mountain getaway {mammoth}

mammoth 9
mammoth 8
mammoth 7
mammoth 6
mammoth 5
mammoth 4
mammoth 3
mammoth 2

"Going to the mountains is going home". This John Muir quote was posted on a sign for departing visitors of Mammoth and as we drove past it - leaving behind an incredible weekend of reconnecting with friends and nature - I smiled and thanked Mr. Muir for the reminder. The mountains have never felt more like home than they do right now and I'm really relishing the opportunity to enjoy them while we're in LA. For Christmas they were just one and a half hours away and for this long weekend, it was six. One day I want to actually live in the mountains, but for now our current proximity is just right to satisfy my nature longings.

It's been a very dry winter so there was hardly any snow in the area and the snow on the slopes was mostly man-made. Not perfect for avid skiers but perfect for me as a newbie. I had only snowboarded four times prior to trying skiing on Saturday and since I never quite got into having my feet strapped into one single unit while facing sideways, I figured that skiing was worth trying. Joe, being the pro that he is, spent the day with me playing instructor and after only four runs (with breaks in between because my legs were giving in!) I think I'm on a good track. I have some balance and speed issues to deal with but at least the giant tennis ball size bruise on my left hip proves that I tried.

When we weren't on the slopes we relaxed at the condo/cabin. There were ten of us so it was perfect for playing a variety of card games, one of which was totally new for me: Cards Against Humanity. Have you ever played that? It's pretty awful/hilarious. You really need to be in comfortable company for it, and that we were.

On day two we took a break from the bindings to watch the US Snowboarding Grand Prix for the Olympics. There's nothing like watching pros to make you realize how much of a beginner you are...it all would have been so simple had I learned when I was five like all the other kids doing the "pizza" stance with me...

Luckily the rest of the day included a hike around Convict Lake, something that I felt very comfortable doing on my feet. It was beautiful and just the right time of day to watch the light change on the lake and surrounding formations. I say formations because every side looked different from the other - one with pine trees, one with jagged rock walls, and the other like an uphill prairie. We took our time making the loop, oooing and awwing with every turn that we made. Unfortunately on the last leg there were multiple stretches where the trail was covered in ice, and I slipped and fell on my right hip. Had to balance out the bruise from the previous day, right?! It was worth it though, to get that time in nature with friends, to be out breathing the fresh air, and to simply be surrounded by something so majestic.

Can't wait to go 'home' again.

a mighty good year

wedding in colombia
kota kinabalu
IMG_7822
IMG_7905
Ubud, Bali
Alaska by Ana Maria Munoz
Redang, Malaysia
Melaka, Malaysia
Takayama, Japan
Tokyo, Japan
by Clare Barker Wells shot in KLCC Park, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
hiking in sedona, arizona
Route 66

2013, you were one GREAT year. Challenging, adventurous, stimulating, inspiring, loving, and beautiful...definitely one of the best yet.

In January I could have never imagined that I'd be sharing 90% of the year's highlights below. Every new year brings new experiences and opportunities and seeing them unfold one-by-one is truly a thing of beauty. Every challenge you overcome, every time you say 'yes' instead of 'no', every time you let your self get out of your comfort zone (personally, professionally, and physically), they're all worth recognizing and celebrating.

So cheers - cheers to reflecting on and celebrating the journey had while looking forward to the adventures that await. Have a very happy new year! xx.

2013 Highlights

Launching Ring Cozy

Getting married in Colombia + exploring it with friends

Being featured by Cuyana

Going off the beaten path in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

Photographing the beautiful bags by KAYU

Stay-cationing in KL

Ditching the glasses and getting LASIK

Fishing in Phu Quoc and riding like a local in Saigon, Vietnam

Celebrating one year of living in Kuala Lumpur

Jetting off to Bali for the weekend

Getting married again in Alaska and exploring the Last Frontier

Launching the Love Malaysia Collection with Gin & Jacqie

Snorkeling in Redang Island, Malaysia

Learning to cook our new Malaysian comfort food at LaZat

Park strolling in Bangkok

Exploring and eating in Melaka, Malaysia

Falling in love with Rio De Janeiro in three days

A dream trip to Takayama and Tokyo, Japan

Loving and leaving our flat in KL

Posing for the camera for lasting memories of our time in KL

Road-tripping to Sedona via Historic Route 66

Wrapping up the year with a cozy cabin getaway

a cozy cabin christmas

Christmas 2013 Hi guys! How have your holidays been? We spent our Christmas in the mountains just outside of LA and it was perfect. We booked a great little cabin via Airbnb, rented a car, and loaded up on firewood and groceries for plenty of cooking, drinking, and snacking. The plan was simple: relax and indulge.

