Category Archives: Travel

Recuerdos :-)

Memories of Mexico. A few little drawings I made recently.


California Dreamin’


Last week I was lucky enough to travel to California! My parents arranged the trip a while ago, and kindly invited my brother and his girlfriend Jesi, me, and my boyfriend Steve along for the fun. It was a sequel to our amazing vacation together last Christmas in Mexico. We stayed in a house a block away from the beach in Venice, and rented bikes to ride up and down the coast and through the cities. It was an absolute blast. I haven’t gathered all the pictures from everyone yet (and most of the photos of all of us are on dad or Harry’s camera) but I couldn’t wait to share some of the beautiful snaps I took while I was there.

Venice beach is full of weirdos, but much like Austin, they accept this fact with pride. Of all the funky, cool establishments and architecture 10554170_1512198842342573_287659371_nwe saw in the neighborhood, the one that stuck out to me the most was a building across the alleyway right behind our house. It was painted a deep purple, enclosed by Gothic gates and smothered in artwork, gargoyles, and other miscellaneous oddities. It had a spiral staircase up to a rooftop with tables and chairs, so my mom and I assumed it must have been some sort of establishment. It wasn’t until our last day there when we wandered around to the front of the building that we saw a plaque reading “Private Residence” on the gated front entryway. Awesome. Someone lives here. Which begs the questions “Who?” and then, more interestingly, “…why???”

10520348_424632074343399_251972312_nAll the sunshine and fun considered, California really wins my heart with its food. America’s so-called “salad bowl” really delivers. Our very first Saturday we went to the farmers market in Santa Monica to stock up on fresh, ripe fruits and unpasteurized cheese (yummm….) The area was littered with coffee shops, farm-to-market restaurants, and cold-pressed juice shops. My favorite of these was a cafe/juice bar blend called Kreation (the fresh rose water was to die for, and the “50 Shades of Green” juice as well). Another cool coffee shop we stumbled upon was Tom’s– yeah, the same Tom’s that makes those canvas flats. I had no idea they did coffee, or eyeglasses either, but apparently their flagship location in Venice does it all. It had a great atmosphere and the cold brew coffee was excellent. Even the corner store in Venice had a fresh produce section, along with the biggest papaya I’d ever seen. But the highlight of the trip, at least food-wise, was a little joint called Flake that Jessica found. Aside from having THE best breakfast sandwiches ever, it was a super cute place decorated with vintage kid’s cereal boxes and a sense of humor. So good. My folks and I went back for more a few times before we left.

We also got to meet up with our cousin Noah, who lives in LA right now and is a comedy writer. He’s worked  on Workaholics and Kroll Show, two of me and 1941176_1538728219684234_1885090805_nSteve’s favorites! He even got a cake thrown in his face by Zach Galafianakis– which is pretty much the coolest thing anyone can put on their resume. Larry had expressed interest in hiking up to the Hollywood sign, and as it happened Noah lives right beneath it and
offered to be our tour guide. Larry and I drove to meet him on our last day. We walked more than half an hour through his neighborhood, which was beyond gorgeous with beautiful houses and colorful flowers and fruit trees everywhere. Then we started the hour-and-a-half long journey up the hill. It was a relatively clear day for LA so we could see out over all of the city, and the ocean and mountains in the distance. It was quite the workout, and my calves are still sore many days later, but it was so worth it. Here’s our view from the top:



Last days in Mexico

After six weeks, it was time to say goodbye. I was so sad to leave. I realized how much I’d miss my host family, and the city I’d come to know and love. But all good things come to an end, and the end of this adventure couldn’t have been better.


My last Friday in Mexico was the beginning of the end, and it couldn’t have been a better (or longer) day. It was the first official day of spring– the equinox– and by 4 am I had already eaten breakfast and was waiting for a van that would take some of the students and volunteers to a nearby Mayan ruin to watch the sunrise. The Mayans situated so many of their structures to coincide with celestial events. In the pyramid we saw, the sun shines through a small window for just a few brief moments at dawn, only on the equinox. We weren’t the only ones who drove out to see it, either; the place was crowded with locals and tourists, but it was a very calm and peaceful gathering nonetheless.

