The Fruit of the Philippines

I am half Filipina and half Sicilian, and while I grew up listening to Mom’s stories of her native Philippines, this past summer was my first time visiting and experiencing the country for myself. Mom, my daughter Leizel and I traveled together for over a month in southeast Asia, exploring the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. While each part of our trip was a unique and invigorating experience, the Philippines is where we spent the majority of our time. It is also where my thoughts drift toward tonight. It’s been a few months now since the end of our trip. I’ve been longing–but perhaps also stalling–to put into words my impressions of a country I’d previously only known through the stories of family members and friends. What I found was not so much a foreign land–but a homecoming of sorts in which I gained a better understanding of my own cultural roots. The Philippines consists of about 7,600 islands in the western Pacific. While we only saw a small fraction of the country, I left with a sweeping sense of how the various islands, provinces, cities and towns remain culturally unique in and of themselves–but also, so very bound together and inherently, beautifully Filipino.

Some of my travel posts are more informative, focusing on the specifics and logistics of our itinerary. But tonight I feel inclined to be a bit more poetic in my descriptions of a country so defined by family, faith and food. The moment we arrived, we were greeted by family members I’d previously never met. It didn’t take long before “Lolo Guapo” began telling jokes as he drove us from the airport, immediately garnering favor with my daughter. She was no less than spoiled throughout our trip. When our hosts discovered her obsession with mango, they made sure to have the delicious fruit peeled, cut and ready for her nearly every morning. It is an undisputed fact that mango is simply better in the Philippines, along with most other tropical fruit–many of which I had never tasted. Rambutan consists of a red, spiny exterior that protects a dense, sweet, lychee-like flesh. My favorite new fruit, mangosteen, is difficult to describe. Its leathery, dark purple rind, once split open, sensually sloughs away to reveal a cluster of segmented, white fruit. The edible portion is the endocarp of the mangosteen–the inner layer that directly surrounds the seeds. It is sweet and tangy and bursts with juice. Perhaps even more satisfying is that you don’t bite into everything at once. You devour each juicy clove, one by one, like picking petals from a flower.

When I was a child, Mom would often talk about the Philippines with nostalgia and love. One story she repeats time and time again centers around her grandfather, Carlos Borromeo. As the youngest girl in a large family, she was sent to her grandparents’ home in the mountains where she was raised for most of her childhood. Mom has a fondness for the film Heidi, and I suspect much of that is rooted in her close bond with her late grandfather. The story goes that they passed a fruit stand after attending church one day. Mom wanted a watermelon, but when she was told no, she cried and pouted as children often do. Upon arriving home, her grandfather, then already an old man, could not bear to see his granddaughter so sad. He made the trek by foot back down the mountain and up again just to retrieve the fruit for my mother. “My grandfather would do anything for me,” she often says with remembrance, and also, a bit of sadness in her voice.

Filipino families tend to be very large, very close and very Catholic. Growing up, I felt a disconnect from Mom and my extended family–not because of a lack of love but because my own nature is so discordant with traditional Filipino values. Social situations make me anxious, stressed and self-doubting. As a child, I’d often hide away during family gatherings, finding some corner of the house to be away from all the bodies and the noise. I can also be stubborn and find it difficult to bite my tongue when I feel I’m in the right–something I attribute to my Sicilian side. But in Filipino culture, respect for elders is unwavering. There is no arguing or debating.

While I will always value my solitude and independence, I do feel like I have finally gained a better understanding of my mother, my family and my culture. Filipinos, after all, are such a warm, loving, resilient and welcoming people. And while no culture is perfect, there must be a reason I feel so at home and so at peace whenever I meet another person of Filipino descent. My daughter and I recently moved to Reggio Emilia, Italy–a change I will write about in more detail in the coming days–and even here we experience the comfort and familiarity of people who look and feel like family. The Filipino diaspora transcends so many borders. There is a growing community here in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. In fact, one of the first friends Leizel made at the park was a Filipina-Italian girl. I often wonder if my Filipino heritage is visually apparent due to my split heritage. I may have brown skin and some islander facial features, but my hair is thick and curly and my frame much more Mediterranean–or perhaps American–in build. So whenever I see a friendly Filipino face here, I tend to introduce myself. “Are you Filipino?” I usually say. “My mother is from Masbate.”

