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April 31

1 May

One year.

It’s been a year since I flew out of Lima, back to NYC.

So many transitions and new starts this year, my head swirls as I think about all the new-ness.

There’s a lot I have been thinking about on this 1-year anniversary, and I will write more.  But in celebration of this day, I leave you with my entry stamp back into the US.

my passport -- check out the date.....

my passport — check out the date…..

The Last Night

11 Aug

The last night we were in Ecuador, I realized that it was my last night of my ‘year’ of travel.  I sat with my journal, after evening meeting and reflected on where I had gone and where I was going.  Here are  my thoughts from that night….

9 months.  7 countries.

Love. Growth. Breakthroughs. Reflection. Mountains. Learning. Mistakes. Letting go. Envisioning. Dreaming. Planning. Loving myself. Loving the world. Contentment. Popcorn.

Plazas. Alone. Walking. Thinking. writing. Journeys. Paths. love. Saying yes. Building bridges. getting ready for the next step. Jumping in. Finding my place. opening up. possibilities. disappointments. heartbreak. sitting with myself. Exploration. Chai. Thinking. Knowing. Wanting. Growing. Trying. Bridges. Breaking down walls. Awareness. Recognizing patterns. Interactions. Connections. Reaching out. Accepting help.

Watching. Being watched.

Accepting. Change. Smiling. Naming what I want. Falling in love. Mountains. Dreams. Openness. Growth. Reflection. Saying yes. Trusting my gut. Opening doors. Finding the positive. Taking risks.

Being scared. Trusting myself. Trusting the world. Smiles. Kids. Babies. Dark hair. Dancing. Knowing what I deserve (and believing it to my core).

Essentials. Taxis. Trains. Buses. Auto-rickshaws. Sherpas. Nepalis. Indians. Thai. Vietnamese. Argentines. Patagonia. Aconcagua. Bolivia. Cusco. Huaraz.

Stephanie. Christian. Chloe. Beth. Bijay. Michael. Lisa. Katherina. Alan.

Growth. Love. Yes.

The last phase

16 Jul

We’ve hiked.  We’ve trekked.

We’ve been in the jungle.  and gone white water rafting.

and seen large spiders.  and cooked our own meals.  and treated our water.  some of us have gotten a little sick.  we’ve taken long bus rides.

we’ve climbed mountains.

we’ve learned about each other and learned about ourselves.  everyone has taken the reins as leader or as cook. Everyone has gotten and given feedback on what they are doing well and how they can improve.

everyone has been stretched.

and now, we have just 10 days left in country.

Today we head to cayambe where we will go to a school outside of town and camp there, in the school, for about 5 or 6 days.  There we will work with the local community and help make the school a better place for teaching and learning.

even though it is summer vacation for the students here, our group is hoping that there will be students there.  everyone wants to practice their spanish and deliver the toys and good stuff they brought with them.  I foresee a futbol game in the near future!

I am looking forward to seeing the good work that this group of young people that I have seen grow over the past 3 weeks will do!

the group on the Quilotoa loop

Trying new things

13 Jul

I am sitting in the sun, overlooking the city of Otovalo and Imbabura (a mountain).  We are arrived at the Rose Cottage cabanas today and now everyone is either chilling in hammocks, reading their summer reading (so responsible) or playing table tennis.  Life is good….

Hard to believe that we have been in Ecuador for a little over two weeks (and have a little less than two weeks to go!!!).  So far we have hiked near the Quilotoa crater, sampled a lot of rice, potatoes and chicken, gone white water rafting, done a jungle trek, been freaked out about spiders and bugs, seen some awesomemariposas, and laughed a lot.

Tomorrow we are going to head into Otovalo for the saturday market — which is a huge market (s0me of the kids are REALLY excited to go shopping).  Some of us will also go to the animal market earlier in the morning.  Then on Sunday we will be spending the day getting ready for a project — which will be at a school outisde of Cayambe — where we will be for close to a week.

It is great to hear the students expand their boundaries – to go from freaked out about bugs and buses and food to being able to navigate their way through bus terminals, speak to locals and get their needs met.  Everyone has pushed their boundaries in a good way – and we are reaping the benefits of thoughtful reflection and growth!  It is awesome to see folks trying new things — I even got cookies out of it (I bet a student that she would like white water rafting — she was convinced that she wouldn’t.  Guess who won?!)

Will post pictures when my internet connection allows for it…..

Back in South America

5 Jul

Hearing the Spanish soon after arrival thrilled me…  it was so good to be back.  Driving through the streets after our late night arrival, seeing the signs in Spanish, speaking with our driver….  so good to be back.

Four months here stole my heart.  I just know I am meant to spend a lot of time here.  I know that I am suppose to learn how to speak Spanish.  I just know that I am meant to trek and climb more in the Andes.  And so, being back here just feels right.

I am here, this time, with 13 kids and 2 teachers in tow.  Or more like it, I am in tow of them!  I am leading an expedition for World Challenge for the month of July here in Ecuador.

and so, needless to say, it is different this time around….  but pretty amazing to see this world that I love so much through the eyes of the students.  To hear them try and express themselves, to hear them try and figure out how to get from Point A to Point B and to navigate the markets and get buses.  I remember it quite well…..

We just finished a trek around Quilotoa crater – a pretty amazing crater lake.  And tomorrow we return to El Chaupi, which is just south of Quito where we will gather supplies, rest up and then head out for our mountain climb on Saturday of Ruminahui (my spelling of that might be off….).

It is fun working with students again, and great to be sharing with them a place I love.  They all are pretty awesome and we definitely laugh, a lot.

pictures and more coming soon…..

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!


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!

Money, money, money

10 May

My goal, this year, was to get by on $30/day (outside of my flights and insurance).  I did really well for the first 5 or 6 months, and then things went downhill, or uphill….  or….  whatever direction — all I know is I spent more money!

Here is what I did not spend money on:

  • Tourist restaurants – for the most part I avoided them, especially since the food was way better at the local places!
  • Taxis – I just walked everywhere for the most part
  • New clothes and shoes
  • Laundry – I probably paid for laundry service no more than 10 times this past year.  Ok, maybe 15. I got really good at washing my clothes in the shower (the trick? Wear your pants into the shower to wash them!)
  • Gifts.  Yes, I know that it would have been nice to bring back some good stuff for my family and friends – but when you are carrying everything on your back, you just do not want to add a whole lot more to the pile.  Plus, I figure that my pictures will make for some really great gifts!

Here is what I did spend money on (which pushed my budget up, especially towards the end):

  • Getting my own room in South America – hotels, and single rooms, are just more expensive in SA. And I did not use couch surfing much at all, which would have saved me plenty of money
  • Buying books when I could not find a good exchange
  • Cafes – I often (like most days) treated myself to coffee and some sort of cake/browning/sweet in the afternoons – this was also when I would write, journal and blog
  • Street food – sure, cheaper than the tourist restaurants, but those $1 bags of fruit add up in Bangkok when you get 10 of them (but oh so damn good!)
  • Big ticket tourst – Palaces and temples in Bangkok, Machu Picchu
  • Buses (and one flight) in Argentina!
  • Going out to eat versus cooking in – most hostels in South America had kitchens.  I did not utilize them enough – but cooking for one seemed difficult

Next time?

More couch surfing, less hotels

More cooking, fewer restaurants

But…. final tally…. NOT counting any flights….

I came in around …. drumroll please….. $28.50/day for the whole 8 months!

Always say yes….

29 Apr

I was feeling a little stuck on what to do with my time — not enough time to really go anywhere else, too rainy to go trekking. I did many of the local day hikes. What next? I read guidebooks, I looked through newspapers, asked people — but I felt a little stuck.

the mountains above laguna 69

I heard of a local school run by a nonprofit that was trying to do education a little different. I made contact and she invited me up to see the property and the school. So, on Thursday morning, I headed up to visit.  The property itself was beautiful, up near the mountains. And the school was interesting – trying to do things differently. I met the teacher, watched the 12 kids, ages 3-5 play and then headed back down the mountain.  It was a 3K walk to where I could catch the colectivo (which is basically a mini-van that acts as a bus between short distances).

napping at the lake

On my way down, I ran into the teacher who was also headed to the colectivo. We started talking and came to realize that we were both biology teachers.  She was headed to her second job – another school where she taught for two afternoons a week – and she invited me to join in!  So, of course I said yes.

We had to get lunch on the way – she asked me if I had tried ceviche yet (basically raw fish that is stewed in an acidic juice that ‘cooks’ the fish).  I had really wanted to try it, but was a little afraid of choosing the right place – raw fish just seems to me to be one of those things that I did not want to choose wrong for!  So – this seemed to be a great opportunity.  Surely a local would know where to go!  And I did not go wrong – it was delicious!

these flower that I became obssessed with taking pictures of

Then, we headed to her school – which is a private school, though the building was dull, a bit run down and seemingly put together in a hurry.  The classrooms were cement floors, the plywood walls separating the classrooms seemed haphazardly built and some of the rooms did not have doors.  The teachers had no supplies except chalk for the boards.  And this was a private school.

In any case, Flor took me to her three science classes.  One was roughly a 7th grade, another was maybe 8th or 9th and the third maybe 9th or 10th.  In each class, I introduced myself and talked about my travels.  As I have mentioned, my spanish is not fabulous and my accent is even worse (the words pero and perro sound the same, caro and carro – same).  And of course these are teenagers — so they giggled over my words and accent.  But Flor, being a smart teacher, told them that I couldn’t speak well but that I could understand everything!  🙂  They asked about food in America (um, everyone else’s food?), travel in India (with amazement that they do not eat meat OR chicken there!), and whether I liked peru (si, me gusta mucha!).

flower stalk

It was so fun visiting with them, they were all so cute in their uniforms (basically a track suit with the the school’s insignia all over it).  There was lots of staring and shy smiles.  They laughed when I said all the verbs in Spanish were tough, and even agreed with me!  We talked about college and I told them about the school I use to work at and about my students.  It was great.

Following the classes (3 classes, each 1.5 hours), Flor and I walked back (turns out she lives right near the guesthouse I have been staying at).  On the way, we stopped for dinner — anticucho – a peruvian dish — which is basically grilled cow heart with fries (of course — as no meal here is complete without papas).  It was delicious (as long as I did not get too focused on the texture).

All in all, it was such a fun day — what a surprise!

the clouds finally cleared

We spoke in spanish (or castellano as it is called here) all day — there were a number of times when I just barely understood her and answered her question in a slightly related way.  But she was patient with me and helped me with my verb tenses (damn you past and future!  I just want to be in the moment!).

The next day, we met early in the morning and I went to her class with her for the little kids – who were adorable.  One of them, who definitely would be one of the boys that would later be one of the ones in my class that I do well with (a little wild, a little off the wall, a little too spontaneous) , would come running up to me, throw his arms around my neck and hang on while giving me a kiss on the cheek.  I mean, how can you not fall a little in love?!

I felt super useful too, because I helped Flor translate some activities she had in a book that was all in English — so that was fun for me (and good practice — I have some new words in my vocabulary.  Like planchar, though not super useful!).

This unexpected day and a half was a great reminder for me in my waning days of travel.  Always say yes (i mean, unless no is a smarter choice).  But — say yes to the unexpected.  Trust your gut.  Go big and trust the world.  Say yes.

Laguna 69

Pictures are from my hike to Laguna 69. 

I hate quitting

22 Apr

It rained all through the night.  But at least it stopped for a bit when I got out of the tent in the morning.  The mountains were not as fully obscured by clouds as they have been the day before.  I quickly packed my sopping wet tent and had breakfast, which I finished just in time for everything to change.

donkeys in the valley

The clouds rolled in, the rain started and my shivering commenced.

did i mention that it was rainy season?

I stood in the rain, looking up at where the mountains were (though I could not see them).  My plan for the day was to head over the pass into the next valley and head out – a nice three day loop.  However, part of finding the pass was taking a bearing off of the mountain.

You know, the mountain I could not see.

good morning – 10 minutes before the rain started

As I stood in the rain, I debated about whether or not to go back to Huaraz, hang out with my new friend, the mountain guide.  There, I could sit in a warm cafe, sipping coffee.  Or, should I push on?  Try and wait out the rain?

I have a tendency to not want to quit situations.  In fact, I hate quitting.  I have long stayed with situations (places, relationships, jobs, etc.) long after it was time for me to move on.

If I just stick it out long enough, surely things will change.  Tomorrow is bound to be different. 

And, surprise, suprise, it hasn’t changed, for the most part.

in the valley

But, this year, I have had the ability (courage?) to walk away from situations that weren’t working for me.  Don’t like the hostel?  Move on.  Don’t like the city?  Move on.  Feeling overwhelmed by travel?  Stay put.

I have not viewed it as quitting, but more so as taking care of me and my needs.  A powerful lesson at any point.

But, as the rain seemed to pick up and I decided to retreat down the valley, I had a moment (or several) of feeling like I was quitting on this trek, and feeling frustrated with myself.  [and just for the record, it is not like a little rain scares me — any of you who have spent any time in Maine in the summer know what I have dealt with in the past….]

But, for the most part, even though the sun came out (damn you…..), I felt sure of my decision.  Not that it was definitely the right decision (I did end up missing out on trekking), but it was more of a feeling of being settled with my actions, whatever they are.

the Quilcayhuanca valley that I was walking up. One of the rare moments I could see the mountains.

No…. I don’t wanna leave….

18 Apr

Quick update on my plans in my remaining 12 days…..  (EEK!  how did this happen?  why did this happen?!  no……)

I am in Huaraz, the climbing and trekking capital of Peru (think Touching the Void mountains…..).  I spent the day yesterday getting organized for a trek.  Opted tonot do the Huayhuash circuit (mountains of Touching the Void) because it would be a little rushed and expensive and long to do solo – and the season is not right (it is on the bucket list…high on the bucket list – like kind of kills me to not be doing it now… ).

I am going to do two shorter treks in the Cordillera Blana after consulting with a local guide who gave me all sorts of beta and recommendations.  I spent the day collecting food and gas, etc. for my first 4 day trek but it rained ALL day.  It was actually quite miserable.  So, I decided to spend another day in Huaraz before trekking — let the snow up on the high pass settle.  Of course I woke this morning to amazing blue skies….  but he guide promised to show me some great stuff close to town.

So, hoping tomorrow is good weather when I leave for another solo trek (go me!).