Visiting the COPE Visitor Center in Laos

Like most Americans, for most of my life I had a pure affection for my country. In my eyes, America was the flawless beacon of humanity, moral righteousness, and good will for all other nations. I believed in this ideal because this is always what had been taught to me for much of my life in the public school system. In terms of the foreign affairs for the United States, I believed the nation had a long history of conducting itself always with the utmost morality. 

Cluster bomb exhibit at the COPE Visitor Center

My visit to Laos several years ago was the catalyst for the most profound paradigm shift of my life. Writing this now, I realize how embarrassingly naive that first paragraph sounds. However, I always strive to write the truth. During my visit to Laos, I began to see that while I have so much love and adoration for my home country, it has not always been that shining beacon of morality. I had the honor of visiting the COPE visitor center in Laos.

I visited the capital city of Laos – Vientiane and had the opportunity to spend the day at the COPE Visitor Centre. There, I learned the profound and heavy impact of the United States hidden war against Laos. 

All Americans learn about the Vietnam war in high school. However, I’d dare to say most Americans graduate high school and go out into the world knowing nothing about the affected countries around Vietnam. I’m sure if you mentioned Laos to many Americans, they might think you were talking about a bug in your hair. 

America’s Secret War with Laos

The United States was at war with Vietnam roughly from 1955 to 1975. America believed communism anywhere in the world to be a huge threat. The USA subscribed to the Domino Theory. If one nation falls to communism, so do the others around it, and we would find ourselves with no allies. Vietnam was torn in half. The north of the country was led by Ho Chi Minh and was communist. The south had support from the USA and was a capitalist republic. There are many other factors to this war, but for the purposes of this blog – this information is adequate.  

So, where does Laos factor in? From 1964 to 1973, the United States dropped an estimated “plane load of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years on Laos.” There were 580,000 estimating bombing missions in total. It was thought that a Viet Cong spy trail lay partly within the country of Laos. So, this was the result. The Viet Cong were a guerilla group from the North of the country that had trails into the south. Moving on, the United States was not officially at war with Laos, and so this is often called the “secret war” as it was covert. 

You can imagine who pays the price for war – innocent people. I hope I do not have to paint a picture of what happens when a bomb drops on a country. However, what of the bombs that do not explode? According to the Pulitzer Center, 80 million of the bombs (2 million tons) dropped did not detonate upon arrival. Instead, they are pervasive and hidden within Laos. Laos is a largely agrarian society. As such, when Laotians work in the fields for any number of reasons, they often come into contact with one of the unexploded ordinances, better known as UXOs, and either lose their life or lose their limbs. 25% of villages in Laos have unexploded mines. At least 20,000 people of Laos have been killed or maimed by UXOs since the end of the war. 

Source: Lao government’s National Regulatory Authority & CNN

I learned all of this information while visiting the Cope center. My visit there has sparked an interest in ongoing research in this area for me, as well as following this story in the news. Shortly after my visit to Laos, then president Barack Obama’s administration announced they would be giving 90 million dollars to help clear Laos’s UXOs. While this is undoubtedly good news, let’s be clear. For at least the next 100 years – possibly longer. No matter how much money and time a nation invests, there are 2 million tons of bombs within the country. This effort, will at best, make a dent in the recovery efforts. 

A sign reading "COPE" made of prosthetic welcomes visitors to the COPE center.
Visiting the COPE Visitor Center in Laos. Sign is made of prosthetic limbs

How COPE Helps

COPE provides orthotic services and prosthetic limbs and services to those in need free of charge. Those who receive help through COPE receive surgery and rehabilitation. COPE also works so that these people may receive surgery, transportation, accommodation and food needs during treatment, and rehabilitation. This is possible through donations. While Laotians of all reasons for injury benefit from COPE’s services, the majority of those helped are those who have fallen victim to UXOs. 

An example of one of the services provided by the COPE center.

The COPE center is small, and offers a sobering experience. It is definitely a must to plan on visiting the COPE visitor center in Laos. There is a film which plays on a loop to inform visitors of all of the history I have outlined above. Maps and diagrams are also on display to aid in better understanding the history. 

There are chilling exhibits which introduce visitors to “cluster bombs” and their impact. 

The cluster bomb exhibit

Visitors can also see displays of the types of prosthetics COPE provides for its beneficiaries. Just as well, you can see orthopedic tools which help those whose limbs are damaged from the affects of UXOs. There are some accounts of the stories of real life people and the impact that both UXOs and then COPE have had on their lives.

As of 2019, entry is still free, but of course you should donate to the center. The cause is so very worthy. There is also a small shop on sight as well as a cafe that serves great ice cream.

Visiting the center allowed me to learn about this very important piece of not only Laos’ history, but the history of my own country. In the beginning of our excursion, our tour guide began talking about the dropping of the bombs. I do not remember if I asked this allowed, or only to my husband. However, I definitely remember asking, “who would do such a thing?” When I found out that the answer was my own country, I felt a wave of emotions. Even though I personally had nothing to do with this event, I felt ashamed and embarrassed. 

Prosthetic tools used to help those in need.

I know that NONE of my tour group friends thought ill of us. But, some of them seemed to make a face as if to say, “typical.” Somehow, some of them seemed to already know how imperfect my country had been throughout the course of history. I was angry. Anger overcame me because I felt that I had been lied to in some ways about the truth of the history of my country. I was angry that some people who have never been to America knew more about its true history than I, and American, did. This was one of my very first trips outside of my own country. 

What I Learned

The more I travel, the more I continue to learn about being both a citizen of the USA, and also a citizen of the world. I have learned so much about history, society, and the impact humans have on both. Traveling has helped me to become an observant, intentional, and open listener and learner. I can sincerely thank the COPE center for kick starting this endeavor of learning so purely for me. 

As a New York City public school teacher, I try to incorporate all that I have learned into my classes. I teach English, and my goal has been to teach literature from places like southeast Asia while making real world connections to society, history, and politics. For those concerned, I never teach with any type of “agenda.” I give the facts and let the chips fall where they may. I want my students to be citizens who are aware of their country’s history. They should want to know the “why” of history and how that history influences literature.

I desire for them to know what responsibilities they have as Americans when they go out into the world. I’m proud of the hundreds of students who have walked out of my classroom in June understanding the impact that UXOs have had on the people of Laos, our responsibility to help, and an understanding of why places like COPE matter greatly to society. Having the opportunity for visiting the COPE visitor center in Laos has impacted my life tremendously.

An exhibit showing the prosthetics the center produces and gives to those in need

Climbing Solheimajokull Glacier in Iceland

A Rough Start to the Morning

We had to wake up entirely too early for this experience. I would have traded anything to be able to spend the morning lounging in our warm bed. It was still incredibly dark out, and I assumed freezing. We layered up, ate Skyr for breakfast, and walked half a mile to our van’s stop. Apparently we were at the wrong place and had no internet service on the street which made for a wonderful way to start the day.

Eventually, I made it. But, the road to get there was tough.

We had to run up and down the streets finding an open venue with wi-fi to get in touch with our driver several times. Finally, we made contact and walked to the right pick up spot. We climbed in a van full of guests, who were definitely already sick of our shit, and hit the open road.

I was not excited for this experience in any way, shape, for form. I embarked on it because my husband wanted only to pick one excursion, and this was the one his heart was set on. I wasn’t opposed because I hate nature, or think I’m too good for the hike. In fact, it’s the opposite. I have a severe phobia of trying new sports and physical activities. 

My husband – the reason I even went glacier climbing.

I especially have anxiety about doing such things in groups. Occasionally, I like solo workouts such as running, yoga, and barre. However, I’m not at all what you would consider “athletic.” My nerves were getting to me. I kept feeling that I was going to be terrible at the hike and everyone would wonder why I even came. Sometimes, my anxiety manifests as anger or annoyance. I definitely remember making a bigger deal out of the morning mix up than I need to do. 

The Notorious I-C-E

Solheimajokull is located in southern Iceland and took a number of hours to get to considering the conditions on the road. We had three guides in our van, and I remember thinking how cool they all seemed. They were young, energetic, and badass. Our lead guide told us his name was “Biggie.”

He is an absolute legend for this one quote. “You both are from the east coast of USA, that is where your Biggie, Mr. Smalls is from. Well, I am Biggie, and I am also from the east coast…of Iceland.” He still looms so fucking large in my imagination for this one. However, as the guides described the procedure for the hike, I felt my stomach tighten into knots. Everything sounded so intense and I wasn’t able to follow along because I was so overwhelmed.

The guides talked cheerfully and made jokes because they had been doing this apparently since they were born. I already felt inadequate. That’s the weird thing about anxiety, it puts all sorts of thoughts into your head. Everyone on the tour was new to glacier hiking, yet, I had convinced myself entirely that I was without a doubt the worse one. 

The base of Solheimajokull glacier

Suiting Up

I was really proud of the boots I had picked out for the trip, as they looked the part of a glacier hiker. However, I was told that they were actually too soft and that I needed to rent a pair of sturdier boots. Womp, felt like an idiot. No one else had to do this, but I did. I eventually moved past that and was suited up for my helmet and gear. 

A couple wearing helmets takes a selfie before climbing Solheimajokull in Iceland
Gear in hand and ready to climb Solheimajokull in Iceland

Before arriving at the base of the glacier, we walked through a valley of black dirt and green earth. Being a big fan of The Great Gatsby, I nicknamed it the valley of ashes. The walk through the valley was fairly easy, and I thought, stupidly, that the entire hike on the glacier would be this way. Walking through the valley of ashes gave me a little while to collect my thoughts and nerve before embarking on the greatest test of my (non) athletic prowess. It was also an opportunity to soak in the amazing nature around us!

A group of people walk across a valley of ash to get to Solheimajokull glacier
The Valley of Ashes, as I called it. #GatsbyNerd

The Climb

I was surprised to see that there were icy steps involved to get onto the glacier – as in actual steps cut out of snow. We had to hold onto ropes as we were told several times that it was very, very slippery on the stairs. I made peace with the fact that I would probably bust my ass and take everyone out behind me with my large body. I welcomed that high possibility. I was just glad that we were starting off with something I had done before, climbing steps. 

Nervous as hell and no idea how glacier climbers stand.

The tougher of our tour guides led, and we passed an attractive young woman and her group who were coming down as we went up. He announced to our group that it was her birthday and we all must sing her the HBD song. I think our group definitely thought this was weird, and even patronizing. However, we were afraid he would toss us off a cliff if we didn’t help him get it in with this woman, so we sang like a bunch of awkward middle schoolers with a mean choral director. 

Finally, we reached the top of the glacier. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show and was totally stunned into silence. I felt so frail, so tiny, and so helpless as I looked around at the sweeping landscapes surrounding us. We were ants compared to the size of the glacier and natural formations around us. 

A couple poses for a picture as they climb Solheimajokull in Iceland
Unreal views as we climb Solheimajokull!

On Top of the World

We would next have to attach our crampons to our boots. I’m only adding this detail here because crampon is the best word in the entire world. Luckily, one of our guides chose me as a volunteer and attached mine for me! I’m really glad that I didn’t have to figure out for myself how to attach the crampons, it looked difficult. As fearless as Icelanders are, the guides take safety very seriously. A few people in our group were talking over the demonstration. The stricter guide told them if they don’t know what the hell they are doing, then they should shut their mouths. 

Walking around for most of the experience was only mildly difficult, and at some points – not difficult at all. However, the more that time went on the more difficult the hike began to feel. At one point, most of us could not even lift our feet out of the snow and were gasping and panting – as if we had run for miles. Everywhere we looked was barren except for snow. I felt as though we were transported to a different planet entirely.  

Views from a climb in Solheimajokull in Iceland
Solheimajokull felt like a different planet entirely

A Feel Bad Tale of Ice Climbing

One of the coolest parts about our tour was that it allowed for the opportunity to go ice climbing. This involves literally using only pick axes and a harness system to scale up a giant wall made of ice within the glacier. As our guides demonstrated after setting up, it was not easy or for the faint of heart. You dig your pick axes into the ice, then make holes with the tips of your boots by kicking into the ice repeatedly. You step into those holes, straighten your body out, then begin again. 

A man scales a wall made of ice in Solheimajokull in Iceland
Ice climbing on Solheimajokull in Iceland

I was shaking purely from nerves – there is no way I wanted to do this. I didn’t mind watching other people go, but I became annoyed. Hiking this glacier wasn’t enough? Now, I have to fucking scale an ice wall with pick axes?! Do I look like Yukon Cornelius. After hearing our group talking shit about the first woman to go and how long she took, I was even more apprehensive. 

Arthur is incredibly adventurous and LOVES athletic activities

I’ll bet you think this is a tale about overcoming my fears and rising to the challenge. Well, it’s not. Fuck that shit. I didn’t want to do it, and so I didn’t. As soon as one person said, “I’m going to opt out” and I found out that this was an option, I did the same. My body was exhausted, and I just didn’t feel like it. So, there. However, Arthur did the scaling (perfectly I might add) and I enjoyed watching him have a good time.

Live your truth.

What I Learned

The final steps back into the valley of ashes brought on an entire parade of emotions. First, I felt grateful, so grateful to have experienced such beauty. This beauty will probably cease to exist with global warming and to have had the chance to see it, to hike up a fucking glacier, how could I feel anything other than gratitude? 

The base before climbing Solheimajokull in Iceland

I felt so proud of myself. To have had such very low confidence in the beginning of this journey and to walk away feeling like a total bad-ass made me feel so much stronger. As soon as I stepped off of the mountain, I walked with a straighter back and my head literally held up instead of looking down at the floor. 

A new sense of confidence after the climb. Look at that stance!

I looked people in the eye, spoke freely, and chimed into conversations with our guides without hesitation. Having faced such an enormous fear and obstacle gave me an ability to look at all challenges and uncertainty in a different light. I’m always able to look back on this moment when I’m nervous and say, “Bitch, you climbed a glacier. You climbed Solheimajokull in Iceland!” 

Finally, Iceland is definitely over touristed. I cannot image the huge price that this is taking on their natural landscape. To have been welcomed to see such a treasure of the country was such an honor. I’m so grateful to have been able to see such a unique aspect of Icelandic culture.

Look at how little the people on the right are compared to the glacier!

We purchased hot chocolate with Bailey’s in it at the snack stand. I’ll never forget how amazing that warm cup of sweetness was to my bones. The slight burning warmth in my throat allowed my tired muscles to feel just a bit of soothing. Our guides had one final surprise for us, and allowed us to check out Skogafoss waterfall. It was the most confidently I think I have ever posed for photographs in my life. After climbed Solheimajokull in Iceland, why would something like an impromptu photo shoot scare me?

Brand new sense of confidence!

Learning Spanish at Academia Tica

Ahh, public school Spanish classes. They have  done just enough so that most people can ask for the restrooms and order cerveza, but beyond that – does anyone wind up being fluent purely because of learning Spanish in school? (Genuine question)

I won’t lie, my school district must have done a decent job. When a person speaks at a slow speed to me in Spanish, I can understand everything being said. In addition, I can ask for directions, understand them, ask questions, and have small, cordial, conversations with Spanish speakers. However, that is where the extent of my ability to use Spanish stopped for a very long time. 

Processed with VSCO with q8 preset Processed with stamp

While staying in Jaco, Costa Rica, I JUMPED at the chance to take classes at Academia Tica to improve my Spanish. Some people yearn for the ability to fly, become invisible, or nail an array of  Whitney Houston songs at karaoke. If I could have any “superpower” it would definitely be the ability to learn new languages with ease. 


About Academia Tica

Academia Tica is a Spanish language school that has locations in both busy San Jose and sunny Jaco. Students learning Spanish at Academica Tica have the option to board at the school to fully immerse with the language at all times. We did not do this, and instead we stayed in the neighborhood at a nearby hotel. There is the option to take private classes, or actually pick up a course of study. Most people who take this option board at the school. In the latter case, group classes are available several times a day as well as private classes.

Academia Tica also hosts the Spanish traveling classroom. Students can take an intensive Spanish language course while traveling with fellow classmates to eight different destinations around the country. This is an incredible way to not only learn the language, but see the nature and culture that the country offers. Most meals are included in the tuition and the course is four weeks long

The school offers surf lessons as the beach is so nearby. Activities and outings such as cooking classes, chocolate tours, dance lessons, and “field trips” all with the aim to practice Spanish and engage with the culture. The Jaco campus even has a swimming pool so that students can cool off.

Some of the activities offered through Academia Tica!

My Experience at Academia Tica

My husband and I each took two private classes. The method of language learning is complete and consistent immersion. Even as a brand new student we do not speak or hear English, only Spanish. How then, do students learn the language?

A white board is full of Spanish verbs and how to conjugate them.
Working on conjugating verbs at Academia Tica

The teachers at Academic Tica are so talented and use the immersion method with ease. As my husband took his class, I sat in the entrance room playing with our son, Henry. Teachers would shuffle in and out of the room and introduce themselves. They began asking questions and engaging me in conversation. If I didn’t understand a word or phrase, they would begin acting things out, pointing to objects in the room, or giving examples. This was also true in our classes. 

A little humor in the Academia Tica restroom.

Even though it was my idea to attend these classes, and the class was private, I was fairly nervous for my first one. I began bouncing my leg quickly and clearing my throat for no physiological reason as I so often do when I’m nervous. Our class took place on an outside patio where I had a view of the beautiful greenery in the backyard and the cool breeze of the fan whirring overhead.

My teacher was a more beautiful version of Frida Kahlo, and so very kind right from the get go. She opened with asking me (in Spanish of course) what I wanted to get out of the class. I told her that I struggle greatly with conjugating verbs into past and future tense. I also struggle with my “ser” versus “estar” use. (Both verbs mean “to be” – yet have different uses depending on the context.)

The backyard of Academia Tica complete with in ground swimming pool

By drawing so many diagrams, giving off many examples, and acting – she was entirely easy to understand. Something I really appreciated is that she was not patronizing. She did not correct every little mistake I made, or pretend not to understand me if I mixed up a word or phrase. For instance, I said something like, Donde esta una luego para almuerzo? In English, this is “where is a good place for lunch?” However, luego actually means later, and lugo means place. She simply responded with, “Ahh! Una lugo para almuerzo…” and began rattling off restaurants. 

I cannot tell you how many native speakers and teachers of various languages act like EVERYTHING I have said is incoherent when I only mix up or forget one word. However, Spanish speakers are much more patient when learning a new language than most cultures. Try mispronouncing a word in French at a cafe in Paris, or Russian anywhere with a native speaker – forget it! My teacher always only spoke to me with respect and as though I was already excelling as a native Spanish speaker. This gave me SO much confidence. I loved every minute of class, especially when the lightbulb would go off in areas that were previously difficult for me. (Hacer, anyone?!) 

Different ways of conjugating the Spanish verb "hacer." Author is learning Spanish at Academia Tica
Finally got a grasp on some of the more difficult verbs!

Our teacher was never without a smile. She was genuinely passionate about her teaching and seemed to want me to learn the language as much as I wanted that for myself. One night I was even given homework, but it made the experience all the more authentic! Andrea was generous with her laughter and kindness. At one point we both laughed very hard at a particular narrative. She said in Spanish, “when I ask you what you want out of this class you tell me: to better communicate with students, to improve yourself, etc.

When I ask your husband he says, because my wife told me to and she was very clear about that.” She gave me her number at the end of our final lesson in case I had any questions that she could answer. My husband and I both agreed that if we were to attend the school and her classes for even only two weeks, there is no doubt we would be entirely fluent. 


A black and white photograph of a baby drinking a bottle.
Henry going to town on a “ba-ba” and basking in all of the loving he got from the teachers at Academia Tica!

The atmosphere of the school is familial, and even the students seem to know each other well. The teachers are enthusiastic and passionate and all dotted so lovingly over Henry. I find it awesome that even at his young age he was engaged with the language and culture of the country during our time at Academic Tica. 

Taking classes at Academia Tica made my trip to Costa Rica feel much more like slow travel. I’ve traveled to 25 countries and countless cities. Each and every time, my trips were about site seeing and packing as much in as possible. This is the only time that we really spent our lives each day as though we were living on Costa Rica. I’ll always have fond memories of attending class and interacting with other students and teachers.

Father and son sit on a swing at a taco lunch spot in Jaco, Costa Rica.
We loved finding new places to eat lunch after attending Spanish school.

Afterward, we’d walk down the rugged streets of Jaco going food shopping and picking out the perfect place for lunch. We loved using the new Spanish we learned and the confidence our teacher gave us to speak to cashiers and store clerks. I enjoyed looking at all of the products in stores and being able to read and understand the labels!

A husband and his baby in a carriage shopping in a local supermarket.
Feeling confident shopping around Costa Rica with our new Spanish knowledge

My husband and I practiced our Spanish with each other and tried to speak only in Spanish nearly everywhere we went for the week. I was really floored that my husband with no knowledge of the language was able to ask questions, understand directions, have some conversations, and order from menus all in Spanish after only two classes. Any endeavor without practice is futile. Our teacher made us so excited to practice at home, and I am currently teaching Henry everything that I know.

NYC Schools Can Learn a Thing or Two

Equipped with only a rolling white board, colored markers, and an innate talent I learned weeks worth of Spanish in only two lessons. Meanwhile, in New York City, big wigs often believe that the most drastic measures are the answer – even when this is often false. We need more technology, even though I have heaps of failed pieces of technology in my room just gathering dust. We need more scripts for teachers, allowing no room for creativity or autonomy – streamline everything! Pay the corporations more! Spend tons of money for the newest initiative, program, or idea that even sounds remotely good without piloting it first! As a teacher on the ground, these latter measures have not fixed a damn thing. It’s smoke in mirrors. 

Henry is all smiles and is being exposed to the language and culture of Costa Rica at Academia Tica

Some technology and programs are effective. Students who are non-verbal or have dysgraphia can do wonders with assistive technology. Students with behavioral and emotional struggles thrive working with teachers who take on training in programs like restorative justice. The vast majority of over-reliance on these things however is complete bullshit. In my opinion, and from this experience – it would be far better to insure that our teachers maintain a pure love for their craft and by using methods that are tried, true, and stand the test of time. 

Which languages are you dying to learn?




Monkey Boat Tour in Costa Rica

I’m a planner. It is safe to say that every excursion, meal, and experience will be organized by me when I travel with others. Our family trip to Jaco, Costa Rica was no exception. I wanted our vacation to be memorable and so I spent the better half of two months meticulously researching and organizing ideas. 

A woman is taking a monkey boat tour in Costa Rica. She sits on the edge of a boat while a monkey climbs onto her back. She has a black t-shirt on and white shorts. The monkey is small, furry, and black and white.
Absolutely enthralled with this adorable babe.

One thing that people who travel with me should know is: do not fuck with my vision. I’m all for input from others. But, if I have my heart set on seeing a particular site, or if you put me in charge of planning because you’re too lazy to do it…don’t even THINK about reorganizing my carefully laid itinerary. 

I nearly lost it when the boss of our driver began, “if you’re staying for a week, I have so many great activities to recommend. Might I suggest our monkey boat tour? Your little one would love it.” My husband nodded enthusiastically at the suggestion. 


A father holds his baby who is laughing as he smells a bunch of flowers
Henry absolutely loves smelling flowers..he laughs so much!

Don’t you dare I thought to myself as I gripped the seat of the car. A monkey boat tour sounded like the most touristy activity that we could possibly encounter on our trip, and I wasn’t about to spend my day doing that when I had so many “off the beaten path” type activities planned. 

So, needless to say if you peep the title, I did in fact spend my day on a monkey boat tour in Costa Rica. Because when you have a family IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU WANT. But, you know what? I loved it, and that monkey boat tour in Costa Rica was the best memory I have from our week long trip. 

To start, it was a billion degrees outside and I felt incredibly sexy with only one of my legs and a puddle of sweat accumulating in my shorts which no doubt looked like I had a bathroom accident. Yes, the experience started with all of the components needed for a mediocre day. We wandered through the gift shop selling the usual tourist trap merchandise and I tried to see how many times I could possibly roll my eyes. 

However, I’m a people person – and meeting our tour guide and seeing him interact with our son was the catalyst for our best day in Costa Rica. 

Andrei (let’s pretend I’m spelling that right) is a natural with people and children especially. He was everything I imagine when I hear the word Tico. Our guide walked through the dirt barefoot, and was enviously tan. Andrei had deep brown kind eyes with a touch of benign mischief shining through, and curly brown hair. He’s a younger and more handsome version of John Leguizamo. I later learned he spends all of his days giving monkey tours, fishing, and surfing. Now that is pura vida. His image definitely matches his lifestyle.

A father has his baby strapped to his chest and is about to climb on board for a monkey boat tour in Costa Rica. A tour guide stands next to him giving a thumbs up before they board.
Baby daddy and baby getting ready to board along with our dope tour guide Andrei

He took an interest in Henry almost immediately and made him laugh and smile. He told us that he has two children himself who were very young and were both expert fishermen. Many days they go down to the river themselves and haul in a catch of sealife. In fact, he jokes with his ex-wife that she shouldn’t need to cook when the boys are over because they can catch their dinner themselves.  

We board a small boat which is very low to the water. I had prior assumed that we would be on a giant commercial boat peddling down the river with throngs of tourists like the Creole Queen. I was wrong. One other family from California – two parents and their two children climbed on, and sat in the front of the boat. A young man in the back of the boat operated the engine and Andrei called out directions.

A young man in a black and white photo operates an engine for the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica.
Driving down the waterway looking for wildlife.

Prior to reaching the famed monkeys we were able to see a lot of the wildlife that calls the waterways home including giant termite colonies, crocodiles, and birds.

Two giant termite nests sit high in the lush green jungle trees. A part of the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica
Giant termite nests in the trees. Yeckkkk!

The day was steamy and muggy, but being under the canopy of the boat as calmly sailing down the river kept us cool. Only when we would stop did it get semi-hot. Henry being so small was much more intolerant of the heat than anyone else on board. This is where it comes in handy to always be prepared. We fixed him right up with a bottle of Pedialyte and a personal fan.

A tired mother and her baby son sit on a boat on the waterways of Costa Rica on the monkey boat tour. The baby is playing with a small portable fan
Keeping a baby cool on a super hot day in the jungle is no easy task

After sailing down the water and admiring the wildlife and greenery we pulled into a crook in the water and shut the engine off. We were surrounded by trees whose brown paper bag branches twisted and turned like skeleton bones. The branches were covered with masses of deep, dark, overgrown, green leaves. It was largely silent save for the sound of chirping beatles. That was until we were startled by what sounded like softball sized hail falling on the canopied roof of the small boat. 

A small black and white monkey climbs onto the boat of the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica
Checking out the scene

“They’re here” Andrei declared cooly with a smile. (I’m convinced he could deliver any message in that cool and collected manner.) It just works for him. Like my students when I say, “whoever helps me clean gets a prize” they descended cautiously and smoothly toward the boat. Adorable white and black furry monkeys came into focus and began peering into the boat and climbing down over the edges. I couldn’t believe that I had been knocking this activity as too touristy. This was a close encounter! I was in the home of the monkeys.

A small black and white monkey climbs onto the side of the boat.
So unbelievably adorable. I couldn’t believe how close they got!

I walked toward the front of the boat and sat down eyeing the trees around me. Everything seemed to move fast. Wap! A spoonful of mushy bananas was smashed into my hand by the boat driver and the next thing I knew a monkey had literally jumped and landed on my head. I was surprised at the lightweight of the animal. The monkey wasn’t at all aggressive and I was in total bliss with the experience. But, also, I had a full body sunburn.

Par for the fucking course. Sums us up pretty well!

More monkeys fled to me – two to three at this point and the piles of bananas kept accumulating on my hand. Their tiny little claws felt like razors and sandpaper on my raw red skin. I was so happy, but at the same time said to myself something along the lines of, “Fuck fuck fuck” due to the scratching pain! 

My husband was in awe and his eyes darted every way because he never knew which way a monkey might approach him. Henry…not so much. At first he was more entertained by and interested in the people’s reactions on the boat. Once he saw the monkey on my head he drew back and began screaming. I felt awful that he was afraid, but, if I can be the worst mom ever for a moment – I also couldn’t stop laughing. He was never in harm’s way and seeing his tiny hands try to swat the monkey’s away from me was adorably futile. It’s awesome to see the world through his eyes and at all times entertaining!

A family interacts with a small black and white monkey on the monkey boat tour in Costa Rica
So, is this what it would be like to have TWO children?

It was only at the second stop for monkeys did Henry really fall in love with the monkeys. He bounced in excitement when they came around us and onto the boat. Thankfully we got some really great family photographs that do not involve him sobbing. Although he won’t remember the experience, I’m glad that he left the experience more enthralled with the animals than he was traumatized. 

Monkeys sitting in green vibrant trees looking off into the distance. The monkeys are small and black and white.
Monkeys chillin at home.

Having monkeys crawl all over you isn’t unlike having your small child or pet climb all over you looking for treats. They are entirely adorable and more than once I got the urge to cradle one in my arms like a baby. My best advice? Don’t. Although that goes without saying. The monkeys are curious, small, and behave very much like my son. They pulled gently on my clothes, looked at me inquisitively, and ate food right out of my hand even though maybe I’d rather be eating that food because I work all day and I didn’t get to eat my lunch yet again and I’m seeing stars from lack of nourishment but SURE you go ahead. 

A small furry black and white monkey clings to a tree trunk in the jungle.
A close up look

We had many opportunities to interact with the monkeys, take great photographs, and learn about them and their habitat. Being in such a small group provided intimacy and relaxation. I much prefer this as opposed to fighting with dozens of others over getting to see the monkeys first and get the best spot for photographs. I knew in these moments that our monkey boat tour in Costa Rica would be my favorite memory. It was more interactive than I would have imagined. (Already want to visit? Click here)

Two small furry black and white monkeys cling to each other in the jungle of Costa Rica. A site that can be seen on the monkey boat tour of Costa Rica
SO damn amazing.

Andrei grew up exploring the backwaters as his playground as a child. So much of what he knows about the wildlife and their behavior is simply from life experience. I can’t tell you how authentic and exciting that was for me. I’m so passionate about learning about people, and I got to experience his local story through this excursion.

Sailing down the waterways of the monkey boat tour of Costa Rica

It was so refreshing to not be shown around by some guy in a starched uniform and a clipboard. Andrei really gave us a local’s perspective regarding the monkeys. As a local, he really respects the environment where the monkeys and all of the creatures live. It was his own home in many ways. 

In one moment in particular, he began clapping loudly and we weren’t sure why. He looked at the water amused and said, “look there”. The bugs on the water would jump high every time he clapped. “They hear that sound and think a fish is coming”. My husband loved this and began clapping himself, we all did. “How’d you figure that out?” I asked. He shrugged and looked out toward the brown water littered with dancing insects. “Just started clapping one day when I was a kid and saw it happen.” 

Moments like these are so genuine and so pure. I treasure every chance I get to catch a genuine glimpse into the story of another person. Andrei seemed genuinely happy. He was proud to recall his childhood memories and to share the new memories he creates with his own children in nature.

A grasshopper made out of palm leaves from the jungle of Costa Rica. A local guide made it.
Andrei made this by hand for Henry…absolutely incredible.

He ripped palm leaves down from the trees and created giant grasshoppers for Henry and the other two children. The attention to detail was impeccable and inexplicable. If I had a map and 100 years I would never be able to re-create his artistry. “How’d you learn to do that?” I asked. Again he shrugged and looked at me as he wrapped the palm leaves every which way. “Watching people on the water do it as a kid.” 

Traveling with a baby has its challenges, but it is absolutely doable and all the more adventurous!

Wandering through the backwaters of the jungle, searching for monkeys and interacting with them certainly feels like I got an authentic Costa Rican experience. I’ve learned that often things that are full of tourists are popular for good reasons – they are almost always worth experiencing. After all, would I suggest someone stay away from 42nd street? Would I suggest others to snub their nose at a chance to see a Broadway performance? Absolutely not. I think there is a clear difference between tourist-ed and cheesy or exploitative. In the case of my monkey tour I had a tremendous opportunity. I had the chance to look at the natural life of Costa Rica. What’s more to see the life of the local people from the area. I nearly snubbed my nose because they happen to offer a gift shop on the premises. 


Sometimes the best laid plans do not work out – and for good reason. My original plans were entirely inappropriate for a nine month old. We took the Monkey tour because I’d rather do something that nothing. I’m more than glad that I did. Traveling with children can really change the way that you travel, but sometimes that winds up being for the better.

Looking for more of my adventure? Try this hilarious post:







 


Gotham Archery in Brooklyn – I’m An Athlete Now

I’ll try (just about) anything once. Of course, the added ‘just about’ is a necessary clause. There are plenty of things I would never do. Most of the things I am less enthusiastic about trying involve athleticism, sports, and groups. Solo running? Sure, love it. Yoga? You bet. New team sport or activity for me to try? NO. FUCK no. A bunch of sober people getting hyped up to sweat together, run around like un-neutered dogs, and “be super silly?” Maybe even engage in a “friendly competition?”

Having to deal with people who puff their chest out because they’re the BEST at kicking a ball or swinging a bat? All of this is my definition of torture. If I’m ever held captive and my captor is looking for information, don’t prod me with a hot medal iron, just make me play kickball. I’ve been tempted to kick the teeth in of the people who invite me to these types of activities for even asking me to join. That is the only possible way for them to understand the pain that group sporting events brings me. I loathe group sports. 

Two targets. Apparently, what you’re supposed to do is hit them. I didn’t catch onto this for quite sometime as you can see (left.)

With that being said, it was surprising that I opted for responding “HELL YES” to an invitation to try a new sport with a group of friends…Gotham Archery in downtown Brooklyn.

I’m unashamed to say that I am a history nerd. Any day of the week I can do a deep dive into learning about how the people before me used to live. (You too? Then click here!) Therefore, the idea of trying my hand at shooting a bow and arrow, as people used to do centuries ago for both war and hunting sent a grin across my face. The endeavor felt more like a historical one, and not as much as an athletic one. In some way, I felt that by taking this lesson, I could better understand and appreciate the ways of those who came before me. Lured in by this sentiment and the promise of drinks afterward, I went.

BUT, I was a touch nervous about safety. Turns out there was no cause for worry as the staff at Gotham Archery in downtown Brooklyn truly makes safety a number one priority. They never slip on this mission and pay meticulously close attention to the guests to make sure everyone is following proper protocols.

When we first arrived we received a wrist guard which we agreed was “bad ass” right from the jump. I did feel a few pangs of apprehension because of the newness of the activity. Typically, when I try a new sport or athletic activity, I feel that everyone around me looks as though they’ve been working out since the day of their birth. I was really relieved that archery looked a more approachable sport where all types of people are welcomed to participate. This definitely helped take the edge off. 

A group of four men and three women pose with wrist guards needed for an archery lesson.
Posing with our “wrist guards” and feeling pretty bad ass at this point.

As a group of nearly 12, we were given our own private room was secured for a private lesson. The room was huge, brightly lit, full of bows, and smelled like eighth grade wood shop. We stood in a row and prepared for a safety demonstration. Austin, a slender kid in a baseball cap greeted us and immediately made me feel at ease. He was both friendly and funny and a great representative for Gotham Archery in Brooklyn.

We started off by learning the difference between the two types of bows and got to pick which one we preferred. We were given extensive instruction on how to load the bow and shoot after an even more extensive safety lesson. I paid very close attention and watched closely at the steps needs to load the bow effectively. No way was I going to be the only idiot who couldn’t make it past step one.

A man in a gray sweater, sneakers, and jeans holds an archery bow while a woman in a polka dot shirt, black jeans, and boots holds a more traditional type of archery bow at Gotham Archery in Brooklyn
We both chose two different types of bows. Mine was a more traditional type.

It was surprising that I was able to load my bow so efficiently on the first try. It was very simple. The edge of the bow has a small clip that loads right on to the string. I pulled back the string, closed my left eye, and pulled my hand to the upper corner of my lip. When there is a strong, snappable string right under your eye and on top of your lip, your natural inclination is to feel that simply letting go will injure your face.

Woman draws a bow backward ready to shoot an arrow at a target during archery lesson at Gotham Archery in Brooklyn
Allllllll ready to lose an eye and prepared for a lifetime career as a birthday party pirate.

In many ways, it feels as though there is an outstretched rubber band ready to snap right into your eye. The proper way of proceeding is to simply open your fingers and let go. It feels frightening, but is not dangerous at all. I followed instructions and couldn’t believe it. My bow landed on the paper! While many people probably aim for bull’s eyes or probably the fucking target at the very least, I was just happy that mine hit the paper in front of me and not the wall or the floor. 

two archery targets with bows inside of the targets at Gotham Archery
Pretty much I’m an athlete now and ready for the Olympics.


Each archer received four bows to shoot in a row. After running out of arrows, the bow goes back on the wall, and no one can retrieve arrows until the instructor says “all clear.” At one point, my bows would repeatedly land on my husband and brother in law’s targets. Yes, I’m apparently that clingy. With practice and an adjusted scope, I finally hit my own target. Focusing on my own success and improving with practice made this a sport that I really began to enjoy. There was so much opportunity to improve and to become better with each shot. It was exciting to see where my arrows hit and I (inwardly) grew ecstatic at the few times my bow hit near the bull’s eye. 

two archery targets; one target is blank and the other is full of eight bows because the shooter kept missing and landing on her husband's target at Gotham Archery
When your clinginess extends into your archery lesson. JUST LOVE ME.

All sense of confidence and joy halted when our instructor announced that we would halt practice to begin a “friendly competition.” I felt my blood pressure drop and my legs buckle. Our targets were no longer needed, and a board with multi colored balloons replaced them.

The instructions were as follows: Austin would call out a color balloon we had to be the first person to hit the color. Whoever hit first would win. We were split into two teams and one person from each team was to move to the front of the room. Surprisingly, I volunteered to go first from my team. Evidently, my hand had a mind of its own. I constantly had to remind myself that I was not walking into a battle, and this was not the middle ages. I was among my friends and none of us were archery experts.

Comical competitive music played, such as Eye of the Tiger while we began. What a relief. “Hands up!” We had to put one hand in the air and hold our bow with the other. “Go!” Austin shouted quickly. I loaded up my bow quickly and twice I did not come even close to hitting any of the balloons, let alone the green color Austin called out. This is going to shock the audience, but I lost the friendly competition. I was MORE than okay with that. It was over with and I was never to perform for everyone again. I really enjoyed watching everyone compete, and I felt better while watching that this was a fairly new sport for everyone in our group. We were all there to have fun, enjoy each other’s company, and learn something new.

The guys in our group decided to practice on the range for 30 minutes. All of the girls in our group sat out, but the guys were eager to participate. Typically, I would sit out if that’s what all of the other girls were doing. However, it was important to stick with the mentality that this was about me learning something new and no one else. I wasn’t the best in our group, but I certainly was certainly improving since my first shot. This was also the case when I first started taking vodka shots.

A series of archery targets are lined up for practice at Gotham Archery.
Apparently we were only hitting paper targets. Super disappointed I didn’t get to shoot an apple off of anybody’s head.

Our group could not stop talking about how much we enjoyed the archery experience. The staff at Gotham Archery is impressive. I’m especially thankful for the safe, welcoming, and helpful environment that they cultivate. I don’t feel that I was as good as my friends, but I definitely got better at shooting toward the end. This is the first time in my life that I genuinely worried about my own progress. I did not try to compare my performance to those around me.

An amazing time at Gotham Archery! Highly recommend.

Although I did feel a touch uncomfortable knowing I was not one of the top archers in our group, I was able to make peace with that fact more quickly than I think I typically would. By telling myself that it was OK not to be the best, I saw my performance improve. Focused on using the feedback that Austin gave me and tuned everything else out helped me improve. I can’t wait to see what happens when I apply this strategy to other parts of my life. As a non athlete, I highly recommend Gotham Archery in downtown Brooklyn for people from all walks of life. Click here for more information.

Two Moscow mule drinks with limes on the edge of the glass.
The part of the evening where I really shined…the apres-archery dranks.



A Champagne Destiny Reading Experience in New Orleans

Ah, yes. The champagne destiny reading experience – the elevated version of what I’m about to describe. My body swayed side to side free of my own effort as I sat on the tacky dining room chair. I was several vodka sodas into a happy hour that had long surpassed the typical late afternoon/early evening time slot. A woman looked into my bloodshot eyes and touched my hand affectionately. In her indiscernible accent she proclaimed, “I see that you have a big change coming in the autumn, probably in October.” I did have a dream of finally finishing the writing of my cartel crime novel that fall. October sounded like a decent deadline to me. My befuddled mind was astounded. “Wow, you’re amazing.” I slurred as I threw 40 bucks on the table. 

That transaction, my dear readers, was a palm reading in Queens, New York. Believe it or not, that interaction is probably the height of legitimacy in the field of mysticism in New York City. Yes, a woman reading my palm out of her dining room as her family carries on as normal in the background telling me I was about to experience a big change is what passes for esoteric magic in the big apple. I’ve done enough palm readings to know that it is truly all generalized bullshit. 


A woman in black feather earrings, a white tank top, and sunglasses blowing bubbles in a park.
Feeling zen after my session with Mika.

I woke up the next morning only vaguely remembering the interaction. My husband wasted no time in telling me that I had been duped. He also suggested that start drinking less at happy hour. There is something heartwarming, ironically, in getting tricked in New York City. It’s an essential New York experience that every visitor and resident must undergo, some more times than others. Of course, it’s a charming experience until you realize you blew forty dollars. The big issue with that is that rent in New York City happens to be a bajillion dollars. Damn you, Tito’s and club on a Friday afternoon.

Whenever an experience like the aforementioned occurs, I can’t help feeling like I need a trip to my favorite city in the world, New Orleans. The supernatural scene in New Orleans goes far beyond a hustler trying to make a buck. Although you can find that in the crescent city too. Mysticism is deeply rooted in the culture of the Big Easy. It is the only city that I know of which a high number of people legitimately practice voodoo as a religion. It also boasts high rates of believers in vampirism and other elements of the supernatural.


A yellow two story building with red shutters showing the famous architecture of New Orleans
The greatest city on earth – New Orleans

Mystical New Orleans

During my recent trip to New Orleans in October, I participated in a particular experience. A champagne destiny reading experience in the park was a siren song to a woman who loves an excuse to drink in the morning, and has an unfortunate fascination with knowing my destiny. For better or for worse, I’m a type A person. My greatest comfort comes from preparation and planning for the future; my whole life I have always been this way. When other kids would draw in kindergarten, I would be making to-do lists.  

I’m also a curious person. I’m one of those rare breeds who can never learn enough. If I’m not learning something, my time is being wasted. Being an inquisitive person means I need to understand how and why life works. Every aspect of it. For thousands of years, when there is no obvious answer to such a grand question, humans turn to mystic means for an answer. 

My Personal Conquest

On a personal level, my biggest conquest has been to better understand myself. I’ve been unique my entire life. From my earliest memories I’ve always been opinionated and ambitious. I’ve always had grand plans for my life, and always felt a need to question the status quo. In response, I’ve nearly always been told to shut up and step into line. For much of my life I tried, but I could never do that.

It was just a fact of life that there must be something wrong with me. I came to terms with the fact that I would have to accept that I was indeed idiosyncratic. No other young woman I knew thought and talked about injustice, politics, ambition, and the way that I did. No other woman actively plotted a timeline in which to advance their career. Most women I know were focused on dressing pretty, getting married, and have babies. These women were perfectly content to let men do things like debate and achieve lofty goals that go beyond having the nicest eyebrows and raising the sweetest kids.

Arriving at City Park

Tired from a long night on Frenchmen Street and impromptu tattoos, my cousin Nina and I arrived at Cafe DuMonde in City Park by cab. I had never been to city park before, and I was struck by how picturesque and romantic it looked. It boasts all of the flora and fauna, such as draping trees and Spanish moss that creates an image of southern, gulf coast, charm. City Park looks as though in its conception, it was painted by the same brush as an artist who creates images for children’s fairy tale books. The trees in the ‘secret garden’ are weeping, gigantic, and vibrant; they practically beg visitors to embrace their inner childhood imagination and to come explore for the day.

After some awkward walking back and forth in the shaded overhang of the cafe, we found Mika. She is the beautiful mind and originator of the champagne destiny reading experience. A bubbly, beautiful, black woman with large sunglasses. She was waving to us and welcoming us as if we were old friends. I enjoyed her from the start – she radiated warmth on a cool cloudy morning. For some reason, I just got the feeling that I was in good hands. I was in the presence of someone bona fide. Mika immediately struck me as a cosmic-goddess-slash-fly-as-hell-old-soul. I had the feeling we were kindred spirits from the jump. We were starving, so she encouraged us to get beignets and beverages before we settled in. We took her up on that offer. I learned that the Cafe DuMonde iced cafe mocha is far superior to cafe au lait. Fight me on that one. 

Three beignets covered in powder sugar on a green tray with napkins.
Beignets at Cafe DuMonde in City Park

Pop The Bubbly for the Champagne Destiny Reading Experience

Mika began by popping a bottle of Barefoot brand bubbly and filling our champagne glasses to the brim. I find that people who are open about themselves are often the most authentic. Mika’s genuine energy came through strongly as she told us about herself. What immediately struck me was that her whole life she had been casted as a misfit of sorts. She thought and behaved differently from her peers. This granted her the designation of ‘weirdo.’

To start, she has ADHD which led her to dream and imagine rather than listen and focus. Beyond that, she thought and felt differently than others, she is an empath. She deeply feels a connection to those around her. She experiences emotions in a way that is deeper than the average person. Empaths tend to ponder societal issues and the trajectory of their life often. I’d finally found a person outside of my own circle who shared the same struggles I had throughout childhood. For 20 odd years of my life, I have never found a single person who is like me. I’d say this encounter was mystical and serendipitous in and of itself. 

A woman in a white tank top and yellow pants and a girl in a red tank top and jeans hold glasses of champagne, giant playing cards, and descriptions of their birthday predictions.
Buzzing and vibing and connecting with the cosmos.

I was buzzed after my first glass of champagne and I ready to watch how the stars align. Mika began by describing how numbers and therefore playing cards are inextricably part of the universe. Humanity has been working with some form of playing card or number games for centuries. Originally, cards functioned as a calendar system for early humans. For example, there are 52 cards and 52 weeks in a year. When there are numbers that correspond to each playing card in order, we get a total of 365. Considering that numbers and humanity are born of the same universal matter, there is a tenacious connection between the two entities. 

Cosmic Connection

To Mika, it is no wonder that numbers and dates can tell so much about each and every person in the world. To start, people fall into four categories: spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts. People who are hearts find that success comes by way of having a relationship. Those who are clubs tend to be innately curious and strong communicators. 


A giant 2 of clubs playing card. A description of what a "two of clubs" person tensds to be like.
Birthday destiny reading

We gave Mika our birthdays and she pulled two pieces of paper out of her binder. There were very thorough descriptions on each. She read the first one, and we were to guess whose birthday it was based on the description. About halfway through, Nina, who is much more of a logical skeptical type declared, “This is you for sure”.  I could not deny it. The description accurately depicted the exact types of arguments that I have. It told of specific insecurities and fears that I have never shared with anyone. 

Eerily Accurate

Just days earlier I had gotten myself into a frenzy. My husband had not completed a task by the deadline we agreed upon. This was not going to cause any danger or harm. Nonetheless, I felt my heart beat out of my chest. This is often a source of contention in our home. My husband is free spirited and laid back. I on the other hand have no capacity for waiting, being flexible, or even slightly adjusting my desires or expectations. We rarely argue. If I begin a row, it is because something is because a plan has been changed. I often need things done how I want, and when I want. This might look like a movie date night being switched from Friday to Saturday. It might look like booking a trip on Wednesday night when we had plans to do it by Monday night.  


Two women holding giant playing cards. Four of spades is on the left, two of clubs is on the right. Women hold descriptions of their birth date predictions.
I was SO clearly a four of spades; Nina was definitely a two of clubs.

Everyone who knows me knows that this is an issue of mine. Mika looked at her paper and read aloud. [I] “often start arguments due to my need to get things done the exact way I want.” Not only that, I want them done when I want them done. Nina looked at me and smirked. This was undoubtedly me to a tee. 

Most astonishing, the reading validates the notion that my birthday declares me to be a human oddity. This being because of my constant curiosity, outspoken nature, and perseverance on societal, political, and worldly issues. It also stated that I most likely enjoy writing as a hobby. 

The Take Away

The champagne destiny reading experience is legit. I think relieved is the best word I can think of to describe the outcome of my session with Mika. I know it sounds peculiar to call our experience a session, but it was damn right therapeutic. In a typical therapy session, I sometimes guard the things I’m most vulnerable about discussing. Most humans do, it’s natural. It is often difficult to put my fears, memories, and attitudes into words sometimes. Therefore, I ugly cry, I hurt, and most days I’d rather not deal with the messiness of all of that. I didn’t have to verbalize that in this case, Mika just knew based on the reading. She knew what drove me crazy, what drove my ambition, and what propelled my utter and complete joy in life.

I admit, I am far more willing and wanting to believe in the supernatural than most people. Maybe it is because like Mika, I am an empath. I feel connected to people, ideas, the stars, God. I see in ways that others might not that we are all connected. Still, the accuracy of my birthday reading was eerily accurate. Even to a typically more logical and guarded person like my cousin, the accuracy was uncanny.

A woman with sunglasses and tattoos and a red tank top dipping a bubble wand into a small tube of bubbles.
Nina getting ready to blow her wishes out to the universe.

The experience ended with blowing bubbles into the blue sky. This was done as a symbol of the wishes and ideas we want to project out to the universe. As I blew my bubbles into the air, I felt light and hopeful. I had a genuine sense that everything was going to be OK. A way in which I had not felt that way for a very long time. I always feel that I am meant for an important and exceptional future – more so than other people. Furthermore, when I’m down on myself, I wonder if having these feelings is delusional. Hearing my birthday tarot card brought validation to my original ideal. It validates that greatness is within my destiny, and that greatness is still worth working passionately toward. What may I ask, is YOUR destiny? Find out by booking an experience with Mika at https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/256675


A woman in sunglasses and a white tanktop and feather earrings blows bubbles at the park. Wearing yellow pants and a blank sweater tied around waist.
Putting positive vibes out there into the world.


Excursions & Expeditions: Savannah’s Prohibition Museum

First of all, shout out to my followers who indulged me in my #picklegate challenge! A huge thank you to The Travel Architect, as well as Divya from TravelSavingsAddict for participating. I often participate in blog sharing sites where members are supposed to THOROUGHLY read and comment on each other’s posts. I know that barely anyone actually reads mine. This is annoying because after taking the time to read the posts of others, I often receive comments on my work which show no evidence of having read my writing. “Glad you enjoyed the taco place” when I actually wrote that I hated it. To prove my point I wrote a random section which has nothing to do with anything, within this section I requested that those who saw it should comment #picklegate under my post for a shout out. The only people to clearly have read my post in its entirety are the two bloggers/followers above! 

Second, sorry for the lack of posts! On April 29th I left for the hospital to deliver my 1st child and on May 1st he was born! Welcome to the world Henry Marius! We are so excited to take him on trips to anywhere and everywhere. Now that a month has passed, I’m finally getting into a routine and hopefully blogging more will be a possibility!

Without further tarrying…The Prohibition museum!

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If I could travel back in time, I’d want to visit the 1920’s in the United States. Jazz, the Charleston, the Harlem Renaissance, the Cotton Club, the Lost Generation Writers, Al Capone, Speakeasies, Flappers…I’m here for all of it. I wasn’t expecting to travel back in time when I visited Savannah, Georgia, but that is nearly what happened. I visited the Prohibition Museum and engaged in a fully immersive experience on a time in our nation’s history when the purchase and manufacturing of alcohol was illegal. (A thought which shakes me to my CORE) The museum does an excellent job of displaying all of the different ways that Prohibition influenced the country, I hope you enjoy this post nearly as much as I enjoyed visiting!

The Temperance Movement was made mostly of women who criticized alcohol and the consumption thereof. These women claimed alcohol was immoral and was responsible for the destruction of the family unit, as well as the poor physical and emotional treatment of women at the hands of their drunken spouses. The movement lead to Prohibition which lasted from 1920 to 1933. While the movement may seem noble in some regards, it also pried on the fear of Americans by scapegoating new immigrants to the country. Bars were portrayed as harbors of safety for immigrants who got drunk and took money from the government and were dangerous to the public.

One woman, was particularly passionate about the Temperance Movement and Prohibition. Her name was Carrie Nation, and she was considered to be especially radical in her beliefs. Her claim to fame was attacking institutions which sold alcohol with a hatchet, normally by smashing all of the bottles behind the bar. She famously was almost always dressed in conservative all black clothing. Her husband was an alcoholic and this inspired her to become involved in the temperance movement and to such lengths. She often drew an audience by holding public lectures and called those who followed her, “Home Defenders.”

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Those who worked at breweries and alcohol manufacturing plants soon found themselves out of business and unable to feed their families. Some of the most famous breweries in our country began selling ice cream, soft drinks, cheese, nearly anything to make money. Soda Fountains opened up and those who worked behind the counter tried to create zany ice cream and soda based beverages that were delicious, visually appealing, and would keep customers coming back. Soda jerks did tricks and tried to create “performance” behind the bar similar to what a bartender might do.

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Some people who had lost their jobs in alcohol manufacturing decided to use Prohibition as an opportunity. These people distilled alcohol in their backyards or out in the woods and used their own recipes and equipment. Since they worked by the light of the moon, they were called Moonshiners and their products were called moonshine. Since ingredients were obviously not regulated by the government, it was not unusual for people to become sick, paralyzed, or even dead from consuming moonshine.

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Prohibition also ushered in a new era of organized crime. Famous gangsters such as Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano, and of course, Al Capone made their fortunes by peddling in the sale and distribution of alcohol. The field for alcohol was extremely competitive and thus there was a lot of violence and murder happening during this time. While some mobsters stayed in the shadows to safely be able to continue their operations, Al Capone enjoyed the spotlight and nearly always made himself available for photographs and press reports.

It was not unusual for common people to create their own booze within the safety of their own homes. There were tips, tools, and recipes shared all around the nation between neighbors and friends.

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Doctors got away with selling booze under the guise of using it for “medicinal purposes.” The government usually did not second guess or interfere with a doctor prescribing alcohol as medicine. Thus, people began obtaining alcohol as a means for dealing with various ailments – everything from a twisted ankle to the common cold.

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At the museum, facets of life in the 1920’s are pervasive, but there is a section dedicated solely to culture. You are able to see artifacts from the 1920’s such as clothing worn by people during this time. You’re able to see actual flapper outfits and try on some clothing yourself. Charleston music plays through the speakers in this part of the museum, and you can follow the footprints on the floor to learn how to do a proper Charleston!

The reward for having made it through the museum is giving the password to a mysterious man at “the door” and walking into a 1920’s speakeasy! Here you can order authentic cocktails from the 1920’s and 1930’s, and if you’re pregnant, the bartender might give you some popcorn to go with your sparkling water. There is live entertainment in the evenings, and the speakeasy also offers classes in how to make some of its cocktails.

Excursions & Experiences: THE GULLAH LADY!

“I loved the uniqueness of the instruments and I was ready to play the shit out of my acorn squash…”

I’ve had a few passion ideas lately. As I begin to evaluate what it means to enter motherhood, I also inevitably evaluate my lifestyle. I plan on exposing my son to travel from a young age, this is a top priority for my husband and I. However, I also will not risk the health of my child for my own selfish interests. I have no plans on backpacking with my small baby to far flung corners of the earth where I cannot immediately reach adequate medical care should we need it. I’m getting used to the idea that for a while, travel might look different, it might be more domestic based, and I’m OK with that.

Looking at the news lately, all news, leaves me feeling as though I’m living in a war zone. The United States is broken in so many ways, and if you watch TV long enough, the question of, should I really leave my home today doesn’t seem so far off. I’m on a mission to see more of my own country, and to hopefully gain experiences which paint a different image from what I see in the media.

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I think part of looking at my own country means being open to new experiences and varying ways of living and thinking. This is easy to do in far flung places, but for some reason, so much harder in the United States. My objective in documenting myself seeing more of my country is to travel as a stranger in a strange land. I want to see all walks and ways of life and reaffirm my beliefs that our diversity is what makes us a great nation. I truly believe that we are far more alike than we are different.

We took a baby moon road trip down south in which we stopped in various states and cities, one of which was Charleston, South Carolina. Our trip took place in February, which also happens to be Black History Month. As such, I searched for ways that we could learn more about the culture(s) of people of color in our nation, and thus, found The Gullah Lady.

My hesitations: We’ve become so divided as a country that I had this feeling that both people and my friends both of color and those of Caucasian persuasion might roll their eyes at my endeavor. I imagined both types of folks peering deeper into my motives for learning more about a piece of the black community. Am I trying to make myself look or feel better or superior to other whites? Am I trying to be a white savior? Am I being mocking or facetious? Why would I want to do this? Why does it matter to me? Is this a show? Are my endeavors genuine?

I’m really comfortable with my reasons for my endeavor.

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I’m a culture fanatic. I just purely love learning about different cultures. I see no difference between a walking tour of Little Italy to learn more about Italian culture, visiting temples in Thailand to learn more about Buddhist practices, and spending an afternoon in Charleston with a Gullah woman learning more about a unique sector of Southern Black culture. I just like learning new things.

Inevitably, when learning about Black culture and history in the United States, the topic of slavery comes up. I don’t feel uncomfortable and don’t feel like all eyes are on me because I am white. I acknowledge and understand the history of decades long oppression, un-justness, and toil of Black America. I understand that I have white privilege and that this doesn’t make me a bad person, but it’s important to acknowledge it. There is nothing to argue about or get defensive about, it’s a part of the history of my country, and therefore I think it should be important to everyone who lives in the country. I don’t think anyone who shares their accounts of this history with me is blaming me personally or calling me a bad person. If I call myself a traveler, that means my job is to learn about the world. In order to learn, it’s important to listen and have an open mind and open heart. It’s important that when someone shares a story with us, that we hear their words clearly, and not our own words and thoughts swimming in our head.

I think that I should be able to learn about Gullah and slave history without my intentions being questioned. I think people of color should be able to walk into a museum about Irish Americans or other European Americans and not be looked at strangely. The history of the United States belongs to all of us, and we all have a responsibility to know the full and complete history of the nation we live in and in many times claim to love.

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FINALLY, A Gullah Afternoon!

I booked this excursion through AirBnB, it was my first time using the platform for booking an experience and all went well! Our guide/leader was Sharon and we met her in the Columbus Street park. As it was rainy and dreary weather, she re-located us to East Side Soul Food restaurant. I immediately liked Sharon from the get go because she was diligent, organized, and in constant communication…all things that put my anxiety while traveling at ease!

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Sharon is an exceptional story teller. Her profession, which I didn’t know existed, is literally that of a story teller, and she is one of the best. From the minute she began the day, it was impossible not to be captivated by her orating skills and enveloped by her warmth. As an aspiring writer and someone who enjoys stories and always has, I’m always in awe of people who are so gifted. She began by telling us how she first came to know about Gullah culture, her pre-conceptions, and how she has been immersing herself in the culture for years now.

Gullah is both the language spoken and way of calling the people of the culture. Gullah people live mostly on sea islands of southern Gulf states such as the Carolinas, some parts of Florida, and Georgia. The language and culture is a mix of American Southern and West African, and I’m sure some Caribbean as well. The crafts, arts, and food are all unique as well. Typically, you might see Gullah families selling sweet grass baskets around Charleston and Gullah food such as shrimp, fried fish, and greens at restaurants. I had no idea that such a unique culture was a part of my country and it thrilled me to learn more about it!

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After learning about the beginnings of Gullah culture in the United States, it was soon music time. An area which I thrive in given the right conditions (wine, a dimly lit room, more wine) and do piss poorly in given the wrong conditions (sobriety by way of pregnancy.) Sharon taught us a song popularly sung in Gullah churches and taught us how to clap along, in a very unique style, to the song. Arthur and I spent most of the rest of the car rides on the trip arguing about the rhythm of the beat as we both remember it differently. However, I remember it the right way, so the argument was pretty much futile. The song was catchy and we still walk around our home singing it and clapping like lunatics, I even sing the song to my growing baby! He’ll sometimes kick when I sing it, although probably because my voice is bringing him physical pain I’d imagine (sad face.)  We practiced singing as a group, but this was tricky. There were only seven of us and I felt we had to HIT IT for the first time. I didn’t want to over do it and make everyone else jealous, but I didn’t want to leave anyone stranded and under-do it. I thought I should over do it because, why not? Once that was over, I was semi-relieved. I was feeling kind of shy that day (unimaginable, but possible.) Then…Sharon pulled out a bag of Gullah instruments. She laid them on the table and we all had to pick one. I GRABBED THE ACORN SQUASH with gusto. I loved the uniqueness of the instruments and I was ready to play the shit out of my squash (by smacking it rhythmically.) We were given the option of just playing the instruments to the beat, or playing AND signing. Most of the group just wanted to play. However, my husband declared that we did not all come all the way to Charleston to sit on the sidelines and idly smack our squashes or clamp our cow bells, we needed to go balls to the wall. And so we did, and it was amazing, and we all laughed and definitely felt like one run through was enough, and so did the few people in the restaurant listening to us, but I’m pretty sure we wound up doing it twice. I was flushed, and shaky, because I’m awkward…but I had SO much damn fun!

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My favorite part was what came next…quilting! We learned about the art of specifically Gullah quilting. The process if not difficult, but Sharon describes it as tedious. I guess it can be, but I found it relaxing. Strips of different cloth are cut up and you use a nail to push each piece through the burlap fabric and tie it into a bow. Eventually, the entire burlap base is covered and you have a quilt! While ours was random and colorful, there are plenty of artists who create actual scenes on their quilt which I would imagine is much more difficult. Everyone who partakes in the excursion works on the same quilt and it makes the experience that much more meaningful.

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As we worked, Sharon exposed us to the language of Gullah culture by telling a story in the language, seeing how much we could understand, and then re-telling it in Standard English. She explained that she has told this story for audiences of two and audiences of hundreds. I was touched that she told us also about her personal struggles overcoming her being shy, unsure, and lacking confidence at some points in her life. In particular, she told a story of embracing her unique look when taking classes with a bunch of white women who all looked and acted different from herself. While her experience happened to be in this particular context, if one were to have an open mind, the lesson is relatable to anyone who has ever felt different or outcast. Personally, I have always been outcasted for being different (in speech, action, and mind) in my life until recently when I feel it has suddenly become cool and accepted to be oneself. Growing up, I thought and acted different from everyone around me and was ostracized immensely by my peers and even my own family and friends. Sharon’s story of not fitting in in so many ways really made me feel like I had found a kindred spirit, a person who got me.

 

Last, and most importantly for foodies, we were served samples of Gullah food. Rice and red beans, okra soup, and fried fish made their way around and I finished my food before everyone else, naturally. The experience ended shortly there after, and I left feeling so emotional as I always do when spending time with people for a short while, and feel so close to in the end. The Gullah Lady provided our best and most authentic experience of Charleston. I highly recommend!

What I Learned: Growing up was tough for me. I never felt like I fit in. My whole life I’ve been different. I’ve thought differently, acted differently and was just…well…different. I was always told I was too opinionated, too much of a dreamer, and to keep my mouth shut. I never wore the right things, and was usually shunned for not being conformist. When most people visit Charleston they do what they see other people on social media doing. I did those things too and they were great. However, I also decided to partake in something that spoke more closely to who I am, someone who does something differently. I came to The Gullah Lady wanting to learn more about her culture and people who are different from me. I wound up leaving feeling comforted that I’d learned from and about someone who is actually just the same as me. Sharon is a woman who embraced a new culture completely on her own, who took an unconventional career, and who until recently has had many experiences and instances of feeling like an outsider for doing things differently. The foods I eat, the way I worship, and the ways I build community were different than what I did on this tour. However, my fears, challenges, joys, and what I want from my life were not at all different from what Sharon and many others experience. If she ever reads this, I’d like to thank her for being fearless and breaking the mold. I’d like to thank her for reaffirming that it’s important to be unique and confident in who I am. I’d like to thank her for exposing me to playing the acorn squash, a memory that makes me smile on my dullest days. It will always be challenging to accept that I’m different, but there is truly no one else I’d rather be.

I’ve been walking this road –

A long time, a long time, a long time

I’ve been walking this road-

A long time, and I ain’t got weary yet.

– Gullah Spiritual

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