...and we're off!

taking a year of pretirement to travel the world

on may 23, 2013, we quit our jobs and began our year of "pretirement." these are some of our adventures around the world.

a houston wedding and san francisco

our first halloween together - and the night parsa met kevin! 

anita, parsa, and i were roommates for our first four years in new york. i remember how stressed i was trying to find the perfect apartment for us since i was the first to move to the city (we ended up living above a brothel – ha!). i also remember the night parsa was telling us about how she was going to get that "mason boy.” fast forward six years and we were off to houston to watch her and kevin tie the knot! even after the three of us moved out of that apartment, we were still neighbors. then two years flew by and suddenly we were all leaving new york – anita was heading to business school, parsa was moving to palo alto, and i was pretiring with alex. it’s crazy how quickly change seemed to wash over our lives and take us on different paths. at this point it’d been six months since we’d last been together, so i was very excited to be reunited on such a happy and momentous occasion!

after a long layover and much delayed flight, we arrived in houston late friday night and hurried to catch the tail end of the gaye holud, which is a traditional bengali pre-wedding celebration. the second i saw parsa, my eyes welled up with tears. she looked so beautiful in her exquisitely beaded, dark green dress and jeweled hair. and kevin looked so dapper in his traditional bengali attire! the two of them were beaming, and i couldn’t have been happier for them. simply put, they’re perfect for each other. the banquet hall was decorated in hues of red, pink, and orange, and the choreographed dances that friends and family performed were so much fun to watch. it was a colorful way to kick off the weekend.

the wedding was held the next day at briscoe manor, a beautiful venue set in the texan countryside with grazing longhorns greeting us as we pulled in. it was a gorgeous afternoon, and the sun was shining on parsa and kevin as they exchanged their own written vows. i of course was bawling like a baby. more tears were shed later as anita gave her speech, and kevin’s siblings read a version of dr. seuss’ poem “oh, the places you’ll go” that they’d re-written to chronicle parsa and kevin’s story. there were even fireworks outside, which was beyond awesome. then the dj started blasting hits from the nineties and got us all nostalgic and dance-crazy. everyone had an amazing time – what a memorable night!

the next day the newlyweds were off to africa for their honeymoon, and we were off to san francisco, where we’d be spending a couple days with our friends julia and dave before we took off for asia. this time we had two quick layovers and a very early, hectic morning. we were beyond relieved when we finally got to their place. they live in a completely renovated four-story house in the richmond, complete with a backyard and two balcony-decks overlooking the city and ocean. julia is definitely the first of our friends to live in a real grown-up house, and it’s huuuge! alex and i jokingly (or not so jokingly) told them we’d be moving in after our year of pretirement was over. that night, julia cooked us a delicious meal and dave busted out several bottles of really nice wine from his impressive collection – a huge perk of living so close to napa. our friend andrew and his boyfriend dominic were also over for dinner, and by the end of the evening we were all happily drunk and ready for a good night’s sleep. 

we only had one full day in the city before our flight the next morning, so julia played hooky and we went gallivanting around town. alex and i had been dreaming about the burritos at taqueria cancun in the mission, so we stopped there for lunch before driving over to land’s end lookout and enjoying the nice breeze by the water. julia and i also got a little girly time in at the nail salon before we headed out and met dave for drinks at fat angel, their new favorite spot for good beer and delicious small plates. alex and i were so glad we were able to spend time with these two before we left for tokyo. it was the perfect last hurrah before we dove into the next chapter of our pretirement!

one of my favorite dances at the gaye holud!

page, zion, and vegas road trip

as i sat in the backseat of the beemer watching the arizona desertscape fly past, i thought about how lucky we were to be doing whatever we pleased, completely free of any obligations. there we were, happily buzzing along the highway with alex's parents at the start of another great road trip. on our way to page (a remote town along the northern border of arizona), we pulled off the road twice - first to watch the amazing sunset, then to gaze up at the stars that completely filled the night sky. starlight will never cease to amaze me. we spent the night in page and enjoyed a deliciously filling dinner at the "best mexican restaurant in town." the next morning we did a short hike to horseshoe bend and spent a few hours admiring the view. the colorado river really is quite the artist. we would've loved to stop by its other masterpiece, but the grand canyon was just a little too out of the way.

oh, the irony.

we continued our drive to zion national park and made a quick stop in colorado city, a mormon fundamentalist stronghold. the town is very small but full of huge, half-built homes that are nevertheless occupied. it's as if they ran out of money for proper siding and windows. having recently read under the banner of heaven, i was curious what fundamentalist mormons were like in real life. we pulled into the merry wives cafe parking lot and popped inside the local convenience store. i chatted briefly with the woman behind the counter, her pre-teen daughter a few feet away. the strange thing was that they seemed...happy. obviously not all fundamentalist mormons do terrible things, but knowing what few rights these women have in their community, i couldn’t help but wonder if their faith and unwavering trust in their leaders had blinded them. in any case, the sheriff also happened to be in the store, so we timed our short visit just right. after awhile we'd headed back to the car with a case of the hebejebes.

we eventually arrived at zion national park in the early evening and settled in. a friendly local gave me her local’s card so we'd get 20% off our meal at one of the best restaurants in town. score! the next morning we got up early and were rewarded with a family of four mule deer quietly grazing right by our rooms. we spent the whole day hiking the kayenta trail, emerald pool trails, and the riverside walk that follows the virgin river to the narrowest part of the canyon. the fall foliage was breathtaking. throughout the day we had alternating periods of rain and sunshine, giving us a glimpse into the zion's many different looks. it may be smaller than other national parks, but this place is beyond gorgeous. i’ll let our pictures do the talking.

cindy's halloween outfit, minus her light-up pumpkin shirt!

after spending a couple days surrounded by beautiful landscapes, we headed to nature’s polar opposite. vegas is alex's mom's second home. she’s been there more times than she can count and just can't get enough of the glitz and games. we stayed downtown at the golden nugget – the original vegas – and spent our first night gambling there and our second on the strip. i’d been to sin city before but was never old enough to gamble, so this time i was pretty pumped. i'm a blackjack and roulette fiend, and easily spent a total of 14 hours sitting at the tables and making friends with whoever was there. this included an 83-year-old woman celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary and a table full of packers fans. we are definitely everywhere! that night alex tried to peel me off the blackjack table but gave up and went to bed at 3am. he thinks i’m going to turn into one of those old asian ladies who can’t stop gambling. kind of like my lola…haha! at one point i was down $200, but by the end of our two days i was back up to only $35 in the hole. not too bad for vegas! my tito bobby and tita agnes also invited us over for lunch and wine at their home in henderson, which was beautiful. on halloween day it was time to say goodbye to alex's parents. cindy came prepared for the holiday.

on our way back to phoenix, we drove through joshua tree and marveled at just how many of these funny-shaped trees dotted the desert. with the sun setting in the background, it was a gorgeous going-away present from the southwest. we made it back to the city, parked our car at the mobile home, and got our packing in order. the next morning we bid farewell to the m3 and set off for houston. parsa and kevin were getting married!

nyc and phoenix family reunion

having spent two months living out of our backpacks, it was nice to come home to nyc, if only for a few short days. the night we got back, we managed to stay up despite our jet lag and catch a couple of awesome cmj (college media journal) showcases, all thanks to rachel. if you like ray lamontagne, check out foy vance. he's got an unbelievable voice. and if you haven't already heard of them, give half moon run a listen, too. we also got brunch with pete and julia, our lovely friends who'll be staying at our apartment until we're back next spring. pete's a kiwi and julia's from argentina, so we're looking forward to all their recommendations when we head south of the equator! the rest of our days were spent catching up with people and getting ready for our upcoming travels. we were eager to spend our next chapter of pretirement in asia! 

but before shipping out to the far east, we spent the next couple of weeks in the southwest. my family was having a big reunion in phoenix, and a week later our friends parsa and kevin were getting married in houston. both were perfect excuses to stay stateside a bit longer. the reunion was something i'd been looking forward to all year. my dad has seven brothers and sisters, so it's always a lot of fun when the entire family gets together - and it doesn't happen often since we have a very large family scattered across the states, philippines, england, and australia. plus, alex would be meeting many of my relatives for the first time, and so would his parents - they were heading down to phoenix, too! unfortunately there'd be several people who they wouldn't get to meet. the one sibling who couldn't make it this year was my tita elo's twin sister, tita ebe. luckily in just a few short months, we'd get to see her and my cousins joshua, jarrett, and janice in the philippines, as well as my cousins pia and jb in australia, who also weren't able to come. guess our timing worked out pretty well!

our three days in phoenix were booked solid with three huge parties hosted by my cousins dodi and michelle, dan and mimi, and my tito nilo and tita mila. at any given moment, there were probably between 50-100 people around. hard to believe, considering we were missing almost 30 people! the whole time we were either eating or singing karaoke - the two mainstays of any filipino get-together. someone always brings a portable karaoke machine, no one's too shy to grab the mic, and everyone goes to town on the huge buffet of homecooked filipino dishes and other yummy favorites. my tito cugie and tita chit flew down from new hampshire with a huge box full of fresh lobster and crab, which everybody was scrambling for. and i can never get enough of my tita elo's empanadas and fried lumpia (egg rolls) - they're pretty much the best things on earth. 

tita elo's famous empanadas, fresh from the pan. yum.

we also got some quality time in with the m3 - especially alex, who made sure it got some well-deserved new tires. it felt so good being back behind the wheel again after doing four road trips with four tiny cars in europe. alex also spent a couple nights with his mom and dad, who took a week off to escape the minnesota cold. since our parents had only met once at our graduation six years ago, we were looking forward to having them meet again and get to know my dad's side of the family. shocker - the stoewers were a hit with the ballecers, and vice versa! everyone had a great time. alex's mom even joined my dad in a karaoke rendition of "new york, new york", which was just awesome. cindy and jon also witnessed the ballecer roast, where my dad gets up and cracks jokes about each of his siblings, leaving the whole house shaking with shrieks of laughter. (if you didn't already know, filipino laughter is five times louder and highly contagious.)

the three days went by very quickly. before we knew it, it was time to get the beemer back on the highway. since we had about a week until the wedding in houston, we decided to make a road trip out of the time in between, and alex's parents were joining us! before we left, we had a nice lunch with my family at the pecan farm at south mountain. it's a bit pricey, but a beautiful place to picnic and enjoy fresh, locally grown food. afterwards we said goodbye to my parents and brothers and climbed into the beemer. first stop - page, arizona!