September 2, 2015
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There’s nothing like a road trip. Sitting in the car, gazing out the window at the most incredible views, and talking to a best friend about anything and everything. Katie and I laughed, we cried, we talked politics and religion and relationships and feminism and sexuality and love and loneliness, we forgot to listen to music most of the time, we stopped for picnics on the edges of lakes. It felt like an exhale, a release of some kind.

We began in Boulder, CO, and drove south through Buena Vista to Poncho Springs. We headed west to Montrose and then turned south again to pass through Telluride and the San Juan National Forest until we finally reached Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez. After a day in Mesa Verde we drove northwest into Utah until we reached Arches National Park, and then we headed east back into Colorado through Grand Junction before continuing on to Boulder.

Other than the national parks and our time in Utah, which will be their own posts, some highlights of our trip were driving through Telluride, CO, the most beautiful town on earth; stopping for homemade donuts in Buena Vista, CO, the town where Katie’s mom grew up; swimming at Glenwood Hot Springs, the largest hot springs pool in the world; driving between Grand Junction and Denver with those beautiful mountain/river views; and the veggie burgers and jalapeño poppers in Glenwood Springs, a life-changing meal after a few days of tuna packets and pretzels.

I’ll never be able to describe the truth of our journey — physical, mental, and spiritual — but I will always keep it with me. Colorado is stunning and the landscapes are completely different from those I’m familiar with. It was like being in a new world for five days. Experiencing it with Katie gave me joy, and I felt loved and understood — held by her. I left Colorado filled with peace, healed in many ways. It was one of the most beautiful weeks of my life.

Colorado   Uncategorized
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August 23, 2015
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I don’t know much, but I do know that nature heals. It heals me, at least. I’ve had one of the loneliest summers of my life. That’s not to say it’s been bad — it hasn’t, far from it — but I’ve held my loneliness deep inside me through these last few months. There were days when it spilled over. Sometimes that meant tears, sometimes it meant desperate phone calls to my mom or a friend, sometimes it meant reading an entire novel in a day. Sometimes it meant curling up with my favorite poetry collection by Mary Oliver, who speaks words I can never quite muster, getting some of the loneliness out. Or maybe just holding the loneliness in a nicer, kinder place.

I spent an afternoon in July in Boulder, Colorado, hiking an unknown trail at an altitude I’d just discovered and with elevation gains that left my legs and lungs screaming. Not only was I lonely – I was also very much alone. I rarely passed anyone on the trail. As I walked I focused on my breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. I focused on what I could see and hear: trees thick with leaves, birds, the crackling of leaves signifying an unseen animal, the stream that curled around and below the trail, the sound of my boots on the rocks.

When I reached the top there were a lot of people. It’s a popular hike that leads to a beautiful arch in the style of Arches National Park with a stunning view of Boulder and Denver from the top. I snaked through the small groups and claimed a spot at the edge. I made a chipmunk friend and a couple of human ones. And then I left.

I didn’t write much in my journal about this day. There weren’t many words I could use to describe the weight that was lifted. The things that left me and the things that came. “I felt the layers of loneliness peeling from me like old skin. I cried more than once and I remember knowing, at least for a little while, that I have a place in this world.” As a little girl my sacred space was a nook in my favorite tree in our backyard together with a small stack of books. That hasn’t changed.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.

-Mary Oliver, “The Ponds”

(This is the beginning of a series of posts about my time in Colorado and Utah with a dear college friend. Day 1 was spent solo-adventuring in Boulder while Katie worked. I sat in the sunlight with a coffee and sweet potato muffin. I bought incense at a beautiful store around the corner. I took a nap. I hiked the Flatirons. And then I met Katie and her husband for a beautiful dinner before we left on our four-day road trip. Road trip posts coming soon.)

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August 11, 2015
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During our trip to Belize Cassandra and I took one day-trip to Guatemala to visit the famous Tikal National Park. Tikal is an abandoned Mayan city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. We explored the ruins and climbed the 65-meters high Temple IV with the most beautiful view of Guatemala and Belize. Although we had learned a ton about the Mayans when we visited Xunantunich in Belize, we learned even more when we visited Tikal.

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We toured Guatemala with a British couple named Chris and Kat, who happened to get engaged the night before we met them. Cassandra and I enjoyed spending the day with them and our wonderful guides, and we actually ran into them later in the week on Caye Caulker, an island off the coast! Other interesting moments — while we were at the top of Temple IV, Cassandra and I met a mother and daughter from Pittsburgh who were at the same Pirates baseball game as us a few weeks prior to our trip. I also ran into a woman whose daughter went to Belmont University, the tiny university I attended in Nashville, Tennessee. The world seems so small sometimes.

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Our day in Guatemala was just long enough to show me how gorgeous the country is and how badly I want to go back someday. I thought when I booked this trip that I would explore Belize and Guatemala and then check Central America off my travel list. I was dead wrong; I’m already planning a backpacking trip through Costa Rica and trying to learn more about the other countries to plan trips to them as well. I want to see every inch of Central America — it’s just that beautiful.

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July 31, 2015
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The second half of our trip to Belize was spent in the Cayes (pronounced ‘keys’). We spent three nights on Caye Caulker and a last spontaneous night on Ambergris Caye.

To get to the Cayes from Belize City you have two options: water taxi or tiny airplane. We chose water taxi due to cost and time, and were pleased with our decision. The ride between the two cities is gorgeous, with clear blue/green water and tiny islands dotting the horizon. There are no cars on Caye Caulker, a tiny five-mile island, so everyone walks, bikes, or takes golf-cart taxis. We grabbed a taxi and headed to our cabana home found via Airbnb — it was a beauty and we both highly recommend staying with them.

We spent an entire overcast day snorkeling in the Belize Barrier Reef, one of the highlights of my life. The tour we booked had three stops, one of which was Shark Ray Alley, an area known for its large sting rays and nurse sharks. I’ve been determined to conquer my fear of sharks through education and exposure for years now so this was a huge step for me. Although I was terrified before I entered the water, clutching Cassandra’s leg and half sobbing, as soon as I was under the water with my goggles and could see the beauty of the animals around me, I felt peaceful and calm. We also stumbled upon two giant sea-turtles and I got within inches of one while it swam from surface to sea floor. We finished the day tired, tipsy from Belize’s national cocktail of fruit punch, and marveling at the world under the sea that we know very little about. How mysterious and magical it all seemed.

Other adventures in Caye Caulker: kayaking for a couple of hours early one morning to explore the mangroves lining the island, haggling with shop owners for blankets and bracelets, eating traditional fry jacks stuffed with eggs and cheese for breakfast each morning, swimming in The Split, a lazy afternoon of lying in the hammocks at the end of the pier at our cabana, and unexpectedly hearing my name shouted out as I biked past Chris and Kat (British friends we met in Guatemala; story to be told soon).

We loved Caye Caulker and never wanted to leave. Our last night we had booked an Airbnb in Belize City, but we both decided we’d rather have more island time. We cancelled our reservation, booked another spot in Ambergris Caye, and took a water taxi for our last island adventure. Ambergris Caye is much larger than Caye Caulker — there are cars and paved roads — and we were glad we had chosen to spend the majority of our time in Caye Caulker. We did have a delicious meal in San Pedro, the main town on Ambergris Caye, overlooking the ocean. Fresh fish, a gorgeous kale caesar salad, and the most divine chocolate cake for dessert. A meal fit for foodie queens, but after we went to the restaurant on a recommendation from our Airbnb host and saw only white people around us, we realized it was owned by a Canadian expat and served overpriced food that was nowhere near local.

Cassandra and I realized during our time on the Cayes that it is possible to go to Belize — to go anywhere, really — and have two very different experiences. It is possible to go to restaurants catering to tourists, overpriced and serving non-local food, to buy trinkets at souvenir shops, and to meet and spend time with only expats or other travelers. It’s much harder to find the hole-in-the-wall restaurants with five tables selling traditional cuisine, to go into the dimly lit shops, and to have long conversations with locals about their country and what is really going on. And yet, how much more rewarding is the experience when we as travelers dip deeper and seek a true experience and understanding of the cultures in which we immerse ourselves for a brief time. Our best memories of Belize were the ones in which we were eating traditional food, talking to Belizeans about the hard parts of their history and current living (colonization, heavy logging, the crack epidemic in the 80s, etc.), and taking in the natural beauty of a new landscape. Even with a few missteps and disappointing touristy meals, Cassandra and I left Belize with a deeper knowledge of Belize itself, its people, the earth and its plants and animals, and of life itself, I think. I don’t think there is any better way to leave a vacation.

Belize   Uncategorized
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July 12, 2015
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A few months ago I took a week-long trip to Belize with my favorite travel partner Cassandra. Other than visiting back and forth we hadn’t traveled together since we studied abroad in Tanzania in 2010, so this was an exciting trip to plan. After choosing the area based solely on a spectacular National Geographic Belize itinerary I had lusted over for months, we planned a week of outdoor adventures throughout Belize and a bit of Guatemala.

Belize is a small country with an even smaller population, roughly 340,000. All the people are clustered around cities and small towns leaving the jungle (most of the non-coast of the country) largely untouched. We learned about the colonization of Belize by Britain — it used to be part of British Honduras — until its peaceful independence in 1981. It’s one part Latin America, one part Caribbean, and one part Mayan, making the people a really beautiful combination of ethnicities. I was surprised to learn that most Belizeans speak at least three languages — English, Creole, and either Mayan, Spanish, or both. I was most impressed by the intense love Belizeans have for their country and history. Each person I met was happy to talk for hours about the food, the people, the history, the plant- and animal-life, and their travels throughout Central America and the southern United States. I could point to any tree, flower, bird, or bug and a Belizean could tell me all about it. It touched me and helped me realize how little I know about my region and how badly I want to learn about it.

The first half of our trip was spent in the western part of Belize. Our home base was San Ignacio, a lovely, walkable town with access to what felt like a million things to see and do. We booked a couple tours through our hotel (the Rainforest Haven Inn, I highly recommend it) and I found a few others in guidebooks or through TripAdvisor. We went canoeing through ancient caves where Mayans performed sacrificial rituals; rode horses to and explored Xunantunich, an abandoned Mayan city; went cave tubing through a 65-million-year old cave and swam in a lake deep inside the cave that Mayans believed was holy water (I cried); and we stopped by the Belize Zoo, maybe my favorite zoo in the world (if you’re generally opposed to zoos like me definitely read more about their project). We ate some incredible fresh fish and local fruit juices, curries, and the standard Belizean meal of rice and beans. I bought a mug from the tiny breakfast spot we walked to at 6:30 every morning we were in San Ignacio.

Truthfully I was most excited for the second part of our trip — snorkeling! kayaking! floating in the ocean! — but looking back some of the moments in San Ignacio were my favorite. Swimming in that cave moved me in a way I’ll never be able to reconstruct and I’m almost glad to have not had my camera at the time. It feels like a sacred moment shared between Cassandra, our guide, and me, all alone in that cathedral-like cave. One evening Cass and I watched the sunset from our hammocks on the roof of our hotel, and I’ll never forget the breeze, the violently pink sky, and my full-body peace. I journaled every evening about the bits of wisdom I gleaned from all the people I met and the things they taught me about how to live in this world — what is beauty, what is community, what is living from the earth, what is life!

This is a sampling of the many photos I took while we were in and around San Ignacio. I can’t recommend that town or this country enough — add it to your travel list and start dreaming. Also, if you should ever find yourself in this wonderful place, be sure to try fresh tamarind juice. That shit is magic.

Belize   Uncategorized
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