In 2016, when President Obama began to pave the way for travel to Cuba from the US and Cuba there was excitement in the air for all those who have a passion for travel. Maybe not everyone, but a LOT of people. I was one of them. At first we had to take a cruise from Jamaica to sail around Cuba, stopping at some interesting places along the way.
The program was actually quite good, but I didn't know at the time that I'd be creating my own adventures to the island a short time later. The first time visiting the island, everything felt like a new experience, or a different world
Here we are later, and a pandemic has taken place. Who would have thought? Tours for Cuba are on the books, almost filled and the excitement is building. Once again, it's going to be new. It's going to be different. One thing that stood out from the very beginning in 2016 was that Cubans are resilient and resourceful. While I know there will be hiccups and mistakes made during the opening, the Cuban people will figure it out.
It's a time for hope. Private enterprise has been on the rise significantly since 2016, and the current government is moving to encourage more of it. To be perfectly honest, they don't have much of a choice. Tourism and private ownership generates quite a bit of revenue for the island.
Like here in the U.S., when government overreaches it has negative consequences. The people are better at business than the government. On my first visit, a typical offering of a sandwich was a bun, ham and ketchup. Yep, this is what the government thought was a Cuban sandwich. I should disclose that a Cuban Sandwich is not Cuban at all. Contrary to those Cubans in Miami, it's the Cuban immigrants to the Tampa Bay region of Ybor City that invented the treat. It was made for the cigar factory workers, who were of all nationalities. The Cuban bread represented Cuba, the ham Spain, the salami Italian, the pickles German. Nothing that could spoil was added because it would do so quickly in the Tampa heat, but I digress.
It saddens me to say that a good portion of U.S. Citizens are misinformed about Cuba, it's current status and how it came to be a socialist country. I think politics and government are overrated, and in the case of both the Cubans and the Americans the real power lies with the people, so long as they are awake.
Cuba is full of outstanding architecture, artists, food, culture, history and a very different way of living life. The Cuban culture is worth exploring. It's not difficult getting to Cuba. You will feel safe there. You won't get arrested. Like anywhere, follow the rules and etiquette. I go over all these things before leaving to the exotic island of huge mangos, big green avocados, succulent pork, excellent rum, and yes, cigars. Come explore with me on Havana Heartbeat in January, February and November of 2022.
My experience in travel goes back over 12 years. I'm an explorer, a discoverer, a daredevil, writer and creator.
The White House has finally released some guidance as it relates to foreign nationals entering into the country. It also reaffirmed the current requirements for U.S. Citizens re-entering the U.S. from travel abroad. It's about time, and barely. The Southern U.S. is entering it's tourism season, and people in the U.S. have been wanting clarity for some time. We have enough to go on, but the situation is definitely going to evolve.
For foreign nationals, the U.S. is relaxing restrictions according to Reuters. This is for vaccinated visitors only. It's late in getting started, but may be enough to save the southern season, or overwhelm it altogether. Time will tell. Thirty three countries are on the list as open to air travelers. It's about time. We should have been leading instead of following in these circumstances.
For U.S. Citizens that are vaccinated, now is the moment to take a photo of your vaccination card, and keep it in a safe place. Airlines are now required to obtain documentation of vaccination before boarding the aircraft to a foreign destination that requires it. This is bound to make anti-vaxers angry.
There still are many countries that only require a test before entering, but that's likely to change. Americans traveling from international destinations who are not vaccinated face a tougher time. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION: Americans who are NOT vaccinated will have to provide proof of a negative test either from an antigen or PCR test administered within 1 day of travel.
This is designed to make it difficult for the unvaccinated. The angst created when you must received the results of a test in a foreign country as proof to enter the U.S. would have me sweating bullets. Not only this, but those same people will be required to provide proff of purchasing a viral test after returning.
Americans who ARE vaccinated will still be required to provide either a PCR or Antigen negative test result within 3 days of departure. I've done this on our Costa Rica Exotica trips, and will be doing it again on the upcoming Havana Heartbeat Series. As a matter of business, we'll no longer be accepting reservations for those traveling abroad that are not vaccinated. It's too risky. The CDC has recommended guidance for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Times are changing, and travel is opening albeit slowly. For those of you that want to travel internationally without a vaccine, your window is closing as the developing world begins to vaccinate it's people.
I'm an adventurer, explorer, daredevil and occasional writer. I love the travel the world and share my experience with others through my company, My XO Adventures.
Love, Compassion, Tolerance and Forgiveness to Myself and all Others.
It was June of 2020, and the height of the pandemic. The road had led me to the Black Hills. Like all other places, I had no idea what to expect or experience, but here I was. I knew I was being led, but the furthest I could see was the one step ahead I was being asked to take. “Everything is going to be ok.” The words came to me often throughout my journey. It first started in North Carolina and continued for the year and a half journey with no home, other than the kindness of people, the comfort of my tent, and the endless beauty of nature. This was my home, and a good one.
My first season in the Black Hills was working as a guide for a local tour company. I was used to being thrown to the wolves. It was a skill I learned many times before, but in this case in came with respect and responsibility. It was up to me to go above and beyond what the tourists came here to see. The monuments, museums and wild west stories abound, but the Hills were calling. So much history, both joy and pain reside here in the rocks. No place on earth is like it, and I find the learning side both fascinating and a bit of a rabbit hole.
One day I was asked to conduct a tour for a couple, and to take them to a place called Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary. I had been in the Northern Black Hills to show off Spearfish Canyon with its towering limestone cliffs, waterfalls and multitudes of colors. Where is this Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary, and how was I to be a guide at a place I knew nothing of, or even why it’s there?
I figured I would just have to use social skills to make it through, so down the dirt road we went. Without a description, just a GPS location guiding me to the parking lot that marks the beginning of the journey. A wooden door with cast iron adornments greets you here. A message above the door reads “Love, Compassion, Tolerance and Forgiveness to Myself and all Others. This was a good start, but the love was about to become apparent as soon as the gate opened, and we stepped through.
One of the best tools a guide has is his or her eyes, so I immediately looked around searching for things to talk about. Walking sticks, umbrellas and a door with books behind it greeted us. The book was “The Turkey Shack”, by Dave Snyder. At the time, I thought this book was probably unrelated to what I was about to experience and not worth taking a look at. Instead, we were greeted with the handprints of men, women and children in a concrete plaque. One that would be important entering and exiting. The invocation was next, and then a place you could read about the sanctuary, it’s purpose and recommendations of how to proceed.
This was going to be a quiet journey, and I part from the guests for a time so that we can go through this in our own way. It was a beautiful day. I remember the leaves from the Quaking Aspens fluttering as they do, making a beautiful rustling sound helping to ground myself on what was otherwise a shaky ground for a tour guide.
Along the way, the bronze plaques were places to reflect. Benches with metal boxes containing notepads to write thoughts were dotted through the landscape. Who built this I thought? The meadow between the Aspens and the Ponderosa higher up on the hill lit up with color, and I could see the meandering creek running through it all, with a stand of trees directly in the center of the meadow. So many times along the path I stopped, read and was brought to tears by the words I read, but beyond that the special area this land inhabited. To this day, I’ve never had a stronger connection to the Black Hills than in this very spot.
What was it about this place? How perfect it was. Why was I being shaken to the core? How did this day turn from being a historian, entertainer, driver, personality, geologist etc. to simply shutting my mouth and connecting to nature? It was rejuvenating and healing at the same time, but still, I couldn’t explain why. Was this a Holy place of some kind? I suppose all places are in one way or another, but I’d like to return here again.
So I did, but not with tours. I returned by myself and another with an unexpected friend. Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary changed from green to gold during this time, with the last visit in 2020 being in September. The colors were outstanding. The yellow Aspen contrasted with the Ponderosa Pine, like islands in the massive green landscape. Each visit was special, and I returned with an inward reflection I never saw before.
The next year I return. Conducting tours on my own, I feel a bit like the Spokane Kid of Keystone. The Northern Black Hills are my favorite place to be, yet it’s the least popular for visitors to choose. During the summer I brought a few curious people here, who enjoyed every moment. I have no words, but from what my eyes have seen. I let the viewer experience it in their own way because I believe we are all brought here for our own reasons. Now that I’m at the end of another season, I’d like to first express my gratitude for the success I’ve experienced in the Black Hills, the kind people, and for Gods remarkable creation in Southwestern South Dakota.
