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How did I start a new decade? Fast asleep. Seriously. My friends and I went out for dinner on New Year’s Eve in Havana, but we were so exhausted that we were in bed by 10:30 PM! (I pushed through and read my book until 11. WHAT A PARTY ANIMAL.)
This month, I returned to the nomadic life — a lifestyle I enjoyed from 2010 until 2015. Even though it’s only for a few months, I’m relishing in the freedom. (Well, the freedom of NOT HAVING TO PAY NEW YORK RENT, mostly. And NOT HAVING TO DEAL WITH THE NEW YORK SUBWAY.)
Oh, and another big milestone — this month this blog turned ten years old. I think the anniversary of the first post was February 6, but I got the blog all set up in January 2010! What a crazy journey it’s been…
- Havana and Viñales, Cuba
- Mérida, Progreso, and Celestún, Mexico
- New York, NY
Living in Mérida. I’m a bit sorry that I never wrote about my trip to Mérida last year — and even sorrier that I didn’t name it one of my favorite new destinations of 2019. (I traveled to tons of new places last year and the list was LONG — I had to make cuts.) Mérida is blissful. I adore it here.
Right after arriving, I saw two people I had met on my trip last year and they gave me big hugs and told me how glad they were that I came back. That really set the tone! Since then I haven’t been doing a ton of touristy things in Mérida — just working, spending time with friends (both old and new!) and going out to all the wonderful restaurants and bars.
Mérida is an extremely livable city. It’s warm year-round (though horrifically hot in summer, I’m told), it’s often cited as the safest city in Mexico, and there is a friendly expat community, including lots of travel bloggers. If you’re in Centro, it’s quite walkable, and if not, Ubers cost less than $3. And everything is so affordable! A cheap warm place is SO NICE after coming from New York.
Viñales made up for the rest of Cuba. For the most part, I didn’t really enjoy Cuba as a destination — but I got to Viñales and LOVED it. Such a peaceful, beautiful village surrounded by dramatic mountains. I loved spending a day hiking out to a farm, gazing at the gorgeous surroundings, and learning about rural Cuban life.
A fun beach day in Progreso. Progreso is the closest beach to Mérida, about 40 minutes away ($1 by bus, $15 by Uber). You don’t come here for a peaceful, unspoiled beach — it’s the Gulf of Mexico, not the Caribbean, so the water is bright blue but murky, not clear — but it’s a local Mexican experience, complete with blaring music, beer buckets, aguachile, and people of all ages having a rollicking good time. And the water was SO warm!
A gorgeous getaway to Celestún. Celestún is a beach town a bit further from Mérida — one hour and 15 minutes by car, or 2.5 hours by bus — but it’s very different from Progreso. The beach is quiet and calm with bright white sand and shockingly intact seashells. Celestún is also known for its flamingos and mangroves.
We went on a boat tour of the mangroves, filled with interesting birds, giant spiders (eek!) and even boa constrictors (glad I didn’t see any of those). Sadly, there were only a few flamingos, when at this time of year there are usually thousands. Climate change is wreaking havoc in Celestún, and the decimation of the flamingos’ habitat is one of the most visible effects.
A quick trip home to New York. Yep, I actually left toasty Mexico for freezing Manhattan — but for good reason! One of my biggest business events of the year, IMM (International Media Marketplace), takes place in New York in January. It’s basically a full day of speed networking in the travel industry, and I had a lot of positive meetings.
Other than that, I hung out with my sister and her dude; ate some New York pizza; ordered my usual Lion’s Head and Basic Bitch Hot Dog at my local bar, At the Wallace; got my mail; and spent time with my blogger friends, all in town for the same reason.
In case you’re wondering — I don’t miss New York. Leaving the city was EXCRUCIATING, and I don’t want to downplay that, but as soon as I left, it was like the spell was broken. That may change, but for now I feel like leaving New York was 100% the right decision. Plus, I’ll be back April 28 to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the primary.
Seeing Jagged Little Pill on Broadway. My friends at YesBroadway offered me comped tickets to the show and I took my friend Beth, who is a much bigger Broadway fan than me. We were 12 when Alanis Morrisette’s album was at its peak, so this was a nostalgic evening in the making!
The music was great, the costumes were so cool, the choreography was outstanding, the cast was fantastic, and they did this really cool scene in reverse motion — such an impressive feat. I really liked the show for those reasons.
That being said, the plot was awful — it took place in the present day and focused on the troubles of a perfect-seeming privileged family, primarily opioid addiction and rape. I found it to be a bizarre choice that had nothing to do with Alanis’s music. She’s written multiple songs about older men taking advantage of her — if you want a serious issues musical, why not make it about that?
Still, I enjoyed the show, I’m glad I went, and it was a fun night out! If Alanis was popular when you were a teenager, this would be a great show for you.
The bleach incident. Our house in Mérida comes with a weekly cleaning, and our cleaner left fragments of a solid detergent containing bleach in the washing machine. Lots of our clothes got flecked with bleach stains, including my favorite designer denim skirt. Sigh.
Some house woes. We LOVE the look of our designer house, but it looks like style overruled function — the internet is extremely slow, the cheapest plan the company offers (and sadly our offer to pay for a year’s worth of fast internet was turned down), the TV has awful speakers and one remote doesn’t work at all, and the high desks and low chairs make it impossible to work at them.
My boyfriend and I have been standing at the kitchen counter to work. This has been a good opportunity to get used to using a standing desk. I’m at about 40/60 standing/sitting at this point. But this is a good reminder to look closely at the desk and chair heights when booking future accommodation.
Failing a blogging challenge. A blogging group I’m in had a challenge: write seven posts, start-to-finish, in seven days. And because I’m insanely competitive, I decided to write seven solo female travel guides simultaneously — the guides that usually top out at 8,000+ words each. GAH. Why did I do that?!
I couldn’t get it done. I got ONE done — my Solo Female Travel in the Balkans post, topping out at 12,000 words. But I did make decent headway on six others (I wrote 35,000 words in a week!!!), and I learned that I enjoy batch-writing my guides, where I write the same section for all the destinations in a row. Maybe I’ll try three at once next time.
Most Popular New Post
Solo Female Travel in the Balkans — Is it safe? — The Balkans are my favorite region on the planet, and I had a blast writing this regional guide (including mini guides to eight countries!). The Balkans are VERY safe to visit today, despite what many Americans think, but some countries are better suited for beginners and others for more experienced travelers.
Other New Posts
Can Americans travel to Cuba? I did in 2020. — My big Cuba post — tons of information on how Americans can travel to Cuba (it’s easier than you think!) and my most interesting experiences there.
PLEASE don’t day trip from Prague to Cesky Krumlov! Stay overnight. — I absolutely loved the small town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic — but it’s almost unbearable during the day. Stay overnight to REALLY enjoy it.
Solo Female Travel in Costa Rica — Is Costa Rica Safe? — If you’ve never traveled solo before, Costa Rica is one of the best countries you could choose, and definitely the best country in Latin America for first-timers!
Majorly Reworked Post
How to Make Friends and Meet People While Traveling Solo — Tons of updates to this post for 2020, including methods that are good for thirty-somethings and up. Who knew Reddit is a great way to meet people while traveling?
Most Popular Photo on Instagram
Well, this Snapseed phone edit is very different from the final edit I did on my computer with Lightroom, but this photo from Havana was my most liked photo of the month. I love that this photo captures what Cuba FEELS like.
For more live updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.
What I Watched This Month
Can we talk about how great Parasite is? We are making our way through all of the Oscar-nominated movies, and this is the one I’ll be rooting for on Oscar night. So incredibly original, so well-made, so well-acted, not a single flaw in the whole film. Go in knowing as little as possible. Don’t even watch the trailer if you haven’t seen it. You can rent it on iTunes.
Beyond that, I really liked Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, but I really wish someone had the power to get Tarantino to cut down his films a bit more! If he cut the flab, it would have been so much better. I loved the colors and the acting. OH, AND WE GET IT, QUENTIN! YOU’RE INTO FEET!
And frankly, The Irishman was overly indulgent. It was not nearly good enough to justify the 3.5 hour length. I watched it on a flight (sorry, Scorsese, I know you asked people not to do that) and even with four empty hours to fill, it was a SLOG. But there were some good parts. Forget DeNiro, Pesci and Pacino — Ray Romano was my favorite performance in that movie!
Jojo Rabbit had a fabulous child actor and was original and wacky, but I just can’t with a lighthearted Nazi movie. I think they made an effort that misfired.
As for TV, like so many others this month, I got into Cheer on Netflix. Now that is a GREAT documentary — it focuses on one of the top-ranked college cheerleading teams in the country — and it makes me want to watch more sports documentaries. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of my high school drama years, too. If you haven’t watched it yet, give the first episode a view — and I bet you’ll want to watch more. It’s the kind of show that sneaks up on you.
What I Read This Month
I’ve told myself that I’m not going to get caught up in how many books I’ve read this year. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish in 2020. As competitive as I am with myself, I’m not going to try to beat my record of 80, or even join a reading challenge this year. Reading is for fun. Total for 2020 so far: five books.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow (2019) — When Ronan Farrow was an investigative reporter at NBC News, he came across an explosive story: Harvey Weinstein was a serial sexual assaulter. The deeper he dug into the story, the more he found — but NBC refused to let him publish anything. This showed a pattern of major networks covering up sexual abuse, made even clearer when NBC’s highest paid personality, Matt Lauer, was also found to be a serial sexual assaulter.
This book was absolutely bonkers, start to finish. It left a pit in my stomach — there is SO MUCH covering up going on at every level. Predators are protected at any cost; accusers have their careers destroyed. But it feels like things have been changing since this story first appeared — that these predators will no longer receive their customary protection. I hope we’re truly at a turning point.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019) — In this epistolary novel, a young Vietnamese-American man named Little Dog writes a letter to his mother, explaining how his life, and his family’s roots in Vietnam, shaped him to this day. His mother and grandmother’s scars from the Vietnam war grew into abuse and schizophrenia. Growing up poor in Hartford, he was constantly “othered” by society and never found a place he fit in. As a teenager he began a romantic relationship with a “redneck boy” in the throes of opioid addiction. And through it all, he tells his story.
What an incredibly beautiful read. Vuong is a poet, and I love reading novels by poets — it feels like each word is painstakingly chosen and arranged perfectly. What I most appreciate about this book is how he tells so many stories simultaneously — the stories of his mother, grandmother, and his romance, all flowing into and out of each other, like a stream of consciousness, but it’s never confusing or indulgent. As brief and gorgeous as its title.
The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2011) — Two boys named Wes Moore grew up within blocks of each other in Baltimore. Both grew up without fathers. Both started getting into trouble in middle school. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House fellow, and business leader. The other ended up serving a life sentence for murder. How did this happen? The free Wes Moore began meeting with the incarcerated Wes Moore, built up a friendship, and decided to tell both of their stories in this book.
I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time — but I have to admit it didn’t go where I expected it to. I thought that Moore would tie similar events together, make the connections, and grow and grow their stories, ending with conclusions and point out where things went wrong for the other Moore — but it didn’t. Instead, he told random fragments from their youths, switching back and forth, no real reasoning why they were chosen, and didn’t even try to make any connections as to what happened.
In the afterword, he only briefly points out that lots of readers tried to figure out what the big conclusions were from this book. Did structure make a difference? Did mentorship make a difference? What about birth control? But Moore refuses to take part in that discussion, and that really surprised me. You can engage in the discussion without coming to an ironclad conclusion, and I think the book would have been much better if he had done so.
Women & Money by Suze Orman (2018 edition) — You can give the same financial advice to everyone — have an emergency fund, pay off your home early, get your 401k match — but how are women different? This book focuses more on the psychology of women and money. Many women, even financially successful women, tend to shy away from facing the reality of their finances; many women, even many women in same-sex relationships, give full responsibility of finances to their partners. How do we get healthier about our relationship with money?
One of my goals of 2020 is to be a lot better with my money, so I’m reading a few books. I find that reading about the psychology of money helps a lot — and things really are different for women. I also found You Are a Badass At Making Money to be super-helpful in this regard. It was a quick read, and I’m looking forward to seeing how I improve things in the next year.
The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money by Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage (2018) — What are the things you should be doing with your money? This book will give you a good overview, and give you tips at how to keep expenses down in your day-to-day life.
This book is for total beginners. I don’t think I realized it when I grabbed it from the library app. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but if you’re in your twenties or really struggling and need a guide that will help you start in a better place, this book is good for that. Also a quick read.
Coming Up in February 2020
This is going to be an all-Mexico, no-flight month! I’ll be based in Mérida for all of February, but I have some side trips planned all over the Yucatán.
On the first weekend of the month, we’re heading overnight to Valladolid with visits to Chichén Itza and Izamal. The following weekend, we’re visiting the city of Campeche. The weekend after that, a big group of us are heading to Bacalar, a gorgeous lagoon, for a long weekend!
But besides that, it’s all about lovely Mérida. I may add in a few more day trips, maybe Uxmal or some local cenotes. And at the end of the month, my sister is coming to visit for a few days. She’s never been to Mexico and I can’t wait to share it with her.
On the 29th we will leave Mérida (sob!) and head to my beloved Isla Holbox.