Dream Travel

Before I get in to the details of our recent delicious adventure I realized how much I learned in the process of planning this trip and how unique it is to be living this life of mine. Yes! I do need to remind myself every once in a while. The gratitude comes easily each morning when I awake to the sun rising over the ocean yet the vast change over the last few years hits me like a freight train from time to time. Like most people, I am still guilty of not giving myself enough credit for how far I have come.

Traveling from a destination like the Seychelles could not be more different from that of the United States. There are only a handful of flights departing daily which makes connecting flights nearly mandatory. This is contradictory to any travel planning I have done in nearly fifteen years as catching domestic connections proves extremely problematic thus nonstop flights are worth the investment, especially given the tight schedules the majority of Americans keep these days. Speaking of domestic unless you are taking a charter to the outer islands or the wheels up wheels down fifteen minute flight to Praslin every flight out of Seychelles is an international flight.

When I began researching our next destination I learned quickly that Google flights which can be extremely helpful became more frustrating in this case as it attempted to connect us through Abu Dhabi or Dubai no matter what our final destination. While many Seychellois utilize these hubs for their annual shopping we simply have no desire to visit either much less add the additional travel time to our commute as they only serve as convenient if you are heading north to Europe. Some day that will be the case but it was not what I had in mind this time around.

Next I began map dreaming and backwards searching flights from the options to possible layover locations that were able to connect to the Seychelles. If I was not incredibly passionate about learning and travel this would have been extremely tedious. Around this time I received an alert from the local Air Seychelles carrier announcing a sale. The absolute beauty of these discounts is that they actually give you an expiration date for the sale so barring a flight filling up you know how long you have to book. This is so unlike the tricky business of US airlines that require rash decisions to be made to get a deal. One of the sale destinations was Mumbai which made much more sense directionally. This led to finding a connecting bargain to Hanoi, Vietnam via a very attractive five hour layover in Bangkok. While everyone has their preference this was ideal in my mind as it gave us a perfect opportunity to break in travel and enjoy our beloved street food. A quick message sent to the kind woman whom we rented from there this past December and we had a great neighborhood destination near the airport written in Thai to show our cab driver. I love great people!

Why Hanoi? There are not too many countries I am not interested in seeing but I felt a familiar tug I could not really explain about Vietnam. I would compare it to the feeling I had about Seychelles three years ago. I knew next to nothing but I knew it was right. When my instinct is that strong I do not question it. Similar to that search, the more I learned the more excited and passionate I became. In addition to the lure of their amazing cuisine came the clincher of coffee. We were nearly out of the stash we had been gifted by amazing family members on our visit to America last June. The reason still unbeknownst to me, ninety-nine percent of coffee sold in the Seychelles is instant. It makes no sense. One of the very few direct flights from here is Kenya. Hello? I do not understand it and needed to let the insanity go a while after arriving so we just adjust and purchase beans whenever we travel. Thankfully MC shares my passion for an amazing cup of Joe and thus the idea of visiting the second largest exporter of coffee seemed like a no brainer. Further online study confirmed that Hanoi was more our relaxed style over the other popular choice of Ho Chi Minh. Once that distinction was made I narrowed it down to the most intriguing and walkable neighborhood which was without a doubt the Old Quarter.

I have been blessed with Airbnb experiences thus far and found an incredibly reasonable rate of thirty dollars per night for this large studio with kitchen in a prime location directly above the weekend night market. We live in peace and quiet in the Seychelles so while it is certainly not for everyone being in the middle of the local authentic action while on holiday was sure to be a nice change of pace for us.

Next up was visas. As MC has reminded me often Americans are spoiled. This makes me laugh and yet it is, in this case, extremely justified. Planning for travel for two with two distinctly different countries passports requires research, diligence and patience. The most important lesson I have learned traveling with my new husband is not taking anything for granted. Seychelles is such a small country that many immigration officials are simply not familiar with it. Of course this causes alarm in some agents and in nearly every case delay in approval. I take my role in due diligence very seriously for this reason and I have a new appreciation for my own citizenship. MC got his only break with a free transit visa for India while mine carried a twenty dollar fee. Both were the most lengthy of processes however. A four page online application was required in addition to a personal visit to the embassy here in Seychelles for approval and stamping. Thailand is a freebie for Americans yet required a fee and paper application for MC. The trick with this country is they grant approval from the date submitted so you need to be ready with accurate information and set a calendar reminder to submit it two weeks prior to travel.

Vietnam was interesting to say the least and challenged my comfort zone on many levels. As a US citizen I could apply online for the new E-Visa. It was fairly simple and straight forward, took three days for approval and cost me around twenty-five dollars. I paid online and the approval form was emailed directly. MC’s was the tricky one. There is no Vietnam embassy here in the Seychelles and the nearest is Mozambique. After doing some research that turned up with a half dozen options five of which were not directly affiliated with government offices that of course make you question their true validity, MC suggested I contact the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs for advice. They too were relatively new to this particular country’s process but aided in communication to validate what I had learned online. I was to apply via their website and then wire money via Western Union to a person’s name in Mozambique. Every red flag in the book went up for me at this idea yet I know from my time here that many locations simply do not deal with credit cards. The helpful woman was able to verify and communicate for me, eventually obtaining a copy of the representative’s diplomatic passport so I knew at least that the money was being wired to a reliable source. The paper process I am not sure I will ever get used to. Upon approval they mailed the small piece of paper via DHL which of course seemed a complete waste since there was nothing that would have been different had they emailed it and we had printed it in color. Another lesson learned. They do things differently. Do not question it if you value your sanity. We had all the necessary documents secured and that was all that mattered!

If I look back and attempt to remember the craziest, most obscene travel scenario from the Hollywood movies of my younger days the best I can recall is flying to Paris for dinner. That seemed extravagant and romantic, right? Well it somehow eluded me within all the logistics planning that we were to be blessed with having breakfast samosas in Mumbai, street food with locals for lunch in Bangkok and dinner in Hanoi. Three meals in one day in three different countries. The travel trifecta! As I sat that evening enjoying my first glorious sip of rich Vietnamese coffee my eyes welled up with tears as I thanked my lucky stars to be writing my own unique travel dreams.

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A Simple Life

History. It explains where we come from yet does not define where we are going nor what we are capable of. We have the power over that decision.

I found this photo in my old phone a month back and shared it with MC. A week later my aunt Sidora passed away. The last of this family and this generation. (My mother is pictured on the far right.) It saddens me that I never knew my grandparents. I wonder what I could have learned from them. I marvel now at what a beautiful part of their grandchilden’s lives that my siblings have been gifted with. Times have changed for the better in many ways. We have opportunities now our ancestors would never have imagined. We also have far greater challenges.

I have enjoyed finding my own perfect balance between the old and the new. Every time I eat an egg or chicken here in the Seychelles I am reminded of my aunt. Our family spent mandatory days at their farm as children butchering chickens to last us through the year. It wasn’t until I arrived here that chicken tasted as real as it did back then. I know the eggs were laid in the last few weeks. I know the chickens we eat are free range and come from within a fifteen mile radius because well, that’s as big as the island is! While many locals here are anxious to try the new imported convenience foods I am grateful I have found the simpler, more organic way of life from my childhood, albeit a tropical version. My body loves it and I have never felt healthier. Yesterday my neighbor brought over four huge avocados. It feels like winning the lottery!

Two weeks before the annual Eco Friendly Marathon here I got up on a Sunday morning and went to the track for the first time in months. I figured if I could jog a mile that day I could easily jog three point two. Thankfully the steep hill climbs in our neighborhood have strengthened my lungs. I decided somewhat last minute that I wanted to run the 5K to thank my body and to honor it. In the years I struggled to find my true self it was my body that carried me through. It has never let me down no matter how much unnecessary stress I placed on it. Now that my mind has caught up I am wiser about how I treat myself. MC’s employer sponsored his participation and the following day he joined me in training. It was a rainy cool morning that greeted us the day of the race. It is so rewarding to feel the exhilaration of crossing the finish line. I recall the first few times I ran events in San Diego when I often doubted myself. It was a huge added bonus to see the pride MC also displayed for his achievement. Well deserved!

I recently spent several days helping out an amazing group of women from a European non profit called the Spay Sisters. They were hosted by the local Seychelles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to assist in the overpopulation of dogs and cats on the islands. They are a group of ten vets and veterinary assistants that arrived at their own cost with all their own gear. They utilize part of their personal holiday time to make a difference in the world. It was a fun learning and inspirational experience to be in their presence. They made do outdoors in many cases with simple work benches crafted and donated by a local business. In twelve days the combined groups spade and neutered over a thousand animals. It was so wonderful to see the communities support and appreciation. It gives me hope that change is possible. My favorite moment was on the island of LaDigue where the primary mode of transportation is bicycle. One of the vets asked to borrow mine to deliver a patient home post op.

I am now spending time with Seychelles Animal Welfare Society taking care of the nearly sixty dogs and cats who have been sterilized and are looking for forever homes. Like anything you give, I believe it comes back to you tenfold. The shelter is located in an obscure location along the ocean which involves the most beautiful, peaceful nature walk from the bus stop. I sent a video to my sister and her response was that it looked like Gilligan’s Island! I can almost gauge the exact foot step that will alert the dogs to my presence and cause welcome barks from their outdoor kennels. The cats too all vie for attention the moment I enter the building. What fascinates me is how little they need yet how much love they give unconditionally. As I make my way through the kennels each dog is fed, watered and loved. The same holds true for the cats and kittens. When I close the last door you could hear a pin drop. Everyone is happy and content. It is a moment I cannot truly explain but it brings tears to my eyes every single time. I am incredibly grateful for what these animals do for me. They give me hope and remind me what is truly important in life. My favorite little personality was adopted last weekend but every single one of them makes me laugh. There is one in particular that may even make MC envious. He waits until I bend over and then hops on my back and makes his way to my shoulder where he rubs my neck and purrs in my ear.

There has been many a Thai meal recreation in our home yet not many photos in the last few months as I guess it has just been more about living in the moment. The crispy local pork belly though was definitely a personal challenge which resulted in deliciousness. Our cooking lessons were a very fruitful investment!

With every trip to the beach…

and every new miraculous sunrise…

I am reminded that taking chances, facing fears, embracing growth and stripping away all the unnecessary baggage results in the most amazing journey back to keeping it simple and focusing on only what brings you joy.

For me that involves love, health, laughter, travel, nature and culinary adventures. I am living in sincere gratitude and am excited for what our future holds!

Besties

There is not a day that goes by that this beautiful crazy lady does not cross my mind. She has been my best friend for over four decades. This figure shocks me a bit to write as I believe we are both currently living our best life at the moment so our physical age just does not seem to fit our bodies and minds.

I do not recall meeting her. I believe we may have still been in diapers. We grew up across the street from each other and have been inseparable much of our lives. She joined my family on countless vacations and our presence at each other’s dinner table was considered the norm. I cannot imagine my life without her.

There have been times along our path that we have taken completely different roads. She was getting married as I was getting divorced, she was raising her amazing little girl as I was moving halfway across the country. We have always been different by outward appearance to most and yet we have so much in common. We have what I consider the most precious friendship ever. The kind I wish everyone is able to experience once in their lifetime. The kind that makes an unmistakable difference in one’s life.

I believe having one person in your journey through life that always has your back is a game changer. She has supported me in every decision I have ever made. I am guessing perhaps she did not necessarily agree personally with each one yet I would never have known. She has been my soul sister through it all. Through the loss of my parents, my career and geographical changes, through life. Much has changed in four decades as you may imagine. What I remember most of all is that she has always said yes. Yes you should go even if it means leaving me. Yes you can accomplish that. Yes we should eat that. She believed in me when I did not believe in myself. I love her sense of adventure. I love that she is game for anything. I love that she is accepting of others. That she gets that we are all just here to live our best life and we should not interfere with others, only support them.

I also love her sassy. Her crazy driving I believe was inherited from her father (MC still jokes about it eight months after being on the road with her!), her patience with everyone she encounters (even if secretly she is flipping off people telling her how to raise her daughter!), and her innate ability to make every minute fun through her silly personality.

She visited every year I was in San Diego. Those are some of my most precious memories. These are the years where we began, at least in my mind, figuring things out. Truly appreciating what is important, dreaming of our futures, forgiving ourselves for our pasts. Letting go of everything that did not serve our goal of happiness.

We have survived it all and grown through it. A year, or more recently two, in between seeing one another and yet it feels as though we have not skipped a beat. There will always be that connection. There will always be laughter. There will always be fun. It is what I am most sure of and most grateful for.

The morning of our departure from the US last June she told me privately how thrilled she was for me and how much she loves MC. Those words meant more to me than I can ever articulate. Then she said Please promise me you will let him take care of you. Often times people know us better than we know ourselves. No one knows me better than this woman. I did not feel the intensity of her words until we boarded the connecting flight from Chicago to Qatar. Then I cried.

I cried because I realized how right she was. I cried because I had always taken care of everything. I had never really allowed someone in. I was raised to be independent right? I cried because she recognized that I needed to let go and that MC was strong enough to take the reigns occasionally. I cried because she recognized the fear I had forgotten to face. I cried because I realized she held one of the last pieces of the puzzle to my journey. Low and behold weeks later I became very ill. I had no choice but to heed her advice. I was helpless for days. It was only the beginning of the layers that have been peeling away. Being vulnerable is an incredible challenge for me. I am finding my way and each lesson is rewarding. I am so grateful for her words of wisdom. There is strength in vulnerability. There is a deeper level of trust and love in vulnerability. It is an amazing gift to learn this no matter what my age. I will never be too old to stop learning or growing and I am thankful for the opportunity I am being given to focus on what is most important to me.

Today is the day this world was blessed with Sue. Happy Birthday Bestie! I love you to the moon and back! MC and I will be toasting you under the full moon tonight and praying that all your birthday wishes come true. Thank you for being such an incredible and inspirational part of my life!

PS…She will not be in the least upset about me sharing a silly food photo of her. She posts much crazier photos of herself! When I suggested she do something wild for her birthday she replied that they have begun celebrating by going ax throwing. I hope all those reading this think twice about giving her any more parenting advice!