a hiker’s paradise: big sur

Last weekend I planned a trip to Big Sur for my boyfriend’s birthday. We stayed in a darling boutique hotel (Glen Oaks – I’d highly recommend it) and did tons of hiking. Be warned – Big Sur is not for you if you don’t enjoy hiking.

I’d never been to Big Sur before and I have to say, there’s quite an eclectic mix of people. We saw older couples sipping wine, 20-somethings in relatively large groups, and a number of rastas. The beauty of tree lines meeting the ocean appeal to a lot of different people, I guess.

We drove down from San Francisco. It was an easy drive and breathtaking once you get into Carmel. Here is a shot I took from the car as we approached the Bixby Bridge:

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Our first stop was Andrew Molera State Park. We decided to head into the mountains instead of the taking the more popular path down to the beach because you have to cross a river (which was unfortunately flooded) on the way to the beach. At first we were disappointed that we would miss the beach, but this view made up for it:

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We also did some hiking in Pfeiffer:

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We hiked up to Pfeiffer Falls (pretty but nothing spectacular) and then backtracked and took the Valley Vista trail. The latter takes you further up the mountain and has a better view. Here we are on the way up!

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Next time we plan on going to Julia Pfeiffer State Park – from what I heard, it has a more traditionally Big Sur landscape. That is, you can see more of the ocean from the trails.

All in all, Big Sur is definitely a worthwhile trip. The scenery is unbeatable! However, it is a relatively pricey destination. If you plan on picnicking, I’d buy groceries on the drive to Big Sur instead of in Big Sur. And you should fill up your gas tank elsewhere – we saw gas prices ranging from $4.79-$4.99/gallon. Pretty ludicrous. You can expect the same price inflation at restaurants too. Before you get too riled up about the cost, remember that you’re mostly paying for the views and the ambiance. One of which you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

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constant vigilance!

Last year I set out on an extended vacation. I’m talking about seven countries over five months. While I’m a fly by the seat of her pants kind of girl, this trip necessitated some planning. I had to get certain vaccines, find natural but effective bug spray, pack the right kind of clothes, etc. My mother also made sure I brought a veritable pharmacy along with me.

I’m sure many of you have over-bearing moms. I don’t. However, my mom still made sure I had it all: bandages, Neosporin, ibuprofen, Imodium, laxatives, and multivitamins, among other things. I’m surprised she didn’t ask me to take a medical course beforehand so I could diagnose myself in case I caught a rare jungle virus.

Joking aside, there are a lot of health hazards innate to traveling, so I am glad that my mom ensured my good health by (excessively) preparing me.

During my travels, I had the pleasure of visiting Cambodia. I found the country had a vibrant, though sometimes bleak, history that was downright fascinating. I equally enjoyed the people I met there — nearly ever Cambodian I interacted with was incredibly friendly and welcoming

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My first night there my friend Gerard and I had dinner at a famous Siem Reap restaurant. The concierge at our hotel gave it an A+ review and told us that David Beckham had dined there as well. Who would pass up a Beckham approved restaurant?

The next day we started with an early morning tour of the Angkor Wat temple complex (pictured above and below). Drenched in sweat, we toured one temple after the next. Beautiful as it was, we were about ready to pass out from the heat when Gerard and I agreed that it was time to head back to our hotel for a break.

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Barely a minute after getting to our hotel, Gerard told me that he didn’t feel well… I won’t give you all the gory details but it seems that Gerard’s beef from the night before was a little too rare. I distinctly remember telling him that I could still hear the cow moo-ing when he was digging into his meal.

Fear not readers, my personal pharmacy finally came to the rescue! I gladly handed over my Imodium capsules and told Gerard to take the night off site-seeing, while I promptly went to the nearest fruit stand and gorged myself on jackfruit.

What this post comes down to is that you need to be careful when traveling, especially when visiting third-world or developing countries with lower sanitation standards. Similar to Gerard (but worse), I got a stomach virus in the Galapagos two years ago and let’s just say it puts a damper on the vacation.

When it comes to tap water, ice cubes, and meat preparation, I must quote the infamous Mad Eye Moody: constant vigilance!

the time everything went wrong

“Pardonnez-moi mademoiselle.” [Excuse me Miss]

I groggily opened my eyes to find a woman hardcore staring me down. This must be the pardonnez-moi culprit.

“Vous ne pouvez pas dormir ici mademoiselle.” [You can’t sleep here, Miss.]

I stood up, not altogether sure where I was. Then I saw my friend, Mary Sue, flipping through a brochure about Toulouse. That’s right, we were on a weekend trip to Toulouse. I’m not usually this disoriented. Then again, I’m not usually asleep in public.

Mary Sue and I went to the same university but never crossed paths until we studied abroad in Paris. Funny how life works. This is us about a week after meeting — we were fast friends.

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Upon waking up, I rallied. Mary Sue and I toured museums, art exhibits, parks, and churches. The weekend was wonderful, except for all the stuff that went wrong.

We stayed in a hostel located outside of Toulouse proper. The place was clean and the staff was superb – the latter stood out because we had come from Paris where the service industry is as unfriendly as it is in New York City. We were very happy with our hostel choice, except that because of its location, we had to take the bus in and out of Toulouse. Our first day there, we were at a museum when Mary Sue noticed she didn’t have our hotel key. Which, it should be noted, was an actual key, not a keycard. Uh oh.

We made the collective decision to wait to obsess over the missing key until we were on the bus back to our hostel. Neither of us could really stick to that, so our day was filled with queries like:

“What if we have to pay for a replacement since it’s a real key, not a keycard?”

“What if the reception desk is closed because we get back too late?”

When we got back to our hostel, the reception was still open. We started to explain our predicament to the receptionist but she stopped us. Someone had found the key near a field and drove all the way to the hostel to drop it off. Mary Sue and I were shocked and grateful. If this had been another city, the person who’d found the key probably would have come to the hostel and ransacked our room.

The next day, after more site-seeing, we boarded a bus back to our hostel. At this point, I’m not 100% clear on what happened, but I think we took the wrong bus. Or we had been on the right bus but got off too early. Either way, we had gotten off the bus and started walking when Mary Sue said that she didn’t recognize anything. I took a good look around and didn’t recognize anything either… and we didn’t have a cell phone … and there wasn’t a person in sight.

I suggested that we knock on someone’s door, explain that we were lost, and ask for help. Mary Sue was not keen on that idea. Who knew what kind of pyscho we might run into that way, she said. So we made that plan b.

We found a map in one of the tourist center brochures and tried to locate ourselves without much luck. At this point, we were especially concerned because the buses were about to stop running. Luckily Mary Sue had her Kindle. Long story short, she was able to get us back to the hostel. Then there was the question of how to get to the airport next morning… but that’s a story for another time.

Though our trip was fraught with complications, who can complain after a weekend in a city like this?

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welcome!

Since this blog is super new (I’m celebrating my one day work-a-versary as I write), I thought I’d start with an anecdote to give readers an idea of the type of stories you can expect in future posts. The following is one of my favorite travel stories. I was reminded of it when I recently met up with a travel buddy and partner in crime who joined me in this misadventure in Chicago.

Of all the things I remember about my trip to Chicago, I most vividly remember wearing jeans and a sweatshirt over my monokini (if you don’t know what that is, you’re missing out on some great swimwear) the entirety of my last day there. My friend, Bree, and I had spent the greater part of the afternoon at the beach, where we (almost) killed a 12 pack of Limeritas. Afterward, we were cruising on a sugar high when we decided to head over to Logan Square. That was when the sugar hangover hit me, though I think Bree was faring much better.

Perhaps because Bree’s mental faculties were sharper at that moment (or perhaps in spite of that fact), she thought of Weiner Circle. Weiner Circle isn’t nearly as vulgar as it sounds. There aren’t any glory holes in the bathroom or otherwise lascivious ongoings. Well, there might be. But none that we knew of or found out about that night. Weiner Circle is a hot dog shop where employees in Hot Dog On A Stick style uniforms talk trash to you while you order and get your food. Rowdy teens and adults walk in calling the ladies bitches and hoes and the men dickheads, and the employees throw it right back at them. And this is where Bree wanted to get a late night snack. Because why not, right?

This story takes place before Uber, Lyft, and similar services were readily available, so we had to stand at the edge of the sidewalk and actually hail a cab. After roughly five unsuccessful minutes, Bree said we might have to walk towards a more populated area to find a taxi. I was resistant to this plan. I stood my ground, both literally and figuratively. Hard to say how long I had to literally stand my ground before it was figuratively unnecessary, but I do remember a car finally pulled over.

“There’s a cab right there!” I practically (read: probably) screamed in her face. My excitement was uncontainable. My face was beaming. Ah, what a sweet victory, I thought. To find a cab in an automotive dessert. It was like a cool drink of water in an actual dessert. But my victory was short-lived.

“That’s not a cab.”

Indeed, it was not a cab, but a pizza delivery car. The bright sign on top of the car fooled my Limerita soaked brain. That’s what I like to think, but I might just be completely dense and unaware of my surroundings. Regardless, I opened the passenger door and asked the driver if he could take us to Weiner Circle.

If I had to guess, I’d say the driver was thinking something along the lines of “what in the actual fuck” but all he said was “I deliver pizzas.” Straight to the point. I like that in a delivery guy.

“That’s fine. Can you take us?” I inquired. Delivery dude might not have been at the wheel of a taxi, but he was as good as it was going to get.

A moment of self-reflection here: could I possibly have been drunk enough to ask a pizza delivery guy to take my friend and I to a place called Weiner Circle? Or was I sober and thought this would be a funny anecdote one day? Hard to say what Past Hazel was thinking at the time. I can only surmise that whatever state I was in, Bree must have been right there with me.

As it turns out, the pizza delivery guy was our savior that night. His name was Estrella. That’s what I called him, at least. Like me, he was from Los Angeles. We bonded up front while Bree guarded the pizzas in the back. That’s what I think happened but honestly, I was probably talking non-stop while he castigated himself for picking up some obnoxious girls. That’s not really a fair statement – I think I was the only obnoxious person in the car that night. Sorry Bree and Estrella.

The best part of this whole situation was that Estrella told us he had to stop and make a delivery on the way to Weiner Circle. I have a pretty wild imagination, but I would have never thought I’d end up making pizza deliveries with a stranger in Chicago at 2 AM.

As for Weiner Circle, Bree and I were both a little too shy and embarrassed to call anyone there an asshole or participate in the abuse culture. While we were both excited by the possibility of doing so, the fact that the place was completely empty when we walked in definitely dissuaded us. What if that wasn’t even the right place and we just started calling innocent employees assclowns? Looking back on that night, I regret not walking into the place with the swearing mouth of a sailor, but hey, there’s always next time.