Muir Woods

 

Words are simply not enough to explain the magic of Muir Woods. Located north of San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. I visited last June and was simply memorized by the towering trees and winding trails. These photos are from Muir Woods and parts of San Francisco. I highly recommend a trip!

Advertisements

This Time for Seattle

 

In June, I took a quick weekend trip to Seattle to reunite with old friends and slowly cross off destinations from my #westcoastbestcoast travel destinations. I didn’t have enough time to do everything on my list, but I was immediately wowed by Seattle’s striking beauty. Everywhere you look, majestic skylines and mountaintops take your breath away. Below are a few photos and highlights from the trip!

  • Little Si – Neighboring Mount Si, this small rocky bluff is perfect for a quick hike if you don’t have enough time to tackle Mount Si or the famous Mount Rainier.
  • Pike Place Market – Seattle’s original farmers market and a popular tourist destination, a walk around Pike Place promises fresh produce, seafood galore, and lots of coffee!
  • Gas Works Park – One of my favorite parts of the weekend was lounging about Gas Works park with friends and watching the sunset over Seattle. I highly recommend a picnic in the park!
  • Seattle Pride – Not only did we visit the same weekend as Seattle Pride, but the weather was sunny and perfect for the celebration! It was so much fun to explore the streets of Seattle while also celebrating love and acceptance.

I now understand why Seattle is so popular, and I hope I have the chance to visit again. Comment with your own top Seattle destinations!

What happens in Vegas…

…does not stay in Vegas, but rather journeys home with you in the form of precious memories and never-ending laughs.

In July, I had the opportunity to attend my first ever Salsa Bachata Congress in Las Vegas. I had no idea what to expect, and I had never visited Las Vegas before. Between road-tripping with teammates, huge pool parties in the Vegas heat, top-notch workshops, my first ever Alma Latina bachata performance, and dancing all day and all night (with verrrrrry little rest in between) – it ended up being one of the best weekends of my life!

The 10th Annual Reno Latin Dance Festival is right around the corner, and I could not be more excited. This time I know what to expect, but I still vividly remember feeling exhausted after the last 4-day marathon so here’s a quick survival guide of things I hope to get right this time around.

Hydrate

My teammates make fun of me for being obsessed with water and always reminding everyone to stay hydrated, but I don’t mind because it is essential, especially in that Vegas heat and especially when you’re dancing all hours of the day and consuming lots of alcohol.

Meal Prep

Depending on the location of the festival, healthy food can be hard to find in a hurry. Plan ahead by bringing protein-packed snacks and meals and lots of yummy fruits and veggies to snack on. We even brought a microwave and plan on adding mini fridge and blender to our room this year. Just be prepared to be the party room if you bring these coveted items!

Plan Ahead

Start eyeing that schedule now, and highlight all of the workshops and performances you want to attend. It can be hard to go to everything, especially if you’re like me and want to take workshops on styling, technique, footwork, bachata, salsa, hip hop, and whatever new dance style you discover at the festival. It’s even harder to go to every workshop and to find time for much needed rest if you have additional practices for performances. So plan ahead and prioritize what’s important to you. Workshops are a great way to meet new people and learn new moves to try out in the evenings!

Pack a bag

Pack a small workout bag or tote to carry with you during workshops and to keep your stuff organized while you perform. Fill it with:

  • Reusable water bottle
  • Gum
  • Wet Wipes
  • Vitamins
  • Needle and thread
  • Safety pins
  • Bobby pins

Have fun

Soak up every moment! It can be nerve-wracking to be surrounded by professional dancers, but you are attending for a reason and you can learn something from everyone. My friends and I challenged each other to be more confident and bold in social dancing, trying on new outfits, and meeting new people. You won’t regret it!

Tahoe Tales

Oops.

I haven’t blogged in over a year! Luckily, that doesn’t mean I haven’t traveled in over a year. My adventures took some unexpected turns along the way…in other words, life happened. I’m fortunate to be feeling a lot better and hope to share both retrospective and current (i.e. plans I’m currently dreaming up) travel stories, as well as newfound reflections on health and wellness. Until then, here are some photos of the lovely Lake Tahoe!

West Coast, Best Coast?

Ever seen #westcoastbestcoast? Or heard anyone try to tell you that the west coast is the best coast? Just a simple Google search will yield tons of listicles filled with reasons why the west coast is better. Arguments include In-N-Out, better coffee, better views, beaches, and more. Not convinced? Now that I’m on the west coast for the next two years, it’s time for me to find out. Peep my travel wishlist below.

My West Coast Travel Wishlist:

  • Las Vegas
  • Explore Lake Tahoe
  • San Francisco
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego
  • Los Angeles
  • Seattle
  • Victoria, Canada
  • Alaska
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Redwoods National Park
  • Grand Canyon

If you have other suggestions of places I should visit or things to do at any of these places, comment below!

The Biggest Little City and its Neighbor

If you’re like me and have never lived on the west coast or watched Reno 911, then you likely don’t know much about Carson City or Reno, Nevada. But if you’re definitely like me, then you just accepted a job in Carson City and moved to Reno, so it’s time to find out more.

It seems that I move from one mining town to another because Carson City and Reno were home to a gold and silver mining rush in the late 1850s. After the population boom from mining, Carson attracted more people with jobs that came along with the railroads. Reno saw another spike in popularity when Nevada legalized open-gambling and passed more liberal divorce laws. Did you know that Reno was the gambling capital of the U.S. before the late 1950s?

Carson City has been the state capital since Nevada became a state, and serves as a hub for state and Northern Nevada activity. Reno, a scenic 25 miles north of Carson City, is the bigger city area that is home to the University of Nevada at Reno and nicknamed the “Biggest Little City in the World”.

Most often when I meet new people, they either gawk and ask why I moved to Carson and Reno from North Carolina or list all of the fabulous reasons why they enjoy living here. Rather than the former, I’m hoping I one day list dozens of reasons why I enjoy living here too.printable-map-of-nevada-state

One of the biggest appeals of moving to this area, is its proximity to so many wonderful parts of the west coast. Not only is this area so close to the beautiful Lake Tahoe, but it is only a 2 hour drive to Sacramento or 4 hour drive to San Francisco. Las Vegas is an 8 hour drive south, and places like Los Angeles, Seattle, and the Grand Canyon aren’t that much farther away either.

As a native North Carolinian, I have had to adjust to the arid climate of Nevada and the fast-approaching cold that will be my first real winter. Past the climate adjustments, my first impressions of Carson and Reno are that the two cities offer a chance to toggle between a calm, town-like life and a not so overwhelming city bustle while being surrounded by beautiful views and so many opportunities for exploring, hiking, or just enjoying nature.

If you’re familiar with either Carson or Reno and have suggestions, please let me know!

Home Sweet Kitwe

Dearest Kitwe,

It’s no secret that we had a rocky, rollercoaster-like relationship that dipped in valleys from tears of loneliness to tears of bliss. At the beginning of last August if you had told me I’d one day sit down to write a blog post reminiscing about all that you taught me and showed me, I would have laughed in your face and then likely lapsed back into sadness about being placed to live with you for a year. But it’s true. Last year was a profound experience for me, from starting my first job to moving to a new country to creating my own community.

Now to be fair, the first three months were very challenging. I was not at all prepared to accept power outages and a slow start to a new job or living in a new place where I knew no one. But in hindsight, I also think that transition period was necessary and normal. Maybe I dragged it on a bit too long, but now I can see all of the lessons I learned from it. I gained an ounce of patience. I learned that while I have Type A tendencies to control everything, I simply cannot. I learned to accept what I could not change and to focus on changing what I could, the first change being my perspective.

Even past the first three month transition, I continued to learn many important lessons from you. I got a lot better at hand-washing my clothes and learning how to cook balanced meals with the provided amenities. I also learned how to take a calmer, more relaxed approach to work and getting things done, a mentality I remember really appreciating while studying in Uruguay and a mentality that I do not always embrace easily.

You also taught me not to judge a book by its cover. I vividly remember declaring that I would never make any friends or find anything to do in the beginning (something my brother has no problem reminding me of) and then I suddenly found myself with an eventful social calendar and life-long friends. I now understand the value of exploring and digging deeper, rather than simply judging at the surface.

The most important lesson you taught me, though, is about community. Before moving I knew I had a sound community in my family and friends back home, but suddenly finding myself alone in a new country taught me how to find a community within myself and how to support myself while alone.

It also taught me how to build a community. Because I had been so lonely in my first few months, any time I met someone I listed everything there was to do, anyone they should meet, anywhere they should go, and all the places they could eat – all so they would never have to feel the same way. And before I knew it, I had managed to make an amazing group of friends that I still keep in touch with and that I will hopefully stay friends with for a long, long time.

Now that I have sadly left you, I want to appreciate the lessons I learned and promise to apply them forward. I am settling down in Reno, Nevada to work for the State Division of Public and Behavioral Health through the CDC Public Health Associates Program for the next two years. A new job, a new place, a new journey – I know, it sounds very familiar. But this time I will be patient. I will accept what I cannot change. I will dig deeper. And I will keep building my community.

So thank you for the memories and the lessons, dear Kitwe.

Until next time,

Reena

Unconventional Lessons GHC Taught Me

When I signed up for Global Health Corps in Kitwe, Zambia last May I knew it would teach me a string of lessons. I imagined learning about professionalism, moving to a new country and city, building a community from scratch. And I did learn all of that! But I learned so much more too. Here are the unconventional lessons my year in Zambia taught me:

  • If you have a camera, you can make friends – It’s as simple as it sounds. If you have a camera that you love to use, then you can easily find your way into friends’ sister’s kitchen parties or bribe your way into work conferences all under the guise of taking photos for them. Plus you practice your photography skills at the same time
  • I need 3-4 bottles of contact solution for an entire year, not just 1…
  • Everyone should travel with an adult coloring book – If you love to craft as much as I do, this is an essential on-the-go item to have. I made the mistake of not having one this year, but I won’t let that happen again!
  • The gym is my best friend – I could not have gotten through the year without this stress relief.
  • Always carry bug spray – Most of my friends in ZamFam make fun of me because I spray myself at least twice a day and they know I always pack bug spray wherever we go, but it is essential.
  • How to make lavish meals on a 2-plate toaster oven…okay so maybe I didn’t fully learn this one!
  • How to pack lightly
  • I can climb fences
  • And I bruise very easily from said fence-climbing
  • Personal Advocacy – I didn’t fully understand that to successfully advocate for others, I had to first learn how to advocate for myself. Always one to need a lesson in assertiveness, this year taught me how to believe in myself and truly push for what I deserve. 

Free-Falling Into 23

In addition to being a long weekend in the U.S. for the 4th of July, it was a 4-day weekend in Zambia for Heroes Day and Unity Day. It was also my birthday weekend, and it was simply amazing!

On Friday evening, my friends and I had a celebratory last dinner at Mukwa, our favorite Indian restaurant and perhaps the best Indian food in the world, since it was Dana and Sophie’s last night in Kitwe. (They’re headed back to Canada soon to wrap up their internship program with VIDEA.) Afterwards, Max put on a Michael Jackson tribute night at The Hut where my amazing friends surprised me with a delicious cake and thoughtful card. It was a beautiful way to end our time in Kitwe together.

Very early the next morning, Max and I almost missed our 6 am bus from Kitwe to Livingstone. We had hoped to make it to Livingstone in time to cross the border to Zimbabwe, but our trip took a total of 17 hours, the border closed, and we had to spend the night in Livingstone. Tips to those interested in running the Victoria Falls Marathon: Travel in time to cross the border. You need to be in Zimbabwe the morning of the race to actually run!

IMG_4093

We woke up early again the next morning to cross the border from Zambia to Zimbabwe. We almost did not make it and watched the marathoners run across the bridge from behind bars on the Zambia side. Somehow we were let through and walked briskly across the bridge, soaking in the beautiful view of Victoria Falls as we went, to the starting point. I ran the 7.5km Fun Run with my friends, and it was just as fun as it sounds. I have never run a race before, and I really enjoyed it! I am now inspired to run a half marathon, maybe even a full, one day!

In the afternoon, we explored Victoria Falls Town, Zimbabwe, which is lovely but does not have much to do other than tourist activities related to the Falls. Max and I soon crossed over to see the glorious Victoria Falls on the Zambian side. Though I swam in Devil’s Pool in September, I have never seen the falls in their full glory. It was magnificent. Pictures or words cannot even do Victoria Falls justice…to top off the amazing afternoon, on the way back to lodge we ran across a herd of elephants!

On Monday, the 4th – my birthday – the lovely MalPals, Brian, and Max surprised me with a delicious home-cooked brunch at our hostel. In the afternoon, I did the most daring thing I have ever done in my life. Max had been talking all weekend about jumping off the famous Victoria Falls Bridge, which I adamantly refused to do. First I thought he wanted me to bungee jump, as in dive head first off the bridge, which I definitely did not have the guts to do. Then I realized he wanted us to do the tandem bridge swing together, as in jump the 111 meters feet first off the bridge together. That made much more sense to me, but I still wasn’t interested. Then, I changed my mind.

We made our reservation, traveled to the border again, got our gear at the bridge, and then I saw the drop. I was terrified. I still cannot explain how I did it or why I did it or anything, but it was a terrifying ton of fun. As we were swinging over the water, I told Max to soak in the glorious view because we were never going to do this again. Even though I cringe every time I watch the video of the jump, I am still very happy I did it and would recommend it to any interested daredevils.

In the evening, we had delicious drinks at the Royal Livingstone Hotel while we watched the sunset. Zebras grazed in the grass nearby and we had a lovely view of the mist from the falls on the water. I was surprised with a huge cake from Mwansa and ellie-themed birthday gifts.

The entire weekend was so thoughtful and kind from the birthday wishes from back home to messages from friends in Zambia to the lovely people I was lucky enough to spend my day with. I could not be more fortunate! It was also extremely daring from running my first race to jumping off a bridge. I wonder if that implies any foreshadowing for how the rest of my year may go? 😉

This Time for Rwanda

After a wild 18-hour layover in Nairobi, Kenya, Mwansa and I finally landed in Kigali, Rwanda where we stayed for a week.

We were immediately surprised and excited by the differences between Rwanda and Zambia. The roads are mostly paved, there are sidewalks, streetlights, 24/7 security. It was already a different world than our normal in Zambia. Here are a few highlights:

  • Kigali Genocide Memorial – a moving tribute to Rwanda’s history and the lives lost. I highly recommend visiting this memorial if in Kigali.
  • Riding around on a moto – We do not have motos or boda bodas in Zambia, so this was a fun treat. Luckily, in Rwanda, motos are regulated and drivers must have an additional helmet for their passenger and can only take 1 passenger at a time.
  • Food – Kigali is filled with wonderful food options from AkaBenz to Thai food to delicious cafes with lovely Rwandan coffee. Most of our week in Kigali was spent planning our next meal!
  • Kimironko Market – It was a treat to compare Rwandan markets to the Zambian markets we are used to at home. Though they are very similar, we loved getting lost in the market mazes and eyeing Rwandan trinkets.
  • Meze Fresh – I know I already talked about food, but Meze Fresh was my absolute favorite. I crave Mexican food regularly and miss it dearly. Meze Fresh, which means “I feel fresh” in Kinyarwanda, is the closest I have had to Chipotle in a year and I devoured my burrito.
  • Art Scene – Kigali has a lovely arts scene. My favorite was Inema Arts Center, run by very talented brothers.
  • Walking Around – Kigali seemed to be a very people-friendly city, with its plentiful sidewalks. Mwansa and I were surprised to see just how many people walked, even after the sun set. We, too, enjoyed walking around the city, exploring and getting lost in the hills.

Kigali was great, but I’d definitely say the highlight of this trip were the all of the people we met and visited from Global Health Corps, UNC, and Rotaract!

I wanted to visit the land of 1,000 hills for a lot of reasons. I wanted to see another part of the continent, to see another place where GHC fellows roam and to witness how they live their lives, and I know Rwanda is a very special country. Rwanda has been rebuilding itself for the past 22 years, writing a new story, and that is why Kigali is now so developed and one of the most expensive cities on the continent.

I have been told that Kigali is a unique part of Rwanda, surrounded by lush green and more rural areas in the rest of the small country. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to travel outside of Kigali, but I do want to visit Rwanda again and again. I also highly recommend it to others who are interested!