It is about time that I introduce you to somebody that plays an incredibly important role in my story. Her name is Cristhal. Cristhal and I have been friends since we were 14 years old, meaning that she has been my best friend for nearly half of my life. People like to throw around the word “soul mate” freely. To me, a soulmate is somebody that can fill your heart with love and make you feel that you have meaning in this world. A soulmate is somebody that, even 14,000 miles away, can feel when you are hurting and can feel when you desperately need a friend. A soulmate is somebody that knows your deepest, darkest secrets and your lowest of lows and will still never judge you or your journey. A soulmate is your guiding light in a sea of darkness. Cristhal is my soulmate. After reading about her in future blogs, I am sure that you will all feel somehow connected to this incredible woman who has so much to give to this world.
After recovering from a first year at college that destroyed my self-esteem and my sanity, Cristhal invited me on a Carnival Cruise with her and her family. This cruise would bring us to Mexico, Belize, Honduras, back to Mexico and then back to the United States of America where we would spend some time enjoying the sweet Miami sunshine (and amazing Cuban food!) with Cristhal’s cousins living in Florida. I was reluctant at first, as I was under the (false) impression that I was not worthy of a holiday and that I did not want to intrude on a family vacation, but after giving it some thought and after listening to her family assure me that I was part of their family, I decided that this cruise was something that might be good for me.
Honestly, I had not really travelled much prior to this trip. I had been to New York City more times than I could ever count, and I went to Disney World in Orlando, Florida a couple of times. There was also that daytrip to Hershey Park, my family’s ‘Oprah Show’ stint in Chicago and that one time I bought lottery tickets with my grandparents in Delaware. Other than that, I wasn’t exactly worldly. This trip was a big deal for me. My family was always afraid of airplanes and, despite living on the Jersey Shore, the ocean. (My mother’s famous words when we went to the beach were “Riptides! Only up to your ankles!”) Despite this, something inside of me was telling me that this trip would be important despite my apprehensions. That week, I went to the post office to take passport photos I still cringe over and lodged my passport application with a kind post office employee who seemed more excited for me getting a passport than I was– the first step. I patiently waited a few weeks for my passport to come in the mail. I still remember opening it when it finally arrived. It seemed silly, but I felt a sense of being a full-fledged adult, if not exciting.
Cristhal’s family and I were shortly off to the Trenton airport. We eagerly waited in the lobby and found things to preoccupy ourselves before we boarded the plane to Miami, like eavesdropping on complaining senior citizens and watching a strange man take off his shoes, wiggling his barefoot toes in the air. Upon landing, we drove in a shuttle bus to the docks where all of the cruise ships were waiting for us to board. I still remember walking the deck for the first time. This entire thing was so out of my comfort zone! I felt so adventurous, which seems so silly – but it was important that I felt that. Shortly after, we were off! We quickly had to attend a drawn-out safety meeting on our deck, but the only thing I actually remember about the meeting was the leather-skinned man in the sandals made completely out of rope who had been on 27 (!!) cruises prior to this one.
The week that followed was incredible. Mexico was our first destination. We docked and met our tour guides, two local Mexican men who had us laughing the entire day and treated us as if we were their lifelong friends. We started the day exploring the Mayan ruins of Cozumel. Learning about the history of the Mexicans and the history behind the ruins was fascinating and walking amongst ruins that were over 2,000 years old was surreal. They then drove us to a private beach. I stripped down to my bathers and Cristhal and I headed to the ocean. Cristhal dove in like the mermaid she always has been at heart and I trotted along the shoreline splashing water around my ankles.
“Come in!” Cristhal yelled!
“My mother would actually murder me…” I sighed.
“Your mother is in New Jersey. You are in Mexico. I’m never inviting you anywhere again if you don’t come in!” she shouted
I couldn’t really argue that one, so like a lost sailor in a Greek epic hypnotised by a siren’s song and the sea, I followed suit and I allowed the ocean to swallow me whole for the first time in my life. The waves broke over me as if I were being baptised by nature. It was an unforgettable moment. We jumped up and down as the waves crashed over us with nobody else around. I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to skinny dip for the first time – so I took my trunks off. (I have since made it a goal to skinny dip in every country I go to that has a beach. It’s more fun than collecting snow globes.) I had never in my life felt more alive. My mother was not thrilled about my oceanic adventures, but little did she know that my rendezvous with the sea was my gateway drug into living life freely. We then grabbed lunch handmade by local Mexican women. Unpopular opinion – I am not a guacamole lover, but this guacamole was so incredible that I actually licked the bowl clean after running out of tortilla chips. It made every other Mexican meal I’ve ever had in the United States seem like a Taco Bell Chalupa Supreme. It was perfect food. We then toured a tequila factory – a dangerous tour indeed. At one point, the tour guides gave me extra shots for responding to their questions in Spanish instead of English. Not a terrible first day by any means.
The next adventure brought us to Belize, where we ziplined over a river, explored the depths of the local caves and jumped off of rocks into the water. The Belizeans treated Cristhal and her mother like royalty, carrying their tubes the entirety of the hike. As a man, I was expected to hold my own – which was fine by me. Afterwards we enjoyed homemade tamales and fizzy drink. The next day we docked at Honduras and headed to a resort – easily the most “typical vacation” thing we had done on our trip. That night after everybody had gone to sleep, I stayed up late watching the severely underrated Disney animated film Treasure Planet on the balcony of our room. Treasure Planet is based off of one of my favourite novels, Treasure Island – an adventure tale about a brave young boy named Jim Hawkins setting off to sea in search of buried treasure, defending himself from scheming pirates trying to beat him to the chase. In a way, I felt like Jim Hawkins on this ship. I was looking for my buried treasure, only I didn’t know what I was necessarily looking for and I certainly had no map to guide me. There was no “X marks the spot.” I only had my intuition to guide me. The movie ended, and I turned the blue screen of my iPad off and looked into the ocean. It was 2AM. I sat there looking out at the stars and the sea. You couldn’t hear anything but waves crashing against the ship. The stars and the ocean blended together and at a certain point you couldn’t tell them apart. I then began to weep. I wept because I was so grateful for this opportunity to see a part of the world I never thought I would. I wept because I had survived that first year away from home. I wept because despite that, I still felt so lost. I wept because I felt so tiny, yet so large in this moment. I wept because something came over me that night that might as well had been a tsunami wave collapsing on top of the ship. For the first time in a very long time, I felt alive. I felt like there was purpose for me in this world. I wanted to unlock it. I needed to find the X.
The next day was our last in Central America, so I made sure to enjoy every moment of it after my spiritual awakening the night prior. We rented a dune buggy and drove through the rainforest onto a private beach. The sand was untouched, and the water felt incredible on my still sunburnt skin. We drove to a beach club, enjoyed some cocktails and said a sad goodbye to Mexico before heading back. Before boarding the ship, I noticed a Mexican band playing a few tunes. I went over to them and I asked them if I could play their drums with them. They laughed and allowed me to play with them with a kindness that made me feel as if I was always a part of their band. We jammed out for a bit and I walked back to the ship with a smile brighter than the Mexican sun on my face.
I woke up early the next morning and I watched the sun rise above the fairy floss clouds as we docked onto the Miami shoreline. Even though I was excited to spend the next week in Miami enjoying Cristhal’s hilarious (yet intimidatingly fierce and beautiful) family, all of the delicious food they cooked for us and all of the DANCING we did, it was heartbreaking that this adventure was over. Upon going back home to New Jersey, I decided that this passport I just received in the mail would not be buried at the bottom of my desk drawer. I wasn’t sure where my next adventure would take me, but I knew that this trip had shed light onto a part of my soul that I never knew existed until that night I looked out into the horizon of stars. I knew that I needed to keep exploring the world, searching for my buried treasure.
With that being said, thank you to Cristhal, her mother Jackeline, cousin Iris and my man Brandon for not only being a group of people that I consider family, but for opening up my eyes to the beauty of travel. Thank you for my first chapter.
Joey Jetsets x