Category Archives: Destinations

Palma Me Crazy

After countless YouTube vids and hours spent day dreaming, I finally found my way to Palma de Mallorca. I couldn’t have picked a better city to explore. The island of Mallorca is located in the Mediterranean sea and is the biggest of the neighboring islands of Ibiza and Menorca. Together, they make up the Balearic Island chain. Palma is the capital city of the island of Mallorca. I wanted a somewhat beach vacation that wasn’t slammed with tourists, so I decided to go around May, just before tourist season hit. Sunny skies and fresh prawns awaited me. Oh yes, and wine. There was LOTS of wine.

It was truly like a breath of fresh air. I live in Houston, where you’re a stones throw from refineries that dominate the air you breathe. So it was nice to be in a place where my allergies weren’t constantly on level ten. The streets were clean, the people care free. The constant interchangeable use of Spanish and Catalan peaked my curiosity to its highest level, as both languages were beautifully spoken. Also the Spanish I’m used to here in Texas is completely different from the Spanish spoken in Spain, so that was definitely an adjustment. I mean there was something that catered to every sense humanly possible to have. The bright colors of the homes and shops in the Commercial District, the smells of fresh espresso at the local coffee shop, and the taste of fresh gelato. I couldn’t get enough of this place.

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Getting to Palma was pretty easy considering that flying anywhere right now is relatively reasonably priced. We opted for a flight deal out of Miami on Iberia. Miami is a hub for Iberia Airlines so there were a variety of flights to choose from. To get to Miami from Houston, I just booked a cheap roundtrip with American for less than $100. But every now and then you can catch a deal to Palma from Houston for less than $550 without splitting legs like I did. It came out to around the same price still.  If you’re really feeling creative and want to add a stop, there are lots of reasonably priced options popping up to Barcelona. Palma is literally like a 45 minute plane ride from Barcelona, often times, for less than $100 roundtrip. The key to reasonably priced flights is flexibility.

STAY

There are tons of affordable lodging options around the island. We opted for an Air BnB in Old Town Palma and it was perfect. Four nights ran us about $317 total.  A caveat to Old Town Palma lodging: Be prepared for stairs as most places didn’t have elevators. We found that our apartment was perfect for walking everywhere. You are close to lots of restaurants as well as the various bus lines that take you all over the island. From our apartment, it was a 30 minute walk to the marina and 15 minute walk to the Plaça d’Espanya ( where the bus route for the beach was located). If all inclusive are your thing, you may want to look into lodging in  Cala Major along a decent stretch of beach. Since this is the closest beach to the city center, be prepared for the crowds.

Our balcony view from our Air BnB.

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It wasn’t hard at all to find things to do. There were plenty of excursions to choose from. From beach bumming to sailing as well as wine tasting at one of the island’s oldest bodegas. And the best part of the wine tasting besides the wine, was being chauffeured around in a Porsche! We also went sight seeing around the marina, where we stumbled across the Cathedral de Mallorca. I don’t think I’ve ever had my breath taken away by something as stunningly beautiful as this church.

EAT

There was a heavy and obvious Mediterranean influence on the cuisine. But for the most part, Italian restaurants were plentiful. And delicious. Its crazy that we ate so much but I didn’t feel sluggish at any point. I don’t know if its the way they process their food in Europe but the freshness was unmatched. I had everything from Italian to South African to traditional Spanish dishes.

Palma de Mallorca is definitely a place you don’t want to miss. As soon as you step foot off of the plane, you’ll instantly notice the relaxed, care free vibes. You’ll be greeted by warm and friendly people. And the bright and beautiful colors will gather you up and take your senses for a ride. Seriously, book your trip already!

Some of the Trip Highlights

Fave Restaurant: Bosa Nova in the Commercial District; delicious Italian!

Fave Tour: Bodegas Ribas with Mallorcan Wine Tours; ask for the private tour with Miriam. She was AMAZING!

Live Music: Saratoga Blue Jazz, Mondays at 8:30 pm

 


Cuba: Mystery Solved

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Havana was amazing.  A very vibrant atmosphere to fulfill all of your adventure needs. But there are quite a few things that need to be considered. While doing research for my trip, I found it extremely difficult to find specific information. Once you got passed the fluff of the gazillion blogs out there, I was starting to realize the lack of important “need to know” information available. Basically, I REALLY had to dig to find it. Hopefully, me posting what all I found out will make it easier for you.

