Lifeguard Lucy

Where has the time gone?

Lifeguard Lucy

 

As I sat down to write today, I looked back through this blog and realized nearly 3 months have passed without any updates. Where has the time gone?

Quite a bit has happened since my last post. I finally shed my indecision and made a move to forward my photography career on the Big Island of Hawaii; I love Kauai, and still consider it home, but to up my underwater game I needed to live somewhere with more wildlife, better visibility, and more people to learn from.

In some ways, the transition has been heartbreaking. After building friendships for 12 years on Kauai and learning the island, I left it all to go somewhere I didn’t know anyone save a woman I haven’t seen since high school and a couple moving away soon, and being completely lost wherever I go (thank god for gps). I left without having a home or a job, just my puppy Lucy and what would fit in the back of my truck when it shipped across the ocean.

Lucy and I spent a couple homeless weeks in a hotel and a vacation rental, the first week with my sister Mary who was amazing at helping us get our feet and paws on the ground with much less stress than anticipated. During the second week I started a job on a boat as crew for manta ray night snorkel trips out of Keauhou Bay, and moved into a tiny house 1500 feet above Kona town. If I thought I was tired, stressed, and confused, poor Lucy had no idea what had happened to the happy life she led on Kauai. Her best-puppy-friends were nowhere to be found; between the hotel, vacation rental, and new house she didn’t recognize any of the smells; her daily beach walks and normal routines were gone. At 6 months old, she was scared and angry at these major changes to her life, and was quite upset with me. When my truck finally arrived and she could ride in her customary passenger seat she settled down a little, and when I unpacked a few boxes and found her stash of well-chewed dog toys she relaxed a bit more. In the two weeks since we moved into our house we’ve found a dog park and made new puppy friends, and a couple beaches where she can splash in the ocean again. Lucy can’t come to work with me anymore, but quickly got used to spending her evenings in her crate and patiently waiting for me to come home.

I’m not sure I’ve adapted quite as quickly as Lucy, though. After packing up my house and giving away or selling most of my possessions, travel, stress about finding a place to live and work (even if it’s a short-term job), finding my way around, unpacking boxes, financial worries, and having to work nights (and – gasp – having to be somewhere at a specific time!) after a couple years of keeping my own schedule, I had to spend all my free time sleeping off the stress. I’m not sure I’ve recovered even now, and am just over a nasty cold – inevitable after the major changes in my life, I guess. My body went into survival mode, and all unnecessary functions shut down. I finally found the energy to take my camera into the ocean a couple days ago to begin building my business on this island, and sat down to work on my next book. I was blessed with a friendly pod of dolphins on my first day back in the water, and managed to write a couple pages of the book before I had to take a nap.

 

Hawaii dolphin pod

 

I’ve been on the Big Island for a month now, and see plenty of hard work ahead. I have a list of goals to achieve, and am finally ready to begin. All-in-all, though, I’m quite proud of myself for the progress I’ve made in such a short time. As each day passes I have a little more energy to put into things that aren’t merely surviving or making sure Lucy is cared for. It’s time for writing and photography, and having some fun. It’s time to explore this giant island and learn new things. It’s time to really begin to live here , and I’m excited about a whole new life with all the undreamed-of possibilities waiting just outside my door.

But first, maybe a quick nap…

 

 

About Melissa:
Books:
Sylvie Writes a Romance
Wandering
Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!
Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc
Recent articles:
From Travel to Romcon and Beyond
BookDaily.com
Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com
Recent reviews:
Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance
Follow me on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter
For fine art photography prints from the islands, check out the Hawaii Ocean Photography  website and Like the Facebook page
Melissa Burovac, author

My author interview, by Lucia N. Davis

Aloha!

I was honored to be interviewed by fellow author Lucia N Davis. You can find the interview on Lucia’s blog.

So far, Lucia has written two eBooks, available on Amazon. Both are (paranormal) mysteries, with a hint of romance, set in the Pacific Northwest. Give them a read, you won’t be disappointed.

Read my interview of Lucia.

The Indie author community is a talented, supportive group and I’m proud to be a part of it. If you’d like to have a guest post on my blog just send me a message at m3lissab33@gmail.com. Examples of interviews, along with links to blogs and where to purchase books can be found on my website.

