Dina

Dina

travel

Spectacular views and glistening blues: This is Mallorca

Looking at Mallorca's sparking clear waterLooking at Mallorca's sparking clear water

The largest of Spain’s three Balearic Islands, Mallorca genuinely surprised me with its beauty, nature, fulfilment to the taste buds and its charming villages. But besides all that, it’s a fantastic destination for a girls trip!

My best friends have made a pretty cool habit of visiting me wherever I’m living (Austin, Los Angeles, Moscow, and most recently, Madrid). I knew that Madrid would not be worth spending an entire week in while they were taking time out of their busy lives to visit me (Sorry, Madrid), and since they had all been to different parts of Spain, Mallorca came out as one of those destinations we all wanted to check out. And we are so glad we did!

Here’s how to spend 4 glorious days in the sunny Mediterranean island, if you want a good mix of the four pillars of an amazing vacation: beach, culture, hiking and delicious food.

Day 1: Arrive in Palma de Mallorca
We debated whether to stay in the capital or a remote location, and in the end, the choice to stay in Palma de Mallorca paid off. Besides being really beautiful with lots of yummy places to eat and drink, it was a great spot to be based out of (less than 20 minutes to the airport and about 1-1.5 hours to all the other ends of the island).

We picked an AirBnb in the center of Palma. Parking was relatively easy, but beware of the street signs of whether it’s permitted for non-resident parking, as we got a ticket and were almost towed once. Oops! [Insider’s tip: If you do get a traffic ticket while in Spain, you get the fine reduced by half if you pay it online within the first 20 days.]

Having taken an early flight and three of us fighting jet lag, we were sleepy and hungry (when am I not, come to think of it?), so a coffee and quick bite were on the agenda. We discovered a lovely cafe near our place, called Mama Carmen’s. Perfect for a brunch or breakfast, with an assortment of really good coffee and beverages – it was just what we needed to refuel for the day ahead.

Perfect matcha latte at Mama Carmen
Healthy veggie breakfast

Beaches: Our first stop was the coveted Platja des Trenc, a beach that is supposed to be the most beautiful on the island. However, parking was no where to be found, so we had to find a new beach and leave Es Trenc for another day, where we could get an earlier start to find parking. I suggest getting there before 10:00 am to guarantee parking, especially if on a weekend. Keep reading to learn about Es Trenc, as we ended up coming back on our last day.

Nonetheless, the next beach we found would be equally beautiful but slightly harder to get to: Caló des Moro – about an hour away due to small roads; get used to it in Mallorca! This required a bit of a walk from the parking lot and then short hike down to the cove with topless sunbathers and sculpted bronzed bodies (really, it was a great place to people watch).

The water at Caló des Moro is blindingly clear, albeit the small sandy beach is packed to the brim with people like a can of sardines, even in early September when we went. Also, once it gets to be about 5:00 p.m., the sun disappears from the cove, as it is tucked away between the cliffs. Plan to come pretty early to make the most of it here. While there is a tiny drink stand at the top of the cove, you should definitely bring a picnic lunch or snacks if you’re staying for a while.

Calo des Moro
Crowded and beautiful
A very cute, albeit limited drink stand at Cala des Moro

Bonus views: If you hike a bit beyond the path to get to the beach, you can explore the craggy cliffs and beautiful background against the sea and golden sunlight. A prime sunset spot, as long as you know your journey back. We hiked okay in our sandals, but I wouldn’t do it barefoot.

Rewarding, isolated views atop Calo des Moro

Bars in Palma: At night, back in Palma de Mallorca, we had a fun night of food and bar hopping. A great first stop for cocktails is at the Sky Bar rooftop bar of the Hostal Cuba (don’t let the name fool you, as it’s neither a hostel or hotel!) It’s quite nice, actually, with yummy cocktails to match.

Next, we checked out a very unusual bar called Bar Abaco – it’s something between a fruit basket that exploded inside of a swanky mansion that is about to have an Eyes Wide Shut-style orgy. Note: we didn’t witness any orgy, but that’s not to say it couldn’t happen in a place like this. It was an interesting experience, where you can tour the whole house, get a drink at the bar, pretend you’ve gone back in time (or future) to a dystopian Victorian-decorated universe that plays music from all centuries, it seems. Bottom line: A really unique experience worth the pricey cocktails.

Bar Abaco
Photo courtesy of http://www.innasky.com/en/abaco-palmas-schonste-bar/
Image courtesy of http://www.innasky.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/P1720928.jpg

Day 2: Frolics and Folies

Beach Club Gran Folies: After waking up and getting dolled up, we headed to a beach club I had heard great things about called Gran Folies Beach Club, about a 40-minute drive outside of Palma in Andratx. After making a slightly dizzying trip down a mountain, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Balearic Sea with colorful cliffside homes. We were fortunate to get a circular day bed in a prime spot with beautiful views in the club. This beach club has theme parties, like Gatsby Night, where it turns into a party after 8:00 p.m.

Beach Club Gran Folies

Can you spot us?

Now, when I say beach club, I’m not talking about techno-blaring party club scene like Nikki Beach. This is a very relaxed beach club that serves food, drinks and offers folks to escape the hustle of crowded beaches in Mallorca. It’s actually a very romantic and fun spot to get away with your significant other, as we saw many couples here. However, when a fun group of four girls appear in an array of bikinis, safe to say we unintentionally stole the show and disturbed the chill vibe a bit. Everyone was very friendly, and we had a great time.

Note: There are no sandy beaches here, but you can enter the water by walking along the rocks to take a dip, as many people did, and there are stairs going into the water from the rocks. We spent the better part of the day here, swimming, relaxing, eating and just catching up, as best friends who live thousands of miles apart do.

My bikini bod diet is whatever tastes good on vacation
A girls trip for the ages
Dive into the sea to cool off from the sun

For the relatively high amount of money you spend here, I recommend spending most, if not, all day here. The views are really nice and relaxing, the vibe is romantic and you will no doubt wish you could live in this paradise. Soak it all in!

Check out my post on Menorca, Mallorca’s little sister!

Day 3: Towns, beaches and lighthouses

This was perhaps my favorite day in Mallorca, as we really got to explore a full array of what the island has to offer: charming villages, beaches and mountains. Unequivocally we had heard that Sóller and Fortnalutx (pronounced For-nah-looch) were must-see places. Located in the north of the island, they’re about one hour away from Palma. You can take the paid tollway of Highway Ma-11, which is a straight shot through a mountain tunnel, or to take a 30-minute detour through incredibly twisty mountain roads (Ma-11A). We took the tunnel without hesitation, as we wanted to maximize our time in the towns.

Sóller is a perfect place to wander the narrow, cobblestone Balearic streets and have a nice brunch at any of the delicious cafes in the center. As with every European city, there’s a large cathedral (Església de Sant Bartomeu) in the central Plaza d’Antoni Maura.

Charming streets of Soller

But the real treat was the next door town of Fornalutx. It is a medieval gem, enveloped by mountains, picturesque homes brimmed with flowers of every color – and even in September, it was calm and hardly touristy. Take an hour or so to hike through town (I’m not kidding when I say hike, as there are seemingly endless stairs and hills throughout the town). Just about everything about this place is Instagram-worthy!

Soaking it all in
Not crowded, which was the best part

Lush, green and perfect Fornalutx

By this time, we were ready for the beach. We drove to the Northwest tip of Mallorca to explore the long stretch of sandy beach called Platja de Muro. This beach was definitely more crowded and family-friendly, but at least parking was a cinch. The sand is soft, there are no rocks and you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas starting from 10€. The water is crystal clear, despite the beach being crowded and folks playing water sports.

Platja Muro

Taking the plunge off the pier!

Cap Formentor: To top an already adventurous and truly fun day, we chased the sunset on Cap Formentor, or the “meeting point of the winds,” as local Mallorquines call it. And they aren’t wrong! Cap Formentor is a wild peninsula on the eastern tip of Mallorca, giving you stunning (and very windy) views of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range and the glistening Ballearic Sea. There is a crowded observation deck that offers views in all directions, but if you have a daring spirit, drive up the windy mountain road to the Lighthouse of Cap Formentor. The climb up to the actual top of the Lighthouse is an adventure in and of itself, as it’s very steep and the only way in and out. However, it’s phenomenally worth it to watch the sunset from the top.

Views of Cap Formentor
The Lighthouse with steep ‘stairs’ leading to the top for rewarding views
Overlooking Cap Formentor from the Lighthouse

The day wouldn’t be complete without a tasty meal back in Palma at a restaurant called Duke. This turned out to be my favorite meal of where we ate, and I cannot recommend it enough, especially the “artisanally” crafted cocktails. The atmosphere is really fun, dynamic and they really put their heart into every meal they make.

Day 4: White sand and nudist beaches

Before you get excited (or hesitant?) about the nudist beach, let’s start with the fact that in Spain, much like other European countries, it is normal and common to go topless on public beaches. No matter their age, you’ll see women ditching their bikini tops and basking in the sun. As for nudist beach, it was an underwhelming experience, having witnessed only a handful of fully nude folks.

We started the day where we began the trip essentially, at Es Trenc. Only this time we came earlier in the day (on a weekday, I should add) around 10:00 a.m., and we got parking on the street heading leading to the beach easily. Note: you need coins to pay for the parking meters, and you better believe they check the time on those tickets.

Es Trenc is a long stretch of super fine white sand and the clearest, calmest water. It’s not as chaotic as Platja de Muro, especially earlier in the day. To me, this was the best beach of the island.

Soaking up our last day in Mallorca
If you didn’t do a Baywatch run, did you really go to the beach?

For lunch, we drove through a cute town called Ses Salines, where we grabbed a bite at a super trendy and cute restaurant called Cassai.

Trendy, full of light and plants
Bar at Cassai
Gotta stick to the classics sometimes

The next and final beach we decided to visit was Cala Varques, on the southeast part of the island. It was pretty hard to find using Google Maps, and here’s why: this place requires a good 30 minute hike though a forest to reach the Cala. And it’s a nudist beach. I’m talking full frontal of guys and gals. The beach here was definitely 18+, you’ll catch whiffs of marijuana and they sell alcohol with edible straws on the sand. There are people playing music, slacklining, surfing, hiking and just relaxing. The day we went, the sea was quite rough, so swimming in huge crashing waves did not happen. It was a neat beach to check out, but it’s a very particular vibe that I concluded was not for everyone.