First things first. Let’s get those expectations in order, shall we? Cuba is NOT the Dominican Republic. It is NOT Puerto Rico. It is NOT like any other Caribbean island out there. You have to understand that not everything is as plentiful and readily available there like you would find elsewhere. If you’re the type that likes to be catered to or have everything lined out for you, don’t go. No, seriously. And knowing basic phrases in Spanish will make your life that much easier.

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Authorized Categories for Travel into Cuba

Keep in mind that tourism in Cuba is still prohibited. You have to fall into one of the 12 categories of authorized travel set by the US government in order to book a plane ticket. Most airlines have a message that automatically pops up and asks you this when booking travel anywhere in Cuba online. As long as you fall under one of the 12 categories, you don’t need prior approval from the government. It is based on good faith. They include:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research
  5. Educational activities
    • People to people interactions
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. Support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian efforts
  10. Private foundations or research institutes
  11. Exportation and importation of information materials
  12. Special export transactions

So which one did I select? Educational activities. The people to people clause allows for you to make individual trips to Cuba by planning your own schedule of activities, without having to go through a private company ( which used to be the only way to go under the educational category and needed prior approval from the government).  Be sure to keep a detailed itinerary listing all the things you did. It has to be enough to cover a full day, so maybe 3-4 activities. Its suggested that you keep itineraries for your records for at least 5 years. Also keep in mind that you want activities that center around interaction with the Cuban people. I find it extremely difficult to go to Cuba and not have an educational, people to people type of experience.

Visa Requirements

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Here comes the fun part! I only say this because there is a wealth of conflicting information out there on this topic and it will literally make your head spin.

The Cuban government requires a visa for entry into the country. As a U.S. Citizen, you will need to apply for what the Cuban government refers to as a tourist card ( I know, weird because tourism is prohibited by our government… but hey, thats what the visa is called). Here’s where it can get confusing. There are multiple ways to obtain a visa. It all just depends on a) your level of patience in playing the waiting game and b) how much you are willing to spend. There are 3 ways in which you can obtain a visa:

  1. From the Cuban Consular office in Washington D.C.
  • Cost: $50 for Visa + $20 if request made by mail= $70
  • Must be paid with money orders, one for each fee
  • Legible copy of valid passport and stamped self addressed envelope are required.
  • Embassy of Cuba (Ref: Tourist Visa), 2630 16th St NW Washington DC 20009
  • I couldn’t get an exact estimate of processing time, but I would allow for 4 weeks. Government processes aren’t known for being the fastest.  Also, you can get the process going in person, but it will still take a few days for you to actually receive the visa. Its not necessarily same day pick up.

2. From a Third Party

  • There are a number of third party companies that can help obtain a visa for you. The most common one I heard about was Cuba Visa Services , which is who I used. I prefer convenience over everything. And with convenience often comes a premium. It was a seamless process though. You fill out the form online and pay the fee.
  • Cost: $50 for Visa + $35 processing fee+ $25 shipping via FedEx= $110.
  • I received it 4 days later after I submitted my order

3. Through the Airline

Now this one can vary a lot because prices and processes are not uniform across airlines. For instance, Southwest charges $50 while Spirit charges $100. Also, some airlines send you an email about 30 days out from your trip directing you to a third party they have contracted to provide the visa service. Others let you buy the visa over the phone and let you pick up at the check in counter. Or purchase the visa same day at the check in counter. Bottom line… if you’re going the airline route, CALL the airline and verify directly with them.

If you opt for a non-US carrier, you may be able to purchase the visa on a layover. For example, I flew Aeromexico with a layover in Mexico City. Some of the ladies I went with purchased their visas on our layover at the customer service desk for a whopping $20 (this is by far the cheapest option). I believe it is the same flying Copa Airlines with a layover in Panama City for around the same price. One note of caution in going this route: Make sure you have a long enough layover where you can comfortably do this. We were on a 2 hour layover in Mexico City and had plenty of time to spare. However, it wasn’t a busy time when we arrived so customs and immigration were a breeze. I’ve been on a layover in Mexico City with immigration lines double wrapped around the corner and the entire process took an hour. So just be mindful of connection times.