 

 

 

Melissa Burovac, author

 

 

 

About Melissa:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

From Travel to Romcon and Beyond

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Follow me on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter

For fine art photography prints from the islands, check out Hawaii Ocean Photography

Jennifer S Alderson

Introducing author Jennifer S. Alderson

Aloha readers!

Today I’m especially happy to introduce author Jennifer S Alderson – a fellow traveler, writer, and all-around neat-o woman. We connected several months ago, and besides writing interesting books that combine fiction with the specific geographical settings of her travels, she has taught me a lot about supporting other indie authors. Her latest venture, aside from her newest book coming out, is Travel by Book, a Facebook page Jennifer administers to recognize the work of travel writers; whether you’re a reader or a writer, if you enjoy writing with a sense of place – fiction or memoir – join this page and find great new books to read.

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam.

Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson. The third installment, another art-related travel thriller (working title: Smuggler’s Deceit) will be released in the fall of 2017.

Her travelogue, Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand, is a must-read for those interested in learning more about, or wishing to travel to Nepal and Thailand.

Notes of a Naive Traveler

 

About Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand:

“The ride back to Kathmandu was comfortable and relaxing. There were more overturned trucks (the gas-powered ones seem to tip the most, I’m surprised there weren’t more explosions), goats being herded across the highway by ancient women, children playing games in traffic, private cars and buses alike pulling over in the most inconvenient places for a picnic or public bath, and best of all the suicidal overtaking maneuvers (or what we would call ‘passing’) by our bus and others while going downhill at incredible speeds or around hairpin turns uphill with absolutely no power left to actually get around the other vehicle.”

I was twenty-six years old, had a well-paid job, fantastic apartment and large circle of friends. I had everything, except I didn’t. I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing out on the experience of living.

Part cultural and travel guide, part journey of self-discovery, this travelogue takes you on a backpacking adventure through Nepal and Thailand and provides a first-hand account of one volunteer’s experience teaching in a Nepali school and living with a devout Brahmin family. 

Trek with me through the bamboo forests and terraced mountaintops of Eastern Nepal, take a wild river rafting ride in class IV waters, go on an elephant ride and encounter charging rhinoceros on jungle walks in Chitwan National Park, sea kayak the surreal waters of Krabi and snorkel in the Gulf of Thailand. Join me on some of the scariest bus rides you could imagine, explore beautiful and intriguing temples, experience religious rituals unknown to most Westerners, and visit mind-blowing places not mentioned in your typical travel guides.

Notes of a Naive Traveler is a must-read for those interested in learning more about – or wishing to travel to – Nepal and Thailand. I hope it inspires you to see these amazing countries for yourself.

Thailand

 

Reviews for Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand:

For anyone who has never traveled to a country whose culture is different from your own, you don’t know what you are missing. It’s an incredible experience, as this journey through Nepal and Thailand portrays. The author’s story is whimsical and at times flirting with danger. For those who have traveled, it’s the trip home that actually is more of a culture-shock, than the places visited. Travelers expect and anticipate differences, but once experienced, we look at our own culture with entirely new eyes. This book gives you that look at Nepal and Thailand, and I recommend it for anyone thinking about taking a trip … anywhere.” 5 stars – Amazon review (Author Rebecca Carter)

“In this phase of my life when time is scarce travel becomes the casualty, but thanks to the eloquent and detailed ticket that authors like Jennifer Alderson buy on our behalf, along we can go for the ride into the most exciting, uncomfortable, frustrating and exhilarating backwaters of our planet — without the need to risk our digestive system on the questionable water and dubious plumbing.

I had the advantage of having traveled to Thailand some years ago, so that with more than half the book in the Himalayas and the balance in my familiarity, I was able to identify strongly with that part-2 of the travelogue and so set a gauge for me to sense how accurately she captures the spirit of a place.
I am happy to say that my experience aligns precisely with how she characterized Thailand; I have confidence then that I can fully trust her opinions from the Himalaya.

“Notes…” is a wonderfully engaging companion that took me to the Himalaya a place I’d love to someday see but am unlikely to ever reach. It did more than send me down the well worn path of Jane or Joe tourist, instead, it gave me an in depth view into the lives or ordinary folk I’d pass on the street of a backwater but likely learn nothing about.
To Jennifer then I say “thank you!” This is a rare gift indeed. Keep traveling for me and us.” 5 stars – Amazon review (Author Michael Smorenburg)

Read more 5-star reviews!

