Rio de Janeiro

If I can describe Rio in one word, it would be “alive!” The locals are full of life and the tourists are infected. On the beach, people are strolling, bicycling, jogging, and playing volleyball or soccer. When lounging and soaking up the sun, locals would munch on Globo (ring-shape corn snack) and cold mate. You’ll see tourists trying fresh coconut juice or shaved ice and acai berries at the many snack shacks. Anywhere you go where there is music, locals (rich or poor) would sing along and start dancing – I’m very impressed and the world will be too when the 2016 Olympic Game comes to town. Here is a gathering of my favorite photos:

Leblon beach with girls from Chile20151204_102619.jpg

Playing Samba songs20151206_120935.jpg

Copacabana cooking class with Chef Simone 20151204_132941.jpg

Christ the Redeemer statueimage

Girls waiting for their ride after school at Santa Teresaimage

One of the ceramic tiles from Lapa stairsimage

Boys goofing off at Leblon beachimage

Trying anything with dulce de leche, dessert at CT Boucherieimage

Rented bikes from Bike Rio with Sandra from Sao Paoloimage

Christmas tree lighting and fireworks on Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoonimage

My first Havaianas gift from Sandra, “Oi, Tudo Bem?”
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Layover Tips

An airline fare is usually cheaper when there is a layover. The hours of waiting for the next segment of your flight can be a good transition. I see it as an opportunity to do something fun.

1. Do a culinary tour of an airport. My flight from Phoenix to Mexico City with United had a layover at Houston International Airport. At Terminal E, I had seaweed salad at The Market, oysters and shrimps at the popular Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen, and some tasty fingerling potatoes at Cat Cora’s Kitchen.20151201_182051

2. Explore the current art exhibitions inside the airport. Not only is walking good for you, but art hunting is also fun. For example, I was fortunate to see Arizona’s 100-anniversary celebration at Phoenix Airport by famous artists such as Merrill Mahaffey’s paintings of the Grand Canyon.

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3. Do a quick tour of a downtown area. Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Boston has a train conveniently located at the airport.

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4. Plan ahead and visit people you have not seen for awhile. My flight from Phoenix to Rio de Janeiro with American had a layover in New York. After a night sleep at the lower east side, I was able to meet up the next day with a friend over breakfast at Wholefoods in Union Square, lunch with my friends at their upper east side apartment, then a van shuttle took me back to the airport.

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5. Reserve ahead of time and check-in to an inexpensive hotel near the airport where you can catch up on work or a much-needed sleep.

Bon Voyage!

What Makes a Vacation Extraordinary?

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Child’s twined sandal on display in the museum at Aztec Ruins National Park – Part of the migratory way of life, the Pueblo people built this place for prayers and to perform ceremonies (October 4, 2015, photo by Magnolia)
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Supernova at Chaco Culture National Historic Park – Part of Penasco Blanco Trail is a 5.8 miles round trip hike to view this pictograph. Bonus, dog on a leash is allowed on this backcountry hiking trail (October 6, 2015, photo by Magnolia)
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Taos Pueblo is a living World Heritage Site – the people of the Red Willows tribe still call this home after more than 1,000 years (October 8, 2015, photo by Magnolia)

What makes a vacation extraordinary? Oddly enough, it was not about the three world heritage sites in New Mexico that I visited, but the simple acts of kindness people have shown me along the way. Here are some examples: (1) My car window got stuck during my roadster’s arduous drive to Chaco canyon. My camping neighbors helped me yank it up because the rain was coming. A lot of people commented how happy they were to see that it was fixed. (2) After 2 miles of hiking, I saw a gentleman and his wife coming back from the trail towards me. I asked him if I were near. He gave me a detailed instruction about the trail and pointed where the supernova pictograph is located. The thunder clouds above made the decision for me to only go as far as the pictograph and not all the way to the ruins. I got to see the pictograph only after we crossed a flooded ditch. If that gentleman did not stop to give me directions, I would not have made the courage to go beyond the ditch. (3) I jotted down restaurants to visit that allow dogs on the patio. The best one was the La Cueva Cafe in Taos. A lady brought water for me and my dog as soon as we sat down. The waiter brought the extra rice I ordered for my dog in a to-go container, so my pouch can lick it all up easily. Come to think of it, I don’t think he charged me for it. Now for the best coffee in town goes to Elevation Coffee Shoppe. The coffee is fantastic and the owner is clearly a dog lover with his stash of dog treats to pamper the real customers. Need I say more?

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Rio Grande Bridge in Taos, NM
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Rafting Rio Grande with Los Rios River Runner

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Featured imageKids of all ages from around the world come to the Balloon Fiesta held on the first week of October. They walk among the balloons, talk to the pilots to score trading cards and see hot air balloons fill the sky. According to balloonfiesta.com, the event boasts “the largest ballooning event on earth, the most photographed event on earth, and the largest annual international event held in the United States.” It started in 1972 with 13 balloons at a mall parking lot. Forty-three years later, it attracted 550 balloons on a 78-acre launch field at Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Featured imageThe components of a hot air balloon are the wicker basket that holds the passengers, the burner that heats up the air and the balloon envelope which hold the warm air. Warmer air rises in cooler air. The cool air from mountains of Albuquerque moves down to the valley which creates a perfect climate. All you need is a normal wind condition. As the wind blows south, the balloons travel with it. When the sun warms up the atmosphere, the balloons travel downward and the pilot steers it back to the wind blowing north, hopefully, towards the launch field. The carnival atmosphere is filled with people walking up and down the main street looking to cure their cravings for curly fries, funnel cakes, and Cuban corn pancake called arepas. After a meal, there is always booth to visit that gives free samples such as Blue Buffalo dog food. Take a chance on a raffle ticket to win a quilt made by New Mexico Quilter’s Association. Buy some balloon themed souvenirs. Be on television while the ever charismatic, weatherman Steve Stucker from Channel 4, broadcast the event live. The morning sessions starts at 6:00 am until 9:45 am when you can see Dawn Patrol show, morning glow, laser light show, and the famous mass ascension. The evening sessions starts at 1:30 pm until 9:00 pm when you can see special shape balloons, laser light show, fireworks, and musical performances. The last Saturday night is the Music Fiesta when they have a famous band play. Albuquerqueans knows how to throw a party!

Featured imageIf you go, here are some advice. Find out the closest park and ride from your hotel or home, then purchase the tickets online in advance. Perhaps, book your hotel closest to the park and ride location. You can choose to pay for the Gondola or Chaser’s Club dining areas located on either end of the field which is perfect for elderly folks needing to eat, sit and enjoy the event without the crowd. Bring cash or ATM machines are available on the main street. Dress warm in layers and wear sturdy shoes. Remember that green flag means it’s a go for the balloons to launch, so plan to see the event at least twice just in case you don’t see them go up the first time. Lastly, enjoy this happy place and embrace every moment of being a kid again

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Today was a Good Day in Flagstaff

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August 23, 2015

I turned 35 today and my mom still drags me around to celebrate.  We had a late start, so a double shot of soymilk latte at Macy’s was our first stop.  She made me save the only available table outside because they were so busy – NAU students are back from their summer break and hot Phoenix folks spent the weekend in cool Flagstaff.  After an hour of socializing with strangers, my mom’s caffeine addiction was fulfilled and we got two Asiago bagels from Biff’s across the street.  This is a weird place – they have photos of dead loved ones on the wall (which I’m sure my mom will send one of my photos when I die since we frequent this place).  We ran to the Farmer’s Market for some of my favorite organic carrots! On our way back to downtown, the monsoon rain poured hard, so we stopped at Steep’s for ice tea and to dry out.  We were about five stores away from my birthday chocolate (I shouted, “Darn rain!”).  Yeah, the rain stopped and we went to The Sweet Shoppe.  Finally, my mom meant for me to get some blessings for my special day. We went to view a sand mandala being made by a visiting Buddhist monk Losang Samten.  What he’s creating is supposed to mean longevity.  The chants in the room made me calm (I’m hungry mom, let’s go home).  My name is Maori and today was a good day in Flagstaff: Treat-wise I got a taste of coffee, a bagel, carrots, lemonade, and two treat-covered white chocolate!

Enjoy my photos (seriously, my mom made me pose)

Beneath Your Feet

This week’s photo challenge made me think of the Dixie Chicks’ song Wide Open Spaces: “Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about? Who’s never left home? Who’s never struck out? To find a dream and a life of their own; a place in the clouds; a foundation of stone. Many precede and many will follow; a young girl’s dreams no longer hollow; it takes the shape of a place out west; but what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed. She needs wide open spaces; room to make her big mistakes; she needs new faces; she knows the high stakes…” Reminiscent of my travel, here are beneath my feet images from west to east coasts of the United States.

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I was aboard an 1886 sailboat name Balclutha at the San Francisco Maritime Historic National Park when I looked down and saw my shadow on the 128-year-old wooden deck. Below that deck is the captain’s separate rooms for beds, toilet, living and dining while the crewmen lived in a cramped one room all the way in the back above deck. Besides the crewmen’s poor living condition, it must have been lonely. I am still in awe of their lifestyle, sailing from one port to another, delivering cargo.

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The reindeer seaweed was taken right after Christmas at Ocean Beach Dog Park in San Diego. It was my dog’s first time seeing an ocean and drinking from it! It must have tasted good because he did it twice or he was just thirsty from running around with other dogs. As far as the image itself, it must have been a left over the subliminal message from the holiday advertisements.

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The pathway photo was taken during a garden tour before a tea ceremony at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix. I believe they flew in a Japanese master gardener to do this pathway which took him two weeks including time at the quarry planning the design as he chooses each stepping stones. When all the stepping stones arrived at the garden, each already has a destination. Set about an inch above the soil, they were arranged starting with zigzag grouping of stones at the beginning to straight evenly spaced stones then curving at the end. The pathway leads to a covered sitting area. Walking on those stepping stone felt like a journey – chaos, order, calm.

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Strawberry Field in Central Park is a living memorial to John Lennon. A mosaic on the walkway is a tribute to his song Imagine: “Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try. No hell below us; above us only sky. Imagine all the people; living for today…Imagine there are no countries; it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Imagine all the people; living life in peace…You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one. Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger; a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, sharing all the world…You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.” Traveling and meeting new people made me realize that we are all human being longing for peace.

Beneath your feet are endless stories, so go and take the challenge.