Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 5)

Tea and Travel (By Books!): Best Boba in Northern Phoenix and a Window into Indigenous Southwestern Culture via The Zunis: Self Portrayals

Every so often here at Nightborn, we pause for some tea and travel the world through books. This week come celebrate some of our favorite boba spots in Northern Phoenix and read a quick review of The Zunis: Self Portrayals by the Zuni People.

Tea Stop

phoenix boba

Pandan waffle and green Thai tea (c) ABR 2019

Tea Stop is my favorite boba spot in Northern Phoenix. They have perfected sweet, milk tea flavors and their boba is the freshest and the most flavorful. Personally, I almost always get their green Thai tea, which I can’t suggest enough. If I try to describe the flavor though… I don’t have the words! It’s kind of like a toned-down version of the more common, orange Thai tea that is found in most boba shops. I do get that flavor of green tea as well, but I am not sure if that’s my imagination or not, due to the color and name. What I can say though… is that if you like Thai tea, and matcha, you are gonna like this! The boba is very flavorful as well- subtle, but you can pick up a hint of honey in every bite. Also, they are fresh and soft, definitely a little chewy like all boba, but they never have the hard center of the less fresh boba.

The rest of Tea Stop’s teas and drinks are also amazingly good. And if you aren’t huge on intense sugar, they can certainly handle orders adjusting the sweetness. I usually go “half-sweet” and I love how the flavor of the milk and tea comes forward more when there is a little less sugar. They also have lots of drinks with fresh fruit, and in the summer there is a selection American iced teas/lemonades that are super refreshing. Honestly, if you like tea, you aren’t going to make a wrong choice here. Everything they do with love and the quality is super high. Tea Stop has a few snacks as well. In particular, being the dessert fiend that I am, I like their Pandan Waffle; it’s green and it is delish.

I can’t talk this place up enough. If you like boba, be sure to give Tea Stop a try.

4015 E Bell Rd #132, Phoenix, AZ 85032

 Dingle Berries

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

Dingle Berries is, in my opinion, a creative and lovingly crafted tea shop. If you are looking for fusion flavors, this is your spot, and particularly because they have brought horchata (a sweet, milky Mexican drink, if you aren’t familiar) onto the scene along with some sweet American flavors, like cheesecake. In particular, I think bringing milk tea and horchata together is an ingenious mix, and a great way to experience the wonder that different cultures coming together can provide. Also, if you are into activated charcoal, they do have that as an addition option.

That being said, the Whoa-chata, which is what I got when I went there (horcata+milk tea) is very very sweet, so you might consider asking for half sweetness. Also, I think that the boba at Dingle Berries is pretty nice- and it felt fresh. It was soft and chewy, but not with that harder center that you get when the boba is revived. But while I believe it was a honey boba, it didn’t have quite as much flavor as I might have hoped. Perhaps with a less sweet drink, the boba would have shined more readily.

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

In terms of décor and character, Dingle Berries has a very fun Instagrammable vibe. And I mean that in the best way. They have a really cute corner of the store with a little plush seat, a Good Vibes neon sign, and printed pictures of celebrity mug shots. It’s just the right kind of odd to delight visitors, and I’ve seen many a picture of people posing in that spot. It might seem silly, but I love the way that Dingle Berries has created multiple levels of enjoyment for visitors.

If you enjoy unique flavors and like a good flavor, Dingle Berries is for you!

3624 E Bell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Boba Day

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

Boba Day has traditional milk tea flavors as well as juices, smoothies, and ice cream. The milk tea in particular, is pretty good, and well worth the visit, but of my three favorite spots, this is the one that I would rank the lowest. Their tea has the wonderful, smooth flavor of black tea, and I really like the intensity of the flavor at the back of your mouth- similar to the delicious smell of coffee. The boba here felt the least fresh to me of these three lovely little shops; they were flavorful but the texture of the boba reminded me of the less fresh versions that you might find at a shop that microwaves pre-made stuff. It’s that harder center to the boba that makes me think it’s just a little less fresh.

phoenix boba

(c) ABR 2021

Besides tea, Boba Day also has smoothies and ice cream, so if you are looking for a boba treat but traveling with someone who prefers more American treats, this is a great place to compromise on.

4839 E Greenway Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85254

Travel Via Books: The Zunis: Self Portrayals

by the Zuni People and translated by Alvina Quam

The Zunis: Self Portrayals came from a project that the Zuni people led with the purpose of preserving their stories for the long-term and which involved their storytellers. Due to this, this is one of the most unique books that I have had the opportunity to read because it’s a book about the Zuni People by the Zuni people and for the Zuni people. Reading this reminds me of delving into other cultural, folklore texts like the Illiad and Beowolf. In other words, this is a book that you can tell means a lot more to people who are familiar with the folklore, the culture, and context of the stories, and it offers a window into stories that are being recorded in a genuine way.

That can make reading this book a little difficult at times (as a non-native), but as with other cultural texts that include elements of folklore, I think it is more than worth the bit of confusion to learn more about the stories, lore, and spirituality of the Zuni people. (If you aren’t familiar, the Zuni people are indigenous to the southwestern United States, in particular, modern day New Mexico. I’d highly encourage you to check out the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center website to learn more about them).

If anything, I would love a version of this text with some footnotes giving more context to the stories included in the book, but as I said, I get the feeling that The Zunis: Self Portrayals is more for Zunis than otherwise. So, I’m not sure if footnotes would be helpful in that regard, nor am I saying they should be a priority or a necessity. Just that I would have loved, as an outsider, to read them and learn even more.

If you enjoy learning about the culture of the places where you live and/or visit, I would suggest this book for anyone planning on immersing themselves in the landscape of New Mexico. The Zuni people have called the southwest home for thousands of years, and gaining a little insight into their perspective is both interesting and essential to exploring their ancestral home. Whether you are looking for a book to read while staying home, or you are planning on visiting New Mexico in the future, I’d highly suggest The Zunis: Self Portrayals. Just come with an open and curious mind, and enjoy the stories that the Zuni people have graciously shared with the rest of the world.

Daydreaming Pt. II: A Japan Photo Essay

I realized that two years ago today, I took my inaugural trip to Japan with a couple buds – a whirlwind journey across several cities in seven days (Flight connections don’t count, ESPECIALLY not the time that I got stuck in the Narita airport.)

I bounced around Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Tokyo and had a roaring good time. I will admit that when I went back to review my photos, I was disappointed to find that I did a pretty terrible job of taking photos this trip. And for the photos I did take, I was absolutely awful at documenting where they were taken (except for vague notions of the city and general area). I’d like to make the excuse of being happily overwhelmed by each place we visited to take too many photos, but ultimately I left my DSLR behind for most outings because it was so INCREDIBLY humid and toasty at the end of August there that one sweaty afternoon of lugging around a heavy camera and backpack was ENOUGH.

I hope this smattering of photos will still bring you joy, as it does for me.
















Looking forward to the next time I can set foot in Japan – I’ll take better notes this time around, I promise.

Keep dreaming,

Vulture Peak Trail: Exploring the Wild Desert in Phoenix’s Backdoor

Vulture Peak Trail is not far from Phoenix, but it’s one of the best places to experience the beauty of the wild desert.

Many people think that the desert is an empty wilderness, marked here and there by beautiful sandstone canyons and oases. So, what’s the big deal when more houses are built? The desert is just a big, natural parking lot already, right? Come explore Vulture Peak and hiking near Wickenburg AZ to see that this isn’t at all the case. The Sonoran Desert is one of the most biodiverse deserts in the world! When you hike here you can enjoy beautiful saguaros, and a landscape that changes dramatically with rain and temperature change when plants blossom at the first chance. As plants shift and color the landscape, animals like coyotes, snakes, sheep, deer, mountain lions, and even burros thrive.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

And rising above it all is the brilliant red Vulture Peak, which you can marvel at as you struggle up its slopes. Then enjoy the breathtaking views of the wide-open landscape at the top. The desert is alive and beautiful! Explore Vulture Peak Trail to get a taste for just how amazing the Sonoran Desert is.

General Must-Know for the Vulture Peak Trail

Trail Length: 2 miles to the peak saddle, making the round trip hike 4 miles

Trail Difficulty: First half- Moderate; Second half- Difficult to extreme

Cost of entry: Currently free (2020), but future entrance fees to support maintenance of the area will be implemented.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

The Vulture Peak trail is located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, which means that much of the area that you will be exploring is federally owned. The BLM allows for multi-use and the general experience of their lands is that they are very hands-off; they don’t have the manpower and resources to provide lots of facilities, and support for visitors. However, as of 2020, Maricopa County is working with the BLM as a partner to develop and maintain this trailhead. This means that a lot of changes coming to this spot.

At the beginning of 2020, you had to take a pretty rough (for a car) dirt road down to the trail. Eventually there will be a small visitor center here, bathrooms, established campgrounds, and spaces for educational programming. This means that some construction will be happening soon. Once this is complete, the impacts of users will be more contained and there will be more resources for visitors. Along with Hassayampa, this is poised to be one of the most beautiful and accessible trails for hiking near Wickenburg AZ.

All that being said, check the Maricopa County website before finalizing your trip, as the trail may be inaccessible during construction.

Getting to the Trailhead

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

No matter where you are coming from, there is only one paved road that you can use to access this trailhead, Vulture Mine Road. The primary access will be from the north. If you are coming from this direction, you will access this road from the 60. Coming from Phoenix, this means that you will need to pass through the little town of Wickenburg. (If you do, be sure to stop by one of the local restaurants or shops after your hike!)

You can access the trail from the south. That will require taking Aguila Road from 355th Ave up from the I-10. This will have you following a small road for a pretty long distance through the desert. So, it’s not a route that I would suggest to most people coming from out-of-state, because you will miss some very beautiful views of Lake Pleasant and cute, little Wickenburg. The northern route has more on it by way of established things to enjoy. That being said, if you want to enjoy more of the open desert, without development, the longer southern route might be a nice adventure for you. Don’t expect bathrooms or services if you come from the south.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Once you see the sign for the trailhead, you will turn east onto a small dirt road (for the moment). You will follow the dirt road for 1-2 miles. This won’t be any problem for a high-clearance vehicle, but there are some challenging sections for cars. The trailhead will be apparent due to some outhouses and a ramada as well as a wide, circular parking area.

As I mentioned previously, the Vulture Peak Trail will be seeing some pretty considerable changes soon, so please consider this a guide to early 2020. Please refer to the Maricopa County website before planning and finalizing your trip to insure that the trail is still accessible when you plan on visiting.

Experience on the Trail

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

As I mention above, there is an outhouse at the trailhead (as of early 2020), but a friend of mine mentioned that she found it to be very dirty. You might opt for going to the bathroom before you leave Wickenburg.

From the trailhead, you will find yourself perched up above a wide wash, with the mountain clear in the distance with its southern edge of stony teeth, and it’s northern plateau. Between you and the mountain is something like a maze of washes and hills rising up to Vulture Peak’s base.

