Road Trip Checklist: Top 5 Tasks

If you are currently planning a road trip, or even just daydreaming about one, then this post is for you! Organizing travel can sometimes feel a little daunting, but preparing for a road trip is a special kind of hectic. Take your travel plans, then add a car into the mix, and you quadruple the “what if” factor. It’s far from an impossible feat though, and it doesn’t even have to be that stressful. People say the key to success is preparation, and this holds so true for travel, especially of the road trip variety. Below I have laid out the bare-bones list for the absolutely necessary tasks to complete before the pedal hits the metal. This is just the start for many, but if you, like me, can get easily overwhelmed by an excessive amount of tasks… then just start here.

1- Get your car serviced

If you ask me, the scariest part of a road trip is that I have a giant unpredictable hunk of steel tagging along when I am used to it just being me and a pack. There are so many things you can’t control out

Ready, Set, GO!

there on the road, but you can at least ensure that your vehicle is as prepared as possible for whatever comes your way. This means getting any outstanding mechanical work done, possibly a tune up, checking all the fluids, getting an oil change, and stocking your car with an emergency kit. Some great things to keep in your trunk are a can of Fix-a-flat, extra windshield wiping fluids, flashlight with batteries, a blanket, and reflective tape are a few things I personally like to keep in my car. If you aren’t driving, then get that car rented ASAP to get the best prices.

 

2- Budget

Don’t get caught with all your eggs in one basket!

Once you have all the crucial work completed on your car, then you can take a look at what’s left in your piggy bank… or wherever the kids keep their pocket change these days. Budgets do not have to be as detailed as you might think, especially if you aren’t on a super tight budget. I always round my costs up because it’s way better to be under budget than to run out of money on the road. The typical criteria for my budget is a daily food allowance, lodging allowance (I almost always stay with friends), expected gas expenses, souvenir allowance, and account for any specific activities you already know you want to do like rafting or city tours for example.

 

The actual allocation of funds will be different for everyone, but those are the 5 core elements to budget for. Typically my lodging, activities, and souvenir budget is almost zero, as I like to bring back just postcards and photographs, but I will research ahead of time to find the best local watering holes. The last two important aspects of a road trip budget are always having access to either a credit card or a savings just in case of an emergency, and accounting for any bills that will be withdrawn while you are away. Be careful not to double spend your money in the bank.

NOW FOR THE FUN PART!

3- Pick Core Stops

Got Georgia on your mind?

There are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are to… (Is there another colloquial phrase aside from the “skin a cat” saying, because that just freaks me out). Anyway! I think its best to first decide if you will do a loop, or rent a car one way and fly back. Either way, you need to pick some core stops, which are the places where you will absolutely be stopping. I am sure some of you are saying part of what makes road trips great is the spontaneity, and I agree. I usually only pick a few stops in cities where I know someone and plan to spend the night. It is important to factor in how much driving per day you realistically can do, and often that defines where your stops will be. So pull out that handy map, or hit up The Google and get excited!

4- Research Weather

Not too shabby…

My favorite! I get so excited to look up the weather in all my stops, especially if I am heading south. This is important beyond picking which swimsuit to pack, knowing the weather forecast is critical for planning out time. Be sure to give yourself extra time if you see the weather will be particularly bad. If you check the weather often before you leave and see rainy days ahead, you should have enough time to reroute a few of your stops… if you happen to be chasing the sun like myself.

 

5- Copy and Share Vital Documents

Once I am pretty much all set with my itinerary, I do this final step, which is far from least. It is really important to share your potential schedule with someone at home, even if it is a loose outline. I like to email a copy of my route and potential stops to my mom (I knoooow, but she is my BFF), and it helps that my loud mouth is forever on social media. In addition to my itinerary, I also make copies of my driver’s license, and I keep in my glovebox and another copy in my bag. This is also a great time to double-check you have current copies of your insurance and registration in your car. Lastly, be sure to write down contact info for a few people close to you and keep that in your car. I know with cell phones hardly anyone memorizes phone numbers anymore, so in the off-chance you need to make a call without your phone handy… a pen and paper might just be what saves your behind!

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6 Things to Expect When Traveling with your Sister!

I am known to travel alone, I love the experience of traveling solo and the freedom that comes with being entirely responsible for just yourself. Yet, when I do travel with someone, which is a rare case scenario, making the choice of travel partner is a serious task and not to be taken lightly. The only person who has survived the test of time, and traveled by my side more than once would be my lifelong partner in crime, my little sis. Having now taken two big trips with my little sister, I have some words of wisdom to share before you take the plunge into sister-travel! This will be helpful for any sister traveling, it doesn’t matter if you are the bossy-pants, overprotective, extremely prepared sibling, or if you are the easy-going but secretly sensitive, always trusting, party animal, usually younger sibling (Full disclosure: I am indeed that bossy-pants sister!).

 

1.You will want to wring her neck… at least once, ok maybe twice.

I am just going to jump right in the deep end with this one. There will come a time where she says lets go left and you say right, or she loses the hostel key, or gets too drunk, or gets scammed while changing your money and brings back way less colones than she should have (these are just hypotheticals of course). There is no way around the fact that most sisters piss each other off every once in a while, and no amount of miles between where you go and your home will change that fact. You will absolutely spend some of the trip not getting along, but how you deal with that conflict is key. You didn’t spend a bunch of money to travel halfway across the world (or even the next state over, for that matter) to do what you can do at your Nonna’s house over the holidays, save the arguing for Thanksgiving! Drop the argument like it’s hot, and get back to making memories!

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Save the drama for when you’re home with ya Mama!

2.Expect your parents to worry twice as much.

From my personal experience… moms are particularly prone to worrying. When I travel solo I don’t hear much from my mom, she only begins to worry after maybe a week or so without an update. Now put two of her babies far away in the same place, and for some reason the worrying begins to multiply. I swear there must be some type of mathematical formula, but the more children away together the more they want to hear from you! The best way to tackle this phenomenon, is to share the burden… I mean the blessing of caring parents 😉 Take turns updating your folks about what you are up to, and where you are headed next. One of the best ways is with photos, and that brings me to my next point…

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“You are going to hike a volca-what!”

3.Expect to take the silliest selfies!

One of the best things about traveling with your sister, is that she already knows how impossibly weird you are! No reason to hold back with her, you can be goofy and raw and real and she won’t be the least bit surprised. Usually discovering new places, and new people, you can feel reserved or filtered until you get your bearings, traveling with my sister is the only time I have felt free to be my silliest-self 100% of the time.

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Only with the sis…

4.There will be things you want to do, that she just isn’t into. 

No big deal! Actually this is a good thing. It is important, especially when traveling with someone you are so emotionally attached to, that you take some time to yourself. It doesn’t matter if you just spend a couple hours checking out an art museum while she sleeps in, or you take a weekend and go learn to scuba dive. Having a little bit of time to reflect alone is healthy for you both, so don’t worry if she doesn’t share every interest you have.

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Take some time to yourself!

5.Expect to share your clothes.

When I was younger, this was not my favorite thing about having a sister… lets get real, in high school it was my least favorite thing in the world! Yet, it never is going to change so eventually you give in… and release the vice grip on that adorable mini skirt you secretly wish she couldn’t fit, but she magically fits in everything you own no matter what size it is! If you haven’t learned to share with your sister yet, you will learn it on this trip. Actually traveling together was the first time I realized it was fun to share clothes with my sister, it instantly doubled my available outfit possibilities!

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All apparel compliments of “Olivia’s Suitcase”.

6.Finally, expect to laugh your ass off!

I laugh more than I do anywhere else I go, when I have my sister by my side. I love to travel, but I will be the first to tell you it is far from easy. Yet, with your sis along for the ride, all those slip-ups and bloopers you usually have to navigate alone, are nonstop fodder for the collection of “inside jokes” you will be able to share forever.

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Here is to those times all your photos come out blurry, because you just can’t stop laughing!

Thanks for reading! Comment below, and let us know any tips you have for traveling with family. Like, Follow, Share!

Peace and Safe Travels!

Olivia

 

 

I’m Back in Action and Equipped with Glowsticks!

Im back in action! After Peru I went through a whirlwind of physical and emotional ups and downs, trying to “figure my life out”… I feel like every once in a while I go through these phases where I don’t feel complete in what I’m doing… Usually it’s more like I feel that the important people around me don’t see me as succeeding or living up to my full potential. It’s always different… grad school, settle down, get a “real job”, but it’s never what I’m doing at the moment, and so I stop what I’m doing and momentarily follow someone else’s dream for me. Then I remember how the only thing that made me unhappy… the only thing that made me feel incomplete, was their opinion of my trajectory. I was perfectly loving life when I was just doing me and carving a path all my own. So that’s what I’m going to do damn it!
Although the move back has been rough at times I am so happy I relocated to Ithaca, and will have it as my home base as I continue to see the world… the whole world! Starting with… my home in the desert BURNING MAN! This summer I have been rocking through the festival season, I have been to the local and classic Grassroots Festival, which will always be a favorite music festival for me. Right in my backyard, Grassroots is homegrown with an international flavor. The music comes from everywhere but it’s still small enough to feel like a family, and as an organization they hold social justice close to the heart. A yearly tradition for me that I hope all my readers will look into enjoying some day, they also have satellite Grassroots in Miami and North Carolina! After Grassroots, I hit up the Finger Lakes Cheese Festival with my mama which pretty much explains itself and pretty much explains why it’s amazing. It was very well attended event and a super fun place to take my mom when she came for a visit.

 

Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad (Grassroots)

 

Big Mean Sound Machine! (Grassroots)

The last two festivals I hit up were both run by friends in their backyards out on beautiful pieces of land in the country. The first, Seedstock, was a sweet and family friendly bundle of local vibes! Taking place in Cortland, NY it was an awesome display of small town local bands and nationally known artist from the larger neighboring towns, mainly Ithaca. The highlight was hands down the epic silent disco in the forest behind the house. Yes, it’s just what you think… it’s a dance party… that is silent, but I’m not that into mind altering drugs, there may not have been sound but there was music. I wasn’t running around with 100 other people dancing to the voices in our heads.. Haha! Everyone has a pair of headphones with two channels and there are two DJs transmitting their sticky sweet jams to your noggin! The only thing better than seeing 100 people dancing like maniacs in a silent forest… is seeing them all dancing to different beats! It was a blast! The weekend after Seedstock I hit up, for the first of many more times to come, Gourd Fest. A tiny, invite only, free festival put on by a friend of mine who is an amazing DJ. This weekend of debauchery takes place in the mystical Adirondacks and is typically attended by 60-70 people. For those people, and now me, this is a family! It’s like a reunion of best friends and like minded people where they can let go, live free, and make up all their own rules. There is nonstop music, phenomenal food, each year is themed, and all of this is done by the group of friends attending so everyone can enjoy and participate for free. This has been going on in this otherwise quiet slice of the Adirondacks for 21 years, the kindness, openness, and pure uninhibited fun blew my mind!

Seedstock!

 

Rookies partners of the year, for making zero rookie mistakes! (Gourd Fest)

 

New Friends Forever (Gourd Fest)

 

Gourd Fest Sunday Crew!

 
Gourd Fest was the best prep for the mothership, the festival of all festivals, my home land, where my new year begins every year… Burning Man. That little festival in New York reminded me of the many reasons I adore the Burn. The inclusiveness, the freedom, creativity, genuine kindness, and of course the debauchery! Today I am on my way to spend a week getting my ass good and dusty, a week breaking things down to the raw matter, burning it all to the ground, building myself back up, and starting my new year brand new! I am so ready to remember what I love, and who I am, and and the power we all have to create! I am ready to manifest my destiny, and revel in the possibilities… Burning Man here I come!

 

So Ready to Burn Baby Burn

 

Traveling Black

My personal belief is that we are one race, the human race, and we are all so incredibly and beautifully unique that it’s silly to try and group people into categories based on physical attributes. Physical attributes that have begun to meld and blur more and more as love defies all and every social boundary that attempts to tether it. That being said, when I am seen through other’s eyes I am a black female, and I am damn proud of that, but it doesn’t always make traveling easy… especially traveling alone. I want to share just a few things I have experienced being a black traveler, that guidebooks written for the general public are never going to cover.

When foreigners travel to new places sometimes they can face discrimination, having assumptions made about their intentions in that country or being called names like gringo or worse. I personally have not experienced much in terms of these hardships of travel, but I have been called other things that when lost in translation seem horribly derogatory. To make this clear I have to explain a little bit about the Spanish language for those not familiar with it. It is common practice in Spanish to make a word more affectionate by adding “ita/ito” to the end of the word, this is usually used to say something is small or cute. For example gato+ito = gatito for a little kitten, or “que linda es tu pelito” for how cute is your hair, the ending simply emphasizes the cuteness of something. Here in Peru I have experienced tons of catcalling, which having grown up in the Caribbean doesn’t phase me at all, but being referred to as negrita and crespita did throw me for a spin. Those words translated literally to English mean little back one and little curly one, but literal isn’t the way languages work. After discussing it with many friends here in Peru, a few of them saying that their nickname in their family is also negrita because they are the darkest of their siblings, I was able to get a better understanding of these words. In the U.S. there is something we assume when people refer to you by the color of your skin, that they are attaching to those words some discriminatory stereotype… and often times this is correct. Learning more about the Peruvian culture, I came to the beautiful understanding that there are no stereotypes attached to these words, they are said honestly with pure intent. Calling someone negrita or black girl is not a comment on anything other than the beautiful darkness of her skin tone. Once I truly understood the comments as they were meant in this culture, it was such a refreshing moment, realizing that being brown or black or having kinky hair had nothing to do with anything else other than having a beautiful physical attribute. I have since reveled in the fact that my brown skin and curly hair are so celebrated by this community!

Being a foreigner in a new place you also must get used to a certain amount of attention… especially being a black female alone, which just might be the rarest of all traveling types. That being said, I had to get used to a whole new level of attention in the more remote areas of Peru I have visited on this trip, places where they have never seen anyone… not on a TV, not in a book… with hair like mine. This was especially true in the jungle where my presence was met with the stares of every adult and the tiny hands of children in my locs when they thought I wasn’t looking. It was quite the culture shock that swiftly blossomed into a learning experience for all involved!

I can’t say that I am particularly tolerant of anyone putting their hands in my hair. I am not a petting zoo, and I did not grow my locs for 8 years for your entertainment. In the U.S. I have been in plenty situations where someone has, without asking, come up to me and touched my hair (FYI… That’s really not ok) I am not one to be confrontational and so I typically do nothing more than let them know it’s an invasion of personal space to do what they just did. Then there are people who ask to touch my hair… with almost a frightened look in their face, like they are afraid of what might jump out. These people are not interested in my hair for what it is… an extension of my vibrant energy… They want to see if some crap they heard from a friend about locs being dirty or smelly or itchy is true. I could really rant at length about the ignorant things I have dealt with in the U.S. when it comes to my hair, but this is just a little background so you as a reader can understand where I am coming from when I discuss my time in Peru.

Naturally I was looking at the situation of my hair being ogled at and touched through the lens created by personal experience, but none those scenarios were in play here. There was a genuine and honest curiosity of the complete unknown, which is something I love and is one of the main reasons I travel. I quickly became a lot more tolerant of fingers in my hair, reminding them kindly that it isn’t polite to touch someone without asking, but then allowing them to continue their exploration… which usually resulted in them calling their parents over to join them. I also got used to addressing adults who were staring in a way that made me uncomfortable, asking if they liked my hair… which always resulted in a smile and a nod… telling them it is indeed real, that my hair is curly, and no i can’t take it out and make it straight… and inviting them to touch it if they like. No my hair does not bite!

People fear what they don’t know. So know me. Know me in all my glory. Familiarize yourself with my dark brown skin, my full lips and wide grin, my curly brown hair that flows nearly to my waist. See yourself in the kindness of my face, so it’s crystal clear there is nothing to fear.

Three Tomatoes, Two Bags of Rice, and a Can of Tuna 

I recently spent 5 days camping in the Amazon, this is the tale of my culinary journey through the jungle. I was definitely not planning on having a global gourmand story come from my camping trip, if anything I was hoping to lose a few lbs after eating my way through Lima for 2 weeks, but to my surprise it would prove to be the foodie trek of a lifetime!

Disclaimer before I begin… I have so many amazing vegetarian and vegan friends I love and deeply respect, and so I would like to just take a minute to alert anyone who would be offended, that there are photos in this post of fresh uncooked wild game. If seeing this would make you feel uncomfortable, but you would still love to learn all about the delicious fresh foods I enjoyed in the jungle, message me and I will send you the article without those photos.

Onward!

To paint the scene of what I was expecting to be eating on my trip, I have to get a little into the details of the tour I signed up for. This jungle trek was an unusual offer, it was by far the most rugged and pure experience available. Most multiple-day tours of the Amazon in Iquitos take your group of 2-6 people to a lodge with the majority of amenities you would find in any rustic retreat. Obviously there is no wi-fi… But there are beds, and running water, and a bathroom, and maybe even electricity. Yeah the trip I opted for… Not so much. Although I must say I am rather partial to a bed, I knew I wanted a more unadulterated experience in nature. We sat down with the organizer for the trip in his office… aka his mom’s house (who I sat and had some juice with… Turns out she is 96!), and he basically asked my friend and I how much we could spend and how “authentic” we wanted this trip to be. He showed us where most tours go, where all the ones we had looked into had lodges, and explained its just a river lined with lodges and a few villages nearby who keep jungle animals as pets to insure that every tourists who visits gets to “find” and “touch” a wild animal. According to him this area is commonly referred to by the guides as “Gringolandia”. He offered us a 5 day trip that goes to a different river and deeper into the jungle, where we will have the chance to see primary forest and waterfalls. He let us know that it wasn’t going to be comfortable living, and that when it comes to animals he can’t guarantee a thing… because it isn’t someone’s backyard filled with pets. A little rugged trek in the wild was just what the doctor ordered, I was sold! In total there were 4 of us, my friend Trent (who I met on the 5 day river boat), Humberto our naturalist guide, and Manuel our local guide (and medicinal plant specialist) who lives with his family in the jungle close to where we began our adventure.

Along with modern comforts like refrigeration, went the potential to bring with us much in terms of fresh produce. When we met up with our guide we did some last-minute shopping in a small town along the river. For the couple of nights we would be sleeping on the jungle floor, he picked up 3 tomatoes, 2 bags of rice… and a can of tuna. As I thought of the different combinations of those ingredients I decided I wanted nothing to do with any meal that resulted. I was set to turn this trip into a 5 day cleanse… fasting, exercise, the whole 9 yards.

Our first task, after settling in, was to set out our net or “trampa” to catch tomorrow’s lunch.

Seeing as we just set the nets I was dreading that the first meal would surely involve that can of tuna. When we got back to base camp I offered to help in the kitchen, as I stood there chopping a single tomato for our “salad” Manuel came in beaming. He tells us he is giving us a gift for dinner, he will be selling the rest of this “gift” at the market but for us he saved a piece… and then right next to me he slaps down a foot…

… A very scaly foot.

Manuel had caught an alligator in his trampa at home, and by the looks of his foot it was a sizable one. I’m not into eating possibly overfished jungle animals… but it would be really rude not to accept this gift, and I am always preaching about eating local. (I actually don’t eat meat at all unless I am traveling, and I do so then mostly to gain the most out of a cultural exchange… and to make situations like this enjoyable rather than awkward or culturally offensive). The alligator which I thought was called a caimán is locally known as lagarto. The funny part about it all was I  couldn’t for the life of me remember why the name lagarto sounded so familiar, until we sat down to eat it… and then I realized it was what I had for dinner in town the night before we left, and I had been raving about how delicious it was to Trent all day! I was told it was a type of “pescado” at the restaurant, which means fish NOT reptile. Fried up over an open flame in a jungle kitchen, or served gourmet in a complex cream sauce… lagarto is one of the most delicious meats I have ever eaten. 

The menu for the following day would consist of what we could find in our trampa… which I was praying wouldn’t be an anaconda. The good news when we pulled out the net was that we would be getting to try piraña… the bad news was there wasn’t much of a variety of other things, thanks to the pirañas. It looked like our net had become a piraña “all you can eat” buffet! The few that did manage to survive were bokchico, lisa, and a few pirañas.

On the way back to our base camp, another critter almost ended up on the menu. As we floated downstream Humberto spotted something in a tree… an oso peresoso (a sloth)!! Of course it took me like 10 minutes to find it, and by then we were so close I could just about touch the tree he was hanging out on. Manuel insisted on pulling it off, which did not make Mr. Sloth a happy camper. It was only until I started taking photos that i learned the true reason we got it down from the tree. “Mmmm, vamos a comer” says Manuel… “Ummm I don’t think so” says I. No way I was eating a sloth, “ok, princessita” Miguel said as he grudgingly put him back. I don’t think the sloth was very happy about posing for pictures (I could tell by the growling), but it was that or the grill so I think he got the good end of that deal.

Side note: All those adorable photos you see of people with “jungle” sloths on their hips hugging them close… Pets! If I had turned this guy around so his arms could reach me I am most certain I would have some pretty awesome scars to show for it.

Lunch was delicious fresh-caught fried fish with tomato salad, plantains… and of course bread with another kind of bread because carbs are always served with more carbs in Peru.

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After lunch we set off for the deep jungle, and a wilder side of the menu. After a 2 hour or so walk into the jungle we stopped to make camp and began our hunt for supper. First on our list was piwaillo, it is the fruit of a palm tree and comes red, white, or yellow. Manuel fashioned a hook-shaped stick to another stick with some vines and we all took cover as he plucked the fruit down from a lethal height. To be honest I’m not sure if these are fruits, veggies, or something else entirely but they were pretty tasty. We boiled them up and pealed the skins, which revealed a fibrous starchy inside. The taste was nutty with a slightly bitter aftertaste… which totally could have just been the bug spray on my fingers… Let’s hope otherwise. This is commonly called jungle bread,  I said before Peruvians need their carbs typically two a meal but we had to compromise being in the jungle and all.

Next for some churo and chonta! Churo is a commonly eaten jungle snail… Yes I ate a giant jungle snail! I actually ate quite a few of those yummy things, and Humberto made an awesome necklace out of the evidence. We waded through the muddy flooded areas near a stream to find the churo, which were the exact same color as dirty wet leaves and thus quite impossible to find. Humberto’s strategy was to stomp and smack his machete around until he heard something like the crunch of a shell, which I didn’t like very much… despite the fact they would all be dinner soon. The churo was reminiscent of conch with a less sweet ocean flavor and a more murky mud-puddle taste… to be honest it was pretty delicious, basically jungle escargot! We also hacked up a fallen wacrapona tree to look for suri, a grub worm that makes its home in the wood causing the center of the tree to be soft and sweet-smelling. Although the center of this tree is soft, the outer ring is some of the hardest wood in the jungle, we used it to carve traditional spears later that day. “Unfortunately” we only found one tiny suri, which Trent was brave enough to eat. Suri and churo are both served grilled on sticks in the surrounding jungle towns and even in the big jungle city of Iquitos.



We also got some chonta for our meal, or as you most likely know it… heart of palm. It was nothing like I expected, practically tastes like it’s of no relation to the final product pickled in a jar that I am accustomed to. It had the most delicate flavor and a delightful texture, soft and slightly sweet. Humberto peeled it thin like a pasta and… unfortunately cooked it with the damn can of tuna! It actually didn’t turn out too bad considering it was canned tuna. Overall I have to say my dining experience was quite nice… and the meal was well-rounded, aside for all the bugs doing nose-dives into my food… more protein right?

From there we trekked onward to the next site about 3 hours away… in a torrential downpour.

Yes I am wearing a hot pink poncho… and I love it, I can still be girlie and kick-butt hiking in the jungle! My nickname became princessita… Not because I acted like a princess, but because I could get down and dirty in the Amazon and still look like one 😉

Most of our other meals were composed of fresh fruit. One of my favorites was granadilla, an orange fruit resembling a maracuya (passion fruit) in structure, a shell outside with small seeds surrounded by jelly inside. It has a much milder taste as opposed to the sour bite of a passion fruit, that is until you crunch down on the seeds… each one erupts into a sharp citric explosion on your tongue.


Also there was mame, a red fruit with an odd shape but the tree blossoms the most incredible neon-pink flowers. The fruit was the texture of an overripe pear with a gently sweet watered-down taste, reminiscent of a fruit from my childhood in the Caribbean. I am pretty certain it is the same fruit we commonly call cashew on the island of St. Croix.

Another favorite of mine was chari chuelo a little yellow ball bursting with flavor, honestly if I could get these at my local grocery store I would never buy candy again. The perfect balance of sweet and tart, these reminded me of sucking on a jolly rancher… without that toxic unknown element taste.

To my surprise we stumbled across a random pineapple… I couldn’t believe pineapples were growing wild in the rainforest, but then I saw another and another. 

What the hell, I began to feel like I was in The Truman Show… we had been told we were deep in the jungle but maybe in reality there were condos around the corner filled with locals having a laugh at our “jungle expedition”. I questioned Humberto, he laughed at my suspicions and assured me we were at least 3 hours from any other people… that would be a really creepy statement if it weren’t the answer I was looking for. He explained that farmers hike 2-3 hours into the jungle to make small plantations, otherwise their crops would all be eaten by their neighbors. I thought to myself, that going that far just to hide your crops seemed a little excessive… that was until we turned the corner an came across a small patch of sugarcane, Humberto must have been reading my mind because as I stood there mouth-watering he handed me a freshly cut piece. Then I realized why it was all the way out here, if I was going to plant a field of candy sticks I’d prob have to hide them from my neighbors too. While I stood there sugar juice dripping all over my face, I heard Manuel scream from some distant bushes something about guaba. My heart skipped a beat hoping he was referring to the delicious “guava” I grew up eating in the Caribbean… and then he walked out with an oversized green bean 😦 Despite my initial disappointment, this guaba quickly became my new favorite jungle fruit! To get inside you simple wring the pod as you would wet clothes and vuala! Inside are giant purple beans that are all beginning to sprout, each bean is surrounded by a fluffy white coat of deliciousness! These white clouds of awesome are just thick enough to make you feel like you are actually eating something substantial, but airy enough to be reminiscent of cotton candy… so juicy and sweet I couldn’t get enough! Due to my horrible self-discipline, between all the guaba and sugarcane I ended up eating, I spent the rest of the walk feeling as if I had been drugged with amphetamines.

On the final day, as we said a few sad goodbyes, we loaded our packs with mounds of fresh jungle fruit for the boat ride. Never in my wildest dreams would I have suspected all the tantalizing flavors awaiting my taste buds in the jungle. This was a culinary experience unlike any market could provide, it was a deliciously wild ride in La Selva… that I can’t wait to taste again.

The Day the Jungle Tried to Keep Me

So anyone following my blog for a while will know I wrote a post several years ago when I was working in Bali, Indonesia titled “Typical Me”. It was a dramatic saga of how I arrived late for my flight to Australia… a day late, and then I nearly missed it the second go around. I guess I never learn, but this time I had some jungle juju on my side.

Last Saturday was the day I set off to leave the jungle, I bought a flight out of Iquitos to Tarapoto two days prior and from there I would head by bus to the northern coast of Peru. A part of me really didn’t want to leave… and apparently the jungle didn’t want me to go either. I started the day in a way my mother would be proud of, packing very neatly my two packs, and organizing everything I needed for my flight. I even checked in for my flight before I had breakfast. As I was all packed and ready to go I figured I could do one last outing, there was something I really wanted to see before I left. I made plans with a fellow traveler in my room to go to the Mariposaria, the butterfly garden, that doubles as an animal rescue center where they have a rescued jaguar!! My flight was at 4pm, and I was checked in, so I figured I’d leave the hostel at 2:40 and I would be fine, I was told the drive to the airport was 10 minutes. I headed out for the butterfly garden around noon, giving me about 2 hours and I thought I was playing it safe. My friend and I jumped in a mototaxi and headed to the port where there are boats to the garden were located. I figured 15 minutes for the taxi ride then 20 for the boat. I’m golden on time… I foolishly thought to myself, and then the fun began.

I opted for the more economical colectivo boat rather than a private one, and so we sat in the port until they had gathered enough passengers. Shortly after the little motor boat left the port the 10 of us passengers began to realize something was not quite right. Odd sounds were coming from the motor, and the guy steering us had a far from confident look on his face. Several times the motor stopped completely and the capitan fiddled with a few things to start us going at a snail’s pace… until a few minutes later, then it would fail again. Finally after about 3 other colectivos whizzed by us, we started to get a little antsy. Several locals began to grumble, and soon we succeeded in flagging down a passing boat to rescue us from having to paddle the whole way there. That 20 minute boat ride became something more like a 40 minute affair. Finally in the town we had to endure a brutal 15 minute walk in the heat to find the place.

Seeing as my flight was in less than 2 hours, and the tour of the center was 45 minutes, the guide took pity on me and did all the animals first. The animals could not be visited without a guide, mostly due to the less than comforting quality of the fence between you and a full-grown jaguar… Understandable. Only the butterflies could be visited unattended. I was thoroughly enjoying myself (I will do another post with photos of these incredible animals!), and around 2:30 after seeing all the animals my friend looked over at me and said “I really think you ought to go”…. At least one of us was being responsible. I said my goodbyes and swiftly left the park. The first set of boats I came to were the private boats that go directly to the park not the ones a 15 minute walk away at the town port… Of course they wouldn’t take me because I hadn’t come in a private boat. I had to get to the port and fast, now in a slight state of panic, that 15 min walk turn into a very goofy jog only broken by minutes of panting due to the intense heat. When I got to the port there were no passengers, which would mean I would have to wait for 9 more random people to join me… Not happening. I pleaded with a driver saying I had a plane to catch, he took pity on me and offered me a 15 soles private ride. Even in my state of panic I know a scam when I see one, I talked him down to 10 and we were off. I took that time, which seemed to last forever, to say goodbye to the river and the jungle.

As we docked I basically tossed the soles at him and ran! It was now about 3:05, and my flight departs (not boards… Takes off the ground) at 4:05 exactly. I have to navigate my way down a narrow walkway through a flooded barrio made of wooden boards nailed together. They are barely floating above the water, and to either side is the filthy river water where all the houses that are partially flooded dump their waste… All of their waste. Sprinting on a wet wooden plank… Not the most intelligent thing I’ve ever done. Of course I slip, both feet out from under me and I am soaking wet. No other choice but to shake it off, I giggle just to keep from crying and continue. I get to the road and hop in the nearest mototaxi… Still soaking wet. It’s the youngest driver I’ve ever seen, but I am hopeful that means he drives fast…. Wrongo! It seems like every time I get in a taxi here, I just entered a NASCAR race, but when I actually need to be driven like that I get in with the most rule-abiding driver in all of Peru. I explain my urgency several times, each time growing more frantic, he nods as if he understands but continues with his overly cautious driving. When we finally arrive at my hostel to get my bags I have only about 25 minutes until my flight leaves.

I figure if it only takes 10 minutes to get there, maybe they will still let me on the flight. I want to change drivers but there isn’t another taxi in slight so I have to settle. When I ask him how fast he can get me to the airport he says… 30 minutes! I am doing my very best to stay calm. I run into the hostel for my bags, luckily I have already paid I’m just grabbing things out of storage. A friends sees me and her eyes grow wide, “you are pretty late” she states the very obvious. Then I start considering not even going because I see no way possible to get there on time if I have 25 minutes and it takes 30. She tells me to grab my bags and go, “at least try.. Otherwise you will burst into tears” she says. Knowing that she is absolutely right I grab my big bag and jump in with the slowest driver in Peru. I tell him he needs to go faster than before, and get me there in 15 minutes. He seems to be more inclined to speed now, and soon I realize why he had been taking his time earlier. There was a bang from under the bike, I am begging in my head that we don’t stop… But we do. The chain has come off the wheel and he fixes it rather quickly, but about 2 minutes later it’s off again. I think he realizes I’m either going to switch taxis without giving him any money… Or I’m going to steal his taxi and drive myself, so he doesn’t stop. He just instructs me to put all my weight on the side with the wheel that is dangerously close to falling off… At this point I get out my jungle seed pod I was giving in the market for good luck “buena suerte”. I am clutching it close and just praying I make it alive, I could care less about the flight now.

I get to the airport at exactly 3:48, and no one is at the desk. I stand there shouting for someone to help me, and as I do several onlookers come over to tell me the flight is closed… None of whom actually worked at the airport. Finally an attendant comes out to tell me sorry you needed to be here two hours ago. Suddenly my ability to speak Spanish is amazing, and I remember the word for checked in… “Soy checkeable, soy checkeable!” She takes my passport and says she will see what she can do. When she comes out with a printed ticket I begin to relax, but it doesn’t last for long. She tells me they can’t take my pack and that I have to take it through security with me.

I arrive at security with my small airplane-ready backpack, and my giant 50lb traveling pack which is essentially my house… laden with liquids and Goddess knows what else. They put both on the belt and from the security belt I can see the line for my plane, at least they are still boarding. I turn back around to see the 4 security people at the screen pointing and mumbling. Oh no. “Cuchillo, donde esta el cuchillo”, they are demanding to know where my knife is. As the boarding line winds down to only a few people I am panicking and so nervous I can’t even remember if I have a knife. Then I remember my Swiss Army knife, but I think it’s packed in a bag with my liquids… and if they see those will they take them all away?? I also happen to have a giant bottle of jungle booze… Totally not allowed. They begin tearing my bag apart, and finally I grab the Swiss Army knife and hand it over. They put the bag through and angrily say to me… There is another one. Oh my goodness, I’m ready to scream, everything is out of my pack thrown on the floor and table. They are pointing at a pocket that supposedly has the mystery knife, and all I can do is yell “Its only my undies!”… in English because my Spanish brain is totally broken. I honestly have no idea what they are talking about, and now everyone has boarded the plane. “I need to go” I shout, and proceed to reiterate that I honestly don’t have another knife, one man looks at me and asks me if I’m a liar! I’m going to peruvian prison for sure. I am almost ready to give up, and then one officer pulls a small purple pouch out of a pocket up against the inside of my pack… “Yes!” I scream, way too excited for someone who has been telling the police they have no knife, and the police just found it….

I tell them I forgot I had packed my dive knife, and urgently asked them to take it and let me go to my flight. At this point the pilot is literally shutting the door and turning on the plane, and I can hear angry Spanish followed by my full name on every walkie-talkie near me… And over the intercom. All 4 of us begin shoving everything into my pack, four people stuffing the pack that took me an hour to organize this morning… We got everything inside in maybe 20 seconds. One of the security staff threw it over his head and instructed me to run. We get outside and he runs for the back of the plane and points for me to head for the door, which is shut. I’m sprinting full speed for the stairs up to the plane hoping the door opens or I will be having my second collision for the day pretty soon. Magically the door opens and I run up the stairs into the welcoming cool airplane air. I find my seat, sit down on my soaking wet barrio-water pants, and I kiss my little jungle seed pod! As the plane starts driving down the runway, all that I have just gone through hits me… and I am suddenly laughing uncontrollably. I am starting to believe sometimes things happen just so that you have an outrageous story to tell.

Bucket List Weekend – Chincha and El Carmen

The first stop on my journey was El Carmen, a tiny town in the district of Chincha known as the hotspot for all things Afro-Peruvian. The only way to get to this town is to go to Chincha and take a taxi or a much cheaper combi (also known as colectivos, these are cars or minivans that carry multiple people to a designated area for a very small set fee… aka the human tetris game. I took a combi from the airport and paid 4 soles ($1.50), rather than the taxi fee of 40 to 60 soles ($20), and I shared that ride in a minibus smaller than most SUVs… with 25 other people! That got me some serious “street-cred” with all my Peruvian friends). I got a rather late start to my day on Thursday, so I decided to take an afternoon bus to Chincha and tour El Carmen in the morning. My bus left Lima around 3pm and took about 2.5 hours, getting me there close to sunset. I went with the company Soyuz, which is a middle of the road quality bus, and it cost me 23 soles ($7.50).

About bus travel: I was all about taking the cheapest option and was planning to disregard my friend’s pleading for the contrary until, very unfortunately, shortly before my trip there was a tragic bus crash here in Peru resulting in the loss of 37 lives, apparently it is not an unusual event. The danger is not about the safety of your belongings, it’s about your life… and for that reason it was not worth the risk to go any cheaper on bus fare. That said, buses are absolutely the way to travel through most South American countries, just be wise about the company’s reputation for safety.

Chincha is not much of a “destination” it’s very busy and congested, and no matter what you do to not stick out… you will. I usually try to arrive in a new place well before sundown, especially if I have nothing booked as was the case with this trip (mom don’t freak out!), but I was cutting it pretty close. After a long bus ride I step off the bus to the typical onslaught of aggressive taxi drivers, brushing them off like I actually knew where I was going I continued out the station and onto the main road. I needed to figure out where the “centro” was, the central plaza of the town, usual the place to go if you have no idea where you are going. My “go to” lineup for people I ask to give me directions, in this order, are traffic police (which is absolutely an oxymoron in Peru), fruit vendors with the movable wagon stands, really old men, and women with children… trust me its fool-proof (despite the fact they are known for not liking to ask for directions, men are remarkably good at giving simple directions. Women on the other hand, tend to tell you the color of every house along the way and the name of all the stores on every corner you need to turn at… by the time they’re done I don’t even remember where the hell I wanted to go in the first place!). Also be sure to ask multiple people, if I am really lost I typically ask someone new every block to be safe. For example, someone tells me its 4 blocks away and I walk one block, ask again, and that person tells me its 6 blocks from there… not a huge concern at least the consensus is that it’s straight ahead… somewhere. Now, a crossing guard tells me its 4 blocks ahead and then a vendor tells me its 8 blocks to the left… that’s when I start looking for an old man.

After quite the walk, where miraculously I was almost run over ONLY twice, I reached the central plaza. Peru has the craziest traffic I have ever seen, hands down, it’s like every driver seeks to break every single traffic law known to man at least 30 times… every time they get behind the wheel! Unfortunately for me, the central plaza is under construction so not only are there no vendors or old men hanging around to give me directions but the giant wall of building material makes it impossible to see the other side… so I end up circling this plaza 3 times looking for a hostel before I decide it’s getting too dark and I need to get some help. I break my own rule and just ask the nearest person, who happens to be a young waiter at a restaurant just opening for dinner… apparently everyone working here is under the age of 20. “Do you know where there is a hostel named La Posado?” I ask, in Spanish of course… he stares at me as if I am literally starting to sprout a unicorn horn out of my forehead! “Do you know of any hostels nearby?”…again in Spanish of course, again with the unicorn-horn stare. Ok I am really regretting breaking my own rule at this point, I’m not fluent by any means but my Spanish is not THAT bad, you would think I was asking him where I could find a flying cow! Finally his face begins to look slightly less alarmed, and more pensive. “Si!” He tells me, and I can’t help but roll my eyes. “Aqui” He says as he points out the door. I quickly glance up and down the street not a hostel sign in sight… “aqui where?” I plead. “Aqui”, he reassured me, again with his finger pointing in some arbitrary direction now slightly to the left… “On the corner? On this street? How many blocks?” I ask in Spanish, frantically… his answer to all those questions is a very nonchalant “si” (apparently the teenage tendency toward monosyllabic answers is a global phenomenon…), and I give up, replying with a rather defeated “gracias”… Never again will I ask anyone under the age of 30 for directions… ever!

I finally track down La Posado hostel, after using a stranger’s computer to find that no address is posted online and then trying to follow obscure directions given by the owner after calling from a payphone. I got there and was told it costs 50 soles a night, with an incredulous look on my face I began to haggle it down (not that I really had another place to stay, but I have a really great poker face). I finally get her down to 40 soles ($13), and call it a win. They have wifi and it appears to be reasonably clean, then when she takes me to the room all the craziness becomes worth it. Fellow backpackers will know how hard it is to come by privacy when trying to travel cheaply, I personally have been sleeping on a couch since I arrived in Peru. The room had a glorious full size bed, and a private bathroom… not to mention cable with movies in English! HEAVEN. Needless to say, I slept like a baby!

Bright and early I hauled tail out of Chincha and got a colectivo into El Carmen. It was a short but beautiful ride of about 30 minutes, breaking away from the loud and restless Chincha. The enchanting yellow flowers of cotton plants line both sides of the dusty dirt road, mirroring the Afro-Peruvian culture of this area as it has also blossomed into something of incredible beauty after such painful beginnings. El Carmen is a sleepy little town, apparently slightly more animated on weekends and teaming with life for the Christmas holiday. The people were friendly and curious, everyone wanting to know where I was from. It’s interesting the comfort that comes when looking into faces that resemble yours, even though I someone who loves to explore new cultures and is often the only person who “looks like me” in the room… I still notice the comfort level and familiarity of others when I am around faces that physically resemble mine, even when they belong to a culture so different. It really made me ponder how alike we all are at the core; no matter our differences in language, skin tone, or features I believe we are getting closer to recognizing our global culture. A culture that respects and includes all, one that revels in cultural exchange rather than fearing it.

The people of El Carmen were all shades of brown, most are darker than the typical Peruvian, with the beauty of African genetics written all over their bodies and the familiar sound of Peruvian Spanish on their tongues. I found my way to the one location for information, a “tourist center”, which was really the living room of Guillermo’s house. Guillermo, the keeper of culture in El Carmen, welcomes travelers into his home to share the history, art, and culture of his people. Guillermo and his family were some of the warmest people I have ever met, and I sat for over 3 hours listening to him tell stories in Spanish of the African slaves brought to Peru, their revolutions, their reformations, and their cultural renaissance in the town of El Carmen. There are videos on my Instagram and Tumblr of Guillermo and his son playing the violin and the cajon, a percussion instrument found in Afro-Peruvian music.

I only wish I had been there when the resident zapateo teacher was in town, so that I could learn a few moves from one or two of the traditional dances. The zapateo is a dance reminiscent of tap-dancing, full of life and joy but the meanings of most songs and dances are of somber memories. Most of the dances and songs are written to recall the times of slavery, some even depicting dance moves symbolizing whippings and being shackled. The music, art, and food of El Carmen was all such a treat to experience, and the open hearts and doors that met me upon my arrival were what really made this place special. This was an amazing once in a lifetime experience, I highly recommend taking the time to make the short journey into El Carmen… especially if you are already on your way south.  

Next stop Paracas!

Bus: Soyuz Bus

Hostel: La Posado- listed in lonely planet

El Carmen: Tours El Carmen- on Facebook