Category Archives: Travel Babble

Tuesday Talk: Journeys, and the East Africa Connection

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In the past two days I have thought a lot about journeys. A journey is the act of getting someplace physically, emotionally, spiritually, and so on.  It’s the things you see along the way and the detours you take. It’s also things learned and people met.

Do you have any clearly traceable journeys in your past? Things that you can look back on, and see every step that led you there? Things that kind of make no sense, but happened anyways, all in a perfect and obvious string of events?

For me, this is a connection to East Africa that is going on 6 years now.

It may not seem so to you, but to me it’s super weird. It’s one of those things that makes me believe in the plan of the universe and larger forces that be. Truly.

Here’s what has happened:

In 2007 I went in to journalism school. Although I never wanted to get into newspaper journalism, through a class I was introduced to the editor of the Greeley Tribune newspaper. I later wrote a sample profile article about him for class. After reading this, he told me to get in touch whenever I was ready to do an internship.

In 2009, I was interning at the Greeley Tribune newspaper and sat down with Mark Hagen to write about him, his wife, his partner organizations and a Girl’s Rescue Center that they are building in Kenya. He said I should come to Kenya with them sometime.

I said ‘Sure!’…even though I never wanted to go to Africa and thought it was scary. I thought maybe I would go in two years, after graduation.

A month later he called me with an offer: to accompany him and his wife, plus a PhD student doing research, and one other to Kenya in 5 months.

In April 2010, I got a plane to Kenya-with literally $30 in my bank account-after raising money, getting help, and spending lots of my own. My fellow traveller, Phyllis, paid for an unexpected baggage fee of $50 because I didn’t have enough money…don’t worry, the rest of the trip had been prepaid and went splendidly 🙂

I spent two weeks in Kenya and wrote 3 stories about the Center when I got back.

But what really shook me was three sisters that I met there. All three had incredible stories and had faced early marriage and circumcision. I knew immediately that I wanted to go back, and spent a lot of time researching these tough issues and trying to save money to go back.

In September of 2010, my best friend left for the Peace Corps. I had told her from the start that I would go visit her wherever she ended up. She ended up in Tanzania!

In April of 2012, Alex and I went back to Kenya for a month; I spent a good amount of time interviewing women and girls at the Center and one other women’s village, and we spent the rest of our time gallivanting and carrying out a DIY Safari. After Kenya, we went to Tanzania for about a month and spent 2 weeks at our friend’s Peace Corps site. During this time I realized that I  could see myself doing Peace Corps…but knew we’d have to be married to go together.

Two days before coming home, Alex proposed!

Next, we moved to Grand County, Colorado. I jumped into writing my first book, In the Place of Many Zebras,  a narrative nonfiction project about the girls in Kenya. We also got to work planning our wedding.

In October 2013 we got married!…and almost immediately started researching options for married couples to teach abroad.

On March 1, 2014 we applied for the Peace Corps. On March 25 I published the book!

Right before leaving for a trip to Ecuador last summer, we got nominated to go to Peace Corps Malawi in June 2015.

I thought to myself ‘First trip to East Africa: two weeks. Second: two months. Third: two years….what is it about that area of the world?!’

Then, in Ecuador I learned some Spanish. We thought that Peace Corps might switch us to a Spanish -speaking country since we both now had Spanish experience. But secretly, I really wanted the opportunity to go back to Africa. I felt, and feel, an incredibly strong ‘tug’ and kind of a painful ‘want’ to go back there.

In January, Peace Corps contacted us saying because of both of our ‘Spanish backgrounds’ and other experiences, Peace Corps Mozambique would be a good-fit program for us. That program needs Spanish speakers…because we have to learn Portuguese. That makes perfect sense right?….Send some Spanish speakers to Africa instead of somewhere Spanish-Speaking.

Fine by me 🙂

But…I had to pass a Spanish test first! So I did that.

And finally, we received our invitations to Mozambique for this September! Yay!

