Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Vacation That Changed My Outlook

Grams has vacations on her mind this week. We're leaving tomorrow for a few days in North Carolina. My niece, Andrea, will be married on Sunday in the Charlotte area. This will be our vacation this year. We've planned a couple of days in Asheville where we'll tour the Biltmore Estate. I've wanted to go there for many years and I'm really looking forward to it. My sister, Bylinda, will be traveling with us. So pardon me if I don't get any new posts up until the middle of next week.

Although we often take long weekends to the Texas Hill Country or to see the kids, we don't take what I refer to as a "fabulous vacation" every year. We try to go someplace every few years. Last summer we went to Boston, which ranks as one of the best vacations ever. So, I'm okay with a more modest vacation this year.

A few years ago on one of our "fabulous vacations" Grams and Grandad took our first cruise. We took a 5-day Carnival cruise out of Galveston with ports of call at Playa del Carmen and Cozumel. Most of the time was spent on the ship.

I wasn't at all sure about a cruise vacation. I already knew that I was not a fan of boating. Once around the lake and I'm done. Small boats make me feel trapped and bored. There is nothing to do but sit there while someone drives the boat. Besides, I always thought cruise vacations were for old people. This was not a problem on a cruise ship.

One of the difficulties we have in planning vacations is that Grandad and I have vastly different ideas about what constitutes a fun vacation. HE thinks a vacation is to go, see, do, all day long. Vacation to him is doing something 24/7 ... busy, busy, busy. MY idea of a great vacation includes plenty of time to sit in a lounge chair with a good book and a cabana boy who brings me cold drinks every now and then.

Turns out that a cruise is the perfect vacation for us. There is something for him to do all the time. Once you're ten miles out, the casino never closes. There are also plenty of activities I enjoy -- hot tubs, sun decks, bingo. And lots of good food, including that midnight buffet you've always heard of.

Another thing that we really enjoyed about this particular vacation was the large group of friends and family who joined us. There were 14 in our group which gave us dinner companions every night and traveling companions when we went ashore.

On the day we stopped at Playa del Carmen, my next-door neighbor and I took an excursion to Chichen Itza. This all-day outing was the highlight of the entire trip for me. It was a long four hour bus drive out into the Yucatan jungle. We had a great tour guide who pointed out the sites as we went along. He was very knowledgeable, as he was native to the Yucatan, of Mayan descent, and had studied history. He pointed out the native dwellings along the road and taught us a little about modern day life in the jungle. I was disturbed to learn that most native dwellings don't have window glass. They just have openings for windows ... in the jungle ... where there are bugs and animals in abundance. That was my first eye-opener. They also don't have beds as we know them. They sleep in hammocks, usually using the same hammock for their entire life.

The pyramids at Chichen Itza were nothing short of amazing. Seeing one of the wonders of the world first-hand was a privilege that I don't take lightly. We were among the last groups to be allowed to climb the giant pyramid at Chichen Itza. At the time, I weighed about 300 pounds and the climb to the top was quite a challenge. But standing atop that pyramid and looking out over the jungle was something I would not have passed up for anything. I'll also note that coming down was even harder. I went down on the seat of my pants, one step at the time. Needless to say, those pants were retired after the trip down.

The entire vacation was fabulous -- from the Captain's reception to the evenings in the hot tub on deck -- everything was as good as you've heard cruise vacations are. But on the day we drove out through the jungle, there was a moment that I have never forgotten. It was just a few words spoken to me by a young man of Mayan descent. But those words not only stuck with me, they changed my outlook on life.

About two hours into the bus ride, we stopped at a shop on the side of the road that sold silver jewelry. It was a nice clean shop that sold soft drinks and had clean bathrooms. The counters were tended by young teenage boys who were all dressed identically in white pants and white tunics. They spoke little to no English. Most of them could communicate about the price of the merchandise on their counters, but very little else. I purchased a lovely pair of silver earrings and a cold drink, then I went outside to wait for the bus to load up and get back on the road.

As I walked outside, one of the young men also walked outside. As several of us stood chatting and waiting, he asked questions about where we were from and what our lives were like. He also answered our questions about life in the Yucatan. He told us that he was fortunate to have his job and that he only earned a few dollars a week, but it made a huge difference for his family. We stood and chatted for about 10-15 minutes, then the bus driver came out and we started to get on the bus. As we said goodbye and turned to go, he said to me "To me, you live like a queen."

Boy did that strike me. Now I grew up in South Texas. I've visited the Mexican border many times in my life. From my first visit when I was about 12 years old, I could see the abject poverty that was prevalent and I counted my blessings. Since then I've been acutely aware that if I had been born just a few hundred miles to the south in Mexico, my life would have been different. But those seven words spoken by that young man, made me realize how truly blessed I am to be an American.

We are not wealthy by American standards. We are average middle class Americans who work for a living. We've never felt like we had a lot. But those seven words drove home to me like nothing else ever has how blessed our lives are. Since that day, I am so keenly aware of the blessings bestowed on us as middle-class Americans. Those seven words changed my entire outlook on life ... and I'm grateful.


  1. Wonderful post and great insight! We don't have any control over where we were born. I often think how terrible life must be in other countries where the women live in fear of going to the market for fear of being killed! We are very lucky to be where we are. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. It's all relative is it not? We are so blessed to live in the U.S. and to be able to work and provide for ourselves.

    I hope you have a great trip to North Carolina.

  3. I love to see different countries and cultures (this week I'm in the US, which is foreign to me!), and yeah, visiting poorer countries can really throw a sharp perspective on our lives. I would love to take a cruise one day, too :)

  4. What a way to bring it all home. Such innocent but wise words from the young man.
    Will have to look into cruises, for my hubby and I have the exact same problem--only I am the one like your husband. :-)