Airplanes & Arizona- Road Trip Part Two

Airplanes & Arizona- Road Trip Part Two

So where did I leave off… oh that’s right, I was just about to fill you all in on a surprise we had waiting for us in Arizona! We were headed towards the Scottsdale, Arizona area to meet up with some of Bryan’s family. Bryan’s cousin Mark had just recently received his pilot’s license and offered to take us up in a private plane ride over some of the local canyons! We were both so excited for this opportunity, and incredibly grateful. How many people can say that they had the chance to experience a gift like this? We arrived at the airport and met up with Mark who proceeded to show us the tiny plane we would by flying in. I had never been in a plane so small! Nervousness began to mix with excitement as we began the take off. Turbulence is much more noticeable in a small plane like this, but Mark did an excellent job of flying us as smoothly and safely as possible. Bryan even had the chance to steer the plane for a few moments as well. Seeing the Arizona landscape from the air was beyond breathtaking; I almost felt as if I were dreaming. This was truly a highlight of our trip, and something we will never forget.

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View from the plane!

After the plane ride, we headed back towards Bryan’s Aunt’s house, and had dinner with them. They were such a sweet family, and his Aunt also baked the most delicious chocolate chip cookies. Later that evening they all shared some tips for our upcoming travels into northern Arizona. We headed north towards Sedona the following morning.

Sedona is absolutely incredible, almost as if you have teleported to some magical other worldly planet. The red rocks expand out from the earth and contrast beautifully with the blue hue of the sky. We had decided to spend several days in Sedona so that we could truly get a feel for the area. We ended up renting the most amazing Air BnB where we stayed for three nights. The couple who owned it were both yoga instructors as well, and getting to know them made our stay even better. IMG_1895

While in town we had the opportunity to work with another yogi/ photographer I knew who helped create some beautiful images for us. He shared some great insider knowledge of the area, and it was a blessing to make another connection. Those photos are probably my most treasured material souvenir from the trip, and are something we will look back on years from now with even more fondness.

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Charles Ruscher Photography

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We spent a couple more days in the area doing some hiking, and celebrating Bryan’s birthday. We decided to hike up Bell rock, which is also known for its energy vortexes. The hike was beautiful, and quite challenging at some points because the rock face was quite slick/steep. We made it up as far as we could go, and sat there for a few moments admiring the stunning landscape around us. After our hike we were in need of some refreshment. I had been craving an acai berry bowl, and convinced Bryan to get one too. It ended up being incredibly delicious. (In fact, even now as I am writing this my mouth is starting to water just thinking about it!) Later that evening we got sushi per tradition for his birthday. Overall, I think that it made for a very memorable birthday for him, and it was so special that I got to be a part if it too.

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The next day we spent some time exploring the downtown Sedona area, browsing through some of the cute hippie shops and getting a better feel for the area in general. We took a good part of the day just to relax, and enjoy being in one place for a moment. We had dinner with our hosts, and camped out in a tent that night under the Sedona stars.

The next morning we made our way to the original goal of our journey: The Grand Canyon! This is a point in our journey where we should have taken time before to make a reservation, but we lucked out and were able to snag a tent site for two nights. We went out and saw the sunset over the canyon that evening. It was gorgeous, and it was almost as if your eyes couldn’t fathom how massive the canyon was. It was also more touristy than I had expected it to be, but it is a world wonder after all! We camped out that night, and it was absolutely freezing. It’s just all part of the experience, but we were surely happy when the sun came out and began to warm things up. We headed out fairly early, and decided to do a hike down into the canyon. We took the Kaibab Trail down into the Canyon around 4 miles or so. It was much easier going down, than coming back up! The amazing views were absolutely worth it though, and helped give us an entirely different perspective on the canyon itself.

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We came back to our campsite that evening only to find that it was so windy our tent had almost blown over, and that some of the poles holding it up had cracked! It was not the most pleasant way to spend the evening, but Bryan and I managed to work together as a team and get it back into a somewhat upright position. It was another very chilly night, and both of us were looking forward to sleeping somewhere warmer soon. We headed towards Page, Arizona the following morning.

On our way to Page, we spent the majority of the drive moving along the rim of the Grand Canyon. It was amazing that after almost two hours of continuous driving the canyon was still in sight! We eventually made our way up to Page, where we had booked another Air BnB for the night. That evening we decided to explore Horseshoe bend, which is where the Colorado river loops around and makes a horseshoe shape (hence the name.) It was also quite a sight to behold, although it too was really crowded. There were also so many gnats flying around which was not something I expected either. We stayed and  watched the sun begin its descent as the sky transformed into pretty shades of purple and pink, and then headed out to get Thai food for dinner.

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The following morning I had scheduled a tour for us of Antelope Canyon. This as well as Horseshoe bend and the Grand Canyon had been on my bucket list for quite some time. Antelope canyon is one of the most photographed places in the world, and I can certainly see why. The incredible movement of water has shaped these fiery colored rocks into amazing waves and shapes. The canyon is on Navajo land, and the tour is held by the native people. The guides are very knowledgeable, and although they keep you moving along because there are other tour groups behind you, it is still a very enjoyable experience. The guides were very good about pointing out different shapes in the stone formations; one even looked like Bruce the shark from Finding Nemo.

After our tour of Antelope we continued northbound towards Utah, but I think I’ll save more of our other adventures for the next post.

Thanks again for reading! Look forward to hearing about Utah, Nevada, and California in the next post coming soon. 🙂

Love,

Em

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Born to Roam- A Road Trip Adventure (Part one)

Born to Roam- A Road Trip Adventure (Part one)

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

The last day in March of this year (2017) my wonderful boyfriend and I embarked on the trip of a lifetime. I had never been on a trip quite like this before, and I was so happy I would be able to share seeing so many amazing places with someone whom I love so much. It had been months in the making, and we were incredibly excited about the stunning views and experiences that we were sure awaited us. We planned to leave from my home in Virginia and head west, eventually hoping to make it all the way to the west coast. We had a very general plan about places we wanted to see along the way, but no real set in stone plans of dates or reservations. We thought it would work best to just allow the road to take us along, and we would enjoy every moment along the way. This proved to be a good idea for the most part, although I suggest if you do something like this to make sure you make reservations ahead of time for some of the areas that may be more popular along your route.

IMG_6204Our route took us through Tennessee where we spent some time in Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. In Nashville we discovered a great vegan restaurant called the Sunflower cafe. ( Insert huge smile here… I love sunflowers!) We used the app “HappyCow” to find it. This app was a big help for us because we are both vegan/ vegetarian and finding suitable food can bit a bit of a challenge on the road. We then continued on through Arkansas where we did some hiking in the Ozark mountains which was really lovely, and passed through Oklahoma where we stopped and saw some beautiful Native American handiwork.

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After this we went on toward northern Texas where we decided to stop and see a state park called Palo Duro Canyon. It’s apparently the second largest canyon in the United States besides the Grand Canyon. It was very beautiful, and at that time I couldn’t imagine how the Grand Canyon could possibly be even bigger! Although this place was visually appealing, unfortunately it was also the site of a very unfortunate occurrence on our trip. Someone broke into our car here, and stole some very valuable things such as my laptop and wallet. Although this was a very upsetting event at the the time, I feel I am able to look back on it now and see it as a valuable lesson. I urge anyone on a road trip to please be careful of instances such as this. Apparently car break ins are the number one crime in America. Also, during this event I very distinctly remember in the midst of my disbelief and anguish, that a beautiful sunset was occurring over the canyon. It was as if the universe was saying to me, “There is still so much love and light that exists in this world, please do not forget this.” I also extend my thanks to the kind park police officer who was so very helpful to us in this time of need, my boyfriend Bryan who was so very supportive, and last but certainly not least my mom who helped me with all of the more logistical issues. Well, enough with the not so happy stuff, let’s move on to more exciting adventures!

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Palo Duro Canyon

As you could imagine we were fairly eager to leave Texas behind us, and move on towards New Mexico. It was actually snowing in New Mexico as we drove through, and we had to be extremely careful on the road. We made our way to Santa Fe where we stopped for the evening. I definitely recommend checking out this city! It is very clean, and has a very beautiful mix of cultures. There are lots of cool shops to check out downtown, and the food choices are great as well ( even for vegans). From Santa Fe, we headed towards Taos, New Mexico where my friend Monica from my graduate school program lives. It was wonderful to catch up with her and her husband, and such a treat to stay in a home instead of a hotel room. We stayed with her for a couple of days, and explored the Taos area while we were there. We saw the Rio Grande bridge and spent most of the day at a hot springs/ spa called Ojo Caliente. It is absolutely amazing and I cannot recommend visiting there enough. They have several different hot springs as well as a mud bath. It was just what we needed after driving longs days on end, and it helped us relax and unwind.

The following day we went back to Ojo and took one of my friends yoga classes. It was great to get back into the practice, which had been a bit lacking with all of our time spent in the car. And of course it was great to share in the space of a lovely teacher as well. After class we bid Monica adieu, and headed further west towards Arizona.

On our way to Arizona we stopped at a park called the painted desert. It reminded me of pictures I had seen of the “badlands” in South Dakota. This was perhaps one of the most beautiful surprises on our trip. Bryan and I both really enjoyed the beautiful color variation you could see in the earth. It was mind blowing to imagine all the thousands of years of history that this earth contains. Bryan and both remarked about ancient creatures living here at one time such as dinosaurs. The park also had very cool pieces of petrified wood scattered throughout as well.

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We stayed in a town outside of the park that night in one of the coolest motels I have ever seen! Its called the Wigwam motel and you actually get to stay inside your own private teepee. 10/10 recommend this place as well if you’re in the mood for something a little different. Our plans were to drive towards the Scottsdale/ Phoenix Arizona area the next day. Bryan had some family who lived in this area and we planned to stay with them. His cousin also had a very exciting surprise for us in store. However, I will save that for the next blog post!

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Keep your eyes out for the next post; I’ll fill you in about some exciting places such as the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Page, and then onto Utah, Nevada, and California!

Until then, thanks so much for reading!

Love,

Em

For Love & Elephants

For Love & Elephants

I just recently arrived back from an amazing trip to Cape Town,  South Africa. Why did I go there you ask? Well primarily to visit my best friend Chloe, who had been studying abroad there for the past year. She had offered for me to visit, and I felt like I couldn’t possibly pass up such a wonderful opportunity. I also missed her like crazy, and to be reunited in such a beautiful place seemed almost too good to be true! Also I am a huge elephant lover and this trip gave me the chance to interact with these beautiful creatures up close.

After an exhausting 15 hour flight to Johnannesburg (where a a not so nice man took 300 rand from me), followed by another 2 hour flight… I finally arrived in Cape Town! Chloe and I had a movie like reunion and ran into others arms; it almost felt like we had never been apart.

When I had arrived on the plane it was night time, but as we went out and explored the following day I was absolutely astounded by the beautiful scenery. Especially the mountains that seemed to rise up from almost nowhere into the bright blue sky. We had traveled to an area outside of Cape Town called Stellenbosch where Chloe attended University. This area was considered wine country so we took a trip to a lovely winery where we sampled some finely crafted beverages.

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Also while in Stellenbosch Chloe showed me around the University which had some lovely hiking trails where we got in a bit of exercise. We checked out another winery where they had a wine and chocolate tasting. (I personally enjoyed the chocolate more than the wine.)IMG_0934

After spending a couple of days in the wine country we decided to make our way back into Cape Town to check out the city. She took me to a place called the Old Biscuit Mill which was a cool little shopping area that had a nice farmer’s market with lots of delicious food. I even found a stall that sold yummy vegan treats. Afterwards, we went to the waterfront area of the city, checked out all of the cool boats, and eventually found a roof top area where we could look out over the harbor. We also walked along the promenade area of Cape town which borders on the ocean, and checked out a nice cafe along the way.IMG_1060

The next day Chloe’s other good friend Ebba was arriving for a visit as well. We met her at the Air bnb we were renting and decided to go out for sushi. I immediately liked Ebba ( I had never met her before) and we quickly became close friends. After relaxing for a bit that afternoon, we went to a nice beach restaurant called Caprice where we did some dancing and walked out on the beach.IMG_1131

The following days were a blur of excitement and adventure! We explored the colorful area of Bo-Kaap, the top of Table Mountain which is a must see in Cape Town, hiked our way up Lions head in the dark, and also checked out the beautiful gardens of Kirstenbosch. Then we also began a road trip to the area of Plettenberg bay where we stopped to see the elephants along the way!IMG_1254IMG_1398

Seeing the elephants was literally a dream come true. I have admired these creatures for many years, read many books about their lives,donated to various elephant causes,  and have even explored different volunteer opportunities to work with them hands on. Although I did not get to spend a great deal of time with them while there, I was able to feed them, and even give one a hug and kiss. These gentle giants truly radiate a peacefulness that is felt so strongly in their presence. We also got to see them interacting with one another, and you could feel the bonds of love and family between the animals. It is certainly an experience I will always hold near and dear in my heart. I hope to get to spend more time with them in the future, and offer my help in any way I am able. IMG_1524IMG_1550

After leaving the elephants we spent some time in the coastal town of Plettenberg Bay, where we spent time on the beach doing some yoga and then grabbing a bite to eat. We then headed back to the city the following day. We checked out some of the night life in the city, and spent time with some of the new friends we had made during our time there.

The next day we sent Ebba on her way to Namibia where she was participating in an internship. It was sad to see her go, but I was so happy and grateful to have made a such an awesome new friend. We made plans to have more adventures in the future.

It was now coming down to the end of my time in South Africa as well. I decided to spend my last day exploring an area called Boulder’s beach. There you can actually walk out on a beach and spend time with penguins! (Which are actually my second favorite animal after elephants.) Chloe and I spent a good amount of time just sitting on the boulders of the beach (hence the name) talking about life, and what an amazing time we had together. I remarked that I always had some of best conversations looking over the great expanse of the ocean. There is something so humbling about seeing how small you are next to it, but also so inspiring that it is a part of you as well.IMG_1748IMG_1896

I made my way back to the states the next day. It was a hard place to leave… there is so much beauty and love that can be found there. I left feeling that I had not only reconnected with someone I loved, but  found an even deeper connection as well. There is something so special about sharing an experience like that with someone. It ties you together forever, not only to each other, but to the place itself.

I left a piece of my heart in Africa… with the people, and of course the elephants too. 🙂

 

Walking a mile(or 500) in someone else’s shoes

My senior year of college I decided I needed to explore after graduation. I wanted to get a feel for the world around me, and experience a bit of adventure. So I decided that I would sign up to take part in a study abroad trip. This would not be a typical study abroad however. Instead of sitting in a classroom, this class would take part as a true test of mental and physical endurance on a hike across Spain. This hike is known as the Camino De Santiago which is an over 500 mile journey beginning in the Pyrenees mountains of western France and continuing across the length of Northern Spain. IMG_6342Pilgrims (a term used for hikers on the Camino) have made this trek for thousands of years and for many different reasons. Most prominently people hike the Camino for religious and spiritual undertakings. There are many other reasons someone may partake in this great trek, and all are important in their own way. The end goal is to reach the city of Santiago and arrive at the cathedral of Saint James. There many pilgrims will stand in awe of the journey they have undertaken, and the many obstacles they have faced along the way.

For myself, this journey was a test of the limits I was able to endure, and in other ways it was the chance to prove to myself that I was capable of incredible things. I wanted to test the abilities of my body and mind, and force myself to endure the pain of walking ten plus miles everyday. Some people may say this is a bit extreme, but at the end of every long day I was so astounded by the fact that my own two feet had carried me and my twenty pound backpack to where I was supposed to be.

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It was no easy task. I do not exaggerate that I asked myself what I could have possibly been thinking by signing up for this trip a hundred times. My feet hurt, I was homesick, I didn’t like the food. But despite the many complaints I may have had, each day I got up before the sun to carry on and journey to the next destination point along they way. Why did I keep going you ask? Well, I didn’t want to fail myself. I didn’t want to give up on me. I had faith that I could get through it and make it to the end.

I didn’t make it through this journey all by myself though. I had the support of my classmates and the various other friends I made along the way. One of the things that stood out most for me on the Camino was the kindness I received from strangers. On the second day of my Camino I awoke to find that my hiking shoes had been stolen. I was very distraught at the occurrence and was trying to figure out a solution to my situation when a kind woman offered to let me have her hiking sandals. I was in awe of her generosity. Without her help I would not have been able to continue my journey that day. This was the first of many generous acts of kindness I received on the Camino and is a true testament to the pilgrim heart. I decided from that day forward until the end of my journey I would wear these sandals.IMG_7107

Most of us have heard the cliche saying, “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” This phrase is meant to express that we should attempt to feel empathy for others or allow ourselves to feel what someone else may be going through. I had assumed that throughout my life I tried to do this phrase justice, self-proclaiming myself as empathetic. However, it was not until I had the literal opportunity to take a quite a few steps in another’s shoes that I came to realize what it actually takes to accomplish this task. I was tempted many times to invest in a new pair of my own, but felt the Camino had given me this test for a reason. I wanted to know what it felt like to put myself in this woman’s shoes and walk her journey as part of my own. In her shoes I experienced different obstacles than I would have faced if wearing mine. I actually came to find out that I had a stress fracture in my right foot from wearing shoes that did not support my feet properly. I also ended up with quite a few rocks and blisters on my worn out feet. Although these physical issues were encountered, I believe this is a metaphor for the problems we face in life.

Often we are so caught up in our own issues, and think that our problems are enormous, but If we were asked to throw our difficulties in a pile most of us would grab our own back in an instant. Perhaps because we are better equipped to handle the problems we know, or maybe there is another reason I have not discovered yet. Whatever the case may be; it is important to take a risk in life and see what its like to face other’s problems. Only then can we have true empathy for those around us, as well as gain a new perspective on our own issues.

Now that I have returned home from my Camino and have had time to reflect on my time there I have an even deeper appreciation for the journey. While there it is easy to get caught up in the moment; which is important to the entire learning experience. I have learned many things from my time on the Camino, including knowledge that we truly do not need much to survive, we are capable of much more than we could imagine, and perhaps most of all that traveling and experiencing things first hand is the most intense and best form of learning. The lessons a pilgrim finds along the Camino are what they will carry back into their lives after the journey ends. Those lessons will not only benefit the pilgrim herself, but all those she touches in life. In this way one can see that the Camino has an immeasurable impact upon this world. The Camino is a small version of the big picture of life. In it we can see what is truly important and take those gifts with us afterwards so we can share them with all those we encounter.IMG_7128

I hope that by sharing this story my experience will help others learn. If life gives you the opportunity to figuratively or even literally take a walk in another’s shoes I suggest you try it. You’ll be surprised not only what you discover about the other person, but also about yourself.