Anza Borrego Getaway

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We needed to get out of town and breathe some open air for a couple nights, so we settled on a hastily-researched camping Anza Borrego getaway.  Anza Borrego is a State Park in Southern California.  Some of California’s State Parks are as incredible as some National Parks we’ve been too.  Boy, did it deliver!  The stars our first night out there were shining brighter than any I’ve seen anywhere else in California!  Breathtaking!

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We camped at Tamarisk Campground, which had spacious spots, clean bathrooms, and water spigots, basically everything you need for a good campout!  The temperature dropped to around 50 F at night so the campfire was much needed!  We spent the next day driving around the massive park getting our bearings.  We didn’t do too much hiking because we had the dogs with us.  They weren’t allowed on many trails and it was too hot to leave them in the car in the middle of the day.  We’ll definitely have to come back for another Anza Borrego getaway explore the Mud Caves and do the famous Palm Oasis hike.

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We did check out the awesome visitor’s center, drove to the Ocotillo Sand Dunes, and then ate great cheap Mexican food in the tiny town of Borrego Springs.  There were huge rusty animal sculptures all over the town so we had some photography fun with one of those.

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The road home took us through Julian, so naturally we had to stop for some famous Julian apple pie!  I’m so glad we were able to get out in nature for a couple days.  My soul always feels refreshed after some time in the middle of nowhere!

Like this post about our Anza Borrego getaway? Check out our archives for more aventuras!

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Mangia Italia!

I’ve never been super into Italian food.  Maybe it’s because I’ve never really found the good stuff!  We CHOWED down in Italy!  Italian food is based on simple, fresh ingredients and exquisite craftsmanship.  Every restaurant worth its salt makes their own pasta and menus change seasonally.  Thank God we walked so much to stave off too much weight gain.

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Breakfast every day was cappuccino and “cornettos”, which are Italian croissants filled with Nutella!!!  Yummers!

Italia

Italia

The antipasto was also amazing!  Here’s some bruschetta and prosciutto with melon before lunch!

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“Suppli” are basically breaded deep-fried risotto balls.  I want to eat these every day for the rest of my life!

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Cured meats, bread with gorgonzola truffle spread, tapenades, and veggies at the Mercate Centrale in Firenze.  Definitely go there for the amazing local food choices!

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The most epic meat and cheese board in the world from La Prosciutteria in Roma.

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Pasta made from scratch is SO MUCH BETTER than dried boxed pasta.  The pasta was really thick and rich!  I tried spinach-ricotta ravioli with garlic sage cream, spaghetti a la pesto, and many more!

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Last but not least, dessert!  Authentic tiramisu is not very sweet with a very strong coffee flavor.  This one was pistachio flavored, hence the green color.

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Gelato was also a daily occurrence.  This one was from Perche No! in Firenze, which I had dreamed of visiting since hearing so much about how good it was from a high school history teacher.  He’s now retired and I half expected to run into him there!  I can’t wait to go back to Italia with Zach someday and try all the goodies again!  Until then, I’m on the hunt for suppli in California!

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Onwards to Firenze!

After a few days in Rome we managed to secure a hotel in Florence (“Firenze”).  This was not an easy feat, as it was Holy Week and everyone and their mother was flocking to Italy’s famous cities.  But we found a cheap room and made it to the Trenitalia station bright and early, despite staying up waaaaay too late drinking and chitchatting the night before.  Hey, you only live once!

On to Tuscany (Toscano). Due to our pathetic condition, we didn’t get to enjoy the scenery on the train ride as much as we’d  hoped.  By the time we got to Florence it was cold and raining (these SoCal kids are NOT used to that!) and we were desperate for food and a nap.  Several pizzas and several hours later, we were back in shape and ready to go look around the slightly wet city. Florence had a lot more varied food options than Rome did, strangely.  We stuck to Italian food though; it was just too good!  Florence was much smaller and easier to walk around than Rome, but still packed with gorgeous architecture and history!

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Basilica di Santa Maria Novella

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The (fake) David, by Michelangelo, in the Palazzo Vecchio.  The real one was is inside the Academia Museum (Academia di Belle Arti di Firenze), but tickets sell out months in advance and we didn’t think that far ahead.

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Perseus killing Medusa.

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Battling the Minotaur.

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Ponte Vecchio, super old bridge covered in jewelry shops.

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Stunning view over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo.

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Santa Croce

Tomorrow we’ll get to Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, one of the most famous churches in the world, and climbing it’s beautiful dome!

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Going Home to Black Rock City

Going Home to Black Rock City – Burning Man 201410469724_10101264298662330_1765813326111657970_n

Going Home to Black Rock City is so impossible to write about.   Life on the playa is so radically different, full of childhood wonder and fantastical ideas that become reality.  It reminds us that life is art, that giving is good, and that surprises are around every corner.

We found Java Johnny, our favorite old coffee-slinging nonsense-talking character, right in the same spot he was 3 years ago.   (“Attention campers!  If you’re wondering what time is it, I have the time for you.  Get ready to set your clocks!  The time is….THURSDAY!”)   Naked Lady was there too, and so was an awesome couple from Portland who brought a whole box of Voodoo Donuts that stayed fresh enough for the first 2 days.

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” -Java Johnny

I met a kid who went to Hofstra University with me and was in the same major a couple years younger than me.  We drank Zach’s homebrewed saison and reminisced about old professors.  “Come to New York,” he told me, “I’ll get you a job.”

On the first day it rained, which never happens.  The playa turned into thick, cement-like mud, which coated our shoes like glue until everyone had a 4-inch platform of mud.  My cheap old boots somehow didn’t attract the mud as much, but Zach and others went around barefoot or wrapped their feet in plastic bags and slid around the neighborhood.  It was fun.

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Our neighbors formed “Camp Let It Go”, a hodgepodge group of Americans, Aussies, and Brits.  They built an amazing multi-level shade structure with hammocks and a fully-stocked bar and DJ setup.  They also built a flower dome, one of those old playground domes covered in twinkly lights and lined with pillows and carpets.  The best part was the top level of their structure, an elastic-rigged hangout lined with sleeping bags and stuffed animals.  We fit a lot of people up there, watching the sunset.  You just had to make sure everything was arranged well enough that no one fell through the straps!  After all, “safety third.”

On Friday there was a dust storm.  It got terrible right when we got to the temple.  The only quiet place on the playa, people kneeled praying, meditating, honoring loved ones, as the dust swirled.  Biking back, you couldn’t see 4 feet in front of you.  I was terrified of getting lost out there, dusty and dried out like a lizard.  We made it back and laughed at how our faces were different colors inside and outside our goggles.

My bike got stolen.  It was right outside our camp on the outskirts, and we were only next door at Camp Let It Go.  Yesterday we got a comment on our blog from the thief.  He must have read the “La Aventura Project” bumper sticker stuck on there.  You can read it under the “Maps” section.  To whoever you are, I’m not that mad about it.  I didn’t want to carry that crappy bike back home anyway.  I just wish you wouldn’t have taken it on Wednesday!  Maybe you’ll keep reading our blog.

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There were more moments, more laughs, more awestuck-staring than I can ever remember properly.  New best friends whose names you’ll never remember.  Swirling stars and subtle realizations that you can’t put into words, but they change who you are.  It’s hard and dirty and difficult and immensely creative.  I hope I’m blessed enough to return.

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Going Home to Black Rock City is something we try to do every year.  Check out our archives for more Burn stories and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject

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Zion National Park – Hiking Angles Landing – Heaven on Earth?

Horseshoe Bend, Grand Canyon Arizona

After dropping our dog Dusty off in Arizona to be kindly taken care of by her grandparents for the next two months, we headed off toward Zion National Park on a long meandering path to Burning Man!  The first stop was Horseshoe Bend, a crazy geological formation near the eastern end of the Grand Canyon.  It’s only a mile off the lonely highway but it’s still surprising to see so many tourists and hear so many foreign languages being spoken in this crazy desolate area.  The short walk down to the overlooks is totally worth it if you don’t mind your stomach turning a bit!   No guard rails here, as in most of the canyon.  With more than a 1000 foot straight drop off in most places, I wouldn’t recommend cliff jumping either.

After seeing the bend we crossed Lake Mead into Utah.  Since it was Friday and we hadn’t made a reservation, we were assuming Zion National Park would be full and we’d just find a campsite outside the park.  But, lo and behold, luck was on our side and we pulled up to the gate just in time to nab the last campsite in the park, over at Watchman Campground.zion national park

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After setting up our tent next to some way-too-tame deer and a little fawn, we hiked the Watchman Trail, along the Virgin River and up a small bluff.  I remember tubing in this river when I was a young girl.  Warped memories from when I was really small plus the western drought in recent years made it seem significantly less “rapid” than I remembered, haAfter a good night’s sleep, we set off the next morning on the trail to Angel’s Landing, one of the most popular and strenuous hikes in Zion National Park.

We were repeatedly warned of the difficulty-steep grades and sheer dropoffs and do not attempt if you’re not a confident hiker!  Call us crazy, but as relatively-well-seasoned hikers, we didn’t think much of it.  Granted, the trail was a lot of steep switchbacks, really tough on the thighs!  The trail was really wide though so the “sheer dropoff” wasn’t quite as dangerous as they made it sound.  Or so we thought!  It wasn’t until we got ourselves almost 2000 feet up to the last section of trail that we got our rude awakening.  I’m not sure “trail” is even the right term for the last climb up Angel’s Landing!  It’s literally a skinny outcropping of slanted rock layers, with a chain bolted along the side for you to desperately cling to, while you place your feet into crazy contorted positions, precisely one after another, trying to ignore the sheer drop to your right!  Ahh!  Oh, and there’s only “one lane” for all hikers, so sometimes you’re practically climbing over the top of people or bear hugging them so they can pass or you can pass them.  They needed some traffic control up there!

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zion national park

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zion national park angles landing hike

The thing is, I am not really scared of heights that much.  Strap me into a harness on a belay system and I’ll hang out off the top of that precipice all day.  But when I know that it’s only my own strength keeping me from falling to my death, that’s when I freak out.  I know I can do it, but I’d wayyyyy rather have a lifeline.  Anyway, we’d come so far, so we kept going to the top, stopping to snap a few pics, all the while our hearts still beating and palms sweating at the thought of having to go back down the same way.  Luckily, we kept our cool and no one went hurtling.  After finishing the sketchy section, we practically ran down the rest of the trail, and finished the whole round trip in 1/2 the time the rangers tell you it takes.  Ha, at least we’ve still got that on them!

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Mexico City Adventure: Centro Historico

We literally ran out of work around 11pm the night of our flight, rushing to cross the border.  It was finally time for our long weekend Mexico City adventure!!! Delta Airport Parking is a convenient place to park on the US side if you’re going to the Tijuana International Airport.  It’s only seven dollars a day and they will drive you to/from the border 24 hours a day.  A $12 taxi ride took us to the aeropuerto.  Then we had to get $25 tourist visas to go past the border zone.  They don’t check if you have them on the way there, but do on the way back.  The visas last for six months so hopefully we can use them again.  Airport security was different.  “WE DON’T HAVE TO TAKE OFF OUR SHOES!?!?!”  ¡Viva México!!!

Since our flight left at 12am and lasted about three hours, it was still dark when we made our way towards the Metro.  Conveniently located right by the airport and taking you all over the city, the Metro is a cheap and efficient way to get around.  We grabbed some churros and easily navigated the subway to the Roma, a hip neighborhood where Jaime, our CouchSurfing host lived.  The architecture was cool, eclectic and Spanish with crooked walls from many, many earthquakes.   Our host was a great tour guide as we searched for early morning food.  We ate lamb tacos and tamales with mole.  We talked about food.  Life was good.

Getting some energy after eating, we let our guide go off to work and walked several miles to the Centro Historico, home to beautiful government buildings, museums, and many cool bars and restaurants.  Walking was really nice; its our favorite way to enjoy a new city.

Art at the central palace.
Murals inside the Palacio Nacional
Downtown DF - Mexico City Adventure
Templo Mayor

As I said, there are a lot of awesome places to eat and drink in the Centro Historico.  On our Mexico City adventure one awesome place we found was an old cantina, La Faena, which served dual functions as both a bar and a bullfighting museum.  Notice the very complicated matador-themed crown molding.  The best thing about cantinas is that with every drink you order you get some free food.  The more you drink, the better the food!  We started off with some bar nuts here, and after a few rounds were given amazing bean tacos!

Cantina/Bullfighting Museum - Mexico City Adventure
Cantina/Bullfighting Museum

I ate grasshoppers.

Mexico City Adventure
Obviously there are some mixed feelings on the eating of bugs issue.

Pulque.  It’s a lightly alcoholic drink made from the sap of the agave plant and flavored with various fruits.  Super thick and milky and not for us.  The bar was awesome though.

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Las Risas, one of many places to grab a glass of pulque around downtown Mexico City.

Eventually, all the food and walking, plus the effects of being up all night caught up to us and we took the long walk home to crash for a nap at Jaime’s house.  The rest of the night involved some more relaxed wanderings around the neighborhood.

Coming up next in our Mexico City adventure: our trip to the pyramids!

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Baja Mexico Road Trip Advice

When you cross the border into Mexico, all of the stresses and worries of hectic United States living evaporate, leaving you instantly refreshed and rejuvenated.  Do you stay feeling so awesome after hitting your first pothole, the first American tourist that flies past you over 100mph, the first time soldiers with machine guns are digging through your car?  Here is a quick recap of problems, suggestions, annoyances, and misconceptions and general Baja Mexico Road Trip Advice.

-If you drive into Mexico your car insurance is no longer valid.  You can buy Mexican insurance at the border and there are several different options.  Since we have an old dumpy car, we got the cheapest available plan, $6 per day which would at least keep us out of prison in the event of a fender bender.  No one ever asked if we had this or not and I think a lot of travelers skip it. I wouldn’t take my chances.

-To travel south of Ensenada, tourists are supposed to get a card from immigration for $25 each.  We got them but this was also probably unnecessary, as no one once looked at our passports.  One soldier at a checkpoint did ask for my passport once but I told him “No tengo (I don’t have it)” and handed him my California driver’s license without a problem.

-Everyone told us to keep a $20 bill in a visible spot in the car.  Apparently $20 is “the fine” if the Federales (Mexican federal police, notoriously corrupt) stop you.  We were also advised to never give them your passport because to get it back you’ll have to pay much more than $20.  We never had any encounters with the Federales.

-Watch out for potholes!  We hit some bad ones but were lucky enough to not blow any tires.   Some of the worst we spotted had to be more than a foot deep.  No recovery after hitting that.  Also, there are a lot of unmarked speed bumps.  If you were driving the speed limit these wouldn’t be a problem.  However, you won’t be driving the speed limit.

-Don’t run out of gas!  Most Baja maps show you which towns have gas stations.  There are some very long stretches without and you’ll need a full tank!  Plan wisely, or you’ll end up stranded!

-No one drives the speed limit.  If the sign said “40 km per hour” I tried not to exceed 40 miles per hour.

-People hassle you to buy tours and souvenirs, especially in Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas.  Just say “No gracias,” firmly and continue like they aren’t there.   If you make eye contact you will never be left alone.

-Drugs will be offered to you all the time (especially if you have dreadlocks or other hippie-ish characteristics).  Rarely do tourists ever have a problem in México unless they are looking for that stuff.  It’s a great way to get robbed, kidnapped, or jailed.  The booze is cheap and legal!  Stick with that.

-There are about eight military checkpoints (different from the Federales) along the way.  Headed south we were searched at two of the checkpoints.  Northward we were searched at all but one stop.  We always hid our money but at times we forgot to put away the bribe $20 bill.  The soldiers never took it or anything else and were always pretty polite.  Just don’t bring anything into the country that you don’t want found.

Waiting in line at one of many military checkpoints. Baja Mexico road trip advice
Waiting in line at one of many military checkpoints.

-When you’re eating and drinking you should tip around 15%.  Nothing is expensive so don’t get cheap on people.

-The tap water is safe to consume in some places.  Ask the locals!

Mexico is a lot of fun, and actually really easy to travel in.  Don’t let the scary news reports keep you away from a good time.  We hope this Baja Mexico road trip advice article helps all our fellow travelers out there!

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