Beautiful, bountiful, Bellingham

Michael and I have just returned from the tippy-top corner of the lower forty-eight – Bellingham, Washington. A Sunday Funday stretched into a bonus Monday as we hiked and sampled our way through one of America’s spunkiest cities. With seemingly endless mountain trails, maybe more bikes than people, and gloriously crisp weather, it is something of a miracle that anyone ever leaves this quintessentially Pacific Northwestern corner.


Since we do eventually have return flights home, we worked out an itinerary that didn’t sacrifice scenery for brevity. One must-see for any visitor is Mount Baker, one of the Cascades’ iconic peaks. At nearly 11,000 feet above sea level, this stately mountain lends its likeness to everything from theaters to tattoos to brews. In spite of its apparent ubiquity, Mount Baker is surprisingly elusive. We have been working to finagle a glimpse from the eastern side of Lopez Island and finally managed to catch an evening peek from, unsurprisingly, Bakerview Road. That glimpse was nothing like what we were about to encounter from a mere ~30-miles away in Bellingham, though:

DSCN1861Our hike in the Chuckanut Mountains did not disappoint. We were fortunate that this glacial volcano (does that confuse anyone else?) was easily visible and photogenic from our perspective on the big hiking day. Our friends Maria and Tad were such gracious hosts as we marveled at the vistas and tried to ascertain which islands and peaks were which.

DSCN1874Normally Maria and Tad would have barreled down these trails on one of their daily six-to fourteen (!!) mile runs, but this day the pair took “off” to hike roughly seven miles with us instead. Having relocated from Morgantown last fall, Maria and Tad chose Bellingham largely because of its accessible outdoor activities and mild climate. An injury set her back over the winter, but you can’t keep a good woman down.


The day before our visit, Maria had competed in and won a six-mile trail race in Washington’s wine country. Not only did she win the entire race, she shattered the previous women’s record by six minutes! In addition to being a competitive runner, Maria is an avid yogi and newly minted registered dietitian, building up quite the momentum in her work in private nutrition counseling practice.


The two led us through breathtaking forested paths, patiently waiting as I snapped pictures and generally fooled around, taking it all in. Starting at Fragrance Lake, we wound down, up, and around for a memorable day of hiking in perfect weather. In addition to an appreciation for the outdoors, Maria and I have  our profession in common and, along with that, a deep appreciation for green leafy vegetables. She and Tad showed us the overgrown version of what looks like spinach, below, and we couldn’t help but ponder how we could cook them up with some garlic and olive oil!


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Going in a different direction

Since our last blog, Michael and I have accomplished a few things. We relocated to north-central West Virginia, he started and finished law school, and we got married, and I changed jobs – twice – just to name a few. What we haven’t done a whole lot of, though, is leave! Needless to say, our travel wings had been clipped for a while, but we have finally found an opportunity to break away for a somewhat extended (two week) stay in the stunning San Juan archipelago of Washington’s Pacific Northwest.

PNW 103

We flew direct from Baltimore to Seattle and then drove from there to here, Lopez Island. How did you do that, you ask? Well, I have made it clear in the past that the majority of our travels would have not been possible if not for the generosity of others. This trip is no exception: We are “borrowing” the home and car of one of Michael’s law professors; our bikes from his (dare I say favorite?) librarian’s family nearby. We’ll be visiting Bellingham and doing a hike on Sunday courtesy of our friends Maria and Tad; it is clear that in general, we get by almost solely on others’ kindness.


This place is serious about a few things, which will likely be emerging themes on this blog: its food, its flowers, and its views. The eating scene here is no joke – on an island of a little over 2200 people (well, make that 2202, now), there are farms around quite literally every turn. Wild roses add natural barriers to man-made fences, and the landscape, rolling and bucolic, is nothing is not pastoral.


We did bring some groceries (sand to the beach, really) from the mainland as we didn’t know if anything would be open/available upon our arrival. In the next few blogs, I’ll fill in the gaps on our latest adventures of shellfish farming, strawberry picking, and my first visit to the Lopez Island farmers market. In the meantime, feel free to visit the Pacific Northwest set on my Flickr page, where I’ll be posting pics (almost) daily. I hope you’ll check back with us and feel free to share your travel tips or cooking ideas! I have the feeling I’ll be working a lot with the largely unfamiliar clams and lamb and salmon – oh my!


