the-big-trip-month-seventeen-round-up

This month has been a lot more settled than last month, when I seemed to be in a different place every night, but still a pretty busy month none-the-less.

Month Seventeen began with a couple more days in Vancouver, where I fit in a bike around the Stanley Park seawall, a wander around my favourite neighbourhood – Kitsilano – and a couple of lunch meet ups with friends despite the dark skies and creeping cold.

Then it was time to say goodbye to my favourite city in the world and head back to my favourite city in the US – Seattle. I arrived late so I checked into a hostel downtown for the night. The next afternoon I flew back to Denver after meeting up with Dani for a morning eating our way around Pike Place Market.

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My week in Denver involved a lot of Halloween prep and celebrations – carving pumpkins and putting the final touches on our costumes before a Halloween night out downtown on the Friday and a big Halloween house party on Saturday. I also had a lot of work to catch up on so I knuckled down while we were staying at Toby’s Mum’s place out in Brighton.

We were asked back to the three kitty house in Wheatridge for the third time and it was great to see the kitties again, although all three of them were on medication for stomach issues. They didn’t like us much after we had to force-feed them yellow, sticky goo each day.

Toby was offered a new work opportunity with his friend Mike so we set out at the end of October to Phoenix, with a short stop to break up the journey in Espanola at Toby’s Dad’s place along the way.

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The week in Phoenix saw Toby going out to do training for a few hours a day so I kept myself busy exploring Tempe and Superstition Springs, hiking in mountain parks, and catching up with my friend Sarah who I attended the excellent First Fridays art event with in downtown Phoenix. We also went to Top Golf with Mike and Rima, where you hit balls off a platform and try getting it into different netted areas to gain points. I am not a golf fan but this was pretty fun, and the food and cocktails served to your table right on the platform definitely helped. It was great getting to know Mike and his wife Rima, who are both lovely people and awesome hosts.

After our time in Phoenix we headed back to Espanola to Toby’s Dad’s for a night then checked into the nicest place I have stayed all year: Buffalo Thunder Hilton Resort, just outside of Santa Fe. We spent three nights in this beautiful adobe resort to work a conference, but we also enjoyed all of the facilities including the fitness centre, indoor pool and jacuzzi, multiple restaurants, and casino. We also had fun working the conference itself, taking photos then condensing them into a video to be played at the end.

Once the conference was over, we headed back to Espanola for a week, using it as our base to explore more of northern New Mexico. It was also my birthday while we were there, and I had a great day in and around Taos.

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We also did day trips to Santa Fe, Los Alamos, the sacred Santuario de Chimayo, Bandelier National Monument, and the Ghost Ranch. I came away feeling like I got a great overview of New Mexico, although there is still so much to see.

And that brings us to where we are currently – housesitting on a large property in the mountains near the town of Green Mountain Falls in Colorado. The past few days since we got here we have hiked on the property with the three dogs we are looking after, had Toby’s Mum, brother and sister in law over for boardgames and dinner, went into nearby Woodland Park and Manitou Springs for lunch, and enjoyed an afternoon at a spa. It has even snowed which was super exciting for me.

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We love it here so far, and still have a few days left. It’s going to be hard to leave but we have some exciting travel plans on the horizon.

Now onto the Stats:

Countries visited: USA, Canada

Places visited:

  • Canada: Vancouver
  • Washington: Seattle
  • Colorado: Denver, Green Mountain Falls, Woodland Park, Manitou Springs
  • Arizona: Phoenix
  • New Mexico: Espanola, Santa Fe, Chimayo, Taos, Ojo Caliente, Los Alamos, Bandelier National Monument

Islands visited: No islands this month

National Parks and Monuments visited:

  • Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Best meal: As I haven’t been eating out as much this month, I don’t have as many contenders for best meal but the ones I do have are solid. I loved the London Fog donut at Cartems in Vancouver, the delicious seafood dim sum at Sun Sei Wah in Vancouver, and the baked apple and cream cheese piroshky from Piroshky, Piroshky in Seattle. I also had some of the best tacos ever from a food truck that was parked up at the Dia de los Muertos Festival in Denver – rock lobster and tempura avocado. I was taught to make apple pie from scratch when I was in Espanola by Toby’s Dad’s flatmate and best friend Dennis, and it was blow your mind incredible. And I am going to round my month of food highlights off with the Blueberry Bread pudding with cream and custard I had at Mucky Duck in Green Mountain Falls. Not a bad month for good food.

