Beautiful Maine

07 - 28 - 17

 

My boyfriend and I road tripped through New England. We took my Chevy Sonic north, hitting Philly, Providence, Boston, Hartford, and we didn't stop till we hit Portland, Maine. Out of all the places we went on this trip, my favorite was Portland. It was the most enjoyable experience - camping out the back of my car, mac and cheese for breakfast, lobster rolls for lunch,  holy donuts, and amazing thrift shops on every corner. Portland had a little bit of everything, which I loved, yet it wasn't overwhelming in any way. I found solace in the fresh air, the constant lull of seagulls' cries, and perfect, low seventies weather. I took several photos, enthralled with the environment of the city.

I wish to go back to Portland one day - perhaps even live there. I always thought I loved Maine, and it would be the perfect place for a tiny house near the water on the out skirts of the city. A girl can dream, can't she? For now, I move into my new apartment in Mobile, AL Friday (08 - 18 - 17).

 

Have you ever been to Maine or are from that area? If so, be sure to leave me a comment on your experience with Portland and the surrounding areas. I'd love to hear your stories.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman


An Afternoon in St. Louis

S

ince I was four or five, I had not stepped foot inside the state I was born. Virtually, I knew nothing of the place my parents met in, fell in love. A lot of my dad’s side of the family lives in Illinois – and if it weren’t for their family reunion, I wouldn’t have seen the arch, the city, or the deserted streets of St. Louis, MO.

I visited the city on a whim. It hadn’t been in any original plans, but having already said goodbye to family and with some extra time on our hands, my sister and I saw no reason to not check out the place we left behind long ago.

The city, itself, doesn’t have the best reputation – especially lately. With the race wars and the tragedy, we felt the need to watch our backs more in St.Louis than any city we’d visited on our one week road trip.

...the next time I saw my parents, I felt more connected to them - a part of their past captured in my recent memory.

At the time of our visit, a lot of the city was tied up in a Cardinals game – the stadium full – and it was the fourth of July, so naturally the streets weren’t busy. Part of me wishes they had been. It would have helped my sister and spot areas we should avoid, but being two of maybe twenty tourists walking downtown that day, we had little to no clue as to which areas we should avoid.

We started with the Gateway Arch. It was the most populated area we visited in the city, and personally, it was my second favorite piece of architecture we saw. The arch, if you don’t know, stands at 630 ft tall. It’s a magnificent structure, and if you visit on a cloudy day, the arch camouflages itself into the gray and white sky. It was like witnessing a steel rainbow, looking up at it on the steps. Due to construction, we couldn’t go inside, but it was just as stunning from the outside.

Beyond the arch and on the water sat a ferry boat my sister and I recognized as the boat my parents were married on. I wish I had gotten a better photograph, because the one I took ended up blurry. However, just seeing the boat meant a lot to me. I love my parents, and at the time of their wedding, I wasn’t a thought yet. It was like I was getting a chance to look back in time, and the next time I saw my parents, I felt more connected to them – a part of their past captured in my recent memory.

A man played music near the dock. It was blues-y tune, something I’ve heard on the streets of New Orleans, but it was also romantic. My sister and I passed by, admiring both the arch and the ferry, before deciding to head into the heart of the city to find the old post office, public library, and other beautifully crafted and french inspired architectural masterpieces.

We grabbed bottles of water from Starbucks and excitedly crossed the road away from the tourist crowd at the arch. We had no idea what to expect. We knew the city had undergone recent strife ( as recent as the front page of the newspaper), and we knew we needed to be careful, but we were jittery. This was a place we could’ve grown up near. This was a city we could’ve called home.

As we ventured further into the city, we noticed the lack of pedestrians. For me, there’s nothing stranger than traveling the streets of a bigger city and not bumping shoulders with at least two individuals. With the exception of a few cars on the street – possibly passerbys on the way to the suburbs or Forest Park – St. Louis was a ghost city. We could faintly hear the intercom of the Cardinals arena, and there were cops creeping down the streets, but otherwise, the city was silent.

Part of the silence, we found, originated from the fact everything was closed due to the fourth. Several of our free, touristy destinations were closed to the public – including the old post office and the library. We were able to get pictures of the outsides, but we couldn’t look inside. The library, which is deeper into the city, was our last straw. We enjoyed viewing the architecture, but we could only keep our paranoia at bay for so long.

This was a city we could’ve called home.

With a car coming to a slow stop where we sat on the steps of the public library, we decided to head back to the car. It’s sad that such a beautiful city can make you feel so unsafe, but we weren’t about to risk our lives or be harassed, especially being two young women.

