There is something so surreal about excitedly landing in a country you have never been to before and then being quickly smacked in the face with a reality, unlike that of your own. This happened to me recently on my first ever trip to Cuba. Now don’t let my maiden voyage mislead you, if travelling were gamified I would be on the most expert of levels. But what happened to me mentally in Cuba really changed me – something I was far from expecting.

If I am honest, Cuba definitely didn’t make it to my favourite places list. But I feel like I was supposed to visit at that exact juncture in my life and the profoundness of my experience made this ridiculously clear. So I decided that at the first shudder of discomfort I would commit to being open, receptive and to shutting the heck up and actually listen to what this moment in time was trying to teach me. 

Cuba - nomadic musings

Travel is truly a privilege and social media has made it even sexier and alluring than ever before. But if I am honest, I don’t really care about any of that stuff… I barely even take pictures when I am on the move. What I care about are the subtle messages transported in that breeze that caresses you as you walk down a street you’ve never been down before, or in the boisterous energy of a group of neighbourhood kids playing a game you’ve never seen before, or in the loving gestures of an elderly couple walking ever so slowly along an ocean esplanade. I am all about these messages. It is how I learn. I learn by observing them and by acknowledging them. When I am travelling, there are days when I will barely even speak a single word. Because on these days, my environment does the talking and I speak up only when my voice will truly add value. I feel that in such a moment, my sole purpose is only to watch and appreciate what is in front of me.

Cuba - nomadic musings

I had many moments like this in Cuba and I will always be grateful for what this country has taught me. It taught me that people are strong, even when they have nothing. It taught me that before I judge anything, I need to experience it first. It taught me that leading with kindness and empathy is really the only way to live. And finally, it reminded me that I have a very privileged life, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it. 

Now as I sit here on the plane heading back to my own reality, I reflect on the last two weeks and laugh to myself at the cheekiness of the world and how, just when I was feeling comfortable, it decided to smack me in the face and teach me a thing or two. “Psych!” It cries. 

Well played world. Well played. 

When was the last time you had a travel experience like this? Did you receive all the messages that were meant for you? How did you listen and what did you learn?

Blog post written by Greece Retreat 2019 Alumna Carolene Méli. Find her on Instagram: @_caromeli. Carolene is the author of Nomadic Musings, a creative writing column exclusively for Pangea Dreams!