During the first weekend of February, Clay and I went on our first out-of-state ski trip to Denver, Colorado with some of our friends from college. The seven of us stayed at an Airbnb in Silverthorne (where snowboarder Red Gerard lives!) and had planned to spend two days skiing and snowboarding that weekend. The first day, we went to Breckenridge Ski Resort, where I had decided to sign up for an adult beginner ski lesson (finally). This lesson was long overdue since I had switched from snowboarding to skiing last winter and gone on three different ski trips where I had unsuccessfully learned how to ski. Breckenridge ended up being the perfect ski resort for a newbie like me. It was very beginner-friendly with runs that were long, wide, and not too steep. At the beginning of the day, I did a test run and was placed in a Level 2 group class. I had a great instructor named Lee who helped me master all the Level 2 and several Level 3 skills by the end of the day. The lesson went from 8:30am to 3:00pm. Despite it being an all-day lesson, I was still able to spend time with Clay and the rest of our group during lunch (hooray for our walkie talkies!). I was also able to join them for the last two runs of the day after my class ended. The second day, we went to Vail Ski Resort, where I decided not to sign up for another lesson. Unfortunately, the green runs at the top of the mountain were still too steep and intimidating for me. Since they made me revert back to pizza-ing instead of doing my newly learned parallel turns, Clay and I moved to easier runs at the bottom of the mountain so that I could practice parallel-skiing for the rest of the day.
Even though I was super anxious leading up to this trip, it ended up being a good weekend. I was able to learn some basic techniques and build up my confidence as a novice skier. Of course, it was a lot of fun to go with our group of friends and hang out with them at the end of each day. On our last day, we all got brunch in Denver at Four Friends Kitchen and spent an afternoon at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science until we had to check-in to our evening flight. After we returned home, Clay and I really enjoyed watching the 2018 Winter Olympics together. The U.S. teams rocked the snowboarding competitions this year! It was so much fun to watch Chloe Kim, Red Gerard, & Shaun White each win their Olympic gold medals.
Anyway, above are some pictures from our day at Vail. And below is a GoPro video that Clay made from both of our days at Breckenridge and Vail.
This fall, I was able to try out a couple recipes from the Momofuku and Momofuku Milk Bar cookbooks (their pork buns and cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookies). I have never been to New York before (where their restaurants and bakeries are located), but have always to wanted try their triple layer birthday cake with colorful cake crumbs on top. So this year, for my 26th birthday, Clay decided to make me a homemade version of their birthday cake right here in our very own kitchen! I still can't believe that he went through the trouble of getting so many obscure ingredients (including grapeseed oil, clear imitation vanilla extract, citric acid, acetate strips, and a 6-inch cake ring) to make me this very special birthday cake! I was incredibly touched to come home on a Wednesday night at 10pm after a full day of work and evening class back-to-back to find it sitting in our freezer drawer. I was also super impressed with my husband's baking abilities, especially since this was his first-time attempt at baking this cake and it turned out perfect on the first try! Of course, I had to give it its own little photo shoot before digging in. ;)
Below is a GoPro video that Clay filmed of his entire cake baking session! The song he used in the video is "Loving You Easy" by Zac Brown Band. Clay and I actually went to their concert back in October when they performed at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. That was our first concert together and this song was my favorite from their set. :)
For my summer break and our (early) one year marriage anniversary celebration, Clay and I decided to go on a trip to Tulum! This was Clay's first time in Mexico and my second time (my first time was a YWAM missions trip to Ensenada with my youth group during high school). During our 8-day trip, we mainly stayed in two Airbnbs in Tulum Pueblo (downtown Tulum), where there were lots of busy streets to walk through, good food to eat (we loved the street tacos, fresh fruit popsicles, & churro stands!), and opportunities to go souvenir shopping. We were also able to spend a good amount of time on the Tulum beachfront during our downtime/evenings, where all the luxury beach hotels, beach bars, fancier restaurants, and (boho-style) boutiques are located. We loved seeing the ocean and sunset on our very first day! [Note for those planning a trip to Tulum: I must say that your experience of Tulum will be very different depending on where you stay. If you like living among the locals and don't mind the daily hustle & bustle of downtown life, find a place in Tulum Pueblo! But be warned the downtown area is pretty poor and somewhat undeveloped still. The streets can be dirty, dusty, and smelly. You will also likely hear noise all day long: cars, construction, stray dogs barking, roosters crowing early in the morning, and people talking/loud music playing late into the night. If you want a more peaceful and restful experience, I would recommend that you stay at a hotel on the beach. It'll probably be expensive, but you would definitely have a more comfortable, relaxing, and "nicer" stay. Overall, just keep in mind that Tulum is a town that revolves around / is sustained by heavy tourism. Don't be too surprised by this when you visit.]
During our trip, Clay and I were very interested in having a culturally immersive experience. We wanted to immerse ourselves in Mayan/Spanish/Mexican history and culture. We also wanted to immerse ourselves in the nature of the Mayan Riviera. So for our day-time activities, we were naturally drawn towards visiting the Mayan ruins and archaeological sites, as well as the cenotes scattered throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. Cenotes are basically giant, naturally-formed sinkholes that you can swim in (Clay and I like to think of them as the swimming holes of Mexico). Anyway, I'm pretty amazed that we managed to check out THREE separate Mayan ruins: the Tulum Ruins, Chichen Itza, and Coba Ruins. (We actually checked out Chichen Itza and the Coba Ruins on the same day...crazy, right?) We also got to visit THREE different cenotes: Cenote Ik Kil, Grand Cenote, and Cenote Dos Ojos. Each cenote was unique in its own way. All were worth visiting in my opinion. Our personal favorite was probably Cenote Dos Ojos, because we got to snorkel through bat caves and super cool stalactite formations (on a guided tour...too dangerous to do by yourself)! [Tip for travelers: Try to visit Tulum when it's not too hot. We visited during one of the hottest months in August...not the best idea because I ended up getting a terrible heat rash the last couple of days. But if you handle heat well and still end up visiting during those hottest months, I would recommend waking up super early to visit the ruins/archaeological sites in the morning when it's less hot and less crowded. Then, in the afternoons you can refresh yourself by swimming in a cenote or staying indoors and taking a nice long nap. And just a heads up, all the cenotes are very tourist-centered. Even though the cenotes themselves are natural, all the major ones have been commercialized. They pretty much have parks built over them, so there will be fees for admission. But they will also have lockers, snorkel and dive gear rentals, showers, hammocks, and restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat.]
Another way we were able to experience culture and nature was by spending a day at an adventure park. There are so many to choose from in that area, but we decided to go to Xcaret. Both of us enjoyed floating through their lazy river and catching all of their shows (i.e., ritual ceremony of the Voladores, pre-Hispanic dances, folkloric dances, and horse exhibition). They also have an evening show, called the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular. It's quite long, but Clay and I enjoyed how it captured the history of Mayan culture and the Spanish conquistadors. It tells the story of a beautiful, but painful mixing of cultures that lead to the formation of Mexican culture and the people of Mexico today.
Well, that's my recap of our trip! Feel free to let me know if you have any specific questions about any of the spots that I've mentioned above. If you want a complete list of places to stay, places to eat, and points or interest in/around Tulum, let me know and I'd love to send you one. I'll conclude this post with an awesome video that Clay made of our trip!
Our honeymoon to the Big Island of Hawaii was one of the most fun-filled, adventurous, yet relaxing trips I had ever been on. Getting to explore all over the island was truly the best way to spend our first two weeks of marriage together! We loved that the Big Island had an abundance of nature and tons of good food to offer. And it was less touristy than we expected (so much less busy than Oahu)! Our top three favorite things about this island were: 1) colored sand beaches, 2) the Mauna Kea Observatory, and 3) Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (of course!). We also loved getting acquainted with Kailua-Kona and Hilo, the two main areas on the island where we stayed.
Here is a list of all the places we visited (with some notes!):
-Mauna Kea Visitor Center and Summit: Dress warmly for some evening star gazing! They set up telescopes outside the visitor center after the sun sets, so that you can get a better look at the visible planets. We got to see Saturn, Mars, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Milky Way! They also have scheduled star tours. Our star tours guide helped us to identify so many constellations, including Hercules, the Square of Pegasus, Corona Borealis, Scorpio, Sagittarius (the teapot), and Delphinius.
-Hawaii Vocanoes National Park: Make sure to have some sturdy hiking boots, long pants, and plenty of water if you want to embark on the 10.5 mile hike to see red lava! This was for sure one of the most unreal, yet memorable hikes we had ever been on. It was amazing getting to walk on rugged volcanic terrain (towards the end of the hike) to see lava pour out into the ocean - even if it meant trekking through rain and steam! But even if you're not up for a five-hour hike, the park is definitely still worth visiting. You can go see the Kilauea glow over at the Jaggar Museum and walk through the Thurston Lava Tube. There are also lots of steam vents and craters to check out!
-Papakolea Green Sand Beach (3-mile windy hike to the beach)
-Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
-Kekaha Kai State Park - Mahai'ula Section (rugged unpaved drive)
-Kekaha Kai State Park - Manini 'owali Section (good for sunbathing)
-Hapuna Beach (famous white sand beach / umbrella & beach chair rentals available)
-Carlsmith Beach Park (lagoons in Hilo)
-Kahalu'u Bay (where we saw sea turtles for the first time while snorkeling!)
-Mauna Kea Beach (very good snorkeling among the rocks) - Kim's favorite snorkeling spot!
-Big Island Divers (we went on a manta ray night snorkel excursion with them!)
-Fair Winds Snorkel Cruise (to snorkel Captain Cook Monument and Kealakekua Bay)
-Rainbow Falls (Lookout)
-Boiling Pots & Peepee Falls
-Akaka Falls State Park (short loop to see one of the island's highest free falling waterfalls)
-Waipio Falls in Waipio Valley (need a 4WD to go down to see this one)
National Historic Parks:
-Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (City of Refuge National Historical Park)
-Kaloko-Honokohau (Hawaiian fishing ponds)
Other Points of Interest:
-South Point Cliff Dive (only if you're brave & crazy like Clay)
-Kaumana Caves (but be careful not to bump your head like Kim did)
-Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
-Pohoiki Warm Spring (don't go there! it's just a small warm pond)
-Ahalanui Park (don't go there! it didn't seem very sanitary to us)
-Waipio Valley Lookout
-Historic Honokaa Town
-Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center
-Basically Books in Hilo
-Hilo Massage Center Spa Vive
Where to Stay:
-Aeolani - Panoramic Views/Pool Airbnb in Kailua-Kona
-Ka'awa Loa Plantation Bed & Breakfast in Captain Cook (yummy Hawaiian breakfasts!)
-Hale 'Ohai Monkeypod Tree House Airbnb in Pahoa (neat architecture, loud crickets at night)
-Dreamy Tropical Tree House Airbnb in Fern Forest (dreamy indeed, but very off-the-grid)
-Glorious Ocean Views and Breezes Airbnb in Kapoho Beach community
Where to Eat in Kona:
-Umeke's Fish Market, Bar & Grill
-Island Lava Java
-Sundried Specialties (we went twice for poke & lobster crab cakes!)
-The Coffee Shack
-Kaaloa's Super Js (authentic hawaiian food - they're known for their laulau)
-One Aloha Shave Ice
-808 Grindz (one of our favorites - we got the kalua pork benedict and steak & eggs over fried rice)
-Broke Da Mouth Grindz (another one of our favorites - we got pork adobo, garlic furikake chicken, & spam musubi)
-Chirashi Sushi Don By Jiro (very delicious chirashi bowls & shrimp tempura!)
-Kope Lani Coffee & Ice Cream
Where to Eat in Hilo:
-Puka Puka Kitchen (breaded and deep-fried shrimp)
-Hawaiian Style Cafe (great for some breakfast or lunch)
-Poke to Your Taste
-Kawamoto Store (Japanese grocery store that sells okazuya box lunches)
-Just Cruisin' Coffee
-Pineapples Island Fresh Cuisine
-Lanky's Pastries (coconut & custard pastries)
-Kaleo's Bar & Grill
-Le Magic Pan (crepes)
For Next Time:
-Kapoho Tide Pools (snorkeling)
-Two Step (snorkeling)
Over Memorial Weekend back in May, Clay and I took a road trip up north to visit Redwood National Park, our third national park of the year. This park pretty much borders the Pacific coast and actually includes two state parks, Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Here are some highlights of the trip:
1) Wild Flowers: We were amazed to see so many colorful wild flowers growing everywhere! At Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a 1.5 hour loop hike, we saw Redwood Sorrel growing along the paths of the trail. Over on Bald Hills Road, we were given many scenic views of a large green prairie full of daisies in bloom. I guess we were lucky to go during the springtime!
2) Roosevelt Elk: We experienced several Roosevelt Elk sightings whether it was on the rolling hills of the prairie, at Gold Bluffs Beach, or crossing the main road of the park. They were always grouped together in herds. I especially liked seeing the male elk with their giant antlers, as well as hearing the funny squeaky noises they made. It was neat to learn that even though in 1925, there were only as few as 15 elk left in the park, Redwood National Park has been working to protect their critical habitats, which has allowed the elk population to rebound since then.
3) Ferns: We also saw a ton of ferns, including fiver-fingered ferns, dark green sword ferns, and lady ferns. Pretty much every hiking trail would allow hikers to see lush ferns along the paths. One of our favorite parts of the trip was definitely going to Fern Canyon. The drive there was was like none other - it seriously felt like we were driving through scenes in Jurassic Park. Fun fact that we found out later: The Lost World: Jurassic Park actually filmed some scenes over at Fern Canyon! Walking through the canyon was absolutely breathtaking. So many ferns covering both sides of the walls, giants logs everywhere, and a small little running on the grounds of the canyon.
Anyway, here is a complete list of all the places we visited from the south end of the park to the north end up to Crescent City (we pretty much just followed the park brochure, stopping at spots we were interested in hiking/seeing): Kuchel Visitor Center, Lady Bird Johnson Grove (1 mile loop), Redwood Creek Overlook, Bald Hills Road, Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Elk Prairie, High Bluff Overlook, Klamath River, Klamath River Overlook, Crescent Beach Overlook, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Howland Hill Road, Stout Grove Loop Trail (0.5 mile), Fern Canyon, Gold Bluffs Beach, Prairie Creek Trail, Big Tree, Cathedral Trail, and Corkscrew Tree. On the way back home, we stopped by Humboldt State Park and Avenue of the Giants.
I'll leave you with a minute-long video that Clay made using his phone - love it when he makes videos! :)
Just capturing as I go.