Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary

Ciao!

I’m settling back in to my normal busy schedule at home and have just started to dive in to the immense amount of pictures (and video!) that my family and I took during our two-week trip to Italy. My family included my mom, my Grammy and Grampy, my (great) Aunt Diane and my 2nd cousins, Ginger and Daryl.

By now, all friends and regular Instagram followers know that I went on this amazing trip, but I thought since what we were doing there was pretty unique that I would do a summary post to share a little background. That way, the rest of my posts can just focus on pictures and a few fun stories.

(L to R): Daryl, Ginger, Gloria (Grammy), Diane, Julie (Mom), Dave (Grampy) and me at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“One country, 7 family members, 6 days and 85 miles (56 for me). One sprained ankle, 2 bum knees, 1 broken tooth cap, a few dozen blisters and a few sunburns and scratches. Daily stops for gelato and Coke Zero, 6 fresh picked peaches from a generous farmer and a handful of apples from yet another generous stranger. Hundreds of acres of olive trees, a 4th century bridge, a 12th century castle and way more inclines than we were expecting. Getting lost 4 out of the 6 days. Lots of lizards, a few guard dogs and endless beautiful views. We were one big hot mess by the time we made it from Rieti to the Vatican, but we made it with quite a few stories to share.”

This caption from my social media post summarizes quite the adventure we went on!

For the first half of our vacation to Italy, my family did a self-guided walking tour from Rieti (north of Rome) over the course of 6 days back to Rome with our finish line being the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. Every time I share this I get quite a few raised eyebrows and lots of questions so here are the basics:

  • We went through a company called Hidden Italy that operates several guided and self-guided walking tours throughout Italy and Spain. Our walk was the last section of the Cammino (walk) of St. Francis.
  • In addition to the guide book, what we paid for included organized breakfast and dinner everyday and accommodations for 7 nights.
  • Also, every day our luggage was picked up by a transfer service and taken to our next accommodation for us. So no, we weren’t strictly living out of only our backpacks.
  • Our accommodations varied from hotels, agriturismo’s (bed and breakfasts), apartments (more AirBnB style) and a 12th century castle!
  • Our route took us on mountain trails, pedestrian paths and a few country roads. So with a few exceptions as we approached towns, we didn’t walk on major roads with heavy traffic.
  • Our guide book provided pretty detailed instructions as well as signs and color markers (blue and yellow that you’ll see in a lot of pictures) to look for. The guide book also provided a history lesson about each of the places that we stayed overnight and any historical markers along the way.
  • According to our guide book, our mileage ranged from approximately 8 to 16 miles a day for a total of 70 miles. We got lost a couple of times or took detours for food so our total mileage was more around 85 miles. Plus we are pretty sure there were a few places where the guide book was a bit off.
  • In regards to getting lost, it was a mix of our own faults and a few directions in the guide book that weren’t crystal clear. We found that as we went through towns that was always where the directions messed us up. But we always eventually figured it out.
  • The “walk” was definitely more of a hike on most days and we all agreed that overall it was much harder than the company advertised.
  • With the exception of a few protective guard dogs, we felt entirely safe the whole time and experienced quite a few acts of kindness from locals along the way.
  • Most of the walk took us through and had us staying in small towns that weren’t very touristy, meaning that there was a language barrier most of the time. But a smile and some patience usually went a long way.
  • The last day of the walk started on outskirts of Rome and led us to the Vatican.

The big headline about the walk that you may have already seen on my social media is that I SPRAINED MY ANKLE ON MILE 2 ON THE VERY FIRST DAY. I was concentrating on the guide book and stepped straight into a big pothole. It was a high sprain and since this is definitely not my first one I knew as soon as I went down that it was not good. So while my family continued on the walk, I waited 3.5 hours on a bench at a nearby water filling station we had passed for the Italian woman working there to drive me to our stop for the evening. She hardly spoke a word of English but another man there for water in the morning helped arrange it. About an hour in to my wait I heard a very familiar “hello.” It was my family, who discovered that we had originally went the wrong way when we passed the water filling station. Which is what I had said and was checking our guide book for when I stepped into the pothole. So if we had went the right direction in the first place my foot would have never found that pothole. The good news is that I made it safe and sound to the next bed and breakfast we were staying in but that experience just adds to the story. The Italian woman, Gabriella, started to leave without me until I hopped and yelled after her waving the piece of paper with the address on it. She drove a small RV (as a Criminal Minds superfan my radar was up!), we had to take a detour to make a bank deposit and once we reached the dirt road where the secluded bed and breakfast was, she didn’t think the RV would fit so I got out and hobbled the final mile. It might have been a little sketchy, but Gabriella turned out to be our Good Samaritan and will be a forever reminder of how important extending kindness to strangers is.

I rejoined my family and managed to hobble through days 2, 3 and 4, before sitting out day 5 so I could finish the last day (6) on the walk through Rome. I’ll be entirely honest, I have a pretty high pain tolerance but I was in quite a bit of pain and am pretty darn amazed that I was able to do what I did. By the end of day 4 my whole foot was twice as big as the other one which was also quickly covered in blisters from doing most of the work. My family insists that they didn’t think I complained too much all things considered but I know that I was pretty cranky overall and am really grateful for all of the grace they gave me. Unfortunately, it definitely put a damper on things at times and I can’t say that I’ll forget that part and remember only the good parts, but it does make quite the story!

OK, that’s it for my “summary!” I’ll be back to start sharing pictures and more about the rest of the trip soon!

Thanks for tuning in!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

So There's That Series

So There’s That Vol. 22

{Sort of like  a “Friday Five”  or a “Life Lately” except it’s probably not Friday, and I gave up on the idea of a catchy alliteration. These are some bits and pieces of my glam #postgradlife. See past posts HERE}

Colorado

During the last week of May, I was in Estes Park, Colorado for a work trip. My mom tagged along and we tacked on a few days for a mini-vacay, which included a great hike to Gem Lake.

Girl Time

Lately the girls from my young adults bible study have been making lots of plans together. Earlier in June, a few of us did the Billy Goat Trail near Great Falls, which was a bit more challenging than I expected… but such a beautiful day to be outside and chat with these girls who have added such a positive light to my life lately.

This last weekend we had a laid back girls night hosted at my place and then spent another afternoon at Quattro Goombas Winery for wine slushies (insert all of the heart eye emoji’s here) and awesome pizza. The location also has a brewery and a great outdoor space.

Kansas – National Festival of Breads

Earlier in June, I made a quick work trip to Kansas for the National Festival of Breads. Yes, it was a awesome as its name sounds. The festival is hosted each year by Kansas Wheat, and brings together eight finalists (that competed against hundreds!) to compete for the title. The festival also features a small trade show, a demonstration stage, a kid’s interactive section, a BBQ, live music and more. I spent the day of the festival taking pictures and enjoy a “few” samples! This event is a great way to showcase the diversity of bread and the quality of U.S. wheat.

Obviously since I was in Kansas, I made the most of my down time by catching up with friends that I don’t get to see nearly enough.

So many of my favorite things wrapped up in one. If you visit Manhattan and appreciate a good wheat beer, you NEED to try 1863 Wheat at Tallgrass Brewery!


College friends turned commodity colleagues.


Considering I just saw Leah, Ryan and Robin a month ago in Colorado,  I was so happy that they made the drive from Topeka (on Father’s Day nonetheless) to see me again. It doesn’t look like it but I swear Miss Robin was happy to see me…

Kansas Wheat Harvest

During my trip to Kansas in I spent a day out on a farm in central Kansas that was in the middle of wheat harvest. In my mind there are few things more beautiful than a wheat harvest. I took lots of great pictures and shared them in a separate blog post.

