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!

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!

Becoming Locals in NYC

So many mixed feelings about the city I fell in love with at thirteen. I started this trip coming from a new place in my life where I was genuinely very happy. I was satisfied with where I was at. I was finally actively seeking my best life and at the moment had no complaints about home sweet home. But.

Well, it’s New York for Christ’s sake. I went in thinking “I’m fine. It can’t hold up. What would I want here?” And then you descend into the subway, the smells, the clamor, the glory of several lives rushing about in a perfect order. And when someone shoved aside my suitcase with a sneer, I smiled and rushed about too. It’s easy to join in when everyone agrees to not wait up.

New York will always have my heart.

Every pic looks like it should be a movie.

We settled into our Airbnb first, a really cool loft space in Brooklyn. Well, technically, first we lost the keys to the door for half an hour while we searched three flights of stairs (the key had fallen and gotten wedged in our suitcase handle). Then we settled in and got ready to explore! 

We had very loose plans. Basically we wanted to wander the city and stop in anywhere we felt like. There was a couple of touristy things I had added to the list that were simply must-dos but for the most part our only rule was: If you pass a coffee shop, you must stop.

So much coffee, so little time.

It seems the train you need is always broken. Our place was supposed to be twenty feet from a subway stop but of course it was under construction the exact amount of time we would be staying there. Which ended up being kind of great because we walked a lot of Brooklyn. At several points during our stay people asked us directions like we were locals. And we knew the answers!

We made our way over to Manhattan and I was navigating the subway for the first time myself. I felt like such a cool kid! This was my first time in the city with no parents or teachers. It was weird to think a NYC vacation for us was a typical day for its citizens.

There’s so much culture all over the city – I love it!
We spent more time wandering through the  Burroughs, making our way through NoHo, SoHo, Little Italy, etc etc. Our first day was spent walking and making mental maps. I could walk New York’s streets forever, because even when it should just be a sidewalk there’s always something going on. 

Shops, and food, and best of all, people. Every kind of person you ever could meet, you can find in New York City. There’s so much story to every walk-up, every person has two (plus) lifetimes, and things happen there. Constantly. The air is full of possibility. 

We spent a long time in Strand, otherwise known as COOL KIDS BOOK CLUB.

Obviously, I’m still in love with New York. I always saw myself ending up here, and with the way things are headed in my life… I still might! 

The world is mine for the choosing, and just in the past few months I’ve learned how resilient I can be. How I can make things work out by force of will. And how I just need to keep opening my life to whatever opportunities pop up.

Am I a Vagabond?

As an avid supporter of #vanlife, i.e. creeping all the adorable people living their cutest lives, I had vague notions of traveling the country and living out of my car. 

The first step would be to try it out for a weekend. We wanted to save money and “car camp”. Spoiler alert: I’m not dead – it all worked out. I definitely had a bit of anxiety while sleeping. I knew we would be mostly sleeping at night so my tint would take care of us, but sleeping in late was not an option because as soon as the sun was up, I was up.

This is Florence – the cuddly pup!
To prepare I had cut an old futon cushion into the shape of my back (seats folded down of course) and the result wasn’t half bad. Definitely soft enough for me, who likes rigid support when sleeping. Then we piled on blankets and pillows and we had ourselves a fort on wheels.

We also knew it was the perfect time for car camping because the weather was no more than 70 degrees. It didn’t hurt that we had a cuddly puppy too! 

My car’s name is Billy.

Let me also say that I really love my car. It’s the only car I’ve ever had (knock on wood) and since it’s been with me for more than a decade it just had its 200,000 mileage birthday.  Fingers crossed to that car lasting another decade!

After waking up well rested and ready for adventure, I was pretty much ready to stop paying rent and move permanently into my car. Except, well, then we went to have fun in the sand. And cars aren’t typically equipped with showers.

Here I am… covered in sand.

Instantly I knew there was no way to keep all that sand from getting in the car (and therefore, the bed). So after brushing off as much as possible and “outdoor showering” with some wet wipes, we knew it was time to really become roadside travelers. We were headed outside of town to the nearest truck stop. To pay for the showers.

Let me say this: they are cheap, clean, and have a lock. I know this may not sound glamorous to everyone, but in my book cheap travel gets me to more places. So it works for me! 

And I can add the title ‘Vagabond’ to my list of attributes. So there’s that.

Losing Your Keys in the Desert

Besides the randomized screensaver at work I had never seen or heard of a place called White Sands. But when a friend said it was on their bucket list and asked if I wanted to go – I said hell yeah!

We got there a little before sunset just to check it out and it’s incredible. Pure white sand stretched out at all sides, gorgeous unmarked dunes, and small spindly plants in every valley. We enjoyed the sunset and then figured it was time to head the mile back to the car.

White Sands (I wanna live in this serenity)

Only. The keys weren’t wedged in my shorts anymore. They weren’t on the top of the dune we’d been sitting on. They weren’t anywhere in sight.

Now, I am pretty cool headed. I’m a problem solver that loves logically and methodically fixing any new issue. But for the first time in my life, I was one gasping breath away from a panic attack. My keys were missing in an empty desert.

We split up and retraced our steps and luckily – so lucky – we found them near a spiky plant that had surprised me earlier. Crisis averted and I was back to appreciating the evening desert beauty. Whew.

My first National Park!

The next day we knew we’d have to buy a sled to fly down the side of the dunes. While in the National Monument visiting center that’s where I stumbled upon the National Parks Passport. There’s nothing I love more than books and lists. And this was a book and a list! I was sold. Thus started the journey of me getting every National Park “cancellation” or stamp. 

So I bought the passport and we bought the sled and hit the dunes. We didn’t buy the wax so it was pretty slow going but still a lot of fun. We started climbing the highest dunes to make the way down worth it.

Sand sledding makes ya tired!

We went out to grab lunch – future note: bring lunch! They have grills and tables – and when we came back we were ready to hike. They have a couple of marked trails and since it was afternoon and pretty hot we choose the 2 mile one. 

Disclaimer: we did not make the full trail. We got a less than halfway and decided to turn back. We were beat, but more importantly we were worried about the dog with us who wasn’t used to these desert treks. Go figure.

A cool desert.

All in all, a great weekend. And the start of my personal goal to visit every national point of interest. Can’t wait!

My Stance on Aliens

I made it to Roswell. Which, while not a big alien fanatic or anything, I am a big Maxwell Evans fanatic. Oh, who you may be asking? Only the dreamiest alien in the 90s. I talking about the tv series Roswell. Never heard of it? You’re completely missing out. Check out the ‘Heat Wave’ episode, trust me.

Even though I had done the cursory research on what Roswell had to offer and even though it seemed mostly to be something old couples in RVs stopped for, I had an image of the TV show town. It definitely seemed much bigger and emptier than the studio lot the show was filmed on (obviously).

Coffee + muffin to start the day!

I would not be deterred. After a coffee pit stop at Stellar Coffee Co, we decided to walk the main strip, discover how aliens landed on Earth, and verify Max Evans was not real. It was a big day for me.

The greatest thing about Roswell is their full speed ahead ‘Aliens Rah Rah’! Literally aliens everywhere. Statues on the corner, in the title of businesses, and on every t-shirt.

Alien window graffiti on the coffee shop!

Seriously. So many great murals on every building.

Cool space murals everywhere!

And most importantly, we had to get inside the International UFO Museum and Research Center. While small, it was a lot of fun. Some great exhibits featuring the real life newspaper articles from the “Roswell UFO Incident of 1947”, artistic recreations of  what the aliens and flying saucers looked like, and ANIMATRONICS. 

I saw aliens!

No matter what age, Roswell is definitely worth the stop. 

So I know you’re wondering: Do I believe? Was I changed? Does the evidence speak for itself? Why not! Let’s believe in aliens so that I can keep my hope of one day meeting Maxwell Evans.