Mexico- just beyond the border

I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s a wrong way to travel. Everyone can do it differently, but I generally muck-up the beginnings. There is always that glistening moment of panic for me when deplaning into a foreign country. That emotion is punctuated with excitement, enthusiasm and an not-unhealthy dose of self-doubt. However, it’s primarily panic. 

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I speak loudly about wanting to travel. My frequent flier clubs are my long-term committed relationships.

How else does one find “nowhere” in another person’s somewhere? How else will you find the stories waiting to be told to you or find your horizons challenged unwittingly, and often uncomfortably? The world is huge—and it’s just outside that safe umbilical cord of an airport.

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Once through the visa portion of customs  — “Nope, I’ve never been here before.” & “Yep, I’m excited to spend money in your country as a tourist only!”  Insert what I assume to be a nervous/demur smile —  I always pause inside the airport gates surreptitiously stuffing my passport deeper into my bag while simultaneously moving my license and a credit card into my bra, just in case. (#Traveltip: Never keep your  identifying documents in one place.)

Then it happens, I step out into the country’s airport and my internal barometer, built solely of anticipation compiled through my cramped airplane ride, with the stranger sleeping on my shoulder, who kindly, upon waking held my hand through the agonizing moments of turbulence and weirdly continued to hold my hand as the petulant flight attendants foisted numerous duty-free products upon us – spikes. The pressure of the new and unknown commences its jaunt into becoming the familiar.

Meandering with purpose in the arrivals terminal I head for the glaringly “ATM” sign and I discover that my debit card won’t work. I’ve entered hundreds of new cities and countless countries and yet, I still refuse to withdraw foreign currency prior to arriving in the airport. Everyone knows the cash exchange rates are simply terrible.

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Keeping on the move through the airport in case someone happens to be watching me as a potential next target for the next big Hollywood thriller movie which probably wouldn’t end well for me, based solely on the fact that I am not Liam Niseen. I am also spurred-on, Iphone clutched in both hands, searching surreptitiously for an open wifi portal, by fellow traveler’s cautionary tales of similar vulnerabilities and the robberies that followed soon afterwards. (#TravelTip: International MiFis and hotspot devices can be purchased across the world. They are a solid investment to spare you from moments like this.) My salvation comes in the form of a Hot Wings Bar with a gloriously unlocked internet connection, albeit dubious food. I squat casually against their inside wall tucked behind a table and out of site of the servers as I pray internally that the connection is strong enough for me to contact my bank internationally via Skype…

It all works out of course; The funny thing is, it always does in some way or another. There will always be an end to the adventure. A kind stranger might give me a lift to my destination for free because I remind him of his granddaughter, the Airbnb host could fetch me and bring me to my temporary home after I’ve awkwardly borrowed a random airport employee’s personal cellular telephone or triumphantly, as happens now, I’ll find I can magically withdraw money after contacting my bank, hire taxi, for which I’m certainly over-charged, and be on my merry way! (The hostel/Airbnb/tourist bureau warns travelers to pay $XX for a car and not a cent more when landing in Mexico and in most cities. However, when it’s late, when you don’t speak the language and when you’re told that “$xx is the fee” by the certified taxi stand, it’s usually a good time to cut your losses and run with it, especially when the exchange rate is in your favor)

Following the taxi representative out to the busy lanes of airport traffic- he leads me past the official taxi’s standing in line and instead further out into the road where he whistles and a certainly-not-certified-taxi whips around the corner, squealing to a clunky stop in front of me. In I hop, clutching my bags to my person as I try not to look too vulnerable and clueless. My taxi “representative” leans in over me to collect a hefty cash tip from my new driver, pats me on the shoulder, slams the door and away we go.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 11.29.13 AMDid you know that red lights are just a suggestion in Mexico after midnight? And that the daytime charm of the city is well hidden by the dark, when the streets are teeming the lifestyle tourists rarely see? I hadn’t known these things before either; I do now.

A friend of mine dubbed Mexico-now to be a mix between New York, Istanbul, and Berlin. When thinking about CdMx, as it’s rebranded itself, I’d have to agree. The country is certainly dealing with its own issues, as does any government, however, within its central city art thrives, murals politicas span building walls and adorn lampposts. The city’s transit (metro and buses) are prompt and while overcrowded are certainly realistically inclined. The city life is far less impersonal than many first world countries are these days.

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I’ll admit, there’s an established camaraderie within the special subway cars that I’ve quite enjoyed being apart of. A crossing guard at the front of the Mexican Metro platform ensures that only women and children board the front two metro cars “for their own safety”. The number of women who have been groped and sexually harassed on platforms and in trains was so great, that separate cars have been created to deal with the issue. We could pause here to discuss my thoughts on these gendered cars or my larger concerns regarding segregating sexes and allowing literal vehicles to assist the government in avoiding the larger condemnation of this behavior as an acceptable cultural norm… However, I am not from the city, nor am I Mexican. I will not pretend to have the answers to a system that an entire country currently deems acceptable.

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Rather I’d prefer to mention my appreciation for the communal attempts to shove purses, shoes and the various body parts of strangers into the not-quite-closed-doors of a train. No one is willing to back-up from the platform edge, nor to step out of the train to be left behind enabling an over-crowded train to close its doors. Therefore, people apply brute force, no matter the body-area enabling forward motion for the entire system. True familiarity with your fellow citizens comes when a half-dozen stranger’s hands helpfully force the last inches of your rear-end into the jam-packed car. Then the doors snap closed and you’re off. Barely breathing.

It’s said Mexico city was built upon a lake. The Aztec priests followed a prophecy which told them to build their capital in the place where they found an eagle with a serpent in its beak perched on a prickly pear cactus. They found just such a thing at the small Lake Texcoco. Today that lake is gone and CdMx exists.

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 11.29.01 AMIn general, it seems that Mexicans have claimed an ownership of their past (or at least certain parts of it, like all good countrymen when remembering history through the victor’s eyes) in an opulently vibrant way I usually reserve for tourists, awestruck by the foreign. The Plaza Mariana holding the dare-I-call-it-gaudy Basilica de Guadalupe and the Templo Expiatorio a Cristo Rey are magnificent buildings filled with decade old cracks and sloping floors which cannot be repaired without extreme demolition. And the incense is so thick it’s but another layer or mortar.  Today these two buildings are but a few of the constant reminders of the 1984 volcano that rocked the city. And the fact that the dormant, not extinct volcanos surround this frenetic city center, even as it rises into its own fruition.

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Easy Living In NOLA

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I’m not in the habit of touring the good ol’ US of A. However, the truth is that New Orleans is one of those fabulously historical places to visit, where Scarlett O’Hara might step out of the trolley car behind you at any moment. If you stick around long enough – during Mardi Gras, she certainly will.

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The French quarter is the tourists haven. It is ablaze with kitschy knick-knacks you never knew you needed until you set eyes on them. Each new street is lined with kitchen supply stores, vintage shops and galleries, lots and lots of galleries stocked with classically regional, Southern Art.

The Stroll by Danny DeLancy

The Stroll by Danny DeLancy

Defined by its romanticism within landscapes, this genre tends to engender the realistic and the mystic in one. Southern art presents the artist’s cultivated and reverent vision of his/her/their home. Though too gaudy for my personal walls, (apparently there is such a thing) there is plenty of fun to be had in chatting up the vending artists as they hassle the passersby. You never know which artist will turn out to run a fortune telling business on the side and will read your palm for the price of being mentioned in your blog…..

Admittedly dubious of the beignets and cafe au laits from Cafe Du Monte, I shall concede that they are better than anticipated, considering the touristic hype surrounding them. Despite the interminable wait for service, I suggest that you swipe a table and take time to ruminate over your quarter pound of powdered sugar at your leisure. It can be a pleasant break from the balmy 95 ° F and 75% humidity in NOLA .

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While airboat tours do not guarantee Huck Finn sightings, they do offer a quick trip out of the city, past idealistic manor houses and out into the famed bayous. A bit more pricey than the regular swamp tour, you will pay for the core -vibrating experience of skimming across wave crests at fifty mile per hour if you take an airboat tour. I suggest that you pre-plan a bit more than I did. Short skirts and tank tops don’t leave much to your fellow passengers imaginations when dealing with strong winds. (It should also be noted that tours in the rain will leave you with raindrop bruises, so watch the weather report too…)

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Of the extensive bayou network you’ll enter, over 10,000 brackish canals long, not a single canal is naturally occurring. Dug-out in the 1900 – 1950s these beautiful backwaters were  initially created by logging companies when they were clear-cutting old growth bald cypress. Today algae blooms, grandfather’s bead (tree moss) and crocodiles live in a unique ecosystem which comprise 40% of U.S. wetlands. There is not a single old growth bald cypress in the state, though second and third growth trees can be found aplenty.

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As we skimmed along the canal surfaces I noted PVC pipes at each majorintersection. Natural gas pipelines are buried less than 4 feet below the water’s surface throughout LA’s bayou network. Unfortunately, the ramifications of a minor leak in one pipe in this complex ecosystem seemed less distressing to my fellow passengers than the vivaciously yellow banana spider, (not poisonous unless squeezed) which had found its way aboard and spent too much time exploring my shoulders and birds nest bun.

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Sam, our swamp guide was knowledgeable about crocodiles, bayou life and politics. He informed us that he loves kissing crocodiles after giving them swamp crack, (marshmallows) but he makes sure to give them all female names prior to kissing them. He encouraged us to name the crocodile as we wanted when we were given an opportunity for a kiss of our own. “I’m not trying to make a statement, but I’m not one to judge which way you like…” he claimed and honestly the “croc probably don’t care neither”.

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FYI- It takes six full size crocs to make one small purse for fashionistas.

Like most cities, NOLA has some grandiose Chelsea-inspired galleries on the south side of town for the wealthy collectors. Just west of that there are some additional public museums for everyone else. I managed to squeeze in the Ogden Museum (modern, local and contemporary art), the ConfederateMuseum (oldest Museum in LA, it’s been open since 1891) and the WWII Museum This was a fitting place for me to explore in August I felt. I paid homage to my grandfather who was active in the war and to the victims of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings, which took place 69 years ago to the day of my museum visit.

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Gone With The Wind theme aside – There is another NOLA which the debaucherous tourists and men in dresses (Red Dress Run ) might fail to grasp or choose to overlook. This was a slave town historically. Prior to the Civil War, over 100,000 human transactions took place in pens lining the Baronne and Gravier streets (two main streets lined with hotels today). Of those families who were broken up and sold, nearly one-third of the sales were of children under 13.

Dawid and entrepreneur

Dawid and entrepreneur

Today the city’s population is still over 40% black, but if you stay in the French Quarter the entire time you would never know it. The epic partying by fraternity brothers and bachelorette parties distracts from the disturbing issue that the tourist money being poured into the city only reaches so far, it seems and that the few homeless people I did see in the tourist areas were not white. On an early morning walk my first day in the city I watched two inebriated homeless men, self-stated veterans, rounded up and relocated to another part of the city as a part of what I assume is a routine clearing of the streets….

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I am certainly guilty of brushing past people asking for money on the streets. I certainly ignored an “entrepreneur” who kindly offered to hook me up with my dreams for the night, for a small fee of course. I “White Girl Dance” shamelessly with my hands in the air and I stride with confidence when I travel. I am secure in my opinions and myself, having growing up in thesheltered south of the USA. Yet today, nine years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, studies show that only 30% of lower income families, the majority black, have returned to their homes as compared to 90% in more affluent, white areas. #checkyourprivilege

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The hurricane changed the city’s landscape and its perception of itself permanently. The city has been rebuilt in many places. The levees have been repaired and strengthened. This brilliant, voodoo prevalent city, which glorifies itself with iconoclastic images of true jazz and blues ripping apart the night certainly manages to ingratiate itself to tourists. Yet, as I departed for the airport in a shared shuttle, (Lyft, Uber and taxicabs are all a minimum of $40 for the trip) I found myself wondering what other great potential the city could have in its future, someday when Mammy and neutral zones* are no longer such participants in society.

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Let’s Talk About Home-Switching:

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The contentedly quiet and sticky days of summer terrify my when visiting Suburbia.  Recently, on a longer-than-anticipated trip to Asheville, NC when the classically southern neighbors found that they had nothing better to do with their time than investigate our familial circumstances and when circinate thoughts somersaulted in my brain on the cannon duty of a daughter to care for her aging parents, compared with charitably altruistic actions taken by a son when facing the same circumstances – I contemplated momentous escapes from reality and into privacy as often as possible….

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Having been privileged enough  (#checkyourprivilege) to grow up in a small city which suffered from drug usage, open segregation and a burdened economy. Upon this return trip however I discovered  a thriving city, now voted “Beer Town USA” for the past 4 years running  and the fifth best place to retire in the USA (paired with rumors that the Obama’s have purchased a presidential house in the area).

