Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wandering Homeless

I'm finally back, back in Cali, Cali.

Or home, as it should be. But home is a funny thing when you're me. When someone asks where I'm from, my eyes glaze over while I decide how to launch into the list of places I call home and why I can't honor the question with a straight answer. By the time I reach the second or third, "And then I lived in," their eyes glaze over.

I don't mean to brag or bore but there isn't a way to simplify the answer. If home is where the heart is, maybe I'm confused about just where the damn pulsating organ has gone. When I am home in Syracuse where I live, I refer to LA as "home." When I am home in LA where my family lives, I talk of going "home" to Syracuse. When I am in neither place and answering from the heart instead of the brain, "home" is, without question, Trinidad & Tobago where my culture lives.

It is a dilemma I admit I'm glad to have, but at some point, as a traveler or wanderer or nomad, no place feels like home. This time, in LA, I'm like the puzzle piece that seems to be the right shape but doesn't quite fit. If you force it, it juts out, gets stuck and the big picture never makes sense.

I watch as suave drivers in designer shades shuffle on undeterred by the traffic that has quadrupled what should be their commute time. I, on the other hand, am quietly losing my mind. If traffic didn't make sense to me before, the taste of a traffic-less life has worn my patience thin; there's more to life than the 5 freeway! I've heard there's public transportation here, must look into that for next time.

Everyone is glamorous, the Hollywood sign is sparkling and the drinks are $10 and up. My flats and Syracuse cardigan don't seem to fit where I once had heels and handbags. I wonder if my fanciness has dimmed or if I just need to wipe the smudges off my designer shades to see more clearly. 

I step out of the car to a feeling of heat I had lost somewhere between August and the 18 degree cold the night before I left Syracuse. Could it be that I was really wearing a summer dress while friends at home were brushing snow off their cars after spending 10 minutes donning adequate clothing to brace the cold?

Sometimes, I really do love LA. Home or not.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bhutanese light up Syracuse for Dipawali

A deep is lit for Laxmi.
When the candles are lit, the marigolds are strung, and the money is out, Laxmi will come.

It doesn’t matter that the candles are standard tea lights from the Dollar Tree down the street and not the copper candle dishes, or deep, that would light homes in Nepal. Or that plastic garland hangs where floral wreaths would have been. Laxmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, cannot tell the difference.

The Siwakoti family of Bhutanese refugees left Nepal and resettled in Syracuse in 2008. Although some cultural practices don’t translate well to life in America, the family maintained most of their traditions as they began celebrating Dipawali, Wednesday. 

“It is not the same here, but we try to keep our culture,” said Ranga Siwakoti, the father in the family.

Dipawali, or Tihar in Nepali, is a three-day annual festival of lights and a time to worship Laxmi and ask for her blessings. It is also a time for brothers and sisters to treasure one another and exchange wishes for long lives and happiness.

“It’s a time for brothers to give sisters money,” said Jassoda Siwakoti, with a sly nod to her male cousin–in Nepali culture, cousins often consider one another as brother and sister.

“Sometimes we feel like we should have been born girls,” Kamal Siwakoti retorted.

A sister prepares her brothers
to receive tika.
On Friday, the final day of Tihar, sisters in the family placed tika, a vibrant powder colored orange, blue and green, on their brothers’ foreheads and a mala, or garland of marigolds, around their necks. The brothers returned the blessing by making neat marks with matchsticks on their sisters’ foreheads.

After the tika, the family watched YouTube videos of Tihar in Nepal, saying, “You see? That’s how it is in our country.” Even the 80-year-old matriarch perked up to the familiar scenes, watching from her bed as the computer speakers blared the music she remembered from home.

Ethnic Nepalis who were born in Bhutan, like the Siwakotis, were persecuted in the country for having a different culture and a different religion from the native Bhutanese. The family fled the country to be independent from a lifestyle that was being forced on them. They sought refuge at a camp in Nepal before being granted asylum in Syracuse.

“You love your culture and I love my culture,” Ranga said. “We want to be able to celebrate who we are.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dear T&T: What Happened to You?

