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Lessons from Trekking

14 Oct

During my recent trekking adventure in Oregon that was nothing like I thought it was going to be, I realized that there are some important life lessons that I could take from the experience.  Here are my 5 lessons from trekking:

1.  Roll with it.

My Oregon trip was suppose to be a 4-night adventure in the Sisters area with beautiful fall weather – you know, crisp sunny days, blue skies, cool nights.  Not rain, snow, or alternate plans because where we planned to go was getting dumped on.  Not two in-town days because it would have been suffer-fest otherwise.  But, so far, I do not control the weather.  In fact, the more time passes in my life, the more I realize I simply have control over just about nothing.  Not one thing.

Except myself.  I have control of myself and how I respond to things when they change.  So, in this moment, even though I had spent time (and money) envisioning what this vacation was going to be life, I had to accept that things were going to be different.  They were not going to play out they way I wanted them to.  They were going to play out just the way they were. with rain and snow and wind.  In the past, I have had a tendency to be frustrated in these situations – unable to move past what I wanted and what I had hoped for.  Which, surprisingly, did not change my situation and just made me, and anyone who was around me, miserable.

And so, the rain and snow came down in the mountains… I drank tasty Oregon IPAs and laughed with my friend while we sat around her fire and made plans for a different hike.

Taking a walk in Bend - where, pleasantly enough, it was sunny!

Taking a walk in Bend – where, pleasantly enough, it was sunny!

Sometimes it’s hard, we want things to work out one way so badly, which I am wildly guilty of.  But, often enough, if I just roll with things, and let it all play out, everything is just fine.   I guess this lesson could also be known as:  trust.

2.  It hurts now, but it’ll pass.

Our trek up into the mountains in the Diamond Peak wilderness started with a light drizzle, that turned into a heavier rain, transitioning into wet snow.  And the higher we went, the more snow that was on the ground, until eventually we were walking through several inches of snow.  By the time we reached the site where we planned to bed down for the night, our feet were soaking wet and the temperatures were dropping.  We spent the afternoon and night in the tent, eating tasty warm food and burrowing deep into our bags.  In the morning, our thermometer read 26 degrees.  In the tent.  Yep, it was a cold one.

Cold enough that our shoes froze.  Solid.  Putting those puppies on was not one of the more fun things I have done.  The first hour was excruciatingly painful.  Even though the sun came out and we had to walk uphill which warmed up my body, my feet were still damn cold and painful.  I have over-exposed my feet to cold temps so many times that doing so now causes me to hobble in pain, which is where K found me at the top of the hill — hobbling, gasping in pain, on the verge of tears.  She looked at me and calmly said – it’ll pass.  It wasn’t magic, my feet didn’t stop hurting at that moment – but it was a good reminder that this was temporary.  They have hurt before, but they would stop hurting eventually.

First night of camping, snow, fog, rain, cold temps

First night of camping, snow, fog, rain, cold temps

And…. the same with other times I have been in pain, emotional or physical.  It passes.  The heartbreak over that man? It passed.  That shoulder surgery?  It healed.  Those things that feel so big, that hurt so much….  eventually that pain pass.  Eventually that hurt heals.

3.  The signs are everywhere, we just have to look for them.

Because the ground was covered in several inches of snow, it made it hard to navigate the trail.  In the beginning, we made many wrong turns (or rather, missed the turns we should have taken).  We followed routes that seemed right, but weren’t.  We spent time searching for the trail.  But, as time passed, we got better and better at it.  Over time, we started to notice where the snow lay in the trough of the trail.  We started to notice trees that had been cut to clear the trail.  We started to see the signs that had been there all along, we just had to look for them.

Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak

And this, seems to me, to be not far off from the way things really are.  That relationship that you keep going, in hopes that it will get better?  The signs have been there all along that it wasn’t right.  That job, that apartment, that friendship, that guy you’ve been on a few dates with?  The signs are there, telling you if it is right or wrong, there to stay or time to move along.  But, so often, we don’t want to see those signs when they don’t jive with what we want or hope for.  So, instead of seeing the signs that are there, we keep moving in the direction we think is right, hoping for something that is different from the reality in front of us.  If only we’d slow down, start looking and listening at what is actually in front of us, versus the story we have made up in our minds, it seems that a lot more would be clear.

