1. Guatemala? More like GuateBUENA!

21 Apr

Two of my best friends, Patrick and Helen (pictured above), have birthdays in April just a few days apart! I guess I’m a sucker for a Taurus. We decided it would be fun to go on a trip over their birthday week to a country none of us had ever been to before. After careful consideration, it came down to South Korea or Guatemala… and Guatemala had better flights from Pittsburgh.  The plane Helen and I took from Atlanta to Guatemala City was delayed, which meant some fun lounge perks #livelaughlounge, and when Bel and I finally landed in Guatemala, it was after 1 AM. We were advised not to spend any time in Guatemala City, so we immediately took an Uber (thanks, airport WiFi!) to Antigua, a gorgeous city about an hour to the west. Our Uber driver, Jennifer, was sweet and helpful. She stopped at a 24 hour convenience store so we could buy bottles of water and asked us, in Spanish, if we minded if she stopped to get gas later on our drive. No problema! The 1 hour uber, including a generous tip, was $22 dollars. We were thrilled. Less thrilled was our Air BnB host, with whom we had been communicating all night as our flight kept getting more and more delayed. She was very patient and kind but clearly exhausted when we arrived after 2 AM. As we drove through Antigua in the middle of the night, we were shocked to see this old city (“antigua” straight up means old in Spanish) was bumping. There was a festival happening in the streets with vendors of food, souvenirs, and keepsakes as far as the eye could see. The fiesta was going strong. We were muy impressed. After being greeted by our very patient, very tired Air BnB host, we received a quick tour and matching locally-made bracelets (WE LOVE MATCHING!!) and immediately went to sleep.

Our home for the night.

The next morning we woke up excited as can be. It was our first day in Guatemala and PATRICK was joining us! Patrick had booked us a 3 person room in La Cucaracha Hostel (which, despite the name, turned out to be lovely) and he was meeting us there at 2 PM. We had all morning to walk across town to meet him. Patrick is a very savvy traveler, as avid readers of the blog will know — we met many years ago in the Peace Corps in Jamaica and have gone on many travel adventures together since. He opted to use this trip to Guatemala as an excuse to be technology-free for 8 days and didn’t bring his phone on the trip. I repeat, he didn’t bring his phone on the trip. Not for the planes, not for the layover in Mexico City, not for the maps, not for Uber, not for photos. He was a man off the grid. We made our way to the hostel early as were quite keen to meet up with him and to our delight and surprise, he was already there. “Patrick? He just checked in…” the concierge told us. He lead us back to our room and there was our Patrick, phonelessly reading a book on the bed. Helen and I often joke that spending time with Patrick is like reading a book. We walk away learning so much. This time, it was about Nonviolent Communication. Ladies, he’s single.

Found him!


After spending some time catching up in our room, we got ready to hit the streets on a crucial mission: find sunblock and ice cream. In Guatemala, the day between Good Friday and Easter is referred to as Black Saturday. As if living in a spoiler-free world, we joined the Guatemalans in wearing black in mourning of Jesus, who had died 1 day (and 1986 years) before. We had to hold off on our colorful clothes until the following day, when we could celebrate the news of the resurrection. Again, “news” being a surprising word choice. #1986yearslater We walked around the streets of Antigua and were blown away by the art. In celebration of Easter, murals had been made with dyed sawdust, stenciled on the ground into (usually) floral masterpieces. They were breathtaking.


Making a masterpiece.

Always be stenciling.


The processions (word to the wise: do not call them parades) marched through the streets and walked directly through the sawdust. Once the processions had gone through, volunteers were immediately out behind them sweeping up the trampled sawdust. These street murals were designed to be temporary.




When the Virgin Mary tramples your masterpiece


We wanted to make sure we had a rundown of the processions, so Helen asked strangers on the street, in Spanish, what time and where the processions were taking place. Every person gave us a different answer. We were very confused. We had read in our guide book that Guatemalans often will give you an answer rather than saying they don’t know. We assumed we were experiencing exactly that until we discovered there were MULTIPLE processions starting from multiple different churches. That’s when it dawned on us. Ooooh. Everyone we asked was telling the truth. GuateBUENA, indeed. As it turned out, there was a procession that marched directly in front of our hostel at 4 PM and there was a candlelit vigil #RIPJC at 8 PM in the middle of town.

We went off on an adventure and found the most delicious ice cream that looked like a frozen, upside down “Fruit on the Bottom” yogurt cup. It was DELICIOUS.

“I don’t know what this is, but I want to always have one in my hand.”


We wandered the beautiful streets of Antigua and saw many more stunning floor murals. The streets were alive with food vendors, natives, tourists from all over central America, and TV stations broadcasting live from the square. When it comes to Easter weekend, Antigua is THE place to be. We were all startled by how POLITE Guatemala was. As we stood in a square surrounded by hundreds of people, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was. “I’ve been in groups of 4 that are louder than this.” We were confused. Was this silence usual or was it out of respect for the somber nature of the day? We would soon find out Guatemala is just a very polite and quiet country. Even the ambulances would pass with their lights on but no sirens and would honk when only absolutely necessary.

In addition to the sawdust murals, streets were lined with enormous, themed vignettes — depicting different scenes from the life (and death) of Jesus and homages to the Virgin Mary — that would be motorized in a parade in the USA. But of course, this wasn’t a parade (never forget) and we weren’t in the USA. Underneath the vignettes, were a couple dozen women holding the weight on their shoulders, getting ready to march it through the streets of Antigua.



We ended up in front of the biggest church in the middle of a town square just before its procession was about to start. Marching bands (primarily consisting of different sized drums) were playing ominous music that felt appropriately like dirges. Mass was happening inside the church and, as as soon as it let out, the women started marching their tribute to the Virgin Mary around the square, one wobbly step at a time to the rhythm of the drums, before they went and onward throughout the city and made the loop back. It was 3 PM when the parade #dontcallitthat started, we’d later see them at the halfway point, passing the church with the candlelit vigil at 8 PM. These women were volunteers — members of the church who were honored to be selected for this duty.

Once we had watched them go around the block, we hung back for the 40 minutes it took them to walk up the street, and found a place to sit and eat some street food. We love street food. Street food safety tip: Look for places with high turnover. You don’t want to eat food that has been sitting in the sun for too long. Places with long lines usually move lots of food quickly. That’ll ensure you’re getting the freshest possible street food.

Delicious. And she even made a vegetarian sandwich for Helen!


So nice, we had it twice.


We hung back for a long time to give Mary a head start, and started back towards our hostel, eating anything delicious looking on the route. We came across a particularly delicious taco stand in a parking lot. Patrick and I wanted tacos but Bel couldn’t have them because they had carne. The taco stand advertised “2 TACOS!” and that was exactly what we wanted! A taco each! We ordered the 2 tacos but didn’t realize until they arrived that each order came with 2 tacos. We had 4 tacos. What a delicious accident. The tacos were INCREDIBLE. One of the tricks for staying cool on a hot summer day in Guatemala is enjoying a Choco Banana, which is just a frozen banana dipped in chocolate. (“There’s always money in the banana stand.”) Helen asked the man running the taco stand if he knew where she could get a Choco Banana while we ate our tacos. He told her the price and asked her for some quetzal (Guatemalan currency), and he sent his kids on a mission to get one from a stand somewhere else in the market. They came back with the Choco Banana and the change. Guatemala is a well-oiled machine.

Full of choco and tacos, we made our way through the shops in the market and came across the BEST SHOP OF ALL TIME: One with a rack full of birds, hand-made from beads. They were GORGEOUS. We were overwhelmed. If we had known the word “resplendent” at the time, we would have used it. There were so many birds to see, with varied color schemes. It was joyous. I entered the store and sat down and looked at each and every bird while Helen and Patrick sat on a bench just across from the entrance. Every so often, I’d call them in to show them the favorites I had narrowed down from hundreds. Just as I was about to make my selection, the woman who owned the store pulled out another basket of birds for me to sift through. “Sam, do you see that she’s getting more birds out?” Patrick called from the bench. She wanted to make sure I got the right bird. Eventually, we knew what we had to do: get 3 matching birds.

This is the one, right?


With our birds in hand, we headed back to the hostel for a nap. We were so proud of our birds. We couldn’t wait to show them off. Helen laid them on the bed and took a picture to send to her girlfriend, Victoria. I took it from her hand. “You can’t send her this picture, it’s hideous!” We spent longer than you’d think staging the birdfect photo.

The Chosen Ones


Whew! Feeling accomplished, we went out on the town! It was still only 6 PM and we wanted to circle back to a bar / restaurant that had advertised LIVE MUSIC! We wandered the streets until we found it and ended up in an adorable outdoor space with twinkle lights and a guy playing an acoustic guitar.

Hanging with the locals


The waiter came over and asked us what we’d like to drink. “What’s your favorite local beer?” Helen asked him in Spanish.” He looked excited, “Gallo!” And with that, we ordered 3 bottles of Gallo, a Guatemalan beer brewed in Guatemala City. It was delicious. Thanks to that enthusiastic waiter, Gallo would be our drink of choice for the rest of the trip.

Once we had finished our Gallos, we headed back to the streets to see the festival and the candlelit vigil at 8 PM. There was a singer, standing outside of the church, and hundreds of people watching as the same Virgin Mary vignette went through. Many people were crying as the Virgin Mary passed. We could not believe we had lived a full Antiguan adventure and these women were still carrying their Mary through the streets. They were officially at the end of their route and now had to make the 4 hour voyage back to the church where they started. We were exhausted for them.



The vibe of Antigua had completely changed at night. We meandered through the streets on our way back home.

Ta’cool for Ta’school


Once we were safely back in our room, Patrick and Helen chose their sleeping arrangements and I was SHOCKED. There were 2 bunk beds and a queen mattress. Helen and Patrick took the bunk beds, leaving me ALONE in the BIGGEST BED. “I’ve never heard anyone complain about getting the biggest bed before.” – Patrick

“Aww! We share everything!” “Sure…Except beds.”


The next day, we awoke to the good news: JESUS HAD RISEN! We took our breakfast coffees, eggs, fruit, and (lots of) Nutella to the roof and did some reading about Guatemala. We had some research to do to figure out where we would be spending the rest of our trip. Once the breakfast spread had been taken away, Patrick would occasionally run out to get us more street food. We each took on a few regions of Guatemala in the guide book (which was written by former Peace Corps volunteers!) and gave a summary of what that region had to offer. The region we chose would really determine the nature of the rest of our trip.

