UnBelizeable Fun

One of my best friends had seen a flight deal to Belize he couldn’t pass up so nine months in advance he bought tickets…and didn’t tell anyone. Then less than two months before his international departure, he asked all his friends who’s available spur of the moment for a trip out of the country. So obviously I said yes. I was going to scramble to have enough money, hustle at work to take unexpected time off, and of course, make my friend find another good flight deal just for me.

I’d never been out of the country except on a cruise to some Mexican oceanic cities, so I didn’t even have a passport yet. I was truly living by my new motto of saying yes to every trip. Spoiler alert: it all came together, I made it to Belize. I wouldn’t be able to stay the full time but my friend’s sister would finish out the trip with him. Win, win!

It was interesting to take my first international flight alone. Let me just say that when I went through Customs and didn’t know the exact location of my hotel (or it’s name – I’d left hotel and itinerary to my friend since I had decided to just tag along) I was pretty sure I was going to be detained or sent immediately back to America. Luckily, I found a random text with the hotel name and convinced them to let me through without the address. Whew.

After making it out of the airport, meeting my friend who had arrived a bit earlier, and taking a taxi into the city, we next boarded a water taxi to head to the island of San Pedro. It was a great way to decompress from the flight and still offer excitement about what was to come. Ah, I love the ocean.

We arrived close to sunset so after checking in (and failing at trying to sneak me in to save a bit of money ha) we headed down the beach to find something to eat. We were definitely in a tourist hotspot but we’d also come during the off season so nothing was too wild. We ate a Fido’s, which kind of became our spot because the drinks were great and it was the most lively so guaranteed some entertainment.

The next day we found an empty snorkeling booth that offered to take us to all the best spots on a private boat, serve lunch, and provide as much rum as we wanted. All for about a hundred bucks. Seriously, off season is amazing. Our trip would include Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Coral Gardens. This trek also included the main point of interest for me because of Shark Ray Alley. I love sharks! It was jut nurse sharks but there was a lot of them so I was happy to swim with them (very happy).

After a few hours of snorkeling (and drinking), our guide stopped the boat out in the middle of the ocean. We struggled to keep up with him after he jumped in, and seeming to realize we were once again following him, he said, “It will be hard to keep up. This is where y’all can take all the pictures you want.” And then he was gone.

We took a lot of pictures but eventually got pretty tired. Just as we were sure our guide had disappeared into the depths of the ocean, he popped back into sight – and had caught a freaking lobster – with his bare hands!

Then we headed to a nearby empty beach and our guide started a fire to cook us a meal (including the lobster). It was pretty cool. Now, I’m a vegetarian but when I’m overseas I do try the meat they make from me (mostly when it doesn’t come from the store). But even though the experience was pretty cool, I’m still not a fan of the taste of fish.

We headed back, very tired. It was nice to laze around in the hotel with the great view and lackadaisically watch the sunset. Later we grabbed a chill dinner that night at Nook, where we actually met the owner who was also originally from Dallas! It seemed a lot of American programmers who traveled had fallen in love with Belize and were now locals.

A tropical storm was coming in for my last full day but I already felt like I experienced so many great things, I knew nothing could ruin the trip! I was halfway through and already satisfied. Of course, I was still excited at what was to come next!

Be Open to Not Having a Plan

Not only does Oklahoma have a special place in my heart because both of my parents grew up in small Oklahoma towns, it’s also home to my alma mater (Boomer Sooner)! It may be surprising to some, but Oklahoma has some truly beautiful natural landscapes. I remember being young and going on a lot of drives through the sprawling countryside and it’s honestly a really lovely view on a roadtrip.

While it is mostly plains, they have a lot of interesting waterways and of course, their famous red dirt. It was a bit weird to discover that this entire state only has two spots in the National Parks system. And one of them I passed within 20 miles of a million times on my way from home to college! I decided it was time to make a day trip to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

I guess it’s because of how comfortable I am with visiting Oklahoma, but I did next to no research for this trip. I’m big on planning, but for some reason I let myself become the tagalong on my friend’s trip. I was surprised how busy it was for a Friday, but it was summer so we ran into a lot of kids off from school. After visiting the visitor center, we walked the local flower park and spotted the state flower Indian Blanket.

The four of us, made up mostly of new friends I’d just made on the short roadtrip, decided to try a real hike before taking a dip in the many pools of water. The flowers had not been enough. The main probably with this was I had come completely unprepared. I had no water, was wearing jean shorts, and hadn’t showered before I was to go trekking into the summer heat.

We meandered through the Antelope and Buffalo Springs, checking out the different areas of the water fun, before we found the Travertine Creek trail. It was about a three mile hike, there and back, with hidden views of the spring and giant pools of water. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to nix the hike and jump in the cool natural springs.

I’m not good without a plan. I guess you could say I’m an easygoing control freak – I will be easygoing until things run out of my control. But I was with new friends and everyone was having a good time. And I honestly love hiking! So I stuck to the back of the pack and practiced patience. There are worse things to happen out of someone’s control. This was a simple summer hike. With a promised treat within sight!

The end of the trail led us to an awful smelling sulphur spring, and I was pretty glad at the group’s agreed disappointment. Now we could head double time to the swimming fun! In fact, we didn’t even make it all the way back to the super populated springs and instead took a side trail that led us to a big pool with a pretty cool waterfall.

We shed our clothes and hit the water fast. Even though it was freezing – seriously, in the middle of July! – I was so excited to be swimming. Not going to lie, there was a lot of debris and weird nature in the natural pool, but I was so glad to be swimming instead of hiking in the heat, I didn’t care a bit!

A few of the locals had spotted our waterfall and kids began lining up to slide down it. With them came the parents, who we chatted with about the summer break and where they’d come from. We were the only Texans, but I was surprised how many small town folks had made the hour drive to the Chickasaw Area. Then I remembered what a beautiful spot it was and how many swimming areas there were and it made sense.

We swam until our fingers pruned and got out shivering. It was a nice little hike back to the car and the promise of stopping for Mexican food before returning home had my mood a complete 180 from hours before. Everything had turned out great – I just need to remember to be open to new experiences!

Discover Dallas: Thankful for Coffee

If you know me at all, you know how much I’m love coffee. Even if you don’t know me, I think I mention coffee a fair amount of times in my travels. So since it’s Thanksgiving this week, I’m talking my favorite local coffee shops! Thanks, delicious coffee!

Mudsmith

Hours: 6:30a-11p, Parking: Backlot, Seating: Always something open, Favorite drink: Chai (do NOT add a shot)

Probably my favorite in regards to location, hours, vibes, and of course, taste! The decor is pretty outdoorsy/adventure with some great couches in the back. This coffee shop is located on Lower Greenville, one of my favorite haunts because it’s so close to me. The staff is super friendly, but also knows when to leave you alone when you’re wanting a productive visit.

Wild Detectives

Hours: 10a-12a, Parking: Neighborhood, Seating: Inside is harder but outside always something, Favorite drink: Coffee (Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters)

What’s better than a coffee shop? A coffee shop that is also a book shop! This place is too cool, full of friendly baristas and mustached hipsters. I love the book recommendations that are always relevant and changing. There are lots of twinkle lights on the outside (front and back) so go when it’s not too cold out.

Halycon

Hours: 7a-12a, Parking: Backlot, Seating: Always something open, Favorite drink: Almond milk latte

This place is great for late nights when you want to get stuff done. They’re open late and have tons of space – also their decor is vibrant and trendy. It’s a great space to be productive because the lighting is bright and there’s always seats available. I also love that the coffee comes with animal crackers!

White Rock Coffee

Hours: 6a-11p, Parking: Open lot, Seating: Always something open, Favorite drink: Almond milk latte

The best thing about WRC is that they have an “express shop” that is right near my house and on the way to everything. I love driving through and picking up a latte because it’s not only convenient, but also tastes great! Side note: they have freaking great homemade muffins. This is what I always pick up when I’m on the go, but I also like that the main location has a mellow upstairs section for being productive.

Cultivar Coffee

Hours: 7a-8p, Parking: Open lot, Seating: Not a lot of options, Favorite drink: The Local Honey

This place is one I recently discovered. They have my favorite drink anywhere called The Local Honey which is a cappuccino with locally harvested honey. I love great foam and honey (and espresso duh) so this drink goes above and beyond for me. It shares its space with a little eatery/grab&go which can be convenient if you’re picking up food or beer. The seating could be a little cozier but it’s got a very cool modern vibe.

Crooked Tree

Hours: 6a-11p, Parking: Neighborhood, Seating: Good spots go fast, Favorite drink: Seasonal flavored latte

I love the “homey” vibe in this shop. It’s definitely a place to come and hang for hours. They’ve got tables for working but also a lot of eclectic couches and chairs for catching up with friends. They definitely want you to treat it like a common room because they have board games and lots of outlets available for whatever kind of night you’re wanting. I’m also not super big on flavored syrups, but their selection is always on point.

One of those “Oh yeah, one day…” Trips

Several (and I mean several) years ago I had expressed interest in kayaking to my dad and we’d got the idea in our head to do it. He’d had a great experience kayaking in Durango, Colorado – so this was the place to do it in his book. And the years came and went and we never booked this kayaking trip. One of us would always say at the end of summer, “Oh yeah, one day…”

So in my new life of actually seeing and doing the things I’d always said I would, I looked up kayaking in Durango, read a couple of reviews, and booked a day trip with Mild 2 Wild Rafting tours. Then I actually planned a trip.

I still didn’t have vacation privileges at work, so I knew we’d have to roadtrip it and cram it all into a three-day weekend. I know that’s crazy. But driving 30 hours to hike a National Park and spend a full day on the Animas River ends up being worth it.

I’d researched a lot on when the best time to kayak this river would be and heard it should be pretty perfect near the end of June. I was all set. I’d convinced my dad to go along with this wacky roadtrip idea and we were both excited the kayaking trip was finally happening.

Of course, you can’t control good ol’ Mother Nature. She’d had a pretty cold spring and turns out the mountain hadn’t melted quite enough to produce enough river flow for safe kayaking. When we rolled up and were given wetsuits and (massive) splash jackets we were also told there’d be no kayaking. We’d been “upgraded” to a premium rafting group trip. Great.

Spoiler alert: it was great!

In the beginning you take this bus to the starting jump of the river and it’s all families and tourist-types – basically I thought we were gonna be solo adventuring down a treacherous river and now we were singing kumbaya with the same kids kicking our chair.

But once the rafts were divvied up and we were on the water, I realized this wasn’t going to be some lame theme park tubing ride. Our group was half the size of everyone else since we were a kind of last minute ragtag group, so our guide was able to direct the raft into the bigger rapids.

It was apparently the perfect time to go rafting because there was the perfect amount of water flow for some of the rocks to peak out of the river and create fun dips. We’d lucked into the funnest time to raft at least! We also didn’t get too wet but it was surprisingly cold!

A few hours later and a few miles down the river, we returned on the bus. After a quick change, we realized how hungry we were and headed to downtown Durango. We had local beer and fresh pizza then spent a few hours walking around the city, checking out the shops and stopping for all natural ice cream (made with real mint – it was so good)!

It wasn’t what we’d originally planned but we had a great time with a new experience. And now I guess we’ll have to book another Durango kayaking trip next year!

Being in Four Places at Once

There’s nothing better than heading to work on my Friday with a car packed full of adventure. Knowing I’m going to start my travels as soon as I clock out is the best way to start a weekend, believe me.

Driving, sleeping, adventuring – this car is ready!

While planning this roadtrip with my dad, he kept talking about Four Corners for weeks in advance. More familiar with a brewery by the same name, I had no idea what he was talking about but knew to plan it into the trip.

The Four Corners Monument is the point where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet. This means that if you stand in the middle of this intersection…you’re actually in four places (states) at once! Such a cool idea to me because I’m constantly worried about spending my time wisely and wishing there was more of me to go around.

Ah, look at me doing so much with this life.

After checking out the local Navajo craft booths we settled back into the car. Heading into Colorado, we made our way to Mesa Verde National Park. I got my stamp for my National Park passport and we explored some of the ancient cliff dwellings.

Our main purpose here was to hike the majority of the park and try our hand at working with the varying levels of elevation. We took the Spruce Canyon trail which included a lot of informational highlights, including some old petroglyphs from the Pueblo peoples.

It was hot and a little trickier than expected trying to navigate steep footholds and hidden cliffs, but well worth the effort by the end. I actually managed to lead a nearby couple who couldn’t figure out one of the rock steps to continue on the path. The zigzagging ascent to about 7000 feet was such an accomplishment though! My first “mountain” had been hiked.

All the closeups include me looking ROUGH!

After sweatily checking out the gift shop amidst happy families, we then trudged back to the car. We were tired and ready for a hearty meal, a shower, and a long sleep. That resulted in stopping for American fare in Mancos, CO and checking into our Airbnb.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve read Into the Wild but it tells the tale of a kid who left it all behind to live off the land in Alaska when he finds a bus to make into his shelter. So part of the allure of Mancos was getting to stay in this converted Volkswagen bus! I­t­ had a full bed and kitchenette inside. (I was so tired I didn’t take any pictures – what a dummy!) As a side note, I one hundred percent recommend anything written by Jon Krakauer.

From one automobile to the next!

There was a cute fire pit nearby for cooking also. They had a shower in the nearby artist garage as well as a compost toilet! I thought everything was so cool and interesting. Let’s just say my dad took a bit longer to come around. Even though we’d spent a tiring day driving many hundreds of miles, it didn’t bother me that bedtime involved retiring to a bus.

I always said I wanted to try everything!

Too Busy to be Sad it’s Almost Over

By day three in New York City, I was pretty much navigating without a map. Well, as long as the subway train started in the right direction (seriously I cannot tell you how many times we had to get off to cross to the other side of the tracks to head back the way we’d come). 

We crossed over into Manhattan and said goodbye to Brooklyn (forever?) so we could check into our new Airbnb, which was located in the trendy area of Chelsea. After a quick hello and dropping off our stuff, we headed to Central Park.

Always my favorite thing in Central Park.
Had to start at the Dakota of course, pay our respects to John Legend before wandering through Strawberry Fields. We walked a lot of it to take in the “outdoors” which are pretty great considering you can surround yourself with greenery in such a populated metropolitan. 

Speaking of, we then headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. First we had to grab lunch from food trucks (gyros, yum) and eat on the steps. XOXO, if you know what I’m saying.

You know you love me!

After spending hours at the Met – you could legitimately spend a whole day there – we had dinner with an old friend of mine and made it home to our broken bed. Let’s just say you pay for what you get, but also having to teeter on one specific side of the bed so it doesn’t fold you in half makes for such a funny story (in due time).

Our final day had snuck up on us, so we packed it with nonstop fun. A short walk to breakfast and then from there a skip to the Chelsea Markets. There were lots of great flea market stalls and coffee shops inside.

I could’ve spent all my money here in Chelsea.

As it was our last day, I wanted to start from one end to the other so we headed south to catch the touristy ferry (gotta see the Statue of Liberty!) and then made our way north by mostly footing it to catch new sights on the way. 

I had heard about how great the new High Line was in the middle of the city, so we decided to check that out. Besides a great picture, we just didn’t get it! It’s basically a long walking platform a story above ground that’s really crowded with people constantly stopping to take pics. People online are nuts for it, but maybe it’s a New Yorker thing? Guess we lost our Local card.

Look, how special, I am on a walking platform.

There would be no better way to end a New York trip than by catching a Broadway show. Lucky (very!) for me my friend had the hookup with (FREAKING) Hamilton tickets! I love musicals so I went in pretty blind since I like to experience it fresh. Which, let me just say, involved a lot of covering my ears and yelling at friends to stop singing the most popular musical of the decade.

No surprise, it was brilliant!! (And that’s all I’ll say for fellow spoiler-free theatre lovers.)

Being raised by two theatre nerds, I LOVE musicals!

Since we were in the area, we decided to walk Times Square one last time; really take in the bright advertisements and crazy costumes. We stopped for coffee (of course) and macrons and talked about Hamilton and every thing else great about our trip.

I’ve waxed poetic enough on how much I love this city – so for now I’ll just say, ‘till next time!

7% in Times Square

Let’s talk about fears.

Writing became my first dream in New York when I was with my dad on his business trip. He would leave for work and I would write in the hotel all day. And at night we would learn the city. Even though I was only 13, my mind had been made up: that’s how I would live my life. Writing in New York.

So  the fear of that unaccomplished dream will always follow me, but I think it’s a good kind of fear. It’s a fear spurred by goals. And I think this particular fear is charged by a need to belong in one place too. I need to write and feel at home, while still actively seeking new experiences.

A slightly drizzly shot from the top of the Empire State Building.

But there’s little fears too. For instance, having your phone battery at 7% in the middle of Times Square where outlets are next to impossible to find and that phone is your main navigation on how to make it safely “home” for the night. That is true technological terror. Who are you as a traveler with no map and no direction?

We now neeeded to stop in every coffee shop. We bought an expensive glass of wine in a French bistro because they had a plug next to a table. We had officially become annoying tourists, but we needed the battery refill. Weirdly, our saving grace was finding the retail store Uniqlo which has locked charging stations for while you shop. (Every store should do this!)

Any coffee sign has holy light coming from it in my mind’s eye!
 

There’s the little fear of getting lost even when your battery is full. The fear of not having enough to time to do everything you’d planned in the day. But every now and then, you look around from a “magical” place like the Empire State Building, and you stop worrying. Because you can live a life that’s only a quarter planned and still accomplish a lot!

Plus, if you don’t get a little lost, you miss out on the things you didn’t even know you were looking for. You realize sometimes the lack of a concrete plan invites excitement into your life in a way you didn’t expect.

Shark in the city – I’m in love!
It took us three tries to find an actual brunch place (all coffee, no food). We settled for a subpar lunch because the building aesthetic was adorable (empty stomachs, great pics). And we had great vegetarian when we stumbled upon it across from the comedy show we went to (cool decor, drool). This goes to show that you can Yelp a bunch, judge a book by its cover, but the best thing all day might be what you never planned on.

Ah, the chaos of book stores is oddly soothing.
The day was full of unexpected treasures as we walked Williamsburg. That’s where we found Spoonbill Books and a bunch of thrift stores in a little strip mall. Here’s where my fear of not having enough money comes in. There’s a strong part of me that could spend every available dollar on books and clothing. But I don’t need to. 

A lot of what I’ve learned this year is that spending my money on experiences is way more fulfilling than spending it on material possessions. I’d rather be in Brooklyn  browsing books and clothes than stuck at home surrounded by shopping bags. 

Wouldn’t you?