Adventures in Tbilisi, Georgia

11 Jan

I was feeling pretty down after my Mystery Trippers headed back to the states. Making matters worse, I lost my beloved notebook in Armenia, which had so many memories from my travels scribbled on its pages. And I was now in a country (Georgia, if you’ve lost track of me) where no one spoke English and I didn’t know any Georgian or Russian, so I was riding the mopey train pretty hard.

Oh, and did I mention it was STILL FREAKING CHRISTMAS in Georgia?! #eternalChristmas #wow #enoughalready

All I knew was what number bus I needed to catch to get to my hostel in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, and then Murphy’s Law smacked me in the face in the form of that exact bus passing me, not stopping, because it was already full of people. Woe is Sammi. It was a 16km walk to my hostel, so I started on my way, figuring something would happen.  It’s incredibly comforting and empowering to be in a country, not speaking the langauge, and knowing that somebody, (who probably also doesn’t speak your language), is most likely going to stop and offer to help you.  Lucky for me, I was picked up and brought to town by a nice man with a bank logo on the side of his car. I knew that meant he was legit.

I found it sweet that he was willing to help me out even though we couldn’t speak each other’s language. He offered me his pomegranate juice which was still sealed.  I took it because in Georgia, rejecting someone’s drink offer is very rude, and I was in this guys car.  I didn’t want to be rude.  I mean, yes, he did try to ask me if I was married most of the ride, at least I think that’s what he was doing by pointing to my empty ring finger, but he brought me where I needed to go without too much hassle, so I just played along, yammering away in Eeglish.

Normally I use Couchsurfing on my solo travels, but this trip I had been so focused on the Mystery Trippers that by the time they’d left I didn’t have any energy to do anything for myself.  I decided to stay in Tbilisi’s most popular hostel. As I was feeling alone, I was willing to pay a bit more in hopes I would be able to meet some amazing people. Unfortunately, everyone in the hostel was young and drinking heavily, so I ended up hitting up Couchsurfing anway, looking for a friend and found Giorgi from Georgia.  Hilarious.  (But also, turns out, a common name.)

Giorgi is an actual tour guide, so he showed me around town. There is a waterfall right in the center of town, and you can take a chairlift up a mountain for some great views. I learned about Georgia’s conflict near South Ossetia (north), what it meant for the country when the Soviet Union fell, their current struggles and how Russia is still trying to exert its power. Things are pretty crazy out here!

Giorgi also taught me that everything in Georgia is connected to wine: It’s wine’s homeland, and they’ve been making it for 6,000 years. So I ditched the party at my hostel to drink wine with my new boozy tour guide. He brought me home for a nice dinner with his mother, who didn’t speak a lick of English but had the best laugh and made us a great meal. Of course, we also drank some homemade wine.

 

fTMY6dkhQQ6i6i2gId6lkw_thumb_1370d

We both don’t know where to look.

 

IMG_0628.jpg

Homemade dolma.

They have the most unique flavor combinations in Georgia, and there is a specific technique to eating certain things.  Of course Giorgi thinks its the best in the world.  For instance, you to have eat khinkali with your hands and bite and suck the juices out without spilling, which is way less fun than being messy, but you’d probably be more demure if you were on a date. They are traditionally made with a blend of pork and beef, but the mushroom was my favorite.

 

IMG_0724.jpg

Eggplant with walnut spread and pomegranate.

 

IMG_0626

Deceptively tricky little things to eat, but delicious!

 

I returned to the hostel after dinner and got to know my fellow travelers — we had quite the eclectic group. There were travelers from Japan, Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Russia, Dubai (UAE), Pakistan, and me from the good ol’ US of A. Not one German! (Nothing against Germans, they are just usually well-traveled.)

26jNbyybThOQJ8xwOICM5Q_thumb_13748

Your typical international hostel gathering in Tbilisi.

 

Muhammad was a 19-year-old from Lebanon whom I found quite inspiring. He was solo traveling on break from University and doing volunteer work teaching children. It was his first time leaving his home country, unless you count the time he was forced to flee to Syria in 2006 because of Lebanon’s war with Israel. Repeat: He fled INTO Syria. Insane.

Anyway, here he is taking a photo of his breakfast, because it was his first time ever eating a pancake.  He said he’s only ever seen it in the movies before this!

9Z2bcDk0TUCrlHNeoxK%HA_thumb_1371b

I call this “Lebanese Boy’s First Pancake.”

 

IMG_0664.jpg

People told us we looked liked siblings, we think it’s because of our half-smiles.

 

I hung out with Muhammad for a bit, then met two super sweet Iranians (Sajjad and Kazem) who helped me get my visa to Azerbaijan corrected and then invited me to an Iranian dinner.

Somehow, I had shifted from learning about Georgia to Lebanon and now Iran. For instance, did you know that if you speak in Farsi it means that you are Persian? They speak Farsi in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.  Or that a rooster does not “cock-a-doodle-do” in Iran?

I decided to tour the city with Sajjad and Kazem the following day. At one point, we saw a building from above that I knew was a Turkish hamam (that’s a bath, yinz), but the boys were positive it was a mosque, so we made a bet! Hamam or mosque? That was the name of the game.  And you might be able to tell by the look on my face who was right…

 

 

HuK46H11RR2y1C2cisYlnA_thumb_13737

That’s right! ME! So proud. (hahahaha, I made them take this photo.)

 

I had a lot of really innocent fun with Sajjad and Kazem over the next couple days.

I was actually the first American they had ever met, and we asked each other a lot of silly questions.

They taught me the phrase “Tariff ba domesh gerdoo mish kane” (phonetically: taraf bah doemesh geeairdo meesh can-eh, for me), which roughly translates from Farsi to “my tail is wagging.” We then practiced tongue twisters while we ate ice cream straight from the box at a grocery store.

 

unnamed-1

Exploring in black and white.

We had a great day and night together, and since we felt so connected, I invited them to come along with me to a yoga class even though they had never been before (they’d never been to a yoga class!), and they actually came!!  We had to get up early and walk to the class, and it was a total bust. The teacher told us to lie down in Shavasana, also known as “Corpse Pose,” and played a prerecorded tape. Aaaaaand that was it. It was nap yoga, apparently, and we actually paid money for that. The boys will never do “yoga” again, they told me.  I can’t blame them!  If that was my first experience I would never do “yoga” again either.  After I finished apologizing we had a good laugh and moved on.

Naturally, it was their turn to pick an activity, so we toured Jvari monastery and the town of Mtskheta. They had arranged for a Farsi-speaking driver the day before, and when he arrived to pick us up, he looked like this…

+nNpAgtOSRqJqiXfXkW8QA_thumb_13726

Picture not taken immediately upon meeting, for the record.

 

I pulled the boys aside, and asked, “Do you see that?”

Looks of confusion. Shrugs. They had no clue what I was talking about.

“He has a scorpion tattoo on his neck. The bad guy in every movie ever has a scorpion tattoo on his neck. Not good!”

That laughed at me and assured me it would be fine, and it was, but the guy was pretty weird!

For some reason, he loved Texas, and said, “I want to die in Texas.” DIE?! Why not LIVE, man?!

The boys laughed and Kazem said softly to me, “Sammi, everyone has a wish.”

Here are a few pictures from the day:

gApS7h8sSaulljhPKy+dVw_thumb_13746

Jvari Monestary.

 

yP6yIM6+SMedor3e4IEU6A_thumb_1372e

Where I learned that Iranian and American roosters must be very, very different.

 

uCA19ir1SG+rsOwR0Rg_thumb_1373f

Mtskheta town, or “The Point At 3 Rivers.” Pittsburgh in Georgia?!

 

As you can see, my Iranian friends were the most positive people, always looking on the bright side (except maybe about yoga). We had a delicious Georgian dinner (minus the wine, so Giorgi would say it wasn’t authentic), and chatted the night away. Here are some random things I learned:

Side note: (They love John McCain in Georgia.)

Facebook is censored in Iran, but Instagram is allowed.

Iranians have a very weak passport, it takes 3 months to apply for a Visa to go to Europe. (Let’s not get into America…)

Sajjad is an engineer and Kazem is in his last year of school getting his PhD in Sociology

They both have girlfriends (3 and 6 years, respectively).

They are opposites: Whenever one says “yes” the other leans towards “no” Like, “Do you have this particular fruit in your country?”  One says “yes” they other “no”.

Their moms are great cooks.

Iranians snap when they dance (just like someone I know).

They were just such sweet guys. I talked more with Kazem about his girlfriend, and became rather infatuated with the head scarf. He told me Iran is more liberal than Saudi Arabia, which isn’t saying a lot. It’s illegal for women to take them off in the streets, but sometimes, if they are alone and there’s no one watching or no guard (GUARD?!), the women will remove them.

He dated his girlfriend for a year before he saw her without the scarf. Can you imagine that?! And the first time was through a picture. The first time in person was in a car, and when she took it off, he kissed her. So romantic!  I felt so honored and trusted that he shared this all with me.  Thank you Kazem!!

Unfortunately, I had to leave that night, and if an Iranian has a stamp on their passport from Armenia, they are not allowed to go to Azerbaijan, so we couldn’t continue on together although they said they would come if they could (they had previously been to Armenia)!   Otherwise, it’s embarrassingly difficult for them to get a visa in the USA.  We said goodbye and I told them to invite me out to Iran if they ever had a big life event.  I really hope they do!!  They are such wonderful people ❤

qA8OHHmKRyCqsDlEkdiQlQ_thumb_1372b

Sunset before my train.

 

That night, I got on my train to Baku, Azerbaijan, and when we were set to depart, the Iranin boys surprised me at the station to say one final goodbye!!!!!!!!   They had been walking around showing people my picture, asking if they’d seen me, because they wanted to say goodbye.   Awwwwww!!!! Sweethearts!!!! 

unnamed-2

Friends for life.   So much love for these two smart, kind, thoughtful humans.

 

It felt so good to learn so much and spend genuine time with these two wonderful guys, especially right after my friends left. It’s times like these, when you’re feeling alone on the other side of the world, that I feel like you make the most meaningful connections.

If that’s not the Christmas spirit, then I don’t know what is.

So one last time, since it’s finally, finally over. Merry Christmas!

‘mi

Mystery Trip Reveal

8 Jan

So I know you’re just dying to know the Mystery Trip 2018 destination. It’s all you’ve been able to think about since the beginning of the New Year; I get it. It’s all I’ve been thinking about, too (because I’m still here).

For those of you just tuning in, I recently planned and executed mission: take my friends Colleen and Patrick to an unknown destination for the trip of a lifetime. Keep up with the rest of the class and read about it here! There will be a quiz, so pay attention. Just kidding, here’s the CliffsNotes version:

My wonderful, adventurous friends Colleen and Patrick were brave enough to let me plan a trip for them—a trip whose destination would remain *a mystery* until they actually arrived. When we all finally met at the airport, they wore hats, which acted as blinders to keep them from glancing at the arrival/departure monitors. And like angsty teenagers, they put on their headphones to drown out the world and any incoming boarding announcements. So… mystery. Got it? Good. On we go…

We planned to meet at JFK, so when they landed at LaGuardia, they received a lovely text message with a greeting and instructions to come meet me at JFK. Once they arrived, I ushered them through the airport, naturally taking the time to explain the Mystery Trip concept to each person we passed (a speech along the lines of “these people don’t know where they are going, and they don’t want to know, so don’t blow it!”).

As they received more audio and visual clues (e.g., the languages we heard around us, the way people looked and dressed), Colleen and Patrick were prompted to write down some educated guesses about the destination. It wasn’t until we had actually arrived at the gate that Colleen guessed Ukraine.

Survey says: We have a winner!

W E L C O M E    to    U K R A I N E!!!!!!

TQ2KNQLcTPmpbvXvZutwcA_thumb_13501

As soon as we arrived, sweet, smart, hilarious Iryna (a friend I had met two years earlier in Portugal; here’s a link to that story if you need a refresher) greeted us.

IMG_0262

Now, you might be wondering “why Ukraine?”

Here’s the thing. I was encouraged to choose a trip that would thrill me since I would be the one doing all of the planning. So I designed a trip that I really wanted to go on! The idea was that these Mystery Trippers were going to be happy no matter where we went, so it was up to me to get excited.

Thus, I planned a trip to visit Iryna in Ukraine because I believe that both life and travel are about the people you meet, and I had wanted to visit Iryna ever since we met. We had loosely kept in touch on social media and through a couple of mutual friends (shout out to Paula and Claire!), and even though we hadn’t spent more than a couple of days together in Portugal, visiting Iryna in the Ukraine was a dream trip of mine.

That being said, I know that Ukraine is not the typical ideal winter getaway. In fact, when we started discussing the plans on Facebook, Iryna the Realist warned: “So, to be honest, Dec. – Jan. is not the best time to visit Ukraine.”

“Sure,” I said, “But will you be free? Because if you are then I’m designing this trip, and we’re coming to see you.”

And guess what? Iryna WAS free! And guess what else? Plane tickets were a good price ($450 USD one way—I may go into the logistics of this trip in another post; although, I mayyyy not. It’s my blog, and I can do what I want to).

Anyway, that’s how Sammi & the Mystery Trippers (great band name) came to spend an entire week in December exploring the Ukraine with Iryna and her two gorgeous sisters, Marta and Yana.

IMG_0395

Iryna and her sisters are pure magic; everyone who meets them agrees.

 

As for the actual trip, we spent several days in Kiev and then headed south towards the Black Sea.

6HWHnNk0QrmWc1P5C5xUrw_thumb_13554

Odessa: Never mind that this photo was taken in the backyard of a Sanitation Factory.

From there, we went to the occupied territory known as  T R A N S N I S T R I A. It’s a rather confusing strip of territory that controls a border and basically declared itself an independent state when the Soviet Union dissolved. We were only allowed to stay in Transnistria for 10 hours. According to the UN, it’s part of Moldova; although, we didn’t get a Moldovan passport stamp. We didn’t get a stamp at all, actually—just the ones from when left and came back to Ukraine. So I guess you could say that for a whole 10 hours, we were off the grid in uncharted territory and unaccounted for! This made Transnistria the second “country” on our trip.

IMG_0203

Fine, it’s technically charted, but still![

Back in Kiev, there was a surprise in store for the Mystery Trippers…

IMG_0308

This is a genuine photo of the moment The Surprise arrived!! Photo credit: YankaPanka

 

unnamed.jpg

Helen showed up! SURPRISE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

On New Year’s Eve, Helen flew in to join us as a surprise to Colleen and Patrick. We had a great night out. Another surprise was in store for the following day…

On January 1st, we woke up and headed to the airport to “return the car” but…

SURPRISE AGAIN! We were heading to another country! The Mystery Trippers didn’t know we were going to multiple countries: A Mystery Trip within a Mystery Trip? It’s like Inception up in here.

IMG_0421

They don’t smile in Ukraine, and we were trying to fit in (or they just, like, really wanted to go home). Patrick guessed our next country was going to be Georgia. Helen guessed Bulgaria. Colleen guessed Estonia. All great guesses, but I’ll go with D. NONE OF THE ABOVE. Mwahahahahaha.

 

IMG_0425

Next Question:  Would they still be celebrating (Orthodox) Christmas (on January 7th) in the next country we go to??

Here is a 30-second video (turn up the volume) of the next BIG REVEAL after we had ALREADY LANDED in our next Mystery Country:

 

 

IMG_0438

A map for the geographically-challenged. Also, Yerevan is the capital. #alwayslearning

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_13616

Yup! Still Christmas.

 

It was a quick 24 hours in A R M E N I A, then we literally took a midnight train to
G E O R G I A (not the state) for our 4th country in two weeks.

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_136f7

Here we are in snowy, northern Georgia.

 

And the next day—just like that—Sammi & Mystery Trippers ended their world tour, and my friends found themselves on a plane back to the USA, leaving me to focus on my solo career.

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_136cf

The only time during this trip that they knew where they were going.

 

Now you might be wondering… Hey #AdventureSam, this is awfully vague; where are the details? What did you guys do? Well, I’m glad you asked. Patrick and Colleen have volunteered to write multiple posts—in detail—about the trip! I’ll be publishing those as they send them to me.

This particular post was just meant to serve as the reveal; I couldn’t keep you guys hanging for that long. So look for their future posts, which will undoubtedly gush about Iryna, Marta, and Yana, talk about our time in Odessa, explain more of what we know about Transnistria, describe the moment Helen walked into our trip and blew their minds, introduce this blog to our new friend David, and describe our time in Georgia.

Overall, Mission: Mystery Trip was Mission: Accomplished! New friendships were forged, memories were made, we learned a heap, there were multiple surprises and multiple countries… Most importantly we had loads of fun!

Stay tuned for more because, although they may not all be mysteries, the adventures never stop!

‘mi

Oh, The Places You Go — Mystery Trip

25 Dec

A guest blog by Patrick.

With exactly one week to go before Mystery Trip 2018, I sat down to wrap my head around everything that had happened since we received the following text from Sammi on Monday, August 14:

 

I can’t tell you which is more intriguing:  an EPIC, personalized travel-ganza or the though to my passport’s exoneration.

 

I scoured every last text message for hints, clues, and instructions. This was the result:

Sammi recommends duel-purpose undies.  #is13pairstoomany?

 

For months Colleen and I had organized clandestine FaceTime chats to try to prepare ourselves for what would surely be an EPIC adventure. But how do you properly prepare for a Mystery Trip? Do you read into every single clue and try to figure out your exact destination (there are a lot of places with an average temperature of 31℉ in December)? Or do you try your hardest to not think about it despite the fact that EVERY SINGLE PERSON you mention it to immediately starts throwing their guesses at you? How many times do I have to tell you, we’re not going to Canada!

We chose Option C: obsess over packing. Countless hours led to two carefully packed bags, each less than 55x20x40cm, with everything we could possibly need to be able to go out on New Year’s Eve (and possibly other times) in public during the 60% of the trip we’d be in a city and largely inside, and still be prepared for the possibility of snow/rain and for weather that feels colder than the 17℉ low during the 40% of the trip we’d be not sleeping outside. We obviously wore LAYERS onto the plane.

Colleen obsessed took care of the snacks. I convinced her to bring a curling iron so we could use it as a microphone.

We put together a Mystery Trip Playlist: you should check it out! Sammi requested the first song, and we curated the rest…

 

 

Our planes from Chicago and Denver converged at LaGuardia in New York, where we turned on our phones to find instructions from Sammi to meet her at JFK. We left a trail of candy cane crumbs in our Lyft on the way to the airport. We scoured Terminal 7 far and wide before finally spotting Sammi – she was hard to find because of her camouflaged hat.

 

Headline: Savvy American tourists prepare to integrate into local culture.

We immediately handed over our passports to Sammi who worked her incredible magic to get us through the check-in counter and security clearances without a glitch. All that stood between us and a true mystery was getting on the plane.

We were a hit at the airport – people couldn’t believe what we were up to and went out of their way to talk to us. #AdventureSam

Colleen and I synced our music, turned it up to full blast, pulled our hats over our eyes, and stumbled down the long hallway to our gate.

 

3-2-1: Board!

Sammi guided us expertly onto the plane – we only ran into her like 17 times. We got to our seats, where she quickly scoured the area for anything that might give our destination away. Nothing. Then she looked up and saw a giant map of our flight broadcast on a massive TV 6 feet in front of our seat. Whoops! We resolved to keep our eyes to our row. : )

 

WE HAVE NO IDEA WHERE WE ARE GOING!

The thrill of successfully getting on a plane without knowing where we were going was powerful. Colleen and I were pumped! Sammi immediately fell asleep. Her loss: she missed out on two awful meals (“What if the place where we are going isn’t known for its food?”), a bootlegged version of iRobot with Chinese subtitles, and discovering that our overhead reading lamps were controlled by the wrong seats.

 

How could she possibly sleep with a  delicious meal of overcooked noodles and mystery strawberry foam nearby?

 

One of the aspects of the trip Colleen and I hadn’t prepared for was the fact that we had no idea how long the flight was. Here we were, wedged into seats on a low-cost airline with our heads down to avoid looking at the giant map in front of us, with no freaking idea where we were going or when we would get there! Luckily, I had put together a Funtivity packet that allowed Colleen to win an EPIC game of dots and squares.

 

#HowLongIsThisFlight?

And then, finally we landed! We had no idea what time it was, where we were, or what was waiting for us once we stepped off of the airplane. But, as we were soon to find out, you can always count on an amazing experience when AdventureSam is wearing her ‘I Planned This!’ hat…

 

— Patrick

A Comprehensive History of the Mystery…

24 Dec

PRESENT DAY: ‘Tis finally time, my friends, for Mystery Trip 2018, where I choose your choice. We’ve got our tickets in hand, our bags packed, and our passports ready for the stamping. But you still don’t get to know where we’re headed just yet … This is the flashback episode; the part of the blog where I relay to you the events leading up to this very moment—the moment we step onto the plane without looking back. Ready?

*Cue the rewind sound effect*

AUGUST: It all began on one, long flight to Peru where I thought about how fun it would be to plan a trip for some adventurous travelers who would agree to get on a plane without knowing where they were going or what they’d be doing. But where, oh where, was I supposed to find a couple of crazy kids like that?

ENTER…

Colleen

IMG_6842

And Patrick!

IMG_6841

Colleen took my initial idea and ran with it. She called me in August with specific dates and a budget. After a 3-way Skype call with Patrick, we all agreed to some pretty basic rules:

1.   Safety first – The destination could not be one of the five most dangerous places in the world (because we’re crazy, but not that crazy). Ask me about the sixth most dangerous place in the world, and maybe I’ll consider.

2.   Variety– We’re all well-traveled and love our new experiences, so we agreed that the destination should be somewhere none of us had gone before.

 
3.   The Benjamins, baby – Of course, you can’t plan a trip without talking money. We came up with a solid budget of $2,500 per person.

 

So, I started planning. We’ve all been traveling for quite some time, so the rules really narrowed down my search. But the process didn’t come without its challenges. I had to navigate around the fact that:

  1.   Patrick, Colleen, and yours truly are all from separate places. I would have to figure out how to get Patrick from Denver and Colleen from Chicago, while I of course, would be leaving from Pittsburgh.

    AND

  2. We were going to be spending Christmas and New Years abroad, which is automatically going to drive ticket prices up, up, and far away.

 

But hey, haven’t you learned by now? I’m a pro. So after much research, price shopping, and city-to-country matrixes, I booked the flights and sent my brave souls a fun little confirmation.

 

IMG_6848

And so it begins! Muhaha!

 

NOVEMBER:  By November, we were all getting really into it. My teasing text messages were at an all-time high, and Colleen started working on the official Mystery Trip 2018 uniforms.

 

IMG_6866

Which of these hats is not like the others?

 

IMG_6867

Official uniform of Mystery Trip 2018!

 

I should’ve had them make blindfolds, but hopefully the caps will shield them from any indicators or clues at the airport.

What makes this whole thing extra fun is that both Colleen and Patrick have been eager from the start to maintain the surprise element of this trip, so I gave them another little assignment: They needed to create a combined playlist so that they won’t be able to hear any announcements from the terminal or on the plane.

As the month passed by, and with the spirit of giving among us, I finally gave them a few morsels of information about our destination:

Climate = bring a really warm jacket…like, really, really warm.

Activities = bring some hiking boots, your adventure pants, and something to swim in, because plot twist! We’re getting in some water! (Might I recommend some extra warm, long underwear for this occasion?)

 
Festivities = bring a Secret Santa gift, and make it fancy (just kidding, just something around $20).

But as I giveth, so do I also taketh away. You knew there’d be a catch right? And in this case, it was that they were only allowed to pack one carry-on. They’re traveling with AdventureSam, and when you travel with AdventureSam, you need to step up to the challenge. It’s all part of the fun!

 

DECEMBER: Can you imagine being two weeks away from a trip and not knowing where you’re going or when you’re even getting on the plane? Colleen and Patrick can. Colleen and Patrick definitely can, because two weeks away, and they still hadn’t received any information from their dear pal AdventureSam. I sent them this little text to ease their anxieties:

“We will be going out for New Years (remember the temperature). It won’t be fancy, of course, but it will be out in public. Also, I don’t think we’ll need snow shoes. But if we do, at least we won’t have them together! #Solidarity”

So finally, one week before the trip, I decided to throw them a bone and let them know they’re departure times. I mean, the suspense was just killing me; I couldn’t stand it. But I still kept the itinerary a secret—I was only going to give them that info 24-hrs in advance.

 

IMG_6852

NOW: So, we’re back where we started. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane. And now, as a quick little game, I’d like to know where you think we’re going. The polls are now open for educated guesses. For a recap:

1.   It’s cold
2.   We will be swimming at some point
3.   We’re going out for New Year’s Eve and a few other nights
4.   40% outdoors, 60% city

I let Colleen and Patrick play, too. So here are the final results

Colleen: Iceland
Patrick: Norway
You, my lovely blog reader: [Insert your guess here]
And the winner is…

’misterious

 

 

 

2017 Travel Summary: A Little Less Conversation (about blogging), A Little More Actual Blogging…

22 Dec

Ok, here’s the deal:

We all know I’m just a little behind on my blogging. And by “a little behind,” I mean 5 months behind—okay, maybe 6. But I have some good news and some extra good news for my party sized readership, which is growing.  Welcome new people!!  The good news is that there aren’t many rules when it comes to blogging, which means the blog police can’t revoke my license to spill if I fall behind on a posting or two. Life gets in the way; writing can (and will) get a little bothersome. It happens!

IMG_2436

I was so busy this year, I even had to brush my teeth in airport bathrooms! How could anyone expect me to blog, am I right?

 

Now for the extra good news… drumroll, please… I’m getting back in the game! To finish updating AdventureSam, I’ll be playing catch-up and posting on Thursdays* in 2018, as a “Throwback to 2017” travel tribute. Ultimately, my goal (my pre-New Year’s resolution, if you will) is to both get back to posting in real time AND to catch up on the second half of this year.

*The fine print: I might not post a back blog every week, but when I do, it’ll be on Thursdays.

IMG_3800

The birdseye view from a plane window—a favorite view from this year.

 

So without further ado, here’s a quick summary of my 2017 travels and a lil’ sneak peek of some posts you can look forward to on upcoming TBTs (“Throwback Thursdays” for those who don’t speak Internet):

  • Nine weeks exploring Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand)
  • Several weeks groovin’ out West (California, Colorado… and let’s generously throw in Ithaca, NY)
  • A month living it up in Peru  (the Amazon, hiking around the Andes, and visiting Machu Picchu).  It felt like the end of an era era era when I finished writing about that.
  • One long, joyous weekend spent in New Orleans
  • Two weeks hanging out with the fam in Israel, Jordan, and Palestine (feat. a long layover in Iceland)
  • Living, laughing, and loving in the great outdoors of New York and West Virginia
  • Four days catching up with my Peace Corps Momma in Jamaica
  • One Thanksgiving weekend, partying with the Amish in Litiz, the coolest small town in America
  • An action-packed week schmoozing with Berlin

 

image

That moment when you start thinking about your 2018 travel plans.

 

And for those curious about my upcoming travels, get ready for:

MYSTERY TRIP 2018. Pack your bikinis, pack your snow coats, pack your surfboard and your skis, because there’s no knowing where we’re going! Okay, so maybe it’s not a complete mystery. After all, I’m in on the secret, but our destination, well, that’s for me to know…and you to find out!  😉

 

 

img_6800

En route to endless adventures

The sky’s the limit,
‘mi

 

Peru: Miscellaneous

1 Aug

I’ve got more to say about my trip in Peru, and it’s MY BLOG DANGIT so here are some random musings!

 

Lima Drivers = The Worst
We spent some time in Peru’s capital city of Lima. I thought I had seen bad traffic and drivers before, but I’m sorry, Lima has the worst. drivers. ever.

There’s generally an etiquette when you and the car coming from the opposing direction are both turning left, where you turn at the same time in front of each other and high-five on the way by. But here, I try to turn left and they keep going straight at me. Meanwhile, cars behind try to go around to the right, and then we’re all just kind of stuck. So after much frustrated hand puppets and gesturing, we did our 18-point turns to freedom.


Bedtime Stories At Hostel Not Advised
We stayed in a hostel with a woman who told us a story about surviving a freaking plane crash in the Amazon! Seriously. The plane exploded after take-off and crashed into the rainforest. 84 people died, including one of her good friends. She was one of the flight attendants, and one of just 13 people who survived the crash. She had gone through just one day of Amazon survival training and made it through the night worrying about crocodiles until they were rescued. Didn’t fact check this one, her voice, eyes, and sincerity were enough.


Going Solo @ Museo de Arte Contemporaneo
I went to a museum alone which I love because I get to do what I want.


A Note On Stray Dogs in Lima
They look like they’re pretty well taken care of.


Stinky Sea Lions

IMG_4781

You probably can’t really tell, but that weird rock formation is actually thousands (approx 6,000) of sea lions.

 

Food Notes!

  • The food is unhealthy, oily and full of carbs. They have vegetables (see photo below), they just apparently don’t serve them.
  • There was some sweet purple popcorn and cakes that looked good but… weren’t.
  • We ordered quinoa and it came as a sweet drink. WHAT?! Must be some mistake.  They never had what I was used to.
  • Breakfast and lunch, it’s all the same food.
  • Peru ceviche is the best.
  • Chifa = chinese food. Not very good, but very cheap, and the portions are huge.  Never go to Chifa when you’re not that hungry.  Also, ordered something called aeropuerto because I like airports.
  • Avocado on bread (with an occasional egg I had to order separately ) was my favorite thing to eat.
IMG_4542

Classic lack of vegetables even though they grow them here.

 

IMG_4497

Proof that they sell vegetables (even though there isn’t any in their food).

 

IMG_5005

Ceviche.  Best thing ever!  Ben says I eat it like I was starved once.

 

General Notes

We felt safe the whole time. There was only one brief moment where we didn’t when some guy asked where we were from and, without looking at each other, Ben and I simultaneously responded “Canada!”

The dancing in music videos isn’t sexual like in ours. It’s almost childlike.

Ben and I played a game each night where we said 3 things we were grateful for and 3 things we would change about the day.   One of mine was to buy one of the hats I saw the women wearing…

IMG_4414

See one here.

 

I wanted to blend in so badly! We saw women wearing these cool hats everywhere but couldn’t seem to find them for purchase anywhere. Most of the women in the market had them on.  And at the bank.  There were CRAZY long lines for the bank that extended around the block — at every bank, even in small towns — and all the women in line were wearing tall hats. We thought buying one off of someone’s head probably wasn’t very respectful.

Finally I found one, and as soon as I purchased it and put it on, all the ladies in the market kept telling me how pretty I was. And no, of course I don’t have the pics to prove it.

 

IMG_4492

A charming, mountain town… with hats!

 

IMG_4495

Notice the hats.  And avocados!

 

4 Quick Facts! (Sorta)

  1. The Peruvian currency is called the “sol,” which when pluralized to soles, does not sound like “souls,” but “so-lays.” So I was offering people 7 Souls for things, and getting weird looks, but feeling rather devilish. 
  2. “Hot springs” are apparently weird, dingy “private” rooms that feel super dirty and smell like surfers and aren’t relaxing at all. But, I did get to laugh until I cried, so there’s that.
  3. Peru has the largest speed bumps in the world (that I’ve ever seen). They even paint them black to sneak up on you.  They got us good.  Or bad.  I bit my tongue multiple times. 

    Here’s a ‘fun’ driving game for you if you ever visit Northern Peru: Both driver and passenger try to watch out for the speed bumps. When you see one, yell BUMP! as loud as you can. If the driver hits it too hard and causes a jarring impact, the passenger gets to get pissed off and ask “Do you want me to drive?”(We actually even saw a music video while we were there in which the girl was hitchhiking in front of a speed bump because the drivers have to slow down so much for them, so it’s a bit of an in-joke for Peruvians too.)

  4. Peru has over 20 out of the 34 climates in the world, and very varied landscapes, with the Amazon Rainforest, Andes Mountains, Sand Dunes on rugged beaches, and more.

 

IMG_4760

Beach straight out of a Tim Burton movie with handmade canoes for fishing in the Pacific Ocean.

 

IMG_4764

These sand dunes look like they were painted, but they’re totally real.

 

IMG_4805

Went really out of our way for this view so I had to include it.

 

And that’s my rather random round-up (hey alliteration!) from the rest of my trip in Peru. I’ve heard Peru called the Thailand of South America (I think because it’s the place that most people start on each respective continent but really, I have no idea.  Peru was the first country I visited in South America.).  It had a bit of everything for me, from natural beauty to city slums to epic quests for hats and vegetables.  I loved it, but still prefer quinoa the way I’m used to.

 

Hats off (because I lost mine),
‘mi

Peru: Machu Picchu

26 Jul

Of course, no trip to Peru is complete without a visit to Machu Picchu. So with only a couple days left, we took an enjoyable plane ride over the Andes Mountains, headed for a side trip to the classic Inca ruins.

Listening to an audio book, we learned that the ancient city was rediscovered on July 24, 1911, and we would be visiting on that day (106 years later)! Also, FUN FACT! My dad’s name is Andy, and we would be in the Andes Mountains, in the Osh Kosh region, and I used to wear Osh Kosh when I was young, and I love corny little verbal connections like these.  

IMG_4812

Perfect clouds and a short flight from Lima to Cusco, capital of the Incas.

 

IMG_4827

Planes and then trains. The luxurious Inca Rail where they served cookies and drinks. We didn’t have the option to take the crowded, local train.

 

IMG_4823

Riverside views.

 

IMG_4988

The line to get an early morning bus up to Machu Picchu.  Felt like Disneyland.

 

As you can see, the line for the early bus to Machu Picchu was ridiculous, so we went with the cheaper afternoon bus. There were kitchy things for sale everywhere in Cusco

While in town, we kept noticing what resembled LGBTQ pride flags and thought it was cool that the city was so open-minded and progressive and liberal, only OOPS, they’re totally not, and it’s actually the flag for the city of Cusco. Our bad, carry on, Cusco. (But seriously, look how similar they are.)

 

12.jpg

 

So anyway, we hopped on a bus in the afternoon and took it all the way to the top. We chose to take a private, guided tour for Machu Picchu to get a more intimate experience.

You know how sometimes you finally see a place in person and it’s kind of disappointing? Not the case here. The views from the top are breathtaking, and exactly as they appear online.

IMG_4968

Machu Picchu.

 

IMG_4967

Photobombing Machu Picchu.

 

IMG_4975

No caption necessa–oh crap this is a caption.

 

IMG_4983

Black & white cuz I’m artsy.

 

IMG_4856

So steep! Hard living and hard life out here.

 

IMG_4850

Pretty surreal landscape to set up your temple.

 

IMG_4948

Inkalicious.

 

IMG_4992

12 sided stone was a 12 out of 10. Would definitely  recommend

 

Once you get in to get a closer look at Machu Picchu it becomes even more impressive. See those stones right there? Nothing is holding them together! They have no mortar, they are just perfectly fitted. And they had no machines to smooth them out.

Our private guide told us that the higher your status within the community, the larger and smoother the stones that made up the foundation of your home would be. The craftsmanship is still incredibly impressive today, some 500+ years later.

After getting our fill of the views and soaking it all in, we decided to walk back down rather than take the bus.  It was a mad rush to make it before dark.

 

 

IMG_4962

Ok, one more…

 

We ate some delicious alpha steak for dinner back in Cusco.  

In the morning, it was time for us to depart, the road was blocked because of a protest. They actually put rocks in the road so people couldn’t pass. Turns out the protest was for teachers who wanted to be paid more–same story all over the world!

We met some helpful Peruvians who walked us across the protest lines and picked up a taxi on the other side to take to the airport for our flight back to Lima.

 

IMG_4989

Teachers protest with rocks in the road to block traffic.

 

IMG_4991

Police in riot gear.

 

Machu Picchu was a real commitment to even get to, out of our way for sure, but I’m glad we went.  It was cool and classic, just not quite on the level of our camping misadventures.  I like iconic sites and I’m grateful to have visited this one — the first of the Seven Wonders of the “New” (or “Old”) World that I have ever seen.

Bucket List Checker,
‘mi