Breakfast cutie


Rooftop views


After reading (and snacking) for a few hours, we had finally come to a consensus: Every region of Guatemala has a lot to offer. We highly recommend this country. We chose the central region full of natural wonders, bat caves, hikes, cloud forests, and quaint towns. We decided to rent a car to best explore a region, as all of the sights were spread out. After all, a trip to Semuc Champey was a 14-hour bus ride, one-way, down a very bumpy mountain. We thought we had best take that into our own hands. (Pro tip: if you’re renting a car in Guatemala, make sure it has 4-wheel drive.)

Rooftalk the red-nosed reindeer. Oops, that’s Christmas. This was Easter. Where are the Easter songs?


From the rooftop, we could hear people singing “When The Saints Go Marching In” in Spanish! There were celebrations in the streets! And we knew exactly how we wanted to celebrate: By visiting A MACADAMIA NUT FARM. Luckily for us, we were just one town away from one. We called an Uber from our hostel but couldn’t get it due to all of the Easter parades. There were more sawdust masterpieces on the ground, but they didn’t slow us down. We decided to walk away from the city in the direction of the macadamia farm to get a head start on calling an Uber, but we didn’t have any internet service once we left or hostel. Eventually, we stopped in the entry of another Hostel to use their WiFIand they were SO helpful. Shout out to 3 Monkeys Hostel in Antigua. We got our Uber and were a short 20 minute drive from DELICIOUSNESS.


Upon arrival, we were offered a free (gratis!) tour and jumped at the chance to learn about macadamia nuts. First, we learned about the trees and the limited number of countries that grow macadamia trees in the world. Then, we learned all about harvesting of the nuts. You never pick them from the trees, you only gather them once they have fallen. Prepare yourself for a photo lesson.


The wheel removes the skin from the nut


Then we slide them down this ramp, which sorts them into bins of like-sized macadamia nuts




We fell in love with the Valhalla Macadamia Farm. The shade from the macadamia trees made the farm a cool, welcomed change from the past few days of wandering the hot streets of Antigua. They had all sorts of macadamia nut products for sale: batter for pancakes, macadamia nut chocolate, everything you could imagine. As well as a philosophy we could all get behind:

Como se dice “Preach!”?


A bathroom with an obvious love for potted plants.


After the tour, we sat down to look at the delicious menu (which I recommend checking out: http://valhallamacfarm.com/valhalla-restaurant/) which features the macadamia nut in every single dish. We had no choice but to order 4 dishes to share (Minus the chicken, sorry Helen), it was a holiday after all! We got roasted chicken with macadamia nut BBQ sauce, white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes, macadamia nut-filled ravioli with macadamia nut pesto, and a macadamia-breaded eggplant sandwich with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a honey-mustard dressing. We were beside ourselves with joy. We love Easter Sunday.



After a few hours of eating, chatting, and trying not to pet the dog at our feet (Pro tip: Don’t touch animals in foreign countries), we headed back to Antigua for a night on the town! The festival was still bumping and we were ready to explore.  Antigua sure knows how to celebrate a resurrection! We walked through the streets with our eyes peeled and our hearts open, ready to see whatever called to us. Our first stop was in Vagamundo, another hostel, which had live music playing in the back. A 6-piece band comprising of horns, drums, guitars, and a piano was JAMMING. This was exactly the vibe we were looking for. We made ourselves at home and did some more research for our upcoming week. When the time was right, we moved on and explored some outdoor markets. It was overstimulating. We walked around the square and looked at (read: tried) all of the street food. There were booths with candy, jewelry, games, everything you could think of. We dipped into a pub to explore with full intentions of leaving quickly and taking in more of the festival. We spent a bit of time watching a soccer match, laughing, figuring out our ratios, and ordering Gallo like the locals. Unfortunately, we must have been at the tail-end of the festivities because as soon as we came out of the pub, everything had been taken down and packed up as if we had dreamt it there an hour before.

El gallo mas gallo.


We are the Three Amigos, and Amigos forever we’ll be.



We went to bed in our beloved hostel, excited to wake up early and get to our rental truck in order to hit that Guatemalan road.

Hasta pronto,

Winter to Spring: A slideshow (OF SORTS)

31 Mar

Winter was great.  And it’s only getting better as spring descends into Pittsburgh. (It’s still spring, right?) And, well, to be fully inclusive: summer was great, too, New Zealand style, as I was there as autumn descended onto  that country.  I spent the entire month of February down under.  (Posts to come.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  (or is it that I’m so far behind that it now feels like I’m ahead of myself?  I can’t keep track.)  Anyway, there are so many great moments that I’m trying to record.  For my own memory.  To share with friends.  And to reflect upon this fabulous life.  

I decided to make this blog post a slideshow. And by “a slideshow” I just mean a list of pictures. Enjoy!  


  • One of my most memorable nights was Helen’s performance at The Improv’s open mic in January. It was memorable because 1. It was her first performance there and, as always, she was amazing.  But also, 2. There was the after show hang!  And the rest of the evening spent in the parking lot, sitting inside of my car (in the funnest way).




Things I absolutly love in March:

  • March 2nd ❤
  • Victoria becoming my BEST FRIEND 🙂



Best friend & best friend



This photo was taken on January 31st, before they said I love you.


  • Another great night was when wee Emily and I nailed our hangout, back in late 2018.  As my journal so eloquently puts it: “We nailed it! We had a night in. We had a night out. We had an after hours with two Iraqi men.” We chilled at the hookah bar.  It doesn’t get better than that.

         (Not pictured: Any of this experience)



Our first house fire… but not how it sounds, more how it looks.   Fully contained! (with water just in case). Hi, Laura! Hi, Emily!



Second house fire!  PURE JOY!  Photo credit: Best friend, Victoria Bradley


  • At one point during this seasonal transition, coffee with Madeline.  I only had to pay $0.25/ hour for parking, which was a dream come true — Thanks, Millvale! I got to spend all the extra cash on treats, where Madeline and I spilled some water that the hot barista said was fine, but actually needed a good mopping. Madeline also practiced tipping a non existent hat and finger pointing.  Super suave.

         (Not pictured: the hot barista… or anything else)



Sneaking away for a selfie at the Baby Grand show.


  • A slight neg: “You have Cricket Wireless for a phone company?  I have T-mobile, and I’m looking down on you.”

         (Not pictured: my phone plan)


  • Bel and I met some young, Australian backpackers fresh off the mega bus. We gleefully gave them an itinerary.

         (Not pictured: the Australian backpackers)


~I’m beginning to think this is a bad slideshow.~


  • I thought of a new Furry name: Trigger.  
  • Also, I got to brainstorm other furry names with a theme!

(You can picture it.)


  • Emily C and I tried a new restaurant during restaurant week!  The Twisted Frenchman.  Followed by an Ethiopian restaurant afterwards (with Bel) because we weren’t full enough. We might’ve been full. But not enough.

        (Not pictured: the food)


  • I had some great times (as always) with Helen. Like when we split ice cream, and split it again, and then again until the end, laughing until we cried.  A treat while having a treat!

        (Not pictured: the ice cream)



Cooking already cooked vegetables to perfection.



A dreamy deamflat meal. With salsa!



The Hello Bistro salad (that I’d been craving) with a quality foodtograph.


  • The time where — uh, oh– it was raining inside the house and Helen needed an umbrella.

(Not pictured: because we want to forget)


  • After the Club Cafe show, at wee Emily’s house, trying to figure out where on the “scale” scale we were.  Garrett came to hang out and I wouldn’t tell him anything about Helen for their interview.

(Not pictured: the night)


  • 18 hours after I landed from New Zealand I started French class.

(Pas dans une image)


And now…actual pictures!!!

Other things I loved in March:

  • My first time officially working at R’s C.
  • Turning into a Penguins fan. Go ‘Guins (just kidding, no one says that)
  • I’m uncomfortable or I’m comfortable. “You gotta enunciate that first vowel, they’re just too close together” — CC
  • A plan b, which included eating an ice cream sandwich for breakfast
  • The best parts of shows are the after show hangs
  • And the Smallest Show with Helen and Francis!
  • Eating vegetables #vegetablejob and speaking up at Unplanned when asked “When did you know you were straight?”
  • Voting (obsessively) for Best Comic in Pittsburgh
  • Presents from Nashville ❤
  • Zenith for brunch



The sweetest text from a new father, Rusty made me Blush.  Congratulations! 



Lake house chillaxin’ ❤



Lake house dinner; scallops!



Meeting Kendyll, Mike, Jeff, and Gatsby at The Apis brewery show #ourfirstpic


Emily, Laura, Katie, and I went to the casino and I had the nicest cat-callers. One of them even got me flowers — how can a girl be so lucky…yet still loose all her money?



More flowers?! I should have been on a roll!


A grocery store game!  $30.01 total!  Then “helping” to cook and getting to eat a delicious homemade dinner for two.



Essentially a $15-dinner for one. #math



Calling all the shots. Fool me once, Colombia….  I’ll take them all, please  #AlleghenyHealthDepartment 



Love of my life flat



New bed, new sheets, new pillows, same princess.



A champagne cork POP; celebrating a Just for Laughs showcase at Cafe du Jour.


And, another big moment. We got to read an article written abroad from THE Katie Barbaro featured in THE Table Magazine

(Pictured below: the experience. Not pictured below: Katie Barbaro)


Reading my best friend’s words in my best friend’s magazine with my very best friends.


…And that’s all she wrote! Literally… that’s all I’m writing.
See ya on the next post,


12. The Last Criss; The Final Cross

28 Feb

“Well, it’s Tuesday again.”

Rachel and I got ready for a full day in Raglan. We headed to the beach because we’d heard that the waves were going to be #GnarlyBrah. Unlike last time, the waves did NOT disappoint, and we saw some world-class surfing.



Merely watching the surfers wore us out. We hadn’t done much actual chilling this month and Rachel and I were in the mood.  We went to the movie theater (! THIS IS THRILLING) to fill up our water bottles, throw out our trash, and saw the movie What Men Want.  It was a relaxing, perfect day. No more frenzy.

Our last week was super chill but we did get caught in a bovine traffic jam..the cows just wouldn’t mooooove (hehe). 



We saw, of course, a waterfall.


Still just as gorgeous.



Looks safe; was safe


We had the best showers for $20 each.  It had all the hallmarks of a great shower: hot water (!!!!), amazing pressure (!!!!), no shower shoes (!!!). It did switch off automatically every two minutes, and the “bench” area was soaking wet, but we looked past those small details. After my wonderful shower, I slept for a full 12 hours.


Slept like a baby.


In the morning, we headed to the Gannet (bird) Colony. When we got there, I had to leave almost immediately because the birds smelled putrid. I waited for Rachelle on some rocks farther below to save my nose. I contemplated how we still didn’t understand tides even after we’d gone to so many beaches.



Smelly but with a view



My escape from Gannet Colony.  In the form of a picture for Collin.



Light at the end of the … cave. Far less catchy.


After our stop at the Gannet Colony, we kept heading north because…. there was one last item on our wish list….WE WERE GOING TO SEE A KIWI.

We stopped at a grocery to pick out some yummy bach items and we looked (hard) for a red light to seek out those adorable Kiwis. Not the people. Or the fruit. But the bird, which we did have to clarify when asking around. Rachelle and I needed this light. 

We had great interactions with Kiwis– the people, not the bird.  And someone told us that we needed to go to a store called Hunting and Fishing to get what we were looking for.   The universe gave us a sign.  There was a truck filling up with petrol with the words ‘Hunt and Fish’.  Rachelle nominated me to go talk to the guy (we couldn’t ignore the universe). This man had lots to say, but he was very quiet. What I gathered was that his store got shut down by the police because his partner was selling guns out of the back. … I backed away slowly and mouthed to Rachelle, “Let’s go.”

We laughed our way to another store where we ultimately bought a huge $50 flashlight that would, indeed, light up a whole forest. And with the red cellophane we already had, we were raring to go.  Full circle, to the north, Trounson Kauri Park.  (Rachel, why could we still not figure out how the coordinates change when we put something into google maps?)

This drive was nostalgic. It was our last criss– our final cross (and of course, we were listening to Nelly, this time the B-tracks. Shout out to Lovers to Friends and Dawn to Dust).  We stopped at a cheese store and went back to Kensington Tavern, the bar where we got burgers for the first time. No one remembered us at the bar… Not even the old dude who had zoned in on us and chatted Rachel up last time.  No offense taken. Ok, maybe just a little.  This time, we chatted with a Mauri women (minus the crazy eyes.  That’s where their power lies).  Rachel and I went to the familiar campground, although this late in the summer, less people were around.


Did not even Bailey remember us??


Rachel and I had been learning about Kiwis for our entire trip. Beel had an information tag attached to him.  Here are some things we know: There are three types, they are different in North Island then on the South Island., and those cuties mate for life. Rachel and I felt so confident and determined. We were going to see a Kiwi. We had that light, that sacred, lovely, BRIGHT light.

Once it was truly dark (not dusk; we learned our lesson the first time), we headed out into the forest with our $50 flashlight covered in red cellophane. We washed our feet and entered the Kauri forest– keeping a special eye out for our possum stalker. 

Rachelle and I were whispering, and while she was in mid-sentence, A KIWI JUMPED OUT IN FRONT OF US. I REPEAT: A KIWI JUMPED OUT IN FRONT OF US.





We had downloaded Kiwi calls to play through Rachel’s phone  but THIS KIWI SURPRISED US! THIS WAS A BIG DEAL. THIS WAS A HUGE DEAL.  There was no indication he was going to jump out in the path in front of us.  We had been planning on trying for at least four full hours, but this happened within the first 10 minutes

MY HEART WAS RACING.  We stared at the Kiwi. He looked like we thought he would BUT CLOSER.   A bird. A flightless bird.  It literally brought us to tears.  I started crying as soon as I saw him. He was fuzzy. Disheveled. And it will go down as one of the top 10 moments in my life (Feb 26).  — WE WERE SHOOK. This bright ass amazing light. 1300 lummincessent light was worth ever penny!  Rachel and I were GIDDY! 

Silently freaking out, in the woods, walking back to the car, Rachelle reminded me that we’d just seen a Kiwi: “Samantha” she said, “I just needed to use your full name. I couldn’t use a nickname; it was really important. WE SAW A KIWI.”

The universe delivered AND WE WERE SO GRATEFUL (before AND after).And guess what? We saw ANOTHER ONE, too. WOW!!  SO many people had verbally doubted us– outright told us we would never see a Kiwi. 

“Do you wanna talk about American determination? This is how we won the second World War.”

Preach, Rachelle. Preach.


The next morning, we triumphantly drove back to Auckland. My notebook lasted the entire trip, I signed up for French class which started 18 hours after I landed, we gleefully sacrificed the water bottles (it’s amazing we didn’t get sick from them), and decided to split Beel and Nelly up, divided custody.  We headed to the airport completely FULFILLED.

At the airport lounge, I ate a salad while I waited to fly home.




dreaming of that kiwi hop,



New girl band: IN-SYNC

11. Nearing the (New Zeal)END

24 Feb

We started off the next day with a hike, at the Dawson Falls Visitor center, that had a boardwalk. #MOREDWALK So I was already excited.  But, on the drive, Rachel and I got even more excited when we saw the cloud-covered silhouette of gorgeous Mt. Taranaki volcano.


