Happiness Is…

Happiness is…

*Hiking in my FAV Bay Area locale – Marin Headlands/Mount Tam – with friends

*Anemones, anemones, and even MORE anemones lurking in the South Beach tide pools

*Purple and orange starfish hiding amongst the thousands upon thousands of crabs and millions upon million of mussels

*Puerto Rican dining at San Rafael’s finest, the VERY TASTY Sol Food

*Inspirational, educational and just downright HYSTERICAL conversations with friends

*Natural beauty… of which the Bay Area has more than its fair share

*Eleven and 1/4 miles of BEAUTIFUL Mount Tam trails – Coastal, Heather Cutoff, Owl, Redwood Creek,…

*South Beach and Slide Ranch – with its ECLECTIC assortment of animals including white Silkie chickens, Ancona ducks, bee hives, and lots of tide pools

*Spiritual retreat center – the PEACEFUL Zen Center Gardens – the perfect spot to catch hundreds of Monarch butterflies enjoying flower nectar while en route to Mexico
*Introducing older and newer FRIENDS from various facets of my life – and even meeting a few new faces

*Sunday afternoon and evening BLISS!

Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

Thanks Wayland, Kim, Emma, Andrei, Roxana, Hector, Carolina, Jesus, Jean, Yan, Vik, Manuel, Zach, Ann, Radu, Lara, Ron, Sajjad, and Catherine for helping make the day spectacular!! 😘

#iluv2xplore #BayArea #GoldenGateNationalRecreationArea #GGNRA #Mount Tam #MarinHeadlands #MuirBeach #MuirBeachOverlook #SlideRanch #SouthBeach #NCAL #California #dreamexplorediscover #hikingbackpacking #naturalbeauty #nature #whyILOVEtheBayArea

2015-Sept-27: One of many happy moments spending the day with friends wandering the countless Mount Tam trails

2015-Sept-27: One of many happy moments spending the day with friends wandering the countless Mount Tam trails

2015-Sept-27: One of many happy moments spending the day with friends wandering the countless Mount Tam trails

2015-Sept-27: One of many happy moments spending the day with friends wandering the countless Mount Tam trails

2015-Sept-27: One of many happy moments spending the day with friends wandering the countless Mount Tam trails

2015-Sept-27: One of many happy moments spending the day with friends wandering the countless Mount Tam trails

 

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Jesus Asked, Mother Nature Answered

Jesus (Nuñez) asked (cool weather, no sun), and Mother Nature answered… Our escape from the almost month long San Francisco heat wave to the Marin Headlands & Green Gulch Zen Center was filled with fog, cool weather, BEAUTIFUL coastal views, and hundreds upon hundreds of VIBRANT flowers. I couldn’t have asked for a better day… Or better peeps to spend it with 😋. Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

2015-Sep-12 Our escape to the SF coastline

2015-Sep-12 Our escape to the SF coastline

#whyiLOVEthebayarea #iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #BayArea #GoldenGateNationalRecreationArea #GGNRA #MarinHeadlands

UNDENIABLE!

Exploring a few of my favorite trails with a few long-time friends and some newbies… En route to a few of my favorite Marin Headlands spots… Each visit is just as exhilarating as the 1st time and leaves me with a HUGE smile… UNDENIABLE BEAUTY!! Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

Ron, Desmond, Tina, Ann, & Jordan, thanks for contributing to such an INCREDIBLE day!! 

2015-Jun-21 Views of the San Francisco coastline, Point Bonita Lighthouse, and Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands trails.

2015-Jun-21 Views of the San Francisco coastline, Point Bonita Lighthouse, and Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands trails.

2015-Jun-21 Views of the San Francisco coastline, Point Bonita Lighthouse, and Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands trails.

2015-Jun-21 Views of the San Francisco coastline, Point Bonita Lighthouse, and Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands trails.

Oscar’s Kodak Moment

I was supposed to be learning how to take GREAT sunset and nighttime photos (at one of the premier locations to capture the San Francisco skyline – Treasure Island)… BUT, while waiting for the sun to set and while watching the fog rapidly roll in covering up the sun and most of the skyline, this little rascal, who I aptly named Oscar (after one of my FAV Sesame Street characters), captured my attention. He quickly scampered from some large rocks on the shore to the rubbish bins lining the parking lot. He was scavenging the trash cans for dinner and was NOT HAPPY that I was capturing his binge… I got to see his not-so-pearly whites and hear his not-so-pleasant growl… Not just once… Not just twice… but on three separate occasions 😁… Have no fear, Oscar, dumpster diving is SOOOO not my thing!! However, capturing moments is…😘😘 This must have been his “cheat” day as he opted for junk food (what looked to be fried chicken bones, French fries, and a plastic container of Ranch dressing) instead of the fresh fish, crabs, and whatever else is in the San Francisco Bay. I wonder if I should have tossed some Pepto Bismol, Tums, or some other antacid in the bin????

12-Jun-2015: “Oscar’s Kodak Moment,” Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA, US

 

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #california #treasureisland #sanfrancisco #photography #sunset #travel #sanfranciscoskyline #oscar #sesamestreet #dumpsterdiving

To Lure… lo͝or… To Tempt… tem(p)t…

I really think the Sierras and Mother Nature were in cahoots this weekend… The Sierras teased me – MERCILESSLY – with their undeniable BEAUTY while Mother Nature tested my love of the Sierras by showcasing a wide range of elements – from sunny/partly cloudy to rain, sleet, snow, and hail. Yep… Almost marble sized… Thankfully, Mother Nature played nice most of Sunday, only tossing rain and hail at us a few times for ~5 minutes each time, and then immediately returning to relatively warm temperatures (for the mountain region) and sunny/partly cloudy skies. The Sierras did what they do best – lure you deeper into the wilderness with more and more SPECTACULAR scenery. And I am a sucker for a really good landscape – even sans DSLR camera as it decided to throw a silent tantrum after experiencing rain and snow the day before. We ended up hiking the entire 12.5 mile Rush Creek Trail loop from Silver Lake to Gem Lake, over Agnew Pass (~9,900 ft), and through Spooky Meadow. Sadly, my iPhone photos don’t do the Ansel Adams Wilderness justice 😥. My heart still skips a beat or two as I recall some of the MAGNIFICENT views…  

2015-May-24: Ansel Adams Wilderness, CA. 12.5 mile Rush Creek Trail loop from Silver Lake to Gem Lake, over Agnew Pass (~9,900 ft), and through Spooky Meadow.

Although I am deeply in LOVE with the Marin Headlands/Mount Tam, I must admit that my LOVE for the Sierras is growing… Yosemite, Inyo National Forest, and Ansel Adams Wilderness, I am greatly anticipating our next play date 😘.

2015-May-24: Ansel Adams Wilderness, CA. 12.5 mile Rush Creek Trail loop from Silver Lake to Gem Lake, over Agnew Pass (~9,900 ft), and through Spooky Meadow.


2015-May-24: Ansel Adams Wilderness, CA. 12.5 mile Rush Creek Trail loop from Silver Lake to Gem Lake, over Agnew Pass (~9,900 ft), and through Spooky Meadow.

 

Expect the Unexpected

Not quite the Memorial Weekend I expected… A little sun, a little clouds, a LOT of rain, a little sleet, and a little snow – AND a VERY wet camera 😩😖😥. Unfortunately, my DSLR decided to protest the afternoon outing and ultimately stopped working once we had completed our 7+ mile hike to Cathedral Lakes from Tuolumne Meadows. I can’t really blame it… It was partly cloudy and cool when our hike commenced, and within 1/2 hour it had begun to drizzle. I was quite proud that I had brought my newly purchased plastic camera cover to protect my baby. The next 1/2 hour produced snow flurries, which were followed by sleet. By the time we arrived at the Upper Cathedral Lake, the wind had picked up, it was snowing and sleeting rather hard, and it was very, VERY cold. Our planned leisurely picnic at the lake turned into a relatively quick scarf down of lunch in the snow and sleet 😬. I know that weather in the Sierra Mountains in May can still be quite unpredictable, but I really did not anticipate to experience a full range of the elements on a 3-4 hour hike in LATE May. And, this was the first time my relatively new camera had experienced rain, sleet, or snow, so unfortunately, I DO understand the tantrum.

12PM PST: Highways 385 and 120 (Tioga) from June Lake, CA to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.

12PM PST: Highways 385 and 120 (Tioga) from June Lake, CA to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.

I think Mother Nature is testing my love for the Sierras 😘…

2:30PM PST: Upper Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.

2:30PM PST: Upper Cathedral Lake in Yosemite National Park.

Fingers crossed that the weather forecast of partly cloudy and 40% chance for 1 hour of rain holds true for today/tomorrow – unlike the past 2 days where 3 weather sites FAILED MISERABLY with their predictions… AND fingers doubly crossed that once my camera dries, it is fully functional. Canon, please do not fail me now!

5PM PST: Highway120 (Tioga) just past Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.

5PM PST: Highway120 (Tioga) just past Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.

 

On Top of Marin

The day started on a high… with a steep, 1600+ foot ascent above the fog to the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais (aka Mount Tam), the highest point in Marin (at ~2,570 feet) with a few of my FAV nature loving, hiking peeps 😘.

sights... NATURAL Beauty… 13.5 mile hike to the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais. The day started on a high and ended on a high - with lots of LOVELY things in between… I couldn’t ask for a better day! Good trails… Good views… Good friends… Good fun… Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

sights… NATURAL Beauty… 13.5 mile hike to the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais. The day started on a high and ended on a high – with lots of LOVELY things in between… I couldn’t ask for a better day! Good trails… Good views… Good friends… Good fun… Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

The day ended on a high… with a steep, 600+ foot ascent back to our starting point through groves of redwood and oak trees with a few of my FAV nature loving, hiking peeps 😘.  (And those that know me, know there are two things I try my best to avoid: (1) out and back hikes, and (2) ending with a climb – especially after a VERY long day of hiking 😬).

sights... NATURAL Beauty… 13.5 mile hike to the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais. The day started on a high and ended on a high - with lots of LOVELY things in between… I couldn’t ask for a better day! Good trails… Good views… Good friends… Good fun… Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

sights… NATURAL Beauty… 13.5 mile hike to the East Peak of Mount Tamalpais. The day started on a high and ended on a high – with lots of LOVELY things in between… I couldn’t ask for a better day! Good trails… Good views… Good friends… Good fun… Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

There were lots of LOVELY things in between… the PHENOMENAL 360° views of the entire Bay Area from the peak… the BEAUTIFUL trails that I had never explored (especially Troop 80, Sierra, and Lost)… the PEACEFUL rippling of the rushing Fern Creek and Redwood Creek waters… the UNEXPECTED sighting of several hummingbirds as they zipped between the trees…

And the icing on the cake… replenishment at my FAV SF sushi joint with a few of my FAV nature loving, hiking peeps 😘.

