Exploring & Escapades

bits & pieces of my travels

Month: October, 2010

The Dalai Lama Comes to Visit

A hush fell over the entire room, all eyes glued to the center stage with its forest of potted plants and large white throne-chair, wondering what to expect, what was about to happen. People of all ages peered from every corner of the Bank United Center, tall men in suits guarded every entrance; The Dalai Lama himself was about to emerge.

I admit, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I first decided to hear His Holiness speak at the University of Miami about a month ago. I knew a little about Buddhism and spirituality, about his exile, and his enlightenment. I knew the opportunity to hear him speak was a gift. But, still, I didn’t know exactly how any of this would relate to me.

There I was, at the back of the arena, standing with the rest of the crowd, applauding a man I barely understood, wondering, “What can he say that’s different than what I’ve already heard before? Why should I listen to him?”

Generally, I tend to be skeptical when trusting ‘enlightened’ leaders, experts, celebrity figures. Great thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson emphasized the danger in such a practice, encouraging us to think and to understand for ourselves; would the Dalai Lama be humble enough to earn my respect and trust?

Dalai Lama at the University of Miami

Far-away view of the stage

 

Yes. Yes, he would be all that and more.

There he sat, cross-legged, front and center, in robes of crimson red. He was quiet, he was slow, intricately crafting each sentence. His speech was simple, his message, powerful.

“I am just one human being; you are one human being- mentally, emotionally, physically, we are the same,” he explained. He did not try to boast of superior wisdom or knowledge; he did not try to persuade or change. Instead, he sat there, a little grandfather in his cozy armchair, sharing stories with his many grand children, his warm smile magnified for all to see on the megatron.

And when he laughed! A low, knowing chuckle, a truly unique sound consumed the room. His laugh alone made him a friend. It was enough to put a smile on my face at least. Friend to friend, he shared his secrets.

The words the Dalai Lama spoke today were, admittedly, nothing new to me; too many leadership retreats and books about yoga and happiness and health taught me the powerful like between spirituality, peace, and happiness. Coming from him though, the words suddenly had new life.

“Attachment causes you to become biased, and you cannot be objective”

“Peace can only be achieved with inner peace.”

“Everyone has the right to live a happy life.”

The lessons he taught reminded me of values past, morals I had once believed in before I became distracted by superficial, material life. I needed to hear them again.

The Dalai Lama did many things today; he taught some, he showed others; he reminded me. And I realized how ignorant it was for me to question his trustworthiness earlier; yes, maybe I had heard his teachings before, but had I ever applied them? Here was a man, who not only spoke of true greatness, but lived it, an example for the world.

By the time I filed out of the BUC a few hours after arriving, I felt different. No, I won’t go as far as to say that I was “enlightened,” or even changed, but the words that I had heard from that wise old man struck me.

There is always something to be learned; we just need to believe, to trust the speaker, and to trust that we will listen ourselves.

Today, I listened. And, today, I learned:

“In order to trust, you must first open your heart.”- Dalai Lama

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South Shore October

Bright yellow, orange, and red leaves: that’s what I woke up to this morning. I missed fall in New England! Everything here is so pretty right now, so cozy, and so busy. And everyone walks around in wool coats and leather jackets, with leather boots, and a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee in his/her hand. The whole world even smells like cinnamon-pumpkin-apple!
 
Being home has been, basically, like I never left. Driving down the street, shopping at my mall, talking to people in town- none of it feels unnatural, or even unfamiliar. It’s as if I never left, as if I’ve been living here all along for the past three two months, and Miami life was just an elaborate dream.

Rt 37, Holrook

I went to the Braintree mall today; even now, when I walk into the Plaza, I feel like I’m walking in for another day of work. I haven’t had a shift in almost two years, but the feeling is still there. I know the Plaza like the back of my hand, even now, with the new wing open. Today, I spent more than I probably should have, but- to justify- I needed to buy new clothes for Paris next month. And lots of tea, while I still could.

From the mall, I drove five minutes to the Braintree T station to get my sister, who came home for the night from Providence to see me. Again, it was as if I had seen her yesterday. We drove home, ate homemade chicken soup, and later stood out in the frigid cold to watch our little brother play flag football at the old sports center on South Street. Did I mention it was FREEZING? (It’s not even because I just came from Miami- everyone talked about it.) Still, it was nice being out and about in Holbrook. Our town may be small and miserable, but the families who organize these youth sports leagues definitely deserve some credit for doing their best to bring some positive element to its 4 square miles. As much as I hate it, I belong to this community, more than I could ever “belong” anywhere in Miami. These people have known me forever, and they probably always will.

Hot apple cider and pumpkin spiced lattes added more color to the already perfect portrait of traditional Massachusetts fall painted before me since I had arrived. After the game, my sister and I picked up a couple of my friends from highschool, and together, we all went to visit our other friend at Bridgewater State University (twenty minutes away- not a huge deal)- we went to the most adorable coffee shop ever in the town center (The Better Bean)! It was perfect.

But of all the things that happened today, being able to be with my friends was, by far, the best. They are why I came, and why I will come back. Really, it’s just the people in general- friends, family community, the strangers at the mall in Uggs and Northfaces. There’s something about the Bostonian that captures the attention, makes you feel like you’re part of something.

I guess I am part of something, though. Crisp fall air, fresh macintosh apples, a thick wool scarf: that’s what I’m part of. It’s October on the South Shore, and it’s as if I never had left.

Flying

Sitting at Jetblue Gate F with twenty minutes to kill before boarding my flight home to Boston- I am absolutely beyond excited!!!

Its funny how much flying has become second nature to me over the past few years. Security, switching seats, changing flights, the gates, getting a cup of tea and a magazine before boarding: I don’t even have to think anymore. Probably because I love airports so much.

People talk about flying as a “hassle;” they complain about sitting on the plane, waiting in lines, checking bags, everything. But for me, its the exact opposite. Being able to fly somewhere, the rush of being in that airport, of leaving one place to go to another, is a gift that I embrace.

Maybe its just the thrill of not belonging anywhere, of being free from eveything, of not being in control. It’s too complex to pinpoint. Suddenly you’re rushing, rushing down the runway, everything blurred. You’re leaving. And then you fall back, you lift up, you hold your breath. Going up, up, until finally, you can look down upon everything.

In that split second, everything makes sense. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.

Islamorada Kayak Adventures

Everything was perfectly still as we silently glided through the narrow blue-green lagoon, mangroves tangled overhead. We didn’t even need to paddle the kayak; we just kept drifting, drifting ahead, only pausing to steer. Somewhere, we were told, there were two crocodiles lurking beneath the surface.

lagoon kayak

No, this isn’t a Disney movie (or even a ride at Disney World, for that matter). This is real life in Islamorada, Florida- the village of the islands, my new favorite destination in the Keys. You think lagoon kayaking is cool? That’s not even the start of the absolutely amazing day that I spent in Islamorada-adventure-land. I kayaked to a deserted island with Native American ruins, jumped off a pier into the ocean, drifted through the mangroves, made island friends, feasted on mahi-mahi in a tiki hut, all in a single day trip. AMAZING!

Islamorada is just short of a two-hour drive away from South Miami down the A1A- close enough to visit for a day, but far, far from the “real world.” Everything was beautiful: the sun was perfect, the breeze was perfect, the humidity was nonexistent. Everywhere, blue and green, happiness, and island life.

Robbie's Marina

We spent the day at Robbie’s Marina (mm 77.5), THE coolest marina ever. Makeshift shack stands selling coconut heads and island art scattered the gravel parking lot, live music played in the background, people  clustered around the restaurants and watersport vendors on the pier, giant monster fish circled at the end of the dock. It was so full of life!

kayak shack

Here, amongst this perfect waterfront village, we found the Kayak Shack- literally a shack. Literally awesome. I want the life of the equally awesome guy that works there. (Getting paid to live this life everyday? Sign me up, please!). Or at least the life of his dog, who just hangs out on the shack roof all day- can you say adorable?

Anyway, we had come to kayak, so after a brief rundown on the pier, my friend Lis and I finally climbed into our big, red double kayak to begin our day’s excursion. Lis and I, for the record, are the worst kayakers ever. But it didn’t matter, we had too much motivation to care. So we dove right in, paddling thirty minutes out, under US-1, and across the ocean to distant Indian Key, a now deserted island, brimming with all kinds wildlife. There were even cacti!

overlooking Indian Key

We tied the boat on the beach and explored for about an hour. Sand paths and old wooden “street signs” gave us a sense of direction, old concrete foundations served as the only reminder of a time long ago when settlers inhabited the island, and a short scaling of an old wooden look-out tower revealed breathtaking views of trees and ocean. We later discovered a modern pier, built so that visitors could tie up their boat, on one side of the key. Of course, we jumped off of it into the turquoise water. It was too beautiful of a day not to. And of course, the water was perfect too. It was BEYOND salty, though. Kayaking back from the island after drying in the sun, I could physically see thick white powder coating my entire body.

THAT’S how salty it was.

"Just around the river bend!"At this point, we were just going to tie up, rinse off, and grab something to eat on the pier (last meal: breakfast at 7:00am, not ok), but we decided to at least paddle around the corner to see what we could find. Next thing we knew, we’re drifting down a perfect island lagoon, barely grasping that this was reality. Remember, we’re both from up North; we still think it should be 50 degrees and sweater-weather right now. Instead, while the rest of our family and friends back home buttoned up their jackets, we were drinking in the sunshine, the air, the incredible picture in front of us. I couldn’t describe the full essence of what it was exactly like if I tried. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself what I mean.

Lorelei, Islamorada

Eventually, we did have to return. But as sad as we were to leave, we did welcome the chance to finally eat a good meal and change into salt-free clothing. After a quick shopping adventure around the marina, we drove north a few miles to Lorelei Cabana Bar and Restaurant (mm 82) to sit back, relax, and eat before beginning the drive back to reality. With more music, a lively crowd, and waterfront seating, Lorelei could not have been a more perfect place for us to end our day. Every detail screamed “Keys,” right up to the old, fat dog lying in the middle of it all. Literally, I kept questioning if the whole thing was even real.

By the time we finally made it back to South Miami around 7:00 that evening, I was exhausted, but the trip was entirely worth it! I would absolutely go back to Islamorada and Robbie’s in a heartbeat, and I plan to asap. And whenever possible. For any reason at all. It was that incredible, a sanctuary in the midst of crazy-wild-real-world stuff. The fact that I spent a day there is still mind boggling to me, but I guess that’s life in never-ending summer for you.

Kayak Shack

Make time for the village of the islands next time you’re in The Keys. Stop at Robbie’s, feed the tarpon, give the roof dog a high-five. Explore, adventure, sing Pocahontas songs as you drift around the river bend. Really, it’s not a Disney attraction.

I promise, it’s all real- and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before.

Happy Hour at Monty’s

Waterfront,  boats tied up, palm trees, Christmas lights, DJ, tiki roof, tiki bar, on the pier, ocean breeze, everyone you know from everywhere- happy, buzzed, celebrating the weekend: It’s just another Friday between 4 and 8 p.m. at Monty’s, Happy Hour at its finest.

Happy Hour at Monty's

Could there be anything more “U Miami” than this?

Whenever someone from out-of-town (especially someone from up North; especially especially someone from up north during the winter) comes to visit, it’s always the same. We just HAVE to take them to that perfect little harborside hotspot for dinner and drinks. And to make them extremely jealous (but you didn’t read that here). Personally, I’ve sold more than a few friends the idea that my school is the “best school ever” after a Friday at 2550 South Bayshore Drive. The atmosphere is that good; Monty’s is that good!

Even if you don’t have friends visiting (or maybe you’re visiting yourself), make sure you check out Coconut Grove’s greatest Happy Hour. Technically, it runs Monday through Friday, 4-8 p.m., but everyone knows Fridays after 6:30 p.m. is the time to go. Get a PK3 and a Miami Vice. Go earlier if you want a table. Take a cab; you won’t be able to park. And don’t plan on leaving well after 8. You’re going to love it.

Watching the sun go down, dancing, catching up with friends- it’s such a good time. It’s fun. It’s crazy. And it’s so Miami!

Sitting by the Lake

For one of my journalism classes today, we had to do an ‘observation exercise’ (aka, sit somewhere on campus, look at things, and write down what we saw). Of course, I used this as an excuse to sit by the lake in the center of campus and relax for a bit:

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Lake Osceola

Down the steep, grassy slope, along the edge of Lake Osceola, there is a singular, worn wooden bench resting in its own world beneath the cover of the trees. Simultaneously alone and in the middle of it all, it’s an intriguing spot- far away, but not too far. The crisp smell of freshly fried food drifts in the breeze from behind; the happy chatter of lunchtime at the Rat, of students strolling by a distant reminder of a campus setting.

Here, the sky is a deep grey- not murky or ominous, but rather, calm and cozy. For a second, it seems almost as if a bluish hue radiates from the thick blanket of cloud that engulfs this world, but further analysis reveals it to be a mere trick of the light. Even the lake radiates this cool grey; the green, consequently, only stands out more. Green grass, green palms, green and grey, everywhere- except for a dash of red across the way. A young man stands on the edge, staring at something unknown in the distance, his bright red shirt contrasting with the scenery around him like a Christmas scene minus the snow. Is he looking at the ducks, the two ducks swimming leisurely along the edge? Or maybe he’s trying to witness the source of the random splash, the only indicator of the fish leaping, breaking the surface.

A huge gust tears the pages from my hand, my notebook blowing frantically in the wind, as the palms violently sway. The chatter continues, undisturbed. Its source is part of a different world, a world separate from this seclusion, save for a single bright orange price tag littering the muddy ground at my feet. A plane zooms overhead, and then it is time to go, to return up the slope, back to the real world.

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