It is important that you fill the visa out correctly or you will have to purchase a new one!

Travel Medical Insurance

Cuba requires all U.S. citizens entering the country to have travel medical insurance. Most U.S. medical insurance policies through your employer will not cover Cuba. Also, some travel insurance policies won’t either. I purchased basic travel insurance through the airline, then purchased medical insurance through another 3rd party for like $12. InsureMyTrip is an excellent resource for comparing policies (select the “medical coverage only” option when doing comparisons). Also, you can purchase insurance at the Havana airport but its more expensive than getting it before you go. Some people will say that they weren’t asked about insurance when they arrived at the airport. When I arrived at the Havana airport, I was definitely asked to show proof of  it. So its always better to be safe than sorry.

Accommodations

Lodging depends on your level of comfort as well as your budget. We chose an Air BnB in the neighborhood of Vedado. We paid $366 for 4 nights in an apartment that slept 6. I would highly recommend you use the “Instant Book” option with Air BnB. There were quite a few instances of hosts canceling requests extremely close to travel dates. While Instant Book isn’t a guarantee your reservation won’t be cancelled, the likelihood of that happening is slim. Air BnB is still fairly new to Cuba, so there are still a few kinks to work out.  You also have the option of staying in a Casa Particular. A simple google search will yield plenty of mediums for booking. You can sometimes book one when you land in some cases. They are literally everywhere throughout the city. They are distinguished by a particular sign, which sort of resembles an anchor. Of course, there is always the option of a hotel. But given the influx of American tourism, the costs have increased. Like I said, lodging depends on your level of comfort as well as your budget. I will say that most of the people I know who traveled to Havana went the Air BnB/ Casa route.

You can see the symbol for the Casa Particular above the door way.
You can see the symbol for the Casa Particular above the door way.

Money Matters

PLEASE keep in mind that you can not use your credit/debit cards in Cuba. They will not work. Which means you need to pay for everything in cash. Which also means you need to budget your trip accordingly. I would say you would do fine on $100 per day. Whatever that total comes to, add another $200-300 to that just to be safe. I brought $1,000 total. I only spent half in 4 days. About $250 on food, $80-100 on transportation, $40 on our group activity with the remainder on miscellaneous items ( Cigars aren’t cheap! Budget accordingly).

I would advise you to exchange your USD to Euros first, then exchange the Euros to CUC when you arrive in Havana. Why? Because there is an extra 10% fee tacked on to the 3% conversion fee for USD due to the embargo. So basically:

  • For every $100 you exchange you get back 87 CUC. The conversion rate is 1 USD= 1 CUC
  • 460 Euros got me 466 CUC

I didn’t exchange the other $500 I had. I never exchange the full amount of cash I bring because of the fees associated with selling and buying currency. Don’t want to lose money on the cash you don’t use.

Other Miscellaneous “Need to Know” Tips

  • Wifi is limited. Be prepared to be disconnected. You can buy a wifi card from some of the hotels. I bought mine from  the Melia-Cohiba hotel. $10 for 1 hour. But the hotel was like 4 blocks from our apartment. Whenever you see a gathering of people on their phones, its a wifi spot.
  • Taxi rides from the airport should run you about $30. Negotiate prices and agree on them before you get in.
  • Bring LOTS of sanitizer and wet wipes. Sometimes there was no soap, running water or toilet paper in the restrooms at the places we were at.
  • Bottled water ONLY.
  • Trips to the beach in an official taxi (the yellow ones) will run you $50 round trip. You can try your negotiation skills with a local taxi though. Most definitely will come out cheaper.
  • If you have a sensitive stomach, start taking those probiotics!
  • Pack your allergy meds. The exhaust from the cars had mine going haywire at first.
  • When giving addresses for your casa/Air BnB to taxi drivers, make sure to include the street, intersection and house number. For example:
    • 6 calzada y 5, 115 means between 6th and 5th streets, number 115. Air BnB doesn’t always have the addresses accurately posted.
  • Google Translate is an awesome tool for the not so fluent Spanish speaker. But it translates English to proper Spanish. Some of the phrases you put in might not translate as smoothly to the everyday Spanish that Cubans use. So try to ask basic, yes or no questions.
  • I would strongly advise you to do carry-on only. Wait times from baggage claim can be at least 2 hours in most cases. They simply don’t have the personnel to handle the influx of tourism. Save yourself the trouble. If you’re buying cigars and alcohol, check it on the way back.

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If there is anything you would like to know that I may have left out, or you have a specific question, please feel free to contact me! Happy planning!

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Cuba On My Mind: My Visit to Havana

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There’s always this child-like fascination with “forbidden” things. Why is it bad? Why can’t we go? Some of the questions I found myself asking about Cuba since 5th grade social studies. It’s been drilled into our heads that Cuba was a no- go zone. I used to always wonder why, aside from the politics behind it of course. It usually makes something that much more interesting when you tell people its taboo. Which is why I jumped at the chance of buying a ticket to Havana. I had been preparing for this the last few years or so, ever since it was announced that Obama was considering easing the limitations on visiting. I was ready for yet another adventure.The preparation for such a trip was more work than I had ever done for any other trip (more on that in a later post) but it was totally worth it.

Fresh Off the Plane

We landed in Havana around 2:00 pm on a Thursday. I was anxious and excited. I felt like I was finally granted access into a secret club. The anticipation was so built up, it was spilling over. I had read all the blogs and posts about the customs and immigrations process, so I had somewhat hyped myself up a bit. There was absolutely no need for worry as the entire process was seamless. I handed over all my documentation to the agent and after about 10 minutes, all was well.  The next stop was for currency. What a time suck! We were in line a good hour and some change. Annoying, yes. But I had also read that waiting for extended periods of time was the norm in Cuba, as everything moved at a much slower pace. This was the first instance where my privileged was checked, and rightfully so. I needed this dose of reality to get me prepared for the humbling that was underway.

Havana, the Tainted Beauty

Havana is gritty. I won’t sugar coat it because I feel it would do you a great disservice. Often times, this is either overlooked in a heavily romanticized depiction of what seems to be a unicorn. When the reality is it’s raw. Its unkempt. The fumes from the exhaust of the old classic cars knocks you square in the face. The stench from the trash along the streets can send you into a dizzy spell. But even still, Havana is unique in her abilities to still captivate your attention and hold your imagination hostage, flaws and all. If you allow her to.

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We were based in the neighborhood of Vedado. A few blocks from the Malecon. Quite the hipster neighborhood, by Cuban standards at least. You didn’t have to travel far across the city to appreciate the photogenic gems lying around every corner. And there were so many. So much beauty in what some would deem ugliness. So much scope for imagination.  But we did manage to  travel a considerable amount around the city as much as we could in the time allotted.

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Because wifi is so limited here, you have no choice but to make the most of your time offline. Havana forces you to be in the moment. There was no instant posting overtime I took a picture. I think this is what makes it easy to really experience Havana. And the people! The people make the trip! From our gracious host, to our cab drivers, we were surrounded by nice people. People eager to meet us and talk to us about our lives in America.They didn’t hold back on questions. The most common question?

“How do you feel about Trump? “ My answer to that is another post for another day.

But they were just legitimately curious. My little bit of Spanish made it somewhat easy to have an open dialogue ( and Google Translate, of course). Best of all is that I felt welcomed everywhere we went. Yes, Cuba has its problems. And should you decide to venture there, you will find that not all Cubans are excited that the Americans are coming. But they will politely let you know. But you can expect to be treated with respect anyway. Which is how it should be.

It was a delight to witness everyday interactions amongst the locals. I always take great joy in doing this everywhere I travel. Old men arguing over baseball, women in hair salons gossiping, children playing in the streets. Something about it seemed so peaceful. Perhaps it reminded me of the stories my grandma used to tell, and how I would sit and paint my own visuals. It reminded me of her stories of how things used to be within the black community. The togetherness and sense of real community. Walking off the beaten path into the neighborhoods of Havana made me feel as if I was experiencing the very things my grandmother used to talk about.

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There were also reminders of Fidel Castro everywhere we went as well.

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Once I became accustomed to being on Cuban time, I started to enjoy myself even more. I should also add that Havana is extremely safe. Is there poverty? Yes. But I promise you, you have no reason to be fearful. Always take precautions, of course. But let Havana wow you. You’ll be glad you did.

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I know you’re probably reading this and thinking ” so exactly what all did you have to do to make this trip happen?”. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. There’s such a wealth of information to tell you that it would simply make this post too long. I’ll give a detailed break down of all the processes (and paperwork) you will have in order to make the trip to Cuba. So stay tuned!

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I Left My Heart in Cartagena: Day 1

When In Doubt…Face Your Fear

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While everyone else would be eating turkey and sweet potato pie, I would be basking in the relentless humidity and endless aromas of arrepas and fresh mango. I chose to travel solo for my 30th for a specific reason. The last time that I remember my birthday falling on Thanksgiving day was when I was eight. It was also the last Thanksgiving I would spend with my mother. Thats a memory I have cherished throughout the last 22 years of my life. So I wanted 30 to be just as memorable.

Obligatory airport/boarding pass/passport photo.
Obligatory airport/boarding pass/passport photo.

If you’re like the thousands of others who binged watched Narcos (myself included), then you probably had this pre-conceived notion about Colombia. As someone who travels solo quite often, I found myself being nervous for the first time heading into Colombia. Which is odd because I booked the ticket without a second thought. Add to the fact that I was turning 30 and that came with its own insecurities. But it was the weeks leading up to the trip where my nerves started to set in. What was I all of a sudden nervous about?

Perhaps I too let all the bad press Colombia  had received shape my view of what Cartagena might be like. I sort of had buyer’s remorse for a second. Yes, me. The solo traveler down to explore where ever. Then I realized “well, you’ve bought the ticket already… no turning back now!” So I braced myself for impact. I thought of every possible scenario that could happen. I was prepared. What I didn’t prepare for was how much I would end up falling in love with this beautiful place.

A Bold Yet Simple Beauty

From the moment I stepped off the plane, the humidity swaddled me like a blanket. Being from SE Texas, I’m somewhat used to humidity, but Cartagena was definitely beyond my range of expertise. Arriving to my taxi straight off the plane (team carry-on!), we head straight for my hostel in the neighborhood of San Diego. I’m instantly captivated by the hustle and bustle of this quaint Caribbean city. The ocean to my right , with a vengeful line of taxis to my left. My high school Spanish hasn’t failed me miserably in the past, so I attempt to make small talk with the driver. He is not here for it. He is only there to do his job. Or maybe he’s just annoyed with traffic. Can’t knock that. A sea of horns are blowing around me as I assume we are caught in a lunch time rush. I also observe that there are no speed limits or yield signs in what looks to be a free for all type of traffic system.

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One of the many colorful streets of Cartagena

Fifteen minutes in and we reach the Walled City. Its stunning. The colorful buildings and walls are the first thing that jump out at me. The streets are busy and filled with people; mothers and daughters, street vendors, tourists. They all seem so relaxed with no immediate rush. I also see neighbors hanging out on the end of streets socializing . Every person I lock eyes with engages me with a smile. It was at that moment that I knew I was on to something good.

I receive the warmest welcome upon check-in at my hostel. I opted for a boutique hostel this go round because it was my birthday and not just any birthday. This was 30. I would need the peace of a private room after all the exploring I had planned to do.  The hostel was situated on a busy corner, so of course I could hear all the horns and cat calls throughout the day. But strangely, I didn’t mind that at all. Mainly because I was hardly ever in the room. I stayed long enough to wash the airport germs off of me and then I was off.

My quaint little room
My quaint little room
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View from my balcony

One Vibrant Soul

I couldn’t help but to realize how relaxed I had become upon arrival into the Walled City. All of those anxieties and fears I felt before instantly seemed to vanish. I wanted to take this place in and explore every crack and crevice that I could within my allotted time. San Diego, in all its vibrant colors and picturesque doors, was truly a sight to see. I walked down each narrow roadway in awe of the level of detail put into the color and architecture of each structure. And I wasn’t the only one. A few tourists like myself lined the sidewalks to capture the perfect photo of a myriad of doors with plentiful flowers hanging over them. This place was a photographer’s paradise! And me and my amateur self was happy to partake.

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People watching was also a joy. Watching how others interact with each other in another country is truly interesting to see. This city was definitely made for lovers. Love was all around. Young love holding hands, old love sharing an ice cream, a mother’s love making sure her kids stayed on the sidewalk and out of the street. Every corner I turned, I felt it. And it made me so happy that I was here, in this city, to experience it. And of course there were the street vendors. I can’t even knock their hustle. How they maintained to smile after tons of rejections in 85 degree weather with 100 percent humidity is beyond me.

