Reno-Truckee 2019

No, this is not a quirky evaluation of the life of Washoe’s finest, though I’m sure that’s probably more entertaining.

Life in San Diego continues to be the fun rollercoaster it’s been, and while standing in a clear crossroads with regards to the future, I figured a break was in order.


IN 24 HOURS….
Wednesday the 16th had been a complete shit show, I remember. After an unsuccessful attempt to de-stress during Aerial Silks, I laid down in my hammock for savasana, channeled the Elizabeth Gilbert in me and made the snap decision to go home and check my flight miles and scope out AirBnB.

One hour later, I was heading to my friend’s place to grab an entire wardrobe of snow gear – more than I thought I ever needed. And then six hours after that, I was boarding a plane to Reno, watching the clouds and internally screaming at myself for brashly acting on impulse to execute a shitshow of a weekend.

I’m so glad I did.


BACKSTORY…
Right before graduate school, I started a fictional story during my gap year – the majority of it written during a MASSIVE writing spurt in April 2012 (~130 pages). It needed the right setting, and I poured into relevant geographic locations in which Jane, Michael, Charlotte, Lena, Paul, and Rory would all meet, and resulting dramatic chaos could ensue.

The biggest little city in the world – Reno, NV – became that place.

I wanted the Sierra Nevada Mountains to be as irreplaceable as the characters that occupied it, researching its history from the 40’s til present day heavily, and describing it as much as I could using images and Google Maps. Before I had the chance to visit, graduate school started and… well, that became life for five years. And Reno stayed this abstract destination book-research getaway whenever I could.


SEVEN YEARS LATER…

Reno is right in between a dying industrial town trying to revive itself with a reinvigorated, contemporary spirit (i.e., what it was when I researched and with a few breaths of life). Casinos and old businesses sit cozy next to newer coffeeshops, pizza places, Patagonia outlets, and art pieces constructed here and returned from Burning Man to settle (Reno is where most artwork for Burning Man is made). And in the middle, the Truckee River flowed vigorously from the snow earlier in the week.

The next morning I walked along the Riverwalk over to Hub’s Coffee Roasters to sit and do what I’d wanted for seven years now: reflect and just write, for however long I wanted.

It felt amazing not only to write for six hours (the first three without WiFi), but to also feel like I was living out a bucket-list dream of mine. There I sat in Timberland hiking boots, wool socks and a beanie (both of which were afterthoughts from Jaime that became surviving staples of my trip), and a red long-sleeved shirt I pulled from my Mom’s closet on the off-chance that it fit; I felt leagues away from the paradise of San Diego or the flat country of Texas, and I’d never felt more comfortable in my life.

I was having a first-world moment, for sure. Which of course necessitated putting together a playlist by this point. This song especially hit a chord:

(More about music later, but check out my Moods page for my entire Reno-Truckee playlist if you care)

Hippie shot.

I spent the remainder of the day walking around the Midtown District, checking out the coffeeshops and developing arts and hipster scenes of which I’ve grown accustomed in San Diego.


I also visited the very first Sundance Bookstore, in a very cute plantation-style home with stairs and floorboards that creaked as you walked by. Added a ton to my reading list…


That night I decided to go out on another impulsive limb toward 1up Nightclub to see Sikdope play – another test of my ability to do things on my own. Once I’d gotten over the awkwardness of being alone… I went up to the front of the dance floor and just danced. Not 10 minutes later… I made some new friends 🙂 Funny how that works out.

truckee, ca

The next morning I woke up hella early and by the grace of my earlier Lyft driver, met up with someone with a 4×4 to take me 40 minutes up the mountain to Truckee, CA for a snowshow hike. Because the mountains were a crucial part of what I wanted to see while here, I was so goddamn excited.

My day in Truckee was the highlight of the trip. With an hour to kill in the morning, I walked through the main lane of downtown, taking pictures of the gorgeous sunset in my first time up in the mountains, and the first time I’d seen snow stuck to the ground.

winter wonderland hike

I caught a ride from my guides up toward Glacier Way Trailhead to hike up Donner Ridge. Not only were Chad and Nikki from Venturing Out the nicest couple, they also had the MOST ADORABLE Shiba Inu called Henry that accompanied every single hike. You go snow dog!!

We were joined by a military couple from Ventura getting in one last winter trip before their move to Guam, and then we were off up the mountain to the top.