Though Downtown St. Louis had its perks, it wasn’t a place we ended up feeling comfortable in. This was disheartening for us, since we felt a sentimental connection to the city. However, we still had another stop.

Driving toward Forest Park, we parallel parked near a marvel – Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Fortunate for us, this cathedral was the one place on our list with open doors. First, we walked along the street it sat on. Several of the homes were built like miniature castles, and we realized toward the front of the street a majority of them were nunneries.

When we made it to the steps of the cathedral, we were just as mesmerized, if not more, as we had been standing beneath the Gateway Arch. Standing at 226 feet of pure architectural mastery, the cathedral was a piece of Europe sitting on the outskirts of a US city. We snapped several photos of the exterior before venturing within the colossal doors and inside.

First entering, we were welcomed by an older man who provided us with tour pamphlets. Though we had the option of joining the tour, we decided to split up and roam the cathedral. To walk beyond the foyer and into the massive area of pews and hallways caused me to stop. I didn’t take photos for a time or walk any further. Instead, I stared. I took it all in, and as I sat among the pews, I truly felt as if I was in the presence of something greater.

The silence of the building – the delicate brush strokes of the mural ceiling – left all my fear and paranoia of the city behind. I felt, within the hour we strolled around inside, at peace. It was surreal, and I have no clue if it was because I’ve never witnessed something so beautiful and magnificent. All I knew was this was a place I was glad I didn’t skip due to everything else in the city being closed.

When we walked back out the doors and the sunlight hit us, the quiet serenity of the cathedral left us. The real world came back, and my heart yearned to turn around, go back inside, and never leave. Yet, I knew this would be the first of many cathedrals I would visit, and it made me happy to know such beauty still existed in the world and in the US.

At the end of the day, we slept in a hotel in Eureka before leaving the next morning by 10 AM. We were heading away from Missouri and back to Alabama. Our trip was almost over, but I was already planning my next one.

St. Louis was a bag of mixed emotions for me. I was surprised by the beauty, paranoid by the empty streets, sad I was afraid to be a white woman, happy to see where my parents fell in love, and amazed by the magnificence of the cathedral and the arch. It’s a city I plan to return to in the future – not on a holiday or during a Cardinals game – to parallel my experiences. Part of me believes the city would’ve been more enjoyable, that we would’ve stopped at more places, and we been part of a crowd rather than alone. In the end, it was an experience, an adventure, and I was happy to go and to be able to come home and right about it.

This week, I’ll be hoping onto the road again – this time to Virginia, Canada, and the East Coast. St. Louis was the first stop of several of my journey to travel 1 million miles.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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A First Timer's Visit to Nashville

I admit, rolling into Nashville, I didn’t expect what I found.

In my head, I always pictured the most country of towns. I pictured it small, zero art but plenty of bars.

To my surprise, it was much more than that. The drive into the city was beautiful – mountains and hills – and we (my sister and I) hit up the Parthenon first. Again, I expected not much. I expected a little monument, a little park. I never would’ve guessed how expansive it actually was.

Walking up the dirt trail through summer heat, we stood before the Parthenon. Massive, there’s no other word to describe it. It was a picturesque representation of the Gods, with it’s humungous columns and chiseled art. We didn’t go inside due to lack of time, but we walked around the outside of it, climbing the impressive steps and looking out on the rest of the park.

The Parthenon wasn’t on any lists of mine. We only stopped by for the sake of stopping by, and had it not been right there, I probably wouldn’t have stopped. What a mistake that would have been. For someone with so much curiosity, I can be small minded. I like to tell others and myself I’m this open-minded, open-hearted person, but the truth is, my mind has its limits. I have an extreme dislike for country music and country things, and I always associated it with Nashville. Had I not put aside my dislike for a genre of music, I never would have witnessed the beauty that is the Parthenon.

If I learned anything on this road trip from Fairhope, AL to St. Louis, MO it was this: don’t bar yourself behind your opinions. Give the places you’ve never been and never seen a chance. You’d think as an author I would’ve learned by now to never judge a book by its cover. The same goes for destinations. You can’t judge it by the things you read about or others say. Every city – even the worst ones – has a good side.

After the Parthenon, we headed over to Three Brothers Coffee – an independent and locally owned coffee shop with (according to Pinterest) one of the most photographed alleyways in Nashville. The shop, itself, is quaint, with modern lighting and seating. As promised, the black and white, wall-to-wall mural sat in the alleyway (more of an alcove) outside the front door. We snapped some pictures there after grabbing a coffee and a snack. Though I wouldn’t say the coffee was jaw-droppingly delicious, it was a cool, trendy spot to check out.

Realizing there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the Parthenon side of Nashville, we took the interstate in toward downtown and stopped at Five Daughters Bakery. Known for their 100 layer donut, we had to know just how sickening it really was. The bakery is within a cute, blue house with pink doors and signage. When you walk in, you’re greeted by fantastic customer service. However, if it’s busy, don’t count on seating.

With only a window bar, there weren’t many seats. We went directly to the back of the store where the donuts were prepared. There were so many interesting and diverse flavors, so I bought 3 (Don’t judge, I only ate one and took nibbles out of the others)! First of all, the donuts are delicious…if you want to go into a sugar coma! WARNING: Do not eat these donuts with the plan to do anything except watch Netflix!

It was cool to be in possession of the hundred layer donut, but for me, it was too much, and trying to walk it off in the afternoon heat did not help. Thankfully, there were air-conditioned shops along the same road to stop in and let our food settle. My favorite is Serendipity. They carry a lot of locally made products, especially if they’re made of natural ingredients. Plus, they’re far more affordable then most of the shops in the area.

Once our food settled, we decided to drive around downtown. We would’ve walked, but we didn’t want to have to pay for parking, and most of the shops had already closed. So, we took a gander and then finished the day with an indoor mall. Downtown, itself, was gorgeous. There were some older, beautifully built cathedrals I absolutely adored, and I do want to be able to travel back to Nashville in the near future, maybe stay a few days. Obviously, my sister and I did the bare minimum of what this city has to offer, but we had a lot of fun just sight-seeing and checking out the local restaurants and shops you can’t find anywhere else.

Nashville, in every aspect, kind of blew me away. I was stunned to find a city so lush with vibrancy and culture. The area is up-and-coming, and though I did spot a couple people in cowboy boots, it wasn’t nearly as “country-driven” as I thought it would be.

So, if you’ve never considered visiting Nashville, because maybe you despise country like I do, then I think you should give it a shot. It has it’s perks, and some of the one’s I’ve talked about here are just the tip of the iceberg.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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Small County Exploration // pt. 2

Mobile

Welcome back to the second week of my small county explorations. If you didn’t read last week’s post, you can do so here. After spending the majority of my time in Mobile last week, I thought it would be a good idea to switch it up and take on Fairhope. However, before I jump into some of my favorite places in Fairhope I discovered this week, I want to introduce you to Ely’s and FOY.

Ely’s is a multi-room fabric store with all the fabric you could possible dream of (except, of course, if you live in NYC and not AL). My sister is on the hunt for some lace add-ons for her wedding dress, and she’s heard through the grapevine of Mobile fashion designers that she should visit Ely’s. Together, we went to scope out the location, seeing as it was in an area neither of us were familiar with. First of all, we totally missed their sign and ended up taking a back road to the back of the building. Being only one of two vehicles parked there in a rather sketchy area (again, we didn’t realize we were in the back), we prayed a little prayer of not being murdered and ventured inside. We were absolutely in awe of everything Ely’s had to offer, though some pieces we found were overpriced. However, being that their store is the only one we know of within an hour’s drive with such a variety of fabrics, we justified their higher prices to match the demand of the area. So, if you live in the area, love to sew, and need a huge variety in fabrics – you should put this store on your radar – and if you don’t, well, I had plenty of fun touching silks and playing in the wall of boas.

FOY is a restaurant/juice shop that recently opened in the Downtown Mobile area. Seeing as it was a short distance from Serdas, which I talked about in last week’s post, and I had set up work there for the day, I decided to try FOY for a healthy juice option. Though I haven’t tried any of their food yet, I’ve tried two of their available juices: Vanilla Dream (or was it Cloud?) and Green Goddess. Now, I’ll be super honest with you guys, neither was all that great. However, the Vanilla Dream was definitely more tasty, in my opinion, over the Green Goddess. I do think the juices have been too-hyped, though Mobile doesn’t really have anything like it in the area, and they are overpriced too. It was about $7 for one juice, and to me, that’s too much, especially since the bottle is only about 6 ounces. So, is it worth it? If you live in the are, you’ve wondered about the juicing trend, yes. I think it’s beneficial to try and get a taste of it. If you’ve got a juicer at home or you’re just passing through, I don’t think you should waste your time or money.

Fairhope

Oh, boy. I visited some great little spots in Fairhope this week, and I am so excited to help get them on the radar. First and foremost, let’s start with food.

Tamara’s is where my sister and I ultimately decided to get Sunday Brunch. We originally thought we’d try out the town favorite A Broken Egg Cafe. However, due to the horrid wait and obnoxious environment, we decided to head over to – frankly – a more chic and better option. We walked in to an elegant atmosphere with charming, live guitar playing, and we were seated by a professional hostess. Ordering the Eggs Benedict Filet Mignon with gouda grits, bacon, and fresh fruit, I was delightfully surprised at the price (only $16). It ended up being a rather extravagant meal with bottomless mimosas (only $1.50), and the food was delicious. I honestly felt like I was eating the breakfast of a princess.

Latte Da is actually part of Page & Palette, which I review further down, and is a charming coffee shop on a street corner off of Section. I’ve tried two of their coffees, the Milkyway Latte and the Mocha Ice Rage, and though neither were “whoa, amazing”, they were both pretty good. My personal favorite of the two, so far, is the Mocha Ice Rage, which is equivalent to a chocolate milk frappe with a hint of expresso. In fact, the expresso was so subtle, I drank the whole thing in about five minutes and ended up with a terrible stomach ache. However, I can’t blame Latte Da for my rabid chocolate consumption – only the drinks deliciousness.

Fairhope Chocolatier is the most adorable little chocolates shop located within the French Quarter of Downtown Fairhope. They’re fairly new, I believe, and they carry delicious macaroons (a bag of 5 for $6)! Each time I’ve gone in there (only twice, gosh), I recieved delightful customer service, and I don’t think I can ever go downtown again without visiting. I highly recommend them for those ins search of a delicious macaroon provider (or great chocolate candies).

After getting my foodie on, I did what I do best – shop – and to be more specific, thrift shop. Before we get into specifics, I do want to point out that my personal style is anything but southern, which is what most of the thrift shops around here cater toward. So, please take that into consideration when I’m giving my personal reviews of the shops. My criteria for a great thrift shop is high-end brands, variety in style choices, and the ability to find things I wouldn’t be able to see on the person I pass daily on the street. I like unique, chic finds, and that’s what I base my reviews on thrift shops on.

Emmy’s ended up being the only thrift shop I bought anything at – a black mini skirt. Though I found the skirt, it was the only thing catering toward my age. Most everything else in the shop caters toward an older crowd and children. However, I loved how nice the customer service was, and I’ve been told they’re known for having hidden jewels here and there, such as the skirt I found.

Back on the Rack was the second thrift shop I visited, and I must say I was beyond disappointed. It hypes it’s resale of designer bags, shoes and clothes, but what it doesn’t tell you is how overpriced everything is, and how there wasn’t a single unique item in that store. Maybe it was just the time I visited (and trust me, I don’t like validating my opinion, so I’ll likely go back for a second look), but I had been looking forward to chic, urban styles, and instead, I was greeted by frilly, southern looks and, frankly, not-so-great-looking designer bags and shoes. Honestly, my opinion probably wouldn’t be so foul if it weren’t for the outrageous prices and lack of taste. I do NOT recommend shopping here, unless you’re into overpriced southern fashion.

Hertha’s Second Edition Boutique had multiple items I liked, but I never picked up anything to try on. Though it had more taste than Back on the Rack, Hertha’s was also overpriced. I picked up a Marc Jacobs camisole about six years old for $35 and promptly put it back. However, I give Hertha’s credit for providing some trendy styles, and I’ll definitely explore it again sometime.

Yvonne’s Resale Boutique was, by far, the best thrift shop I walked into in Downtown Fairhope. Though I, again, didn’t buy anything, I had an arm load of goodies to try on. I just ended up not finding anything I was completely sold over. Yvonne’s has been around for awhile, and it’s obvious the owner has taste. I spotted some parisian styles, midi dresses, lace, lovely shoes…I will be going back, especially when I drop these few pesky pounds I’m trying to lose!

Next up, I stopped at Dr. Music and Page & Palette, because one’s a record store, and the other is a bookstore. ‘nough said.

Dr. Music was a record store I stopped at, and let me tell you, I am so glad it exists. I typically buy all my records from Backflash Antiques (read more here), but most of her collection is older, classic rock. Don’t get me wrong. I love classic rock vinyl, but I also really love my alt rock, indy rock, and Dr. Music provided me with that selection of newer music. Plus, the prices were pretty decent, especially those in their “New in Used” crates they keep up front and below the new vinyl. If you’re a record junkie like me, I suggest you check it out for some more variety in your tunes.

Page & Palette was a little independent bookstore I visited, admittedly, to see if they’d have any interest in selling my book (still need to get on that), and to genuinely check out their selection. The shop owner has great taste in titles has a wide selection of brilliant books held up front with notecard with a short summary of each. It’s helpful for those who want to try something in a new genre or by a new author, but aren’t sure if they want to spend the money on it. I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time in Page & Palette, but I plan on going back shortly to perhaps pick up a new read.

To Conclude...

I really enjoyed this week. I probably spent way too much money on things I didn’t need, but it was adventure trying out these places I never really got to try growing up. Hopefully, if you stop by the Fairhope or Mobile areas, you’ll use my reviews to guide you on your journey toward a successful visit. Just like any post, keep in mind I share my own opinion of what I like. If you disagree, or you’d like to contribute to my reviews, please feel free to do so through discussion in the comments below.

Thanks so much for reading, guys, and I look forward to bringing you a new post next week (or sooner)!

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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Small County Exploration // pt. 1

This past week marks the first week back in my hometown after two years of living in Orlando, FL. It’s weird to be back in Baldwin County, an area encompassing Spanish Fort, Fairhope, Daphne, and Mobile, Alabama – places I frequented for ten years of my youth.

After living in Orlando and watching construction constantly changing the landscape, it was strange to come back to the area and see it virtually the same. If anything, instead of adding new shops, my local mall has lost staple shops, such as Charlotte Russe, Express, and Shades – shops I frequented when I was younger. Retail shops such as those have a hard time thriving in small towns like Spanish Fort, AL, purely because the mindset of the community is particular. They like certain vibes – mostly southern – and if I store has something different, they don’t tend to do well.

Now that I’m back, and despite the fact nothing has really changed, I’ve made it my goal over the next couple months to rediscover this place I grew up in. When I was younger, I had a narrow mindset, only wanting to be part of the things that would make me unique, and though I’m grateful to have had that mindset, I now realize there were several places I never went because they had a “southern” vibe. I’m a northern girl at heart, having been born in Missouri and growing up in a family based on northern rather than southern traditions.

However, I want to make more of an effort to discover my home of Baldwin/Mobile County for all that it is. I’m wiping away every country, negative connotations to things from back in high school, and discovering the places that make this place unique, such as thrift shops, ice cream shops, and boutiques. I also plan on taking drives out to some of the parks and capturing the essence of Alabama: “The Beautiful”.

This past week, I started out by revisiting some of my favorite places from before college: Serda’s, a coffee shop located on a street corner in Downtown Mobile, and Backflash Antiques, a vintage antique shop also located in Downtown Mobile.

After visiting some of the places I grew up with, I wanted to go to some places I’d never been. My eldest sister is on a hunt for the perfect wedding dress, her wedding scheduled for February, and as Mother of the Bride and Maid of Honor, my mom and I went with her to two bridal shops. The first, Anthony’s Bridal Shop, has a nice selection, but not of what we were looking for, despite their amazing customer care.

The next little bridal shop was Roses and Lace. It’s hidden in this back alley way in Foley, AL, not far from Waterfront Rescue Mission’s (a thrift shop I was sure to check out). We had better luck at Roses and Lace, despite their rather small selection, finding a dress that wasn’t perfect but closer to what my sister wanted. Though we walked away without a dress from both shops, it was a pleasure to work with them and get a clearer idea of what my sister was looking for.

After bridal shopping and a quick pass through the thrifty finds of Waterfront Rescue Mission’s, which felt very much like a Goodwill or Salvation Army, my sister, mom, and I all craved something sweet. We headed back in the direction of Mobile when we spotted an ice cream shop that didn’t appear on our maps.

Polly’s Sweet Treats opened about three weeks ago, and they served delicious Hershey’s flavored ice cream. They also make fresh cones every morning, have yummy chocolate cake, and supports veterans (the man serving us had an amputated leg, but that didn’t stop him from giving us some of the best service I’ve recieved at an ice cream parlor). If it’s not on the map now, it will be in the future. I enjoyed the quaint atmosphere, and the ice cream was both gluten-free and absolutely delightful.

For only being back in Alabama for a little less than a week, I would count it to be a productive few days. In the next week, I’ll hopefully be visiting Birmingham, Huntsville, and wherever the road takes me! To stay up-to-date, I recommend you follow me on Instagram and checkout my Instagram Stories. This is my primary form of communication to my audience on a daily/hourly basis.

Be sure to come back next Monday to see more of my weekly explorations.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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A Rainy Day In Miami

Around midnight on June 6th, my friends and I set off on a mini road trip to Miami. It was the only place in Florida with an OK forecast, and so that’s where we went. Turned out, however, the Weather App failed us.

 

We sat on the beach for maybe twenty minutes at around 6 am, and it sprinkled. We looked to our right, and the buildings – clear a moment before – were shrouded in a sheet of pouring down rain.

 

We headed for cover at the nearby Starbucks as wind whipped through the palms. Fortunately, Miami Beach wasn’t too bad to look at in a storm. Known for its clear, beautiful weather, we discovered a rarer form of Miami. My battery was low, but I was able to capture some of the storm and my friends within it.

Though I’m pretty positive I’ve contracted a small flu from Miami’s rainy weather, it was a great trip to spontaneously take with my friends. I’m sad to be leaving Florida at the end of this week. There’s still so much here I’ve yet to see and explore, but it’s time to set off for a new place. Maybe, another time. Can’t say I’ll miss the humid, however.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman


Standing at the Edge of a Wonder

There's nothing more breathtaking than standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon during a foggy snow. 🌄

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In Spring of 2017, my friends and I embarked on a cross country road trip — Florida to California — and our last stop was the Grand Canyon.

 

Around 3 or 4 in the morning, our mini van rolled at 5 mph on black ice and in the dark, hazy snow past the Grand Canyon’s park entrance. We crept slowly past quiet, Christmas lit log cabins and down around the bend to one of the parking zones.

 

We parked and most of us slept until the first rays of sunlight poked through our windshield. Outside, little snow flakes fell from the sky, and as the sun warmed the ground, shallow pockets of snow melted into mush. We climbed out of the van, doubling our layers and pulling down on our beanies.

 

Honestly, none of us had been aware the Grand Canyon even got snow.

 

We all split off, a couple of us went to build a snowman, while the others trailed behind for a bathroom break and snowballs. Soon, however, we all met up at a ledge overlooking a cliff jutting out into snow, gray nothingness.

 

It was a nice cliff possibly overlooking most of the canyon. We weren’t sure if we’d be able to see anything through the fog, even from the edge, but we knew we had to try.

 

I was the second one to make the journey down from the safety of the park pathway and onto the thin ledge of slippery rock that led to the cliff. Hugging trees and maneuvering my way up and over some rocks, I found myself standing at the edge.

 

My heart thumped with adrenaline. Despite the fog hiding the depths below me and the rock formations around me, my stomach was a hollow pit. I could just barely make out a dark mass in the distance — possibly another cliff — and I knew with one wrong step or too large of a gust of wind, I could plummet to certain death.

 

Standing there, I extended my arms. The fog was thick enough to block out my peripheral vision, and it felt as if I was floating within a cloud. In that moment, I felt so small, so vulnerable, yet I held all the power. The cliff could not push me off, but my own human error could.

 

There was something about feeling so vulnerable like that; it lessened the burdens of reality, because it was my choice to take a step back rather than a step forward.

 

I only stood there for a moment, but when I relive that moment in my head, it goes on forever. The fog was like a welcoming caress, embracing me and hypnotizing me. I felt mighty and small. It was as if I stared time in its face — I knew what was behind me, but I had no idea what stretched beyond, except for the blurry, gray fog.

 

When I turned away, I knew I had just witnessed something great. Without seeing anything except a blurry, distant mass, I knew I had been standing on the precipice of one of the world’s natural wonders. I shuffled through the snow back toward the safety of the trail with a new sense of self-worth. I was nothing but a speck of time, nothing but a body swaying on a dangerous edge, and somehow that comforted me.

 

It comforted me to feel small, because it made all the bad things in life feel small too. It felt good to know, even with all my plan-making and anxiety, the future of the world I lived in was unknown, and it felt good to not be so scared of the gray mass ahead.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman


Snorkeling with the Devil at Devil's Den

Whilst living in Orlando, FL, I have been able to visit surrounding beauties, such as Deland, Daytona, St. Augustine – and as of April, Devil’s Den. My friends and I drove out to Williston, FL to visit the notorious Devil Den Spring.

 

 

If you don’t know, the spring is actually a sink hole within a cave. The facilities allow scuba diving and snorkeling; we snorkeled. Unfortunately, none of us are certified scuba divers. However, the staff at Devil’s Den do offer lessons for a fair price.

 

 

I was pretty scared, at first. I mean, a huge, dark sink hole, and I was going to climb in? I’ve never been a fan of dark water, and this was basically the epitome of it. However, the experience was one of my most worthwhile, and I’m excited to share it with you below.

After driving about two hours out from Orlando, I walked across the boardwalk to the main Devil Den Spring facilities. My friends and I stood in line to pay ($25/each for 3 hours) to snorkel, and we signed release waivers in case of injuries.

 

 

Then, we obtained our snorkel gear.

 

 

I had never swam with flippers or ever snorkeled. So, I was excited to try, but also unsure of how I felt about wading into the dark water.

 

 

We went over to the cave, and I climbed inside to the steep staircase that led to the depths below. One person at a time, as the warning sign suggested, we stepped down and off the staircase onto a wooden plank. On either side of the plank were stairs and blue mats to sit on and get accustomed to the water.

 

 

I slipped my mask and snorkel over my head and let it sit on my forehead, as I scooted my way into the shallow water on the blue mat. Goose bumps rose on my arms and the back of my neck; the water was freezing (70 degrees) to me in my bikini and without any sunlight.

 

 

I put on my flippers, noticing their weight immediately, and submerged my stomach, gritting my teeth.

 

 

My friends were right behind me, a couple having launched themselves into the water to get over the chill. The rest of us proceeded with caution. As much as we tried to be, we weren’t the biggest risk takers in the world.

 

 

Finally, I fully submerged myself and placed my mask over my face. The flippers took a moment to get used to, but I was happy to have them. They made swimming around more successful, especially with my languid pace due to the cold.

 

 

I stuck my snorkel in my mouth, and despite my fear, I looked into the darkness.

 

 

Below, there were jagged rocks and fish swimming about. Baby fish swam around my body and brushed against my finger tips. Further below, a bright light flashed upward, and I realized it was the flashlight of a scuba diver. I watched as a group of divers placed a spotlight on darkened crevices to reveal more fish and beautiful plants.

 

 

My fear left me.

 

 

I swam through the water and explored, amazed by the world beneath me, while I also had fun experiencing the adventure with my friends.

 

 

We all swam for about three hours, before our time was up. Though the experience was amazing, we were eager to escape the chilly sink hole and climb the stairs back to the sun light. I followed everyone up, and we went to return our gear.

 

 

Snorkeling at Devil’s Den was an irreplaceable experience, and I cannot believe I had never done something like it, until I was 20 years old. I feel a lot of my hesitance came from fear of the unknown. So, I hope my story of facing my fear of dark water will inspire you to go out and experience something truly amazing despite fear.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman


Drinking Rock Water

 

We huddled around the puddle.

 

It was sunny, desert rays reddening my cheeks and exposing my freckles. It didn’t matter that it was December, Joshua Tree still blazed with heat by midday. The rock formations and mountains, despite their exhausting and incredibly dangerous climbs, offered a soul-quenching breeze that lifted the hairs on my neck and dried the sweat beneath my flannel.

 

I’d traveled across country, Florida to California, with a group of friends. Two of them, Mark and Landon, were in the huddle with me. All three of us squatted, staring at the puddle. Mark pulled out the straw that was meant for cases of imminent death by dehydration, and I sat my full water bottle next to me in case I needed to wash the rock water down.

 

I don’t remember who had the idea, and I’m not sure what compelled us to pause our adventure to complete the task, but somehow we’d managed to come up with, at the time, “a great idea”. The goal was to use the survival, filtering straw to drink water off the top of the mountain.

 

Behind us, Joshua Trees fanned out and captured the landscape. The next mountain was a distance away, and the sun perched on its crest. We knew we’d run out of day light soon, yet this task was worth it.

 

By the end of the trip, at the very least, we could say we drank rock water.

I pulled out my phone and recorded video, because I couldn’t possibly miss filming our greatest idea ever. Mark adjusted the straw and leaned down. Landon and I watched intensely as he took a slurp. He sat up, waited a moment, and passed the straw to Landon.

“What does it taste like?” Landon asked, leaning over and taking a sip.

“Water,” Mark said.

Landon passed the straw to me and nodded. “Yeah, tastes like water.”

I gave Landon the camera, so he could record me, and took a sip. Yep. Water.

We looked at each other for a moment. Then, we laughed.

One could say that, perhaps, the exertion from climbing had caused us to unravel a tad. Others may say it was the adrenaline from the mountain climbing that caused us to continue seeking new experiences. All of these people are probably right.

We did other things on top of that mountain, such as carving are names amongst other travelers and yelling out to the army of Joshua Trees to be aware of Scientology, but none were as highly anticipated as those three individual slurps of rock water.

We will, and forever will be, rock people, having acclimated to the elements of rock.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman


Finding Myself in the Rising Moon

The journey from the sunshine state across the country sparked a pre-loaded bomb: one week with little to no cell signal among the Joshua Tree desert. Locked and loaded was the relationship cannon, ready to plow its way into my gut. A year and a few months I’d given the man, but he had little trust in me. His manipulation was an ocean, and I was struggling within a small air pocket. Soon, the pocket would burst, the water would enter my lungs, and –

 

I was rebirthed.

 

I stood with three of my good friends in a wide expanse of pitch black desert. My flashlight exposed cracks beneath my feet and above were a million stars. They sparkled and shined, glittering across the sky with confidence I desperately needed to find in myself. My phone was in my back pocket. It was the first time it had stopped buzzing with his manipulative and aggressive words. I struggled not to fall into his trap, to not give up on the adventure I had been looking forward to, but it was hard. Despite his distance, he breathed down my neck.

We pitched the tent, shivering in the desert’s mid-spring chill. It was so dark. Our flashlights were barely enough before the headlights. I turned away from my friends, raising a hand to shield my eyes as beyond a small hump, a bright, white light flooded the landscape. My gut wrenched as my mind raced toward an absurd answer – him. He had uprooted himself from his comfortable life to follow me across the country and force me to marry him for his career.

The headlights rose.

“Is that the moon?”

I don’t remember who said it, but it clicked. The headlights merged into a giant orb of luminous white, casting soft rays across the campsites. Relief washed over me as I bathed in the newfound light. It was so large, so pure. My urge to travel, to flee – that vanished. I suddenly felt like a false nomad. Why did I want to travel? Was it only because of how he made me feel – trapped in a cage?

It didn’t matter, not in that moment. The bickering of how to put up the tent stopped. Our flashlights switched off. Our lips pursed in awe. We were completely encompassed by the moon’s beauty. Never had I seen a moon rise, nor had I ever seen it so large. I felt like a speck, so small and lost. At the same time, there was a warmth inside me, comforting me. Tears prickled the corner of my eyes, and I blinked them away. It felt good to be with the moon, to watch it move above me like a god. I knew it would protect me, somehow, from him and the world.

The road trip was meant to be a fun trip of zero woes, but as it often is with travel, a person runs to escape complications and to experience life for all it is. The moon and I made a pact that night in the desert. I would look out for myself if it would be around when everything fell apart. Like most things, the moon couldn’t always be there. Some nights, it wouldn’t be there at all, but the next night it would come back, bright and beautiful.

I always knew I could look forward to it, and to this day I wish upon the moon, not the stars. I live in a city, where the stars are covered by polluted fogs and rain clouds most nights, but the moon is around enough to rely on. When I see the moon, I picture myself standing back in the desert, a night before a lot of things in my life changed – thankfully, for the better. That night, I found a piece of myself that I hadn’t truly realized I’d lost. I was walking an oblivious path of life, letting people mold me into what they wanted me to be. Then, as the moon rose, so did my confidence. My heart beat faster. My lungs filled with new breath. I felt whole.

As much as I was running from him, I knew he wasn’t the one to blame for my misguided route. The only person I could blame was myself. I was messed up, confused and lost, because I didn’t try to preserve who I was. I let myself be molded, and it left me as someone I didn’t recognize.

When I stood there watching the moon rise, the moon didn’t talk or whisper or really do anything except be a moon. Yet, I found solace in it, in nature, in being free from the outside world. I travel to be free from the norm, the 9-5, the aggressive nature of pattern in today’s society. I do it to run, which I’ve found is nothing to be ashamed of. I had to teach myself to be confident in my decisions, to love myself and my choices. I had to separate normal ideals from my own, and trust in the moon to light the way when I didn’t have a flashlight.

The Earth had been cracked beneath my feet in the desert, each crack glowing from the moon’s incandescence. Some cracks were small, others were large, but they managed to all intersect. Each crack inside me, across my heart, my skin, my soul, has shaped my inner persona and my outer being. The moon encompassed me that night, because it was a spotlight shining down on my imperfections, my flaws, my many, many mistakes. It showed me who I was, but it also helped me see who I could be, if I were to only put a little more hop in my step, straighten the stray hair on my head, leave behind those that didn’t love me for me. It showed me how to be flawed and happy.

Standing in that vast expanse of emptiness with nothing but the moon proved to me that freedom isn’t living life on a path. Freedom is living until you die. It was then that I decided I wanted – no – needed to be a travel writer. I needed to share my stories, my trouble, and find an audience to relate to. Though my audience became the gentle hush of a breeze through the woods, the crash of a wave on the California coast, or a sunrise over the Atlantic ocean in thirty degree weather, it was the best audience for listening. I found myself in the moon the night it rose into the sky like a beacon, guiding me to who I was to become.

I do believe that it’s strange how life’s path can change so drastically in a matter of moments. I had no idea that chasing myself into the desert would end a relationship and lead me to a stubbornness that has brought me great wisdom and twice the amount of friendship. My terrible ending was truly a beautiful beginning to a much more beautiful life. I have found love in natural beauty of both the world and people. The world is so clogged with superficialities that I had to run. I couldn’t let myself become that person who relies on the comfort of technology or fat reduction to boost my happiness. I also couldn’t rely on a little blue pill, either.

I had to find myself in travel. Everyone is different, but travel is what called me. It is what has been calling me since I was very little, along with writing.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman