Night Layover in Nanning

When I first booked my flight to Cambodia, a scheduled 10 hour layover in Nanning, China gave me some pause. I knew nothing about the city nor what I might encounter during my flight change.  Guidebooks and internet resources describe this “small city” of 2 million people as a train stop en-route to Vietnam and tout waterfalls and historic areas outside of town.  As I was due to arrive after midnight, none of this was very informative for me.

My domestic Shanghai Airlines flight was the last arrival of the day.  The small, mostly regional airport closed soon after, with all the lights shutting down and the only staff a cleaning person or two. The doors were propped open, and people were stay inside near the baggage claim, but the heating was turned off and the metal benches were separated by armrests. I took a deep breath and decided to head into town. In the daytime there is a bus you can take to the train station near downtown, but after 11p it’s taxi only.

entrance to the Nanning night market

The taxi driver who flagged me spoke no English (and I speak no Mandarin), but we did manage to communicate through a translation app on his mobile phone, which we passed back and forth. He named an over-priced night rate of 160 CNY, which I accepted (note – next time, haggle!). The 45 minute trip from the airport seemed to fly as he sped around lorries with no regard to speed limit signs or lanes in the road. I had previously read about the Night Market in downtown and decided that could be a place to explore a bit. By the time I got there at 2am on a Thursday morning, the market was about 1/3 open. Restaurants were sweeping trash into piles in the middle of the street and a few locals were stumbling out to catch a ride home.  I walked around the few remaining stalls with seafood on sticks, tofu noodle bowls, and fruits before deciding to venture a little further.  A few blocks through tall, modern concrete buildings leads you to the Yongjiang river. Along the side is a lovely, clean, well manicured park.  Everything was silent and empty.

NNG from the taxi

By 4am I gave up and took a taxi back to the airport, the return trip costing night rate of 116 CNY. This driver didn’t have a translation app, but thankfully I had written down the word “airport” on a post-it note, which did the trick (after he corrected my pronunciation). The first domestic flight out of Nanning is around 7am.  Using my western standards, I assumed the airport would officially re-open 2 hours before. Instead, I walked in circled in the dark airport until the lights turned on at 5:45am and the first check-in counter opened at 6.  My international flight to Phnom Penh at 10am didn’t open for check-in until 9. (side note: I’ve never been so happy to be traveling with only my backpack.)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to have a layover in Nanning, aim for the daytime. The city looked lovely and I hope I get a chance to see it in full glory in the future.


bridge across the Yongjiang river



New York City Conquers the Well Heeled

The first time I visited New York City for a grad school city session, I mistakenly presumed I was entering an unfriendly urban playground.  I was intimidated by the streets, the cars, the people and the night. People who know me likely can’t picture me as the puppy dog dutifully following a master of the city; my roommate Andrea, a New Jersey girl. That first morning, as Andrea led me from our hostel-ish abode to embark on our 15-block walk to our classroom at the Type Director’s Club, we agreed to pump some coffee into our system.

Coffee on every corner.

In a blink, that coffee experience changed my perspective of New York City. Picture this. It’s November. I’m masquerading as a stylish city girl, sporting cute spike-heeled boots and a leather coat. I have a small point-and-shoot Cannon in my pocket, so I can quickly pull it out and sneak quick photos of the interesting and amazing sights. Andrea speed-walks a couple of yards ahead of me. The aroma of liquid caffeine beckons Andrea, and I follow her into the door of a corner cafe. In what seems like a blink, we’re back out on the sidewalk.  I’m balancing hot coffee in one hand, my mini-camera in the other,  and I’m racing against the blinking orange Don’t Walk sign. Then it happens.

In a nano-second, my heel sinks deeply into the manhole cover grid, and boom – I’m face first in the street, with two hands in the air; one holding my hot coffee high and dry, and the other holding my unscathed camera. Andrea is frozen, initially mortified. Immediately I am surrounded by concerned New Yorkers. Men and women, young and old, pull me from the street crammed with cars wildly honking horns to the safety of the sidewalk of 6th Avenue. I taste blood.

cimg0161smI look at Andrea, and it’s clear that she and I are on the same “this is worth a REALLY good laugh” page. (As long as I still have teeth.) I smile, close my eyes, and shake my head. She sheepishly asks if it’s OK if she takes a photo of me holding coffee napkins to my bloodied face. Hearty laughter fills the air, and I realize there will clearly be no opportunity to keep this story from my new classmates. My chin and lower lip are as decimated as a third grader’s skinned knee from a bad fall off a bicycle.

Within 20 minutes, my first impression as I walk into class is certainly not the polished, well-heeled professional one I’d planned. I appeared to have been mugged and was in serious need of a first aid kit. Type Director’s Club executive Carol came to the rescue, and I was further on my way to appreciating the kindness of those who live or work in the Big Apple.  During that initial trip, I grew to feel energized by the hustle-bustle of New York City, yet tamed by the lesson the manhole cover had taught me.

In the first round of Cute Heels vs. New York, the city had won hands down. Or face down? The following day I invested in a pair of really great new boots. Flat boots.



Attack of the Common Cold

Everyone gets sick sometime.  A cold or the flu sneaks up and then… Bam! You’ve got a fever and the most symphonic sneezes man has ever heard.  When you’re a traveler, it’s bound to happen on the road at some point.  Stress wears down your immune system and the close (sometimes too close) proximity of your fellow passengers on an airplane can leave you susceptible. More than once I’ve found myself far from home impersonating a walking Petri dish, barely seeing what’s around me as I stumble toward the nearest bed.

the pups play nurse
The pups play nurse.

This was the story of my latest trip to California. It seemed like everything just caught up with me all at once and plowed me  over like the semi-trucks in “Duel.” I couldn’t talk or laugh without coughing, had absolutely no appetite for the delicacies of Los Angeles, and a walk to the end of the block was like climbing the Pyrenees.  The only creatures happy about my incapacity were Hondo and his friend Birdy. The dogs soon found that they had a week of all the petting they desired  as well as a few extra snacks on the sly.
JoshuaTree2I felt completely responsible for wrecking all of DO’s well made plans for the week (as well as emptying the medicine cabinet), but it ended up not being too bad. My crawling pace meant we spent a lot of down time talking. We still ventured out to the Southern California desert town of Joshua Tree, but my “hiking” this time was all done from the window of a car well stocked with kleenex and cough drops.  Maybe it was all of the alternative medicine shops or the crisp dry air, but I almost started to believe in a healing power of the desert sun.  I was still sick when we left, but strangely energized.  Well, it was either the sun or the date shake from Hadley’s


Yes, getting sick sucks. Getting sick while traveling sucks more. But if you’re open, you might still have a good time living at a slower pace.


For more from our past LA adventures, see LA is for the Dogs!



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.



Meltdown at SJO

I try to be a very careful and organized individual who keeps the drama level low. So its with great embarrassment I admit a total meltdown during our departure from Mexico.

img_1632-smimg_1635-2-smAfter an uneventful taxi ride, being the first through security, and a boring 90 minute wait with all the shops closed, Mum and I were the first in line to board our flight at Juan Sanatamaría International Airport. As I held out my passport and ticket to the gate agent, we both noticed that my departure paperwork wasn’t there (you know, that other half of the customs slip that you fill out when you arrive in a new country).  I stepped out of line and dug through my backpack, emptying it onto the floor. Nothing. The gate agent said I had to go back through security and to the Customs office to purchase a replacement. We had 10 minutes.

early morning in SJO
early morning in SJO

Mum and I ran back past security, down the stairs, to the Customs door… to find that it didn’t open for another 15 minutes. I literally crumbled. I was so embarrassed to have made a mistake that would affect my Mum that the closed door was enough to send me to my knees. As I muttered “I can’t believe it” and emptied my bag on the floor again, Mum went into action and found someone to open the office early. Inside, we were told that a replacement would cost $30 US in exact change. Between us we had $28.

I ran across  the airport to the other end of the floor to the ATM, which wouldn’t dispense in US dollars. Next, on to the money exchange. I would need my passport, which the Customs officer had. Run back across to Customs. Run back to exchange. Run back to Customs. Get new paper. Run back up stairs. Through security. Run to gate…

IMG_3295Just in time to see our airplane pulling back from the gate. We were too late. The stress of running, the embarrassment of being on the floor downstairs, and the thought that my mistake had affected my Mum was overwhelming to me. I started crying, dropped my bag, and kept saying to Mum “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Of course everything was fine in the end. We got a flight to the US that afternoon, arranged to meet up with some friends in Houston for the evening, and then home the next day. Mum wasn’t upset at all – it was just me.

Mistakes happen. Things go wrong. That’s part of life and part of travel. Its what creates adventure. And its ok to have a little drama. Sometimes I need to remind myself that there is no such thing as failure, its just an opportunity for a new experience.