y e l l o w s t o n e • p t. 1

 “As we passed on, it seemed those scenes of visionary enchantment would never have an end” - Meriwether Lewis

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From Teton National Park, we passed into YELLOWSTONE, a place that, like most of Americans, seems to have been programmed into my first memory map of the world, although I hadn’t been until now.

Sign at the entrance of Yellowstone   

Sign at the entrance of Yellowstone

 

Despite the vague passion I’ve kind of always had for Yellowstone as a U.S. citizen, I really had little idea before entering the park of the  treasures and wonders to come. 

Like when was the last time you thought about blue geysers, bubbling turquoise and sulfur smoke?

Walking through the geysers of West thumb on a wooden boardwalk felt like an extra terrestrial experience.  I read each plaque posted by the park service to try to make sense of this strange world. The explanations were simple, and seemed to emphasize the improbable heartiness of the tiny, invisible living organisms -“thermophiles” that actually thrived in these boiling hot geological spots.

 

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“Can you imagine living in boiling temperatures?” the simple text read, and really I couldn’t. It was strange to even feel the wafts of steam from the geysers that blew into my face in every direction on this cold day.

It even rained a bit while we drove out to the breathtaking Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. 

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The plaques surrounding this breathtaking valley noted it was a scene often painted yet scarcely captured. Our own souvenir was an impressionistic one, we spent just a few minutes at the lookout point as the cloudy sky broke into raindrops.

 

Then the rain cleared. 

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The road gave way to its own attractions. Sudden traffic threatened to derail our plans to see the next scenic site on our itinerary. 

When we turned the corner we saw why-  a giant herd of Buffalo shared the road for half mile with the cars of  gobsmacked visitors, like us, in their camper vans. It was good day.

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g r a n d • t e t o n

“let me be a free man. free to travel, free to stop.” - chief joseph, nez perce

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

The Grand Tetons from the air

The Grand Tetons from the air

Last week, I packed my tiny suitcase and hopped on an Amtrak train bound for Boston, Massachusetts. Or as one old cowboy I later met would call it- Boston, Connecticut.

I was headed for Wyoming, in a round-about way that would take me through Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Boston on my way out west.

My itinerary was part of my new travel “trick”, looking for flights in a huge radius of airports, which decreases the cost of tickets by increasing total travel time. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for the past few weeks - I have the time- and I love a good train ride!

(And as a practical matter, connecting from the train to the airport in Boston is very simple by public transport on the T)

So there I was, waiting for my first flight to Salt Lake City on a rainy day in Boston Logan. I watched “The Inventor” on the plane, which I enjoyed so much I started in on the book, “Bad Blood” by John Carreyrou).

Then we were in Utah. The view out the window looked like “Big Sky Country” to me, although I was still a Wyoming away from Montana-  but more on that later.

From Salt Lake City, I flew one hour into Jackson Hole - the most beautiful landing of all as the sunset colors filtered through the clouds and the wings of the plane teetered into the mountains.

Flying into Jackson Hole, WY at sunset

Flying into Jackson Hole, WY at sunset

Upon disembarking, an arc of antlers welcomed passengers to Jackson Hole airport, a tiny place that was more like a ski lodge with a baggage carousel than an airport.

From there, I caught up with one of my best friends from college and we drove into the small town, where we stopped for warm tea and soup and needled our waiter for travel suggestions - “Cathedrals” - the nickname for the highest points on the Tetons - proved a baffling one.

Downtown Jackson Hole

Downtown Jackson Hole

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The next morning, we set out early - grabbing breakfast burritos, fixings for a picnic lunch, and a photo in Jackson Town Square. Then we pointed the rental car to Grand Tetons National park. Within a five minute drive, we were stunned by a first look at  the Tetons.

Mormon Row

Mormon Row

We stopped at some amazing views, as well as landmark attractions like “Mormon Row”. a historic settlement now home to a delightful colony of prairie dogs. We tripped in the holes they made and laughed at their shrill “barks”.

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Many times, we just stopped to take photos, everyplace we drove through was a picture. It was like this we came upon Jackson Lake.

Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake

But it was another lake named Jenny where we spent most of the day. We parked outside the ranger station and set off on a well-trafficked hike around the lake and up to “Inspiration Point”.

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

Out of habit, I took a backpack. We put our phones, wallets and water in the outer pocket. But most of the effort of carrying the pack and its weight came from the pairs of high heels I had last-minute packed in the backpack for part II of the trip (the Montana wedding).

Between a few pairs of chunky wedges, the altitude, and the uphill portion of the hike, at least I broke a sweat.

On the way back, we stopped at a massive waterfall, where I swear I saw a beaver or huge marmot dart by in the woods. The other wildlife was mostly big, prairie-dog looking chipmunks, who we ruefully forgot the peanuts for on the top of Inspiration Point.

Waterfall, Jenny Lake

Waterfall, Jenny Lake

Inspiration Point, Jenny Lake

Inspiration Point, Jenny Lake

But no matter, we had our own picnic to attend to. The provisions we had picked up in Jackson Hole had survived the car ride, and we briefed ourself on bear safety before setting up a scenic lakeside picnic.

I think it was about this time last year I was hiking to Cap Blanc Nez and taking mental notes on the windy, effortless kind of picniques the French were setting up with baguette, a bottle of champagne and a wheel of cheese.

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With this in mind we had made our selections - a bit of local goat cheese, a (half) baguette (because we are not French women and can, in fact, “get fat”), prosciutto (maybe an unorthodox painting, but provided a kind of improvised charcuterie for the plastic knife set) and a bar of dark chocolate to split for dessert. In retrospect, perhaps the whole picnic shopping list was a nod to the kinds of things I ate hiking the Via Francigena - goat cheese and baguette in France, Chocolate in Switzerland and Prosciutto and tomato in Italy.

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Thankfully, the most famous element of a lunch in the American West, the picnic-crashing bear (think Yogi Bear in Jellystone National Park), was nowhere to be found this time, and we made it to our next stop, Yellowstone, in fine shape.

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arraial do cabo


“seek and see all the marvels around you. you will get tired of looking at yourself alone, and that fatigue will make you deaf and blind to everything else” - carlos castaneda

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this is a blog about arraial do cabo, which the tour company guide, as I remember, told us was one of the travel guide’s top 5 most beautiful beaches of the world.

it’s why one of the most popular activities any hotel or hostel will recommend from rio is taking a bus for an hour and half to these blue water beaches, swimming off the boat, and snapping pictures to your heart’s desire.   

the first time i heard of this, i admittedly missed the boat. but the next weekend when some new friends that i made offered to add me to their trip, i was ready by 7am the next morning.

i wasn’t all the way ready, really. i switched hostels and lost my phone charger. but anyway, on 13% and 5 hours of sleep i got on the bus.

i laughed at my friends sleeping with their sunglasses covering their eyes and towels wrapped around their heads. i didn’t take a picture, because i didn’t charge my phone. 

the tour came with lunch at the end, but the guide advised us we would make an extra stop basically for the bathroom but also to load up on fun road trip snacks. i was in. 

the place was very clean, and had a colorful park. swings, treehouses and games that all looked built by hand and painted in primary colors. 

and something i’ve never seen before in the united states, a little old cowpony saddled up in the corner for DIY pony rides. 

i checked the girth. it was already secure, which i took as an indication, yes, this little pony really a playground attraction at this brazilian bus stop park.

to confirm, i asked one of the staff in broken portuguese, yes!  

i tried to convince the others on the bus in my little spanish that this was a thing. it had been years but i understood how to sit on a horse, even here.

i led the pony to a makeshift mounting block and climbed on. my heart was beating so fast! mostly because the last time i was on a horse was so long ago. my head forgets but something inside me always remembers, the feeling of being bucked off by an unknown horse. and definitely never went on a horse with bare feet before, but here i was.   

i took the only pictures of the scenic beach trip day here before the battery of my phone died.  

the water really was wonderful, cold and blue. i dried off in the sun petting moss on the rock. i jumped off the boat first and swam back last every time. 

 

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barra da tijuca: brazil + chill

“I have lived with many zen masters... all of them cats”

- Eckhart Tolle

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Monday’s excitement led into a complete change of pace when the next morning I checked into the Pousada Barra Eco boutique on Ilha primera of Barra de Tijuca. It was far from the last day of parties in Flamengo, but a very good opportunity relax in a new place.

The islands in Barra are only accessible by water taxis- or “taxi boats” recalling a little bit of Venice (or Fire Island!). Admittedly, I first tried to put the address into Uber on dry land before realizing that.

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The taxiboats are little rafts that run frequently until midnight. They have rubber tires on one end that bump right up to the docks, and somehow, everything stays in the right place when you disembark.  

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I tentatively stepped aboard. The sun reflecting off the water was hot, but the view upwards into the mountains of Rio was delightful. I tried to take pictures of boats, but watched them sail out of my camera frame.  

Where was I again? 

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My stop was the first, and when I landed on the backyard dock, I felt at ease. The street lanes were wide enough for one person at a time and I could tell just by looking for the adress of the hotel I was stepping through lots of peoples backyards, as they hung laundry and cooked lunch. Gosh these little streets smelled nice!  

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I was a little confused about the address, but a barking dog put me straight.  

Two beautiful cats situated themselves in the maze of roofs and crowded homes. 

Bright flowers and plants grew freely. 

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The small hotel was an oasis of beige tones and mid-century modern chairs and tables.

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Check-in coincided with breakfast hours, which I didn’t question, and was happy to be greeted with strong coffee and pão de queijos! Is it dough or cheese inside or both? 

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the streets, listening to the music that  came out of people’s homes and following the excited tones of people enjoying the holidays or watching rugby matches. I ate grilled squid at the restaurant (lula grelhada) and some yuca tatertots (possibly a mistake). 

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I FaceTimed my mom from a yellow hammock and froze when a pack of marmosets (little monkeys) descended on the feeder near the patio stocked with black bananas and papaya.  

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I tried to end a mosquitoes life in a single clap before giving in and turning up the air conditioning. 

I watched the Capivaras swim in the swampy water off the balcony with their babies.

Evem when the sun set, I felt good in the warm glow of this small place. I even discovered a new song by musicians called Grupo de lá Revelação to keep in my heart forever.

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itaipava: meet the parentes

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises”

Pedro Calderón de la Barca 

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Since arriving to Brazil, I have spent the past two days trying to catch the rhythm of life in Petropolis, get comfortable, and create a new program with my host for improving our language skills. 

Brazil is on holiday at the moment, and yesterday was Sunday. In the morning we had papaya and a tea made of silicia (silicon?). We visited the other American who is staying in Petrópolis, and had breakfast together with her host family. 

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They were completely lovely, and already knew my host through mutual connections. I learned new things about Brazil, like Goldfish crackera rank with iPhones as in-demand American imports and tapioca is a must try street food in Rio! We left with about a zillion  brazilian plans for the coming weeks! 

Then was lunch and small lesson. Marta was interested in the correct English phrase you would use to let yourself into someone’s house, a rough translation of “com licença”. I offered up “excuse me”, but I’m not really sure I know an equivalent in American English, the “open door policy” seems much more vibrant here!

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“Remember our door is always open, except when we are sleeping!” Is how the family we met at breakfast sent us off, which is basically something we say in English too- but with another level of sincerity! 

Learning the words for familial relationships also seemed like a first priority, so we flipped ahead in the ESL textbook to the family tree. I learned that “parentes” in Portuguese means something like relatives, so it is a false cognate with our word for mother and father. 

After this casual lesson, we went for dinner with Marta’s sister for her birthday and toured some historic sites in Petropolis by night, including the assymetrical “house of the 7 mistakes”.  

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We had pizza “portuguese style”, with onions, ham, peas and egg, and for me, a Coca Cola made in Brazil.  

The festivities extended to the next day, when we went for lunch in Itaipava. I realized that even though I think I get the gist of what is going on, I was surprised to be seated at a table of 10 when we arrived and realIze since it was Sunday lunch was happening with all the parentes! 

 

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petropolis: welcome to brazil

  “To live is the rarest  thing in the world”

- Oscar Wilde

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Yestersay, I arrived in Brazil for an extended stay language exchange program!

I have been hoping in this direction for a while. At one moment, though, looking around a lovely walk yesterday, I realized that there are many places I can say either “I would love to go” or “I loved it there” about, but nothing is really sweeter than “I’m here now!” 

To arrive, I flew at 10pm from JFK directly to Rio. I slept at least 7 hours (and pretty well!) and watched exactly one movie. It was a completely full flight including a one year old baby that was completely adorable and a real champ, as I observed from six rows away. 

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At the airport, I met the taxi driver and student intern representing my exchange program and we drove to Petropolis, through the outskirts of Rio and into the mountains. 

The main road was closed for construction, so we bumped up and up. I learned some Portuguese words, like “cow” (vaca) and funk (a style of music made in Rio de Janeiro)

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When I arrived, my host Marta was so lovely. We sat for lunch. After, we began to speak about goals for the program, of English, of Portuguese. Since Marta has a wide vocabulary in English the next level of speaking and understanding seemed to be wrestling with the different sounds each letter in English makes (or doesn’t make) when compared to Portuguese. The test will be watching movies in English without subtitles! 

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I think my challenge will be to be engage with Portuguese, (even if it means using a translate app a lot!) to try words and not just wait for conversations to slip backed into English. The test could be literally any portuguese conversation! And there were a lot! 

Our first exercise was reading out loud the same passage 4 times, in Marta’s English, my English, Marta’s Portuguese, my Portuguese, was a good place to start exploring. We then went through the alphabet, something I had found so useful when attempting to learn Italian over the summer. Who would have thought the R sounds like an H? 

After that, it was time to have coffee with the cousins next door. 

I learned Gabriel Medina sounds like Gabriel Me-jh-ina, but everyone will still know who you are talking about. 

After brazilian facturas, we walked into the city center to begin the evening socializing with the rest of the family until late. 

And I would write more but it’s morning now, and the night ended with plans to meet more friends for 8:30am this morning! 

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how to surf

“surf is where you find it”

 gerry lopez

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I think the last time I surfed was at Old Man’s in Canggu, Bali, just over one year ago. 

There was an active volcano spewing smoke and threatening to close the airport everyday. I was was far from home as I’d ever been, on borrowed paid vacation time, and feeling the tug of stretching an already very long distance relationship (BSAS<>NYC) by just one more time zone. 

I wanted to live in the green sunny jasmine flower moment before me as my head and heart were exploding. I woke up at 3am and waited silently for the sun to rise so I could scoot myself to the beach. 

That was surfing. Then in the following weeks, lots of things fell apart and fell together and my legs stayed underneath me before I knew how to feel or make a plan, and that was surfing too.

I didn’t call it that.

But pretty soon after learn how to snowboard, and started skateboarding from my new apartment in the east village to everywhere. When I didn’t know what to do with myself, I would just skate around until something happened and it always did. 

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I felt like that for sure was surfing by a different name!

Practically, I always felt the biggest difference between surfing in the ocean and surfing on the street or in the mountains was learning to read waves. The mountain or street can seem fixed in front of you - green, blue, black or double black. The waves you are always looking for and can miss by a second or a few strokes of paddling.

Yesterday I snowboarded just gently enough for a few hours to think about this more. The mountain was steeper and icier than I had encountered. Part of me wanted to give up but I saw people around me were still surfing.   I realized that it didn’t matter if it was an icy, northeastern delight. All I needed to find, by sight, by feeling, in the snow, was that thin edge to balance on with either side of my board. That tiny line to take me down the mountain. 

It’s an art just as subtle as squinting into the distance to find the nascent forms of a wave.  

I thought about how on a skateboard, I had become so attuned to every manhole cover, slope, asphalt variation, and gravelly bit of the street I had never seen before.

I thought about the times the city was brilliant with people, opportunities, and new things, versus when it was icy or flat. 

You can’t control the conditions, just learn how to surf better! 

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