India Part 1: Holy Culture Shock

After a nice visit home I was getting restless and wanted to get on with the next adventure of this journey I’m on. When I first decided to travel I knew India was going to be on the list. The spirituality and healing I could sense whenever I thought of this country made a profound calling to me. The funny part was whenever I would tell people I wanted to go to India the usual response was something along the lines, “Why on Earth do you want to go there?” While that is a very valid question I would usually laugh it off and just remind them it’s my journey and India doesn’t have to be for everyone.

I got into yoga 5 or 6 years ago so coming to India I signed up for a month long yoga teacher training course. I figured there’s no better place to do yoga and learn more about it than the country where it originated. After 12 hours in SFO, a night in New Jersey with my cousin, another 14 hour plane ride to Delhi, and then 10 hours on a bus I made it to my destination in Rishikesh, India. I was exhausted yet the entire bus ride I couldn’t sleep. I was in complete awe at what was going on outside. So many people, cars, animals, trash, and just plain chaos non-stop. I’ve been in 3rd world countries before but this was still complete culture shock for me.

Rishikesh is in the Northern part of India and it is known for its yoga and divinity. Many visitors come here for pilgrimage and meditation. It’s the start of the famous Ganges River. While it’s peaceful and serene in its own way, don’t be fooled. It’s still crazy and has a lot of sensory overload for the Western foreigner such as myself.

Fire Ceremony

Upon arriving our school did a welcoming fire ceremony for the 11 students in the program. The fire ceremony is a tradition to welcome us and to protect us for the next month. Looking back I think they left out the part about protecting us from sickness and food poisoning… something that would come to curse us on a very frequent basis.

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Home sweet home for the next month…

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This is in our small section of the village. These taxi drivers are crazy and always speeding and honking their way through these tiny (which I thought were) one lane roads.

Flute player

Really friendly guy just playing his flute trying to make some change and survive. There are a lot of beggars in Rishikesh and living standards are nowhere near up what the West would call civilized, but these people do it day in and day out, and from what I could see they seem pretty happy and grateful. A nice reminder that life is about more than material things.

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I’m not sure what the trick to this is here but this guy will tell you your lucky stone. He selects one at a time and puts it in your hand.  He then throws a water solution over your hands. When the water turns pink that’s your lucky stone. I guess I didn’t have as much luck that day or he was out of my stone because my hands never turned pink, but everyone else in my group found out theirs.

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Farming rows outside my window.

Beggars

This is what we started referring to as beggar hill. They hang out here all day long until returning at night to their ashrams for some rice, dal, and sleep.

Street Man

Like I said they are all very friendly and want to talk to you in the broken English they know. Sometimes they even want you to sit and smoke some of the local herbs (for the record, I did not).

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Marketing scheme

This guy was just creepy. I thought he must be some Indian religious figure. Everyone was around taking his photo so I assumed it must be someone important. As it turns out he’s a marketing gimmick for the restaurant that he’s sitting in front of. Think Indian version of Ronald MacDonald, and I’m sure the health factor is just as good as ol’ McD’s.

Bindi Man

I bought a bindi making kit from this guy for I think about $1USD. He did one for me on my forehead similar to what is on his hand and I thought it looked really cool. Unfortunately, I learned there’s a trick to it to make it look that clean that I have yet to master. He also proceeded to forget me coming by because he asks me every day if I want to buy from him.

Water Cow

This is quite a frequent view. Cows are surprisingly smart here. They know how to turn on the spout to get water. Now if only we could train them to turn it off when they are done and pick up their poop after they lay a nice fresh one in front of you. And yes, trash like this in the streets is the norm. It’s extra refreshing when it’s hot and a warm breeze submerges up under your nostrils.

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This came by surprise one afternoon while we were on a walk after lunch. There was a big procession going on in the streets with dancing and music. I asked a local what is was for and in the broken English I could understand they were carrying water from the Ganges up the hill to a temple to do a ceremony for the upcoming monsoon season. I loved snapping these photos. Everyone wanted their picture taken and just seemed so happy and welcoming.

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I learned the red signifies sensuality and purity. The orange is for the color of the sun and represents ones inner fire to excel and do good in the world.

Sunset

A beautiful sunset from my rooftop.

Sunrise Meditation

The days at school are long. We start at 6 am and are not finished until 6:30 p.m. We get one day off a week, Sundays. This was the first Sunday we had off. On our day off we somehow decided that waking up even earlier was a good idea. However, it paid off because we got to see sunrise at the top of Kunjapuri Devi Temple.

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We ended with a little morning meditation.

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Lastly, Sunday is also laundry day. The hotel I’m staying at is extremely slow and lazy so my classmates and I took it upon ourselves to do our own washing and room cleaning. So that’s my laundry in my very own bucket. Little things like this makes you realize how privileged we are at home.

Overall, this was the best introduction I could have imagined for India. It’s nothing like what I’ve been exposed to growing up or what I’ve learned from travelling, and that’s exactly what I was looking for. My initial thoughts after coming to India are that I never want to stop learning about the world and seeing how people just like me can be happy in whatever situation they find themselves. Life can be beautiful and and rewarding if you let it in and accept it for all it has to offer, good and bad. Every situation will offer you learning and growth.

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Yosemite: Adventures in my own backyard

After Thailand, I traveled home to California for about 6 weeks. There were a few events I wanted to attend, see friends and family, and I really missed my boyfriend. I didn’t think I’d have much to document from my trip home but that proved wrong. I went on one adventure that I think is worth sharing. It was a spur of the moment trip of making new friends and memories that I will never forget. I love when things like that happen unexpectedly.

I was at the drop zone on a Monday doing some jumps and my friend was casually talking about going to Yosemite on Tuesday for a few days of hiking. He also recently quit his job and is trying to travel around a bit before going back to the work force (I thought that was an excellent choice on his part). He invited me tag along and I jokingly said I’d have to clear my schedule but I could probably make it work. It took about 30 minutes to click that Tuesday was the very next day. Shit! Ok, time to scramble to get camping gear together and be ready to leave early in the morning. Luckily, I know a few people in the area so I was able to go to Brandi’s house and borrow some gear.

Tuesday morning came around and we were loading up Eric’s car. I should have guessed what kind of adventure it would be when 3 guys that were coming along walk up with 2 pizza boxes… and nothing else. I had to remind myself we were all skydive bums and had at least one thing in common to talk about for the next few days. Looking back I feel a little guilty for passing such a quick judgement. It turns out the 5 of us covered a good part of the globe. We had 2 Americans, 1 Mexican, 1 Colombian, and 1 Aussie. The Colombian spoke very limited English so I had a blast dusting off my Spanish skills. He said I did very well but I personally felt I’ve forgotten so much over the years since living in Argentina.

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We loaded up the car and set out on our journey. One of the beauties of not working and being on no particular schedule is that you don’t always have to be rushed. For all of my working career up until now I’ve stressed about how much I could pack into one vacation. This time it’s different. I’m taking advantage of enjoying the moment. I’m on no agenda and no timetable to keep up with. A great example is this photo where we decided to pull over and take a dip in the lake. A perfect spot to soak in the scenery and cool off on this hot day.

Yosemite Falls

We arrived to the park in the afternoon and decided to do a hike to get as close to Yosemite Falls as we could. We were fortunate that Eric knew an employee that lived in the Valley and had shown him a few not so traveled trails. I was in awe how close we got to the falls (and really thankful I brought a rain coat). No one else had gone up this way and there were actually dozens of people at the bottom of this trail whom had no idea we were here.

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Later at the valley floor looking up at Yosemite Falls.

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Our crew. This is us hanging out waiting to watch sunset. I could look up at this valley for hours and not get bored.  We were waiting for night fall and I was so excited because Eric was going to teach me how to use my camera at night. I’m still very new to photography so I was eager to learn anything he could offer. I figured I invested so much in my camera, I should be better about making good use of it.

Plane fly by

And then he showed me how to take pictures like this. Here’s a plane fly by!

Half dome at night

I’ll never get over how remarkable Half Dome looks. I’ve had a few sunrises on top of this dome and words can’t begin to describe the feeling of a rising sun flowing new energy to your body after a long overnight trek. This here was a new view for me as you can see a climber on the wall with a headlamp.

Night Photo

And then the Falls again.

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Long line of cars for exodus

After our photo session we decided it was time for some shut eye. In true skydiver dirt bag fashion we did not have any sleeping arrangements made. Camp 4 was of course full and we weren’t really up for paying for a hotel room. So, with 1 car and one 2-man tent we drove outside the park and pulled off into a dirt lot. I opted for sleeping in the car. Maybe a little selfish but I can’t help laughing remembering seeing 3 grown men piled in a 2 man tent for the night. At least they had the body warmth.

The next day we woke up and headed back into the park for more hiking adventures. Again Eric showed us some hikes that were easily accessed from the valley floor and led to some of the prettiest waterfalls I’ve ever seen.

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake Falls

Falls

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Yosemite Hike

Leaving Yosemite was bittersweet. It’s always sad to leave an adventure when it feels like the fun just got started, but in the short time I did get to spend in Yosemite I made memories with new friends that I won’t take for granted. I’m so blessed to have had that opportunity and am able to say yes to chances when they come knocking at my door.

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Thailand Part 2: Me Time Again

I spent my first 10 days in Thailand with my sister, Stephanie. It was so much fun being with her in another country. We’ve never done something like that just the two of us.  I definitely look forward to doing it again in the future. You learn a lot about yourself and someone else when you travel together. It’s not always easy to be on the same schedule and work together to see that everyone’s needs are met. I think Steph and I did pretty well. However, after 10 days I honestly just wanted some me time… mostly to detox. We were living pretty care free and gluttonously. I decided for the rest of my time in Thailand I would not drink and stick to fruits and vegetables. I go through ups and downs but what I’ve been working on lately is taking care of my whole self, mind and body. So many of us don’t know how to love ourselves unconditionally. I remind myself that no one is perfect (and who wants to be, that’s not what life is about). If we slip up from time to time it’s okay. Recognize it, forgive yourself, and keep moving forward. I can be hard on myself and my body, but after almost 30 years I can say I do love myself and all of my imperfections. It’s what makes me, me. If it’s brought me to the people I have in my life now then I wouldn’t change my past or who I am for anything.

My first stop after parting ways with Steph was to go to Krabi, a cool beach town area. I hadn’t done any diving since Australia and since Thailand is known for this stuff I was really excited to get in the water again… and the water was actually warm this time!

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I’m still learning a lot about the underwater world, but I do know it sure is pretty. I took a boat trip to Phi Phi island and did a few dives out in this pristine water.

I was staying in Ao Nang at the time and I decided I wanted to do a yoga retreat. I had never gone to one and what better place to do yoga everyday than right on the beach in an exotic country. I started doing some internet research and found one on a nearby island that I had never heard of before. It sounded like a perfect getaway from the busy towns I had just been in. I booked it for the very next day.

While I was packing up the next day I met a girl in my hostel from Switzerland. She was looking pretty down and we started chatting. Going to Thailand for her wasn’t what she was anticipating. She was planning on going home after months of travelling and was sad it was ending on such a bad note. I told her my plan and invited her to come along. And just like that she decided to give it a go and started packing with me. We even decided to share a room at the retreat to save some cash. I was excited to share this adventure with someone that I could see myself getting along with. I think she was thankful too that this was going to save her experience in Thailand. Again, this proves my strong belief that people come into your life and leave just as they are meant to. We shouldn’t take for granted what people can teach us and how we all can help each other out along the way.

We found ourselves on a very round about local bus to get to a port that was very far from town. We weren’t really sure where it was or if we were going to make the last boat out, not to mention it was torrential downpour (of course). But as things tend to work out, we loaded the last long boat, and took a breath of relief as we headed towards the small island of Ko Yao Noi.

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We were the only white people on this long boat and they all seemed very intrigued and asking why on Earth were we going to this little island. They wanted to take pictures of us but just as badly I wanted to get a picture of this little chunky Asian baby that could not stop laughing. If only we could all be this happy…

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When it stopped raining the view did not disappoint.

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This is the boat stop for the island. Right from stepping off the boat onto this tiny pier with just a few other souls I knew I was going to like this place. It was going to be the perfect place to relax and get my life back and centered again.

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Thai flag

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We walked 10 minutes from the pier to where we would be staying. Hammocks, beach, and yoga. This was turning out to be more perfect than I could have imagined.

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A few days after arriving I decided to wake up extra early (we already had a pretty early schedule considering it was 4 hours of yoga a day) and this sunrise is what I was treated to. I love sunrises and am so thankful I’m a morning person. While everyone else was still warm in their beds, I got this view all to myself.

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It was pretty muddy in parts of the property, but there was something really beautiful about these fresh fallen flowers that lay on the mud. A reminder to me that there is beauty everywhere, even in places or times you never could have imagined. You just have to keep your heart open.

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I took a bicycle ride one day around the island which is a quick 12 mile loop. Pretty interesting seeing how people live on such a small island. Here’s a moto repair shop. I couldn’t help but laugh when noticing that so many kids that looked no older than 12 drive these things around. I don’t even know how to drive one!

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I want a tree swing one day…

After some much needed R&R in Ko Yao Noi I decided I was up for some more diving. It was somewhat of a long trek to get from the East side (Andaman Sea) to the West side (Gulf of Thailand) but I must say my decision to go to Ko Tao was well worth it.

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I opted to stay away from the main strip. So for $12/night I got this as my view right outside where I was staying. I also liked the vibe of the area I stayed in. Was not too busy or a party area, but definitely had a lot of funky restaurants and bars to check out. Made me kind of bummed to be there by myself, would have been nice to share that place with that someone special in my life. But traveling alone isn’t always rainbows and unicorns. I have not regretted for a minute my decision to travel alone. I have learned so much. One thing I’ve realized recently is that if I were to do this again I would do it with someone else. There are so many adventures I’ve been on where at the end of it I’ve thought how amazing it would be to share that adventure with someone I love. I believe that surrounding myself with those that I love and sharing all the special memories I’ve been fortunate enough to make are what makes my life complete.

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If this is what the water looked from the land I was really looking forward to see what was underneath.

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And then this happened. I was hoping I would see a turtle and couldn’t believe that on my very first dive in Ko Tao I saw one. My instructor told me that was not common to see them at this site so he was just as excited. I spent so much time watching this turtle in his own world, him not ever noticing me. That was definitely a good day.

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I’m not much of a girly girl but when you have the time and $10 in your pocket sometimes treating yourself to a pedicure and massage is well worth it.

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And now because I love how NOT up to code buildings and structures are in some countries. Seriously?

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Thailand Part 1: Oh Shit, The Meeker Sisters Reunite

So it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I was wondering when I started this if I would let it go from time to time. While so far I have enjoyed documenting my adventures, I’ve never been much of a writer so I guess it makes sense that I temporarily lost my motivation. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been up to anything fun. I’m back now and hope to recap what the hell I’ve been up to.

In April I traveled from New Zealand to Thailand. I was looking forward to this part of my journey as I was going to get to meet up with my sister, Stephanie. Stephanie and I are opposite in most ways, and we aren’t the best at picking up the phone to chat, but when we are together we are best friends. Stephanie is one of the funniest people I know. I love when we are together since it usually means I’ll get a stomach ache from laughing so hard. Or maybe I get the stomach ache from how much we eat; we are pretty good at that too.

From the start at arriving to Thailand I realized I was in for a whirl wind. I landed and immediately get a text from Steph: “meet me on Khao San Road, the water fights are starting and I have your super soaker”. Um… what the fuck? She told me we were going to be there for Songkran (Thai New Year), however, I should have googled it because I had no idea what the next few days would mean. Here’s a glimpse:

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Khao San Road in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Suns out, guns out!

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There was a parade where we stayed somewhat dry.

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Then there’s the talcum powder. You try to avoid it but sometimes you just get plastered right on the face. Not much you can do but smile and continue on with the celebration.

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After two days of Songkran we decided to take a break and visit the Grand Palace. I went when I was in Thailand in 2012 but it was nice to go again with Steph and remember all its ornate beauty.

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Here young monks splash water over visitors and give out prayer bracelets. The significance of the water during Songkran is a cleansing ritual. It rids people of all their misfortunes from the past year and gives them a fresh start to new beginnings for the year to come. Seemed pretty fitting for me to be in Thailand at this time and where I’m at in my life now. I look forward to this next year and what else it has in store for me. So far it has brought me so much joy and peace, more than I could have ever imagined a year ago.

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Also part of Songkran is to bath the buddah.

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Mango sticky rice. One of my favorite snacks in Thailand.

Our next stop after Bangkok was hopping on a quick flight up North to Chaing Mai. This was supposed to be the more peaceful and serene part of our trip. We got in and settled towards the end of the day. There was a really awesome night bazaar right outside of our hotel so we decided to be adventurous and check out one of the fish tanks that eat the dead skin off your feet. NEVER. EVER. AGAIN.

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I made it 20 minutes in this thing and kept this face for most of the time (Steph made it about 3 minutes). It’s about as ticklish and uncomfortable as it looks.

The next day we decided to check out the town.

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Again, saw some really remarkable buildings and shrines. And dragons are just cool.

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Then to our surprise the water and celebrations started again. I didn’t realize Chaing Mai was just as popular for celebrating Songkran as Bangkok.

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As much as we tried to avoid getting wet, eventually you have to give in. They creep up out of nowhere to get you…

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One of the highlights of this trip was when we got to spend the day at an elephant sanctuary. Many of the elephants in Thailand are abused and malnourished and used just to make a profit. Here they care for the elephants and rescue them. Instead of riding on an elephant you get to hang out with them for a day, walk them, and play with them in the water. They really are beautiful animals and very smart, not to mention always hungry.

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elephant dirty

Just like kids they like to get dirty right after getting washed off. They actually do it to keep cool and protect their skin.

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Other animals at the sanctuary.

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A beautiful lunch they made for us with a stunning view. And in words of our guide it’s all vegetarian because at the sanctuary we are saving the animals, not eating them.

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The elephants wanted to celebrate Songkran too. I was kind of jealous at this point considering how hot it was. Not to mention I may have had too many Chang beers the night before.

I’ll admit I didn’t have much to do in terms of planning for this part of the trip. I let the other girls make the decisions and I was just along for the ride. Guess I should have read the tour description. After taking care of the elephants, we ended up doing a rafting trip which meant once again I ended my day in Thailand drenched!

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We rafted through these little towns and kids were in the water waiting to splash you. It was funny for the most part, probably because I had a paddle and could make bigger splashes back at them.

Last stop with Steph and the girls was Phuket. Glad I packed my party pants. The next four days might be kind of a blur but luckily I was still able to snap a few shots of this bustling town.

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walden

If you look closely Walden is in this picture. It was nice being back in Thailand. Walden and I were here in 2012, a month before we got married. I saw some of the same places that I saw when I was with him but I also was able to make many new memories. I like that I am able to be in places or around people that remind me of him. Sometimes I get sad but then I remind myself that life on this earth, in this body, is such a minuscule part of our being. We are all energy and it can never be destroyed. We may take on different forms, but we are all still together learning through this incredible journey and sharing this space. I’ve gotten a lot better at tuning into when I feel Walden’s energy. This moment on the beach with my sister was one of them. She misses her brother-in-law as well and having a few really good cry sessions on this trip with her was good for the soul.

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Of course you have to eat the street food in Thailand. And to my surprise eating this stuff didn’t result in a day in a half of cleansing from the inside-out like my last trip.

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This little turd stole my food as you can see. Luckily not my camera though which was sitting right next to the food. Very quick lesson learned!!

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We took a trip to see Big Buddah.

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Phuket landscape

Gorgeous view of Phuket from Big Buddah

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That would be my sister. She was the brave one and tried the wave machine. Doesn’t she fall with such style?

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Can’t beat a sunset like this one.

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Bad decisions were made here. Who on earth ever thinks buying drinks in a bucket, sorry “Butget”, is a good idea?

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Lastly, this picture is for my dad. Pretty cool leaving the bars for some street pancakes and learning there are bear fans all the way across the world! I’m not sure this vendor even realized why we were so excited to take a picture with him but either way… Go Bears!

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Last Week in New Zealand: It’s not goodbye, just I’ll see you again soon

Just as I expected, I have fallen in love with New Zealand. There is so much beauty and inspiration in this country. I ended up spending a lot more time in the North island that I had to sort of rush through the South island. This bummed me out because I loved the South island just as much. I got to see and do so many cool things, the only consolation that I can get from ending my trip here is that I definitely need to come back. There is no doubt about that. One important lesson I’ve taken from this part of my trip is that you can make as many plans as you want, but realize it’s okay and highly unlikely you’ll stick to it. In the end this is what travelling is all about. Same goes for life in general. There’s no words to describe the journeys you never could have planned. These are the stories you tell later. Here is my attempt to capture some of my experiences in my time on the South Island of New Zealand…

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Swing bridgeAbel Tasman

Abel Tasman – This was the first hiking I did after giving my knee 9 days of rest. It was a 6 mile hike which went surprisingly well and including some stunning scenery. The water was crystal clear and it was a beautiful day. I took a boat out to Torrent Bay and walked through the park which included a walk across a swing bridge. I ended up in Bark Bay where the water taxi picked me up and took me back home. I never would have stopped here if it weren’t from a tip from a friend that highly recommended it.

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Blow Hole

Punakaiki – The pancake flats and blow holes. This was a quick stop on my way down the West coast. It’s a popular spot to stop and take pictures of these unique limestone formations. I have no idea how they are formed but well worth the stop and hike out. I also caught a miraculous sunset on my drive that night. I decided not to take a picture of it because I didn’t think a picture would do it justice. It’s just something that I’ll forever have in my memory book. Sometimes moments like that are better preserved there.

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Greymouth

Bike ride in Greymouth. When I rolled into this sleepy town late one night I thought it would just be a quick stopover before heading to the glaciers in the morning. I arrived late yet the hostel owner still drove to greet me in person from his home, offered me some baked goods, and then give me a tour of the hostel. He also welcomed me to stay the next day and use the bikes they had. I decided to take him up on the offer. I hadn’t ridden a bike in months and he talked up the bike trail along the ocean. I can’t say anything great about the bike, it definitely had me walking funny afterward, but it was just another reminder for me that it’s okay to take your time when traveling if you have it. Peddling again and hearing the ocean waves in the background brought me a lot of reflection where I am in my life right now… and I think it’s a good spot to be.

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Glacier

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Franz Josef Glacier. This may be my favorite spot on the South Island. There is something about being around the mountains and seeing snow that make me feel alive and whole and at peace. Some people may know and some may not know that New Zealand was supposed to be my honeymoon. I never got a honeymoon so it’s been surreal being here and thinking how it would have been had I experienced these magical places with my late husband. I still brought Walden with me on this trip, just in a different way. I was waiting for the right calling to release some of his ashes and I couldn’t have gotten a clearer message after driving into Franz Josef. I awoke early one morning and I was the first one on the hike out to the glacier. I walked as far at the path would safely allow me and that is where I got 20 minutes to myself before the next soul appeared (that’s a lot of time for this popular hike). I spent that time looking at the glacier and having my time with Walden. I cried of course, but the tears I shed now are not the tears I shed a year and a half ago. I still miss him and think of him every day, but I can shed happy tears now. My strength today is because of him. I know he’s so proud of me and he wants me to be happy, which I am.

Franz Josef

Franz Josef Plane

After seeing the glacier I felt that it wasn’t enough. I still wanted to see it from the sky. Most people know I’ve been going to Burning Man for the past 9 years. This last year I was fortunate enough to meet the owner of the skydiving drop zone in Franz Josef. He sadly was not around that day but he still told me to swing by and drop a couple of names. I couldn’t jump because they mostly do tandems, not to mention my knee is still a disaster, but the staff did get me up on an observer ride. I was SO SO thankful when it worked out. The weather was just good enough for me to get on the last load of the day (up to 18K feet too!). In exchange for a case of beer, I got to see some views that tourists pay hundreds of dollars to see, and the door was opened too! I’m so thankful for the connections and life experiences that skiing and skydiving have given me in this life. I’m a pretty luck girl.

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Sheep

Glenorchy – Again this is a place I never would have visited if it weren’t for a word of mouth suggestion. Went on an all day hike by myself and not one complaint, except for maybe my car just turning off by itself twice on the road out to the trail head. Apparently dirt roads and going over 5mph is not a good combination for my little buddy Sunny.

After the second time my car decided to shut down, I decided to take a breather and enjoy the sheep. Because it’s New Zealand and there’s no getting away from sheep pasture, after sheep pasture, after sheep pasture.

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Gondola

Queenstown. This town is crazy. There’s no other word I can use to describe it. I didn’t realize how much adventure, food, and alcohol you could cram into such a small town. There is everything you imagine about New Zealand here. I spent a few days here but surprisingly took a more mellow approach. Instead of getting on the party train I decided to spend my days exploring Glenorchy (above), taking the gondola to get a city view and watch the paragliders, and then do a day trip to Milford Sound (below).

Milford sound

Kiwi

And now for a moment to make fun of myself. Part of traveling is learning about a culture other than your own. Most people around the world know New Zealnaders to be called “Kiwis”. When I arrived in New Zealand I was expecting to see lots of shops and markets selling anything related to kiwis – the fruit. Took me a few days but there is in fact a bird also called a “Kiwi”. I had no idea this was the proper reference when speaking of New Zealanders. While I could be embarrassed and pretend I knew that all along, I decided to share it because if you can’t laugh at yourself and your ignorance once in a while, we probably wouldn’t last as friends anyway.

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Hawke’s Bay: Slowing down is necessary and is a good thing

I’m still in New Zealand and there aren’t enough good things to say about it. Well, maybe there’s one thing that’s not good but it’s not New Zealand’s fault. Only my own stupidity is to blame for reinjuring my knee which has since slowed me down. I realized I’m not a very good immobile person and need to learn how to take it easy when my body isn’t ready to be pushed yet. Luckily I hurt myself at a good time since I was headed to stay with friends in Hawke’s Bay anyway. It was a good spot to take it easy and slow down my travel schedule a bit. I learned a lot about myself that week and remembered why I’m on this journey right now.

 

I stayed with friends Bijan and Bonny. To be honest I didn’t know them very well, Bijan was friends with Walden back in college. However, as ski club friends go, we are all family so he and Bonny were more than accommodating to let me stay with them as long as I needed. So accommodating that I even showed up in the midst of them moving into their new home and they didn’t even bat an eye. The live in Hawke’s Bay which is on the East side of the North Island. Not a bad looking spot to be, eh?

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Bijan works as a manager in the distribution department for an apple exporter. He was pretty busy with work but that just meant more time for Bonny and I to get to know one another. At nights we’d have dinner with Bijan and exchange stories, mostly about traveling, friends we had in common, and Walden. It was nice to talk about Walden again. I know as time goes on talking about him will happen less and less. And that’s okay, that’s human nature and it’s a part of healing. It doesn’t mean he’s forgotten. And the times he is remembered and his name comes up, just makes those moments more treasured.

 

So what does an injured person do when I’m forced to take life in the slow lane for a bit? The answer is plenty. I’m pretty good at keeping myself entertained and feel that if you are bored you aren’t trying hard enough.

 

Mission VineyardMission Winery

It’s not a trip to New Zealand if you haven’t been wine tasting. Here’s at the Mission Winery. It was fun talking to the pourers and comparing wines from here and Napa Valley where I’ve spent the last 5 years of my life.

Bonny

This is Bonny. I have nothing but nice things to say about her and how grateful I am for our new friendship.

Napier food

I knew Bonny and I would get along just great after learning about our mutual love for cheese. When I’m by myself I don’t cook much, especially at hostels when sharing the kitchen with 10 other people. I can’t tell you how many nights my dinner has consisted of cheese, crackers, and fruit. Yup, I am my parent’s daughter.

 

Te Mata Peak

I took their pup up to the top of Te Mata peak. I felt like I was cheating by driving and not hiking it, but I shouldn’t complain since I still got to see the nice views. This is also a popular spot for hang gliding.

 

Weka Cave

Went on a tour of the Weka Cave Workshop. This is where a lot of the production for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies occurred. I was really impressed considering how small this workshop is. Also slightly embarrassed when the tour guide asked who had not seen Lord of the Rings and I was the only one to raise my hand.

Napier Prison

Bonny’s family owns this hostel. It was once a prison that they converted. Pretty cool idea if you ask me. Also a cool story because that’s how Bonny and Bijan met, when Bijan was a guest here many years ago. I took a guided tour of the place. Also a perfect thing to do on a rainy day like this one was.

 

And lastly, I started to catch up on some reading. I picked up a random travel book at the prison. I think I was meant to read that book for so many reasons. One message I got was the difference of being a tourist versus a traveler. In my past I’ve always been a tourist, trying to cram in as much as I can in the very few days I could finagle to get off work. A traveler has time and should use that time. There’s more to a place than hitting the top 10 must dos on a list from Tripadvisor. There’s a whole world of food, people, and culture you need to take in as well. I was reminded of that so I started to do that with my time in Hawke’s Bay.

 

Another reason why I was supposed to pick up that book is because it had this quote in it. I’m not kidding when I say that my mom had texted me the same quote not 2 days before. It’s funny how the universe is always telling you something, you just have to keep an open mind and look for the signs. They really are everywhere.

 

“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity… no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley.

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Bonny drove down with me to Wellington and we stayed with her friends for the weekend. Another amazing weekend meeting locals and seeing that her friends which live on the opposite sides of the world really share a lot in common. Made a lot of friends and memories that weekend. At my departure Bonny gifted me this beautiful Maori Greenstone (Jade). Bonny is Maori and she said in her culture you don’t buy these for yourself but give them as a gift of friendship. I was honored to receive this and have been wearing it since.

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Lastly, for your moment of humor… when you can’t get into your shitty car rental, make sure same shitty car rental with same blue towel is not parked next to you.

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New Zealand week 1: Heaven on Earth does exist

I’ve been in New Zealand for a week now. The time has already flown by and I’m in awe at how much beauty I’ve witnessed, memories I’ve made, and marvelous souls I’ve come across. It will be hard for me to put in words how magical this place is. The pictures won’t do it justice either but here’s my best attempt.

I landed in New Zealand at about 1 in the morning. Of course I was exhausted but I still had the looming task of picking up my rental car and figuring out the whole driving on the left side of the road. It was pouring rain so I didn’t get very far before I decided to pull over and just sleep in my car and figure it out in the morning. Once daylight came I got to get more acquainted with Sunny (see below). He and I are going to be spending a lot of time together over the next month. He’s a real gem, reminds me a lot of the little engine that could. He likes to make load roaring noises and bounce around a lot, but he hasn’t let me down yet and I’m pretty sure we are going to get along just great.

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I flew into Auckland and spent the first couple of days couch surfing with a few guys that live right in the heart of the city. They just moved into their swanky bachelor pad and it was fun meeting locals. They took me out to dinner on my first night and I got to sleep on their super comfy couch. When I wasn’t hanging out with them I wandered the city as I usually do when I first get into a big city. I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of big cities. I feel a big city is kind of like any other city. Lots of buildings and restaurants and whatnot. This one was no exception but I still enjoyed getting lost and seeing where my feet took me.

Sky Tower

Auckland Sky Tower, tallest man made structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Went to the top where the viewing deck is at 222 meters (total height of the mast is 328 meters).

Mt Eden

Mt Eden which is an inactive volcano. A short train ride outside of the city and the highest natural peak in Auckland.

One day while in Auckland I took about an hour train ride outside to Waitakere. It’s pretty cool to not have to travel to far from the big city to get to some beautiful hiking. This was where the New Zealand that I had always pictured started to come out.

Waitakere

After a few days in Auckland, Sunny and I headed East over to the coast of Coromandel. I was very fortunate that a friend of a friend hooked me up with some kayaking buddies of his. I still can’t express what remarkable people I met while I was there. They didn’t even know me but they opened up their home and treated me like any other friend coming through town. They also got me on one of their kayak tours in exchange for a 12 pack of beer. What a steal! It was also a perfect day with perfect weather to see their little town that they call home for the summer (in the winter they live in the snowy mountains. Not a bad gig I must say).

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Cathedral Cove Kayak Tours. Such a treat to spend the day with them.

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Hanging out at Cathedral Cove.

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This is Horse, one of my new friends now in New Zealand. He lives in his van outside of the house I was staying at. He’s one of the happiest people I’ve met and has such an infectious laugh. He loves life and is into all sorts of outdoor activities such as myself. He also makes a mean beach latte when he’s not kayak guiding.

After a trip out on the kayaks, 2 of the girls from the house invited me out with them to check out one of their local beaches. I was so thrilled that they invited me out with them. They didn’t know me and didn’t have to do that. But these are genuine girls with hearts of gold. We had a lot of fun getting to know one another. I learned that they don’t have a lot, but they don’t need that in their life. They work seasonal jobs; housekeeping in beautiful Coromandel in the summers and they work at a ski resort in the winters. They reminded me you don’t need material things in life, just be in beautiful places and do what makes you happy and you are going to be richer than what any money can buy.

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Rhianna and Ingrid

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Lonely Bay lookout

Next on the radar was to head South to Lake Taupo. A friend recommended it and said it reminded him of Lake Tahoe. I knew right from there this was one place I had to see. I spent 3 days here and I’m still trying to absorb all the beauty this place holds. Wish I didn’t have to leave.

The first day in Taupo I took an all day hike. It’s a very popular hike called Tongariro Alpine Crossing. There was some filming of Lord of the Rings done here. While it was a bit crowded, the hike was definitely worth every second.

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Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes

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One the way down.

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After a long day and tired legs, this was a perfect end with a sunset to myself on a pier on Lake Taupo.

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After a good night rest I headed out to the local drop zone. They were kind enough to rent me gear and I jumped out of this plane with this incredible view. WOW! is all I can say for that jump. Worth every expensive penny I paid for it.

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And finally, because it’s New Zealand, it wouldn’t be a proper trip without your daily dose of Vegemite.

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Australia Week 2: Never too old to learn new tricks

Since I last wrote I’ve started to get the hang of this traveling alone thing. I’m still enjoying the time to myself, but also have started to branch out a little and make new friends along the way. It’s been fun talking to people in a coffee shop or other travelers. I’ve met no other Americans to date, however, Dutch and Brits seem to be quite popular here. Also I haven’t been drinking much traveling alone, but instead have developed quite the coffee kick. Hopefully by next post I’ll have it figured out what the hell the difference between a flat white and a latte are. So far all I’ve gathered is they really like their espresso and some sort of frothy milkyness to go with it.

Coffee

Right before I left I decided last minute to sign up for an open water scuba course. I always said I would never get scuba certified and that critters at the bottom of the ocean creep me out. I think I was just thinking about California waters and the cold murkiness to them. I did one scuba excursion last May in Hawaii and had fun, but still didn’t consider continuing on with the certification. However, now with an open schedule and being in warmer water, I decided why the hell not and added myself to a class.

I took the 3 day course in beautiful Manly Beach in Sydney. So happy on my decision and I can’t wait to continue diving (I still hold the same opinion though that I’m a wuss and have no desire to dive in cold climates).

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Here’s my buddy Chris, he’s from Sydney. He was getting certified because he has a trip to Hawaii planned in April and wants to dive with the turtles. He also is trying to move out to the states to be with his girlfriend. It will be pretty cool if our paths cross again in the states. I find it so neat making connections all over the world and keeping in touch. However if that doesn’t work out for him we still have plans to go dive when I make my way through Sydney before I head to the next destination.

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Blue Striped Goatfish

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I saw a Stone Fish and I was so excited. Really cool to look at, but definitely don’t touch!

When I wasn’t scuba diving or walking the town end to end, I found a little yoga studio that had a 2 week introductory for 30AUD (so like $25 USD… score!) It was right on the water where they have a few of their military ships, the area is called Woolloomooloo. Say that 10 times fast.  I ended up going to 4 classes here. Was just what I needed to clear my head and remind myself how lucky I am to be living and breathing every day in this great big beautiful World.

Sunrise

An incredible sunrise view I must say.

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I wish I could do yoga here every day.

Into the dark

My last night in town, kind of eerie walking down this path that normally is bustling during the day. I ended up hanging out for a bit on one of the benches and enjoying the silence of the night and thinking about the next stop on my journey… New Zealand.

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Australia week 1# – Just me now

This past week and a half have been big for me. When I first decided last year to take some time off to travel I saw it as a solo mission. However, as it turns out I know a ton of people that also like to travel and be adventurous (don’t get me wrong, I love that part about my life). After quitting my job 2.5 months ago this is the first time I set out on my own. I’ve traveled a bit in my life but I’ve never gone alone, and especially for not this long. I thought the easiest way to start would be to go somewhere that speaks English, is well traveled, and I’m somewhat familiar with the culture. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time when I think about how my courage is going to be tested over the coming months, so I’m glad I picked Australia as the first place to get started.

When I was packing for this trip, which by the way, how do you pack everything you need for a year into one bag? I was also pretty emotional time to time prepping for the trip. I won’t lie sometimes I didn’t want to pack because it brought to tears. While this trip is something I really want to do, it’s impossible not to think what I would have been doing had my life not been changed a year and a half ago. Definitely not selling off all my belongings and blowing through a good chunk of savings. I was also emotional because things in my life have been going so well lately, and now I’m risking losing that by getting up and leaving. I know now life can change on you in an instant, and I try not dwell on where I would have been. So instead I’ve just been reminding myself to accept that life is always changing and evolving, and chances are things will happen just as they are meant to.

So back to my question on what the hell do you pack? Well, here’s a little glimpse. And yes, I already know I over packed and have been trying to leave things here and there. It adds up quick when you are walking all over the place and constantly on the move. I’m so glad I don’t have to see the same people day in and day out.

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Yep, all my clothes compressed into this guy

I flew into Sydney and spent the first few days getting used to being by myself. It’s kind of freeing knowing you can do whatever you want when you want. You don’t have to answer to anyone. That part is fun. If any of you know me you know my sense of direction is terrible, so I made it a point to walk as much as I could and try not to look at GPS to get me back. The first day I easily got 10 miles of wandering (my Strava mapping is pretty funny).

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Birds out by the pier. Fearless little suckers that are always after your food.

Opera house

Because it’s not a trip to Sydney without seeing the Opera House and Sydney Bridge.

Next it was off to Brisbane for the weekend to visit a friend from the States. She just moved out here and is in med school. I also got to meet her Fiance, Chris and their 2 year old, Josephine. It was really nice to see familiar faces, not to mention all the hospitality. I’ve learned so far travelling alone I haven’t been as outgoing with people as I normally am. I’m not sure if I just need more time adjusting but the truth is I’ve kind of reverted to myself. I haven’t minded so far, but I’m also hoping to branch out a bit once I feel the time is right. Either way, in Brisbane I got to do a lot of really fun things with friends and it was nice to just talk to people. Had to get out of there after 3 days though, Brisbane is so hot and humid. Crikey!

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This little Water Dragon chilled with me the whole time while I was reading my book at a café.

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Then this guy and I had a staring contest. He liked having his photo taken.

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Here’s a picture of Chris and Josephine. We visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and had a blast. Chris was my personal tour guide as he knows so much about Australia’s wild life which he studies at the University of Queensland. It was really a treat.

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Koala bears are so cute and fluffy! How can you not want to cuddle them?

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Also learned in Brisbane that there are some nasty looking spiders. This guy is actually one of the smaller ones we saw. Thank god Chris pointed them out so I didn’t walk straight into their webs!

Back in Sydney now and taking my open water dive course… more on that to come next time!

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JAPOW: Land of heated toilet seats, 7-Elevens, and FACE SHOTS!

I recently wrapped up another ski trip. It was the first time boarding a plane for my 2015 travel and it brought me back to Hokkaido, Japan. I originally wasn’t going to visit Japan since I had already skied there twice, however, when the opportunity came up to go again I couldn’t turn it down. This place is just magical. My best day ever in the snow happened when I first visited in 2011, and since then every visit has not disappointed. This trip was also special because I got to go with two awesome people that have recently come into my life; my boyfriend Markus and his good buddy, Dave. It was their first time going to Japan and I knew they would fall in love with the place, and nothing makes me happier than being around happy people that love the snow just as much as I do.

 

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Our Japow crew (Dave, me, Markus) at Teine resort. There’s a Ferris wheel in the background! I told you this place is magical.

 

The trip started by flying into Tokyo and pulling an all-nighter out on the town before catching a flight to Sapporo the next morning. We figured it’s better to make the most of our short time in Tokyo before heading to the white fluffy stuff.

 

Dance Party

 

 

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Tokyo Tower

 

Fish Market

Tsukji fish market – world famous tuna auction. Best thing to do after the bar closes yet too soon to get on your flight.

 

Actually, we did manage to miss our flight to Sapporo. I also lost my phone somewhere along the way. Yes, this is the same girl that lost her passport in Peru (at a bar) and now is attempting a solo world tour. I don’t see what could possibly go wrong…

We finally got on a later flight and were heading towards our destination… Niseko! This is where the real fun started to happen. The top of the mountain didn’t open the first few days due to weather but that didn’t matter in terms of finding deep, fresh tracks. We were like kids on Christmas!

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The trick is to be quick and stealthy so ski patrol doesn’t see you duck rope. Unless of course you are Markus and you clothes line yourself on your GoPro…

 

 

Here’s when the sun finally did come out.

 

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After a few days in Niseko we headed up to Sapporo for more skiing and the world famous snow festival. I had heard of it but had never been in town for the week-long festival when it was going on. It was absolutely incredible what people create with snow. They vary in all sizes, themes, detail, and even humor.

 

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Photo by Markus Mueller

 

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Photo by Markus Mueller

 

Snow Characters

 

Photo by Markus Mueller

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Photo by Markus Mueller

 

Is this woman cooking her baby?

 

 

After a few days in Sapporo we had to get back to Niseko as we heard there was a huge storm coming in. That’s what I love about Japan. In my experience there’s always a storm on the way and they come in cold. Unfortunately, Dave had to leave us so Markus and I skied extra hard for him once the storm hit. So hard I even reinjured my knee. It was hard to slow down in all the powder and face shots we were getting. I missed the rest of probably the deepest day as well as the last 2 days we had in Niseko. I don’t think I’ve ever been more bummed about missing skiing. I’ll admit I actually cried watching the snow come down and knowing that I couldn’t go outside. But it was also a lesson that reminded me that injuries are inherent in the sports that I do and you have to live through them to learn and grow. Luckily, I’m happy to report the knee is doing much better. It could have been a lot worse but it’s not slowing me down from continuing on to the next adventure.

 

 

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Sun came out to see the top

 

Last Sunset

Last sunset in Niseko

 

The last few days Markus and I played tourist in Tokyo. It was nice seeing what it looked like during the day (and sober). It’s a big noisy town, but it’s also got a uniqueness and beauty to it.

 

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The tallest free standing tower in the world

 

The aquarium:

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Then our trip ended with a walk to Meiji park:

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These were at the Meiji shrine and reminded me of messages left at the temple at Burning Man. It was beautiful to read some of them and realize all over the world people have similar wishes and faiths.

 

After 17 days of being in Japan (9 of them being ski days), in addition to getting my fill on sushi and ramen, it was time to end the trip and put away my winter clothes for the season. I’m sad I had to do it when March hasn’t even hit, but hopefully my hanging up the gear means everyone at home will get big dumps. Even though my ski season is over I still got 27 days, each one of them being memorable because of the people, new places, and of course epic conditions.

Going on this trip to Japan also taught me a lot about where I’m at in my life in terms of relationships. As I said earlier I did this trip with my boyfriend. It was the longest time we have ever spent with each other and I’m happy to report we are still together. I’m not sure how many people (up until now) know that I have started dating again in any serious respect. When I met Markus I wasn’t looking, but as I’ve learned thus far, people tend to come in your life right when they are meant to. I had just gotten through another big hurdle in my healing and he came and kind of swept me off my feet. I’m still on a healing journey and I may always be, but since meeting him I’ve found someone that makes me smile from the inside again. I feel happier and whole when I’m with him, and people say they can see it on me too.

 

Ok, more on my personal life maybe to come later. I’d prefer to end this entry with a laugh. Caught on film here is your first lesson in what NOT to do when “No Boarding” (These No Boards are built by Markus and his best buddy, Steve. Think skateboard for lower angle, deep powder). They also are a great toy when you are jet lagged at 3 in the morning.

 

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