Food is a critical part of travel for me. When I go someplace, I want to know, what is the canonical flavor I should be trying? I have visited New York City over a dozen times over the past twenty years and each trip has had a food element that stuck in my memory.
The first time it was 1995 and I was twelve, traveling with my father and sisters. I was overwhelmed. The city felt big, dirty, loud, scary, and unfamiliar. Our hosts Mario and Judy fed us girls New York bagels for the first time and whipped cream cheese, which rocked my world. A planetarium show at the Museum of Natural History narrated by Tom Hanks simulated the explosion of the sun and destruction of all earth life, scaring me so much I walked out and huddled in the gift shop reading comic books until it was over. We saw Cats on Broadway, also a little terrifying. We went to church on Sunday at a Baptist church in Harlem. The gospel music so different from my familiar Episcopal hymn repertoire. My little sister Jill lost a tooth in the middle of the service and was fussed over by a cluster of very maternal big black women. I felt so very out of place the entire morning. Afterward we brunched on soul food at Sylvia’s, an experience I’m sure I would insanely dig now, but back then I didn’t know how to deal with such new flavors and atmosphere.
Our hostess Judy was emphatic that we must try *the best* butter cookies in New York; I think they were flakey little mini palmiers. She drove us into the city (we were staying across the river in Summit, NJ) to pick them up from the one particular bakery she loved. I remember my wave of terror as she plowed through New York City traffic and did a u-turn in the middle of a busy intersection, all of us crammed in the back seat, to pull up outside the bakery and dash inside to pick up our special order. She returned triumphant with a big white cardboard cake box filled with delicate butter cookies, more than we could ever dream to eat.
Subsequent trips have had their moments as well. On my second trip, a spring break retreat in 2002 during my first year at Wellesley to my roommate Wendy’s home on Long Island, she and I day tripped into the city for a visit to the Museum of Natural History. For dinner, we were surrounded by bad options and I acquiesced to her hunger so ate at her choice: Uno’s. I went along with the whims of my hostess peaceably but (sorry, Wendy, throwing you under the bus here!) thought “I did not come to New York to eat at Uno’s!! I can eat Uno’s back in Boston, and even then don’t really want to…”. I’m pretty sure we had mediocre Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I vowed never again.
|See on of these? Order a cappuccino.
Image via http://www.afranko.net/
I fell in love with New York on my third trip in the summer of 2002. It helped that I was already feeling blissful, traveling with a hunky boy I was head over heels for. We stayed in midtown near Times Square, arriving to our hotel after a mad dash through the rain from Penn Station, laughing and splashing wildly through puddles as we ran down the street on a warm summer night. We had a basic uninspired Italian pasta dinner that first night but finished with the best cappuccino ever per his advice. To this day, whenever I see a Brevetti Gaggia cappuccino machine–burnished bronze crowned by a golden eagle–I cannot resist.
The New York visits kept coming throughout my remaining college years and thereafter. Kati rolls at 4am guarded by a bouncer. Sim teaching me her back-in-the-day drink progression from cosmos to a Bailey’s nightcap. 😉 Instructions from a Jersey Shore boy on how to properly fold pizza (which I still never do) and keys to ordering a good sub sandwich (changed my life and I still follow; among other points, as sandwiches are serious business no joke, never forget to ask for salt pepper oil and vinegar). Chocolate truffles in Brooklyn. Hangover dim sum brunch in Chinatown after the funnest wedding ever. Fried pickles in Long Island City. Bagels with scallion cream cheese everywhere. The buttery smell of caramelized onions and sickly-sweet honey roasted nuts that permeate the streets. On one of these trips I made the fatefully brilliant decision to try a bialy, my now breakfast/snack bread of choice. Mmm…
This New York trip shall be no different. In fact, it shall be more epic of a food adventure than before! Stay tuned.
