“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer”. – Albert Camus
Here in Minnesota we are in the midst of winter. The days are short and cold and in January it rarely gets above freezing. Winter can last anywhere from 4-5 months depending on the year. This year, we have been fortunate as we had an incredibly mild November and December, and despite a sub-zero week it has been mostly in the 20s and 30s. For me, that is almost tropical after last week’s -20.
“So how do you do it” many people ask me in bewilderment and shock when I tell them where I’m from. Simple. I embrace it, and I take a break.
I have lived in the Midwest my entire life except for a stint abroad in Paris, and over the years I’ve developed some essential skills for surviving a Minnesota winter. Most of all, I do my best to embrace winter. I get out there almost every day by either walking or running around one of several urban lakes. I also snowshoe, ice skate, sled and downhill ski every weekend with my family. I am an outdoor person so if I can’t get outside each day, I’m miserable. I’ve found as long as you have the right gear and enough layers, you can even take a walk at a mere -10 F. What it does for my body and soul is amazing. It keeps me inspired and optimistic even in the deep, dark depths of winter.
My other trick to winter survival is I always take a break and head south. Even if it is only for a few days, it is worth it and does wonders to the soul. I wasn’t always able to escape when the kids were little and it was grueling. However, for the last few years I’ve had some wonderful winter escapes that have rejuvenated me and made winter in Minnesota bearable.
Here are some of my favorite winter escapes.
You may be utterly confused to hear that Haiti is on my list. In most people’s eyes, Haiti is not safe, not clean and the last place they would chose to go on a tropical vacation. Instead, they dream of Haiti’s neighbor the Dominican Republic or some other luxurious Caribbean Island. However, if you have read my blog you know that I am incredibly adventurous, love to explore off the beaten path places, and am passionate about giving back and doing good.
I had the opportunity to go to Haiti for five days last year as part of #Bloggers4Haiti, a program of social good bloggers who share the amazing art and entrepreneurship of Haitian artisans who work with Macy’s Heart of Haiti program. While enjoying the tremendous art and culture of Haiti was fantastic, I also found that Haiti is truly a beautiful country with gorgeous beaches. It offers plenty of opportunities for the adventurous traveler to visit a place that not many have seen, especially in a positive light.
The highlights my trip included meeting with several creative Haitian artisans, enjoying the beautiful colonial town of Jacmel and its pristine beaches, and watching Carnival in Port-au-Prince.
I have always wanted to go to Cuba and fearing that it would open up soon to American travelers, I decided to take the plunge and go before it changed. There are only two ways to go to Cuba as an American. Illegally, by sneaking in through another country (Canada and Mexico are most popular) or legally on one of many “cultural” , “missionary” or “educational” tours. I paid the hefty fee to go for a week on a cultural tour with Insight Cuba and it was worth every single penny.
I learned more in that week than I ever have traveling anywhere. I met and talked with locals, got rare opportunities to hear about Cuba’s culture, education, health care, music and arts, and enjoyed visiting Havana, Trinidad and the countryside. It is a beautiful place and only a short flight from Miami.
Three years ago I spent a week volunteering and learning Spanish at a home stay in La Ceiba, Honduras. It was a difficult place to be due to the high level of poverty and drug trade yet I rewarded myself with a weekend stay at the island of Roatan, known for its scuba diving, snorkeling and sunsets.
Since there are still at least two more months of winter, I am happy to already have a plan to head south in about a month. I will be spending a week at a “learn to surf” camp in Nicaragua where I’m sure to find some sun for the soul. In the meantime, it is time to bundle up and get out there. Before I know it winter will be over and I’ll be missing that cold, fresh air.