Açores, beauty discovered

IMG_8477Little did I know, that I was starting one of the longest 24 hours of my life.  After taking off from Minneapolis, I settled in for a quick nap, before tuning into John Wick 2 for some entertainment.  I quite enjoyed it and resolved myself to watch the first one after I got back.  I had a difficult time sleeping afterwards, because the thought of flying through Nantes, France kept bugging me.

After touchdown in Amsterdam, I worked my way through security and spent the next 2 hours researching options for a better arrival time in Ponta Delgada.  Eventually, I exited the main terminal, approached TAP airlines about a ticket from Amsterdam to Lisbon to Ponta Delgada, in which they directed me to Delta/KLM to see if they could reschedule without any detriment to myself (which they wouldn’t), and then re-approached TAP, and bought a new ticket for roughly $300.  It extended my layover time to 8 hours, but I’d arrive in Ponta Delgada around 11:30pm.

I consider this a win for the most part, except, when it comes to questions of letting-go and going with the flow of life, I once again traded a potential adventure for certainty.  It’s not the first time I’ve done this (and probably not the last), but now that it’s done, I have a nagging feeling that something fantastic and wonderful could have happened to me if I just would have given Nantes, France a try (if only for one night).  Now we’ll never know…..  It’s one of the things that I really enjoy about travel – each trip prompts me to question how I approach challenges in life, and beckons me to let go of expectations and judgments for how thing’s “ought to be”.

I arrived at my hotel late, exhausted, and overall feeling disgusting in the clothes that I’ve been wearing for 36+ hours now.  Honestly, travel can be one of the dirtiest experiences you’ll ever experience.  Anybody that says otherwise is either lying, or spends their “adventures” hanging out in “all-inclusives” being pampered and living the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  It’s not my choice for adventure.

I checked into Out of the Blue hostel the next day and immediately felt at home.  Most hostels (at least the good ones) focus on building community and connecting people.  I immediately signed up for their pizza night, where a good portion of the hostelers spent the night socializing and making their own pizza concoctions from scratch.  Over the next 3 nights, I made a number of new friends, some from the states, and others from England, Portugal, France, etc.  I lounged in their hammocks while I spent extensive time catching up my reading.  When I think about the activities I did while near Ponta Delgada, the best memories were (and will always be) the people that I interacted with and the adventures I had.

My two dives were mostly disappointing.  I originally signed up for four, but cancelled the last two.  In fact, I almost cancelled after the first dive, after going through my air tank in record time and getting sick on the way back to port.  But, it’s amazing how much your stomach settles down after you projectile-vomit across the side of the whale-watching-boat-turned-scuba vessel.  My scuba partner was extremely understanding as I soiled the area that he originally was seated.

So disappointment aside, it was great to make up for my diving performance by hiking a volcanic crater, Lagoa do Fogo with three other hostelers the day after.  It gave me some good exercise and good company.  We all spent the night at the Hostel barbecue talking world politics and getting to know each other’s background.

The next day, I was invited to go to the north of the island, but instead, decided to rest up and do my favorite activity, jack-shit.  Due to scheduling at my current hostel, I checked into the 1ofus Bed and Breakfast, 3 blocks away.  After checking in, I took 2 long naps that day, and spent the evening walking the board walk.  I found over the years that I dislike travel where I’m moving from place to place and doing something all the time.  Travel is no different from real-life for me.  I need down-time.  I sometimes criticize myself for not fitting more into my travels, but the alternative is that I’m burnt out and not enjoying myself.

The next day would be my last full day on the island, so I caved, and rented a car for the day.  I hate driving in different countries, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being on a bus for the day, not having any control over where I stopped or what I saw.  At 9am, I picked up the car, and headed for Farol do Arnel, a lighthouse on the other end of the island, just south of Nordeste.  After 8 hours of driving around the island, I can honestly say that it is one of the most beautiful islands I have ever experienced.  Rolling green mountains and beautiful flowers and shrubbery.  There’s nothing a naturist wouldn’t love here.

I spent my last evening here eating and drinking tea at my two new favorite cafe’s, Cafe Cazzif (or the 3/4 cafe) and Cafe Louvre Michaelense.  I love the isolation of being on an island, but I’m looking forward to the mainland tomorrow.  If nothing else, it’s a chance to hopefully get away from the second-hand smoke that is so prevalent on this island.

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Introduction to re-discovering my love for travel

Looking at my last post here, you would think that I haven’t traveled at all for almost 2 years.  The truth is, I’ve taken much smaller trips, and which I haven’t felt like I really have anything to say.  I could have written about snowboarding in Vancouver, or hiking the kettles on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound area of Washington state, or even walking Cannon Beach in Oregon numerous times over a week during Christmas 2016.  There’s been a lot on my mind, but no desire to put it down on paper.

So, here I am, mid-2017, and I needed to use a travel credit to Europe.  Namely, I need to use something on Delta/KLM.  I originally planned a trip for Luxembourg, but instead, cancelled, procrastinated, and then finally decided on Portugal and the Azores about a month prior.  I’m not much for planning things out ahead of time lately.  I’ve been asked many times over the last month, why I chose Portugal and the Açores, and basically, it comes down to a picture I saw posted on facebook of Mike “Rooftop” Escamilla (BMX and Adventure Sports athlete) diving in the Açores.  It looked amazing, and I felt like I needed to go.

For the past 3 years, I’ve been re-establishing myself financially and continuing to minimize my belongings……. with the intent of getting back out there and doing some globe-trotting for an extended period of time.  And 3 years later, I’m questioning why I haven’t left yet.  A new found conservative / laid-back approach to life, and a new girlfriend have created an unexpected shift in priorities.  But, travel nags at me from time to time, and I felt I needed to rediscover that part of my soul.  So I decided on 2 weeks in Portugal.

Like all trips, the weeks leading up to it are pretty much the same.  I find myself questioning whether I picked the right place or time to take my trip.  I start to worry about being away.  Some is paranoia of losing my job or something happening to my living arrangements while I’m away.  It’s preposterous – I know – but also a reminder that I need to get out of myself for awhile.  The nights leading up to my departure are usually sleepless with worry starting to set in that I’m continuing putting-off packing.  Do I really want to go?

But, the night before, I find myself 95% packed (I only pack enough to fit in a carry-on and a small bag that fits underneath the seat in front of me), and I sleep slightly better than the previous week.  I squeeze two final moments with the girlfriend into my schedule and ride off to the airport.

I’m already checked in, so I just go to the Delta kiosk to print off my tickets and….. something is wrong.  Instead of flying Minneapolis to Amsterdam and then continuing with KLM to Lisbon, they have my flight going through Nantes, France, and then continuing onto Lisbon the next day, which completely screws up my flight to the Açores and plans for the first day that I’m there.  After 30 minutes of investigation with Delta’s concierge, I find out the KLM flight was cancelled.

I guess it’s like Yvon Choinard once said:  “For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when the adventure starts”.

Francophone

It’s been well over a month since my last adventure, which I think is very illuminating of my inability to focus my time on other things and being unable to reflect upon my recent adventure.

It had been over six months since my last adventure, and I’d been starting to feel that familiar restlessness coupled with burnout from my current job.  So, I had originally romanticized a motorcycle trip up the west coast from California to Vancouver until I did the math and decided on something smaller.  So, wanting to work on my Franglais a bit, I decided to head north to that magical place called Canada and spend a week in Quebec followed by a week back in Minneapolis doing my favorite thing in the world:  Late morning in bed followed by Jack-Shit..

IMG_7940For some odd reason, I was completely oblivious to departure times when I purchased my round-trip tickets to Montreal.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, or maybe I had just procrastinated for so long, that I just overlooked the details, but I my flight out of Minneapolis was at 6am, which meant that I would getting up at 3am to make my flight.  And to be honest, when I woke up that morning, I considered eating the cost of my ticket so that I could enjoy two weeks of doing very little instead of one.  But there’s nothing like having hundreds of dollars invested in something to give you that nice, unhealthy, kick in the rear and send you on your way.  Yeah – I’m going on an adventure.  So, being a master of small goals, I decided to just get on the plane and have whatever adventure comes my way.

I arrived at the lightrail station only to find out that they were inoperable for the weekend.  I was lucky enough to hail a taxi at that hour in the morning and get a ride to the airport.  The thing about adventures, is that there are many times when things don’t go your way and you’re forced to find another way.  Here’s hoping that I’ve completed my fill of miss-fires for the duration of the trip.  Upon arriving at the airport, I was immediately greeted by fear and desist propaganda blaring over the airport loudspeakers.  After 12 hours of wandering in airports and being packed into small planes like a sardine (United), I finally arrived in Montreal.

IMG_0603It was raining heavily when I boarded the bus to downtown.  Enroute to my hostel, I struck up a conversation with Gabrielle, a nurse from Montreal, who helped me get to my stop, and set me off in the direction of my hostel.  Being mostly tired from traveling that day, I set off to find some food and then take it easy for the night.

For the next couple of days, I feasted on a Hostel continental breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, apple muffins, and orange juice.  It’s free, it sustains me until well into the afternoon, and the hostel doesn’t care that I lounge around their common room in my plaid pajamas.  Having been oblivious to my departure plans earlier, I did however luck out and book my hostel close to the Latin Quarter and the Old Town (Port Vieux).

IMG_7928I spent my first full day in Montreal exploring the Old Town, where I first entered the Marche Bensecours, a small tourist shopping market in an old Victorian-style building.  I first walked by and then entered Labo Gourmand, an outlet for a Apple Cider Wine maker, I caught the eye of Natalie, a beautiful woman from Colombia, coaxing me into the store for some wine tasting.  Even after explaining to her that I had no room to store wine for my trip, she continued pouring small samples for me to try.  Now that’s salesmanship.  I took her card and was off.  The day was grey and after walking around the mist and melancholy hanging the air of the old port that day, I decided to head into a small cafe for a tea and pannini.  It was there that I met Pam, a tour guide that was speaking both French and English with her friend.  I chatted her up a bit and she gladly gave me some suggestions before heading back to work..

I retired to my room at the hostel for a nap.  Upon waking up, I checked the couchsurfing website and was surprised to find a meetup 2 blocks from my hostel that evening.  Making my way to the bar, I walked through Jardin Gamelin and happened upon a swing dance put on by Cat’s Corner dance studio in the park.  I quickly joined the group and started dancing with some of the lovely ladies of Montreal.  After about 45 minutes of dancing, I arrived at the restaurant to find a very small couchsurfing meetup in progress.  With me, the total equaled 3 people.  It’s sad to see couchsurfing deteriorate in popularity over the years, but things change.  After wolfing down some dinner, I headed back to the swing dance in the park for another hour of dancing.

The next morning, I decided to familiarize myself with Montreal’s Subway system, which is actually pretty interesting.  It is one of the few (if not only) subway system in the world where the cars ride on rubber wheels.  My first goal of the day was to take Pam’s advice from the day before and head out to the Marche de Jean-Talon, a big open market with a number of different cultural eateries in the area.  However, after walking 3 blocks, I realized my laptop bag was insufficient and uncomfortable for carrying my camera equipment. After stopping in Atmosphere, a sports store, I picked up a small Osprey day pack and headed out.

IMG_0585When I arrived at the Marche de Jean Talon, it was packed with people searching for fresh fruit and vegetables.  Being hungry, I stumbled upon a neat little Italian bakery for some homemade pizza, before returning to the market to wander around and play with my Camera.  I picked up a couple of fresh Peaches and decided to take in Mont Royal, a big hill with a huge chateau and spectacular views of the city.  Upon arriving at the Chateau, I was surprised to hear the soundtrack from the film Amelie Poulain being played by a young woman sitting at a piano right outside.  A backpacker giving a free concert to any passerby that would listen.  After an hour or so of walking, I decided to head back.  On my way from the Bus to the Metro, I happened upon The Royal Pickles, a Montreal ragtime band playing “I’m Just a Giggolo” for a small audience.  The wonderful thing about wandering around and exploring new cities is stumbling upon the small concerts and shows that people often put on.  Busking is an art enjoyed by all.  I was looking forward to tomorrow.  New destination, new adventure.

IMG_7957Another benefit of my hostel’s location was that I was only 3 blocks away from the Bus Station.  After settling in to my seat, I was shown a series of safety videos warning me not to play music too loud, not to bang on the seat in front of me, and of course, not to smoke marijuana on the bus.  Canada, you disappoint me.  But after 3 hours, I had arrived in Quebec City.  I was starving so, I grabbed a chicken wrap that tasted about as good as cheese-flavored packing material and caught a taxi to my hostel.  Situated in the old town of Quebec, near the board walk and an old Citadel, my hostel Auberge Internationale de Quebec was within walking distance of everything.  I checked into my 6 person dorm-room and quickly made the acquaintance of my Parisian room-mate.  After walking around the old town, I stopped in and Irish Pub on St. Jean street for another Poutine dinner before heading back to the hostel.

IMG_0642Most good hostels have an area where people can hang out, meet, and usually order a beer.  The Auberge Internationale de Quebec was not different.  I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a fine Quebecois beer from my new German friend Gunnar, a slightly weird, but laughable German, who has been doing his internship in Hospitality here for the last couple of months.  After about 30 minutes, people started piling in, and I came to find out that the Hostel had a Bar crawl planned for that evening.  Wanting to meet people and hopefully practice my French a bit more, I decided to tag along.  After walking about 3/4 mile, we arrived at our first destination.  Aside from two girls from Canada and the US, everyone else was speaking French.  I met a number of people from Quebec and France.  After 2 stops, I headed back to the hostel tired, and ready to sleep.  I got four hours of sleep, before my Parisian roommate returned, drunk.  After collapsing on his bed, he quickly passed  out and started to snore.  After a couple of feeble attempts to quiet him, I resigned myself to a fitful night of sleep.  Life in a hostel dormitory.

Lucky for me, he had an early departure, so I was able to sleep in and get a decent amount of rest.  After a late start, I finally got some momentum and headed out around noon to catch a bus up to see the waterfalls at Montmorency.  Not nearly as spectacular as Iguazu, but nonetheless, it was a cool experience.  One which provided me the opportunity to get out of the hustle of the city, and experience nature a (tiny) bit.

IMG_0651I returned to my hostel and took a quick nap before wandering out for some dinner.  I spent the evening walking along the boardwalk, taking pictures of the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and venturing to the edge of Lower town.  My day was coming to an end, and I had to catch a bus back to Montreal the next day, so I went back to the hostel and decided to hang out with Gunnar one more time before leaving.  Gunnar is a funny guy – after expounding upon my troubles with my loud Parisian friend the night before, Gunnar couldn’t help himself but tease me that with his internship came the benefits of having a private room.

