Seeking Adventure in Mexico
By Shilo Urban for Madeworthy Magazine
From amazing animal encounters and extreme sports to crazy jobs and random people
By Shilo Urban for Madeworthy Magazine
By Shilo Urban for Fort Worth Magazine
By Shilo Urban for Madeworthy Magazine
My brother and I set out on a six-day adventure to Colorado on a road trip via the hinterlands of West Texas to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Our mission: to visit three different houses full of family and friends, look at housing for rent in Boulder, revel in the mountains, and of course – drink beer.
Unless you have a thing for seedy brown schwag, every bud that you have ever smoked has most likely been “trimmed” somewhere along the way from the farm to your prescription bottle. This work of finishing the bud – pruning the leaves and removing the large stems- is performed by a subset of underground workers called “trimmers,” young, mostly female vagabonds who follow the harvest and travel with the herb. Identifiable by sticky green fingers, a verdant aroma and stray buds caught in their hair, trimmers are an integral part of West Coast weed culture. Continue reading →
“Have you ever worked with livestock before?” the farm manager asked.
“Well,” I replied with a chuckle, cleverly avoiding the real answer with a little shrug: “I grew up in Texas.”
And that was enough to land the job as a farmhand at Kelmscott Rare Breeds Foundation in Lincolnville, Maine. The truth was that I had never worked with livestock before. Although I did spend many fine hours playing in the dirt and crawling around with puppies on my grandparents’ farm as a little girl, they raised grain- not animals. Continue reading →
Whenever anyone says, “trust me,” or “honestly,” or “to tell you the truth,” they are lying. I know this now, but on a very hot June day in Cairo outside the National Egyptian Museum, Dr. Moses looked quite official with his white hair, laminated nametag, and clipboard in hand.
“I work at the American University of Cairo,” he continued, “and can be your guide inside the museum for sixty Egyptian pounds.”
This was much cheaper than the group tours of the museum, and as most of the exhibits were not explained in English, I figured that ten bucks was a decent rate for a two-hour lesson in the country’s foremost archaeological museum. Plus I was a guide in Paris at the time, and knew you could learn a lot in a museum with the right person. I shook the hand of Moses, and my boyfriend Joe and I entered the giant building.
Dr. Moses led us through halls of alabaster jackals, past statues of scribes with crystalline eyes, around rooms full of stiff mummies, by the intricate throne of Tutankhamen, and around the mask of Akhenaten. I had seen exhibits of Egyptian artifacts before, but not in this abundance or array.
What would be a highly touted roving exhibit in the U.S. was pushed into the corner of one room of one hall of one side of this enormous museum. Dr. Moses, true to his word and his namesake, told me the stories behind the silent stone sarcophagi, which important displays were often overlooked, how to discern the gods and pharaohs from one another, and how the whole collection came to be. I was soaking it all in, thrilled with my budget guide and all the awesome stories I was learning.
And then he took me to his brother’s perfume shop across the street.
Dr. Moses continued on with his lessons, as if the tiny store with two-way mirrors was merely an extension of the world’s greatest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. “Lotus oil, worn by Cleopatra, is only produced in Egypt. Amber is the most sensual of all fragrances, and clove was used to anoint embalmed bodies.”
Dr. Moses’ brother just kept staring at me with bug eyes; things were beginning to feel a bit weird in the plush red velvet room and I started to imagine my embalmed body, smelling of the finest patchouli and sandalwood. I was growing ever more uncomfortable amidst the bottles of perfume oil on their glass shelves, sparkling like stolen diamonds.
Was the tea we were continually being served drugged? Did Dr. Moses and his fraternal conspirator have evil aspirations beyond selling some kids a few vials of perfumed oil? I whisper my suspicions to Joe, who replies with a chuckle over my paranoia- so typical of a green traveler like myself.
“Just finish your tea, buy some Lotus oil for your mom, and let’s get the hell out of here,” he said.
So I forked over what was probably way too much money for a small “unbreakable” vial (“It will NEVER BREAK!”) of the purest perfume oil this side of the Nile River. Dr. Moses’ brother was quite crestfallen that I had not bought a whole liter of lotus essence, but after many a la shokran (no, thank you) we were finally granted leave and said our goodbyes to the brothers. Joe patted our new friends on the back and we left the jewel box store.
Dodging donkey carts and squealing taxis we made our way back to the hotel. Feeling a little bit stupid and a lot American, I apologized to my travel partner for imagining things.
“You weren’t,” he said. “When I said goodbye and patted the brother on the back, he had a gun strapped to it.”
In shock, I dropped my unbreakable vial of perfume oil. It broke.
“Do you have any weeds in the car?” the Canadian border patrol officer asked. I shook my head no and tried not to smile as the two Quebecois patrolmen rifled through my car seats, my bags, and my underwear. It was a chilly morning at the tiny customs outpost at the Vermont-Quebec border, and a “random search” (aka two very bored officers) had led to the discovery of my intention to smuggle a dangerous weapon into Maple Leaf Land: pepper spray. It had been a gift to me from my father, a cop, for protection in big cities and big forests, and I had tossed it in without much forethought. Unbeknownst to me, however, chemical mace was on the hot list of things NOT allowed to enter Canada- and now so was I. After finding such proof of my delinquency, the officers were convinced that this young couple and their wiener dog headed to Montreal for the weekend had something else to hide- namely, weeds.
“No dandelions here, sir” my boyfriend Joe replied, seemingly enjoying all of this a little too much. After an hour or so of futile searching, the cops decided that the pepper spray was enough to bring me in. I wasn’t worried at all until they began to read me my rights and informed me that my car was now the property of Canada. “Am I in trouble too, or is it just her?” Joe asked with what I knew to be a hidden smile. “Well, it is her car, her bag, and her pepper spray, so only she is in trouble. But we are going to search both of you.”
We were led into the small backwoods office, separated, and taken into different rooms. I was made to remove my shoes and socks, which seemed a thorough enough search for the officers who were hastily talking back and forth in French. “What about her purse? She has not let go of it yet! I bet the drugs are there. Look how she is holding it close to her!” and on and on. They knew I had to be hiding something- but didn’t know that I was fluent in French, disguised with my polite southern drawl. I had grabbed my purse by habit when we first got out of the car, and now the two men were just certain that it contained the pounds of illegal substances that they had been unable to locate in my vehicle. For a good twenty minutes they continued the debate about my purse, and whether or not they could search it without further assistance.
Finally I could take no more, I wanted to get this whole ordeal over with and get on with the weekend in Montreal. I stood up, with bare feet, and dumped the entire contents of my purse onto the interrogation table and handed the empty bag to the officer. “Est-ce qu’on peut partir maintenant?” (Can we leave now?) I asked, in perfect Parisian French. “Uh…ouay” they replied, shrugging, and I was led back into the front office. Minutes later we were ordered to pay a $120 fine to retrieve my car from Canadian impoundment and were released and allowed to enter the country. The two polite officers thanked me and warned that I would now be red-flagged as a weapons smuggler for five years at all border crossings and would have to explain myself anytime I wanted to enter Canada.
“Pas d’probleme,” I replied, “I’m moving to France next week.” Everyone smiled and we were on our way.
“Happy birthday dear Shilo, happy birthdaaay…toooooo….yooouuuuu.”
I am on top of the world as the familiar song wraps up. Well, okay, on top of Sydney, Australia. At my fingertips are the glistening skyscrapers and the old rock buildings; the high flying opera house and the sprawling, boat-filled harbor she overlooks. I have just climbed up the Sydney Harbor Bridge past zooming traffic and commuter trains, over decades-old pylons, sailboats and ferries, and now stand overlooking one of the most beautiful and thriving cities in the world. Of course I had my pick of Sydney birthday experiences to choose from- surfer ogling and fish and chips at Manly Beach, a Bach Symphony in the wooden concert hall of the Sydney Opera House, a morning of shopping at the Rocks market followed by a meal of kangaroo and pavlova, an afternoon with the koalas and meerkats at the Tuaranga Zoo, or maybe surfer ogling and ice cream cones at Bondi Beach…
The options are numerous but what can I say? Every place I visit I have the inexplicable urge to get to the highest point, and soon upon arrival I find myself on top of the Space Needle, the ocean-side cliff, the Eiffel Tower, the London Eye, the cathedral’s north bell tower, the roof of my hotel, or wherever I can best fill my eyes of amazing new vistas. As much as some people are afraid of heights, I am drawn to them, addicted some might say. So for me the choice is easy, and an afternoon spent crawling and climbing up one of the world’s most famous bridges and the pride of Sydney turns into my best birthday ever.
The final notes of my birthday song float along the warm South Pacific breeze and down across the amazing city, and soon I too descend back to the streets to see what the rest of the day has in store for me…there’s a little party called Mardi Gras tonight I want to check out.
Best. Birthday. Ever.