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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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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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Damajagua and 27 Charcos

Last year, September 2016, Mum and I were drinking in the peace of the Dominican Republic… and Presidente.

img_2439Besides intense relaxation, there was one thing I knew I wanted to do: waterfall slides. Not water slides, waterfall slides.   Just south of Puerto Plata there’s a series of 27 waterfalls that flow from the Rio Damajagua  down a mountain, forming natural water slides or jumps into deep pools (charcos). There are a number of different tour companies that offer packages which include transportation, and I opted to  reserve our spot ahead of time through Iguana Mama.  Even though we chose a group option, low season meant we got our own private tour. They picked us up down the street from our flat and the guide drove us to the falls, reciting some memorized facts.

Some little time later we were at the base of the mountain, being given helmets and life jackets by our 27 Charcos guide. There was a drought, so we were told we’d only be able to do 12 of the falls as the water levels were too low at the others.  The bonus of this was a
shorter, very pleasant hike half way up the mountain. Then came the trip helmetsdown. Sitting at the edge of a rock, I held on for a second with the cool river rushing around me.  I assumed the water park position, legs crossed at ankles, arms folded over chest, and…

Sliding down the short section of smooth rock, I fell into the pool, dropping deep before resurfacing.  The adrenaline of anticipation and the shock of hitting the water were direct opposites and fantastic in every way.  I swam off to the side of the pool and watched as Mum had her turn, surfacing from the water laughing.

There were also a few pools where the rock was not long enough to slide, but instead were straight drops. This honestly scared the #$%& out of me. Mum, always braver,  went first and then with her encouragement from the pool below (far, far below) I took a deep breath and…

The slap of the pool was like waking up all over again.  We swam, hiked, slid, and jumped all the way to the bottom.  The day was a once in a lifetime experience that was as amazing and fun as it was exhausting.  We definitely earned our Mamajuana drink that day!

Did I mention that it happened to be my Birthday? Since I’m not a fan of cake, Mum made sure I had a celebratory drink. Best birthday ever. Thank you, Mum!drbday3

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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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Presidente and Playa Costambar

IMG_2454Nothing’s better than waking up to the sound of the waves on the beach, then watching a horse slowly trot by as you sip your cafe con leche. That’s what I think of most from last year’s trip to the Dominican Republic.

We were lucky to have a one bedroom unit across the street from the beach. I’m much more of a morning person than mum, so I’d tiptoe out of bed and out to the balcony to let her sleep in.  A little later she’d join me and I’d start the coffee in the small kitchen. It was more like living in a dream than being on vacation.

Playa Costambar is a small community outside of Puerto Plata with a good number of German ex-pats and a popular public access beach. On the weekend days the locals drive in the party would really start. Families swim, groups of friends play volleyball, and people selling all kinds of edibles from fresh whole fish to
tropical fruits would walk the length.  Every day we were down on the beach at some point looking for shells, taking photographs of the hurricane damaged hotel, or just to have the local beer, Presidente.  Our favorite little place was one of a number of bars and restaurants that lined the beach, unnamed and distinguishable only by  the color of the plastic chairs. We’d laugh and talk in our limited Spanish to the fantastic waitress, Cesarina, who was determined to be our “profesora.” Like a dream, except I swear that it was real.

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