Archive | June, 2018

🤠 Bandera, Texas 🤠

25 Jun

BANDERA, TEXAS  —   My Mecca ❤


Directly from Austin, this is a 4 hour trip but we took the long way.  Kyle told us “Anything north of Kernville is a yankee.”  (Kernville is one of those red dots on the map.)


As Team Show on the Road is want to do, we got ready in a Burger King bathroom before heading to one of the five bars in literally all of Bandera.

My friend and I!  Out celebrating!


The faces of two cowgirls ready for adventure.


We chose the first bar by pure intuition, but before we even stepped inside, some woman who was talking on the phone outside directed us to another bar, which she said had better music. So that was one bar down, four to go. We ended up at The Red Horse Saloon, sharing earplugs, and if you can’t tell what kind of place it is by the name, then you’ve never seen a cowboy movie in your life. Nancy had told me to tell the bartender it was my birthday (because it was) and I’d get a free drink. And, in true traveler fashion, we met some friends: Carla, Elbert, and Don.  Our new cowboy friends were so much fun to be around and changed the course of our night — they were very kind, gentle, respectful, and encouraging. They even taught us how to two-step!


Molly dancing the two-step.

The small town feel was something you’d see in an episode of Gilmore Girls, except the country western version. For example, they held a raffle and the person who won wasn’t at the bar to collect it, but all the patrons at the bar knew the winner so they just saved the prize to give to them later.  The personality of the band members matters in a community bar like this one. The singer kept calling me up on stage and, in order to not get even more attention, I had to go but that was my least favorite part.


It was such a small town, the residents couldn’t believe that we just came here on our own volition, for vacation, without having any reason…
“Wait, so…you came to Bandera as tourists?”  Yup!
You don’t have any family here?”  Nope!
“You just picked it off the map?!” I mean, I did some research..


The best Band-era. (that’s a bad pun with the word Band and Bandera)


So after that live music ended, we decided to head over to another bar — Arky’s Silver Dollar — with Carla where there was sawdust on the ground. She introduced us to Arky (from the name of the bar) but when we were greeted by the cast of Sons of Anarchy, we realized this biker bar probably wasn’t our scene. Again, on intuition, we chose another bar one block away (2 bars to go) and hoped that we’d be able to find anyone our own age. All of Bandera is only a couple of blocks long. Of the 5 bars in this town there were 3 bars we could choose from downtown, all walking distance, which felt like a bonanza.  We were going to make the best out of anything (we were having fun) but where did the young adults hang out? Where was our crowd? So far, we hadn’t seen anyone under the age of 50 chilling in Bandera during the weekend.

Texans love to dance and we were having a blast.


But it was there at that 4th bar that we saw some young cowboys.  And they saw us. They sauntered over to us with their cowboy hats, boots, and their lone-star-studded belts.  “Hey little ladies,” they said, “you’re about the hottest, darn girls in this here saloon.” Ok, maybe they didn’t talk like a cartoon version of themselves (but yes, they did).  And it was supposed to be a compliment, but we had a huge laugh because their pickup line was pretty much equivalent to “you’re the hottest girls in this nursing home,” with all due respect to everyone who had brought us there.

The boys danced with us and everyone was working on the two step.  Even though I could not figure it out, my partners were patient. Each time Zane complimented me, I messed up without fail, and we had to start over.  Which was hilarious to me and tolerable to him.


🤠🤠 cowboys


So we danced all night in this very rural town — with two step — with live country music, and some cowboys until sadly, eventually, the bars closed and we hung out in the streets of Bandera, Texas.  It was a very memorable birthday. Molly was outside of the bar in her happy place — this birthday trip was turning into a wild (Wild West) success. I was loving the cowboy look and vibe just as much as I thought I was going to, if not more.

Home Sweet Home.


The boys had only been to Bandera 2 or 3 times this year (they lived in a town about 40 minutes away called Hondo). They said that where they live is the type of place you town hop instead of bar hop because that’s where the other bars are: in other towns. Doesn’t get any more small town Texas than that. I loved it.

The boys asked where we were staying (which was the luxurious back-seat-of-our-car inn) and we replied with a vague “just down the road.”  They had some space at their ranch where we could spend the night if we wanted.  An invitation to an authentic Texan ranch from really nice authentic cowboys? Yes please!

And then as we drove our rental on these big empty, Texas dirt roads behind multiple trucks to follow these nice guys to their ranch, we saw a Trump sticker on one of my favorite of the guys’ trucks. We weren’t surprised, but I definitely made a mental note to avoid talking politics if I could help it.


Wide open spaces are great; the dixie chicks were so right.

Shadow of cowboy Sam haunts these here parts.


Waking up in the ranch.  Notice the animals heads hanging on the wall.


The next morning, I literally woke up laughing. I could not believe how well my birthday had gone. An ice cream festival to THIS!  Wow. I decided that I hadn’t grilled the guys enough about small town life. I wanted a taste of it because I assumed it would taste like hard work, sweat, and sweet tea. Who doesn’t want that? So I asked them the basics first: when was the last time you’ve seen a snake? (Zane couldn’t remember); Will you call me ‘little lady?’ (the answer was ‘absolutely, little lady.”). They also talked about Mexico and how they had gone hunting there before. Zane said he had caught something and brought it back. I asked him if it spoke Spanish. And said “so I guess it didn’t need a green card?”  This was my transition into the tougher questions like: Where are the immigrants being separated from their kids? To this question, Zane got out a map and showed me the area then asked Kyle just to confirm, to which Kyle denied that it was even taking place and that it was the liberal agenda carried out by the media.

So I guess they had had enough grilling, because Zane flipped the tables and asked me some questions. “What do you think about our president?” To which I answered, thinking about the bumper sticker, “we probably shouldn’t talk about politics.” He said he was a Republican though he didn’t care too much for Trump; I said I hated Trump, and we left it at that. Molly was smart, because her response was: “I don’t want to talk about politics with you guys, I can see the heads hanging on the wall.” We all laughed (some of us more uncomfortably than others). Good call, Moodel.

Rattlesnakes were the next best topic of conversation (after we saw a scorpion in the sink), and we figured out that rattlesnakes were the reason the sexy cowboy boots exist. We also found out that all of these cowboys knew each other because their ancestors founded the town. There was a picture of two of their grandfathers back in the day; Zane said his grandpa wasn’t in the picture because he was the one taking it!  


Side note:  Molly and I bought our own pair of matching cowboy boots.  I LOVE THEM SO MUCH, OH MY GOODNESS. We bought them at a Texas-sized outlet mall in a shop called Boot City! The clothes may change, but the accessories will remain the same…boots and belts with a big buckle.  Also turquoise is my new favorite color.



We bought matching cowboy boots.

The boys invited us to go out onto the lake with them in their boat. We parted ways with them (they were going to fix up the boat, and we were going to eat breakfast tacos).  Kyle said “okay, this is where you go right and we got left.” “So, the opposite of our political views?” I smiled. “Haha, yup, we’re going to go and try and see it from the others perspective and meet back up in the middle.”  

We finally got cell phone service and canceled our plans on the river with Carla, telling her, instead, we had agreed to let the cowboys show us around (Carla, if you’re reading this, IT WAS SO NICE TO MEET YOU!!!! Thank you and Elbert and Don for making my birthday so special <3).


Breakfast tacos.


On the way to Lake Medina, we had had enough of talking so we listened to Pat Green and made up a song about how we were the four best friends that anyone could have because we realized that they were best friends, and Molly and I are best friends. It made the day so easy, because we were just a pair of best friends hangin out and doin best friend things. “We’re the four best friends that anyone can have, the four best friends that anyone can have.”  It was heaven on earth…and here we were thinking you had to die to go to heaven. Molly and I snuggled and confirmed how straight we are. Definitely straight. Molly and I had such a great trip together.



They’re best friends, and we’re best friends, and they’re best friends, and we’re best friends!  We called ourselves Team First Try because that’s when we were hoping the engine would start. We were Team (engine will start on the) on the First Try!

Once we actually got on the boat (which was pretty rickety as demonstrated by the story I’m about to tell), the motor caught on fire twice. But both the boys looked really calm, so we didn’t freak out. “I don’t look like a guy who’s boat engine just caught on fire — just for a little while.”  – Kyle


The second time, it caught on fire a little bit more, and the motor cover actually fell off and just sank, and the guys were incredulous. They looked sunken like a motor cover themselves. It was hilarious; we tried not to be so giddy, we were laughing so hard.  

But this gave way to our next chant — the one that would follow our best friend song. And it goes a little somethin’ like this:

Who don’t need no motor cover??? We don’t need no motor cover!!

“It’s hell when the motor catches on fire, eh?”, cruising on Lake Medina.


We chanted that all during our swim sesh. Right as we started the chant, the umbrella that was protecting us from the absolutely ruthless sun somehow blew off, landed in the water, and started to sink. Zane yelled to grab it, and I swam for it. I grabbed it, and it was terribly heavy as it sank, but all of a sudden, I received superhuman strength and was able to pull it up. Only, it wasn’t superhuman strength. The umbrella had just detached from the pole, and I only pulled up the staff. Molly was laughing so hard she was having trouble swimming. She tried to get to the boat to hang out and when she finally got there she let out the loudest laughs. Was this the sun’s revenge for the coffee stunt we pulled earlier that weekend? Well played, sun.


“I thought you had to die to go to heaven.”  – Molly


All hat and no cattle type of cow girl.

On the boat we had a cooler, but somehow we still ended up drinking a couple of hot mic ultras, which were extra bubbly.  Served hot was fun too. We were just happy about everything.

After swimming, Molly and I had to say fare-thee-well to our cowboys and head to a dude ranch where we booked a night to stay. At the dude ranch, we ate a dinner of cold meatloaf, lots of smores, drank gross tasting water, saw a donkey with goiters, met a French au pair “couple” where I was attracted to the man in a cowboy hat at night but by day, sans cowboy hat, I thought the lady was more of a beauty. We also had our first shower of the trip (this was going to be a no hair washing and one shower type of vacation for us), we slept for 8 hours (unheard of!), and in the morning we rode horses.



A horse is a horse, of course, of course.

