A Wedding in Bali

“Every night, I would spend 30 minutes bending the fingers on each of my hands backwards,” Wayan continued as we drove through the mountains on our way to Ubud. “It was the only way to train my hands for dancing.”

A few nights before, we had been mesmerized by the shifty-eyed, gold, yellow, and red laden Balinese dancers performing at Drew and Ursula’s rehearsal dinner in Pemuteran, Bali. The movement of their eyes was hypnotizing enough, but their hands were truly mystifying. Fingers moved almost impossibly independent from the rest of each dancer’s body. Wayan, our taxi driver and a former dancer, told us he could bend his fingers all the way back until they were parallel with the back of his hand, a detail he then confirmed from the driver’s seat as I silently willed him to put his hands back on the wheel.

This incredible attention to detail is one of the reasons we, and many we know, keep coming back to Bali. The island has received a lot of attention over the years, winning various “top destination” awards, and rightfully so. The whole culture is just as mesmerizing as the dancers’ fingers, especially in Pemuteran, a costal town 4 hours north and away from the island’s most popular tourist destinations.

A few days before the rehearsal dinner, Daniel and I de-boarded at the Denpasar airport and made our way to the Ponduk Sari Resort for our dear friends Drew + Ursula’s wedding. We couldn’t wait to spend the week celebrating a couple that has come to mean so much to us, two people we have grown to love through a rickshaw run across India, bike rides through Venice Beach, and champagne soaked dinners. And of course, they had planned the perfect celebration. Bali is stupid beautiful, but Drew and Ursula together surpassed even the island’s most gorgeous sunset drenched beaches, especially on their wedding day.

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Pemuteran may be quite a ways from the airport, but the villagers are the example of charm and kindness that the Balinese are famous for. We were able to spend a dreamy week with an exceptionally fun group of wedding guests that was made even more magical by those Pemuteran locals who took us snorkeling, joined in on the dancing and volleyball playing, cooked us delicious meals, and hosted us with their characteristic generosity and full-faced smiles. We were truly welcomed, and never wanted to leave.

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*Some of these photos are courtesy of Drew + Ursula and their fabulous wedding photographer.

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Joshua Tree

It’s kind of insane how long it took me to get to Joshua Tree – the National Park that’s a mere 3 hour drive from the place I’ve lived for 26 of my 30 years on this planet. I asked my mom the other day why she and my dad never took us out there as kids and she responded with, “Well we couldn’t do EVERYTHING!” Touché. 

So for Daniel’s 30th birthday, we finally made our way east to the Mojave Desert to explore, relax and rock climb. People have often described Joshua Tree as magical, and that’s just what it is. This comes as no surprise, since every desert I’ve ever visited has been a pastel-drenched dreamland. Whether it’s India’s Thar Desert or the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, the setting desert sun can almost make you believe in magic. Joshua Tree was no exception.

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Baja

Man, I love Mexico. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

Last week, we spent a few days before New Years at my brother’s house in Campo Lopez, a little surf village about 45 minutes past the boarder. His house is perhaps the most ideal place for a person who likes seafood, great views, and card games. Oh, and tequila.

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The village has no electricity, so save for a few hours of candles and lanterns at night, you pretty much rise and fall with the sun – a weirdly rejuvenating sensation. It feels good to disconnect. It was pitch black around 6:00pm, and we were in bed close to 9 each night, and up at 6 ready for another day.

We went down with our friends Julien and Morgan, two adventurous souls who seem to make every day about a thousand times more fun than the next. Day trips included nearby cities Puerto Nuevo for fresh grilled lobster and margaritas, La Fonda for seaside breakfast, Popotla for fresh shrimp, oysters, and sea bass (which we purchased freshly caught and bbq’ed back at the house..mmmmMMMm).

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Getting to Baja is such an easy and worthwhile trip, especially for Southern Californians. There are lots of little hotels lining the Baja area that are mostly cheap and cozy. Basically what I’m saying is- get to BAJA!

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New York, New York

Isn’t it every dreamers dream to live in New York City? In September, Daniel and I packed our bags and headed East. With luck on our side (and one amazing boss who said ‘yes,’) we were able to live and work remotely for a month in New York.

While a month will never feel long enough to fit in the countless things New York offers, it was enough to make us feel like we weren’t just on vacation. But even with our extended stay, it was hard to leave. It felt like every minute we spent exploring the city was well-spent, and yet we left with tons things left on our to-do list.

As a musical theater lover, having Broadway in my backyard was a REAL treat. While there, Daniel and I got in 3 plays – American in Paris [Gershwin + Ballet = swoon], Something Rotten [Bad boy Shakespeare + dancing eggs = lolz], and Chicago [A play that I will forever love, and Daniel’s first time seeing it]. We also went to the Apollo to see “Amateur Night at the Apollo” which was a f*cking BLAST.

We also ate…a lot. Pizza, pizza, Halal Brothers, soup dumplings in Chinatown, and more pizza. There were bagels, as well, and a whole slew of other delicious meals, but THE PIZZA. Bless you, Joe’s and Artichoke Basille’s.

We also walked so much that the copious amounts of pizza consumed was almost negated, the true benefit of living in NYC. And we took the subway enough for me to actually understand the geography of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Here are some of the highlights from our trip that we haven’t stopped thinking about. NYC, we love you.

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First day in Brooklyn

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Top of the Met

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Mean streets

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So many museams, so little time

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At the Apollo

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Top of the Whitney

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Daniel was there too

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Matching jackets at The Meadows Music Festival

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‘Bout to ride the free IKEA ferry to Red Hook for some delicous lobster rolls

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Soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown #NOM

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…and all that jazz

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Favorite boys with favorite coffee

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At Joe’s Pizza with Leo and Coop

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Daniel was there too

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Tap dancing at Broadway Dance Center

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Here’s Daniel modeling the lovely / horribly ugly purse I bought on the street one night

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Drew and Jacquline at sunset #awww

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To Fosse with Love

Playa Del Carmen & Tulum – Eat, Drink, Lounge, Repeat.

Mexico was the first country I ever traveled to outside of the US. As a Los Angeles native, it comes at no surprise. But ever since those family camping trips south of the border into Baja, I’ve always loved the country.

How could you not? The culture is as spicy and rich as the cuisine. At the K58 campsite, my brother would surf the days away while my sister and I got our hair braided, played on the beach and wandered the cliffs. For dinner, we’d drive into the local town and stuff ourselves with a cheap and delicious seafood dinner. Occasionally, we’d spend the afternoon at Rosarito Beach, a jumbled but lively resort town nearby. We’d ride the rickety old ferris wheel and watch people stumble out of Papas & Beer while chowing down on street tacos. It was the perfect summer vacation.

In high school and college spring breaks, my trips to Mexico were a different experience altogether. A bunch of friends and I would pile into the car, drive two hours south, park and walk across the border, and hail a taxi down to Rosarito. We’d grab a room at the Rosarito Beach hotel and take advantage of the 18 year old drinking age. Needless to say, it was always a blast.

Over the years, other trips have taken me to Cancun and Cozumel, but I’ve never fallen in love with Mexico more than our recent trip to Playa del Carmen and Tulum with Daniel and his family.

IMG_7967All smiles in Playa del Carmen

The Yucatan Peninsula, on the southeastern side of the country, boasts those turquoise waters and white sandy beaches you dream of. And while Cancun, just north of Playa and Tulum, is a mess of giant resorts and lack of culture, Playa del Carmen and Tulum are still able to retain their Mexican charm, despite the amount of tourists who still visit the area.

IMG_7864Hola Mexico! We miss you!

Living in Luxury

Our first week of the trip was spent at the luxurious Luna Encantada, a spot Daniel’s mom found on VRBO that exceeded all expectations (Anne-Marie you’re a star!). We spent our days lazing around on the beach and exploring Playa. Nights were spent sitting on the patio over looking the water, sipping margaritas and dozing off on the lounge chairs while staring at the stars above. This trip was the definition of a true relaxing vacation. Even as I type this, I’m chock full of envy of myself in January. The power of the vacation is mighty.

