Thursday, March 22, 2018

Trip Report: Texas Renaissance Festival

Taking Beginners to a Ren Faire

In December 2017, Jarrett our dad Bmo, and I went to the Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission, Texas. Out of the three of us, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who has been to a Ren Faire, and I’m slowly becoming an old pro!

Background

The Ren Faire grounds are on 55 acres and there is even more space for camping facilitates. They claim to be the nation's largest Ren Faire and most acclaimed renaissance themed park. Once inside, there are over 200 daily shows on 20 different stages. Every year they open on every weekend from September 30th to November 20th if weather permits. Every weekend even has its own theme and some nights have after dark (adult) activities. As for pricing, online it’s $26 for adults and $14 for kids. Gate prices are $29 and $14 for kids. Even better, weekend passes are available for $39

Themed Weekends

Oktoberfest -Polka music and Traditional German beers are served.
1001 Dreams - Fantasy themed with contest, such as scavenger hunts and costumes.
All Hallows Eve - Halloween themed with contest like pumpkin carving.
Pirate Adventure - Pirate themed with plenty of gold for all.
Roman Bacchanal - Spaghetti eating and toga contest for all.
Barbarian Invasion - Indulge in an eating or barbarian battle cry contest.
Heroes and Villains - Iconic figures come together for entertainment.
Highland Fling - Traditional Scottish costumes optional but be ready for the bagpipe-playing.
Celtic Christmas - Christmas decorations and music for the candy cane hunt and guess the present contest.

The Drive Out

The Texas Renaissance Festival is located in Todd Mission, which is about 50 minutes north of Houston or about 2.5 hours to the east of Austin Texas. Unfortunately, the roads to the fair are not a straight shot and you have to take multiple smaller roads and highways at least from central Texas.

The Adventure

I was lucky enough to receive a free ticket from my good friend on Facebook, so not only did I want to go, but now I had to go. I was even luckier and got another free ticket from my good friend’s friend, so it was set in stone that I had to go. On the second ticket, it was actually 2, but one was used and one wasn't. I printed them both out and was prepped to get a third ticket at the gate.


We planned on getting to the fair around 10, but that means I'd have to wake up around 7 AM and I’m not about that life. We finally make it to Todd mission and had to sit in a vehicle line for about 20 minutes. Mainly because Todd mission is a tiny town, so be ready to wait. Finally, we get to Park the car and thankfully the parking lots are surprisingly not bad, but you do have to walk a good ways to the entrance. If you don’t feel like walking, they do offer cart rides for a small price; however, we are but peasants so we had to walk.


We get to the gate and I explain to the gentlemen checking tickets that we have three tickets, but one won't work, and I will go buy one after two go in. He was kind enough to see that we are but peasants and let all three of us go in any way.


A good rule of thumb of places like this is to make a few laps and take note of all the cool places you want to see. We decided to get some food pretty early in the day, which is on the expensive side but a fun and delish time. While we were on our food quest, we ran into the daily parade and stopped to watch all the characters march through the grounds. After lunch, Jarrett and I went on a quest to try some mulled wine and some mead. The mulled wine was pretty good and the mead we got was quite sweet.


After our first few laps, we were ready to start seeing the sights and watching the shows. And first up was a walk through the Magic Garden, which was neat, but packed with kids and parents. The garden ended pretty near a musical stage, so we took a seat and waited for the next event. It turned out “Cast in Bronze” was the next show, which is where a masked guy plays a giant piano of bells, called a carillon really quickly. It was pretty impressive and loud.


Later we watched one of my favorite shows, the jousting tournament, which is one of the larger/longer shows they have. After the joust, we decided to browse some of the shops. There are hundreds of shops on the fairgrounds and they have stuff for everyone. Jarrett and I (mostly me tho) have a thing for cool/wooden mugs, so that’s where our shopping efforts were directed. Finally, If you stay to the end of the day they have a final show with lots of fire and a grand fireworks display. I unfortunately, got sick as I like to do so we had to miss the final show and head home early. I will manage to watch it next year tho!

Final thoughts

The Texas Renaissance Faire can be some amazing times and I would for sure recommend going at least once in your life. Just be prepared to bring a good bit of cash (paper money at that) with you and get ready for lots of walking and standing.