A doggies enjoying the sea breeze
Some folks may be brave enough to cliff dive, but it’s very high up and dangerous

Mallorca is the Goldilocks of the three Balearic islands – if you’re looking for a fair-priced European vacation with sunshine, beautiful beaches and tasty bites, look no further – especially if you have a girls trip in mind. Have you been to Mallorca yet?

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travel

Hacks to booking your next flight

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Air travel is usually the most convenient way to get to distant locations, but it is rarely a cheap experience. If you’re anything like me, one or more of the tabs open in your current internet browser will be someone’s travel blog, a flight booking site and Google Maps. You’re always on the lookout for new trips and deals. I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “Okay, the prices are low, I’m gonna book this flight first thing in the morning” only to find out by morning the price has skyrocketed by 30% or much more. You momentarily wonder if there’s a time machine you can use to reverse your stupidity for not booking the trip sooner!

While I can’t offer you a time machine, I can offer you 10 travel hacks and lessons I’ve learned to book the best deals for travel, especially flights. Many of these are taken either by my first-hand experience or what other trusted travelers have sworn by. Happy travels!

  1. If you see a good deal for a flight, book it immediately. Don’t wait even a few hours. There’s usually a 24-hour cancellation period (sometimes even shorter) with 100% money back, so if you really regret the trip the next morning, you can call to cancel it with a refund.
  2. Clear your cookies NOW. On all your devices that you search with. Travel websites notoriously track how many times using algorithms and how long you’ve been on travel sites, and they boost the prices accordingly to get you to buy a trip.  And it works! You find yourself in a panic with credit card in hand, booking it because you think it won’t be as low as now.
  3. Alternatively use Incognito Mode to search without your information getting saved. If your web browser doesn’t have that, use SnowHaze browser app that offers untracked browsing.
  4. Scott’s Cheap Flights is an excellent source of finding cheap flights and emailing you about it. I didn’t find the airfare I needed at the time, but they did have excellent deals if you’re not sure where to go next, but you’ve got the time off and budget for a trip.
  5. You can get on a free VPN service to mask your location.
  6. My top travel site, bar none, is Kayak.com. It’s super convenient and compares prices of different websites in one place (including other travel agents). Following that are Momondo, Hopper and Skyscanner.
  7. While this is under debate and changes yearly, as of 2018 the best days to book airfare at least 21 days in advance of your trip are Sundays. That sounds like a complicated formula, and many studies indicate it’s not the day you buy, buy the day you fly. I think it’s a little bit of both, so keep a look out on Sundays for airfare, but don’t be let down if that’s not the case either.
  8. If you’re a young person or student, use StudentUniverse to find cheap deals on airfare.
  9. Note what currency you’re searching in, as sometimes it’s higher in the country you are searching in versus USD, for instance.
  10. Sometimes if there’s a sharp increase in a brief period, take screen shots of the prices and call the airline directly – they may be able to match it if you complain and book with them directly.

Obviously none of these are guaranteed, and there are TONS of websites and resources out there to get great deals. If you know of some other great hacks, share them below!

 

travel

Into thinner air: hiking Rainbow Mountain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARainbow Mountain

Rainbow Mountain, or Vinicunca, is picking up popularity as a day trip from Cuzco, Peru, with mesmerizing striations of red, yellow and green minerals comprising the fantastic landscape that resembles, you guessed it, a rainbow! But behind this Instagrammable paysage is an arduous journey that requires grit and perseverance, and I’m here to share my experience of conquering this bad boy.

I had one last free day in Cuzco before I was off to Chile, and I had already experienced the lush Sacred Valley and extraordinary Machu Picchu. I had met a cool couple from Quebec at my Airbnb who had just returned from a trip they were raving about to Rainbow Mountain. When I saw their photos, my mind connected this vaguely familiar scene to an acquaintance who had posted a photo in this very place a while back. I asked them a ton of questions about the experience, just as they were getting my advice about going to Machu Picchu.

By then, I needed no further convincing: I was going to see Rainbow Mountain.

It was about 7:00 p.m. when I went into central Cuzco for dinner and happened to walk by a tour agency that had a photo of that striated mountain. Being a complete control freak, I inundated the seller with every question I could think of: how high is the mountain, how far is the drive, how do people normally feel in those altitudes, what kind of shoes I needed; I was clearly stalling.

Nonetheless, I purchased a ticket for about ~$25 USD, which included transport from Cuzco, food and guides. Easy and cheap! Turns out if you book online in advance, it’s astronomically high – so it’s better to buy from a local operator. I got some dinner but also bought enough food and water to pack for my journey.

After a night of literally one hour of sleep from both anxiety and altitude (I didn’t sleep too well in Cuzco that whole week), I was picked up at my Airbnb at 3:00 a.m. from Cuzco in a small bus for about 12 people. This portion of the drive to the place where we were to have breakfast was to be ~3 hours long, so I settled into my seat and dozed off, despite the windy mountain roads.

Here’s where there’s an unfortunate twist, and I don’t want to scare anyone.

I woke up clutching a man as I felt everything around me move violently from side to side. I knew something was wrong. Then BOOM!

The bus had crashed! HOLYFUCKINGSHIT! I was still groggy and confused, looking up at this man who, just moments before, had been sitting across the aisle also sleeping. It appeared I had been thrown from my seat and into his lap as the bus pulled to a crash. I apologized and got off of him. His wife was kindly comforting me, and I was in shock, not knowing what the fuck was happening. There were some cries from the back of the bus of confusion and fear, but it seemed no one was hurt. I was okay, just shivering from shock, I suppose. What a rude wake-up call! No, it could have been worse. I was filled with regret and bad omens, thinking I should have never come on this trip – the signs could not be clearer!

It turns out that the driver had fallen asleep! And to think, this person had actually stopped to buy coffee on our journey, and he still managed to knock out behind the wheel and put everyone’s life at risk. We were driving on the edge of the Andes Mountains, for Pete’s sake! If we had gone off to the right, we would have crashed to our deaths in the depth of the mountains. Luckily, we had veered left and he jolted awake to try to gain control before we stopped.

In the midst of all this, I went outside to observe the damage – it didn’t look like much, but the bus wouldn’t be able to take us further. This is a rural mountain road, and there wasn’t a person or car in sight!

Beware of sleepy drivers

Within the next half hour, another bus came by and picked up a few passengers, and the rest of us went on the next bus, which was smaller and more cramped. I had managed to meet a new friend, a cool British chick also solo traveling, and we already considered ourselves blessed after surviving a crash.

2 hours later, we arrived at a small village nestled in a valley, where we were served breakfast and the guides explained the directions, distances, etc. I could barely eat, to be honest, and this was a clear effect of the altitude. I tried to force myself to have a few bites, because I knew I needed the energy. This was late September, and the weather was frigid but sunny (it was about 6:30 a.m.). I had dressed in layers, thankfully. And with that, we set off to the base camp, some 30 minutes away.

The hike began at 4,300 meters (14,100 feet). I was glad I had at least spent a week in higher altitudes to acclimate. The extent of the effects I felt up until that point were breathlessness going up any stairs and a harder time sleeping. But at this altitude, at least 1,000 meters higher than Cuzco, I felt very winded.

Let’s do this thing!
Beginning our snowy hike
You can negotiate a trip up with a horse and porter
Welcoming the break

The ascent is gradual throughout most of the hike
Unusual mountain plants
Alpacas greeted us along the way
We peeled off layers as the sun melted the snow
Andean clothing is always so colorful

The hike itself is 10 km roundtrip, so about 3-4 hours up and 2 hours down.  The hiking level is difficult, but that’s really only from the altitude. The terrain is normal, no extremely steep parts, and with hiking boots it’s not hard on the feet. The physical exertion feels 100 times worse than at sea level, so I really didn’t know what I was in for. The guides did have emergency oxygen tanks if anyone felt ill, and there were locals walking beside us offering a horse to carry us or our stuff up, for about $20.

What I remember was taking a lot of breaks, which I kind of beat myself up over, thinking it was a reflection of my fitness level (which is normally quite high). No, this was my body’s reaction to the high altitudes, and I should have given myself a break.

(If you have ever watched the show Malcom in the Middle, then you’re familiar with Malcom’s friend Winston. Well, I sounded like Winston the entire way up – I had to breath and wheeze through every single word I said. It was funny and awful at the same time.)

Snow had fallen the night before, so the trail was covered with snow throughout the journey. By the time we’d come back through, the snow would melt and the mountain range would transform colors.

Even lifting my arms was a struggle
“Just keep going!” My mantra during the hike

My friend had decided to get a horse about 2/3 of the way into the journey to help her up, and I gladly gave her my heavy backpack to carry to the top with her. I continued on foot with my water bottle in hand, munching determinately at the coca leaves between my teeth. By the way, Andeans believe coca leaves and any products made from them relieve symptoms of altitude sickness. Whether that’s true or not, chewing them also helps give you a jolt of energy, and I knew I needed it along the way.

Plenty of horses available if you need one
I may have eaten one of his brothers for dinner that night… oops

No matter how hard it got, the views at every step were distraction enough

Just when I thought I was getting close to the end of the journey, the guide would literally run past me (damn you with your freakish large lung capacity…) and yell, “Almost there. Only 2 more hours to go! Let’s go!” I wanted to punch him, but I could not even raise my hands to do so. So I persevered on.

Views like this literally took the little breath I had away

The ascent was gradual, but the final meters were the steepest and hardest. I could see the finish line, but it felt like the Vertigo Effect would taunt me and surprise me with another ridge I had to cross.

Almost there! This part was the steepest ascent and super hard

Finally, I had made it! Sweet victory, it tasted so good. Seeing the fantastic Rainbow Mountain in all its unique glory at 5,200 meters ( ~17,000 feet) felt like conquering the world in that moment, especially considering the trying experience getting there that day.

I did it!!!
These views will forever be etched in my memory
Kelly, a great hiking partner throughout this whole ordeal!
Parts of the mountain are closed to hikers to preserve it
View of our trek from above
Absolutely worth it!
That moment when you realize you have to go allllll the way back
Wild furry friends enjoyed playing in the snow! They trekked the entire way with us

We got to hang around the top for a good 30 minutes or so, taking photos and enjoying the view. The actual Rainbow Mountain is closed to the public for preservation and rightfully so. This trek is getting more popular by the day, and I’m lucky I got to visit it before it becomes the tourist mecca of Machu Picchu, which can bring with it environmental consequences. It’s the double edged sword of tourism.

Some of the other great hikers who conquered Vinicunca that day
A selfie for the ages (mind my clearly exhausted face!)