So, generally this blog is about my love affair with travel and the lighter, more beautiful aspects of the pastime I hold so dear to my heart. 

But I cannot always live in a rose-colored travel world. 

Sometimes, the love wanes (only briefly) and the issues that affect the world and travel come to light. I suppose it is relevant to discuss the complete picture of a true love affair anyway, because the love wouldn't be real without a little heartache.

Except this is a big heartache. The source of my woes is my own sweet Trinidad & Tobago.

After 11 people were killed in just 3 days last month, the government declared a limited state of emergency, forcing residents in the targeted crime areas to abide by a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and to be subject to searches at law enforcement's discretion. Which, in Trinidad means, the police will do as they please when they please, just because they feel like it (as is generally the case, only now, they won't suffer any backlash). On September 4th, the emergency decree was revised to have curfew between the hours of 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. The curfew, which has already been in place for several weeks, will last another 3 months.

The government says the killings are drug related, confined to gangs and have little to do with the general public. But if the general public has altered their lifestyles to suit this madness, it has everything to do with the general public. Just as our national motto says, "Together we aspire, together we achieve," together we fail and together we suffer. The senseless crime has got to stop; they are spoiling my beloved country.

Some things, however, remain unchanged. In true Trini festive fashion, some venues have been hosting "curfew fêtes" lasting from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., the exact hours of the required curfew, and serving promotional "AK47" shots at the bar. Only in Trinidad can we make light of a situation by throwing a party and also manage to last 8 hours doing it. 

But, back to a serious note, I worry about the people who will only know or remember this blemish on the face of my country. The ones who won't know that the water is delicious and warm and shockingly teal. That the sand feels like silky powder under your feet. That the mangoes have never been sweeter than when your neighbor brings some over, fresh from their tree. That every meal tastes like it's from a mother's kitchen (because it probably is) and the fusion of flavors and spices is like a performance for your taste buds.

They won't hear the faint sounds of steel pan playing somewhere in the distance while the warm night breeze lulls them to sleep. Or hear the soca music that will course through their veins and allow them no option but to dance. They won't know the heart and spirit of my country.

There is so much more to a country than just it's struggles. And while this is certainly an issue that needs to be resolved, I hope that one day soon, Trinidad & Tobago finds its way back to the sweet country I remember and once again leaves the world with memories of teal oceans and coconut trees rather than drugs and killing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Summer in Syracuse

Syracuse University
It is time to get serious.

No more wining the night away, fête after fête, for Carnival. No more all day beach sessions in California when only my hunger pangs could separate me from the sand. No more eats and greets and whatever my little heart desires.

No. The fêtes have been replaced by writing, writing has taken over my beach days, and the eats and greets have been substituted with–writing.

Syracuse, me, and my painstakingly expelled 6,452 words, have spent a beautiful summer together in grad school.

And by beautiful I mean I never saw anything outside of my often blank computer screen and the scribbled lines of my notebook pages. 

But I hear Syracuse is lovely in the summer. 

I imagine if I had had time to explore, I might have spent my Saturday mornings eating a breakfast of champions (very, very large champions) at Stella's Diner. My oversized banana pancakes would have been sweet and delectable and just the right way to start the day.

I imagine I would have spent time sipping coffee on Marshall Street, just off campus, enjoying a chat and discussing the woes of the world and a writer's struggle with my erudite classmates. 

I might have caught a glimpse of downtown, wandered through the MOST museum getting my scientific discovery on, and maybe caught a jazz festival or two. 

I may have even had a few jaunts to the lake when the day's heat was unbearable, and the cool water on my skin could quite literally have washed away any semblance of stress.

Sigh. What a wonderful summer it would have been.

Okay, so maybe I did manage to squeeze some of these things in, but they were all "on deadline" and in such a flurry, that they almost do seem like a figment of my imagination.

But the summer was wonderful anyway, and the excessive writing welcome. I may have traded in life and traveling on a whim, for an overweight messenger bag and endless nights attached to my computer, but travel is waiting for me on the other side. I am really learning my craft studying journalism at Syracuse University, and will be well prepared to tell the untold travel tales that lie ahead.

And, the best part is, on most days when I awake to begin a new grueling day, I actually feel like a real writer.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Somali Bantu Community Gets Grant for Success

Members of the Somali Bantu community and other local refugee groups will see a monetary boost for their resettlement services this year, thanks to a grant from the state of New York.

The Somali Bantu Community Association received its first payment from an $84,000 grant last month. The New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, OTDA, awarded the grant to the association for refugee social services.

The money, to be paid quarterly over three years, is intended to aid the association in providing job training and placement, English-language classes, and ensuring overall long-term community growth for the refugee population.

“If you don’t have someone to advocate for you, then you can’t get what you need,” said Haji Adan, a Somali Bantu refugee who co-founded SBCA and is the literacy program coordinator for the association. Some of the refugees arrive speaking only their native Maay Maay, and cannot read or understand the English they need in order to succeed, Adan said.

Somali Bantus are an ethnic minority group that was sold into slavery in Somalia during the 19th century Arab slave trade. Because of their differing appearance and language, native Somalis have continuously persecuted them, treating the Bantus as an inferior race.

When Bantus arrive in America, they tend to have a greater struggle than other refugee groups as most cannot read or write in their own language, Adan said. “Most of their parents were illiterate and never wanted to send children to schools because of the discrimination,” he explained.

Adan and Abdullahi Ibrahim saw a need to serve and strengthen their community and established the SBCA in 2004. What began as tutoring at the home of an association member has evolved into a full service resettlement center, complete with an office on Syracuse’s South Side, near to Central Village where most of the Somali Bantus reside.

Lul Hassan, a 22-year-old Bantu refugee who spent her entire childhood at a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States in 2004, credits the association with giving her a place to learn and, ultimately, a job as an office assistant.

“I don’t know how some of my friends and family would have found jobs without them either,” Hassan said.

Central New York Community Foundation grants have helped SBCA sustain itself in the past, but they rely on donations of time most heavily. Volunteers from all corners of the community give time to help: some from the city school district, some from local universities and some Somali Bantu parents and community leaders, themselves refugees. The continued support of volunteers and each new grant allow SBCA to develop the program to suit changing demands.

But the SBCA always needs money as the majority of their community members are in the public assistance sector and don’t have money to donate to the programs, said Barbara Gordon, a volunteer ESL teacher for the association. “Haji and Abdullahi have worked nonstop without salaries to support their community,” she added.

Adan supports himself by working for Syracuse City School District as a nationality worker, but he spends more time lending himself to his community. “If you are quiet and your neighbor is suffering, that is no good,” he said.

In 2009, there were roughly 95 Bantu families living in Syracuse, Adan said. Today there are close to 300, which he credits to better services provided by the SBCA.

The goal is to continuously improve the association, Adan said. So far, the grant has enabled SBCA to hire additional bilingual staff who collectively speak Maay Maay, Swahili, and English. In the future, they plan to add staff who speak additional languages so they may reach all refugee groups in the community, not just Somali Bantu, Adan said. With nearly 1,000 refugees arriving in Syracuse each year, there will be many to be helped.

Grant or no grant, money was never going to be a reason to stop operating the office, Adan said. “We feel pride with what we do for the community. The more good things we do for them, the better the community becomes,” he added. “We would have kept going.”

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Whole Truth...

Okay, please bear with me as I dust the cobwebs off of my poor deserted blog, and try to re-hone my neglected writing skills. Ahem--

Have you ever had so much fun that you kind of didn't want to tell anyone about it? Like the fun should just be your little secret? Almost as if the words of your merriment left your mouth, the sanctity of the fun-ness might very well leave with them?

It's kind of like buried treasure. There are no exciting maps and treasure hunts for non-buried treasure, then it's just regular treasure, accessible to everyone and thus much less exciting.

Or maybe it's more like a secret recipe; after all, KFC wouldn't be what it was today if everyone knew how to make it. There would be no allure, no secret. Well, Carnival in Trinidad is like a secret recipe for the most wildly entertaining revelry you are likely to experience in a lifetime. And you could not begin to decipher the ingredients of this recipe unless you simply taste it for yourself. Unfortunately, I took such a big taste and it was so delicious that my taste-buds will never be the same again.

The whole truth is, I wanted Carnival to remain safely as my little secret, which is why it has taken me four months to even consider leaking the excitement. However, as an aspiring travel writer, it would hardly be sensible to say, "Hey readers! I just came back from _____ (insert any fantastic location here) and it was SO amazing that I can't even tell you about it." I figured that probably wouldn't work.

So, since you must experience it yourself to fully understand, I will do my best to share a taste of the experience, a sample of the bacchanal (def. an occasion of wild and drunken revelry) and do my best to prepare you for what would be in store (useful Trini lingo included):

  • First and foremost, if you can't picture yourself doing this and liking it, Carnival is NOT for you.
  • If you get past that and decide you want to be right in the thick of things, please continue reading. 
  • You must let go of all other aspects of yourself and your life and just be one with the Carnival and the freeness, otherwise you will not get the full effect.
  • You MUST learn to wine (def. to gyrate, to move your hips in a suggestive manner). That is the sexy dance you pretty much see everyone doing ALL the time. Without this knowledge, you may be in trouble. "How to wine for Boys" and "How to wine for Girls." Because girls, it is really all about you. There are many other bamsees (def. buttocks, bottoms, backsides) to wine on, and the gentlemen will move on if you don't know what you are doing. 
  • In Trinidad, Carnival takes place on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday every year. Plan to arrive at least a week before Carnival Monday as there will be fêtes (def. celebrations, festivals or really big parties) to attend. There is at least one every night, often more than one. They have different themes, are hosted by different schools and organizations, and are often all-inclusive meaning you pay one price to eat, drink, and be merry for the entire night. It is wise to drink your money's worth.
  • When you leave the fête, stop for doubles (def. curried channa served between two pieces of fried bread) Yum. Unless you enjoy your mouth being on fire, slight pepper will do.
  • Prepare to get dirty. J'ouvert is a large street party that marks the opening of the Monday and Tuesday festivities. To celebrate, participants smear paint, mud, cocoa and the like all over themselves and everyone else. Do not be one of those people that doesn't want to get dirty. If you are, stay home. Note: you will still be washing paint, mud, and cocoa from all parts of your body by Ash Wednesday. 
  • Learn to wine.
  • If you want to wear a costume, participants are divided into Carnival Bands. There are tons of different ones, they all have different themes, different costumes, and different vibes. Find one that suits you and order your costume very early because they will sell out and you'll find yourself scrambling for whatever is left at the last minute. 
  • The costumes are VERY small so get in the gym if you want to be at your best, or don't, but decide to be very comfortable with your body. You will see all different sizes and shapes of exposed bodies feeling very comfortable and proud of whatever they are working with. 
  • The people are very friendly, and strangers wine on one another as though they have been acquainted for a lifetime. Learn to accept the friendliness, or travel in large groups. 
  • Learn to wine.
  • Guys, the girls are very sexy. Girls, the girls are very sexy. Everyone bring your A-game.
  • Do not try to find yourself a doo doo darling (def. a sweetheart, a loved one). While the eye-candy could fill up an M&M factory, it is best to just look. This is a time of too much freedom and no one is looking to be tied down for tomorrow night's fête.
  • Trinis party harder than anyone else in the world, this is the best place to learn how to do it right so join the fun.
  • Lastly, learn to wine, seriously. Just wanted to be sure I drove this point home. When you have finished the lessons above, you want it to look like this. Ladies, if you can make it look like this and have donned your scanty Carnival costume, congratulations you are on your way to becoming a fully-fledged bess ting (def. derived from 'best thing' used to describe a sexy girl). 

Carnival or more accurately pronounced, cahneeval, is a "farewell to the flesh" It is a pre-Lenten festival to allow one last chance to party before giving up alcohol, revelry, and song for the 40 days of Lent. So...after you have learned and partaken in the above; it is time to behave yourself! And then after Lent, you are free to be back at it. 

Sometimes when I am really missing the bacchanal , I stand on top of a cooler in my bedroom, blast my soca music and imagine myself right in the middle of a cooler-fête (def. party to which you bring your own drinks in a cooler, then possibly dance on top of the cooler; sturdy coolers required) having the time of my life. I am sick, I know. But once you taste it, I promise, you are never the same again.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Date With My Passport

It's that time of year again.

Men are roaming the streets carrying tiny, teal bags that are sure to spell delight. Heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates are out in full force. Everything in the United States has turned red and pink. And people are freaking out about what they are going to do, where they are going to do it, and what gift they are going to rack their brains over for Valentine's Day.

Me? I have a very, very hot date, and I am counting the minutes until we are together.

Slim, sleek, and seasoned, my date is worldly in every sense of the word. When schedules and funds permit, my date takes me to places beyond my wildest imagination and never fails to impress. Without my date my beloved travel would be just a distant dream, and without me, my date would suffer much the same fate. We fit perfectly together; we need each other.

Where did I find this apple of my eye you ask? Well it was brought to me by none other than the good old United States by way of my wonderful and wise parents. You see, though I was just two months old, my parents knew the one thing that would make my new life complete: a passport. It is never too soon to begin a love affair.

My passport and I have something very special planned this Valentine's Day. We are headed to Trinidad & Tobago for some sweet revelry as the Carnival season is well underway. There had previously been some tension as we hadn't been going out much (7 months and 23 days to be exact, but who's counting?) but we've since reconciled. I expect this trip will rekindle the flame. Some quality together time was long overdue; it is going to be a holiday to remember.

This Valentine's Day I am watching romance bloom and wilt as some friends walk into new relationships and others walk out of existing ones. It is both a happy time and a sad time, but my passport and I remain unfazed. We know what we have and my passport isn't going anywhere, it belongs to me forever.

Sure, I could be enjoying a culinary feast over candlelight, but I'd trade that for a $5.00 snack pack and airplane cabin lighting if I knew adventure was on the other side. This Valentine's Day is for travel, and I couldn't be more in love.

T&T here I come!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Road Trip: The Best & Worst of It

We spent 33 days on the road, posed for pictures in front of 33 state signs, visited 44 cities, and drove over 11,000 miles! The adventures were endless and each day held something different. The horizons before us changed colors and shapes as desert turned to badlands and farms turned to cities. Every place was new; every day was new.

With all that newness came a lot of great discoveries and also some that I could probably have done without. Here are some of the best and worst of our days on the open road:

Best Meal: It's hard to decide considering all of the yummy eats we had around the country. One of my favorites was chili cheese fries at Ben's Chili Bowl in D.C. Oh, and the poutine in Montréal. Definitely the poutine. I still dream about it from time to time.

Worst Meal: Well, aside from the probably-sitting-there-all-day awful gas station burgers which don't really count, the worst was probably the chicken fried steak we ate in San Antonio. The place claimed to have the 'best chicken fried steak in town' and was a Man v. Food locale no less. Proof that not every Travel Channel endorsed restaurant has good food

Best Drive: Through Montana, hands down. The creeks, the trees, everything was beautiful. 

Worst Drive: The seemingly endless drive across Texas on a two lane highway at night. No street lights, no other cars, just the ridiculous occurrence of the bright lights game between you and the Mack trucks. 

Best Hotel: The Sand Castle Motel in Daytona Beach, FL. It was the sweetest little place ever and was just steps from the beach. And the beach was beautiful in an I-can't-stay-away-from-it kind of way. Staying there felt like being at home which was a much needed reprieve from such large quantities of road travel. I would trade the big, fancy hotels of Daytona for this little treasure any day. Plus the room was sans roaches. 

Worst Hotel: The one with the most roaches

Biggest Surprise: Striking gold! I never thought I'd pan for gold, or visit South Dakota for that matter, but I found some! Taking in the staggering faces of our forefathers at Mt. Rushmore was an added bonus.

