Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor


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Great Expectations in Iceland

At a well-attended reading here in Seattle, Patti Smith said (paraphrasing), when you travel, keep no expectations, because a place can rarely live up to them.

This made me think of my grandma, who loved her Irish ancestry but never went to Ireland because she was afraid it wouldn’t meet her expectations. The fantasy she had was far better than reality could provide.

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“I am afraid I would be disappointed,” she told us. At the time, it seemed silly and kind of sad, but now I get it. She wanted Ireland to be this perfect place and kept it that way.

I went to Iceland in November, right after the election. It was great timing; after Tiny Hands was elected president, I really needed to de-stress in natural springs.

We went to Iceland in November because all the travel brochures convinced us that the northern lights would be dancing over our heads the moment we stepped off the plane. Spoiler alert: We did not see the northern lights.

I should have known better; I am well-acquainted with nature and I realize that it’s meant to surprise you. You never see whales when you’re looking for them. Or you do, but they’re less exciting than what’s in your mind. You never see shooting stars at the perfect time (at least, I never do). You see them when you happen to look up. That’s the magic of it.

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Everyone asked us why we would go to an arctic island in winter. And when we arrived and it was still pitch black at 9:00 am, I started to wonder myself.

It had all the makings of a terrible trip. Expensive food ($16 for a glass of wine). Icy roads. Unpredictable weather—the only thing predictable was the wind, which was so strong (and so consistent), at times we struggled to open the car doors.

But that’s the thing – because I tried NOT to imagine what Iceland would be like, what it SHOULD be like, I enjoyed it for what it IS. Unspoiled nature. Snow-covered lava fields. Birds diving into the roiling ocean.

So no, we didn’t see the Northern Lights, but I really wanted to photograph an Icelandic horse. Icelandic horses are more than just hip ponies with emo hairstyles. They are half-wild, they have two extra gaits and if an Icelandic horse leaves the island, he or she can never return.

They’re fascinating.

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We were driving on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

“Stop,” I shouted (not something you should do on an Iceland road in winter.) “There’s a horse.”

There was this beautiful red horse, just standing right by the side of the road, bathed in golden light. And I swear, it started posing. Because Iceland is so far North, the sun seems like it’s constantly rising and setting. ‘Magic hour’ is more like magic four hours. The horse turned vibrant red, all of its cinnamon highlights shining in the light.

There were other unexpected surprises. Insanely good hot chocolate topped with real cream. Walking between tectonic plates. Looking over Icelandic parliament and crying a little bit at the place where the first woman in the world was elected “head of state,” aka president.

We all have great expectations. For places. For people. For what things are going to be like. What they should be like. For ourselves. Great expectations are exhausting.

Sometimes you get the northern lights, sometimes you get the little red pony.* If you keep your expectations at bay, either one will seem like a bonus.


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A Heartbreaking Blog Post of Staggering Genius

(This title is an homage to Dave Eggers.)

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(Life goal achieved: Lionesque hair). 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. There are a lot of reasons why. There’s so much “content” coming at us from all directions that it makes writing a blog post less appealing. It’s maddening. I can’t even hear myself THINK in here. Do you feel that? Maybe it’s just me.

I am working full-time at a company I adore and moonlighting as a travel writer. I’ve been BUSY. Last month, I went to Switzerland for three days. I’ve never flown that far for such a short amount of time. It was insane in that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening way, like a first kiss.

I also just bought a house. Woot. Seattle tried to push me away with its high rents and influx of yuppie-hipsters “yipsters”, but I am officially here to stay.

At almost 35, bumping up on 10 years in this city, I feel old enough to dole out the advice from the comforts of my rocking chair. (Ps. I don’t believe in old.)

The advice I would give my not-that-much younger self:

1. Sometimes, from certain hills, on certain nights the city will look like a pile of gold sequins and promises put there just for you. Savor this. After awhile, it dulls.

2. Call your grandmas more often.

3. When you go to that grand poetry conference don’t assume the guy in the cowboy hat and bolo tie won’t be a good poet. His first poem reveals he’s a Vietnam Vet and every word is as deep and powerful as the ocean. Exercise humility.

4. Be generous. It will come back to you.

5. Allow yourself to tell the deserving to f—off. You let people get away with too much.

6. Repeat: Not everything is about me.

7. When cancer threatens your nearest and dearest, forgive those who turn cold on you because it makes them uncomfortable. It makes you uncomfortable too.

