Conquering Yosemite with My Ladies

This is Chisomo being a bad-ass, conquering something she seemed unsure of at first, with victory so sweet.

I normally don’t post about our casual hikes (yet), but this post is for my ladies, for the two who have been with me the longest. I love you Felicia and Chisomo.

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Floating down Russian Riverimg_2809img_2811

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Secrets the Water Offers

July 4th weekend, 2016
Secret Cove (Lake Tahoe) and Utica Reservoir

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I’ve never experienced joy like I do when I’m in water, weightless, warm, wrapped inside of it, putting my feet into it not quite sure of what I’ll find on the bottom, listening to its lapping waves and dunking my head in to hear the world through a warped filter, jumping into it with abandon.

For me, happiness is sitting on a boulder in the middle of an emerald green lake, playing my ukulele, rocking with the gentle waves as I rock along to my song.

And also pushing my kayak off the shoreline in the middle of the night beneath a blanket of stars on water so still and so silent you could swear you could get out of your kayak and walk across it.

Happiness is sitting perched on a granite slab in front of the fire you made and the camp you set up with the person you love most, feeling small and insignificant and thankful for a really incredible world.

More than anything, this is why I camp.

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Kayak-Camping Cayo Costa

January 4-5, 2017: Our first camping trip of the year

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Wildlife-spottings everywhere as we kayaked past mangroves!img_6013

Taken from the top of Cabbage Keyimg_6038

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Sea Urchin!img_6055img_6077img_6045img_6062img_6044

I’ve been summoning the guts to do a kayak camping trip to Cayo Costa for 2 years. I’ve heard so many great things about the trip: there are islands along the way with great jaunts where Jimmy Buffet used to sit and relax, the water when calm is stunning and peaceful, there’s a lot of wonderful wildlife, there is great shelling on Cayo Costa itself.

But it’s an 8 mile trip one way, two people had died in the bay the year before, I wasn’t truly sure we could make it that far or make it in the direction we were intending, and really, water is a scary force to reckon with.

To add to that, at midnight the night before the trip, Kyle’s father called us to warn that the next day held thunderstorm predictions, the tide was going to be against us (though not strongly), and there were potential winds predicted.

On the morning of our trip, we hauled ourselves to Matlacha, where we rented a tandem sit-in kayak. They had no spray-skirt (a scary prospect to me) and the shop attendants ominously warned us that they themselves would never choose to go out in the conditions at hand.

Never-the-less, the weather report predicted “1 small storm” on the drive to Pine Island and another around the time we might be taking a break. And somehow, miraculously, that’s exactly what happened.

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We strapped the kayak down to the top of our tiny rental car, prayed it wouldn’t fly off, and took off for the launch site on Pine Island, just as it started to fiercely pour. And it stopped on arrival!

We loaded the kayak with our camping gear, Kyle taught me quickly how to use a compass on the map we had purchased, and of course I wasted no time immediately leading us astray in a (slightly) wrong direction.

Upon course correction, we headed for the “part” of Part Island, into which we kayaked and hunted for the mangrove tunnel that would take us to the other side. It was a slightly windy day, but once you’re surrounded by land, the water is peaceful and calm and the mangroves offer unparalleled solace, except for the unnerving spiders making webs overhead.

Heading for the part in Part Island

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Mangrove tunnel, offering silence after all the wind

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After we came out the other side of the island, we headed North for Cabbage Key to get a cheeseburger from “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Just as we were finishing our burgers, the sky let loose again, so we went inside the building to get dessert on their charming back porch.

The final haul to Cayo Costa was…a haul. But we made it and our night, though hastily slapped together, was close to perfect. We had time for walks on the beach and the island, were able to make a nice fire to roast our soaked Publix subs, were serenaded by the boys camping next to us, and were even offered S’mores when another group didn’t want any more! We slept that night under a shared sleeping bag that was given to us by Tanya, with whom we’d hiked in the Fakahatchee. It was a serendipitous night.

In the morning, we stopped by a cove in Cayo Costa, where you can kayak with manatees and spent a little while lazily following them before heading back. We even caught sight of a dolphin on the way!