I couldn’t ask for a better day! Good trails… Good views… Good friends (the nature loving, hiking kind)… Good sushi… Good  saké… Good fun… Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

#whyiLOVEthebayarea #iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty  #mounttam #mounttamalpais #marin #eastpeakview

Wild Berries w/ a Side of Poison Oak

Muir Beach weather forecast, sunny and warm; actual weather cloudy, foggy, windy, and chilly. Not quite sure why I expected the weatherman to be right this time… Wishful thinking??? I did want a good view of the coastline from the Muir Beach Overlook as it is fogged in more often than not. Despite the weather, the UNDENIABLE beauty of the northern California coastline (as well as the hilarious entertainment provided by several of my friends) outshined the dark clouds and thick fog. (I am still chuckling over Greta’s imitation of a skunk crossing the road. Even funnier were the comments “lost in translation” as all 7 of us were born and raised in different countries – Spain, Turkey, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, and USA). Over the course of the day, the sun did make a VERY brief appearance or two… Wildflowers were center stage! Both the coastline and inland were covered in white, yellow, pink, purple, orange, and red wildflowers. So BEAUTIFUL!! The trails were also littered with wild strawberries – most of which were wrapped in poison oak. Temptation got the best of some of us… So, if over the next several days, you happen to see a few people with a poison oak rash around their mouths and on their hands, feel free to smirk 😜. All in all, a GLORIOUS afternoon! My LOVE affair continues… 

 

Sahara’s Rainbows

I was so excited to embark on our ~500km/300mi journey through the Middle and High Atlas Mountains and the Ziz Valley to the Sahara Desert. The Dude (aka dad), not so much… Over the years, I have learned that he is much more into the destination rather than the journey, but will easily go along with the flow 😊. Moha, on the other hand, was eager to show us Erfoud and the Sahara, where he grew up and where his parents and most of his siblings still reside with their families.

Our first stop was in Ifrane, “Morocco’s Switzerland.” It is a VERY expensive ski-resort town. It is a very clean and quiet city, but I found it somewhat pretentious and rather soulless. Maybe because it is not hustling and bustling with skiers at this time of year… In any event, Ifrane became a rather quick stop – just long enough to walk around for a bit and stretch our legs. We spent a bit more time in Azrou, a tiny little town just outside of Ifrane, known for great trout fishing and the Barbary Macaque, an endangered species of ape that lives in the Middle Atlas Mountains. There was a group of ~15-20 of them playing in and around the forest of cedar trees along the side of the road. From there, I can’t recall the cities but will forever have the landscape etched in my memory. The diversity of scenery was UNREAL!! I still can’t believe my eyes and glad that I have photos as proof 😉. Out of the left car window were forested mountains and lakes in cool color shades of greens, blues, and greys, while out of the right car window were barren rock mountains and an occasional oasis in warm color shades of oranges, yellows, and browns. Both scenes had snow-capped mountains in the background. Unbelievably BEAUTIFUL! I so wish I had a different camera lens with me and more time…

Drive through the Middle and High Atlas Mountains in Morocco

sights… NATURAL Beauty… A drive through the Middle and High Atlas Mountains in Morocco.

Nothing prepared me for what I was going to see and experience in the Sahara Desert. Although having lived in the Arizona desert for almost 15 years, and having spent time this past year in the deserts of Arizona, California, and Utah, I am very familiar w/ desert colors – or so I thought… I had not anticipated a full rainbow of colors in such bright hues. It was like a combination of Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Zion on steroids!

It was so INCREDIBLY peaceful watching the sunset from atop a very large sand dune. I can honestly say I have seen better sunsets… (3-January-2015 in Sequoia National Park was the best I have ever seen while 2-May-2012 in Negril, Jamaica and 5-May-2012 in Negril, Jamaica  were a close 2nd). I think it was the overall experience that made it such an AMAZING moment… Being in Morocco – a place that I had spoken about infrequently since my youth but never really had a plan to go… With my father – the only parent I have left… Celebrating his birthday – a big one, although he claims to be 39 and has since I was born 😁… In the Sahara Desert – a place that I imagined to be VERY tranquil but a place my sister really did not want me to visit because of its proximity to the dangers in Algeria – a mere 35km/20mi away – and the continued struggles in the Western Sahara Desert. Surprisingly, there was a stillness in the air. Even the camels ceased their moans, squeaks, groans, and roars and sat silently as the sun crept out of sight.

The Sahara Desert in Morocco.

sights… NATURAL Beauty… The Sahara Desert in Morocco.

I so wish I could have spent many more days just exploring the Sahara Desert but I think the novelty of the desert with the Dude was quickly wearing off 😁. He loved the surprise birthday party that Moha planned but was ready to explore something different. Had I been with some of my more outdoorsy friends and had more time in Morocco, I would have asked Moha to arrange for us to stay deeper in the desert and for much longer. He has promised to arrange that when I return.

Much to my surprise, even the Dude, who is a city boy and not really into nature, said the Sahara Desert was WONDERFUL!! His favorite experience thus far. And that means a lot coming from him…

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty

Special Moments… SF Bay Area… Always

FANTASTIC Saturday exploring the SF coastline w/ friends! There were quite a few special moments we stumbled upon throughout the day – pre-proposal preparations by a young man just above Mike Rock Beach, 4-5 whales frolicking in the waters at Land’s End, and a wedding ceremony at Baker Beach – while we also created a few of our own… The WhatsApp guy… The hordes of men salivating over Cedric’s man toy – his drone – that hopefully caught some great video close ups of the whales… The disappointment of having not packed mojitos in our bags… The glutinous amounts of food we inhaled at Mandalay… Everyone’s laughter is still ringing in my ears 😋. Thank you all for such a great day! 😋 #whyiLOVEthebayarea #iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty

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Stunning!

Why I LOVE the Bay Area… Marin Headlands… Rodeo Beach… Tennessee Cove… Black Sand Beach… Hawk Hill… And, the infamous bright red bridge (that will be adorned with $76M of suicide nets in the near future)… Such STUNNING scenery! Prashanth… Greta… Frederick… Maria… Cédric… Bruno… Hector… Carolina… Jesus… Such cool peeps who enjoy playing in nature’s playground as much as me 😋. And I can’t forget our favorite fuel – Mandalay . Thanks for such a fun day!! #whyiLOVEthebayarea #iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty

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Spoiled!

Spoiled by the BEAUTY of Mother Nature, the trails on Mount Tam, and the company of good friends… Why I LOVE the Bay Area… #whyiLOVEthebayarea #iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover

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Deer in the Headlights Day

Deer in the headlights day… And Tule Elk… LITERALLY! The day started and finished with thick fog and the reflection of many sets of eyes all around. The UNDENIABLE beauty always manages to take my breath away… Why I LOVE the Bay Area… #whyiLOVEthebayarea #iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty

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The BEST Sunset… EVER

My first visit to Sequoia National Park and I had such high hopes to explore the groves of sequoias, and of course to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world. These hopes were quickly squashed when I became chilled to the bone not even 1 hour into our hike and wanted to be finished…

Maybe it had something to do with my complete mental and physical exhaustion???  I had been working CRAZY hours for almost 8 weeks, and was riding on a high because my team and I had FINALLY resolved a huge issue the Friday before Christmas. On this same day, my high sunk to an all-time low when I realized that someone’s ego unnecessarily got the best of them, and was going to have significant negative impacts on me. (All I can say is I am a firm believer in KARMA… 😇) Plus, I had spent the previous week traveling to Atlanta for the holidays to visit my family – the Dude (aka dad), my older sister, bro-in-law, and their two young children. I ADORE my 6 year old niece and 4 year old nephew – except in the wee morning hours… The morning after my arrival, at 6 AM EST (3AM PST), I hear my 6 year old niece chastising my 4 year old nephew right outside my bedroom door, screaming at the top of her lungs “Be quiet, Julian, Auntie is sleeping!!!!” The next morning, Christmas, I had a certain young lady plop right on my bed at 4AM EST asking if it was time to open gifts… Needless to say, on top of being a bit jet-lagged, I was also a bit sleep deprived in Atlanta.

All was good and well until my return flight was delayed 8+ hours, putting me into the Bay Area around 9 PM. Upon arrival, I found out that there were issues with the baggage carousels and that there was only 1 servicing the entire terminal. Yep, Murphy’s Law in effect AGAIN! By the time I got home, I had a little less than 7 hours to unpack, do some laundry, take care of a few work emails, and repack. My thought was that I would power through the night and catch a nap in the car en route to Death Valley (the first stop of our National Park holiday journey). Unfortunately, my two gal pals had the same idea 😥. They had also pulled an all-nighter getting ready for our adventure. So, my sleep deprivation continued…

OR, maybe the fact that the trails were VERY icy, and I did not have proper footwear??? It WAS wintertime… I don’t know what I was thinking 😋… I guess living in an area with year-round mild weather and having just spent the previous few days in Death Valley made me forget that I would probably encounter snow and ice. I had already slipped a few times, and the last thing I needed was to re-injure my back after finally surpassing MANY years of being in chronic pain. Note to self, the soles on my Salomon shoes become like skates when they encounter winter elements 😁. Next time, I will definitely make sure I bring crampons.

OR MAYBE it was simply because I realized that I think am kind of over tall trees! No offense, Sequoias, I AM impressed by you! You are the largest trees in the world. BUT… too much of a good thing… I see you (or your cousins) almost every weekend when hiking in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, one of my favorite weekend haunts, houses Muir Woods, the Marin Headlands, and Phelger Estate, which all contain groves of redwoods. I thought I would be more excited to see General Sherman up close…

Whatever the reason, this was possibly the 2nd time in my life I was more than ready to quit shortly after starting something. My gal pals and I did manage to walk a few short miles in the Giant Forest, on the Big Trees Trail, and to visit the General Sherman Tree… and I did snap a picture or two 😁.

After having a relaxing lunch at the Wuksachi Lodge, we decided to go on a car ride to see what we had missed the evening before as we entered Sequoia National Park long after dark. The road back to the Ash Entrance of the park is only ~25 miles but took more than an hour primarily due to the sharp hairpin turns but also to a few drivers who were busier enjoying the views than driving 😁. It seems as though these peeps failed to notice the NUMEROUS turnouts along Highway 198. In any event, our timing was just about perfect… We arrived at the Eleven Ranges Viewpoint in the late afternoon – just in time to snap some photos of the late afternoon sun.

The prequel to the most AMAZING sunset…

Eleven Ranges Viewpoint, Sequoia National Park, CA. Late afternoon sun. The prequel to the most AMAZING sunset...

Eleven Ranges Viewpoint, Sequoia National Park, CA. Late afternoon sun. The prequel to the most AMAZING sunset…

And for the first time in weeks, I was able to return to the present moment…  To stop the millions of thoughts and images dashing through my brain… To focus on the INCREDIBLE beauty before my eyes… And most importantly, to feel a TREMENDOUS sense of peace.

John Muir said it best, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

And the best was yet to come…

Eleven Ranges Viewpoint, Sequoia National Park, CA. "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." - John Muir. The best sunset I have seen in ages...

Eleven Ranges Viewpoint, Sequoia National Park, CA. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir. The best sunset I have seen in ages…

I can honestly say, THIS IS the best sunset I have seen in ages…

 

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty #nature #SequoiaNationalPark #sunset #ElevenRanges #Highway198 #JohnMuir #Big TreesTrail #GeneralSherman #GiantForest #WukasachiLodge #GGNRA #GoldenGateNationalRecreationArea #MuirWoods #MarinHeadlands

Perfect New Year

🌟😊 a·maz·ing·ly beau·ti·ful!! Perfect start to 2015 😊🌟 #iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty

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DEFINITELY still Smitten!

Marin Headlands, you ROCK! After all of the years spent hanging out you still know how to surprise me with hidden nooks and crannies that showcase MESMERIZING views. I have walked many of your trails countless times and thought I had seen it all… and you proved me wrong 😉 You managed to impress despite having so many things working against you today – the least of which included a very tired me, who had an INCREDIBLY late, but VERY FUN, night with only 4 hours of sleep. (Thanks Yan & Remy!) I am even more amazed at your IMPECCABLE timing! Somehow you upstaged the forecasted weather of mostly cloudy and fog just in time for my descent down to the bluffs behind Tennessee Cove. Your beauty was so energizing that I was not only able to complete my course in record time, but also spent an hour enjoying the beach, and was back at my car long before sunset. DEFINITELY still smitten! My love affair continues…

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My Beloved

In my beloved Marin Headlands… With friends… Watching a greatly anticipated, PHENOMENAL aerial show from atop Slacker Hill (Thanks US Navy Blue Angels et al!)… Followed by a steep descent to Black Sand Beach for a quick dip in the water… And ending with a BEAUTIFUL sunset peeking out from the hills in the Headlands. My love affair continues…

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That BEAUTIFUL Red Bridge

Another perfect day… Exploring the SF coastline w/ friends… No matter how often I see the coastline, skyline, landscape, etc, I am still awestruck by its undeniable BEAUTY… Why I LOVE the Bay Area…

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One… Several… HAPPINESS

One afternoon… One city trail… One red bridge… Several beaches… Several good friends… HAPPINESS… My love affair continues..

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It Is ALL About the View

10 avid adventurers planning on a hike… 1 overslept, a few needed sleep, 1 sprained an ankle, and a few played nursemaid… SO……… then there were 3, who decided to spend the day visiting a few hot spots along the NCAL coastline… Muir Beach & Overlook, Pirate’s Cove, Tennessee Cove… And a few well-known trails … Fox Trail, Green Gulch Trail, Coastal Trail… And 1 lesser known, and newly re-named “Forbidden Trail” – thanks to Roxana.

**Who knew that “Area Closed. Stay ON Trail” meant NOT this trail???** That’s MY defense and I am sticking to it b/c IT IS ALL ABOUT THE VIEW. And there were quite FABULOUS views 🙂

My “selective” understanding of signs sometimes comes in handy… Although I don’t think I will get away with it much longer as Roxana is on to me 🙂

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Oh, Slovenia, YOU are so BEAUTIFUL to me…

If this was just the scenery en route from Bled to Kranjska Gora, I can’t wait to see what the Gorenjska Region and the Vršič Pass look like… Although I am betting The Dude (aka dad) is hoping that I won’t be too enamored  I give him a TON of kudos for being such a trooper as he has probably seen more nature in the past few days than he has seen in the past several years, experienced me attempting to drive w/ the crazy Slovene drivers through the Julian Alps, eaten & drank things he has never heard of or wouldn’t try on his own (he loved the Miklic’s home brewed blueberry schnapps that I ordered for him), and walked many more miles than he would like. Thank goodness he hasn’t quite figured out his fitbit and has it set to only measure steps and not miles 🙂

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Multitasking at its Best!

Taking in a few of my FAVORITE Marin County hot spots… Stinson Beach, Rocky Point Beach, Muir Woods… While doing some of my FAVORITE activities… Catching up w/ friends, playing w/ my camera, enjoying the BEAUTIFUL scenery, ascending/descending Mount Tam… Along 16.5 miles of a few of my FAVORITE trails… Steep Ravine, Dipsea, Main, Ocean View… With some of my Bay Area peeps… Followed by refueling with gluttonous amounts of my FAVORITE Burmese cuisine from Mandalay… Mango Salad, Tea Leaf Salad, Basil Spicy Eggplant, Mango Chicken, etc. I couldn’t ask for a better send off!!

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I Never Should Have Doubted…

The Marin Headlands did not disappoint!! Despite the chilly, overcast weather that forced us to break out merino wool layers, the thick fog that only allowed us to see the bottom half of the BEAUTIFUL iconic red bridge, and the strong gusts of wind that almost swept us off our feet, the Headlands supplied a playground of trails and numerous beaches to explore while showing us it’s REMARKABLE natural beauty. The perfect backdrop for catching up w/ friends

I never should have doubted… My love affair continues…

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Bay Area Perfection!

Escaped the chaos of the city I LOVE to the beauty of the coastline I ADOREPERFECTION!!

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Desert Southwest… Antelope Canyon… 250+ Million Years Old… SPECTACULAR Natural Beauty!!

LOWER ANTELOPE CANYON

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but was pleasantly surprised by my visit to the Lower Antelope Canyon on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, AZ. The undeniable BEAUTY of the desert Southwest never ceases to amaze me! The Antelope Canyon is 250+ million years old and was created by erosion of the Kaibab sandstone, primarily due to the wind and flash floods. Words cannot even begin to describe the remarkable design of the sandstone, and sadly, my photographs don’t really do it justice either. All I can say is that Mother Nature is pretty darn AMAZING!!

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~~~~~ The road trip continues… Next stop, Bryce Canyon. ~~~~~

Oh, Yosemite, how do I LOVE thee???

Oh, Yosemite, how do I LOVE thee? Let me count the ways…

(1) Four Mile Trail – a very steep 3,200 ft ascent, which took my breath away – literally and figuratively. FABULOUS views of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome.

(2) Glacier Point – where I lost Stephanie, Ehsan and I made friends w/ a squirrel, I found Stephanie, and I managed to talk Roxana, and Naren into hiking an additional 9+ miles – all for the LOVE of natural beauty.

(3) The Panorama Trail – which provided FANTASTIC scenery every step of the way, including quite a bit of wildlife, some bright red plants that we couldn’t name, and LOTS of water – Illilouette and Nevada Falls, to name a few.

Last but not least,

(4) The Mist Trail – which caused my heart to skip a beat or two (or three) as we descended ~1,000 ft over large, algae-covered boulders while getting sprayed by Vernal Falls – ALL by moonlight. It was scary yet exciting! Hiking the Mist Trail after dark is definitely NOT recommended but did make for an exhilarating end to a full day of exploring Thank you Luda, Javier, Roxana, Alex, Stephanie, Naren, Richard, and Ehsan for a TREMENDOUS weekend of laughs, fun, food, wine, and adventure!

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Why I LOVE the Bay Area! Need I say more…

My love affair continues…

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Thank You, Mother Nature!

COTOPAXI VOLCANO & LAGUNA LIMPIOPUNGO

Cotopaxi is one of the highest ACTIVE volcanoes in the world, at a height of 5,897m (19,347ft). It typically has a major eruption every 100 years, and the last major eruption was in the early 1900s. Some seismic activity at Cotopaxi Volcano has been recorded throughout 2013, although it is being regarded as “normal behavior of an active, but currently dormant volcano.” So, yes, it is a bit overdue for an eruption…or something… Thankfully, Mother Nature played nice.

sights... NATURAL Beauty...

sights… NATURAL Beauty… Cotopaxi Volcano

I wasn’t sure what to expect as a few fellow travelers that I had met in the previous weeks had warned me about the difficulty of climbing Cotopaxi Volcano and the horrible weather conditions they encountered – strong winds, horizontal rain, and pea-sized hail. Further, a guide who had taken me hiking on the Inca Trail just outside of Cuenca a few days prior had told me the hike was extremely difficult. In any event, I must admit I was a tad bit nervous about the upcoming ascent. But in true iluv2xplore fashion, I pushed that fear out of my mind, thinking “you only die once, right?”

I knew that the weather at Cotopaxi changes many times throughout the day, and as such, I needed to be prepared for anything and everything. And prepared, I was as I didn’t want the weather to prevent me from reaching my goal – the equatorial glacier at 5,000m. (I even had a rain jacket for my camera).  When I began climbing at 10:30AM, the weather was crisp, but clear and very sunny and provided the perfect backdrop. Regardless of the angle, the volcano and surrounding areas were STUNNING. I loved looking across the horizon and seeing the neighboring volcanoes (Chimborazo, Illiniza Sur, Antisana, and Cayambe, to name a few) and the rainbow of colors. I must have taken no less than 100 photos in the span of an hour. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to ascend Cotopaxi Volcano.

Once I reached the Refugio José Félix Ribas at 4,800m (15,748ft), my excitement really began to build as I was so close to my destination – the glacier. After a short break at the refuge, I began the final 200m climb. The route was quite steep and slick with inches upon inches of lava ash. The altitude was taking its toll causing me to stop to catch my breath every few minutes. My stops were relatively quick – just enough time to get my heart rate down to a manageable level and snap a shot or two of the landscape. Take it from me, going from sea level to hiking at ~16K feet the following few days probably wasn’t the smartest idea… My heart and lungs definitely got quite the workout from the high altitude/very thin air. However, I was on a mission to get to the glacier before the impending weather, and it had already begun misting, the fog was rolling in, and the wind was starting to pick up…

sights... NATURAL Beauty...

sights… NATURAL Beauty…

I managed to reach the glacier at 5,000m (16,400 ft) just before the biting wind and hail started. It was amazingly BEAUTIFUL! The deep scarlet red lava ash sharply contrasted with the white snow-capped volcano, and was draped with the sash of the glacier. Words and photos don’t even begin to capture the immense beauty! I was mesmerized by yet another MAGNIFICENT spot on earth that I was lucky to experience… The melting ice made me a tad bit nervous though – especially knowing that there was an avalanche at this very spot in 1996 that killed 13 people. Thanks to the fog, wind, rain, and hail, that thought was short-lived. I raced down the volcano (or rather slid down the inches upon inches of lava ash) to take cover before I was soaked to the bone.

I finished off my adventure with a 10km mountain bike ride down the volcano to Laguna Limpiopungo. I hadn’t ridden a mountain bike in years and certainly not down a very steep, winding road. Talk about an EXHILARATING day!

~~~~~ What an INCREDIBLE way to close out this South American adventure – ascending one of the highest active volcanoes in the world (and with two friends by my side)! Although I did not summit the volcano, I am incredibly proud that I made it to 5,000m (16,400 ft) to see one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. I might just have to revisit Cotopoxi Volcano at some future date so that I can ascend all the way to the top…

So, again, I want to thank Mother Nature for so many things – including the beautiful sight but also for keeping the weather at bay so that I could have the opportunity to experience Cotopoxi Volcano in all of its splendor.

Next stop… I am not sure yet… possibly somewhere in SE Asia, Africa, or even back to S. America – Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Columbia, are fairly high on my list. But first, I need to accrue some more holiday time and make some more $$$$. (Unfortunately, I have yet to find the money tree). Stay tuned! ~~~~~

Beyond My Comfort Zone

The past 24 hours in Beijing have been chaotic, exhausting, humorous, surprising, adventurous, and just downright EXHILARATING… My bestie and I found that trying to cross the road was like being in a live game of Frogger 😁. I am still not sure how, but SOMEHOW, we managed to make it to the other side… We also had our first introduction to Chinese-style squat toilets 😁😁. Imagine trying to balance a backpack and an overnight bag on your body (the stalls have no hooks/shelves), while trying to squat over a hole in the ground, while trying not to touch anything, while trying not to smell anything, while trying not to notice anything, all while trying to pull your stash of toilet paper from your bags (as the stalls have none). I managed fairly well despite the residual effects from a 1999 car accident which makes it near impossible to do a “3rd World Squat.” My bestie, however, was always in search of a Western toilet and rejoiced heavily the few times she was actually able to find one… We also got our first introduction to internet censorship 😁😁😁. I knew that there were issues with Google (and related products) and Facebook but had no idea that I would also incur issues when attempting to view the NY Times and Bloomberg websites. Most surprising was to find that I would have NO access to WordPress (my blog host) during my China travels. Really??? WordPress??? Interestingly enough, my bestie initially had access to google chat thru VPN on her work computer – that is until she decided to complain to her boyfriend via google chat about the Chinese-style squat toilets. Almost INSTANTANEOUSLY, it quit working. Eerie, huh??? Welcome to China!

The most SPECTACULAR moment since landing in Beijing last night, was hiking a somewhat remote portion of the Great Wall of China at Huanghuacheng (Huang Hua Cheng – aka “Yellow Flower Fortress”) today with my bestie and a local adventure guide named James. Huanghuacheng is located in the Huairou District, about 60 kilometers from Beijing, China and was constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is ~6.8 miles (11km) long and joins with Juyongguan Pass and Badaling in the southwest and Jiankou and Mutianyu in the northeast. Huanghuacheng is quite rugged as it has deteriorated over time and has yet to be restored like Mutianyu, Badaling, and other, more popular sections of the Great Wall.

Although I am an avid hiker, hiking this section of the Great Wall was CHALLENGING – to say the least – AND a bit SCARY at points, but ultimately, I LOVED it. Some portions were almost vertical and resembled climbing a very, VERY tall wall at a rock gym; other portions were just REALLY STEEP and SLICK (and going downhill was no better than going uphill). After the first 30-45 minutes of hiking, James and I were the only two people venturing forward on the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall as most turn back once they begin to experience the difficult terrain. Although I am afraid of heights, somehow James managed to gain my trust enough that I continued to follow him to points that WELL EXCEEDED my comfort zone. The bait… the promise of great scenery. (And for me, it’s all about the view!!) Just as James had promised, the BRILLIANT views became even more MAGNIFICENT the higher we ascended.

2012-May-19 Huairou, Beijing, China: Hiking “Yellow Flower Fortress,” a somewhat remote section of the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng, which is located in the Huairou District, about 60 kilometers from Beijing, China and was constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is ~6.8 miles (11km) long and joins with Juyongguan Pass and Badaling in the southwest and Jiankou and Mutianyu in the northeast. Some portions were almost vertical and resembled climbing a very, VERY tall wall at a rock gym; other portions were just REALLY STEEP and SLICK (and going downhill was no better than going uphill).

2012-May-19 Huairou, Beijing, China: Hiking “Yellow Flower Fortress,” a somewhat remote section of the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng, which is located in the Huairou District, about 60 kilometers from Beijing, China and was constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is ~6.8 miles (11km) long and joins with Juyongguan Pass and Badaling in the southwest and Jiankou and Mutianyu in the northeast. Some portions were almost vertical and resembled climbing a very, VERY tall wall at a rock gym; other portions were just REALLY STEEP and SLICK (and going downhill was no better than going uphill).

The scenery was so MESMERIZING that I forgot about my fear of heights until it was time to climb down. James managed to scurry down just like a mountain goat. (Granted, he has probably hiked this section of the Great Wall hundreds of times…) For the life of me, I could not figure out the best way to descend the almost vertical section I had managed to climb up an hour before. What goes up MUST come down… RIGHT???? My heart began pumping out of my chest as I thought of how easy it would be to slip and fall right off the Great Wall… For a split moment, I told myself that if this was my last day on this earth, at least I had a very full life and was leaving a BEAUTIFUL locale doing something that I LOVE exploring. James must have sensed my fear because the next thing I knew, he had returned to where I was and began instructing me on my hand and foot placement. I will be forever thankful 😘!!

Unfortunately, pictures don’t do the Huanghuacheng section of the Great Wall justice… I will, however, always have etched in my memory the EXHILARATING feeling standing atop a tower, by myself, surrounded by mountains, smog, lakes, more smog, miles upon miles of the Great Wall sprawled throughout… THE SMOG… taking in what many would consider one of the great wonders of the world. I felt so alive!

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch

2012-May-19 Huairou, Beijing, China: Hiking “Yellow Flower Fortress,” a somewhat remote section of the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng, which is located in the Huairou District, about 60 kilometers from Beijing, China and was constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is ~6.8 miles (11km) long and joins with Juyongguan Pass and Badaling in the southwest and Jiankou and Mutianyu in the northeast. Some portions were almost vertical and resembled climbing a very, VERY tall wall at a rock gym; other portions were just REALLY STEEP and SLICK (and going downhill was no better than going uphill). Locals “guard” the wall and charge access fees (price posted on the wall) for whatever sections they prefer.

2012-May-19 Huairou, Beijing, China: Hiking “Yellow Flower Fortress,” a somewhat remote section of the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng, which is located in the Huairou District, about 60 kilometers from Beijing, China and was constructed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is ~6.8 miles (11km) long and joins with Juyongguan Pass and Badaling in the southwest and Jiankou and Mutianyu in the northeast. Some portions were almost vertical and resembled climbing a very, VERY tall wall at a rock gym; other portions were just REALLY STEEP and SLICK (and going downhill was no better than going uphill). Locals “guard” the wall and charge access fees (price posted on the wall) for whatever sections they prefer.

Thank you for the experience, Huanghuacheng!!

Also, a special thanks goes to James Zhang, adventure guide extraordinaire, for everything, including taking photos of me! Note: all landscape photos were taken by yours truly, and with just a point-and-shoot 🙂

 

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #beijing #china #asia #huanghuacheng #yellowflowerfortress #greatwallofchina #greatwall # huairou # mutianyugreatwall #juyongguanpass # badaling #nealdonaldwalsch #hiking 

Jamaican Bliss

Bliss… Sitting on our hotel deck, watching the sunset, listening to live reggae, drinking frozen mango/strawberry/papaya juice, and eating freshly caught fish and fried plantains made by Ms. Norma with the Dude (aka dad), sis, bro-in-law, and baby niece and nephew. Life is good!!

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty #jamaica #negril #sunset #travel

sights... NATURAL Beauty… Seven Mile Beach

sights… NATURAL Beauty… a BEAUTIFUL sunset at Seven Mile Beach, Negril, Jamaica

I Heart Beautiful Sunsets

I had heard that Jamaica has pretty sunsets… Pretty is an understatement! This sunset was ASTONISHINGLY BEAUTIFUL!! The spectacular display of hues… the oranges, the yellows, the pinks… and the dark clouds from the mid-afternoon rain storm made for a rather REMARKABLE sunset. Even my almost 2 year-old nephew took notice – albeit for a short moment – which was quite surprising since the only thing that seems to grab his attention is 4-wheeled vehicles (especially trucks) and anytime I leave the room. (I must admit, it’s kind of cute to be followed EVERYWHERE – even when I return to my room to brush my teeth. Hopefully, this love for his Auntie will last 😘).

Thus far, Negril has lived up to its reputation of providing a family-friendly environment, a laid back lifestyle, extremely warm people, white sand beaches, and BEAUTIFUL sunsets. It’s everything we desired for our brief family get-a-way to celebrate my sister’s graduation from nursing school (with honors) and my nephew’s 2nd birthday (his last free plane ride). Montego Bay (aka Mo Bay), you may have the glitz and glam, but you do not have the INCREDIBLE sunsets from Seven Mile Beach 😜.

Thank you, Negril and Mother Nature!

#iluv2xplore #dreamexplorediscover #naturalbeauty #jamaica #negril #sunset #travel

sights... NATURAL Beauty… An ASTONISHINGLY BEAUTIFUL sunset at Seven Mile Beach, Negril, Jamaica

sights… NATURAL Beauty… An ASTONISHINGLY BEAUTIFUL sunset at Seven Mile Beach, Negril, Jamaica