Mealtime Monday: The Dreaded Cheese Quesadilla

Cheese Quesadilla Roatan Honduras

There are lots of great things you can do with a tortilla and few different ingredients, like a tlayuda from Oaxaca or gorditas from Zacatecas.  Unfortunately there are also some not-great things you can do with a tortilla and a few different ingredients, like this cheese and vegetable quesadilla I was served in Roatan, Honduras.  It’s like the cook intentionally set out to make the saddest-looking dish possible, with greasy tortillas covered in unexciting vegetables and cheese that looks like it came out of a squeeze bottle.  This isn’t a problem limited to Latin America, however… the dreaded cheese quesadilla is often the only vegetarian option at low-end bars and pubs across North America.  In fact, you often end up ordering “a chicken quesadilla without the chicken, please”, and not even getting a discounted price.  The world is full of amazing vegetarian food, so take a stand against restaurants serving uninspired cheese quesadillas by taking your business elsewhere!

What is your least favorite vegetarian option to see on a menu?  Let me know in the comments!

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How to Get a Myanmar eVisa

Mandalay Myanmar

Three months ago, I had no idea that Mandalay was anything but a Bay in Las Vegas.  Today, I am the proud holder of a Myanmar eVisa, permitting me to fly from Bangkok into the actual city of Mandalay, and then to spend thirty days exploring Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

The eVisa process for Myanmar is relatively new, and the reports I read online made it seem like it was a bit of a crapshoot… Maybe I’d get the visa, maybe I’d waste fifty dollars only to get a big SERVER ERROR message.  I was hoping it would go more smoothly than my Russian visa application last year.

The official Myanmar eVisa site is located at http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/.  Here, you’ll find some slightly-broken English explanations of the process to obtain a business or tourism eVisa online.  I had a question that wasn’t answered on the site, so I contacted the Myanmar Embassy in my home country and they responded to me within twenty-four hours (a month later and I’m still waiting to hear back from the Thai Embassy!).  Their answer confirmed that the trip I wanted to do would be allowable with a regular tourist eVisa, so I began the application process.

myanmarevisa1

The first step to obtaining a Myanmar eVisa is to disable your pop-up blockers.  If you don’t, you will not be able to progress past the first page of the application process.  Ultimately, I had to change browsers because it seemed like no matter how I adjusted the settings in my usual browser, it just wouldn’t allow the pop-ups to… pop up.

At the moment, eVisas are only offered to passengers arriving by air at the nation’s major airports: Yangon, Mandalay or Naypyidaw.  If you’re going to arrive by land, you’ll need to apply for a regular visa through an embassy or consulate.

myanmarevisa2

Next, you’ll get another pop-up blocker warning, followed the terms and conditions.  In general, applying for a Myanmar eVisa is much friendlier than applying for a Russian visa.  Note how they describe the rejection of your application as being “unfortunate”.

On the next screen you will be asked to enter your personal information and upload a passport style photo.  I had an extra one kicking around from my Russian visa application last year, so I snapped a picture of it on my phone and then sent it over to my computer.  I didn’t worry too much about the particular dimensions of the photograph (or how recent it was) as long as my face was clear and in proportion.  I did have to play with the image a bit in Photoshop to keep it under the 2 MB limit.  I also had to identify where I was staying, so I chose one of the hotels that I would likely stay at if my visa application were approved.

The next step was to process the $50 USD payment through a slightly retro-feeling payment processor, after which the infamous pop-up appeared and I received my receipt.  I did this on a Sunday afternoon in North America, and I woke up on Monday morning to find a request from the ministry to send a scanned copy of my passport.  Again, I already had one in my mailbox, so I quickly forwarded it back to them.  As promised, on Wednesday I received an email telling me that my application was approved, and providing me with a link to the PDF copy of my eVisa.

To use your eVisa, you must have a printed copy (showing it on your phone or tablet is not sufficient).  It is valid for ninety days from the date you receive it, and permits you to stay in Myanmar for up to thirty days.  Once you arrive via air, you are also permitted to exit by land at certain approved border crossings.

Overall, I found the Myanmar eVisa process to be relatively painless and very efficient.  While I would prefer to see more visa-free travel, if countries are going to require travelers to obtain visas, then this is a decent system for them to use.

Photo of Mandalay by Andres and used under a Creative Commons license.

WPC – Celebrating La Paz Day in Bolivia

Street Party in La Paz BoliviaI was surprised by the traffic as my bus descended into La Paz, Bolivia.  It looked to me like it should only take fifteen or twenty minutes to drive down the side of the mountain into the valleyed city center, but we’d been barely moving along the road for hours.  I’d booked my trip there on the spur of the moment, and didn’t realize I was arriving on the day of the city’s biggest and best celebration: La Paz Day.  Each July, on this day, thousands of people descend into the city center to celebrate the city’s independence with parades, music, street food, street drinks, concerts and general merrymaking.  The next morning everything is quiet, and revelers sleep off their jubilant celebrations on sidewalks, in parks, and anywhere else they happened to collapse.  Check the calendar posted on the US Embassy of La Paz’s website to find out when the La Paz Independence Day celebration is taking place, and make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.  You might also want to arrive a day early to avoid the traffic jams on your way into town, and leave at least two days later so that you’ll have a chance to see the city operating normally (nothing is open the next morning!).

Scuba Diving for Girls

Roatan Honduras Reef

Eight years ago I took an overnight bus to Mexico City, and then got on a TACA flight that connected me through San Salvador and San Pedro Sula before dropping me in La Ceiba, Honduras.  I spent the night in La Ceiba (where I used an internet cafe guarded by a teenager with a semi-automatic rifle) and then headed over to the island of Roatan, where I learned to scuba dive.

I took my Open Water scuba course through Coconut Tree Divers, and found it to be a transformative life experience.  For the first time in many years, I struggled to learn something.  I’ve never been very mechanically-minded, so I couldn’t understand why we clipped this tube here and turned that knob there, and once we got under the water, where I couldn’t ask any questions, I was 20,000 leagues out of my comfort zone.  To make matters worse, there were four boys in the class with me and they all seemed to master everything within seconds.  I completed the course, and then spent the rest of my time in Roatan snorkeling around the shallow waters near my hotel.

Snorkel Roatan Honduras

Unfortunately, there are things you just don’t see when you’re snorkeling.  As the years passed I felt more and more regret about not pursuing scuba diving any further, so I decided to go back to Roatan, and back to Coconut Tree, to give scuba diving a second chance.  I started with a morning refresher class, where I worked one-on-one with a divemaster to practice setting up my gear (which was always the most stressful part for me) and to feel confident under the water (that was never a problem for me, I’ll choose being in the water over being on land any day!).  Then I moved on to some boat dives with other relatively-new divers, where we took our time ensuring our gear was ready and made sure everyone gave the okay signal before we descended beneath the water.  By the end of the week I was feeling a lot more confident… but I also started to notice a strange trend.  On many of the dives I went on I was the only female, and the rest of the time the women were accompanying their male partners.  There were lots of single guys and groups of guys out diving, but I was the only girl on her own.  Where were all the girls scuba diving?

Cozumel Reef Dive

Last month I decided to take another scuba diving trip, this time to Cozumel.  I chose a shop that had great reviews, but also that implied it expected a certain level of independence from its divers.  I decided to begin my trip by taking the Advanced Open Water course, where I worked one-on-one with an instructor to learn Underwater Navigation (still not an area of strength for me!), Peak Performance Buoyancy, Deep Diving, Drift Diving and Night Diving.  I then spent the next five days diving confidently in all sorts of scenarios, and even helping other divers get into the routines of our boat.  However, I kept looking around at all the men on my boats and wondering, “Where are the women?”

When I thought about the shops I’d dived with, I noticed that women usually worked behind the reception desks, while men were out on the boats as captains, instructors and divemasters.  In the twenty-five or so dives I’ve completed, only one had another solo female on board, while the rest were exclusively men or included a man and woman diving together.  Could it be that scuba diving is the last frontier for solo female travelers?  Obviously I’m no expert, but I thought I could answer some questions that women considering diving might want answered.

Scuba Diving Turtle Cozumel

What do I need to pack?

New divers can rent everything from the shop they dive with.  There’s no need to waste valuable space in your suitcase or backpack when you can borrow it from the shop for a reasonable price.  Most shops are happy to lend you a mask and fins if you want to snorkel before or after your dive, too.  If diving becomes a passion that you want to pursue, you can build your collection of scuba gear over time.

What should I wear?

In the water, it depends on the water temperature and your personal comfort level.  In Roatan I wore a bikini under a half wetsuit, while in Cozumel I wore a bikini under a full-length wetsuit.  One-piece suits are fine too.  The shop should have rental suits available.  To and from the dive shop, and on board the boat, I recommend a pair of board shorts and a tank top, or a “long and loose” tank that you can wear like a dress over your bikini.  As it can be slippery getting on and off the boat I prefer proper water sandals over flip-flops.

What about my long hair?

There is no easy answer to this one!  While it’s tempting to slather a deep conditioner all over in hopes of fighting tangles, you don’t want your beauty products washing out into the water and ultimately harming the reef.  You can try a braid or stick with a simple ponytail, and make sure you’ve got a wide-tooth comb back at the hotel to deal with the aftermath!

Sunscreen?

I’m obsessed with sunscreen, but I’m also obsessed with preserving the beautiful underwater world.  Because most of my dives had an early start I went with sunscreen just on my face, and then tried to get into my full-body wetsuit before the sun got too strong.  If I took off my wetsuit during surface intervals (the break between dives if you’re doing two dives during the same boat trip) I would just try to stay in the shade.  If you’re not comfortable with this, look for an eco-friendly sunscreen that will be less harmful to the sea life.

What if I have my period?

I am proud to say that I am living proof that sharks don’t care if you have your period or not!  I had a few heavy flow days on my most recent trip, including during my night dive, and everything went fine.  I used Tampax Ultra tampons during all of my dives and changed them during the surface interval on the days when I was bleeding most heavily.  Our boat stopped at a dock that had public bathrooms so I was able to change my tampon in relative comfort, but I had a ziplock bag and toilet paper on hand in case I had to change on the beach (behind a palm tree?) or at the back of the boat (turn away please!).  If that sounds horrifying to you, look for shops that offer one-tank dives that will get you back to a bathroom in less time!

What if I have to pee?

Basic manners says that you shouldn’t pee in a rental wetsuit.  However, it’s totally fine to get back on the boat, take off your gear, and hop back into the water to pee (just tell the captain first!).  You can hold onto the ladder or the rope that runs along the side of the boat.  If you own your own wetsuit, pee away!

Will the guys be nice to me?

In general, I think most men are happy to see a girl scuba diving on her own.  I found that more experienced divers tended to be the most welcoming, while occasionally it was the captains and divemasters who might make a sexist joke here or there.  I recommend striking a balance between trying your best to do things on your own and asking for help when it matters (like, when it comes to safety).  If you’re out of practice then take a refresher class rather than relying on the other people on the boat to do things for you.  In my own experience, the more confident I became the more I was accepted by the male divers on the boat.  You can also look for female divemaster (like Blanca at Blue Project in Cozumel) if that would make you more comfortable.

Do you have any other questions about scuba diving for girls?  Ask below and I’ll do my best to answer (again, from the perspective of a new diver!).

Empties – March 2016

empties-march-2016

I’ve been collecting empties for a while (my last post was in December) but it doesn’t seem like I’ve amassed too many in that time.  Maybe it’s because I took bunch of almost-empties to Spain over Christmas and to Mexico over Spring Break?  Regardless, here’s what I’m throwing away for good today!

Clean and Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser – My favorite pimple-fighting face wash.  I mainly use it on my chest, where I’m prone to breakouts along the lines of my sports bras.

Dove Pistachio Creme with Magnolia Body Wash – I love the scent of this body wash… in small doses.  It’s so distinct that I do need to mix it up with other scents on a regular basis, though.

Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief Toothpaste – It was on sale, so I gave it a shot.  It worked just as well as my trusty Sensodyne.

Skintimate Skin Therapy Shave Gel – I keep giving this line a second chance, but it’s never as good as…

… Gilette Satin Care Shave Gel – It works up to a thick, creamy lather and I never get razor burn when I’m using it.

eScents Aromatherapy Body Lotion – This was a custom scent blend that I had done in an eScents store a few years ago.  I don’t adhere strictly to “best before” dates, but I knew it was time for this one to go.

Q-Tips – Couldn’t live without them!

Epice Purifying Exfoliant – I liked the texture of this microdermabrasion-inspired exfoliant, but didn’t like the strong scent.  I think it was from a beauty box.

Desert Essence Tropical Breeze Deodorant – My new favorite aluminum-free, natural deodorant.  The texture isn’t sticky, the scent is fresh and light, and it keeps me smelling lovely (but doesn’t provide any sweat-fighting power).

Nuxe Nuxellence Jeunesse Serum – I got this as part of a travel kit about two years ago.  Like most serums, it felt nice but it didn’t seem to impact the appearance of my skin.

The Treehouse Brazilian Nut Body Butter – I love the (artificial) scent of Brazil nuts, and this super-cheap body butter delivered on both fragrance and hydration.  It was almost used up so I decided to toss it as part of my “best before” binge.

Lancome La Vie Est Belle – You can barely see this tiny perfume sample.  This is part of the gourmand-floral family that includes Flowerbomb and Si.  While it’s not unique, it’s a crowd-pleaser.

Philosophy Hope in a Jar – This was from a beauty gift bag.  I quite liked the texture of this moisturizer, and it left my skin looking noticeably better the next day… but OMG did it smell terrible.  What was Philosophy thinking?

Sensodyne Brilliant Whitening Toothpaste – I’ve been using Sensodyne for years, at my dentist’s recommendation, and like all the formulas.

Sinus Relief Essential Oil – I’m not sure of the brand, but I put two drops of this into the “medicine holder” part of my humidifier (not into the water!) to infuse the air with a nose-clearing scent in the winter.

Ecru Acacia Protein BB Cream for Hair – A great beauty box treat.  This protecting, hydrating leave-in hair cream smelled wonderful and helped make my hair smooth and shiny when I was heat-styling.  I actually really liked this one.

Revlon Uniq 10-in-1 Hair Treatment – Or, In Which Revlon Attempts to Go Up-Market?  I was surprised to see Revlon might be attempting to branch out into salon-quality products; I wasn’t surprised to see that their efforts didn’t pay off.  I didn’t like the smell of this product and it didn’t do much for my hair (unlike the Ecru product!).