Travel Untangled: Memphis, Tennessee

A few months ago, I had some vacation days to burn and some summer to enjoy. I asked my family to join me on a road trip to Memphis. 

We could spend time with my Uncle Sonny, a retired military vet who spent many years working in the Department of Corrections. He likes structure and routine but loves when family come to visit and disrupt all that. We had a great time. We could also…

.. See one of my fave former college professors and let her meet the cuteness that is my nephew. Then we could for sure…

 

…enjoy some sights and scenes of Tennessee. On our trip, we even took a few minutes to marvel at the mighty Mississippi River which we crossed at several points. We will definitely be back though, we didn’t make it to Beale street and some of the music tours we wanted because of several crazy, stormy weather days. 

One of the places we visited that I always wanted to check out was The Lorraine Motel. This is the location where civil rights activist and leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was shot. 

In addition to a memorial for Dr. King, there is also a Civil Rights Museum taking visitors through the history and journey of blacks arriving enslaved, enduring slavery and the on-going civil rights movement, to present-day, of African-Americans in America. A powerful mixture of triumphs and setbacks, the memories cascade even today since many of us or our parents and theirs are alive and saw the up and down times throughout history. We don’t have to look far however since America still isn’t very far on the spectrum of, “all men are created equal.”

Each room in the museum takes on a different piece of history. It’s always emotional for me, but I held myself together. That is, until I walked into a room with a song playing over the loud speaker and a video with lyrics on a giant screen. They were singing, “We Shall Overcome”….and I lost it. A ball of tears. I guess the outpouring of feeling overwhelmed me. Each word as powerful and relevant TODAY as decades prior.

It was quite an experience and I would recommend you take a visit to the Lorraine Motel someday. 

No matter who you are, where you are from, how you were raised or whatever else, we can teach ourselves (our kids, spouses, friends, neighbors, politicians, families, coworkers, etc) to be/do better because we know better, to really love people – all people, to show kindness and humility in our humanity. We can absolutely change the world. 

“I may not get there with you but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land” -Dr. King

Final Civil Rights Museum room has quotes from many world leaders, including President Barack Obama

Hope you enjoyed the recap of my trip to Memphis! That place is full of history, music, great food, good fun and I can’t wait to be back.

Travel Untangled: Starved Rock State Park

Illinois is an interesting state. Most people who don’t live here know of Chicago, maybe Springfield then the rest fades into oblivion. Well, I suppose some who do live here also think that way. 

Over the weekend I got to visit a natural treasure of the state that I would recommend to residents and visitors alike: Starved Rock State Park.

Council Overhang

Starved Rock is a little less than a 2 hour drive from Chicago…located in Oglesby, Illinois. On almost 3000 acres of land include miles of hiking trails, canyons and waterfalls…something for all ages. 

The local towns to Starved Rock are the size that city-people like me call “charming.” On a shuttle tour, we learned the grain silos in town are considered the skyscrapers. Imagine my surprise. 

Random grain silos from Google lol
Sears Tower photo taken by me Monday during Chicago River Architectural Boat Tour

I had the best, most relaxing experience during my visit to Starved Rock. 

We hiked through a few canyons, saw some beautiful waterfalls flowing into hidden dips and valleys from the Illinois River and learned of the history of Starved Rock, named for a rather tragic 1760’s incident in Native American history. 

Illinois Waterway Visitor Center

This family trip was also my nephew Malik’s first big adventure. In fact, our group ranged in age from 2 months to 60+ and we all enjoyed every minute. 

The park is free to enter and has free parking. They offer guided hikes, guided trolley tours or people can go explore on their own. They said on a busy holiday, they can get 400,000 visitors. They have a hotel and cabins on site for booking. They also have campgrounds for anyone interested in roughing it for a night or two under the stars. There are restaurants, live music at The Lodge and during our stay, we saw two weddings get hosted. 

I’m telling you, this place has so much to offer. 

Here are some more photos from our trip. Visit Starved Rock! You won’t be disappointed. 

Me & Dad with one of our guides
Me in Ottawa Canyon
Mom & Dad enjoying the view of the canal

Above is a victory photo.  My mom has been through several health things in the last few years including hip replacement surgery in February on Valentine’s Day. She was unsure if she could handle the hiking and so were we but she did it! This particular canyon and hike through Ottawa was a lot of climbing up and down steep steps, taking extra care in slippery and muddy areas, stepping on jagged rocks to cross water in our paths and she friggin (I wanted to use a stronger word here but I know mom will read this lol) rocked it ALL!!! I’m so proud, as we all were. This was a major accomplishment on the journey and such an awesome photo to take!

Loved ones
Sister & Nephew
Me posing with my waterfall friend

Until next time! 

Reflections: From Chicago to Central America…My Journey Abroad

In 2009 during college, I lived in Central America for four months…Nicaragua to be exact, a beautiful country nestled between Honduras and Costa Rica. 

When I first landed was immediately overwhelmed by the decision I made. I didn’t know the language, missed my family and had no clue what to expect from the adventure to come. 

Connecting to people back home wasn’t nearly as easy as you’d expect, often relying on unreliable internet connections for Skype video chats or international phone calls. My boyfriend being the amazing person he is, helped to make hundreds of miles in distance feel like down the street whenever we did speak. 

My first moment of relief came a few days in after I met my host family. 

We pulled up to their home and called ‘Buenas’ inside the front gate. Maria and Alex appeared at the door and I immediately felt a wave of peace and calm over me. It was incredible and they took care of me like my own parents would over the following months that I lived there.

We struggled communicating at first with the language barrier but eventually I learned more Spanish and they got comfortable using the English words they knew. We made it work. 

Most mornings in my Nica home, I didn’t need an alarm for the neighborhood roosters were a standing substitute. We also had street vendors daily walking past our house at the sight of dawn selling fruits and vegetables. I can still hear the lady yelling AGUACATE over and over, hoping for customers to buy up her box of avocados. 

I was fortunate enough to have not just a loving host family but a friend from college lived there. Her family had settled not far from my barrio as missionaries. Having that family there was another sign that I was exactly where I should be and God would look out for me wherever I landed the world.  

I miss those days often now when I reflect back. It was a fun, challenging experience and a time of tremendous growth for me. 
Over that short time which felt like forever on days when I missed home, I really grew up. You learn so much about yourself when you travel, especially alone. 

We trekked between Nicaragua and Costa Rica – beautiful lands with beautiful people. I am grateful for the friends I knew and met along the way. 

Many Nica friends became like family and my own family and friends back home were incredibly supportive during my months away. Some days I simply missed home even when I no longer cared about the cushy comforts of living in the States. It was great to have good people near and far. In fact, my host Maria still rings me every now and then and we struggle through our broken shared languages haha. I got really good at Spanish in Nicaragua when it was everywhere I went. I needed it to survive really. I haven’t been as diligent since returning home though my goal one day is fluency.

I have been thinking about Nicaragua a lot lately as I feel my passport’s need to travel becoming restless again. I want to be moving around the world with my partner. I want us to visit new places and see new faces and soak in life in beautifully unexpected new ways. 

Me on top of a volcano

I overcame a lot of fear and doubt when I lived abroad. I did things I maybe thought I could never do. When I read over the very raw emotions I shared on a basic blog at the time, it is so clear I journeyed a long way physically, mentally and spiritually during those days away from the comforts of home. I am the better for it and it is a good reminder that no mountain is too big to climb. 

Just A Big Kid

My birthday week has been great fun. I did exactly what I set out to do which was have fun like a big kid. 

I partied hard in Orlando like the true kid I am and just had a blast with family and friends. 

Here are some photos from my 30th birthday week of celebrations. Other than having to deal with several delayed and canceled flights because of weather in Chicago, things were pretty smooth. Leaving 80 degree sunshine for a 30 degree snowstorm certainly put things into perspective. I’ve had about enough, Chicago! 

Resort Palm Trees always make vacations better

Medieval Times

Medieval Times

Universal Studios – Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios

Universal Studios – Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios – Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Universal Studios Macy’s Holiday Parade

Paint Nite Orlando

Paint Nite Orlando

Disney World

Visiting with family, being serenaded by that talented piano player

Wine Tasting Fun

Snow storm in Chicago


Thanks for checking out my blog. Have a great week!

Traveling in Trinidad: Top 10 things I learned in the Caribbean

For the last seven days, I enjoyed the sunshine, surf and sites of Trinidad. My new brother-in-law has family there and thus opened an interest in the opportunity to visit.

Of course I wanted to share all the things I experienced and learned. If you are unfamiliar with this country in the West Indies, hopefully this will help give you some insight as well as tips in case you should travel there yourself in the future.

Not only was I able to see and experience the country but saw the ‘greatest show on Earth’, Trinidad’s Carnival.

There are things we wish we knew beforehand and now I want to share those things with you so you can experience Trinidad to the fullest and possibly avoid some of the pitfalls we faced. There are also things so incredible that you just cannot miss.

The first night, we got in late, stood forever in the Customs line but eventually left the airport after a couple hours.

1. Exchange your Money to Trinidad Dollars (TTD) at the Trinidad Airport.

We thought we might try mainly using USD but we exchanged which was smart. Most places outside of the airport did not make it easy to figure out the conversion so it would be easy to lose money, paying far more than something is worth.

We wanted to convert our money before traveling but even the airport, major banks and international currency exchanges in our city did not have the money on hand. It had to be ordered and by the time we realized it would not be as easy as expected to find TTD at home, it was too late to order. The Port-of-Spain airport in Trinidad is a great place for you to take care of it.

We were fortunate enough to have local connections through my brother-in-law so the first night we went to a house party.

2. Be Weary of Wild Meat…

Unless you are used to it or are particularly adventurous. Some  Trinidadian ladies at the party described it to me as animals with tails that creep and crawl, like possum and iguanas. They were not fans. The men seemed to enjoy it. My boyfriend tasted it as said it tasted like curried jerk pork with a lot of bones. He really liked it. I however just could not do it.

I was really glad when later in the night, our party hosts fried us some fresh catfish. It was oh so delicious.

One major key we learned from the conversations that night:

3. Get off the Jet and Go Fete. Party NEVER stops

Mind you we went straight to a party after a full day of traveling. Little did I know that would be the motto for the entire trip.  Ultimately the endless party lead to me being sick over half the trip with my lack of rest and recoup time. Even while writing this, I am coughing and congested. Still worth it. The season of Carnival can start as early as Christmastime. Most people have been partying since early January when the fetes (parties) begin. There is a fete for every style.

We arrived at the tail end of the party season. After Carnival Monday and Tuesday are over, the party is done. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and the end of the carefree party lifestyle. People go back to work and get back to business. Carnival is the time for everyone to let loose and be free.

3. Maracas Beach is Far

Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. The roads twist and wind around dangerous curves up then down the sides of a mountain. Streets that look big enough for only one car can, with the right amount of creativity, fit four across. This fact was fascinating and terrifying wrapped in one.

Maracas is beautiful when you finally arrive though. Expect traffic if you go anytime during Carnival. Island beaches can be really stunning and Maracas is no exception. You look out at the mountains framing the scene.

Downsides were the waves at this beach are rough. It was very crowded and unfortunately full of trash after big groups vacated their spaces.  It cost $1 to use the toilet which sadly were not regularly cleaned by the staff collecting the funds.

Upsides are the beach never closes, unlike where I’m from when everyone gets kicked out before dawn or after dusk. You can also drink as you please without police harassment. Maracas is also a great beach for sun-bathing. There are plenty of palm trees for shade but if you enjoy sunshine like me, you will find more than enough. Be sure to lay on the bug spray though or the bugs will feast.

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4. If you Drink One Rum and Coke then Stop, you get a Headache

Every bartender’s advice: Keep going. I suggest Black Label Rum from Trinidad

5. Embrace the Break from the Hustle and Bustle

I’m a city girl. I like city life. When I spend time outside of Chicago I go back home and listen for the honking horns, see people everywhere having a great night out or drunkenly stumbling home.
But every city horse can stand a break.

I love to travel and go on vacation to take the regular breaks I require.

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6. If you do not have a car, take a Maxi

A maxi may sound like a taxi but operates more like a city bus. White passenger van with a colored stripe. The different color tells you what direction the maxi travels and the areas covered.

7. Play J’ouvert

J’ouvert begins 4am on Carnival Monday. You pick a band and walk with them. Although not really walk, more like do a West Indie march through town to the blaring Soca Music from your band’s speakers. There are typically 2 trailers. One with the music and one with the drinks and food. Oh yeah, it’s all inclusive. Plus you get a t-shirt and a drink mug.

Last but not least, this is not for the faint at heart. You need stamina for the walking and a great desire to get dirty because you will. Others who play J’ouvert, are armed with mud, paint, colored powder and whatever else makes a mess. The entire route, you are being covered as part of the celebration in the streets. Mine ended at 9am but there are others who finish at 10, 11 or even noon.

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8. Play Mas

Carnival Monday and Tuesday have full days of parades. There are 1000 bands that participate.  You can choose to be  a spectator or if you really want to, you can pay to be part of a band, get a costume and be in the parades for those two days. If you choose to participate in the masquerade or “play mas”, note it is a major commitment. You basically need to train like you would for a marathon. You will have fun but you are walking in a 2 day parade under the hot sun and being scored at 5 judging stations for your band to compete.

Wear comfy shoes no matter how cute you want to be. Use sunscreen all day, everyday. Stay hydrated and wine (dance) with all your body and soul until the very end.

The more you are willing to pay, the more perks you might have with the band you choose. I did not play mas this trip but I am now adding it to my bucket list. It was so fun to watch and dance from the sidelines. I want to be further in the mix next time. The costumes are immaculate and fancy. It is a great way to celebrate the culture and tradition of Carnival.

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9. More Phrases To Know:

Bake & Shark: Bake is a sandwich bread that reminds me of ciabatta. Lots of people will tell you try bake and shark which is a fried shark sandwich. It is actually pretty tasty. There are other bake sandwiches as well.

Good Night: This was interesting to me because I always use the phrase good night as a form of goodbye or something I say before lying down in bed. Good night here is used as a greeting for the evening. People say it when they enter the room instead of leave it.

Lime: Hang out or chill.

Savannah:  A park where events happen or sports are played. Any open field for activities can be a Savannah.

10. I loved it and You will Too

At the end, we stayed a few days past Carnival and toured the islands on a boat. Dramamine for motion sickness saved my life that day. We learned about the history and challenges of the country from our local connects. Now we have new friends and family. I developed a true interest in the Trinidadian people, their culture and country. They were so hospitable and loving towards us.

I was most fascinated that many of the same people who were shirtless or in fancy bikinis, losing all control in the streets on Tuesday by Wed and Thursday were back at work in long pants and cardigans, suits and ties like it had never happened at all.

That is all part of the beauty and mystery of Trinidad. Work hard, Play hard.

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Travel Diaries: The Vacay Mindset

In a few days, I will be fully emersed in the world and culture of Trinidad. I am starting to get so excited!

Naturally, during and post-trip, I will share great lessons, tips so look forward to that.

More and more I realize two of my favorite things are traveling and writing about it. I hope more doors open in the future and opportunities to do more of these two things that I love.

I spent a few hours today on YouTube learning about what to expect from the Caribbean island. I look forward to the traditional food, Carnival partying, hotter-than-Chicago weather and beauty everywhere from people to scenery.

Any opportunity to see the world and open up your mind and perspective, seems worth it to me. A trip to a new town near where you live or a new country across the world offers the same chance to evolve as a human being.

I cannot wait to share with you the experience. I hope it might inspire you to take mental and physical break from the day-to-day routine to just take a few days for yourself.

Travel is nice but a staycation is perfect too. Some weeks we just need to be kinder to ourselves and take time off to rest, relax, recoup and do what makes us feel joy. 

Actually my new motto is “I work to vacay.” I hope you will take that challenge as seriously as I do.

Talk to you soon from the West Indies!

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Wake Up and Live

It is a great week to give thanks. I am especially thankful for the holiday to spend with my loved ones. We decided to take a vacation for the holiday this year. More on that next week.

This year has been full of fun, adventure, challenge and change. I have taken on a lot of mottos this year. I have lots of resolutions. I have set and accomplished many goals. I have set and failed at others. All lessons learned with grace and an open mind.

Wake Up and Live is an important one. It is so valuable to be a person of action.  It is much better and far more rewarding to actively live this life we have instead of passively waiting for life to happen for us.

Monday evening signals the beginning of my vacation. I get to take a break from the regular rhythms of everyday life. It will be a mental and physical vacay. It is so timely and welcomed.

To enjoy life, we have to get out of our own way sometimes. We have to chill on the status updates and work emails. We have to give ourselves a chance to live the fulfilling life we actually desire.

I plan to re-energize, relax and recoup this week. Each morning is a new day to wake up and live. What will you do with it?

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