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Anna works an average 9-to-5 job as a Mechanical Engineer, but on the weekends transforms into a wilderness wandering mermaid. Combining her passion for aviation and wanderlust, she explores the world with unique adventures and has a knack for finding great travel deals.
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Liebster Award Nomination

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Curious to know what exactly is Liebster Award?

Well, the Liebster Award exists only on the internet and is given to new bloggers (< 500 subscribers) by other bloggers. “Liebster” is a German word that translates into sweetest. So being nominated is bound to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Upon acceptance, you must pass this award along with new questions to other (new) bloggers so the love will continue to spread.

I was recently nominated by Hanie from buy Lamictal without a prescription in the united states. She is a fellow aviation enthusiast and photographer so check out her blog when you get the chance!

THE RULES:

  1. Thank and link to the blogger who nominated you
  2. Create a post on your blog, displaying the Liebster Award Logo
  3. Answer 11 questions assigned by the blogger who nominated you
  4. Provide rules/instructions for accepting the award
  5. Nominate 5-11 new favorite bloggers for the Liebster Award
  6. Come up with a list of 11 new questions for your nominees
  7. Notify the nominees
  8. Post your Liebster Award blog post link in the comments of your nominators Liebster Award Post

THE QUESTIONS:

What made you start your own travel blog?

When I first started solo traveling I started a blog so my dad could keep up with where I was, and it was an easy way for him to read about my travels and see all my photos.

Were you raised to travel? Or did you decide to be different and explore the world?

My dad is an adventurist, and didn’t let having kids stop him from traveling the world so I started exploring the world at a young age.

What/Who inspires you to travel the world?

I have an immense curiosity about the world to experience new cultures, to explore unique landscapes, and to go where few people have been. There’s something so intriguing to see the raw world, to see it completely untouched by tourism.

If you can be anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I’m itching to go on a road trip through the Silk Road to Mongolia. It seems so wild and I’m interested in the people’s nomadic lifestyle. 

What is your favorite travel essential?

I have a tendency to under pack and bring the bare minimum (sometimes even less) but I would say I couldn’t go anywhere without my camera (Nikon D3300) and wide angle lens!

Is there a city you’ve been to but hate?

I’ve never been anywhere I’ve hated since I think that all places are unique in their own way and you just have to embrace it for what it is. On the other hand I’m not a huge fan of cities in general and tend to drift towards interesting landscapes. 

What is the best accommodation you’ve ever stayed in?

“The best accommodation” is hard for me to classify… I would say the most memorable was staying in a bungalow on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua. It was a shack that didn’t even have a lock on the door and had the most basic necessities – a bed with mosquito net for $10 per night. There wasn’t even electricity or running water, but it was so simple and right on the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen that it’s one of my favorite places I’ve ever stayed.

And the worst?

I guess I’m fortunate that I haven’t stayed in any awful accommodations that I can think of (knock on wood)! But then again, I might have pretty low standards considering of my favorite places didn’t even have running water.

What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen while traveling?

Swimming with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico is probably one of my all-time favorite experiences. These creatures are so incredibly beautiful and majestic and I hope I get the opportunity to swim with them again one day.

What is your least favorite thing about traveling?

I’m definitely not a fan of multiple layovers or the time it takes to get to a destination. If anyone has any great stopover tips to make the most of layovers it would be much appreciated!

Do you have any tips for new bloggers?

Keep writing, keep networking with other bloggers, and keep improving your photography!

Now I’d like to nominate the following bloggers for the award:

  1. Vinz Dias – buy non prescription drugs generic Lamictal
  2. Orsi – buy online Lamictal 25 mg
  3. Carlie – buy Lamictal
  4. Anthony – buy Lamictal 25mg
  5. Meghan – buy Lamictal online made in america

MY QUESTIONS FOR THE NOMINEES ARE:

  1. What was your first travel destination?
  2. What’s the scariest or most extreme thing you’ve ever done?
  3. What/Who inspires you to travel the world?
  4. If you can be anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  5. What is the best memory you have had while traveling?
  6. What was the last country you’ve visited?
  7. If you could take anyone with you on your travels, who would it be?
  8. Top 3 favorite places you’ve been?
  9. What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen while traveling?
  10. How did traveling change your life?
  11. What piece of advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

Thanks again to buy Lamictal without a prescription in the united states for the nomination!

Havana, Cuba

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   Now that travel is easier than ever to Cuba, I wanted to go before tourism floods in and changes the culture that seems as if everything is frozen in time. With a food shortage and an infrastructure that isn’t ready to handle all the people ready to explore the country, you can really feel the effects from canned foods to lines like Disneyland. Regardless, Cuba has an amazing culture and rich history that you should definitely experience in your lifetime!

DAY 1:  Arrival in Havana

After leaving LAX the night before, we made a stop in El Salvador to pick up visas. It’s as simple as going up to the counter at your gate and asking the attendant to fill out paperwork for the visa card and paying $15 (it varies from country to country; my relative paid $20 for a visa in Mexico). There are 14 reasons in which you are allowed to travel to Cuba, and we checked off “People-to-People Education/ Cultural Exchange.” We arrived in Havana, Cuba at noon that day. Stepping out of the airport was surreal to see all the classic cars lined up, and with warm weather and palm trees it already had a romantic feel. Taking a taxi cost 30 Cuban pesos (1 USD = 1 CUC) and took 30 minutes to the actual city of Havana, but we arrived at our Air Bnb right in front of the University of Havana, which was smack dab in between Habana Vieja and Habana Centro. After being greeted by our host and settling in, we took off to explore Habana Vieja, where you’ll find all the rich history of Cuba. 

It’s easy to walk around Habana Vieja, so we started with the Plaza de la Catedral and continued down the the street of Calle Mercaderes where we saw street performers and women in traditional costumes. We wandered down to the other main squares of Plaza de Armas and Plaza Vieja, and there were tons of free museums and art galleries along the way. We also had recommendations to check out Havana 1791 where you can pick up local perfume and Museo del Chocolate but the lines were so long with tourists that it didn’t seem worth it. 

We had lunch at Cafe O’Reilly, which is near Plaza de la Catedral, and prices were decent for a meal of pork and rice ($5) and of course, a mojito ($3), and you can sit on a beautiful private terrace on the second story that overlooks the street below. I’m not picky when it comes to food so I’d say it was a good meal for a good price, however, since I’ve heard so many great things about Cuban food I was expecting a little more. Later that evening we had dinner and drinks at a restaurant in Plaza Vieja, and I was beginning to see a trend with the food – canned tuna with ketchup, canned vegetables, and stale white bread.

We ended the evening at the bar La Bodeguita del Medio, which was made famous by Ernest Hemingway, so naturally we had to try a mojito. It was pretty amazing how packed it was and the bartender has glasses lined up, ready to make 15 mojitos at once. We took our drinks outside into the street and enjoyed a great end to our night.

DAY 2: Centro Habana

Even though I had a list of places I wanted to go and a map of Havana, admittedly it was hard to find places without WiFi, so I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook. The only places with WiFi are the really expensive hotels that charge $10/hour to use it, but we headed to Hotel Nacional and had breakfast overlooking the beautiful Malecon while planning the rest of our trip. 

We wanted to check out the Fabrica de Tabacos Partagas to see how they make the famous Cuban cigars. They only sell tickets at two different locations, so we headed to Habana Libre Hotel before making our way to the factory. It was pretty amazing to see all the workers lined up at desks rolling the cigars, and then at the end you can get a special deal if you want to buy some. You are now legally allowed to bring $100 worth of cigars back to the US if you’re planning on bringing some back!

El Capitolio was a little bit of a walk from the tobacco factory, and we ended up getting lost, but eventually we found the area. The Capitol is a beautiful area with the best classic cars lined up nearby that you can hire for hourly tours of Havana, tour guide and everything, but we decided to wait to do this until our last full day. Nearby you can find the made-famous-by-Hemingway La Floridita (their daquiri’s are a must!), original Sloppy Joe’s restaurant, and El Chanchullero hole-in-the-wall tapas bar. These places were packed so we found another place nearby for lunch. 

We got on a hop-on-hop-off bus that tours around Centro Habana, which is a great way to get around since everything is much more spaced out in that area and cheaper than a taxi. Our first stop was the Plaza de la Revolucion, which is an iconic square where Fidel Castro had addressed the Cuban people. We took the bus again to drop us off at the national cemetery because it was close to a post office to mail postcards and from there we walked along the beautiful Malecon at sunset to the restaurant El Cocinero. 

I have received numerous recommendations to eat at El Cocinero for their amazing and giant meals of lobster for only $15, but unfortunately they didn’t have any availability for that night. I then proceeded to ask if I could make a reservation for any other night and they said they were completely booked until the next week, so if you want to try it make sure you make a reservation well in advanced! There isn’t much to eat around so we took a taxi back to Habana Vieja for dinner and we salsa danced the rest of the night away. 

DAY 3: Varadero

After two full days of nonstop walking (we logged 25,000 steps each day!) we were excited to have a day at the beach just to relax and soak up the sun. We took a taxi to the Viazul Autobus station and the second you step out of the car, other taxi drivers will bombard you with offers to drive you to Varadero for $100. Unfortunately the line was so long to buy bus tickets ($10 one way) that we missed the 8 AM bus. Getting there an hour early wasn’t enough, so I highly recommend booking your bus ticket in advanced either the day before in-person or online. Fortunately there were a few other travelers in the same boat as us so we were able to all split a taxi to Varadero for $20 each ($40 round trip). Instead of a 3 1/2 hour bus ride we arrived in Varadero in only 2 hours! It was definitely worth the extra $10 but I don’t think I would have taken a cab if it were only 2 people instead of 5. 

The taxi driver took us straight to the beach and it was an incredible sight – white powder sand and the clearest ocean water I had ever seen. It was so quiet, the waves hardly made any noise and all was calm. We laid out under an umbrella rigged out of a palm tree and there was a life guard that brought us fresh coconuts. Massages were offered right on the beach super cheap. Life was so good. 

For a packed beach town, there were hardly any places to eat, and I was getting pretty tired of the standard tuna with ketchup on stale bread. We found a grocery store and grabbed snacks, but it was interesting to see the effect of communism; you walk down an isle and see a jar of honey, but there’s only one kind. You walk down another isle and find the chips, but there’s only one kind. There was very little variety and very few products to buy – I could probably name all 2o things being sold at the store. On the flip side, you walk down the alcohol isle and it’s packed, but a tiny bottle cost well over $100. Seeing an imported bottle of Kahlua cost $650 blew my mind, yet when you go to a bar, drinks cost a maximum of $5. 

Our day ended with a return trip back to Havana, dinner at Sloppy Joe’s, and drinks at a nearby bar. Be prepared to have meals that take up 1 – 2 hours; service is usually terribly slow and you really have to fight for the waiter’s attention. 

DAY 4: Habana Vieja

This was our last full day in Cuba so we finished off the trip with random things around old town so it was easy to walk everywhere. We started off with churros for breakfast, which are a must! You can’t beat a full cup of freshly made churros for 50 cents from street vendors. We ate our churros while walking down the street Calle Obispo, where there’s lots of local shops and you can get a glimpse of how local Cubans enjoy their time. 

My cousin requested me to bring back some specific Montecristo Cuban cigars, so I bought a box from La Casa de la Habana. This is a good place to get authentic cigars of every kind for a decent price. If someone is trying to sell you cigars off the street, it’s more than likely a fake, so be careful!

We made our way down to Almacenes de San Jose, which is a giant artisan market where you can find all sorts of goods and souvenirs. You can find a vast amount of paintings, leather goods, and trinkets here! I definitely suggest waiting to buy your souvenirs until you check out this giant warehouse.

The second biggest export in Cuba behind tobacco is rum, so we headed to Club Havana’s factory for a tour, Museo del Ron. It was interesting to hear about the sugar cane industry history, and who doesn’t like a free rum tasting at the end? We would have bought a bottle, but the cheapest bottle was still well over $100 so we had to pass. 

Nearby we found pristine classic cars lined up, ready to take people on tours of the city. Since it was our final full day, we picked out a bright pink car with the top down for the hour. Not only are you getting a ride in an awesome picturesque car, but the driver is also a licensed personal tour guide! He took us across the Malecon to Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana, which was a great snippet of Cuba’s military and war history. They even house the Guinness World Record for the longest cigar! 

Since we had such a late lunch, we went back to our Air Bnb to freshen up and get ready to go out for the night. We went to Fabrica de Arte Cubano, which is an old oil factory that’s been transformed into an art space for established and emerging Cuban artists. It’s an amazing hangout spot, and the factory includes a bar, restaurant, theater, club, and art gallery. It opens at 8 PM and the line was so long we waited for 45 minutes, but it was well worth it. It was so much fun to walk around the art gallery, sipping on mojitos while listening to a live improv jazz band. Later they had a live Cuban flamenco dance performance and a live DJ in the club. 

DAY 5: Departing Havana

It was our final day, and since we had seen most of the attractions we decided to take it easy, sleep in, and spend the morning packing. We had an early lunch at a nearby restaurant and a taxi driver took us back to the airport. I wish I had more time to spend in Cuba to visit other parts like Vinales, Trinidad, and some of the other islands to go diving, so in my opinion 3 days of sightseeing around Havana is plenty of time. Overall it was a great trip and I’m so happy I was finally able to experience the culture of Cuba. 

 

Tips for Visiting Iceland in the Winter

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It’s not easy to find a ton of information on traveling to Iceland in the Winter, so in honor of my trip to “The Land of Fire and Ice” exactly one year ago, I decided to put together a list on my tips for a trip to Iceland during the coldest time of the year!

  1. Take advantage of the low costs. Since most people are spending time with family around the Christmas season, no one thinks to go to a country near the Arctic Circle in the dead of winter! I highly recommend looking into Iceland’s new budget airline, WOW Airlines, for incredible deals or using Iceland Air’s stopover service if you’re on route to Europe! Iceland Air can add a stop to your trip for no extra cost and prices for rental cars and hotels (even Airbnb!) are much lower than the high season.
  2. Rent a camper van or larger vehicle. If you’re looking to drive around the country during the winter, I highly recommend renting a larger vehicle or get snow chains. Last year I rented a tiny Peugeot car, found myself in a blizzard and was skidding all over the road. You’re pretty far north in the winter so come prepared for weather that is always dramatically changing! Getting a GPS with data and WiFi service for your cell phone is a huge plus for navigation, which is offered at most rental car companies.
  3. Pack as if you’re going to the North Pole. I mean, maybe this isn’t true for all of you, but coming from Southern California and never experiencing a true winter, make sure you pack appropriate clothes and layer up! If you’re going to be traveling around the island, some winter boots work great in the snow and diverse terrain (maybe not super bulky boots if you’re planning on running every which way like I usually do but something to keep your feet warm and dry)! 
  4. Check out the ice caves. Winter is a special time of year because it’s so cold that it’s safe enough to check out ice caves that are buried deep within glaciers. With walls that look like deep blue crystals, it’s an incredible sight to see and I highly recommend checking it out. Plus, if you’re doing a road trip around the country, the tours meet right next to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon so you might as well add a morning stop!

 

Advanced Open Water Diver: Maui

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In October I was lucky enough to have enough time to get my Advanced Open Water Diver certification in Lahaina on the island of Maui! I was out there for the week for a Structural Engineering convention with my dad and boyfriend, and since I didn’t have a car to go sightseeing around the island, I decided to get another scuba diving certification.

One day maybe I’ll get my Dive Master license, and in order to get there you start out with your regular Open Water Diver certification, then get your Advanced Open Water Diver Certification, then Rescue Diver, and finally Dive Master. The advanced certification was done over two days and consisted of five dives. I was fortunate enough to have a great instructor and dive shop to help me get everything done a relatively decent price (6 shore dives with all equipment, textbook, and instructor included for $300).

Dive #1: Drift Dive. The area was called “Black Rock” near the Sheraton Hotel in Lahaina, where we jumped in the water and floated down with the current and got to see a huge school of fish. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of diving around Hawaii because most of the reefs are pretty dead, but it was still great getting to dive in warm waters.

Dive #2: Wreck Dive. We headed down the road about ten minutes to Nala Pier in Lahaina, which is technically considered a wreck. On the surface it looks like an old, falling apart pier but under the surface there’s all sorts of obstacles and life growing. We even saw five sand sharks lurking along the bottom.

Dive #3: Fish ID. The last dive of Day 1, we went back up the road a little past Black Rock to Airport Beach, which was a great reef with a considerable amount of life. I had to identify five different types of fish, vertebrae, and marine plants after the dive and I had the help of a book that had all the different types of life native to Hawaii.

Dive #4: Deep Dive. The second day was pretty quick since I only had two dives and they were both at Airport Beach. For this dive I had to dive deeper than 60 feet for at least 10 minutes and observe how much light disappears that far below the ocean. We planned to go down to 80 feet but we got caught in a rip current and had to call it at 65 feet.

Dive #5: Navigation. For the last dive I had to use my compass to navigate around. The task was to kick ten times North, then East, then South, and finally West, essentially making a giant box. A special moment was getting to see a giant Hawksbill Sea Turtle, an endangered species, and a majestic Spotted Eagle Ray.

And now I’m a certified Advanced Open Water Diver! Rescue Diver certification next!

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Baños, Ecuador

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No, it does not mean “toilets” in this case, which is the most common reaction I get when I told someone I went to Baños (It means “baths”). Yes, I managed to visit the “Adventure Capital of South America” in one weekend. Yes, that was one of the most exhausting weekends of my life on top of my new 3 hour work commute.

We arrived in Quito and decided to hop on the bus to the Quitumbe bus terminal. If you’re pressed for time, like we were, I highly recommend just taking a taxi for $20. If not, then great! Take the bus two hours for a dollar. Prepare to use your Español mucho! And because everything is so cheap, don’t take any bills larger than $20. If you can, exchange them for even smaller bills because most of the time they don’t have change. They look at a $20 bill like a $100 bill, sigh and hesitantly give change or shake their head no.

At the bus terminal we headed into the building and straight upstairs for departures around the country of Ecuador. There’s huge signs on top of all the booths listing the cities – be sure to take the Baños Express bus straight there, otherwise you make every. single. stop. possible. along the way, but it cost about $5.50 per person and a little over 3 hours to get there.

It was a quick walk over to Hostal d’Mathias, which actually felt more like a hotel than a hostel. For a private room, private bathroom, and a rooftop terrace overlooking the town, you couldn’t beat it for $9 per night! I couldn’t believe it. It was extremely clean and the receptionist was super helpful, even though I was probably annoying him with questions and my struggle to recall words in Spanish here and there.

We had dinner and headed to the famous baths, Los Baños de la Virgen. It was on the edge of town next to a waterfall and there were a few different pools to choose from (it didn’t smell like sulfur, FYI) but they make you wear a swimming cap so be prepared to look ridiculous. Besides a select few backpackers, it’s mostly locals that use the pools so it was nice to be immersed into the culture.

Early the next morning at sunrise we had a taxi driver take us to the famous Casa del Arbol. From pictures, the tree house looks like an open area where you can drive up and peer over the cliff and swing but it’s become a full-blown tourist attraction so that’s not the case. There’s a gate that usually opens at 6 AM but for some reason it wasn’t open that morning, and the taxi driver didn’t know why either. I didn’t come all the way to Baños NOT to see this famous swing, so we hopped the barbed wire instead (sorry for trespassing but we left everything the way it was, I promise!). The taxi driver told us usually a guard camps out and just to say that “we didn’t know” but there was no one in sight. We had a blast on the swing! The driver charged us $20 but I gave him an extra $10 tip for being so patient and helpful.

We got back to the town where we had breakfast in a large community hall-like place where there are tons of vendors selling breakfast, fresh juices, coffee, you name it! It seems like it was a government-run place because all the local families would eat there. We had a HUGE breakfast of eggs, beans, plantains, vegetables, and rice all for $3.50. Seriously, you can’t beat these prices.

At 8:30 AM we got back in time for a tour of the Amazon Rainforest in Puyo. We got to canoe down the Amazon River, see an indigenous village, play with mini monkeys (absolute favorite, hands down), and trek through the Amazon Rainforest to find waterfalls.

We got back in the evening just in time to shop around for local goods (I found an alpaca sweater!), grab dinner, and get drinks at a local bar. Baños was absolutely amazing, and I really wish I could have spent more time there.

We took a bus back to Quito EARLY the next morning – we’re talking 4:30 AM since it’s a long bus ride and Ecuador is on a slower pace of time so you never know what could go wrong. Well, nothing did. We got back to the Quitumbe bus terminal and got a taxi to El Mitad del Mundo. That’s right, the Equator! I was in two hemispheres at once! There was a large monument (it was funny to watch people take photos) and museum and a small village surrounding it where you could buy local crafts and food.

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Road Trip through the Southwest

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There’s something about road trips, camping, and exploring the wilderness with your best friends that makes life just a little bit sweeter. This was my last hurrah in Southern California so we decided to head on a road trip through Arizona and Utah before leaving this stunning landscape behind.

When you look on Google Maps, driving from Los Angeles to Zion National Park doesn’t look so bad. Six and a half hours? No problem. We left LA at 4 PM on a Friday… And we didn’t reach Zion until 4:30 AM on Saturday. I’m always determined for an adventure so I’m fine with doing the full drive, but I feel bad for my compadres who were expecting to get a good night’s rest that night. It didn’t help that T-storms were striking and the rain thundered down on my Jeep, it was so loud.

We had no plan. So I drove to the Zion National Park Visitor Center, put my Jeep in park, reclined my seat, and slept for an hour and a half. I wasn’t expecting it to be so cold in the dead of summer! Granted, this was kind of a last-second trip so I just hopped in the car with whatever clothes I was wearing and was like, “Well we’re camping anyways, who cares!”

There’s a free shuttle from the visitor center that takes you to all the biggest attractions of Zion, so we hopped on and headed to The Narrows. Keep in mind you don’t need a permit to hike The Narrows if you’re going from the bottom-up. You ONLY need it for top-down. Hiking the Narrows was so worth it; the scenery was gorgeous and it was awesome getting to hike through the stream. As it got later in the morning I noticed the water flow was getting stronger and I would lose my balance a little. Good thing we turned around when we did, because there was a huge flash flood warning issued and the trail was closed off when we returned.

After checking out the other sites in Zion, we decided to drive an hour and a half out to Page, Arizona. We did some off-roading in my Jeep for the first time and camped out at Lake Powell right next to the water. It was absolutely beautiful taking a dip in the lake and also climbing onto the cliffs watching the sunset. The evening was perfect cooking dinner over the fire and doing some astrophotography.

We woke up at 5:30 AM to watch the sunrise at Horseshoe Bend (Just a tip if you’re an avid photographer, the sun peaks behind the bend at SUNSET not sunrise. Sometimes I miss little details). We had a photography tour at 8:30 AM at Lower Antelope Canyon, which I highly recommend over the regular tour if you’re into photography. The guides are really great about catering to your photo needs by stopping tourists that might get in the way, give you some tips for perfect photos, and you get double the time down in the canyon.

Last year I visited Upper Antelope Canyon, and out of the two places, although both are stunning, I recommend Lower Antelope. With Upper Antelope Canyon there’s so many people it feels like you’re being shuttled through a Disneyland ride line and it’s super packed. Even though we were on a photography tour in Upper, there were still a lot less people.

After the tour we hopped back in the Jeep and drove back to LA!

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Oneonta Gorge

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Heading to Portland? Love hiking? One of my favorite hikes in the area is the Oneonta Gorge; it’s a short out and back 1.5 mile hike that’s perfect to do in the summer! Not only do you get to experience the greenery and beauty of Oregon, but it’s unique in a sense that you have to wade through water to get to the end waterfall (so I strongly encourage you to keep this for the summer since the water is freezing cold). Keep in mind that a weekend over summer calls for huge crowds, and it’s a pretty small area since you’re climbing over logs and hiking with walls on both sides of you. The water even came up to my chest while wading through so come prepared!

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Rio 2016 Olympics

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For many, the Olympics is on people’s bucket lists but I’ve found that there is little information on how to get tickets or how the whole process works. You really have to plan ahead a little over a year in advanced to be able to snag tickets. The 2016 summer Olympics took place in August, and I bought tickets back in June 2015. Unfortunately, you can’t just buy a ticket to go to the games, you need to select separate events and you’re put in a lottery to win the ticket. For the lottery, I originally selected all of men’s hockey, handball, synchronized swimming, table tennis, and football; I only got half of hockey, synchronized swimming, table tennis, and football. You get the idea – it’s a pain.

But where do you buy these tickets? Cosport.com is the official ticket seller for the Olympics! After the first round of the lottery, make sure you buy your tickets quick to lock it in! After that you can try again during the second round for the ones you didn’t get. And then… you have to wait a full year before the actual games. We didn’t buy plane tickets until June 2016 since there was so much unrest in Brazil along with Zika virus that prices just kept dropping.

When I first arrived in Rio, I was so excited for the rich culture, vibrant life, and awesome beaches. And I did exactly that and headed to Ipanema Beach! Not many people know English well, so if you don’t know Portuguese it definitely helps to know some Spanish to get around. The first full day around Rio was sightseeing – Christo Redentor, Sugarloaf Mountain, and Escadaria Selaron. Every place is super crowded but I definitely recommend seeing Sugarloaf Mountain first thing in the morning when it opens! It was beautiful seeing the fog rolling through the islands of the harbor and the lines were short.

The three days after that were spent at the Olympics! And boy, was it a mess trying to get around. They don’t really tell you that it takes about 2 hours to get to each stadium since everything is so spread apart. Luckily their transportation system wasn’t too bad; You could get a pass to take you directly to each stadium whether it was by bus or train. The subway and bus systems were relatively fast, but the actual train took much longer. We were mostly at the hockey stadium during these few days since my family is really big on the sport (my cousins play on the US national team).

I was surprised that I felt as safe as I did the entire time in Rio. Huge amounts of military patrolled the streets with machine guns, and as long as you were alert of your surroundings everything was totally fine. I didn’t get to go out at night since I didn’t really have anyone to hang out with and it’s rather unsafe to do so. So one day I would like to go back and experience more night life, but overall it was a great first Olympics and first trip to South America!

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Northern Vietnam

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Vietnam was a different experience than any other Asian country I’ve been to – so much in tact culture, delicious food, and natural beauty. The first night was spent in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, and the nightlife was great. Going down the streets crowded with people, hundreds of motorbikes zipping past, you get a feel for the culture in the cities. Bars on every corners have tiny little stools you sit on and look out at the streets and drink $1 beers and small delicacies like grilled quail and ice cream rolls.

The next day we headed to Halong Bay with Indo China Sails. They picked us up at the hotel and we drove about 4 hours out to the bay, stopping halfway at a tourist trap where they tempt you to buy Vietnamese goods. Unfortunately July is the rainy season (the best time to go is around November for perfect weather) so it was pouring rain the whole time. My sister and I shared a beautiful suite with a balcony overlooking the bay. The whole cruise was great – service, food, cleanliness – but it just felt a little too touristy and relaxed for me since I’m more into “off the beaten path” adventures. But Halong Bay was beautiful and still quite the experience!

Because of the torrential downpour, we didn’t get to do a lot of the activities that were originally mentioned on the cruise like seeing a traditional floating fishing village. We explored a giant cave (very similar to the one we saw in China) and spent most of our time indoors playing majong. Because tourism is blowing up and there aren’t any regulations about keeping Halong Bay clean, I noticed there was a lot of trash and pollution everywhere. It’s a shame to see that since it is an incredible place and a wonder of the world, so I hope that it’ll change soon.

Since our time was mostly spent indoors, we definitely spent some time at the bar… I had two drinks but my sister was definitely egging on my brother to drink head-to-head. Let’s just say my brother has never really had alcohol before since he’s 18, and the drinks were so tasty he didn’t realize the amount of alcohol he was consuming. I’m pretty sure he had 12 drinks (Dad was not happy when he saw that tab… and of course I was blamed to be the alcoholic) and decided that taking a bath was a good idea. Not a good idea. It was a very bad idea. And you can imagine what happened next: bok choy making a second appearance all over our bathroom floor. Thanks, Eddie, I really enjoyed cleaning up that one.

We drove back to Hanoi and toured around the countryside of northern Vietnam, Tam Coc, which was probably my favorite part of the trip because I love remote areas rich in culture. We saw ancient Buddhist temples, rode bikes alongside rice fields, and sat in a tin boat leg-paddled by a local Vietnamese man. It was very impressive that he could paddle this boat with just his feet! You float down the river and when you reach the very end, there’s a bunch of locals in boats with goods and force you to buy them. Yes, force you, because the guy paddling your boat is in on it and won’t paddle back until you buy something.

Communism and propaganda is still very present in Vietnam. In Hanoi there are bullhorns on every corner and five times a day, you’ll hear shouting in Vietnamese along with their national anthem playing. You’ll see all the locals just stop and listen, and the city filled with noise and motorbikes honking every which way becomes totally silent. It’s a rather eerie feeling, but very interesting to observe.

If you like cheap beer, excellent pho and spring rolls, and friendly people, I highly recommend adding Vietnam to your bucketlist!

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