Zion National Park

After Antelope Canyon, we hit the open road to Zion National Park.

With the one day we had in Zion, we decided to do the Angel’s Landing hike. Angel’s Landing was perhaps one of the more challenging hikes I’ve done to-date, but it was worth every moment.

Words really can’t describe the beauty of Zion or this hike…pictures really can’t do the experience justice either, but at the very least, it’ll offer a glimpse into the incredible beauty Zion has to offer.

Really wish we would have had more time to explore Zion but it was a great first experience and I cannot wait to get back and explore more. 

Antelope Canyon

I’ve always wanted visit the beautiful SW region of the U.S., but for one reason or another, it’s never come to fruition. Until recently.

A friend’s move from Austin to Portland sparked the trip. As he was outlining details of the drive, he mentioned stopping to hike/explore along the way. Hmmm. This is where the wheels began to turn. Without giving it too much thought, I suggested he would probably need a co-pilot, you know, for safety, so maybe I should join the trip. (: The rest is history!

Due to scheduling and work, I couldn’t do the entire drive, so we calculated Vegas as the best point to part ways. Here’s the route:

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We reached Antelope Canyon on day 2 and opted to explore Lower Antelope Canyon. (You are required to tour the canyons with a tour operator. We chose Ken’s Tours and would highly recommend!) 

Wow, was it beautiful! Pictures we captured on the tour:

Antelope Canyon far exceeded our expectations and I wish we would have had more time to explore.

After the tour, we had a few more hours of sunlight, so we decided to explore the area a little more. We hiked down, checked out Lake Powell and had a cute little patio dinner on the lake’s edge. We also checked out the Glen Canyon Dam and a few other overlooks which were absolutely beautiful:

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Why Do You Travel?

Periodically, my employer runs a staff member profile on our company blog and I was recently the chosen one. (:

The questions were fun food for thought and made me realize, once again, why travel and seeing the world is so important to me. 

Here’s the interview! 

We recently sat down for a Q&A with one of our colleagues, Kim Karalekas; who, on top of acting as Director of Web Development, travels much of the year both professionally and personally. So we wanted to know:

Q: Kim, why do you travel?

A: I’m a pretty big fan of choosing experiences over things. There’s no denying the short-term fulfillment that comes from purchasing a new gadget or article of clothing, but those feelings are fleeting. Experiences such as traveling provide an everlasting, deep-within-your-soul type of fulfillment.

While I do travel to learn about other cultures, new languages and customs, to see sites and try new foods, I also travel to learn about myself. Traveling allows us to experience ourselves in unfamiliar environments. It forces us out of comfort zones and provides new challenges. It offers perspective and the opportunity to adapt, evaluate, reflect and ultimately grow into better versions of ourselves.

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Q: As someone who travels for a living and lives very far from where you are from, how do you define home?

A: After I moved to Austin, my parents moved from my childhood home to a new house in a new state. After the move, I planned a trip to visit my parents and wondered how it would feel to go “home” to a new house in an unfamiliar place. Upon arrival, I felt at home almost immediately and at this point, I realized that home isn’t necessarily about a place but rather about the people who make a place feel like home.

Q: You’re about to head off to Colombia for vacation, but you’ve already been away for so long. Does traveling for work take away from traveling for fun?

A: I suppose my first answer would be that work travel and vacation travel are a little different. (: I’m certainly ready to be home and not see another airport or hotel for awhile, but that hasn’t affected my excitement for Colombia!

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Q: What is your favorite/least favorite part of traveling for work?

A: Favorite parts? See above. (: I also enjoy having the opportunity to connect with friends and family who live across the country and see so many new places. My least favorite parts? Working consecutive 16 hour days, having difficultly finding quality food and/or being away from home for weeks at a time. With this said, the pros do outweigh the cons, which is why I still do what I do!

Q: What’s something great you’ve encountered while traveling/something terrible?

A: The greatest travel moments have been reuniting with friends and family I haven’t seen in years and seeing new places. I also really value (most of) the conversations had with people I cross paths with along the way. Terrible? Thankfully nothing completely terrible has happened, but I’m never a fan of having to drive in icy/snowy weather.

Q: You are a person of many hobbies, hobbies that don’t exactly travel well, but specifically a musician who can’t exactly travel with their instrument. How are you able to balance travel and still enjoy the things you love to do and/or continue your practice and love of music while away.

A: As I type, I’m actually sitting in an airport with my violin by my side! Thankfully, my violin travels well as my carry-on and I haven’t had any issues thus far (knock on wood!). To be honest, it’s challenging to balance work/life, play with groups and spend much, if any, time on hobbies during the busy travel season, both for reasons of time and also because I’m frequently not physically in Austin. Of course this isn’t ideal, but it’s important to remember that there are also many aspects of the travel that I enjoy, which is why I still do what I do. At the end of the day, we must put everything in perspective and understand that there will always be pros and cons to each and every decision, commitment, etc. The best we can do is evaluate our options, understand the value (and meaning of) compromise and make decisions that can help us achieve our goals, whatever those might be!

