Ecclectic tales from an independent wanderer…

Unesco World Heritage Zone

No Reservations

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Atop the Pindus Mountains, in the heart of Greece.


A term made famous by Mr. Anthony Bourdain, it’s my preferred method of travel.

But what exactly does it mean to say that you travel with “no reservations?”

That’s a question that can be a little be more difficult to answer, but more than anything I believe it’s a silent statement of traveling with both an open mind and an open heart.

For conversation sake & in more technical terms, here are my thoughts on the subject. Traveling with no reservations, specifically refers to these three things…

1) I truly do like to travel with no itinerary or hotel reservations. In many ways, I like to make my own way, go with the flow and let the journey engulf me in all its magic.
If I do opt for making travel arrangements, I usually limit them to the first and last nights of my journey. This can be extremely helpful if your luggage is lost as well, or if you know that jet-lag may be a reality for you after a long flight.
2) Always trusting my intuition, I NEVER turn down an invitation. A great example of this took place on my spring journey through Greece with Tripology Adventures last May. Following an incredible day of traversing mountain roads in a 4×4 caravan, a gentleman affiliated with the organization offered to talk me on a four-wheel-drive ride in a vintage Mercedes he had outfitted.
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The town of Karpenisi is located high in the Pindus Mountains and is recognized as having some of the cleanest air in all or Europe. Touted as being the Alps of Greece, this Colorado Girl can legitimately say that these peaks and valley’s made the Rocky Mountains look like Kansas. An avid off-roader (my first car was a Jeep Wrangler, Rio Grande addition complete with a front mounted winch & leopard print steering wheel cover) I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to do some real 4-wheeling in this picturesque landscape)
Outside of the hotel, I met my guide – Theodoros Gravanis & his retrofitted, army issue rock-crawler.
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Theo & His Rock-Crawling Machine

The vehicle had no seat-belts, no airbags, no top and was basically set-up to be an all around, trail tackling, mud-busting, mama’s worst nightmare death machine.
Thrilled, I jumped right in – thinking to myself that what Mama-Didn’t-Know, wouldn’t kill her.
The ride was crazy, exhilarating & adrenaline pumping fun with Theodoros dropping it into four-low, taking the vehicle nearly vertical down steep ravines and up blind hills. Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery I had ever seen, I was in car junky heaven, all the while holding on for dear life.
Atop an incredible summit with 360 degree views, Theodoros even let me get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. Both of us swapping stories in broken English & Greek and each with shit eating grins of pure joy plastered on our faces.
My lack of “reservations” led to one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip and in seriousness, an afternoon that I will never forget.
3) Don’t let yourself be reserved by habits, eating or otherwise that might possibly have you miss out on something spectacular. Food is another great example of this…
Once upon a time in Pacific Mexico, a family offered to host my travel companion & I for dinner in their generations old hacienda. On the menu, Lengua – Cow Tongue which very much maintains it’s look and tastebud texture.
Hesitant to try it, I closed my eyes, shoved it in and was amazed at the eruption of flavors that washed through my mouth! Incredible, delicious and again, something that I will never forget.
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Traditional Cuy – Rotisserie Guinea Pig at a Roadside Restaurant outside Riobamba, Ecuador

I can tell you so many similar stories – Like the time I ate the Guinea Pig or “Cuy” as they call it, at a road side restaurant in Ecuador. All the locals looked on as a tried my first bites, avoiding the toenails that were still attached and the leather thick skin from its open fire rotisserie for who knows how many hours. One nibble in particular didn’t taste or feel right and resulted in a silent, but very obvious gag. The on lookers all roared with laughter and in that brief moment, we bonded – my culinary right of passage.
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Roadside, Rotisserie Cuy Outside Riobamba, Ecuador

Just because it looks funny, smells different or is something you have never once pondered putting in your mouth, give it a go. Chances are, you won’t be sorry.

