Redneck Extravaganza

Have you ever had a weekend that filled your heart with so much happiness, gratefulness, love, laughter, and faith? I experienced one of those weekends less than a month ago and have had so much love in my heart since. I’ve been battling personal struggles for the last 9 months and this weekend showed me that I’m on the uphill climb to a new and better me. It’s possible to feel as though you’ve got nothing left but still grow in relationships, make new relationships and reconnect with our Savior.

My Redneck Extravaganza weekend was spent with 5 other Christians, who are so kind-hearted, grateful, loving and all around wonderful humans, who I am lucky to call friends. The weekend didn’t start off as planned, as we were initially planning on climbing to a fire tower through forest and snow. However the day before, Washington’s weather took a turn from sunny and 75 to raining and thundering. Not quite the ideal weather to summit a mountain. Instead, one of the guys, Ben, put an idea out there for camping over in eastern Washington near a popular destination called Mosses Lake. As I didn’t have any knowledge of such place, I was all in, regardless of the decision. And the decision was to postpone the fire tower climb and head east to camp.

We met as a group bright and early Saturday morning, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and loaded up Big Blue or Diesel. The men (Ben, Paul, and Jonny) had this vision of how the truck needed to be loaded because we had 3 kayaks, 6 bikes, fishing gear, and all of our stuff. Us girls (myself, Brittany, and Angela) really did try to help them, but let’s face it when men have a vision, it’s really better to just let them do their thing. When the truck was finally loaded, we piled into the truck (all 6 of us) and began our road trip.

I selected the middle of the back seat (not sure if I actually selected it or if that’s just how it worked out) but I didn’t mind. It was fun to be between everyone during the drive through the city and beyond to the I90 corridor, as I began learning about many other adventures and stories the group has shared together, more specifically the men’s stories.

We made several pit stops, which all included very random and very hilarious extra activities. Those included random running/sprinting to a pole, group circle push-ups, running through a corn field (resulting in me getting smacked in the face from a corn stalk) and an apple orchard during a MASSIVE wind advisory, and stopping at Wal-mart for a very important purchase, wife-beater tank tops.

The actual location of camping was outside of a town called Othello, in an area called Columbia National Wildlife Refuge/Seep Lakes State Wildlife Recreation Area. A bridge separates the refuge from the recreation area and we decided to take a break there and it turned into the first photo-shoot opportunity. It involved me standing on a truck, the group striking posses on the bridge, and climbing on the sign. We continued on before making our first selection of spots to camp, which turned into our second photo-shoot opportunity, but not our actual camp site.

We piled back into the truck and continued on our way finding a line of rocks blocking a washed out road. This location was our 3rd photo-shoot opportunity and was the start to a good 2-3 hours of off-roading adventure with more random episodes of fun. Us girls started to get restless and we decided to turn back to where the rocks were, but not via truck. The 5 of us, minus Jonny, who drove, jumped onto our bikes and did a little mountain biking.

We finally selected a camp site located near the edge of the lake on a small cliff. It was absolutely breath-taking when setting up camp with the sunset on the horizon and a beautiful, clear sky. Once camp was set up (thank you men for putting up the tents), we enjoy a delicious dinner and some after dinner entertainment with a super moon shining light on us. Nighttime kayaking occurred for Ben and Paul, who went out to fish, and Brittany and Jonny, who took the singles out of the smooth and quite lake. Angela and I stayed behind; I was having too much fun with nighttime photograph trying to capture the stars.

When the group came back from kayaking, I introduced them to something called “Flashlight Nighttime Photography” and we spent a solid 2 hours tracing each other and playing Pictionary via the camera. This was followed by bedtime.

I was the first awake and I woke up to rain dropping down on the tent. Us girls were toasty warm in our tent, but that wasn’t the case when I exited. The rain wasn’t too hard, but it was a bit chilly. I don’t do well just sitting and waiting, so I took off on a hour + bike ride and when I was returning to the camp site the other women were on their way to the restrooms.  Before the men awoke, I got to spend some quality heart to heart with the girls, which whenever you can have girl-time is a special time.

We had some breakfast including coffee and spent some time in worship. I don’t think I’ve been that open and honest with people in sometime. I never felt judgement about my mistake/miss-comings  that I always think I would. I felt loved. I felt friendship. And I felt God again. These 5 people brought back the one thing that was missing during the last 9 months. They brought me back to Him, my Savior, my Heavenly Father.

During worship, it went from cold to super sunny, which we knew meant it was time to hit the water. The men spoiled us and offered to break down camp as we took off on the kayaks towards the canal. We gathered back together, 4 people in kayaks, myself and Ben on the inter tube tied to the double kayak.

This is when our day gets a little spontaneous. We hit the canal, which is a free flowing body of water so we didn’t have to do too much. That was until we hit the bridge. Yes, I’m talking about the same bridge from the day before. Want to know why we stopped? Well, because we (the guys mostly) wanted to jump off the bridge AND designed a rope swing. Why not? I have no fear in heights and honestly have loved “cliff jumping/bridge jumping” when I’ve done it. Every time something adventurous comes up and I’m with Ben, he tells me “Do it for Mapless Adventures”. It’s hard to say “no” to that (though I don’t usually say no) and so that’s exactly what we did. I jumped off the bridge twice and tried the rope swing, but wow of wow did that not feel good. Brittany and I some how really hurt our hands and fingers from the release off the rope (I actually ended up breaking my top knuckle on my middle finger) but it was still a blast. We ended our trip, after Angela and Ben continued down to the bikes and Jonny and Angela rode onto the truck, with one final photo shoot opportunities with the sunset in the back ground.

It was another eventful road trip back to the city and am so thankful that Jonny was a wonderful driving with the amount of rain we hit through the I90 corridor. Our arrival home was past midnight, but with the amount of laughter and adventure that endured I didn’t mind getting home so late. We called our weekend Redneck Extravaganza, but it ended up being “Chasing Sunshine” because that’s exactly what we did. This one is diffidently one for the books!

Contiki Friends Visit Seattle

My April Mexican Adventure with Contiki Holiday was amazing and came with many new friendships. Two of these new friendships even made their way to the Pacific Northwest for part of their holiday adventure and I had the privilege to be able to play tourist/tour guide to Nicola and Todd, both who venture their way to Seattle. Talk about exciting!

Nicola, who is from New Zealand was venturing to Hawaii with several girlfriends after Mexico but given a few extra days between decided to come to Seattle. Reason…”I just always wanted to come”. Unfortunately, due to work conflicts and busy schedules (as this was just 10 days after I returned), I wasn’t able to spend an extreme amount of time with her. Luckily, we did manage to finagle a night, where I took her the Seattle Underground Tour in Pioneer Square. This is very touristy, not honestly not as touristy as you’d think. These tours take you to the original Seattle downtown, which as the tour title gives it away is underground.

If you don’t know already, Seattle’s original downtown is actually 1-level below the current street level. I could provide you with more details but quite frankly this is one of those learning experiences that you actually need to hear and see for yourself. Nothing I could write would explain it to you well enough, nor do pictures do it justice. This type of experience is one that I was very happy I got to share with someone who isn’t American and really didn’t fully understand what makes Seattle my favorite city. I love the history of this city and HIGHLY RECOMMEND anyone visiting Seattle to attend one of the Underground Tours.

After the underground, we ventured to a coffee shop close to where Nicola was staying and spent a good hour just talking. It was a very simple yet exciting time to spend with someone as lovely and kind as Nicola, plus she can make anyone laugh!

A few months after the Contiki tour ended, I had the chance to spend a few days with another tour mate, who to be honest with you, I only spend maybe 4 hours with him. He was on the second half of the tour, whereas I was on the first. Thankfully, Contiki provides a good chance to interact with people in that short amount of time.

One of the main reason Todd ventured south from Vancouver, BC, Canada was to watch the Seattle Mariners baseball game. Don’t get me wrong, I do love baseball, but I have always had a hard time with  the whole “American Baseball Experience” concept. At the same time, I’m never going to say NO or turn away from going to a sporting event, and I do love watching baseball. This was exactly what Todd and I did pretty much immediately after I met him at the greyhound station just outside the stadium!

We spent the afternoon chatting about our travels and enjoying some delicious beers watching the Mariners! After the game ended, we ventured into the heart of downtown and wandered the city before parting ways for the evening. The next morning was our “Extreme Touristy Day”, which is basically doing every typical Seattle tourist attraction within the downtown area. We walked through Pike Place Market, where we enjoyed delicious mini-doughnuts, Starbucks, and some Beechers cheese; spent some time being grossed out by the Seattle Gum Wall then headed off to the Space Needle. At this point, I was suppose to head off to work but due to unfortunate circumstances, I was blessed with the entire day off.

