One of the greatest things I've learned from travelling the world so far, is the importance of taking the time to engage meaningfully with my surroundings and the people I meet.
"Sorry, we don't have wifi, but maybe you could talk to each other instead and enjoy one of our amazing crepes!" ... read a sign outside one of the restaurants in Akumal, Mexico. The sign was making a point about how we all communicate nowadays - or how we don't (or perhaps the restaurant just couldn't afford the wifi) but my thoughts returned to Cuba.
Coming from Cuba it felt like novelty being able to access the internet in a public place again. Wifi was available everywhere in Mexico, even on the buses. What felt strange, however, was seeing people sat at a bar together in complete silence, faces down staring into glowing screens, tapping away at a world of hashtags, social networks and emoticons. What was stranger still was seeing young kids performing exactly the same ritual; heads down, faces glowing - oblivious to the world around them.
Cuba, with all its troubles and political and economic complexities taught me how to focus more on people, without the distraction of phones, technology or advertising. I recalled my late night conversations with tour guides and the farmers of Vinales, smoking cigars, knocking back Havana Club. And other times that I had been without a phone, sitting around the camp fires in Poland with cousins, telling stories, sharing vodka and cooking sausages on sticks. These really were the best times!
Whilst travelling I also noticed that groups of people, when not face down in their phones, were a bit shouty, almost competing for air time. They talked and talked and talked but never actually listened. In these group settings I'd pitch in myself to offer some sort of conversation. I'd ask questions and listen attentively until I found myself stifling a yawn because the person I'd been trying to engage with would be talking at me. Then another person would chime in and compete for space. Time to leave.
Whilst travelling, you do come across a lot of this. It's really odd. It's almost as if people interact with one another as they would do on their Facebook pages. Like posting or advertising.
Is the art of conversation dead? Are people just competing for space in this world of noise?
At first I thought it must be me and began to question my own social capabilities, until I read a post from a friend of mine who was pondering over the same issue:
"I noticed a long time ago that people in general, don't have conversations anymore. Not really. Oh, they talk to each other, sometimes, but it's not a conversation, they don't really listen. Usually they're just waiting for a pause, which signifies their turn to speak. But even that seems to be mutating now, and people are just talking over each other, about themselves. The art of conversation is dead. Maybe we should all get together sometime and discuss it?"
When I came to Mexico from Cuba I was relieved to have the internet again but all it did - within the first few hours of landing, was fill me with anxiety.
My phone's still very much out for when I need it (it's a handy little bugger) but being hooked up to wifi and social media is not a priority any more.
Engaging with my surroundings and with people, listening, being a part of something - this was the beauty of travelling.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world .