Maybe this isn’t as weird to you as it is to me, but for someone who thought she’d never go to Africa, it’s strange to feel a constant tug to go back, and to have things work out in a way that keeps allowing me to go back! I look back on all that I have learned from my past two trips to East Africa, and I can’t wait to see what this new country has to teach us.

Here’s to journeying! 🙂

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan "little sister."

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister.”

Tuesday Talk: ‘Cheers, to adventure finding us when we’re not looking for it’

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This Tuesday Talk is a day late. Here’s why:

It’s about 10a.m on Monday morning and Alex and I are sitting on the edge of a bridge in Silver Plume, Colorado, drinking coffee and eating a croissant. Normally at 10a.m. on a Monday morning we would be at school. But we’ve called in. Despite the circumstances that led us here, to the bridge next to the babbling creek flanked by yellow-leafed trees, the morning is beautiful. I smile and raise my coffee cup to cheers Alex.

“Cheers,” I say. “To adventure finding us when we’re not looking for it.”

He laughs and we clink our paper cups as best as we can.

Our weekend in itself was a good adventure: hiking and wining and dining in Telluride, Colorado with Alex’s brother. We left Telluride Sunday at about 1pm, reality of the upcoming school week setting in as we embarked on our 6 hour drive home. Little did we know that our 6 hour journey was about to turn into a 28 hour journey.

Within an hour of home, our car died. It was 8:30 at night and we couldn’t get a tow truck for 4 hours. Alex cussed. Exhausted and slightly hungover, our very unplanned and very real adventure began! Lucky to have all of our camping gear with us, we slept in the car that night. In the morning we went through a series of events, trying to get the car over the hill and home.

While we were debating what to do, an industrial truck pulled in and began working on the far side of their car. I asked them if they had an air compressor and was answered by a mustached mountain man: “What do you think young lady.” He pointed to his associate, fixing a flat tire. We used their air compressor to blow out our fuel filter, as we thought it was clogged. Then we jumped the car, and she started right up!

We cheered.

We got on the highway, the car died, and we coasted 6 miles with no engine and pulled off at the next exit. Here, Alex’s other brother met us with a new fuel pump. Waiting for him is when we found the time for a cup of coffee and a rest in the sun by the creek. So, we installed the new fuel filter…no luck.

All day we’d been in touch with a tow truck driver, and decided that now was the time to have him come retrieve us. We waited some more. Then we got towed into nearby Idaho Springs. We hung out in the park there while the mechanic figured out what was wrong.

The fuel pump had gone out. Even though we replaced it 2 years ago. I cussed.

We had missed the bus going toward home.

We called Alex’s 3rd brother for a lift, got home about 21 hours later than planned, went to work Tuesday, went to Idaho Springs to retrieve the car.

And we remind ourselves that sometimes the unplanned adventures are the true adventures 🙂

My 3 Favorite Things about Steamboat Springs, Colorado

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After spending 3 days in Steamboat Springs last weekend, I was reminded of all the reasons I love that place. At about 6,500 feet, it’s much lower than where I live and seems to always be much warmer. There’s lots of good food (including my all-time favorite pizza place, Beau Jo’s), a cute downtown, two hot springs, a great river, a ski resort, and the oldest operating ski hill in the country. Here are my 3 favorite things about Steamboat.

The snowy aspens of Steamboat Springs ski resort. Photo credit to Alex Romanyshyn.

The snowy aspens of Steamboat Springs ski resort. Photo credit to Alex Romanyshyn.

Steamboat Springs Ski Resort

This was my second winter snowboarding at Steamboat, and both were incredible. I might just hit this mountain on good powder weekends, or maybe it dumps perfect fluff 6 months a year there…I don’t know. But I’ve definitely experienced some good snow on this mountain. Steamboat is known for its super-light champagne powder, and when you glide through that stuff it feels like floating. This year, we hit the chutes of Steamboat and were greeted with thigh-deep powder and self-inflicted white outs. At one point I had a powder mustache from all the snow flying back off the front of my powder. Sidenote: As a snowboarder, I feel obligated to tell you that areas of Steamboat’s chutes will lead you straight into miserable catwalks that seem to go on for miles. Yes, I bitched about this part. To avoid this, stay high and to the left at the top of Morningside lift. Other than the powder, the thing that really makes Steamboat mountain unique in my mind is the aspen trees. I’ve never been to another resort that boast aspen groves all over their runs. Riding or skiing through these glorious forests is mystical; the white snow and the white tree trunks blend together and suddenly you think you’ve just died and gone to heaven.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs in summertime.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs in summertime.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs

Summer, Fall, Spring, or Winter. Take your pick of season, and let Strawberry Hot Springs do the rest. This hot springs maintains a natural feel, with gravel-bottomed pools set into an aspen-crowded hillside. Right on the banks of Strawberry Creek, the pools range in temperature. The hottest is at the top and the coolest is closest to the stream. You can visit for $10 a day or stay overnight in a campsite, covered wagon, or train caboose. This is a family-friendly spot in daylight hours, but clothing is optional after dark.

Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory

You’ll definitely feel like a kid in a candy store when you walk into Fuzziwig’s Candy Factory in downtown Steamboat. Colorful bins of jelly beans, chocolates, and seasonal treats greet you here, along with countless bins full of the most unique gummy candy varieties I’ve every come across. Try grapefruit slices, gummy teeth, or giant gummy bears. A visit to this candy store has become a Steamboat winter tradition for us.

Love is a Journey

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Alex and I after our wedding ceremony. Photo courtesy of Aaron Montoya.

Alex and I after our wedding ceremony. Photo courtesy of Aaron Montoya.

It was about 3 weeks ago that I exchanged wedding vows with my best friend, who is also the love of my life. Awwww!! The whole day was about as emotional as it could get. The ceremony brought forth a flood of tears from both myself and our guests. And the reception…well, let’s just say my abs were sore for 5 days from laughing with our friends and family.

A few weeks before the wedding, though, there was one extremely emotional moment. Wait, there were a lot more than one. But there was one that might just stick with me forever. I sat down to start writing our vows and everything I thought, said, and put down on paper seemed awful. Nothing fit. And of course this brought up all the existential questions of marriage: what are we to each other? How do we really feel? On and on it went. I’m not saying these things are bad to think about or talk about. Quite the opposite. So, we really got down to business and, in the search for all the right words, I suggested that we each make a list of the ten most important qualities about our relationship. The catastrophe began when the list-making ended. Realizing that I had not even included the word ‘love’ in my list, I surrendered to this task in a sobbing mental breakdown, like any good bride-to-be does once or twice. Sigh. This is embarrassing. I can laugh about it now, right? Umm maybe one day.

Anyways, Alex tried his darndest to comfort me and convince me that all of the other words I wrote down meant love.

“But I didn’t write love,” I blathered. “None of them are love.”

The tears kept comin’. But once I pulled myself together and thought about getting over my oversight, we were able to come up with something that spoke to the essence of us as individuals and as a couple:

"Just Married"

“Just Married”

Our love is a journey.

From mountaintops to ocean floors

From childhood to adulthood

And from this day forward into the great unknown.

I’ll stop there. It was easy for us to see the truth in these. There are many parallels to be made between physical journeys, like travelling, and emotional journeys, like love. I could of course go on and on with really thoughtful comparisons like this: When you’re travelling, whether near or far, you just never know if you’re bus is going to careen off the side of the road, and, likewise, when in love you just never know whether or not your relationship is going to ‘stay on track.’

Or, on a lighter note, like this: When you’re travelling, whether near or far, you will discover the world piece by piece, and, likewise, when you’re in love you will piece together the world within yourself and each other.

But no one really wants to hear all the thoughtful comparisons. What I can really say is that we knew this to be true before we kicked off our vows with it, but with the thought tied into a promise to each other it’s forever in my head, reminding me of the inevitable laughs and tears of love the same as they come in any other journey.

