“I hate Americans.”

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We were ready to get out of Venice. Not that it wasn’t lovely and haunting in all of it’s mystery and history, but we’d spent days in Italy and wanted to make the most of what was left of our three-week post college backpacking adventure. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to secure the remaining tickets on an overnight train leaving in minutes to Munich. Again, we found ourselves rushing to the platform and just barely hopping on before the tracks started rumbling. We should’ve planned better, but that is part of the adventure, right?

We were late finding our compartment, and the third occupant was already fresh in her nightgown. Her gray hair, pulled up to get it out of her face as she went about her nighttime routine, glinted in the dim light; she acknowledged our arrival with a slight nod. Alicia and I had been traveling for around 10 days and were in dire need of freshening our laundry up at the next stop. We set our bags on the remaining two bunks, stacked all the way to the ceiling in the tiny compartment, and proceeded to rummage around for toothbrushes and a clean pair of underwear before we headed off to the bathroom.

After doing the best we could with the dismal bathroom situation, we opened the door to our compartment to find the other guest lying on the bottom bunk, tucked in for the night with the light on, a small but welcomed courtesy.

“You are American?” asked the woman. She said it with a German accent, but crisp and clear with an air of sophistication.

Alicia stopped folding her shorts, and I looked up from the toiletries I was trying to shove back into my quart-sized plastic bag now wrought with holes from a rogue toothpaste corner or mascara tube trying to make its escape.

“Yes, we are,” Alicia responded.

“Where are you from?” I said, trying to make friendly small talk.

The woman sat up slowly and moved her bare feet over the edge of the bed in order to face us.

“Germany,” she replied. “I’m on my way home.”

I continued repacking as I engaged further in the casual conversation. “So were you in Venice for work or holiday?” As I spoke, her feet moved slowly to the cold bare floor and she stood.

“I hate Americans.”

Alicia and I met her eyes. We were only 21 years old, and had both grown up in small towns in the Mid-West. Throughout our travel in the States, and our short time in Europe, I’d never felt such hate – and directed soley at me. It burned. But it was also ice cold. It felt like someone was pushing down on my shoulders. I was speechless.

She continued, but it only got worse. “My father was killed by Americans. He was innocent man, and you killed him.”

“I – I’m sorry,” I managed to stammer. There was nothing else I could say. Her life had been up-ended by the American people. It was all she knew, and it had fueled her hatred from a very young age. I was sorry. I hated what had happened to her, and I knew I’d feel the same if it had been my family, my father.

She left the compartment without another word.

Alicia and I were somber as we climbed into our bunks, and left the light on, as a courtesy. We both pretended to be asleep when she returned and switched the light off, but I don’t think either of us slept that night.

The engine stopped at the station in Munich before the sun came up, and our guest hustled out before Alicia and I felt compelled to get our bodies moving. Around 6 am, the service attendants started knocking on doors down the hallway to make sure travelers were heading out, and so we did. We walked into the station with more hesitation than we had entered the past few countries and unsure if we’d be welcomed with open arms, but willing to be sensitive to the apparent pain that still ran through this beautiful country.

 

 

Get Off the Resort

Drug lords, bacteria-filled water, pick-pocketers. Mexico sounds like a scary place.

All-inclusive, sandy beaches, endless buffets. Mexico sounds dreamy.

But how much do you actually know about Mexico?

I knew that when a group of friends booked an all-inclusive resort in Rivera Maya, I wanted to get off of that resort. I wanted to see the real Mexico. Were my friends up for it? I didn’t know, but that wasn’t going to stop me.

The next thing I knew, I was booking an ecoarchaelogical excursion with AllTourNative.

Flash forward to the Wednesday morning mid-relaxing vacation. The three of us, dressed and ready to go:

  1. Chacos
  2. Fanny pack
  3. Shorts and Tank
  4. Bathing Suit
  5. Sunscreen (minimal, by request of AllTourNative)
  6. Cash
  7. Camera
  8. Spirit!

Carlos picked us up as the sun was coming up, along with a family of four, the twins and one of their boyfriends and the Canadian couple. And we were off for our Coba Maya Encouter!

Remember when everyone said the Mayans were gone and their calendar predicted the world ending and stuff like that? So so wrong.

An hour or so later, we parked in Coba. We began our adventure by heading straight to the Mayan ruins. Our first task was to learn how to communicate with the Mayans – they were opening up the doors to their very private communities after all. We learned the most important basics, most importantly “Thank You” pronounced “Joomba-tik.”

Carlos explained that Mexico doesn’t spend a lot of money on archaeological preservation, but that the temples that are uncovered took years to do so and the large mounds of overgrown greenery were covering other ruins. Mexico is actually flat around these parts.

M showing off her jungle bike riding skills!

M showing off her jungle bike riding skills!

After visiting the initial temple and sporting arena, we hopped on bikes and rode through the jungle. It was a HOT day, and we weren’t privy to the ocean breeze like at the resort. The bike ride through the jungle was one of our favorite parts of this expedition (and was definitely M’s fav!).

We actually had the option of taking a “limo” or walking as well, but the bike seemed like a good compromise between super lazy and actually getting to see the rest of the temples. (M and J might be super slow walkers…)

There were several temples on the way to see the big man on campus
and we stopped at each one, examining their unique shapes and pondering their purpose.

When we arrived at our final destination (for the morning), it was incredible. The Nohoch Muul is the biggest temple in the Yucatan peninsula. Bigger than I imagined and ever-intimidating, the plan was to climb it.SDC17339

And so we did. As someone who is VERY afraid of heights (and public speaking), I started getting that nauseous feeling in my stomach. The more stairs I climbed the worse it got.

When we got to the top, all the people bumping around and taking pictures nearly drove my anxiety through the roof, but the view made up for the climb. (Sort of a paradox for life I think. The harder the climb, the better the view.)

SDC17348We managed to get close enough to the edge for some good pics! 🙂

The down part was supposed to be easier, but I think it took me twice as long scooting down on my butt for fear of toppling head first down the hundreds of stone steps.

After our excursion through the Mayan ruins we headed out to the community where J sampled some of the local beveragesSDC17352 and we headed off to the next part of the adventure.

Immediately suiting up and hopping aboard a canoe to make our way to the zip lines! We canoed, hiked and zip-lined through the jungle before taking a break to meet with a Mayan shaman. Hot and sticky, we were grateful to take a seat and soak in our surroundings. The shaman spoke with us and then began a chant to bless us “Estades Unites, Carlos and Canada!” You can check out the video on my Facebook.

After, we were instructed to shower any dirt, oils or sunscreens off of our bodies to preserve the purity of the cenote that we were about to rappel down into. (More heights, I know.)

My first question before plummeting down into the underground was “How do we get out?”

Don’t worry, there were options.

  1. Climb a massive rope ladder swinging through the air OR
  2. Be hoisted up in a Mayan elevator

As much as I thought the rope ladder sounded like a brilliant idea, and I’m sure I’d feel like a badass after, I decided to goDSC_8287 with the Mayan elevator. The cenote’s water was black, cool, crisp and clean. We floated around for while on tubes and watched the bats flit around in the corners of the cave before one-by-one were lifted back up to ground level.

After we dried off, we hit the trail back down to the Mayan feast that awaited us on a porch overlooking the lagoon we had earlier canoed across. Teas made from flowers, homemade tortillas, chicken (Carlos nearly had me convinced it was iguana) and soup and spicy salsa filled our hungry stomachs. If you’re not into trying new food, don’t worry, you couldn’t go wrong with anything served.

Finally, we had free range of the local artisan’s shops, and Carlos had promised tequila if we’d made it through our adventure. So tequila we had! 

SDC17355After everyone had taken their tequila shots and shopped the goods, we packed up, exhausted and feeling pretty accomplished with ourselves, and headed back to the resort. Today we had discovered the Mayans. The Mayans opened their world to us, let us in, and treated us like family. Joomba tik, Coba and AllTourNative!

Dachau, Beautiful and Horrible

The sun was out, the skies were clear and the air was light and crisp. My backpacking partner, Alicia, and I hopped on the train to Dachau. It had been Alicia’s idea to make a day trip to Dachau, and as a history lover, I agreed. But I didn’t know what to expect. My mind wandered to the books I’d read and the pictures I’d seen. During my vacation to Germany, was this what I wanted to see?

Finish reading on Pink Pangea!

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Published April 27, 2015

A Euro Trip, in limited texts to home

I’ve been hearing that it’s easy to get a SIM card for your smart phone when you’re abroad and stay just in touch with home as you would … well, at home.

When I went to Europe, backpacking with A in 2010, we didn’t have SIM cards. Hell, I didn’t have a smart phone. Staying in touch abroad seemed impossible to me. Until A bought an international text plan.

The plan was small. A package of 30 texts, that we decided to split to update our parents along the way. And so, here they are. Saved by my mama for 6 years so far – here to share with you, the world.  (I pulled these off of her flip phone!)

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Without further ado…

May 19, 12:48 am

we are in madrid! the flight was long and we are about to take a bus into the city, but we did it! love you!

May 20, 12:19 am

woo! go bombers! we are off to a bumpy start, but I already have tons of good stories 🙂 on our way to barcelona, love you tons

May 21, 3:45 pm

I’m in Rome! We are planning on meeting Brie tonight and we sailed across the Med sea last night! I love you! Glad all is well!

May 22, 1:06 pm

we saw sooo much of Rome today and found a cheaper place to stay! we are meeting lots of nice people. hope all is well!

May 25, 9:51 am

just wanted to let you know we are in Greece! almost to Athens… I love you so so so much 🙂

May 26, 3:54 am

hey! just wanted to tell you to have a good day! I’m going to try to call you at 6 if you’re going to be home and I’ve been emailing you! love you!

May 27, 10:36 am

we are on our way to Bari and then Venice! check your email 🙂 I love you!

May 28, 8:41 am

I have been on a train for 4 hours already today! we should be in bologna soon and then Venice is close… the moon was great last night from the Ionian

May 28, 8:41 am

sea 🙂 love you and happy Friday!

May 29, 2:29 pm

have fun and enjoy yourself this memorial day! we are trying to get to Munich without too much luck! I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂 love you tons

May 30, 1:31 am

it’s just the silly train stations! we made it to Munich and are going to a concentration camp today… all is well! I love you!

May 31, 1:26 am

oh so funny! have you seen beerfest? we drank in a beer hall last night and it was so fun! on our way to amsterdam, hope your memorial day isn’t as rainy

June 1, 3:29 pm

I’m at the Eiffel tower and we are about to go up! hope your Monday was great!

June 2, 5:16 am

we are on our way from Lille France to London! what time is my dentist appointment on the 8th? love you!

June 4, 7:23 am

hi mom! happy Friday to you! London is great but Im ready to be home, I emailed you this morning 🙂 I love you tons!

Unfortunately, we don’t have the texts mom was sending, but I think it’s safe to say I love my mama and she needed to check her email more often! How do you stay in touch with loved ones when you’re away? 

 

 

Colorado Fall Colors 

Hi there!

I will come back to this, but I just wanted to ask… Are there fall colors where you are? I’d love to see them! I’m heading back to the Midwest after spending a week in Colorado where I realized

  1. how beautiful the yellow Aspens are and
  2. how lucky we are to have deciduous trees in Missouri that give us not only yellow in the fall, but vibrant red and crisp orange as well!

Here are some of the photos from my work annual summit retreat at the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, CO… Elevation 8,000 feet above sea level! (More details to come)

  

Ciao bellas 😘

What would I need to do to travel the world?

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Many many times, I’ve laid in bed at night thinking about leaving everything behind and buying a one-way ticket. It seems like a daunting task at times, and I find everything looks more attainable if I write it down, step-by-step, so that I can cross things off my list as I go. Any other list-makers out there?

If I wanted to drop everything and travel the world, here’s a list of everything I’d have to do:

Step 1: Pack a bag. Or two.

Step 2: Sell big things, put the rest in my parents’ basement.

Step 3: Break my lease, $2000.

Step 4: Sell my car.

Step 5: Pay off credit card debt / student loans.

Step 6: Quit job.

Step 7: Buy a ticket.

Step 8: Scratch that, buy two tickets.11059299_10101670332048324_6789653708737479421_n

Step 9: Take kitty to my mom for safekeeping.

Step 10: Say farewells.

Step 11: Pick up sister on the way out of town.551028_10100340929017654_268591730_n

Step 12: Go.

What would you need to do?

mediterranean sea, italy, spain

How to Cross the Mediterranean for Cheap

When you travel young, you usually travel cheap. And that’s just what Alicia and I did when we decided that on the day after graduation, we’d be heading to Europe. Alicia and I bought our youth Eurail passes, which are a great deal for anyone under 25.

Alicia and I then used the “rail” map to determine our route. We picked which cities we wanted to see, which ones we wanted to spend more time in, and what direction we would travel. We decided on counterclockwise, starting and ending in Madrid.

We elected to travel by train except for a few jaunts when we would be crossing the Mediterranean, Aegean and Adriatic Seas by ferry. The first was a trek from Barcelona to Civitavecchia to catch a train to Rome. When Alicia and boarded in the evening, I expected us to have a person showing us in the right direction.

As we chatted with two guys from the UK, we noticed the bar filling up with men–and smoke. There were tons of men, lots of dirty and stinky men.

We had no clue where to go or what to do. We ended up finding a bar and sitting down for a beer. As we chatted with two guys from the UK, we noticed the bar filling up with men–and smoke. There were tons of men, lots of dirty and stinky men.

As the only two females in the bar area, we suddenly noticed that we were getting too much attention, and not the welcome kind. Stares and whispers were abundant. The two travelers we had paired up with were young backpackers like ourselves, and they helped make the situation a bit more comfortable.

What was going on? Where were all the women?

The backpackers explained to us that this ferry was used specifically to transport tractor-trailer trucks, and their drivers, across the Mediterranean to Italy. All of the trucks were stored below, and all of the men hung out at the bar and rested above. It was all starting to come together.

At this point, we still hadn’t met a crewmember beside the bartender, and had no clue where we were supposed to be crashing for the night. When it became late and we still couldn’t find anyone, Alicia and I pulled out our bedding and found some benches.

For bedding, we each had a full size sheet that we had folded in half and sewn up on two sides so that it could function as a sleeping bag. They ended up being nice and cool in the hot muggy Mediterranean air, and the hallway was long and dark. I slept decently that evening, even though the benches were less than ideal.

In the morning, we woke up to hundreds of people standing by our benches in hoard, talking and bustling around like there weren’t two people sleeping right next to them. Alicia and I pulled ourselves together to figure out what was going on. We were at port in Sicily. All of these people were waiting to go out of the door and off the boat. Not my favorite way to wake up!

As the only two females in the bar area, we suddenly noticed that we were getting too much attention, and not the welcome kind.

mediterranean sea, italy, spainAlicia and I ended up finding the deck and spending the rest of the day journaling and soaking up a little bit of sun. It wasn’t a cruise-style ship, but there were a few chairs, as well as a place to get a burger, but no condiments. The breeze on the deck was cold, but the sun felt nice and the inside of the ferry was too smoky and dingy to want to go back inside.

The day passed slowly, and we had planned on meeting our friend in Rome when we got off the train around 7 PM. The sun started to set and it became too cold to sit on deck so we moved inside and kept an eye on the clock. 7 PM came and went and it seemed that we still had some time to go before docking. Several hours later, they announced over the speakers that we were docking and could soon get off of the ferry.

Eventually we were able to get on dry land, and although we had an extremely uncomfortable trip across the Mediterranean, we made it safely with a Eurail pass and around eight euros. You really can’t beat that kind of a deal!

Originally published on Pink Pangea 

4 Qualities to Look for in a Travel Buddy

I just wrote my first feature for Pink Pangea and here it is! 

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Who you travel with can make or break a trip. Whether it’s a work trip, or a vacation, or even just a trip with a set purpose, like a bachelorette party or a bar mitzvah, consider certain things in your travel buddy.

Traveling for work used to bring the added stress of, “Who am I traveling with this week?” For a past position, this essentially decided whom I was going to spend the next 3-5 days in the hot sun in the middle of Illinois for 12 hours at a time with. It’s easy to get on one another’s nerves in those situations. One spring break I took a trip to the Bahamas with close friends, but there was a mutual respect issue about halfway through the trip that made the last few days stressful, tense and lonely. There have been opposite situations as well. I’ve gone on work trips with a near stranger and come back with a loyal friend.

Thankfully, I’ve learned from my experiences, and can be more prepared when choosing a partner for future trips. Here are some qualities to consider when choosing your next travel buddy: Continue Reading

nassau, bahamas

Alone in Nassau

Otherwise known as “that one time I tried to buy drugs in a foreign country.”

NassauA group of five girls and myself took a Bahamian cruise for spring break. After we spent the morning soaking up alcohol, sunshine and saltwater jet-skiing above the clear blue water in an inlet just outside of Nassau, we decided to head over to Senor Frogs for some food and beverages.

Unfortunately, when you get a group of girls with strong personalities together, which my friends will not deny that they have, people can get annoyed and hurtful things can be said.

One thing led to another and I ended up drunkenly shopping down the main strip of Nassau alone. I don’t consider myself to be particularly brave, but with as much liquor as I had had, I was feeling pretty comfortable with myself and needed to gather some souvenirs for my sister anyway. Although I tend to be a postcard collector, if I can get a product that is native or genuine to the area, I will!

nassau, bahamas

I entered the first shop I came too. The shops were touristy, with shirts with frogs and sharks and beaches on them. Sayings like “Someone who loves me went to Nassau and got me this shirt.” While those can be adorably corny sometimes, I wanted something better for my sister.

I checked out the overpriced swimsuits and cover-ups – designed for people who forgot their swimsuit (or lost theirs?) on their trip or something like that. What’s that? In the back of the shop was a bar, with a lone bartender in front of 3 empty barstools. I can buy a drink while I shop!? What a concept! Brilliant!

Nassau, Bahamas

I got a hurricane and checked with my bartender that it was, indeed, ok for me to walk from shop to shop with this beverage. He assured me.

I sauntered into the next shop, similar items: hats, t-shirts, sunglasses, magnets, etc. I finished my drink and purchased another at the back of this store. My pattern continued as I wandered further and further away from the “tourist-zone.” Eventually, I found a few local shops; an estate sale store and a couple local-looking boutiques. I stumbled into one of the boutiques. The dresses, hats and shoes in this store were not meant to be discovered by tourists like myself.

Digging through the racks with my hurricane in hand, I found the perfect beaded sandals for my little sister. They were gorgeous in my mind, and I knew she would love them!

I paid for my purchase and moved along through the streets, navigating my way back toward the boat when a man stopped me in the street. “Hey, you wanna buy some weed?”

nassau, bahamas

Nassau, Bahamas

“Wait on this corner, I’ll be right back.”

My good mood was persistent, and I thought, “heck, when in Nassau!” I told him yes, and he asked how much. (At this point I was lost. I was not familiar with the terminology.) I ended up asking him how much I could get with $20. He said he’d be right back, I handed him my money and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.nassau, bahamas, cruise

 

I’m an idiot. He wasn’t coming back. So much for serendipitous me! I knew I’d been had. I gathered what dignity I had left and headed back toward the boat. The girls would love this story.

Hey, could’ve been worse. At least I succeeded in soaking in as many hurricanes as I possibly could and had found the perfect gift.

Nassau, Bahamas, girl friends, beach

Nassau, Bahamas, sunset

Thanks for reading! Until next time, adios, ciao, sayonara, good-bye!

Published March 2015.

barcelona spain

An Unexpected Day in Barcelona

Lately I’ve been reminiscing a lot about my trip to Europe. One of the highlights of the trip was the day we got to spend in Barcelona before catching the ferry to Italy.

My adventurous and knowledgeable travel buddy, A, and I didn’t do any Barcelona research before landing in Catalonia. Our bad.

BUT if there’s one thing you learn when you travel, it’s that the unplanned trips can be the best ones!

Barcelona Spain

 

Not knowing what we should do or where to go, A and I decided to hop on a guided tour bus – with headphones to give us the tour in English! Even if you are pretty sharp with Spanish, you could be stuck in Barcelona. For the most part, they speak Catalonian.

By hopping on the bus, we were able to learn about the city and see the sights, without spending all day wandering around with a map. It was definitely the most efficient use of our time. Barcelona is known for its architecture. I’ve got hundreds of photos of buildings just like this one:

barcelona architecture

 It’s snazzy, right?

Each building had taken the curve to a new place, offering an architecture lover like myself plenty for my eyes to feast on.

SDC15400mcdonald barcelona spain

Yes, that is a super cool, turbo-ish McDonald’s.

Now that I think about it. We got a really good feel for Barcelona – and packed a TON in – and we weren’t even there for a day. We took the train in from Madrid in the morning, and caught the boat out in the barcelona spain female travelerevening. In Madrid, we hadn’t been savvy enough to drop our bags (featured in the photo) at the hostel before exploring, and in Barcelona we didn’t get a hostel because we weren’t staying the night. The tour bus and the buggy that we chose to hop a ride in were literal feet savers. The blue skies, sunshine and sore feet were no match for our buggy driven by an expat from Kansas!

Finding a “local” that you can get suggestions from is key to a successful unplanned trip. Our friend knew just the place to take us when we asked for seafood on the beach, and took us right down the beautiful shore line to it.

barcelona spain

A and I rested our feet on the warm sand and soaked up some Vitamin D as we devoured a plate piled with fresh seafood on a white table cloth. I’m not even sure what we ordered, other than that it came from the sea, there was a wide variety and there was an enormous pile on our plate. Before, during and after eating, we enjoyed this view of the real life Jack Sparrow:

jack sparrow barcelona spain

After feasting, we continued to wander around the area of town that rested on the beach. But, nothing was accessible. What was going on? We couldn’t shop in the local shops, we couldn’t get a snack or drink anywhere!

SIESTA!

Crap. We had totally forgotten. We continued to walk around and look like tourists because, where else would we go?

(Mom, stop reading for a minute, ok? Everyone else, proceed.)

We noticed a shop open across the street and went in. Sex toys. Oh fun. We pandered through the shop reading the various labels and examining the difference of offerings in Spain versus the US. Toward the back of the shop, we noticed a curtain.

I’m going to take a moment to talk to you about curiosity. Curiosity is fine, it didn’t really kill the cat, but when you’re curious you really need to be open to what ever you may find by being curious. Stay open-minded folks. 

We peeked. Behind the curtain was two or three men sitting in chairs around the room watching (staring) at a seeming show that we walked in on. We’ll say there were dancers. A and I didn’t move. Should we be standing here? We couldn’t look away. It was such an odd place for such a show. It would have been odder if it were, say, a coffee shop, but hey!

Finally, we pulled ourselves away and decided it was time for us to roll out.

(Mom, you can start reading again here! Everyone else, carry on.)

After a long day walking around in the perfect heat, our time in Barcelona had come to an end. Now it was time for us to find our boat and hop on! Our map reading skills weren’t exactly polished at this point, but we figured if we walked along the pier and looked for signs that indicated there might be something bigger than this:

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… we could probably find our ferry. And eventually, we did.

Thanks for reading! Until next time, adios, ciao, sayonara, good-bye!

Published March 2015