An Open Letter to Travel Industry Professionals during the Coronavirus Pandemic: True Stories & Gratitude

Travel Industry Professionals of San Diego PROST

An Open Letter to Travel Industry Professionals

Dear Travel Industry Family,

We know we are all in this together. Together, we are facing hardship unlike anything we’ve seen before. The future of travel, OUR future of manifesting “dreams come true” for others, is uncertain. But one thing is certain. We are a family, and we have each other’s backs. 
These are trying times. I know many of you are dealing with cancellations, angry travelers, and frightened, unhappy customers. I cannot extend enough gratitude and compassion for those airline reps, cruise staff, hotel clerks and other employees on the front lines being subject to an onslaught of blame and anger as you try to resolve what you can without losing it. I respect you for your professionalism, grace and composure. And I commend you for your brave faces and showing up to work each day knowing it could very well be your last. THANK YOU.
Travel agents and advisors, you have your hands full and are working hard to do everything possible in the best interest of your clients. They are lucky for you. You’ve got their backs. Perhaps there is a silver lining for you especially. This could very well be a turning point and great lesson to travelers currently spending hours trying to get through to online booking engines, where they are lost in long phone queues and unanswered e-mails. That’s not to under-appreciate those customer service agents either! But for those travelers who have an agent personally looking after them, whom they know they can call in a crisis, who will bend over backwards to serve them, well, you deserve a standing ovation. You put forward the best face of the travel industry in times like these. THANK YOU.
Smaller independent tour and cruise operators, I appreciate you for having my back, for allowing small business-owners/writers/photographers/independent contractors like me a place to thrive and stay afloat when times are good; and for keeping me on your radar to consult for creative solutions when times are tough. Please don’t hesitate to give me a call if you’re stuck on what words to say, what images to use, anything. I’m here for you. And THANK YOU for being there for me.
We are all humans, each and every one of us. This letter would go on endlessly if I took the time to thank and acknowledge all of you, but believe me, you do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Please know you have in me an ally, a friend, an experienced professional who’s been around the world and through a few hoops and rodeos. And please know you have in the travel industry at large, a family. 
THANK YOU again for all you have done and continue to do to keep the world turning and travelers moving. If not moving, then planning…and dreaming. I don’t need to tell you, but now is not a time for hard sells or desperate pleas of selfish or corporate interest. Now is the time to think outside the box, diversify, put others before ourselves, and keep the dreams alive. After all, we are the industry of turning dreams into reality. We’ve got this.
Be safe, be well, look after yourselves, your families, and our beautiful planet.
Sincerely,

Here’s To YOU, Travel Advisors

 In no particular order, because you are ALL important and appreciated. 



Aline Coleman, All World Travel, Inc.

Nichole Marie Coudayre, World Travel Destination Specialist

Claudia Austin Travel, Luxury Travel Agent

Laura Allen Epstein, SMART FLYER Travel Agent

Bob Lindley, Flight Attendant, American Airlines

Amit Sankhala, Owner, Encounters Asia and Jamtara Wilderness Camp

Yvette Glass, Avoya Travel Travel Agent 

Lauren Hefferon, Tour Operator Ciclismo Classico 

Judy Garcia, Travel Leadership Consultant at Direct Travel 

Steve Avalos, Director of Sales, Western U.S., European Tours and Variety Cruises

Heather Hills, Flow Voyages, Travel Advisor

Colleen Falk, Director of Sales & Marketing Chicago Marriot Naperville

Gail Berkeley, Vice President, Destinations & Adventures International Travel

Justin Smith, President, The Evolved Traveler

Comment with you favorite travel advisor, even if it’s you! Just getting started here….

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR UPDATES and SHOUTOUTS to my travel industry family and friends!

Now, True Story 

On the morning of Friday the 13th, 2020, as I was scanning headlines and updates, the phone rang. I saw who was calling and expected the worst. Instead…
“Hey Kymri! Steve here. Send me your invoice right away, I want to make sure you get paid while we still can”. Then, “I have another job for you, what’s your coming week look like? We need your way with words.”
Although his message was entirely unexpected, his gesture of reaching out to me was not the least bit surprising. After a lengthy, brainstorming, and thoughtful conversation, I hung up the phone and smiled, “and so it begins…again.” 

Thank you Steve Avalos, Director of Sales, Western U.S. for both European Tours and Variety Cruises

When the Going Gets Tough

The travel industry, from large entities such as airlines, to small independent contractors like myself, is obviously taking a HUGE hit due to Coronavirus. But for veterans who’ve been working in the travel industry for 18 years or more, this is not our first rodeo. We also took a big hit on September 11, 2001, with repercussions that lasted years. We lost so much in the blink of an eye – jobs, companies, clients, payments, travel liberties. It’s taken years of commitment and hard work to build back up and recover to this point. Now, once again, we have been shaken to our core and are facing a complete unknown and uncertain future.
As someone whose passion, work and livelihood was deeply entwined in travel, and STILL IS, I would like to share some insights gleaned from that experience almost 18 years ago when buildings collapsed and planes fell and travel halted on a day, month, year that we will NEVER FORGET.

It’s a Small World


While this is only just becoming apparent to some, anyone working in the travel industry will concur, it IS a small world. We have friends and colleagues and clients spanning across the globe. We’re just a phone call away from someone who can help almost anywhere in the world, and who can share the realities from afar. We know, firsthand, the interconnectedness of our global community.
The travel industry is a small world, too. Over the years, the same names and faces bounce around and re-appear in different positions, at different companies, bringing with them an arsenal of experience and a growing resource of contacts. It’s an industry where bridges are built, not burned. 

We Are a Big Family


From airlines to cruise lines to tour operators to hotel chains to travel agents to small independent contractors like me, we all understand the value of relationships. We are there for each other, working together as one family to stay afloat. Maintaining those valuable relationships ensures that someone will always have your back, and that you will have theirs should the tables be turned.

We Understand What Comes Around Goes Around

When one of us is in a position to help a former colleague who may have lost a job, we pick up the phone and call that person first. In times like these, we offer up our services to each other and to clients and help where we can. These small day-to-day gestures of faith and goodwill have a way of coming back grander, and often when least expected. 

Second True Story


As an emerging travel photographer, I had been introduced to the brother of a former colleague (more of a friend, really) I had worked with in travel. He was expanding his tour operations to include India, and I had recently been to India. When 9/11 hit, he was in the process of selecting images from two albums of slide transparencies I delivered to him (that’s how it worked back then, the honor system of handing over physical tangible assets). Building that relationship was an important lead, so when he called asking to use several, but being unable to pay at the time, I didn’t hesitate. His brochures were beautiful and I was honored to see my images in print. Sure enough, as the dust settled, and when I least expected it, a check arrived in the mail, along with a query for more. I never doubted his integrity, and in return I earned a loyal, paying client for years to come. 


Ever grateful to Jim Berkeley, Founder & CEO of Destinations & Adventures International Travel

As one of my guests on tour with me in Namibia said, “Good things come to good people.” The t-shirt one of my guests wore throughout a People to People tour in Cuba put it most simply, “what comes around goes around.”  

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to the American Highschool Graduating Class of 2020

Dear Seniors,
Right now, I know you are all just coming to terms with being robbed of your final months in highschool, one of the most memorable years of your life. Not only are schools closing and classes cancelled, but all of those special senior activities you’ve been planning for, training for, shopping for, and anticipating all year – from sporting events to school dances, spring break trips, Disneyland, Grad Night, and perhaps even a Graduation ceremony  itself – POOF, vanished, just like that.
I feel for you. I understand how important this all is at your age. Here are you ready to celebrate with your besties before you set out to brave adulthood, and just like that you’re halted, locked down, isolated, and “stuck” at home. YES, it sucks! It’s NOT fair! Of course you are upset. Of course you are angry. It’s all too easy to lose hope and feel like nothing is worth it anymore. The  world, YOUR world, seems to be falling apart before your very eyes. The future, YOUR future, at this moment, is now a complete unknown. 
For your parents, this feeling of doubt, uncertainty, hopelessness is not unfamiliar. In fact, we know it well. We have been there. Hear me out.
Many, if not all of you, were newborns or still in the womb when, one morning, everything was normal, skies were blue, kids were headed to school, adults were headed to work. Within hours, buildings were falling in New York, planes were falling from the sky, and it seemed the whole world was thrown into abysmal fear. It was absolutely surreal. A moment, a day, a week, a year we will NEVER FORGET.
Every one of your parents can tell you their story. Allow me to share with you mine.
It was September 11, 2001.  My husband and I had just bought our first home, in a new town, where he’d just started what was to be a life career position in the travel industry. I was also working in the travel industry, as a contractor, leading groups of alumni and museums and non-profits on international travel journeys, and photographing it all. We hadn’t really planned to have children – we loved our careers, we loved traveling, and we were quite content. But with the joys of nesting in our new home, painting walls, decorating, new furniture… the inevitable happened, and I became pregnant. 
I was still just counting weeks (12), and had signed on with a temp agency. That week, I was filling in as an assistant administrator at an elementary school. I didn’t watch or listen to the news that morning. No sooner had I arrived and sat down, when frantic parents began pouring into the office to pick up their kids, hug them tight, and scurry them home safe. So much of the following hours and days are a blur, but overnight, my husband’s job came to a screeching finish. We had a new mortgage and a second, no health insurance, no stable income, and now, a baby on the way.

I’m not going to lie. We had a choice. We are blessed to live in a country where we do have choices. With no health insurance, no job stability, a mortgage and a second, how on earth could we even afford to bring a child into this world? And was this really even the right time?! I researched my options. I went to Planned Parenthood and talked to a woman who answered my questions and presented me with many options, one of them being information on a social services community benefit in this town that would provide free/reduced-cost pre-natal care and all related expenses through childbirth for residents in need. Thanks to the availability of this social service benefit, money, or lack thereof, became one less factor to worry about. 

The much bigger question, pressing on my mind, was, “Do I really want to bring a child into this world? Am I being selfish wanting to have a baby in these times?” My parents had passed before I even turned 30. My child would never know her grandparents. I missed my mother enough already, pregnancy only amplified that, now who would be there to support me and answer all my mothering questions? Sadness and fear set in and tried to take hold of me in my delicate state. Once it became clear to me that I had a choice, and it was entirely my choice, the decision was easy. 
I could choose fear, or I could choose faith. 

As someone who was not brought up to live in fear, (raised as a Christian Scientist to be perfectly transparent), I chose faith. Faith it was, faith it is, and faith it ever shall be. When I use the word faith, I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about pure simple faith – “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”
Fast-forward to April, 2002, and our healthy beautiful baby came in to this world, along with the rest of you, the American highschool graduating class of 2020.
You were born during very uncertain times for our country. You are now graduating highschool and becoming adults at very uncertain times for OUR PLANET. You are not just facing an immediate health crisis, you are also facing an environmental crisis, a humanitarian crisis, a climate of racism, hatred, bigotry, and so many other problems we have failed to address effectively to this day. Pretty dismal circumstances to be sure.
But look. YOU are here. YOU have made it this far for a reason. YOU are an amazing generation of young adults with a perspective unique to others who came before. YOU have already taught us so much, from evolving technology to your eating choices to your ambitions in science, the arts, gender equality, human rights, animal rights, environmental awareness, and on and on.
I have faith in YOU. Just knowing that your generation is about to break through and take hold of the future is the greatest hope we hold. Fear doesn’t stand a chance in my mind.
“But what can we do?” you question. You might be thinking “my voice doesn’t matter, no one will listen, I have no control.” While you have no control over events such as we’re experiencing now, and the poor decisions others have made and continue to make, you can still control YOUR attitude, YOUR personal choices, and YOUR action.

For our country, YOU will all be of age to vote in the upcoming Presidential election, and every election here on out (assuming our democracy endures). YOUR decisions  matter. YOUR vote matters. VOTE.
For humanity, YOU are already making incredible contributions and many of you are pursuing ambitious studies in health and sciences.  We need YOU. The world needs YOU. Now more than ever. 
For this planet, YOU are taking steps in caring about our environment – beach clean ups, recycling, home gardening, composting, choosing public transport, etc. – and you have a good understanding of how your actions and choices impact the global environment. I’ve no doubt YOU will develop solutions that generations before you have missed. This is a big part of why you are here. Our planet needs you here. Now more than ever.
YOU make your parents proud. We love you, we support you, and for what it’s worth, we’ve got your back. 
Don’t surrender to fear. Don’t surrender to blind faith, either. Keep it real. From great challenges come great opportunity. You will get through this, and you will enter adulthood with already an arsenal of experience, mistakes and successes, which you have learned from. 
Maybe not right now, but soon, VERY SOON, the world stage is yours. Take all that creativity, love, compassion and intelligence and grace you’ve got and show humankind how to well and truly GO VIRAL in the best possible way.
YOU’VE GOT THIS, CLASS of 2020!!!
With Love,
A proud parent who chose faith over fear
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

48 Hours with a Mercedes Benz, and Why Car-Ed Made Me Do It!

2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in partnership with A Girls Guide to Cars, and Car-Ed. I was tasked (okay, honored) to a full day of driving the 2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet from Palm Springs to Los Angeles, where I spent another night and morning scouting locations, shooting, and filming. There will be a full gallery and video coming soon – this post will be updated with more about my drive experience. For now, I want to introduce you to Car-Ed.

Meet the 2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

Enjoying the view with the 2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

YES, I drove a 2019 Mercedes and YES, she became my new best friend ever on 4 wheels. But who knew we’d hit it off so well? Car-Ed knew.

We even wore matching colors for a night on the town! Photo credit: Kymri Wilt

Full credit (or blame, if you ask my husband) goes to Car-Ed. Thanks to them, I’ve been inspired to test drive some dream cars, and to give some serious thought to brands I hadn’t considered before. While I’m not in the market for a new car, I was glad to learn that when my family and I are ready, Car-Ed is a great starting point.

And so began our morning in Greater Palm Springs! Photo credit Kymri Wilt

What exactly is Car-Ed?

Car-Ed is an online resource to help consumers discover what cars might best match their everyday routines, behaviors, and needs. Searching online brand websites almost always demands that you enter your personal information – so your local dealer can pester you follow up. Walking on to a new car dealership lot, you meet a total stranger who tries to convince you why you might need a particular model. This is both intimidating and a waste of time. With Car-Ed, you can quickly and easily narrow down your search and save valuable time.

Can you answer 12 Questions?

If you say yes, that’s one down. Now just 11 questions remain between you and your best matches for your next set of wheels. Go ahead, take the quiz. I’ll wait.

Would my Family’s Results Match?

I have a pretty good idea of what cars I would want to test drive. But my husband? His approach is to look for the deals, then think about test-driving the car. We do manage to meet somewhere in the middle about every 10 years. Now, we have a newly-licensed 16-year-old daughter. She will be ready for a new car within a couple of years, and has already eyed a few. I got to wondering if we might all find some middle ground before shopping for our next car. So I sent them both to Car-Ed to take the quiz, and asked them to screenshot and send me their top results. I did the same for myself. Here are our best matches according to Car-Ed.

My Results

What I drive: 2016 Prius 4 (Premium/Touring), sometimes 2002 VW Passat (Turbo) wagon.

I found my top choices to be pretty close. I wasn’t at all surprised that luxury class vehicles made a strong showing, and popped up first. A few Mercedes Benz in the mix. I had to scroll down to find the more mainstream matches. No surprise, most were hybrid, electric, or highly fuel-efficient. I drive a Prius, but not a single Prius showed up in my top results, so they missed the mark on that.

First page (Luxury) matches
Mainstream matches

               

My Teenager’s Results

What she drives: 2006 Prius, sometimes 2002 VW Passat (Turbo) wagon.

My daughter sent her results first, by text. Also, strong showing for luxury, with a few Mercedes Benz in the mix. Her text message read: “These were my top matches. The cars it gave me are really ugly. I only like the Audi.” Oh such a picky teen! She drives an unpretentious older Prius, by choice, and no Prius showed up in her mainstream results either.

First Page (Luxury) matches
Mainstream matches

My Husband’s Results

What he drives: a bike; sometimes the 2006 Prius.

Here came the real test, my husband’s results. Let it be known, this is the guy who refuses to upgrade from the perfectly functional iphone 4 (thus the tiny screen shots). He commutes by bike to/from work, and isn’t a big fan of freeway driving and traffic. Predictably, his first screens showed almost all hybrid and electric mainstream options. Then, below the fold, the luxury brands, including Mercedes Benz. So in his case, the environmentally-friendly options were spot on, but still, no Prius in the top matches.

First page top (Mainstream)
Luxury matches top

     

First page bottom (Mainstream)
Luxury matches bottom

 

So the most glaring common thread for all of us is that we need to look beyond our Prius-vision realm. And clearly, we need to consider more Mercedes Benz models!

Top down on a beautiful sunny Los Angeles day!

Loading the boards is easy with the top down.

Ready to hit the waves with my brother!

Watch for this post to be updated soon, with a video edit from the full 48 hours of driving and shooting the Mercedes Benz E53 Cabriolet!

2019 Mercedes-AMG E53 Cabriolet

To be honest, Car-Ed shares credit (or blame) with my parents, who taught me to drive in a Mercedes-Benz. I actually took and passed my first driver’s test in a 1970 MB 280 SEL. Oh, but that’s ancient history, and many years have passed since I’ve sat behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz. I’m well overdue, and thanks to Car-Ed, I’m looking….

Looking good in every light!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Win a Palm Springs Race & Relax Getaway at the Miramonte Resort & Spa!

Enjoying the scenic overlook at dusk on the “Pines to Palms Highway” to Palm Springs. Photo by Kiera Reilly

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in partnership with A Girls Guide to Cars, Visit Greater Palm Springs, the BMW Performance Center West, and Miramonte Resort & Spa. While most of my experience was hosted, my opinion is my own.

Why do I need a getaway?

I know what you’re thinking – why would someone who already lives in the “paradise” that is San Diego need a getaway? Well, let’s face it, even San Diego can get cold and dreary this time of year. The ocean temperatures drop, and the winds whip up the waves as storms roll in from the Pacific. The rains bring the freeways to a crawl, and flooding to the streets. Nothing sounds more appealing than a short getaway to somewhere warm, dry, and relaxing! If you’re dreaming of such a getaway, be sure to enter the Giveaway posted at the end!

Over the Passes and through the Trees

A Palm Springs getaway from San Diego begins with the drive. While there’s always the option to take the freeway the whole way, it’s not always the fastest, and it’s certainly not the most interesting. Instead, weather conditions permitting, exit the 15 in Temecula, and head east on 371, through rural farmlands and vineyards. You’ll run right into scenic Highway 74, aptly named the “Pines to Palms Highway,” which will take you up in elevation through the Santa Rosa Mountains. As you descend down the switchbacks into the Palm Springs Valley, watch for the scenic overlooks – they are not to be overlooked!

Mid-day view from Vista Point, where road winds down into Palm Springs. Photo by Kymri Wilt.

Speaking of Driving

Behind the wheel at the BMW Performance Center West. Photo by Sonia Smith-Kang.

I love driving. But I never realized just how much I love driving, and driving FAST, until I experienced the tracks at the BMW Performance Center West in Thermal. I can’t recommend this experience enough for anyone who feels a need… a need for speed! (I’m looking at you, Tom Cruise).
 
I’ve always been fascinated by physics, so when the drive instructor casually mentioned “G-Force” at the start of the classroom lesson, I was full in. While fueling up on coffee, I learned so much about positioning, steering, accelerating and braking, in a way that I hadn’t been taught before. I was raring and ready to go.

Now, I’ve never been a speed demon behind the wheel (granny alert), so I was certain I’d hold everyone up on the M track, I knew my limits. Ahem. Turns out I was way wrong about myself. I floored it every chance I could. I proudly clocked 132 mph as the instructor remote-radio’d “good job, see, nothing to it.” I pushed my limits, trusting the instructor and the car to have my back. They did, and I sped right on past my previous self. It felt good, it felt real good.

The biggest trust issue I had was braking. But these performance cars are built to drive fast and stop on a dime. They did so without fail. Once I felt it for myself, I forgave all the tail-gating BMW drivers that annoy me so much on the freeways. I realized why they drive like they do. Because in a BMW…you CAN. Stop. On. A. Dime.

So, going to the BMW Performance Center was a BIG thrill, and I don’t think I stopped smiling the rest of the day.

The Miramonte Resort & Spa – my own desert oasis

While there are plenty of resorts to choose from, I spent my last two Palm Springs getaways at the Miramonte Resort & Spa in Indian Wells. You can link to read about my first impression “A Palm Springs Resort for all the Senses” on A Girls Guide to Cars. Continue reading here to learn what warranted a deeper dive at the Miramonte, namely, the pools and spa.

After our #Drive2Learn Conference finished, I stayed on another night and day to unwind and decompress. I slept deeply and soundly. I dedicated the next morning to me, my health, and my well-being. I enjoyed a tasty and nourishing breakfast at Citrus & Palm. Then I turned off the phone, changed into my swimsuit, and disappeared from the grid in an effort to revitalize my mind, body and soul. Sometimes, you just have to take care of you, right?

I was dehydrated, and (physically) felt like a strip of jerky. I headed to the main pool, and had it all to myself at that time of morning. I plunged in. Instantly, I was back in my element, and already feeling better.  The sun warmed my skin as I air-dried on a chaise-lounge. Within moments, I was as close to my happy place as I can be away from the ocean. I thought I was good, then I ventured into the Well Spa (my time on my dime).

