NOTES FROM THE ROAD - PANAMA CITY + LIMA

For those of y’all who don’t know, I travel for personal funsies. A lot. And I take a lot of pictures while I’m traveling a lot. I’ve been in the really bad habit of not sharing, so I’m swearing myself to making a post for every trip I take in 2019 and beyond, which means starting with this adventure to Lima (with a li’l layover in Panama City), a quick catch-up on a trip in April to Turkey, and then future updates on Roatán in August and Mexico in October - and be sure to keep an ear to the ground for the photos from my Irish and Alaskan adventure weddings that I’m so excited I can barely sit still for.

So let’s go! Time to wander off for an adventure to Dani + Som’s wedding in Lima. Ready? Ready!

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA


I landed at PTY about 11.30 P.M., and the delightful mix of a lack of sleep and an overconfidence in my piss-poor Spanish meant that my cab driver took me on a very circuitous 45 minute/$45 extra detour to show me restaurants with me nodding sleeply and saying “¡Si¡” when I should have been saying “Vamos a mi hotel.”

Despite being quite hungry and a little travel weary, I got a great view of the city skyline, a vague idea of recommendations from the friendly driver about where I should visit the next morning during my ~16 hours in Panama City. Also of note was the huge and incredibly numerous parks that were meticulously maintained and still quite popular at that late hour on a weekday.

When I finally made it to my hotel, I did the normal Explosion Of Everything I Packed To Everywhere that, frankly, if you don’t do upon arrival, don’t talk to me. No seriously, e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.

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After admiring the great view from my window of a local park, I hit one of the few open restaurants in the area and had my 31st beer in my 31st place abroad while waiting for some takeout. Yes, I’ve been keeping tabs, and yes, I’ll do a recap post on that wild ride at some point, but for now…¡salud!

Rise and shine to the next day, where I decided to head out exploring on foot and via Latin America’s first metro system for the few hours I had before needing to scoot back to the airport. I found the streets mostly pedestrian friendly, and the subway super easy (and super affordable/super air conditioned!) to use.

On this day (and…most days, let’s be real), it was HOT. High 90s with intense humidity and the threat of rain looming overhead. I was a sweaty mess the entire time, but thoroughly enjoyed wandering my way to Casco Viejo, a historic and older neighborhood in Panama City.

I took a slight detour on to a beach to put my toes in a new ocean - howdy, Pacific! - before having a cop come holler at me to get way the hell away. Apparently the very sad stop sign along a twenty foot entrance means no foot traffic? Lo siento, officer!

I loved the beautiful architecture married with the street art in this area - the older buildings reminded me of Havana while the art gets a direct shoutout to San Juan PR’s gorgeous and never-ending murals.

I spent a whooping ~$0.35 equivalent to grab a few pieces of ice cold piña from a street vendor in an attempt to cool down, and made some friends with locals before heading back to my hotel.

Apparently rooftop pools are a huge thing in Panama City, and I was super glad for a quick dip and another stellar view before packing my booty up and finally getting on to Lima.

Not Even Slightly Fun But Kind Of Charming Fact - in the airport, I talked to a Panamanian man who drives trucks back in the states about the new toll road circumventing Middleton, Delaware. The world is really, really small, y’all.

LIMA, PERU

The flight to Lima was quiet, but definitely got me super pumped when we began our descent and I could clearly see the Andes peaking above the clouds with a big ol’ full moon. Descending in through the incredibly heavy cloud cover, and in to a new city.

Travel Tip #492: Buy a cheap bag of sweets (either at home or in the airport) and give a small handful out to everyone you’re interacting with that’s on the job or just looks like they could use a little lift. I got a huge bag of some chewy caramels with a chocolate filling that only set me back about $8, and I ended up having flight attendants, desk agents, and taxi drivers geeking out, and evening trading me a local sweet.

My immediate impression of Lima was of how foggy and damp and sodium-lit it was - very romantic in a dark and cozy sort of way. I was glad to wake up the next day to discover just how much greenery I hadn’t seen in the ride from the airport to the Miraflores district where I’d be staying for the duration of the trip.