I decided to call this place home, and in July of 2021 I signed a lease on a small apartment in an old home that is just perfect. I invited my family, and my mother came to see someplace she’d never been and only heard stories. It was October 4th, 2021 and I decided to show her the Northern Black Hills to catch the leaf change and share Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary with her for the first time.
I’m 43 now, and I don’t think she realized but my intentions were to make the most out of her time here. Not by cramming in a busy schedule but rather to be present, and to make memories. I want some mother/son time and I couldn’t think of a better place. I was excited.
Cows crossed the road; deer made their presence known and in my mother’s signature way she noticed it all. She could find beauty in just about anything, but it wasn’t difficult out here. We were surrounded. We entered the gate together, and my healing was already beginning. I knew what I was about to see but wasn’t quite sure how it was going to affect me, or her for that matter.
Like parent/child relationships there are epically painful and tragic moments mixed with happiness and love. This was my story at least, and I hoped to bring some healing where it was still raw and build on the love we have for one another. It was emotional for us both. I can’t speak for my mother, but her repeating this was her favorite place she’s ever seen, and it was magical.
It was indeed that, and I was glad to hear her express those feelings. I knew all along she would, as I’m more like my mother than I admit. We spent over two hours observing, reading, resting and sharing. We explored so many places, with Harmony Hill being the highlight. To sit, listen to the chimes and overlook this incredible vista of the meadow and bright yellow leaves below. You may not know it, but this is a place you come to be a part of, not so much a visitor. It is a part of you, and you it. After following the trail, we come full circle to the gate.
Our pace slows, a reflection that neither of us really want to go. We could be content here for the entire day if we wanted, but there was much more to see. I take a look at those books one year after seeing them the first time and buy one. It’s called “The Turkey Shack”, and there is a small metal and wood shack on one side of the property that stands. I imagine it bewilders those who see it the first time without reading the book.
I dropped in the recommended donation and took the book home. It became her book during the visit here. She read it each night for a short while before bed, and in the morning with a cup of coffee on the front porch, with the autumn breeze blowing by. She’s like this. It’s chilly outside. She brings a blanket, a book and a hot coffee. She must wonder how long she can stay out and enjoy everything. I let her have the time and work on my tours of the Black Hills as she does what she pleases.
Nine days later she finishes the book and tells me how wonderful it is. The writing gave her the answers to questions she had about the meadow. It opened her eyes and seemed to be at just the right time. Now she contemplates relocating here and well, we’ll see. Back safe in Florida now, she has the stories of the Black Hills, both Northern and Southern to tell her friends.
We now both have new memories, which is exactly what I wanted. Everything came together to create an invaluable moment. It’s my turn to read the book, and I’ve done so. It is a great book, and one of immense pain, growth and forgiveness. It’s a contribution of a lifetime experience that can be added to your own personal journey. I’m still not sure if it’s best to read before or after your visit. Whatever you believe, you’ll know that stories happened here, perhaps moments of great magnitude. Grandmothers, warriors, children, spirits and I’m sure God not only left an impression but continue to reside. As if greeters, guides and healers coming together for all those that enter.
It’s not a place to fear, it’s a place to love. It’s not a place to come for understanding of it all, but rather that there are many things yet not understood. It’s a place of being, and it’s right here in my new home. Thank you to the Snyder family for creating this special place, and for keeping it open to the public to enjoy. Thank you for the memories made and yet to come.
I'm an adventurer, explorer, daredevil and occasional writer. I love the travel the world and share my experience with others through my company, My XO Adventures.
I had to clear my head today, and nature is the best place for me to find the answers. Bear Butte is a place of vision quests and one that I’ve not hiked, so off I go.
Some good music along the way is necessary, to slow my brain down from its constant fluttering of thoughts, to-do’s and plans for the future. I settle on some Native American flute by Darren Thompson, a local artist. After about 40 miles of driving outside Rapid City I arrive in Sturgis and follow Google Maps, which takes me to the wrong place. Lesson number one. I turn off the GPS and figure it out by circling the mountain and finding the unassuming road to the parking lot.
My gear goes into my backpack, and I’m ready for another Black Hills Adventure. I read the posted signs at the base of the trailhead before making my way up. No photos of the prayer cloths hung from trees, silence is best, respect the wildlife and the sanctity of the area. I got this.