Did I mention Spa? 

Once through the doors of the Well Spa, I was given a tour of the facilities, then directed to the women’s changing room where a locker awaited with robe and slippers. I immediately regretted not having shown up first thing, there was much to experience. My highlight? Definitely the Eucalyptus-infused Steam Room. Trust me, it’s just the BEST THING EVER.

Coming in at a distant second, the River Benches, where private nooks with waterfalls washed away the tension in my neck and shoulders.

Back inside the Relaxation Lounge where I awaited my treatment, I almost got annoyed by three chatty women who wouldn’t shut up.  Rather than let my irritation build, I realized they were on their own girlfriend’s getaway, and I asked the occasion… a birthday!  Before I knew it they handed me a phone and I was staging a photo of them in robes with roses and champagne glasses and a sparkling tiara on the birthday girl! How FUN for them, and their happy spirit was contagious. I was honored to capture the occasion for them.

Now, because I am nothing if not honest, I was somewhat disappointed with the massage treatment itself. She skimped on the “Rain” of oils which my skin so badly needed. Rather than let me relax and drift off, she made comments about my dry skin and suggested products I should use. The tactic of up-selling is common on cruiseships, but please, I’m trying to relax here!  I have read great reviews, and I’ve talked to personal friends whose opinions I value about their experience at the Well Spa, so take mine with a grain of salt and try it for yourself. Even a day pass just to experience the Eucaplytus Steam is worth it!

My Top 3 Picks for Dining (beyond the Miramonte)

 

Feeding the mind body and soul is one thing, but feeding the appetite of an ever-hungry vegetarian like myself takes more effort. Let it be known that, regardless of dietary preferences, Greater Palm Springs does not disappoint!

Not far from the Miramonte Resort is the infamous El Paseo Shopping district. So many dining options are here, and I can personally recommend two of them:

Veggie Tacos at Tommy Bahama’s on El Paseo. Photo courtesy of Penny Giakos-Garduno.

Tommy Bahamas: Sure, I already knew the beach-style clothing brand and chain, but here I discovered they also serve beach-style food to match. The dining staff are friendly and accommodating, and the food presentation was impressive. I opted for Veggie Tacos, and WOW, they did not disappoint! I was served a plate of 3 soft tacos, accompanied by plantains and a creamy coconut-yogurt dip. These were not your standard veggie tacos overloaded with greasy onions and peppers. Far from it. The veggies were fresh, flavorful, and healthy! Each bite treated me to a different one: Roasted carrots, cauliflower, marinated mushrooms, tomatoes, roasted corn salsa throughout, and the most delightful Wasabi-Avocado Creme to tie it all together. Chipotle Aioli and fresh cilantro added to the flavor; slaw and crispy tortilla strips added to the texture.  When it comes to the ultimate in Veggie Tacos, Tommy Bahamas nailed it. As for dessert, options are dazzling, but best to go simple, Key Lime Pie.

Thai Smile (My choice on my dime): I will never pass up an opportunity for Thai food, especially when I spot a one-off (not a chain).  Thai Smile of Rancho Mirage, re-located to El Paseo, was everything I expect from a quality Thai restaurant, with fresh ingredients and flavors galore.  I had a $12.95 lunch special of Panang Curry (with tofu), served with choice of soup or salad (or both for $1.50). Their Thai Iced Tea hit the spot.

Saving the best for last, it wasn’t until my last day on our way out that I discovered possibly my all-time favorite healthy organic spot anywhere east of the 5. Before hitting the road, we hit…

Asian Tofu Wrap and Ginger Hopper at Lucious Lorraine’s in Palm Springs. Photo by Kymri Wilt

Lucious Lorraine’s: Can I just tell you something? Coming from an organic-leaning vegetarian of over 25 years, it really doesn’t get much better than this. I took one look at the chalkboard menus on the walls and had to pinch myself  – I couldn’t believe that an unpretentious place like this really exists, and the prices were actually reasonable!  A far cry from anyplace boasting organic in my home town of Cardiff/Encinitas.  Lucious Lorraine’s Organic Juice & Eatery menu is extensive, but I settled on the Asian Tofu Wrap ($7) and splurged on a fresh juice blend, the Ginger Hopper ($8.50 – sounds expensive but that’s completely in line with going prices on raw organic juices). I’m so glad I took a photo first because once I took a bite….I could do little else but savor every texture and flavor with a resounding “ahhhh” or “yummmm”. I especially loved the roasted almonds and peanut sauce. The Ginger Hopper perfectly complimented the wrap, which I couldn’t even finish in one sitting! Finally, I grabbed a snack to go (we were heading out on a road trip, after all) from the counter. I chose a “Molly Bar” and, at just the right time, while my partner was busy driving, I took a bite and decided right then and there, this is TOO GOOD TO SHARE. Seriously, don’t even think about splitting one even with your bestiest bestie.

Your Turn! Enter to Win Your Own Race & Relax Getaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest rules: Entries must be completed by 11:59PM Pacific December 31st, 2018. No purchase necessary; contest open only to US residents 18 years old or older and subject to the laws of the state of California. Winner will be chosen by random drawing from qualified entires and verified by A Girls Guide to Cars; winner will be notified by email no later than January 7th, 2019. Prize will be delivered by USPS to a valid US address; prizes cannot be shipped to a P.O. box. Winners may be asked to provide identification to receive their prize. Prize valued at $1,200, not exchangeable for cash or other items. Prize is limited to one (1) night accommodations at Miramonte Resort, Indian Wells, CA with date of accommodation subject to approval by Miramonte management; one (1) breakfast for two at Miramonte Resort; one (1) half day driving instruction and hot lap package for one person at BMW Performance Center West, Thermal, CA. Travel and additional accommodations are the responsibility of the winner. Contest is administered by and prizes awarded by A Girls Guide to Cars, which assumes no liability for the administration of this contest. Miramonte Indian Wells Resort, BMW Performance Center, Visit Greater Palm Springs Area, and all other event partners assume no responsibility or liability for the administration of this contest. A total of 1 grand prize will be awarded.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Why the 2018 VW Tiguan 2.0T SEL is my TOP PICK for Today's Surfers

Kymri and 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium – Top Pick for Surfers. Photo by envious surfer dude.

Disclosure: Volkswagen provided me with the 2018 Tiguan SEL for a week for drive-review purposes. I drove it round-trip Cardiff (San Diego) to Los Angeles, and one morning to La Jolla Shores when I got home. For 4 days in between, the Tiguan was shared – driven, fondled, put to the test, folded, unfolded, and dare I say, fan-girled over by 30 other women journalists, bloggers, and influencers at the first ever #Drive2Learn conference with A Girls Guide to Cars, sponsored in part by Volkswagen. You can find links to their VW Tiguan reviews at the end. My review here is my honest, candid opinion in my voice alone.

Prelude: The VW Already in our Driveway

 

Just months after moving into our first home in Santa Barbara, we learned I was pregnant. We needed a new car. We wanted the best safety features, plus plenty of space for dogs, luggage, groceries, and the visiting in-laws. We went in to test-drive a used Jetta, but we drove home in a brand-spanking new 2002 Volkswagen Passat GLS wagon (TURBO, of course). We justified the splurge – we were about to become parents, we would be carrying precious cargo, and the minivans du jour were definitely NOT our style or speed. The VW paint color sealed the deal: Blue Anthracite Pearl. When our baby girl was born, we could only describe her eye color as “blue anthracite” since they matched the Passat exactly. It was clearly meant to be our first family car.

We still own our 2002 VW Passat, and we still drive it. While it’s not our day-to-day car, it remains our go-to car for family road trips with the dogs, and for camping. Admittedly, I’m the more regular driver with a very specific use – to stash my 9 ft. longboard and head to the beach when the waves are less than pumping.  Of course, there are roof racks, and I can certainly pile up several boards on top; but when it’s only me,  I’m lazy. I just want to get to the beach while the coffee in my thermos is still piping hot.

Although VW no longer produces the Passat wagon, my recent experience driving the 2018 VW Tiguan 2.0T SEL Premium quickly convinced me that this SUV would be today’s equivalent (in Silk Metallic Blue). I’ll show and tell you why in just a bit, but first, a short history lesson.

 

So You Think You Can Surf Safari? VW or Bust, Baby

There’s no denying VW is the iconic brand favorite amongst southern Californians and surfers everywhere. Think about the classic convertible Beetle, the Westfalia camper, the Bus/Vanagon, the 2002 Passat Wagon (ahem)…you get the picture. I honestly don’t know which came first – Volkswagen automobiles or surf safari road trips. Both have evolved and intertwined for decades, with no end in sight. This is your prompt to bookmark this space because I can’t wait to tell you what’s coming next from VW in 2019! But first….

 

Meet the 2018 VW Tiguan SEL Premium

Always a great view with the Tiguan’s panoramic sunroof! Photo by Kymri Wilt

Before I met the Tiguan, I would never have thought it a fit for my little family of 3. I passed it off as yet another SUV designed for soccer-moms and dance-dads to chauffeur their various kids to their various schools, sporting events, rehearsals, recitals – that whole scene – a supersize SUV for a supersize family. I wasn’t wrong – it IS, IT IS ALL THAT – a worthy and desirable set of wheels for such a family.  But would it work for us? More specifically, ME?

 

Family First

Let’s talk family.  I can easily imagine giving the Tiguan serious consideration if we had 2, 3, 4, even 5 kids! That’s right, you can load up to 5 kids in the back, safely and securely, when you add the 3rd row Seating Package ($500).  I place the emphasis on “kids” for that third row, it’s a bit tight for full-sized people.  But in my case, my family is small – 2 adults and a teenager. That spacious interior real-estate better serves us with both sides of the 3rd row folded flat, maximizing the cargo space while still accommodating up to 5 people in spacious comfort. Even with 2 dogs factored in, still plenty of room for everything else.

Cargo bay with cargo cover, tons of room for luggage and gear. Photo credit: Kymri Wilt

 

The Transition: Time to Step Up

 

I was hesitant at first, stepping up into this giant version of a VW SUV (classed as small) with a higher profile than my all-too-familiar 2002 Passat. I sat in the driver’s seat and scanned for all the important stuff I need to locate before I drive. Pretty much all of it was in the same place as it’s predecessor of 16 years. Nice, I’d be ready to roll as if I’d been driving the Tiguan all those years!

But of course, there were brand new things – USB ports, a digital dash cockpit (dashboard/monitor), safety features and technology that had evolved leaps and bounds since 2002.  Given that I’ve been attending auto shows, media drive events, and assigned fleet loans to review and write about for the past 5+ years, I was no stranger to the latest in automotive tech. That said, Volkswagen couldn’t have made it easier.

 

User-Friendly Tech Interface

“The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan has the most seamless and user-friendly hands-free tech interface I’ve ever experienced, and that speaks volumes.”
– Kymri Wilt (go ahead, quote me on this)

I turned on the power.  My phone was detected and popped up on the monitor – the Tiguan asked if I wanted to sync it. I answered yes, and boom, it was done.  I literally did nothing.  She asked a few straight-forward questions, I answered. She listened to my responses and handled it, start to finish.  The phone was still in my bag (note: blue-tooth setting was on).

I’m embarrassed to say I had grossly underestimated something. As has been my experience with automotive voice command, I first responded loudly and slowly in the direction of where I thought the mic might be. Oops, my bad. She told me to speak quietly, she could hear me. Hesitantly, I refrained from projecting my stern command voice, and responded in a casual conversational tone, fully prepared to have to repeat myself. She got it. Not once did she ask anything twice. I spoke normally, she listened and acted, each and every time. I finally completely relaxed and wept tears (of joy). At last, someone who totally gets me in under a minute…and she’s a car. She earned my trust and won my complete confidence. It simply doesn’t get any more user-friendly than that. I’d hire a whole team of Tiguans to handle customer care. (Cable/phone and insurance companies…take note!)

My only complaint, if forced to name a negative: The Tiguan stopped short of offering to serve me coffee. I still had to bring my own.

 

Let’s Roll

 

Forgetting that I wasn’t in my 2002 VW, I could definitely feel the extra weight when I first drove the Tiguan. How heavy is this thing? It felt chunky, like a tank, and was roaring loud, like a truck. I pulled over and gave everything another check. Sure enough, the mode dial I toyed with earlier was set to off-road. I turned it to on-road, and drove away smoothly, quietly, and fuel-efficiently, just like my old familiar happy place in the 2002 VW. The TURBO (let’s face it, I LOVE me some good acceleration) kicked in when I needed – like entering the 405 from those notoriously short on-ramps, for starters.  I proudly watched my fuel efficiency monitor reach up to 31 MPG highway (my smaller 2002 Passat topped out at 34 MPG). I was more than impressed, I’d even done better than the sticker (21 city, 27 highway, 23 combined MPG). Yep, I could totally rock this SUV, girlfriend! We both brought out the best in one another, and had each other’s backs.  Much like today’s surfers.

 

Who Are Today’s Surfers?

 

We are women. We are moms. We surf. We drive cars. Photo by Kymri Wilt

Today’s surfers are not limited to dudes with gnarly hair and punks on skateboards. We are more. We are women. We are moms. We are business owners, teachers, cancer-survivors, dancers, yogis, first responders, college students, caregivers, lesbians, mothers-to-be, world travelers. That’s just a sampling of the female contingent you’ll find in the water on any given morning at La Jolla Shores. The men? They’re cool, too. They love us, we love them. It’s all good. But, the boys could never proclaim “I surf like a girl” with ego intact. Just sayin’. 

La Jolla Surf Moms at La Jolla Shores. Photo by Robert Metzgus

 Do You Drive Like A Girl?

I surf like a girl and I own it. I also DRIVE like a girl, and I own it. You’ve probably heard or seen “Get in, sit down, shut up and hang on!” Just throw in a “buckle up” and that’s me, along with many of the girl/mom drivers I know.  We don’t lose our sense of adventure in motherhood, we gain the perspective of being responsible role-models, raising our kids to be confident, bold, AND sensible.

The VW Tiguan center drive console: a place for everything. Photo by Kymri Wilt

Spaced Out in The Tiguan

 

Let’s get back to filling that spacious interior, and examine how spaced out it really is.