So what do you do with an unexpected day off with an Aussie…well I took him to one of my most favorite places to eat…”The Crab Pot”. Let me explain. The Crab Pot is a restaurant overlooking the Puget Sound and you can select from various mixtures of seafood, which they proceed to dump the food directly onto the table. You are given a mallet, a wooded board and bibs. Get it Crab Pot. It was quite delicious and very messy. After lunch, it was time to send Todd back to the greyhound station for his return to Vancouver. I didn’t know Todd much before this quick trip but I’m thankful for Contiki Holidays for allowing us to create such a wonderful friendship! Now it’s my turn to visit his city: Sydney, Australia. A girl can dream…one day, one day!

The Contiki Journey Begins

Today marks the beginning of my 9-day Mexican Fiesta adventure with Contiki. We begin this journey  in the massive city of Mexico City or Ciudad de Mexico. Located in the heart of Mexico, this capital city isn’t part of any one of the 31 states, but is part of the Federal District and is the country’s largest city. Mexico City is the 3rd largest metropolitan area (population included) in the world growing to nearly 22-24 million people during the work days. See massive!

We started our morning very early for breakfast before heading on to our home away from home, our tour bus. It took less than 5 minutes for everyone to get comfortable in our own seats as we start our 3 hour journey from Mexico City to Puebla via Cholula (I’ll get into more details later).

Once on the bus, as we headed out of the city, Ish talked us through the “boring” mandatory part of the tour, known as the rules, before getting the party started. The party began by giving us the option to select the traditional morning song. On every Contiki tour, the tour guide selects a song to be played first thing on the bus. It’s designed to trigger memories of the trip long after the trip has ended. I still smile each time I hear the song from my first ever Contiki trip, 6 years later. Ish, however, isn’t your typical tour guide and instead of selecting one song for us, he gave us a choice of three songs to be selected by majority vote. Our song choices included “Happy” By Pharrell, “Get Lucky” By Daft Punk, and “#Selfie Song” by Chainsmokers (don’t ask). By a sly margin of hands, “Get Lucky” was our final selection, though we listened to “#Selfie Song” more than once.

Finally, it was time for us to cozy up to each other and learn more about one-an-another. We were told to sit next to someone we don’t know, ask 6 questions, and then stand up and introduce the other person to the bus. The questions include: name, age, location of residence, career/job, favorite alcoholic beverage, and why Mexico. My bus-mate was Jimmy; 22 years old, from Portland, Australia, newly graduated Sports Journalist, came to Mexico for something different from Australia, and I forgot what drink he told me. [My introduction: Nicole, 27 years old, originally from Phoenix, AZ, currently resides in Seattle, WA, Speech Language Pathologist, I love Vodka and wine and I came to Mexico because I won this trip]. We then had to tell an embarrassing story about our selves. Unfortunately, I will not be sharing my to the public. Only my tour mates are privileged to my embarrassing story! Let me introduce the remaining tour mates:

Darren, (a.k.a Dazzla, D-money, D-train, Chief Mole-Mole, the oracle, any many more) resides from the lovely country of England and is our sole Brit. He won for the most nicknames given to a human being within 9 days.

Our Kiwi is Nicola. She is Maori, which are indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, and introduced me to a new side to New Zealand that I didn’t know about. She has one of the greatest sense of humors I’ve been around!

From the land up north, Canada, journeys a pair of friends, Markus and Nora. They come from Nova Scotia and demonstrates how friendships can be created by a similar passion, travel.

The South Africans, Mark and John, journeyed from Johannesburg, or J-Burg (as I was taught) for a brother-trip. Mark is in the film industry while his brother raises, trains and races pigeons. Talk about different career paths.

The remaining 13 travelers come from all over the Land Down Under, Australia. We have:

Stefani and Stephanie: They didn’t know each other before this trip but together make up the dynamic duo known as The Stiffs.

Amy and Kristie: Best friends who grew up in different cities but remained close and travel the world together.

Nick and Jessica: our staple couple who are traveling the world together for the next 6 months.

Bec (my roommate) is coming off of a 5 week adventure from America and was my music guru throughout our trip. I finally had to tell her to stop asking me if I knew songs, because 9 times out of 10 the answer was “no” (I’m not very music savvy)

Jimmy and Glenn (or Ben- it’s his new name): roommates turned bromance and provided us with good stories and many laughs. To be young again!

Rochelle, our rocker chick, Aimee, Natalie, our sweet hippie chick, and Troy are the remaining four solo travelers.

