I’ve never bought four one-way tickets before in my life. But, that’s what it took to go on a special journey, one where I could walk in the same place as two beautifully heroic women I will never have the chance to meet.
Mr. H had different reasons for wanting to experience Mexico City and Cuba in the flesh. Like him, I’m a huge fan of food, culture, architecture, and art. The truth is—as most of you know—I’m a big nerd. A history travel nerd.
You know you’re a history travel nerd if you go somewhere in the world because of your obsession with a person, place, or event that occurred in the past. Everything else, while important and wonderful, is secondary to your inner nerd calling the shots.
That’s what makes you come up with a travel budget, no matter how difficult. That’s what makes you take off from work, no matter how difficult. You don’t care, because you want the chance to walk in the same place where that history happened—just so you can be a part of it.
I focus on history travel destinations most of the time. Traveling to a place without a lot of history isn’t appealing to me, so I tend to skip it.
That’s one of the main reasons I prefer to travel outside the U.S. That isn’t to say there isn’t any American history, but there are two notable hiccups for history lovers.
- It’s a young country. No ancient ruins here.
- The history we do have isn’t preserved. Courtesy of a new high-rise.
Once I decided I was going to meet my long-time blogger friend Julie in Holbox Island (aka off-the-beaten path paradise), I thought: We’re already traveling to Mexico, we might as well see two other places at the top of our travel list.
There is plenty of rich history to dazzle anyone like me in Mexico City and Cuba. But the reason I’ve been so fascinated with both places is because of two women I have looked up to for many years.
Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican artist as she preferred to be known (Diego Rivera’s third wife as she preferred not to be known). Martha Gellhorn, the first female war correspondent as she preferred to be known (Ernest Hemingway’s third wife as she preferred not to be known).
Along with being a history nerd, I also love stories about strong women who left their mark, showing they were just as good as the boys…that sort of thing.
Every book I’ve written so far has a ball-busting, intelligent woman playing the main character. I never tire of it, and regardless of the genre-bending work I write, the common thread will always be a strong female character.
Though Martha Gellhorn and Frida Kahlo are so different, I see commonalities far beyond being the third wives of famous, brilliant men.
They were both famous and brilliant in their own right. They had this unstoppable drive for experiencing more than what was right in front of them, and that drive took them to places around the world and inside their imaginations that inspired them on their individual paths.
They made an impact on people all over the world—and still do to this day. And though they were only born a year apart, I’m pretty sure Martha and Frida never met in real life.
Naturally, I went to Frida’s house, La Casa Azúl, and Gellhorn’s house (aka Hemingway’s house, Finca Vigía), which are crazy popular tourist destinations.
However, I visited what can easily be called tourist traps with intentions that ran deeper.
There is something so incredibly fascinating about how places shape certain people, whether famous historical figures or not.
To enjoy an espresso at the same cafe they went to, or drive on a street they traveled regularly—it brings you closer to them somehow. And to see their homes is such an intimate glimpse into their lives.
So, it was nothing short of magical to walk in the footsteps of these women and feel a bit of their spirit breathing inside the walls, furniture, and clothing.
You see their sanctuary where they worked and slept, where they swam and ate.
Even though Martha Gellhorn and Frida Kahlo are gone, they live on. I’m so happy I had the chance to see their homes and walk beside their courageous spirits.
And to rediscover as I usually do during my travels that no matter how different we may think we are from each other, we are often the same.
“I didn’t write. I just wandered about.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I put on the canvas whatever comes into my mind.” – Frida Kahlo
“What the trees can do handsomely—greening and flowering, fading and then the falling of leaves—human beings cannot do with dignity, let alone without pain.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I paint flowers so they will not die.” – Frida Kahlo
“I tell you loneliness is the thing to master. Courage and fear, love, death are only parts of it and can easily be ruled afterwards.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” – Frida Kahlo
“Nothing is better for self-esteem than survival.” – Martha Gellhorn
“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.” – Frida Kahlo
“It would be a bitter cosmic joke if we destroy ourselves due to atrophy of the imagination.” – Martha Gellhorn
“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” – Frida Kahlo