Category Archives: United States

Sunset Skygazing

This is one of the biggest things I missed while living in Ecuador.

an arizona sunset


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Filed under Arizona, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States

Conquering Camelback Mountain in Arizona

View from the top of Camelback Mountain

My twin sister decided to introduce me to Camelback, which is a famous mountain – or hill, depending on the mountains you’ve grown up with wherever you live – in Arizona because it resembles a camel lying down in the desert surroundings. It has also gained a reputation for being a rather difficult hike/trek with many people getting hurt and air-lifted off the mountain. As we drove to the trail, my sister told me a story of how ambulances were taking someone away the very first time she was going to hike it. YiKES!

Camelback is so popular that the parking lot fills up rather quickly, leaving many people to park farther down in the neighborhood streets. When we arrived the parking lot was packed and a line of cars were waiting for people to leave for their chance to get a spot. My sister and I opted for the other parking areas. We started driving and saw groups of people running and walking to the trailhead from the parking area, which also turned out to be filled. We had no choice but to park in the rocky landscape with other cars and make the walk to the trailhead. I jokingly told my sister that this could be our warm-up.

I learned from my sister that the hike can take up to 3-hours, so we took a deep breath and braved the porta-potties before starting the hike. According to my sister, there are two sides to climb to the top of Camelback. One is an easy hike with a flat path that only gets a bit dangerous – picture a high-wire, you walk on the edge of the mountain – before you reach the top. The other, which we took, is steep the entire way up and includes lots of boulder hopping.

Hiking Camelback Mountain!

After you climb up the stairs, you get a break on a flat path that winds along a fence that keeps you from falling off the edge before getting to the first of two real steep ascents. Both of these climbs have a steel handle-bar to assist you up the rock’s surface. It is amazing to see how people get up these areas of the hike. Some opt for no handle-bar and literally crawl up while others cling to the fence or bar, and others who are descending are walking backwards holding onto the bar. After each ascent, most hikers take a break to catch their breath and watch the other hikers before getting to the boulder areas.

This was probably my favorite part. You could either go up the boulder crevice or climb the surface of the red rocks next to it. The surface was so flat and had this texture that you could literally stand up straight and walk up it. It looked like you were walking side-ways up this rock, it was brilliant. I was so nervous though that for the first bit of it I clung with my face smashed up to the surface because I didn’t want to fall. With the assurance of my twin sister, I finally stood up half-way up and walked up, feeling the burning in my calves the entire way.

Helicopter hovering while searching for an injured hiker

We venture onward and saw a helicopter making multiple rounds of the mountain, at points hovering. The pilot used its speaker to call out to hikers to assist them in their rescue attempt. “If you are by the injured hiker, please wave your arms.” All the hikers began pointing in the direction of the hiker that they passed during their descent. My sister and I pointed upward after noticing the people helping. We eventually saw the injured girl being nursed by her hiking partners. It appeared as if it was her ankle, which was no surprise because climbing the boulders – and at times jumping from one to the next – could easily lead to your foot slipping.

Christmas tree on top of Camelback Mountain

My sister told me we were near the top and our speed grew faster during the last portion. Our legs were burning and our breaths were quick, but we reached the apex where a crowd of hikers were resting and eating while enjoying the view. The Christmas tree was still up there along with a few decorated bushes. One group decided to take their Christmas picture for next year. We only had a few minutes of rest before we started our descent. On the way down we saw a girl who had just sprained her ankle a minute prior. She was in tears and being comforted by her friends. We continued on and made sure our feet were firmly planted before pressing on to the next boulder and the next…and the next. It was much faster on the way down and when we reached the wooden stairs, smiles replaced the open mouths that gasped for air the entire way up and down.

Hikers resting and eating snacks on top of Camelback Mountain

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Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Tips, Travel, United States

Arizona: Tallest Christmas Tree in the Nation

Tonight my parents and I walked around the outlets in Anthem. We normally don’t frequent the shopping center but they had something special to offer: the tallest Christmas tree in the nation. I find it odd that a city in Arizona would be able to get the tallest tree, but hey, at least we have the ability to admire and appreciate the tree since we are not stuck in feet of snow or have to bear freezing temperatures and wind chill to enjoy it. Let me tell you, this tree was massive.  I was unable to fit the tree in its entirety into any picture (I can’t wait to get my panoramic camera under the tree – yes, I know that I’m getting one, I had to pick it out). It towers over the tops of the shops and can be seen from miles down the highway that the outlets are located beside. Underneath its limbs are giant presents and toys for kids and families to stand in front of for picture-taking opportunities.

It is good to see it in the daylight, not only for the picture-taking, but because you get the chance to see the huge ornaments that decorate the tree. At night when it is lit up, all you can see are the twinkling Christmas lights, which are still a beautiful sight to behold and definitely get you in the holiday spirit.

According to the details:

  • The 110-foot tall tree came from Northern California.
  • A huge crane was used to hoist the tree into place.
  • In total, 120 strings of lights and 3,000 ornaments decorate the massive tree.

nation's tallest christmas tree

standing under the tree with the presents








reflection in the giant ornament

nation's tallest christmas tree lit up







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Filed under Activities, Arizona, Facts, Nature, Outdoors, Sites, Tips, Travel, United States

Printed By-Line: digital and print

topic of my News21 article

This is completely un-related to travel, however I could not resist the urge to spread the good news. My in-depth article that I wrote for News21 on employer sanctions was published in PRiNT and ONLiNE. This is the biggest accomplishment – to date – in my journalism career.

Background: I was chosen as one of 10 fellows for the Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative, which includes 12 universities across the nation and is headquartered at my Alma Mater: Arizona State University. I was one of two undergrads accepted into the program and was the FiRST to get my story published out of the ASU group. The summer fellowship focuses on innovative story-telling. This year there was much more emphasis on impact and newsworthiness.

The nation’s leading journalism schools come together in this unique program to experiment with new forms of in-depth and investigative reporting.

Students travel the country to report on critical issues facing our changing nation and then find innovative ways to tell those stories.

my story leading the AzCentral home-page

Each school spent all their time and attention investigating and reporting on a specific subject area they felt they could write about accurately.

In Arizona, our group focused on immigration issues. Being so close to the border we felt this was appropriate.

My project:  It dealt with employer sanctions, which are laws that states pass in order to combat the hiring of undocumented immigrants in the workplace.

To narrow the focus and make a better comparison, I looked at two states: Arizona and South Carolina.

Both had incredibly similar employer sanctions laws. However, only one has been able to successfully educate their state businesses, enforce their immigration law, and prosecute or violate those that do not comply. Which state, you may be wondering? I’ll let you find that out for yourself. Here is the introduction to my article, which can be read online at AzCentral:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — When it comes to cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, Arizona may be getting the headlines, but South Carolina seems to be getting results. Only three businesses – all in the Phoenix area – have been prosecuted in the nearly three years since Arizona’s highly publicized employer-sanctions law took effect.
During that time, not a single business outside of Maricopa County has been punished for hiring illegal immigrants. By contrast, South Carolina has cited more than 200 businesses for being out of compliance since that state’s employer-sanctions law went into effect in 2009. South Carolina officials say that their efforts have paid off with far fewer illegal hires.
The two states have radically different approaches on how to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants.
South Carolina’s system gives authorities the power to scrutinize businesses’ hiring records and the state has a comprehensive program to educate employers about the legal consequences of hiring illegal immigrants. If auditors find illegal immigrants on the payroll, employers are cited, fined and forced to fire the workers.
In Arizona, county prosecutors must build an individual court case against each employer suspected of hiring illegal immigrants. And they must do it without easy access to the employer’s records, because the Arizona law does not provide subpoena power for those types of investigations.

Visit AzCentral to read the full story. Take a look at other immigrations stories covered in the 2010 News21 program at Arizona State University.

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Filed under Arizona, Facts, Internship, South Carolina, United States

Getting to know the face of Ecuador

There are so many people just wandering the streets in Ecuador. I’ve always had this desire to ask each person I look in the eyes while walking these sidewalks to work or to eat, “Where are you going? Why? Why now? How did you get here?” They are all so similar in attributions: dark hair, dark skin and dark eyes.

an ecuadorian boy in the park

In the United States we seem to place all Latin Americans into one category. Yet, they are all so different. Ecuadorians look like Ecuadorians and I just don’t know how to explain it. Mexicans are Mexicans. Argentineans behave like Argentineans.

There is a girl I work with who is half-Argentinean and I think I have begun to annoy her with how many times I tell her that she reminds me of my friend who was born in Argentina. How she cuts her food and the way she holds the utensils. Not to mention their appearances as well: the light shade of brown hair. The long fingers with the curves at the middle and end. The facial structure.

It amazes me how people from each country have the same characteristics with their appearances. What is supposed to make us unique? Maybe that is where language comes in or dress styles or traditions. How are we supposed to stand out from each other?

Tonight, my friend and I went to a jazz festival and met another friend I had made from the blogger world (her blog is Afoot and Light-Hearted). We spoke about how “gringa” we looked in the crowd of people. I remember her saying, “I can spend two years here and people would still think it was my first day here [in Quito].” We couldn’t help but laugh and agree. This world continues to judge people based on their appearance. A fellow traveler approached us at the festival, I don’t know whether it was because we were speaking English or was based on our appearance. However, the common element was that he felt safe and secure enough to come over and talk to us because we were from the same country.

Sure, it’s nice to meet people with whom you have stuff in common with, such as language and appearances, but isn’t travel supposed to push you? Make you learn a whole different culture? What better way to do that than to meet the people who are living the culture every day of their lives? It’s like we place this barrier that prevents us from reaching out to these people. Makes you feel like you’re intruding in their lives but this is not the case.

As the traveler, it is your responsibility to make the effort to appreciate the place you are visiting and to get to know its people. Dark hair, light hair, dark skin, light skin, Spanish or English, we are all humans and we can all connect with each other. Breaking down the barriers helps bring about cultural understanding and in doing so, breaks down stereotypes and builds a better world.

Next time you get the chance to meet someone new don’t be afraid to kiss the person’s cheek and say, “Hola, como estas?”


Filed under Ecuador, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Tips, Travel, United States, Worldwide

Ready & packed, but the weather may disagree

Today was a successful day. It had to be. Otherwise, I would be, well, to be blatant, I would be screwed. I finished packing! Hooray! During my afternoon devoted to packing, I was reminded of two things.

1. I am definitely not a girly girl. I would gladly sacrifice a pair of shoes to fit my camelback into a suitcase.

2. I fit the stereotype of a typical North American that I think I need to bring all my “things” with me when I travel. However, after a few weeks I’ll realize I had brought too much.

I’ve also come to the realization that I may have had the disadvantage of being born and raised in Arizona, a state that gets less rain in a year than others receive in a day, to paint you somewhat of a portrait of my origins.

This is what I’ll be experiencing in my first week in Quito, Ecuador.

forecast for my first week in Ecuador

Rain, rain and more rain. I’m shocked I was able to buy an umbrella today at the store. I didn’t think they existed in Arizona. Okay, maybe I’m being overly dramatic but I’m being serious when I say that this is going to be a big change. Talk to any native Arizonan and they will tell you that anything below 70 degrees fahrenheit is absolutely freezing! I’m shuddering right now just seeing these digits. I don’t think I have more than two pairs of long pants and four, thin sweaters.  Oh well, it will be an adventure to say the least!


Filed under Arizona, Ecuador, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Nature, Outdoors, Travel, United States, Worldwide

Basic Tips for the Long-Term Traveler

THE ViSA: Start the process as soon as possible. Each visa has its own list of requirements that must be fulfilled before your passport can be stamped. Individually, those requirements may take quite a bit of time to be completed. Such as, obtaining the police report to show that you are in good standing (this took me about a week), or the medical form from your doctor stating you are in good health (this required shots to prove I didn’t have illnesses, the time it took to get results back from the lab, as well as having a notary come to the doctor’s office to notarize that form). I also had to have my contact in Ecuador sign me up for school and fax me the school registration forms; and also had to go to my bank and get a form (had to be notarized) to prove I had the economic means to support myself.

make a list to keep you organized

The biggest tip to keep in mind while trying to obtain your visa in time is to consider where your consulate is located. There may not be one in your state. You may have to fly, like in my case, or drive to an outside state to get your visa. Check this out first, because it will lengthen the process in order to  purchase airline tickets and set aside travel time.

MONEY: If you have bills that need to be paid every month, write out checks (leaving the date area empty) and have some family member or close friend send those every time the bill arrives.

CURRENCY: Find out if a bank close by can exchange your currency so that you may avoid the higher fees associated with exchanging currency at airports or in the country where you’ll be traveling. Major banks, such as Wells Fargo, can complete exchanges.

PASSWORDS: Give your closest family member the passwords to your e-mail, credit card and bank providers so they can help you if you should find yourself in need of immediate help.

ADDRESSES: Write down the addresses of your hotel, apartment, hostel that you’ll be staying so you’re friends and family have a place to send care packages (i.e. health products that may not be your preference in the country you are traveling, or your favorite snacks that you’ve been missing).

ACTiViTATE CARDS: Do not wait until you are outside the country and are going to the market to buy your first week’s or month’s groceries to have your card declined. Make sure you call your credit card company and notify them that you will be traveling for an extensive period of time and give them the dates.

If you plan on using a debit card, go to your bank and let the people there know that you’ll be out of the country for a long while. They should give you a toll-free number and activation code that will allow your card to be used outside the country.

CELL PHONE: Suspend your phone immediately. Most countries outside the states have internet cafes or places that will allow you to phone home. Trust me, you won’t be phoning home that often anyway because you’ll be so busy. And if you must, download SKYPE on your computer before you leave and tell your family or friends to do the same. If you happen to be on at the same time (since they’re living their lives and you’re traveling) or have setup a SKYPE date, you can TALK and SEE each other for free.

HEALTH iNSURANCE: Purchase travel insurance or check to see if your current health-care provider covers you while you are traveling. To help prevent high-cost, consider keeping the basic plan you are on and relying on your insurance just for emergencies. Those from the U.S. tend to live in fear that any health-care providers outside the country do not have the same standards of practice. However, many travelers say otherwise. Of course, it is up to each individual traveler’s experience to make their own judgment call.

MORE: If you have any tips you’d like to add, please feel free to post a comment and I will edit the posting.


Filed under Facts, Global, International, Latin America // South America, Tips, Travel, United States, Worldwide