Yearly Archives: 2016

When in Cork…

Encounters with Blarney

I am not above being a cheesy tourist.

And one of the more cheesy, more touristy things I have ever done occurred a few years ago when I spent a few weeks tooling around Ireland.  After taking the ferry over from Anglesey, Wales to Dublin and tooling around Dublin for a few days, I headed south out of the city towards Cork.  I’m not a bad driver, but I don’t do so well with the manual transmission or driving on the opposite side of the road than what I’m used to.  Let’s just say it was baptism by fire, and I probably shaved a few years off my life and perhaps some of the other drivers on the Dublin-Cork highway.

I am a small town kinda girl, and while Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s fairly navigable.  Cork has a fair amount of charm, but it main draw in the Blarney Stone and to a lesser extent–Blarney Castle.

So the question of the day is did I kiss the stone? Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands…maybe millions of people have done the same thing before me? Did I actually DANGLE my body off the side of the castle and risk my life?!  People have actually DIED doing this.

Yes. Yes I did.

I mean, how can you not? It’s there; I’m there. A lot of other people were doing it, and while it may be cheesy and touristy… occasionally I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy.

The Blarney Stone is a block of Carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, Blarney, about 8 kilometres from Cork, Ireland. [Thank you Wikipedia] According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”. John O’Connor Power’s definition is succinct: ‘Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.

The Blarney Stone gets all the press, but the castle itself is actually rather interesting and the surrounding castle grounds are gorgeous. The tiny, winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, but the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens are worth the trip to the top.

Kissing the stone is not for the faint of heart -– you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor, death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone. A second later you’re hauled upright and sent on your way.

Tell me, would YOU have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime. Leave a comment and let me know.

 

Kindness of strangers

I am trying to live my life in a state of gratitude. Some days are easier than others. And sometimes, when I think about the past, I realize how truly grateful I am.

No traveler lives completely in a vacuum when traveling.  I suppose it is possible to travel somewhere and so strictly follow a schedule that it is nearly impossible to get lost or need help, but that’s never happened to me.  I have had to ask for directions at minimum on every single trip I have ever taken.  Sometimes it has been much more involved than simple directions.

We hear all the time that the world is a dangerous, scary place.  In fact, the most common question I was asked is “Won’t you be scared/Weren’t you scared?”

No, I am not, and No, I wasn’t.

I may have been a little nervous at times, but I was never scared. Okay, maybe I was scared a little when I was kidnapped by two guys between the Peru/Ecuador border when they were trying to extort $250  from me.  Maybe I was scared a little when I was caught by rouge waves that held me under water when I was learning to surf.

But I was never scared of the people. Even amongst strangers, I [almost] never felt like I was in danger.

I kept my guard up in the beginning, but I soon realized that I needed to learn to trust the people I met along the way. I think that is just part of me.  I am used to being alone [only child and all] so I don’t always think about needing to rely on others.  I have learned how to do so many things for myself.  Time and time again, I needed to rely on the kindness of strangers to get me through.  So this Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of those strangers who went above and beyond to help me in my journeys – from people whose names I never knew or soon forgot to those who I am now happy to call my friends.

Thank you to Missa and Jamie who helped me celebrate my birthday in Rome with a bottle of Chianti, a plate of pasta, and a birthday cards and flowers from the market. It was so nice to not be alone on my birthday.

Thank you to the elderly lady on the train from Rome to Naples or at least I thought it was to Naples.  It was actually headed to the other side of Italy.  I would have figured it out eventually, but she saved me time and money.  I don’t speak Italian great [and even less in 2006] but I know Spanish and between my Spanish and her Italian, she got me pointed in the right direction and I made it to Sorrento during daylight hours.

Thank you to the women in at the Ecuadorian border.  After being kidnapped and missing my bus, two women in their 40’s asked me if I needed a ride somewhere.  They were headed to Guayaquil and offered to take me anywhere along the route.  I had a great time, met some amazing women, had an awesome lunch, and relaxed for the first time that day.  After seeing the ugly side of human nature, it was a blessing to see the good.

Thank you to Javier….the teenager who came and picked me up on his moped after I couldn’t get the bus driver to stop.  I ended up about 2 km past my intended destinations and carrying the 65L backpack plus the daypack loaded down with my tools for  jungle-work would have made a sucky end to a very long day.

Thank you to Massimo…who taught me to cook on a gas stove.  I have always either cooked on an electric range or a grill and gas tended to scare me a bit.  Thanks to Massimo, I didn’t starve during my weekends alone in the jungle lodge.

Thank you to the lady in Trujillo who made sure I didn’t get cheated by the taxi driver.

Thank you to all the people who have hosted me during my travels.  By not spending a ton of money for accommodations, I have gotten to visit so many more places, see how people really live–not just as a tourist, and spend time in places I would have never dreamed about staying.

Lynnley in Charleston, Corinna in San Francisco, Cameron in Seattle, Emily in Vermont, Jeanette in Florida, Angie in Chicago, Emilie in Chamonix, France, Marta in Bratislava, Slovakia, Tomas in Wroclaw, Poland, Alex in Mendoza, Argentina, Steve in Stafford, England, and Sophie in Kokkola, Finland. All strangers at one point; all friends at another.

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Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my travels.

Remembering to remember

Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  In the UK it’s known as Armistice Day as it is the day that WWI ended–on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the guns fell silent. It is a day to remember our soldiers, from the Revolutionary War to the latest conflict.  Remembering the sacrifices these men and women made allow me to pursue the life I do.  I don’t have to fulfill traditional gender roles if I choose not to.  I can speak my mind because of free speech.  I have the right to own, carry, and use, if necessary, my .40 caliber handgun.

I’ve seen a lot in my travels but one of the more haunting rememberes was the Ceremic Poppy Installation at the Tower Bridge in London in 2014 (the 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI).

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The poppies represent the blood spilt during the Great War, and when complete on 11/11 there will be 888,246 poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower Bridge.  I visited in October for the specifc reason of seeing the poppy installation.  And it was amzing.  It was moving.  To think that many young men lost their lives in a single conflict is incredible.  Humans are very visual people and to see this loss of life represented so visually was breathtaking.

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Freedom is never free and sometimes, we, in the USA forget that.  There hasn’t been a conflict on our soil in nearly 100 years. [OK, if you want to be technical, some of WWII happened  in American territories–Hawaii, Alaska, and Philippians].  If you haven’t seen up close and personal the devastation war causes, it’s hard to imagine its consequences.

So in an effort to remember to remember, I visited three Revolutionary War battlefields over the last few weeks.  Without the sacrifices these brave men [and a few even braver women], the USA would never have become the USA.

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Cowpens battlefield circa 1780

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A group of South Carolina militia along with a few army regulars under the command of Daniel Morgan beat the British at Cowpens. The victory kept the British from expanding westward.

Kings mountain

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They were doing some reenacting at King’s Mountain this weekend.

Ninety six cannon
A 3lb British cannon hanging out inside Star Fort at Ninety Six

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My feet, just slightly smaller than the average revolutionary war soldier. I wear a US women’s size 8 and at 5’9, I’m a few inches taller than the average Revolutionary War soldier.

39 photos of spectacular places to be dead

     It’s October…one of my favorite months.  For starters, college football is in full swing.  Baseball is in its play-off period.  European football has gotten over its opening schedule shockers, and ice hockey starts up at the end of the month.  It’s also one of my favorite seasons for traveling.  For a few years, I took the month of October off from work and traveled, and those were some of my best trips.   The weather is nice …cool, but not cold…surprising warm days mixed in, and Halloween…my favorite holiday of the year.

   

So to celebrate my favorite month of the year, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite cemeteries in the world.  I LOVE, love, love, visiting cemeteries. [and I love cats…any coincidence that cats like to hang out a cemeteries….I think not] They fascinate me [cemeteries not cats]… Fancy ones like Pere LaChaise in Paris and Recoleta in Buenos Aires. Solemn ones like Arlington National just outside Washington DC and the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Old ones like Magnolia in Charleston, SC and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia. Eclectic ones like merry cemetery in Săpânţa, Romania, and the Mayan cemetery in Xcaret. Odd ones like the crypt of the Capuchin monks in Rome… None of it matters.  If I hear of an ‘interesting’ cemetery…whether its old and crumbly or happy and bright or austere and serene, I’m there.

Some of my favorite final resting places from around the world

1.  Pere-LeChaise Cemetery, Paris France

I spent a day in Paris.  I know what you are saying…’Only one day, impossible’, but it’s true.  I  watched fireworks at the Eiffel Tower and hung out with the dead.  Paris is awesome.

2.  Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

years ago, I was in Buenos Aires.  It was my birthday.  Instead of doing something fancy like going to a tango show, I went to Recoleta and hung out with the dead.  And the cats.

3.  Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, USA

I stand up straighter and walk a little taller when I visit Arlington.  It’s impressive, quiet, and simple.  American soldiers. Clean white tombstones.  A Marine guard.  It doesn’t get more solemn than this.

4.  Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czech Republic

On a snowy day in January 2013, I visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague.  I think I was the only living thing around.

5.  Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina

Southern cemeteries are awesome.  Spanish moss hanging down gives everything a spooky appeal, and the humidity makes everything rust and age rather quickly.

6.  Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia

They say Bonaventure is haunted.  If you go there at night, it certainly feels that way.

7.  Mayan Cemetery, Xcaret, Mexico

Confession time:  this is a fake cemetery.  It’s a creation of what a lot of Mexican cemeteries do on El Dia de los Muertos….this one is a lot cleaner, though.  The Mayans didn’t actually bury their dead.

8. Merry Cemetery, Săpânţa, Romania

It’s happy.  It’s bright.  It’s weird.  Go there. See for yourself.  These dead peeps are having the time of their lives.

9.  Crypt of the Capuchin Monks, Rome, Italy

Eerie.  Spooky…Bone-chilling…Fascinating…I wonder if the Monks know their bones are being used as decorations.  I’m not a Monk, but I’d love to donate my femur [you know, once I’m done with it] for a clock or better yet, the handle of the scythe of the Grim Reaper

10.  Monumental Cemetery, Milan, Italy

Morbid statues.  Fascinating pageantry.  Marble slabs of decaying flowers.  Ingenious.

11.  Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines

If heaven is up, and hell is down, wouldn’t you rather be hanging on the side of a cliff instead of buried in a hole?

12.  Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow, Russia

Boris Yeltsin, Anton Chekhov, Gherman Titov…I’m a bit fascinated with Russia and the dead Russians.  If you can’t qualify for the Kremlin, Novodevichy is a fantastic second choice.

13. Hallstat Ossuary, Hallstat, Austria

Oooh…more bones….since I’m donating my femur to the Monk, the Ossuary can have my skull, but only if they paint a pretty design on it.

South Carolina State Parks | Hampton Plantation

South Carolina State Parks | Hampton Plantation

Last summer, a friend and I started the quest to visit all 47 of South Carolina’s state parks.  We made it about halfway by the end of December. Since then, South Carolina is helping the National Parks Service celebrate its 100th birthday by adding an incentive:  visit all 47 parks + 8 National Park Monuments in the sate, get a free pass ($75 value).  I’m a sucker for a quest with prizes.

The friend and I are no longer friends [there’s been a lot of changes in my life lately], but I’m continuing the state park quest on my own.  After all, I only have 12 parks to go; it’d be a shame to give up a quest just because I no longer have a partner.

First up, Hampton Plantation State Park just outside McClellanville, SC. McClellanville is about 30 minutes or so north of Charleston so if you happen to be in the city, and want a quieter outing,  this state park would be an easy day or half-day trip if you have transportation. Siri led me seriously astray…13 miles down a sandy, one lane ‘road’ with top speeds of 20 mph. So if you’re headed here, and GPS directions say go down ‘Farewell Corner Road’, just don’t. Take my word for it.

Headed down a one lane dirt road on the advice of Siri.  I got where I was going, but this was definitely the 'scenic route'.
Headed down a one lane dirt road on the advice of Siri. I got where I was going, but this was definitely the ‘scenic route’.

 

The Park
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Tucked away among live oaks and magnolias in the Santee Delta region, located on the banks of the Wambaw Creek, Hampton Plantation State Historic Site is home to the  final remnants of a colonial-era rice plantation. It’s not hard to imagine the rice fields that once stretched as far as the eye could see.  Started in the early 1700’s, the house and the fields were built and maintained with slave labor.

The property also tells the story of the freed people who made their homes in the Santee Delta region for generations after emancipation.

The park has various activities such as hiking, cycling, and kayaking.  There are also less strenuous activities like sweet grass basket weaving and bird watching.  Also mosquito swatting could be considered an activity as they are numerous and viscous in the summer.

The House

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Hampton Plantation is a beautiful old Georgian style mansion built in 1700’s. The first family moved in while the house was still under construction….  1735. The plantation grounds cover 450 acres and was once South Carolina’s largest rice and indigo plantation.  The Rutledge family lived in the house until the mid 1900’s, and the the house and land was given to the SC State Park system.

Front porches so wide they were made for sitting back in rocking chairs.
Front porches so wide they were made for sitting back in rocking chairs.

Hampton plantation inside out

Rumor has it that George Washington 'saved' this tree during his visit to SC in 1791.
Rumor has it that George Washington ‘saved’ this tree during his visit to SC in 1791.

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Hampton-plantation basement

What’s at Hampton Plantation

  • Fishing:  catfish, bream and bass
  • Boating/Kayaking:  the park has Wambaw Creek access
  • Bird-watching:  woodpeckers and swallow-tail kite
  • Geocaching
  • Hiking:  An easy, two-mile loop trail begins in the parking area and circles around the abandoned rice fields directly behind the Hampton Plantation Mansion.  Descriptions along the way also offer historically significant information as well as information on local plants and animals. Take my advice:  Mosquito repellent, bug hat, bug jacket all are recommended as there are massive quantities of ticks, horseflies, mosquitoes, and chiggers.  And they will bite you. Many times.

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30ish things I still need to learn to do

Last week, I wrote about things traveling has taught me.  Today, it’s about things I still don’t know how to do despite my 30+ years on the planet.  When did being an adult get so complicated?

  1. How to dance.–Even though my best friend is a dance teacher.
  2. How to cook anything that isn’t tacos.–I mean I can follow a recipe but those people who can whip up amazing dishes with random ingredients in their pantry a la Chopped!–those people have real talent.
  3. How to flirt.  It is shameful the things I don’t know about flirting.
  4. How to say no to something I really don’t want to do.  I have been on a few dates with people only because I couldn’t say NO without making up something or coming across like a bitch.  I have also done things I  wasn’t overly thrilled about doing just because I couldn’t say no.  And I’ve worked way too many extra shifts and done way too many extra projects because I didn’t want to say no.
  5. How to wear make-up.  You’d think that every female alive would know how to apply make-up properly.  I am not even talking about special occasion make-up.  I don’t even know how to do much more than put on lotion.
  6. How to run. Properly. Seriously, who can’t run.  That would be me.  I have never managed to eek out more than 0.25 miles before collapsing in a heap of rubble thinking Who would do this on a regular basis?” And I have managed to trip over a root and break not one, but two bones while running.
  7. How not to take criticism personally.  I try.  I really do, but when someone say to me “That poem sucked.”  or “that photograph is pretty generic” or “this dish is rather bland” what I hear is “You suck. You are generic and bland.”  and then I think no one likes me.
  8. How to sew. Clothes.  Skin I can manage, and I did learn to darn socks when I was a child, but who does that anymore?
  9. How to air-kiss.  I mean what’s the point.  Kissing should involve lips and tongues and attractive men.  Otherwise, what’s the point…just shake hands.  Or hug.  I only wish people in France, Brazil, or basically anywhere not in the USA [or Japan] would come around to my way of thinking.
  10. How to change a diaper.  And I work with kids.  In a hospital.  Where diapers are being changed constantly.  Who knew people at home didn’t actually weigh the diapers to see how much pee it contained.  They just tossed them away.  So cavilier–these people we call parents.
  11. How to use a budget.  I can set one up just fine, and I always have a very good estimate of how much money is in any given account and/or how much I owe. I am just not every good at following a plan.
  12. How to drive a stick shift.  I am ashamed to admit it.  It has held me back in some of my travels.  I have only owned 3 cars in my lifetime and none of those have been stick shifts.
  13. How to manage time well. I often get distracted by things that are much more fun than the task I am currently doing.  Cleaning out the file cabinet–boring.  Reading all the stuff I found stuff in the file cabinet–much more interesting.  Let’s not even get started about all the things I find on the internet at 3am.
  14. How to have meaningful conversations.  I am sarcastic at times. Snarky even.  I make light of serious subjects.  Humour is a defense mechansim and I use it well.  Becuase when the time comes, how do you really bring up serious conversations.  And if you can manage to braoch the topic–how do you have a honest conversation about the serious parts of life.
  15. How to tell people what I want.  Whether in the more personal aspects of life or the more general.  How do you say no, I really don’t want to go to that party with you.  I’d really rather just stay home.

  • 16.  How to ask for help.  I grew up super independent.  No one ever had to check my homework, wake me up for school, or tell me it’s time for bed.  I probably went years without asking anyone for anything.  Now that I am an adult, there are situations that I am in where I really need help.  At work—you can’t save a dying person by yourself.  At home–Christopher and Lucy need someone to look after them when I travel.  In life–maybe just how to do all these things I don’t know how to do.
  • 17.  How to say I love you.  Especially when I really mean it.  I can tell the kitties I love them all day long, but people–especially the ones I am closest too–saying I love you usually causes me to break out into an episode that looks strangely like a heart attack on an EKG.  But to those people–and you know who you are–I love you.  I am glad you are in my life.  There I said it.  Just don’t think this will be a regularly occurring event.
  • 18.  How to tip people?  I mean why is this even necessary.  [and yes, I have worked in the service industry where most of  my income was from tips]  I am not going to tip someone for getting a bag out of the car for me.  Or turning down my sheets [not that this happens often as I don’t usually take taxis or stay in fancy hotels]  But why should I tip someone for doing their job.  No one tips me when I save their life or their child’s life and I’d argue that CPR is one damn important service.  I don’t even get a ‘great job on the rescue breathing’ or ‘those were some awesome chest compression you did’ so I don’t see the rationale behind giving a tip to the person who cuts my hair or cleans my hotel room.
  • 19.  How to break up with someone.  Hasn’t been much of an issue of late because generally the guys break up with me.  And while that sucks.  At least I am not the bad guy.
  • 20.  How to select produce or meat.  Grocery stores present a huge challenge for me.  I usually walk around looking lost.  And I don’t generally buy more than bananas.  It’s the only thing I know I can’t mess up.  Unless I select a plantain by accident.
  • 21.  How to match shoes and purses with my outfit.  Which is possibly the real reason I don’t carry a purse. Or have a wide variety of shoes to choose from.
  • 22.  How to really work my cell phone.  It’s a phone, people. And that is what I use it as.  Occasionally I use it to look up something on the internet or post something to Facebook, but that’s about it.  I don’t tweet, pin, or do much more from my phone other than talk and occasional text.  I know…I sound so OLD.  [I am getting better at this one though]
  • 23.  How to do cool things on the computer.  Ok, so I have a blog.  I am fairly good with a camera, but Photoshop–I have no clue.  Making cool videos–no idea.  I can crank out research papers with the best of them, but figuring out how to present them using SMART technology is beyond me.
  • 24.  How to work an ipod…or any MP3 player.  I am probably the last person in the USA who has never owned a MP3 player.  In fact, I have no apple products of any kind [see #22–what would I do with an iphone].
  • 25.  How to pack a real lunch.  I always end up packing too much or too little.  It’s never just right.  Especially since I work the night shift at a place that has no cafeteria service overnight, I have to bring everything that I might want. [Well, they do still have soup, applesauce, and milk]
  • 26.  How to walk in heels.  Especially the spiky ones.
  • 27.  How to network. I am horrible at this.  I hate talking about myself in general, and I especially hate promoting myself.  But I have taken small steps to work on this.  Baby steps are better than no steps
  • 28.  How to use a fire extinguisher.  Only because I have never had to.  I have to take the yearly competency exam at work.  I know what PASS stands for, but what if I can’t get the pin out?
  • 29.  How to kick someone’s ass when necessary Literally and figuratively–I struggle with this.
  • 30.  How to properly start a fire without matches –and I call myself an adventurer…[shakes head in shame]
Oh how I love cute little tiny kittens…when they are sleeping.

 

30ish things I have learned from travel

It’s birth-week. I am one of those people who prefer to celebrate the entire month, but especially the week of.   I am hitting the age where people are asking questions such as “Are you ever going to settle down and get married?” [Maybe] “Are you ever going to have kids?” [ NO] “Are you ever going to get a house of your own?” [hopefully sooner rather than later]. I am sure all of these questions are not intended to make me feel bad about my decisions to forgo a conventional life, but are just out of curiosity.   At least, that is how I choose interpret it.  So in honor of my 30-ish years on the planet, here are 30 ish things I have learned from traveling.

1. The world is big, and I will never see it all.

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Mountains, hiking, clouds, history, photography…these are just a few of the things I’ve encountered while exploring the world.

With each new country I visit, I become acutely aware of how many there are left for me to see. The world is a big, amazing place, and I will likely never run out of places that I want to explore.

2. Solo travel is not that scary

I am an introvert.  It takes me awhile to get to know people.  I don’t always talk to strangers. I don’t like to make plans. I used to think that solo travel wasn’t for me. I didn’t think I could enjoy it. I didn’t  think I could handle it, to be honest. But I underestimated myself. I am a different person when I travel.  Still somewhat quiet, but being alone makes it easier for other people to approach me.  And I DO talk to strangers, and I can make friends.  Now, it’s hard to imagine traveling any way other than on my own.

3.   It’s OK to not love a place

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New York City comes to mind.  Yes, it has everything.  Yes, it is the center of American culture.  Yes, it has amazing museums, history, architecture, Broadway, ect, ect.  It was interesting.  It was enlightening, but I didn’t love it. I think it was just too much.  Of everything.  I am glad I went.  And I don’t think I’ll ever go back on my own. And that’s OK.

4.   Technology has changed the way we travel

My first trip aboard was in 1997.  When I learned I was to be in England all summer, I went to the local [English] library, researched day trips, and weekend trips.  I went to the train station and got a copy of the timetables from Stafford.  I wrote letters and sent postcards and used the phone infrequently because international rates were so expensive.  I used a lot of film. Now, I can do most of my research from home on the internet.  I take photos on my digital camera and upload them to my website wherever I have a wireless connection.  I travel with a Kindle and a digital camera.  I use my Kindle to read tons of books, my cell phone to Skype people at home, and Facebook is an amazing way to keep in touch with new acquaintances and old friends.

5.  The world is not as scary as the media would lead you to believe

I no longer watch the news  on a regular  basis because if I did, I’d never leave my front yard, but if you’re like most people and get your opinion of the world from the news and movies, you probably view it as a dark, dangerous, and scary place. A place where terrorism is widespread, people kidnap tourists for ransom, and the likelihood of being robbed, maimed, or otherwise harmed is alarmingly high. The reality, of course, is that the world is not actually scary at all, so long as you keep your wits about you.  At least, no scarier than some places in the USA.

6.  A country’s history is not indicative of its present or future

If that were the case, I would have never visited Colombia.  Or Serbia. Or I may be planning a trip to Mexico.  Certain parts of the world have particularly dark pasts — war, genocide, communism, terrorism… But the truth is, NO country can boast a completely peaceful history. [Especially not USA] Instead of judging a place by its past [and perhaps avoiding it because of that past], it’s better to look at a country as it is right now.  Don’t write a destination off just because of something that happened there 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years ago. By the same token, don’t  automatically choose a destination you loved 10 or 20 years ago without taking into consideration today’s current events. People change.  So do countries. And governments. And policies. [Let’s just say I would be planning a trip to the US if I didn’t live here].

7. I am incredibly lucky to have the passport that I do.

Yes, it was a pain to get my Bolivian visa, and $135 to boot.  Yes, I had to make a trip to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta to get my Brazilian visa [another $150], but there’s no doubt about it– my American passport is a very valuable thing. With it, I am able to travel virtually anywhere in the world.  Even though I have to have visas for some countries, I realize how lucky I am to have been born in the United States and have all the rights and freedoms associated with my citizenship.

8.  Being an American does not have to be a negative thing

I know some Americans who are ashamed of where they come from — especially when they travel. They say they are from Canada, or wherever.  I have done this once, but only after someone  assumed I was a Spaniard -I didn’t correct him.  Big assault rifles were involved.  People were ‘escorted’ off the bus.  They didn’t get back on.

This one is particularly difficult for me.  I have state pride.  I often readily admit I am from South Carolina, one of the United States, but when I just say USA, a lot of people say California? or New York?  When I say that I am closer to Cartagena than California, people don’t believe me…until I break out a map. But I am getting better.  Most people I’ve encountered around the world love Americans. They don’t necessarily love our government or world policies [and to be fair, I don’t necessarily love our government or world policies], but they love us and are open to learning more about us.

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South Carolina has beautiful mountains with many creeks and waterfalls in addition to a gorgeous coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

9.  You cannot judge a culture that you know nothing about

There is just enough true about stereotypes to make them true.  Having said that, I believe that having an open mind will help you realize that stereotypes never fully represent anyone. You cannot judge a culture if you do not understand it — and basing your understanding on a stereotype does not equal understanding. Before you pass judgment on traditions or beliefs, take some time to get to know the culture you are judging first.

10.  It’s OK to keep returning to a place you love

Even though the world is huge with endless places to discover, I’ve realized that some places will keep pulling you back.   I visit the SC coast at least once a year.  I will probably go back to Argentina and Colombia at some point in the future.  You will leave bits of your heart in different corners of the globe, and those places will call to you periodically. And this is OK. You don’t always have to  go somewhere new to be a “traveler.”

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I’ve been to London 5 times, and plan to return every single time I visit Europe. It is a magical city.

11.  Having an open mind will take you far

It’s OK to have a plan.  It’s better to scrap the plan if something better comes along.  Traveling with an open mind will allow you to have amazing, unforgettable experiences. Forget what you think you know, and life will be much more rewarding.

12.  We are not so different after all

At the end of the day, things like language, skin color, religion, and culture differentiate us much less than we think. No matter where you go in the world, people want the same things:  To be successful. To be happy.To care for their families.   Keep this in mind whenever you start thinking “us” and “them” thoughts. Because, at the end of the day, our dreams and goals are not that different.  Even if we have different definitions of successful and happy.

13.  People back home may never understand

You are the only one who can truly appreciate your travels. When you return home from a trip and have all these amazing memories and experiences buzzing around in your head, chances are your friends and family back home won’t be nearly as interested to hear about your adventures as you’d like them to be.  They won’t care you taught health classes in Spanish with the Caribbean looking over your shoulder.  They make look at the photos–once, but while you were off traversing the world, they were carrying on with their normal lives. [One friend had a baby.  Another got married. And those with kids already–well, those kids weren’t babies when I returned home.]   They may never understand, and I’ve learned that you just have to come to terms with this.

14.  Every destination has something to offer — you just have to find it

I didn’t love New York City.  Or Lima, Peru. Or Santiago, Chile, but I found something in each place that was cool.  In NYC, it was the zoo and Central Park.  In Lima, it was its proximity to the coast, and in Santiago, it was just hanging out in the main square people watching.  Maybe I’m just an overly positive person, but it’s my belief that every place — no matter where — has something interesting to discover about it. I try my best to discover these redeeming qualities about a place wherever I travel, and I think it helps me enjoy the whole travel process more.

15.  When the universe sends you signs, pay attention

Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of signs from the Universe, pointing me down this path or that one.  And, finally, I’m starting to pay attention. Whether it’s related to travel or not, if Fate or God or the Universe or whatever is sending you signs, you’d better be listening.

16.  You and your excuses are the only things holding you back

People often tell me how they wish they could take a month off to go somewhere.  My answer:  Well go.  Their usual reply:    I can’t.  I’ve got ___________.  Maybe that’s true.  Maybe its just an excuse.  If you want to travel but currently aren’t  it’s probably because you are making excuses. YOU are the only thing truly holding yourself back. You can make time by prioritizing and planning ahead. You can save money by staying in hostels and using deal websites like skyscanner.com. You can manage the responsibility smartly. You can bring children with you. And you can overcome the fear.

17.  My own country is pretty special

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Acadia National Parke, Maine

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Zion National Park, Utah

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I love traveling abroad.  It has a certain amount of glamour associated with it, but over the few last years I have traveled to Washington, DC and New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle.  The entire USA has so much to see from the Grand Canyon to Florida Keys to Crater Lake to barrier islands. I could never leave the USA and still see something amazing on every trip I take.

18.  Being nervous is natural

Being nervous is natural when it comes to traveling. I’m not any braver than you are. There have been several times when I’ve seriously considered canceling a trip or an activity at the last minute because I was scared.  [OK, I actually did cancel a couple things]  Scared of the unknown because travel is full of unknowns. It’s pushing through this fear and nervousness that really make you brave.

19. You really can make lifelong friends while traveling

Yes, it’s true that traveling long-term often means having to say a lot of goodbyes. Frequently. But it also allows you to meet a ton of amazing people who love traveling just as much as you do. Occasionally, you’ll form bonds so strong that things like distance and time won’t matter. With technology today, maintaining international friendships is easy. And having friends all over the world is never a bad thing.

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We were neighbours in Peru; then I vistied her in San Francisco and Seattle.

20.  Getting lost can sometimes be a blessing in disguise

I get lost all the time–even in my own hometown.  Sometimes, though, losing the map and just allowing yourself to get lost can be a great thing. As long as you don’t find yourself lost in a bad neighborhood or otherwise dangerous situation, being lost can help you discover a place in a unique way that you just can’t do by following a map or a guidebook’s suggestions. You’ll stumble across tucked-away restaurants, funny street art, and scenes most people probably don’t see. You may even get to talk to some locals about non-travel stuff!

21.  Being able to read a map is crucial

Despite smartphones and Google Maps and all that, being able to read an old-fashioned paper map is still a great skill to have. Why?  What if you end up somewhere without internet access!  Or travel without a smartphone.  [I never take my smart phone out of the country]

22.  Hostels are a great invention

I love hostels.  I love that I can have a room without having to pay for the entire room.   As a solo traveler, I loathe paying for an entire hotel room that charges the same price for one as it does for two or four people. They are affordable, usually centrally located, and allow you to easily meet other travelers wherever you are. Sometimes they are really nice, too.

23.  A travel style can change

Just as there’s no one travel style that works for everyone, there may not even be one travel style that works for you all the time. As you grow and age and gain travel experience, your style may well change. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A backpacker can stay in a 4-star hotel, just as a comfort-seeking traveler can rough it in the bush.

24.  Don’t compare your travel style to anyone else’s

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they know the “right” way to travel. There’s only the way that works for YOU. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a luxury seeker, just travel the way that you want to and ignore everyone else. In the end, you will be a much happier traveler.

25.  No one cares about my eating/drinking habits

I’ve never been a very adventurous eater, and I don’t drink alcohol [anymore]. I always figured people would judge me for this. But I’ve learned over the past few years that trying weird new foods can be fun.  And I’ve learned that most people accept that.

26.   Travel gives you wisdom.  On so many levels.  Culturally, socially, historically.  I can’t think of an area where travel hasn’t helped me in some way.

27.  You will learn patience when you travel

You have to.  I am a fairly patient person to begin with, but traveling and especially taking public transportation in out of the way locations you have to be patient.

28.   Say ‘yes’ even when you want to say ‘no’

I have said ‘yes’ to lots of things while traveling that I wouldn’t have agreed to at home…  Saying ‘yes’ to a date with a matador.  ‘Yes, please’…Signing a lease on an apartment in a foreign country. ‘Yes’ twice–actually…Spending the night in a stranger’s house ‘Ummm, yes’ [not without hesitation]…Eating strange foods ‘yes…um ok’.  It is easy to say no, especially when you are out of your comfort zone.  Say yes.  As long as you don’t die, it will at minimum be a learning experience.

29.  People are generally good and it’s OK to talk to strangers

You don’t always have to be on the go in order to meet people.  I love nothing more to park myself on a bench/cafe/ect. and just people-watch.  Sometimes I even talk to them [gasp!]  If you’re like me, you probably grew up listening to the “don’t talk to strangers” mantra and watching videos in elementary school about ‘Stranger Danger’ . But perhaps we should rethink that golden rule. I am living proof that talking to locals and fellow travelers when you travel can only enhance the experience.

30.  We don’t need as much as we think we do

Packing seems to be a major headache for a lot of people.  I pack basically the same whether I am traveling for one week or six months.  You don’t need all that stuff you think you need, and technology comes in smaller and faster packages every day.

 

31.  It takes time to transition to new things

In my first weeks traveling in South America, I felt lonely and unsure of how I would continue to live this new life for so long. Then I transitioned to my new life and the new rhythm of it all and it was okay. I realized that I needed ‘transition’ time every time I changed cities and said goodbye to new friends or even hotel rooms.  I would get to my new destination and would feel a bit uncomfortable and a little bit lonely.  But I knew if I gave myself a day or two, those feelings would go away and I would have new reasons to enjoy where I was and often times, I found I liked it even better than the last place.  This is one of the reasons why SLOW travel is better than flying through an area just to say you’ve seen it.

32.  It’s OK to ask for help

Several times I have been forced to ask for help.  I hate it every. single. time.  I hate having to ask people to watch my cat or check the mail.  I hate having to ask for directions in a new place.  I hate having to ask where the nearest store is, but you know what?  Most people are happy to help.

33.  It’s not always about the money

Traveling is almost always more expensive than staying home, but there are ways to make it more affordable.  Once I showed up in a resort town on New Year’s Day night without a reservation or a place to stay.  I went to hotel after hotel.  It started to snow.  I was getting very depressed. And cold. And hungry.  I finally found a place that had one room left for 200 Euros.  I didn’t want to spend that much money, but I took it.  It was the best 200 euros I could have spent at that moment.  A hot shower and a warm bed did much more than take the chill off;  it rejuvenated my soul.  And I was much more able to enjoy the rest of my trip.

34.  Travel will change you in ways you can’t imagine

There are the things you can think of–such as making you a more educated world citizen, having stories to tell at any occasion, and realizing that people are people no matter where you are.  Sometimes, when the timing is right, when the events line up in just the right way, you can recognize the moment that the change happens. Sometimes it can be profound – you can find a life’s purpose.  For me, it was running my very own health clinic in Peru.  This one volunteer project has changed the course of my life.   Sometimes it’s small, like discovering you like gelato or pretzels or ceviche.  Sometimes, it is just remembering who you wanted to be instead of who you are today. These changes, big or small, alter us as individuals if we let them. And the really cool thing is that it can become contagious.

Wandering– without being lost– Laguna Miscanti, Atacama Desert, Chile 2010

Gaining perspective on Cinque Terre paths

Most of last year sucked. Like straight up sucked. Yes, I graduated from school and got an amazing job, but other than that 2005 was shitty. Watching my father die, seeing my boyfriend tool around town with some floozy, having a fling with my boss, and moving to a new state–none of those things made me happy. I decided early on that 2006 was going to be a much better year. I’m going to explore my new surroundings, take real vacations, go on actual dates with appropriate people, make new friends…you know all that stuff that is supposed to make life more fulfilling.

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Real vacation #1–hanging out in Itlay.

One of the things that always helps me to see things clearly is getting back to nature… getting outside and communing with the trees if you will. After being surrounding with throngs of people at the Olympics, I needed some alone time… Enter Cinque Terre, a coastal area of five little villages. This part of Italy is usually DEAD in the winter, but courtesy of the Games, some areas have opened up, providing a much needed escape from the Alps. Don’t get me wrong, mountains are awesome. The Alps are amazing, but I’d take a cold, sunny day on the coast over the snowy mountains any day.

One of the main draws to Cinque Terre aside from its location is the interconnect hiking paths. Some of them are easy, more like leisurely strolls through the woods.  Other trails are actual hiking trails complete with mountains and steep climbs.

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A lot of people just hike the leisurely trail;  I opted to hike the entire network of trails. Hiking the entire length of the trail took about  8 hours or so. I went at an easy pace; it was bright and sunny except for the early morning fog, and temperatures were awesome for February. I had a lot of shit to sort out in my head. So I walked. And walked. And walked some more. Those paths are amazing. And snapped photos [2016 Michelle here: with FILM]

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I took the train back to my room after hiking all day and indulged in a massive plate of pasta, all the bread I could get my hands on, and a carafe or two of the most wonderful red wine ever. Of course I say that every day… today’s wine was the best ever… today’s pasta was the best ever… today’s gelato was better than yesterday’s gelato. But the hike… the hike was amazing. The towns are pretty cute too.

Also I am amazed at how green everything is.  You’d never know it was February.
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Fresh clementines rock.

A letter to myself

Dear self,

Here are your tasks for 2016… It may seem like a lot right now, but you have an entire year + an extra day, so no whining*

  • You have a new job this year… so don’t suck at it… Also, do not kill anyone. [I kept the new job for a grand total of 6 months.  The environment was highly toxic, and for my own sanity, I left.   And I didn’t kill anyone… I call that a win]
  • Keep your shit together… organize your mail, email, and any other important communication and keep it that way for more than 3 nanoseconds.  Along those lines, keep your space organized. [Organization has been my nemesis since birth, but I try.  I call this one a draw]
  • Spend time with people who love you and believe in you.  [There have been more days than I care to count where the only words uttered from my mouth were LUCY! or CHRISTOPHER! I say this was a miserable failure. Going to school and working full-time in the evening make socializing harder than it needs to be]
  • Acknowledge that some things are out of your control and above your pay grade.
  • Stop saying sorry when that’s not what you mean. (Acceptable times to apologize include: when you break something that’s not yours, when you hurt someone’s feelings accidentally, when you step on someone’s toe, etc.).  Stop apologizing for every.little.thing that goes on in life.  Not everything is your fault.
  • Take responsibility for your self… (Examples including finding a dentist, dealing with the DMV, investing in your future, ect).
  • When needed, remind yourself that you have a right to take up space whether that is on a trail or in a hospital room surrounded by physicians.  Do not be intimidated by others.
  • Be nice to yourself.
  • Don’t completely succumb to adulthood, but still try to pay bills on time. [Yay, another win.  I dance with patients in their rooms, play with therapy dogs, and generally try to have fun while working. Health is a serious business, but I don’t always have to be serious]
  • Re-define impossible.
  • Do that yoga push-up chataranga thing that currently makes you feel like you’re going to collapse and smash your nose on the ground.
  • Remember that you always, always, always have a choice. We choose our emotions.  Sure, there are situations which will frustrate you.  There will be times when you are disappointed, but being disappointed is a choice. Being frustrated is a choice. Smiling and laughing it off is a choice… On that note, choose smiling.
  • Try to see failure as a painful, but necessary part of success — not a mandate on your character. Try.
  • Keep getting stronger.
  • Embrace partial success. Embrace progress, even the very small, barely noticeable, infinitesimal progress.

Celebrate life.

Lots of love

me, december 30, 2015

PS:  read & re-read this letter as many times as necessary throughout the year.  If needed, print off this letter , carry it around with you, and read this letter any time you need encouragement.

Happy Birthday NPS and Fee-Free Days

Happy Birthday National Parks Service! One of the best things about America is its national park system.  There are currently 59 of them and cover some of the best landscapes in the world.  There is the glacial wilderness of Wrangell NP in Alaska and the coral reefs of Biscayne Bay NP in Florida.  We have America’s first sunrise at Acadia NP in Maine and quite possibly the last sunset at American Samoa NP. There are old growth flood plains in South Carolina at Congaree NP and incredible desert landscapes of the west at Grand Canyon NP in Arizona and Zion NP in Utah.  We have amazing highs at Denali NP in Alaska and incredible lows at Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico.

The National Parks are home and habitat to more than 400 endangered or threatened plant and animal species.  Animals from grizzly bears to Dall sheep, timber wolves to peregrine falcons, Pacific Boas to gray whales all call the lands protected by the National Parks home.  The largest living things in the world are in National Parks: Sequoia trees and Alaskan brown bears (the world’s largest living carnivores.)  Whatever type of landscape fascinates you, you are sure to encounter it at one of the US National Parks.

Old growth flood plains at Congaree National Park in South Carolina

One of my random travel goals is to visit each of the US National Parks, and I’ve managed to visit roughly half of them.  The government wants us to visit the amazing wonderland that is our home and each year that have fee-free days for the parks that charge entrance fees [not all of them do].

Fee free days

For 2016,–which also happens to celebrate 100 years of the national parks system– the following days have been designated fee-free:

  • January 18–>Martin Luther King Day
  • April 16-24–>National Park Week
  • August 25-28–>National Park Birthday–let’s party
  • September 26–>National Public Lands Day
  • November 11–>Veterans Day

If the fee-free days aren’t enough to get you out there, check out these interesting facts about the US National Parks.

  • Yellowstone was the world’s first national park. It was created in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Its caretakers – the cavalry.  The most recent addition to the 59 national parks list is Pinnacles, California, which was added in 2013.
  •  Sometimes national parks and national monuments are confused. National parks are chosen for their natural beauty, unique geological features, and unusual ecosystems. National monuments are chosen for their historical or archaeological significance.
  • Only one state in the country is not lucky enough to currently have either a national park or national monument. It is actually the country’s first state, Delaware. Poor little Delaware.
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is the largest park in the country. At six times the size of Yellowstone, it is the meeting point of four major mountain ranges and includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. The preserve contains three climate zones, which means that it has everything from giant glaciers to wetlands to one of the largest active volcanoes in North America
  • Everglades is the only true tropical forest in the northern hemisphere. Because of this it is home to plants and animals you can’t find anywhere else, including the Florida Panther and twenty species of orchids.
  • Russell Cave National Monument, Alabama, has an almost continuous record of human habitation going back to at least 7000 BC.

For statistics nerds, check out the numbers.

  • The NPS operates roughly 401 units which include 79 National Mon­u­ments, 78 His­tor­i­cal Sights, 59 National Parks, and 46 Historical Parks all contained within 84 mil­lion acres.
  • The parks host 280 million visitors a year. And whether they are exploring the highest point in North Amer­ica in Denali NP (Mount McKin­ley –20,320 feet), or the low­est point in the west­ern hemi­sphere at Death Val­ley NP; the National Parks are a host of extremes. From the deep­est lake at Crater Lake NP (1932 feet), or the tallest trees in the world at Red­wood NP (397 feet).

Get out there, and enjoy what America has to offer. Fee free.