We grabbed dinner at a bay-side fish shack next to the kayak rental shop to round out a truly perfect outing.

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Trip Details:

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Slogging in the New Year: Fun in the Fakahatchee

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img_5978img_5968img_5967It’s no secret I find Florida enchanting.

Yes, many people run screaming in the other direction when they hear “Let’s go muck in water-submersed mud with alligators and water moccasins and more mosquitoes than you know what to do with.” I go running toward it.

For my birthday, we made it back to the Fakahatchee, a cypress swamp that captured my heart so many years ago, known for the infamous and very coveted ghost orchid.

I, however, know it for something else: Four years ago, I followed my friends into the Fakahatchee, where I was promptly swarmed by mosquitoes after exiting the car. We proceeded down a very mundane path flanked with foliage and at some point, my friends stopped, turned to peer at the dense wall of greenery and said, “Yep, right here” and proceeded to enter said foliage and plunge thigh-deep into the swamp (while my eyes were popping out of my head).

Once I stopped internally screaming and decided to join them in the water, my intense fear quickly subsided and turned to delight as each step I took into the mud released a delightful cloud of bubbles. Walking around in a swamp is like entering a secret, forbidden world you didn’t previously know existed. It’s completely silent, with the buzzing of mosquitoes from the path left behind and new curiosities surround you from all sides: a spider  exuberantly spins in circles, an orchid peers out of the crux of a tree, piles of epiphytes explode out of every nook, snail eggs pop up on the underside of leaves, lilies are everywhere, an alligator croaks like a frog far in the distance.

It was over far too quickly.

So when we we corralled a group of 7 to go tromp around in the swamp again, I was all too excited.

There are a series of gates that head what used to be old cypress logging trials. We decided to do a full hike before slogging. Gate 12 leads to a deserted, crumbling Hilton that sits on the edge of what can only be affectionately named, “Alligator lake.” When the Hilton is uninhabited (which I believe is most of the time since the bunk-bed mattresses inside are moldy), you are free to walk down the very questionable pier while 10-foot alligators splosh loudly into the water.

On our way back from the hotel, we wearily eyed the sides of the trail, questioning where exactly we would choose to do the slogging we came to do. Eventually we stumbled upon a decent spot and before I knew it, I was in the car again, wistfully waiting for the next return.

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Stockholm

“Welcome to Stockholm,” he said. “Don’t come back. And don’t you dare move here.”

We heard this again and again, from friends, and from strangers.

Why? Because while we were there, Stockholm had the most addictively perfect weather. And apparently, we landed for the ONLY 3 perfect days of the whole year when the sky isn’t shitting on you.

If Crete was my favorite, Stockholm was Kyle’s.

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Subway Art, on our self-guided tour of the Blue Line

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You have not lived until you’ve had a cardamom bun:

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Transport between the islands on the archipelago
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Stockholm is an archipelago, a conglomerate of islands. We really enjoyed exploring each island, each which had a very different feel.

Sodermalm

Our “home” island of Sweden’s archipelago

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My favorite island was Sodermalm, where we stayed. It is a very neighborhoody-type island, and complete hipsterland (basically San Francisco). The Hotel STF Zinkensdamm, which provided us with a tiny little sterile unit with fold-down bunk beds felt much like a ship and suited us well for the trip. While perhaps not my favorite sleeping experience, it was private and clean, I could see grass out the window, and it had a lovely communal porch. It was also next to a block of community gardens and if you walked a couple blocks to the nearby seaside park, you could dive off a diving board attached to the small pier.

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Some of the best food we had was also on that island:

  • Nystekt Stromming- Traditional fish sandwich food truck. Phenomenal.img_4252
  • Meatballs for the people: One night we happened out for dinner, and I insisted on a “first” dinner upon passing Meatballs for the People, before second dinner at Nytorget 6. I regret nothing.

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  • Nytorget 6, a fancier restaurant with a classy bar, amazing drinks, a phenomenal traditional blood pudding dish and a fish dish

Blood Pudding with blood mousse, sitting in a vat of fat. It was pretty damn good.

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Shopping:

The Swedes like their caviar. And food that comes in tubes.