 I  know the streets for the their curves rather than their names. I know locations for their previous shop owners rather than the current retail stores which inhabit the spaces.  I know the mall parking lots as my old hiking grounds…. Thanks to an impressive push by the Asheville City Council and Tourism Bureau, downtown is no longer the drug laundering front with boarded up doors and back alleys-you-avoided-if-you-didn’t-belong-there. It’s a hoppy, arts-centric, safe city with markedly obvious economic segregation and an over-blown pride for it’s hippie and leftist culture.

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Artists cast their wares successfully at tourists on block after block of artisanal wares.  Boutiques (Hip Replacements, The Honey Pot and The Enchanted Forest) are pared with noodle shops,  (the noodle shop, where real locals eat and Doc Chey’s, where the tourists eat) Ice cream parlors (Kilwins, Marble Slab, The Hop) and chocolate lounges (Chocolate Lounge, Chocolate Fetish) to draw in vast tourists with prices that cause one to wonder at the locals ability to pay rent at all during off-season as the majority of the city seems to survive on service jobs.  *Note: Ashevillans are not the best at Yelping, nor Trip-Advising. If you really don’t know where to go — duck into a store and ask a local. They’ll give you the best answer including which trolley tour to take as there are now four available. (Hint hint– Think LaZoomTours)

Regardless these recent enticing southern chic enticements  the true charm of Asheville lies in its slopping wooden roofs tucked into pockets of woods -so each liberal family can trowel their own bit of earth and participate in the local canning and brewing craze which has swept this little belt-loop city in the south. I prefer the old-timer getaways the ones requiring a minimum of a 45 minute drive into the blue ridge mountains to: Looking Glass Falls, Craggy Gardens, Bat Cave  and Mount Pisgah  if you are up for some good hikes!

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Tourist favorites include: Sliding rock (natural water slide coming down the mountain), Grandfather Mountain, Table rock, Chimney Rock ad Lake Lure however… Pick your own adventure based on the locations listed above. The main things you don’t want to miss are The Great Smokey Railroad in Bryson City and the tubing available there as well. (Don’t be fooled – only tourists tube in the French Broad in Asheville and those are the ones who never return).

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Of Arrowheading and Mastodons

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Martha’s Vineyard (MV) is divided into three main cities to go with it’s three corners.  This triangular, tri-happy, snow-globe island can be driven across in entirety (from end to end) in about forty-five minutes. Like all good islands it’s wending coastline offers countless overlooks for the nature starved viewer, providing entrancing contentment with it’s bumbling swells.

I adore beach towns as much as the next person, in fact, I might yet act upon my fantasy of living by the ocean just so I can take a dip at least four times a day… For now however, I have contented myself with exploring MV in the depth of winter when the tourists and summer renters had already fled South with the dwindling Monarchs. I stayed Up-Island. Apparently, even as a visitor I am not  a Down-Islander.photo 1

Prior to my arrival MV conjured up images of pastel polo shirts with small whale insignia’s on the breast and a nostalgic jumble of tumultuous sea water associated with a prime time news anchor’s sensationless voice announcing the death of  John F.  Kennedy in a plane crash.  If you had asked my imagination to  distinguish differences between Cape Code and Martha’s Vineyard prior to this trip,  P-town aside I would have simply asked: What more is there to discover about the locals once one has explored the chintzy-souvenir shops, pier-side breweries and foaming-sea art galleries?photo 2

When disembarking from the Steamship Authority Ferry  into Vineyard Haven (Down-Island) within easy walking distance you will find the island staples such as Leslie’s Pharmacy and Mocha Moe’s  (a necessity for the local teens)  on Main Street as well as some chimerically touristy spots: Mad Martha’s for Ice Cream and Bunch of Grapes bookstore. If you want really spend some time Down-Island however, you will want to hop over to Oak Bluffs for it is a “damp-town”, meaning you can at least  purchase a beer or glass of wine with your lunch. Oak Bluffs is conveniently located about 5 miles from the famed beached of Nantucket Sound.

If you are traversing the island by bus it is possible to see the entire island in one day.  On the bus circuit, Edgartown would be the next scheduled stop after Oak Bluffs. As the first established colonial port on MV, today it is  a well preserved town with it’s ancient whaling houses, local museums and of course it’s maintenance of the slow-running ferry to the island of Chappaquiddick AKA Chappy for short. Home to many musical events and scene-gatherings for MV the small island sports a must visit site,  Slip Away Farm, an all organic farm run by a young local and her friends. Trending on the island are start-up organic farms (and potentially some new recycling and composting programs as well I hear). This trend seems to be due in part at least to the location  itself with the boosted cost of imports (expect at least a $3 mark-up on your purchases) as well as the affluence of the area in general. This allows not only for profitable Farmer’s Markets and Veg- Stands, but ensures that local restaurants and groceries are keen to purchase locally too.photo 4

In a new and more exciting movement composting, as afore mentioned, seems to be growing in popularity.  On the island is far more economical to compost locally than to and have manure imported. Many of the local landscapers (a profitable  job on-island, particularly for the summer labor-force) have started utilizing on-island organic waste specifically. Additionally, I was surprised to learn that trash and recycling services are only provided on-location at a fairly steep cost. Many locals prefer to carry their own waste to the dump and pay per bag rather than dealing with monthly service fees.

I would be remiss if I failed to note that a good place for the Local Scene is located at the dump itself, in The Dumptique specifically. A non-profit, volunteer based shop, it is naught but a small hut where people can drop off items they no longer want which are then refurbished or simply taken as is by someone new, items are re-purposed with vigor.  A friend I was visiting harbored some amazing vintage and D.I.Y. finds from her Dumptique scavenging. Alas, it was too cold during my visit for me to go look around (run entirely by volunteers, they are only open if it is above 32 degrees), it’s just another incentive to go back…photo 3

When departing Edgartown your final stops on island should commence in the final corner of up-island MV in Tisbury, particularly West Tisbury.  Catch a few gawks at Ally’s General Store, a historical site which has been refinished and re-purposed so many times that they now sell everything you can imagine and quite a few things you cannot… Of the things you cannot imagine I recommend picking up a local  “Not Your Sugar Mommas” all raw superfood chocolate and caramel bar.  Handmade by “Helen”  or whomever the custom label helpfully notates, though expensive (close to $7/bar) these chocolates diffuse so aerially that your taste buds protest the end of each bite even before your brain has quite comprehended the finite existence of such perfection the food world. It should be noted that Ally’s can also provide practical things like subs and coffee; Thus it’s station within the local community as the hang-out spot for much of the labor force of West Tisbury.photo 3

You would do well to make one more stop in West Tisbury at the Scottish Bake House (perhaps in between socializing at the local post office and library). With a local artist’s show on it’s walls this is the closest you will come to a hipter cafe on-island. (Heaven forbid there not be an artsy/artisanal cafe in any small-town America!)  Scottish Bake House is the place to learn about everything that is worth anything obviously. It is where you will find out what key events are  happening on-island and will probably improve your mood and your social life with it’s endearments to normality.  (For more information about the local talent the island does subsume check out: Peg House  and Kendyll Gage-Ripa‘s art they are some of the people you will find are apart of this Local Scene Spot.)photo 2

At Chilmark, another tri-happy area of this island, with three main roads (North, South and Middle road) the main bar of Chilmark suggests that you BYOB and while they have great music some evenings I suggest that you continue your drive past the town hall on South Road and on into Aquinnah (AKA Gay Head).  You can aim for the nude beach which lies at the bottom of the Aquinnah cliffs or perhaps you might want to simply see the cliffs themselves. It would also be respectful to take time to learn about the Wampanoang People of Gay Head while there as you will pass the reservation and are on their land when driving through.  The word “Wampanoang” literally means “People of the Dawn” they have been on this land since before the first settlers brought the 7 – day disease among other things to the tribe in the 17th century. Today the Wampanoang are working on an ambitious project to revive their native tongue, as the last native Wampanoang speaker died almost 100 years ago.

The surface of the MV  belies it’s hidden wonders in the still of winter. Though bundled up and warmed with inventive hot-toddies, I found myself quakingly cold many times throughout my stay as I hunched, determined, willing my eyes to pick out the slender shape of an arrowhead or perhaps mastodon tooth from the receding cliff line near Quansoo Beach . My friend and guide (who’s name shall remain anonymous for reasons having to do with what I suspect to be grey-area legal land rights), an accomplished arrowheader, while not having any luck while I was in tow either (*go figure*) was never deterred.photo 2

Not for the impatient, the fine art of arrowheading entails false alarms whenever one happens across an elongated rock. Often when a novice, like me, one can find something  and you are certain it has to be something important due to the grooved edges and seemingly carved out bottom! –  Then just as you go to cry out that you’ve found one – success and validation at last-  The bit of rock crumbles in your hand, having been a mere silt composite formed like everything else around via the constant shifting overturn that is the tides and stones of the area. So you sigh and drop the handful of dust you are now cradling,  allowing that course sand to run through your fingers, staining them a light red, the key color of MV earth. The art of Arrowheading is no different from adventuring and learning. It it  not for feint of heart.photo 1





The AT Upstate: (Hiking Tips)

1383476_10151759334647561_1592943021_nFor those of you who don’t care what time of year you go hiking – you just want to go – this is the time of year when you should hop onto the Metro-North, ride upstate for about an hour to: Peekskill, Garrison or Cold Spring, then circumnavigate the quaint little town(s) and head out into the woods!