Other than driving ten minutes to Lake Arrowhead for a brief visit, we stayed cozied up inside with a roaring fire (Joe is a great Boy Scout) and ate whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. Christmas Eve dinner was just right but the food highlight of the holiday was my batch of Colombian buñuelos. I made them for Christmas in London but last year we sadly had to go without the traditional fried cheese balls of goodness since the cheese we needed simply didn't exist in KL. However, it only made them taste that much better this time around, especially since I got to share them with my family! My sister, brother-in-law, and nieces joined us on Christmas Day, just in time for my girls to help me roll the maza into little balls. After tamales and buñuelos, my nieces and I did Christmas arts and crafts and roasted marshmallows with Tio Jojo using sharpened branches he collected. Needless to say, those girls were two very happy campers!

And so was everyone else. Joe had been happy since we arrived because he finally had an excuse to use the hatchet I bought him three Christmases ago (couldn't take it to London with us) while my sister and bro in-law were happy to kick up their feet and relax while Tia Mu (me) entertained the girls with activities.

It was absolutely perfect. The family time, the quiet time, the nature time. I can't think of a better Christmas gift than the gift of an experience with the ones you love. So happy.

sedona rocks

hiking in sedona, arizonahiking in sedona, arizona hiking in sedona, arizona hiking in sedona, arizona

We're back from our mini road trip where we drove on the Historic Route 66, stopped in a few towns along the way, and took in the beauty of Sedona, Arizona. At first I thought "I can't believe that I didn't take more pictures!" but then I realized that I was enjoying just being there too much. The red rock formations, the sun light, the blue sky ... everything was awesome in every sense of the word and I didn't want to interrupt the moments by taking my camera out. However, during our hike on the last day I did make sure to get some snaps in. We had hiked at least four miles every day since arriving so by that point I felt more comfortable taking the DSLR out knowing that the trails were easy to navigate.

We had the most gorgeous morning sun and the air was perfectly crisp and cool. It was so nice to be outside and be active, a far cry from our activities in KL. There were groups of locals running along the paths and whizzing by on their mountain bikes ... can you imagine having Sedona as your back yard playground? What a treat.

I was surprised with how small the city was (and how sleepy it was at night) but they have done a great job at keeping the area's spirit and beauty in tact despite it's growth and popularity. With imposed height restrictions for buildings and signs, paint colors, and very few commercial chains, you can hike up to any vista point of the city and barely notice the city beneath it's famous rocks. For example, Sedona is so committed to maintaining its natural beauty that the city forced McDonalds to change their Golden Arches into the worlds only Turquoise Arches in order to open!

Also surprising was how much of a forest Sedona is. I had imagined just the red rocks and then maybe red desert sand everywhere else but no, the area is covered in trees. Mostly evergreen types, and of course varieties of cacti, but even more surprising was the location of the wedding we attended. It was creek-side and between the scores of ducks swimming around and the yellow leaves falling off some of the trees, it felt like we could have been in Colorado or anywhere else that wasn't (what I thought) just a desert. Sedona was full of surprises like that. Beautiful beautiful beautiful surprises. Pack your bags and road trip there asap.

 

the door is open!

Finca La Hamaca, Pereira Colombia Bed & Breakfast, Coffee Zone Happy Friday, guys! Joe and I are road-tripping to Sedona, Arizona for a friend's wedding and while there, we'll be staying at a place we booked via Airbnb.

Airbnb is all about Mi Casa es Su Casa so I thought that today was perfect for sharing some fun news from the Muñoz family. If you caught this post from our wedding/holiday in Colombia then you might remember that my parents were planning on opening up our family country home, aka finca, as a bed & breakfast for travelers. Well, the day has come and their door is open - they're now official Airbnb hosts!

If Colombia and the coffee region have ever been on your hitlist, do consider staying with my folks. My mom is crazy for hospitality (her breakfasts have gotten rave reviews!) and my dad loves nothing more than to share his beloved Colombia with people. Seriously, he kept a stack of Colombia related books on the coffee table that he would open up to show to everyone who came by our house.

Now he and my mama are back in Colombia and they can share the real thing from Finca La Hamaca ( the 'hammock country house'). All of the info is on their Airbnb page where they also list some recommended sights to see and things to do. In addition to a hearty breakfast, the price per night includes transportation and guided day trips by my dad - a huge plus in the coffee region where things are spread out and most locals don't speak English.

I could talk the finca up for days but I'll stop myself now in case you do find yourself there. I wouldn't want to spoil all of the surprises ;)

Happy Travels!

 

taking tokyo (japan part II)

Tokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan Tokyo, Japan Tokyo, Japan Tokyo, Japan Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo: expansive, bustling, organized, efficient, clean, convenient ... I could go on. What an impressive city!

With so many different neighborhoods each with their own character and things to do, I feel like we needed at least two weeks to really see what Tokyo is all about. Kinda like when people tell me they've visited LA but only hung out in one or two neighborhoods - it's simply not enough.

We had three days to work with so we spent them taking on some of the busiest train stations in the world, enjoying some sun at the Imperial Palace Park, and shopping at one of the newest malls in town filled with awesome Japanese brands and products.

At night, between dinner and drinks, we people-watched in Shibuya.  The sushi was as amazing as expected but surprisingly harder to find than Italian and hamburger joints. I'm sure it was just our location but the Japanese restaurants we did see seemed to be mostly grilled meats and veggies, not the sushi and ramen we were so desperately craving. I guess that the Hida Beef in Takayama had satisfied that end of the protein spectrum! I think the reason we were so surprised at the quantity of western dining options is because when living and traveling in South East Asia it's easy to forget just how western Japan is by comparison. Not that I'm complaining - next to our hotel was a Tribeca, NY sister restaurant called Bubby's and OMG did I relish a proper American pancake for breakfast!!! Not one place we've tried in KL has come close.

A typhoon during our last full day and night messed with our plans to check out the architecture in Omotesando and visit a few temples. So, back indoors we went, to Tokyu Hands, a long-standing DIY store that we had heard a lot about. Though small in square footage, it has everything you could need from laundry detergent to leather hides and supplies for making purses. It was a plentiful but well curated one-stop-shop dream for someone who's been without a Target and Michael's Craft Store for some time (don't ever take those two for granted, US readers).

Abundance of stuff aside, the other things we experienced were very neat. Heated toilet seats in nearly every public and private restroom (don't knock it 'till you've tried it), easy traveling with Japan Rail Pass, and generally very gracious and pleasant shop keepers, bartenders, and restaurant servers, despite communicating in sign language half the time. Even the taxis were great.  Drivers wore ties and white gloves, and their car doors...they're automatic!  So don't you dare try to open or close them yourself - it's taken care of for you.

With a service-minded culture, delicious food, and incredibly clean and organized streets and transit, Joe and I left feeling like we had to add Tokyo to our "cities to live in" list. Or at the very least return to spend some quality time immersing ourselves. We'll be back, Japan!

taking takayama (japan part I)

this post features interactive captions - hover over each image for the 'dot' to appear.Takayama, JapanTakayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, JapanTakayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, Japan Takayama, JapanTakayama, Japan

We've all heard that sometimes it's not about the destination, but about the journey. In this case, visiting Takayama, Japan was about both. The high-speed train ride up the mountains showed glimpses of rice paddy fields, communal and family farm plots, homes with traditional glazed clay tile roofs, and some mountain scenery to rival anything we've seen in places like Alaska. I could have just done the train ride and been happy!

We chose Takayama by accident. Finding an available ryokan in Kyoto proved challenging (and grossly overpriced) so we expanded our horizon and looked for a similar, culturally charming town with easy rail access. Takayama fit the bill perfectly on paper and exceeded expectations in experience.

It was a quiet time in Takayama: mid-week, after the popular autumn festival, and before the colourful fall foliage. I can only imagine how gorgeous the city looks when the leaves turn to bright reds and yellows. The backdrop of Edo Period homes and shops, all in shades brown and black, would really make those autumnal colors pop. But even lacking the seasonal changes, Takayama was breathtaking. During our first walk in town we went to the main temple, but got sidetracked on an older, obscured stone stairway.  It led to a smaller and more modest temple perched on a hill surrounded by tall cedar trees and peek-a-boo views of the city. After reaching the top, the wind started blowing, leaves started bustling, and music started playing on loudspeakers mounted in the trees. It sounds silly but it felt like such a magical spot. I know that the music was for the ceremonial performances happening down below but it felt like it was meant just for us to hear at the top of that path. From that moment on we knew that we were in for a great couple of days.

We spent the rest of our time strolling the streets stopping to indulge in local specialties like Hida beef, sweet dumplings (mitarashi dango), buckwheat soba noodles, and lots of locally brewed sake. We drank sake like water and it was wonderful. Also wonderful were all of the shops filled with locally produced goods in wood, ceramic, and paper. We didn't hold back in buying souvenirs as we're big fans of the Japanese design aesthetic. Okay, we did hold back a little because there were plenty of hand-crafted chairs that I would have liked to take home with us. It's amazing how they work natural materials so beautifully, everything is treated with the utmost respect and love.

That's the way the entire area felt. The locals were proud of their heritage town and treated it with respect and love. Everyone from our ryokan hosts to the cashier at the riverfront snack shop showed genuine interest in, and gratitude for, our patronage, offering nothing but smiles and good cheer. The streets were pristine and clean, centuries old homes and shops were well maintained and revered, and every effort was made so that visitors had all the info they needed for a positive visit (i.e. directional signposts, tourist info desks among the shops). Even with all the helping hands, Takayama didn't feel overly touristy. It was just right. Just the right amount of traditional charm, ease, and comfort.

At the end of our trip I couldn't help but think "Thanks, Kyoto, for being so popular that we couldn't book ya'". Takayama, may have been a second choice but it sure came out on top.