Later, another traveler, John, a motorcyclist from New Jersey sauntered up to the bar to have a beer.  Squeezing in a small motorcycle trip over 4 days to Quebec City and back, John was a perfect example of someone that was time-poor – someone trying to fit in as much as he possibly could before having to return to work in a couple of days.  We talked about travel and he conveyed his desire to travel for a long(er) period of time.  Even at 37, he was convinced it wasn’t possible, the threat of his disapproving father hovering above him.  I encouraged him to go anyways.  Parents (usually) come around.  But it was a reminder, that even though I was able to allow myself a week to enjoy Quebec, that I was somehow slipping back into an old lifestyle where my life is mainly dictated by my work and life obligations.  While I had felt the dread of leaving Minneapolis for Montreal in the beginning, I had finally settled into a travel rhythm and was enjoying myself.  I can feel myself getting restless, now that the thrill of traveling has started to sink back into every pore of my knowing soul.  It calls to me like a siren that I cannot ignore.  It tugs at me, softly compelling me towards certain decisions without ever realizing why.

IMG_7973The next day, I returned to Montreal feeling that my trip was winding down.  I already knew it wouldn’t be enough time to truly decompress.  But I do the best that I can, experiencing what I can in the time I have available to me.  After checking back into the hostel I had originally stayed at, I decided to look up Cat’s Corner dance studio and take their Friday night dance lesson, followed by their late-night dance.  I quickly set out for that area of town, and before arriving at the studio, stopped into a local restaurant for my fifth or sixth poutine dinner.  By that time, I had lost track of how much poutine I had eaten on this trip, but suspected that I had eaten close to my body-weight of fries, cheese-curds, and gravy.  My Canadian friends would be proud.

I headed to their studio after dinner and checked in for the lesson.  It was fairly basic, but I hadn’t expected much.  I was mainly there for the dancing and  socializing.  During the night, I had struck up a conversation with Emily, an attractive dancer who described the experience of Montreal as “orgasmic”.  I tried to talk her into being my guide the next day, but she unfortunately had to move into a new apartment.  I guess I’ll have to experience the orgasm that is Montreal on my own.

My last day in Montreal was gray and dreary, which was fitting, because that is how it was when I had arrived.  It felt like somehow things had come full-circle, and I would be leaving the same way I arrived, but hopefully with something new to take away and influence my life in some positive manner.

IMG_0752I hit the subway one last time and headed out to the Bio-Dome near the Olympic Stadium.  The Bio-Dome is somewhat like a zoo, but with 6 different eco-systems.  There, they let many of the animals roam free, with some barriers to protect the animals from human interaction.  After the Bio-Dome, I headed out to Mile End, a popular area of Montreal.  I had heard of a place called Dieu du Ciel (God of Heaven), a brew pub that supposedly had great beer and food.  I arrived there late in the afternoon and was lucky to arrive just before a line started forming out the door and down the block.  After waiting in line for 20 minutes, I finally reached the bar.  I wanted to order food, but there was no place to sit, so I ordered a drink and headed outside to enjoy my beer.  Here, I struck up a friendly conversation with a Montreal native and his friend from the US.  We discussed politics in which I was told “It’s really up to Ottawa.  If the vote among the liberal parties is split like it was last time, then we’ll have Harper for another term.  But hopefully they get their shit together and unite under the Liberals.”  Imagine that in the most thick Canadian accent you can imagine.  Regardless, I was getting hungry, and my new friend recommended heading straight down St. Laurent and finding a place called Schwartz’s.  Schwartz’s is well know for making an amazing cured smoked-meat sandwich.  When I arrived, the place was packed.  I waited 5 minutes before a person directed me to an open spot next to the assembly area.  My lucky day.  It was in-and-out in this place.  I ordered a sandwich and poutine and it arrived in under 10 minutes.  The meat was so tender it was literally falling apart on its own.  Another satisfying gastronomic experience to add to my travel memories.

IMG_7968And then the evening was spent having dinner at the 3 Brasseurs (3 Brewers) in the old port.  I started to zone out and reflect.  I had been running around for the last 7 days, experiencing everything I could.  It was at a leisurely pace, but one which left me feeling like the trip had been too short.  I walked back to my hostel in a very melancholy rain, knowing I’d be sleeping early so that I could catch the 3am bus to the airport.  If I take away one thing learned from this trip that I might improve about my travels, it is to book my plane tickets later in the day, so that I might sleep in more.

But here’s to one more week of sleeping in and decompressing before returning to work.

Winter Exile

Skyline

It’s been 8 months at my new job, and I’ve been feeling the need to have an adventure.  I was planning a 3 week snowboarding extravaganza through Colorado, Utah, and up to Canada, until the death of my sewage ejection pump in my rental property suddenly nixed that glorious idea.  After its demise, I didn’t really want to spend money on an adventure, but the Minneapolis winter and burn-out from work prompted me to impose a winter exile on myself.  So, I settled on 6 days in Colorado, attempting to hit as many slopes as my body and time would allow.

I was excited because this trip would allow me to try out airbnb for the first time in my life.  Being an avid couchsurfer in the past, I felt it would be a similar experience.  Also, a week before leaving, a friend of mine informed me that he and another person I knew from Minneapolis would be up before the weekend to hopefully do some snowboarding and skiing with me.

IMG_7842After renting a car and having lunch with my friend in Denver, I drove up to Silver Plume, where I met my hosts for the week.  Geoff and Lauren are two extremely laid back and friendly people that have a lifestyle which allows them to work from home.  A modest and beautiful home at the base of the mountains.  Ten minutes from Loveland Ski resort, the location was perfect.  They greeted me at the door along with their two hyperactive but loveable dogs, Jake and Dexter.  After dropping my gear and settling in, I headed out to Lucha Cantina in Georgetown where I ate nachos with their “Ghost Salsa”, the hottest salsa I’d ever had in my life.

IMG_7852The next morning, I awoke early and headed up to Arapahoe Basin ski area.  It was lightly snowing, but not cold.  It has been two years since my last snowboarding adventure in Whistler, BC, so I spent the morning getting my snowboard legs back.  At lunch, I stopped by the pub for a quick bite when I suddenly lost my favorite beanie from Patagonia, which I had bought it in the fall at Midwest Mountaineering and had worn all winter.  I was surprised how quickly my mood had changed.  As I’ve traveled, I’ve gotten used to losing things or having them stolen.  I usually don’t worry about it too much.  But the beanie…. well, it made me start to question the attachments that I have in life.  “It’s just a hat.  You’ll find another”.  Or maybe not – I’m pretty particular about the things I own now.

Welcome flames after a busy day of snowboarding.

Welcome flames after a busy day of snowboarding.

I did a couple more runs for the day, and after being satisfied that I was now carving up the blue diamond runs well, decided to head back.  I was exhausted and ready to bed down for the night.  It’s funny to think about, but after waking from my slumber in the middle of the night, I headed to bathroom, groggily to take care of some business.  While all seem quiet for about 5 seconds, I could suddenly hear a flurry of activity outside the bathroom door.  Both dogs locked in a hurricane of play-fighting which dissipated after 2 or 3 seconds.  As if the dogs awake from their sleep ready to battle at a moments notice.  There can be only one!  Luckily, I could make it back to my bed at this point without getting attacked.

Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

Tuesday, I woke up tired and sore and realized that any attempt at snowboarding would be a waste of my energies that day.  I spent my time getting up and then headed to Denver for the day.  After checking out the botanical gardens and the 16th ave mall, I located a Patagonia store hoping to replace my lost beanie.  By this time of year, they’re rolling out their spring clothing line, which means no beanies were in sight.  I headed back a little dejected to Silver Plume.  My neck was feeling better and I was ready for another day of snowboarding.

