Monthly Archives: February 2015

30ish things I have learned from travel

It’s birth-week. I am one of those people who prefer to celebrate the entire month, but especially the week of.   I am hitting the age where people are asking questions such as “Are you ever going to settle down and get married?” [Maybe… Facebook says I’ve already met my soulmate, so I guess that’s an option] “Are you ever going to have kids?” [ NO] “Are you ever going to get a house of your own?” [I bought the hideaway in November, and am currently spending lots ‘o dollars to make it into what I want it to be.]. I am sure all of these questions are not intended to make me feel bad about my decisions to forgo a conventional life, but are just out of curiosity.   At least, that is how I choose interpret it.  So in honor of my 30-ish years on the planet, here are 30-ish things I have learned from traveling.

1. The world is big, and I will never see it all.

Mountains, hiking, clouds, history, photography… these are just a few of the things I’ve encountered while exploring the world.

With each new country I visit, I become acutely aware of how many there are left for me to see. The world is a big, amazing place, and I will likely never run out of places that I want to explore.

2. Solo travel is not that scary

I am an introvert.  It takes me awhile to get to know people.  I don’t always talk to strangers. I don’t like to make plans. I used to think that solo travel wasn’t for me. I didn’t think I could enjoy it. I didn’t  think I could handle it, to be honest. But I underestimated myself. I am a different person when I travel.  Still somewhat quiet, but being alone makes it easier for other people to approach me.  And I DO talk to strangers, and I can make friends.  Now, it’s hard to imagine traveling any way other than on my own.

3.   It’s OK to not love a place

New York City comes to mind.  Yes, it has everything.  Yes, it is the center of American culture.  Yes, it has amazing museums, history, architecture, Broadway, ect, ect.  It was interesting.  It was enlightening, but I didn’t love it. I think it was just too much.  Of everything.  I am glad I went.  And I don’t think I’ll ever go back on my own. And that’s OK.

4.   Technology has changed the way we travel

My first trip aboard was in 1997.  When I learned I was to be in England all summer, I went to the local [English] library, researched day trips, and weekend trips.  I went to the train station and got a copy of the timetables from Stafford.  I wrote letters and sent postcards and used the phone infrequently because international rates were so expensive.  I used a lot of film. Now, I can do most of my research from home on the internet.  I take photos on my digital camera and upload them to my website wherever I have a wireless connection.  I travel with a Kindle and a digital camera.  I use my Kindle to read tons of books, my cell phone to Skype people at home, and Facebook is an amazing way to keep in touch with new acquaintances and old friends.

5.  The world is not as scary as the media would lead you to believe

I no longer watch the news  on a regular  basis because if I did, I’d never leave my front yard, but if you’re like most people and get your opinion of the world from the news and movies, you probably view it as a dark, dangerous, and scary place. A place where terrorism is widespread, people kidnap tourists for ransom, and the likelihood of being robbed, maimed, or otherwise harmed is alarmingly high. The reality, of course, is that the world is not actually scary at all, so long as you keep your wits about you.  At least, no scarier than some places in the USA.

6.  A country’s history is not indicative of its present or future

If that were the case, I would have never visited Colombia.  Or Serbia. Or I may be planning a trip to Mexico.  Certain parts of the world have particularly dark pasts — war, genocide, communism, terrorism… But the truth is, NO country can boast a completely peaceful history. [Especially not USA] Instead of judging a place by its past [and perhaps avoiding it because of that past], it’s better to look at a country as it is right now.  Don’t write a destination off just because of something that happened there 10, 20, 50, or even 100 years ago. By the same token, don’t  automatically choose a destination you loved 10 or 20 years ago without taking into consideration today’s current events. People change.  So do countries. And governments. And policies. [Let’s just say I would be planning a trip to the US if I didn’t live here].

7. I am incredibly lucky to have the passport that I do.

Yes, it was a pain to get my Bolivian visa, and $135 to boot.  Yes, I had to make a trip to the Brazilian consulate in Atlanta to get my Brazilian visa [another $150], but there’s no doubt about it– my American passport is a very valuable thing. With it, I am able to travel virtually anywhere in the world.  Even though I have to have visas for some countries, I realize how lucky I am to have been born in the United States and have all the rights and freedoms associated with my citizenship.

8.  Being an American does not have to be a negative thing

I know some Americans who are ashamed of where they come from — especially when they travel. They say they are from Canada, or wherever.  I have done this once, but only after someone  assumed I was a Spaniard -I didn’t correct him.  Big assault rifles were involved.  People were ‘escorted’ off the bus.  They didn’t get back on.

This one is particularly difficult for me.  I have state pride.  I often readily admit I am from South Carolina, one of the United States, but when I just say USA, a lot of people say California? or New York?  When I say that I am closer to Cartagena than California, people don’t believe me… until I break out a map. But I am getting better.  Most people I’ve encountered around the world love Americans. They don’t necessarily love our government or world policies [and to be fair, I don’t necessarily love our government or world policies], but they love us and are open to learning more about us.

South Carolina has beautiful mountains with many creeks and waterfalls in addition to a gorgeous coast on the Atlantic Ocean.

9.  You cannot judge a culture that you know nothing about

There is just enough true about stereotypes to make them true.  Having said that, I believe that having an open mind will help you realize that stereotypes never fully represent anyone. You cannot judge a culture if you do not understand it — and basing your understanding on a stereotype does not equal understanding. Before you pass judgment on traditions or beliefs, take some time to get to know the culture you are judging first.

10.  It’s OK to keep returning to a place you love

Even though the world is huge with endless places to discover, I’ve realized that some places will keep pulling you back.   I visit the SC coast at least once a year.  I will probably go back to Argentina and Colombia at some point in the future.  You will leave bits of your heart in different corners of the globe, and those places will call to you periodically. And this is OK. You don’t always have to  go somewhere new to be a “traveler.”

I’ve been to London 5 times, and plan to return every single time I visit Europe. It is a magical city.

11.  Having an open mind will take you far

It’s OK to have a plan.  It’s better to scrap the plan if something better comes along.  Traveling with an open mind will allow you to have amazing, unforgettable experiences. Forget what you think you know, and life will be much more rewarding.

12.  We are not so different after all

At the end of the day, things like language, skin color, religion, and culture differentiate us much less than we think. No matter where you go in the world, people want the same things:  To be successful. To be happy.To care for their families.   Keep this in mind whenever you start thinking “us” and “them” thoughts. Because, at the end of the day, our dreams and goals are not that different.  Even if we have different definitions of successful and happy.

13.  People back home may never understand

You are the only one who can truly appreciate your travels. When you return home from a trip and have all these amazing memories and experiences buzzing around in your head, chances are your friends and family back home won’t be nearly as interested to hear about your adventures as you’d like them to be.  They won’t care you taught health classes in Spanish with the Caribbean looking over your shoulder.  They make look at the photos–once, but while you were off traversing the world, they were carrying on with their normal lives. [One friend had a baby.  Another got married. And those with kids already–well, those kids weren’t babies when I returned home.]   They may never understand, and I’ve learned that you just have to come to terms with this.

14.  Every destination has something to offer — you just have to find it

I didn’t love New York City.  Or Lima, Peru. Or Santiago, Chile, but I found something in each place that was cool.  In NYC, it was the zoo and Central Park.  In Lima, it was its proximity to the coast, and in Santiago, it was just hanging out in the main square people watching.  Maybe I’m just an overly positive person, but it’s my belief that every place — no matter where — has something interesting to discover about it. I try my best to discover these redeeming qualities about a place wherever I travel, and I think it helps me enjoy the whole travel process more.

15.  When the universe sends you signs, pay attention

Over the past few months, I feel like I’ve been getting a lot of signs from the Universe, pointing me down this path or that one.  And, finally, I’m starting to pay attention. Whether it’s related to travel or not, if Fate or God or the Universe or whatever is sending you signs, you’d better be listening.

16.  You and your excuses are the only things holding you back

People often tell me how they wish they could take a month off to go somewhere.  My answer:  Well go.  Their usual reply:    I can’t.  I’ve got ___________.  Maybe that’s true.  Maybe its just an excuse.  If you want to travel but currently aren’t  it’s probably because you are making excuses. YOU are the only thing truly holding yourself back. You can make time by prioritizing and planning ahead. You can save money by staying in hostels and using deal websites like skyscanner.com. You can manage the responsibility smartly. You can bring children with you. And you can overcome the fear.

