Tag Archives: Travel


27 Nov

Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

It had been a long time since I had gone on an adventure. When I decided to go back to school, I also made a decision to be frugal and work extra in order to save for nursing school. As summer approached, I noticed that even though I had cut my hours at work, my increased pet sitting volume meant I had saved a lot of money. So I googled “Best Places for Solo Travel,” and I picked the country with the cheapest/shortest flight from NYC: Guatemala.

I was so excited when I booked my trip, but I immediately became stressed once I began doing my research and noticed the state department had listed warnings for travelers to Guatemala. I read a story about a girl robbed at gunpoint, and most everyone I told about my trip told me I was insane and going to get kidnapped.

When my trip was over and I landed back in New York and made it back to my apartment, exhausted from a full day of flying, I collapsed in my bed, the experience of Guatemala still percolating through my synapses, I began to giggle. “I’m alive,” I said to myself, smiling.


To be honest, I was very careful in Guatemala. I think any person (especially a woman) solo-traveling the world at large has to take extra precautions. I never stayed out later than 10pm (I was usually exhausted by that time anyways), I avoided the more crime-ridden areas of the country and stuck to the extremely safe highlands, and I only carried the money I expected to spend per day with me. I was quick about taking pictures with my cell phone. I kept a copy of my passport with my luggage and one on my person, and I simply stayed aware. In the week I was there, I never felt unsafe.

What shocked me the most was how many other solo travelers (many female) I met in Guatemala as well. So many people in the US looked at me like I was insane, and I was happy to meet other people just as “crazed” as me. Everyone I met had nothing but good things to say about their experiences.



View from my room in Casa del Mundo in Lake Atitlan.

Lake Atitlan

My first two days in Guatemala I went on a hiking/kayaking trip with a company called Old Town Outfitters. I can’t recommend it enough. The tour was just me and one other girl who was solo-traveling from Colorado, Bridget. Our tour guide, Arnold was incredible. A local from Guatemala who made sure we had an incredible two days. He answered all our questions about Guatemala and went the extra mile for us at all times. Showing us places to jump off cliffs into water, helping us bargain in the market, explaining local politics. He was invaluable.

We had a guide drive us up into the mountains, then Bridget, Arnold, and I biked for a couple of hours down to Panajachel, a small lakeside town where he had a packed lunch and some Guatemalan beers. We then took a small water taxi to our incredible hotel, Casa del Mundo. Easily the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever stayed at. That night we sat in a fire-heated hot tub and watched active volcanos across the lake erupt, their lava lighting the clouds in the distance. The next day, after breakfast, we kayaked across the lake and hiked back to the hotel.

It was my favorite part of my whole trip, and I wish I had booked the whole week with Old Town Outfitters as Bridget had. The two of us grabbed dinner in Antigua the night before she left, and her week with them was incredible. She booked her trip through a website called The Clymb. Based on her review of the trip, I’m considering my next international trip with them.



My time in Guatemala was based out of Antigua. Per suggestions I had read from other travelers, as soon as I landed in Guatemala City, I hired a car to take me to Antigua. It is the former capital of the country. A small, colorful village surrounded by active volcanos and full of beautiful abandoned churches, bustling markets and a decent population of ex-pats.

I stayed at an AirBNB, in a room I rented from an adorable Spanish couple, Ana Maria and Mario in a suburb of Antigua. Every morning, Ana Maria made me breakfast, and we chatted. I got big hugs when I came home and plenty of travel advice. They don’t speak any English, so we muddled through with my broken Spanish. I loved them both, and it was much better than staying in a hostel or a hotel.

I spent my days wandering the markets which are sprawling and full of everything imaginable, brought to town my Mayans that live in the neighboring villages. I took a chocolate making class at the Choco Museum, and I wandered the ruins of churches destroyed by earthquakes.

During the evenings, I hung out at two different ex-pat bars Snug and Cafe No Se. I was in Guatemala during the rainy season (I technically never saw a drop of rain though), so there were never a lot of tourists around. It was usually a handful of travelers in the bars that I would easily join in conversation. It felt nice to speak English and to get advice and swap stories with other travelers. One of the bartenders even invited me to her birthday party the following week and tried to convince me to just move to Guatemala and bartend with her. It was a tempting offer. Extremely tempting.

De La Gente coffee tour


On one of my days, I took a tuk-tuk (a small golf-cartish taxi thing) up into the mountains of San Miguel Escobar to take a tour of one of the coffee plantations. A guy I met at Cafe No Se recommended it to me, and I wanted to get some Guatemalan coffee.

De La Gente is a collective of coffee farmers that also gives tours to increase their revenue. I had a British tour guide who translated as a farmer (Gregorio) gave me and a traveling couple a tour of the fields, explaining the process of cultivating coffee from beginning to end. We then went back to his house in the village where his daughter showed us the rest of the coffee process. We roasted and ground our own beans and all shared a cup. Again my broken Spanish came into play as I chatted with the Gregorio family.

