The Cuba Travel Experience – An Interview with Phil Cousineau

Now is the perfect time to visit Cuba! In April 2017 writer and TV host Phil Cousineau will be leading a very special journey to the heart of Cuba to explore the culture, history, and sacred sites of this spectacular island country. In this exclusive interview he shares his personal connection to Cuba and explores some of the many highlights of this tour.

Sacred Earth Journeys: If you only had 3 words to describe your upcoming Cuba journey, what would they be?

Phil Cousineau: If I only had 3 words to describe our upcoming Cuba journey, I would say “soulful, musical, kaleidoscopic.” Easier still, I might say “Buena Vista Social Club,” which is one extra word but the reader will get my meaning. The famous musical club and the documentary film of the same time captures the wistful beauty, the yearning music, and the effervescent love of life that we will be exploring on our journey.

Havana in Cuba
Beauty, music and a love of life await in Cuba

SEJ: What are you most looking forward to about this journey?

PC: On a personal note it will be a pilgrimage to Havana in honour of my father, who worked in the clubs during summer breaks when he was attending high school in Miami. Since we could never visit Cuba together I hope to bring my son along in honour of his grandfather. On a collective level I am looking forward to taking a time machine back to the 1950s, where Cuba has existed in a kind of time-warp for nearly sixty years, preserving its old world colonial charm. Now that many sanctions have been lifted the modern world is about to descend upon Cuba. So we have a rare opportunity to visit a culture in flux, before its tumultuous changes. And being a baseball fan I thrilled to be able to visit one of the game’s current cradles of astounding talent. That said, I will be asking our participants in the journey to bring along any baseball equipment that is lying around the house so that we can stop our coach along the back roads of Cuba and hand out a glove or a bat and ball to kids playing in the fields.

Baseball game in Cuba
Any baseball fans out there?

SEJ: What can you tell us about the Callejon de Hammel, and what participants can expect from visiting such a vibrant living arts project?

PC: For the last thirty-plus years my tours have combined explorations of both the ancient and modern cultures of wherever we are visiting. The Callejon de Hammel, sometimes called “Salvador’s Alley,” after the local Cuban artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, is just such an example of the living arts. Every Sunday this mural-festooned alleyway is throbbing with the sounds of traditional music and the sight of Afro-Cuban rumba dancers. There are also vibrant art galleries and marvellous traditional food. Cuban soul lives on in neighbourhoods like this and we will be blessed to join in!

Cuban artist Salvador Gonzales
Cuban artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalona (photo credit: Wikicommons/Friman)

SEJ: How would you describe present-day Cuban culture and how will participants get to really experience this culture?

PC: In many ways Cuban culture has never been more vital and electrifying. Because of visitors from around the world it is a true melange, with influences from Africa, South America, Europe and North America. Fusion is at the heart of the New Cuba – fusion in its music, art, dance, theatre, and food. Every day of our tour we will experience some Cuban history, but also have encounters with the living soul of Cuba through its poets, artists, dancers, and even a few ballplayers.

cathedral square in havana
Cathedral square in vibrant Havana

SEJ: On this journey you’ll be making a literary pilgrimage to Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s “Lookout Farm”. Do you have any favourite Hemingway works you’d recommend to others ahead of this journey?

PC: In 1939, Hemingway and his wife Martha Gellhorn rented Lookout Farm for $100, and then when he received his first royalty check for For Whom the Bell Tolls, they were able to buy it outright for $18,000. They lived their until his death in 1961 and Finca Vigia was opened as Museo Ernest Hemingway in 1994. For those who have a bit of the literary pilgrim in them, I recommend one of the books that he wrote while there: Islands in the Stream, A Movable Feast, The Old Man and the Sea. There is something haunting about stepping back in time and then standing in the room where a beloved piece of literature was actually written.

Ernest Hemingway with his sons and cats at Finca Vigia in 1946
Ernest Hemingway with his sons and cats at Finca Vigia in 1946

SEJ: Is there anything else you’d like to share about this journey to Cuba?

PC: For me, this opportunity to visit Cuba, after its decades-long isolation from the rest of the world, and just before the onslaught of modern tourism, is a kind of portal opening. We have a rare and beautiful opportunity to see a country and a culture (especially in the countryside) relatively untouched by the modern world. This will be a bountiful gift for those who love music, dance, literature, poetry, politics, food, sports, staggeringly beautiful landscapes, and more than anything, stout-hearted people. Bring your best cameras, journals, art supplies – and your own open heart. You have will be graced with memories for a lifetime.

vinales valley cuba
The stunning, untouched countryside of the Viñales Valley, Cuba

If our interview has inspired you to visit this fascinating country, head over to our website to read the full tour itinerary and find out how you can travel to the true Heart of Cuba with Phil Cousineau. This is the very best time to visit Cuba – don’t miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime!

~ Sacred Earth Journeys

The Union of Story and Place: Reflections on a Sacred Journey by Chris Franek

Our blog post this week is beautifully written by Chris Franek, a participant on our recent journey: “King Arthur’s Avalon and the Quest for the Holy Grail with Phil Cousineau: A Sacred Tour of England with Special Guest Geoffrey Ashe, MBE.”  

It’s hard to believe that the Arthur/Grail journey in England with Phil Cousineau in April was my fourth journey with Phil in four years. This particular journey occurred at a very interesting time not only in my life but at what increasingly feels like a pivotal time in modern history given the intense friction from all of the societal divisions that are erupting in lockstep with a never-ending news feed of announcements of one extreme weather event after another. The intensity of it all can feel tremendously unsettling to me and I’ll be honest that I have found myself wondering on a number of occasions how to find some sense of inner peace in being able to navigate my life in such tumultuous waters.

England group travel
The pilgrims on Sacred Earth Journeys’ 2016 Tour of England with Phil Cousineau

In revisiting the experience through my photos, one realization I’ve had is that these extreme global circumstances have served as a unique lens that revealed and magnified the antidotal quality of doing one of Phil’s pilgrimages. One of the terms for the grail that Phil refers to is the “inexhaustible vessel.” It is the source of vitality that cannot be exhausted. Phil’s great mentor and friend, the mythologist Joseph Campbell, associated the grail to that still hub (described as “kairos” by the ancient Greeks) at the centre of the movement of the chronos-bound world we live in. It’s something that speaks to me as it’s what I’m certainly looking for in this time of tremendous turmoil. It points to the idea that the fascination that the quest for the grail seems to hold on our collective psyche is perhaps a metaphor for our search for a calm centre within us.

Glastonbury Tor in England
Journeying towards Glastonbury Tor

So in a sense, going on a journey with Phil provides me with the opportunity to locate myself. Because my life in the familiar world often moves at a manic pace (in an urbanized environment saturated with hyper-stimulation), my grasp of where I am in time and space sometimes becomes tenuous at best. It’s hard to orient yourself when you are in the chaos of the surf and Phil’s journeys have an elevating quality that enables me to rise above the agitation of the scrum of the daily preoccupation with productivity and achievement. In a world where an ever increasing amount of our connections to one another are being digitized and depersonalized, Phil works with ancient analogue tools for meaningful connection that have held communities together for eons – storytelling and conversation.

Phil Cousineau England tour leader
Walks and conversation with tour leader Phil Cousineau

On its own, any one of these incredible places in England that our cadre of pilgrims visited are certainly memorable but through Phil’s telling of the associated stories, myths, and legends, ancient stones become animated with the vital wisdom and conversations of those who came before us. Phil’s inexhaustible commitment to the union of story and place created a metaphorical container that insulated us from the pell-mell of activity happening outside in the world of time. There was a palpable sense of everything slowing down and each day felt like the continuation of one long collective sigh.

Stonehenge in the rain

As someone who possesses a deep affinity for photography, visiting extraordinary places like Stonehenge, Westminster Abbey, Bath, Glastonbury Abbey, Salisbury Cathedral, and Tintagel certainly provides for a cornucopia of beguiling imagery to capture. Interestingly, what I’ve come to appreciate most in looking at the photos is not the stunning visual beauty of these places. For me, the photos are more of a bridge to a largely ineffable multidimensional experience that can only be fully appreciated in the doing of it. My more lasting memories will not be of a cathedral or an ethereal arrangement of stones but of being in a rare state of stasis, where for a brief time, the world stopped and community gathered – to listen to stories of our ancestors and dance with each other in conversation.

~ Chris Franek

All photos featured in this blog post were taken by Chris Franek.

To see more stunning photos from this journey to England with Phil Cousineau please visit our Flickr album. Phil will be leading 3 journeys for Sacred Earth Journeys in 2017: “The Heart of Cuba with Phil Cousineau“, “The Wild West of Ireland with Phil Cousineau: The Myths, Music, and Magical Literature of Connemara, Clare, and the Aran Islands”, and “The Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau: All New Mythopoetic Writer’s Workshop.” Journeys with Phil Cousineau are always extremely popular so visit our website today to secure your spot on a journey of a lifetime!

Discover the best Mayan temple sites in Mexico & Guatemala

Chichen Itza usually tops the list of the best temples or sacred sites to visit in Mexico and with good reason. But, there are other equally impressive temples in both Mexico and Guatemala that are definitely worth visiting. Some of them are off the usual tourist trails and take a little more effort to reach, but the views and spiritual experiences are well worth the journey!

Here is a round-up of some are our top Mayan temple sites in Mexico and Guatemala that you’re not going to want to miss.

Palenque, Mexico

“The House of the Serpent in the Infinite” is a Maya ceremonial centre possessing one of the highest spiritual frequencies. Its sacred architecture is exemplary and unique, a poem in stone. Surrounded by the rivers Lakam-Ha and Otulum, Palenque is the home of many of the classic Maya teachers, such as Kinich-Hanab-Pakal (“Great Teacher with the Shield of the Sun”). The carved lid of his sarcophagus is one of the ancient world’s most profound works of art, depicting as it does Pakal as the intermediary between worlds. The great teacher and Maya priestess, Lady Zac Kuuk (“White Quetzal”), also lived here; she represented the wisdom and the sacred knowledge that descends like the sacred Quetzal bird to illuminate our seventh Chakra – a component of the Maya initiatory path towards self-realization.

Temple of Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque, Mexico

Tikal, Guatemala

“The Place with the Sacred Voices” is a university that reflects the architecture of the cosmos, a ceremonial centre where the ancient Maya teachers captured the sounds from other realities. The shapes of the pyramids and temples reflect the thorough understanding of mathematics, geometry, and cosmic calendars. They are also designed to act as needles, capturing the telluric energy of the Earth and of the sky, acupuncturing the ground and the human body.

The highest pyramid in the Maya world can also be found here, a cosmic antenna that allows you to touch the stars and become attuned with the cosmos. Great teachers such as Kinich-Muwaj Chak-Tok-Ich-Aak and Ix’Kalom-Te give us an idea of the extraordinary era when Tikal united science, art, philosophy, and religion as one, reflecting the sacred name of the Creator Hunab-Ku, giver of movement and measurement in the universe.

Tikal in Guatemala
Tikal in Guatemala, uniting science, art, philosophy, and religion

Yaxchilan, Mexico

Yaxchilan means “City of the First Prophets”. Here, secret rituals were conducted allowing initiates to travel through time and space to return with specialized information. No wonder they were referred to as Architects of the Sky!

Teachers such as Itzamnaj-Balam II, Jaguar-Bird IV, Lady Kabal-Xook, and Lady Sak’biyaan (“Precious Crystal Skull”) were versed in the Mysteries by travelling to parallel universes and recording the information in the stelas and lintels at this very special, and often overlooked, site. Yaxchilan is reached by boat through a slow moving river straddling Mexico and Guatemala, bordered by pristine jungle. A worthwhile and quite stunning journey in itself!

Yaxchilan in Mexico
The sacred temple site of Yaxchilan – well worth the boat ride!

Misol Ha Falls, Mexico

Behind the waterfalls, just 20km from Palenque, lies a powerful cave with a pool of water, a seat of power that can transform your life. This power is reflected in Grandmother Ix’mukane, “Heart of the Earth”, who lives spiritually in this sacred site waiting for you to let go of your past wounds and begin a new life of love, light, balance, and prosperity, which is realized through the purification of the water, the earth, and the sun, accompanied by the spirit of the great Jaguar. While Misol Ha may not have physical temple ruins, we’re including it on our list of temple sites due to its powerful spiritual energy – the water, rather than stone or other material, acting as an organic conduit to transformation.

Misol Ha Falls in Mexico
Capturing the powerful energy at the Misol Ha Falls

Is your favourite Mayan site on our list? We’d love to hear which sites make your top list!

If you’d like to visit these powerful temple sites where you can reconnect with the tune of the cosmos, join us for our journey: “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal, January 28 – February 5, 2017”. A full itinerary and tour description can be found on our website.

~ Sacred Earth Journeys, with material from Freddy Silva and Miguel Angel Vergara


5 Journaling Tips for the Spiritual Traveller

Do you keep a journal when you travel? How is this journal different to other journals you may keep? Have you always wanted to create a really meaningful travel journal but are not sure where to start? In this blog we explore some tips to help you get started or take your travel journal to the next level!

As best-selling author, filmmaker, and tour leader Phil Cousineau reminds us in his companion book to the Art of Pilgrimage, The Art of Travel: Journal, “by honoring our travel experiences through writing stories, poems, songs or creating sketches or other artwork, we can transform virtually all our travels, whether around the world or around our backyard, and make them more meaningful.”

Grab a copy of Phil’s inspirational book (more links at end), read our tips, and enjoy your travel journaling!

travel journal in Ireland
One of our participants sharing her beautiful journal on a sacred journey to Ireland with writer Phil Cousineau

Choose your materials carefully

There are myriad journals and intuitive apps out there aimed specifically at the traveller, but when you’re embarking upon a more meaningful travel experience your choice of journal needs to reflect the aims of your own sacred journey. There are some practical considerations, of course – ensure the journal is big enough to capture your thoughts but not so big that it doesn’t fit in your day bag or becomes too heavy to carry after a full day of sightseeing. Beyond this, think about how you will be capturing your experiences – a journal with plain paper rather than lined, for instance, will allow you to sketch as well as write. A journal that has some form of pocket will give you a place to keep items of interest that you may to want to use in some form of collage on your return home. Think about how the journal feels to you – are you excited to write in it? Does it bring you pleasure when you open it? And what will you write or draw with? A good quality ink pen is always more pleasurable to write with than a cheap ballpoint. If you plan to sketch in your journal as well as write, do you have a good quality pencil or drawing pen?

journaling in cliffs of moher
One of our participants journaling on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland! Hard to think of a more inspirational place for journal writing

Consciously set aside time for journal writing

Enthusiastically buying a beautiful new journal is one thing, actually filling it with your own thoughts and stories is quite another. Travelling can be exhilarating and also quite tiring, so ensure you make a conscious decision to set aside a little quiet time every day for journaling. It doesn’t have to rigidly be at the same time every day although 15-30 minutes before breakfast could well be the right formula for you. As you set your intentions for your sacred journey, take a moment to visualize using your journal on a daily basis as part of a more meaningful travel experience.

Think about where you write or draw best

Where do ideas come to you? Do you need to be alone so you can think aloud or do you prefer the stimulation of a busy coffee shop for inspiration? You will need to be flexible when travelling and won’t always have the ideal writing space, but if you think carefully about what you need in the moment, your body and mind will guide you towards the place you need to be to best write or draw that day.

sacred site machu picchu
Our group on a sacred journey to Peru. After experiencing the wonder of Machu Picchu, take a few moments with your journal to note down the details of this sacred site.

