Author: waitingforrain28 (Page 1 of 21)

My Thoughts on Montsserrat: Inspiration for a Troubled Time

A place that captured my heart

(c) ABR 2020

There are many places that have captured my heart, including New Zealand, Scotland, Japan, Iceland, the Channel Islands, and the Faroe Islands. I am sure that there will be more places in the future, God willing. However, I’ve never been anywhere that impacted me the way that Montserrat did. I wasn’t expecting it. The first time that I had ever heard of the island was during my PhD studies, when I just stumbled across the name in one of the long lists of countries in the Caribbean. I wasn’t familiar, so as I am want to do, I looked it up. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that most of the island was an “exclusion zone” due to a volcano.

In my mind’s eye, this was a place like Washington state, where Mt. Saint Helens had ravaged the land and caused tragedy, but could now be observed and climbed like a relic of the past (not to say that it is). I imagined travelling through the lush rainforests of Montserrat to view and yes, even climb the volcano. Sadly, I was so naive that even leading up to my trip there, I was looking up how to hike the volcano. I didn’t realize that Montserrat didn’t just suffer from one explosion but nearly two decades worth of destructive, pyroclastic activity that has literally left about 2/3 of the island off-limits.

Touring Plymouth

Ruins in Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

I can at least say that I learned enough leading up to my expedition that I purchased a tour of Plymouth, the former capital of the island. I had read that you couldn’t go alone. My guide, a man by the name of Sunny, grew up in stretches of Montserrat that are abandoned and lost for now. And he, like many other Montserratians, had explored a beautiful world that has ceased to exist as it once did. Plymouth was considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Caribbean. The mountains surrounding what’s now an active volcano were living and lush. There were only little hints of what was beneath it all in the form of hot springs, not unlike those that I’ve hiked to see in Dominica.

In 1995, when the mountain came alive again, no one thought that the Montserrat that they knew was about to be lost. Activity on the mountain grew, and scientists became more apprehensive, until they alerted the government to the fact that they could not provide 6 hours notice that the volcano might explode. At this point, people were forced to flee the city, many leaving their belongings behind, perhaps believing that they would be able to return soon permanently… and that life would go back to normal. It was not to be, however. The explosion that came in 1996 was so violent and persistent that by 1997 Plymouth was engulfed and destroyed. Nearly 2/3 of the island’s population left Montserrat permanently. Making the damage both physical and cultural.

Unlike Mt Saint Helens, the volcano didn’t explode once. It’s dome expanded and blasted out the island again and again. Destroying Plymouth, destroying the small villages in the countryside to the south, blasting away the roads and the countrysides that once allowed people to play in and explore, and eventually destroying the island’s airport. The last powerful explosion was in 2010, and the years leading up to that were filled with destructive activity. More than a decade of loss.

Strong people surviving loss

Sunny teaching us about the history of Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

I can’t know what those people went through and still feel to this day, but the stories I was told and reading about the event afterwards can give a one a sense. I feel loss even, for the people who lost their homes and their way of life, and for an island that I will never get to see. I’ve been to Montserrat now, but it’s a new Montserrat- something different from what it was before, unique yes, but a reminder of how brutal nature can be. Creation is violent, because volcanoes create. But what it takes to get there is tragic, painful, and oftentimes beyond human comprehension.

It isn’t just the tragedy of Montserrat that makes this island special, and it shouldn’t be. While I wanted to ask the people that I spoke with there if they ever got tired of talking about the volcano, it’s something that has shaped many things on the island. Despite everything, however, people are still there. Not folks who are trapped, but people that want to be there.

Some are Montserratians, although many community members left the island when the eruptions made life too difficult. With no space for people to live in, no jobs, no school, and no rest, it makes sense. They went to the UK, other Caribbean countries, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, since the volcano has comparably simmered down and settlements have established to the north of the island where it is safe, new folks have come to live there. Many are people from around the Caribbean, with some European and US expats as well.

Montserrat now and then, but still alive

(c) ABR 2020

They are rebuilding and keeping the island alive, and while most of them might not remember the Montserrat of “before,” they have taken the special spirit of that place to heart. Montserrat is a remainder of a Caribbean of yester-years. Safe, helpful, and friendly when you offer a smile or kind word. People wave at eachother as they drive down the road, and honk at friends as they pass. It’s not the only island left like this, but that doesn’t make it any less special to experience it- especially when you come from a big city.

Even though I never knew what Montserrat was like before the volcano, even though I didn’t live through the eruptions, or even get to thoroughly explore it, there is something haunting about this place. In some ways, it is that fascination that all people have for other’s tragedy (dark tourism is a thing for a reason!). It’s also the beauty of a place where the nature we love and the nature we fear exist together, and the kindness of a community that has survived that calls you back.

They say that if you drink from the Runaway Ghaut spring you will come back to the island. I couldn’t drink because of my chronic illness, but nonetheless, I hope the spirit of that promise will live in me. I want to come back, and I hope that when I do, I will get to see the dawning of a new day there. I hope that nature sees fit to let this little island heal.

Inspiration for times of trouble

Hilltop Coffee Shop Museum (c) ABR 2020

It’s been less than a month since I drafted this post… but it feels like a lifetime ago. The day that I plan on publishing this post will mark the beginning of our third week working from home due to coronavirus. With uncertainty being the name of the game everyday, and health/financial ruin weighing heavy on everyone’s minds… I often think back to Montserrat.

This is because I believe that the little nation of Montserrat faced disaster more bravely than I have in the past couple weeks. While the situation there and the situation now are not the same, the people of this island have survived years of uncertainty, destruction, and disruption of their lives. Yet, they found ways to adapt and survive, both on their home island and elsewhere. In this difficult days ahead, I will keep thinking about the strength of the Montserrat people. I will look for kindness in my community and try to provide kindness to those around me, and I will keep picking up the pieces until better times come again.

Thank you to Montserrat for hosting me for a few days before the whole world changed. That experience will live in my heart forever, and strengthen me in this insane reality that we are all living in now.


Chai and Chapters Review: Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge and The Kansa Indians

Welcome to Chai and Chapters

I’m about to dive into building Nightborn’s visitor guide to Kansas. As a preface to that temporary shift in gear here, I’d like to introduce a new series that I’ve been thinking about for a while now called the Chai and Chapters Series.

Basically, I am going to do a short review of a book and a spot for chai tea in a single post. The books that I will be reviewing will be focused on culture and history. Both as they relate to places that we have or will be traveling to. The chai, on the other hand, will be from various places in the Metro-Phoenix area. Thus, the series will serve as a solid bridge between our Arizona posts and our short guides.

Introducing Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge


If you love tea, you really must check this place out! It will be immediately apparent to you that the people who own, and run this little shop really take tea seriously. The quality is high and the flavors are unique and genuine.

The Location

Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge is in downtown Phoenix, in a very cool part of Grand that has become home to some amazing food and artists in recent years.

I absolutely love the atmosphere of this cute little tea shop. There is a lot of warm wood. They have a corner of the shop with a couple comfy armchairs to relax in, and with a few themed books on hand to peruse. While relaxing with your drink, you will have the time to observe all of the little details about this place. There are little crystals in the window, things hanging from the rafters, and a very interesting clock on the wall. Cha Cha’s also has some adorable stuff on sale throughout the shop- mostly tea themed. As a major tea fan, I loved all elements of this little shop!

They also happen to be located right next to a fairly large parking area. So while parking elsewhere on Grand can be a bit difficult, that is no problem here. And if you want to walk around with your drink, they are also near some very bohemia shops and some beautiful street art.

The Chai Tea

The chai tea at Cha Cha’s is a home brew, which I love! I will 100% continue to review shops with mass produced chai tea, but it’s always way more fun to find places with their own chai.

I would also rate Cha Cha’s spiced chai latte highly (4/5). Please note that I lean towards enjoying sweet chais over more traditional flavors.

Cha Cha’s chai has a hearty, spicy flavor with very strong ginger undertones. While primarily spicy, this chai had just enough sweetness to it that I didn’t feel the need to add any sugar. Cha Cha’s will also make you some mean milk foam. Mine survived my whole drink, and I really enjoy milk foam, so I found this delightful.

Book Review: The Kansa Indians: The History of the Wind People

Looking for Books on the Indigenous History of Kansas

The book that I will be reviewing today is William E. Unrau’s 1971 The Kansa Indians: The History of the Wind People, 1673-1873. I wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of Kansas. Truth be told, I was unable to find many options that covered a little bit of culture and history in one. To top that all off, there isn’t a lot out there about the Kansa- the people for whom the state was eventually named. This book was the only one I found that fit the bill. So, is it worth reading?


This is a very dry book, but it tells an extremely tragic story that deserves to be told… and known. If you enjoy learning more about history and culture, and you can deal with academic writing, I think this is a fascinating read. It is very sober, however.

Quick Summary

The first part of this book focuses on the culture of the Kansa people, or shares as much about their traditions as we currently know. I always love reading about how other people did or do see the world and their ways of surviving in it. That being said, most of the book is devoted to a very in-depth look at what is essentially decline of the Kansa people post-contact with Europeans.

This was a relatively small group of people that were essentially subject to waves of epidemics. And they struggled to hold their place in a world that was in flux. The historic tellings that we have now made the final generations of Kansa peoples seem like they were in a constant state of war with other tribes living in Kansas. They also struggled with poverty. This was caused by the fact that the Kansa lifestyle was heavily focused on big game hunts, rather than agricultural production. As their reservation was continually downgraded, the Western life style was eventually forced on them.

There is a constant march of new Europeans throughout the book. They include the Spanish explorers and traders, and French fur traders. Finally, the Americans who eventually caused problems via squatting on Kansa lands arrived. Interestingly, however, there are a few key Kansa historical figures (such as White Plume) who can be followed through much of the story. This really illustrates the pure chaos that the Kansa had to deal with as their lands and way of life was slowly stripped from them.

From beginning to end, you will be walked through all of the small and large disasters. These eventually led to the extinction of a culture that once called Kansas home. It is an extremely heartbreaking historical account.

Brief Review

I honestly think that this book will be far too dry for most readers. It is really an academic text (complete with references throughout), and it reads like one. That being said, I don’t think that this is a story that’s often told. So, if you enjoy learning about new cultures, are interested in learning more about the history of Kansas, and/or want to educate yourself about what indigenous Americans had to survive as the US was being colonized, this book is really fascinating.

I enjoyed reading it, in so far as I thought that learning more about the Kansa experience was important.

That being said, besides being dry, this book is written from the European perspective beginning to end. I think that the author did their best at the time to take the Kansa perspective. There is no real Kansa input on this text, however, due to the loss of this culture. Anyone who reads The Kansa Indians should take this into account. And take things presented as fact (particularly in regards to their culture and perspective) with a grain of salt.

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Why You Need to Visit Tonto Natural Bridge

Why Tonto Natural Bridge Is Worth Your Time

tonto natural bridge

Looking down at the bridge (c) ABR 2019

One of my earliest memories of Tonto Natural Bridge is getting there, and then immediately having to turn around and go home, because there actually wasn’t room for any more cars in the park. And the line was far too long to wait in.

Luckily, these days the tourism eye has turned elsewhere in the state, but you might gather from this past fame that this place is very very special. And you’d be right.

The Tonto Natural Bridge is essentially a massive stone bridge that crosses over Pine Creek and connects either side of the steep walls of Pine Canyon. If you aren’t able to hike, you can enjoy amazing views of the canyon and the bridge from several viewpoints along the parking lots. Hikers can explore underneath the bridge and marvel at the travertine formations that line either side. This limestone creates formations that almost look like stone waterfalls in their own right.

tonto natural bridge

Travertine formations (c) ABR 2019

Due to the relatively high elevation of the area (compared to Phoenix), this part of the state is far more lush than the desert lowlands. The snow and snow melt together feed Pine Creek, along with several springs in the area. Several of these you will be able to see from the parking lot and as you hike around. The most important of these (in my humble opinion) is the little spring that runs out onto the bridge. It is a very small little flow, but it pours over the edge of bridge, creating a beautiful and delicate waterfall that you can enjoy above and below.

In short, whether you just want to stop by to take some exceptional pictures, or stretch your legs on the trail, there is plenty of beauty to be enjoyed at this state park. The historic lodge will also give you a special glimpse into Arizona’s past, which is perfect for architectural and history fans alike.

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McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking: Why I Both Love and Hate This Park

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking- Is It Good?

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

No… in my opinion, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is not good.

That being said, before I dive into the reasons why I don’t like this park, and I will briefly describe why you might actually enjoy hiking here.

Why You Might Like McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(1) There aren’t a ton of desert parks across the region that allows you to enjoy the natural beauty of the valley floor. Most have mountains, and mountains can have very different plant and animal communities.

(2) McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking is perfect for beginners. There isn’t a lot of elevation gain in the park, so it’s a great place to build strength and trail experience.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

(3) There are AMAZING views from the park! Even hiking through a wash, you can see some of the most iconic mountains in Maricopa county. This includes Weaver’s Needle and Four Peaks.

(4) There is plenty of very nice birding that you can do from Stoneman’s Wash, which isn’t a prohibitively long hike from the Pemberton trailhead.

(5) When the season is right, McDowell Mountain Regional Park hiking can provide a reprieve from the foot-traffic crowds. For instance, if I try to go to Dreamy Draw at 11am on a Sat in winter, I will struggle to find parking. The trails are absolutely full of people. In McDowell, you won’t need to fight for a parking spot and you can have some true solitude.

What’s So Bad About McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking?

Ok, so if there are all those reasons that someone might really enjoy hiking in this particular park, why do I dislike it? Let me give you some of my thoughts.

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A Little Ode to… Dulwich Village

A little bit of a late blog post, but one I wanted to share anyway about our trip to London in late October last year.

When I booked the trip waaaaaaay earlier in February because the flight was super cheap ($400 round-trip from Phoenix to London – thanks for the heads up, Next Vacay and Hopper!), I had grand plans of maximizing what would really only be five FULL days there. We would go to the city proper and see all the sights, do a hedge maze at one of the palaces, and maybe even squeeze in a day trip to Bath.

But then, the rest of a busy year happened and by the time I got to the end of October, I was feeling pretty exhausted and anxious about our trip across the pond. I wanted to make this trip special for my boyfriend (his first international trip!), but thought of rushing from place to place was starting to fill me with dread. Thankfully, he has a much more lax view on travel and was fine with taking it easy. So off we went, with a very loose itinerary (really just a list of places scribbled onto a sheet of lined paper).

The only real stipulation I did make is that for part of the trip I wanted to stay out a little further into a quieter part of London. I ended up picking a place in Dulwich Village, about 45 minutes south of London by bus.

Dulwich Village Favorites

Dulwich Park

This little park and by little I actually mean 71 acres, was a great place to stroll. It was beautiful, even on a dreary day, and I’m betting in sunshine it would be a wonderful place to have a picnic.

A deep red Japanese maple in the park’s Japanese garden.

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Hiking the Hassayampa River Preserve: Walking Along the Upside Down River

The Emerald of Central Arizona

hassayampa river preserve

(c) ABR 2019

Central Arizona is a dry place. Stay here long enough and you will start to see water as the precious resource that it is. Due to this, green places are very special. The Hassayampa River Preserve is one of these green gems, and its right in Phoenix’s backyard. Furthermore, thanks to the hard work of the Nature Conservancy and Maricopa County Parks and Recreation, a stretch of the habitat offered by this unique river is protected for all to enjoy.

What is the Hassayampa

The Hassayampa River was given its name due the unique way in which it tends to flow underground along most of its length. While the river bed is apparent in the desert, it often appears to be dry. This is because the water is below the surface until there is sufficient rain and runoff. In the Hassayampa River Preserve, the river surfaces due to changes in the depth of the stone layers that the water flows over. This makes the area of the preserve into an oasis in the desert, which has drawn people and wildlife for hundreds of years.

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orlando theme parks

Why You Need to Visit the Orlando Theme Parks in the New Year

It’s a common thread on this blog that I am an outdoor enthusiast, but what you might be a little less aware of is that I am a massive nerd (and I always have been). So, while I have been posting about exploring the wilder side of Florida lately, I have been dreaming about spending a week at the Orlando theme parks with my family for as long as I can remember.

I know that there are millions of posts on Orlando, Disney, and Universal, so I am going to post a short list of my 10 favorite things from the theme parks of Orlando, Florida. I hope to inspire all you theme park nerds out there to take the plunge and go see these parks for yourself in the new year!

#1: You Can Fly on a Dragon in Disney’s Animal Kingdom

orlando theme parks

(c) ABR 2017

I don’t know about you, but I’ve ALWAYS wanted to fly. Better yet, I’ve dreamed about flying on a dragon since I was old enough to start reading the Dragoniders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. I never really imagined that I would get the chance to experience what that would be like! But at one Orlando theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, anyone else that has had this daydream can finally make it into a reality!

How exactly do you do this? Hop right on the Flight of Passage Ride and take a mountain Banshee from the Avatar universe for a spin. While it has been a bit hard to get on this ride, because of the insanely long lines that form up just a few minutes after the park opens, you can make it on. The most preferable way to do so is to plan ahead, find out the earliest that you can schedule a fast pass and then get one squared away for yourself. If that fails (for me it did), get to Animal Kingdom early in the morning and get in line for the ride at the first opportunity. You will avoid most of the line this way.

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Florida Travel Itinerary: Part Two of a 10 Day Roadtrip to the Sunshine State

Florida Travel Itinerary: Where to Find Part One

If you are looking for a high-energy Florida travel itinerary that incorporates nature, history, and modern entertainment, this is the Florida road trip planner you are looking for. However, this is Part Two! You can find the first three days in the Part One of the Florida Itinerary.

Day Four: Dry Tortugas National Park

(1) Expedition Dry Tortugas

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a large, hexagonal fortress built on a small key that is still home to a unique ecosystem of low-lying plants and a vibrant assemblage of birds. Visitors can either spend a day on the island, or pay for a camping permit. I went for the day trip option, as I had a packed schedule, but camping on Dry Tortugas will give you the chance to experience the isolated little island at night.

In either case, visiting Dry Tortugas has an massive fort, swimming in the tropical waters surrounding the island, and hiking. All of these will give you the chance to explore a place that is really unlike any other in the world so it is a must-have for any Florida travel itinerary.

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

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Florida Roadtrip Itinerary Part One: Seeing the Sights with Limited Time

This Florida roadtrip itinerary is designed for high energy travelers who want to pack alot of sight-seeing into a relatively short period of time. I also like to prioritize checking out national park units and exploring novel environments as I move around. This itinerary can be easily adjusted if you have more time, but will generally excite roadtrippers who love getting a dose of nature and history when they travel.

Day One: Get a Taste of History in Jacksonville

(1) Arrival

Plan on arriving into Jacksonville as early on this day as you can manage. This will give you more time to explore if you are strapped for time. If you can afford to make your itinerary a day longer, you might also consider giving yourself two days here. One to arrive and one to explore the city a little. Jacksonville is surprisingly vibrant and large for those unfamiliar with the area.

(2) Visit Fort Caroline National Monument/Timucuan Preserve

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

The Fort Caroline National Monument and Timucuan Preserve in combination will give you the opportunity to learn more about the history and ecology of the northern, coastal area of Florida. You should start at the visitor center, which can be found at 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL 32225. They are open seven days a week from 9:00A-5:00P and entrance to both parks is FREE.

The star of the Fort Caroline show is, of course, the fort itself. This is a particularly unique place in respect to the other forts of the Caribbean region (and there are many), because Fort Caroline is a simple, wooden fort. It harkens back to an earlier colonial time than most of its cousins. Fort Caroline will give you insight into some of the deeper past of the region than you can get elsewhere. This National Monument also has some information on the local indigenous people that inhabited this area at the time that European immigrants first started arriving. The long human use for the Jacksonville area was a poignant indicator for me of just how important this area has been for people over time. It’s rivers, shores, and forests have long served as sources of wealth, places of transportation and trade, and shelter from the oft-stormy waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic.

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

With these things in mind, the Timucuan Preserve serves as a great partner to Fort Caroline on your Florida roadtrip as visiting here will give you the opportunity to explore and experience some of Florida’s beautiful natural landscapes. This is something that people often overlook in this state, north of the Everglades, but the forests are a strange and unique mix of tropical, coastal and dryland plants. They should not be missed by any hikers, birders, or nature-lovers among you. There is also a nice selection of trails in this area, allowing for a range of trips from short walks to easy day hikes.

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Disneylands galaxys edge

All You Need To Know About Exploring Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Why You Should Be Excited About Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge open in 2019, and it seemed like the jury was out on the new addition to the park for the first few months. Was it worth the cost of admission? Was the food good? The blue milk weird? And were the new characters enough to bring the world to life? The answer to all of these things is YES, and you need to visit to see just how amazing this place is.

For Lucas Star Wars Fans

I’m what I refer to as a “Lucas” Star Wars fan, because I love the universe of Star Wars that was developed while George Lucas still owned his own franchise. I am honestly not a huge fan of what Disney has been creating for this science fiction staple. But nonetheless, I loved Galaxy’s Edge.

Even if you don’t like Disney’s new movies, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will make you feel like you’ve finally entered the world of Star Wars. It really was like a dream come true and I couldn’t get enough of it. In typical Disney fashion, they hit this place out of the park from the smallest detail to the largest. The buildings were amazing, and the food was fascinating. The lightsaber building experience was surprisingly emotional. I thought all of the cast members in Galaxy’s Edge were really great as well.

For Disney Star Wars Fans

I think it goes without saying, but I will say it. If you are a Disney Star Wars fan, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will have everything that you love! You’ve got the universe, you’ve got all the great characters from the movies, and more! You are really in for a treat if you love the newest movies.

Disneylands galaxys edge

(c) ABR 2019

For People Who Aren’t Star Wars Fans At All

You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan in order to enjoy Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge. If you love all of the environments that Disney creates, you will appreciate this corner of the park. Disney is in true form when it comes to this new addition. If you listen to the ambient sounds you will be hearing an alien world. If you are a plant connoisseur, you will notice that each piece of flora was selected for its beautiful and yet otherworldly forms. The buildings have a science fiction quality that is carried over into the gift shops and restaurants. It is truly a unique experience that any Disneyland fan will enjoy exploring over the years.

Getting into Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland's Galaxy's Edge

(c) ABR 2019

When Galaxy’s Edge first opened, there were a few hoops that you had to jump through in order to get in. Now, however, I can tell you that Disneyland’s version is fully open. So you don’t need to worry about reserving a time to enter or any time limits to how long you can stay in the area.

Just walk right in!

You will, however, need reservations to get a lightsaber or go to Oga’s Cantina. More details on that below.

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