Yearly Archives: 2014

Best Thanksgiving Ever

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA.  It is not, and has never been one of my favorite holidays mainly because my Thanksgivings have never been anything special.  I am an unmarried only child with next to no extended family.  So there isn’t a huge gathering with lots of people and there never has been.  Yes, we have turkey and mashed potatoes, but that’s about it for ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving food.  No pies.  Nothing cranberry related.  It’s a minimally themed Thanksgiving dinner for  about 3 people.  This year, like most years since I went in to health care, I spent the actual holiday at the hospital, but four years ago during my year off, I had the best Thanksgiving ever in Peru, of all places. My roommate, Emily, and I, along with a couple other Americans including my friend Corinna hosted an international Thanksgiving for about 25-30 in our little 2 bedroom apartment in Huanchaco, Peru.  We had Americans, Canadians, English,  and Australians, Peruvians, Brazilians, and Argentinians, French, German, and Dutch, and a smattering of other nationalities.  Basically we opened up the door and invited everyone, and for travelers, the tiniest bits of home can sustain a month or more of travel.

I started my day in the ocean…my third attempt at surfing.  For the first time, I caught a wave instead of the waves catching me. It was awesome. I made mashed potatoes for a group.  They were awesome. We had a turkey. And lots of pie. And wine and pisco sours. Food. Friends. Futbol. No [american] football though. We had our Thanksgiving on Tuesday not Thursday, but that wasn’t important.  And then the group broke up.  Some left that night.  I left two days later.  Emily stayed a little longer, but for me, Thanksgiving with relative strangers, all of whom were away from home, was the best Thanksgiving ever.

The turkey…just as tasty as at home

The spread–turkey, potatoes, gravy, vegetable quiche, wine [much more than I had this year]

Another table with just desserts–cake, rum-marinated fruit, pear things [not sure what they were, but oh so tasty…

Sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top

Brought to you by your lovely hostesses Emily, Michelle, and Corinna.

Looking for bears

Let’s go looking for bears

It’s fall… and in my opinion one of the best things about fall is leaf color. We don’t always get a lot of color in these parts mostly because of our schizophrenic weather patterns [yesterday it was 80 and sunny… this weekend 50’s and cloudy] BUT the mountains of North Carolina aren’t too far away and the magnificent Blue Ridge Parkway is an easy drive away.

A couple of years ago,I heard about a natural phenomenon called Shadow of the Bear.  It’s in an area of NC more famous for its spectacular waterfalls and day hikes, but in the fall, it’s famous for the leaves.

Let’s go hunting for bears…

no, not those bears [all though those bears are very cute if you come in contact with them in a zoo, not so cute if you come across them while on your afternoon run]…

these bears…

One of the wonderful things about living in Arden, North Carolina is its relative proximity to both the southern Appalachian mountains, the South Carolina coast, and the major cities of Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia.

Less than an hour away, nestled in the southern corner of the Nantahala Forest, in southwestern North Carolina, is one of the coolest natural experiences around…the shadow of the bear.  It happens twice a year–once from late February to mid March and the other from mid-October to mid-November.  The fall event is by far the most popular since it combines fall color with the bear’s appearance.  I like to imagine that the bear is slowing making its way across the mountain on its way to its winter hibernation…or waking up

It’s starts off with just a small peak of the bear’s head.

The bear makes its appearance for about 30 minutes each day [when it’s sunny, of course] each day revealing a little bit more.

If you happen to be into hiking, exploring Whiteside Mountain can make this a worthwhile day trip.  The mountain’s cliffs look like sheets of ice draped across the mountain. The rock is somewhere between 390 to 460 million years old [what’s 70 million years between friends]. The 2-mile ‘moderate’ trail starts as a old logging road and takes you on top of sheer 750-foot high cliffs [plenty of railings for safety].  Follow the road for about a mile until you reach the top. The trail continues about 1/2 long the ridge of the mountain, plenty of places to enjoy the views from the rock face. There are quite a few “educational” signs along the way to add interest. Toward to end of the walk along the mountaintop, look for the highest point with the rock carved “Alt. 4,930 ft.” The last 1/2 mile part of the trail is a steep downhill section that leads you back to the logging road near the parking area.

The best viewing spot for the shadow of the bear is right off Highway 64 at Rhodes Big View Overlook.

Follow your travel dreams– even if only one weekend at a time.

So you want to start a blog, do you?

I’ve had a few blogs over the years.  All were the free kind with a very specific focus.  Like when I went to south america–my blog was more like a travelogue.  When I went to nursing school, my blog was all about that….travels to Europe– more travelogues.  So I’ve learned a thing or two about blogging.  I am still no expert, but…

THINGS I’VE LEARNED:

Blogging is hard.  It’s time-consuming.  The learning curve is steep.  There’s a lot to learn even if you are technology guru. Which I’m not.  Finding ‘your voice’ takes time [I’m still finding it.  How ‘authentic’ should one be?  What constitutes over-sharing? Ect, ect.]. Writing for an audience is a lot different than writing in a journal.  Editing photos [and videos too I’d imagine, although I haven’t gone down that road yet] isn’t as easy as applying an Instagram filter and hitting ‘publish’.  Design is hard.  Getting ideas from your head into html code isn’t easy.  Reading other blogs, seeing cool features you’d like to adapt but have no idea how to do so is frustrating.  Thoughts like ‘is it stealing if I  use the same plug-in as someone else?’  ‘Will they mind?’  ‘How do I adapt it to make it different, but still what I want? ect, ect’ are ever present.

So what have I learned in since starting this blog?  I am glad you asked.

1.  Defining your purpose is crucial

everglades kayaking 1

If you can answer the question “why do I want to start a blog?’  [this goes for any type of blog], it will make your life a whole lot easier. People start blogs for many different reasons. Some to showcase a house remodel; some to showcase fashion ideas.  Some blogs are set up to keep friends and family up to date on trips around the world. Other people want a blog to show their photography to the world, and some people have a blog as their career.  They network with other travelers, bloggers, products and companies and actually make a living blogging. Whatever your goal may be having a clear purpose at the beginning will help you create a blog to address those goals.

I really wanted my first blog be like a travel journal.  It’s took a few weeks of design trial and error to decide that.  Some blogs are really cool, but they have features I’d never use, and by not using them, the blog loses something.  So for now, my blog is a ‘personal’ blog. I’ve started a new career.  I’m still in school, and I still travel as much as possible.  I’ve got a lot going on.  My blog reflects that.

Of course blogging purposes may change over time. If you think you might want to blog long term, try to develop your site with flexibility in mind.  Know that a re-design is always possible, but changing things like the title, web address, and type of blog may be committing [blog] suicide.

2.  Consider your audience or who you’d like your audience to be can help you ‘find your voice’

For most people, the first few blog posts will be aimed at friends and/or family…especially if the blog is set up prior to a long trip or housing remodel.  However, if you’d like to reach a broader audience, consider who you’d like that audience to be.  Backpackers?  Luxury travelers?  People with kids?  First timers?  Retirees?  20-somethings?  Somewhere in the middle?  A unique niche?  If you are looking to get traffic on your website, write with your audience in mind and let them know what you can do for them.

For example, my short-term goal is to finish nursing school, get experience, eventually sign on with a travel company, work as a travel nurse while earning my nurse practitioner degree. That goal is so far away right now it wouldn’t make sense for me to target people who want to do travel nursing.  None of that has anything to do with travel blogging.  But right now I CAN target students–especially older students, people who have limited time and/or money for holidays, and people who want to travel– just not travel long term.  All of that has to do with travel blogging and going to school.

3.  Thinking about your blog name now will pay dividends in the future.

Choosing a blog name is hard.  Real name vs fake name?  Full name vs Partial name?  Something with the type of blog in it or not?  Something completely different?

I went through at least 10 names before I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats, and I’ll get to why I decided on it in a minute.

First, I didn’t want use my full name as my web address, and besides, I have a fairly common name with a teeny tiny twist on the spelling of my last name.  If I type my name is a google search, the first few pages are other people with the same name as me.  However, if you want to blog under your real name and that name isn’t all that common, you shouldn’t have problem.

 If you decide to choose a pseudonym [aka something other than your real name], there are two main  things to consider:

  • Is that name available [as a domain plus any other platforms you might want to use such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Reddit, ect]?  I didn’t have Twitter before I set up my blog so once I decided on a name, I set up a Twitter account with the same name…[@Adventureadikt in case you are wondering…I’m still not very Twitter savvy yet, but I’m working on it.]  I created a Facebook page as an adjunct to my personal page [called Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats…]  My Instagram account was already set up.  I just changed the name and have to refrain from posting pictures of my cat everyday, but I’m finding Instagram the easiest to use.  I’m still debating the usefulness of having Google+, Pinterest, ect account devoted to my blog, but I have already staked claim to Pinterest and Google+ as Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats.
  • Is someone else using the name you want?  If so, in most cases, it’s prudent to choose another name to avoid creating audience confusion and blog confusion.  I’m sure there are cases where it exist, but imagine the confusion for someone coming to your site but perhaps going to a porn site instead…

I first thought of creating a blog using the name Peripatetic Michelle.  I thought it was snappy.  Most people didn’t know how to spell ‘Peripatetic’, or what it meant.  I spent a lot of time spelling that word then explaining it meant essentially the same as nomad…which is a lot more common word and a lot easier to spell.

I then thought something like Out and About with Michelle would be cool.  That’s entirely too long of a name for a web address.  Out and About was taken, and I didn’t want to change the spelling too much in order to claim it. I them thought of names like Michelle’s Big Adventure [oh wait…I don’t have a big adventure]  On the road…[taken].  I went in a different direction thinking of my favorite travel quotes, poems, ect…

  • Two roads diverged[taken]  The road less traveled [from Robert Frost’s poem…taken]
  • All who wander [taken…from a Tolkien quote]
  • I’m not lost [also taken…also derived from the same quote]

Ultimately, I decided on Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats for a couple of reasons.  Life can become very stagnant without having dreams [or goals].  I think everyone should have a dream–whether it’s something lofty like visiting every country in the world or trying to find the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. The second one being it’s a nod [albeit a slight one] to the fact that I am NOT a full-time traveler.  Traveling is by far my favorite activity, but I currently have a job at a hospital, go to school full time, and have two kitties at home that keeping me on my toes.

kaos-loves-the-computer-too

4.  Platforms and hosting has nothing to do with shoes and parties

I am so glad I researched this before my first blog.  Everyone said use WordPress.  It will make your life easier.  I like easy so I used WordPress from the start.  I have never used anything else and I have not had any issues…

If I have any problem with WordPress, and really I don’t, it’s that there are SO.MANY.OPTIONS …widgets [not just -something discussed in Economics class] and plug-ins, themes and menu…it’s a bit overwhelming in the beginning.  There’s also the free [with wordpress.com] or the paid [just the name of your site].

For this blog, I use the self-hosted one at wordpress.org.  I do have to use a hosting site and I use SiteGround…I’ve never had issues, but I really don’t know enough about them.  I just googled ‘self-hosted servers’ read the reviews, and picked one.  I’ve used BlueHost in the past and while they were OK, contacting customer support usually turned into an all day affair.

Do yourself a favor though, use wordpress from the beginning.  Seriously.

5.  Choosing the right technology will make your life easy

Potion making at old operating museum

Technology is advancing every day, but choosing the right tools makes life a lot easier.

On my first big trip to the UK, I had a 2 SLR cameras and a point and shoot camera [OK…my first, first adventure was still on film!  I sound so old!] and a CD Walkman.  I used PIN telephone cards to make phone calls and sent my negatives back home.  It was frustrating.  It was slow.  Then I upgraded to a DSLR…It was still mind-nummingly frustrating to get my photos off the camera onto my Facebook page. My next adventure was a month long trip through the north eastern US and parts of Canada.  I traveled with a netbook and the same cameras.  I used my regular cell phone, but it didn’t work for the nearly two weeks I was in Canada.

For my next adventure [6 weeks in Europe in winter], I took my Kindle and the cameras.  I could upload photos taken with the kindle directly to Facebook and while writing on a Kindle isn’t the easiest thing in the world, it’s better than depending on others for technology.

I’m still working out the right amount of technology for a trip, but I’ve got a head start on what’s too much.

6.  Blogging is hard

kayaking off tybee island

It’s even harder if you are doing it on the road.  It takes time to come up with ideas, write them out, take pictures, edit them, and post it all to a blog consistently.  A blog is not a blog without content.  And yet content–or I should say GOOD content– is the hardest part of any blog.  There are millions of blogs on the web these days, and content is what makes one blog succeed while another one fails. Content and consistency.  My goal is to blog content twice a week and add a photo post in once a week.  I have found, from reading other blogs, that it is important to let the reader know how often new content will appear.  Whether its twice a day or once a week, it’s a lot easier as a reader to say ‘oh, it’s Wednesday…let me pop over to Chasing Dreams; Herding Cats and see what’s new’ than to randomly check in and get frustrated when there’s nothing new.

I have read that it helps to have a months’ worth of posts ready before you publish the first one.  I don’t have that many, but I do have a couple weeks’ worth of posts ready.

Good, regular content is the key to successful blogging.

Foot hills trail hiking

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

nantahala-river-4

I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

nantahala-river-2
Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder”. I paddled harder. I don’t think it mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

nantahala-river-1

Sometimes I just like to take my camera around a new destination and snap whatever interests me… Enter Postcards from…    Today’s destination is Seattle, Washington. My first visit to the city was in May 2012. I’ve since returned in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.  It is my favorite city in the USA outside of South Carolina.


Although no rooms are available for 75 cents these days
The Space Needle on a beautiful spring day
The famous Pike Place Market

and a self-portrait at the Space Needle

2012.8.24 Seattle Michellee

 

 

 

space needle

 

wwii-planes-museum-of-flight-seattle-washington
And finally, a bi-plane at the museum of flight

Postcards from Seattle

San Cristobal de las Casas

The first thing I noticed when stepping off the bus at the San Cristobal bus station was just how cold it was. As in see your breath cold. And having just come from the jungle in Palenque is was quite a shock to the system.  The city, located in the state of Chiapas, borders Guatemala, and is nestled in pine forest in the Jovel mountain valley at 2100m [about 6500ft] above sea level is considerably cooler than most other places in southern Mexico. Additionally San Cristobal is not a city usually visited by tourists, or at least not foreign tourists.  It doesn’t have any well known ruins, but the state of Chiapas has a lot going for it nature-wise, and  it is a jumping off point for crossing the border into Guatemala by land, which is how I found myself passing a few more days than planned in the authentically quaint town of San Cristobal.

On my first night in town I stumbled into a pro-Zapatista rally.  Now not being one for political events, I meandered on by, but not before getting an earful on why the Zapatistas are the best political party in the country [political propaganda at its best].  The air was getting brisk so I bought one of those ubiquitous colorful woven sweatshirt.  I thought about buying a blanket too, but then practicality won out as it would be several weeks before I would be headed back to Campeche. So sweatshirt it was.

San Cristobal takes its name from first bishop of Chiapas,  St Christopher [patron saint of travelers] and Bartolomé de Las Casas, who defended the rights of indigenous Chiapanecos.  Chiapas has Mexico’s second-largest indigenous population, and has a history rich in ancient Maya culture, many traditions of which are kept very much alive even today in the several Tzotzil and Tzeltal villages surrounding San Cristobal.  It also has a legacy of Spanish colonization, which is apparent in the beautiful buildings and churches all around the place, as well as the not so beautiful plight of the impoverished and  historically mistreated indigenous communities who continue to struggle for land and equality today. San Cristobal was one of the main cities taken by the EZLN (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) in the 1994 uprising, and although the violence has quelled since ’94,  the Zapatistas are still very active in their campaign for justice – I  saw [more than one]  huge demonstration against the Zapatists in the zocalo while there, and one rally for them. Go figure.

San Cristobal wasn’t entirely what I were expecting, especially when you consider the climate, and there were definitely a couple of unexpected low points to this leg of the journey; but these things happen, it’s what makes travel interesting. Aside from that, the food was amazing, and the scenery beautiful.

Whilst in San Cristobal I have  also:

saw a pro-Zapitista rally at the church  [this is the church, but I didn’t dare break out the camera during the rally]

wandered the colourful cobbled streets

admired the colorful VWs scattered all over town.[I’m not sure about the story behind the VWs, but there were several older model of colors in various places in the city]

browsed through the colorful craft markets where indigenas sell beautifully woven goods and Zapatista-related souvenirs [which somehow seems wrong to me]

climbed up the Cerrito San Cristobal to the Templo del Cerrito

climbed up another small hill to the Templo de Guadalupe (which has a very scary looking white porcelain Jesus in a bright purple robe, and a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe adorned with flashing fairy lights)

and finally, enjoyed a night of Mexican folk music, tacos al pastor, and some honest-to God Tequila at a local restaurant/bar

 

Chiapas and Zapatistas

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

The next few Flashback Fridays focus on Mexico, Guatemala, and other Mayan sites that I visited during my study abroad/independent study on Mayan Art and Architecture.

I have been avoiding Chiapas since I decided to stay in Campeche. [Yes,  I do realize that Palenque is in Chiapas,]  I have been avoiding it due to the Zapatistas that seems to thrive in the area.  Maybe I was overreacting; maybe not, but the Zapatistas scare me.  Chiapas is a poor state, and their grass-roots attempts at reform generally appeal to poorer people.  Who knows?  They may want to kidnap an American as part of their protest of NAFTA.  I’m attempting to not appear American.  I have my People in Espanol magazine, my Luis Miguel, Cristian Castro, and Thalia CDs.  I am more than willing to pass for the Spaniard that everyone seems to think I am.

Somewhere between Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal the bus was stopped.  Scary dudes with big  guns boarded the bus.  Two people were ‘escorted’ off.  I say they were kidnapped, but what do I know.  Maybe they wanted to go with the men  in black suits with the big guns. The bus left.  They were not on it.  Why?  Who knows, but that’s exactly what I am afraid of… Scary men with big guns taking me off the bus to who knows where.

No need to remind me; I know I am in Zapatista territory.

See, I am in Zapatista territory…. I am probably going to die here… At least I am not in possession of any of the ‘forbidden’  items: Armas [oh the irony], seeds [for planting drugs or I don’t know maybe corn], or alcoholic beverages.  And I am not planning to sell wood illegally or destroy nature.  Maybe they will leave me alone after all.  Hopefully San Cristobal will be a pleasant city to pass a few days in.