Vermont Route 100 Scenic Tour

Route 100 is a two lane highway that runs north-south almost the entire length of the state of Vermont - 217 miles. While it is a necessary road for many to get from here to there, it's also quite popular with tourists because it winds through beautiful farm land, quaint little New England towns, and our beautiful Green Mountains. 

Loving a good car trip, my wife and I spent one full day of our staycation driving the 80 miles of Route 100 from Waterbury, VT to Ludlow, VT. Though we've both traveled the portions of the road closest to the Burlington area, neither of us had been this far south in that part of the state. We made our way slowly down, spending not more than 15 or 20 minutes in the car on any given stretch. There were so many things to see and do (and photograph). We were constantly pulling over to check out a general store (we stopped at every one), walk around the town green of an adorable community (I fell in love with Rochester, VT), take in a waterfall, or visit an interesting shop. And of course I'm a huge lover of barns, so I pulled us over on the side of the road many a time to hop out and snap a few shots of one of the many beautiful structures. 

We stayed over night at a historic inn on Echo Lake right outside Ludlow, VT, an area that used to be a popular vacation destination for fancy folks (perhaps still is). I made a vow to come back to Echo Lake for a relaxing week one day - there were tons of people out on the Camp Plymouth State Park beach and kayaking around, and it looked like the most fun. The next day we visited President Calvin Coolidge's birthplace and family homestead. Neither of us knew much about him, and it was an enjoyable introduction to his life as well as an opportunity to walk through an area preserved (and sometimes replicated) as a super tiny 1920s village. I love that kind of thing. I was especially pumped to see the quilt that Coolidge made for his own bed as a boy and the short-term exhibit of Grace Coolidge's clothes (spoiler alert: they're gorgeous). And of course Navah spent some of the time on our trip home (not on Route 100) on Wikipedia sharing other interesting facts about him and his presidency with me. 

If you decide to travel this stretch of Route 100 (which I recommend), here are some things I would suggest: stopping to snap some pictures of Moss Glen Falls, grabbing a sandwich at the Warren Store or the Pittsfield General Store, veering off the road just a bit to take the very short hike to Thundering Falls, pulling over to admire beautiful old barns and homes, getting out of the car in Rochester to take a walk around and get some coffee and a baked treat from Sandy's Books & Bakery, spending an hour or two at the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, and (if you can) strapping a kayak or a canoe to the top of your car and checking out Echo Lake

We'll have to save that last bit for next time (when we'll own a kayak?). 

Now that we've done that gorgeous trip, I'm super motivated to drive the rest of Route 100 - north of us and also the last southern bits that we didn't get to. In fact, I'm ready for another staycation, but it will probably have to wait until next year!

p.s. I'll be back with my regular Thursday garden posts next week. This post was delayed a bit because of technical difficulties yesterday!


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The Montreal Butterfly Exhibit

Oh, did you think we were done with Montreal?

Absolutely not. Not before the butterflies. 

What more is there to say? Everyone should spend an hour in a room filled with butterflies. It is a balm for what ails you, a reminder that beauty and fragility are often inextricably intertwined. Notice all the wings with torn edges, and yet they still fly. 

p.s. We have some pretty lovely butterflies here in Vermont too. 

The Montreal Botanical Garden (or Why I Take Photos)

I guess sometimes being a person who takes lots of photographs - or being around a person who takes lots of photographs (sorry, Navah) - can get annoying. I've heard people say things like, "Put down your camera. Enjoy the moment." And for a while, I took that in. I had this kind of itching concern every time I lifted my lens that perhaps I was getting Enjoying The Moment wrong.

It didn't keep me from taking pictures because there was some deeper, louder voice shoving my camera into my hand and telling me to shoot, woman, shoot. So I did. 

But there was this quibbling little thought in the back of my head that somehow I was messing it (enjoyment) up. 

And then recently I came across the hashtag #elevatetheeveryday, and I started using it in my instagram posts. And when I was out on my walks with the dog, often cold and cranky and tired, I started carrying my cell phone in my hand, keeping the camera app at the ready, and looking around as I walked to see if there was something beautiful I could capture. 

And almost every time, there was. The way the light was coming through the trees, the way my shadow fell on the ground, the way a particular leaf looked against the snow. There was always something beautiful or meaningful or worth seeing. And I realized that by engaging in that practice, I was enjoying my walks in a way I never had. 

Perhaps there are people who can just say to themselves, I am going to find beauty in this moment. And they do. But that doesn't always work for me. I can be stubborn in my crankiness.

My camera helps me to slow down, look around, and notice. My camera pulls me out of myself and into the world. My camera is a conduit through which I find beauty, through which I enjoy the moment. And it's not about being a brilliant photographer, thank goodness. It's about taking the time to honor the "everyday" beauty right in front of me. It is, I suppose, another way to practice gratitude.

So this weekend at the Montreal Botanical Gardens, I clicked away, and I didn't apologize for it. Not to anyone else (though no one was asking me to), but most importantly, not to myself. There was nothing to apologize for. I wasn't getting it wrong. 

For me, being in a beautiful place with my camera in my hand is getting it exactly right. 

p.s. As hard as it is to believe, Spring - aka beautiful flowers right here - is truly not that far away...

Overnight in Montreal

 Before this past weekend, the weather had been pretty crummy here in Vermont, and Navah and I were seriously in need of a vacation. So we headed to...Montreal. Not the obvious choice for a mid-winter getaway, but a trip to the beach wasn't in the cards. And, as shocking as it continues to be to me, Montreal is just an hour and a half away from Burlington. That means it's a perfect candidate for a quick overnight trip to see some attractions, eat some delicious food, and not check your phone for a couple days (that was a surprise - we both forgot that we wouldn't have data service while in Canada - made for some interesting navigating and a lot of high fives for not ending up completely and totally lost forever). 

The reason it really did make sense to go farther north to get away from the cold was Montreal's Botanical Gardens. We'd been wanting to visit for a while, and the need for a getaway combined with the promise of hot, humid rooms filled with gorgeous blooms and delicate butterflies put us over the edge. And what a good call. We took off our coats and spent three hours relishing the exquisite beauty. 

We also took advantage of being in the big city to visit Chinatown and get our fill of hot and sour soup, spring rolls, and deep fried saucy meat at Amigo. Oh, and let's not forget the South Indian restaurant where we crammed ourselves full of idli, uttapam, and masala dosas. And of course the numerous Tim Hortons donuts I consumed on the way there and the way back. 

This is how I feel when I see a Tim Hortons sign on the road. 

(not from Montreal)

What is it about Tim Hortons? I hate to talk smack about our US donuts, but they just do donuts right up there. For one thing, I don't know what this says about Canadians, but no matter what time you go, they are chock full of donuts. They don't run out of things as the day ends. They're like, no more maple boston creams and it's 4:00 in the afternoon? MAKE SOME MORE. 


We stayed in Old Montreal, which we've visited once before, at a fancy hotel (yay for Sunday night deals) that was filled with original art. Most of it wasn't really my style, but it was really fun to walk down and halls and look at all the pieces. We spent a few hours wandering the quiet streets on Monday morning, stopping into a shop here or there and doing a little maple syrup tasting. And to top things off, we visited Target since we don't have one here in Vermont.

When we got back into the car to head home, it felt like 36 hours very well spent. Plus we've added a ton more to our list of Things To Do in Montreal and will definitely be planning some more day trips this summer. 

Let's be honest - the primary purpose will be more dosas and donuts. We'll see some pretty stuff if we have time.

p.s. I'm making a version of this simple cabbage salad at least once a week right now. Healthy, filling, and it keeps in the fridge way better than a traditional salad. 

My Travel Wish List

Clockwise from top left
Rwinkwavu, Rwanda / Monteverde, Costa Rica, / Tikal, Mexico / The Grand Canyon

I'm not one of those people who starts to get antsy if they've been at home three weekends in a row. I love the familiarity and comfort of the place that's mine. But I do also enjoy seeing new places - appreciating the change in landscape, marveling at the different cultures, and being challenged to expand my view of the world and of humanity. Many of my most treasured experiences have been while traveling.

I move through my list slowly because it's not always our biggest financial priority, and we seem to have put our backpacking, hostel-staying days behind us (at least for now). We're not taking big trips overseas every year. But I hope we'll have a lifetime to get to all these lovely spots.

The Galรกpagos Islands

I have wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands since I learned all about Charles Darwin my freshman year of high school. While I truly do not have a mind for science, I do have an innate love for the natural world (minus spiders). One of my favorite things to do on any trip that involves the potential for flora and fauna sightings is to carry a little guidebook or guide sheet (like the laminated folding ones they sell at national parks) so that every time I see something interesting, I can whip out my little sheet and identify it. There's probably some sociological or psychological message in there, but it brings me an enormous amount of satisfaction. The notion of all these unique animals in a space that is simultaneously their natural habitat and protected and available for viewing just delights me. And my inner amateur photographer is just dying to come home with photos of a blue-footed booby.

York, England

I'm cheating a bit on this one since I've already been to York. Twice, actually. But they were short day trips, and each of them simply solidified my desire to visit for a longer period of time. During my first visit to York, with my family at age 15, we had afternoon tea at Bettys, and it was enchanting. I have always been (and will likely always be) completely smitten with all things that quaint and romantic. Sitting there, dining on scones and little sandwiches from a beautiful tiered tea stand, I felt as if I had entered a different era. Years later, I've had tea several other times at restaurants and cafes looking to create that same feeling, but no one does it for me like Bettys. I even convinced several of my friends to travel there with me for an afternoon tea while I was studying abroad in college. Of course, a tea room seems a silly reason to travel all the way to England. But it's more than that. The whole city endeared itself to me in one short afternoon, with a little stroll down its narrow streets lined with shops and a stop in a large square where a small marching band was entertaining the crowd. I want more. 

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

While she was working in Rwanda, my sister took a trip to Tanzania for a safari. Her pictures afterwards were all I needed to see to confirm that I absolutely, definitely, without a doubt want to go on a safari there. She woke up in the morning with an elephant just a few feet from her tent! She watched a mama lion with her cubs. In real life. Not on the discovery channel, and not in a zoo. I had the incredible opportunity to go on a gorilla trek in Rwanda, and the short time I spent in the presence of those animals remains one of my favorite life experiences. And the animals were not the only stars of the show. The landscape is simply spectacular. Once again, my camera is trying to bust out of its bag just because I'm writing this. But even if I couldn't take pictures, I want to spend a few days in a place that beautiful and unique.

The Aran Islands, Ireland

I have wanted to go to Ireland for as long as I can remember. My desire is largely based on romantic notions about the Irish brogue, rousing pub music, and the misty view from a craggy cliff. The combination of old world life and the natural beauty of the Aran Islands drew me in. I love historical sites with archaeological remains, and I adore the fact that the stone wall running throughout the entire group of islands acts like a reminder of the passage of time. Aside from learning about the history of the area, a trip here would be all about taking in the gorgeous scenes and wandering through the little towns. And the knitter in me definitely wouldn't leave without an Aran sweater

I know. This is a little...broad. I can't make up my mind about something specific. India's a big place, and as one would expect, it seems that different parts of the country have really different cultures. Ideally, I'd love to spend a month or more traveling to many areas - the beaches that my wife has talked so much about, the mountains, the cities that will overwhelm me. I want to eat so much delicious Indian food that it's almost ruined for me once I return home. And I want to actually experience a place that is so connected with particular ideas in our rhetoric and in our movies - the yogi, the slums, the bins of brightly colored spices, the cows in the streets, the children shouting and banging on the car windows. I'm not starting with a huge knowledge base on this one, but perhaps that's better - I'll be more open to learning and experiencing when I do have the opportunity to go.

What is on your travel list?

p.s. This was one of my most incredible travel experiences.


Oh hi.

I could go into a long song and dance about why I've been away from the blog for a while, but that's no fun.  And I'm following the advice of my old therapist who, when I came to therapy once after missing several weeks and bemoaned all the time I would need to spend getting her up to speed, said "or you could just start where you are."  So there you go.

Our trip down the coast of Maine (from Bar Harbor/Acadia National Park, through Camden and Rockland, and finally Port Clyde) at the end of July was gorgeous and a welcome vacation from busy work life.  We got in some hiking, some reading, some lounging, some quality time with each other, and some laughs with friends.  And of course, a lot of photography.

The Honeymoon Files: Helicopters, Volcanoes, and Valleys, Oh My!

The majority of our time on the Big Island was spent beaching it up, but we put on real clothes long enough to do a few other awesome activities.  

First, on the day after I got horribly sunburned, we headed about an hour a half away from our resort to the mysterious Waipio Valley.  

The drive there was pretty neat because, up until then, we'd been in a little beach resort town and hadn't seen much of the rest of Hawaii.  The drive to and from Waipio Valley brought us into farmland that looked like we could've been anywhere in the US.  

And on the way back, we drove through miles and miles of ranch land covered in shrubby little bushes that seemed inhospitable to even the most undiscerning grazer.  

As for the valley itself, we'd read about it in the guide book, and I was already super intrigued before we even got there.  The valley itself is a controversial place.  Before 1946, it was a booming little town of sorts, housing between 5 and 10 thousand people at any given time.  There were schools and churches, stores, a post office.  And then the 1946 tsunami and a 1979 deluge destroyed everything.  For 1946, no one lived there, and then in the 60s, people started claiming the land (mostly hippies, apparently).  Local Hawaiians cried foul, but the land records for the area were so sparse that they weren't able to provide proof of ownership.  Now it's kind of an off-the-grid lawless area with only about fifty inhabitants that highly value their privacy.  At least that's my understanding of it.  As I said, it's pretty controversial and there are a lot of different notions of whose land it is and whose land it isn't.  You can read more about it here and here

Many people just stop at the lookout either because they don't want to make the trip down into the valley or because they're exercising a great deal of sensitivity towards the privacy wishes of the people who live inside. 

And the view at the lookout is pretty stunning on its own.

But we were determined to go in, and our guide book assured us that it was actually totally acceptable to walk down the public road and into the public areas of the valley.  (Also, there are tours that go down into the valley, so we took that as a sign.)  The road down into the valley is a little less than one mile long and it's the steepest road of its length in the US.  It drops 800 vertical feet in 0.6 miles. 

Because we didn't rent a four-wheel drive car, we walked, knowing that we'd just have to take the long hike back up very slowly (luckily some nice person picked us up halfway to the top and drove us the rest of the way).  

The trek down was also when I snapped my favorite-ever picture of Navah.

I'm sorry, but is she not the cutest?

Okay, back to Waipio...

Looking into the valley as we made our way down the wildly steep paved road (on foot because only four-wheel drive cars are allowed) into the depths, my immediate thought was "a Hawaiian Little House on the Prairie."  So of course I wanted to live there.  

Once you get down inside, you can't blame the folks for wanting to keep the place to themselves.  

I mean, right?

Don't you want to live there?

We didn't see many signs of life while were walking around - just a couple small houses, but we stayed on the edges of the valley, in part because it started to rain and was getting late and in part to respect the  wishes of those who had set up their homes deeper in the valley.  

I'm still incredibly intrigued by it but have been able to find very little information.  In my fantasy life, I go and interview everyone who lives there.  (I don't respect people's privacy in my fantasy life.)

After we left the west side of the island where most of the beaches are, we headed over to Hilo on the east side and went on a kick-ass helicopter ride with Paradise Helicopters in a Hughes 500 (hello Magnum PI fans) with no doors.  It was awesome.  Even though there wasn't a ton of lava for us to see, it was still super exhilarating, and I got a lot of fun pictures.  

We were clearly pretty windblown by the time it was over.  Seeing the island from up above was incredible, especially getting that vantage point for viewing the work of the volcanoes.  You really get a sense of their power and indiscriminate destruction. 

What an amazing trip this was, and it's been so awesome to relive it through these posts.  Next week I'll be moving on to some other exciting things - aka THE WEDDING, but I might revisit Hawaii a bit since I have a couple more topics I'd like to touch on!

Thanks for all your excitement about our Hawaii pictures - these posts have been so fun!


If you're catching up on the honeymoon:

The Honeymoon Files: Big Island Beaches

We spent much of our honeymoon doing what anyone does in Hawaii - hanging out on beaches.  An inner flap at the back of our guidebook (The Big Island Revealed) had a list of the fifteen best beaches on the Big Island.  I think in the beginning, we thought we might make it to at least a good portion of them.  But we only got to five.  One of those was the Kapoho Tide Pools, which I talked about yesterday in the snorkeling post, but which I'm not mentioning here because it's not really a beach in any normal sense of the word.

So why did we only get to five?  Well, for starters, the Big Island is... big.  We did a lot of driving to get around, and at some point, we had to accept that we simply didn't have the daylight hours to spend a meaningful amount of time at each of the beaches.  Also, my darling wife is a bit of a boogie boarding fanatic, so once we found an excellent boogie boarding spot close to our resort, we kept returning there.  Even so, I'm not sure we would have made it to some of those other beaches since they were a lot further away, and some of them required a long hike in, adding to the time element.

But we were completely pleased with the beaches we did hang out on, so here they are.

Kahalu'u Beach Park

You might remember Kahalu'u Beach Park from yesterday's snorkeling post.  It's where we saw most of the turtles on the trip and where all of my underwater turtle photos came from.  But it also has a small beach and we hung out on the sand for a bit both times we snorkeled.

While it's an excellent spot for snorkeling, it's the least inviting for beach-lounging of any of the beaches we visited.  The sand is a little less fine, and it's very close to the highway, so there's a lot of noise from the road.   And because of all the reefs out in the water, you don't get that view of the waves hitting the sand that I really love.

But it was a fine place to enjoy lunch or read a bit while we dried off from a turtle rendezvous.

That's our little beach set-up.  We didn't originally have an umbrella, but we made our 89th trip to a store for supplies to grab one after my unfortunate sunburn debacle.

We spent a shocking amount of time at big box stores on the Big Island.  In fact, we visited Walmart, K-mart, and Target - some of them more than once.  We went originally our first day there to get boogie boards, sunscreen, and some snorkel gear for me.  Navah already had her own snorkel gear, and buying some for me ended up being much more cost-effective than renting either for the whole time we were there or at each place we snorkeled.

We kept joking that we couldn't go a day without going shopping because then we had to go for aloe and an umbrella, and then neosporin and bandaids after Navah cut herself on some rocks, and then for some sunglasses, and then to pick up the second book of The Hunger Games series.  You know, the essentials.

Magic Sands Beach

Magic Sands was our prime boogie boarding spot.  We visited on our first beach day after snorkeling at the Kahalu'u Beach Park.  They're about a five-minute drive away from each other, so it was an easy pairing.

The beach is just a short strip of sand, and it gets its name because during the winter, all the sand that's there now will be washed out to sea, leaving only lava rocks.  When summer rolls around, the ocean will deposit it all back there again. Pretty amazing.

Also amazing - the size of the waves here.

Navah taught me about boogie boarding early on in our relationship, and I'm so glad she did.  When you've got good waves, it's such a thrill!  And I love just hanging out in the water with the board, chatting and waiting for the next ride in.

The waves at Magic Sands were incredible.  I knew we'd come back after the first day because we had such an amazing time.  In fact, we came back twice. The second time we were there right after high tide on a weekend, and there were so many people in the water and the waves were so high, we were actually a little afraid to go in.  The locals have no such fear, and people are boogie boarding in such cramped quarters that there are bound to be collisions.  And there were.

We were involved in some of them.

On that second afternoon, we left after I got pummeled particularly badly by a wave I misjudged and did somersaults underwater with someone else.  I never figured out who it was, but if you tangled my legs up with theirs, I'm sure I'd recognize them.  As soon as I tried to stand up, I was brought down again. Once I made it out of the water, my head felt a little woozy in a way that worried me, so we headed home for the day.

But I was totally fine, and we ended our afternoon there again the next day.  It was the perfect pre-dinner activity.  Just an hour or so riding the waves, then showers, and off to eat.

One final note about Magic Sands Beach - on one occasion, we were riding the waves with a turtle!  There was a big guy - the biggest I saw on the trip - just floating around, coming in and out with the waves, making his way across the beach.  It actually hit Navah in the leg with its flipper!

Hapuna Beach

Hapuna Beach, named one of the best beaches in the nation, is where we did most of our lounging.  The water's fairly calm, so boogie boarding isn't that great.  What you want to do mostly is either hang out in it or just sit staring at it.  The colors are exquisite.  And the sand is so fine and beautiful.

The first day we were there, they were having some sort of crazy wind that whipped you raw with sand, so we arranged ourselves pretty far back from the water and in a little rock cove where we were protected from the blowing sand and there was a tree for shade.  Or so we thought - that's the day I got terribly sunburned.

We ended up going twice because Mauna Kea Beach, another on the best beaches list, is close by but has only thirty parking spots.  When we tried to go, they were all full (and there's an attendant, so we couldn't just randomly park anywhere), so we headed back over to Hapuna.  With no wind, we sat right up close to the water and had a wonderful afternoon.

Kua Bay

Kua Bay was another beauty.  We spent an afternoon lounging here and even did a little snorkeling.  I didn't mention it in the snorkeling post because it's less of a snorkeling area and more of a beach-lounging area.  The snorkeling's pretty limited, but I did see a turtle and followed it around for a bit.  But I didn't bring my underwater camera with me out there, so no photos. 

Mostly we just lounged and read our books here and floated in the water. It was more of a local hangout than Hapuna Beach, with some folks chatting on cell phones, radios playing, and families having barbeques. 

One of the cool things about Kua Bay is the drive going in.  It really shows how desolate the landscape looks.  And then all the sudden, you're somewhere ridiculously beautiful.

Waipio Valley Black Sand Beach

The day we hiked down into Waipio Valley is a whole other post because that place was magnificient.  But I'm including the black sand beach here since it's gorgeous.  I'd never been to a black sand beach, and I'll admit that I was a little disappointed when we walked up because someone had told me that it sparkled like diamonds.  And to me, it looked basically like dirt.

But then when we walked in some more and got to the part where the tide had come in, and the sand was wet and glistening.  Maybe not like diamonds, but it was certainly beautiful.

We hadn't brought anything for swimming because our guidebook mentioned that the surf was generally too rough for that here.  It's possible we could have stepped in and waded around a bit, but we opted just to enjoy the beauty of it and our smallness against that vast ocean.

I'm hoping one day we'll travel to another Hawaiian Island, and I'm guessing we'll see gorgeous beaches there, but I'll be surprised if they top these. 

But then maybe that's just the honeymoon talking...


If you'd like to catch up on The Honeymoon Files:

The Honeymoon Files: The Big Island
The Honeymoon Files: Snorkeling on the Big Island


The Honeymoon Files: Snorkeling on the Big Island

Kahalu'u Beach Park

If the Big Island's land was a little less lush than I had imagined, its waters more than made up the difference.

Kealakekua Bay

I think there's a notion out there that the beaches on the Big Island aren't that great.  I haven't been to Maui or any of the other islands, so I can't really say what they are in comparison.  But if the other islands' beaches are better, they must be verging on magical because the beaches we visited were spectacular.  If it wasn't the flawless swath of sand and the crystal clear aqua water, it was the overwhelming variety of coral and beautifully colored fish, or the proximity to dolphins, or the opportunity to swim alongside a green sea turtle.

Kahalu'u Beach Park

In my opinion, once you're swimming with turtles, you don't really need much else.  But I get that other people have other desires. 

Seriously, though. 

Between the snorkeling and the boogie boarding, our water days were fabulous.  Except for the one where I got horribly sunburned.  Well, that day was fabulous.  But then things were a little rough afterwards.  I wore a shirt in the water and on the beach for the rest of the trip.  It's the worst I've ever been burned in my life, which is exactly what you hope will happen on your honeymoon.  Blisters are so sexy. 

But my wife was very generous with the aloe-rubbing, and I made it through.  Except for a wee bit of whining and a tad less skin showing, it didn't change our trip at all.

I had planned for this post to tell you all about our snorkeling and boogie boarding and beach lounging, but once I'd written a short book about the snorkeling, I realized that I'd have to save the other two for another post.  So, more on those later.  For now, here's the lowdown on the superb snorkeling on the big island.

Kahalu'u Beach Park

We started out at Kahalu'u Beach Park, which we heard had awesome snorkeling and was just about 5 miles from our resort.  Within moments, I was snapping shots with my iphone (I often didn't have my good camera with me, depending on whether I thought it would be safe) of a turtle munching on some algae close into the rocky shore.  There's nothing like a turtle to get me sloshing into the water - I'm normally an inch-by-inch girl.  

Crazed with excitement and kind of scary-looking.

With our flippers on, we mosied around the reef.  The coral and fish were neither the most abundant nor the most colorful of our trip, but the snorkeling there was the easiest and what I would most recommend to anyone who was snorkeling with kids.  Because of a reef about a hundred yards out, the water was pretty calm, as opposed to some of the other areas we snorkeled.  And the fish were incredibly friendly!  We started seeing pretty little guys the moment we stuck our masks in the water, and they swam right over to us.  At one point there were fish swimming through my legs. 

Of course the absolute best part about Kahalu'u Beach Park were the turtles.  I hung out with some close to shore on our first trip there, but the second time we went (yep, we enjoyed it so much, we went twice), I got to spend some uninterrupted time out in the water with a little turtle friend.  I was just swimming along and there coming towards me was a lone green sea turtle that seemed completely uninterested in my existence.  In fact, if I hadn't gotten out of the way, I'm pretty sure it would have just run right into me.  As it were, I followed it for a while, marveling at how graceful it looked under water.  Once it stopped to nibble some algae on a rock, I left it to dine in peace.  But spending those few minutes swimming along together was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay (where Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii) gets some of the best snorkeling reviews and is mentioned in all the guidebooks, so that was our next snorkeling stop. You can't get there just by driving.  You have to either take a half-day boat tour with a bunch of other snorkelers or kayak about a mile from a nearby pier.  We went the kayaking route and opted to use a tour company since neither of us are super strong kayakers, and we didn't love the idea of just being set out into the wide ocean to fend for ourselves.  

It turned out to be a great decision on our part because our guide Bari, the owner of Hawaii Pack & Paddle, was crazy informative about everything we saw along the way and made the trip so interesting.  Him and the dolphins, that is.

Yep, we kayaked alongside spinner dolphins.  I never got a picture of them leaping out of the water because my iphone just couldn't get its act together to take photos that fast and I kept having to swing around because I never knew where the next one would pop out of the water.  But it was amazing.  They were beautiful, and it was really special to be right down there with them.  Some folks happened to be snorkeling at the right time and were able to actually be in the water with them, but I guess I'll have that to look forward to that for my next trip.

And it wasn't like our in the water time wasn't exciting.  Just the opposite.  Our tour guide got into the water and swam around with us the entire time, pointing out and identifying various types of fish and coral, something I've never had a snorkeling tour guide do before.  Even before we got into the water, he gave us a little marine life lesson at a small tide pool, showing us sea cucumbers, rock urchins (which, we learned, will not pierce your skin, like black urchins), sea worms, and brittle star fish.  

That sea worm was not pleased
It appears sea cucumbers are not Navah's cup of tea
These rock urchins' pointy spines aren't actually that sharp

I wish I had gotten a picture of the brittle star fish or the look on Navah's face when it was wiggling across her hands.  It was so awesome!  

Once we were swimming around, we saw easily 40 different types of fish. One of my favorite moments was catching a barracuda in the middle of being groomed by a brightly colored cleaner fish.

I love to know what I'm looking at when I'm out and about in nature, so I usually pick up some sort of laminated flora/fauna guide when I'm on vacation.  At Kealakekua Bay, we saw almost every single fish on our guide.  Bari was sad he couldn't find us a white tip reef shark, but I was okay with that, dangerous or not.  Sharks are sharks in my book.

By the time we came in from about an hour and a half of snorkeling, I thought my legs were going to fall off.  The current was pretty strong, so we were working hard.  Of course, I was still freezing - bath water, it's not.  After we had lunch and warmed up a bit on the hot rocks, we muscled our way back to the pier in our kayak.  And I mean muscled.  There was counting involved - as in, "thirty strokes and then we can rest for ten seconds."  But I'd do it all again.

Kapoho Tide Pools

Finally, a friend had told us we couldn't miss the Kapoho Tide Pools. They're on the east side of the island.  Because we spent the majority of our time on the west side where the beaches are, we didn't make it until the second to last day of our trip, but it was so worth it.  Getting around there was a little harrowing because the lava rocks in between the tide pools are sometimes sharp or wobbly or slippery or all of those put together.  And many of the tide pools could only be reached by walking along skinny little "bridges" of lava rock since they didn't all connect to each other.

A tiny tide pool - not deep enough to swim in
We didn't see as many fish as we had at the Kealakekua Bay, but the coral!  Oh my goodness.  I wished in those moments that I were an underwater photographer.  My little disposable just could not capture the beautiful colors and textures we were seeing.  My favorite looked like someone had just laid a blanket of knobby coral all over everything. 

Do you see all the fish?
The colors were so much better than this!

Once we figured out that a few of the tide pools did actually connect, we made our way carefully over the lava rocks to that area and swam through little channels to get into each separate pool. The tide was coming in, so swimming to pools further out was super challenging.  I'm pretty sure that at one point, I was swimming as hard as I could and not actually moving at all.  But then on the way back in, the tide just pushed us slowly through the little channels, and we didn't have to swim at all.  It was like one of those magic river things at a water park.  But real!

During all of these trips, I was carrying around a little disposable underwater camera, never sure what kind of shots I was getting at all.  It turns out I didn't get anything too great, and the pictures don't do justice at all to the colors of the coral.  But I had such a fun time, I'm okay with that.  Just sad that I can't share with you guys what I was seeing down there!

Have any of you been to the Big Island?  Or done other snorkeling in Hawaii?
Tell me about it!


If you're catching up, here's day one of the Honeymoon Files:

The Honeymoon Files: The Big Island

The Honeymoon Files: The Big Island

And we're back!

We spent ten and a half days on the Big Island in Hawaii, the island that bears the name of the state.  They were glorious, sun-filled, relaxing days.  

We were only able to take the trip to Hawaii because my dad and stepmom gifted us time at the Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort through my stepmom's timeshare membership.  And we were so, so glad they did.  The resort was lovely and perfect for us.  And the location allowed us to travel to so many different beaches around the area.  A car is a necessity on the Big Island, and we drove a lot more than I anticipated, but it meant that we got to see basically the entire place (which is about the size of Connecticut).

The west side, where we stayed for the majority of our trip, is drier and has more beaches.  Because the Big Island is the youngest of the islands in the Hawaiian chain, you can still see a lot of lava, especially on the west side where there hasn't been enough rain to turn it into the lush tropics that you might imagine when you think of Hawaii.  It's a striking sight - black lava rock for as long as the eye can see until - bam! clear blue ocean.  

The east side, on the other hand, is just what you would expect.  Lush gardens, waterfalls, black sand beaches.  Oh, and volcanoes.  

I'll be back the rest of this week with more photos and information on the honeymoon. 

I know many of you are itching for photos from the wedding, but you're just going to have to wait! (just like I am!)  Although I'll tell you that from the few shots I've seen, be prepared for loveliness!


Instagramming NYC

I spent a whirlwind two days in New York City this weekend, beginning with a 5:40 am flight out of Burlington on Saturday morning and ending with a 9:45 pm flight back on Sunday night.  But it was totally worth it to spend time with my sister, newly returned from Rwanda.  We did some shopping and went on a few Craigslist runs to help outfit her apartment.  I had my iphone at the ready at all times and instagrammed away. 

I found that I enjoyed the city a lot more now that I live in Burlington.  When I lived in DC, I used to find New York overwhelming and a little annoying in its too-much-ness.  But this time it felt more like a fun vacation filled with lots of sensations and adventure.

I'm sure it didn't hurt that I was so excited to spend the time with my little sis either.

What did you do this weekend?


Rwanda: Kitenge Fabric Dress

I am not a fashion blogger.

This is because (a) I am not fashionable, and (b) I have a very hard time looking normal in posed photos. 

But this dress warrants a little fashion blogger-esque post.

Remember when I told you about my East African kitenge fabric? Back when I had just returned from Rwanda

And I told you that I had left some fabric behind so that my sister's seamstress could make me a dress? 

Well, the dress has arrived! All the way from Rwanda, and I absolutely love it.

I wore it out to the Burlington Farmers Market on Saturday and threw my arms up in a victory cheer when a girl walking by me turned and yelled over her shoulder, "love your dress!"  Score.

And it has pockets.

Double score. 

And since these pictures were taken at our farmers market surrounded by scrumptious locally grown fruits and veggies (I had a delicious fresh squeezed pear ginger kale juice from the solar-powered juice stand), I'll make an only slightly clumsy segue into telling you all about an awesome organization down in Tennessee that needs your help to win a fruit orchard. 

Plant the Seed is a not-for-profit program that uses community and school gardens as outdoor classrooms to educate and empower under-resourced young people.

It's run by a fabulous (and funny) woman named Susannah, and it's in the running for a whole orchard of fruit trees from the Edy's Communities Take Root contest.  You can read about Plant the Seed here and then head over to the Communities Take Root website and vote for Plant the Seed every day.  There's not much time left, so get over there now!

Don't you love how this post transitioned from a fashion post into one about donating money to a gardening and food security nonprofit? I told you - a fashion blogger, I am not. 


Lake Kivu

One of my absolute favorite photos from my trip to Rwanda was this one of the boats out on Lake Kivu. 

I was mesmerized by the way the water slid right into the sky, as if the gentle waves would go on and on into eternity. And I could just make out the sounds of the men calling to each other as they rowed. Looking at it brings me right back to that beach - to the lapping of water against the shore, the call of birds, the smell of sunscreen, and the feel of the hot sun warming my face. 

When I saw a Living Social deal for a 16 x 20 canvas from ImageCanvas, I bought it that instant and knew exactly which photo I'd be blowing up. 

I was a little nervous since I'd only seen it on the computer screen, but I needn't have worried. 

It's even more beautiful on the canvas. 

And I love that I can make out the silhouettes of tiny individual men against the sky.

I hung it over my dresser with one of my favorite paintings by my mom, and I think they compliment each other nicely. Another piece will be going next to them, but you'll have to wait to see that one. 

I am still so grateful that I got to go on that adventure with my mom and my sister and witness such incredible beauty, and I'm delighted now to have a gorgeous reminder each morning when I open my eyes and get ready for the day. 


Rwanda: The Pediatrics Ward

Walking into the pediatrics ward at a rural district hospital supported by Inshuti Mu Buzima (Partners In Health), I felt uneasy, self-conscious - I didn't know how to be, what to say, what to do. I was fixated on the language barriers, on my lack of knowledge about cultural or social cues. I held back, watching my sister Hannah walk around the room, saying hello to the children and shaking the hands of the parents who stay at the hospital - day and night - with their kids.  

As my eyes skittered around the room, I realized I was looking for some sign from the people there - mostly from the parents - that it was okay that I was there, that I was doing or saying the right things, being the right way. Seeking some sort of permission from parents who were attending to their sick children was understandable, but I knew what I really wanted was for them to comfort me, to take away my uneasiness 

Hannah, on the other hand, was greeting everyone with warmth. If she had any self-consciousness, she set it aside, knowing that what was important in that moment was not her own sense of emotional comfort. Instead, she seemed secure in the knowledge that what anyone - sick or well, Rwandan or American,  young or old - wants is someone to take an interest in them, to look them in the eyes, and engage with them. It was one of the many lessons I learned from my little sister in that small village. 

Here in the US, we're inundated with pictures - of each other, of ourselves, of what we ate and where we've been. On our mantles, in our wallets, on our facebook pages. We love documenting our lives so much that we've put cameras into our cell phones so that we're never without the ability to capture a moment. There are whole sections of stores - whole stores, even - devoted to scrapbooking and websites created for the sole purpose of sharing our images with each other. 

And it's glorious. As an amateur photographer, I love it. I love carrying my camera around with me. I love posting my photos and seeing what people have to say. I love the brief glimpses into other people's lives. 

But all this photography is more than just fun. It's also evidence of an unspoken belief by all of us that what we're doing, who we are, what we're wearing today is worthy of documentation. It's worthy of remembering. It's worthy of sharing with the world. People care (or should care) about who we are and what's happening in our lives. We take it as a given.

In Rwinkwavu at the pediatrics ward, the air changed when my mom and sister took out their cameras. I hadn't brought mine because we thought my big Nikon might be disconcerting. Perhaps it would've been, but I could feel the excitement rise when the children and their parents saw the little cameras. Some ran right over and asked for their pictures to be taken. Others hung back shyly but stared under lowered eyelids hoping that one of us would notice them. 

One boy could not raise himself from his bed but whispered to his mother, who called us over so that we would take his picture. 

After each shot, we turned the camera around so that they could see their own images reflected back. Sometimes they looked uncomfortable when the camera was on them, unsure of what to do. But once we turned it around, they smiled and pointed to the screen. Children giggled and poked at each other. And then they crowded into clumps and asked for more and more. 

Every picture we took was a statement. 

Your life is important enough to be documented. 

You, in this moment, are worthy of remembering.

Your face is so precious that I want to bring an image of it home with me and share it.

There are albums and albums of images of me at my mother's house - thirty-one years of documenting and remembering and honoring my life. I am so glad for them and for the ability to keep capturing moments.

One of the greatest gifts I've ever received was the opportunity to experience these children's and parents' joy when someone showed that same interest in honoring their lives for just a few brief moments.

David, in the yellow shirt above, is in India getting a special heart surgery. Please keep him and his family in your thoughts. 

Everyone wants to be seen, documented, remembered, honored. 

There are stories being lived everywhere.


As for the pillowcases that all you wonderful folks made, they were gorgeous. We distributed about thirty of them at this ward. More were sent to children and families in a hospital in Kirehe, Rwanda. The families loved them. Many of the babies there are so tiny that the parents used the pillowcases as blankets to cover them. The older children were so happy to have received something special just for them. 

And they were all delighted to share their new treasures with the camera. 


Embellished Hand Towels Tutorial

After reading several of the blog posts last week on my trip to Rwanda - like this one on traveling within the country and this one on the gorgeous African fabrics I brought home - a friend of mine emailed with the suggestion that I make something with the fabric to serve as a little gratitude reminder. After commenting on how challenging basic things like getting water are, I had remarked in one of the posts:

I have resolved to be more grateful for the ease with which I can get from place to place and acquire the things I "need." I have resolved to be grateful each time I turn on my faucet and pour myself a glass of water. But, as Hannah and I opined, that will last a few weeks. And then I'll forget, and I'll find myself complaining about having to walk to the little market a couple blocks away to get toilet paper when we run out. And then hopefully a little bell will ding in my head and bring me back to gratitude. 

She suggested that, to help keep gratitude for the ease with which we enjoy clean, potable water, I might make hand towels using the beautiful kitenge fabrics so that each time I dry my hands, I'll remember how lucky I am to have all that water! 

I instantly knew it was a brilliant idea and put it on my crafty to-do list. The fabric isn't soft or absorbent enough to act as a hand towel on its own, but I knew it would make a lovely embellishment to a standard hand towel. After picking up some plain kitchen towels and hand towels at Home Goods, I set to work on making some beautiful reminder towels. 

And because I love you guys, I put together a quick tutorial as well. These towels are a quick, simple way to add some personality to your kitchen or your bathroom. If you know how to sew a straight stitch on your sewing machine, you can make these in no time. 

First, lay the short side of your hand towel down on the wrong side of your (pre-washed and ironed) fabric. 

Using tailor's chalk or a fabric pen, draw a line on either side of the towel to mark how wide your fabric strip will need to be. 

Because you want a little extra fabric to fold onto the back of the towel, you'll measure 1 inch past your line and cut the fabric there. Do this on both sides of the fabric. 

Now that you have the appropriate length of fabric, cut the width that you would like. I wanted my fabric strip to be 2 inches wide, so I cut my fabric 2 1/2 inches wide, leaving myself a quarter inch seam allowance for the top and bottom. I went ahead and cut two strips since I knew I would be making two hand towels from the fish fabric. 

Head over to your ironing board and iron a little 1/4 inch fold all the way around your fabric - wrong side to wrong side. I always use a trick my mom taught me when I was first learning to sew. I draw a line on an index card 1/4 inch away from the edge and then use that as a guide when I'm ironing so that I have an even fold all the way across. 

Once your fabric strip is ironed, place it along the front of the towel just as you'd like it to be when sewn down. (I don't have picture of this part - woops!, but it looks basically like it does at the end). Fold over the two edges onto the back of the fabric and pin them down, making sure that you're the same distance from the bottom of the towel on both sides. 

Here comes the hardest part. You want to sew the folded-over fabric down to the back without stitching through the fabric on the front. It's really just a maneuvering issue, making sure that all the fabric is out of the way when you start the machine. 

Once both sides are sewn down in the back, then pin your front section down both at the top and the bottom. 

Now it's time to sew! Top stitch all the way across your fabric remembering to back stitch slightly at the beginning and end to stabilize the stitches.

I kept very close to the edge to minimize the look of the topstitch, but you can stitch further away if you'd like. Just remember that you want the actual edge of the fabric (that you folded over earlier with your iron) to be inside the topstitching so that you won't have any unraveling. 

Then cut any strands, and you're done!

There were a lot of pictures and steps, but one hand towel only takes about 30 minutes - and I'm a slow crafter. So it might be speedier for you. 

I'm enjoying having these pretty hand towels around, and I love that they serve the bonus function of helping me to remember how darn good I have it. (And sometimes I need the reminder! I've been known to get whiny about the silliest things!)

Is there anything you need help remembering to be grateful for? Even if you don't have African fabrics, you could make some of these towels out of any fabric you'd like with the same intention. Of course, you could also make them just to be pretty! Let me know if you whip any of these up - I'd love to see them.


Rwanda: The Mountain Gorillas

So, gorillas. 

We got to the Volcanoes National Park at around 7 am for our orientation and to meet with our guides. The dancers that perform during the gorilla naming ceremony came to perform their traditional dance, which was quite lively and just what I needed to wake me up a bit. 

These gorillas are a major source of pride and cultural identity for Rwandans, and they take their conservation very seriously. 

Then we got a little tutorial on gorilla behavior and the particular family of gorillas that we were going to see that day, the Hirwa Group. Trackers monitor the gorillas' location during the night so that they can radio the morning guides about where they are. We were going to see the Hirwa Group because it was in a location that was fairly accessible, and the trackers would stay with them until we arrived so we would be sure to see them. 

We hiked for about two hours straight up the mountain. It was fairly tough terrain, but one of the guides was in front of us hacking down briars and vines with a machete so that we could more easily make the trek. And there were porters carrying our bags. Mom, Hannah, and I only had one bag between us, so our porter felt a little useless, I think. That is, until Mom had trouble with one particularly gnarly rock area, and he came to her rescue. After that, he was right by her side helping her up the rest of the way. Other porters weren't quite as lucky. There was a wildlife photographer with us who had four enormous cameras, three of which his porter was carrying up on his back. I was worried for them, but then it was all of us who were huffing and puffing and needed to stop to catch our breath. 

The excitement in the group was pretty high - and only enhanced by the fact that we were told to remain very quiet in the hopes that we might see other wildlife. Something about the sound of just our footsteps and breathing in that big forest made the hike up feel like a wild adventure. 

And it was a bit - we were going to hang out with gorillas. 

Those are the enormous feet of the Silver Back Gorilla.

We spent an hour with them, and it was pretty freaking amazing. Of course, my main feeling was that I really wanted more time. I'm so glad that I have tons of great photos, but I wanted to just sit next to them for a while, shoot the breeze. We had to stay about 5 feet away from them at all times because they're very susceptible to human diseases, but man, did I want to cuddle. At least until the wind changed, and I got a whiff of them. Pee-ewe.

The seven of us crowding around snapping their photos and taking video didn't really seem to phase them at all. I asked the guide what they thought of us. After being a tracker and then a guide for twelve years, he thinks they just see us as little anemic gorillas. They were probably worried about our nutrition! Whatever the case, they just went about their business as if we weren't there.

But looking at my photos afterwards, I could not get over how expressive their faces are! Just look at these guys (and gals).

This will be perfect for my OK Cupid profile.

What? It's just an appetizer. I'll still be hungry for dinner. I promise.

Okay, if we multiply the derivative..nom 4 and...nom nom...divide the sum by 8, I think...nom nom...that'll give us the value we're looking for.


Go on. Save yourselves. I'm just...too...weak...must rest...on this...branch...

I could totally climb this...
Maybe a snack first...
Damn. Is that a hangnail? 

You're going to put this on youtube, right? Here I come Ellen show!
What?! Downtown Abbey's new season doesn't start until 2013?!
Sigh. What's the point anymore? I miss Mary. 

Be careful up there! Somebody's gonna poke an eye out!
Don't you talk back to me, young man.
Can you hear me now?


Southern Brunch in Rwanda

I expected to learn a lot about the people and culture of Rwanda while I was there, but it didn't occur to me that I would also learn about expat culture. Having never lived in another country, it's something that I'd never really thought about before - the coming together of a bunch of people who are happy to be where they are but who are also missing the comforts of home. And the most missed comfort of all? You guessed it. 


In Kigali, the capital city, and other cities that cater to travelers, there are plenty of places to go get something to satisfy your home-food cravings. While there, I had bagels and cream cheese, pizza, a veggie burger, and a particularly amazing bowl of risotto. (Don't worry - I also ate Rwandan food. We ate a surprising amount of food in 8 days.)

At the African Bagel Company in Kigali

But in the villages like Rwinkwavu, where Hannah lives, culinary options are more limited. 

For the most part, Hannah eats at the dining house in the hospital complex or at the one restaurant in the village. The food is simple - mostly rice and beans, meat brochettes (kebabs), or rice and a meat stew. At the restaurant, she can also get an omelette and a Coca-Cola or a Fanta (which I became particularly fond of). The food isn't bad, but it lacks the diversity that we're used to. I get sick of even my favorite meal after I've had it three or four times, so I understand the expats' desires for something new. 

Luckily, among the group in Rwinkwavu, there are two ladies who love to cook, Hannah being one of them. When my mom and I arrived with suitcases filled with food, some of what we were packing was the ingredients necessary to make the Southern-style brunch that Hannah had promised to about 20 of the other folks working in Rwinkwavu. Hannah lives in a dorm for short-term employees (she's only there for one year), but some of the more permanent staff share houses with kitchens. So the brunch was planned for one of those houses. 

We had a portable propane-fueled stove of sorts with two burners to work with. And for the biscuits that my mom was making, we were planning to walk over to the dining house and use their stove. We were glad to be using propane since electricity is sometimes a luxury. The power had gone out for about 6 hours the night before and went out intermittently on our trip, so we didn't want to be dependent on that. 

On the menu: cheese grits, corn bread (made by one of Hannah's friends), breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs, and biscuits. 

The fresh ingredients (besides the cheese, which my mom valiantly carried in her carry-on all the way from Atlanta) had been purchased in Kigali by one of Hannah's friends and carried to Rwinkwavu on a moto

We borrowed pots from the dining house, carefully orchestrated the order of preparation so that we had burners available when we needed them, monitored the filtered water levels (though we did run out), and traipsed down to the dining house to bake the biscuits in an oven that had to be held shut with a stick and took forty-five minutes to bake one batch of biscuits. It was a determined crowd. 

The end result did not disappoint. 

Even the little ones were happy. 

It seems that it's impossible for me to talk about my travel in Rwanda without being overcome with the realization of how easy our lives are here and how grateful I am for things that I have, in the past, taken for granted. 

And of course, the challenges that day were the ones faced by a group of expats in Rwinkwavu who have significantly more resources than those living in the village surrounding them. Plenty of food, ready access to propane, a water filtration system, and my mom! She carried a whole suitcase of food over there and then made the biscuits without a recipe, using her hand as a "rolling pin." 

And they were easily the best biscuits I've ever had. 

Hannah's coworkers gushed over the food and over us for having made it, telling us thank you over and over again. But I must end this post by saying thank you to them, for doing the work that they're doing, for welcoming us into their community for a few days, and - on a more selfish level - for being such a wonderful, warm family for my sister while she is away. I was sad to say goodbye to Hannah when we got in the taxi for the airport, but I was so glad to know that she was going back to her little expat family in Rwinkwavu. 


Rwanda: East African Kitenge Fabrics

My sister Hannah met us at the airport in Kigali, and the first thing I noticed in my zombie-like state after 23 hours of travel was the adorable dress she was wearing. Once she told me that it had been made in Rwinkwavu (her village) with fabric she bought at a Kigali market, I became obsessed. Could her seamstress make me a dress too? Could she make more than one? How much did the fabric cost? How much of it could I fit in my bag to bring home? And when, oh WHEN were we going to go to the fabric market???

The fabric I was pining after is called kitenge and is common throughout East Africa. It is a wax print fabric, made by imprinting a pattern of melted wax onto the fabric and then dying it. While many people in Rwanda, especially the men, wear the same type of clothes that we would wear - jeans, t-shirts, etc. - you can't go more than a few steps without seeing women dressed in the more traditional kitenge, especially in the villages. Women wear the beautiful fabric tied around their waists in the style of a sarong or sewn into beautiful dresses. And I saw more adorable babies that I can count wrapped up in little kitenge bundles on their mamas' backs. 

Hannah hadn't scheduled our Kigali market trip until our very last day in Rwanda, so I had the rest of the trip to do a little reconnaissance. All that looking out the windows of taxis and buses was great for scoping out which patterns of kitenge I liked the best and what I wanted to be on the look-out for at the market. While there are many different patterns, there isn't the diversity that you would see in a place like the US, so similar patterns kept repeating themselves as I looked around. And Hannah assured me that if I saw a pattern I liked, I was very likely to find it at the market. Armed with this knowledge, I was on the prowl. 

Hannah in one of the fabric stalls at the market. She has a remarkable way with children, and mothers seem to know it. On more than one occasion, we looked up to find that a baby was reaching out for Hannah, and its mother was happily watching as Hannah held the baby and oohed and aahed over it.

The pattern I became most interested in was a repeated fish motif that the staff wore at the inn where we stayed in Gisenyi on Lake Kivu (which lies between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo). 

Here, one of the waiters asked me to take his picture when he spotted me crawling around trying to snap a shot of a particularly agile lizard. And along with his smiling face, I had captured an image of the coveted fish fabric.

Though I was happily snagging several other patterns, the fish pattern was difficult to find. But thanks to Hannah's commitment to the cause and impeccable sense of direction, we traipsed off on foot through Kigali to a third market - this one dedicated exclusively to fabric. With piles and piles of kitenge panels, the task would've been tedious if not for the deliciousness of sorting through gorgeous textiles. And, joyfully, in the last stall we found it! I held it up and waved it around, and I'm fairly certain all the women in there thought I was crazy. But with it wrapped up and safely in my bag, I was a happy traveler. 

I'm planning to make it into a skirt (which I'll definitely be sharing here), but I'll have plenty of fabric afterwards to make all sorts of things. With the other kitenge patterns that I brought home, I'm hoping to make all sorts of lovely things, maybe even some cushions to outfit our screened porch. And, of course, Hannah arranged to have both me and my mom measured while we were in Rwinkwavu, so her delightful seamstress Theresa is making us both dresses. Hurray!

I was so grateful to be able to bring home some of the beauty of Rwanda in my bag, and I can't wait to pull together some projects that will bring that color into my home. 


To and Fro in Rwanda

Some of the most interesting parts of my time of Rwanda were traveling to and from various cities. 

Though we clearly didn't cover the whole country, we began in Kigali (the capital), traveled to Kayonza (where Hannah's village Rwinkwavu is) on Friday, traveled back to Kigali on Tuesday and then on to Volcanoes National Park outside of Musenze, where we did a gorilla trek (more on that later this week!). On Wednesday, we headed down to Gisenyi, which sits on the gorgeous Lake Kivu. And on Friday, we did our last trip back into Kigali. 

Because the road systems are limited, travel doesn't always occur in what would seem like the straightest shot. And if you're using public transportation, like we were, then you usually have to route your travel through the main cities or towns. Even so, our longest drive was only three hours. The country is small.

In between cities, we mainly rode in public buses, using taxis only to go short distances within a particular city or town. Their public buses are genius. About the size of a small moving van, they manage to seat eighteen people who are getting in or out at various stops. Their genius is in the fold-up seats that happen at the third seat in each row. When these are folded up, there's an aisle leading to any seats behind. When they're folded down, they're...well...seats. Of course, this may require you to fold up your seat and smoosh yourself awkwardly up against the person you were sitting next to in order to let someone out, but even so, I admired the efficiency of their system.  

I was rarely wearing a seat belt on these journeys, whether I was on a bus or in a taxi. The buses don't have seat belts at all. The taxis have them, but only in the front. The law requires that front passengers have a seat belt but says nothing about back passengers. So, for the most part, in the back seat, they're either gone or they don't work. I got used to it eventually, though I'll admit that I hoped for a working seat belt each time. But the people I was most afraid for were not those of us in the vehicles but those on the outside. 

Along the sides of every road were people walking, riding bicycles, pushing bicycles, riding motorcycles.

("Motos" are a major source of transportation, and I'm a little sad that I didn't ride on one, even though I was also a little terrified to). 

And while there are sidewalks for this sort of thing in some places in Kigali, outside the cities, the side of the road is just that - the side of the road. And many of the roads are not paved. They're just dirt, so rain has caused huge divets and potholes. Because of these, drivers don't follow a straight path on the road. They're swerving (quite adeptly, actually) all over the place to avoid the largest holes. Sometimes this swerving brings them gaspingly (I made up that word because it adequately expresses my mental state in those moments) close to pedestrians (including tiny children) on the side of the road. I'm still amazed that I didn't witness anything terrible, but I determined that the people who live here grow up with this transportation system, so they're used to it and know what to do. I was always grateful when a car or bus gave a warning honk as it drove through a particularly busy area or one where small children were playing. 

In spite of my fear for everyone outside the car, I so appreciated the experience of looking out the window at such an interesting country. The landscapes were gorgeous, of course. But more than that, I was constantly in awe of the people that I saw walking to and fro, to and fro, to and fro. The physical labor involved in carrying out daily life - getting water, carrying crops to the market, walking to school, walking to get food from the market - is incredible and humbling. 

I have resolved to be more grateful for the ease with which I can get from place to place and acquire the things I "need." I have resolved to be grateful each time I turn on my faucet and pour myself a glass of water. But, as Hannah and I opined, that will last a few weeks. And then I'll forget, and I'll find myself complaining about having to walk to the little market a couple blocks away to get toilet paper when we run out. And then hopefully a little bell will ding in my head and bring me back to gratitude. 


Scenes from Rwanda

I have so much to say about my wonderful trip to Rwanda, but after traveling home for what seemed like 3 days and being pretty jet-lagged, all I can do for now is share with you some of the beautiful things I saw.

During the rest of the week, I'll share more photos and stories about my trip. Hopefully these will whet your appetite. 

Kigali 2Kigali marketKigali 9Road to Rwinkwavu 3Rwinkwavu 18Rwinkwavu 29Rwinkwavu 34Rwinkwavu 42Rwinkwavu 48Rwinkwavu 52Rwinkwavu 73Rwinkwavu 69Rwinkwavu 53Volcanoes National Park 2Road to Gisenyi 1Verunga Lodge 4Lake Kivu 21Lake Kivu 42Kigali market 11

Thanks for stopping by - it's nice to be home with you guys.