2020 Travels and Things

Last year, I wrote about all of my goals for 2020 and how I wanted to continue traveling and exploring the world. I wanted to go to 12 new places, or around 1 new place per month. At the time, it seemed like a reasonable and fun challenge.

Once Covid-19 hit the U.S., lots of things changed. Staying away from others, in my home, was far from what I had pictured for my 2020 year. Despite the set-backs, I have travelled (SAFELY) a few times since Corona began. While I have been home much more than I would have liked to be, I still feel like my year has been decent. I wanted to share the fun stuff I experienced during this rough year, with hopes next year will be better.

For the ease of reading and enjoying, I have decided to make this a four-part series. I realized that I have quite a bit to write and share for each month, so giving yall three months at a time might make each post less daunting.

January

I rang in the new year with Jose and my other friend, Preston. We drank champagne and stayed in at my apartment in Dallas. I went to Colorado a few days later alongside my friend Eddy, where we stayed in a cool Air BnB with a giant projector and watched Breaking Bad. We got coffee the next morning at a cute shop called Pablo’s Coffee, then we stopped by the airport again to pick up our friend Kenzie.

We spent the day touring the Coors Light factory. We had the option to purchase a guided tour, that included a tasting of multiple different Coors beers at the end! Unfortunately we did not have time this trip, but it is something I would like to do in the future. Instead, we completed the self guided tour which was just as fun. The gift shop inside the building was huge, so we stopped by and purchased a few novelty items. I grabbed a cute beanie, pictured below. After our Coors tour, we asked a local worker about a nice place to hike. She suggested a local trail just minutes down the road, so we drove that way in our rental and spend a few hours hiking up the terrain. The weather was chilly, but wonderful, and the views were magnificent.

Later that month, Kenzie asked me to come with her on an impromptu trip to the Grand Canyon. (I should probably mention, Eddy and Kenzie worked for Southwest Airlines and had the privilege of free flights. I sometimes was given a free flight too. How cool is that?) So, with a 24 hours notice I packed a bag and headed to the airport. Kenzie and I flew into the Phoenix airport on a cool afternoon. We rented out a small little car, and explored the city for some grub. We settled on a cute little Mexican spot, where you walked into a little bus-like building to order your food. We ate some burritos on their outdoor patio and enjoyed the sunset. Phoenix is an absolute VIBE, by the way. The casual, chill atmosphere paired with the gorgeous mountains, cacti and weather is amazing. Absolutely I will visit again!

We drove the three hour trek to our Air BnB (not gonna lie it was low key sketch), which was just half an hour away from the Canyon. We slept just a few hours, because we agreed to wake up early and watch the sunrise. Despite being tired as heck, I am SO glad we did this! We drove our rental out in the fields and parked, listening to the iconic “Always Remember Us This Way” and watching in awe as the sun lit up the mountains, the land, then the whole sky.

We packed up from our BnB, then headed out to our destination. Along the way, we saw a few signs on the side of the road offering beef jerky for sale a few miles ahead. The signs were clever, and funny, basically saying things like “It’s good, I promise” and “I am not a weirdo”. So, obviously, we stopped alongside the road when we saw the man pitched up with his tent. Apparently, the jerky business was his father’s, who was too elderly to continue selling on his own. His son took up the business, and sold it in a few different markets… including the roadside. We bought a bag and monched on it while we continued to drive. It really was good, so thank you, strange jerky man!

We stopped by a Starbucks before entering in the private area for the park. A stranger randomly gifted us their day pass for the park area, which saved us a few bucks! So we happily drove in and found our way to the Grand Canyon tourist area. It was a super cute little area, with a few buildings dedicated to a gift shop, a visual guide with history info, and an area where you could wait for a free bus tour. Kenzie and I braced the cold to wait for the bus, which took us to MULTIPLE points alongside an area of the Canyon. I have NEVER seen something so wild, huge, and amazing! Both of our jaws dropped when the bus took the first turn, and the Canyon became visible. The bright reds were gorgeous, paired with the snow and greenery. We took so many pictures!

February

My main “trip” in February was attending Mardi Gras! I had never been before, and it was on my bucket list of things to do in my life. New Orleans was an entirely new city for me as well, so I was PUMPED to explore it.

