Kohala Coast magic isn’t a hard thing to conjure up. Just stepping off the jet at the airport and inhaling is a quick way to hit the reset button. I unearthed some of the island’s hidden gems in this episode of Meet Me There. Watch and enjoy!
Luxury traveling isn’t always about doing, seeing, shopping and getting as much out of an experience as you can. Sometimes, you can find ways to actually give back in ways other than spending money while traveling.
Traveling over the last year with Exclusive Resorts shooting our travel show Meet Me There, I’ve met a lot of locals along the way and as you’d imagine, talked to other club members, too. But, I’d have to say Lassetter family from May Pearl, Texas made a lasting impression on me and has forever changed the way I approach travel. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing and sharing the family’s story of travel and making a difference in the lives of some local school kids. Watch it here!
Traveling to a new destination is always a thrill. I’ve made several repeat visits to a lot of places over the last 10 years. I’m never bored in the places I return to again and again. Often times, I relish the thought of returning to some of my favorite spots – hello, 11th Moon in Laguna Beach! But it is always good to shake things up a bit and explore new territory. That is precisely what happened on my trip to Real Del Mar, Mexico.
Technically, it was a work trip—my first shoot for the Meet Me There series. But it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was reeling from my father’s recent death. My whole world had been turned on its head. When I traveled to Real del Mar, I was just coming off of my Dad’s funeral the week before. Some alone time on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, even with some work thrown in, was just what I needed. In fact, I’d never needed it more.
I was excited for this first shoot, and a little nervous. As the first one to arrive at the house, I had the views all to myself, and I settled into a lounge chair by the infinity pool and took full advantage of the solitude. It felt nice. Really nice.
I couldn’t help but think about my Dad and the trips he’d taken with me over the last 8 years. He would have LOVED Real Del Mar. Dad was the kinda guy who liked to sip on a cocktail and “shoot the breeze” about everything from his latest building projects to his new favorite recipe. We had done just that very thing on every trip we’d taken together. Dad was thrilled about the Meet Me There series and knew how excited I was about the project, too. It broke my heart to think he wouldn’t get to see any of it come together.
But as soon as my feet hit the ground the next morning, the team and I were off and running on an unforgettable Mexican adventure. It was my first time in Real Del Mar, so I signed myself up for some other firsts—like surfing!
I confess—I am not a huge fan of water activities. Sure, I like to swim in the pool and hang out at the beach, but you’ll never catch me clambering for a boogie board or spending hours playing volleyball in the pool. I’m a leisurely, poolside kind of gal! The water is a side attraction, not the main event.
But I’d recently made a list of my personal 10 Commandments—at the top of the list is a promise that I will take the leap, every time—no matter what. I couldn’t break my own Commandment.
Nothing motivates you to get up on a surfboard like a video crew “audience” on the shoreline and a photographer floating next to you a camera up your ass, it really motivates you to get up on that surfboard. I knew I had to deliver…something…or I’d have brought us all out here for nothing. So I went for it and found myself surfing! In the Pacific Ocean! On my very first attempt to stand up. Mission accomplished! And I looked amazing (thanks to Henry, a whiz with the camera!) I never dreamed I could do it. Sadly, my honors performance on the surfboard really cut down on the number of water-soaked, four-letter rants for the blooper reel. Sorry kids!
Mingling with the Gypset
I’ve met a lot of characters while traveling, but I had my first real encounter with a gypsy in Sayulita. But Natalie is not just a gypsy—she’s part of the Gypset. What the heck is a Gypset? According to Urban Dictionary:
…Fusing the ease and carefree lifestyle of a gypsy with the sophistication of the jet set, Gypsetters are artists, surfers, designers, and bon vivants who live and work around the globe, from Jose Ignacio, Uruguay and Ibiza, Spain, to Montauk, New York. Gypset Style explores the unconventional, wanderlust lives of these high-low cultural nomads and the bohemian enclaves they inhabit, as well as their counterculture forbears, such as the Victorian explorers, the Lost Generation, the Beatniks, and the hippies.