Together with Ish and Marco (our bus drive); we make up April’s Contiki Mexico Family.

Okay, back to the journey. The drive from Mexico City to Puebla was pretty average as most of the first part was venturing through the suburbs and traffic-filled. On our drive, Ish explained that we were driving past a location known for Haciendas, which are Mexican Ranch style homes, and filming of the famous Telenovelas take place in these haciendas. Growing up in Phoenix, I’m very familiar to telenovelas, but if you don’t know about them, they are basically Mexican-style soap operas, but way more entertaining.

Puebla is a World Heritage Site, but before our arrival, we ventured into the history city of Cholula, pueblo magico. Cholula was once second to the Aztec capital of Tenochitilan, now modern Mexico city, and while here we visited the great pyramid dedicated to Quetzacoatl, mesoamerican diety meaning “feathered serpent”. But before entering into this archeological site, we enjoyed a traditional Mexican snack food, chapulines. These bugs, or grasshoppers, are seasoned and roasted and give a bit of a crunch when you eat them, but all-in-all not bad in taste. Not sure I’d eat too many, but I can now say I’ve eaten a grasshopper. 

In order to reach the archeological site, you must walk 1-by-1 through a long tunnel lined with dome lights and if your claustrophobic, I would recommend having someone walk with/in front of you. The pyramid of Cholula is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid in the modern world and stands at 180 feet with a base of 1300×1300 feet (massive). We spent approximately 30-45 minutes learning from Ish, about the various components of this pyramid. For example, the differences between markets for selling food items vs. goods. It was quite fascinating to hear the historical components of this specific locations. (more will be provided via vlog whenever I get to them)

On our way out of the Great Pyramid and before heading back to the bus, we gathered around a centre with a giant pole standing tall and up top stood 5 men dress in costume, 1 in the middle and 4 with ropes tied around their ankles. The leader does a ritual honouring the earth’s elements and then begins to play his flute and beat the drums as the four men fall, with arm outstretched. As the spin, they make 13 circles around the pole, totaling 52; the number of years that comprise the pre-Columbia religious calendar. It was quite the performance.

Back to the bus we went and straight into Puebla, where Marco dropped us off right in the centre square. We were provided with free time, at which point, we followed Ish to a local buffet style restaurant to try our hands at Pollo de Mole (Chicken Mole- pronounced mo-lay). Chicken Mole is a traditional Mexican dish popular in Puebla and is a dark brown sauce with flavors consisting of chili peppers, spices and a little bit of chocolate. I thought it was very appetizing and not too spicy, as most of the Mexican cuisine tends to be.

After lunch, our walking tour of the city of Puebla began. We explored a few of the local churches, which are designed in the Baroque style, including the Puebla Cathedral. This Cathedral is located in the center of the town, a square which became a World Heritage Site in 1987 in part due to the heavy influence of Talaveras. Talaveras are ornamental tiles used on the facades of buildings.

Talavera is also a style of pottery distinguished by a milky-white glaze and is commonly found throughout Mexico. However this most authentic is from this city and its surrounding communities due to the quality of the clay and the traditional production, ages back to the 16th century. We were privileged to visit a local pottery mill, see the stages of production and enter into an authentic 16th century style home. The owner maintained the original structure of the home and is it still in pristine condition.

A sweet treat was next on our list and we ventured to a sweet shop to taste a Camote, candied sweet potato). Although an interesting grainy texture, think taffy mixed with apple sauce, I found this treat to be rather enjoyable and not too sweet. We also enjoyed leche cookies and a few other selected items (I couldn’t keep track).

The handicraft market came next and by this point of the day, each and every one of us were beginning to feel the beat down from the sun. Having been to Mexico many times before I spent most of my time here walking around looking for items different from what I’ve seen. I came up empty-handed, which I didn’t mind.

A nap probably would have been the adult thing to do, however many of the girls gathered in a room and chatted for a few hours (we had dinner scheduled that night), getting to know each other more. I brought my favorite Mexican beverage, Manzanita (apple soda), for them to taste and it was a great way to spend the afternoon. By dinner time, I was famished and enjoy a cup of soup, some meat dish, and a local brewed beer. Conversation flowed freely around the dinner table and continued at a local bar until early the next morning, well midnight. It was a packed day full of new experiences. Up next: Cuernavaca, Mexico

Picture Here

Day Trip to Vancouver, Canada

Christmas came and went this year and although I was able to spend Thanksgiving with my family, it still was very heartbreaking being so far away. Because of this, my friend Krista and I decided that we needed to get away and what better way than to road trip north to Vancouver, BC, Canada! If you recall I visited Canada for the first time back in February (first canadian adventure) and ever since then I have been DYING to back. When I realized I’d have a free weekend (the last of 2013), I knew exactly where I needed to go. I am lucky enough to have a friend who is as crazy as me for a ROAD TRIP!

We left really early Saturday morning and made it from Seattle to Vancouver, BC in under 3.5 hours and that included the 30+ minute wait at the border. Once we crossed the border, both Krista and I felt like children at Disney Land. There is something euphoric about entering another country and going off the grid even if it’s only a few hour drive.

We made it to Vancouver, found a location to park Misty for the day and headed out towards the city with a stop for some caffeine. Yes, the first thing we did in Vancouver was make a pit stop at a coffee shop! Can you blame us, we did just sit 3.5 hours in a car jamming to music! Now give you a little over view of the events to come next…the night before Krista and I watched the movie Elf and Krista has always wanted to pull an ELF adventure day. So what came next was the start of an ELF IN VANCOUVER. As we were walking towards the main downtown street, my crazy friend walked into a coffee shop and said the exact same lines from Elf and a few people stared, some clapped, but mostly people didn’t really know how to react. Then we found a round-a-bout door, which she proceeded to go round and round as I laugh with her. It was quite awesome.

After that, we had to make a decision > to go to the suspension bridge to see the lights/biggest Christmas tree or head to Granville Island for some mischievous adventure. Can you guess which one we choose? If you guessed taking the aquabus to Granville Island, you’d be correct. I have been to the island before and knew of some fun places that we could visit. We started with lunch at the market and did some wandering around trying some new fruits and mostly people watching! After the market, we started our tour de Granville at Artisan Saki Maker for some delicious saki. Then off to The Liberty Distillery for a bit of vodka tasting (my favorite and a first for me) before ending our tour our the Granville Brewery!

One of Krista’s “must do” for our road trip, was meeting ‘true’ Canadians and leave it to this girl to make friends with one of the servers at the brewery, who bravely joined us for a bit of nighttime fun. Unfortunately, our trip didn’t end on a high note as Krista lost her phone, however this trip was still one to remember for years to come.  I’m glad I was able to spend my spontaneous international day trip/road trip with someone so dear to my heart. I sometimes forget how lucky I am and how wonderful of people I have in my life. This trip was the perfect way to end 2013! Check out our day in pictures HERE!

Best Friend visits Washington

One of the best things about my best friend is how random she can be when trying to do other things like packing. This was one of those moment. She randomly decided it was a good idea to book a ticket to visit me in Washington. No complaints here. She was my first visitor outside of my family and I absolutely loved having her here for a whole weekend.

Our weekend started out very simple and wonderful- dinner for two and hard apple cider. We spent the whole evening talking and laughing just like old times. We took the night pretty easy because I had a wine-filled adventure the next day. Yup, I decided the most perfect way to spend our Saturday was in Woodinville, visiting as many wineries as possible. There are more than 90 tasting rooms in this one small town just north of Seattle and I wanted to treat her to something unique to this region. I mean not even California has that many wineries within 10 miles from one another.

We started our day out at Chateau St. Michelle and enjoyed a combination of Rieslings and red wines (and the sun, which decided to join us). Chateau is known for their late harvest riesling (which is delicious) and I know my bestie Kristin isn’t a huge red wine fan. What better way then to start off at a sweet wine winery. From Chateau, we headed across the street to Columbia Winery then to Long Shadow Vineyard and Winery. After these three wineries we ventured off to a local pizzeria for lunch/pit stop before finishing our adventure at Otis Keynon Winery and Zebra Cellars. Luckily, our day didn’t stop here. We continued our adventure in Seattle where we ended out day dancing away in Capitol Hill.

By Sunday, my bestie was starting to feel the ‘pain’ of our wine-dancing adventure but this friend wasn’t going to let her waste her last day in bed. I practically forced her out of bed and into my car to be tourist in Seattle. Places we visited: Pike Place Market, Gum Wall, Space Needle, and ending at Alki Beach with the Seattle Skyline. Kristin was well aware when she booked the ticket that I love being tour-guide and I love planning adventures and everything we did was perfect, mostly because we were together again! It was a weekend to remember and I hope I didn’t wear her down too much to never want to return. Anyone else want to come and visit me in this amazing city of SEATTLE?!?!?!