Reflections and Impressions- Thoughts From A Quiet Observer

This post is less about activity, and more about the workings of my brain, with some photos at the end that I’m proud to share from the camera I splurged on for this trip. More of a ramble than an opinion piece, maybe you’ll understand what I’m trying to get at, I hope. Here we go..

Throughout my life and my traveling experiences, varying from spring break trips with friends to family vacations, to work conferences, to traveling solo for conservation and volunteer work, some of my favorite parts of those trips have been the moments of solitude, where I can be in one place and be a part of what’s happening around me. It’s a time when I can walk through city streets, with no destination in mind, and be side by side with people going about their business. It’s a time when I can sit near the water, or in a café during a rainstorm, and just observe the daily tasks of those around me, or have a moment to think about nothing at all in a foreign place. It proves that a large part of me demands quietness in order to feed the introvert in me.

On this trip so far, I haven’t had much solitude in the definition of the word, but thankfully, my travel companion knows me very well, and a lot of our walks and coffee stops have been a time for conversation to happen naturally, if at all. Walking with him has been both a comfort and our own separate experience, having space between us and thinking our own thoughts. Once, he asked me, as we were walking in the evening to meet Jader and family for dinner, “have you had any reflections so far as to what this trip is doing for you, if anything?”. I appreciated the openness of the question, to which the answer is something I am chewing on all the time, but never forcing. Of course, the touristy sights, and the activities we’ve done so far are great to add to our collection of “things we’ve done” in our life. But, what I value most about the opportunity to travel, with no strict agenda other than our flight itineraries dotting the months’ timeline, is the opportunity to have to more time to think, feel, and listen, without the distractions of familiar location and the people in it.

One morning, we got up and ran along the beach and worked out at the stations along the sidewalks in Ipanema. On our way back, we stopped at a restaurant/coffee shop on the Ipanema square; one where we would become regulars throughout the week.

Morning workout along Ipanema beach
Morning workout along Ipanema beach

I was sitting outside with Pat, at one of the small tables on the patio, drinking a cappuccino and enjoying the post-morning jog feeling, as well as the overload of cinnamon that was added complimentarily and heavily to my drink. It was in this moment, watching people cross the street, walk their dogs, and greet people they knew, that I had a few thoughts.


For one, I can usually tell when someone has traveled, or has been in situations in which they’ve had to endure misunderstandings and miscommunications; being the small fish in a big pond, per say. These people have a sense of softness about them, and an increase of empathy and a decrease in entitlement. It makes sense: when you’re in a situation where you’re unable to express what you want or need in your own language, or when you’re not sure of where you are or who to trust, you have entered a place of humility. In a way, you’re more human, in the romantic definition, when you’re out of your comfort zone. No one knows your name, your profession, or what great accomplishments and promotions you’ve had, and therefore you are no longer entitled to anyone’s respect for any other reason than the fact that you are human. I believe that traveling to a foreign place, with different customs, culture, religion, and language, as well as surrounding yourself with people whose backgrounds are different than your own right where you live, has the ability to strip a person of their ego and status. Even more so, these interactions force the focus to be on a person’s character alone, which we all need reminders of from time to time.

When you don’t know how to say “I’m sorry” or justify fully your behavior in words, for example, you’re likely to avoid acting in a way that requires these explanations. You’re not going to be intentionally disrespectful, rude, or cruel, for example, if you care about and know that’s the only impression you’re going to leave with someone. In my experience, it’s a very beneficial thing; to practice being small, so that you can reflect on the person you are in this moment, and who you want to be. To see so many people living a life so different, and yet so similar, than your own, and completely independent of you, is a reminder of your insignificance, in a positive way. To be in a foreign place reminds you that actions can and do speak louder than words, and you have the ability to leave a permanent impression on someone. Eye contact, a smile, and a gentle hand on the shoulder rather than a push through a crowd, carries a lot of weight if you lack words.