Though the weather had graciously given a TON of fresh snow, it also meant the dense fog prevented any visibility, making the gorgeous views for us nonexistent by the time we reached the summit of Donner Ridge :(. It was okay though. Words can’t really describe how amazing it felt, really being trapped in a Winter Wonderland above the world. Though they kept apologizing for the lack of views, the whole thing was spectacular for a first timer. Though, a rookie mistake was not bringing water (woops).

Another test was eating the very, very spicy enchilada soup that Nikki made for us (I powered through), followed by the hike back down. When they dropped me off back in downtown Truckee, the lane was alive and busy with visitors and avid skiers enjoying the ambiance of the shops and coffee.

truckee love

california zephyr train ride tru-rno

The next best part of my trip – and arguably the best visually – was the train ride from Truckee back down to Reno on the California Zephyr route, which Amtrak boasts as the best scenic train ride in America. I believe it.

If I had to choose my favorite way to travel, it would be by train. The Zephyr dips and turns around the mountainous terrain, following the Truckee river back toward the heart of Reno. Traveling during the sunset brought an extra allure to my farewell to the Sierra Nevada Mountains:

While on the train, I’d jumpstarted my newest poetry notebook and also solidified my Reno music playlist, which I played on repeat the whole ride down while watching this beautiful scene play out in front of my eyes:

Getting off the train back to Reno was a weird experience, knowing I would say goodbye soon. I walked around one more time and then visited the Fleischmann Planetarium to watch a light/music show of Pink Floyd’s entire The Wall album. If you’ve never seen a light show in a planetarium, it’s… uh, fucking trippy. Probably not the best thing to do while completely sober and tired from a long day either. I definitely fell asleep for a good portion of it. If you care to see what it looks like:

I’d learned a lot about myself on this impulsive trip:

1. The mountains were calling, and I went. And I fell in love

2. I still don’t like the cold. But being prepared for it makes cold places fucking magical.

3. Magical places can help jumpstart change, but the real magic comes from keeping that magic in your life on your own.

4. Sometimes, one just needs to be away from everything they’ve ever known and relied on to see what’s still automatic under all the obligations and routine.

5. Despite all that’s happened in the past eight years, there is still a core, resilient spirit in me that refuses to die, and it’s about time to start listening to it.

Back to life 🙂 ❤

Germany 2018

The highlight of my summer (which given all my travel says something) was a month-long excursion away from San Diego into West Germany and Bavarian country.

The original purpose was to attend the First International Spring School on Resilience Research, a five-day workshop hosted by intresa, or the International Resilience Research Alliance, housing twelve universities in Europe. I found out later the workshop was an intresa networking workshop for postdocs and trainees. So how did I found about it? A chance conversation with Raffael Kalisch on ResearchGate after stumbling upon his theory paper in Nature Human Behaviour! LOLS 🙂 What was initially a five-day trip turned into a nearly three-week excursion, with the workshop capped before and after with visits to Dr. Kalisch’s lab.

Whoever says that researchgate.net doesn’t work
OBVIOUSLY didn’t spark an international collaboration
and mentorship in a weekend!! #BOOYAH

It would be the longest time spent away for work – one entire month. I paid the big bucks to snag a premium economy seat and was so worth it: leg room, full meals, unlimited drinks and snacks.

Arrival

I arrived 9am in Frankfurt greeted by Ayline, the friend of a postdoc colleague I met here in UCSD (thanks Martin and Natalie!). She was so nice, and her son Benedict was adorable! 🙂 She had an entire trip already planned at Heidelberg Castle, one hour south of Frankfurt. It was absolutely surreal, knowing that in the span of three hours I’d gone from sitting in a cramped business compartment to overlooking the German countryside from this vantage point:

 

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Ayline funded a tour of the castle – my first in Europe – and I got my initial taste of old German folklore and history outside of Berlin.

 

Heidelberg continued to be absolutely beautiful from above…

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…so much so that Ayline, Benedict and I strolled down into the city and had lunch out on the square.

I admit, I overdid it: a full schnitzel plate, cappuccino, and a heavy lager mixed with airport food = one TOUGH ride back through Frankfurt rush hour traffic!  😦 😦 I’d originally wanted to stay close to the city for a day excursion. Instead, I spent most of my time in Kelsterbach wandering around the tiny neighborhood looking for an open Apotheke for my stomach-in-duress.

Things I learned that day: Everything in Germany closes early, around 5 or 6pm, and there are not many commercial places to just sit, unless it’s a beer or ice cream with a group of friends who never look at technology.

What I did enjoy in this one night here was a lovely couple traveling through Europe. They’d been on the road for nearly 2 months with their very bright son in tow. We talked a lot about Texas and Avengers: Infinity War before we said goodbye – by this point, I was dead tired.

 

Mainz

The next day I took the train into Mainz, where I’d be staying for the next week. The city of Mainz is absolutely GORGEOUS. Also small. I’d gotten lost on the way to my AirBnB and didn’t realize I trekked half the city! The condo was owned by a really nice and quirky (see her décor below) lady named Birgit who stayed in the living room while I took over her bedroom. She also prepared coffee and left it outside my door every morning! 😊

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I took the opportunity to waltz around a bit, using the city’s main cathedral as a directional marker.  Situated at the heart of the city center, you can see this looming tower from every main road. When I finally saw it in all its glory, it was stunning:

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Here, the traditional 16th-17th century roads of Germany still remain somewhat intact, surviving the damage of WWII in a way the streets near the hauptbanhof did not. Wooden beams and bright colors adorned the homes that lined the cobblestone streets. And everywhere were tourists and locals with ice cream in their hands, enjoying the warm weather and each other’s company.

 

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Nowhere did I see a phone or laptop out – public WiFi is a rarity, and overuse looked down upon by its residents. Here, the spirit of Germany remained firmly in its traditional roots. A part of me hated its inefficiency for an plugged-in, American, obsessed scholar like me. However, the work-weary soul in me reveled in the magic of a different world, at least for an evening.

 

University of Mainz

The second reason for this trip was to visit the research team of Raffael Kalisch at Johannes Gutenberg University Medical Center. It was part of a grant writing risk I took (and ultimately lost ☹) that would’ve given me $3000 in travel funding. For me to be eligible, the grant required me to establish an international mentor and visit their lab for one week, so who better to visit in Germany than the German Resilience Center, the Mecca of all International Resilience Research in all of Europe? 😊

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I was quickly blown away by the sophistication of their work, leagues ahead of the current and scattered resilience efforts in the States. The range of their research designs span from a novel theoretical framework, and experimental investigations of mechanisms, to large-scale, observational cohort studies in the community. Their outcome variables are a wide range of fMRI to biomarker data. I also witnessed the defense of an incredibly bright graduate student and celebrated with the rest of the team:

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I didn’t know that imposter syndrome could recur so quickly, but oh, it did.

For a little bit we didn’t know what to with me. There was a lot of work I wasn’t familiar with, and after awhile I ended up just speaking with every single member of the research team and listened as they spoke about their own piece of research. One such colleague was named Elena, who despite doing animal/mice research (suuuuuper far from my own area of work), I clicked with pretty well interpersonally, and we spent the rest of my week preparing for the workshop.

 

1st International Spring School on Resilience Research – Seeon

Kloster Seeon was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS, and I was deadset on waking up at some point in the morning to snag a sunrise picture. Problem was, sunrise was around 5am, which made it quite challenging 😀 Luckily, Elena was a heavy sleeper and by this point a good friend. I got up early nearly everyday to capture this incredible view:

SUNRISE:

 

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DAYTIME:

 

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SUNSET:

 

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Each day we sat down for a morning talks with leading researchers in resilience. For the first time I was also introduced to animal model research, which was great exposure for someone in data-world far too long. In the afternoons, we would work with 3-4 other researchers (animal- and human-researchers alike) to come up with a resilience related study that integrated our interests. Poster sessions rounded out further discussion of our work.

One night was a cultural night, where we wore or brought something that represented our culture. Before I left, I bought a contemporary alampay to wear to show off my Filipino heritage:

And naturally, I paired it with an obnoxious cowboy hat to show off my Texan roots:

The rest of the nights were spent walking or biking around Seeon, a homely little town around the lake. Luckily, there were many other German resilience researchers that I could latch onto to help me navigate the restaurants, as we were DEEP in the heart of Bavaria – it was very, very obvious that I was often the only non-white, non-German speaker in the room!

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Munich

Instead of going straight back to Mainz, I decided to spend the weekend in Munich. I was a little nervous, considering I was on my own again. Unfortunately, my AirBnB host was the inflexible and unforgiving type of Bavarian – I got to his apartment twenty minutes late, and climbed five flights of steep stairs with VERY heavy luggage, just to arrive to a very long scolding about punctuality, courtesy, and disrespect ☹.

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I made sure not to talk to him after that.

Besides my AirBnB host, I actually had a fantastic time.  I met with up with Sanne and Anna at Hofbrauhaus, the largest brewhouse in all of Germany.

I decided off the cuff to devote an entire dayto Dachau Concentration Camp. I’m really, really glad I did. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, very local, and very… very… socialist, lol. I had the improbable fortune of meeting another couple from Texas on the tour – they did not like him. Surprising…

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It is very surreal to stand in the location of stories you only heard from textbooks and in historical fiction – horrors so distanced from your reality that you realize actually happened —  right under your feet. Dachau KZ was the first established concentration camp, and thus the first/central hub of the medical horrors that occurred from the Holocaust.

The remainder of my time I spent walking all around the City Center of Munich, shopping unashamedly for European summer fashion, and also a little bit of old Bavaria as well 😊

 

I snuck a few pictures of dirndl and a Weste Ricardo vest and other Trachten jackets, though I didn’t have enough courage (or spending money) to grab one of these awesome dresses!

One night I made my way to Englischer Gartens, a beautiful, green retreat that I wish I could’ve spent a leisurely jog through. Instead, I sat with the ducks and watched the sun set:

 

CRAZY PDA SHOUTOUT: In pure German fashion, there are few commercial places that open on a Sunday, and my only available option was an outdoor McDonald’s a block away. I remember this morning so clearly because, while I sat outside sipping coffee at 8am, the rest of my friends were currently at a raging house party (~11pm) hosted by my friend Alex; many of them incessantly messaged me about the fun times I was missing out on! Thanks Andrew, Tony and Sunny for the intense FOMO!!! 😀

 

University of Mainz – Part II

Returning to Mainz I had a lot of buzz in my head from the week I spent in resilience world. There was so much I wanted to do, but had to tell myself I needed to get the right foundation before I did.

This time, my AirBnB was a wonderfully spacious (and vacant) one-bedroom apartment on the South side of Mainz. It was farther away from the city, but right at the edge of campus. I enjoyed this setup way more – less cramped and with a GORGEOUS view from its living room window:

I spent the remaining four days catching up with each student about additional work, and also hung out with Elena a few more times. I also took the opportunity to shop, with a lot of fashion-forward clothing that I’m SUPER glad I splurged on!

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As much as I enjoyed Mainz, I could feel right around the third- to second-to-last day that I was ready to go home. I’d exhausted most of the resources that were available to share in the lab and I was also running very behind on my work at home. As sad I was to leave the beauty of Germany, I’d also missed the company of friends, particularly those that I would’ve liked to experience Germany with me.

 

 

 

Suffice it to say, I was incredibly happy to see Nathan’s Challenger on the side of the road when I stepped out of DFW airport. I would spend one more weekend with him before I went back to San Diego… already June!

Philippines – July 2018

As most of my circle knows, my trip to the Galapagos Islands was book-ended by one of the worst possible events; not one day after I arrived back home to DFW, my brothers and I received a call that my mom’s health had taken a turn for the worst. On the two-hour drive down from Dallas to Temple, we got the terrible call that my mom had passed away before we could say goodbye in person.

 

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The next few following weeks were a complete blur, but I do remember feeling constantly overwhelmed. From all over the United States and even the world, my mom’s extensive network of friends and family came pouring out in excess to offer their support and guidance through this difficult time. My mom had been a private person, particularly with her kids, so many of her affairs were unknown to us. One thing we did know, was the she wanted to be brought back to the Philippines and laid to rest with her family.

So, in July, that’s what we did.

One of the places DJ and I were looking forward to most was visiting Banio Kreek Farms, the resort started by my Uncle George, his wife Tita Mirna, and my cousin Ate Joanna. Sixteen years ago, it had been a humble house and stairs down to the creek below. What we found when we revisited was a property eight times bigger, with every new section carefully and lovingly crafted:

 

We spent the day just marveling at how beautiful it was, exploring all the small and large areas. DJ compared it to uncovering the map in a FPS! 😀 We cannot wait to come back.

Following initial celebration, it was time to prioritize arranging my mom’s final wishes. We spent a lot of time with my Tita Catherine going back and forth with the red tape of paperwork, but slowly started to see everything come together in the final days before her birthday and her service – July 13th. We held mass at the church right outside the family house in Chrysanthemum Village, and a reception near Manila Memorial, where my mom was laid to rest with my grandfather.

 

Afterwards, family time was both inevitable and necessary. For a long time, my mom was a warrior; she’d raised three kids on her own, in a city with no immediate family to help support her. It also meant she sacrificed a lot of time, effort, money, and desire to be closer to family for us. Part of that was giving up the chance to visit Philippines so often. When she died, an unexpected feeling that arose was this feeling of home that I’d lost, and not knowing where to find it. I found a piece of it here:

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After my mom was laid to rest, my aunts and cousins spared no time making sure we got to visit as many places as possible. Villa Escudero was a beautiful resort and plantation south of San Pedro in Tiaong, Quezon, Philippines – the kind of place where you could stay and get what you need from a trip to the jungle. One of its best features was the restaurant right on the river, where patrons have to take off their shoes and slowly make their way across the current to the metal tables. If I could pick this area up and move it to the United States somehow, I totally would.

 

In their spare time, my cousins also took us out to both hidden and well-known gems across Metro Manila, including this HEY HO Garage Burgers, tucked away in a tiny village that served the most appetizing peanut butter – bacon hamburger:

 

Okada Manila, the massive casino that houses the largest multi-colored dancing fountain in the world and the nicest bartenders…

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… among others, including Chinatown and Makati nightlife! It was great reconnecting with my cousins in a way that not afforded to us growing up.

 

Oh. A vain side-note interjection here. For all those who noticed, I did get my eyebrows micro-bladed while in the Philippines, which was MUCH more affordable than doing it in the States. Thanks to Bela Marana Makeup Artistry for the time she took to get them right!  I won’t show the very unattractive “during” photos and instead just post one a day after they were done. They really are DARK for a few days! But like any tattoo, once the healing process is over, they look pretty natural. My morning routine has been cut down significantly, and my desire to be more active in San Diego and less concerned about my face has been well worth it.

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Unfortunately, all the traveling this summer meant that I was short on vacation days. Thus, I had to leave much earlier than the rest of my brothers. Before I knew it I was packing everything up and heading back to the States. Though short, this trip was so memorable for me, as it jumpstarted a whole new outlook on my life – a new chapter, without my mom, but with support and family that are closer. As promised, our next trip will be less business and ALL vacation, including a visit to the Palawan Islands and Cebu! 🙂

All things Galapagos – Preparing, Traveling, and Paradise

Many things have happened since 2018 started, and this post has been a long time coming. Since renewing my passport last December, I’ve been on a travel stamp binge, starting with a trip to the Galapagos Islands in December 2017/January 2018 with my boyfriend Nathan and his awesome mom, Susan, who lovingly sponsored the entirety of this trip – first class seats and all <3.

SUMMARY: The Galapagos Islands is a biosphere and world all its own. Under the constant Equatorial sun, iguanas, seals, turtles, and flamingos flourish among the islands’ many micro-climates. Wherever you are – from the chilly, foggy highlands to the dry, beautiful beaches less than a mile away – you feel like you are in another world. The area forces your head out of your phone (internet is very spotty) and toward nature and the streets of Puerto Ayora, which rely heavily on the tourism industry to keep afloat. At night, the streets open up with music, dancing, soccer, chatter, and FOOD available for anyone walking by.

DRESSING: When I first looked up what to pack, multiple pictures and lists detailing the following came up:

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… most of which I did not already possess. Who already possesses safari pants? Do people really wear those sandal/shoe hybrids? And if I wore them, would my Pacific Islander ancestors point and laugh at my touristy ass?

Luckily, I found one (only one) blog from an intrepid traveler closer to my age, Courtney Scott, who insisted you don’t need to dress like a tourist to be a tourist in the Galapagos.

Below are the clothes what I ended up bringing. What’s bolded is what I ended up using:

  • Denim white shorts
  • Athletic shorts
  • Casual, multi-colored shorts
  • Black athletic capris
  • Tan lounge pants
  • Black thin pants
  • 3/4 sleeve tan, breezy shirt
  • A thin, casual-dress shirt
  • White V-neck
  • Grey V-neck
  • Denim button-down
  • Sleeveless, blue shirt
  • Sleeveless, green shirt
  • Teva watershoes/flats
  • Hiking boots
  • Flip-flops
  • Athletic socks
  • Swimsuit 1
  • Swimsuit 2
  • Sports bra
  • Regular bra
  • Underwear (obviously)

EQUIPMENT that ended up being VERY useful:

  • Small, one-shouldered hikers backpack (that Nathan made fun of me for bringing)
  • A small, thin book – not just for reading, but to keep all the loose papers/tickets/pamphlets in place during travel
  • Sunglasses
  • 100 SPF sunscreen
  • 50 SPF facial (oil-free) sunscreen
  • Safari hat
  • Waterproof camera
  • Camera, floating camera stick
  • US cash – $1/$5/$10 bills specifically, which all locals take. Dollar coins are most popular

Buy lots of sunscreen before you leave: So, I thought my confident, Pacific-Islander-ass could handle the constant Equator sun. I was wrong. I ended up buying a large tube of over-priced ($35) 100 SPF sunscreen to protect my burnt chest and legs by the end of the first day. This move was the only reason I could wear shorts throughout the remaining part of the trip. I lathered up constantly, but it prevented any additional burn, and I ended up with a nice tan!

Good shoes: Ironically, I ended up not using my hiking boots at all, as all of our hikes were mild/moderate. I can’t say enough about these Teva Hydro Life Sports Flats though, which were versatile enough to keep me comfortable across hiking trails, made for watery terrain, and chic enough to walk through city streets:

Hydro Life Sport Flat

I’m beginning to realize the advantage of shoes that provide good support, not just ones that are cute and discounted but hurt like hell.

LOCATIONS

 

Day 1: Arrive in Balta. Travel to Santa Cruz Island and check-in at Puerto Ayora. Charles Darwin Research Station.

The Galapagos Airport is located on the old US military base on the small island of Balta, which is the driest, ugliest part of the Galapagos. Turns out that was intentional. All travelers are escorted by bus to the south edge of Balta, where a ferry waits to take you to the north edge of Santa Cruz Island. Once on Santa Cruz, you grab a taxi – small and white off-road trucks – to drive you across the island into Puerto Ayora – Galapagos’ largest city. The whole experience takes about another hour of travel.

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Luckily, if you managed your travel through an agency, there are guides waiting to accompany you every step of the way. Ours was Joel, who kept a lively conversation with us all afternoon. He came back once we were settled to guide us through the Charles Darwin Research Station, complete with Tortoise Breeding Center.

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Afterward, we opted to walk through the streets of Puerto Ayora back to Hotel Albatros, which might be substandard compared to the Marriott but a luxury compared to the rest of the city. We had all-inclusive lunches and dinners, and cheerful receptionists. The hotel also had a beautiful panorama of the city.

 

Day 2: Catamaran. Snorkeling. Plazas Island.

This day started with a bus ride to a huge catamaran with 13 other people, followed by my first-ever snorkeling experience at the mouth of the Itabaca Channel between Balta and Santa Cruz islands. Fun story: I’d never snorkeled in my life, and instruction wasn’t included in today’s excursions. They gave us equipment, put us on a small boat toward a deep spot afar, and told us to jump off and swim back.

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If it wasn’t for Nathan warning me what it was going to feel like, I would have had a panic attack (someone else did though). Not being able to breathe through your nose is WEIRD. For the first five minutes of snorkeling, I was HEAVING while swimming next to the shore, trying to get used to breathing through my mouth, reminding myself everyone else was doing it fine, and trying not to panic when sea water got into my snorkel. Seeing beautiful schools of fish helped motivate me to keep going!  What didn’t help was seeing a shark while by myself (which turned out to be harmless). That’s when the panicking started. Yup. Too bad Nathan was the only one with the camera, or else my freak-out would’ve been recorded.

Afterward, the catamaran took us around toward South Plazas Island, where we took a short hike around a BEAUTIFUL panorama of natural color – the deep blue sea, the vegetation that turned bright red in December, and the vibrancy of the green cactus trees:

The locals were also fun to see too:

and the sheer drops of the cliffs on the other side of the island were BREATHTAKING:

After the hike, we were treated to a home-cooked lunch from the crew of the catamaran, where we also got to know the other tourists.

 

Day 3. Nauseating boatrides. Floreana Highlands. Snorkeling. Sea Turtles. Black and White Beaches.

This day was fully devoted to Floreana, a large island south of Santa Cruz. We accompanied a group of 13 other people on the Angelica for a day hiking atop the Highlands, lunch and then snorkeling along the coast.

