Welcome to Otehlia Travels!
Your one-of-a-kind culinary adventure awaits
Sometimes it takes a while to realize that the thing you most love doing, is what you’ve been doing all along.
In grad school where I studied Sustainable Development, I taught West African Dance. For several years I took groups of students to Mali and Guinea to study dance from local teachers and artists. At that time I didn’t think “I’m a travel planner and a tour guide”. I just thought, I want to share the joy and stories that are told through dance with people who want to learn and might not be comfortable going on their own, or know HOW to get there.
After college I went to visit a friend in Mexico who had just opened a restaurant on Isla Mujeres. I remember thinking, the food in the Yucatan is unlike any Mexican food we get in Wisconsin!! I wanted to share the history and diversity of the cuisine and how to make it. I organized a culinary vacation where people learned to cook the foods of the Yucatan peninsula. But even then, I didn’t have a travel brand. It’s just what I did.
I had young kids at the time and put the traveling on hold while I grew Madison Eats Food Tours locally in Wisconsin. In building Madison Eats, my focus was on sharing our community’s food while learning the stories behind the chefs and producers. As my kids got older, I took groups of no more than 8 back to the Yucatan, Mexico, with a focus on exploring the food and cultures of the area. During those trips, I developed relationships with chefs, farmers, producers, guides who became my team there. In fact, they became like family. They are still the team I work with today.
In 2019 headed to Cuba for the first time, once again to study dance, but soon realizing that I also wanted to share the food and cultural traditions. I heard many people tell me that the food in Cuba wasn’t great and how could I do a culinary tour there? I was set on proving them wrong. And I did. There is incredible food in Cuba and people working with limited resources in difficult situations who are creating the most amazing dishes.
Through all of these experiences, I realized there is one common thread–I want to share the stories of people who are the keepers and inspiration of traditions around the world, particularly culinary traditions. I want to tell the stories of people who may not have a platform or a voice; people who are trying to maintain their culture and sustain their communities. I provide opportunities for people to go places that may not feel safe to travel on their own, to meet people they wouldn’t otherwise connect with and have experiences that they can’t find via an internet search. I do this by creating real connections when I travel, by meeting people, listening to their stories and creating one-of-a kind experiences I can share with you.
I am continuing my trips to Mexico, will lead groups to Cuba again, will lead my first group trip to Belize in 2022, and am planning a trip to Italy with a chef from the region also in 2022. I am excited to explore the world with you all, to travel with you to places you may not go, or to meet people you might not otherwise get a chance to know. To hear their stories, to taste the food, to connect over our shared humanity.
I look forward to traveling with you soon.