OK, I’m Home–Now How Do I Hang Onto All Those Memories?

10,000 miles. 20 states (OK, 19 plus Puerto Rico). 60 close friends and family members. 23 local, state and national parks. 

We’re home. Time to caption & share the photos. That should do it for capturing memories, right?

For any normal person, maybe. But for capturing the full vibrancy of a past moment, I like to play “Best of.” It’s a game we started with our kids when they were small, and I think it rubbed off more on me than on them. Here’s how it works:

Best Hike of Trip: Nevada Falls in Yosemite (3/28). (I mean, really, how could anything in Yosemite NOT win Best Hike?) Eating an orange way too close to the edge with my son who’s about to disappear into Central America for 2 months…

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Runner-up: El Yunque Peak, Puerto Rico (3/7) Getting drenched with The Mate on the way down…after all, it IS a rain forest…

Honorable Mention: Nevada Falls again (3/27). Yup, I went up twice in a row. Didn’t have enough time the first day.

Best Bike Path: Turtle Bay, Redding, California (3/29). An old favorite, not a new discovery, but nothing beats this wonderfully curvy path with its little roller-coaster section, wild bunnies, blooming redbuds…

Runner-up: Provo River, Utah (3/23). Exercising nervous tension before Carolina’s final NCAA game…

Honorable Mention: Bettendorf, Iowa (3/20). Who knew the Quad Cities were so into fitness?

Best Dinner: That little hamlet near Ceiba, Puerto Rico that served fish with sauteed onions and lime (3/6). Giant as-yet-uncaught fish patrolled the waters beneath the restaurant deck, probably scarfing the entrails of our dinner.

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Runner-up: a tie between Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken in Chapel Hill (3/14) (Mama Dip catered our wedding back in 1986!) and our friend Ben’s braised lamb shanks in Asheville, NC (3/1). Ben OWNS lamb.

Honorable Mention: fried pork and plantains, El Yunque (3/3 and 3/4). Good thing we got out of there; that diet would have killed us. But we would’ve died happy…

Best Lunch: Allen & Son’s BBQ with fixins (3/13). OOOF. No possible runner-up.
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Best Breakfast: El Yunque Inn’s creamy oatmeal with fresh mango (3/4). Since all our other breakfasts were cereal, that one kinda stands out…

And, lest you think with me and The Mate it’s all about exercise and food…well, it is. On road trips, we are rarely in Museum Mode. But we do branch out occasionally.

Best Cultural Experience: Bluegrass & Beer at Asheville’s French Broad Brewery (3/1). It’s the name of the river, silly, not some Parisian chick…

Runner-up: My own (first!) author reading at The Regulator Bookshop in my hometown, Durham, NC (3/11). 🙂
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Best Unexpected Find: Great Basin National Park, Nevada (3/25-6). Aspens. Quiet. Wild turkeys.

Runner-up: Rock Canyon, Provo, Utah (3/22). Whoa, those rock climbers are all so happy!

Honorable Mention: Tie between the Ceiba Country Inn, Puerto Rico (3/5-6)--all those dogs!--and the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre sculpture woods (3/19). Is that a spaceship sinking in that lake?

Notice a pattern here? The bolded words are the real memories. The whole “contest” is just an excuse to push my brain to run through all those thousands of possibilities, reinforcing the synaptic connections of every single one of those 49 days. 

Oh, and the dates? That’s just my nerdiness. See, my grandma lived to be 103 and kept a razor-sharp memory till the end. Just in case I’ve inherited her longevity genes, I’m keeping my own brain in SHAPE.

So that’s how I remember good times. Do you have other tricks? Memorabilia? Rock collections? Or are you so glad to be home you just let it all go and move on to doing laundry?

 

DIY Travel: Why I Love Lonely Planet

Road Trip IV, Days 26-28: Puerto Rico to Durham, NC

Sometimes you just have to get away. And sometimes you just have to get away from other people who are getting away.

That’s why I am a loyal Lonely Planet-head. For those of you who don’t know, Lonely Planet is a series of travel books (originally) published in the U.K. I haven’t yet been to the country they don’t cover, but I’m sure there is one…at least for now.

Besides offering essential amenities like detailed maps and lengthy snippets (snips?) of history and culture, LP guides feel like they were written for me…that is, for people who prefer

–restaurants where locals eat
–knowing how to get around as cheaply and independently as possible
–accommodations with a certain amount of quirk
–knowing when to eschew, and when to spring for, the services of guides
–staying away from crowds
–finding undiscovered gems to brag about later
–exercise
–understanding how local people feel about us tourists

Being thorough, LP books do describe the 500-pound gorillas of travel, the big resorts and postcard tours. But they do so with a certain amount of tongue in cheek. Here’s what they have to say about the biggest resort in Puerto Rico: “If your idea of a good vacation revolves around golf, tennis, spa pampering, water sports, fine dining and gambling–with lots of company–this could be your bag.”

(In other words, “If you want to go there, bless you…but we really doubt you want to go there if you’re the kind of person who buys our books.”)

LP’s stock in trade are the personal touches within each section that The Mate and I have learned to rely on. The Ceiba Country Inn is described as having “friendly owners and even friendlier pets.” Bingo! Our kinda place. Our room was cheaper than the one we stayed in off the interstate in Van Horn, Texas last month, and believe me, that one did not feature fresh papaya for breakfast.

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When LP tells us something is a must-do, we believe them. MUST eat at the food kiosks (friquitines) by the beach? Sure. MUST try the local special, fried pork with rice and beans? Well, if you insist… (It cheers my cheap soul when LP’s directives are also inexpensive.) The only MUST for the northeast region that we were unable to follow through on was taking a nighttime kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay, but this was not for lack of trying; we made this trip on the fly, remember, and all the tours were booked. Sorry, LP.

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When LP sent us to El Yunque, the rainforest mountain that rises 3,500 feet an astounding 40 minutes from San Juan, the writer actually apologized for the limited number of hiking trails, as if knowing, “Oh yeah, it’s the Wings. They’re gonna want to get dirty.”

 

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For those of you who hate looking at maps and making reservations and dealing with people on the phone, by all means, go with a tour group. It’s way easier for sure. But for those of you who prefer to make your own plans but want a solicitous, well-traveled friend looking over your shoulder, make Lonely Planet your friend. That’s what it feels like.

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Anyone want to second the motion, or weigh in with a bad experience? The lines are open.