Modest Mt. Taranaki



Photo hunt: Find the bach




More walk, please. Thanks DoC!


And also a gorgeous goblin forest that was extra lush and mossy (Do you know how much I love moss?) because it had just rained. 



On a hike after the rain.



A forest of moss


We also came across a little waterfall during the hike which neither of us were surprised about – but both of us were happy about — given how many waterfalls grace the north island.


Surprise! Another one (but not really a surprise)


After several hikes, Rachel and I headed towards the coast where we saw an old shipwreck before driving to Paritutu Rock for (yet) another hike. This time, instead of a boardwalk, it was going to be an intense, grapple where we got to climb up climb with a chain. We love that, too!


Ship happens.



Definitely warming

Team chain gang





We stuck to the coast for the rest of the afternoon and went to explore the blackest black sand beach that I’ve ever been to. (Superlative: blackest beach, New Zealand.) AND thanks to Scott’s notes, we knew that this sand was magnetic, so we had stopped to pick up some strong magnets in order to properly play in the sand.



A secluded, black sand beach


And then guess what we did next? We went on another hike… to… another waterfall 🙂



can’t stop, won’t stop #nothisbetterthansouth


That night, we searched for a Couchsurfing spot. Trever, our host, had an awesome B&B, but since we found him on CS, we got to stay, with less amenities, in his parking lot for free! Thank you, Trever!

When we got to his place, he invited us out for the night. Our answer?


You can probably take this as a ‘no.’


We thanked him for the invite, but we were just way too tired to rally. 

The next morning, we got to use the bathroom at his place (sweet as), and he offered to let us use the hot tub (which we were far too dirty to use). We filled up our water bottles (you know the routine), AND, as an extra unplanned perk, a fluffy cat jumped into the car to snuggle up with Rachelle. It was the purrfect goodbye.


Cat in the bach



We wanted to whisk(h)er away


When we headed out, my girl and I stopped and ate at our host’s ice cream parlour: Big Jazz ice cream. They made ice cream from real fruit!  Rachelle and I were so in-sync. We ordered the same ice cream flavor and basically had the same thoughts at the same time.  We were living the same life for one month. What a fantastic person to sync up with, lucky me ❤

After the ice cream, we had 3 things listed for the day’s adventure: a waterfall, a cave, and a natural bridge.


Waterfall and yours truly: Check


On the hike to get to the waterfall, I added another item to my list: Get muddy.


Muddy hazard



Cave: check



Natural bridge: check.  It’s natural, don’t ask questions.





Rock detours.



Back water adventures.



The next day we woke up…”Do we want to go and see another waterfall or do you want to go to Sunday sessions?!”   Sunday sessions in Raglan easily won.  Raglan, we couldn’t stay away. #zigzag


To Raglan we go!


We had a fun night out. We had drinks, heard live music, and I read Rachelle’s mind and wondered out loud if Andrew would tell Pedro.


Sunday is in session!


There was a moment I got heated.  After we got some Tibetan food at a food stand, I got VERY passionate about the situation over in Tibet. I just couldn’t fathom what they have gone (and are going) through. Rachelle asked: “Can you imagine?” and my answer was: “IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO IMAGINE. LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE. WE CANNOT IMAGINE.”

…Warming!!  At least emotionally.

But Rachelle, being the wonderful friend she is, quieted me down by reminding me that we were still in public. This worked briefly.  (“I understand why you might be feeling frustrated…”) And then before we knew it was time for us to leave.  As we settled in for the evening, a cat hopped on the car with Rachelle (she attracts them) and eventually we fell asleep.  It was hot, not my best nights sleep, but luckily the next day was cruisy.  

Still living in a car,

10. Do Cows Like Carrots?

22 Feb

After the night of the super moon, Rachelle and I woke up in our Couchsurfers’ driveway:


Where we (intentionally) woke up.


The guys had left early for work, but they were really nice and left the door open so that we could use their shower.  We did and then she and I hit the road because we were still intrigued by this question: Do cows like carrots?

As we headed to Cape Palliser, we stopped to find out the answer.


On the way to the southern most point on the northern island



But first thing’s first.



Answer: Not all cows like carrots


Once we finished our research and found out that only some cows like carrots (is this an anticlimactic reveal?) , we hopped back into the car towards Cape Palliser to check out more wildlife (seal colony) and a lighthouse. 







The Cape was so windy, it even rocked our car.  Every time we got out to see the cute seals (including seal babies!!), we almost blew away. I was sort of surprised the seals were heavy enough to remain on land; I was expecting a seal cyclone (a sealclone?).



Forecast for the day: Wind, wind, and more wind



Seals hanging out, soaking in the view, not blowing away


There was a lighthouse that Rachel and I were heading to.  As we ascended the stairs up, we had to hold onto the railing for dear life because… wind.


To the lighthouse!



Trying not to take a tumble down all.those.stairs.



The most lighthouse-y lighthouse


That evening, there were many incredible places to choose from to car camp for free. Yay!

Like here 🙂



My bedroom



A great evening



And a great morning!


The next day, we kept with our regularly scheduled programming and decided to drive back up north across the country (criss-cross or bust), and stopped for a strange hike amongst wild rock formations.



Does this scream ‘Lord of the Rings’?



Nature-made castles.


After our hike, we stopped in a small town (small as in, 1300 people live there) for some food and drinks. We found a place that was a “side of the road pub” with pure local vibes.  We had some really delicious meat (the meat is good in NZ because it’s free range) but lamented about our craving for a really good salad; they were hard to come by in NZ.  No one does a salad like the USA.

Anyway, because this was more of a local spot, we were excited for the cheaper prices…  How silly of us — they still charged $18 for two glasses of wine… but when in New Zealand, I guess.


Foodtography: at it again


Rachel and I always made up for this with our cheap accommodation ($Free.99).


free as a bird


Settling in for the night

9. Feeling Well(ington)

20 Feb

The next day, Rachelle and I woke up from a night in our free camping spot where we slept VERY soundly. 


View from our bach bed. Notice those clutch black-out windows.


Rae and I had planned a super easy day. We deserved it since we’d (pretty much) been to the most beautiful depths of hell and back.  We headed to Tui Brewery whose slogan was: “Yeah, right.”

For example:




Weddings are more than Just free beer…yeah right!
I’m really keen to see your mother again….yeah right!
It was a legitimate business expense…yeah right!
Trust me, I’ve done this before…..yeah right!



Some more brilliant examples… yeah right.


We also had a great time using their billboard in the back where you could build your own:


Shout out to my dolphins!



Getting caught, acting normal.



There’s a 90% chance Scott actually saw this… Yeah right.



Super bummed about spending the day drinking beer… Let’s say it together, shall we: “Yeah right!”


Rae and I spent a good portion of the day at Tui before we started back on the Old Up Down (which is what we called our whole trip since we went back and forth across the country so often) and headed south on the thermal explorer highway, or the self-named explorer highway, or the nonthermal highway. There were a lot of beautiful highways. 


On our way to Wellington, we laughed about the rules of the New Zealand roads we’d grown accustomed to like learning what a Spillway is or a give-way versus yielding. Oh, and the crazy drivers. At one point on the trip, we’d seen a car tailgating a truck so closely that the car’s bumper was literally underneath the truck. Seemed safe…yeah right!  But, we also remembered how when Rachelle and I were at the gas station, the car in front of us was being an idiot — I was frustrated so I honked my horn, and the passenger got out. Very calmly, the passenger said, “I understand why you might be frustrated” and explained the situation. It was still really annoying, but Rachelle and I were ULTA impressed with how calmly this man handled my road rage.  I would love to take some more life lessons from him….and I mean that.



Getting along well in Wellington


When we finally made it to Wellington, we headed to a museum with trippy, indigenous art including paint drips on the wall. After, we drove along the coast, ate a chocolate fish that was more chocolate than fish, and went to Carlucci land, which was just a place full of rust, junk, and miniature golf.






Art + Rust = Golf


That night, we wanted to find a cool spot for the full super moon, so we found some Couchsurfers to hang out with.  It was interesting but, unfortunately, where we wound up, there was a tree, fence, and clouds in our way.  We’d seen it partly full last night though, so it wasn’t too much of a tragedy.


Pretty SUPER


Bonus reason it also wasn’t a tragedy:  We had fun hanging out with our very kind and very local Couchsurfers (Hana, Matt, Danika, Brianna, and Aidan). Everyone hugged us when we got there (and when we left, we’d tried to visit one of the girls at BP, where she worked, but she wasn’t there that day).



Hanging with our new friends under a Super Moon.


We all shared some drinks, talked about the Super Moon, and participated in a bit of culture exchange. Matt also mentioned that festival I had talked about earlier — the one with the first sunrise in the world.  It’s called Gisbourne.  At this festival, apparently, they play R&B, and usually about 30,000 people attend. Right, so, apparently I didn’t react properly when Matt first told me the numbers so I had to redo it……30,000!!  That VERY BIG (for NZ). WOW!!!!! 

Rachelle and I had a great time, and thanks to her bragging, I even got to chat in Jamaican Patois.  We told the Couchsurfers how much we loved their country– “you have volcanoes, forests, mountains, oceans… What’s not to love?!”
Hana responded with, “Yeah, we have everything but nightlife.” Touche.

This group then taught us the correct NZ response to “How many drinks did you have?”
Proper answer: “Just a quiet one in town.”

Towards the end of the night, I received a compliment that I didn’t know I wanted. Matt told me that his best friend’s name was Sam.  Goodness do I love the words best friend.  TRIGGERED! 

After spending the evening with our hosts, Rachelle and I settled into bach ready for a good night’s sleep under the gorgeous super moon, which we couldn’t see completely, but which we knew was there, so it was awesome just the same.

Here’s to a quiet one in town,

8. Doomed in Tongariro

19 Feb

Rachelle and I woke up – on purpose – at 4:30AM (much to the chagrin of Rachelle’s 8:54AM alarm)…. and feeling like we didn’t have food poisoning!!!!  In fact, we felt great (thanks DoC!).  So, we packed up our stuff, and dropped bach off in order to catch a shuttle to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

I had seriously considered hitchhiking (à la Louis) to the starting point, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t. Rae and I added on our own, bonus hike, and I couldn’t imagine how much longer the day would’ve been with the extra woes (and joys) that come with hitching. 



