We had planned a relaxing beach-side getaway in Florida to soak in some sun and fun. What we got was soaking wet for a few days as we hunkered down to ride out Hurricane Matthew which had the audacity to ravage Florida’s coast in the middle of our vacation. It was eerily calm, warm, and sunny as we watched the shop keepers install the hurricane shutters and at poolside, we sipped umbrella drinks and ordered nachos. It was weird that each time a guest would get up from their lounge chair, an attendant would swoop in and scoop it up, along with all the potted plants.
One by one, all the patio furniture was carted away and doorways boarded up as us die-hards watched the Weather channel non-stop while floating in the pool. I’ve never watched so many hours of weather in all my life, but we were in the “cone of uncertainty” and several of the tracks showed us getting slammed by the evening. The hotel staff told us the windows were rated up to 200 miles per hour and this storm was estimated to “only reach 140 miles per hour.” I wondered who did the math on that calculation.
Later that evening, we walked the strand admiring the kite surfers and as we meandered, the wind started picking up. We had heard a hurricane may hit landfall, but it was supposed to be further north, so we kept walking as dusk settled in and the wind picked up. It only intensified the tricks the kite surfers could do in the gusts…looked like a blast to me. Note to self – try kite surfing – but not in a hurricane.
Live jazz was playing across the street from a sidewalk café and we felt the first droplets of rain, so we dashed back to our villa stopping by the CVS to round out our provisions we had hoarded to ride out several days without electricity or water. The storm grew stronger as the sky grew black and the rings of the hurricane most certainly were upon us. Bless the CVS store owner for remaining open until the last possible minute while every other shop around them was boarded up so we could get just one more jug of water for good measure.
Then it hit with a ferocity I hadn’t experienced. Our doors started blowing open before we could get them locked. We sat atop the intercoastal waterway and watched boats being tossed about and whipped from their moorings. We didn’t get the brunt, but you could see the rain bands and feel the building swaying. After holing up for a day and a half, we were able to venture out again and it was as if nothing had ever happened. We went to the spa and when we reached the pool deck, all the furniture was in place and the steel drum band was playing and umbrella drinks were flowing. Later that night we toasted a narrow miss with bellinis on the balcony and watched the boat traffic flow effortlessly in the intercoastal waterway like nothing ever happened.
Sometimes you need to ride out the storm and wait for the sunshine and sunset after the worst part. We didn’t want to throw in the towel because we still had vacation days left and wanted to use up every single minute for our holiday. We prepared, assessed the probability of a direct hit, and decided it was going to be another adventure and a good story. We were very fortunate, indeed. The next day we went air boating in search of gators, a perfect Florida trip complete with the requisite hurricane and gator sightings, that’s what I call livin g Hartfully, feminine and fierce.
Travel adventures have occupied my mind quite a bit most of my life and there are many destinations that have set up camp in my brain. I keep them tucked away and keep researching and being open to opportunities and the gut feeling when my intuition tells me it’s the right time and the right place to take action. I experienced this strong, overwhelming feeling of urgency in my gut lately that I just HAD to get to Cuba as soon as possible.
The feeling has been getting stronger and stronger with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in the past couple years. I wanted to see the island before it was changed by too many outsiders. I wanted to experience the authenticity of the people, the culture, the colors and the cars. I do love great cars – that comes from my dad who always had quite a collection and he was also a former race car driver in the 40’s. Cars are in my blood.
It was two distinct experiences a couple months apart that drove me to take action. The first was when I was watching the movie Fate of the Furious – the one we had seen them setting up for in Iceland when my college roommate and I were up in Lake Myvatn in the northern reaches of Iceland on the frozen lakes. I just had to see what they were going to do in the movie on that frozen lake. They did A LOT with it – very cool. Anyway… the beginning of the movie begins in Havana, Cuba with all those glorious, colorful 1950’s cars. The next incident was President Trump announcing he was clamping down on some of the openings that former President Obama had negotiated. As soon as I heard that, I started researching trips to Cuba to get over there before the bureaucracy but the kibosh on any travel for Americans.
I found a cruise that circumnavigated the island and made many stops along with sanctioned people-to-people cultural excursions for Americans. I decided to stay in Jamaica before and after the trip to luxuriate in the amazing resorts to soak in the ocean breezes and beaches and allow the trip to imprint on me. Just being in a place where JFK took Jackie on their honeymoon, where he wrote his inauguration speech and where Stella got her groove back in the movie of the same name; so I could feel taken care of in a most luxurious way.
So the first resort was a complete disappointment and I ended up getting a full refund due to the comedy or errors, the terrible food and the lack of service. Fortunately, the new General Manager was Swiss, who know how to do hospitality well. He had been brought in to shake things up and evidently, I was the unpaid consultant that helped him make his point to his managers about what has run them downhill from their heyday. The last resort was purely heaven, gracious hospitality, and sumptuousness to the nth degree. It was just what I had imagined with the spa, the cliffside walking paths, the organic food grown on the property and the Ralph Lauren-designed rooms overlooking the lush gardens and beach. I was pampered to within an inch of my life and I loved every single leisurely minute of it as I tried to drink in every ounce of luxury.
The cruise ship only had 200 guests instead of their usual 1200, so we were very well cared for by the staff. It was a delight to actually have time to get to know them and the other passengers as we soaked in the long-hidden culture of Cuba…at least hidden from Americans. We stopped in several ports around the island, but the jewel is Havanna….at least the few blocks that were renovated for tourist eyes to see.
I was taken aback by the oppression, falling buildings, and poverty. I had only seen the Havana that the news and the movies had wanted you to see. But there were those amazing cars – beautiful, restored 1940’s and 50’s relics that had to have magicians as owners to keep them so pristine. A weird reality is that the old car taxi drivers make $50/hour from the tourists to drive around and doctors only make $60-$100/month while the average income is around $10/month. The economic pyramid is being turned upside down. Air BnB’s are popping up as residents are now able to own a business. It was a little strange rambling around the old city taking in the culture at the same time feeling communist eyes and ears upon you. It was uneasy. Signs of Castro were still everywhere. Very strange to pull into the harbor and not see any yachts or boats…nothing except another cruise ship and the dilapidated terminals with nothing but timbers from many decades ago. The irony of the culture clash was not lost on me — pulling up to the rickety pier perched upon the deck of my Royal Suite. Disconcerting…. The whole place is falling apart. I’m certain many buildings came down after the hurricane as report were that the spray of the waves reached above the lighthouse at Havana Harbor.
The best part of the cruise was the ship’s officers offering me the Royal Suite – the largest suite on the ship because a few of my shower tiles had come up and they didn’t want me to be disturbed by the repair. The place was palatial as far as ship cabins go – you could easily fit 50 people on the deck along with its own outdoor shower, hot tub, lounge chairs and dining suite. One of the perks of having a mostly-empty ship and I’ll gladly take it. If this was part of the Cuban cultural experience, I’m in! I’m forever grateful that I listened to my intuition and took the trip….a lifetime of memories from all my senses.
Most of us are guilty of creating loooong lists of things to do and not managing to put much of a dent in the compilation of busy-ness. Then some of us even do something that wasn’t on said list and end up wanting credit for it (not that anybody is keeping track or watching), so we add whatever it is we did that wasn’t on our list to our list just so we can cross it off. I’m talking about another type of To Do list. A fun one. A list of trips and adventures I want to do during my lifetime. I don’t call it a Bucket List because that seems negative to me. I call it a Life List because I want to do it living Hartfully, vitally, and fully alive.
So, on our most recent trip to Tahiti and Bora Bora, my BFF Barb and I decided it would be apropos to use the stationery aboard the M.S. Paul Gauguin while we were sailing around French Polynesia and brainstorm our To Do list of adventure travel trips we want to experience. The ideas were flying fast and furious and I could hardly keep up with the trips that were spewing forth from our lips. Later that day one of our travel buddies had spotted us on the deck during our writing drill and asked us what we were consumed with and intent on writing. We showed them our list and they asked if they could join us on some of our future explorations.
Barb’s philosophy is that you always need something to look forward to and she grew up always planning the next trip while her family was still on their current trip. It was something they always did and something she/I now carry forth. One of the maxims I’ve heard throughout the years is that happiness is having something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to. It keeps you young, vital, excited, and exciting. Sometimes we don’t have it all figured out immediately on our trip, but the mindset is there and we usually come up with something within a few days to a few weeks after our return. We are both good problem solvers and we find that travelling to far-away lands is always chalk-full of opportunities to solve some problems. Issues always come up, missed connections, bags not showing up, wrong bed configuration in the room, mixed-up meals, and communication disconnects. It gives you a chance to test your creative thinking skills and ingenuity. I also find it’s better to have the luxury of two or more brains working on the solution than just me. If it’s just me, then it gets a little weirdly nerve-wracking, and if it’s with my buddies, then it becomes an adventure.
What do you have to look forward to in your life? How are you living Hartfully and doing the things you want to do? How are your dreams playing out? Who are you inviting along for the ride? How do you make your ride enjoyable? I’ll share more Tahiti tales in future posts. There were so many amazing experiences to share that just lit me up. Once again it was one of those lifetime trips I’d been dreaming of for decades and it truly was a dream come true. What are you doing to make your dreams come true? Do you have a strategy in place, a visual, an accountability partner? I’ve uploaded our list – maybe it will spark some ideas in you.
We were deep in the Amazon jungle. I had wanted to do a jungle tour ever since I first saw the movie The Jungle Book with Mogli and Balu the blue bear when my brother took me to see it when I was five or six years old.
As we usually do, my BFF and I charted a wild itinerary into the wilds and invited some other friends to join us. Vacation planning is our forte and I call her a travel savant. This was one trip that was near and dear to my heart and I knew that living fully and living Hartfully just had to include the Amazon forest.
Our thatched hut was so far into the rain forest that there were no roads. The only way to reach the compound was by motorized canoe. We had to walk the plank just to embark on the boat. Our guide told us we were not to ever walk alone around the camp. It was the buddy system for safety. The sign posted in our bathroom next to the whistle hanging on the door gave instructions on how to summon help if we encountered a wild animal and food in the huts was forbidden.
Being a vegetarian, I always travel with protein bars, trail mix and peanut butter crackers from past experience of going hungry for lack of appropriate food in unknown places and the middle of the jungle was one of those places. We took a nighttime canoe ride and saw a white alligator and a 60-pound rodent, a capybara which is related to the guinea pig. Seriously, think of a 60-pound rat. It gave me the willies just thinking about how huge it was. It was the largest rodent I had ever seen – the size of a German Shepherd and they roam free. A sloth hung from the branches as we made our way back to our hut. It was like a steam bath and still hovering in the 100’s at night, so I decided to take a cold shower only to find a frog in the stall. I wondered what other creatures had made their way into our hut, which was had only a screen on three sides.
At 4:00 am the jungle starts coming alive. It was completely black outside and I heard it. The lowly rumble of the beginning of a roar. Frozen in my bed with anticipation of a jaguar jumping through the screened wall, I turned on the video camera on my phone. There is was again, only this time much louder and closer and more grumbling. I just knew the big cat was after my M&M laden trail mix I had locked in my suitcase. Could they really smell it inside baggies and a rollaboard? I recorded the sounds and kept recording until the sound faded away. Maybe it wasn’t that hungry. I peered out the window and only saw a baby Capybara and heard the birds. It was a symphony of sound as the wilderness cacophony grew louder as the sun rose. I’ve never heard so many different natural sounds in my life. It was deafening. The one sound that I was glad not to hear any more was the growl.
My BFF, Barb and I finally mustered the courage to exit our hut and go to breakfast using the buddy system and keeping our eyes peeled for jaguars. All we encountered were monkeys and birds. We thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast of Brazil nuts, pastries and fried yucca. Next time I’m double-bagging my trail mix to throw the wild animals off the scent.
What lights you up? What really gets your heart pumping and enthused about your life? What fills you with a sense of awe and wonder and giddy excitement? My BFF and travel buddy, Barb and I both experienced amazing underwater surprises on separate diving and snorkeling excursions during our recent visit to the South Pacific. We had both wanted to see the Islands after watching the movie as children and it was finally our time to see that part of the world and what was underneath it.
I know when I am living Hartfully when I’m awe-struck by nature’s beauty and bounty, and in the midst of grandeur or maybe even danger. It’s a fine line. Much of our trip was spent underwater or at least on top of the water to view the incredible creatures. Why neither one of us thought to bring a Go Pro underwater sport video/camera, I’ll never know. We were the only ones on the dive boat to not have one and I’m sorry we could not capture those moments.
I’ve been SCUBA diving since the early 80’s and have seen my fair share of marine life, but what we experienced just outside our over-water bungalow and on deeper dives is nothing short of incredible. I’ve never been surrounded by so many sharks in any of my dives anywhere in the world. At one point I counted six black-tipped sharks and eight lemon sharks circling our group until the largest barracuda I’ve ever witnessed came swimming right towards me with something hanging out of its mouth. A half-eaten lunch, maybe? I stretched out the length of my 5’2” body and that barracuda was every bit the length of me. Where was that camera when you needed to document being one of the smallest things not at the top of the food chain at that very moment? Then we saw a herd, pod, gaggle, school, whatever, of eagle rays float effortlessly by on their way to someplace away from the sharks. I was in absolute heaven and I couldn’t wait to regale Barb with my story. Little did I know she would come back with a story of her own.
