Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Feeling Halloweeny

I know Halloween was over a week ago but I'm still feeling spooooooky! Maybe it's because I made one of my most epic costumes EVER. I went as.... Sheila! Sheila, as in Sheila the Wonder Bike, from whom this blog is named.

The idea originated with my roommate. I was whining about not knowing what I should be for Halloween and my roomie responded somewhat sarcastically with, "Why don't you go as your bike because you're so in love with it." What a genius idea! I could go as a bicycle for Halloween!... but how???

I have a box of bike parts that I've removed and replaced on Sheila over the years, and I have many Sheila-colored (pink, blue, and white) clothing items, but I was unsure how to create a costume out of what I had. So I turned to Google Images which usually never lets me down. But lo and behold, no matter which search criteria I entered, I could not find ANY photos of people dressed AS a bicycle! So it was all up to me.

Peddles and water bottle holder attached with a belt around my waist. Bike seat pinned onto my back with reflector hanging off. A pannier hanging off another belt to my right side. Bike tubes precariously wrapped around my limbs. Pink wig with head lamp attached to a head band. And last but not least, handle bars duck-taped to my sports bra with hot pink duck tape. Then off I went to a Halloween party!

The costume was quite a success but all night people kept asking, "but where are your WHEELS?!" Alas, I was sans wheels and thus drew them on my legs with a sharpie (which ended up staying on for several days, and is now forever emblazoned in the form of shock on my yoga teacher's podcast -- hehe). The other most frequently asked question of the night was, "Can I ride you?". Followed by said friend breaking jumping on my back and pretending to steer me, all the while making race car driving sounds...

The next morning I went out for coffee and ran into my friend Skye. After he commented on the giant black lines drawn on my legs (they're SPOKES!), I told him about my costume. Following the path of those who went before him, he insisted that I NEEDED real wheels. And HE was going to help me make them! Feeling doubtful I agreed to meet him at his shop later that afternoon. REAL Halloween was the following day and on such a short time frame I doubted his ability to throw together such a masterpiece.

The Shop

That teaches me to doubt my friends! I arrived at the shop and we spent the next few hours cutting metal and welding it to wheels which had been removed from a child's bike.

In the end they looked like prosthetic braces with wheels attached, AND they were measured to fit my arm and leg EXACTLY!

Halloween 2010 costume
Happy Halloween!

Thus, for Halloween, although it was incredibly heavy and cumbersome, I sported my most epic costume ever. Possibly even better than the She-Ra Princess of Power costume I made from scratch last year.

Yes my friends, I was my bicycle for Halloween.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Holy Smokes... I've been busy!

Don't worry... I haven't abandoned my blog (again), I've just been soooo busy! Who knew that having three jobs, two college classes (during midterms), dance class, daily yoga, crafty projects, and a bustling social life would zap up all my free time? I sure didn't.

I'll soon be posting about all the exciting things I've been up to, so keep checking back!

In the meantime, today's daily excitement revolved around budgeting. Oh yeah, exciting. But I realized, if I want to start traveling again, I need to SAVE some dollars! Europe is squeezing its way into my grand world adventure, and the exchange rate, oh the exchange rate, causes me physical pain. Yesterday I was reading a travel blog which offered advice on budgeting and saving for eight months of travel. And no joke, the blogger posted how he saved $50,000 in the course of a year by simply cutting out extraneous expenses like going to Starbucks. Oh okay, richy rich. Obviously he didn't make just over minimum wage...

Yikes! I just reread the previous paragraph and I sound... bitter. Ha. Well, maybe I'm a teensy bit bitter. But rather than dwell on that, my solution is to save save save, and actually spend LESS than I make! Is it possible? Please say yes! And mint.com is going to help me out! Several of my friends swear by it.  
This is my first budget EVER. Wish me luck!

Then I can live in a hostel again! YAY.

Laguna Camp hostel in Mancora, Peru

La Casa de Cecilia hostel in Mindo, Ecuador

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bistro Time

Today started off like a typical Wednesday. I woke up at 5:30am and headed to my yoga studio to work the morning shift. I took a 75-minute Power Yoga class, came home, made tea, went for a run (actually that isn't typical... more about THAT later), took a shower, meditated, made lunch, and did my homework. But then, at 3pm, Wednesday ceased to to be normal because I went..... to work!

No, not yoga job. Not motorcycle shop job either. I found a third job! I am overjoyed because now I can finally pay all my bills! YAY! You may be wondering just WHERE I will be working. Ohhh the suspense....

My new employer is a local French Bistro. Fine Dining, here I come! Now you may be thinking "a restaurant job?! what's so exciting about that!" So I will tell you why it's exciting:

1. We're in a recession so ANY job is a GOOD job.
2. tipstiptipstipstipstips. Apparently rich folks are still eating Fois Gras and buying $70 bottles of wine (shocking, right?!). Afterall, I do live in food and wine snob Mecca Wine Country.

My big travel plans are looking more and more affordable... ::sigh of relief::

Other perks: I get a FREE meal every time I work! I completely forgot that this was standard within the food service industry. Farewell cooking for myself, I'll be eating fine French cuisine 3 nights a week.

As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!

Also, I need to become familiar with the vast wine selection, which means... I drink wine during my shift! Oh glory. Well, off I go to memorize the menu (and learn French pronunciation)!

Van Gogh liked French fine dining as well! What are the odds?...

This post is hereby dedicated to Jessica F. for getting me this job. She is an extraordinary human being and if you met her, you'd want to be friends with her too! ::BigHugs::

Sunday, October 23, 2011

10 Reasons Why This Weekend Was Awesome

Nanny adventures are ALWAYS the most fun ever!
1. NANNY came to visit! 

2. Nanny and I ate Indian food and then went wine tasting! I LOVE being a tourist in my own city.

3. Went to Kohl's and Nanny bought me clothes :)

4. Sat lower in Utkatasana than I'd ever gone before.

5. Almost bought a man on an auction block.

6. Finished the Fruit Fast and could eat normal food again! yesssss.

7. Got to dress in costume.

8. Rediscovered my love for salsa dancing.

9. Bought cardamom for tea, which reminded me of Mancora.

10. Got a third job!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Beans Beans the Magical....


Yes, I am in fact eating nothing but fruit for 3 WHOLE DAYS as part of the 40 Days to Personal Revolution program. And how is it going so far? welllll....

I'm at the middle of Day 2 and am not feeling so great. Yesterday wasn't super awesome either. About every 1-2 hours I would get really grumpy and cranky and then realize it's because I'M HUNGRY AGAIN!!! Now I have a persistent headache even though I just ate again! grrrrr.

Yesterday for breakfast I had a smoothie with mango juice, strawberries, apricot, blueberries and banana. Lunch was a smashed up avocado with tomato, lime juice, and red pepper flakes. And then I went grocery shopping. $42 worth of fruit later, I was ready to get my cooking on!

Luckily since I come from a plant background, I used to BOTANICAL definition of fruit rather than the CULINARY one! "In botany, a "fruit" is a part of a flowering plant that derives from specific tissues of the flower, mainly one or more ovaries".  

Fruit is a trickster. It is a master of disguise. Camouflage extraordinaire. MANY of the food items I've always grouped in the vegetable category are actually fruit! And here I always thought that fruit tasted juicy, sweet, and summery. Au contraire! Oh relief, maybe I won't starve after all!

For dinner and post dinner yesterday I stuffed bell peppers with beans, zucchini, and tomato, drizzled some olive oil (also a fruit!) and threw them in the oven. For evening snack I had grapes and an apple. Today for pre-breakfast I had a banana and grapes and for real-breakfast I had a smoothie. In a pan I threw together eggplant, red bell pepper, zucchini, and coconut with olive oil, cooked it and brought it to work for lunch, along with a crane melon. Tonight for dinner I will have butternut squash and probably more beans.

Apparently beans really ARE the magical fruit.

Also... notice anything different? Yep, I finally redesigned my blog! This has been something I've been planning on doing for awhile but I didn't really know how to design templates. I'm still not 100% satisfied so expect some changes in the coming days... :) And then go eat some fruit.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

40 Days to Personal Revolution

This week I found out that more than 2 people read my blog! YAY!!! I know, I know this is supposed to be a travel blog, and it's named after my bike so I should write about cycling, but instead all I do is talk about YOGA. Well, this post is no exception! (Don't worry, I'll be traveling again in no time! Plans are in the works...)
I love Yoga.

This is from the Yoga Aid Challenge!

Anyway...back in January, I was depressed. SUPER depressed. My boyfriend had just left me, I had family drama, and I hated my job. Basically, I was running out of reasons to get out of bed in the morning. And then I heard about a program through my yoga studio called 40 DAYS TO PERSONAL REVOLUTION. Aghhh, self help. Well, I needed some self-help in my life so I enrolled!

The 40 Days program is based on a book written by Baron Baptiste that guides you to look deep within yourself and discover what isn't working in your life. You do yoga 6 days a week, meditate twice a day (which get incrementally longer each week), have weekly group meetings, shift your diet, answer in-depth self excavation questions, and oh yeah, read the book.

Not to be overly dramatic or super cliche, but the 40 Days program saved me. Not that I was near death or anything, but it saved me from a life of misery.

I already knew I was on the wrong path, but throughout the 40 Days I realized that I was the only person who had the power to change my path. And it was then that I found the courage to rid myself of the things that weren't serving me to become a happier, healthier person. I wanted to be free.

I found a new place to live, I distanced myself from caustic friendships, I tossed the clutter, and then I put in my notice at work and bought a ticket to Peru.

In February I remember saying, "I just want to wake up one day and be leading a completely different life". And now I am! Yoga hasn't changed my life. I've changed my life because of yoga.   

Nothing and nobody has the power to change your life besides you.

And now I am enrolled again in the 40 Days to Personal Revolution program! I have completed Week 3 and so far so good! I've managed to make it to yoga class 5-6 times per week. I'm meditating once a day (twice a day got to be overkill once each meditation session hit 20 minutes. baby steps...), I have rid meat and store-bought beer from my diet, and I am working on being more present and noticing my reactions.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up NOW is that tomorrow I start a 3-day Fruit Fast (cleanse?)~!  oh scariness... I opted out of the fruit cleanse last time because it was January and there was no fruit
I'm nervous/slightly paranoid that I'm going to starve to death. eeek!
I'll keep you updated!

Wow, yoga is hard.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Day I Pretended to be a Food Blogger

For me, cooking is a means to an end. I'm hungry, thus I must throw something on the stove and stir it around a bit so I can eat. I pretty much only know how to make 5 things well so I make them over and over and over and over and over again. Eating in restaurants isn't really an option because 1) it's expensive and 2) it's not very exciting to eat out alone. And since I prefer eating whole healthy fresh food, most affordable fast food type eateries aren't an option for me either.

I'm a little bit of a food snob... but I can't cook! Shameful...

The type of food I usually buy.

Anyway, lately I've been reading food blogs, well one actually. My friend Jenna actually makes a living from writing a blog! Can you BELIEVE it?!!! Amazingness. Since I'm not working much, and would rather than procrastinate than write my grad school application, I started reading her posts everyday, mostly to look at the pretty pictures of food and fantasize about eating such deliciousness.Yummmm.

And then yesterday after staring intently at her deep dish pizza recipe and wishing I create such a concoction, I had the epiphany that maybe, JUST MAYBE, I should actually tear my eyes from the photos and read the recipe, and (dare I say it) use the oven!

To me, the oven is a foreign object who's entire mission in life is to burn my food. So I've stopped using it altogether.

So last night after yoga I stopped by Trader Joes and picked up some dough-making supplies. And here I am, nearly 24 hours later, attempting to make a deep dish pizza!

Make dough... check!  Let dough rise.... check!  Slice toppings... check!

I put the pizza all together just like the recipe said. But I added basil because we have a ton growing in the garden.

I put it in the.... OVEN. eep!

And now it's ready to eat... but how will it taste? I'm afraid to find out. It took like 2 hours to make! Although during that time I brought my computer into the kitchen to listen to Pandora and I also washed ALL my dirty dishes of which there were a TON (I dislike washing dishes even more than using the oven and grocery shopping... wow I could NEVER be a food blogger!). Oh how I digress to avoid tasting my own pizza.




............ I'm still eating it. oh my god, it's sooo good.

I definitely consider this one a success! Does this mean I'm going to throw out my dreams for travel and become a food blogger? No way, Jose! But I may investigate more into these so-called "recipes".

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

High School Reunions Are Weird

I came. I went. I conquered... my high school reunion that is. Which was just this past weekend. And let me tell you, it was STRANGE.

I had seen Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion enough times to know what to be prepared for. Not to mention, I also watched Grosse Point Blank and Peggy Sue Got Married to get me ready for this grand affair. So I knew what to expect: PROM - but 10 years later. It seems that in every reunion movie, the event takes place in a large ballroom or the high school gym. A group of bitchy girls hassle the protagonist. And a boy who was not hot in high school shows up looking completely gorgeous and sweeps you off your feet declaring his undying love for the high school version of yourself.

This did not happen.

First of all, the event was held in a fancy hotel, but not in a ballroom. Most of the action centered around the bar. And no one danced. The Mean Girls that terrorized my childhood didn't show up (except for one and we didn't even address each other). And many of the guys were alot cuter in high school than now - 10 years later.

But the part that surprised shocked me the most was the extent to which I got hit on! I'm not used to being hit on at all, let alone by the boys that ignored me back in high school. All through the night various males approached my friends asking if I were single and saying things like, "wow, Melanie got pretty". And guys bought me drinks all night, to the point that I had to ask them to stop buying me drinks!... This has never happened in my life.

I tried to make sense of it all... because I look EXACTLY THE SAME as I did in high school. Well, my hair is darker now and has layers. But other than that I look the same. So what changed? And then I realized, I didn't "get hot", what I got was self-esteem and confidence.

Before I went to college, I was timid and had low self-esteem. When a football player made a wisecrack comment I didn't know how to retort a witty comeback. I continually compared myself to other girls at my school and wished I could be like them... more athletic, more popular, more stylish, more outgoing, etc. But over the past 10 years I've gained a ton of confidence.
Rather than wishing I were like someone else, if I wanted something I'd jump through hoops in order to achieve it. For example, when I wished I was more athletic, I became a triathlete. When I wished I was more fashionable, I sketched the outfits of other women until I learned how to put an outfit together. When I wished I was more well-traveled, I bought plane tickets.

Now I walk with my head held high and there is no one I'd rather be... but me. And THAT is what those boys (men?) noticed. Confidence, not physical appearance, is what makes someone stand out in a crowd.

Friends :)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

So What Have You Been Up To?

Nothing strikes pain in the heart of a stagnant vagabond quite like the question, “so what have you been up to?” It forces one to address the stark reality of the situation: you are doing absolutely nothing.

best reunion movie ever
Okay, that's not true. I'm doing a ton. I work two part-time jobs. I take two college classes. I do yoga and ride my bike every day. And I play... Hard.

But the fact is, whenever I explain my lifestyle to someone, I am met with disapproving frowns. Heads shake from side to side, perplexed how a girl who once had once shown so much promise and ambition could be wasting away her potential. They say, "You quit your 'perfectly good job' during a recession for what? So you could go on vacation and do yoga?" I could scream!

I have absolutely no regrets about leaving my career. Yeah, money is more difficult to come by these days, but I'm a thousand times happier. I don't wake up every morning dreading the day. I show up to work each morning at 6am and greet each customer with a smile because I am genuinely glad to be there.

It is with this mentality that I will charge headfirst into my 10 year high school reunion, which is THIS SATURDAY! Holy moly, where has the time gone? And I am preparing myself to answer the age-old question, "so what have you been up to?" over and over and over again. Others say, "I am between jobs". I will say, "I am between travel".

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Africa Yoga Project

On Sunday I participated in a fundraiser for the Africa Yoga Project, an AMAZING program based in Nairobi, Kenya. The goal of the project is to empower locals to become leaders in their communities through yoga. My  studio raised over $10,000 to help continue the program and facilitate even more teacher training courses in Africa!

The morning started with a skype-in meditation session led by Francis, one of the yoga teachers in Kenya who was trained through the project. Next we watched a documentary about Africa Yoga Project featuring Margret, one of the Kenyans whose life was changed by the program. And then, guess who was there to teach the class? Why it was Margret herself! And let me tell you... she was hardcore. I had just participated in a ridiculously long bike race the day before and was ill-prepared for bootcamp. But even though my limbs were about to fall off I had a blast! Energy was high in the room especially after Paige (the creator of Africa Yoga Project) stepped in and took over teaching. At one point the entire room erupted into dance! And I'm not talking about stomping to drum beats... we were DANCING. USA-style shake your booty dancing to Michael Franti/MC Yogi.


However the best part of the day was a conversation between my yogi friend Jenna and her boyfriend who had never done yoga before.
Boyfriend: Wow, everyone here is so.... happy.
Jenna: Yeah, that's what yoga DOES.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gran Fondo

Back in January, during a temporary lapse in sanity I registered for Levi’s Gran Fondo - a 100-mile bike ride through the most treacherous climbs of Sonoma County. The tickets were pricey, but hey, I had 10 months to train for this ride, right? WRONG. Lesson: never commit yourself to anything more than 2 months in advance because you don’t know what curve-balls life will throw your way.

Yeah I trained... until June. At which point I left for South America and didn’t sit on a bike saddle again for 3 months. When I returned home, Sheila the Wonder Bike was pretty beat up from her rough life in a dirty storage shed. I fully intended on fixing her up to start training, but then school started, then the odd jobs started, and suddenly I realized the event was in a mere two weeks! Frantically, I tried to sell my ticket but to no avail. So I started to train.... slowly.

SO MANY cyclists waiting for the race to begin.
 Well, Saturday was the event... and.... SUCCESS! My friend Kevin and I met up bright and early Saturday morning and biked to the start together. There were 7,500 people registered to ride which was evident. 5...4...3...2...1... and... nothing? It took about 15 minutes after the race started before we began to inch toward the start. But then we were riding strong amidst throngs of other ambitious cyclists excited to conquer to the Sonoma County hills and perhaps get a glimpse of THE Levi Leipheimer. We rode out of west Santa Rosa neighborhoods, through the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and through giant redwoods on Occidental Road toward Occidental. There was a bit of a climb on Occidental Road but nothing too terrible. As we descended down Occidental Road there was a nasty accident where I heard the paramedics say to the crash victim, "You don't remember anything?". Youch.

snacks --- yummmmy
 In Occidental we reached the first break station: toilets, bike mechanic, water bottle exchange, etc. And food. Ohhh the food. I've competed in a gazillion races but have never encountered a spread quite like this. PB&Js, m&ms, nuts, cliff bars, fig bars, bananas, grapes and STRAWBERRIES were only a few of the items available for consumption. Sheila was in great shape thanks to my friends at Breakaway Bikes and she was riding like a dream! But one of the brand new cables had stretched out a bit so I waited in line for the mechanic, a fine fellow from NorCal Bikes to fix her up. Feeling refreshed and thankful for the cloudy bike-friendly weather, Kevin, The Dark Knight (Kevin's bike), Sheila, and I made our way down Bohemian Highway towards Monte Rio. The road was pretty much downhill/flat and EMPTY. There were literally no other cyclists on the road with us. I'm not sure where they all went, but I guess we took so much time enjoying the break station that all the other riders took off.

In Monte Rio, a sign split the riders into two groups. Right for the "Gran" riders to continue north into Cazadero and up the dreaded King Ridge Road, an intensely brutal climb at the moment being plagued by thunderstorms and slick roads. OR left for the "Medio" riders to skip that hell and go straight to the coast. Given the two scenarios and checking in with our sanity (and remembering that we didn't train for this event) we chose to head left down Moscow road to the little town of Duncan Mills. After refreshing at another break area we continued west on highway 116 and up the road toward Goat Rock State Beach. Just past Sizzling Tandoor (a DELICIOUS Indian restaurant) was a sign guiding those who desired a steep off-road experience up Willow Creek Road. But since The Dark Knight and Sheila the Wonder Bike only had skinny road bike tires we opted to stay on Highway 1 and headed south along the coastline. The ride was beautiful! Rolling hills along a rugged rocky coastline. And then at the next break area at Schoolhouse Beach we ran into Levi.

 Feeling punchy, I asked him if he would take a photo with my bike Sheila. The converstation went as follows:
Me: Will you be in a photo with my bike Sheila? She's almost as famous as you are.
Levi: (looks confused) Don't YOU want to be in the photo?
Me: That's not necessary.
Levi: I really think you should be in the photo.

Levi checked out Sheila and seemed shocked that I would take a 1980s Nishiki on such a rough ride, but I reiterated my theory on bikes: it's not the bike, it's the rider. I don't need a better bike, I just need stronger legs. Then a few other people asked to take pictures of Sheila and inquired about her. I found the whole circumstance so hilarious that I laughed my way up Coleman Valley Road! Note: Coleman.Valley. Is. HARD. The first ascent is SUPER STEEP and occasionally when I put my foot down for a quick break I couldn't get back on the bike because the slope grade was too much! Nevertheless I pulled through the burn and made it to the top. Other cyclists cheered me on and several complimented Sheila. I was feeling great by the time I reached Ocean Song (an intentional community/another break area) at the top of the mountain. Kevin and I did some stretches and mentally prepared ourselves for the two more climbs ahead of us before the descent back home. Only 20 miles to go!

Kevin & The Dark Knight
 However, those last couple climbs, although not as hard as the initial ascent, killed our legs. His knee hurt. My wrist and hip hurt. I was about the start complaining about the pain until I realized how lucky I really am! My roommate works with developmentally disabled adults and she tells me stories about how many of them make up tales of adventures they will never be able to go on. They can't use the toilet by themselves, let alone ride a bike! And then it hit me. I am so lucky to have been given the body, mind, and lifestyle that I have! There are millions of people out there who would not be able to hop on a bike without training and ride up steep mountains for 70 miles, just because they felt like it. Realizing that I was truly blessed gave me the encouragement I needed to get to the finish line.

Although the roads from Sebastopol to Santa Rosa were pretty darn flat, I felt like my legs were going to fall off. Nevertheless, Kevin and I powered up and raced to the finish line. VICTORY! After parking our bikes we crawled over to the beer booth for our complimentary IPA (courtesy of New Belgium) and grabbed a free plate of paella. After resting awhile in the grass amidst the festival we summoned the energy to bike back home. Each press of the pedal felt like 1000 daggers and I could barely get upstairs to my apartment. But you know what? It was worth it! I was given the opportunity to go on a super fun bike ride through freshwater marsh, redwood forest, riverine valley, rocky coastline, and coastal grassland with spectacular views, with an awesome friend. Life.Is.Good. :)  


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Evolution of a Yogini

Zenning out in the Trinity Alps
I first discovered yoga when I was about 6 years-old. To little me, yoga meant sitting in lotus pose and chanting “ommmmmmm”. When I reached high school, yoga simply meant stretching. Then, in college, I finally took a yoga class and realized that yoga meant.... sleep. My middle-aged hippie yoga instructor feared that mid-semester her over-stressed students would prioritize studying over doing yoga and would inevitably drop the class. Her solution was pure genius - give students credit just for showing up even if they didn’t do a single downward dog. She set up a relaxation station in the dark back corner of the room with pillows and blankets and my fellow students and I curled up listening to tribal drum beats and our own breath. 

Fast forward to late 2009. There I was, dealing with another failing relationship, and in a moment of profound clarity I realized that yoga was the answer to all my problems! So I shopped around for a yoga studio and teacher that I could relate to. I took classes all over town based on friends’ recommendations and they were all duds. Freezing rooms to boiling roomjs, barking nazi-drill-sergeant Bikram instructors to instructors sans personality, community centers, health clubs, gyms, yoga/zumba/pilates studios.... NOTHING resonated with me. Until one fateful day. My friend Lorelle’s husband’s colleague’s wife had just opened up a yoga studio in town and she was raving about it. Lorelle had led me astray before in my mission to find the perfect yoga class so I was a bit reticent, but nevertheless I showed up. POW! It was like the stars had aligned and I was bestowed upon the power of zen-state exercise. My teacher was AMAZING - funny, yet grounded.

Warrior 2
The style is a Power Vinyasa inspired by Baron Baptiste. The room is heated to 92 degrees and it’s a quick-paced flow. Each class incorporates different poses (unlike Bikram), but overall it’s the same general sequence. It’s definitely a workout - both cardio and strengthening. But for me, it’s the fast pace flow that really “zens me out”. You’re moving so quickly that there isn’t time for thoughts to creep in. If they do, you’ll fall over. So you focus on your body on that exact moment and your mind will clear.   

I started going about once a week and it slowly increased over time. It took one whole year before I could FINALLY touch my toes! Now I do yoga almost every day and I feel amazing! When I returned from South America, my teacher gave me a job in the studio working a few hours a week. I arrive around 6am every day to open the studio and greet folks with a smile as they drag in their half-awake bodies for some early morning yoga . Sure, waking up at 5:30am every day is brutal, but I love working there. Endorphins and positivity fills the air and I am immersed.

Next step in the evolution of this yogini: attend a yoga teacher certification program.  :)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Girl Anachronism

In downtown Santa Rosa, abandoned train tracks slowly deteriorate through a fallow lot adjacent to the bustling Railroad Square historic district. The county has passed a measure to develop a passenger rail system through this area, but due to budget shortfalls, this goal has not been realized. So for over a decade the empty lot just stood still, waiting. Until 2008, when a few locals dreamed up the idea of building early 20th century style handcars and racing them down the tracks. Coupled with a festival featuring victorian/steampunk costumes, local bands, and Burning Man style art pieces, they called this event The Great Handcar Regatta. Now in it's fourth year, Handcar Regatta has become a symbol of art and creativity in Santa Rosa.

So yesterday, I yet again dug through my costume bin searching for the perfect regatta outfit and I am quite pleased with what I came up with. P.S. I LOVE dressing in costume.

Being that the regatta is one of the biggest social events of the year with thousands of people attending, I had no trouble locating friends. Together we watched uniquely designed handcars race down the tracks, spectated the oddities, and complimented each others outfits. There is a rumor that the passenger rail will begin being built in 2012 so it may be that The Great Handcar Regatta will cease to exist and slowly fade into myth. But I'm going to be optimistic and hope that's not the case!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sprichst du Deutsche?

La Casa de Avila
When I arrived in Peru I knew very little Spanish. I knew the basics: hola, adios, yo quiero taco bell, etc. I communicated with taxi drivers by pointing out my intended destination in the Lonely Planet guide book. Communication was sub-par and loneliness ensued until those glorious days in Arequipa when I participated in a 1.5-week Spanish immersion program with La Casa de Avila. Then, poof! Three years of high school Spanish lessons flooded back and I could speak! It’s like when Ariel got her voice back and could finally express her love to Prince Eric.

P.S. I LOVE The Little Mermaid.

Learning a new language opens the door to a wider range of experiences both at home and away. Not only can I tell the spanish-speaking exterminator where the dead rats are (hay una rata muerta en la cocina), I can also fake people out and pretend I’m from a different country. This is great way to avoid awkward situations. Commit a faux pas? Why, simply string a couple sentences together about how you don’t speak English or understand the local customs! Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t work so well with Spanish in California since the majority of people have a basic understanding of the language. That is why I pretend to be German.

I enrolled in Deutsche 1 at the local junior college in July while I was spending an immense amount of time with The Austrian. Why of course I would want to learn his mother-tongue! Now it seems ridiculous to have chosen German, a language that very few people in my country speak, that is until last night. I met up with some friends at the local brewery. It was late in the evening and we’d been enjoying the warm summer night on the patio, sipping beers and laughing loudly. The group of guys next to us got up to leave, but one lagged behind and announced to the others, “Hey, wait up! I need to tell this girl she is beautiful before we leave!”, and then he approached ME. He said hello. Unsure about how to handle the situation, with a big smile I responded with, “Guten Abend! Wie geht’s? Sprichst du Deutsche?” Flabbergasted, he mumbled something about Nuremberg and only speaking a little German and ran off. “Auf Wiederhesen!” I called waving goodbye to him and the awkward situation that I’d dodged.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Is it Heaven? Or is it Mancora?

"Warm beach with a slight breeze, sitting at a cafe on the sand eating inexpensive ceviche and drinking amazing fruit juice. I think I found heaven....
 I've often wondered what heaven would be like, and I think I found it in Mancora. Beautiful white sand beach with weather that doesn't seem to get too cold or too hot either! A perfect ocean breeze rustles through the palm trees outside my bungalow where I lie in a bed shrouded with white mosquito netting. I feel like a jungle princess. There is incredible tropical fruit and ceviche everywhere. My roommate is a very handsome Austrian man. This evening we did yoga followed by dancing salsa and cha cha cha on the lawn outside our bungalow. Later we shared a giant papaya and he made me an avocado and tomato sandwich. Afterwards we lay in hammocks beneath the night sky while playing guitar and performing sing-alongs. I have found paradise."   ---Me, July 7, 2011

I love comparing this journal entry with the last one (see previous post). The drastic differences from one day to the next. Miserable one second, ecstatic the next. It reminds us that everyday is a gift and that we must embrace it fully. Live every day like it may be your last. No regrets. It is with this mindset that I intend to dedicate this blog to everyday adventures. You don't need to leave the country to have unique experiences. Nor do you need to live vicariously through world travelers. Just open the door and look outside; there is a whole world to be explored!

Trapped in Piura

flight to Piura
"Sometimes while traveling you get stuck in a place where you don't necessarily want to be. In this case it's because my flight arrived too late and the buses don't go to Mancora at this time of night. That is how I found myself in the dingy 5th floor room (or should I say "cell") of a central Piura hospedaje.
Not being able to inspect the city in daylight, I feel uncomfortable venturing into the busy city streets alone at night. What a strange time it is: 8:30pm - too early to sleep yet too late to go exploring alone. However, I must think of the perks: 1) it's warm, 2) there's a window, 3) it only costs 15 soles for the night. I need to think of this as part of the adventure. There is a reason why I have been placed in Piura and why I will arrive in Mancora tomorrow as opposed to today. There is also a reason I lost my hat - perhaps it is warming the head of a homeless person who needed the hat way more than I did. I wonder where I am going to end up?"  ----Me, July 6, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Yesterday I started a new part-time job. This isn't super surprising since I've worked for at least 4 different companies in the last month since I returned home. But by far, this one is the most random... even more so than the week I worked construction. So here it is... wait for it.... I'm working at.... a motorcycle repair shop! And I build engine parts.

The company, Thunderstruck Motors, is actually pretty cool. They (I) build these boxes which convert gas engines into electric. My tasks entail stripping wires, soldering, and crimping the parts together. The tasks are monotonous but I'm try to remind myself that at least I have work. Plus it's a beautiful 45-minute bike commute along a trail!

So how does an unemployed Ecologist find herself working in a motorcycle shop? Basically my strategy for finding work is this: beg friends for jobs. I've put it out there that I will do and can do anything to pay the bills (aside from porn & prostitution of course!). The strategy as so far proved successful, although I would really love to find a job that I'm passionate about in my field.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm Back!

Hello my friends. I have returned. Yes, I realize that in order to have a successful blog, one should not post irregularly and then disappear for three months. The problem with maintaining a travel blog is this: if you don't have a device that connects to the internet it is extremely difficult to post! The last time I traveled (in 2006), internet cafes were ubiquitous and most hostels had computers for guests to use. It was extremely rare to see someone dragging around a heavy laptop. However now, with the advent of netbooks and "smart" phones (I use quotations because I doubt the intelligence of this inanimate object) most hostels and public transportation hubs offered.... wifi! Alas, aside from a camera and ipod nano, I was free from technology during the 2.5 months I spent in South America.

I'm not going to give a complete recap of my travel experience right now, rather I will refer back to certain events along the way as they relate to my current life trying to adjust back into society. In a nutshell, in Peru I learned how to be ME again, to live in the moment, and how to love. In Ecuador I encountered disaster after disaster and learned to have patience (a difficult endeavor). And in Costa Rica, I finally felt inner peace and equanimity and was fully able to embrace the now.

And now I'm back! I arrived back in Northern California in mid-August and I'm trying to find work. I feel the effects of the recession as I try to look for jobs. Formerly paid jobs are now unpaid internships, and competition is extremely high among jobs that I'm overqualified for anyway. So I've been picking up odd-jobs. Yeah, I make next to nothing and have hardly any hours a week, but I'm happy. I have no regrets about quitting my financially stable career at a desk where I was miserable so I could travel the world. Even though I'm home, every day continues to be an adventure.
Home Sweet Home

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lago Titicaca

As transcribed from my journal on July 2, 2011:
Floating Island
I`m writing this on a boat crossing Lake Titicaca. Unfortunately, it`s rather unimpressive. I had heard how beautiful this lake was, but it appears that these people have never visited on a cloudy, dreary, rainy day. We visited Isla Oros whih is actually about 60 or so tiny islands constructed from reeds by the Aymara people. Apparently, you can do alot with reeds- build islands, build houses, eat them, etc. I signed up to go on the day trip with Scottish James. We are the only two people in my hostel. Such a change from the party hostel I just left! James is in the same place in life as I - quit his job to go traveling after everyone told him it was a bad idea. Poor guy has to put up with little sick me. Yes, I got sick (with a cold, not food poisoning). It`s very curious that I`ve been in Peru for almost a month and haven`t gotten food poisoning, even though I eat everything I`m not supposed to: street food and raw fruit and vegetables. No, I caught a cold from a girl on the Inca Trail. Luckily I got sick AFTER visiting Machu Picchu. Coincidentally, the weather got really bad in Cusco the day after I finished with Machu Picchu (once again, lucky for me!).

Boat made from reeds on Lake Titicaca
My last day in Cusco was quite fun. Scottish Andy (who was my friend for all the time I spent in Cusco) and I took advantage of the rainy day by continuously finding places to eat at. I think we shared about 5 meals together that day as the Inca Trail had expanded both of our stomachs! We even found a coffee shop. A REAL coffee shop. It`s very curious that Peru exports delicious coffee beans, but everyone here drinks instant coffee. They also drink tea, or mate (meaning herbal tea). Here are your choices for tea: black tea, chamomile, anis, lemongrass, and coca. Peruvians believe that coca leaves cure EVERYTHING. Anyway, Scottish Andy and I went dancing at the bar in the hostel until 2am, which seems late but since the bars in Cusco close around 5am (if ever), it really wasn`t that late. We kept joking that we were the only ones who could actually appreciate the 90s pop music they were playing because we were a proper age when the music originally came out and the 19-year-old gap year kids in the hostel had barely been born!

One benefit of visiting Puno was learning more about the strikes during the month of June. A kind woman working at my hostel explained to me, albeit in spanish, that the majority of people in the Puno area are farmers. Apparently, the government based in Lima signed a document granting a foreign company the mineral rights in the agricultural lands around Puno. Therefore, the farmers and inhabitants of Puno went on strike. A number of people were killed and you can still see the aftermath of the protests (broken windows, etc). Downtown Puno is a ghost town right now as far as tourism is concerned because people are too afraid to visit. However, hooray for the protesters because the government signed a document saying that they will no longer sell the mineral rights. YAY! As I learned in my rangeland class, mining in third world countries can have an extremely negative effect on the agricultural land which the local native people need to farm in order to survive.

Anyway, Lake Titicaca proved to be rather disappointing. It`s cold (freezing!) and I hate being cold, dreary, and over-commercialized. I`ve been in many tiny villages in Peru, but I got the impression that the native folk on these islands were faking it for the tourists. So I`m going to take my frozen self and head north. I hear it`s warmer near the equator.
Plaza de Armas - Arequipa

UPDATE July 3, 2011
This morning I arrived at the bus station in Puno with a bus ticket to Cusco in hand. But at the last minute I decided I didn`t want to go back to Cusco. So at the very last minute I bought a ticket to return to Arequipa. I figured that if I was going to be sick somewhere then it should be somewhere familiar and comfortable, not as cold, and at a lower elevation. So I jumped on a local bus (as opposed to the swanky tourist buses that I`ve been taking) and made the journey back to Arequipa. The bus was disgusting and packed with people, and if I hadn`t been sick then I would have appreciated the culture. But finally, after a 6 hour bus journey and taxi ride later, I arrived back at Casa de Avila. I walked into reception and was immediately greeted with, ´´Melanie! You came back!`` followed by a big hug. At that point I knew I made the right decision to wait out my sickness in Arequipa. I`ll head north when I feel better.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Machu Picchu

Due to popular demand, I am going to rewrite my blog post about my Inca Trail adventure. Be prepared, it`s kind of long.

View from my tent.
DAY 1 - I was picked up early in the morning (5am) and loaded onto a bus with my fellow hikers to embark on a 4 day backpacking trip along the Inca Trail. They call it the Inca Trail, but it is only one of several trails that the Incans paved with stone to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu. It appears that the tourist-marked Inca Trail follows the path that Hiram Bingham took when he discovered Machu Picchu 100 years ago. Anyway, there were 13 people in my group and coincidentally 11 of us were Americans. The other two were a couple from Ireland. I was the only one in the group traveling by herself, which hasn`t been an infrequent situation for me. I rarely meet other girls traveling by themselves. I often get asked if I get scared traveling along and am lectured how dangerous it is for me. But the thing is, I never feel scared. Maybe I am too trusting, but it seems that most people are genuinely kind and helpful. I`ve definitely felt way more afraid walking home alone on West 9th Street back at home than I`ve ever felt in Peru. However, I digress. The bus dropped us off at a place they call ´kilometer 82` where we met the porters to begin our hiking journey. We had two guides: the flamboyant Fredy who was the tallest Peruvian ever, and Cesar, a wry yet flirty twenty-something.
For 13 hikers we had 18 porters! Each porter carried a ridiculously heavy pack of 25 kilos. We, the hikers, barely carried anything aside from water and layers. It`s kind of hard to call it backpacking when you`re not carrying your own pack. Apparently, only about 6 years ago a law was passed which limited the amount of weight porters could carry. Up until then, some companies would weight each porter down with packs weighing upwards of 40 kilos!

Toilet on the Inca Trail
The first day hiking was pretty mellow but long and we arrived at camp around 4:30pm. We felt lucky that our group aged from 19-34 and were all quite fit because along the trail we passed many elderly folks struggling to make it up the hills. When we arrived at camp we realized why there were 18 porters needs for 15 people. The porters set up all the tents, including canopies for eating with tables, chairs, and silver cutlery! They brought us warm water in buckets with towels to our tents to wash our faces and brought hot cocoa and popcorn to our tents so we could relax while they cooked for us! Talk about luxury. I`ve always wanted to be treated like a princess, but in reality having "servants" is really awkward and classist. Our group felt guilty most of the time when it came to the porters waiting on us. I became good friends with the coordinator of the porters, Ricardo. I think he liked me because I would speak Spanish with him. I shared a tent with Jessica, the token single girl in her group of friends and we had a great repoir. The porters cooked us a delicious 3-course feast and we ate like kings, and then went to bed.

The group plus porters.

My tentmate Jessica and I reading aloud :)
DAY 2 - We awoke that morning to a beautiful mountain view from our tents. My new friends from the midwest (namely Kansas) exclaimed that there was nothing this beautiful in Kansas. "Come to California!" I said, shocked because I`ve woken to picturesque mountain views countless times in California. I`ve traveled all over the world but I still think that California is the greatest place on earth. Anyway, after breakfast we started trekking uphill past gorgeous creeks and through riparian zones, increasing in altitude until we passed tree-line and summitted the first mountain. It was a tough climb, but after hiking the Misti Volcano it seemed like a breeze! The terrain on the first mountain was dry and covered with chaparral and cactus. We observed llama, white-tailed deer, and vicuñas grazing. By the way, vicuñas are my new favorite mammal - they`re like weird Andean deer with super long necks. As we summited the second mountain, the terrain changed to grassland. Perennial bunch grasses carpeted the hillsides and I imagined that this is what the Bay Area looked like before invasive annual grasses out-competed the native fescue. As we hiked, Cesar would challenge me by asking the scientific names of plants that I`d never seen before in my life! He`d say, "I`m not even an ecologist and I KNOW the name of this plant". I told him to come to California and I`d tell him the scientific name of every oak tree. As we descended the second mountain in the late afternoon, the vegetation changed once again to cloud forest.
We explored various Incan ruins along the way to our second campsite which was more cloudy, chilly, and rainy. After another delicious meal, we were surprised with... hot toddies! Yes, I felt guilty that the porters had to carry in two bottles of run for us, but I must admit, it was pretty awesome. That night as we snuggled into bed, Jessica read aloud the Incan excerpts from "The Motorcycle Diaries" and we patted ourselves on the back for being such good little tourists.

Incan terraces
stone paved Inca Trail
 DAY 3 - This was the most beautiful hike I`ve ever been on! We began walking on the actual stone-paved Inca Trail which took us on a leisurely stroll through the cloud forest into the high jungle above the Amazon basin. The walls were covered with a dense moss that you stick half your arm in before it reached rock, orchids everywhere, and ancient ferns. The trail was lush, green, and moist and took us past sweeping vistas of snow-covered mountains and riverine valleys.
In front of Touching the Void moutain
Fredy pointed out the mountain where "Touching the Void", a climbing documentary, took place. We arrived at camp midday and from our tents we could see the backside of Machu Picchu - so close! We shared some beers outside a lodge we were camped near and at dusk went to explore some more Incan ruins. I was down in the Incan runs with only my headlamp when it became completely dark. The ruins are like labyrinths and very easy to get lost in. Not to mention, the huge stone walls are very forboding in the dark. I kept seeing flickers of light and assumed they were the flashlights of my friends. The lights came closer and I called out to my friends. No response. I called out again, a little more panicky this time, and again, no response. Convinced that these were the ghosts of Incans murdered by Spaniards intenton taking revenge on those of European descent, I raced through the labyrinth, found my way to the path, and ran up 100+ stairs to the top of the hill. Heart racing and completely out of breath, I found my friends who immediately exclaimed, "Hey Melanie, did you see the fireflys?!"

DAY 4 - We were woken around 3am to pack our bags, eat breakfast, and hit the trail. Of course, we hiked about 5 minutes before hitting the checkpoint where we had to wait until Machu Picchu opened at 5am. And then we hit the trail again, walking through the dark jungle toward one of the wonders of the world. It was light when we reached the sun gate, but the sun had not yet drifted over the mountain. At first, Machu Picchu was covered in clouds, but as the sun began to shine on the ancient city, the clouds passed and we were awarded with breathtaking views.
I`ve wanted to see Machu Picchu since the 5th grade when I learned about its agricultural terraces and irrigation channels, and it did not disappoint. The place is magical. We took our time walking down from the sun gate toward the ruins admiring it from every angle. The cool thing about Machu Picchu is that it is the only Incan city (found so far) that was not destroyed by the Spanish when they arrived around 500 years ago. Therefore, the only damage to the city is from fault activity, jungle taking over, and looters. So basically, it`s in pretty good shape. Also, "Machu Picchu" isn`t its true name. Hiram Bingham, the archeologist, got confused when he asked the local Quechua people if there were any Incan ruins nearby. The Quechua people pointed and said there where ruins on the big mountain. "Machu Picchu" means "big mountain" in Quechua. Anyway, Fredy took us on an informative guided tour of the ruins and then we waited in line for tickts to hike Wiñay Picchu, the famous pointy mountain behind Machu Picchu.

While in line I hear, "Melanie? Is that you?!" The world starts to feel really small when you run into friends in the middle of nowhere in South America. I chatted with Andy and Rose for awhile until I found out that my group arrived too late and wouldn`t be able to climb Wiñay Picchu after all. The rest of my group was burnt out and headed back down towards the town of Aguas Calientes, but I stayed to explore Machu Picchu for the the last couple hours that I could. I ran into British Joel, a gap-year kid we`d befriended on the Inca Trail and who preferred our group to his. Together we explored the fallen city, getting lost in the ruins. I told him about the movie "Labyrinth" (which he`d never heard of!) and how I half expected to turn the corner and see David Bowie, the goblin king. It ended up being okay that we missed Wiñay Picchu because we discovered a meadow being grazed by llamas! So of course, Joel and I took the rest of the time taking photos of each other posing ridiculously with llamas while continuously chanting, "What time is it? It`s llama-time!".