There’s No Place Like Stone

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**Video credit to Alex Romanyshyn

Usually, I am a person who would rather go somewhere new than revisit somewhere I’ve already been. It’s hard for me to understand why I should go back instead of exploring something different. Why would I hike the same trail twice or visit the same city over and over? My usual mentality: there’s so much out there to see; there’s no time for revisits.

But then I start to think about the concept of familiar and unfamiliar vs. old and new. Going back to somewhere familiar? Now that’s different. Yellowstone is probably one of the most familiar places of all to me. After I worked there for the summer after high school I told myself I would make a little time to come back every year. I spent one more summer there and have visited every year since, except for one. It’s one of few places I feel compelled to go back to over and over.

First, there is about a thousand miles of trail in the park so most times that I go back I am able to discover something new in this familiar place. The second reason I keep going back, I realized this year, is that this place is familiar in feeling and emotion. To revisit Yellowstone in a geographical and physical sense is to revisit somewhere emotionally familiar. Have you ever forgotten a thought and tried to retrace your steps through the house back to where you first had the thought? And once you reach that place in the house you remember what you were thinking. Is my crazy brain the only that works like this? For me, physical places cause my brain to recall certain thoughts or emotions that were felt strongly in that place previously. Yellowstone is a physical place where I experienced a lot of personal and emotional growth-we’ll save that story for another day- so I suppose it makes sense that in most revisits to the park I have been overwhelmed with emotions and memories. And I usually shed a few tears and wallow in the painful nostalgia and strange feeling of being just another tourist in a place I’ve called home.

This year though, it had been two years away from the park instead of the usual one year. This year it was kind of like visiting an old friend. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Emotions aside, I just wanted some Yellowstone time. And I didn’t even cry on this visit J Mostly what I felt was gratitude for this place that is a part of me, that is so much bigger than me , and that is permanent; Gratitude for a place and a feeling I can always revisit.

A frigid history lesson + poll

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In 2007 Fraser, Colorado, where I currently live, ‘battled’ International Falls, Minnesota for a title. As the winter months approach, I wish that they had been battling for the title of ‘warmest winters’ or ‘most powder days’ or ‘the least windy town in the world.’ But, sadly, none of these things are even close to true. The title they were battling for was ‘Icebox of the Nation.‘ How on Earth did a town in Colorado battle with a place that’s almost in Canada? It’s just not right!  Both towns claimed to have been using the title for decades, but when International Falls, Minnesota let their trademark on this horrible phrase expire, the town manager of Fraser filed an application for it. Why oh why would he do such a thing? Who wants to be reminded that they live in an icebox!? Ignorance is bliss….I’m just pretending it’s going to be a great snow year for skiing purposes and not get to 50 something degrees below zero this winter. In the end, International Falls won back the official title of ‘Icebox of the Nation,’ but both towns still use it and Fraser claims to be the coldest incorporated town in the lower 48. 

As it goes, the closer winter gets, the lower the temperatures in peoples’ winter stories drop. The first mention of below-zero temps was my landlord saying when it gets to be negative 20 or so, we might want to do this and that so the pipes don’t freeze. This was enough to make my jaw drop, but it wasn’t long before a co-worker was saying, “One day I was walking to work and it was negative 43. I had my big down jacket on…” Blah blah blah! I tuned out after “negative 43!” The most recent? Alex’s colleague at work has a friend who works in the meat department at Safeway, which is right on the Fraser River.  They have some kind of fancy thermometer that reads the temperature when it’s pointed at an item. Just for kicks, they took it down and pointed it at the river one day. Let me just mention that I live across the street from this river. The thermometer read negative 56! Maybe I’ll get used to. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even love the cold enough to agree when Alex asks me to go winter camping with him.

I’m already planning on eating lots of fatty bacon, stocking up on long underwear, and sitting by my remote control gas fireplace every day (which I do when it’s a mere 45 degrees out) but I am also thinking I will need to thaw out at the end of winter. This leads me to the second part of my post: a poll.

Where should we go to thaw in April? When it comes to getting warm, I am not too picky as long as the end goal is accomplished. However, there are a few criteria for the trip.

– It has to be cheap. The cheapest plane ticket to anywhere tropical will do.

– It has to be easy to enjoy in 9ish days.

– No malarial areas…I have had enough Doxycycline for one year.

– Uncrowded beaches and an ocean that doesn’t have waves that give you a concussion when you’re trying to swim.

Any ideas? Soon enough, my frantic searching of kayak.com will begin and when it’s negative 56 outside I’ll be able to look forward to sweating again someday and wearing flip-flops.

How it took me 2 years, 2 trips to Kenya, and 2 glasses of Chianti to be as wise as a Kenyan girl

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In April of 2010 I skipped college for two and a half weeks and followed an odd instinct to Kenya to complete a freelance newspaper story about the Olooloitikoshi Girl’s Rescue Center. On one of my first days there, I found myself in a small cement dormitory, crowded with black bunk beds and the stuff of girls: some shoes, a few outfits, school books, combs, blankets. I had just finished interviewing three sisters who fled home to avoid being married and taken out of school. The oldest two were teenagers, but the youngest, Eunice, was still childlike at 11 years old. I took a liking to her, and she to me; I was one of the first people to ever hear her story. It was a secret we now shared, as I sat with her and another girl in the dorm. We were talking and joking and playing when they stopped speaking English and suddenly left me out of the conversation.
“Silantoi,” Eunice said, turning back to me after a few seconds.

Me with, Eunice, my Kenyan "little sister" in 2010

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister” in 2010.

Smiling, I asked her for clarification.
“Your Maasai name,” she said. “Silantoi.”
The girls at the OGRC are mostly from the Maasai tribe, which means their first name is a Christian name that they choose when baptized, their second name is a Maasai name that is chosen by their father’s mother when they are born, and their third name is their family name.
I asked Eunice what my Maasai name meant in English and she told me: courageous.
Courageous? Wasn’t she the one who faced threats of circumcision and marriage? Wasn’t she the one who had to leave home to avoid these and continue her education? Wasn’t she the one who took two younger siblings with her when she fled to keep them out of harm’s way? And me? I had never faced anything as difficult as her trials. Yes, I had seen people close to me face physical illness and depression, and, between suicides, drunk drivers, and school shootings, I was exposed to a lot of death at a young age. But I was always a bystander, a witness. Plus, she didn’t know any of this. How could she call me courageous? I didn’t get it.
After the trip, I passed the summer working in Yellowstone and constantly thinking about Kenya, and still didn’t get it. I finished my last year of college with multiple honors and still didn’t get it. I spent 8 months working and writing in the mountains…still didn’t get it. Three more months in the city..no new insights on this courage thing. Then, two years after my first trip to Kenya, I was headed back there to travel and do research for a writing project

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan "little sister."

Me with Eunice, my wise Kenyan “little sister” in April 2012

. When I arrived at the OGRC, the girls remembered my Maasai name and occasionally called me by it. I still didn’t know why they thought I was courageous and, for some reason, I didn’t ask. I spent this past April in Kenya, and May in Tanzania. I’ve been home a month now and have felt culture shock work in me the way it did after my first trip to Kenya: subtly and gradually, with time. I don’t always notice every little thing as being a shock. It’s more that I absorb things and then become ridiculously overwhelmed and have inexplicable crying breakdowns, sometimes in public. I have days where I feel lighthearted and happy and so lucky to have the things and people and adventures I do, after seeing a lot of people who don’t have a tenth as much.
But I also have days when I am heavy-hearted because I know things that are difficult to think about. I have new knowledge, which means I don’t have the option to be accidentally ignorant anymore. And I am a more troubled person overall after two trips to Kenya.
Two days ago I was lost in thought after a couple of glasses of wine and, suddenly, I understood why the girls at the OGRC called me courageous. Both times I got on the plane to Kenya, I was in it for adventure and fun and to learn new things and teach others about them. I did not go into it thinking that it is brave of me to seek out knowledge and write about the difficult issues that the world’s women face. I was just being my curious self and doing what I enjoy; personally I don’t think I am all that brave of a gal! But what I realized was that travelling to a third world country, which so many in our generation do or want to do, takes courage. And I don’t mean the kind of courage required to get around on public transportation, poop over holes in the ground, eat weird food, or speak a different language. I mean the kind of courage it takes to enter deeply into the way other people live, to not ignore the sights and sounds and struggles of other humans, to hear firsthand what it’s like for a girl to be circumcised or beaten. I mean the kind of courage it takes when you’re trying to make sense of the world a little bit.

The group of girls at the GRC in 2010

The group of girls at the GRC in 2010.

Scuba Diving Certification Vacation? Yes, please!

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About a month ago I had my first open water scuba diving experience, off the coast of Zanzibar. Despite my fears beforehand and an aching jaw – from clamping down on a regulator – afterward, I decided that I would love to get certified for open water diving. In Zanzibar I did a Discover Scuba Diving course. With the practice I did during this I am able to get a full certification with a bit less work and money! But, the kicker is that I have to do it within one year. That might just mean another vacation to somewhere sunny and salty…darn! It’s been three weeks since I got home from a two-month trip in Africa and I am already looking at plane tickets again. My, my! Shopping for plane tickets is a hobby/ addiction of mine. So, the other night I was reading my book on the couch and travelish thoughts starting bouncing around my brain. On kayak.com I searched these countries for a December or January scuba trip: El Salvador, Panama, Honduras, Belize, Jamaica, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Guatemala, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Grand Cayman, and Little Cayman. I love the ease of the internet sometimes! Of course, I was looking for the cheapest place. Grand Cayman won, but Little Cayman sounds nicer (more iguanas on the island than people? Let’s go!) and it’s only a hundred dollars more to get there. And, if I search harder and am willing to fly at horrible times of night and day, I bet I could get it even cheaper than what I originally found. The really, really good news is that the Cayman Islands have some of the best scuba diving sites in the world. What a perfect place to get certified, eh?  My goal is set! Step one, as always, is to find a job to pay for this excursion.

Thorn Tree Travel Forum

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Well, Alex and I are getting ready to spend the next two months in Kenya and Tanzania…leaving Thursday! With this, I had some random last minute questions that I couldn’t find answers to, such as: what are the best ATMs to use a Visa card at, what bus line from Moshi to Iringa is the least fatal (I’ve read that this route is extra terrifying) , and how far in advance should we book a flight to Zanzibar. I had seen the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Travel Forum briefly before but really dug into it at 7 o’ clock this morning and got some great advice! Searching the forum was helpful, but I also registered (for free) so now I can post my own questions. This forum has massive amounts of information, sometimes dating back ten years. If you’re planning a trip, this is an invaluable resource!

Summer goals: Pagosa Springs and Taos

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Recently I have had an odd hankering to visit New Mexico. Although it’s just a state away, I have only ever driven through. Some friends of mine went to Taos last summer and came back with rave reviews of the place!  They told tales of little restaurants, art galleries, and shops, all surrounded by mysterious desert and mountains. Suddenly, New Mexico sounded exotic! Maybe we’ll chalk it up to the power of storytelling, but I still want to go! Taos is only a 7 (ish) hour drive from Denver and its surrounding areas seem to have great promise for camping and hiking…always a must on summer trips! Another place I have been wanting to go back to is Southern Colorado. I was there about 13 years ago and have heard so many stories of the towns and the San Juan Mountains that I don’t feel I can stay away much longer. Pictures of The Springs hot springs in Pagosa Springs solidified my desire to go there. The pools I saw in the pictures resemble Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone: old mineral deposits all built up into something resembling a frozen waterfall. And, the good news is, Pagosa Springs is only a 5 (ish) hour drive from Denver! So, I figure we’ll go to the hot springs, do some hiking, and head on down to New Mexico. I’m thinking June. Ahhh summer!