Sundance 2017

Darryl and I were fortunate enough to attend Sundance this year in the snow globe city of Park City. It was amazing. We spent one day skiing, and one day watching movies. We saw World Without End (No Incidents Reported), the awards for the shorts, The Incredible Jessica James, and Legion of Brothers. My favorite by far was The Incredible Jessica James. My favorite quote, “It must be my raw feminine energy.” Yes! Also, the director came out and spoke, and said when his daughter is old enough to watch it, he wants to be able to point to Jessica James’ character as a great role model (i.e. a leader who doesn’t take any crap from anyone). Anyway, Sundance was an amazing experience. Though the movies are 20 bucks a pop, it is totally worth it!

Things I learned at Sundance 2017:

The Q and A with a director after a movie is like the best thing ever. I wish this could happen at every movie (impractical, I know). But it increases my enjoyment of the movie by several degrees of magnitude.

It is fun standing in waitlist lines. Really! It is fun hearing people’s stories from all over the country, and shivering together is a bonding experience. Also. I love hearing what people have seen, why they liked it, and what they are going to see next.

It is fun riding the theater loop shuttle. For the same reason as the waitlist line.

Locals at Park City hate the Sundance Festival. One guy started randomly yelling into the parking garage where the waitlist was formed “This is public parking! THIS IS PUBLIC PARKING!” Apparently he wasn’t too happy about his parking garage getting co-opted.

I really love film festivals. Now I want to attend more and more.

Sundance on the cheap:

People are often perplexed by my ability to travel so much. I think people think I must have a huge credit card balance or that my boyfriend pays for everything (I don’t and he doesn’t – though he does pay for a few things now and then of course).

Anyway, here’s how I managed a budget trip to Sundance

Step 1: I live close to the airport and there is this thing called Uber pool. My to-airport fees were about 12 bucks.

Step 2: Pack light. I usually check nothing, as airline baggage fees are horrendous, but this time I had to check my skis and boots (but it was only 25 each way for the two of them – in this case it may have been cheaper to rent skis, but I like my gear).

Step 3: Use credit card points to rent a car (free!)

Step 4: Grab an Airbnb. We stayed at an Airbnb for 60 bucks a night, so divided by two, my stay for the first two nights was 30 each. It was just one bedroom in someone’s house, but it was incredible! They even had a hot tub!

Step 5: Grocery shop. Helps avoid huge dining costs, and we packed snacks for our day of skiing, no way were we paying mountain prices for crappy food.

Step 6: We used the free shuttles everywhere. I think we took just one uber ride.

Step 7: Book a cheap night close to the airport. Our stay at the Salt Lake City Quality Inn and Suites was about 50 bucks.

In short, take advantage of new technology and credit card points. No way would I be able to travel as much without the sharing economy!

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Parque Las Palapas

I’m here in Cancun for a conference, and I am staying in the Zona Hotelera, which is nice, but doesn’t feel like real Mexico (because it’s not), so after five days straight in touristy, beach-land, I had to get out.

I hopped on the bus that leaves to hotel zone, and headed for Parque las Palapas in search of delicious food. I’d heard about it on a blog, and wanted to check it out.

It was a really short bus ride (ten pesos), and though I had only a vague idea of where I was going, I found it pretty quickly, by just asking the bus driver, and then the guy in the Oxxo store.

It was a beautiful evening, and there were so many families out enjoying the warm night. There was live music, street performers, rides for kids, superheroes posing for pics, cotton candy, and of course, a ton of food. I think most tourists are really missing out by not visiting this park. There were even people practicing their acrobatics.

I took a walk around, spying all of the food vendors before making a choice. I started with a churro, which was amazingly delicious, because why not start with dessert? I then moved on to an Esquite, which is a boiled corn cob, spread with a little mayo, topped with cheese and chili powder. If it sounds gross to you, don’t knock it until you try it!

I then moved on to a Salbute, which is a fried tortilla, with a choice of potato, chicken, or meat as the filling, and topped with lettuce, cheese, and cream (I love that Mexicans put cream on everything!). I got the potato one and it was really interesting. I ate it like a taco, though I don’t know the proper way. I topped off my four course dinner with some flan. The total cost for all of my calories: 45 pesos, or about $2.50. Try doing that in the hotel zone!

