Living, Mexico

Traveling alone, but not lonely

Is there anything more exciting than visiting a new country, navigating a new city or struggling through a new language to get directions to find the closest place to buy wine? It can be challenging to find the ideal travel partner. Someone who is a close friend at home doesn’t a perfect travel partner make.

Six years ago, after spending close to sixteen years focused on family, I decided that I wanted to go traveling. I craved the kind of freedom of not being the organizer, of having my days stretch out before me in a new place without the pressure of taking into account the needs of others.

I chose Thailand and it was fabulous! I stayed in luxurious boutique hotels that cost a fraction of the price they would have at home. I ate on my own schedule, I explored the bustle of Bangkok and the picturesque streets of Chiang Mai. I didn’t meet too many people until I took a tour that overlapped with some ‘real’ travelers. True backpackers who carry their world with them like a turtle carries its shell. They were younger than me but it didn’t stop them from inviting me to join them for dinner or riding scooters out to a waterfall. I had a blast and I was bitten by the travel bug and a wanderlust that would always have me wondering ‘where to next?’

I continued to travel, staying in medium priced hotels and Airbnb’s until I met a group of young women in the Sahara desert of Morocco. We were heading to Fez and at the last minute, my Airbnb fell through.

‘Come with us to our hostel. I’m sure they have room.’ I hesitated. Would they even let me in or am I too old? Me with my small compact wheeled suitcase and Kate Spade purse. I decided to go with them and then find a place from there. There had to be a decent hotel nearby.

Fez was not my favorite place. A chaotic maze of streets full of men (more about that for another blog post.) We stepped into an oasis of busy calm. The common area was full of people lounging and drinking tea, posting on Instagram and talking about where they had and been and where they were going. The hostel had a private room but it wasn’t available until the following day. We had passed a hotel on our way in and I decided to check it out before deciding. I was able to leave my bags by the activity board- lists of everything hostel had to offer- walking tours, food tours, dinner was served at 7 and breakfast from 7-10. The hotel a few doors down was quiet. The front desk man showed me a room that was fine but his manner seemed critical when I said I was alone. I decided to stay at the hostel and it was the best thing I could have done.

I have traveled a lot since then and stayed in many hostels. In Porto, I met a 60-year-old woman who had walked the Camino and in Paris an older woman who was studying French as well as many young people seeing the world before deciding how they want to live in it. I find I actually enjoy sharing a room and I am inspired by how many female solo travelers I meet. Women like me.

My favorite site for the best listings: http://www.hostelworld.com

Travel light, travel happy!

 

Advertisements
Living

How important is money?

Here is my editorial from this month’s issue of The Eye magazine.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” English proverb

The above is one of my least favorite idioms. As a kid when someone would say this to me I would think, “money is made of paper and paper comes from trees so actually money DOES grow on trees.” Nobody thought my logic was very funny.

As an adult, I understand the meaning behind the proverb and I still don’t like it. Money IS just paper, or these days usually plastic. Money’s only use is the value we place on it. Its power lies in how it is spent.

In fact, more than ever we exercise our power, our political choices and our values in how we decide to spend our money. We are living in the consumer age.

What is your relationship with money? Do you read the menu from right to left – allowing price to dictate your tastes? Do you feel resentful when paying your bills or are you filled with gratitude about the services and goods you received in exchange? How much money do you need to be satisfied? Do you dream of fancy cars and big houses or is it enough that you can treat friends to dinner or a concert without feeling affected financially?

We live in an age where getting a deal is a badge of honor and growing your money is a source of pride. But what if every purchase came with a different criterion than cost? What if we valued paying more knowing that the people who made our goods were earning more? Low priced goods, from clothing to electronics to food, come with costs beyond money. Low wages, poor working conditions, GMOs that produce environmental damage, are all things that we endure to get the lowest price we have come to value.

What if when you bought a sweater you didn’t just check the price and the washing instructions? What if you checked to see where it was made and by whom? What if before buying a new computer you researched the company’s ethical practices in relation to its workers and the environment, rather than just looking at consumer reports about the functionality of the product?