So thorough that we planned exactly where our shoes would be at 6:10AM


We stepped off the shuttle and happily realized… we were going to have absolutely gorgeous weather all.day.long.


The beginning of it all.



Early morning chill with purple mountain flowers.



A view to start off our day.



The sun trying to catch up with us



The sun definitely catching up with us.


A couple of hours into the hike, Rachelle’s alarm, like clockwork, went off at 8:54am.  Where where you at 8:54AM on February 19th?

At first, we started on the path with lots of people — it was too crowded, so we tried to duck off onto every side path but their were still people were everywhere.  Scott would have hated this place.

Soon, we made it to Soda Springs.


To clarify, there was no soda to be found.



Warning! Are they sure they didn’t mean ‘Warming!” ?


And then, something magical happened.  While on the trail… we were beckoned to the dark side like Frodo to Mordor.  Mt. Doom was calling our names.


“Rachel!!” – Mt. Doom



“Sammi!” — Mt. Doom



We couldn’t ignore the mountain, because as John Muir once suggested — when the mountains call you must go. So we decided to walk up to the base of Mt. Doom just to see if it was possible.  We had heard that people used to hike up there but now it was off limits.


Just a little farther….


Mt. Doom pulls you in.



…Until you find yourself heading towards the top.



Gorgeous view — both the girl and the mountain


We decided to should just outright climb the mountain. We literally had to dig our heels into Mt. Doom; it was 100 percent rock scree, falling out from underneath us, which was a bit unexpected because the beginning was deceitfully easy. It was one of the scariest mountains I’ve ever climbed, and the ground was volcanically hot, which made it even scarier. We passed literal steaming vents on the ground we were walking on.  I guess it’s why they call it Mt. Doom. 

We played a game to distract ourselves. It was called “What the BLEEP would we do if this (clearly active) volcano erupted.” It was a short game because we both came up with the same answer: Die.



The Depths of Doom– 2,291 meters tall (7,516 feet)


Despite the adversities, Rachel and I plugged away, making prockgress (hehe. Get it?). 


The brink of doom sure looks good…



On top of DOOM



The smile you (still) have when you haven’t realized you have to climb back down yet


At the top, Rachelle and I counted our lucky stars: We’d survived…and we’d packed some of the best hard boiled egg I’ve ever had.


Hard boiled eggs, cooked in natural hot springs, taste better when you were just living in fear.



Hiker babe.


Up at the top, while eating our hard boiled eggs, we made a few friends right when we needed them. Because. Well. we were about to have to hike back down…and that was going to be even scarier than going up.  (Sidenote: Rachel, remember when we met that 70-year-old man at the top, and we were incredulous.)

On the way down, our new friends motivated us down for a little bit, past the scariest parts, but then, they left us behind. And I didn’t blame them! We were butt-surfing cautiously, to the point of having to stop (frequently) to empty our underwear.


While butt-crawling down (and thanking our morning selves for dropping the car off at the end of this trail so we wouldn’t have to wait for the shuttle.  We were on our own time.), we watched in awe as thrillseekers (or lunatics) literally ran down the mountain.

We finally made it down! Our detour had taken us 3 hours and 20 minutes.  We sat for a few more, emptied the remaining rocks from our shoes, socks, and underwear, and washed our feet with baby wipes to celebrate our major feat (or feet).


We practiced gratitude once again. We thanked the universe for being back on solid ground and NOT on volcanic rock scree (a gratitude we did not realize we were going to be professing when we woke up that morning).  The bright side (besides having this amazing experience with my road-dog) was that the rest of our Tongariro hike was easier. Much easier. (Except for those last 6 kilometers, which were just straight downhill, rough on the knees, and not super scenic.) We were SO thankful we’d started so early in the morning, that I didn’t hitchhike, that our car was waiting for us, that the weather was spectacular, and since we’d taken a detour, that we’d to avoided the huge crowd from earlier that day.  New Zealand (and Tongariro) for the WIN.



Proud of us!



Red Crater (above) and Emerald Lakes (below)



12 hours of hiking, most definitely worth it



Celebrating the hike with another baby wipe! (we wanted to wash off in the water but we weren’t allowed because it’s sacred)



Active volcano and steaming vents: We like living on the edge (of volcanic activity)


On the way back down, I’d met a math teacher who was carrying his student’s books. They were on a class trip and one of the students misunderstood what she was supposed to bring. I shuddered at the thought of carrying books on this hike.  After Mt. Doom, though, Rachelle and I were descent advocates and ew showed people how to bury their feet into the scree, books and all.


Stunning, stunning, stunning



And Emerald Pool, quite deserving of that name.



Last view of Mt. Doom before our tough decent.


After soaking up the last of the gorgeous views, we headed back down. The ground was hard on our joints, so to distract ourselves from the pain, Rachelle and I talked about how well we were going to sleep that night and mused “we even have extra daylight to find a free car lot to sleep in”.



Doom’s end.



At the end, Rachel kept saying, “its around the corner I promise. I’m saying that more for me. :)”



On the road practicing #GRATITUDE


Finally, to the car, we felt Triumphant! Tired! and SOOO thankful!  We enjoyed the lovely sunset as we drove to find our sleeping place for the night.

I’m forever grateful that I have a friend whom I can venture with to Doom and back.
Returning from the dark side,