The fun didn’t stop there though. Now came the long hike back for about 2 hours, and mine included a splitting headache from the altitude. The way down did get a bit easier as altitude decreased, I just remembered wanting to tie a compress around my head to reduce the headache. Along the way back were much fewer people, at times we were completely alone with only wild alpacas keeping us company.

The snow was all melted by now
These guys are lucky to have this view every day
Alpacas galore!
It felt surreal to end this journey
The desolate road back
Debating if there’s time to use the toilet

We made it back to the bus, which took us to the small village where our day began for a warm and savory lunch about 3:00 p.m. Remarkably, my appetite had come back swinging, so I devoured the local dishes they prepared, as I wrapped my mind against the huge feat I had accomplished.

It was time to go back to Cuzco – a bumpy three-hour bus ride that got us back at about 7:00-8:00 p.m.  I made sure to share the experience with my Quebecois friends, as we compared our tales of alpine defeat.

The experience was truly remarkable, and I’m so glad I did it. If you’re wondering, the bus crash was never brought up once among the tour guides, nor was there even a wink at a partial refund for the danger we had faced before even arriving. If this were another country, I guess it would have been handled very differently. This was Peru, for better or worse.

I do have tips if you’re interested in doing this:

  • Drink plenty of water and electrolyte-enhanced drinks
  • Pack power bars or fruits for replenishment (if you have any appetite)
  • Chew on coca leaves or drink coca tea to fight off altitude sickness
  • If possible, spend a few days beforehand in Cuzco to acclimate to the altitude
  • Slather on sunscreen
  • Wear layered clothes for different microclimates you’ll encounter
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks on the hikes, even if you fall behind – it’s a very hard hike for any level of fitness and everyone’s bodies react differently to high altitudes, so take it easy. The guides will try to push you to go so they can fit their time commitment (assholes…), but I say listen to your body first and foremost.
  • Leave nothing but footprints, literally. The mountain range is so beautiful and pristine, but people are the worst thing to happen to nature. Take care of the environment the way it has taken care of you.
  • Have your cameras or phones charged and ready to document your journey.
  • Bring cash, as there’s a 10 Sol entrance fee ($3 USD) and then coins if you need the toilet
  • There is an alternative you can do to the group tour, which is to hike the trail on your own and take a taxi there and back – you will need to negotiate the price (I’ve heard it’s ~300 Sol roundtrip). You don’t have to leave at 3:00 a.m., and you will go when there are no crowds. But you will be on your own without any guides or help. The trail is not difficult to follow, but bear in mind with high altitudes not having any help around can be risky.

Would you try this trek? If you have already done it, share your experience below!

“Leave nothing but footprints”
travel

The real Shark Tank: cage diving with great whites in South Africa

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Often called one of the most exhilarating experiences on earth, I decided to try cage driving with great white sharks while visiting Cape Town for about a month. It seemed like a hell of a way to kick off my time in South Africa – daring, bucket list experience that I will never have to do again in life. And frankly, that’s exactly how I feel about it to this day. If you have a free day in Cape Town and want to try something different, then this experience may be for you. If you hate getting seasick, long boat rides and feeling a shark’s slippery skin rub on your bodysuit, this may NOT be for you.

There are dozens of cage diving operators in the area, so we took one that our hotel suggested (rookie mistake, as I usually do my own research and book something without a middle man getting kick-backs, but the hotel owner was a very kind man, and we trusted his suggestion). The operator is called Supreme Sharks, they are highly experienced – and a day with them (including transportation from Cape Town and back, breakfast, lunch, boat ride, cage diving, wet suit and diving mask) sets you back ~2,000 ZAR (~140 USD) per person, which seems astronomically high compared to prices in the rest of South Africa. Nonetheless, keeping in mind it was a once in a lifetime experience, why the hell not?

At 3:00 a.m., we got picked up from Cape Town in a small van along with a couple of others and began a ~3 hour journey to Gansbaai, a small town near “Sharkstown”.  You can get some shut-eye on this journey, the road isn’t too windy or bumpy.

Arriving at the Supreme Shark center, we were fed a hearty breakfast of eggs, ham and hot tea (which many should NOT have eaten, but I’m getting ahead of myself…). We were also asked to listen to important instructions and warnings, and we signed waivers, essentially relieving the company of all wrong-doing in case we became shark food. So on that cheerful note and a few nervous chuckles later, we selected our wet suits. Note: I’m not scuba-certified, nor do I want to be. It was my second time ever in a wet suit, and unfortunately I learned later that the size was completely wrong (too large) and I’d regret this. We also got dry bags to carry things like cameras and waters, but most of the stuff was left securely at the Center.

Cage diving operators “Supreme Sharks” begin easing their boat into shark-infested waters
Appropriately apprehensive about this insane thing I’m about to do

We walked to the boat aptly named “Great White” to begin a rough 30-minute voyage to a spot where we might find great white sharks. Now, you’re not guaranteed to see any sharks, nor are you compensated if you have this bad luck (I think they give you a discount on your next trip, but no money back…). They do, however, monitor tide levels and weather the day before, so the journey would be cancelled or postponed for safety reasons.

They asked everyone to change into the wetsuits over our bathing suits on board while the boat got anchored in the middle of the sea.

Wet-suited up and wanting a lollipop

This was 7:00 a.m. The weather was not in our favor yet, and we worried that visibility wouldn’t be great, which meant shark sightings could be limited. It was slightly overcast and cold as hell during the month of October. While we were changing, we got divided into 3 groups of 8, as only 8 people can fit into the cage at a time. We were in the second group, so we watched and learned as the first group climbed into the cage to face their fate.

“Helping” people in and out of the cage – I suppose it’s better than becoming shark food
Packed like a can of sardines

The boat captain then tried to lure any nearby sharks in by throwing  stinky chum out into the water on a rope. After what seemed like ages in tumultuously wavy waters, we heard the captain yell “Down! Down!” to the first group. Before I knew it, I saw an ugly gray, razor-like fin speed its way in our direction from below. I would even say the view from the top is more impressive than in the cage if visibility is bad. I stood, stunned and frozen (literally and figuratively) as my mind wrapped around the fact that I was going to be in these icy waters (which was literally about 19 degrees Celcius) moments from now, going head to head with has been ranked the greatest predator on earth. No big deal. I didn’t feel fear, just the usual anxiety. All I saw were rows of jagged teeth, big dead black eyes and that ghoulish fin.

Fins of foes
Comin’ in hot!

Getting after that shark bait

Finally it was our group’s turn. I got in the middle of the cage, putting my swimming mask on tight, and then I felt the cold water hit me like a ton of bricks, because the damn wet suit was a size too big. ARGH!! I decided to divert my attention on not being eaten by a shark instead as the top of the cage door slammed shut with a loud bang. Now all I could hear was the nauseating creakiness of the boat and metal cage rocking against the rise and fall of the sea, while the eight of us waited, partially submerged in the Atlantic Ocean. What sucks is they don’t give you the snorkeling breathing tube, just the mask for your nose and eyes – if you struggle with holding your breath under water, this could be very difficult.

It seemed like an eternity waiting and shivering, and I was about to say, “Get me the fuck out of here” when I heard the dreaded words, “Dive! Dive! Dive!” And intuitively, without taking a deep enough breath, I stuck my head below the water level and moved closer to the edge of the cage, forcing my eyes wide open.

Everything looked murky and green for a second, when I saw a shadow darting around. That can’t be the shark, can it? As the shadow transformed into that familiar gray mass of the predatory creature I saw from above, I caught a glimpse of the stinky chum swing just in front of the cage top, followed by those teeth!! HOLYSHIT! I was cage diving with a great white shark!  The shark came around the cage several more times, bumping the cage angrily as it couldn’t tear off all the chum on the hook. We waited for further signals to dive while we graciously replenished our oxygen in between. I had to remember to hold the cage bars that were NOT outwardly facing the shark… because I fully intended to come back with the 10 fingers I came with.

Dark shadows that turned out to be sharks
View from the cage
When the sharks tail/fin almost knocked the GoPro out of our hands!
They do get insanely close to the cage without actually being inside
Someone wanted breakfast.. and it wasn’t me!
Hangry noms! And those teeth…
Dead eyes, am I right??

After about 20-30 minutes in the cage and a few more appearances by Mrs. Great White (we learned there were several females in the area that morning), we climbed out of the cage.

Me behind two German girls – ready to get into some warm clothes

The third and last group went next, ironically having worse luck and fewer sightings. The captain asked if anyone else wanted to go a second time, but frankly, I had had enough. I was freezing cold, to a point I could not enjoy the experience anymore – and what’s worse, half of the people on the boat were at the edge losing their breakfast. And I’m one of those people who has a serious aversion to vomit. Luckily, I had taken a precautionary Dramamine that morning specifically fearing this situation – but the sight of everyone puking truly made even me feel green at the gills. Funny enough, the solution for seasickness onboard was sucking on these obnoxiously bright sugary lollipops. Literally, the whole boat was all all over them! I hope it helped…

Finally, we changed back into our dry, warm clothes as the boat turned around and made its way back to Gansbaai (by now it was around 11:00 a.m.). I could not WAIT to get off of that boat and kiss the ground. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m an anxious traveler who get sweaty palms and nervous from all unpredictable turbulence, bumps, waves, turns and what not. But sharks? Meh.

One thing I should mention is there’s a professional videographer on board who captures this entire experience for your viewing pleasure. Honestly the boat got so wet and you’re concentrated on seeing sharks, that I didn’t even take our my own phone or pro camera once! So we opted to buy the footage (I believe it was around 30 USD), and it was worth it!

The divers that day

Once back on land (and after breathing a sigh of relief and swearing off boats for a solid year), we actually had worked up a hunger. Lunch was warm and tasty, while they played the video montage from that day on the screens. I purchased the photos and videos, and after that, it was time to head back to Cape Town (around 1:00 p.m.). On the journey back, the entire van was knocked out, including myself.

I may have dreamed of swimming with sharks on the ride back, but my memory is a bit hazy. Overall, it’s an experience I’m glad I did but don’t plan on doing ever again, unless I know the sea conditions are smooth, visibility is high, and my wetsuit fits like a glove!

Would you go diving with sharks? Share your experience or thoughts below!

Lifestyle

My first time doing a prolonged fast

https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiq2-PaktTcAhUCLBoKHV6nCcsQjhx6BAgBEAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.tripadvisor.co.uk%2FLocationPhotoDirectLink-g187514-d10400832-i277134969-Habanera-Madrid.html&psig=AOvVaw0Gwk6OhryNLWfM-9DAk1uX&ust=1533497799552335Be sure to eat something like this before fasting, because you'll be fantasizing of it soon

Food is life, am I right? It’s a replenishing, often delicious tradition that our day, school and work schedules revolve around. It’s a celebration of health and also rewarding to your taste buds. It’s exciting to indulge in your favorite food after a long day, or to try new foods when in new country or restaurant.

So why would ANYONE, let alone me, who eats ALL day and snacks every hour (including when I wake up in the middle of the night and toss and turn), stop eating altogether? Am I protesting some unfair treatment of women or minorities, or I am just batshit crazy? Luckily, neither. Although maybe a bit of the latter. And before I get into the details, I would like to provide some medically-backed reasons behind why I decided to do this, as most people don’t know and have serious reservations when they hear this:

  1. I wanted to stop relying on eating as a source of instant energy.
  2. I wanted a full reset on my body and to cleanse YEARS of built-up toxins.
  3. I wanted to test my mental strength and will power to push through what I used to refer to as irrefutable hunger.
  4. I wanted my body to naturally to kill off old cells and produce healthy new ones (called autophagy)
  5. I wanted my cognitive functioning and my brain in general to grow, improve and regenerate.
  6. Although not important or a goal, I didn’t mind if I got to lose a couple of pounds (it’s bikini season after all).

Yeah, even for the reasons above, the idea of purposefully withholding food and nutrients from my body sounds like a torture tactic for prisoners of war. It’s unappealing and almost idiotic, right? I mean, you need food to function and survive.

Not true, it turns out. Our neolithic ancestors went days without food, as they relied on hunting and gathering to secure their next meal. They weren’t fortunate enough to have grocery stores, restaurants at every corner and apps that bring food to them. And they needed to be on top of their game and focused to find food, whether it’s killing a wild animal or foraging for berries that may or may not be poisonous. Fasting was a regular thing, because they didn’t have a choice. And they survived.

We slowly adapted to easily accessing food and going very short periods without eating. That’s great, right? Well, along with those conveninces came diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer… you name it. A lot of which did not exist in such high numbers before.

And trust me, I’m not telling as an expert in any way, I’m simply sharing my experience of what I learned, what fasting felt like, and what the results were. I am not offering dietary or nutritional advice either, just sharing what I’ve researched and discovered.

I saw a few of my fitness role models do long-term fasting and document their entire experience on Instagram (shout out to @daniellenatoni and @darrennatoni for the initial inspo!). I was HOOKED, partly because I was in disbelief and also a major nay-sayer to this in any way healthy or beneficial. Then I began researching online other people’s experience and results from it. Finally, I downloaded arguable the BEST book written on fasting, The Complete Guide to Fasting. Written by a renowned doctor on kidney disease and Type 2 Diabetes Dr. Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore, a man who has had experience fasting for years and has a health podcast, it piqued my curiosity. What did I have to lose? I began listening, and I became engrossed in the information I was learning. But I won’t get into all that here, because countless others have articulated the benefits and risks of fasting. I recommend reading it for your benefit and background, and find out what sort of fasting fits your schedule and lifestyle – or if you’re even into this at all.

But let’s cut to the chase.

You want to know how the hell I stopped eating, right? Well here is my little diary I kept track of on my phone. I must apologize for some of the profanity and mean things I may have said while fasting, but this is the real and raw truth of my experience (it may crack you up too!).

I had planned on doing a 5-day water-only (or low calorie liquid) fast. During this period, you don’t eat, you only consume liquids like water, unsweetened tea, coffee, broth, and water with lemon or cucumber for flavor. No smoothies, no full meals, nada. This sends your body from burning sugar from your last meal to burning your plentiful fat reserves – ketosis. Many of you may have heard or are even on the ketogenic diet. Water fasts kick this process into gear faster. That’s the gist of it. Read more about it from the experts, because I am not one.

Well, my fast didn’t go exactly as planned at times, but that’s okay. First timer over here. I’m proud of myself for trying, and I will know how to plan for the next time. So here goes!

My experience with a 5-day fast:

Monday, July 30, 2018

00:00 (midnight): Began fast after last meal (cous cous and vegetables, ooh wow… wish I had eaten something way more fulfilling and tasty, like burger with fries, but I got back late from a road trip) and went to bed immediately.

Morning weight: 57 kg – 125.6 lbs

10:00am: I had black tea and boiled water with ginger and half of a fresh squeezed lemon.

11:30am: I feel fine, not hungry, not thirsty yet, riding in metro to my Spanish class.

13:00: Had iced green tea with a bit of cinnamon, not hungry but a tad spacey when walking, although mentally focused.

14:00: Felt a bit weak, spacey and super cold (indoors from AC), so went for a walk in Madrid’s awful heat on the way home. Not hungry though, just weak. My instinct is telling me food will give me strength, but I’m not hungry, if that makes sense. Guess my mind is trying to make sense of loss of frequent feeding.

Lesson: No more long summer walks while it’s hot AF, especially with the smell of food every three steps!!! Fucking Spain and its tempting food culture!!!

15:00: Feeling very blah, something between tired and weak… lethargic, I suppose. It’s very tempting to eat, but I’m sipping on water with a bit of fresh-squeezed lemon and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I feel cranky and have decided to minimize seeing people for the rest of the day, because all Spaniards do is eat, drink and talk about eating… the culture is centered around eating (just reiterating in case you didn’t catch it the first time), and it’s making this experience more difficult. Stupid… I want to take a nap, but I can’t sleep.

16:00: Stomach is growling and I’m definitely feeling hunger pangs. Ugh, trying to stay distracted on social media, but idiots keep posting food porn.

17:00: I couldn’t handle the weakness and decided to heat up 100ml of meat broth (a good homemade recipe here, but I bought a ‘natural’ one in store – bone broth takes like a day to prepare, fuck that, ain’t nobody got time for that) with a sprinkle of Himalayan Salt. I felt better IMMEDIATELY and replenished my hunger.

I’m thinking about my re-feeding meal, more like fantasizing: so far it’s a burrito bowl from La Tierra (the equivalent of Chipotle in Spain) and a classic cheesecake. I NEVER crave cheesecake, what the fuck?

19:00: Boiled ginger and lemon water, plus chai cinnamon tea.

20:45: Hunger pangs intensified so made another 100ml broth w/Himalayan salt. Helped.

I’ve definitely had several ‘FUCK THIS, I wanna quit and eat’ moments.

22:30: Having serious doubt if I’ll be able to do this much longer, I’m feeling spacey and blah. Regretting all the foods I didn’t eat before starting the fast, and thinking about the food in my fridge and pantry. FUCK!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

00:30 – I have broken my fast, because I really felt weak and hungry. After fasting for 24 hours, I ate a small bowl of leftover cous cous with vegetables and cheese (from last night). Instant gratification!! So good… but also disappointed in myself for caving. Ugh.

10:00: I woke up after a pretty good rest, woke up once or twice though, not hungry yet. Went to bathroom.

Morning Weight: 56.4 kg or 124.3 lbs

11:00: I worked out for about 30 min with light weights and plyometric exercises, low cardio workout. Felt a little tired after, less energy for sure.

12:00: Had some broth w/salt and several spoons of chia seed jelly (put a spoon of chia seeds in water and let it sit for 30 min). It tastes like absolutely nothing with texture the consistency of tadpoles… ugh. But I read they’re good to consume during fasting.

12:30: Went to a coffee shop to work, ordered iced green tea without any additives. For the most part I could focus and wasn’t terribly hungry, but I feel physically more tired on the second day (probably due to my workout earlier today).

14:30: Headed home now, the walk back in the sun and heat is tough. I’m usually a speed walker, and this time I’m going at a leisurely pace partly bc that’s really all I can manage. I think bc I know what to expect this time after yesterday, I’m a little less dramatic and anxious about what I’m going to feel. I know the late afternoon and evening will be hard, so I’m prepared to stay distracted through then.

15:00: Drank two cups water and lemon and cayenne.

17:00: Had some broth and salt.

Not very hungry, not super weak but laying down this afternoon.

19:15: I think I have a very mild headache, not sure if it’s the fast or because I’ve been laying down. But not taking any medicine.

20:00: Breaking my fast and allowing a feeding window (much like the warrior fast, 20 hour fast and 4 hour feeding schedule). Let the food games begin!

20:00: I ate a steak burrito bowl to replenish protein, a large cookie and 20 pieces of dried strawberry. I almost didn’t finish the bowl, but after an hour I finished what was left.

22:00: The meal feels very heavy in my stomach, and I felt like sleeping. I’m not bloated, I just feel full. Instead I decided to go for a walk since it’s dark and cooler to go outside, plus I love the renewed energy, so I feel unstoppable. However halfway through my walk I felt cramps like I need to use the toilet… probably ate too much too fast… but kept walking around anyway (10k steps a day is my minimum while fasting).

Wednesday, Aug 1, 2018

Morning Weight 57.3, 126.3 lbs

8:00: Woke up feeling fine (12 hours after eating), not hungry, however a bit bloated from meal last night, like I can’t wait to go to bathroom but can’t go yet 🤔.

Okay, so I went to the bathroom but still weigh the same as first I began my fast 🤬. Maybe the scale is wrong? Stupid Spanish scale… Still, I felt bummed cuz it seemed like fasting wasn’t worth it. Also it made me hate that I ate that burrito bowl last night with a cookie, even though I’d normally eat that and other meals within a 24 hour time period. Now I’m also mad at myself for not being able to do an extended fast cuz it would be day 3 by now! Emotions are high, and I realize I need to chill. I didn’t do this for the weight loss, I did it for a hundred other reasons. That reminder helps.

12:00: Feel absolutely fine, not hungry at all. Made some broth (100 ml) for some energy and electrolytes to concentrate with work, but otherwise feeling good. No longer bloated either. Going to work for a couple of hours.

13:45: At coffee shop, got a cold brew with a bit of whole milk. I read it was okay to have that, if I’m gonna consume fat it might as well be milk (as long as intake is less than 500 calories per day, almost all of the same benefits of water fast occur). I don’t feel weak or hungry. I do hate coffee though, so I won’t be finishing this nasty ass drink 😫. 

I’m also more emotional today, partly bc of whats going on in my personal life, but also bc I’m bummed I cannot even do this fast more than 24 hours. I need to be nicer to myself and more patient. I’ve never fasted before, not even intermittently.  I am brave for trying, and I am proud that I still want to continue. You got this, girl!

15:30: Still not hungry, feeling good. Working and focused.

17:00: Had some broth to reinvigorate myself and keep energy while I work through the afternoon.

18:45: Feeling good; working laying down on couch. Not hungry but beginning to feel stomach rumbling. Will try to push past 24 hours today!