On the way back to the main street where I caught the bus, there were lots of vendors and street performers. I bought some earrings, and tipped some street performers. There was even an Elvis replica outside of one of the restaurants!

All in all, it was an amazing evening, and I highly recommend visiting the Parque las Palapas

!

 

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The Marble-ous Mountains

 

The Marble Mountains are a wondrous place, that is, if you’re into wildflowers, clear lakes, and camping under the night sky. Yes, there were some mosquitos, but not many. We had an excellent trip. Here is our route.

Thursday night we left San Francisco at rush hour (contra-indicated). But this allowed us to be two hours closer to the trailhead on Friday. We stayed overnight at the Stage Stop Inn in Williams, a town which for all intents and purposes seemed like a ghost town (However, if you do find yourself in Williams for some reason, try Granzella’s!). We were one of two parties at the hotel that night, it seemed. Friday morning we enjoyed our continental breakfast of corn flakes out of Styrofoam bowls by a decrepit pool, and headed north. We stopped for lunch in Fort Jones, a tiny gold-mining town, with a surprisingly rich history.

We got on the trail at about 12 or 1 pm at the Shackleford Trailhead, and hiked the 4.5 miles to Campbell Lake. Campbell Lake, while the easiest to get to, was probably my least favorite. The water just wasn’t as clear as the other lakes, and the surroundings not as spectacular. However, the dip in the lake did feel quite nice, and there were some pretty cool islands on which some other campers were hanging out. That night we were also joined by a troop of boy scouts, their fathers, and a dog, who were nice enough, if a bit loud. It was at least fun to overhear the 12-year-olds interact with each other. There was a lot of fighting and carrying on, which is about what you might expect from 12 year old boys, and a lot of “Dad, can I…” Also, the dog kept coming into our campsite, and I thought it was a bear at one point. Never a dull moment in the back country!

The next day we went on to Shadow Lake, a tiny little lake high up on a ridge. It was beautiful, and looked down on the Sky High Lakes, which were apparently not-so-sky-high. The label ‘lake’ may also be a misnomer, as it was probably closer to a puddle in size.  This section of the trip was fun, as it was on the PCT, so we saw a lot of through hikers. Literally coming from Mexico and heading to Canada. Such brave, masochistic souls. Most seemed in good spirits though.

Since the hike from Campbell to Shadow was pretty short (7.3 miles), or maybe we were just comparing ourselves to the through-hikers and feeling bad about ourselves, we threw our packs down and headed out to the Black Marble Mountain saddle. This was by far the most beautiful view of our trip! It was a gorgeous view looking down over a green valley, and a great view of the Marble Mountains. Highly recommended! After all that hiking, we came back to our camp at Shadow Lake for a swim, and made short work of a delicious dinner of tortellini and pesto, which is my favorite back-country dinner.

The following day we hiked through the Marble Valley, which was all in all a pretty hike, but nothing really to write home about. However, walking through the meadow to arrive at Deep Lake was nothing short of a religious experience (or maybe my blood sugar was low since we had just hiked 12 miles). The meadow was full of beautiful grasses and wildflowers and ahead loomed a sheer rock ridge with Deep Lake nestled at the bottom. Deep Lake itself was crystal clear blue, with lots of rocks for jumping. It was quite chilly, but a swim out to the center was a surreal experience. We also had a great campsite on the straight side of a large boulder, which afforded some protection from the wind. We swam, and cooked a delicious backcountry dinner of mushroom risotto and thai curry (i.e. we boiled water and poured them into the bags).

On our last day, we scrambled up over the drainage on the ridge to get back on the trail. It was a bit of a struggle directions-wise, but we stayed on track, and had a great time hopping up over boulders and cresting ridges. After cresting one of the ridges, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Mt. Shasta.  It was a tough last day (8 miles, with the first two scrambling over ridges), but we made our way back to the trail and out to our car, which was waiting patiently for our return. Then we went and got huge, well-deserved hamburgers in Yreka, which were well-deserved! Full and filthy, we headed home, but dreamed of returning again soon!

 

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Microbrews, puppies, and yoga pants: 4 days in Bend, Oregon

 

Day One (Friday):  We drove up to Bend from Portland via Mt. Hood, and it was a nice scenic drive. You go past meadows and up and down canyons, with dramatic views of mountains from the road. I recommend going via Mt Hood, as you can stop at the Crooked River Gorge (Ogden Scenic View Point) to stretch your legs. If you are lucky, you may be able to see someone bungee jump into the gorge, as we did J. Arriving in Bend, we stopped at the Bluebird Café for a cup of tea/coffee. It was a cute little café/bookshop and their logo is a woman dipping her toe into a cup of coffee, a logo modelled after a black and white photo of the café owner’s mother, dipping her toe into one of the nearby Crater Lakes. It was a cool café that sort of embodied Bend for me.

After a cheap dinner at Chipotle (hey we didn’t want to break the bank on our first night!) we headed out to Sunriver Resort to drink some beer at the lodge and listen to live music. It was okay – the resort was nice, but the crowd was seriously lacking in diversity. However, it wasn’t a bad place to watch the sun sink below the horizon.

Afterward we stopped by Bend Brewery overlooking Mirror Pond, and sampled some delicious beers. This is a small brewery that produces less that 1,000 barrels per year, so it is a real treat to try their beers.

Day Two (Saturday): After a run through the Old Mill District, we headed to Sparrow Bakery (famous for their Ocean Rolls) and sat outside in the sunshine, at a wooden, communal table. It was nice to just chat with people, most who were visiting, some who lived there. Afterward, we headed up to Lava Lands National Monument, and walked amongst the lava fields. It was pretty neat, walking through lava fields is the closest you can get to imagining what would happen if time stopped in place. The lava froze in literal waves, making rocks forever frozen in time.

On Saturday, we also explored Benham Falls, and Paulina Lake. Don’t miss Benham Falls, but if you don’t have time to hike around the lake, or up to Paulina Peak, you could probably skip it.

We then met up with some friends at Goodlife Brewery, a sunny, happy brewery with good beer and good nachos. At 7 pm, we bade farewell to our friends, and headed to the office of Wanderlust Tours, for our starlight canoe tour. It was expensive, at 75 bucks a person, but worth it! Our guide drove us up to Howser Lake, one of the Cascade Lakes, and we put our canoes in the water just as the sun was going down. Darryl and I were the first into the water, and we immediately saw a mama duck with her tiny, tiny little baby ducks all in a row! It was soooo cute! The lake was really cool – long and narrow so we paddled along with the tule grass high on both sides. As the stars came out, our guide pointed out constellations, and a couple of ways to determine where north is by looking at the stars in the summer sky. We also had a beer/hot chocolate stop in the middle of the lake! I would highly recommend Wanderlust Tours – they do a great job, and they do a number of different tours.

Note: We did not float down the river. However, we saw a lot of people doing this and it looked really fun!

Day Three (Sunday): Sunday we headed to the Victorian Café, a cute little house turned into café, that was extremely packed on a Sunday morning. But the wait wasn’t bad, as they have a nice spot set out for people to wait under the pine trees, around a fire pit, with free (I think!) coffee and juice. The food was great, and we got lucky and had a table right by the window. The Oregon chai latte was good, if a bit sweet. To burn off our decadent breakfast, we headed to Smith Rock and hiked around. Do NOT miss Smith Rock! It is beautiful, and the hiking was amazing. We did the 4-mile misery ridge trail, which was the opposite of miserable, in my opinion.

We stopped by the 10 Barrel Brewery, our second favorite (Crux Fermentation Project was our favorite), as the beer was good, and the ambiance was even better! We sat at the open air bar near the back, and really just people-watched. It was nice, and of course the Apocalyse IPA was deeeeelish!

