I’ve been back at Berkeley for about a month and a half now, and beyond recruitment, classes starting up, and catching up with friends old and new, I haven’t had a moment to just breathe. Last Friday, 3 of my best friends and I set apart our whole afternoon to escape the Berkeley bubble and explore a bit. We set out in Natalie’s bug with the initial plans of roaming the city, and somehow found ourselves dipping through art museums and venturing way beyond the bridge.
We started off at the Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum where Nat picked up some coffee and we aimlessly wandered through hallways and rooms of frozen history. There were some really, really interesting pieces – but here’s just a few of my favorites.
While searching for food, we took a wrong turn and all of a sudden we were crossing the bridge. We decided to let Natalie guide us through her home of Marin county, showing us parts of Sausalito, Mill Valley, and my personal favorite, Tiburon.
We curbed our hunger by stopping at Sol Food, a Puerto Rican diner. Natalie talks about it all the time – and it was even better than she built it up to be! Mango iced tea, rice and beans, and a bistec sandwich.
We proceeded to Tiburon to catch the sunset. The clouds were building that day, so we knew it was gonna be a good one.
On a Monday Morning, Eliza and I took a drive. Headed up the 101 towards downtown Los Angeles. After meeting up with Torie, we headed into The Last Bookstore – LA’s oldest book shop. We escaped from the bright & bustling streets into this dark and eerie space lined with collections of books old & new. Upstairs, we discovered an art gallery, shops adorned with knick knacks, and a complex labyrinth of bookshelves weaving throughout the second story. One of my favorite parts was the criminal and horror section inside of a walk-in vault – just pray no one slams the door shut because once you’re in there’s no way out. Downstairs was also one of the raddest collections of records tucked away in a warm, homey corner of the store.
Next, we stopped for lunch in an unsuspecting maze of shops within a building. It reminded me a lot of Pike’s Place Market.
By 1pm we were boarding the Metro towards Chinatown. Another never-ending market was hidden within a seemingly small storefront. Despite mounds of trinkets and racks of clothing, my one purchase was a small package of smoke bombs for some future occasion.
The Metro then took us to Union Station & Olvera Street, famously known for its Latin American culture & feel.
Finally, we headed into Hollywood where we came across a vintage thrift store adorned with Levi’s on Levi’s, and wandered aimlessly along the streets until settling for a tomato provolone grilled cheese and sweet potato fries and heading home.
This past week, I did a lot of firsts. First time going on a cruise, first time to Alaska, first 4th of July spent in a different country. With firsts, comes first impressions. All I can say is I fell in love with the world just a wee bit more.
My first cruise experience was interesting. Everything is all inclusive, so at first it was awesome being able to eat anything I wanted, wherever, whenever. But I found that by the 4th day, I was ordering 2 appetizers, a couple entrees, and unlimited desserts. It wasn’t lookin’ so good when I got hungry 6 times a day and had every opportunity to stuff myself full. It’s pretty hard to contain your inner gluttony when everything is “seemingly” free. Besides turning into a feeding machine, the cruise was great. We had a little over 2 days where we were stuck on the boat all day long, but they keep you busy with comedy shows, magicians, FOOD, and surprisingly sunny days by the pool. The one catch – no wifi. Well, wifi costed about $1 per minute.. so no wifi. Some people complained, but to me it was actually really nice being able to detach from the world and be able to appreciate all that was around us.
There were things we experienced that could only be seen from a boat’s perspective. The first day we took off from Seattle, there wasn’t much to see due to cloudy skies. But as we got closer and closer to Alaskan waters, our surroundings became clear, glassy, and green. Our first stop was Ketchikan. This oceanfront little town was adorable, and we got to shop around a bit before heading inland for a rainforest hike. There were eagles everywhere! I probably saw over 100 in just one day. We also got to experience some rare sunsets, seeing as days up north are about 20 hours long!
Next, we sailed onto Juneau. On our way, we cruised through Tracy Arm Fjords, which was probably my favorite part of the trip. You can only see these amazing, tree-covered cliffs by boat, so we woke up at 4:30am to enjoy the scenic views from our back deck. The pictures say it all:
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At Juneau, we went whale watching and visited Mendenhall Glacier. I thought we would be lucky enough to see a few whales, but we saw much much more! Some of the most exciting parts were seeing a baby whale breach and experience bubble net fishing (where the whales push all the krill to the surface and then dive from the bottom up to eat them). The glacier was amazing too – a complete mountain made of ice! This was just the tip of the iceberg (hehe punny) cause apparently this sheet of ice expands for over 70,000 miles between Juneau and Skagway, blocking any entry or exit by car!
After a long day, we journeyed on to Skagway. Skagway and Juneau are big competitors because Juneau steals away all the cruise ships but Skagway needs the tourism more to boost their economy of 936 people. The cruise ships bring in over 12,000 a day! Because their town is so small and they can’t get over to Juneau without flying, grocery shipments only come in once a week and they’re often out of essentials like eggs and milk by the first day. Our tour guide was telling us how this lifestyle really makes them appreciate a simple life where little things like bananas are a pleasure. (Sometimes, he would even drive over 8 hours roundtrip to Canada just for bananas!). I could see myself easily enjoying life here. In Skagway, we took a bus ride to the Klondike Summit and into Canada, and you could really tell the change of scenery in a different country, even though they are side by side!
Heading back home, it took a few days before our last stop in Victoria, British Columbia – Canada. It just so happened that it was 4th of July! Too bad we weren’t even in the U.S. haha so it was kind of a let down but we were still able to grab a beer and celebrate. The town was booming with life whether it was down at Fisherman’s Wharf, the streetside entertainment, or the reggae festival we stumbled upon. Everything seemed much simpler and less stressful than the U.S. is. People seemed genuinely happy. Overall, my travels had to come to an end but I had so much fun along the way. I was able to share this amazing experience with 23 of my family members in celebration of my grandma’s 85th, and it couldn’t have been a more hilarious, fun, and incredible journey without these crazies by my side (I’ll have to dedicate a whole post to my family because I wouldn’t be able to describe them in less than 20 minutes of your time). Till next time, Court
But honestly, this is really exciting. After years of states struggling to pass this law, finally a nationwide sweep was made with a close 5/4 majority. I don’t usually keep up with politics too much, but after waking up this morning to so many people rejoicing, this was something I had to remember. Although I don’t know what it feels like to be a part of the LGBT community, it’s really rad that finally we can fill our country with love and pride no matter who you are or who you love. I hope that with this, we can finally break down the existing social constructs of hatred and alienation towards the LGBT community and grow to learn from and accept one another. On that note, gay pride festivals take place in the month of July in cities around the nation – and this year especially is gonna be big. So be sure to celebrate such a special day, and lets hope this is leading our country in the right direction!
11 days. 10 flights. 20 new places. 1 trip of a lifetime. I’ll save all the nitty gritty details but here’s a little summary of how my best friend, Eliza, and I’s trip went down. More pictures can be found under the Gallery Tab!
May 24th/25th (Ecuador)
It begins. After about a month of planning all on our own, the time was finally here. This was one of the longest days of our trip. We left for LAX at 8:30am, jumped on a flight from LAX –> Mexico City, had a 5 hour layover, flew from Mexico City –> Quito, then Quito –> Guayaquil, then a 3 hour bus ride up to Olón. By that time, it was about 1pm on the 25th, so over a full day of traveling. Finally we got to Terrace Inn, a place owned by our friend Mycah’s grandfather. He helped us put our things down and immediately bought the first round of beer across the street (for only $1 each!!). We grabbed a few more and decided to hit the beach for a couple hours before catching up on our past few days’ worth of sleep. The sand was warm, the water warmer, and life couldn’t get better.
May 26th (Ecuador)
The first of many adventures. We woke up early today, ate bread and bananas for breakfast, and then were off to catch a sketchy looking green bus on the side of the road for 45 minutes up to Porto López. The bus was surrounded by green, lush jungles on either sides of the road as it zig zagged up the coast. We got off the bus and guides immediately attacked us trying to sell their tours. Luckily, that’s what we came for. We signed up for a tour and happened to fill the last few spots – it’s so interesting because down here they don’t care about sharp time constraints like we do. The bus comes when it comes, the tour starts when the boat is full, etc. Just something to chew on.
After that, we took a 1 hour boat ride out to Isla de La Plata aka the “mini Galapagos.” We were so far out we couldn’t even see South America’s coast anymore! We hiked around the island for a couple hours, learning about the native blue-footed birds and animals, went back to the boat for yummy little sandwiches, and then snorkeled in the northern and southern parts. We even saw a turtle, dolphins, and tons of fish!
That night when we returned, we decided to go down to Montañita which is the beach & party town a few minutes away. All the clubs, lounges, and streets were covered in sand which was really cool! We hung out there for a couple hours, made some Swiss friends, and then headed home for the night.
May 27th (Ecuador)
The first of many goodbyes. It’s our last day in Olón! We decided to hit the beach down in Montañita because we planned on meeting back up with our Swiss friends, Patrick, Milena, and Matthias. After a day of roasting in the equator’s sun, we went back to our hostel to wash up and grab some dinner. We’ve been eating lots of fresh fish, chicken, rice, and beans, but all sorts of varities! All is just $3 for so much food. That night, we wen’t back to Montañita to meet up with everyone and go to a karaoke night… that didn’t turn out so well haha. Regardless, it was a bittersweet goodbye to our time on the coast.
May 28th (Ecuador)
Inland we go! Today’s the day we head back to Quito. We arrived around 6ish after a long day of traveling. Our place was an AirBnB in La Gasga District. Julia, the cute little Ukraine lady owning the place, was so adorable and gave us so much information. Then, she led us up to the rooftop before bed where we wrote in our journals, read, and enjoyed this incredible view:
May 29th (Ecuador)
Exploration. We only had one full day in Quito, so we decided to make the most of it. We woke up super early and headed to Old Town to check out the churches. First, we went to La Iglesia de la Basilica, which had beautiful stained glass. We also climbed to the top of the tower to get an expansive view of the entire city! Absolutely beautiful. Random too, but the change they gave me from buying my entrance ticket was counterfeit money!! Luckily, I could exchange it but it was such a weird encounter.
Then, we walked down the street to see La Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesus. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever laid my eyes upon – completely covered in 24k gold and adorned with the most amazing and intricate details. We weren’t supposed to take pictures but I snuck a few hehe
After that, we headed to La Mariscal District aka Gringoland where we checked out an artisinal market and ate before heading off to La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) and the Equator line. We learned a lot about Ecuador and for some reason I never made the connection that Ecuador = Equator in Spanish. It’s a very special place because it’s 0 degrees 0’0″ so it’s the highest point on the latitude line and for that, it’s considered the middle of the world. On the actual middle of the world, you loose your strength, balance, and there’s a weird gravity pull. It was so interesting! That night, we got back pretty late from the monument and ended up just eating some giant empanadas and getting a good night’s sleep before another early flight the next morning.
May 30th (Peru)
Onto the next country. Today, we took a flight to Lima and then a connecting flight to Cuzco, Peru. We got in to our hostel around 3. Pariwana hostel was one of my favorite places to stay because when you walk inside, it’s a huge courtyard where a bunch of fellow backpackers were hanging out, drinking tea, and playing volleyball. There was also a restaurant, bar, computer room, lounge, and more. Everyone was super laid back and there to have a great time! We put our stuff down and called for a taxi to see our first ruins, and luckily another Brazilian guy named Yuri was going as well! We ended up becoming great friends with him while checking out Sacsaywaman, Q’enqo, Tambomachay, and Pikapikara. These sites were all in the upper mountains surrounding Cuzco and relatively close. They were all kind of similar to me, but Sacsaywaman was the most beautiful. Each had intricate stones that were carved to fit one another and you could tell the detail that the indigenous people put into them. Tambomachay was also really cool because through the stones was a freshwater fountain that still runs to this day! Such amazing and detailed work from such an old civilization. Truly amazing.
That night, we checked out the bar’s “Party-wana” event with salsa dancing. Eliza and I scored a free shot (probably because we were sitting instead of dancing) but then decided we were way too exhausted to rally another night. We ended up crashing pretty early.
May 31st (Peru)
Rise and shine! Today, we woke up and were ready for our Sacred Valley of the Incas tour by 7:30. They were supposed to come pick us up by 8, so we waited… and waited… and waited… we called and after a few tries finally reached the company. Some sketchy woman ended up walking over to us and calling her driver to take us 30 minutes into Poroy to catch up with the bus. They totally forgot us!! At least we made it without missing too much. Our first stop was Pisac. From the top of the agricultural flats, we could see the whole Sacred Valley and the river that runs through it all the way to Brazil. In the side of the mountains we could see little caves where the Incas hid their food and holes which were tombs before being exploded by the Spanish. We got to explore on our own, found the site’s running fountain like i mentioned was at each ruin, and then hopped back on the bus to our next stop.
After another short bus ride, we arrived in Qora which was a tiny little village and market. We got to see a real silver shop where the workers mine their own silver from the mountains and make incredible jewelry out of it. They were so talented! We walked around the market for a bit where Eliza and I bought alpaca sweaters for our moms and gifts for our families until it started pouring! We ran back to the bus so that our driver could try and beat the storm before it got to the other sites. We decided to stop and eat, but by force we only had one option – an expensive, touristy buffet where I basically went broke by having to spend the rest of my Peruvian Soles (their currency). It was standard food – soup, plantains, rice, meat; Eliza and I even got to try some alpaca which was strong and salty. We still had a ways to go, so on we ventured to Ollantaytambo. Our cute little tour guide, who was a Quechua native meaning he grew up in these sacred towns, kept referring to everything as “my kingdom” and “my people” and “my country.” He explained how Ollantaytambo was built in the shape of a llama, Cuzco is shaped like a puma, and Machu Picchu is shaped like a condor: all sacred animals on the Incas. The elevation at Ollantaytambo was near 13,000 feet up so climbing to the top was the biggest struggle. Every few steps you have to stop and take deep breaths to prevent passing out! The view from the top was incredible though. The Andes rose up around us and the light was shining down on the little town below. These are all things that words can’t even really express!
It was beginning to get dark so we decided to head home, but on our way we stopped at Chinchera. We saw snow-capped mountains, watched the sunset behind them, and learned all about another gold-encrusted church. It was a long, long day but we wrapped it all up by talking to our roommates and drinking coca tea (to prevent altitude sickness). One of them is named Brian who actually happened to be from San Diego too! The other was a navy seal from Jersey. They were both really nice and had a lot of interesting perspectives about things! Everyone so far is way older than us and traveling for much longer. It makes me appreciate that Eliza and I were able to do something like this at such a young age and really expand our minds and hearts before the stresses of the adult world kick in.
June 1st (Peru)
Today’s the big day. Machu Picchu!! I was looking forward to this for the entire trip and couldn’t be more stoked. By now, we had gotten used to the elevation so that wasn’t really a problem. We caught the 6am train, took a scenic route through the Andes and the Inca Jungle, and finally arrived at the base of the mountain. We ran into a small hiccup when our bus tickets basically robbed our pockets of every last Sole we had but it was well worth it. We finally entered the site and after walking up a little path, we could see the whole thing before us. There’s a reason they call places like these a “Wonder of the World.” It’s something I won’t even be able to put into words, and that even pictures can’t help depict or describe.
Although we wanted to stand there and bask in it’s glory, we were on a mission. Eliza and I had bought tickets to climb Machu Picchu Mountain. We got to the base of the trek when suddenly the ticket collector told us the mountain closed in 1 1/2 hours so we had to reach the top by then! It was supposed to take at least 2 hours to climb to the top, so we started running. Little did we know that this hike was made up of a steep set of stairs made out of bumpy rocks. One wrong step and you’re off the side into the jungle. While trying to be careful but also beat the clock, Eliza and I turned on some tunes and powered our way to the top. With only 30 minutes left, a passing couple told us how we still had much longer to go! Despite our shaking calves and sweaty foreheads, we managed to make it to the top in 1 hr 6 minutes, with just enough time to snap a couple pics. It was one of the most fulfilling feelings to be able to look down at teeny tiny Machu Picchu and the know that few people get to experience this incredible view:
We didn’t get long though, because soon enough the guard kicked everyone off and we had to head back down 😦 But down at the base was still just as incredible. We went to different view points of the great Incan city, explored around the gigantic ruins (it literally took us over an hour just to walk around it – it was huge!) and then unfortunately had to leave to take our train back home. I can’t explain how amazing this place was, and it was definitely the highlight of my trip! I’d highly suggest it for anyone and everyone to make the journey someday.
June 2nd (Ecuador)
The dreaded last day. We had a super early flight back to Quito this morning. We were beginning to get short on money so in our last stretch we had to eat Papa John’s Pizza at 10am and were soon quickly chasing its’ greasiness down with some local Cusqueña beer by 11. We ended up getting into our Discovery Hostel around 3pm and then were off to the market we visited before to grab some last minute goods. I got this beautiful bag I’ve been eyeing everytime I pass it. It’s suede with a handmade turquoise embroidered strap and I love it! Then, we decided to eat dinner at the cute little gringo tourist square by our hostel. It’s a little plaza surrounded with cute lights, fancy restaurants, and fun-looking bars. After we ate, we decided to hang out for a bit and then went back out for some drinks. Safe to say the tourist 2 for 1 deals on drinks are pretty enticing, but could be a problem for someone like Lisa and I when we decide to each get a pitcher to ourselves. Lets just say the night got interesting.. haha kidding but we did end up going back to our hostel and hanging out with a bunch of Columbian soccer moms who were drinking out on the patio. It was a great last night to wrap up our trip.
June 3rd (USA)
The bittersweet goodbye. After checking into our flight, we sat at the airport waiting. I didn’t mind waiting at this point. I could’ve waited forever if that meant I could stay! While we waited, we ran into like 3 or 4 famous Mexican celebrities – one of which whom we watched in a movie a couple days before in Ecuador! Regardless, we finally arrived back in the states. Reflecting on everything that happened, from the bumps in the road (they were all rocky cobblestone) to the bumps in the night (from our 6 person rooms or the creepy crawlies), this trip was truly something amazing. I gained so much perspective on people and the world, and how I want to embrace life and this beautiful planet while I get the short chance to. Meeting so many interesting and insightful people who were all traveling to escape the adult world or to avoid responsibilities or to just get away showed me how we all have the same problems and stresses whether you’re from Australia or Austria or Argentina. Life doesn’t have to be so complicated – the world offers us so much opportunity or escape. Whatever you seek, you can find if you just open your eyes and explore a little. Remain limitless.
Remember more pictures are under the Gallery tab! And if you have questions about these places, planning a last minute trip, traveling alone, or anything in general, feel free to contact me through Facebook or email! email@example.com