To get to the island as fast as possible, the boat goes full speed and skips across choppy water, so your ass flies and then slams down constantly against your seat for 1.5 hours, making this ride the most miserable experience of the trip. Susan thankfully had Dramamine that I combined with a Tums, but holy hell I was nauseated. The Floreana Highlands were worth it though:

We had an awesome young guide named Astrid who told us of the islands’ first settlers and history. She eventually led us to a beautiful beach on the Floreana Coast perfect for snorkeling, which was way more pleasurable this second go-around:

Of all my experiences, swimming with the sea turtles was probably the best part of the trip! On the return home, we tried sitting closer to the back of the boat. The sacrifice for a flatter ride were the strong fumes of gas and unforgiving afternoon sun that equaled the morning nausea. We were all grateful to be off the Angelica by the afternoon, and headed straight to a bar for a drink 🙂

Day 4. Puerto Ayora Highlands. Lava Tunnel. Tortoise Sanctuary. Puerto Ayora Nightlife.

This day was spent solely on the main island, where were we ventured around several geological phenomena in the morning, including a sinkhole and a high viewing point in the Puerto Ayora Highlands full of finches.

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Most amazing to me this morning was the Lava Tunnel, which was a GORGEOUS underground, open passage. Easily my favorite part of the day, though accidentally stepping in a water pond in the tunnel didn’t help…

Afterward, we visited another Tortoise Sanctuary with species specific to the West-side of the island, where we got up-close and personal with a few of them:

Another highlight was getting to know Adriana, our driver who spoke little English but was so upbeat and funny as hell, even when we got stuck in traffic for a marathon that blocked off the main road for an hour.

That night, I got to do what I’d wanted to do the whole trip, which was to walk among the nightlife of Puerto Ayora and get a taste of the local life. We went to a brewery, listened to live music, and walked through a community not obsessed with technology; everyone is outside, sitting in plastic chairs with friends, talking and laughing, having a beer, watching their kids play soccer, and dancing in the street merrily with strangers. I loved being a part of the local spirit, even for a little bit ❤

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Day 5. Saying Goodbye. Delays. New Years Fiascos. Finally Home! 

The day we were supposed to leave, we snuck back to the Charles Darwin Research Station to observe the tortoises again, buy more souvenirs that 100% benefit the station, and see Lonely George – the last known male Pinta Island tortoise. Though he died a few years ago, he still remains an important symbol for what the research station does on a daily basis – conserve the dying beauty of this world.

Day 5.5/6. Of course, with the Galapagos such a wonderful experience, karma had to equalize somewhere. Sadly, the hour we landed in Quito Airport on the Ecuador mainland, problems began to arise – a 30-min 2-hour 13-hour 16-hour delay coupled with an inexperienced Delta flight team meant a GRUMPY introduction into 2018. We celebrated midnight getting ignored at an Outback Steakhouse while Susan was at the gate with our passports, and then finally a room in the heart of Quito, 40-minutes away from the airport, taken there by a drunken Taxi driver in rainy weather. Fuuuuuun.

After finally getting back into the States, we were greeted with a shut-down Customs in Atlanta Airport, which caused us to miss our connecting flight back to DFW, and another night stay in freezing Atlanta weather. I don’t know about Nathan, but I was cheering internally when the plane finally landed in DFW more than a day after we were supposed to be home.

What transpired the next few days is a very long story all on its own, but I just want to end on how amazing the trip was. It was a stark reminder of the beauty of the world still untouched by human hands, and the responsibility we have to ensure its survival long after we’re gone! ❤

 

 

 

 

 

Toronto/Neurotrauma/Niagara Falls – August 2018

After leaving Sonoma/Napa Valley and quickly crashing the last day of APA2018 in SF, I jetted off on a red-eye to Toronto, promptly switching mindsets from romantic getaway tourist to academic professional.

First impressions of Toronto? Their architects and construction companies must be the same people, lol. The skycrapers were all the same! It was fairly obvious from my AirBnB, a condo on the 65th floor looking over the Financial District:

 

 

Neurotrauma 2018 also served as the pinnacle showcase of all the work I’d done this entire past year. There were a total of four posters I had to present… though considering Neurotrauma is either basic or clinical science, with a focus on either SCI or TBI, psychometric work wasn’t exactly the highlight of the sessions.

 

One of the major highlights was Geoff Manley, the principal investigator of TRACK-TBI (the study that pays my salary), discussing my work for a few minutes during his symposium:

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In true fashion, I did sneak away from Neurotrauma to do some sightseeing. Ripley’s Aquarium was a pretty fantastic late-night getaway:

 

 

And of course, I took an entire day to head over to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Spent six total hours on public transportation for five hours walking around a gorgeous national landmark. I didn’t get the chance to do any of the attractions (Journey Behind the Falls, zipline, and Hornblower Boat Cruise particularly) due to lack of planning, but I really enjoyed just sitting and feeling the mist on my face, even from so far up:

 

 

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After I realized I had no time after sitting (contemplating life, whatever), I strolled through Clifton Hill, which made me feel like a little kid again…

 

 

I rounded the trip walking around Toronto’s Financial District in between conference stuff, including St. Lawrence Market and Neo Coffee:

 

My last day in Toronto, I surprisingly woke up at 6:10 am for no reason (shrug) – though I got this GORGEOUS sunrise shot below as a result. Thanks Toronto, for an amazing trip! 🙂

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Napa Valley – August 2018

I take a lot of photos, lol.

In my attempt to organize them all for those who want to see them (and avoid flooding Facebook), I’ve compiled them in their own respective posts, complete with mini walk-through.

Prior to my Neurotrauma conference in Toronto, Susan whisked her friend Janet, me, and Nathan away just north of San Francisco toward Sonoma and Napa Valley, the wine Mecca of America. Other than shitty cabernets from Wal-Mart, I didn’t have very much knowledge of wine, but this trip helped clear some of that ignorance up, and by the end I was swirling glasses and pointing out tannins like a pro 😛 . Side note: I also found out cabernets are definitely not my thing!

Here’s a compilation of that trip:

Janet was a BALLER and rented a limo to take us to three different wineries our first day. The journey took about 40 minutes, but there was a fully stocked bar (and Mama Kearns ready to pop champagne like a pro) to keep us company:

The first winery was Chateau Montelena Winery, on which the movie Bottle Shock (2008) is based. Owned briefly by a Chinese family, there were several pagodas and a jade green lake to admire, along with some fun Irish paraphernalia here and there:

The second was Castello di Amorosa, and my personal favorite of the day. The castle was BEAUTIFUL, scenery GORGEOUS, and the tour especially was led by a wine connoisseur who really talked to us and let us try more things than planned!

With all the perfect scenery, I couldn’t bear to leave without a few good shots, much to Nathan’s chagrin. Thanks to Susan for snapping these pics of me and Nathan:

The last winery was Inglenook Winery, owned for a time by the Coppola family. It had a  historical film technology museum to boot, and a car that looked exactly like Doc Hudson 🙂

A nighttime stroll around Sonoma Square rounded out our first romantic evening:

 

The second day, Susan planned an AMAZING Wine Train experience for us, complete with old-time train, a full three-course fancy meal, and three included wine-train stops between Napa and St. Helena.

St. Supery, owned by Chanel,  was my favorite of all three we visited. The tour involved a quick history of their fully ecologically-sustainable estate, and a walk through a few rows of their grapes to touch, pick, and eat grapes as needed! 🙂 Nathan also spent a lot of money to fulfill his dream of his own Panama hat too.

The second was Beringer Winery, one of the oldest in Napa. The wines are stored in caves within and under the estate, which was pretty cool, but it was by far the most commercialized of all the wineries we’d seen so far. However, I got my own hat in their extensive gift shop to complement Nathan’s:

The last winery we visited was Raymond Winery, which was a quick left turn into contemporary and well… weird, at least compared to the sophistication of the rest of the trip. Roy Raymond left the Beringer Winery after it was sold to Nestle to start this place. Not sure how he feels about the eclectic taste of the place now, but it was a fun ending to the overall tour. Not only did the grounds contain a lush vegetable and fruit garden (I picked many cherry tomatoes from the vine), a shrine to their bulldogs, and a sensory experience museum, it’s apparently John Legend’s winery of choice (see the piano tucked away in the background), though his Chardonnay was a little too buttery for me.

The train ride back to Napa was leisurely and relaxing, and Nathan and I got to sit outside with coffee and enjoy the sun beginning to set against the Western mountain range (much greener from the coast compared to the browning mountain range to the East).

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Thanks Napa! You were a wonderful, romantic getaway! 🙂 ❤

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