Free the Loc(k)s: Why Is Walmart Locking up Black Hair Products?

African American hair care products in a locked glass case at Walmart

Picture it — wash day and I’m out of conditioner, low on shampoo, and in need of curling custard. So, I head to my local Walmart to stock up on wash-day essentials. Imagine walking in and finding that the products for your hair type are locked up. Behind glass. Not accessible to customers without a key and direct oversight of a store employee. That was my experience when I visited a Walmart located in California’s Bay Area. 

The products for Black hair, African American hair, natural hair, textured hair, whatever you want to call it, were under lock and key. Meanwhile, a few steps away all the other hair care products were on open shelves for people to touch, read the labels, smell (let’s be real, people do it), and go.

Hair Care Products at Walmart by Marissa Teachable Moments

Shopping While Black

In the past, shopping while Black might have entailed being followed around by a store employee…usually at a distance so it wasn’t too obvious. Or, maybe it meant walking into a store without being greeted by an employee. For some, it looked like getting to the register, pulling out a credit card, and being asked for identification while other shoppers didn’t have to do the same. 

Now, shopping while Black means the products that cater to your needs are locked up. It means finding an employee to unlock the case. Once unlocked, it means being watched like a hawk while you shop because you can only remove one product at a time. Or, it means feeling rushed into choosing a product. This describes my shopping experience in a society that people claim is post-racial.

The Products for “Your People”

Unable to shake the feeling that came with shopping while Black, I decided to say something. I asked a Walmart associate why all the Black hair care products were locked up. She chuckled and said, “It’s not just the products for your people.” 

Your people? Talk about adding insult to injury. The Walmart associate proceeded to say that they’re multicultural products.

In my incredulity, I posted this exchange along with pictures online. A friend who identifies as White shared that she uses these products, which made me realize that these products are also used by people who do not identify as Black. However, it is my understanding that Black people use these products in higher quantities than people from other racial backgrounds.

The Power of Black Dollars

In fact, according to a Nielsen Insights Report, Black consumers spent $54.4 million on “Ethnic hair & beauty aids” in 2017. The total spent in that category was $63.5 million. That means Black consumers were responsible for 86% of the spending in that category. 

To be thorough, I conducted online research. Walmart’s website has a category called textured hair care. Subcategories include: wavy, curly, straight and relaxed, kinky, coily. Looking at the models, it appears that according to Walmart, “textured” might be synonymous with Black.

Textured Hair

In addition to the models on Walmart’s website, the brands listed in the textured section corroborate the idea that these are indeed products for African American people. Companies in this section include Shea Moisture, Carol’s Daughter, Dark & Lovely, SoftSheen Carson, and Pantene Gold Series. Now people may see Pantene and think, “That’s not a Black product.” Well, according to Pantene’s website, the Gold Series Collection is designed for “women with relaxed, natural, or transitioning hair. This superior care and styling line was created by Black PhD’s and scientists who understand the unique needs of textured hair.” Pantene’s description coupled with the models on their website leads me to believe that textured, natural, and transitioning hair might be code for Black.

Pantene Gold SeriesPantene Gold Series

All that to say, I feel comfortable referring to these products as Black hair care products as they have been historically used by, and perhaps were even created for, Black people. Furthermore, the men and women pictured on the products’ packaging present as Black. 

The Implications

Back to my experience at Walmart. The associate had yet to adequately answer my question about why these particular products were locked up. She said they’re locked up because they get damaged and people smell them. I directed her attention to lotion on a nearby aisle that had been pumped out. Why wasn’t that also locked up?

Appearing to grow impatient with my questions, she asked what I wanted to buy. At this point, I wanted nothing because I was beyond upset. Instead of selecting an item to purchase, I embarked on a quest to find a manager. 

In the midst of retelling my story to an associate manager she exclaimed, “It’s not racist,” then proceeded to inform me that the store manager is African American too. My word, where do I start?

Saying the practice isn’t racist because the manager is African American is like saying someone with a Black friend can’t do or say racist things. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. 

Now, let’s take some time to unpack the word racist, which the associate manager introduced into this conversation. Locking up products that are largely used by a specific group of people is a practice that’s rooted in racial discrimination. By locking up these specific products, the implication is that people who purchase these products steal. My hunch is that African American people buy these specific products at a higher rate than people from other backgrounds. Therefore, locking up these products perpetuates stereotypes about a specific group of people. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…it’s probably racist.

This practice serves as an example of the microaggressions that Black people have to deal with on a daily basis. It may seem small to some, just a policy to Walmart, but for the people who have to deal with it, it adds up and can really take a toll on one’s health. 

It seems like acts of racial discrimination are happening time and time again. Between washing our hair, waiting for a friend at Starbucks, and barbecuing, African American bodies and the products we buy are being policed. When will it end? We just want to wash our hair, drink our coffee, and barbecue in peace.

Walmart’s Response

Not satisfied with Walmart’s response the night of the incident, I contacted corporate. A representative said products could be locked up due to theft in the area or a state law. When I inquired about the state law, she admitted that she wasn’t familiar with any law. Calling corporate proved to be futile.

Eventually, I heard from a different assistant manager at the original location who shared that once the store receives more glass cases, the whole department will eventually be locked up. I pointed out the fact that there were empty shelves in the glass cases that they currently have, but she did not have a response.

The assistant manager proceeded to say that the products being locked up is “an inconvenience” and that she uses some of those products since, “I’m Portugese, Hawaiian, English, Island, Dutch. I’m a random. So we’re not saying it’s a certain race or anything.” The fact that she was trying to justify the behavior by identifying was infuriating. In my attempt to engage in perspective-taking, I can hear what she’s saying about using these products. However, when people on the boxes look like you, it becomes more than an inconvenience. As a Black person, seeing a reflection of yourself on the products that are locked up is infuriating, humiliating, disheartening, and insert any other adjective that can convey the hurt and pain you feel. 

According to the assistant manager, products are locked up based on reports of what is high theft and it’s not necessarily about shrinkage for the store. When I asked for the numbers to corroborate that, she said the manager would have those statistics. She then shared that the manager is also African American and he gets approached by people who say, “You of all people should know better.” How many times are Walmart employees going to use this man as an excuse to engage in racist practices? The fact that the store manager shares my racial background does not make it okay and it definitely does not erase the pain.

Rule or Exception

The curious sociologist in me wanted to know if this Walmart was the rule or an exception to it. So, I visited several other locations. Black, or textured, hair products were locked up in three other Bay Area locations. On the other side of the aisle, other products were on open shelves. The same was the case when I visited a Washington, D.C. location; now we’re crossing state lines.

When I strolled to the hair care aisle in one Northern California store, I was a bit surprised by what I found. The hair care aisle had no Black hair care products. At first glance, this store seemed to be lacking representation. Then, I ventured to the cosmetics section. Like some other locations I’ve visited, the cosmetics section has its own cash register, which is monitored by a Walmart employee. It was in this section that I found a shelf labeled “Multicultural Hair Care.” The products were on an open shelf, but located in a section that is being policed in a different way. Perhaps this is Walmart’s take on separate but equal.

Multicultural hair care section at Walmart

So, I ask you, is the Walmart that I originally visited the rule or an exception to the rule? At this point, I’ve visited eight stores and counting. I even ventured outside of the state. Of the eight, two had all hair care products on open shelves in the hair care aisle. The remaining six had questionable practices. It looks to me like this may be the rule — a rule that is rooted in racial discrimination and implicit bias.

Call to Action

Walmart, we have a pattern. Black hair care products are being locked up and it’s not an isolated incident or due to a state law that no one can tell me more about. I have yet to receive an adequate response about Walmart’s practice of locking up products that are used by people with a certain hair type. To recap, we’ve heard that it’s because these particular products get damaged, sniffed, and stolen. At least settle on one answer.

Readers, I need your help. Please snap a few shots of the hair care aisle at your local Walmart. Please tag MarissaTeachableMoments, Walmart, and WalmartHelp in your photos on social media. Additionally please contact Walmart Corporate if you see certain products in glass cases at your local Walmart. Finally, please consider shopping elsewhere.

To Walmart, I have one thing left to say: Let my people products go!

~ Marissa

HMO vs. PPO: Crunching The Insurance Numbers

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It’s around that time of year for open enrollment, which has me pondering the age-old debate…HMO or PPO? Each and every year I ask myself the same question. This year, I decided to really sit down and think about it. I had to crunch some numbers. So for those of you in the same boat, bear with me as I attempt to make sense of this dilemma.

To help add to this conversation, I also sought advice from a financial coach, Acquania Escarne, creator of The Purpose of Money. Together we walk through different options. 

Here’s a quick glossary of the terms we will use:

  • Calendar year deductible: The amount you must pay out of pocket before your insurer pays anything
  • Coinsurance: The percentage that you pay after you’ve met your deductible
  • Copay: The fixed amount you pay for visits 
  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMO): A network of providers and facilities that administer care to its members
  • In-network: Providers that are part of your health plan
  • Out of network: Providers who do not have a contract with your insurer
  • Preferred Provider Organization (PPO): A network consisting of preferred providers
  • Premium: The amount you pay into your insurance plan, usually on a monthly basis 
  • Preventive Care: Proactive visit that is intended to prevent future illness
  • Specialist office visit: Focuses on a specific area of concern

Things to Consider:

  • How often do you visit the doctor in a given year?
  • Do you see specialists often? In my experience, HMO requires you to visit your primary doctor who will then refer you to a specialist. With a PPO, you can see a specialist without that initial visit to your primary physician. 
  • If your health needs require specialists, are they in your network?
  • Do you have the funds to pay the calendar year deductible in the event that you have to visit a doctor for something other than preventive care?
  • Might a health spending account be useful?
  • Have your circumstances (marital, children, health) changed since the last enrollment period?

Marissa: What advice do you normally give clients when they are reviewing their health insurance options?

Acquania from The Purpose of Money: Marissa I must say you really outline a lot of the questions I pose for my clients. When it comes to monthly expenses, after housing, health insurance can be some families’ highest expense. And just to think, your employer often contributes too. 

If your goal is to save money, the simple one-stop-shop that HMOs provide is often convenient and cost-effective for most people. Plus, if you visit the doctor often, having all your doctors in one place can be very helpful if you have a medical condition that requires your doctors to talk and coordinate care.

However, as you noted, you have to get permission from your primary physician to see a specialist. This is how an HMO provider minimizes costs and streamlines treatment. An HMO tries to keep medical treatment in their facilities as much as possible. So trips to doctors outside of the network are often not covered unless it’s an emergency visit. So you have to budget for possibly paying 100% of out of network bills if you are under an HMO and get non-emergency treatment elsewhere.

If you live in a city where a HMO facility is not located this could be one reason you select a PPO plan. Otherwise, you might have to drive a significant distance to stay within your HMO network. PPOs are not just helpful when you want more control over your doctor selection. They are sometimes more widely accepted by different doctors or medical facilities across your state.

Marissa: It sounds like a PPO may have more flexibility and advantages, but it costs more. What are other factors to consider with a PPO plan?

Acquania from The Purpose of Money: It’s also important to note, even with a PPO plan you should try to always visit a doctor that is in the plan’s network. Otherwise, you might pay more for that doctor’s medical care and only be reimbursed up to the amount your plan would have paid a doctor in network. So the flexibility to see specialists or have more control over your doctors does not come with a blank authorization to see any doctor. 

One advantage, however, is that some PPO plans cover your medical expenses outside of your state and sometimes outside of the United States as well. It’s important to check the fine print of your plan first. But my plan will accept overseas medical claims if I see a doctor outside of the United States. Most people never think about medical care when on vacation or traveling, but it matters and you should know what’s covered. Otherwise, invest in travelers’ medical insurance to cover you in the event of an overseas medical emergency. Just note, this type of insurance normally only covers medical emergencies during travel and not routine doctor visits.

If you’ve been following my teachable moments, you know I like to use tables to crunch numbers. Here’s a plan comparison that might be offered by an employer:

HMO PPO In-network PPO Out of network
Premium/month $70 $90 $90
Calendar Year Deductible $0 $500 (individual) $500 (individual)
Office Visit $15 copay $20 copay 30% after deductible
Specialist Visit $15 copay $20 copay 30% after deductible
X-Ray & Lab $0 10% after deductible 30% after deductible
Preventive Care $0 $0 30% after deductible
Inpatient Room & Board $100/admission 10% after deductible $300 copay per admit then 30% after deductible
Outpatient Surgery $50 per procedure 10% after deductible 30% after deductible
Emergency Room $100 per visit (waived if admitted) $150 copay + 10% after deductible (waived if admitted) $150 copay + 10% after deductible (waived if admitted)
Ambulance $100 per trip 10% after deductible 10% emergency

30% non-emergency

Now that we’ve compared the plans, let’s walk through an example where we can actually use some concrete numbers. For the purpose of the PPO, we will assume you’ve already met the $500 deductible for the year. The teacher in me used friendly numbers to make the math easy. But I quickly learned from my research that the numbers are far from friendly; health care is quite expensive in the United States. 

HMO PPO In-Network PPO Out of network

(30% after deductible)

Premium (annual total) $840 $1,080 $1,080
Calendar Year Deductible $0 $500 (individual) $500 (individual)
$100 Office Visit $15 copay $20 copay $30 after deductible
$500 Specialist Visit $15 copay $20 copay $150 after deductible
$500 X-Ray & Lab $0 $50 after deductible $150 after deductible
$300 Preventive Care $0 $0 $90 after deductible
$15,000 Inpatient Room & Board (for 3 nights) $100/admission $1,500 after deductible $500 copay per admit then $4,500 after deductible
$10,000 Outpatient Surgery $50/procedure $1,000 after deductible $3,000 after deductible
$1,000 Emergency Room $100/visit (waived if admitted) $150 copay + $100 after deductible (copay waived if admitted) $150 copay + $100 after deductible (copay waived if admitted)
$1,000 Ambulance $100 per trip $100 after deductible $100 emergency

$300 non-emergency

The Verdict

Personally, I chose to enroll in my company’s HMO option. After relocating back to The Bay Area from Washington, D.C., I decided to go with a family doctor with whom I was familiar. She accepts this insurance, so it made the most sense for me. 

I will share that a few months after the open enrollment period, I had a health scare that required me to visit an emergency room. And in the midst of driving to the emergency room, I was frantically trying to recall the details of my plan while asking myself 20 questions. Was the facility I was visiting in network? How much will I have to pay? Should I have enrolled in a PPO? All questions that should not have been at the forefront of my mind at the time. 

Okay, we’ve reviewed some terms, we’ve compared plans, and we’ve crunched some numbers. Maybe you’re leaning in the direction of HMO because you have preferred physicians who accept that insurance.  Perhaps you want the flexibility that comes with a PPO. Now to revisit our original question, HMO or PPO? Ultimately, that’s for you to decide. 

What do you consider when choosing health coverage? Let me know in the comments.

~ Marissa

HMO vs. PPO

Dear Betsy DeVos, Class Size Matters

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Our Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has done it again ladies and gentlemen. In a budget proposal that would cut federal education spending, she claims that:

“Students may be better served being in larger classes, if by hiring fewer teachers, a district or state can better compensate those who have demonstrated high quality and outstanding results.”

I’m just gonna leave that right there and let it marinate for a second. 

Okay, now that it’s had some time to simmer…when defending this outrageous comment, Betsy DeVos went on to say that some students may learn better in larger settings because they have more students to collaborate with in the classroom. She tried it!

I could easily find studies that corroborate the fact that smaller class sizes positively affect students. Or, I could visit just about any school in America and ask the teachers and students if they would prefer small or large class sizes to meet the learning needs of students. I’d bet money (and if you know me, that’s saying a lot because I’m quite frugal) that the resounding answer would be in favor of smaller class sizes.

This upsets me so much that I don’t even know where to start. As a teacher for nearly a decade, my class size ranged from 18 to 25 students. That year where I had 18 was beyond amazing; fewer small groups, more one-on-one conferencing…every teacher’s dream. On average, I’d say I was right around 22 students. And let me tell you Betsy, those extra bodies make a difference.

Smaller class sizes allow teachers to differentiate instruction. Even the most skilled teacher would find it difficult to meet the needs of all students in a larger class size. Indulge me for a second as I give Betsy a quick lesson on Lev Vygotsky and the zone of proximal development. In a nutshell, ZPD refers to the sweet spot when a learner can almost complete a task independently but still requires some guidance from a teacher or collaboration with a peer who has mastered the specific task.

As I typed that, I could hear Kanye saying, “Don’t let me into my zone. I’m definitely in my zone. Zone, zone, zone, zone, zone.” Well, Betsy, it will be more difficult for teachers to meet students in their respective zones when educators are trying to meet the needs of even more students. 

Now, Betsy may try to use ZPD to justify her stance by focusing on collaboration with peers. Contrary to what she may think, larger class size does not necessarily beget more collaboration. Students can collaborate without adding more students to the mix. With a larger class size, teachers will have to be even more intentional about organizing heterogeneous groups, and they will have to be on top of classroom management and leadership, all while taking into account the various learning needs, styles, and personalities of more students. Geez, just thinking about that gives me a headache, which brings me to my next point.

Does our Secretary of Education not realize that the teacher burnout struggle is real? If she truly understood the severity of the struggle, I find it hard to believe that reducing the number of teachers and increasing class size would be the solution. With larger class sizes, the burden placed on teachers would be even heavier. Differentiating instruction, providing quality feedback, maintaining relationships…how can a teacher accomplish all of this without burning out? Betsy is sitting here talking about hiring fewer teachers, it’s difficult to retain the teachers we already have!

Now she did touch on one thing that needs more attention…better compensation for teachers. Though, I repeat, I strongly disagree with her proposal to make it happen. In terms of compensation, how about we just give teachers what they deserve in the first place?! Pay teachers what they deserve, give them the support they need, and maybe, just maybe the state of education will improve. Invest in education, it’s not rocket science.

So Betsy, in case you didn’t know…size matters and when it comes to educating our children, a larger class size isn’t better. In fact, students and teachers deserve smaller class sizes where the student to teacher ratio is more manageable resulting in stronger relationships, differentiated instruction, and more powerful interactions throughout the day, all reducing the likelihood of teacher burnout. Betsy DeVos continues to make it abundantly clear that she is not the right person for this job. Fewer teachers plus larger class sizes was not, is not, will never be the answer! My Teacher Said.jpg

~ Marissa

The Ultimate Trinidad Carnival Packing List

Thinking about heading to Trinidad Carnival? Here’s a packing list that will make sure you’re ready for any and everything on de road. Because you know what they say…when you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.

Costume Must-Haves

Carnival Monday and Tuesday are the main attractions. If you’re partaking in the actual events, you’ll join a band that will provide costumes for Carnival Tuesday. Trinidad Carnival Tribe Costume Masquerade

  1. Tights are your friend. You can go with fishnets or regular tights. Fishnets come with a warning: the chains on your costume (or those of your dance partner) might get caught on the tights. Yea, you’ll probably end up with a few holes at the end of the day, but it’ll be worth it.
  2. Comfortable shoes and insoles. You will be doing a lot of walking…a lot! I saw a few women in heels and I still don’t know how they survived. We ordered flat boots to match our costumes. They weren’t the cutest boots in the world, but they did the trick.
  3. Underwear that matches your costume. When you touch down in Trinidad, you’ll pick up your costume. It hasn’t been washed, and to add insult to injury, it has been handled by numerous people…sounds like a uti waiting to happen. With that in mind, pack some undies that are large enough to provide coverage but small enough to fit under the bottoms that come with your costume.
  4. Travel sewing kit. If your group is on top of registering with a band, you might submit your costume measurements up to six months in advance.  So, you hope and pray it’ll fit once you arrive in Trinidad. Pack a sewing kit and a friend who is good at fixing things in case you need to make alterations.
  5. Don’t forget an outfit for free mas. Think of Carnival Monday as the pregame before Tuesday’s big show. Some people wear pieces from Tuesday’s costume. We decided to buy an entirely different outfit. Why? Because we’re clearly extra. IMG-20180212-WA0005.jpg

J’ouvert Gems

To kick off Carnival Monday, be prepared to head to J’ouvert around 3:00 am that morning. When you hear J’ouvert, think paint, mud, water, and anything else that will result in you being messy. IMG-20190223-WA0002.jpg

  1. Baby oil is your friend. Slather some on before you leave so it’ll be easier to clean up later.
  2. Shower cap, bonnet, scarf. Ladies, especially my natural sisters, you already know what’s up!
  3. Trash bag to sit on if you’re hopping in a car post-J’ouvert.
  4. An outfit you don’t care about. You will get dirty and the paint might not come out of your clothes. So bring an outfit and shoes that you won’t mind leaving behind. This includes underwear and a bra that you can part with. Those panties that you’ve been meaning to purge…pack those and wear them to J’ouvert.
  5. A waterproof phone case. I left my phone in the car, but if you must have your phone make sure it’s protected. IMG-20180212-WA0008.jpg

Fete Favorites

Pronounced fets, these are outdoor parties that take place during Carnival week. This is a tricky section because all fetes aren’t created equally. IMG-20180211-WA0004.jpg

  1. Check to see if your fete has a theme, then pack accordingly.
  2. Flats or wedges, leave the stilettos at home.
  3. Swimwear for the poolside fetes.
  4. Cooler fetes are BYOB, so buy a bottle or two once you touchdown at the airport. This might be the only time you’ll need to purchase alcohol. Everything else we attended during Carnival week included alcohol.
  5. Speaking of cooler fetes you’ll need…you guessed it, a cooler. Buy a cheap one while you’re out and about, borrow one from your Airbnb host, or pack an insulated bag that won’t take up much space in your suitcase. IMG-20180211-WA0013.jpg

Basic Essentials

Now for a few basic things you’ll need to survive a week in Trinidad during Carnival season.

Maracas Beach Trinidad Carnival Marissa Teachable Moments

Enjoying some down time at Maracas Beach

  1. Sunblock…that Trinidad sun is no joke.
  2. BC Powder, great for hangovers headaches.
  3. Vitamins – perhaps this is just for the 30+ club.
  4. Emergen-C, Gatorade, pretty much anything with electrolytes.
  5. Hand sanitizer and wipes for bathrooms on de road.
  6. WhatsApp – not sure what your phone situation looks like, but WhatApp was clutch.
  7. Snacks. While most events included food, you might get hungry or need some calories after all the walking.
  8. Cash and credit. Most events during Carnival week include food and alcohol, so the only time you’ll need cash is if you want to buy roti, doubles, or a fresh coconut while you’re out and about. Most places accept major credit cards; before you leave, check your policy on foreign transaction fees.
  9. Passport, otherwise where are you about to go?
  10. Facial wipes, masks, moisturizer. Basically, a consolidated skincare routine to wipe away makeup and rejuvenate your skin after a long day in the sun. IMG-20190223-WA0004.jpg

Did I miss anything? Leave a comment and let me know what you would add to the packing list for Trinidad Carnival.

Happy travels,

~ Marissa

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This post contains references to products. I may receive compensation when you click on the links to those products.

 

 

The Top 5 Things To Do in Medellín, Colombia

After a week in Medellín, I found myself scrambling to use Google Translate in an attempt to extend my stay. Sadly, I was not successful. A city filled with museums, bars, restaurants, clubs — I could easily spend a month in Medellín and it still wouldn’t be long enough. Check out my list of the top five things to do in Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city.

1. Visit Mercado del Río

With a ton of selections, this market caters to a wide palate. Enjoy Peruvian, Italian, Mexican, traditional Colombian cuisine, and many others. Whether you want to eat, enjoy drinks with friends, or catch a fútbol game, Mercado del Río is the place to be.

 

2. Prepare to be mesmerized by Comuna 13

Once plagued by violence, Comuna 13 is now a vibrant area where tourists flock to enjoy colorful street art. Hop on the outdoor escalators and enjoy the ride to the top of the hill where you will be greeted by more murals, performances, street food, and an amazing view of the city.

 

3. Enjoy an aerial view of Medellín from the cable cars

Both a tourist attraction and a huge part of daily life for residents, the cable car is a great way to take in the city. A relatively new addition to the city, it provides a way for people living in the Medellín hills to get to and from work. There is also a line to Parque Arví, which many tourists visit.

 

4. Relax at Museo El Castillo

This Gothic-style castle provides a great way to take a break from the usual hustle and bustle of visiting a new city. After exploring the museum, venture to the gardens where you can enjoy drinks with friends or a romantic lunch.  Pack a camera because Museo El Castillo provides great backdrops for Instagram-worthy pictures.

 

5. Take a trip to Guatapé

A trip to Medellín would not be complete without a visit to Guatapé. Not part of Medellín, Guatapé is located two hours outside of the city. Filled with colorful streets, the main attraction is climbing 600 steps up La Piedra del Peñol. Trust me, it is worth the hike!

 

If you ever book a flight to Colombia, do yourself a favor and visit Medellín. Friendly locals, great food, affordable cost of living…I can definitely see myself spending a few months in Medellín.

Happy travels,

Marissa

 

The Top 5 Things To Do in Medellin, Colombia by Marissa's Teachable Moments

My 2019 Wanderlist

In 2018, I visited Barbados, Trinidad (twice), Tobago, Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, and Scottsdale. For some reason, I didn’t make a vision board last year, so all of these trips just sort of happened. In 2019, I plan to be more intentional about speaking things into existence and trusting that what is meant for me will be. With that, I’m manifesting travel destinations for the upcoming year.

Booked

Houston

It would be nice to catch a Rockets’ game while I’m in Houston. That, and eat some good food! This mac & cheese is from International Smoke in San Francisco, people claim everything is better in Texas…

International Smoke

Photo by Marissa’s Teachable Moments

Mexico City

My bestie and I are heading to Mexico City soon. Our current itinerary consists of taco and mezcal tastings. Please feel free to drop some recommendations in the comments.

Mexico City

Photo by Guillermo Pérez

Wanderlist

Chicago

I want to see what the #SummertimeChi hype is all about. 

Chicago

Photo by Lance Anderson

Thailand

Thailand has been on my list for years; I’m hoping 2019 will be the year that I finally visit. Massages on the beach, sand between my toes…I can feel it now.

Thailand

Photo by Mg Cthu

South Africa

Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg…I hope to spend a few weeks exploring South Africa. Now to figure out how to make that happen while adulting.

South Africa

Photo by Megan Lawson

Amsterdam

I visited Amsterdam in 2017, and it’s been calling my name ever since.  Chill vibes, nice people, pie…what’s not to like? One of my friends recently moved to Amsterdam, so now I have the perfect excuse to visit.

I amsterdam sign

Photo by Marissa’s Teachable Moments

Greece

Can you believe I didn’t go to Greece when I was in Europe for two months? Yea, neither can I. Perhaps I’ll go island hopping before or after visiting Amsterdam.

Santorini Greece

Photo by Jonathan Gallegos

I made my list, checked it twice, now to find some flight deals. What’s on your 2019 wanderlist?

Happy Travels,

Marissa 

Guatapé Getaway: 740 Steps to the Top of A Rock

Guatape Colombia La Piedra El Penol Rock

A trip to Medellín would not be complete without a day trip to Guatapé. Described as the most colorful town in Colombia, Guatapé did not disappoint.

Guatapé is located about two hours from Medellín. I hopped in a van with a few people I met in a Facebook group…as I type that, it sounds dangerous, but it was actually really great and I’ll share more on that later. Prior to meeting these ladies, I considered taking a group tour or a bus. Whatever you choose, getting to Guatapé is pretty simple.

A view of La Piedra, also known as El Penon, in Guatape, Colombia.

When we arrived, we purchased tickets to climb La Piedra del Peñol, also known as El Peñon de Guatapé. Who pays to climb some steps? Don’t worry, it’s not expensive; for 18,000 COP (~6 USD), tourists can hike to the top of this gigantic rock. Unfortunately, the top was closed the day we visited. We didn’t discover that until we reached step 700 of 740. Talk about being so close and yet so far. The view was amazing, but I’m curious to know what those extra 40 steps have in store.

A view from the top of El Penol in Guatape, Colombia.

It took about an hour to reach the top of the rock. That included stopping here and there to take sips of water and catch my breath. Once you reach the top, you’ll be out of breath for a different reason…the view is breathtaking!

Enjoying the view from the top of El Penol, also known as La Piedra, in Guatape, Colombia.

Remember, what goes up must come down. So take some time to enjoy the view and purchase snacks and water before making your way back down the rock.

I’m not a fan of strenuous physical activity on vacation, but would I climb the steps of La Piedra del Peñol again? Definitely! Guatapé, Colombia’s must-see attraction was worth the hike. Plus, I have to see the view from the top.

Happy Travels,

Marissa

GUATAPE GETAWAY

 

 

Trinidad Carnival: 20 Things to Know Before You Go

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Trinidad Carnival is all about masquerade bands, fetes, wining…basically non-stop partying.  I conquered my first Trinidad Carnival this year when I headed to Port of Spain with some friends.  Here are a few tips I wish I’d known as a carnival newbie.

Before You Go

1. Choose your crew wisely.  You’ll want people who are responsive and reliable.  Leading up to Carnival, you’ll be making a lot of time-sensitive decisions about accommodations, costumes, fetes, etc.  So you need to trust the people in your crew to divide and conquer.  Also, keep in mind that during carnival, you’ll be operating on little to no sleep.  So make sure you choose people you like to be around.  Or, people who won’t get offended when if you pop off due to the sleep debt.

2. Secure a spot.  Book your accommodations early.  We booked a spot about nine months before Carnival.  Trust me when I say, Ms. Glenda at The Glen Inn is an amazing host!  Home-cooked meals and colorful stories…you can’t go wrong.

3. Book flights ASAP.  Look up flights the day after Carnival ends.  Seriously, book early.  Don’t be like me.  It was December and I was still looking up tickets for Carnival in February.  I booked two one-ways.  It worked out in the end, but geez those tickets were expensive!

4. Think about transportation.  While Uber is available in Trinidad, we found it was less of a headache to secure transportation before arriving in Trinidad.  Luckily, our B&B host took care of this for us.  It was great to have transportation and a local guide with insider tips.

5. Train early.  When people told me to workout, I thought they meant for aesthetics.  Nope, train for stamina.  You’ll be walking miles and miles, in heat, with a heavy costume.  So boost your stamina and be prepared to sweat.

6. Step up your Soca skills.  Get familiar with the music.  Very familiar, because you’ll hear the 10 most popular songs over and over.  Download a Soca playlist and workout to that.  Two birds, one stone.

7. Be ready when bands launch.  Choosing the right masquerade band is key.  Join bands’ mailing lists, take a look at costumes in advance, and be ready.  Want to save some coins?  Join the backline.  Our costume cost about $800 USD.  For that reason, I will wear this for Halloween, local carnivals, to play dress up, and anything else I can think of.

8. Get your fetes in order.  The number of fetes to choose from can be overwhelming.  There are themed fetes, all-inclusive fetes, cooler fetes.  If you’re a newbie, get suggestions from friends who have conquered Carnival before you.  Get tickets early because some fetes will sell out.  Somehow, we managed to get tickets to Dj Private Ryan’s Soca Brainwash.  We were told that was a must-do, and it did not disappoint.  Fetes can range anywhere from $50-$300 USD…per fete.

9. Pay as you go.  Between flights, accommodations, costumes, and fetes…costs can add up quickly!  If you pay as you go, you won’t notice how much you’re spending.  Depending on the person, that can be a good or a bad thing.  For me, it was great.  I’d guesstimate that I spent about $2,000…and that was with me using points to cover a portion of my travel.  There are definitely ways to cut costs, and if I ever return to Trinidad Carnival, I will do just that.  For example, you can party on the sidelines without joining a band.  For any future carnivals, I will definitely consider it a spectator sport.

Trinidad Carnival

Soca Brainwash – The Wonderland

The Look

10. The details are in the costume.  Sequins, feathers, chains…for such tiny costumes, there is definitely a lot going on.  Ladies, consider ordering the bra a band size up.  You don’t have time to break it in or stretch it out, and with the handmade stitching, the bras are a bit snug.  Also, bring undies that match your costume to wear underneath the bottoms.  Finally, leave space in your suitcase for your costume.  I didn’t think about that before I left the states, but I managed to get my costume back home…thanks to my roommate who took pieces of my costume and the fact that I wore my feathers on the plane.

11. Tights are your friend.  You can get tights that blend in, or tights that stand out.  We went with fishnets, which were cute but come with a few warnings.  Be prepared to get caught on someone as you’re wining.  Or, if your costume has a lot of chains, you might pull at your fishnets.  By the end of the day, you might have a few holes, but it’ll be worth it.  Check out Carnivalista for tights in various styles and shades.

12. Pick the right shoes.  You’ll be doing a lot of walking so wear some comfortable, durable shoes.  I saw a few people in heels and I’m still not sure how they did it.

13. Book a makeup artist.  Initially, I was against this idea because it felt like an added expense and a loss of sleep for something that was just gonna sweat off.  I’m happy I got outvoted on this one.  Surprisingly, our makeup lasted and it looked amazing!

14. Get comfortable with your body.  You’ll be showing a lot of skin…a lot!  But guess what?  Nobody cares how you look.  People will be too busy having fun and soaking up the Soca vibes.  So get comfortable so you’re not hindering your own fun.

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On De Road

15. Stay hydrated.  Seriously!  Heat plus alcohol, not a good mix.  So throw some water in the mix and keep it moving.  Don’t want to chug water?  Use coconut water as a mixer.

16. Establish a lost and found spot.  We didn’t pick up on this one early enough.  Nothing like looking around and realizing you’ve “lost” someone from your crew.  The drink trucks usually have numbers, so pick a number and designate that as the spot when someone gets lost, walks off, or gets caught up wining.

17. Sleep when you can.  Not on de road, but try to squeeze in some sleep here and there.  You’ll be going non-stop.  Party from noon to 8, nap, out at 11 for the next fete that ends at 6 am.  Rinse and repeat.

18. Be prepared to get dirty.  This is a rule to remember especially if you partake in J’ouvert.  Paint, mud, water, anything goes.  Ladies, pack a shower cap, bonnet, plastic bag…pick your poison.

19. Eat some Trinidadian treats.  Ask the locals for the best spots for some good roti and doubles.  On a slow day, you can also head to Maracas Beach for some bake and shark.

Trinidad Carnival Roti Port of Spain Tobago Marissa Teachable moments
I’d go back to Trinidad just for the roti from Don’s…it was that good!

Carnival Relief

20. Take a vacation from your vacation.  After a week of nonstop partying, I was beyond tired.  Wine Down Wednesday in Tobago is a popular recovery option.  We didn’t make plans for that.  Instead, I ended up booking a quick trip to Barbados — mainly because it was cheaper than buying a return flight to the states.  Visit Tobago, fly to a different island, or stay local and head to Maracas Beach…whatever you do, make sure you relax before you return to the real world.

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Enjoying some down time at Maracas Beach.

I hope you enjoyed my tips for Trinidad Carnival.  Once you get over the costs, it’s not too bad.  The issue is getting over the costs.  Would I do it again?  Yes and no.  I’d go back for Carnival, but I plan to wine on the sideline.

If you’re going to Trinidad Carnival, check out my packing list.

Happy Travels,

Marissa

Trinidad Carnival Makeup Port of Spain Marissa Teachable Moments

Makeup courtesy of More Than Makeup TT.

 

10 Foods You Must Eat in Europe

Pasta, pizza, pastries…Hungry? Why wait? Don’t grab a Snickers, hop on a plane to Europe. Read on for 10 foods you must eat in Europe.

1. Tapas in Seville

I know, I know…tapas, such a general term. Well, I said tapas because I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. Tapas are more of an experience than a food. Eslava in Seville serves award-winning tapas. Go hungry and taste as many tapas as you can!

Tapas | Marissa's Teachable Moments

2. Dutch pancakes in Amsterdam

I had no clue what to expect when I saw a pancake burger on the menu. I was skeptical, but I’m so glad I took the plunge. If you’re in Amsterdam, head over to De Vier Pilaren for some sweet and savory pancakes. I didn’t get a chance to try the poffertjes because I was stuffed, but they looked equally delicious.

Dutch Pancake | Marissa's Teachable Moments

3. Baba in the Amalfi Coast

Baba au Rhum, or Rum Baba, is best described as a spongy dessert topped with rum. Instead of a bakery, I ordered this at a bar one night and the generous bartender poured two shots of rum on top. No complaints over here. It was hard to find this tasty treat outside of the Amalfi Coast, so if you’re there, make sure you drink eat up!

Baba | Marissa's Teachable Moments

4. Mushrooms in La Rioja

Garlic-infused mushrooms, topped with shrimp, all stacked on top of a piece of bread. To date, these are the best mushrooms I’ve tasted! I came across these mushrooms when I decided to embark on a self-guided tapa crawl in Rioja. If you’re in the area, visit Bar Angel where they specialize in mushrooms. Thank me later!

Mushrooms | Marissa's Teachable Moments

5. Pastel de Nata in Lisbon

Usually, I’m not a fan of anything with a custard consistency. These pastries, however, won me over; I’m still bummed I only ordered one. When in Lisbon, you can enjoy these tasty treats at Pastéis de Belém…be prepared to play musical chairs as you search for a table. Trust me, the scramble will be worth it…plus you might work up an appetite.

Pastel de Nata | Marissa's Teachable Moments

6. Pasta in Florence

In Florence, I spent a day making pasta, tossing pizza, and drinking tons of wine. This brings me to the best pasta I had in Italy, which was hand made by me; I really thought I was Chef Curry with the pasta. Having a hand in preparing the pasta made it taste even better! Check out a class and start cooking.

Pasta | Marissa's Teachable Moments

7. Salmon in Porto

The fish in Porto is so fresh! For this particular dish, I visited Antigua Casa Ze da Guida, which is located near the water. The fish comes with a delicious side salad and of course I had to top it off with a glass of sangria. I went to this restaurant 3 times in 5 days…clearly I was a fan!

Salmon | Marissa's Teachable Moments

8. Dutch Apple Pie in Amsterdam

Okay, Amsterdam tops the list again. It’s called Dutch apple pie for a reason. For a good slice of pie, head to Winkel 43. The only thing that would’ve made this better is having it served hot. Still, my mouth is watering just looking at this picture.

Dutch Apple Pie | Marissa's Teachable Moments

9. Churros con Chocolate in Madrid

When I think of churros, I think of fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar. In Spain, they take away the cinnamon and replace it with chocolate. The jury’s still out on the best place to grab churros in Madrid. When in doubt, try them all!

Churros con Chocolate | Marissa's Teachable Moments

10. Francesinha in Porto

Last but not least, Porto’s signature dish. A sandwich with layers of meat (yes, layers), topped with an egg, cheese, and special sauce. Admittedly, I was not mentally prepared to tackle this sandwich. Francesinha – 1, Marissa – 0.

Francesinha | Marissa's Teachable Moments

Hungry yet? I know I am! I’d consider going back just to taste these dishes again, yum! Hope you’re able to try these 10 foods the next time you’re in Europe.

Bon appétit,

Marissa

10 Foods to Eat in Europe

4 Days, 3 Nights In Paris

Paris attractions on a budget

GETTING THERE

I took an overnight bus from Amsterdam to Paris, France.  In spite of being excited about all of the Paris attractions that I was about to embark on, I was able to get some sleep.  Plus, I saved on one night of accommodations, for the win.  If you’re traveling around Europe, Flixbus really is the way to go!

WHERE TO LAY YOUR HEAD ON A PILLOW

My friends and I stayed at Inter-Hotel Parisiana.  Equipped with three twin beds, the room was like a scene from “I Love Lucy.”  The hotel was conveniently located near a metro and bus stop, which made getting around simple.

GETTING AROUND PARIS

The bus and metro systems make it pretty easy to get around Paris.  Tickets are 1.90 € , just keep track of the number of trips you’re taking because that can add up quickly.  With that said, don’t be alarmed by the transportation line in my budget; I opted for Uber here and there.  

WHERE TO EAT

One of the major Paris attractions is the food.  Treat yourself to a macaron, cheese, wine, escargot…wander around and eat until your heart’s content.  One night, we indulged in a nice dinner at Le Hide.  It was pricey but worth it.  

THINGS TO DO

Paris attractions on a budget

Paris offers tons of things to see and do.  Interested in free activities?  Explore Montmartre, relax in le Jardin du Luxembourg, spend some time at the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Willing to pay a fee?  Climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, be wowed by the beauty of Sainte Chapelle, tour the Catacombs, visit the Louvre, journey to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  Whatever you decide to do, you won’t be disappointed.

Paris attractions on a budgetSainte Chapelle was one of my favorite Paris attractions.  It wasn’t at the top of my list until a friend told me it was a must-see.  Luckily, I decided to spend 10 € and check it out for myself.  The story telling on the painted glass windows was breathtaking!

Paris attractions on a budgetOf course I can’t forget about the Eiffel Tower.  A ticket, including a lift to the top was 17 €. Tickets were sold out online, so we went to the tower and stood in an actual queue. Between security and purchasing the tickets, we waited for about 45 minutes.  Not too bad, but it was pretty cold…so bundle up, buttercup.  Minus the temperature, I enjoyed visiting at night to see the light show.

Paris attractions

Paris nights in September.

BUDGET

Here’s a breakdown of my budget for four days in Paris.  

Item Cost
Amsterdam → Paris 40 € = 48 USD
Accommodations 112 € = 134 USD
Getting Around 25 € = 30 USD
Food and Drinks 110 € = 132 USD
Activities 27 € = 32 USD
Total 314  € =  377 USD

*I used an exchange rate of 1 € = 1.2 USD

Looking at the activity line, I’m realizing that it might have been wise to invest in a Paris Museum Pass.  The pass allows you to gain access to various museums without waiting in line.  I decided not to partake in some activities because I was deterred by the line and/or the price.  Think about what you want to see in Paris and do the math; purchasing a pass might allow you to see more Paris attractions while helping you save a bit of time and money.

Ciao for now,

Marissa

4 DAYS IN PARIS