About Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.


Latest Posts by Sherry Ott

Indy 500 Live: Taking a Spin Around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

July 19, 2015 by  

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Indy 500 Live

We all pulled the chairs up close gathering around our stereo cabinet. My dad was ready; he had his number 2 pencil and yellow legal notepad.  He was meticulously filling each line with a number – 1 through 200 representing each lap. In the late 1970’s, this is what we considered family time, all sitting around the stereo radio (the HUGE stereo console complete w 8 track tape player) listening to the live coverage of the Indianapolis 500. Back then it wasn’t televised live, the only Indy 500 live coverage was on the radio. My dad would intently listen to the announcers and write down the leader of each lap recording the play-by-play action. And we would all ooohh and aahhh when the announcers described a big crash; leaving my imagination run wild.

However no matter how wild my imagination got, it never – NEVER – could have dreamt that 35 years later I would be at the Indy 500 in person driving around the track in the pace car with the hottest young driver in the field of 33 cars. It was more likely that my wild dream of becoming the abominable snowman would’ve come true before riding in the Indy pace car.

Take a Spin Around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Fast forward to May 23, 2015 (the day before the Indianapolis 500) and I find myself in the passenger seat of the Corvette pace car buckling up for a spin around the track.
“How old are you?” I ask my young driver.
“I’m 24…old enough!” said Josef with a twinkling eyes and a mischievous smile. And with that he hits the accelerator, the engine roars so loud it makes my body vibrate, and we peel out heading into the famous 1st turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As we were speeding down the straightaway at 160 mph I had no idea that I was with the up-and-coming Indy driver, Josef Newgarden, who would be starting in 9th poll position the next day at one of the biggest races in the world. Instead, at that moment – he was just the guy making me scream as we came within inches of the concrete wall.

This experience at the Indy 500 was easily in my top 3 experiences in the ‘perks of being a writer’ category. Going to Antarctica might be the only thing that topped it thus far. However, driving a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an activity that actually anyone can do, but you have to be willing to drop a decent amount of cash. And you won’t get the handsome Indy Car driver Josef Newgarden to take you around the track – sorry.

However my media pass didn’t stop with Josef and the pace car, this was a dream weekend for me. I went to a press event to hear team owner/driver, Ed Carpenter, speak to a small group of VIP guests and journalists.  I was enthralled to learn more about how complex it is to focus when driving in the race in a nearly reclined position where you can’t move, watching data/info on his dash/wheel and listening to his engineers talking to him via earpiece while driving at 240mph in traffic passing 32 other cars. Makes driving in India seem pretty simple. I also learned that being an Indy Car driver may be the best form of weight loss; Ed loses 7 to 8 pounds during a 3 hour race due to the heat in the car and the fire suits they wear.

Check out the Video of my pace car lap with Josef Newgarden

Indianapolis 500 Race Day

When I woke up race morning I was tingly with excitement, and honestly I had no idea why I was SO excited about seeing the Indy 500 live. Maybe it had to do with my family memories, or that it is the biggest single day sporting event in the world, or maybe it was the familiar sounds of the engines, or the fact that we had amazing seats. Whatever the reason I loved the feeling of anticipation.

A police escort to the track drove us by the thousands of campers, fans,  and traffic that was at a complete stand still; I felt like royalty. When we arrived at the track and I walked underneath it into the infield I felt like I was walking onto the Super Bowl field – and in the world of racing – I was. The media credentials provided us access to the garage and pit areas. Cars were rolled by us so close that I could touch them if I dare. They moved the cars out on the track in their poll positions and then let us out there to walk around. As I was walking on the track checking out the cars before the start, David Letterman walks by, Patrick Dempsey is above me practicing his flag wave on the balcony, and the pit crews surrounded the cars like body guards. As I watched the drivers’ families hover around their cars wishing them luck, I was transported back to my childhood and hovering around the stereo. I felt as if I had to pinch myself that I was actually here, in person, looking at this scene that I had listened to so many times over the radio and imagined.

After the national anthem, they ushered the media off the track and as we were walking to our suite I heard the engines start up. It was comforting to hear that familiar noise. In the suite we could drink and eat to our heart’s content, sit outside above the final straightaway, and even use headsets so we could listen to specific teams communicate at the race.  This was the royal Indy 500 treatment for sure.

As the checkered flag flew, my magical day came to a close. I didn’t have a yellow notepad filled out with race data at the end, but I did have some great photos to keep these Indy 500 memories alive.

Indy 500 Live

Scott Dixen’s team preparing for the race and the #1 poll position.

Indy 500 live

There were 2 female drivers in the race. Pippa raced for the cure in her hot pink car she was easy to follow!

Indy 500 Live

Media, teams, and family are allowed on the track as the cars are placed in their positions.

Indianapolis 500 Fans

Always wear sunscreen!

Indy 500 Live

A ground view of an indy car and pit crew

Indy 500 Live

Drivers on the track and getting ready for the start. This was the last pic I took before leaving the track.

Indy 500 Live

Race Time!

Indy 500 Live

My vantage point for the race thanks to #VisitIndy

Checkered Flag Indy 500

Close finish!

Indy Car Press Pass

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 – don’t miss it!

Have you ever attended something that you dreamt about as a little kid?  Share it in the comments!

 

Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Indy for the weekend, however all opinions are my own.

 

Wisconsin’s Lakes and Natural Beauty in Summer

July 14, 2015 by  

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Ahhh yes, my annual stop at my sister’s cabin in Wisconsin.  This is my chance to slow down my travel schedule and breath for a bit. Below, enjoy photos of the magic of the midwest over summer and Cedar Lake at various times of day.

Cabin Life Wisconsin

You’ve heard of taking a sunset walk or boat ride – but what about a sunset swing? I’m back out at the #Wisconsin cabin for the weekend!

Cabin life wisconsin

1, 2, 3, JUMP! Who’s with me?

eat in season strawberries

You’ve been hearing a lot abt models like @tyrabanks showing you what she looks like without makeup. Well, I bring you what our produce looks like without ‘make-up’. I picked these from my sister’s garden this evening. What we see in grocery stores is made to look perfect. But these strawberries are #rawandreal

cabin life wisconsin

The calm before yet another storm here at #CedarLake I love stormy days!

cabin life wisconsin

This is my running route near the cabin in Wisconsin that I’m calling home for a few weeks. I’m determined to get myself back in better running shape this summer. Over the last 9 years on the road traveling I have slowly declined to run a little , walk a lot. But no more! Don’t let this road fool you there are two killer hills on this route and in 3 wks my goal is to be able to run up then without stopping! #summergoals

cabin life wisconsin

Brush strokes made by Mother Nature. The sky at #CedarLake is quite the canvas tonight after sunset.

tiny diner minneapolis

Sunday brunch. My first trip to Tiny Diner – the building isn’t tiny but their supply chain is. They have their own tiny farm that sources the diner. Each month their menu features a different state – this month is New Mexico – bring on the green chili everything!

cabin life wisconsin

And so begins my 3 weeks of sitting still & staring at sunsets like this. #travelWI #cabinlife

cabin life wisconsin

You’ve got mail. Mailboxes along my running route today in Wisconsin.

cabin life wisconsin

End of day on Cedar Lake. you a peek into my life of perpetual motion.

Learning to Cook From a Canadian Chef

July 12, 2015 by  

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Cooking Wild Game

Why does it always look so easy when you watch it on the Food Network? Hell, those chefs can whip up a whole dinner in 30 minutes while talking to a camera and not one swear word comes out of their mouth. How is that possible? For the first time in years I had my own kitchen, AND I spoke the language of where I was living; this was rare, exotic living for me! With my shiny kitchen and time on my hands, I decided I should try to recapture my cooking prowess while I lived in Alberta this winter.

burned bagel

A little overdone…don’t you think?

After 8 years on the road without a real home or kitchen, I had lost all of my cooking abilities. I had spent a lot of time in my 30’s working on cooking skills, buying up cooking appliances and gadgets which now all sit in my storage unit under layers of dust. At one time I really was a decent cook. Really.
Did that sound convincing?

After failed attempts at making bagels in my Grand Rockies Resort condo, I decided I better get some help. I figured I might as well go to the best, someone who not only could help me get my cooking mojo back, but could also teach me about the foods and producers that were local to Alberta.  After all, if you are doing slow travel in a location, then why not learn how to cook food unique to the region.  In Alberta Canada that means wild game.

Bringing in a Professional

“I need help,” I admitted as I met Chef Jeff MacLean and shook his hand. Chef Jeff has been working as the head chef of Deer Lodge at Lake Louise for 2+ years. He certainly knew his way around a kitchen and could help me. I met him at his kitchen where he decided we’d prepare one of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts (CRMR) signature menu items – wild game hash. I actually had ordered this a week ago when I was visiting the restaurant so I was excited to learn more about how to prepare the wild game.

CRMR was known for their Rocky Mountain cuisine specializing in cooking wild game in Alberta. The company owns 3 luxury lodges and various restaurants around Calgary and they actually raise their own wild game. They have a large wild game ranch with herds of elk and buffalo. These are extremely lean meats, which make them challenging to cook since there is little fat. I was ready for the challenge and hoped I could do better than my burned bagel earlier in the week.

Cooking Wild Game

Wild Game Hash ingrediants

Chef walked me through all the steps of dicing and chopping the ingredients for the hash, and preparing the potatoes and corn. Then we went to the meat. He had an extremely hot pan; the cubes of elk and buffalo hit the pan and made a loud sizzling noise. He moved the meat around quickly and before I knew it he was turning down the heat, and the meat was done. He stressed that you always error on the side of under-cooking exotic game meat as you can always cook it more if you need to.  He also went on to show me how to cook up an elk steak which was a bit more complicated than the cubed meat.  Overall to make sure big-game meat doesn’t dry out, cook it with moist heat or keep it on the rare side.

Cooking wild game

Chef Jeff MacLean shows me how to perfectly cook wild game meat

Finally he taught me how to poach the perfect egg. I had never been able to poach an egg successfully, but Chef taught me tricks with vinegar and gave me tips on how to get the water the right temperature and keep the boiling water moving at the right speed. The eggs came out perfect as I watched him scoop them up with ease and place them over the potato and meat hash. Honestly it all seemed rather simple. I had this, I thought to myself; I was confident this lesson by Chef Jeff had recharged my cooking mojo. He gave me the recipe, and I was on my way to cooking success.

Choosing the Best Exotic Meats

It was time – time for me to recreate this food masterpiece in my own home now. Sure, CRMR had their own ranch where they raised animals, but where exactly do you find wild game meats for sale in Canmore? I had seen the name everywhere around town for the last month, Valbella Meats, and now I finally had a reason to go check out these famous meats and deli for myself. I made the drive to Valbella deli located in an unassuming industrial part of Canmore. Armed with my list of meats and ingredients I needed for my hash, I walked into the little Valbella deli and was swept up in a charming family story of immigration and entrepreneurship.

Valbella is known Canada-wide for its game meats and European style dried meats and sausages. They supply most of the restaurant industry in Banff and Canmore as well as Calgary. I was able to meet Chantal and Jeff, the brother and sister team who is running the family business. And I was also lucky enough to meet the legend himself, their father Walter, while I was there buying meat. Walter broke into the meat business slowly and ingeniously by deciding to sharpen knives for people first before he tried to sell them meat. He won over their trust and eventually started Valbella. What began as a small 1,000 sq.ft. plant has progressed over the last 30 years into a 25,000 sq.ft. production plant overlooking Canmore’s Three Sister Mountains. Chantal and Jeff now run the business, however Walter is quite a character and it’s absolutely worth it to spend time with him if you happen to see him in the store.

Valbella meats

Valbella sourced charcuterie platter at Deer Lodge

Valbella’s sausages and famous doubled smoked bacon are worth a stop if you are driving through Canmore. I couldn’t help myself from getting extra sausages, and dried meats in addition to the elk and buffalo I needed to make my Rocky Mountain Hash. After all – if my hash was a giant failure, I needed something else to fall back on!.

Just Like On the Food Network…Nearly

I was hungry, and ready to get this cooking party started in my very own kitchen. I got out the recipe that Chef Jeff gave me and even tried to do all of the food prep/chopping before just like he taught me. Everything was looking pretty good, I even sipped wine while I was cooking.  It was fun to be cooking in my own kitchen again.

cooking wild game

My cooking prep…looking good so far!

I was extremely cautious about not overcooking the elk or buffalo, and the potatoes had come out just right. It was time, time to put my egg knowledge to the test. The water came to a boil, I stirred it at the right speed, and then stealthily cracked the egg and eased it into the hot water. Easy peasy…right? It took about 5 seconds for things to go wrong, soon I had lost my Food Network Chef demeanor and was cursing as I threw out my first failed poached egg. Angry with myself, I tried again.
Fail.
Again.
Fail.
Again.
Fail.

My meat and potatoes were getting cold, and my kitchen looked like it had been egged by teenagers. Fuck. Why doesn’t this happen to Rachel Ray?

I looked at my dwindling container of eggs and decided that I couldn’t afford to ruin any more eggs trying to poach them else I’d just be eating only cold potatoes and meat for the evening. I had to call it. I had to give up on the poaching.

I had to accept that strangely it wasn’t cooking the wild game meat that led me to failure, it was the simple poached egg.  I never saw that coming.

I angrily fried two eggs, and then slid them on top of my game hash mixture that had been plated and waiting patiently for 20 minutes now. I sat down at my table with a glass of wine dejected at my cooking ability. The fried egg didn’t look nearly as pretty as Chef Jeff’s soft, white poached eggs in the picture I took in his kitchen.

I poked my fork into the soft fried egg and let the yellow yolk run over the hash mixture to let all of the flavors mix. As I took my first bite, I was reminded, looks aren’t everything. Forget the visuals, I gave myself a 7 on taste. I may not be a Food Network Chef – all calm, cool and collected – but I did make it about 70% there. I drank my glass of wine, ate the rest of my Valbella dried meats, and decided to revel in the fact that I came close. After 8 years of not having a kitchen – 70% was pretty good.

Have you ever tried to create a recipe from your travels? Was it a success?

Me 70% satisfied…

 

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Travel Alberta, however all opinions here expressed are my own.

 

Exploring the Molokai Leper Colony by Mule

July 11, 2015 by  

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molokai mule ride kalaupapa

I listened in shock to our guide Pat as he told the story of Olivia, “Olivia arrived in the 1930’s. She was 18, engaged to be married, and had been living in Oahu. She went to the doctor to get her tonsils out and was diagnosed with leprosy, but she wasn’t told and was allowed to go home instead. The doctor reported it to the authorities (as required by law) and they showed up at her door to tell her the news and to pick her up to take her to Kalaupapa. She said that her life ended at that moment. She went to the bathroom to kill herself with Lysol, but didn’t succeed. She lived exiled in Kalaupapa until she was 90 years old.”

You can find it all over the world, tourism based on tragedy and human suffering. It’s the Killing Fields in Cambodia, Dachau in Germany, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and the 9/11 Tribute Center that recently opened; something draws us to these sites when we travel.

Why do we engage in tragic tourism?

“some have a personal connection to the tragedy as survivors, relatives of victims or witnesses. Others have an intellectual or cultural interest — to understand what happened, or connect the tragedy to other historical events. Others have no connection to the site or the event, but happen to be there as tourists and visit those places as part of their sightseeing.” –Independent Traveler

As I arrived at Molokai Mule Ride office to take the Father Damien tour, I definitely was the latter. I had heard about Molokai leper colony, but knew nothing about its tragic history. I was intrigued to learn more, but first we had to get there. Kalaupapa National Historic Park is situated in an isolated part of Molokai, at the bottom of the steepest sea cliffs in the world. It’s not an island, it’s just a hard-to-get-to place that happens to be the most beautiful area of the island and probably the most beautiful area in all of Hawaii.

molokai leper colony

Kalaupapa sea cliffs – remote and beautiful.

Getting to the Molokai Leper Colony

In 1865, the only way to the Kalaupapa leper colony was by ship – and it wasn’t a pleasant ride. After being diagnosed, patients would be torn from their lives and taken by boat in a cattle pen to a small rowboat that admitted you onto Kalaupapa. This plot of remote land is where most of the patients came to live out their lives and most likely perish. At that time there were no cures for leprosy (now the politically correct term is Hansen’s Disease), and by order of the King the law was to exile all people diagnosed with leprosy to Kalaupapa. It was so remote and off limits that supplies only came one time per year on a barge, the rest of the time the people fended for themselves.

kalaupapa leper colony

The port where the barge would land one time a year

In 2015, Kalaupapa is still difficult to get to! As part of the Father Damien Tour, you’ve got options, you can arrive by (a very small) plane from Oahu, Maui, or topside Molokai, you can take a mule down/up the sea cliffs, or you can hike down/up. I chose to take the mules as I had heard about the exciting (and sometimes harrowing) experience of riding the mules down 26 narrow switchbacks 1700 feet; the steepest sea cliffs in the world. I do love myself an adventure!

And by doing the adventurous mule ride, the whole tragic tour seemed to be ‘lightened up’ a bit. Somehow they had combined adventure travel with a historic tour, which sort of made it more digestible.

molokai mule ride kalaupapa

Hold on tight as it’s really steep!

molokai mule ride kalaupapa

My view of the switchbacks from the back of Koa.

The Trail down the sea cliffs to the Molokai leper colony was created in 1988 and is maintained by the National Parks. I was put on Koa, meaning strong warrior. However, he was pretty chill, and had no need to be the lead mule so we were pretty happy being 2nd in the procession. Koa was older and getting ready for retirement, I think that’s why we got along so well. Our guides, Audrey and Lulu, answered questions and dolled out trivia-worthy facts all the way down the cliffs.

It took 2 hours to get down and the hardest part was holding on and not panicking around the narrow turns. Audrey made a point to tell us that the mules had done this hundreds of times and knew their job and the trail well. She even said that they step in the same place every day. Koa enjoyed swinging really wide in the switchbacks much to my dismay, but I trusted him completely. On the way up the cliffs it was a quicker ride, only 90 minutes, but it was much harder on the mules. As we stopped and rested at the halfway point, I could feel Koa’s heartbeat as he rested in the turn number 13. These were impressive animals.

Kalaupapa Father Damien Tour

“It isn’t all tragedy and disaster here,” our guide Pat said, “life did go on; they were a community.”

We met Pat at the bottom of the cliffs and all boarded an old rusty yellow school bus. Others who had arrived by plane or by foot joined us; we were given a sack lunch, and immediately swept into the tragic and touching world of Hansen’s disease all with a gorgeous Hawaiian backdrop.

molokai leper colony

Pat telling us about the history of Kalaupapa

Out of the 8,000 people sent to Kalaupapa throughout the years; 90% were Hawaiian. The Hawaiians were more prone to catching western diseases, as they couldn’t fight off these new illnesses that had been introduced to their culture. After years of public purgatory, a mixture of antibiotics created in the 1940’s was found as the cure, and after that there was no more real need to isolate. But it wasn’t until 1969 that the laws finally changed in Hawaii and people were really free to leave Kalaupapa. The problem was that many had nowhere to go as the knowledge and stigma about the disease was slow to reach the public and sadly few had any place to go even when they could.

However, as Pat said, they had built a community in Kalaupapa, it was their home now. It had a hospital (however it burned down when they couldn’t start the fire truck), many churches, homes, recreation fields, a gas station that had 5 tanks holding up to 30,000 gallons. And there was even one bar in the community.

After 1969 many patients stayed and lived out their lives there, not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Today the only people allowed to stay in Kalaupapa are the old patients and the park rangers. Sixteen people are still on the list to stay currently, but they are all quite old. The youngest is 73 and the oldest 90. In 1980 President Carter created the Historic Park in order to preserve the Kalaupapa history and the highly sought after land from being developed.

Pat spent 2+ hours educating us on Hansen’s disease, telling us stories about the people in the community, helping us understand how the community ran. He took us to the many churches and cemeteries in the park and gave us time to reflect upon what we were seeing. He told us the stories of Father Damien, the heroic Belgium Priest who loved and served this colony of outcasts and eventually caught the disease and perished there at 49 years old.

Molokai leper colony father damien

Father Damien’s graveside

Kalaupapa Molokai Hawaii

Churches in Kalaupapa – there were many.

The bus returned me back to Koa and we began the ride up the cliffs. While bobbing and swaying up the switchbacks, I had plenty of time to think about what I saw and learned. Overall the day was a strange mix of sobering, uplifting, and educational. People engage in tragic tourism for different reasons, but for me it reminds me of how far we’ve come. And it makes me wonder what things our society are doing now that we will look back in 50 years and think are ludicrous. Only time will tell. I also wonder about Koa, what will happen when he retires? Will he miss this trek that he does day after day after day? I think he will.

 

 

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Visit Molokai during my time on the island, however all opinions here are my own.

 

Molokai for Those Who Want an “Off-the-Beaten Island” Experience

July 11, 2015 by  

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Molokai beaches

“Actually, the best thing you can write about Molokai is to tell people not to come here,” she said. I was alarmed – I was on Molokai, one of the 5 Islands that make up Hawaii, in order to experience and write about it as a holiday destination and I was being told that people shouldn’t come here. This was some Freaky Friday kind of stuff. “Molokai isn’t for everyone, it’s not like the rest of Hawaii. It’s slow, it’s not touristic, it’s the original Hawaii,” she went on to explain. “It’s for people who really want to slow down and experience the old Hawaii and it’s culture. For those people, they will fall in love with Molokai. But if people are looking for tours, resorts, and decadent restaurants – they won’t find it here.”  ABOVE SHOT: Papohaku Beach.

This was my 6th and final island of the Hawaiian Island chain to visit and I was already in love with it based on this description alone. I had heard so much about Molokai being untouched by tourism and how slow and normal it was that I was tingly with excitement as I made the short plane ride over to this agriculture rich island. As I thought about that conversation, I knew that it wasn’t that they didn’t want people to travel to Molokai, they just simply wanted people to know that ‘one of these [islands] is not like the other’ and understand that Molokai might not be for everyone.

However, I was pretty sure that Molokai was going to be for me. As soon as I walked off the plane, picked up my luggage at the tiny open-air airport, and drove away, I saw a handmade sign that read, “Aloha, Slow Down, This is Molokai”. This was the best welcome to any destination I could imagine.

Molokai Hotels

Hotel Molokai

My friends hadn’t lied to me, after just a few hours on the island I had to agree – this island wasn’t developed with tourism in mind. I was staying in the ONE and only hotel on the whole island aptly named Hotel Molokai. An adorable yet quirky hotel right on the water with a highlight being the ‘Meet the Manager night’ with drinks by the pool bar! Michael, the Manager, is a Molokai character worth meeting – he’ll have you in the Aloha spirit in no time!

There are a few other places to stay; 5 condo complexes, and some home rentals – and that’s it. All in all there’s a total of 400 rooms on the whole island. And while we are discussing numbers, there are only 2 liquor licenses for establishments on the island – so wipe those visions of cabana boys, mai tais and rum shots on the beach away. However, luckily for me, Hotel Molokai holds one of the liquor licenses!

Molokai Tourism – Things to Do

However Molokai does have a tourism office. Julie Bicoy (strangely similar to Julie McCoy the Cruise Director of Love Boat fame), dishes out visitor information and advice on how to get the most out of your unique time in Molokai. I talked to Julie to find out what she normally tells visitors to do. She said she always points people in the direction of the cultural attractions like Halawa Valley and Kalaupapa as well as more adventure activities like kayaking. Then she suggests the weekly and monthly events that are going on in town – farmers markets, book readings, cultural events, and town gatherings.

Green church molokai

A Molokai church nestled among green

But mostly she tries to stress the idea of “Let the moments happen”. When you come across a picturesque beach, charming church, or intriguing sign, stop and take a look. If a local starts to tell you stories, listen. What makes vacation great is connecting, creating relationships, and talking story. I adore this Molikai-eque vision of travel; it’s not about the tourist stops or bucket lists, it’s about connections.

Molokai Car Rental

The best thing to do is rent a car from the airport and take off exploring. As I was driving towards Kalaupapa lookout I noticed it little by little at first, and then it seemed to be more noticeable as we turned the corner. Grass was growing in the cracks in the pavement on the main road. Apparently the roads get so little traffic that grass is able to thrive on them! Julie told me that any paved roads were fine to explore, however once it turned to gravel – then I was on my own. Also be prepared, this is an island where picking up hitchhikers is encouraged and normal, so don’t be alarmed if you see a few thumbs.

Molokai car rental

Grass grows in the middle of the road.

And be sure not to miss the Molokai West End Beaches. Molokai has a lot of beautiful beaches on all parts of the island. However, not all of them are safe for swimming and snorkeling and many are difficult to reach even if you do have a car. You will be amazed when you arrive at Papohaku Beach – it’s Hawaii’s longest white sand beach. Three miles long and you’ll rarely see anyone else on it.

Molokai beaches

West End Beaches

Molokai Food

I learned pretty quickly that people don’t travel to Molokai for the food…unless you really like bread. The island is filled with little basic cafes and drive-ins, but no fine dining. However, one must-do experience on Molokai is the bread run. No – it has nothing to do with actual running. The Kanemitsu Bakery has been gracing Main Street for 80 years, and serves as a traditional bakery. However at night it transforms into a seedy prohibition-like experience. However, it’s not booze that’s being secretly made and sold, it’s bread. When the sun has gone down and the clocks strikes 8:30PM, just follow your nose down a back alley behind the bakery. There you’ll find a dimly lit corridor (they type your mother warns you about) leading you to a little window where they’ll take your bread order. Choose from cinnamon, butter, strawberry, blueberry, and cream cheese toppings, exchange money and you’ll walk away with a brown paper bag filled with hot bread. And it’s not just a little slice of bread – it’s a giant round of bread bigger than your head.

Molokai Restaurants

The Friendly Island

Molokai is called the Friendly Island in Hawaii, they even have a market called Friendly Market. I wanted to put it to the test; just how friendly were the people? I decided to test this friendly title by spending an hour walking around the 2 block Main Street and see what happened – would I make friends? I encountered a couple of guys selling fish from their truck. They were indeed friendly telling me all about the fish and where they caught it on the island and asking me about myself. I walked to the Friendly Market where the check-out clerk asked me if I was a photographer when she saw the huge camera around my neck.  We chatted for a bit as I paid for my oatmeal and left.

fish market molokai

Selling fish out of his truck

As I continued down the street a guy leaving the Filipino restaurant nearly ran into me – hmmm – not very friendly I think. After apologizing he looks at me and tells me I should go inside the Filipino restaurant and eat.
I look at him and ask “What are you eating?”
“Here hold this,” he says and hands me his drink, shoots me a big grin, and opens up his to-go carton so I can see what’s in it. Ok – I was wrong – he was very friendly.

As I sat eating my giant loaf of left over cinnamon butter bread from the night before, I realized that by positioning themselves as the anti-tourism island, they have indeed become the island that people want to go to. Think that sounds weird? Then think back to every boyfriend you had growing up – there’s a reason why the aloof, bad boys were always loved.

And finally I walked into the bookstore where I met the owner Terry, she was like the Molokai Ambassador doling out advice on what to do and where to go. However when I asked her about Molokai she said, “People who visit here have two reactions, Oh this is it? And some people come and day ohhhhhh this is it!”

My advice, don’t travel to Molokai if your reaction is going to be the first one.

 

Disclosure: I was a guest of Molokai Visitor Bureau for my trip, however all opinions are my own.

 

The Significance of Ha & Power of Breath, Hawaiian Style

July 6, 2015 by  

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Honi Halawa Valley

I press my forehead against his forehead and I feel his hands reach around and grab the sides of my arm as if to steady himself and me. We are nose to nose, I close my eyes with this stranger, and we take a deep breath at the same time; essentially sharing our intake of oxygen – of life.

This exchange of breath is referred to as honi and it’s a Polynesian greeting in where two people press their foreheads together and inhale at the same time. The greeting is considered an honor as it represents the exchange of ‘ha’–the breath of life, and spiritual power between two people.

The Significance of Ha

‘Ha’ is everywhere in Hawaii; aloHA, maHAlo, HAwaii. It is an important part of the culture, and it’s why the tradition of honi is important to carry on. I experienced the honi while hiking through Halawa Valley in Molokai. Molokai, the least known but most culturally significant Hawaiian island is dedicated to keeping the Hawaiian culture and traditions alive and it begins with a trip to HAlawa Valley (meaning sufficient breath).

Halawa Valley Molokai

The bay marks the beginning of the Halawa Valley

I think more than I should about what I will pass on from my life when I’m gone. As a single woman with no children, it’s a perplexing question for me. It’s human instinct to want to create a legacy or memory; I think we all want to pass something along. It’s one thing to want to pass on your own legacy, but what if your culture and base traditions were in jeopardy of going extinct, what would you do?

Teach Within Your Family

After a stunning drive along the Molokai East Cost we arrive in Halawa Valley – an area half a mile wide and four miles deep. This valley is graced with beautiful vistas and towering waterfalls, and is one of the island’s most historic areas.

There we met 75-year-old Anakala Pilipo (Uncle Pilip) who is the last living Hawaiian descendent to be born and raised in Halawa and still resides there. He was chosen at the age of five to be the cultural practitioner for his family. This honor meant he was given the responsibility of carrying on their traditions and cultural practices. He took his responsibility seriously as he’s devoted his life to this valley, and the Hawaiian cultural traditions.

Halawa Valley Hike molokai

3 generations of Hawaiian traditions . Pilipo’s grandson, Pilipo, and Greg

Greg, one of Anakala Pilipo’s six children, addresses us when we arrive and starts our journey. He is the only son currently residing in Halawa Valley and like his father; he too has been chosen to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture. He has now started the process of taking over this responsibility and passing on the traditions and stories. And it didn’t stop there. Anakala Pilipo’s grandchildren were also there wearing traditional dress and partaking (and sometimes goofing off) in the talk and demonstrations. They were on school holiday and part of their ‘duty to the family’ was to be a part of these talks and experiences to carry the stories forward. It was really fascinating to see which ones seemed bored with it and which ones embraced it.

Greg began by telling us about cultural traditions like the honi, and the blowing of the Pu (conch shell) to announce your one your way and eminent arrival; an ancient sort of text message. He even explained how to properly pronounce Molokai. Anakala Pilipo proceeded to tell us about the valley, which was home to over 5,000 people, 1200 taro patches, and 24 temples. His voice started to crack in emotion as he went on to tell us about the historic tidal wave that traveled 1.7 miles into the valley and destroyed the area in 1946.

Cultural Hike

Educated with the proper background, the guests were next given traditional sarongs to wear and were invited to hike into the valley as Pilipo’s guests. Tourists and locals intermixing, old and young – this is what travel is all about. We started our procession, all carrying our ho’okupu, gifts wrapped in ti leaves, and occasionally our group would blow the pu to announce our presence. We’d all get really quiet and intently listen for the answering pu. It was sort of an ancient form of can-and-string telephone. Once we arrived at the entrance to the valley we all were greeted with the honi and were invited to pass.

Halawa Valley Molokai Pu

The blowing of the pu announcing we are close to arriving.

Once the ceremony was completed, the rest of the afternoon we hiked deep into the valley along across rivers to Mo’oula Falls. Along the way, we talked with Greg and others from his family to learn further about native and invasive species, ancient taro terraces and historical rock walls, and worship sites. The hike wasn’t difficult, but it was steamy. I was happy I had my PrAna layers to peal off! The sites were fascinating and the giant trees enthralled me; I kind of wanted to hug them! And since it’s Hawaii, of course at the end of the trail we were welcomed by the 250 foot high roaring Mo’oula Falls.

Some of us swam in the refreshing water, kids found high places to leap off of, and some just sat and took it all in. I sat and thought about legacy; I breathed and meditated on it all. Even though I had no answers for my own legacy, I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of another family’s quest to pass on their culture and legacy. After all, we all want our life – our breath – to be remembered.

Halawa Valley Molokai Hike

Hiking over the river in the valley

Halawa Valley Molokai Hike

Halawa Valley Molokai Hike

Take the leap! Kids jump into the water.

Halawa Valley Molokai Hike

 

Disclosure: I was a guest of Molokai Visitor Bureau, however all opinions are my own.

 

The Indianapolis’ INDY 500 in America’s Midwest

June 29, 2015 by  

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In late May, I went from a town filled with scooters, to a town filled with the fastest cars in the world, and finally landed in a town filled with taxi’s.  It was a motion-filled, fun week traveling from Spain, to Indianapolis an d then back to New York City.

I sadly left Spain after a month of soaking up the wine, food, and gin of Catalonia, and fittingly I flew back to the US with a wicked hangover.  I went to Indy to check off a bucket list item – to see the Indy 500 in person – but I quickly learned that Indianapolis is much more than fast cars!  The food, art, and beautifully designed parks/trails were stunning.  It has been 15 years since I lived in the midwest and clearly Midwestern towns like Indy have upped their game a LOT since I lived there!  Tons of fast cars and cute drivers – below, a visual walk of the race and of cultural fines in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Instagram

Indianapolis Instagram

Indianapolis Instagram

Indianapolis Instagram

Indianapolis Instagram

 

 

The Glorious Magical Colorado Rocky Mountains

June 29, 2015 by  

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Recently, I went back into the Rockies, the Colorado Rocky Mountains this time and was there attending an Adventure Travel Conference in Snowmass/Aspen. I used the time before and after to explore the mountains and overflowing rivers!  Actually I started out the week with a scare; I had a real dose of adventure travel and got bucked off a horse.  I love watching rodeos and cowboys (which they have plenty of in Colorado!) – but I don’t particularly like being the show.  I was really lucky that I just had a few bruises and a bit of a shock, but all was good and I got on a different horse and kept going.  And it’s not too bad to have a bunch of cowboys attentively looking after you either.

After some white water rafting, beer tasting, and hiking, I then took off to the high altitude to experience the wonderful Aspen Hut to Hut experience.  Did you know that you can hike/ski from hut to hut all throughout the Colorado Rocky Mountains? It’s a well-kept system maintained by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association of shared cabins in the back country.

The perfect nature getaway.  Most of the huts are rustic and unplugged, however you can do them in a bare bones manner sharing space with others, or a more luxurious manner renting out the entire hut. The awesome people from Aspen Alpine Guides took us to the huts and hosted a group of us to an ultimate glamping experience complete with Chef, yoga instructor, and masseuse.  Even though it was only for two days – the unplug did me good.  Everyone needs to put down the phone and laptop once in a while.  Instead I concentrated on finding my inner hippie, hiking, doing photography, and soaking up the nature and sounds around me.

Colorado Rocky Mountains

I’m heading up, up, up. Hiking the Hanging Lake Trail today in Colorado!

Colorado Rocky Mountains

It’s called Hanging Lake and it’s nestled high up in the Colorado Rockies at 7000+ ft. To enjoy this turquoise hidden gem and it’s 3 waterfalls you have to earn it. Hiking up a rocky and sometimes steep path 1000 ft you’ll feel like taking a dip when you arrive! It was a little too chilly yesterday so I spent time taking photos instead.

Colorado Rocky Mountains

The sky is on fire! Sunset from our Harry Gates Hut near Lime Park. #coloradolive w 10th Mountain Huts and @aspenalpineguides

Colorado Rocky Mountains Hut to Hut

My little ‘home’ that I’ve been hiding out in for the last two days! The Harry Gates hut is part of the @10thMtnHuts hut to hut hiking system. No connections, completely unplugged, enjoying nature w @aspenalpineguides.

Colorado Rocky Mountains Cowboys

Colorado cowboys and mountains – a nice site! Yeehaw!

Tree Swing Colorad Rockies

Forget afternoon naps – how about an afternoon swing?

Hanging Lake Colorado Rockies

Rule breakers.

Colorado Rocky Mountains Yoga

“Gimme a yoga pose,” I say to Amanda and she quickly complies. Nothing beats the fresh Rocky Mountain air and other people doing yoga!

Colorado Rocky Mountains

It’s called Aspen Colorado for a reason. During my horseback ride yesterday we rode through aspen forests that were popping with green thanks to the areas set spring.

Colorado Rocky Mountains pictures

Even though dandelions are technically a weed – they sure are purdy sometimes! Views from my horseback ride in #Snowmass yesterday!

 

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