4.  When you think you’re lost, trust your gut.

K and I got to a section where we just couldn’t find the trail.  We searched for at least an hour.  We contemplated turning around (and we loathe to go back the way we have come).  We circled around, following false starts and elk paths.  We even got to the point where we thought that we would just go over land and bushwack our way back to the car.  We consulted our map, took bearings on our compass and we searched.  We saw a trail, but it appeared to just circle back to the trail we had been on.  So, we searched some more.  It was frustrating.  It started to snow.  We took a bearing, headed out, going NE planning to go until it was dark and we found a suitable place to bed down.  As we climbed uphill, skirting around rocks, not knowing what was in front of us, I stopped us – feeling like we needed to go back to that trail.  I just had a feeling….

And sure enough, we followed it, and as the sun started to go down, we came to where we had planned to camp all along.

Sun shining through the moss, pines and snow.

Sun shining through the moss, pines and snow.

If, in that moment, we had slowed down and trusted our gut and actually tried that trail, we would have avoided several hours of messing around.  I didn’t know that was the right way, but I had a feeling that it was.  Instead, I talked myself out of it.  What would happen, when faced with a decision, if we always listened to our gut?  If we took the time to slow down and actually listen to ourselves?  Listened to what we were feeling to find out what was the right answer?  I imagine our choices might be different.  And even if the results weren’t actually different, would we feel different about them because we had made the choice ourselves?  My guess is yes, yes it would feel different.

5.  Laugh in the face of it all.  

We got lost.  It snowed.  It was freezing.  It wasn’t the trek we planned on doing.  We spent more hours in our tent than we ever planned on (which is what happens when you get into your sleeping bag at 4:30 in the afternoon).  But through it all, we laughed.  We supported each other.  We saw beauty in our surroundings and we celebrated our good fortune.

thanks buddy!

thanks buddy!

There is so much to celebrate in this world of ours, it just seems that we should make the time to laugh each and every day.  In the face of all that seems unfair and unjust and wrong and painful, there is so much to laugh at and celebrate.  Be thankful when you have a buddy with you to laugh at jokes that never get old.  And when you’re alone?  Laugh at the absurdity and make sure not to take yourself too seriously.  ‘Cause there’s just too much joy with out there!

IMG_0469

I guess when I think about these 5 lessons — they are really just come down to trust.

To be here now and trust that everything will fall into place.  ‘Cause it does.  It just does.

And in the mean time, drink a hoppy cascade-hopped ipa and laugh with an old friend!

IMG_0467

My limited wardrobe

9 Oct

I will never be a fashion icon. And if you scan through the pictures of my travels, you will see that I also have a pretty limited wardrobe. I wear the same things…. a lot. I mean, sure, I lived out of a backpack for a year.

But, it is also true that when I find something I like, I wear it a lot. Like – a lot a lot. And now you can read about one of those items here.

Laguna 69

Laguna 69

In the purple hoody….  in Peru.

 

though — perhaps it just means that I wear too much patagucci… 🙂

California dreamin’

11 Aug

My job was to stay awake.  But that was so hard…. between the jetlag and being up late and rising early, (oh, and being really good at falling asleep in the car), I kept nodding off.  Fortunately, with my brother having fun driving his new toy car, and my need to press the brake on my side, it was probably better I nodded off.

He nudged me awake as we entered the park and hugged the turns until we climbed up to an amazing view, the only car on the road and stars filling the night sky.  I forget living here in NYC how much I miss those clear nights.  As we approached the ranger station, I got more and more excited, looking forward to the adventure coming out way – just the chance to get some time under those stars.

We pulled into the ranger station around 1:30, prepared to sleep there if others were in line*, but not seeing anyone, we headed out to a campground to crash.  Oh – it is probably important to note here that the campgrounds are also on permit.  And often always filled.  But, sometimes you can find a spot that hasn’t been taken or cozy up and crash for the night (you know, if you are a real dirtbagger and don’t mind that kind of thing)  (which, for the record, we don’t).

We pulled into the campground, turned the lights down low and quietly cruised around to try and find a spot.  We saw a spot next to the campground host, but deemed that as too risky, so we moved on.  We found another and spent 15 sleep-deprived minutes debating whether the people who had the site reserved would be coming back (who would come back after 2 in the morning?!).  Finally, we grabbed out our bags and slept under the stars.  Of course, all that sleep I got in the car kept me staring up at the night-time sky, thinking about what I would say when we got busted for stealing the camp site.

A few hours after we crashed, the alarm went off and we snuck away, headed back to get in line for permits.  Somehow people had already beat us there, but we made coffee while we waited the hour+ until the rangers showed up to grant us a permit.  We made small talk, but mostly we tried to sleep, while standing and looking like we were focused on the line.  It’s a tough skill to master.