The Appalachian Trail (AT) winds its way over 90 miles of New York State. One of the many amazing things about this trail is how cunningly it belies the distance between itself and busy cities or tourist attractions nearby, such as  New York City and the Bear Mountain Zoo. Both of  these urban areas are located mere miles away from the trail and yet when you are in the woods, you would never know. Another grand thing about this stretch of the AT is that it is  only  rated at a moderate level of difficulty for hikers, enabling the general public  to partake in the grandeur of the trail. From early spring until late autumn hoards of: nature enthusiasts, fitness aficionados, (you can tell who they are because of their  supernaturally bright gym clothing ) and families swarm onto the trails enjoying the gently slopping terrain and fantastic views.

20131012_145636If you seek the silence of the woods as a rejuvenation away from the torrential outpourings of city life, especially during peak hiking seasons, the AT in upstate NY might not be the best place to seek solitary sanity. You probably want to try some other trails in the area such as the Taconic Region Trails.

If you are interested in hiking, but do not have a outdoor buddy and you fret over the dangers of hiking alone- the AT is the place to be! Prior to your departure, make sure and tell someone local (friend or family) where you are going and about when you expect to be back. This will give you some security in case something does happens while you are on the trail. Also be sure to bring a whistle, a water bottle and some layers (you will most assuredly get hot during your walk ). Along the AT you will enjoy short bouts of solitary hiking at your own pace interspaced with limited trail conversation as you pass other hikers.

20131012_133221While this is a well traveled trail there are still dangers in the woods, especially alone. Be sure not to wander off the trail. Even if you are confident in the direction you came from and feel like you need to take a short-cut or prove something by bushwhacking your way home, don’t do it.  It is not only stupidly easy to lose your sense of direction in unfamiliar woods, but you will also be leaving more than just foot prints behind you.  Trails are blazed by trained foresters who keep in mind the best routs around erosive areas and animal habitats.

By tramping off the trail you heighten the natural erosion rate, you will probably wander into some more dangerous wildlife (snakes are a huge part of this ecosystem) which would normally avoid the busier trail area, you could confuse other hikers who might follow you leading to more natural damage or you could get injured off of the trail and it would take much longer for help to arrive …

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As a final tip-remember, even if you are traveling at your own pace  hiking is not a race. You are out there to enjoy nature as well as to get some fresh air and exercise. Take time to make some temporary trail art, pause for breathe at the top of the hill and make sure you take some good pictures because in this day in age, everyone is a photographer.

Venturing South: Bogota, Colombia

I love traveling in foreign airports, they are the umbilical cord to the world for me. I also appreciate the airport nostalgia  which washes over me whenever the security guard cops a feel post metal detector,  but does not require me to step aside for a clothing swipe or a full body scan…

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On the intercity flight between Medellin and Bogota I had found myself seated in the exit row. The flight attendant seemed dubious of my ability to effectively communicate emergency instructions in Spanish; I was doubtful too…Luckily no such situation arose because out of sheer kindness or laziness on the attendants part I was able to maintain my exit-row leg-room for the hour and a half flight.

Arrival into Bogota lead to me to question my overall travel competency. It’s the basic things like re-confirming the address of your airb&b, which really matter on a trip it turns out… Of course, when the address is written down incorrectly, sometimes there is nothing you can do to evade those uncomfortable travel situations- the ones where you find yourself standing on a park corner, attempting to look cool and non-conspicuous while simultaneously clutching all of your luggage to your person, waiting for your host to come retrieve you like a lost puppy….

Never one to be content sitting in for one single evening my obliging travel partner and I  went questing for food and Monserrate directly after our eventual arrival at our accommodations.