Before going on the trip, Molly and I had pretty much agreed that we were going pantless for this trip. But when we got to the dude ranch…it was the first time we thought we might have made a mistake.  Did we have to wear pants to ride the horses?? We used a towel tied around our legs instead, which got vetoed, and we realized that it was fine, we don’t need pants to ride horses. A no-pants trip was the right idea!



The horseback riding was cool — and it was hilarious (and relatable) how much the horses loved eating from the oatbags — but it was a bit long. My horse, Shorty, did not want to follow the directions. I assume it’s because I’d just turned 31 and this was an angsty teen horse who wasn’t into authority. Shorty even tried to buck me off; he could tell it was my first rodeo. I did get that birthday buck after all (wink).  But luckily, a more experienced rider decided to switch with me, and it was smooth horse riding after that.



Bandana outside of Bandera.

So after the dude ranch, we headed back to the airport. Molly liked driving these big open roads, and we searched for a place to get a wine opener because we wanted to try that great Texas wine that we had bought and assumed we would love. But before we made it, we stopped to get our last bbq of the trip.


Long live Texas BBQ!


I got some to go, and let me tell you, airport security was really suspicious of my pulled pork and jalapeno sausage from Randy’s (but really, they probably wanted to confiscate it so they could have a snack during their work break).  It was sooooo good! At Randy’s, they had greeted us with a cheer and free samples including sweet, creamy corn, which we subsequently ordered and banana pudding for dessert). It was also at the airport when Team Show on the Road struck again! We were able to squeeze in enough time for a drink before our flight. The last thing we had in the car that was useful were those empty water bottles. We felt like asterisk humans, except for that healer who wouldn’t take no for an answer. But that was on him; we were fine.

I left this trip feeling very validated in choosing Texas as my birthday destination. It was the absolute best place to go with my best friend who makes my life better. SO GLAD WE DID THAT! It was also amazing to go somewhere that you thought you’d like, but come away loving it even more than you thought you would. We felt like we were doing a victory lap (with lots of slow claps) on the way from Bandera driving back to Austin. This was such a rejuvenating, idyllic, heavenly, euphoric, out-of-body experience sort of trip, and I will cherish this one ALWAYS. Texas forever!

‘mi, the yankee 🤠




Wow-ed girl and cowboy.


Tipping my hat to you, little lady!



Yee-Haw(ttest yankees in town)

23 Jun

For my birthday, Molly and I had a girls trip —  just the two of us — to South Central Texas. We landed in Austin (which I saw first hand has an international feel) and learned about all of the Californians who have moved to Austin, Texas (I can see why; it’s a really cool city).


“I’M SO HAPPY FOR OUR FUN,” read Molly’s text message.




As I got off the plane and read her message, I couldn’t help but look down at my really dramatic fake cowboy boots. Me too, girl. I thought. Me too! I couldn’t wait to meet her at the terminal and get the party started, but unfortunately budget travel wasn’t as “happy for our fun” as we were, and it took me over 30 minutes to get to her. HOWEVER, I was keeping in touch through text and also by checking her Instagram account for hilarious updates.

When we finally met up, my cowboy boots and her beer signaled that the party had, indeed, started, so we picked up our rental car and went straight on the Broken Spoke, a country western bar in Austin that has a live band, Lone Star beer, cowboy hats, belt buckles, and a ton of dancing.

Austin is so cool. I mean hot.  We were sweating and my hair wouldn’t stay straight.


We left after an hour because later in our trip we were planning to head into what I call the heart of Texas. And so we wanted to enjoy other unique things that Austin had to offer including food trucks and a bar called Academia (recommended by Spencer). In classic Team Show on the Road style (we’re back!), we changed in the car.  

In Austin, they have this amazing rule where you can park overnight, and if you get a ticket in the morning when the meters start again, the fine gets waived as long as you show proof that you got home in some other way besides driving (i.e., uber receipt, bus ticket). It’s an incredible initiative that encourages Austinites (and tourists) to both go downtown and to get home safely. We were very impressed with Austin.

Fraternizing with the owner, Russell Davis.

While we were at Academia, we were served delicious crab cakes (hot ‘n fresh out the kitchen) and rung in my actual birthday with some peanut butter onions (which were Hemingway’s favorite snack apparently). Right after midnight, we headed out and walked briskly along 6th street towards Rainey Street, which was food truck heaven. That night, we got food everywhere, as if the birthday party was catered. We fantasized about being back into Austin early enough on Sunday to enjoy brunch on this chic street. We heard Sundays are the best.

Walking back, to check into the hotel, we saw our very first Texas horse in the form of a (very hot) policeman riding cavalry. Molly asked if we could pet it (the horse…not the policeman), AND WE COULD. With huge smiles, we got back to the hotel at 4am.

Being invited over to pet the horse.  



Saturday, June 23rd, my actual birthday.

Could we have slept in? No, it was not possible. We had somewhere to be. There was a literal ICE CREAM FESTIVAL on my birthday. It was kind of fate, the way that it happened. Thank you, universe! I had known about the ice cream festival in advance and bought us VIP passes, which allowed us to enter at 9AM–a full hour before everyone else–giving us a leg up on all the ice cream tasting. Not that it’s a competition. OH WAIT. YES IT IS.

But first, as we were RUSHING out the door, we grabbed breakfast to go from the buffet at the hotel — 2 hard boiled eggs each — “and thank god for them.” – Molly said later, after all of the cream had settled in our bellies.



We were in the front of the line. Waiting. WHEN WOULD THEY OPEN THE GATES!!!!!
Molly and I were one of the first 20 people to get in and as soon as we did, we headed straight for the ice cream eating competition sign-ups because we were completely certain that the contests were going to fill up as soon as the festival doors opened. Right then, we committed to two contests: the hands-free ice cream sandwich eating competition and the half-gallon ice cream eating contest.


The stuff birthday dreams are made of…


While we were waiting for the competition to start, we took our ice cream sample passbook around, which allowed us to try 26 sample cups of ice cream. We were at a Texas-sized ICE CREAM FESTIVAL!!!

A visual of our passbook as we were trying samples, getting stamps, and filling it up.


Keep in mind, this is Texas, and everything is bigger here so the sample cups were like a Baskin Robbins medium.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!! (I loved that charcoal lavender.)  


You’ll notice two different types of samples in that picture. The foreground AND the background.  We couldn’t get enough (or could we…?). Also, that spoon changes colors, adorable and delicious!


At the “make your own snow cone” station.


The green one of these had kale in it… which was the only vegetable we saw at the festival.


#notsickyet TRENDING

Motivational mantras as the day went on.


We contemplated but couldn’t figure out: How does this festival make any money, they are giving so much ice cream away for free??

The Coconut Ash was my favorite of all of the flavors. Better than the Vanilla Pine at Scoopy’s in Jamaica.



Initially, when I had seen that we only got 26 samples, I was pretty confident that I wasn’t going to get enough ice cream to eat. But with only 20 minutes before the ice cream eating competition was to begin Molly and I looked at each other. We needed an ice cream break. We had already gotten enough ice cream, and the first (of 2) competitions hadn’t even started yet.  We sat for 20 minutes and reviewed, revisited, and categorized all the samples we had had up to this point. To clear our heads and mentally prepare for the competition, we ranked all of the samples a scale of 1-5 based on both taste and presentation.



Because it was my actual birthday, I felt like I was (literally) born to do this ice cream eating competition.


Moments before the competition.



 The competitors.   Are we getting warmer or colder to winning? (Those ice cream tubs are empty and just for show.)


At the beginning of the hands free ice cream sandwich eating competition, Molly and I were pretty sure we had this. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, I was literally born to do this.


(not competitive at all.)


I could do — and probably have done– this in MY SLEEP.


On your marks, get set, EAT!


Haha, we lost so hard. But really, did we lose? Can anyone who enters an ice cream eating competition lose?


The winner looked like she deserved to win– if you know what I mean. 😉

And there are no losers if you get lucky enough to enter an ice cream sandwich eating competition. Because whenever you’re in an ice cream eating competition, you can only win. [Unless maybe it’s who could eat the most (because oh man you’d want to win but you’d also get sick)].   

By the end of that first competition, when we were so full of ice cream we could burst but still had more samples to try, Molly and I crawled over to that second ice cream competition sign up sheet and….just… drew a line through our names. Because even we, ice cream fiends, realized that without that half-gallon eating competition, we were STILL going to have gotten much too much ice cream for one day.  


11:15 am

It was scorching, the festival was packed, and we still had 9 more samples to try. Molly and I — rather than hanging out with each other during the rest of the festival — had our priorities straight. We would divide and conquer the lines. One of us would wait with both passbooks, get our two samples, and meet the other girl in her longer line while we ate them.  Then we would split up again. WE WERE COMMITTED. We tried ALL the possible things including buying a bonus $1 cookie that looked too good to skip. I had brought the right girl with me to this festival. Molly did NOT let me give up. She insisted that we try everything available to us, and that smart girl wasn’t wrong. We were in heaven (and also a little bit of hell. BUT MOSTLY HEAVEN).



The final sample.  And our completely full stamped passport. Those sprinkles in the background were also given away as a bonus.  #birthdaylyfe


After three hours of nonstop ice cream devouring, Molly and I had tried every. single. sample that we could, entered and lost one ice cream eating competition, and were so hot and full of cream and sugar that we had to sit in the shade and regroup.   

No clouds in clouds in sight.


We contemplated our next meal. Should we eat something healthy or just not eat at all?  What would help us feel better? We rolled out of the gate back to our car.




Obviously, we weren’t going to choose not to eat. We went to Curma — a vegan, ayurveda food truck with mostly non-cooked food that Tara had recommended.  

BTW. We’re vegan now.


Plant-Based Food, will you please combat all the milk and sugar in our tummies?


We got back into the car so sticky and sweaty (Texas is hot in June), blasted the AC (it would not get cold enough), and headed out of Austin. The first place I had marked on my map–about an hour away–was a barbeque place called SaltLick, which also had come to me on a recommendation this time via a former NFL player who had said this about it…. “ it is my favorite BBQ of all time, not just in Texas.”

You may be thinking Ha! I know you just kept on driving. You *had* to have been too full. And if you think that, you’re most definitely wrong…

BTW. We’re not vegan anymore.


We stopped at Salt Lick and had some of THE MOST INCREDIBLE BBQ. It was so good that, as full as we were, we considered ordering more of it. But that’s it. We only considered it, I promise.

It was a novice mistake to get any sides with that BBQ.



We could not eat anymore.  Mercy! And we went to do look in some cute stores as we headed through beautiful scenery and into Wimberley, Texas. We shopped around a little, and Molly bought me these gold Texas earrings, which I love.   But other than that, exhaustion set in and it was way too hot to do anything. We lounged around a bit and cursed the sun. It was so hot. Too hot. Oppressively hot. What could we do besides talk about how hot it was?! Seriously.  It was So. Hot. But then, at 3pm, we had a brilliant idea. We beat the sun with coffee beans, the sun’s arch nemesis (which the sun ironically helps grow). WE GOT SOME COFFEE. COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE!!!!! Take that, son! ← hehe, get it?

This cat lookin’ how we felt.  


It was so hot, even these trees are sitting in a puddle of their own sweat.




Back on the road again, Molly and I had our sights set on Bandera, Texas. We ate some homegrown corn she had brought down with her from LA for a light dinner (thank you to Sophie for our delicious, locally imported birthday meal).


June 23rd —  Here’s a menu for the Team Show on the Road diet:

Breakfast:      Ice cream, and lots of it
Lunch:           Vegetables or anything vegan
2nd Lunch:   Ribs
Dinner:          Corn on the cob (from LA) and Beer


I think the moral of the story, for me, is this:  If you ever find yourself in Austin, try 26 ice cream samples — even if there’s no ice cream festival, eat from food trucks, try to make it back into town for a Sunday, pet a policeman’s horse (proceed with caution), drink COFFEE, and head towards Bandera.   


Happy birthday to ‘mi, y’all!!!





Furry HYPE

21 Jun


(AND I WON’T BOTHER TO ASK WHO’S COUNTING because I know my entire herd is! They’re about to join me in Pittsfurgh from their respective farms, kennels, plains, jungles, and petting zoos  — YA HEARD?!)


Anthrocon 2018 is ALMOST HERE!!!!!!!!
Oww Oww Owwww
Here’s art that Katie B. made ahead of this year’s convention:


Eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes, ears, ears, ears, ears, tails, tails, tails, tails!  —  also our official cheer.


This year’s crew can expect some new, happy bunnies.



And some loyal safari animals.


Like a monkey grooming another monkey for bugs, I’ve (already) meticulously looked through this years schedule and picked out 43 events that I would deem as “CAN’T BE MISSED!”



So many great things about Rodents! So thankful they can share the screen without eating my Cricket 😉 YA HEARD?





Molly horsing around:

We’re excited for the convention to run as smoothly as the freshly cleaned and brushed fur of all of our favorite animals.


SO GIDDY TO PLAY, ROLL OVER, CHASE, PLAY, SNUGGLE, WAG, and DID-I-MENTION PLAY! !!!!!  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Bel and I saw a furry in downtown Pittsburgh at the PRIDE parade.  Not all gays are furry but we love it when they are  #PRIDE2018  #FURRIES2018 #PEACEFURALL


I woof this weekend,
Furisky (a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who is also an elephant and is also your human fur-iend, Sammi)


Links to a Hist-fury of Blog Posts:

UPDATE: Since I’ve written this the ANTHROCOUNTDOWN IS NOW…



Look Lively, Jamaica

1 Jun

I try to go back to Jamaica every year to visit my community, to hang with the family who hosted me while I was in the Peace Corps, and to brush up on a culture and language that I once felt fluent in. I had recently visited sick Momma (RIP) and this trip, six months later, was as close as I could get to attending her funeral. Also, I visit Jamaica to feel one of my favorite feelings in the world, which is coming back from Jamaica into the United States.

So I arrived at the airport in Montego Bay, and the first taxi tried to rip me off as I walked outside into the sweltering heat. Sure, I maybe looked like an outsider, but on the inside, I’m a yardie. I rolled my eyes, told him to stop the car if that’s how much he was going to charge me, and I got out, choosing instead to walk the 45 minutes from the Montego Bay airport into downtown. Now, if you can imagine hot temperatures and a wall of humidity like I can, then you’ll understand how it felt to walk that cement lined road – with lots of horns and lots of crazy driving – into downtown Mo Bay Mo Bay Mo Bay.

This trip, I was starting on the north coast, a place where Tyra had lived and I hardly knew. But I wanted to see her and OJ — and last time they had come to Elim. So after eating some patty and Jamaican fruit (it was mango season), I boarded a bus to Ochi Ochi Ochi (why not Ocho, Ocho, Ocho?). Note: In my opinion the sweetest fruit in the world, with heaps of variety, can be found in Jamaican street markets.

Anyways, several hours later I finally made it to the stoplight in Salem where I met the wonderful Tyra, who was generous enough to let me stay with her for two nights. I wasn’t too familiar with this part of the island since my site had been so far from here (like a full 6 hours) but seeing Tyra was a priority.


Sister from another mister…and mother. But same Mamma.


Observation: It’s so sunny and people don’t wear sunglasses here.



My godson OJ, who was practically too cool to talk to me.



Darling Oral Amardae Andre Morgan.



Look at how gorgeous and not full of potholes the northern road in Jamaica is! Nothing at all like the road that led to my community.


As Tyra and I were in the car together, she was on the phone when it hung up on someone. She said: “mi phone hang up, it not have no manners.” I missed this country, I missed this language, and I missed her! She told me my patois (the language, which is also known as English-based Creole) has gotten way worse from when I lived here, which was probably true It will never be as good as it was then, which is okay as long as I can understand it.

As we kept driving along, a mongoose ran across the road and never looked back. Tyra pointed it out and reminded me that it was a sign of good luck! And you know what? I believe it did bring good luck, because not only did Tyra make it to work on time (which doesn’t seem like it would be good luck, but in Jamaica it’s very much so) but also, while she was away, I had some good luck of my own:

You know how when you go somewhere really hot and all you want is ice cream…and water, I guess, but mainly ice cream? Well, ice cream is pretty scarce in Jamaica. In fact, anything that gets that cold is pretty scarce in Jamaica. I think this is mostly (or 100% completely) due to the fact that electricity is so expensive. They rarely even have air conditioning, and if they do, it’s like air condition that’s still buffering. But — probably thanks to that lucky mongoose (or due to the fact that I was in Ochi and not Elim) — I came across a Scoopy’s ice cream shop. But as is sometimes the case with bouts of luck from a mongoose and granted wishes from rodents, you get what you want — but not quite in the way you ask. There were only 3 flavor options (fine! I only need one!). I chose  and ordered vanilla pine, which I mistakenly heard as “vanilla pie.”

Of course it wasn’t vanilla pie because (a) what is that? And (b) how would a mongoose granting wishes know that that is? Looking around the shop at other flavors — chocolate raisin, orange thyme (just kidding, but it’s possible), I realized that Scoopy’s choice was like Sophie’s choice… except with all bad decisions.

*Sigh*. I’ll tell you though, ice cream is ice cream, and good luck is good luck. I enjoyed my melty vanilla pine, ate the entire thing, said thank you, and my ice cream craving was put at ease (for about an hour).

It was also in Ochi that I also began my search for the best fried chicken. You haven’t lived…truly lived until you’ve had the fried chicken in Jamaica. It is absolutely glorious. And maybe it was my mongoose luck, but I definitely found what I was looking for.

Not only was this fried chicken incredible, but also it brought back so many memories of when I lived here. So it was tasty, but, especially with the rice and peas, it was also nostalgic.



Winner winner chicken dinner.


I headed back to Tyra’s to take a nice cold shower (she only has cold water, so, again, it’s like Sophie’s only choice, but this time the right choice) and went to bed. Just moving around in Jamaica is exhausting.

The next day I decided to treat myself, went to touch di road, and headed for a swim in the Caribbean Sea (which, no surprise here, is also not cold). Most of the gorgeous beaches in this part of the world are privatized and owned by resorts (some really shady business going on here, which is infuriating as a local), but I managed to walk far enough to find this fishing spot, where I went for a dip.



This picture says a lot a-boat this wonderful beach.



Victoria and I are both white but only one of us applied sunscreen.



Fishing nets or kids’ jungle gym?


I followed the exercise with a hearty breakfast. Because I was on the north coast, it was relatively easy to find exactly what I was looking for…


..a traditional Jamaican breakfast (I got mine without the saltfish, which although is the national dish, is also imported from Alaska. Oh, Jamaica.). The food was delicious and oily. And for those of you who don’t know (which is probably all of you except Patrick — hi Patrick!), Ackee is the yellow stuff in the middle that looks like eggs. It doesn’t taste like eggs — I wouldn’t say it’s better, but it is good and it is different — and it does actually grow on trees. I was so excited about eating a traditional Jamaican breakfast that I texted Tyra that I was eating Ackee. Since, you know, “Ackee” is not a word I use often, autocorrect changed it to say that I was eating a Jew. Talk about lost in translation. Along with my Ackee, I also enjoyed a side of bread fruit, which is more bread than fruit (and also grows on trees), and my favorite type of actual bread — festival bread, which is like a party in your mouth. Festival is so good that one time Patrick and I entered and won a hamburger cooking competition at Giant Eagle using homemade festival as the bun.

Speaking of party….
I was invited to my first Jamaican baby shower at Lisa’s (Tyra’s sister) . Now, baby showers are a huge deal in the US, but not so much in Jamaica. A lot of the guests at the party told me that this was also, actually their first baby shower too. But it did not disappoint, because it started 6 hours late with a prayer, and was filled with hilarious games and a ton of fun, photos, and laughter.



The beautiful mother-to-be, her husband, and her adopted sister.

Some of the best games included a race to see which man could put on a baby nappy on a stuffed animal correctly and, my favorite — pictured below — was the game where the men gave birth to their newborn balloons with no hands. The catch phrase for the game? “Daddy is good at getting the belly big, but now what does he do if him have a big belly?” Priceless.


Daddies with big bellies & balloon babies.


Another awesome part of being up north and being at the baby shower was that I got to meet the rest of Tyra’s family. I was able to meet her mom, who I had never met before, and her 6 siblings.



Such beauty (and facial diversity). That’s Tyra’s mom who will be 50 in December with her youngest, Tyra smallest sister, yellow.


Pulled Jerk pork,which I brought to the party.


So after spending a great few days with Tyra and her family, I headed out to Elim (which.. if you don’t know by now, you really gotta start paying attention) where my Peace Corps site was. I never had a problem sticking to my Peace Corps budget when I was in Elim — there was hardly anything to spend money on — and this trip so far had been cost-efficient because Tyra had let me stay with her. Rather than rent a car, and not just because I popped a tire  immediately last time, I decided that I would appreciate Pittsburgh more if I continued living like a local here in Jamaica. Not to mention that I had given Tyra all of my money for OJ’s schooling.

Now, the public transportation in Jamaica is efficient, but also very cramped and hot. And it took over 6 hours to get to Elim. So, since we stopped in lots of towns along the way, I got out every hour and a half, walked round, stretched my legs, convinced myself I wasn’t car sick (reverse psychology does not work), ate some fruit, and eventually caught another bus to the next town. It was nice to get a break from the smell, the heat, and the lack of space. It rained when I was in Mandeville, and within minutes, the streets were flooding because of horrible drainage designs, which meant that I had to walk through nasty, dirty garbage water. Time to get back on the bus.

On these buses, which are actually kind of just vans, we are required to sit 5 to a row. They lay out a seat with no back, a cross seat, to make more seating options. I had to take 6 vans or taxis to make it to my old community. Each time I was on a bus and someone wanted to get off I was ecstatic because that meant we were only sitting 4 or even to a row — so. much. room. It’s amazing when you’re so cramped that being cramped (but less cramped) will have you feeling grateful. Or if your seat doesn’t have a back but then you get one how nice that feels.


Jamaican me crazy, bus.


My first stop at the Brownstown market to get some fruit and really difficult-to-eat curried crab for the ride.


So as I got more inland, the thicker the patwa and the more aggressive the street vendors, and the fewer people were used to seeing foreigners. The marketing tactics included yelling and shoving the product in my face. Not very effective. I mean, maybe I’ll change my mind about buying a bootleg movie or banana chips but I’m definitely not going to change my mind, taxi driver, that I want to go to a different part of the island instead. Like, you’re not going to convince me I need a taxi to Negril.

All of the taxis were listening to the exact same radio station, which offered very strange medical advice (“if you drink water the correct way, you may never have to go to the doctor again”), and were spewing anti-gay statements.


Rasta on the way to Elim.



Just to give you some perspective.


There was so much loud music and tons of noise and bustle everywhere. But also just friendly people who want to interact and be seen. I was very happy and sufficiently sweaty when I finally made it to Elim.



Let me reiterate, it took the better part of a very hot, long, winding, aggressive day to get from Ochi to Elim.


Arriving home.


I stopped at a grocery store in Santa Cruz (no, not California) before I got to Elim because I knew there would be hardly anything I could buy once I arrived in my very rural community. And as I was strolling through the aisles of my old stomping grounds, I remembered how I would come here for fun when I was living in Elim. Yes. You heard correctly. I would come to this grocery store, which was not air conditioned, already dripping with sweat, and try to make decisions on what to buy, even though it was near impossible to make any kind of decision because I was so hot. They don’t sell  cheese or ice cream (where’s a mongoose when you need it?), and I hardly had any money to spend here at all, but still it was the most exciting thing I did. It was so exciting that in the second year of my service, I bumped up the frequency of my Santa Cruz excursions to once a week, even though based on the past year, I only technically needed to go once every two weeks. Walking through the aisles during this last trip, I couldn’t believe that this was what I did for fun.


Ex-home sweet home.


I had the taxi driver drop me off at the end of my old road. The one that me and momma used to live on. And as I was walking towards her old yard, I passed the house where I lived for two years. It was still as cute and quaint as I remembered, complete with all the lizards (thank god for them, they eat the mosquitoes!) and the ackee trees (not Jew trees) out front.


Rural, hot, beautiful Elim — “Nah, true!”



So fresh, so green, so beautiful…so hot…so humid.


I visited Momma’s grave. I wasn’t able to make it to the ceremony (although Tyra told me it was 6 hours long), but I did send what I could for her grave, see below.


Mommas grave .

It was slightly confusing because…what is that house? I’d never seen it before. I asked the family, and they also didn’t know that particular house. But it was explained to me that, as is  custom, they buried her with mini a house on top of the grave. And even though the house itself wasn’t sentimental in that it represented a memory, it held a lot of significance because the last thing we did as a family for momma was build her a house.


Grazing in the grass.

I was able to visit familiar faces: Dita, Pooh, Sofie, Ledah, Romy, Ninja, Carl, and Dicky. Sofie told me she had just gotten back from Trinidad. I was so surprised. “What?! Wasn’t that your first time out of the country?!” Yes it was. Here’s how that happened:


Seems like going to Trinidad for the first time might be a fairly normal thing, right? But the way she met her new friend is where the story truly lies. Sofie had been browsing through Facebook one day and searched people who had the same name as she did. She started up a chat with this other Sofie with the same last name from Trinidad, and they became fast friends with the other woman inviting her to come and stay with her if Sofie could just save up for a plane ticket. Anyway, that’s who she visited in Trinidad, someone with the exact same name as her who she had never met before. It’s baffling how Jamaicans use modern technology. Like, have you ever just been randomly friend requested by people and ignored them? Yeah, sometimes there is a real person attached to that Facebook profile, and sometimes the person who  seems like a weirdo is just a Jamaican with the same name as you looking for a friend. Or a catfish, but maybe just a friendly Jamaican. Take, for ANOTHER example, Romy. He’s engaged to an American now, and he met his new wife on Facebook. MET HIS WIFE ON FACEBOOK. Crazy.

Another interesting thing  I noticed on this trip was how they’ve kind of skipped over the process of using wifi. Some people have data on their phones, but wifi is virtually (pun intended) non-existent (and definitely non-existent in Elim).


My farmer friend, Louie.


So for the next two days, I walked around Elim, and I kid you not — I felt like a celebrity there. Everyone was so excited to see me, and they were like celebrities to me, because I was equally as excited to see them. I would be walking and then all of a sudden hear “Aunty Sam!! Aunty Sam!!” It’s humbling and flattering to know that there’s a small town in the middle of Jamaica that I love and that loves me right back.



While I was there, I was really excited to see a new cookshop that had opened!  Look how pretty it is! (pictured above). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat there because it’s only open sometimes on Fridays. Oh yeah, that’s right…this is why I was so grateful when  momma cooked so many amazing meals for me; it’s hard to find a shop that’s open in Elim!



Repping the Gully side. The other side is the Gaza side, which has amazing music, I can agree…..buuuut it’s a little more aggressive, and their leader is in jail for murder. So, “mi de pon di gully side”.



Sofies grandchild.


While staying in Elim, momma’s family was more than happy to let me stay with them. It was so generous, and really helped me out a lot; however, it was also stiflingly hot with no fan — just stagnant air and mosquitos. Needless to say, it wasn’t restful. That being said, I really did appreciated sleeping in her old bed, and it was really nice how much they cleaned up for me.


The room–surprised you can’t see the sweat outline of my body on the sheets.


The morning, though, was fantastic. I sat outside taking in the view I’ve seen so many times in momma’s yard. In the 80 degree heat, I had already started sweating profusely by 7am, BUT I had forgotten all about the heat once people just started coming by to give us fruit. St. Elizabeth (Elim’s parish) is known for the best, sweetest mangoes, the honey bananas, coconuts, and otaheite apples, which are supppperrr red (giving Red Delicious a run for their money in color, but it’s no contest in taste: Jamaica all the way). And they also taste like roses.

80% of being Jamaican is just sitting around being hot.


View from Momma’s house.

So again, walkin’ around and bein’ hot (like, temperature wise), I tried really hard to see more familiar faces. I didn’t have long enough to spend in Jamaica, and I wanted to visit with everyone, skin sum teeth (translation: smile), and check to make sure they were alright.

If you remember from my previous Jamaica blog, people who I had loved years ago (and still love) had  kept pictures I gave to them before I left Jamaica. And what do you know? I run into an old taxi driver, Levin, who I also gave a picture to. And when I saw him that day, he showed me, still in his taxi, the picture. The photo of us is kept in pristine condition in his glove compartment. It was almost unbearably sweet, I couldn’t believe it. Of course, we had to recreate it.


Levin now holding a picture of Levin and me 5 years ago.



Recreation of a 5-year-old photograph; we switched turns wearing hats.


I did get sunburned even though I applied sunscreen twice a day! Twice a day! I’m sorry dad. Next time I’ll bring another t-shirt.


Scenes from a shop in Elim.


In this photo he’s asking me what I think about Trump.



That cookshop, which wasn’t open on this day either.




The Basic School

Towards the end of my trip, I visited the school that I had helped build. That felt rewarding! At the time we built it, it was the first new building constructed in Elim in over 27 years.


When you take a photo with a few kids….



You’re gonna have to take a picture with all the kids…


I was finding myself needing Patrick’s teaching skills.



The kids and their one teacher (who is also a Samantha!). There are supposed to be three teachers…


Here. Have some adorable smiles to brighten your day.

Next time I go to Jamaica, I’ll try to remember to bring even more school supplies for those precious pickni.

With that being my last stop in Elim, and with a lighter backpack, I headed to Bluefields Bay, which was where Patrick lived with Bumpy, his host mom. I went and saw her in Black River on the way.


Breathtaking bluefields…fields of water…that are blue.



Blue fields meet yellow fields.


While I was in Bluefields, it struck me just how different our placements had been, and to be honest, I couldn’t believe that I had lived in Elim for two years. The differences in our sites was jarring. And, as much as I loved it, I was only in Jamaica for a week this time, and it was hard. I was counting down the hours, the minutes, the seconds, and the drops of sweat. A week was not enough to lose  the excitement of being in Jamaica but, conversely, it was exactly the right amount of time to remember how tough and difficult my life was down there.

Even though I will always go back to visit Jamaica, you’ll remember that I said that my favorite thing is how satisfying it is  to touch back into the United States after such an intense trip. I stand by saying that Jamaica is the hardest country I’ve ever been to. The reverse culture shock is real, even for such a short time. You better believe I stared at all the white people and soaked up all of the air conditioning at the lounge in the Montego Bay Airport (thank you Priority Pass). I even put on a long sleeved shirt just to prove to myself that I was finally somewhat, relatively, sort of, almost not too hot.

Until next time, Jamaica. Big up yourself, and bless up!

One love,
Aunty Sam