Wednesday, I decided to head to Keystone.  I had heard that it was a fun place to go and it definitely didn’t disappoint.  The weather was beautiful, if a bit cold in the morning.  I put on my gear, inhaled an egg sandwich and then wiped away the orange juice dripping from my chin, ready to attack the mountain for what would be my most glorious day of riding snow.

Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

Snowboarding requires all your concentration.  Like other sports, surfing, rock-climbing, etc, you quickly concentrate on your movements.  For me, it’s much like meditation.  Rocking back and forth, applying force to your back foot to steer, it’s like concentrating on your breathing during meditation.  It is meditation, and helps me to clear my mind.  Many times throughout the day, I’d stop on some slope and peer out at the vastness of some of earths glorious mountains and remind myself how fortunate I am to be in this place and have these experiences.  A sunbeam would dance across my face illuminating a smile that didn’t leave until long after I had left for the day.

Ready to go.

Ready to go.

It had only been 3 days, but I was starting to feel the need for some companionship.  I consider myself a pretty solitary figure and enjoy traveling alone, yet, there are times…. when being alone is not exactly welcome and the alone-ness turns to loneliness.  I read so many travel articles on how great it is to travel alone and for the most part I agree.  You can make friends everywhere, but it’s just not possible to create the type of connection that you may really want at any given opportunity.  At least not for me…..

So, I reached out and tracked down my friends who informed me they had made it to Colorado and were in the process of heading up to the mountain.  We agreed to meet in Frisco for some dinner and laughs.  It would be a nice change from the solo trip I had taken thus far.

Denver Botanical Gardens

Denver Botanical Gardens

I burned up the afternoon, grabbing some Starbucks in Dumont and then napping the remainder of the afternoon away.  I arrived in Frisco ahead of my friends by an hour, so I located the bar we had agreed to meet at, ordered up a drink, and sat back while I enjoyed reading Drive by Daniel Pink.  After 45 minutes, my friends showed up and we headed to the sushi place next door where we caught up over jokes and stories about the dumb things we’ve done in the past.  Later, I opted to leave early so that I could ensure to get some time snowboarding the next day.  They informed me that there was a storm forecast-ed for the next afternoon, so I wasn’t sure I’d even get a full day of snowboarding in.  We still agreed to meet up at Copper Mountain the next day for my last day of snowboarding before heading home.

Memories and Laughs

Memories and Laughs

I woke up the next day fairly early to cloudy skies and slight flurries.  I headed out to the mountain, strapped on my gear and sent messages to my friends.  No response.  Being a solitary traveler, It didn’t really bug me.  I’m not much for waiting on friends, which is one of the reasons I choose to travel alone.  It wasn’t going to change the fact that I was going to hit a couple runs.  By 11am, I finally received a text that my friends were hung over and not going to do the mountain that day.  I felt a bit disappointed, until I received a message from one of my other friends unexpectedly.  I hadn’t seen Andrew in a couple years, but he saw my pictures on facebook and wondered where I was at.  Interestingly enough, he had just moved to Silverthorne, just 10 miles east of Copper, 3 weeks prior.  We agreed to meet up later in the afternoon at Dillon Dam Brewery to catch up.  It was as if the universe was letting me know that only by asking, it would provide me with some company for the day.

Old and new Friends

Old and new Friends

Andrew, his girlfriend, Hannah, and I met up at Dillon Dam Brewery in Silverthorne for lunch and caught up.  After getting sick of the Minneapolis winters, Andrew decided to make a change for better weather and country.  He seemed happy and I was happy to catch up with them.  As for Hannah, I knew I liked her after she made a reference to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  The snow was blanketing the town of Silverthorne, and I was already informed that I70 westbound had been closed.  If I had any chance of getting back, I had to leave sooner than later.  We exchanged hugs and I was off.

A bit of advice to all you travelers out there: Before heading into a snow storm where you might potentially be in bumper-to-bumper traffic, it is ill-advised to have a caffeinated drink before leaving.  After an hour in my vehicle, natures forces were telling me that the possibility of returning to Silver Plume to relieve myself was likely impossible.  After a failed attempt using the Starbucks cup left in my car from the day before, I finally came upon an exit where two old men had also stopped to take care of the same mistake I had made.  We gave each other the universal sign of “gentlemen in the same predicament” of solidarity and then went upon our business.

Hell of a storm

Hell of a storm

The trip was over and I was happy to know that I had successfully left everything I needed to let go of on my mountain exile.  My stresses and insecurities white-washed from the edge of my snowboard carving back-and-forth along a powder of opportunity and adventure.  I had played in the snow for 3 full days (some men never grow up) and I felt much better for it.  After returning to Minneapolis, I quietly acknowledged to myself that I was so done with winter.  Spring was on the horizon and I was ready for whatever challenges and adventures lied ahead for the year.

Epilogue

It was two days after arriving home from my trip.  I had returned to work, the stresses of my job already returning.  It was evening, and I decided to take in my favorite deli for dinner, the Afro Deli.  Their Afro Asian Chicken Suqaar, Gyro’s, and Sambusa’s are my personal recommendations.  This night, however, I would get some of their Somalian Tea and Chicken Fantastic.  But before getting dinner, I decided to hit my favorite outdoor sports gear store, Midwest Mountaineering.

Upon entering the store, I quickly moved to the clearance section, and sitting right in front of me was the exact same Patagonia beanie that I had lost in A-Basin.  Things had come full circle and the twin of my stolen beanie had presented itself to me as if to say “From this day forward, I will protect your head and ears from the winter elements, my master”.  I was overjoyed at stumbling upon this beanie for the second time.  Maybe I have an unhealthy relationship with certain items I possess, but I wouldn’t criticize until you’ve experienced the wonder of Merino Wool over your ears during the cold winter months.

And all is right in my universe once again…..

Acceptance, Nebraska

“It’s better to have an amazing relationship with your house plant than a horrible relationship with another human being” — My sister

The weekend after Memorial Day, I decided to go on a little trip and visit my sister and nieces in Gering, Nebraska.  Wanting to make time for myself and have a little adventure along the way, I opted for renting a car and driving to Gering, Nebraska, rather than take one of the puddle-jumpers from Denver.  Also, I wasn’t keen on the possibility of getting sick flying in a small, unstable plane like I had the year before.

IMG_7657Upon arriving in Denver, I picked up my car and headed out on Interstate 76 and up County Rd 71 to Nebraska.  I happened upon a farm of windmills unlike any I had seen before. It was amazing considering I’ve always been fascinated by renewable energy, and had never seen more than one or two windmills in a particular area.  I took a quick break, stretched my legs a bit, and finally took some pictures.  I continued onward towards Nebraska.

I arrived at my sister’s house in Gering around 1pm and after dropping off my luggage, gave my sister and nieces a hug.  Next, I gave my nieces some handmade necklaces my friend from Minneapolis had made for them at my request.  With family reunited, I settled in for a long weekend of accomplishing absolutely nothing while enjoying the company of my family.  The afternoon was spent catching up. My sister quickly gave me the ground rules of conversation topics.  No politics or religion – this was obviously due to my left-ish leanings.  But I respect my sister for working to maintain the peace.  Early in the evening, my brother in law arrived back at the house and we all congregated for a pizza dinner and watching Napoleon Dynamite.  My nieces and I couldn’t even get through the opening credits before starting to quote the movie.  Channeling my best Napoleon, I offered “IDIOT!”.  My nieces responded in their best Kip voice “Napoleon, you know I’m training to be a cage fighter.”  Giggling, my sister shouted “No quoting the movie while it’s playing!”