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Highlights of Ethiopia: We’re the Students

Ethiopia is an fascinating country, steeped in history, with friendly people and unbelievable scenery. Unfortunately, the internet connections there leave a lot to be desired; hence, this blog is severely overdue.

Of course, we have returned home (?) and are back to what is now our “normal”‘ lives. In a way it’s better that I’m writing this post now – I’ve had time to develop a better understand Ethiopia in retrospect. Truth is, I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to grasp all the emotions I felt while we were there. Ethiopia was all at once breathtaking, heartbreaking, and inspiring.

Coffee Ceremony

The people here were most impressive. Their ingenuity and will to succeed is truly inspiring. They do so much with so little – all the while being thankful for what they do have. This was most evident when Michael and I took an impromptu cooking class. It wasn’t truly a class, but rather a kid invited us over and volunteered his mother to teach us how to cook. It wouldn’t cost us anything, he said, except the cost of the food.

A (rainy) trip to the market and several highway robberies later (we paid a severe penalty for being faranji), we had bags full of native vegetables and enough spices to make enough dora wat for an army.


We started with a coffee ceremony, roasting beans and pouring sugar and thick coffee into tiny cups. We made many different dishes, but the injera was the most memorable. Balancing on logs over an open fire, they heat the gigantic flat pan. It’s circular, and you must pour the injera batter all the way around the edges first, then filling in the middle. They did all this like pros, but generously praised Michael and me for our clumsy efforts.

Pouring Injera

The food is easy to make, and we managed to pay much less for the spices we brought home. By the time we left, we had figured out that they should cost about 1/10th the price they originally tried to charge us!

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Viewer Discretion Advised

The reason for coming to Africa was pretty simple: we were going to do a safari. We had hoped to see the annual wildebeest migration of over one million animals, but we were treated with many great shows.

We made our way from the east coast of Tanzania to the midwest to start our safari in the town of Arusha. There, our driver, James, and our cook, Michael, picked us up at the hotel and we went on our way. We were so excited to start our safari experience. It would be great to be the polar opposite of the zoo life that we had seen at the National Zoo (or any zoo for that matter). We would be the ones in the animals’ territory, boxed into our Land Cruiser, and the animals probably staring at us. 

On the way to Lake Manyara, James stops for our first sighting of a giraffe and zebra on the side of the public highway. James must be good. He has seen thousands of giraffes and zebras during his 15 year career, but he still understands the magnitude of our first sighting. James continues to show us the animals throughout our six day journey; we never tired of seeing lions, leopards, eagles, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, buffalo, or jackals. I became somewhat of a bird-watcher, something that I could never understand to be interesting. However, in Lake Manyara, Serengeti, and the Ngorongoro Crater, the birds were the easiest for me to spot (and then have James identify for us)–you can’t miss something far above the landscape.

How do you pick out the highlights of a six day once-in-a-lifetime journey?

  • Was it the two female lions with 4 cubs following in between?
  • Watching the cubs fight over nursing turns?
  • The elusive leopard lying next to its dead prey in the top of a tree?
  • The 22-member elephant family that walked next to our car?
  • Checking off sightings of the “big-five” (leopards, black rhinos, elephant, buffalo, lion)?
  • Discovering a pride of four lions starting to devour a warthog from 10 yards away?
  • Cheetahs eyeing their potential dinner?
  • A herd of hundreds of wildebeest?
  • Seeing a savannah: thousands of acres of just grass and an occasional tree?
  • Being in the collapsed volcanic crater of Ngorongoro and seeing the 20,000 big animals that make their home there?
  • Or was it this? (Note: If lion pornography offends you, please do not view)

On the last hour of the last day, we had pulled up to the male and female lion lying next to each other. James comments that this showmanship exists during mating season. The lions mate about every 15-30 minutes for one week; if we are patient, we will witness it. And as you can see, James knew his field and his expertise paid off.

The six days of 10 hour animal watching went by extremely fast. While the lions provided us with a very vivid and intimate experience, the countless other animal visuals were equally as rewarding.

(We wish we could put other pictures of our journey, but I think we just crippled the Ethiopian internet by uploading this one video.)

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Africa: Mishaps, Misadventures, and Mayhem


After several months of what I would consider careful photo management, I not-so-carefully managed to erase two weeks worth of Tanzania pictures. How could you have done something so stupid, Brooke? you might be asking. And I would tell you it was shockingly easy to lose all our pictures of Zanzibar, Pemba, Arusha, and Moshi. The morning we started the safari, I was checking our memory card for empty space. The screen said “1.6 GB of 3.6 GB used. Format OK?” Yes, I thought to myself, 3.6 GB is the correct format; the card is actually 4 GB, but it always shows up as 3.6. So I clicked OK. And then a little bar of death ran across the bottom of the camera screen, and then in less than one second over 1200 pictures were gone. Forever. I had mistakenly formatted the memory card, which of course deleted all the memory. *Sigh* At least it was before the safari.


Ethiopia’s claim to fame is “13 Months of Sunshine.” Their calendar actually does have 13 months, as they count each month as 30 days then tack on an extra “month” of five or six days at the end of the year. (Note: they also keep time differently. 7am for us is called 1 o’clock here, which kind of makes sense to me – the day starts when it’s light outside. But this has caused some confusion, and we have to clarify if everything is Ethiopian time or our time, which they call European time.)

From our experience, 13 Months of Sunshine couldn’t be further from the truth. At last count we’ve been here nine days, and nine days we’ve had rain. Cold rain. Downpour-style, cold rain. We thought it was funny, this little irony, on the first day.  We were having our clothes washed, which were filthy from safari dirt, and only had shorts to wear when we arrived in Addis Ababa. It was pouring and very chilly, but we made the best of it. This slogan got progressively less funny every day, and peaked on cruelty yesterday when we took a day trip to the Simien Mountains and couldn’t hike because of the downpour and fog. As we’re wrapping up our time here it’s getting kind of funny again, and in spite of the rain we’ve gotten to see some great things. Pictures will follow, we promise, when we find a place where the internet will support the uploading of pictures. That is, unless I manage to delete them all again!


Michael has said that arranging transportation has been our biggest headache of this trip, and is most often the place where we’re being taken advantage of. Finally, though, (finally!!) we outsmarted them. As we left Addis Ababa, we had a very early morning flight and had arranged for a taxi the night before. A staff member at the guesthouse (we’ll call him “Ali”), who had asked us about 1,000 questions about our travel plans the night before, knocked on the door a little before 5:30am – European time – to let us know our taxi had arrived. Then he said, “Pay me and I will give it to him.” This sounded a little shady, and we were busily packing at the time, so we made up a convenient excuse that our money wasn’t handy right away; we would pay the driver when we got out there. When we got to the taxi and loaded our bags, Ali was there with the driver and again said “Pay me, 150 birr.” Why would we pay you? The driver is right here, we’ll pay him. Last night we had negotiated this ride for 100 birr (a little over seven dollars). Wait a minute…. Ali is trying to get a commission (and a huge one, at that!) for a ride we had already arranged for ourselves!

What we surmise had happened is this: The night before, we took our cab home and asked him if he could take us to the airport the next morning, at 5:30. We also told him the Ethiopian time, which is 11:30. He either didn’t show, or Ali chased him away, whereby Ali flagged down his buddy (our imposter cab driver) and was counting on us not recognizing the difference. Then Ali didn’t know we’d been planning to pay 100 birr and were shocked that the price had jumped 50% overnight.

I told Michael this wasn’t our driver. He didn’t have the Che Guevera flag that I’d noticed last night. Michael asked him his name, and I tried to get a look at his face. Neither matched what we were expecting; this was definitely not our guy. Ali, meanwhile, is still trying to get us to pay him 150 birr; 100 of which (we presume) he would give the driver for the cost of the ride, 50 of which would go in his pocket for his trouble. No thanks, buddy! We asked the driver to open the trunk so we could get our bags. The driver, realizing we were on to the scam, gave us our bags and drove away. We told Ali we weren’t interested in his arranging a cab for us, we had already arranged one, and if he didn’t show we would find another. He knew he was busted, and said it would be hard to find a cab at this hour. We said we had an aggreement with someone, and we’d wait. We waited for a bit, but time was of the essence – we had a flight to catch! By now our original driver was pretty late and we would have to find our own ride. We bid Ali a not-so-farewell and made our way to the main road to hail a cab, which we found instantly. It was the same driver that Ali had tried to arrange for us. He gladly took us to the airport (although sans seat belts and the door flew open – twice). For how much, you may be wondering? 100 birr, just as we’d planned.

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