Biggest Disappointment: Not getting to camp at Yosemite. Actually, no that was a relief, let's be real. If this road trip has taught me anything, it's that camping is not for me

Greatest Moment: Standing at the mercy of the Grand Canyon, almost at the edge of life. It was one of those moments you stop in awe of the wonders of this world.

Strangest Moment: Being blocked by four very large Bison in the pitch-black darkness of night while driving into Yellowstone. The only thing crazier would have been actually seeing Yogi Bear.

Coolest City: N'awlins! I don't think you can narrow it down to one thing that makes this city so cool. It just is. You can't beat the music, can't beat the food, and can't beat the madness that is Bourbon Street (even when it isn't Mardi Gras!)

Weirdest City: Roswell. I think they have over-capitalized on the whole alien thing. Or maybe aliens really do live there and have run out all the humans...which would explain the eerie and deserted feel of the place... 

Favorite Thing: The freedom of the road. Forging my own path and discovering the undiscovered that lay before me. There is something truly exhilarating about waking up to something new each day. 

Least Favorite Thing: The price I paid for all of that freedom. I have never been more exhausted  in my entire life.

Thing I'll Never Forget: The hospitality of all the friends and family that took us in and fed us along our journey. They brought us back to life before sending us back to our unlimited adventures. It was the kind of kindness that is not easily forgotten. 

Things I'd Like to Forget: The 90+ gas station restrooms that I was forced to use.

We visited 30 U.S. National Historical Landmarks, ate at 54 restaurants and slept in 15 different beds. It was wild, crazy, and fantastic, but when it was time to go home, I was ready. 

And home never felt so sweet.

I posted a whopping total of 8 blogs while actually on the road, but I'll blame infrequent wifi and exhaustion for my lack of productivity. It has officially taken me 5 1/2 months to blog about 33 days of travel, but the adventure has finally come to an end. My days on the road are over for now, but only to be replaced by air travel, because the travel must go on.

Besides, how long can a travel bug sufferer really stay home before the itch becomes slightly unbearable...?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Road Trip: Surprise, Montana is Lovely!

Everything about Montana was a surprise. It was a surprise that we ended up driving through it as it was never on the original route plan, and it was a surprise that I kind of fell in love with it. I mean, let's be honest, it just isn't one of those states most people even think of very often. After all, the only thing I knew about Montana was that it is Big Sky Country, whatever that entailed, I had no idea.

We drove west through the state and passed a man selling handmade wooden stools at the side of the road. We stopped to check out his crafts and inquire prices and such. He also had antlers and various wilderness related art pieces. The actual animal antlers prompted my companion to ask the gentleman whether he hunts the animals himself. His answer was another Montana surprise: "I don't hunt 'cause I've been in trouble with the law and I can't have a gun. But my mamma has a gun." Hmm. Parked at the side of the road between two desolate highways, chatting with a man in trouble with the law and no other people around for miles? Time to go.

The landscape dazzled us as we continued on to Bozeman. There were mountains in the distance, huge expanses of land, and trees in every color that trees can come in. Frolicking in the creek beside the highway was an absolute must. The water was freezing, but we sat on the river rocks as the water trickled toward us, and enjoyed a few minutes of complete serenity. It was another one of those moments when I realized just how much beauty exits in my home country. The feelings of peace ended abruptly when we were forced to use a highly questionable restroom facility next to the creek, a surprise I could have done without.

Lunch at the Kountry Korner Café was definitely a hometown affair. I ordered chili and cornbread from a lady in an apron that could have been Betty Crocker herself, she was so cute. When she returned with our food, she was sure to mention that the honey was all locally made, in fact it was made by the people sitting at that table over there. Well, it doesn't get more local than that! I guess this would be kind of like running into the girl that does your coffee in L.A., but somehow not really the same thing.

As we headed out of Bozeman, there was a sign for a town named Manhattan. I had to giggle at the stark contrast between the sparse farmland before me, and the busy, bustling Manhattan in my mind. Bringing New York Manhattanites to this namesake town so unlike their own would make for hilarious reality television.

The more I travel, the more I realize how different things are outside of my backyard. Travel is an endless testament that we can never underestimate what another place has to offer. The more we see, the more we learn, and the more we can understand. I am sure there are lots of people that have always known Montana was lovely, and although I may be late in the game, I am glad to know it now. And come to think of it...the sky might have looked just a bit bigger.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Road Trip: A Spectacle of Spectators at Old Faithful

What Our Arrival Should
Have Looked Like 
We arrived in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park in complete darkness. Again. You would think we'd have learned our lesson about arriving at campsites in the dark, but clearly, we had not.

We drove through 45 minutes of winding darkness passed deer and elk, and got barricaded by 4 large bison before reaching camp. It was a cool 30° F outside (or -1° C for more dramatic effect) and way too cold and late to set up camp so we camped in the car near to all of the food so that the bears would have an easier time finding us. No, not very smart.

Luckily, the bears decided to spare our lives, and I started my morning with a 2 minute shower at the cost of 4 quarters. The coin operated cleansing was just a reminder that I was very, very far away from anything I had ever done before. I had also acquired a plague somewhere between Mt. Rushmore and panning for gold in the Wild Wild West, so my energy level and penchant for camping was very low. I was ready to see this geyser, check out the Tetons, and move on with life.

Pure Excitement
At least it was a beautiful day. We took a bike ride to Old Faithful and sat down to wait. Watching the pure excitement on people's faces as they waited for water to come out of the ground provided much amusement as we waited for the fairly timely geyser to erupt. A crowd of at least 100 ooh'd and aah'd in unison as little trickles of water spouted up every few minutes, tantalizing them. With each spurt, the onlookers jumped to their feet with cameras in hand, gasping in anticipation. And the geyser didn't erupt.

More spurts, more poised cameras, and still the geyser didn't erupt.

It was almost like Old Faithful was playing tricks on all of its over-eager spectators. Almost as though it were tired of being old and faithful. "Ooh, here I am! Psych! Okay, okay, here I am. Ha! Got you again out-of-towners! Fine, fine, I won't be the geyser who cried 'wolf' so here it is. For real this time." I imagined Old Faithful snickering from deep within its hot, bubbling underground center.

Grand Tetons
Finally, Old Faithful came through, much to the delight of the crowd of gaspers. Watching water come out of the ground was actually kind of cool, you know, natural wonder and all that. We wrapped up the day with a peaceful (peaceful mostly because I was asleep) drive to the Grand Tetons and a visit to the hot springs before heading back for yet another night at camp, this time in the tent. Yay.

I must admit though, that aside from the late night arrival, the below freezing temperatures, and the frightening encounter with bison larger than our vehicle, Yellowstone was truly gorgeous. Even for the not-very-outdoorsy types such as myself, there is so much to be appreciated in such natural beauty.

And the shower machine wasn't that bad. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Road Trip: Girl v. Food

I intended to attack Chicago Girl v. Food style...although that is pretty much how I attack every meal placed before me, but never mind that. I had watched Adam eat himself silly on Travel Channel's Man v. Food here and planned to do much the same. Besides, with less than 24 hours to spend in such a vast city, what more could we really do besides spend our time eating? And of course visiting the giant silver bean in Millennium Park.

After a grueling 11 hour drive plus a border crossing from Toronto into Michigan, we finally arrived in Chicago just as the sun was setting. What a beautiful city! We watched as joggers and bikers traveled along the water's edge while an array of yachts bobbed gently behind them. The buildings in the downtown area are a perfect combination of old and modern giving the city a cool and unique feel. I discovered this quickly because we drove around in five circles up and down one way streets trying to find a parking space close enough to Gino's East! We certainly weren't wasting any time, the famous Chicago deep dish pizza place was destination #1 on the Girl v. Food tour.

We arrived to meet two huge lines outside of the pizza joint. I suddenly felt like I was lining up to get into a club. There was a "bouncer" of sorts managing the lines and taking names. I asked him what the separate lines were for to be sure we were in the correct one, to which he replied, "One line is regular and one line is V.I.P." V.I.P.?! Yes, V.I.P. Evidently, some hotels in the area have hook ups for their guests to be "on the list." This must be some dang good pizza.

