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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.

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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!

Utah: Days 11-16

Oh, Utah.  The wonders I did not know you possessed, you desert state you.  Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Just the drive alone would have been enough for me but then you overturned rocks and blew wind through mountains to create some breathtaking scenery.  Our first night in your presence was at Arches National Park where stars lit the sky much prettier than any street lamp I’ve ever seen – and boy, have I seen street lamps.  It was so magical we had to go back to the park the next day.  And so began our Utah adventure with its ubiquitous beauty.

Day 12

DSCN0748

Me climbing an insanely high rock on the way to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

We started off this day by heading back to Arches National Park to try our hand at the Double-O Arch trail.  This trail seemed easy enough: 1.2 miles, people of all ages trekking up and down without breaking a sweat.  So tell me why it took us 3 hours to reach the Double-O Arch?  No, I’ll tell you why.  This trail was very flat and easy to navigate for the first three-quarters of a mile.  We were taking it all in, enjoying our brand new Camelbaks and posing for cute pictures.  Then, the trail went UP.  Just straight up.  No warning, no side trail for beginners/people who don’t do up, no other option.  This being the first trail of the trip, I could NOT stop here and chicken out.  So what did I do?  I went up!  We climbed a strip of rocks on our hands and knees (just like the pros of course) and made it to the top of the rock pictured above.  100% worth it.  Scary.  But worth it.

View from the trail to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

View from the trail to Double-O Arch, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

Our harrowing climb to top continued as we walked the plank (a narrow strip of rocks) to the rest of the trail.  Most of the time, I was looking down, concentrating on not stepping too far to the right or the left and falling to my graceful demise.  When I felt confident enough to stop and look up, I was blessed with views like the one above.  This is why Utah is great.

The Double-O Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

The Double-O Arch at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

Finally, we made it to the Double-O Arch, the big kahuna.  Once you walk through the lower arch and see the other side, you will understand life and all its glory.  It was a very lovely place to sit and think (or hop on FaceTime if you are like me and need to show someone the magical scenery).  After making it here, part of the group headed down to a different trail that spurs off of Double-O Arch.  It had devil in the name and I wasn’t too keen on walking with the devil during my first hike.  It took us about 2 hours to make it back down the trail with a slight detour since we were going rogue without a map.

We grabbed a delicious lunch at Moab Brewery, complete with tasty gelato.  We got on the road and took the four-hour drive to Duck Creek Village Lodge where we stayed for the remainder of our time in Utah.  The road was riddled with deer.  At least four tried to make our acquaintance; thankfully, we had a skillful driver in the group who got us to the lodge safely.

Day 13

On this day we found the only cave with a waterfall in Utah and went spelunking!  Just kidding. Half of us were so wiped out from the day before that we stayed in and worked all day/watched Game of Thrones. We ran to grocery store – closest one was 45 minutes away in Cedar City.  The other half of the group caught a sweet deal in Escalante Park and went sand boarding for the day.  We reunited over a spaghetti dinner.

Day 14

See that orange dot? That's me. Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

See that orange dot? That’s me. Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

Ahh today.  Today started with the world’s most complicated breakfast.  Let two single men loose in a kitchen and see the chaos that ensues.  We entrusted these two men with cooking the most important meal of the day for seven people.  25 eggs, 14 pancakes, and 16 pieces of sausage later and we had the breakfast of…well… we had breakfast.  We took the hour and a half drive to Zion National Park where half the group did Angels Landing (no thank you) and the other half of us took the safe route of Emerald Pools.

View from the pool, Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

View from the pool, Upper Emerald Pool, Zion National Park, UT.

There is a river before getting to the Emerald Pool trails and there are Lower and Upper Pools.  The Lower Pools are a very short hike and feature some beautiful waterfalls and greenery.  We took the hour hike to the Upper Emerald Pool where we climbed rocks and took pictures.  It was beautiful.  You can’t swim in this pool; however, the river at the entrance had plenty of bathers.  We hiked back down the trail to grab food at the Brew Pub located in the park.  Delicious pretzel sticks!  The other half of the group finished Angel’s Landing in about five hours, just in time to meet us and grab dinner for themselves.

Day 15

We ended up really finding that cave for spelunking!  Ok, clearly I like this joke for days where we did nothing.  We were supposed to check out The Narrows at Zion but flash flood warnings prevented us from being great.  We ended up watching more Game of Thrones (had to catch up before the season finale!) and cooked most of what was in the refrigerator, which included every last egg in Utah, burgers, and tacos.  Some of us worked, one of us ran off to see Jurassic World.  All in all a great day.  We even got to meet our AirBnB host Mike – great guy!

Day 16

Sigh, our last day in Utah.  We woke up early for a taco and eggs breakfast but still had to throw out food, unfortunately.  We ended up leaving Duck Creek Village at 8 am to make the two-hour drive to Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.  I have more on it in my next post!

Taos, New Mexico: Days 6-11

After a very early morning leaving Seattle, I landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Four beautiful women joined me in Albuquerque and we started our journey through the Land of Enchantment.  Here are some of the places we checked out!

Day 6

After arriving in Albuquerque, we hopped in our Chrysler Town and Country (aka Bessie) and headed to Taos.  We took the scenic route by stopping in El Sanctuario de Chimayo.  This spot was simply precious.  It is a small church that was built over a hole where a crucifix was found hundreds of years ago.  The crucifix was from Central America and every time the crucifix was taken out of the hole it mysteriously returned there.  The dirt surrounding the crucifix appeared to have healing powers for those who rubbed it on themselves. Very spiritual place but no pics sorry!

We left Chimayo and headed to Taos which is about 3 hours North of Albuquerque.  We stayed in a beautiful home right near Red Willow Farm where we would be volunteering for the week.  We had a quick dinner at Taos Ale House and rested up for the early morning ahead.

Day 7

One of the greenhouses at Red Willow Farm in Taos

One of the greenhouses at Red Willow Farm in Taos

This was the first day volunteering at Red Willow Farm.  We got there at 8 am and met the awesome assistant managers, Mayana and Zion.  We helped replant cucumbers and swiss chard for most of the morning.  Suddenly, I was a gardener and could plant anything!  I am definitely inspired to start an herb garden in my home.

View from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

View from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

After grabbing lunch at a local tamale shop, we went to the bridge that goes across the Rio Grande Gorge.  The Gorge was incredible and the bridge was terrifyingly high.  We grabbed a couple of goodies from the vendors that sell items next to the bridge.

Red River on the Enchanted Loop in Taos

Red River on the Enchanted Loop in Taos

One of the vendors told us about the Enchanted Circle so we decided to take it!  It was about an hour an 15 minute drive around the Carson National Forest and Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  The scene was breathtaking.  There were so many different colors and sights along the way.  We found a spot to stop at the Red River.  We hopped out of the car and just walked around for a bit to stretch our legs.

After the Enchanted Circle, we made a quick grocery run and made tacos for dinner to wrap up the night.

Day 8

My friend digging irrigation lanes for the corn on the farm

My friend digging irrigation lanes for the corn on the farm

We went back to the farm where we started helping to plant corn at a nearby school.  This was a doozy.  We were clearing irrigation lanes so that water could go through where the corn seeds would be planted.  This was a whole new level of manual labor I hadn’t quite experienced yet.  We were shoveling dirt and rocks and it was hot.  But we made it through because we are strong!  We also got to plant some of the seeds.  I loved that the seeds were prayed over and they taught us to say something kind when we put them in the ground.

Mud bath at Ojo Caliente Spa

Mud bath at Ojo Caliente Spa

After leaving the farm, we grabbed a quick lunch at home and went to Ojo Caliente, a hot springs spa about an hour away from Taos.  Each hot spring at the spa had a different healing property; for example, the Arsenic Pool was purported to be good for arthritis and digestive issues.  We hopped in a few before heading to the mud bath, the real highlight of the spa.  There was a spot to put on mud and let it cake on.  It felt like a full body exfoliant!  Awesome feeling.  The worst part were the stares we got.  A group of five black women walking through a spa is apparently an anomaly in Ojo Caliente.  Everyone looked at us as though we were monkeys at a zoo. Incredibly uncomfortable.  Beautiful place but in no rush to go back.

We left the springs and grabbed delicious pizza from Taos Outback Pizza.  We watched the game and had a chill night in.

Day 9

We went back to the farm to continue digging irrigation lanes for the blue corn.  The parent volunteer opened the ditch that allowed the water to flow through the lanes with corn in them – that was the most rewarding part of the farming!  We got to see our babies get watered and see how our work on the lanes really helped.  It was great.  Nerdy but great.  We took pictures with our coworkers for the week and said our goodbyes.

In front of one of the homes at Taos Pueblo

In front of one of the homes at Taos Pueblo (photo credit: WCM)

We headed out to lunch at Michael’s Kitchen after farming and got some delicious chili burgers.  On the suggestion of just about everyone we met, we headed to Taos Pueblo, the traditional neighborhood where the Taos tribe originally lived and still have homes.  All of Taos was amazing but the tour of the Pueblo was an especially rewarding experience.  Our tour guide Elliot was a college student who shared with us so much about his culture and his people.  Absolutely amazing.  The Pueblo is full of adobe homes that the whole community comes together to build and maintain.  There was also a river through the Pueblo that residents are able to drink from because of how well they care for the it.  We were able to shop a bit and take some photos before heading out.  Then we grabbed some ice cream from Taos Cow which was delish!!

Day 10

On our last day in Taos, we left our beautiful home for the week and visited the Earthship Museum, located in the world’s largest community of earthships with 75 homes.  Earthships are fully sustainable homes that are built using recyclable materials and use rain water/snow for drinking water and plumbing.  The museum was a bit disappointing since there was only one earthship we could see but the concept was interesting.

River at the end of the gorge on the way to Santa Fe

River at the end of the gorge on the way to Santa Fe

After leaving the museum, we tried to get to Santa Fe and somehow ended up driving down a gorge at a petrifying angle.  We had to stop and say a prayer before making it down the gorge.  By the grace of God, we made it and found a beautiful spot with water where some folks were rafting.  We then drove to Santa Fe to meet up with my friend and have lunch downtown.  We ended up with more stares from Santa Feans, which seemed to be normal at this point.  My friend showed us the historic St. Francis Cathedral that was downtown where there were neat relics and artifacts.  The downtown plaza was beautiful but the atmosphere/stares were a bit too much so we dipped out.

We made our way to Albuquerque where it was…less than easy to find something to do.  My brilliant friends used Tinder to discover that Nob Hill was the place to be so we grabbed some dinner there.  We also checked out The Board Game Library, an awesome cafe where you could also play board games.  After playing for a while we went back to the house.

Day 11

Four Corners Monument where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet

Four Corners Monument where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet

We got up nice and early and headed to the airport to drop off two of the ladies where sadly we had to say goodbye.  The rest of us headed to Moab, Utah with a stop at the Four Corners.  The drive to Four Corners took about 4 hours and another three hours to Moab.  At the Four Corners, we had to wait in line for at least 45 minutes before actually making it to the monument.  Once we got there we were able to be in four states at once!

Navajo frybread at the Four Corners

Navajo frybread at the Four Corners

We were able to try some Navajo frybread which was absolutely yummy!  It tasted like an elephant ear…but better. After the Four Corners, we were so hungry and of course there was so food for miles and miles.  After about an hour of stomach growls and angry yelling, we found a gas station that had a restaurant with delicious tacos.  Still not sure if they were actually delicious or if we were just insanely hungry. Either way it did the trick!

Milky Way over Delicate Arch at Arches National Park (photo credit: James Brandon)

Milky Way over Delicate Arch at Arches National Park (photo credit: James Brandon)

We drove another hour and a half to Moab, Utah where we checked into our hotel and took naps.  We got up when the next part of the group came in so we could go for a night hike through the Delicate Arch trail in Arches National Park.  We left around 10:30 pm; the trail was only about an hour each way and we could see every star in the sky.  Unfortunately, we could not figure out our cameras well enough to capture any photos but it was absolutely breathtaking.  There happened to be a photographer out there at the same time who snapped some amazing shots – we saw him as he was taking the photo above (Instagram: jamesdbrandon).  It was pretty great seeing the stars out in the desert so clearly.  Amazing.

Seattle, Washington: Days 1-6

Beautiful Red Cedar in Mount Rainer near Seattle, Washington.

Beautiful Red Cedar in Mount Rainer near Seattle, Washington.

I started off my journey through the Great American West in Seattle, Washington.  Because I am super cool and live on the edge when I travel, I went with my Mom.  It is one of her favorite cities after all so she was the perfect companion to tour this cool corner of America.  Here is a breakdown of the spots we hit!

Day 1

We arrived in Seattle pretty late and headed to Green Lake, a neighborhood in Northeast Seattle.  We had some nice pizza at a restaurant right by the park.  The area was gorgeous and had plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance.  We checked out a market in the area as well to grab breakfast food.

Day 2

Some of the fish offered at Pike's Place Market in downtown Seattle.

Some of the fish at Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle.

Well this day started out very non blog worthy – Mom and I worked most of the day because well… that’s just how we operate.  We finally took a break late that afternoon to check out Pike’s Place, the iconic market in downtown Seattle.  First we checked out The Soundview Cafe, a fabulous restaurant overlooking the Puget Sound.  I had a delicious BBQ salmon sandwich and my mom had some fabulous prawns.  We headed to the farmer’s market at Pike’s Place where we had some AMAZING smoked salmon that we were able to buy to take back home.  If you go to Pike’s Place, please get that salmon!!  We ended up walking through the market which was full of huge, fresh fruit and interesting dried fruits.  Due to my severe obsession with chocolate-fruit combinations, Mom and I picked up some chocolate covered cherries which were divine!

View of Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.

View of Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.

After Pike Place, we headed to Kerry Park, an awesome spot for viewing the Seattle skyline.  It is a small overlook but has some great views.  Kerry Park is located in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood which has some gorgeous houses where Mom and I pretended we lived for the day.  The neighborhood had a nice garden in it that mesmerized us.  Fish, chocolate, cherries, skylines, and gardens – a great day!

Day 3

Lake at Mount Rainier near Seattle

Lake at Mount Rainier near Seattle

Mom and I got up and tried to take a drive out to Olympic Park until we realized that it was FOUR hour drive away.  After that slight deterrence, we decided to head to Mount Rainier, which took us oh…four and a half hours to get to our trail.  But that was our fault.  We decided to take the scenic route and jump out for pictures every five minutes since it was so beautiful!  The drive really should have been only two hours.  Along the way we stopped by the lake above.

Reflection Pool at Mount Rainier

Reflection Pool at Mount Rainier

Thanks to some the world of internet reviews, we decided to take the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in the Ohanapecosh area of the park.  The trail was only about a mile and a half and had some of the largest red cedar trees in the state.  It also had a creek running through the trail that a cable bridge where only one person could pass at a time.  Adventure!  Definitely a great trail that was easy to walk with plenty of sights along the way.  Some trees had to be more than 30 feet tall and just as wide.  We tried to act cool – failed miserably.

Red Cedar tree on the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier Park

Red Cedar tree on the Grove of Patriarchs Trail in Mount Rainier Park

After our indulgence in nature we headed to a burger joint in downtown Seattle and grabbed some ice cream.  Delicious of course because, well… all food in Seattle is delicious.

Day 4

Underground city tour of Seattle.

Underground city tour of Seattle.

We started off the day by going down under!  Well down under Seattle.  There’s an entire tour of underground Seattle.  I won’t spoil the tour since I don’t work for the company who runs it but basically the whole city was built up to make the streets more level and reduce the hill grade.  There are still viable walkways under the current streets where we walked through and heard about the extremely amusing history of Seattle.  Great tour!

After checking out the underground city, we headed to Bainbridge Island.  We took the ferry which was a beautiful 40-minute ride across the Puget Sound.  We ate at Harbour on the Marina – great restaurant.  We had mussels and the Salmon Asian Bowl, all of it absolutely delicious.  We tried to take the Water View Trail that follows the island to get back to the ferry but we got tragically lost.  After much trial and error, we made it back to the ferry and headed to Green Lake for some Chinese food.

Day 5

My visit to the Space Needle

My visit to the Space Needle

On our final full day in Seattle, we had to visit the most important site in the city: the Space Needle!  Of course this was the only day where it rained and was under 70 degrees.  Go up a few hundred feet in the air and it feels like small pieces of ice are trying to make you less than great.  But we were not defeated!  We made it to the top and got some fantastic views of the city.  Definitely worth the harrowing weather we battled to make it up there.

Space Needle

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View from the top of the Space Needle

Day 6

We had an unnaturally early morning (got up at 3 am) to make it to the airport and leave this gem of a city.  I got on a 6 am flight for Albuquerque and Mom got on one for home.  On to Part 2 of the Great Western Adventure!