2 Live Views Season 1 Episode 13 You gotta hear this wig conversation?? It got real… Have you ever been tired of a church? One kid said just that in front of a church… but do more adults feel the same? March 25th, 2019heyyyhelen
I promise you, one of the questions I get tired of answering and get asked the most both home and abroad is, “Are you by yourself?” Unfortunately, many black women and a few black men get asked this question more times than we care to answer. I guess because I have been “doing it” so long that I am just immune to it, but the real question is, why do we have to travel solo?
It is not to brag, but I have been to almost every U.S. State, several Countries, and a handful of Continents. In my travels, there has been one thing that both amuses me and makes me sad all at the same time; it’s seeing countless black women traveling solo. As unpopular as most of my friends and family may think it is, it is actually sadly common, particularly for single and successful women of color. You don’t believe me? I belong to several, yes several single, black travel sites on Facebook and Instagram. Here, you will find the most fabulous pictures, stories, suggestions, and cautions before you (Single You), plan your next getaway. I find that I word search where I would like to go in these sites steps before I arrange travel. But again, why?
I sat next to an amazingly handsome, single Latino male on a flight recently to Cartagena, Columbia. He was a pilot, and we hit it off as soon as I buckled into my window seat. We started with the usual pleasantries, and within five minutes, he asked, “Are you traveling by yourself?” and as always with a forced smile I replied, “Yes sir I am.” I’ve come to realize that when I look around the plane, if there is not a couple traveling together, there is often a group, but the solo thing, well it has always been “My Thing” but I also noticed over the year although some of us do it by choice, many it becomes their reality.
For those that don’t know, I’m in my 40’s, single, and don’t have any children. Now, don’t cry for me Argentina, I have and continue to live an amazing life, and that’s a whole different blog 😊, I say all that to say, that when I speak to other solo travelers, their story is similar are close to mine. Some have children, and they are now grown. Others take group trips but will also reserve a solo trip in that same year for their “self-care,” but it still cannot go unnoticed that we (single black women are the biggest solo travelers).
My first solo trip was close to 20 years ago after I was going through a divorce. I went to the Bahamas to get my mind right and get over my funk. I realize that not only was I am an amazing person, but I also enjoyed my own company. Honestly, the first two or three trips I hated the stares when I went to have dinner by myself. I hated the thought of having to “protect myself.” And worst of all, I hated the single traveler surcharge that cruises, hotels, and travel sites penalize s with merely because we are a solo traveler. As time when on, I started using it to my advantage. I made it clear I was solo. Men made sure, I got to my room safely, and women that worked at resorts offered me package deals that would not be a distraction and added me to odd numbered groups to assure I was not by myself. I’ve never met a stranger in my life, so meeting new people was never the problem, my circumstance just made it a necessity.
Now to be clear, I have traveled with friends in the past, but nine times out of ten they too are single black females, and I don’t know about you but every NOW and THEN I enjoy the company of the opposite sex, but they are not always readily available. Not making it a stereotype, but most of the men I know, can’t swim, don’t enjoy International Travel the way I do, some don’t even possess a passport, making it even more challenging to find a travel buddy. I know married women who have told me they take solo or girls trips because their husbands do not like to travel. What I see on more than 99% of my trips are European couples, European families and single black females. Even on this recent trip, on the Delta flight, I was on, there were only two black women on the entire oversold flight.
I don’t predicate my life or happiness on others thoughts, fears, and perceptions of me being a solo traveler. As a matter of fact, for me to enjoy all that this world has to offer, it’s the only way. Do I have fears? Sure. Do I get nervous walking around in a strange Country? No more than I do in a peculiar U.S, city. I learned real early to avoid looking like a tourist, speak as much of the language as you can (I keep a translator app on all my phone and electronic devises), and make every trip a Great Adventure!!
So, to answer your question, “Are you traveling by yourself,” the answer is YES.
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So…. Last year I deceived to find out where I was from. I took two different DNA test and came back with two different results, there goes that theory. Anyways, one said without a shadow of a doubt I was from West Africa (Sub-Saharan) that could be anything from Senegal to Cameroon.
Helen Lawrence 100%
- Sub-Saharan African 80.3%
- West African 75.2%
- African Hunter-Gatherer 2.9%
- Broadly Sub-Saharan African 2.2%
- European 18.9%
- British & Irish 6.3%
- Broadly Northwestern European 7.0%
- Broadly European 3.0%
- Broadly Southern European 2.6%
- East Asian & Native American 0.5%
- Native American 0.4%
- Southeast Asian 0.1%
- Broadly East Asian & Native American 0.1%
These results were from 23 & Me. The next one said I was a mixture of Ethiopian, Nigerian, and Turkish??? Lawrence is a German last name, and yes I know the slave masters gave us a NEW last name and tried to strip us of our identities and royalty, but that’s another topic and blog for another time. OK, I’m back…didn’t mean to get so deep, I was really confused because “HELLO” Ethiopia is in Eastern Africa, oh well, I said all of this to say, that I made a vow that once I found out WHO I WAS, I was going to visit those areas to ingratiate myself in my TRUE and Authentic Self and Culture. Since I am still confused because most DNA test also do not include your Native Indian breakdown, I knew it was safe to say I was still in search of who I REALLY AM. What I know for sure is I come from amazing parents, grandparents and ancestors from all other the globe, and that I am a Perfect Combination of what GOD created me to be. So, in the meantime, my travels and discovery will be limitless and explorative. I knew my first trip to Africa would be this year, but where to?? I chose Egypt…LOL
I have had Egypt on my “To Do” list for many years. From both a Biblical and Historical standpoint I knew one day I would make my way there. At the beginning of the year I was laid off from an employer that I worked at for nine years. My last day was two weeks before the Super Bowl and to be honest I wasn’t devastated, but I was a little disappointed. My team makes it to the Super Bowl, and I had to “ADULT” and decided if spending $5,000 to go to the Super Bowl (flight, hotel and at least 200 level ticket) was fiscally responsible. I mean I got a handsome severance, I have always been disciplined and amassed saving in multiple accounts, and hey how often does YOUR team get to a Super Bowl (unless you’re a New England Patriots fan)? The Eagles had not been in 14 years, but I decided that I needed to pick between the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in February, or Egypt for my birthday in July (both came with extreme temperatures on opposite ends) so I picked Egypt over my EAGLES. The good news is that the EAGLES won the Super Bowl and I was able to attend the first Super Bowl parade for my Team and City. Here it was June and I still had no job, my unemployment benefits were running out, and I had not been anywhere all year, so this “Wanderlust” was going through some serious withdraw. So, with no job offers, I did what any sensible person would do….I booked two trips for July 😊, one to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for the July 4th holiday, and the other for Cairo Egypt for my 47th birthday, and in true Helen style, I went Solo and First Class for both.
I have been to every US State at least once (work mostly afforded this) with the exceptions of Alaska and South Dakota, 25 Countries, and enough frequent flier miles to start my own airline. Approximately 95% of those have been International SOLO trips, because for me, that’s my preferred way to travel. I am accountable for me, myself, and I. Being adventurous I also decided to stay at my 4th Airbnb and coming from a bourgeoise Hilton Girl that is saying a lot. After careful review and narrowing it down, I found the best place in Cairo for me, with Pyramid views, enough room for 8 people and a HOST that topped all past Host. My host Mahmoud affectionately known as “Mo” was extremely responsive, planned my trip from pick-up, to additional flights, to a 4-day cruise in between, and back to the airport for a 3:30 AM departure for my flight back to Atlanta. It was go hard or go home.
I left the night before my birthday; the flight was 15 hours with a brief layover in Rome. I didn’t sleep the entire flight, and that’s not the norm for me. I’m the girl that falls asleep before the cabin door even shuts, but this time, I just could not. They served dinner, dessert, I watched two Nigerian Movies (my favorite) and got up 3 times (something I have to force myself to do), yet I was wide awake. Upon arrival in Rome, I checked into the Sky Club Lounge (y’all thought I was lying when I said I’m bourgeoise) freshened up, had lunch and said a Happy Birthday prayer, before my connecting flight in two hours. “Thank You Father for 47”.
When I arrived in Cairo, I was a little nervous. Not because I was in a predominately Muslim Country, not even because I was traveling solo, because truth be told I was familiar with both, but I was not sure what to expect I guess. As I came down the escalator the first thing I noticed was a well-dressed man holding a sign with my name on it. He whisked me through getting my Visa and Immigration while others were looking at me like “who is that girl?” He spoke amazing English and during the ride gave me a car tour, being sure to point out all landmarks and answer all of my questions, and I had few; like in the first 20 minutes, I didn’t see one female driver?? My greeter and driver let me know they just recently started letting women drive, remember in the Muslim culture, women are more caregivers and quite frankly not expected to drive. Now here is this professional, executive, single black female who does EVERYTHING for herself in a Country where that is frown upon. CHECKED & NOTED…After about an hour drive, observing the clear bifurcation between the haves and the have nots, I was in front of my HOME for the next week. If you have ever done an Airbnb in other Countries, the outside is generally not the best aesthetically, and can make you a little nervous, but Mo was standing outside to greet me, and had a gentleman take my luggage up as we walked together to the elevator. Lord please let this place look like the pictures.
The pictures online did not do the apartment any justice, the place was amazing. It could sleep up to eight, a full kitchen with a stocked refrigerator, ice-cold AC, a balcony with the three pyramids in my view, and most importantly HOT WATER for the Shower. Later that night Mo’s wife and mother prepared me the most amazing birthday/welcome to Egypt meal fit for a Queen. They do this for every guest I’m told, but I’m going to pretend it was all because it was my birthday LOL. What isn’t the norm is later that evening Mo took me to sit outside with the locals to smoke some Shisha and discuss my packed itinerary. Because I was solo, Mo was my personal tour guide and his good friend was my personal driver for the Cairo portion of my trip.
My first full day started with the Pyramids of Giza & Sphinx. They were MASSIVE in person and I count it a blessing to be standing here at what is still considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I was also excited that I finally was able to check this off my bucket list. I rode a camel, and had an impromptu photo shoot courtesy of my Brother Mo. Next, we ventured off to Sakkara, what I didn’t know if this is where the very first Pyramid ever built was and I was able to venture inside the tombs of Teti and Kagemni. Time for lunch, to know me, is to know this is an area I am NOT adventurous in, but I tried a local favorite Kofta. It is a mixture of minced beef or lamb with spices, rolled onto a skewer and barbecued over coals. They look like and taste a little to me like Jimmy Dean Turkey breakfast sausage.
Now that our stomachs were full the next stop was to Memphis the ancient Capital of Egypt to see the biggest statue of King Ramsses II. The last two spots were visits to a papyrus painting shop, where they showed me how the paints are applied to papyrus paper. Here is the popular Judgement Day:
Afterwards, I went to a fragrance shop that made their own oils and perfumes. Let’s just say I spent more than I planned, and one of the four oils I purchased was guaranteed to heal my knee pain, and another would get me a husband LOL. I haven’t opened any of them yet.
