All posts by atexanstravels

Texan. Scientist. Traveler. Environmentalist. Writer. Photographer. Yogi.

My First St. Paddy’s Day in Austin, Texas

During my first year in Austin, my friend and her new boyfriend came to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on 6th Street. A friend picked me up and we went to another friend’s house downtown. From there, the three of us got on a party bus driven by a guy that was trying to date me. It was too early in the night and not much was going on. The guy was kind of creepy and made us feel awkward so we finished our drinks and headed off on foot.

Several other people joined our group and we went to meet my friend and her boyfriend at a bar. Things started out well. We bar hopped. The drinks were flowing and everyone was having a great time…

The next thing I knew, I woke up to my alarm clock blaring. I felt disoriented. Not hungover, still drunk. I had to get dressed and go to work. I somehow pulled myself out of bed and staggered toward the door. There was a strange aroma in the air. I couldn’t figure out what it was. I went to the bathroom and showered. I still felt horrible. My friend and her boyfriend were asleep in my living room so I crept back to my room to get dressed. Ugh…what is that smell?! I was starting to feel nauseous. I threw on some clothes and started putting on my makeup. When I was done, I went to get the lip gloss I had used the previous night from my purse. When I opened my pink purse, the smell of shitty street food was overwhelming. I looked in and saw a white paper plate with orange grease stains folded up inside. I opened the plate to find a slice of half eaten pepperoni pizza. I was really confused. Why was this in there? Who put it in there?

I finished getting dressed and walked into the living room. By this time, my friend and her boyfriend were awake. They saw the folded paper plate in my hand and started laughing. “What happened last night,” I asked. They were both cracking up and she said, “I told you not to put that in there!” She explained that I got completely trashed (obviously)
and said that I wanted pizza. So they followed my drunk ass around blurdowntown Austin to Roppolo’s Pizza. Once I purchased the pizza, I took two bites and then tried to pawn it off on another friend. They already had their own so I decided it would be a good idea to save it for later, despite my friend’s urging to throw it away and not put that greasy mess in my purse. I’m stubborn, probably even more so when I’m drunk, so into my purse it went.

Now that the mystery was solved, I headed off to work. When I got there, I checked my phone for the first time that morning. Another friend that had been with us the night before had texted to asked if I was ok. Before I responded, I read back through our recent messages. Apparently, she and another girl had gotten separated from our group when we went to find pizza. She texted me to ask where we had gone. My response read, “Pizza!!!” She asked where we were getting pizza. My response was the final text I sent that night. It read, “djghkshgflsdk,” or something to that effect. There were many more texts from her and several missed calls. Poor girl. She probably thought I was dead in a ditch somewhere. I texted her and let her know that I was ok. I told her about the pizza in my purse and she filled me in on other things I didn’t remember, which was pretty much the whole night!

My cherry vodka sours were strong and I’m a lightweight. Luckily, we were responsible and had arranged designated drivers before the night began. Austin, Texas is a great place to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day but prepare yourself for the throngs of drunkards and know your own limits before you become one of them! I sure learned mine that night and I clearly can’t handle my liquor like the Irish!

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Cherry vodka sour!!!

Pompeii, Italy

A few years ago, I took a trip to Italy with two friends. While planning, I had only one request. I didn’t care what else we did or where else we went, the one place in Italy I wanted to see most was Pompeii. We planned for a day at the end of our trip and I couldn’t wait!!

Every city we visited over our two weeks in Italy was amazing! The people were the most welcoming and hospitable people I have ever met. The food and wine were, of course, the most incredible food and wine I have ever tasted. We were having a great trip and I knew that Pompeii was going to be the perfect ending to our tour of Italy. The morning of, we got into our rental car and headed out of Rome to Naples where we stopped to have lunch. The pizza was delicious! Just as it had been in every pizzeria we tried on our trip. When we were full, we got back in the car and pressed on. By this time, I was antsy with excitement! We were so close!!

Finally, we see the sign stating Città Di Pompei! Here’s a fun fact! While researching, I discovered that Pompei with a single ‘i’ is the spelling for the modern city while the spelling for the ancient city is with two, Pompeii. We made our way to the entrance of the ancient city and walked down the long walkway that leads inside.

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The vastness of the ruins was startling. It was astonishing to see that not only had the people of ancient Pompeii achieved incredible architectural feats, but also that these structures have endured all this time. We wandered for a long while, taking in as much of the richness around us as we could. Every corner we turned held something amazing. The amphitheater that still stands today, the artwork that has survived the elements and the artifacts that still litter the ground.

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Everything was breathtaking, but after a few hours of walking, we still had not seen any of the bodies that seemed so prolific on my Google searches of Pompeii. By this time we were thirsty and began searching for the concession area. The June heat got to me and I couldn’t take it any more. I needed water. Eventually, we stumbled across a waterspout attached to a carved stone. The carving was a bit ominous. I hoped that the face was that of a sweet wild-haired man and not one of a horned demon waiting to curse me with Montezuma’s Revenge. As I put my lips to the water, I kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t get dysentery, please don’t get dysentery.” I expected the water to be hot and nasty tasting but instead it was cool and refreshing. It tasted very clean, if that’s a thing. I felt reenergized and impressed with myself for making such a risky move. Five minutes later, we found the concession area that I no longer needed!

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Then we started to see people crowding into a doorway. We walked over to see what they were looking at. It was a body encased in glass. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It gave me chills. I could see the skull of the man in the case. He looked like he was writhing in agony. We moved on. There were more cases. More bodies. Some cases just had bones scattered around.

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Eventually we made our way into an open area with several barred rooms containing more bodies and artifacts. A tour group was slowly walking ahead of us. They stopped in front of a room with the body of a man crouching down with his hands clamped to his face. A woman in the group exclaimed proudly, “He was praying to Jesus with his last breath!” The tour guide kindly replied, “Actually, he was probably covering his airways to reduce the amount of fumes and ash he inhaled.” The woman clearly didn’t like that, which I found amusing. She gave him an angry glare as my friend shot a picture of me, smirking next to the crouching man.

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We posed for our final pictures with Mount Vesuvius and the wreckage it caused as storm clouds loomed overhead. Mount Vesuvius is still an active volcano. It last erupted in 1944. Luckily, the damage was minimal and the casualties were few. But one has to wonder, when it erupts again, will modern day residents have enough warning to evacuate or will future generations look upon those ruins and see the same devastation we see from the AD 79 eruption? If you ever have the opportunity to visit Pompeii, take it! Pompeii is truly a marvel of the ancient world, an awe-inspiring sight to behold.

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TRAPPED IN THE BATHROOM AT THE TEXAS STATE CAPITOL

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While wrapping up my master’s program, I interned for a State Representative at the Texas State Capitol. For those who have never had the opportunity to wander around, the Capitol building is essentially a maze. I immediately got lost on the way to my interviews, even after the security guard at the metal detector gave me detailed directions. Luckily I ran into a very nice gentleman that walked me to the correct corridor and assured me that everyone gets lost. I had two interviews and was offered one on the spot. The office staff was awesome and laid back so I accepted.

On the first official day, I was so proud of myself for finding the office on my own, after only being lost for like 10 minutes. I was shown some of my duties and spent most of the day doing data entry. I was given a key and left to lock up the office when I was done. After everyone was gone, I needed to use the bathroom. I figured I had better go before I left anyway because Austin traffic can be horrible. I left all of my belongings in the office and ventured out to find the bathroom.

The bathroom was relatively close to the office. There was no one in there. It was late in the day and it was during the interim so there wasn’t much staff around to begin with. When I went to leave the stall, the lock handle turned and turned but the latch never retracted. I tried rattling the door. Nothing. I was trapped in the bathroom stall. I didn’t have anything with me to pry the latch open. I continued to try to get the lock to retract to no avail. After several minutes, I was preparing myself to do the unthinkable… crawl under the door on the nasty bathroom floor. Now, the floors might have been as clean as a bathroom floor can be but I still didn’t want to touch it. Feeling defeated, I tried the lock one more time. It still didn’t open. Ok, time to get out. I’m crouched down, still not touching the floor, when I hear the main bathroom door open.

I shot upright! “Ma’am?! The lock is broken and I’m stuck in here. Can you please help me?” The lady on the other side of the stall door was the sweetest Southern woman on earth. She kept saying, “Bless your little heart!” After a few minutes of struggling from her side, she managed to pry the lock open. The stall door opened and I emerged, relieved and grateful. She told me to be careful because getting locked in the bathroom is not unheard of in the Capitol building. I guess the locks are old. I thanked her profusely and went back to the office. When I was done for the day, I locked up and headed out, determined not to get lost on my way back to the parking garage.

Good thing I had gone to the bathroom before I left because I immediately got turned around and it took me a while to get out of the Capitol building only to find I came out of a totally unknown exit. I had to walk around for a bit before I found the parking garage I had parked in. It was an interesting first day but I eventually found my way around, to a very limited extent, and never ventured to the bathroom without my phone again. So let my horrible humiliation be a lesson to you. When enjoying the beauty that the Texas State Capitol has to offer, remember where you parked and venture into the bathroom stalls at your own risk!

Why I Decided To Quit My Job To Travel

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Bamboo Walkway – Maui

Since I was a little girl, I loved learning about science and animals. You could even say I was a bit of a fanatic. When friends would come to my house to play, I would make them give presentations about animals based on the information found in my beloved Animal Fact and File Cards. I would tell my family that when I died, I wanted my body to be left in the African savanna so the lions could eat me; something my mom still teases me about from time to time. Even as a small child, I knew science would be my life.

Then I got sick. It began as a constant painful upset stomach. I was feeling tired all the time. Then the bleeding started. I was terrified, exhausted and ashamed. I didn’t understand what was happening to me but I knew I wasn’t myself anymore. I kept it to myself. I would sit around wondering what I had done to bring this on myself. It was over a year of having symptoms before I finally told my mom. When I was about eight years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s has been an incredibly destructive force in my life. It, and the chronic anxiety it brings, has controlled my life for as long as I can remember. It’s always there, influencing every decision I make. Dictating what I can and can’t do, where I can and can’t go, what I can and can’t eat or drink. Crohn’s made getting though school, and life, very difficult. I couldn’t focus anymore. I felt angry, sad and isolated all the time. Some days I didn’t have the strength to pull myself out of bed. When I did actually make it to school, I would often have to spend the majority of the day sick in the bathroom. My childhood memories are mostly of doctor visits, hospital stays, the horrible side effects from the medications prescribed and the loneliness Crohn’s has caused me.

Despite all of this, I knew what I wanted and nothing was going to stop me, not even my own failing body. I worked hard and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Animal Biology with a minor in Spanish and a Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management. I went on to take a job with an environmental agency. I hoped it would be fulfilling and make me feel like everything I had struggled through had been worth it. I realized immediately that it would not be the job I was hoping for. The work was basically data entry for people with science degrees. Constant issues with management left much of the staff feeling unappreciated and disengaged. The turnover rate was shockingly high because many felt as though management saw them as completely disposable. It was a very depressing place to spend 40 hours of your life every week for years. I feel that place caused me to lose my passion and drive for life.

During this time, I felt stuck in a relationship with someone I had nothing in common with. From the beginning I wanted things to change but any time I expressed even the slightest negative feeling towards our situation, he would freak out and guilt me into tolerating it. Everyday was the same dissatisfied boredom and I was incredibly unhappy. I decided that I needed a break from the monotony and wanted to take a group vacation to Costa Rica for my 30th birthday. I talked about it for weeks and began planning. Several friends had already committed to the trip when he had one of his meltdowns. He made me feel so guilty and selfish for wanting to take this trip that I cancelled it. Then, a couple of months before my birthday, I couldn’t take it anymore. After two years, I finally ended the relationship. I hated myself for letting someone else influence my life choices so much and for so long. I vowed that I would never forgo my own happiness to appease someone else ever again.

I began focusing on bettering myself. Going to yoga more often. Trying to meditate, which is a huge challenge for someone with a mind that does nothing but bounce from one insane worry to the next obsessively. I tried to think about positive things. The idea of a taking a solo vacation kept coming into my mind. When my birthday came, my friends threw me a great surprise party. I felt loved and thankful to have so many amazing people in my life.

A week or so later, I had my first sensory deprivation experience. It was exciting and calming while also being somewhat unsettling. Something happened in there. I’m not sure what. On the drive home, I realized I had decided that I was not just going to take a solo vacation. I had made the decision to quit the job I loathed and go spend several months in South America. I eventually chose beautiful Ecuador as my destination country. The Galápagos Islands have always fascinated me and I felt it would be the perfect place to reignite my passion for science and living life. I will be living on San Cristóbal Island for three weeks while I do volunteer conservation work with the Ubelong organization. I will also spend a month living in a yoga ashram. During this time I will focus on meditation and mindfulness while I obtain my yoga teacher certification at Durga’s Tiger School – Casa Kiliku outside of Quito. Yoga and meditation have become great tools for easing my Crohn’s symptoms and calming my mind. I hope that by taking my practice deeper, I will find a place where Crohn’s and anxiety are no longer an issue.

As excited as I am, I’m also terrified. I have no idea what will happen over there. Maybe everything will be wonderful and it will be the best decision I have ever made. Maybe I will be sick and alone the whole time and it will be awful. Regardless of what happens, I will be satisfied knowing that it was a decision I made for myself, in spite of the fear. Crohn’s disease has been the biggest obstacle in my life, but it will be an obstacle I continue to overcome everyday. Now is my time. No more 40-hour weeks in windowless cubicles doing soul sucking passionless work. No more dealing with people who hold me back from what I want. And especially no more going through life letting fear dictate my level of happiness. Fear took my childhood and a significant portion of my adulthood away from me but now I decide what I’ll do, where I’ll go and what I’ll eat and drink. There is no point in limiting myself anymore. It will be with me no matter what and I refuse to let it keep me from the things I want any longer.