Dinner was at the NY Times recommended Blacksmith, a really cool restaurant in an old (of course) Blacksmith shop. It was just as you might expect a restaurant in an old blacksmith shop to be – all brick, with black painted window-sills. In the windows were the original anvils (I just made that up, but I hope it’s true). The plaque outside says the building is “the finest example of an early blacksmith shop left in the county.” You should go see for yourself.

We capped of the night by watching the sunset from Pilot Butte, which was an amazing show of oranges and pinks, and capped off by a lightning show to the south.

Day 4, Monday: Monday was a work day for both of us, so I worked from Thump Coffee, which was a nice, local spot. That night we visited the excellent Crux Fermentation Project, a really cool microbrewery with an excellent vibe. So.much.good people-watching at this brewery. Everyone was post-bike ride or post-run, and people were sitting out on the lawn, playing cornhole or just hanging out. People also brought their dogs, and even they were getting along famously (seriously, even a tiny little puppy and a huge Mastiff were hanging out.) Yoga gear was also out in full force; the place could have seriously been a magazine advertisement for Lululemon. One woman even had an Esalen Institute hoodie on. Flannels and beards were abundant.

Stuff we saw a lot of:

Bros with trucker hats
Big trucks
Confederate flags, curiously
Snow-capped peaks
Stretched out earlobes

Downsides:

No uber! Apparently there is a taxi app. We aren’t sure how well it works.
There were a lot of strip malls once you get outside downtown or the Old Mill District

Where we stayed: This time we did not do Airbnb (I forget why). However, we loved loved loved the Econolodge! It was clean and cheap (70 bucks a night), and perfectly located. The bed was comfortable, and they even had a small free breakfast.

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A trip to the sinking city

We had six days in Mexico City. Here is what we did (and where we stayed).

Thursday, June 30th, Day One

I arrived at 5:20 am, so I headed to my Airbnb where my gracious hosts allowed me to ‘check-in’ early and catch some shut-eye. A few hours later I drowsily pulled myself out of bed, and realized I’d forgotten to call my credit card companies (rookie mistake!). But it was okay, as I had the internet, and used it to let my banks know I was traveling. I also had a hard time changing money in my neighborhood (advice: change money at the airport – I usually don’t do that, but it proved to be the best way in Mexico City). After I sorted myself out, I grabbed the metro to explore Colonia Condesa, one of the hip neighborhoods of the city. (The metro is especially crowded, but incredibly convenient and cheap! It is only 5 pesos per ride – about 30 cents.) I stopped for a tea at Cielito Querida, an excellent café, with locations all over MC. Then I walked through Parque Mexico, which was a delightful stroll, especially walking by all of the ‘doggie schools’ with the obedient, leash-less dogs all lined up in rows.

Friday, July 1st, Day Two

Our Airbnb was not in a touristy or hip neighborhood – but that was fine with us, as it meant that there were lots of small, inexpensive eateries around. We had breakfast at our hosts’ favorite spot – Villa Casona – a white linen restaurant without white linen prices. It was also painted bright yellow, which added to the cheerfulness of the place. In Mexico it is customary for the waiter to bring around a platter of pastries to choose from once you are seated. Yes please! Breakfast was good, though we were a bit unclear on what exactly we were ordering (that happened a lot).

Next we headed to the Frida Kahlo Museum and Leon Trostsky’s house in Coyoacan. I highly recommend both. We got tours for both (audio tour for Frida, and a real live tour guide for Leon). We learned a ton (did you know Frida called Diego her little frog?), and it was well worth our time. Afterward we walked around the plaza in Coyoacan, taking in the sights. There were tons of people milling around the fountain of coyotes in the center of the plaza, and it was a real festive atmosphere.

We had dinner that night in Centro Historico at Limosneros, which is a restaurant not to be missed! The prices are closer to US prices, but the food and drinks were well worth it, and the ambiance was fantastic. If you are still hungry for dessert, wander down to Esperanza Pasteleria for a pastry.

Saturday, July 2nd, Day Three

This was the day of our epic walking tour. We went with Journeys Beyond the Surface, which was a bit on the expensive side, but worth the price, in my opinion. Here are the things we saw during our eight hour (!) tour:

  • Zocalo Square
  • National Palace with many amazing Diego Rivera Murals
  • The Metropolitan Cathedral
  • Sanborn’s café (just to look at murals)
  • Tacubaya Café (beautiful artwork and colors, as well as good food)
  • Palacio Postal
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes
  • Parque Alameda with Diego Rivera mural
  • Castillo Chapultepec
  • And a few other small things I can’t remember

Our tour guide was fantastic and knowledgeable, and he never seemed to get tired!

For dinner we went to Alipus Endemico in Colonia Condesa. We had amazing mole and mezcal! They even brought out little orange wedges with a chili dusting to complement the mescal.

 

Sunday, July 3rd, Day Three

After our eight-hour walking tour, we were happy to sleep in a bit. We eventually got up for a late breakfast in Coyoacan – it was nice to walk around the plaza in the cool, sleepiness of the morning. We then ubered over to the Museo Antropologia, which is a must-see, despite the museum fatigue I was feeling from the previous days’ shenanigans. However, instead of reading plaques and trying to absorb a lot of info, I just wandered the museum, gazing at the beautiful exhibits and spaces, and not feeling one bit guilty that I wasn’t learning much. Sometimes it is just nice to be in a beautiful place.

Afterward we found a really cool open-air Starbucks across the street. Normally, I don’t like to visit chains on vacation, but this one was so beautiful we couldn’t resist. It was almost like drinking tea in a garden. We then wandered through Chapultepec Park, which is an excellent thing to do on a Sunday, since all of the families are out and about. People were paddleboating on a little lake, or getting their faces painted, or buying food from a street vendor, and busy being in a general state of merriment. It was really fun to be in the midst of that. We bought a cup full of juicy, ripe, delicious mango to fuel our little trek through the park.

Sunday night, we scored tickets on ticketmaster for 20 bucks a pop to see Ballet Folklorico at Palacio de Bellas Artes, and it was totally worth it. The dancing and costumes were amazing, and the venue was pretty incredible as well.

 

Monday, July 4th

We celebrated our nation’s independence by checking out the ancient ruins of an ancient Meso-American city – Teotihuacan. We booked a tour through Viator tours. It was nice, though I remember feeling we could have been better briefed on what to bring/what was going on. For example, I had to call the day prior to get some info from them (how much pesos should we bring, is lunch included, etc). Tour prices are kept low by utilizing public transportation, which was fine with me, but a little time consuming.

Anyway – Teotihuacan. Go see it! The city was established around 100 BC, and after that it only took about 350 years to build. It also has some fun names, like avenue of the dead, the pyramid of the sun, and the pyramid of the moon. The steps are crazy steep, and there are a lot of them, but the views are totally worth it.

Our tour ended back at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, so we wandered a couple of blocks over near Chinatown to a street that our guide said had a lot of good local restaurants. We had a late lunch at Restaurante Testal, where we tried chicharonnes, pozole, and authentic tostadas, which just came with veggies and a type of delicious cream. If anyone know what this cream is, or what it is called, please let me know in the comments!

Exhausted, we took the metro home, but later found some energy to head out to Limantour Licoceria in Roma Norte. As we walked around Roma Norte, we were impressed with the array of nice restaurants in the neighborhood. This was definitely one of the hippest spots in Mexico City. We just had a couple of cocktails and appetizers, but the fries were literally some of the best of my life! They had so much flavor – you definitely must try them.

Tuesday, July 5th – last day L

On our last day, we checked out Panaderia Rosetta, recommended in the eater.com guide to Mexico City. We were not disappointed. The café was adorable – wooden counter tops piled high with pastries – and patrons could sit at the ‘bar’ i.e. right at the counter in view of all their delicious pastries (best marketing technique I’ve ever seen!). The coffee and pastries were delicious – as well as the egg dish we ordered. Afterward, we wanted around revolution avenue and looked at the statues along the street. Our last lunch was at La Gualgazeta and it was my favorite meal of the entire trip, as well as one of the cheapest. They sautéed a bunch of veggies (including nopales) and pineapple together with just the right amount of cheese, and served it with fresh tortillas. Amazing. And about 3 dollars.

Fat, happy, and full of knowledge of Mexico City, we boarded the flight back to SF, sad to leave such an exciting and vibrant city.

Where we stayed:

I highly recommend Airbnb. Other travelers we met were doing this too. It is so much cheaper than a hotel and soo much nicer. I recommend this one:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/10709634

Fernando and Alejandro were the best – we had such a great time staying with them!

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The land of the rising sun

 

 

The desert is quite enchanting. Having never been to Arizona, I was excited about the prospect of spending three days there. It was everything I expected. Sun. Cactuses. Sand. Red Rocks.

I arrived late Friday night to the historic Wigwam lodge, a structure built by the Goodyear company to house the cotton workers. Goodyear was in the cotton business? It turns out they were!

Anyway, the place was decadent, and rows of palm trees greeted me as I wheeled the rental car across the smooth asphalt.

I woke at 5:50 am sure that I had slept past my alarm. Bright sunlight filtered through the windows. Surely it was pas 5:50 am. Nope. It just turns out the sun rises early in the desert. Due to the bright sunlight, I popped out of bed much easier that I would have on a normal 5:50 am wake up. Excited, I walked out the door into a manicured lawn and rose garden, the ambiance brightening my day even more.

However, I had a 15 mile run to get through. I navigated the Pheonix freeways quite easily and found my running group, the Glendale Sole Sports Running Club. They were a genial group, and showed me the paved out and back that would be my run that day. As I was running, I took in the desert with child-like enthusiasm.

 

Look at that cactus! It’s just like the movies! What was that?? A bunny? Are those quail? Just running across the path like that?

 

It was really cool – I’ve never seen so many wild rabbits! Or desert hare? I’m not sure of the correct term. I only made it 12 miles, but I called it good since it was heating up, and I went back to the wigwam. There I took a tour of the expansive pool options, mapping out my pool plan for later (in the book Life of Pi, the main character’s name is actually short for piscine, given to him by his uncle, who collects pools the way some people collect stamps. I love pools so much, I like to ‘collect’ them too. And by that I mean swim in as many as humanly possible. Lakes and rivers  and oceans too).

After a stroll around the grounds, Darryl was done with his meetings and we were off to explore Pheonix. We started with Papago Park, walking up to the famous Hole-in-the-Rock, and peered through, much like everyone else was doing that day. But the real highlight was the Desert Botanical Garden, where we explored the flora of the desert with zeal. As it turns out, Desert flora is amazingly beautiful, and the landscape and design of the garden was amazing. I will never skip the opportunity to visit a botanical garden again, as I love plants. I love seeing and smelling all types of flowers and herbs. We saw night-blooming cactuses (most blooms were closed of course) and all types of wildflowers, which were in bloom. It turns out the place stays open until 11 pm, and we were wishing we could stay for the evening plant viewing session. But we had places to go, so off we went to Anthem, where we met up with Darryl’s wonderful aunt and uncle, who showed us around their beautiful place, and entertained us with stories of their adventures on their Harley.

Sunday I dutifully set my alarm for 5:30 as I wanted to catch a glimpse of an Arizona sunrise. But guess what? 5:30 is too late, and the last striped of orange were just disappearing as I emerged from our adobe room. Oh well, the sun was up, and the birds were chirping, so I made the best of it by wandering around, smelling the flowers and blossoms, and sneaking in an early hot tub session (I felt like I had the place to myself!). I got back in the room and made coffee to wake a sleepy Darryl, who despite his fatigue, was also anxious to get on the road to Sedona.

Sedona.

It surpassed all of my expectations. It was gorgeous (and my sunglasses even enhanced the orange rocks!). Driving in surrounded by red rocks was like a surreal experience. No wonder so many people think the rocks have psychic energy (and you can even book a vortex tour!). I almost bought a crystal! We started our tour at slide rock park, which would have been more fun if it were a bit hotter, allowing us for a dip in the creek. As it was, we just dipped our toes in, but made time to relax on the smooth orange slabs lining the creek. Along the way we stopped at many look-out points to take in the expansive red rocks. Needing coffee we stopped back in town, and while Darryl got some coffee, I stopped by trailhead tea, and got a nice berry herbal tea, and some local honey from Sedona, complete with the honeycomb in the jar! I love how honey tastes different when you purchase it from different locations (talk about a microclimate!).

Caffeinated (Darryl) and anxious to hike (me) we stopped at Bell Rock, and hiked both the perimeter and up the side. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I had done in a while. We also stopped at the Cathedral, which is a church built into the red rocks, and was breathtakingly beautiful. We also drove up to Airport Mesa lookout, but the view from there sort of paled in comparison to the views we had seen earlier in the day.

On our way out, we stopped in Jerome, a crazy little town built into a hillside. We ate at The Haunted Hamburger, which was pretty good, and I got a salted caramel milkshake!

Monday I woke up early – again – and went for a run through the neighborhood. I liked seeing what people do with their yards in the desert – not a lot of lawn, but a lot of cool cacti. I then took a dip in the huge pool (again, place to myself) and read in the sunshine.

Darryl was ready to move by the time I got back, so we headed out to Camelback Mountain, which turned out to be sort of a strenuous climb.

All in all, it was an amazing trip!

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Bangladesh: First Impressions

First, let me be clear. Despite the intensity that can be overwhelming, I love it here. I love the sights, sounds, smells, and colors. Something about being here makes me feel energetic (though I may be slowly poisoning myself with the air pollution). The culture here is a formidable force – all crowded streets and markets, colorful rickshaws, perpetually honking vehicles of every type, and the ethereal and calming call to prayer. It is a cacophony unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Riding high on the back of a rickshaw through the streets of Dhaka is sort of an out-of-body experience – a fearful experience as it appears that every car is swerving to hit you, but an exciting one at the same time.

Ah, Dhaka. It is like someone put a sepia filter over my life. The air hangs heavy and hazy, and the sun acts like it’s given up trying to break through. But, out of the brown sometimes rise green, lush palm trees and colorful flowers – if they are not covered in a fine mist of dust.

I’ve been running through Gulshan Lake Park, an urban park with a 1K brick loop that encircles the lake. If you can call it that. The “lake” looks more like a swamp, and is in desperate need of a refill. But I make the most of it, crowding past men in track suits and women in running shoes and full on salwar kameezes (A salwar kameez is the name for the outfit women wear here – it consists of loose fitting pants, a long loose fitting top that reaches to mid calf, and a scarf to cover the outline of the breasts). So much fabric they wear, even when working out!

Aside from running and working, I’ve been eating and shopping (two more things necessary to life). Dhaka has its fair share of deliciousness, and my newly-made friends and I are systematically trying out all of the restaurants.  My personal favorite is called Holey, a restaurant owned by a Frenchie, and which serves fresh bread, and delicious familiar dishes. It’s right on the water, with floor to ceiling windows. Very tasteful. Of course it’s a lot of eating out, but why not? The nightlife is pretty sparse here, so not much is left to do besides check out a trendy restaurant. And the cost is a fraction of what you would pay in the US, particularly when the comparison group is San Francisco.

The shopping is pretty great, but I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. Right now I’ve been sticking to the Banani Market, a three-story affair that has about a million tailoring shops crammed into it. First there are the fabric shops, where brightly colored fabric is piled from floor to ceiling and the men sit on the piles and unwrap large skeins to show to you. After you pick your fabric, you head down the hall to the “lace shop,” where all of the trimmings are housed. This is where you pick up ribbons and baubles, or, if you are me, where the tailor sews the fabric you just bought together into a flowy salwar kameez. I have limited myself to getting just one so far, as I know I couldn’t bring myself to wear one at home. I’ve also purchased some scarves from an Indian shop, and some local Bangaldeshi pearls from a pearl shop. The shops are numerous, but you just may have to climb over a fetid ditch to find it.

That’s the magic of Dhaka – at first glance is appears dusty and boring, but hiding behind a thin layer of filth are great restaurants, great shopping, and your next salwar kameez, or a delicious latte. I cannot wait to keep exploring.

Posted in Bangladesh, South Asia, tourism, Transportation, travel, Uncategorized | 2 Comments