Tell us about your experience going to the Ren Fair and your favorite themed weekend? Also, if you like the blog or our videos, check us out on Patreon.

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Trip Report: Colorado Bend Park

Spontaneous Trip to Watch the Super Blue Blood Moon

Having finally comprehended the rarity of the upcoming Super Blue Blood Moon, I decided to plan a quick overnight camping trip. I quickly looked at a light pollution map to locate the nearest state park with a low level of light pollution. My 2 best options were Enchanted Rock State Park and Colorado Bend State Park. I went with Colorado Bend because BeeGee is allowed every in the park (unlike Enchanted Rock), and I knew BeeGee wanted to see a crazy rare moon event.

Super Blue Blood Moon at Colorado Bend State Park
Super Blue Blood Moon at Colorado Bend State Park

Background

Info: Colorado Bend State Park is 5,328.3 acres in the Texas hill country and contains springs, caves, trails, sinkholes, and a river. If you want to bring a pet (aka your best bud), they are allowed as well on leash.
Address: 2236 Park Hill Dr, Bend, TX 76824
Admission Cost: $5 entrance fee; $10-15 for campsites
Difficulty: Easy to
strenuous


Getting Ready

I called the Colorado Bend Park Office during my lunch to reserve a campsite and find out some general information. After work, I flew home to pack up all our gear, and BeeGee and I had quick dinners. Then we took off trying to make the best time we could with the remaining daylight. Of course, traffic was worse than expected, so it took us a while to make it out of the Austin urban sprawl. Once we were out on the smaller roads, we started spotting herds of 10+ and had to take things slower. 

Colorado Bend Trail Map
Colorado Bend Trail Map

The Adventure

Finally, inside the park, there is a 6-mile drive back to the campsites and more than a few times, I was concerned I was heading the wrong way because of the long drive. After a few map checks, we made it to the campgrounds and the park was mostly empty. We quickly set up our camp, paid for the night, and did a little exploring.

BeeGee staring down into Dogleg Canyon
BeeGee staring down into Dogleg Canyon

With setup complete, we decided we needed to hike a trail after our drive out here and settled on Cedar Chopper Loop and Dogleg Canyon Trail. The moon was so bright and we had no need for any lights on our hike. This gave me the bright idea to try and run a portion of the trail so we wouldn’t be out hiking past midnight. Overall, this was a horrible decision and took a tumble early on. BeeGee trotted back to check on me and we were back hiking to hiking before long.

The Moon was so bright out on the trail
The Moon was so bright out on the trail

Cedar Chopper Loop is a standard Hill Country trail with large exposed rocks, cedars, and oaks. We walked through one cool section with a bunch of low hanging branches growing over the trail, but mostly it was a way to get to Dogleg Canyon. When we arrived at Dogleg, it looked incredibly impressive at night, and I’d like to spend some time in the day exploring it. At the end of the trail, we found a large herd of deer and BeeGee really wanted to run wild with them, but I decided it would be best to head back. 

The beginning of Dogleg Canyon
The beginning of Dogleg Canyon

Back at camp, we took what only felt like a short nap before getting up at 4:30 and packing up camp. We set up the action cam to record the eclipse, but the action cam just didn’t have the power to take spectacular video as we found out later. BeeGee and I spent the rest of the morning watching the gorgeous moon shrink and change color. We watched the event until 6:30 before we had to head back home so I could head to work.


Tell us about your experience with the super moon and where you watched the event from? Also, if you like the blog or our videos, check us out on Patreon.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Trip Report: Pace Bend Park

Adventures with BeeGee’s First Patreon Hiking Trip

We just went on our first Adventures with BeeGee monthly hike with supporter Linda! The trip was short, but fun nonetheless, and know we know what a cool location Pace Bend is.

A rough patch of Lake Travis shoreline
A rough patch of Lake Travis shoreline


Background

Info: Pace Bend Park is a Travis County Park and sits on the shores of Lake Travis. The park has 9 miles of lake shoreline, limestone cliffs, rocky alcoves, and over 15 miles of multi-use trails. If you want to bring a pet (aka your best bud), they are allowed as well on leash.
Address: 2011 Pace Bend Rd N, Spicewood, TX 78669
Admission Cost: $10 per vehicle; $15 per night; $20 for RVs
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate


Map of Pace Bend Park
Map of Pace Bend Park


The Drive Out

Pace Bend Park is about 1 hour from North Austin, and the drive takes you through the gorgeous Texas Hill Country. If you enjoy a swerving, up, and down road then the trip will be a blast. If you get car sick easy, plan your route carefully and stick to larger roads.