Ed Sheeran Carpool Karoke

To know me is to know my obsession with all things Ed Sheeran. So really when you combine that with my obsession with James Corden (Craig!!) then basically you know that dreams really do come true.

I have probably watched this at least 6 times now.

Happy Birthday Jancz

My sister Janci turned 23 last week!

True Friendship

Out and About

A few snippets (and Snapchats) of life lately.


Pictures from home make me happy, especially when they include my sister and my favorite little guy Wesley. (Also, super jealous she got to hang with him for the day.)




Sugarloaf Mountain Winery is so picturesque, and their wine is pretty good! Enjoyed a lazy Saturday afternoon there.


Eastern Market finds.

Missed out on getting a group picture, but my work took an afternoon for an outing and enjoyed a Nationals game together.

These adult coloring postcards are my new favorite stress reliever.


My Life in Memes

Memes that are speaking to me right now… both thought provoking and just plain funny.

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So, There’s That.

Cheers!

Career/Professional, Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Estes Park, Colorado

Seeing as I leave later today for another quick work trip, I figured I better get my act together and get something about my trip to Colorado up here! Because trust me, my lack of timeliness is not a reflection on the trip.

Every two years, my organization hosts a world staff conference that brings together all of our 15 overseas offices, along with our two here in the U.S. Two years ago (really!?) we traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, and this year our conference was in Estes Park, Colorado! Even though I grew up in Oregon and lived in Kansas for eight years, I actually have never spent any significant time Colorado, aside from the airport of course and passing through on a long road trip. Our conference was hosted at the famous, historical Stanley Hotel, which might be familiar to some because it was the inspiration for Stephen King’s book, The Shining, and a few other movies were filmed there, including Dumb and Dumber.

I’ve said this a few times before, but I really do love the organization that I work for and being able to get together and connect with our staff from around the world helps remind me why my job is more than just an 8 to 5. My co-workers are very passionate about the wheat industry and the people in it. They are intelligent, kind, supportive and… hilarious. I am a better professional, and person because of them.

One fun addition to this trip was that my mom tagged along!

My organization also values family and unique experiences, so I was able to invite my mom along to join us in Estes Park. While I was in meetings she enjoyed a spa day and lots of time outside, which was great opportunity for her to just relax because she had just wrapped her own busy couple of weeks at work. After I wrapped up with my conference we stayed an extra few days for a mini mother-daughter vacay.

Though I did take a lot of photos during the conference, I’m not sharing any of them here because I don’t think its the right platform, but if you want to see those then head over to our Facebook page HERE.

It snowed in Estes Park a few days before we arrived, so I had to pull out a few winter pieces that I had already packed away for the summer. Thankfully, by the time we arrived most of it had melted and the weather didn’t end up being quite as cold as we expected.

I loved getting to introduce my mom to my co-workers and our wheat farmers!

View from the front porch of The Stanley Hotel.

The “downtown” main strip was adorable, full of t-shirt shops, candy stores and YEAR-ROUND CHRISTMAS STORES.

Mom made me go in one. If you know me personally, you know I’m the Grinch in my family and being in that store was just too much for me.

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On our first full day after the conference we hiked up to Gem Lake. A few of my co-workers did the hike earlier in the week and mentioned that even though the distance was pretty short, that the hike itself should not be underestimated. The walk from the hotel to the trail head was 1.7 miles and the hike itself was also 1.7 miles. The altitude was definitely a bit a challenge from time to time, even on the walk up to the trail head but after a while we both felt a bit more leveled out. The trail wasn’t too difficult to maneuver until the last quarter mile or so where it got more rocky. But it was all still a bit steeper and slower than we first thought. It wasn’t until AFTER the hike that we learned that the 1.7 miles climbs 1,000 ft, so that explained a lot. But it was so much fun to enjoy the views, chat and just spend that time with my mom.

She’s going to LOVE that shared that. #sorrynotsorry

Gem Lake… which is more like a pond 🙂

So growing up in Oregon, I know that you’re not really supposed to feed the wildlife, but we didn’t go up there planning too. Another hiker near us had her granola bar snatched right out of her hands by a squirrel and when she got up to leave she left of with a few nuts she had leftover, so by then we were already too entertained and curious about how close they would get to us.

They got REALLY close.

Even after we were out of nuts the two squirrels kept come back to us to double check. One even tried to gnaw on my mom’s phone!

This isn’t zoomed in. It was sitting on my backpack which was sitting right next to me.

 

“Paul Bunyan’s Boot”

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We returned back to Denver the day before our flights out and I was able to catch up (very) briefly with two of my best friends!

Kayla is one of my best friends from high school and lives in the Denver area for school right now.

This little one is no stranger to the blog. Baby Robin and her parents, Leah and Ryan just happened to be visiting family in the Denver area and made a little time for a visit!

Cheers!

So There's That Series

So There’s That Vol. 19

{Sort of like  a “Friday Five”  or a “Life Lately” except it’s probably not Friday, and I gave up on the idea of a catchy alliteration. These are some bits and pieces of my glam #postgradlife. See past posts HERE}

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Once again it has been almost two months since my last So There’s That post.

And this time I can’t even say that I was “out of my mind” busy. Oops.

Well settle in, it will be a long one…

1. Celebrated My Birthday

One of my friends from college is in DC for a year-long fellowship and offered to throw me a birthday party this year. It was a great little get together, and though somewhat unplanned it ended up being all Kansas people.

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With Logan and Emily. Happy to have so many K-Staters here with me.

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We all share Brandi as one of our closest friends, so we decided she needed some Snapchat spam.

2. Beware of Jalapeno’s

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I am pretty sure I will immediately regret including this picture, but I always say this blog is about my life, so some funny/embarrassing stories and pictures just are not allowed to be omitted.

So… I love spicy food and I love jalapenos, so when I decided to make queso dip for my birthday party it was natural for me to grab a few (4) jalapenos to add in. Now I have cut up jalapenos a dozen times before and never had any problems but this time was pretty different. A few minutes after I was done chopping, my nose and upper lip started to BURN REALLY BAD. So I immediately washed my hands with dish soap and then washed that part of my face with my normal face cleanser. And then it started to burn EVEN WORSE. So I did what every other brand new 26 year old would do… I called my mom. She proceeded to start Googling what you are supposed to do and I tried a baking soda and water paste, then lemon juice and then coconut oil, all of which helped for a few minutes and then would stop. At one point I went back to the paste, which was a REALLY bad idea because it made things worse after the lemon juice.

Eventually I just held ice packs to my face for a few hours. We eventually read that soaps actually do not help (OBVIOUSLY) and realized that every time I used my hands to apply the different mixtures it was just eventually tainting them and spreading the heat to more of my face.

So with the picture to prove it, I really can not make this stuff up, and it REALLY was that dramatic. Just ask my mom about the phone call, I am pretty sure she is still laughing about it.

3. Crop Quality Report

This project took up most of my work life in September and October. It is a report that my organization puts about every year and this year we decided to do a complete redesign with the help of an agency. The challenge is there is a LOT of data that goes into, a LOT of people that contribute to it and it gets translated into five languages.

I was pretty proud of the final product and especially of Steph, my co-worker who put in way more hours than I did. If you are at all interested at actually looking through it, you can find it HERE.

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4. The Best is Yet to Come

In October, my church, NCC, celebrated its 20th anniversary with a service that included all eight of its campus at one location, held in Constitution Hall at the DAR. It was such a fun, inspiring evening!

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One of my small groups met up for dinner at Old Ebbitt beforehand.

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These wristbands lit up in different colors, based on our motions or by the tech guys. They were so fun!

