A Tribe Called Quest

Dispelling the myths that black folks don't travel one vacation at a time

All right, I’ll admit it: The No. 1 reason I agreed to brave the sweltering heat, itchy brush and blankets of mosquitos in the jungles of Panama in January was to meet a man.

*Kwame was just my type: 6-feet 4-inches, chocolate-skinned, athletic, witty, funny and a fellow world traveler. Though he lived in Paris and I in Brooklyn, we’d “met” last fall on Nomadness Travel Tribe, a high-energy, invitation-only, virtual hotspot on Facebook for Black and Brown globetrotters. On this page, members can scan one of the group’s 20-plus meticulously maintained “country docs” (guides to various countries where members have traveled) and find out which market a sista can visit in Lagos to get a dress made or which ’hood a brotha can drop by in Seoul to get a line up.

When Evita Turquoise Robinson founded the Nomadness Travel Tribe Facebook group—it’s also a Web series—last September, she casually dubbed us an “international travel mafia”: people of color who prefer wandering the ruins of Machu Picchu in South America or backpacking through the Sahara Desert to the typical beach vacay. As an Army brat who lived in Germany as a child and has since visited more than 30 countries, I was eager to meet people who looked like me and shared my wanderlust.

Our first opportunity to meet face-to-face came when Nomadness announced its first international group excursion. We were to travel to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago in the Caribbean province of Panama that was also home to a member of the tribe. The first 18 people to book their tickets would spend a week at a ranch resort—no television, phones, reliable Internet or easily accessible transportation.

You know Kwame didn’t make the trip, right? After yapping for weeks about pioneering the maiden voyage, he pulled out at the last minute. Something about being too busy at work. (Hmpf!) I was disappointed, but travelers are, by nature, an independent and resilient bunch, so I tapped my girl Shameeka to join me instead.

It took three flights and a cab ride to get to the Bluff Beach Retreat, a 16-room, off-the-grid, 100-percent solar-run ranch consisting of a main beach house, two casitas (cottages), a private beach and a dirt road with no name. Our cab pulled into the driveway just as three of our housemates rode up on bicycles, mud-caked from pedaling along the beach in the rain. Shameeka and I were so happy, we hugged them despite their mudiness, and all together we dragged our luggage down the cobblestoned path toward the house.

Our group ranged in age from 20-to-40-somethings, and we hailed from places such as Lorton, Va., and Houston. We held jobs as television executives, soldiers, bar owners and editors and marveled at how we reflected each other’s adventurous spirits. For example, Melanie, a police officer from the Bronx, thought nothing of walking across a tightrope in the forest, 1,000 feet above ground. And then there was Damon, a traveling salesman whose passion for the ocean found him jumping into the highest waves he could every morning.

But truth be told, our best moments had little to do with the activities we chose or even the country’s unspoiled beauty. Magic happened during the simple times, such as when all of us congregated in the ranch’s open-air kitchen to make a dinner of homemade pasta and meatballs. That night, after the men washed and dried the dishes and the women swept the floor, we twirled each other around the house’s massive front porch, salsa dancing to Celia Cruz songs.

Magic happened in the wee hours when those of us who weren’t sleeping gathered to make cocktails and lounge in the living room, talking, playing spades and debating about who the better rapper was—Big or Pac—as one of their songs pulsated from a laptop. Magic happened while riding into town in three neon-yellow Jeeps full of Black folks and hitting the club or dining on conch by the bay.

It is often said that African-Americans don’t travel; however, Nomadness Travel Tribe is living proof that we do. It felt so good to be affirmed. In fact, I had such a good time, I booked two more of their five annual trips: This month, we’ll be running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and in August, we’ll  journey to Canada, “jumping up” in spandex and feathers to the beat of a steel drum in the massive Toronto Caribana Parade.

Perhaps we’ll see you there.

*Name has been changed.

Read more in the July 2012 issue of EBONY Magazine on page 62.