The island of Molokai is an unspoiled paradise — the last Hawaiian island that has held out against cruise ships and mass tourism — but for 100 years to more than 8,000 people, it was a prison.
On the north shore of the island is a secluded peninsula surrounded by high sea cliffs on three sides and an impassable coastline on the fourth. In the 1800s Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy, became more prevalent. And as there was no cure, countries around the world created specific colonies for the ill people to live in. It was on this spot in Molokai in 1866 that King Kamehameha V created Kalaupapa.
Once a year for four months, the pine and oak forests of the UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve, high up in the Transatlantic Volcanic Belt outside of Mexico City, come alive. Starting in early November, on the Day of the Dead, millions of monarch butterflies arrive after their 3,000-mile journey from eastern Canada and the United States to mate … creating one of the most majestic natural wonders in the world.
The butterflies clump together for warmth when the sun is hiding.
It all started in December when I realized I wanted to start off 2016 the way I wanted to end it — traveling and being inspired. I’ve always wanted to see the butterfly migration; when I was a child growing up in Ohio, the butterflies would sometimes pass through on their way to Mexico, and it was awe-inspiring to see football fields full of them — and I wanted to revisit that on a grander scale. I knew I had to go see the migration in Mexico.
My friend Trisha lives in Los Angeles, Jackie lives in Dallas, and I am in New York City — basically, it’s hard to get together. So when Trisha suggested a girls getaway in Ojai, Calif., just 75 miles north of Los Angeles, Jackie and I jumped.
At first I was skeptical.
Ojai has gotten an annoying rap in the past as a healthy, vegan, spiritual hippie hangout.
And there are still some things that make you roll your eyes and giggle a bit. The “No Talking!” signs posted alongside the anti-cellphone warnings at the famed Meditation Mount lookout are a bit much, as are the plethora of signs warning you that everything is organic. (Doesn’t it all become a little like a double negative after a while? Like: “organic organics,” “vegan organic,” “farm fresh organic vegan.” At some point you just want to say, “Come on — I know this is all made from genetically modified cow hoofs!” Except, fun fact, vegans don’t have the most developed sense of humor and probably wouldn’t think that’s funny. Must be the lack of protein.) Or the shops that sell dream catchers alongside crystals and spiritual self-help books.
But I was about to get schooled.
The Ojai Valley Inn is a little slice of heaven. (Photo: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa)
James Bond loves it, Formula 1 loves it, and it just got the coveted No. 1 spot on the New York Times’s “52 Places to Go in 2016” list — it’s official: Mexico City is hot right now.
After years of suffering through a bad reputation — pollution, overcrowding, and crime — the city has pulled itself up by its bootstraps and become a leader in the arts, gastronomy, and cultural excursions. With 150 museums (many of them either free or costing just a few dollars) and four UNESCO sites, Mexico City is a historical culture lover’s dream. Even better, with a strong dollar (the exchange rate is now around 17 pesos to the dollar), it’s more affordable than, say, a jaunt to Europe — or even Los Angeles. And, as of Jan. 1, U.S.-Mexico aviation restrictions, which capped the number of airlines that could fly on the U.S.-Mexico routes, have eased, and carriers like JetBlue are now doing nonstop flights to the capital, making trips easier than ever.
Every now and then New York City gets hit with a mega-storm… There was Hurricane Sandy and this year, Storm Jonas. But, unlike Sandy, Storm Jonas didn’t wreak havoc, it just wreaked fun as the entire city shut down and people every where came out to play in ways that New Yorkers don’t usually play. And so, for your enjoyment, I present, New Yorkers Having Fun…
Yours truly decided to hang with neighbors at Lucky Strike Cafe – where I had a few hot toddies
During a snow day in NYC the only thing to do is indulge in a few *cough* Hot Toddies at Lucky Strike.
And then, while walking home on West Broadway, which looked like this, BTW:
West Broadway like you’ve never seen it – EMPTY – during Storm Jonas/Snowzilla.
Which inspired me to do this:
Hope you all had a lovely Snowzilla as well – let me know what you did in comments!
Earlier this Week, ISIS destroyed at 1400 year-old monastery in Mosul, Iraq, but last year they did their most damage – razing the oldest monastery in the country, Mar Behnam and several others – as well as looting the ancient Assyrian towns of Ninevah and Nimrud, cornerstones of human history.
I visited the biblical city of Nimrud in 2011 and it was palpably magical—made even more so because so few people were ever able visit the site—first due to Saddam Hussein’s government and then due to war.
Built in 1274 B.C., it was made the capital of the Assyrian empire in 883 B.C. and a 5 mile long wall was constructed, surrounding the city and palace. Huge Lamassu, large winged beasts with the body of an ox or lion and the heads of men, lined the palace entry and inside were carved scenes of life painted in many colors. Interestingly, along the outer walls, inscriptions were carved including:
“The palace of cedar, cypress, juniper, boxwood, mulberry, pistachio wood, and tamarisk, for my royal dwelling and for my lordly pleasure for all time, I founded therein. Beasts of the mountains and of the seas, of white limestone and alabaster I fashioned and set them up on its gates.”
“Silver, gold, lead, copper and iron, the spoil of my hand from the lands which I had brought under my sway, in great quantities I took and placed therein.”
“Many of the captives I have taken and burned in a fire. Many I took alive; from some I cut off their hands to the wrists, from others I cut off their noses, ears and fingers; I put out the eyes of many of the soldiers. I burned their young men, women and children to death.”
“I flayed the nobles as many as rebelled; and [I] spread their skins out on the piles.”