Yes the eclectic town of Albuquerque beckons! It will be my first visit (surprisingly) to this beautiful and picturesque town, at one time voted the best place to live in the USA. This trip is slated for this summer, hopefully at the end of August. Stay tuned for more details! Aww yeaaaah…. I can’t wait to see ”I’ll be Quirky”!
This was a trip that will not be soon forgotten. On my eighth and final day I reflected quietly as I sat on the beach in the little town of Plancencia. Looking out at a pristine turquoise ocean, the sun felt strong and relentless as if to lure me into staying longer. I looked down at my feet coated with golden brown sand like sugar coating the rim of a margarita glass, I thought to myself how grateful I was to visit this country. The entire trip was a lot to take in but what struck me the most was how little the people of Punta Gorda had but how willing they were to share what they had with me. The streets filled with children with the warmest friendliest smiles and biggest hearts. The people were so friendly but still making their way through a country barely 30 years old with new transitions at every turn. The Belizean flag seen flailing from most businesses and ram-shackle houses testified to a people identifying as one country after many years of British occupation; that beautiful ocean forever looming in the background serving as a silent witness to the many social and economic struggles of the Belizean people. Aside from the economic and social hardships of many young countries the Belizean people work hard but play hard too. Hours can drift by while sitting on a neighbor’s sunny veranda or strolling the rocky pathways by the ocean. The Belizeans do leisure very well and love spending time amongst family and friends. Tasty Belizean dishes and tropical drinks was common yet delicious fare and the Belizean take much pride in the multi-ethnic cuisine they painstakingly prepare. I had the BEST fried fish of my entire life (please go easy on the liquid fire they call hot sauce) at a place called Olympic Grill located in the heart of PG! Local Maya, Indian, African and European cultures seems to blend together like colors in a rainbow producing some uniquely beautiful mixes and varieties. The bus ride from Punta Gorda to Big Falls to visit a family there afforded me the opportunity to see the natural beauty of Belize as well. The lush green carpet and fan-like palm trees were like scenes from a picture but pleeeease take your bug spray… trust me! Again it was the people who made the experience. The sing-songy Creole language permeated every interaction with locals making it more memorable than most. I ironically never tried to imitate the accent fearing complete and utter humiliation. I loved listening to it though. I am not one for butchering things most of all foreign languages! The warm smiles (many of them gold-capped) of everyone I met there really stood out in my mind and made the intense heat well worth it. So dear readers another trip to a wonderful place in the world has come and gone. I was saddened to leave but hopefully I will have another opportunity to return. I sure hope so! I do want to thank my “Nug” for introducing me to this hidden gem and making my trip even more special. But a special thank you goes out to the Belizean people for their humor, kindness and wonderful cuisine. I also loved the complete newness, randomness and colors of their country. Oh before I forget this little piece of trivia… the English translation on Belize’s national flag reads,“in the shade we flourish”, such an appropriate expression right?!
Well its been almost 5 months since my last entry. By far the longest absence of traveling I’ve had! I’m not proud of this either (shaking my head). As you can recall I came back from Israel a new woman. In that time I returned to work, hung out with friends and family and wrote more short stories. I essentially got back in my rhythm and was lulled back to the daily grind of work and general relationships. Hey it’s not like I work for National Geographic for a living, a girl’s gotta make some dough! But, dear readers, last and certainly not least I met a wonderful man named Anthony. He has changed my life in a way I could hardly describe. Well, we got engaged New Year’s eve and I havent looked back since! So you could say the last 5-6 months have turned my life upside down but in a crazily fantastic way. Sometimes you just have to take chances. Reasonable ones of course (barring bodily harm and gross errors of common sense). Readers you know I take risks so its only natural that I encourage the mantra, “nothing risked is nothing gained”. Enough philosophy for now. I preface all of this to segue into my most recent adventure: Whitewater rafting in the beautiful Pocono Mountains! Now you see why I had to set you all up. This activity is not for those who may be afraid of swimming, deepwater, possible raft capsizing or sharp pointy rocks. Check, check, check and check. So three brave lady friends and I took the challenge and rafted the Lehigh River it all its glory! On a scale of 1-5, 5 being the roughest and untamable, our river adventure registered a cool and even 3. It was rough but balanced periodically by calm waters here and there. Let me tell you we got tossed around enough to scare the living daylights out of us though! It was 12 miles of pure exhilaration! 6 hours of bone bending, stomach churning adrenaline! Most importantly it was FUN! We were later caught in a thunderstorm and as our raft quickly filled with rain water I have to admit the ladies and I started to panic, an emotion I got very acquainted with from the start of our journey. If the fear of broken femurs, paddle-to-head injuries or watching others get thrown about like rag dolls doesn’t do it for you then perhaps choppy waves of water moving towards you at 50 miles an hour will. Take your pick. I recommend it only for the adventurous type. The team work exercises are great as well. You learn to trust and have patience with yourself and others as well as sharing (not just your food). I have to say it was something I definitely want to do again and again! Visit: www.poconowhitewater.com for more details and pricing. Brian was our river guide and he was so patient and helpful!
Um I have to admit the night before this trip I was very anxious about traveling to Israel. I confided in my mother and a few friends about how I couldn’t sleep and they all assured me it was gonna be a great trip! This is my first trip to the Middle East and although I was super excited I was also thinking about what to expect. I couldn’t reconcile images I’ve seen in the news (foreign and American) and what the reality is over there. I am so ready to just get over there and see it for myself! Lol! I already know that much of what I will see is a big tourist trap however I am determined to see the real Israel and Palestine respectively. Perhaps lunch with a Palestinian family or merchant, a walking tour of old city with some Israeli or Israeli Ethiopians close to my age. I have also planned a trip to Tel Aviv, Bethlehem (Palestine) and if I’m lucky some ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea! Whew! I need to slow down! Okay so I will be leaving for the airport shortly. My bags are packed and I’m putting on some very comfortable shoes! Yeah! I cannot wait to emerge on the other side of the world with my first blog entry from Israel!
Day 1: Oh boy where do I start? Lets just say Israel is a sensory overload type of place! Its noisy, its gritty, its rude and its in your face! It’s like New York City in the Middle East basically and I love it! It had been quite a challenge though.The local customs, language barriers and currency issues aside I am slowly getting used to it. I was not prepared for the “Jewish” culture permeating every aspect of daily life coming from a very secular country. As I write this I am tired, hungry and in search of a decent place to relax. I am starting to realize that Israel may not be quite what I expected!
Day 2: Whew I feel so much better! After much tossing and turning last night I actually feel as though I have the energy to finally face the Old city and the souks(market) today! Luckily I met up with some friendly faces today. One lovely young lady from Serbia and an American guy named Joe who is working in Israel. Joe and I have been exploring old city and so much more, I am so happy I met him and he has made my first full day in Israel great! After a guided tour through old city and most of the Arab souks, Joe and I had lunch and boy was it expensive. As Joe has explained it to me Israel is not very agricultural and is surrounded by desert. In turn food is very expensive and much of it comes in very small portions (a-hem). Needless to say I’m from a country where portions are large and abundant. Also this may be why I have yet to see an overweight Israeli! Maybe we can take a lesson!
Day 3: I am slowly making my way to Tel Aviv! After about an hour ride from Jerusalem you make the journey from religious to secular and might I add very “hipsterish”! Tel Aviv is very modern and a lot more cosmopolitan than Jerusalem. The city is near the beach to the east and more of a Western influence is recognizable. Starbucks cafes dot corners and even the dress style of the Israeli youth is more free and counter-culture. There’s also plenty of graffiti (in Hebrew of course)! You can take a sherut (shared taxi bus) from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv and its about a 45 minute trip. It will cost around 23 shekels. Make sure you take notice of the architecture as well, its pretty funky!
Day4: Well I must say my overall impression of Israel is changing! The sabbath (Saturday) is finally over and its like the town has sprung back to life! Once again I am meeting with my buddy Joe and we explored other parts of Jerusalem and the German colony. There are excellent parks and public space in this part of Jerusalem and definitely a must see. I have also met up with some other interesting travelers at my hostel; two sisters from Brazil (Daniela and Patricizia) and two Israeli guys ( Raffi and Adam) that are also up for some sight-seeing later on!
Day 5: Well after a night of drinking and talking until the wee hours of the morning (Israelis sure know how to talk)I have finally muscled up the strength to visit Yad Vashem with the Brazilian girls. I must say visiting a Holocaust museum is not my idea of a good time (sorry) however it really is necessary to see this memorial. It was very sobering and the girls and I actually shed a few tears there. Not only do they have authentic video and audio from real-life survivors, the pictures and memorabilia really tugs at your heart-strings. The Israeli people have taken an atrocity and turned into something educational and positive. Later on that evening I had to say goodbye to Joe as he is heading back to America. I was sad to see him go. It’s funny how no matter where you go in the world is always good to see friendly and similar faces from back home.
Day 6: The girls and I conquered the old city! We spent the day shopping and picking up souvenirs for our friends and family and meandered through the winding streets. The Armenian and Jewish quarter were my favorites. There is so much to see and it can be a little overwhelming at first. The men in the markets can be a little aggressive so be prepared to fire back if need be! In fact the girls and I had some pretty rough encounters with the male merchants but rest assured we weren’t backing down! Also be prepared to haggle on the prices that they jack up for the poor, naive tourists! Bargaining is a very popular and “Middle-Eastern” custom but please be reasonable with your offers as to not offend their sensibilities and incur their wrath!
Day 7: Rosh Hashana! Man, no one prepared me for this holiday and the fact that the city turns into a virtual ghost town! It is the Jewish New Year (Shanat Tova)celebrated for two days consecutively. I recommend making sure that unless you are Jewish or don’t mind this, that you come to Israel when it is not a holiday. The roads, public transportation and stores are all closed. I guess I will have to stay in today and catch up on some Israeli American Idol!
Day 8: Day two of Rosh Hashana and I’m actually liking the down time. The constant pressure to do and see has been lifted and I can appreciate Israel for what it is. I successfully ”skyped” my friend “Z”, emailed a few people and sent out postcards. I even had time to read some interesting books about Israel and its troubled history. It was then that I noticed the identity crisis Israel is struggling with. As one young Israeli told me, “Israel thinks its European but it’s not it’s more Middle Eastern, we have really struggled to make a place for ourselves and we are trying very hard.” What an affirmation of the dual nature of Israeli politics and society.
Day 9: Well earlier today my travel buddies have asked me if I wanted to go to Ramallah, Palestine. “Ramallah?” I replied nervously. I have to say that I was a little afraid at first but I’m usually up for an adventure so I figured what the heck? All I can say is that I am so happy I decided to go! Palestine was such a wonderful surprise! Although Ramallah is quite gritty and war-torn, I feel as though I got to experience the real Israel. The Palestinian people are such friendly and warm people and so eager to talk about their futures and what they want. Believe me when I say both sides want peace but what’s at stake for them is far greater. I haphazardly met up with a companion named Muhammad who had just turned 18. I have to say he was such a wonderful and remarkable young man. He was so eager to share with me what he and his fellow Palestinians experience on a daily basis. However it is not all doom and gloom as the media has made it out to be. I encountered warm smiles and happiness all around me despite all the conflict (and misunderstandings) surrounding these people. Muhammad was very hopeful for the future and his hope was contagious. I left that day not wanting to say goodbye to Muhammad and the other young people I met there. They were so full of spirit. I will never be the same. My heart broke for them because of their situation and how their lives are affected by this conflict though. All I can say is that I definitely saved the best part of my trip for last!
Day 10: It is with a heavy heart (and empty back account) that I leave Israel today! I have to say this was truly a once in a lifetime trip, although I would love to return again someday. The history surrounding this country was magnificent. The friends I made will be always with me. The culture just as bit as mysterious and fascinating really made quite an impression on me. As I pack I cannot help but think of my friend Muhammad and others that I met in Palestine. When I return to home I know that my views will be forever changed. When I tell people back in the US that I went to Palestine I know I will be bombarded with many questions to which I will have a ready answer! “No it was not dangerous, no I was not afraid and it’s nothing like what you see on television.” There is nothing more I would like to see for that region than peace, hopefully I will see it in my lifetime.
*Need an affordable place to stay while in Jerusalem? Click on: www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com
Okay so who wants to plummet thousands of feet to their deaths!?? Any volunteers? No one….ok well I totally understand. If you are afraid of heights then this may not exactly be the activity for you. However if you don’t mind being “inches away from death”( as a friend put it) and can appreciate the beautiful Grand Canyon located at Eagle Point then this IS the place for you! Oh yes the Grand Canyon Skywalk the newest attraction to the Grand Canyon is the latest in fear… ehem…I mean “awe-inspiring” panoramic views! This structure of solid steel and plexiglass is designed to give you an overhead view of the big gorge that you are literally standing over. Yes I said standing over. This involves getting over any fear you may have of the structure buckling under the weight of other tourists peering over the side into a beautiful, albeit very wide chasm. I believe it may have been as high as 5,000 feet in elevation! I must admit I had a bit of false courage going into this. What looked exciting in a travel magazine on an early Sunday morning quickly turned into a road trip I will never forget. Once my friend and I approached this structure we quickly realized there was NO turning back! Feet firmly planted on the “ground”, we took our very first steps over the Canyon and I proceeded to squeeze the life out of my friend’s hand. The crystal clear glass right under our feet (we had to wear special shoe covers to prevent scratching) made us feel as if we were walking on air. Ugh and I must admit we loved every minute of it! I so was nervous and I was very dizzy but the view was totally worth it! I realized I had never experienced the canyon from within and my friend really enjoyed it as well. Since it was my 30th birthday and his first time in the Grand Canyon we both walked away with a new appreciation for this awesome place. I recommend the Skywalk because honestly it is a truly awesome experience. The view is amazing and if you can face your fear, how many people can say they stood over the Grand Canyon? Looking down through that clear glass gives you such an appreciation for not only the outdoors but for life itself. You definitely feel like you’ve accomplished something and I will never forget the experience!
So this was my first time attending the largest International Folk Art festival in the United States! It was great! I would estimate a few thousand people made their way through Santa Fe in just that weekend alone. This festival had such a wide variety of crafts, masks, jewelry,clothing and not to mention live musical performances. The music groups that attended pretty much represented each region of the world, especially Africa and Latin America. My favorite groups where definitely the Nigerian high-life band and the trio from Cuba! They provided such wonderful background music to meander through the merchandise. It was so fun to be around all those exotic and beautiful cultures! A friend of mine who’s never been to Santa Fe surprised me with an impromptu visit and really made the market experience unforgettable for me! He even left with a little something from the market he didn’t expect to find and so did I! There is truly something there for everyone to enjoy. Please check out www.folkartmarket.org to attend next year’s festival. Hotels and B&B’s fill up fast. A room normally costing $80 a night will quickly jump to $130 because of the annual festivities so reserve way in advance during the low season. I always stay at Casa Del Toro when I visit Santa Fe, please see my other entry on Santa Fe and scroll down for their contact info. They are a quaint and quiet B&B that you will enjoy staying in. They are located just minutes from downtown Santa Fe! See you next year!
* Unfortunately I cannot upload any of my pictures and video from this event arghhhh…please check out their website above for some great images from this past July!
“Sedona is supposedly a mystical and spiritual place”, I was told by my perky hotel receptionist when I first arrived. I was already forewarned of the colony of baby-boomer hipsters inhabiting the area. You know the forty to fifty-five year olds still wearing tye-dye tees and “pot” bumper stickers plastered all over their hybrid cars (by the way marijuana is approved for medicinal use). However, the main reason I decided to travel to Sedona was to get a little solitude but after about three hours of day hiking I began to realize that other people had the same idea in mind. So much for solitude. Funny the more I travel the more I realize, true solitude is becoming as rare as clean air. Back to Sedona. Nestled in between rust- colored butes (finger like monoliths common in Utah and Arizona) and green valleys, Sedona is truly awe-inspiring. The “Red Rock” hiking trails are unique to this area in Arizona so plan plenty of time to see it up close. First I must recommend some experienced guides before just going at it alone. Realize that Sedona is still very isolated and it is still relatively untrodden. The landscape may look smooth and even, but once on foot (hopefully in sturdy boots) you will experience dips and bumps not seen from your vehicle. The soil is loose and gravely so pace yourself and look out for loose rocks that can cause sprained ankles. The weather was perfect. Sedona boasts a 330 out of 365 days of pristine sunshine year round. It has a cool and arid climate not hot like southern Arizona. I must now address the scientific reason behind why my bubbly hotel girl stated that Sedona is a “mystical” place. During my time in downtown Sedona I had the opportunity to chat with the locals about their town’s famed reputation. One resident confided that they really have no clue why people say it. He chalked it up to excessive marijuana smoking which would make anyone feel spiritual. Another resident convincingly stated due to the natural minerals found in the soil and the atmosphere that one will experience a “pulling” sensation in the body when standing on top of a mountain peak. “ Like literally someone is holding fifty magnets against your body”, as my tour guide explained it. I need not go through such lengths to achieve a feeling of euphoria, but I admire the residents of Sedona nonetheless. I liked the openness and whacky little things they do just to get a spiritual high, I found it amusing. They march to their own tune and have no desire to return to the rat-race many of us still have to endure. They [Sedona residents] have essentially said goodbye to urban not to mention suburban life all together. They have built their customized homes in the rugged natural terrain, some of these homes costing well into the millions. So you could say Sedona is definitely an expensive place to live. Aside from the quarky observations of the people my favorite memories were of the land itself. The mountains were gorgeous. The silence was pretty awesome too; a person could really be alone with their thoughts. You could actually hear the wind blow, if wind had a sound I imagine. The sky was so vast and blue it seemed like the ocean was above instead of below. Little desert lizards scurried past trying to find a cool rock for some shade. Coyotes howled with the setting of the sun and cacti bloomed in the distance breaking up the brown with splashes of pink and purple. Sedona is a must see for anyone trying to find some reprieve in this chaotic world. It may not last as long as you’d like but it’s truly worth it. Remember that Sedona is a unique desert community, so it’s useless to keep comparing things there to “back home”. That is the whole point of traveling I believe: to experience something different. I encourage anyone to go see for yourself how truly “different” Sedona is.
*If staying in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area and you want expericenced tour guides check out Detours located in Chandler. Guillermo aka Memo, was my guide and he was patient and kind plus he knew so much about native history and takes you to see some ancient Native American ruins on the way to Sedona! Click on www.detoursaz.com and select a full day trip to Sedona.