Looking for things to do this Spring in Washington, DC?
Whether you live a few metro stops away from DC, or you’re flying across 11 time zones to see Dorothy’s Ruby Red slippers at The American History Smithsonian, I wanted to let you know about some fun things to do around DC this spring. There’s something for everyone here, from the solo spring breaker to the family of nine. After leading bike tours on the National Mall since March with Bike and Roll DC, I’ve had lots of fun meeting families from all over the world and showing them the countless wonders of the U.S. Capital.
I was glowing. Washington, D.C. has been my home for two months, but I still couldn’t get a ticket. I was allowed to be inside, at last! How competitive is it to get into this museum that opened in in September of 2016?
“Same-day, timed passes are available online only, beginning at 6:30 a.m. daily. A limited number of walk-up passes are available at the Museum on weekdays, beginning at 1 p.m.”
I’ve heard friends mention how lucky they were not only go be able to get a timed ticket, but to be able to take time off work in order to do so. Tour buses load people here every day, and I can only imagine how much in advance they must reserve their tickets.
So, how did I get in? Since I’m giving walking tours at the American History Museum, I have a Smithsonian employee badge that grants me employee access (and a sweet discount at the gift shops and food courts!).
I’d finally made it after weeks of cycling past with my bike tours, only being able to explain the NMAAHC’s design from the outside. Tourists cannot help but wonder what this building is, its corona-like, multilevel design and brown color standing in stark contrast to the white monuments. Even the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial is made up of a Chinese, white stone (of hope).
Sir David F. Adjaye, a Ghanaian British Architect, modeled The NMAAHC’ after crowns worn by the people of the Yoruban culture. Step closer, and it looks as if each panel is carved in the most intricate way. It reminded me of the intricate design that gates have in Mexico. They are ornate and functional.
The museum closes at 5:30 daily, and since I’d just gotten off work, I only had two hours. I began my visit at the the amazing Sweet Home Café, and as I expected, I had to wait in line. This museum is still so crowded that they can only let in a few folks at a time. Luckily, the menu was waiting outside with me as I decided what to get. There was regional food from places like the Creole Coast: Gulf Shrimp & Anson Mills Stone Ground Grits – featuring the premier corn-product from popular Columbia, S.C.-based Anson Mills alongside smoked tomato butter, caramelized leeks and crispy Tasso. There was corn bread and there were collard greens.
I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be alone for long. I walked my tray over to a table in the middle of the huge cafeteria. As I bit into my mac and cheese, Franklin E. McCain’s piercing gaze met mine. His seriousness under his thick, black rimmed glasses reminded me that while yes, I was here to enjoy the food, that I shouldn’t take my decision to sit wherever I wanted to for granted.
Soon enough, an older African American couple with hot dogs and orange Fantas on their trays sat down with me. I was frustrated by the fact that while this café had a variety of Southern comfort foods on display, hot dogs were the most affordable, filling items on the menu for them. The older woman and I started talking about the prices. She said “Can you believe it costs $7 for two sodas? Do you know how many sodas I could buy at the grocery store with that?”
I felt comfortable yet unsure of just exactly how accessible this museum really was. Maybe they have to offset the costs because this is a free museum, after all. One reason I love the Smithsonian Institute is that their initial endowment was given with the assurance that they would continue the dissemination of knowledge and that this would be free to the public-forever.
Soon enough, the granddaughter, who was in town for an interview, came and sat with us. I told her this was my first time here, and she mentioned the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, which is also one of the country’s 19 Smithsonian museums. Her mom rolled grandma up on her wheelchair and offered everyone yams, green beans, and fried fish on little plates. They were from North Carolina, D.C., all over. I could relate to them on that level.
It was nice to sit and chat with a family while enjoying rich, stick-to-your ribs food. “Who wants some potato salad?” Mom said, as she looked at me, and only me, knowing I’d accept. I giggled and spooned some on my plate, mentioning that I was not on a diet.
I only had an hour to explore, and the suggested I start from the bottom floor (there are two floors below and three above ground) because the journey begins with the slave trade and is, needless to say, an emotional one. I was already feeling so many different emotions just while enjoying a sandwich.
