Category Archives: Advice

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Top 3 travel things to do in Greenwich, England

My boyfriend (we’ll call him X) moved to the US from England when he was young, but always has been strongly drawn “back home”. When a business opportunity for him to train in the UK for three weeks came up, I immediately bought a ticket to join him.

Obviously London is just one of the coolest places on the planet, but X was itching for a day trip to Greenwich. This is where he was born and where he spent many summers exploring the town with Mom, Dad and his brothers. I was thrilled to experience it too, as I heard it was soaked in nautical history. I’m not crazy about the past, let’s be honest, but having X show me around was like hiring an expert tour guide without the price tag.

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After getting off the tube, we walked a few minutes through the streets of town and made it to the banks of the Thames. Here is the massive Cutty Sark ship, now encased in a display structure made of glass around its base. It’s the last surviving tea clipper ship and still looks magnificent as I’m sure it did decades ago.

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Honestly, I completely forget where we wandered after that, but X brought me to a museum in a massive columned white building. Maybe the Queen’s House? Anyway, doesn’t matter, because they had KNIGHT STUFF. Move over 8-year-olds, I have some imagination to do.

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Next stop was the Maritime Museum, full of shiny things and interactive exhibits. The highlight for me was the temporary Ansel Adams display, who was the reason I got into writing and snapping photos. Funnily enough the pictures were curated by a museum back home in Massachusetts and transported to Greenwich. I did love this place but started to glaze over a little when X went on a giant diatribe about the British hero, Horatio Lord Nelson.

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It was pretty unbelievable to see the actual jacket worn by this vice-admiral – the same one he was shot in while doing battle. You can easily see the bullet holes.

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Before wandering around the observatory, we waged a battle of our own to stand on either side of the Prime Meridian, which was established in the 1800s to help ships navigate the nearby waters.

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This is just a beautiful area. You hike up some stairs or come through the park at a gentler slope and are rewarded with a vista of the city below. Alongside the prime meridian is the observatory, with London’s only planetarium.

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I have a French macaron problem/addiction/obsession. This is only exacerbated because there’s none to be found in Boston. So when I’m anywhere else I drop everything at the sight, including buying one of these blue ones at an outdoor market that cost 7 DOLLARS, but I digress. Totally worth it.

When you make it out to Greenwich and have a sunny day to spare, don’t miss these three spots:

1. Cutty Sark

2. National Maritime Museum

3. Royal Observatory

It’s a charming detour for its marketplaces, museums and pubs off the beaten path. It’s not the suburbs, but it’s a lot slower paced and offers stunning views of the greenery below when you stroll through the hilly parks. I’m a little jealous X comes from such an amazing little place.

Have you ventured outside central London on your trips? Find anything cool?

Next week I’m taking a little road trip to New Jersey. Let me say, I can’t get enough of my car and the open road. PS, his name is Jose, he’s a little black coupe, Latin and bisexual. Which suits me perfectly for a quality, reliable road trip partner.


Bi-Weekly World Traveler Interview – Evanie in Mexico City

I got the idea: I have countless traveler friends, but not all of them like to write or have a blog! It’s a shame their stories go untold besides among their loved ones, so I thought I’d share them with you. It’s a way to connect travel bloggers, wanderlust crazies, as well as an avenue to quench my need for being a ‘journalist’ and interviewing. My first guinea pig, er, friend is Evanie. She and I met *cough* years ago when we studied abroad together in Spain, and now she currently lives in Mexico City. All of the words and photos following are hers. I’ll let her take the floor from here on, enjoy!

Evanie

Eating an alambre in my neighborhood in DF (Mexico City).

Tell us a little about your background, where you grew up, went to school and your home base now.

Well I grew up in a really small town in Montana. I lived half the week at my dad’s in a town called Hamilton (it has exactly 6 stoplights) and half the week at my mom’s in another town called Victor (1 stoplight). The towns are exactly 20 minutes apart, and I went to school in a town called Corvallis which was halfway between the two. Why Montana has small towns spread about every 5 minutes apart, each with its own school is a mystery. I think they’re afraid of having too many people in one place, it would be too much like a city and Montanans HATE cites.

On the road to my dad’s house in Montana.

On the road to my dad’s house in Montana.

Um, my school was really small, about 400 students and I played a lot of sports because there wasn’t really anything else to do. Everyone knew everyone since kindergarten so there weren’t a lot of surprises. I couldn’t wait to move when I graduated. I ended up going to the University of Hawaii which was the farthest I could possibly get and also the complete opposite in every way of Montana. I went from a place that had zero ethnic diversity to a place where I was a minority. It was a really interesting and terrifying experience to move somewhere I had never been where I didn’t know a single person.

Do you remember your first trip away from home?

I don’t really remember I was in a lot of sports so we often traveled out of town so I got pretty used to roadtrips. My first trip out of the country though was when I was a Junior in high school and I went on a church Mission trip to Chihuahua, Mexico. We did the whole shebang to get there, fundraising dinners, carwashes, support letters, etc. I was fairly sure with my 3rd year high school Spanish I was really going to reach a lot of people, ha.

We mostly did all the stereotypical mission-y things like painting a church, VBS (vacation bible school), outreaches in orphanages and old peoples homes, passing out balloons to kids in parks that said things like “Jesus Lives!” The most memorable thing that we did though was visit a men’s penitentiary to play soccer. The “field” was a concrete slab with a really high chain link fence all the way around it and a wall of people 10 people deep against the fence watching us play. The field was also surrounded by 4 huge buildings and in each window was a face staring out. I sorta felt like we were on the movie The Gladiator and at the end the convicts were going to vote on whether or not we had to stay there forever. I was the only girl who played so naturally once they found out my name there was a lot of shouting Evanie, Evanie, Evanie!!! It was exciting and also really surreal to hear your name being shouted by lots and lots of Mexican-Man-Convicts.

At the end of the game my youth group leader made me give my testimony because I was the “star” and I remember thinking, “What is my testimony again?” I grew up going to church because my parents do, didn’t seem like a very good or inspiring story. I had not had a particularly hard childhood or any born again experiences. It was the singularly most intimidating moment of my life as I improvised my own story of how I came to believe in God. And I can just imagine the hundreds of Mexican inmates listening to a white, privileged, 16-year-old stuttering and sputtering like she had something important to say, something to bring to those poor criminals – it’s the audacity that gets me. The total belief I had in coming to Mexico (further ingrained in me by the church) that I had something to bring the impoverished people of Mexico! The message! I was going to somehow make there lives better by being there for two weeks.

The overall lessons I learned from the trip was that 3rd level high school Spanish is basically equivalent to nothing, eating street food contrary to public opinion does not always give you MONTEZUMA’S REVENGE, and that Mexico is not some poor community just starving for some tiny youth group in Montana to save them with their suitcases full of toys bought at the dollar store and their testimonies about growing up middle class, that they in fact were lacking in nothing.

What made you realize you liked traveling and living abroad?

Moving to Hawaii was the experience that most made me realize that I liked travel and adventure and newness. Living there is essentially living abroad because it’s so different from the culture on the mainland U.S. They have their own language, their own food, their own holidays and customs. I had to adapt a lot to live there as I later had to do when I lived abroad. I think the skills for survival I developed there have helped me in every travel experience or move to a new place that I have had since.

My favorite place to study in Hawaii.

My favorite place to study in Hawaii.

Tell us your craziest traveling story.

I think my craziest travel story is probably when four friends and I were backpacking through South America. We took an overnight bus from Ecuador to the border of Peru, roughly like 11 hours of travel which seemed like a great idea because then we wouldn’t waste a day on travel. However, when we reached the border the bus driver promptly dumped us off without explanation and then drove away with all of our luggage inside. I was the designated translator of the group since I was the only one who spoke Spanish (I had just graduated with a bona-fide BA in Spanish, meaning I could now understand about 50 percent of what was said). I finally figured out that the bus had dropped us off at the immigration office and that we had to get our passports stamped.

So we waited in line and then a nice gentleman offered to help us get to the bus station to retrieve our bags. He rode with us in the taxi to the bus station but it was closed for lunchtime. He then offered while we were waiting to take us to a place to exchange our money which seemed like an equally nice offer. He traded us off to his friend who knew of an exchange place asking before he left for a tip. We thought oh yeah that guys nice here’s a tip. We then exchanged all our money at the friend of a friend’s place where he frequently told us how dangerous the border is and how important it is to have someone help you. We finally got our bags and the new guy started explaining the complicated process of how we needed to go to two more government offices to get our passports stamped again and that we needed to go to a specific bus station to get where we were going and he had a friend with a car who could take us to each place. So he traded us off to his friend also asking for a tip for his help. I remember thinking, this is getting kind of weird but ok. After we had been in the car about 20 minutes the friend of the friend of the friend notified us that the bus station was an hour outside of town and that it would cost us 50 American dollars each and when I said What?! He pulled over to the side of the road and told me to tell my friends right now that that was the cost and that if we didn’t pay he would leave us on the side of the road.

This is when we finally realized that maybe the friendly friend chain wasn’t really all that friendly. I started to worry that maybe he was taking us to some abandoned warehouse to kidnap us or steal all our organs. Being the only Spanish speaker I nervously assured him yes we would pay 50 dollars each if he would please just take us to the bus station as planned. He then happily chatted all the way there playing us all the ringtones on his phone. When we arrived at the station we realized that all the money we had exchanged was counterfeit and that we were so far out of town that there were no banks or ATMs. Luckily one friend had an emergency stash of cash and the station agent took pity on us and accepted American money. So that is my craziest traveling story of being slightly kidnapped by a chain of super helpful Peruvians.

Seemingly nice guy #1 in the nice guy chain of my border crossing to Peru debacle.

Seemingly nice guy #1 in the nice guy chain of my border crossing to Peru debacle.

How is Mexico? How long have you been there?

It’s hard to explain Mexico. The culture really changes depending on where in the country you live just like in the U.S. Each region has it’s own traditions, foods, accents.

So I’ve only lived in two cities one in the north (Torreon) for about a year and in the center (Mexico City) for about 7 months where I currently live. My experience last year in Torreon was terrible. It’s the third most dangerous city in Mexico and the seventh most dangerous city in the world. When you hear about the drug wars and beheadings and shootings and violence you usually think of Ciudad Juarez but actually Ciudad Juarez has become a lot more safe than Torreon. There aren’t any bars or clubs to go to because they’ve all been shut down due to shootings. People don’t go out at night or walk around. And people go to the city center at their own risk. I was working in a bilingual school teaching 5th grade English and basically hated every single second of it. The only thing good I can say about my experience there is that the food is ridiculously delicious, they’re known for their meat. I also lived right across the street from a sushi restaurant where we would always go on hungover Sundays to gorge ourselves on rolls for a couple of dollars.

So needless to say when I moved to Mexico City I felt so happy I just wanted to smile all the time. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world but each neighborhood you visit has it’s own little culture with the same people who have been living there for generations. I’ve only been here for 7 months but the few people I do know I run into all the time in my neighborhood which makes me feel a lot more at home. There’s a million things to do here and a million people to do it with. If you like cities and history and art, this is the place to be.

What is the rhythm of Mexico City? What’s your favorite place in the capital? Do you feel safe? Do you speak Spanish most of the time?

The historic center of Mexico City. The main plaza and cathedral.

The historic center of Mexico City. The main plaza and cathedral.

The rhythm of Mexico City is surprisingly slow for a city I think. People here often get 2 hour lunch breaks so at “la hora de comer” the sidewalks are filled with people in business suits taking a lunchtime walk with their co-workers gossiping and eating ice cream bars. If you’re ever in a hurry you have to do a lot of weaving and muttering to get around all the people sauntering along.

I think my favorite place in the capital is Xochimilco which is south of the city and it’s a patchwork of the old canals that used to make up Mexico City back when it was a huge lake. The canals are filled with colorful wooden boats called trajineras and are each manned by one guy with a really long pole. You can rent the boats by the hour and go with a big group of friends, you can bring a picnic and beers to drink on board or you can hail a passing food or drink boat that have any kind of food you could want. Many of the boats are mariachi boats and for a few pesos they’ll hitch up to your boat and serenade you. This is by far my favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon, bumping and crashing into other boats while drinking a michelada with a tamarind straw and listening to the mariachi montage as they pass by.

I feel really safe here, they have patrol cars that pass by on all the residential streets on the hour. And basically on every street corner is policeman hanging out to help you if you need it. I walk around all the time at night and haven’t had any bad experiences. Everyone says that Mexico City is the safest place to be in Mexico.

I do speak Spanish most of the time. I feel like in my seven months here I’ve improved a LOT. Almost all of my friends are Mexican and my roommates are Mexican so socializing always happens in Spanish. Joining a women’s soccer team here has really helped me meet a lot of people too. Surprisingly there is a large ex-pat community here of foreigners who work in international companies or at the American school. Many of which have been here for years and still don’t speak Spanish because all their friends are foreigners who speak English. For me though, I find that very strange. I think it’s important to adapt and integrate into the country that your living otherwise it’s like you never left your home country or like you’re living outside of it in this alternate community and you never get to experience what the country is really like.

For someone only in Mexico City for a day, what must they not miss?

The main plaza of Coyoacan.

The main plaza of Coyoacan.

For someone who is only in the city for a day – that is a really difficult question. I think it would depend on what you like. If you’re really into history then you should definitely go to the historic center of town where the cathedral and main plaza are. The streets are really narrow and made of cobblestone there similar to Europe. Also in the summer they set up an artificial beach with imported sand and waves and it’s free to the public. At Christmas they set up ice-skating and sledding with artificial snow.

If you like markets you should go to La Lagunilla which is the biggest outdoor market in the city and is adjacent to one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. Everyone says that you can buy anything you could ever want in La Lagunilla including exotic animals.

For more traditional Mexico you could visit Coyoacan which is full of huge trees and old colorful stucco mansions and has a huge plaza filled with fountains and mimes. It’s also where Frida Kahlo was born so you can visit her birthplace which was converted into a museum and houses a lot of her work. The courtyard is also full of cats which is strange.

Which destinations are on your dream list you haven’t been to yet?

I would really like to go to Alaska, Northern Brazil for a jungle boat tour, New Orleans, Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Egypt, Santorini, the Bahamas, and any kind of cruise.

Evanie is the best, thanks girl! Want to be next? Feel free to drop me a line about your story, or nominate a friend. Coming up I have a couple with tips on traveling together (they met in Romania!) as well as an interview with a Millennial still traveling on a broke girl’s dime.


Going with the flow at Seville, Spain’s “Feria” celebration

Although I am thousands of miles away, every April my heart goes right back to the dirt streets of Feria, where horses are ridden down temporary paths, skirts swish and drinks are poured by the dozen. I’ve never seen anything like it in person before – in the middle of nowhere on a massive abandoned lot in Seville, Spain, a pop-up tent city is erected and filled with traditional dancing, meals, music and lights that flicker until dawn.

Feria in Seville, Spain

Every year the massive archway, that is dozens of feet high, marks the entrance to the temporary chaos of Feria day and night (seen on the bottom right of the photo). The design is changed every year to highlight some of man’s accomplishments – when I was there in 2010, there was a nod to the birth of aviation.

The whole thing goes on for a week, with months to prepare. Women wear traditional flamenco-style dresses and the males often dress as horsemen. Families have their spot carved out for years and each clan owns a tent with a wooden platform to create their very own bar/restaurant/dance floor that’s invite-only. Everyone does the Sevillana, which is a kind of flamenco line dance that locals have mastered since birth, done in partners or in groups (usually just the girls). There are larger public tents for the common folk and tourists to enjoy, plus food vendors, live music, drinks and anything else you might need to throw a giant outdoor party. Not to mention the actual carnival for kids attached, complete with rides and coasters and plenty of bad 80s music to go around.

Who knew I would acquire a taste for “rebujito“, a supposedly cold drink almost always served warm, made of sherry and lemon-lime soda. After the third or seventeenth shooter though, it wasn’t so awful. It certainly helped get me on the dance floor more often than I would sans rebujito!

I had a dream that I was going to make a mini documentary about being an au pair in Seville someday and the wonders of Feria. It might still happen, but for now I think it’s time to unearth some of the footage I took while in the city.

For example, see below. Raquel, out faithful dance teacher, did the impossible – this poor girl took a room full of bumbling foreigners from a half-dozen different countries and turned us into passable Sevillana dancers. Here she is demonstrating how to use a shawl while moving to the rhythm.

The work paid off, as my friends and I were invited to a couple of private tents, allowing us to see how the locals do it and do it flawlessly. I later crashed my way through the steps in the public areas, but for that evening I simply watched in awe and wished I could absorb this infectious Spirit, or as they call it, “duende”.

With all this tradition floating around, making you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, it’s refreshing to be a little progress among the polka-dot ruffles and shots of sherry. These handsome gentlemen took the stage in one of the public tents and showed everyone up. Work. Bravo.

If you want to even dream about hitting Feria one of these days, plan way, way in advance. Unless you have an in or some friends who live in the city, accommodations are booked months in advance. I would suggest couch surfing or even a home swap/stay around that time, unless you have the cash to drop on an inflated hotel price. I was lucky to be an au pair living downtown at the time, sporting prime real estate near all the action.

In an upcoming post I’ll highlight the Holy Week too, which happens before Feria for the seven days leading up to Easter. Sevillanos do holidays right and shut down their entire city for parades, processions, food, partying and dancing until dawn. This is all BEFORE Feria too! Then I took off to Lagos, Portugal, for another party, but that’s another story.

Freelancer Tip #3: Listen, you are on the job even when you are not on the job. Of course enjoy your trips and live free, but don’t miss the chance to jot down some notes about a potential article angle or spend some time snapping well-composed landscape photos. Stay curious, even when home – you never know who will contact you about a lead or image request, so be constantly collecting and learning.


San Francisco on the Blogs

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Pondering a trip to San Francisco in the near future? Absorb some inspiration from fellow bloggers. They have you covered when it comes to picking what to experience in this crazy seaside city. Read up on my synopsis of the best City by the Bay posts so far for the New Year:

San Francisco on the Blogs on SF Travel.com

This weekend I’ll be making my way back to NYC, this time for a little relaxation instead of a chaotic press trip. HOWEVER, I am always on the lookout for fantastic story inspiration so I’ll be sure to snag some stories while on the road. Any advice on the best eats and things to see there? I’ve been a zillion times but always try to experience something new every adventure!


Top 5 things to occupy yourself during a ridiculous blizzard

After several hours of shoveling the white stuff out of our massive driveway, I still wouldn’t trade it for anything. People might be terrified of New England in the winter, but when it snows and the sun shines after the apocalyptic aftermath, it’s one of the most beautiful sights in the world. OK I might sell out for a pina colada and a beach in Fiji, but that’s not the point. For now, some hot chocolate and a warm roof over my head is just perfect.

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Whether you reside in a freezing climate or plan on heading north soon, take advantage of the snowy environment and find out how these hearty people roll on the regular.

Get a hot drink in a cozy bar – I’m a little biased, and but this by far is my fave. I miss living near the city for this very reason; I’m so jealous of my friends who can pop into a pub for a cold one and some blizzard camaraderie. L Street Tavern in South Boston is a perfect place to start with a hard cider before digging your way out downtown. Or, carbo load at Mike’s Food and Spirits In Davis Square, Somerville (right off the Red Line subway) with drinks and homemade pastas before braving the cold again.

Find where all the locals are enjoying the snow – Want to grab a sled and crash onto a nearby hill? If in the US try sledriding.com to find the best hills around. Otherwise, check local websites and Facebook pages for high schools, parks and more that have the scariest slopes to conquer. It’ll be worth it to challenge all those little punks who think they can beat you to the bottom.

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Make some snow treats – Now before you go all nuts, you can easily grab some clean and fluffy stuff to whip up fun little snacks just like when you were a kid. I mean, why not? Saves you some time filling the ice tray. Mix some fruity drinks using snow, or blend it with a little cream, sugar and flavoring for instant ice cream.

Learn a new winter sport – If you’re from somewhere that has palm trees, you might not get many chances to master skiing, snowboarding or ice skating. I can only speak for New England, but all of our ski resorts are super friendly and great places to take a lesson or two. They often offer student discounts or special rates in the evening, during the week and the off-season.

Catch a hockey game – Canadians might think they dominate is this sport, but New Englanders certainly hold their own too. Despite having epic, historic snowfall in the last 24 hours, 17,000 people are still expected to make the pilgrimage to Boston to watch the Bruins play tonight. You can easily grab a ticket or two to one of the farm league games, pro matches or local brawls, depending on your budget and time frame. Heck, kids will be playing on any patch of ice throughout the area, so keep your eyes peeled for young talent too.

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So I used to offer unemployment tips, I think now I’ll try to instill some wisdom on the freelancing world, especially travel. Feel free to ask me any questions and offer your thoughts on the industry too! It can be a singular job in nature, but there’s definitely strength in numbers when it comes to figuring it all out and being great at it.

Freelancer Tip #1 : In the beginning, even if you’re not sure, pick a couple of topics or industries to focus on. It can be tempting to dive into anything that comes your way, but that can leave you feeling lost or overwhelmed Choose just travel and lifestyle, or photography and website design. Play into your strengths first then branch out from there!


Preview of my dream coming true: Mazatlan, Mexico

I can’t believe it took me this long to visit our neighbors south of the border. Being an East Coast native I assumed I’d be visiting Cancun or Playa del Carmen on my first adventure, but instead I was assigned to Mazatlan. Located in Sinaloa, this city is hugged by a fantastic, warm ocean and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They had a field day making fun of my Spain accent, yes ha ha laugh it up I know I sound like I have marbles in my mouth.

Besides that though, like seriously, Mexico is wonderful. All those rumors were laid to rest the second I met my insanely sweet driver for the week and the super helpful hotel staff who calmed me down after my luggage was lost. I met a woman from Bolivia who took charge as tour guide because she had already been there, and we were able to see a side of this city I’m sure many don’t experience. I had a lot of moments, like the time I was the only ‘gringa’ in a sea of a thousand locals at a beach-side Halloween party at 3AM, where I just though wow, oh wow, it’s all happening.

The full story will be featured in the winter issue of Canadian World Traveller, so here’s a sneek peak. The photos are out of order because, well, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Special festivities to honor the dead Part IV

Knocked this one off of the bucket list – witness Dia De Los Muertos first hand. They really went all out and had a massive party in the historical plaza, plus a parade with crazy Banda music. It’s a cross between Mexican Mariachi and German marching music – I know right?

Walking through the Osuna Distillery Part IITequila, except it’s not tequila. Only certain areas of Mexico are allowed to call it that, so this was Mezcal  Same thing though, don’t let the advertisers fool you!

Dia de los Muertos

Dia De Los Muertos again. Many businesses and homes had altars covered in skeletons, tortillas and pictures. Even the duty free shop in the airport had an altar.

Ocean and island views

When I first threw open the drapes in my hotel room I saw this and squealed like a kid at Disney World. It was just starting to get cold at home, so it was perfect timing. The resort is the Royal Villas Hotel and it was the best base for exploring Mazatlan – airy rooms, tasty breakfast and located really close to everything.

Sun goes down, stars come out

Some people stayed at the golf course, while I got this view. NO complaints.

Margaritas

Mango margaritas. At every meal. That is all.

Living like a local

This kid, rockstar. He was running around his parent’s salon and noticed I had a camera. We had an impromptu photo shoot with him checking every shot in between to make sure he looked good. “Otra vez! Otra vez!” “Again! Again!” We were in stitches, he is a born entertainer.

Hiking up to El Faro

He had tags but was all alone at the top of El Faro. Super friendly puppy, wish I could have spared a bit of my water, but it was like Satan’s bedroom up there and I thought I was going to pass out.

Elegant Marina El Cid

Being a guest at one of the swankiest gigs in town was definitely an experience. I wish I brought a prettier dress. The tourism board really outdid themselves and has everyone wear white to complete the look. We arrived and were greeted with a mango margarita and a boat ride across the harbor to this massive tent for more drinks, of course, and a four course meal.

A parasailing perspective

Parasailing was terrifying.  I HATE heights. But just like the kid egged on to lick that freezing pole by his peers, I couldn’t very well let the other writers show me up. So I did it and was rewarded with some of the most ridiculous views ever. Gliding along felt awesome, until I had to figure out how the hell to get down. Glad I still have all my limbs.

Sunset and horses

Adios Mazatlan, un beso!

In the near future I’ll share my London trip and maybe do a throwback to Spain, since it’s my fave. I got my press pass for the upcoming Boston Globe Travel Show in February, which will hopefully create more leads and more adventure! Here we go!


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