Q: What do you love being able to leave at home?

A: Everything else! It feels nice to only have a suitcase full of stuff.

Panama

Colombia

Upon arriving at the Medellin airport, we hopped in a cab and spent about an hour driving up and around curvy roads carved into the mountain sides. First impression? The Medellin terrain is very lush. And green. We drove and drove and drove…and drove and drove and drove…more trees, more green, lots of green…trees, vines, hills and perhaps some of best roads for the car game Corners.

During the drive, we chatted with our cab driver. When he told us he was born and raised in Medellin, I  couldn’t help but try to wrap my mind around what his life has been like, as Medellin has transformed from the murder capital of the world to the Most Innovative City in the World during his lifetime.

Eventually, there was a break in the greenery and we caught a glimpse of a city nestled in the middle of a massive valley. It was quite breathtaking. 

We popped into the nearby shopping center the first evening and came across potentially one of the most beautiful Christmas-adorned snow globe village looking ice skating rinks I’ve ever come across:
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 Another evening in Medellin was spent at the Festival de las Luces and once again, we were completely blown away. We walked and walked…and walked and walked and walked down the Medellin River taking in the incredible and massive display of lights. Medellin had been ranked as one of the world’s best places to see Christmas lights and after attending the Festival de las Luces, I understand why.

We spent a lot of time walking around and exploring the various parts of Medellin – botanical gardens, aquariums, squares, museums, etc. Medellin has an incredibly easy and efficient metro system which we used frequently. The metro is above ground, so we were also able to enjoy sightseeing when riding from point A to B.

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Below is a view from from the bottom of one of the gondola lines. The gondola is a recent development and has really changed the lives of some of the most poverty-stricken people in Medellin. 

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Here I am in Plaza Botero with one of Fernando Botero’s famous sculptures.

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 We also walked through El Hueco, a shopping area that provided the perfect amount of sensory overload: 

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After a few days in Medellin, we flew up to Cartagena.  Cartagena was about 100x warmer and also much smaller. We spent a lot of time wandering around the old town and it reminded a bit of a mashup between Nafplio, Greece and Old San Juan in Puerto Rico. 

We also ate some of the most delicious ceviche here:

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 Overlooking Cartagena: 

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 View of Bocagrande in Cartagena:

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Mas de Bocagrande:

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 Beautiful pool at the hotel:

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Gorgeous view pictures cannot do justice at Cafe del Mar:

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 While in Cartagena, we spent a wonderful day on Isla del Encanto.

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One day we took a bus tour around Cartagena to learn a bit more about the city’s history. At one point, we got to a stop light and I took a moment to watch the people below. I saw this group of men sitting around with a checker board balanced between their laps and felt happy to know that people still take the time to do stuff like this. And by this I mean spend time with one another without their faces buried in their phones.

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After Cartagena, we flew back to Medellin for a final few days. One morning we took a Pablo Escobar tour, which I wasn’t sure I’d be totally crazy about, but coincidentally, it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip. The amount of influence and power one man had over an entire country (and really…many countries) is mind-boggling. I’m still not sure if I think he was pure genius or pure sociopath.

We didn’t know this when booking, but our tour also involved us meeting Pablo’s brother, Roberto. Roberto was very much involved in the Escobar operation and as he was talking to us, I had to keep reminding myself that what he was telling us was not some over the top fictional Hollywood movie but a real life – HIS real life – story.  

While Roberto was in jail, he received a letter that, when opened, exploded in his face. He’s now partially blind, deaf, can’t taste, etc.

All of the money from Roberto’s tours now go to his AIDS research foundation. 

Overall, we had an incredible trip to Colombia. I knew it would be a good experience but the trip really did exceed our expectations. Medellin and Cartagena were both wonderful – they were clean, we felt safe, everyone there was so kind and I would absolutely love to return to Colombia someday. 

West Coast Best Coast

From San Fran, I flew to Seattle.

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From Seattle, I drove straight to eastern Washington. It was a nice enough drive and I was able to fulfill my Pacific NW beautiful fir tree fix (for the first 10 minutes, anyway); however, if/when I do this trip again, I’ll fly. On this route, the landscape pretty quickly transitions from beautiful fir trees to farmland. And after the 357th farm…well, there’s only so much excitement a field of barley can evoke.
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After a few days in eastern Washington, I headed back to California – LA this time. Here’s a view from the Getty:
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and Santa Monica beach:

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Adding this to my dream board:

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After LA came Portland – felt great to be home, especially during the most beautiful time of year in the Pac NW! Courtesy of my social media stalking tendencies, I discovered that my good friend Tracy happened to be visiting Portland the same weekend as me. Although I haven’t seen Tracy in five years, we were able to pick up right where we left off. Friendships like these truly are few & far between and, well, I feel quite lucky.

