Oaxaca, Mexico

Fifteen years after my first stay in Oaxaca, I returned to this gloriously rich and diverse state to visit my brother and sister-in-law for the Christmas holidays.  We enjoyed family bonding time in the zocalo, and on trips to the Monte Alban archeological site, roadside mezcal factory, handmade rugmakers, petrified waterfalls, a "Temezcal" pre-hispanic spiritual cleansing ritual, the annual Festival of the (carved) Radishes, the ethno-botanical gardens (said to be among the most beautiful gardens in the world), and many visits through the fabulously colorful markets (roasted grasshoppers or pig heads, anyone?).  Nothing says Yuletide like a Christmas tree pinata hanging from a 30 foot high ceiling in a sibling's apartment on an 80 degree sunny day in December!

More photos of Oaxaca City and surroundings

After Christmas, I joined a wonderful group of five British Empire representatives for a four-day hike through Pueblos Mancomunados, small villages in the Sierra Norte mountains. The scenery was something out of Dr. Seuss land... and nothing I anticipated seeing in Mexico: brightly colored pom pom-like flowers that thrust themselves 50 feet up from century-old enormous agave plants in the final year of their existence (what a way to go out!).  I also loved the romantic cloud forest conditions, prickly pear cactus, wild horses, and draped Spanish moss.  When not traversing through the forests, hills and valleys that connect the villages, we participated in a spiritual cleansing by a healer in one of the villages that used eggs to indicate an "evil eye", enjoyed local specialities prepared in the comedores, laid in hammocks under nearly-full moons, listened to morning public service announcements and community reminders broadcast over the village PA system, and learned about medicinal uses of trailside plants. What an awesome experience.

 More photos of trek

Orcas Island, San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands are halfway between Seattle and Vancouver.  Though accessible by ferry, they are so remote that my cell phone only rarely got reception.  That, and the company of a dear friend, a four-course garlic dinner, 2 fantastic hikes through elegant forest, and a hot tub overlooking the bay were the right set of ingredients for a perfect fall getaway weekend at Doe Bay, on Orcas Island.

More photos