Worst meal: Ramen at Ramen Danbo in Vancouver. This place is meant to be one of the best in Vancouver and there are frequently lines of people waiting to eat here. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the ramen – I have come to the conclusion that I am just not a ramen fan. The pork broth always makes me feel a bit sick afterwards and I just don’t get the big deal about the dish. If I am going to have Japanese, give me sushi, tempura and gyoza over ramen any day.

Best craft beer: I haven’t been drinking a lot of beer this month – it has been more of a margarita month – but one beer that comes to mind that I quite enjoyed is the Broken Spoke Honey Wheat Ale from Chama River Brewery in Albuquerque. This beer was smooth, with a subtle honey taste.

Hikes:

  • Butcher Jones trail around section of Saguaro Lake near Phoenix AZ 5miles/8km return
  • Butte Loop trail in Papago Park, Phoenix AZ 2miles/3.25km loop
  • South Mountain Park, Phoenix AZ – trail blazing approx. 3miles/4.8km return
  • Main Loop Hike and Alcove House in Bandelier National Monument NM 2.2miles/3.5km loop
  • Chimney Rock trail in Ghost Ranch NM 3miles/4.8km return
  • Box Canyon trail in Ghost Ranch NM 3miles/4.8km return

Reading: Joyland by Stephen King. I haven’t met a Stephen King book I don’t like and Joyland was no exception. All about a young college student working at old-school fun park during his summer break. The story involves a haunted ride, an unsolved murder, and an unlikely friendship, with a typical King twist at the end. A great, light read.

Watching: Black Mirror. Damn this show is good. Each episode is a stand alone tale, with every suspense filled story basically supporting techno-paranoia in the modern world by portraying unexpected consequences to new technologies. It’s pretty dark but also incredibly well done and we have been plowing through the episodes.

Highlights:

Biking the Seawall in Vancouver

One of my favourite things to do in Vancouver is to bike or walk the magnificent 10km sea wall trail that loops around Stanley Park. With the temperate rainforest of the park on one side, the sea on the other, and with lofty mountains surrounding on all sides: the seawall is a stunning place to take in the beauty of Vancouver. It was overcast this time around but it was still so beautiful. I even saw a seal hanging out just offshore.

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A Sunny Day at Pike Place Market in Seattle

It may be touristy but I still love Pike Place Market in Seattle. There is always such a buzzing atmosphere and it’s fun to check out all the stalls and shops selling local food products, clothing, and crafts. On this visit I finally got to try the famous clam chowder at Market Chowder and piroshkys at the even more famous Piroshky, Piroshky. Piroshkys are similar to cornish pasties and we tried a smoked cheese and mushroom one and a baked apple and cream cheese one. It was all delicious. And as an added bonus – the sun was finally shining after almost a week of constant rain.

An Evening of Pumpkin Carving

As we don’t really celebrate Halloween in New Zealand, I have never carved a pumpkin but it is something I have wanted to do for years. In preparation for the big Halloween bash at Fo and Afor’s place, a few of us went over to their place for an evening of pumpkin carving. We drunk  pumpkin ale, ate chilli and listened to a Halloween playlist whilst carving our creations. It was so much fun! I carved a traditional jack-o’-lantern for my first pumpkin, then a bat silhouette for my second. I’m looking forward to doing it again next year.

Halloween Shenanigans

I was so excited to be spending Halloween in the US this year. I also spent it over here back in 2012 when I was in Miami, but as I was only passing through, I didn’t have a costume or a specific party to go to. This year we planned our costumes far in advance, going as the Wolf and Red Riding Hood – if the Wolf caught her (lots of fake blood). The big celebration was on the Saturday night at Fo and Afor’s place where they held a massive house party, with about 150 people attending. It was such a fun night with loads of family, new friends, dancing, delicious treats and lots and lots of beer.

We also went into downtown Denver on Friday night in different costumes that we pulled out of the costume box at Fo and Afor’s  – I was a Zombie Flapper and Toby was Darth Vader. There was a street party celebrating Dia de los Muertos and we bar hopped a bit. I can definitely see why Halloween is a lot of people’s, including Toby’s, favourite holiday.

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First Fridays in Phoenix

On the first Friday of the month in Phoenix, a lot of galleries and museums downtown offer free entry, and there are also street markets, buskers and generally a heck of a lot of people wandering the streets and frequenting the bars and restaurants in the area. My week in Phoenix coincided with this fun event so me and my friend Sarah went to check it out. After jack fruit fries and roasted brussels at Welcome Diner, we headed to the Phoenix Art Museum to check out two exhibitions: one showcasing Avant-Garde Fashion and one showcasing the work of the artist Kehinde Wiley, who paints provocative pieces where people of colour are painted in an 18th century aristocratic style. This guy is extremely talented and I loved the bright backgrounds of his portraits which were cartoon like and very eye-catching. Along with the Phoenix Art Museum we also went to check out the markets at a converted warehouse that is now home to chic Desoto Central Market, before a stroll along Roosevelt Row where there were street markets and live bands. It was a great night.

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Staying at the Beautiful Buffalo Thunder Hilton Resort

Toby and I worked a conference that his Dad helps to organise for the Centre for the Education and Study of Diverse Populations while we were in New Mexico. Our job was to take photos of the two day conference, run a photo booth, then make a video of the best photos to be shown on the last day. I really enjoyed working the event itself, but I loved where we were staying even more. We spent three nights at the beautiful Buffalo Thunder Hilton Resort which is a giant adobe complex full of Native American art, an indoor pool and spa complex, multiple restaurants and a casino. As well as working, we also made time to enjoy the facilities – swimming in the pool, hitting the gym, soaking in the giant jacuzzi, eating a shit ton of seafood at the buffet – as well as sitting in the sun on our private balcony and lighting our mini adobe fireplace when it got cold at night. We don’t stay in hotels often as it isn’t in our budget, so we really enjoyed this indulgence.

An Inspiring Message of Hope from a Chicana Activist

I was more than lucky to hear the incredible Shirley Romano Otero speak while at the conference we worked in New Mexico. Shirley is a Chicana Activist and is an incredibly passionate advocate for the rights of Chicanos (Americans of Mexican descent) and other minorities, in fact she was profiled by the New York Times when she was at Standing Rock to fight against the pipeline. Her main message was that although many people of colour feel helpless and sad at the moment, there is still hope – you just need to fight for it. This is something she has been doing for over twenty years. What an incredible woman.

Exploring the Cliff Dwellings in Bandelier National Monument

I love ruins, and I love history so it is no surprise that I was excited about visiting the cliff dwellings in Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico. The cliff dwellings at Bandelier are on a much smaller scale than at Mesa Verde but they are all self-guided, have some pretty steep ladders to climb up to reach them (it makes it more of an adventure), and the setting in a forested canyon is very pretty. The canyon and ruins are only a small section of the park so I would love to explore some of the more remote corners of Bandelier next time we are in the area.

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Soaking at Ojo Caliente

One of my favourite hot springs complexes is the luxurious Ojo Caliente so we made sure to head up there a couple of times during our almost two weeks in New Mexico, including for an evening soak on my birthday. There are numerous pools both covered and outside, of various temperatures and with different minerals, along with a eucalyptus steam room and a sauna. My favourites are the soda pool – which is the hottest pool and a great spot for star gazing, and the iron pool – with its pebble bottom and large rocks for sitting. There is also a mud fountain that is open in the warmer months where you smother mud all over yourself, lie in the sun to let it dry, then wash off in a small pool.

A Taos Birthday

On my birthday this year we set out for a full day exploring the small mountain town of Taos. Taos is known for its adobe buildings, thriving arts scene, and Native American and Hispanic culture. On the way there we stopped for breakfast at Rancho de Chimayo for a traditional New Mexico breakfast of eggs, bacon, and hash browns with green chile and sopapillas – a type of fry bread – including mini ones with cinnamon and sugar (so good!). We visited Taos Plaza which is surrounded by attractive adobe buildings housing galleries and shops selling local products and handicrafts.

Taos Pueblo is just out of town and also has many gorgeous adobe buildings including a unique multi-level one. After stopping for a beer at Taos Mesa Brewing, I went through the Earthships Visitor Centre to learn more about how these otherworldly looking eco homes work – Toby and I would love to build our own. Then we finished the day with dinner and a soak at Ojo, as mentioned above. It was a great way to celebrate turning 34. And when your boyfriend is ten years older than you, you always feel young, no matter how old you are turning.

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Meow Wolf – An Art Installation with a Difference

One of Toby’s friends, Javier, has a lifetime pass to Meow Wolf, an immersive art experience in Santa Fe which hosts regular events including talks and concerts. I didn’t really know what to expect when we met him there one evening, which was probably for the best because it is kind of hard to explain this fantastical place. To give you a basic run down – the premise is that something has happened inside a house that has torn the fabric of space and time. There are secret passages throughout the house, including through the fireplace and the fridge, that will lead you to crazy fantasy realms. It kind of reminded me of a psychedelic adult version of a McDonalds Playland. Hands down one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.

Discovering Santa Fe

It wasn’t just Meow Wolf that I loved in Santa Fe – I thought that the city itself was pretty darn cool too. From the hipster Railyard and Guadelupe Districts, to the narrow Canyon Road with its adobe art galleries, and Santa Fe Plaza also surrounded by galleries and restaurants housed in historic adobe buildings – I thought Santa Fe was beautiful, and full of history and culture. Most of the places we went in Santa Fe, it didn’t feel like we were in a city at all, but rather a gorgeous colonial town in Mexico. I definitely want to explore more of this captivating city in the future: I have a feeling there is still so much to see.

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Hiking at Ghost Ranch

When I was doing research about places to visit in northern New Mexico, I came across an article that talked about Ghost Ranch. This is where the iconic American artist Georgia O’Keefe made her home and where many of her paintings were inspired – by the surrounding beauty, of red and orange desert and mountains. The land is now owned by the Presbyterian Church, but you can visit the museums and hike the trails for a fee of only $5 per person. There are also guided horse treks and tours to the section of the ranch where O’Keefe lived but we were content to just explore by ourselves. I ended up hiking two short trails, one to the striking chimney rock with amazing views over the desert below, and another following a peaceful river to a narrow box canyon. The landscapes were indeed beautiful and it is somewhere I would love to return to, to do some more of the hiking trails.

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A Housesit in the Mountains

Our current housesit in the mountains near Colorado Springs is our favourite one yet! The house itself is architecturally stunning and so massive with gorgeous mountain and forest views, a yoga/meditation room, a sauna, and 40 acres of land. Top that off with three good-natured dogs and a chilled black kitty, and the fact it is only a 15 minute drive to one of my favourite little Colorado towns – Manitou Springs – and you have yourself an awesome sit. We stayed the first night with the  homeowners who are such cool people, and they even took us out for dinner at a really nice restaurant in nearby Green Mountain Falls and left us grocery and spa vouchers. It has been snowing and I think with the snow it is even more beautiful here. We feel very lucky.

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Spa Afternoon in Manitou Springs

We have already used two of the spa vouchers that the homeowners left us for the SunWater Spa in Manitou Springs, and loved our experience there. After an awesome pizza lunch, a few games of skeet ball and a look around the shops in town, we spent a couple of hours soaking in the open air tubs with mountain views. Unfortunately a lady slipped and fell while we were there, breaking her wrist and having to be taken away by paramedics, but other than that it was a very pleasant and relaxing experience. If I could soak everyday, I would. I guess that is the Kiwi in me – I come from a land of natural hot springs after all.

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Spending so little but still having an amazing month

After last month’s massive overspend, I was so happy to spend so little this month – my cheapest month of this trip yet. I had been stressing about money but now that I have also taken on a couple of new clients, the pressure has definitely eased.

Lowlights:

Trump

Not many lows this month but one very big one – Trump. I know I am not American, but now that I have an American boyfriend and because I spend a lot of time in the country, I was really upset about how election day panned out. I just can’t see how this could even remotely be a good thing. I understand how a lot of people are fed up with the system and the corruption in American politics, but I don’t think this man, who has zero experience in politics and only seems to care about his own self-interests, could do anything good for this country. I guess only time will tell how this whole big fiasco plays itself out.

Not enough exercise

Because we have been staying mostly in places where we are far away from parks and hiking trails, I haven’t done nearly enough walking this month, and I am definitely feeling it. I feel squishy and unhealthy so I am looking forward to swimming in the sea and walking on the beach and around the towns of Barbados, Dominica, and Mexico over the next couple of months to get back in shape. It is also definitely time for this pasty white girl to work on her tan.

Spending:

Total: USD$409.50

It’s amazing how much my spending can change one month to the next. Last month I shattered my budget, spending $1130, while this month I spent pretty much a third of that. The big difference is that we have mostly been staying with people this month so that meant we weren’t paying for accommodation. This also meant we weren’t eating out as much as we weren’t on the road. This month’s low spend makes me feel a lot better about my budget going forward.

Accommodation $40

My accommodation costs this month are super low as I only paid for one night’s accommodation the whole month – one night in a dorm room in a hostel in Seattle. The rest of the month we stayed with friends and family, we spent three nights at an awesome Hilton Resort just outside of Santa Fe which was covered by the conference we were working, then we have been housesitting for the past week.

Food and Drink $240

Now this is more like it! I spent more than double this last month so it’s great to be back down to a reasonable spending level again. We were staying with a lot of friends and family this month and they very kindly fed us which drastically cut our food and drink spend down as we weren’t eating out so much.

Clothing $0

After spending damn near a fortune (for me anyway) last month on clothes, I completely abstained this month.

Transport $43.50

  • Vancouver Public Transport $2
  • Bus Vancouver to Seattle $13
  • Seattle Public Transport $5.50
  • Parking $3
  • Petrol $20

We have been driving around a lot this month but Toby has mostly been paying for the petrol, and we also have mileage and gas covered to get from Denver to New Mexico for the conference we worked there.

Activities $23

  • Tonto Forest Pass – Phoenix $8
  • Phoenix Art Museum – Special Exhibition entry $8
  • Earthship Visitor Centre in Taos $7

Only a handful of activity costs this month – Forest Pass for hiking around Saguaro Lake, entry to the the Special Exhibitions at the Phoenix Art Museum (entry to the Museum itself was free as it was the first Friday of the month), and entry into the Earthship Visitor Centre. I also did a bit of hiking and general exploring. Toby paid for us to get into Taos Pueblo ($16), Meow Wolf ($30), and Ghost Ranch ($5). We have a yearly pass for US National Parks which covered entry into Bandelier. Oh, and we sneaked into Ojo – twice.

Other $63

  • Makeup $12
  • US Monthly Phone Plan $30
  • Bank withdrawal fee $10
  • Slot machines $2
  • Toiletries $9

Just a few incidentals this month. I lost my powder foundation so I had to buy a new one. I also withdrew money from my New Zealand account and the fees are stupidly high.

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What’s in store for next month:

The next month begins where the last month ended – housesitting in Green Mountain Falls.

Depending on how much snow there is, we are planning on exploring historic Old Colorado City and heading back to the SunWater Spa in Manitou, and we will also be going into Denver for Thanksgiving which will be held at Toby’s Auntie and Uncle’s place in Aurora. It will be my first American Thanksgiving and I am excited!

Once we finish the housesit, we may do a night winter camping with Fo and Afor somewhere close to Denver, then it will only be three more nights in Denver before we are travelling again.

Our first stop: Barbados!

We have two weeks on the island and are looking forward to discovering the local cuisine and culture, swimming in super clear Caribbean waters, and walking white sandy beaches. There will also be some biking, hiking and snorkelling thrown in there.

From Barbados, the last week of month eighteen will be on the nature lover’s island of Dominica. I have heard such great things about this volcanic island, including that it hasn’t been discovered by mass tourism – unlike many of the neighbouring islands. This is largely due to the fact it doesn’t have any white sand beaches, although it does have beautiful black sand beaches. There are also no big resorts here.

A visit to Dominica is more about enjoying the untouched natural beauty of the island, in its jungled and volcanic interior.

I can’t wait to discover it for myself.

To read additional Monthly Round Ups, you can find them here

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2 comments on “The Big Trip: Month Seventeen Round Up”

  1. Your trip sounds amazing!! So I take it you are on an ongoing around the world extravaganza extended holiday?? Keep having a blast, looking forward to following your adventures!

    • Thanks Anita. It started out as a one year trip but now that I met my American boyfriend and we both want a travel lifestyle, I am doing some work on the road too. When I go back to New Zealand for 6 -8 weeks at a time, I do some temping work as well.

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