We unfortunately did not have a chance to visit Mom’s home province. This is just one reason we will be going back someday–hopefully sooner than later. But we did explore the lush, green mountains on our way up to Baguio. At an elevation of 4,810 feet, it is like an emerald city in the sky. We attended my cousin’s wedding in beautiful Boracay with its crystal water, perfectly white sand and sunsets so magnificent they’ve come to spoil all other sunsets. We went island hopping in Coron, swimming in deep lagoons enclosed by towering rock formations from a world lost in time. But my daughter says her favorite part of the Philippines was Manila. According to 2016 census data, it is the world’s most densely populated city with nearly 43,000 people per square kilometer. In Manila, there are museums full of art and innovation, streets jammed with traffic, jeepneys crammed with people, sprawling malls, towering cathedrals, markets of fish and fruit and poultry, opulent casinos with pink carpets and fountain shows, tremendous amounts of absolute poverty–but also, unwavering faith and resilience. The Philippines is many things. While I still have much to discover when I return someday, I do know this. Beneath the rind, its people are the heart and fruit of the country.

The Fluctuations of Home: Our Move to Italy

This is our last weekend at our home in Georgia, and I am excited, melancholy, stressed and profoundly at peace with it all at once. Many changes have taken shape since last I blogged a couple months ago. To summarize, Leizel and I have gotten rid of the larger portion of our possessions, sold our house and are moving to Abruzzo, Italy–a green and ancient region of the country nestled between the mountains and the sea. There, we will seek out new travels and adventures, connect with our Italian roots and establish the foundations of a slower, more joyful life.

After the rush and stress that’s come with selling our first home, I finally feel like I can take a moment to relax, reflect and enjoy our last days in a house that’s gifted us with so many blessings over the past three years. Just three years and yet a lifetime of memories. Leizel started kindergarten here and attended the same elementary school I did when I first moved to Georgia. It is a special thing to have in common with her–almost as special as our shared birthdays.

I’ve called many places home over the years: Florida, Virginia, Texas, Georgia, New York and then Georgia again. Some of these places I was too young to really remember, but still I feel an unexplained attachment to them. Ft. Worth is where my earliest memories fermented. I fondly recall my best friend Abby with her rosy cheeks and warm hugs, the beautiful bluebonnets that dotted the Texas fields along the highway and a castle-themed playground that was, I believed at the time, the most amazing place ever to have existed.

Leizel too has called many spaces home here in Georgia. Her first home–a pretty one-bedroom apartment she’ll never quite remember. Her father and I were married then. We painted the walls a bright red-orange, had a cat named Sushi and, for a time, were happy. When the divorce came, we moved in with my parents in the same house I grew up in. They took us in without question, and despite my grumblings and mood swings, they have been, and continue to be, the best grandparents to my sweet girl. She’s never lived far from them, so that will be the hardest part of all about the move–leaving family, friends and friends who’ve become family. (You know who you are. You are loved and will be missed.)

Next, there was our first apartment together as mother and daughter. And along with it, the morning routine of waking up at 5, dropping Leizel off at daycare, commuting an hour to work, then getting home in time to spend just a couple hours together before bedtime. Despite the hectic schedule, I loved that apartment. It was the first space in the world carved out for just the two of us.

And finally, a little more than three years ago, we bought this pink brick-front house on a quiet cul-de-sac. It was my first time as a homeowner, and I’ve watched Leizel grow and learn and blossom here. In this house, she’s learned to read and write, created endless plays and songs in her playroom, made slime and art projects out on the deck, practiced responsibility and compassion in caring for our animals (yes, they are coming with us!) and made some amazing friendships with the neighborhood kids. All this while maintaining her kind and loving spirit.

We move out this Tuesday, and then we are off to the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore for five weeks. Next, we’ll begin our move to Italy and hopefully be all settled in before school starts in September. I’ll be documenting all our travels as often as I can, and as for the reasons for our seemingly sudden move to another country? Well, that’s another post for another day. For now, I’m signing off to enjoy these last few days at home. I can only hope the next family will create just as many wonderful memories within her walls.

Western Caribbean: Single Parent Cruising

In a last minute call to the sea, Leizel and I celebrated her spring break by booking a Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Getaway. We’d gone on a cruise together a few years ago, and I figured sailing away again would be the perfect low-stress, mother-daughter escape.

I searched for cruises a week before departure and managed to find a great deal through Norwegian Cruise Lines. For a 7-day vacation to Honduras, Belize and Mexico, meals and entertainment included, you really can’t beat the value. I adhered to a $1500 budget for the entire trip. This included all travel expenses, accommodations, dining and entertainment and even some extras like a dolphin encounter, private beach excursion and shopping.

Budgets are important, especially as a single parent, and I didn’t want to spend the trip stressing about money. After all, the theme of this getaway was rejuvenation. I believe it’s important to keep a general goal in mind when it comes to travel. The Norwegian crew kept referring to the concept of “freestyle cruising”, which I agree is a great way to describe this particular method of travel. Your experience is what you make of it, whether you relax on the beach all day, snorkel or scuba dive, explore Mayan ruins or go off the beaten track in search of a more local experience. You can even choose to never step foot off the ship and enjoy all the shows, live music, food, gambling, dance classes, art workshops and social meetups you can squeeze into one week.

The plethora of options can be overwhelming, and initially I wanted to do everything: book the 6-hour Mayan ruins excursion, explore the jungle, tour a spice farm and kayak through caves. Of course, a quick reality check reminded me that my back hurts after 15 minutes of walking, there’s a budget to stick to, and most importantly, there are the logistics of keeping a 7-year-old fed, rested and entertained. Gaetana, I reminded myself, the point of this trip is to heal, relax and spend time with Leizel. Keep it simple.

I’m glad we did. Our week consisted of enjoying the beauty of the ocean, relaxing in the pool and hot tub, eating breakfast in bed, snorkeling right off the beach, eating some more, dancing to live music, kissing a dolphin named Marcy, taking a nap on deck as the sun set over the endless sea, singing karaoke in true Filipino form and dear reader, did I mention all the glorious eating?

There are so many faces you come across as you travel, and while I may come off as shy, in truth I very much enjoy meeting new people and committing even the smallest of interactions to memory. There was the local woman with beautiful cheekbones who braided Leizel’s hair on Tabayana Beach, the friend Leizel made while swimming in the saltwater pool overlooking the turquoise waters of Costa Maya, a former classmate of Leizel’s and her sweet family who by chance ended up on the same cruise and Romeo of the entertainment crew who remembered Leizel by name from karaoke and made her feel so special throughout the week. Even the faces of people I never spoke with but admired from a distance are ingrained in my mind: the talented and stunning members of the Burn the Floor Latin dance troupe, the street musician in Mexico who strummed a harp along the pier, his music carried on the wind and across the waves, and the cute bassist in the bowler hat who I could swear sent a flirtatious glance my way the last night of the cruise as Leizel and I danced–or at the very least, a glance was given on my end.

It also felt comforting and a little like home having so many Filipino crew members on board. I am half Filipina and half Sicilian and will soon be visiting my mother’s home country for the first time. This cruise felt like a nice warm-up to our next adventure. Each day I feel my health improve a little more, and I’m hoping to be more of an active traveler when we explore the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand later this year.

In the coming days, I’ll be writing more about the planning process for our Asia trip and will also share some of my favorite memories from the specific ports we visited during our cruise: Roatan, Harvest Caye, Costa Maya and Cozumel. But for now, here’s a photo drop from our blissful at sea adventure.

The Girl I Was, The Woman I’ll Become

The last five years have been largely about finding balance and stability and working hard to establish the foundations of a home for my little family. My goal for the next five years is to live passionately in pursuit of the dreams I hold dear and to return to the roots of who I am and what I love.

I am excited to announce I resigned from my 9 to 5 job earlier this month and am embarking on the thrilling but nerve-racking path of self-employment. I’ll be working harder than ever with the ultimate goal of celebrating my autonomy. For me, this means the freedom to travel and explore, to pursue my career with passion and exuberance, to rest when needed, to tend to the home I’ve worked so hard for, and most importantly–to give more of my time and of myself to my daughter, family, friends and would-be strangers.

I’ve allowed chronic pain and medical issues stemming from cauda equina syndrome to hold me back for several years now. New pain from a car accident added to the weight of things. Combined with the lingering fallout of a divorce now several years in the past but still pervasive in how I’ve come to view myself and the world, I’ve felt my light dim. I used to be a girl who danced, who laughed, who loved with reckless abandon. And while I do want the years to give me wisdom, I have also felt myself slipping into cynicism and self-doubt.

In the coming months, I’ll be devoted to spending more quality time with my daughter, improving my health, finishing the science fiction novel I started writing years ago, traveling as much as I can and maybe even dating with a newfound openness to love. Flights are booked to the Philippines this summer, and I look forward to exploring other still undetermined destinations with my daughter Leizel.

Throughout various periods of my life, I’ve accepted the narrative that I am simply a reclusive person, an unlikable person–that chosen solitude is merely part of the fabric of my being. But the real me is flesh, hungry and alive for connection, hidden behind a veil. I lift it up and remember the girl I was. The girl who would meet strangers in the park or on the train and spend hours listening to their life stories, who some weeks went out dancing almost every night and stumbled home at dawn feeling tired but alive and who once received a compliment from a friend that I “exude sex” and happily and wholeheartedly agreed.

I am a mother now, a woman, and to wish to return to one’s youth is foolish, maybe even selfish. And in all truth, there is nothing in my past that even comes close to the simple joy of cuddling with my daughter on the couch as we laugh and talk, then happily fall asleep. She is, and always will be, the light in my eyes.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t remember. At the heart of my ramblings is this: going forward, I will make a conscious effort to remember the girl I was and take the best parts of her with me–the wanderlust, the starry-eyed wonder, the endless daydreaming and hopeless romanticism–to take these things and hold them dear as I grow and live and mold myself into the woman I’ll soon become.

Savannah, GA: Rekindling an Old Flame

I first met Savannah in my childhood during a troop field trip. We visited the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low, and to be honest–I don’t recall much else about the particulars of our itinerary. What I do remember is the feeling the place inspired in me. It was, in a word, magic. There were lush, green squares, Victorian architecture, haunted inns and live oaks dripping in Spanish moss.

I’m not the kind of person who easily falls in love with individuals. But cities–their histories, architecture, food and intersection of cultures–they’ve always brought out the romantic in me. They still do. But Savannah I’ve always kept with me–like the memory of a first kiss held dear in a safe, secret place in my heart.

I don’t recall if I’d read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil before the trip or because of it–but the combination of actual memory and imagined adventure has contributed to my vision of Savannah as my ultimate dream city. Surely this is the kind of place I ought to belong to.

After all these years, I hadn’t found the time to make another trip, despite the fact it’s only a 4-hour drive from my current home. I haven’t been feeling the best health-wise lately and last week decided to use a couple vacation days to get away for a mid-week adventure with my daughter Leizel.  I spent the night before looking for accommodations before deciding on a charming and reputably haunted inn in the historic district.  I figured we’d drive to Savannah early in the morning, spend the day exploring, then head to nearby Tybee Island the next day for some time on the beach.

Leizel is a wonderful travel partner. She’s almost 7 now, packs her own bag and is ready to go whenever Mommy starts to feel a little bit of wanderlust. While I do like to research beforehand and have a decent idea of the sites to see, a less structured approach works best for us. There aren’t any strict schedules to adhere to. With map in hand, let’s head in a general direction, ask around and see where the road leads.

I’ll be writing some more detailed posts later on the specific sites we visited, but for now, here are some photos from our little Savannah getaway. If you’re wondering, was Savannah everything I remembered? Yes. Yes, it was and more. So much so that the idea of moving there has been dancing away in my mind all week. Does my childhood attachment to the city make me see it through rose-colored glasses? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s love.

Litchfield Beach, SC: The Taunting of the Waves

photo by Gaetana Pipia, single parent travel, single mom travel, Litchfield Beach

Following our small adventure on Pawleys Island, Leizel and I decided to check into a room for the evening and head to the nearby Litchfield Beach–a quiet resort community with a lovely stretch of shoreline on the Waccamaw Neck Peninsula.

It was about a 15-minute walk from our room to the beach, and when we arrived shortly before dusk, it was as if we had the Atlantic all to ourselves.

We laid a blanket out on the sand, and Leizel immediately headed toward the ocean. I watched as she ran into the sea, chasing after, then retreating from the tide as children often do–my lovely girl more beautiful than ever, her form bathed in the orange light of dusk and her smile reflected on the crests of crashing waves.

I laughed as she raised her arms above her head, then placed them on her hips as if to taunt and challenge the almighty ocean. Still, she and the sea became fast friends, and it wasn’t long before she tired of the game and lay down in the sand, letting the waves roll over her.

photo by Gaetana Pipia, single parent travel, single mom travel, Litchfield Beach

I spoke with an older woman taking a walk with her teenaged grandkids. She explained they’d spent many summers at Litchfield, but she suspected this would probably be their last trip all together. The eldest grandson would be heading off to college in the fall, and the girls would follow suit in a few more years. Plus, she was getting older, she said, and time goes by so fast. Perhaps it’s a thing that’s often said–but only because it’s true.

photo by Gaetana Pipia, single parent travel, single mom travel, Litchfield Beach

The woman asked if Leizel and I had seen the giant sea turtle someone had formed out of sand. We followed her  to the spot and together admired the impressive work of impermanent art. No doubt “Myrtle the Turtle” had been a source of wonder and amusement for passing beachgoers all day. But already she had footprints on her shell.

I wondered how long she’d last. After all, time seems most still in the moment before the sun sets.

photo by Gaetana Pipia, single parent travel, single mom travel, Litchfield Beach

Fun Finds:

Melissa & Doug Giant Sea Turtle - Lifelike Stuffed Animal (nearly 3 feet long)Universal Waterproof Case, JOTO CellPhone Dry Bag Pouch for Apple iPhone 6S 6,6S Plus, SE 5S, Samsung Galaxy S7, S6 Note 5 4, HTC LG Sony Nokia Motorola up to 6.0" diagonal -Black

Pawleys Island, SC: Wandering Ghosts on the Lowcountry Shore

Leizel and I were pretty tired after our walk through Brookgreen Gardens and decided to head toward the sea. We followed a sign along U.S. Route 17 and found a Lowcountry gem–the quaint and quiet town of Pawleys Island.

Located on the barrier island of the same name, the town is separated from the mainland by a tidal marsh. The island itself is about three miles long and a quarter of a mile wide and had a population of 103 as of the last national census.

As we crossed onto the island, we observed locals fishing and crabbing off the bridge and piers, passed a small, white chapel standing alone along the marsh, then drove through the town admiring the wonderfully shabby beach houses–each home with a certain amount of flair and character and even a name of its own.

Having just left the vacation hub of Myrtle Beach, this secluded little island seemed a world of its own. With the exception of a couple historic inns and condos, commercial businesses are banned on the island. Several of the homes in the town were built in the 1800s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Pelican Inn, built in the 1840s as the summer home for Plowden Charles Jenrette Weston of Hagley Plantation, now functions as a bed and breakfast. The inn and the rest of the island, like most very old places, have more than a few ghost stories.

One of the most well known ghosts on the island is that of The Gray Man. The story goes that a young man was traveling from Charleston to see his fiancee when he was thrown off his horse and got stuck in the pluff mud of the marsh and drowned.

He is said to have roamed the coast for nearly 200 years in search of his love, while also warning residents of oncoming storms. He’s reportedly been sighted preceding hurricanes in 1893, 1954 and most recently, before Hurricane Hugo hit in 1989 and destroyed many of the town’s homes. He’s considered a guardian angel of the island of sorts, and his story was even featured in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. (Who else watched and loved this show as a kid? Definitely plan to look up the episode later.)

What’s funny is that I didn’t know any of the ghost stories beforehand, but the island immediately gave me a strange sort of feeling–a mixture of nostalgia, uneasiness and also, a stirring excitement in the pit of my stomach.

I half considered stopping at the Pelican Inn for the night but looked at my daughter and thought, “You know, I bet this place is haunted. Better not traumatize my kid.”

Perhaps we’ll return when she’s a little older. There’s a haunted graveyard we somehow missed, and I’d be interested in learning even more about the history of the island directly from local residents–well, the living ones at the very least.

Fun Finds:

Pawley's as it was Hardcover – 1975Pawleys Island: Stories from the porch Hardcover – 2003Best Ghost Tales of South Carolina Paperback – March 1, 2004

Murrells Inlet, SC: The Artful Oasis of Brookgreen Gardens

On Wednesday, Leizel and I left Myrtle Beach without a definitive destination in mind. We were considering Charleston, Beaufort or Savannah, so we headed south along U.S. Route 17, also known as the Coastal Highway.

Once again, the road signs were our guides and beckoned us to make a stop along the way at the beautiful Brookgreen Gardens in the fishing village of Murrells Inlet.

Founded in 1931, Brookgreen Gardens is designated as a National Historic Landmark and serves as both a cultural center for locals and a popular destination for the visiting Myrtle Beach crowd.

With more than 2,000 works of art, it is home to the largest collection of American figurative sculpture in the country. One of my favorite sculptures was of a beautiful young woman, dress and hair blown back by the wind, her right foot extended over a pond in a frozen moment before she abandons herself to the water.

Unfortunately, my phone died early during our visit, so I didn’t take many pictures, but perhaps it’s for the best. The magic of art–the surprise and emotion and wonder it evokes–is best experienced in person. I’d encourage anyone to see the gardens for themselves.

In addition to the sculpture garden, Brookgreen also includes a butterfly house and a native wildlife preserve. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the zoo includes only injured or captive-born animals that would otherwise not survive in the wild. The animals are housed in natural environments, and it is often difficult to distinguish where the habitats end and nature begins.

Leizel and I enjoyed a lovely walk together, observing otters, alligators, bald eagles and more. Of course, one of her favorite animals was not a resident at all but a large, black snake that had found its way into the owl habitat. I think it may have been a black racer, which is common to the region, and it wasn’t long before we spotted another one in the grass along the path.

The day was getting pretty hot, and we needed to get on our way, so there’s still much we didn’t see. Brookgreen also offers art and horticulture classes as well as a Gullah Geechee history program and hosts festivals and concerts throughout the year. We will most definitely revisit the gardens one day when we have more time to enjoy all it has to offer.

Myrtle Beach SkyWheel: Where the Sea Meets the Sky

Wednesday morning, Leizel and I headed to the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel on the city’s colorful oceanfront boardwalk.

The 187-foot Ferris wheel is located right along the beach and was a lovely way to view the city and ocean from above.

The ride is oriented perpendicular to the beach. In addition to the fantastic views, you really get the sense that you’re falling into and rising out of the sea.


We had a lot of fun yesterday, including stops at Brookgreen Gardens and Pawleys Island (which I’ll write about in a later entry), but Leizel says the Ferris wheel was her favorite part of the day.

“It was amazing, Mommy. It went around and around and around.” Who can argue with a review like that?

Fun Finds:

Myrtle Beach, SC: Embrace Your Inner Mermaid

There are days I consider myself a pretty level-headed parent, weighing the educational value of an experience against its monetary cost.

And then there are days I’m in Myrtle Beach. And this happens.

The mermaid makeover, courtesy of Myrtle Beach Mermaids, was actually a great value for the cost. For $30, Leizel got to pick out a costume to wear, have her hair and makeup done and pose in a mini photo shoot with a photographer. We received digital copies of three poses that very same night.

The local business partners with different resorts in the area, and the makeover was one of several kid-friendly activities hosted at Dunes Village Resort where Leizel and I stayed for two nights. By booking last minute and utilizing some rewards points, we were able to enjoy a very affordable stay considering we were right on the beach with a beautiful, oceanfront view.

I’d read a few mixed reviews beforehand and was a bit wary to book there, but I have to say our stay has been great. The room is a little dated, but who cares when you’re right by the sea? Not to mention the staff is very friendly, and there’s a nice family atmosphere that pervades the resort. No rowdy, drunken crowds here.

Our Myrtle Beach adventure culminated last night with the Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show. The main show was preceded by some musical and acrobatic acts, along with cast and crew face painting for the kids. It was Leizel’s second mermaid makeover of the day, and she loved every second of it.

The show that followed was great and extra in the best of ways. I won’t give too much away, but there were acrobatic mermaids, a sea lion act and lots of pyrotechnics involved. I’d never seen a Dolly Parton creative production before. The icon sure knows how to entertain the masses. I sense a trip to Dollywood is in our near future.

Leizel and I will be checking out of our room here within the hour. We’ll make a final stop at Myrtle Beach’s 187-foot Ferris wheel along the oceanfront boardwalk before heading to our next destination, which is, as of now, still yet to be determined.

Fun Finds:

Myrtle Beach Restaurant Guide 2018: Best Rated Restaurants in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - 500 Restaurants, Bars and Cafés recommended for Visitors, 2018Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand (SC) (Images of America) Paperback – October 6, 2004Myrtle Beach Salt water taffy souvenir gift. 3 box set.

Bishopville, SC: A Walk Through the Wetlands at Lee State Park

While the sea was our destination Monday, Leizel and I made a 45-minute, unplanned pit stop at Lee State Park in Bishopville, South Carolina. I’m glad we did.

We were heading east on I-20 and about two hours from Myrtle Beach when Leizel let me know it was time for a bathroom break. The park happened to be the next approaching exit. There were no signs for nearby restaurants or gas stations, but hey, there should be a visitor’s center, right?

As we passed an abandoned gas station, turned left into the park and went deeper into the ominous forest, I began to regret my decision. I was about to make a U-turn back toward the highway when the small, wooden visitor’s center came into view, along with a handsomely bearded park ranger.

After a quick run to the bathroom, which was nice and clean may I add, we decided to take a stroll and identify the different flowers and lizard species at the park. (Identification charts were conveniently posted on the bathroom stalls.) I took a couple snapshots, and we started our journey in search of bladderwort, sparkleberry, fence lizards and broadhead skinks.

One of the first things Leizel noticed was the beautiful Spanish moss hanging from the trees.

“What is this stuff?” she asked. “It’s really pretty.”  The first time I experienced Spanish moss, I was probably a little older than Leizel is now. It was during a Girl Scout troop trip to Savannah. I too remember being smitten. What ancient, haunting, magical looking stuff indeed.

We identified some flowers but weren’t having any luck with the lizards, so we followed a sign pointing toward the boardwalk, not knowing what, exactly, the boardwalk entailed.

To our surprise, this wasn’t just another nature trail, nor was this just another forest. Turns out the 2,839 acres of Lee State Park predominantly consist of bottomland hardwood forest wetlands, over 700 acres of which are enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program.

We came upon a small bridge, followed the boardwalk and suddenly found ourselves walking over water, completely immersed in the splendid nature of the wetlands. We listened to the songs of frogs and birds and what Leizel swears were snakes, watched dragonflies dance from branch to branch, observed tadpoles huddled in the shallows and even spotted a baby turtle resting on a log.

There were also several educational signs along the path. We learned, for example, that this southern section of the park was hit by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Winds at 109 mph toppled large sections of the forest, snapping the crowns off most of the trees in a 500 acre area. While some of the trees died, others survived and have grown extra branches in regrowth.

Even the dead trees have continued living in a way, becoming habitats for various species of woodpecker. It’s a beautiful testament to the steadfastness of nature. There’s a metaphor in there of course, but for now, let’s just say it was a lovely stroll and a lovely detour on a lovely day.

A Mother and Daughter Travel Log: An Introduction

If someone were to ask me what I would change about my day to day life, it would simply be this: I would write more, stress less and most importantly–spend more quality time with my daughter exploring and learning about the world.

As a single, working parent, travel plans have often been put on the back burner. Still, there is a longing in me to visit new places and meet new people, learning and documenting their histories and their stories along the way. My Italian name, Gaetana, stems from the Greek word kaiétas or cave. And so there is something in me that is inherently nomadic–a gypsy spirit I share with my 5-year-old daughter Leizel.

She is at that special age when magic is all too real. And who better to share in these travels than my kindred spirit and dearest love? We share the same birthday even, and our life together has already been such a wonderful journey.

Through this travel log, I hope to document our small but meaningful adventures. I’ve long been under the impression that there is too little time and too few resources to simply get up and go. I’m hoping to rearrange my thinking and instead, make the time we have count. Much can be experienced in a weekend, a day or even a single hour with an open mind and open eyes. We will look for the secret gardens, enchanted alleyways and hidden foundations of a place. Perhaps, we will find just a bit of magic along the way.

~Gaetana Pipia