A Travellerspoint blog

Visiting Grandma

my cousin's wedding, hurricane Matthew, and adventures with my mamma

storm 20 °C

After a couple of months back in the Dominican with Billy, trying to keep the hostel running through low season, times were getting a bit tough.

No seriously, I spent some time making art to get rid of the boredom as lazy days at the beach were becoming far and few due to heavy rain fall and I was homesick and getting frustrated with the endless threats of hurricanes due to an extremely hot summer.
I even spent 9 hours getting my hair done one day, which turned out even better than I imagined!
IMG-20160821-WA0003.jpgIMG-20160821-WA0008.jpgIMG-20160821-WA0006.jpgIMG-20160821-WA0009.jpg and looked even cooler when the braids came out IMG-20160904-WA0010.jpgIMG-20160904-WA0007.jpg
We spent nights dancing, even if it often meant a wet moto ride back in the rain!
Billy was awesome as always, and he took me on a few adventures away from the rainy north coast to make me smile. One of my favourite days was when we traveled all the way to Montaña Redonda in Miches where we climbed a huge mountain to swing out over the edge, with the beautiful Caribbean sea spread out beneath us.

The mountain had lots of cool props and places to chill and hang out, so we had fun with those while our dog Jaxon ran around enjoying the fresh air.

We spent time in the capital city with Billy's family, on one occasion in particular we were able to celebrate a very important day for Billy's family when his mother graduated as a nurse. There are not many women left in our world like Billy's mother Luisa. Every single day she cooks for the entire family - not just the immediate, but all of those who live in her household so they can be close to the university where they study. She feeds the local homeless daily, our favourite story is of the local homeless man who she bought a watch, a bowl, and a fork. Everyday at 12pm he knows he is welcome to come up to the house with his bowl and fork for a big plate of food.-I watched in amusement the day he came a little early and she chased him away, yelling he has his watch and knows he cant turn up until 12 when it's ready! Luisa grew up in a sugar cane community and worked hard to give everything to her children, she sacrificed so much so that her children could have a good education and grow up in a safe neighbourhood. She moved away from the only home she ever knew to the big city when Billy was 8, so the family could work for the missionaries who visited to help struggling Dominican communities. Luisa never gave up her dream to one day be a nurse, and she taught herself to read and write when she was in her late 40's. Once her own children were old enough and settled, she enrolled in her studies to become a nurse - and in 2016 she became a qualified nurse. I feel honoured to have had the great privilege of attending the graduation of such a kind, caring, and inspirational woman.
It wasn't long before heavy rain became storms, and the streets and newspapers were filled with the rumours of a huge hurricane coming our way. Hurricane Matthew was his name, and we all felt it couldn't be so bad because Hurricane Lisa closed the country for hardly a reason. But Hurricane Matthew was no joke, and we weren't even in it's direct path. The other side of the island, Haiti, received the direct hit while we were thrashed with heavy winds and lots of rain. I worried as I was due to fly to visit my family in the USA. Everyone assured me I would be fine and the hurricane would fizzle out - but sadly the hurricane only got worse and I was told my second flight wouldn't make it due to the airport closing in Miami. I decided to fly to Miami as I knew I would have more luck with rescheduling one flight rather than two, and so I was put on a rather bumpy flight as we flew as far west as we could to outrun the hurricane. I will never forget staring east out of that tiny plane window and watching as the blackened sky lit up with distant lightening. In all my years of flying, I have never seen anything like it. Flying through and around a hurricane is certainly an adrenaline hit! On landing in Miami, I found my way to my hotel where I was told not to go out on the street as the hurricane was due to hit Miami! I couldn't believe I was to experience the same hurricane for the 3rd time! The hotel staff felt so sorry for me, and after speaking with my very worried father in New Zealand, they upgraded me to their executive suite where I filled it with groceries and back up water to get through my two night layover. Thankfully the direct hit Miami was dreading, never came. Instead of waking to destruction and devastation, Miami was met with a sunny day - perfect for an adventure!
I took a taxi to Wynwood Walls where I wandered around and saw the street art that covered 2 large blocks. I tried to find some action in the city, but it was a ghost town despite the sunshine. Everyone had fled the city due to the hurricane. It was impossible even to find a taxi or a bus. I found myself walking through streets and parks, the city center, alongside the marina - all with never seeing another person. It was so strange. I found a couple of shops that were open, but they weren't the kind of shops where I wanted to linger. I walked for nearly 7 hours that day - desperately trying to find a taxi or a bus. I found a security guard who pointed me towards a skytrain where I was able to get to the airport to then take the free airport shuttle back to the hotel. It was a weird city, possibly stranger because it was so deserted. I found myself relying on those living on the street to point me in the right direction, noticing too that I was always drawn to those who spoke spanish to help me rather than the rough looking miami locals. I didn't leave my hotel room again until it was time to fly to Michigan!

Landing in Michigan, far from the storm, and feeling safe in the first world surrounded by my family was a wonderful feeling - despite the shock of arriving to full blown Autumn - about the temperature of New Zealand winter! I was instantly bundled into large jackets, scarves, boots and a hat - and was ready for some adventures in North America. It was my 5th time back to the states in 2 years, but only my second time with my family. I was so grateful to my mother who had bought me a flight up to spend time with her and my grandma for my cousin Jess's wesdding.

On one of the days, Mum and I carved pumpkins! We found a house selling pumpkins, and we picked the ones we wanted. Neither of us had ever done it before, but thankfully Grandma gave us all the tricks of the trade. We even roasted the seeds and snacked on those for days!
The wedding was beautiful and it was an honour to be part of it. Jess looked radiant on her special day, and it was wonderful to get to know her (now) husband a little better. The weekend at the hotel with all of the family was filled with love and laugher as always, and these are the memories I always hold so close to me.21291915_1..513135959_n.png15259196_1..047261675_o.jpg15252686_1..398731984_o.jpg15271921_1..236688166_o.jpg15304472_1..750797189_o.jpg15317767_1..704585180_n.jpg

After the wedding, I spent a few more days with Mamma before she left for New Zealand. We headed out one day to see Big Red.
Another day, Grandma, Mum and I went up to Uncle Dave and Aunt Danelle's church to surprise Mario - Billy's friend and old boss from our church in the Domincan Republic! We couldn't believe he was presenting there while I was in Michigan, I don't think he could believe it either. Bizzy came up to visit too and there were some of Billy's missionaries there too, long time friends of my aunt and uncle! Talk about small world and it felt strange to be with people in Michigan, who I had only ever known in the context of the Caribbean! But wow, it was lovely.
I then had an extra week with my Grandma which was amazing. She was in the midst of packing to move to her new home, so I threw myself into organising, cleaning, tidying and packing. It was such a special time, and Grandma and I made sure we got to have plenty of adventures - taco tuesday, shopping, breakfast at Jackies, checking out her new home, and she even bundled me into the car to go on a surprise outing (giant ice creams at Captain Sundae!)...

I felt so blessed having this time with my Grandma. Packing up her home was such a cool thing to be part of because as we discovered things she always told me a good little story to go along with it. We played Grandpa's favourite music and talked about their travels around the world. I felt like I got to know her even more during this time of change and growth for her, and felt privileged to share this time with her. She talked about her mission trip to Haiti, and she gave advice to me for living a whole and healthy life with Billy. Leaving Grandma was hard, it was also a strange feeling to be leaving her home too . Knowing I would no longer having Grandma's house to stay in, the mechanical beds to play in, or my favourite couch to snuggle up on after a day of flying to get to her was a really weird thought. But of course I am happy to know she now has a wonderful new home right in the heart of Holland, Mi.

I left Grandma as I boarded an early morning train to Chicago for my flight back to the Dominican Republic. I was nervous to get back as I had heard the rain was still pouring, and that many streets had begun to flood. But I guess that is a story for another day...

Posted by chasingsummer 18:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

San Diego & Tijuana

Reuniting with my favourite little girl in the entire world

sunny 25 °C

As I left Mexico, I felt like I was riding an emotional rollercoaster instead of an airplane. I didn’t want to leave the magical land of amazing food, incredible friends, and endless adventures. But I had the best reason in the world waiting for me in Los Angeles – Grace!

From before I left New Zealand, and including the entire time of my travels to date, meeting the Sorenson’s in Los Angeles had always been my most long-term plan. It was the only thing that I knew for certain was going to happen throughout all of my time on the road, the only plan concrete enough that it wasn’t to change with the wind. I was nervous that perhaps things may not be the same – would she be too cool for me now? Would she be miffed that I had been gone for so long and hadn’t made it back even once for a visit?

Grace’s 10th birthday at Disneyland had been our plan to reunite and what we had both clung to when the skype calls and the messages we sent each other weren’t enough to bridge the two sides of the Pacific Ocean. And in an instant, there she was – at least 20 centimetres taller and running towards me with arms wide open and that same fairy bounce to her step that has been there all her life. Together again, bliss.
Jack was as gorgeous as ever. He had grown immensely as he no longer kept the little boy look about him and he had clearly grown up somewhat since our last adventure days. We all piled into the SUV driven by Wendy, a friend of Chris and Vanessa’s who we were doing a house swap with in San Diego. We hadn’t been in the car for 10 seconds before Chris complained there was ‘far too much noise and fun coming from the backseat’ to which we all roared with even more laughter and jokes headed right back in his direction. I remember now how happy I felt in that moment, nothing at all had changed between Grace and I despite the distance, the years apart, and the not always so consistent communication.

We spent the first night at the first (of three!) beautiful houses belonging to Wendy and Matt. Far too much wine was consumed, and I enjoyed playing around with Grace & Jack and all of the toys that belonged to the three kids who lived in the house; Keegan, Kylie and Kiera.
The next day we headed out to Disneyland where we checked into the Disneyland Resort for a few nights. Mickey’s face was everywhere and access to the park was right at our hotel’s doorstep. Of course, what we had not anticipated was the number of people would be in the park – peak season was something else! The lines were everywhere, and the timers indicated at least a 90-minute wait for everything. We were all hungry and tired, and three of us were hungover… Our first stop was to stuff our faces with greasy overpriced theme park food before battling the queues…
After a fuel stop, we were ready to go into full Disneyland mode – and at the kids request, Spacemountain was our first destination! I don’t know if either Jack or Grace had any idea that Spacemountain is an intense rollercoaster through a pitch black, out of space simulation. I do know that afterwards, Jack shrieked with glee how he had loved it yet kept his eyes closed the entire time! 90_20160708_183509.jpg
We had three full days exploring both Disneyland and the neighbouring California Adventures, and thankfully due to our stay at the Disneyland Resort we had special access for an hour in the morning before the park opened to the public. This in turn gave us closer to about 4 hours each morning before the high crowds picked up, which was a perfect excuse to head back to the hotel for a drink and a splash in the pool!
Watching Grace with the princesses reminded me so much of my own birthday trip to Disneyland at 10 years old. Being there was my 4th time to the park, but forever etched in my mind was the trip when I was 10 because that was when everything shone brightly with that Disney sparkle. Back when I waited all day to meet Princess Jasmine and Aladdin – yet when the moment of truth came, I was so nervous I didn’t have any words. Watching Grace with the princesses was exactly the same, and it made my heart so happy for her, for me, and for my parents. Truly, through all the hype and cliché – there really is something so special about Disneyland!
One of the things that made our time with Mickey even cooler was that Grace and I had spent the best part of two years researching cool secrets about Disneyland and we had a list compiled of what we wanted to try and see. Some of the things were true – we found Walt’s apartment with the memory light glowing (when it isn’t glowing, his daughter is visiting the park), we found the golden apple that when rubbed makes the wicked witch come from her tower and cackle down at the people in line. We found that some things were not true – like a death certificate from the haunted mansion, much to Jack’s disappointment after we rode the ride 3 times before one of the kids built up the courage to ask for it! I really enjoyed how both Jack and Grace loves Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and the Submarine ride most of all even though all three are amongst the tamest of the entire park – until it clicked, of course! They are the rides with the most “Disney magic!” There are no adrenaline seeking flips or twists, but instead the rider is transported to an alternative world; one where it is almost impossible for kids to know if it is real or not. So much that on our 5th ride through the haunted house Jack turned to me,
“Oh my god Katy, those ghosts are STILL dancing all of this time!”

After our trip to Disneyland we returned to the 1st house of the house swap where we stayed for a few nights more. I realised how close I was to Tijuana in Mexico and decided to train down to spend the night with my friends Brissa and Alain before returning to meet everyone at the 2nd house swap which was super close to the border. As soon as I crossed the border back into Mexico, my heart began to beat faster. 90_20160712_135742.jpgThe street noises were louder, everything just a little less shiny but in no way less colourful. The scents of lime and cilantro filled the air and that wonderful Mexican accented Spanish had me smiling broadly as I waited for Brissa to pick me up outside of immigration. I love the USA, my family live there. But Mexico is so special, and even the grungy border town of Tijuana had something to it that made me bounce a little more with every step. With a welcome sign, a big hug, and three michelads, there were two of my favourite Mexicans with their lovely mother – and off we went on a grand adventure!
We drove down the beautiful coast of Baja California and stared out across the Pacific Ocean from high on the cliff tops. We stopped for tacos at a family’s restaurant – and I had the BEST grilled prawn, chipotle and melted cheese taco of my life. If I hadn’t already eaten 3 other tacos and 2 tostadas I would have eaten 3 more of those prawn ones… sigh. Even the memory is making me hungry, which is ironic as I write this from a Mexican restaurant in Punta Cana which is slightly curbing the craving – but no one on earth makes tacos like they do in Mexico. Even the best Mexican chef in the world out of Mexico has nothing on a street stand in Mexico. It’s just the way of the taco life.

And we watched as the sun made it’s journey towards New Zealand from atop a beautiful cliff
I fell in love with the tables of vendors selling chilli coated candy and dried fruit – my friends bought bags for us to chomp on, and I have to say that chilli coated dried mango is exceptional. 20160713_121824.jpg
That night, Brissa and I went out to karaoke where she sang her heart out, and I draped myself in traditional Mexican attire and admired the local beers, micheladas and tequilas.90_20160713_005417.jpg20160713_005359.jpgIMG-20160712-WA0044.jpgIMG-20160712-WA0040.jpgIMG-20160712-WA0038.jpg
The next day I went to buy a few souvenirs that I wanted from Mexico before we went to the border to meet Grace and Vanessa who were coming over for the day! But the markets didnt really sell anything at all like the markets in Chapala ... it was all chilli and cajeta as far as I could see !
Once we picked them up at the border, we took them on a small tour around Tijuana before having lunch at yet another delicious taco restaurant – where I know Vanessa fell in love with prawn tacos too.

I drank one last michelada as we made our way towards the border to cross back to the USA side… and we waited… and waited… and waited… in a line that felt like it was never going to go anywhere… If the tacos hadn’t have been so goddam incredible… that line was nearly not worth it. And it was heartbreaking to know how many people wait in that line every single day to cross over for work and then cross back each night. Time that could be spent working, or with family or friends, or doing yoga, or just having personal time – yet instead, hours of precious time is spent in a line chasing that non-existent American dream. And not just for one or two people, but instead for hundreds and hundreds.

We spent the next few days at house 2 of the three house swaps – and I know this was the personal favourite for all of the Kiwis. The house was perched on a cliff high over Playa Encinitas near to San Diego. A laidback surfer community that we had private access to the beach down a set of windy wooden steps laid into the cliff. The house reminded all of us very much of the Pauanui beach house, and we all felt instantly at home.
Chris was out surfing every moment he could – I tried but the water was far too cold for me and I couldn’t paddle in a wetsuit after learning to surf in the Caribbean. My toes and fingers went numb and I sadly realised I would never be able to surf in NZ either. Poor Billy. Hopefully he learns to love the wetsuit ....
Grace and I collected rocks which she believed were precious crystals she was going to sell to help feed all the hungry children in the world – I had never thought I could love that kid anymore, yet some how she can always find a way for that unconditional love to grow.

I think we were all more than content to spend the rest of our time at the beach house until – an enormous rotting dead whale floated all the way onto shore! Apparently, it had been resurfacing all over the west coast, and it picked our beach house to land in front of… It was such a fiasco – and the smell was horrific. The kids all ran out to look at it, and when the news truck came Grace was interviewed and we watched her on the 11pm news talking about how everyone should close their windows and doors because it stinks! It was absolutely hilarious, especially when Keegan started to spray air freshener around the house as he announced,
“I am febreezing the dead whale!”
Another thing that will forever be etched in my brain was the behind the scenes family trip to the pet cemetery – the workplace of Matt and Wendy who own the houses from the house swap. It really was a beautiful place, and I wish my cats Bob and Taco had such a nice resting place.
But what I will never ever forget is how we saw a small dead dog in the mortuary lying on a table. The furnaces were being heated … and all of a sudden there was no more dog on the table. The kids and I all clicked at the same time, just as a huge waft of weird smelling smoke came over us all and as we screamed, Chris teased us “We are all snorting dead dog right now!”
Our last few days were in house 3, which also sold while we were there, was in a little waterways type community. The house was huge and only had very minimal furnishing (staged to sell) so Grace loved having a dancing room, and Jack could build his lego in peace. The house had a heated swimming pool as well as the water way in front of the house. The sea mat was rolled out, and didn’t get put away; a long thick piece of foam that holds a lot of weight so you can run and jump and play on top of the water. Jack learned how to do his very first backflip off the sea mat and then him and Grace were ‘backflip buddies’ for the rest of the day.
We went for a ride on the duffy boat to dinner at a Japanese restaurant, marveling at the beautiful houses build alongside the waterways canal.
We spent a day at Hollywood, eating at hard rock cafe and stopping to see the stars on the sidewalk.
I enjoyed my after-kid-bed-time with Chris and Vanessa as much as always before. Late night wines and snacks, talks about the past and the present, and different goals for the future are always on topic between us, and I love being able to talk to such incredibly intelligent and accomplished people without ever fearing that they will laugh at my desires and wishes. It was just amazing to be all together again, and we each commented many times how it really felt as if no time had passed.
Leaving Grace was as impossible as it had been the first time. Many travellers I have met on the road have told me that it gets easier to part with loved ones the more often you do it. I call bullshit. I have spent my life traveling between my home in New Zealand and my family in the States. It never gets easier when it comes to the ones you love more than life itself. And leaving my princess hurt just as much the second time as it did the first. But I knew something she didn’t – in just 7 months, she would get a surprise knock on her door as I would be returning for Dommy’s wedding.

As our time together on the North American continent ended, I was grateful to the Sorenson’s for making Grace and my dreams and goals of Disneyland come true in the same way they have taught me for the last ten years to make my own dreams become reality. I remain endlessly grateful to Chris and Vanessa for not only having me to join them on their holiday and for making sure that our promise of Disneyland 2016 happened (and so beautifully), but I thank them so much for always allowing the relationship between Grace and I to flourish and grow. I thank them for their never-ending love and kindness, and for bringing me into their home and their lives with arms wide open, and for allowing me to be their wayward extra family member.

Posted by chasingsummer 03:11 Archived in USA Comments (0)


Old friends in Guadalajara and a visit to the birthplace of Tequila !

sunny 20 °C

I arrived at the bus station in Guadalajara to meet my old friend Franki. We threw my stuff into the trunk of his car and hightailed it - you guessed it - for tacos and micheladas. Even as I write this now, I am filled with some sort of sweet yearning and nostalgia to be back in Mexico where the air is filled with the possible taste of the next sweet ass meal.

We drove over to Dirce's house, stopping to buy her a huge bunch of flowers on the way. I was so excited to see my friend, but possibly even more so to see my beloved puppy Taquito - who had since grown into a giant 2 year old boxer x bulldog !

I stayed up late chatting with Dirce, knowing that she would be working all week so I wouldn't get to spend much time with her. She hadn't been having the best of times so I was desperate to get a smile out of her. It made me so happy just to be back in her house, wrapped up with all of her beautiful dogs and drinking tea in her kitchen as always.

Early the next morning Franki came to pick me up and take me on an adventure - god knows the guy owed me a few after I showed him around so many of my beautiful secret Kiwi spots! He knew I was freezing after coming from the Caribbean to the cold summer of Guadalajara (high teens - low twenties) so I must admit, he did a bloody good job in lining up the days plan - a trip to a naturally hot water river in the midst of the mountains of Jalisco.

We hiked up and down the river, finding the best spots to lie against the natural springs as the hot water washed over us.
I fell off a huge boulder into a huge pile of mud (and got an equally huge bruise on my leg that lasted about 2 weeks), but it was all in the name of adventure!

That evening, I wanted to spend some time with Dirce but I really wanted to make sure she got to go on an adventure. so I talked to Franki (who of course is how I first met Dirce all those years ago in Auckland) and together we came up with a list of 3 things she could choose from:
1. Going to see a movie
2. Going for tacos
0r (inspired by a giant billboard we passed on a highway)
3. Going to what shall forever be known only as trampoline wonderland.

We called Dirce on our way back to the house and presented her with her three options, to which she nervously replied she would be ready for anything by the time we arrived at the house - and so we kidnapped her and took her to trampoline wonderland!
From the moment we stepped onto the trampolines, we all began to laugh and laugh and laugh. I kept needing to run to the bathroom to pee cos I was laughing so hard. We bounced and threw ourselves against trampoline walls, played trampoline basketball - and then we found the pit. We threw ourselves off the trampolines into a huge pool of foam and laughed hysterically as we landed in twisted positions or directly on top of each other.
It all got completely out of control when we watched a giant man (possibly too giant to be on the trampoline in the first place sized man) have to be dug out of the foam. And as they dug, he kept falling down and down, further into the pit and further away from his redemption of being heaved back over the sides. Our plan on kidnapping and taking Dirce out for a fun night proved to be great therapy for all of us as we laughed and laughed ourselves the whole way home - stopping for these killer cookies on the way too ...
They were so good, I went back to take a photo so I would never forget them (sometimes I do wonder about myself...)

During my time in Guadalajara I also got to catch up with my friend Adrian which made me so very happy since he had spent so many hours with me patiently practicing spanish many years previously in both New Zealand and Mexico! Naturally we met over tacos and chelas - does anything in Mexico revolve around something different? Certainly not when I am there that's for sure!

The very next day , Franki and I headed out on our planned roadtrip to the actual birthplace and town of Tequila!
Tequila is like Champagne and can only be called Tequila if it is produced from the blue agave plants grown within the area of Tequila in this particular part of Jalisco, Mexico. I had been to the province of Tequila during my previous travels to Mexico, but had never made it to the town itself. Franki had never been before either so it was a perfect opportunity for an adventure with an old adventure buddy.

As soon as we arrived in Tequila, I saw this absolutely ridiculous ginormous chile car wearing a cliche Mexican sombrero, parked right next to the town square.
I usually hate tours. But I fell head over heals in love with that chile and in true Katy style, I begged "PLEASE OH PLEEEEEEASE CAN WE GO ON THAT CHILE!?" and so naturally - we did!
The Chilote turned out to be an awesome tour of the town of Tequila and it was super fun to ride along in with all of our new chile bus friends. The Chile drove us all over town and stopped to let us off and see the sites (and taste plenty of Tequila!).
We booed at the only factory in town that sold off to the Japanese (Sauza), and cheered at the famous Mexican factories - Jose Cuervo, Patron, and more. We stopped to see a set of wash basins known simply as Los Lavaderos. The tour guide told us the story of how the women of the village used to meet and wash the clothes at this famously old basin that has fresh river water constantly running through it. The women would sit and talk of love and good things in their lives, and the guide laughed as he called it the old fashioned facebook.
We saw inside the factories and learned how tequila used to be made - and of course how it is made more easily now.
The vats of tequila smelled DISGUSTING and it was not at all pleasant to linger beside them
So we sneaked off from the tour and found a pile of blue agave on a plate which we treated ourselves to a private taste testing (dont mind if we do!) and I must say - it was delicious! It tasted like a mix of pineapple with a crunchyness of an apple. I really liked it, but I don't think Franki did.

We returned to the tour just in time for Tequila tasting - and wow, I never knew there were so many different flavours of tequila! First of all we tried the different strengths and colours to determine our palate - and I discovered that just like rum, I really like the extra viejo style. Dark tequila and dark rum (dark like my men perhaps? haha)...
Our last stop - and where the beautiful chile abandoned us, was at yet another tequila tasting station where I may or may not have had a tiny wee nap on the couch between shots... We tried so many flavours - chocolate, mango, banana, chile and lime, and finally the strawberry tequila that my wonderful friend Dan had told me about many years earlier. Then wandered through to explore the rest of the town on our own


The sun was shining and warm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in one of the swimming spots that we were told about on the tour. Typical Mexican Frankii was more than fine to drive, while old bad liver Katy was hanging out the window singing the whole way to La Toma natural water springs where we floated away the rest of the afternoon.

The next day our adventures continued, and we drove through the beautiful mountains and valleys with the windows down and some sweet tunes playing as we drove past fields and fields of blue agave with the volcano of tequila looming in the background.

Our destination was the most delicious tacos at Franki's friends new vegetarian restaurant - I think we ate like 9 tacos between us, my favourite was the portobello mushroom one!

After feasting on Tacos, we walked around the lake town and it's beautiful craft market. The bright colours of everything were gorgeous, and the handiwork was perfect. I found myself wishing for more baggage space as I was buying hammocks for the hostel, bracelets for Billy, shoes and bracelets and earrings for me - and all for such ludicrously low prices that I gave everyone a tip because I didn't think they were selling their crafts for a fair price.
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The towns of Tequila, Chapala, and Ajijic were so beautiful, I really didn't want to leave and head back towards the city to spend my final night before heading back to the USA. I was spellbound by Mexico, and truly believe if my baby Grace had not been awaiting for me at the other end of my flight to Los Angeles I would not have boarded the plane! Even as I write this, I still feel eternally grateful for the opportunity of a visit back to mi querido Mexico, without dwelling on the fact it was such a short trip. I will always hold so much love and awe for a never endingly beautiful country, filled with wonderful friends I have shared so many memories with over the years - and millions of new friends that I just havent met yet. Gracias mis queridos amigos y muchisimas gracias amado Mexico mio x

Posted by chasingsummer 11:00 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

Back to magical Mexico

sunny 40 °C

Sarah, Paul and I all had flights from LAX so we knew we needed to leave Vegas and make our way towards the coast. We looked at the prices of flights, busses, and car rentals and were very surprised when we found we could rent a car for 4 days for just $100USD! We later found out the low prices are because LA is always very very short of cars so they are desperately try to attract people to drive – and it worked!

The drive was long and tiring, Sarah and I took turns as we drove through the ever changing desert and into the night. I was not at all sad to leave Las Vegas, and very much looking forward to getting out to see some of my old favourite Californian haunts during our time in Los Angeles. We went out in search of my deep desire for dim sum, and made it to the best yum char in Chinatown – Oh the sweet joy of tasting what I had craved for over two years since leaving New Zealand!
With our bellies full, we made our way through the terrifying LA traffic and freeway systems towards the favourite beach of my youth - Venice! I was shocked with the change in temperature as soon as we arrived to California. So much for sunny summer and Californian beach weather – I was freezing! I can’t imagine it was much higher than 22, and I needed to wear a light sweater nearly the whole time we were there. But strolling along the beach, admiring the artwork and street artists was as fun as it ever was in the past.
Laughing at how nothing had changed when it came to the men with muscles stretching their skin to extremes as they worked out to impress on Muscle Beach.

The two major changes I noticed were a great rise in the number of homelessness and people everywhere seemed to be sleeping rough. The other thing I noticed was that the whiffs of marijuana seemed to be all store bought – from the well-advertised medical marijuana stores on every corner, where a consultation to get a medical marijuana id would cost just $40.

The beach sprawled in front of us and the rollerbladers and bikers trailed around in circles as we perched on the grass bank and planned our next moves. Sarah and I had promised each other we would ride the rollercoasters of 6 Flags – something we had both always wanted to do, ride the best rollercoasters in the world. We knew it would be best to enter the park as soon as it entered, so we drove north and stayed at a hotel right next to the theme park. Turns out however that it didn’t matter at what time we entered – because there was nothing more than lines and more lines ALL DAY LONG! Everything was against us – height of summer vacation time, 42-degree weather, and we didn’t have the money ($120 each, on top of our entry fee!!) to pay for the fast pass which means you can cut all of the lines. It really was quite the disaster. Even lining up for a drink refill took over 45 minutes – as no water, drinks, or food is allowed to be brought into the park they certainly had quite the money maker going on with everyone craving ice cold refreshments!
Because we had entered early, we managed to get on a few rides without too much of a wait – but then the madness really began. Wait times of 3 hours were posted at the queue entry points, and I just had no patience nor desire to stand in a line for so long. I was convinced there must be another way; how could 6 Flags still be SO popular when people were paying $90 just to get into the park and only be able to enjoy 2 or 3 rides all day due to wait times? I was quickly losing despair, when Sarah and I realised that yes there was another option. As long as we didn’t ‘need’ to be sitting together, we could travel up the exit queues of most rides, and then be put on as single riders – basically where a family of 5 takes up a cart for 6 then they throw us on into the empty seats. And it was the best trick we learned as we managed to do nearly every single ride at the park that way – and in most cases, we were sitting together anyway!
The final ride of the day, we had heard was amazing but the queue was too long and single rider wasn’t available. So we waited it out and decided to wait when the sun had gone down a lot more and there were less people. We only had to wait 45 minutes – and it was worth it. Seriously, it was the best rollercoaster I have ever been on in my entire life. You sit into the seat, which straps you in before rotating the entire cart so that everone is facing downwards. The cart travels underneath the tracks, with your back parallel to the track, feet and face dangling down so you can see the ground underneath as you are thrown around, upside down, and up and over huge drops that throw your stomach somewhere below for you to pick up again once you get off. I never even knew a ride like that existed!
The next day, my early morning flight was due to leave for Mexico so we stayed near to the airport for easy access. I was sad to be parting from Sarah. Growing up as cousins in different countries, we are used to having our time together as concentrated madness and fun. But I have always wished to have her in my life in a more normal context as well. Hugging her at the airport, I was sad our time was already ending but beginning to feel excited to head to Mexico again – and of course because it meant another day closer to seeing Grace on my return to LA.

I arrived in Puerto Vallarta very excited to be back in one of my all time favourite countries. The yearning for dumplings had been eagerly replaced with my deep love for all things Mexican – tacos, sopes, quesadillas, burritos, ceviche, tostadas, salsas, aguas frescas, micheladas, tequila – I WANTED ALL OF IT! And I quickly got it too, as my friends Mom picked me up from the airport and took me straight to their family’s favourite seafood restaurant where I ate marlin and prawn tacos, a seafood hamburger, drowned with a HUGE cielo rojo michelada. What a dream life. The weather was HOT and super humid again, and I was excited for Adriana to finish work so we could go on an adventure.

Little did I know that the adventure would begin before I even found my beautiful friend again… Tere (Adri’s Mom) took me to a beautiful viewpoint over the ocean and town of Puerto Vallarta where we sipped on round two of giant Micheladas... this time with prawns and veggies on top!
She then handed me the keys, and told me I was to drive to the resort where Adriana works so that I knew the route and could pick her up the next day! Having never driven in Mexico, and with quite a few micheladas down – I slowly made the drive as Tere clutched the dashboard and yelled directions in Mexican slang. Now if you speak Spanish, you understand what I mean about Mexican slang and no further explanation is really needed here... However, if you do not - basically they have millions of bizarre words that no other country d oes. And they have double meanings for everything too – like hidden meanings. And then they even have words that mean one thing yet simultaneously mean a completely different thing. Like “Que padre.” Which means literally; “what father.” But it is used to mean “wowwww that’s so cool!” Or my personal favourite “que pedo” which literally means; “what fart” but has a million different uses from “wow, that’s difficult” to “what’s up?” I love Mexican Spanish, it is my favourite accent and dialect of all the Spanish speaking countries I have visited, and their happiness and way of life is totally contagious. But when driving tipsy – which is something I have very very VERY rarely ever done, through Mexico, in my friends Mom’s car – Mexican Spanish just made NO sense. So when she warned me that there was a hidden speed bump – I thought she was showing me the coconuts on the side of the road. Then she started yelling “speed bump” which I still didn’t understand, before finally PARATE YAAAA! (STOOOOPPPP NOWWWWW!) which I did – just in time. After the hidden speed bump I also had to stop for a racoon, a family of ducks, and a hedgehog. I was more than grateful to hand the keys over once we got to the resort where Adriana works… Suffice to say, I was never asked to drive again and thankfully Tere is filled with the same sense of humour as her daughter because we all still laugh about it to this day!

It was so wonderful to be reunited with the gorgeous friend I met on the island of Holbox all those years ago. We had always kept in touch and my promises to return were finally fulfilled. Despite headaches and tiredness we decided to go out just for one or two drinks – ha. That always ends exactly the way the plan starts doesn’t it? We met up with some of her wonderful friends and began to down rum until the foreigner had the stupid idea to shout
“he estado en el querido Mexico ya hace 9 horas y no he visto ni una gota de de tequila. Todavia estoy en los pinches estados unidos o que?” / “I have been in Mexico for 9 hours and I still haven’t seen even a drop of tequila. Am I still in the bloody USA or what?”

Well, one doesn’t say such a thing in Mexico without being surrounded by a variety of beautiful bottles to choose from. Thank fully the experts were on hand to choose for me as we made our way through most of the bottle. We entered the club next door to the bar where we were seated at a private table and loaded up with bottles of rum.
So much for one drink – we stumbled out of the club at closing time, loaded up on tacos – thank god for taco trucks, and tucked ourselves into bed at sunrise.

I don’t know how Adriana worked that day – mad respect. And I don’t know how she managed to finish work early, buy a box of beers for the road trip with all of the friends as we piled into a variety of SUV’s and head out to Sayulita. I wish I had the liver of a Mexican. My god, they know how to pile away chelas/ beers without even batting an eyelid!

We arrived to the beautiful beach town of Sayulita around mid-afternoon and of course the first destination was a beach bar for delicious food and more alcohol. The town itself was absolutely gorgeous – it reminded me slightly of a busy and bustling Coromandel. Lots of tiny hippy stores, yoga and surf signs everywhere, vegan and vegetarian restaurants, and lots of funky looking hostels around town. I knew instantly why Adriana had taken me there, and I thanked her for the wonderful gift of sharing with me one of her favourite parts of her beautiful country.
The afternoon drifted into sunset as Adriana and I threw off our clothes and swam in the warm Pacific Ocean. My first time in the Pacific Ocean for 2 years – despite looking out across the ocean towards New Zealand from El Tunco in El Salvador the year before, and the week before from Venice Beach in California. I was instantly hit with a reminder that the Pacific is COLD even when in Sayulita with 38-degree heat and 100% humidity!
As sunset turned into evening, we moved on from our ocean side spot and headed to one of the little bars alongside the central park of Sayulita. We danced and continued to consume ridiculous numbers of tequila shots while my other hand held tight to an endless supply of micheladas. By the time we finally made it back to our beds at sunrise, both of us had swollen legs and the beginnings of killer hangovers – however only one of us had to work that day (and it wasn’t me)!

I went out with Adriana’s sister Danny and her Mamma to a birthday party at a beautiful apartment overlooking the ocean and the city. We got all dressed up to join in the madness, and had a wonderful afternoon – again with micheladas in hand and piles of glorious food. I swear, my soul is a true Mexican.

My time in Puerto Vallarta was short and sweet and I headed off to Guadalajara with a heavy heart. I was hugely disappointed that I wasn’t able to get out to the secret beach in the islas marietas due to the destructiveness of human activity, but I was so pleased to have had a chance to spend some time with one of my favourite friends from my time out of New Zealand – and to get to know her town, and meet some of her wonderful friends and family who are now mine too! Thanks Adriana for the memories, te quiero siempre mi loquita x

Posted by chasingsummer 10:17 Archived in Mexico Comments (0)

The shock of reality

- from Haiti to Vegas

sunny 42 °C

After such a wonderful time connecting with nature in Arizona and Utah, we arrived back to Las Vegas, Nevada late and tired after a full day of driving and exploring. We tried to check into our initial hotel, but they were booked out - and so was everything else the 3 of us could afford! I knew we were going to find something eventually - many years of traveling without a plan have always seen me right so far, and we even had a car so we were better off than ever in my opinion! I had the idea that we should head away from the main strip and try to find a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town - for godsake, in the Disneyland of strippers and sex workers there would have to be something dodgy and cheap somewhere right?

I was hating on the fact that the USA has only about 50 hostels nationwide because all I wanted was a cheap dorm bed and the idea of a coffee in the morning. However, we began to circle the one way streets and get lost through construction detours as we drove around...and around... and around. The GPS was blabbering non stop as we fought our way towards an unknown destination, and naturally Sarah and I began to giggle harder and harder until we were roaring with laughter as the tears streamed down our faces. Paul was certainly not at all accustomed to the ups and downs of being on the road and was getting more and more upset and angry at the lack of plan or bed in front of us, and the terrible thing was that the more upset he became the harder Sarah and I laughed - especially as the GPS was out of control telling us to turn right, then left, then she even said: "You really need to turn around RIGHT NOW." Even as I write this, I start to giggle remembering how absolutely hilarious it was. I feel slightly bad for laughing so hard when Paul was so distressed, but I do really hope that he has also gained some experience towards the number one rule on the road - everything will always work out somehow. And it did, of course it did! We finally stumbled across a street bursting with cheap hotel signs, and we drove straight for the one with the flashing sign we desired so much; VACANCY!

It was a long sleep for all of us, nearly missing the 11am checkout due to our checkin time of 2am after a full day driving through 3 states! We quickly got dressed and ready to drive over to our next destination: Wynn/ Encore resort where we would be meeting Paul's cousin. As we drove to the Vegas stip and began to look around everything, we knew that we were heading towards a hotel of a very different league. Paul's cousin does the lighting for a DJ and had been put up in the hotel where the event was to take place - and had kindly offered us to stay with him and to attend the show for free.

The lobby/ casino of the Wynn/ Encore resort was incredible and such an absolute extravagant waste of money. Gold embossing was on everything, the ridiculous number of flashing lights beamed from every direction, and the effort and detail on every object was ridiculously immaculate. Girls walked around in bikinis with high heels and faces full of make up (I don't think they realised that bikinis are for swimming and surfing, places where heels and makeup are not well received)... The ridiculous ammounts of luggage belonging to the other guests wore Gucci and LV signs that were a far cry from my bruised and battered carry on size backpack that I have lived out of for years now.

I felt instantly sick to my stomach and had to fight hard with myself not to vomit on the red, 20 billion thread count carpet I stood on. Two years straight of traveling through countries where many people don't even have access to drinkable water or electricity had led me to a place that had giant crystal balls for doorhandles on the bathrooms. We went up to the room and met with Ben, Paul's cousin who had moved from Wellington, NZ to pursue his career in lighting in LA. Very kindly he had arranged for 2 giant beds and a little trundle bed for me that had the aesthetic quality of sleeping in a cloud. The room itself was another level. There was a tablet style control pad next to the bed to control the lights and curtains. We could tap a button that would open or close the sheers or heavy curtains that would make the room as dark as night. There were night lights, full lights, dimmers, and brights that were all adjustable through the tablet. I must have closed and opened the curtains 40 times before I finally got bored of such a novelty. What struck me as the most ridiculous of all though was the touch sensitive mini bar. If an item is lifted for more than 30 seconds - it has already been charged to your room. What an absolute waste of money. Of all the things on this planet that money could be used for, to make societies safer, to raise education levels, to help clean up the environment - somebody instead decided that the best use for money and resources would be to create a touch sensitive mini bar and self closing curtains. I was torn between absolute awe and disgust. And I felt myself wanting to be sick again.

Ben had the evening off before the show, and he decided to take us to Fremont Street so we could look around. I had absolutely NO idea what we were in for as I had never seen much more of Vegas than the movies show us. At the last minute, Ben got called to work so he dropped us outside a casino called the Golden Nugget and just pointed us in the very nonchalant direction of "walk through the casino and go out the doors on the other side." Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw - the original strip of Las Vegas!

The whole thing had a domed ceiling, and the lights flashed in every direction. There were multiple stages down the near 1km strip, that each had bands and artists singing or dancing upon them. There were people in costumes everywhere - we saw superman, minions, hillbillys, cowboys, and near naked dominatrix ladies offering spankings in return for dollars. It was one of the most bizarre places to end up without any warning at all !
We were dragged into some strange choreographed dance audience in front of one of the big stages as leatherbound dragqueens blew kisses at us, we drank (FREE!) bloody marys and cuba libres as we fed pennys into slot machines in the different casinos, and we screamed victory every single time we won just 20 cents. It was like being in a very weird dream...6E6EA71EF0B8982D92B85C9A50654EC0.jpg
We left around 11 and headed back to the hotel to get ready for the gig.
Again, I had no idea what to expect but figured I would need to dress semi nice since it was going to be held within the hotel's onsite club. We went downstairs through the VIP entry (ohhh la la) and met with the DJ who was a really nice guy and seemed interested to hear our story. We were hustled and bustled through a few doors and BAM - there we were in the most beautiful club I have ever stepped foot in.

The Encore Beach Club was a far cry from the beach bars of my town Cabarete in the Dominican Republic! There wasn't a spot of sand anywhere, and my usual $2 mojito was at 16 times the price - and nowhere near as good may I add! There were a LOT of people who had paid a LOT of money to be at the event, and I (sorry to say) had absolutely no idea who the DJ was or what type of music he would be playing.
Bottles of Grey Goose vodka were on sale for $500USD a bottle, and multiple bottles lay on every table surrounded by magazine perfect bodies sipping them with their long arms and legs draped over themselves or the human next to them. It is suffice to say that nothing in my energy or attitude aligned with anyone around me and the only thing physically the same was my Caribbean tan - except even then, mine was 100% natural. Sarah, Paul, and I were all far too poor to drink there and felt way out of our league. People were all very high on a large cocktail of party drugs - and we were very very obviously not. I don't even imagine we would have been let in considering the way we were dressed if we hadn't been with the DJ (yes we were dressed with actual clothes instead of material scraps).

The whole event was so far from what the people I love stand for that I was in utter shock the entire time. I found out that the table next to the stage had spent $10,000USD just to sit there before spending a further $17,000USD on alcohol. Again, I felt the familiar feeling of Vegas return to the pit of my stomach as I tried not to either vomit or cry. $27,000USD; enough money to buy the land and construct the building for our school. $27,000USD; enough money to travel the world for 2 years - if you know how to do it right anyway. $27,000USD; enough money to set up solar panels in a community and provide food for a year. A month before I had seen people living in cardboard tents on a hillside in Haiti, that same $27,000 could have built stable housing for their community and given beds to the children. Yet that $27,000USD was spent on getting 10 people drunk while sitting on chair at a table next to a stage in Las Vegas. What priorities. What empathy. What a sickening environment full of stagnant & negative energy I had landed myself in. I wanted to be sick again, and this time I was.

I found myself crying in the corridoor of one of the most expensive hotels I had ever entered with the taste of vomit at the back of my throat. Two young men passed screaming "don't cry pretty lady, you're in Vegas baby!" had me laugh at their ignorance - I was crying because it was Vegas, baby! I Slumped down, rambling rapidfire Spanish down the phone to a loving Billy who was technically too busy to talk as he was doing translating and building work in an extremely poor community of the Dominican Republic with a group of North American Missionaries. How far away from each other our two worlds were. How wholeheartedly did I wish I was back in his world. I knew instantly that I belonged where my existence could bring change and development. He had to go, just as a cleaner passed me on his way to clean a room. He heard my Spanish and began to talk to me, as he was from Guatemala. He spoke about how his job cleaning supports his family, yet how the energy of the entire city is so oppressing that he wishes more than anything that his family had never left Guatemala. That having money was nothing in comparison to the beautiful life he had in Guatemala surrounded by the lands of his forefathers and the waters of his youth. I smiled sadly at him, "El sueño Americano es una mierda" and he laughed as he hugged me tight, telling me to smile because after all I am the lucky one - in just 24 hours I would be out of the city. He, however, would be stuck there; trying desperately to fulfill the non existent American dream.

The next day we moved to New York, New York casino & hotel at (very kindly) Ben's shout because the Encore had no more space. NY NY is another hotel of crazy structure - it even has a rollercoaster that travels through and around the building!
And the lower level has an eating area that mimics the streets of New York City but is all undercover - and sells some deliciously cheap food too if you search through each of the options!
Sarah was bursting to see Penn & Teller but there was no way I would be going at tickets of nearly $100USD each. Ben, Paul & Sarah booked their tickets and I prepared to spend an evening skyping Billy and wandering around town to try and find a real connection with someone who felt the way I did. As it turned out, Ben cancelled at the last minute but promised to pay for his ticket and give it to me! I had never heard of the magicians that my favourite cousin loved so much, but knew they would be awesome - and they were! They were certainly a wonderful respite from the madness of Vegas. Their show was tasteful, politically charged, and funny. It questioned the ridiculousness of society and the materialistic nature of the western world. And it was full of magic that left me feeling that of course it still exists. I felt like I had been blessed by the universe with a surprise ticket and an opportunity to feel something real while stuck in the madness of a city where anyone no longer in the 3rd dimension or 'sushi and shoes mentality' clearly doesn't belong. And it was a joy to see my cousin cry with happiness as she got to join a line of fans after the show to meet and greet each of the two artists for a photo and a signed momento. What a wonderful moment in time for us both.
We left the theatre and made our way back to the strip, deciding to walk our way back towards our hotel instead of taking a taxi.

We stopped at the Belaggio to watch the fountains dance before us - and wow, they were magnificent.

We wandered inside to see the Chihuly glass for Mamma, and we stumbled upon a living and breathing garden display that was just beautiful. The scent of those flowers filled me with much needed peace and a connection to nature. We spent a long time wandering around the gardens, marveling at how the flowers had been used to create such an amazing gallery of art.

We walked down the strip - ignoring the calls for strip clubs and the offers for cocaine. We stopped outside the Eiffel tower for a photo, and we laughed at those wasting all of their money on pokie machines.
We tossed up going to a casino for Paul to play poker or to go for late night dinner of fried chicken ...he and I both shared very similar feelings towards Las Vegas so guess which won...

And then guess who lost almost immediately after - and had to run to use the toilet at one of the flashest most fanciest shopping malls I had ever been in. I completely destroyed the bathroom that sat right next to a shop selling $15,000USD handbags ... Take that ya bastards!

Las Vegas was an eye opener. I have known for many years that life is about balance. We cannot have happiness without sadness, or poverty without wealth. But nothing had ever prepared me for the extremities such as traveling from Haiti to Las Vegas.

Posted by chasingsummer 09:19 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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