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Dyrhólaey, Iceland, Reynisdrangar, Selfoss, Sjellandfoss, Uncategorized, Vik, WOW Airlines

Vik to Selfoss – Wind Storms & The Search for a Non-Existent Waterfall

The view from Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar

Today dawns relatively clear, but the forecast calls for high winds. We’re in no hurry to get moving from the cozy Carina Guesthouse, but as we’re eating breakfast, a beautiful sunrise begins to unveil through the dining room windows. We chug down the rest of our coffee and scarf down a few bites of delicious homemade bread and hit the road.

We decide to head straight to Dyrhólaey to photograph the unique rock formations that sit off the coast here, and then we’ll head back to town for the views from Vik’s hilltop church looking east. Fortunately, the winds have not picked up too much just yet, and with the right gear, we’re able to photograph for a good two hours without freezing.

Dyrhólaey and Reynisdrangar

All of what we have seen so far in Iceland has been jaw-droppingly beautiful, but there’s something special about Vik and Dyrhólaey. Large basalt rock cliffs drop down to a long black sand beach, and off in the distance, three jagged rock structures jut out of the ocean. Closer in shore is a larger lone rock structure, and the high tide swirls around it. Soft light stays with us for most of the morning, and by noon, we feel we’re content with what we’ve captured.

Reynisdrangar rocks as seen from Vik

Reynisdrangar rocks as seen from Vik

We drive the 15 minutes back to downtown Vik, pull into a gas station for a hot chocolate break, and see a pathway leading out to a separate beach. Here we have an eastward view of the craggy coastline, but we’re less protected from the elements, and as we’re trying to capture this new angle, we’re literally being sandblasted. I can feel the black sand hitting the back of my neck, and as this is happening, I look up to see Bill’s tripod being blown over by a gale force wind gust. We decide to hightail it to the car with our heads down to avoid more sandblasts.

We do make one last stop before leaving Vik, and that’s at the hilltop church where we’re afforded views of the entire, yet small town of Vik and the coastline below. We park the car off to the side and get out to snap a few pictures of the view. The parking lot is like a skating rink and the wind gusts are so strong, I have a hard time not sliding away. Luckily I grab on to the trunk of the car to stop myself. Right here is an indication of how our afternoon drive will play out.

Vik’s hilltop church

The winds are reaching 60-65mph + when we leave Vik, and road conditions are less than ideal. We plug in Selfoss to the GPS and begin the 1 1/2-hour drive. We’ve had little sunlight or warmth so far today, so patches of ice can still be found in places and the wind is vicious. Not only are the winds whipping snow across the roadways, they are also so fierce that it’s difficult to keep the car from veering. I’m driving now and it’s my turn to have a death grip on the wheel.

We’re no more than 20 minutes from Vik, when I hit a patch of ice, panic, hit the breaks and begin sliding from one side of the road to the other. At one point, I’m sure we’re going to hit one of the yellow posts on the right side of the road, and the next moment, I’m certain we’re going to collide with the white SUV heading towards us from the other direction. By the grace of God, I right the car, and Bill and I look at each other with white faces. How the hell did we not just die??? or at least seriously damage the vehicle??

A winter wonderland at Seljalandsfoss

I’m a bit weak and wobbly now, so we decide to pull over at Skogafoss. Unfortunately, it’s just too cold and windy to even consider leaving the car for pictures. We pull into a parking lot to turn around and watch as other travelers skate their way to and from their cars. Back on the road, we begin to drive parallel to a fjord, and this offers us some sort of protection from the wind at times.

Seljalandsfoss

Despite wanting to be in Selfoss for sunset, we know we can’t hurry, so when we pass Seljalandsfoss, we decide to stop for some daylight pictures. Pathways are slick and the grass in front of the waterfall is covered in ice crystals. The wind is whipping the falls, creating a mist that is (again) soaking the pathway that leads behind. We now know better than to attempt to hike up. (We’ll save that for a summer trip!) It’s a beautiful scene though, and at 3:30 the entire landscape surrounding us is glowing gold.

Our room at Garun Heidmork, Selfoss

Conscious of the time, we get back in the car to finish the drive to Selfoss. We have a hostel booked here for the night and decide to photograph Selfoss waterfall tonight and Gulfoss at sunrise. However, as we approach Selfoss, we realize that Selfoss waterfall isn’t in the city of Selfoss at all. It’s not even close. It’s about seven hours away in the northeastern part of the country. Ok, epic travel planning fail, but I’m certain we’re not the first people to make this mistake!

We still have tomorrow morning to photograph Gulfoss and Geysir and we look at tonight as a night to just chill out. We check into the lovely Guesthouse Garun Heidmork, which is a three-story home with a total of about seven rooms and a beautifully furnished kitchen. We make our way up to the attic apartment, dump our backpacks and head out to find food for dinner. When we return later that evening, the road outside is a sheet of ice, and the wind is so fierce that the attic room we’re sleeping in is creaking. We fall asleep to this unsettling noise, wondering what our last day of exploring holds for us!

Chile, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine, Uncategorized

Torres Del Paine, Day 5: Torres

 

The winds are vicious throughout the night Listen Here, but the rain let up at some point. It was FREEZING though, hovering somewhere around 25 degrees when we woke up. Even cocooning myself in my tent and sleeping bag, I could feel the cold seeping in through the face opening. When I did finally turn on my headlamp and look out of my sleeping bag, I saw a layer of condensation on the interior of my tent.

It’s odd because during the first couple of days, despite the beautiful views, I would look forward to resting at night, but a couple days later and I was dreading finishing for the day because I knew sleep would be fitful and I knew it would be cold. So, when 4am rolled around this morning, I was wishing for 6am to come quickly, because I knew once I got up and moving, I would get warm.

sunriseI’m awake before my alarm and check in with Simon at 6. He updates me on the weather saying there are a few clouds, but lots of stars too, and he’s sure we will have a clear day. I put my clothes in my sleeping bag for 5 minutes in an attempt to warm them up and get dressed. We make time for a quick coffee – sipping down half a sachet of café con leche each, and we set out at 7am.

The sun is just starting to creep up in the distance, and I try to shake off sleep as we begin the steady ascent from Torres campsite. I am not a strong early morning hiker, but Simon is patient and walks at my pace. But, I’m feeling frustrated at my pace and lack of energy… and soon his sunny disposition is frustrating me too – when really I am just peeved at myself.

In my mind, I feel like I am holding him up and interfering with his plans of finishing in time. I’m also still trying to figure out if I will continue to the backside of the circuit or finish today with Torres and call it a ‘W’. And I think I have come to the conclusion that it’s not that I can’t continue and complete the circuit, but I’m not sure I want to.

FullSizeRender_1The trekking is incredible – yes, it’s physically challenging, but nothing you can’t accomplish if you put your mind to it. What I am struggling with are the nighttime temperatures and discomfort. I feel like if I continue, I’m not going to enjoy it.

Simon is finding ways to encourage me to continue and then says “Maybe you’ve come here to find your spirit again.” At that point, a little piece inside of me wants to kick him down the hill.FullSizeRender_2

When I really think about the reason and the lesson for all of this, I realize that maybe this is my opportunity to learn that sometimes it’s ok to give up and not finish – something I’m not so good at. I stick things out to the bitter end, sometimes to my own detriment. Even when I called home yesterday to check in on my grandmother, when I told my mother my possible change in plans, she said, “Don’t quit. We’re not quitters.” But today, I am going to let myself quit and it is going to feel good.

After crossing a small suspension bridge, we arrived at Chileno campsite and sit down at a picnic table for a water break and a small snack. Simon asks me if I want to continue to Torres. “Por Supuesto,” I respond.

We both notice a drop in temperature and as we’re leaving the campsite, I ask a couple who are packing up how their night was. “Fine,” they respond. “We have a really good tent.” I look at Simon and say, “I must have a really shitty tent and a really shitty sleeping bag!” and I leave it at that and walk on.

look_upclimbFrom Chileno, we pick up the pace and cover the 3km up to Torres Camp pretty easily. I have shaken my sleepiness off. Now, we have just 1km left, a 250-meter climb to cover, which will take between 45 minutes to 1-hour. I put my head down and go. Often times, Simon looks so far ahead and higher than me, but moments later I am where he just was. The time passes quickly and the three iconic towers become more and more visible. Then, as we make a left turn and ascend just a little more, Torres Del Paine sits majestically in front of us, the three granite rocks towering over an aquamarine glacial lake.

towersClouds cover the top of the towers, but while Simon and I devour our sandwiches, the clouds lift and bright blue skies appear. Since we got an early start, we share this view with about ten other hikers.

I move down to the lake to take some pictures, and I realize this is what I came here to see. This is my finale. I will miss Gray Glacier, but I still have Perito Moreno and Fitzroy to look forward to. I will end my Torres hike today with this spectacular view.

Check out the video here

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Simon is determined to push on to Seron this afternoon, so we say goodbye and he begins the hike back to camp to pack up. I sit for another 30 minutes just soaking in the scenery, and as I walk away, I keep having to turn around for just one more look and one more photograph – this is just so surreal.

tower_upAt 12:30, I pull myself away and begin the descent, passing huge numbers of people who are making their way up. When I get to the campsite between Chileno and the Towers, I look up and see what look like ants marching above.

The descent seems never-ending, and I realize just how much climbing we covered this morning. At Chileno, I stop again to watch gauchos lead a group of horses across the river before continuing on.caballos

It’s 3:30 by the time I arrive at the little market outside of Torres. I treat myself to a packed of Kryzpoo (the equivalent of Pringles) and wander over to peek inside the hotel. I decide to treat myself to lunch once I get my tent and gear packed up.

When I get back to the campsite, it’s almost 4pm, and I’m surprised to see Simon’s tent still up. I wave my trekking poles in the air and he waves back. As I get closer, I ask why he’s still here. He tells me how he’s only just arrived himself because of bad knee pain. I find him some paracetamol and gift him my remaining oatmeal and chocolate supply, and he decides to head to Seron and if he’s still in pain tomorrow, he will return to Torres.

We pack up our things and say another goodbye… this time he hugs me twice and says, “one for you and one your grumpy side.” We laugh and he says, “I’m glad I got to know both.”

Anthony and Celine, a couple that I met at the hostel in Puerto Natales are next to us at the campsite. They have been on a different schedule than us, but they have also just returned from Torres so we make plans to meet at the restaurant after packing up.

IMG_4862IMG_4863A few minutes later, I’m ordering a hamburger and a glass of red wine and just moments after that, the British girls, Simran and Feben, arrive and we all share the highs and lows of the trek. During this conversation, I realize just how grueling everyone thought the trek was. I realize again that I have done enough and seen what I came here to see. I couldn’t have asked for better days to see Frances Valley and Torres.

We head outside to board the bus, and I snap one more photo of Torres, still shrouded in clouds, but now pink as the sun begins to set. At Park Administration, we transfer to the main bus back to Puerto Natales, and I watch as we drive away and leave the mountains in the distance.  I wonder if I will sleep and the next thing I know, we’re pulling into the bus station in Puerto Natales.

It’s a cool and windy walk back to the hostel, and when I arrive groups of people are enjoying a carb-loaded meal before setting off the following morning to begin their own treks. The three sisters who run this hostel welcome me back and help me get my bags out of storage and up to a room, and within 30 minutes of checking in, I am in bed… a warm, dry, comfortable bed.

Alaska, Alaskan Brewing Company, Allie High, brewery, Changing Tides, Juneau, Lisa Moore, Uncategorized

Day 8: Juneau and The Alaskan Brewing Company

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The tasting room at Alaskan Brewing Co.

Juneau, the capital of Alaska and home to about 31,000 residents. I’m excited to tour Juneau, a place only accessible by boat or plane, so it must be special. But, I must confess part of the reason I’m really excited to be in Juneau is because it’s home to the Alaskan Brewing Company. I’ve been excited about Juneau since my first Alaskan Amber in Fairbanks the day we landed in this great state.

Unfortunately, the day dawns cool and wet…again, and we’ve all succumb to the curse of the cruise ship – the common cold, but we rally to pull ourselves together and see some of this capital city. We bundle in our rain gear and disembark. Along with touring the brewery, I’ve planned to check out the Alaskan State Museum, which I find out is closed until 2016. That leaves us with town and the brewery.

At one end of Franklin Street, the main street in town, are the commercial cruise shops – jewelry stores and souvenir shops that are kitschy and over-priced, but a few steps up takes you to a more authentic collection of shops and taverns.

I stop in at the Alaskan Brewing Company’s downtown depot to pick up a few souvenirs and get information on the afternoon tours. And then, with an hour to kill before the shuttle to the brewery, we have time to sample some fudge from the Alaskan Fudge Company, take in the work of local artisans Allie High and Lisa Moore at Changing Tides gift shop, and pick up toys for my nephews at Imagination Station.

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Lisa Moore’s ‘Quilts With a Twist’

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Allie High’s beautiful and unique graphic prints.

By now, we’re thirsty and it’s time to board the Liquid Alaska Shuttle that will take us the 10 minutes outside of town to the brewery. Rob, our driver gives us a good overview of Juneau along the way. The city’s main industries are government, tourism, fishing and mining.

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Arriving for our tour at Alaskan Brewing Co.

Rob comments on the weather, saying Summer is 54 degrees and rainy, and winter is 44 degrees and rainy… He follows this up with a couple of facts on the cost of living. Since everything has to be sent by barge to Juneau, a gallon of milk is over $5 and a loaf of bread is $7. A one-bedroom will set you back $1200 in rent. I’m not sold on Juneau, but we haven’t got to the brewery yet…

Rob drops us outside the doors of the Alaskan Brewing Company and we’re shuffled into a tasting room by John who will be our guide for the next 30 minutes. John, a Rhode Island native, starts by pouring us a sample of Alaskan Amber, and delves into a history of the brewery, interspersing the brewery’s history with important facts about the actual brewing process.

The brewery officially opened in 1986, with Alaskan Amber as its flagship beer. From then on, the founders Geoff and Marcy went on to revolutionize the brewing process, finding ways to use the CO2 emitted from brewing as energy for packaging and removing the oxygen from beer, eliminating the need for any additional CO2. They call this “beer powered beer.”

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The flavors of Alaskan Brewing Co.

They are also the first brewery to use a special Mash Filter Press, which enables them to save 2 million gallons of water every year. So not only does their beer taste good, they’re constantly striving to find ways to make their production process more environmentally friendly. I feel less guilty about the next five samples already.

After a sample of Alaskan White and Free Ride IPA and some more history from John, we’re set free in the gift shop and tasting room. Here I meet Kenn, another east coast transplant who has lived in Juneau for 20 years. He spends the summers working at the brewery and the winters leading kayaking trips in Argentina.

Kenn is generous with the samples and I follow up the samples from the tour with a pumpkin ale, a marzen, a stout and lastly, a smoked porter, which they say is an acquired taste. I’ll agree with them on this one.

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Alaskan’s draught selections.

After refraining from any more purchases in the gift shop, we thank the team at Alaskan Brewery and dodge the heavy rain as we climb back into the shuttle for our journey back into town.

With the weather getting increasingly worse, we head straight back to the ship. My cold has taken full effect and the generous beer samples are making me sleepy. I crawl into bed for a late afternoon nap, wondering what Ketchikan has in store for us tomorrow.

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The Bucket List – International Travel

People always ask me how I pick the countries I end up visiting. I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer. Inspiration comes from many places, seeing a picture, hearing about another persons adventures, reading other travelers’ blogs, or just being curious about a place because so much IS unknown.

I do have lists though. They are everywhere… in notebooks, on my phone in the “note” section, in old journals… I love finding the old lists, so I can see which countries have drawn me in enough to actually plan the trip and visit. And then I create a new list, carrying over the places I haven’t made it to yet and adding new ones. Obviously, this list is always growing, despite how much I travel and how many countries I cross off.

I don’t know if I’ll make it to every country in the world in this lifetime, but I’m close to making it to all seven continents, and I have 39 countries crossed off the list so far. My goal this year is to travel to another five.

When planning a trip, I like to map out a logical route, so it makes economical sense and so I don’t waste time back-tracking. Unfortunately, the countries on my list right now are random, so it may just be that some are carried over to next year.

Here are the countries I am itching to get to…

Burma– I actually have a current visa in my passport for Burma, but unfortunately, I won’t be using it before February. So Burma stays on the list at number 1. Many think I’m out of my mind for wanting to travel to this “unsafe,” “poor,” “politically corrupt” country, but I’m anxious to get there sooner rather than later. A country which is now truly opening up to the idea of tourism is bound to change by leaps and bounds, and fast…just look at neighboring Thailand. Burma is the country of The Golden Rock, the temples of Bagan and Inle Lake. It’s a country of political unrest and a home to people fighting for democracy, people full of hope for a brighter and better future. Burma is on the brink of change, and while I hope for positive social change for them, I want to get there before there’s too much commercial change. I better hurry.

Norway– What sold me on Norway a couple of years ago were pictures. Just google Norway and browse the images that come up- bright green fjords plunging into deep blue rivers, colorful fishing towns, the aurora borealis. Norway is visually stunning and as a photographer, I can’t wait to get there. I have also met quite a few Norwegians on my travels, and they have added to my fascination with this Scandinavian country. I have had the opportunity to travel to other countries in this region, and I’m a big fan of the cleanliness and order that comes with being in Scandinavia. People are down to earth and systems just seem to work. Let’s face it though, Norway is expensive. This would be a great country to consider some couchsurfing in… A sofa or spare bed to sleep on will help you save some spending money and it always enables you the chance to get a deeper insight into life in a foreign land. (www.couchsurfing.org)

Jordan- I traveled to Israel in November 2011, and I am still kicking myself for not making it to Jordan. But I think Jordan deserves its own trip, and not just a side trip from Israel (or so I’ll keep saying, so I don’t feel too bad). First things first – Petra. I’ve seen the pictures, but I can’t imagine standing in front of, and looking up at this architectural marvel. I love being transported back in time by places, and I imagine this is what would happen here. Pair this with the fact that the Arabic people are some of the most hospitable in the world, and the cuisine is pretty damn good too, and you have the makings of an unbelievable journey. (Jordan remains open for travel, despite the political turmoil of neighboring countries.)

Patagonia– Ok, I realize this is a region comprised of both Argentina and Chile, so consider this a super-sized order. Patagonia’s been on my list since I started traveling hard core about four years ago. I am completely amazed by a place I have yet to visit. It’s all about nature here. I’ll leave electronic devices behind, put a backpack on my back and some hiking boots on my feet, and just go!  But I will make sure to have a camera in my hand. I’m looking forward to the evening when I watch the sun set over Torres del Paine and wake up the following morning to head to Perito Moreno for some glacier trekking. I’ve been dreaming of this for a long time! They say traveling to Patagonia is like traveling to the end of the Earth. In fact, Ushuaia (a jumping off point for exploring Patagonia) is considered the southernmost city in the world, but hold for the next one on the list…

Antarctica– If you find yourself in Ushuaia with some extra time on your hands, rumor has it you can score a week-long Antarctic cruise for around $1000 (USD). Alright, that’s still a good chunk of change, but considering these will set you back around $4000 (USD) normally, you’re saving considerably on this trip of a lifetime. Think about a crisp blue sky and massive white icebergs that are home to polar bears, seals, penguins, whales and albatross, and no one else around you for miles, literally. And if you’re like me, your life goal is to step foot on all seven continents!

Madagascar- Growing up my brother and I had plastic dinner placemats which were maps of the world. After dinner, my dad would always quiz us on the location of places, and I thought Madagascar sounded like the coolest place in the world.  I must admit my ignorance here, and tell you I don’t know much about Madagascar. I know it’s a place considered by travelers to be “the best kept secret.” It’s becoming a more talked about place on travel forums and over late night beers at the hostel. But what is the draw? Well, I think that’s where the intrigue lies here. It still feels like a place to be discovered. Better get there soon before it’s no longer a secret.  (And check out the baobab trees, a definite highlight for photographers!)

New Zealand-Spend the day trekking through terrain and scenery made famous by The Lord of the Rings, and end the day with a meal of New Zealand lamb paired with a local pinot noir or sauvignon blanc. Then head north to a 90-mile stretch of surfbreak. Visit Christchurch or Queenstown for a city fix, or learn about the ancient Maori traditions… I’m sold. New Zealand has so much to offer. The only thing that makes traveling here a challenge is it’s not in my frequent flyer network and the cost of living is high. I hope to make it here sooner rather than later though! (If you’re under the age of 30, you can easily get a working holiday visa- which can help with that whole “money” thing).

So that wraps it up. These are the places calling my name, topping the list. There are other places lingering in the wings – Portugal, Croatia, Hungary, Peru, Japan… but the countries listed above have my attention, and I need to get to see them soon. And now, I wonder, where will 2013 take me?? Which new stamps will my passport hold this time next year, and which places will still be left on the list? What new countries will I discover and add to the list? The adventure, like always, is yet to unfold. And that, my fellow travelers, is the best part.

Stay tuned…Next time I will share some personal advice and useful resources to help you plan your own Around-The-World journey. 

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How Do You Track Your Travels?

When I’m travelling, it’s rare for me to purchase souvenirs. First of all, I’m usually on the road for long periods of time, and “things” just weigh down a backpack, and second of all, I don’t really have anywhere to display my travel momentos yet. I am an avid photographer, so my photographs are what I take away from a place. They are a constant sweet reminder of where I have been and all that I have seen.

However, the other day, a friend sent me a link to meshu.io, and told me I should “do this.” I clicked on the link and discovered an incredibly thoughtful and unique way to remember my journey. By plotting pinpoints on a world map, I created a piece of jewelry that followed the same path I took on my journey through southeast Asia from July 2009 to May 2010.

Here’s an idea of how Meshu works.

My trip took me from my then home of NYC, back to Atlanta, then to London to see family, Moscow en route to India, then Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia (again) and the Philippines. Here’s what my journey looks like on a pendant:

This pendant keeps all the good memories of the places I’ve traveled close to my heart. What a simple, beautiful idea!

If you want to design your own piece, a link to Meshu’s website is below. Happy Travels!
http://meshu.io/

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My First Footsteps in Africa

The “Hand of Fatima” believed to bring good luck

I’m not going to lie, Morocco has me quite apprehensive. My latest travels have been to what I consider easy places. I classify those as first world, English speaking, relatively clean countries that have running water, and don’t worry you with stomach bugs and other life threatening ailments. Spending the Spring in Hawaii, and most recently, traveling through Iceland, England and France – it’s all been a cake-walk. Now, I need to get into a different mindset for Morocco.

I try not to carry stereotypes with me when I travel to a new place, but as a solo-female traveler, I do tend to keep my guard up in a place until I can get my bearings as well as a feel for a place and its people.

I had originally hoped to travel by train from Paris to southern Spain and then take the boat from Algeciras to Tangiers, but it was over double the cost of a plane ticket, so I booked a one-way ticket from Paris to Marrakech, and 4 hours later, I find myself in the craziness of this busy city. My first two reliefs when I arrive in a somewhat chaotic place- one- my bag thankfully arrives and two- I find transport at a decent price to a decent place to stay. The rest will fall into place. With my bag in tow, i hit up the ATM for some Dirham and make my way to the taxi line to haggle the price of a taxi to town. I know from research it should cost between 70-100 dihram for the journey. The first guy quotes me 13 Euro, double what it should be. Then it’s 250 dirham- price just went up. I tell him no, and that I want to pay what everyone else pays, so he tells me to wait, while he telephones another taxi. I wait, the taxi arrives, we agree on 80 dirham. I now understand what Morocco will be like.

I am dropped outside Djemaa el-Fna, the main square, and to say it is a maze is an understatement. The cars can go no further, so the taxi driver drops me and tells me to walk straight and then right and I will find my hotel. The streets are swarmed with vendors, diners, people out for an evening stroll, tourists and hagglers. I dodge the hagglers and walk straight, trying not to make eye contact with anyone who wants to sell me a hotel room, a henna tattoo or anything else he has up his sleeve. I do however need directions, cause I have no idea where the hell i am, so I pop into a pharmacy and using the French I so thankfully remember, I get somewhat clear directions to where I’m going. I only have to stop another three times to clarify. After multiple turns down hidden lanes and alleyways, I see Hotel Essouira on a signpost ahead. I feel a sense of relief, but when I arrive, there are no rooms, sorry, try next door.

Hotel Medina’s courtyard

I get a little room in Hotel Medina next door for $10 a night. I drop my bags and venture out for dinner. I haven’t eaten since breakfast so I head to Snack Toubkal, a makeshift cafe created out of plastic garden furniture. I have to wait for a seat, so I’m assured it’s a decent place to eat. I order my first authentic vegetable couscous. I get halfway through the dish, and I can eat no more- it didn’t look like a lot of food, but it sure is filling. I head back to Hotel Medina for a good night’s sleep, and wonder what Marrakech has in store for me.

A typical storefront near Djemaa el-Fnaa

The following morning, I head to Bahia Palace to start my tour of Marrakech. I study the map closely and confirm directions with the guy at the hotel. He says, “it’s easy, takes 10 minutes.” I walk away from Djemaa el-Fna, passing stall after stall of shoes, lanterns, leather bags, spices, plates, ornaments, postcards and pashminas. I reach a main road and bear left dodging cars, mopeds, motorcycles and horse-drawn carriages. I do a little victory dance when I reach Bahia Palace.

Bahia means beautiful, and it’s appropriately named. Even just stepping onto the grounds of the palace, I feel like I’m taken away from the craziness of Marrakech. Traffic and congestion and the throngs of people are outside the walls of this palace, and I feel like I’ve found some respite. I spend about an hour here, taking my time to study the beautiful architecture, colors, marble and wood carvings that adorn every inch of the palace. I find a spot to sit in the sun in the outdoor courtyard and soak in the silence. This is what I pictured Morocco to be like…this is the old Morocco.

I resist leaving because I know I have to re-enter mayhem. I consult the handy guidebook and make a plan. I will head to Badia Palace nearby next. I stroll through a courtyard and make my way to Badia. A few men on mopeds tell me I’m heading in the wrong direction. They are quite used to the number of tourists who inundate this city on a daily basis. One kind man stops, gets off his moped and walks with me, telling me the palace is closed until the afternoon, but he will show me a shortcut. “A shortcut to where?,” I think. I almost feel like I am given no choice but to follow. He says, “no money, just help you.” He leads me through the entrance of a hammam and on the other side, is the Mellah, the Jewish area of the old city.

He leaves me in the good hands of his friend, a spice seller, and before I know it, everything from saffron to sandalwood is being thrown under my nose. He then hands me a box with a pile of white crystals in it and I take a whif… the menthol smell brings me back to reality. “Mint,” he says, “the cocaine of Morocco.” I stroll on down the alleyway, trying my best to ignore the calls of other vendors, and the handfuls of tea being forced into my hands.

Just a handful of the many spices you will find in Marrakech

Although, I’ve enjoyed the olfactory journey through Marrakech’s collection of spices, I decide to head to the northeast side of the old city and visit Maison de la Photographie. I have heard good things about the collection of work here, and being a photography lover, I’m looking forward to seeing Marrakech’s history through pictures. The museum occupies a 3-floor riad and houses a collection of photographs from all over Morocco, dating back to as early as 1870. These include original photographs of the Berber people, the Jewish settlers, the African, as well as the local Arabic people.

On the top floor of the museum is a cafe as well as panoramic views of the old city. I savor the view, and the silence, before rejoining the masses below. I’m hungry and it’s getting quite late in the day, so I decide to head back to where I’m staying for a tagine and some tea. This means walking back through the winding alleyways to Djemaa el-Fnaa, passing all the shopkeepers and snakecharmers, tour guides and spice sellers. I’ve covered some distance today, and I feel tired, But I know it’s not just from the walking and the traveling but from the energy I’ve exerted just being here. Marrakech is revealing itself to be a place of craziness with pockets of hidden beauty. My outlook going forward is to savor that beauty as and when I find it.

Djemaa el-Fna
Europe, Food Porn, France, global cuisine, Paris, Travel, Uncategorized

Food Porn : Three Days of Gourmet Decadence In The City Of Light

After Iceland, I head to England for a few days to visit family and decompress. I am Morocco-bound next, so some time with family and friends, hot showers and clean beds are all welcomed. Back in the Summer I had found a “too good to pass up” flight from London to Paris, so I decided then to make a pit stop in Paris en route to Morocco. Paris is one of those cities that draws me back again and again, and I have a good travel buddy I owe a visit to. Ticket in hand, I am dropped off at Luton airport by a friend, and make my way to check in. Less than two hours later, I arrive at Charles d e Gaulle airport. My dear friend Marty is there to meet me, and we head straight to the city center.

We arrive at Bar Rota in the 11th arrondissement around 7:30 and plant ourselves, and my two backpacks, at a table next to floor to ceiling windows. The ambiance is so quintessentially Paris, you couldn’t script it better. Tea lights flicker on each of the six wooden tables, worn wooden bar stools line a dusty floor, effortlessly stylish friends sip their after work wine, and a couple so crazy about each other can’t keep their tongues out of each other’s mouths. Ah, Paris… it’s just so romantic.

The spread at Rota Bar

Marty ventures to the bar to take care of the business at hand. He comes back and informs me wine, cheese, charcuterie and bread are all on their way to us. It is a Wednesday night, and the crowd thickens as we lose track of time, catching up on the events of the two years that have passed since we traveled Southeast Asia together. Another hour passes, another bottle of wine is ordered. We run out of bread and a kind older patron who overhears us asking for more, brings a box of crackers over to our table. The restaurant has run out.

The next thing we know, it is 2 am, and Bar Rota is shutting down for the night. The only people left are us and the kissing couple. They bid us farewell, as we put on our coats and clumsily heave my bags from the floor. It is time to make the journey home.

One thing Paris is not known for is an efficient after-hours public transport system. We have to make it to Orgeval, a good 30 kilometers from Paris’ city center. A taxi is out of the question due to cost, so we make our way to the bus station at Les Halles, and take a bus headed to Orgeval. Marty informs me that we have a trek the other end, but that he will try to convince the driver to let us off at an unofficial stop en-route. That would mean a 20-minute walk as opposed to having to hitch hike from a farther stop. Luckily, Marty’s kind disposition wins the bus driver over, and he shakes me awake at 3:45 a.m. saying, “Hurry! He’s going to stop for us.” We walk the next 20 minutes in a comatose state to his home.  I never curse staying for the second bottle of wine. In fact, in hindsight, the walk may have been easier because of it. We crawl into bed around 4:15am.

I awake early and will myself to go back to sleep, but I am not winning this game, so I head down to the kitchen for a coffee. It feels like we are ages away from the bustling city streets we had walked last night. The view outside Marty’s kitchen window is of an apple orchard, and farm land that stretches on for miles. I let out a deep breath and think I would be okay soaking in this view for the next few days, and I’m not worried if we make it back to Paris or not.

Confit de Canard

Marty joins me in the kitchen about an hour later, fires up the espresso machine, aka the “George Clooney” (thank you, French advertising) and we make plans for the day. Since it is already late morning, we decide to save Paris for another day. What we need now is some grease to soak up the excess red wine still lingering in our systems. Marty decides the best cure is Confit de Canard with Salardaises (translation- duck cooked in its own fat, with thinly sliced potatoes, also fried in the duck fat). I sit watching as he chops potatoes and removes the duck from a tin of hardened fat. I think of how sinful it seems to be eating something so rich for…breakfast? If there’s one thing the French know and do well, it’s indulgence. Especially when it comes to food.

Marty lays two places at the table and presents my confit de canard, and then, oh so, absentmindedly reaches for a box of red wine sitting nearby. He says nothing, but just looks at me and raises an eyebrow, as if to say, “Are you in?” My initial reaction is “God, no.” But I am eating duck for breakfast after all, so to hell with it. “Yes, please,” comes out my mouth. I ask Marty if he likes to cook. He says, “No,” quickly and affirmatively. I tell him he is good at it regardless. He looks at me and replies, “I’m French.” I have to laugh at this arrogant comment coming from my far from arrogant friend.

Marty’s father stops in on his lunch break and has a quick espresso, comments on the smell of duck that has permeated the house and asks us our plans for the afternoon. Marty explains our plans to go mountain biking through the farmland behind his house. His father looks at me and says in English, but with a thick French accent, “Thees is very ambiteuse, eespecially after confit du canard.” I couldn’t agree more.

But it is what we do… We bike through apple orchards, protected forests, winding village lanes, circling back to the center of town to pick up some things for dinner. This consists of three slabs of cheese. I am beginning to panic. (At least there was a bike ride?)

We head home and set out cheese, bread and a salad, pour wine and relax. Tomorrow, we hit Paris.

The second morning starts much like the first, with espresso, but no Confit de Canard. We head to Paris and have a cafe au lait and croissant near Notre Dame. We circle the cathedral, and dodge the hoards of tourists. I think back to my first trip to Paris- 1997, 16 years old, high-school spring break. It was most likely at this precise moment and physical place that I discovered I love to travel, that I knew I connected with something deep inside my heart that made me want to go, learn, and see more beyond my familiar world… yes, it was on this same gravel, outside Notre Dame Cathedral, 15 years prior, in Gap jeans, a white long john tee shirt and Adidas running shoes.  I have a moment where I feel like I’ve come full circle. (Except, I hope I dress better now.)

Pont des Arts

We walk up the Seine to Pont Des Arts, a bridge famous for its legend surrounding everlasting love. Apparently, the rumor used to be that if you thought of the person you loved as you crossed the bridge, or sailed beneath it, you would be with that person forever. I remember, at 16, thinking of Laurent, the lovely tour guide we had during our week-long trip, as we sailed below the bridge on our bateaux-mouche. Today the legend remains the same, but the bridge has been made even more famous by the thousands of locks that adorn the fences on either side, put there by lovers, partners, husbands, wives and best friends over the years.

From Pont des Arts, we head towards St. Germain and the Latin Quarter. Marty is in search of a famous macaroon shop. I’m wondering how I will eat any more food without dire consequences and am more preoccupied with finding the school where I studied French Art & Literature during my junior year abroad. We find the macaroon shop and debate for ages about which flavors we will buy. Each macaroon is like a little piece of art, and there are too many to choose from. We settle on pistachio, creme caramel, coffee and hazelnut. We walk parallel to Les Jardins de Luxembourg, and in the distance, I see the Foyer des Etudiants International, 93 Boulevard St Germain. Next door is the same cafe that was there in 2000, our meeting point before class. Memories of Matisse, Picasso and Camus come flooding back.

We walk over to the gardens, pull up two green chairs in front of the fountain and begin our macaroon sampling. We’re selective in the order in which we enjoy these treats, starting with the ones we think we’ll like least– as if it’s even possible to dislike any of them. We savor each bite and force each other to take the last nibble. Most of the time, it’s smaller than a crumb. Marty drops part of the creme caramel one on the ground, and quickly retrieves it (the 5-second rule is in effect.) I have no words to describe how decadent and rich these treats are. To say I’m glad we sought out the macaroon shop is an understatement.

Le Village’s charcuterie plate

We sit in silence soaking in the warmth of the sun before finding the motivation to begin walking again. When we do, we loop back to Pont des Arts and head northwest to The Louvre and The Tuileries Garden. The Eifel Tower sits in the distance, but we bypass La Tour and hop on the metro to Montmartre. When we arrive, it’s pouring, so we decide it’s late enough in the day to duck into a cafe for a glass of wine. We find Le Village, and decide we should probably have something to eat as well. Marty’s friends are coming to the house for dinner later, so we settle on splitting a light charcuterie plate !

We while away a couple of hours here, sipping red wine, people watching and letting the rain pass. I imagine what life would be like if I lived in Paris, what I would do for work, which arrondissement I would live in, where my local cafe would be. My daydreaming is cut short. We have to catch a train back to Orgeval. We settle up at Le Village, and make our way back to the train station. We miss our train, but find a local cafe for a quick espresso while we wait for the next one.

Raclette, chez Marty.

Back in Orgeval, we are collected at the station by Marty’s friends. We head to his home and begin preparing Raclette. Now, I know Raclette is a type of cheese, but I do not know about the elaborate dish prepared using this cheese. Again, I am about to be schooled in French cuisine. Drinks are poured, and water is boiled for the potatoes. Charcuterie is arranged on platters- prosciutto, pepperoni, salami, parma, just to name a few. And the Raclette is sliced. A grill-like contraption is placed in the middle of the table, and each person is given a metal spatula to heat their cheese on. We dig in, and don’t stop. Boiled potatoes are mashed or sliced, depending on your preference, and warm Raclette is drizzled over the potatoes and charcuterie. When anyone slows down or shows signs of filling up, guests at the table take turns feigning dismay and make comments like, “you are not giving up yet, are you?” I am surely entering a food coma, although at this point in time, I’m not sure if I have even managed to escape one since arriving in Paris.

My thoughts return to Iceland- a beautiful place, but one which lacked any major culinary highlights. I convince myself three days of pure indulgence here will only make up for the lack of food consumed during my week there. I think ahead to Morocco- tagines, couscous, olives, lamb, pastilla, BREAD. And then I justify it all, by remembering what a wise person once told me, “As a traveler, you never know where you will get your next meal.” I’m thankfully full when the plates are cleared, and I’m profoundly more thankful that everyone seems to have forgotten about the flan we were supposed to have for dessert. I cannot eat another bite.

Marty and his friends have been such gracious hosts. I am sad this short trip has come to an end, but I’m thinking if I stay any longer, I’ll have to start spending my dwindling travel budget on Moroccan palazzos. Still, if there is one way to truly understand a culture, it’s to immerse yourself in the cuisine and the traditions surrounding it. These three days in Paris have been a success in that regard. But how can you fail in France? If anyone knows how to celebrate and enjoy food, it’s the French.

At the end of the evening, I pack up my things and prepare for an early morning jaunt back to Charles de Gaulle… I am full, happily reacquainted with a dear friend, and now, bound for Morocco.

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Maker’s Mark

Anyone who knows me well knows I love my wine, but if I had to name my liquor of choice, it’s bourbon, and to be more specific, it’s Maker’s Mark. I’m not sure how or when this love developed, but if memory serves me correctly, I think I was was introduced to Maker’s on my brother’s 21st birthday, and while we’ve had a few breakups over the years, I have never cheated on it.

I credit the love of the brand to my brother’s best friend, Beau. Beau was born in Winchester, Kentucky and grew up down the road from us just outside of Atlanta. Beau introduced us to all things Kentucky over the years- Ale 8, Beer Cheese, the Hot Brown, and Kentucky Basketball. He also introduced me to Maker’s Mark. In fact, I vividly remember the look on my father’s face when Beau bet me I wouldn’t take a swig straight from the bottle of Maker’s. I took that bottle out of Beau’s hands and turned it upwards. To my father’s surprise, I felt fine the next day. I can’t say the same for my brother.

Over the years, Maker’s has always been present at our weekends together. We picked up a bottle to have during my brother’s wedding weekend, the drink of choice this past New Year’s Eve was Maker’s, and whenever we are all catching up about life, wherever we are… it’s usually with a Maker’s in hand. It’s become a tradition to pick up a bottle when we are all together. And while I don’t imbibe as much these days, I drink a Maker’s and Ginger as much to keep a tradition alive as I do for simply enjoying the taste. There are so many good memories associated with it, ok- and maybe a hangover or two, but for storytelling purposes, we’ll leave those details out.

Recently, Beau and I started to discuss a visit to the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. Beau was pushing for this, but I didn’t really need that much convincing. A roadtrip with friends to the Maker’s distillery… I was onboard from the day he first mentioned it. But Beau’s passion and desire to see the birthplace of this sweet bourbon was much stronger than mine, and it came down to family and a special interaction he had shared with the Maker’s Mark family the year before, one that we would learn went a lot further back than we initially thought.

Winchester, Kentucky isn’t a big city at all. The population today is 18,000. In fact, you can cross town in the matter of moments and if you blink, you’ll miss it. It’s still the type of place where everybody knows everybody else, where you go to dinner and if you’re Beau’s grandmother, Shirley, you look around when you walk in the restaurant to see who you know there. There’s a sense of community and a southern hospitality that’s sweeter than that of most other southern cities.

Beau’s family has lived in Winchester for generations, so they know a few people. Beau’s late grandfather, Cap Langley, was a man about town, and a few people know of him. After his service in World War II, he returned to Winchester, Kentucky and led a group of men in the construction of US Route 60 which runs from Winchester to Louisville. During this time, he met and employed Bill Samuels, Sr, who later went on to create the brand Maker’s Mark in 1954.

The whole family knew of the connection between Cap and Bill, but family lore had it that Cap had been very influential in one of Maker’s Mark’s famous ad campaigns. The story goes that while at a dinner party one night, Bill Samuels was telling a small group of people about the potential new tagline, “It tastes expensive,” and Cap turned around and said, “Because it is!”  Apparently, the family believed that this was turned into the tagline, “It tastes expensive and is,” which Maker’s Mark ran for many years following that night.

Beau, being the curious guy he is, decided to get to the bottom of this legend, and back in January 2011, he put pen to paper and drafted a letter to Maker’s Mark. Not knowing who to address it to, he sent it to the PR department, with hopes that it would fall into the right person’s hands. Well, wouldn’t you know that less than two weeks later, Beau had a letter back from Bill Samuels, Jr.confirming the story was indeed true. Bill Samuels, Jr. spoke very highly of Cap and was well aware of his father’s relationship with the Langley family. 

I’ll never forget being on the receiving end of Beau’s phonecall and listening as he read the handwritten card he had just received from the bourbon maker himself.  If Beau could love the Maker’s Mark brand anymore than he already did, it just happened. And the need for a visit to the distillery became even more necessary.

We made that trip this past weekend. Beau flew into Lexington Friday afternoon, and I drove up from Atlanta picking him up when I arrived in town. We went straight to Grandma Shirley’s house for a visit, and she was eager to hear about our plans for the weekend. We had a lot we wanted to see and do, but the main event was the visit to Maker’s Mark the following morning.

Without missing a beat, Shirley began to recollect her early memories of Maker’s and the Samuel’s family. She spoke of transporting bottles of Maker’s down to Florida for the Samuel’s family back in the day because what they were selling down there were actual Maker’s bottles filled with Jaeger. Beau and I exchanged glances that conveyed the “can you believe what you’re hearing?” look. She and Bill Samuels were on a first name basis.

The following morning, we were up around 6:30 and in the car driving towards Louisville by 8:30a.m. The distillery opened at 10:30 and we wanted to get on one of the first tours before it got too busy. We drove down numerous winding country roads that led us to the little town of Loretto, Kentucky, home of the Maker’s Mark distillery. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, but it was beautiful, and we felt pretty lucky when we came across this sign.

We signed up for the $7 tour, which took us around the Maker’s Mark grounds and to the distillery where we learned about the special sour mash mix and the 3-day fermentation process. We walked through the barrel house to the on-site bottling factory where bottles are filled and then dipped in Maker’s Mark’s signature red wax. We were then taken to a tasting room, where we both sampled the original Maker’s Mark and Maker’s 46 for the first time. This was polished off with a bourbon chocolate.  We were then let loose in the gift shop.

One can’t make a visit to Maker’s and not dip a bottle! So we purchased our bottles and got in line to dip. Decked out in goggles, gloves, protective sleeves and an apron, I felt quite professional as I “slam dunked” my bottle in the liquid red wax.

As it sat to cool, a lady working at the dipping station made sure the wax hadn’t entirely covered the tab to open the bottle. She then said, “They all say they’re not gonna open it, but I bet you do.” If and when I do, it will be a damn special occasion, that’s for sure!

We left Maker’s and toured a few of the surrounding historical sites, including Abe Lincoln’s birthplace and childhood home, and we drove home on the back country roads via the Paris turnpike. We headed back to Shirley’s for dinner. As we walked in the door, the first thing she asked us was, “Did you see Bill there?” We hadn’t seen Bill, but what we did see was a legacy created by him that still lives on in Loretto, Kentucky and around the world for that matter.

We showed Shirley the bottles we had dipped and asked her which one she liked better. Her response, “Well it’s 6 of one and half a dozen of the other.” I thought that was kind of ironic.

For more information on the Maker’s Mark brand and the distillery’s hours of operation, visit www.makersmark.com

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Nine Lives

Sunset over Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket 

When I first decided to work a Summer season on Nantucket, almost everyone commented on how glamorous it would be. However, a friend I had met traveling a few months prior to returning to the US made the comment that I was going from one extreme to the other. I was leaving a world of extreme poverty and entering one of extreme wealth. This is true. I learned tonight that Nantucket is the wealthiest county in the US… I had spent my prior months in India and Indonesia, where many people consider themselves fortunate to have a roof over their heads.

Spend a Summer on Nantucket and it’s impossible not to notice the money that infiltrates this island, but despite the extreme wealth here, I am still fortunate to meet very genuine people from all over the Eastern seaboard. Working in a bar, I am often asked what brought me to Nantucket? where the heck am I from (because of this weird accent?) and where I spend my winters? And, great conversations usually evolve.

Tonight was supposed to be a pretty big night on the boat. Each year the Boston Pops play a concert on Nantucket. It’s a very important fundraising event for the Nantucket Cottage Hospital, but due to bad weather, the event was cancelled. Ironically enough, the weather turned out to be just fine, and despite the concert being cancelled, the boat sailed for a sunset cruise anyways. We had a small group on board, and I was able to chat with a few of them.

I started talking to a man from Washington D.C. who was on Nantucket with his wife, visiting relatives. He wanted to know all about my story, what I do in the off season, where I travel, and how this all came about. I told him my story, and I could sense an understanding from him, sort of an unspoken approval for what I’ve chosen to do. He didn’t even need to verbalize it, it was just there.

He asked me a few questions about what I was doing and where I was going, and the only comment he made was “you never know if the bus will hit you tomorrow.” We both commented on how life is short, and you need to live for today. He mentioned how he and his wife had traveled a lot over the years, to the point of spending more of their children’s inheritance than they probably should have. I wondered if there was more behind his comments, but decided I would find out if indeed there was.

He approached me later on in the cruise and we began talking again. We talked of Nantucket, how beautiful it is, how it’s almost too perfect and how it sometimes lacks any sense of reality. For this reason, he and his wife only spend a week here visiting family each Summer. The rest of the time, they really travel, spending a lot of time In Europe. We talked about the insane amount of wealth on the island, and he said he was probably the poorest one on the boat, but that it was a choice he made earlier in life- a choice to live a more modest life and to spend the money he made differently. And he’s glad he did.

He commended me again for how I was choosing to live my life. All I said was I knew there were certain things I wouldn’t be able to do when I was 65 and retired, and there were certain ways of living that wouldn’t be as comfortable then as they are now…(schlepping a backpack to and from guesthouse to hostel). He said that he and his wife had chosen to live a more modest way of life in order to live more in the moment, and one of the ways they fulfilled that was through their travels. He then added that he hoped he didn’t live too long, or else he would be eating dog food for sure, seeing as they had enjoyed the fruits of their labor, instead of pouring thousands into a “retirement account” to use at a “later” point in life. Still, I could tell there was more to this story than I was picking up at this moment.

As we approached the dock, he told me more about their life in DC, about their core group of friends- the 20 couples they consider their “inner network of people.” He also spoke more about his wife and their philosophy, or way of living. I learned they met in Europe when he was stationed in Frankfurt with the Army and she was teaching at an International School. They have been married for 44 years. He told me of their active lifestyle and how she had founded their real estate business in DC over 20 years ago. At this time, he informed me that not too long ago, when working out with their personal trainer in DC, she had suffered a brain aneurism and that she had survived breast cancer, not once, but twice within 20 years. For these close calls and a number of others, they now refer to her as “Nine Lives.”

A sense of understanding and clarity developed the more I spoke to this man.  Too many people spend their entire lives, saving their pennies and working so hard for a day when they will “enjoy” all their hard work, when they will sit back and reap the benefits, but there are a few who realize that life is short, and meant to be lived everyday, not spent planning for living in the future.

I was saddened to hear of this man’s struggles, more specifically of what his wife is going through, but I wanted to just grab him, hug him and say, “you get it. you did the right thing. you may not have the money that the people on this island do, but you have lived a far richer life in so many other ways.”

I came across this Mark Twain quote recently, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by any of the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” The first part of the quote strongly resonated with me. It’s about having no regrets, not looking back and saying “I could’ve done this, or I should’ve done that.” It’s about grabbing life by the balls, milking every moment for all it’s worth.

I think it’s synchronicity… meeting people on your journey that inspire you and reaffirm the choices you have made and the path you have taken. It’s as if for a couple of hours that evening, we shared a connection about the way we have come to understand life and how precious it is. It’s moments like this, no matter where I am in the world, that I grab onto and hold dear.

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The Farm

Somehow I have this knack of getting myself into hilarious (in hindsight) situations, and this is one of them. With a few extra days on my hand in Hawaii and not wanting to leave Kaua’i just yet, but while also watching my bank account dwindle down fast, I decided to do what a lot of backpackers and budget travellers do here…work/trade. I thought I’d found the answer to it all when I came across an ad at the local health food store for work/trade on a local lettuce farm. I called to inquire.

I spoke to Mary, who runs the farm, and I got the lay of the land. For 3 hours of work a day on the lettuce farm, I could pitch a tent, have use of a kitchen and outside shower. Sweet! Sign me up. So after a few days of fun with others at the hostel, I bought a 2-person tent for $20 off a fellow traveller and hitched a ride to Kilauea Farms. It was getting dark when i arrive and the rain was impending, so I was thankful that the tent was easy to set up, and that my new friend Kelly had offered to help. Fortunately I had sort of lucked out on this deal. I was able to set my tent up within a larger outside tent, and someone had left a mattress on wood beams, so when I put my tent on top of that, it was well, more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.

Kelly left to go back to the hostel, but we made plans to meet up the following afternoon for some more exploring of the island. I felt good knowing I wouldn’t be stranded there. I crawled into my tent and zipped up quick to keep out the other things that had made home within the larger tent- mosquitos, HUGE Cane spiders and god knows what else. I crawled into my sleep sheet and put my earplugs in. I could make it a week, couldn’t I?
It rained the entire night, and the sound of the water hitting the top tarp was loud even through my earplugs. It had cleared by the morning, and I awoke with the roosters and the sun, and luckily, the tent was dry. I made coffee and got chatting to Marco, a mid-40s Italian man who has been living on the farm for the past 3 months. He was a character, explained how he had maxed out all his credit cards, was in a mountain of debt and so was living off the land and the handouts from the local foodbank. It just got weirder from here.
In a yurt to the side of the farm and the main house lives Sarah, a 30 something single mother of 2 darling kids, Canyon (7) and Story (4). Ok, now I know I’m with full blown hippies. Sarah works on a couple of farms around the island. Story and Canyon show me around their yurt, and Canyon and I get to talking about his friends and I ask him who his best friend at school is and he looks at me and says, “I ain’t ever gone to school.” ?
I’m sort of dumbfounded at this point. I finish my coffee and Mary comes to find me and show me what needs to be done. I spend my morning planting lettuce seeds and mulching. I convince myself again that this is going to be a new, fun experience. Around 11:30, Kelly comes to collect me and we head to Ke’e Beach with a few others for a 6-hour coastal hike that takes us to isolated beaches and huge waterfalls. It was an awesome afternoon. I don’t want to go back to my tent.
The following day, I am up early and back out mulching the lettuce beds. I decide to stay put for the afternoon, relax, read, catch up on a few phonecalls (yes, there is at least cell phone reception). That afternoon I meet Will, the other farm dweller. He’s been in Hawaii for years. I’m not really sure what else these people do. They hop around from campsite to farm, from foodbank to any other handout they find. In an afternoon conversation, Will tells me he hasn’t been around cause he had to go spend 2 days in the slammer. Alrighty then.
At this point in time, I hear from my friend Katie, who I met my first day on Kaua’i. She mentions she just got a new apartment and offers for me to come and stay for a few days if the farm gets too much. I thank her and tell her I’m going to try and tough it out for a few more nights. I cook spaghetti for a few of us for dinner and retire to my tent to drink the single bottle of cheap red wine i smuggled in a few days earlier. It gets cold that night and I fall asleep to the sounds of roosters, pigs, cows, ducks and other foreign animals that I’m probably better off not knowing about.

I wake up feeling cold and tired and decide that I really don’t have anything to prove to anyone here. This sucks and I’m in Hawaii, so I’ll be damned if I spend another moment not enjoying it. I text Katie and graciously accept the offer of a sofa for a few nights. I do my morning mulching and chat with Will again, who offers me the use of his knife if i don’t feel safe at night. Yeah, it’s time to go!

I hitch to Kilaeua that afternoon and sit at a coffee shop and feel like I’ve re-entered a somewhat civilized world. I’m thankful I only have one more night at the farm. Katie and I meet up and cruise around the island to pick up a few things for her apartment. She drops me at the farm with the promise that she’ll collect me at 11 the following morning. She asks me if i just want to go with her then, and the knife comment pops in my head, but we decide it’s okay and I’ll just do my last morning of “work” and then go.
I sleep well knowing I’m getting outta there, and I find Mary the next day and tell her that I’m going to town to spend a few nights with a friend. What can I do but tell her the truth- it’s just a little too rustic for me. I plant a few more lettuce seeds that morning and pack my tent up. Katie comes to collect me and we drive away- me knowing i will never look at lettuce again the same way.