approx. 3:30 local time

We come in low over the water and lights that indicate there’s hills east of the airport.

We step out of the airplane on to steps, one set each at the front and back of the plane, and the air is warm – dark, thick, and heavy with tropical humidity after the sealed dry compression of the flight.

Landing a few hours after midnight, it’s the last flight of the night and duty free closes as soon as the last passenger queues for customs and while we wait, old fashioned fans in the airport carry music to us from a small band next to the baggage carousal as well as a leisurely breeze.

Waiting for us at the curb on the other side is a driver from the backpacker lodge where we have reservations. He helps us load our baggage into a white van. With the driver’s seat being on the right hand side, it’s the smaller, Pacific cousin of the vehicle I rode in just over six years ago down damp dirt roads in Walungu Province.

As suddenly they appear and vanish in the headlights, he points out resorts, restaurants and the hospital, seeming disappointed by our lack of energetic response. But through the flight fatigue we do sense that there’s a lushness to the vegetation and a freshness to the breeze that’s stronger now as it rolls in through the open windows.

After parking, we shlep our bags towards a stilted bungalow and find ourselves staring at the ocean that will be waiting outside our door in the morning.

A path to the heavy gold setting moon sits upon the waves & the milky way looks as of the stars offered the ocean a bracelet or threw a scarf around their shoulder & let the end fall into the water.


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arizona diamondbacks vs new york mets at phoenix's chase field - a mets pitcher warming upThis July has been a month all about literal movement – an adventure in LA, seeing family in Fresno, showing my brother Arizona and even starting to really launch a big idea (after a lot of time just thinking about it). Then August turned out to be a month of life movement including big changes in my daily life and little but promising changes in my professional world (hello, freelancing!). There’s been so much movement, in fact, that it’s been a little tricky to pause and record all of it.

But one of the cool things about having people visit is that you get to play host – you may end up looking at where you live with new eyes, a traveler’s eyes and end up seeing, hearing or even tasting things about a familiar place that you never knew were there. We got two great examples of that in the last few months.

This July was my brother’s first visit to Phoenix since I moved here to start graduate school. If there’s one thing my brother is always up for, it’s a good sports event so we took him to see the Diamondbacks take on the New York Mets – and ended up literally right next to the Mets bullpen. While I’d briefly been to Chase Stadium once before for a company party, experiencing it filled with baseball fans, the sounds of the game and tempting food smells was a brand new experience and surprisingly comfortable for the triple digit heat thanks to the stadium cover. It’s something we probably never would have done without my brother and made the day an adventure instead of a regular weekend in town.

The same thing happened when Steven’s sister and nephew visited earlier in the summer. We hit the Desert Botanical Gardens with an active, inquisitive toddler. Once I got over my fear that he would run headlong into a cactus, I got the chance to see the desert through his eyes which made me so much more aware of details at ground level – and especially excited each time we saw a rabbit, chipmunk or lizard.

And no matter who they are or how long they’re here, we’ve kept our streak of getting all our guests to Rosita’s alive and well.

So it’s been crazy and interesting and I’ve gotten behind, but there’s a few more summer adventures I have to share that will be showing up here soon and hopefully new ones to come this fall, because even if I disappear for a bit, I always have my eyes open for what to share when I make it back…

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Matondo's village hits the Tshimika pool

youngest niece (so far) both twins at the same time youngest nephew (so far)

You know that point in your life when you realize that the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore?…Maybe that’s all family really is: a group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

– Zach Braff as Andrew Largeman, Garden State

They say that nobody knows you like family and last weekend I went back to mine for a few days.

my most shy nieceOn Thursday evening we packed up and headed northwest to Fresno where I have a lot of relatives including five nieces and one nephew. Arriving Friday morning gave us three full days to spend with everyone.

It had been over a year since the last time I was there to see the kids and this was my first opportunity to meet the twins. They’re the youngest at the moment, but won’t be for long since there’s another niece on the way (scheduled to arrive sometime after Thanksgiving).

The first wave came Friday afternoon with a gathering at my aunt’s house.

grandma & granddaughterWithin minutes the house filled with people, chaos and food. It’s an atmosphere familiar from childhood holidays and one that I’ve missed much more than I expected to since moving to Arizona. A few things have changed – now I’m one of the tall people juggling dishes and kids instead of one of the little ones getting underfoot – but the sweet sense of belonging was the same that day and the next.

The kids are all water babies – they adore the ocean, spend hours in pools and flip like dolphins.

nieces in the poolSaturday afternoon found me back by a pool full of splashing and giggling, amazed at how much energy kids can maintain for hours – and loving every moment of it.

Far from being tired as dusk darkened the sky, the girls switched from the backyard to the front yard and raced tiny cars up and down the looping driveway in silly scenes too fast for my phone to capture during fading light. (though yes – I tried anyway!)

Finally, far too soon on Sunday evening it was time to pack up our own car again and head south – back to the sun and heat and relative solitude of Arizona.

nieces on cars

driving through California back in Arizona back in Phoenix

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early morning in the desertWell. Last Thursday, things did not go as planned

Well, unless the plan was to spend 3 hours in the desert trying to reach my source and hoping he was just running late (he wasn’t), things did not go as planned.

The appointment had been to find out about an active search for a 21-year-old man who disappeared approximately 7 weeks ago. I’d spoken to the man leading that day’s trip and tracked down the phone number of the missing man’s father, who’d come to Tucson from Tennessee in hopes of finding answers, the original tip coming from a mass email:

“Could you please run on the [humanitarian organization] site a notice that there is a father here from [a southern state] who has been looking for his 21 yo son left by his group 5 weeks ago and please call and take him out if people have time?…He has been here in Tucson for five weeks, living on the street and searching daily…He’s been sent a map of where to look but it’s a very bad map from the person who was with his son and was apprehended and deported. The map maker would like to be paid for a better map……..BTW, he’s already checked the morgue (negative) and I will check hospitals today.”

Then a week later, a notice that more help with the search was coming from San Diego “for his 21 year old son…who was left behind in the desert, ‘en mala condicion’ on April 18.”

My goal was to hike out with the searchers and find out how their location and recovery work is different from that of the volunteers who provide humanitarian aid through water drops and rescue patrol. It would be a bonus if I could also find out more about the stories of the missing man and his father – especially how he traced someone in the group to get a map.

But planning ahead was no match for crossed wires and cell signal issues – one phone went straight to voicemail, the other to a recording that the user could not get calls or take messages. (I’m still trying to get through on one line or the other, and am optimistic I’ll reach the expert from San Diego as we’d played telephone tag before a few years ago while I was finishing my original story for News21 – yet I regret to say that my hopes of reaching the father are rapidly diminishing.)

Border Patrol vehicles get gas at Three Point, Arizona's Robles JunctionI was half an hour early for our 6am appointment. By 8am I’d counted over 30 Border Patrol vehicles alone – and I was realizing I would probably need to go back to my original posting plans. The break in the usual programming was not going to be necessary after all. A few phone calls and mobile google mappings and I pulled out of the parking lot half an hour later resigned to the 2.5 hour solo drive home, all if which with my tail between my legs and hoping no one would notice I was back more than a little early.

About a mile east I pulled over and looked at the map again. With my north Phoenix apartment as the starting point, I was over 75% of the way to Sasabe if I continued south on the 286 between BANWR and the Tohono O’odham Nation. And from there I could drive eastwards on the twisty Arrivaca Road to pick up the I19 which connects Nogales back to Phoenix through Tucson. And I already had the day off…

flowering tree on Hwy 286 between Three Points and SasabeI decided to go exploring.

I’d come this way twice before, in winter and midsummer, and now the land was lusher and filled with the colors of thick bushes to slowly bleaching grasses. Diamond warning signs for floods and fire gave hints at the volatility of the valley landscape that rolled along either side of the highway beneath the eyes of parallel mountain ranges while border patrol checkpoints and white private security buses hinted at other kinds of volatility.

With no goals or appointments I was free to move slowly and notice details along the nearly empty like fully flowering trees or ringed roadside shrines.

I took the trip in pieces, regaining the familiar lines of the metro Phoenix skyline as the heavy summer sun begins to slide onto the horizon. Back in my apartment for the night with my shoes by the front door I checked the day’s mileage for this trip to and along a sliver of the U.S.-Mexico border between Arizona and Sonora and it clocked in at just over 460 miles.

view of Baboquivari Peak from Hwy 286 between Three Points and Sasabe between Sasabe and Nogales on Arivaca Road between Sasabe and Nogales on Arivaca Road

View Larger Map

between Three Points and Sasabe

This post is cross posted with my other blog, Missing from Mexico.

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Confession: daylight savings has always managed to confuse me. It always seems to approach when I least expect it, I never know which way it goes and I’m still confused as to how it makes more or less daylight. Then I moved to Arizona – and there’s no daylight savings here. The state stays on Mountain Standard Time year round. Well, except for the Navajo Nation, which does go onto daylight savings (because it spreads across three states). Except for the Hopi Nation, which is completely surrounded by the Navajo Nation. But in most of the state the time of day is the time of day year round.

There’s a link between time and place. From Mothers’ Days to Independence days, every community has its own versions of the same celebrations. Some, like Christmas, are celebrated on the same day worldwide while others like Father’s Day can vary by region. There’s even a few that do both: there’s the New Years that restarts everyone’s calendar year and then there’s the Chinese New Years and the Water Festivals and Rosh Hashanah.

Switching hemispheres means even switching seasons and as we change places, we change holidays too. Sometimes we even go to a place because of their Mardis Gras or Carnival.

For me, that means spending Christmas at my parents house includes television ads about summer blowout sales for swimwear and other summertime wares, though the temperatures may be nearly equal in summer Taupo and winter Phoenix. Either way, my Kansas winter coats haven’t left their box in the years since we’ve left.

For my parents, the relocation has been longer and deeper. My mother’s birthday is now in fall. And my father has started doing something he never did before. He spends each April 25 walking with other veterans.

How do travel and holidays relate to you – do you go somewhere every Thanksgiving or have you ever dreamed of being somewhere on a certain day? What holidays would you carry with you wherever you go?

Poppies 1
photo credit : James Pratley

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Another guest post from my mother, to go with the box she sent me from Hawaii.


Kona Airport to Waikaloa Beach Resort, Hawaii, Hawaii

Hawaii waterfallI doubt that I’ve ever been in a place with “Resort” in the name. My husband and I have lived a bit more roughly on travels and moves around the world. But all that changed a month ago on our first trip to Hawaii. His conference on satellite imaging of hydrologic data was to be at Waikaloa Beach Resort on the Big Island and I went with him. I went under-prepared but not without preconception. So, the drive from the Kona Airport to Waikaloa was the first surprise – no lush, tropical land but instead, a barren lava flow, the land hardened black rock. While I intended to see afresh, to see what it is itself, the little comparison brain started ticking right away. It looked so much like the Desert Road, the road that goes across the eastern slopes of Mt Ruapehu just south of where we live in New Zealand.

I’m older. I’ve travelled a fair amount, and without a doubt more than I expected when twenty-two and afraid I would never get beyond Kansas where I grew up. So my challenge is to see afresh, not through eyes dulled by familiarity or eve comparisons of “this is like that.” I want to see with the eyes of a child, a whole world that is new to me. When headed to a tourist destination, all well-traveled and brochure, how does one see it without a frame constructed by others, carefully surrounding it?

Waikaloa Beach Resort, Hawaii, HawaiiI quickly found that I’m not, at heart, a resort person.

I found it pleasant, but was uncomfortable with too much service and also with the way I saw some of the guests treating those who worked there, sometimes rudely, sometimes not seeing them at all.

But there were interesting stories among the waiters, the cleaners, the man who fixed the malfunctioning lock on our door. How had they ended up here? What part of any American dream were they aiming for – many were from other countries. I like to collect stories from people as I travel. The stories remind me that my take on things is not the only one – like when listening to a woman from the Philippines tell me how much she loves Imelda Marcos, one of the more reviled women in history.

So, while my husband went to conferences, I walked along the lava-roughened shore, littered with white dead coral. I found sea turtles, watched humpback whales breaching, and snapped my tourist pictures of sunsets among the palms. I live a calm life in a relaxed town in New Zealand; Waikaloa Beach was an echo of that. I felt the Polynesian kinship between New Zealand and Hawaii. They both have the same word for Women – Wahine – and I thought yes, this is where my neighbor’s ancestors may have come from. The world could learn from both places.

The ukulele plays on and the good voices echo into the night.

hawaii sea turtle on the beach

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the unopened box from Hawaii

opening a box from Hawaii first glimpse of what's inside when opening a box from Hawaii exploring what's inside a box from Hawaii

Sometimes life prevents us from getting out and about. Luckily when that happens, there are many “next best things!”

Ok, so they’re distant next best things to being on a tropical white sand beach yourself – but I’m working on the silver lining approach here, so bear with me. (I’m told that simply getting restless and setting off with my passport for parts unknown without warning or building up vacation days is bad for respectability and what not, so this is a necessary compromise.)

Anyway, being grounded myself I talked my mother into sending me treats from her trip which happened to be a first time visit to Hawaii. There was a geological conference that my dad was attending and she decided to join in and go exploring.

So onto the box. Classified ads can give intriguing little peeks at local life, but these newspaper sheets turned out to be primarily paid glossy ads that nobly did their job of protecting sweeter contents so that photo is mostly to build suspense. The main contents turned out to be a mix of Kiwi treats and Hawaii souvenirs.

As I’ve mentioned, my parents live in New Zealand. As they passed through Wellington, she snagged a keychain from Weta Workshop made of LOTR chain mail. This gift is for the the little girl who spent hours listening to her father read the books chapter by chapter and years later dragged him to Matamata because the hobbit village is now totally real. Also from NZ: pineapple lumps and an elusive Black Forest Cadbury bar.

For Hawaii, Mom honored my go-to souvenir or travel gift request which is the keychain (tiny! portable! even useful!) with a cute little ring of charms. She added fresh macadamia nuts and since neither of us can resist fabrics a sarong with bright, rich colors that I’ll take to the pool this spring under the bright Arizona sun. And she’s promised photos, too, when she has a chance to get them off of her camera.

Like guidebooks, travel shows and E.M. Forster’s A Room with A View, it all adds up to a welcome, vicarious taste of a place I hope to see someday through the eyes of someone who taught me to want to explore and to appreciate the details.

Plus, for some reason I can’t think about Hawaii without remembering my Middle East politics professor who taught us to say with the name a “v.”

So it’s a small, sweet box whose actual value lies not in the contents but the thoughts and the memories.

Mom writes that there’re more trips and conferences on the horizon – which I’m hoping will mean more boxes and more stories to share.

a Lord of the Rings set chain mail keychain from New Zealand's Weta Workshop that came in a box from Hawaii a letter from New Zealand's Weta Workshop that came in a box from Hawaii a keychain that came in a box from Hawaii

a sarong that came in a box from Hawaii

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For about two weeks I studied abroad in Dubai. It was winter break of the 2009-2010 school year and the trip included environmental, design and journalism students who rang the new year in together on a beach with expatriots from around the world.

Through the whole trip, one image dominated – literally. Even when we couldn’t see the tallest building in the world, we were surrounded by reminders. From the scale Lego model at Dubai World to the gift shop postcards and newspaper headlines, it was everywhere.

We couldn’t wait for the January 4th opening and a chance see the view from the top. We knew it would be spectacular – and we weren’t disappointed. From big lights to big noises, the event had everything. There was even the twist of a last minute name change from Burj Dubai to Burj khalifa.

What I didn’t expect were the little things – the individual voices and faces that made up the crowds pooling in streets and courtyards all over Dubai to gaze upwards together and form something even greater than the fireworks.

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