¡Hola Mexico! An All-Inclusive Experience: Part 1

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing this to you on a plane, as most of my recent posts have been. By the time you’ll read this, I’ll be in an entirely different country, but as of now, I’ve just returned from Playa Del Carmen and my first ever trip to Mexico.

That entire last phrase is italicized because I’m actually from southern California, and yet had never driven the hour or so south to go visit our neighbors. This, despite the fact that I make a habit of flying around the world.

Anyway- I went down to Mexico for the very first time! And when I say “Mexico,” I mean “I drove straight to an all-inclusive resort and stayed there for the entirety of my trip.” I wouldn’t say I got the ”cultural experience,’ but I did have an amazing time.

Even better, this time I wasn’t alone! One of my best friends, Chrissy, came to meet me, and we had a blast catching up on girl gossip (boys!) and general life experiences.

I’ve got to say, I really needed a vacation. *cue world’s smallest violin.* Spending this time at this resort was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever had. All-inclusive resorts are all about excess, and boy did we exceed. Pristine sand, 80 minute massages, and unlimited ice cream were all part of our incredible vacation experience.

Now, the hotel was called the Barcelo Maya Palace, and it was one of about five in a sprawling complex that encompassed huge swaths of Playa Del Carmen’s beaches. Sorry, let me amend that, it was the best of about five of these resorts, which meant that our daily dinners consisted of things like filet mignon and creme’ brûlée, and we had tons of fun dressing up.

I’ve got a lot of photos, so I’ll split them between posts. Here are the first few:

Don’t we look good playing dress up?

-Carissa “Not even a little more tan” Ragland

ATV Adventures in Bali

Hello Dear Readers!

Tired of hearing about Bali yet? Don’t worry, this is my last post! I don’t normally write about every day of a trip, but then again I also don’t do incredible things Every. Single. Day.

Have I whined enough about my lack of sleep? Trust me, this was a vacation in the sense that we were far from home and doing cool things, but absolutely not in the sense that we were sitting around relaxing.

Anyway, on our last day in Bali our flight didn’t leave until 9:45pm. Obviously, that meant we could squeeze in one final activity. What did we pick? As may be obvious from the title, we did an ATV ride through the island!

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Straight rolling through the jungle

Now, I’d never ridden an ATV before, so I was a little nervous, but it was actually really easy. We had the quads for two hours, which meant we rode down across the beach, through the waves, over coconuts and all kinds of driftwood, and up into a little local village, where all the children ran to stand at the door and wave to us as we went by. It was awesome!

I only put sunscreen on my face so now I have a really sweet v-neck and farmer’s tan line. Such is the price I pay for my adventures.

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But look how badass I am

We stopped a few times for photos, and once a cow even tried to attack Deja on her ATV. Like, I’m not gonna say it was hilarious…but it was. Cows are sacred in Hindu, so there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Eventually, our guide ended up holding the line the cow was attached down so she could ride over it and escape. It was great.

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I’m a model. Ignore the denim chaps.

Unfortunately, traffic in Bali is absolutely atrocious. It takes at least an hour to get anywhere, and more often two hours. As an example, our ATV place was located fifteen miles away, and took a little over an hour and a half to get to. This meant that we were a bit late getting back, and David and I had to rush in order to pack and get to the airport. I know, I know, I’m a procrastinator. But for good reason!

Anyway, the flight back from Bali was the worst…a full 24 hours to get back to Houston and an additional four more to get to Orlando, where I’ve just spent the last five days. I’ll tell you guys all about it next.

-Carissa “Nonstop” Ragland

Being Balinese

Hello Dear Readers!

So, now you guys know all about my sad SCUBA failures. Seeing myself incapable of accomplishing my certificate, I suddenly had two free days in Bali.

What to do?

I ended up spending the time with Steve and Deja. Our first day, we went to Kuta Beach, which is Bali’s most famous beach. It’s beautiful, but the persistent hawkers are really aggressive and won’t leave you alone. It kind of ruins the experience.

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Ruined!

We ate lunch at Tony Roma’s. I know. But it was delicious!

It also happened to be David’s birthday, so Steve and Deja arranged for a cake for him and I booked us some reservations at a restaurant. I literally googled ‘best restaurants in Bali’ and this place came up. Called ‘Barbacoa,’ it took us an hour to get there…but the food was beyond incredible. We had fresh street tacos and Cuban sliders, followed by the world’s most amazing creme’ brûlée. Not to brag, but I picked basically the best place ever.

The next day, while David went off to finish his diving cert, Steve, Deja and I headed off on a tour of Balinese Temples.

I think this was actually my favorite day in Bali overall. It took the entire day, and we stopped in so many cool places.

The first temple, named Batukaru, was located deep in the mountains:

 

Then we stopped off at Bali’s largest rice paddies to get some incredible photos:

After this, our guide took us to the top of a mountain, where we could see Bali’s twin lakes, Tambinglan and Buyan:

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And listen you guys, I’m a total sucker for animal photos. While we were walking around taking pictures of the lakes, I saw a guy advertising photos with a bunch of different animals. I mean, I couldn’t say no to holding a bat! I even peer pressured Steve and Deja into doing it, which is how we got these photos:

I still crack up every time I look at them.

After hanging out with all those guys, we headed down to the lake temple, Pura Bedugul, which is apparently really famous and iconic, but I’m kind of clueless so I didn’t realize:

Also, here’s a photo of our guide accidentally taking a selfie while trying to photograph us:

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We ate lunch here, which like all the rest of the food in Bali, was delicious. We didn’t have a single bad meal while we were there.

Finally, for our last stop, we headed to the cliff temple, Pura Tanya Lot,  which is Bali’s most famous. The reason why is obvious:

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After all this, we headed back to our villa to meet David for dinner. Yes, it was great.

 
-Carissa “Cultural AF” Ragland

A SCUBA Disaster

Hello Dear Readers!

You guys remember how I talked about going to get my SCUBA open water certificate? Remember how excited I was?

Yeahhhhh.

Our third day started all right, as David and I headed out to the dive center in order to begin our certification. After 5 hours of classroom work (sitting and watching videos), we finally managed to get out and get our gear. Every certification class starts with pool dives, to teach you all the basic skills before trying your hand in open water.

It wasn’t so bad, at first. Our instructor made us swim laps and then float around to prove our competency in water (easy), and then we climbed into our wetsuits. We figured out our air tanks, slipped into the water, and then pulled the gear on. Not bad, right?

I have to tell you, the feeling of breathing underwater is pretty unreal. Snorkeling does a decent simulation of it, but nothing prepares you for those first few breaths from a regulator and air tank.

Now, I have claustrophobia, which almost never impacts my life. I simply loosen seat belts, avoid tiny boxes, and otherwise stay out of possibly compromising situations. Do you guys see where this is going? If so, you’re smarter than me, because I didn’t.

I did all right, all the way until we were required to remove our air supplies and throw them away. We then had to find them, put them back in our mouths, and clear them of water. Unfortunately for me, my mask was crappy and ill-fitting, which meant every time I cleared the regulator, my mask popped off my face and filled with water.

This gave me the very real and uncomfortable feeling of drowning.

We had to do this several times, and every time my discomfort grew, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and popped up out of the water. Dragging my mask off my face, I tried to calm down, while the instructor looked on in concern.

There were only 4 of us total, David and I, who were learning, the instructor, and a guy named Paul who was learning to become a Divemaster. Thus, when I had to pause, everyone surfaced and spent 5 long minutes staring at me. Anyone ever calmed down under pressure? Yeah, I thought not.

I finally managed to catch my breath and get situated again, so back down we went. Our next task was then to purposefully fill our masks with water and sit with them on your face. I did manage to do this, as horrific as it was, but my panic levels were sitting pretty near the surface.

Thus, when the next task came, and the instructor came to take away my air supply, I scrambled away.

It was too much. I surfaced again, and this time I couldn’t calm down enough to try again. The feeling of all that water overhead, with no way out and no way to fix things if something goes wrong…it was not something I could handle. I usually pride myself on being able to take on most anything, but you guys, it takes a certain kind of person to willingly fake drown themselves under 60 feet of water. I am not that person.

David is though! He successfully completed his SCUBA certification, and has provided me with lots of lovely photos for the blog:

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I spent the next two days hanging out with Steve and Deja, which I’ll tell you guys about soon.

-Carissa “Not the Drowned God” Ragland

Hiking Kawah Ijen- The Blue Fire Volcano

Hello Dear Readers!

Have any of you ever had an idea that sounded really good in theory? And then when you went to carry it out, your expectations were nowhere near reality?

Yeah, me too.

Enter Kawah Ijen, the blue fire volcano. Located on the island of Java, it’s one of two places in the world (the other being Iceland) where you can see blue flames burning in the middle of an acid lake.

Which means you have to hike the volcano in the middle of the night, so you can see the lights. It also means you get to see the sunrise from the lip of the volcano, an unparalleled view in a world where raw beauty is rapidly disappearing.

Sounds amazing, right?

Since we were on the island of Bali, we had to make the trek down to the tip of the island, take a ferry, and then drive all the way to the volcano. Our driver picked us up at 7pm, and we got to the volcano at midnight. We were early, so we sat around for an hour before finally beginning the journey.

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Now, I had read reviews of this hike, which called it “easy,” “disappointingly short,” and “not at all difficult.” So I had some pretty simple expectations for the hike. I mean, it was 1am, in the dark, and it was raining. An easy hike was what I was looking for.

I can only assume that the people who wrote those reviews are crossfitting maniacs who enjoy grueling and painful punishment. It took us several hours to get to the top, slipping through the mud and trying to work through calf, quad, and butt cramps.

But the reward was going to be worth it!

The blue flames are actually a result of sulfur gas burning, which means that the air is really toxic. Thus, they give you gas masks in order to get near the flames, which sounds really metal. So we were pretty excited when, after a few hours, we finally crested the top and caught our first glimpse of the flames.

It was unreal.

Aaaaaand that was it.

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Expectation
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Reality

Since it was raining, we weren’t able to actually go down into the crater. We didn’t need our gas masks, we were stuck on the windy top of the mountain, and it was raining. We had also gotten separated on the way up, which meant we had to wait around for over an hour to get together, at which point dawn was near.

Our guide told us we could hike another half mile up, if we wanted, to go see the acid lake and the sunrise.

So we ran up to the top as quickly as we could in order to catch the sun coming up. We needn’t have worried, of course, as the rain clouds obscured the sun anyways.

But! We did get some really cool photos of the acid lake!

It then took another hour and a half to hike back down, and we ate breakfast at the restaurant at the bottom. All told, we finally left Kawah Ijen at 7am, making it back to our villa at 4pm the next day. Yeah, it was nearly a 24 hour trip. To say we were exhausted would be an understatement.

Although almost everything failed due to the rain and cold, we still had a decent climb going up, and seeing the sulfur lake was pretty awesome. Was it what I was expecting? Not in the slightest. But pretty cool anyways.

Speaking of unmet expectations, just wait until you guys hear about my SCUBA adventures.

-Carissa “Please Let Me Sleep” Ragland

Beautiful Bali

Hello Dear Readers!

So I finally finished out my Europe/Middle East trip, and just yesterday made it home back to the United States. My flight took off from Madrid at 10am and I landed safely in Sacramento at midnight. It was a horribly long amount of time to travel, but Nala was very well behaved and I even made a few new friends who were stuck sitting next to me (for like…8 hours).

I managed to stay a full 30 hours in California, during which time I did a load of laundry (that’s all my clothes, really) ate real Mexican food, went to a concert (my kid brother’s band concert) and bought some new things from Target. I love America!

Alas, I am now back aboard a plane, currently headed to Houston. There, I’ll be meeting David, Steve (David’s older brother), and Deja (sister-in-law). We’re heading from Houston to Bali, with a day-long layover in Singapore. It should be fun. (This is all past tense. The flight was super long and we crashed out in the lounge in Singapore for the entire day).

Did I show you guys pictures of the Villa we got in Bali? AirBnB also does luxury rentals, and we’ll be staying there for about $150/night. I’ll be sure to take some good photos while we’re out there.

We’re doing all kinds of amazing stuff: an ATV ride on the beach, a nighttime hike past a blue fire volcano, snorkeling, aaaaand getting Scuba certified! I felt like it was really time, since I’ve got so many upcoming trips where the diving is supposed to be amazing. (Great Barrier Reef, anyone?)

Tales of our adventures to follow!

-Carissa “Scuba Steve” Ragland

Phenomenal Flamenco

Hello!

I realize my last post was pretty serious. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback, and I think you guys will be glad to know that I’ve decided to report the man to AirBnB. Cultural differences aside, if you’re going to be inviting people into your home, you should never force yourself on them or act so inappropriately.

So! That being said, I want to talk today about my most recent shenanigans with Sarah. She keeps cropping up, doesn’t she? That’s because we’re both so much fun!

You guys know all those really heartwarming videos of soldiers coming home and being reunited with their dogs? Well, Nala and I had a similar moment, which I will illustrate in the photo below:

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Isn’t she adorable? I got a full face tongue bath, which is really gross but also I love her so it’s ok. Since Sarah and I didn’t have much time together, we decided to go full out. We checked into our hotel, dropped off Nala and headed out to make the most of our time in Madrid.

Now, you guys know the last time I was in Spain I subsided almost solely on churros with dipping chocolate and champagne. I’m here to tell you that nothing has changed. I swiftly introduced Sarah to these vices, and within the space of twenty minutes we had consumed chocolate, churros, a pile of Iberian ham, and were each clutching a glass of Cava. We’re efficient, you know.

I had made reservations as a surprise to dinner and a Flamenco show, so we headed over there to have an awesome three course meal, which we complemented with a bottle of more champagne. I mean, why not?

Have you guys ever been to a Flamenco show? I know I’ve heard so much about the passion of the dancers (and Spanish people as a whole), but it all seemed a little blown out of proportion. Well, let me tell you…it’s not.

We had front row seats to the show, and at first, the place seemed kind of small and crowded. However, when the music started…just wow.

There were two singers, a violinist, and two guitarists. They began playing, slowly at first, to warm up the crowd, before breaking into amazing, fast-paced music. These people have got some serious skills. Shortly thereafter, the two dancers, a man and a woman, came out.

Words fail me here, but I’m going to try to describe it.

The music pulsed through the room as the crowd murmured, some leaning back in their seats, others sipping glasses of wine as everyone sat, waiting. A low tension hummed in the air, and slowly, subtly, the beat of the music sped up.

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Abruptly, the curtain at the back of the stage was turned aside, and a woman strode out. She was passion, personified. Her long dress trailed behind her as she took center stage, her face regal, her back straight.

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One breath, two, and she began to stomp, her shoes tapping a staccato on the wooden floor as she moved with the music.

The floor, scarred with the marks of a thousand dances, echoed with every step, and she twirled, her dress fanning out, her arms weaving, framing her face, her neck, her hips, as she poured her soul into the movement.

Suddenly, the curtain twitched again, and her partner came out, his clothes tailored tightly to his body, his eyes dark, and he, too, began to dance.

Together, they stepped across the stage, first moving together, then apart, each one competing to outdo the other. Faster, faster, they moved, the strain of the violin drifting past their frantic feet, until the room was full with the sound of their song.

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Sweat beaded on his brow as he spun, whirling around her, his feet a blur as he tapped, tapped, tapped, to the beat of the music. Together, they told a story- of love, of heat, of flame and fury and passion, until the music built to a crescendo and came, crashing, to a halt.

As one, they turned to us, arms outflung, chests heaving, and bowed.

The room exploded with applause.

To say it was phenomenal would be an understatement. If there’s one thing you do in Spain, go see a Flamenco show.

After the show we headed out to a rooftop bar, where we enjoyed a “few” drinks before heading back to the hotel at around 2am. Overall the night was a great success, and definitely a foreshadowing for the excellent day to come.
-Carissa “I wanna dance like that” Rawson

Perfect Petra

Hello All!

I visited Petra! (Again!). I had an amazing time, but I’m going to let the pictures speak for themeslves. Most of these photos are courtesy of Besnik (in the blue shirt) and Yahya, who I adventured with all day. It was hot, exhausting, and tons of fun!

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson

Generous Jordan

Hello Dear Readers! Does it always seem like I’m saying I’m going to write more trip reviews for you guys? I realized yesterday perusing through my posts that I’ve promised a thousand and one stories…so I guess I’d better start making a dent. I told you all that I spent four days at the Dead […]

Hello Dear Readers!

Does it always seem like I’m saying I’m going to write more trip reviews for you guys? I realized yesterday perusing through my posts that I’ve promised a thousand and one stories…so I guess I’d better start making a dent.

I told you all that I spent four days at the Dead Sea, and I invited Alaa and his family to come hang out the pool. He showed up on the last day, but unfortunately his family couldn’t make it. We still had a great time! He was suitably impressed with my suite, and when check-out time came, we loaded up the car and took off for Amman.

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In case you forgot what it looked like

Along the way, he invited me to his son’s birthday party. How cool is that?? His son, Yaseen, was turning two, so we spent the whole rest of the day going around getting ready for his party.

I even got to pick out the cake!

Though I’m not going to lie to you guys, 100% of people were extremely confused by us walking around speaking in Arabic. Hanging out with a Jordanian gives me some serious street cred. Also, having Alaa with me means I don’t have to pay the tourist tax anymore! This means everything  costs about 98% less- from coffee to french fries.

We stopped off at his sister’s house (he has five), and drank some coffee while we chatted. His sister scrolled through the photos on my phone (danger!), telling me how pretty I was, and, matter-of-factly, that I used to be fat.

Thanks.

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She wasn’t wrong, per se’

After everything, we headed to Jerash for the party. It was at his mom’s house, where his whole family was waiting, including his mom, dad, two of his sisters, wife, and all three kids. You guys saw a photo of his daughter, Sally, before. She’s my new best friend, though literally impossible for me to understand. If you thought learning a foreign language was hard, try to understand it coming out of the mouth of a squeaky tiny little kid. Luckily she’s small so I can just laugh and ignore everything she says!

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Since I was the guest, I got one of everything, despite my protests. So, I had a piece of cake, some dessert I don’t know the name of, another dessert I don’t know the name of, some Jello-y dessert, and several drinks. I nearly exploded.

Honestly guys, I’m so happy. Nothing will ever replace the look on Yaseen’s face when I gave him his present (joy, combined with his intense fear of me), or the warmth I felt at being so welcomed into this family. Their generosity is profound, and I am so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to spend a little time with the people in this corner of the world.

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson

Going Native: Having the Time of My Life

Hello All!

It’s been a few days, hasn’t it? You can always tell when things are getting adventurous because my blog posts decline accordingly. After all, who can write when they’re exhausted from tramping around all day?

Luckily, I have some spare time now to write, and boy do I have stories to share. I suppose the biggest news is that I’ve decided to stay my full time in Jordan, rather than leaving and going to Germany for a few days.

I’ve told you guys in the past that a lot of the reason I decided to go to Jordan was to improve my Arabic. I also told you that I was having a lot of trouble communicating because the Arabic I learned is not even comprehensible to the average citizen. Imagine trying to speak King James’ English to someone from the backwaters of Louisiana. It doesn’t work out well.

Well, I mentioned a few posts ago that David and I met a really nice Uber driver, who could not only understand us, but was really nice and even loved Americans. He ended up taking David to the airport, and even offered to drive me to and from the Dead Sea. (I mean, did you guys see that suite??) I’ll tell you guys later about our awesome trip to Jerash and Ajloun, where Alaa (that’s his name) showed us around, but long story short we also got to meet his family and have coffee at their house.

So I invited Alaa and his family to hang out at the Dead Sea with me (after all, what’s luxury if you can’t share in it?). We had a total blast, and I was even invited to Alaa’s son’s birthday.


If you guys ever wanted to learn a language, try sitting in a room full of people shouting during a birthday party. It’s…educational. And fun! I’ve been hanging out with them ever since, and have been having an absolutely wonderful time.

I’ll have detailed posts for you guys about the birthday party, and my trip to Aqaba, and my forthcoming trips all around the rest of Jordan with my new awesome friends.

People always talk about meeting others as being the most satisfying part of their trips. I had hoped to make tons of friends while traveling, but for the most part hadn’t managed yet, possibly due to language barrier, or maybe because I’m actually kind of shy, but now I have, and they’re right. This is so rewarding, so cool, and so totally what I was hoping for. Talk to you guys soon- going to hang out!

-Carissa “Nour” Rawson