Monday, October 11, 2021

Drivin' to New Orleans





I have always loved a car trip. My signature Facebook shot when we're on the road features my blue toenails propped on the dash.

But I think my days of romanticizing the open road are over. Our recent drive across the states was filled with incredible experiences. 

But you know what? 

We're tired! 

Our shift from slow travel to speedy travel has been a reminder of why we prefer being slow-mads.

In three months we've driven about 2,000 miles and slept in 13 beds:

5 housesits (60 nights) -- 66%

3 stays with friends (21 nights) -- 23%

5 Airbnbs (9 nights) -- 11%

We're now in NOLA for three weeks and then...we face the road again. By the time we finally get back to our casita in Mexico next spring (gulp), we are pretty sure that will be the end of long road trips for us.

BUT...we've experienced many incredible things on this journey. I already wrote about our time in California. Here's what came next:


Vegas

We drove from L.A. to Pahrump, Nevada--just because it's fun to say pah-RUMP. Actually, there were two more reasons: It's close to Death Valley and Vegas, places we wanted to visit. 

On our way to Vegas, we stopped at Red Rock National Conservation Area. While the rest of the tourists were crowded into the same few spots, we found a trail with magnificent views that we had to ourselves.


Red Rock National Conservation Area


I hadn't been to Vegas since 1989, and while it's changed a lot, it has the same feeling: cheesy extravagance on the Strip trying to lure you inside to spend money. Dave's not a gambler, and it's not fun to give in to your fixation on slot machines when your husband is pacing the floor, so fortunately, we didn't dump much money into the gambling industrial complex. 


One...singular sensation...

We did enjoy checking out the Bellagio's fountain that danced to "One" from A Chorus Line, the streams of water reminiscent of chorus girls' legs. Inside the Bellagio, we gazed at the spectacular Chihuly glass ceiling and walked through the Disney-esque Harvest Garden display. 


Chihuly magic ceiling: It was vast.


Every 3 months the display changes to reflect the seasons.

We didn't go to a show or eat at one of the extravagant restaurants. Instead, we wandered through three casinos and ate at VegeNation. I guess we're just not Vegas people. Still, I'd call the day fun. But if I don't go back for another 32 years, that's okay.


Death Valley

We woke early the next morning to drive an hour to Death Valley, where we watch the sunrise paint dramatic colors on the landscape.


Zabriskie Point


Then we took a hike through Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral. Doing it in the morning was perfect: most of the way we were in the shade, and we beat the heat. The picture doesn't quite capture the gold and red, but they were brilliant.


Hiking to the Red Cathedral


Arizona

On the drive from Nevada to Arizona, we stopped at Hoover Dam. It's more striking than I'd imagined, definitely worth seeing.


The water level was quite low.


The next morning, we woke early in our comfy Airbnb in Williams, Arizona and drove an hour to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We rented power-assist bikes (e-bikes that require pedaling but give you a boost on hills)--and because we had made reservations we didn't have to wait long in line.


Dave loved it too.


I've been fortunate to do many amazing things in my life--and riding a bike around the rim of the Grand Canyon was one of the most spectacular. It was...soul-stirring to feel the sun and air on my body, smell the trees and fragrant vegetation, and see that primordial canyon spread out before me. 

Part of the ride is on paths, and part on the road, but the only vehicles are tourist shuttles. Those shuttles drop off passengers in designated spots. But because we had bikes, we could stop in places where we had the stunning view all to ourselves. 


Can you see the second one?


At one point, Dave signaled me to stop and pulled out his camera. It took me a few minutes to see a deer in the brush. That he spotted it while we were whizzing by on bikes shouldn't surprise me. He has radar for wild animals. Later as he examined the picture, he saw there were actually two deer.


New Mexico

Next up was a housesit in Tijeras, New Mexico, a mountainous community just outside of Albuquerque. On the way we ate a super delish lunch at Oasis Mediterranean in Gallup. The place looked like an abandoned gas station, but it was an authentic family-run business with fresh falafel, hummus, pita and dolmas.


Dave with Foxy


We stayed at this housesit for four days, caring for two sweet dogs, a nice respite from the road. But our real reason for being in the area was to spend time with our friend Kari. One day we hung out in her cute house, chatting while a desert storm raged. Later we hunted down some excellent vegan New Mexican cuisine at Vegos


The band, The High Desert Playboys, was a blast.

The next day we drove to the charming, arsty town of Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) for live music at a downhome outdoor venue called The Mine Shaft. After so much time sheltering in place, I'm still grateful every time I can boogie to a band.


So great to spend time with Kari.


After that, we drove south to Carlsbad, and checked into our Airbnb, an RV--a first for us. In the pictures it had looked cuter and less outdated than it was--and the cleaner had neglected to find weevils crawling around in a kitchen cabinet. One call to the owner, and someone came to clean it up. We didn't ask, but they reimbursed us, so it turned out to be a funky but free place to sleep for two nights. 


Not our picture (credit)

 

At dusk, we were seated in the outdoor amphitheater at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, listening to the ranger tell us about the Brazilian free-tail bats we'd be seeing shortly. Soon, like a column of smoke, they emerged from the cave...and kept coming and coming. They were so close we could smell their guano-esque scent and hear their tiny flapping wings. A surprising urge welled up in me: some primordial part of me wished I were one of them, soaring out into the night.


One of the zillions of incredible formations in Carlsbad Caverns.

The next day we took the hike deep into the cave. Honestly, I'd been dreading it, the vestiges of a claustrophobia I've mostly conquered rearing its head. The idea of being deep underground, not able to escape, was freaky. Also, I'd made the mistake of reading about tourists getting stuck for hours in the elevators. We planned on hiking in, but we knew the hike out might be too much. To refresh the phobia-quashing hypnotherapy I underwent years ago, I listened to guided meditations the night before. So glad I did.


Barbary sheep in Carlsbad Caverns National Park


Hiking into the darkness, seeing all of the dimly-lit incredible formations everywhere I turned, felt like being in Mother Nature's vast and sacred temple. I was too in awe to be bothered by a silly phobia. The place worked such magic on me that, a couple of hours later, I was able to step into the elevator with Dave (we had it to ourselves) and float without worry 750 feet back to the surface. If you want to see one of the great natural wonders of our planet, go to Carlsbad Caverns. 


Texas

We had three more days to drive to reach our housesit in New Orleans--and that meant crossing Texas. The first part of that huge state featured arid land with lots of tumbledown mobile homes surrounded by derricks nodding their dinosaur heads to pump oil out of the ground. Not to mention flames shooting out of the oil-works giving a Mad Max vibe to the place. But when we hit Abilene, we were charmed. Our Airbnb was nestled in a lovely neighborhood shaded by mature trees.


cute and comfy

 

Walking around, we discovered a town with a large library, symphony, arts, and murals everywhere.


downtown Abilene


The next day we faced another five hours of driving to get to Marshall, Texas, almost at the border of Louisiana. The Airbnb sat on the property of the owner's home, between the peahen coop and the pond. The owner was a good ol' boy named Richard, who'd just had a pacemaker put in but clearly had no desire to slow down. He'd built the adorable cottage using wood from railroad cars, and the place was filled with his wood-working touches. He had a story about everything. He told us he'd been flooded out of his coastal Louisiana home and landed in Marshall. He struck us as a friendly, resilient man.



Finally the next day we drove the last leg to New Orleans. Dave's tooth was bothering him, so while he drove I made him an appointment with a NOLA dentist who had great Yelp reviews. What happened is the story for my next blog. 

Let's just say, we're happy we had all these experiences but the road was long. We're ready to rest, which isn't exactly the New Orleans way. But we're not on vacation. This is our nomadic life, and even in NOLA we're going to do our best to tap into the slow-mad style.


Friday, October 8, 2021

Two Months in California



Hiking Wilder in Santa Cruz, one of California's many gifts.


After three restful months in Hawaii, we kicked off our California travels in the Bay Area.


San Jose

We spent a couple of weeks with Mark, whose place is a kind of California home base for us, always comfy and inviting. We had fun watching the Olympics together and did our usual Jeopardy binge, enjoying Matt Amodio's brilliance. Also, the guys went to a Giants game and watched them beat Houston. What a great season it's been.


Mark, Dave & Steve at Oracle Park

Beautiful day at McCovey Cove


Fortune smiled on us in the gathering of family nearby, even though most of them don't live in the Bay Area anymore. They were meeting up to celebrate my niece Jenna's start of college at Indiana University, and to wish my other niece Hailey best of luck upon her return to University of Tennessee, Knoxville. My nephew Evan was also there, as were my sister Crystal and her boyfriend Kristian who now live in San Diego. 


the clan

We did some hiking at Alum Rock Park in San Jose, and took a day trip to our old hometown, Santa Cruz, for a delicious walk along West Cliff. Little did we know we'd be back in Santa Cruz shortly.




Monterey 

We were happy to score a two-week housesit in Monterey, taking care of two cute little pups. The house looked out over the ocean, so every day we walked the short path to this beach. 


Dave with Jack and Mario

The owner let us use her e-bikes, which we cruised along the inviting path that goes through town and along the coast. We've ridden e-bike a few times now, and the technology just keeps getting better and better. 

The Monterey Bay is a national marine sanctuary, alive with sea creatures. Our friends Kelly, Terry and Laurie came down for whale watching and lunch at Dust Bowl Brewing, an outdoor place with great beers and a taco truck. (And yes they offered vegan tacos!)






We also met Daisy and Tung for lunch at the iconic all-vegan Mexican place, El Cantaro I was thrilled to finally get to meet Danni and to see Luc again before he's as tall as his daddy! I love this family so much. 


Lunch with Daisy, Tung, Danni & Luc


One day Mark came down, and he and Dave went to a car show, as it was Monterey Car Week. (We caught glimpses of cool cars all over town.)



One afternoon we headed to nearby Pacific Grove to meet with my former colleague, Susan, and her husband Gilly. After an invigorating walk through the Pebble Beach dunes to the beach near Spanish Bay, we hung out in their back yard, talking about stuff we love: the ocean, the outdoors, travel, books. 


Dune walk to the beach



Berkeley

Next we headed to another housesit in the Berkeley Hills in a charming neighborhood with steep, winding streets. We fell in love with Billie, an energetic yet well-trained sweet Rottie who enjoyed chasing her ball at the nearby park.


Billie digs her toys

The meetups continued. Dave, a Cal alumni, spent time with two old fraternity friends. And my former colleague Persis invited us to her sweet home and made us a delectable dinner. 



A joy to spend time with Persis.

One day I drove up to the Sonoma coast to meet the delightful powerhouse April Hirschman and chat on her podcast about memoir, bisexuality, self-love and wanderlust (listen here). 


Can you tell we had fun?!


We had a gap of a few days in our itinerary, when my friend Stacey invited us to come stay at her home in the Santa Cruz mountains. So we loaded up all our stuff (did I mention our car is jam-packed with things to handle warm and cold weather and months on the road?)--and minutes from the house, all the dash lights started flashing on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, our 10-year-old Subaru.

All the dash lights.

It was a Friday afternoon. 

We had a three hour drive ahead of us.

We found an open garage where the doom-and-gloom mechanic claimed Subarus suck and we'd probably need a completely new transmission that would take an armload of cash and a long time to fix.

The idea of hauling all of our stuff to a hotel room and waiting who-knew-how-many-days to get the car back on the road sounded as inviting as an ice pick to the eyeball. Dave pointed out the car was driving fine. It would...probably...make it. And if we waited any longer, traffic would be hell. 

As Dave drove the winding back roads, I called the Subaru dealer in Santa Cruz and made an appointment for Monday. When we pulled into Stacey's driveway, I exhaled, realizing I'd held my breath most of the long drive.


Santa Cruz Mountains

Stacey's gorgeous house nearly burnt down in last year's fire. But fortunately it still stands, and there's evidence everywhere of new growth around the singed redwoods. It reminded me of a poem Stacey one wrote that witnessed my rebirth after a horrible divorce. It includes the lines, "blackened rubble ... / old decay / now new food / for interminable roots."


new growth


It was sweet to spend some time with her and her twin sons who are now in college. We took a walk at Wilder State Park along the bluffs, past a herd of harbor seals. We had an incredible sushi dinner in Scott's Valley.

In the midst of all this, the dealer said our car wouldn't be ready until Friday. We had to drive three hours on Thursday to get to our central coast housesit. Dave was resigned that the next day he'd have to drive six hours round trip to return the loaner and retrieve our car. But miraculously, our car was ready early. Santa Cruz has always been good to us.


Santa Maria

Next up was a housesit in Santa Maria, a city of 100,000+ a bit inland from the Central Coast. We spent a day with Andrea, the homeowner, and enjoyed a meal together hearing about her interesting life. I was especially intrigued by the fact that she'd trekked the Camino twice in her sixties. The first time she did 500 miles, a month of walking. 


Simon, our roommate at Andrea's house


That night we curled up on her couch with wineglasses in hand and watched Martin Sheen walk the Camino in The Way, a movie new to Dave and me but one Andrea has seen many times. What a cool thing housesitting is, that a stranger invites us into the intimacy of her home and becomes an instant friend. 

I could have stayed in that area a month or longer, there was so much to do and see. One day we rented bikes in Avila and rode the Bob Jones Trail. 


scenic


Great Blue Heron at Avila Beach


On the Oso Flaco hike along the boardwalk, we saw fish jumping in the lake, and birds swooping around. From the dunes, we gazed out to the ocean. Also spectacular was driving through Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, impressive dunes that are protected nesting areas for plovers. We ended up at a vast, beautiful beach where humpback whales were frolicking in the distance.


with Laurie at Oso Flaco

It just so happened that Laurie was staying in an Airbnb for a month in nearby San Luis Obispo. Having recently sold her home, she had now joined our nomadic tribe--although she fell in love with the area and may end up planting roots there. We hiked together and went wine tasting. We also spent a day wandering around the sweet downtown of SLO and had lunch at super yummy Bliss Cafe.


with Jill at Leticia Winery

And we got to meet up with Jill, the cousin of Dave's beloved long-time friend Mark who died recently. As we communed in this lovely spot, his energy was with us.


L.A.

Our last California stop was L.A., to spend two nights with my longtime friend Nancy and her husband Andy. We made the plan to get there while her art show, "Family Reunion," was up at bG Gallery in Santa Monica. 


the artist with one of her creations


I'd been talking to her for months and watching her progress on social media as she made sculptures and paintings--and as she sorted through family stories and photographs. The show's stunning centerpiece is "Roots," 256 individuals that illustrate the mind-blowing number of people required over only eight generations to make YOU.


Nancy with Roots


close-up of Roots

The other art pieces and paintings in the exhibition all resonate with ideas of family, ancestry and the biology of becoming. 




While Nancy and I were having lunch and gallery hopping, Andy and Dave were on a quest to buy Dave a new camera. With the stock of everything low due to the pandemic madness, they drove hours all over L.A. It's a long story...and was a long day...but they finally scored one. And that is the kind of thing friends do for each other.

That is what this time in California turned out to be mostly about: spending time with people we love. I'd thought being nomadic would mean seeing our friends and family less. 

But it has turned out that when we're in town, we're not under the illusion that we can meet next week for lunch. We grab the time now...because now is all we have.


Dave and me hiking, photo by Laurie


Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Slow-mads in Kauai


Kauai is a postcard.


"Slow-mads" are slow nomads, explorers who spend long periods of time in places. To me, the word suggests not rushing. It's about going with the flow as life unfolds, bumps and all.

Yes, we plan. But often we don't know what our next step will be...as was the case when we went to housesit on the Big Island for two months. One day my friend Laurie said a friend of hers wanted to sublet her place on Kauai. Perfect. We'd been hoping to spend more time on the islands.


View from the lanai

She gave us smokin' deal that included the use of her car. This was huge given how car rental prices have blown up recently.

On a Kauai Facebook page, I'd been reading about another problem: lack of taxis and Ubers. Getting from the airport to your lodging could take hours. When I posted for suggestions, a woman PM'd me, saying she'd deliver us to our doorstop for $20. Hm. Should I trust a stranger? Yes is my usual answer.

Joy of Anini Beach

Sure enough, she showed up on time and drove us north to Kapa'a. Along the way, she pointed out a store her friend owned, a restaurant or two, and a guy with purplish skin and wearing a purple cape that everyone calls The Purple Man. He was a regular sighting during our five weeks there. We gave her $30 for her friendly helpfulness. 


Kap'a Multiuse Path

As always when we land, we set to making the place our own. We unpacked, cleaned, and moved furniture onto the lanai to take advantage of the incredible view and ocean breezes. And the crowing of roosters. They are an unavoidable part of Kauai life. While their squawking might get old, they are quite beautiful, and the ubiquitous baby chicks scuttling after the mama hens are adorable.

strutting his stuff


After one night of tossing and turning in the hot bedroom that faced the noisy street (well, that me was ME trying to sleep; Dave can sleep anywhere), we even moved the bed into the living room. I loved drifting off to the lull of the waves.


At Namaste with another new friend, Debbie


That first night we walked a short way to Namaste, an Indian food truck, where an old guy cranks out delectable food. We shared a table with a couple and struck up a conversation. Next thing we knew, we had a date to visit them in Kilauea. A few days later, they toured us around their gorgeous property, and we hung out in the shade drinking margaritas and sharing stories about famous people we've encountered, live music we've seen, and places we've traveled. 


New friends Rich and Michele

Before we went to see them, we took this gorgeous hike along the Wai Koa Loop Trail:



This trail is on private land, but the owners allow public access. I'd learned on the Kauai Facebook page that the main entrance is closed and to enter via the dog park. (Slow-mad Tip: Joining the Facebook page of our destinations is a great way to get the inside scoop).


Along the Wai Koa hike


We also visited the Kilauea Farmer's Market, a cool scene but the Indian food from a booth was subpar. It would be Namaste food truck for us here on out. And we checked out the stunning Kilauea Lighthouse overlook. In these pandemic times, you need a reservation to visit the lighthouse, but getting to this point was good enough for us.


Lighthouse in the distance

A week or so later, our friend Mar messaged us from Colombia that a friend of hers happened to be on Kauai--"and you will love each other!" Mar is like me, a "friend-ta" (a "friend yenta") who loves to bring people together. And she was right, we totally dug Debbie and enjoyed a day on bikes with her along the multiuse path. A guy selling coconuts just steps away from the apartment rents out the bikes.



With Debbie on the Kapa'a Multiuse Path


I had another day with Debbie, joining her and her friend Kim at Pu'u Poa for a snorkel amongst the healthiest coral I'd seen yet--and the most array of fish and turtles. Debbie has traveled, lived and worked all over the world. She's writing a book. I feel like we could hang out together for two weeks and never stop talking.


With Zan and Joel

Turned out that meeting up with people would become the theme of our time in Kauai. We were thrilled to get a message that our friends Zan and Joel were coming to the island. We hiked with them on the beautiful Kuilau Ridge Trail, explored the stunning Limahuli Garden & Preserve, swam on Haena beach, and enjoyed some beach-and-pool time at their lovely resort. 


Dave and Joel on the Kuilau Ridge Trail


One evening we met for dinner at Lava Lava Beach Club. We got married 9 years ago at the first Lava Lava on the Big Island. What a joy to experience the other one with this couple that I feel blessed to call dear friends. 


Lava Lava offered blackened tofu in place of ahi. Delish.


We also enjoyed a day at Anini Beach with our friends Michele and Robbie who live on the island. They are new parents to Anders, whom we were thrilled to meet. Michele's parents also joined us. 


Michele and Knox


Robbie and Anders


For a small island, Kauai has a lot to offer. We did a slew of other hikes, waterfall viewings, and snorkel trips. Our boat to the Napali Coast was canceled due to high seas, but we saw the coast's drama from Waimea Canyon and while snorkeling around the point at Ke'e Beach. You have to get a permit to go to Ke'e, and with Dave's persistence checking online, we snagged one.


Dave taking a picture of Waimea Canyon


Wailua Falls


It's always thrilling to swim with honu.



fish at Ke'e Beach



mermaid in her environment


Ho'opi'i Falls Hike


We spent a lot of time on the apartment's lanai, did yoga, went to the Kapa'a Farmer's Market, and popped into a bookstore on one of our drives. Some hot afternoons we'd walk down the multiuse path to find a calm spot to take a dip in the ocean.


Talk Story was my happy place


Yes, this place was a dream. But the last week I got sick. Being a slow-mad can be more challenging when illness is involved. We were forced to scrap an international trip that we'd spent months planning. Unravelling all of that took some doing...but that's the nature of this life we live. We have to be flexible. 

Our Southwest flight to California was half-empty, so we had a row to ourselves, a blessing since I didn't feel so great. After some medical intervention and healing time, I'm feeling better. And it didn't take long for us to score several housesits in California (more on that next post).

Based on my effusive updates on Facebook, someone asked me if I wanted to live in Kauai. I thought about it and realized I don't want to live anywhere permanently right now. I want to live wherever I am. Variety is my life spice. Amazingly, Dave feels the same. 


post-snorkel happiness