#TravelTuesdays – 24 Hours With Kathy in Miami: My First Blog for Nytro!

As part of my introduction as a new Nytro team member, I was asked to write a blog-style guide to living in Miami, and I really like how it turned out! Please check it out and give it a like 🙂 Here’s an excerpt to get you excited:

Home of the three-oh-five (305) area code, the strongest coffee known to man, and millions of Latin-American expats, Miami has also been home to me for the past 15 years, so I think I can give you a good virtual tour of the city. I’d say “Shall we?” but this also happens to be the birthplace of Pitbull, so a more fitting “Dale!” is in order.

Want to read more? The full blog is here. Come check out Miami with me! This is how fun I am 😀

Kathy at PAMM

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#TravelTuesdays – A Birthday Weekend in Cartagena!

For those who do not know, my mom is Colombian and my Colombian heritage is very strong and kept alive by constant visits to this beautiful land I’m blessed to call one of my homes. I was born in Venezuela, but I’ve spent a good chunk of my life and gone through some important milestones while on trips in Colombia. The only thing is that since 99% of my family is from and lives in Santa Marta (the oldest city in Colombia, a coastal town next to Barranquilla), that’s pretty much the only place I go to and truly know. So when my friend Iselle told me she wanted to celebrate her birthday in Cartagena, I was very excited for the opportunity to finally expand my horizons and see another part of this homeland of mine!

Trip logistics, really quickly for your amusement:

My friend Ashtine was having her engagement party in Miami on Friday, December 23rd. I booked my flight to leave on December 24th at 2:00 am, meaning I went straight from Ashtine’s party to the airport. Landed in Santa Marta on the 24th around 11:00am, minus my carry-on which they made me check at the door and they lost in Bogota, but it thankfully arrived in the afternoon! Stayed in Santa Marta until Friday, January 13th, when I went to Cartagena by car (it’s about a three-hour ride), and after spending the weekend there, flew from that airport back to Miami. So when I booked my flight, it was:

MIA-BOG-SMR — //– CTG-MIA  –> Thank you multi-city booking function!

Now, on to the action: Hola Cartagena! When I agreed to the trip, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d heard a lot about Cartagena’s “ciudad amurallada” or walled city, which is where the historic downtown festive area is, surrounded by a wall (hence the name), and because I’m so used to Santa Marta, I expected a similar vibe. The first thing that I will tell you I assumed and was DEAD wrong about was that Cartagena would have beautiful beaches. NOPE NOPE NOPE. Santa Marta has dozens of beautiful beach locations, reachable by car/boats/hikes, in every direction. Cartagena is surrounded by water, but the tide is very high and the wind makes tons of little sandstorms, and there really isn’t much “beach” space per se. You have to sail off to find a semi-decent beach, and even then, it’s just not good. More on this later. Let’s go day by day –

Friday, January 13th: 

Iselle, Ian and I were the three amigos embarking on this trip. Ian and Iselle were flying in separately, and I was driving in. They both arrived at the hotel before me, and went off to wander around. Iselle found a deal for us to stay at Casa Cordoba Roman (or Casa Roman, it has a few different names), a house type of place. Our room had a nice balcony, two stories, and space for about 4 people to sleep comfortably in a king bed, and two twin-size mattresses. Iselle and Ian found a bar and some wifi and texted me so I went to meet them there. We had some drinks at Plaza Santa Teresa and kicked off the weekend festivities. Went off for some yummy dinner at Juan del Mar, went back to the room to drop our leftovers and then went to check out the bars and nightlife. The place that stood out the most to me was Alquimico. Perfect libations spot for some new and exciting drinks! Went to a bunch of random bars all within the walled city, and since I was still not tired when we got back, we went up to the rooftop of Casa Roman to take a night/morning swim before bed. Just what the doctor ordered!

Saturday, January 14th: 

We woke up “early” (8ish) with the goal of checking out Islas del Rosario (Rosary Islands), which I’d heard very little about, other than you got there by boat, which I was very used to doing in Santa Marta. When we got to the information spot, it was like 9:30, by which time the boats are gone. It’s also a 45 minute-1 hour boat ride, so it was not what I was used to or expecting at all. But now with our newfound information, we knew to come prepared tomorrow. We ended up meeting up with one of Ian’s friends who is a local in Cartagena, and he took us on a walk outside of the Walled City for us to see more of the Cartagena every day life. We decided to go to the Castillo San Felipe – one of the oldest structures in Barranquilla, built to defend the city from a siege – and then ended up at the Boca Grande mall for some yummy desserts. Went back to the hotel to change, and then did a Chiva Loca tour at night (“crazy goat” party bus, no actual goats involved) which was super fun. I’d always wanted to do one in Santa Marta, but it never panned out, so this was my first Chiva experience, and it was a great introduction. We went out in Getsemani, which is the neighborhood across from the Walled City, where college students and locals typically go out the most. It’s less of a tourist trap than inside the Walled City. We hit up a few bars and after we had our fill, we went back to the hotel, ready to get up early (really early this time) for our Islas del Rosario adventure.

Sunday, January 15th: 

As I mentioned earlier, I have lots of experience riding boats to beaches in Santa Marta from before I could even speak. It’s normal, chill and totally not scary, even though the boats are super dingy and old, I know the drill. Those are my people. Cartagena though, is a whole other animal. Santa Marta’s 5-10 minute coastal boat rides have nothing on this open water hour-long business. First, you have to outsmart the people trying to hustle money out of tourists around and outside of the Walled City. Being from Colombia and having our local friend there was huge in not letting these people screw us over (they still kinda did, but it would’ve been so much worse if we weren’t aware of their tactics). So, the trip works like this: you leave at 9:00 am on a speedboat that takes you outside of Cartagena’s water limits, into the open water of the Mar Caribe. The ride to the first stop is about 45 minutes. My friend Iselle and I were not big fans of this speedboat, as you can tell the drivers are a little reckless and just wanna get to the islands fast. We were holding on to the poles for dear life, and the waves were very high so the boat bumps were no fun. Ian, on the other hand, loved it and felt he was being rocked to sleep… different strokes! When you’re sold on the tour, you’re told you’re going to make 2-3 stops. Playa Blanca (white beach), the Aquarium, and another beach on the way back. As soon as we boarded the boat, they told us we wouldn’t be able to go to Playa Blanca because of the tide, so we’d go to the Aquarium instead, and if we didn’t want to go in there, we could swim elsewhere. Once we made it alive to the islands, the story changed and they wanted to charge us to do the aquarium or another snorkeling activity. Jesus (our local friend) and I fought these guys and did not let them screw us over, until they took us to a nearby spot where we could swim as we were promised. After that, we started heading back towards Cartagena for our second stop, when the boat died mid-ride, in the middle of the open sea, with a lottttttt of waves. Thank God I’m not one to get seasick, because that was enough rocking to make anyone throw up. The crew managed to get the boat running just enough to get us to the next stop, which wasn’t the pretty beach we were promised, but rather a murky shallow stop in a small town. Kids are coming up to you constantly begging for coins, it’s honestly so sad. We had lunch there, which was included in the price of our boat ticket, and after an hour or so, we headed back and I’ve NEVER BEEN SO HAPPY to be done with a tour, and ALIVE! I legitimately feared for my life, and it wasn’t just paranoia. A couple of weeks before we were there, a boat tipped over and at least one passenger died. It’s not uncommon for those accidents to happen, as those boat drivers seem like they’re actively auditioning for Fast & Furious, Cartagena Drift… Anyway, after this adventure, we went back to the hotel to shower and change, and then headed to a restaurant that was recommended to Iselle by her coworkers called La Vitrola. So, so good. We were almost turned away because the place gets packed and requires reservations, but we managed to make it in. The food was delicious and the service stellar, couldn’t have asked for a better last night in Cartagena. Afterwards, we went out to hit up all the random bars we hadn’t visited during the first two nights, and went back to pack and get ready for our return home. Ian would be flying out at 5 am, I was flying out at 7, and Iselle at 11.

Thanks for the memories, Cartagena!

#TravelTuesdays – A Flytastic Weekend in Napa

Since my San Fran blog post was getting out of hand long, and because Napa is a completely different experience than San Francisco, I decided to give it its own post. Buckle up winos!

Saturday, April 11th

We left for Napa at about 7:00 am on Saturday. It was my little Ana’s birthday, and we had booked a biking tour through Napa wineries, and we had to be there by 9:30 am. The drive from San Francisco to Napa is about an hour and a half, and we needed to fit in a breakfast for the drinking ahead. We stopped at a random breakfast spot that was pretty bad, and I found hair in my food, so that was that… No biggie, on to an awesome day of wine tasting! We had booked our biking experience with Napa Valley Bike Tours, because Ana had been “dreaming” about biking around vineyards. I wasn’t too fond of the idea to begin with, because I figured being on a party bus would be a more fun experience, and I was right. We had already biked a long trek the day before, and when you’re not used to the biking seats, your butt hurts A LOT. Putting it on another bike the very next day does not help. The ONLY reason I agreed to do this was because I had read the reviews and they said that if for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable with the biking experience, they’d send a van to drive you around instead. I knew in my heart I’d end up in that van, and I made my peace with it. The biking from the Napa Valley Bike Tours to the first winery – Foley Johnson – was about 7 miles I believe. I BARELY made it. I was in so much pain, it took everything in me not to stop in the middle of the road and call the van. As soon as we arrived and parked our bikes, I let our tour guide Stephanie know that I’d be needing the van for the rest of the trek. She said no problem and called it over. We had our first tasting, which was great, and as the group headed out on the bike, I climbed on the van and quickly made friends with the driver, a darling lady named Carol. I witnessed people falling off their bikes and instantly rejoiced in my decision. The next winery was Rutherford, which I LOVED, and that’s where the Bike Tour company served us a nice picnic style lunch. Afterwards, we went to a third winery called ZD Wines. Nothing too memorable from there other than the beautiful variety of flowers. By the end of the tour, another 5 people had joined Carol and I on the van, usually after a fall. Once the tour ended, we headed to our hotel to shower and change, as we had dinner reservations to honor the birthday girl. Per Trip Advisor recommendations, I booked our dinner at Celadon, in downtown Napa. We drove over and had a great dinner. We tried to keep the party going for Ana, but we were all exhausted, her most of all, so we just called it a night and went back to the hotel, especially because we had another extremely early morning coming on Sunday.

 

Sunday, April 12th – 

4:30am wake-up call. Why? Well, a month before the trip, Ana called me to convince me to go with her on a hot air balloon. You see, I have a pretty bad fear of heights and a moderate case of vertigo, but I usually like to challenge both by flying/going to tall buildings/riding roller coasters, etc. The one thing that never made it on my bucket list was a hot air balloon. I really didn’t find the experience appealing and I thought I’d just be freaking out the entire time. But… I also thought ‘if I’m going all this way to have this great trip, I want to really experience it all.’ So I said yes, and we booked the balloon with Balloons Above the Valley. A few of the people on the bike tour with us had done them that morning and highly recommended them. That appeased my anxiety just a bit. Anyway, back to 4:30 am. We’re up and getting dressed because we had to be at the meet-up hotel no later than 6:00 am. They had coffee and pastries for our pre-flight fill. We were assigned groups and climbed on some vans to head out to the fields where the balloons were being inflated as we were arriving. It’s a crazy experience to see the baskets and the indescribably large balloon “sacks” as they’re expanding and shooting upwards with the short bursts of fire. We were on the last balloon to go up. It was 6:30ish when we were about to board, so I FaceTimed my mom (who was 3 hours ahead on Eastern Time) in case I died. Spoiler alert: I did not. Our flight captain was a veteran in the trade with 25+ years of experience flying hot air balloons. Cool. We climbed into the baskets (quite hard to do) and they don’t tell you how crammed it feels in there when the whole group is in. You have very little space, and the basket is divided in sections that fit 2-4 people. The “magic” of the lift-off is unreal. I was scared, but I felt my fear fading into awe as we rose practically with the sun and saw the most magical sight of sunrise + fog + wineries and beautiful homes as far as the eye could see. The ride was no longer than 30 minutes long, and once I was up there I was enjoying the view, taking pictures, and basking in the moment. Our ride was very fun and calm, and then came the moment to coordinate the landing. You see, you can’t really predict where you will land because it depends on the wind, but these seasoned captains have some idea of a radius where they will make landfall. The captain warned us all to squat a little bit as we were approaching ground so that the hit wouldn’t hurt our knees, and next thing we knew, a eucalyptus field was upon us (or were we upon it? I don’t know). The smell was great, but the morning moisture in that climate was definitely not welcome, brrr. Anyway, good landing as far as I can tell in my limited 1/1 experience. We survived! YAY! After the flight, the vans took us back to the meet-up hotel where they offered a brunch for an additional fee, but we had other plans so we left – but not before being suckers and falling for the $20 pictures they offered. I ALWAYS want the damn pictures. We had decided to go to four more wineries on Sunday before heading back to SF: Domain Chandon, Chappellet and whatever else was around. Domain was fine, I’m not big on champagne (or sparkling wine). Chappellet was the one we had to make a reservation for and Oh. My. Lord. What an amazing experience, from beginning to end. First, the drive. Chappellet is located on a hill in Saint Helena, and the journey up is straight out of a movie. The mountains in the distance, the fields, the vineyards in our view… it was magical. We were playing fun California-related tracks, singing along, taking it all in. We made it to the winery right on time for our reservation, and the place is ridiculously gorgeous/awesome. You’re surrounded by barrels at all times and it just feels like the most Napa place ever. The wines were so good, we all subscribed to their wine club and bought a crate to get shipped back home. We were sat with two ladies from Napa who really know their wines, and they recommended we go to lunch at Tra Vigne to have their mozzarella appetizer, and then make our way to Turnbull and Mumm wineries. So we did! Tra Vigne was DELICIOUS, Turnbull was a stunning picture location with great wines, and Mumm had some refreshing and yummy options. I wasn’t drinking too much because I was the designated driver, but that was ok. I really enjoy driving, and I left this trip discovering my dream job was Uber driver in Napa. As Mumm was getting ready to close, it was time for us to head back to San Fran, which we were so not ready to do. Napa was an incredible experience, took us out of our comfort zone and provided us wine 9-5 every day. What’s not to love?! But the drive back to SF was beautiful too, and getting to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge has no match. Thanks for everything Napa!

#TravelTuesdays – Weekend in N’awlins

Traveling is the greatest thing there is. Seeing the architecture, meeting the people, eating the food, etc. of a new place is the best kind of education and personal growth out there. This past weekend in New Orleans was one of the most fun and fulfilling experiences of my life. NOLA has it ALL: BEAUTIFUL sights, interesting people, and some of the best food I’ve ever had. Honestly, this trip was ALL about the food, so… Let’s just jump in!

  1. Mother’s – holy po’boys. Mother’s is a local right of passage type of place. It’s been around since the dawn of time, and its history is as rich as the bread pudding. BEST BREAD PUDDING IN ALL OF THE ENTIRE FACE OF THE EARTH. The end. Don’t debate me. The fried shrimp po’boys were off the charts too. Great introduction to the trip!
  2. Bourbon Street – if you didn’t come here, you didn’t go to New Orleans. We hit up a lot of bars, strip clubs (some by accident) and restaurants all around the area. There was fun in every corner! Some key nighttime stops in the area:
    1. Touchdown Jesus: someone told one of my friends about it, and we didn’t know what it was… until we saw it. Go towards the back of St. Louis Cathedral at night, and you’ll be greeted by the one and only!
    2. Pat O’Brien’s (Pat O’s if you’re cool): such a chill, cool, open bar, with some of the best hurricanes in town.
    3. Preservation Hall: oh man. What an experience! This was one of the unexpected stops we made. We were walking all around Bourbon and we saw a big line for this place, and we had no idea what it was for. We asked one of the people in line and they mentioned it was a Jazz show. That’s all we knew. We were too late to make it to the 7 o’clock show, so we lined up for 8. If you’ve ever wanted to travel in time, this is the place to do it. You walk in to this old, barely lit building, onto a very small area, standing room for the most part, with a small stage and some old chairs and instruments. The band starts playing. I don’t care how much jazz you’ve listened to in your life, you haven’t truly heard it until you’re here. The band was absolutely flawless and incredible. They took requests (donations required; go towards the back of your wallet if you want to listen to the classics, aka “The Saints”). Worth every minute, every penny. No food or drinks inside, it’s only a one-hour show.
  3. Atchafalaya: I can’t remember if we need to thank Yelp or Trip Advisor for this one, but holy brunch. We were trying to schedule a meal at The Court of Two Sisters, but their staff told us they were packed so we had to look elsewhere, and we found this GEM in the Garden District. It’s not one of the globally acclaimed stops, but rather a local hidden treasure, which we are so glad to have found and which I will recommend from here to the end of time. It’s about a 15 minute car ride from downtown. PS – we had multiple restaurant experiences all throughout the city where they told us long wait periods that turned out to be 10 minutes, or said they were full, but really weren’t. It seems like a common (stupid/douchey) practice in Nola. Go anyways.
  4. Pralines: typical New Orleans dessert. Best place to get them for the best price is right on Jackson Square at the New Orleans School of Cooking. Must try and must buy a few boxes to bring back as gifts (to yourself… so you can grieve the distance between you and your Nola trip).
  5. Criollo Restaurant & Carousel Lounge at Hotel Monteleone: delicious food (obviously need to try the bread pudding for dessert), great ambiance and awesome “digestive” setting a few feet over at the Carousel Bar! Never had a chance to actually sit on the carousel bar, but nonetheless it was an awesome sight.
  6. Court of Two Sisters: gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish, king’s cake, bread pudding… This place has ALL of New Orleans’ gastronomic heritage under one roof. It’s not the best version of each food, but it’s definitely a fun experience and good value. Recognized throughout as a must for tourists.
  7. Garden District: beautiful walk. Also, if you’re a fan of the American Horror Story “Coven” season, you can pass by the house where they filmed, and picture yourself as the Supreme while you’re at it.

There are plenty more things to do (we also visited Frenchmen Street, the Mardi Gras warehouse, a number of cemeteries, and more!), but I’m going to stop the list here because I’m getting depressed I came back home 😦 Here’s a little highlight gallery for your reference and my continued weeping…

#ToTravelWellIsACraft

I’d like to get away with posting my travel adventures on this blog under the pretense that #ToTravelWellIsACraft – and I truly believe that it is. There are a number of ingredients that need to be present to have a good trip, namely:

  1. Good company! We all have friends we adore, but not all our friends make the best travel buddies, and that’s ok. Maybe your beach-loving friends are not so fond of hiking or sight-seeing, and vice versa. So before planning a trip, make sure that the group is well informed about the location, activities and expectations of each to avoid annoyance, group division, or even confrontation.
  2. Good mix of prior plans with flexibility for spontaneity: the best way to guarantee you get the most out of a trip is to plan at least some of the stops ahead of time, but also leave space to choose on the spot. Every city has its must-see stops that are widely known, so those could be at the top of your list, but you can leave some time open to explore and ask around for the best local places to visit.
  3. Good vibes! You need to have a rain or shine mentality when you go on a trip, because you don’t know how the destination’s weather/events will go 100%, so you need to be open to everything to guarantee you’ll have a good time regardless of out-of-your-control conditions.
  4. Be very aware of your budget: this is the boring and sucky part, but it’s necessary. You need to know how financially flexible your wallet is for a trip before booking, and make sure you leave room for unexpected expenses and to bring back souvenirs if you so choose.
  5. If you’re going international, make sure you do your cultural research! This is important from the very beginning, because it may influence the clothing you’ll pack, places you go, and maybe even the way you eat.

In short, just make sure you do your proper research about the destination, be realistic with your money, and make the conscious decision to have fun every step of the way 🙂