I hiked 11 miles with a 40 pound backpack in 100 degree weather. I think that makes me officially crazy.
I hiked to Havasupai, one of the most isolated villages in the world….and I lived to tell the tale.
I hiked to Havasupai, one of the most isolated villages in the world….and I lived to tell the tale.
Photos from my weekend at Zion National Park.
Ok, so I’m sorry for neglecting this blog over the last few weeks but I have a great excuse: I’ve been maddeningly busy! It’s true. Here’s the photographic evidence.
“Good morning and welcome aboard to flight 283 to Riga,” came the flight attendant’s cheerful announcement over the airplane loudspeaker. While under normal circumstances, this might have been the start to a predictable and boring story about my vacation to the capital of a former soviet country in Northern Europe, the fact that up until that moment I’d I thought I’d been on a flight to Helsinki, Finland, makes this story well, a little different.
“RIGA!” I thought, suddenly afraid. “Where the hell is Riga?!” I glanced at the passengers sitting around me, looking for signs that that they too, were shocked by this sudden change of plans. But they all appeared bored or half asleep; not at all like passengers who’d just been informed of a change to their flight itinerary. Which could only mean one thing:
I’d gotten on the wrong flight.
Seriously. If I hadn’t been so jet lagged when I was booking my flight 40 minutes earlier, I may have noticed that Riga and Helsinki weren’t the same city. I may also have noticed that they weren’t even in the same country. ‘Course, if I hadn’t been so jet lagged, I probably wouldn’t have booked a last-second plane ticket to begin with, but let me back up a little and explain.
My mom works for an airline, which means that although I can fly for free (yeah-uh!), I can only fly for free if the flight has an empty seat available (and seats are assigned to employees and their families based on seniority). This makes traveling anywhere long distance a somewhat stressful juggling act of split-second decisions and terminal changes and sleeping in airports because the flight you were hoping to get on was full and the next one doesn’t leave until the following morning.
I tried to explain this to the friends I was planning on seeing in Finland, but as it is with anyone who isn’t familiar with how the airline world operates, phrases like “standby”, “open seat” and “I have no idea how I’m getting to Europe, but trust me, I’ll get there…eventually,” aren’t always understood.
“You mean, you don’t know when you’re arriving?” My friend asked me on Facebook. Her wedding was the reason I was flying to Finland to begin with and I think she thought I wasn’t going to make it.
“Not exactly…”, I wrote, “I think I’ll be arriving sometime on Friday morning…or afternoon. It really depends on which country in Europe I end up in first.”
My mom’s airline didn’t fly to Finland, which meant that my plan was to get as close to Finland as I could (by flying into Stockholm or Oslo) or if Scandinavia didn’t pan out, I’d try Frankfurt or Paris. Basically, my only real concrete goal was to get to the European continent. Fly to a country in Europe – any country in Europe – and then buy a plane/bus or ferry ticket once I landed. Though I didn’t tell my friends in Finland this, not only did I not know WHEN I’d be arriving, I wasn’t even sure HOW. If airfare proved too costly, my plan B was to take a boat.
While this may seem like a crazy way to travel, when I’d been planning this trip a few weeks ago, I’d been fairly optimistic it would all work out. And it might have too…if it weren’t for the jet lag.
Because by the time I finally landed in Stockholm (I’d gotten the last available seat on that flight), I had spent seven hours at the airport in Las Vegas, four hours in the airport in New Jersey and 13 hours on two different planes. I hadn’t slept more than 30 minutes in 30 hours and I’d reached that point in my sleep deprivation where part of my brain – the part responsible for rational thought – had crashed and I was operating in a spacey, brain-fogged stupor.
I was so exhausted, for example, I spent the first 20 minutes after I got out of customs in Stockholm wandering around in a daze. I had to repeatedly remind myself that I was in Sweden and not in Norway or France or Germany or one of the many other Plan B, C, D and E destinations I’d had almost ended up in.
I eventually found a cafe that had free WiFi and ordered a cup of coffee, thinking that a little caffeine might help jump-start my malfunctioning brain. I handed the cashier a wad of purple paper bills.
“Latte,” I said, pointing at the photo above the cashier’s head.
“akhkdhskhsd?” the cashier asked in Swedish. I nodded, too brain dead to do much else.
“akhkhskhsk?” She asked again. Clearly her question hadn’t been of the ‘yes or no’ variety. Thinking that I’d miscalculated the exchange rate, I handed her some more purple bills but she just laughed and handed them back to me. She then gave me a cup of espresso and a bottle of milky-looking lemon soda; neither of which I’d ordered, but I took them and sat down anyway.
It was in this dazed state of mind, as I sipped my bottle of weird milk lemonade and rubbed my dry, bloodshot eyes, that I opened my laptop and began to search for a cheap plane ticket to Helsinki. And it is in this dazed state of mind that I apparently bought a flight to Riga…a flight to Riga which, by the time I’d finally finished purchasing, was due to depart in 40 minutes.
WHAT. I stared at my cell phone in disbelief. How could it be 9:15 am already? Had I really been sitting in that cafe for a whole hour?
The next 30 minutes was a blur of rushed conversations with ticket agents and a sprint across two different terminals. By the time I reached the gate, I was breathless and sweaty, and had at some point in my rush to get through security, lost my jacket. But I made it on the plane just before the doors closed.
Now, as I glanced at the man seated across the aisle from me, I briefly considered asking him where Riga was but then dismissed the idea. That would have been far too embarrassing and besides, it was too late to do anything about it anyway. We were backing away from the gate. I was now flying to Riga – wherever that was – whether I wanted to or not. I just hoped that it was somewhere in Europe and that I wasn’t flying to say, Indonesia, because I had a wedding to attend in 24 hours.
Luckily, I had an idea. Pulling out the in-flight magazine, I flipped to the world map at the back, grateful to see that all the cities were in English. I scanned the map, running my finger along Iceland and Estonia and Lithuania before spotting it. Of course! Riga was in Latvia! DUH. I was flying to Latvia.
It’s funny because when I worked for an airline, I would sometimes meet a passenger who’d gotten on the wrong flight and wound up in San Francisco by accident and I would think to myself “HOW? How did you buy a ticket, print a boarding pass, find your gate and board a plane without once checking to see where you were headed?” Usually it was someone who didn’t speak English very well. Or someone who’d thought they were flying to San Jose, Costa Rica but had booked a ticket to San Jose, California instead (an easy enough mistake, I suppose). But every once in a while there’d be a passenger who would collapse at the ticket counter, her hair messy and her clothes wrinkled. “I’m just so tired, “she’d confess. “‘I’ve been up for 30 hours now”. And then she’d hand me her plane ticket and I’d have to give her the bad news.
“I’m sorry, but you’re at the wrong airport.”
“I’m sorry but your ticket was for yesterday’s flight. You booked the wrong day.”
“I’m sorry but you bought a ticket to the wrong destination.”
And although at the time, I judged them (just a little), I now totally understand. Jet lag is no joke. It doesn’t matter how often you travel: stress, lack of sleep and multiple time zone changes are a dangerous cocktail. Add a few sips of of weird Swedish lemonade and you’re toast.
Luckily for me though, this story has a happy ending. I eventually made it to Helsinki and in plenty of time for the wedding, too. And although I would have loved to have seen more of Riga, the next flight to Helsinki left right away, so I was only there for an hour. I never even left the airport.
I just hope that the next time I find myself in Riga, Latvia, it’ll be on purpose. I also hope that this whole ‘I accidentally booked and then boarded the wrong flight’ thing was a one time deal. But knowing me though? I highly doubt it.
I got stuck in Stockholm for a 12-hour layover on my way from Helsinki to London (long story) and I had the flu and didn’t relish the idea of sleeping in the airport again (another long story), so I googled “hostels near Arlanda airport” and what popped up? The Jumbo Stay hostel.
Apparently this hostel wasn’t just NEAR the airport, it was AT the airport (on one of the stops on the airport shuttle bus) and apparently it wasn’t just a hostel but a former Pan Am 747 that had been refurbished into a 27-room hotel.
1. I LOVE AIRPLANES (I used to work for an airline, after all).
2. This place had been on my bucketlist for at least two years, ever since I first heard about it on Twitter. I even blogged about it. I’d forgotten that it was located in Stockholm though and it was just by happy accident that I ended up there at all. Yay for happy accidents!
Here’s the cafe and reception desk, located towards the front of the plane.
Here’s a view of the cafe.
Apparently they have conferences and even wedding receptions there. The wedding ceremonies are held on the wing of the plane and receptions are held just off of the cockpit. The cockpit has been transformed into a private suite.
Here’s the private bedroom in the cockpit.
Inside the shared washroom (sinks only. The toilet/showers were separate).
Though most of the rooms were shared (three to a room), by lucky accident I wound up staying in one of only a few private rooms the hostel had. The room had a private bathroom and was located above the wheels, in what I’d have to assume used to be the luggage compartment.
Here’s where I stayed (right above the wheels!)
Taken while I was lying in bed watching the Swedish version of American Idol.
The hallway of dorms.
I got to say, though the experience was cool, it was also a little creepy. Snuggled under the covers in my tiny loft bed, I could hear people walking around in the hallway above me as well as the sound of the wind whipping around outside. When you add the fever and my worries that I wasn’t going to wake up in time for my 7am flight the next morning, I was lucky if I slept more than a couple of hours.
Now that I’m back home in Las Vegas, it’s hard to believe any of it happened. I mean, did I really sleep and pee in the cargo hold of an old Pam AM airplane parked on the edge of an airport in Scandinavia? It’s got to be one of the weirder things I’ve done (and that’s saying a lot).
But just in case you doubt my story, here’s the proof I was there:
There’s me, sans makeup and with messy, unbrushed hair (I had the flu, alright?).
Okay, so I always feel weird about posting photos from my trips, because it feels like I’m bragging and a big part of me worries that ya all are rolling your eyes right now and thinking “Again!? More photos of you with in some cheesy photo with an unidentified object?” Or, “No, not again! Not another photo of a sunset! Please! For the love of God, noooooo!”
But then I think well, this IS a travel blog. And what’s a travel blog without some travel photos?
So here’s a photo recap of my trip (and you’ll be happy to note that although I took 30918730923 photos of sunsets, I resisted the urge to post any of them here. It was tough…but I held strong).
Here’s the view from the top!
The waterfall wasn’t in full force when we went and you can’t really swim there (it’s too shallow).
Sadly, there were no celebrities there at the time (it was a Sunday and the security guard said they were off that day). But there was a lot of equipment lying around, including packages of moss they must be using to make the jungle look even more jungle-like (?). It was hot, humid and extremely muddy…I wouldn’t want to be stuck filming out there all day.
That hill is a lot steeper than it looks…Trust me.
Word to the wise…do not go hiking in Manoa in flip flops (or “slippers” as people in Hawaii say). The mud will eat them and you’ll have to walk the entire way back barefoot. True story.
I mean, come on. Would you expect anything less from me?
It was really nice to return home for a while (I spent the first 16 years of my life there) and it was doubly nice to go with someone who’d never been. We got to do a lot of the touristy things I hadn’t done since I was a little kid.
I arrived in wet, chilly Buenos Aires, Argentina with two pairs of shorts, three sundresses, four bikinis, a broken adapter and an Australian guidebook. To say that I wasn’t prepared for this trip would have been an understatement. I was in for a long cold week.
The irony of the situation was that I’d actually thought I’d come prepared. Prior to leaving the US, I’d bought a guidebook, read reviews on TripAdvisor and had actually made a reservation at a hostel. I’d even packed a full 24 hours ahead of time and I NEVER do that. So as you can see, I was prepared. I was just prepared for the wrong country.
See, my mom and I had planned on spending my 30th birthday on the other side of the planet in sunny Australia. But as is sometimes the case when you fly standby on your airline employee parent’s benefits, there weren’t any empty seats available. The flight to Argentina, by contrast, was half empty.
I gotta say, I was very impressed with my mom. Although I tease her for being a picky eater and for being squeamish about public restrooms, I don’t know any other 60-year-old woman who’d be flexible enough to be able to change travel plans at the last second like that. Because after we didn’t make the flight to Sydney, we looked at the departure board to see what our other options were, saw the flight to Argentina and then 12 hours later, were boarding a plane to a country that until the day before, my mom had barely known existed. It was pretty crazy. Even for me.
But despite the fact that BA wasn’t our first choice, it was still a fun trip and all in all, a great way to celebrate a milestone birthday (I turned 30 on October 21st and my mom turned 30 + 30 just three weeks prior).
Here are some of the highlights:
Our hostel had this ancient elevator that was tricky to operate (you had to make sure this metallic cage door closed properly or else the elevator wouldn’t stop). We didn’t know this first time we rode in it and were trapped as the elevator moved from floor to floor and the hostel’s maid yelled directions at us in Spanish. Neither of us speak Spanish (I’m fluent in Spanglish), but luckily a couple of English-speaking backpackers came to our rescue before we broke the elevator entirely.
My mom and I are notorious for arriving somewhere new and immediately taking off in a random direction without consulting a map or asking for directions. Which is precisely what happened as soon as we got off this river boat in Tres Bocas, Argentina (a tiny river community a couple hours outside of the city). We were lost in a conversation and didn’t even notice the path had disappeared until we were sloshing around in a muddy field on the outskirts of someones farm. Dogs barked in the distance and my mom and I, worried we’d get caught and have to try to explain in broken Spanish what had happened, quickly backpedaled in the opposite direction. After trying to climb a barbed wire fence and cross a swamp (yes, a swamp), we eventually found our way back to the street.
Buenos Aires, like much of the Americas, had quite a few stray dogs. My mom felt bad for them and spent the majority of our stay wandering around Buenos Aires feeding them. Every time she saw a dog, she’d whip out this bag of dog food she’d taken to carting around and then chase after the stray, throwing handfuls of food as she ran. The dogs, likely unaccustomed to having a middle-aged white woman accost them in the street, didn’t seem to know how to react. Many of them ran away.
I found the whole spectacle mortifying.
“Mom,” I scolded. “People are gonna think you’re nuts. It’s like if someone in New York city started feeding the rats…it’s just not done.”
I wasn’t entirely sure if that was true, but it sounded right. But my mom just shook her head. “I will never be able to think of these dogs as rats.”
Some of the strays (like the ones pictured above) took to following my mom around. She was like the pied piper.
Have you ever been to Argentina? What did you think?
Woah. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on here. I’ve got so much to tell you! Unfortunately, it’ll have to wait, because I just got back today from a weekend on a houseboat at Lake Mead and I’m exhausted.
I spent an interesting and busy few days in Beijing. When I returned to work on Tuesday, my students asked me what I found most surprising about China and after considering their question for a moment, I came up with this list:
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn this, because I knew China was big on internet censorship, but I guess it never occurred to me that a website as harmless as Facebook would ever make a country’s “naughty list”. After all, even my 14-year-old cousin and my brother’s dog have Facebook accounts. But when you think about the large role social media has played in facilitating revolutions in countries like Tunisia or Egypt, it makes sense that an authoritative government like the People’s Republic of China would want to take every measure to ensure they don’t have another uprising on their hands.
I’m not the biggest fan of tourist attractions. I lived in New York for seven years and never visited the Empire State Building or climbed up Lady Liberty. I yawned through the Taj Mahal and wasn’t half as impressed as I thought I’d be touring Tikal. I figured that if a 151-foot statue of a green woman couldn’t impress me, than surely an old long wall in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t stand a chance.
But I was wrong. The wall was really cool. Yes, it was old (14 centuries old, to be exact) and it was long (6,000 miles) and in the middle of nowhere (built atop a steep hillside), but I think that’s what made it impressive.
In China, burping is considered polite, spitting in public is quite common and seeing the occasional person relieving themselves in public isn’t completely unheard of. I would know. In the few short days I was there, I saw three pre-school-aged children pooping in the street (one, in front of a national monument). Not only were these children’s parents completely okay with their children using the sidewalk or grass as a dump (ha!), they encouraged it. For decades, it’s been the trend in China to fashion babies and toddlers in pants with slits in the back, called kaidangku or “open-crotch pants”. The pants are designed with convenience in mind, as I suppose it’s easier for parents to wipe poop from the sidewalk than from children’s bottoms.
According to my Chinese students and to this article in China Daily, this p0tty-training method is going out of style and isn’t practiced much by people in Shanghai or Beijing.
While I believe human bodily functions are natural and not something to be ashamed of (everyone poops!), I wasn’t comortable seeing it so prominantly on display like that. I have to admit, as tolerant as I like to think I am, I was a little weirded out by it all.
For example, a number of the public restrooms I used didn’t have locks on the stall doors and one didn’t have any doors at all. None of the stalls in that public restroom did; just knee-high dividers. People could (and did!) walk by and see people relieving themselves. No one seemed to mind much, but I found the experience awkward.