As I walked down the elevator, I saw something I thought I’d never see in this museum: Just another white, teenage boy, wearing a “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt. Other than the sweatshirt, he looked like just another boy on a field trip. What is he doing here? Did his teacher make him come? What is he thinking? I was confused, then relieved, that he was at least in a space like this that would hopefully make him question what the phrase on his sweatshirt even meant, once he’d realize that one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, owned 609 slaves.
As a guard lowered myself and other guests down in an oversized elevator, he dismissed us with “I hope you have a kleenex. You’ll need one!”
And so, the journey began, past the miniature shackles used for children crossing the Atlantic-if they survived at all- and into Brazil, Jamaica, Virginia…
Then came the exhibit on the American Revolution. For the first time, I’d seen an image of Boston King, a former slave turned Loyalist soldier. That’s how both the British and Americans recruited black men–by offering their freedom, if they didn’t die from smallpox or musket fire. It was so powerful to see images of men like Boston and Crispus Attucks (this runaway slave was the first man to die in the Boston Massacre, which partially led to The American Revolution) being represented along with the countless other images of white men serving in the war that we’ve all seen.
The next room was one of my favorites. It exposed Thomas Jefferson’s faults. While, yes, he was an intelligent white man, inventor, Vice President, writer, and more, he also owned slaves. He wasn’t as enlightened as we think. Presidents would continue to hve had slave ownership up until Ulysses S. Grant. Yes, the general who helped the Union win The Civil War owned a slave at one point in his life. I knew Jefferson had slaves, but I hadn’t known that the children he’d had with one of his slaves (starting when she was 17), all inherited the same title as their mother. All men aren’t created so equal, are they?
As I was processing this, a young black girl stood between her mother and a glass case with shackles for slaves inside of them.
“Those were to make sure that the slaves wouldn’t escape” the mother explained to her little girl. “They even put them around their ankles?” she asked, innocently. “Mmhmm, even around their ankles,” mom said, cooly.
As a white presenting Mexican with a white presenting Mexican mother, I would never have been able to feel that sense of “This could have been me” in the way that this mother and her daughter probably felt and were used to feeling.
I barely made it to the section with Harriet Tubman, who was instrumental in bringing slaves up North through The Underground Railroad, when a guard told us the museum was closing. I hadn’t even made it past this floor before it was time to go. So, just like everyone else, I walked intentionally slowly so that I could savor my final seconds in this revealing place.
Finally, the National Museum of African American History’s was giving me what I needed: Real Talk. Real History. I’ll be back for more.
Bike tours are some of the best ways to get to know a city, especially one as historical as Washington, DC. This Spring we’re offering Cherry Blossom tours, and I’ve enjoyed learning the history about these beautiful trees found in DC.
The Japanese sent about 3,000 trees to DC in 1912 as a diplomatic gift to the U.S. and many of them have lived twice as long as their expected lifespans of forty years! While 3% die each year, saplings with the original trees’ DNA are kept in the National Arboretum. We’ve actually donated trees back to Japan when they lost them due to flooding in the ’50s and ’80s.
I learned all of this as I prep to lead Cherry Blossoms bike tours with Bike and Roll DC -check us out when you’re in town!
As a traveler, I’m used to constantly changing how I view the world. It isn’t something I feel as if I have to stick to-it just happens naturally for me. This year, as a traveler, I’ve begun to have more conversations with the people I run into on the day-to-day. I’m starting to ask them more about them instead of telling them about myself.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of explaining who I am and where I came from, especially since I am seen as a foreigner in Nicaragua, the place I have taught English for with the Peace Corps the past 17 months.
I’d gone 17 months without seeing my mom. Luckily, over the holidays, she came to visit me. I used the money I’ve earned writing travel-based articles to buy her and myself a ticket to Corn Island, an island off Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. I didn’t know what to expect, because it is a small place, and has not been completely overrun by tourists. I’d only heard good things from other volunteers, so we made it out there.
On our third day there, my mom and I decided to go for a walk around the tiny island. We heard black men speaking in English Kreole to one another. Country music was blasting from one house. A group of men were sitting outside. I said “excellent music choice!” and gave a thumbs up to them. Listening to country music reminded me of home. “Come in and sit down, sweetheart!” one man said.
When I heard Kreole, though, It was strange for me to be in a land so close to my own, but I couldn’t understand the language. Luckily for us, people also spoke English and Spanish there. Sometimes we’d speak to people in Spanish and be responded to in Spanish, and vice-versa.
We stopped by this tiny little coconut shack on the north side of the island. We met Sidney, the shack’s owner, and my mom enjoyed a fresh coconut for about 40 cents. She sipped the fresh juice from a straw, then Sidney hacked it open with a knife. We ate the delicious, young pulp, and told Sidney we’d be back the next day. Meet Sidney on my facebook page!
Sure enough, my mom and I returned the following morning before our flight back to semi-reality. This time, Sidney’s wife, Adele, watched as my mom and I giggled at each other sipping from the coconut. We also took selfies by the bus stop that had a giant manta ray placed on top.
I wanted to know more about Adele. I told her that id I lived there, right by the beach like she and Sidney did, then I would never leave. “Do you ever leave?” I asked her.
“Only for visits. I have been to Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, to all kinds of places. There is no where like home, though.”
Adele had such a calm, reassuring presence. She didn’t say much more than was necessary, yet she let us enjoy ourselves, soaking up the view and the breeze while sitting on her red, plastic chairs.
I never wanted to leave. I’m glad I met Adele and chatted with her for a bit on Big Corn Island. In 2016, I hope to spend more time asking people more about themselves during my travels.
This article is featured in the January edition of the Wanderlust Life Magazine. Interested in travel and wellness? Subscribe for free here and visit our facebook page!
For New Year’s weekend, I stayed at the Paradiso Resort at the Apoyo Lagoon in Nicaragua. It’s a Peace Corps favorite because we can afford the dorm rooms and the food on our $150-$200 monthly earnings. The fact that the resort lies on the beaches of a clean, warm volcanic crater lake isn’t too shabby, either.Yesterday was New Year’s Day, and the resort was insanely busy with even more guests coming in with day passes. There were Americans, Nicaraguans, Canadians, and Germans, among others.
As I was swimming in the dark blue, deep water, I saw a kayak capsize. The Nicaraguan couple next to it didn’t know how to swim, but they at least had their life jackets on. Many people have drowned here because they don’t know how to swim, and the lagoon gets deep very quickly. I swam over to them and pulled the woman back to the kayak. She didn’t know how to kick. We were about 100 meters from shore.
I wondered how long it would take me pull them back to shore. Then, came Luis, this staff member, coming to our rescue on a paddle board. He was soaking in his jeans and white polo, but that didn’t bother him. He pulled the couple back to safety to a nearby raft, and sent them on their way. This was just another rescue to him.
“I once saved an Argentinian man. He was drowning. I pulled him back onto shore, did CPR, turned him sideways, and he spit out the water. I don’t know how many people I’ve pulled out of the water,” Luis says.
As I sat on my rainbow beach chair, I saw Luis, running back and forth along the shore as if he were in a relay race. His jeans soaked as he pulled kayakers and inner tubing locals and tourists away from the rocks. He hauled abandoned kayaks back to shore. He wasn’t the only staff member toiling away. There were around 7 waiters serving hundreds of people, picking up after them, bringing them mojitos and piña coladas, calling out animals like “Gecko!” Or “Whale!” To find the people whose day passes had the matching animals on them. These were some of the hardest working hotel staff I’ve ever seen.
Luis is a 33-year old father of two boys. He has been married for nine years. His five year-old-son does mixed martial arts. He gets his energy from his father. Luis is a gardener, repairman, groundskeeper, bartender, waiter, and a lifeguard in jeans.
As this New Year begins, I wanted to thank all of the hotel staff who have taken care of us during the holidays. I also wanted to thank you all in advance for taking care of us long after the Holidays end. Thank you for taking care of travelers like me 365 days a year.