The last two weeks in San Francisco have had truly brilliant elements of fun. Between Nick’s visit, staying with super generous and welcoming friends (Sim, GT, Hil, Austin, Maggie, Aaron, Ben–love and gratitude to you all!), Wellesley min-reunions, birthday parties, and other socializing it’s been wonderful to reconnect with the people here that I love. xoxo ❤
But the biggest reason for me being in San Francisco right now is to move out. I’ve spent days sorting and purging the contents of my storage locker. It contains nearly everything I own and I need to edit it down at least 70% so I can drive the stuff that really matters up to Seattle to store there. I’ve squeezed some money out of selling books/household items (hit my sales target!) and made disappointingly very little money via used clothing (such a waste of time to even try). Each time I make a sale, I think “this will buy me x beers in Australia!”. It’s exhausting, but I try to stay optimistic because I have so few other ways to make money. The other day, after a few hours of storage work, I plunked myself down and thought “whew, what is this horrific feeling? Oh my god, I’m fatigued because I’ve working! This sucks…”
San Francisco has been my home, but it’s time to get the hell out.
|My work cut out for me.|
The 5+ months I spent traveling in Central America have been some of the most rewarding of my life. When I left San Francisco in February, I headed off on my own for the first time in a very long time. (Anyone who is considering a trip for any reason, I must say GO as soon and for as long as possible!) Since then, I have grown, explored, and had the adventure of a lifetime. The experience changed me–I feel more myself and am addicted to traveling. Though my travels in Central America have ended, I am still moving. I laughed when people said I may not come back, but now I believe my adventure is far from over.
Traveling removes the glut of minutia that can so easily take over a life. How much energy do you spend on the little things that don’t really matter? There’s an intensity to letting things go. What will fill the silence? On this trip, my energy turned towards making new friends, falling in love with myself and others, and being in tune with the amazing natural world around me. I paid far more attention to the sunrise, sunset, and the night sky than in my “normal” life. The moon became a force of rhythm in my life; the night of the May full moon in Utila I was called/drawn/pulled from bed to the lagoon boardwalk three times during the night to howl at the sky. My dreams took on a realism partway through the trip that continues to haunt my nights.
Also powerful has been my attraction to and connection with water. First falling in love with cenotes in the Yucatan, to the gorgeous shores of Lake Atitlan, to the thrill of Semuc Champey, to learning to dive in Caye Caulker, to embracing diver culture in Utila, to the fourth of July on Lake Nicaragua, to returning to Belize and Mexico to dive Blue Hole in Lighthouse Reef and the cenotes that sparked my passion for diving. Diving in particular filled my days with learning, adventure, peace, friendship, and fun. It has been a surprise joy to discover a entirely new side of the world and community of kindred explorers.
Though “solo” I’ve been far from alone. The most meaningful and hopefully lasting part of my trip have been the people I have met along the way. My fellow travelers are crazy kick ass fantastic people I feel so lucky to have met. You all made this an awesome trip where I’ve adventured, grown, and had so much freakin’ fun! I feel fortunate to have connected with so many truly cool people and experienced fantastical moments with them along the way. I cannot thank you enough for the mark each of you has made on my journey. I hope to cross paths again elsewhere in the world, another time another place. 🙂
Yours with gratitude, friendship, and love,
I’m a completely different traveler than I was five months ago. Way back when, I was just starting off, still getting my travel legs, and recovering from splitting up with Ben. I was more tentative. I did a lot of standard touristy things (which was fine, and I would do most again) and stayed close to home in the hostels. I was just getting used to making friends on the road. Now I’m just a few weeks from returning to the states, am beginning to think about endings and life after Central America, am not traveling solo anymore, and do the more serious adventure travel stuff like cavern diving.
|Revisiting Calavera cenote. Woot!! ❤|
Back the first time round, I had a pack full of clothes I hated because I didn’t want to bring anything I might loose; I picked up my first bikini in Tulum round one and now have a wardrobe of dresses with me. I know better where the cheap tacos are, how to find the good ice cream and public places to hang, that you need to go around the corner to rent the cheap bikes, and how to negotiate the entrance fee down at a cenote.
|Rich’s favorite taco stand, where they cost 7 pesos ($0.55) and have heaps of excellent toppings.|
|Mayan calendar sculpture in Tulum Parque Central. How did I miss this the first time??|
|Street food in Parque Central.|
|50 peso beachrider bikes from Casa del Sol, cenote bound with a muy bueno stick.|
|Restaurant dinner of garlic grilled fish and ceviche. Tasty, but bang for the buck tacos are the way to go!!|
With one more month left in Central America and having reached my southern-most destination, it was time to turn around and head north towards my exit in Cancun. I would be revisiting Belize and Mexico to meet up with friends I had met along the way and dive Lighthouse Reef in Belize and cenotes in Mexico.
First stop: Long Caye in Belize to visit some lovely people I met three months ago in Caye Caulker who run a guest house out in the Lighthouse Reef that I would describe as a diving retreat. Long Caye is a small island with a permanent population of only about twenty people and is without regular transport; there was one boat I *must* make if I wanted to make it there. My deadline was set: Wednesday at 2pm I had to be on a dock in Belize City. To get there from Granada, Nicaragua would be a three-day travel blitz through five countries; I was under no illusions that I would have time for sight seeing along the way. It was another epic journey, this time executed on my own without a buddy, and surprisingly enjoyable despite the serial early mornings.
|Three days, five countries, over 700 miles via bus, plane, taxi, and boat.|
My original plan was to fly directly from Managua, Nicaragua to Belize City, Belize. But this plan was thwarted by a malfunctioning airline website resulting in a sudden drastic price increase. I decided to go by land instead, purchased a bus ticket, but then–unconfident with the Guatemalan bus system’s ability to get me from Guatemala City to Belize City in under 24 hours–I opted to shill out some extra cash for a short plane flight to insure I reached my destination on time. More expensive, but hey, it worked.
Thus it began:
- 3:30 am: Woke after a fitful sleep; I was up every hour because I don’t have a reliable alarm clock and did not trust the hostel night watchman to wake me at the appropriate time. My taxi reservation had been lost just hours before and there was doubt whether or not it would actually arrive. Had more bizarre lucid dreams–a habit of mine on this trip–which weren’t helped by a dormmate with a strong stutter who approached my top bunk in the middle of the night and started talking to me. (He was already on my bad side: earlier that evening when I lost my bus ticket and was frantically going through my stuff, he lectured me on not getting stressed out, saying all the things a stressed out person does NOT want to hear. I’m sure he meant well, but good god his attempt at late-night conversation was disorienting!)
- 3:45 am: Taxi did arrive on time (yay!) and drove me one hour to Managua, Nicaragua.
- 5:30 am: Caught my TICA bus from Managua to Guatemala City. This bus ride would take two days. TICA bus is the way to travel; they execute travel so smoothly. With comfortable space and provisions, the ride was pleasant. I alternated between sleeping, reading/writing, and enjoying the view of the countryside. I had two seats to myself, my travel pillow, blanket, loungey clothes, snacks, and a huge stack of books mostly procured from Lucha Libro in Granada, including:
- For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway
- Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris
- One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez
- Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle
- A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle
- Pride and Prejudice, Austin
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin
- The Trial and Death of Socrates, Plato
- I, Claudius, Graves
- Common Sense, Paine
|Oh, TICA bus, you need some english speaking proof-readers…|
- Over the next twelve hours on the bus, we left Nicaragua, crossed into Honduras, then into El Salvador. I had a whole different emotional reaction to travel this trip. The first times I entered both Guatemala and Honduras I felt an element of fear. I didn’t know what it would be like and had images of potential danger dancing in my head. This time, I felt safe on the TICA bus (they know how to seamlessly do a border crossing) and nostalgic for my time already spent in Honduras. I was happy to return, even just passing through for a short period. El Salvador was new, but I still felt secure; I know how to make these transits now.
- 2:00 pm: Rest stop. Discovered El Salvador uses US dollars as their primary currency. Sweet! This makes things easier: instead of different currencies here and there, I can use USD the whole way to Belize!
- 6:00 pm: Arrived in San Salvador, El Salvador. Driving through downtown, I was surprised how lame San Salvador is; it reminded me of San Pedro Sula in that it is FILLED with shiny plastic American chain fast food (what I hesitate to call) restaurants. Nothing special whatsoever that I saw. No charm, all neon.
- 8:00 pm: I had designs for a papusa dinner, but those went out the window fast with a late night arrival in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Instead, after some internet time sorting out logistics for the following day, I ended up eating pizza and drinking cool red wine out of a champagne flute at an over-air conditioned Italian restaurant just across the street from my hostel.
- 4:15 am: Awoke after another night of dreaming people were in my empty dorm talking to me. (WTF crazy brain? Just let me sleep already!!) Took a taxi to the TICA bus station for leg number two.
- 6:00 am: Caught the TICA bus to Guatemala City. Still had two seats to myself, so comfyness continued. Read a little, slept LOTS.
- 10:00 am: Crossed the border into Guatemala and found papusas! Just a few cents apiece, I got myself a small plate for second breakfast.
|Papusas in Guatemala, just over the border.|
- I was immediately happy to be back in Guatemala. On my first run through back in April, I didn’t fully appreciate the vibrancy of the culture and people. Instead of plastic lawn ornaments like in El Salvador, bunches of flowers are sold on the side of the highway. The landscape feels lush and green and friendly. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.
- 12:30 pm: Arrived in Guatemala City and immediately took a taxi to my hostel. I actually *liked* driving through Guatemala City, which you are not supposed to as it is notoriously dangerous and charmless. Even though most tienda business is conducted behind iron grates for safety, that Guatemalan flare was still there. I picked up four bottles of Quetzalteca, my favorite cheap Guatemalan spirit, then hunkered in at the hostel for the night, eating a dinner of pan fried english muffins with peanut butter and bananas.
|That didn’t last long…|
- 4:30 am: Woke early once more and took a shuttle to the airport, arriving the recommended 1.5 hours before departure. I was the first person at the minuscule domestic terminal, it took two seconds to check me in, and then I slept on a bench for an hour and twenty minutes. Ugh. There is nothing I hate more than getting to the airport way too early. Don’t get me wrong, I never arrive late enough to miss flights, but being there so early is an unnecessary waste of time that drives me nuts.
- 6:30 am: On a backdrop of beautiful Guatemalan volcanoes and rolling hills, finally departed on TAG flight to Flores, Guatemala.
- 7:15 am: Arrived in Flores. During customs inspection discover that my stuffed-to-the-max backpack had busted open at the seams in three places. D’oh! Luckily my rain cover kept things mostly in place for the rest of this trip. I was super amused to see the Belikin beer ad printed on the back of my Tropic Air boarding pass. Can’t wait to get me a bottle of stout!
- 9:00 am: Departed on Tropic Air flight to Belize City. It was a teeny tiny propeller plane with room only for six passengers. Being the only single, they asked if I wanted to sit up front in the copilot’s spot. Um, how about yes absolutely?!
- 9:45 am: Landed at Belize City airport, gathered my luggage, and went out to the curb to find a transfer to downtown. All taxis charged $25–outrageous!! I figured there must be a better way, but apparently no buses go to the airport (really? I still find this hard to believe…) I did discover a shuttle to the Princess Hotel, where my boat was departing from. I hitched a ride. The driver told me he is waiting for another flight and we will leave in 10-15 minutes.
- 11:30 am: Shuttle FINALLY leaves the airport after over an hour of collecting 7 other people on 3 different flights. All but the last passengers were peeved.
- 11:45 am: Arrived in Belize City proper. Acquired stewed pork plate for lunch, patching material for imminent backpack repair, and special request items for peeps on Long Caye. Searched for a Belikin singlet that did NOT say “You better Belize it!” on the back. Was unsuccessful.
- 1:00 pm: Stormy weather hit. The seas looked rough and you could not see past the edge of dock. Looking out at the water made me think about how two weeks ago some people I knew got lost at sea in Honduras between Roatan and Utila. They were miraculously found after four day adrift, but after hearing that story I was a smidge leery of boat travel, even though my situation and theirs was absolutely nothing alike. I was in the good hands of capable crew who knew the conditions and area.
- 2:00 pm: The weather leveled off, rain mostly subsided, and the small uncovered boat left on schedule. I huddled in the back, sharing a giant yellow raincoat with another guest as we road into a light rain. After just a few minutes, the rain stopped and the ride became much more pleasant. We crossed the open blue, the mangroves of Turneffe Atoll, and the last leg of ocean until we entered Lighthouse Reef.
- 4:00 pm: I arrived on Long Caye, safe and sound and on schedule! I happily took a welcome coconut caipirinha from my hostess Ruth. An excellent beginning to a week of chilling out.
|Boston, in my mind the heart and soul of the fourth of July. Photo credit scullingfool.|
I am a lover of holidays and pageantry, things the fourth of July does in spades. It is one of my very favorite holidays. Growing up, it was a time for the whole neighborhood to come together in the street just outside my house and set off fireworks together. This year the fourth was a travel day from Ometepe to Granada and the whole time I was dreaming of being back in Boston, while searching for festivities here. When I lived in Boston, I adored the incredible bang-out spectacle put on along the Charles River. Can any other place really rival the Bostonian spirit on the fourth? I miss the crackling energy and excitement of the crowds, big band music being played by the Boston Pops, the visual explosions of a mad fireworks show over the Charles, and over-the-top Americana and patriotism. America–and I say this with complete sincerity on the fourth–FUCK YEAH.
Back at our hostel in Granada, we started the evening out fairly normally, gathering in the hostel common room eating guacamole and drinking Flor de Caña seven-year rum. Nick fancied things up for the occasion with smoothies instead of the usual rum and (imho) crap Coke.
|What says “America” more than mango-banana-rum liquados? I switched to beer later. 😛|
|Captain Social holding court.|
After a while of usual raucousness, the Americans in the group started to get restless. The table split based on nationality and we rocked out. Immediately, I found my partner in crime: Trent, an amazing guy from Utah who it turns out I have so much in common it is freaky, or, as he put it, awesome. He was also feeling the need to celebrate and do something quintessentially American. We both missed the celebrations happening at home. One tradition of his is to read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution every year on the fourth, which I loved and may need to add to my life. He had actually spent a good chunk of the day searching for fireworks but unfortunately to no end. The two of us broke away from the crowd (really people, ladies night shots at some bar? I sooo need better festivities than that on the fourth!!) and headed to Parque Central for late night hot dogs and to brainstorm some Americana mischief. What could we do?
Inspiration struck: find some tea and dump it in a body of water. Concrete, simple, silly, and perfectly on theme. The Bostonian in me loved it. Initially I was thinking as a purist and assumed we could track down some real-ish tea in a teabag. But, after three tries, the first tea we came across was premade sweetened Nescafe iced tea. It was too hilarious to pass up. We got some in a to-go plastic cup with a straw and slice of lime. Just like Paul Revere used to make.
Now for the body of water. We noted a few dingy half-filled fountains as backups, but headed due west towards Lake Nicaragua. Along the walk, Trent started drinking our prop. 😛 I hadn’t been to the promenade along the lake shore yet, and in fact didn’t even know it existed. Turns out it was the perfect spot. We hopped the parapet and trudged through the marshy grass to the water’s edge.
At 11:30 p.m., just in time for it to still be the fourth of July, we ceremoniously poured our cup of iced tea into Lake Nicaragua while singing “America the Beautiful”, whose lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, Wellesley class of 1884. I threw in a loud chorus of “SISTERhood” as is Wellesley tradition. After we finished our song, Trent chucked in the lime round as well, just for good measure. It was utterly delightful. I was in stitches.
|Lake Nicaragua shore in daylight.|
|Who knew this combo plus a couple of Toña litros would be quite so awesome?|
On this trip I have made transits with people and I have spent extended periods of time in one place with people, but rarely have I actually traveled with anyone. But when a friend from Guatemala–Nick–caught up with me in Utila, traveling with him to Nicaragua was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Hell, I desperately needed rescuing to get me off that freakin’ rock! He is a seasoned traveler and someone I wanted to travel with since we met (for the second time) in Lanquin three months ago. After a few days hanging in Utila, we set out for Nicaragua together.
