Yearly Archives: 2012

Flashback Friday | Best Thanksgiving Ever

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA.  It is not, and has never been one of my favorite holidays mainly because my Thanksgivings have never been anything special.  I am an unmarried only child with next to no extended family.  So there isn’t a huge gathering with lots of people and there never has been.  Yes, we have turkey and mashed potatoes, but that’s about it for ‘traditional’ Thanksgiving food.  No pies.  Nothing cranberry related.  It’s a minimally themed Thanksgiving dinner for  about 3 people.  This year, like most years since I went in to health care, I spent the actual holiday at the hospital, but four years ago during my year off, I had the best Thanksgiving ever in Peru, of all places. My roommate, Emily, and I, along with a couple other Americans including my friend Corinna hosted an international Thanksgiving for about 25-30 in our little 2 bedroom apartment in Huanchaco, Peru.  We had Americans, Canadians, English,  and Australians, Peruvians, Brazilians, and Argentinians, French, German, and Dutch, and a smattering of other nationalities.  Basically we opened up the door and invited everyone, and for travelers, the tiniest bits of home can sustain a month or more of travel.

I started my day in the ocean…my third attempt at surfing.  For the first time, I caught a wave instead of the waves catching me. It was awesome. I made mashed potatoes for a group.  They were awesome. We had a turkey. And lots of pie. And wine and pisco sours. Food. Friends. Futbol. No [american] football though. We had our Thanksgiving on Tuesday not Thursday, but that wasn’t important.  And then the group broke up.  Some left that night.  I left two days later.  Emily stayed a little longer, but for me, Thanksgiving with relative strangers, all of whom were away from home, was the best Thanksgiving ever.

The turkey…just as tasty as at home

The spread–turkey, potatoes, gravy, vegetable quiche, wine [much more than I had this year]

Another table with just desserts–cake, rum-marinated fruit, pear things [not sure what they were, but oh so tasty…

Sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top

Brought to you by your lovely hostesses Emily, Michelle, and Corinna.

Uxmal and la ruta PUUC

Back when I was 21…

Once upon a time I had crazy dreams of being a cultural anthropologist or historical preservationist or something that would allow me to travel and be the #historynerd that I truly am. But then the reality of these jobs set in. 1. They are few and far between 2. Most require a masters to even get started, and even finding a program that’s available and affordable is not so easy. 3 most are funded on the whim of a government and therefore pay is low and sometimes not at all. In spite of all that, I chose to do my senior thesis/project on Mayan Art and Architecture which 1. required a thoroughly researched and well written thesis [in Spanish] and 2. on-site visits to some of the sites. This was back in the Dark Ages when the internet was a baby, digital camera quality was awful, and blogging was a journal and scrapbook [of which I have both]. So with my SLR… that’s right, there’s no D if front of that SLR and copious quantities of film that I carried in a separate bag and polite instruction to ‘inspeccione por mano, por favor’.  Thankfully they did and my 50+ rolls of film, both black and white and color, in different ISOs, made it safely through airport security and allowed me to photograph all the little quirks of Mayan architecture to my little heart’s content.

A little history of Uxmal

Chichen Itza is the most well know of the ancient Mayan site, but Uxmal should give Chichen Itza a run for its money –at least in terms of its vastness.  It’s not super well known and isn’t directly on a bus route the way Chichen Itza is, but it is relatively well preserved.  If the access was easier, my guess is that it would be more popular than Chichen Itza.

Uxmal_Ruins_Selva
Uxmal rising out of the jungle

The area around Uxmal was occupied as early as 800 BC, but the major building period took place when it was the capital of a Late Classic Mayan state around 850-925 AD.  Somewhere around or after the year 1000, when Toltec invaders took over the Yucatán peninsula [establishing their capital at Chichen Itza], all major construction ceased at Uxmal. However, it continued to be occupied and participated in the political League of Mayapán.  Uxmal later came under the control of the Xiú princes. The site was abandoned around 1450, shortly before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

Mayan legend claims that a dwarf magician, born from a egg, built the city of Uxmal in a single night. In reality, archaeological excavations reveal that the Pyramid of the Magician itself was erected in a series of five successive builds upon existing, lesser pyramids. This was a common Mayan building practice, thought to capture and amplify the power of the underlying structure.