Natalie is a gypset lifestyle guru and the eccentric owner at Pachamama, an amazing little shop and gallery. As soon as I stepped into her store, I was totally mesmerized. I couldn’t stop touching things, like the black tahitian pearl jewelry strung on leather cords and the handmade, locally designed bags. I played dress-up in a hand-embroidered dress that ended up coming home with me. I also snagged some amazing gold spiral earrings! I haven’t decided if I’m going to wear the dress or hang it on the wall. It is simply stunning and so colorful!
Natalie was dressed like a gypsy goddess. Not too many women can pull off a look that includes no shoes, a slinky slip dress, face paint, and an enormous feather in the hair, but she did just that.
When I think of Mexico, my monkey brain immediately goes to tacos and tequila. Mama Lucia tequila factory was an essential stop on our trip. We took a tour and did a little tasting. Well, maybe more than a little. But the tequila did not disappoint.
You can’t drink tequila without a toast. So with each shot, we did a different toast. I had to stop somewhere after four or five “toasts”. After all, I was working, and the fear of an embarrassing blooper reel surfacing still loomed large in my head. So when you see me swirling around in the episode with a shot of tequila in my hand, I’m not drunk! That was all part of one of our hula/shake-your-money-maker/throw-back-a-shot-of-tequila toasts! I promise.
The food in and around Real Del Mar was yummy. I’d spent the previous week in Arkansas with my family, eating more than my fair share of Southern comfort food. I was reluctant to overindulge on food while on the shoot—I had a swimsuit to wear, after all, and the camera doesn’t lie!
But when I arrived at Tacos on the Street, my dreams of moderation went straight out the window. The restaurant delivers exactly what the name suggests – Tacos on the Street. The food was fresh and the flavors melded together brilliantly. The tacos were so good, I ordered seconds and ate every last bit.
After two weeks in shock, a trip to Real del Mar was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was relaxing, invigorating, and never, ever boring. I learned a few new tricks and got way out of my comfort zone…and liked it. I’d go back in a second. But next time, I’ll work on my surfing and indulge in a few stiff margaritas and a few plates of tacos. But this time, I’ll leave my cameraman behind. My adventures—and my bloopers!—will be mine alone.
Seeing a place for the first time is always exhilarating. Real del Mar was no exception for me. Dad had just passed away suddenly and I was circling in a whirlwind of emotions. The drastic change of scenery was exactly what I needed. This particular trip was also the start of a new chapter in my career after coming out of an early-retirement of sorts after getting married and raising a family. I think it was only fitting to start in Mexico with tequila, surfing and a fascinating gypsy! Watch the episode here!
Living in New York, I see a lot of really well dressed—and often over-the-top dressed—people on the streets. In my neighborhood, I often see one of New York City’s best dressed men. His adorable daughter and my handsome son are in the same grade. On Fifth Avenue, it’s all about high-end labels, handbags, shoes, and jewels. Seriously, some of these women, from head to toe, sport at least $100K worth of clothing and accessories. Further downtown, it’s street chic at its finest, from club kids to cross-dressers.
When I hit the streets of Sayulita in Mexico, I was not expecting to be wowed by the fashion scene, much less meet a fashion inspiration. Little did I know that I was about to be blown away by Sayulita’s gypset fashionista—Natalie, the owner of Pachamama gallery and boutique.
I’ve talked before about “gypsetters”—those lucky artists, surfers, and bon vivants that you find flitting between places like Montauk, Ibiza, and, yes, Sayulita. Not only is Natalie a card-carrying member of the genre, she’s so much like the wind that she’s nearly impossible to track down. We showed up in Sayulita with our fingers crossed, hoping to cross paths and convince her to speak with me on camera. To our joy, she said yes, but only after she could get “camera ready.” I already liked this woman! She may be part of a carefree lifestyle but she knows when she needs to look her very best!
While she primped and prepped, I wanted to show off the store’s wares on camera for my episode of Meet Me There – Real del Mar. I couldn’t resist a short version of the gorgeous hand-embroidered caftans on sale. Each one was a piece of wearable art.
Then I spotted the jewelry case! Displayed casually in the black case were several exquisite necklaces made of black Tahitian pearls strung on soft leather cords. They called out to me! So with a triple strand of pearls around my neck and one arm wrapped up in a fringed snakeskin cuff, I had appropriately worked myself up into a retail lather when Natalie walked back into the boutique.
The first time I saw her, she was chic enough. But when she glided back into the shop, she looked like a Mexican gypsy goddess, dressed in a long silk slip dress that hung perfectly over her tanned, slender frame. She had adorned herself with tribal body paint with a trail of white dots marking the middle of her face. To top it off, and I mean really top it off, she had a HUGE – like three-foot-long – bird feather tucked into the top of her hair. And she wore it like she pulls off this look on a regular basis without a lot of fanfare and drama. I mean, I wake up thinking, “it feels like a Rag and Bone Jeans and boots kind day” where Natalie probably wakes up and thinks, “I’m gonna wear tribal body art and a three-foot-long bird feather in my hair”.
We talked about life, passions, black Tahitian pearls, family, art, and sailing to Mexico from Europe – which she did, of course. All of the things she loves are incorporated into her boutique, which is really an extension of her own family. Their photos hang all around the gallery, and each of her children looks like they stepped out of a magazine spread.
I love stumbling across a fabulous travel treasure, and Pachamama in Sayulita is one of my favorite hidden gems. After wearing the amazing caftan around the boutique for nearly an hour, I had to buy it. It’s stunning, colorful, and handmade by a group of local women. So I wasn’t just shopping, I was funding the local artisans!
I left the boutique feeling inspired as I headed off to my surfing lesson. I wondered if I’d ever see Natalie again. People like her seem to pop up in your life only once.
Fast forward three months:
I’m at the MOMA with Corbin, who wanted to see Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because, according to him, it’s the second most famous piece of art in the world. (We were just a few days away from our Paris trip, where he wanted to see the most famous piece—the Mona Lisa).
As I walked up to the desk to pay for our ticket, I spied a tall woman standing a few feet away, wearing an AMAZING long, silk, tie-dyed dress, and guess what? A bird feather in her hair! No. It couldn’t be Natalie. But there she was. Natalie the gypset goddess was standing next to me—at the MOMA, of all places, thousands of miles away from the shores of Sayulita. We exchanged hellos and talked a little, clearly both stunned to see each other. You really never do know who you’ll run into in New York!
Pachamama details: This magical spot doesn’t have a website, or a social media presence, or anything else. It’s way too cool for that. If you wanna shop there, you gotta get yourself to Sayulita! And when you do, tell Natalie you heard about it from me.
I consider myself a travel addict.
“Hi, my name is DJ. My last trip was 7 days ago.”
I have laid my eyes on many stunning places over the years. And probably like you, I’ve snapped endless photos of sunsets, a few sunrises, buildings, cathedrals and castles along the way. To anyone other than me, these photos produced a lot of yawns and some moments of radio silence. In one word were are BORING! But as an “addict”, I can’t stop snapping pictures. So my subjects over the years have changed moving away from things to people. Primarily MY people like Corbin, Leo and my family and friends. And of course myself. Hello, Selfie!
In June, I spent 7 glorious days in Hawaii. It was my first visit to the Big Island and it will not be my last. My one and only goal for this trip was to do whatever was necessary to hit my reset button. So instead of vacation days full of sight seeing, shopping and eating. My vacation plan consisted of the following.
3. Chill out – without worrying about Corbin’s schedule, talking to lawyers, discussing the future, over eating, blowouts, makeup, dry cleaning, bikini waxes, recycling the trash, grocery store lists, appointments, etc. This proved to be challenging until #5 kicked in. Keep reading!
5. Enjoy an adult beverage
6. Repeat all of the above as needed
I stuck to my plan and can say that for the first time in a very long time I finally felt as if I had a solid amount of sleep! And of course along the way, I started snapping photos on my iPhone. By the way, do any of you travel with a real camera anymore? I haven’t in years but pulled it on on my recent trip to Antarctica with Exclusive Resorts. I snapped a great shot of the sunrise on my first morning because I woke up at my normal East coast time which is six hours ahead of Hawaii. I’m NOT a fan of sunrises! I captured many sunset photos, too! All very pretty, but yet still BORING!
On my last day, I took what I can only say are two of my favorite travel photos yet.
One is of this fisherman I met at a local market, Da Fish House.
He was getting out of his little Toyota truck as I was walked up. Why do big, giant men drive tiny trucks? Always makes me laugh when I see this. He spoke in a Hawaiian language that my Exclusive Resorts concierge Lahela told me was more of a local dialect. If you look closely you can see that his eyes are kind of gold in color. And then there are the tattoos and the fists full of yellow fin tuna. I could not stop checking this guy out. He was a site to behold. I kept trying to calculate how many dollars worth of sushi he was holding in his hands. Not to mention the shear size of this guy! Check out those man boobs! He and his friends had been fishing about 10 miles off the coast all night and were delivering the load of fish to the market.
A picture is worth a thousand words. This one is for sure. I only wish I would have put a mic on him (not sure what I would have clipped it to) and gotten his story on camera for our Meet Me There – Kohala Coast episode ! Guess that means, I should just go back,right? I mean, it is time for another trip. I’ve been home for seven days as I mentioned above. That’s long enough, don’t you think?
Oh, so you want to see my second photo? Here it is.
My friend Hadley and I were walking over for our last island cocktails and dinner when I snapped this one. I think I spiffed it up with a filter on my iPhone but it didn’t need a lot of editing. Mother Nature never does really. This one is all about the clouds and is not BORING in the least.
Feel free to share some of your favorite travel photos from Hawaii below if you’d like. I’d love to see them!
Wow! It’s been long time since I’ve posted anything on my website. Are you still there? I certainly hope so. I have a lot to talk about and to fill you in on since I last posted. If you keep up with me on social media you know a lot has happened in my life.
Let’s start with the biggest change. I am now a divorced woman! It took an excruciating amount of time and a shit load of money to make it happen, but I am free. At least legally speaking. I actually felt free the day he left us and I had the apartment to myself. Funny how that works when emotionally and financially controlling people move on and you reclaim your life.
Let me re-introduce myself! I am DJ Cunningham. It’s a totally pain in the ass to change all of the accounts, passports, social security cards, e-mail addresses and eventually the very name of this website, but I am a Cunningham. I always will be one. Thank God I didn’t engrave all of my sterling silver!
Over those four long years, I reinvented myself professionally. I created my dream job as an on-camera host, creator and producer of the travel series “Meet Me There”. How’d I do that? I was a member of the luxury travel club Exclusive Resorts. I’m a tv personality who likes to tell stories. I’ve traveled like a gypsy most of my adult life. I merged all three of those things and, voilà, I had my own travel series. I’ll be doing it again soon.
I took a huge leap and stepped back into the world of television news. I’ve spent the last few years at Inside Edition, the most successful syndicated show in television history in case you were wondering. If you find yourself competing on Jeopardy that fact may come in handy one day, so you’re welcome. Nearly a year to the date after I started, I was promoted to Entertainment Manager. It has been a fantastic experience during one of the most insane times in the news business. The experience is interesting to say the least. Stay tuned for more news!
Overnight, I became a single working Mom. Talk about a big change. I always wanted to work and have my own career but we found reasons not to pursue it after we married and Corbin was born. The biggest reasons were so I could stay at home with Corbin, we could travel as a family anytime we wanted and we didn’t really need the extra income. It’s important for Corbin to see me work and re-boot my career. Being a strong female role model for him is important.
My Dad died. Just like that. He was here one day. He was gone the next. That’s how it is for everyone. But it was out of the blue and a total kick in the teeth when it happened. I’d always called my Dad when I needed to talk. He was always my biggest cheerleader when it came to my career and anything else for that matter. Losing him just weeks after my marriage completely imploded was a real blow. I hate that Corbin didn’t get to spend more time hanging out with him and doing those things that granddads do with their grandsons.
I fell in love again. It’s amazing to be able to really FEEL love and give it back to someone who is receptive to it. My sweetheart has been in and out of my life since my years at the University of Arkansas. I’m so grateful we reconnected. Even more grateful to have a partner that can communicate with me, travel, explore, laugh, love, etc. It is a deep connection that I wasn’t sure would happen again for me. But it did. I love having him in my space and being in his. And coming from a woman who likes her own space, that is saying a lot!
So is that me in a nutshell since my last post? Pretty much! There will be more to come soon and under my name DJ Cunningham so keep an eye on your in-box.