It was my last morning with the Tiguan. I’d spent a week driving between wildfires burning in LA and the dry deserts of Greater Palm Springs. I’d been working round the clock, I was dehydrated, and just needed nothing more than a refreshing paddle-out and waves in my beloved ocean to bring me home.

First, I folded down the third row. The second row offered a 40/20/40 split, so I folded down the middle, then slipped my 9 ft. longboard straight down the center. Would there still be room to accommodate additional boards, 4 full sized surfers, gear, and a dog or two? Yes.

Meanwhile, my dog Java was whining to jump in the back (her usual game when I’m loading up to surf), so I obliged. She hopped right in, circled twice, then sat facing back as I tethered her in. She proceeded to beckon all the dogs in the neighborhood to come check out the new surf safari/dog mobile (such a show off). I took some quick video and stills, then sent her back in the house so I could get to the beach before my coffee grew cold.

I pulled into the parking lot at the Shores, suited up, waxed up, and paddled out. I didn’t care that the waves were ankle slappers – the water was crystal clear and I could see the schools of silver grunion darting about, the rays on the sandy bottom, the (harmless) leopard sharks who aggregate here this time of year, a few other random fishes, some curious harbor seals, and my sea-lion buddy “Carlyle” who moves through the boards in the line up and pops up to say hello. I see dolphins playing further out, and migrating whale spouts just beyond….ahhhh, I’m home again. Surf, surf, surf.

Back ashore, I opened up the back of the Tiguan, hung my wetsuit in the sun, turned on some tunes, took a few more pics and video, talked about the car with friends and curious strangers alike, loaded back up, and reluctantly drove back home to turn over the keys.

The 2018 VW Tiguan SEL Had Won Me Over

 

Before I met the VW Tiguan, I never imagined we’d click, one on one, her and me. It was a magical week for us! We hit it off right away. I introduced her to the family, particularly keen for my big brother to meet her. We spent a few days working our respective jobs at the Miramonte Resort, winking to one another as we passed. We re-united again for a slow drive back in rush hour traffic, and she clocked it for us: 100 miles, 3 hours 1 minute, average speed 33 mph. Then we both had a good night’s sleep and squeezed in a morning of beach, surf and BFF selfies before parting ways.

Well there you have it.  The 2018 VW Tiguan 2.0T SEL easily knocked out every other contender to become this year’s TOP PICK model for today’s surfers. It ticks every box, and is especially suited for a surf safari road trip with any combination of girls, guys, kids, dogs. Now, as we roll to a stop, please enjoy the photos, watch the video(s), and link through to see what other women have to say!

Don’t just take my word for it! 

 

From fun-loving busy mother of two boys, Kendra Pierson:
5 Reasons to Immediately Love the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

From the automotive expert herself, Scotty Reiss:

2018 VW Tiguan: This Compact Three Row SUV Is Bigger and Better Than Ever

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road Trips for Dogs – Join Lexus, Sleepypod and A Girls Guide to Cars to learn about Pet Travel Safety

Disclosure: This paid post is part of a pet safety campaign sponsored by Lexus. Wait! I know, you can find blogs with ads and sponsored content everywhere; but here, you’re MY readers, and I respect you. My blog is about storytelling with words and images. So the story comes first. If you’re just looking for the event details and the contest raffle widget to enter for FREE PRIZES, scroll down, it’s all here!

Story: A Dog’s Bucketlist

dogs, roadtrip, cars,
Not all dogs ride the same: Jambo preferred the window while Java focuses on the road ahead.

When our senior dog Jambo turned 15, we sat down to review his bucket list. It read:

✅  Beach
✅  Beach
✅  Beach
✅  Beach
⏹  Grand Canyon
✅  Beach
✅  Beach

Much to our surprise, Jambo had big dreams of seeing the Grand Canyon! Perhaps he got the idea from a nature special we’d watched, or maybe he’d heard there were squirrels. In any event, we knew that 15 was a special age for our dog and decided it was time to take Jambo, and our second younger rescue dog Java, to the Grand Canyon. We packed up the station wagon and headed out.

Now ‘ole Jambo, he loved a good road trip.  For the most part, he traveled well. An “Australian Shepherd Mix,” he would instinctively pop up and pace whenever we passed a field of cows.  Java, on the other hand, was (and still is) an extremely nervous back seat passenger. However, her anxiety is quelled whenever she gets to ride “shotgun” next to the driver.  For some reason, she’s focused and quiet only in the front seat. But unless it’s just the two of us in the car, this rarely ever happens. And when it does,  I think she’s just studying so she can someday steal the key and drive herself.

Don’t be fooled – Java is anxious and restless from the back seat, making for distracted driving!

Java is only calm in the front passenger seat – also a distraction if not safely harnessed.

Jambo made it to his 17th birthday, with all his bucketlist dreams fulfilled. What has your dog knocked of their bucket list?

-end (of story)

Meet Bo!

Now we have adopted a new pup into the family, his name is Bo (short for Bodhi, Botus, Beauregard, BoBo, etc). Luckily Bo does not suffer from car anxiety, and is pretty chill about everything else, too. So Bo will be helping me co-host the upcoming Pet Safety event on November 4. He’s looking forward to his debut live-streamed appearance, and we’re busy working on his formal “Bo” tie, because he’s fancy like that. And, you know, it’s Lexus.

And Now, A Few Words From/About Our Sponsors

The 2019 Lexus ES for road tripping luxury and safety. Photo courtesy of Lexus.

Hey, it’s pretty fabulous that Lexus truly cares about pet travel safety, so much that they’re hosting Kars ‘n K9s event at Lexus of Carlsbad!  With leashed dogs, we’ll watch Sleepypod representative Nicole Ellis demonstrate safe pet restraints in some brand new 2019 models Lexus ES, LS, and RX L.

Sleepypod Car Restraints are crash tested for safety. Photo courtesy of Sleepypod.

Representatives from SPOT will be on hand to talk about how you can help local homeless pets by volunteering, fostering, or adopting. And there’s more! Food for people, treats for dogs from Carlsbad Pet and Feed, and a prize giveaway!

RSVP and Enter to Win!

We hope you can join us, Bo wants to meet as many new friends as possible!
Please RSVP here.

If you can’t join us live, all #LexusPetSafety events will be shared on live stream on A Girls Guide to Cars Facebook Live and other channels; Follow #LexusPetSafety on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and check the Facebook pages of Lexus Carlsbad and A Girls Guide to Cars for updates!

Finally, be sure to enter our Giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest rules: Entries must be completed by 2PM Pacific November 4th,
2018. No purchase necessary; contest open only to US residents 18 years
old or older and subject to the laws of the state of California. Winner will be
chosen by random drawing from qualified entires and verified by A Girls
Guide to Cars; winner will be notified by email no later than November 6th,
2018. Prize will be delivered to the winner by A Girls Guide to Cars
representative in person on November 4th, 2018 or delivered by USPS to a
valid US address; prizes cannot be shipped to a P.O. box. Winners may be
asked to provide identification to receive their prize. Prize valued at $200,
not exchangeable for cash or other items. Contest is administered by and
prizes awarded by A Girls Guide to Cars, which assumes no liability for the
administration of this contest. Lexus Carlsbad, Sleepypod, Lexus, SPOT,
Carlsbad Pet & Feed and all other event partners assume no responsibility or
liability for the administration of this contest. A total of 1 grand prize will be
awarded.

#LexusPetSafety, Kars 'n K9s, event, Carlsbad, Dogs, roadtrip

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Announcing blog re-design and re-launch coming SOON!

Between traveling and editing, find me in the water!

Thank you for visiting, I’m still here! 

I know it’s been quiet around here, but I’ve been busy as ever editing lots of photos and writing lots of articles. I’m excited to announce my blog re-launch is just a few weeks away!

I have plenty of newsworthy travels to share. But I’m waiting to post my new content once my blog re-design officially debuts this fall. So please, stay tuned! I’ll have two new installments of “Road Trips for Cameras;” a thrilling recount of surviving a typhoon in Fiji; some close encounters with bears in Alaska and Wyoming; tips for digital nomads w/cameras; New Mexico with new eyes; favorite camera and travel gear; and so much more.

Meanwhile, you can always catch my latest at:

Orbitz Travel Blog – soon to feature my recent photography road trip to Idaho

Travelocity –  featuring recent travels to Fiji

A Girls Guide to Cars – featuring my latest drive review of the Subaru Legacy, and coming soon, my  drive review of the Tesla Model X

Be sure to follow my social media accounts so you don’t miss any news!

@kymri on Instagram

@kymri on twitter

Happy shooting at Silver Creek Nature Preserve, Idaho!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hold This Space! Hiatus is Over!

Overlooking the Bay of Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean. Photo credit: Kymri Wilt

Dear friends and followers of Mira Terra Travels,

Hello again! I’m back for an update.

When my blog turned 10 years old in 2016, I decided to take a one-year hiatus. I discovered that I had a “knock off” copycat blogger based in China, who bought a domain name which was one letter off (minus the “s”), and much of my traffic was being re-directed there. No, that single webpage you might have found advertising a camera/brand is not ME! Don’t even go there.

Though I stepped back from my own blog, I continued to write, blog and photograph for other websites (check out A Girls Guide to Cars) and print publications:

Published photography in Outside Magazine (above), World Wildlife Fund catalog (below)

Essentially, this post you are looking at now is a placeholder, keeping my space and presence on the web. While you’re here, dive in and explore my archives of travel features. You might find a treasure!

Now this year (2018), I have begun the process of re-branding and re-designing my travel/photography blog for a whole new look and feel, and will be migrating select content over to a new host, along with plenty of beautiful new photos and exciting travel features. So stay tuned!

Grizzly sow and cubs at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, Alaska. Photo credit: Kymri Wilt

Meanwhile, please feel free to connect and follow me at the following:

Mira Terra Images – Travel Stock Photography sorted by destination galleries. Images available online for license and download!

Mira Terra on Facebook

Kymri on Twitter

Kymri on Instagram

Kymri on YouTube

Kymri on Vine – Yes, my video content is still there, and it’s worth exploring over 450 of my 6-second clips. When Vine terminated, I closed out with 191,900 organic followers! I was also the featured #Vinecations writer for the Orbitz Travel Blog. So DO check it out.

I’ve got some exciting travels coming up soon (Fiji! Chicago! Yellowstone National Park! ), and I look forward to sharing all about them with you when my new blog debuts!

Peace & Pleasant Journeys,

Kymri

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Top 16 Photos & Vines of 2016 – Viewer's Choice

2016 marked the 10 year anniversary of my blog….thank you for your visits! Though my written posts have been few and far between this year, my photography website has continued to grow and I’m pleased to say this has been one of my better years for photography licensing, sales, and publications. To close out the year, I have assembled a few visual lists.

First, the Viewer’s Choice – the top 16 most viewed photos of 2016 on my website, Mira Terra Images. Note that the #1 spot is a 3-way tie, all taken of the same subject!

Top 16 Viewed Photos of 2016

#16 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Somali Ostrich, Meru National Park, Kenya.

#15 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Papier Mache Fruits, Mexico.

#14 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Itamaraty Palace, Brasilia, Brazil.

#13 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Fresh catch, Santorini, Greece.

#12 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Modern art of Stockholm, Sweden.

#11 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Tiles of Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, <a href="Morocco“.

#10 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Favela of Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

#9 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Belly Dancer, Marrakech, Morocco.

#8 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Mating Mexican Wolves, Arizona, USA. (this was #1 in 2010!)

#7 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Kapana in the Market, Windhoek, Namibia.

#6 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Quechua Boy, Peru. (this was #10 in 2011!)

#5 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Royal Palace of Fes, Morocco.

#4 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Cathedral of Brasilia, Brazil. (this was #17 in 2010!)

#3 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Quito Cityscape, Ecuador.

#2 Top Viewed Photo of 2016 Sari Textiles, New Delhi, India.

#1 Top Viewed Photos of 2016 (a 3-way tie) Oberoi Amarvillas, Agra, India.

Sadly, as 2016 comes to a close, so does the Vine app, where I managed to entertain a following of nearly 200,000 fans! My early travel vines were featured by the SF Gate Travel Section, and I later became a featured contributor to the Orbitz Travel Blog, with my #Vinecations series of articles. I hope that my vine followers will follow me over to Twitter and Instagram where I will continue posting photos and videos. Meanwhile, I hope these embeds will remain viewable on my blog for years to come.

Top 16 Vines – Viewer’s Choice

#16 Most Popular Vine Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

#15 Most Popular Vine Pentre Ifan, Wales.

#14 Most Popular Vine Atlas Mountains and Desert, Morocco.

#13 Most Popular Vine Huntington Beach Pier, California.

#12 Most Popular Vine Pembrokeshire Blue lagoon, Wales.

#11 Most Popular Vine Dogs & Carrots (RIP Jambo 12/12/99-12/19/16)

#10 Most Popular Vine Black’s Beach Sunset, San Diego, California.

#9 Most Popular Vine Brittlestars, Cardiff by the Sea, Caifornia.

#8 Most Popular Vine Pacaya Samiria Reserve, Amazon, Peru.

#7 Most Popular Vine Cardiff by the Sea, California.

#6 Most Popular Vine Yosemite National Park, California.

#5 Most Popular Vine Mid-Vernal Falls, Yosemite, California.

#4 Most Popular Vine Cruising the Amazon River Tributaries, Peru.

#3 Most Popular Vine Osa Rainforest, Drake’s Bay, Costa Rica.

#2 Most Popular Vine Kasbah Oudaias, Rabat, Morocco.

#1 Most Popular Vine Gatehouse at Machu Picchu, Peru.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Travels as a Hillary Clinton Lookalike

Preface for new friends/visitors: I’ve spent the past 25 years working in the travel industry. My earliest experience as a tour leader was when I was tasked with escorting groups of travel agents on “luxury” cruise products in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Escorting a Travel Agent FAM (familiarization) trip is, well, let’s just call that experience “bootcamp” for tour directors – survive it, and you’re ready for career deployment. I was writing, taking pictures, and leading tours within the travel industry for years before I set up my own travel photography business (2000). I supplemented my primary photography business with contract work as an international tour director, leading groups of mostly Americans to over 65 countries around the globe. My story begins on one such assignment. But first:

Oath of Office

As a Tour Director, the single most important unwritten rule is this: Never participate in conversations of religion or politics with the group members. More often than not, my tours would finish with folks still questioning whether I was Democrat, Republican, Christian, Jewish, etc. So here’s a look at how this has played out under different administrations, when you’re me, and you happen to closely resemble Hillary Clinton.

First Lady (Russia)

Late 1990’s: At the height of President Clinton’s scandals in office, I was leading a group of Americans on a river cruise in Russia, and my local Russian guide looked exactly like (a thinner version of) Monica Lewinsky. Everywhere we went, the American guests were taking candid pictures of my guide and me together (before digital cameras, iPhones, social media) for their scrap books – sample captions: “Hillary and Monica spotted taking a girlfriend getaway cruise together on the Volga,” or “Hillary and Monica seen commiserating over vodka martinis at the Astoria.” It was all light-hearted, fun, and funny. I was addressed as First Lady for the rest of the trip. Nobody, American or Russian, Republican or Democrat, insulted me for my resemblance, and many said they would travel with me again. And many have since! But that was just the beginning.

Paparazzi (China)

Forward to 2006 (George W. Bush is President) and I’m on assignment as a photographer traveling with an American group. We’re at the Great Wall in China. Suddenly a screaming crowd of Chinese people mobbed around me to the point that I couldn’t take a step in any direction on the wall. One by one they handed their pocket cameras (some digital, but still no iphones) off to someone else in the crowd to be photographed next to me. I asked my local guide what was going on. He laughed and whispered, “they think you are Hillary Clinton touring China and that I’m your Chinese government translator – I’m not saying a word.” I decided to play along. I was overwhelmed with welcoming smiles and stranger’s hands running through my hair as I put my arms around them and posed for their cameras. I handed my camera to my guide to take MY picture with some of these lovely Chinese people. It was a long morning, but incredibly gratifying to feel so much love and admiration, and to return it to complete strangers. The American travelers I was accompanying were somewhat bewildered. The Democrats loved it. The Republicans, surprised to see how the locals were behaving (which continued throughout China), were nice and enjoyed the spectacle, agreeing “maybe you do look like her, but a younger and MUCH prettier version.” Everyone was kind and civil.

That kind of paparazzi attention popped up with some regularity in my travels, professional and personal, throughout the remaining Bush years. Sometimes it got ugly.

Allies (United Kingdom)

“You bloody Americans, you’re all the same. Just like your cowboy President, nothing but a bully. America is a giant bully, pushing other nations around. Go back to play with your guns at home and leave the world be.” – white male Englishman, London, 2006.

2008 Election Year

I’m in the UK again, in a cab from Heathrow. The driver, an enthusiastic immigrant to the UK, had no end of questions for me about how I would vote and what I thought of Obama. Jet-lagged and struggling to formulate coherent statements, I turned it back on him. “What do YOU think?” I asked. He replied, “It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter who is President of the United States. America will always be America in our eyes – the welcoming land of freedom and opportunity. The world looks up to you. Be proud.”

Election Day – China

November, 2008. I was back in China when Barack Obama won the Presidential election. I’ll never forget the moment. My group was comprised of 4 couples – 2 couples were Republican, 2 couples were Democrats. All couples had adult children who voted for Obama. We were in the VIP lounge at an airport in Guilin glued to the Chinese news channel (no satellite tv; internet access was blocked out at the time; but we all had cellphones and texting). Our flight was delayed, thankfully, so we were able to watch the historic moment as the news broke. It looked like this:

I taped the moment, we all toasted, and then our flight was ready for boarding. We came out of that lounge to cheers and hugs from non-Americans, which followed on the flight (everyone wanted to sit next to and talk to us). Clearly, the Chinese people, and other nationalities on our flight, approved. But it wasn’t just China. My American groups and I were welcomed and congratulated with equal enthusiasm for President Obama everywhere I travelled during his two terms.

From Clinton’s, into Bush’s, and throughout Obama’s administration, my travel work took me from Asia to Africa, Europe to South America – Nepal, Egypt, Ireland, Kenya, India, Morocco, Bhutan, France, Namibia, Argentina, UAE, Sweden, Tanzania, Nicaragua, the UK, Zimbabwe, Portugal, Cuba…there’s more, but suffice it to say I encountered a wide and diverse sampling of humanity on our planet. Without exception, the people I spoke to in these other countries applauded President Obama. Indeed, these past 8 years have been my proudest to travel as an American.

Diplomatic Missions (Cuba)

//instagram.com/p/n0kSsADLcU

Let’s pause on Cuba. I was greatly honored and proud to lead some of the earliest State Department licensed People to People Cultural Exchange Tours to Cuba as relations eased under President Obama. One memorable group was a true American melting pot. There were first-generation immigrant-Americans – from Hungary, Iran, and Ireland; Christians from Texas; Jews from New York; two Canadians; a venture capitalist; a film maker; a doctor; and me, their tour leader – a laid back southern California vegetarian surfer mom, who resembled the US Secretary of State. They were all seasoned travelers, but this was the first time I actually felt need to apologize for some of my fellow Americans, who arrived to Cuba with very narrow minds, biased agendas, and nasty attitudes. In March, 2013, this group and I arrived at a particularly historic moment, the announcement that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez had died. When you finish this article, please come back and click my story about that trip here: Cuba from the Heart: Mourning and Music.

Presidential Travels (Morocco)

March, 2014. This one is just for kicks really. My group was another melting pot, but this time a fantastic group of Americans who made me enormously proud. I add this story not so much about my resemblance to Secretary Clinton (though it was certainly pointed out), rather, more for the striking resemblance of my local Moroccan colleague and guide to President Obama. “Maroc Obama” we fondly dubbed him. And he wore it with honor and a big smile…and together, we made a great team.

From the royal Casbahs of Morocco, to The Casbah nightclub in San Diego, October, 2016, I have been approached by strangers commenting on my resemblance, and have been asked to pose for pictures as Hillary Clinton. I always oblige with a smile.

Even those who despise her have been kind: “I hope you’re not offended, please don’t take it wrong.”

I don’t. I’m flattered. She’s a remarkable woman, and she’s a mother. Like me, she doesn’t give up.

As the attention grew this past year here in the US, I’ve continued to roll with it, happily smiling for iphones right up to Election Day, when I went full out and shared this on social media:

Vote! Let's Do This! #imwithher #pantsuitnation #hillaryclinton #igotstamina @hillaryclinton #electionday #electionday2016

A video posted by Kymri / Mira Terra Images (@kymri) on

I’ve never had more likes and shares on Facebook, and I especially appreciated the comments from my Republican friends: they refrained from nastiness and instead, enthusiastically applauded my front handspring. Some comments began as I’d heard before, but with some new qualifiers:

“Wow, Hillary’s really agile! And she’s looking 30 years younger!”

“Much younger, much better looking and probably a better head of state!”

I certainly hope so. I strive to be kind, open-minded, and the very best American I can be when I travel abroad.

But here at home, in these delicate post-election days, I’ve never been more challenged. I’ve started to experience and witness hatred like I’ve never seen before, here in my country, in my state, in my city, and even in my “bubble” of paradise by the sea. But you know why I shared my video?

Because I landed on my feet. So did Hillary. And I hope, so will our country.

I pledge to keep traveling and to keep putting America’s best foot forward out into the world. Agree with me or not, this is who I am.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments