Last summer I spent three months in the Carribbean—ahhh the island of Puerto Rico.
While there I:
Sipped champagne in a penthouse hot tub
Played dominoes in an alley, and cheers’d with Dominican beers
Kayaked in pitch black darkness through a bioluminescent bay
Ran through a fire hydrant with the neighbor kids
Danced salsa, bachata and merengue to my heart’s content
Enjoyed many a blockbuster film in Spanish
Broke bread with some incredible families
Swam at an exclusive beach resort
Learned to cook rice and beans, like a boss
Swam in a waterfall in the Yunque Rainforest
Celebrated life and youthfulness at an estate in the mountains—set with race horses, a pool, a full bar, an incredible view, and a dinner table full of beautiful souls
Sailed to the island where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed
Was a rowdy fan during a pick-up basketball game and a late night baseball game
& rode on a motorcycle for the first time (with an island boy, worthy of the cover of a romance novel).
I left the island, feeling as though I had really lived to the fullest during my time there. As travelers, I think we all want to leave a place feeling as though we have really experienced all it has to offer. We are explorers. We want to leave no stone unturned. We crave authenticity.
The key to having authentic experiences is — be open. Be open to this beautiful thing we call the human experience.
The fastest way to authenticity is to make friends with the “locals”. You want to see how they live? Then enjoy life with them! Remember this: When people invite you to be a part of their life (however brief) it IS a big deal. They want to show you their world and they hope you will enjoy it. They are trusting you. So be appreciative of them and (for Pete’s sake!) be a sponge—soaking it all up.
I laugh when I look back to the start of my friend-making in Puerto Rico. The best journeys begin when you ask, “Why not?”… so one day at work, a co-worker offered to do my nails with shellac. (Why not?) As she did my nails, another intern and I started talking. She invited me to hang out with her and her friends that night. (Why not?)
At her friend’s house, a few people were gathered. There were wine-drinking parrots and the biggest dog I’ve ever seen.
They talked about an epic weekend retreat they take up to the mountains every year. I’d been there a whole three minutes and my then new friend turns her head and goes, “Do you want to come this year?”
And the rest is history. I compare that weekend and the months that followed to that of a classy party at a speak-easy, back in the 20s. Music always, dancing constantly, uninhibited laughter, free flowing drinks and endless toasts. An appreciation for youth, freedom and sharing moments with intriguing people.
My friends in Puerto Rico loved my “Why not?!” attitude. They knew I would be comfortable in a variety of social situations, and because of that I had some once in a lifetime opportunities.
We’ve all hosted “those people”, where you worry the whole time they aren’t having fun, you aren’t catering enough to them or they are bored. Don’t be that person! If you are appreciative and in awe of someone’s culture, doors will open up that you never imagined. (Like when you ask your grandparents about their lives and the richest stories unfold.)
The next time you are in a new place, I challenge you to: exhaust yourself in the pursuit of life.