It has been quite different from being on my own. We check in often, communicate well, and take care of each other. I have adapted to his structured travel style readily; it reminds me of the careful planning of M@M so is second nature and easy to slip into. We have en route strategy sessions to ensure we obtain the first taxi or snag the best accommodation or have contingency plans, just in case. Hand signals and lip reading often come into play. There is always a tag team system already in place when we disembark anywhere on who will be on bag duty or find food or stall the taxi driver. We problem solve well together, have remarkably similar tastes and instincts, and usually get what we want. We also get on swimmingly, which is more than a bonus.
It has been an exercise in balance for me: a chance to practice moderating my tendency to overly compromise, to work well as a team player but maintain my independence, and make sure I still get what I want out of my time. Luckily, Nick is an experienced traveler, used to the buddy system, but once logistics are settled he is very comfortable branching out. So if he wants to climb a volcano or go out at night, but I would rather read a book or watch the Wimbledon semis, it’s all good. As long as we get the broad sketch of where we are in tune, the details always work out.
On the fourth of July we checked into a new hostel outside Granada, but it didn’t feel right. So after two hours there we powwowed, decided to peace out, and headed for Granada proper. We found a pretty amazing hostel and lots of company to enjoy the holiday with. At one point, Nick was presiding over an entire table-full of revelers, with me mirroring him at the other end. From across the table he called to me, “Coming here? Best decision ever!” High fives ensued. Yeah, we only make good decisions. Make that GREAT decisions. Booyah.
The past week has been a new and positive experience for me. Add more lessons learned to my path of growth on this trip. We’ve also become better friends, which makes me oh so happy. Thank you, Nick, my awesome travel buddy!
|Team photo! Kicking it in red white and blue on the 4th of July. Heart the Aussie support!|
Source: Google Images
I have been blitzing through Nicaragua, three destinations in one week. It really feels like I have not given it the attention it deserves. Almost everyone I have met along this trip who is traveling south-to-north has fallen in love with Nicaragua. I have yet to feel the love. It is cheap, and that’s great, but show me something special. The rainy season and time pressures calling me elsewhere have not helped focus my attention.
Well, one super awesome thing is that Flor de Caña rum–the typical alcohol in this part of Central America–is served in the seven-year variety standard at all bars, instead of four-year like in Guatemala.
Leon went by fast, and was relatively quiet time for me detoxing from Utila. I had a good time, but not great and did not connect with the city. Ometepe, an island of two volcanoes rising out of Lake Nicaragua, also did not enchant me. I spent two nights there, met some cool people, ate in a really special cafe called Cafe Campestre that I would swoon over not only here but also back in SF, but did a poor job of exploring. I took remarkably few pictures. I was just plain ready to move on.
|The approach to Ometepe, isle of the two volcanoes.|
|Hummus lunch at Cafe Campestre, delish.|
My travel buddy Nick and I left Ometepe one night early in favor of Granada. We took the ferry across the lake then ended up hiring a taxi to drive us all the way to the city. En route, we stopped at a gas station and I found the most delicious cups of fish soup being sold out of the back of a car on the street for forty cents. Who’d have thought! Continuing on, we intended on staying at a treehouse hostel just outside the city, but logistics and our changing desires made us pick our bags back up and move to Granada proper, where I will spend my last four nights in Nicaragua. Already my initial impression of Granada is fantastic. I cannot wait to spend some real time here and delve into this city. I know for a fact it will be my favorite place in Nicaragua by far.
|Sneak peak of Granada from the hostel roof top…|
I am being called elsewhere. I cannot wait to be back in Belize and Mexico. So much adventure, glorious diving, and fantastic people are waiting for me there. Just a few more days now… I’m sorry Nicaragua, you got the short end of the stick this trip. But I still plan to pump a good deal of money into your economy over the next four days on clothing, street food, and rum. It’s going to be a good time.