For the Vulture Peak trail itself, you will currently find the beginning of the track to be a little confusing, due to the many spider trails and ATV tracks. Vulture Peak is fairly apparent from far away, however, so you can use that as a point of reference as you navigate the trails.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Head down into the wash, following signs for the trail, and stick with the track as it crosses a fence. This is where you are most likely to get lost, so pause when you get to the bottom and locate the trail sign. Try to avoid following the larger ATV roads, as these sometimes have people riding fairly fast on them. However, if you can’t find the trail otherwise, you can opt for one of these dirt roads.

If you get going in the right direction on the actual Vulture Peak Trail, you will find yourself steadily gaining elevation as you pass through washes and climb up and down hills. Even though you might be tempted to hurry because the peak is off in the distance, please don’t. This part of the trail is a great warm up for the ascent, but it’s also a great place to enjoy spring blooms, or to just experience the vibrant Sonoran Desert life no matter the time of year. In any case, this part of the trail is wide open to the elements, so don’t expect shade here (or up on the mountain if you aren’t climbing in the morning).

Up the Mountain

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Eventually, the trail will pass through a jeep/4 wheel parking area with some informational signs, and this is where you will start to gain elevation at a much faster rate. If you aren’t an experienced hiker or it is starting to get hot, this is where you should turn around.

If the weather is good and you are feeling strong, start making your way up the mountain. Initially, as you work your way up the base, you will be on a steeper version of the trails that you have already traversed. As you get higher, you will move up into the stony landscape that makes Vulture Peak Trail so special and beautiful. Here, if you aren’t familiar with Arizona trails, you may find things to be a bit rough. You will need to scramble up rocks and in some places it will get so steep that you will find yourself walking up portions of trail that feel more like a staircase than anything else.

After quite the tiring climb, you will find yourself at the saddle where you can look down into the sweeping landscape on the other side of the mountain. If you stop here and turned around, you would have visited of the most beautiful places for hiking near Wickenburg AZ.

Considering the Summit

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Bagging to the summit of the Vulture Peak Trail is something that I actually would not recommend. That is because getting to the summit is not a hike after the saddle, it is a climb.

While this is a doable climb without equipment, it will require hand-over-hand scaling of a rock face. That means that it is much more dangerous than the trail that you take to the saddle. If you were to slip and fall here, your odds of getting very hurt are high. Furthermore, the times of the year when it is most comfortable for humans to hike about is also the best time for snakes to sun on the rocks. That means that there is a chance you will stick your hand right into a rattlesnake’s personal bubble on your way up… That’s not a situation that you want to have happen to you, especially not in a wilderness situation.

All that being said, if you are tempted to try for the summit, you should be a comfortable climber, you should not be alone, you should have very good shoes and gloves, and you should move slowly so that you can check for wildlife before you place your hands and feet.

All this in mind, it would be best to spend some time enjoying the view from the saddle, and then head down.

Safety Concerns

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Remember that you are responsible for your own safety and well-being in nature. Always travel with a hiking companion and let others know where you are going and when you expect to be home.

(1) NEVER hike in Arizona when the temperatures are above 100 degrees. It may be dry, but it is brutally hot and the dry air will sap you of your internal water content. Furthermore, when the air is hot, the ground will be even hotter. This means that if you become exhausted in the heat and need to sit down, you will get even hotter. Just be careful and smart. In the spring and fall, head out early in the morning, and avoid hiking in the summer altogether if you don’t have experience with our heat.

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

(2) You will need more water than you think, and snacks as well. Never hit the trail in Arizona without plenty of water. A good rule of thumb is that you should turn around when your water is half gone. Believe me, you don’t want to hike in the desert without water on hand; it is extremely uncomfortable on a good day and can be deadly. A salty snack is also a helpful way to get a dash of electrolytes, and a little bit of sugar can give you a boost of energy when you need it.

(3) Bring the right gear. Wear hiking shoes. This is no place for running shoes, since the trail is very steep, and it’s definitely not a place for sandals. Furthermore, you should bring a small first aid kit. And a comb in case you end up with some cholla in your leg.

Responsible Use

vulture peak trail

(c) ABR 2020

Stay on the trail to save plants and animals that you can’t see. The desert is very good at hiding its biodiversity. So stepping off the trail can crush seeds waiting to sprout, essential soil bacteria mats, or the homes of little animals escaping the sun and heat.

Take your trash with you to keep the desert beautiful and healthy. Plastic and wrappers can last for a very long time before breaking down. Over that time they may kill animals that consume them. You’ve come to experience the beauty of the desert, so please leave it just as lovely as you found it.

Other Hiking Near Wickenburg AZ

hassayampa river preserve

The Palm Lake (c) ABR 2019

My favorite alternative hike in the Wickenburg area is Hassayampa. It is not remotely similar to Vulture Peak Trail. It’s only got short hikes, and it is in a lush, green riparian area. However, it’s a great place to experience what happens in the desert when you have water. And you are sure to see birds and small mammals if you visit.

If this was helpful to you, please share!

vulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trailvulture peak trail

Black Lives Matter

Black lives matter.

If we truly are allies, we have to do better now and forever to speak out against and crush anti-black racism in our communities.

Below are just a few resources to get you involved, to help you start conversations, to help you learn. Feel free to share.  A couple of them are targeted toward the Asian community (Asian-American, here), but I think these practices can apply broadly.

Ways You Can Help

Anti-Racist Resource Guide by Victoria Alexander

20+ Allyship Actions for Asians to Show Up for the Black Community Right Now by Michelle Kim

6 Ways Asian Americans Can Tackle Anti-Black Racism in Their Families by Kim Tran

Let’s work to make anti-blackness unacceptable in every space we inhabit. Let’s show up for black lives.