The tricky thing about not getting a permit before hand is that you cannot really plan your trip.  Sure, we knew we were headed into Yosemite for 4 days, we had a bear canister, we had plenty of gear.  But where to go?  We had some ideas (cathedral range is our favorite area), but unfortunately, all of those trail heads were closed.  The rangers make it a practice to not give out trail advice, so all we got were some non-committal yes/no’s, but we know how to read maps, so off we went – figuring we could cobble something together.  Fortunately, out on the trail we ran into a backcountry ranger who took a look at our topo with us and helped us figure out the plan.  We would go backcountry from Bernice Lake and spend time wandering back there, bag some peaks and then go over a pass to Ireland lake to rejoin the trail.

With plan in place, we slogged on to Bernice Lake, which meant going up a big pass and then down down down to …. climb back up.  Fortunately the views weren’t bad.

Views from the first pass

Views from the first pass – the lake on the right is Bernice lake. the expanse in the center – that was where we went backcountry

Bernice lake was delightful – no one there, no bugs and great swimming.  Ok – cold dipping.

so cold, so great

so cold, so great

I am more of a wuss about cold water than my brother — he jumps right in and swims, me — it takes 15 minutes for me to get even half way submerged, but it felt good to wash the dust of the trail off.

i got this far after 15 minutes

i got this far after 15 minutes

Other than one couple camped far away from us, the lake was ours.  Following a perfect day, a perfect evening with a full moon rising over the mountains, we eat dinner in blissful tired silence.  Easing into the rhythm of being on the trail.

I’m quite lucky to have my brother as a friend — we grew up together, went to the same college and other than my senior year of high school when I lived in France, we lived near each other until he was 21 or 22.  Since then, we try to do a backpacking trip when our schedules allow.  But, more importantly, we get along well and amuse each other, but are also comfortable with silence.  He’s also a great adventure partner, up for challenges, willing to push himself (like the time we did 22 miles in Yosemite in one day) – and push me (like on this trip).

partner-in-adventures

partner-in-adventures

Our next day was into the backcountry — no trails, no people, just head on out.  And the beauty about Yosemite is that everything is above tree line, so you just look, point and head out.  Simple.  (but, we also have extensive knowledge about backcountry travel, thousands of collective miles hiked, wilderness first responder, etc.  This is not recommended if you do not know what you are doing).

We entered the valley (formed by the mountains/ridges that you can see above) and dropped our gear at a site we thought that we could camp at.  From there, we decided to head up towards on of the mountains.

Headed up unnamed peak

Headed up unnamed peak

whole lotta rocks

whole lotta rocks

We spent the day climbing up to Unnamed Peak, which meant a lot of scrambling over loose rocks, crossing snowfields, being a little freaked out by talus fields and getting an amazing view.

Crossing the glaciers

Crossing the glaciers

the view from the top

the view down into the glacier

from where we came (the lake in the middle is Bernice)

from where we came (the lake in the middle is Bernice)

who doesn't love selfies?

who doesn’t love selfies?

IMG_3369

at the summit of Unnamed Peak — looking south

It was an awesome, but looooong day.  The rock scrambling was tough.  Sometimes the rocks would slide, always you had to look at where you were placing your feet.  Basically, it was a 4 hour down-climb back to camp that took incredible attention.  Essentially a walking meditation – you cannot have a busy, monkey mind.  You just can’t.  At one point, I stumbled, fell forward – and tried to get my footing, but couldn’t.  It was a terrifying moment thinking that I would hit my head, break my leg, twist an ankle — all potentially life-threatening injuries when you are miles from a trail.  Somehow, luckily I just scraped up my legs and arms, but it was a scary moment for sure.

looooooong day

looooooong day

Back at camp, we rested, swam, eat dinner and were entertained by a gazillion little fish feeding and putting on a show of jumping out of the water.  And a pretty amazing sunset.

life doesn't suck - good tired, full belly and a glorious sunset

life doesn’t suck – good tired, full belly and a glorious sunset

thank you.

thank you.

Sleep was interrupted by the full moon, but who can really complain about that?  (it was so bright you could see your shadow!).  The next day was a climb up the pass, quick trip up Parsons Peak and then down to Ireland lake, eventually rejoining the trail.

summit shot

summit shot

More glaciers

More glaciers

More rocks

More rocks

Ireland lake brought more swimming, food, and relaxing.  We knew we only had a few more miles to go before rejoining the trail, which we were both reluctant to do — so we stayed at the lake until the storm clouds and thunder pushed us down below tree level.