I hear the grass crackle, stop, get my eyes and ears tuned in, then she moved again. It’s the first animal, a beautiful female pheasant under a small pine in the golden grass. Revealing herself to me, she slowly moved ahead creating distance and putting the pine between her and I. Patiently I stand, watching her careful movements and just taking in the moment.
As I climb higher, I hear the sound of a bird calling. I’m hoping it’s the Magpie, my favorite bird of the Dakotas. She won the race for all two-legged creatures by cleverness, not physical prowess.
Teasing me, I stop, listen and hear nothing. I move forward and the calls come out, mixed with the sound of my boot soles as they touch the gravel. The contact makes just enough noise to keep her exact location from me.
Finally, it flies out of one pine to another, presumably flirting with his lover bird. The wings opened and he glided at an angle beneficial to my eyes with an iridescent blue.
It was the Magpie, and now he’s gliding back and forth between Ponderosa pines. Thank you, Magpie.
I continue my hike. This time the rock becoming my focal point, I reach a place where I can catch my breath and look around. Bright green lichen adorns the rocks, themselves like gypsum in their own linear crystal shapes. This mountain looks older than the spires, less worn but more cracked. Steps of Superman’s home accompany each protrusion.
The trail is adorned with strips of cloth tied to branches, each the color of the directions. Red for North, white for South, yellow for East and black for West.
Feeling both reverent and spooky at the same time, I try not to stare at the patters and shapes they form. It’s as if God were present, tending to the prayers and hopes of all his children. I walk carefully, mindful of my footsteps and body movements through the tighter areas of vegetation.
I hear the distant sound of poor-quality music, reminding me of the single speaker radio I once had in my youth. In an Instant, the Zen-like feeling and bright glowing Chakras flickered and blew out like a delicate microfilament of carbon inside a light bulb. Humans, sometimes they’re just unavoidable. They pass, and so does the moment. I’m taken back into the sacred.
Scars on the mountain are reminders of a large fire that burned here in 2018. Bear Butte lost almost all its trees. The trail takes you through this long-gone inferno and reveals the healing power of nature.
The mountain is regenerating. Each type of forest is its own story and position in the cycle. Surviving the flames, I come to a stand of Ponderosa. It’s then I hear the comforting sound of wind being split by the dark green sturdy needles.
A Hairy Woodpecker begins his hunt. The location is close and easy to spot. He pecks away at the dead limbs daring the burrowing bugs to the surface.
The prayer cloths are everywhere now. I wonder about the feelings each one represents. Hope, fear, needs, sorrow, wishes and dreams, they’re all present and vibrating. The evening before I had a terrible dream, making the situation even more intense. Don’t binge “YOU” on Netflix, it’s not right.
I’m descending, the pathway full of mistakes to be made. Keeping my head down and trying not to kick rocks I slowly forge ahead. A familiar “S” shape lays across the path. Green and yellow, the snake makes its way up the hillside through broken grasses, small branches and rocks. A typical reaction at this point would be to scream and run, but I know everything I see is a message from my higher power. I stand still and watch as the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer crosses the intersection.
Days ago, snow fell heavily in this area, leaving 2 feet on top of the mixed grasses. Laying down now, the pale green stems lead to golden tips. A sign of the cycle and a movement towards the winter season.
I’m down the mountain and thinking again. It was a great experience and just right. Right time, place and setting.
Bear Butte is a sacred place to the Lakota, Cheyenne and other tribes. It’s clearly a special place that should be respected and preserved. It’s best to be silent here, with no enhancement or distraction. Being in a quiet place is needed now more than ever. Think how nice it would be if everyone practiced silence.
I felt if I visited without expectation and an open mind, I’d find what I was looking for, and I did.
I'm a traveler at heart, with a constant desire to learn and explore. Home for me is in the Black Hills of South Dakota. My company is My XO Adventures, a dream come to reality that offers Black Hills Adventures, as well as cultural immersion vacation packages all over the world. As I explore, I share my experiences with close friends, family, guests and readers like you!
South Dakota is one of 4 states that does not recognize Columbus Day. Rather, it celebrates Native American Day on October 11, 2021! As it should be here, with rich Native American culture, heritage and diversity. Native Americans make up 9% of the current population of South Dakota.
I'm proud to say that I live in a state with 9 unique Native American Tribes. With this many tribes, I've only begun to scratch the surface on my understanding of what I consider a treasure of heritage that should be known, celebrated, protected and supported. My research over the next several weeks will intensify, lasting a lifetime and if I am fortunate will result in friendships with the Indigenous Peoples of this land.
Cheyenne River Lakota Nation
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
Oglala Sioux Tribe
Sicangu Lakota Oyate
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Yankton Sioux Tribe
It should be noted that the term "Sioux" is short for Nadowessioux, meaning "little snakes", a name the French learned from the Ojibwe. The proper term is Lakota, Dakota or Nakota depending on the dialect that particular tribe speaks.
There are many ways to experience the Native American Culture in South Dakota, and I'll be sharing those with you over the next several weeks as I dive in and explore deeper each day.
We are exploring new ways of corporate responsibility for My XO Adventures. To make a suggestion or inquire, please email [email protected] with the details.
#myxoadventures #lakota #nativeamericans #badlandsblackhills #hifromSD
I have to admit, the Black Hills of South Dakota contain more stories than I ever thought they would, but some of my favorites come from Indian Lore. Primarily, the Lakota and the Cheyenne consider the Black Hills as part of their origin story. I've found that aside from speaking with a Native from these tribes, children's stories of Native American Lore can be an incredible reference.
One story that I love the most is about the Red Racetrack. It all started in the beginning of times, when the buffalo at the humans and not the other way around. The humans felt this to be unfair, so they appealed to the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit had to settle the matter, so he decided on a race between all animals of the earth. He sent the crow to announce that there would be a great race, and everyone would need to participate.
It was decided that the four-legged animals would side with the Buffalo, and the two-legged winged animals would side with the humans. Everyone chose their fastest representative! They practiced, and while the buffalo were sure the cow they picked was faster than the human, she still wasn't going to have an easy time. The human was fast and determined to win the race.
The day had come, and the coyote and the wolf howled, marking the start of the race around the Black Hills. The birds immediately got a head start and zoomed past the four-legged animals, except the Magpie. No matter how fast she flapped her wings, she was always the slowest bird, but the Magpie also had a plan in mind. When nobody was looking, she landed on the back of the Buffalo. It was a very hot day, and the two-legged creatures decided to stop at a lake and take a drink, but they had too much which made them tired, so they fell asleep in the trees. Oh no!
Many of the animals of the Black Hills swam past them, but the Beaver was not able to do so well with those short legs, so he slipped away to a wonderful part of the lake and made a home, to be seen there ever since. The Otter and the Muskrat felt this was a good idea, so they followed. The Jackrabbit was scared by the coyote coming up from behind and he ran out onto the Great Plains, still wondering who is behind him.
The race lasted for days, with no animal exactly sure on how much time had passed. During that time of the race, the Rattlesnake at the toad and fell asleep, while the Mole and Gopher dug holes and burrowed inside, still believing the race is not over. The Prairie Dog wasted his time chattering to the Hawk as they do.
As time went on, the human man fell further behind the buffalo and the four-legged animals were surely going to win the race. The Buffalo tried even harder, increasing her lead. Magpie had been on the back of the Buffalo all along, and the time had come to hatch her plan. Right before the finishing line, she jumped off the back of the Buffalo and flew towards the sun, then dove downwards back to the finish line. She had crossed over the line before the Buffalo, winning the race!
The two-legged animals cheered with joy, and the race was declared fair, thus changing the order of things. From now on the Buffalo would be eaten by the humans. If you look close today, you can see each Buffalo has a beard, which is left over from the days when Buffalo ate humans. It's the human hair hanging from their chin.
The Great Spirit declared it a fair race, and so there it was. Humans now had a great responsibility to the four-legged creatures to respect and treat them right. From this point on the Magpie has never been harassed. The actual ring of red can be seen in the Black Hills as an oval racetrack, it's red color coming from the animals that ran the race, trying so hard that they bled into the ground staining it red. This is a true story, and the characters names have been omitted to protect their privacy.
When It's your time to come to the Black Hills of South Dakota, you can see and enjoy these stories while touring the area.
My XO Adventures believes the stories of the Lakota and all Native Peoples are worth preserving. We do so by incorporating them into our Black Hills Tours each and every day. We hope to see you someday to meet the Buffalo, Magpie, Prairie Dogs, Coyotes and all the winged animals of this Sacred Place, Paha Sapa.