5. “Coloring Book for Me” App

Friends, prepare for your life to be changed.
I can not remember how I stumbled across this app (probably because I was so excited about it) but YOU NEED IT IN YOUR LIFE. It is pretty straight forward… every day there are new blank designs to choose from, you have a variety of color wheels to choose from and then at the end you can add treatments. Honestly, I have done one almost everyday for the past month, but decided that sharing ALL of them might be a bit much for those who do not share my enthusiasm.

And dear creators of the app? Hit me up if you would like to sign an official endorsement deal…

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6. Kansas City

In November, I was in Kansas City for a conference that I still plan to separately blog about. But that also meant that I got to squeeze some time in with one of my favorite little families. Baby Robin has become a regular in these posts, but I was also excited to catch up with Leah and Ryan. She was my roommate my freshman year  and still one of my dearest friends.

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She is 7 months old now!

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Her parents are going to regret letting her call me Aunt Amanda someday…

7. Hiking

In addition to the big hike I already blogged about... I also joined my friend Kim for an afternoon on the Maryland side of Great Falls.  She recently got a new DSLR camera so she wanted me to teach her a few tips.

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8. Sunday Funday

In November, another one of my small groups from church went out on a Sunday to a small winery, lunch and then stopped by one girl’s family farm. It was one of the first colder weekends in the area, but we had a great afternoon! Northern Virginia is absolutely beautiful in the fall!

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9. Friendsgiving

This year I went to two Thanksgivings!

On Thursday, I joined my co-worker and his wife, who are also K-State alums, along with many others who have some connection to Kansas.

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And then on Saturday, I was invited by one of the girls from one of my church small groups to join a Friendsgiving hosted for another small group that she is in.

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In the last eight years I have only been home for Thanksgiving once, but I am always reminded how big my support circle is and the kindness of others.

10. Run DC

Since my plantar fasciitis developed this summer I have not been out on a long run or walk in DC. My foot still hurts, but I have contained it quite a bit so I decided to take advantage of the last semi-warm weekends and ventured out for a run/walk that accidentally turned into an unplanned seven miles. Apparently DC infrastructure is still hard to navigate after living here two years.

Anyway, as expected, it was a beautiful day.

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11. The People’s Tree

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So I learned this year that you have to get tickets way in advance for the Christmas tree lighting at the White House… but that the lighting at the Capitol is free. This was toward the top of the things I really wanted to do this year so I dragged my friend Logan out in the pouring rain to see it. They had a short but cute little ceremony led by Speaker Paul Ryan. The tree was from Idaho this year!

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I love Union Station this time of year!

12. Christmas Crafts

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My apartment is really small, but it had been too long since I had a fun project to do and my little windowsill was perfect to add a few things too. I blogged about making the tree and the sign last week. Read it HERE.

13. Out and About

A few snippets (and Snapchats) of life lately.

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Views from my parents’ new property.

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Enjoyed my first “Paint Nite” with Allyson!

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I LOVE this picture and this view! Photo credit to my friend Casey Droddy.

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Took this out of my plane window on the way home from Guam.

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Good morning Union Station.

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Snapchats of Jack from my sister are my FAVORITE.

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My new tennis shoes are full of inspiration

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Enjoyed catching Reckless Kelly with my Kansas guys. We do not get nearly enough red dirt bands live in DC. And I LOVE my new dress, so I had to share.

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Miss Robin was the cutest little penguin. Even if she did not think so herself.

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True friends send you pictures from Kansas to make you miss it more.

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Sunday brunch to celebrate Sherin’s birthday!

13. Chris Stapleton

Three people sent me a link to an article about this song below in a matter of a week. Obviously my obsession with Chris Stapleton has been well advertised.

HE NEEDS TO RECORD THIS!

14. My Life in Memes

Memes that are speaking to me right now… both thought provoking and just plain funny.

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So, There’s That.

Cheers!

Photography, Washington D.C.

Hiking – Harpers Ferry

Last Saturday I joined a group of women from my church to hike the Maryland Heights Trail near Harpers Ferry, WV.

If the name “Harpers Ferry” sounds vaguely familiar to you… it should. There is so much history about the area, especially from the Civil War, including John Brown’s Raid.  The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park covers parts of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, and was about an hour away from DC.

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Our hiking group.

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As you can still there is still a lot green on the trees although it varied based on how high we were. Personally I loved that there was a great blend of fall and summer colors. After week of higher temps in the 80s, the temperature dropped quite a bit the night before the hike, giving us the perfect weather for a fall hike.

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I still don’t know very many of these ladies all that well, but I really value that the church I attend puts such an emphasis on small groups and community.

I had a great time with everyone!

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The hike was challenging in a few places, but not too bad. What is more amazing is that I didn’t fall once… I think that is a first for me. You would think being so short and a dancer as a kid would help my balance, but no, most of the time it is quite the opposite.

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I know this is probably a little creepy but I couldn’t pass up a good photo.

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If you know me well you know that my favorite place to be is up in the mountains. I am a bit partial to the Blue Mountains in Oregon, but these ones sure didn’t disappoint. Its been another busy couple of weeks at work so a full day out of the city, enjoying the fall colors, with great company was exactly what I needed. And I am so glad I decided last minute to take my camera. I use it so much for work stuff and touring around DC, that it was nice to get in more practice with a different subject.

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We didn’t explore the little town that much, but it was so cute! I definitely want to go back and focus more on the history.

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Happy Fall!

Cheers!

Country Fair Blog Party
Career/Professional, Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Guatemala Day 1 and 2

As I sit down to write this I feel overwhelmed. I wish I could just hard wire people to my brain, so you can absorb every exciting thing I am experiencing.

Let me back up a little though…

If you don’t know, I am in Antigua, Guatemala for my job. Aside from two U.S. offices we also have 15 other offices around the world. So every other year we have a World Staff Conference for most of us to meet together. We are also joined by farmers on our board of directors, a few staff members from our state commissions and a few other industry guests.

I have my nice camera with me so many of the ones in this post are either from my phone, or pulled off the camera unedited. When I get home I will do a couple of extra posts that feature the better pictures edited. But I also wanted to utilize my blog as a bit of a travel journal to better capture my experience and of course share with my friends and family. Aside from a family vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I have never traveled internationally. Not joining a summer or spring break study abroad in college is one of my few legitimate regrets. It is one of many reasons why I took this job, to have another chance to explore and experience more of what’s out there. I also want to throw a disclaimer out there, as a communicator and writer, I am WELL AWARE that there are lot of errors in the post. However, I didn’t have a lot of extra time to go through and edit, though I might later.

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Day 1: August 29, 2015

The first day was mostly spent traveling. Most of us traveling from the headquarters office started out bright and early with a 7 a.m. flight. (Side note: one of our employees and his family who were joining us on the trip were involved in a accident in the taxi they were taking to the airport. Everyone will be ok, but one was hurt pretty bad, so sending some good thoughts and prayers that direction would be much appreciated.) Our connection was through Atlanta and we flew into the capital city, Guatemala City.  This was also my first time flying first-class (insert 13 year old girl scream here)!! Now this isn’t something I should get used to for work, it was just a special treat because we had some points to use, but man that sure is the life.

There was some concern leading up to this trip. Guatemala can  be an unsafe place at times, and is consistently toward the top of the State Departments list of dangerous places. But you know, some of our American cities can be just as unsafe too, so a bit of extra planning and a few talks about general safety (and common sense) and we were good to go.

Coming out the airport we were met by our shuttle driver. It was a little over an hour from the airport to our hotel in Antigua. The country of Guatemala is a week away from its elections, so  propaganda is everywhere! Apparently they are also trying to impeach their sitting president at the same time (I’m a little confused by this so certainly don’t read this as actual news) so there are also a lot of protests going on, making it that much harder to maneuver through traffic. The drive to Antigua was a bit miserable. It’s common for me to get a little dizzy and nauseous in the car on windy roads and that combined with the down hill on straining breaks after a day of travel got to me a little. When I got to the hotel I took a short nap and felt much better.

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Court yard outside my room

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Speaking of the hotel. Oh my goodness, it is beautiful! It is built in an old convent and everywhere you turn there are pieces of history, the entire place is considered to be 5 different museums. That first evening there was a wedding going on that passersby could view from a distance and the entire resort was covered in lit candles. So beautiful.

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The evening was spent relaxing and venturing out to enjoy some dinner.  One of our employees in our Mexico City office chose a place and ordered for the whole table. Mexican/Latin food is by far my favorite kind of food so I was in heaven. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures there besides the restaurant sign, but there was a marimba (?) band playing and you could watch the women making the tortillas. I think I ate at least 6…

Day 2: August 30, 2015

Let’s continue to talk about food…
When I vacationed in Cabo with my family a few years back I thought I had had the best meal that I would ever have at one of the Mexican buffets. But no…the buffet here was been better. Pretty sure we’re just going to stop counting how many tortillas I eat this week. And papusas! They are thicker corn patty, much like a dense pancake, that is stuff with I think sausage, chiles and other yummy goodness.

Because we have so many people coming in from around the world, those who got here on Saturday, an extra full day to enjoy. About 30 of us chose to go on a full day hike up the Volcan de Pacaya. This volcano is consistently active, but similar to the volcanos in Hawaii, so it doesn’t “explode” that often, just consistently steams and flows. It was an amazing experience. It took about an hour an a half to drive to where we started the hike. With a little ginger Dramamine, I did much better on this drive. The drive took us through a lot of Guatemala City. We’re told about 2% of the country has most of wealth so there is a lot of poverty. It definitely makes you take a step back for a moment. A couple of things I observed and information from the tour guide:

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– They burn all of their trash and we saw that along the road.
– A lot of parts of the city did not have sidewalks. In a lot of places the homes and businesses are built above what I would call a ditch and so from the road there were a lot of small concrete ramps connected to the upper parts
– We continued to see lots of demonstrations, parades, etc. for the election, the tour guide said there was 12 candidates, including 2 women. This is significant because only 3 countries in Central America have had women presidents, but not Guatemala.
– There were so many little nurseries and beautiful flowers.
– There is so much color everywhere. Buildings, doors, signs and clothes, making even some of the really poverty stricken areas beautiful in their own ways.
– Corn is their main commodity and its grown in every little available patch of ground, even in the city. It was also amusing to hear our people from the PNW, who are using to farming on hilly terrain, to see grain crops grown on such steep grades, much like you would see done in vineyards.
– Other top commodities include coffee beans, bananas, beans, and many other fruits and vegetables.
– Once out of the city the drive up the mountain had insane switchbacks and curves, making mountain driving in Oregon look a bit pathetic.

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Once we made it to the starting point of the hike we were swarmed by little kids selling walking sticks for a dollar. Now I am not a very coordinated person, plus I had my camera around my neck, so I really thought that a stick would just make it worse. PEOPLE, always buy the walking stick. About halfway up I took one from someone who had two, and while I could have made it without it going up, going down it was a lifesaver. The hike was REALLY hard. I’ve gotten back into running lately and was pretty optimistic, but it was really steep and pretty rough, not to mention the altitude. I took comfort in knowing that just about everyone, including those who were pretty fit, found it challenging at some point. Surprisingly I only tripped and fell once, getting a nasty bruise, because saving my camera meant breaking the fall with my leg. There was the option to ride a horse for a small fee, which I thought would be fun, but I really wanted to push myself and do it all on foot. The men with the horses followed us the entire hike and anytime you stopped or looked to be struggling they would yell “taxi?” I was a part of a group bringing up the rear, both because it was easier to go slow and steady, and I stopped a lot for pictures. It was kind of neat though because the guide that stayed with us would stop, with the help of one of our people translated, and share about some of different plants we were seeing.

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There was a lake crater down to the right.
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This is Mark, who was my boss all through college at the IGP Institute at K-State. He helped me prepare for my interview for this job and has been a great friend and mentor.

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The peak to the left is the “Agua” volcano.

The highest point that you are allowed to hike is at 75,000 ft., up to the start of what they call the lava fields. Last year in 2014, was the last time that the volcano had a really big flow/explosion (from what I understood.) The hike took us down into the fields, from where we had peaked and that by far the hardest part because the ash on the ground was very similar to sand (think running on the beach). I think I slipped and land on my behind at least three times.

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Volcan de Pacaya
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The lava fields
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Go K-State! Mark from the IGP Institute is on the left and Aaron from Kansas Wheat is on the right. There are quite a few K-Stater’s here!
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Made it to the top! I was very proud of myself!

Next was my favorite part… we got to roast marshmellows in a small hotspot hole that they found/dug that where you could see a bit of the lava. I know it goes without saying but it was SO HOT. In the picture, where you can see my hand holding the stick, I could only leave it there for a few moments at a time. We then stopped by the “Lava Shop” that sold jewelry and small woven bags, with much of the proceeds going back into education. I bought these three small rings made from the lava rock that came with bags for my mom, my sister and myself (Surprise Mom and Jancz!) The triangle represents the volcano, which Guatemala considers sacred in their culture. I was told that if you are feeling negative energy you wear pointing one way, and if the energy is positive, you wear it the other way. The circles represent the lake crater at the other volcano across the valley in many of my pictures. This is the “Agua” volcano, which is dormant. In 1541 (?) it rained so much that it filled one of the craters, creating a lake.

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One of my co-workers.

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Side note: Has anyone seen the Pixar short film “Lava” that is shown at the beginning of the new “Inside Out”?  Basically, its adorable. A lot of the jewelry had the phrases “I Lava U” and “I Lava It” on them, and apparently they’ve been selling those for about three years, but just this summer since the movie came out, those have become their most popular item.

I couldn’t get it to play for me so I don’t know if this is the whole video or not…

A few more highlights throughout the hike:

– The hardened molten rock, is really sharp, much like coral would be. We didn’t see any active red flows but the rock radiated heat both from the volcano and the sun.
– There were three dogs that followed us the whole hike. It is common to see dogs roaming around at various stages of health. These ones could not have been more than a year or so old, and though they were fairly clean, they were very skinny. Aside from the fact that they were begging, they were very sweet and most of us gave in at some point and shared a bit of our snacks.
– The guys at the Lava Shop told me that they had just celebrated their 1,500 hike, and that they usually opt to walk and not use the horses. One also said “it’s the best commute there, I can drink all the beer I want.” #priorities
– On the drive back to Antigua we stopped at a gas station. I was amused to see that the Coke products had Spanish names and phrases for the “Share a Coke with…” campaign.
– I put on sunscreen everywhere but my neck, and because of both my backpack and camera straps I have large, VERY red triangle covering one side of my neck.

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This sign shows a really good overview of the hike.
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Our whole group.

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Back in Antigua at our resort, we all rested until the evening reception. Like the wedding, our area was all candle lit. I thought it was a bit weird though that the servers were dressed as monks. Afterward, everyone broke into smaller groups for dinner. It’s interesting, because some of the restaurants have armed guards standing outside and some don’t. I shared a great filet mignon with one of my co-workers and since it was someone’s birthday, we had a round of tequila shots (so good!)

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If you aren’t my family or close friends, I applaud you for making it to the end. I expect that this will be the longest entry, but we’ll see! It was a lot to write but I know I will be happy looking back later.

Salud!