Shake It But Don't Break It!


Balance is key. Great effort beckons great reward so with everything going on, James and I made sure to make time for a trip that I wanted to share with you.

A few months ago I had an idea that if we did not book a vacation we were going to have a meltdown. I knew there’d never be “the right time”; I had to just do it. I walked into a local travel agency, plopped my worn out self down and introduced myself to the agent, Debby.

Debby had a thick New York accent, lots of eyeliner, perfectly polished nails and a fabulous teased hair-do. Debby confidently proposed the perfect vacation for us: a cruise. If I’m being honest, my initial reaction wasn’t really that of excitement. I never saw us as cruise goers. My experience with travel has always been wild and personal. Would a guided experience really be the best way to spend our vacation?

I’m very happy to admit that my initial concerns were wildly unnecessary. The cruise we booked was a 7 day expedition that stopped in Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Mexico and Cuba!

The pleasantries of our room and the attentive service of the staff made it easy to indulge in some much needed rest and relaxation. The view from our room was amazing, we had constant access to a lovely room attendant, rejuvenated in the spa and steam room and finished every night dancing on the top deck. We did learn pretty quickly not to bother fighting over food with other cruise goers and instead just order to our room. Those buffets were chaos incarnate.

What I didn’t see coming was the wild adventures that laid in wait for us: our seasoned Jamaican tour guide showing us the most breath taking sights, the dare devil bus driver who navigated tiny roads at unbelievable speed, and the rush of rafting down the Martha Brae river on a bamboo raft just to name a few. Who could forget the lovely Captain John who hand carved James and I a calabash which we treasure dearly. His kindness and love of the land and plants was remarkable. As I would soon discover about every place we visited, the immense beauty of the locales co-existed with some unfortunate realities. For Jamaica, that reality was the extreme corruption in the police force. I was shocked by how openly the police there would try to extort people when pulling them over on the sides of the road.

I still can’t believe the wondrous variety in the locations we experienced. A day was well spent in Grand Cayman where we drank from coconuts and snorkeled in the pure crystal clear aqua water.

In Mexico we traveled to Tulum to see the Mayan Ruins. To see the brilliance and organization of a culture whose ruins still stand today was unforgettable.

Last but not least we arrived in Havana, Cuba. In some ways it felt like walking in a city lost in time. The architecture reminded me of New Orleans, Paris, Mt Vernon, Baltimore. On a grand scale the buildings were breathtaking but when you take a close look you realize most have fallen into disrepair. Air conditioning was scarce while dealing with hot and humid weather. On our first day we took a tour in an aqua blue 1950's Chevy convertible named "The Blue Shark". Our driver made sure to show James and I the engine which was spotless and a work of art. He had created by hand some of the parts since there is no way to get them in Cuba. It was clear that the city was equally beautiful and stricken by scarcity. Our second day we took an architectural tour which we realized was mostly propaganda. The bathrooms were void of toilet paper and soap, eyeglasses were a rarity and supplies were limited. In spite of these damning circumstances, the people of Havana were proud and passionate. The streets were filled with wonderful bands that lifted spirits and got people up and dancing.

It was clear that of all the places we visited, many with their own troubled histories and forgotten communities, Havana was the most hidden from us. James and I agreed that another trip would be necessary, one that would allow us to visit the countryside and interact authentically with the city. In the mean time we’ll be taking a little piece of Cuba and Tulum back with in the form of some vibrant colors we experienced that we will be incorporating into the new design for the Amanda James gallery and logo!

The art, coffee and cigars were great but I cannot stress enough that my greatest joys from Havana came from the beautiful people I met.

I returned to America with an intense appreciation for the graces I enjoy each and every day. Travel always has an effect on us. The classic mythological story is that of the hero going out to face the unknown to return to their home with something new. In this instance, it was a matured and balanced perspective. I was awed, faced harsh realities, treated like royalty, pushed to the edge, and so on over the course of those 7 days. Balance is the key. My travels will be reflected in my work and in the (hopefully not too distant) future my work will enable me to travel again.

Life can be so incredibly demanding of us. I hope you and your loved ones are able to journey somewhere to take a step away from what you know to see what could be. I’m all for working your hardest. Just don’t forget to enjoy the fruit of your labor, whatever that fruit may be to you.

- Amanda J.

Amanda Johnson