A Perfect Day To Paint

Hey y'all!

After months of design and planning, my buddies at BannanBlasko are starting on another beautiful mural for a local University in dowtown Spartanburg, SC. And I get to help! 

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[Start]

Public Art has been a side passion of mine for a while now. 

I was on detail duty. 

This is our fourth project together. Seriously, these guys are so great to work with.

I'm so grateful to get away from the computer for a bit and spend time painting and socializing in the sunshine.

The weather was perfection; a pleasant temperature and cloudy skies. And scaffolding shade is always nice! But don't get me wrong - I still got plenty sweaty.

We spent seven hours today start to finish. We got a lot done, but there's still lots left to do! 

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[Finish]

Enjoy the journey!

Rocky Mountain Wedding Retreat (300 Words)

Colorado is my favorite of our 50 United States, so I was beyond thrilled when my friend Bianca (and her fiancé Chris of course) decided to have her wedding there. 

The venue was amazing; a retreat called Wild Basin Lodge that was hidden so deep in the Rocky Mountains that there was no cell reception. I shared a room with Michelle and Mary and we slept with the door open all night, enjoying the cool night breeze and the sounds of the water rushing in the river below. The balcony was perfect for my morning yoga sessions set to the soundtrack of nature. 

Instead of buying a stereotypical wedding knickknack, I prefer to offer my time and talents as a gift instead. I was happy that B felt the same way and did my best to beautify some handmade wedding signage. 

It was a lovely, little ceremony surrounded by only a few dozen close friends and family and tall, alpine trees. What followed was your typical dinner, dancing, mingling and desserts; but the fun, casual kind that included a s'mores bar, giant Jenga, Cornhole (aka Sack Toss) and polaroid pictures with props. 

The next day, Mary and I went hiking in the Wild Basin Natural park because that's what you do in the Colorado mountains in the summertime. The temperature was tolerable amongst the shaded trees but didn't block all of the scorching sun. Eventually we took a break to dip our toes in the water. Mary is far more acclimated than me so I had to take turns dipping my feet in then thawing out my toe-cicles. 

I had such a wonderful week(ish) out west and wish nothing but the best for the newlyweds! 

Saigon/HCMC, Vietnam

I arrived via the airport in the biggest city in Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, traditionally known - and still widely referred to today - as Saigon. I took a cab to my hostel in the heart of the backpacker district on Bui Vien street located in District 1. 

Saigon has about twice as many districts as Panem in the Hunger Games. The city has 24 total: 7 named urban districts, 7 numbered districts and 5 outer, suburban districts. And each had its own kind of identity. Districts 1 and 3 are in the heart of the city where most of the action is. I later stayed at a friend's place in District 2 which is a short ride from the city and packed with ex-pats who want to live in a quieter area. 

And once I visited the 250 km Cu Chi tunnel network in a village about and hour and a half outside the city, I was like "OMG there's even an underground "district" strategically used to win a war - just like District 13 in the book!" FUN FACT: Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins' father actually did serve in Vietnam so my theory is totally plausible! 

 Cu Chi tunnels

Cu Chi tunnels

Despite the infamous war ending exactly 40 years ago, there are reminders of it everywhere and the tourism industry thrives off of it. Much of the art in the Museum was obviously influenced by it. The War Remnants Museum is a must-visit and it was incredible to see the war from the Vietnamese perspective. There were some pretty graphic pictures and stories and also some pretty staggering statistics pertaining to the death and destruction that took place here. My favorite display was the collection of anti-war protest and vietnamese propaganda posters from around the world - some great graphic design pieces there. It seems humanity just can't learn from it's mistakes because there is still so much unnecessary war and violence today. Oh, and despite being American, never did I feel like I was resented for my nationality. I encountered so many people that were just genuinely nice and hospitable. 

 http://www.vnpropaganda.com/

http://www.vnpropaganda.com/

The most prominent of these awesome people was Tat. So here's how that connection happened: A girl from America (me) meets another girl from London at a meditation retreat in Thailand who's brother was best friends with this guy from Vietnam who also lived and studied in the UK. And Kevin Bacon probably fits in there somewhere too. She introduced us on Facebook and I ended up staying in his otherwise vacant apartment for a few days which I totally appreciated beyond words. Even though I would do the same if the situation were reversed, and I did host several friends and family at my homes in Florida over the years, I have trouble accepting others' sincere generosity like I don't deserve it or something. 

Anyways, every Tuesday, Tat buys pizza for the local orphanage and organizes fun, engaging projects for them. I helped distribute the culinary treat, topped with cheese, shredded shrimp and quail egg, to about 40 orphans ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers. Then he led a project instructing the kids how to make multi-colored origami stars which only about half the kids that started had the attention span to actually finish. I made two and gave mine away to the littler ones. I practiced a bit of English with some of the older ones and the smaller ones just wanted attention and often tried to climb me like a tree. Kids just want to be cared for and about no matter what country they're from so I'm glad I could make even the most minuscule impact on their lives. 

I serendipitously met another really cool dude from Nepal at a Vegan restaurant near my hostel. His name is Sramdip and he's a tattoo/street artist as well as fellow vegetarian so we were fast friends. He showed me around the two main street art areas in Saigon. 

The second was a food and music venue called Saigon Outcast which ended up being only about 5 km away from Tat's place in D2. I ended up changing my flight so that I could attend at least the first day of a two day Melting Pot music + arts festival taking place here over the weekend. My favorite of the musical performers was Suboi, a pretty cool and widely-known female Vietnamese rapper. I definitely had to do something artsy/cultural that week because I was missing my own beloved Art Basel back  home in Miami for the first time in several years. 

Anyways, Sramdip (@sramdip on instagram) and another artist Kris alias Frenemy (@frenemylife) from Austin, Texas did some impressive live painting during the event and the air was perfumed with the familiar smell of spray paint fumes. I also met Jimmy, an ambassador for Lovebot (@lovebottherobot), a street art group based out of Toronto that wants to spread love and kindness across the globe. 

I also saw Dennis - alias My German Stalker (lol) - again as this is city number three in which our paths have crossed. We had a drink and caught up at a rooftop bar which overlooked the park, which was packed with people and pop-up venues so we decided to check it out. We took the lift down to street level then explored what turned out to be the Taste of the World Festival, where they had neon-lit kiddie rides, food and drinks from a few other countries and a main stage with a variety of performances from trick bar tending to fire twirling to salsa dancing. 

I spent one day touring the Mekong Delta well outside of the city. I was pretty disappointed not to see a "lively" floating market as promised but the boat and bike rides around the river were ok. I'm glad I got to experience it, but it's mostly just muddy water that seems to flow forever in all directions. 

Altogether I spent a full week in Saigon and miraculously managed not to be trampled by any of the herds of wild scooters roaming the city streets. It's really not a pedestrian-friendly city so I ended up using cabs and Uber (no tuk-tuks here) for the majority of my transportation needs. 

