Monthly Archives: March 2010

Musica Wanted!

Every season has a soundtrack. It’s time for a new one!

Every phase of life, every relationship, every chapter of your story has its songs that will forever transport you back into moments that have passed but can be relived each time the song is played. Some songs are triggers; they remind you of home and can make you both ecstatic and homesick to hear when you’re far away [for me, I predict: Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind” to have this effect on me in Ecuador], some trigger memories of a specific person who loved you and then maybe broke your heart [those songs are pretty loaded, as they can bring up both wonderful and difficult emotions — and no, I will not share mine, but – for better or for worse – I’ve got some of those!], and then there are the songs that remind you of how FUN a certain time was [ahhh, the list of songs that will forever remind me of crew parties and random laughing fits or dance parties with my college friends and teammates is endless and wonderful].

And THEN, there are the times when you need new songs, before they become the soundtrack to any memories. That’s where I am at right NOW.

I’m about to do a LOT of traveling. Long flights to Rome and back will be quickly followed by the 10-hr flight to Buenos Aires and back, and eventually the one-way flight to Quito. But, here’s a little problem I have: I don’t sleep on planes. That’s right, not one minute. Ever. AND, I refuse to take sleeping pills in any form. The only thing I will take is Melatonin (a natural supplement that supposedly helps adjust your body’s clock to the time zone you’re in, based on sunlight), but even that is something I avoid. Usually, I like to just let my body figure it out and accept I’ll be running on empty for a while, which I’m capable of even if it’s not fun. What I’m saying is… I need new music. Lots of it.

The one and only time I ever attempted to take a sleeping pill was on a direct flight from NYC to Tokyo. Because I’m pretty small and sensitive to the effects of most medication, I decided to take half an Ambien about an hour into the JFK-Narita flight. The next seven or eight hours of the 12.5 hr flight consisted of me trying to figure out if my head was still attached to my body or if it was floating three feet above me. I pretty much was trapped in my window seat (two sleeping Japanese business men locked me in) alone, drooling like a slobbering dog, and completely confused for the entirety of the flight. I did not sleep; instead, I drifted in and out of a woozy world that hummed as it stood completely still. I. Am. Never. Taking. Half. An. Ambien. Again. (MAYBE a whole one some day, but even that I hope to avoid.)

Now back to the task at hand…

Over the summer, we created “The Ultimate Travel Playlist.” It was FABULOUS, but we’ve all probably moved on from that phase. Today, I’m asking all of you to shake it up, refresh the list, and give me a NEW set of songs to accompany me on all my upcoming travels (and yours). They can have NOTHING to do with travel, and everything to do with the stuff that just makes you feel good about life right now. I’m looking for new or relatively new music, and I know you’ve got it.

Please, give me some good stuff to listen to as I stare at the seat in front of me while everyone around me sleeps. Submit, as a comment, your list of three to five songs you think I should listen to on my trips. As always, I will kick things off so you feel comfortable. Here are a few of the  “popular” songs that have been on my workout playlist over the past few months. They get my heart pumpin’ and have put me in a I-can-take-on-the-world good mood. What songs put you in that mood? SHARE THOSE.

1. Michael Buble, “Feeling Good”

2. Lady Gaga, “Teeth” [BEST song to spin to! We listened to this in my spinning class and pedal to the beat. It’s fast, but it’s SO invigorating when you’re ready to bust it out and GO!]

3. Kings of Leon, “Notion”

ALSO, I will definitely be listening to my fabulous and incredibly talented friend, Samantha Farrell and her entire album, Luminous, including “Someday” “Lady Luck” and “Fade Away”

This is NOT about judging someone’s taste. Share your list of artists and song titles, independent or popular… Clearly, I am not a music snob, so don’t be shy. Have fun with it!



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Un Po-Quito

That’s right — it’s QUITO, ECUADOR!

Quito, Ecuador. Shannon K.

