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Posts tagged ‘adventures’

My limited wardrobe

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

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Autumn in NYC

This weekend was one of those ones that make you glad you live in the Northeast... I love the fall! Instead of blabbering on about my weekend, I am going to tell the story with a photo-essay

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One year here

All of a sudden it was July 31st.

Which meant that I had been here for a year. Which meant that i made it through my first year of my new job. And my first year in NYC. And not just made it through, I had a ton of fun! I never would have guessed that I would like it this much.

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Here is my ‘Dear Life’

Dear Life –

I’ve been hesitant to write you because I wasn’t sure how I felt about you. I knew believed you were giving me “gifts” – but they sure didn’t feel like gifts – all that struggle and messiness?! Come on now - what kind of gifts are those?!

But now… now I think I’m getting it. And I think that I’m ready to say thank you.

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Live it like you mean it.

'Wow, that's so brave', she remarked to me, after I told her I moved here only knowing one or two people. I chuckled to myself, thinking - 'oh, if only you knew!' I decided to not share all those times that I felt scared, felt less than courageous, in the last 10 months.

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Gratitude. part dos

Last week when I wrote about making a list of what I am grateful for in this past year, a few folks asked about that list. So -- here is a portion of that list, in no particular order (the numbers are there just because I like lists, not because of priority).

38 things I am grateful for:

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Precious Life

As most of you know, I have taken a job in New York City as an School Designer, working for NYC Outward Bound Schools. Which basically means that I will be supporting schools in NYC that are implementing the Expeditionary Learning Schools model. Does it sound like the dream job for me? Yep, pretty much.

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Gettin’ my climb on

As I have told you all, Bolivia is the land of amazing geography — from salt flats, to one of the highest plateaus in the world to amazing mountain ranges, Bolivia seems to have it all.  Among mountaineers, Bolivia is well known for the Cordillera Real (the Royal Range) – home of some of the highest mountains in Bolivia, many of them over 6,000m.

the view up the glacier and the mountain

[side note for all my American readers — I know that we are still stuck in the world of feet and inches and pounds and gallons, alone in the world, sticking to our guns… er, measurements.  But, as you probably also know — the rest of the world has agreed to all use the same measurements, making it easy for everyone else to understand meters and celsius without needing to do quick math in their heads.  My tactic?  Just go with the crowd….]


In any case, if you know me, you know that I have a thing for mountains.  Especially the big snow covered variety.  And since every tour agency in La Paz offers a climb to Huayna Potosi, I decided to investigate.  Turns out that I could take a guided climb for 3 days and try for the summit, 6,088m.  I spent a while talking to one tour agency run by a Bolivian doctor who is also a climber (and starting some studies on high altitude health).  We had some fun talks about mountains and though he was quirky (to put it mildly), I felt pretty good about the agency and decided to sign on.  It took a few days for their to be a group for the day(s) I wanted, but finally it looked like it was a go as one other person signed up for the day I wanted to go!

Now, I have never done a guided climb before, being the guide myself or going with friends.  But, not having any firends here to go with, it makes it a whole lot harder to go climbing.  I tend to not love guided trips – as I do not like people waiting on me and I always want to help – which makes them uncomfortable (as that is not how it is done).  But, as one friend pointed out, how nice would it be to show up and have all the food already taken care of?  Good point.

on the way up the mountain (which is behind me in the clouds)

In any case, our group of 3 — Feliciano — our guide, Elad — an Israeli navy lieutenant traveling in South America for 4 months after his 7 years of service, and myself, headed up to the mountain.  Feliciano, who is 40, has been spending time in the mountains since he was 14 and has been a guide for 16 years.  He has climbed all the mountains in Bolivia, and most major peaks in Peru, Argentina and some in Ecuador.  We had fun talking about Aconcagua (he has climbed all the routes there — which is super impressive!)

Feliciano, Elad and I on the way down

The refugio we were staying at the first night was pretty close to La Paz — just 14 or so km from the city boundary.  After arriving and eating lunch, we headed up to the glacier for snow school — which was pretty much just learning how to use an ice axe, walk with crampons and play on the snow.  Technically, I probably did not need this day as walking in crampons is something I feel pretty confident with — but at the same time, it was nice to go out their with the guide and feel confident about their skills and their method of teaching.  And, I will always take a day to go play in the snow!

Elad and I after climbing school — don’t mind the krusty the clown look…..

In any case, before I bore you non-mountaineering-types with stories of snow and ice, the schedule was to get as much sleep as possible the first day and then to head up to the high camp the next day (which can take our guide close to 40-50 minutes, but took us about 3 hours – but more on that later), eat dinner there and then try and get a few hours of sleep before waking at midnight to head up to the summit (anywhere from 4-8 hours).

The walk to high camp was beautiful — though cloudy.  But we got some great views of the glacier, distant peaks and the valley below.  Plus Huayna Potosi is a beautiful mountain (see for yourself).

the summit is the peak on the right

I would not say that I am in the best shape of my life — exercise has been intermittent, coffee and brownies are indulged in on a regular basis (‘oh, just a little treat for myself’), Bolivia hasn’t been super kind to my digestive system and every hostel I stay in seems to have a gazillion smokers.  But, I tend to do well at altitude and my strength has always been in my ability to walk up hills for hours, albeit slowly.  This trip proved to be the same, and though I don’t feel like I am in the best shape ever, I am definitely more in shape in comparison to other tourists.  And when you are in a group, you know who’s speed you walk at……

front pointing…. up a very small hill. fun none-the-less

The high camp refugio was small, basically a shack with a kitchen — an upper and lower bunk where at least 12-18 could sleep (if you were really crowded in).  Us 3 showed up early, but then a group of 5 Israelis, 1 Dutch girl (the only other girl around), and their 3 guides showed up — making it a home for 12.  After an early dinner of ramen noodles and hot dogs ((I know you are jealous), we tried to go to sleep at 6:30 for our midnight wake-up call.  Between nerves (I am always nervous before a climb — just ask my climbing partner how I did the afternoon we spent staring at the west face of shasta before we climbed it!), listening to a roomful of snoring boys, and how hot a tiny shack can get with 12 bodies crammed into it — all I could do was rest my body as my watch registered the hours (and yes — I heard them all from 7 until 11, at which point I resigned myself to pulling an all-nighter – which of course lead me to try and remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter… but I digress).

Alpine starts are one of my favorite things about mountaineering.  I don’t know why, there is just something so cool about waking up before everyone else and heading up the mountain.  I love climbing in the dark – seeing the stars, faint outlines of the mountain before me and the sight of headlamps making their way up the mountain.  And the reward for that?  Seeing the sunrise from high up on the mountain.

sunrise on Huayna Potosi

This time was no different.    We started off at 1:40 (following a cluster in the refugio as tired folks struggled to put on harnesses, plastic boots, and crampons — new for most of them) with Feliciano leading us up the mountain, followed by Elad  and then myself.  Though the climb was really hard for Elad, I was really impressed with his ability to steadily keep moving.  Others (the other climbing party) were struggling — frequently throwing themselves to the ground desperately needing a break.  But Elad really pushed himself and kept moving.  Though we started at least half an hour after the other climbing teams (each rope team had two clients and one guide), we quickly caught up with them and leap-frogged with them for the rest of the climb.

It was a beautiful night, not a cloud in sight, fairly warm and no winds.  In other words, a perfect climbing night.  The snow was crisp, if just a bit sugary, and the climb was fairly straight forward.  We snaked past some gaping crevasses and climbed a pretty awesome 45 degree slope over a crevasse (front pointing is ALWAYS fun!).  The approach to the summit was steep and exposed, with the finally approach along the ridge to the small summit (that dropped off to the extremely steep west face).  It was probably one of the more exposed climbs I have done, which was fine on the ascent, a bit spookier on the descent (requiring full attention which is why I unfortunately do not have any pictures of it).

Cheesy grin after summitting

We arrived at the summit just in time for the sunrise, which did not fail to impress.  Mountains in all directions glowing from the rising sun and the pink clouds below us.  But, in mountaineering, the summit is just a small part of the journey, so we took some pictures (weak shots as there was not enough light) and then headed down in increasing day light.  I was astounded as we descended at how beautiful it was — Bolivia at that moment owning my heart (sorry Patagonia, India and Nepal).

horrible shot, but that is us on the summit

Our descent was fairly quick and involved some fun ‘skiing’ down some slopes (once we were past the glaciers) and we arrived back at the lower refugio in time for an early lunch and our ride back to La Paz.  My second highlight of the day?  Playing with the concinera (cook’s) daughter.  She was adorable, I only understood about a third of what she said (ok, make that 1/8th, so I just said ‘no se’ a lot), but we had so much fun playing outside!

was the summit the highlight of my day or playing with senorita?!

Feliciano, seeing my skills and knowing that I had climbed before, offered to guide me up other mountains if I wished.  We spoke last night (my first spanish conversation on the phone!) and then texted today and I decided to try for Illimani later this week.  It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision as he texted me saying I needed to decide quickly as he was headed back up the mountain with another group today.  There were plenty of reasons to say no (money, spending more time in La Paz since we cannot go until Friday, money and more money), but then again  — when will I get a chance to climb the second highest peak in Bolivia with a private guide?!

I’m a little nervous (when am I not?) as this peak is higher, a bit more technical and potentially longer.  But, I guess that is why I have a guide!  And, I’ll tell you what, it felt damn good to be up on a mountain again.   I remembered that my goal on this adventure was to climb and trek as much as possible — and so this seems to be a good way to achieve my goals!  So now, I am going to try and figure out how to entertain myself and not spend a lot of money for the next few days!

I took this picture 3 times trying to get myself pointing at the summit….

Southwest Bolivia – Land of the Incredible

Southwest Bolivia – volcanoes, flamingos, llamas, salt flats, cactus, geysers.  It is hard to believe that it is all here.

I have spent the past week or so exploring SW Bolivia – including taking a 4 day jeep tour that allowed us to get into the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world.  It also took us past geysers, volcanoes, flamingos and lots and lots of open countryside.

yoga in the salar

sunrise yoga on the salar

Before the tour, I first spent a few days exploring Tupiza with its red rocks, cactus and high desert mountains.  It was great to get out and explore the landscape – I went for a few hikes, walked around town, bought the paper and tried to translate stories, went to the market for breakfast (cafe con leche and pasteles – basically fried dough) and ate saltenas (like empanadas but better — filled with meat, eggs, olives and other goodies!).

one of the canyons near tupiza

flowering cactus near tupiza

one of many cactus i took pictures of

cross at a mirador in tupiza

cross on top of a mirador overlooking Tupiza, we climbed up there for the sunset (which was not epic)

The tour, though very expensive, allowed me to see parts of the southwest that would have been difficult to see otherwise.  I was in a group with 2 Italians, 1 French and myself.  Plus our driver and our cook.  It ended up being great.  The four of us got along great and the views were extraordinary, even with not great weather.

our group in the salar - me, Elisa, Tommy and Kevinour group – me, Elisa, Tommy and Kevin

Our guide and cook with Elisa and I

Our guide and cook with Elisa and I

Basically, we spent  the better part of 4 days in the jeep and we would get out and look at the ‘main’ sites.  Ed Abbey would hate it.  But, as I mentioned, it would be hard to get into these areas on my own unless I had own vehicle (note to self, next time I visit South America, it should be by bike or by vehicle!).   But, the sites are tourist sites because of how beautiful they are!

probably one of the more photographed rocks in the world

probably one of the more photographed rocks in the world

Our day would start with breakfast (mate or coffee and bread) and then we would pile into the jeep and head off.  Half way through the morning, Clemencia would pass back a snack (yogurt in a plastic sleeve or oreos), we would stop at various sites until it was time for lunch.  Then Clemencia would prepare lunch on the back of the jeep and we would eat more, pile into the jeep and head off for more sites.  We saw many many lagunas, llamas, flamingos and mountains.



Flamencos at Laguna Colorado

Flamencos at Laguna Colorado

During the afternoon, our jeep was pretty funny.  Chewing cocoa leaves is very common in Bolivia (in fact the president wants to export it).  Our driver and cook chewed it like it was going out of style – popping leaves into their mouths at a constant rate.  We all (Elisa, Tommy, Kevin and I) also had a bag and would ‘chew’ it as well.  Basically, you take a wad of leaves – chew them just slightly and then stuff them into your cheek.  So, there were times when none of us spoke and we all had big wads of coca in our mouths.  The cocoa leaves have a slightly bitter taste and are used medicinally here – good for altitude.  But they are used in teas and for chewing and you can buy them at every market.  The real connoisseurs  (which is every Bolivian) take something alkaline with it to enhance the effects.  Clemencia shared some with us and you can tell a difference.

Besides never seeing cactus and llamas and flamingos in the wild before, I had never seen geysers.  They weren’t epic like I have heard they are in Yellowstone, but they were still pretty amazing.  We got out of the jeep and were able to walk around — some were shooting steam into the air, others were piles of bubbling mud.  It was all pretty amazing!


geysers and bubbling mud

But the part that we were all waiting for was the salar — one of the largest and highest salt flats in the world.  I was pretty excited because we were there during the rainy season – which meant that the water on the salt flat would reflect the sky.  The pictures I had seen were pretty epic.  We went out there early in the morning hoping to see the sun rise, though it was a cloudy morning – though, I am not sure there is a bad day on the salar.

sunrise on the salar

sunrise on the salar

salar de uyuni

salar de uyuni

Following the tour, I took a bus to Potosi – a town that sits at just under 4000m (close to 13,000 feet) and is well known for the silver mining operations.  One of the big tourist things to do here is to take a tour of the mines (and you can bring the miners gifts like dynamite, cigarettes, beer and cocoa leaves).  I am not sure if I will do it, but the town is quite beautiful (stay tuned for another titillating post!)

Take care friends — hope you enjoy the pictures!

I get scared each time

I get scared each time I do something new.

I get scared when I change countries or take a bus for the first time in a country or when I have to communicate with people and we don’t share the same language or sometimes even when I change towns.

church in Jujuy

But once I do that new thing, once I take that first bus ride or figure out directions on my own, it as all ok again.  Until the next new adventure, of course.

hiking in the rain

So, the other day when I left Mike and Beth and took a 21 hour bus ride north to Jujuy, I was really nervous.  This was my first solo experience in Argentina.  My first solo bus trip.  My first foray into Spanish.  I had been hiding behind Beth big time, on the Spanish front — having her do all my communicating!  But now, it was all up to me….

It is the little things – the little steps that feel like big accomplishments.  For instance, I had to make a transfer on my bus to get here (Jujuy).  I was not sure of what the bus guy said (they speak so damn fast) and so I asked my bus neighbor.  I found out I had to transfer buses at that moment.

Another accomplishment:  I took the public bus to Lagunas de Yala — these three lakes that I hiked up to.  I found the bus, took the bus, asked for directions and caught the bus back.  All by myself.

one of the three lakes

I have gotten food in the market, ordered coffee and translated a whole newspaper article (that took me a long time and had to look up a lot of the words!).

main building of the plaza in jujuy

These might not sound like a big deal, but with each success I feel more comfortable and confident.  Sometimes traveling by myself, I spend a lot of time by myself and in my own head (especially with the language barrier).  It is hard to not psyche myself out sometimes.

So — now I am feeling like I can make it on my own again (of course I knew that I could but….  like I said, sometimes I get scared….).

Tomorrow, I head north to Tilcara which is on the way to Bolivia.  It is suppose to be a beautiful area that is just an hour and a halj north of here.  I am not sure how long I will stay there, though I imagine that I will make my way into Bolivia around the first of the month.  And I am sure that I will get scared once again.  But until then, I think I am ready to tackle the challenges in front of me.

the view from lagunas de yala

Oh, and did I mention that I am here during rainy season?