When we reconvened back on the ship after our separate underwater adventures. Barb’s story won, hands down. It seems that their snorkeling group landed amidst a school of lemon sharks who liked playing about the dive boat. So naturally what do divers do but jump in the water to get a closer look and better pictures. (If you’ve brought your Go Pro – note to self, go buy a Go Pro camera.) Just when Barb thought it was clear to jump in the water; off she goes and immediately after she is already committed, a 10-foot lemon shark swims from underneath the boat and SHE JUMPS ON THE BACK FIN OF THE SHARK! Yup, Fonzi famously jumped the shark in the TV sitcom Happy Days, and my friend jumps ON TOP OF A SHARK! Luckily he was only merely annoyed and swam away. Then a bit later the dive master, who weirdly stayed INSIDE the boat top side, announced to the snorkelers who are IN the water that “The sharks are getting agitated. Get in the boat NOW!” You can bet there was a bee-line for the ladder on that boat. Last one up the ladder is shark bait!
So, we learned a lesson that no matter how good you think your story is, there is bound to be somebody with a better story, and sometimes a good story is better than a good time. Although we did come back from that trip with a ton of stories and a heaping good time. Sometimes you luck out when you are in search of a Hartful life. Look for the good stuff, always seek good stories and ways to keep you lit up. What lights you up? What have you done lately to create a good story?
It’s been my dream for a few decades to experience the Aurora Borealis, but like chasing rainbows there is no guarantee Mother Nature will comply with your travel plans. After many failed attempts to see the Northern Lights show in Canada and Alaska; I was determined that it was finally my turn. As luck (fate?) would have it; my college roommate was in town and we had dinner, not having seen each other for a few years. I mentioned that I wanted to visit Iceland and she said it was also on her To Do list. Fast-forward a year and here we were reunited on a flight to Reykjavik 35 years after living together in college off on our great Icelandic adventure.
As I discussed my intentions with what seemed like everybody who crossed my path for several weeks leading up to the trip; I learned that five other friends had either just returned, were planning on going the same month or the same week when Jennifer and I would be there. All of them who had just returned, came back without having seen the Lights.
We took another flight to the northern tip of Iceland because I wanted to make sure there was no light pollution to dilute the experience. We had registered our room at the front desk so they could call us if/when the lights materialized, and then we went upstairs to relax. We set out our clothing like firemen so we could easily get dressed for 20-degree weather in case the show started. I was sitting in a chair near the window with my eyes trained on the night sky and then I saw the clouds move only to realize it was the Northern Lights. I started yelling “the Lights, the Lights” and it was a scene reminiscent of the Keystone Cops as we tried to get dressed as fast as possible to catch a glimpse. We ran through the lobby announcing the lights and they didn’t disappoint as they danced across the sky. It was EXHILERATTING and it seemed all the guests were in the parking lot snapping photos.
After returning to bed; we received a call at 3:30am for yet another show of the Lights as we fumbled and bumbled our way to get dressed as fast as possible. Still breathtaking the second time around.
The next night I decided to experience the natural thermal baths and Mother Nature once again didn’t disappoint. It was a surreal experience to bask in the hot water outside, watching a full’ish moon, 15 degrees and watching the lights stream across the horizon. There’s something about natural wonders that move me beyond imagination. A dream come true.
The next morning, we capped off our northern tour by watching the crew set up on top of the frozen lake for the filming of the movie The Fate of the Furious– due out this month. A weird clash of the natural and the unnatural. I guess I’ll need to see the movie to bring that adventure to closure. Maybe I’ll call up Jennifer and we’ll meet someplace between our two cities to watch the movie together for yet another reunion.
Never give up on your dreams. If you really want something, speak it out loud, tell others, visualize, write it down, look at photos, hold the idea in your mind and figure out ways to get you there. Be still and ask how you can make it happen, the answers will come to you if you ask the right questions. Never would I have guessed during our college days when I first learned of the magnificence of the Aurora Borealis, that I would be traveling with my roommate three and a half decades later to make that dream come true.
Are you consciously living with your heart and purposefully living Hartfully on a daily basis or are you waiting for the new mate, retirement, to lose weight, to find a new job, to quit your job, to start your business, for the kids to grow up or go to college, or to move cities? I’ve been very, very lucky to have great friends as role models who are living Hartfully and have shown me how to make moments count on a daily, weekly, yearly basis. I feel so blessed to have them in my life to show me the way. Most of them are older. I’m guessing my old soul is more attracted to souls older than mine to share their insight from a life well-lived. I’d like to pass along some insights from watching how my buddies move through life that gives me great ideas on how to live mine. I learn from clients, customers and close friends on how to be or not to be and I want to share their teachings.
Don’t wait. Do it now. Doesn’t matter about any outside circumstances, make it work. Many of my friends are already retired or have closed their businesses to play more and explore themselves and the world more. Greg went back to school at 62 to learn how to be a chef. He says most of the “kids” in his class are in their 20’s and want to know why he wants to get his chef’s certificate or degree or whatever it is he gets after months of chopping, sautéing, slicing and dicing. He said it’s the joy of knowing how to do the art well. He’s doing it for the sheer joy of cooking and the confidence of knowing he’s learning how to do it well. There’s no other outside influence. He had a cancer scare recently and took a semester off and is now back in the kitchen. Funny how those wake-up calls make things clear. His wife Kathie recently closed her business after 26 years and is pumping up the volume of leisure pursuits in her life such as yoga, beach walking, hooping, starting a writers club and a book club, kayaking and travel.
I’ve recently lost my friend Karen to cancer. We met in a mastermind group called a Success Team in Germany around 25 years ago. It was Greg’s wife, Kathie who started the group of women and we all remain friends after all these years. Karen was very healthy, ran daily, her husband retired and started a travel company and they travelled well. She was still working when cancer struck and she fought valiantly for several years and lost the fight last Fall. She had never retired. She got sick while working long hours. She was looking forward to retiring some day and travelling more with her husband on his fabulous trips. That never happened.
My BFF Barb is my adventure travel buddy. We met at ski club in Germany nearly 30 years ago and share the same passion for exotic adventure travel, experiencing new discoveries, and doing things most women just don’t do. We’ve sailed the Greek Islands in a small sailboat, hiked for days in the Austrian Alps, survived horse-packing in Ireland in driving rainstorms, and skied all over the world in blizzards and dirt-laced slopes. Barb’s life purpose is to follow her passion and share it and that she does very well. She’s a great role model for me. More about our adventures and our lessons learned in future posts. She’s decided that she’s reached her point of enoughness, is retiring early and bought a tugboat to live on and sail around America’s inter-coastal waterways and throughout the Caribbean. Guess who’s tapped to help her through some of the stretches? Ahhhhhh, it’s nice to have a friend with a boat. She’s going to do it while she’s young enough and healthy enough. She just met a woman who is 85 and sails her own boat around seeking great adventures. Doing things while we’re healthy is so important.
Barb and I recently sailed on the Queen Mary 2 for a Trans-Atlantic crossing from New York City to Southampton. It was on both of our Hot 100 Lists to do one day and we decided a few months ago was the time. We were the youngest ones on the ship by a couple decades. I was wondering why they all waited so long to do it. Then after lots of shipboard conversations, found out this was not their first time for many of them. There are some who spend months on ships to see the world and have their meals served to them and be entertained and meet new people. This is a lifestyle and not a one-time cruise. Hmmmmm, new ideas spring into my head as to what retirement can look like. We thoroughly enjoyed the white gloved high tea service and I could certainly get used to that. We also dined at Sardis in New York before hitting a Broadway play and experienced Times Square – something that we had wanted to do for a long time to have a quintessential New York evening on the town.
My other friend Sue is an Artist with a capital A. She is the most creative person I’ve ever met. She can sing, dance, act, paint, photograph anything, write and whatever else artsy fartsy you can think of. Sue has created a very cool life to suit her fancy. She combines all her talents and passions and does free-lance work in all the areas mentioned above. She also combines her travel writing with her photography and writes off her international travel as a business expense, sells her work which pays for her trip and enjoys once adventure after another – never a dull moment.
My friend Silvana is another explorer who never has a dull moment. She has travelled with her husband and daughter across country in an Airstream trailer doing speaking gigs and having her daughter test drive internships while they wrote a book about their adventures and teen internships about their experience. They’ve also travelled for several years around the nation sponsored by a non-profit setting up special events to raise awareness. She’s been on a reality TV show and her next adventure is to house-sit for several houses for several months in Europe so they can do more exploration in other countries. Free lodging, getting paid to travel, what’s not to love?
So what are you waiting for? What does Living Hartfully mean to you? How are you stepping up right now to live how your heart wants to live? Let me know of our adventures. I’m always looking for more role models who get it and I just may share your story.