I think this  description [below] of Quito, provided by Shannon K., perfectly sums up what I anticipate living in Quito to be like (minus a couple unfortunate stomach aches, and probably some very freaky insect or bird encounters). It’s un poquito de Quito, just a tiny snapshot of a visit to the second highest capital in the WORLD.

Plaza in Quito. Shannon K.

For those of you who do not know, I have accepted a job with V!VA Guides and will be moving to Quito, Ecuador at the end of May. It’s EXCITING!! And, yes, a blur of other emotions and thoughts, but I’m totally doing it, and I’m going to give it my best shot. Of course, I planned a couple big trips this Spring (to Italy and Argentina) thinking I was going to be unemployed, which has made my life quite complicated and chaotic lately, but it’s good to be busy! I just wish busy didn’t include repeated trips to One Police Plaza, next to the Brooklyn Bridge, where I have to return in ten days (the day before I go to Italy) to pick up my letter of good conduct for my Visa (fingerprints: check! Getting hardcore hit on by a cop while getting my fingerprints: double CHECK). I can’t stop thinking about Ecuador and the big move these days, but I refuse to pretend I can predict anything about what life will be like in Quito. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you’ve just got to buckle up and go for the ride when it comes to changes this big. Sometimes you’ve got to go all-in, and see what happens.

Quito Street. Shannon K.

I remember my first day of college. I had been placed in the steep and rocky Mt. Katahdin day-hiking group for my pre-orientation trip (known as “Pre-Os” at the WONDERFUL Bowdoin College, these are the optional trips that we could do to appreciate Maine and bond in small groups the week before college officially began). Before going to Bowdoin, I had lived in the same apartment my entire life and gone to the same school for 12 years: change was not part of my life, and I liked it that way. Going to Bowdoin — in MAINE, of all places — was a HUGE change for me, and I was, admittedly, TERRIFIED!

Sure enough, I did everything I could to prepare. I got every piece of clothing on the suggested packing list, made myself a special ride-to-college mix that would flip my anxiety into excitement, and was ready for all college had to offer — I thought. When I arrived on campus, I headed straight for the sign-in sheet. They said “Great, well have fun backpacking and canoeing!” I said… “Uhhh, what?? I’m on the day-hiking trip…” and nervously showed the nice sophomore volunteer my letter from Bowdoin stating that I was, in fact, on the day-hiking trip to Katahdin. She checked her list, twice, and said, “Oh, well, we have you signed up for the Flagstaff-Bigelow backpacking and canoeing trip and, because of the canoeing, that trip has an even number of people so we kind of need you to do that one or someone won’t have a canoe buddy…” GULP. There I was, prepared as can be for the ONLY thing I could possibly  prepare for during my first week of college, and everything I had so carefully anticipated was being tossed out the window.  Much to my surprise (and my mom’s, who knew my resistance to “change” from a young age), I just took a deep breath, and said,  “OK! Let’s do it…”

The next couple hours consisted of me emptying my entire backpack, getting a new one, rummaging through the Bowdoin Outdoor Club for every piece of equipment from tent parts to cooking parts to waterproof clothes, with my awesome upperclassmen guides, Kazia (who, it turns out, is still awesome) and Jeff (who is also awesome, and is a doctor with the Navy). When I met my group, most were ex-boy scouts, had done several NOLS trips, or worked at Patagonia in their hometown in Montana. There I was, the NYC girl in Maine, who had been signed up for two trips and packed for the WRONG one. I was INCREDIBLY humbled when everyone in my group decided to reach into their own bags and lend me a pair of socks, a quick-drying shirt, some took a pot out of my backpack because my pack was too heavy and didn’t fit properly, and all these strangers (who quickly became friends) did everything they could to make me feel comfortable, welcome, and as prepared as I could be.

In the end, I don’t think there could have been a better way to start my college experience. I had to immediately toss all my pride out the window and take things as they came. As prepared as I thought I was, I had to go with the flow and challenge myself in ways I had never been challenged before. And these people I had JUST met were right there for me from the first moment, ready to help and support me however I needed it. It was a lesson that has stuck with me, and I am taking it with me to Quito.

Now, let’s all learn a little something about one lovely lady’s trip to the city of Quito, which -although I’ve never been- is about to become my home.

In October 2008 I traveled to Ecuador to meet a friend who was starting a three-month tour around South America. Quito is a very walkable city, and the Old Town, with its narrow streets and beautiful architecture, was my favorite neighborhood.

Quito street. Shannon K.

You can’t skip the Basilica del Voto National. If you can manage the hike up the (very) vertical road to the church, then you’ve already won half the battle. And, as an added bonus, good luck beating altitude sickness [Quito sits at an altitude of 9,200 ft].

Basilica, Quito. Shannon K.

The second challenge is reaching the top of the church’s tallest tower, and in order do so, unsuspecting tourists must walk across an old wooden plank just below the cathedral’s ceiling to get to the opposite side, where you climb up a scrawny staircase (think submarine boat stairs) that offers no protection from a fall whatsoever. My fear of heights prevented me from completing the intimidating journey up the final tower, but I have no regrets since my views of the city from the first three viewing points were fantastic.

Cathedral View, Quito. Shannon K.

You’ll need a snack after that adventure (and a stiff drink), and I highly recommend the fruit salad at Fruteria Monserrate. Fruit salad may not sound exciting, but this was one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten!  It consisted of lots of yummy, fresh, tropical fruit and it had this fantastic raspberry sauce drizzled all over it, topped with freshly whipped cream.  It sounds completely unimpressive, I suppose, because it is so simple, and yet it melts in your mouth and tastes so good. I would eat there every day if I could!

Quito, Ecuador. Shannon, K.

We wrapped up the day in New Town where we sampled the national beer in Mariscal Sucre. Ecuador’s national beer sadly lives up to its poor reputation, but when in Rome…

View of Quito. Shannon K.

We eventually learned how to navigate Quito’s bus terminal (harder than it sounds), how to get pick pocketed on a bus (much easier than it sounds), and were reminded of how to say “I’ve been robbed” in Spanish (it’s good for laughs at the police station). A word of caution- taking the bus in Ecuador is not for the faint of heart. I recommend shutting the curtains during the particularly rough patches and saying a prayer to the travel gods.

Montana View from Bus. Shannon K.

It is difficult to believe the locals when they tell you that their mountain roads (with hairpin turns) are safe, especially after you’ve passed an identical bus hanging perilously off the side of a 10,000+ ft cliff. That being said, and as long as you don’t look down, you’ll be amazed by the beautiful countryside.

City and Countryside, Quito. Shannon K.

Memories of the stressful bus rides will melt away once you get to the rainforest (that or you’ll quickly repress them).

Hammocks in the Amazon. Shannon K.

Tena, Ecuador. Shannon K.

We hiked, swam in lagoons, climbed waterfalls, learned about the wildlife, and navigated river rapids. We also learned that jungle bats don’t take kindly to travelers climbing through their cave.

Bird of Paradise flower. Rainforest, Ecuador. Shannon K.

The rainforests are definitely worth the harrowing bus ride- so make sure not to miss them! ENJOY ECUADOR, TAVEL!

Quito. Shannon K.

NOTE: All the photographs in this entry were provided by Shannon K. THANK YOU SHANNON! Cannot wait to spend a few weeks with this girl in Argentina 🙂

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High on Life

During the past couple of weeks, I’ve had one particular South American city on my mind…

This is going to be the easiest Mystery Snapshot yet, but I couldn’t resist. It comes to us from the lovely Shannon K., who I met (and with whom I spent most of my time) while studying abroad in Barcelona. She is from Texas, so don’t mess with her.

Now tell me, what South American city is this? In addition to identifying it, I am also looking for any and all advice, regarding this city and country. If you can tell me where this shot comes from, if you’ve been there, and/or if you know something about the place, please share your thoughts and wisdom as a comment below. I’ll take any info/insight I can get!

City High. Shannon K.


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The White Mountains (That Aren’t White)

Good guessin’. You were all on the right track with the whole color thing, but the blue-looking mountains are actually the White Mountains of good ol’ New Hampshire! Tom H. tells us more about the photograph and his experience in a funny, real-time style entry. Enjoy:

This photo proves that you don’t need to go too far afield to travel. I took these photos while hiking the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The Dolly Copp campground, where the hike started, is just 175 miles from Boston.

The Presidential Traverse is a hike that hits the summits of Mts. Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson. My co-workers who organized the hike decided to add Clay, Franklin, and Webster as well (you know, ’cause they’re on the way). It’s been a struggle to figure out how best to share what was a pretty grueling experience for me. In the end I’ve decided to steal Bill Simmons’ running diary style…

2:00 AM – Wake up. Eat granola bar. Feel like death.

2:50 AM – Arrive at Dolly Copp campground in Gorham, NH. I still don’t fully realize what I’m in for. Want to be excited, but it’s still too early.

Tom H (right) and friends. Dolly Copp, NH.

3:00 AM – Start hiking. Too dark to see, using headlamps. The blood starts flowing. I’m beginning to feel awake.

5:00 AM – Missed a turn back there. We’re now lost in the pre-dawn darkness. Not a good way to start.

5:50 AM – Mt. Madison summit. One down, ten to go. Cold, windy, and slippery. Tough combo.

Mt. Madison. White Mountains, NH.

6:00 AM – Madison Spring Hut. The guests there were just starting to wake up. They seemed confused as to how we got there, as we weren’t there for dinner the night before. I too, was starting to wonder what I was doing there. Then we explained our story. People were impressed. I started to feel better.

7:15 AM – Mt. Adams summit. Two down. Nothing too exciting. More cold, more slippery.

8:45 AM – Mt. Jefferson summit. Three down. Sun is out. Rocks are drying. Not landing on my tuckus as often.

10:00 AM – Mt. Clay summit. Four Down. Clay isn’t very tall, but there is a huge dip between Jefferson and Clay. My legs are unhappy, and it’s not even noon. Not a good sign.

10:20 AM – Large Navigational Error #2. We missed a trail somewhere and ended up hiking half a lap around Mt. Washington before heading up. Silver lining: we got to see the Cog Railway up close.

11:00 AM – Mt. Washington summit. Five down, six to go. I have mixed feelings about the other folks at the top of Washington who got up at 10:00 AM and drove to the summit. Can you be envious of and sorry for someone at the same time?

Tom H (left) and friends. Mt. Washington summit.

11:45 AM – Lunch is over and we head down to the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Another sweet hut. I recommend spending some time there.

1:00 PM – Mt. Monroe summit. Six down. In the groove. Feeling strong.

Tom H. on Mt. Monroe, with Mt. Washington in distance.

1:15 PM – Stop to take photo that will appear as a Mystery Snapshot in Travels with Tavel four years later. [Can I interject a HA! here?! – Tavel]

1:30 PM – Mt. Franklin summit. Seven down. Still groovin’. Still strong.

2:15 PM – Mt. Eisenhower summit. Eight down. No longer groovin’. No longer strong. My legs are thinking about mutiny.

Tom H. and friends on Mt. Eisenhower with Mt. Washington farther in the distance.

3:30 PM – Mt. Pierce summit. Nine down. Here’s a small sample of my gait at this point: Step, rest, groan, rest, groan, step. My pace has slowed a touch.

3:45 PM – Mizpah Spring Hut. Wow, these huts are great. Too bad we can’t stay, must finish hike.

3:47 PM – Large Navigation Error #3. We head down the wrong trail for a while.

4:12 PM – Mizpah Spring Hut. Nice to be back. Maybe we’ll pick the right trail this time.

4:30 PM – Mt. Jackson summit. Oh wait, no. Summit of small hill. Crap. I am exhausted. That big guy over there is Jackson? Seriously? Son of a… Alright let’s get going.

5:00 PM – Mt. Jackson summit. Ten down, one to go. I want to go home. Who’s idea was this?

6:00 PM – Mt. Webster summit. Eleven down, zero to go! Whoohoo, we’re done! Now we just have to scamper back to the car we left at end of the trail. The car is four miles away? That’s quite the scamper.

Mt. Webster, with Mt. Washington very far in the distance.

7:00 PM – How is it possible that we’re still going? Did we leave the car back in Mass? There are three-year-olds that would be jealous of my whining abilities right now.

8:22 PM – Trail sign tells us that we have two miles to go. I almost collapse at the news. The sign can’t be right. There’s no more light, we can’t spend another two hours out here. This has to stop. Maybe we should just camp here for the night? Maybe I can just crawl to the finish. Yeah, that might work.

8:23 PM – Read the sign again. .2 miles to go. Stupid darkness, stupid decimal point. Let’s get outta here.

8:23:20 PM – Break out in a run for the car. Where did I get this energy? Is it a good idea to be running through a dusky forest? Let’s not think about that.

8:30 PM – Car! We can go home! I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this accomplished.
So in the end, the hike was an amazing experience. I could see myself doing it about once every 5 years. Remember to thoroughly explore you’re own backyards. You don’t have to be too far away to Travel with Tavel.

This Google Map shows all the peaks.

NOTE: All the photographs in this entry were provided by Tom H. Thank you, Tom, for sharing your experience AND your photographs!


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In honor of the end of the Olympics (and wrapping up three years at one job, or maybe that’s a stretch?), I’m going to be patriotic and bring us back to the US for this week’s Mystery Snapshot.

First, how dramatic were the Olympics this year, eh? The heartbreaks, the dreams coming true, the surprises, the relief… I think most things happened as they should have in the end. MOST things. Canada won hockey but we Americans were allowed that moment in the last 25 seconds of the game before overtime that reminded us “miracles” can happen (again). For about 15 minutes, we had won something. We felt everything we needed to feel. While one more goal would determine the gold medalist,  we had gotten something very American out of the game:  hope — that belief in the dream, that reminder that incredible things are always possible, even when improbable. Meanwhile, Russia’s president has asked all of its coaches to resign (offering to “help them” if necessary) after the country’s disappointing medal haul leading up to their big moment as hosts of the 2014 Olympics. Two heartbreaking deaths — the Georgian luger and mother of the Canadian figure skater — created a scene of palpable emotion, making these Olympic games, once again, about much more than winning gold.

Part of the reason we watch the Olympics is because we know, with each event, anything can happen. We know that four years –an entire lifetime– of training can all come down to as little as 30-seconds on the ice, and what happens during that 30+ seconds is a beautiful range of disappointment and happiness. It’s life, condensed into a sporting event. We watch, because each person’s story becomes a moment of glory or tragedy. The stakes are SO high, but those moments are what define us. One announcer, describing the ice dancers, said that to be an ice dancer or a figure skater, you have to be prepared to fall. You have to be ready to land hard on that ice, over and over again. If you’re not willing to fall, you’ll never fly. I think, in many ways, I’m an ice dancer right now. No matter how hard that landing might be, I want to encourage others to be ice dancers as well.

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE THE OLYMPICS? OK, back to our Mystery Snapshot!

Today’s image comes to us from contributor Tom H, and it is our very first panoramic photo. Whoohoo! Aren’t panoramic photographs awesome? A slightly wider image immediately creates a powerful effect, a slightly stronger sense of BEING there in the hills, not just looking at them…

Tell me where in the US this is. You know the rules: specifics if you can, general if you can’t. What does it look like? Have you been somewhere similar?

Tom H. Hilly Panorama

Just to explain the title of this blog entry, “Panoramalamabangbang”, I want to share a video. Every time I say or write the word “panorama,” I think of this song I love by Roisin Murphy called “Ramalama Bang Bang.” I noticed that there is a pretty cool and creepy performance from the show (which I do not watch, although I LOVE DANCE) called “So You Think You Can Dance.” I’m posting this purely for the song and for the song’s connection to the word panorama, but some of you might enjoy the dance performance as well.


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