IMG_7677I should mention that my sister does not have WiFi in her house.  Actually, this isn’t that weird, but for someone that spends a lot of time on their laptop, it would be a challenge for me to get through the weekend without checking my email.  So, I headed out to the nearby coffee shop, The Daily Grind for some work.  I was surprised to see they offered Chai tea latte’s on the menu.  I set down my laptop and began to do some work.  I like staying in places where the pace of life is slower, however, because the pace is slower, you can expect the businesses to close early, even on a Saturday.  So, I wasn’t surprised to find out the coffee shop closed at noon, which was fine considering my sister was planning on taking my nieces and I for a walk along the river in the afternoon after I returned.  So I returned to the house and we all piled in the car for an afternoon of skipping rocks in the river and catching glimpses of Nebraska wildlife, namely some frogs and even a small turtle.  Once we finished, we headed back for afternoon naps.  Later that evening, we had barbecue pulled-pork sandwiches and some potato salad.  While looking through my bag, I discovered that I had forgotten my mouse at the coffee shop.  I could only hope to retrieve it on Monday as I was heading out of town.

Sunday was spent chauffeuring my sister around to do some errands.  After returning, I took a long nap and then continued reading my book A Guide to the Good Life {the ancient art of stoic joy}.  Later, my youngest niece and I finally went head-to-head playing some Mario Kart.  It wasn’t much of a competition as she beat me what seemed like 95 percent of the time.  I wish I could say that I let her win, but alas, I am no match against my niece on a turbo-powered scooter that shoots turtle shells.

IMG_7681My sister and I closed out the night catching up and talking over a glass of wine.  We talked about our family, the state of our lives, etc.  Among all the topics we discussed, I found my sister discussing the topic of Acceptance to be one of the most interesting.  We talked about some of the frustrations in our lives and the need to be accepting of the things that we cannot change.  I’ll be honest and say I’ve always had a difficult time accepting things.  Being someone that is passionate about many things, I’ve often picked battles that were completely unnecessary.  I found the conversation interesting considering the book I was reading had a chapter on not expending energy on the things that you’re powerless to affect.  We wrapped-up the conversation around 11 and bid each other a good night.  I pulled a blanket over myself on their incredibly comfortable couch and after feeling a cold breeze reach through the window to kiss me goodnight, I fell fast asleep.

IMG_7682The next morning, I awoke, showered, and hung out with my nieces one last time before shoving off.  I wasn’t sure which way I was going to take to go back to Denver.  I hugged my nieces goodbye.  I left my brother-in-law with a firm handshake and my sister with a kiss on the cheek before driving off.  I stopped at the coffee shop before leaving town and happily discovered that they remembered me and had held onto my mouse. After ordering a celebratory Chai, I left the coffee shop and Headed south on Highway 71.  After seeing the sign for the turn onto Highway 88, I thought “what the hell”, and decided to turn west to head towards Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I had 8 hours before my flight took off and I felt like squeezing in some sight-seeing before jetting off.

It’s interesting – I don’t really care for driving anymore, especially in the cities.  But, driving long distances through beautiful country is still very enjoyable and meditative for me (as long as the traffic is light).  I arrived in Cheyenne, poked around for some lunch, and after deciding I wasn’t that hungry, decided on Starbucks instead.  I ate a fruit bowl while I quickly checked my email.  I wasn’t feeling Cheyenne too much.  Thinking that maybe I could find something that would strike my fancy for a late lunch in Fort Collins, I decided to continue my adventure elsewhere.

IMG_7685I stopped at the Colorado Visitors Center outside Fort Collins and received some restaurant recommendations.  I finally decided upon the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant for lunch.  Driving through Fort Collins, I made a note to myself to return someday as it seems like a fun town to experience.  I was running out of time, so, I quickly inhaled my crab and shrimp enchiladas and left the restaurant to make my way to Denver.  I returned my car and headed to my terminal.  With my adventure over, it was time to return home.

This, I believe is why I love travel.  No matter now long your trip or how exotic the location, it gives you time to reflect and meditate.  Travel opens up your senses and helps you welcome the world with open arms.  That’s a difficult thing to do when you’re inundated with work and daily chores or distracted by people and things.  It reminds you of your role in this world and prompts you to perform to the best of your strengths and abilities while reminding you to accept the things that you cannot change.  I need to accept that everyone has a different perspective than I do and that perspective is borne from that person’s personal history.  I am starting to accept that despite my many offerings, there will always be people that don’t want anything from me.  Yet, it reminds me to focus and run towards those people that do want my talents.  I accept that no matter how hard I try, I cannot be happy and content all the time, so maybe it’s better if I don’t try so hard or at least try with less intensity.  And lastly, I accept that given this life, I am obligated to try and make this life the best and most interesting life that I possibly can.  Next stop: Home, where I’ll need to accept that to my next big adventure will not be attainable without at least another year or more of work and strict savings.  I’m looking forward to whatever life has in store for me.

Getting there

compass on map artisticWhenever I’ve talked about my recent trip with others, I’ve encountered many responses including:

“Wow.  That’s incredible.  I wish I could do something like that.”
How are you able to do this?”

I feel like my explanation has become somewhat of a mantra where each verse indicates a sacrifice or life choice I’ve made to make my dream a reality.  I’ve stated over and over again that this decision and plan did not come about overnight.

If you haven’t read my earlier posts, I’ve mentioned that one of my prime areas of inspiration came from reading the book Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.  I suggest anyone that has a desire for long term world travel to pick up a copy and read this book.  But the question still remains.  How did I get here?

I started by taking stock of my possessions and expenses.  To perform any trip of considerable length, I knew that I would not want to be shouldering the cost of my mortgage while away.  I was in the middle of finishing off the basement of my house and knew that I would need to complete that before renting it out.  So, I prioritized many of my resources for the next year into finishing the basement and making some upgrades to my house to prep it for rental.

During that time, I also started looking at everything that I owned that was not getting used often enough.  Starting with a major spring clean, I donated most of my things in storage.  After clearing out my storage area, I started going through the rest of the items in my house.

I changed my lifestyle and stopped using my desktop computer.  I found that I preferred the mobility of a laptop computer.  Getting rid of my desktop computer allowed for me to get rid of the desk I used for my computer.  Also realizing that I rarely went back and re-read any of my books, I decided to get rid of most of my paperback and hardback books.  Other books, I stored in boxes and then got rid of my book case.  At the time, I started to get my books exclusively from the library.  Being an avid reader that bought books on a regular basis, this decision helped me to eliminate a monthly or bi-monthly expenditure.

I should mention that I do not watch TV.  Many years prior, around 8 years I believe, I had decided to get rid of cable television.  This saved me at least $50 a month.  But now, I started to realize that I could watch movies on my laptop and really didn’t need the television at all.  So, I sold the television and the entertainment unit associated with it.  With each item that I removed from my premises, I started to see how little of my house was getting used.

My house is a modest 1300 square foot house in a twin-home setting.  It has 3 stories, and I started to see that I really only utilized 1 floor.  It was at this time that I discovered that I no longer wanted to maintain a house that I didn’t utilize and wanted a smaller living arrangement.  Any desire that I might move back into my house after returning from my trip disappeared.  It made more economical sense for a couple or family to live in my house.  Selling was not and option for me.  Renting my house, legally, required me to take a class with the city and have my house inspected so that I might obtain a renter’s license.  I also found a very reasonable property manager to manage my house while I was in another country.  I soon moved out after finding renters and lived among friends before setting off.