An ardea (a type heron) hanging out in Lake Travis
An ardea (a type heron) hanging out in Lake Travis 

The Adventure

Once we made it to the park, we quickly learned that they are CASH ONLY, so make sure you have enough on hand. We had to pool some dollars and car change to come up with $10 entrance fee. We asked the attendant the best location for a hike and she recommended the northeast corner, and that’s where we headed.

A cattle egret taking flight over Lake Travis
A cattle egret taking flight over Lake Travis


Unfortunately, the park lacks signage for parking or trailheads, so we just picked a random spot in the grass close to where we wanted to start our hike. With all our gear ready, we took off towards the shoreline, and as we walked along Lake Travis, there were multiple cars pulled up on sandy beaches just hanging out.

Taking a break for a group photo
Taking a break for a group photo

We ended up just paralleling the shoreline, which allowed us to just enjoy the lake and watch a few birds like the cattle egret and an ardea. We eventually found a nice spot along the lake for a group photo and just hung out for a bit, which was difficult because the sun was overhead.

A giant fallen tree in Pace Bend Park
A giant fallen tree in Pace Bend Park

After that, we saw a giant downed tree and I knew Angela and BeeGee would love to check the smells out around the tree. It turned out this area was full of sticker burrs and the girls were not a fan. The going was slow through this area and it ended up being easier to just carry Angela back to safety. Having hiked for a few hours, we decided it was time to go find some lunch. We didn’t explore a lot of the park, but this is now a place on the radar for a weekend trip!

Let us know about that park that is nearby, but you just haven't made it there yet? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you like the blog or our videos, check us out on Patreon.


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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Gear Review: REI Elements Rain Jacket

Long-Term Review of the REI Elements Rain Jacket

I purchased this jacket in 2012 for a trip to Peru and have used it many times on the trail or days when I need to take the dogs out for a potty break on a rainy day. The REI Elements Rain Jacket, now known as the REI Ultra-Light Jacket, is a lightweight 2.5-layer waterproof breathable coated shell that weighs 16 ounces. The jacket works great as a rain jacket, wind jacket, or for warmth as an outer layer.

Wearing my REI Elements Rain Jacket on a rainy day in Peru
Wearing my REI Elements Rain Jacket on a rainy day in Peru

Construction

The Elements Rain Jacket is diamond ripstop nylon is waterproof, breathable, and windproof to 60 mph. The seams are sealed, the zipper features a bonded placket with securing snaps, and the shell is DWR coated. In addition, the jacket has 2-way stretch for better comfort and multiple pockets for easy access to your equipment. Another set of nice features is the design to help keep heat in: the hood is fully adjustable (it can even be rolled and secured in the collar), the cuffs can be velcroed, and the waist can be adjusted with a drawstring. The most important feature, in my opinion, each armpit has a zipper to help increase the breathability.

Hood rolled up and secured in the collar
Hood rolled up and secured in the collar

Uses

I’ve used this jacket in multiple situations from rainstorms, snow, and mountain biking and it has always kept me warm and dry. While in Peru, we experienced multiple rain storms at high altitude and my torso always remained dry. In addition, hiking the Neusiok Trail, NC, I experienced a day of heavy rain and stayed dry. As far as warmth goes, hiking Mt LeConte, I experienced significant snowfall and managed to stay warm and dry wearing this jacket. Finally, there have been multiple times I’ve been out mountain biking with the sun going down, super sweaty, and a cold front blowing in and I’ve been able to throw this jacket on and remain warm.

Wearing my REI Elements Jacket on a snowy day at Mt LeConte
Wearing my REI Elements Jacket on a snowy day at Mt LeConte

Pros

One of the biggest benefits of the Elements Rain Jacket is its versatility. This jacket can be used as an outer layer to stay warm and provides wind and rain protection. Furthermore, it is useful for everyday use, light enough for backpacking, and is stout enough to survive riding through thick brush while mountain biking. Moreover, this jacket is extremely adjustable. The hood can be adjusted, removed, or rolled up and secured in the collar. Plus, the cuffs and waist can be adjusted and loosened as required by the weather. Finally, REIs lightweight rain jackets are on sale frequently and can be snagged for a fraction of the price as higher end models.