8. Forgive yourself.

9. Being an artist has nothing to do with black glasses and cocktails and blue hair and city lofts and Instagram accounts. It has everything to do with the work. So do it. Submit it. Wait for the inevitable rejection. And shut up.

10. A thigh gap is unattainable and wouldn’t look good on you anyway.

11. Pizza cures everything.

12. When someone invites you to a “party” and says, “You don’t even have to buy anything,” just say no. Save your money and your time for people who want to be friends, not for you to buy something from a catalog.

13. Don’t worry so much whether the college you went to isn’t or is prestigious. After a few years, it matters so little it’s laughable.

14. When you reunite with your childhood friend and she tells you she’ll call you, take her number too. Just one year later, she’ll be gone and you will never have  another conversation.

15. Your real friends will be happy when you win. Being a real friend is not just consoling someone when they lose, it’s being happy when they win. Especially when they win something you want.

16. Don’t waste too much time obsessing over the corporate ladder. Work hard, do a good job, go home.

17. Don’t turn your back on the most important lesson, the most important gift—what it’s like to struggle. Carry it with you. Remember it when you feel like you have endless money and endless opportunity and when you feel like you’ve won a life lottery. Recognize the humanity in others, no matter who they are. Err on the side of kind. Always.

18. When you get the chance to move to Quebec, do it. It will be hard and cold and awful at times, but those are just growing pains.

19. Stop obsessing over beauty. Pretty isn’t an achievement, it is luck. Pretty is made up to sell you make up. Don’t let magazines and shallow people dictate how you feel about yourself. You are beautiful because you are human.

20. Travel. See the world so you can understand your place in it.

21. Hold tight to your sense of humor.

22. Getting married and buying a house and having a family aren’t cliché trappings of the American dream. It’s real life. Silence those who judge your life choices and don’t judge others for theirs.

23. Being ___by age ____ becomes irrelevant after 30. Thank God.

24. You won’t realize how young you were until you grow older. This goes for then and now.

25. Stretch.

26. Go to that wedding. Go to that funeral. When it’s important and when it’s something that will only happen once, spend the money, take the time and go.IMG_0309


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Taos Pueblo Out in New Mexico

“One night my weary feet did go so I stopped that night in Taos…

That night there came a snow in the mountains and the valleys below
And I found a love that’s true I know in Taos New Mexico.” – Waylon Jennings

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I went traveling, a journey through the Southwest. I left with the feeling that I could settle down in an old adobe under New Mexico’s powder-blue skies. Sante Fe – maybe Albuquerque, land of Breaking Bad and also as I discovered, a difficult city to spell.

We went to the Spirit of the Winds balloon fiesta and took the completely justified 1,000 pictures of hot air balloons (you’ll see those soon). We zipped north into Santa Fe, than Taos, then Colorado, honey-gold aspens winding through thick evergreen forest like a strand of garland.

We stayed at the Inn of the Turquoise Bear a historic B+ B in Santa Fe, formerly owned by the poet Witter Bynner and rented to his artist friends. Georgia O’Keefe. Ansel Adams. Carl Sandberg. I could write a whole post about that place and the food. Oh wow, the food.

I shopped South Congress in Austin, saw an armadillo in Houston.

But the Taos Pueblo stands out because it was one of those unexpected things you find in travel.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo New Mexico Travel

The Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest continuously lived-in residences in the US and one of the most private and secretive of the pueblo communities.

I didn’t even have it on my itinerary at first because we only had one night in Taos and I wasn’t sure about the timing or what I really wanted to see in the town. Touring the Pueblo is $16 per person. There are guided tours if you have the time to take one (which I sadly did not).

I read the list of rules thoroughly.

Taos Rules

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  • Don’t feed the dogs. (They should add “don’t step on the dogs,” because several dogs were lying in the sun so still and quiet, they appeared dead.)
  • Don’t take pictures of tribal members without their permission.
  • Don’t swim in the river.

After touring the pueblo and observing some questionable tourist behavior, I would add:

  • Don’t ask stupid questions.
  • Don’t let your kids run amuck.
  • Don’t take smiley selfies near sacred grave sites.

I felt icky. Like I should not be there, but that I should see it. Like I should whisper, even though the day buzzed with construction activity. Camera-strapped tourists darted in and out of the shops and residences of the tribal members. Their language (Tiwa) is unwritten and there’s an expansive wilderness area behind the pueblo off-limits to non-tribal members. Running water and electricity are prohibited in the pueblo.