This brings me to one of my favorite proverbs… “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Someone is always paying. Our affluent and comfortable lifestyle has been built on the labor and exploitation of others.

So spend compassionately! Tip well! Pick up the check! Buy less crap and spend more on ethical well-made products! Invest in experiences! Follow your money beyond your purchase and see where it’s really going.

See you next month,

Jane

Check out more of issues of The Eye: www.theeyehuatulco.com

 

Living, Mexico

What’s your Spiritual Journey?

My editor’s letter from the February 2019 edition of The Eye magazine.

http://www.theeyehuatulco.com

‘Silence is a source of great strength. ‘

Lao Tzu

I am a big fan of quiet. It is why I don’t mind long bus journeys or often prefer to stay home rather than go out and socialize. While I enjoy talking with people, I take great comfort at the end of the day in the quiet of the world. 

Last September I attended a 10-day silent meditation retreat held in Oaxaca City through Vipassana Mexico. I felt slightly daunted about the no talking, no eye contact days that would stretch ahead of me, but I was more worried about forgoing my evening wine and reading (yes, no reading or writing!) than embracing the quiet. The retreat was held in a convent in the center of the city and the sounds of the outside world gave some solace to our otherwise silent days that began at 4:30am with a couple of hours of meditation before our vegan breakfast. 

There were about 50 women attending and 20 men; however, the only non-gender-segregated space was the meditation hall, where women were on one side and men on the other. It was a beautiful experience to be in a woman-only space and not be distracted with small talk or worrying if people like you – I could just be.

There were a few difficult moments but as I felt my heart slow down, my mind followed, allowing me to truly embrace the present moment. During difficult times I would stroll through the gardens of the convent looking at flowers or slip my shoes off and luxuriate in the feeling of the ground underfoot. 

When the 10 days were up I felt completely rejuvenated. 

This month our readers explore spiritual journeys and you can see from the articles that what each of us defines as a spiritual journey is very individual. The word spirituality is connected with the Latin word “spiritus”, meaning breath. In French there is the word “esprit” referring to a person’s joy or vivaciousness. 

What moves you? Beyond the drudgery of the tasks of everyday living, what does your spirit yearn for? Maybe when you read this question the answer leapt into your mind without hesitation. Maybe your mind flitted and you are not sure what could possibly be the spiritual journey for you.

Sit in silence. Listen to your breath. The answer will reveal itself.

Living, Mexico

Why I chose paradise!

I’m really quite simple. I plant flowers and watch them grow… I stay at home and watch the river flow.

George Harrison

JaneMost days I need to pinch myself. When I moved to Mexico over 20 years ago I didn’t have a well-defined plan, I just knew that the options facing me in Canada were not what I was looking for. I wanted things simpler and purer than working for a large company and counting down the days until I could retire.

When I arrived on the coast of Oaxaca it was like stepping back in time. At first, I lived in a small rural village with no telephone, intermittent electricity, and a million-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean. I spent my days learning Spanish by talking with village children and helping out in the kitchen of every woman I met—asking questions about the way they cooked and learning about the ingredients.

Eventually, I moved an hour down the coast to the tranquil resort area of Huatulco. Huatulco is an eco-minded and vibrant community with pristine ocean water, 36 beaches, lush public gardens, private schools (I have a 17-year-old daughter), medical services, and a wonderful mix of locals and foreigners that all get involved in community outreach—from organizing spay and neuter clinics for stray animals to building elementary schools in rural villages.

In 2008, I opened my restaurant, Café Juanita. I used my experience and knowledge of local ingredients and cuisine to put together a menu that I hoped would appeal to both locals and tourists. I hired a wonderful staff and trained them in the type of service I wanted to offer: casual, friendly, and welcoming. Almost 10 years later, I still have the same staff, and I believe our focus on teamwork is the secret to our success. Having my own business has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I love exploring different marketing ideas, meeting my customers, working with vendors, and continually learning about Oaxacan foods and traditions.

Doing business in Mexico is not without its difficulties, but I have found that the infrastructure in terms of permits and regulations very much supports and encourages small business owners.

Every morning I am excited to go to work. The village lifestyle from my early days in Mexico taught me so much about quality of life: time spent with family, slowing down, and acting as part of a community. Mexican culture is very welcoming and the people of Oaxaca are generous with their time and knowledge. When you walk down the street in Huatulco, strangers will smile and say, “Good morning,” and someone is always ready to lend a helping hand. Through the success of my businesses, I have had the opportunity to start a scholarship program which encourages teenage girls to continue their education. It is this ability to give back that makes coming to work even more meaningful.

I stand in my restaurant, glass of wine in hand, looking out at the Pacific Ocean and marvel at the vibrant pinks and oranges of the sky as the sun begins to set. I pinch myself to see if all this is real. It is.

Living

Countdown- 10 things to make you happier in 2018

#10 Introduce yourself to your neighbor
When a political speech by some hopeful candidate is televised I have this secret fantasy that one of the candidates will tell everyone to step away from their TVs and go introduce themselves to their neighbor. Technology promised us connection, but the truth is the majority of us are living more isolated than ever. Get up from your computer, phone whatever and go introduce yourself to your neighbor. It’s easy. It’s even easier if you have a holiday gift- maybe a jar of jam from the local farmer’s market or some freshly baked cookies. Let them know that you are available if they ever need anything and exchange phone numbers for emergencies.

#9 Stop buying shit you don’t need

This may seem like a ridiculous thing to suggest just days before the biggest gift-giving day of the year. However, who do you really need to buy for and do they really need more shit from China? Re-gift. Give away something you already own like a book you finished reading and a note about why you think the receiver will like it. Paint a picture, write a poem, sing a song or make a donation in their name.

#8 Stop eating corporate

Sanjayan, a global conservation scientist, said in an interview with Tim Feriss that people are always asking him the one thing they can do to change the world. He said ‘change what you eat.’ Stop eating crappy fast food! If you don’t cook and need some quick energy, familiarize yourself with local coffee shops and restaurants. Call ahead for your ‘to go’ orders. Corporate food is mass-produced and highly processed.

#7 Don’t renew your gym membership

Going to the gym is a largely modern phenomenon. In the past people didn’t live such sedentary lives so they didn’t have all this extra energy leftover at the end of the day. Unless you are a body builder or in training for a specific goal, going to a gym is the ultimate waste of time. There are other ways to break a sweat and get your heartrate up. What if you walked to the grocery store or biked to the library? Running is free. Join a team. Take the money you save from not renewing your gym membership and invite your neighbor to a local restaurant.

#6 Put down your phone

Don’t check your messages the first hour of your day. Turn off social media notifications- you don’t really need to know when some guy from high school likes one of your photos.

#5 Get rid of 5 things everyday

This will feel great! Go through your closet, your cupboards, and your bookshelves. If you don’t love it, if you aren’t using it, get rid of it. Give it away, repurpose it or throw it away! Embrace minimalism. Less baggage opens up space for new stuff and new thoughts.

#4 Read a book instead of the news

We are living in a time when being informed is highly praised, however it is not urgent that you know about every horrible thing happening around the globe.

#3 Unfriend people who aren’t really your friends

Facebook friends aren’t really your friends. I would suggest getting off Facebook entirely but I know many of you, like me, use the Face for your business. However, your personal page should be personal. My top 3 criteria for this elimination is the following:

1. Do I actually know you? If not, unfriend.

2. Do I like you? If not, unfriend.

3. If I saw you on the street would I say hi? If not, unfriend.

#2 Walk or take public transportation

You will save a lot of money if you do this. Plus, you will get more exercise- probably lose weight. Public transportation is awesome! You can read on the bus, listen to podcasts and make your own lists like this one.

#1 Talk to strangers

Greet shopkeepers, bus drivers and baristas with a genuine ‘good morning.’ You will ooze good vibes. My personal cure for a bad mood is to take a walk and smile at every person I pass. Happiness is contagious, joy is contagious- if you want it, you need to spread it!