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The Struggles of Getting a Work Permit

When bestie and I were planning our move to Santiago, we knew we would need a temporary visa to stay in Chile for up to a year. We read all the blogs and the Chilean government sites and thought we had a master plan for getting this thing squared away. Oh the issues we ran into along the way of gaining legal status.

1. Applying for the Visa
Within a month of being in Santiago, we got our work contracts and were able to apply for our visas. The application in and of itself was confusing, mainly because our Spanish was still tragic. We had to the take the application to our employers and have them walk us through the entire thing. We got four tiny pictures and copies of every document ever and mailed off the application. The application status was supposed to be updated online and then we would receive a letter in the mail saying whether or not it was approved. Cool.

2. Getting Paperwork
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my application status was indeed being updated online. This turned out to be extremely important because the Chilean mail system leaves much to be desired. The letter telling me that my application was approved arrived three weeks after the Extranjeria sent it. Oh, and it came with a fee of almost $300 that was due in a week for a work permit that I didn’t know I had asked for. Apparently, my employer needed this work permit so when they helped me fill out the application they made sure I asked for it, even though they had no intention of paying for it.

 3. Workers on Strike
So now I had an extra $300 fee for a document that was needed strictly to protect my employer from hiring foreigners. In the midst of trying to figure out how in the world I would pay for this, I learned that the workers at Civil Registry went on strike. This meant that once I paid for my work permit, there would be no one to actually give me the physical permit or an ID card. Fabulous.

 4. Visiting the Extranjeria (Foreign Services Department)
Unfortunately, not paying for this permit that I would never physically see was not an option if I want to live and work in this country. So, bestie and I went on an adventure to the Extranjeria. Thankfully, a few people told us to make appointments online before visiting the Extranjeria. This was a lifesaver. The Extranjeria was a 20 minute walk from our apartment and we were in and out of there in 15 minutes. I essentially received a barcode to take to the bank. This told the bank what I needed to pay for and how much the fee was.

 5. Paying for the Work Permit
Now it was time to actually pay for this permit. We had to go to Banco Estado – apparently this is the national bank and the only place to pay for the work permit. When we walked in, there was an ATM where I tried to take out money. Little did I know, this was a special ATM that didn’t actually give money -_-. The security guard swiftly shooed us out for using the ATM improperly. I had to go to a real ATM and return to the bank.

In the bank, we were number 69 in line; they were serving number 60. This shouldn’t take long right? WRONG. After waiting for 45 minutes, they did not serve a single person. The bank’s entire system was down and only one person could serve all the people in line. Great. We asked another banker what we should do and he explained there was another branch with more tellers half a block down. We walked there and guess what? All of Chile was in there. I had things to do. We gave up and I went to teach a class.

6. Paying for the Work Permit, For Real
But of course, my class was cancelled. So I rendezvoused with bestie at another Banco Estado branch that happened to be in the Metro station of all places. This turned out to be the smoothest part of the whole day. Within 15 minutes, we paid for our work permits and we were armed with receipts to take back to the Extranjeria. I thought we finally hit our stride.

7. Going Back to the Extranjeria
During our first trip to the Extranjeria, they told bestie that if she came back in the same day she wouldn’t need an appointment and she could skip the line. We quickly found out this was a lie. We returned to the extranjeria only to learn that we were behind 80 people in line. Not gonna happen. We swiftly walked out and made another appointment online for the day after.

 8. A Third Trip to the Extranjeria
Bright and early on a Friday morning, we went back to the Extranjeria with our appointments and receipts. Again, it took fifteen minutes to process both of us. We both walked out with papers that said we have work permits and are legally allowed to get paid.
The best part: the work permit is only valid for one month, as though our visas will get here in the next month. We’ll see how that goes.

A Hike through the Andes: Parque Aguas de Ramon

It has been quite a while since I posted in this here blog and I promise I am trying my darndest to do better! As a welcome back to myself, I am sharing my adventures hiking through the Andes Mountains.

On October 10, 2015, the bestie and I headed to Parque Aguas de Ramon somewhere outside of Santiago. It took us about two hours to get there by city bus – but that is only because we got off the bus at the wrong stop (we were a bit eager). After getting back on the bus, we had to transfer to another bus. Then we were in a sparsely populated area and had to wait a minute for a taxi. When the taxi finally came, he had no idea what or where the park was. It was a straight 3 km (1.9 miles) ride to the park, thankfully.

At this point it was after 2:30 in the afternoon and the park apparently closed at 5:30 pm. We were greeted by a gentleman who started rambling off park details to us in Spanish. We had to quickly stop him and we were so excited to learn he could speak English. He explained the trail to us and charged us the park fee of 2000 Chilean pesos (~$3.50) per person. And so our journey actually began!

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At the halfway point on the Pumos Trail

We headed up the Pumos Trail – the first 40 minutes or so were entirely uphill. It was not unbearably steep but it definitely had my thighs burning. When the trail flattened out some, we got our first peek at some water! There was a stream flowing in between the mountains and the sound was so soothing.

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A point by the stream in mountains

We walked to follow the water for a minute until we realized I had chosen the wrong path to travel on – oops. We went back up and hiked another 40 minutes or so in search of the source of the water. Instead, we found a beautiful valley with the perfect view of the mountains beyond. As is our tradition, bestie and I had a mountain photo shoot. The spot was nestled right in the middle of a shot of vast greenness and mountains in the background. It truly was a little slice of heaven.

Bestie and I in our mountain photo shoot

Bestie and I in our mountain photo shoot

By this point, we had to make our way back down the mountain to get to the visitor’s center before it closed. On the way back, we got an amazing view of Santiago. Like we were all up in the clouds. We could see the entire downtown from this trail. Of course it was covered in smog so we couldn’t get too many good pictures. But we did get the chance to take in the absolute beauty of the place.

This place made it so exquisitely obvious that God exists and that His hand touches every and anything. The way the mountains came together to form lush green valleys and snow-capped peaks was simply breathtaking. Seeing an entire city from that vantage point humbled me, just knowing that I am a micropoint on the map of Santiago right now and in the world as a whole. There is just no logical, man-made explanation for how each piece of nature fits and self-sustains. Everything created by man requires maintenance or practice. Nature, on the other hand, exists without interference or assistance. Because it already has a keeper: God. My trip to the Andes reminded me of that and reinforced that ideal in me. It was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in Santiago thus far. The pure grace and beauty of the mountains reminded me of why I travel and why I came here.

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View from the Pumos Trail

We made our way to the end of the mountain only to realize that there were no taxis coming our way. Since we have not yet adopted the practice of hitchhiking, we walked the 3 km back to the bus stop. These 1.9 miles felt like crossing the Amazon. Our legs were dead and just couldn’t handle another inch. Several pep talks and “oh Lawd”s later, we made it to the bus stop, caught our bus, and rewarded ourselves with empanadas. A simply wonderful day!

Black Girls on a Mountain: Chilean Skiing

About six weeks after I moved to Santiago with one of my faves, we took on our first big adventure: skiing.  Now, allow me to explain that I grew up all the way at the southern end of Florida, about a hop, skip, and a jump away from Cuba.  Therefore, skiing has never seemed very accessible or feasible to me.  I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I have seen snow.  Sand and water are much more familiar to me.  And kinder.

This skiing thing seemed incredibly scary and death-defying.  Flying down a mountain covered in snow with two skinny sticks on your feet and two skinnier sticks in your hands?  At least three layers of clothing?  My face will be burned even though it’s 20 degrees outside?  I need to wear sunglasses although there is no sun?  It all seemed a bit far fetched compared to the beach towels and large umbrellas that I am used to.  There was a simpler way to have fun and enjoy a resort: you throw on a bathing suit, lay on the beach and order a daiquiri.  This whole “bundle up and fly” idea was not entirely appealing.  However, my father always told me to try things at least once, so here was my at least once with skiing.

My roommate/bestie/all-around-awesome-person had been skiing before and she reassured me that this would be a fun experience that we would remember for the rest of our lives, etc. etc. etc. Because I trust her and believe her with all my heart, I halfway adopted the notion that this adventure might not be so bad.  Maybe I wouldn’t break a leg after all. Maybe, just maybe, I would enjoy the freedom of the slopes.  Or at least that was what I tried to tell myself.

 

Modeling my new ski outfit

Modeling my new ski outfit

Instead of focusing on the absolute lack of control I would have while skiing, I did what any reasonable person would do: I went shopping.  Here in Santiago there is the wonderful Calle Bandera (Bandera Street) lined with thrift store after thrift store.  Bestie and I spent one full Saturday perusing the stores for cheap ski clothes.  Of course there were other items that landed in our bags along the way; but in the end, we went home with semi-new ski outfits.  My fuchsia ski jacket was 13,600CLP (about $21) and my teal ski overalls were 10,000CLP ($18).  Renting the clothes would have cost about 22,000CLP ($36) and we could not choose the cute colors we got so I felt good about our purchases.  Plus, we are headed to Patagonia soon so we need the gear!

After finding the perfect ski outfits, we booked a package with SkiCentral that included the equipment rental, ski class, and transportation from our apartment to the mountain. A cushy shuttle van picked us up right in front of our apartment promptly at 6:45 am where we were the first of about 12 people to take this ride to El Colorado.  After all the pickups, I fell asleep and by the time I woke up around 9:30 am, we were at the mountain.  The driver took us directly to the equipment rental site where all of our items were waiting for us.  Pro tip: use the restroom before putting on your ski boots.  Those things are not easy to put on or walk in.

Majestic Mountains of El Colorado, Chile

Majestic Mountains of El Colorado, Chile

After fighting a harrowing battle with the ski boots, we were taken to our ski lessons which started at 11 am.  Our ski instructor was the wonderful Mark from Switzerland.  Yes, Switzerland.  The same Switzerland whose residents receive mini-skis at birth.  Mark put us through the ringer.  The class was supposed to be an hour and a half long beginners’ class but Mark had other plans.  He decided that we didn’t need to use the poles.  He said if we can learn how to ski without poles, then we will be experts with poles.  Apparently no one told Mark that I had no intention of becoming an expert; I simply wanted to survive.  Regardless, Mark had us climb up a small hill (the “bunny hill” as I have since learned) and ski down.  We practiced skiing straight, slowing down, and turning.  This was all fine and dandy.  The hard part was getting up that hill!  Imagine your feet are in casts that go up mid-calf and those casts are attached to 6-foot sticks.  You can’t straighten your legs because it will hurt your ankles so you are in a permanent semi-squat. Then someone tells you to walk up a hill at an angle using a side shuffle situation. If you don’t keep your immobilized feet perfectly parallel, you will slide back down the mountain.  Now do that for two hours.  That is ski school.

 

Me and the Bestie skiing on El Colorado in Chile

Me and the Bestie skiing on El Colorado in Chile

Our rigorous practice finally ended and we were let loose on the slopes.  The trail was 1050 meters (3150 feet) long and was an absolute blast!  I totally crashed into someone on my way down.  Apparently my legs were exhausted and I could not slow down to save my life.  My victim was really sweet and gave me some tips to control my speed better.  I didn’t quite learn and wound up falling a few more times whenever I felt I was going too fast and couldn’t figure out how to stop.  Mark the Swissman had to come rescue me each and every time.  I figure it was his fault for wearing me out and not giving me poles so I didn’t feel particularly guilty.  We took the ski lift up to the top of the slope (thank God) and I went for another go on the trail.  This time, only one fall!  And I even stopped by myself.  I was so proud.  Thank you, Mark.  You weren’t so bad after all.

 

My ever-so graceful self

My ever-so graceful self

After our award-winning performance on the slopes, we were pretty pooped and just took a minute to enjoy the sights.  The view from the slopes was breathtaking.  We were surrounded by snow-capped mountains resting in perfect peace.  We were above the clouds that hang over Santiago and it was pretty incredible to face how small we are when put against nature.  I loved the clean air of the mountains and brightness that surrounded us.  Perfect.

 

Trying my hand at this whole skiing thing

Trying my hand at this whole skiing thing

Our drivers said they would pick us up at 5 pm at the ski school and, being the overachievers that we tend to be, decided we would figure out for ourselves how to get the rental equipment back to its rightful owners.  Now, we were half asleep when we picked up the rental equipment, which was not in the same place as the ski school.  After a ride on the tram and aimless walking for 30 minutes, we conceded that it was a slight possibility we may not know where we rented the equipment.  So, we ate.  There was a restaurant at the resort that offered a heaping serving of french fries along with a view of what looked like the X Games on snow.  There was some kind of snowboarding and skiing competition going on and we serendipitously had front row seats.  The restaurant got crowded very quickly when competitors showed up for the after party.  We hastily finished our food and headed outside to wait for our drivers.  What was supposed to be a 10-minute wait turned out to be almost an hour, with no real explanation or apology.  The drivers ran into “a problem”.  Either way they took us to the equipment rental center which was, of course, the next building over.  We gave back our casts boots and skis and made our way back to Santiago.

 

Our "personalized" ski boots

Our “personalized” ski boots

Getting back took about an hour and a half but to get up and down the mountain required traversing switchbacks…almost the entire way.  There were pretty tight turns throughout the trip and the perfect spark for motion sickness. One of our passengers became pretty ill and struggled the whole way back.  After multiple drop-offs, we made it to our apartment around 8:30 pm.  My legs were sore for another two days.  I’m so glad I made myself run some stairs in the weeks before because I’m not sure hamstrings are naturally built for skiing.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the mountain was that it was probably the first place I have visited in Chile where foreigners were the norm.  I definitely felt more a part of the crowd rather than the strange sore thumb.  The diversity was refreshing and welcoming. All things considered, skiing was an absolute adventure and I am so glad I had the opportunity to ski in Chile!

Perfectly Peruvian Pastimes

Oh, Peru.  I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this trip.  I could probably write one post for each day of this trip; but alas, I will spare the Internet and do my best to consolidate my ramblings.  This was a rather spontaneous trip – well, as spontaneous as it gets for me.  My dear friend lived and worked in Peru for three years and planned an excellent trip to go back and visit.  She invited me along (and by invited me I mean she told me she was going and I bought a plane ticket) to see her former home.  In ten days, we hit desert, jungle, mountains and desert again.  Before this trip, I could hardly place Peru on a map much less try to visit the country.  The trip was absolutely fantastic and convinced me that I needed to live in another country immediately.

 
 

A volunteer and I taking a break from the day's work in Ica.

A volunteer and I taking a break from the day’s work in Ica.

We started off our trip in Lima, Peru, where we all met up and proceeded to our first hostel.  We took a five-hour bus ride from Lima to Ica, a rural area in southwest Peru.  There we met with my friend’s former host family who was kind enough to host us during our time in Ica.  We were treated to a large guest room and delicious hot food each day, including fried eggs in the morning and new fruits.  While in Ica, we had the opportunity to help with a latrine-building project in nearby Santiago.  We spent one morning shuttling bricks and cutting re-bars.  The women in the village fed us rice and beans made in an outdoor oven.  They were so kind and hospitable.

 
 

The sun setting over a sand dune in Huacachina.

The sun setting over a sand dune in Huacachina.

After our quick workday, we headed to Huacachina where we went sandboarding!  This was so much fun I could barely handle it.  Hucachina is an extremely sandy city surrounding a beautiful oasis.  Professional drivers took us in dunebuggies that held about ten people.  Our driver loved hitting every high dune and going down at steep angles.  It was great.  We were able to sandboard a few times and watch the sun set over the dunes.  Pictures could never do it justice, it was so beautiful and peaceful.  Minus the falling on the sandboards – this was before selfie sticks so action shots, sorry. We capped the night with some pisco sours (more on that later) sitting by the oasis.

 
 

Nasca Lines in Peru.

Nasca Lines in Peru.

The ladder staircase we had to climb to get the best view of the Nasca Lines.

The ladder staircase we had to climb to get the best view of the Nasca Lines.

The next day we took a short trip (1.5 hours by bus) to see the Nasca Lines. These hieroglyphic lines have been in the desert sand for thousands of years with no definitive reason as to why or how they got there.  There are twelve different “drawings” and often appear on calendars or other Peruvian crafts.  A very precarious ladder-type staircase takes you up three stories to get the full view.  They had painted the staircase just before we arrived so we left with red hands.  There were a few merchants at the bottom of the staircase selling various crafts and souvenirs.

 
 

One of the bird islands in Islas Ballestas near Paracas.

One of the bird islands in Islas Ballestas near Paracas.

We spent some time with our family for the week before heading out to Paracas, a coastal town about an hour to the west of Ica.  I think I could live in Paracas.  It was a beautiful city with tons of shopping and food options.  The town is known to host mostly backpackers and my friend/tour guide found us a fabulous hostel.  We took a two hour tour of Islas Ballestas, a group of islands completely covered by pelicans, blue-footed boobies, penguins, sea lions, and crabs.  It was amazing.  Everywhere you turn there was an animal of some kind pleasantly co-existing with other species.  Some truly fantastic sites.  We proceeded to have a wonderful lunch of extra fresh ceviche and other delectable seafood.

 
 

Birds, birds, and more birds on one of the Islas Ballestas.

Birds, birds, and more birds on one of the Islas Ballestas.

After visiting Paracas, I didn’t think there was much left to see on this trip.  Oh, how wrong I was.  It was just getting good.  We left Paracas to go back to Lima for a very short night.  The next morning included an 8 am flight to Iquitos, a city in northeast Peru that sits on the Amazon River.  This is how you know how much I trust my friend: we took a three hour flight to Iquitos then hopped in a tiny canoe and rode about an hour on winding tributaries to our jungle lodge in the middle of the Amazon – and I didn’t ask questions.  My blind trust and my friend’s excellent planning skills absolutely paid off, because this was definitely a highlight of the trip.  On the way to the Cumaceba Lodge, we spotted pink dolphins – and that was just the beginning.  The lodge had limited electricity and no air conditioning.  There were no hot showers, although that came as a bit of relief after being in the heat and humidity.  On our first night, guides took us on a canoe to search for caimans (similar to a crocodile).  Now, I am the last person to go looking for animals that are birthed from the dinosaur era; however, it was really nice to be on the water at night.  You could hear every bird and creature in the rainforest and yet it was somehow very peaceful in the pitch blackness.  I don’t think I paid attention to the caiman-finding techniques because I never quite got my eyes on one.  Pro tip: look for orange eyes.

 
 

Pachito the monkey and I at the Pacaya-samira National Reserve near the Amazon River.

Pachito the monkey and I at the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve near the Amazon River.

On the second day of our jungle adventure, everyone got up at 6 am to go bird watching.  The night noises kept me up all night so I didn’t quite make it to that adventure.  I did make it to the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve, which was home to many animals that had been rescued.  We played with a lovely cappuccino monkey named Pachito, as well as a toucan and blue macaws (extremely contraindicated by the doctor who gave me my vaccinations but hey, I live on the edge).

 
 

The kids in the Amazon village loved my poncho!

The kids in the Amazon village loved my poncho!

We headed back to the lodge on our trusty canoe and stopped by a nearby village.  The canoe captain gave us the opportunity to jump in the water, which was apparently good luck.  One of us was brave enough to take a dive – that one was not me.  We got off the canoe and talked with some of the village residents.  These three girls became particularly interested in my poncho a.k.a. jungle dress.  We played hide and seek before being summoned back to the canoe.

 
 

Lovely sights of nature on our jungle hikes.

Lovely sights of nature on our jungle hikes.

Later that afternoon, we took a hike through the jungle to meet a indigenous tribe.  The guides showed us tons of natural remedies from the plants and trees in the jungle, including using termites as mosquito repellent.  Who knew!  After walking for about an hour, we reached the village. They showed us a typical dance and even let us shoot a five-foot blow dart.  We were told to barter with the tribe for crafts and souvenirs; however, my 20 travel size Bath and Body Works soaps and t-shirts and hats earned me one bracelet.  It was an interesting experience where we introduced to a different culture.

 
 

Working together to make sugar cane juice - the natural way.

Working together to make sugar cane juice – the natural way.

Suri: worm larvae that is a common treat in the region of Peru that falls within the Amazon.

Suri: worm larvae that is a common treat in the region of Peru that falls within the Amazon.

Our day ended with a wholesome dinner provided by the lodge and relaxation on the hammocks.  The next day we went out for another jungle hike where we got to see a sloth in its natural habitat.  We made it to a different small village where we tried our hand at making sugar cane juice.  It took two people to wring out the juice but it was mighty tasty!  We also saw some artisanal tools for making rice and other local foods. The main delicacy in this area was suri, or larvae from the cocotero worm that lives in special palm trees commonly found in the Amazon.  Many restaurants serve suri roasted but they were very alive during our introduction the area.  While this dish did not make its way to my taste buds, I was able to buy some natural honey from the village and it was some of the best honey I have ever had.

 
 

I caught my first prianha!

I caught my first piranha!

The rest of our day included one of my favorite activities from this trip: fishing for piranha. This sounded so scary at first and then it just turned into a perfectly ridiculous afternoon.  First, we were given “fishing poles”, a.k.a. a tree branch with fishing line tied on and a hook on the end.  Then, we were given small pieces of meat as bait.  Finally, we were told to stick our pole in the water, splash it around and wait.  Of course I thought I would be reeling in a 20 pound piranha at any moment.  After 30 minutes, my big kahuna still had not come. Fish would come nibble at the meat and swim away unhooked.  Just as I was about to give up, I felt a tug!  I carefully “reeled” in my line and there it was: my first piranha!  He was hooked right in the eyeball.  This beast weighed in at about half a pound and had nearly ten teeth.  It was fierce.  After a harrowing fight, my guide let the little guy off the hook and threw him back in the water.  Exhilarating experience.  Our crew caught a total of maybe five little guys before we ended our adventure.  Now that I have clearly perfected this craft, I’m sure I will get the river monster next time.

 
 

One of the quotes at El Parque del Amor in Lima

One of the quotes at El Parque del Amor in Lima

Unfortunately, our time on the Amazon had to end.  The next day we took a canoe back to Iquitos where we stayed for the night.  After a quick flight to Lima, we took a stroll around the city and saw the beautiful coastline of the capital.  Folks were parasailing and someone had a magnificent marriage proposal.  We happened upon El Parque del Amor, a popular gathering place for couples that had quotes about love all around the benches and seating areas.

 
 

Fun pyramid fountain at Parque de la Reserva

Fun pyramid fountain at Parque de la Reserva

Our final adventure in Peru was at Lima’s Circuito Magico del Agua (Magic Water Circuit) in Reserva Park.  The park had tons of fantastic fountains outfitted with various lights and water sequences.  The grand finale was a water show with a movie projected onto 30 foot waves of water.  The movie included images of Peru’s traditional dance, the marinera, along with flags, celebrities, music and other images showing the pride of the country.  It was absolutely beautiful to see all the ways they could make something as simple as water into something so magnificent.  Simply amazing.

Somewhere along the way, we found ourselves at a pisco distillery in Ica.  I cannot supply pictures here because it was a private residence.  If you have ever tried homemade pisco, you probably have some hair on your chest.  It is intense!  Our distillery owner had six or seven types of pisco and two experimental wines, and we were obliged to try them all.  Thank goodness we were not driving.  Pisco is a strong alcohol made from grapes.  The pisco sour is a very popular Peruvian drink made with pisco, whipped egg whites, lemon juice, and simple syrup.  So refreshing!

These were my adventures in Peru organized by an absolutely brilliant friend and planner!  Therefore, I have no idea how to find these things or recreate this trip.  I hope this helps point you in the right direction if you ever find yourself in Peru – which you should!  No visa required 🙂 (as of the date of this post)

Minnesota: Days 24-25

Mi-knee-soo-tta!  What a lovely state.  They didn’t come up with the slogan “Minnesota Nice” from no where.  People are actually really nice there!  On my way to Minnesota, I was feeling really sad about leaving my ice cream back in Ohio; however, I have great friends who didn’t let me miss out on more ice cream!

Day 24

View from above looking over Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

View from above looking over Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

I got in to MSP around midnight where I was met with a small baggage issue in which the airline lost the cover of my hiking bag, the same cover that made it through several states and two continents but okay.  After hassling with the baggage folks for a while, I finally found my friend and we made it back to her place by 2 am.  We blinked our eyes and got up at 7 am to make the 2.5 hour drive to Duluth in northern Minnesota.  There we watched our dear friend and her crew run Grandma’s Marathon.  She finished just under her goal of four hours yayy!  We met up with the group where we were invited to a lovely lunch at the home of the parents of one of the gals in our friend’s college crew.  It was so sweet and nice getting to know all of these people – I still don’t know how they stayed upright after that race but I appreciated their hospitality!

Enger's Tower in Duluth, Minnesota.

Enger Tower in Duluth, Minnesota.

Our gracious hosts suggested we check out Enger Tower to see a little bit of Duluth history.  What a nice spot!  The tower goes up about five stories where we were able to get a bird’s eye view of the city.  It is a nice lookout, although it was difficult to see much because of the fog.  We walked around the accompanying garden and sat and talked for a while.  Such a beautiful afternoon.  There was Japanese garden near the tower as well – apparently Duluth is a sister city to a city in Japan and they have great amount of influence on one another.  We found a gong there so naturally we had to ring it.

This was the gong in the Japanese garden near Enger's Tower

This was the gong in the Japanese garden near Enger’s Tower

After Enger Tower, we headed back to Canal Park in downtown Duluth to grab some snacks.  These included delicious Chicago dogs and…drum roll please…ice cream!!  I tried rum cherry ice cream which was everything and then some.  Simply amazing.

Grandma's ice cream at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota.

Grandma’s ice cream at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota (yes, this is from Snapchat, don’t judge).

All of our goodies came from Grandma’s.  Pretty much everything in Canal Park is owned by this ubiquitous Grandma.  And it is all great!  As we were wrapping up our treats, the aerial lift bridge began to go up.  A huge freighter was coming through and the whole town came out to see it.  The whole bottom half of the bridge lifts up to allow the ship to pass underneath it.  It is an engineering marvel really.

Barge going under Aerial Lift Bridge at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota

Barge going under Aerial Lift Bridge at Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota

I felt so incredibly accomplished after watching the freighter go under the bridge; of all the times to be in Duluth, Minnesota, I happened to be there at the exact right time!  Mission accomplished.  After being amazed, we headed back to our host’s home where we were surprised with news that homemade coconut curry shrimp was on the menu for dinner.  Of course we had to stay.  One delightful dinner and eight ice cream options later, my friend and I had to shuffle out to make it back to her home in St. Paul.  It was an absolutely great way to spend the day and I was so sad to leave!

Day 25

New high speed rail line in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

New high speed rail line in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Leaving Duluth around 10 pm and having a 7 am flight made for another short night.  My very kind, patient friend woke up at 5:30 am on a Sunday (bless your soul!) to get me to the high speed rail that I would take to the airport.  Being from a family of engineers, I found this to be pretty neat.  It took me right into the airport where I caught my flight in plenty of time to surprise my dad for Father’s Day.  I was originally supposed to get home the next day but Southwest heard my father’s desires and dropped the prices on flights so I could make it home.  It was perfect.

And just like that, the Great Western Adventure was over!  It was an awesome experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.  There are some real gems in these United States and I’m glad I caught a small glimpse while connecting with people I love along the way.

Ohio: Days 20-23

What state is round on two ends and high in the middle? That’s right, Ohio!  After an extremely long day/night in the airport with a redeye flight, I finally made it to the Buckeye State.  I had an awesome friend guide who showed me all the gems of Ohio…especially the ice cream!  If there is a way to ship ice cream from Ohio, PLEASE let me know.

Day 20

Oregon District in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

Oregon District in downtown Dayton, Ohio.

I immediately crashed in a bed upon my arrival to Dayton on that early morning.  After my much-needed super nap, we headed downtown for some delicious food.  Of course it was dinner time by the time I revived myself, so we grabbed an some yummy Thai Nine.  After burgers and eggs for the past two weeks, I had never been so happy to see Thai food.  From there, we headed to the Oregon District, a nice area of downtown with boutiques and restaurants lining the street.  We stumbled upon a used book store that was absolutely awesome.  This place was packed with books from all walks of life and at a great price.  My friend and I could have spent the rest of the night.  But we had more important things to accomplish: we needed ice cream.

Graeter's, the ice cream shop in Dayton with the BEST chocolate chips.

Graeter’s, the ice cream shop in Dayton with the BEST chocolate chips.

We bought a few books and headed to Graeter’s ice cream shop.  Graeter’s is known for its chocolate chips and I immediately learned why.  I got a raspberry chocolate chip situation that was divine.  It had chocolate chips that were the size of dimes and they were made of actual, genuine, perfect chocolate.  Well worth the trip!  After indulging our sweet tooth we headed back to my friend’s house and had an early night.

Day 21

The only picture I took on this day was a half-full martini we grabbed at a happy hour that was a severe disappointment.  So disappointing that I felt posting it would only bring back it’s power to destroy other martinis.  How did we end up with these horrible martinis?  We tried to be cool.  I slept in while my friend went to work and when she got home, we decided to go watch Spy with Melissa McCarthy.  The movie was hilarious and inspired us to be exciting people.  How to invoke excitement you ask?  Find $5 martinis at the local bar!  Big mistake.  We didn’t even finish them.

After our deep sadness and defeat, we had to salvage the evening by getting ice cream.  We headed to Ritter’s for yet another magical ice cream experience.  Ritter’s actually had frozen custard, of which I’ve never been a huge fan.  Ritter’s swiftly changed my mind.  I could eat that every day and be happy with life.

We wrapped up the night as any respectable person should, with Red Box.

Day 22

No pics from today because we went shopping!!  We trekked over to the Cincinnati Outlet Mall to buy all of the pretty things.  We did some serious damage at Banana Republic and Nine West getting things we didn’t need but absolutely had to have.  What a great time.  We made it back to Dayton in time for me to try the Italian Chipotle-style restaurant, Piada.  Their salads are pretty darn good.  My friend had planned a great cookout for that evening but rain and others’ schedules led to three of us having burgers and lemonade while hanging out.  It was really nice and of course, we capped the evening with another Red Box.  No ice cream today but Piada made it alllllright.

Day 23

Cheese Curds from Yeung's Dairy in Dayton, Ohio.

Cheese Curds from Young’s Farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

We got up and headed down to Young’s Jersey Farm for home grown burgers and cheese curds.  Yes, cheese curds.  As a non-Midwesterner, this did not necessary sound appetizing to me.  However, I must say I was convinced.  They taste almost like small mozzarella sticks without greasy breading and much better cheese.  At the farm, they had a whole video showing the process of making cheese and cheese curds.  All in all the food was tasty.  We wrapped up our meal with – you guessed it – ice cream.  The must have had 30 flavors of ice cream and 29 of them I had never heard of or tried.  We both had apple dumplings a la mode.  I wanted something a little different so I tried mine with sweet potato ice cream. Delicious!  We walked around a bit and checked out the cows on the farm.

After Young’s we went to the Air Force Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.  The museum has a total of three hangars (and a fourth under construction) with the full history of the Air Force, beginning with the Wright brothers’ work in Dayton and North Carolina.  Part of the base is actually located on their land which was interesting to learn.  We made it through about one quarter of one hangar before leaving – it was huge.  There were models of the first planes along with the history of the first Black military pilot, Eugene Jacques Bullard.  Bullard was born in Georgia in the 1890s and was able to escape to Europe and grew to be a prizefighting boxer and nightclub owner.  He then became an accomplished combat pilot for France in World War I; he tried to join the United States Army Air Service (as it was called then) but was rejected because he was Black.  His story was remarkable; the museum had a case of about 30 different awards Bullard received during his career as a combat pilot.

After leaving the museum, we journeyed back home to finish up leftover brownies and other assorted desserts (no ice cream).   I parted with my dear friend at the airport where I hopped on the flight for the next stop: Minnesota!

Arizona: Days 16-19

This must have been my 25th trip to Arizona in my lifetime and I discovered some new corners of The Grand Canyon State.  Being a swamp girl, I’ve always been highly skeptical of the desert life; however, Arizona successfully convinced me of its beauty and charm on this trip.  This must be what my parents have been trying to show me this whole time…

Day 16

View within the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.

View within the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.

Views within the Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ.

We got up early and had a smorgasbord of tacos and eggs for breakfast – explained in previous post – and headed to Page, Arizona to check out Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.  The drive was about 2 hours and 15 minutes from Duck Creek Village in Utah.  Antelope Canyon is on the Navajo reservation and visitors are required to book a tour to enter the canyons.  We took Ken’s Tours in the Lower Antelope Canyon and had an excellent tour guide by the name of Cody.  To get into the canyon, you climb down about five flights of stairs and wind through narrow passages.  Cody helped us take cool pictures like the ones above and told us some of the history of the canyon.  He also showed us distinct features of the canyon and they were formed.  The tour was only about an hour but so interesting and beautiful.  I would go again in a heartbeat!

Me sitting on the edge looking over Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ.

Me sitting on the edge looking over Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ.

After checking out the majestic Antelope Canyon, we took the quick ten-minute drive to Horseshoe Bend.  From the parking lot, we walked about three-quarters of a mile to get to the lookout at Horseshoe Bend.  It was an amazing canyon with blue-green water at the bottom and people were even camping down there.  It was quite a sight.  Such a sight that I got my Beyoncé on and starting posing.  A lot.  I had a blast!  Not sure how my friend/photographer felt 15 poses later (hehe <3).

We left Horseshoe Bend and drove about two hours to Munds Park where we stayed for the remainder of our time in Arizona.  We had a sweet cabin fully stocked with food thanks to some overambitious grocery shoppers in our group.

Day 17

The view from close to two miles down into the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

The view from close to two miles down into the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

We got up at a somewhat decent time to take the hour-long drive to the Grand Canyon.  It was packed.  We had to park near the market at Parking Lot B and take a shuttle down to Bright Angel Trail.  This was a really nice trail that took us down into the canyon.  Two of us split from the group and did the only appropriate thing to do in the Grand Canyon: have a photo shoot.  There are soooo many more pictures floating in my cloud from this trip.  But those shall be reserved for scrapbooks and family parties.  Us two photogenic hikers made it about 1.75 miles down the trail before we found the spot pictured above and sat for a while to take it all in.  The rest of the group headed down almost three miles before making the trek back up.  OMG going up was HARD.  For every five minutes you spent going down, it took nearly ten minutes to go back up.  Definitely something to consider when deciding how far down into the canyon you want to go.  Make sure you can get out!

California Condor spotted at Grand Canyon in Arizona.

California Condor spotted at Grand Canyon in Arizona.

On our steep incline out of the Bright Angel Trail, we were treated with a California Condor sighting.  California Condors can get up to 26 pounds and boast a wingspan 9-10 feet, the largest of all North American birds.  A kind couple shared that there are only 200 of these birds left in the world and we were blessed enough to see one on this trip.  Just another sign this was the right place to be at the right time.  We headed back to our glampsite and had delicious fish tacos for dinner, in honor of the condor of course…

Day 18

Making it across Devil's Bridge in Sedona, AZ.

Making it across Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, AZ.

One of our breakfast aficionados finally figured out how to make a delicious breakfast for everyone by this day – we were so proud!  We headed out to Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Arizona, which is only nine miles away but took an hour to reach because there is no direct route between Munds Park and Sedona.  After that exciting discovery, we hiked only about an hour to the Bridge – about 1.8 miles roundtrip.  The Bridge trail starts at 4,600 feet elevation and you climb another 400 feet up to get to the Bridge.  The heat combined with my general out-of-shapeness made this a bit uncomfortable for me but definitely worth the hike for the views.  The picture above is from the peak.

After our hike we dropped off one of our comrades at a nearby hotel to take the shuttle back to Phoenix.  We then headed back to our cabin for a very intense game of Jenga and even more intense Game of Thrones Season 5 Finale.  I think it’s fair to say we are still recovering from that episode.

Day 19

What a doozy you were, Day 19.  We got up nice and early to wash dishes, lock up the house and drive about two hours to Phoenix from where all our flights left.  The Costco enthusiasts of the group had to stop by the Phoenix Costco and somehow found a slab of bone-in lamb.  With the temperature being around 115 degrees that day, we probably could have cooked it on the sidewalk.  Instead we opted for Chik-fil-a and drove to the airport to drop off the car and sadly, part ways.  My flight was a full 9 hours later than everyone else’s so I had a lovely time hanging out in the airport by myself. Alone. No one there. Not even workers.  But it was worth it to make it to Ohio by 10:30 am the next day!