As a coffee lover and former barista, it was eye-opening to see the process. I had lunch with the family and bought an extra couple of bags from them. I actually ordered some more from them this morning. Their coffee is pretty exceptional. With shipping to the US, it is only $16 a bag. I’ve been making coffee at home and saving a lot of money, instead of buying a $2 cup of drip every day. And I know I’m helping support Gregorio!

Earth Lodge


Volcán Fuego erupting on my last morning in Antigua

My last night in Guatemala, I spent at a hippie dippie place in the mountains called Earth Lodge. I had spent the week hiking a lot, biking a lot, kayaking a little, and just in general being really active. I wanted the end of my trip to be relaxing.

For a modest price, I had my own private cabana with my own swinging hammock. I could hear birds and celebrations from nearby villages ringing through the mountains. I mostly read in my hammock and napped. Read. Nap. Read. Nap. Eat. Drink. Read. Nap. Honestly, that’s what I wish my entire life could be.

They had a nice central area with a bar with a decent happy hour. Earth Lodge is actually an avocado farm, and they grow most of their food there. Dinner every night is communal, and it was delicious. Fresh, healthy, vegetarian fare (I think there was a meat option though) and another chance to get to know some fellow travelers. I had to leave early the next day to get back to Guatemala City in time for my flight. Looking back, I wish I had planned two nights there. That way I could have done the morning yoga, the birdwatching class or a hike.


Just a girl who traveled to a “dangerous” country during the “rainy” season.

I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to travel to Central America. I loved Guatemala, and I can’t wait to visit other countries in the region. Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama. Finally being able to use my Spanish was a blast, and I found the people in Guatemala to be more open and friendly than any other place I’ve traveled. If you’re questioning about whether or not you want to go to Guatemala, and you stumbled upon my humble blog with this bare bones post, may I suggest that you book the trip and go. Go! Nowhere in the world is completely safe. It’s really about how aware and careful you are. But I didn’t find Guatemala dangerous at all. Do your research. Take a deep breath and take the risk.


Comerica Park, Detroit

16 Aug

In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.


Although I’m wildly excited about returning to school in a mere three weeks, it has forced me to make some lifestyle adjustments. I’ve had to cut my spending down by a lot in order to compensate for cutting my work hours and pay for tuition, textbooks, etc. So instead of traveling to far away and exotic places, I’ve been trying to take mini-vacations, like the one I took in June with my sister to Detroit.

I settled on Detroit by looking at the Seattle Mariner’s schedule and seeing where they were playing within flying distance of New York. After seeing Anthony Bourdain’s piece on Detroit in his “Parts Unknown” series, I wanted to experience the city for myself. A lot of people gave me baffled looks when I told them that was where I was spending my vacation, but I’m lucky enough to have a sister who I knew would be game to explore the area.

The biggest draw, not surprisingly, is how cheap everything was. The city has shrunk a considerable amount, and it’s true that there are huge abandoned buildings everywhere you go, but this has also driven a lot of rents and prices down which has started to attract young artists and entrepreneurs. We were never at a loss to find delicious food, trendy bars and random art installations.


The Hiedelberg Project

But let’s not forget the real reason I flew to Michigan. Baseball. A couple of days before I flew to Detroit, I checked on Stubhub for tickets and was blown away to find seats directly behind home plate for only $40. For reference for those not familiar with major league baseball ticket prices. Similar tickets at Yankee stadium are roughly $700. But that’s just the nature of supply and demand. They were easily the best seats I’ve ever had.


Around the third inning, a group of middle-aged guys stumbled to the seats next to me. A bunch of Midwesterners who get together to watch their beloved Tigers. In true Midwest style, they were super kind to me, asked all about the Mariners and told me a bunch of anecdotes about a variety of hometown baseball players and about the field itself. Everyone I met in the stadium was kind and welcoming, despite the fact that I was wearing the opposing team’s jersey.

Comerica Park has been open since 2000 and is still beautiful and well kept. The Tigers have an interesting advantage in having a real, concrete mascot. When I started thinking about it, most other teams have abstract names that don’t inspire a solid image. Mariners, Red Sox, Athletics, Yankees, Royals. A tiger is a readily identifiable thing, and so the stadium is dripping with them.


It’s also bursting with Detroit pride. The Mariners lost the game I attended, but I wasn’t too broken up about it. The fans were so nice to me, and I admire any baseball fan that loves and supports their team that much. Detroit is definitely a struggling city, but the people that live there consider it their home, not a ghost town. And the pride they take in their team and their city made it a great place to visit.

Ghost Hunting in Savannah, Georgia

4 Feb

Bonaventure Cemetery

My first full day in Savannah, I got myself coffee at a cute shop South of Forsyth Park. I walked through the squares that are about every two or three blocks. I browsed in book stores, smiled and waved at tourists and locals alike. Off of one of the squares was a beautiful, old home, painted a burnt orange and flanked by palmettos. I saw a couple of tour buses stop by and a woman dressed in 19th century garb board the bus and give a Southern drawl speech. I walked up to the house and read a placard outside that marked it as the “Sorrel-Weed House.” A woman came outside and offered to give me and an older couple who were also reading the plaque a tour of the house for $10 a person. The whole point of my Southern adventure was to do whatever I wanted and to let the vacation unfold as it may.

So I went on a rather boring hour-long tour. The guide pointed out chandeliers and antique furniture, explained why so many of the windows were floor to ceiling, gave details about the renovations. The couple on the tour were fascinated with the different types of wood, the craftsmanship of the decorating. I was politely smiling and nodding. She led us into the drafty, brick-lined basement where servants prepared the food, stored meat, and did laundry. She casually mentioned that bodies were buried under the brick, bodies most likely from the Revolutionary War. She led us into a back room in the basement, and as soon as I walked in, I felt something. Something dark, something unhappy.

“Not this room,” I heard myself say. “This room was used for something else.”

She looked at me, a little annoyed.

“Well, yes. This room was used by Mr. Sorrel’s son in the the late 1800’s. He was a doctor, and he experimented with medical procedures in this room.” She leaned against the wall and popped a couple of mints into her mouth. “I’m not as sensitive as other people. But, yes, I’ve had people refuse to come into this room. We have 24-hour video surveillance on the house, and I’ve seen enough from those cameras to know that we are indeed not alone in this house. Other guides talk about it, but it’s not what my tour is about.”

That’s the tour I want to be on, I thought to myself. Medical experimentation and ghosts are more interesting that crown molding any day in my book. So I signed myself up for a ghost tour that night and another one the following night.

My first tour began in Wright Square at 11pm. The four other people on the tour were skeptical and looked like they got lost on their way to a Miami nightclub. It was hosted by a middle-aged Georgia native who had a walking stick with a silver skull-head on top of it. He was a seasoned tour-guide who had plenty of haunting experiences to share about tours he has done and tours his friends have done. It was clear to me that people in the town of Savannah look at ghosts and the dead differently. Many of the stories were about people living in haunted houses and occasionally seeing apparitions, even interacting with them, and then just going on about their lives.

Savannah is the most haunted town in America, and I loved that this first tour guide referred to the ghosts as Savannah’s “permanent residents.” It seems that the ghosts are more friendly than anything. Little children would play in the cemetery with a ghost they called “Joanie.” One harpist had a doctor ghost live in his house and when he would throw parties, he’d set an extra place at the table for the ghost. Guests claim that sometimes the chair would move in and out by itself. The host and the guests would welcome the doctor and tell him they were pleased to have him join them.

I was skeptical like my too-cool-for-school tourmates, but the writer/reader in me loves hearing stories, indulging in what can’t be proven to be true, but what can’t be proven to be untrue either. Our second to last stop was outside of 432 Abercorn. The most haunted town in Savannah. Despite being worth $1.1 million and located in the heart of the historic district, it’s abandoned, and no one has lived in it for longer that 18 weeks. According to the guides, the current owner inherited the house, and she lived in it with her family for that 18 weeks in the 1970’s. Despite enormous offers to buy the property, she refuses to sell, because she doesn’t want anyone else to go through what she suffered living in that house. Black foggy masses smothering her and her sister. They’d wake up with scratches down their arms and backs, hear disembodied voices. The tour guide the first night wouldn’t even take us up to the house, because he claimed the last time he did, something shoved him three feet. I tried to take a picture of it with my phone, but every picture came out like this.

IMG_3190At first, I thought I was just getting my finger in the way, but I took a couple more, and they came out the same. The flash on my phone kept going haywire, and it was like something was moving across the front of my phone. From left to right, something would move in front of the flash and block the house. My camera has never done that before, and when I tried to use it the next morning, it was back to normal. It completely and utterly freaked me out. Ghost stories have been made up about the place, but they have all been proven to be untrue. 432 Abercorn was built on Calhoun Square, though, which used to be a site for mass burials of slaves, bodies discarded and thrown into a pile and paved over when the town expanded. If there was ever a reason for a spirit to be restless and pissed off, that seems like a good cause.

The next day, I wandered around Savannah and drove past 432 Abercorn a couple of times, wanting to get a good look at it in the daytime. Abandoned and creepy, yes. Haunted? In the daylight it seemed silly and impossible. I had spent hours the night before searching on the Internet for anything about the history of the house. All I could find were articles written by ghost tour companies. Unreliable sources to say the least. But I was most likely visiting that house again that night with a different tour company. I hopped in my car and drove out to Bonaventure Cemetery to spend a warm and sunny afternoon walking among the graves. It felt like a weird thing to do on a vacation. But it was beautiful and peaceful and all of Savannah feels like a graveyard anyways. Savannah is often called a city built on its dead. In the 18th and 19th century, a number of graveyards were constructed for the thousands of dead due to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and three outbreaks of yellow fever. As the city grew, they moved the grave stones but not the bodies.

My second ghost tour was with Blue Orb Tours. I met the group at Chippewa Square at 10pm. Our tour guide was younger and less hokey. Again there were four other people on the tour (and a Shih Tzu named Cranberry.) The tour I had signed up for was called the “Uncensored Zombie Tour,” so I assumed it would be more about the history of voodoo in the area, but it was actually another ghost tour, covering some of the same areas that I had seen the night before. I liked this tour, because the tour guide Adam weaved creepy stories and carried along an iPad with articles/photos/videos to corroborate haunting stories. We once again returned to the 432 Abercorn house, and Adam proceeded to tell us more creepy stories of people getting ill on the tour, dogs growling at the house, thermal photos of cold figures floating behind him. His theory, or perhaps his tour company’s theory, is that the house has a “boohag” or a manifested force of anger due to the mass grave that lies below.

Sitting there for a second night in front of that house, despite the tinkering of my flash on my phone, I still wasn’t sure. Something felt off about that place, of course. A dilapidated, abandoned house, visited at night, surrounded by that melancholy Spanish moss blowing softly in the breeze. How could it not feel creepy? But was it really haunted? I had heard tour-guide Adam mention that he was a writer. Maybe he was just a gifted story teller, versed in the ways to rile up an audience. Maybe all the “evidence” was manufactured by people desperate to believe or desperate to sell a belief.

But that second tour was so much more fun than the first one, and I think it was because I was with a group of tourists who weren’t hip skeptics. They wanted to believe; they wanted to be scared. And that’s the crux of the thing, my time in Savannah was special, because I did feel like I was in the presence of something extraordinary, something scary and inexplicable. Me and those tourists shared our own personal ghost stories and squirmed at the right parts of Adam’s stories. Even Cranberry the dog let out a whimper or two on certain haunted corners.

I returned to New York still researching 432 Abercorn. Listening to EVP recordings on youtube, looking up ghost hunting tours in New York, or within traveling distance. I went out for my friend Andrea’s birthday and met one of her co-workers Carrie who happens to ghost hunt in her spare time. She had also been to 432 Abercorn, and her camera also broke! We chatted about ghost hunting equipment, about haunted places to visit. It’s a whole community, a whole set of experiences and methods. And I’ve chosen to believe in it, because it’s so much more fun that way.

Book Roundup #3

13 Jul

I was amazed today to realize how peripatetic my 2015 has been so far. New Mexico, London, Spain, Tangier, California, Maine, and later this week Canada. I’ve had so many amazing opportunities that I haven’t been able to turn down. One of the side-effects of my jet-set life is a lot of reading to fill those plane and/or train rides. I like being stuck on these journeys with a stack of books or gigabytes of books as the case may be. It’s one of my favorite things about traveling, having an excuse to sit and read or write and let my nerd-self simmer in the English language. These are some of my favorites of late.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Buy here.

I bought an Aziz Ansari comedy special years ago and somehow ended up on his mailing list. In preparation for his debut book, I got a mass email that announced a lottery for his book release party open to those that pre-order the book. It doesn’t take much to convince me to buy a book, so I pre-ordered a copy in hopes that I’d get to hobnob with Aziz in New York. I didn’t win, but I was surprised to find the book on my kindle one morning. I was even more surprised to find out that I loved the book. I’m not a huge fan of comedy books. I just don’t find them funny without seeing the delivery. But, although, Aziz Ansari’s brand of humor is present throughout, the book is more of a sociological study about dating in the modern world. He conducted experiments with a sociologist and combed through OKcupid’s data to find out how people are dating and what they are doing right and/or wrong. He even discusses modern dating in other cultures like Japan, France, and Argentina. I read the book in about a day as it was fascinating and easy to get through.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Spoilers in that video, although I like the analysis.

I watched the movie before I read the book. A sin, I know. But I had accidentally found out the twist in this book when reading an essay about unlikeable female characters. I was so disappointed to have it spoiled for me that I didn’t want to read it. But after seeing the movie and reading Flynn’s other book “Dark Places,” I had to. It was amazing. I couldn’t put it down. I loved every ounce of the character of Amy and the dark tones of the book. Gillian Flynn has quickly joined my fantasy Boss Ass Bitch Booze Brunch club along with Cheryl Strayed, Amy Poehler, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi. I daydream about hanging out with these intelligent women and discussing writing, creativity and just being awesome. I guess they would discuss, and I would refill their cocktails/bring out more hash browns, but I’d be honored to be there and to possibly soak up some of their glory.

Anyways, “Gone Girl” takes a commonplace narrative of a murder and twists it around to something new. I know I’m late on the bandwagon, but I just can’t stop thinking about the book. It raises so many questions about love, marriage, feminism and identity.

“Travels with Charley: In Search of America” by John Steinbeck

I’ve been meaning to read this book for years, and it went above and beyond my expectations. John Steinbeck has always been one of my favorite authors. This is a departure from his usual fiction writing and is a memoir of a road trip he took with his standard poodle Charley through the country to try and get back in touch with what real America is like. I loved this book for all the reasons to love any Steinbeck book. Funny, beautiful, and revelatory. My mother bought me my copy when we were in Monterey as a souvenir of our California trip, and I’ve marked this copy up with all my favorite quotes and parts I want to go back to and re-read.

“I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found, nor much identification from shapes which symbolize continents and states.”

29 Before 29: Go Whale Watching

11 Jul

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List HereAll Bucket List Adventures Here.

The SeaWolf II

The SeaWolf II

After the festivities of my friend’s wedding in Monterey, I was lucky enough to stay in California an extra couple of days to have a mini-vacation. My mother was able to drive down from Reno to join me for  West coast Mexican food, the world famous aquarium, and the dramatic events that occurred after I left my wallet on the roof of my car at a gas station and drove away. But let’s not dwell on my poor wallet, which I found in the middle of the road an hour later covered in tread marks with my IDs and cards bent inside. No, let’s focus on our whale watching adventure!

We booked a three-hour tour (going to refrain from making the reference) with a whale watching company on the Monterey Fisherman’s wharf. It was an early morning trip, and we did our best to bundle up although we had brought limited warm weather gear since we were visiting California in June.  As we left the harbor, the captain pointed out the birds, sea lions, and otters that populate a jetty. Little did I know, it was to be my favorite part of the trip.

Web-footed friends.

Web-footed friends.

The first hour was nice enough. We grabbed seats on the side of the boat and stared out at the Pacific Ocean as we headed to areas where the whales are. The smell of the sea and the crisp air somehow lulled me into a brief nap. When I awoke, I had the beginnings of seasickness, an insidious nausea creeping its way through me. At this point, though, we had reached an area where a number of dolphins were swimming by. My mother who loves the sea wanted to talk about the majestic animals, about the spray of sea water. I replied as still as a statue that if I moved or spoke, I might vomit.

From the corners of my eye, I saw my fellow tourists fall one by one, leaning over the side of the boat and releasing their breakfasts into the ocean depths. But I had cemented in my mind that I would not be one of them, so I remained frozen. The sea was angry that day, my friends. The wind picked up causing two things. One, the boat rocked back and forth by what felt like 10 feet. I stared out over the side of the boat to see water, horizon, water, horizon. Two, the sea air cut through the three layers I had managed to scrape together causing a numbing chill. We spent an hour chasing down whales as I looked, blank-eyed, straight ahead. I saw a couple of humpbacks as their bumpy backs surfaced one by one. And at long last I saw a tail fin of a whale come up out of the water. I felt satisfied and retreated to the inner cabin of the boat.

There I found a ragged group of tourists, huddling together, shivering and trying not to spew. I wasn’t in a condition to laugh, but thinking of the way that inner circle looked is comical. Tourists who wanted a sightseeing extravaganza who instead got the 18th century immigrant experience. My mother soon followed me into the cabin since she was also feeling cold. Once we got back to the harbor, we found the nearest cafe that had clam chowder and sourdough bread bowls to warm our chilled bones.

Despite this account, I loved it. I could have done without the choppy water and could have used a sunnier day, but being out on the ocean was nice. I’ve been on boats before and never had a problem, although I suppose most of the boats I’ve been on were small motor boats on mountain lakes in the Sierra Nevadas or large ferry boats floating from harbor to harbor. But isn’t there something about sea legs? About acclimating? My mother was absolutely fine and maybe that’s just because she has more boat experience? I’d definitely go again.

29 Before 29: Eat Ox Tail

21 May

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

The tech manager at work, Jose, is notorious for being something of an epicurean. He’s a valuable friend to have as he’s always scouting the best Bahn Mi or the best Caipirinha in the city. Give him any neighborhood in the five boroughs and he can give back to you the must-eat at restaurants. He’ll often take hour-plus train rides to search out his next meal. Like I said, valuable person to have around.

One of his favorite foods is Ox Tail. When he talks about it, he looks into the distance, his eyes glimmering like he’s dreaming about his first love, which ox tail might very well be. The fact that I’d never had it was unacceptable to him. Over the last couple of months he gave me restaurant suggestion after restaurant suggestion where I could find great ox tail. However, I never sampled the delicacy until I was in Spain.

Ox Tail hamburger at El Pimpi in Malaga.

Ox Tail hamburger at El Pimpi in Malaga.

Ox Tail bachelor number one was found at an outdoor Bodega Bar called El Pimpi in Malaga. After playing tourist for the day, my family and I sat at a table sipping on cocktails and beers while ordering small plates. I hesitate to call it a Tapas bar, but it was something like that. After noshing on olives and fried fish and goat cheese salad, I saw ox tail on the menu and decided to dive in. When it arrived, I was already full and regretting my spontaneity. I felt as thought I was letting my bucket list and my manager, Jose, down. Sure, the meat was ox tail, but it was just a greasy meat burger with mayonnaise. I only ate about half of it, despite it being delicious. Ox tail is rich and fatty, and I think combining it with something as heavy as mayonnaise was a bit overwhelming.

Ox Tail in Ronda

Ox Tail in Ronda

Ox Tail bachelor number two is so handsome and just what I was looking for. Ox Tail on the bone, cooked in light gravy of its own juices with potatoes. Again, it was rich and heavy with so much fat encrusting the meat. I’ve always had an issue with fat on beef. It was one of the things that pushed me to be a vegetarian, actually. I can’t handle the chewiness of it. I actually got a fatty piece of beef at a pho restaurant near my apartment not too long ago and spit it out onto the table, almost as a reflex. I tried to salvage my ladyness by scooping it in a napkin as quick as possible and shoving it in my purse, hoping no one noticed. Back to my ox tail, though, I did my best to eat around the fat and enjoy the rich meat. It was good to have it balanced with something as starchy as the potatoes. The hamburger may have suited me better, but this was the ox tail experience that I knew I could bring back to Jose with pride.

Costa Del Sol, Spain

19 May

To celebrate my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary, my parents, sister, and I all went to the South of Spain. I had traveled to Spain back in 2007, spending a couple of days in Barcelona and a couple in Madrid. This was a very different piece of Spain. The Costa Del Sol is used by Northern Europeans much the same way Florida is used by New Englanders here in the US. Pasty white people trying to escape their own brutal climate and get a bit of sun far away from home. I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a “sun holiday” before, and I found it to be almost a challenging experience. What do you mean relax? Like I’m just supposed to lay in this beach chair, sip Piña Coladas, and enjoy my book? Somehow I managed to adapt. We did try to get out of our resort life though at least once a day and explore Southern Spain. These are some of the highlights.


View of Málaga from the top of the Castillo de Gibralfaro.

View of Málaga from the top of the Castillo de Gibralfaro.

Málaga is the main port of the Costa Del Sol. We spent the day in the Old Town area which boasts the remains of the Castillo de Gibralfaro which was an Islamic castle built in the 8th century. We walked up the Paseo Don Juan de Temboury which is a steep, winding path up the hill to the remains. It was something of a hike, but the views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea became more and more impressive as we ascended. The path itself is lined with beautiful flowers and trees. As we walked down the footpath to the other half of the ruins, the Alcazaba, I could hear Spanish music drifting up from the city center. About an hour later, we found the source. A small festival called Semana de Mayor celebrating the elderly. I sat and watched little old ladies perform flamenco routines and sing old Flamenco songs.


Riders on Andalusian horses showing off the high school riding.

Riders on Andalusian horses showing off the high school riding.

We signed up for a package deal at this little horse stable/restaurant in Mijas. Before the meal, we sat in an arena while they brought out gorgeous Andalusian-bred horses who are trained in Spanish equestrian style to prance a certain way and to buck on their hind legs on command. It was strange and beautiful. My favorite were the four white horses that came out with bells around their necks, roped together and galloping in circles in complete synchronicity. Afterwards we headed inside to a dinner and Flamenco show.

IMG_2689Oh Flamenco is just the best. The passion of the music, the rapid fire of the dancers feet on the floor, the graceful arching of their hands and backs. So beautiful, so emotional.


View of Ronda from the bottom of the Gorge.

View of Ronda from the bottom of the Gorge.

Easily my favorite part of the entire Spain trip. We drove high up into the mountains to visit this little town which was unreasonably picturesque. Even the roads surrounding the town were dotted with a rainbow of wildflowers. Ronda is perched atop a gorge with two sections of town connected by an ancient bridge that offers stunning views of the gorge below and the rolling hills in the distance.

View from the Bridge

View from the Bridge

Even though Ronda is a popular tourist destination, it was the place where I felt the least like a tourist. It was also the only place I got to really use my semi-decent Spanish as I chatted with shop-keepers and ice cream vendors. I always find that when I travel I’m assessing the place I’m visiting as a place where I could move and become an ex-pat. Ronda fit the bill, especially when I took into  account that it was the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

Always have love for Papa.

Always have love for Papa.


A poorly-lit picture of the caves.

A poorly-lit picture of the caves.

We didn’t spend time in the actual town. We just went straight for the caves. Walking out of the sunny Spanish day and into the cold, damp caves was refreshing. The caves are millions of years old and sheltered some of the earliest humans during the Stone Age. The stalactites and stalagmites that jut from the ceiling and the floor cast eerie shadows and put creationists to shame.


The Rock

The Rock

I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about the history of Gibraltar before we went. I knew it was an important naval post, but I didn’t know that it was still owned by the British and functions as a British city with pounds as the currency and fish and chips stands. We hired a taxi driver to take us around for the day and drive us up the Rock to see the tunnels where the British installed cannons. Gibraltar also has caves similar to the ones we saw in Nerja, except the British light theirs with purple, blue, and pink lights while playing a variety of disco music. It was a sharp contrast to the solemnity of the day before.



The highlight, of course, were the Barbary apes that are native to the island and wander around, grabbing food out of tourists hand and jumping on cars as they drive by.


Overlooking the Costa del Sol.

Overlooking the Costa del Sol on my horse, Universal.

Spain is now the third country other than my own in which I’ve ridden a horse. As soon as I heard about the famous Andalusian riding, I had to find a way. I found a place called Rancho La Paz which interestingly enough is run by German people and full of German tourists. It was nose to tail riding, but the views at the top of the hills were spectacular. We also got to do a fair amount of galloping which is the whole reason to get on a horse in the first place. Spanish riding was a bit different than what I’m used to with longer stirrups and loose reins held in one hand. Galloping was a bit more difficult this way as I think I was supposed to be standing in the saddle as opposed to “riding like an American cowgirl” which is what the German leader of the group kept warning me against. I am what I am, lady.

I wasn’t able to bring my camera along, but I made a German friend, Reiner, who spoke enough English to offer to take my picture and email it to me when he returned to Germany. Nothing better than making new friends abroad.

A Day in Tangier, Morocco

17 May

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.


I almost feel as thought I am cheating by using my quick trip to Morocco as a way to cross off the “Visit a New Country” item on my list. By visiting a new country, I expect to spend some quality time there, get a feel for the place. This was not that. However, the rest of my Spring and Summer vacation time has been spoken for. So I don’t think I’ll get another adventurous trip until the Fall. So my maiden jaunt to Africa will have to do.

I was traveling with my family, and my parents had arranged for us to go with a tour group. I have never done anything quite like this tour group/bus in my travels before, and I don’t know if I would again. It was a good way to get an overview of the city, and it was nice to have an escort through such a foreign place. But being lumped in with 20 or so tottering foreigners, all of us flashing our cameras, some in our group acting rather rude, I felt like a bit of a spectacle. When I imagined visiting Tangier, I saw myself playing the role of a Beat poet for the day. Walking the kasbah, listening to the Arabic of the shop keepers, sipping mint tea in a cafe where the walls are covered in colorful mosaic tiles, riding a camel over sand dunes. The reality was not this. But, I still got a taste of Tangier.

We are making the same face.

We are making the same face.

I did get to ride a camel which had been a life goal of mine. I paid a Euro and a Morrocan man led me around for a minute or two whilst my family snapped pictures. It’s such an awkward, yet graceful animal. A couple of baby camels were wandering around as well. Again a Euro to hold the ropes and take a picture. We encountered a lot of this in Morocco, a constant barrage of street vendors. Children and men following us around with bracelets or bongos or camel statuettes, trying to negotiate, demanding we buy something. We were escorted to the hill with the camel rides, to an open square with snake charmers waiting for us, waiting for their Euros. It was a strange experience. At the end of the day, as we loaded back into the bus to take us to the ferry, a small child pestered my sister to buy a camel from him. He reached into the bus, placing the camel on her knee, refusing to accept her claim that she didn’t have Euros on her.

My sister's street vendor friend.

My sister’s street vendor friend.

The majority of the day was spent wandering the kasbah which was the one time I was glad to be in a guide-led group. The streets were unlabeled and winding, spilling into a variety of alleyways with open shops and stray cats running to and fro, the vendors coming out of nowhere and lurking just one step behind with bongos, “Only two Euros!” While it was confusing and overwhelming, it was also the most exhilarating part of the day. It’s difficult to describe all the sights and sounds, and we were ushered through so quickly, it was impossible to soak it all up. We were taken to a large rug store and shown the handwoven rugs. We went to a pharmacy where a very excited pharmacist showed us all of his favorite products. Argan Oil! Saffron! Mint tea! Magic Lipstick! I got suckered into buying the Argan Oil and the Magic Lipstick.

In one of the stores of the kasbah.

In one of the stores of the kasbah.

For lunch we were taken to a cafe that served us couscous and vegetables along with some chicken on skewers. It was a modest lunch topped off with Mint Tea which was sweet and refreshing. While we ate, a small Moroccan band played and a belly dancer weaved her way among the tables as we tried to ignore the American tourist in our group who bellowed with indignity when the waiter asked him to pay for the bottled water he had asked for.


I don’t want to paint a bad picture of what my day in Morocco was like, because overall I’m ecstatic that I got the chance to see it. It was so much to process in only one short day, and it’s hard to absorb such a foreign culture in a limited time. It was like window shopping and never actually going in the store. Maybe I will pull a Paul Bowles one of these days, move to Tangier, and lead the ex-pat life I’ve always dreamed of.

Burnt Well Guest Ranch, New Mexico

19 Feb

In my 29th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

Overlooking the land with Candyman (my horse) and Charlie (right).

Overlooking the land with Candyman (my horse) and Charlie (right).

I found out that I had one vacation day that was going to expire at the end of February. The reasonable thing would have been to have a staycation and catch up on errands. But I felt overdo for an adventure, even a mini one. So I got it set in my mind that I was going to visit a horse ranch in a state I had never been to before (both items on my 29 before 29 list.)

At the tender age of 6, I had changed my life’s ambition from becoming a princess to becoming a cowgirl, and unlike a lot of other childhood dreams, it never went away. After graduating college with a somewhat useless degree, I began researching dude ranches that might hire me. I wanted to spend my life in the saddle, around animals, embedded in the wilderness. Things didn’t work out that way, but I never stopped dreaming about it.

Marilyn! Their only longhorn cattle.

Marilyn! Their only longhorn cattle.

So when I started looking for a place to visit, I knew I didn’t want a hokey dude ranch. I didn’t want to be taken on trail rides and have Western culture put on display for me like a watered-down version of what ranch life is like. I’m from Nevada, after all. I’ve been to the rodeo. I’ve ridden horses since I was six. I didn’t want or need to be coddled. In my searchings, I found Burnt Well Guest Ranch which is a working cattle ranch run by a small family, the Chessers. To supplement their income, they take in guests and allow them to tag along on their day to day. It’s exactly what I was looking for.

Upon my arrival, Kim (the family patriarch) met me up at the airport in his pick-up truck. He jumped out in his cowboy hat and introduced himself with his country twang. I hopped into the truck and noticed a large, shotgun sitting in the driver’s seat. This was the real deal.

New Mexico sunset with a storm rolling in.

New Mexico sunset with a storm rolling in.

The next couple of days I spent the majority of my day on a horse, either with Kim or his son Tye and sometimes both of them. We rode through the pastures checking on the cattle, especially looking out for heifers that had recently given birth. I was in the saddle so much that all the muscles in my legs were cramping, but I ignored it as much as possible. I was elated to be back on a horse, to feel them break from a trot to a canter, winding their way around cacti. The cowboys told me that the leg pain goes away on day four. It made me want to call my job and quit, just so I could stay in New Mexico and ride until my legs had acclimated to a cowgirl life.

Jonah, my favorite of the three horses I rode.

Jonah, my favorite of the three horses I rode.

At lunch and at dinner, I went into the Chesser home with Kim where his wife, Patricia, made us amazing tex-mex meals using beef from their ranch. We would sit around and trade stories. For as interesting and different their lifestyle seemed to me, they were equally awed and astonished as I told them about life in New York City. As I told stories about dog walkers and animals wearing clothing and shoes, they sat incredulous. The more we talked about it, the more ridiculous I realized it really is. All day, I watched their border collies running alongside the horses, herding animals when need be, but mostly just running along. They’d stop to roll in the dust, chase jack rabbits. It was refreshing to see dogs being…dogs.

Snow in the morning. Melted within the hour.

Snow in the morning. Melted within the hour. Riding on Creed.

On my second day, they let me watch/help as they prepared some calves. They vaccinated them with large gun-like syringes, sprayed them down with dewormers and branded a couple of them. One unfortunate bull got castrated. I stood in awe as they caught it in a large metal chute. Tye roped its legs so it couldn’t kick, and Kim bent down with a knife and a severing tool called an emasculotome (it was on my vet tech exam last month) and castrated the bull in under five minutes. His hands were covered in blood as he tossed the testicles into the dirt and let the border collies eat it. Not for the weak of stomach. I watch castrations all the time at work, but it made me a little dizzy. Kim turned to me and asked if that’s how we do it in the city, I shook my head and laughed.

Lucy, the one-eyed border collie, resting by the branding fire.

Lucy, the one-eyed border collie, resting by the branding fire.

It was everything I wanted it to be. Fresh air, lots of horseback riding, a sample of what a cowboy life looks like, delicious food, a chance to see the stars in the sky at nighttime, fascinating stories from warm-hearted people. I know I’ll be back.

Where are you going, where have you been?

10 Feb

This doesn’t actually have anything to do with the Joyce Carol Oates story of the same name. I just love that title. I also love the story and recommend it to anyone else who is likewise fascinated with American fables.

The shoe tree on the drive from Seattle to Reno.

The shoe tree on the drive from Seattle to Reno.


“Where are you from originally?”

It’s my most dreaded of questions that new acquaintances ask me. It is also one of the most common in a city of immigrants and transplants. I’ve always struggled with how to answer. Buffalo? Reno? Seattle?

My answer is Seattle, because if I have to launch into a discussion about one of those cities, Seattle is the place I want to talk about. Plus I lived there for five years. But I’m also coming up on my five-year anniversary of living in New York.

Five years. I can’t believe it. Instead of wearing it like a New Yorker badge of honor like a lot of people do, I find myself wondering, “How did that happen?”I can demarcate my time in this city by the different periods where I was sure I was going to leave, where I hatched a plan and set a secret date for my Exodus. But here I am.

I think of the day I left Seattle. I crashed at my friend Eric’s apartment, because I had sold him all my furniture and had no where to sleep. He drove me back to my apartment on a foggy morning. He called it “Chrissy weather,” that perfect mixture of summer fog that dissipates by mid-afternoon. I packed up the last of the things into my Jeep and headed to the coffeeshop where I had worked for three years. My boss Anna gave me treats for the road and everyone hugged me. It was a Sunday, and I set my radio to listen to the Mariner game. I drove South on I-5, passing the stadium. The farther South I got, the less I could get the game on the radio. I wiped a couple of tears from my eyes and ignored the voice screaming inside of me that told me not to leave.

Six years later, I can’t believe where I am and what I’ve been through. I never thought Reno would lead to New York. I never thought I’d get to go to Japan and Iceland. I never thought I’d become a veterinary technician. I’m a happier person now than I was when I left Seattle, but it’s a strange thing to mark the passage of time. What would life have been like if I had turned the Jeep around and driven back into Seattle? It’s foolish to think about, because I will never know.

It’s a bittersweet feeling to realize that soon I will have lived in New York longer than I lived in Seattle. What does that mean exactly? Am I from here now? Can I no longer claim Seattle a home? Why doesn’t that make me happy? Most importantly, what do I do next? Where do I go?