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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.


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


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


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.


Lisa Moore’s ‘Quilts With a Twist’


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.


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.”


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.


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.

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.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Kauai, Lettuce Farm, long term travel, Travel, Uncategorized

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.
Around the world travel, Ayutthaya, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

Ko Tao-Bangkok-Ayutthaya

From Ko Tao, we had a bit of a hike back to Bangkok. The journey began with a 2-hour boat ride back to Chumphon. Here, we were dropped at a wait station with absolutely nothing around it, and we were told to wait. So we drank some beers in an attempt to make us tired before the overnight train back to Bangkok. We then took a bus to the train station, where we had another 2 hour wait. We found a street vendor, had some dinner, and drank some more beers. We practiced our Thai with the restaurant owners’ children. They laughed at our attempts… at least we could provide some humor.

We boarded our train around 9:30. Unfortunately, there were no sleepers left when we booked our tickets, so we were in seats. I assumed with a couple of beers, an ambien and a reclined seat, I would be able to get a couple of hours of sleep before we arrived in Bangkok at 5am. But considering the fact that the lights were kept on all night and every window on the train was rolled down, it made for a loud and restless journey.

We arrived in Bangkok before sunrise, zombie-like and longing for a bed. Fortunately we got a taxi, got to a hotel immediately, and crawled into bed. Needless to say that day was rather unproductive, and I swore I would never travel on a Thai train again, unless I could book a sleeper.

Bangkok was really just serving as a stopping over point this time around, and it was nice to chill out and not feel like I had to see sites. The guesthouse we were booked in had a pool, so we made good use of that. And despite my attempts to not do anything, I ended up making a day trip to Ayutthaya on my second day there.

My timing was poor. It was hotter than hot, and I found myself melting on a hard train seat, but luckily, this was only a 45-minute journey.

The journey was made a little more interesting by the 60-year-old Englishman who boarded the train just before we left the station in Bangkok. Keeping him company were his two young Thai girlfriends, who, he proceeded to tell me, were “so much fun.” Maybe I shouldn’t have asked him where he met them, duh, it was in a bar of course. He was taking them on a day trip to Ayutthaya, and invited me to join them. I declined politely and walked the other way as we left the train station. This is where I coined the phrase DOM- “Dirty Old Man.” There are plenty of them in Thailand, unfortunately.

Ayutthaya is Thailand’s former capital, and it is filled with impressive ruins. I had heard the best way to see the city was either by tuk tuk or by bike. I decided to go it alone and hired a bike. After getting my bearings, and getting used to being back on a bike (ow!), I began my 4 hour tour of ruined temples.

I was happy to arrive back at the hotel, and proceeded to sit under a cold shower for the next 30 minutes just to try and feel human again (yes, you do learn to appreicate cold showers.) The day was topped off with an Indian meal and an early night so we could make our 6 am flight the following morning to Hanoi.

Around the world travel, Backpacking, island life, long term travel, Southeast Asia, Thailand, Travel, Uncategorized

Ko Phi Phi… ahhhh bliss


The journey from Krabi to Ko Phi Phi is a two-hour boat ride, and fortunately we are blessed with calm seas and blue skies. We make one stop at a small island to pick up some more passengers en route, but we don’t even dock. We just pull up alongside two longtail boats filled to the brim with people and backpacks. We watch as workers haul the bags from one boat to the next, and I think to myself how happy I am that I carried my own bag from dock to boat. While the boatsmen have this practice down to a “T,” I can’t help but wait for a big splash.

We pull into Phi Phi harbor and it looks like paradise. Now, this is what I pictured when I dreamed of Thailand’s islands. Phi Phi became a top travel destination for westerners after The Beach was filmed here in the 90s. That will give you some visual reference. As we near land, we see little bungalows dotting the cliffs, overlooking the harbor, and giant limestone rock casts jut out from the sea.

