Wanderlust: Spain

I’m not entirely sure why I chose Spain as the first European country I visited, but that’s where my parents and I went in the summer of 2015. It was more of a whim really, or maybe my brain though it’d be best to start somewhere where at least I speak the language (other than English, of course).

Seville Aqueduct System
Segovia aqueduct system

This trip was a truly spectacular adventure, as for the first time, instead of depending on friends or family to help us out, we traversed the land all on our own, renting a car and everything. In Madrid, we used public transportation to get around the city, visiting museums, gardens, and castles. We got to spend one day hitting up Barrio de las Letras, which is a neighborhood where famous writers of the past, like Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega, resided when they lived. The storyteller in me couldn’t resist the call of those narrow alleys and old apartments, seeing how my ancestors once lived.

Night 2 in Madrid was spent being sent to a speak easy performance of a flamenco show. We didn’t know it was a speak easy/secret until we got there. We’d been sent tickets by a local restaurant owner who’d taken a liking to us as we patroned his place the first 2 nights in the country because it was right around the corner from our hotel. Going up to the hidden vendor inside the venue to be shown a secret entrance made me feel like I’d gone back in time to the prohibition era. The show was spectacular, as we all sat together in the dark, the only light coming from the halo around the dancer.

On day 3 we packed up our suitcases and took our rental out to the Spain highways, where we couldn’t quite read all the signs and made a bit of an error getting off our exit. Thankfully traffic in the area was nothing like it is here in Miami, and my dad had the chance to hit reverse and go the right way.

The next stop was Segovia, where we marveled at the aqueducts the people living there had made so long ago still holding up. We didn’t do anything to touristy here, as it was a pause on our way to visit an old friend of my dad’s who lived in Jaen. But that didn’t stop us from taking in the scenery and just walking the city’s streets, playing the part of the local even though we were foreigners.

We then doubled back to Toledo, where my alma mater followed me, as there were knights galore. Suits of armor decorated almost every establishment we entered. My favorite though was the cobbled streets and box alleys. Everything about Spain’s architecture and infrastructure was narrow and confined, but we never felt imprisoned (though we did nearly crash with a local driver later on). My dad and I took a ghost tour of the streets of Toledo, hearing the legends and lore that are the lifeblood of any town.

I can’t even count how many times we got lost on our adventures in Spain, but each wrong turn took us to new wonders. We found an old monastery up a hill that looked like we’d drop over the edge at any moment before finally leveling out. I picked grapes from the building’s vines, hoping no one was around to see my minor sin of theft.

Stolen grapes

In need of a place to stay the night during one of our lost moments, we found a beautiful hideaway, called La Casa de los Siete Cielos (The House of 7 Skies). Set inside a mountain cavern system and with a rooftop pool and garden, we truly couldn’t have asked for a better place to get lost.

In our search for the famous windmills of Campo de Criptana we accidentally wandered into La Mancha instead, a land best known from Cervante’s work of Don Quixote. We visited the Don’s windmills and then wound our way through the tiny streets of the town below to spend the night among the author’s people. Winding down on our last days, we found a museum dedicated to Dulcinea, Don Quixote’s love interest in the story.

Truth be told, it’s hard to remember every single thing that happened, because Spain was not a followed itinerary adventure. It was truly a trip filled with unexpected findings and wandering an unknown land, discovering it without constraints.

Where have you all traveled unplanned? Let me know in the comments!

Facing the Fall

A view from atop Dún Aonghasa

Another steep climb over slick gray rocks, but at least
that day the sun was shining. Short on breath, once again
but I paid no mind as I drank it all deep.

Another cliff side looking down to a fall into crashing blue
waves, but this time I faced the height. With cautious steps
and shaking hands, I lowered myself into a sitting
position and swung my feet over the edge.

Boots still muddy from the day before shone dusty against
sapphire waters, far, far below. I leaned low, facing the fall
with a lurch in my stomach and my heart. Oh, I fell.

Morning Whiskey at Red Fox Inn

I wrote this piece when I traveled to Ireland for the first time last year. Been missing it like crazy. I need to go back! It’s been a busy year, and a busy month, but I wanted to make at least one contribution to National Poetry Month.

morning whiskey poetry

One part whiskey, two parts hot brew poured slowly
into that fancy ass glass, and topped off with a frothy
cream. Liquor at 9 a.m. is when I knew I’d embraced
the Emerald Isle.

The first sip was bracing, like cold fire spreading
from my throat down my chest into my belly
and suddenly 41 degrees Fahrenheit wasn’t freezing
for this Florida Girl.

The second gulp went down smooth, and the third
I knocked back like a pro. Before the final chug, my
new friends and I raised the last of the rich, brown
concoction, clinking glass. To our newfound Irish health.

Sláinte!

Wanderlust: Washington, D.C., Summer

My first time in Washington, D.C. was in the summer. I can’t quite remember what year it was. Possibly 2012, just before I graduated from UCF. Regardless, my best friend joined me on another adventure to go to an audition, and my cousin graciously hosted us for 48 hours. I was up and awake for 23 of those.

Upon arriving at the airport, the first thing Cat and I did was get lost and come out of the wrong exit, sending my cousin’s husband on the hunt to find us for pickup. Once we were finally found though, I enjoyed the scenic drive to their apartment. I immediately noticed the separate bike paths that followed the same path as the roads for the cars, and thought, “That’s so smart! Why can’t Florida do that?”

Of course, being in such a historic city, we couldn’t just sit back and relax that first night. My cousin took us to Arlington Cemetery, where we went on a sweaty, 2-hour walk the night before I had to be up early for my audition. No regrets though, because seeing those graves of so many fallen soldiers and the results of war was a sobering experience. I still can’t imagine what it’s like to have such convictions, that you’d be willing to die for something you believe in. That’s not necessarily everyone’s mindset who goes to war, but there’s enough belief in some to make that kind of choice. I saw so many gravestones demarking the ground where kids my own age now lay buried beneath, while I walked the path to see where their beliefs brought them.

The next day started for me at 3 in the morning, as my cousin and best friend escorted me to the venue for my audition. Cat, being truly the most ride or die friend that any girl could ask for, went on the hunt for an open breakfast spot and found me a delicious chocolate almond croissant before leaving me to wait all day for 5 minutes of time with an audition judge.

Once I left the venue, I called up Cat to find out where she was so I could meet her. As always, it’s not a trip without getting lost at least once. I hopped on the right metro rail, but going in the wrong direction. Thankfully, I realized my mistake only one stop into the ride, so I immediatley hopped off, walked to the other side of the platform and got on the right train going in the right direction.

I met up with Cat just in time to go to the Library of Congress, because of course the history buff and writing nerd would want to see a bunch of old books. I got to see the Gutenberg Bible display that made my writer heart swell three sizes. We also saw some art pieces depicting the arrival of the British to the Americas in a much different light than a series I’d seen in Ecuador. It’s amazing how perspective can change the same story into two totally different tales.

The real drama started as we left the Library of Congress. Just as Cat and I were leaving by the gift shop exit, I noticed a police officer walking in talking into his walkie and heard something about a code block. We were barely through the door when others ahead of us started running, being urged by another police officer just outside the exit, who kept motioning for us to hurry up. I’m not a fast runner to begin with, but add the heeled boots I was wearing the full backpack on my back, and it was all just very stressful trying to oblige the police officer and run out of harm’s way. Getting down the slope to the curb and far enough away from the commotion seemed to take an eternity, but finally, we found a place called We the Pizza and stopped to stress eat some lunch. That was where I discovered Red’s Apple Ale and found my lifelong drink of choice. Also, the barbecue chicken pizza with shoestring onions was dope.

After that, we met up with my cousin at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where we saw terrifying prehistoric creatures. Seriously, how did human beings ever come to be when those monstrosities once existed? Once we’d had our fill of existential dread and scary (thankfully now-dead animals), we took a ride on the metro where a group of girls really wanted to let everyone know where they were going. We headed to Ben’s Chili Bowl for dinner, as when Cat and I kept looking up food to have in D.C., this place showed up on every list. We took it to go though, as I was so tired that by the time Daniel came around with the car to pick us up, I was falling asleep standing up and wobbling like a Mortal Kombat character who was about to get K.O’d. I barely remember getting back to my cousin’s apartment and eating my chili. I just know that right before I hit the guest bed and knocked out, my phone’s clock read 2:00, and my first thought was, “Dear God, I’ve been awake a whole day.”

The next day, my cousin and her husband took us to brunch in Alexandria at a place called Bilbo Baggins, which of course was Hobbit-themed. I had the richest french toast ever in my life, and no other french toast has ever compared since. Made from two thick slices of raisin bread and stuffed with a decadent cream cheese, that french toast was absolute heaven. I can’t wait to go back someday and have it again.

Wanderlust: Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador, 2011. Photo by Meagan Kimberly

In August 2011  I visited my father’s home country of Ecuador for the first time. I remember my excitement when I booked the airplane tickets for my dad, my mom, and me. Then the day came and boarding the plane to leave the country for the first time turned my stomach in the best way possible. As we approached the green mountains of Quito and flew in between the peaks to get to the city’s airport, the rain drops drizzled down the open plane window and I stopped breathing, our aircraft tilting to fit in the middle and avoid the most turbulence.

We were picked up by an old family member whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years and suddenly I remembered the way he used to make me laugh at family holiday parties. My first time in my father’s country and I felt like I’d come home, my heart recognizing right away that the air I breathed and soil I walked on flowed through my veins. My father’s first time back in his home country in over 30 years and the part of his soul he’d thought long dormant came alive once more.

As we weaved our way through rain and traffic, in and out of road lanes, up and down hills, I realized why Miami drivers act the way they do. The lanes were more like guidelines. Cars honked and motorists yelled at one another just like in any other big city. Buses and taxis ruled the roadways, knowing their public status gave them the most leeway in erratic navigation.

The first day we took the bus around the city, I watched an old man, old enough to be my grandfather, hop off the public transit as it decreased speed to a slow cruise down an asphalt hill but never stopping. I gasped as I saw him stumble and fall on his backside, but he immediately popped back up and went on his way as if nothing had happened. I was glad we were getting off at their Port Authority so that the bus would actually stop, but I’ll admit, when we’d hopped on, I literally mean we’d hopped on. The buses barely slow down enough for passengers to get on and disembark, so anyone planning on taking a trip to Quito better be ready to hit the ground running.

For those who love to travel for the food, be ready to have a healthy serving of soup before every savory meal (lunch and dinner). It’s more than enough soup to serve as a meal itself, but save room for the rice and beans, plantains, and meats. The amount of food I ate never stuffed me for long though, as I did enough walking up and down hills throughout the city and at sites on the outskirts that I was always ravenous by the time the next meal came around. Recommended: start off the day with a bowl of cereal with yogurt, not milk. My personal favorite was the guanabana (soursop) with fruit loops, as its sweet and tart mix made for a refreshing morning start.

We visited sites like Pululahua, a crater left over from a volcano that had erupted many years before, and now housed a valley with a village of locals that made their lives there. Over in Baños, in the distance stands the Tungurahua, a still-active volcano that has destroyed the village at its edge that no matter how many times it crumbles is always rebuilt and the people go on living in their home. At the Mitad del Mundo we straddled the equator and for a moment stood in two places at once.

There’s too many words and memories of my time in Ecuador, and although it’s been six years since I saw it, I still see the waterfalls and green mountains so clearly, with the view of Cotopaxi’s peak the first image that greeted me every morning. Since the moment I boarded the plane that took me back home to Florida, I’ve been dying to step back on my father’s land. I imagine the longing I have is only a fraction of what he’s felt every day since he left, and I can’t wait until the day we both return.

For those lost to the cliffs

The following is a poem I wrote about an experience I had during my travels to Ireland. I’d shared a glimpse on my Instagram, but a fellow traveler whom I’d met on the trip requested to see the full poem, so here it is. Enjoy!

“For those lost to the cliffs.”

Is what the sign at the bottom of the trail read.
Yes, many a tourist stood too close to the edge
and with a gust of wind was blown over the tall
green and muddy rocks to the unforgiving waves.
Knowing this, and even in the chill gray rainy day
I set my boots to the slick brown mud, squelching
beneath my feet as every step created suction between
myself and the earth.

Up and up we trekked, staying safe behind the stone
barricade and sticking to the trail until it stopped and
opened up. We’d made it to the top…
Of the first cliff, at least, and that’s where my asthma
let me go. We walked no further, being on a time crunch
but, oh, what. A. Sight.

I ventured toward a sloped edge, my boots sliding, precarious
but I needed to see. Cold, frothy waves beat against the jagged
rocks, blue-grey over brown curtained with mossy green. My lungs
ached deliciously and the wind numbed my cheeks as I stared
down the long drop and spread my arms in praise. I breathed
in the clear air for the few short minutes we had and closed
my eyes, like praying.

The journey back down was slick, but I made it.
I made it back, but, oh, I was lost to the cliffs.

Wanderlust: Georgia

I went to Georgia during my birthday weekend back in college, junior year if I remember correctly. I was attending an open-call audition and Caitlin, Char’Lee, Lida and I packed into the Volkswagen for a chilly adventure. (Side note: traveling during my birthday always brings a weather surprise for me, as January in Florida is still hot as hell).

As with all proper road trips, we stocked up on snacks and tunes, ready to roll down the highway with classic rock and Pringles. Of course, keeping up the hype for over four hours is difficult, so after a while it became a napping party with Char’Lee behind the wheel, a true team player staying awake.

As we cruised the interstate though, nearing Atlanta but still on the outskirts, Columbus (the Volkswagen) started running low on gas, and every exit we took led to ghost towns with tumbleweeds rolling in the wind. No seriously, the first exit we took, the gas station looked like it’d been abandoned for years and there was brush and dirt just blowing in the breeze. The next stop was the same thing. It wasn’t until exit number three that we made human contact at a mom-and-pop garage.

Thankfully, they did not kill us as we suspected they might, and instead laughed and said, “Yeah, you’re not gonna find a working gas station for a while. Keep driving.” How was that possible near a mechanic’s garage? Columbus would just have to keep livin’ on a prayer until we reached the city.

We made it. Just barely, but we made it. Filled up and headed to the hotel where surprise, there’s a parking fee for the garage they hadn’t told us about when I’d first booked the hotel. Shout out to my mom for taking the extra charge. Other than that, I gotta admit, I don’t really remember the hotel. I just remember walking around Atlanta.

I don’t remember when we arrived, but while the city itself felt alive, there were hardly any passersby on the streets. It was like my friends and I were the only living souls left amid the breathing concrete and edifices. I’d never pictured Atlanta, GA being so devoid of people at any given time. It was a major city, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t it have been like NYC or Miami, with citizens bustling around at every goddamn hour of the day?

Eventually, my friends and I parted ways, leaving me behind to wait with the cattle call for auditions while they ventured into the city to explore. I got a text message saying, “We found Atlanta. Everyone’s at the aquarium lol.” Who knew the Atlanta Aquarium required reservations beforehand?

Fast forward through the auditions, because I spent the whole day there, mostly sitting and practicing and panicking, until it was all over and I was free to join my friends again. I believe the name of the restaurant we went to was called Pitty Pat’s Porch. The pecan pie is highly recommended. That damn dessert still haunts my dreams. Also, I had collared greens for the first time that night, and they were delicious.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More food adventures were had the next day as we lunched at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, and oh, damn, were those ribs social media worthy. Atlanta was good for food. And for laughs, as we arrived in the Five Points neighborhood and Char’Lee had to get out of the driver’s seat to let me parallel park. Apparently I was the only one there who had some experience with that maneuver (Hialeah training, thank you!).

For the hipster and bohemian at heart, I say visiting Five Points is the way to go. Not so much my cup of tea, but the others enjoyed it a lot. Crazy jewelry purchases were made. Thrift shops were perused (because who goes to a place like Five Points and doesn’t go thrift shopping?). Record stores ogled. Yep, the perfect place for a writer to set up shop and start working on her observation skills.

Our final day in Georgia saw us through a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr. community. It’s still surreal to me to walk down paths as an every day citizen in neighborhoods where such historical figures once walked themselves, and I wonder if they thought they were ordinary as well.