FullSizeRender-4Infinity pool on the beach = serious vacationing.

Exploring the Cenotes

Playa del Carmen and the surrounding areas are known for their cenotes, an intricate cave system that runs underneath the Peninsula. We took a snorkeling tour of Cenote Chaak Tun, a short 15 minute taxi ride away from the town center, and it was one of the neatest things we did all trip.

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Deep into the caves of Cenote Chaak Tun, we found fresh water, frigid temperatures, and the most impressive display of ancient stalactites lining the cave walls. This lesser known cenote is a must see for anyone in the Playa area, it’s less touristy and the guides are incredibly connected to the Mayan culture and rich history of the land.

Akumal Beach – Snorkeling with Sea Turtles

When we pulled into Akumal beach, about 30 minutes south of Playa del Carmen, I did not have high hopes for sea turtle spotting. Tourists were everywhere, and there was no shortage of guides pestering you for $20 to show you the turtles, with a money back guarnatee. I was skeptical at first, it seemed that there was no way we’d actually see a sea turtle amid that mess of people in the water, but we strapped on our snorkels and life vests and walked into the water regardless. We didn’t come all this way for nothing.

MAN was I wrong. Within three minutes in the water, there was a collective burst of excitement as we spotted a sea turtle, wading it’s way through the water, unfazed by our presence. We proceeded to see at least 8 more sea turtles, some big, some small, just existing. It was a truly incredible experience, even with the droves of other tourists. We were all gawking together, and none of the creatures seemed to mind. One of them was so oblivious to our arrival that as he was popping up to the surface for air, he bumped right into Daniel’s mom!

IMG_7946Daniel at Akumal – Not a turtle but still fun to look at

Akumal is not only a beautiful beach full of life, but a sacred place to many of the people who live there, and they are doing great things to preserve the natural habitat. I highly recommend spending a day there. Don’t forget to replenish after your snorkel at the unassuming Imelda’s Ecocina, the freshest fish awaits your arrival (ProTip: they don’t serve beer, so grab some from the market down the street – Imelda doesn’t mind).

IMG_0988Post snorkel bliss. Gracias, Imelda.

The Food

Let’s be honest: if there is one reason you should visit Mexico, it’s the food. And if you do one thing in Playa del Carmen, it should be standing in the almost unimaginably long line to eat at El Fogon. I have never had an al pastor taco as good as this, and I’m certain I never will. While we ate at many, many delicious restaurants while in Mexico, El Fogon took the cake. Aside from the tacos, heed my advice and order the chorizo queso and the grilled onions, and literally everything else on the menu. Excuse me while my mouth waters…

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As you walk the main drag in Playa, you’ll find an overwhelming amount of restaurant options. Try to avoid the touristy ones and dig into the good stuff. If you wander off of the main drag, there are some great little taco stands and stalls that are cheap and perfect for a quick lunch. For more formal meals, allow me to be of service:

IMG_7914Standing in line at El Fogon #worththewait

Partyin’ the Night Away

Any town that’s ripe with tourists is ripe with places to party. When Daniel and I get together with his family, a lively crew of people who know how to have fun, we always manage to find the best spots for a little drinking and dancing.

But one of the unique parts of this vacation was that we stayed in apartments instead of a hotel (I’m a big advocate for the dawn of AirBNB/VRBO). Many a margarita were made and sipped at Luna Encantada. While our apartment had an incredible ocean-view porch, the second apartment had a huge rooftop patio that was perfect for gathering and hosting. We spent New Year’s eve with a wonderful group (including our best friends Kellie and Kenny who came down from Cancun for the night!), eating, drinking, and dancing the night away on that rooftop.

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When the rooftop party wrapped up, we made our way to the infamous Coco Bongo for their New Year’s show. Despite the high price point and large crowd, Coco Bongo proved to be a really fun way to ring in the new year. The club hosts a variety of over the top performances throughout the night on their giant stage, including tributes to Moulin Rouge, Michael Jackson, Star Wars, and beyond, which were all a blast to watch while ripping one too many shots of tequila.

Tulum

After we said our goodbyes to the family, Daniel and I headed south to Tulum for a few more days of relaxation and exploration. After a 45 minute taxi ride down, we unloaded our bags at Maya Tulum, a small yet peaceful cluster of beach bungalows with sand pathways, a yoga room, and a quaint restaurant that overlooks an unbelievably gorgeous view and serves the freshest coconuts.

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While in Tulum, we spent our days on the beach: swimming, reading, and soaking up the sun. We also visited the Mayan Ruins that overlook the sea and learned a bit more about the ancient culture while walking their once home.

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For the freshest fish ceviche, stop by the Pinterest inspired El Pez Hotel. The food is just as beautiful as the people who frequent the place. Here is my best attempt at a lifestyle blogger’s quintessential Instagram photo:

IMG_8005It’s pretty and delicious!

But if you want the best meal in Tulum, eat at La Coqueta. It’s a few kilmeters off of the beach (we had to taxi there from our bungalow), but it’s well worth the trek. No joke – we ate there three times in three days. Don’t let the unassuming exterior and roadside location throw you off. And when you’re there, order the fajitas and a margarita and send me a thank you note.

IMG_8047Fajitas for all!
IMG_7857Adios, Mexico. We’ll be back!

Road Tripping the West Coast: California

In May, Daniel and I took two weeks to drive up the West Coast – a trip we’ve been dreaming about for some time now. Up California, Oregon, Washington and back, we drove through some of the most enchanting landscapes you can image. Born and raised in California, I always knew the West Coast was the Best Coast, but a trip along the cliffs and towns that line the western most edge of these great states really solidified the statement.

If you’re planning a West Coast trip – we’ve put together a little stop-by-stop itinerary by state. We didn’t plan much (never do), and didn’t hit everywhere we thought we would, but chose instead to take our time in the places we really wanted to savor. Hopefully you’ll find as much joy in each coastal gem as we did.

We left home in Los Angeles, and started driving up the coast on Highway 1. First stop…

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Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara is a beautiful beach town with great bars, restaurants and nightlife on State Street, but we only had time for a quick stop so we had to choose wisely. We landed on La Super Rica. Okay, so I’ve had a lot of Mexican food in my day. But SB’s La Super Rica is possibly some of the best I’ve encountered, and that just may be beacuse of the fluffy, homemade corn tortillas, which pair perfectly with pork and guacamole. And a Coronoa, of course.

Solvang

A little Danish town just north of Santa Barbara, Solvang is known for being in the heart of SB’s wine country. They have a variety of wine bars & Danish pastry stops, and we chose to have a couple glasses of Pinot Noir and local reds at the Wandering Dog Wine Bar, where the bartender was uber knowledgeable and friendly.

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San Luis Obispo

Only 3 hours from LA, I’ve been to SLO quite a few times, mostly to visit friends who attended Cal Poly SLO. But I always love going back. This time in particular to stay at the uniquly wacky and kitchy Madonna InnEach room in the hotel has a different theme, and we spent our first night in the Carin Suite – which was bascially a mini Swiss chalet, entered into up a tower and spiral staircase. EVERYTHING in the room was pink – except, of course, the gold cherubs floating above the bed. It was as gaudy as you can get, and I loved every second of it.

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Morrow Bay

Just north of SLO is the beautiful coastal town of Morrow Bay. We made a quick stop to eat rockefeller oysters and clam chowder at Tognazzini’s Dockside 3. Maybe some of the best I’ve ever had, highly reccomended if you’re anywhere nearby.

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Big Sur

Our second night of the trip was spent camping in Big Sur, a serious bucket list trip for anyone, anywhere. The drive up the coast boasts impossible beauty – jagged cliffs pummled by turqouise waters that actually take your breath away.

We camped up Nacimiento Road at an unoffical camping spot our buddy told us about. His directions were: “when you hit the top of the ridge, there is a fire road that goes either North or South. Go South and then keep going until you orgasm because of the view.” We drove for a while, and then a while more, and almost stopped before we decided to keep climbing, and I’m sure glad we did – because the road opened to one of the most spectacular views imaginable. We were above the clouds at Sunset, completely alone on a Tuesday night. I’ll let the picture do the talking:

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Moss Landing

After a hearty breafast at camp, Daniel and I continued our way up Hwy 1 and make a quick stop at a fruit and veggie stand in Moss Landing. There are an abundance of produce stops along the way, and with prices like 7 avocados for $1, we couldn’t resist.

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Santa Cruz

My best friend Stephanie went to school in Santa Cruz and talked endlessly about the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery, so we decided to stop and have lunch and a beer there. The food was delish and so were the beers, a great little stop if you are in the area and have the time!

San Francisco

SF is one of my favorite towns in CA, and one of our favorite people in CA happens to live there. So while we didn’t need to stop in SF cause we visit so often, it’d b hard to pass up a sausage at Rosamunde Sausage Grill and a beer at Mad Dog + The Fog with Phil (the purveyor of Big Sur camping recommendations). Deelish food and deelish beer are hard for us to turn down.

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Healdsburg

After a full day of driving, Daniel and I pulled into the L&M Motel, which may be the last great motel on earth. If you’re ever in the bay and in need of an affordable & lovely place to lay your head for a few hours, this is the spot.

The Redwoods

I’m not quite sure I can say all I’d like to say about driving up the 101 through the Redwood National Park. Los Angeles isn’t known for it’s beautiful landscape, so to have the pleasure of driving through a land so chaulk-full of gigantic, coastal trees was an absolute treat. Among our many stops in the forest was the the Chandelier Tree Park in Leggit, where the famous 315 ft, 2400 year old Redwood lives. We also drove down the Avenue of the Giants and had a picnic and hiked among some of the biggest trees in the world. Daniel was particularly fascinated beacuse this is where George Lucas filmed scenes from the forest moon of Endor in Star Wars. We also drove by the kitchy Trees of Mystery, we didn’t ride their ziplines, but we did take pictures with the giant (right-armless) Paul Bunyon and Babe. All in all, this was one of the most memorable parts of our trip, and certainly the most reccomended.

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Sri Lanka – A Quick Photo Journey

Good fortune came my way when I was sent by World Nomads Inc. and Intrepid Travel to Sri Lanka for a few weeks.  I was tasked with directing and shooting a few episodes of “Passport & Plate: Sri Lanka.”  Our group was assigned the Southern Region and we set out from Colombo.  We were welcomed into so many homes where smiling faces generously prepared amazing dishes for us to study, film and eat.  South Sri Lanka has numerous beautiful sites to see, areas to tour, foods to eat and beaches to sit on.  Below are some of my favorite images I captured with a little story on each.

stirringthemilkWe were invited into a home where men sat in front of cauldrons full of boiling cow’s milk.  We were witnessing a step in the chain to making one of Sri Lanka’s favored delicacies –the buffalo curd served with honey Arak.

curdkitchenThese men stood calmly in front of incredible heat.

hall of bowlsOne of the final steps in the buffalo curd process, this man fills the hall of bowls with the desired milk mixture.  The next morning each will contain the fluffy yogurt and will all be sold about by 7 am.  The process then repeats each day.  Sri Lankans can’t get enough.

earlymornfishermenEarly morning, these local fisherman stood.  At their feet rested the catch of the day, week or month –depending on your luck out at sea.  Careful eyes examined each shape and size of the plentiful bounty.

yellowtailsThe yellow tail catch of the day.

coconutstopJust your standard, “It’s so hot out, let’s stop for a refreshing roadside coconut.”

kitchencowpiesOut in Yala National forrest, near a remote campsite, a team of skilled cooks stood in this kitchen with cow pie walls.  The walls offered protection from the heat, creating a calm oasis and a place for us to enjoy another delicious meal.

loversbayThis little town of Matara was home to a beautiful ocean side view.  Along the coast were hundreds of benches each matching with hundreds of couples holding their umbrellas and taking in the scene.

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skinningthefishOutside that same kitchen with cow pie walls, our cook prepared the fish by skinning and cleaning in a cutting area under the sun.

srilankansunsetA sunset I was lucky enough to be waterside for.

stiltfishingWe had the opportunity to capture the iconic Sri Lankan custom of stilt fishing.  Many consider it a dying art as modern solutions make waves.

Panamaniacs

In July, Daniel and I spent 10 days exploring Panama. While it wasn’t as long of an adventure as we would have liked, and filled with far more mishaps than usual, it was a great adventure practicing our Spanish and enjoying the beauty of humid, rain-filled days in Central America.

When we first arrived in Panama City, we headed straight to the old city, Casco Viejo. Casco Viejo has the unique allure of new world restoration amid crumbling buildings and cobblestone streets. We stayed in an apartment we found through Los Cuatro Tulipanes, easily the nicest place we rented the entire trip. Upon entrance to this pristine apartment, we knew instantly that this was shaping up to be a very different type of traveling experience than our times in SouthEast Asia and India…a real vacation, if you will!

Fortunately, we arrived right in the middle of the World Cup, and watching futbol with a bunch of locals who are as passionate about the game as I’ve ever seen (even without their team in the tournament) was a real treat. The second day we were there we caught up with a group of American ex-pats who took us to an abandoned theater-turned-bar to watch USA play Belgium. USA’s loss aside, we couldn’t have asked for a better place to watch (aside from maybe Brazil..at the game?).

photoThe streets of Casco Viejo on game day

After two days in the city, we decided to rent a car and drive to the mountain town of Boquete, about 6 hours North-West of Panama City, appropriately dubbed the “Napa Valley of Coffee.” However, it took us far longer than 6 hours to get there. I thought that we could “rough it” and just use the maps we were provided with to get out of town, but it proved to be a far more difficult than we could handle. After driving in circles and asking countless people in broken Spanish the way out to no avail, I bucked up and called AT&T to get an International data plan on my phone. Despite my best efforts, I am a modern girl in a modern world who can’t get around without Google Maps.

Once we got out of Panama City, the drive to Boquete was rather straight forward. We passed over the Panama Canal and headed into the mountains. As nightfell, we had a few run ins with wandering cows on the country roads, but finally made it to our destination a million hours later. We stayed at an Air BnB we rented from a retired American couple up a steep hill…apparently, Boquete is a big retirement town for Americans. The allure of fresh mountain air, beautiful vistas of the nearby volcano and copious coffee plantations is one I fully understand.

IMG_9693Los Cangilones de Gualaca – just outside of Boquete
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IMG_9650The Road to Boquete

Boquete was fun to explore – but unfortunately I came down with a pretty bad cold halfway through our stay. It may have been the hour we spent standing in the rain, waiting out a huge thunder and lightening storm on our hike up to the Caldera Hot Springs, just outside of town. We were prepared for rain, we knew were visiting the country in the rainy season, but the forecast for this particular day didn’t indicate that it would dump as much as it did. After waiting the storm out and hiking the remainder of the trail, we arrived and spent a good hour enjoying the natural wonder of the hot springs. It was a beautiful spot, and worth it the impending cold.

IMG_9675The slippery road to the hot springs

Boquete, it turns out, is home to the second-best fish tacos I’ve ever had in my life (the first being the lion fish tacos on the island of Roatan in Honduras). Big Daddy’s Grill is well worth the stop if you ever find yourself in the mountains of Panama!

On our way out of town, we stopped at this little hillside coffee joint – and sipped some world-class espresso before heading on our way to the island of Bocas del Toro.

IMG_9654Cafe Mirador – coffee with a view

After we parked our car and hopped on the boat that took us over to the island, we arrived at Jon’s House, a bungalow we rented right on the water. It was a charming little joint with a neighborhood cat we adopted for the next few days and perhaps the most perfectly situated hammock of all time. In Bocas, we spent our days biking around the island, watching soccer with the locals, eating at some great restaurants, swimming, paying way too much to rent a jet ski (which, in the end, was TOTALLY worth it. Who doesn’t love a jet ski!?), and surviving a pretty rough bout of food poisoning.

On our drive back to Panama City the day before our flight out, we decided that the country has far more to explore than we were able to fit into our short trip-and that we’d definitely be back.

photo 3Jon’s House – Bocas del Toro
photo 2Hammock Heaven
IMG_9704Ceviche and Pina Coladas – a deelish combo
IMG_9761The dock at dusk
photo 4Island Goofballs

Staycation

The staycation: you’ve heard the word, but have you put the practice into play? If not, now’s the time. The power of the staycation is mighty.

Sometimes, when you need a vacation but just don’t have the time to travel, your best bet is to leave your side of town and head to the other. Exploring a new part of your city gives you the opportunity to travel without actually traveling, which can be refreshing and relaxing, and help you hit the restart button without breaking the bank.

Last weekend, Daniel and I decided to leave the Westside of Los Angeles and head East. We often head out to Downtown LA or the Eastside to visit friends or explore, but we always end up driving home late, groggy and tired and unable to end the night right. So we decided to make a weekend out of it – a mini vacation, if you will. A staycation.

Saturday morning, we hopped in the car and headed straight to HomeState, a Texas Kitchen specializing in breakfast tacos in East Hollywood. Now, if there was ever a reason to leave Venice, it’s HomeState. The Guadalupe Taco (eggs, chorizo & cheddar) put all other breakfast tacos to shame, and the Loaded Queso got Daniel’s Texas native approval. Good TexMex is hard to come by in Southern California, and HomeState is doing it right.

homestatePhoto: Homestate Facebook

After breakfast, Daniel and I drove over to the newly remodeled Echo Park Lake. This charming park in the middle of the city proved to be the perfect oasis for an 80-degree day like the one we were having. We spread a blanket out, poured champagne into red solo cups and watched countless dogs and children run barefoot in the grass. The lake has peddle boats for rent, if that’s your thing, and the recent remodel really turned this park into a retreat for city-dwellers, a pleasant place to be on a sunny afternoon.

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After a couple of friends joined us with a 12-pack of PBR, and we’d spent a considerable amount of time lazing about, we decided it was time to eat again. Because what do you do on vacation? You eat. We headed to El Chavo, a Mexican restaurant in Silverlake specializing in getting you drunk. We ate some enchiladas, drank some margaritas and finished the meal with an (un)necessary tequila shot.

Once we were full and tispy, Daniel and I decided it was time to check into our room. Because the beauty of the staycation is the chance to sleep away, and I love me a good hotel room. This evening’s choice was the new ACE Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

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I’d heard a lot about the Ace, and been wanting to visit since it opened in January. Once we arrived, our gracious concierge gave us discount for checking in so late, and gave us a room on the top floor. The hotel itself, ever so hip with a funky urban vibe, played up the downtown loft-style living. Our room felt more like a personal bedroom than a hotel room, in the best sense. It was modestly “boutique” sized, but comfortable and cozy, with two big windows overlooking the city. The Ace is definitely contributing to downtown LA’s revival, classy and chic in their own unique way. Highly recommended for the visitor, or the staycation-er.

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After a good nights sleep, Daniel and I headed back to Silverlake for breakfast at The Kitchen. We sat outside under the sun, sipping iced tea and home-brewed coffee, enjoying our last meal before heading home and agreeing that this staycation was exactly what we needed.

No plans this weekend? Get “away,” you won’t regret it.

Sneaking Into the Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is just as magnificent as you’d expect it to be. In fact, it’s so spectacular, that one trip inside the gated walls Emperor Shah Jahan built for his beloved 3rd wife Mumtaz Mahal after she died during childbirth just isn’t enough.

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When Stephanie and I first glimpsed the sight that some 3 million people a year journey to see, we understood the fuss. And after hours of exploring the grounds and snapping far too many photos, we knew it was time to leave. But something about the allure of the white pearly marble, the still serenity of the last visitors trickling out of the gates and the cool respite that the setting sun provided made us determined to stick around. We couldn’t head back, not yet. And besides, our stuffy & oppressive “hotel room” was the exact opposite of the Taj Mahal, with spiders and mosquitos for roommates and a ceiling fan that just might fly off the wall and slice us in our sleep. In India, where beauty lies, aversion lingers.

Once we were booted out of the Taj grounds at closing time, we started asking local shop keepers how we could keep our Taj-high rolling. One man, after tirelessly attempting to sell us miniature Taj statues made from “real marble,” finally accepted our dismissal of his chotchkies and told us to head to the Shanti Lodge rooftop.

It wasn’t easy to find, we were hastily given directions and left to navigate the streets of Agra…swarming with pushy shop keepers and children selling anything and everything. After a while, the Taj tranquility was starting to wear off.

But as soon as we stepped foot on the rooftop and saw that famous white marble glow in the last rays of the setting sun, tranquility was restored. We were in the midst of magic hour, the sun was on the horizon and everything surrounding the Taj was a shade softer. We sat down and soaked it in the best view in all of Agra.

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And then we got drunk. Which is what happens when you order strong Indian beers with two German’s smoking hookah. We spent hours on that rooftop. Drinking, playing card games, smoking, conversing, absorbing. The sun had set but the moon was full, and the view of the Taj was ever-present.

As the night came to an end, Steph and I decided we could finally brave the shitbox we called home. So we said our goodbyes, paid our bills and went on our way. Turns out, we were surprisingly close to our hotel, which was surprisingly close to the Taj Mahal. In our stupor, we noticed people walking into the Taj gates. “But isn’t it closed!?” we yelled loudly at each other, “what are these tourists doing?!”

Turns out, for 5 nights of the month, when the moon is at its fullest, the Taj Mahal stays open for late night guests. Instantly, we knew we had to get back in and live out the rest of our buzz on the grass surrounding the Taj, a far more pleasant sleeping arrangement then the one we were headed back to.

As we stumbled over to the gates, along with other sober and better-dressed visitors, we had no idea of the challenge getting back in would be. While casually walking our way in, we were stopped by a young Indian guard holding a gun half the size of my body. We were told (unconfirmed) that we had to purchase tickets beforehand if we wanted to go into the Taj grounds at night, and the ticket office was now closed.

At this point, we had far more courage than we’d normally have (re: booze), so we really laid into the guards, protesting beyond belief. Steph and I used everything in our womanly power to get past those guards. Unfortunately, after a long day of sight-seeing and drinking, we probably looked like the most haggard white girls to walk the roads of Agra. The guards weren’t having it. So, finally, we walked away.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Steph motion to a large group of tourists with tickets in their hands, all walking in. I quickly caught on, and stuck myself in the midst of the crowd, hoping not to be noticed. It might have worked, had it not been a large group of Indian tourists and had we not been two American girls dressed in what appeared to be pajama pants (very comfy, light and loose fitting – great for Indian travel!). I heard one guard laugh, point at Steph and I, and mimic drinking to the other guards, obviously noting we were drunk. The jig was up.

We were thisclose to sneaking our way in before they walked over, picked us both up and placed us back outside the line, shooing us on our way. We pleaded, we begged, “but we’ve come so far from California to see the Taj Mahal!” to no avail.

And yet, with broken but giggly hearts, we turned around and walked back to our tiny, stuffy room, thankful for our day of Taj-viewing, but determined to sneak our way in the next time around.

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