As lifestyles go, I want to also mention that I love to cook.  I’ve nurtured this interest and cook for myself as often as I can.  I’ve spent years cultivating skills that allow me to cook well enough that I don’t feel it necessary to go out and pay at a restaurant often.  I do allow myself the luxury of eating out once or twice a week.  However, I make it point to cook myself many of my meals during the week.  Typically, I cook myself a big meal every Sunday and then package the leftovers into meal-size portions.  On Mondays, I cook another good meal which also gets divided into meal-portions.  These two meals typically carry me through the week for dinner and lunches and keeps me from eating out all the time.  This eliminates a huge expenditure from my food bill.  And don’t be surprised if your co-workers look at your leftovers in envy while they’re heating up their cup of instant Ramen noodles in the microwave.

The interesting thing about all these choices is that after returning, I’ve continued to carry these choices into my current lifestyle.  I have no desire to obtain back all the things that I’ve gotten rid of.  Traveling is truly a lifestyle choice, one that I think is very positive to the overall growth of the individual as well as the collective impact to our society and culture.

While I know these points don’t allow for everyone to travel for lengthy amounts of time, I hope that it does prompt readers out there to evaluate their own lives to determine what they really need to survive and eliminate the excess so that you may find more time and money to do the things that you love.  I’ve read inspiring stories of other individuals that have done the same, or families that have traveled extensively together.  I’ve had the good fortune to meet people challenged by some handicap or problem and found a way to overcome it to do what they love.  For almost anything you desire, I believe you can achieve it.  It really comes down to our choices in life and the sacrifices you’re willing to make for them.

Clarity

sky

I remember having a beer with my friend, Geoff, before leaving, and lamenting how disappointing it would be to go off on my adventure and return without having found what I have been looking for (purpose, vocation, etc).  Being one of my many wise and astute friends that I surround myself with, Geoff readily responded that my goal should not be to “Find Myself”, but only to find clarity in my life.

So there I was, 4 weeks before making my return home when my mother questioned me “How are you going to process this trip after you get home?”.  The truth is, I had already been sifting through my memories, looking for the truths and feelings that resonated with me the most.  I knew that upon arriving home, my friends and family would be curious to hear about my favorite adventures and hoping to understand some of the things that I took away from those experiences.  Personally, I find it difficult to define my favorite adventure or experience.  There were so many fantastic experiences that to choose one or two would somehow De-emphasize the others, and that unfortunately is something I’m unable to do.

For me, travel is about the people.  The places, adventures, and activities are just the icing on the cake. Those experiences really do not mean so much without the people that you encounter along the way.  The validation that I received from people was incredible.  Everyone I met, understood what I was doing and why I was doing it.  And everyone was full of ideas and untapped creativity.  It spurred me to think about my pursuits in an entirely different way.

Connection in this world may be the single most important quest in this life.  I don’t want to say that I have the answer to life, the universe, and everything (42), but it seems to me to be one of the most important quests I’ve ever undertaken; and one of the most enjoyable.  While on my adventure, I became very inspired reading about the Connection Economy in The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin.  The only way we are able to achieve anything of value in life, and to create the art that we’re capable of, is through the connections that we make along the way.  These connections can be personal, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual.

I’ve learned that we have it good in this country.  I’ve seen so much poverty.  People selling their handiwork on the streets with their children sitting beside them.  I’ve met so many people with the drive to try and make something / anything happen. The excuses that I’ve been making for myself cannot stand moving forward.  While I’m fearful of falling flat on my ass for trying something ambitious and crazy from time to time, I have a really good track record of walking away from such events with a minimal amount of injuries, both physical and emotional.

Attitude and perspective go a long way.  While we cannot control all the challenges that pop up in our lives, we can control how it affects us and how we treat other people along the way.  Treating people badly because we’re upset (even if the person in question is the one making us upset) never leads to anything positive. And getting upset or worried does absolutely nothing for us, except take away our peace of mind and cloud our judgement.

I’m much happier living a smaller or more simple life. Before I left, I sold many of my belongings and then stored the remaining things in my friends storage shed.  When I returned home and then traveled to his house to fetch some of necessary items, I was immediately struck by the number of items I had stored, that I now realized I could live without.  After living out of a backpack for 4 months, you realize how much you really need to be happy.  I think I’ve also started to look at ownership in a completely different way.  What good is having something when you only use it a fraction of the time?  Convenience?  Yet the “weight” of ownership bears down on our shoulders.  By “weight”, I mean the need to store said item; or the responsibility of keeping said item in good, working condition; or the worry we have if someone may steal it while we’re not present.  It doesn’t make sense to me the energy we expend to have so many things.  Understand though, I’m not suggesting we give up all our valuable possessions.  I’m only suggesting that we trim the excess of that which we do not use often enough.

I believe that it is necessary that we have passion in our lives.  I feel there’s an uneasy trend where passions are stifled, because it causes fear.  To feel so strongly about something that you would risk almost everything can seem a bit childish or impulsive.  But, coupled with wisdom; the wisdom gained from failure; passion is essential to pushing us forward and past all expectations and assumptions.  You cannot create something great without passion.  And we need to focus on our passions more.  More passion.  Less monetary gain.  We should concentrate on the things that we love, rather than the money or gain that we hope to achieve in the future.  Nor should we fear failure, for failure produces wisdom, which only makes us better at the art that we create.

And lastly, slow down and savor the moments in your life.  Appreciate them.  You will not always be happy.  You can escape and travel the world for four months; or maybe a year; but things will not always be what you expected.  You’ll be disappointed from time to time and you’ll be challenged by forces beyond your control.  To savor the truly amazing and memorable moments in your life is to appreciate the challenges and hardships that you’ve endured; and that my friends is what living life is all about.

Faces

Situated in the South Pacific, over 3000 kilometers from Chile, is a small island that is home to a number of statues carved out of rock.  It’s one of the most isolated places on the planet to visit.  The allure of traveling to Easter Island comes from trying to understand where the stone statues came from, and how they were moved to their current locations.  Since childhood, I have wanted to visit Easter Island.  There was something spooky and mysterious about an island full of face statues, and I wanted to be there.

When I first started planning this trip, I knew that I wanted to incorporate Easter Island into it somehow.  This has been a dream in the making for over 30 years.  Logistically, it’s a more difficult destination to get to.  One must travel either from Santiago, Chile or Papeete, Tahiti.  Only one airline services the island and that is LAN Airlines.  Ticket prices are not cheap, and the fact that I was going during their Tapati festival makes it even that much more expensive.  But hey – you only live once, and I didn’t want to go though my life not having visited one of the more interesting places on the planet.

When I finally arrived in Easter Island, I handed over the 60 US dollar park entrance fee and then was picked up by my hotel.  Tekena Inn is a nice little Inn situated on the main road that cuts right through the center of Hanga Roa, the only town on the island.  It’s quiet and the breakfast is solid.  The internet is basically non-existent, but then again, you’re on the most remote place on the planet.  There’s really no good internet anywhere.  I dropped my gear and got my bearings by walking down to the area where most of the Scuba Dive shops are located.  I was pleasantly surprised to find Peace Boat docked right off shore behind the Moai Te Ata Hero.  A friend of mine had spent a number of months the prior year on Peace Boat.  I stopped into Orca Dive Center and scheduled two dives for the upcoming Monday and Tuesday.  That would give me 2 – 3 days prior to that to explore the archeological sites on the island.  I later wandered around and ate dinner at Te Moana and later walked to Tahai, right outside of town where a couple of Moai stand with their backs to the ocean.

The next day, wanting to see more Moai, I rented a bike for 10,000 Chilean pesos and set out to explore the west side of the island.  I first stopped in and visited the museum.  Next, I made my way to Te Peu and slightly beyond.  The road to Te Peu is a rocky dirt road, and as you go farther, it becomes a bit treacherous.  It’s best to have a 4 wheeler or jeep to traverse this road, although at some point, visitors are not allowed to continue on in any vehicle as it must be done by foot.  I returned to Tekena Inn later in the day sore and tired from my bike ride.

Not having seen many Moai the prior day, I set out the next day again on a bicycle with a plan to see as many Moai as possible.  The guy at the bike rental advised me to take the paved road up through the center of the island and then come back along the coast.  Honestly, I’m not sure why I decided to rent a bike again, as I was still a bit sore from the day before.  With the bike seat reminding my ass that I obviously hate it, I set out on my adventure.  After stumbling upon a small unlisted statue on my map, I accidentally arrived at another unlisted gem – Jardin Tau Kiani, a beautiful botanical garden.  The garden reminded me a bit of a Japanese garden where oriental statues were replaced by small Moai replica’s surrounded by exotic plants indigenous to the island.  A groundskeeper started offering me advice about the location of archeological sites of interest on the island and how to get there.  I was struggling with my Spanish and unsure if I was understanding him much.  The conversation quickly deteriorated into Spanglish intermixed with vague hand gestures and confused looks.  I clumsily got back on my bicycle and headed out.

I finally arrived at A Kivi, confused and realizing that I had been going in the wrong direction.  Thinking that I had botched my plans for the day, I continued onward and miraculously located the main highway again and finally arrived at the other end of the island, tired and sore.  I started to curse myself for this fools errand.  Having traveled close to 20 kilometers, I was not sure if I’d be able to walk properly the next day.  But, that’s how I roll – unprepared and uncomfortable.  I reminded myself that it was an adventure and that it would make a great story to tell my friends when I arrive back home.

I quickly located the beach at Anakena and dismounted my bike for awhile.  I walked across the entrance and visited the two platforms supporting Moai overlooking the beach.  What a spectacular view with palm trees, statue, sand, and ocean.  I decided to get into my swim trunks and take in some relaxation on the beach.  After an hour of some swimming and sun, it was time to continue my quest.  Following the road to the east and south, I made my way around Maunga Puakatike to Tongariki and Rano Raraku (the Moai quarry).  Many of the pictures you see in books are of the stone statues from Rano Raraku.  It is one of the those places that leaves you in awe and feeling blessed to experience this place in the flesh.  It was here that I met James Grant-Peterkin, a British native living on Easter Island and founder of Easter Island Spirit.  He was at Rano Raraku helping a cameraman get pictures for a new documentary on Easter Island that was being produced.  James was very personable and I enjoyed talking with him a bit.  Before heading out, I found myself hungry and I knew that I would need some energy to make it back to Hanga Roa.  So, I went to the cafeteria and ordered what became the best banana bread I had ever eaten.  I spent the next hour riding back to Hanga Roa, alternating between a sitting and standing position as I was exhausted and sore.  In fact, I was so sore that I spent the next day recovering from my 40km bike ride the previous day.

Monday, I awoke early for my dive.  The dive site that day would be Hanga Roa (also named after the town) where there is a fake Moai placed at the bottom at about 15 – 20 meters deep.  Arriving upon the site, everyone had their underwater camera’s, including me, ready for the photo-op.  The water in Easter Island is really clear due to the low plankton levels and lack of pollution.  You can sometimes see up to 200 feet underwater.  But while the visibility is crystal clear, the sea life is not that exciting.  I was fortunate enough to capture a sea turtle swimming not far from our group.  At the surface, I was able to meet one of my dive partners that day, Vanessa, who comes from Chile.  I would bump into her many times during the course of my trip.  I spent the rest of the day relaxing and checking out the artisinal markets.  The next day, my dive was at Motu Nui, a giant wall of coral.  Our group went to 30 meters before returning to the surface.  All around, I had a great time diving.

The next couple of days, I spent my time relaxing.  I eventually rented a scooter and checked out the volcano at Rano Kau, the stone village at Orongo and Ahu Vinapu.  During this time, I got a ride up to Cerro Pui where participants in the Tapati festivals, Haka Pei competition slide down the hill on sleds made from the trunk of banana trees.

Back in Hanga Roa, I often ate at a dive bar a block from the dive shops.  It was here that I ran into Vanessa again.  Between my bad Spanish and her bad English I came to learn that her Easter Island trip was a gift to herself because her Cancer had recently gone into remission.  Again, I had the privilege to meet someone that was conquering life’s challenges and living their life to the fullest.  If there was anything to take away from this trip, it would be the number of people with truly inspiring stories that I had continued to run into.  Later, I was fortunate enough to watch Vanessa join other tourists alongside the community for a parade in which everyone paints their bodies and wears traditional celebratory garb to celebrate the heritage of Easter Island.  And then, before returning back to the mainland, I would take my scooter up to Anakena for one last visit to the beach for some ocean and sun.

I spent my last night on Easter Island, again at Te Moana, outside, dining on grilled fish with coconut and pineapple sauce served with mashed potatoes.  With a glass of Chilean Merlot in my hand, I gazed out at the ocean and enjoyed another spectacular sunset.  I had done this.  A journey that I had envisioned for years, it took a lot of sacrifices and changes on my part.  But I was here and incredibly grateful for the fortitude, strength, and support of my friends to make it all happen.  Topping off this gorgeous sunset, I ordered up a serving of their coconut helado.  Taking a bite, I realized that I had reached my goal and was ready to head back to the mainland.  To be honest, 9 days was a bit much and I was ready to go.  I had mixed feelings.  This was the start of the end of my trip, and I’d be making my way back to the United States in the next couple of days after returning to Chile.  It’s been an incredible journey and I’m having trouble processing everything that I’ve experienced and understanding all the new feelings I’m having.  The journey’s not over, but I think it will change a bit from here on out.  Stay tuned for more posts where I hope to illuminate the fog a bit more.

Of Art and Soul

Santiago

Sometime before leaving on my grand adventure, I had contacted Tona, a friend of mine who grew in Chile to see if she might be around to meet up while I was in Santiago.  Unfortunately, she’s currently studying in San Francisco.  I guess that’s what I get for letting my friendships go idle.  However, she did put me in contact with a friend of hers that lives in Santiago, Esteban, whom agreed to host me and show me around a bit.  After arriving, I hopped a taxi into town and soon after, met up with my host.  We were both hungry, so he took me to the Harvard Bar, a bar right outside the campus area for a beer and some Chorillana, a Chilean bar food consisting of fries topped with meat, egg, onion, and sausage.  We discussed my plans which included heading to Valparaiso in a couple of days.  Luckily for me, Esteban would be heading there the next evening to be with his girlfriend and offered to meet up with me on Sunday to show me around.  Valparaiso is Esteban’s favorite city in the world which not surprisingly is the place that he grew up.

The next day, I first got my bearings by locating the tourist office in Providencia, and then I was able to track down a dealer of EBook readers in town and replace my stolen Nook.  I’ve felt so lonely the last month not being able to go someplace and read the many books I had selected for my trip.  Afterwards, I decided to seek out the Japanese garden located at the Santiago Metropolitan Park.  After walking all day, I was exhausted.  I stopped by a small food store and picked up some Empanada’s and a Danky.  It would be dinner at the apartment and then off to bed.  Esteban arrived later, collected his things, and then was off to Valparaiso.

The next day was spent checking out Santiago where I took in most of the tourist sites.  I started by checking out Barrio Brasil and the Concha y Toro neighborhood.  It’s a street with late 18th century / early 19th century buildings.  It’s a peaceful neighborhood with park benches, water fountains, cafes, etc.  While looking for a cafe, I stumbled upon Hostel Tales, where Scott, the  attendant greeted me at the door and invited me in for a cup of tea.  Scott, originally from the US, looks to be in his early 50’s.  We talk about Chilean culture.  He moved there, because, as he describes it, the people are much more welcoming and “dating” after your 30 is a joy, rather than the chore he perceives it in the US.  I also make the acquaintance of Kherfia, a French traveler of Arabic descent.  I’m overjoyed to be able to practice my french with her.  Scott invites me to join a group that he’s taking down to the Lakes region in Mid-February.  I take down his information but do not make any promises.

I spend the rest of the day checking out La Moneda, a site of historical significance in Santiago.  It’s a building that was originally built for producing and distributing Chile’s currency but later became the site for politicians.  It’s not much of a tour, and I found it mostly uninteresting.  Afterwards, while searching for a place to sit down and have some tea, I stumbled into Cafe Bombay, a coffee shop that Chileans commonly refer to as “Cafe con Piernas” or “Cafe with Legs”.  It’s a new thing popping up in coffee shops around Santiago where the waitresses are dressed very provocatively.  Coffee and Tea never looked this good.

I finished off the day by eating lunch at Mercado Centro and later having dinner at the MosaiCafe in the Patio Bellavista.  I went home soon after, ready to take a bus to Valparaiso in the morning.

Valparaiso

The bus ride to Valparaiso from Santiago is roughly 2 hours straight through Chilean wine country.  If you have the time, you can stop off and tour some wines in the Casablanca valley.   I arrived in Valparaiso and after locating my hostel, La Casa Volante, I met up with Esteban for a quick tour of the historical part of the city.  Valparaiso seemed in many ways similar to Naples, Italy for me.  It’s a bit dirty but there’s culture and art all around you.  The city is filled with brightly-painted staircases leading up to all the cerros.  Walls throughout the city are painted with amazing murals.  This isn’t graffiti.  It’s art where many creations are of the caliber found in many post 20th-century, contemporary art museums.  And of course there are the walkways and balconies that cover the city, overlooking the harbor filled with all kinds of shipping and naval vessel imaginable.  After walking for an hour or two, taking photos of every kind of art or vista imaginable, Esteban takes me to Los Portenos in Plaza Sotomayor for lunch.  It’s completely packed and we arrive just in time to get the last seat before a line starts to form outside the door.  It’s popular for a reason.  The seafood here is amazing.  Esteban and I order the seafood chowder and talk over some wine.  After lunch, Esteban and I say farewell and we go off about our own adventures.

The next day, I start off my day attending a tour of Valparaiso run by Tours 4 Tips.  It’s an organization that does tours around Santiago and Valparaiso for only tip money.  It was highly recommended to me by people that had been to Santiago and Valparaiso before me.  Afterwards, I enjoyed lunch at La Belle Epoque Cafe, an art gallery and cafe overlooking the harbor.  In the evening, I sought out Empanadas las Famosas, a restaurant famous for, you guessed it, making amazing (and cheap) Empanadas.  For 600 pesos, it was the best and least expensive option I’d encountered in Valparaiso so far.

My last day in Valparaiso was spent visiting the Maritime Museum and lazing around taking in La Belle Epoque Cafe one more time, as well as trying some pasta at Pasta y Vino.  Pasta y Vino changes up their menu most every day.  I was fortunate enough to have some of their spinach gnocchi with 2 glasses of Chilean Carmenere wine.  It was a fantastic way to end my trip in Valparaiso.  In the morning, I’d be off to accomplish a dream of mine that I’ve had since I was a young child.

Patagonia: Part 2

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is a small town that is essentially the gateway for getting to Torres del Paine.  Everyone I knew that had been to Torres del Paine told me that I really needed to go.  So, I arrived in Puerto Natales after a 5 hour bus ride from El Calafate, not really sure if I’d be able to give Torres del Paine the time that it really deserved.  I booked 3 nights at small hostel, hoping that I could do some type of day trek and see at least some of the greatness that Torres del Paine has to offer….. at least from afar.

I first located the tourism office down near the water and was informed that there were day trips up to Torres del Paine, but that a real excursion through the park would require anywhere from 2 to 7 days of trekking.  I wasn’t equipped for camping, nor did I have reservations for one of the hostels that were already booked.  I easily found a tour company in the center of town that assured me that I’d see the sights that I wanted to see.  I signed up not realizing that instead of a day of hiking, I instead would be driven around in a van with other people, making 14 stops along the way for some light hiking, photo-ops, and an occasional snack.  I’ll admit that initially, I was frustrated and a bit disappointed at myself for the lack of planning on my part and the limited exposure I would have with Torres del Paine.  But dealing with cold weather and extremely strong winds all day long left me exhausted and somewhat happy that everything worked out the way that it did.

It also gave me the time to relax and enjoy myself in the sleepy town of Puerto Natales.  Some of the highlights of my stay in Puerto Natales included having a beer at Baguales, a local brewpub in town.  I also came across a small vegetarian soup and sandwich shop called El Living.  While I’m not a vegetarian by nature, I was happy with the healthy food served and the availability of mate.  And with a small bookcase filled with old magazines (both in English and Spanish), I did not lack for any reading material, which was nice considering I haven’t read much since my Nook got stolen in Buenos Aires.

Punta Arenas

If you’re looking to visit the southern most, accessible city in South America so that you can brag about being at “The End of the World”, then you’d likely visit Ushuaia.  But, if you want to visit the southernmost city in South America of respectable size, then you’d visit Punta Arenas.  I was disappointed that my planning had left me unable to visit Ushuaia, but was still happy to be far enough south to be in the Magallanes region of South America.  I needed to go through Punta Arenas so that I could catch a flight to Santiago, Chile.  Initially, I didn’t have much interest in Punta Arenas and was only planning a night or two.  Instead, I recognized the need for some down time and scheduled 3 nights there.  Punta Arenas turned out to be a much more pleasant experience than I had expected.

I first checked into my hostel, Patagonia House, a house that has been re-configured to be a hostel.  A family lives there while guests from all over the world stay in the other available rooms.  While relaxing in your room upstairs, it’s not uncommon to hear some the kids playing Gears of War or Grand Theft Auto on their video game system right outside your door.  It’s never too loud and the place has a comfy, feeling like staying with your family.  I quickly made friends with two of my room-mates from Portland, Oregon (two of the few travelers I’d come across from the US), Brian and Blake, and decided to head out for some dinner.

The next morning, having nothing on my agenda, I hopped a ferry to Isla Magdelena to see a colony of Penguins.  Upon arrival, you walk off the ferry and are surrounded by a multitude of penguins running around, burrowing in their holes, procreating, or taking a dump right in front of you.  It’s an episode of National Geographic right in your face.  I was having the time of my life.  But the bonus for me was the lighthouse that was located there.  After returning to town, I met up with Brian and Blake to explore the cemetery which very closely resembled the Recoleta Museum found in Buenos Aires (but much smaller).

I spent my last day in Punta Arenas checking out the town and relaxing in coffee shops.  The next day, I’d be off to Santiago, Chile.