Spain – a little ahead of myself.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with driving. The love, MY love, is mostly about and for Z. Alice Cooper, my Ice Blue Mini Cooper 2-door Hardtop. She’s sleek and pretty and goes 100 miles an hour without you feeling it. Sitting in her number one seat with the radio blasting, the windows down, the sun and moon roof all the way back is sometimes what I imagine heaven would be. I’ve never been a huge fan of driving beyond it being just a way to get somewhere else. But Alice elevates Target runs to the level of epic adventures: will the store have my Jāsön deodorant in stock, and how many times can I reasonably circle the block before pulling into the garage at home? Cue dramatic music.

The hate part of this love/hate relationship comes from just about everything else to do with driving. Paying attention to the road, responding to the rudeness of other drivers, navigating unfamiliar areas without accidentally killing myself or someone else. It’s exhausting stuff.

The exception to the last is road trips. I freakin’ LOVE road trips! I love zooming through unfamiliar landscapes (or even familiar ones) and watching the samenesss of trees and cars and buildings and train tracks and farmland and glimmering water pass by in a soothing rhythm. During these drives, my mind and creativity open up beyond their normal capacity and I’m flooded with ideas, whole streams of dialogue between unfamiliar people, plus much more. It’s practically a transcendental experience second only to taking a long shower or most things involving lots of water and time.

It occurs to me that part of the reason I love road trips so much is because I’m usually passengering, not actually driving. But that’s neither here not there. The principle is almost the same, right?

Anyway, I think of this love of the road as I prepare for a long drive from Madrid to Clermont-Ferrand, a medium-sized town in the middle of France. The appearance of the trip was unexpected, an invitation from a new friend that I suspect the universe cooked up for me because of my never-ending complaints about a lack of good pastries in Madrid. At one point, I jokingly considered jumping on a quick flight to Paris to connect with some old acquaintances over brie, olive baguettes, and panachés. I swear, I was ONLY joking*.

I don’t have many expectations of this trip to not-Paris. I HOPE for panachés and tasty pastries and a few pretty scenes to capture through the lens of my iPhone. I WANT an amazing idea for a novel and its irresistible protagonist to come out of this twelve-hour drive. I WISH my beloveds wouldn’t worry that I’d end up dead on the side of some foreign road with organs and euros missing.

At the very least, I know I’ll have a visit to a sort of Tower of Babel which my limited Spanish and just about non-existent French won’t serve to make easy. But hey, I can nod and smile with the best of them.

For now, I’m packing and thinking of the drive and all the possible pleasures it could hold.

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Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid (or at least the sculptured garden adjacent)

*RyanAir flights are crazy cheap though.

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Cuba on the Fly

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La Mujer Cubana.

It was mostly a last minute thing: fly to Cuba, eat street food, listen to music then get back home before -45 got the chance to close the US borders on us. As plans went, it was pretty thin, but it all worked out. A quick Southwest flight landed me and my travel partner/super friend, Angela, in Havana at hot o’ clock in the morning, plopped down into the colorful unfamiliar.

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Abandonado.

One Airbnb host conversation later, we had water in our travel backpack and were strolling through the streets trying to get our bearings. The things we now know:

Change your US dollars to Euros (at home) then change the Euros to CUC’s once you arrive in Cuba. The better exchange rate for Euros is so worth it. And get CUC’s in the smallest bills possible if given a choice.

1 CUC = 25 local pesos. Always get the price of EVERYTHING in CUC before you get the pizza/cab/service. Financial shanking will occur.

For me, Havana was an interesting mixture of the vibrant now and haunting remnants of a glorious past. The men and women in tight jeans with their lightning fast Spanish, ever-present cigarettes, and willingness to help. Young folks passing out flyers for parties on the street and telling you to “check the Facebook or IG page for more info.” The buildings that were once majestic and awe-inspiring but now have old paint curled up on their faded facades and laundry hanging from their high windows.

The food was nothing to write home about but Arca de Noé (660 Avenida 23) can have my babies any day of the week. One of the simplest ways this dulceria got my heart? – they had their prices listed in both local pesos and CUC’s. No guess work. No wondering if you’re getting the “special tourist price.” Plus amazeballs desserts.

For more to do that doesn’t involve eating, take the ferries from Old Havana to Regla and Casablanca. The fare was cheap AF (less than .10 CUC’s) and the ride was short. The church in Regla, just outside the ferry exit on the left, has a black virgin with a white baby Jesus sitting on her lap. And that’s pretty much it for the town. As long as you’re there though, take some nice pics of some gorgeous windows and buildings, and some stuff you’ve only ever seen in old movies.

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Corn!

In Casablanca, we ran into some hard core skateboarders who ripped down the hill like they had wings. Plus a massive statue of Jesus high on a hill that would scare you shitless if you weren’t expecting him. That hilltop also offers a pretty view of Havana. Near or in the ferry terminal, try the boiled corn with all the toppings ($0.25 or $0.50 CUC’s). Soooooo goooood!

SN: Cuba is no Italy, but there is inexplicably “pizza” everywhere.

After Havana, Angela and I hopped on a Viazul bus to Cienfuegos. There’s not much to do in the town except talk to Delia (our groovy Airbnb host of Hostal Delia y Nelson), eat cheese sandwiches, and go to the beach. But we enjoyed the hell out of it.

Don’t bother going to the 24-hour dulceria on Calle 41 near the park unless you want some reasonably priced sparkling or regular water. The desserts there will seriously make you regret your life choices. On the other side of the park, however, is a tasty heaven. A tiny little place has sandwiches for an equally tiny amount of CUC’s (two ham and cheese sandwiches, hold the ham, cost us 1 CUC).

A couple of days later, we took another Viazul (after a frustrating wait in the hot sun for two hours) to Trinidad. The town is gorgeous and we spotted the bell tower there on some tourist posters while at the airport. If you’re into souvenirs, this is a good place to get them—a funky cloth doll that turned upside down to become black or white almost went home with me before I realized I had no money.

Food-wise, Angela just about wrote love poems to Restaurante Marin Villafuerte. She enjoyed the white fish in garlic sauce like no one has loved fish with garlic sauce ever or since. Each entree came with a drink, by the way. The mojito wasn’t bad.

We walked around the city of Trinidad, checked our email on the famous stairs, avoided copious invitations to buy horseback tours to the waterfalls and sugar plantation, and met some guys in a jazz band who allowed us to watch them practice. One night, I tried Nutella crepes at the two side-by-side crepe and ice cream shops not far from Marin Villafuerte. One was good but too small, the other was too thick and not delicious enough. If they’d had a third shop nearby, I have hopes that my Nutella crepe would have been just right.

Biggest tip: Get an Airbnb or casa particular with a rooftop terrace. The city is PRETTY.

Our Airbnb in Trinidad was nice enough. Windowless but it had a fab rooftop terrace with a view of the city. The biggest drawback of the place was Linda. She was a black and white dog (boxer mix?) with creepy human-looking eyes who wouldn’t stop growling at us. Luckily, she couldn’t or didn’t want to climb stairs.

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Honey cake? Whatever it was, super delish.

Another tip: If you go to the beach in Trinidad, go during the week. The beach was packed during our weekend excursion and folks dropped trash literally where they sat. Angela and I took in the sun, swam, and read our books under a groovy little palapa for a good few hours until a dirty plastic bag rolled over our faces and basically forced us to call it a day.

A couple of days of cobblestoned street fun and we were ready to go. We got into a taxi and headed toward Havana. My one sadness is that we weren’t able to stop by Arca de Noé on the way to the airport and get one last bite of goodness for the flight home. My taste buds are still crying.

Namibia was incredible…

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There isn’t a lot I can say about the country without gushing except I wish I’d spent more time there. The decision to go was a last minute one after a camping trip in South Africa fell through. A hidden blessing.

The Namib Desert was amazing! Such beauty stretched out to make me feel both small and large at the same time. If I figure out my YouTube page, I’ll post a link to a video from on top of Dune 45 soon.

XOXOX

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Tanzania, Day 1. The Beginning.

The little plane gives a vicious lurch and the guy beside me curses and latches on tight to his pillow. I’ve been silently calling him an asshole for all of the 1.5 hour flight – he kept bumping me without an “excuse me” to be heard – so I feel little sympathy for his burp of panic. The plane lands us all safely in the end and not even one last jab of Asshole’s bony elbow can dim my excitement.Tanzania. Finally!

After an intense and expensive encounter with customs (proof of yellow fever vaccine, $100 US, etc.), I run out into the heat to find myself a taxi and my Stone Town hotel room for however long I’m here – I only bought a 1 way ticket. 

Out in the streets, most of the women appear to be Muslims and are covered from head to toe, so after my very necessary shower, I throw a shawl over my tank top and make sure my skirt goes to the knees. But…that doesn’t stop just about every man breathing nearby from calling out, looking, making pet-summoning noises, etc. at me. I’m irritated. The streets are dusty and the sun is blazing. Sweat drips under my shawl – how do the women wearing black niqabs and burkas do it?! – and the maze of streets quickly has me lost with no beach, street food, or scenic alleyways in sight. 

I’m not miserable, but my excitement has definitely left the building.

Passing for the 3rd time a clutch of boys – one of them calling out “dred, dred” like he has Tourette’s – I seriously contemplate relocating to a hostel on the other side of the island where all I’d see are fellow backpackers, beaches, and a well-stocked bar to drown the last of my high expectations in. 

But, I rein in the drama and retreat to my hotel room for a nap. Things usually look better under mosquito netting and a strenuously working ceiling fan. I hope.

#ZanzibarDay1

Tanzania, Day 1 (in no particular order)


There’s a stash of menus by the front door of the restaurant, but I’m pretty sure the smiling young man in pressed black pants said that nothing on the official menu is actually available tonight. Instead, smiling wider, he leads me to a display of food and says: “This is the position I will start you off with tonight.” 

After a visual tour of the menu – intriguing dishes perched seductively behind glass cases or on low-lipped cast iron skillets – I settle on rice bread, spinach in coconut milk, a chicken BBQ skewer served with unknown to me side salad, and a glass of mystery juice. About TZN 4,000 shillings. $2.#ZanzibarDay1

South Africa, for now.

It’s beautiful here. An aching and excruciating beauty I didn’t expect. Not because I didn’t think Africa would be beautiful but because even as I sit in this exquisite place, the realities of its plundered and pillaged people and landscapes are impossible to ignore. Diamonds, gold, land, success, the certain and brilliant success of one’s children. From what I’ve seen so far, these things are alien to many whose ancestors lived tribally here. And that breaks me with every breath.

Black/White

Walking through parts of Croatia, Angela and I saw our fair share of confederate flags. The damn thing seemed like it was everywhere. On T-shirts. As giant wall murals. On booty shorts. Each time we saw one, Angela turned to me and said, “Do they even know what that thing represents?”I thought, despite the appearance of American iconography, music, catch-phrases all over the world and often separate from any original context, these people knew damn well what that flag stood for. But we couldn’t find anyone to ask.

Finally though, in Berlin I saw this. Question answered.

Currywurst?

So, I found out currywurst is a thing here in Berlin. Maybe in the rest of Germany too but that’s too extreme of a guess for me to make. Anyway, I decided to try it since I am unofficially eating my way around the world.

I feel I should preface my reaction to currywurst by saying sausage isn’t really my thing. Even cut up into bits and covered in what I will assume is a curry type sauce. This, I think, is a fairly safe assumption. When I saw the signs for it, I basically asked the universe why? Out loud and frequently since I kept seeing stands advertising currywurst like it’s actually a thing people regularly buy. And maybe even enjoy.

At Berlin gay pride, I was feeling good. The sun was all shiny. And I had euros. The food cart lines were long and everyone seemed to be in the process of stuffing a sausage in their faces (bratwurst), about to get a sausage from an approved supplier, or was eating French fries. So I decided then and there to try this chopped sausage. With fries.


It was actually really good. I couldn’t begin to identify any known version of curry as being part of the sauce, necessarily per se. But I don’t know everything about curry so… Anyway, the currywurst was good, the fries were delish, and a good time was had by all my taste buds. Overall, an A+ situation until my body, immediately after the last bite, decided it needed to get rid of the sausage. But not from the front end.

Maybe it was the mayo.

The Day We Almost Got Left Floating in the Adriatic Sea

So, we’re on an 8-day Croatian island tour. How we even arrived here is an adventure in itself and a tale for another time. But today, just a few hours ago, the boat stops in a scenic grotto with crystal waters where it’s shallow and a deep jewel toned blue where it’s not. Sounds beautiful, right?At breakfast, we were told we’d stop in the early afternoon/late morning and have two hours of swimming time after a three-hour sail among the scattering of Dalmatian Islands.
So the boat stops. People jump in. Splashing. Laughing. Good times. Angela was resting in the cabin so I go to tell her it’s swimming time and go pull on my swimsuit.
Fast forward 15 minutes. I jump into the water. Refreshing. Glorious. A few hundred yards in front of our boat is a naked family on their baby-yacht – hot mom, dad, and a child of undetermined (by me) gender. A dirty old man on our boat is watching hot mom through binoculars while everyone else is either in the water or getting ready to get in the water or sunning themselves on deck.
I swim around a bit then head toward shore a decent distance away.
Fast forward five minutes. Angela jumps in the water from our boat. She swims out to me and we chat. Her back is to our boat. She’s screwing up her face at the disgusting feel of the sand/silt/seaweed combination squishing between our toes under the water. I’m enjoying the sun, the cool water, plus occasional sightings of naked hot mom. Then:
“Hey,” I say to Angela. “They’re pulling up the swim ladder on our boat.”
She turns. “What?!” Without waiting another second, she swims toward our boat, calling out. “Wait!”
The anchor is still down, though, so I’m not worried. But Angela’s already swum about twelve feet of water in 0.02 seconds in the direction of the boat. She’s a pretty good swimmer. She’s swimming like crazy and calling out, “Wait! Wait!”
After about twenty seconds, they drop a (another?) swim ladder in the water.

I think: “Oh, they were just changing out the ladders.” I laugh and call out my theory to Angela.
She ignores me and keeps swimming for the boat, but I already reassured myself so I go back to floating on my back and enjoying the various sweet things going on – weather, water, hot mom. Angela gets to the boat in a few minutes, maybe even seconds, and calls out to me, very calmly: “Get over here.”
I swim toward the boat. Slowly. Not to be an ass (although I thought she was being a drama queen with all that “wait, wait” business) but because I’m a super slow swimmer. Plus no one on the boat looks urgent about anything. The Germans are drinking beer and laughing. The water doesn’t look like it’s being churned up by a rabid shark. So, slow.
Fast forward ten minutes. I get on the boat. Angela’s drying her face with her sarong. She looks perturbed.
“They’re leaving,” she says. I stare at her. “They were leaving without us,” she says, because I apparently didn’t get it.
Everyone is on board, drinking beers and looking over the water, checking out hot mom and maybe even super-naked dad, who is definitely not hot. But that’s only my opinion. As I walk past the group of mostly Germans to get my sarong and wipe my incredibly disbelieving face, a creepy guy (not the one with the binoculars) mumbles something to me in Germglish. I pretend not to hear. I don’t have to pretend not to understand.
The ladder rattles against the side of the boat as Papa Captain pulls it up again (there is only one ladder, Angela tells me later). The boat starts up. We immediately set off for another, not-so-nearby island. As we pull away, I look at the naked family still chillin’ on their baby yacht. Ever the optimist, I think: Maybe they’d have given us a ride back to Split if we’d asked nicely. Being naked seems a small enough price to pay for rescue.

Waiting.