Dear readers,

I wanted to take the time to express my support for the BlackLivesMatter movement.

I try not to ignore the dark history of our country, even as it saddens me to reflect on the tragedies of the past. One of the darkest parts of our history is the ongoing, systematic oppression of African Americans, which started with slavery and has continued through the misuse of laws and power structures. We should not continue to turn a blind eye to this, and change is possible, necessary, and moral.

African Americans have always and continue to contribute in every way to what makes the United States beautiful and vibrant. It’s past time for our communities to come together with them to elevate their voices and call for the changes necessary to make our shared home a place where we can all be safe, free, and supported in the pursuit of our dreams.

Here are some more resources, which were shared with me by my friend, Lisa:

How Do You Stay Resilient? – By Dr. Lisa-Marie Pierre

Anti-Racism Resources for White People which was compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein in May 2020

And we also wanted to link out to some of our favorite Black, female bloggers/travel professionals for everyone to check out (in no particular order).

Learn.Grow.Pass is a complex blog- part self-care, part philosophical and ethical musings, this is a great place to go for thoughtful explorations of life and living it well. (This is also Lisa’s blog!)

interNATionalcaty has a travel blog, and she also helps people live out their travel dreams with itineraries, group travel, and more!

A Daily Dose covers a variety of topics, including societal issues, self-care, and living in the Caribbean.

The Thought Card is here to teach you how to afford travel no matter your financial situation.

Caribbean and Co. is building a comprehensive guide to travel in the Caribbean by someone from the Caribbean. I used her resources to plan my most recent trip to Montserrat before the pandemic!


The Un-Planner’s Guide to Seeing the Sights in San Francisco

Un-planner reporting for duty! I’ve been to San Francisco a couple times when I was younger, but this last trip was the first time I really had a chance to check out the city for myself. As I always say, travel tastes vary, but here’s a handful of things I enjoyed during my visit and hopefully you will, too!


Dolores Park – Dolores St &, 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

I only took a stroll through Dolores Park, but if you can find a spot on a sunny day, it would be a great place to lounge and picnic. Pet-friendly, but also has a part of the park separated for those who want some peace from pets. Plus, at the top of the  park’s hill, you can get a great view of the city.


I didn’t spend a ton of time in downtown San Francisco, mostly just walking through to get to other destinations. However, if you’re a fan of old buildings/architecture, they have some beautiful ones to look at.

Plus, you’re not too far from the Orpheum Theatre if you want to see a show. Or, The Embarcadero if you’re itching to see the bay.

The Embarcadero – Along the City’s Eastern Shoreline

The Embarcadero has plenty of things to see along its numerous piers, including the famous (or infamous) Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll recognize the Ferry Building when you see its iconic clock tower – a building that’s both a marketplace and an outlet that leads to actual bay ferries.

Sausalito – Across the Golden Gate Strait

Out behind the Ferry Building, you can take a 15-ish minute ferry ride to Sausalito – a sleepy little city on the bay. (Remember that Clipper card? Only $8 to take the ferry!). On this particular ferry ride, we rode through a bit of chilly fog only to be rewarded with a picturesque view of it rolling down the Sausalito hillside in late afternoon sun. I only spent a short time there, but it seems a good place to relax and eat a quiet meal before you either take the ferry back (if it’s early enough in the day) or drive across the Golden Gate bridge.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is absolutely enormous park – over 1,000 sprawling acres. Entrance to the park itself is free, but it’s chock full of attractions like the Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences and more that have paid admission. I only had time to visit the Botanical Garden, which was still a good couple of hours of strolling.

I honestly think I could have spent most of my vacation here, visiting a new part of the park each day. I look forward to being able to explore more of Golden Gate on my next trip.

Dutch Windmill/Land’s End

At the north end of  Golden Gate Park, you’ll find the old Dutch Windmill. No longer functional, but still worth a look for its impressive size and the various colorful flora surrounding it. It’s about 6-minute drive or a 45-minute to an hour walk from the Botanical Garden to the Dutch Windmill (we opted to ride share). When you’ve had your fill of the windmill, you basically walk right across the street to the beach.

If you keep walking north up the hill, you’ll find the Camera Obscura. Which is exactly what it sounds like – a large camera obscura. I didn’t enter the Camera Obscura (just a small fee or $2 or $3 admission, I think) or keep walking further still to the Land’s End recreation trail, because I was getting hungry and a search for food prevailed. (If you are looking for a bit of hiking, Land’s End has trails and pretty views.)

Travel Tips:

  • Pack your bag for weather that really can’t decide whether it wants to be warm or cold. If you’re visiting in late summer, like I did, you could see some warm, sunny days that turn quickly to grey fog (thanks to the actual fog rolling in, lovingly named Karl – no really, Karl the Fog even has its own Twitter).
  • Try not to drive, if you can help it. Not only are some streets terrifyingly hilly if you’re not used to parking/driving on steep hills, but the traffic seems to move pretty slowly (especially downtown or during rush hour).
  • Use public transportation, instead! The BART, bus system and streetcars are pretty reliable and if you get a Clipper card, you can use it to pay for basically all major public transport and not have to try to get cash/change together to pay for each ride. (The Clipper is reloadable and you can get one at a BART station.)
  • Speaking of BART stations, there is one right outside the SFO airport, if you want a convenient and inexpensive (only a $9 ride!) option of getting to and from the airport.

Well, that’s a little slice of San Francisco for ya. Looking forward to the next adventure!

