Philadelphia and the new capital

Did you know that Philadelphia was the capital of the U.S.A. before Washington D.C. even existed? Building of the current capital city wasn’t completed until 24 years after the United States became a country, and 13 years after the constitution was written in Independence Hall, formerly the Pennsylvania state house, and the current building printed on the back of the $100 bill.


Grant, Ursula and me in front of Independence Hall

Philadelphia, as a city, is a living piece of American history, the entire city scattered with historic buildings and iconic landmarks. Some of the oldest churches and neighbourhoods in America are right around the city center, including Eflreth’s alley, the nation’s oldest residential street dating from 1702. Christ Church, built in 1695, is one of the oldest churches in America, and was the tallest building in North America until 1810.


Christ Church

Our host was Grant, the jolliest pianoman I’ve ever met. He plays and sings at Tavern nightclub every Wednesday on a grand piano which doubles as a bar, but on the Sunday we went to drink champagne, the pianoman had been a noshow and Grant stepped in. He was paid for an hours performance, which turned his party night into a net-profit evening. He officially wins the badge of Philly’s best private tour guide – I knew it the moment we had our first cheese steak, but within another 12 hours, he had shown us all the city’s highlights.


the piano at Tavern

I was visiting Ursula, my one and only college room mate from Semester at Sea in 2006. Twelve years later, she is one of my oldest, bestest friends, and though we see each other barely once a year, its always a shitshow. We were in Washington DC for three nights, which involved a plethora of friends, dinners, bottles, bars and clubs. Chicken and Whiskey was the most memorable – the front house is a fast food, fried chicken joint, and if you walk through it to the back, a door opens up into a specialty whiskey bar.


Ursula and I celebrating her becoming a homeowner from her new balcony

We ate dinner at Compass Rose, one of the most international menu’s I’ve seen yet, with wines and foods from all over the world – Morocco and Georgia were well represented. Medium Rare was a restaurant which only has one menu – salad, steak and fries – you pay $20, and get unlimited amounts of any or all of the above. ‘Murica!

JOY Workshop in Iceland: 50% early bird discount

SATI Mindfulness had their first Mindfulness workshop in Iceland last year; I attended and wrote about it hereI’m super excited to say they’re hosting another one this year, in the stunning playground that is Hveragerdi, which includes more mindfulness and meditation exercises, nature hikes, hot river bathing, plus a bit of ´art and science´ of meditation at Solir studio in Reykjavik.

My friends Devon and Craig are now offering a limited-time discount on the workshop – for one week only – at 50% off the original price. For only $169 (with airfare to Iceland from many American and European cities not much more than that), you can attend their 3-day workshop, which includes:

  • An evening teaching at Iceland’s most beautiful yoga studio, Sólir.
  • Two full days of teachings at a gorgeous boutique hotel in Hveragerði.
  • An optional mindful evening hike to a hot river.
  • Gourmet lunches during the workshop.
  • Meditations, discussions, and exercises designed to elicit joy.

You just get it all for $169. Total. That’s it. Ridiculous, no? For the discounted price, register here.

If you’ve even been considering this workshop, now is the time. To put this in perspective, mindfulness workshops guided by others like Jon Kabat Zinn cost $700+ in Iceland right around the same time!

Offer expires May 1st – don’t wait! It will fill up quickly, and double in price after a week. 

Taveuni & Vanua Levu

I wanted to visit Levuka, Fiji’s only UNESCO World Heritage site and former capital, but the complicated ferry systems wouldn’t allow me to figure out. Goundar Shipping sails most of the longer inter-island routes, but Ovalau trips are run by the Patterson Brothers, whose office I never found but an agent of theirs in Savusavu told me I’d better stick to the larger islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni for island hopping. There was a cyclone last week and my flight back to the US next week got cancelled, so it seemed like a great idea.


I think I may have rode this ferry in BC 15 years ago!

The Goundar ferry I took from Suva to Savusavu took 12 hours, but we left 3 hours late. Wandering around their ‘new’ ferry (it was bought in November from British Columbia -there was even a Shoppers Drug Mart advertisement from Tsawassen still hanging inside) reminded me how consumptive we are in the first world – it was a perfectly good ferry, but clearly not good enough for Canadian safety standards anymore, so it must have been someone’s great idea to sell it to Fiji, so BC Ferries can have enough money to put towards a newer, shinier, bigger boat.


there’s a pot of gold in Taveuni, and only one road to get there

I continued onto Taveuni, an island renowned for its nature parks both above and below water. Bouma National Park is home to a rare, endemic species of flower, and one waterfall there falls directly into the sea. For divers, its one of the best places in the world to see soft coral, and just sitting at a restaurant drinking coffee, I saw a pod of 20+ dolphins swimming less than a kilometre from the shore.


camp, with a partial view to the sky

I ‘camped’ there, which felt more like an impromptu homestay. Beverely Camping was a beachside hostel run by a couple who recently sold it to a dive center, but now you can stay with them up the hill in their garden, with all the chickens, dogs, horses and kids for company. If you’re lucky, you’ll be around when they start mixing kava, or ‘grog,’ and the powder/water mixture gets sent around until you say stop.


there was no shortage of beautiful beaches or blue pools in the north of Taveuni

I camped further south on the island, where a woman who rarely leaves her home was hearing the news from me that Beverly camping had shut down more than a year ago, despite them being only half an hour apart.

The best part of camping in my hammock is being able to see the stars before I fall asleep. It gets a little distracting when every village dog has to come and sniff you out, but having a chicken fly into you is slightly more surprising.


Which side of the date line am I?

Taveuni is special because its one of the only two places in the world where the 180 degree meridian makes landfall (the other location is in Siberia). So technically speaking, you can be standing with one foot in today and the other in yesterday. Or one foot in the now and one tomorrow, depending on which way you’re coming from.


the smaller ferry between Taveuni and Vanua Levu puts down a fishing line for the crossing

Taveuni felt a bit like Wallis – calm and quiet. There’s no real city center or bus station, and even the ferry wharfs differ by the size of the ferry (and all of them were incomplete or broken to some extent). There is an airport, with a fence around it and a small hut to differentiate it from the road, but not even the once paved road makes it all the way around the island, since very few live on the south-east side of the island.


table for 1, and a stump

It’s nice to travel to those kinds of places when you’re a solo female, but a Sunday is always a bore, unless you’re willing to join in for some rejoyceful church worship. You could hear the hymns being sung from the next village, but I was busy trying to find a shop or restaurant open to feed myself.


the quiet bay of Savusavu

Going back to Savusavu felt like returning to the real world, but still a tranquil, beautiful world. They called it the hidden paradise, a place where the explorer Cook spoke highly of, and Jacque Cousteau did much of his diving. His son has opened a 5-star resort where families come to let their children learn how to dive, and I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place to first meet the underwater world.


the Jean-Michel Cousteau resort in Vanua Levu, where kids prepare for their diving lesson

The sunsets were the most memorable part of Savusavu, and the quaint little town offered a handful of exceptional shopping and dining. I met three French men who had been sailing from Tahiti, and watching them enjoy their first cold beer and red steak in weeks was nearly as much joy as they were experiencing.


these sunsets never get old

I stayed in a dorm at a hotel called Hidden Paradise, and it was the third female who hosted me; it’s surprising how much more welcoming it is to enter a space protected by a woman. Taveuni and Vanua Levu were the first two islands in the Pacific where I noticed how well animals are treated – from stray cats to work horses, everything looked fed, fluffy and healthy. Dogs were never strays – many had collars or a home to protect, and the only unfortunate road kill I saw were a few frogs, which the chickens and rodents were quick to capitalize on.

Where in the world is Wallis?

I’ve traveled around the Pacific before and remember thinking Wallis & Futuna would be something like Pitcairn Island – totally unreachable and complicated to plan. When I landed in Suva from Tonga in 2015, I saw a Wallis flight boarding, flown by New Caledonia’s airline Air Calin, and found out it’s not that crazy to get to, or afford.


public transportation in Wallis

It was my main destination this time around in the Pacific. Direct flights go twice weekly from either New Caledonia or Fiji, and even thought the 1.5hr flight is overpriced at more than $200US each way, it’s still cheap compared to a lot of other pacific island destinations.


Jono and I in matching hats on our way to Wallis

It’s part of France, not a department or territory, but an “island collectivity” that still allows all residents to have French citizenship and all associated benefits. The population is just under 12,000 – 3,000 in Futuna and 8,000 in Wallis. Futuna is connected to Wallis by a tiny jet, but when the weather allows, flies multiple times a day, even though the distance to Futuna from Wallis is nearly as far as Samoa or Tonga. When the weather’s not so good, you can get stuck in Futuna for days, weeks even – the longest I heard was 6 weeks. With no ferry option, and the weather presumably too bad to sail, there’s no other option than to wait (Atleast they finally got an ATM and credit card payments working since November last year). Considering it was still the tail end of cyclone season, I decided not to risk it and visited only Wallis.


Couchsurf camp, when the mosquitos and heat are too much inside

I was traveling with a friend who lives in Suva, and though he’s “European” too, it was weird for us both to be greeted by French immigration. Apparently 5% of the island is employed in government jobs, and all the teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists, lawyers and police seemed to be métropoles, so atleast 5% of the island is actually French. The rest identify as Wallisian or Futunan, and there’s a minority of Fijians, mostly for their rugby team.


one of many impressive churches in Wallis

We couchsurfed, which was a feat in and of itself, since internet has been around for 10 years, but cell phones only the last 2 years, with barely enough bandwidth for smart phone apps. Our host was Michel, who had tan lines on the smile lines around his eyes. He was one of 3 dentists on the island, who had been working there for nearly 15 years and may retire at the ripe age of 55. He called himself a simple man, and lived in a shack with only mosquitos and giant cockroaches as roommates, and some retarded chickens and an extremely obese, angry pig as neighbours. We slept outside unable to bear the heat and bites without a mosquito net or fan, in a little shanty camp that atleast kept us breezy and scratch-free.


kayaking to Tekaviki island

He was an excellent host, picking us up at the airport (there’s no bus), and driving us all around the island in a day. It doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to get anywhere, but there is quite a bit to see on this 250sq. Km Island. Most of the main highlights are large, imposing churches (99% of the population are devote Catholics), and tourists usually make it to Lalolalo crater, a volcano that filled with water and is now home to the sunken machinery of the American army who refused to give it to the French after WWII. Not much to do, but plenty of water to see and explore by kayak. We went to two islands off the coast of Mata’utu, but the shallow lagoon meant Jono preferred to walk than row. There was plenty of rain too, but it’s hard to flood a rural island living sparsely dotted around dirt roads, in sync with nature for hundreds of years. But apparently the heat and mosquitos have gotten worse, which was a relief for my pride as a whiny traveler.


cava ceremony

We were extremely lucky to experience both Wallisian and Futunan culture, visiting the weekend when thousands of teens and youth were congregating for dancing and cava ceremonies with all their village chiefs. We met some expats our age that took us to the only nightclub on the island, which roared after 2 am Saturday night, and the traditional dancing kept going.


Polynesian dance, Futunan style

A cyclone was predicted to hit Fiji the day we left, and thought we may get rerouted to New Caledonia where our adventure could continue, but it seems my bad streak of flight distortions is finally over. Let’s see if I can get stuck somewhere in Fijian paradise instead.

The Bay, a home away from home

I took a sketchy craigslist rideshare from Hollywood to San Francisco, and only realized half way that the couple driving me were on their way to the Iceland vs. Mexico soccer game in San Jose. I nearly blew my plans to join them, but had a special invite to a ´play´ party that I couldn´t miss.


San Fran´s cable cars

I based myself in San Francisco for the weekend, the city itself, which is rare for my bay visits. I studied at Berkeley, once lived in Oakland, and usually stayed with friends in Walnut Creek or Danville. Now a handful of UBC friends live in San Fran, Alameda and San Leandro, so that’s where I bounced around for a week.


my adopted family and hounds for the week

It´s getting rare to sleep on couches anymore, because my friends are all grown up, figuring life out with their families and houses with guest bedrooms. Our conversations revolved around pregnancies, children, home remodeling, gardening and the bowel movements of pets. I became a live-in au pair for Maya, whose 34 week belly made her less inclined to do house chores or walk the dog. We did manage to do some pregnant yoga, bake and cook a ton and I squeezed a whole lot of lemons and oranges into delicious, fresh, vitamin C rich juice.


at the Stefan/Mane/Isabelle household for brunch

My friends Stefan and Mane bought a house in Alameda, where they´re waiting for their second miracle to enter the world. Their first daughter Isabelle is quite possibly the cutest kid I´ve seen – I totally understand the desire to make another one. We spent day on the beach flying the biggest, highest kite I´ve flown, and when everyone was busy working, We ate Ethiopian food in Berkeley for Maya´s mother´s birthday and drank patio beers at MadOak on the first hot, summer night of the year. I took a brewery tour on a pedal bike around Alameda, finally figuring out that I may be allergic to hops, not anything flour or gluten related.


flying kites at Alameda beach

I reconnected with a couchsurfer I met traveling in Albania in 2016, first for coffee and an overpriced kimchi croissant (only in Frisco), and a night out in the city. A friend Billy was throwing a party to celebrate his self-proclaimed entry into a degenerate lifestyle, after quitting his cush job at Google and buying twenty people food and drinks at a speak easy bar called Bourbon & something. We had the ´Russel Room,´ hidden behind a rotating wall disguised as a bookshelf on one side, and a cigar cupboard on the other, and made way to an art-deco room that looked like a movie set, but was clearly authentically original, complete with its pre-Vegas Chihuly chandelier.


Easter Sunday hike

My main goals in California were to eat plenty of In n Out, animal style, and shop at all or any Trader Joe´s that I saw. We hiked thru some red woods and poison ivy, discovered that the Oakland Zoo is not pet-friendly, and I assisted in a photo shoot with two Jess´s for maternity wear being modeled by Maya. Ironically enough the photographer Jess was also pregnant, and I started to wonder how much exposure I could have to pregnant women before being bit by the mommy gene. Fortunately for me, I´m now even more positive I never want to be pregnant, since everyone else seems to do it so much better than I ever could.