I set out the next day to meet up at a very delicious brunch at El Bodegón with all of the out-of-country kiddos who made the hike to Peru to celebrate our friends Daniela and Soumitra’s wedding. We were all college buddies of the couple, living in California and Texas and Ohio and Guatemala and Indonesia, and had a great time swapping the “How did you meet?! Where are you from?! What do you do with your life?!” stories and figuring out what we could do together during our overlapping time in Lima.

I set off with Leslie, a coffee queen (no seriously, she brought us all a bag from her family’s company in Guatemala), to explore the nearby Indian Market. We found the sweetest little cafe tucked in to a corner, where I got a swift and delicious education on different types of coffee preparation. Chemex made cappuccino? Sure! But first, we swirled and sniffed and laughed with the amazing barista Juan.

The market was a colorful explosion of beautiful goods that were locally made - I scoped out what I was definitely going to buy and bring home (including some locally made silver jewelry and alpaca scarves), as well as making a mental note to head back and see Juan to scoop some coffee and chocolate.

Later that night was quite the feast with Hilary, Leslie, and Xena at Osaka. I happily left my camera behind at the hotel (sorry, no photos!) and got absolutely schooled on yet another facet of Peruvian food, which I was woefully ignorant about. Apparently there is a very large population of Japanese Peruvians, and the fusion of flavors that Osaka presented was absolutely stunning. I’m already dreaming of eating here again!

As the next day was the BIG day, I made it quite leisurely. I took a big ol’ nap (!!! how novel - I’m so used to running nonstop on wedding days for work) and then wandered the iconic coast line.

Both surfing and paragliding are huge activities in Lima, but I was more than happy to watch rather than participate in the chilly winter weather.

The Parque Del Amor (the Park of Love) is a gorgeous little spot full of mosaiced benches and the tower sculpture of El Beso (the Kiss) by Víctor Delfín to sit and smooch, or to sneakily snap photos of folks hanging out.

While June is winter in Lima, I loved seeing all the verdant plants in bloom. I so enjoyed wandering all the streets and admiring the succulents and flowers and tiny gardens that seemed to be tucked in to any corner feasible.

On to the main event! The Crew of Visiting Friends congregated outside of the church, and cooed over Soumitra’s 007 sharpness while excitedly waiting for the wedding to take place. In many Latin American countries (maybe most? I’m not sure - someone correct me!), it’s quite common for a church to be open to the public for these union masses. I’ve wandered past and peeked in on bodas in Guatemala and Puerto Rico.

Nuestra Señora del Pilar was gooooooorgeous, with a most stunning and intricate Baroque altar pieces. Live music and choral accompaniments made the scenery all the more beautiful, but nothing outshone Daniela’s radiance on this night. I really don’t have the words, but I am sighing with a contented heart looking at these photos again. Absolute perfection!

After Dani and Som left the church, we caught a little more of the choir signing, snagged a group photo, and headed off to the reception at MALI.

Sparkling lights, bubbling drinks, and seriously, Peruvians know how to seafood! Truly one of the most delicious cocktail hours ever.

We all waited excitedly to enter the reception space, which was a stunning production of lights and texture and more delicious food. I’ve had reoccurring dreams about that dessert table, y’all.

If Dani and Som’s wedding are typical to Peruvian weddings, they’re my new favorite. There was no MC awkwardly shepherding folks to their seats, or the whiplash from slow song to fast song. Dani and Som shared their first dance with each other, and then their family members, sweetly transitioning in to an open dancefloor. And oooooh boy, did we ever take advantage of that!

Some time after midnight (oh, did I not mention we were celebrating from 9.30 p.m. until 4 a.m.!?), Dani and Som donned sehra and mala, and then all things Bollywood Goodness broke loose, including a troop of dancers who really got things jumping.

According to my FitBit, I clocked about 11.83 miles worth of dancing, right until about 4 a.m. My feet hurt so bad, but it was no match for how much absolute fun it was to celebrate with Dani and Som’s family and friends. At one point, an auntie came up and told me that my tall, blonde, terribly uncoordinated self had a Peruvian heart and gave me a big ol’ hug. What a treasure to be so far from home but to feel so, so welcomed. Oh, what a party!

I hobbled out of the museum on my tired feet to catch a cab, and to crash hard.

I slept late that day, and rose from the dead in time to say goodbye to Nick and Chris, and to have a few cocktails with Zaid and Monica.

My last full day in Lima was spent exploring even more corridors of the city, and catching the first tiny glimpse of sunshine I’d seen all trip. It was still watery and weak, but how delicious it was nonetheless. With feet still feeling sore, Huaca Pucllana, an ancient clay pyramid, was my only must-do for the day.

It’s quite startling to see such prominent ruins amongst city sprawl, but still an incredible experience nonetheless. Both the Lima and the Wari cultures used this great pyramid for ceremonial and cultural practices. My favorite tidbit is that shark worship was a thing (!!!), and quite a large assortment of teeth have been found amongst these ruins. It’s amazing to think of folks in about 500 CE hunting great white sharks in fairly primitive boats.

The grounds also had some local crops, as well as textile and food sources (sorry, squeaky little guinea pigs!) and a lazy Peruvian hairless pup (not to be confused with the Xoloitzcuintli of Mexico.

I wandered for the rest of the day, with the most notable bit of finding a giant tortoise in a yard when I’d stopped to photograph a beautiful singular pear. A pair of nuns stopped by to give him a few pats, and I had one of those wonderful moments of This World Is A Freakin’ Wild Ride.

My last day in Lima happened to be Anthony Bourdain’s birthday, which has swiftly become #BourdainDay. I made a little post about that experience, but I truly feel so, so insanely fortunate to have been out and about on Lima’s coast line to ruminate on life and travel and being a wandering stranger before heading to the airport for the journey home.

After multiple days in the dense fog and spitting rain of Lima, the sunset on my flight home felt nothing short of miraculous. I bathed in the warm light, and couldn’t stop taking photographs on the dramatically shifting skyscape.

A million congratulations to Daniela and Soumitra - thank you so, so much for bringing together such a wonderful group of people. Lima, I’ll see you again (hopefully soon!).
-xo MEJ

#BourdainDay - Reflecting on the man who taught me to circle the globe swearing, laughing, and experiencing everything I can.

Today is Bourdain Day. I was lucky enough to wander the very tall, incredibly moody cliffs of Lima on this drizzly winter morning to reflect on the gifts I got from a man I never met - how very fitting, how very lucky I am.

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My wanderlust was sprouted from watching No Reservations as a young teen, my travel compass was forged years before I ever got my hands on my first passport. The hustle, the blood/sweat/tears/theft, the beartbreak, the moments darting across bustling thoroughfares, the hangovers, the language barriers, the gruelingly long layovers, the tiny golden connections of human interaction and the big breathtaking moments that're burned in to the back of my skull are all concepts I was as absolutely ready as I could possibly be for when I ran in to them at a breakneck speed. I can thank Uncle Tony for that.

Anthony Bourdain was delightfully and doggedly human. He battled with addiction and mental health. He died by suicide. He was constantly curious. He was about as sardonic as you can get, but he was always undeniably himself. He was real, he was raw, and he put a few toes past the point of brutal honesty sometimes, but through everything, he maintained a solid sense of humanity and humility. Anthony had the ability to reach through the television and shake the shit out of people drowning in the quintessential American Apathy And Desperate Need For Convenience™ that convinces you Epcot's version of countries is more than enough. He opened so many eyes to the United States' complicity in war and famine, and the spoils of colonialism, how to shoulder this knowledge and to do better for it while shaking hands and breaking bread with the people directly impacted by our gains. He invited, no -- he challenged everyone to reach across yards and communities and states and countries and religions and genders to just sit down and open up over a meal. We are never too rich, too poor, too smart, too stupid, too creative, too broken, too whatever to get out in to this world and really, truly experience it. Put down your preconceptions and your pretension, and get going. Unless you're eating your steak well done, then you deserve all our collective scorn.

Peru is the 25th country I've visited in just over four years. Majority of my travels have been by solo. I've been alone, but I've never been lonely - I've had folks back home cheering me along, new friendships forged along the way, and always, the wisdom and wisecracks of Anthony Bourdain constantly chirping at me in my head.

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I'll leave y'all with three things:

1.) Get out there and put yourself in an uncomfortable place to build a bridge to someone who is vastly different from you. Maybe it's a work colleague you've never said much to, a neighbor down the road who you've been meaning to officially welcome to the community, or a total stranger who looks like they could use a hand or a few kind words today.

2.) “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind." -Anthony Bourdain

3.) If you need it, please rally your strength to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 // En Español: 1-888-628-9454 // Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889 // or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741. You are deeply loved, incredibly important and capable of amazing things. However long you walk in darkness, whatever you do to lighten it, wherever you go to outrun it, you are not alone. 💛

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KATIE + TYLER || PAGOSA SPRINGS, COLORADO - ADVENTURE ELOPEMENT WEDDING

Oh. Maaaaaahhhhh. GOODNESS. THIS. FREAKING. ADVENTURE. YOU. GUYS. There isn’t enough caps lock in the world to express all the magic and excitement I have for y’all with this one, so let’s just jump right on in (and I’ll try not to over capitalize too much. no promises, seriously. you’ll understand).

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Let’s start with a phone call I got in summer while lounging by a pool, and then I’ll get in to why there’s cats in a car, okay? I got a jingle from some sweet friends very politely asking if I’d be “up for” a wedding in Colorado that was a-total-secret-so-shh-but-also-it’s-gonna-be-somewhere-we-don’t-know-quite-exactly-where-yet-and-it-might-be-a-sunrise-thing-or-maybe-at-night-maybe-under-the-stars-maybe-on-top-of-a-mountain-or-a-forest-or-something-we-aren’t-sure-yet. Up for? UP FOR?! Yes, I was sure to emphatically emphasis that this is literally a dream job proposal being tossed my way, yes yes YES YES YES. (damn, there goes my promise to not caps lock so much…). I hung up the phone and promptly proceeded to do a front flip in to said pool because I was so all about this.

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Fast forward to November 2nd - I’m only slightly jetlagged (shoutout to Aer Lingus for bumping my flight home from Scotland a full 24 hours and giving me a whooping day and a half to be home and prepare for this next adventure), but mostly just holymoly so excited to be in Colorado for the first time and trucking south from Denver with Katie and Tyler, and Sam and Bella, who weren’t too terribly upset by my presence in the backseat.

I believe I said “woooOOOOooooOOOooooOOOOooow” about a hundred thousand times in the 6-ish hour drive because, y’all, Colorado is stunning. And I know I’m late to the bandwagon and you probably already know this but holy crap! My jaw was on the floor of the car, all the while I was getting more and more excited for the potential of the magic we’d be making for Katie & Tyler’s I-Dos.

Also, how scenic of an emergency pull-over-and-pee-here spot is this?

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Once we arrived in Pagosa Springs, we quickly ditched our bags and regrouped - there wasn’t a selected spot for the nuptials. We knew:
1) it was going to happen during sunrise
2) it couldn’t be too far away
3) there had to be water of some sort.

Okay, easy enough? Ehhh. If not for the help of the concierge at the Springs Resort, we’d have been honestly clueless. She suggested a pond right in town that was cute enough, but Katie and Tyler weren’t sold on it, and we sort of desperately took her advice to explore the reservoir in nearby San Juan National Forest.

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Things were getting a little panicked, and a pinch desperate. It was getting dark, and the ‘half hour’ drive to the supposed reservoir had us hunting for small peaks we could hike up early in the morning, but we kept driving on.

We were definitely in the National Park, which was heartening, but the winding, dark roads made for slow going. Finally, just as we had to launch in to Bride Calming Mode, we got there. And this? This calm expanse of water with snow-capped mountains in the background, where the sun would rise perfectly up and over? This was it. As with all good things, this was so worth fighting back that mounting panic and stress.

We headed back to town, grabbed a few adult beverages and snacks to nibble on and got to enjoy soaking in the hot springs that Pagosa is known for. That was certainly relaxing, but it was back to prep mode for the rest of the night. Because this was truly such an intimate group, it was all hands on deck. I am only slightly remiss that I didn’t think to take a picture of myself clambering through the foliage outside of our hotel rooms to gather greenery for a bouquet and a boutonnière. It’s not every wedding your photographer gets to take credit as a stand-in florist and hair dresser, but I was more than excited to help. We braided and pinned hair, arranged florals, and hustled on in to bed for a few hours of sleep before a very early morning wake up call.

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Groggy, but deliriously excited because IT WAS SNOWING (!!!!!!!), we had a sweet little first look within the springs. I can’t tell you how much I love that deliciously moody mist, mmmm-mm!

We piled in to the SUV and headed northwest with a much better idea of time + distance, but also with a great spot to hop out and get a photo under the truly incredible night sky. Even with a waning gibbous moon hanging in the sky, there were plenty of sparkling stars on this cold, clear morning.

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We got to the reservoir with plenty of time to settle in and further plan. Thanks to my handy-dandy tripod, there were lots of photos making the most of the first hints of morning sun.

Intimate was the name of the game. It was nearly silent on this morning, and though there may have only been five of us physically present, we posted up a framed photograph of Katie’s brother Harrison beside the water line and had more than a few precious moments to reflect on the fact that he was undeniably swirling about in all of this joy and excitement, and was absolutely felt by all of us. Thanks for the good vibes, H.

“Was it time?”
”No, not yet.”
”Okay, let’s take some pictures here…”

“How about now?”
”Mmm, not quite.”
”Okay, no sweat! Come stand here, this view keeps getting better by the second…”

“Uhh, I think there’s a snow rolling in from the north…”
”Perfect! It’s definitely time.”

Cue me internally screaming with joy at how amazing and adventurous these guys are.

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With the snow swirling, we hopped to - we cried, we laughed. In a perfect measure of brotherly love, Harrison decided to faceplant his frame midway through Katie and Tyler’s softly exchanged vows.

It was short, it was sweet, it was…cold. Tyler had to steady his shaking hands so Katie could slip his ring on. And that was that, inside of this silvery swirling snow globe, they were married!

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And suddenly, the clouds broke a bit, and this most glorious deluge of color flooded the sky. Thanks for celebrating with us, Mother Nature!

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I shooed Katie and Tyler back in to the car to warm up while I stood agog at this scenery. Truly spectacular - I couldn’t have dreamed up a more beautiful place.

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I had also decided to play caterer as well, and while not entirely able to sneak a wedding cake in my camera gear, mini donuts and champagne are one hell of a way to celebrate this wildly successful morning.

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While I know I was hesitant to leave this idyllic spot that had served us so well, there was an entire national park at our fingertips, so we headed off to make some more morning magic in the newly risen sun that was oh-so-warm to us little chilly revelers.

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Where there had been nothing but a slight dusting on one of the far off mountain peaks the night before, the fresh snow was truly a wonderland to hang out in. Did I mention Katie had on hiking boots and tights under her dress? That’s a badass bride move if ever I’ve seen one - she had zero issue with stomping through knee high snowy grass for shots.

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We had some serous off-roading moments to get in to some gorgeous backdrops - big ups to Tyler’s fearless driving skills, and strong choice to avoid knee-deep puddles .

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Our stomachs were all audibly rumbling after being up and at ‘em for so long with only tiny pastries and bubbles and excitement to sustain us, and while I stomped on my own toes to resist the urge for yet another “okay, this is the last spot, I promise!” - we really had one last stop. You can’t hate on a dramatic cliff top, even when you’re starting to get hangry.

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We all devoured a huge breakfast, then took delicious naps, hung out in hot springs, and then ran around sleepy little Pagosa Springs that night to celebrate over beer and pool and Mexican food. Conventional? Absolutely not. AmazingstupendouswowowowIdon’tevenhavethewords? You bet your sweet patoot.

I spent exactly zero seconds not appreciating how enormously perfect this had all been. Stars had aligned, snow had flaked, clouds had caught light. Truly, we were so lucky to have this weather, this scenery, and most of all, this love that brought us all together on this monumentally adventurous wedding day. All the congratulations and love to Katie and Tyler - thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for sharing this all with me. I am so thankful to have been a part of all of this magic. -MEJ

SEE KATIE + TYLER’S FULL GALLERY HERE

Venue - San Juan National Forest - Williams Creek Reservoir || Lodgings - The Springs Resort & Spa