On our ride boat ride over to Phi Phi, we made a reservation for a hostel. The lady on the boat gave us some brochures to flip through, and we found one that would work for us and fit within our budget. Note to all travelers- don’t ever do this. Most of the time when traveling you don’t really need a reservation unless you’re arriving somewhere quite late and you don’t want to schlep around looking for a place. If you have the time to find somewhere once you arrive, this always makes more sense, seeing as you can look at a room and then make a call. So, we made a bit of an amateur mistake!
We, unfortunately, booked a 2-night reservation at Parichat guesthouse, which we immediately renamed Parishit. The room had seen better days. It was musty, paint was peeling off the walls, the bathroom floor was stained an off-white color, and the air conditioning unit sounded like a lamb “baaahing” every time it oscillated. On a more positive note, we had air conditioning and were close to the beach.
We decide to rough if for two nights and ditch our bags and get out of the room. Just steps from the guesthouse, we see a signpost for the “viewpoint,” so we set out to explore. After about a 40-minute vertical hike in 100–degree heat, we start to wonder if we are possibly heading in the wrong direction. Things aren’t always signposted very clearly in Asia, and the answer you get when you ask anyone how far anything is, is “not far.” We decide to turn around, and pass a couple of hikers on our way down who point us in the right direction. After about another 30-minute hike through the woods, and literally rock climbing for the last 5 minutes, we arrive at the viewpoint. As hot, tired and frustrated as we are, the views are worth the hike and the accidental detour.
From atop, I get a sense of the size of the island. To walk from one side of the island to the other takes no more than 7 minutes. Given this, you can understand why the tsunami of 2004 was so destructive. Not one structure on Phi Phi island was left standing. It is devastating to hear this, while looking down at where all the destruction occurred. 
After taking in the views and resting for a few minutes, we fortunately find the steps back to town…yeah- we missed those before! We head over to the beach to laze for the afternoon and enjoy some cold beers after our long, hot hike.
Our second day on Phi Phi turns out to be gray and overcast, but we still manage to get some beach time in and befriend an American bartender, Nancy, and her Thai boyfriend Hank, and their 2 chihuahuas, Otis and Pappie, who keep us amused for the afternoon.
On our third day, the sun is shining and we are strolling through the little main town area. After walking by the same dive shop about 3 times, I decide to bite the bullet and see how much a half day of diving will set me back. Phi Phi is one of Thailand’s more expensive islands, so I was debating on waiting until Ko Tao to dive, but I can’t hold off. We book to go out that afternoon, and I get 2 dives in with no regrets. We see 5 black tip reef sharks and a hawksbill turtle on the last dive – just awesome. In addition to this, we have decided to step it up on the accommodation front and bid adieu to Parishit and move across the way to Phi Phi Casita. The beds actually have clean white sheets AND blankets! Luxury, I tell you!
Around the world travel, Backpacking, Ganges, India, long term travel, Travel, Uncategorized, Varanasi

Varanasi – Part Two

Seeing the Ganges and ghats with Delip.

I wake up at 5am to take a boat ride down the Ganges at sunrise. This is the time when the people of Varanasi rise to say their morning prayers and bathe in the river. I walk out of the hotel, and less than 30 seconds later I have organized a 1 ½ hour boat ride for 200 rupees (about $4). Delip is my boatsman. He is 16 and a native of Varanasi. I immediately recognize his bracelet from the brother/sister festival, so we begin talking about our families. It turns out that Leslie from Alka Hotel is Delip’s Uncle.

He asks where I am from, and he tells me about his friends from California, who he one day hopes to visit. To this day, he’s never left Varanasi. I don’t think many people do, given their beliefs on how sacred this place is.

Delip takes me down the river to a small burning ghat where a few cremations are taking place. We then go up-river to the main burning ghat, Manikarnika. Up to 300 cremations can take place in just one day. Three 3-story buildings surround this ghat, and they serve as hospices for Manikarnika.


We pull right up to the steps, and a worker from the ghat steps into our boat. He tells me about the rituals that take place before and during a cremation. Once a person passes, it’s customary that the men of the family take the body down to the Ganges, for what they call the “last bath.” The body is then registered at the police station, which sits next to the hospices. The body is then wrapped and placed inside a temple, where the family circles the body 5 times- once for each element- earth, water, wind, fire and ether (spirit). The wood for the funeral is selected. Huge piles of wood are stacked on the ghats, and each type of wood comes at a different price, sandalwood being one of the most expensive. The body is now taken down to the ghat and placed on a funeral pyre, and a flame is brought down from the main fire, and the cremation begins.

If a father has died, then the eldest son shaves his whole head, including facial hair. No matter who dies in the family, only the men attend the cremation, the women stay home to tend to the rest of the family. What is most interesting is that all of these steps are carried out solely by the family, from the last bath to the placing of the body on the ghat. I am told this not a sad time, and it’s neither odd nor sad to watch. It is simply a part of life, and they have, in a way, achieved what most Indian Hindus would want by dying in this holy city.

After the boat ride, Delip offers to meet me later in the morning to take me to the silk factories. We arrange to meet at 10. We meet down by the river and walk along the ghats that we had rode past earlier in the day. We then turn onto a main street, weave through a couple of alleyways and end up at Veg Silk shop, where I watch pashminas, blankets and saris being created by hand. What an art!

I spend the afternoon trying to find some respite from the heat, but venture out for dinner locally just after sunset, after the temperature dips.

I had read about Ganga Fuji restaurant in both Lonely Planet and in the Spice Jet magazine on my flight to Varanasi, so I decide to check it out, especially considering there is live music every evening. I dine on Chicken Tikka, Naan and a spinach dish, while listening to the sitar music.

Since dinner is so good, I go back to Ganga Fuji for breakfast the following morning. Here, I have my first real chai tea – sooooo good! I get to talking to the owner about his restaurant and ayurvedic massage business, and then I tell him how I learned about his restaurant. He is so excited to hear about his mention in the Spice Jet magazine, that I am left no choice but to run back to the hotel and get the copy of the magazine for him to see. When I return, he asks me to read him the blurb on the restaurant, which was featured in an article on what to do with 48 hours in Varanasi. I think this man is going to cry! I leave the magazine article with him, and he shows me where he will display it in his lobby.

My time in Varanasi has come to an end. I am off to Rajasthan next, but not without a newfound appreciation for Hinduism and a slight obsession with masala chai…

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Ganges, India, long term travel, Travel, Travel Wishlist, Uncategorized, Varanasi



I make it safely to Varanasi, as do my bags, and I spot my name outside the terminal for my hotel pickup (which is always a good feeling). I share a bus to Alka hotel with a couple of other tourists. The airport is only 13km from the city center, but the journey takes about an hour, due to congestion and road conditions.I find myself sucking in when we’re about to clip a pedestrian or side-swipe another vehicle. For some reason, drivers don’t like to pick one lane, and prefer to drive in the middle of the road. It seems the rule is the bigger vehicle gets right of way, and mopeds just bob and weave in between.

As we get closer to what feels like the city center, I begin looking for the hotel. Well, I begin looking for something somewhat clean, or new, but who am I kidding- this is Varanasi, which Mark Twain describes as “older than history, older than tradition, older than even legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” I don’t think anyone can sum up this city better.

A few minutes later, our driver pulls over, and three men meet us to carry our bags. We are told to follow. We enter a narrow alleyway, pass some cows, goats, and dogs, go down some steps and around a corner and arrive at Alka. We are away from the blaring horns of the rickshaw and perched above the great River Ganges.

It is HOT! I am thankful for booking a room with AC even though it doesn’t appear to be working. A man, who introduces himself as “second in command” comes up to take a look at the wall unit. He explains that the one generator they have for the hotel is off right now, but he assures me it will be back on within an hour. I really want to believe him! He asks me my name on the way back downstairs to the lobby, and when I tell him, he seems surprised. He tells me we will  get along so well because our names are so similar. Well, he has my attention. “What Hindi name sounds like Eleanor?” I think to myself.  So I ask him his name and he replies, “Leslie.” I chuckle to myself. I like this man already.


The ghats of Varanasi, leading down to the Ganges.

A little history on Varanasi- It is one of the oldest cities in India, and the most spiritual. Considered to be the birthplace of Hinduism, this is where all Hindus hope to be when they die. Only then can they break the cycle of birth and re-birth, known as moksha. It’s also a place where many come to cremate the deceased. The cremations take place on the ghats, which are steps leading down to the river, and apparently, one family in Varanasi is in charge of all cremations.

The Ganges River, like most rivers in India, serves many purposes. It’s a place for prayer, bathing, laundry, yoga, cremating the dead, and fishing. It’s a mode of transportation, but also unfortunately, a main sewage system. According to Lonely Planet, water samples from the river contain over 5 million faecal coliform bacteria per 4 ounces. Safe bathing water should contain less than 500. That’s India for you. Surprisingly, the river doesn’t smell!

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Delhi, Festival, India, Travel, Uncategorized


It’s great how casual conversations can lead to insights into a country’s culture and peoples’ practices. I am making my way to Delhi’s airport this morning for my flight to Varanasi and chatting to my driver about my trip to India. The traffic is horrendous, but my driver assures me we have plenty of time. He informs me the extra traffic is due to the festival.

It seems like there’s a different festival every week in India- one to welcome the monsoon, one for wives to honor husbands, etc., but as he explained this one to me, I thought it was quite special. It is a festival for brothers and sisters. It is a time when sisters pray their brothers will love long, happy and healthy lives. As part of the tradition, the sister presents her brother with a bracelet. The brother then gives his sister a gift.

All the ladies are decked out in their best saris, and propped on the back of mopeds (side straddle of course) en route to visit their brothers and the rest of their families. I think of my brother back in Atlanta, and a smile crosses my face as I think about this tradition and our relationship and friendship. I take note of the red and gold string bracelets, and it leads to many good conversations with the people wearing them that day and in the days following.