Category Archives: Miles/Travels

Africa Week 3: Rafting the Zambezi

Our first rafting day! We were finally going to face the rapids of the Zambezi. Before breakfast I enjoyed my own yoga practice on the deck of the pool overlooking a distant watering hole, active with animals. After joining Jody in the dining room to eat eggs benedict and bacon, I gathered what I would need for the next three days and stuffed it in my dry bag, hoping that the day we carried all of our gear on the rafts, the bag would live up to its name. We loaded a safari truck for a short drive to the entry point, and then proceeded down steep metal stairs and rock trail from the top of the gorge to the bottom all while wearing or carrying our life jackets, helmets, and paddles. The rafts waited for us in the water, and each person claimed a raft and a captain to ride with for the next three days.

Jody and I along with Gaston, Saira, Jerad, and Kay (and sometimes David) along with our fearless river guide, Lorenzo, formed, what we would later call ourselves, Team Fireball (self-named for our awesomeness or because we had a bottle of Fireball in the raft thanks to Jerad and Saira). The 21 rapids we faced that day (and would redo the following day) had several class V rapids; most notable: rapid 5 (Stairway to Heaven), 9 (Commercial Suicide) which we portaged around, 12 and 13 combined (The 3 Ugly Sisters and The Mother), and rapid 18 (Oblivion). As we approached each rapid, Lorenzo told us the different routes we could take through the rapid and the one that he wanted to take. Sometimes he said, “I don’t know what will happen. We’ll see how Nyami Nyami feels. Just get down and hang on!” Nyami Nyami is a mythical snake/fish creature that personifies the characteristics of the river. When we started the trip, everyone was given a Nyami Nyami hand-carved from bone to remind us of the power of the river.  Rapid 18 became our team’s challenge, and we approached it from the middle, the most difficult route, but with the biggest wave train. As we rafted through the middle, we hit the first wave and water splashed over us. We hit the second wave and more water came into the boat. We hit the third wave, and water anialited our boat. The river swept us all from the boat and into rapid 18…everyone except our guide, Lorenzo. I got caught swimming circles in an eddie, and Lorenzo threw me a rope to drag me in. We rescued the other members of Team Fireball as our boat continued down river. It was my first time to swim while rafting. We watched the other rafts attempts at the same route and saw almost everyone ejected from the rafts. Rapid 18 is the most famous on the Zambezi for flipping boats, and we were all on an amazing adrenaline rush after getting back in the rafts and continuing down river for the short trip to our camp. To see the carnage, check out this YouTube Video of Rapid 18.

Our landing spot for the evening fell in the middle of rapid 21, which was not difficult, and looking up as we neared the site, we saw a group of men dressed in African tribal attire dancing and singing amazing harmonies to welcome us there. We all watched and listened (some joined their dancing) while we changed out of wet clothes, grabbed a beer, and took in the beauty of the place. Massive rock walls surrounded us on either side, the river played its song below, and our camp was a wide expanse of soft sand that rose into trees and brush to the wall behind us. The singers finished their serenade and several people from the group took their sleeping pads and joined me as I led evening yoga on the helipad that happened to be at the site overlooking the river. We ended yoga just as dinner was announced and the moon was shining brightly overhead. We ate dinner, surrounding the campfire, talking and learning about one another’s stories and listening to different people sing their talents. When sleep overtook us, some people crawled into tents and others, me included, slept under the stars on a layered system of sand, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.  Surprisingly, no bugs bothered us, and though I woke up several times in the night, I watched with pleasure the moon set and Orion travel through the expanse of sky, stars, and uninhibited darkness until dawn began to color the sky.

Then we got up and did it again. We first, however, had to get out of the beach area where we camped. Though our itinerary mentioned a hike, we were not prepared for long, steep trail lined with tree branches that had been secured across the trail to prevent us from sliding and falling backward. It seemed like we climbed 1000 feet in the distance of 500, and just when I thought I had reached the top, I found a false summit. I turned to the right and looked skyward to see the real summit. Taking their own pace, each paddler trickled to the top, feeling like we were pushing water uphill. After everyone summited, we rode in open air safari vehicles to proceed down the same steep climb we did the previous day. The same rafts. The same rapids. The same lunch and lunch spot. But nothing is ever exactly the same. This time when we went through rapid 18, hardly anyone swam…except me. Everyone made it through the middle, over the big wave. Somehow when I looked up to grab the rope on wave 3, all I saw was a wall of water rushing toward me. I was out of the boat, in the water, and swimming toward shoreline, when my boat rescued me. The rapid was considered a success, and everyone was elated, including me! We made it back to the campsite, and though the singers weren’t present to welcome us, everything else remained: the magic of eating, talking, singing, and camping on the beach of the great Zambezi.

In the morning, we all packed our dry bags and passed them down to the rafts to be loaded for the self-supported part of the trip. With all our gear in the rafts, we again started down the Zambezi toward our new camp. The river didn’t have as many big rapids through this section, but still a few that were noteworthy. Fewer people run this part of the river, and they don’t usually number the rapids, only name them. It was a beautiful day as we rafted through The Narrows, tight canyons of black Basalt rock for several big wave trains and boiling rapids. Toward the end, we came to a large rapid called Lower Moemba, and as we watched the first boats go through, they completely disappeared into the waves and water, and then popped out a couple seconds later. Lorenzo reminded us of the power of the water and told us to get down, hang on, and see what would happen. As we moved into the rapid, I saw a wave crash over the front of the raft, then another wave overflowed the right side, and then a towering wave from the left submerged us. I felt my legs go under the bolster in front of my seat as the water rushed over us, and I held on to the straps in the boat. We were sinking, and then, suddenly, we popped out of the water into the sunlight – our boat completely swamped, but completely intact (aside from a few missing water bottles). We all yelled, “Fireball!”, gave the traditional paddle high five, and continued down river. The next rapid, Chabango Falls, was a large waterfall that we had to portage by dragging all of the rafts up and over a rock wall. Because they were full of gear, this task proved to be difficult, but working together, we finally portaged all three passenger boats and the gear boat to the other side.

We arrived to our new campsite a little later – a nice beach of soft, white sand with a trail up to a wide mesa of more soft sand.  We ate and some slept at the lower level while others chose to climb up the mesa to sleep a little closer to the stars. Where the sand ended, the black basalt rock began, and we hiked a short distance for an amazing view of the waterfalls we had previously portaged. It was, again, an amazing night with dancing, music, food, and drink around the campfire on the beach. Some of our guides sang and danced for us, and we only tried to keep up with their musical magic. It was our last beach night, and I again slept under the stars and watched as Orien made his way across the sky.

Our raft time to the take-out point the next day was short. Each member of Team Fireball took the time to write a favorite quote on our paddles for the next paddler to contemplate. Mine? “You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” A large open-air bus picked us up after hiking from the river to the road, and we found ourselves driving through the real lives of the people of the Zimbabwe country-side. We stopped at a local school so Melinda and Robert could give a few school supplies to the kids, and it was great to see what school was like for them. They had amazing smiles and curiosity, and we drove away with a few of them running after the bus. Then we traveled to our last resort, Elephant Camp, individual tents with every luxury you can imagine: indoor shower, bath tub with bath salts and robes, outdoor shower, cool plunge pool, deck, sitting area, mini bar, and the magical mosquito netting. When we first arrived, keepers brought the elephants for us to pet and photograph – Jumbo, the elephant, was our photo buddy. After about twenty minutes of mingling with Jumbo, we all separated to shower (again much needed), rest, and ready for the evening safari drive ending in drinks and horderves while overlooking a pond that reflected the sunset. Taking in the evening, everyone talked and visited until the drivers collected us and took us back to Elephant camp for dinner. With satisfied bellies, we fell asleep, our beds surrounded in the dreamy cloudiness of mosquito netting and minds dancing with visions of the great Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Our final full day began lazily with breakfast and lingering as we enjoyed Elephant Camp before getting swim ready to go to the falls. Before we left, caretakers brought Sylvester, the pet Cheetah for us to pet and take photos with. Sylvester was found in the wild after a lion attacked and killed his mother and four siblings. Though they tried to release him to the wild, he was not able to survive on his own. Now they use him to help educate people on this vulnerable species.  After visiting with Sylvester and eating lunch, we drove to the Zimbabwe/Zambia border to pass through customs and see the falls in Zambia. Many people want this experience of being in the water before it falls, so when our group arrived, we were guided like clockwork to get to the site. We took a small speed boat through the upper waters of the falls to a location where we could capture part of the magnificence fall. Then, we swam across a canal of water and climbed into Devil’s Pool to look over the edge and see the water falling 355 feet below us. It was an amazingly surreal experience to be so close to the edge. We stayed in the water a moment, and then the guides escorted us to a serving area where we enjoyed drinks and appetizers, which were amazingly delicious. We all ate reservedly because we knew we had a big meal for the celebration of our last night. As we left the facility to board our van, three wild zebras were eating the green grass of the lawn, and we stopped to take pictures as close as we dared (they’re mean!).

When we returned to Elephant camp, we got ready to share our last evening together as a group. Lorenzo’s amazing wife Terry, had not joined us on the rafting portion of the trip, and instead visited a friend in Capetown and in the process collected several South African wines to host a tasting for us before dinner. We enjoyed the wines, and then carried the leftovers to an outdoor dining area set with an exceptional feast. The singer/dancers greeted us again, and we celebrated birthdays for Diego and Saira with cake, kudu, pasta, potatoes, mopani worms and every other delicacy you can imagine.

And so our time in Africa ended, a magical variety of experiences, people, and new friendships. It’s difficult to convey the depth of gratitude I have for this trip. Jody and I both called it a “trip of a lifetime” as we saved money for two years to prepare to go. It was definitely unforgetable, and I hope I get to do it again.

To see a video that Jody put together of all the weeks in Africa, click here.

 

Africa Week 2: The Animals!

Jody and I reached Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and met with our group in the airport. Bio Bio Expeditions (based in the US) worked in conjunction with Wild Horizons (based in Africa) to organize the trip. Our group of 20 took shuttles to the first lodge, Imbabala, a small, magical (or so it seemed) resort with individual bungalows surrounding a large center yard where we ate family-style meals all sitting together at one long table. The food and the atmosphere amazed as we looked at the Zambezi river from the table and from our porches. We could see elephants swimming to the island in the river and hear hippos calling to mark their territory. We watched groups of 100 or more impalas bed down in the yard between our huts and the river and wondered what animals the night watchmen chased from the area while we slept. We had high tea each of the three days there at 3:30pm and boarded the pontoon boats afterward to watch the sunset from the water while drinking gin and tonics made by our boat driver and trying to catch glimpses of animal activity. We safaried on the grounds around the lodge, seeing a slue of animals and birds that were once only real to me in zoos and childhood stories, and when we went to our rooms at night, the beds had been surrounded by sheer veils of mosquito netting. It was truly an exquisite place.

We took two excursions while staying at the Imbabala. Our first excursion was an adrenaline-pumping trip to the gorge swing and zipline, and when we arrived to Victoria Falls River Lodge, those who dared donned harnesses to await their turn. While we waited we gazed down 355 feet down into the beautiful, gaping gorge that held the Zambezi River at it’s bottom, which we would raft in the days ahead. Jody and I both decided to do the biggest of the three options available – the gorge swing. We had three options for leaving the platform: stepping off forward, falling off backward, or doing a handstand on the edge and diving in. I chose the handstand and before the countdown ended, the weight of the ropes pulled me from the platform, and I free-fell, screaming, for 210 feet. The ropes caught, and I swung to within 70 feet of the river at the bottom of the gorge, where a large crocodile lurked in the water. My heart resettled in my chest as I hung in my harness over the great Zambezi at the rope’s end waiting to be raised back to the platform. Several people in the group did one or all of the adventures, and we took video and pictures of everyone screaming like little kids. It was a great bonding time.

Our second outing took us to Chobe National Park in Botswana, a refuge for all kinds of African animals. The first half of the day, we took a boat on the river through the park to see the wildlife and the second half of the day was by truck. We saw hippos, elephants, impala, kudu, water buck, wart hogs, baboons, water buffalo, giraffes, crocodiles, and birds of all kinds. The guide told us that over 120,000 elephants live in the park. I did not know that many elephants existed, and it was amazing to see them in a natural, protected habitat.

On our last night at the Imbabala lodge, some of us went on a night safari. When we went on safari in the open-air trucks with stadium seating, we drove in what seemed like endless circles through the bush. I asked the guide if he ever got lost. His response? “You are never lost; you are only temporarily unsure of your position.” I like that. Soon after we were greatly rewarded on our night safari by seeing two hyenas, a lioness, and an adolescent lion – the first and only big cats we saw in the wild. Early the next morning another group went on safari and saw the lion and lioness mating. All of the animals we saw were completely wild… and some very close to our lodge – so close that some people had a wild elephant eat out of a tree next to their hut, proving that the watchmen were a necessary part of this place.

The Lioness
The Lioness

We left Imbabala on day three and paddled down the river in crocs, inflatable canoes, to reach our camp site along the river for the night. We maneuvered around a few hippos, but the first day was very low-key on flat water. When we arrived, the staff had erected tents with mattresses in them for our posh camp site and the group dinner table and serving table both had table cloths. Otherwise, the space would have looked like another shore on the river with trees and brush and sand. They made a meal of potatoes, chicken, and vegetables, and then we sat around the camp fire and listened to the night while talking and sipping on glasses of wine before going to bed.

The next morning, sunrise called us out of our tents where basins of hot water waited for us to wash our faces. We ate a hot breakfast and then put on our life jackets to start down the river for a second day in the crocs. At one point the guide told us to swing right to avoid a hippo on the left and as we watched the hippo on our left, a large hippo surfaced and began charging from the right. The group split in two and we paddled like mad to get away from both hippos. Luckily, they were spoof charges, and everyone made it safely through the chaos. A few small rapids, more hippos, and one crocodile later, we made it to our take-out point.

We rode in safari vehicles to our next bed, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, to shower (it had been a few days), rest, and have dinner at a theatrically African restaurant. They served all kinds of local foods, and I tried wart hog, impala, African Guinee hen, and kudu…as well as mopani worms (slightly squishy and chewy and crunchy, but not bad). Then, everyone in the restaurant was given a djembe drum, and we, along with the other 200 diners in the place, tried (and failed miserably as a group) to play a beat.  Luckily, the real musicians had microphones on their drums, and we still experienced some African rhythm. After the dinner experience, we walked back to the hotel and went to bed to get good rest before we started the next part of our great adventure: rafting the first 21 rapids of the great Zambezi.

I continue to be mesmerized by all the beauty in this world – and the similarities across time and space. I am so thankful for this time and these experiences wandering through the world.

 

Africa Week 1: Better Luck Next Time

Better Luck Next Time

After waiting for seven hours in the Heathrow London Airport where Jody and I started our journey together, we flew 11 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa, and immediately boarded a train to Cape Town. The countryside looked like New Mexico – literally – I could have been traveling between Farmington and Albuquerque, until we almost reached Cape Town. Towards Cape Town, we started seeing fields and vinyards and people, who waved to the train with smiling faces as it passed. One of our train car neighbors was a small family from Johanesburg with two adorable little boys, who we got to help intertain. After trying everything on the train’s menu, sleeping for who knows how many hours, and taking pictures of the sunset and sunrise, we finally arrived in Cape Town on Thursday, 30 hours after leaving Johanesburg and 42 hours after leaving London.

We rode from the train station with a guy who posed as our Uber car (yikes!), still making it safely to Camps Bay, where we stayed at an AirBnB with Vaughn, a lawyer for a grocery chain in the area.  Vaughn talked a little about what he did, saying that they had begun putting stores in Zimbabwe but that the government required 51% ownership and profits. Because fresh produce is very difficult to get there, the store is still wildly profitable. Whoa, politics.

Jody and I planned to go the next day for a cage dive with the great white sharks a couple hours from Cape Town, but our reservation was cancelled due to weather. Better luck next time, said the guy on the phone. Jody did not give up, though.  He called several more companies who said the same thing but also received a suggestion to go to Mossel Bay – four hours away instead of two.  So, we made a reservation for Saturday and spent the day riding the red bus around Cape Town. We saw a few sites, ate a good breakfast, and did a little (three rushed) wine tastings before we missed the tram up Table Mountain by 10 minutes. Better luck next time. We rented a car, and Jody took the first turn at driving on the left side of the road. We promised to help each other remember where to go and which side to drive on.

Early the next morning, we drove across South Africa to visit Mossel Bay. Agriculture surrounded us on our drive east until we reached the bay and went immediately to our shark dive.  This shop, White Shark Africa, was the only shop going out to see great whites that day, and they happened to be a conservation and education center.  So, we learned that males and females are not of reproductive age until 28 and 32 years respectively, that great whites are over fished for their fins for shark fin soup, and that sharks biting humans usually comes from sharks misinterpreting humans in murky water or misinterpreting their electrical signal when they’re hunting waves on surf boards. After being educated, we got on the boat and went to Seal Island, a small island of rock where the seals lived and the sharks hunted. We put on wetsuits and jumped into a rickety cage in the water. We did not wear regulators. It was actually easier to see above the water, but still really incredible when the sharks swam only a foot away or accidentally ran into the cage under water. We saw seven different great whites, the largest measuring about 15 feet. They were all young because the older sharks don’t get tricked by the chum in the water. Black Gill, a feisty male they often see in the bay, made an appearance and jumped out of the water to get the tuna heads used for bait. It was an incredible experience. Before we left Mossel Bay to make the long drive back, we mailed a few post cards from the oldest post office in South Africa.

As we headed back to Cape Town, we decided to stop and taste gin from a distillery Vaughn recommended, Inverroche. Though the sign said they closed at 4p, the lady inside insisted that tastings were over and would not allow us to taste. It was 3:30p. Better luck next time. We went to a small farm café down the road where they had the gin (to taste but not to buy) and received tasting guidance from a group of five guys who had just purchased six bottles a piece. The gin was incredibly delicious, but none of those guys offered to sell a bottle. Better luck next time. We made it back to Cape Town just in time to eat for a second time at the incredibly delicious Cod Father restaurant and then went to bed. The next day we woke early and drove ourselves to the airport to fly to Victoria Falls to begin our safari and rafting journey.

Aside from the time and money to fly to Cape Town, it was an incredibly affordable place to vacation. Our meal at the Cod Father, where you chose your own fish, lobster, and prawns from a case of fresh seafood, cost $40 the first night we ate there, including a bottle of wine, and $55 the second time. The beaches were beautiful, and I would have loved to do more wine tasting and see more of Cape Town itself. I will definitely try to go back. Better luck next time.

 

Italy Week 2: The Dolomites

We took trains to get from the western Italian coast to the Italian Alps in the East.  I found myself unable to stay awake and drooling as the trains rocked and hummed through fields of corn and vineyards of grapes.

What a magnificent place, the Dolomites of Italy. When Anita and I talked about where we wanted to go, we knew that we wanted to be in the Alps somewhere.  At first, I wanted to go to the Swiss Alps, which I still think would be amazing, but we decided to go to the Dolomites when we couldn’t find an open reservation for the Swiss Alps.  We took several trains and a bus to reach Cortina in northern Italy.  I did not know that northern Italy was once Austria and much of the cultural influences come from that history.  Nornthern Italy came under Italian control during WWI.  Many historic sites including tunnel systems and the Via Ferrata are in the Dolomites from WWI.  We booked a self-guided hike through the company Dolomite Mountains.  We were not disappointed. They booked all of our taxis, nights at the hotel in Cortina, stays and meals at the rifugios, and our guide on the Via Ferrata. Cristina, our informant for the trip, met us our hotel the night before the start of our hiking.  She had a map with the course for each of our five days clearly marked, each rifugio (mountain refuge) we were to stay at, and any voutures we needed for food.  Tent camping is actually illegal in the mountains surrounding the Cortina area.  Instead, backpackers book rooms at a refugio where warm beds, hot showers, and amazing home-cooked meals are provided.  All we had to carry was our clothes, sleep sack, snacks, and water. It’s the most posh backpacking I’ve ever done.

Our first day we started a Lake Braies.  We hiked about 8 miles and climbed around 5000 feet of elevation, taking lunch at a refugio half-way through our hike. Feeling fresh on the first day after our lunch, we summited an additional peak and had some incredible views of the lake where we started. The views from the top were amazing, but I was most captivated by the bells we could hear throughout the valleys. All the cows where them, and when they eat, the bells ring, and when all the cows are eating it creates a soft, wind-chime like effect that enchants the valley. We listened a bit, ate some Nutella, and then hiked on to Refugio Fedaro, where we ate and slept our first night.  We also encountered a famous German talk show host, though we didn’t know it, who let me borrow his 3-day-old carbon fiber mountain bike for a quick ride in the mountains. I can’t tell you how excited I was to ride!  We kept up this schedule for the next few days: breakfast at the refugio, hiking to a lunch refugio, eating lunch, hiking to our evening dinner and rest refugio, shower, eat, sleep, repeat.

It sounds a bit monotonous, but the scenery of our hikes removed the monotony and made it absolutely amazing.  Because I live in Colorado and hike frequently at elevations over 10,000 feet, I thought the 7,000 – 8,000 foot elevations of the Dolomites would be easy.  I was incredibly wrong.  The Rockies, though difficult, have saddles connecting many of the peaks. I have a post from September 2014 describing my 100-mile hike along the Colorado trail.  It was tough.  The Dolomites, even though at a lower elevation, are much more rugged. They have more steep ups and downs. Most of our hike was along the Alta Via #1 hiking system.  It was very well-marked and traveled. So, we felt safe the entire time.  On the second day, we hiked through an amazing green valley along a river where domestic horses grazed. Another hiker gave us some sugar cubes to feed them as we took pictures.  After that wide, easy valley, the trail started to climb steeply, and we found ourselves in a series of constant, short switchbacks that led to a pass that was only 10 – 20 feet wide and virtually impassible before 2014. As soon as we reached the top, we began sharply descending between two high rock walls.  Fog sat over us, and we could hear the echo of our voices among the rocks. It was an earily beautiful and surreal experence.  At the end of the descent, we went slightly off-course to eat our packed lunch at a pond.  Because it was cloudy, it was too cold to swim, but we put our feet in the water and watched as the little fish gave our feet pedicures in the mountain pond.  After lunch we continued hiking up to the highest refugio in the area, Laguazoi. It rested at the top of an historic tunnel system used by the Austrian soldiers in WWI.  They do reenactments on a daily basis with people in full dress.  At the top, we stopped for a snack and a beer and met a family from Norway having one last vacation with their daughter before she went for a foreign exchange year with another family in Idaho. We rode the tram down with them, and they gave us a ride to the next tram we were to ride to our next refugio. We were already exhausted from a full day of tough hiking.  We ended up missing the lift by two minutes and had to hike a very steep hill to Scolliatoli (squirrel), a refugio that had beautiful views and access to Chinque Tori, the five towers.  At dinner we met a photographer with a couple that he had taken on a photo tour of the Dolomites. The views from this location were stunning.  The final day we hiked on seeing more beautiful valleys and views.  We ended our hiking at a restaurant where we waited for a cab to transport us back to Cortina.  We had one beer, and then the two people we met at the bar insisted we have another. Ok. We stayed at Hotel Panda that night and ate at a pizza placed owned by a guy who went to school at Denver University. We shared grappa in honor of Denver.

My final day in the Dolomites (Anita stayed a few more), we hiked and climbed on the Via Ferrata (the Iron Way), exploring the rope system paths and tunnels that the soldiers of WWI used. It was a very cool lesson in the history of the area. That night we ate a four-course Italian meal, and I had my now favorite melon and parma ham as well as fresh pasta with mushroom sauce, and of course, wine.

The last day we meandered a bit and then I caught a train to Milano (Milan) to fly back to the States the following day. I stayed at an AirBnB where Marina, the hostess, had decorated the place with famous jazz musicians that she photographed while playing. She recommended a restaurant with delicious Italian food, and I was set to eat and wander through Milan to see what it had to offer in the dark. I didn’t have enought time to do more, but it was enought to get a taste of the city, it’s history, and it’s sense of fashion.

Italy Week 1

Italy.  What an incredible country.  Anita and I arrived to Milan at 8am and immediately took a train to Naples and then Pompeii.  After a two-hour flight delay and a one-hour train delay to Napoli (Naples), we caught the wrong train to the ghetto, had some friendly Italians redirect us, landed in Pompeii late, took a ride with an unofficial taxi driver and landed peacefully in our beds at Eco B&B.  Thanks to the help of Anamarie, the hostess there, we were able to navigate more successfully the next day.  We visited the ancient petrified city of Pompeii, preserved in ash and now uncovered by archeologists, we could walk the streets and view the recreated bodies of the people who were surprised by the volcano.  We didn’t know, but the next day the workers went on strike and the entire city was closed.  We also asked several people where we could buy tickets for the Pink Floyd concert.  We thought a cover band was doing a tribute.  Turns out there was no concert at all, only a museum with pictures and videos of a concert Pink Floyd did at the ancient coliseum in 1971.  Oops.  Cool museum.

From Pompeii we explored Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.  Driving down the crazy roads of the coast, we stopped to try out some Italian diving.  Anita had never been, so she did one snorkel and one exploratory dive.  I went on two dives, swimming with schools of barracudas and diving into a cave.  The cave dive was interesting as my dive instructor and I turned off our flashlights because no light reached the cave.  When I flicked mine back on, he was right in front of me.  Whoa Italian!  Once we finished our dives, we ventured to Positano to eat some lunch and take in the scenery.

The next day, we explored the church and tower close to us in Pompeii and then took a train to Roma (Rome).  Rome was HOT! Think 40C = 104F, lots of concrete, an AirBnB with no air conditioning or fan.  We were irritable to say the least and ended up fighting for part of a day – we’ve been friends for 15 years.  We did start our Rome adventure with a night tour of the Coliseum, walking in the depths where the gladiators and animals were kept.  We met up with some friends of friends afterward for some Italian cuisine and interesting conversation on fashion with our new friend, or was it Jack Nicholson? Of course, we toured the Vatican and many many relics.  We also saw the Capuchin Crypt, a series of chapels decorated with the bones of 3,700 Capuchin monks – as a reminder of how fleeting this life is.  Later in the day, we toured Rome on bikes to see a few different perspectives of the city.  I love riding bikes.  We decided to take the bus back to our Trastaverre neighborhood for dinner.  A sweet highlight of the trip came when we asked a non-English-speaking Italian lady which bus to take, she rode on the bus with us to show us.  Despite the heat, crazy lines of people, and higher prices, we really enjoyed Rome.  Maybe it was because we stayed next to a place that had amazing DAIRY-FREE gelato (for my anti-lactose bowels). Either way, Rome was an experience.

After Rome, we took a train to Cinque Terre, the five towns – five towns close together that you can hike in between that are right on the coast and beautiful.  We stayed in Vernazza at a great little AirBnB that was across the street from a breakfast place that had a sign that said, “We do not serve eggs.  Don’t ask. This is Italy.  We have excellent food.  Eat it.”  The food was good.  We hiked to Monterosso after breakfast, milled around, meandered through a cemetery of mausoleums (next to a church that was a part of the Capuchin Monks), and then got lost finding the train only to end up in a beautiful winery and vineyard.  It was a great find and enjoyable tasting and setting.  Our time was short in Cinque Terre before we rode the train to spend our second week in Italy in the Italian Alps.

Is there a life lesson in this? Always.  So much beauty surrounds us no matter where we are, if we only look, we will see that there is hope. In friends fighting, we find resolution and deeper relationships, in unpredictable travel, patience, in unexpected kindness, grace.

Colorado Adventures

I moved to Colorado last November, but in the midst of some amazing travels, I haven’t really taken the time to enjoy my new surroundings.  So, I decided I needed a few Colorado adventures.  I found a few great things Colorado has to offer like team sports, camping, and hiking.  My sportsball league played every Thursday evening (when it wasn’t down pouring) and alternated sports each week.  My favorite games were volleyball and ultimate (we also played dodgeball, kickball, and wiffleball – this was a very serious league).  After our last game that didn’t happen because of rain, we went to a Pub to celebrate our season.  The following week Hannah, my friend from yoga teacher training, came to visit.  We camped at Echo Lake at the bottom of Mount Evans road (which was closed at the time) and hiked to Lincoln Lake, a 10-mile hike round-trip through tall pines, green meadows, and a burn area from many years ago. Beautiful scenery, great company, and only a little rain.  It was a great time.

After meeting my new friend Sara in Aruba, we decided that we should inspire each other to train for a race, a tri, but for now a race.  So, we signed up to do the Pagosa Offroad Duathlon as a team for the Dirty Du course.  Pagosa Springs, CO, is an awesome little mountain town with a couple of breweries, some great restaurants, and sulfur-smelling hot springs.  I used to go there when I lived in Farmington, NM, so it was nice to be back in the area and to see some friends from there.  In case you’re wondering, we did not win.  Sara and I only trained for two weeks, however, my friends Brandy and Shane took first in the duo race – even beating all the guys. Yes, they are awesome.

The adventures continued with more local bike rides with friends and fun in Golden, CO.  We also went to an Avett Brothers concert at Red Rocks, which was phenomenal.  Red Rocks alone is amazing, and then adding the Avett Brothers and good friends made it even better.  I do love being in the “Great Outdoors” of Colorado.

Moving is difficult.  I’ve done it several times for work, for school, for life.  Each time leaving my friends, my support, and going somewhere new.  For me, it takes about six months of loneliness to find those first few people with whom I really connect and that’s with the effort of putting myself in situations and places that are unfamiliar and new.  And still, it takes about a year to find my people. The people that we call our own change, moving in and out of our lives for various reasons, but they always leave an impact.  We choose what that impact will be on our lives.  I choose to learn, to grow, knowing that some experiences are more difficult than others.  It makes me more appreciative of the present: of the people and the experiences that I have the opportunity to embrace now because at some point, it will again change.

Meandering through Colorado

I recently needed to make a trip back to the Farmington, NM, area for work and decided to take advantage of the opportunity to also visit friends and places from my previous home.  I started from Golden on Sunday morning and made my way west on I-70 to Palisade, CO.  The drive held views of snow-capped mountains and amazingly green hillsides (thanks to May and its showers; does that mean there will be flowers in June?).  I met up with friends in Palisade just in time to get a drink at the Peach Street Distillery before heading to the Palisade Bluegrass Festival for the last act.

We hopped on cruiser bikes to ride to Riverbend Park and watch Elephant Revival close the festival.  I got a couple videos of this Boulder-based band singing acapella and playing their last song.  It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon with the sun shining warm and clouds providing a little respite from the heat.

While Sunday was incredibly relaxing, Monday was full of activity.  After taking a 75 minute hot yoga class to warm up, we went on a 10-mile bike ride of Horse Thief Trail in 91F weather.  It’s one of my favorite mountain bike trails in the Fruita-Grand Junction-Palisade area because of the amazing views and flowing single track.  After a sushi break and showers, we hiked up Mt. Garfield – a 4-mile out-and-back with 2000 feet of elevation gain – just in time to catch the sunset and more incredible views.

The adventures in the valley ended and I drove south to the Durango/Farmington area.  It was an incredible time of catching up with friends, seeing what has changed since I moved, and riding trails that taught me to mountain bike.  I had the ever-famous GPAM (ginger-pineapple martini) at Distil while hanging out with my crazy-fun friends from Williams, I ate green chili for multiple meals, and relished the rain-cured trails of the high desert.  I heard stories of new paths, new baby bumps, and new little walkers.  Then I packed up (and helped a friend pack a bit before their move) and drove through Pagosa Springs and on 285 back to Golden.

For me, while traveling is incredibly rewarding, it is also tiring and sometimes lonely.  I relish the sweet time with all these friends of old and thank God that I have such incredible people in my life.  It is a good reminder that memories shared are better treasured. and also that I am incredibly blessed.

Making Waves in Aruba

Twenty people, two houses, a hotel room, and seven days in the country of Aruba proved to be an interesting experience.  The core group, self-named the Carnival Club, formed after spending time in the military together and now takes a trip together every couple of years to reunite and adventure. Friends, significant others, cousins and acquaintances jumped aboard this trip expanding the group to twenty and representing a variety of careers:  pilot, doctor, physical therapist, pharmacist, meteorologist, entrepreneur, engineer, corporate manager, teacher, mom, marketing consultant, and professional gambler – all interested in adventure.  Aruba itself was beautiful, warm, and windy – a much needed change from the many consecutive days of rain continuing in my hometown of Seattle…I mean Denver.  (Isn’t Denver supposed to be one of the sunniest places in the U.S.?  Just checking.)  Aruba is known for a few things like turquoise water, white sand beaches, wind surfing, kite boarding, deep sea fishing, and wreck diving.  Many of the residents are from Venezuela, because it is close, and the Netherlands, because of the colony and rule of the Dutch. At one time, one of the biggest refineries in the world operated in Aruba, and though the boneyard of a facility still exists, it no longer operates, and tourism now almost fully supports the country.  And as tourists, so did we.

Our main vacation rental (Villa Tropical) had beds for twelve, a full kitchen, ping pong, darts, corn hole, pool, games, a hot tub, sand volleyball court, and a swimming pool with a waterfall.  We played sand volleyball the first night, four-on-four, and realized that we were in a danger zone.  Someone must have hauled in the sand directly from the beach – broken shells and all – leaving us with bleeding cuts and scratches.  We kept playing.  Then, if the ball went out of bounds, the goat heads (the meanest stickers your foot has ever encountered) pierced the soles of the retriever and stuck in the ball meeting the next server’s hand.  We kept playing.  When the ball went over the fence, Justin went to get it and came back with a seriously sprained ankle.  We finished the game and stopped playing.  We didn’t play volleyball again.

For the next six days, we swam, snorkeled, dived (SCUBA), laid on the beach, wind surfed, and did all the things the ocean calls to do.  We even took a Jolly Pirates Cruise fully equipped with pirate punch, snorkeling stops, and a rope swing.  The rope-swing antics grew with each swing, and at the end two people came out of the water with injuries.  Is anyone surprised?  No.  On another night, we formed two teams to compete in Aruba Mansion Olympics (AMO).  Z and I put the games together using almost all the resources from the house.  We played in relay fashion starting with a shot of tequila.  Two balls to the corner pocket, a volleyball serve, rolling a seven with dice, taking out one piece in a Jenga game, a corn-hole toss, a ping pong ball throw, and one dart to the board, all while carrying the football baton that had to be passed down the stairs to the next contestant. In the end, the teams tied because Z and I finished the relay racing against each other but in all the confusion, he ended by throwing the football and I ended by jumping in the pool. Then everyone jumped in the pool, someone made chocolate chip cookies, and I don’t think anyone really cared that we weren’t certain who won!

Overall, I got to lead yoga a couple times for a few of the girls in the house.  I had two wreck SCUBA dives, which were my first wreck dives, and two reef dives.  I got to see Panama city for one night on the way in and another night on the way out. I felt the heat of the sun and the cool of the ocean for a few days in a beautiful place with some really interesting people where I heard incredible stories of passion, dreams, and adventure.  It’s a good reminder to me to be thankful for what I have, to appreciate where I’ve been, and to look forward to the future.

New Skis

I finally did it tonight.  I ordered a new pair of skis…after mine were stolen…out of my car…while in Breckenridge, CO.  I was so sad because I liked those skis (2012 Blizzard Black Pearls) and because skis are expensive.  It seemed that a streak was beginning.  I had already lost two packages from my apartment due to misdelivery.  I’m guessing it was wrong delivery because we had two packages at our apartment that were both for an apartment C, but the wrong building number.  I could only guess that someone else at another apartment C was enjoying my packages.  Then one morning, my roommate called as I was en route to Nebraska to pick up Kemba (my dog) from the farm.  “Do you have a silver Salsa bike?”  “I do.  Why?” I asked.  “Well, it’s lying in the road outside of our garage.”  What?!?  Someone had taken my bike out of the garage, most likely taken a joy-ride, and then “returned” the bike by laying it in the road in front of the garage.  This bike is my nicest bike.  I was horrified and starting to get paranoid about all of these incidents.  Then, I talked to my friend, Anita.

Life happens.  Sometimes it happens in single events.  Sometimes it happens in three’s, and sometimes it happens in strings of events.  I choose how I react to these.  I choose how it will affect my life.  So, I did choose.  I was angry at first because I felt violated.  Then, I was sad because I started to think about how I might miss those things.  Then, I decided that they were things and life is too short to put too much thought into it.  I started to look for new skis, and I bought some (2015 Blizzard Black Pearls).

I wrote off the packages.  The bikes currently reside in the house.  I got renters insurance.  I make sure to lock everything, no matter what.  No person is perfect.  It’s never right to steal someone else’s stuff.  It’s ok to feel violated when it’s true.

And then, each of us has the choice to go forward, to move on, to forget the packages, to save up to buy new skis.  Losing and winning is part of growing in this life.

 

Managua via Costa Rica and Granada

We left the beach and headed toward Miramar, Costa Rica, to see and explore more of the country.  We zip-lined over 11 waterfalls and then traveled to San Jose.  Part of the group flew out the next morning, while a few of us stayed back and checked out the city.

Then, Heather and I took off on our own to explore more and headed north to the Poas Mountains area.  We stayed in an awesome AirBnb, ate fresh, ripe strawberries from the local farmers and went on a coffee tour at a local plantation before seeing La Paz waterfall.  Delicious, educational, and beautiful.

Though the Poas Volcano itself was a miss because heavy clouds blocked the view of the crater, we enjoyed the scenery and drove on to La Fortuna.  There we took in four hours of hot springs time at Eco Terminales.  By hot I actually mean warm and very different from the hot springs found in Colorado.  We saw toucans and leaf-cutter ants while basking in the beauty of the warm, man-made waterfalls.  Then we drove to our hostel that night, an eco-farm, Essence Arenal, with a chef on board that wanted everyone to help make their own food so that he could spread the knowledge of preparing and eating good, fresh, vegetarian food.  We had vegetable lasagna and made our own “tortas” with a cookie bowl and fruit.  The next morning we took the hike to see the farm and wound up doing a yoga class on our own while overlooking Arenal Volcano and the lake beside it.

After a couple hours exploring the shops in La Fortuna, we had to buy our bus tickets to Nicaragua.  They would not allow a same-day purchase, which lead to a two-hour round-trip drive to buy tickets at a Ticabus office in Quesada before finding ourselves at our last Costa Rican destination of Finca Luna Nueva, a large eco-farm of 250 acres that was originally a ginger and turmeric farm.  The pool, Jacuzzi, food, and friends we found there were unequalled.  What a treat to be able to meet with Craig and Clare from Farmington, NM, and catch up on life.  After chatting into the wee hours of the night (umm….9:30p), we slept and then awoke for a morning yoga session in the jungle.

We had breakfast with Craig and Clare, said our goodbyes, and drove away from the tranquility of the farm toward the big city to catch our bus.  The drive was a solid three-hour adventure, and in the last minutes before our bus departed, Heather ran to get some emergency food for our seven-hour bus ride.  We ended up with corn flakes – what she could find in five minutes with only two dollars, our strawberries from Poas, a few crackers and oreos from other parts of the trip, and a bag of peanuts.  After our seven-hour saga with the corn flakes, corny movies in Spanish, and all the early 90’s love ballads we could handle, we finally arrived to Granada.

Heather is staying in Granada while doing a Spanish immersion school and staying with a host family.  I was able to stay there, too, and experience a bit of her life in Nicaragua.  I met her host family, volunteered with her where she both goes to school and volunteers, saw where she teaches yoga sometimes at Pure, went to a hot (think both meanings of the word) Zumba class, and ate at a few of her favorite spots.  We also meandered to a few new Granada offerings.  We swam, floated, and kayaked in a crater lake (Laguna), we had a spa treatment (mani, pedi, and facial for $23!), made our own chocolate, checked out the local markets, and made dinner for her host family.  They kept saying how it was nice to have something different than gallo pinto (rice and beans).  We ended our adventure with wine and lunch from a little European café, and then I took a taxi back to the Managua airport.

As I blog, I’m still awaiting the arrival of my luggage.  I hope it comes.  It’s filled with chocolate and coffee from all our adventures.  I’m so thankful for this trip and these times. Choa!