19:00: approaching 24 hours of fasting, and this is the first day I haven’t fantasized about food!! The urge to eat is so low, that’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy a meal if I had one, but it’s already a different mentality. I can think about other things freely. My day is not planned around meals.

Okay never mind… now I want french fries (like the roasted, seasoned wedge ones, not regular fries) because of stupid Instagram. But I feel like I can wait to have them another day, not right now. It has definitely helped to stay busy all day, in addition to feeling energized and not weak! I feel encouraged to keep going.

21:00 – Made some broth. Tempted to eat bc I feel like I have to, but I’m actually not hungry! Wtf.. it’s almost freaky but I’m very encouraged by this. Dealing w/ some emotional shit in personal life, so maybe putting my energy into this fast is where I should be focusing! In any case, I am watching Orange is the New Black in my free time, and that’s very entertaining and doesn’t show amazing food to tempt me.

23:00: Had a tiny bowl of broth to sustain me.

Thursday August 2

00:30am: Okay, it’s getting harder to resist eating something and I definitely feel weaker, but not as bad as the first day. I really hope I can sleep. Aiming for 36 hours, you can do it!

Morning Weight: 56.2 kg, 123.9 lbs

9:00: After a night of semi-bad sleep (kept waking up and falling asleep, but not from hunger), I woke up at 37 hours into water fasting! New record! Proud of myself! Not feeling hungry but definitely a little weak. Will have some lemon water and broth to replenish. I do want to eat the cheese in my fridge, but I won’t. I feel like I don’t have energy from the lack of sleep and not so the fast, but we’ll never know, will we? Lol even making my bed was a struggle, I’m now winded, so I doubt a workout will happen again today! Although maybe later on.

10:00: After feeling weak and just blah, I decided to fuel myself with unsweetened Greek yogurt and about 10 blueberries inside. It will fuel me through my class and walk around the city. I don’t feel guilty. But I literally got chills swallowing that first bite!

13:15: I don’t feel weak or hungry, but seeing food everywhere cuz all Spaniards do is fucking eat is driving me crazy!! I got water with cucumber, lemon, grapefruit and mint, and I couldn’t help it, I wanted something sweet. So I got a sugar-free, gluten-free and dairy-free cookie from a health food place. I normally don’t eat cookies, but I didn’t want a smoothie cuz it was too sugary. Now I will not eat until at least end of the day. I had maybe half of it, but I still feel bad for eating that and yogurt already. But I need to relax and stop being so hard on myself! I’m human. This is an experiment, and you are supposed to learn from the first few times to perfect the process.

14:30: Working on my blog, not hungry or thirsty (I’ve been drinking probably 1.5 liters of water a day, plus teas). I feel determined to not eat anymore today, but I also know that if I do have to eat, I will and that is still a huge accomplishment! I will definitely avoid working out of cafes or restaurants while fasting, because the temptation to buy a snack (not even a meal) is so high. Heading home now, will walk.

16:00: Had some broth, feeling hungry but more like a craving, I’m trying to convince myself to hold off until night or even by tomorrow. Made it this far, right?

18:00: Took a nap and feel so rejuvenated. Going to try and distract myself so I don’t eat. For me, the most dangerous time is when I wake up, because I’m groggy and may eat out of habit.  The heat outside is making it harder not to eat 😫. I’m thirsty, so I will drink to quench my hunger…

16:30: Fuck me, I ate the second half of my sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free cookie. Writing to make myself feel better. My resolve feels like it’s waning. I need to pump myself full of motivation and keep busy, otherwise food clouds my mind. The crazy thing is I’m not even hungry! I can see the difference now. It’s just a habitual craving for food. Instead I will work out now.

19:00: I worked out pretty intensely, holy shit I was sore especially on squats and lunges. More winded than usual but still finished strong. And no light-headedness. Pushed through like I would on eating days, or maybe even more, because I know I won’t feast right after this. Motivation is different.

20:00: I’ve hit my 48-hour fasting mark (although, yes, I had a yogurt and cookie admittedly)! Not hungry but could eat! It really is getting easier. Never ever thought I’d say that. I’m staying distracted, but I can’t say that I’m hungry or stomach is grumbling.

20:30: Having some broth and salt. May I’ll eat some cherry tomatoes and cheese. Should I? UGH. Of course I want to, but would it defeat the purpose. I’m still annoyed I ate yogurt and a fucking cookie on a fasting day. (It just tasted so good).

21:00: Had some cherry tomatoes, half of an avocado and a few slices of cheese. I feel bad but also feel accomplished and deserving of this mini-meal.

Now, I will try to abstain from eating for 36 more hours.

Friday, Aug 3

12:00: Nevermind, at midnight I had a few blueberries and a small package of dry strawberry snacks (less than 100 calories total) 😫

8:00: Woke up, rolled around a bit, was super thirsty so had water, then went to the bathroom. Back to sleep.

Morning Weight: 55.8 kg; 123 lb

10:00: Waking up now for real, guess body needed sleep. Have slept way better the second half of this fasting week. Again, I’m thirsty so just want to drink a lot. One thing I’ll say is on this fast is that my breath has not smelled fresh, who knows what’s going on in the ol’ digestive track to fuck that up. Having some black tea with lemon. And no shit, of course I brush my teeth and floss.

11:00 am: Was doing great doing a workout (legs) with burpees and weights, but stopped 3/4 through, because I felt a little dizzy. I’ve been drinking black tea and water with lemon only. Gonna finish it off on lower impact (no jumps or weights).

12:00: I feel a bit weak after the workout, I drank water dissolved w/ half of a Nuun electrolyte tablet to help replenish any salt lost (less than 5 calories). I wanted to go today without any broth (given I’ve run out of it at hone, so should be easier, right?), but I’m finding it difficult. I may go buy some, in addition to more water. It doesn’t help we have record high temps in the Iberian peninsula this week! Fuck that shit… I’m ready for cooler summer weather. The heat makes me more tired; call me weak, but it’s true. AC is my best friend.

12:45: Walking to grocery store for broth, lemon and water. I am weak AF, but I really think it’s after the workout… plus no food to replenish. Body is prob confused like wtf. Broth will help.

13:30: Damn, that broth hit the SPOT! I sprinkled it with Himalayan salt, cayenne pepper, dried dill and ground pepper. I feel like a new person and alert again. FUCK YEAH! I’m now 22 hours out from breaking this fast altogether, I have brunch with girlfriends Saturday at noon. LAWD, it can’t come soon enough. Let me clarify that I don’t feel hungry or weak now. But this week has been tough. I will also blame the weather, cuz it hasn’t helped.

14:30: Feeling lethargic but not weak. Stomach is growling and waging a war in there. I’m not hungry but I could eat. Instead drinking a bunch of water.

15:00: Made broth with shaved ginger and a tiny piece on butter. Feel satiated and not hungry anymore.

16:00: I would like to have a donut when this fast is over. In fact, I will definitely be buying a donut after brunch tomorrow.

18:30: Went for a walk around the neighborhood to get out of the house, but the heat is miserable. I got an iced chai latte barely sweetened, to get some liquids in my body. I have 17 hours left of this fast (most of which I hope to sleep through) and it can’t come soon enough.

19:00: Incredibly, Madrid’s heat gets hotter towards the end of the day… walking home just a few blocks was awful, I’m weak from the heat more than the fast. So the timing for record-setting Iberian heat could not be fucking worse to do a fast! GAHHH!

19:30: Need broth, feeling bleh. I think that heat really wore me out! I am not tired though, in fact I’m pretty awake and alert.

21:45: Took a nap, felt good – woke up hungry. Don’t want to slip after sleeping like the other day, drank water and had some chia seeds soaked in water (aka tadpoles). Trying to watch Deadpool 2 to distract me until I go to sleep tonight (but that nap will probably mess my sleep up). Having some broth with shavings of ginger to lower the hunger (and it’s not like hunger pangs, it’s just a craving for some food!). I can do this, just a few more hours left. Relax until then, or take a walk. Tomorrow I will eat again, anything I want, whenever I want. But I must finish what I started. I will feast!

22:30: Chewing gum, surprisingly it helps with the hunger and keeps mouth salivated.

23:o0: Went for a walk in the night heat, still feel a bit hungry.

Saturday August 4

00:00: Caved and had three slices of cheese and a couple of cherry tomatoes. I know that’s nothing, and I stopped myself before eating more. Gonna try and sleep after finishing Dead Pool 2. Also, fuck me for having food in my fridge. I designed my own mouse trap and fell for it.

Weight: 55.7 kg, 122.8 lbs.

8:00: Had a glass of water with lemon, feeling good and full.

8:30: I can’t believe I made it after a week of my first attempt EVER at any type of fasting (besides when they tell you to fast the night before for blood work). I don’t feel hungry, but I am looking forward to eating normal again. Or, not restricted. And I will outline my learnings, mistakes and successes in a bit once the fast officially ends at noon today.

9:00: Squeezing in a final fasted workout, knowing DAMN well I’m going to pig out today, or more appropriately FEAST and nourish my body once again. The only way fasting doesn’t become starvation is resuming normal eating again (preferably and with any luck, healthier food).

12:00: Fast is officially over! I feasted with friends over brunch (which included eggs benedict, croissants, pancakes, poached eggs, Iberian jamon, fruit, orange juice, bread and jam, avocado, and later on ice cream) and everything tasted absolutely wonderful. I ate slowly and chewed well, knowing this is a meal I should relish and enjoy. I didn’t stuff myself either. I stopped eating when I felt full, which was pretty quick. Then, in 15 minutes or so, I’d continue eating small bites. No stomach cramps, no need to run to the bathroom. What an experience!!

Post-fast learnings:

  1. When I attempt this again, I will try this on a very busy week, meaning when I am busier with work and other projects. On my busiest days, the fast was more successful and I didn’t really think about food or cave into eating. As soon as I had free time, the temptation to eat and food cravings were much higher. Also, we eat when we are bored more than when we are hungry.
  2. I should have started by training my body with Intermittent Fasting and building up each week with a longer fasting time. Starting cold turkey, telling yourself you can’t eat for 5+ days is, for lack of a better word, awful. It seems insurmountable at first, an Everest of impossibility. Taking away without any reason the one source of guaranteed happiness and fulfillment is harsh. This takes practice and training.
  3. I will be sure NOT to keep any food in my fridge or pantry, as this was ultimately the failure of fasting. If you have food, you’re gonna eat if when you’re hungry. Nor will I work out of coffee shops, as it’s so easy to buy something tasty there; better to grab a drink to go and get out.
  4. I won’t be doing prolonged fasting in summer, especially the hottest week of recent history… this severely affected my energy levels, as extreme heat is very draining. And when you feel more tired than necessary, you can’t concentrate as you normally could, and this can lower your threshold to control your cravings. When I do this again, it will be when the temperature is cooler (but not necessarily in winter). For example, I thought taking a walk would distract my hunger and also help burn calories; but in hot weather, you can’t walk much and you feel worse after instead of distracted.
  5. Stop relying on the scale so much. 5 days of my first fast ever, which I failed to adhere to strictly, I think I expected to lose like 10 pounds, because that’s what other YouTubers had posted… much of that is water weight anyway, which is ridiculous, considering I didn’t follow a clean, water-only fast that would yield such results. So on mornings where I ate a little after breaking my fast, I was really disappointed in myself and felt angry when seeing the number on the scale. And I realized I need to be kinder and more patient with myself. It was an experiment, and you learn from your mistakes. And a scale only tells you a number, not the true story of what’s happening inside your body. I did this for the multiple benefits and as a challenge to myself. If at first you don’t succeed, try again!
  6. Do it on a week you are emotionally stable. Fasting is an emotional experience, no sense of adding additional stress.

Looking forward

Living in Europe does not afford me the luxury of going to Whole Foods or Sprouts or every health food easily available. People don’t live like that here. They eat, drink (sometimes smoke) whatever they please and just enjoy life. And being a true integrated member of society, I won’t complain to join them on this. I hate diets, and I suck at staying on them.

BUT that’s not to say I won’t be implementing healthier eating regiments going forward. I will begin incorporating Intermittent Fasting (IF) into my daily eating schedule now, which most likely will look like no eating after dinner until lunch the next time. Now that I’ve fasted for prolonged periods, I recognize that IF is super easy and very doable. There are many, many benefits: burn more fat, become leaner, more focus, easier than dieting, prolongs your life (not kidding, read about the stimulated growth hormone), and it’s so simple. Not eating – it’s not like I have to go out of my way to buy special ingredients and cook something fancy. It’s literally zero effort. More will power at the beginning. I’ll take it!

Next, I think I’ll attempt a prolonged water fast of at least 3 full days (maybe longer, who knows), but it won’t be for another few months.

Updated August 23:

Since finishing my prolonged fast, I have incorporated daily Intermittent Fasting on a 16-8 schedule, essentially skipping breakfast and beginning to eat at 3-4:00 p.m. It has helped maintain my weight, and I don’t get hungry in the mornings like before. I allow myself calorie-free liquids like tea, coffee and water. So far, so good!

Have you ever tried fasting or are in interested now? Comment below and share your tales!

 

travel

The marvels of Menorca

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACala Macarella, Menorca

Ahh, the Spanish Balearic islands… just the name immediately brings to mind crystal clear, azure water, bronzed bodies, bright sunshine and delicious foods. That’s exactly what I got in Menorca when I went in July!

I spent a good 4 days exploring Menorca, which is the chilled out little sister to Ibiza and Mallorca, offering more affordable prices and equally beautiful calas, or coves. It’s a great place for couples, families with kids and solo travelers. Here’s a quick and easy itinerary to maximize 4 days on this small but precious Spanish island. I recommend renting a car to explore the island, as I found it much easier to travel around without the burden of waiting on buses. One downside is it’s a small island, so expect equally small two-way roads that occasionally become congested with slower drivers, but they are scenic and lush with forests.

Day 1:

I stayed in Cala Galdana in the south of the island, versus in either Ciutadella or Mahon (the two largest cities). Cala Galdana has everything you could want, with a half-resort and half-tiny coastal town feel. There’s a nice beach within walking distance, many restaurants and supermarkets, and lots of accommodation choices. I stayed in a charming apartment “Encanto del Mar,” which had incredible views from the large balcony (although admittedly, there was no AC in 2018, so that was tough in July).

View from Apartamentos Encanto del Mar in Cala Galdana

Cala Galdana is located between several beautiful beaches and calas within relatively short hiking distance (hiking level: beginner to slightly moderate across 2-5 km). The one I checked out and fell in love with was Cala Macarella (and Cala Macarelleta, which is a cove within a cove nearby). It’s about 25-40 hiking from Cala Galdana, depending on your speed; bring water to stay hydrated. The beach in Cala Macarella is beautiful with soft white sand, and there are many families here. There’s also a restaurant, snack bar, restrooms and showers (for 1€) on location, so you don’t necessarily need to bring a packed lunch here. Most other calas, however, are remote and don’t have any bars or restaurants, so just make to know beforehand if you need to bring some food and plenty of water.

Cala Macarella

A brief hike away from Cala Macarella offers a spectacular view of the bluest water your eyes will see, as you enter Cala Macarelleta. It’s a great photo op, plus a chance to appreciate the beauty of this island.

The view on the way to Cala Macarelleta

Once you get to Cala Macarelleta, you can be sure to find a crowded beach of mostly younger adults and topless girls (hey, it’s the European way!). A word of caution: not sure if it was bad luck or just the timing, but in July it was jellyfish season, and they were everywhere around the island. Several people I saw got stung, so just a word of warning… Nonetheless, I soaked up the sun a bit before heading back to Cala Galdana.

Note: You have the option to hike further from Cala Macarella on to get to Cala Turqueta, which I hear is beautiful too. After a long day in the sun and water, the last thing I wanted to do was hike another 3 km to a new beach, totaling 5 km on the way back to Cala Galdana. Perhaps if I had gotten an earlier start on the day, it would have been absolutely fine.

Cala Macarelleta

I don’t know about you, but I love seeking out a beautiful sunset spot when on vacation. I picked the lighthouse Far de Punta Nati in the Northwest tip of the island. The car park is a bit of a walk from the lighthouse itself, and it’s best to get there an hour before sunset to get a spot, otherwise just park on the small road heading to the lighthouse. While I was surprised to see the lighthouse closed for visitors (it was  chained shut), tourists have clearly avoided this by climbing over the fence to the edge of the cliffs. And from there, you pick a ‘comfortable’ rock to sit on and you wait for the sky to begin its miraculous change. I brought sandwiches with us to have dinner there on the spot, so depending how hungry you get, you might think about bringing some food too, as it’s pretty remote out there and it’s during the Spanish dinner hour. While we did have a few last minute clouds encroach on our sunset, it was still a memorable and beautiful view.

The Far de Punta Nati Lighthouse
Lighthouses are always so peaceful to me
Even with a cloud closing in, it was a memorable sunset at Far de Punta Nati

Day 2:

Get a head start on your day and head to Cala Pregonda. Or more accurately, you can’t actually park at Cala Pregonda, since the road leading up to it is private; instead you have to drive to the Binimel.lá beach and park at the restaurant Binimel.la. Then prepare for a bit of a hike (25-30 minutes) to reach the first beach that you may assume is Cala Pregonda, as there are tons of people here. It’s what I thought too, as I planted myself in the sand and chilled on the beach. If you keep hiking 15 more minutes, you’ll reach the actual Cala Pregonda. On the way, savor the views of of both coves.

One side of the beach as you approach Cala Pregonda
The shimmering sea in the middle of the calas
The actual Cala Pregonda, a bit less crowded as it’s farther to reach

Making my long trip back to the car, I was very hungry, so I grabbed a bite at the Binimel.lá restaurant, a beautiful finca remade into a place to get food and drinks after the beach. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a window that faces the sea to enjoy the breeze and the views. The food there is quite good, but be prepared for a wait when you go for lunch, as it’s the only place to eat in the vicinity and a popular spot.

The next stop was the beautiful Cala Morell, which is a small cove amidst a charming white-washed town. I will say the beach was a mix of sand and pebbles, so it was not comfortable to walk on compared to the sandy coves. Here I would recommend to go mainly for the view and an hour of sunbathing, maybe even stay here a night if you like the vibe. The crowd is definitely more adults, no families from what I saw, and some nude sunbathers. Ahh, Europe!

This way to the playa
Cala Morella

In the evening, it was time to check out Ciutadella, one of Menorca’s largest port cities. And let me say, it’s such a gorgeous place! It has colorful, medieval streets and a really nice port filled with restaurants where you can watch the sunset. There are plenty of places to shop and eat, you won’t get bored here. As with any European town, there is a main square, a cathedral and palaces comprising the old town. If I go back to Menorca, I would almost certainly stay in Ciutadella.

Charming streets of Ciutadella

Lovely harbor
Venice vibes in Ciutadella

Day 3:

I decided to check on the Southeast corner of the island, and you guessed it: another cala! This time it was Cala de Binidalí, which has an easily accessible parking and a brief hike down. This beach had a lot of jellyfish when I was there, as it’s common in the summer time. This was not my favorite cala in terms of aesthetics, but what I did like was there there were far fewer people at this beach. Folks picked a space on a boulder or the sand and relaxed. After an hour or so in the beaches, I made my way to Binibeca Vell, a tiny white washed village that I had gotten several recommendations to visit.

Bininbeca Vell is a whitewashed town that mimics authentic Balearic fishing houses. It has narrow alleys, white streets and houses, and there are actually signs to be quiet, as it’s a residential/resort community. It’s worth a short stop in to get lost in the white streets and then eat a delicious meal on a terrace in of the restaurants nearby. Parking is pretty easy along the streets, just mind any signs that require a permit.

Coming back to the apartment, I enjoyed the last rays of sunshine on the balcony of Cala Galdana, welcoming the cooler temperature. By then, it was time for dinner (which, in Spain, is about 9-10 p.m.). Plenty of restaurants in Cala Galdana, and I recommend you try ‘Alaska’ – it has excellent tapas and seafood for a decent price.

Cala de Binidalí
Some seaweed but otherwise ultra clear water at Binidalí
Bininbeca-Vell
Against the white-washed walls of Binibeca-Vell
Small white church in Binibeca-Vell

Day 4:

Keeping in mind that on the fourth day I would be parting with this magical, tiny island, I decided to head in the direction of Mahón, the capital, to enjoy a few hours exploring the historical center and harbor – plus it’s conveniently located by the airport. While Mahón is a very nice city, I wouldn’t stay there if I came back. It’s a good place to spend a few hours, and several boat tours take off from the harbor, but I didn’t find the city as charming as Ciutadella. Plenty of restaurants and shopping in the historical center, with several churches and an outdoor market on Placa Esplanada. If you’re traveling with kids and don’t feel like walking, there’s a 50-minute tourist train that shows you all the city highlights, including the harbor. There is also a 19th century fort called Fortalleza de la Mola that overlooks the city, if you fancy a historical introduction to the city culture.

After a nice lunch, it was time to wrap up the trip and head to the airport. I will definitely be coming back to this lovely island!

Mahón port

Are you planning a trip to the Balearics? Give a shout below with your plans!

 

travel

I hate sardines, but I love Sardinia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACala Luna

Sardinia is a very unique and enriching island. Incredible nature, beaches, food and people. Also, it’s a HUGE island, and it takes time to get from one place to another. I decided to stay in the East near the coast of Orosei. It’s the most mountainous region of Sardinia, and it’s absolutely stunning. Here is how I spent my 8 days there:

Day 1:

I landed in Cagliari in the afternoon and immediately rented a car in airport. I used EuropCar, as I needed an automatic transmission and was told they don’t require the I international drivers permit (relevant for those outside of EU). I just used my US Driver’s License and was on the road in no time. In truth, this was my first time to rent a car in Europe! In retrospect, I overpaid for a one-week rental by at least twice as much, especially the insurance, so I think other companies can give you a better rate when booked in advance. Note I didn’t need a GPS, because I have an international data plan on my phone that has GPS. I definitely recommend saving your accommodation’s address in advance as some places have no signal, and you’re stuck until you find reception. You definitely need a car to travel around Sardinia! No buses between some towns and it’s just too vast to cover via public transport alone.

I decided to base the first half of my trip out of Baunei, a beautiful and quiet mountain town overlooking the sea. It’s about 2.5 hours from Cagliari and most of the time on hairpin, winding mountain roads if you drive inland. Incredible views and adrenaline rush for the speed demons, but not for the faint of heart! I sped like a grandma…

Baunei is split into the mountain part and the coastal part which is called Santa Maria Navarrese. Both are very charming, just whatever you prefer more: mountain air or sea breeze. They are 17 minutes apart by car.

I stayed in a super cute Airbnb called B&B Art House Giaminera, with my lovely host MariaLaura. It’s a really nice stay for good prices, delicious breakfasts and a gracious, helpful host. Only downside was no AC (common in Europe). However in the nights, the mountain is cool and pleasant, plus there’s a fan.

Day 2:

I drove down to Santa Maria Navarrese (hereby referred to as SMN) and began a hike to Pedra Longa, a stunning rock that juts out over the water, offering magnificent panoramic views. You can park your car at Ostello Bellavista, then begin the trail from there. Bring plenty of water; the hike one way is about 1 hour and 20 minutes, and it is HOT!

Once you get to Pedra Longa, you can buy more water or refreshments, there’s even a restaurant. Or you can take a very welcoming dip in cool waters on either side of Pedra Longa. Note it’s all stone, no sand or pebble beach there. I spent a good hour or so swimming and relaxing before heading back. The way back for some reason was harder, but I think it’s because I hadn’t eaten and felt exhausted. That’s also when I learned that my Nike Free TR6’s just didn’t cut it for hiking, and I should have brought my proper hiking shoes! Biggest lesson learned here. Note, you can drive and park at Pedra Longa in case you’re short on time and don’t want to hike. It’s about 18 minutes driving from SMN.

And hey, don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Not a cloud in sight, and the Mediterranean sun is unforgiving, although the views are stunning.

In the afternoon, I was quite hungry after the hike, so I drove to Bar O’livastro in SMN for some delicious local pizza with super thin crust and dough made with potato. It’s typical in Sardinia and tastes delicious. You have a pleasant view of the sea as your heart rate comes down and you replenish your hunger. Then I basically walked right onto the beach in front of the restaurant and face-planted into the sand, passing out for a good hour.

I spent the evening exploring Baunei, which you can walk through in like 20 minutes, it’s so small and quaint. A great spot to watch the sunset. A wonderful and relaxing way to end the day. You won’t have energy to do more!

Day 3:

I decided to do a full day’s worth of boating across the Orosei coast. I booked a ticket for 55€ through my host. The boat is actually a motor yacht, fits just the right amount of people and feels so spacious. It’s clean, service is great – the company is called Fuorirotta Charter aboard the Federica. You meet in the marina of SMN, which has plenty of parking.

We visited and got off at Cala Meriolu, Cala Sisine and Cala dei Gabbiani. They provided a good lunch onboard and aperol spritz, among other snacks. The sea on the way there was very calm, but a tad rough on the way back; it just depends on weather patterns. We had to turn in an hour earlier due to unsafe sea conditions.

You have the option to visit a cave if you wish for an extra fee. I didn’t do this, just relaxed on the beach in Cala dei Gabbiani instead. We returned to SMN around 5pm, and I was pretty tired from being in the sun all day. So what did I do? I face-planted on the beach once more, this time on Spiaggia di Tancau in SMN. Had dinner nearby there while watching the sea (pizza again, because why not?).

Day 4:

I woke up not too early and had no plan for the day. I felt like I had maximized my activities for that area, so decided to do a quick day trip to Cala Gonone and hike to Cala Luna, and just return in the late afternoon. The drive from Baunei to Cala Gonone is around 1 hour on twisting mountain roads, but holy moly are the views amazing! Once in Cala Gonone, I explored the town for a short bit, grabbed some food and water for my hike, and was on my way.

I parked my car in Cala Fuili, which is actually a really gorgeous small beach with exquisite views. Nonetheless I began my hike going down steep stairs and onto a rocky path. This one was tougher than the Pedra Longa hike, with a lot of vertical movement, slippery stones and even a few metal handles to help you up and down the steep boulders. However this wasn’t mountain climbing, just medium-level hiking. Again I regretted not having my hiking boots, and my toes paid dearly for it. Several people go this route, so you will run into folks now and again. It took me about 1 hour 20 minutes one way. Once I arrived, I enjoyed the crowded beach and beautiful sea caves. Cala Luna was PACKED with people, even though I didn’t see that many on my hike. How? Well there are boat transfers that go regularly between Cala Gonone and Cala Luna. And what I did after my hike, realizing there’s no way I’d have the energy or time to hike back, I just purchased a one way boat trip back for 10€ in Cala Luna at the small tent. The boats come every 20-30 mins or so. Super convenient. In 10-15 min you’re back in Cala Gonone after a pleasant speed boar ride. My transfer even included a complimentary shuttle that took me to my parked car not far from the marina at Cala Fuili, where most people leave their cars to hike or swim at Fuili.

After a very rewarding day of hiking, swimming and beautiful views, I drove that afternoon back to Baunei. I had a nice dinner watching the sunset at Pisaneddu a few minutes walk outside of Baunei. Delicious food and yummy rose. Let’s just I slept like a rock.

Day 5:

Early morning, I checked out of my B&B in Baunei and decided to do a hike to the pristine Cala Goloritze before heading in the afternoon to the next town where I’d be based out of. Cala Goloritze is only accessible by hiking, no boat or car road can reach its shores. But it’s a relatively easy hike down, about 45 minutes, and the reward is worth it. It’s €6 to hike and enter the beach, and it includes parking on the mountain. Early in the morning (9-9:30am) there’s practically no one there, and you have this beautiful beach and azure water all to yourself. Everyone else begins arriving closer to 11am. I headed back up at noon, and it was already crowded. Many boats, though they can’t dock at the beach, would have their passengers just swim to shore… so there’s that trick if you’re a good swimmer. Also since there’s no food or bar at the beach, bring a panini and plenty of water with you for a nice picnic there. The hike back up was a bit harder as it’s quite an ascent and by then much hotter. But nothing compared to the Cala Luna hike! Also I can’t stress the importance of hiking shoes, enough WATER and sunscreen! You’re welcome.

I then set out for my next base, which was the lovely town of Dorgali. It’s a 15-minute drive from Cala Gonone, and it’s nestled in a sort of valley of Supramonte. I wanted a place close enough to reach everything within a few minutes but for a much more affordable accommodation price than staying on the coast. I stayed at B&B da Zietto, with my host Antonio, which I found on Airbnb. Again an outstanding accommodation, host and breakfast for a great price. I settled in and explored the town, got dinner (possibly pizza again..) and then went to bed.

Day 6:

I had a relaxed day, went to the local beach in Cala Gonone at Spiaggia di Sos Dorroles. In the late afternoon I decided to try something different and headed to nearby Lago Cedrino for a scenic horseback riding adventure. I did it through Agriturismo Neulè, and it’s about 1-2 hours guided horseback tour for €30. They don’t speak English, only Italian, so there’s not much of a tour just a guide. It’s quite nice and relaxing ride, albeit very hot. Also as I’m not a seasoned horseback rider, my legs were very sore after and it hurt to sit. Just keep in mind to wear pants and sneakers if you can (I woke jean shorts and sorely regretted it). You go at a nice trotting pace with a few gallops to keep things interesting. They only accept cash, as many places in small towns do, so make sure you have enough whoever you go. At night, I watched the peaceful sunset over Dorgali and finished off yet another pizza.

Day 7:

I explored nearby beaches and took the day at a leisurely pace, as it was my last full day. I stopped by the town of Orosei, which I must admit I wasn’t very impressed by. The beaches nearby were finally sandy, after a week of pebbles and rocks. One in particular I liked that was sandy was Spiaggia di Cala Ginepro. Lots of families and a very relaxed vibe. To finish the day off, I returned to Cala Gonone, spent some time in Cala Fuili where the pebbles were too large to be comfortable unless you bring a lounger or mat. Finally, I headed back to Dorgali to have a nice dinner on my B&B’s terrace as the sun set.

Day 8:

As my flight was in the late afternoon, I decided to head to the west coast, which was on the way back via the main highway E25. There are ancient Roman ruins called Tharos on a narrow strip of land overlooking the sea. The beach just below, Spiaggia di Capo San Marco, is absolutely wonderful. In the morning hours, it is tranquil and not crowded.

As a final stop, I headed just a few kilometers out to Mari Ermi, a beautiful beach with sparkling water to match the sky, and fine, soft pink and white quartz pebbles, which are so soft to walk on for pebbles. It’s worth visiting and spending the day there. Parking costs just a couple of euros. These pebbles don’t heat up like the sand, so it’s pleasant to walk on even in the middle of a hot day. It’s a good stop before the airport in Cagliari, which is only about 1:15 away.

In summary, if you’re looking for beautiful beaches, mountains, local culture and delicious food, but want to break way from mainland Italy – then Sardinia, particularly the East, is where you should go. What other places have you been to in Sardinia?

beauty

My secret weapon against cystic acne

IMG_4231Kisses and clear skin from Rio

Okay, let’s get real: I don’t have perfect, airbrushed skin that women would die for. But I also don’t have disastrous skin with acne all over my face. No, I had particularly frustrating skin issues throughout my 20’s. I would get 1-2 large, deep, painful cystic acne that would takes weeks to pass and caused severe scarring, mainly on or around my chin. Sad truth.

