New Year's Eve. Valparaíso, Chile. 2011.

Happy New Year!

Every year, I find great enjoyment in reading Neil Gaiman’s New Year’s wishes. This year, I want to offer a few wishes of my own.

Wherever you are in your life: I hope that you make further progress in identifying the things that intrigue you, that thrill you, and that fill you with genuine delight.

Recognize when you need to be gentle with yourself. And recognize when you are being lazy or complacent. Practice the distinction between these. Hold yourself accountable for your own action (or inaction), but do so with compassion.

I hope that you kick your own butt and work towards doing the things you privately dream of. Build your own momentum. Push yourself. Realize that bravery is often no more than this.

I hope that you grow.

All my best,


(Pictured above: New Year’s Eve. Valparaíso, Chile. 2011.)

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Things That Made Me Happy in Oaxaca

In mid-September, I spent a week in Oaxaca State in Mexico, with my noble co-adventurer Ali. It was a fantastic, fun trip in every possible way.

We spent half the time in Huatulco, a coastal region of nine bays, numerous stretches of carefully-protected jungles and beaches, a handful of upscale resort hotels, and several smaller communities. We stayed in La Crucecita, a smallish town where many of the tourism workers live, which was pleasant and friendly (and which did not feel artificial or over-touristed). Huatulco was days of seeking small adventures and wading through the hot, humid, beautiful air, followed by evenings of wandering around the town center, and nights of fruitbat-watching and night-street-overlooking from our hotel’s balcony.

Halfway through the trip, we took a rainy, winding night bus trip from Huatulco to Oaxaca de Juárez. Oaxaca is the state’s capital, an excellent place for food, arts, and culture, with veritable oodles of colonial-era architecture all throughout its historic center. As in Huatulco, we spent much of our time contentedly walking around and exploring the streets. We also did some food-ish and culture-ish things, as one must.

I haven’t the time or attention to do a day-by-day recap, so instead, I’ll just touch on the main highlights of the trip:

Things That Made Me Happy in Oaxaca:

  • Snorkeling and leaping about in choppy waves at Playa La Entrega, spotting hundreds of colorful fish—even one handsome wee pufferfish!
  • Going canyoning on the Zimatán River: a mixture of hiking through wild jungle (so many cool plants! including wild Tillandsia / air plant), jumping off & rappelling down alarmingly tall rocks, swimming through rushing rapids, and floating placidly down quieter, gentler green currents.
  • Visiting a coffee farm in the mountains: walking through overgrown jungly trails cut into the hillside and getting to nibble on passionfruit fresh off the vine.
  • Also: a surprise zipline! Surprising both because we hadn’t known there was one at the coffee farm, and because it crossed high above a deep jungle valley… a fact we did not learn until we reached a certain curve in the zipline’s path, after we were already zipping wildly through the air. Startling. But so much fun.
  • Meeting up with my mother’s friend Enrique (a native Oaxacan), who led us through the dense and fascinating Abastos Market. He then traveled with us to a pottery studio in San Bartolo Coyotepec, a town outside Oaxaca famous for its barro negro, or shiny black decorative pottery.
  • The coolest museum ever: Museo de Filatelia / Museum of Philately. A deeply engrossing museum of stamps and postal paraphernalia from all over the world. It had a great exhibit on cartophilately (stamps with maps), as well as a vault full of centuries’ worth of interesting letters and stamps. If you’re ever in Oaxaca and have the faintest interest in travel, graphic art, or happiness, you should go.
  • A final night in Oaxaca spent sitting on a sheltered rooftop during a gorgeous thunderstorm. Then, retiring to a small cafe which had quotes from Latin American writers painted all over its walls, listening to excellent live music and striking up mixed-language conversations with the other patrons.

Do all the things! Here’s a slideshow of many of the trip photos:

(Or click here to view the photo album directly.)

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Dominican Republic: Final Round-Up

Whew! Now that I’ve finally finished posting all the Dominican blogs, here are a few final links and miscellaneous tidbits.

Here’s my entire Flickr set from the trip, which includes many photos ne’er before seen here on the blog.

Would you like to know where exactly all those long bus trips carried me? I made a basic map of the distances we traveled:

The total distance between the rightmost and leftmost points is about 160 miles. (Click on map to see it larger.)
The total distance between the rightmost and leftmost points is about 160 miles.
(Click on map to see it larger.)

If you’d like to go through and read the posts in some kind of order:

If you just want highlights, here are two of my favorite days of the trip:

And one final comment, which didn’t fit in anywhere in the blogs, but which is very useful nonetheless: there is one marvelous bit of Dominican slang that has fully insinuated itself into my Spanish repertoire. This useful word is un chin, pronounced /tʃin/ (rhymes with “sheen”). This means “a bit /a small amount,” and is synonymous with the more common Spanish un poco. You can also say un chin chin, to mean “a teeny tiny bit.” Wikipedia tells me that the word may have been borrowed from an African language, although it does not specify which or when. A fine and handsome word.

¡Gracias por tu tiempo, y espero que te alegrara el día un chin!

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January 25, 2014: Nos Vemos, República Dominicana

My very last morning… I’m sad to leave, but it will be good to be home. Elana and I woke a little early, packed up all our things, and then headed downstairs to the hotel’s kitchen to see if they had breakfast. They put together a nice plate of mangú (mashed green plantains) and fried egg for each of us; we ate, drank several cups of coffee, and talked.

After breakfast, we wandered out into the streets of Santiago for a brief walk. The sky was beautifully cloudy, a light sprinkling of misty rain had just begun, but the air was pleasant and warm, as always. (The Spanish word for a light mist is neblina, in case you were wondering.) We poked through a few food stalls in a plaza, and glanced at a shop, but really, we were just out for the sake of being out, for the sake of getting a little more city time in before my departure.

At 11:30am, Rubén’s cousin (the same one who had rescued me from the airport after my arrival) came to pick us up in his taxi. (more…)

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Outside the Brugal factory.

January 24, 2014: Rum Oxen & Stormy Skies

Today was my final full day in the Dominican Republic—such a strange thought! Elana and I agreed both that it feels like I’ve been here for months, and that it feels like all of those “months” passed by in the blink of an eye. We woke a little early so that we’d have time to pack and go out for breakfast before our hotel checkout time. The main street was all clean and puddle-lined; last night’s rainstorm had continued well into morning, unlike most of the rain I’ve seen here. We ate at a little café, where the breakfast plato del día included perfectly ripe papaya and delicious café con leche.

When we had previously had breakfast at the café adjoining our hotel, two days ago, the proprietress had told us that she’d been working on a gluten-free brownie recipe. On the way back from today’s breakfast, we popped by, and she had indeed created black-bean brownies! She gave us one for free, since she recognized us; it was so mild and perfectly-textured that we bought several more for the road.

Our plan for the day was to bus to Santiago before dark; we had left everything else open-ended so that we could explore a bit more before leaving the coast. (more…)

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January 23, 2014: A Raft in the Mountains

Elana and I stumbled out of bed at 5:40am, and were waiting at the curb in front of our lodging by 6:00am. Today, we had booked a whitewater river rafting adventure tour on the Río Yaque del Norte, up in the Central Range mountains. After our tour van collected us, we attempted to snooze a little more, while the van collected a few other people for the rafting. The sun sidled into the sky, in shades of pink, and I realized that this was the first proper Dominican sunrise I’d seen.

The total travel time to our rafting site was about 2.5 hours. During that time, I slowly ventured into full consciousness, read a bit of my book, then watched out the window as we passed back through Santiago and as the low tropical forest trees began to be interspersed with pines and other mountain-esque trees.

When we arrived at the rancho that hosts the rafting, we were delighted to discover that they were feeding us breakfast, including endless coffee. (more…)

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Beautifully-illuminated amber.

January 22, 2014: The Museum of Amber

Given our long day yesterday, we opted for a relaxed, slow-paced morning around our cozy hotel. We had brunch at a sunlit café that adjoined the hotel, and were delighted to discover that they offered bottomless coffee (“café sin fondo“). Our coffee-addictions rejoiced.

This country, overall, has been a very easy place to eat gluten-free, since the diet is largely meat and rice (this is actually one of the reasons why the Peace Corps placed Elana here, since she’s gluten-free too). A full 1.5 weeks in, I had my first GF issue: I asked if a menu item came with corn tortillas and was told it did, but it arrived (looking heartbreakingly delicious) wrapped in a big flour tortilla. Alas. They were very kind and apologetic, but since the café was a slow-food sort of place, this added an extra dollop of slowness into our day, while the second, genuinely-GF meal was cooked. Still, 1.5 weeks without a problem is a fantastic record.

Over breakfast, we decided that we would expedition to Puerto Plata, a city along the coast to the west of us. (more…)

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January 21, 2014: Leaping from Waterfalls

Adiós a Clavellina! We woke earlyish, and after a quick coffee and breakfast, we gathered our things and said farewell to Elana’s casita. We walked to the road that leads out of town to seek a bola (free ride)—and after ten minutes’ wait, we lucked out! A pickup truck drove by, with one of Elana’s friends in the passenger seat, and since they too were heading to Dajabón, we were both able to get a bola with them.

We climbed into the bed of the truck and cozied in, perching on the side of the truckbed and tucking our feet and bags in amongst a bunch of large, silver jugs full of fresh milk. Then, we set out toward Dajabón, holding on tightly as we bounced down the road, taking one last look at the fresh morning fields. A few times, we hit bumps large enough to cause Elana and I to bounce up off our truckbed-side seats, but we were nonetheless quite secure. (more…)

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January 20, 2014: The Great Binational Market

I really might have to invest in a stylish mosquito net and a tropical climate: once again, with the help of both of these, I slept soundly and deeply (which is usually not my forte). Elana and I sat on the side porch to take breakfast (cassava bread again, this time with peanut butter and honey, plus coffee), and watched the neighborhood fowl scurry about for cassava crumbs. There’s a breed of chicken here that are the most lovably ugly creatures: they all have bald necks and vulture-like heads, and often have a club foot. Several of these handsome devils showed up with their equally bald-necked chicks, and competed for crumbs with the awkward dandy roosters and wobble-faced guinea.

After breakfast, we walked to the main(ish) street of Clavellina to catch a bola into Dajabón. (more…)

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January 19, 2014: Life in the Countryside

The roosters in this village don’t know how to rooster, at least not in the traditional, pastoral cock-crows-at-dawn sense. They crowed to themselves for half the night and most of the morning. Nonetheless, I slept soundly and contentedly. When I arose—or rather, stumbled ungracefully out from under the edge of the mosquito net—Elana was making coffee, and two young neighbor children were hanging around keeping her company.

(Elana says it is normal practice for people to leave their doors and windows open when they are home and available, which signals to other people in their community, especially children, that they may drop in freely.

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