Uxmal_Ruinas_Pelota

Kabah is situated slightly further along the road from Uxmal, and is famed for the Temple to Chaac, the Rain God of the Maya. The structure is filled with the masks of Chaac. Across the road, there is also a Maya Arch, part of a Maya Road system that used to span the entire Yucatan region.

Sayil has a beautiful multi level palace

Sayil-Palace-1024x609

Sayil-Choc-Side-view

At Labna, you can clearly see an example of a Maya Road system, as well as a well-preserved decorative Maya Arch. The palace is also very beautiful.

labna arch
Labna Arch

OK enough with the technical stuff…

The area where Uxmal, Sayil, and Kabah is collectively known as the Ruta Puuc, and it is for lack of better terms, deserted. There are plenty of small temples to see as well as small villages [<50 inhabitants almost all of Mayan descent and who speak only Mayan and are ecstatic to talk to you, you know if you can actually communicate. In honesty, most do speak some Spanish, but if English is your only language, you may be out of luck.  Luckily, everyone I met was really nice], and deserted roads almost covered in vegetation.

The main road down the Ruta Puuc. I saw very, very few cars and lots and lots of lush, green vegetation.  It is easy to see how the area could be reclaimed by Mother Nature.

 A small Mayan town more or less in the middle of nowhere in the Yucatán peninsula.
 Poc chuc, a very traditional Mayan meal. Essentially it’s seasoned pork with peppers, onions, and lime juice, to be wrapped up in tortillas and eaten like tacos. Tomatoes, avocados, and cucumbers on the side.

Labna, and when you are the only one there, it’s both awesome, and a little bit creepy.  Yes, I realize I could have been bitten by a snake or some wild animal, and no one would have ever seen or heard from me again.

Some beautiful ruins at Kabah.

Hundreds of masks representing the gods along the front wall, often with long, protruding noses.

 If you look very closely, you can see all of the masks etched in this wall.

 One last view of Kabah.

Salbutes. It’s a very common meal in the area, and while not my favorite, it is amazingly fresh, so I had this for a couple of my meals.

Amazing Manchester

Serendipity:  the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for…  Merriam-Webster

It’s so strange how I ended up with tickets to a Manchester United game, but hey–whatever, I’ll take them.  It was a regular weekday when I mentioned to Steve that it would be at least another month or so until boyfriend got there.  He mentioned that 1.  He had to go back to New York from July 8-August 13 and the flat would be unavailable [no more free place to stay] and 2.  He had two tickets to Manchester United’s opening match against Southampton and would not be able to go as he would still be in NY. Would I like them?  Um yes, please.  So that is how I ended up spending a month in North England and Scotland and one amazing day [and night] in Manchester.

One of the best ways to see Manchester is from the water.

Manchester’s Chinatown gates are the largest outside mainland China.

Sometimes it’s just better to go on the tour and take the photos there than trying to get a decent shot when the stadium is full of people–unless you have front row seats–which I didn’t…

I love soccer.  I played it until I was in high school.  My high school didn’t have a soccer team [boys or girls] so I stopped playing it, but I kept up with the sport and refereed it while I was in college.  I wasn’t a Man U fan before the match, but after I most definitely was.  To be fair, I’m loyal like that.  I don’t live in an area with a lot of professional teams. My favorite teams are usually the first team I saw in action which is why I am a fan of  University of Tennessee [1st college football game], Miami Dolphins [first NFL game], Baltimore Orioles [first MLB], Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadians [first NHL games],  and Seattle Sounders [first MLS game].  An odd mix to be sure, but it works for me.

So on August 13, 1997, I went to my first English Premier League match.  Up to this point I was a Real Madrid fan mainly because I was a Spanish major in college, and my Spanish professor and I would watch La Liga matches and converse in Spanish [weird I know…]…  Anyway,  Manchester United vs Southampton.  A young whippersnapper by the name of David Beckham came in as a substitute in the second half of the match, and netting the only goal giving Man U a 1-0 win.  I became a Red Devils fan for life [it didn’t hurt that my high school mascot was also the Red Devils].  Manchester United went on finish the 1997-98 season as runners-up to Arsenal.

As I side note:  Nearly 20 years later, I am still a Man U fan, still go for Liverpool as well, but they haven’t been great lately, and have added Arsenal to the mix of my favorite English Premier League teams.  Something I am sure no true English football fan would say.

Wandering about Holyhead

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. Occasionally, I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

Holyhead, located on the Island of Anglesey and Irish Sea, is the jumping off point for Ireland and for nearly 4000 years people have been making the journey from the Welsh outpost to Ireland and vice-versa.  The town is the largest town on the Isle of Anglesey with a population of around 11,000.  It’s a mere hour from Bewts-y-Coed that I featured previously in my post about Snowdonia.  Holyhead is a cute little town located on the Irish sea.  It has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years.  The town center is built around St. Cybi’s Church, which is built inside one of Europe’s few three-walled Roman forts (the fourth wall being the sea, which used to come up to the fort).  There are only three remaining three walled cities in all of Europe.

The church of St. Cybi was sacked by the Vikings in the 10th century, damaged by Henry IV’s army in the 15th century in an assault on the holdings of a Welsh prince and much of the interior destroyed by Cromwell’s army in the 17th century. Despite this, most of the church remain intact.

If you’ve ever been to or seen the Cliff of Moher in Ireland, then you might have an idea of what Holyhead Mountain is.  It is not, as I thought, a mountain with subtle gains of elevation.  It is, however, a giant rock formation surround by water.

If rock climbing is your groove, this is the place for you.  We all know that that would be an excellent way for me to injure myself, but I do think it’s an awesome sport.

Today Holyhead and Anglesey are famous as the former home of Prince William and Duchess Kate… they’ve relocated to London with the kids, but for a few years, Anglesey was their home.  I can certainly see why…  It’s beautiful.

 

How to travel in any kind of weather

Keeping in contact with the weather Gods

Whenever I plan a trip especially a short one, I always check the weather forecast, and plan accordingly.  However, when traveling longer term and in varying climates what’s a girl to do.  Have a sense of humor of course; the weather gods most certainly do.

I’ve traveled in the rain, snow, heat, and cold, and it’s all been completely wonderful!  I’ve traveled in warm, sunny weather and it’s been awful.  So there’s that.

Varying weather makes the stories and memories from travel even more rich. Sure, unbelievably gorgeous skies are nice and make for fabulous photos [but it’s also hard to photograph sometimes… overcast skies are amazing], but how often do you find yourself recounting your stories tears of laughter a story from a picturesque day where nothing went wrong as opposed to that time you tried to wander a city in a torrential downpour when you’d completely lost your way? 

Despite the fantastic memories that can come from times like these, it’s still better to be a bit more prepared than not, so here’s what you can do to be ready without feeling like you’re hauling your parka, umbrella, bug repellant, and sunscreen with you at all times: 

    • Read up on what the usual weather patterns are for where you’re going. London’s reputation is pretty much a city beneath a giant water spout? Maybe it’s a good idea to pack some waterproof shoes even if meteorologists are predicting a sunny day.

      Look at those blue skies near the tower of London on a beautiful October day.
    • Beautiful snowy days in the French Alps…
    • Keep an eye out for stores carrying what you may need. You don’t have to buy everything at home and carry it with you.  Nearly every location in the world has exactly what you will need. Don’t be a paranoid lunatic glancing with crazed eyes from one shop to the next jotting down addresses for where umbrellas are being sold, but be aware. Make a tiny mental note if you see a place selling basic knit gloves, or ponchos, or sunscreen. That way, if a rumble of thunder shakes the area, you already know of a few places that might have what you need.

      Target and Primark are my favorite stores for travel goods.
    • Layers are your friend. If the place you’re traveling to has varying weather, and really, even if it doesn’t, try planning to layer. It’s easy to shed a button-up or add a light sweater if needed. It’s so much better to roll up a layer and stick it in a bag than to be hot wearing that now-too-warm shirt you’d picked in the cold morning once the afternoon heat has arrived.
    • Embrace rain or snow. It’s a beautiful thing and can add a whole new dimension to the way you see a place  [Paris’ lights reflecting on wet cobblestones, anyone?  Snow covered tombstones?]. Rather than putting the camera dejectedly away, why not embrace the wet and love it too? And what about snow falling softly in a town in the evening? Ahhh, cozy bliss.

      camellia in winter
    • Always have a bag for camera or other sensitive items that is water proof. You just never know and for these kinds of things it’s just not worth the risk.
    • Most importantly: keep an open attitude. You never know what weather your will get on a trip, but don’t ever let something like a gray sky ruin your experience. Roll with it, and try to make it a part of everything by exploring cozy cafes… or searching for shady woods to escape the heat rather than laying on the beach burning all day… or build snowmen when life gives you a blizzard.

The romance and wonder of travel comes from embracing whatever comes your way. Quirks and kinks are how you know your on adventure! Don’t shy away from having an epic story to tell when you get home.

Liverpool is lovely

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35 mm film.  Now it’s all digital. On Flashback Fridays I reflect back on some of my past travels and travel mishaps before I started this blog.

We are back in Merry Old England for today’s installation of Flashback Friday. 

Let me preface this with the following statement:  I am not a Beetles fan.  I am not a hater, but given the choice, I would almost always choose to listen to someone else.  I do appreciated their contributions to music though.  But here I am, in England, and not all that far from Liverpool [1.5 hours away] so it would be wrong of me to NOT visit the city that brought the world the first Rock and Roll superstars…so off to Liverpool I go to spend the day…and night and take in another awesome English football match [Liverpool FC vs Leicester City anyone?] and see if there is more to this city of >400,000 than just the Beetles.

You know what?  There is…The Albert Dock, a very cool hang-out spot for tourist and locals alike.  There is even a yellow submarine floating in the harbour which I thought was pretty cool, but odd, until I realized that the Beetles sang the Yellow Submarine song.

Let’s all sing along now…”We all live in a yellow submarine…”

Albert Dock–Welcome

Liverpool also has some amazing church architecture.  From England’s largest Anglican Cathedral to a beautiful bombed out building to a futuristic catholic church–church architecture in Liverpool is quite grand.

Anglican church exterior

Metropolitan Catholic Church [which looks like a spaceship to me]

the inside of Metropolitan Catholic Church

St. Luke’s Church…bombed out during WWII

Continuing on my Liverpool walkabout, I discover the Cavern.  Since I am not a Beetles fan, I did not know that this was the club that the Beetles first performed as a group.  Several other bands have played here too, and I wish I could have seen some of them.

Little known facts about Liverpool [2 of them]:  It has the oldest Chinese community in Europe and  Liverpool not only gave us the Beetles but also Edward Elgar–without whom no high school graduation ceremony would be complete. [Pomp and Circumstance anyone?]

Liverpool’s Chinatown

The view from the cheap seats at historic Anfield–home of Liverpool FC…my second favorite team in England.

Scaling the highest peak in Wales

I have always kept a record of my travels.  It used to be with a pen and paper and 35mm film.  Now it’s all digital.  Back in 1997, I spent a summer living in the UK…actually, I had a place but nothing to do… so I wandered…and wandered, and one weekend I ended up at Snowdonia National Park in Wales–where I spent more than a couple of weekends while I was in the UK.

Taking on Wales’ tallest peak

My first weekend away landed me in the charming village of Betws-y-coed, North Wales, a village of about 500.  Bewts-y-Coed is located in the heart of Snowdonia. Wales may not be home to the tallest mountain peak, but it still has some challenging hiking.

It has charming waterfalls.

But really what I came to Snowdonia National Park to see was Mt. Snowdon, and it did not disappoint. You see, I like to think that I’m a bad-ass hiker chic. I have visions of hiking the Appalachian Trail or some other multi-week trek. Or climbing Aconcagua. Or Denali. In reality, I’ve rarely done much more than overnight camping and nothing more than a day hike on my on. Certainly not scaling any peaks anywhere. But back when I spent an entire summer in Great Britain, I was a 19 year old college athlete who thought I could do anything, and anything included climbing mountains without any preparation and only minimal supplies.

You see those little squiggles… that’s the hiking path… It’s none too wide, and a bit scary the higher up you get. I didn’t know that these peaks were also ski paths in the winter.

If I’d known what I was in for, I might have been content to hang around the lake all day.

Tips for Climbing Mount Snowdon

  • Entrance to the park is 100% free.  It costs to park, but some B&Bs offer shuttles to the park so if you can snag one of those, total cost is F-R-E-E.
  • Bring lots of layers! It was quite chilly on the summit and this was in June! — bring a water-resistant parka, gloves,  and a hat.  All I had with me was a light windbreaker, a long- sleeved shirt, and a baseball hat.  Clearly, I was expecting better weather from June.
  • Try to climb on a clear day. Your photos will be so much better.  I got lucky.  With minimal planning or prior knowledge of Welsh weather, I had a great day.  As I have since learned, weather at the bottom of a mountain is no prediction of weather at the top of a mountain.
  • Snacks, water, and for me ibuprofen are crucial.  I only had 1L of water, a few power bars and fruit, and zero painkillers.  I crawled up into a ball when I got back to my room, and finally, after a hot shower or two, I could walk normally again.
  • Believe in yourself.  Before I started, I NEVER thought that I couldn’t do it.  I didn’t research it.  I just heard about it and it sounded like a cool thing to do.  Once I got started, I didn’t think I’d make it.  But I’m too stubborn to quit.

This is Wales’ tallest peak; had I known I’d be hiking a ridge, I probably would not have done it. Balance has never been my strong point.

  • Climbing Snowdon is absolutely worth it. This is one of Wales’s best adventures, and one that you’ll always remember.

Be prepared for anything when you are hiking in the Welsh mountains.  The weather can change in an instant.

The view from the highest peak in Wales–simply breath taking.

Finally getting to Machu Picchu

I arrived in Peru at the tail end of February 2010 in preparation for my awesome Machu Picchu trek leaving the first of March.  That didn’t happen.  I was a little bummed about not getting to see Machu Picchu, but in true adventurous spirit said to myself “I’ll be in South America for a while… we’ll see what happens.”  I explored Cusco and Arequipa.  I went on a tour of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca.  And went sand-boarding on the dunes in Huacachina.  I flew over the Nasca lines and marveled at the shapes.  And then I put Peru out of my mind.  I started on my first volunteer project in Cartegna and promptly put my missed opportunity at hiking the Inca Trail out of my mind.

But when meeting other travelers the conversation always seems to go somethitng like this:

Random Traveler:  How long have you been traveling for?  Where have you been?

Upon hearing that I have already been to Peru but did not get to see Machu Picchu, it inevitably goes like this:

Random Traveler:  Dude!  You have GOT to go to Machu Picchu.  It’s EPIC.  Your trip will be nothing if you don’t get to Machu Picchu.

At this point I don’t even bother trying to explain that a natural disaster occurred not long before I was to hike Machu Picchu and that I am grateful that said natural disaster did not occur while I was hiking Machu Picchu.

More time passed and I helped build eco-friendly hiking trails and count howler monkeys in the dry forest [which is a total misnomer since it’s soaking wet 6 months out of the year]. I catalogued orchids in a cloud forest.  I tagged turtles on the Galapagos Islands.  I climbed volcanoes in Ecuador. I caught malaria in the Amazon Rainforest.  I volunteered in a health clinic and taught classes on respiratory infections, influenza, and tuberculosis. I chilled out and took surfing lessons on the coast.  I went hiking in Keulap and Chachapoyas.  I met up with friends in Cajamarca.  I rented an apartment and hosted a Thanksgiving dinner with and for travelers.

Kuelap view
Kuelap view

And then my roommate asked me this question. In Novemeber.

 “Someone just cancelled in my tour group to hike Machu Picchu.  Do you want to take their place? It’s the first week of December.”

Did I?  After all, 8 months earlier I came to Peru a month earlier than my first volunteer assignment required for the sole purpose of hiking Machu Picchu.  But was that still a goal?  At the risk of sounding extremely pretentious, Machu Picchu was becoming just another box to tick… just a way to impress my fellow travelers. I wasn’t helping anyone by climbing it. I wasn’t learning Inca culture and this wouldn’t be a culmination of assimilating all that knowledge. I had done so much more than I had originally intended to do, and I still had a half of a continent to explore.

“Oh and this isn’t the standard 4day/3night trek This is a 9day/8night 100km hike”

holyfuckingshit…. that’s a long ass hike I thought. And my roommate… she used to climb mountains. For fun.  And for fun I like to sleep. And then before I realized the words were out of my mouth “I’m in,” and I had a paltry 6 weeks to get my ass into shape. There was no turning back after that.  My previous longest hike was a measly 2 day 16 miler in Chachapoyas.

Kuelap 1

Did I go?  Oh hell yeah.  Was it amazing?  Incredibly so.  Was it the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done in my life?  Without a doubt.  Was it worth it? 

inca trail 3

machu_picchu_07

peru
Abso-fucking-lutely.