17.  My own country is pretty special

Acadia National Parke, Maine

Zion National Park, Utah

I love traveling abroad.  It has a certain amount of glamour associated with it, but over the few last years I have traveled to Washington, DC and New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle.  The entire USA has so much to see from the Grand Canyon to Florida Keys to Crater Lake to barrier islands. I could never leave the USA and still see something amazing on every trip I take.

18.  Being nervous is natural

Being nervous is natural when it comes to traveling. I’m not any braver than you are. There have been several times when I’ve seriously considered canceling a trip or an activity at the last minute because I was scared.  [OK, I actually did cancel a couple things]  Scared of the unknown because travel is full of unknowns. It’s pushing through this fear and nervousness that really make you brave.

19. You really can make lifelong friends while traveling

Yes, it’s true that traveling long-term often means having to say a lot of goodbyes. Frequently. But it also allows you to meet a ton of amazing people who love traveling just as much as you do. Occasionally, you’ll form bonds so strong that things like distance and time won’t matter. With technology today, maintaining international friendships is easy. And having friends all over the world is never a bad thing.

We were neighbours in Peru; then I vistied her in San Francisco and Seattle.

20.  Getting lost can sometimes be a blessing in disguise

I get lost all the time–even in my own hometown.  Sometimes, though, losing the map and just allowing yourself to get lost can be a great thing. As long as you don’t find yourself lost in a bad neighborhood or otherwise dangerous situation, being lost can help you discover a place in a unique way that you just can’t do by following a map or a guidebook’s suggestions. You’ll stumble across tucked-away restaurants, funny street art, and scenes most people probably don’t see. You may even get to talk to some locals about non-travel stuff!

21.  Being able to read a map is crucial

Despite smartphones and Google Maps and all that, being able to read an old-fashioned paper map is still a great skill to have. Why?  What if you end up somewhere without internet access!  Or travel without a smartphone.  [Although in 2018, everyone has a smart phone]

22.  Hostels are a great invention

I love hostels.  I love that I can have a bed without having to pay for the entire room.   As a solo traveler, I loathe paying for an entire hotel room that charges the same price for one as it does for two or four people. They are affordable, usually centrally located, and allow you to easily meet other travelers wherever you are. Sometimes they are really nice, too.

23.  A travel style can change

Just as there’s no one travel style that works for everyone, there may not even be one travel style that works for you all the time. As you grow and age and gain travel experience, your style may well change. And there’s nothing wrong with that. A backpacker can stay in a 4-star hotel, just as a comfort-seeking traveler can rough it in the bush.

24.  Don’t compare your travel style to anyone else’s

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they know the “right” way to travel. There’s only the way that works for YOU. Whether you’re a budget backpacker or a luxury seeker, just travel the way that you want to and ignore everyone else. In the end, you will be a much happier traveler.

25.  No one cares about my eating/drinking habits

I’ve never been a very adventurous eater, and I don’t drink alcohol [anymore]. I always figured people would judge me for this. But I’ve learned over the past few years that trying weird new foods can be fun.  And I’ve learned that most people accept that.

26.   Travel gives you wisdom.  On so many levels.  Culturally, socially, historically.  I can’t think of an area where travel hasn’t helped me in some way.

27.  You will learn patience when you travel

You have to.  I am a fairly patient person to begin with, but traveling and especially taking public transportation in out of the way locations you have to be patient.

28.   Say ‘yes’ even when you want to say ‘no’

I have said ‘yes’ to lots of things while traveling that I wouldn’t have agreed to at home…  Saying ‘yes’ to a date with a matador.  ‘Yes, please’… Signing a lease on an apartment in a foreign country. ‘Yes’ twice–actually.. .Spending the night in a stranger’s house ‘Ummm, yes’ [not without hesitation]… Eating strange foods ‘yes… um ok’.  It is easy to say no, especially when you are out of your comfort zone.  Say yes.  As long as you don’t die, it will at minimum be a learning experience.