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En route to Portland, I realized I hadn’t been home in 8 months – since Christmas! Luckily, work brought me home and I was able to extend my trip for a few extra days by working remotely. Felt great to be back and have time with friends/family.

…and on that note…

You know you’re Greek when you go home & wind up stuffing grape leaves for 2 hrs on Friday night. …and to you, this seems completely normal.

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The day before heading back to Austin, I went to the Vancouver Farmer’s Market with my parents. Check out these incredible veggies! Perhaps the best type of sensory overload one can have…

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Spent my final Portland afternoon watching the Duck game with friends, followed by a beautiful sunny Oregon fall afternoon at The Fields Park in downtown Portland.

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On The Road Again

I travel quite a bit for work. And many times, I travel to places where most (if not all) food options within a 50 mile radius consist of places like McDonalds, Applebeee’s and Long John Silver’s. Frankenfood at its finest.

Now, this presents a bit of a challenge for those of us who are hyper-aware slash anal about the type and quality of food we consume. While challenging, it’s also surmountable and I’ve found ways to have access to food that isn’t processed, homogenized and/or pasteurized even during these trips. This basically means that before taking off, I A. spend a chunk of time Googling/researching restaurants/stores in the towns where I’ll be heading and B. pay Whole Foods a visit and stock the heck up. While snack-y foods aren’t ideal, they are significantly more practical than packing (grass-fed) meat, (free-range) eggs & an obscene amount of (organic) fruits & veggies. (:

My carry-on bag usually ends up being 70% full of stuff like this:

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While some trips take me to the middle of nowheresville, other trips take me to wonderful quality food havens. Like San Francisco. As in, where I found myself last week. (: I rarely travel with co-workers, but I did for this trip and it was quite the treat! Julia, my co-worker, is actually as interested in food/nutrition as I am, so we spent quite a bit of time researching. I’d say our research paid off…

Blue Bottle Coffee. The OMSI of coffee shops.

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Love the branding. Simple + clean.

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At Blue Bottle, I had perhaps the freshest and most quality apple juice I’ve ever tasted. Julia ordered an iced coffee. Although I don’t like coffee, I gave hers a try and actually found the taste to be quite pleasant.

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The unique variety of San Fran architecture is one of the city’s most charming characteristics.

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We hiked up about 63,097 steps to Twin Peaks. Windy as heck and the most breathtaking views of the city.

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Dolores Park. People watching galore.

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Castro neighborhood. A little too touristy for my taste, but great people watching and cute little eclectic shops to poke around.

Also, Check out all those wires.

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UC Berkeley has a beautiful campus! I love love love all the green. Perhaps it’s because I particularly miss the beautiful Pac NW during these late months of hell, I mean Texas summer.

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After reading The Happiness Project, I became cognizant of A. how much I have grateful for and B. how much I forget to be grateful. A friend also read the book and after finishing, suggested we keep each other accountable by starting a joint gratitude blog. Each (most) morning(s), the first thing I now do is write down 1 thing I’m grateful for. Amazing how something so small can set the mood for a day (slash, life).

I was delighted to see this “grateful board” at UC Berkeley…

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Back to food…

One morning we had breakfast at Guerilla Cafe in Berkeley. I loved sitting at the bar, watching the chef prepare our food. The ambient salsa music was of course icing on the cake. (:

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Look at this beautiful bowl of fruit. Restaurant fruit bowls are hit or miss…generally more miss than hit (bland flavors, un-ripe/low quality fruit, etc.). Not this fruit bowl. It was overflowing with incredible tasting kiwis, plums, apples, melons, etc. The freshly squeezed OJ and poached egg were also delightful.

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The event we attended was over the course of two days and one night. The evening event was at a beautiful old-timey hotel, the Berkeley City Club. Here’s a group of us from that evening:

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These flowers…gorgeous!

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Monday morning’s breakfast was at Tomate Cafe. Tomate has quite a few organic and fresh ingredient options as well as a cute outdoor seating area with beautiful greenery. I was particularly fond of this purple-flowered tree:

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That evening we had Japanese tapas at a place called Kiraku. This was my first time trying Japanese food and it was delicious.

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Another first on this trip – using Air BNB! We couldn’t have asked for a better first experience. Our hosts were wonderful, their home was beautiful and clean, the location was perfect and the cost was less than a hotel.

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We had our final dinner at Delfina.
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Per the recommendation of our Air BNB host, our final breakfast was at Tartine Bakery, just down the street from our Air BNB stay.

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As was this beautiful mural:

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A few additional San Fran observations:

  • Little dogs. EVERYWHERE. The curious part? Larger dogs seemed to be practically nonexistent. 
  • Androgyny. Also everywhere. From clothing styles to hairstyles to facial features to mannerisms.
  • Polite drivers. I wasn’t quite the all-star driver in San Fran. Between the 17 way stops, confusing protected bike/bus lanes, no left turns and intersecting grid systems, there were a few snafus. The amazing part? I was never honked at. San Fran has some of the most forgiving drivers.

What makes travel memorable for you? Food? People? Places? Something else?

