Bulldogs & Beach Daze

Last weekend, we celebrated a friend’s birthday at a new favorite beach of mine, Point Dume. There were rocky cliffs, turquoise waters, sea lions, and the types of things you might think of when you think of Malibu. Actually, I didn’t see the sea lions or think there were sea lions in Malibu, but I heard and believe they were just around the bend.

Point Dume Malibu, CA

The only small bit of trouble was that we brought one of these girls without knowing about the steep stairs and rocky descent down to the water:

via  Instagram

Fortunately, Cricket loves the beach, so she trooped on out to the ocean and the whole group of us had a very nice day.

I’m still dreaming of a dog of my own, and I hope you’re still heading outside to seek out sights near you!

Take a Hike

Did you know I didn't like it here in LA the first time I came? I didn't like it even one bit. That first visit was about 5 years ago, my sister and I were driving around at the end of our full California road trip, and we had no idea where to go. We took the metro to Hollywood with a lot of smelly people. We found Hollywood to be disappointing (or at least I did, but my sister might have been satisfied with seeing the sign and Ellen DeGeneres' star). We spent a day and a half here and the flight home couldn't come soon enough, although we did stay in an adorable Airbnb which provided our safe haven.

Echo Mountain Hike

I certainly didn't think that one day I would wind up living here. Things in the city have changed since our Airbnb hostess told us to only turn left at the end of our street, never right, if we wanted to preserve our safety. I found out that it's full of interesting things to see and do, beyond the star walk and Santa Monica Pier. And there are still plenty of unsettling strangers to yell at you on the sidewalk.

The biggest surprise for me about LA has been the availability of nature and outdoor explorations. I didn't know it during my first visit, or my second or third, but there are a great many hikes to be had around here. While it appears so concrete and traffic ridden to an outsider, the mountains and parks are very accessible once you live here.

Los Liones hike

I've been squeezing in as many hikes as possible during my free hours. It's hard to get myself on the stairclimber at the gym when I know there are such beautiful hills nearby. I'm envisioning myself becoming part of the group of early rising elitists that does a morning hike before the start of the workday, or (more preferably) one that at least breaks up the commute with a climb on the way home.

And for you, wherever you are, I hope it's not snowing and that you are remembering to go outside. <3

Echo Mountain Hike

Ring of Fire

Most of the time, the overlook points at Mombacho Volcano provide some of the best views of the city of Granada from high above. On the day I went, everything looked like this:

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One of the many perks of working for the hotel is that when guests go on excursions, I can join and pay less than it would normally cost since I become part of a bigger group. Sadly, this meant going to the prettiest one on the rainiest day, but all the lush greenery in the cloud forest was still a sight to see.

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On another day, we visited the more active Masaya Volcano, where you can drive up to the top at night and check out the red lava bubbling inside the crater. I've never seen glowing lava before, so that was a unique experience. Plus, there were a lot of bats flying around inside the museum and outside around the volcano, and you know we like those

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Many Monkeys

Ever since the time, thirteen years ago, when my mom got married in Bali and went to a monkey forest without me, her monkey loving daughter, I knew that someday I would need to make my own journey to Bali to visit that same monkey sanctuary.

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And let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

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Within one minute of walking through the dark tunnel into the forest, I had a small monkey on my shoulders. Later on, another one got stuck in my hair. It was a little unsettling, which I guess makes some people dislike their visits there. And if you are one of those people, I will say that we have certain disagreements in our tastes.

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Seeing all these monkeys was one of the best time of my life!

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Elephant Endeavors

If you've ever heard of Thailand and, more specifically, Chiang Mai, you've probably been made aware that one of the main tourist attractions is the opportunity to come into contact with some of Earth's most precious and holy creatures-- elephants. Among the people I talked to before venturing here, it was a highly controversial topic. Some said definitely go see the elephants because it was the best experience of life. Others said definitely do not go anywhere with elephants because they are all tortured and treated inhumanely.

All objections aside, like most tepid-hearted Americans coming to Asia for the first time, I pretty much knew that if I could find a semi-decent place where they didn't slash or prod the animals, I was going to see some elephants on this trip. I followed my friend Warren's recommendation, read as many elephant treatment reviews as I could, and set off for a day of close contact with trunk-wielding tree trimmers. I chose Into the Wild Elephant Camp, instead of the more popular and well-regarded Elephant Nature Park because I hoped for a more intimate, less crowded visit.

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And it really was an unbelievable experience, and even more so because there were only 3 of us visiting 5 elephants that day. We hiked with them, bathed with them, and sort of ate lunch with them while they smartly tried to steal food from our table. I'd never touched one before, so spending hours next to them as they gracefully lumbered through the woods and covering them with mud to provide necessary sun protection offered a ton of new soul-satisfying observations.

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I hope the elephants are always treated as well as I saw during the visit. Our guides seemed to genuinely care about them, and there were no bullhooks or riding baskets in sight. The elephants seemed to genuinely not care about anything other than eating, an act that they engaged in for almost all of the 5 hours we were with them. Apparently indifferent to our presence, they did, at points, threaten to chop our heads off with their superior lumberjack skills. I could certainly see why Thai Buddhists worship the elephant god, Ganesha, as the remover of obstacles. 

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Intentions: Eclipse Edition

From a pretty young age, I realized that it didn't make much sense to ask for specific, little wishes from the universe, whether it was convincing middle school boys to like me or passing my driver's test on the first try. There were bigger things at play here. I've always had more than enough in my daily life, and I know now that sometimes what we want is far from what we need, so my requests have (not always selflessly) steered towards greater experiences, lasting talents, and a more global perspective.

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I tried to keep to that theme when coming up with some eclipse intentions. It's always difficult to wrangle all my interests into a short list of three, but I realize the importance of harnessing this powerful shift and channeling energy toward what we find most important, even if it only happens in our heads. Here's a list of what I'll be focusing on this time around:

1. To live even more in the way. In other words, to go with the flow and to avoid letting big shifts throw me off my game. I'm learning to see the teacher in all experiences, even when they look like setbacks at first. I hope to continue this practice since we all know the big changes won't be stopping anytime soon.

2. To feel at home in myself. This one's usually tough! To be accepting of myself and my journey, without wanting it to look a different way or move along faster than it needs to. To feel comfortable with all my sameness and uniqueness that keeps me moving within my community, without comparing and competing along the way. 

3. To cultivate discipline. As an Aries and an Enneagram 7, I am a really great starter and not much of a follow through and finisher. I'm enthusiastic about a broad number of activities, and deep about very few. Most habits that begin with full force excitement get forgotten or left behind in a week or two. I've realized that most of my internal growth has happened when I'm able to stay in one place and put my heart into something or at least sit myself still for time enough to think and reflect, even when my wandering feet get bored.

 

So that's my list. I'd love to hear yours. Also, remember that on any old day it's alright to drop everything, get outside, and wonder at the sky! It seems like there's so little that we really understand about how this world is working.

The Good & the Green

Just when I think I have swum in all of the majestic swimming holes around here, I find myself stumbling upon another majestic swimming hole. 

People are coming to Austin for the brunch and the jobs, and they are staying for the good and the green things that are very nearby. McKinney Falls State Park is one of those good, green things, which also happens to not be very crowded on an overcast spring day. You had better get here before summer when all the water might go away, but for now I'm giving it all the thumbs up.

Nurtured by Nature

Sometimes when you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a long vacation, you notice that similar things keep happening to you over and over again and, because of them, your vacation tends to take on a certain theme. On our latest road trip adventure, that theme turned out to be the power of Nature to make or break our plans.

We discovered that when we drove along, flying by the seats of our pants, without forcing or timing anything, we would end up seeing unexpected, mesmerizing stuff like this:

Somewhere in Utah...
Lake Powell, AZ

Lake Powell, AZ

Beginnings of the Grand Canyon

Beginnings of the Grand Canyon

And whenever we planned, plotted, and Yelped our way into a city, Nature would remind us of her right to step in and throw us a different agenda. We realized this when we were forced to sprint through the second half of our Sedona vortex hike as threatening storm clouds rolled in. And when the list of hip bars and restaurants to visit in Phoenix was cut short when we stepped out the door into the dust storm/thunder/lightning filled night. The next day, flash flooding on the interstate interrupted our quest for the best sopapillas in Albuquerque and kept us pulled over until after the restaurant had closed. And I already told y’all about the forest fires.

Storms in Sedona

Storms in Sedona

During our time in the campgrounds, our bodies learned to adjust to the schedule of the sun. We woke up early, stayed outside all day, started our fire as the sun dipped down, and went to sleep once the cinders settled into ash. We didn’t need much more than the excitement of the changing flames to keep us entertained until bedtime. When we traveled to the bigger cities, we tried to fight this newfound rhythm and go against the flow of things, but Nature had different plans for us. However, she had already let us graciously cool off in our campsite river after a 102 degree day in Zion and given us so many other lovely gifts on the trip, so we weren’t too upset about our updated schedules. Plus we still ate other sopapillas in Albuquerque and our trip to Phoenix was saved by a bomb-a** breakfast at Matt's Big Breakfast. Thanks Matt! (Asterisks because I'm pretty sure my mom and her friends make up 90% of the readers of this blog).

Sunrise outside Albuquerque

Sunrise outside Albuquerque

So, Nature, we dedicate our trip to You. We are feeling more grateful than ever for the constant reminders of your power and our own efforts to bow to you as we sit back and appreciate the way things are meant to be.

WOW-oming!

Phase 3 of the trip brought us to a new state for me and a new phenomenon for both of us: forest fires!

As we crossed into Wyoming, we began to notice a lot of smoke in the air and started to hear gas station gossip about nearby towns being evacuated due to wildfires in the area. We had a "wouldn't it be cool if...?" moment* and, about 10 minutes later, the universe provided. 

Wyoming wildfire
Wyoming Wildfire

 

*"Wouldn't it be cool if we could see a wildfire up close while we're conveniently protected by our car and far enough away that it won't impact our lives or our travel plans so we can go to Idaho and eat square-shaped ice cream in peace?" It was pretty sobering to see rows of homes about to be eaten by the flames and the firefighters who were in the air spraying water from helicopters or on the ground trying to push the fire back from the road. We felt guilty taking pictures while so many people's lives were being uprooted, but once-in-a-lifetime experiences sometimes call for photos and so we summoned the war photographers in us and proceeded.

Wyoming wildfires

While we were busy looking back at that (^), we didn't notice that these were slowly sneaking up on our right:

The Tetons!

The Tetons!

The Tetons gave us shelter and an unbelievable view for the night while we entertained ourselves with long hikes in inappropriate footwear. B showed off his fire-building mastery and I cooked dinner on my brand new Coleman 2-burner camp stove, which I would regrettably end up breaking on the second night of camping, but which would be fine since I'm afraid of gas explosions anyway.

Next, we went to Yellowstone and decided to do everything in one day, a decision that was exhausting but one that we still stand by. The stones were really yellow, Old Faithful erupted while we were in the parking lot, and I learned that branches often look like moose antlers and your driving partner can get upset if you call out too many animal photo opps that are actually not.

The Earth was full of hot springs and gurgling pools and was feeling very alive! WOW-oming certainly lived up to B's nickname for it since I don't think we said any words other than amazing, incredible, beautiful, awesome, and long breathless wowww's for most of this phase of the trip. We would have loved some more time to explore, but Utah (and showers) beckoned.

Chipmunk at Grand Teton National Park

Colors of Colorado

In case you haven't been paying attention, Colorado has been busy making all the other states jealous by having just about EVERYTHING to offer. The whole time we were there, it felt like nature was performing a personal show for us, and she was certainly pulling out all the stops. Making up for all the hours of flatness and windmills of the Northwest Texas drive, we crossed the NM-CO border during this sunset: 

Colorado sunset

And made our way to Denver to spend a few days with B's sister, Kelsey, who should sign up for AirBnB a.s.a.p. because she is an incredible hostess who makes us feel better than at home every time we visit. Thank you Kelsey! She took us all over the city, and of course, to Red Rocks, the concert venue of all concert venues.

Red Rocks provides enough entertainment in itself that I would see anyone play there, but lucky for us one of the most musical geniuses of all musical geniuses, Sufjan Stevens, came through to knock our socks right off.

Sufjan Stevens at Red Rocks

Among the red rocks, Father Sky and Mother Earth continued their dazzling dance by giving us this (these) rainbow(s):

Red Rocks double rainbow

After our short stay in the Mile-High City, we headed over to the Higher-Than-Mile City to find out what summer in a ski town is like. I'm sorry to break it to Killington, Mount Snow, Smuggler's Notch, and all of the other East Coast resorts of my youth, but Steamboat Springs is the real deal. Much like the rest of the Colorado, I can really only describe it using superlatives! It was the first time in my life that I wished for summer to immediately turn to winter.

Steamboat Mountain Colorado
Steamboat Resort Colorado

We spent the rest of the week hiking, tubing, eating, and shopping our way around town while enjoying some uninterrupted family time and our 2,000 sq. ft. porch! There were so many more sunsets, more rainbows, and more unforgettable views that we sometimes had to laugh in disbelief.

If you're still not convinced about Colorado's beauty, here is what the backyard of a regular old Chipotle restaurant looks like there:

Colorado Springs

We were sad to leave on Sunday (and even sadder that our alarms were set for 5 a.m.), but we packed up the car and rolled onwards to see what the rest of the Wild West had waiting for us.