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And beautiful displays…

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Gamla Stan

The medieval part and original home to the royal family

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We spent a day visiting Gamla Stan, the medieval old town, where we took the fantastic “Sinister Side of Stockholm’s Old Town” walking tour and learned about the various hideosities of living in a medieval town, of dumping garbage into the streets and a fire plaque one had to purchase from the city and place on the outside wall if they wanted their house saved from a fire.

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If you touch the walls and walk all the way down Sweden’s narrowest street, you can make a wish.

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Norrmalm

Normal island. Boring island.

We jaunted through Norrmalm, where we went to a lovely little milonga and saw Milly!

Norrmalm is too boring for photos.

Djurgarden

A big ridiculous royal garden. And some museums. Royalty left boring building-y Gamlastan to come live amongst the flowers of Djurgarden.

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And we spent an afternoon with Yulijah and her man and went to the Vasa museum. The Vasa boasts an old viking-type ship that was dredged out of the bottom of the bay. It never actually sailed because some overzealous nut decided he needed ALL THE THINGS on it, so it made no haste and tipped over with the first real wind.

We then biked to over to the actual Djurgarden (name of the island AND a garden that dominates most of the island), where we stumbled on an afternoon community garden festival, where people basked in the sun on the grounds of an apple orchard, and in the next field, people picked flowers from labelled rows to create bouquets they could purchase.

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img_4447Notes:

  • Free tour: http://www.stockholmfreetour.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Crete

September, 2016

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Fresh goji berries!

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Crete was my favorite (sorry other countries).

I could probably wax on for three journal entries about Crete. It’s slightly janky and large and perfect in all ways. We stayed in Chania on the Eastern edge of the old town, in a small hotel called Argo Beach (not particularly nice but away from a ton of tourists and right next to the water where we went snorkeling one day). Chania is known for being foodie paradise. And it did not fail to deliver. The roads spill with fruits, the restaurants (at least in the touristy areas) have incredible and fresh food. It was quite the experience.

Our meals (because I never want to forget them):

1. Tamam, an old Turkish hamam (bath) that is now a restaurant.

Bath used to be where the lower tables are now

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2. Milos, an old Venetian water mill that decorates with dried oranges and hangs every which thing from the trees on their outdoor porch and gives a flower on a pin to every woman who walks in the door.

Milos: Note all the fruit decorations

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Included dessert with a burning orange

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Old water mill

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3. Salas, a very upscale French-style Cretan cuisine. Octopus carpaccio, Grilled sardines, Halibut in a paper bag steamed with carrots, feta, and potatoes

Octopus carpaccio and freshly grilled sardines

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We spent time walking around the various parts of Chania, on the beach, in the city, swimming. It’s all beautiful and very charming. If you go inland, you encounter regular (and dirtier) city that too carries its own charms.

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Sponge man has his store attached on top of his boat

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One day we took a harrowing trip on the highway (where no one really drives in between the proper lines) to Crete’s Western coast. We visited one of the many “Tavernas” that smatter the country, which are basically the equivalent of “Lounge” and are located in every nook the Cretans can manage to stick one. When we asked what the fish of the day was, we were dragged into the kitchen, where the waiter proudly whipped open a drawer to show us the fresh fish and then promptly introduced us to Grandma, who was cooking. This was Falassarna Beach (very wavy water).

Delicious food at “Taverna” (on the South side of the beach)

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The next day, we walked the Aradena Gorge on the South coast. The bridge at the top is known for being the second tallest bridge in Europe and people bungee jump off in the middle of summer.

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But on the day we arrived, it was eerily silent, except for the cowbells and the occasional bleat from a group of goats making their way into the canyon.There is a small taverna at the top of the gorge, right next to a deserted Cretan city with old architecture. What delighted us most were the multitudes of fruit trees laden with fruit: figs, almonds, walnuts, prickly pear, olives!

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img_3979After munching our way around the decaying structures, we made our way to the entrance of the gorge, took the switchbacks down to the ground and arduously scrambled over rocks 4.5 miles to the mouth of the canyon, distracted only by the goats climbing up the vertical walls more spectacularly than we were managing on the ground.

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The canyon spills onto a delicious little beach called Marmara, complete with (another) taverna where we snacked on fresh octopus. Marmara has perfect green water and stunning white sea caves that you can snorkel into.

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We purchased a ferry back to Sfakia and took a pre-scheduled taxi a half-hour back to the top of the gorge to get our car.

I had to pry my sad feet out of this island. I was very happy there.

Goat: End

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Santorini

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September, 2016

For some reason, ever since I left Santorini, I’ve been singing my own made-up song about Santorini to the tune of “Tiny Bubbles.”

It has a certain old-world charm, with its assortment of cave dwellings and white+blue structures built into a caldera-facing cliff, and smattered with steps.

We stayed in Karterados, a quaint little town just South of the main town, Fira.

Karterados

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Karterados basically didn’t have anything. It was a convenient and quiet spot of respite before heading into the happening town, just like I like it. Many locals live here, and I particularly enjoyed ambling about the back-streets and stumbling upon random doors built into the ground.

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Greece has fun windmills everywhere! …it’s on a cliff and we were told that it gets particularly windy in the winter.img_3490

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Fira, North of Karterados

The main city

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Fira has a lot of shops and the most people. The city was fine, flooded with tourists, centrally located, but not my favorite.

In case you get tired of walking, there are donkeys to walk you down the mountain.

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Imerovigli

North of Fira, where the wedding was held

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Amel and Sofiane’s wedding is the reason that we made it to Europe in the first place! So without further ado: the Algerian wedding (with close-friend attendees from Algeria, France, and the United States).

The wedding was incredible, set in a hotel in Oia, overlooking the sea. The ceremony was humble, the attendees weren’t numerous, but this *was* their third ceremony! We listened vows delivered in English, provided by an Algerian friend who asked the bride and groom to repeat comically partial sentences:

Speaker: …”I….”
Groom: …”I…”
Speaker: “take you…”
Groom: “take you…”
Speaker: “Amel,”
Groom: “Amel,”
Speaker: “to be…”
Groom: “to be…”

Needless to say, we were giggling pretty hard.

After the ceremony, we listened and danced to a traditional Greek band and then had the most decadent and abundant dinner I’ve had in a while, including a moussaka the size of my face that was JUST the appetizer.

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Amel surprised us with her beautiful traditional Algerian garb!img_3533

Oia

Northern tip of Santorini, (pronounced EE-yah)

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Though swamped with tourists, Oia still manages to convey an old-timey, romantic ‘waltz around arm-in-arm wearing sandals and a floppy hat’ kind of feel.

Maybe it’s the lack of cars seen as you climb up and down countless white-washed stairs. Or all the art galleries. Or maybe it’s the determination in the air of pursuing a sunset, of all things. The stampede of people cramming into every Westward facing nook to catch the sunset is kind of great.

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We also managed to stumble into the most charming bookshop I’ve seen in a long time.

Kyle loves books

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South of Santorini

The South of Santorini doesn’t boast the same cliffside views that the rest has, but it is perhaps, in my opinion, better. It’s quieter, the best (and only) beaches are there, and there is access to the fantastic ruins.

Akortiri, Minoan Bronze age settlement, is an ancient city that was uncovered from layers of lava and is now contained in a large warehouse. You can circle the entire complex and can even walk through some of the old streets.

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Visit the red beach! In September, the water is chilly, but swimmable and so striking with the red and black volcanic rock underneath your feet. You have an option to rent kayaks to kayak to two other beaches: a white and a black one!

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The Yacht Trip

In which we travelled around the edge of the island and to the volcanic hot spring!

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One of my favorite parts of the trip was a yacht trip in the caldera. We went, 10 of us, to various private swimming spots, were wined and dined very luxuriously, and swam into the reddened water of the volcanic hot spring.

A little spendy, but very worth it.

Alternatively, you can rent a boat to take you just to the volcano, where you can go for a hike and swim in the springs.

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The gray lava “columns” formed when the lava dripped down the cliffimg_3662

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Docking just outside the hot spring, which we swam into.img_3577

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Next up: Crete (my favorite…no offense rest of Greece)