A Pin-ny for Your Thoughts


The Un-Planner’s Guide to Surviving San Diego Comic-Con (When You Don’t Have a Ticket)

Q: What do you do when you accidentally take a trip to San Diego during one its busiest events of the year (i.e. San Diego Comic-Con)?

A: You use all your Un-Planner skills to find out ways to have fun, even without a ticket.

Free SDCC Shenanigans

Even if you don’t have tickets to San Diego Comic-Con, there’s still a ton of fun stuff to get into downtown. Plenty of the entertainment networks and companies that are hosting events inside of the convention center also are hosting activities outside for free!

Me, gazing adoringly upon one of my favorite no-nonsense TV characters, Captain Holt.

They had plazas with giveaways and games to play, a karaoke bus, an axe-throwing club, stand-up comedy shows and more! It all just depended on what you wanted to to and how long you were willing to stand in a line.

Tips for More Fun and Less Frustration:

  1. If you hate crowds or waiting in line, this is uh… probably not for you. Organizers seem to have this down to a science though, because the lines move pretty quickly.
  2. If you want to do an event or activity that has limited hours, they’re not joking when they tell you to show up early. We showed up to something at noon that was already booked until it was closing THREE hours later.
  3. If you want to avoid steep parking fees and traffic, rideshare/cab your way downtown. Or, if you are driving, use a parking app to pre-pay for parking downtown. If you don’t mind walking an extra ten minutes toward the convention center, the parking garages and lots are basically half the price of those closer.
  4. Maybe this tip is obvious, but if you’re meeting people downtown, don’t make them try to find you in the crowds. I thought the Coin-Op Game Room bar and arcade was a pretty good meeting place for those 21+. It was easy to find and being farther away from Comic-Con made it way less crowded.
  5. This is less of a tip and more of a helpful suggestion for food, especially in the packed Gaslamp Quarter. Cafe 21 has plenty of seating and killer happy hour (just look at this precious fondue board).

If you find need a break from all the fanfare, may I suggest these activities/places:

The Balboa Theatre

If you enjoy the theater (or even funky architecture – the building was built in 1924!), check out what’s going on at the Balboa Theatre. We saw a live podcast show here and it was both an entertaining and relaxing end to our day.

Convoy Street

About 15 minutes from downtown (without traffic), in the Kearny Mesa area, there is an amazing cluster of Asian restaurants and shops along Convoy Street. Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese food – you name it, it seems to be there.

Tip: Once again, parking can get kind of dicey here. So either rideshare/cab it to the area or if you’re driving, you might have some luck parking in the complex that Mitsuwa Marketplace is in and then walking from there.

Here are a couple popular places that I visited that I really enjoyed:

Mitsuwa Marketplace

I wish we had a Japanese grocery store like this in Arizona! In addition to Asian grocery and beauty items it would be hard to find in most stores in the U.S., they also have five little restaurant/food stands inside.

We grabbed some tasty ramen bowls at Santouka Ramen – there were a ton of different options and combos to choose from. I got my usual Shoyu.

Tip: This stand is cash only.

Somi Somi/Sul & Beans

Somi Somi and Sul & Beans are two excellent Korean dessert establishments in one building. We ate Somi Somi, which has soft serve and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake with filling). Or you can go nuts and get the soft serve IN the fish-shaped cone with a filling.

Matcha and black sesame soft serve in a goldfish waffle cone with Nutella filling. Honestly, can you believe this thing?

Hillcrest Farmers Market

If you really want to wind down your weekend, it’s worth taking a trip out the Hillcrest Farmers Market.  The market is open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Normal Street. Here you can take in some live music, check out the craft stalls and of course, enjoy a wide variety of food from their many vendors.

Veggie dumplings and BBQ pork bun from House of Bao.

See? Even if you don’t make it into Comic-Con, there’s plenty to do! (But maybe next time, I’ll plan ahead. Maybe.)

Until We Meet Again,

In My Humble O-PIN-nion

Struggling with Rejection and Facing Imposter Syndrome


I promised myself in January that I would publish more personal posts this year, but despite going through some very difficult stuff since 2019 started, I haven’t written a peep about myself. It’s most because sharing failures online is extremely difficult, and partially because I don’t want to feel like I’ve overtaxed my “complaints” quota for the year. However, I’ve come back around to this idea because I think sharing our struggles and failures might encourage other people in the same boat. And while it might not be relevant to travel, it’s part of my story, for better or worse.

So, here goes.

Surprise- Your Dream Job Isn’t Happening

In January, I was working as a contract research analyst, and my contract was ending in February. However, I was assured that my position would turn into a full-time position, as my boss was leaving, and they needed someone to man the helm of my project. I was extremely excited. This was everything I had wanted. It let me keep doing research, while also developing skill sets that are valued outside of academia.

Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t to be. Less than a week before my contract was up I was informed that no money had been set aside to hire me. I felt like I was dealing with a bad breakup… the sense of hope and excitement that I felt at the very beginning of the New Year still haunts me when I consider where I am now. I needed to mourn, and honestly, still am. But at the same time, I put myself through some emotional hell in order to put in a last ditch efforts to defend my post. I was hopeful out of desperation, but the headaches and restrained tears amounted to nothing.

It was over.

And I had gone from nearly having a dream job to having… nothing.


Ever since then, I have been submitting application after application. I’ve taken classes on how to apply better, reached out to my network, and I’ve poured my soul into cover letters. In two months, all it has amounted to is one interview, for which I was rejected.

My previous supervisors and professional network do their best to remind me that this is normal, and that all this is not a reflection of my quality as a researcher and professional. I know all the stats about finding a job by applying, and how key it is that you know someone where you are applying. But as much as I have worked on developing a professional network, no one I know has any leads. So, I can’t help but internalize all these rejections as failures.

At the same time, I must admit that I have committed the cardinal sin of comparing myself to other people. I feel lucky to even get a straight up rejection instead of being silently tossed in the trash, and interviews seem out of the question. Meanwhile, I see other grad students graduating and heading straight into great post-docs and academic positions. I’ve even seen people on a PhD job search support group say that finding a post-doc would be “so easy” for them. If everyone else can seemingly do it, what’s wrong with me?

An Imposter In Our Midst

Inevitably, this had led me to a place where I realize that I have developed imposter syndrome in many aspects of my life.

I earned my PhD in conservation biology, but I don’t feel like a scientist. Five years ago, I thought getting my PhD was impossible, and then I did it, but now I feel like this isn’t enough. I haven’t found a post-doc. I was never funded by NSF. I don’t have as many publications as other scholars. I don’t write and talk in stilted, science-speak.

I love hiking, but can I call myself a hiker? I don’t have the best gear. I can’t always force myself to go longer trips. I am slow. I get tired. Sometimes hiking even gives me a migraine.

I’ve been blogging for almost two decades, but can I apply the label, blogger? I don’t have tons of followers and readers. My social media accounts have stagnated in terms of growth. I don’t have the time to master SEO. I’m not charismatic enough to pull people in with my smile alone.

This undermines my confidence, and makes me feel like an outsider even in communities and spaces where I have spent a decade or more. When will I ever feel like I have earned these titles?

New Resolutions

Probably never, unless I decide that I can claim them. I know it is easier said than done, and I don’t know where I will be in a few months or the end of this year. Will I feel like I am back on track towards the life I want to make for myself. Or will I feel more lost than ever? I can’t say. Rejection and imposter syndrome go hand-in-hand, and I don’t think I will escape the first any time soon.

So, I guess it’s just high time I start making the claims I know I deserve, whether or not I can believe it about myself yet. I am a scientist. I am a blogger and writer. I am an outdoors woman. I am an explorer.

I will let you all know how this leg of my journey goes.

Dos and Don’ts for la Republica Dominicana

Dos and Don’ts in the Dominican Republic (Republica Dominicana)

(1) DO explore beyond the resort limits. There is alot of talk about how dangerous the Dominican Republic is, but I lived and road tripped there for a summer as a solo female and found it to be safe. Of course, you need to be careful (see my safety tips on my post about Santo Domingo), but don’t let caution keep you from experiencing all this country has to offer.

la republica dominicana

Hiking near Bayahibe (c) ABR 2016

(2) DON’T go with a bad attitude. There are many struggles that the Dominican people face, and entitled tourists shouldn’t be one of them. Know that this is a developing country, and that sometimes you will need to be patient. While people may speak English, Italian, and other languages in the very touristy areas, most people speak only Spanish comfortably. It is polite to know at least enough to ask for directions, help, order food, etc. Don’t expect people to speak your language unless this was specifically promised by a tour company.

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

(3) DO join in with the Dominican philosophy of enjoying yourself, and let the Caribbean air lift your spirits. I have never lived anywhere that naturally made me as happy and energized la Republica Dominicana. The environment is beautiful and inspiring, and the people have genuine love for life that I think is infectious. Dance, eat good food, and relax.

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

(4) DON’T let “what happens in the DR stays in the DR” be your moto. There are serious concerns for sexual exploitation in the Dominican Republic, and drunk driving is extremely common. Please stay safe and avoid both of these things. If you would like to go the extra mile and help people who are interested in getting out of prostitution in the Dominican Republic, please read more about these nonprofits (;

(5) DO enjoy the full suite of things that the Dominican Republic has to offer. You can’t really know the DR well from a resort or cruise ship. There are beautiful beaches, of course, but there are also sweeping mountains, world-class caves, waterfalls, delicious foods, a complex history, and so so much more to experience and learn more about in la Republica Dominicana.

la republica dominicana

A whip spider- a peaceful resident of Caribbean cave systems (c) ABR 2016

Five Cultural and Historical Facts About the Dominican Republic That You May Not Know

(1) Before Europeans came to the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic was home to the Taino people, who left behind beautiful cave paintings, and once thrived in relatively large cities and settlements across the northern Caribbean. The spirit, culture, and DNA of these people lives on in Dominicans to this day, as it does in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the other islands where the Taino once lived.

(2) Historic Santo Domingo was once home to Christopher Columbus’ son, and even claims to house some of Columbus’ remains (hotly debated and potentially debunked). This country has some of the deepest historic roots for the colonial “new world.”

la republica dominicana

Tres Ojos! (c) ABR 2016

(3) The Dominican people celebrate their independence from Haiti, rather than Spain. In 1822, shortly after Haiti fought for and won its independence from France, they took over their neighbor. The invasion was unwelcomed, and to this day there is an ongoing conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

la republica dominicana

Santiago de los Caballeros (c) ABR 2016

(4) There is a national meal that is often eaten at lunch, called la bandera (learn more about it at Dominican Cooking). This is a great meal for budget travelers, foodies, and anyone interested in Dominican culture. Traditionally, fish, yuca, and plantains are also staples in la Republica Dominicana.

la republica dominicana

Historic artifact from old Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

(5) While Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic, there is a specific way that Dominican’s speak which can be hard even for fluent Spanish speakers to understand, let alone people learning. Dominican Spanish tends to shorten many words, and of course, there are plenty of colloquial terms found nowhere else in the world. This is just another indication of how vibrant Dominican culture is.

Thanks for reading! If you want to know more about the Dominican Republic, our guide will fill you in!

Five Natural Attractions in the Dominican Republic

Punta Cana seems to be where lots of people end up when they visit the Dominican Republic. After living in the DR for a couple months, I came to realize that this city is more like a theme park than a real part of the country. So, whether or not you are staying in Punta Cana for your tropical get-away, please be sure to consider these amazing natural attractions in the Dominican Republic.

Cueva Fun Fun

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

The exit of Cueva Fun Fun (c) ABR 2016

Ok, Cueva Fun Fun is an activity that you can do from Punta Cana, but it isn’t in Punta Cana. The only way to visit this cavern is via a guided trip. But that’s fine because it takes a horse ride, a hike, and a rappel to get into the cave. That’s just the beginning of the adventure, because once you are down there you also have to wade through cold, subterranean water. Whether you are looking for an adventure, or you want to know more about the many jewels that the Dominican Republic has to offer, Cueva Fun Fun is a great place to start.

I have seen some seriously amazing caves in the Caribbean (Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico), and this was one of the coolest. They will pick you up from Punta Cana, so its a great trip for people staying in the Dominican Republic’s biggest tourism hub. That being said,  this trip is best suited for people that are comfortable with horses, heights, and swimming in the dark.

Pico Duarte

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

A view from the side of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

I have an entire series about my experience attempting the summit of the Dominican Republic’s highest mountain, so be sure to read about the whole adventure. Pico Duarte is a Caribbean place that’s unlike anything you have ever seen. The base of the mountain is draped in those tropical forests that we’ve all come to expect from the islands of the Caribbean.

As you struggle your way up the steep trail, you will make your way into a deciduous forest type that seems so ubiquitous to higher regions. The transition between the two is unbelievably beautiful, and the vistas from Pico Duarte are jaw-dropping. If you love hiking, Pico Duarte might be your favorite of the natural attractions in the Dominican Republic. You can even make the trip a bit cheaper by carefully driving to the base and hiring a local guide from one of the small towns at the base.

Bayahibe and Soana Island

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

The beautiful waters of Soana Island (c) ABR 2016

Bayahibe, the tiny town near the larger village of Dominicus, is my favorite town on the whole island. It is small, safe, and so so beautiful.  I loved the peaceful atmosphere and amazingly fresh foods of this small town. Bayahibe is also home to a very cool non-profit called FUNDAMAR which works with local people to study and protect the marine mammals. Their hotel association is active in its efforts to make this area an ecotourism and sustainable tourism hub. In terms of activities, there is no end to the things you can do.

A day trip to Soana island will lead you to shallow waters with brilliant orange starfish, and a small island with a colorful village and grassroots effort to protect nesting marine turtles. There is also Padre Nuestro and the Parque Nacional de Este where you can explore some caves and even swim in one (although the trail markers in Parque Nacional de Este are non-existent, so be careful). Bayahibe is a haven for sustainable travelers and lovers of the outdoors.

Samana and Los Haitises National Park

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

Samana Village and the surrounding forest (c) ABR 2016

Samana is the village to visit if you want to go whale watching, although this is changing. Even if you get to the Dominican Republic after whale watching activities move closer to Punta Cana, this town and the peninsula for which it is named is a must-visit. The village itself is quite lovely, and a long bridge out into the ocean. There are, however, lots of tourist hawkers here, so it can be a bit chaotic.

El Salto de Limon is nearby, and while it is threatened by climate change, this waterfall is too beautiful to miss. Besides whales, beaches, and beautiful towns, Samana is an access point for the beautiful Los Haitises National Park. Here in the otherworldy karst landscape, you can explore caves, grand mangrove forests and more with the help of a guide. There is really no end to the natural attractions in Dominican Republic’s northern peninsula.

27 Charcos

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

A picture from Dominican Republic Has It All (click the image to visit their website!) because I didn’t have a waterproof camera. :/

I went to the 27 Charcos without really knowing what it was, although I knew there were waterfalls involved and my friends assured me that it was very enjoyable. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my time in the Dominican Republic. I do wish I had known a bit more about what this was before I went. The 27 Charcos tour will take you down a beautiful gorge with bright blue water and a string of waterfalls that you jump and slide down.

This definitely is not a tour for people with a fear of heights or water. Bring shoes that you are comfortable hiking in and swimming in. Our guide rushed us through the tour, unfortunately, and I would suggest that you take your time on the way down. Also, bring a waterproof camera or rent one, because this place is extremely beautiful, and I have never seen another place quite like it.

If you are planning a trip to the Dominican Republic (or are just interested in learning more about the country) be sure to look through our country guide!

Chasing Waterfalls in Ithaca, New York

I was recently sent to the small, idyllic town of Ithaca, New York for work. Before I left, I didn’t know anything much about this small community, except that it was home to Cornell University. Scanning some maps, I figured it looked like a nice place to hike in the early morning before work. So I hoped to balance the stress of our upcoming report with some fresh, outdoor air. Turns out, there are also many waterfalls in Ithaca, and it has some of the most amazing cascades that I have seen.

waterfalls in ithaca

Buttermilk Falls State Park (c) ABR 2018

Getting There

There are two ways to get to Ithaca, by car or by plane… sometimes a mix of both is necessary.

For me, traveling to Ithaca was something of an adventure. Ithaca is sort of in the middle of New York state, at the tip of a finger lake. The airport there is tiny, basically consisting of one large room where you can pick up rental cars, check in for flights, go through security, and wait at your gate. The planes that fly there are fittingly small, and the number of flights to the area is limited.

So, when my flight from Philadelphia to Ithaca got cancelled in the afternoon, I waited on stand-by for the night flight. Then I had to spend the night in Philly so that I could be squeezed onto another plane in the morning. Experienced travelers opted for a rental car as soon as they heard that the flight had been cancelled. They made the drive out there in the time that I was waiting to see if I would fit onto the night flight.

waterfalls in ithaca

Downtown Ithaca (c) ABR 2018

Around Town

Despite my exhaustion upon arrival, Ithaca won my heart right away. Perched on the edge of the Cayuga finger lake, and surrounded by wooded hills, the place has a peaceful air. Many of the houses are of the beautiful Victorian style (although there are actually a lot of different styles- check out this site for more info if you are interested), and coming from cookie-cutter Phoenix, I always appreciate the unique style and character of homes like these. I was lucky enough to stay in one myself, a lovely little Airbnb just a ten minute walk from Ithaca’s pint-sized downtown.

There, I found all sorts of delicious restaurants and unique shops. Most importantly, there was a very good NY bagel shop in the area, which sated my addiction for tasty bagels. There are also a huge variety of places that will help out your lazy side by delivering straight to your accommodations. And if you are in Ithaca over the weekend, a stop by their beautiful farmer’s market in the morning is a must. They had a lovely, wooden structure built for the weekly event right on the lake edge. I’ve never seen a more beautiful farmer’s market myself, and the food there was exceptionally fresh and tasty.

waterfalls in ithaca

Tasty waffle from the farmer’s market (c) ABR 2018

Waterfall Heaven

So, what about waterfalls! I came here for waterfalls!

Ok, yes, while I would be remiss to let you know how cute Ithaca is, it is time to talk about waterfalls. Ithaca has a lot of them. If you are in town, there are some nice walks near campus that will take you along gorges and waterways with falls. These landscapes have an interesting mix of wildness and the manicured, human touch. But I would like to focus on three state parks close to town, where I saw my favorite waterfalls and do some nice hiking.

Check the NY State Park website to see if you will need to pay a fee or not for any park, and to make sure that the trails you want to explore are open. These things vary throughout the year. Now, without further adieu, waterfalls in Ithaca…

Buttermilk Falls State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

Buttermilk Falls (c) ABR 2018

Buttermilk Falls State Park is the closest of the three parks to Ithaca, and the waterfall for which the park is named is visible from the highway.

If you are looking for a relaxing experience, even a picnic or moment of quiet contemplation, Buttermilk Falls is a great place. You can roll up, get out, and enjoy an amazing view. This waterfall is impressively tall and its stoney backdrop is made up of layers upon layers of stone, which inspired its name.

waterfalls in ithaca

Beautiful gorge in Buttermilk Falls State Park (c) ABR 2018

If you are like me and want to get a bit of hiking in, this is a great park to be. I took the Gorge Trail up to Treman lake, where I looped around the water’s edge and then followed the Gorge Trail back to my car (almost 5 miles of hiking). I had initially planned on walking the Rim Trail on the way back to the parking lot, but I really fell in love with the Gorge Trail. There are smaller waterfalls all the way up to where it crosses the highway and becomes Bear Trail. The track follows the edge of the stream that flows down from the lake, cutting its way through the many layers of rock that will surround you on all sides.

Taughannock Falls State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

That waterfall I always forget how to spell, but blows you away when you see it (c) ABR 2018

If there is one park that you see while you are in Ithaca, this is the one! Taughannock Falls is an impressive waterfall that plunges off of a huge, stone cliff into a misty basin. This is a popular spot on the weekend, and for good reason.

It’s about a one mile hike (two miles there and back) on a flat, wide trail from the trailhead to the falls. This meanders along the side of a shallow stream, through a deep, tree-lined gorge. If you go in the morning, during the week, this is a perfect place for a peaceful walk. But if it’s a weekend outing, I think this would be a great park for the whole family (as long as everyone is safe near the water and obeys all park warning signs).

waterfalls in ithaca

(c) ABR 2018

For those looking for a more strenuous hike, the Rim Trail will take up from the parking lot to the top of the gorge. Alternatively, if you want to see the falls but can’t make the hike, there is a beautiful overlook with a lovely visitor center that you can drive to and enjoy the falls from above. When your waterfall-filled morning is over, you can then go enjoy the lake, which is accessible from the park.

Robert Treman State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

This waterfall was taunting me with the awesomeness of the gorge trail which was closed when I was there (c) ABR 2018

Robert Treman State Park was my last stop on my trip, because I really wasn’t expecting all that much from this park. I was in for a big surprise though, because I left thinking that this may have been my favorite of the three, and was definitely the best hike of the week.

There were two main trails that leave from the Lower Park Entrance, the Rim and Gorge Trail. I was hoping to make a loop out of both of them, but sadly, the Gorge Trail was closed when I visited (I am guessing this was due to the time that I visited, right after winter). I took the Rim Trail up to Lucifer Falls and the cliff staircase. On the way there, the track took me up the rim, through a lush forest with a floor that was home to little orange salamanders that resorted to being as still as they could when I came near. When the trail dropped back down to the stream-level, it twisted its way through flower-carpeted stands of trees, before climbing up the cliffs for an exhausted view of the falls.

Alone in the park, in the fresh air, I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place. In some ways, it doesn’t seem possible that this park could share a state with NYC. Looking down, I couldn’t help but feel sad that the Gorge Trail was off limits while I was there. I could see the trail from the rim and its was absolutely beautiful!

Whatever else you do western New York State, be it work like me, school, or just exploring, I hope that you take the time for chasing waterfalls in Ithaca.

waterfalls in ithaca

waterfalls in ithaca

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