Adventures in Thailand: ElepHANTS OMG

There are a lot of elephants around Chiang Mai. Not in the wild– there are hardly any left in the wild– but they can be found at elephant sanctuaries.

Did you know that riding on an elephants back hurts them? Most elephants at elephant sanctuaries are rescued from riding camps, logging farms, and circus-type venues. My cousin and I really wanted to see some elephants, but we were NOT down with animal abuse. That’s where the sanctuaries come in. There are quite a few around Chiang Mai, but we settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Instead of taking a ride on the backs of one of these gentle creatures, we spent the day feeding them, playing in the mud with them, and messing around in a river. WAY BETTER THAN RIDING.

AND ELEPHANTS ARE THE GREATEST CREATURES. They were kind, gentle, and really funny. One elephant, his name was Peter, was 4 years old and a total trouble maker. He ate all of my bananas before I could give them to any other elephants, and this little fella (who was the side of a car,) would just charge through wherever he wanted. So lovely.

I didn’t have my typical stash of cameras on me, because I knew I’d be working in the mud for the day, so I only brought my phone and Polaroid Cube along. Granted, not the best tools, but I did get a couple decent shots of my new fav animals.

Seriously, elephants are the best.

Here, have some totally self-indulgent photos of me, courtesy of my cousin, Ashley.

 

This was seriously one of the best days of my life. If you are ever in Thailand, I highly recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, or one of the other sanctuaries. And remember: IF THEY OFFER RIDING THEY ARE NOT A TRUE SANCTUARY AND YOU SHOULD NOT SUPPORT THEM. If we want to save these beautiful creatures, we have to break down the riding industry.

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

Traveling Solo with an Anxiety Disorder

There are two important things about me, the first being something many people already know: I love to travel.

My life is spent planning for the next big adventure, tolerating the moments between when I return from a trip and head off on the next one. I love going to new places, learning about different cultures, trying out new languages and meeting kindred spirits around the globe.

The second important thing about me if I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve lived with PTSD for years, and even with it in remission I still have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. It makes going out of my “comfort zone” extremely daunting.

Currently, I am traveling solo in SE Asia. I’ve spent the past week in Thailand by myself, but (thankfully) my cousin is meeting up with me tonight. I admittedly need the reprieve from my solo-ness.

The thing about traveling solo is it is extremely empowering. There are moments where I am so overwhelmed with my perceived bad-assery that a smile breaks across my face and I laugh. It’s amazing that I am able to do this, that I was able to get on a plane and go across the globe to a country where I can’t speak the language to live alone and be a tourist all by myself. It’s awesome!

To prepare, I read a lot of testimonies about traveling alone. It’s about reaching out to others, not being afraid to meet new people and just kinda sorta “going for it.” I felt like I could do it. I still believe I can do it.

But traveling solo with anxiety makes it really, really hard to be that person who can go out and be unafraid. Every morning I wake up I have to spend about 2-3 hours psyching myself up to go outside. There is a cycle of guilt: I am in a foreign country, something many people don’t have the luxury to even dream about, and I’m sitting in my apartment talking myself out of doing anything that may make me look like an idiot in a new place.

Sometimes I’m able to trample down the anxiety and leave. Other times I can’t, and I spend the day inside.

This is OKAY.

It is okay for me to spend hours memorizing the train route, learning how to pronounce the names of places I want to go and practicing what to tell a cab driver. It is okay for me to accept that today just isn’t the day to go out and be adventurous, that my brain is wired a little differently and sometimes I need time to get used to a new place. It is okay to tell the guilt to leave me alone, that I know myself and I know my body.

It is okay to travel solo with anxiety. You do not need to push yourself. This is not a blog post about being like “JUST STOMP DOWN YOUR INHIBITIONS AND GO!” Anxiety disorders are not mere inhibitions, but a condition where, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t. And this is okay.

So, if you have anxiety and you want to travel solo, go for it. I believe in you. But if you do and you feel overwhelmed, try not to feel guilty. That energy is better spent loving yourself and reminding yourself that hey, you’re a bad-ass for doing it in the first place. You will go out and explore the world in your own time.

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Banaue/Batad

The best decision of my trip to the Philippines was to go to Banaue/Batad. It was seriously the highlight of my trip, and quite easily in my top 3 favorite places in the world.

Researching how to get to Banaue was daunting, but thankfully I had the help from Valerie, my cousin’s lovely partner. She set me up with an amazing guide, Alvin Gabriel, who met me at the bus station in Banaue and stayed with me the 36ish hours I was there.

Since I was only staying one night, we were very busy. When my bus rolled in at 10AM (after being 2-hours delayed after a break-down at 3AM… it’s always something when I travel!) Alvin took me to get breakfast at a cafe with a GORGEOUS view of Banaue. I drank water, ate a sandwich, and kept marveling how I actually made it to such a beautiful place.

After breakfast, Alvin took me to the trail to Batad via tricycle, with intermediary stops along the way for great photo opportunities. I kept saying “WOW,” because it seemed to be the only word I could remember. I said, “It’s so GREEN!” and Alvin told me “Wait until we get to Batad.”

Now, Banaue is beautiful, but oh my goodness, if you make the trip there I HIGHLY recommend hiking to Batad, because it is even better than Banaue. It’s very remote, I had no phone service and the homestays do not have wifi, but seriously, GO. If you don’t go, you are seriously missing out.

It was raining off and on that afternoon, so our hike was broken up between waiting under awnings and hiking the rice terraces. The weather was so beautiful, a mix of clarity and atmospheric clouds. Seriously amazing weather for photo-taking.

Another lovely thing about the rain was I was able to talk to other travelers while we waited for the weather to break. I met two Columbia University students and an older gentleman from Pennsylvania, and a couple from Melbourne. I’m normally a shy person, so meeting others and actually having fun conversations with them was a highlight to my day.

Alvin took me up to the viewing point, which over-looked the entire valley. It was breathtaking and I never wanted to leave.

After going to the top of the terraces, we went down, down, down into the village to get to the Batad Village Homestay. It was there I met Rona, the wonderful owner of the homestay, and she showed me her traditional house. The traditional house looks like a hut on stilts, and she told me how she was born in that house and she lives there to this day. She explained she didn’t like “modern houses” because the rooms are all separate and inconvenient, unlike her single room home.

She showed me some old statues, which belonged to her parents, which were of rice guardians. Rona said she didn’t believe in the old religion, that she was a Christian, and we talked about our love of God for about an hour before I went to dinner.

The power had gone out, so I ate via candlelight and read a book while Alvin and some of the other guides played guitar. I definitely sang along to “Country Road”. No shame.

The next morning I woke up at dawn and looked out my window, and once again was awestruck at how amazing my life is.

Alvin and I saddled up and hiked down to the Tappiya Falls. There were lots of stairs to go down… So many stairs… But the falls were breathtaking. People were swimming in the river but I decided nah, and drew a crummy picture instead (no, you can’t see.) I had a lot of fun relaxing in the sun, listening to the roar of the water, breathing in the fresh air.

Then we hiked all the way back up the stairs, and I cursed myself for spending the past two years of grad school sitting on my butt behind a computer screen, and promised to get myself to a gym or something because dang, that was difficult. Shout out to Alvin for being patient!

After the falls I was actually kinda sad, because that meant we were going to hike out of Batad and back to Banaue. I didn’t want to leave Batad at all; it was so beautiful and peaceful. The hike back wasn’t without it’s nice views, though, and I snapped some pics of interesting things along the way back.

I left for Manila that evening, already planning to come back in the near future.

So, Banaue/Batad? Definitely go, get Alvin as your guide, and you won’t regret it.

Happy Shooting!

 

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: San Pablo

Nothing says “Bye, grad school, I’m sO DONE WITH YOU,” quite like leaving the country not even a week after graduating and running away to the literal other side of the globe.

#YOLO indeed.

Before I gush about how amazing the Philippines are, we gotta talk about the Taipei airport.

So I had a 4-hour lay-over in Taipei, Taiwan on my way to Manila. The funny thing about my trip was I didn’t really feel super excited or even nervous about traveling. Honestly, I think I was emotionally drained/exhausted/dead inside because of the stress that was the end of my school career. Even on the plane I was like “meh.” However, when we were in our approach to Taipei, when I could see the ground coming up beneath us, it all hit me.

I’m traveling to SE Asia, alone, after completing my MFA in Photography.

I started crying on the plane. The young lady next to me was kind enough to ignore me and not to say anything (thank goodness.)

But then I got into the airport and was enthralled by how amazingly tacky the whole thing was. They had themed gates, and my gate was a HELLO KITTY GATE PEOPLE.

What an awesome airport.

BUT ONTO THE PHILIPPINES

My amazing and cool cousin, Steve, let me stay with him and his partner Valerie in their apartment in Bonifacio Global City, which is in Metro Manila. After I got there, we all left to go spend a weekend in the gorgeous San Pablo.

We stayed at a bed and breakfast, owned and operated by the legendary Patis Tesoro. Patis was lovely and kind, and her home is FABULOUS. Patis is very into recyclable materials, so her house is made from recycled woods, second-hand tiles, etc. It’s really amazing.

If you are ever in the San Pablo area, I highly recommend making a reservation at Patis’s Garden Cafe.

Another highlight to my stay in San Pablo was visiting the Villa Escudero. Steve and Valerie took me to have lunch in the waterfall there, where we literally got to go into the water to get our food. It was super cool, and it was fun watching everyone enjoy the water.

It was a great weekend.

Happy Shooting!

Times in Washington D.C.

I just realized I never posted the photos from my trip to Washington D.C. on this blog o’ mine!

In the middle of January, I hopped on a bus and traveled to D.C. to see my favorite nerds, who I went on a cross-country road trip with this past spring. My bff Sean lives there, and my other bff Dana flew in from Cali. It was literally two weeks of us enjoying each other’s company, but I made a lot of pictures.

We went to a lot of the Smithsonian Museums (because knowledge is power!) and went to some historic sights. The last time I went to D.C., I was in middle school and I was a little punk who didn’t know the Charters of Freedom were in the National Archives.

Embarrassing side-note: My friends and I went looking in the Museum of Natural History for the Declaration of Independence. I’m still disappointed in myself.

One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was seeing everything being set-up for the presidential inauguration. Barring how depressing it was going to be, I was still geeked to see the clash of classical monuments with modern day technology. It’s so funny to see the background work of the pomp and circumstance.

We also took a trip out to Arlington National Cemetery and Gettysburg.

While in Gettysburg, I visited the site of Alexander Gardner’s famous “Home of a Rebel Sharpshooter” photograph. I hunted around for the Devil’s Den for a long while, and when I finally found it, the lighting was awful, and I had to wait a solid 45 minutes for a cloud to cover up the sun. I was determined because DANGIT I HAD BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS AND GROSS HARSH SHADOWS WERE NOT GOING TO RUIN THIS FOR ME.

The famous photograph:

Image result for home of rebel sharpshooter

I got to see my besties, saw some historical things, created a photo series making fun of the future president… Good times all around.

Happy Shooting!

 

So I Went to Niagara Falls Randomly

This has been a summer of grand adventures for me!

Last week I took an impromptu trip to Niagara Falls, Canada. Yes, that’s right, I went to the Canadian side. It’s only a few hours from where I live, and my mother and I had been planning on taking a short trip there for years, and we finally did. It was lovely AND kitschy– two of my favorite adjectives!

The thing about Niagara Falls in Canada is it’s almost like a Las Vegas, but for kids. It has really interesting buildings and lots of things to do for children, like the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! museum and haunted houses and wax museums. I didn’t do any of those things (I did, however, go in the “Upside Down House,) but I did take pictures of the tacky, charming things along Clifton Hill.

The best part of the trip was the tour we went on, where we went behind the Horseshoe Falls, over the whirlpool on the Niagara River, and on the Hornblower boat, to go right up to the falls. Going up to the falls was the most fun, mostly because I was entertained by all of us in our red ponchos, trying to take pictures in the dense mist. I was laughing and I felt happy– everyone wants that!

 

The whirlpool was pretty insane. There is a 90 degree bend in the Niagara River, so it is impossible for the water to, y’know, just casually turn. So it whirls and whirls. Apparently at night, it rotates in the opposite direction (like counter-clockwise instead of clockwise.) We went in an aerocar suspended on cables and went right over it, and stopped.

Now, I’m okay with heights. Heights do not bother me. I’ve been repelling down cliff faces, jumped off of cliffs, and I will most likely go skydiving one day. However, I absolutely do not like being on a man-made structure over water. Like bridges. Or steel cables suspended over one of the most dangerous rivers in the world.

Even though I was internally panicking, I still managed to get a lovely shot, which is one of my favorites from my trip.

It was really hot the day we took our tour, and the sun was shining bright (which made taking good photos difficult… damn shadows.) But the sun did bless me with this: while we were all waiting to board the Hornblower, the sun was shining through our ponchos. It was like a stain glass window. A super cheap, tacky, plastic, stained glass window.

It was an awesome trip. It was certainly special, and I highly recommend going on the Canadian side. I’m sure the view is nice from the American side, but man, the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side are just incredible. I can’t fully explain how majestic it was, and pictures can only do so much.

10/10 Highly Recommend!

Happy Shooting!

Bonus images: my mother and I, totally drenched from the falls but still lookin’ phresh af.

Embarrassing America, Pt. 3: Nevada is the Actual Worst, Glacier National Park, and Some Rock Heads

Oh, Nevada. I had no idea how useless you were.

(No offense, to those who live in Nevada. At least you have Las Vegas?)

We drove and drove and drove through Nevada, looking for gas, food, civilization, anything. There was nothing. We started to play a game: Ways to Die in The Middle of Nowhere, Nevada. We were getting very creative with how to end ourselves, should we be stuck in this desert purgatory. (We came up with 36 ways to die, for the record.)

Finally we found a place to stop for gas, in a little city town village place called Middlegate, Population 18 17. The town was a gas station at the side of the road and a sketchy motel. They had newspaper clippings from the civil war framed in the bathroom. It was that kind of place. So, lemmie tell you, we were more than relieved to get to Idaho and sleep that nightmare of a state off.

When we got up the next day, we powered our way through Idaho and Montana, and after a series of stops and wrong banana peeling (I’m looking at you, Sean,) we made it to Glacier National Park.

To be honest, we really struggled the first 24 hours we had in Glacier. We came just before the start of the season, so almost everything was closed. We got in to the park in the early evening and were hungry, and couldn’t find a place to eat, save for the random fancy restaurant where the cheapest meal we could get was $25. We were too poor for that, so we ran before the waitress could even give us water. We weren’t prepared for a $25 chicken strip.

What made up for our repetitive faux-pas was Montana itself. They call it “Big Sky Country” for a reason. It’s absolutely breathtaking, and a place I could totally live… If they had more than one Starbucks in the entire state.

But they did have a rainbow, so that’s a win from me.

We also needed firewood, and a tarp, and a lantern… It was much colder in Glacier than Yosemite, so when we woke up the next morning in a puddle from the rain the previous night, we were miserable. And nothing was open. So we did a lot of driving to get what we needed, acquired firewood and a tarp, and made it all work out in the end. We finally got to go hiking after spending most of our first day there trying to get our bearings, but after that was smooth sailing (or should I say hiking?)

Also Sean is a lumberjack.

We were very excited to see snow at Glacier. Granted it was still late May/early June so it wasn’t too surprising, but still neat just the same. This was my second time in Glacier National Park, and I still loved every moment of it. My favorite was Avalanche Lake, which was a super easy hike with a super gorgeous pay off in the end. I even made a deer friend– a little prince of the forest. It was a really lovely time. 10/10 highly recommend.

After our adventures in Glacier came to an end, we headed back east to our lonely, boring lives. On the way back we stopped at Mount Rushmore, which was rad. I seriously loved it. Yes, I know, it’s just a bunch of rocks that were carved into heads and yes it may be one of the tackiest, self-important things in the country, but you know what? I too am tacky and self-important, so that’s why I loved it. I live for this kind of tasteless thing. It was really neat, and a good way to end our trip (well, we did drive 14 more hours after this, so it wasn’t really the end, but… It was a good send off.) I think my favorite part about Mount Rushmore was the older gentleman who I photographed– well, I photographed his cool backpack, that had different patches from national parks. I asked him if I could take his picture and he told me “This is my better side anyway.”

Okay, old man. You’re classy.

It’s been like a month since the end of my trip and I’m still pining away for the mountains and my friends. I miss them terribly, and I can’t wait for my next adventure. I am truly happiest when I am traveling and taking pictures, so if you need me I’ll be on pinterest updating my travel board until my next journey.

Happy Shooting!