on Mar.23, 2012, under my travels
Happiness, and all the things we take for granted….
Each year, Romain and I go on a trip focused on adventure.
Together we have adventured to South Africa, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
This year, I wanted to go to Sudan because I read that there is a travel warning for Americans traveling to Sudan, thus the trip would have a true adventurist twist to it, but, I couldn’t get direct flights that fit our schedule …
I looked into Somalia, but that didn’t work either.
Ethiopia fit perfectly into our schedule.
From Dubai, it’s an easy 4 hour direct flight to Addis Ababa, and with the one hour time difference we arrived to Ethiopia early Friday morning….and then a kick ass adventure began.
Quickly, we checked into the modern, western hotel and then went out to walk around, sight-seeing.
We walked around the area near our hotel for a good 90 minutes. We met a group of female construction workers.
In the afternoon, Romain and I went to the “Mercato.”
The “Mercato” in Addis Ababa is the largest market in Africa.
We toured the massive market for a couple of hours.
Everything you can imagine is for sale in the mercato (metal, food, clothing, agriculture, machines, internet cafe, playstation rental facility, live animals, etc)
We didn’t see any other white people or tourists the entire time in the mercato.
Everyone was friendly, and we got invited to have a coffee with a group of men in a make shift, style of café.
As we strolled through the market, many people said to us “soldier soldier” because Romain and I were both wearing our motorcycle boots … which are French army boots.
But everyone was warm and friendly.
A beautiful Ethiopian woman with blue eyes in a pink dress had her own style of cafe on the side of the mercato, serving coffee.
She was charmingly – unfriendly, and her charm won me over. She offered us a coffee (our 2nd coffee in about 10 minutes)
I think I paid her $20 for the two coffee’s…but it was worth it – just for the story,
In the late afternoon, we had a driver take us around the city and to the museum.
Finally, we drove up to the top of the surrounding mountain ….
As we were driving up the very steep road, we saw many people walking up it.
Young children dressed in dirty school uniforms were laughing and seemed to be happily, smiling and playing as they walked home from school up the crazy, steep road. (the walk up the mountain must take them 2+ hours and to think they do this every day)
Several women were carrying large bundles of wood on their backs… also walking up the steep road.
We stopped to take pictures, and I felt the wood pile the woman were carrying … must have been at least 30-50 lbs. It was heavy.
At night, we walked all around the city … it was pitch dark, but we never felt in danger.
Everyone we met was warm and friendly.
On Saturday, we woke up at 4am and went to the airport for a 6am flight up north …on the drive to the airport, we saw many many many Ethiopians “jogging” in the streets.
Even in america, I have never seen so many people jogging on the streets at the same time.
The flight up north was an easy 60 minutes.
The drive from the tiny airport to our hotel in Lalibella was a good hour across gorgeous scenery.
There were many people on the side of the road walking in the same direction as we were driving.
Our guide told us they were all going to the same place we were going … because “Saturday” is the biggest day for the market.
We stopped several times to take photos. Everyone was friendly.
A memory I will probably never forget was of a young boy, maybe 10 years old or so … who came up to the side of the car and motioned as if he was writing … and the guide told me “he is asking you if you have a pen” … the young boy was begging for a pen.
Many people in Addis Ababa begged us for money …. And we gave away in total about a $100 throughout that first day … but we noticed up north almost no one begged or asked us for money.
The boy didn’t ask for money.
He asked us for a pen.
As I type, I am remembering his shy, smiling face, almost embarrased and shy for asking us for a pen.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a pen to give him.
We checked into our hotel, and then had breakfast on the patio facing the amazing view.
We didn’t speak for the hour or so — we just sat looking at the view.
Lalibella is famous for the rock churches (Christian) which were carved from the top down 600-800 years ago.
The site reminded me of Petra in Jordan.
Our guide told us that Ethiopia is 70% Christian.
The detail of each church is remarkable.
Each church was carved entirely from the top down, and some of the churches are at least 3-4 stories high.
Even the inside of the buildings have been carved out. Incredible to experience such perfection achieved 800 years ago.
The churches were connected with underground tunnels and trench-like paths.
We saw very few tourists the entire day, so it was like having the sites all to ourselves.
Around lunch time, Romain and I visited the “Saturday market.”
Possibly the “coolest” adventure I have had in my lifetime was walking around this market.
No one asked us for money, and I don’t remember anyone trying to sell us anything.
It was as if we didn’t exist to the people in the market.
Of course, we were the only “white guys/tourists” in the crowd.
We walked all throughout the market. We didn’t want to miss anything.
We were never worried about our safety, and we never felt in any danger.
Not at all.
After the market, we walked through an old village which was right next door.
We saw up, close and personal how the Ethiopian’s in this region live.
A group of children came running out to us, and one boy in particular was sweet and tender.
He kept hugging me, and holding my hand.
As I type, I feel sadness thinking about these kids.
All the things we take for granted…
There was a group of people playing “fooseball” … and several people were waiting in line to play.
The “fooseball” table was broken and looked 50 years old.
The final site of the day is the most famous site of Lalibella, a church carved in the shape of a cross .
It’s one of Ethiopia’s most iconic sites.
We had the church all to ourselves.
We took several pictures with a group of priests, and one deacon … warm, friendly men.
We got back to our hotel at 8pm … our hotel had an unobstructed view of the plains of Ethiopia.
We sat on the balcony and just enjoyed the sounds of Ethiopia.
The room had two tiny single beds, and Romain seemed to fall asleep instantly ….
But I couldn’t sleep.
I sat on the balcony staring at the stars in the sky just thinking about life, and all things I take for granted.
Because there were no lights anywhere… the view was pitch black with just the stars above. Gorgeous.
I couldn’t sleep, and surely slept less than 3 hours.
I just layed in bed and thought about how soft, and spoiled I am compared to the people I had met throughout the past two days.
Early, the next morning (after a great, strong coffee) … our guide picked us up and drove us to the final site of our trip, a church built in the side of a cliff, famous for having Holy water.
The drive to the airport was back across the plains of Ethiopia …
As we drove, I thought about all the things I take for granted – even just buying a canister of salt…
I thought back to the day before, at the market…
We had seen several women whom our guide told us had walked 25-40 miles carrying large bags of salt to the Saturday market to try and sell.
Imagine carrying a heavy bag of rock salt 20+ miles to a market …. just to try and sell.
I thought about the little baby at the market … his parents were selling rice or grain.
I thought about the 8 year old boy who I saw picking up shit from the animals (with his bare hands) and then trying to sell it.
There was a group of young boys doing this throughout the market.
We flew back to Addis Ababa, and then later in the evening back to Dubai.
It’s not just the poverty of the people in Ethiopia that got me reflecting on my own life, but it was the arduous, tough life of the people … women carrying loads of rocks, people carrying large oil barrels on their backs, young children, less than 6 years old all alone on the side of the road herding animals.
But the Ethiopian people didn’t look or seem to be unhappy.
On the contrary…they all seem to smile, and acted happy — not one person was rude or unfriendly to us the entire trip.
No one was aggressive to us.
“Happiness…” and all the other things we take for granted.
on Jan.25, 2011, under my travels
For my 40th birthday present, Sophie surprised me with a 9 day trip to Cuba.
Cuba is the 90th country I have visited, and easily my favorite trip.
Cuban’s are friendly, and I appreciate that socialism has dulled their enthusiasm for commerce, thus most people on the streets did not try to hustle or sell me anything.
Although I am American, Sophie (easily) got my visa from the Cuban embassy in Qatar. (many people assume American’s can’t travel to Cuba, but we can – just not from America)
On Christmas afternoon, we flew Emirates from Dubai to Paris, spent a great night enjoying Paris, and then we flew an easy 11 hours on Air France from Paris to Havana.
We arrived to Havana at 9pm on December 26th.
Our journey through baggage claim and immigrations was remarkably, smooth and easy.
However, as most restaurants, cafes, stores and merchants do not accept credit cards in Cuba, we had to wait in a long line to change our euro into Cuban pesos.
Around midnight ….we were out of the airport.
Sophie wanted me to experience Cuba to the fullest, so she organized the first night for us to stay in a local Cuban family’s home in Vinales, the area of Cuba where the best coffee and tobacco is grown.
2 hour drive later, we arrived to “Rolando’s house.”
Although the family spoke no English, we enjoyed a late meal of fresh wild pig (which they said was caught and killed in the morning), black beans & rice as well as other Cuban dishes.
Dinner was adventurous, and the food was excellent.
Sophie and I slept in Rolando’s guest room, a tiny room with just a queen sized bed – very comfortable, and we both fell asleep instantly (around 2:30am).
I slept great… until we were awoken by a rooster at 5:30am and then another rooster … suddenly – it seemed like 20+ rooster’s were making noise.
The house shared a common large yard with four other houses – there were several cages of cock’s which were being raised to fight.
There was also two cages with hens, which provide Rolando and the other 4 families fresh eggs.
As I was enjoying my walk through the cages of hens and cocks, a man with a large machete walked in front of me … up to a cage with a large pig in it ….
The man made a motion with his thumb across his throat and smiled as he walked up to the large pig.
I went for a long walk around the streets of Vinales – of course, I was the only big white guy strolling around ….
I told everyone who asked that I was from America – everyone was warm and friendly.
It is impressive how clean, nearly spotless are the streets of Cuba … and I noticed throughout the trip several men and women sweeping the gutters and streets.
Sophie and I ate breakfast on Rolando’s patio.
After breakfast, I sat in a rocking chair on the back porch and smoked my first cigar of the trip.
The highlight of the morning was the strong Cuban coffee.
At 9:00, Rolando’s 23 year old son (who spoke French, but no English) took us on a 10 mile hike from his house into the farm land – we walked 10 miles through tobacco fields, coffee fields; we saw several wild pigs and many farmers in the various fields.
We met one farmer who they told us was 80 years old and smokes 20+ cigars a day — the man looked in his late 60′s.
I didn’t see another tourist the entire walk.
We walked through coffee fields.
After an hour of walking, we reached a tobacco farm.
As we walked into the small farm house, a woman was in the process of roasting coffee.
We got to enjoy her very strong coffee.
She also made me a cigar.
My cigar was enjoyable. I bought 12 cigars at this farm – these cigars are called “peasant cigars” because they are rolled by the farmers themselves – I paid 10 US$ for 12 cigars (I regret I did not buy more)
The coffee was great!
She also showed us the process of drying tobacco.
After too much coffee, we walked through several other tobacco farms to the most prestigious farm … again, the owner of the farm rolled a cigar for me.
I bought 24 cigars from him. (the woman’s cigar was better)
Incredible day; incredible experience.
In the late afternoon, our driver who is named “Chocolate” picked us up and drove us to a dock, where we took a boat to a tiny island …
Chocolate spoke fluent French, but no English. He explained he is called “chocolate” because “he is seriously, black.”
We took a small boat to an island of only 30 people. It was gorgeous, but windy and cold.
At night, Sophie and I watched Spanish ESPN and had our first mojito.
I don’t drink alcohol (except for wine) so that mojito was the first one I tried in my life.
I should mention that there was no hot water at either Rolando’s house nor at the beach house we stayed … but it didn’t matter.
I like cold showers.
We enjoyed a couple days walking around the island, smoking cigars and relaxing … but I was looking fwd to getting to Havana.
Cuba, esp. Havana is unlike any of the 90 countries I have visited…
Old cars from the 1950s are every where.
We stayed at a modern hotel, the Parque Central which is right in the center of Havana, and very convenient because we could walk every where.
The buildings in Havana are old and dilapitated, but very charming.
There is a Casa del Habana in the hotel lobby … I bought a box of Romeo and Juliet “wide Churchills and a box of Cohiba “siglo V” to enjoy throughout the trip.
The Partagas Factory is less than 5 minute walk from the hotel.
To ensure the cigars are not fake, tourists are advised to buy cigars ONLY in Casa del Habana shops.
One of the biggest myths in the world has to be that cigars in Cuba are cheap …
From my experience, Cuban cigars at the Beirut Airport duty free are the cheapest in the world.
The cigar’s in Cuba are about the same price as the duty free at the Dubai airport — depending on the exchange rate – maybe even more expensive.
But it didn’t matter. I was in Cuba.
Nic and Jenny flew in from Toronto and joined us in Havana.
Even sweet, gorgeous women from Canada enjoy cigars in Cuba!
The 4 of us spent several days and nights walking around Havana, smoking cigars and drinking mojito’s/daiquiris at several of the bars – the most famous being “La Floridita,” made famous by Ernest Hemingway.
You know you have made it in this lifetime when your favorite bar puts a life size bronze statue of you standing where you stood in the bar – like there is of Hemingway at the La Floridita.
Throughout the trip, we walked all around Havana, even late at night.
We never once felt in danger. The people are poor, but very friendly.
One morning, I rented a car … and the four of us drove around Havana in a 1963 convertible Impala … 3 hours was more than enough.
I smoked a cigar as often as I wanted.
Cuba is probably the only country in the world where you see people smoking cigars in a crowded elevator as if its normal.
We went to “Tropicana” for New Year’s eve and enjoyed the show and brilliant ambiance.
Tropicana is consider the most famous club in Cuba – before the embargo, it was one of the most famous clubs in the world.
Nic and Jenny left the day after new year’s, but Sophie and I spent another 4 days in Havana relaxing, smoking cigars and drinking daiquiris and mojito’s .
We went to every famous bar listed in the guide book to taste and judge who made the best mojito or daiquiris – we both agreed, La Floridita was the best – with the best ambiance.
Over the trip, I enjoyed easily, 5-8 cigars a day.
Cuba and its cigar, mojito/daiquiri culture is beyond words …
I understand why Hemingway lived in Cuba for 20 years…. before he lost his house when America set up the embargo, and he was forced to leave.
In Havana, there is a palpable passion for life.
Cuban’s don’t seem to be concerned with what kind of car they drive, or the size of their TV.
In my opinion, it is ridiculous that the United States government continues an embargo on this country.
And don’t believe the hype ….
American’s CAN legally travel to Cuba – I suggest anyone in America who wishes to visit Cuba, fly from Toronto.
I enjoyed Cuba so much that I have organized a performance incentive in the company, so to be able to go back again this year — ideally, with many people from naseba.
on Jan.15, 2011, under make it happen
today’s blog is a bit rushed, but I wanted to post it before Sophie and I drive to Milan for the weekend.
I will expand upon the idea on sunday.
I am in France this weekend. Sophie and I have a birthday party in Milan tonight, so we flew back home to France for the weekend.
Monaco to Milan is an easy 3 hour drive.
Yesterday, on the flight to Nice, Sophie and I talked a lot about “fear” and one of the keys to enjoying life is not letting “fear” get in the way of experiencing it.
We were referring to “the fear of flying…” (there was a lady sitting next to us who was grossly scared, and nearly had to get off the plane before it took off)
When I was younger, I read Napoleon Hill’s book, “think and grow rich.”
One part of the book stuck with me; even to this day, I think about it often (to summarize) : “don’t let fear get in your way.”
Specifically, the idea “do not fear death.”
Seems absurd, I know … but think about how many people don’t do or experience something because they are in some way scared of death.
Whether its not taking a job in another city or country because they don’t want to be away from their family who are growing old….
and might die
Or not taking an airplane because they are afraid of flying….
how many people don’t experience the world because of a fear of flying??
In a few weeks, I will go to Islamabad and Lahore, Pakistan – I have been invited to speak at a university.
The few people who know about my trip to Pakistan have all commented the same thing, “aren’t you scared, its Pakistan?”
I’m not scared at all – I am excited about the opportunity to visit and experience another part of the world.
I will expand upon this blog later this weekend – and the idea of not letting fear get in your way of making your life happen.
on Jan.10, 2011, under the last days of Rome…
The Economist recently had a cover page dedicated to an article which claims research suggests that life begins at 46…
After some philosophical banter about when our “happiness” levels peak and fall …. I learned that when we turn 46, we start to have a more positive mood swing up and we become happier, thus the article claims: “our life begins at 46.”
What a bunch of bull shit.
Why is this world so focused on the constant, never ending search for a cushy-fluffy-happy life?
We’re hammered daily by the media telling us that we’re not comfortable/happy/fulfilled.
however, if we had a bigger HD TV or an IPAD…..
Many many people spend so much time “trying” to be comfortable that they end up wasting their lives searching for those nonexistant easier ways to “try” to enjoy it.
Sophie and I went to Cuba for 9 days over the Christmas holidays.
Cuban’s don’t have two nickels to rub together, but most of them seem happier and content with their lives than many of us.
There is a palpable passion for life in Cuba –most probably, because there’s not the same pressure, or maybe I should say … there’s not the same pursuit of happiness as we, westerners enjoy…
I mean, it seems that so many people in our world are chasing after that bigger, better HD flat screen TV — and once they get it, they discover their neighbor has a bigger, better one….
Cuban’s can’t afford flat screen TVs … I am not sure they even know what they are.
My jet lag is distracting me from the point of today’s blog…
We don’t need bull shit university studies to tell us when we are happiest or fulfilled.
People should stop thinking about how unhappy they are…
People should stop sitting around with their friends and family focusing on the negative in life, moaning about how unhappy everyone is….
make your life happen.
on Dec.30, 2010, under make it happen
I am in Cuba for the next 8 days…
Sophie and I flew from Dubai to Paris, enjoyed Paris for 36 hours and then took an 11 hour flight from Paris to Havana.
On long flights, I often kill time by reflecting and reviewing things in my life…
Nic and Jenny are meeting Sophie and I in Havana, so I thought about Nic.
A few weeks ago, I silently walked in on a phone call between Nic and one of his friends in the UK…it was on speaker phone in Nic’s office.
I guess his friend was excitedly, talking about what he was going to do.
“I’m going to do this…..”
“I am going to do that…”
“Once we do this then I will do that…”
(for the sake of clarity, I have simplified the above conversation)
Nic stopped the guy and asked, “have you ever been in a fight?”
The guy replied what I was also thinking: “huh????? What???”
So Nic furthered his question: “when you were a kid, did you ever get into a fist fight….?”
His friend replied, “yes, a long time ago…”
Even though he knew I was looking right at him — Nic asked in complete seriousness, not even with a smile on his face, “Did you tell the guy you fought, “I am going to punch you in the face?”
did you just punch him in the face…?”
Then Nic followed with “Don’t talk about what you are going to do …. Just do it.”
There was a silence on the phone….and then a firm “I understand” was heard on the other end.
Nic is British and a 4th degree black belt in taekwondo …
he was probably refering to his training days…
I dont know, but I like the point he made: don’t tell me all the great things you are going to do, just do them.
I have been close friends with Nic for 9 years – and sitting in my seat, on the long flight …. as I reflected back to the above story, I thought about his consistency.
Nic Watson never talks about what he is gonna do.
He and I are getting our pilots licenses together.
To be honest, I have talked about getting my pilots license for a couple of years, “I’m gonna…”
but several months ago, Nic came up to me and said “you and I are going to get our pilots license….”
No day dreaming; no talk of big adventure, just words put into action.
Try NOT to tell anyone (even your wife or best friend) something you are “gonna do.”
Let your actions speak for you.
It’s much easier said than done, but try it for one month.