When did all this begin for me?
Although it is hard to say as my wanderlust set in at a very early age, I know that one specific trip ignited my current drive for adventure and changed my perspective as a young adult.
In 2003 following my first year of University study at the University of Colorado, my very non-adventurous mother and I took a trip to Spain.
A spanish major, I had done my research, spoken with many different people and developed an idea of what I thought the trip would be.
My mother and I departed Denver on a two and a half week journey without one single hotel reservation or plan in mind.
Upon arrival, we found the airport information desk and were given metro instructions and a tourist map. I’ll never forget the train arriving to the platform and the two of us staring at the doors as they refused to open. An attendant ran up to us and instructed us to “Push the Button.” Laughing and feeling a bit insecure, we jumped aboard, bags in tow.
We left the airport in Madrid on the Metro, headed for the Puerto Del Sol, an area of the city that my Basques, Spanish professor had insured me was spectacular. Happy to stay in a hostel, we were told at the airport information desk that we would find many there.
Emerging from the underground metro station, not only did we find ourselves in the middle of a holy parade, but we didn’t see a single Hostel. I asked a shopkeeper, showing her a map with the circled destination. She chuckle and in Spanish replied – “You’re simply not looking high enough…” and then with a grin gestured to the upper stories of the ancient buildings above us where sign after sign displayed “Hostel Aqui.”
The rest of our time, resulted in laughter, tears, adventures, debates about returning home early and ultimately stories that she & I still tell with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.
Go. Travel. Open your heart and let the world fill it with endless treasures…

In the Shadow of Saints

 
From an outdoor terrace, the sun is setting over the spine of snowcapped Pindus mountains and a lush sunbathed valley, enfurls below you.   

Hard not to relax in this environment, clean mountain air fills your body with each passing breath as you sink deeper into the atmosphere all around you. More than the natural beauty, something nearly electric in the air captivates every fiber of your being.  

You are sitting in the shadow of saints.

In the heart of Greece, there is a magical place. A holy place for many believers and non-believers alike.

This, is Metéora – The final stop on our off-pavement pilgrimage through this land of myth & mystery. 

  
Rising from the once oceanic valley floor, gigantic sandstone pillars reach ever closer to the heavens. Atop many of these towers, handbuilt monestaries & convents that have stoicly stood here for centuries. Inside, faitful residents pray to cherished icons and keeping a watchful eye over mankind below. 
The word Metéora itself, translates to “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above” and although the desire to be “closer to God,” has been evident across clutures & throughout centuries, the monastaries of Metéora carry with them a unique dedication to the spiritual pursuits that many other sites simply do not posses. 

Active today, the six  structures make up the largest and most important collection of Monastaries in Greece to the Greek Orthodox Church. Words can be dificult to find here.

Aesthetically rising out of the stone spires themselves, each structure has been delicately constructed, piece by piece over the course of centuries. Simple pully systems  were errected to  delviver supplies of all nature from the ground below.

Inside eleborate chapels are adorned with Icons of the savior & saints, relics that managed to survive the Spanish Inquisition & even the Crusades. Bones line walls of ossuaries, holy thombs for the devotees that helped to create these holy buildings.

   
   
From places near & far, believers flock with their families to enter these holy buildings paying homage to the patron saints, asking for blessings or seeking forgiveness. Places of reverence, it is hard note to be moved by the devotion expressed by those around you.

   

 


Gypsy Heart

 
Recently I participated in a media tour throughout the picturesque Greek countryside, traversing mountain roads, reaching summits and sipping coffee along turquoise colored streams. A true wanderer, I jumped at the opportunity to join the caravan hosted by Tripology Adventures as part of a group of eleven writers & three spouses. 

The first evening sent our group through the streets of Athens, meandering down a sunlit plaza on our way to a Acropolis view taverna. While walking, I stuck up a conversation with the organizations founder, Izhar Gamlieli a native of Israel. A tall, regal man with wise eyes, we chatted about our journies, the wanderlust that fills our hearts & the things we crave to date.

“I used to desire travel constantly,” he told me. “But then, I had two children. Beautiful children, who have completely captured my heart. Now, all I want is more time with them.”

“No children yet” I told him. “But they seem like a beautiful gift indeed.”

