An Island of Strength: Puerto Rico Prospers

There will always be beauty in tragedy, this I’ve come to know.

Surely you’ve heard about it in the news over the past year. Due to the absolute devastation Hurricane Maria brought the island of Puerto Rico, the battered island is still healing but moving forward. El Yunque, its beloved rainforest, still looks beautiful but will take nearly decades to truly recover. With the changes, new species of flora and fauna will appear.

In the short time I was here, it was difficult to imagine what it looked like before- all around me it was still so lush, green, and thriving. Colorful streets and smiling people. The pride that beats down like the hot sun. This is what I will take with me from this place- the bounce back. The miracle of life and the sense of love and hope it brings. The strength of a whole community overcoming the odds together. The ability to not only survive, but to prosper.

Here is an insight to my time there:

Walking around the colorful Condado, glimpsing the sunrise at Ocean Beach and catching the sunset at Atlantic Beach.

My new favorite dish- Mofongo!

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Heart of Old San Juan

El Yunque National Forest

What a sweet way to bring in 28 years.

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                                              Keep living. Keep overcoming. Keep thriving.

                                                                                                                     Love always,

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The Maine Attraction

Ever since I took that trip with my mom to Punta Cana, I’ve been asking her to travel with me again.  Though I already have a great relationship with my parents, I especially value our time together as we all get older. To my surprise, she finally said yes! (Maybe because this was a domestic trip, for once? Haha.)

We flew into Portland on Thursday evening. She had never seen whales in real life and wanted to see them, so we opted for a cruise that next day. Of course, we had to get our first fresh lobster roll beforehand!

 

We got lucky and saw three fin whale, and a couple harbor seals! And, of course, the famous Portland Head Lighthouse.

 

Walking around Portland/Old Port: Portland Observatory, Eastern Promenade, East End Beach, Fish Point, Fort Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Bug Point, etc.

Our favorite spots to eat included: DiMillo’s on the water, Becky’s Diner, Portland Lobster Company, The Holy Donut, Gilbert’s Chowder House, and so many more.

The next day, we rented a car and drove to Acadia National Park.

Such a beautiful day! Highlights included: Eagle Lake, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, among others.

We took a ferry to one of the many islands surrounding Portland the next day. We opted for Peaks Island and enjoyed blueberry soda while soaking up some rays. We didn’t know that wild blueberries grow naturally here- 44,000 acres, to be exact.

 

Coastal Maine is surely a sight for sore eyes, and there’s no other person I’d rather soak in that beauty with then my incredible mother. I know we’ll both cherish this time together in years to come.

 

Until next time,

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The Emerald Isle

Where do I begin? How do I explain what has transpired in these two beautiful, intense weeks? Ireland has been a dream destination for what seemed like years, and my MFA program gave me the opportunity to not only travel there, but also to work with brilliant Irish writers and mentors.

I flew into bustling Dublin with my friend Jaclyn and we promptly rented a car to drive to Cork. Here’s where our whirlwind weekend began- Blarney to Cork, Galway to the Cliffs of Moher, Belfast to Giant’s Causeway, and at last to Dublin, where we studied at Trinity College for two weeks and took a day to trip to Howth. There were way too many pints between classes, friends made, and laughs shared to count, but here are a few snapshots that help frame those wonderful memories:

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Blarney Castle

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Cork

Cliffs of Moher

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Galway

Belfast

Giant’s Causeway

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Trinity College

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Already counting down until the next residency! But for now, the work of practicum begins.

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UnBelizeable

As 2017 drew to a close, I knew I wanted to take advantage of all my time off work for the holiday season.

My parents and I flew to Florida to spend Christmas with my brother, his wife, and their daughter. We visited Destin, Panama City Beach, and Pensacola, ate way too much, and truly enjoyed our time together as a family again.

It was a beautiful change from the snowy weather back north!

Shortly after, I flew solo to Belize City for one last international trip before the craziness of 2018 began.

Although Belize has a bad reputation and certain parts of Belize City are indeed VERY dangerous, (consistently ranking as one of the highest homicide rates in the world) I am so grateful that I did not let this hold me back from going.  I had a safe trip there and back, and made friends with other tourists and many locals. It was hard to not enjoy all the beauty the country had to offer. I stayed in San Pedro, and took the ferry back to Belize City where I met Carlos, who showed me the best parts of his country.  Here was my first full day- packed with lots of adventure:

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Visiting Altun Ha ruins.

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Ziplining through the jungle!

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Cave tubing 🙂

I would highly recommend those who are thrill seekers to check it out! And though I’ve explored caves before, I was pleasantly surprised by how different my perspective was with cave tubing.

That evening, some friends and I went to Wahoo’s Lounge for the world famous “Chicken Drop.” You guessed it- we bought tickets and watched as a chicken strutted around on the board, hoping that it would take a shit on our number. It was easily one of the most ridiculously interesting things I’ve ever experienced.

The next day I traveled to Caye Caulker, one of Belize’s most famous destinations, to relax and have some island fun. I couldn’t imagine being surrounded by these incredible views and calling this place my home. Would I ever get tired of it?

I spent the late afternoon at the Lazy Lizard enjoying a drink and jumping into the crystal water.

There is so much more I could say about this trip, from turtle talk to late night exploration, to the friendships I formed, but some things can’t be put into words. I’ll leave you with these highlights, until next time.

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One Happy Island, One Happy Girl

Bon bini! I took a mini vacation over the fourth of July holiday, because why not? Destination: Aruba. Scroll on to see “one happy island” for yourself!

Day One- I arrived in Aruba in the late evening of June 30th, so I saved my explorations for the next morning. I woke early, grabbed breakfast, and walked along Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, breathing in the fresh air.

With a cool breeze, white sand, and blue waters, it was hard to believe I was in such a beautiful place!

Later that afternoon, I climbed Hooiberg Lookout for a view of the entire island:

(Definitely want to bring lots of water with you for this one! Speaking of which, Aruba has the cleanest/most pure drinking water.)

Since I was only staying on the island for a short period of time, I was determined to see and do as much as possible. After the hike and exploring downtown, however, I was beat! I headed back to my hotel to relax with my newly arrived book, and watched boats come in to shore.

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Boat coming in at sunset.

Day Two- To see most of the island as possible, I booked a jeep tour. This covered most of the eastern side of the island, from the northernmost point all the way to Baby Beach. We also explored:

  • Bushiribana Gold Mills Ruins
  • Ayo Rock Formation
  • Hidden caves
  • Arikok National Park

My all-time favorite spots were the natural bridges and pools that we stopped at.

Natural bridge, above, and natural pools, below.

More sights: Alto Vista Chapel, a donkey befriending us, and the California Lighthouse.

After a long day, I needed to refuel. I love being close to the ocean, so I chose to have a delicious seafood dinner on the pier.

Day Three- Beach day! Soaked up the sun, chased lizards (which are everywhere!), and drank fresh fruit smoothies. And no, I can’t take credit for that sand sculpture.

On my last night, I was dazzled yet again at sunset:

The island of Aruba is small, but I was only just beginning to uncover the heart of it. I talked to as many locals as I could, learning about the language (Papiamento, but most Arubans can speak four or five languages), their lifestyle, and how tourism makes up the majority of their economy. The country may be a popular destination for couples and families, but I still enjoyed myself and was grateful to be able to relax and take in the beautiful sights.

Even before I got on my flight home, I knew I wanted to come visit again.

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The only good thing about leaving is this incredible view!

Catch ya on the flip side,

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Pacific Northwonderland

I needed no excuse to go to Seattle- Alex (my oldest high school friend) lived there, it was surrounded by water and soaring mountains, and I had no plans for Memorial Day weekend.

I arrived late on Friday night.  On Saturday, Alex and I went downtown to fit the most of Seattle sights in during one day. We strolled the iconic Pike Place market and wandered down the alley to the famous gum wall. Tourist attraction, but I couldn’t miss it. It was equal parts fascinating and gross.

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Alex wanted me to get a better view of the city, so we (just barely!) caught the ferry across to Bainbridge Island. Once the ferry pulled back, I could see the whole city and encircling mountains. It was a sunny 75 degrees and the clearest day, so the view was unreal. Alex pointed out landmarks: the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier, etc.

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Once the ferry docked safely back at Seattle, we decided to explore downtown more. Grabbing a donut and coffee (no, not Starbucks!), we walked to the neighborhood of Capital Hill. This is where Alex is moving soon. He showed me his favorite bookstore, Elliot Bay, and we popped into a couple shops. Next, we drove to Discovery Park where I saw the West Point Lighthouse and stuck my feet in the cold, refreshing water. The bright colored sails of sailboats contrasting with the blue of the water and jutting mountain ranges left me speechless.

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Since we only had limited time, and there was still so much more he wanted me to see, we didn’t stay long. We drove to Green Lake and laid out in the sun, people watching. It was the most perfect day. Came back to his apartment, got ready for dinner, and walked around his neighborhood of Ballard. I could see why he loved it. We chose Ballard Annex Oyster House for dinner. Since it was happy hour, we filled up on fish and chips, clam chowder, and calamari for almost half the price. Dessert is not optional for me, so a stop to Hot Cakes dessert shop was in order.  Just when I thought the day couldn’t get better, we ended it with a trip to Golden Gardens park to watch the sunset.  The beach was packed, so we stayed further down on the rocks, but the skies couldn’t have been more clear. It honestly was so breathtaking, I wanted to cry. The sunset was this indescribable golden orange and calming blue. I wanted to bottle it forever.

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On Sunday, we got up early to pack Alex’s car for our camping trip to Steamboat Rock State Park. We met up with another friend, Michael, and set off, stopping about halfway in Ellensburg for food and gas. It was a beautiful drive, the first part through Snoqualmie Pass was all evergreen forests,  rich blues and dark greens, and then later, all desert. We wasted no time, setting out to hike the rock as soon we pulled in to our site.  The beginning was steep uphill on loose rocks. Once at the top we did a long loop, admiring the views from the cliffs.

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Top of the rock.

We weren’t the only ones out & about: we passed a deer, two groundhogs that ran away, and only one other couple on top of the rock. When we cut through higher grass to circle back to the trail head, Alex heard a rattlesnake. And suddenly it was HIGH KNEES like I was in boot camp. (I’m terrified of snakes, not to mention a rattlesnake!) Once back, and sweating hard, we changed into our bathing suits and waded in the water. As the sun cooled off, we set up camp, made hot dogs and chili for dinner, and climbed a little sand dune to look at the stars at night.

The next morning, I woke up to sunlight spilling across my pillow- sure that it must be at least 7 a.m., but it was just barely 5 a.m. So bright out already! We enjoyed breakfast, then got back on the road, stopping at Dry Falls overlook, and Ellensburg again for gas and food. Due to the holiday, traffic was really bad coming through Snoqualmie Pass.  When we finally returned to Seattle, I was lucky enough to meet up with another great high school friend, Frank, who I hadn’t seen in years!

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Over coffee, we caught up on each other’s lives and talked Washington and traveling. He was nice enough to drop me off at the airport, where my next big adventure awaited: ALASKA.

(To check out my trip to Alaska, read about it here.)

When I returned from The Last Frontier, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in Tacoma, just south of Seattle, where my boyfriend J.J. was spending two weeks training at Lewis-McChord AFB. He had the weekend off, and spending it with him was much better than just coming home to Pittsburgh early!

When I landed on Friday (June 2nd) afternoon, he met me at the airport and we checked into our hotel. Soon after, we set out to Wapato Park, then walked along the waterfront: Jack Hyde Park, Hamilton Park, Dickman Mill Park, etc. and ended with a delicious dinner on the water. Drove through Point Defiance Park after, which was gorgeous as the sun was setting.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped to get some food for our hike we were planning on doing the next day. And also a huge bag of Skittles. Totally healthy and good for sustaining energy.

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The next morning, Saturday, we got up early for breakfast, repacked our bags and programmed the GPS to Mt. Rainier.  We stopped in Longmire for coffee, but it was so necessary. It helped wake us both up and instantly rejuvenated. Paradise was still covered in snow, but it was another beautiful, sun-shining day and we still hiked through it. What a workout! We also covered the Silver Falls trail which was in completely different conditions. And had to see the famous Grove of the Patriarchs before driving through to the other side of the mountain to exit the park and head back to Tacoma for dinner and much needed rest, at that point.

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No words.

Two very different conditions: Snow-covered Reflection Lakes, and Silver Falls.

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Grove of the Patriarchs

Sunday, our last day together, we caught the ferry to Anderson Island. We weren’t really sure what all was there, but walking around looking at the incredible homes and enjoying the sunshine and the company of one another made it a wonderful outing. Once we took the ferry back over, we drove to Seattle to spend some (very short) time before my flight. Got Dicks drive-in which was so good, it would have been worth the drive just for that. Delicious burgers & shakes! I showed J.J. Pike Place Market, the view on the deck of the Seattle Great Wheel and waterfront, and we marked our spot on the gum wall with Bubble Yum.

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I was lucky enough to visit during the most perfect weather, and could easily see why so many people loved living here. Seattle and the PNW surely left its mark on me!

Until next time,

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