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There’s a bell-tower from the original San Geronimo church, built in the 1600s when the tribe was forced into Catholicism by Spanish missionaries. That church was destroyed by US troops in the late 1800s (after the murder of Governor Bent) and many people died in the battle, so they turned it into a cemetery. But they built another church – its walls are smooth, a sandy color and topped by white crosses. The architecture of the church is extraordinary, but you still get the sense that the church doesn’t really belong.

I would rather my tourist dollars go to corn necklaces and fry bread made here, than those high-end shops that peddle overpriced turquoise rings. And I think interactions and access help dilute preconceived notions. But I cannot imagine what I would feel like if a bunch of tourists traipsed through my apartment to gawk at me.

Case-in-point: There was a twenty-something girl who had her boyfriend take a way-too-happy picture of her next to the sacred burial plot. The grin on her face might as well have been a thumbs-up. Continue reading


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Kangaroo Kisses & Ethical Dilemmas

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Arthur. He reminds me of Splinter from TMNT.

I did something wrong. But cute. But wrong. No matter how I try to justify it.

I went to a kangaroo petting zoo. I’m a huge animal lover (meaning, I love animals, not that I love huge animals). I didn’t know it before I got there, but this kangaroo farm breeds and sells kangaroos. A mere $1,200-$3,000 gets you one of these babies (do.not.buy one). They sell about 6 a year to zoos and “other places” and were intentionally vague when I asked them what other places.

Only $9 gets you a whole day of kangaroo handling. I didn’t link to them because I don’t want to give them publicity, bad or good. I went. I didn’t see any signs of outward animal cruelty. But as the saying goes, “If you don’t love something enough to leave it alone, you don’t love it at all.”

Maybe I’m not an animal lover.

A kangaroo in a little baby sack was placed in my arms and the kangaroo keeper, a burly man with a bloody bandage on his forearm said, “his name is Forselly.” I didn’t get it then because I was holding a baby kangaroo and wondering to myself why I like holding animal babies more than human babies.

Then we walked around the property in groups, with sticky-handed children and their parents. One lady had the audacity of asking whether she could take a baby kangaroo out of a SEALED pouch, basically like asking to hold a baby while it’s in a woman’s stomach.

The first kangaroo I fed was Arthur, he had a muzzle of gray whiskers and squinty eyes. They all had squinty eyes.

He moved slowly and methodically, crouched like he had a walker. I fed him a piece of bread then touched his head, almost tempted to scratch behind his ears.

What the hell am I doing? It dawned on me that maybe this is wrong. Animals don’t belong to us, they belong to the world and this place didn’t seem to be doing much for conservation or education. I guess meeting Arthur and “Forselly” makes me feel closer to kangaroos, but really, it makes me more certain that animals aren’t amusement parks.

Lemur sun themselves

So cute. But are they “happy?”

Do kangaroos like being handled? Can they really eat bread?

Other than kangaroos, the farm has lemurs (not for petting, not for kissing), wallabies, peacocks, mini donkeys, pheasants, ostriches, emus and Alpacas. Fun fact: lemurs sit like old men. The animals seemed well taken care of and the lemurs even had their own red rocking chair. And they were purportedly acquired second-hand before owning a primate became illegal.

In light of the recent TBEX controversy, I’ve been reading a lot about mistreatment of wildlife as a tourist attraction. Sometimes the animals are treated cruelly, sedated so we can get that I’m-holding-a-tiger-selfie or F*ck yeah, I’m on an elephant.

I don’t think that’s the case with this place. I think it was a simple case of people who love exotics.

The whole point of this post is know before you go. I don’t remember the one time I went to SeaWorld (before Blackfish) and I barely remember those dolphin shows at the aquarium as a kid. But I’ll always remember the two times I saw orcas whales from the beach near my house. Or the time a bottlenose dolphin swam next to my raft tour off the Napali coast, so close I could have reached down and touched its back. Or the baby bison, on the prairie in South Dakota just kind of hanging out.

That’s the way to see animals. It’s unexpected, it’s magical, and when they leave, you feel like you’ve been kissed.

In October, I’m off to photograph wild horses in New Mexico. I’m excited to be an observer, to watch them thunder across the desert and to know without a doubt, it’s where they belong.

Ever see wildlife in the wild? Where, when, what? Comment below!

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The smiling language of butterflies

Last week, I took Rasmi* to the library for the second time. It was an unusually warm spring day, the kind where everyone stuck inside working asks if you’re out enjoying the weather.

She hands me a bar of coconut ice cream and a Red Bull. Something about that bar zips me back to the porch of my grandma’s bungalow on Chicago’s South Side. Whenever the ice cream man pushed his cart by her house, excitement erupted. Flavors were called out. Crumpled dollar bills were unrolled and counted. One of us would bolt from the porch to catch up to the guy, who would be down the block by then.

I can’t tell Rasmi that she found the ice cream of my childhood.

Rasmi is Nepali, a refugee from Bhutan. I volunteer to help her and her family through their first few months in the US. I read their mail and take them to the doctor’s and try to help find english classes and jobs.

There are a lot of people like Rasmi in Seattle. Newcomers shakily trying to navigate our complicated and expensive way of life while maintaining their traditions, holding on to things that remind them of home, a place they probably won’t see for years. And they encounter so much impatience, ignorance, apathy day-to-day.

Rasmi lived in a camp before she came here. Rasmi doesn’t have a computer, or an email address. Before here, I don’t think she had electricity, or a stove, or a washing machine.

It’s easy to dwell on what she doesn’t have, what she’s never had and how it’s unfair. (And it is. It disgusts me how unfair it all is).

It’s better to focus on the task for the day. Go to the library. Get that email address.

It’s better to focus on her family, her brothers and sisters and the revolving door of neighbors, cousins, and friends, all there to help each other through their transitions. Rasmi  will be ok without me. I don’t want to fool myself into thinking I am her savoir. I don’t want to pity her because pity diminishes pride.

I’m there just to be her friend.

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Rhododendrons. Nepal’s national flower.

Rasmi wears a short sleeve shirt with a floral print and gray straight-leg jeans. She has a butterfly tattoo on her arm. I also have a tattoo, on my back—a monarch butterfly I had done when I was nineteen and because I wanted a tattoo, any tattoo. I won’t show her that though. I want to ask about her tattoo and what it means to her. Is it a regrettable symbol of teenage rebellion like mine? Or something else?

Instead, I eat the coconut ice cream bar, piloting the car one-handed. The windows are down and a cacophony of birds, dogs, kids, and bass rushes in.

“I like this.” I remind myself to annunciate and speak slowly.

She smiles. I am not talking just the ice cream. I want to tell her I like this whole experience. That it makes me nostalgic for driving around in summer with my best friend. Rasmi is only a few years younger than me. That means we were growing up at almost the same time. That’s something. I want to know about her home, her friends.

At the library, a man openly checks her out. Rasmi is cute. Her hair is twisted into pigtail braids, fastened with bright-red bands. He asks about her tattoo and she starts to respond. I usher her forward.

All of the rows are packed with people clicking or typing away. She pulls up a chair and gestures for me to sit. “We’re going to set you up with Gmail,” I declare. I type in Google then pull up the account page. Her name is already taken. There’s another Rasmi. “It’s not working, someone has your name.”

She doesn’t understand. I say it again, shaking my head no. “It won’t work.” After she plucks each letter, she looks at me expectedly. I click enter, knowing it won’t be accepted, that she needs to pick another name. Her brow furrows in frustration. I tell her we have to add numbers to her name. I add the required numbers and write the address down on a piece of scratch paper.

Then there’s the password, the verification code, the pop ups. I take over to get us through all the prompts and legalese I wouldn’t have glanced at twice before. “Yes, Yes, Accept, Yes…” Too many times in Quebec, when they didn’t have a translated version of a form available, I would sign it in French, not knowing if I just agreed to sell my kidney or if I was getting a phone contract.

I was lucky because many people speak English in Quebec. I don’t know what it is like to make a home in a place where no one but your family members and a few neighbors speak your language.

Only later, when driving home will I realize that maybe I could have had Chrome translate the page to Nepali.

She writes her first email to me as she doesn’t have her friends’ email addresses. I watch over her shoulder as she types a message to me and shakily clicks send.

You are good. You help me therefore thank you very much. 

I sort it into my “Emails You’ll Cry At Later” box.

When the session is over, we go to the reference section to check out English Learning DVDs. Rasmi wants a movie and writes it down, but the librarian and I have trouble figuring out what she means. The librarian tells us they have a call line for interpreters. Rasmi brightens at this. In three minutes, she’s speaking to an interpreter in Nepali. On the phone, her expression changes from tense to open and friendly.

“She wants a horror movie,” the Librarian tells me and pulls up some titles. This new fact fills me with delight and surprise. She informs us that the library doesn’t have many horror movies. Instead, Rasmi selects a classic black-and-white, a movie about a farmer and his wife.

Inside the car, away from the public, she becomes brazen with English. She says many people are afraid of horror movies. Not her. I notice she’s smiling more these days, almost making sentences. I met her four months ago. The first few times she came to the door and said “hi,” shyly or went into the kitchen. The first time we drove somewhere together, she barely said a word.

I want to thank her English teacher, even though I don’t know who s/he is.

I want to thank the Librarian for finding out that Rasmi likes horror movies.

I want to tell her she’s brave and strong and smart, but I just turn to her and smile.  There’s so much that can be said this way.

*Name changed


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Maybe Your Bliss is Following You

I believe in following dreams. It’s what will keep you moving, getting up day after day. I believe in traveling the globe, in adventure, in opening your mind to new experiences.

And…

I believe know there’s no glamour in financially struggling.

Following is an honest look at “following your bliss” into dark corners. A recent experience led me to believe that sometimes, your dreams have to be put aside for awhile, at least until the ship rights itself, ’til the storm is over.

You’ve seen the Pinterest boards of the blue car on the wide open road with a nice Kerouac quote: “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.” These Pinterest boards all have us wanting to sell our stuff and take to the open road.

  • You’ll serve rude people pie and work on your writing. Looked good in that movie, right?
  • You’ll tootle around the country in a jeep for a year
  • You’ll publish a novel about your life on the road. Because no one’s done that yet.
  • You’ll become a famous blogger. There aren’t many travel bloggers right?

All of these things sound great.

Read no further if you’re currently sitting on a stack of dollar bills. Or if your name is Richard Branson. If you are either of those two people, please by all means, follow your bliss.

For the rest of us, consider this:

Land first. Then leave.

Maybe your bliss is just where you are.

Continue reading


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Hoofin’ It: Teenage Walks to Remember

Walking, Birds Flying
Walking: my version of flying. 

Before Wild and the blogger who walks the coast of Wales with a donkey, there was pre-teen and teenage me, who walked all over Chicago’s far South Side.

That’s right. I was way into extreme walking before it was cool.* Because I didn’t have a car until I was 19.

Walking is essential to my well-being. I’m not much of a hiker; I’m a city walker, a promenader and pontificator. Seattle is one of the best walking cities; there’s water everywhere, our gentle weather rarely interferes with a good stroll, and it’s only the most beautiful place on the planet.

But Chicago is where I learned to walk. First to our coffee table, then to the end of the driveway, then to my little brick school, and then to everywhere.

Ode to Travel on Foot

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What’cha doin’ sittin’?

Sometimes, I didn’t walk, I ran down city streets, avoiding garbage cans, almost crashing into pedestrians. I ran so fast I thought my lungs would burst. I wish someone would have warned me that running would never feel That Good again. Sure, a run feels good and necessary, but it not like a teenage anything-can-happen run, a run where you’re laughing so hard tears stream down your face, a run where your only goal is to topple into your best friend or escape some kind of trouble.

I walked with friends, a big group of them. I walked to their houses miles away, in the next neighborhood. I walked in red Chuck Tailors or heavy black boots. Sometimes we’d meet at halfway points, usually a cemetery or a fast-food restaurant or a pizza place. We didn’t have enough money to do anything but walk. It led to the greatest teenage adventures. Screw the boring old scheduled parental drop-offs at the mall, we were wild and free. We strutted under star-sprinkled skies like we owned the world. We walked to train stations that would whisk us into downtown, where we’d walk some more.

I walked to Chicago’s South Side Irish parade, not the one where they dye the river green, the one where they start drinking at noon. It was one of those must-not-miss events where every.single.person you knew would be there and they would all be wearing Notre Dame sweatshirts, green wigs, and shamrock stickers. (Side note: this parade was cancelled because it got too rowdy.)

I walked before iPods, no Walkman, just me and a cracked sidewalk, sprinklers, sometimes yells from passing cars. I walked through my own perpetual inner dialogue, through corridors in my mind. I walked until I came to conclusions, epiphanies, inventions. All forgotten when I returned. (I wonder if Einstein was a walker?)

Chicago Travel Morton Arboretum
If you don’t notice this stuff, you’re doing it wrong.

I walked into characters; an old woman who fed about fifty cats in her yard everyday. Once she put down the food, they would come from all angles, mewing and rubbing against each other. Then there was the complete stranger who leaned over a fence and asked me if I wanted a job taking care of his bed-ridden wife. (I declined). Continue reading