Tag Archives: travel

Border crossings, travel hiccups,…and finally, Jordan!

I finally arrived in Tel Aviv, having flown the last leg of my journey from Instanbul with an abnormally high number of children aboard – I was soon to learn this is the norm around here.  Families have a HUGE number of children and traveling with all 5-8 children is certainly way more common than in the US.  Ben Gurion airport is beautiful and security was a breeze, despite my apprehensions from all the warnings I had been given about it.   Basically I just got interrogated with a few specific questions through some thick glass – I had to keep asking the guard to repeat himself as I could barely hear him with all the noise in the background. I’m sure he thought I was extremely dense and could do no harm in his country and let me through to claim my bag and get my adventure started! J

First couple hiccups included my debit card being refused by the airport ATM, and subsequently my taxi driver refusing to let me pay with a card despite my being told clearly before I got in that it would be no problem. So here I am in the middle of the night with a taxi driver who needs to be paid, me with too little cash and no clue where I am, and a debit card that doesn’t work… lovely J We found a little free-standing ATM that worked (thank goodness!) and I arrived at my little hotel…where I couldn’t sleep at all thanks to the time change. It turned out this place had an absolutely lovely rooftop deck that overlooked the Meditteranean Sea and it felt soooo good to be up there, feeling the night breezes and taking in all the sensations around me. Being awake in such a lovely setting was a great excuse to get a work out in and I felt truly ALIVE and so happy and excited to be exactly where I was and for what the next few weeks held in store for me.

Early the next morning I arrived at the little domestic airport in TLV way too early and had to wait outside the (well-secured) gates till the airport opened. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one that made that mistake so I had some good conversation to keep me occupied. And, oh, did I say that security was a breeze somewhere earlier in this blog?! Yeah…nope. They scrutinized my passport, didn’t really like what they saw, made a very long phone call to god knows who, scrutinized it some more, questioned me about pretty much everything, ran my bags through the scanner LITERALLY about 5-7 times (I lost track), unpacked my fastidiously packed backpack, and finally handed me my stuff and my passport back and told me to enjoy my flight to Eilat. Whew!

So I arrived in Eilat (very far south resort beach town on the Red Sea) but I immediately zoomed off to the Jordanian border to begin my grand Jordanian tour. The border crossing was another almost unbelievable amount of passport checks. I think I literally had to show 7-8 people my passport, stopping at each different window, checkpoint, gate, scanner. Carrying my bags down a rather long stretch of no-man’s land to the Jordanian gate, it felt exactly like something in a movie… the hot desert air, the tall white metal gates in the distance, a couple other people in the distance struggling solo with their bags as well… interesting. I’m learning to really embrace the moments though and roll with each part of the happenings as part of the adventure. It makes it way more peaceful and way more exciting too, ironically.

My Jordanian driver deserves a blog devoted entirely to him, but for now let me just say he and I were quite the buddies by the time we arrived in Wadi Musa 2 hrs later. An older gentleman with 8 grown children, he really had quite the perspectives on Jordanian culture and population, the world, the USA, people, marriage, etc etc. More on him perhaps later…

The first thing my tour coordinator had booked for me was a cooking class with the Bedoins. I really had no idea what to expect but it sounded fun… boy, was it ever SO cool and completely different than anything I could have even made up or wanted. My Jordan experiences will be continued in next blog… Have to get ready to go have breakfast and leave Jerusalem for exploring up in beautiful Northern Israel… J

 

 

Tordstock 200 År

Tordstock 200….

Words to describe this experience…hmmm. It’s tough. A music festival? A camping adventure? A birthday party for 5 Swedish guys all turning 40 (hence the “200” in the festival name)? All of that, yes, but most importantly to me, it was an almost indescribable weekend of witnessing and participating in the beauty of relationships – a celebration held and attended by a community of friends that rivaled, if not exceeded, anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before.

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A little background: My San Diego/Swedish friend Karin has a whole group of close friends back in Sweden, of course, and on the agenda for our trip was this huge birthday weekend for 5 of her good friends who were all turning 40 this year. They had been preparing this event for months and it involved music, stages, grills, hot tubs, campfires, beer, tents, and people – lots of people.

One of the birthday guys has a lovely, rather rural piece of property and had cleared out a gorgeous little plot in the middle of the woods. By the time we Americans showed up (a day early to hang out and help with the last minute prep), there were already multiple booths, stages, grills, hottubs, etc set up. I was extremely impressed! We jumped right in with helping set up tents, make food, test out the beer selection and pretty much laugh our guts out in between the welcoming hugs and extensions of love and friendship.

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The first night  we spent at Karin’s best friend’s home with his lovely family. Omg. The sweetest little family in the world. The next day was unofficially a bit of a more intimate gathering I suppose – which was great for us newbies because we got to meet and get to know some people before the huge Saturday crowd showed up. I think we Americans established ourselves as the master grillers – We really had a blast helping out with everything. It took me right back to the good ol days of my past manning the grill for 1-200 people. Pounds and pounds of Bacon, eggs, hotdogs, hamburgers. Even the Freddie Special (don’t ask…;)

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Ryan manned the woodfired hot tubs! So fun! I guess this is a sorta popular/common thing in Sweden to rent these portable hot tubs. Im so impressed by the lovely portable items you can bring to these festivals – even the mobile port-a-potties were heated and lit. I almost camped out in one it got so cold the first night! J Probably the most impressive piece of equipment was the grill. Johan – who is a genius with his hands – designed and built the one we used. I want one.

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We stayed up till the wee hours of the morning singing and talking around the campfire, hollering out both Swedish and English tunes even if we could only join in in the “lah lah lah’s” of the chorus… Those who know me know that I am quite obsessed with campfires – some of my favorite memories involve friends and campfires and nights under the stars… I was pretty much in Heaven soaking it all in and enjoying the music and keeping the fire stoked. 🙂 We Even busted out another batch of grilled hotdogs at 2AM for those who had worked up an appetite (again)!

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Karin is friends with a rather well-know European musician named “Yellow Mike” and she had secretly arranged with him to stop over on his way up to Oslo for a surprise concert – it was completely amazing. We loved it – his stage presence and music were stellar and it was so kind of him to swing by for a couple hours and honor us with his time and music.

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One of the birthday guys’ brothers has been in a band since 1978. They were the main presenters of the weekend and, gosh, do these guys rock. They sound SO great and filled the woods with such an epic mix of popular songs – both Swedish and English. We stayed up through most of the nights too, just singing around the campfire and enjoying these perfect moments in time.

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So, this is really just barely scratching the surface of an outstanding weekend, but hopefully the pictures will help bring it all together. I know I made some epic memories – the love and laughter, the fun and music, the bonding. I was so touched by the palpable love most of all. There was no holding back on hugs and kisses. You could see, touch, feel and were basically immersed in a mileau of deep comraderie and could clearly see the affection that these special group of friends shared. I feel deeply honored to have been not only invited to share in the activies but to be welcomed warmly into those bonds of friendship.   Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you lovely Swedes. I really do miss you.

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Fika, Family, and Friends… A Swedish journey begins.

Several months ago, two of my really good friends asked me if I would like to join on a trip this summer over to Scandinavia and Scotland to visit family, friends and explore. Well, of course, I said yes. Who wouldn’t, right? It was fun thing to look forward to over the better part of this year and made super easy by the fact that they planned most everything on the itinerary, leaving me only to paypal money over for tickets and activities and anticipate a rollicking good time. 🙂

Karin and Ryan...first leg of our journey:)

Karin and Ryan…first leg of our journey:)

to say i overpacked would be an understatement...me - who traveled through europe and asia with one backpack. sheesh. i think i was intimidated by how stylish the Swedes are.

to say i overpacked would be an understatement…me – who traveled through europe and asia with one backpack. sheesh. i think i was intimidated by how stylish the Swedes are.

Sweden (where we began our journey) besides being a country of lovely people, efficient systems, and streamlined designs is pretty much a photographer’s heaven of beautiful topography and an outdoor lover’s paradise, so I was very much in my element…:)

Swedes love their shrimp sandwiches, salmon, orange juice, and meatballs! :) not necessarily all at once.

Swedes love their shrimp sandwiches, salmon, orange juice, and meatballs! 🙂 not necessarily all at once.

Ry and I grabbing our first "fika" in Stockholm airport

Ry and I grabbing our first “fika” (a Swedish coffee time!)  in Stockholm airport

We partook in so many varying experiences during our few weeks overseas that I’ve been a little stumped as to how to write about it all, so I decided to just take small chunks of our trip and write about them separately and throw a few pictures alongside.

might as well grab a tattoo while getting a cuppa coffee...

for those who like getting a tattoo while grabbing a cuppa coffee…

We landed in Copenhagen after a verrry long flight and about the only thing I had time for before we jumped on the train was to try the mandatory Danish hot dog. Yummo. I became a believer. Much yummier than American hotdogs (and their ketchup – totally different and better as well….) I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. Another gustatorial highlight for me was Swedish made lemon-curd ice cream. I think I visibly swooned in delight. Forgive the digressions here so early on, but all travelers know that this is just how trips are: a veritable flood of simultaneous, sensual bombardments: airports, languages, foods, sights, sounds, landscapes, people. It all just floods over you and you hope and pray and train yourself to capture it all: the joy and sadnesses you see, the tastes and smells, the experiences and people – everything – so that you become fully present in the moment and so those memories can stay with you when you when you find yourself bumping down to earth to face a long shift at work or a lonely afternoon at home cleaning the house.

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Our home base was my Swedish friend Karin’s parents place right outside Gothenburg in a little town called Lerum. Their house sits delightfully right by a gorgeous lake, so we could not resist a shockingly cold but refreshing first morning dip off the dock. My friend, Ryan, (Karin’s husband) told me a couple years ago one of his life philosophies – repeating it again on this trip to us – is to always say “yes” to experiences if you have the chance – make memories… LIVE. So we all practiced that gamely – for the most part – cold morning swims, midnight mountain hikes, eating haggis in Scotland, getting off the beaten path, sail boat racing in the rain..etc. etc.

selfie after our first morning run in Karin's hometown! :) we were proud of ourselves.

selfie after our first morning run in Karin’s hometown! 🙂 we were proud of ourselves.

Ryan and Anders enjoying a morning cup of coffee and chat.

Ryan and Anders enjoying a morning cup of coffee and chat.

Our first lovely day in Sweden we celebrated Jody’s birthday by taking a ferry out to one of the islands in the Gothenburg archipelago and having a picnic and surprise champagne and chocolate up on one of the viewpoints. I loved the little villages scattered about beneath us and of course all the boats moving in and out of all the water channels.

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one of Ryan’s (many) dream houses

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stunning view from our hill.  out in the archipelago somewhere..

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Jody’s birthday party!! woohoo

a sunshiny nap after hike and lovely hilltop lunch

a sunshiny nap after hike and lovely hilltop lunch

Great start of an epic trip – and so fun to share it with awesome friends as most of my travels have been solo trips up to this point. Cheers! Or skål! As the proper Swedish toast goes…

Next episode: Music and Birthday festival:  Tordstock 200!!! Stay tuned….:)

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Sometimes I almost have to pinch myself to make sure I’m really not dreaming all these beautiful experiences up…not that traveling solo is all laugher and merriment. It’s not. It’s mixed times of incredible loneliness and unfathomable beauty; frustrations and new friendships; missed trains and breathtaking mountains; deep-fried tarantulas and tiramisu. Crazy highs and the darkest lows. Basically it takes a lot of guts, a lot of foolishness and a lot of wisdom to travel – to REALLY travel: saying “yes” to barbequed rat offered by a village host, “yes” to spontaneously changing plans, “yes” to new cultures and viewpoints, “yes” to bamboo bridges, slippery trails, hard mattresses, and squat toilets, “yes” to motorbiking through busy city streets, “yes” to being unsure what the hell you are doing – alone – thousands of miles from home; “yes” to experiencing life and this lovely world we live in.

The last few days I have had so many “moments” that it begs the question where to even start…. Basically, I radically changed my “Cambodia only” plans and ended up in Northern Thailand at the encouragement of some lovely people I met in Siem Reap. Through previous experience traveling, I have learned to listen to people who say “you absolutely have to go to such and such…” ! It pays to pay attention to those exclamations of beauty and excitement – the eyes lighting up and the heads nodding in agreement. Walking through the streets of Pai – North Thailand – this afternoon I was so grateful that I listened and followed my own constant search for beauty as well.

Pai is a little mountain town off the beaten path – precisely 139 km and 762 curves in the road from Chiang Mai – due North. The drive up there is not for the faint of heart but the views as you climb higher and higher through mountains of green jungle forest is so breathtaking that its worth every hairpin turn and the hours it takes to get there. I’ve truly never seen anything like this landscape. Tomorrow’s adventures will find me on a scooter or motorbike (yikes!) prowling around the vista points and local attractions. Can’t wait!! The actual town of Pai is a haven for hippie travelers – full of that laid-back energy: guitar players on the riverbanks, hipster little bars, yoga, but still very Thai too…massage shops all over, Thai food, street vendors, souvenirs and tour businesses galore. Just wonderful to walk around and take it all in. I kinda ate my way around the town this evening: roasted corn on the cob, spring roll, pad thai, whiskey…so much fun.

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Anyway, this was supposed to primarily be about the overnight trekking trip I did to the mountain Karen tribe/villages outside Chiang Mai…but I don’t want to this to get too long so I shall save that story (and pictures!) for tomorrow night (I hope!) Allow me to say that it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced: slumber party in a remote tribal village; breaking down language barriers with lots of laughter and thumb wars; communal tobacco and hot vodka; trekking through rivers and torch-lit caves; bumping down backroads in the back of a truck, and making new friends. I will never ever forget this.

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Till the next post, take care and here’s to 2015!!  May it be truly be all that we hope it to be!

Phnom Penh to Kanchanaburi

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, 

we must carry it with us or we find it not.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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You wouldn’t believe the atmosphere of where I’m (finally) writing up my first blog from Asia: a little floating hostel in Kanchanaburi right on the banks of the famous River Kwai, sipping on Singha beer and feasting on homemade spicy Thai food while chatting up a couple other guests from California, of all places!

I probably need to back up a bit though…I have almost two weeks of catching up to do – solo traveling can be rather mentally and emotionally exhausting and blogging was the first thing to go. However, I keep getting repeated requests for updates so I am definitely attempting to give it a go here!

I spent the first 24 hours in Phnom Penh quite sick from my previous Mexico trip, emerging only once from my room to obtain some much needed Gatorade and medicine! Enough said about that. Phnom Penh I found to be quite dirty, busy, noisy but there seems to be some attraction for expats as there are quite a number of them there. While it IS the capital of Cambodia, there really isn’t that much to see or do there as a tourist. A few highlights from my time there included the following:

  • a really great cooking class (complete with an AM visit to the market to collect ingredients, lovely international fellow students)
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We learned how to make “amok” – a very traditional fish dish of ginger, lemongrass, mashed up spices, and egg – all steamed together in a banana leaf bowl. Delicious!!

  • an open air jeep ride and tour to a wildlife preserve (tons of creepy monkeys, native Cambodian deer, crocodiles, otters, tigers and other endangered species),
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feeding little fish to this very greedy otter

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okay, this is pretty cute but I still think monkeys are quite awful and unpredictable little beasts

  • and a private guided tour through the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide museum and the horrificChoeung Ek Killing Fields
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20,000 men, women and children were brutally tortured and murdered at this former Phnom Penh hi-school during the Khmer rouge regime. Hard to even fathom such evil. How is it possible that humans can really do this to other humans…?!?

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  • the delights of eating delicious (and cheap!) Cambodian street food

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I’ll admit, this night wasn’t street food. celebrating Christmas at a rooftop bar overlooking the river.

Much more could be said about each of these activities but perhaps more detail is better for further posts when I can sort through my pictures and reflect.

Siem Reap was AMAZING and I loved it so much better than Phnom Penh! It is open and clean (er) and magical with so much to do and see and explore!

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I had such a lovely lovely time there I almost get shivers thinking about it! I shall DEFINITELY save all my adventures and pictures for another post (double procrastination at its finest…) but to highlight my time there,

  • I went on an absolutely FANTASTIC offroading cycling tour through the Angkor area, getting off the beaten path and visiting non-touristy temples, and basically having the time of my life with the coolest tour group ever: two British girls (whom I ended up hanging out with the rest of my time there), Candadian couples, a German.

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  • Tour of the floating villages and forest,
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there really are no words that do justice to how mesmerizingly enchanting and magical this was…just looking back at pictures has me transported back to fairy land.

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i took many more pictures of this unique river village but it is getting quite late so I will be posting more as i can!! it was such an incredible day of flavors (snake! and sun baked baby mussel) , sights, sounds, encounters

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  • facial and 90 min foot massage at lovely prices,
  • super interesting tour of a silk factory!! from start to finish…poor little silk worms.  cannot BELIEVE the work that goes into handcrafted silk material

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  • insane NYE countdown on the famous Pub Street.
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countdown!! grabbed drinks at an Irish pub (?!) with the Brits, a couple newly arrived and jet lagged American guys and a couple Japanese gals. down in the street was not my scene… I think that was my first time being showered with booze! At least no one got trampled here as far as i know! Cambodians DO love their NY celebrations!

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world famous bar on Pub Street

Anyway, my other lovely cycling compatriots talked up the glories of Thailand, so I spontaneously booked a flight into Bangkok, where I arrived yesterday and stayed for just one night. This morning I absolutely reveled in ART!! There is a relatively brand new contemporary art museum there (took me literally interviewing SIX taxi drivers to successfully get there. Seriously, NONE of them know how to read a map!!!) but it was well worth the effort. I photographed some of my favorite pieces. Some of them so bizarrely beautiful with Very different Thai flavor of course to most of it.

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This afternoon I railed it out here to Kanchanaburi – a 3rd class ticket on an ancient train. Seemed straight out of a turn of the century British film – corrugated metal shacks so close I could touch them with my fingers, branches whipping by the windows, near-fluorescent green rice fields, towering palm trees and sunlit hills. I felt newly strong and beautiful and happy gazing out the windows at it all, the wind in my face. And now, here I am, enjoying the night river air, good company, background Thai soap opera, and excited about tomorrow’s adventures: waterfalls, elephants, caves, and bridges!

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And now I shall attempt to insert some photos…the picky artistic side of me is loathe to include unedited versions but above are a few – some just from my iPhone.  Enjoy! and my love to you from Southeast Asia!

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Viva la Mexico!

This morning I am snorkeling between dark stalagmite studded caverns and shimmering aqua cenotes…this afternoon sitting on a crowded airplane enroute to frigid Denver and sunny San Diego. The world has become so easily accessible to us, and yet so full of endless wonder and newness that it seems a lifetime of lifetimes is not enough time to explore it all.

These last few days exploring the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico has been amazing and such a treat. Having been rather spontaneously invited by one of my nursing friends to tag along on a family vacation, I had NO idea what to expect and so every day was such a delight and filled with adventure. My friends and I are not the type to sit around an all-inclusive resort for days on end (seriously, how could you…?) so we found ourselves out the door every morning only to return after dark every evening, still glorying in the sights seen, tacos eaten, waters played in, ruins explored, and the great company.
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my first walk along the beach! The sky along with the setting sun made for an awesome photo shoot! 

We had the privilege of acquiring a spacious condo at the Vendante, Grand Luxxe, and I have to say, while I don’t require a lot of luxury, it was a pleasure staying at a lovely resort where a maid comes and cleans your whole place twice a day, turning down the beds, leaving little chocolates on your pillow, washing dishes, straightening up all your things, hanging up clothes. I could get used to such. ☺ I’m afraid I would get dreadfully lazy though. I did love our little Mexican housekeeper. She always greeted us cheerfully every evening and left the place nicer simply by being so consistently sweet to us spoiled gringos.

Before I get going too much on my narration, I have to preface this by saying my last experience of Mexico was mixed: the pyramids of Teotihucan were incredible, the nightly streetside Styrofoam cups of hot Escitas became a staple, the bustling and colorful town of Peubla was fun, but the continued lack of a hot shower, the fear of getting sick, the horrendous border crossing experience, the poverty, and I guess, fear (?) discomfort (?) all left a rather unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth for the whole country. I had gone down to southern Mexico to visit my poor lonely sis who was teaching English in a little rural town, and I returned to the US, shaking the proverbial dust from my feet with no desire for a repeat visit. So, to get ahead of myself a bit, I am returning from this trip with a transformed mindset and experience ☺ Yesterday, I even romantically fantasized about living in a beachside villa in the little town of Akumel, with daily routines of snorkeling with the turtles, drinking cold cervezas under palm trees, and reading on the beach. Maybe look for me there someday…

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lunch and cerveza along the Akumal beach! glorious!

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had to capture some of the local bar art 🙂 this, despite being a skeleton really is full of joie de vivre and makes me chuckle!

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i loved this little humble nativity set up in the splendor of beachside condos. Shot on our long but lovely trek to the Akumal lagoon.

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they’ve been waiting for a beer for a loooong time…

Sunday, in an attempt to avoid the crowds (haha), we decided to venture over to the Isle of Cozumel. The choppy ferry ride had me green around the gills and almost in need of the green plastic barf bag thrust into my hands by attendees trained to spot the white faced nauseated passengers. All that was soon a distant memory as we drove down a dusty unpaved road to emerge upon the quintessential postcard Caribbean beach…little palm frond covered booths, peppy Mexican music emitted from behind open air bars, white sand and turquoise waters as far as the eye could see. And it was delightfully uncrowded. I wasted no time donning the virgin snorkeling gear (thanks, Mom for the Christmas present! ☺ ) and with just a bit of training on proper techniques, I was off and running, er , paddling away. I can scarcely describe the feelings. It truly is like discovering for the first time another world for that is indeed what under the ocean surface is. Teeming with life. Beautiful life. Quiet. Solitary. Glistening. The soft in and out sounds of my own snorkeled breathing. Colors. Wonder. These are all words and phrases that come to mind in an attempt to describe this experience. Newness. Whatever heaven is like, I remember thinking, it surely has to be a place of this: not the physical facts of swimming through water, but the constant state of wonder, discovery, awe, newness, excitement. I really feel it cannot be less. I was a child again and unashamed of the joys of discovery.

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my underwater photography did not go as planned…but I got a few shots before deciding to give it up all together. at least my little case kept my phone dry but wasn’t the best at helping me get some pictures, sadly…

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seemed so incongruous to be sitting on a hot beach while listening to christmas carols…

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Monday we ventured further south to the beaches and Mayan ruins of Tulum. Another day of lovely experiences: hiring a boat and a guide to take us out to the reef where we prowled around coral reefs eying funny looking, large-eyed squid floating along, black spiky anenomies fastened securely to the coral, bright blue flat fish the size of dinner plates, yellow striped fish swishing in and out of dark crevices, skinny translucent barracudas, skimming along the surface. It was amazing. And I learned that spitting in your mask helps it not fog up. Who knew?

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The Mayan ruins were super cool: right along the beach. They were so advanced in their understanding of astronomy it never ceases to astound me. Many of the Mexicans in the Yucatan still speak Mayan. Our guide in Chichen Itza had Mayan ancestry and showed us the flat back of his head, which is just one of the physical characteristics that distinguishes the Mayan bloodline. Chichen itza we visited the following day – barely made it there in time to get a guided tour before closing time. I suppose we were having too much fun exploring the shops and eating a delicious lunch in Vallodorid on the way there! The only thing that I really would have liked more of was a bit more wandering down city streets and just prowling around. I love to explore as well as play around with street photography. Maybe next time. Playa del Carmen….Akumel, etc etc. : a veritable wealth of interest to take in. I did spy this super cool bus in the parking lot of WalMart and started talking to the lovely couple that owned it. They are from Argentina and have been traveling for 9 years, selling t-shirts and copies of their photographic narrative book to be able to stay on the road. I loved their cool dog and they had a lovely daughter, who had been born during their traveling, making this the only life she’s ever known. She would be an interesting one to interview several years from now.

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first lunch in Playa del Carmen. I really wanted some of that pork on that spindle thing but it wasn’t ready yet..:(

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I arrived in Mexico with one burning desire: to swim with the turtles in Akumel. Finally…the day had arrived. First we snorkeled for hours at the lagoon: a sort of paradisiacal inlet/sanctuary for oceanic wildlife. I think I paddled a good mile or so all around the perimeter, exploring the deep crevices, spooking out the fish from their hiding places, looking at conch shells, watching the Barracudas, battling the currents. All in all, wearing myself out in a most satisfactory way☺ Akumel Bay was probably the most crowded beach we went on but after haggling and being haggled, we finally found a guide to take us out to see turtles and sting rays. There is something SO indescribable about these animals. Gazing down at their beautiful markings and the patterns on their shells I could see why they have become the stuff of legends and objects of worship. To have these mighty and ancient animals swim past you was such a beautiful experience. I desperately wanted to grab one by his front flippers and have it take me for a swim. Alas, no touching allowed. The sting rays are so creepy with their long, lethal looking tales and evil eyes, but also beautiful. I would be so scared to step on one!! They settle into the sand so you can’t even see them. Spooky.

Absolutely determined to experience a cenote before leaving, we all gamely got up early this morning and drove about an hour to Los Ojos, the largest system of cenotes in Mexico. Three caverns all interconnected by underground tunnels. I have always been quite scared of dark underwater depths and snorkeling around the dark, deep edges of the beautiful sun splattered cenote, I felt a frissone of fear creep into me. Through water as clear as glass, I couldn’t stop staring at the divers silently slip past me and venture into the dark tunnels…it was such a surreal, monumental feeling for lack of a better way to describe it. Finally it was our turn to be led through the caverns connecting the cenotes and into “Bat Cave” – ew. I like bats but they really are gross, hairy little creatures all clumped together hanging in obscene little lumps from the ceiling. Anyway, the caverns were incredible!! Silently snorkeling along with our waterproof flashlights, single file, we gazed down around, ahead, behind us at enormous stalactite formations, deep hollowed out voids of darkness, twisted corridors of rocks and edges, and curves – auras from other divers lamps creating bluish black illuminations farther down in unreachable places to us snorkelers. What a mystical experience.

All that loveliness and mystery followed by a sub-par roadside lunch and a speedy drive back home to hastily change for the plane ride home only to sit in the airport for ages – the story of my life☺. (My airport experiences this trip are a whole different, much less glorious chapter of this story that really doesn’t need to be told.)

So, Mexico, you have sung me a different song on this trip. One of seduction, adventure, romance and beauty….Thank you for generously sharing your wonders with me and maybe…just maybe, one day we shall meet again. Till then, Cambodia is calling my name and I must answer….

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apparently the baby Jesus doesn’t make his appearance till christmas (or xmas eve?) Town square of Valladolid – inland city on the way to Chichen Itza.

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our favorite lunch we had! best enchiladas ever.

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apparently this is how one can meet a stranger here in this town…

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…and if you’re lucky it will go like this!! 🙂

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so the idea is to get this little rubber ball through the circle…the captain of the winning team gets beheaded by the captain of the losing team – it was an honor to be sacrificed by the gods…sounds like an all around lose-lose situation to me!

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Cambodia Query

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Hello, All!

I am looking for opinions from experienced travelers/volunteers regarding my housing while I will be volunteering in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a few weeks.  The choice of housing: stay with a host family or stay at the volunteer organization’s hostel?  I can see both choices being rewarding so just trying to put feelers out for any thoughts from fellow travelers out there.

There’s internet and food (two very important things:) at both options.  Private room with the family and shared room at the hostel…

Thanks for your thoughts and time!