1383323_10151798300057561_814868480_nFood we found at a delectable restaurant called Crepes and Waffles. Pleased to see all vegetarian food for the first time on the trip I splurged on an actual dinner dish rather than continuing to subsist on my travel diet of deserts, caffeine  and street snacks. (Interesting Side note:  This chain, originating  in Bogota, only hires women who are head of households as employees.  My initial response to this fact was to approval; it’s about time someplace tailored jobs for women right?! However, the more I thought on it the more issues I have with the policy: What about other women who are not heads of houses?  Can they not work too? What happens when the children leave or the spouse dies and technically they are the only household member and thus not really a head of a household. Are they then fired? Also, why are discriminate against men? Isn’t there enough discrimination already?)

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Monserrate is  a looming mountain which presides over the Eastern side of Bogota. Located on a top peak is the Sanctuary of Monserrate a popular tourist and pilgram destination. The views of  the city from the mountaintop are expansive and the ride up the mountain on either a cable car or funicular are a “must-do” part of the tourist experience.  Having done my research before hand I knew that the mountain was open to tourists until midnight… What research did not tell me is that the church, the tourist booths and parts of the gardens would be closed after five o’clock. Therefore,  if you want to enjoy anything other than a lovely dulcet toned sunset and garden walk in partial darkness, visit the mountain prior to closing time…

544124_10151798300302561_1426947340_nLa Candelaria, the old city in downtown of Bogota is very compact. It’s winding streets are laid out in what ought to be a simple to understand alpha-numeric order. Yet somehow it is not. We traveled in circles, circumnavigating the actual destination at least three times before deciding that the out-of-date-tourist-map, which was missing Carreras 12A – 12H was less than helpful. In general I would also have fared better directionally were I not gawking upwards at the astoundingly violent, beautiful,  political murals and graffiti littering the city’s walls, while also attempting to side step the missing sewer-cover holes.

1385301_10151798310357561_1483133002_n-2  (Note: Across the city the iron sewer covers have been pulled off and the metal re-sold thereby exposing gaping holes in the sidewalk. While we were in Bogota this issue rose to the forefront of the publics attention due to the deaths of 2 children who, within the course of one week stepped into these holes and drowned in the trash and rainwater .)

1450956_10151798298932561_302978758_nFinally trying something new, we joined a bike tour of the city. Although I do not endorse bike tours, in general, this one in particular had a certain element of ecas the first thing we did was bike the wrong way on a one-way street, fighting our way uphill against traffic, the tour was a impressively comprehensive including: La Macerana, the old bull fighting ring, currently standing empty as the current governor has declared the sport illegal, the old town squares, where students congregate to eat, drink and protest politics, a coffee factory,  where the roasting and bagging portion of the coffee preparation is completed and the Cementario Central de Bogota, which  houses wealthy or well loved political figures as well as the famous Bavaria Beer Company founder, Leo Kopp, who is visited by Colombians and tourists alike, all waiting in line to whisper their desires for a new job or financial stability into his ear…

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Colombia as a country is progressing forward from drug cartels and zones of terror that people associate with it. Although I would not yet deem it prepared for busloads of tourists, (particularly as there is a distinct lack of tourist assistance available) it is a much safer place to visit today than it has ever been. If you want to travel, go try it out- eat areps y aguardiente and for goodness sake don’t bring any cholo tea back through customs with you. It contains cocaine (Cough cough, now we all know!)…

 

Venturing South: Medellin, Colombia

On the plane ride home I felt it, that ridiculous, infallible exhilaration one feels upon returning to the known…

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The first night in Medellin, I forwent the beautiful views of the city from the mountaintop. Instead I focused on white-knuckling the seat in front of me each time the taxi swung across the double yellow lines, particularly in the middle of deep curves. Later I would notice that locals do not clutch at the seats to steady themselves, even when drivers whisk through  “Pare” (Stop) signs and generally ignore painted road lines.

Upon arrival into Envigado I found myself warmly welcomed at an Airbnb apartment and thoroughly briefed on the dangers to which I had exposed myself by traveling to Colombia. The warnings ranged from tales of cell phones being snatched via cracked cab windows (be sure to  lock your cab doors so no one can jump in with you),  to street muggings (always carry at least 50,000 COP around so you have something to give up).  But the stories all circled back to scopolamine ingestion. The loss of property, memories, sex trafficking and deaths  are very real effects from this “zombie drug”.  By the end of the conversation  I was experiencing a  peculiar faintness of heart each time the word “drug” mentioned in the conversation, only by my keen interest in the fact that all people- men, women, tourists and locals are equally at risk of attack stayed my temporarily craven heart.