29.  People are generally good and it’s OK to talk to strangers

You don’t always have to be on the go in order to meet people.  I love nothing more to park myself on a bench/cafe/ect. and just people-watch.  Sometimes I even talk to them [gasp!]  If you’re like me, you probably grew up listening to the “don’t talk to strangers” mantra and watching videos in elementary school about ‘Stranger Danger’ . But perhaps we should rethink that golden rule. I am living proof that talking to locals and fellow travelers when you travel can only enhance the experience.

30.  We don’t need as much as we think we do

Packing seems to be a major headache for a lot of people.  I pack basically the same whether I am traveling for one week or six months.  You don’t need all that stuff you think you need, and technology comes in smaller and faster packages every day.

 

31.  It takes time to transition to new things

In my first weeks traveling in South America, I felt lonely and unsure of how I would continue to live this new life for so long. Then I transitioned to my new life and the new rhythm of it all and it was okay. I realized that I needed ‘transition’ time every time I changed cities and said goodbye to new friends or even hotel rooms.  I would get to my new destination and would feel a bit uncomfortable and a little bit lonely.  But I knew if I gave myself a day or two, those feelings would go away and I would have new reasons to enjoy where I was and often times, I found I liked it even better than the last place.  This is one of the reasons why SLOW travel is better than flying through an area just to say you’ve seen it.

32.  It’s OK to ask for help

Several times I have been forced to ask for help.  I hate it every. single. time.  I hate having to ask people to watch my cat or check the mail.  I hate having to ask for directions in a new place.  I hate having to ask where the nearest store is, but you know what?  Most people are happy to help.

33.  It’s not always about the money

Traveling is almost always more expensive than staying home, but there are ways to make it more affordable.  Once I showed up in a resort town on New Year’s Day night without a reservation or a place to stay.  I went to hotel after hotel.  It started to snow.  I was getting very depressed. And cold. And hungry.  I finally found a place that had one room left for 400 Euros. 400 Euros! I didn’t want to spend that much money, but I took it.  It was the best 400 euros I could have spent at that moment.  A hot shower and a warm bed did much more than take the chill off;  it rejuvenated my soul.  And I was much more able to enjoy the rest of my trip.

34.  Travel will change you in ways you can’t imagine

There are the things you can think of–such as making you a more educated world citizen, having stories to tell at any occasion, and realizing that people are people no matter where you are.  Sometimes, when the timing is right, when the events line up in just the right way, you can recognize the moment that the change happens. Sometimes it can be profound – you can find a life’s purpose.  For me, it was running my very own health clinic in Peru.  This one volunteer project has changed the course of my life.   Sometimes it’s small, like discovering you like gelato or pretzels or ceviche.  Sometimes, it is just remembering who you wanted to be instead of who you are today. These changes, big or small, alter us as individuals if we let them. And the really cool thing is that it can become contagious.

Wandering– without being lost– Laguna Miscanti, Atacama Desert, Chile 2010

Exploring Arequipa over a weekend

Exploring Arequipa

Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru with approximately 1 million city-dwellers, was formed by Spaniards in the 1500’s after conquering the Incas. As you enter the Plaza de Armas at the heart of Arequipa, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into time and place outside of modern day Peru. Surrounded by 3 volcanoes, the view from Arequipa would have been reason enough for the Spanish to settle there. The sillar from these volcanoes is what forms much of the architecture surrounding the Plaza de Armas and crowns Arequipa as the white city. At 7640 ft (2300m) above sea level it is not the highest city in Peru, but it still has an altitude associated with some of the higher cities. If you are coming straight from Lima, you’ll definitely feel it; if you are coming down from Cusco, you’ll hardly notice.

If you’ve been to Machu Picchu, you may think that nothing can top that.  And while it’s true that Machu Picchu is amazing (or at least I’ve heard it was pretty awesome), but Arequipa can certainly hold its own and is well worth exploring and a great starting point for many other outdoor adventures in the area. Want to hike into a canyon?  Or go white water rafting?  Or explore volcanoes?  Arequipa is the perfect place for all that. Want to learn about the naughty nuns?  The ice princess? Or are you OK with just people watching.  Once again, Arequipa is the answer.

My weekend in Arequipa went something like this:  People-watching, nerding out on history, hiking down the world deepest canyon, people watching, and market exploring.  My sole reason for coming to Arequipa was to visit Colca Canyon.  I am not missing out on another awesome hiking expedition

One of my favorite things to do is just hang out in the square and people-watch, and the Plaza de Armas is the best place to do just that.

Nerding Out Part One: The Santa Catalina Monastery is one of the main tourist attractions in Arequipa and anytime I can get a glimpse of nuns behaving badly, I’m all in.  As a bonus, the cafe was serving apple pie and lemonade so I indulged my appetite after indulging my nerdy side.

Nerding Out Part Two:  After the monastery, I checked out the Andean Museum to see the “ice maiden” Juanita – the body of a young Inca girl found completely preserved (frozen) at the top of a nearby volcano.  To go in, you have to do a guided tour, which includes a 20 minute video about the discovery of the body.  The guide told us about the sacrificial rituals and the other artifacts found with Juanita’s body.

Day Two and Three:  Hiking that massive canyon

Day Four: More exploring Arequipa walking to the neighborhood of Yanahuara and its plaza for views over the city and of the El Misti volcano.  Market exploring and market eating.

Those view were well worth the walk up and Arequipa is definitely worth the time if you happen to be in southern Peru.

 

Adventures in Colca Canyon

Like many things I do, my trek to Colca Canyon was not carefully planned; it was more of a spontaneous impulse.

I arrived in Peru mid-March hell-bent on hiking Machu Picchu.  The universe was equally hell-bent on making sure that didn’t happen. As always, the universe won.  I poked around Cusco for a while, contemplating where to go next. Arequipa seemed like a logical place.  It has everything I look for in a destination: history, interesting architecture, something special in the vicinity that you can’t find anywhere else.

Enter Colca Canyon. It is the second deepest canyon in the world, and home to the world’s largest and most romantic bird:  the Colca Condor.

The condor has a wingspan of 10 feet, can live to be 100 years old, and mates for life.  In fact, the remaining partner often commits suicide when its partner dies.  The bird just refuses to flap its massive wings and plummets to its death. Tragic, but also somewhat romantic.

After poking around Arequipa for a few days, I headed out to Cabanaconde, a small town nestled in a chasm deeper. I had nowhere to be until May so I planned on doing a little hiking/backpacking in the area knowing that I’d be back in Peru in the fall [technically, I suppose I mean spring since seasons are reversed] I had just returned from a short day hike and was admiring the view of the canyon while sipping what would become one of my top five all-time favorite alcoholic beverages–a maracuya sour– when I saw it far off in the distance.  What ‘it’ was was a small white waterfall standing out against a wall of green. At that moment, I knew that I’d have to get a lot closer, and I wasn’t leaving the canyon until I felt that cold water on my feet

 As it turned out, the white blip was the Huaruro waterfall, a 250-foot behemoth accessible from the small village of Fure on the opposite side of the canyon.  A hiker and explorer by heart, a mountaineer I am not. Thankfully I’ve been blessed with the curse of self-awareness, and knew that getting there completely on my own was so far outside my comfort zone it would not be advisable to try.  Enter my new best friend, Jose [maybe not his real name, but he answered to it]. As a solo female traveler and even more so as a solo female adventurer heading into a canyon where I could be raped and dismembered and left for the condors to eat, I have to trust my gut when meeting guides.  After all, I am literally putting my life in their hands–at least for a few days. I met my tiny Quechua guide the day before and maybe he recognized my hesitation since he invited me to meet his family.
Meeting the family put me at ease that this wasn’t some serial killer trying to get me alone and away from civilization.  Dinner was potatoes and meat, probably alpaca–I didn’t ask–and chincha, a drink I’ve already come to loathe, and conversation was probably 75% Spanish and 25% Quechua. Don’t worry, I didn’t know I could understand Quechua either, but apparently having studied/lived with Mayans 10 years ago

After dinner, the women-folk did their cleaning up and Jose and I discussed the particulars of the trek. We would start at 7:00 in the morning, and hike from Cabanaconde down to the bottom of the canyon [a descent of approximately 3,300 feet]. After that, we’ll cross the Colca River, have lunch in Llahuar, hike up about 1,650 feet to the town of Llatica and then continue up another 600 feet to Fure, where we would sleep that first night.

The next day, we’d set out for the waterfall and then hike back down the canyon to the Sangalle oasis, where we’d spend the night. Then, early in the morning of the third day, we’d leave the oasis to hike up back to Fure and on day 4, it’s back to Cabanaconde and civilization.  Looking back, I’m grateful I’d mention up front that I wanted to go slow since I’d would be taking a lot of pictures because Jose said in the past, this had always been a 3-day trek for him.

Jose said he didn’t do this route often; not many guides did since most people just wanted to see the canyon, but for 4 days he charged me $50. Food was extra, but in reality still only amounted to another $25 for the two of us for the four days. So $75 total for four days of guiding, food, drink, and our one night in a shelter.  What a deal. Fortunately, or maybe not, I had no idea of what I was in for.

Colca Canyon Sunrise.

Into the canyon

The next morning, I was up at 5 for breakfast and last minute backpack arranging. As promised, Jose arrived promptly at 7 and off we went. We walked through the town of Cabanaconde, passing an empty bullfighting ring and the goal of an abandoned soccer stadium. From there, we descended into the canyon.

I was weaving my way down Colca Canyon, slowly– little by little, when I caught my first glimpse of the Colca River. This glistening sliver of hope encouraged me that I was getting closer to reaching the bottom of one of the deepest canyons on the planet and helped me carry on.

Almost immediately, Jose started pointing out all kinds of indigenous herbs and fruits. A plethora of plants with a variety of uses grow in the canyon: muña for indigestion, cactus fruit for asthma and jatupa for insecticide, for starters. The canyon also hosts an incredible bounty of fruit. Peaches, apples, papaya, several different types of squash, lucuma, corn, mango and figs all flourish there. And you know this just fed my little nerd heart so much.

Five hourse later, we crossed the rushing Colca River and arrived at Llahuar, a small settlement consisting of two guesthouses, where lunch was a hearty heap  of protein in the form of trout, and the requisite unidentifiable soup with a mass of avocado or potato in it, and rice.  The view was simply amazing–an overlook of the convergence of the Colca and Huaruro rivers.

 

After lunch, more hiking, this time up as we ascended to the town of Llatica, a sleepy place with a rundown church. At the end of the first uphill leg of our trip, I was completely winded. I maintain that this was due to the altitude (about 12,000 feet), not the fact that I was, well, a bit out of shape.

That’s when things started to get interesting. Right outside Llatica, we met the bearer of bad news. A group of three Peruvians guys told us the path to Fure had been blocked by a rockslide, and we’d be unable to continue. Specifically, one of the guys said that I wouldn’t be able to cross the affected path, which was now apparently a heaping pile of boulders. I am at most most effective [and stubborn] when someone tells me that I can’t do something. The guys pointed out a different trail, one that went almost to the top of the mountain and then descended to Fure.

I, of course, was not in favor of this option, considering the dire state of my knees and lungs. However, if we reached the rock slide and couldn’t get around it, we’d have to return all the way to Llatica in the dark for the night. Night hiking is not my favorite. By this time, it was already 3:00 in the afternoon. We’d been hiking since 7A and sunset would be about 6P. If I’d been smarter, I would have suggested staying in Llatica for the evening and re-evaluating my options. I wasn’t smart.

Thinking about what to do

Obstacle surmounted–chasing waterfalls

We soldiered on to  Fure where we met a young teenager who seemed more confident about our chances with the rock slide. The catch, though, was that we’d have to rock-climb up a 20-foot chasm in the mountain. There were no ropes and no harnesses, and there certainly was no emergency room close enough to make any difference. Rock-climbing has never been an interest of mine, and now I’m mentally cursing myself for never having visited a rock-climbing gym. And I was tired.  Bone-tired, but I was not at a place to stop.

By the time we got to the slide, I was running on fumes. The path ended and in its place stood a substantial rock face, which there was now no choice but to climb. On either side of the rock slide, the mountain shot straight up and dropped straight down, so there would be no walking around the boulders.

My new friend took my backpack up the crevice. Then it was my turn. My new friend and Jose told me where to put my feet and hands, and I inched up the mountain. About 15 feet up,  I got stuck. For nearly a minute, I balanced on one toe on the crack in the rock, using three fingers to grip the rock above my head. I held myself there, paralyzed, unsure whether my next move would hoist me up or land me with a broken leg.

Honestly, though, the climb was almost a relief, because I was able to make use of my arms in addition to my legs. With one big heave that involved placing my other foot on the rock above my hip and hoisting myself up, I cleared the worst of the climb. From there, just two more moves took me to the top. My new friend (I never got his real name) helped me up at the end, and Jose scrambled up quickly behind me like the native pack mule he is.

We picked up the trail again on the other side of the rockslide, and from there, we crossed a rickety bridge to Fure, where we were shown to our room for the night: a mud hut with four walls, a dirt floor and a mattress propped up on bamboo and logs.

Main Street–Fure

After a long soak in the town’s natural spring and a dinner of soup, squash puree and white rice, I went to bed and slept like a dead animal until sunrise the next day.

The Waterfall

After a relatively mild hour-and-a-half hike, we approached the waterfall. At first, all we could see was a watery mist drifting up into a vivid green pasture. Then we turned a corner, and suddenly we were at the foot of a mass of water plunging to the ground. The vegetation was dripping wet from the mist, and the noise from the water’s 250-foot drop silenced our conversation.

The hike to Sangalle oasis was thankfully, drama-free.

Colca Canyon has more to offer than resounding views and an oasis.  It has the power to challenge us both mentally and physically whilst giving us strength and a connection to the world around us.

 

 

 

Let’s get naked

Let me preface this was that I never intended to get naked. It was a frigid January day in Budapest, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from exploring.  Bundled up in all the clothing I had with me, I set out from my hostel in the historic part of Buda. The steam rising out of the drain cover caught my attention first. I paced along the walkway, limbs mechanical yet numb, face frozen, eyes rimmed with weather-induced tears. All the while thinking ” was not made for this kind of weather.”

budapest snow
Everyone was cold. I saw it in the hunched shoulders and stooped spines of the commuters who huddled past, bundled beneath thick fur coats, scarves and fur hats.  Which was why the drain surprised me.

Whimsical fingers of mist curled through the gaps, growing thinner as they spiraled up towards the sky. The sky which experience told me still loomed overhead, but which I avoided looking at in case I inadvertently exposed another sliver of my neck to Budapest’s biting air.

budapest-thermal-baths

Clouds of steam teased me from the outside–“Was it because the water was really that warm or because it was really that cold” I wondered.  I knew with absolute certainty that the concrete surface surrounding the thermal baths was freezing cold.  I had no idea whether the ‘thermal’ pool I had just paid money to use would be steaming hot or just slightly warmer than the below freezing winter air temperatures. Hoping that the steam was not a false promise, my toes tested the water below.  A split second passed before I internally began singing the Hallelujah chorus.

Warmth tickled my toes. And it was a small piece of  heaven. I stumbled down the remaining steps sliding deeper and deeper into the warm water.  I am sure people stared at me when I let out an audible sigh of relief. Luckily, it wasn’t too crowded at this bathing suit optional bath I had chosen to immerse myself in. Not knowing exactly what to do, I just sat there, naked, in my pool of hot water…watching snowflakes get eaten up by the steamy waters.

Budapest is well know for its thermal baths and Szechenyi didn’t disappoint.  It has held the title “City of Spas” since the year 1934, as it has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world. There are 118 springs in Budapest, providing over 70 million liters of thermal water a day. The temperature of the waters is between 21 and 78 Celsius.  Budapest’s thermal waters were enjoyed by the Romans as early as the 2nd century, but it was only during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century that the bath culture really started flourishing.  Today, there are 15 public thermal baths in Budapest, not counting the private thermal spas established in some luxury hotels, such as the Ramada Plaza, Thermal Hotel Margitsziget and the Corinthia Royal, which have their own spas that you can enjoy.

In some of them you can even keep your clothes on.