FEATURE FEMALE TRAVELER-Cheryl
Isn’t funny how people’s paths intersect sometimes?
I meet Cheryl in a tiny seaside local bar, managed by a lovely Thai man, Montere on the Thailand coast.
I was volunteering at a dog rescue center; Head Rock Dogs Rescue and my little bungalow was right next to Montere’s bar. CoCo’s. This is where I would wonder over and have a cold beer and my dinner.
One evening I recognized a very familiar sound, a Kiwi accent! As such, Kiwi’s seemed to be drawn to each other while abroad, so we quickly hit up a conversation.
I was fascinated by Cheryl’s story, how she had totally changed her lifestyle and direction. It reminded me that it is never too late to follow your passion and lead a life you love.
Hi, I am Cheryl, retired in a sense and based in Hamilton, NZ.
I have been travelling to Burma (Myanmar) for over 20 years spending our winter months there. Each year has been different as I tend to be spontaneous and open to opportunities as they present themselves. Although I do have certain projects I need to work on such as buying Burmese traditional crafts, I go back to the same families and villages each year to buy their products. Any profits go back into Burma to support permaculture projects I am involved in. I have chosen to freelance as I know enough local people to make contacts with people wanting workshops and property designs. These permaculture projects are in different parts of Myanmar and some years I don’t know what people are planning for until I get there. I have found Burmese do not tend to plan far ahead.
After ordering the products then travelling around the country to collect them and send them to my freight agent to process and send by sea to NZ. I then spend the summer selling them. I am then freed up to work on permaculture projects, until I need to return home to receive the freight.
What made you or inspired you to travel?
While I raised my 3 sons I yearned to travel and experience other cultures. My time was limited so we chose to go to Tonga during school holidays. Often on my own as the boys were older and preferring to be with their friends. I really enjoyed my time in Tonga as adventures can be experienced by Island hopping and swimming with Humpback whales.
New and exciting adventures is what I enjoy so when my youngest left home I decided to travel through the SE Asian countries including Burma. I immediately fell in love with the country and the people. It was so enchanting that I was spellbound, hence returning many times.
What has been your main challenge in following your travel dream?
In Myanmar you are restricted in travelling to some parts of the country and I have been asked to hold courses in some of these areas. Officials will put a curfew on me and watch my every move. Public travel is much easier than it used to be. In the early days of traveling through Burma I would find myself in a number of difficult situations.
Travel has become so much easier with all that can be done online creating an independence and more opportunities.
How do you fund your travels, any tips to share?
Profits from the crafts I import go back into permaculture projects in Burma and supports a lifestyle.
Have you got a favourite travel experience?
I love river boat travel preferably with locals. Burma has some beautiful rivers to explore. One trip I did on a cargo boat with a handful of locals.
As there were no monks travelling with us I was given their special area, with a bit more comfort to enjoy the trip. It went through some beautiful country into the hills passing lovely little villages with women and children washing in the river and the men working in the fields with their buffalo.
When we arrived at the village I chose to disembark at, I watched as the villagers hammered supports in the river then placed 2 planks on them to reach the boat. I remember thinking there is a good chance I will fall off the planks and pleased I am a competent swimmer. The captain came looking for me, he had a boy with him who was instructed to carry my bag to shore then the captain proceeded to walk in front of me along the plank holding my hand. The villagers were amused and went about finding me a truck to ride on that would take me to the town I planned to visit. I hadn’t been in the town for long when a young man offered to take me for a tour of the area on his motorbike. I have always found that the locals take very good care of me, and I always feel a lot safer there than I do in NZ.
Are there any lessons you’ve learnt or have you experienced personal growth through travel?
Yes, a lot. What comes to mind is while getting to know a new culture your own differences are revealing, with a growing awareness of your own background especially if the prominent religion differs from what you know.
Burma is traditional Buddhism. I have had the privilege to work at some monasteries designing the compounds for sustainability, especially organic food production as they are supporting many people especially victims of civil war and they have large and growing orphanages. I could see that the monks and monasteries are the welfare system of the country, taking care of those who are homeless, with mental health problems and stray animals. Their loving kindness is a great lesson in life.
Spending a lot of time in a third world country when you see the suffering through civil war and lack of paid work naturally deepens your compassion and creates empathy for those who are suffering.
Finally, is there any advice you’d give to another woman wanting to change their life and maybe travel solo but is unsure where to start?
When travelling alone you are living in your own head a lot of the time, your mind needs to be clear and content. I believe being afraid, anxious, or concerned about what lays ahead clouds your enjoyment and the ability to be spontaneous.
Do your own research on the country and its culture, it is important to be sensitive to the culture you are entering.
Follow your instincts and develop an awareness of what is happening around you to keep yourself safe.
To start your own adventures, choose a country that you are interested in and think is manageable for you, then research all you can about the country and culture. There could be times when you may think “ why am I doing this to myself” but be patient with yourself and persevere with your dream as you will get over that stage with some rest and some good food.
Thank you so much for sharing your travel story and inspiring other women to chase their dreams and take a chance to see this beautiful planet!
You can find Cheryl and her beautiful Burma products here;
Facebook – Mandalay Merchandise – this is for some of the products I bring back from Burma or message me for locations during summer.