Recently when we were in Costa Rica, friends took us to their weekend sanctuary. A beautiful property surrounded by nature, created from scratch with a lot of love.
An inspiring place with great views, fruit trees, farm animals and even wildlife that comes by occasionally for a visit. The land provides food but also inner peace and a refuge from the challenges and stress of living in a city. When our friend told me one morning that without that special place, he wasn’t sure if he would have stayed in the country, he made me think.
Even if we can’t afford such a place, most of us have favourite places where we like to go, a place that makes us feel better or a refuge when we need a moment alone with ourselves.
It can be anything, a coffee shop, a favorite bookshop, strolling in a park or in a beach with the sea under your feet.
Being Portuguese the sea would usually be my favorite hideout, it has a soothing, cleansing, inspiring effect on me.
Travelling can also provide us with infinite hideouts and sanctuaries, even if it is for a short time frame. Sometimes you find places that become special, meaningful places that are going to touch you at a certain point in your life or even help you when you are going through trying times. Special places that sometimes can bring you back to life, restore your energy, your strength and your creativity.
Here are some of the most meaningful places I am grateful to have encountered at some point in my life…
I could only start with Kenya, the first country I lived in when I left Portugal. Kenya touched me deeply at many levels. I managed to slow down for the first time in my life. Going from a crazy heavy working schedule, I went to having time for myself, to pursue my interests, above everything to get to know myself. It was frightening at first but then it felt great. You learn to live with little and Kenyans taught me a great lesson, one I tend to forget time and time again. That tomorrow is a new day full of new possibilities, even if things seem pretty bad now, they will eventually get better. Hakuna Matata! No Worries!
There were many meaningful places I experienced in Kenya. However, there are two simple moments I never forgot. The first was when I saw Mount Kilimanjaro for the fist time. I was at Amboseli and there was this moment sitting outside my tent reading, you guessed it, “The snows of Kilimanjaro” by Hemingway. Just the privilege of reading this great book right there, looking at this impressive mountain, brought me happiness. It was such a simple, peaceful moment!
Another moment was at dawn in the Masai Mara, at 5 or 6 in the morning you can see many of the wildlife waking up, getting ready to start their day. Our car was the only one there, we had stopped and were enjoying the awakening. All of a sudden we look to the side and find this wonderful couple curiously observing us. We almost didn’t dare to breath, we looked at each other for a bit and then off they went to start their day. I was always grateful for that moment.
I visited Egypt many times. I could mention the Nile, all the temples and tombs or bustling Cairo but again there was this moment in the Sinai that I will always cherish. We were invited to meet a family of bedouins in the desert. We went in the afternoon and stayed for dinner. Some people went for a camel ride but I just enjoyed the peace and the slight breeze of the desert. Sitting on the floor, having the most wonderful hibiscus tea, delicious home made food, around the fire and under the stars when it got dark, it was a perfect moment for me.
What to say about Israel? It is a fascinating and difficult place. So many problems and contradictions but at the same time such beauty and strong spirituality present. Particularly in Jerusalem where you can find Judaism, Christianity and Islam mingling together. There were two moments when I felt hopeful about the future and spiritually uplifted in a trying moment of my life.
That morning in Jerusalem on my way to the wailing wall, I went through the arab part of the market and what I saw gave me hope. It was shabbat, the holy day for the jews and I saw several going through the market and saluting the arab shopkeepers, in response several wished them a happy shabbat. At that moment I thought how wonderful it would be if things were that simple. There was a peaceful, happy atmosphere and a lot of respect shown by both parties.
And then, there it was, the wailing wall!I didn’t know what to expect or how I would react. It is hard to explain what I felt, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I sat down and cried, there was a beautiful moment where the men on the other side started singing. It was such a special moment, you couldn’t help feeling close to God. I left my wishes on the wall and I am grateful that everything I wrote really came true some time later. I felt in peace with the world and happy I got to experience it at least once in my lifetime.
When I went to live in Saudi Arabia I didn’t know how I would feel. It is not an easy country but at the same time it was fascinating to know more about the culture, history and traditions. I met very nice people and made friends. The desert in Saudi Arabia is breathtaking, there is nothing quite like it. Walking in the dunes until sunset was really a special moment for me. You feel in total communion with nature.
When I feel a bit down or worried about my health I often remind myself how lucky I have been. To be able to have these memories and meaningful places that meant so much to me at different times in my life. Now I live in Mexico, have written extensively about it and it is hard for me to choose one place or one moment. “My Mexico” as I call it many times, is full of colour, history, traditions, a rich gastronomic culture and wonderful warm people. This country has already given me so many meaningful and hideaway places, be it my favourite bookshop, restaurant, park, seaside, you name it. It is impossible to make a choice. Maybe one day when I look back…
What about you? What are your meaningful places?