Posts tagged “travel

The True Story Of Travel Addiction

I used to feel happiest when traveling. Experiencing new places, new people, my only job to discover and explore. It was a hack to feel present, when in reality my inner life was fixated on the past or worrying about the future. My self-worth was based on what exciting new adventure I was cooking up. The truth is I was running – from responsibility, from commitment, from myself. My constant companions were anxiety, credit card debt, and a bunch of photos of the places I’d been that nothing to anyone but me.

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Today, being at home is as fulfilling as being abroad. I especially love my office. It overlooks the yard with the pond and the majestic tree. The light is more buttery and brilliant than anywhere I’ve yet seen. This is where I’ve cooked up Forever Flowers, essays and blog posts. This is where @machetebangbang and I have written Moon Manor, with our dog / cat / chameleon colleagues nearby. My office is on the other side of the bathroom, a weird secret hovel high up with the squirrels and scarabs. My mind feels good here. Passport stamps are cool, but inner peace is the best high of all.

 


The Other Tulum

Last month was my birthday so I ran away to Tulum for a few days. To me, this picture is México. Rather than the beach and margaritas and all that, it’s the dusty roads, the bark of raggedy dogs, the delightful, too sweet taste of Mexican Coke.

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Remembering my first visits to México as a tween, giddy to buy cheap beer without an ID, the rough streets of those early days of Sayulita where Beth’s family had a house and we had a whole other life we’d bi-annually dip into and be “G.I.T.s” … Gypsies In Training.  I decided last minute to come on this trip, so maybe I became a gypsy after all? But that’s a cultural appropriation – gypsies are a people who’ve been persecuted terribly over the centuries, the Coachella-fication of their aesthetic on par with Tulum’s tourists who know nothing about the tension simmering under the sunburned streets. But let me not travel down that path. This is a “HBD to me” post after all. Age just has a way of ripping off the blinders. 

Back to waxing poetic about the intoxicating magic of México. And thanking @our_habitas and @uproxxtravel for giving me wings to explore @artwithmetulum. A new year for new opportunities. Shameless hotel balcony selfies shall endure, however.

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I hope more festivals will take a cue from @artwithmetulum and #partyforapurpose. Four days of art, music and food centered around talks on sustainability and social change. I did a story over at @uproxxtravel if you wanna go seeeee. “The mission of Art With Me *GNP is to enrich the local community, preserve the natural environment and strengthen the artistic development of Tulum through conscious and sustainable practice. Art With Me has chosen solid waste management as the central environmental topic for its’ first year, due to the threat it has on the Mesoamerican ReefSystem (SAM), the ocean and the local people of Tulum.” This was a great sculpture at Art With Me by Daniel Popper. Installations like this were hidden everywhere in the beach and the jungle. Photo by Peter Ruprecht.

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17 things that surprised me about Cuba.

Yes, 17 things. Because Cuba is the most unique place I’ve ever traveled. The sweet sharp rum. The magnificent crumbling buildings. The gorgeous people and their difficult history.

My trip came together on Christmas Eve and I arrived Havana the eve of New Year’s Eve, so I had little time to build expectations. Probably doesn’t matter. Even if I’d been prepping the trip for months I’d still be blown away. Thus, having gone into the experience a blank slate, here are 17 things that surprised me about Cuba.

#1) It was easy to fly there, in a complicated way. Commercial flights are now happening from the U.S. straight to Cuba, but you still need to prove you’re going for one of 12 “official” reasons (you can’t go simply as a tourist). But hacking the system is way more fun! We flew to Mexico City and bought a one-way ticket at the Cubana Air office, which took a few days to figure out and included exploring the Witch Market and a Lucha Libre match. It was a *tiny* bit stressful carrying all our cash around one of the most dangerous cities in the world (you can’t buy a flight to Cuba with an American credit card), but finding an open Cubana office also felt like a treasure hunt (they’re open for like three hours a day, an hour of which is lunch-I liked these people already).

#2) When you stay with a family, you become part of the family. The best accommodations in Cuba are the casa particulares, basically, renting a room from a family. For around $30/night, you get a clean room, breakfast, and the chance to see what Cuban life is really like. Maybe we got lucky, but our family was the shit. We went together to the beach, to the river, they drove us where we wanted to go in the city and helped us plan the rest of our trip. Two nights booked at the casa became six nights, and whether they like it or not, I now consider Martique to be my Cuban mom, Yoe to be the affable dad-who’s-more-like-a-friend, 19 year-old Alejandra to be my hermana pequeña, and the 13 year-old son (who’s name I think is Alejandro but seems unlikely, right?) to be the little brother I don’t really have a relationship with because all he does is play video games. They spoke no English, so I finally got to live out my dream of being the foreign exchange student with the cute accent who’s always saying funny stuff like “estoy embarazada” (meant to say: “I’m embarrassed” actually said: “I’m pregnant”).

#3) New Year’s Eve is NOT a party night. I’d imagined myself with new Cuban friends, rum drunk in the street as we salsa danced into the new year. I’d even brought a cheap gold “2016” crown from home (nerd alert!). This was not to be, however, as Alejandra informed me NYE is a family night, everyone stays in and has a big dinner. We were invited to feast with them, and had a delicious meal of chicken, pork, black beans and rice, plantains and tres leches cake (worth mentioning: the BBQ was a DIY creation made from an old propane tank). Two traditions were throwing a bucket of water out the door at midnight to cleanse the year past, and burning scarecrow-like effigies in the street (more tame than it sounds). After dinner we walked the dog to the neighbor’s house to play dominoes. At 1:30am Alejandra said she’d heard about a party at the Port we could try and get into (so it IS a party night, parties just start way late after family dinner?)…fast forward a few hours and we’re meeting Fidel Castro’s granddaughter at a swanky house on the water. ¡Felicidades!

#4) Cuban guys sculpt their eyebrows. The most lovely shaped brows I’ve ever seen were on the faces of the macho Cuban men. An unscientific visual survey confirmed they also shave their arms and legs. Perhaps they’re trying to keep up with the gorgeous Cuban women. Cuban is a melting pot of African, Caribbean, and European culture, creating stunning, mixed-race humans the likes of which I’ve seen only in Brazil. And they’re so sexy! Even the official uniforms of the girls working at the airport were mini-skirts and black fishnets.

#5) It is NOT possible to get sick of rum. It’s the nectar of life.

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#6) It IS possible to get sick of Adele’s new album. — It was the only music I had actually on my phone. No wifi meant no streaming meant Hey Adele, if you’ve called 1,000 times and no one is answering maybe you have the WRONG FUCKING NUMBER!


#7) It is possible to get SLIGHTLY sick of cigars. — Did you know cigars are just dried tobacco leaves rolled together? You’re smoking leaves. I didn’t know that. And they’re really green and pretty when hung up, like the pic. But they started giving me a headache, and/or that’s because it’s still legal to smoke cigarettes everywhere in Cuba.

#8) Cuba is freaking beautiful. I was expecting lovely beaches, but wasn’t prepared for the green hills, red soil, and exotic flowers. Like you see in Viñales, a country region a few hours from Havana. We arrived at night, so was blown away by the view that greeted us in the morning. I also didn’t realize a lot of the country was built in the 1500s and 1600s, creating a unique mixture with the buildings built in mod 1950s style. And! I was surprised to find out how big Cuba is, it’s the largest island in the Caribbean. A bus ride to Cienfuegos or Trinidad, two cities a lot of travelers visit, was 6 hours from Havana. And that’s staying on the west coast of the island.

#9) Cuba just got the Internet, but they still don’t have advertising. Some people told me the Internet came to Cuba 15 days ago, others said 3 months. As I experienced more than once on my trip, it’s hard to get a straight answer on anything in Cuba. I do know this: when Martique (the mom at our casa particular) said there was Internet at the park, I thought she meant there was an Internet cafe. I went looking for the cafe, and found dozens of people with their laptops filling every bench IN the park. As in, when Cuba decided to allow its citizens wifi, it became available only in a few select parks in the city. On some street corners (near parks) you can access it as well. Martique mentioned it was an effort to clean up the hotels, previously the only place to log-on, an unpleasant experience for high-paying tourists to find their lobby packed with Cubans vying for enough of a signal to make a 15-second video call to relatives in the States. She said they put extra benches in parks and now that’s where one goes to do Internet-ing, “como si fuéramos animales.” You still need to buy an Internet card, you get an hour at a time, which costs up to $7 in hotels, and there’s an emerging street hustle of selling the cards on the street for $1 or $2.

Not that they haven’t had content this whole time. From the Miami Herald: “Because of the severe lack of web access on the island, many people subscribe to the underground paquete, a weekly package of programming bought and sold on thumbdrives, or, for those who can afford them, external hard drives. The paquete sells for between 2 to 3 CUCs — the Cuban currency roughly equivalent to dollars — per week, and buyers can watch, among hundreds of offerings, recent episodes of Game of Thrones, Veep, and The Mindy Project.”

As a Communist country, there’s still a general lack of advertising. No messages shouted at you from billboards or bus stops. No images forced into your brain. No suggestions on what to eat, think, wear. Not being constantly plugged-in is something I always enjoy about traveling, but the lack of advertising felt like a cleansing of the palate.

#10) Cuba is FULL of tourists. It might not be a common place for Americans to go, but the rest of the world long ago made Cuba its playground. To the point that Habana Vieja (Old Town) is like visiting Epcot Disneyworld (why do so many tourists wear workout clothes or sweats when traveling? I get wanting to be comfortable, but you’re not working out, you’re not napping…no entiendo). Tourism is a very good thing for Cuba, however. When the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, Cuba had an extreme economic collapse. From Lonely Planet: “Almost overnight half the factories closed, the national economy shrunk by 60%, and Cubans who had been relatively well-off a year or so earlier, faced a massive battle just to survive.” In 1993, attempting to revive itself, Cuba legalized the US dollar and opened the country up to tourism and limited forms of private enterprise. Tourism is how they’ve been able to recover.

#11) The classic cars aren’t classic on the inside, and there’s no toilet paper. All those beautiful cars from the 1950s? For the most part, the engines are new, and often the interiors as well. So you hail a taxi, and from the outside you step into a ’56 Chevy, but on the inside you find yourself in ’02 Peugeot. Also, lots of taxis that stop aren’t actually taxis, just people looking to make an extra buck. Which is cool. Also also, for some reason Cubans love to put Mac Apple stickers on their gorgeous classic cars. And, most of the old cars have one handle to roll down every window, so you have to pass it back and forth. Worth noting: January 2014 was the first time a Cuban was allowed to buy a car without a government permit in over 50 years. Not related, but also interesting: there’s a severe lack of toilet paper in Cuba. Paper goods in general. This is why you see people bringing toilet paper with their carry-ons at the airport, and why the pizza we ordered one night was served on printer paper rather than a plate.

#12) Cubans are the happiest, most welcoming people in the world. And they seem to love Americans. Considering the hardships they’ve been through because of Castro’s tricky relationship with the U.S. government, I was blown away by the sweet open demeanor of nearly everyone I met. When asked where I’m from and I answered “California,” somewhat nervously, I was always met with a huge smile and Bienvenidos a Cuba! and usually “we love America!” Then I’d say Fuiste a America? (Have you been to America?) and immediately feel like an asshole because leaving Cuba is nearly impossible for them. Both to get a visa, and to ever earn enough money.

So why are they so happy all the time? I have a few theories. It’s like there was a collective decision to make the best of it, considering they’re more or less trapped on their island. The attitude could’ve easily gone the other way, toward discontent and anger. It’s an example of what’s possible for the human spirit. A case for the “paradox of choice” argument. Does having less options make you happier? Dunno. But Cubans seem to have something figured out. I’ve never seen so many people in a good mood.

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#13) Cuba has virtually no crime. Is happiness the simplest antidote to violence (see above)? Google “crime in Cuba” and you’ll see across the board that Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world to travel. I’ve never felt more comfortable meeting strangers. Like our friend Rey, an older guy we met on a walk who ended up spending half the day with us, showing us secret spots of Havana and telling us about his life as a salsa instructor. Or Eddie, our tour guide in Viñales who arranged for us to stay at his mom’s house when all the hotels were booked. I did keep getting called “Bruchie” in the streets, which I eventually realized was a version of “Brooke Shields,” which I’ve gotten all my life (thank you thick eyebrows). But this didn’t feel threatening. In fact it boosted my ego quite a lot. Duh.

#14) Havana was the playground of the Mafia. The surprise here is more so that I knew very little about the history of Cuba’s revolution, and it’s a helluva story. My brief understanding (starting with the Revolution, though going back farther to the Spanish-American War and William Randolph Hearst’s role with yellow journalism is equally fascinating):

A) In the 1930s and 40s, Batista was in power, and at first he was a good guy and very progressive, then he became corrupt and took shitloads of money from the American Mafia, in exchange they got to do whatever they wanted in Havana (which is terrible and glamorous and why there are hotels with the height of 50s chic that hasn’t been updated since then, so thus is rundown as fuck). B) This upset a lot of people, including a young lawyer named Fidel Castro who led an uprising that resulted in the famed revolution of 1959 (Che Guevara was a big part of the revolution and in fact I saw his likeness all over Cuba, much more than Castro’s). C) The U.S. puts an embargo on Cuba because Communism was the worst thing ever at the time, and for other reasons I don’t fully understand (input welcome!). D) The Cuban Missile Crisis. E) Cuba becomes a shining example to the world for it’s literacy rate and healthcare system. F) Sugar plantations play a big role in all of this. G) The USSR is also very much involved. H) Fidel’s brother Raul takes over in 2006 because Fidel is 80 years-old and getting sick. Raul starts allowing things like private restaurants and more tourism. I) In 2015 the U.S. lifts the travel ban to Cuba (not entirely, just more than ever).

And that’s a terribly spotty account of Cuba’s last several decades, based on a traveler’s understanding as told to her by Cubans.

#15) Cuba has two currencies. This is a bizarre aspect of traveling in Cuba–tourists have one currency, locals have another. From the economist.com: “ONE country, two currencies” is one of Cuba’s more peculiar idiosyncrasies. The Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) are both legal tender on the island, though neither is exchangeable in foreign markets. The CUC is pegged to the dollar and worth 25 times as much as the CUP. But whereas most Cubans are paid in CUP, nearly all consumer goods are priced in CUC.” What this means as a traveler is you’ll be riding in a taxi with four locals and know you’re paying not just a different price for your ride, but an entirely different currency. It’s complicated and odd, and comes with all sorts of historical significance and reflection on current economic times.

#16) Santeria is one of the most common religions. Cuba embraces many religions, a refreshing experience. The people are open to all types of beliefs, one of which is Santeria–traditions from Africa kept alive by the slaves who were brought to work the sugar plantations, combined with Catholic saint worship. I also learned about Yoruba, an offshoot of Santeria that involves wearing white every day for a whole year. I visited Regla, where the main church of Santeria is located. I was scammed outside the church by two ladies who I think did black magic on me. I am purposefully glossing over all this because I intend to do a whole post or video on just this subject.

#17) Miscellaneous. A few final details that surprised me about Cuba. A) The Malecon (the long walkway between Havana and the water where everyone congregates to drink and drum) is as fun as expected. B) The art is incredible in Cuba, perhaps because the isolation means a unique, original style has emerged (and the Fábrica de Arte gallery/concert venue/cafe is one of the coolest places I’ve been in the world). C) I love cats. And I didn’t see that many at first around Cuba. Martique told me one night during the worst economic times all the cats disappeared. Because they were eaten. Note to self: research if this could be true. D) Cuban women aren’t allowed in caves because they steal the sparkly rocks (as told to me by our guide when exploring the largest cave in Cuba…could this possibly be true?).

And now we’re at the end. If you made it this far, you might not be as surprised as me to discover all these quirks about Cuba. Or maybe you’ll discover your own. I do know it’s the only place I’ve never seen an Irish bar in the world. The people are lovely, but it can be tough getting anything accomplished (you know you’re somewhere living in the past when Guatemala (our destination after Cuba) seems full of modern conveniences). But Cuba is 100% worth visiting, and I think I’ve left a piece of my heart there. But I always do that when traveling.

 


I always cry driving HWY 395.

Yesterday I drove home from Los Angeles to Lake Tahoe and cried the whole way.

Countless times I’ve done that 8 hour drive, since I was a kid and we’d go to LA several times a year from Tahoe to visit family. “Scenic 395” runs through Death Valley to Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S., then through all the cute/weird little Old West towns that dot the journey from California into Nevada like Lone Pine, Bishop and Bridgeport. You transition from a desert landscape into the snow, passing Mammoth Mountain and the bizarre tufa formations of Mono Lake. The scents along the drive are: sagebrush, cows, crisp mountain air, exhaust, pine trees.

I was driving home for a joyous occasion, the birth of my new nephew, and my emotions were close at hand. I’d wanted to be at his delivery (I was honored my sister and brother-in-law even asked me to be there!), but he came two days early and as I packed my bag in LA he was already taking his first breaths in this world.

I was feeling down I’d missed such an important moment (though I kept shouting at myself “You’re not what’s important here! A healthy baby was brought into this world. Check your ego. He’s all that matters!”). Add in the LA malaise of traffic, helicopters, whatamIdoingwithmylife and amIevergoingtomakeitasawriteractressetcblahblah, and I was a total basket case. I cried what felt like ancient tears. But I didn’t necessarily feel sad, I just felt.

And I remembered another time I did that drive and wept like a heartbroken teenager. I was driving south on 395 that time, 5 years earlier, my big move to Los Angeles. I’d been planning to move to LA with my best friend Beth since we were 15, but now that it was happening I suddenly had a lot of reasons to stay put. I was leaving behind a life that allowed me to write prolifically, a cool cheap apartment, a job I liked, lots of friends, a boyfriend I was in love with. I had my two cats in the car with me, Chairman Meow and King Alobar, and I was all turned upside down. I listened to Fiona Apple that entire drive, sobbing and doubting and growing up by the second.

What punched me in the gut driving yesterday was how tremendously time passes. Lightning fast, yet full of life. Was that just 5 years ago that my life had an entirely different shape? The people in it were a different cast of characters. Now I have a whole new community of friends. I’ve had jobs and opportunities I couldn’t have known existed (although that’s why I was going, I didn’t know the details ahead, but I knew fortune favors the bold). Now I’m in a different relationship, a new boyfriend to love. Even the cats are different. Chairman passed away and Alobar found a different home. Now I have Lady Fluff and Kitten Coyote. But I’m still listening to Fiona Apple.

Driving toward home, toward welcoming a new life into my family, I felt gobsmacked by how much we change. Every year, every moment. I don’t know if it’s any sort of answer, but something feels connected in this: they named the baby Quest.

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A cold desert Christmas.

I had a cold desert Christmas. I visited my dad in his new home of Flagstaff, Arizona, and was amazed by the majesty of the land. We had Christmas dinner at the Grand Canyon. It was my first visit, and the site took my breath away (because the Canyon is awe-inspiring, and because it was really fucking cold).”We” was me, my dad, and John, the wonderful human I get to call my boyfriend. I’ve spent many holidays back home in Tahoe as the weird single LA artist cat lady, so being somewhere new with someone to call my own felt like Christmas morning all week long.

In addition to the Grand Canyon, we also explored the Wupataki ruins, the Sunset volcano crater, the mystical rock formations in Sedona, and drank in the stars via telescope at the Lowell Observatory. One word kept connecting these different experiences: perspective. I’d been needing a dose of the stuff. Lately, I’ve been trapped in the petty grievances of my lower mind.

It was fascinating to read about the natives who called Wupataki home, how they were in a constant struggle to survive against the elements yet thrived for centuries. Pottery has been found there but not the tools to make it, which suggests it came from elsewhere, which suggests trading between tribes occurred at Wupataki. The Sunset crater wasn’t much to look at from the base, but the lava flows around it were cool, and I was gobsmacked to read the placard calling the volcano a “geographic infant” because it erupted a mere 1,000 years ago. Telescoping the night sky at the Lowell Observatory (where Pluto was discovered!), we saw a “stellar nursery” located within Orion’s belt, which is literally where stars are born. Add in that poor Pluto isn’t even considered a planet anymore, and all this perspective made me feel one thing: grief.

Grief for all the times I’ve felt less than amazed to be alive. Grief that I spend a lot of my days without perspective. The perspective that this Earth is magnificent and I’m lucky to inhabit it for a speck of time.

So my perspective going into 2015: I’m grateful I have a healthy father, a car to take me to places like the Grand Canyon, and a witty handsome boyfriend to be my co-pilot. Here are some pics!

 

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Words from beside my bed.

Found these words I wrote in a red leather journal in the trunk beside my bed. The trunk is ancient and rusted, brought over from Norway by my great-great-grandmother Helen Marr (the ‘HM’ of my middle name). I wonder if she too grappled with existential angst.

Knock, knock, knocking on some kind of door. Wish I was a 90s angst singer, vague and flannel. Or a 60s guitar legend, wild and drunk. Instead I’m a happy person of life. Deeply sad. Artsy. Powerful creations on my path to the sun. Accept my star-gazing self. Shine bright up there in the dark air. Honor my river pace. My natural high. The artist need only create. Deep yearning to be in love, to be in light. Control the gaze into space. Manage my time, don’t have to run the race. Fiona Apple dreaming. Kisses on foreheads and fun for all. Life can get so heavy. Who pulled the trigger? Questions to ask before giving my heart away. The art or die. Make this before meeting HIM and starting THAT. The candle and the cat. The music, the bowler hat.


The small moments that make a life.

Lately I’ve been listening to Chet Faker, reading about detachment, and trying to buy a car. Five months in Los Angeles sans vehicle has been 90% bliss (no parking tickets! snoozing on the bus/train/Uber/Lyft!) but it’s getting impractical. My heart wants an ’84 Wagoneer or ’78 Mercedes but living in Koreatown has seeped into my blood so I’ll probably get a Hyundai.

Tuesday I had a very good call with the studio that’s developing one of my projects (more on that soon) so I celebrated by doing my laundry then smoking some Maui Kush then journeying to the Last Bookstore in downtown for an impromptu photo shoot with a muse in the labyrinth of books upstairs (literally a labyrinth/maze of books…go there). Then I ate steak.

Yesterday I took myself on a writing date in Los Feliz. I worked on the rewrite of Johnny and the Scams and sent producer-y emails about the new pilot I co-wrote with the director Kris Krainock, called Fantasy Inn. It’s a creepy role for me and will probably freak you out. I ate an ahi tuna wrap at Fred 66 and then an entire plate of sweet potato fries. I sat in the same booth as the first time I went there, for my first meeting with my first literary manager when I first got to LA. I remember I wore a black blazer from Ross and pointy red shoes.

I went to Skylight Books next and became instantly devastated at all I haven’t  written and all I haven’t read. I purchased Tom Robbins’ new memoir Tibetan Peach Pie then dreamed about writing a blog post about purchasing it, which you’re reading now. A quick look-a-roo in a vintage store uncovered a reversible sheepskin vest/purple jacket thing for $34 that’s so radical I just broke my oath to never blog about clothes.

As I took a Lyft over to Machete’s I thought about Paije’s dearly departed cat Zaazu, wondered if my grandma made it back to the gym this week, and fought an urge to travel somewhere internationally. Just clean your room, Erin. Then you won’t feel so restless. I got to Machete’s and hugged her for the first time since Lightning in a Bottle, which was an otherworldly swirl in the electro-hippie lake bed dreamland that crushed so hard it deserves it’s own post (my favorite sets were GoldRush, Pumpkin, Little Dragon, Quest Crew, Tokimonsta, Gaslamp Killer, sunrise Random Rab and our camp Bok Choy which for those lovely LIB nights was the most fun party on the planet). I’ll try to write that post. Yet I find, as always, trying to write about a festival experience is like (you know I want to say “catching lightning in a bottle”)…really hard.

Machete saw the vintage-purple-vest-jacket-thing and freaked because she’d almost got it herself for LIB! Now we can share it. We watched the rough cut of a short film she directed, then took her dogs on a walk. As Dexter (the puggle) did his bizness and Ninja (the min-pin) sniffed a flower, Machete commented that recently she’d stopped rushing around so much, and found she felt much more at peace. In my head I sang the lyric from the 2003 Nelly song “Pimp Juice” You ain’t from Russia, so bitch why you rushin’. But I didn’t say sing it out loud because it’s kinda weird I remember it. Instead I breathed the warm, perfectly breezy night air of Los Angeles in June, and said “You and me, we’re going places.”