Seeking that “Number One Tourist Trap” in Tulum

After a night of just drinking and exploring the souvenir shops, it was time to get up early and hit the tourist spots. The main attraction in Tulum is the Tulum ruins, which is the site of old Mayan temples and buildings. As you may know, I’m not super into ruins, but these ranked number one on almost every Tulum tourism list.

Originally, I had dreams of biking here, but it was hot and Tracy and I were definitely a bit hungover, so driving it would be. We got there early to try and beat the heat (it only helped a little) and got in without a tour guide. I’d been told we’d want a tour guide for this excursion, but getting in and speed walking around on our own was so much better. The buildings were still very in tact, so I could see the appeal, but mostly they were cool because of the nature landscape around them. These ruins were right up next to the ocean!

From there, it was time to chase my dream Tulum experience. After doing so much research through other travel bloggers there were two things I wanted. The first was breakfast at Nomade, where I could get pancakes made in front of me on a private stovetop. I’d seen a picture of this and was so excited for the experience of an individual hot plate with great looking decor.

We found Nomade and got in, but it turned out the breakfast looked to be for guests only. So after walking the eating area awkwardly, we led ourselves right back out the way we came. Tracy and I were so hungry at this point anything sounded good, so we went to a nearby restaurant called Canopia. We each ordered a delicious, brightly colored smoothie and awaited our meals. Tracy wasn’t super into her meal, but I was about to have the best breakfast ever. Sure, it wasn’t pancakes cooked in front of me, but little goat cheese toasts with a fried egg satisfied me way more.

The second “dream” of Tulum was having a drink on a rope walkway overlooking the “jungle” of Tulum. After our breakfast, I was excited knowing this was number one on my own list and essentially was what I came to Tulum for. We found the hotel Azulik, which housed this spectacular bar, only to find it wouldn’t open for another five hours! Complete fail. I was pretty disappointed of course. After so many travel fails in the previous year due to when a place opens and closes, this was the one that cemented the lesson for me. Places all over have weird business hours – look them up, Alicia!

However, I didn’t want this to get me down. I started processing the logistics and to make this bar work, we’d would’ve had to have gone the night before. Which would mean giving up the amazing night we had. And that would’ve been a gamble I don’t think I’d make, even if it meant getting to lay on suspended ropes over the jungle drinking a margarita. Because exploring our own little piece of Tulum was so much better! Walking the couple of blocks within our Airbnb and discovering hidden gems on our own was such a blast! You don’t always win by following someone else’s travel plan, doing the typical tourist thing, and sticking to what others recommend. You never know what will end up being our own personal “number one” on a trip.

Let me also say that the tourist tips do get a thing right now and again; at the top of several lists was the Grand Cenote. A cenote (because yes, I also had to google the word) is a pit or sinkhole that exposes the natural water underneath. Basically, these holes lead to long underground tunnels of freshwater that is perfect for swimming and exploring. In my research, I didn’t realize how fun it would be! This would be our last stop in Tulum and I’m glad we went for it.

Neither Tracy nor me had it high on the must-see list, but after checking it out, I wish we’d had time to go to the other ones! It was the perfect treat to get out of the heat. Also, being able to swim with little fishes, near turtles, and under bats in the cave above was incredible! After our swim, we dried off in a relaxing hammock. It was the perfect goodbye to the juxtaposition of excitement and relaxation Tulum had been for us.

Tequila + Tulum = No Worries

Since last minute getting my passport last year, I made it my goal to travel outside of the US at least once a year. I started getting nervous because I didn’t have an international trip planned and I think this realization spurred my sudden obsession with going to Tulum. I’d read a blog about some great places in Tulum and the more research I did, the more I saw how affordable a weekend getaway to Mexico would be!

I started asking a couple of my best friends who’d be interested in randomly heading to Mexico. Tracy, who like me usually prefers a structured plan, was down! So one Friday on a bit of a whim, we booked our round trip flight. It was the first time I’d booked flights without a real plan – it was so exciting! And then pretty much immediately terrifying. I decided this kind of trip was just what I needed. Something a little scary, a little unstructured, and a lot of fun!

By the time we were thousands of feet in the air with drinks in our hand (we had to splurge a little), we pretty much had a rental car, two nifty Airbnbs booked, and a lackadaisical list of stuff we’d like to try. For me, this weekend was all about the somewhat scary excitement for international travel but also having an easy good time.

We landed, picked up our rental car, and then it was time to drive down a Mexican highway to Tulum. After my obsessive look into different aspects of Tulum, it was hard to believe I was finally doing it! The whole time Tracy and I couldn’t believe we’d booked this random trip for a quick weekend getaway in the middle of our regularly scheduled lives.

After reaching Tulum with no hiccups, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some tequila. We searched for a long time looking for salsa (of all things to be hard to find) and then were ready for drinks and snacks back at our home for the night. Our next task would be to find it.

There’s no real addresses in Mexico, so our Airbnb gave us a nearby intersection and one picture of the outside door. Not going to lie, it took a lot of circling around on one-way streets until finally we found it. Once there though, it was awesome! A little hidden bungalow loft in the middle of downtown Tulum nightlife.

After a drink (maybe two) we headed out to explore. We grabbed dinner and made a furry friend. Stray dogs were pretty common and very low key, just coming up and plopping nearby to where people sat. We had one sit near us while ordering drinks and having quesadillas. (In Mexico, these were actually just a small flour tortilla with some melted cheese – haha!)

We spent some time walking around, ordering more drinks, shopping the souvenir stores along the main strip, and ended up finding another restaurant with actual swings along the bar! It was so relaxing. Not having a real plan, we went back to our Airbnb, cooled down and made ourselves another drink. After hanging for a bit, wondering if we should settle in for the night we realized we could see some of the bars from our balcony and decided – heck, why not? – and headed back out for more drinks.

It was so easy-going! It was such a fun time to just walk around, try new things, listen to the live music, and chat. We ended up at a pretty cool dance bar, hoping the drinks would be enough to give us some liquid courage, but by that point we were too hot and tired. If it sounds like all we did that first night was walk around and drink – you’re exactly right.

Our first night was the perfect start to a stress-free weekend getaway!

Surfing in the Middle of Texas

As I’m sure is true of most kids from Texas, I have never surfed. I grew up with the fake ocean at the water park, Hurricane Harbor. My first beach was going to Port Aransas on a high school trip. The water was murky and full of lifeless jelly fish. (It was still incredible.) But believe it or not, I recently learned to surf in the middle of Texas, at a “surf resort” in Waco.

My dad is big into surfing on wave riders, like the one he originally  learned on at Hurricane Harbor. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to learn to surf on a real surfboard, he was interested in joining me. Just when I thought there’d be no time in my schedule for an impromptu trip to a real beach, my dad mentioned the BSR cable park that had only recently opened their surf section.

After a lazy Sunday morning, I met up with my dad to head down to Waco. I’d been bummed that I couldn’t make it to Colorado again this summer (to retry our kayaking adventure), so planning on spending the day together was nice.

We got there early to check out the place. It was cool checking out the wake boarders using the cable pull system to ride the lake. They also had a little lazy river where people floated and big slides that sent people launching into the air. We headed over to the “beach” area to check out some surfing. The current session was a beginners’ crowd, but a lot of people looked like they were pretty good.

Eventually it was time to grab our own boards because our hour time slot had approached. A helpful guy told us to grab the longest boards possible because it would be easier. (I would find out later this was bad advice.)

No one really monitored to us after we got our boards, so my dad and I kind of just swam out to where ten or so other surfers headed. The wave was produced every five minutes or so evenly across the water, and immediately people started going for it. My dad and I had definitely expected an instructor, but we started by just watching everyone around us and mimicking what they did.

Luckily for me, the beach manager started coming around and saw me struggling so took me under his wing. He told me where to lay on the board, where to put my arms and legs, and taught me the timing of the wave and when to swim hard. Finally things were happening! Every time I paddled back I’d shout the information over to my dad.

After four waves the manager told me since I’d gotten good at timing and form, to just get on my knees to ride the wave. And then he left to help another girl nearby. The hardest part was definitely timing. Looking back and learning when to start swimming hard and cresting the pull of the curl started to feel rhythmic.

For my last couple of waves I rode it on my knees all the way to the shore. Just as I was getting ready to try getting up (or at least on one knee) our hour was up. It had gone by so fast! The sport mentality had taken over and I really got submersed in learning new things, but overall it had been so fun! It was surprising how little I was able to talk to my dad though – it really felt like a singular sport.

The manager met up with us again to take our boards and said we had done great for our first time so that was nice. He said it took a lot more hours to be ready for the advanced group, but that we could definitely do it if we practiced. Watching the advanced group, who had now taken the waves, was awesome. They made it look so effortless!

I will for sure be surfing again some day! But I might stick to the man-made waves for now. Much less swimming means much less getting tired out means much more practice! Now don’t get me wrong, I was still sore as heck the next day.

Blogiversary: Two Sides of the Gemini

This blog is one year old today!! So I don’t truly believe in horoscopes, but sometimes it’s fun to look at them after the day has passed. I officially started this blog on this date, exactly a year ago. Before taking time to think about how far I’ve come (a lot!), I wanted to share my horoscope of that -this- day, 2017.

“A critical turning point arrives in your life today via the full moon in Pisces, dear Gemini. You need to find a better balance between your personal and your public lives.”

How funny, as a pretty private person, that day would be the one I would start sharing my journey on the internet. So why did I start a blog? Mainly because I love writing, always have. Secondly because I was excited to be actively pursuing adventure instead of just dreaming about it.

Once I started traveling and having new experiences, I realized how easy it is to do! If you make it a priority, if you chase your interests, it’ll happen. So now not only do I hold myself accountable by blogging twice weekly, I try to encourage readers to get out and and explore also! Sometimes it seems we’re just afraid to take that first step.

I’ve started my mission to collect all of the National Parks stamps – I’ll even be done with the entire Southwest Region by the end of this year!

I made it my mission to travel internationally at least once a year – after booking impromptu trips this and the previous summer to Belize and Tulum, respectively.

I made it a goal to be a tourist in my hometown, Dallas, so I could experience all the hot spots as well as find new local things to do.

I’ve prioritized hiking, by trying to make it to every trail and park in my area. I wanted to prove to myself I could find amazing nature in the backyard of a big city.

And finally, I’ve strived to say yes more and more. When a friend invites me to a sage-making class, when my dad invites me to learn a new sport – I go!

So yeah, I’ve shared a lot with all of you. On my Instagram, I try to post daily to keep myself active in adventure. But I’m still pretty private, and that’s good. I’m very protective of my relationship, I try not to be too obnoxious with picture-taking, and I totally understand when a friend doesn’t want to be mentioned in a blog.

I’ve learned a lot about balancing! For me that mainly means pursuing what makes me happy and being so, so grateful for everyone in my life. It would’ve been much harder on this journey alone (i.e. impossible). So thanks everyone for a fantastic, unimaginable first year!

From Nature-Made to Man-Made, Crossing the Golden Gate

Before my friends and I could head into San Francisco, we needed a coffee stop to become more human. After camping for the last couple of days and getting some odd hours sleeping cramped in our little rental car, we needed the caffeine and a restroom.

We stopped at the Sausalito Bakery & Cafe, a couple minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. After some coffee and a hobo shower (using the bathroom sink to clean ourselves up as best we could) it was time to try and get a good shot of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’d done some research (of course) and seen the best place to get an overhead shot was the Battery Spencer. It was early morning and so, so cold! Because of the morning – or the cold? – the bridge was basically completely covered in fog. I knew this was a common occurrence in San Francisco, but it was really messing up my desired shots! Still they ended up looking pretty eerie.

Putting a pause on the bridge shot, we headed off in search of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which would be one of the stops we needed in our passport stamp collection. Looking for this area, we ended up crossing the Golden Gate Bridge three separate times. While this should be fun, it got us pretty frustrated. It turned out we were already in the area, so our sleep deprivation was at work.

The sun was coming out, so we headed to Fort Point, not only another National Park site, but also a great view of the bridge from below. This was actually a pretty cool fort because it was one big building of different rooms, rather than the usual plot of land laid out with several small buildings. It was located right at the base of the bridge, so it was also way more crowded than the previous forts I’d visited.

Along the coast, we finally got our Golden Gate Bridge shots! The fog had cleared, the sun was out, and it was an incredible sight to see. As with most big city icons, after a visit it’s usually easy to see why they remain such an impressive landmark. It definitely lifted our mood!

At this point we were way past ready for a warm meal, so we ventured into San Francisco for brunch. I’d read up on how long the wait lines could be on the weekends, so I’d picked a spot that looked good and you could make a reservation. Driving through the city, we passed a dozen or so long lines outside little restaurants, so I was glad we were able to walk right into ours, Fiore Caffe.

It was almost time to head out to to our departure flight in San Jose, but we had about half an hour left to check out the Castro District. Driving there was a great experience because of all the cute colorful homes and the insane hills you travel up and down. It’s full of great street photography and people watching!

Originally, we thought we maybe wanted some souvenirs but after spotting Dog Eared Books, I knew where to head. We passed the iconic Castro Theater on our walk and of course a lot of rainbows because Castro is legendary in the LGBT community for the first openly gay neighborhood in America. People were out and about, the colors were vibrant, and lots of shops had some pretty interesting items for sale (haha).

But if you know me, you know I love bookshops, especially if they have a resale collection. Dog Eared Books was worth the time. They had a very good selection and because we were at the Castro location, they’d curated it to promote interesting gay and transgender voices. They also had a substantial wiccan selection and feminism selcetion. I looked at books I’d never heard of before. I didn’t have much room in my carry-on backpack so I was able to leave with only a sticker.

This brief pitstop in the city was a great end to my Redwoods trip. After exploring nature, it was nice to come back into the manmade world and still feel in awe. I know I will definitely have to head back to San Francisco because I only scratched the surface of all they’ve got to offer!

There for the Trees, Obviously

It seems odd to be heading to the Big Lagoon in Redwood National Park, but after our morning hike we were ready for a bit of a cool down and some relaxation. I’d never been to a lagoon before, but this one just ended up looking like a little pond. I had imagined lush greenery and cool blue waters. The water was pretty cold though, so after a dip it turned into taking a nap in the grass.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so Austin, Jenna, and I headed to the showers so we could get some of the trip’s grime off us before one final hike. Yes, if you’re wondering, we would’ve liked to shower after our final hike, but since the campsites were full we would be backcountry camping in the area of the Tall Trees trail. Logistically, we were going to take it easy on our hike and try and remain comfortable for camping.

As mentioned in my previous post, you need permits to get to the Tall Trees trail and you have to drive a bit of rough road to get there. Having the code to get into this “private” area was so cool. Plus, we were finally going to spend some time with the actual redwoods! So much of Redwood Park is devoted to nature that isn’t exactly tree related. I was ready to finally walk among the tallest trees in the world!

This trail started at the top of a hill, so the trail itself had a bit of elevation and several switchbacks. But being in the trees that blocked the surrounding stuff out was amazing. I haven’t grown up with much woods in my life, so being in a huge forest with massive trees was definitely different.

Once we reached the bottom, we were in the “Tall Trees Grove” which was full of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. We hadn’t run into hardly anyone, but now that we had hiked a couple hours we could hear campers not too far from the creek. It was lovely. However, we had not hiked down with our tent, so after some photos (of course), it was time to head back the way we’d come.

The sun was definitely setting, and we’d planned on setting up our tent in the dark, but Jenna had us on a mission to hike back up and out before all the light was gone. Even with some steep spots of elevation, we made it back up in less than an hour. We’d turned on our lights only five minutes before we were done, so we basically accomplished our goal.

Setting up camp though, seemed like a tiresome ordeal. We hadn’t had a great night’s sleep previously, we were all pretty amped from our vigorous hike, and as we were scouting for a location to set up our tent, we wondered if it was worth it. The time of sleep we’d get would be almost equivalent to how long it would take to set up and break down camp. We scrapped our plan and decided to just go ahead and get on the road while we were still wide awake.

This would prove to be kind of awful, because all the motels along our drive were completely booked or super expensive. We didn’t realize how much traffic had headed to the California coast to escape the big Carr wildfires. Plus it was summer, prime time for camping and road trips. After getting too exhausted to keep driving, we finally pulled over and grabbed a few hours sleep in our cramped car. The plus side is the sun was rising soon and we had gained more time for a stop in San Francisco!

Best Kept (Non-) Secret at Redwoods

After a little bit of a restless night’s sleep – I had to pee but had done so much bear research I’d scared myself into getting out of the tent in the middle of the night – it was time for our first full day at Redwood National Park! Since we were at the northern edge of the park, we first drove the Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway.

Jenna, Austin, and I had woken early to make sure we made good use of the sun and this meant our car was pretty much the only one on the road. I’d heard about terrible traffic along this road, but driving it right at sun up was awesome! We stopped whenever we felt like and got some quick shots of the more “touristy” spots.

We passed by the “Trees of Mystery” which we kept off our itinerary but did make a quick stop at to get some pics of the great Paul Bunyan and his ox. Also, I totally fell in love with a bear statue (which would also be the closest we came to a bear all weekend). At the end of our drive, we stopped to check out “The Big Tree.”

This is supposed to be the thickest tree in the park, so that was pretty great to see. Honestly, all the trees were so huge it was insane. I had never seen trees this large before, and to see a whole forest of them made me happy. We were visiting Redwood National Park during it’s 100th year of operation, but these trees are obviously hundreds of years old. (Research says millions of years old and that is mind boggling – haha!)

Next stop was the visitor center to get our Passport stamps and permits for the private trail we’d be tackling later in the day. Before that trail though, our agenda had us heading to Fern Canyon, which I’d heard great things from the locals the evening before. I went in knowing we wouldn’t have time to do everything on this quick trip, so I was glad one of the things we’d picked was getting talked up. Spoiler alert: it did not disappoint.

Even though I’d done the research, you never quite know what to expect, and a trail of ferns did not seem as exciting as the trees we were supposed to be enjoying. We headed out on this hike a little unsure of the route, but it was populated enough we followed in line down wood planks over creek waterways. It seemed we were hiking through a mostly dry creek bed, which was full of ferns and other greenery up the sides. It was gorgeous.

The further down we went, the trail lost a lot of people because the wooden planks had stopped. Halfway through you had to commit to danger (and the possibility of water) to keep going. We were on the hunt for some “falls” Austin had seen on the map, but the water was mostly in small streams it was hard to imagine us running into actual falls.

I was glad I wore my hiking boots because I definitely slipped on at least a dozen rocks, meaning I stumbled into the pools of water quite a bit. There were also a ton of overturned trees we were having to scramble over, so it was super fun! I will admit I did get stabbed by a broken tree branch, resulting in a gnarly bruise, but also adding to my excitement. I’ll say it a million times – I live for the experience!

We made it to the falls, which was pretty much just a dripping, wet wall, but it was still worth it. The hike was so much fun, not too strenuous, and for several stretches it was just the three of us. I think a lot of people stop halfway, but I suggest you keep going! The whole trail system is made for adventure.