This jacket is durable and was able to survive the lustful attacks of this dog in Peru
This jacket is durable and was able to survive
the lustful attacks of this dog in Peru

Issues

The Elements Rain Jacket isn’t without its issues, however, as it is much heavier and bulkier than similarly marketed jackets. The jacket can be stuffed into its own pocket, but it is still cantaloupe sized. This can be a considerable amount of space if you must carry multiple pieces for a complete clothing system. Furthermore, at 16 ounces, this is heavy for a lightweight jacket as there are other options at approximately 5 ounces now. Another big issue is the breathability. While waterproof is covered, this jacket needs to have the armpit zippers open if you want it to breathe. Finally, the chest pocket is in a bad location. This isn’t a big issue unless you are wearing a pack and then the pocket is inaccessible because of the chest strap, and anything in the pocket will rub your uncomfortably.

The large zippered armpit vent
The large zippered armpit vent

Recommendation

Overall, this is a solid jacket and I’m glad its been my jacket of choice for 5 years; however, now that I have gained more knowledge and skills I’m ready to move on to a lighter rain jacket. If you are beginner backpacker or need a standard adventure rain jacket, then this jacket is for you; however, if you have advanced skills, I’d look for something relevant to your style and climate.

What is your go-to rain jacket? Let us know in the comments. Also, if you like the blog follow us on Facebook to keep up to date. 

Disclosure: I purchased the jacket with my own funds. and the links contained in this article might provide a small commission.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Trip Report: Garner State Park

Crowded Car Camping at Garner State Park

Angela, BeeGee, Jack and I were all able to get 2 days off at the same time and we decided we needed to take a trip somewhere. Since it has just begun cooling off in Texas and the promise of Halley’s Comet, there was a shortage of available campsites around the state. Thankfully, we found a few spots at Garner State Park.

Angela, BeeGee, and Jarrett posing on a huge rock on the Blinn River Trail
Angela, BeeGee, and Jarrett posing on a huge rock on the Blinn River Trail

The Background

Location: 234 RR 1050, Concan, TX 78838
Admission: $8 per adult, Children under 12 are free; $15+ for campsites
Elevation: 1320 to 1890 ft.
Weather:  Sunny, humid, low 80s
Difficulty: Easy to strenuous

Garner State Park - Day 1

We had a later start than preferred but, we hustled out to the hill country as quick as we could. Making good time, we made it with plenty of time to set up the tent, realize we forgot the water, and found a backup water container. With some daylight to spare after all that, we packed up our day packs and picked a few trails for a twilight and night hike.

Rocky terrain common across Garner State Park
Rocky terrain common across Garner State Park

Blinn River Trail

The team loaded up and we drove down to a small parking lot near the Blinn River trailhead. The Blinn trail parallels the Frio River and is only .5 miles long. I figured this trail would be nice and easy but ended up tougher than expected. The trail was narrow, rocky, and root covered.

Hiking the Blinn River Trail
Hiking the Blinn River Trail

Along the way, we stopped to take pictures on a large boulder and let BeeGee spend some time playing in the river. The weather was hot and muggy and splashing around in the cold water put BeeGee in a great mood. Angela hates water, so she was more than willing to be an observer and check out all the great smells at the water’s edge. We finished up the rest of the trail and ended on the Madrone Walkway.

Angela, BeeGee, and Jack posing on a huge rock on the Blinn River Trail
Angela, BeeGee, and Jack posing on a huge rock on the Blinn River Trail

Madrone Walkway & Frio Canyon Trail

Madrone Walkway is a paved trail that parallels the main road through the park and is a little over half a mile long. The walkway passes a nice overlook but overall isn’t impressive; just a necessity to access other trailheads by walking. By the time we made it to the Frio Canyon Trail it was full dark.

The Madrone Trail Trailhead
The Madrone Trail Trailhead

The Frio Canyon Trail is almost a loop, like a big horseshoe, spends a lot of time in open fields (you can see Texas Mountains in the distance), and is 2.9 miles long. This trail turned out to be the right choice and there wasn’t anything to trip over and the stars and moon were visible. Plus, Angela is a little scared of the dark and she could see off into the distance, which helped her be less jumpy. After enjoying an easy walk and a beautiful sky, we headed back to the car and campsite, cooked a quick dinner, and piled into our 3-person tent.

Walking down the Madrone Trail just before dark
Walking down the Madrone Trail just before dark

Garner State Park - Day 2

It ended up being a much warmer and more humid than expected and no sleeping bag was needed. Once all the families went to sleep everything was pretty peaceful, and just a little sticky/humid. We woke up had a breakfast of fresh eggs and salami, and readied our daypacks.

White Rock Cave Trail & Old Baldy Trail

The next morning, we decided to make the Old Baldy Trail our first stop as it is one of the highlights of the Garner State Park. When we made it to the trailhead, we saw that we found White Rock Cave Trail and decided we needed to see this cave first. White Rock Cave Trail is only .3 miles, but it has some steep elevation change and you walk up some extremely eroded areas.

The rugged trail to White Rock Cave
The rugged trail to White Rock Cave

After some hard climbs, we made it to White Rock Cave and it was a little underwhelming. The cave may have been 10 ft. deep and looked a little gross inside. We decided it wasn’t worth climbing into the cave, so we just took a few pictures and headed back down to start our trip up Old Baldy Trail.

a quick glance in the tiny cave
White Rock Cave - a quick glance in the tiny cave

Old Baldy trail is a strenuous hike at only half a mile, but there are steep climbs up water eroded trail, which means scrambling over big rocks. BeeGee loves that kind of terrain and hopped around like a mountain goat while the rest of us struggled to keep up. At the pinnacle, Old Baldy is approximately 1890 feet tall. Unfortunately, it is also a popular destination and was swarming with people, dogs, and kids.
Overlooking the Frio River
From Mount Baldy - Overlooking the Frio River

Foshee Trail to Crystal Cave Trail

With Old Baldy conquered, we headed back down about a fifth a mile to the Foshee Trailhead. Foshee Trail is 1.7 miles and was the easiest hike that morning. Foshee Trail passes a century old rock wall shrouded in mystery and intersects many other trails in the park, which makes it an important connection trail.

a .75 mile long rock wall on Foshee Trail
Old Rock Fence - a .75 mile long rock wall on Foshee Trail

On Foshee Trail, we walked to Painted Rock Overlook and took a look back at Old Baldy. However, the sun was out in full force, so we didn’t stay long. We then linked up with Bridges Trail, which connected us to Crystal Cave Trail. Crystal Cave is the other premiere site at Garner State Park and we had to wait in a short line before we were able to head down.

the view of Mount Baldy
Painted Rock Overlook - the view of Mount Baldy

Crystal Cave is about 30 feet deep and one small chamber. In addition, it is supposed to be cooler, but it was so humid all I wanted to do was escape. We spent a little time exploring and made our way back out to let the next group enjoy.


Campos Trail & Old Entrance Road

The next leg of our trip had us wandering around a bit lost as attempted to take Wilks Trail to Campos Trail. We ended up on Bridges Trail, Foshee Trail, Bell Trail, and Rim Trail as all these trails intersect and weave together in a small area. There wasn’t anything memorable about this section as our view was blocked and we were just waiting for our next scenic view.

these have been guiding hikers for over 70 years
CCC Horseshoe Footprint Bollards - these have been guiding hikers for over 70 years

Along the way, we passed the CCC Horseshoe Footprint Bollards and the Campos Trail overlook, but it was well into the afternoon and too hot to just stand in the open and enjoy the view. Campos Trail eventually led us to our last section of our hike, the Old Entrance Road, which was an old paved road that used to be the entrance to the park. It was a neat experience, but more importantly, it was last, easy walking, and shaded.

a view across the hill country
Campos Trail Overlook - a view across the hill country

Heading Home

After hiking for most of the day, we finished a few small tasks for breaking camp and decided it was time to eat. We headed over to the Garner grill (food trailer) and had some amazing chili cheeseburgers, which I highly rate. My one issue with the Garner Grill is the price of a drink. They only have expensive Garner State Park commemorative cups. After we had our meal, we said our goodbyes to Garner State Park and began the 3-hour drive home.

Let us know about your trips or experiences in Garner State Park. Also, if you like the blog follow us on Facebook to keep up to date. 
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Trip Report: Mexico City

Michelle's Big Adventure in Mexico City

Hi everyone! My name is Michelle and I am Linda’s youngest sister. I am a Spanish teacher in East Texas and this summer I was able to go on vacation with my best friend Raquel who is also a Spanish Teacher. We decided to travel to Mexico City in August for about a week. Jarrett has asked me to write about my trip, so here it goes!

Mexico City - Day 1

We arrived in Mexico City at about 10 am on Tuesday. On our way to the airbnb is when we first noticed the crazy amount of traffic that is found in Mexico City. Once we dropped off our bags, we went to a coffee shop that a friend wanted us to try. I did not have the coffee, but my friend seemed to greatly enjoy it.

After this we decided to get some groceries in order to be able to eat at home and save some money, I mean we are on a teacher's budget after all. This was THE LONGEST grocery trip EVER! It took us about an hour and a half to get to a Walmart because the Traffic was insane! It wasn’t even that far away! We decided to have tacos for dinner because we’re in Mexico City and of course you have to have tacos!

Mexico City - Day 2

On Wednesday, we decided to go to downtown Mexico, but there was a protest going on and we opted not to go for safety reasons. So, we headed to Frida Kahlo’s home in Coyoacan. Now before you head there, I would recommend that you purchase your tickets ahead of time online, otherwise be prepared to wait for a while. They only allow about 40 people per group to enter the house. The prices vary, but if you have either a student or teacher ID you can get a discount, but you still have to pay extra in order take pictures inside.


Once we got into La Casa Azul de Frida Kahlo all I have to say is that it is simply breathtaking. I’ve never been a huge Frida Kahlo fan, I’ve always admired her work and how she did not stick to gender norms. This home belonged to Frida’s family and she lived here growing up, after her parents passed away she and Diego moved in and did some renovations. They may have lived in the same house, but they did not share the same bedroom. Right as you enter, there is a sign that reads “Frida and Diego lived in this house from 1929-1954.”


There is art by Frida all over the house and quotes that were said by Frida. Their kitchen had their names on the walls and doves as well. I couldn’t tell what that was made of since we couldn’t actually go into the kitchen. Frida’s studio area looked as if she had just left for a day and let us in her home. Some of her brushes were out, her wheelchair was in front of a canvas. There was a special exhibit of Frida’s most famous dresses and jewelry. We went in and there they were, the most iconic outfits as seen as in pictures, painting, and articles. Even some of back braces and cast were on display. I am so thankful that I got to see it.


That night, we went to dinner with my cousin Jorge who lives in the City. We went to a restaurant called La Casa de Tono that is well known for their pozole. I had it, and I’m not normally a pozole person, but this one was delicious! After dinner, we went to the statue of the Angel de la Independencia. Apparently, it’s light is different every night. While there we learned that the statue had fallen once during an earthquake and after that, it was put on a higher level not only because of the earthquake but also because the city is sinking. After that, we just walked around for a bit before we parted ways.


Mexico City - Day 3

The next day we visited the anthropology museum. I’m a giant anthropology geek so this was my favorite! The museum is quite big but the entrance fee is fairly cheap. It was about $70 pesos which ends up being about $6 dollars. The museum is huge and they have so many great exhibits that I would recommend any of them. Since we were in a bit of a time crunch, we stuck to the first-floor exhibits which focused on early civilization and Mayan exhibits. Each exhibit was carefully thought out and very beautiful.


After the museum, we went to downtown Mexico, also known as “El Zocalo.” We saw the balcony where the president of Mexico stands during “El Grito de Dolores” on the night of September 15, beginning the festivities for the 16 of September, Mexico’s Independence Day! We were able to see the ruins of “El Templo Mayor” this temple was one of the most important one for the Aztecs and was located in their capital of Tenochtitlan, which is present-day Mexico. This place was also very affordable only $70 pesos as well! You are allowed to walk on the pathways they have for people but you are not allowed to go into the ruins. The museum is fairly small but still very informative and beautiful.


Mexico City - Day 4

On Friday, we spent our day with God and La Virgin de Guadalupe. We traveled to “La Basilica de Guadalupe” where we saw the old church that you can tell is sinking and tilting, but inside it is so mesmerizing. We waited in line to get some gifts baptized in holy water. I got a rosary for my mom, a keychain for my dad, and a bracelet for me. Nothing for Linda and Denisse, because they’re heathens. We then watched a ceremony of all women dance and worship the Virgin. It was so cool. We made our way into the new Basilica and sat down to take everything in. You could feel the peace in there. It was wonderful.


Mexico City - Day 5

On Saturday August 12, it was my birthday!! I turned 23 and all I wanted to do was visit the pyramids of Teotihuacán. So, we woke up early in the morning and drove there. It took us about 2 hours to get there because of construction. Once we arrived, I was super excited to climb the pyramids, until I actually saw one. They are so small y’all and the steps are so steep! Just getting to the other side of the pyramid was tiring.


We met a very nice vendor who was selling a Sun God and a Moon God musical instrument that doubled as a pottery piece. When he found out it was my birthday and that we were Spanish Teachers he asked us to record something for him, which we did. In the recording, he explained what music was played for each God. He then played happy birthday using the Sun God and it was great. I obviously had to buy it!


Raquel tried to climb the pyramid, which I refused because I am terrified of heights and there were way too many people going up and down. I decided to sit on one of the smaller pyramids and just take everything in. The beauty and the hard work that so many Aztecs put into building these wonderful pyramids. My mind couldn’t help but wonder how different life was for them. Raquel could only get halfway through the Sun pyramid before coming down. You have to be super fit for those pyramids! It is said that if you wear white to the pyramids, you will be filled with positive energy, so I did. Hey, I’m a teacher, I’ll take any positive energy I can get!


After spending about 3 hours in the pyramids we headed back and had dinner with Maricela and Gabriel. We all rested from the long day and then night time hit, we decided to go to the monument of the revolution also known as “El Monumento de la revolución.” This also lights up at night and has a museum inside. The price varies on the type of tour you take. We went at night time so the museum was closed. You can take an elevator up but not down. Once we got to the top, I panicked. I hadn’t realized how tall it was going to be. Once again, I’m terrified of heights!!! Luckily, Raquel and Maricela were with me the entire time and I can’t deny that the view from the top was breathtaking.


It took me a while to make it down the stairs, but once I did I went straight to the gift shop! I bought Linda and Jarrett shirts that were among the most famous revolutionaries in Mexico, Emiliano Zapata and Francisco Villa. My birthday ended with a tour around the Mariachi Plaza, which is where many Mariachi groups are and people can just drive by and hire them. This area isn’t very safe, so if it’s not early at night, I would avoid it. Lastly, instead of birthday cake, I had birthday churros from a great place, which sadly I don’t know the name of, but they were delicious!!!

Mexico City - Day 6

Sunday, we went to a market called “Mercado de artesanía” where they sold so many great things! I wanted to but everything I saw! I purchased an embroidered Mexican peasant shirt and some pure silver earrings with a real turquoise stone in them. Raquel purchased a beautiful chess set for her dad that was made of stone. We walked around for hours and that was it.

Mexico City - Day 7

On Monday we had a few hours to kill before our flight, so we decided to tour Mexico City’s most popular wax museum and they had celebrities from all over the world. From Michael Jackson to the Queen of England. My favorite would have to be a tie between Pedro Infante and Alejandro Fernandez. Yes, I did fangirl when I found their wax figures. Judge me, I don’t care.


We returned to our air bnb and said our goodbyes to Roo and Maricela. Gabriel drove us to the airport and so at last we said goodbye to him. I never truly realized how beautiful Mexico City was until I spent 6 days there. It was the trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait to go back! Raquel and I are already planning our trip to Cancun next summer! Thanks for reading all about our trip!

Conclusion

I would like to thank Dr. Miranda Recinos and her family for their hospitality during our time in Mexico City. I’ve adopted Maricela and Gabriel as my third set of grandparents. My heart goes out to all the people affected by the earthquakes that have affected Mexico recently, but if it there is one thing I learned on my trip, is that the people of Mexico are resilient and fighters.

Lastly, I’d just like to say how much this trip helped me get a better understanding of my culture and who I am. I’ve always known I was Mexican-American and traveled to different parts of Mexico, but I was never old or mature enough to understand everything I was looking at. This is the first trip I make to Mexico with an opened mind and heart. By doing so, my heritage has become my biggest pride. I love being Latinx and everything it entails. Thank you México city for helping me understand a side of me I didn’t even know was misunderstood.
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Monday, October 9, 2017

Lessons Learned as a Hurricane Harvey First Responder

Lessons Learned During Hurricane Harvey

I recently volunteered to assist in Texas areas affected by Hurricane Harvey. I was with a team that began with high water rescues and searching houses for survivors. We quickly transitioned to handing out life-sustaining supplies at distribution points. Along the way, I learned valuable lessons as a first responder and some of those could be beneficial for impacted area survivors.

in a parking lot in ingleside, TX
Flipped semi-truck at a distribution point

Power

With food, water, and shelter provided, I quickly realized power was going to be one of the biggest issues. I had a personal, work, and satellite phone, to receive calls from various people and agencies in support of our mission to help locals. The catch, we were in areas with no power or areas with so many people hooked up to the grid there wasn’t enough power to go around. Thankfully, I took an amazing combination for keeping my communication equipment powered up. I have a StrongVolt 5W solar panel and a KMASHI 1000mAh power bank.


There were some hard lessons learned using my solar panel about having enough space, enough watts, and being weather resistant. First, make sure you have an enough room to lay the panels flat in direct sunlight. I learned that hanging the panels didn't work well and they needed to be flat. Second, most electronics will only charge so fast, no matter how many watts, but a larger panel will provide more power in the shade (like when a cloud blocks the sun). Finally, make sure you get a panel that is weather/water resistant as hurricane weather could lead to more storms. I took a StrongVolt because I bought it on a Woot sale, but there are better or more cost-effective options out there.

taken from woot.com
The StrongVolt 5W solar panel. taken from woot.com

The battery pack I brought turned out to be a keystone piece of equipment. I would charge all of my electronics while sleeping using the battery pack, and throughout the next day, I would use the solar charger to top off the battery pack. Additionally, if there was ever any power, I would use that as well to recharge the battery pack. This method turned out to be an efficient means to keep everything charged and I never had a dead phone as a result. However, I wouldn't have had such a great result with a smaller battery pack.

Taken from Amazon.com
KMASHI 10k mAh Battery Pack. Taken from Amazon.com

Finally, I would definitely add an inverter to my power kit. After returning home, I purchased an Aukey 300W power inverter. The key is to make sure it can charge by 12V auxiliary power outlets and by car batteries with gator clips. This way, any car with a battery provides a means for power, which includes abandoned cars in a bad enough situation.

Food, Water, and Caffeine

Food and water are going to be key for any survivor and first responder, so having a reasonable amount on hand is paramount. MY crew was handing out water and rations three days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

In Aransas Pass, Tx
Soldiers handing out rations (MREs)

I ended up taking a stove for a specific reason and it wasn't water purification, but that is an added bonus. I took the stove to make coffee and that you ended up being a major hit with my crew. As someone who loves caffeine, it seems like this treasure is oft overlooked. If you are interested in learning more about stoves, check out our stove basics 1 and stove basics 2 posts.

boiling water for coffee
Primus canister stove I used for making coffee

In the areas we were in there was a water boiling warning. Furthermore, it can be hard to fill up your bathtub beforehand if you know a flood is imminent. This is where a stove, your gas stove in your home or a portable stove, will be key until bottled water or water treatment is restored.

Lastly, everyone needs food to last long enough for supplies to arrive. A lot of people we handed out food too had plenty of food in their refrigerators, but they had no way to keep it cold. I took along some freeze-dried food as insurance in case food was in short supply. It might be worthwhile checking out Wise Foods for some options.

Conclusions

While I know my lessons learned as a first responder aren't going to completely cover the needs for a disaster survivor, there is definitely some carry over. Having a strategy to cover the big three: food, water, and shelter plus power will go a long way.

Let us know any tips and tricks you have when dealing with a natural disaster. Also, if you like the blog follow us on Facebook to keep up to date. 
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