Notice the small details

On sacred sites tours the organizational details are all taken care of leaving you more time to fully engage with the travel experience and focus on other kinds of details. Use all your senses – notice what you see around you, what you smell, hear, touch, or taste, and notice how you feel at certain moments. If you have a few minutes of quiet time at a café or restaurant take the opportunity to really look around you – let the experience seep into you. At sacred sites, be fully in the moment and follow the wisdom teachings or meditations, and afterwards take a few quiet minutes for yourself to digest and soak everything up. This is when you can take out your journal and see what comes. Note down the concrete details such as the day, where you are, what the weather is like, etc., and then let your body do the rest – write about what’s around you, what’s happening or happened, or about how you’re feeling in this moment. Draw what you see or what you’re seeing in your mind’s eye. Notice the people you meet – their physical appearance and also their energy – the more intangible elements of their character. How did they make you feel? How did they affect others or the natural world around them? What about the language they’re speaking – how does it sound to your ears? And the foods you’re eating – what colours are on your plate? What flavours do you experience when eating a particular dish – do others have the same reaction?

guatemala market
Noticing the details on a sacred journey to Mexico and Guatemala

Let go of perfectionism

You may have the most beautiful travel journal in the world but that doesn’t mean everything that goes in it has to be perfect. Embrace the inherent imperfections in all creative pursuits and just go for it! You can edit anything your write or draw later – what’s important right now is simply to put pen to paper and express what’s in your mind. The act of writing (or drawing), in itself, is a way for you to process the many incredible sites you have seen and the emotional experiences you have lived through on your spiritual travel adventure. Stay curious and open to what flows out of you as you start journaling. Try not to judge anything you write or draw – simply enjoy the process!

As Phil Cousineau encourages us in The Art of Travel: Journal:

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?
If not here, then where? How will you remember your travels?
As a blur or as a vision? As an unreal dream or as real as rain?

If you need any more encouragement remember what my first newspaper editor, Roger Turner, told me, ‘It ain’t real till it’s ink’.

Make it ink, make it real, make it now.

Write on.”

travel journal
Could this be the perfect travel journal? Spotted on the Connemara Writer’s Retreat with Phil Cousineau. Thanks to participant Chris Franek for capturing this marvel! Will you be joining Phil for a travel and writing adventure soon?

We would love to hear about (or see) your travel journals! Do you have any more tips or tricks to share? Leave us a comment here or on our Facebook page, and happy journaling!

If this blog has inspired your creative juices and you’re looking for more journaling inspiration visit our website – most of our tours include time for journaling and creativity. Phil Cousineau also leads sacred sites tours and writers’ retreats for us – sign up for our newsletter to be the first to hear about his upcoming tours! For reading inspiration, try The Art of Pilgrimage or Stoking the Creative Fires. Phil also wrote an introduction for Jim Currie’s The Mindful Traveler: A Guide to Journaling and Transformative Travel. A great read! If you’re looking for paper journals, the Moleskin range offers lots of good options, Muji has some simple, well-crafted pieces, and your local, independent bookstore is sure to have some great items. If you’re looking for an App to keep more concrete details in check, a good one to try out is Day One Journal.


~ Sacred Earth Journeys

The Mysteries of Palenque & Tikal

Have you ever wondered how telluric energy is captured or why some sacred sites are considered more important than others? In this blog, best-selling author and leading researcher of ancient knowledge, Freddy Silva discusses the sites of Palenque, Mexico and Tikal, Guatemala and why they still hold so much transformative power today.

This blog interview is the second in our mini-series exploring these two sacred sites. In our last blog feature Maya Master Teacher Miguel Angel Vergara shared wisdom about both Palenque and Tikal. You can visit these two sites with Miguel Angel and Freddy in January 2017 as they lead the journey, “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal”.

