Polaroid of the week: Running Horses in Tucson, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona horses tucsonI’ve visited the Southwest five times over the past few years, but it took me until my 6th visit this year to finally visit a ranch, a real working dude ranch with a bunch of cowboys, horses, cattles – and all that back-dropped by the spectacular Southwest scenery: the barren Sonoran desert with its countless giant Saguaro cacti, dusty desert roads and rugged mountains.

It might have taken me six years to finally experience ranch life in the Southwest, but when I eventually got a glimpse of it, it was the finest of the finest: the fabulous White Stallion Ranch just outside Tucson, where my friend Lynn took me one morning to take photos of the horses as they were gathered in one huge enclosure and herded into another one by a group of wranglers.

The 5am wake-up call for this photography outing was painful, but the scene that unfolded when the cowboys entered the enclosure to bring the horses down together was incredibly beautiful: the morning sun was just rising above the mountain peaks, bathing the ranch in a warm, golden light. Then the horses started running slowly, getting faster, and finally galloping right by the gate where we had set up our cameras.

Afterwards, I toured the 3,000-acre cattle ranch which has been run by the True family for decades. I felt as if I had walked onto the movie set for an Old West movie, and I had to remind myself that the cowboys that were walking past us from time to time weren’t actors in costumes, but actual working wranglers and farm hands!

The ranch has 41 guest rooms, and people from all over the world come here for a true Old West experience: not only watching the cowboys and wranglers going about their daily duties, but also riding the horses, of course. After hearing there was a wine and cheese ride, during which guests are served a selection of cheese and a glass of wine right in the middle of the desert, I wished I hadn’t waited until my very last weekend in Arizona with my trip to the White Stallion Ranch – I was dying to get on the back of a horse!

While I didn’t get the chance to stay on the ranch this time around, I know that I’ll be back in Tucson and I hope I’ll get to experience the White Stallion Ranch again – and then I’d like to stay in one of their rooms right on the ranch, go out on rides through the desert and get my cowgirl on!

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: April 2016 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. April 2016

Where I’ve been

I began April in Mexico City, road tripped around Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and finished my month-long stay in Mexico on the tiny Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres. After a short stop in New York City (just enough time to say Hi to a dear friend and to stuff my face with a bagel, something I’d been craving for months!) I flew to Tucson, Arizona, where I am ending the month – but I am actually packing up my stuff right now, about to head out on a mini road trip to my next destination, but more on that below.April 2016 Mexico Arizona

What I’ve been up to

This month was supposed to be a relaxing one, at least the second half, but somehow I never slowed down.. Story of my life, I guess. I ended my time in Mexico City with a near disaster (more on that below), but also with a great weekend that involved a return to Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul, and a fun day in Coyoacan, market madness and lots of craft beer. Then I flew to Cancun where I met up with my favorite travel buddy (again, after traveling together in Colombia a couple of months ago) to road trip around the Yucatan, which just so happens to be one of my favorite parts of Mexico. For eight days, we swam in cenotes (underwater sinkholes), beach hopped along the Caribbean and got our culture fix by visiting several Mayan ruins before a chilled out island getaway in Isla Mujeres. And with that, my 3-month winter escape to Latin America came to an end..MexicoMid-April I found myself in New York for a minute before I jumped on a plane to Tucson for my fifth visit to southern Arizona since 2010. While I usually use these weeks of housesitting to catch up on work, this year it seems like I had much more ‘play time’ than work time.. First, my friend Katie came to visit me and I found myself frolicking around old western towns, hiking in between giant Saguaro cacti, revisiting the beautiful San Xavier del Bac Mission and sampling all the craft beer Tucson has to offer (well maybe not all of it, but quite a lot!) and then I had a surprise visitor distracting me with a visit to a PowWow (get together of Native American communities) in Phoenix and a sweaty canyon hike. Plus, I also finally made an effort to meet some new people in Tucson and caught up with friends I made on previous visits. And just like that, my three weeks here are over.. But I hope this wasn’t my last visit, because the more time I spend in Tucson, the harder I fall for the city, discovering more and more cool stuff.



Road tripping around the Yucatan

I spent hours planning this road trip, but in the end it was so worth all the sleepless nights and the effort that went into it: the road trip couldn’t have gone any better. Beginning with a fabulous stay at the exquisite Grand Hyatt in Playa Del Carmen to accident-free driving to introducing my favorite girl to really good Mexican food, not the stuff you get in the States!yucatan road trip
Desert hikes in southern Arizona

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much I love the desertscape of Southern Arizona – and I was happy that I had several visitors who got me out of the house to hike some of my favorite trails here and explore some new ones. Bonus: it’s spring, which means the cacti are blossoming, making the dessert look extra pretty.arizona desert hikes

Returning to Isla Mujeres

I fell in love with Isla Mujeres when I first visited the tiny Caribbean island in 2010, and I decided to spend an entire weekend there after our road trip – even though I had no idea if I’d still like the island after all these years of travel and all the places I’ve seen since then. Moreover, I didn’t know if Isla Mujeres had changed – had it become just as touristy and crowded as Playa del Carmen, a place I used to like a lot but that doesn’t do much for me now? I had nothing to worry about: Isla Mujeres was as charming as ever, and yes, it had become more touristy, but just look at these pictures… what’s not to love?!isla mujeres

What went right

Great publicity

Bild Der FrauThis month was an awesome month for publicity – An article about me appeared in one of Germany’s biggest women’s magazines, and I was featured by Lonely Planet! Being included in a list of the Top 50 Travel Bloggers was another pleasant surprise yesterday.

My first Mexican road trip

As I said above, my Mexican road trip was a blast, but it was also my first time renting a car in Mexico for longer than a day and driving on roads I hadn’t driven on prior to this visit. The only reason I was confident enough to sign up for this trip was because I remembered from living on the Riviera Maya in 2010 and 2012 that driving was a breeze in this part of Mexico, but I was still nervous if everything would go okay with the rental, if the route I had mapped out was too ambitious and if the car would be safe everywhere we parked it (sometimes with all our belongings inside). I am happy to report that everything went smoothly and without a glitch – and this road trip is perfect for anyone who wants to explore the Yucatan, so I’ll be writing about it in more detail soon.Mexico road trip

What went wrong

The almost robbery in Mexico City

My time in Mexico City almost ended with a tragedy – on my very last day in the city my friend and I were strolling through the big Saturday market that sprawls out into the streets surrounding La Merced, the city’s biggest market.

I was happily snapping some pictures and munching on a mango when all of a sudden I felt someone grab me from behind, wrapping his arms around my chest so that I couldn’t move my arms, while a second guy tried to rip my dSLR camera out of my right hand. Luckily I had strapped it around my wrist tightly and he couldn’t just grab it, and I started screaming like crazy. My friend pushed the guy who was holding me, and we both fell to the ground, I was holding my bag and camera tight to my body prepared to defend them, but they decided to run. My friend ran after them, not sure if they’d gotten anything from me or not, and saw them disappear into a courtyard right off the market. Knowing where these thieves lived we decided to get the police involved but they seemed a bit lackluster about the situation. They still came with us to the house, but told us they couldn’t go in without a permit / order.

I can’t believe how lucky I was – this could’ve ended much worse. I had my passport in my bag (required to go inside the National Palace which we had planned for that day), my Kindle, and a chunk of cash. However – I wasn’t entirely lucky during the incident: in the fall, I smashed my camera lens which died a slow death after the incident and had to be replaced, and I hit my big toe so hard that I was sure it was broken.

mexico city merced market dani
This picture was taken minutes before the attack happened…

The credit card scare

At the beginning of the month, I logged into my account to check the balance on my credit card. But what was that? In my ‘Account Summary’, my credit card didn’t show up! Where was my credit card balance?? I looked everywhere in my online banking account, but there was no sign of my credit card. No message either about it being blocked or something. It was midnight in Mexico, so I had to wait until the next morning to call my bank in the UK. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. How could my credit card simply disappear from my account?!

When I finally got hold of my bank the next morning, it took an hour on the phone with them to resolve what had happened – the card had been blocked after I the rental car company I rented with try to charge a $2,000 deposit for the car. Yes, these high deposits are customary here in Mexico.. And so my bank put a flag on the account.

dani isla mujeres
Dealing with British banks makes me want to RUN.

I lost more things… And this time, really expensive things.

The ‘lost items’ section seems to evolve into a running segment in my monthly round-ups, much to my dismay. After losing clothes and my Sennheiser headphones last month, and my Kindle charger as well as camera charger the month before, this month’s loss was very tragic: I left my beloved $300 JBL headphones on the flight from New York to Chicago on my way to Tucson. When I realized what had happened while waiting for my connecting flight, I immediately ran back to the gate I’d arrived on, but I was told nothing had been handed in. Oh well, I guess somebody else is enjoying these amazing headphones now.

And not only did I lose my headphones in transit, I also managed to leave my belt behind in Cancun when I took it off to go through security in the airport. Only on the plane did I notice that I was suddenly belt-less! I really hope May goes by without me losing something.

isla mujeres dani cliffs
If I lose anything next month, I might jump off a cliff

What went almost wrong

The almost missed ferry & almost missed flight

For my last night in Mexico, I had booked a hotel near the airport in Cancun, because we were leaving on a super early flight the next morning. The plan was to spend the entire day on Isla Mujeres and head back to the mainland just to sleep there – why waste a day in Cancun when we can spend it in this island paradise? I had seen online that ferries were running until late at night, which was perfect for us – that way, we could even have dinner on Isla Mujeres!

But when we, happily stuffed with tacos, made our way to the ferry terminal around 8pm, we arrived to complete darkness – the terminal was closed! I panicked immediately, knowing that the first morning ferry wouldn’t run until 5am – too late for us to make it to the airport and to catch our flight. I started to hyperventilate, because neither my friend nor I could miss that flight the next morning. In my head, I already saw us pay for a private boat to the mainland, and ran over to a taxi driver to find out if there might be a car ferry or another way to get off the island that night, and he simply pointed to the ferry terminal next to the one we were at. Yes, this one had closed for the night, but the main one was still open. I almost suffered a heart attack in that near-travel fail, thinking I had screwed up and maybe ferries weren’t going late on Sundays. Luckily, everything went according to plan when we finally boarded the ferry.

isla mujeres sunset - Copy
The sunset was worth missing the ferry for

As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning we then nearly missed our flight even though we were at the airport two hours prior to our flight departure – and just because we were chatting at the gate waiting for the flight to board.. Our conversation was so deep that we forgot to pay attention and somehow missed that everyone had already boarded – they were ready to close the doors! Luckily we noticed that we were the only ones left in the departure area before the plane departed.

What’s next for me

I am finishing up my housesit in Tucson and am almost on my way to the next housesit: a month in Austin, Texas! I’ve been wanting to visit Austin for years, so when this opportunity came my way, I didn’t have to think long.

And because my travel plans aligned with those of a travel buddy I am finding myself now road tripping from Tucson to Austin, stopping along the way at one of the most remarkable places I’ve visited in the US, the stunning white desert of White Sands in New Mexico (which I hope I’ll get to photograph at sunset this time around) and in Big Bend National Park for a day of hiking before eating my way through Austin for the next few weeks. If you know Austin and have recommendations for restaurants, food trucks, craft beer bars and things to do, please share them in the comments!tucson cowboy hatsYou can follow along in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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Polaroid of the week: San Xavier del Bac – a Spanish colonial mission in Southern Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona san xavier del bac missionReturning to Arizona felt as glorious as ever! As usual, I am housesitting here – but this time, for different homeowners. I’m enjoying the company of a different dog and a different pool, but I am in the same neighborhood in the Catalina foothills which I love, and funnily enough it is just as hot as it is when I’m here in May. Tucson is experiencing unseasonably warm weather at the moment, I’ve been told.

I usually come to Arizona for a month of peace and quiet, and to catch up on work projects that I don’t get around to when I’m on the road, but this year, I’ve been busier than usual. I’ve been more social than I was on previous visits, making more of an effort to make new friends here, and have them show me some cool spots around town, because Tucson’s restaurant scene keeps growing. I also got to catch up with old friends over wine and cheese and have been taking advantage of my well equipped and spacious kitchen which almost makes me want to stop traveling and set up a home base. Almost.

The highlight of the week? Katie came to visit me for a few days and I introduced her to some of my favorite spots around here: we hiked in Sabino Canyon and in Saguaro National Park (and after finding this website listing all the hikes around Tucson I think I’ll never get bored here – so many hikes I haven’t done yet!), and we visited the beautiful San Xavier Del Bac Mission, pictured above, which is the oldest European structure in Arizona, filled with striking original 18th century statuary and mural paintings.

Katie and I even made it to the famous western town of Tombstone (Boothill Graveyard visit included, of course!) as well as Bisbee, a former mining town close to the Mexican border that reinvented itself as an artist commune, which I love to visit, not only for the little town itself, but also for what can be best described as ghost town: Lowell, where you find an entire street with empty store fronts and vintage cars parked out front. I wouldn’t have gone all the way down there by myself, so yay for visitors!

And especially fun visitors like Katie, who is up for hiking even when it’s over 90°F (32°C) out, who loves craft beer even more than I do (maaaaybe!) and who insisted we visit a county fair. Both of us not being from the U.S. meant this was our first introduction to deep-fried everything (deep-fried Oreos or cheesecake I might be able to get behind, but deep-fried butter.. really?) and other not-so-healthy fair snacks (funnel cake!), but which also turned out to be a fascinating anthropological study. I didn’t go on any of the rides, but I tried a deep-fried Snickers bar (so not worth $6, if you ask me), and it was a fun way to end our time here in Arizona together.

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Polaroid of the week: Street art in Tucson, Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona tucson street artWhen I came to Tucson the first time back in 2010, I went downtown one or two times. That’s it. Why? Because there just wasn’t anything to do there. Barely any eateries, no good coffee shops, no stores – like in so many cities, the downtown retailers had shut down after more and more malls had opened closer to the ever growing suburbs. By the late 70s, downtown Tucson was basically abandoned. Only in the mid-2000s plans were made to revive the city center, and I am impressed about the successful revival this part of Tucson has seen over the past few years.

Every time I come back, more coffee shops, bars and restaurants have opened, buildings have gotten a facelift, a couple of years ago the tram route was reintroduced. This year, I’ve been to the city’s core more times than ever before – maybe even more often than all my previous visits combined! There are now more restaurants that sound like they are worth a visit than I could fit in my stay, breweries that serve local craft beer and a pizzeria serving craft pizza that rivals New York City pizza. Nearly 50 eateries and bars have opened downtown in the past five years! My favorite coffee shop in town, Cartel Coffee Lab, has just opened a giant new downtown branch that could fit right into Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Every time I am downtown, I am in awe about how much the city’s changed and how different it feels from my first visit with buzzing bars and restaurants now – it is as if the Tucsonians had just been waiting for this resurgence. My three-year old Tucson guide is in urgent need of an update!

What caught my attention immediately weren’t just the beautifully restored old facades, but also the new murals and street art pieces that were commissioned on some walls. 4th Avenue, where lots of restaurants and independent shops are located, has several flower pots with iron heart sculptures specifically designed to hold love locks, which were only introduced this year, but have seen lots of use by lovers already.

While on previous visits I was never sure if I’d return, this time around I have no doubt that I’ll be back. The revival of the downtown and historic center are nowhere near finished yet, and I can’t wait to see how the city will evolve over the next few years.

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Polaroid of the week: Goodbye, Arizona!

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polaroid of the week arizona tucson saguaro cactiTime flew by this year in Tucson. Our housesit has come to an end and we spent one last day enjoying the desert landscape we love so much. Last week, our friends Dave and Lauren passed through town on their South West road trip, and we took them on a drive through the Saguaro National Park and a 3-hour hike through Sabino Canyon, ignoring the fact that it was 102°F/39°C outside!

We’re actually now following in their footsteps, and our New Mexico road trip starts tomorrow! We’re sad to leave our dog, our friendly neighbors, this gorgeous pool and the Saguaros that tower over us high into the sky, but we couldn’t be more excited for this next road trip phase. We’ll stop at Gila Cliff Dwellings, board down the White Sands dunes, see thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of bats flying out of and back into Carlsbad Caverns, lunch with aliens in Roswell, explore Albuquerque and the Turquoise Trail, have a sophisticated stay in Santa Fe, trek with llamas in Taos and so much more!

We can’t fit you all in the car with us, but you can follow along on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at the hashtag #2girls1chevy and stay tuned for next week’s Polaroid of the Week to see the best thing we experienced during Week 1 of our trip!

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Polaroid of the week: A skunk pig in the desert | Tucson, Arizona

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week arizona tucson peccary javelinaWe are now in Tucson for the third time now after falling in love the desertscape of Southern Arizona during our first time housesitting here in 2010. We returned in 2011 and now again in 2013. We keep coming back for the sweet, adorable Miss Millie dog, the beautiful house and spending time in the pool.

This time around, on one of our first days here, Miss Millie started to bark loudly, which she almost never does. So I went to the front door to see what had gotten her so riled up and found myself looking out the window at an unusual-looking, pig-like creature staring right back at me. Rather than being aggressive, she sauntered over to check out a cactus in the front yard, leaving me to feel safe enough to grab my camera and get outside to take pictures of her.

When I opened the door, I started a much larger pig who was rummaging around in the bushes. She sprinted across the street, but I had plenty of time to see just how big she was! Luckily, the ‘little’ one didn’t seem to mind me and let me snap away while it was eating the cactus fruit that had fallen down from the bushes.

Not a pretty beast, these animals are called javelinas, also known as skunk pigs. They are members of the pig family and can weigh in at nearly 90 pounds, and they live here in the southwestern United States, but occur all the way down into South America. We had seen them in the Desert Museum when we went there three years ago, but we had yet to see them roaming our neighborhood in Tucson! All excited, we told the neighbors – but the locals were not exactly impressed. They are used to all the incredible creatures found down here – between the tarantulas, scorpions, rattle snakes, gila monsters and more.

But we find these skunk pigs fascinating! They are usually found in bands of eight to 15 animals of various ages – but I have to admit though that we were happy to have met only two of them. Let’s hope we won’t meet any more during the canyon hikes we have planned!

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Globetrottergirls quick guide to Tucson, Arizona

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We have been to Tucson twice now and spent a month there during each visit. Even though both times we visited it was during one of the hottest months, June, with temperatures regularly reaching around 110F, we managed to sightsee quite a bit, took day trips to nearby destination, found restaurants and coffee shops we liked and fell in love with the Sonoran Desert which surrounds Tucson.

If you visit Tucson without a car, we recommend renting a car at least for a day or two, since many of our favorite places can only be reached by car. The center is rather small, and the city is very spread out, and some of the best things we’ve done were actually outside of the city center.

Tucson Arizona and Sonoran DesertOverview

Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona and sits at an elevation of 2,400. The Sonoran Desert makes for a favorable climate during the winter months, while it can get unbearably hot in the summer. The city itself has a moderate population of 486,700 people, but the entire metropolitan area counts over 1 million people.

Tucson is also known as ‘The Old Pueblo’, built upon a foundation of Native American, Mexican, Spanish and Old West roots. Especially the city’s Spanish and Mexican influences are still visible everywhere on a stroll through town, especially the historic center.

downtown TucsonHere are our suggestions for a visit to Tucson:

What to do

Stroll through the historic downtown

Tucson’s historic downtown is known for its colorful adobe houses which have all been restored and are well maintained by its owners. The Spanish Colonial Revival courthouse with its mosaic dome is one of downtown’s most recognizable buildings. Make sure to also visit the beautiful courtyard. Just a few blocks south you find the Cathedral of Saint Augustine, a beautiful church built in Mexican-baroque form.

Tucson Arizona

Old Tucson Studios

The Old Tucson Studios, just outside of town, are a must visit for all fans of old Wild West movies. They were the backdrop for the gun-slinging Old Western heros such as John Wayne, Clint East Wood and Paul Newman. A visit to the studios is like a journey back in time, with many of the film sets still intact. There are also daily stunt shows and shootouts.

Old Tucson Movie StudiosDesert Museum

The Desert Museum is just around the corner from the Old Tucson Studios and is more like a biosphere than a museum. Part zoo, part botanical garden and part natural history museum, you can learn everything about life in the Sonoran Desert,  see many of its inhabitants such as coyotes, scorpions, snakes and tarantulas, and the incredibly diverse flora and fauna.

Desert Museum TucsonSaguaro National Park

While you are at the Desert Museum, you might consider combining the trip with a visit to the Saguaro National Park, just a few miles down the road. There are hiking paths or a road through the park with several lookouts. It is the most dense forest of Saguaro cacti in the U.S., with over one million Saguaros.

Saguaro national parkThe park is actually separated in two parts, the Tucson Mountain District (West) and the Rincon Mountain District (East), which can be both visited with the $10 vehicle permit which is good for 7 days.

4th Avenue

4th Avenue is a popular road with a large number of restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs. At the time of our last visit, the historic 4th Avenue tram line was in the process of being restored, and a stroll along this road, which is popular with university students, can be combined with lunch or a coffee in one of the many independent restaurants.

4th Avenue Tucson ArizonaPima Air & Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum features almost 300 historic air planes and helicopters, some of which are stored in a hanger, and some of which are lined up in a large outside area. It is one of the biggest aircraft museums in the world. Even though we are not huge plane geeks, we thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the historic military planes, drones and helicopters.

Tucson Air & Space MuseumDay trips from Tucson

Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is a short drive northeast of the city, and was a welcome cool off from the summer heat for us. On the way up the mountain, you will pass through some of the Sonoran Desert with stunning views over Tucson, and when you finally reach the top, you will find yourself surrounded by pine forests. At 9,157 feet (2,791 m), it is the highest point of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and you can enjoy a hike along one of the many paths or just enjoy the several scenic lookouts along the winding mountain road.

Mount Lemmon ArizonaSabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is a desert canyon that is cut into the Santa Catalina Mountains, just north of Tucson. There is a tram with 9 stops which will take visitors into the Canyon, and you can choose on which trailhead to exit. The most popular hike is the Seven Falls Trail. Sabino Canyon can be visited with a National Park Pass ($5 per day.)

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

This gorgeous mission, nicknamed ‘White Dove of the desert’, is a white little mission, set in the middle of the desert, which is one of the best preserved missions in the area. Founded in 1692 when Arizona was still New Spain, the mission is the oldest Catholic church in the United States. The mission combines elements of Spanish, Moorish and baroque styles, and inside you can see a selection of statues and frescoes. Only a short 20-minute drive south of downtown Tucson, it is well worth a visit.

Mission San Xavier Del BacTombstone and Bisbee

A little further away, Tombstone and Bisbee can still be visited in a day trip, and you can easily fit in both towns. The 70 miles from Tucson to Tombstone will take you around 1 hour and 20 minutes, and it takes another 30 minutes to get from Tombstone to Bisbee. Tombstone is known for its old Western image, having been the home of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and many other Wild West heroes. The little Western town still looks like in its heyday 130 years ago, with several saloons, cowboys roaming the town and of course the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral which is re-enacted daily.

Tombstone ArizonaBisbee, a former mining town, has now transformed in a creative community of artists and is a pleasant little town to spend an afternoon in. There are plenty of art galleries, restaurants and cafes, specialty shops and the Copper Mine which can be toured. The charming little town of only 6,200 people is perched on the hillsides of the surrounding mountains and features some beautiful Victorian-style houses and an art-deco courthouse.

Bisbee ArizonaWhere to eat

Café Poca Cosa

Café Poca Cosa is famous for its Southwestern and Mexican cuisine. The Plato Poca Cosa comes with three entrees to sample for $20.

Cup Café

The Cup Café belongs to the historic Hotel Congress in the center of Tucson, just opposite the train station. It is a great spot to have breakfast at.

Cup Cafe Breakfast SkilletMaynards Market & Kitchen

Maynards is basically right inside the train station and offers great views over the trains that pass through Tucson while you have lunch. It is a great place for cocktails or drinks, and also has delicious brunch options.

Rosa’s Mexican Food

Rosa’s is a small family-owned restaurant, with classic Mexican dishes for little money. All the dishes are made using Rosa’s family recipes and entrees are $7 -$10.

Beyond Bread

Not only for bread lovers, this bakery and restaurant offers a full lunch menu as well, but you will love the selection of baked goods as well. They have a wide selection of international breakfasts, lunch includes salads, soups and mac’n’cheese in several forms.

Epic Café

The Epic Café on 4th Avenue is a little coffee house that serves organic food and is popular with the independent crowd. You can get inexpensive breakfasts, sandwiches and pastries.

tucson epic cafeMi Nidito

This Mexican restaurant, located in Tucson’s historic Old Pueblo, was made famous by celebrity visits such as Bill Clinton’s or Julio Iglesias. They offer classic Mexican dishes and you can even the President’s Plate, the dish Bill Clinton ate on his visit in 1999.


Govinda’s is an unpretentious Indian restaurant that serves a vegetarian natural foods buffet. The restaurant has a large outdoor area and we enjoyed the selection of Indian dishes, salads and home-made bread. The lunch buffet (Wed – Sat) is $7.95, and dinner is (Tues – Sat) is $9.95, including drinks.

Cartel Coffee Lab

This spacious independent coffee shop has three locations in Tucson and is one of the best coffee shops, offering a selection of specialty coffees. The knowledgeable baristas serve coffee in a brewing technique of your choice and was recently named one of America’s best coffee bars by Food & Wine.

Tucson Cartel Coffee LabWhere to stay


Roadrunner Hostel & Inn

The Roadrunner Hostel & Inn offers small 6-bed dorm rooms ($20) as well as private rooms ($40). There is a nice communal sitting area outside and a spacious kitchen that can be used by guests.


Desert Dove Bed & Breakfast

Located just outside of Tucson, it is a secluded B&B with scenic mountain views, close to the Saguaro National Park, with trails starting right on the property. The owners Harvey and Betty Ross take pride in maintaining the historic feeling of the house and serve a delightful gourmet breakfast every morning. Price: $125 – $145.

Hotel Congress

If you would like to stay right downtown, the historic Hotel Congress is the perfect place for you. The hotel was the site of John Dillinger’s arrest and still has the old time feel of the Wild West. The rooms have all been renovated and updated, but there is a still a story in every detail, like the colorful murals on the wall or the classic Tap Room Bar. Price: $89-149

Tucson Hotel CongressEl Presidio Inn

This historic B&B is set in a fantastic location right in the Old Pueblo in downtown Tucson and has four guest suites. All rooms are filled with antique furnishings and artwork, come with a kitchenette, TV, wifi, fluffy bathrobes and a hot country breakfast. Price: $129 – $160.

The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa

Tucson’s Westin sits in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and is a spacious resort with several swimming pools, 10 tennis courts, five swimming pools, an Elizabeth Arden® day spa, a Jack Nicklaus golf course, and various restaurants. All rooms have either balconies or courtyards from which guests can enjoy the superb mountain vistas. Price: Starting at $149.

Loews Ventana Canyon Resort

Set right by Sabino Canyon, also in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is another large resort, complete with two 18-hole golf courses, a health spa, two swimming pools, tennis courts and various waterfall-dotted nature trails. The spacious guest rooms all feature views over Tucson and the Sonoran Desert or the Catalina Mountains and have private patios or balconies. Price: Starting at $151.

Tucson Sunset ViewHave you been to Tucson? What would you say nobody should miss on a visit to Tucson?

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Photo essay: Saguaros of Southern Arizona

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When I visited Arizona for the first time in 2010, I immediately fell in love with the scenery there. I loved the diverse Arizona landscape, from the deep red canyons and pine forests of the north to the rough, other-worldly areas of the west. But my favorite is the desertscape of the southern part of the state. Despite an intense immigration policy (we always get stopped by overly-firm, threatening border control agents without ever crossing a border), I love driving through the incredible Saguaros!

saguaros in arizona

tucson cactitucson cactus flowerWhen we were asked to return to housesit again in Tucson this past June we didn’t think twice and booked two one-way tickets from India, trading the balmy Asian summer for the scorching desert heat. For the first time we could feel what everyone says about it being a dry heat, with 100+ temperature coming as a relief from the same humid temps in India. Our permanently tanned skin easily took the temperatures as well, such a difference to the first time we came to town pale and pasty after four years of living in England.

jess sunglass reflection saguaros

southern arizona cactei

tucson cactus flowers
cactus bush arizonaThe minute we stepped out of the airport though I knew that we had made the right decision, with huge Saguaros right in the parking lot and the mountains in the background.

saguaro cacti in tucsonThe Sonoran desert surrounding Tucson spans across the South West and into northern Mexico – covering 311,000 square kilometers (120,000 sq mi).

arizona saguaros

cactus in southern arizonaIt is fascinating how many plants you actually find within what seems like such a barren place. But there are over 2,000 plant species there, and these plants are hard-core, having adapted to such harsh living conditions.

arizona desert flowers

tucson cactus flower

southern arizona desert flowersThe Sonoran desert is the only place in the world where the Saguaro cactus grows in the wild, and not only few of them but millions! Tucson’s Saguaro National Park alone is home to over 1 million Saguaros that grow to be 20 meters, or 70 feet, tall.

dani in arizona

arizona saguaros

saguaros in southern arizona

huge saguaros in arizonaA ‘spear’ is what they are called until they grow an arm. This phase in growth deserves its own name, considering it takes over 75 years to grow that arm! This is only mid-life for Saguaros, though, that reach ages of 150-200 years old.

saguaro cactus sonoran desertIt takes a Saguaro up to 10 years to reach a height of one inch (2.54 cm), 15 years to reach one foot (30.5 cm), and 40 years to reach 10 feet (3 meters).

saguaro cacti in arizona

saguaros with many armscactus bush and saguaroWhen it rains, you can actually see how the cactus expands, soaking up all the rain water, and then slowly consuming it over the next few weeks.

tucson cactus saguaro cactus armAt the age of 40, they start producing flowers, mainly on top of the cactus. Older saguaros have hundreds of flowers when they blossom in May and June each year.

tucson saguaro flowerscactus needles and flowerWe have always been in Arizona at the time when the sweet, ruby-colored fruit matures in June. The fruit is edible, and found in local jams, syrups and candies.

cactus fruit arizonaThese big, tall and very stationary plants rely on cross-pollination to reproduce. This is mostly done by bats or gorgeous doves who transport seeds from the fruits from one plant to the next. This is such incredible work; it is a wonder there are so many millions of Saguaros!

doves on saguaro cactiIn exchange for the help, many different bird species make themselves at home inside of the spine of the Saguaros.

saguaro with holeUnfortunately saguaros are actually endangered due to over-development, wildfires, livestock grazing, and ‘cactus rustlers’ who cut them down and sell them elsewhere.

dead saguaro cactus arizonaIn their normal life cycle, Saguaros die from drought or frost. Their skeletons remain intact for years, sometimes even petrifying, while the skin erodes away quickly.

dead saguaro close-up arizonadead saguaro cactus close-up arizonaRightfully referred to as ‘skeletons’, the remaining bones often stay proudly standing for many years.

dead saguaros arizonaPrickly pear is another cactus that is widely spread across the Sonoran desert, and the big red fruit can be eaten or are used in drinks, most commonly in Mexico. They are pretty cold-resistant and  found in the northern States of the U.S. and even southern Canada.

arizona cactiThey are also the main food source for the desert tortoises who live here – they don’t seem to be bothered by the sharp cactus needles!

cactus needles arizona

cactus with bite in arizonaThe Sonoran desert south of Tucson is actually the only place in the U.S. where jaguars live, but the only mammals that come out of their dens during the hot summer months are little rabbits.

arizona desert rabbitYou can see plenty of colorful lizards!

colorful lizard in arizonaOur favorite time of day is usually when the sun starts to set  – the sunsets of  the Sonoran desert never disappoint and the skies change colors in the most amazing ways – from purple to bright orange.

tucson sunset skies & cactustucson cactei at sunset

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Polaroid of the week: Horses in the Sonoran desert in Southern Arizona

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polaroid of the week usa arizona horses in the sonoran desertDuring our most recent stop in Tucson, we took Millie, our housesitting hound, out on a hike through the Saguaro National Park. Spread out across two massive plots of land totaling 91,442 acres, Saguaro National Park is essentially split down the middle by the city of Tucson with an East and West side.

As we left the city limits that morning west, we watched with awe as each mile brought more and more Saguaros, until we were eventually completely surrounded by them! There are more than 1 million Saguaros throughout the park, and hiking through the desert with these giant 6 – 20 foot tall beasts looming over us was an incredible feeling.

While exploring one of the many trails, we came across these horses on one of the smaller trails, all tied up while their owners enjoyed a chat in the shade, escaping from the already burning morning sun. We’ve never really ridden horses, but were inspired by how amazing it must be to ride across the desert, surrounded by Saguaros, especially when they are in bloom.

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Day 701 to Day 800: The Tops and Flops

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In our Reflections post yesterday we talked about the last 100 days, which we spent in Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, the U.S. and Mexico. We talked about how this last stretch has been nothing short of an adventure, and unlike any other time on the road yet. In this most recent post in our Tops and Flops series, we cover what have been the very highest of highs and lowest of lows…

Top travel moments

Cruising the backwaters of Kerala, India
We had been looking forward to this for months and the experience did not disappoint. The backwaters are essentially a water system of rivers, canals and lakes covering a massive area of land in Kerala and the flat waters allow houseboats to glide calmly on top of the water. The prices are so affordable that with Jaime and Val we rented a houseboat, complete with a captain and a chef for three days and watched Indian life go by. Locals bathed, washed and swam in the water, and we sat mesmerized by just how many palm trees our line of vision could hold out here at once. Plus, our chef stuffed us with the best Indian food we’ve ever had (see Top Food Moments).

kerala backwatersCocktails on top of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
We don’t often splurge on expensive restaurants or cocktails, but I just knew I had to have a Singapore Sling in Singapore. Edna told us not to have it at the Raffles Hotel (the birthplace of the cocktail, and where everyone else heads for it) because apparently nowadays theirs is a pre-made mix and so I decided to have it at the Skybar on top of the Marina Bay Sands instead. Atop this architectural marvel bathed in the most spectacular sunset, we toasted as we watched the city turn in to a sea of lights below.

views from marina bay sandsFavorite places

After falling head over heels for the dusty Cambodian countryside, we didn’t expect to love the urban feel of Singapore, but we loved it from the minute our plane landed. Expecting a restricted, bland mega-city, instead we were charmed by the eclectic mix of cultures, architecture and food in the city. Even though the financial district is filled with modern skyscrapers, neighborhoods like Kampong Glam, Chinatown or Little India still retain their traditional feel. In fact, there was so much to see between the markets, food and different neighborhoods we could have spent a few weeks there! With the ease of transportation, getting around the city is so easy – and we can’t wait to get back and explore even more.

singaporeTucson, Arizona
It felt great to be back in Tucson! Our first time here came over two years ago in June 2010, when we were just two months in to this trip. A housesit brought us here, and the same homeowners asked us back this time around. Aside from loving the house, pool and the dog, we just love the South West and Tucson in particular. We love the saguaros, the desert-scape, the sunsets, discovering little cafes and great Mexican restaurants and visit nearby towns like Bisbee and Tombstone.

Tucson, ArizonaHampi, India
Unfortunately Jessica’s injuries kept her from joining our trip to Hampi, but this turned out to be my favorite place in India so far. I loved everything – the people we met there, the colorful little village, the impressive temples, the monkeys, the food and the unique scenery unlike anywhere else we had been in India.

hampi indiaMost disappointing place(s)

The beaches of Goa
We always thought Goa would be paradise: white sand, palm-lined beaches and Indian food. Instead, we found the sort of typical tourist beach towns set along stretches of beach that were nothing more than average with several places with a strong undertow and pounding waves. Several people actually die on these beaches every year. While we want to go back to India, we wouldn’t waste our time in Goa.

cow at the beach in palolemWorst travel moments

Getting rammed by a cow in India
Without a doubt, her encounter with a cow in Goa was by far the worst travel moment Jess experienced in the last 100 days. The bruises were bad, the torn back muscles and bruised hipbones were worse, but roughly about 50 days and thousands of miles later, she has almost fully recovered.

Flying Air India in general, plus arriving in the U.S. without our luggage
We booked our India – Tucson flights with Air India. Two weeks before our flight, a massive Air India strike saw daily cancellations in the dozens. After hours on the phone, luckily our flights were changed but not cancelled. However, instead of a direct Delhi to Chicago leg of the flight, our plane made a stop in Frankfurt, Germany but we weren’t allowed to get off. We spent over 20 hours inside the plane and when we disembarked in Chicago, our luggage did not arrive with us. We continued on to Tucson sans luggage and spent two days whining about all of the great things we could have lost with the luggage. Air India called and we finally got our bags, but we learned a good lesson about what is a carry-on must in the future. We also learned that except for the great in-flight vegetarian food, we wouldn’t ever fly Air India again.

flyingTop travel mishaps

Taking a train without reserved seats in India
Whatever you do, do NOT spontaneously hop on a train if you’re traveling any sort of long distance in India. In India pre-booking sleeper class is entirely necessary to guarantee a seat in a part of the train that treats you like a human being. Val and I tried to reserve tickets for the 14-hour ride from Alleppey, Kerala to Gokarna, Karnataka, but all the seats were reserved. We were stuck with Second Class. How bad could it be, we thought? It was bad…really bad. Second class actually means that you are treated like a second-class citizen, similarly to cattle or other livestock. There is leaning, pressing, pushing, definitely standing. Six or more people sit where four should, and even people crawl up to sit above on racks meant for luggage. There are so many possibilities for disaster – the luggage rack could (and in most cases is about to) fall, the windows have bars and with the hundreds of extra passengers per car, how would anyone make it to the door alive? After hours of standing, an incredibly friendly Muslim family offered us their seats and we finally sat down, but the experience was so awful that the four of us got off eight hours early and spent two nights in a town none of us had planned to visit just to recover from it all.

indian trainTravel recommendations

Use foursquare to explore a place
We are big fans of foursquare (check out our GlobetrotterGirls Foursquare here), an app that lets you ‘check in’ virtually in all the places you visit – be it the hairdresser, dentist, restaurant, museum or hotel. Say you want to avoid possible stalkers, that’s fine, you can still use the app to explore tips for places around you, which restaurants are most popular on any given evening, etc. During our housesit last month, we found a ton of independent coffee shops in Tucson through foursquare that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, including dog-friendly cafes to bring the dog we were looking after. Once you choose a spot, the tips are even more helpful at giving ideas about what dishes to order or which to absolutely stay away from.

tucson cappuccino at cartel coffee labTop food moments

Homemade Keralan food on the houseboat in Kerala
Renting a houseboat and cruising through the backwaters was one of our favorite travel moments, and the food definitely contributed to that. In a cramped little kitchen, our private chef worked foodie miracles four times a day. We woke up to a delicious Keralan breakfast, and spent the next few hours basically waiting for lunch, which was the largest meal of the day. Rice, poppadoms, curries, and several local dishes filled the table each day. After a homemade afternoon snack with tea and coffee, dinner was rice, chapattis, and at least two curries, often made with coconut and fruits – like pineapple curry and mango curry. The homemade chapatti (bread) was the best we’ve had anywhere in India.

Keralan food on the houseboat in IndiaJessica’s homemade Huevos Rancheros
Having a kitchen is quite possibly the best part of any housesit for us, and I couldn’t wait for Jess to make me my favorite breakfast, Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs with salsa served on tortillas, usually with a side of refried beans, guacamole and rice). Whenever we are in the U.S. or Mexico I order this dish as often as possible, but I have finally realized that Jess makes the best Huevos Rancheros ever, hands down. We also made salad everyday, baked cookies on a whim, made lasagna and experimented with a Mexican-style enchilada lasagna and had yogurt parfaits everyday for breakfast, when we didn’t have Huevos Rancheros.

homemade Huevos RancherosIf you made it all the way down here, you might be interested in our previous Tops and Flops as well:

Our Tops and Flops of 700 days of travel: Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia
Our Tops and Flops of 600 days of travel: United States, Thailand, Laos
Our Tops and Flops of 500 days of travel: Portugal, Canada, USA
Our Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel: Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain
Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

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