A Travellerspoint blog

August 2016

The grandest canyon of all

sunny 45 °C

Sarah, Paul, and I picked up our hire car after the world's most expensive (and average) meal at Hardrock Cafe, Vegas. We drove around in circles before finding our way onto the right road towards the Grand Canyon ... Route 66.
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We stopped a few times on the way and - one can only say the best word to describe what we did was - gorged on fatty, corn syrupy, American food. Man, I had missed it so much! The drive to the Grand Canyon was a long one, about 4-5 hours and we broke it up by stopping to see different things along the way.

Including the Hoover Dam which was absolutely huge!
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Scarily though, the dam levels were very low as was the neighbouring Lake Mead. Very clear to see that this hot, dry part of the planet is suffering. The temperature was 45c / 115F and it was so hard to even move. I remember standing at the view point over the dam for about 2 minutes - enough time to take a few pics - before clambering back into the air conditioned car where Paul and Sarah had already rapidly retreated to. It felt like standing in a bakers oven. I love heat - but dry, desert, extreme heat is not what I mean when I chase summer!
As we drove on, nearing to our destination we passed through some gorgeous towns and funny places along the way.

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We approached our hotel just as sunset was falling. Sarah and Paul wanted to check into the hotel but I literally begged them to drive the extra 20 minutes straight away so that we could try to see sunset over the Grand Canyon. Paul protested there would be too many people. I didn't care, I just wanted to experience something that I have always ached for. But I know now that I really didn't know what to expect. I had flown over the Grand Canyon countless times on my way to visit Grandma in Michigan, and had always enjoyed watching from high above. Of course the Grand Canyon features in movies and photos, computer screensavers and bucket lists. But nothing prepared me for turning the corner and what lay before me.
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I was absolutely stunned. The beauty, the energy, the colours, the light, the depth, and the fact that it just never seemed to end!
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I was absolutely amazed that there was absolutely NO barrier or line to mark the safe places to stand either. I had certainly not been expected to be able to get so close to such a ginormous crack in the earth - and I instantly knew why my Dad was constantly sending me messages to say be careful!

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We spent about half an hour wandering around in the half light before we decided the safest thing to do would be to return when there would be more light. Seriously, one wrong step would mean a long way to wave goodbye to life! We decided to get up early the next day and return before the masses of people and the suffocating heat made an appearance.
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We checked into our hotel (The Red Feather) and we were all super hungry so we wandered over to the neighbouring local Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was a hugely disappointing meal as:

1. Only Mexico really serves satisfying Mexican food
2. Paul decided to tell us after being seated that he hates Mexican food
3. It was super over priced
4. They forgot to make the changes to my meal that I requested
5. Dry and stale tortillas are never a good start for a taco

Worst of all, we had picked it because our hotel gave us a discount there - but then we completely forgot to present the voucher = FAIL !

As we wandered back to the hotel, I noticed it was really cold. And not just because I live in the Caribbean and everything is cold in comparison - but that it was really cooling down, and fast. I checked online and noticed that while the day time temperatures were reaching 45 degrees, the night time temps were as low as 3 ! The next morning I was the first one to wake up (being 3 hours behind time due to minor jet lag) and I wandered off in search of 3 super sized coffees - and again, it was freezing in the shadows!
We headed back to the canyon as the sun rose a little higher and there was a bit more warmth in the world. Again I was hit with that same sense of awe as I stared out at the beauty that lay below us.
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My favourite parts of the Grand Canyon:

1. How there are no barriers. It really feels like you are free to experience it as it truly is in nature
2. The giant fat squirrels who let you pat them if you pretend you have food in your hand
3. That no matter where you look, there is something different to see. And even if you look at the same place, it has changed somehow.
4. The energy. Everything is so silent and so powerful. It feels like being on the edge of the world and at the center all at once.

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What was too weird there:
1. How many parents are very blase about letting their children get very close to the edge - while running !
2. How many people push other people out of the way without any care to the fact everyone is balancing on a tiny ledge for a photo

We drove along the south rim and stopped at all of the different view points, marveling at the landscape every second of the way.
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And then it was gone, almost as quickly as it came in front of us - it disappeared. The landscape continued to twist and change as we drove north through the state of Arizona towards the town of Page.
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I felt a little sad driving away from the Grand Canyon, but the music was playing and the landscape was beautiful everywhere SAM_5865.jpgarizona-su..rs-1024x768.jpgSAM_5866.jpg

Our plan was to venture into the Antelope Canyon, stay in town, and then visit Horse Shoe Bend. We arrived in town after a few hours of driving through barren landscapes and promptly found a wonderful diner that made the most delicious salad - and pulled pork for the meat eaters! The lady who was managing that day was so kind and friendly with a wicked sense of humor. There was no wifi but she lent us the restaurant phone to call around different hotels in the area - but to no avail, we were stuck as there was NO availability! We promised not to think about our next moves until we finished our meal... And by the way, I really recommend this place if you are ever in Page, AZ!
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With full bellies, we realised we needed to think of what we were going to do. We couldn't avoid if forever. So we drove to the closest fast food store and poached their free internet from the carpark (Shout out here to Taco Bell in Page, AZ!). As it turned out - Antelope Canyon would soon be closing for the day at just 4pm!! And even if we stayed the night to make it in the morning, the entry was ridiculously expensive - like $50 each! I was super disappointed that price and time was our restriction to see a piece of our beloved and ever so patient mother earth. And I remember I was angered enough that I suddenly didn't even want to see it anymore! The three of us all felt the same way, but we didn't want to have driven so far north (and in the complete opposite direction from Las Vegas) for no reason. We discussed the possibility of visiting Horseshoe Bend before ambling our way back to Las Vegas and finding a cheap hotel there for the night. And before we knew it, the plan was set in stone.

We pulled up outside Horseshoe Bend and were immediately met by Civil Defense workers. There were giant signs advertising EXTREME HEAT as if it wasn't something our entire bodies weren't already exhausted from.
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They advised us to change into running shoes, to wear a hat & sunscreen, and to carry a bottle of water each as the 2 mile hike was over hot sand and with no shade. We all looked at each other - bellies full of delicious food, and a deep desire to be back inside the air conditioning. I could see Paul and Sarah were feeling the same way as I; simply waiting for another person to be the first to say "nahhh, let's just go..." I knew I wanted to see it, it's in my DNA - that desire to see around each and every next corner. To know, to experience, to taste, to try. So I called it before anyone else did,
"Right, let's do this!"

And I don't know if American miles are different to normal miles - or if maybe I was expecting it to be far worse - but it wasn't even a tough walk at all ! And wow, it was worth it. 100 and ten million thousand percent worth it. Possibly even more worth it than the Grand Canyon.
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I couldn't stop staring below at the beautiful refreshing water, and at how lazy the river seemed to flow by; completely unaware that it was within the most beautiful gorge. Or maybe it did know, and it was enjoying the view. Either way - it was incredible.

Sarah and I wanted to have a photo by the edge. I was too scared to get close to it. I felt myself unable to breathe properly and getting a little panicky. People were balancing so close to the edge, and it was making my nerves get even worse. Maybe my father's fear of heights has rubbed off on me, either way there was NO WAY I was going to balance right on the edge

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One lady did, a man even pushed her out of the way to get past and she STEPPED BACKWARDS bringing her no further than 10cm from the edge. I must have missed my turn about 5 times because I wasn't pushing forward - and other people were going right up there and basically hanging off it! I still have no idea how people can do it;
1. Be so careless with other peoples lives
2. Have no fear about dropping a million meters to CERTAIN DOOM!

Even this photo of me waiting my turn freaks me out as I see how close people are to the edge, euggggghhhh!
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But regardless of how not close we are to the edge, I am pretty proud of our best ever, best cousin ever photo !
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The sun was starting to sink lower in the sky, the shadows were changing to afternoon summer ones, and we knew we needed to start driving if we were to make it all the way back to Las Vegas. But I was so hot, and I wanted to swim in some fresh water - the Colorado River was far too inviting not to indulge! So I asked a local how to find a secret swimming spot, and he gave us the best insider scoop ever. The universe well and truly provided too as the secret spot had us hiking down through a canyon that looked very similar to the famous Antelope canyon that we were unable to visit!

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And at the bottom, lay the clearest and freshest water ever, just waiting for me to dive right in. It was magical to soak in the river that would lead through all of the beautiful places I had seen over the last few days.
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That same water would make it's lazy way around Horseshoe Bend before ambling down to flow through the beautiful Grand Canyon. It made me feel so small and so grateful and so much love for our beautiful planet all at once. What a day!

Posted by chasingsummer 11:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

New York City layover

13 hours in the city that never sleeps

sunny 20 °C

It was a strange feeling, leaving Billy and the Dominican Republic. I kissed Billy goodbye at the bus stop and traveled from Cabarete to Santo Domingo alone. I spent the afternoon with Billy's family, visiting his sister who was recovering from her terrible car accident that had happened while we were in Haiti. Billy's dad dropped me to the airport at around 10pm, and all of the cousins and nieces piled into the truck so see me off. It was a strange feeling leaving everyone I love behind, and not because they didn't want to come - especially in Billy's case. But because of the racist beaurocracy and false ideas of borders and frontiers that are put into place to segregate our 1 true race of humanity so that those with dark skin and no money are not granted the freedom to move around this one planet we all share. And yes, I say dark skin and no money without a comma. Because they are one thing, there were plenty of Dominicans on my flight to New York. And 98% of Dominicans have dark skin - but these ones had money and therefore a visa. It broke my heart.

I was nervous to go back to 'the first world.' I hadn't been back since I left Montana on my way to Mexico which is now over two years ago. My brief experience of a semi-first world country in Costa Rica had been shocking enough, and I knew of any where in the world - the USA really does do first world well and truly the best. They outshine it, if there was a number that came before 1, they would be that.

My mind began to pace, would I be ok? Would I start arguing in Spanish when the fruit vendor wouldn't sell me 5 mangos for $2. Would I remember how to wear proper shoes, and would I be able to afford to buy a pair when I landed? I couldn't remember what water I was able to drink from the tap - all of it or just some? Did I have enough money to last me a month, I mean the prices of things are always going up up up and I had been long gone for over 2 years.Most importantly what worried me (and I know my parents and Billy too) was how on earth was I going to remember to keep my head down in public and not get into political and revolutionary conversations with strangers in the street. It is certainly no secret that one of my most favourite things about living in Latin America is the taste of revolution in the air.

I took a deep breath and flew away in the night, grateful that I couldn't see down over my beloved island or out over the forever soul-calling Caribbean sea. I was fortunate to have a row of seats all to myself and as I knew I had a huge layover at JFK before arriving in Las Vegas, I decided to down and do what I usually do in difficult and unavoidable situations; I lay down and slept... the whole way to the first world.

As we began our descent, I woke up and opened my window shade to see a gorgeous sunrise. The silhouette of NYC lay ahead surrounded by the lights and colour reflecting off the water. I relaxed and saw it as a sign from the Universe that everything may be a little hectic for a while, but it would be ok. After all, trees stand patiently and tall and the sun continues to shine no matter where on earth we are. It's only the man things that change so drastically between countries. What really matters most of all and the things I carry with me - unconditional love, kindness, adventure, empathy, our damaged but oh-so-beautiful environment - exist everywhere.

With only a slight (expected) kerfuffle at immigration - my beating heart and I were efficiently stamped back to the first world.

The first difference hit me as soon as I got away from baggage claim - English. Everyone was speaking my native language! The signs were in English first and it was Spanish that was written underneath in smaller letters. Everyone greeted with a hello or a good morning instead of hola or buenos dias. Everytime I tried to squeeze past someone I would automatically say permiso instead of excuse me. Salud instead of bless you to strangers. Gracias instead of thank you. I recognised immediately that over my years in Latin America I had subconsciously adapted my "public language" to be understood by strangers.

I checked my bag into a locker as it was too early to check in to my next flight - and there is no longer straight through checked luggage when traveling through the USA - another change! I was super tired but I decided to make the most of my long stop over - and I hopped aboard the subway and made my way to Manhattan island.

I met a guy on the Subway who grew up in the Caribbean island of Antigua. We chatted the entire bumpy ride to the city, and we didn't wave goodbye until I found myself a cafe near times square and Broadway. The first things I noticed in the city were:
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- Very little trash and very clean streets
- It was COLD without the sun shining down as it was still too early for it to have rise about the skyscrapers (6am)
- There were very few people out and about, which is not how I had remembered NYC. I remembered being overwhelmed when I was 17 and had visited with my parents. Maybe I have become too accustomed to crazy busy Latin American cities?
- So many coffee shops. How I had missed a nice cosy coffee shop!
- Even without opening my mouth, people spoke spanish to me on the streets. Perhaps because of my Caribbean tan? Either way, it was odd.

I wandered my way slowly up past street markets who were setting up for their day, past coffee and sandwich carts, and enjoyed peering into the different windows of stores selling completely unnecessary items for ridiculous prices. I met a Dominican girl from the plane and we wandered around together for a while too.
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I decided the best place for me to go until the city opened it's doors would be central park. Immediately the sun shone down as I crossed the street away from the high rises. The beautiful park sprawled out in front of me and I wandered amongst the runners and the cyclists, the dogs and the yoga lovers, enjoying the prospects of beautiful day ahead of all of us.
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I found myself wandering back slowly as well, enjoying the newly opened market and some of my old favourite stores selling my new favourite things. I ate delicious food that wasn't beans rice and salad, but it was super expensive! I couldn't believe I parted with $20USD for a simple wrap, a yoghurt, and a fresh juice! That should have been no more than $4USD back in the DR - where the juice would have tasted freshier and tangier too!

I wandered until my feet ached, my travelers heart constantly desiring to see around the next corner. Until I realised that I would be stuck in the city of overpriced handbags and food if I didn't make my way to the subway stat! Thankfully I had nabbed a little airport info brochure which said the subway stations on them. I knew where I needed to go - I just didn't know how to get there. I asked a local cop, who pointed me in the right direction but told me it would be 6 avenues. And that the station I thought it was, wasn't actually it. I knew I needed to run. So run I did, despite the weird looks from everyone on the street. People all seemed to walk briskly or slowly. No one but me dared to run. I made it to the station (that was only 2 avenues and WAS the one I had thought it was) but I had just missed the quick train (Long Island Railroad)- and the next one wasn't for another 40 minutes. So I attempted the metro again - but I couldn't work out which direction I needed to go and it seems that no one really wanted to help me too much... Or that they didn't know either! And I couldn't find anyone official. I started to panic, even though I was trying to breathe calmly and not let that happen - when I saw the international symbol for travel; the airplane silhouette and an arrow beside a platform with a boarding carriage that also sported the same insignia. I clambered on, and crossed all fingers and toes as we bumped and stalled a million times towards JFK once more.

I made it to the airport, grabbed my bag, checked in, waited for an hour in security, to make it to my plane and be one of the last people on the flight. What luck !

Posted by chasingsummer 09:51 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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