Now I’m not saying looks are everything, but your face tends to be one of the first things people notice, considering your skin covers 100% of your face. And while make-up is one of mankind’s greatest inventions and helps tremendously, no concealer will hide a small mountain on your face. It was an arduous, painful and very expensive journey until I finally discovered the ONE treatment that actually made a difference and worked (and it is still working!).

Skin is our largest organ, and it’s hugely vulnerable because, well obviously, it’s constantly exposed to the sun, the environment and pollution. Then factor in internal causes, such as hormones, infections and genetics, and skin has a slim chance at appearing smooth, flawless and healthy. It’s difficult to rule out all the causes, because our bodies are always changing, and sometimes so is our environment.

Like many women, I saw a lot of changes in my skin during my hormonal cycles, and not much I can do about that (mother nature, am I right?). Next, if you’re a frequent traveler like me, you often get breakouts after flying, major sleep cycle changes or switching extreme climates. Airplane acne is a real thing, check out this article to learn more. Finally, life… stress propels a lot of changes in your body almost immediately, and without keeping that in check, your last rush of anxiety at work or at home can be a culprit in the ‘literally growing before your eyes’ breakout.

The least we can do, besides minimizing the factors mentioned above, is keep our face clean, whether with products or going to facials. However, in my experience, that’s not enough. I needed something supplementary from the inside that would control the hormonal changes that were clearly spiking my cystic acne. I tried many treatments and medications throughout the years, including antibiotics, birth control, topical retinoids and chemical peels. It’s important to note I was never a candidate for Isotretinoin (such as Accutane), and I never pursued it because of its harmful side effects.

So time and time again, I would get these ugly breakouts, usually a mounting bump on my chin, and I swear it would begin an emotional reaction as such: Denial, despair, effort to mitigate or treat intensely, cover up with make-up, and finally squeezing that sucker out with my own two hands… WORST thing you can do to your skin. What it left me with were new relatives of the main pimple in the surrounding area within just a few days, then finally, once the grand mound would go down, it would form a crater or depression in my skin that I would later spend a TON of money correcting.

One day, after complaining to my gynecologist about this issue, she offered me a solution without hesitating: Spironolactone. It is normally used to treat high BP, but when issued in lower doses, it has androgen blockers (that delivers just the teensiest bit of progestin) and makes you pee a lot (diuretic), but the point is it lowers hormone levels and oil production enough to stop acne in the lower half of your face. I was SUPER hesitant, especially she told me it would take up to 3 months to work. Who has time to have faith in a medicine when you have to wait a whole weather season??

Nonetheless, it was my Hail Mary attempt to clear my skin, and others things weren’t working, so why not? Surely enough, in about 2 months, I noticed that no new lumps were forming in my chin and jaw bone. Then no lumps of acne were forming anywhere else on my body (I would occasionally get painful cystic acne on my shoulders or back). I took my medication regularly (100mg of Spironolactone daily).

I’m one year in now, and it’s the first year in over a decade where I have NOT had any cystic acne, and my skin is clear. In fact, I very rarely get tiny zits from built-up make-up or dirt, but nothing that gets inflamed or huge. And guess who has two thumbs and no longer pops any zits? This girl! Lesson learned, all right.

So if you are out there suffering from cystic acne, and you feel like you’ve hit a wall with medications or treatments, why not learn more about Spironolactone? If you’re a good candidate, it can really make a difference not only in your skin, but your self-esteem and inner peace.

Comment below if you’ve struggled with acne and what treatments have or haven’t worked for you!

beauty

Beauty essentials to pack

travel suitcase

My biggest enemy when traveling is the weight limit of my carry-on luggage (sometimes even my check-in). Call me superficial or silly, but I say traveling is most enjoyable when you have some of your comfort essentials with you. Here are my beauty tools I always have, no matter where I’m going:

1. Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water

The best make-up remover of them all – feels like water, doesn’t irritate your skin or eyeballs and removes ALL residue. My favorite and most affordable micellar water is from Garnier.

2. Harry Josh Tools 2 inch round brush

We all know hair is your crown of beauty – and when I have to tame my long, stubborn hair, this brush does the trick! It’s a mix of boar bristles and Nylon, so it leaves my hair very shiny and bouncy. Harry Josh, the creator of these seafoam-colored products, is a celeb hairstylist that helped make Gisele’s mane as famous as the supermodel herself.

3. Alpha H Liquid Gold with Glycolic Acid

This was recently incorporated in my skin routine, and I’m obsessed! You can read more about the benefits of glycolic acid, especially if anti-aging and acne scarring are your skin’s trouble areas. I use it every 2-3 nights on its own or with a light moisturizer on top. They don’t call it Liquid Gold for nothing.

4. Bumble and bumble Prêt-à-powder

THIS! Dry shampoo is quite possibly the best invention in recent years, and this one does not dry out your scalp like many others. Also, it does not have a strong scent or leave a white residue. Get’s the job done, extends your blowout and adds volume.

 

5.  Freshmade Coconut Mask by Skinfood

If you love K-beauty, then you will really appreciate this plumping, moisturizing, self-absorbing face mask. It smells like you’re on a beach drinking a coconut, and your skin will have a youthful, fresh glow. It’s has food-based ingredients, which I probably why I love it (food is life, am I right?). Skinfood makes many other masks, but I like that this one you leave on and it melts into your skin without leaving any sticky residue.

6. Ouai Hair Oil

Apply it on wet and dry hair – Ouai’s hair oil is not heavy or greasy, it absorbs quickly and styles hair beautifully. They sell travel size oils in Sephora, but the main size is less than 100 ml, so it’s check-in luggage approved! Did I mention it smells heavenly and created by hair guru to the stars Jen Atkins?

7. Chantecaille Faux Cils Longest Lash Mascara

This magical mascara is quite expensive, but I won’t put anything else on my lashes. It has actual peptides that help your lashes stay strong and grow, not to mention it adds volume and length from the coating. I always get asked if my lashes are real – happy to say that they are, and this is my secret!

8. Trish McEvoy Beauty Booster Eye Serum

Trish knows her stuff – her make-up and skincare products are all made safe for sensitive, allergy-prone skin with the help of her husband, a renowned dermatologist in New York. This eye serum is like an immediate skin tightener, dark circle reliever and de-puffer, which is especially essential for red-eye flights and jet lag. And it has my FAVORITE ingredient, hyaluronic acid!

 

I am always on the lookout for new products, mainly because my skin changes with time and in different environments. So if you’ve tried other great products that you can’t travel without, please share them below!

Lifestyle

The ugly truth of expat life

Pondering the expat lifePondering the expat life

I recently reflected on the conflicting emotions behind being an expat. On one hand, you’re doing something unconventional, you’ve left your comfort zone (perhaps more than once, and you know the drill). You’re learning the local language and have made some expat friends (if you’re lucky, some local friends). You’re getting a hang of your new job, getting along with colleagues (more or less), and you even have some cool trips planned to nearby destinations. All the bureaucratic paperwork is sorted, and life at home alone or with your partner, family and/or flat mates is getting easier. What could be better?

Then you notice cultural differences that at first made you chuckle but now begin to truly frustrate you. The work ethic at the office (or home office) is different than what you’re used to, and it’s either too fast-paced or too relaxed – and that is stressful. Your friends in the new place are all in the same boat, probably here temporarily, in varying stages of their career or family life, but they’re sort of superficial. They don’t know you profoundly from your early 20’s or high school. The memories you share with them are only recent, and frankly, it’s harder to connect with new friends as you get older. And then you begin to get sick of the local cuisine and crave that food from back home, that special snack you’d indulge in that would always bring you comfort, and you can’t get it anywhere now. Suddenly, your honeymoon is over, and you see things for what they are.

You’re a stranger in a new land, and no matter how acclimated you get, you’re still a foreigner and that’s exactly how you feel. Out of place, annoyed at times (or all the time), and scrolling through your social media feeds to see all the faces of friends and family back home doing what you used to do together without you stirs a huge FOMO.

I experienced this cycle three times now at different stages of my life. Third time’s a charm, right? No – the third time is hard as sh*t. When I was little, my family moved from Russia to the USA for my dad’s job. I remember everything quite vividly, especially flying in an airplane where I was convinced the pilot was talking directly to me when he came on the loudspeaker. Never mind that, moving abroad as a kid feels like it’s much easier, because you don’t have a choice, and your family is there with you adjusting as well. And children adapt quicker to new environments, where their identity is still forming and things like learning a new language come easy.

The second time around, I moved to Moscow from Houston for my job when I was 26. This time I was parting with everyone and everything I knew (including my partner) and was going alone at my own volition for a career opportunity in my motherland. So there I lived a lavish, fun and adventurous life for three years, physically single, but mentally my mind was elsewhere and silently doing a countdown, because I knew this experience would end one day. I had one foot in Moscow and one foot back back home. I was home, technically, in my homeland; I spoke the language; I knew the customs and people; but I still felt foreign. Not unwelcome though, just observing life through a translucent crystal ball, if you will. The experience was enriching but it seemed always at a safe distance, so I could pull away at any time.

And coming to the third and most profound move yet – moving from Houston to Madrid for my partner’s job. This time, it wasn’t for me – it was for him, or more correctly, for us. One huge hurdle was behind us (long distance for four years… that’s another story) and now loomed another cycle of adjusting to a new place, but one with a new language and no job for me. I remember looking at the metaphorical mountain of another expat life as I got on the plane to Spain – every cell in my body was tired in advance, but also excited. It was trading one huge stress for another. Starting over is hard, y’all. Even if your loved one is by your side or the destination is very comfortable. I think once you know the cycle, the emotional rollercoasters aren’t as frightening, but you still can’t help but wait for the ride to stabilize.

I’m over a year now into my third cycle of expat life, and I am coming to accept the bad with the good. It’s just part of the package. No, I won’t get to see my friend’s kids grow up, but I will get to live in Europe and have that on my life’s resume. No, I won’t get to spend much time with my mom, brother and grandmother, who aren’t getting any younger, but I will always have cool stories and photos to share with them when we are together. No, I won’t be able to have happy hour with my best friends whenever I want, but do I get to make new friends from all over the world who can teach me something new about living abroad. And that’s the ugly truth – or maybe, that’s the beauty of it.

What are some of your ugly truths about expat life?