The playing field thus leveled  the following morning we ventured out to explore Medellin. The city has the only metro (light-rail) system in the country and I found my New Yorker instincts taking over as we surged into the crowd of people, pouring onto the downtown platform, work ward bound.

529141_10151824280747561_1603210507_nWe rode the train to the first connecting metro cable and hitched a ride through the air towards Parque Arvi. Suspended in the air we watched as the wealth diminished the further we rode up the mountain. Piecemeal roofs composed of plastic and metal sheets anchored by flower pots of bricks and decorated with advertisements adorned our view. Most roofs in Medellin are composed of tiles ,a red clay grooved into and fired. The bricks  are layered upon each other and form a protective and lasting roof, but the cost is significant. As we neared the top of the mountain, the fourth and final metrocable transfer point it I started to realize the appeal of the lush Norther Andes mountains. If ever I was to buy a finca (Castle) in the clouds. It would be here.

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Following the metrocable we descended into the heat of the city stopping into a corner shop for a pastry with guave and cheese (always the fruit and cheese) and a cafe tinto each. As we munched a  brawl between a police officer armed only with a baton and a man, wielding a car door raged its way to a spot directly in front of us. Instantly I leapt up prepared to run? To hide? Certain I was about to get shot with such a fray… Despite the typical swarming masses, combing their way towards the violence, the bashing soon stopped. The participants after shouting a bit, clapped each other on the back and walked away. No one was arrested and no one had been shot. The boys had fought, cooled their tempers and walked off. If it hadn’t hit home yet, it did now- This was certainly not the “good ole’ US of A”…

Passing the Basilica de la Candelaria I  found myself glancing surreptitiously at street walkers congregating on the church steps next to porn and fruit hawkers. Inside the church I was more taken with the statues however, for along with his typical cross, Christ also bore a wig of real hair and real semi-modern clothing on his person. And just beyond that novelty I found myself stayed, first in shock then in brashness for an unfortunate amount of time as I stared wide-eyed at a priest (who stared right back) taking confessions in an open confessional. No curtains, no doors, just him, his confessee and myself. Eventually it occurred to me that I was intruding on something sacred by staring, so I backed slowly into a praying gentleman and blundered  my way out of the church.

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We moseyed into Plaza Botero. Like all the tourists around me I stopped to touch the first statue I saw. The nipples and gentiles on Botero’s statues are said to bring luck to all who rub them; these members shine a brilliant gold above the foliate bronze of the other body parts. I always wonder about who comes up with these superstitions and tall tales.

Plaza Botero flows seamlessly into the Museo de Antioquia. The art was fascinating as the contemporary installations are littered with and interwoven with modern arts. Later in the Museo de Arte Moderno Medellin I watched enticed as Colombian school children walked up to walls and touched painting. Still later I watched a woman touch a balancing glass bobble filled with yellow paint. In slow motion the piece tilted sideways, then fell and smashed to the floor covering us both in a spatters of paint. The woman’s  hand was bleeding. Dramatically we were rushed out of the gallery by attendants.

1451437_10151824280752561_1245732146_n There are no tapelines surrounding the art in most Colombian galleries. There are no sensors nor alarms limit the viewer to a particular vantage point, nor to dissuade him/her from interacting exactly as desired with the art. What to me seems liked a lack of spacial respect by Colombians simply isn’t apart of their culture in reality. Logically there is no reason to expect all peoples to have similar self-imposed bubbles  as I do, nor to deem  them so imperative to sanity.

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Lunch intoned the first of many challenges  incurred through by my rusty high school Spanish. I ended up with cheap Agaurdiente and food which was certainly not “sin carne” as well as a serious bafflement  regarding the the word for:”check”(target)? or “bill” (cuesta)? When none of the words in my handy Pocket Spanish Dictionary (#whydidIbuyaWebster) mean anything to the waitress.  Sign-languge for the Nike logo was eventually resorted to.

Digital CameraThe morning before we depart for Bogota I chewed some important tastebuds off my tongue on the ride up the mountains to Zona de Viola. On the return ride down, I dug my nails into my hand so hard I snapped two nails… But for the minutes I flew, paragliding around, soaring with the Condor (extremely rare to see!) and crows, spinning up thermals into the clouds, in the minutes of freedom before the altitude sickness kicked in, the hours of car sickness were worth it. That first rush when my Jaime, my instructor strapped me into a harness and told me to run off the mountain’s edge at the on his shouted command… “Listo!” In  those few moments I fell, then glided, then flew.