 

Thailand hat tham phra nang

 

Find Notes of a Naive Traveler: Nepal and Thailand on Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Amazon UK.

Connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads. Learn more about Jennifer on her blog or JenniferSAlderson.com.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s author introduction, and are intrigued enough to buy one (or all!) of Jennifer’s books. From my own reading experience, her writing is colorful with cultural descriptions, fast-paced, exciting, and worth your time.

 

Have a great week!

M

 

About Melissa:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

From Travel to Romcon and Beyond

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Follow me on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter

For fine art photography prints from the islands, check out Hawaii Ocean Photography

Melissa Burovac

From travel to romcom and beyond – an evolution of my writing

In 2012, I embarked on a solo RTW trip that lasted nine months. I had never traveled solo before, and have a healthy dose of social anxiety plus a great fear of getting lost with my poor sense of direction, so this was an enormous undertaking for me. I had help getting prepared from traveler friends, creating lists of places to visit and gear I might need along the way. I put my furniture in storage, not knowing what to expect for how long I would be gone, sold my beloved Jeep Cherokee, and bought a one-way ticket to Mexico. I got a ride to the airport in Lihue, Kauai, carrying only a backpack containing clothes, a point and shoot camera, a 13” Mac laptop, and a water filter. A couple months after my 40th birthday, I was as ready as I would ever be.

During my travels I visited nine countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand. I encountered natural disasters in most of the countries — two hurricanes, a volcano eruption, an earthquake and a wildfire. As I blogged, my friends joked they knew where I was by where the natural disasters were occurring. “Something exploded? Let’s see where Melissa is!”

Blogging as I traveled was mainly to let my mother know I was still alive. I had childhood dreams of being a writer, but those got lost in the flurry of making a living after college and were completely forgotten. When I returned to Kauai after my trip I didn’t expect such a reaction to my blog; people were amazed I traveled for nine months, mostly solo, and that I didn’t die in the drug wars of Mexico, or some other place they only knew from news reports. Or even that as a woman, I was able to make my way through the world without trouble — some trouble, but not much. The women who followed me online were especially impressed and wanted to know how I did it all by myself. As I heard, more and more, “You should write a book,” I recalled those forgotten dreams of becoming an author and decided to give it a try.

Wandering was born from my blog posts, mostly written in bars and cafes around the world— a little bit drunk, a little bit lost, and toward the end, a whole lot homesick from being alone. This first book of mine was self-published in June 2014.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, though. I was working full-time as a bookkeeper, writing full-time after work — mostly from the back of my truck at the beach with a $200 laptop — and I was exhausted. I lost touch with most of my friends, and was a little depressed with the sudden lack of freedom.

Finally, though, Wandering was finished, published, and it was the most exciting thing in my life to see a book I had written in print. I immediately had dreams of writing more books, but didn’t see enough income to allow me to quit my regular job. I sent copies to every major outlet and publisher I could find online but no one picked up the book. While visiting my sister in Portland I took copies to Powell’s and sold them as used just so I could go back a week later and see my book on the shelf at a bookstore.

So what comes next? I wanted to be a full-time writer but it wasn’t working out exactly as it had in my daydreams. I didn’t have another book planned, and couldn’t begin to imagine what to do with myself.

One afternoon I was flipping through articles about writing on the internet and came across one about romance writers. The three women depicted in the article were raking in huge monthly incomes from churning out romance e-books, and I thought to myself, How hard could it be to write a romance novel?

I was sitting at a bar in Portland, drinking Bloody Marys and turning my imagination to writing a quick, sexy romance novel to generate some income — and I failed miserably. This is actually the only non-fiction scene in my second book Sylvie Writes a Romance.

I love to read classic fiction, sci-fi, horror, biographies — really, anything but romance novels. In my snobby view of the writing world I didn’t consider romance novels as literature, but just a means to pass the time, and not even as “real writing.” I was completely confused when I couldn’t write anything in that genre that was remotely good. It opened my eyes to how much work any type of writing entails.

I came back home to Kauai and bought a couple used romance novels at a thrift store, and sat down to read them. The books weren’t grammatically complicated, and didn’t contain any lofty ideas, and I sat down to write again, never actually finishing either of them. I just wanted to write something for a mass market so I could concentrate on writing something more profound.

I failed again and again, never writing anything I was happy with. But these failures evolved into a new project about a writer trying to write a romance novel and failing, turning to online dating to meet men and hoping to learn the meaning of romance. It’s more comedy than romance, which suits my style much better.

Sylvie Writes a Romance was born, and published in 2016.

Since Sylvie was written, I have been working on a sequel, plus trying my hand at writing a biography. I hope to have both published this year, and still have my sights set on a full-time career in writing.

 

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

 

Follow me on Facebook

Wandering

Wandering Kindle sale – April 8 – 15, 2017

Aloha!

Because of Jennifer S Alderson‘s new group Travel by Book, I’ve arranged for a special sale of Wandering. Beginning on April 8, 2017 you can buy the Kindle version for only 99 cents! During the week, the price will slowly creep back up to the regular Kindle price of $4.99, so get it in the first couple of days for the best deal. Please share this post with anyone who might enjoy a fun travel/adventure book, and sign up for my blog for sales, short stories, and a first look at my new adventure book coming out later this year.

Wandering is the true story of my first RTW trip…

 

Traveling solo as a woman certainly has its ups and downs, but Melissa Burovac will be the first to tell you to embrace the adventure as you encounter it.

Facing her 40th birthday as a single woman in a job she was tired of, Burovac decided to do something. Always keen for adventure, she chose to buy a one-way ticket to Mexico—and quit her job, sell her beloved Jeep, and store all her belongings.

Though she’d gone on trips abroad before, Burovac didn’t feel like she’d ever earned the title of “traveler.” But that was about to change.

Wandering relates the adventures, and misadventures (she encounters so many major weather events that her friends start predicting where the next disaster will strike based on her next destination), of her nine months traveling through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Cuba, Australia, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Her stories will crack you up—and they will inspire you. As someone with no sense of direction, no ability to plan, and plenty of social anxiety, her experiences prove that anyone who wants to travel can!

 

Happy reading!

Melissa

 

Check out my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Photography:

Kauai Adventure Photo

Expat and Traveler Stories by Women Writers

In celebration of her new release, Notes of a Naive Traveler, Jennifer S Alderson has invited travelers and expats to guest blog on her site. I’m happy to say I’m featured for the first week, and I hope you give it a read:

How Traveling Abroad Turned Me into a Writer

I had a lot of fun writing this article, as I am so busy working on new projects I barely think about the trip from four years ago. Seems like a good time to start planning a new one…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check back on Monday for the second article in this series by international educator Jill Dobbe.

 

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

 

Follow me on Facebook

Birthday Week Kindle Book Giveaway

It’s that time again – the annual Wandering on Kindle book giveaway. Get it absolutely free between now and March 28th!

Check it out on Amazon.

Wandering tallies her hilarious as well as poignant experiences as she travels from Mexico through Central America, sneaks into Cuba, and journeys from Australia to Cambodia and Thailand. Read about her misadventures with crocodiles and the times she encounters erupting volcanoes…and two hurricanes…and a wildfire.

Burovac’s stories will make you laugh while reminding you that life is an adventure—and sometimes you just need to pack a bag and get lost.

My first lionfish sting – Bocas del Toro, Panama – Wandering

My first lionfish sting (while searching for seahorses) – an excerpt from Wandering

 

Bocas del Toro, Panama

I was given a spear on the first dive, as I was in almost every dive since Mexico. I loved that I could show up to a dive shop, talk to them for five minutes and be given a spear. The three- prong spear is known the world over as a “Hawaiian sling,” so when I told them I lived in Hawaii, they automatically assumed I knew what I was doing. Plus, carrying a spear made me feel like a badass compared to the other tourists, so I never passed up the opportunity.

Lionfish are out of control throughout the Caribbean, so there is no limit to the amount you can kill, or any restrictions on the way you do it.

I always have a bit of trouble killing with my first shot; I always hit them in the gut and they just hobble away, and I have to chase them down and shoot again. In Belize and Honduras, giant groupers smelled the meat and waited for me to release my lionfish, and dead or not, they would suck them down in a single gulp. But there was nothing to eat them in Bocas; they were the biggest fish I saw. I killed four on my first dive, and with nothing to eat them half-alive, I had to scrape them from my spear with a rock or my fin and try again for the kill. I was a bit careless on my last kill and stabbed myself with one of its venomous spikes while I was scraping it off the spear.

I’d heard a lot of stories about lionfish stings, and none were pleasant. The effects range from those of a bad bee sting to hospital time for a full-on allergic reaction. When I felt the spike enter my thumb I thought, “Oh, great, maybe I’ll have cardiac arrest at 50 feet; that’ll be a new experience.” It was instant, throbbing pain. I swam up to my dive master and used hand signals to try to tell him that I stabbed myself with a poisonous fish but I wasn’t dying yet, so no worries. I think he understood.

By the time I finished the first dive, my thumb was almost twice its normal size, bright red, and massively painful. But since we hadn’t yet found any seahorses, I refused to be taken back and we went on to our next dive site.

By the end of the second dive, my thumb was almost back to normal, but I still planned on drinking plenty of rum afterward to bully any remaining toxins out of my liver. It helped that a fairly unattractive man was diving in a Speedo in front of me; I was so grossed out every time I looked up that I forgot about the pain.

 

Find my books on Amazon:

Sylvie Writes a Romance

Wandering

Leave a review on Amazon and I’ll love you forever!

Sylvie Writes a Romance on Smashwords – for Nook, Kobo, etc

Recent articles:

BookDaily.com

Travel Writing on JenniferSAlderson.com

Recent reviews:

Indie Reader Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

Kirkus Indie Review for Sylvie Writes a Romance

 

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My RTW – as told by alcohol

I spent some time on my adventure in bars, as you know if you read the book.  Or know me.  Bars are a great place to meet fellow travelers, most people on the road will go at some point to see who is in town.  And while in there, a drink or two really helped with the anxiety of meeting new people day after day, and explaining who I was and where I was from…over and over and over.

Sometimes I had a drink or two in my room before going out when I was nervous; again, anxiety of getting lost or running into unfriendly people, and wanting badly to have the courage to talk to everyone I saw.  I always found it easier to wander into unknown territory after a beer.

Early on I was mostly excited about the tequila and took pictures of all the different types and the amazing Mexican prices to send home to a friend.  Later, though, I made an effort to try every local beer I found, and took a picture of each.  I’m sure I missed many, but I think I did a pretty thorough job for an amateur.

The video link below is the photographic, alcoholic journey.

The YouTube Video of my RTW, as seen through beer goggles.

Not a planner – another piece of the book

After a small travel break, on my way to Brisbane…

 

I’ll never understand how drinking tequila instead of packing was a good idea. I snoozed my alarm three times before I realized I had a plane to catch. Luckily, packing was as easy as stuffing everything I currently owned into my backpack. Done.

As I sat in Honolulu, waiting for my flight to Brisbane, I realized all the things I had spent the past three weeks not doing. I never really made a plan for any of the places I wanted to go. I booked a few nights in Brisbane, and that was where I stopped for some reason. Planning just isn’t my thing.

I only had one pair of pants for my travels, and I hadn’t sewn the button back on.

I found the entire bunch of souvenirs I had smuggled home from Cuba still in the same hidden pocket. Now I would have to worry again when I came back.

Minor things, but annoying.

Screwing around instead of planning...

Screwing around instead of planning…

 

Croc at Ambergris Caye

An almost-a-Darwin-Award crocodile adventure

Recently I published an excerpt from my book about a crocodile adventure in Belize.  You can find it here: crocodile blog post: One of my favorites.

Upon rereading the post, I remembered that I still had the video from the encounter.  I was upset at the time because my hands were shaking so badly that the video is nearly unwatchable.  But now I think it’s funny.  I can’t remember ever being so scared in my life and you can tell when you watch the video.  I was slowly backing away from the crocodile and thought that I should have something recorded to show John’s wife if he didn’t make it back… And a possible Darwin Award entry.

Thankfully, John was fine.  He is so fearless that the crocodile was probably scared of him.

The video showing just how chicken I really am:

Almost-a-Darwin-Award croc adventure on Ambergris Caye

 

Find the book on Amazon.

 

Croc at Ambergris Caye

Croc at Ambergris Caye

 

 

 

My first driving experience in Cuba

This excerpt is from my first driving experience in Cuba.  Driving there turned out to be a very stressful task without directions…

 

After talking with the German couple about how easy it was to drive around Cuba we decided on renting a car. We went to several rental agencies called Cubicar, all the same but with different pricing. We found the best price at a large hotel in Old Havana. It was pretty straightforward, but Gina argued about everything; I thought the salesman was going to kick us out. But she had spent the day angry about lunch, our host family, basically everything. She wasn’t afraid to tell people she was upset, which I liked about her.

We finally got our car, a generic blue four-seater, but we had no road map. That was another argument Gina had with the rental guy, which lasted for quite some time, but didn’t help us at all. Eventually, one of the men drew us a map to the autopista and we went home to collect our things and get on the road.

It was about 4 p.m. at this point, and we had to say goodbye to the people in our building, which took close to forever. One woman, Clara, with whom we made arrangements to spend our last night before flying home, wanted to introduce us to everyone who was currently staying in her apartment, and after too much small talk and very little understanding, it was 5:30 before we could leave. Our first destination was Viñales, about four hours away. We had no map and the sun was setting in two hours. I’m not certain why we thought it was a good idea to leave at that point.

But leave we did, with total fanfare from the apartment building. We agreed that I would drive and Gina would navigate. Almost from the start it was “slow down,” “watch the bikes,” “careful;” she was a classic backseat driver. I was surprised at how well I was driving given that it had been so long, and I finally had to tell her to relax, and just tell me where to go. Driving through Havana was a little crazy, but not nearly as bad as Mexico City or anywhere else where everyone owned a car. The first thing I noticed was that there were no street signs anywhere – no direction, no arrows, nothing. We followed the man’s hand-drawn map and everything seemed to be going well. Some roundabouts, a tunnel – we drove and drove and I was quite happy.

We entered a small town with no cars – everyone rode bikes or horses – and that was when I started to wonder where we were. The sun was setting and I thought, “Ok, we’re going south, I think that’s good.” But it turned out that Viñales wasn’t south. Then the road turned into a dirt track. “I don’t think this is the autopista,” I said. We drove through a muddy pothole the size of our car. Gina said we needed to follow this road for 24 more kilometers, or until the dead end that was just ahead of us.

It turned out that we weren’t on the autopista at any time. Gina knew this, she told me later, but didn’t tell me an hour earlier when it would have been easy to go back. I just figured that we were in an underdeveloped country and maybe their main highway becomes a dirt road in places. I’d spent months driving on dirt roads.

I turned around and we went back to the small town, and everyone was waving and making signs that we couldn’t understand. I wanted to stop, but Gina believed every person wanted to rob us and refused to let me talk to anyone. Our host family in Havana convinced her that this was true, and that we shouldn’t talk to anyone or pick up hitchhikers either. But I didn’t want to die in the middle of nowhere in Cuba, so I stopped and rolled my window down for the next man yelling at our car. I couldn’t understand a word he said. I pulled up to a gigantic black man who scared Gina more than the first guy, and he told me I was driving the wrong way on a one-way road. That explained the yelling. I wish I understood enough to ask why a town with no cars had one-way streets; that will forever be one of life’s mysteries to me. He used hand signals to direct us back to the main road.

As we searched for the elusive autopista, a gorgeous sunset painted the sky. Unfortunately, that meant darkness soon. We decided to go back to Havana, spend the night, and try again early in the morning. But at night with no signs, we got completely lost. “Have we been past this before?” “Which direction did we come from in the roundabout?” “Where the fuck is the tunnel?!”

After a couple more turnarounds, we found familiar ground – we found the tunnel, we found the glorious ocean on the left-hand side. Gina was almost in tears; I was trying to pretend everything was great, but all the while I was thinking about where a good place to spend the night in a car might be found when we were so lost we couldn’t find Cuba’s biggest city. I had decided that if worse came to worst, I could pull into someone’s driveway and pay them $10 to sleep in the car, but at no point did I find a single place that would be appropriate. I would have settled for slightly sketchy, but we couldn’t even find that.

I truly enjoyed my first driving adventure in Cuba, stressful though it was. Never once during my trip did I imagine I’d be driving across Cuba, so it was definitely a mark in the positive adventure column. We got lost, but I didn’t freak out even though there were no lights anywhere and I had to dodge bikes, walkers, and swerving oncoming traffic. I thought Gina might have a panic attack, so repeating “todo esta bien” over and over helped us both.

Havana

Havana

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