Forty-five minutes later we are seated only to be informed that it would be another forty-five minutes before our long awaited pizza was ready. Good thing we weren't starving! We chose the meaty-legend (pepperoni, bacon, Canadian bacon, and Italian sausage) deep dish pizza without much hesitation because you just can't go wrong with all that meat, right?

My first bite was...well...meaty. It took a while before I actually tasted dough (which was by far the best part of the pizza) and it just didn't dazzle me. No offense Chi-Towners. I don't know if it was because there was too much meat on the pizza, too much hype surrounding the pizza, or just the simple fact that I am a New York pizza girl at heart. Either way, I have to give it to New York when it comes to pizza.

The eating spree continued with lunch at Al's Italian Beef. Yum, yum, yum. Thank you Al. When they ask whether you want your sandwich dipped, your answer should be an emphatic yes, because all the juicy goodness is in the dip! A banana chocolate chip ice cream from Mitchell's Ice Cream Parlor capped off the tour and our stay in Chicago had come to an end.

There is still so much more to see and eat in this cool city, but for this episode of Girl v. Food, girl won! Then again, food doesn't conquer me all that often.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Road Trip: The Biggest Small Bike Ride Ever

I never imagined I'd ride a bicycle from one country to another, but I did. Sounds really cool and outdoorsy, right? Nevermind that it was the shortest two minute ride across a nice bridge from the Canadian Niagara Falls to the U.S. Falls; it sounds better to say I rode from one country to another, so I am sticking with that.

I felt like I was in a movie as the wind whipped my hair and we rode across undisturbed by cars or even other people. It was just me, my bike, my friend, and a bridge in limbo between two countries.

The customs officer asked so few questions as we reached the other side, that I worried he wasn't doing his job properly. I resolved that if I ever needed to engage in some illegal border crossing, this would be the place.

We rode around and headed to Cave of the Winds (which I would soon discover would be more aptly named 'Cave of the Extreme Soak-Down') for a more intimate interaction with the impressive Falls. Choosing a weekday to visit Niagara was brilliant as the lines were short and the people sparse. We walked right in, received our yellow ponchos and some hideously nerdy sandals intended to prevent slipping. I wondered if wearing these sandals might actually be worse than the slipping itself. But since the man of my dreams was probably not lurking somewhere behind the falls, I donned the unflattering gear, and headed for excitement.

We climbed down and met the water plummeting down right before us. It was incredible; I was looking up right into the face of Niagara Falls and feeling the water sprinkle my face. And as if this weren't already a pretty perfect moment, a rainbow suddenly appeared. Had this been a musical, someone would have promptly burst into song. The water looked so fresh and clean that I cupped my hand under it and decided to have a taste; I like to live on the edge. It was pure, clean, and delicious just as I had imagined. We continued to follow the stair path, getting closer and closer to the top of Bridal Veil Falls. We got so close it felt as though we'd been caught in a torrential downpour with someone simultaneously dumping buckets of water over our heads. It was a blast! My jeans were soaked up to my knees, blouse wet, and hair damp. The yellow poncho pretty much served no purpose whatsoever. (Disclaimer: If you do not intend to stand directly underneath the plunging water like a child playing in a sprinkler, then you are likely to stay dry, and your poncho will come in handy).

Continuing our bike ride in wet jeans was far from ideal, but what's a girl to do? We rode along the park path and discovered a spot where you could walk down to the water's edge. Well, you could walk to the edge after climbing over a short wall that probably wasn't meant to be climbed over, but no one was looking and I knew we would be careful.

There was a certain level of craziness in what we were doing; we were just a few feet away from getting caught in the current and swept right over the edge. I am sure where we were standing was probably illegal and would most definitely have given my mother a small heart-attack, but I was living on the edge more literally than ever before. I dipped my toes in the icy water and practiced skipping rocks as I watched the water turn from peaceful to powerful before sliding into the pool below.

We rode back to Canada just as the sun was going down and my jeans had finally dried. It is funny how you can spend an entire day watching lots of water fall over an edge, but somehow it is pretty amazing.
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