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This past weekend I rode the Austin steam trainWe rode the Hill Country Flier, which begins in Cedar Park and travels to Burnet. Here’s a picture of the train as we’re waiting to board!

As we were seated, one of the volunteers offered everyone snacks & drinks. The train is run by volunteers – they were all so kind and hospitable, I must add.

Somewhere between Cedar Park & Burnet:

We passed a handful of old Texas towns, such as this one. Only 30ish minutes north, but so very different from Austin.

And P.S. check out the sky. Fall is such a beautiful time of year in Texas. Yes, the summers are insanely hot here; however, when fall arrives and we have 70 degrees temps with sunny blue skies in November…

Al fin, we arrived in Burnet! We had a few hours here to eat, explore, etc.

We had lunch at Tea-licious. I ate a burger. Surprise, surprise. (:

After lunch, we walked around the downtown Burnet square. Again, enjoying the absolutely beautiful Texas fall weather. Each little store had so much character, such as exhibit A:

And, exhibit B:

And exhibit C:

About 30 minutes before we headed back to Cedar Park, they had a little performance/staged gun fight with the Burnet Gunfighters. It was a cute show that had me laughing fairly consistently throughout. (:

After the show, it was time to head home!

On the way home, we were entertained by one of the kindest, friendliest, good-spirited train volunteers. He began with making all of the kids (and many of the adults) various balloon animals, hats, flowers, and swords. He finished with performing a birthday rap for one of the passengers in our car. So cute. Check it out:

 

 

 

 

Two (More) Weeks In Kansas

Another year, another 2 back to back weeks in Kansas. Last year I visited Lawrence & Manhattan, this year I found myself in Lawrence & Topeka.

We flew into Kansas City, MO and ate dinner before making the drive. Chelsea introduced me to one of the most incredible meals I’ve experienced on the road. Who knew brussel sprouts were so mind-blowing?

Downtown Kansas City has character. And cute shops with so much to look at/leaf through/explore.

Letterpress.

Lots of driving. Lots & lots of driving. While I generally hate driving, it’s actually not 1/2 bad when driving through unfamiliar territory. So much to take in. 

Panama – Day 4

This morning I awoke to a delicious smell wafting in from the kitchen. I enjoyed listening to the clinking and clanking of pans as we arose & got ready for the day. Piña, cantaloupe, eggs, and toast were on the menu for breakfast. So much food was put in front of me. The fruit was so incredibly flavorful and the rest of the breakfast was equally delicious. The Contadora Island Inn staff seemed shocked that neither one of us drink or like coffee. We were told that most of the Americans who have previously stayed guzzle literally cups and cups of coffee each morning…

After breakfast, we took a walk – spotted a parrot as well as a huge lizard-looking creature…kinda like this one. The walk around the island this morning was so serene – lush green vegetation, various creatures, aw-worthy architecture and manicured landscapes:

During our walk, we stumbled upon a new beach – Playa Ejecutiva.

Observing, people watching, analyzing, taking it all in… these are some of my most memorable experiences while visiting new places. There’s really not much better then finding yourself conversing with a local who is full of passion, enthusiasm, and LOVES to tell stories. In the event it isn’t totally obvious…I ended up chatting with a guy like this today.

We began chatting about Panama. Well, he began chatting, I began listening. From his perspective, there is quite a bit of corruption here. Allegedly, everyone is always striking about something. Many people don’t want to work. He said it takes forever to get an appointment with a doctor. One specific example:

Guy: “I had a 4:30PM appointment with a cardiologist. I arrived on-time and the tech said: “Oh sorry, I just cleaned the machine.”

Guy: “But I have an appointment at 4:30PM – it’s 4:30PM now.”

Tech: “Sorry, come back tomorrow.”

Guy: “I live 4 hours from here, I need these tests done now.”

Tech: “Sorry.”

So, the guy went to the front reception area and told the secretary he wanted his medical papers to take elsewhere. She said: ” Sorry, I’m on strike. I can’t help you right now.”

He said he was so mad, he almost threw his chair out the window. Yikes. He also said that college students here are always striking about something.

This is only 1 story from 1 man, so of course it’s not enough to base any legitimates thoughts/opinions about Panama. Regardless, it was an interesting story – one of many this man told over the course of our stay.

After our (his) chat, we headed down to Playa Larga and played around on the almost desolate beach. The fact that there are not more people here still bewilders me. We built an epic sand castle kingdom. I don’t think I’ve built a sand castle in at least 10 years. It was delightful:

After the beach, we ate lunch at Gerald’s.

After lunch, we rented a golf cart to cruise around the island. This lasted about 20 minutes until BANG. My first reaction? “Oh god, we’ve been shot…!!!”. So yeah, I guess you could say I was cool, calm and collected. We looked around, saw nothing, and shortly thereafter realized that we merely had a flat. Drove slowly back to CII. As the staff wasn’t there to exchange golf carts, we decided to go back out on foot!

