Monday, April 1, 2013

Puerto Rico: El Yunque Rainforest

I had been sitting on the hostel's balcony when one of my dormmates approached me. He asked if I had plans for the next day as he was intending to rent a car and drive up to El Yunque. Did I want to go along? Uhm, yeah! El Yunque is the sole tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. And my oh my is it beautiful.

We set out early in the morning from Old San Juan. He was behind the wheel and I was behind the map, navigating our route to the park. After only one missed turn, we were up the winding path towards the park. Half way up the narrow, one wrong turn and you're plunging down the cliff, road we came upon this.

La Coca Falls. A beautiful waterfall cascading over a sheet of rock. There was a rail, sure, to keep cars from careening into the rocks. But people were crawling among the boulders, searching for the best spot to get a picture, dipping their hands among the falls.

We continued on.

 We parked, grabbed some sketchy maps, checked them against a graffitied sign and set off along El Bano Oro trail. We figured it'd be concrete or gravel, fairly smooth, though maybe muddy with the rain we had the night before. We were wrong. The first ten minutes or so were paved, And then it gave way to muddy, rutted paths barely marked by mossy lumber.

We had anticipated a 45 minute to an hour hike, depending on how often we stopped to take pictures.

Ruined hacienda.
We might have reached Roca el Yunque (the peak) in that amount of time if we'd been able to fly along the path. But there were rocks to scramble over and a waterfall that ran across the path and branching routes with no signs to direct us along our chosen path. I was astounded we were on a trail at all.

Clouds in every direction
Despite being exhausted when we finally emerged into the clouds (and on and off rain) any breath I still had was taken away.

Picture this.

The trees are thinning, you see only white clouds through the gaps, but the cool air tells you you're almost there. The path winds outward and suddenly goes out onto a big jut of rock. There are no guardrails, no warning signs, nothing from preventing you simply leaning too far and falling a hundred feet before even reaching the tops of the trees below. You look back the 30 feet to where the trail is back on legitimate ground. As you turn to look out over the wide whiteness, suddenly it all clears. Sun beats down on you, somehow closer than the last time you saw it. One, no two peaks let their cloudy wreath fall and you are parallel with these kings of the land. A sea of green treetops stretches out before and beneath you. You are on top of the world.

And then the wind picks up. Clouds swallow it all up again. Leaving you with only memories, just a small glimpse into the true beauty, true vastness, true meaning of what it is to be alive.

I have been ziplining, hiked bluffs and peaks, kayaked small rivers and bioluminescent lagoons, soaked in volcano warmed springs, met more incredible people I can count. And yet everyday there is something new that amazes me.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Airport Sondering

I like to sonder in the airport. What is sondering you ask? Good question.

sonder on the beach definition
This picture was taken by yours truly in Puerto Rico. Old San Juan specifically.
Sonder. Knowing that everyone one else has an equally intricate and emotional story as yours. Crushing despair, heart pounding elation, the spreading warmth of love. They've watched sunrises and sunsets, cried until numb and laughed until it hurt, had hopes and dreams and goals and desires. Every intense emotion and event you've ever experienced, has been mirrored by millions around the world. That... is sondering.

I intentionally get to the airport early so I can people watch. I like to grab a coffee, find the least uncomfortable chair near my gate and just... watch.I try to imagine where they're going, why, who they're going to meet.

There's the dance team on their way to a national competition. Jittery and laughing in their team shirts. The businessman in his suit and tie, checking his email and tapping his foot. Impatient to get on with things. The new parents, fussing over the baby in her carrier. Tucking and retucking blankets, double checking tickets, and updating relatives as to their arrival time. The adventurer with his worn out backpack and slightly faded tshirt. Chatting in some other language to someone he just happened to sit down by.

It's just crazy to think of the number of people, the number of stories that pass through your own without so much as a second thought. If the walls had eyes and ears and mouths, what sorts of stories would they tell about what they've seen? In an airport, I just can't imagine.

Sondering. Next time you find yourself with a few minutes to spare, just stop. Watch the people around you. Wonder at their hurry. Celebrate that you are not alone. Remind someone that we're all in this together, at least for a little while.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Oh You, Sweetiepoo Honey Dumplin' Stud Muffinbear

Valentine's day. The most ooey gooey mushy romance filled day on the calendar. For those of us without a significant other (AKA ME.), it's SAD.

No, not depressing sad. Ok, well maybe a tad. But what I meant was SAD. Single Awareness Day. What other day is it made so blatantly obvious that the only one waiting for us is our snuggly pooches who place no more significance upon this day than any other. While I love getting cuddles and dog kisses, it's not the same as a dozen red roses. And I don't even like roses.

That being said, I'm not gonna be one of those mopey, depressed wallowing in self pity sorta people. I mean, who has the time? Besides, how attractive can you be when there's mascara running down your face, a tub of ice cream in one hand and a spoon in the other? Instead remember this...

You do not need someone else by your side to make you important. You determine your own self worth.

You do not need someone else to validate your decisions. Believe in what you do and you'll be happier with the choices you make.

You do not need someone else to remind you that there is beauty in everything if you know where to look. You just need to keep your eyes open and let yourself be surprised.

Sharing your life with someone can be beautiful. Happy Anniversary to my wonderful parents who have shown me just that. 26 years and only getting better, like one of my dad's fine merlots. (Yuck, wine.) But until you find that person, it's ok to take advantage of the buy one get one deals to get two for yourself, and all the cheap candy tomorrow, and to spend a little extra time in bed this morning because Prince Charming can wait a little longer.

-Your Oogie Woogie Pookiebelle Lovebug, Spencer

Monday, February 4, 2013

Get Fit! Get Active! Get... Out of Bed, You Lump

So I'm taking a health and wellness class this semester. And part of the course is to set a Lifestyle Goal to improve my health over the course of the semester.

My Official Goal: Eat healthier. More nutritious food in smaller quantities more often.
My Secondary Goal: Get rid of the muffin top. Ick.

When I started college September 2011, I was 110 pounds. And lean from playing soccer and dancing and carrying 50 pound boxes of popcorn seeds for the concession stand. Now... February 2013, I'm 122 pounds and while I've gained some more muscle working at a restaurant where I'm carrying 50 pounds of custard and sugar and pulling apart machines, I got some padding round my... well, everywhere.

My mom has run two marathons, a half marathon, and has more coming up. She loves running and getting "in the zone". I think she has brain damage. I loathe running. I have permanent patellar tendonitis which crushes the tendons under my knee caps. Consistent running tends to aggravate the situation and I wake up in the middle of the night in mind numbing pain. So I don't run on a regular basis. Or at all if possible. But I did sign up to do the COLOR RUN in MINNEAPOLIS! YEAH! I'm pumped. Look at these people.

They're clearly having way more fun than me, sitting here, writing to you, instead of doing my Literature homework. AND they're running. I know, counter intuitive. Fun and running. But I have five months to get in shape. And here's how I'm gonna do it.

My class schedule this semester leaves me with a good chunk of free time every morning. So I think between this and the one right below in the mornings (Or after work on the weekend) It'll be a good start to my day and towards my Secondary Lifestyle Goal.

So that's my new workout plan. But what about the eating healthy, small portions, through out the day? Well that's a different day 'cause I seriously have to do this reading before I go back to class in an hour. But hopefully you're willing to try to make a little change for the better in your life whether it's reducing stress, not drinking four cans of soda a day, or just taking that yoga class you've always wanted to.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

I was Patted Down by the TSA*

I went to Costa Rica two summers ago. And I went to Puerto Rico this last July. It was my first time flying somewhere after Costa Rica. I have to admit, getting in line for security-with my backpack so stuffed full and strapped so tightly as to make small enough to be a carry on-I was shaking in my boots. Well, tennis shoes actually. Why? Well when I got in line for security to go to Costa Rica-my first international flight ever- things didn't go as planned. Not one bit. Here's how it went getting on the plane to go to Costa Rica.

We got to the airport at the buttcrack of dawn (literally). And we waited a smidge because the ticket counter wasn't open and for some reason, we hadn't been able to print my ticket from home the night before. We figured my grandma's internet was just fussy. Looking back on it, we should have been way more suspicious. So we got our tickets at the counter, checked our bags and headed to security.

And then they scanned us. And looked at our tickets. And let us proceed to our gate.


We sat at the gate for a good 45 minutes before boarding began. But it's better to be early than late, especially in an airport amirite? And I do love people watching in the airport so even though it was early, I didn't mind too much. Of course, we were in the last group to board. I let Mom and Gramma go ahead of me and sleepily shuffled forward with the line. Gramma's ticket was scanned and she went on down the umbilical. Mom's ticket got scanned, and off she went too. My ticket got scanned and-"Oh. Ma'am I'm going to have to ask you to step to the side."



But I did as he asked. My mom noticed I wasn't behind her and headed back up to see what the problem was. Finally the ticket guy turned to me and said, "You've been selected for additional screening. You actually shouldn't have made it here at all. They should have stopped you in security, so I'm going to have to call two agents up here." Well that's comforting. I had made it all the way to the very last terminal on our concourse (literally the last one) with no problem and plenty of spare time. And now I was being told, I never should have gotten through security without additional screening. Great. So the Gateman called the agents. And we waited. And waited some more. And then we waited a little longer. I was delaying the plane.

Finally two agents came up and asked if I wanted to be taken all the way back to security to a private room for a screening. I said no, I had nothing to hide and it'd just waste more time walking there and back. I was already cranky from the lack of sleep. And so I stood in the terminal, feet shoulder width apart, arms out to the side, only in my tanktop-I'd had to remove my sweatshirt- in front of all the other travelers that happened to be in nearby terminals or passing through, letting a woman with blue gloves pat me down. The other woman took my bag and took out everything. And opened every pocket. And every flap of everything inside my bag. Tampons, my tablet, fruity gum, magazines, and all got removed from my bag and set down on those stiff, awkward terminal seats. It was awesome. Not.

In the mean time, my Gramma had realized that neither my mom nor I had boarded the plane. She had convinced the stewardess to let her off to see what the problem was and came flying up the ramp looking for us. The look on her face when she saw me standing there, being patted down by one agent and my bag disassembled by the other, was pretty priceless.

Finally, they apologized for the hassle and thanked me for being a good sport (though most of the terminal was giving me shifty side long glances now) and let me board. I had delayed the plane for quite a bit, though saved a few stragglers running late from missing it entirely.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how I was patted down by the TSA. After I had made it to my gate. Ah, airport security.

*This post was originally posted on my old blog Rated T for True Life but, as I felt it was a good story, it has been slightly modified and reposted here.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Spring Will Come Again

I'm petsitting for my parents this weekend. It's -4 Degrees Fahrenheit outside right now. With the windchill? It's -15. Thanks Wisconsin. I totally wanted to freeze the blood in my veins every time I have to run outside to rescue my mom's little shih tzu Tiki from wherever she's decided to get too cold to come back in. But you know what? It's all gonna be alright. Spring is on it's way. Eventually. Hopefully. If you're feeling the winter blues, maybe some bright summer photos would help you. Try the ones I took last August.

 I always used to play with these little caterpillars and name them when I was little. It was bittersweet when they got chubby and then turned into a butterfly.

 The robins last spring nested particularly low in our apple tree out back. This left them vulnerable to the cat and abandoned the nest as soon as possible

As you can probably imagine, immediately after this picture was taken, I created a lovely wreath from these clover and spent the better part of an hour chasing Rosie around and trying to make her pose in it. It did not go well.

 Of course no summer photo collection would be complete without some sort of cheery flower.

And I couldn't forget my darling Rosie pug. She loves walking right through the middle of the plants and wiggling through my mother's garden whenever it's in bloom. She's like a plant ninja.

Well hopefully those have lifted your mood somewhat. Just remember. Even if it is now... -19 with the windchill, it's gonna get warmer. Just hunker down with some hot chocolate and a good book and before you know it, you'll be wearing shorts instead of three layers of pants, six shirts, and too many socks to count. Mmm... shorts.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Stills from Winter Break

Sooo... I have this delusion. I like to think that I take really awesome photos and that someday someone may actually see them and want to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars for them. I'll just file that next to my delusion of being the next globally renowned super chef. Hm. I'm gonna need a bigger file cabinet.



Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Travel Bucket List

Of course, I'd like to leave footprints on every inch of the globe. But I'm only one person, and I have very small feet. So I have to prioritize how I'm going to go about seeing everything and experiencing it all. That leads me to my top 5 picks, my travel bucket list of countries.

5. Iceland

 Admittedly, Iceland had never crossed my mind until my mom and brother insisted I look into it for a possible summer destination. And, well don't tell them but... they were right. (Seriously. Don't tell my brother. I'll never here the end of it.) The blue lagoon (pictured above) and hundreds of other hot springs. After Costa Rica, I'm a sucker for hot springs. In the winter there's special trips and hotels that specialize in the Aurora Borealis viewings. This is definitely on my list for a late summer or fall escape.

4. Maldives

The Maldives. As a student, a little out of my price range currently but for my honeymoon or even the wedding itself? Beeeautiful! That perfect azul water... Just dangling your toes off the dock and watching the fish... I could seriously go right now. Anyone wanna get married? I need a vacation.

3. Italy

 Italy. It's on everyone's to-visit list. And while the cities are beautiful and unique, it's the countryside I really want to see. The villas and rolling hills; the vineyards and valleys. Being a self-proclaimed foodie, this would be heaven! How can you not love a place that loves its food!? I love everything about classic Italian cooking. A food-based tour of Italy? That's food-coma heaven to me.

2. Australia

Alright. I'll admit it.When I was little (7 to 12ish) I had a huge, massive, ginormous crush on Steve Irwin. I watched his show on Animal Planet religiously. Wrestling crocodiles, dancing with poison snakes, saving wallabies... and that accent! If- no, when-I go to Australia, his zoo is number one on my things-I-absolutely-have-to-do list. Of course there's Ayer's Rock. The Great Barrier Reef. But how can you pass up a chance to see the place your childhood hero worked so hard in and loved so deeply?

1. New Zealand

Yes, New Zealand is my number one, have to go or I'll die of depression and longing, bucket list choice. Amazing snowboarding, a countryside so beautiful you literally cannot breathe, and from what I hear, the people are delightful and welcoming. Let's not forget of course that The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit were filmed there. J.R.R. Tolkien is my favorite author and how could I ever pass up a chance to visit and have a drink at the Green Dragon? Or see for myself how a Hobbit hole is not a dirty wet hole but warm and comfortable, just like the books and movies depict. Though I have yet to go, I think if I were to go ex-pat and live out of the US, I think I could do it in New Zealand. I'll just have to take a few trips there to make sure. ;)

That's my Top 5 Bucket List Destinations. What are yours? Can you even narrow it down to 5?


Monday, January 14, 2013

"It's a Dangerous Business...

...Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." Bilbo Baggins (J.R.R. Tolkien)


I'm Spencer.

I want to see the world. I want to see everything. I want to meet the people, learn their stories, watch how they live. I want to flirt with the culture and take the food out back and show it what love really is.

And Wanderlust is where I'll tell you all about it. My travels. My plans. My dream. My adventures. My goals. And also show you a ridiculous amount of adorable photos of Rosie, my pug.

Welcome to Wanderlust. Stay a while. Share your stories. And never be afraid to go somewhere or try something new.