Palenque Temple of Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque, Mexico

Sacred Earth Journeys: Palenque is the home of many of the Classic Maya teachers. Can you give us some details and talk about the importance of one of these teachers: Pakal?

Freddy Silva: The 7th century ruler Pakal is my particular favourite because so much exists of his story here, specifically the lid of his sarcophagus which reveals much about the secrets of initiation once practiced in specific temples at Palenque. To have been considered a truly great ruler one had to have experienced the Otherworld whilst alive, and taught others such Mysteries of enlightenment through methods similar to shamanism. Palenque drew people here on a personal quest to become better humans in their lifetime, whether laypeople or royalty, and part of the site was used for discovering the “great inner human”. And you can tell by the aura that remains.

Pakal Maya Ruler
K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/A. Stromnitsky)

SEJ: What are some of the other reasons that Palenque is such an important Maya site?

FS: As one of the best preserved temple cities it offers a glimpse of how ancient cultures replicated the elements of nature and the heavens within the blueprint of the buildings, if not the entire site. It is a cosmological city where people come to seek their connection (or lack of) to the bigger picture, and in doing so discover their place in this life. It is a place that acts as a mirror of the stars and the self. And since it largely escaped the atrocities that taint many of the sites to the north, the original intent is still palpable. That’s a rare thing in these days of mass tourism. The fact that it also takes a considerable effort to reach means that it exists for those who are on a deeper quest to further their inner potential, to become “as a god, as a bright star”.

Palenque in Mexico jungle
Palenque surrounded by pristine jungle

SEJ: Can you explain Tikal’s role in capturing telluric energy, and how this process works?

FS: From my research into the world’s sacred sites, there exists a spiritual technology that is hard-wired into the structures, and the blueprint is pretty consistent around the globe. Before each structure was built, certain masters of the spiritual arts (known as augurs in Greece) would go to the site and locate hotspots of energy. Or they would draw such energy to the site; I hope to teach our group how to do this next January. The design of the buildings would then anchor and amplify that telluric force, and anyone who interacted with it would get a good zap up the spine and give their body’s electrical system a boost. This was done for healing, ritual, and out of body travelling. The pyramid structure is very useful for this because its terraces and angles help conduct this natural current towards the top, where exists a meeting place between the seen and unseen, and the umbilical cords linking the two are the serpents carved on the staircases.

Tikal in Guatemala
The sacred site of Tikal, Guatemala

SEJ: What do we know about Tikal’s purpose, and what activities took place here?

FS: Tikal is one of the earliest “navel” places, linked as it is by a perfect isosceles triangle with Palenque and Copan. These temple cities would have formed a triad of teaching centres. Collect all three and you earn a degree in complete Mysteries teachings, so to speak! A similar concept was at play in Egypt. Tikal’s role was primarily in using the telluric forces anchored here to elevate the individual to hear the inner voice, or an instruction from the gods, if you prefer. It’s not by accident that one of its earliest names is Place of the Hidden Voices. Thus, much of the site deals with connecting the individual to the subtlety of nature, the intangible, the Force: hence why it was subconsciously used in the early Star Wars saga. Funny how this power still exists, in its original state, that it can permeate modern culture.

Freddy Silva tour leader Mexico
Best-selling author Freddy Silva sharing ancient Mysteries with our group in Mexico

SEJ: What are you personally most looking forward to about visiting Tikal?

FS: It’s a bit of a homecoming for me. So much of what I do is teach people about the ancient Mysteries, and that requires a lot of mental activity. Tikal is a timely reminder to shut up and hear the cosmos, to see the unseen and be reminded of that greatness that lives inside us and that we often neglect due to the demands of modern society. This is your chance to forget and plug in. Enjoy the ride!


To experience the power of Tikal and Palenque for yourself register now for our 2017 journey: “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara: A Sacred Journey from Palenque to Tikal”. Read full itinerary details and more information about these 2 sacred sites on our website.

~Sacred Earth Journeys