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Navigating Your Travel Treasure Hunt

The very first stamp, on my very first passport, was earned in 1994 as I passed through Customs in London’s Heathrow Airport. I had ventured beyond the U.S. alone, on a three week long business trip and felt compelled to find a small, yet meaningful memento to take home. Although I do confess to owning a Milton Glaser I LOVE NY t-shirt, I prefer to find something more lasting. Today, regardless of their monetary value, my travel treasures are among my favorite things.  What do I look for? And where do I search for cool stuff?

International thrift stores contain unusual things. I discovered a fabulous vintage vase at a charity shop in England, wrapped it in layers of clothing, and prayed it would make the trip home. It did. But I learned a valuable lesson about my travel treasure-hunt habits. Today, bubble pack is on my Top Ten Must-Pack List.

Locally produced goods are among my favorite finds. I’ve picked up small blown glass items in factories in Bermuda and in Mexico. These objets d’art transport me to the place and time where glassblowers created their work as we watched on.

A trip to the grocery store is a must. From unusual flavors of Tang, to salsas, sauces, herbs and oils, take the opportunity to come home and allow your vacation to linger in your home until you’ve shared your treats with others. Among my

all-time favorites were several pounds of Costa Rican coffee, and the treasured bottle of Garzón Olive Oil reminiscent of my trip to the Garzón winery/orchard.

 

 

 

 

 

Local wines and spirits are yours to discover. The local Costa Ricans introduced Li and I  to Guaro. They laughed. We later learned why. Guaro is, in fact, GRAIN alcohol! For fun, I still brought home a couple of small bottles. The local Ron Barceló rum and Mamajuana I carried home from the Dominican Republic are still favorites for sipping my way into daydreams of coconut-filled wagons, a quiet beach, and the fresh whole fish we ate at sunset, toes embedded in the silky sand.

Never understimate the value of FREE.  Wine corks are integrated into my décor. The Bouza cork in my plant pot is from a memorable dinner with my extended Uruguayan family.

Shells, coral, and sea glass pieces washed ashore have found their way into a display cabinet. Each glass container, filled with shells, and labeled by location, generates lasting tranquility in my home. I can almost HEAR the crashing waves!

Individual Ziplock bags contain a menagerie of tickets, receipts, menus, business cards and phone numbers from each trip. As I blog, it’s easy to track down names and dates, and match photos to exact places and times. These invaluable “pinch me” keepsakes serve as reminders to be grateful for my amazing travel experiences.

Bring home art! I find interesting work in small, local galleries, or at street fairs. I take the time to meet the artist and share my appreciation for their work.  I selected Carol Joy Shannon’s hand-painted guitar during a visit to Myrtle Beach, SC.  The golden-haired child hanging next to it is a find from Key West, FL. And the ballerina was acquired from a  gallery in Costa Rica. While all are paintings, I’ve chosen work of other mediums, like the pastel nude, the encaustic wax bottles of colour, and the watercolor/pen and ink drawing of New York City.  I have a backlog of framing to do – to showcase artwork collected in Uruguay and Argentina. And, each piece carries meaning, a story, and a flood of memories.

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica
Cooperstown, NY
Union Square, New York, NY
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Dia de Todos Almas en Costa Rica

Dia de Todos Almas, or All Souls Day, occurs every year on November 2.  Recognized in many countries throughout Latin America, it is also referred to as All Saints Day (Dia de Todos Santos, November 1) or Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). Each country has its own rituals and ways to mark the day’s passing, unique to the local culture.

CRasd2In 2014 Mum and I happened to be in Costa Rica on Dia de Todos Almas. There it’s a quiet, family holiday where people attend church services and leave flowers on the graves of their relatives.  We drove past a small local cemetery outside of Jaco and decided to stop.  The ground was wet from the morning rain and the skies grey and thick with clouds.  You could hear the wind rustle through the leaves, but otherwise it was silent.  We didn’t speak: it somehow felt as though we shouldn’t. Together we walked through the iron fence and slowly up the muddy hill.

CRasd1Most of the tombs were raised, some decorated with unique tiles and all marked  with a cross of either stone or metal.  It was early afternoon, and families must have been there earlier to mark the day. A number of the graves were decorated with brightly colored flowers of pink, red, orange, and yellow. They made a strong, beautiful contrast against the white stone and the dark sky.   We wandered around for a few more minutes, took some photographs, and then went back out the gate we came in.   It was only once we were in the car that we spoke again.

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Hair-y Climate Situations

I am blessed – and cursed – with naturally curly hair. At home, the right tools, crèmes and chemicals allow me to quickly adopt just about any hairstyle – and my hair complies. But when I vacation I don’t have the appropriate arsenal of product and tools for the change of climate. All hair breaks loose and my locks check out for a possibly-deserved reprieve from the daily routine.

Like most women, I just don’t feel good when I am sporting bad hair. And hats are simply not appropriate in all environments, nor comfortable in scorching heat. I’m a hat person in winter. Period.

puertaplatahair-smWhen in the Dominican Republic, I saw photo of my Shirley Temple head, rolled my eyes and gasped to myself, “What the hair?” My brain demanded clearly to my conscience, “Who is that and what have you done to my “look?” A quick little braid provided an immediate solution to my bad-hair-life frustration. Thanks, Li, for the brilliant idea! Short hair or long, a braid is a great way to tidy up an unintended culrly “do.” Albeit, in the 70s I opted to style my hair into a white-chick puffball that, in retrospect, was cool at the time but extremely unflattering.

After two bad hair days in Jaco Beach, Costa Rica, I declared war on my hair and dragged Li on a mission to find an open salon. This was a few years back, when I first realized that I did not want to sail through life without mastering a costaricahaircutsmforeign language, and began my quest to learn Spanish. Unfortunately, I was not very far along in the process when I tried to explain to the lonely stylist in the tiny, hidden-alley salon how I wanted my hair cut short. Really short. In the land of long, curly, dark locks, my request is likely unheard of. Blank stare. Head shake. No comprender.

Li, although much better at masquerading fluent Spanish, also attempted . And failed. A young man summoned from the alley assisted in solving my extreme (but far from frantic) hair crisis. “What he said,” I thought as he gave the sweet, smiling young woman with scissors detailed instructions – in words I could not understand. Alas, the snipping began. In the end, I sported the best – and most budget-friendly – short haircut of my life. We extended the magic “gracias” word to our rescue duo and sauntered out of the quaint little alley with high-fives and a contagious case of the girly giggles.

Fast forward to this spring’s escape to Mexico. My hair loved the dry heat of Cabo San Lucas, and I was happy as a clam in the water. My normal soft curls refrained from rebelling against my quick, daily routine.

However, Cabo felt a bit like Los Angeles to me, so I am now committed to seek out bad-hair venues for the future. I think, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to embrace my soft, tight natural curls and let them grow. If – and that’s a big “IF” – I can stand looking like Shirley Temple as the curls gain some little ringlet traction!

I’m trying to recall how bad my hair behaved in London. Perhaps it’s time for a rewind?

I should just package and sell this for curly travelers…

Complete hair rescue kit for chicks:

headbands-smA wide knit headband (or two).
Pretty, blingy bobby pins.
Pony tail elastics, should you have enough hair.
Hat that makes you feel amazingly cute.
Frizz control gel, putty, or heavy leave-in conditioner.
Travel –sized curling iron.
Miniature straightening iron. (Trust me – Don’t bother with this if humidity is on the radar.)

And for you men who worry about having a bad hair day…

Simple hair rescue kit for dudes:
A hat.
A razor.

 

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Dance, Laugh and Forget Who’s Watching

The first thing Li and I do when we arrive to new accommodations is jump on the bed together. Does this count as dancing? Yes, since we’re accompanied by music. Inevitably, we dance around INSIDE our condo or room before we venture out to explore. This must happen on day one. Nothing indicates that we’re freely open to adventure more than dancing.

Years ago, on one of our first trips together, Li and I took a rum boat excursion in Nassau. A pair of bloody knees later, we disembarked. I still regret not realizing how badly scraped she was. At least she will still travel – and dance – with me.

We dance in private, during our travels to our respective cities. Likely one of the most fun home dance-offs began with three chicks, a Wii and The Michael Jackson Experience, and culminated in a self-induced black eye, shards of a wine glass embedded into an elbow, and a leg bruise the size of Texas. Who suffered each injury is simply not important. It’s the laughter that mattered then – and now.

Hitting the dance floor in public can be quite fun, yet potentially problematic – especially if you are single and there are dancers of the male species – alone. This is a lesson we learned in Costa Rica while staying at a resort that was hosting an annual meeting of palm oil farmers. Admittedly, we both had cubic zirconia “wedding rings” with us,  to ward off unwanted attention. We never felt the need. We learned about palm oil and enjoyed practicing our Spanish with new friends, However, it would not be like me to pass on the opportunity to join pool full of nearly all men doing water aerobics. Li laughed hysterically while I chuckled and continued my exercise regimen.

The following year in the Dominican Republic, our unofficial dance instructors were a bit more interesting. Perhaps a more correct term would be “interested.” As we like to travel off-season to avoid big crowds (and because we have difficulty synchronizing time off), the dance floor was wide open and Li rocked it! A few sips of Mamajuana loosened limbs, but when had plenty and we spied another beverage tray traveling our way, we made a quick, but graceful exit.

FYI boys, if you happen to read this, I am the mom person and Li is my daughter. Guess we could have told you that before now.

Now just this summer, on day two of my excursion to Uruguay I went to a party at a casino disco with my Uruguayan “sister” Merce.  Again, I find myself trying to dance to music with no understanding of the words. She later explained how provocative the language was. I was oblivious.

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We then escaped to Buenos Aires for an weekend of art, food, music, and of course, dance. Home of the Tango, it’s pretty hard not to be inspired enough to get in on the action.

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But, my most interesting travel dance experience included a pole. My sister’s daughter is a gymnast-turned-pole-fitness guru. “She wants me to go to her class with her,” explains Merce. I immediately answer, “I’ll go!” After just one round of “if-you-do-it-I-will,” we were on. Now, both of us are has-been high school gymnasts with the back and knee challenges of former athletes. But we had a blast. And paid for that free class for the next four days. What happened to my core strength? And arms, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. I begin to sing the song with new lyrics  after realizing that “head” no longer belongs in the song once you’re over 50.

 

 

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Foodies Here and Abroad

Food is a central part of our exploration when we travel. In Costa Rica, we stayed at an all-inclusive but ventured out daily and found ourselves visiting little “sodas” in obscure locations. Our quest to find the best ceviche along the lower western coast was nothing short of success total tastebud success.

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Many times we search for accommodations that include at least a galley kitchen in which we can create our own dishes. Stateside we packed a Rubbermaid on-the-go tub with what we need for our travels. (Recommendations below.) Trips to the local grocery store inevitably include muffled laughter, as not to upset the locals. Inevitably, we select ingredients that will  provide the foundation for a couple of experimental meals. Nearly always, our concoction is quite tasty, although we’re not entirely sure what we’re actually consuming.

And then there is street food. In Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, we happened upon a cart full of fresh coconuts, watched  “machete man” magically carve a hole to access the coconut water, observed the way to eat the flesh…and followed suit.  Sidewalk cafes are a great way to taste-test local fare, while watching the happenings on the street. sidewalkfare.JPG

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It Rains Rocks in Costa Rica

Note:  Autos in Costa Rica are toy-sized, with manual transmissions.

Advice:  Practice at home because you will find yourself immediately driving uphill to merge onto the San Jose Interstate.

Warning:  The massive truck behind your Matchbox car will be six inches from your bumper when you stall on the semi-vertical ramp on which you were forced to stop.

Alas, once my feet, the clutch and gas pedal were speaking the same language, we were safely on the road to Jaco Beach. So it seemed. Because, speaking of language, we Screen shot 2016-04-30 at 12.07.18 PMcontinued to debate the English meaning of the verbiage on each road sign.

Brake lights ahead. Uh-oh, in the light rain, small rocks tumble down the side of the mountain. We inch along aside orange cones. Once free from the jam and clipping along at the speed limit, the ambulance in front of us swerves into the oncoming lane. I slow, but find that I, too, was destined to choose between the oncoming lane and the boulders rolling like tumbleweeds down the side of the mountain. As tourists do, Li is capturing amusing photos to prove that we’d driven through a bona-fide rock slide. While she plays photographer, I hold my breath in the oncoming lane, observing that the steep pitch of the mountain side leads to oblivion.

The following day hotel guests buzzed that, “the main highway was closed last night because of a major rock slide.”

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That’s Why it’s Called a Rain Forest

In November of 2014 Mum and I packed our bags and headed to Costa Rica. Neither of us had ever been to any central american country before and we had no idea about what we might see. It was going to be an adventure!  The only thing we both knew heading in was that we needed to go to the rainforest.

I’ve been enamored with the rainforest since the third grade when there was a lesson on different earth ecosystems and environmentalism. I made a diorama out of cardboard and clay of a rainforest, complete with a tiny clay sloth. When I told mum that this was my only necessary outing in Costa Rica, she jumped in one with added request: to see a monkey.

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rain in Parque Nacional Carara

On our second day in the country, we hopped into the rental car (for more on that see It Rains Rocks in Costa Rica) and drove to Parque Nacional Carara. We payed the modest entry fee and started to make our own way down the trail, no other people in sight. The giant trees were magnificent, with great green liana vines snaking from the canopy to the floor. Not five minutes later the skies opened up. It was pouring! We continued walking, hiding under the small umbrellas in our packs and covered the camera the best we could. After about twenty minutes, we gave up and left, soaked to the bone and without seeing any wildlife.

Two days later, we tried again, this time at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. At this much more popular park, we paid for a local guide who lead us through the entrance to the beach area, pointing out the different plants and showing us animals through his telescope. Almost immediately we saw a giant two-toed sloth asleep in the tree. She was so much more beautiful than I had imagined years ago. I was in heaven. We also saw a small local deer, ants, hermit crabs, and wild raccoons who had claimed the area as their own. We spent another hour at the beach where mum swam in the warm water and I soaked up the trees. After another short hike around the tip of the park, we decided it was time to head out. Just as mum was expressing her disappointment in not seeing a monkey, there they were! An entire tribe of white-faced capuchin monkeys were crossing the path in front of us. We froze and whispered excitedly as mothers hurried past us with their babies on their backs. After they disappeared into the trees we hugged each other. “I’m so happy to be here with you,” I told her.

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a mother Capuchin carries her baby