I slept in the next day because I had a flight to Luxor. Mo set me up for a 4-day cruise on a 5 Star Cruise Ship (called floating hotels by the locals). I was met by my English-speaking tour guide, Omar who immediately along with my personal driver, took me to the Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple all before the sun went down. In between, he also took me to find an Egyptian style dress to wear to one of the nightly theme parties, it cost me a whopping $6 USD and I have to say I was cute 😉
During the next few days I visited The Valley of Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Edfu Temple, KomOmbo Temple, and continued to sail to Aswan. On the last day was a visit to Phialae Temple Island, and the High Dam then the unfinished Obelisk. I asked my tour guide if we could modify the tour (at this point I was all tombed, pyramided, and templed out…LOL) I had read about the Nubian Village and I had to go. With a few phone calls, we hopped on a motor boat and about 30 minutes later we were there, and I’m so glad as this became one of the highlights of the trip. The Egyptians here speak Arabic, but they also have a Nubian language, they looked more like me, and I got to touch a crocodile. The plan was to hold him, but he was NOT as cooperative as he was the day before, and let’s just say momma didn’t raise no fool, I knew how and when to leave well enough alone.
I arrived back to Cairo that evening and once again my FAVORITE driver was at the airport waiting on me. We brushed up on the 10 Arabic words I learned on the cruise and he tried to teach me a few more. The next morning was a tour of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo. I guess we went on the most popular day and time because it was overly crowed. Mo told me Friday is the weekend and many go to Mosque for noon prayer. Because I was not a Muslim, I had to observe the prayer but could not enter the mosque at this time. We took a trip to the downtown market place, it was a combination of Canal Street in New York; South Street in Philly and the Underground in Atlanta. You can get clothes, food, household items (Mo brought me a beautiful top spread/throw in Purple). We sat and enjoyed both a Coke for me and a fresh pineapple drink for MO. He continued to educate me on the Muslim culture and what I would see at Noon. He excused himself and participated in the noon prayer, in the street. To watch the men and women worship on one accord was moving. I have always been a spiritual person, and I LOVE true authentic WORSHIP, and this day was beyond anything I had EVER seen. Imagine hundreds (and I am not exaggerating) of people praying on one accord, over 100 degrees, many could not make it in the Mosque, so they worshiped in the streets. Imagine, young and old, you don’t have to be a Muslim to appreciate what I saw this day. Once the prayer ended, tourist were then permitted to enter the mosque. We traveled to another mosque instead; The Alabaster Mosque of Mohamed Ali. This place was beautiful inside and out. The view from the outside of the mosque was even more breathtaking.
We were slated to visit the hanging church, instead we opted to ride to the top of the 70 story Cairo Tower. I pulled the Canon back out and we went to taking pictures. MEET MO Ladies and Gentlemen, your FUTURE Tour GUIDE, HOST and BROTHER (because I know many of you want to go and can and should.
Now a sister was wiped out and hungry. Mo saved the best meal for last. In true authentic Egyptian style, I was treated to and devoured the Egyptian favorite, Kushari or Koshari. This dish is made with rice, macaroni and lentils mixed together, topped with a spiced tomato sauce, and garlic vinegar; also add in some chickpeas and crispy fried onions and a squirt of lemon or lime juice.
I don’t know if I ate it too fast or ate too much, but when I got up that next day my stomach was not as happy as it was when I ate it LOL, but it was worth it. On my last day, Mo and I had Shisha that night, amazing conversation, and I promise you he is my new found brother. I had a 3:00 AM flight, and my driver was friendly and alert at that time of morning. Mo brought me a papyrus paper art picture that I was eyeing but was trying to be frugal. I cried like a baby when he surprised me with it, saying I wanted to do something nice for you, plus it’s your birthday.
They say people don’t have to be nice and when they are, they don’t have to be nice to you.
As-Salaam-Alaikum, Akhi Sadiki MO 😊 (PEACE BE UNTO YOU BY BROTHER AND FRIEND MO)
shkra lk ya sadiki (Thank You my Friend)
February 4, 2018, is a date that will FOREVER be etched in my heart; it’s the day my beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time. Fifty-Seven years had gone by and there was NO RING, NO Parade, NO SUPER BOWL BANNER, but at last, on what was one of the best Super Bowl games I have EVER witnessed, the EAGLES FINALLY got it done. I have joked for years that there are two things that I want and pray for; to see Jesus face to face and for the Eagles to win a Super Bowl in my lifetime (obviously not in that order).
If you have ever believed in a Cinderella story, a perfect ending, or a “next man up” scenario; the 2017-2018 Eagles Team gave you just that. I attend on average 3-4 games a year, in my quest to visit all 31 stadiums (The New York Jets and Giants share a stadium) of the 32 teams. I try as best I can to attend the home opener even with me living in Atlanta for the last 13 years, I make my way to the home opener, and then select stadiums I would like to visit for away games. The first home game was against our divisional foe; The New York Giants. If you know anything about the NFC East, you know there are no “cake walk games”, they are usually hard fought and very close, which was no exception on September 24, 2017. Jake Elliott, a kicker the Eagles signed less than 2 weeks before this game; who was waived by the Beagles, with just seconds left on the clock, nailed a 61-yard field goal, for the Eagles to pull out the win 27-24. What a game to remember, but the bad news was in that same game Darren Sproles, broke his arm and suffered an ACL tear; surely we were doomed.
As the weeks and the months passed, we continued to be decimated with season-ending injuries and in just about every position. Sproles, Cox, Sturgis, Peters (when I literally cried like a baby), Hicks, and our Franchise QB Carson Wentz in week 14; everyone including some Eagles Fan counted us out, but the next man up, got the job done. Many had said, well the Eagles have nothing to hang their heads over, although they won the Division, there was no way they would win one playoff game without their star QB, let alone make it to the Super Bowl. The biggest challenge in all three post-season games (in my opinion) was the very first game we played against the Atlanta Falcons. I am a realist and I tell anyone that wants to listen that if Atlanta’s QB Matt Ryan connects with Wide Receiver Julio Jones at the end of the 4th, their results may have been different, but the Eagles had the best record not just in the NFC but the tied (with the Patriots) for the BEST record in the NFL, yet the amount of disrespect to make us the underdog was daunting, but back to that game. A low scoring game, the Eagles won 10-15, and next was the up and treading Minnesota Vikings.
There is a saying or curse that has stood true since the start of the Super Bowl era, that no team that was the Super Bowl Host has ever made it to the Super Bowl, in comes the Host Team, the Vikings. Yup, you guessed it, the Eagles were once again the Underdog. I remember sitting at my favorite “Atlantadelphian” Sports Bar watching the game at a standing room only capacity and saying if we get this Pick (interception), it will change the complexity of the game, and boy was I right. Although the Vikings came out and scored on their first series, who knew that would be the last time they scored? The Eagles were on their way to the 52nd Super Bowl pulling an 8-37 shellacking on the Vikings. We now faced the G.O.A.T Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and again the underdog.
On paper, we were far better than the Patriots this game, but there was so much doubt. Tom Brady is over 40 years old, and the Eagles had a backup QB, but that made no difference. The only reason we were the “fan-based” favorite was that outside of the New England States, everyone hates the Patriots…LOL, but the media was split. This game was a true chess match, and I promise you my stomach was upset the entire time. With food, drinks, and the Atlanta based faithful Eagles fan at Rocky Mountain Pizza, I made several trips to the bathroom, I know TMI, but the nervous energy and the thought that we came this far and was looking like a potential winner was too much for your girl to handle. The ball was in the hands of arguably one of the best QB ever (Brady), and he was strip-sacked by the Eagles DE Brandon Graham, for what some will say was the game changer and final nail in the coffin. I said, not too soon, Brady was connecting quick and often with the beastly and difficult to tackle 6’6″ TE Rob Gronkowski AKA “GRONK”, and we alllll know you never want the ball to be in the hands of Brady for the final seconds. A Hail Mary was thrown and for 99% of Eagles fans it was in the slow motion, here it was our season, fate and breath were in these last seconds and if the Patriots can catch it and send the Super Bowl to overtime (with a 2-pt conversion should the ball had been caught). INCOMPLETE…EAGLES WIN!!!!!
During this Super Bowl game, I was disappointed in having been recently laid off from a job I had worked on for 9 years. I was upset that for my very first Super Bowl, I had to be fiscally responsible and forgo attending at the tune of approximately $8,000 (yes for everything and at least 2nd level tickets), but when the final score popped up, when the confetti fell from the sky, when the camera panned in on the fans who like myself waited all their lives for this moment, I instantly forgot about all my disappointments. I was seen on television and social media in tears because at that very moment something steered up in me; never give up.
Like the Eagles, we to are often counted out. It could be because of your age, sex or race. You may have had a diagnosis, report, or pink slip, and everyone else started planning your demise. The Eagles inspired me and I know countless others, that it’s next man up, a team effort, and our new Eagles Chant… We all we got, we all we need. Although I didn’t make it to the game, I made it home to attend the first ever Eagles Parade. It was cold, but we didn’t feel it, it was crowded, but we were all family, the players hopped off the bus several times to interact with the fans, because like FAMILY, We’re all we GOT, and we’re all we NEED. What I’ve learned from the Eagles in 2017-2018 most of all is to surround yourself with people that hold up accountable and hold you up. Surround yourself with dream builders and not snatchers. What I know for sure (outside of finally being able to say we are Super Bowl Champions) is that winners always want to see winners win… Catch That One!!!!
As we start off with a New Year, some of us opted “NOT” to make resolutions, but simply evaluate areas in our lives that need attention. I know, I know you are asking what’s the difference; not much but it sounds better right 😉 But all jokes aside, when we make “resolutions” it is so easy to fall off. However, when we examine ourselves, we realize that it is not an easy switch; it’s examining, evaluating and executing. With this method, it takes, days, months and in some case a constant and ongoing process.. Because…
Which leads me to this, I am not here to judge, but often we need to look in the mirror and see what is really the root cause and problem. So here goes; a video went viral earlier this week of a woman testifying about what she “USE” to do. She went into great detail about sexual favors she performed and was (to some) too graphic. The microphone was taken away from her and the service proceeded. Not to get up on a high horse or soapbox, but I don’t know if I was more upset with the lack of privacy during a testimonial service, or all the GIF’s and mockery I saw (primarily by the Saints) on social media. I had several conversations with Christian friends of mine, and they shared the same sentiments. The next day I saw a Facebook post by Pastor Jamal Bryant, that led me to blog on this very subject. He to was disturbed and I saw folks during his “Live” post questioning his authenticity and validity because of his own PAST transgressions. But isn’t that what a testimonies purpose is for?
Is it just me, or was there a time when testimonials were an intricate part of the Christian Worship Service? I know we have replaced it with Praise & Worship, Video Announcements, Praise Dance and a plethora of other things I will save for another post (not to mention Pastor Jamal Bryant was very concise with his commentary). I actually went to Google and looked at some old services on You Tube where the services included the testimonials and the congregants were blessed. Now I hear you saying, “Helen the problem is folks don’t know what to talk about and be out of order most of the time”. I hear you saying, “Folks are up there being too graphic and there is a time and place for that”. I even hear and at my own church struggle with the Pastor asking for a specific testimony (i.e. marriage, tithes, experience from a retreat) and the bearer of the microphone decides to go rouge (now that is out of order), But can I tell you what the WORD of GOD says…
I grew up in the church so all I know is what I have experienced and seen, and with that I believe I’ll testify. Giving Honor to GOD who I try to make First in my Life. I don’t always do what HE says and move when HE tells me to move, and Lord you know my mouth is my biggest challenge and everyday Lord I have to say….