Ireland lake

Ireland lake

Dropping below tree level always is a bummer for me, especially because we knew our trip was soon to end.  But we found a fairly secluded camp off the trail, set up near a stream and had fun sitting with our feet in the cold water – enjoying the fact that we knew where this stream had originated (the glaciers we had crossed up near Ireland lake).  The bugs pretty much sucked, so we retired early, planning to cruise through Lyell Canyon to get back to the car.

Lyell Canyon is an easy hike – flat but a beautiful walk along the Lyell River.  It is popular because it is also the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail — and that was where we saw our first people since we left Bernice Lake.  It was packed with tents (since we got an early start – we were out before most people were up).  All these people mean bears – which I had experienced when I did the John Muir Trail several years ago – but that was just at night (and I barely woke up to the bear trying to get at our food that night).

This year…..  Cody and I were walking along, talking and came around a corner and stopped in our tracks.  No more than 10 feet from us was a big ol’ bear!  We shouted – hey bear, hey bear! – and hit our trekking poles together.  The beat took one look at us and pretty much tripped over her own feet to get out of there.  It all happened so quick, of course we did not get a picture.  But it was awesome!

Back at the car, we cleaned gear and drank two tasty IPAs we had stashed for ourselves (kept cold by cool nights and the bear boxes).  All in all – a pretty awesome trip.

Our next trip....  back to Lyell and Maclure

Our next trip…. back to Lyell and Maclure

Details:

Day 1:  Tuolumne meadows to lake Bernice = 10.4m
Day 2: Lake B to unnamed peak to unnamed lake (12,200’+) = 8m of rock hopping
Day 3: unnamed lake up to parsons peak (12,147′) to Ireland lake to camp 3 = 6.5m
Day 4: camp 3 to lambert dome wilderness parking: 7.7

* Yosemite National Park has a permit system to get into the backcountry, which limits the number of people who enter onto a trailhead on any given day (and thus, people in the park).  Half of the permits can be reserved ahead of time, the other half are on a first-come, first-served basis, which is great for people who aren’t sure of their plans (like us).  The permit system keeps the wild wild.  It is a good thing, but can take some planning.

8 months in review….

13 May

8 months in review…..

Best Meal:

This is such a hard one…. I have had so much amazing food….  but here are a few of my favorites:

  1. grilled chicken from a street vendor in peru – plate with beet salad, maize and amazing chicken – though this was quickly overtaking by the roasted pig fresh out of the huge oven bought on the street a few days later.  Oh man, I could have had 3 plates worth!
  2. masala dosas in Southern Indian, eaten with my hands
  3. vietnamese soup from a street stall
  4. fresh fruit from the street vendors in bangkok
  5. not quite a meal but…. chai on the trains in india first thing in the morning

drying fish

Strangest food:

Oh man, SE Asia is the place for … different… food.  I wasn’t always terribly explorative but….

There is this sandwich that is really common in Vietnam.  It is combination of the French influence (a baguette) but truly Vietnamese – on one side is a pate-like substance, on the other there is butter.  Then you can choose between pork or a fried egg (or both). Then the condiments and extras include cucumber, tomato, chilies, fish sauce and other unknown stuff.  It is actually quite good – as long as you don’t think about the ‘pate’.

I had some meals in Thailand from the street carts that I have no idea what they were.  Some were strange, for sure.

And if I HAD tried it, baby bird still in the shell would make the top of the list!

Best Book

I have probably read close to 40 books this year.  I am a bit of a voracious reader, which was great because I read a lot, but not good because it meant that I finished books super fast.  So – I cannot remember them all – but one of my favorites was White Tiger by an Indian author.  It is super funny and reflective of life and people in India – I read it while there and I could not stop laughing.

things lost

2 pairs of underwear (but one was not my fault – the laundry service lost them!)

1 pair of socks (damn laundry service)

umbrella  – uh, no idea where I left that…..

my SA cell phone – also no clue….

Best Guesthouse

I have stayed in many many crappy places.  But I have also stayed in some really nice places – whether it was a guesthouse in Vietnam that over looked the beach, or a simple room in a family’s home in Nepal, or a clean room with my own bathroom in Huaraz – the  things that started to matter to me was quietness, cleanliness and bathrooms.  Funny how your needs start to get boiled down to simplicity….

sunrise on the ganges

Coolest Wildlife Sighting

Seeing mama and ‘baby’ rhino from the back of an elephant!  I mean, it was a rhino!  And they look just like the pictures….  (which I know sounds ridiculous but that was totally my reaction….)

going for an elephant ride (not comfortable!)

Most beautiful scenery

How could I possibly pick just one?  I have spent time in some of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the world – Himalayas, Andes, Patagonia.  I have visited Machu Picchu and temples of Bangkok.  I cannot possibly pick one place that was more beautiful than another. But the diversity of Bolivia, the mountains of Huaraz, the raw beauty of Patagonia and the grandeur of the Himalayas definitely stole my heart.

crossing the glacier

Toughest moment

There were definitely times in the fall when I had a crisis of faith what am I doing here?  What am I doing with my life?!  I remember one day in particular.  It was a rainy day in India, I was in Kochi, a city in Southern India.  At that point, I had been traveling for close to 3 weeks or so in India, by myself.  I was enjoying India, at times.  But was also finding it difficult – the constant staring, the constant feeling of being a spectacle, of being uncomfortable.  I was at a coffee shop and just spent the afternoon staring out in space, trying to figure out my purpose….  it was a rough period.

Biggest scam

When I arrived in Mumbai, I had to take a taxi from one train station to another.  It was quite early in the morning, still dark, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to do.  Taxis are always tough because they are really metered, you don’t know how much they should be charging you and how much you should bargain.  I found a driver and thought we had a deal.  When we got there, I paid him with a large bill (I can’t remember what it was, but I was almost positive it was enough to cover the fare).  For the sake of the story, let’s say it was a 100.  But, he told me, no, that is 20.  You need to give me more.  Confused, I handed over another 100.  Again, he told me that it was a 20.

Now, you have to remember that it was still dark out.  There is a chance that he was telling the truth.

But, I am pretty sure that I handed over a whole lot more than I should have.  My theory is that he dropped the money on the front seat and had a 20 there to show me.  Or, maybe I really was just overtired…..  Want to give him the benefit of the doubt but….. I think that I lost out on at least a few 100 rupees that day!

demon

meeting the locals….

I found the people in India to be incredibly funny and want to talk to me.  Of course, at first they stared, but if I smiled at them, chances were they would smile back.  I remember being in the train station in Varanasi and I had accidentally arrived early.  So, I joined everyone else in sitting on the floor.  There was a large group of women who were staring intensely at me.  I tried to smile, but it was hard to crack their stares.  Eventually, I got one of the little girls to smile at me – which in turn got the whole family to smile and giggle at me.  They waved me over and we spent 30 minutes of them staring at me, holding my hand, speaking to me in Hindu and me just smiling.  As they left, they all wanted to shake my hand.

Getting sick

I am not sure how I pulled this off, but I had it 8 months without getting sick – except for a few times that were pretty minor.  My body had a day or two adjustment from being a vegetarian for 4 months to jumping back on the meat-train (with no easing in).  Then in Bolivia, I got sick a few times, but mostly just for 24 hours or so. And one cold in Peru that lasted 48 hours or so.  Moral of the story? Traveling is really healthy for me.  Oh – and I lost my hand sani early on and never replaced it……  🙂

Craziest public transportation

This one is tough, as I took a lot of sketchy transportation this year.  I have been on auto-rickshaws and bike-rickshaws, motorcycles, buses, trans, cars, elephants.  And, as my brother can attest, I can be a nervous passenger.  But, for some reason, the sketchiness never really bothered me this year.  Maybe it is because people do not drive super fast, maybe it is because the lack of rules in so many places means that everyone understands that and works within those parameters (a lack of rules almost means that you are always expecting the unexpected).  And then there is the simple consolation for myself – well, I am sure the driver doesn’t want to die, so…. he’ll be careful., right?

But the craziest?  It was probably a rickety bus that had to be push started and had 4 out of 5 gears working and I could see the ground through the gear shaft.  And I was on it for 13 hours.  And the driver had to avoid dogs and monkeys and people and motorcycles.

worst food

This is hands down Argentina.  I mean, could the food get any more bland?  Yes, yes, I know – this is the land of steaks and good wine.  And I bet that if you have a lot of money to spend, you can have a really good steak. But, I never had a lot of money to blow.  So, I had some good steaks. And I had some good wine.  But on a whole, the food there is boring and bland.

worst guesthouse moment

This one is easy….  I was in Potosi, Bolivia and had gone to bed early, as I am prone to doing.  The other people in my room got back late – around 2 in the morning.  I was already annoyed with them, as it was a group of 3 and the couple of the group was staying in one bed above me (get your own room, please).  In any case, they were clearly a bit drunk, stumbling around, knocking things over. Eventually, they got into bed, when I heard the guy say to the girl above me ‘uh-oh, I think I am going to puke”.  And though I heard him clearly, his girlfriend seemed confused by what he was saying. In my head, I am screaming at her – get him out of the f’ing bed. But she is slow to respond.  Too slow, in fact.  And he pukes down the wall.  You know, down the hall onto the bed I am in.

Yeah, definitely a low point….

friendliest stranger encounter

There have been so many positive and helpful. Encounters with strangers – people have been kind of helpful to me all along the way.  But one memory, in particular was when I was in India trying to figure out how to get to this festival and I had to take a bus.  I could not find the street that I needed to take the bus on, so I got directions there.  When I approached the street, I saw that there were many buses to choose from – all written in a different language.  How would I ever know?  I asked a woman who was walking towards me – and she brought me over to the street, helped me find the bus and told the driver where I was headed.  When I thanked her, she said, “no problem.  You would do the same for me if I needed help in your country”.  Good reminder of what goes around, comes around….

3-faced buddha

Number of high passes (over 4500m) crossed (by foot)

  • 3 in Nepal (2 in the Everest region, 1 in the Annapurna region)
  • 3 in Argentina (2 in Patagonia, 1 on Aconcagua)
  • 4 in Peru (3 on the Ausungate circuit, 1 on the Lares trek)
  • and of course, 1 high summit in Bolivia!

how much rice eaten

let’s see….  I have been traveling for about 240 days.  Most of the countries I was in eat rice with their meals.  Let’s low-ball that I had about a ½ cup of rice with each meal.  And then let’s low-ball that 175 dinners were rice dishes, which means that I had approximately 87.5 cups of rice this year.  Which I would say is definitely a low-ball estimate…. which means that is a lot of rice.

Best luck (and worst luck)

I combined these too – because it was really hard to think of a time when I had bad luck.  Because even when things did not work out the way I had planned them, something always good happened to me. There was the time I had a day layover in Bengalore, but I ended up getting to sit poolside drinking gin and tonics.  And then there was that other time that I was delayed in getting to Huaraz, but my timing meant that I met my mountain guide.

poolside! always good to say yes!

how many miles/km walked

Ha.  Try and figure that one out – not only did I trek in Nepal, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.  But I also walked pretty much everywhere.  Like the day in Bolivia where I tried to walk to a school in La Paz – and it ended up taking me 3 hours.  Or all the times I was a cheap-ass and refused to take the bus or the taxi.  I mean, it has got to be 1000s and 1000s of kms….

biggest fear

Rickety buses?  no.

Muggings?  Nope.

Being abducted by a rogue taxi driver?  Hardly.

But being attached by animals?  Yep!  Top of the list.  And not just dogs (though they are definitely scary in South America), but my biggest fears are being attacked – no, that is not the right word – being charged by farm animals – you know, the cows, horses and yaks that are frequently in the areas where I trek.  I know that a cow is not likely to charge me, but surely it has happened before, no?  And the yaks are so damn big.  And donkeys are total spazzes, hard to predict what they will do!

And, just for the record, I was trekking through a meadow last week and a horse did try to charge me (swear to god!) and the dogs that were following me (I might have fed them…) charged the horse and barked at it and scared it off.

So, I think that my fear is justified.  Ok?!

fishing on the China Sea

Best ‘just say yes’ moment….

there have been a few….

  1. Getting invited to a fancy hotel and getting treated to lunch, G&Ts and dinner while sitting poolside in Bangalore
  2. Getting to visit a Peruvian school with a local teacher and meet and talk with her students
  3. Going to review maps with a mountain guide and then spending the next two weeks together!

rule of life — just say yes!

  1. Getting to try delicious food from all over the world when I let the ‘salesperson’ talk me into it!

Doing the tourist thing…

18 Apr

I woke up to the bus shuddering as the engine was killed. Everything was totally dark, except for a blinking yellow light outside from, what I would discover, was a construction truck. I overheard bus stewardess (not sure what else to call her) tell another passenger that there was a landslide. I closed my eyes figuring we would be moving on again soon.

Later, I felt the bus start again. When I looked at my watched, I was shocked to see that it was 4 in the morning — 7 hours later. We had sat on the side of the road for all that time, waiting for them to clear the road. Through the window, I could see the other trucks and buses pass, one at a time. When it was our turn, I could see where the road had been washed away and the pile of rubble still to cleared.

At 3 in the afternoon (the time we were suppose to arrive in Lima) when we stopped for lunch, I asked the bus stewardess what time we would be arriving. She told me that it would be another 7 hours. Now — I want you all to pull out your maps — yes, the world ones. And look for Peru. And look in the southern part of the country — there you go — find Cusco.  Ok — then look in the central part — find Lima. There you go. Now — see how far apart they are? Yeah — not so much, huh? Ok — now imagine that journey taking 29 hours.

yeah, i could barely believe it either.

We ended up arriving at 11 at night, 8 hours past when we were suppose. A half hour after my next bus to Huaraz was leaving.

And that, my friends, is how I came to spend an unexpected day in Lima with no plans whatsoever.

Peruvian coast

But — that is not the point of my story. Well, only part of it.

I did not know what to do today — so I walked around the area I was in, Miraflores, spent too much money on coffee and food. And took the double-decker tourist bus tour of the city.

Which I made fun of in other cities I have been in. In Cusco? I laughed at those poor suckers.

But there I was. In the front seat. Being that tourist with my camera as we drove by sights.

Sculpture in Parque del Amor (can you guess why it was named that?)

Which made me wonder to myself, why the scorn?  What is the problem with toursity things?

I am not quite sure – maybe it is that I have never really been a joiner.  And doing touristy things tends to mean that I am joining big crowds. Not my favorite thing.

But sometimes, touristy things, are touristy for…. well…. a reason.  Right?  I mean, the Eiffel tower is famous for a reason.  People go to Angor Wat for a reason.  Just like people flock to Machu Picchu for a reason.

And I was one of them.  Me, who doesn’t like crowds.  Me, who likes to be off the beaten track.  Me, who wants to go where others don’t.  If its harder, steeper, less people – yep, sign me up.  None of which defines Machu Picchu (or a double decker bus for that matter…).

But sometimes, those really tourist things are just worth it.  Machu Picchu is one of them.  Aguas Caliente, on the other hand, is not.  (there are two ways to get to MP – doing the Inca Trail, which treks right into the sight – but you have to reserve at the time of birth – and taking a train to AC and possibly spending the night there beforehand or afterwards.  I, needless to say, did not have reservations for the Inca Trail – so I took the train and spent the night there beforehand.  If any of you want to know how to do MP solo – I am happy to help – just send me a message – it is actually quite confusing….).

The good thing about spending the night there beforehand is that I was on the first bus up to MP – which meant that at 5 in the morning, I was waiting in line, in the rain, to head up to the site.  Which meant that I was one of the first people through the gate.  Which meant that I was one of the first people with a view of MP in the breaking dawn.

Of course I had seen pictures of MP before going, who hasn’t?  In fact, the above picture is taking by just about every one of the 500 visitors EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Yep, 500 people a day visit the ruins.  I am sure there are days when there are only 497 or 456, but that is still a lot of people.  And we all take the same picture.  So – I am sure you have seen it too.

Machu Pichu at daybreak

But, this is one of the touristy places that is really quite amazing.  In the early morning light, in the quite of morning with the birds chirping and swooping around (many swallows live in and around the site), I was blown away by the majesty of the site.  By how beautiful it is.  By how beautiful this world is and how truly blessed and lucky I am to be here, exploring and witnessing it all.

The clouds over the mountains in the distance

I spent the morning exploring the ruins and then climbed Huyana Picchu which is the mountain next to the ruins – in which there are ruins on the top of as well (Damn, those Incas – carrying stones up to the top of the mountain!).  It rained off and on for most of the day – but there were enough glimpses of sun to enjoy the views and the amazing orchids in the forested hills.

orchids on the surrounding hillsides

It was a day that I was glad to be doing the tourist thing.

looking down on Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

Solo trip

14 Apr

Though I have been traveling solo all year, I have never done a solo trip.  And by that I mean, a solo backpacking trip.  I have done lots of day hikes by myself and I have thought about doing some solo overnights, but I never got up the courage to actual go do it.

a few of the high alpine lakes near the pass in the Lares Valley

[Full disclosure — i did a one night overnight in Oregon a number of years ago with my dog — so kind of solo, but i wussed out on the trail I was going to do and headed back to the car early the next day]

When I was in Nepal, I thought about doing another trek (because if you remember, I was there when it was the rainy season).  But, I wussed out, not wanting to go by myself.  unsure of how it would be, unsure of the world around me.

So, here I was in Peru, wanting to get out of Cusco before my trip to Machu Picchu, wanting to trek more in the beautiful andes, but not having anyone to go with.  Do I wuss out and just do day trips?  Or do I put on my big girl pants and head out for my first solo trip?

sunrise on the mountains over Cancha Cancha – a traditional village close to 4000m up above the Sacred Valley

yep.  I put on the big girl pants.

I headed out for the Lares Valley, which leads up from the Sacred Valley.  I would do two days with the 3rd being a transport day to get to Aguas Caliente for my visit to Machu Picchu (but more on that in a different post).

looking back down into the Sacred Valley

I got my tent, my food, my map and headed out – taking buses to the trail head, asking locals for directions.  Feeling a little nervous, but ready to be out there.

So, what made this time different?

self-portrait (as usual)

I remember the first time I really, truly fell in love.  People all around me were telling me that I looked different.  That I looked good, that I was glowing and radiant and looking so happy (maybe looking a little bit better than that picture above…..).  I remember thinking, at first, well, that is strange — I don’t feel different.  I am not doing anything different.  Why would they be telling me that?

And then I realized what it was — I was happy.  I was content, in love with my man and in love with the world.  Life was …good.  And it showed in me — as I smiled and radiated my way through the world.  And though that feeling (and that relationship) ended, I remembered that time and that feeling well.

Which, is really similar to now.

Life is good.  There is no place that I would rather be, then right here, right now.

And that, in turn, gives me the courage to try the things I have not yet done – like trek solo.  Like talk to locals in my sometimes butchered spanish.  To smile and laugh with strangers.

And so I went and trekked solo.  And it was good.

Ausangate Circuit

8 Apr

ausangate masstif

In the book description of this trek, it reads that you get pretty much everything on this trek – from seeing indigenous villages, alpaca herds, snowy mountain ranges, vicuňas (wild alpaca-llama ancestors), hot springs, and hiking 80km at 3500m or higher.  They did not lie.  This was one of the better treks that I have been on (and, as my faithful readers know, I have been on some good treks this year).

have i ever mentioned how much i love mountains?

one of many small alpine lakes along the way

The Ausangate massif is a large chunk of mountain – with 4 or 5 summits, some huge glaciers and lots of snow and rock.  Over the past 5 days Joseph (a recent college grad who has spent the year in South America who I met through a post I put on the lonely planet forum looking for a hiking partner) and I hiked around it all.

early morning mountains

Though the weather was not perfect – we had everything from snow to hail to sleet to rain to sun – we got some great views of glaciers, alpine lakes and mountain tops. Our highest pass was 5100m, but the other two were 4700m and 5000m. We did see several vicuňas– strange sounding animals that are in the camel family.  We saw herds and herds of alpacas (funny looking animals that they are).  We spent time in two thermal hot spring baths.  We saw locals living their lives – tending to their alpacas or sheep.

little man we met on the trail

llamas up on the pass (they are carrying people’s gear)

Our third night, we meant to stay by a lake that was below our last past.  Earlier that day we had climbed up to our highest pass of 5100m and then down through a beautiful green valley.  On our way to the lake (that the book said had an excellent campsite), we had to climb back up.  As we continued to climb, we slowly realized we were approaching the last pass and somehow had missed the lake.  However, when we reached the pass, we found a tiny stream that would suffice for our water needs and decided to camp at 5000m – knowing that if the clouds cleared we would have some great views.  Though this made for a chilly night, we did have some great views in the morning and a beautiful walk down through the valley below.

sunrise over campo pass (5000m)

This trek can definitely be done in less than 5 days (the book even recommends backpackers to take 6 days!) – as we ended up having lots of tent time.  We only saw three other groups out there – one on horseback and the other two with horse teams (carrying their gear).  They all looked amazed that we were without guide and without horse support, but really, it was not all that hard of a trek.  The hardest part was the route finding – which accounted for about 25-40% of our time on the ‘trail’.

high alpine cactus

The mountains here are definitely amazing and I know that I need to come back (ideally during the dry season to maybe do some climbing!).  In the mean time, I have a ticket to Machu Picchu for Thursday and hope to do a trek to get out that way for three days in the Lares Valley – which is suppose to be beautiful.  Then I will hightail it (as quickly as one can go in the buses here) up to Lima and then Huaraz for one final last hurrah in the mountains!  Hard to believe that it is coming to an end….

hot springs, peru style