Continuing our conversation, I started listing off some of the palces & had traveled. My lack of a hometown and the laundry list of states I’ve lived. “Sleeping on airport floors, accepting obscure invitations to unique experiences, opening my heart to the world around me, letting the world take a piece of me with it – this is how I try to live.”

With a serious expression, but the faintest hint of a mischievious smile, he turned to me and asked, “Are you a Gypsy?”

Cocking my head in contemplation, I could feel the corners of my mouth curl upwards and my eyebrows rise.

“Of sorts” was my response. A chuckle escaping with my words. “A heart of a bird I possess within this chest.”

“So where to next?” he questioned.

“Wherever the winds may lead me.” 

 


Prepared for Takeoff

  

There is something slightly electric in the air when a plane is loaded & ready for takeoff; More so when you are heading to a known tourist destination.

Friends traveling together add exclamations of  laughter as more people pile in. Hoards of tourists embark; each individual looking more eager & a bit out of place than the last.

Large groups may even complete with nametags. Lanyard laden “flags” that serve as a tagging system. A surefire indicator that the individual is probably thinking, “I’m not sure what’s going on here…”

Happy to be seperate from the heard, there’s a comfort that comes with traveling alone. The sensation of being a quiet observer rather than one of the bustling, chattering masses.

A smuttering of languages surrounds me, all combining into a hum of energy staccatoed by friendly laughter. Passengers are joyous, filled with excitement.

Nothing quiet comes close to the flood of excitement you experience just before a trip.

So may unknowns.

So many questions.

Often, you never really travel to get away from it all but instead, to get closer to yourself.

Next stop, Greece. The city of Athena.


It’s All Greek to Me

In true intrepid fashion, this amazon is hitting the road and heading to the land of mythology

  

 A lenghty journey is ahead of me including a seven hour layover in Athens where I’ll be puruising the city dedicated to the goddess herself.

From there, it’s a quick flight over to the island of Crete where my mysterious AirBnB host will be greeting me at the airport and wisking me an hour west, to the small coastal village of Platanos.

Spending four days in a traditional stone house, I’m diving right into the local culture and will be traversing the island by way of a Vespa scooter.

Fasten your seat belts and get ready for takeoff, because your along for the ride with this Intrepid Amazon.


Instant Immersion

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There is nothing more exhilarating that traveling internationally. Especially when done on your own, you have the opportunity to learn so many things about yourself in a rapid, way.

Unlike any other form of anticipation, when first passing through customs in a foreign airport, you never know what to expect. Beyond the exit doors, you find a rainbow of culture. Men holding signs for inbound professionals, families eagerly awaiting their loved ones and tourists wide eyed and ready for adventure.

There a few places more romantic than this area of the airport, providing an excellent environment for observation and self reflection.

Never rush any part of your travel experience as indeed it is often more about the journey than the destination.

Small things, like the cloths people wear, bags of potato chips in cafes, the way children behave and are treated by their parents all add to the kaleidoscope of cultural immersion.

Grounded, my European adventure is about to begin…


Cultural Treasure Amidst the Andes

Amidst the Andes

Ecuador’s colonial city of Cuenca bustles with a blend of metropolitan flare and Andean tradition. Often overshadowed by larger Quito to the north, Cuenca’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a hotbed of history & culture, filled with architecture that rivals much of Europe.Overlooking Cuenca

Nestled high in the Andes, tight cobblestone streets serve as a foreground to the picturesque 360 degree views. Lush hilltops and fertile valleys, are still alive with the agricultural heritage that laid the foundation for the city itself.

Once an Incan metropolis, history runs deep here. The very keystones of this ancient civilization dismantled by Conquistadors to create a new world under the crown, many of the hand carved stones, remain at the base of the city’s oldest and most significant monuments. Throughout busy streets, residents retain their root with traditional dress apparent.

Cuencan Street

Cafe EucalyptusWith a thriving culinary scene, restaurant options range from traditional to intercontinental with gastro-centric options like Cafe Eucalyptus, offering a wide variety of international cuisine from around the globe.  During business hours, street vendors push wheel barrows full of oranges while women in traditional garb roast plantains in door frames.

For a true taste of the city, visit a Cuencan sweet shop and purchase a sampling of local favorites. A bag of goodies, costing around $2, a will delight your taste buds with homemade marshmallows dipped in chocolate, candied fruit and an array of light, airy cookies. The ladies behind the counter are more than willing to point out the most traditional of these sweets as long as their nightly ‘telenovelas’ are not in the middle of steamy plot twists.
Alberto Pulla
Shopping along the calles Tarqul & La Condamine is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Get started on your search for the perfect Panama Hat at Casa del Sombrero. The workshop of Alberto Pulla, one of Ecuador’s most renowned hatters is filled with options in all sizes. His dedication to the craft left him mute as a result of the chemicals this art form once required, silencing his voice but not his passion. Still weaving some of the finest hats the country produces, his creations have donned the heads of presidents, celebrities and thousands of tourists.

An enthusiastic apprentice welcomes you with a smile before taking you up the 3 flights of stairs to the Panama Hat collection. In this unforgettable space, try on all quality of hats including finos, super finos and dobles. Ranging from $30 and above, the shape, bands and minute details are all finish on site & specifically to your requests.

Casa Del SombreroPainting by Julio Machado
On the southeastern corner of Tarqui, enjoy strolling through Antiquidades y Curiosidades, a shop full of unique pieces from around the globe. Next door, mixed media artist/painter Julio Machado is an incredible host in his gallery overlooking the Tomebamba River. Outgoing and enthusiastic, he will happily tell you stories behind his creations, the most unique of which is a series of lips painted on toilet paper. Each piece is eloquently framed to disguise the ‘canvas’ in its enticing texture.

Further down the block you’ll encounter the art gallery/Nightclub Prohibo Centro Cultural.  With it’s dark dedication to gothically themed modern art, knock on Prohibido Centro Culturalthe door to gain entrance into this strange corner of Cuencan sub-culture.
Entrance to Prohibido Centro Cultural

Satisfied, take a break and enjoy a cup of coffee from Un Buen Cafe. This brightly colored, open air coffee shop was opened by two North Americans, Robert & Amber Oliver. Wanting to work within the Ecuadorian community to create a work study program focused on socioeconomic stability, they’ve partnered with local schools, utilizing students on a regular basis. The view to the Southwest is stunning, providing a great location for people watching & reflection as you sip a perfectly brewed cafe.

Un Buen CafeFounders, Robert & Amber Oliver

Return through the Plaza de San Sebastián & the Church of Carmen de la Asuncion to enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors at the afternoon flower market. Alive with people, taking a break from work & enjoying the afternoon sun, the scene is magical.

Flower MarketPlaza San Fransico Market

The eclectic mix of indigenous crafts and new world necessities at the Plaza de San Francisco market in one not to be missed. Vendors sell alpaca blankets & scarves from colorful booths alongside others filled with necessities like rubber boots & batteries.

In Cuenca, artisan’s abound like the father-son due of Marco & David Machado. Fashioning beautiful hummingbirds and other crafts from recycled copper, their humble shop Ahuacuna, draws you in with colorful creations. Warm & welcoming, the two are happy to take time with you, explaining their medium and even gift wrapping your purchases.

Ahuacuna

Hotel Santa Lucia makes a wonderful base for your time in Cuenca. Centrally located in the Centro Historico one black from the Parque Calderon, guests can easily walk to many of the city’s attractions & restaurants. Built in the mid 1800’s, this historic building has been beautifully maintained and decorated to reflect the style of the Republican Era. Relax in your high ceiling suite while you enjoy a bottle of wine watching the rest of the world go by through opened french doors on your small veranda.

A beautiful picture into Ecuador’s historical past, a trip to this stunning city shouldn’t be missed. Take time to explore her side streets, reflect on the culture, unwind in restaurants, simply talk with the people, and you will undoubtedly leave richer for the experience.

Church of Santo Domingo - Cuenca