I knew I wanted to attend for a while, so in 2019 I booked hotel reservations near NOLA to secure a spot before everything was either booked or sky-high expensive. In a very Natalie-esque fashion: DO now, PLAN later! aaand that is basically what happened. Plans were solidified about a month in advance. The entourage was myself, Kenzie, Jose, and our friend Summer. We borrowed Jose’s dad’s giant car to drive the 7+ hour trip down to the bayou.

If you know me, you are aware that a hate car rides. Cars scare me in general, and the thought of sitting on my butt bones for any longer than absolutely necessary sounds painful. The trek from Dallas to New Orleans is over 7 hours, and I knew from the start that I was gonna have a hard time. We planned accordingly and decided on making an overnight stop in Bossier city, a casino hot spot in Louisiana. It was almost at a halfway point between DFW and our destination, and we figured we could check out the slots, too.

In freezing temps, we checked into our little motel in Bossier and dressed up for our night out. We drove around to a few casinos, inhaling the cigarette smoke and trying to figure out why on earth there were SO MANY SLOT MACHINES. The good news was that in Louisiana, you can drink alcohol in the casinos for *free* so long as you are playing the slots. Meaning, you can do exactly as we did and put $5 into the penny slots, drink free tequila sunrises, and win absolutely nothing. It was more fun than it sounds.

The next morning we made the rest of the drive to New Orleans. Being the Saturday before Fat Tuesday, the city was PACKED. Driving through the French Quarter in broad daylight was very difficult, with thousands of people partying in the streets and music blasting from every street corner. We made it to our hotel, thankfully, and decided to uber to a restaurant before venturing into the city ourselves. The spot was a popular seafood place, which seemed fitting because NOLA is known for their amazing seafood fare. I ordered a fried seafood platter that had crab, shrimp, oysters and other goodies. It was yummmm. From there, we got a lift to downtown, where the madness happened.

First, I should probably mention that both Summer and Kenzie were already tipsy from dinner. Now, we were on Bourbon Street, where free reign of alcohol was every square inch you looked. Around this time, I kinda decided to just stay relatively sober because the party downtown was INSANE. When I tell you that this gathering was the MOST amount of humans I have ever seen in my life, all squished together in the dirty streets of the post-parade, Mardi Gras madness… holy hell. I could not even hear myself think. Moving down the streets was a challenge, and every single bar and shop was packed beyond belief. Live music was protruding from every bar, rowdy partiers lined the streets absolutely plastered from drinking all weekend. From the tops and porches of buildings, hundreds of people were shouting, drinking, and encouraging passing pedestrians to flash them so they could throw down piles and piles of beaded necklaces. (Speaking of which, the streets were absolutely FILLED with these beads! It was like Party City came in and dumped their entire inventory on to the streets of New Orleans.) We went inside to explore a few bars, and got a few drinks for the group at a perfectly jazzy, dark lit bar that was loud as could be, and lined up wall to wall. For a $7 drink, I didn’t really expect much- but holy SHIT that was strong! WAY too strong for me. I just wanted something to sip on while we explored, but this concoction basically tasted like liquor and spices in my mouth. I drank as much as I could bear, and let Jose sip on the rest of it, while Summer and Kenzie were still having a drunken blast with their night.

This is where things got weird. At this point in the night, it was nearly 3am, super cold out, and the streets were still packed as ever. We had gotten the idea to start moving out of the downtown area, to see if we could catch an uber somewhere back to our hotel. Well… as we were walking down the streets, all holding hands to not get lost, Kenzie realized she couldn’t find her phone! Before we could help her look, she had darted in the opposite direction, swallowed by the crowds and nowhere to be seen. The three of us embarked on the journey of finding our friend, who was drunk and apparently phone-less in the middle of Mardi Gras. We were wanting to locate the bar that we last left- ideally, that is where she would have headed. But in all the madness, it was almost impossible to find it! It was as if the bar disappeared into thin air, because it seemed like we traveled up and down those streets countless times without being able to locate it. Worse of all, we couldn’t even remember the name of the place, because we just walked into a random spot that caught our eye. I kept calling Kenzie’s phone, which did not ring, and tried to locate it with the Find My Iphone app only to see it had been DISCONNECTED.

Eventually, I got a ring on my phone from Kenzie’s mother. She frantically explained to me that Kenzie was able to reach her through a strangers phone, and she provided us with the name of the bar she was at. We were then able to GPS where the hell the spot was, and FINALLY we found her! Holy crab cakes. I made sure her mom knew that luckily, we found her daughter, but her phone was probably gone forever. (PSA, even as adults please share your contact information with loved ones. THIS IS SUCH A GOOD EXAMPLE OF AN EMERGENCY SITUATION. YIKIES). Before we left, we decided that we all four needed a pee break, so we stood in line together and all squeezed into the little women’s bathroom for a bit of relief. On a decent note, Jose forgot that he brought a joint with him, and we decided that the dirty bathroom in the middle of Mardi Gras was a great place to smoke weed. Honestly, best point of the night. After a ridiculously expensive Uber ride, we got back to the hotel and passed out.

The next morning, we packed up the car and rode into the city again. We found parking, and grabbed brunch at a cute restaurant right across the pier. We all shared a pitcher of sangria, as well as some delicious beignets. I had a classic muffuletta sandwich, which was also super delish. The rest of our day was much easier than the previous night, as the streets were significantly less crowded, and the beautiful city was much easier to see! We wandered around the shops, stopping at the famous Cafe Du Monde to pick up coffee for souvenirs. Exploring the port was especially fun; being able to see the art of the city, the giant boats on the dock, and the locals of New Orleans really brought out the charm of the city. We took off on our way back home in the late afternoon, knowing a long drive was ahead of us. Despite all the ups and downs of the trip, we all look back now and are so glad we went.

March

Ah, yes. The beginning of this Covid madness. As the country began to learn about the virus, I was laid off from my office job and suddenly found myself with a ton of time on my hands. I was used to working my 9-5 during the week, and picking up a shift or two at a bar where I worked my second gig. Now, everything just came to a stop. It was pretty weird! Foolishly, I expected things to go back to normal within a week or two. (Oh boy, was I wrong.)

At the beginning of the month, Jose was also let go from his job, and we decided to take a rendezvous to the beach. Despite March still being in spring, Texas assumed it was summer and the weather was really nice for a trip to the ocean. We took the three hour trip to Galveston, enjoying the ride and listening to Bad Bunny. We rented out a cheap hotel on the island, and spent a majority of our time at the shore and exploring Pleasant Pier, an iconic Galveston food and carnival ride destination. Jose forced me on to some rides, which at first I was excited to go on. I have liked rollercoasters in the past, but I guess my tolerance has drastically changed because I nearly shit bricks on the few rides we got on. I did, however, enjoy the merry-go-round ride made for children. To end our first and last night there, we found delicious tacos at a Michoacana and chowed down a few yards away from the ocean. The weather was amazing, the ocean breeze was refreshing and we had the beautiful view of Pleasant Pier. It was a super fun and enjoyable time, but looking back, I am simply thankful we did not contract the virus.

Shortly after that, my friend Eddy offered Jose and I a roundtrip ticket to go to Denver with him. He wanted to explore the city and pick up a few things, and Jose had never been to Colorado. We gratefully accepted the invitation, and boarded the flight with masks in hand. At the time, no place was requiring face masks! So many people at the airport and in the flight were mask-free. While we were still unsure of the severity of the virus at the time, we played it safe and came prepared with face coverings and hand-sanitizer. We enjoyed our ‘freebie’ day trip to the gorgeous city, and I really loved being able to show Jose a few parts of Denver. We left later that day, with some goodies in hand.

I met up with my girlfriend Tracy and her husband to grab a few drinks at a bar, right before the pandemic became huge. This was before Texas shut everything down! It was a really nice outing and time to visit, despite things being confusing around the world. I don’t think anyone really knew the kind of severity Covid had at this time. The majority of folks just thought it was something that would pass, and not be so bad. Tracy, who is immunocompromised, really had to hunker down after this because of her lupus. I’m glad we were at least able to see each other in a ‘normal’ setting before shit hit the fan.

After everything shut down, Jose and I took a short day-trip to Sulphur Springs, Texas where a pair of GLASS bathrooms are located. My grandmother actually lives just around the corner from these bathrooms, so my family and I saw and explored them years ago when they were first built. Jose, however, had never been to the small east Texas town, and was very inclined to go. We explored the vacant down-town square and took photos and videos of the obscure bathrooms, which were basically square buildings with one-sided see through glass. Why anyone would want to watch folks outside while they pee or poo is beyond me, but it is a funny thing to see none-the-less.

Besides these trips and outings, I spent the majority of March at home. I stocked up on alcohol while I could, and had a few folks over to drink with here and there. It is still so crazy to imagine what life was like before shutdown, quarantine, and the worsening of the pandemic. I played the next few months much more safely, with caution being taken any time I took a trip or any outing.

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