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I settle on this Cuban restaurant with a 40’s theme. Get this, there’s a pool in the middle of the joint…Even better! Me and my mojito were happy to oblige. The vibe is relaxed, and its just what I needed after nearly a day of traveling (more on that in another post). Then I hear Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” followed by what appears to be rapping in Spanish. Its a young native shooting his shot with tourists nearby. They’re recording him with their cell phones. I think to myself “By any means necessary, huh?”. I chuckle at his direct and abrupt demeanor, yet I respect it at the same time. Who knows, he might be one YouTube view away from stardom.

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Cuba 1940’s

Did I mention the people here are so kind and generous? As I stated, my Spanish is not the best. But I found that if you were willing to try, the people were more than willing to help by correcting you in a forgiving way. I can’t tell you how many times I ran into American and British tourists who never even attempted. That annoys me just a smidgen, but thats also another post for another day.

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I leave the restaurant to do some more exploring. More picture taking. Then it hit me that I was officially in the 30 club. Man, oh man! I’ve already mentally prepared myself for the plunge in my metabolism. But all is still well. And all I could think about was how much I NEEDED to sleep. I had only been up a solid 24 hours. I got another quick bite and headed back to my hostel. Upon finding out that its my birthday, one of the hosts offered me a glass of wine and asked me to join him in an evening chat. I know I needed sleep but HOW could I say no to such a friendly gesture? We sat talking about random stuff. Laughs and lots of “no ways!”. Truly a treat. Another warm welcome and friendly face that made me not want to leave this place.  Not the scheming and crooked experience I had somehow talked myself into expecting. The patio area we were sitting in was open air so I could see the stars in the sky. It was the perfect ending to a long but awesome birthday. Cartagena’s plans to steal my heart were in full force. The more I relaxed, the easier it was for her to do so.

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My Summer of wanderLUST: Emerald Coast, Florida

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Aaaaaaah, the Sunshine State! Embarking on yet another road trip, this time I decided to get away for some Vitamin Sea. The last time I saw blue water was February in Tulum, so I was overdue for a a beach day.  I’ve been to Miami before and honestly, I wouldn’t be pressed if I never went there again. It just wasn’t my speed (no offense Miami goers).  So we set out for the Emerald Coast. Absolutely beautiful beaches that almost rival some of the most pristine Caribbean treasures.

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Typically, the trip is supposed to be about 7 hours, but thanks to Louisiana and its ongoing traffic, a 7 hour trip turned into 9 hours.  Anyone who makes the trek on I-10 from Texas going east will tell you that Louisiana is no picnic. The itinerary consisted of a stay in Pensacola and exploring the areas around town, plus an inevitable trip to Pensacola Beach. I have to say, people really do sleep on the beauty of Pensacola Beach. The sand was soft and fluffy and the water was  one of the calmest greenish- blues.

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You definitely want to get to the beach early though. We arrived around 8 am and there were a few families. By noon, it was completely crowded. We still had a blast anyway. I was tanned for the Gawds by the end of the day! I just couldn’t get over the beauty of the beaches, and it was only a 7 hour drive away. Talk about economical! This beach getaway was under $250 for me.  I split the lodging and fuel cost with a friend. And what vacation would be complete without trying the local cuisine?

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Grouper, Hush Puppies and Cheese Grits at Captain Joey’s, Pensacola, FL

As a native Texan, fried Catfish is usually the fish of choice. But apparently, Grouper is a “thing” in Florida. Undeniably fresh, this was hands down the freshest Grouper I’ve ever had!

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Shrimp and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese, Flounder’s Pensacola Beach, FL

My all time favorite dish from the entire trip was definitely at Flounder’s. This mac n’ cheese ushered me straight on to glory! Baked to perfection and oozing gooey, cheesy gloriousness! I had dreams about this stuff, seriously.

At some point, we wanted to see what else was out there, you know, check out some other beaches. So we made the drive to Destin. I can’t comment enough on how beautiful Destin’s beaches are.

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Destin Beach, FL

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Roman and I. Photo courtesy of my friend, @justassilem on IG
Roman and I. Photo courtesy of my friend, @justassilem on IG

No two beaches are alike, however. While both beaches were nice, the vibes were completely different. Both beaches were family friendly, but Destin definitely felt more high end.  Either way, I will definitely be back! And of course, road trips wouldn’t be any fun without random photoshoots in the middle of no where.

Loo-zy Anna pit stop.
Loo-zy Anna pit stop.

Did you guys do any road trips this summer? I’d love to hear about them!

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My Summer of wanderLUST: Oregon

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Continuing on with my summer filled with trips throughout the states, I decided to high tail it to Oregon. I have family that recently relocated there, so the timing couldn’t have been anymore perfect. Never in my life have I seen a place so green! And coming from an area where the air is extremely polluted with smog and the likes of refineries, Oregon was literally a breath of fresh air.

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Driving through Willamette Valley

The coolest thing I found about Oregon were all of the green/eco-friendly initiatives. It was weird asking for a to-go box and not be given styrofoam. And everywhere seemed extremely walkable. I didn’t really get a chance to explore Portland.  Most of my stay was in the quaint little town of Independence. I swear, I could’ve just roamed the main street the entire time and been content with life.  I walked around and found a cute Thai restaurant for lunch. And one of my favorite past times that I’ve grown fond of is finding a local ice cream parlor. The simple things that make us happy, right?

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Downtown Independence, OR

Oregon is such a scenic state. Like I literally was in awe taking in everything I was seeing. I didn’t want to do anything else other than to sit and stare at God’s wonderful creations. Something about being out in nature is very humbling and soothing at the same time. I went on this trip with a heavy heart and a completely stressed out mind. Somehow, I managed to find peace. Being amongst family helped tremendously too, but I was actually able to just relax. You know how there are some trips you take to be adventurous, while others you take solely to do absolutely nothing but just.. be? Totally one of the latter type of trips.

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And of course, I had to splurge on dinner at least once. I give you Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Crab Stuffed Salmon with a Hazelnut Bleu Cheese Salad. Yum-MEEE!!!

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What I wouldn’t give to be back there staring at a view like this every day.

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Until next time Oregon… I’ll definitely be back!

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My Summer of wanderLUST: New Orleans

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I was determined to have a jam packed summer, full of road trips and lots of sun. I made it happen, and it was glorious. First up on the list was New Orleans. Because you can’t ever go wrong with NOLA. I spent a great deal away from Bourbon Street. I know thats usually the go to spot for out of towners, but seriously, there are SO many unique and cool things about New Orleans outside of Bourbon Street. However, making at least one appearance for a hand grenade is ok.

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Somewhere on Bourbon.

This trip, I visited Frenchman Street as well as the Garden District. I was blown away. In all my years of visiting this wonderful city, I never witnessed the beauty of these places.  The Frenchman Street Art Market was definitely on my list. So many cool things to see and buy from the local artists.

Out and about. Frenchman St Art Market
Out and about. Frenchman St Art Market

 

The Presbytere, New Orleans
The Presbytere Museum, Mardi Gras Exhibit

 

The Presbytere
At the entrance of The Presbytere

 

Audubon Park
Audubon Park

 

Just wandering through the park.
Just wandering through the park.

I know you’re wondering about it. And yes, the food was delicious! But I mean, its New Orleans, what did you expect?

Gumbo from Stanley in the French Quarter
Gumbo from Stanley in the French Quarter

 

A triple treat! Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffe, Red Beans and Rice
A triple treat! Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffe, Red Beans and Rice

One of the best things about driving through Louisiana on the way to New Orleans are the pit stops in between. Cracklins are a must!

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My mom’s side of the family resides in the Greater New Orleans area, so naturally, I spent a lot of time there growing up. But somehow, this trip was different. This trip stirred up a fire in me that I thought had died out. Life gets hard sometimes and trying to maintain your sense of imagination and creative spirit can be taxing on the mind in the midst of it all. This trip, I did a lot of self reflection. The long walk through beautiful Audubon Park leading up to the riverfront was freeing in its own right. As some of you may know, my mom died when I was eight. I couldn’t help but take in all the beauty around me while thinking “Man, my mom grew up here? In such a cool place?”. I feel like I was supposed to experience this New Orleans. I don’t really know much about her, but I feel like my sense of adventure comes from her. And in a way, I feel like I connected and shared this moment with her spiritually. This was the start of something good.

A Day in Isla Mujeres

Such a world apart from Cancun, and a 30 minute ferry ride. Isla Mujeres or Woman Island, is a teeny, tiny stretch of land in the state of Quintana Roo. It boasts gorgeous sapphire blue seas from the south end of the island, with the calm turquoise waters to the north. Its charm is old-world like, very rustic. The locals are extremely pleasant and you’ll find a handful of ex-pats taking up residence within the neighborhoods. The preferred mode of transportation is by scooter. For exploring, most rent a golf cart. I chose to explore by foot (which I don’t recommend if you are staying at opposite ends of the island. Staying in the middle allowed me to break it up). It was a cloudy day when I arrived, which made it that much more calm and serene.

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I enjoyed my slow walk into town, taking in the sights and the light, misty rain.

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And then the skies cleared up, and I got to take in the spectacular views of Punta Sur.

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20150205_143534You can literally explore the entire island in an hour by golf cart. For that reason, I would definitely recommend a stay here if you intend to do absolutely nothing. Call me crazy, but I kind of liked the fact that it was a dreary day for most of the time I was there. It helped wrap up and wind down a super busy and exhilarating trip. Just the kind of calm I needed to prepare myself for the reality that awaited me at home.

 

 

 

Tulum: Day 3

My final day in Tulum. It was bittersweet. Such a chill place. So I made the most of it and did some more exploring. I caught a taxi to the Mayan ruins. The level of creativity and intelligence to build something so intricate before its time definitely demonstrates the ability of the human mind.

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I even made a new friend.

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After a walk through the entire site, it was beach time. The day was perfect. Just enough breeze to keep you comfortable.

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I decided to walk the beach side a little more for lunch. I found this really cool spot, El Prez. I had the best beer battered fish tacos ever. Like, EVER. And they take credit cards, one of the few places that did without charging an outrageous fee.

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And the drinks… A Hint and a Whisper… Gin and real lavender.

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I am definitely coming back to Tulum, especially now that I know what to expect. Its charm has truly captivated me. And there were so many more places I wanted to go, and in due time, I shall. Tulum was very international. I met French, Canadian, Argentinian and Australian travelers. Lots of back packers. If you are truly looking for a unique beach experience with a little bit of jungle thrown in the mix, I highly recommend Tulum. Keep in mind that its off the grid, with no connection to power lines ( hence the wind turbines you see along the beaches). It is definitely eco- chic.

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Farewell, Tulum! We shall meet again.

Tulum: Day 2

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Slowly I’m falling in love with this place. Everything is so relaxed. The people are so friendly. The food is GOOD.  I’m so glad I decided to change my trip up last minute. It’s so quiet here, which is great for meditation. I slept like a baby last night. I’d like to thank the ocean and it’s crashing waves for that.

Today, I ventured off into town and to a cenote for some snorkeling. What a cool experience. The cenote was perfect for swimming. I found the ocean a little bit choppy.

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There weren’t many fish to see. But I did catch a glimpse of a few turtles. I then ventured off into town or Tulum Pueblo. I walked around, taking in the sights and people watching. Families walking together, friends chatting over cold ones. Something about Tulum gives me a huge sense of community. Like everyone looks out for each other. I will say this. The locals are way more friendlier than some of the out of towners. Locals didn’t hesitate to say hello. Everyone else took a bit more work. But whatevs, I didn’t come here solely to make friends.

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I decided to stop at El Tobano for lunch, where I had the best ceviche ever! Again, the waiters were super friendly and helpful. And the ginger margaritas were amazing! After I walked lunch off, it was beach time. I sat bathing in the sun, with a book I decided to re-visit (Hill Harper’s “The Conversation”). I seriously think I was a beach baby in another life. This is totally my happy place.

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Then came Gitano. I was a little skeptical about this place because of the mixed reviews. But the bartenders were pretty cool. They weren’t the chattiest, but if you spoke they weren’t hesitant to respond. I’ve never had a Mezcal before, so I gave Jungle Fever a try. Pretty good. Super strong! Or maybe I’m just a light weight.

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All in all, today was great. The day was gorgeous with its vast hues of blue and turquoise. Hopefully tomorrow will be just as great.