Talk About Travel

Talk About Travel

 

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As promised, posting the group photos of our talk on international traveling (“Chasing Wanderlust 101!”) at the Midwest Asian American Student Union (MAASU) Spring Conference today.

Hello from the University of Wisconsin – Madison!

 

 

Thanks for coming to hear us speak and exceeding the limit of the space capacity for our workshop.

And of course no conference is complete without a reunion with old friends and family:

 

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Ryan Takemiya

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Vigor Lam and Jenn
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Vanessa Teck and Jenn
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Family

 

It’s time to recuperate for a few hours. Because to put money where our mouth is, we are about to:

 

1. Party tonight with the rest of MAASU until 2am

(what ended up happening: colonizing the nearby Milio’s because they didn’t have a coat check for our bags)

 

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Shameless

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2. Catch a 2:20am bus (luckily the bus pickup is a 2min walk from the afterparty venue) that’ll take us on a 3 hour ride directly to the Chicago ORD airport

3. Arrive to the airport at 5:30am

4. Take an 5 hour flight leaving from Chicago ORD at 8:30am for Aruba

5. Spend an 5 hour layover in Aruba

6. Get on a connecting 1 hour flight to Caracas, Venezuela, landing at 9:30pm

7. Meet up with the rest of a group on an overnight bus leaving at 10pm from Caracas CCS airport for Ciudad Bolivar

8. Arrive at Ciudad Bolivar at 5:30am in the morning

9. Catch a 7:30am flight to Canaima National Park

10. Take a small boat across the lagoon and past Hacha falls

11. Hike through the jungle to Sapo Falls

12. Reach the camp where we probably will finally get a full night’s rest — in a real bed — for the first time in 2 weeks.

 

Onwards.

 

- At time of posting in Madison, WI, it was 17 °C - Humidity: 25% | Wind Speed: 10km/hr | Cloud Cover: Sunny

 

Alinea: A Meal Of A Lifetime

Alinea: A Meal Of A Lifetime

After an unbelievable 12 hour drive across 553 miles from Needles to San Francisco, let alone 2 weeks of cross-country traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast, we had to pack up and head back to Chicago to speak about travel at a national youth conference in Madison, WI.

So it’s kinda ironic after spending 6 grueling days driving 3 RVs from Chicago to San Francisco, we would celebrate by taking a 4 hour flight BACK to Chicago immediately afterwards.

Well, that’s no proper way to celebrate, is it? Months ago we had somehow scored tickets (don’t ask) at one of the top restaurants in the world, Chef Grant Achatz’s flagship 3 Michelin-star restaurant Alinea. So after disembarking our flight from San Francisco, we headed straight there with our oversized backpacks and gear, changing in the cab and rolling into their restaurant for a 9pm reservation. It was funny to see the suited-up staff becoming wide-eyed, and doing their best to welcome 2 dirty backpackers. And yet, we still got great service without any judgment for the rest of the night.

And there we experienced a marathon 16-course molecular gastronomy tasting meal without any expectation of what would come next.

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Here’s the tasting menu, in order:

 

OSTERA, traditional:

OSTERA, traditional

 

SALSIFY, branch camouflage; dehydrated root jerky that you have to “find” among the branches

 

SKATE, brown butter, lemon herbs, served over hand molded “napkin plates”:

 

GRAFFITI, spring, with black truffle “concrete” served over concrete “plates”:

 

GURNARD, white pepper, vietnamese coriander, broccoli:

 

SUNCHOKE, hazelnut brittle, white truffle vinegar

 

Something hanging above our heads the entire time then is taken and placed into a teapot, which turns into…

 

EGGPLANT, banana, cocoa, curry:

 

CRAB, rice green curry, cilatro; TAMARIND, young coconut, nam prik num; SIAM SUNRAY, lemongrass, chili, soda

 

HAMACHI, shishito, bean, pine branch

 

MAITAKE, lobster, dashi, shiso:

 

 

…the previous dish then transitions into…

PORK BELLY, parsnip, black trumpet, butter:

 

HOT POTATO, cold potato, black truffle, butter (a steaming hot potato is then pulled by a pin and dropped in a liquid nitrogen cold potato/black truffle/butter broth before consuming):

 

RABBIT, morel, ramp, mastic:

 

CHOCOLATE, frozen distillation:

 

QUINCE, almond, grapefruit, oxalis:

 

BALLOON, helium, green apple (yes, a floating helium-filled balloon completely made out of green apple taffy):

 

And finally…

 

TROPICAL FRUIT, rum, vanilla, kaffir lime spread out (or “painted”) on our table by the sous chef:

 

Hungry?

 

- At time of posting in Chicago, IL, it was 8 °C - Humidity: 66% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: Mostly sunny

 

California: The Promised Land

California: The Promised Land

After bidding adieu yesterday to Gareth’s crew of himself, Clay, and George, we were left with only 4 drivers. Given over 550 miles left to our end destination of San Francisco, and needing to be there within 24 hours, transporting our 3 RVs with our anemic crew seemed like an insurmountable challenge. We had spent weeks looking for alternative drivers for hire and every time we had a potential offer, the deal would eventually fall through (no time, too much payment, shady background, timing issues, unresponsiveness). So we were left with just ourselves.

So you can imagine the kind of indescribable adrenaline we needed to get us from point A to point B. In Needles, CA a few of us slept for a few hours and others pulled an all-nighter to get ready for the final long haul, and at 7am we set off for the 8-11 hour drive across California and the Mojave Desert from Needles to San Francisco.

Historically, this was regarded and the most feared and intimidating part of Route 66 due to the relative lack of rest stops and places to refuel along the Mojave Desert. In our experience, that would be the case as well; while we definitely did not suffer nearly as much as those before us on Route 66, today’s drive proved to be the most challenging by far.

 

 

But who says in the middle of a grueling drive you can’t enjoy a pit stop every now and then? A couple of miles past Barstow, we noticed an odd abandoned ghost town and decided to go check it out…

 

 

If I knew any more about what went on here, I would be writing about it now.

When we reached Bakersfield, we came upon Murray Family Farms, an oasis farmer’s market in the middle of the Mojave Desert:

 

 

After a coffee and meal break here with a small nap, we pressed onwards towards the final stretch.

 

  

Our sanity barely intact after 12+ hours on the road within a single day, we finally made it to San Francisco at 2:30am the next morning.

 

 

But our story doesn’t end here.

The next morning I woke up at 8am and went to double-confirm the drop off time with Cruise America. Unfortunately, I realized that although the San Francisco Cruise America site is named “SFO” after the airport, it IS NOT LOCATED AT THE AIRPORT. They neglect to tell you this unless you specifically ask (or get lost).

So I asked.

Their “SFO” location is actually located in Newark, CA, which is an hour south of San Francisco. Shit.

Realizing this, and knowing Jenn and I had an 11:30am flight to catch at the actual SFO airport (which is another 40min drive away from Newark, CA!), we scrambled our 3 RVs with a skeletal crew of 5 people and drove as fast south as we could.

And inexplicably, we arrived promptly at 9:25am. It then took us about 45 minutes to clean out our RVs, have them inspected for damage (oh boy), and pay the remaining balance.

 

 

It is now appropriate to take one last celebratory photo:

 

 

And then, saying goodbye, Jenn and I booked it to SFO airport for a flight BACK to Chicago (ironic, isn’t it?)

 

On the flight: my facial expression is pretty much one of incredulousness.

 

We did it.

 

- At time of posting in San Francisco, CA, it was 14 °C - Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly sunny

 

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

 

Today’s journey led us to the one and only Grand Canyon.

 

The Grand Canyon just got served
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Photo Credit: Kelvin Sage

 

But before we got there, we woke up this morning to check out more of our wigwams during the day and said farewell to 3 members of the crew: Gareth, Clay, and George, who we will be meeting up with again in Venezuela in 3 days.

 

 

Then we drove 3 hours west and north towards the Grand Canyon:

 

 

Getting to the Grand Canyon wasn’t as quick as I had hoped:

1. 30 minutes in traffic

2. Pay the $25/vehicle fee at the entrance

3. 45 minutes looking for parking.

4. Hop on packed shuttle buses that run on a constant circuit.

5. 20 minutes on the bus

6. Reach the Visitor’s Center

7. Walk north another 5-10 minutes towards the South Rim. . . .

 

 

Worth the journey.

 

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Photo Credit: Kelvin Sage

 

After around 2 hours walking around The Grand Canyon, we then traced our steps back to the parking lot and took our RVs south towards Flagstaff, which had its own share of pretty views fitting to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” playing in the background.

 

 

After a quick dinner in Flagstaff we headed 3 hours west in the pitch blackness and are now staying overnight in the border town of Needles, California.

Tomorrow, we complete the last leg of our 6 day, 9 state journey along the entirety of Route 66 with an 8 hour drive across the Mojave Desert and northwards to San Francisco. (Yes, we know the historical end of Route 66 is supposed to be Los Angeles, but we got a ridiculous deal to drop off our RVs in SF instead of LA, so please forgive us).

 

- At time of posting in Needles, CA, it was 31 °C - Humidity: 5% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: clear

 

Return To Arizona

Return To Arizona

 

3 months ago Jenn, of Map&Move, and I took a weekend trip to Arizona to do research for what was then a possible Route 66 trip. Today we’ve returned with a caravan of 3 RVs and 11 friends driving along Route 66 from Chicago and reaching Arizona in 3 days: We stay true to our goals.

This was today in a nutshell:

 

The Painted Desert

Wigwam Motel

 

Backtracking, we woke up in Albuquerque, New Mexico at around 8am and grabbed breakfast at Frontier Restaurant, known for its green chili on anything.

 

 

After breakfast, we strolled around Old Town for a few hours.

 

The old town church here is the oldest building in Albuquerque, NM

 

Before heading out from Albquerque, we paid respects to Walter White’s house from Breaking Bad.

 

Walter White's house just got served

 

Afterwards, right before saying goodbye to Vishnu who had to leave the trip early for work, one of our RVs tried to yield to a police car coming from behind on its left. Unfortunately it got stuck between another vehicle coming from behind on its right, leading the RV to completely sideswipe and wreck a side mirror of a hapless car.

Once again, another accident. Luckily, the car owner was cool with it. We exchanged info and insurance information and then we were on our way.

 

After another accident involving the RVs, Jenn soothes her nerves with a Twister burrito

 

We pressed onwards for about 4-5 hours towards Arizona.

 

 

…and we got to Petrified Forest National Park just in time before it closed.

 

 

Named for its large deposits of petrified wood thousands of years old, the Petrified Desert consists of a $10/vehicle self-guided drive-thru national park where you can also see the painted desert from afar. The whole thing takes about 45 minutes to an hour to see from north to south.

 

Puerco Pueblo

 

Driving onwards we were able to catch more of the painted desert at sunset.

 

How far we'll go to get a good group photo

Petrified wood that's countless years old

 

We left the Petrified Forest National Park at around 8pm, then driving onwards west 30 minutes towards Holbrook, AZ

 

 

Once reaching Holbrook we had the whole places to ourselves with dinner at Butterfield Steak House:

 

 

…and then spent the night in the iconic wigwams at Wigwam Motel, a historic staple on Route 66.

 

 

- At time of posting in Holbrook, AZ, it was -3 °C - Humidity: 31% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

The Longest Road: From Oklahoma To New Mexico

The Longest Road: From Oklahoma To New Mexico

 

After a 7am-7pm shift in the ER, I boarded a 5am flight to Dallas-Fort Worth, TX to catch an 8am flight to Oklahoma City, where the rest of group stayed overnight and was waiting for me.

Right on time, there they were.

 

 

After a quick reunion, we hit the open road for a 90min drive to Clinton, OK for the Route 66 Museum.

 

 

The Route 66 Museum in Clinton, OK is $5/person, $1/student, or $3/person if you’re in a group of 10 or more. The whole thing takes about half an hour to see everything. It’s a cute place.

 

 

Somewhere along the way we popped open some Bacon Soda, which was a terrible idea.

 

 

And about an hour later, we made it to Texas.

 

Crossing state lines

 

About an hour later we stopped over in Shamrock, TX to take a peek at the famous U-Drop Inn. Built in 1936 and inspired by the image of a nail stuck in a soil, this art deco historical site continues to serve as the café and gas station for which it was originally built

Anyone who has seen the Disney movie Cars will instantly recognize it.

 

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We then drove onwards another 2 hours towards Amarillo, TX to visit the enigmatic Cadillac Ranch, a public art installation and sculpture from the 1970s featuring a row of Cadillacs buried halfway in the ground.

You’re free to drive up, take a spraypaint can lying around in a few of the cars, and add to the artwork…

 

Cadillac Ranch just got served

 

It was around this point I got a phone call from Trailer Ranch RV Park in Santa Fe, NM who informed us that our ~10pm arrival time was too late for them (it would disturb the other guests) and they would close the property and not let us in. To add injury to insult: no refund. Constant pleas were made to deaf ears as they were not going to wait any longer than 6pm. Terrible.

Luckily, on a 10 minute search using dinky satellite signal from my phone in the middle of nowhere, I contacted KOA Campgrounds in Albuquerque and they said we could drive in anytime and pay the next morning. Love you, KOA. So we decided to reroute to Albuquerque.

Another 2 hour drive westwards from Amarillo then brought us to the sleepy city of Tucumcari, NM where while pulling through a lot, one of our RVs didn’t quite clear a low-overhanging roof…

 

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Taken by George Martin

 

The RV’s A/C unit was ruined and the managers (not the owner) of the property called the cops, accusing us of “wrecking” their property. Not the case: After about 10 minutes The cops arrived and quickly sided with us, knowing that a mere A/C unit on an RV couldn’t do that much damage. Even the owner of the property came by and reassured us that “this has happened before.” Whew. Crisis averted? Thank goodness nobody was hurt but we’ll see when the bill comes in!

We then recuperated at Del’s for dinner and stopped by to see the last of Route 66’s historical structures for today, Tee Pee Curios.

 

 

We then drove the final 2 hour stretch to Albuquerque and crashed at KOA Central Albuquerque at around 1am.

What a day.

 

- At time of posting in Albuquerque, NM, it was 22 °C - Humidity: 10% | Wind Speed: 18km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly sunny