The Harvest Collection

Every other day a group of volunteers is rounded up to go harvest banana trees that we feed to the elephants. So how do you make harvesting banana trees fun? Turn it into a photoshoot! The fashion catalog is fake but the blood, sweat and tears is real! 

Bentota and/or Aluthgama, Sri Lanka

Since we only work in the morning on Fridays, three other girls and I decided to spend the afternoon in another town called Bentota. We piled into a tuk tuk and headed north. We weren’t 100% sure where the town was or what it looked like but our driver dropped us off on the side of the road between the beach and some buildings a few kilometers after we passed a sign that said Bentota on it. Some locals directed us west toward the ‘city center’ so we walked in that direction, and soon realized we were being followed. An older gentleman in a sarong, button down shirt and flip-flops offered to take us to the temple, which he said was just down the road. 

We were very cautious and hesitant. I thought about it as we walked and decided he was either going to murder us in the woods, or actually take us to the temple and ask for a tip afterwards. We gambled on the latter, and after walking about 30 minutes through the jungle, we did, indeed arrive at a temple, which may or may not be the Galapatha Raja Maha Vihare Buddhist temple. (I couldn’t find anything identifying it in English at the site so I Googled it later.) I could tell the structure was very old but the interior was immaculately maintained and boasted beautiful tile, several colorful murals from floor to ceiling and a ginormous Sleeping Buddha statue with intricately patterned & painted feet. Of course at the end of our tour, we were asked to leave a donation for the temple so we each put 100 rupees through the slot in the wooden box that is intended for that purpose. 

 Jungle Temple Entrance

Jungle Temple Entrance

 Inside the Temple

Inside the Temple

After that, our guide (who never actually shared his name) led us to the lagoon, where we boarded a traditional flat canoe-type boat which he and one other man rowed for us with long, thin, wooden paddles. We asked the cost up front and he quoted us $1,000 rupees each (about $7.50 USD) which seemed a little steep, but we were kind of a captive audience because we didn’t know how else to get to the city. It ended up being a pretty nice ride that lasted close to an hour. We paddled around mangroves and along the shore of the lagoon, where I noticed the nicest houses I’ve seen yet in Sri Lanka. Our guide told us that many Europeans live here, so that explains the more lavish residences. We saw some snakes and some monitor lizards along the way before being dropped off at a vacant marketplace, which comes alive on Mondays only. 

 Simple boats

Simple boats

We paid for the lagoon cruise and walked into what we assumed to be the city center since the street was lined with shops and the streets were full of people and various vehicles. This is where we and our guide parted ways, after he asked for a tip as I had expected. We gave him close to $1,000 rupees total, confident that he also got a cut of fee for the ‘cruise’ for which he had recruited us. He thanked us and claimed to have three children, for which he was going buy for for with said compensation. Who knows if this was true or not, but even though we got a bit taken advantage of as somewhat naive tourists, I think both parties benefitted from the "impromptour." We got see some sights that we had no idea were there and he made some money. Plus, it was super sustainable since we walked the whole time and the boat was people-powered. 

 Row, row, row your boat

Row, row, row your boat

We were the only tourists around so everyone was hollering at us to come into their shops. We browsed a few before starting a new mission to find food. Another, younger local that looked to be around our age approached us and promised to take us to the best restaurant in town. We figured ‘what the heck’ and made sure to check the menu before deciding to actually eat at the restaurant, which had a pretty nice view overlooking the river. One girl has seafood and the rest of us reveled in the simple yet satisfying familiarity of our sandwiches and fries. 

 The closest thing to a sunset I've been able to capture because clouds!!! 

The closest thing to a sunset I've been able to capture because clouds!!! 

We decided to save some money and take a train back to the beach house but had some trouble finding the station. It was getting dark and we gave up on hoofing it finally just found a tuk tuk to take us to the station for about 100 rupee. Turns out, we had missed our turn and walked too far. The train ticket was only $50 rupees each and I am very impressed with their thick, letterpress-style tickets! We were a bit confused, though, because we were at the Aluthgama station, when we were supposed to be in Bentota. When the train finally arrived about half an hour later, the first station we passed was Bentota, so we hypothesized that our driver had intentionally driven us too far in order to benefit his buddy that took us on our tour - but we can’t confirm this theory. 

 Letterpress-ish train ticket 

Letterpress-ish train ticket 

We got back to the house in time for dinner then went out for ice cream downtown before calling it a night. 

Kandy, Sri Lanka (Cultural Orientation)

I’ve had lots of great experiences but limited internet so this is going to be a long one! (But there are also lots of pictures!) 

ARRIVAL

I arrived at Colombo airport in Sri Lanka mid-morning on Sunday. I knew I would need cash for pretty much everything so I tried to use about three different ATMs, all of which denied me money and displayed messages saying that my card was ineligible or reported lost.stolen. After connecting with my Green Lion volunteer group, I used the free airport wifi to skype my bank, but was cut off mid-call due to the shoddy internet signal. (I actually ended up having to borrow money from a new friend until I could sort things out with my bank four days later. But I was thankful this was the worst I had to deal with because another girl was without her entire suitcase for several days due to the fault of the airline, so a lot of us pitched in toiletries and clothes for her to borrow until it arrived after several days. Travelers are the best!) 

Five of us and our luggage were piled into a van for the three hour journey to Kandy in the mountains. This ride started out a bit terrifying because although there are only two lanes painted on the road, there can be up to 5 or 6 lanes of busses, trucks, cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks. Our driver was swerving all over the road and honking erratically, not unlike everyone else. After the first dozen or so near-misses, we relaxed and listened to Abba’s greatest hits. Which was blaring out of the speakers for nearly the entire trip. 

We surprisingly arrived all in one piece and after removing our shoes at the door of course, were sent to our respective rooms. I was the last of six to arrive in my room, which was tucked away in the corner of the third floor. 

ACCOMMODATION

 Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

I ended up really disliking my room, mostly because it was too small for the six bunks (three sets of two) that occupied it. Three German girls had been there for several weeks and their stuff was everywhere. Then what little space was left was taken by and English girl and Dutch girl who arrived just a bit earlier than me. I had to lean my rucksack against someone else’s bed frame and there was literally no more room on the floor so I had to keep my backpack my top bunk with me, which occupied a significant portion of my already tiny sleeping space. The mattresses were ultra thin and I could always feel the metal bars of the bunk frame beneath it. The pillow felt like I was sleeping on a soggy sack of flour and we were each given two thin, tattered bed sheets which never stayed tucked in. I always slept on top of them both because it was still too warm at night for any kind of coverings. 

My bed was against the wall and under the single oscillating fan which blew directly over my bed so I didn’t really benefit from it’s cooling effect. Of course there was no air conditioning so we often kept the window open at night, which consequently let in mosquitos and the stench of cigarette smoke. The bathroom was tiny and I was grateful for a flushing toilet, but the space was wide open so whenever anyone took a shower, everything inside got wet. We did have hot water sometimes, but I actually crave cold showers after accumulating a layer of dust and sweat everyday. I saw several other rooms with ceiling fans and a bit more space so I know every room wasn’t exactly like mind. There were only two outlets so it was a battle to get your phone charged. I was pretty proud of how I was able to Macgyer my converter to be able to power the fan, my phone and at least one other device. We were also allotted two hours of slowish internet per night, which I really appreciate considered there is no internet provided at my new house in Ambalangoda. But, it was tolerable for a week, and the food and the new friends I’ve met helped to make up for it. 

OBSERVATIONS

Honestly, before I arrived, the only two things I knew about Sri Lanka were that it’s an island located off the southeast corner of India and it’s where M.I.A. was born. Now I know the majority of the people are Buddhist (there are statues and temples everywhere) and there was a civil war in the north between the Singhalese and the Tamil Tigers that really only ended recently in 2009. In general, the men tend to be skinny and the women tend to be thicker and curvier. They wear a mix of traditional dress and western-style attire, with traditional being shirts and long sarongs for the men, midriff-baring saris for the women and sandals or flip flops for both. Everyone’s been pretty friendly so far and the kids get especially excited and always shout “Hello! Hello!” when they see foreigners. There are also stray dogs and garbage all over the streets. 

ORIENTATION

Our cultural orientation started on Monday with some history and language lessons where we were taught a few phrases in Singhalese. Ayu Bowan is a common greeting and means I wish you a long life. You can also use this as a farewell phrase (kinda like Aloha means hello and goodbye.) We also learned some basic conversation starters: Mage Nama Miranda. Mage Rate United States, and pleasantries: Karunakarala means please and Isthuthi means thank you. The written Singhalese language is very lovely-looking but I can’t even begin to read a word of it. 

We rode a public bus around Kandy and ended up thoroughly enjoying a showcase of traditional Sri Lankan dance, costumes and performances. It opened with the blowing of the conch shell and drumming, which is a traditional welcome. This was followed by the Pooja dance, the Panteru Natum, the Cobra dance, the Mask dance and few others. The most impressive for me personally was the duo of plate spinners who balanced like 7 ceramic discs each and then the two guys at the end who ate fire and walked across hot coals that were then set on fire and walked across again. 

Tuesday was very touristy but informative. We visited a local Ayervedic (natural healing) spice garden where they grew and processed medicinal plants like aloe vera, cinnamon and ginger followed by a visit to the Kadugannawa Tea Factory Centre Garden where we had a tour and enjoyed a cup of Ceylon tea. Fun Fact: Sri Lanka is the second largest exporter of tea after India. Our last stop was Premadasa Gems & Jewelry where we watched a short video about traditional mining in Sri Lanka and then they attempted to sell us all kinds of shiny, sparkly things. This was pretty much the pattern all day: give the tourists a quick tour then encourage them to buy a bunch of stuff. Fun Fact: There are 28 different gems and precious stones found in Sri Lanka; almost everything except diamonds, rubies and emeralds. 

Wednesday we split into groups and had traditional cooking lessons in the homes of some very talented local ladies. Cooking is huge here, and women can typically spend half of each day just cooking. I got to assist in the kitchen and use a coconut grinder to help make our pumpkin curry, banana flower “slaw”, fried papadils (which ended up kind of like puffy potato chips) and rice. We even ate the traditional way with our right hands, sans utensils. Everything was so fresh and flavorful. This was my favorite meal in Kandy by far.

Later that day, we visited a Buddhist temple and chatted with a nun with a shaved head and everything who was originally from England but had come to this temple after converting in Burma. She had an open dialogue with us about Buddhism, answered several questions and misconceptions and then led us in a short meditation. That was really interesting because she had a unique perspective of being able to compare it to the traditional Western lifestyle instead of being born into it, as they are here. Some monks get recruited really young at like 7 or 8 years old. I’ve seen some this young in town and at other temples in the area. 

Thursday we visited the incredibly crowded Temple of the Tooth Relic, which was packed with tourists and devotees alike. Our guides encouraged us to buy flowers for offerings at one of the several carts outside the temple and it only cost 100 rupees (about 75¢ USD) so we obliged. It was more like a palace than a temple with ornate murals and sculptures everywhere. There was a horn player and two drummers at the front and a huge line that wrapped around the inside of the temple to actually see the tooth (of Buddha) so instead we just walked past the outside of the relic room. There were people everywhere offering prayers and fruit and flowers and tourists taking pictures and even groups of children on field trips in their adorable white uniforms and red ribbons. 

After that, we took tuk-tuks, which is kind of like a cross between and motorcycle and a golf cart, up the hill to a wood shop and a batik shop. Again, they gave a quick lecture and then escorted us to their ginormous gift shops in hopes of us buying souvenirs. I finally gave in at the Batik shop and bought a small print of several birds roosting on branches called The Tree of Life. 

 Artisan at the woodworking shop

Artisan at the woodworking shop

 Tree of Life Batik

Tree of Life Batik

It was a pretty short day so a couple other girls and I stayed in town to shop at the local markets. It can be overwhelming if you’re not used to crowded places with everyone promising you the best deal. “Special price for you. Student price. Volunteer price.” I ended up with an awesome pair of printed elephant pants and a matching purple t-shirt that were comfortable enough for traveling and conservative enough for temple visits. 

 The Central Market

The Central Market

Friday was our last official orientation day and we started it with a public bus trip and a steep hike to the Bahirawakanda Temple which housed a giant Buddha statue that overlooked all of Kandy. We took tons of pictures of the statue and the great view of the city below before having tea and being blessed by a young monk who tied white string around each of our right wrists. Apparently you are supposed to make a wish when you receive the string and then when the makeshift bracelet falls off, your wish is supposed to come true.

We then went back down to the city and visited a large Hindu temple where people were praying and offering fruit platters. Once the offering has been blessed, you get a little dot on your forehead and you’re supposed to eat the fruit. I’ve visited several Hindu temples now and they’re always so bright and colorful with intricate carvings. This one even had a bunch of flashing neon images of gods and goddesses that reminded me a bit of a casino. At lunchtime, we headed to Balaji Dosai pure vegetarian restaurant where we all enjoyed a roti-like dish with a couple different curries on the side. Either the spice was toned down for us or I’m finally starting to increase my tolerance! 

That night, a group of about 20 of us packed up and loaded into three vans around 11 PM for a three hour drive to Adam’s Peak (or Sri Pada). The plan was to arrive around 2 AM and then hike to the top in time for sunrise. We figured we’d be able to get some rest on the way there - but boy were we wrong. The driver of my van at least was swerving around the hairpin turns of the mountain road like a maniac and blaring whiny-sounding Sri Lankan music. There were no seat belts and no handles or anything to hold onto inside so we all just kind of tumbled over the top of one another each time we took a hard turn. One girl in the back threw up a few times and another had her head out of the window on the verge of puking, herself. When we finally arrived, it was dark so we all got out our flashlights and started up the dirt and stone-staired trail. It started raining so I put my raincoat on over my backpack and opened my umbrella. A few stray dogs followed us, which was ok and even a bit reassuring until a couple of them started growling and snapping at each other. 

 Sri Pada or Adam's Peak ( More image here ) 

Sri Pada or Adam's Peak (More image here

The rain only got worse and our one large group scattered into several smaller groups. I was struggling with the altitude since I’m used to living at sea level. I also started feeling a slight pain in my knee but I was determined to reach the top. The rain only got worse and flooded the trail. It got colder the higher we climbed. And the nonstop precipitation caused the steeper stone steps towards the top to turn into a gushing waterfall. I could feel my pants stuck to my legs and my feet sloshing around in the water inside my hiking boots. It literally felt like torture in the cold, wet darkness. I pressed on as much as I could until the pain in my knee was unbearable. This happened less than half a kilometer from the top, according to a couple who had already reached the peak and was on their way back down. A friend and I stopped at a police station on the way back down to see if they had any first aid supplies and happened to run into a different group of trekkers. One of them was a girl in her mid-twenties who happened to be training as a humanitarian aid worker and immediately wrapped up my knee and gave me some ibuprofen. The Sri Lankan police were very kind and offered us all hot tea, which was the motivation I needed to start hobbling back down the mountain. The sun came up at some point during the descent but the rain still never fully stopped. I was lucky I only found one leech as most other people were attacked several times. 

Back at the base, the vans and about half of the group were already waiting. Once there were enough people to fill up the first van, it took off and I was the only one left waiting for the rest of the group, who I assumed had reached the top. They returned pretty disappointed because although they went as far as they could, the actual peak was gated and locked since it was off season and they couldn’t even see the sunrise due to all the rain and mist. The ride back was even more miserable because we were all soaking wet and we had to sit idly for over an hour due to a downed powerline in the road. I really wish someone had given us a weather forecast and informed us it was off season before we left, but now I have a story to tell about that hike from hell I did that one time in Sri Lanka.  

Mirambling Muses: Singapore

Well that week pretty much flew by. It was so nice to catch up with my sister and just let my guard down and relax for a bit. We didn't have anything really specific planned beforehand, so I just kind of made things up as I went along. 

The typical Singapore tourist comes here for perpetual shopping trips, fancy hotels and/or cosmetic surgery. Therefore, I didn't notice a ton of backpackers and probably wouldn't have stopped here had my amazing sister not been here with a free place to stay. However, there is a ton of budget-friendly culture, fun and excitement to be had if you know where to look.

Here are my highlights:

Red Dot Design Center

If you're a design geek like me, you have to visit the Red Dot Design Museum. It's a bright red building on the outskirts of Chinatown and it's full of all kinds of innovative and modern design including industrial, product, packaging and concept. There are lots of interactive iPad displays and you can touch and play with everything! There's some neat stuff in the shop as well. I picked up a couple letterpress postcards and seriously considered a recycled vinyl laptop sleeve. Learn more about Red Dot and their international Design Awards here

Chinatown

Of the designated traditional ethnic areas, Chinatown was the most fun. The streets are lined with lanterns small shops selling everything from silk robes to custom cut paper portraits and any & all kinds of Singapore and traditional Chinese souvenirs. And there is also no shortage of meal options. You'll find fresh produce (including the spiky, stinky-foot-smelling fruit, Durian) street food vendors and more traditional restaurants. I'm quite sure I need to start employing a food chaperone that is more familiar with these exotic foods, because I've made some regrettable decisions. The most memorable being a delicious-looking mountain of rainbow snow cone bliss, which turned out to be more like miscellaneous, dessert nachos. The base was beans, mystery jelly and pieces of mangosteen supporting an odd-tasting assortment of flavored ice and then topped with creamed corn. Taste, texture, everything, was just weird. 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must-see with its colorful, ornate decor and literally hundreds of statues and I was quite surprised to see people square dancing (to modern, English pop music, no less) near the Chinatown Complex. 

Gardens by the Bay 

These giant greenhouse gardens are located in the shadow of the huge and hideous (IMO) Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There are actually two Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Jamie and I opted to only do one as we were short on time and didn't want to pay double the cost. The cloud forest was a nice respite from the city summer heat and we walked past the waterfalls, up the ramps, around the top and back down to the educational area. The flora was immaculately maintained and they even used misters to simulate foggy clouds. At the end, there is a dark room full of colorful, projected info graphics that educate you about the environment and it's biggest threats and you end by watching a short doomsday video about climate change where they describe a dying earth over the next hundred years. Then they rewind and give you hope again saying all that can be avoided if we take action today. They're preaching to the choir with regards to me and my sister but I hope it had an impact on everyone else passing through. This time, I didn't mind exiting through the gift shop because they had a bunch of awesome & eco-friendly stuff. I found some beautiful post cards designed by Peranakan Inspirations as well as this awesome little travel backpack that folds up into a small pouch. 

And I can't forget the super trees! They are these hybrid plant/solar structures that stand about 16 stories tall and collect solar energy so they can light up at night so they're self-sustaining. And the look pretty cool too. 

Street Art

I found the biggest concentration of street art in the Malay/Muslim district on Haji Lane. While admiring the incredible colors & designs, I turned the corner and found a group of  girls with American accents doing inversions in front of one of the murals. Turns out, one of them is kind of a big deal and teaches all over Asia but is based in Sinapore. Marysia invited me to one of her classes at Pure Yoga and I enthusiastically accepted her offer. I actually ended up doing two classes in a row the following morning; first a moderate Hatha class followed by a class called Upside Down, which is the hardest class I’ve ever attempted. The main focus was handstands and arm balances. I got a ton of tips from both Marysia and a pretty petite yet bad ass yogi next to me named Sen. The poses seemed almost effortless for her and she had short black hair with blonde streaks and an asian/egyptian pair of eyes tattooed at the base of her neck that stared at me everytime we posed facing the left wall. I was so satisfied with and grateful for the classes and really feel like I made significant progress in my practice. 

 

Public transportation is plentiful and my sister and I took trains, busses, Uber and cabs. My biggest gripe is that stamps and letter boxes are nearly impossible to find here. 

Australian Adventures: Rainforests and Rapids and Leeches, Oh My!

Monday, June 15 /// Ballooning

I woke up around 3 AM to get ready for my first ever hot air balloon ride. I took my backpack containing essentials like my gopro, rain jacket and neck pillow.

The rigmarole of getting there and back took longer than the actual ride itself. When I got picked up in a large can around 4:15 AM, there was already a handful of people on board and we went to another hotel after that to pick up a big group of Chinese tourists. The 45 minute ride was pitch black and we stopped for one last potty break before arriving at the launch site. It was still very dark but you could just barely decipher the outline of the deflated balloon on the ground and the trucks and people surrounding it. 

Admittedly it was a "do it once" kind of activity but now I can say I've experienced it. The captain was super friendly and informative and it was neat to see the sun rise from the same sky it would be rising into. The only drawback was the group of Chinese tourists that were a little too fond of their selfie sticks. 

So how sustainable was this trip? Well sharing one large van definitely uses less fuel than everyone driving there individually so that’s a plus. The balloon runs on liquid propane/butane (or LPG here in Australia). This is a byproduct of processing natural gas and refining oil, which would otherwise be discarded. According to exceptionalenergy.com, LPG is one of the cleanest conventional fuels available. It is non-toxic and has no impact on soil, water and underground aquifers. It also helps to improve the quality of indoor and outdoor air, as it produces substantially less particulate matter and NOX than diesel, oil, wood or coal.

It also releases much fewer carbon emissions than gasoline/petrol. I asked the pilot and he estimated that we used about 120 liters of the stuff during our 30 minute flight. According to ecoscore.com, 1 liter = 16.6 g of CO2/km so that’s 1,992 g/1.9 kg/km total CO2 emissions. A minuscule amount, really. For comparison, a liter of petrol/gasoline is about 24 g/CO2/km so 120 liters burned of that is 2,880g or 2.8 kgCO2/km, about 45% more.  

Obviously, the way to have the least impact is to just travel by foot or bike within a small radius of wherever you are staying, but you have to be realistic. People travel to experience new places and activities they can’t experience at home so it’s good to at least try and make them a bit more aware of the impact they’re having and inform them of better choices that are still stimulating and fun. 

I got back to Calypso around 8:30 AM, took an hour nap, then finished packing up. And the honeymoon was officially over. I checked out of my single room and into a four bed share which was half the cost and more efficient. It was 10 AM and there were two girls occupying the two bottom bunks and their shit looked like it had exploded everywhere else and there was a stale, unpleasant, unwashed-everything smell. I barely had any floor space to walk let alone set my bags down and they had makeup and hair products all over both of the top bunks. I wanted to just grab everything that was in my way and throw it on the floor to physically vent my initial frustration but instead I gathered it up and piled it on top of some other pile of their crap. Never before have I stayed in a shared hostel room that was so disheveled. 

So after making up my top bunk and considering my options, I went back to the front desk and asked if there were any other rooms available. I’m so glad I did because they ended up moving me to the largest four person shared room available. And the people were more welcoming and well-kempt. I moved my sheets and my bag so everyone wins; I get a new room and they get to keep living in their own filth. The only catch was, the desk didn’t have enough keys for it, so they had to have a few more made so I should be able to access my room by the afternoon. (And I did.) 

Tuesday June 17 /// Tully River Rafting

It was another early morning as I got picked up from Calypso at 6:30 AM to start my rafting adventure. The van picked up a few more people then dropped us at the Raging Thunder tour headquarters to check in and fill up the coach bus waiting outside. During these travels, I met and Irish guy named Neil and an Aussie named Aaron who were both in the area to compete in the Half Ironman on Sunday and were getting another adrenaline fix on the Extreme Rafting Tour after a well-earned day of rest. Our tall, lanky host named Tim was great and kept us all well-informed and entertained for the duration of the drive to the Tully River, which is actually a World Heritage site. During the rest stop, I asked Tim if it was too late to switch from the regular rafting trip to the Extreme trip and he said all those boats were full. Oh well, I tried. 

When we got there, I was able to cover my bikinied body in a long sleeved thermal top and attached my gopro to my helmet. I was in boat 2 of 6 in the front, right position along with a skinny Japanese guy front right, a German couple behind us, a Japanese girl and Irish girl in the back and our guide Daz bringing up the rear. 

Daz told us that the rainforest through which we were rafting was the oldest in the world at 110 million years old. No wonder it reminded me of Jurassic Park and more recently, Jurassic World. The fast moving water was also some of the purest and cleanest in the world as there was no industry or farming nearby to taint it. The German guy and I used our hands to take a few gulps and it was incredibly refreshing. 

The first bit of the river was pretty easy to navigate, until we slammed head on into a giant rock and the reverb knocked me off the side of the raft. The current dragged me under the raft and then I dropped slightly under water before coming up for air again. I opened my eyes to see the guide on the nearby safety boat throwing a rope to me,which I grabbed, flipped over onto my back and pulled it over my shoulder like they instructed in the safety video we watched on the bus earlier. The group of American retirees occupying that boat grabbed me and pulled me aboard to safety. I’m sure all this happened in a matter of 5 seconds but it seemed much longer. 

I insisted I was fine, except for a large bump on my right shin that I’m sure would turn into a purple and green bruise later. Daz climbed back along the rocky shore to retrieve me and I climbed back over the rocks to my raft. At some point during the pandemonium, my paddle got loose and floated downstream much farther than I did, so Daz handed me the little Japanese girl’s paddle since I was in front and said we would replace her paddle really soon, which we did after a handful more rapids and catching up with another boat. The group of boats kind of leap frogs for the first few rapids and each one takes turns being first, last and/or on safety duty. 

After several more kilometers, all six boats stopped for lunch, which consisted of buns, burgers (including meatless patties for us veggos) and lots of fixin’s. I piled caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and coleslaw on top of mine along with ketchup (called tomato sauce here). Then Daz handed me a slice of beetroot saying it wasn’t an official Aussie burger without this critical ingredient. It tasted surprisingly good and I relished every bite because I knew I’d need more energy to get through the next 10 kilometers. There was so much lush, virid landscape on either side and every so often, an electric blue butterfly would flutter by. Everyone made it safely to the end of the trip where our bus was waiting for us.

I was so prepared for this trip that I packed everything... except a change of clothes, so I had to sit in my wet shorts and vibrams for the duration of the nearly 2 hour return trip. Along the way, we stopped at a small pub in Feluga, where I met up with my Extreme Rafting friends and another Aussie named Kendall, who was  also a Half Iron finisher. Once back in Cairns, the four of us decided to meet up later for dinner and drinks. We went to the Bavarian Beer House located near the Esplanade. About the only thing on the menu I could eat was a cheesy pasta called Käzespätzle (I have to say I was very pleased with my correct pronunciation of this) and a drink that I dubbed Beerjuice, which was a blend of a Hefeweizen and Mango and Banana juice, because I hate the taste of real beer. Of course I got some flack from the guys both for being vegetarian and for my wimpy beer, but ask me if I care. (I don’t.) 

Skydiving and bungee jumping and really popular here but you definitely get the most adrenaline for your money with this trip. Not to mention, it's incredibly sustainable as long as we take back everything that we brought with us. Along with the glow worm caves in Waitomo, New Zealand, this is one of my favorite travel experiences. 

Wednesday, June 18 /// Tablelands

Today was the last of my three day excursion binge. I took a $99 day trip with a company called On The Wallaby where a tour guide drove a busfull of backpackers around the tropical Tablelands located on the small mountains that rise up and cast a shadow over the coastal areas of Cairns. We made several stops to marvel at natural wonders like the Cathedral Fig Tree (inspiration for the mother tree in Avatar), Lake Barrine, Lake Eacham, the Millaa Millaa Waterfalls, the Dinner Falls and Yungaburra. I met my Canadian counterpart, Devon, on the bus and we hiked together for most of the day. We seriously could have been separated at birth; we both just quit our corporate jobs, love cats, yoga, healthy eating, wine, etc.  

 Cathedral Fig Tree

Cathedral Fig Tree

Anyways, we had the opportunity to swim in the lagoons created by the falls, but after being cold and wet on the bus the day before, I decided I didn’t want to get soaked. Instead I hiked along the rocks piled up behind the falls and got soaked anyways. Lesson learned: you will get wet if you walk under a waterfall. 

I was pleasantly surprised again by lunch, which was a Subway-style assemble your own sandwich station. I geeked out over the reusable plates, cups and containers and our guide Lawrence told us all the vegetables came from local farms. Even the water was in a big cooler, to which we had the option of adding a concentrated, fruity cordial flavor. The only waste was really the plastic bags that the buns came in as all the dishes would get washed later by employees at the On the Wallaby lodge in Yungaburra. 

The only thing that sucked (literally) was the affinity that leeches seemed to for me. I didn’t even know leeches were a thing around here and I can’t remember ever being bitten by one before, ever. I found the first one when I was on the bus and felt something wet inside my shirt near the top of my ribs on the right side. When I lifted it up to investigate, a slimy, black little leech fell off and started squirming on the seat. I, and everyone in my general vicinity, were horrified. I had the leech latch onto a pen then flicked it out an open window. Then there was the bleeding to deal with. It just wouldn’t stop and no one on the bus had bandaids so I help a napkin over the open wound until we reached our next destination. Once arrived, I went into a changing room to strip down and check and didn’t find anymore little bloodsuckers. 

 Millaa Millaa Falls

Millaa Millaa Falls

But then, once on the trails at Dinner Falls, I felt something wet on the inside of my thigh  and I rolled up my right pants leg and flicked off another leech. This one appeared to have made three attempts before deciding to latch on. It left a more sizable wound on my leg that would not stop gushing. I found a secluded area and pulled my pants down completely to be certain there were no more and ended up MacGyvering a makeshift tourniquet out of a make-up remover wipe and an elastic headband that I’d been wearing wrapped around my wrist as a bracelet (I knew those bands would come in handy!) I’m more annoyed than anything that I was such a leech magnet because I was the only one dressed in proper hiking attire: pants, long sleeved shirt and boots (whereas most people were in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops) and I have no idea how they wiggled their way inside my clothes. 

 Volcanic crater

Volcanic crater

It was a lot for one day, so I recommend this trip for backpackers and travelers who are short on time or budget in Cairns. And bonus points for the super sustainable lunch! 

Once back in the city, Devon and I went to our respective hostels and cleaned up before meeting up again. I got a veggo burger and chips and we bought a couple bottles of wine and hung out at her hostel for the night. 

Thursday, June 19

Today I recharged everything, including myself. I charged my computer and all my gopro batteries. After three days of Aussie Adventuring, it was nice to sleep in, spend some time on the interwebs and do laundry. For some reason, it’s incredibly expensive to clean your clothes here as it cost me $10 AUD per load; $4 per wash, $4 per dry and $2 for powdered detergent. 

Later that afternoon I met Devon down at the Esplanade for some sunset yoga. We got a lot of various looks from passersby ranging from admiration to confusion to envy but it’s all good. We had a lot of fun posing for pictures with the sun as it sank down below the horizon before heading to the (mostly Asian) Night Market. If you’re ever in Cairns, the Night Market is not to be missed!

We each got 40 minute Chinese massages for $15 each and they sell a huge variety of jewelry, souvenirs and packaged foods. I bought a really cool tank top designed by a local artist and Devon bought some loose lemon ginger tea. Then we some relatively cheap but yummy Chinese food in the food court before heading back to her hostel to crack open the last bottle of wine. Then I walked back to my home base and finished packing before bed. I seriously cannot think of a more perfect evening. 

Beach Party: Supertramp Style

Today is going into the top five best days of my life. That's because if you read my previous post, The Pursuit Of Passion, you'll know that I cited Devin Graham as one of my inspirations so being able to meet him, let alone be featured in one of his videos today, was literally living out one of my dreams. I've been an avid fan, following his videos since I discovered this one in 2011, and never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.  

 That's A Wrap! 

That's A Wrap! 

I found about this gig via Facebook and Instagram when they advertised a need for extras in their next video sponsored by Sea Doo which was scheduled to be shot in Deerfield Beach, FL. It was unpaid of course but they did promise to provide lunch (which I correctly predicted to be pizza). I and eleven other strangers between 18 and 30 met and had to become fast friends as we were supposed to be portraying a beach party full of besties. 

Around lunchtime, we all gathered around the picnic bench and a particularly precocious extra started asking Devin a ton of questions, sparking kind of a impromptu interview. Devin accurately described himself as an open book and gave us more insight into his own inspirational journey, which included a mission trip to Jamaica, quitting college in Utah less than a year from graduating and moving to Hawaii alone for a year to start making videos he was personally passionate about (as opposed to becoming a puppet for whoever hired him). His nickname Supertramp pays homage to Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) whose Alaskan Adventures inspired the book/movie Into the Wild. And he's just a really, really nice dude. Seriously, I don't think I saw him without a smile the entire day. 

As the most experienced and skilled volleyball player present, they took some super slow motion shots of me diving for and spiking the ball, which I hope make the final cut. I also got to take a spin around the lake on a tube tugged by a Sea Doo with a particularly fit couple, a gopro and a selfie stick, which was all good until we finally all tumbled off the tube at once in a tangled pile of flailing limbs.

Back on the beach, we played cornhole, frisbee and football, and waited around. A lot. But at least we had bright yellow tents to shade us from the sun (and occasional summer showers) and they kept us pretty hydrated. It ended up being almost a 12 hour day for us extras, and I'm sure it was even longer for the crew and the sponsors. I wanted to stay a bit longer and help clean up, but I wanted a sandwich even more so my hunger won out over my altruism. 

 Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past

I also had a serendipitous reunion with an old friend from my Delta Zeta days. I didn't recognize Ashley right away with her crutches, bright pink leg cast and sunglasses but she eventually made the connection and we caught up on the past several years since matriculating from the University of Tampa. I told her about my upcoming trip and she told me about how she got into racing jet skis. Which is pretty awesome, except when you get flung off of it going 70 MPH and fracture your leg, of course. 

So I got to take home a selfie with Supertramp himself, a few bruises and some amazing memories. Can't wait for Team Supertramp to edit and release the final video on YouTube, which should happen mid-late June. :D

2 Girls 1 Camp

Before I arrived, I didn't even know this place existed about 70 miles into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Key West. So glad my friend Michelle invited me along on this mini-adventure. 

DAY ONE
After a couple hours on the most expensive ferry ever, ($190 roundtrip) we arrived at Fort Jefferson which also happens to be a National Park situated smack dab in the middle of nowhere on a group of islands called the Dry Tortugas. Michelle and I immediately retrieved our gear from the dock and set up our tent and umbrella as the shadiest camping spots were already taken and the sun was high and hot. We were provided a picnic table and a pole upon which to hang a trash bag (out of the rats' reach) but everything else we had to bring ourselves. Immediately upon making our first meal of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, we were invaded by a tiny arm of hungry, hungry hermit crabs. (Although technically I guess it's we that are invading their space.) 

We stripped down to our bikinis and slathered on the sunscreen before taking our plunge into the ocean. It started raining and it was the most incredible feeling to be floating in the salty sea below while simultaneously experiencing a fresh shower from above. After the ferry left, along with the hoards of tourists, we didn't hear much except the white noise of nesting birds on the adjacent island and the rustling of the wind in our tents and trees. 

The summertime mini-monsoon came right on schedule around 4 PM that afternoon and I stayed dry and happy in our tent while Michelle was off wandering and got thoroughly soaked. Luckily, it doesn't take long for anything to dry under the Florida sun. We soon decided to start exploring the unfinished pile of bricks also known as Fort Jefferson. The juxtaposition of the dilapidated old structure against the screensaver-worthy clear blue water and white sand beach is pretty jarring. As it was nearing dinner time, we decided to head back to base. I did some sunset yoga in the sand (very exfoliating but I can't say I recommend it) while Michelle chatted up our neighbors Judy & Jeff who happened to catch some Red Snapper earlier that afternoon. She gladly accepted their fishy dinner while I stuck to the vegetarian dinner that I had prepared and brought. We wanted to take the rain fly off that night so we could sleep in the light of the stars, but it continued to sprinkle well into the night. Michelle had a small air mattress, a matching pink sheet set and pillow. By contrast, all I brought was my yoga mat, blue travel neck pillow and a light tropi-colored sarong that functioned as a blanket. Don't need much since it's Florida and still about 80º even at night. 

DAY TWO
I rose with the sun after a lucid and rather stiff night's sleep. Michelle is not a morning person so I left the tent with my yoga mat curled up under my arm to do a sunrise practice on the dock. There weren't many people around so I was largely uninterrupted, except for one Captain Obvious who asked "Yoga?" "Yep" I replied. Like trying to balance in sand, balancing in a rather strong sea breeze is also an added challenge. But, I was still able to complete a few harder poses like crow and headstand. Chavasanah at the end was particularly enjoyable as I listened to the waves lapping against the shore. I returned to camp to find Michelle eating breakfast s'mores with our other neighbors to the east. I opted for the pumpkin breakfast bars I baked earlier in the week and brought, as well as an apple and a banana. 

After satiating ourselves, we grabbed our snorkel gear and headed for the coal shoals - some forgotten wooden structures just off the shore that looked decrepit and unsuitable for any use above the surface (except as perches for seabirds) but were teeming with coral and fish below. We both had issues with leaky masks so I traded in my ill-fitting and bulky snorkel for my trusty triathlon swim goggles and Michelle smeared some toothpaste in her mask to keep it from fogging up. Round two was smoother and much more successful. We got out of the water just as the daily ferry was arriving and wolfed down a lunch of PB&J, popcorn, dried mango and water. We met our newest neighbors - a father-son duo named Mark and Dylan - as they were setting up for their first day of camp. I took a digestive nap in the shade of our umbrella while Michelle soaked up some sun on the beach. 

Later three of us went on a quest to find the elusive coral head, rumored to be just off the west side of the island. We swam out way to far past an anchored catamaran and into a current too swift for our liking, so we started to swim back to shore when we serendipitously stumbled upon the coral treasure we had set out for. It was definitely worth the trip. Our second adventure of the day involved taking kayaks out from the south side of the island seeking a fabled shipwreck with Jeff & Judy  with directions from a park ranger named Tree. I saw a few dark spots scattered across the ocean floor but couldn't tell exactly what it was from the surface so I submerged my gopro a few times and will review the footage later. I'm pretty sure our effort was in vain. (And it was.) 

That night, we all enjoyed dinner in the best camping spot on the island, which I called The Shire, as it was tucked underneath a small grove of trees. Everyone enjoyed various meals but we all indulged in s'mores for dessert, which happen pair very well with pinot grigio, by the way. By the time we were finished, the sky was completely illuminated with stars so we took a stroll around the moat to admire them. We discovered some bioluminescent creatures floating and flashing throughout the moat like a tiny, buoyant paparazzi. The sky was clear so the view was incredible. It's a little sad that this is what the sky is supposed to look like at night but we so often sacrifice it in the name of modern convenience. After a 360º view of the fort and the night sky, we dusted off our sandy feet and crawled into our tents to spend the night. I slept much better despite the wind trying it's hardest to blow us and our tent off the island. 

DAY THREE
Again I woke up at dawn and again I did some yoga on the dock. I have no concept of time with no watch, phone or phone signal so I'd guess I did close to an hour and a half. I brought one of the big, black offroading wheelbarrows with me back to the campsite in preparation for breaking everything down and taking it to the dock where it would be loaded back onto the ferry later that morning. It was a bit sad to break down the tent, but we planned to still make the most of every minute of that day. And every minute also happened to bring us closer to a proper shower back on the mainland so that was our light at the end of the tunnel. Michelle and I explored the top tier of the fort by ourselves before taking a guided tour. We learned more about the brief and completely pointless history of the structure. 

It really was a waste of effort and energy as the only thing that ever attacked the place was a bout of yellow fever (transmitted via mosquitos.) And it's called the dry tortugas because there is no natural source of fresh water on the island, so I don't know who thought it was a good idea to build a fort there and stock it with thousands of soldiers and Civil War prisoners. So many fails, except of course for modern capitalism/tourism. 

After the tour, Michelle and I enjoyed a DIY sandwich buffet, pasta salad, chips, fruit and overly processed chocolate chip cookies on board the boat. She was anxious to get back in the water one more time but I was done being cold and soggy so I scoped out some seats for us and on board the boat for the last hour or so before the scheduled departure time. We both passed out, using our backpacks as pillows during the return voyage. When I woke up, I noticed everyone around me fixated on their smartphones since we were close enough to Key West to pick up a cell signal. 

We packed a lot into three days on a semi-deserted island and I would highly recommend the experience for novice campers. Island life suited me well and I liked not having to worry about status updates, phone calls, appointments or even what time it was. I even set a personal record for going 24 hours without wearing pants in public. LoL

Wedding Season Officially Over

As of this weekend, I've attended three weddings in two months so I declare the season officially over, for me anyways. Yesterday was the long-awaited union of my friends Carol & Ty. (Although I have a personal theory that this wedding was actually just a front for a Sapient reunion because the majority of my team from my agency days was present and accounted for.)

We were all smiles and it was great find out what everyone has been up to since my bittersweet departure over three years ago. Even better, it was awesome to see Ty and Carol finally take the plunge after a decade and a half of dating. It was probably the most creative wedding I've been to, but of course I would expect nothing less from my favorite quirky couple. 

The venue was beautiful; a historic old house in Winter Park with immaculate gardens leading down to a lake. The ceremony was held outside amidst this natural beauty and was only briefly interrupted by a rather inconsiderate woodpecker and one or two rubbernecking jet skiers. And if I had to guess I'd put the temperature at (approximately) a million degrees Fahrenheit (500,000º Celsius). 

The copywriting and Eames-inspired design was impeccable and I love the humor injection, as often times weddings can take themselves too seriously. Everyone loved the kid walking down the aisle with a sign that said "Its About Time." Ty's Transformers cuff links were spot on. And the effort was wasted on me personally but I could appreciate their reception offering the best craft beer selection in the tri-county area. (I chose instead to be a schizoholic drinking, pinot grigio water, a tequila sunrise, water again and a Shirley Temple.) 

Then there was the music. I was beyond thrilled to hear not one, but two Led Zeppelin songs as part of the ceremony. And the band at the reception was fantastic, fusing together an eclectic medley of mostly classic rock with a few more modern hits mixed in. This included the Doors, Steve Miller Band, a few Michael Jackson hits, Uptown Funk and the full Eruption/Girl You Really Got Me Now by Van Halen to name just a few. 

Also at the reception were old pictures of the happy couple from the early days at UF, which confirms that neither of them have aged properly since then. I suspect part of the curriculum of design program in which they both participated included creating enchanted self-portraits that age for them and ensure their perpetual youth. 

I have one more interesting anecdote from the ride to the wedding which is also worth mentioning. My uber driver asked what kind of music I listen to. I said "classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, etc." So of course he plays Celine Dion for the duration of the trip from my hotel to the venue. SMH. -_-

Best wishes to the newlyweds Mr. & Mrs. Stalnaker! 

 Gorgeous wedding invitation & RSVP designed by the artist formerly known as Miss Montoto. 

Gorgeous wedding invitation & RSVP designed by the artist formerly known as Miss Montoto. 

 Short and sweet and hot ceremony

Short and sweet and hot ceremony

 Friends, fun & festivities

Friends, fun & festivities


The Pursuit of Passion

Even though it seems like this happened over night, I've actually been inching closer towards a dream goal, even before I knew what it was. It was like this dream was in a glass box but the sides were all condensated, like your bathroom mirror after a shower, and I couldn't see exactly what was inside and slowly I was able to rub away parts of the foggy glass. Then the conditions became right and enough of the fogginess faded for me to realize this dream was a long term trip on the other side of the world. Several people who are already living their dreams have contributed to me taking this journey, whether they realize it or not. So, thanks y'all! 

Jamie: My own little sister has quite the collection of stamps in her passport. Our first international trip was to the UK when we were just getting into high school. Then her later academic pursuits led her to a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark with side trips to other parts of Europe including Paris, Vienna, Bratislava, Berlin, London and Spain. While pursuing her Master's degree she had a particularly serendipitous trip to Toronto, Canada where she met a ginger Swiss guy named Stefan, and well, the rest is history. Now she lives in Switzerland as Mrs. Gloor (when she's not utilizing research grants at universities in Australia and Singapore, of course) so you never know what can happen when you travel! 

Laura Lee: I met LL through a mutual friend in Miami years ago. But before that, she spent 6 months backpacking Africa and ended up meeting a former Mau Mau general about whom she felt compelled to write an autobiographical novel. This book has been a passion of hers since I've known her and I'm so excited it's being published now! Congratulations, Friend! 

Sarah: I really admire Sarah's commitment and tenacity. She is so serious about maintaining a healthy, plant-strong diet that she can sit there unaffected while the rest of us in the office would order oily take-out food or binge on office birthday cake. Her amazing blog is the reason I started cooking so much more and so much healthier. Also, nothing can stop Sarah from traveling, not scooter accidents, not food poisoning or even fire coral. She's also been an incredible dancer since she was a teenager. I don't think I've ever been able to stick with anything that long besides activities crucial to general survival like you know, breathing, eating, sleeping. 

Sean: We indirectly worked together a few years ago at an advertising agency in Miami. I left for a Regional Art Director position at Whole Foods Market and he left to travel the world and document it through amazing pictures. He's even been published in the New York Times and some nationally circulated magazines. I've casually stalked his travels on Facebook and always thought "I wish I could do that." And years later, I believe that I can; well the travel part at least, I'm not as good at photography. 

Jessy: We started Miami Ad School together and couldn't have been more different. I was a somewhat naive, Southern, blonde sorority girl and she had just moved from the mean streets of NYC and had a bunch of tattoos and illustrated pornographic coloring books. I was a little intimidated but it turns out over the next two years we found out we had a lot in common like our work ethic and intrinsic motivation and general optimism. Now I'm one of her biggest fans and she's living the dream as an independent artist in Miami who has been commissioned for murals, had her own gallery during Art Basel and had three gallery shows throughout Europe last year in London, Vienna and Zurich. But I think my favorite piece she's done so far is her studio/house in Miami which I've been privileged enough to visit:

Jochen: I met a lot of kids (I use this term loosely to describe anyone between 18 and 30) during my last trip to the South Pacific, mostly from Europe, who were traveling for several weeks, months and perhaps even years at a time. I thought "Wow, if they can do it, I can do it."  I met Jochen in Auckland, New Zealand and heard amazing stories about his current trip with his backpack and a surfboard pursuing the world's best waves. I find it very inspirational to just go wherever your passion takes you with barely any advanced planning. 

Devin Graham: Also known as devinsupertramp on youtube. I don't actually know him but I've been following his videos for years since he was first getting started. I've said before I want to live life like a Devin Graham video, because they are so adventurous and so much fun and so well executed. He posted a video recently about how much work it actually takes to make those videos happen, but as long as you're passionate about it, you don't mind putting in long hours. Now he doesn't exactly have to rough it every time because he gets sponsors that fly him around the world and pay him to do what he loves. 

 

Lindsey Stirling: Related to the previous post because she and Devin are friends and he filmed a lot of her early videos. Despite being incredibly talented and original, the judges on America's Got Talent told her she basically wouldn't ever be successful. But she proved them all wrong after amassing an eclectic collection of videos, original music and millions of followers on youtube. They actually invited her back recently as a guest performer on the show and she blew them all away and got a standing ovation. I actually got to see her last year in West Palm Beach during her last tour and it was incredible. Here's one on my favorites called Elements:


Also, here's my recent reading list that I've also found particularly inspirational:

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
and now, after planning my trip I'm working through:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert