stake. There isn’t a ton of friendliness towards minority groups in Thailand. As a white Westerner, it’s easy to romanticize about their way of life and celebrate it, so I’m cautious whenever I do talk about them. It’s just something that I encourage people to be aware of.

 

About Candace
d77646_ad5f2521f9b14331b2be93f5c5084103Candace Rose Rardon is a writer and sketch artist with a passion for telling stories about the world — through both words and watercolors. Her work has appeared in places such as BBC Travel, World Hum, and National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel site, and she also runs her travel blog, The Great Affair, which has been featured in the New York Times.
March 6, 2016