travel

A Where-I’ve-Been Globe

where i've been globe

In my office, there’s a “free shelf” where people can leave and take items. The other day, I found the best thing ever: an inflatable cloth globe covered with outlines of all the countries. I immediately took it back to my desk.

Apparently, it’s a Seedling Color the Earth ball meant for kids. I decided to make it my “Where I’ve Been” globe, so I colored in the countries I’ve visited—and was immediately humbled.

I have a lot of the world to see.

All of Africa and Antarctica are untouched. I’ve only been to a few countries in Europe—and not particularly huge ones, either (Iceland, the U.K., Norway and Denmark). Asia is pretty blank, save for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Australia and most of Central America are pink. But I only have two countries blocked out in South America. And yes, it’s also kind of sad that I’ve never been across the border to Canada—not even to “bullshit Canada,” i.e. right by the Niagara Falls, even for a few minutes, as Peter asked me.

I know I’m lucky to have visited the places I’ve been to. But seeing how many more I’ve yet to experience just makes me want to pack my bag and head out on more trips.

Are you going anywhere exciting, soon? I could use some inspiration!

(And I did have a good time at the Grand Canyon, earlier this week. Photos and highlights to come!)

Off to the Grand Canyon!

grand canyon

 

Happy Friday! I’m still feeling a tad under the weather, but definitely not bad enough to ruin my vacation. Tonight, Mal, Peter and I are flying out to Phoenix and then driving to the Grand Canyon on Saturday. (And meeting up with Peter’s brother along the way—nothing like sibling weekend trips!) Once we’re there, we’re hoping to get a few good hikes in.

Every single person I’ve spoken to in the past week has already been to the Grand Canyon and says that it’s just amazing. It’s taken me nearly 30 years to make it there, but I’m excited to see it for myself. And if you have any tips to share, please let me know!

Have a wonderful weekend!

(Photo viaВ Grand Canyon NPS’ Flickr)

It Wouldn’t Be a Vacation If…

…I didn’t get sick before or during it.

I don’t know why, because I’m generally a healthy, active person, but I have a wonderful track record of that—I think I’ve had a bad cold, stomach bug, food poison or seasickness on more trips than not.

Earlier this year, I spent my last two days in Panama in bed with a bad cold. A few years earlier, I hiked a volcano in Nicaragua while recovering from an awful head cold. (And felt like I was going to die—when Mal and I finally finished the 9-hour trek, I cried for about 15 minutes straight because my body ached so much. I also missed an amazing sunset, while doing so, apparently.) I’ve gotten seasick everywhere from Colombia to the Great Barrier Reef. And I’ve kicked off many vacations while battling a cold of some sort.В (It’s actually amazing that I made it to and fromВ GuatemalaВ unscathed!)

In keeping with that theme, Mal, Peter and I are flying to theВ Grand CanyonВ tomorrow. And both Mal and I have been sick for the past few days. Somehow we both have sore throats and the headaches and fatigue that go along with them. I’ve been trying to rest up and fight it in hopes that it’ll be gone by the time our flight leaves tomorrow night.

And if not, I just tell myself that a rocky start to a vacation only means the trip can be better from there, right?

(Also: Tips for how doctors stay healthy on vacation, from a story I wrote a few years ago. I should follow their advice better, huh? ;))

(Image via Ed Nacional)

How Do You Beat The Post-Vacation Blues?

While it might seem superfluous that I’m taking another (short) trip right after returning from one, it couldn’t have come at a better time, for me. Booking next weekend’s Grand Canyon jaunt really lifted my spirits—because since I came back from Guatemala, I’ve been battling a bit of post-vacation blues!

Usually, I always feel a little thrill when my flight lands in NYC—as if the city, itself, is welcoming me back. But I didn’t feel that way at all last week. I just wanted to be back in Guatemala.

Over the course of a few days, I realized why I was feeling so down about coming back home, to the city I love so dearly:

  • I just wanted to stay in Guatemala longer. I felt like I was learning a lot of Spanish and wanted to keep progressing. I’m wired to be a little intense. I’m a do-something-all-the-way-or-else-don’t-do-it-at-all girl, so it was hard for me to leave right when I felt I was getting into the Spanish groove.
  • I had aВ wonderful summerВ (my favorite season!) and it was a little jarring to return home to fall.
  • This has been a year of big changes, and I’ve been tackling different projects and goals over the past several months. But when I got back, it seemed like the ones that I have yet to address were staring me down—and that overwhelmed me!

So while booking another trip might seem like a band-aid solution (kind of like jumping into a new relationship to get over an old one), it’s also helped me get my bearings. I have a hard time getting motivated unless there’s a goal or reward in sight. And for me, travel is the best motivator. Just knowing I have a trip coming up helps me focus and tick off my to-do lists. Little things help, too. Now that my fall calendar is filling up with friend and family plans, ballet events, more Spanish lessons and weekend trips, I’ve felt my post-vacation blues slipping away.

Do you ever get post-vacation blues, too? How do you cope with them?

(Photo via The American Legacy via Bippity Boppity Boo)

Fall Trip, Booked: The Grand Canyon!

the grand canyon

Okay, I know I just got back from GuatemalaВ and should have no business going away anytime soon. But this evening, I booked another trip. For next weekend. Mal, Peter and I are going to the Grand Canyon!

Somehow, none of us have ever been and we decided it was time to rectify that. We won’t have a lot of time there—just four days by the South Rim—so we likely won’t make it to the bottom. (Also, mule rides are out of the question. I’m horribly allergic to horses…which I found out the hard way on an 8th grade field trip to a dude ranch.) But we’re hoping to get in a few good treks—and lots of great photos!

If you have any tips about where to hike, what to see/do/eat, please let me know. We’re flying in and out of Phoenix. Also, I feel like it’ll be pretty tough to get away from all the touristy stuff, but if you have recommendations on how to do so, I’d love to hear!

(Photo via Grand Canyon NPS)

Final Thoughts on PLQE and Guatemala

Xela, from the roof of PLQE

Xela, from the roof of PLQE

I’m sure it’s obvious, from all my recent posts, that I had an amazing two weeks in Guatemala. I had such a wonderful time that I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to settle in and stay in Xela for another month or two.

If you’re interested in taking a Spanish-learning trip, I couldn’t recommend PLQE more. I learned more Spanish in two weeks there than in my whole life, combined. Sure, I still have a long way to go to achieve proficiency. But before I went, I only knew the present tense and the basic future (ir + a + infinitive). Now, I’ve learned the pretirite and the imperfect, and can actually talk like a real person (well, like a total Spanish newbie)—but at least I don’t have to talk about the past using the present tense! I’ve also found that I can understand much more now than three weeks ago.

And this is going to sound so cheesy, too—cue the sappy music—but the whole time I was at PLQE, I was really inspired by everyone around me: My teachers, who taught me a ton and shared stories about their own hardships. MyВ host family in Xela, who were so warm and welcoming that I felt at home there, even though it was just for one week. My host family at the Mountain School, who always gave me lots to eat, even though they didn’t have much, themselves.

And my fellow students. Like me, most were in their late 20s to late 30s and at transitional points in their lives, between degree programs or careers or relationships (or some combination of those). Each person had an interesting story of why he or she was there. But unlike me, most were staying longer—which I was very envious of!

When I first came to PLQE, I was dreading the graduation ceremony where I’d have to present—in Spanish—something to demonstrate my newfound language prowess. And though I was super-nervous, my presentation went well. I made a list, entitledВ “10 Maneras Para Saber Si Tu Eres Un Estudiante de PLQE”В (“10 Ways to Know If You’re a PLQE Student”) and comprised of inside jokes about the school. Thankfully, people laughed.

PLQE set up for the weekly graduation ceremony

PLQE set up for the weekly graduation ceremony

Everyone else’s presentations impressed me—their talents were so diverse! One woman salsa danced (really well, I might add), one guy freestyled in Spanish and English, another performed a dramatic monologue. Others told jokes, read poems or played the guitar. Admittedly, I spend so much time in my ballet/writing world, that I’m always awed and very appreciative when I see other peoples’ passions on display—especially when they’re in a language they just learned!

Carlos, PLQE's director, giving out diplomas

Carlos, PLQE’s director, giving out diplomas

I’m not a spontaneous person, but I booked this trip on a whim. I didn’t research any other schools and only did a quick Google search on Xela to make sure the city hadn’t been hit by some natural disaster before buying my ticket. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It was really one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever taken.

One Night (Was Enough) in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

I spent my last night in Guatemala in Antigua. My flight back to the U.S. was at 1 p.m. the following day and I didn’t want to make the 4 hour bus ride from Xela the same morning. (Antigua is just 45 minutes from the airport.) Plus, I was departing during Independence Day weekend, and every single Guatemalan I spoke to told me to get out of Xela as early as possible to avoid getting caught up in all the parades. And I figured I might as well see one more place in Guatemala.

So early on Saturday morning, two PLQE friends, Viradeth and Laurie, and I took a shuttle to Antigua. The ride went smoothly and we passed many small Independence Day parades in towns along the mountain roads. We also caught a glimpse of Lake Atitlan which, unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit this trip.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

Although I’d planned to spend my last night in Antigua for a while, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be too crazy about the place. I’d heard that it wasn’t the best place to learn Spanish because there are so many gringos and everyone speaks English.

My hunch proved correct.

“Tourist trap” is the best way to describe the place. Sure, it’s gorgeous. It’s way prettier than Xela, with beautiful, historic buildings and cobblestone streets flanked by volcanoes. It’s the quintessential colonial town that exists in every Latin American country, the one that guidebooks always dub “the crown jewel” of the place.

Santa Catalina Arch

Arco de Santa Catalina

But because of its beauty, tourists flock there and the city caters to them. Antigua has tons of shops, cafes and restaurants, but nothing seems authentically Guatemalan. It kind of feels like Disney.

We had a Guatemalan lunch of rice, beans and tortillas at a nearby restaurant whose name I can’t remember (and couldn’t find online). The food was plentiful and delicious, but I’d been so spoiled with great homemade Guatemalan food from my host moms, that it didn’t quite stack up—especially the tortillas!

Afterwards, we walked around snapping requisite photos of old churches and buildings. The streets were so crowded with tourists that I just couldn’t get into it, though. I don’t think Viradeth and Laurie could, either. After about an hour, Viradeth went back to the hostal to take a nap and Laurie left to wander on her own.

Catedral de San JosГ©

Catedral de San JosГ©

La Merced Church

La Merced Church

My friends from PLQE, Jenny and Kathy, had told me that when they were in Antigua, they spent an afternoon at Hotel Antigua‘s pool. (For $10, anyone can purchase a day pass.) That seemed like a much more appealing option, so I spent an hour there chillaxing and watching the clouds move across a nearby volcano.

hotel antigua

Avoiding the touristy streets by spending an hour at Hotel Antigua’s pool

In the evening, Viradeth and I went on a quest to find a restaurant that served Guatemalan food and didn’t resemble Applebee’s. (We figured we HAD to have local cuisine for our last meal in the country!) But it took a long time. We walked up and down nearly every street. Finally, we settled on La Fonda de la Calle Real, which is right in the heart of tourist central, but the only Guatemalan place we came across. The food was actually really good, especially the pepian y pollo.

And then, since it was our last night in the country, we hit up a few touristy bars. In true gringo style.

Our hostel, La Sin Ventura, was actually one of my favorite parts of Antigua. It was a block away from Parque Central and single rooms were just $18/night. Mine was spotlessly clean, with a double bed and private bathroom that had hot water and good pressure—a luxury I hadn’t experienced in two weeks. It was definitely the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at. We did find out why it was so cheap, though: at night, the bar downstairs is hopping and you can hear people in the hallways.

la sin ventura

My room at La Sin Ventura Hostel

The next morning, I was ready to leave Antigua, but not Guatemala. Two weeks was just not enough time there.