After a few morning hours at the ruins, I came back to the house to finally pack. Packing is never fun, and nothing seems to fit back in my suitcase the way it came. In between gathering all my stuff I visited with Tere, Maria Jose and Milo, telling them how much I’d miss them as we ate our last (delicious, homemade) lunch together.


My dad showed up around 3 that afternoon. He had originally said he wanted to rent a car and drive into Merida to get me, but I pleaded with him to take the bus instead. After he’d finally made it into the city he was glad he’d taken my advice (Merida is huge, crazy and impossible to navigate). He visited for a while with my family, which was such an amazing and surreal experience for me. It was like two worlds finally colliding. Between my Spanish and Milo’s English, we managed to introduce ourselves and chat for a while. Dad and I expressed our gratitude to them again, we said our final farewells and were off.


The next few days in Merida were fun– we managed to see and do a lot. We visited El Museo del Mundo Maya, and saw the zoo downtown that I hadn’t been to yet. We walked around the city a lot, ate some awesome food, and I showed him the old Cathedral in the main square. On Sunday we went back to the same cenotes at Cuzama that I’d visited a few weeks earlier. Larry, for all the time he’s spent in Mexico, had never seen a cenote. We took the horse-drawn train carts through the jungle, saw a super poisonous snake in a restaurant, and Larry swam lap after lap in the huge underground pool. All very fun.

Now that all is said and done, I can look back and say with certainty that this trip was the experience of a lifetime. Coming home to America was surreal, even though I was only gone a little over two months. I went straight to my parents house. It was great to give my mom a hug, and the most amazing thing of all was being greeted by my precious baby wiener dog, Duchess. All the exhaustion that had built up over the past seven weeks finally caught up to me– I went to bed and slept for a long, long time. After a few days catching up to my parents I hit the road for Austin, to make my return complete:


Those two! I love them both so much. It was such a wonderful trip, but I must say it is great to be home. 🙂

Savoring My Last Weeks in Merida

Hand foot mouth disease hit me pretty fast and was terrible for a few days, but it left as quickly as it came. I feel 100% better, aside from the tough patches where the blisters were now peeling off my foot calluses. (Lovely, I know.)


I’m the only person than came here without finite plans to return, and people don’t really understand when I explain that my family isn’t really big on making plans. People have been asking me since I got here when I’ll be leaving, and I kept saying “I don’t know!” and receiving some quizzical looks. I’m having a wonderful time, but I do miss my family, my boyfriend, and my adorable baby Duchess. But I’ve now made some plans, and I can say with certainty that I’ll be home in about two weeks.


School is still going great, and I get a small thrill every time I have a conversation in Spanish. The other day in class we went over how to talk about cooking and write recipes. I chose to write the recipe for my mom’s lentil bean soup, partly because it is one of the few “recipes” I use, and partly because I planned on making it for my family that week! Maria Jose is a fan of lentils and spinach, and since these are the key ingredients I decided it’d be the perfect thing to cook. We all sat down to eat, and they loved it, and we talked a lot in Spanish. I felt so much pride!


This past Saturday, I went to my first ever Catholic mass- in Spanish! My friend Liz (from England) is Catholic and attends mass at least twice a week; she said she wanted to try all the various churches in town, and I told her there was one right across the street from me, so we went together! The service was really cool to see, and I was able to follow along with most of it because they handed out leaflets with the words printed. Three ladies lead the hymns with guitars and singing, and it was very, very beautiful.


After church, we went to “Mexico Night” in El Centro, which is a big fair-type thing with tons of great street food and traditional Yucatecan dance on stage. We went with one of Liz’s local friends, Elizabeth, a cuban who now lives in Merida and teaches Salsa, and her other friend who is a lawyer. Both are bilingual, but not fluent in English, so I got to practice my Spanish and help them communicate with each other. We wandered down the street to find a drink, and happened upon an Irish bar called Hennesey. I had no clue that it was St. Patrick’s day weekend, until I walked into a crowd of green-clad foreigners. It’s definitely the expat hangout in town, and although we had quite some fun, I’ve decided I definitely like the local scene better.


I’ve taken to walking the family’s dog, Jacko, at night. My neighborhood seems very safe, and I have walked alone, but I feel I look way less like a tourist when I’m with a giant labrador. And plus, Jacko is amazing and I love him (sorry Duchess…) The neighborhood is beautiful. There’s a husky on a roof a few blocks away who always barks at me! And bougainvillea everywhere- so gorgeous.


Today after school Liz came by and Elizabeth picked us up for lunch. Afterward we went to her house which is just a few blocks from mine, and is AMAZINGLY beautiful. She has a flock of tropical birds, and about FORTY turtles in her back yard. Some have even laid eggs!! I’d never seen a turtle egg. Then she taught us some salsa and we danced in her backyard for a couple hours. So much fun.


Every day here leaves me completely exhausted and happy. I have one more chapter before I’ve finished the first Harry Potter book in Spanish, and have already bought a second to read. I’m really looking forward to my dad getting here on Friday. I’ve planned a trip to the cenotes for us on Sunday, and he’s going to absolutely love it. Then we have a “no plans” week of travel before we head to the airport to fly back in to Houston. I already know I’m going to miss Tere, Milo, Maria Jose, Jacko, and Merida SO much. Not to mention all the amazing people I’ve met and friends that I’ve made here. That’s all for now!

Hand, Foot, Mouth Disease (I has it)…!

Traveling to a foreign country, especially Mexico, you sort of expect to get sick. Of all other foreigners I’ve met so far, I’m the only one that has managed to dodge the “Moctezuma’s Revenge”, which you get from accidentally drinking the water or water-tainted food. I thought I was in the clear. I was wrong.

This past week I got very sick, and although I’m now on the mend, I feel compelled to write about the experiences I’ve had. I want to shed some light on the differences between the health systems in Mexico and America, and I also want to show this to the American Consulate, in the hopes that foreigners (and Mexicans too) stay away from a certain doctor.

Let’s go back to Tuesday. I had just returned from Playa del Carmen the night before, and woke up in the morning with a sore throat and achey joints. It wasn’t too bad, so I got dressed, hopped a bus, and went to school. During class, my hand began to itch. Upon looking closely, I could see three tiny white bumps on my thumb. I thought I must have gotten a spider bite in my sleep: that happens to me in Texas sometimes too. When I got home from school, things started to go way downhill. My throat hurt worse, and I felt a strange pain on my big toe. I assumed it was an ingrown nail, and didn’t pay much attention to it. Tere took me to the pharmacy around the corner.

Every pharmacy here has a “minute clinic” type thing, where you can see a doctor and get a prescription if you need one (this costs only 35 pesos- which is around $3 USD! It definitely has its pros and cons, but I think we need more of these in the states). After a two minute consultation, the doctor gave me a receipt for antibiotics and aspirin. Now, I know I’m not a doctor myself, but I know the difference between a bacterial and a viral infection, and I know that overuse of antibiotics is a very, very bad thing for my own health and for society as a whole (drug-resistant MRSA, anyone?) I was convinced I had a “24-hour bug” and would wake up the next day feeling fine. I chucked the antibiotics into the trash. To be honest, I might not have taken them even if it WAS bacterial.

However, the next day I woke up feeling much, much worse. Everyone in Tere’s family had their own opinion on how I got it (most of them to do with being in Playa) and they unanimously offered the solution, “take antibiotics”. Apparently, they take antibiotics WHENEVER they get sick here! They say they make them feel better, but whats really happening is their body just naturally getting over the VIRUS during that time! Nobody would believe me when I said “I’m sure that this is viral” (or, “estoy segura que tengo una infeccion viral). Tere’s son was POSITIVE that I got it from swimming in the ocean (funny, because I didn’t) and everyone else just assumed I was massively hungover (once again, wrong. I went to sleep early the last two nights in Playa).

And then the weird kicked in. The bumps that I had assumed were spider bites had grown, reddened… and multiplied. They were still barely visible to anyone but me– I’m not sure I would have even noticed them if they hadn’t hurt so bad. I also noticed that the pain in my toe was a bump and not an ingrown nail, and it too had multiplied. I freaked out, and hopped on the Google. It took me two split seconds to diagnose myself with the only thing that fit: Hand Foot Mouth Disease. Very common in kids, this funny-sounding disease can and does happen often in adults as well. It presents first with feverish symptoms and a sore throat, followed a day or two later by red bumps or blisters all over ones hands and feet. ONLY on hands and feet- nowhere else on the body. Rarely does a Google search for a mystery malady turn up with such a perfect match. I took a screengrab of the CDC page about it in Spanish (Manos, Pies, y Boca) to show Tere.

The next morning I woke up feeling a thousand times worse. I had blisters in my throat, and more appearing on my hands and feet every time I looked at them. One of my teachers drove me to the hospital Star Medica, which boasts the “best” doctors in the city of Merida. I must have found the one exception.

His name was Dr. Adolfo Solis, and he spoke perfect English. I said, “I know I’m not a doctor, but I think I know what I have…”

He said, “Well you know yourself better than anyone. Shoot.”

I told him, “I think I have hand foot mouth disease.”

After a long pause he burst out laughing. Shaking his head back and forth he said, “you Americans make these things up. There’s no such thing.”

To which I was stunned. Hand foot mouth, while it may sound funny and not be well-known, happens all over the world, and the first documented cases of it occurred in New Zealand in the 50s. Also, this doctor went to medical school in Iowa. How could he not know this? I took out my cell phone to show him the CDC page I had photographed IN SPANISH, and he literally pushed my hand away. He refused to look at the evidence that this disease was real. He then demanded that he examine me himself. He looked in my throat (without a popsickle stick or flashlight) for a grand total of two seconds. Then, he touched my stomach and remarked that I “had gas”. I asked him, “is that related to my sickness?” to which he replied with a curt “no”. Then he sat me down to talk to me about how all it was, was a bacterial infection. I haven’t had a bacterial infection in 5 years since my tonsils got taken out, and I told him this. Once again he used the phrase “you americans”, which he finished this time with “think every sore throat is Strep.”

I wanted to reply to him that no, I only know I had strep because doctors performed cultures and did tests to verify that, but he wouldn’t let me talk. He kept interrupting me and was incredibly condescending. I left his office minus 300 pesos, and with a new receipt for antibiotics. I was in tears three times, and he still didn’t give me the chance to talk.

I went home feeling anguished. If hand foot mouth is unknown here, maybe it doesn’t occur in Mexico, in which case, how could I have gotten it? I started to worry that I had a different, unknown bug. An unknown bug that’s doing very weird things to me– that’s much more frightening than hand foot mouth. I was worried all doctors in Mexico were like him, and I was scared to go and see another one. But as my symptoms and my pain progressed even further, I got desperate. That same night Maria Jose drove me back to Star Medica, where I saw two pediatricians. They examined me well, looking into my throat with a flashlight and tongue depressor. They looked at the sores on my hands and feet and said yes, that’s Manos Pies y Boca. They also said that there have been huge outbreaks of it here in the schools, and that they see it all the time. They gave me prescriptions for painkillers, anti-inflammatories, and mouthwash. They also didn’t charge me a dime (they also didn’t speak English, so I felt quite proud of myself for being able to explain my symptoms and express my gratitude).

So, I guess not all the doctors in Mexico are complete jackasses. But if I thought America was bad with overprescribing antibiotics- man, Mexico takes the CAKE.

I now have blisters covering every inch of the inside of my mouth, and they are extremely painful. The ones on my feet are pretty bad too because I have to walk on them- but the ones on my hands don’t really hurt much anymore. I feel very vindicated in knowing that at least in this one case, I was smarter than a doctor. Thank you, Google– what would I do without you?

Oh, and a side note: I’m fairly certain of where I picked this bug up. Two things about this virus are that 1) it takes about a week before you show symptoms, and 2) adults can carry/transmit it without ever showing symptoms themsevles. A lot of my friends here volunteer in schools, daycares, and charities that deal with children. And the hygiene situation in the schools is nothing short of ABYSMAL. One of the volunteers must have picked it up from the kids, and passed it along to me. So I didn’t get this in Playa, like everyone thinks. But hey, SCIENCE!– it’s not for everyone (I suppose).

Moral of the story? Doctors are not God. Go with your gut, you know yourself best. Even if everyone is telling you otherwise, listen to your instincts, and verify before putting poison in your body.

Playa Playa Playa

IMG_20140303_093513Annabelle lived in Playa del Carmen for a few months last year; she and I were the only ones who had been there before so we were SO excited in the week leading up to our trip. She kept singing “playa playa playa”, and by the time we got there we all were too.

Playa is indescribable. It is SO much fun, and so beautiful. It makes Progreso seem like Galveston (yuck). The water is super blue, the beaches clean, and the main drag of fifth avenue is a blast. We stayed at Hotel Colibri, right on the beach and  a block away from all the night clubs on 12th street. I’d never seen Playa so busy, both with foreign tourists as well as Mexican families on vacation for Carnival weekend. Things are definitely more expensive here (unless you head into the town a bit) and lots of prices are listed in American dollars instead of pesos, causing a few problems for the Australians here and there. Everybody speaks English, but I still used my Spanish wherever possible.

I got back to Merida yesterday and came down with a virus! Tere took me to the doctor this morning, and I was absolutely stunned: it only costs 35 pesos to see a doctor! That’s about THREE DOLLARS. And afterward I got all the medicines I needed for under $15. I have a headache and sore throat, but I’m resting up today and am going back to class tomorrow no matter what. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday- I wonder if I’ll see a lot of catholics with the crosses on their foreheads? If I saw that in America I should definitely see it here. I can’t wait.

Celestun – The Land of Flamingos!


Every time I go on an excursion with my friends here I think “Life can’t get any better than this”. But then we go on another trip, and it does. Last night we went out dancing. I forget the name of the club– but I don’t remember the last time I went out dancing and it was a blast! We definitely stood out in the crowd (both as foreigners, and the only ones dancing) but we didn’t care.

I got home around 2 am and set my alarm for 7, to go to Celestun. We had a van drive us there, about 2 hours away. We took a boat trip around the fresh water lake and into the mangroves. There were– no joke– 25 THOUSAND flamingos there.


When the boat motor stopped, you could hear them quacking from every direction. There were also baby crocodiles (and one big one!), cranes, pelicans and ducks. And the mangroves! I’d never seen anything like it before. We thought our trip was ending when the boat veered into the forest, down a water way under the trees. It was absolutely stunning. We needed David Attenborough there to narrate for us! I’m exhausted, but today was incredible. It’s so cool to hang out with girls from all over the world. Learning what they think about Americans (MY accent is cool?! Pssh) is especially interesting. Hearing about their cultures (especially Estonia- shout out to Helen!) is equally fascinating too. I am really on top of the world right now.

Cenote Love


Yesterday we took another awesome excursion, this time to the cenotes in Cuzama. For as many times as I’ve been to Mexico, I’ve managed to never see a cenote. Until now.


They are absolutely breathtaking! Two of the ones we went to were small; one I didn’t climb down into because it had slippery wooden ladders, and there was a snake at the bottom. The third one was so big, you could have swam laps in it. And the water is the bluest blue I have ever seen. It looks illuminated, even though there’s no light down there. It was also the purest, cleanest water I had ever dipped myself into.