We walked down to Villa Romantica and went on the beach where we re-encountered the island dog. This dog is ridiculous. And highly strategic. Here’s his ploy: act cute, pretend to be super relaxed, wait until people have left clothing/flip flops on their beach chair, watch people get in ocean, immediately grab clothing/flip flop/etc. and peace out. Over the last few days, we’ve watched this dog play so many games of tug of war! He refuses to play tug of war with anything but a person’s belongings. Tonight, we witnessed the dog steal another girl’s shirt. The dog came out of nowhere! She had a good attitude about it and I was praising the lord that wasn’t me in her shoes!

For dinner tonight at Villa Romantica I had spaghetti. Dericious. A girl also staying at our b&b ate with us. She’s a nurse from Canada – we ended up chatting about the Canadian vs US health care system. Debated the pros and cons to socialized vs. privatized health care. My takeaways: 1. No system is perfect, 2. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, 3. Idealized systems and reality of quality of care is important to understand, 4. I’m thankful to not have socialized health care.

One final note – there was an epic thunder/lightning/intense rain storm our first night here. The elements of the storm knocked out power, phone, and internet. The power returned pretty quickly, but the phones & internet on the island are still down. I have to say, I’m not too disappointed. Being disconnected during vacay was one of my goals…so thank you, mother nature, for helping me accomplish this.

Panama – Day 3

Our last day at MD! For breakfast, we ate a rendition of pancakes (more flat, less sweet that “American” pancakes) with butter & jam, bananas, cookies, and juice. After breakfast we packed up our bags, said our goodbyes and took a cab over to Albrook Airport. The airport staff were all really nice. I’ve found that here, as long as you try your best and smile, people will be forgiving/kind. Although I’m “fluent” in Spanish, I’m still not a native speaker, so the patience and smiles have been appreciated. (:

One thing I was not expecting upon checking in – having the airline agent tell me to get up on the scale! We learned that both person + bag are weighed! Makes sense to me. More weight = more fuel = more cost. For a quick moment, my mind ventured into thoughts of what would go down if this was ever proposed in the states. I image there would be a fairly epic upheaval, with the topic of “discrimination” flying all over the place. Unfortunately, but alas, being “PC” frequently triumphs logic.

ANYWAY, I digress. Moving on:

Contadora Island is part of the Pearl Islands on the Pacific side of Panama. (about a 15 minute plane ride.) There’s also a ferry, which takes quite a bit longer. We opted for the flight, as it wasn’t much more expensive, but was much quicker. Well, on paper anyway. (; 

Here’s a visual – A. is Panama City, B. is Contadora Island:

Mi boleto!

After an hour or so, it was time to board the plane. There really was no gate or order of boarding (that I could make sense of, I must add). Periodically, we heard announcements on the loudspeaker, but there was so much echo in the room, it just sounded like a giant cluster of sound. I was nervous we might miss our flight, but alas, we did not. w00t!

Walking out to the plane!

There were no seat assignments, so we opted to sit in the first row. There was a little curtain to close off the cockpit, but it was never closed, SO we were about 2 feet from the pilot/co-pilot and watch the entire flight in action. It was so neat! 

Up, up & away!

Ships waiting to enter the Panama Canal:

Touchdown! Here we are landing on Contadora Island! Contadora Island has a 1 lane landing strip which is the length of the island. 

We disembarked the plane on the runway and realized we had no idea what to do. …which is odd, as I’m a micro-managing detail-oriented feign. Eek. 

Plan B. There was a hotel about 10 yards from the landing strip, so we walked over and asked for directions to our b&b, Contadora Island Inn. They said: It’s too far to walk, but we’ll give Tony (CII’s property manager) a call! Take a seat and wait one moment…

A few minutes later, two guys in golf carts arrived. One was wearing a UT shirt. What?? UT on Contadora Island??? Texas is everywhere! They said hello, teathered our backpacks to the back of the golf carts, got into 1 golf cart and told us to get in the other. Before getting to Contadora Island Inn, we would first be getting a tour of the island!

Here’s Tony leading the way:

Apparently Donald Trump purchased this property with the intention of creating some sort of super swanky over-the-top Donald Trump beach resort, but that was quickly ended. Now, it just sits:

We continued on and saw some incredible mansions as well as some super rickety structures. The spectrum is crazy. Many rich Panamanians have vacation homes here on CI. These are the incredible mansions that we have been seeing. Many (though not all) locals either live in the mansions while the Panamanians are away (house-sitting, maintenance, etc.), or in extremely modest housing.

We made it around the entire island is about 20 minutes. Most people on the islands drive golf carts or some type of scooter and there are no traffic lights. Aside from the golf cart airport pickup/tour, we’ve walked everywhere on the island and it’s been great!