To summarize, I have always been prone to be aware of the feelings, emotions, and energy of those around me, and believe this is one of the reasons I became a social worker and was further trained on skills of empathy and communication, which I try to continually improve.  Body language tells you so much, and is so vital to communication when common words are not an option. People may not tell you how they feel about you, for instance, but they always show it.  It’s for this reason I am usually impatient, and at times at a loss, when people at home, who speak my language and share the same cultural background as those around them, make little to no effort to engage or even acknowledge someone, and then act later as if that’s an acceptable way for people to treat each other. There’s a very big difference between being shy, and giving the impression of being actively uninterested. It’s truly a disservice to those around you, and an even bigger one to yourself, because if people in these moments had any foresight of the impression this lack of effort makes and how it reflects on their character, when they can easily make that small effort, I like to hope they would think twice, if they had any self-respect. It’s just confusing to me when I see people in certain settings, like at social events or intimate gatherings, for example, choosing not to speak to anyone when they have the privilege of a shared language. Nowadays, rather than addressing this, I’ve accepted that many people may not share my sentiment or even think about it at all, and do not value this effort. I have learned to simply avoid these characters, rather than force engagement, as I know I have much less in common with them than a non-English speaker who smiles or nods, at least, when you meet their eyes.

And so it goes..some people you just don’t jive with, so give more to those who you do.

To bring us back to my need to have alone time for thought and creativity, I’m now going to share some photos. On one particular morning, I set my alarm fo 6:00am in order to walk the beach and take my camera for a spin. Pat decided he was up for it as well. Both of us tend not to be early risers, but I, for one, appreciate the early morning when I do make myself get up. I had watched a video from a National Geographic photo-journalist, in which she explained that early morning photography sessions was something that had become mandatory in her skillset, because of the feeling and ambience of the start of a fresh day. People, she said, were more laid back, more willing to be photographed, and it was a shared feeling that everyone was waking up together, and therefore a bit more relaxed. I decided I would test it out, and Pat and I walked the near empty stone sidewalks of Ipanema down to Arpoador, to catch some surfers starting their day. I could not have been more pleased with the results of that morning and the feeling of being one of only a few in a normally busy place  that early in the day. Take a look:

My muse..
I just love the Portuguese tiles of these normally busy sidewalks
Assessing the choppy waters
Ipanema Beach as the sun tried to come up through the clouds.
So many surfers!
My view of the surfers from my perch on the rocks

IpanemaSunriseDoubleWave IpanemaSunriseFisherBoats IpanemaSurfers3

Thank you, once again, for taking the time to read. Be well! ❤ Kyla

14 thoughts on “Reflections and Impressions- Thoughts From A Quiet Observer

  1. Beautifully written, my friend. I’m happy that you have this great opportunity for reflection and “taking it all in.” Enjoy every moment of it. By the way- fantastic photos!! Thinking of you guys always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You got me with your writing style! Good thoughts are being shared! Great to know that you went to our surfing spot early in the morning!


    1. Oh thank you Andrea; that’s such a compliment. And yes, I just had to go there, and I’m glad I did. It was a really nice foggy morning; a great way to wake up!


  3. Really interesting insight on communication and the lack of effort of people who share the same language, culture, etc with you. I too get really frustrated at people’s unwillingness to at least even smile or acknowledge my existence when there is no excuse not to.

    Also great pics, you and Pat should take up surfing. I am sure Pat would pick it up in seconds.


    1. i know, its totally frustrating and inexcusable to me.. all you have to do is smile and say hi, like you said! and yeah, pats going to give it a go, and hes going to try capoeira, too! im sure he will pick it up…damn athletes and their natutal abilities! haha


  4. There’s nothing like having photographs that can be blown up to wall covering scale. I hope you’re safely storing all these amazing images somewhere.

    Observation is often amiss in our high paced competitive world. Too many feel small and keep their head down or consumed by mp3 playing headphones. Instead of feeling small, better to accept this smallness and take advantage of the mobility it provides. There’s no genuine judgment against any of us until we act out to make an impression.

    Your words on this and travel are a resounding call to roam.


  5. ❤ So thoughtfully written and so true.

    "…as I know I have much less in common with them than a non-English speaker who smiles or nods, at least, when you meet their eyes." This makes me think of so many experiences that I have had while traveling, its such a raw feeling to rely on your own human instincts by looking into someones eyes or their body language to see how it FEELS to be around them without language. I was also reminded of Pat and Jorge's friendship in Akumal 🙂



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