The emphasis is on the Word “Might” Lord because I know it’s a daily walk and that my sanctification is a process. Lord I remember a time when the drunkard and the prostitute came into the church and we had the power to lay hands and they would be made whole. I remember a time when the person that didn’t look, smell or spoke like us, we gathered around and spoke life into their dead situation. Lord I remember a time when we would have NEVER thought to RECORD, POST and LAUGH about someone’s past hurt and pain. Lord Forgive us for thinking we need to fill “YOUR” Service with agendas and entertainment. I remember a time when we use to pray and praise until we heard from you. Growing up a church girl I remember tarrying at the altar until something happens even if it took all night. Do any of you remember the church mother leading into a song and the deacon praying in between? How about the Spirit being so heavy in the room that the preacher literally did not even preach that service, but simply said; “those of you that want to leave here is the benedictions”, and the remaining Saints continued with their worship and deliverance. Do you remember Tent Revivals, Deliverance Services, and dare I say again Testimonial Services?
I end with WWJD; What Would Jesus Do? As it relates to the video that went viral, what would Jesus had done? Well most of us know of his compassion, grace and mercy. Many of us have experienced his agape love and kindness. Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t make it wrong. Her testimony was beneficial for someone that was silently engaging in the same thing. Maybe not for money or to get high, but for attention and to get by. Instead of laughing Lord I believe you would have prayed for her right there on the spot. Because it was her testimony today, it could be ours tomorrow.
As I sit on the veranda of my Christmas/New Year Air B&B in Ocho Rios Jamaica, aside from the amazing view of the Port and Beaches, GOD continues to look out for your girl. You know that meme that says, I don’t look like what I’ve been through? Well that is an understatement.
2017 has been a complicated year. I was finishing up my Doctorate, yet I manage to take a trip Every month (a goal I set the previous year). I was forced into a new position on my job which would literally eliminate most of my bonuses, yet I took four trips in my birthday month (Cuba, Houston, Cabo & Iceland). I preached and taught less at my home church, yet spoke, hosted, song and was a Conference/Keynote Speaker three times outside of my church and 90% of it outside of GA. I guess it can be said that my “FAITH” has brought be safe thus far….
A dear friend of mine asked me, “Where is your book”? when you gonna write a book. I politely told her, God has not purposed that in my heart. She then said, “Well what has HE purposed”? Never one to back down, I said, “What would I write about”, being “Single, Saved, but Unsatisfied”? or should I tackle, “How to stay Saved in a foreign land”? If you are new to Heyyy Helen, you may not know that I have a great passion for Faith, Fashion and Football, but I also enjoy another “F” and it’s frolicking from City to City, State to State, and last; but not least, Country to Country (including Islands and Continents). At the time of this post I had already been to seven Countries in 2017, and can NEVER get enough. But back to the book..I was being sarcastic but I know there is something in me, I actually think I’m a great story teller (hence my blogs, when I sit still to do them 🙂 I also know that folks see what I want them to see, and not necessarily what they need to see. I say that again to reiterate that I thank GOD that I don’t look like what I’ve been through.
For every trip there was a sacrifice. For every materialistic thing you see there was me questioning GOD. (Yes, the preacher Questions God). There is pain behind every smile, but there is also PEACE that GOD showed me this year. He desires more from us, but I will stay with me…He was asking for MORE of me. Not just because I was a preacher. Not just because I am a child of GOD. Not even because He continues to do exceedingly and abundantly for me, but because HE SAID SO, and it was that clear when (with no forewarning), GOD was shifting things in my professional and personal life. In both areas HE wanted a different response and reaction from me, a level that showed Peace and that I Trusted HIM. I tried this approach (with success) recently and now laugh at how long it took me to simply do what HE told me to do.
2018 is going to be the year of purpose for me. What has HE purposed you and I to do? Was it a book, a business, or even going back to school. Were you supposed to give more, travel more, volunteer more? Heyyy Helen has a purpose, and I vow to TRUST the Process in 2018 and not let Fear block or overtake my Faith. No resolutions guys.. Just Vision, Purpose and Faith.
I started taking solo vacation about 19 years ago while going through a painful divorce, it was my way of “attempting” to move on to the next chapter of what would be my new life. I felt the best time was going to be my birthday. Since my birthday is in July, and the best time to vacation (not the cheapest for sure) I would make this a yearly treat to myself and would do it SOLO. In these last nineteen years I have only missed two of these annual retreats due to illness and hospitalization. In 2016 I decided one vacation was not enough and took two. Last year was Aruba for me and Toronto for me and two friends to experience Caribana. Not to be outdone from 2016, this year I did Cuba for the July 4th Holiday, and for my birthday Cabo San Lucas Mexico and one week later Reykjavik Iceland. Here’s my take:
Los Cabos aka CABO
In Cabo I stay at the Breathless Resorts and Spa. This Adult-Only/All-Inclusive resort was absolutely amazing. If you’re looking for an adult atmosphere, but like to let the inner child come out occasionally, this my friends is your place. Poolside activities all day long, drink and food service at the pool is included. A rooftop club with themed parties in the evening, and room service. How could I forget the amazing view of the Marina on one side of the resort or the El Arco (famous Arch of Cabo rock formation) on the other. I walked on morning for 30 minutes on the beach in my shell-top Adidas (not smart but I burned calories), to get the best 90 minute, full body massage for $20 USD. Breathless charges $300 for 50 minutes… WINNING. Because me and these Run DMC Sneakers were not up for the walk back, I caught the water taxi to see the Arch for $15, and they liked me so much they dropped me off at my resort…FAVOR. I even found some young kids who saw me struggling with my impromptu Selfie Stick Photoshoot, yes you have to learn tricks when you travel solo, and they offered to take my picture and helped me back down off the rocks I climbed.
Aside from the resort, I met many amazing people both staff and vacationers. I think what resonated the most was I was the newbie to Cabo. Many of the people I met had been to Cabo before, I see now why they return. The gentleman on the plane next to me comes annually for a Guys Golfing Trip. I enjoyed the nightlife, authentic Mexican food (which I have always loved and I am by far the pickiest eater you will EVER meet J ) grown folks, shopping and the much-needed R&R. I had a ball solo, but I can’t wait to return for a Girls Trip!! Shout out to the two new friends I made and hope to plan a future trip with Ayanna and Letisha. You ladies made me your third wheel and we rolled hard. Thanks My Sisters XOXO
Then there was Iceland. You may ask, what in the world possessed me to go to Iceland? Well I have always thought outside the box, and I loved seeing pictures of the Blue Lagoon. Iceland is NOT I repeat NOT cheap, so planning is essential. Many do this as a layover trip to save money on their way to Europe.
I booked my flight, hotel and transportation through Delta Vacation. My flight out of Atlanta was delayed 4 hours causing 5 of us to miss our connecting flight out of Minneapolis. This is when having status with Delta paid off. There is only one flight that leaves Minneapolis to Reykjavik daily. When we landed they handed us a pillow and toiletry kit and said we would have to sleep in the airport. No Ma’am No Sir…. I called Delta, spoke in my 7 voice (not quite 10 but they knew I wasn’t about the malarkey…LOL) and 20 minutes later my trip was rebooked to make up for the lost day and I was escorted to the Crown Plaza for a good nights sleep. I worked from the hotel that morning, had the hotel hold my luggage and take me to the Mall of America in the afternoon, and spent two hours in the Delta Sky Club prior to our 10:30 PM flight. Not bad for a girl with a plan and a gift to jab. My biggest splurge is I opt for First Class Seats, because although 5’7” I have long legs…let me stop playing I’m a Bougie Traveler J. This is a 6 hour flight from Minneapolis and New York and they are 4 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
The weather was in the low fifties when we landed the next morning and trust I did my homework. I packed layer type clothes as you truly can experience all four seasons in one day. I stay at the Radisson Blu which was not to my standard, and the Hilton was already sold out. But I made the best of the subpar accommodations. Food in Reykjavik is very expensive so I packed snacks and the Radisson did provide a full breakfast included with the package. I ate a HUGE breakfast and took fruit with me every morning for my excursions. I also packed my American Snacks and my insolated water thermal that kept my water ice cold all day. The water in Iceland is some of the BEST and safest water you will ever taste, they sell bottled water but frown upon it.
I have to admit this was the first trip I took that involved climbing, walking, and everyday physical tours. I promise you between eating on a budget (Dinner there on average is $70/person) and all the excursions I came home 10 pounds lighter.
I booked my tours/excursions through Viator a Trip Advisor Company and not Delta who was almost twice the amount. You can also rent a car, but a car rental for 5 days was $600 and yeah, ummm, no I was cool with the English Speaking Escorted tours, with free Wi-Fi and plenty of laughs. Unlike Cuba, credit cards including American Express were the preferred payment method, so I never did any foreign exchange to ISK currency.
My tours were the popular Golder Circle, Blue Lagoon, and Southern Iceland Tour, Black Sand Beaches and Kerid. Because I went in July there is about 22 hours of daylight so the Northern Lights was not visible. Most hotels have the black backing curtains, because you will never know when to go to bed with only 2 hours of darkness in the Summer.
I am hoping the pictures tell a better story, as I am really enjoying photography the more I play around with my camera. I am glad that I did not plan any activities on the date of arrival, but with my flight delayed I had to jump right into my tours. First was the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon and Kerid.
This was the first of five stops. This National Park is the nearest and dearest to Icelanders. Great for hiking, picturesque views, and by far one of the most popular landmarks for tourist. It is said that the first Christian based Church started here as well and in 1928 a law was passed that Þingvellir will remain a protected area and shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation. Three guys in their early 20’s almost got left from our tour group, but once we got them in check, they were the first one’s back on the bus for the remainder of the tour
Second was Gulfoss also known as the “Golden Falls”. It is said to be THE most popular, and I must say with the great weather and sun we had that day, it was the most beautiful. There was more downhill walking than up, and our tour bus dropped us off at the top and met us at the bottom so we wouldn’t have to walk back up the hill.
Less than 10 minutes from Gulfoss, the locals pronounce it GAY-SER. Here is where we had lunch and you come to see the hot springs. The largest of them erupts as high as 230 feet every 10-15 minutes. You must be careful as the water is very hot, not to mentioned the not so sweet smell of sulfur may make your nose hairs singe. I order 5 hot wings here and a Coca Cola (they love water and Coke in Iceland) which cost me 1850 ISK~ which is $17USD. See what I was talking about.
Kerid Volcanic Crater
This is a newly added attraction to the Golden Circle Tour. It can be found in the Western Volcanic Zone of Iceland. I guess the part that was interesting was parts of this huge crater appear to have volcanic components while the low water level at the bottom and observable vegetation brings argument that it was not a Volcano. An amazing place to hike and take pictures. We were pulled over by the Icelandic Police to see if all tourist had on their seatbelts and that there were no ashes in the ashtray of the tour bus.
Although touristy, it was on my bucket list, and my MAIN reason for wanting to visit Iceland. If you didn’t know, The Blue Lagoon was built in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. Many years later, people would come to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin and noticing an unbelievable improvement when they removed it. The water is over 100 degrees and feels so go when the outside temperature was in the 40’s. It is the MOST visited place in Reykjavik. I would strongly urge you purchase your tickets in advance, and know they will try and nickel and dime you for everything. I purchased the cheapest ticket, brought my own slippers, robe and towel (which you can). You can rent if you want, just know summer entrance for the pool was $80USD, so forgive a sista for penny pinching after that. I purchased a Slurpee like frozen non-alcoholic drink that cost me $5 USD. Some tours will purchase your ticket for you but I found that they paid the same thing I did. Oh BTW if you are a shy person, you may want to work on that, you are required to bathe WITHOUT your bathing suit prior to getting in the pool, and you are waiting in line naked with all shapes and sizes. There are lockers and attendants to assist. It is very busy, and the line to shower can be about 15-20 minutes so the last thing folks are worried about is how much cellulite is on your thighs LOL
After the Shower, 11 full hours of tours and the ride back I was ready for bed!!
Southern Iceland Glaciers Waterfalls & Beaches Tour
Same morning routine. I ate a HUGE breakfast, took some fruit with me, packed my thermal water bottle, and layers of clothes, it rained on and off but you will get wet at these waterfalls regardless because they are all massive.
So we bypassed Seljalandsfoss because there were too many buses there and went straight to Skógafoss. This waterfall is about 200 feet high and was pretty to look at. Normally you can get an incredible picture of you, the waterfall and a rainbow, but the clouds this day would NOT allow ME to be GREAT so it didn’t happen, but still remarkable.
Sólheimajökull & Mýrdalsjökull Glacier Walk
Here is where me and GOD had a great conversation. Here I was the only black person on this tour and probably within 100 miles, and I was glacier walking. Not just walking but climbing. I was scared, insecure as I saw others do it with ease, and downright uncomfortable. I got emotional when I made it to the top and saw others turn around or could not finish. I got even more emotional because when I got to the top and looked back, I saw how far I got and it became Spiritual for me. I didn’t give up, I was tired, afraid, and cold, but I made it. I didn’t look like the others and got stares occasionally while in Iceland, and even more on this tour, but I finished the task at hand. I could hear previous trainers in my head like Reco and Patrick saying “I know you not crying”, and “I know you not going to quit”, it all made sense when I got to the top. Thank You Jesus for ALWAYS pushing me to GO GET IT
Here is where we stopped for lunch and I was able to see my first black sand beach. I ate my fruit on the beach and remained in awl of what I seen thus far. I took my shoes off and walked in the black sand. Also there was a large out store Vikurprjon Wool Factory if you wanted to purchase souvenirs. Again Iceland was expensive but this Factory had the most reasonable prices on wool, hiking boots and apparel.
Vik Black Beaches
Vikurprjon or Vik for short was the most beautiful of the beaches. Interesting fact, all the beaches have black sand in Southern Iceland so you can’t say meet me at the Black Sand Beach, they will easily say, which one? Everyone flocks to climb the rocks and take pictures. On this day the Puffins were out. They are a strange bird in watching them fly. They they look clumsy and flap awkwardly and they are colorful like Kellogg’s Toucan Sam. They also fly in clusters getting in each other’s way.
Finally we made it the main attraction. Seljalandsfoss has a 197 foot drop and you can even go behind it. It was raining so hard for this one, that I stayed on the bus, but here is the one picture I took. I hate we rode past this one because it was too crowed in the morning, so we saved it for last. It is the highlight of the Southern Iceland Tour.
So my take was and remains, get out and do something different, see the World, and don’t let anyone tell you where to go and what to see. Take the limitations off of, I’m a Woman, I’m Black, I’m Single…because guess what? I’m all the above. Travel to me is appreciating the EARTH and Fullness thereof, and since GOD created it surely, he would want me to appreciate it ALL
On June 6th me and my travel buddy finally confirmed and booked our trip to Havana Cuba. We had been pondering on it ever since President Obama relaxed the travel restrictions in 2016. It appears (and we were right) that “45”and his current administration was in a vicious attack to discredit and remove any and all policies and advances that President Obama implemented; without any significant reason other than to dishonor and delete his legacy. I am thankful that we did, 10 days later, in Miami with a crowd of Cuban-Americans behind him in support, “45” announced that, “Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administrations completely one-sided deal with Cuba”. The crowd irrupted and I called my friend to see if she too was witnessing this foolishness. I didn’t even call Delta or the Host of the Air B&B we had already secured and confirmed, yet I just started my count down and continued my research of the Country itself.
If I was completely honest, I didn’t have the same experience that many of the Black Travelers I follow on Facebook in the multiple travel groups. Not to say it was bad, it just had some peaks and valleys. The airport experience was the most interesting. Even with First Class tickets, the process to board with your Visa (which we had already paid for online) was unorganized, very shocking for Delta, who I utilized for 99% of my travel. Insomuch that we were delayed pushing back from the gate as there were still confirmed passengers completing “visa confirmation” paperwork. May I suggest some of this be done upon check-in, and may I also recommend that if one purchased their Visa online through Delta no less, that there perhaps be an expedited lane? Of the 12 seats in First Class, 7 were occupied by African Americans, and interesting enough, only about 25% of the total travelers were Black. Just thought I include that tidbit of information.
The direct flight from Atlanta was a hair under two hours, and the process once we arrived to Havana was without incident. We had changed our USD to Euro’s as highly recommended prior to the trip, we then converted to the widely utilized CUC when we landed at the airport (yes they were open on a Sunday). We knew that Internet was limited, restricted and pretty much unavailable so we made contact with family members prior to leaving Atlanta, and we arranged travel to take us to our Air B&B. Needless to say the driver was not there and we had no address, but we were able to get a signal, text the Host, and we took a taxi to the apartment.
The apartment was exactly as pictured on the inside, but the outside was old and dilapidated and I see why the HOST did not provide pictures of the outside. We did Air B&B, 1: Because that is our preferred method, and 2: because the money goes to the people opposed to the government (although I am told some still pay a tax) and it loosely “justifies” one of the OFAC requirements of People to People, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/americans-can-now-plan-their-own-people-to-people-trips-to-cuba-but-what-does-that-mean/2016/03/15/05870872-eae5-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html?utm_term=.715e4baddb26 We were provided with Cleaning Services, a Cook, and a direct phone line to call the Host for travel and itinerary suggestions. The major disappointment was the “HOST” spent an hour with us on day one and that was the last we saw of him. I called daily and although he answered there was always an excuse. To know me is to know I travel solo, and march to the beat of my own drum so one monkey was NOT going to stop this show. Not to mention my friend Lisa travels just as much (if not more) than I do, so we had no problem navigating all up and through Cuba. Word of Caution, you need to know at least basic Spanish, as I promise you we only ran into two people (other than Tourist) that spoke English. We selected an English speaking Host with the AirB&B and many of the Hotels have individuals that speak English, but that was still with some barriers. Remember that internet is restricted and/or very limited so your goggle translator may not be available when you are in heart of Cuba. And I can’t stress this enough….LEAVE YOUR AMERICAN PRIVILEGE BACK IN THE U.S. You are in THEIR County and ENGLISH is NOT THEIR official Langauage. OK I’m back J
We used the Habana Bus Tour (Hop ON Hop OFF) pretty much every day which cost $10 CUC for an all-day pass (BTW the bulk of our money was spent on Transportation). The Tour bus has an announcer but most time the intercom was fuzzy and her English was VERY broken. Stops included The Political Center, The University, The Capital, Marketplaces, Center Square (Old Havana and where most people transfer and a great amount of your time will be spent), Cruise Ship Terminal and many other Historic Landmarks, Hotels and attractions. You can Hop off at Park Center Square and for $5 go to the free beach. Beware it gets crowed as people start going before 9:00 AM. Varadero Beach in Matanzas, Cuba, is about a 90 minute commute and will cost you about $75 CUC per person, plus the cost of transportation.
We spent the bulk of our time interacting with the people, engrossing in their culture, taking our amateur photography status to semi-professional (well you be the judge) and LORD have mercy devouring Cuba Cuisine. I am the absolute pickiest eater you will ever meet (I don’t eat seafood, mayonnaise, Chinese food, most vegetables, etc…lol) but when I tell you I ate like a native E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y I am not kidding you. The local favorite and mine is the Ropa Viega which is shredded beef, served with vegetables, rice and bean, onions and peppers..and it was ummm ummm goooood J Lisa had a grilled lobster for @ $11 CUC that made me want to ask, “Can I have some”, and I don’t eat seafood. My dish runs between $3 and $7. You can eat GOOD for $5-7 and still have leftovers.
The people of CUBA love President Barack Obama, they often said his name when they see people of color that are obvious tourist. They curse “45” and in their BEST English. They are not as aware of the new changes were tourism from the U.S. may slow down, but it is said that less than 10% of their overall tourism comes from the U.S. I would argue that number after seeing Norwegian and Royal Caribbean Cruise boats docked and the oversold flight I was on from Atlanta, but I digress. Some of the concerns of the current administration and Cuban Americans is Humans Rights, are the lack thereof. I would be a fool to say we didn’t see obvious signs and that there is a great need of support. The average person makes about $300 a year from the government, and begging and hustling was prevalent everywhere we went. To avoid being taxed, Cubans often ask you to pay them on the side as they fear “cameras” are everywhere and they’ll be taxed. We over tipped and gave extra money and the people were often in tears from our generosity. AirB&B and US tourist, help them out tremendously, this recent reversal will be a blow for them.
The trip back was “suspicious”. Not because we had to pay the driver before we got to the airport on the sly. Not because the driver was 20 minutes late giving a new meaning to CP Time (Cuban People Time), but after we all boarded the plane, Cuban Customs randomly kept pulling Americans off our plane saying they bypassed or didn’t clear customs. The gentleman in the seat behind me even showed them “their” official stamp but they still made him get off along with a family of 4 with a baby. To know me, you know I lack patience, and was ready to “POP OFF”, I was hungry and wanted Dansani Water and a real Coca Cola. But what you NEVER want is to be detained or locked up in a foreign Country, so I kept my mouth shut. 90 minutes later we were heading back to the A-T-L. With our Global Entry Membership’s, we had the luxury to bypass the lines, and we were heading back to our cars in the fraction of the time.
I am thankful we took the trip. I am grateful to be blessed to have the opportunity to experience other cultures and see the World one trip at a time. And I am appreciative of the things we take for granted. The Cuban people are resilient, resourceful, and were rich in ways MOST of US would never comprehend. I am not sure what the future will hold for the people of Cuba, Tourism for US Citizens, or the Castro regime (Raul plans to resign in 2018), but my prayer is for Peace and a favorable outcome on all fronts.