On CI, there are a handful of small hotels, b&bs & restaurants. We went to Villa Romantica for lunch today and had a ham & pina panini:

After lunch at Villa Romantica, we walked down the stairs and tested the waters on Playa Cacique:

We headed to Playa Larga, a beautiful beach surrounded by a few massive run-down buildings that at first I thought had been victim to arson. Not the case. Apparently, it was once some super swanky hotel on the beach – attracting all sorts of celebrities, with all sorts of night shows, activities, etc. The owner passed away, family gained posession of the hotel, family members became greedy and the hotel fell victim to a family dispute. At this point, everything went to shit and things still are not resolved. Apparently, Panamanian gov. has threatened to take over the property if a conclusion is not drawn soon. It really is heartbreaking to see the current state of the grounds, as it’s obvious how beautiful the hotel once was, just a few years ago! For the sake of the island and the people who live there, I hope the dispute is settled soon.

Here’s Playa Larga. We walked down to the beach and played in the water. It still blows my mind how desolate the beach was!

Al fin, we arrived back to Contadora Island Inn. It looks like a house that has been separated into individual rooms with a shared kitchen and living area. All the rooms are themed on birds. We are in the bobo room. (:

Here are a few pictures of CII from the outside:

The island is so small, it takes maybe 30 minutes on foot to walk from one side to the other. We walked to Gerald’s for dinner tonight. Ate a pizza. The restaurant is outdoors, so I saw all sorts of critters! Frogs, lizards, other unidentified reptilians… On that note, tonight I learned that “sapo” is another word for “rana”.

I’ve learned that everyone knows everyone on Contadora. I’ve also learned that absolutely everyone and their dog, brother, sister, & friend know Tony!

One final picture for the night. Our view while walking back from dinner at Gerald’s. 

Panama – Day 2

1 chopped banana, 1/2 an apple, 1 scrambled egg, 1/2 a piece of toast, 1 pastry & juice was how today began. (Demasiado comida!!) Our b&b has a cute little patio right outside of our room where breakfast is served each morning. Alejandro greeted us with a smile (como siempre), chatting with us about our day’s plan. He and his wife really are outstanding hosts who go above & beyond. 

After breakfast, we caught a cab to the Panama Canal. Here’s a view, en route:

A ship had just finished passing through the canal when we arrived, so we  went through the museum first. One thing I noticed in the museum:

The dude on the left has carved eyeballs and the other does not.

I also thoroughly enjoyed this sign, whatever it might mean:

After the museum & movie, we waited about 3 more hours for another ship to come. !!! I spent a majority of this time playing one of my favorite games: people watching. In this game, I attempted to guess: where the people were from, occupation, and if there was a couple – if they were dating/married and/or duration of relationship. If they were in close enough proximity, I would try to guess the language spoken. Creepy? Only slightly. 

Waiting! The smoke you see behind me actually isn’t smoke. It’s evidence of construction! They are currently working on an expansion project that will double the capacity of the canal. 

Al fin, a ship arrived! Here’s the ship we saw pass through the canal! 

Look at it’s size compared to the people on the sidelines:

And lowering to pass through the Miraflores locks:

After the canal, we took a cab over to a contemporary art museum. After browsing the 1st floor, we saw a sign for a cafe, so we followed the sign down a short hallway and into a room… to find a vending machine. I.E. the “cafe”. ha! 

As we began heading up to the 2nd floor, one of the employees came out and said, “Espérame!” and hand signaled for us to stop. So we hung out awkwardly in the stairwell for a hot minute. He then came back and said it was ok to go upstairs. After ascending the stairs, we realized why – they were filming! What they were filming? I have no clue. But they were filming and had to stop so we could proceed upstairs to look around. It was a little awkward, but what can you do!

After completing our museum tour, we were hungry!! We asked for a recommendation and the employee said “Albrook Mall”. This is perhaps the 5th person who has said to visit Albrook Mall. My first thought was: HELL NO. I don’t like malls/shopping back home, so why go to a mall all the way in Panama? 

…10 minutes later and we were at Albrook Mall.

It’s incredible how much of an American influence there is here in Panama. In the food court, for example, I’d say about 70% of the restaurants are American chains:

One interesting thing I noticed: many people at the mall were wheeling around suitcases! I presume this is because most stores don’t allow patrons to bring in other bags/large purses. This of course makes sense to me, although when we first walked in the mall, my 1st thought was “Hmm, there must be a store with a great luggage sale!”

After dinner we took a quick spin through the mall, then caught a cab back to MD. This cab driver was p-i-m-p, PIMP!  So was his cab. Everything was covered in shimmery “blingy” contact paper.

Door handle, exhibit A:

The rearview mirror had no sort of plastic case – just a piece of mirror with four very sharp edges. The muffler sounded like it was 2 seconds from rattling off. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t think it even had a muffler. There were colorful clurb flashing lights within. He drove like a maniac and I’m fairly confident he sped up for every speed bump.

As we got going, he asked us what kind of music we liked. Why? Oh, because he had somehow mounted a flat screen monitor to the inside of his dashboard that played music videos. He flipped on some reggeton and turned the volume UP. ¡Sube! ¡Sube! ¡Sube! A video came up that was apparently filmed in Colon. He told us that people in Colon have darker skin than those in Panama City. Then he said: Barak Obama is black. Or more like: “Obama negro.” To which I said: “Pues, un mitad.” It’s interesting to hear the thoughts/comments/impressions, from those outside of the states, of the US/Americans. And vice versa. 

Here we are bumpin’ to the video. Please also take note of the insanely sharp-edged rear-view mirror:

We stopped for a red light and our driver proceeded to purchase an entire pizza from some dudes on the side of the street. He turned around and said, “lo siento, pero tengo mucho hambre!” “Esta bien, no te preocupes” is what I said in reply. In my head I was thinking: “You’re crazy/my favorite cab driver so far.”

Pizza time!

That night we ate dinner at a restaurant called Tinajas. The special part about this restaurant is that it features a folkloric dance dinner show. We hadn’t made reservations, so unfortunately the room with the show was completely full. We were a little disappointed, but oh well, not a big deal! Just as we were getting ready to ask for the check, the waitress let us know that they had a no show and we could take their table. CLARO QUE SI!! (: We were seated right as the show began. Not only did we get to see the show, but our table was front and center.

One of the drummers was absolutely incredible:

Here’s a video of one of the dances:

Awesome show. We’ve quickly learned that no trip back to MD is complete without a taxi joy ride. Let’s just say that tonight’s ride home did not disappoint. (:

Tomorrow we’re flying to Contadora Island. This afternoon I received an email from Air Panama saying our flight will be delayed 2 hours. No bueno, but we’re at their mercy, so our plan is to go with the flow! Beggars can’t be choosers, right? (: I just hope they don’t delay our flight on the way home, as we also have an international flight to catch that day. Vamos a ver…

 

Panama City – Day 1

2:30 is when I woke up this morning. And although many of you are probably thinking: “You are always up at that time. #TellMeSomethingIDontKnow”. WELL, today there actually was a reason for being awake at this ungodly hour.

Hoy vamos a Panamá!!

We left the apartment by 3:30 am and made it to Houston by 6:30 am (someday there will be more direct flights from Austin and/or flights from Austin which don’t cost an arm & a leg).

We parked at the Houston airport and took a shuttle to the terminal. The driver was Hispanic and started speaking Spanish to another Spanish speaking dude. Based on what he was saying, I have to assume he had no idea that I speak Spanish. Foreshadowing for the upcoming week? Creo que si.

Like always, there was trouble fitting everyone’s suitcases into the overhead compartments. In order to avoid checked bag fees, many of my fellow plane riders opted to not check any bags & just bring everything on board. Apparently luggage stowed below the airplane costs the airline $50, but luggage in the overhead compartment costs nothing! (I’d like to see the cost analysis for this decision). Frankly, I think Southwest is the smartest of all the airlines. Even if airlines need to compensate for extra cost caused by luggage weight, I think it’d be much smarter to just build the fee into the ticket price and have “free checked bags”. It isn’t rocket science, but it is psychology. BOOM.

At one point, one stewardess stepped in and began helping to stow the luggage. Her strategy was to go through all the compartments, find the smaller bags, and tell the bag owners to place it below their seat. She tried this strategy on one man and he said, “No, I won’t. That is my one bag.” The stewardess glared at the man & mumbled angrily under her breath. I thought a few things. #1. That man is ballsy. #2. “Hey, the dude is right. He packed light and/or checked his bag. Just because someone else brought 2 giant bags/neck pillow/diaper bag/purse/jacket/backpack/baby on the plane doesn’t mean this man should be crammed into his seat.”

On this topic, I would also like to note that I fit everything I needed for the week into 1 regular sized backpack & one small cross-body purse. I hope you are impressed because I sure as hell was.

Anyway, we arrived in Panamá! Here was our first view of the country!

The flight was fairly painless, as was customs. We had arranged transportation ahead of time, so when we walked out of the customs area, there was a guy there holding a sign with our names. Perfecto!

My first Panama thoughts? 1. HEELEELLLLLLOOOO humidity! 2. I wasn’t expecting to see such an array of skin tones. 3. There are a shit ton of power lines. Proof:

The taxi driver drove to us our bed & breakfast, Mediterranean Dreams (MD). As we were driving, the taxi driver’s phone rang. I heard him say “No no, they aren’t old. They’re young!”  Ummm. No entiendo. Oh well…no me preocupo.

We arrived at MD and Alejandro was exactly how he was described in Trip Advisor…except even nicer and more hospitable, if that is possible. He’s also alot younger than I was expecting. (I see an age trend…) Alejandro showed us to our room. Our room is the “uva” room. Meaning, it is grape/purple everything! Perfecto.

After a quick nap, Alejandro called us a cab & we were off to explore Casco Viejo, the historic district of Panama City. Apparently it is fine and safe during the day, but not a place to explore en la noche.

Aqui estan algunas fotos de Casco Viejo:

We ate our 1st Panamanian meal in Casco Viejo. It was a quesidilla & it was delicious.

 After dinner we caught a taxi to Amador Causeway – a beautiful area across the water from the city skyline. The view was absolutely breathtaking:

We walked down the length of the causeway, checking out the boats, stores, people, etc. Of course one of the first things my eye caught was an ice cream store.

In case you were wondering if I was able to resist temptation:

Ice cream cones in hand, we walked down the causeway, simultaneously admiring the beautiful views & sweating our brains out. A few more photos from the causeway:

Al fin, we took a cab back. Here’s one thing I’ve noticed about Panama City: the quality of cab you will get is a complete crap shoot. Some will be very nice, some will be average, and some will be like the one we took home from the causeway. Dear god. Our cab driver was about 175 years old. He had a ridiculous cough/wheeze that occurred every 10 seconds or so. He also never covered his mouth. He drove like a maniac. For awhile, I was concerned that one of the wheels might pop off. Speaking of popping, it was obvious that the car had been in at least one accident, as there was clear evidence that the airbag has been deployed.

What I’m trying to say is that pretty much, it was an awesome experience. And now that we have survived, we have a funny story to look back on. When in Panama!

Upon arriving back to MD, we were thirsty! There’s a grocery store about 1/3 mile away, so we decided to walk there. I don’t know why, but I just love grocery stores, especially when visiting other countries. I love seeing the different type of items found within the store. We went to the drink aisle. One side of the aisle had all of the juices/sodas/waters/etc. The other side had perhaps the largest selection of alcoholic beverages I’ve ever seen (aside from Specs). Mass quantities of beer, wine, hard a, ciders, etc. It was incredible. So, as David picked out drinks from the non-alcoholic side of the aisle, I stared longingly at the alcoholic drink side of the aisle, trying to convince myself that “maybe THIS time, I can try having 2 sips of alcohol without getting insanely sick within 5 minutes and feeling like I would rather be dead for another 45.”

I went with my better judgement and begrudgingly turned to the baby drink, I mean non-alcoholic drink section. I got Pepsi & water. #firstworldproblems, I know.

Here’s something you might not know. The currency used in Panama is the American dollar! Panama and the United States actually have quite an interesting history and relationship. You should look it up and get your learn on. It’s good stuff.

We were pretty exhausted from the day’s festivities, so after returning from the store, we opted to lay low tonight. We took our drinks & snacks & hiked our way up to the hammock at the top of the hill in the backyard. It was a nice relaxing evening.

Can’t believe day 1 is already over! Panama Canal tomorrow…

1 Year Later – Reflecting on Buenos Aires

One year ago, my colleague Karen and I traveled down to Argentina to visit our program in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We decided to write a collaborative post for the API blog, recapping the excursion we took with our students to Iguazú Falls. Below, you will find scanned in images of our journal entries as well as a photo/video mashup of the weekend. It truly was an incredible trip. Karen’s post is first, followed by mine:

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Mt. Hood

Yes, I grew up in Oregon and yes, I know I was only a few hours away from a handful of amazing ski locations but no, up until this past December I had never been to a mountain and certainly had never been skiing/snowboarding.

In case you were wondering, no, I have also never been camping. Actually, I take that back. My first camping experience was this past summer…in Israel…in a Bedouin tent. Go figure.

Yes, now that I live in Texas I have a much greater appreciation for Oregon and all of its beauty but no, even with this newfound appreciation, I really don’t think I’ll ever be much more of an “outdoorsy” person.

All this to say, I went to Mt. Hood for the first time this past December.

Well, David went to snowboard. I guess you could say I went along for moral support. I did contemplate skiing/snowboarding for about 10 seconds, weighing the pros and cons:

Pro: It could be fun, I can say I’ve tried it, it’s good exercise

Con: I hate being cold, I have no athletic ability, my hand-eye coordination is alarmingly low in the world of athletics (minus salsa dancing), I have the upper and lower body strength of a 9 year old, I’m not the best at making split second decisions in life or death situations (scary), and my luck isn’t all that great….

Wondering which option I chose?

Well…let’s just say, I took the photo you see above from within the lodge. I was mad at myself for about 3.5 seconds for not trying, but then I reminded myself: A. Different strokes for different folks, B. You have an awesome book in your bag that you’ve been wanting to read for about 6 months now and C. If you go out there, there’s a high probability the only way you will return is via stretcher.

While at Mt. Hood, I did alot of two things: reading & people watching. I read one of Chuck Klosterman’s book. Found the content on this page to be particularly smart:

Uhhh. I think someone is tired:

On the way back, we passed a snow bank where there were people sledding and snowshoeing, so we pulled over to check it out. I don’t like dogs (I’m wildly allergic), but I thoroughly enjoyed watching dogs go down snow embankments via snow tubes. It was a challenge to decipher if the dogs really really liked or really really hated the experience. I actually think they weren’t sure themselves.

The hotel where we stayed had quite the happy hour menu. We ate well and I’m sure my galbladder hated me the entire time: