Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden

South Carolina, USA

Pearl Fryar’s Topiary Garden is in the middle of nowhere South Carolina in a small town called Bishopville in Pearl’s lawn (as well as the local Waffle House). It took Pearl almost three decades to complete his masterpiece, which now draws tourists from all over. Every morning he is still hacking away at his beautiful topiaries transforming them into his own form of art. I went and saw his garden for Thanksgiving weekend, last November and was blown away, although I do recommend going in the spring or summer instead of in the early winter as everything was starting to turn grey.

Interested in learning more? Check out Pearl’s documentary here.

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Horseback Riding in Ojai

California, USA

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Entering Ojai Valley is scary. I’m driving 50mph (or more) through all these twists and tight-turns with the locals driving right on my tail. Then I look out the window and all is ok. Mountain ranges with the sun just bouncing off of them creates this majestic color that looks like a postcard.

Once you say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and start heading west you think that it’s going to get less gorgeous. But it doesn’t. Ojai Valley is just a new kind of beauty in California. This dry and sunny city is home to many vacation homes for celebrities or just crazy rich people and for good reason. There’s horse ranches galore and a great downtown area. If you love the outdoors (and the heat) and are kinda a hippie this is the place for you. With locally-grown food everywhere, farmer’s markets every Sunday, and the mountains as a constant backdrop this is undeniably an amazing place to live (and visit!).

IMG_4309Chain stores are actually prohibited by law making Ojai a great place to start a business, because the government does all it can to promote any and all local businesses. Also fun fact: Jim, from The Office, used to live there so yeah it’s pretty much the greatest place on Earth.

My boyfriend and I stopped for a burrito at Ruben’s, which was finger-lickin’ good. It’s just a cute little family run restaurant with amazingly spicy stuff. I got one of their milder burritos and it was still spicy. Luckily they have delicious Horchata so that really helps with the burn from the spices.

Then we were off for some horseback riding! I was actually kind of nervous going riding just because it was my first time and they’re pretty huge creatures. Also this sign didn’t help…

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Once I started going I had a great time! The horse I was riding on was great and our guide was amazing. My boyfriend’s horse, Chance, was quite stubborn and really slow. He really just wasn’t feeling the sun that day.

Another fun fact: Easy A was actually filmed in Ojai! The “hippie” culture here is even obvious in the movie.

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Just look at how gorgeous this area is… Like drool.

 

Adventures in Peru

Peru

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While in Peru, what seems like ages ago, I got the unique experience to really explore the Amazon Rainforest. I’ll be the first to tell you – I am not an outdoorsy person. I like to be outside, but I don’t really like the outdoors.. if that makes sense. What I mean by that is I can appreciate a hike every once in a while and I love enjoying good weather, but the nature part of being outside trips me up sometimes. In moderation it’s awesome, but when you throw in some snakes and extreme humidity it’s not as much my thing. Don’t get me wrong – the Amazon Rainforest is absolutely beautiful, but I was the true outdoorsy nature of some of the activities I had to do scared me.

Not that I sound like a complete wimp let me explain. My tour guide was a complete adrenaline junkie with an overarching disregard for what may or may not make a little me scared. One day it was oh let’s go for a walk through the jungle at night on a spider and snake tour! The next was let’s go fishing for piranhas that could eat you (literally with enough they can eat all the flesh right off your skin and then poof you’re gone). I think he just took joy is seeing me being pushed (more like forcefully shoved) outside of my comfort zone.

During our stay in the Amazon Rainforest we stayed at this wonderful treehouse-like hotel with delicious fresh fruit and stunning views from our little huts on stilts in the swampy river water. Our first night he took us out for a night walk. Every time he introduced a new tarantula to us, he’d offer to have us hold it.. Ha! These were little spiders, they were huge, fuzzy, and absolutely terrifying. Then we got to this swampy area where he proceeded to tell my mom and I that it was full of poisonous snakes. Best part was – he wanted us to cross over the water now. Yes, he wanted me to walk through the puddle full of snakes. What did I do next? I cried. Then that fear turned into anger at my mom for making me do this. She looked pretty scared to though… But we both did it and lived to see the next day.

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The next day only brought more fear-inducing activities, although slightly less traumatic. Fishing for flesh-thirsty piranhas was actually quite fun especially since I successfully caught one, but it also says something about my feelings about this activity that I have never fished since.

Overall, the Amazon is a must see in Peru and I looking back I’m actually glad I had a tour guide that encouraged so much adventurousness. Maybe that’s where some of my adventurousness comes from today? Granted I will probably never voluntarily hold a tarantula, but I will travel solo fearlessly and take on the world without even a blink. So thanks adrenaline junkie tour guide?

360° View of Machu Picchu

Peru, Photography

The motherland of the Inca civilization has become a huge tourist destination in recent years for good reason. Machu Picchu is about 564 years old, which is fairly young for “ruins.” I put ruins in quotes because really Machu Picchu still looks half liveable. Obviously Machu Picchu should be a must see on everyone’s travel to do list, but I wanted to provide more views of this masterpiece other than the one that everyone knows and loves. Hopefully this 360° view of Machu Picchu will convince you to just get up and go!

8 Items I Would Never Travel Without

Travel Tips

Everyone has those go to items when they’re traveling – their little pieces of home filling up their suitcase, their favorite outfit, or a delicious snack. It’s important to know what’s important to you when you travel. For me photos of home and little snacks are more important than bringing a lot of clothes. You can always do laundry and no one, let me repeat that NO ONE, is going to care if you repeat outfits. But you know that :).

It’s true what they say – after you pack your suitcase the first time go back through and unpack half of it because you really don’t need it. Tip: Try to bring clothes/towels (etc) that you can throw away or donate near the end of your trip to make room of souvenirs in your suitcase.

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Here is my list of 8 things I would never travel without..

1. Travel sized game – A couple of my favorites are Farkle or Cards Against Humanity. Games are perfect for traveling, especially pocket sized ones because they’re easy to play with people of different languages (at least Farkle is) and something to do when you may not have electricity or a TV. Games build a great community feeling and may help you get to know the people you’re traveling with without much effort. With Cards Against Humanity I like to take just some of the cards with me on a trip (depending on how long I’m traveling for).

2. Gloves – No matter where you’re traveling to, always pack gloves. You may never need to use them, but they take up almost no space and if you do get cold they will signficantly warm your body. Gloves (and hats too) can be easily packed and can really come in handy for many purposes. Say your airplane is absolutely freezing (it happens a lot), but you’re flying to Jamaica so all you have on is shorts and a tank top. Those gloves will really help keep you at least moderately warm. In the worst of circumstances you can always put them on to protect your hands from germs – you really never know when you’re traveling. I recommend these gloves because they come in fun colors and you can use your touch screen while wearing them.

3. The Office – I am a huge Office nerd; I’ve watched every episode at least five times, if not more. I never travel without a few discs of my favorite show and depending on the length of the trip I sometimes bring a whole season. I like to put one disc in the DVD drive of my laptop before I even leave – that way during the flight I don’t have hunt through my bag for the discs; I know I already have 3 hours of entertainment loaded up and ready to go. In addition to The Office, which obviously I recommend highly, I also really like Scandal and New Girl. Always bring a TV show that you will never get tired of.

4. My laptop – Um duh. I used to not need it as much, but now I feel like it’s pretty necessary. I’m looking into getting a tablet – any recommendations?

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Notice movie and little kid in the background – Benadryl is definitely necessary in this situation…

5. Benadryl –  I have mentioned the importance of Benadryl in a previous post, but I just want to reiterate here. Benadryl is not something scary – it’s your best friend on long flights. My recipe for avoiding jet-lag (especially going to somewhere) is to get on their time schedule before the flight lands. When up in the air time is almost non-existent because of all the different time zones you’re flying through so I recommend setting your clock on your phone and following that as your sleep schedule. Say you’re going to Albania and your clock says 10:00pm Albanian time, go to sleep! Skip the airplane movies – I know it’s fun to have your own personal TV right in front of your face, but just go to sleep. It’s more important. Need help? Take a Benadryl when the clock says 9:30pm :). Problem solved.

6. At least one book – I read so much more whenever I travel, probably because I forget about the other things I have to do back home and just enjoy myself. Reading a book related to your destination is always fun and gives you a better sense of where you’re traveling to before you even arrive. I also love the Lonely Planet travel book series because they take you off the beaten path and I think it ends up saving me money in the long run. It also gives my mind something to read in preparation for my trip or else I’d non-stop try to plan it out in my head without really much grasp on what to do. Lonely Planet travel guides gives restless me something to do before I depart. I loved their Tanzania Guide Book and I’m currently reading their one on Italy and their city guide book for Cape Town.

7. Photos of friends & family – Especially when I’m traveling for a while it’s great to have a few pictures to tape on my wall wherever I am as a little reminder. If not physical photos put a few of your favorites onto your laptop of phone instead.

8. Granola Bars – I am known to snack when I get bored and then completely fill up on junk food. With granola bars it’s a win win because if you chose your granola bar right it can serve as the perfect meal if you’re feeling particularly poor on that day of travel or not quite hungry. They also serve as the perfect recovery food if you got sick and need to work you way back into eating a full meal again. Just take little nibbles of a granola bar like this one and you’ll be back to normal in no time.

Case in point...

Case in point…

9. An Extra Bag – Bringing along an extra bag is always a good idea – one that can fit into your current suitcase is always a great idea. You may come home with more souvenirs that you thought or your bag may fall apart…. (see above).

I’m sure I forgot something very important (aside for the obvious like passport, money, etc) so let me know! What is something you never travel without?

Monarch Butterfly Grove

California, USA

Every November to February millions of Monarch butterflies flock to Pismo Beach, California – and I thought that area couldn’t get any more beautiful (well it did). My boyfriend and I went to see all the butterflies on a day trip in January and it took my breath away.

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The butterflies are all interspersed in the trees giving it the appearance of orange leaves, but if you look closely you’ll see that it’s just thousands of butterflies, all resting in this mini forest in the middle of the classic beach town. Pismo Beach is a relaxed destination, but also a tourist hotspot, so it was nice to get away from the commercialized downtown and see so many of these gorgeous butterflies.

As part of the experience you can attend a lecture on the butterflies by an expert on the subject, but I skipped that as ultimately I did want to get to the beach. What a wonderful stop along the way. Unfortunately this place doesn’t see many butterflies during the rest of the year so you have to plan your trip accordingly. If you get lucky one will land on you or come very close; fortunately there’s so many that your chances are pretty good.

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Learning about what is by far the most beautiful insect definitely excited that part of me that always wants to keep learning – that passion for knowledge. Getting to look at their beautiful orange hue with white specks up close and personal really made this little grove a site to be seen. Fun fact: All the butterflies cluster so much together to weigh down the branches to keep themselves from falling off in the wind. Talk about a community working together!

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The atmosphere of this little treasure was really what made this spot memorable. All the volunteers and speakers were so knowledgeable on monarchs and obviously very passionate. It made it the perfect spot for an unusual, but awesome date. One of those kind of dates where you’re live-Instagraming everything. I hate Olive Garden type dates; this was my kind of date. Plus I got to go with my boyfriend of one and half years so that made it pretty great :).

Sound great? Check out the Monarch Butterfly Grove’s website here. Pismo Beach is a great destination for any travel so make this your next stop for any day trip in California! Interested in learning more about butterflies….? Check out the books below all about butterflies because I am certainly no expert…


    

Africa Time – Ups & Downs

Education, Morocco, Tanzania, Travel Tips

Africa: a continent so diverse I can’t formulate one general description of it. It’s a challenge to feel stressed in Africa; life is just slower and the air is simply fresher. Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately) what comes along with everyone’s relaxed disposition is a lack of urgency as well as the joke that scheduling is in Africa.

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While working in Tanzania as an English teacher if class started on time I questioned the sanity of my headmaster. Even in Morocco my pre-arranged car was almost three hours late to pick me up at the airport in Rabat. In South Africa they actually have slang to inhibit Africa’s bad habit; when you say “just now” that means meet you in 20 minutes and when you say “now now” that means maybe 10 minutes – there’s no such thing as being in a hurry. This overarching generalization of poor time management is what the traveling community knows as Africa time. Nothing ever starts on time, which is an adjustment from the structured Western world I come from and comes with its own set of ups and downs.

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UPSIDES – I’m an optimist person as well as someone who loves Africa so I’d much rather start with positives. Obviously having no true schedule is fairly conducive for relaxation and can be freeing to not live your life by a strict schedule. College has gotten me in such a rut with a packed planner varying from odd jobs, club meetings, actual classes, and social gatherings. It’s exhilarating to go somewhere where none of that matters.

Teaching without a community sense of time is actually awesome because it gives me the flexibility to make lesson plans on the fly. If something isn’t working I can change it. My school was grateful for anything I could do for them because my English skills were something they never had before. It’s not like there was a scary curriculum looming over my every move like it is in America. Sure there were standardized exams that were and are a big deal for my students, but I could get through the required information in about five minutes leaving me forty minutes of fun time.

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Another upside to “Africa time” is that no one is ever in a hurry. Yes this can also go into the negative section, but I’ll get to that in a few. Being able to snooze my alarm a couple times without waking up in a rumpus is amazing. It gives me the ability to stroll to my school instead of my fast-paced halfrun I do to get to class here in the US. Think of all the surroundings and people-watching you miss out on when you speed walk. That’s not a problem in Africa.

With a view like this how can one be stressed? This was the balcony on the back of my school - Tumekuja Secondary School

With a view like this how can one be stressed? This was the balcony on the back of my school – Tumekuja Secondary School

calo-bolletteDOWNSIDES – As I mentioned earlier there are many, like lists and lists, of reasons why “Africa time” is really awful. It can serve as a major roadblock in getting anything substantial done in a classroom setting or just with everyday life and it makes tourism less desirable for many people. All of this adds up to the fact that a lack of time management hinders Africa’s economic development on a larger scale. On a more personal level and with having experience teaching in a very disorganized environment, I’ve found that the biggest challenge was never really knowing exactly what my school wanted of me.

Basically when I arrived at my school on the first day they handed me a book and said teach. One day I was thrown into a random environmental science class to teach a lesson on environmental degradation and chloroflourocarbons to students only one year younger than me. I really should have recorded myself teaching that class because it just might have gotten on America’s Home Videos or something of the sorts. But really you just have to go with it – that’s one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from living and teaching in Tanzania.

It’s certainly irritating to have no set schedule, leaving me with more questions than answers, which is only intensified by most locals inability to speak English and my poor Swahili skills. I would go for a meeting and simply no one would show up for thirty  minutes. Break time at my schools was supposed to last 15 minutes, but I cannot remember a single day that it finished within 30. All of my lesson plans were constantly re-evaluated and re-worked because of the sheer quantity of unplanned occurrences. And you know, that’s ok.

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If you let the three hour late bus ride bother you, truthfully, you will never make it in Africa. Flexibility is key when traveling in general, but especially in Africa because of all the unexpected things that could happen – sudden rains, bad roads, violence, and so many more different curveballs that may be thrown at you. Africa is a learning and growing experience. So just go! Africa awaits you.

Interested in volunteering/interning in Tanzania?

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My one friend, Sean Stoerrle, is working with a wondering non-profit called Maasai Children Education located in Arusha, Tanzania including programs all over the country mostly centered in Arusha, but also in Zanzibar. You can doing anything from working with NGOs to environmental work with Roots and Shoots to teaching. Sean is an expert on Tanzania as he’s lived there for the past few years and he’s an alumni from my college, Washington College. Check out more about their program at their website or Facebook!

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Another possibility out there is called America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, which focuses on providing unique internships that connect Americans to the Muslim World in hopes of building better relations between the two areas as well as dispel stereotypes. In Africa, they have programs in Morocco and Zanzibar, but they also have a handful of other programs including ones in Indonesia and Tajikistan. Wonderfully organized opportunity and there are opportunities of funding through the program. Check out their website or Facebook as well for more information.

Oldies but Goodies

Tanzania

On Prison Island, a popular tourist attraction in Zanzibar off the coast of Stone Town, is home to some really old turtles. These guys have seriously been through a lot. The oldest turtle on Prison Island is 189 years old, when America was only on its fifth president and Beethoven was still alive.

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This grandpa has seen a lot of history. He’s seen slavery in America. Both World Wars. The dropping of the atomic bomb, hundreds of revolutions and wars, and a time before blue jeans.

Throughout international crisis after crisis this oldie has remained on the same island enjoying the hundreds of tourists who come through daily. He gets a nice neck massage in return for a few pictures. His life has been the same thing for almost 200 years now. I cannot even imagine living in the same poop covered enclosure for that long…

While so much has changed in the world around him since this elder’s birth, nothing has really changed for him. And I think he is totally ok with that.

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This is a BABY turtle….

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