Monthly Archives: January 2013

Revisiting Mexico, Yucatan-Style

The week before I left, three heads had been found on one of the beach where I was planning to stay. A few weeks earlier, a Canadian tourist had been shot in the lobby of her hotel by the crossfire of gang-related violence. That was the last time I was in Mexico, in 2006. I was 22 and headed to Acapulco, where I would embark on my first assignment as a travel writer. It was the first time I would have to travel alone and I was nervous, but more excited than anything. A dream-job was coming true for me. At the time, nothing could have been better than that.

Chichen Itza. Mexico.

Chichen Itza. Mexico.

With absolutely no training whatsoever and one month to get the job done, I was going to have to pretend (pretty well, considering it would be published) that I was an expert on four different beach resort towns  —  their hotels, bars, restaurants, music scenes, art scenes, ecotourism options, gay scenes, weekend excursions, piña coladas (this part was particularly difficult), and the exhausting list of transportation options (to name a few categories). I had been to Ixtapa as a kid, which was partially how I got the job, but upon my arrival it became very clear very quickly that one week at a Club Med in fourth grade was probably not going to help me with this assignment. I was on my own — really on my own, for the first time — and it was as terrifying as it was thrilling. But so was being 22.

That was seven years ago. When I think back, I realize I wasn’t really alone on that trip: Mexico was with me. When you travel alone in another country, you meet a lot of people (many of whom you don’t want to meet, particularly if you’re a female traveling alone), but you also spend a lot of time hanging out with yourself.  At times, the only other companion you have is the country you’re in.

During that solo trip to Mexico in the summer of 2006, I felt like I bonded with Mexico in a way I hadn’t bonded with another country before. It was my silent friend throughout a month-long journey. It shook during a brief earthquake, letting me know we were both there together, and it warmed my back during long days strolling through markets and side-streets while sampling different ice cream shops.

During that trip, I explored my own character as much as I explored Mexico’s. I had to push myself to do things on a daily basis that felt totally uncomfortable, and I had to convince myself that I was an authority on so many subjects when I couldn’t have felt more like a freshly hatched chick in a foreign world. I grew up a lot during that trip around the state of Guerrero (now a major hot spot for drug war activity). I also formed a special connection with Mexico, the friend I spent every day with for four and a half weeks. When I left, I swore that someday I’d be back.

Making a hammock. Yucatan, Mexico.

Making a hammock. Yucatan, Mexico.

That “someday” was last week. A lot has changed for both me and Mexico, but one thing hasn’t: it’s still one of my favorite countries. Maybe it’s all the bonding time we’ve had together, but I find it misunderstood. When people think of traveling to Mexico these days, they immediately think “dangerous” and “drug wars.” Yes, these two things are a large piece of Mexico’s current reality, and you do have to be careful where you go and how adventurous you get. But — and this was my third trip to Mexico — I can honestly say that I never, at any point, felt unsafe or threatened by anyone around me. The Mexican culture, history, food and landscapes are really complex and beautiful beyond the surface. Granted, I spent most of this trip at a luxurious resort, but it is still worth mentioning that there are so many layers to Mexico worth exploring.

I am guilty of misunderstanding Cancun. It was my first time in the Yucatan region, and I was hesitant to head this direction. Considering it has some of the best deals right now, I would have been silly to ignore it as an option. I am glad I didn’t.

This time around, I was one of the “other” people — the vacationers, not the guidebook writer. I had every right to sit around and do nothing on the beach of a beautiful hotel that someone else had written about, but I tried to squeeze in some culture and history too. And this time around, my career has totally changed. I am now a few months away from beginning grad school to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. In some ways, I am unrecognizable. But what about Mexico? Who had Mexico become since we last explored each other?

Skulls. Chichen Itza burial site. Mexico.

Skulls. Chichen Itza burial site. Mexico.

Before I left, I imagined Cancun would be seedy, dirty, run-down, full of bars with names like Señor Frog’s and Coco-Bongo, and with drunk American tourists to match.  What I found was pristine, white sandy beaches with the most stunning gradient of blue water. Along with relatively responsibly-tipsy Americans, I encountered Brazilian, European and Mexican tourists lining the not-overly-crowded pool and beach areas, and gorgeous landscaping at every turn. It was clearly the off-season, and with much construction (brand new hotels and malls cropping up every 100 feet), I could see how crazy this island could get (did you know Cancun is an island?). But, thankfully, crazy wasn’t what I got during my trip. Words I’d use to describe Cancun based on my recent experience would be peaceful, beautiful, refreshing… and misunderstood, by me at least. Except for the unexpected cold rain during my first two days down there, I was happily surprised by most of it. Maybe Mexico was surprised with me this time around, too.

I’ll write more about my visit to Chichen Itza in a later post. For now, I just wanted to quickly tip my hat to the Mexico I revisited. On my trip home the other day, a song came on the radio. The song was one that played all the time when I was in Mexico seven years earlier, alone and uncertain but thrilled to be doing what I was doing. I was on an adventure, if nothing else. This time around, as I listened to the song, I couldn’t help but smile: There I was — the same me, on a completely different trip to Mexico, awash in another adventure, but so much has changed. So many lessons have been learned and so many trips have occurred in-between. I couldn’t help but think about everything that had happened between that song then and that song now, like two book ends neatly holding together a collection of very different stories.

Ocean blues. Cancun, Mexico.

Ocean blues. Cancun, Mexico.

When the song ended, a new one came on. It had no direct association to a memory of any kind, so I just listened. While the nostalgia from the previous song retreated into my mind like a giant, swirling wave, it left behind some fresh, untouched sand. I thought about switching stations, but instead I just let the new song play. As I listened, the first few footprints were made in the freshly cleared sand.

I smiled to myself as I sat alone, with a crisp new tan already beginning to fade, feeling anything but alone this time around.

Leave a comment

Filed under Mexico, Solo Travel, Travel, Uncategorized, wanderlust

Tourist in my Hometown

New York City can be a lot of things — cold, frustrating, exhausting, lonely, grey — but it never gets old, even to a native New Yorker. After spending decades living in Manhattan, a visit to my hometown can still feel exciting, invigorating, new, and perhaps above all, inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, during an unusually long break between classes, I have had the opportunity to explore my hometown in a new way. This time, I have been the visitor (complete with having to crash in other people’s apartments due to a renovation project at my parents’ place), and in many ways, I have felt like a tourist. When new opportunities enter your life in an old city, things get shaken up — it’s a good thing. A great thing, actually.

This shaken-up (not stirred) version of NYC that I am seeing is particularly well-timed, as I am pretty sure that I will be returning to Manhattan for graduate school this summer. I have mixed feelings about going home. As is usually the case, there are pros and cons to this move (I am really enjoying life in Boston! Maybe I’ll be back some day…). But, in the end, after evaluating the logistics and the life goals, attending this particular program in New York just feels like the right decision. All we can do is make “right” decisions to the best of our ability as we go, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Eventually, you just have to make them turn into right decisions.

While I want to list all the awesome new places I got to explore (including a bar built into an old NYC carriage house where I sampled the best Manhattan I have ever had — when in Rome, right?), and the cool things I have been doing during my visit (listening to The Moth storytelling in Williamsburg, and attending a five-course chef tastings in Soho, to name a couple highlights), I thought I’d just share a few images of NYC from my trip. Over the last few weeks, this uptown girl spent a lot of time in a downtown world, complete with multiple walks around the WTC site, sky-high views of the entire city, and an early morning stroll by the Hudson River, with the pink of a new day bouncing off a surprisingly pretty NJ backdrop.

My relationship with New York City has been long, and it has had its ups and downs. But I feel like we are now moving into a new phase of life together; we’ve both grown up a lot, survived our own trials and tribulations, weathered our own storms, and risen up from the wreckage of lessons-learned. NYC is an old friend — one I know so well that it sometimes frustrates me, but one that also knows exactly how to make me smile when I need it. And no matter how many times I go to New York, or how many years I live there, it still manages to take my breath away. So NYC, I guess you could say we’re still going strong. This post is for you.

Upper West Side Street

Upper West Side Street

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Photography, Uncategorized, Winter

2013 Travel Wish Lists

The best-case scenario when writing a Travel Wish List is to already be checking off one of the destinations. For the first time in a couple years, I can say that this is exactly what I am doing right now! But my list is long, and the more places I check off, the more I seem to add. Such is the nature of wanderlust. To use a biological term, wanderlust is a positive feedback loop: the more I satisfy it, the more wanderlust I produce. It is this insatiable hunger to explore the world that keeps TwT going, so let’s dive right in and see where we’re all trying to go (at least geographically) this year…

Today, I am asking you to share your 2013 Travel Wish Lists. Please list, as a comment, up to 5 of your top destinations this year. Or, if you want, you can say where you went in 2012 and what was your favorite place.

Love in the snow. NY, NY.

Love in the snow. NY, NY.

Just to get everyone warmed up, I will begin:

1. MEXICO. Yes, I have been to Mexico before. In fact, the last time I was there, I spent a month traveling alone around the Pacific Coast as a co-author for a Frommer’s travel guidebook (which makes me feel pretty cool to say — did that really happen?! Check THIS out for proof – bam!). But life was so different then. Mexico was so different then. Needless to say, it’s time to go back. You’ll hear more about it all when I return… (YAY YAY YAY)

2. MOROCCO. This country never seems to leave my list, regrettably, because I haven’t gone yet. What’s a girl gotta do to get to Fez, Casablanca, and Marrakesh?! Every time I see photographs of Morocco, my heart skips a beat and my mouth starts watering. (This is a normal response, right?) Although it might be a wait, I already know this wait will be worth it.

3. NICARAGUA. More rugged than Costa Rica and less put-together and idyllic than many of its fellow Central American countries, Nicaragua is one of those up-and-coming travel destinations that is starting to enter the conversation just after everyone concludes that they’ve already been to Mexico, Costa Rica, and maybe Belize or Guatemala. For example: “blah blah blah…Where can we go that is not too expensive but feels exotic?… [looking at a map]… What about Nicaragua?…[ambiguous silence]… Are people going there these days?” Yes. Yes, they are. You just haven’t heard about those trips… YET.

4. COLOMBIA. Two of my friends from Ecuador recently did a trip to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and the pictures were so beautiful that it physically hurt my heart. I felt immediate guilt for not taking that trip I ALMOST took when I moved home from Ecuador [my advice: don’t let yourself live with “trips you almost took” — GO every chance you get]. Google “Tayrona” or “Taganga” to find yourself in the same, painful predicament as me. Colombia is super hot right now (like, hip/popular/cool/trendy), but I’ll take it even when it gets lukewarm. I might even prefer it that way.

5. TANZANIA. I remember being in the third grade and hearing the word “Tanzania” for the first time. Even just the sound of it made me curious… My teacher talked about Tanzania with such passion. She showed us images of its people, its animals, its landscapes, and I think that might have been when and where all my wanderlust began. Since the third grade, I have been saying that I want to go to Tanzania. How and why is it that I am STILL saying this?! Tanzania — you and I will meet some day. And when that day comes, there will be fireworks between us. I can already tell. Be ready.

GREAT. There’s my list. Now it’s YOUR turn!! Cheers to at least some of these travel dreams coming true this year. Happy 2013, everyone!

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized