Friday, June 25, 2010

And the World Spins Madly On

Returning home I have realized two things: Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. And I am caught, somewhere in between, trying to find solid ground in a world that is constantly spinning on.

It feels a bit strange to write this blog of “closing” because if anything, I feel I am still at the beginning. Of something…I’m not sure what…but maybe, simply, life and living? Sitting back and reflecting I have realized that this trip wasn’t “the trip of my life,” but rather a trip I took in my life, part of a continuum of experiences and opportunities, that is not the sum of who I am, but rather part of building “me” and how I see the world. Before I left, I might have assumed that this would “be it, THE trip,” but somewhere along the way I realized that traveling is, and probably will always be, part of my life. Maybe the connecting thread is that I am a traveler; what changes is only where I am or where I am going. Viewed in this light, I can say as I have finished this particular trip, I am not at the end of something here, but rather in the middle, or constantly beginning.

As I reflect on my journey, I also think of other great journeys and how to some extent the desires encompassed in “a journey” – self discovery, action, adventure, learning, challenge – are a part of all of us. Great journeys may not have built the world, but they have changed the face of the world, and therefore her people, too. Literal voyages across seas and mountains; inner voyages of personal trial. Great stories, the classics, the Odyssey, the Iliad, are built on the dual dynamic of physical journey and inner exploration. Odysseus was tethered to the mast of his ship, but what is it about what he learned during that time that we connect with? We don’t have to look farther than our own media to see the truth of our attachment to stories and personal growth. Current day authors recreate new stories, recycling the universal themes of struggle, love, conflict, and desire. Human interest stories draw us in because we find pieces of ourselves in the stories of others. We live hopeful, cognizant or not, clinging to the hope that things might change for the better and that life is going somewhere. These same desires might be what fuel my interest to keep exploring new places, learning more about myself and where I come from along the way.

While there are many stories I could tell and many planes to my learning, the following are a few reflections.

Accept and celebrate good things and good people.

Despite the news stories carrying a constant stream of “bad news bears,” when one actually gets out of the box and interacts with real people who make up the real world, what did I find? More kindness and generosity than I probably deserved. Yes, there are scams. And everywhere one finds the mix of good and bad; giving and taking; a mix of cheats and thieves and troublemakers.  An interesting realization I had along the way was that I felt quite safe traveling other parts of the world. In fact, at many points I felt safer in other countries than my own. I notice this especially in Asia. In Laos, I felt less threatened in kilometers of cycling than I did walking to or from my apartment in Los Angeles.  But all in all, it is a minority of people causing trouble. However, I often get the sense that news broadcasts, especially international coverage, creates the image that most of the people outside of our country are “the bad ones.”

What sort of evidence do I have from my trip to demonstrate my “good people in the world” theory? Well, I don’t have any hard evidence, but I can relate nine months of experience from different places and meetings with many people. In Thailand, the people smiled. In Laos, when I was cycling through, people waved and said hello. In India, inquisitive but non-threatening stares followed me wherever I went. In South America, the hospitality of the people was unbelievable. In nearly 1500km of hitchhiking, my friend Sophie (from France) and I didn’t wait more than 20 minutes. Additionally, many of the local people we met along the way opened their homes, their floors, couches and patios to let us sleep on. I shared conversation, coffee, mate (South American tea), on the generous spirit of people who opened their lives with strangers and trusted us with their things, in their space, and with their thoughts and ideas. In nearly 4 months in South America, I spent more time in peoples’ houses, or camping, than I did in hostels. This is the generosity and hospitality of people of the world; I have much to thank them.

While mentioning all the good, I should also mention how overwhelming the proportion of good:bad was. The only thing stolen from me in eight countries: an old pair of pants drying by a fire (did someone else need them more than me? I will never know). The only thing lost: a carabiner forgotten at a table in a café in the middle of Laos. Yes, maybe I got cheated a few dollars to a taxi or tuk-tuk driver, falling for the difference between “local” and “foreigner” pricing. And yes, I absolutely used discretion on where and when I went somewhere. And in all the kilometers of hitchhiking, to some people we did said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But all in all? There are some great people in the world. It’s good to live with caution, but it also feels great to breath a little easier and have reason to trust people a little more.

Being Fully Present. The “Be Here Stick.” Slowing down might be better than speeding up.

My friend Hana and I had a running joke while we were trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. It was about being fully present in the moment as both of us found our minds wandering and inhabiting different mental spaces than where our physical bodies were – traipsing up and down big rocks we call the Himalayas. In effort to be fully present, and soak in the Annapurnas while in the Annapurnas, Hana carved “BE HERE” in big letter at the top of a walking stick.  (I should also mention that that walking stick became necessary after Hana tripped, twisting an ankle, while day-dreaming.)  We laughed about the “Be Here” stick, but at different times, each of us found ourselves asking the other to borrow our physical symbol of where we wanted to be: in Nepal, appreciating the time below the fierce, Himalayan sun. When Hana and I parted ways, she carved me a mini travel-sized “Be Here” stick as a joke. We both laughed, but the underlying desire to be in the moment and balance the past and future is a sincere desire and will remain a constant challenge in life anywhere.

In this mental balance of being present, fully present, visiting many places actually impressed upon me an opposing observation: the value of spending time in a place and not rushing through to “check it off the list.” As the months kept passing I felt myself becoming less and less interested in place-jumping – joining the Southern or Northern marches on the backpacker trail – or being on an “experience hunt,” and more interested in spending more time in one place, exploring it more fully, before moving one. More and more frequently I found myself going somewhere because it felt right, stopping to explore just because, walking down a road if it seemed interesting, reading books by local authors, learning the history of a place, and spending most of my time with the people who lived there, and not just other travelers. This meant slowing down, not rushing because of an agenda, but letting the natural flow of the journey, the ebbs and flows, direct me. I was hoping to see a lot more of South America – Machu Picchu, the Bolivian Plateau, and Northwestern Argentina – and also explore Vietnam while in Asia. However, after deciding to see more through seeing less, I ended up spending an entire month in Nepal with Hana (fantastic!) and also getting trapped by the beauty and draw of Patagonia for another extra month (oops!). It’s just…what happened. I have no regret slowing down to learn more, listen more closely, and savor each experience. On the other hand, I would have regretted a mad dash through some spectacular places in the world thereby demoting them to simply “some mountains, more glaciers, another big city,” but without the soul of people and stories made in those places with my meanderings.

The United States is part of the world; we are not the world itself.

I like to think of it like this: As a small child I would take my stuffed animal “Twister” with me when I left the house, as he was something familiar and comfortable to bring as I stepped outside my zone of familiarity. However, in observing other travelers and also myself, I have had to ask, “How often do we still clutch our “stuffed animals” - the familiarity of home expressed through specific routines, types of food, and social expectations – as a “blankie” of comfort, even as adults?” We often cling to what we know, or give categories of comparison, this is better or that is worse, linking our new experiences to previous knowledge. However, in doing so, “different” often comes to signify “bad” or “inferior.” I would argue this line thought to be incredibly unhelpful in creating bridges to people unlike ourselves, thereby creating a less peaceful world. I would instead offer up the challenge to think on a broader spectrum of what general actions promote understanding and give others value, and what actions or ways of thinking take away from this.

Being present in many different countries and cultures placed me in position to question what I gather comfort from and what is essential to defining me and what I deem right or wrong, correct or incorrect belief. I think we should each feel comfortable retaining our own ideals while simultaneously not feel threatened by difference and what we don’t know. The measure of “right or wrong” might need to be bigger than our own personal belief system, and asked within the context of what an action or a thought does for building a more sustainable world for all.

After many border crossings, literal and internal, I am starting to feel less and less attachment to being from a particular place and more to being part of something bigger: the 6 billion of us that live on this planet. While the USA, my country, is mostly a good place, and I have much to be thankful for, it is not the only, the best, or the most important place in the world. I hope you, too, find that a freeing, and not a frightening, realization.

Wrapping it All Up: An Almost Conclusion

Exploring the world. Exploring self. I did both. I explored myself by exploring the world. And in the process, was both author and character in my own story. While it is easy to look at a chunk of time – 9 months – as a “choose my own adventure” – I also see that all that we do holds this same quality. Small daily choices lead us in a certain directions. It’s best to follow our intuition and “hunch” of what we should be doing, where we should be – that’s been a greater guide to me than all of the travel books and advice I read about where to go and what to do.

Despite all of this exploration – inner and outer – I still have questions, basic questions, which were by no means solved or answered during my trip. If I were still with my high school students we would use the label “Level 3 Questions” to describe these types of open-ended questions containing universal themes. How do we live together in peace? What is justice? How do I treat those I know – and those I don’t – rightly, and with dignity? While I don’t have answers, I am not bothered to be left with the questions. In fact, continuing to question is in itself a form of success, as real learning is rooted in honest questions. Success is not in arriving to an end, not ever. Right when you think you have arrived or finished, you then realize that the end was but a ghost and you must find reasons to keep moving. The success instead is buried in finding motivation to continue the pursuit and to keep desiring to go forward; it should not be measured in the attainment or one, three, or a thousand goals, but in having the goals, forming the ideas, dreaming the dreams, and choosing to act on them. It lies in the possibility, and possibilities brought about by the dreams.

Before I began this globe-trotting I said that I wanted to “swallow the world.” I quoted Salmon Rushdie when he said, “To understand just one life, you have to swallow the whole world.” And I said that I was setting out to swallow - to taste, touch, feel, see, and ponder - the world. Did I? Yes, I suppose so. I tasted: Noodle soup in Laos, delicious South Indian cuisine, chai in Nepal, pure water straight out of Patagonian rivers. I touched: Rocks of the Annapurna base camp in Nepal, an 18,600 foot pass in the Himalayas, the hands of school children in Laos giving high-fives as I cycled through. I saw: Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the wind, the Dalai Llama in Northern India, fishermen on the Mekong river, the dichotomy in the modern cities of Buenos Aires and Chile, progress living alongside poverty, the spectacular peaks of Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, Paine Grande, Los Torres, Mounte Balmaceda, Nanda Devi, Nanda Kot, Annapurna I, II, III, IV, Dhaulagiri, Mount Everest from the airplane window; and I pondered: Who are we, Who am I, and What is my place in the world? My thirst is not quenched…my search for truth, for justice, for understanding, this is still beginning.

In that hunger to continue learning, I feel this past trip accomplished many of my hopes embedded in the journey. My conclusion is in the non-conclusiveness of life. I am grateful for the opportunity I had; I hope I embraced it to the fullest and that what I learned changed me and continues to change me in life-giving ways. I also recognize that it can seem easy to leave a place, and try new things, new ideas. But the test of change might actually come upon returning home and confronting the seemingly small challenges of living with people and living rightly; things harder than packing up and moving on to a new place if or when things aren’t working.

Thanks to those of you who followed along with me. I can’t say how much I appreciated your care and interest and random emails. I am grateful to have many incredible people in my life. Also, a HUGE thanks to my parents for taking care of my horses, and a special thanks to my mom, my faithful “secretary,” who I gratefully release from service (smile, Mom, or a huge sigh of relief!). I couldn’t have juggled selling horses, graduate school applications, battling W2 forms and taxes, etc. without her help.

I close with a simple, yet profound saying. The liturgy ending an Anglican Church service: (Deacon) Go forth into the world in peace…


Top 21 Photos:
9 Months at a Glance:

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Few Stats and Facts

I figured some of you out there might be interested in some of the facts of my trip.  Here’s a quick summary and a few common questions.

Q: Who paid for your trip?
A:  I did. I taught high school for 2 years in Los Angles and saved my money.  I bought a used car, didn’t eat out very often, didn’t buy very many things, lived in a house with 5 other people, and automatically set aside a chunk of money from my paycheck monthly to a “Travel Fund.”
Q: Did your parents finance your trip? 
A:  Nope, not at all.  However, they were very supportive of allowing me to pursue my interests and dreams, and in caring for my horses while I was gone.
Q:  Were you ever scared?
A:  No, not really.  I wasn’t paranoid about where I went, but I was cautious, and always aware.  However, I could say that I usually felt pretty safe.
Q:  Wasn’t it lonely traveling alone?  Don’t you need someone to travel with?
A:  Not at all.  There are so many people out there who are also traveling, that inevitably I met people to hang out with .  Sometimes I spent a few weeks with someone, sometimes a few days, sometimes a conversation for a few hours.  Just because you don’t have someone to travel with doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go; I actually really enjoyed the ability to and do what I wanted to, being with other people as much or as little as I felt like.
Q:  How long did it take you to plan your trip?
A:  It was an idea I'd had in the back of my head for a few years:  Take some time off, travel for an extended period of time.  However, I wasn't sure when it would happen.  When things with Los Angeles Unified School District and the State of California got messy (I lost my teaching position due to lack of state funds), I figured it would be as good as time as any to go and travel for a while. 
Q:  Was the money spent worth it? 
A: Absolutely.  I am very grateful I had the opportunity I did and the support to make it happen; there isn’t anything else I would’ve rather done with this last year.

Type of Transport   #      Total Miles    Total Kilometers
     Walking               -         340 mi.               545 km.
     Buses (2 hrs+)    48     10,855 mi.          17,470 km.
     Train                    5        930 mi.              1500 km.
     Boat                     2            -                           -
     Plane                   9       43,411 mi.         69,863 km.
     Bike                     1         560 mi.              900 km.
     Jeep                    4               -                         -
     Motorbike            1         173 mi.              280 km.
Total distance traveled: 55,340 miles (89,056km)

$ Airfare (Total):  ~$2200
Denver→Seattle→New Delhi
Bangalore→New Delhi→US (Florida)
Miami→Buenos Aires
Punta Arenas→Coyhaique
Punta Arenas→Santiago
Lima→Denver (frequent flyer miles)

Average daily expenses (Includes everything: food, accommodation, ground transportation.  NOTE:  This budget is a reflection of staying in budget accommodations (clean but cheap) or with local people, eating simply, taking the most economical transportation available, walking a lot, and not doing any formal tours)
$ Average daily Asia - $15/day
    4 month total (not including one month on NOLS mountaineering): ~ $1800
$ Average daily South America - $30/day
    4 months total: ~$3500
9 months, 8 countries = ~$7,500 (would I sound like a MasterCard advertisement if I said “priceless?” ha)
That’s an average of $830/month…probably less than most of you pay monthly for rent/mortgage payment, food, gas, and insurance…

Justice Issues – Human and Environmental – I Encountered

Location  --   Issue  --  More Information
Patagonian Chile: 7 proposed Hydroelectric dams that will take water rights from the Chilean people.

India and Nepal: The Tibetan people have been unjustly exiled from their land in accordance with China’s ideas, not with respect to the Tibetan people

Laos: Unexploded Ordinances (UXO’s) dropped in civilian areas during the Vietnam War; Laos is, per capita, the most heavily bombed nation on earth and is still not UXO free.

Cambodia: Under the leadership of rogue Khemer leader Pol Pot and in “Year Zero” (1975) 30% of Cambodia's population was lost - an estimated 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution...a silent horror most of the world doesn't even know about.

Argentina: Los Desaparecidos – people who “disappeared” (due to corrupt government) under the dictatorship.
The Malvinas Islands – Islands to the south east of Argentina that are currently claimed by Britain, but all Argentines claim as “theirs” (also know as the Falkland Islands outside of Argentina); many young Argentine people died in the Falkland War

Chile: Pinochet, ruling as dictator, committed many untold atrocities, including South America’s own “September 11th,” September 11, 1973, holding hostage citizens and foreigners who were considered “enemies of the state” in the National Stadium.  All told, between 1973-1990 nearly 3,000 Chileans were killed, and some 40,000 arrested, imprisoned, or tortured.

New Skills Learned

-    How to use a bathroom without toilet paper – wipe with the left hand (India, Nepal, Thailand) – this is a VERY environmentally friendly option…
-    Each noodle soup with chopsticks (Laos, Cambodia)
-    Take off shoes before entering an internet café, bus station, or house (Thailand)
-    Prepare and drink mate (Argentina and Chile)
-    Be ready for ANY type of weather (Patagonia)

Books Read or Recommended (* = I highly recommend; + = I haven’t read, but good recommendation)
          -    Midnight’s Children (Salmon Rushdie)*
          -    Shantaram (Gregory David Roberts)*
          -    A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)*
          -    God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
          -    An Inheritance of Loss (Kiran Desai)
          -    City of Joy (Dominique Lapierre)*
          -    City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (William Dalrymple)*
          -    Nanda Devi Affair (Bill Aitken) +
          -    Annapurna Circuit: Himilayan Journey (Andrew Stevenson)*
          -    Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess (Inge Sargent)*
          -    Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos (Brett Dakin)
          -    The Ravens: Pilots of the Secret War of Laos (Christopher Robbins)+
     Cambodia (all of these books I would like to read, but haven’t had time yet)
          -    Cambodia Year Zero (François Ponchaud)+
          -    First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (Loung Ung)+
          -    When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge (Chanrithy Him)+
          -    River of Time (Jon Swain)+
     Latin America
          -    Open Veins of Latin America (Eduardo Galeano)* (Also author of Upside Down and Mirrors)
          -    Poetry by Pablo Neruda or Ruben Dario*
          -    Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende* (also author of many other books)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

To Lima By Bus

Saludos from San Pedro de Atacama, a tourist mecca in the Atacama Desert near the confluence of Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina.  I´m on my way out in a few hours, but have enjoyed the desert scenery and the heat (wow, haven´t felt that for a while!).

San Pedro ended up being a lot more touristy than I had expected.  Thus, I ended up on my first official tours in the whole of my travels.  Ha.  I don´t think that organized tours are my style...but I did get a chance to float in a salty lake (think the same floating phenomenom as the Dead Sea), see the Salt Flats (3rd largest in the world), and go on a horse ride in the sand.  It was...nice.  Ha.  But not much else to say.

I´m looking forward to arriving in Lima in a few days (San Pedro de Atacama --> Arica (cross international border) --> Tacna --> Lima).  If all goes as planned, I should arrive after (only) three bus rides, and by the morning of May 3rd.  Next week will also find me back in the U.S.  I´m looking forward to having my own space, and not moving for a while.  Cheers to a long, but hopefully, uncomplicated journey.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Post WFR, Final Trek North

Hello all -

This post finds me in the last week of my travels.  I am currently in San Pedro de Atacama, in Northern Chile.  I will spend a few days here, and then embark on a very very long bus trip to Lima, Peru.

My WFR course in Santiago was excellent.  Great instructors, great classmates, a great time.  I learned a lot, and felt accomplished to have done the course in Spanish.  After the WFR, I just spent the last 5 days in Santiago, seeing the city, going climbing, and hanging out with some other WFR´s.

I don´t have time to post pictures right now, but I will get a comprehensive update done when I get home.  The pictures in this post are from a rescue during the WFR - I was a patient with an open, punctured thorax and my coursemates are attending me - and also our group of 27 students.

Love from down South (but not South for that much longer!)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Logistical Update. WFR. Colorado. Costa Rica.

I am currenlty in Santiago, Chile.  I will be doing a Wilderness First Responder course (WFR) for 10 days, finishing on April 22.  After that, I will have roughly 2 weeks to reach Lima, Peru.  I will be leading a trip for Putney ( in Costa Rica in July - a community service project for high school students, that I hope will also challenge and inspire them in ways that they hadn´t planned (we aren´t just going to be sunbathing at the beach, children!!!  hehehe...there is a lot to learn outside of the tourism circle that I want to show them... :).  After that, my plans are still uncertain.  But wow, going home, soon.  To my family, good friends, my own horses, my mountains...I am looking forward to what is to come.

En Rumbo for Natales...Again (Going back to Puerto Natales)

I have a problem.
I love open spaces. I love mountains. I love horses. I love spending time with good people.

I found all of the above, and more, in my time in Torres del Paine, and was especially captivated by the baqueanos - the local horsemen - who grew up in a culture of horses and ranches in a manner very distinct from what we have in the United States. Becuase of this...I decided that if I could, I would like to try and return to the area next season, to work as a guide or in some other capacity, with horses, near the park. The details are still yet to be figured out, but I am on my way to figuing out a way to return here for another season. :) Therefore, after spending time in Coyhaique at NOLS, I headed back towards the park.
Stop 1: ¡Sin Represas! Without Dams
After leaving NOLS, I caught a free bus 7 hrs. south on a gravel road near the town of Cochrane. I went one, because there was a free bus in the direction i was going, and also because there was a protest there against hydroelectric dams that are proposed to be built (7 in total) along the rivers of Southern Patagonia. I was interested in understanding more of the situation and also meeting the organizers. After spending a day there, I was devastated to see what some of the effects of the dams might be, both on the environment and the people of the area, but also disappointed in the people protesting. Unfortunately, there is a lot of interfighting in the different protesting organizations, and that was sad to see. Without unification, and with such divisions, the transnationals will win. (the dams will bring some immediate jobs to the region, labor, etc., but they are being built by foreigners, Spain, Canada, Switzerland, and maybe another one or two. in the end, the money will leave the country. The roads will be improved, and more infrastructure added, but nothing lasting. Only unrepairable damage to the ecosystem here, the land, and that the water will no longer belong to the people from Patagonia - the water will belong, every drop of it, to foreigners). All that to say, it was interesting to see. I don´t know what i can personally do to help on a grand scale, other than share what is happening. Check out: to learn more about the situation.
Stop 2: Hope in Small Steps - Growing Food as a Response

After leaving the protest, I got picked up with a really great couple. Rocio and Marcelo. Rocia is from Spain, Marcelo from Chile, but he lived in Amsterdam for the last 20 or so years, his mother was a political refugee from Chile during the time of Pinochet, the dictator. They have just returned to Chile, to live, and to try and live in the most life giving and least life taking way as possible. For them, permaculture is a small, but significant answer to the challenges of the world. They are building an eco-camping and eco-hostel, ( growing their own food, cooking with a solar oven, using "hot boxes" to cook their food and save energy, building dry toilets so that not one drop of water is wasted in flushing. Being with them was reinvigorating. Enjoyable. refreshing. To be with people who were taking their own actions seriously, who were interested in something outside of their own comfort and pleasure, and who were actively engaging some of the challenges of the world in a personal way. Etching out a living in the mountains of Patagonia in the most sustainable way possible. Being with them, talking with them, gathering bark for the dry toilets, sharing food, hearing about how they built their solar shower and techniques for the solar oven, gathering peas from the garden and then cooking them for dinner, it was so refreshing. This time also made me miss being in one place long enough to grow things and appreciate the natural movement of the seasons, of dryness or wetness, cold or hot, the natural change of the earth´s weather and sun, giving some rhythm of life. I missed my small garden with flowers and vegetables in grew in Los Angeles, giving color and green to the city of cement i lived in. It made me want to be in one place long enough to experience these things again. It was a refreshing few days and I sincerely hope I might see them again sometime.

Stop 3:

AWWW! 6 buses and 2 days later, I finally arrived in Puerto Natales again (It is 2 days by bus, or 1.5 hrs. in plane from Coyhaique to Natales...and the same price...which would you choose?)  I almost got left in the pampa (grasslands) at one of the bus stops while in the bathroom...I had to take off sprinting after the bus! Luckily, I caught it. It was a long haul back to Natales, but good to go back to see, in person, about potential job opportunities with horses for the next tourist season (October - March).

Visiting NOLS Patagonia

After spending nearly a month in Southern Patagonia, I flew up from Punta Arenas to Balmaceda, and then took a transfer to Coyhaique, Chile.  Coyhaique is the base of NOLS Patagonia, and one of my former instructors, KG (from Kenya) was finishing a course there.  I figured that hey, I´m in the area, so it would be fun to stop by and say hi.  Additionally, I am thinking about doing an Instructor Course (IC) with NOLS so that I could lead trips for them in the future.  Thus, the visit was also a chance to network, make connections at the Patagonia base, and feel out if pursing outdoor education with NOLS in the future is something I´d like do. 

In my week passing through NOLS Patogonia we went to a local horse race, had an asado (sheep roast), and I did some random jobs of stacking wood and mowing the grass to "earn my keep."  It was great to catch up with KG, and also meet the staff down there.  My future plans are still pending...but I think I would be interested in pursuing an IC in the future.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Volunteering in Torres del Paine

After trekking in the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, I spent nearly another three weeks in the park volunteering with an organization called AMA Torres del Paine (  One of my goals for this year of traveling was to: a) spend an extended time in at least one place, getting to know somewhere more in depth and less in breadth, and b) to give back to some cause that I feel strongly about.  In this instance, protecting and preserving natural areas.  During my three weeks with AMA we made new signs, marked trails, cleaned up garbage, worked on a new translation of the website (not uploaded, yet), hung out with the workers at the Hotel Las Torres (, cut wire, and generally had a good time working and laughing.  While I was with AMA several other volunteers passed through from the US, England, France, and Brasil.  It was fun to get to know some other foriegners, as well as Chileans who worked at the Hotel, and enjoy lazy nights around a wood burning stove in a refugio.  I also became friends with some of the baqueanos (think Patagonian cowboy) and enjoyed riding some of the Hotel Las Torres horses in the evenings after "work."  It was a hard life.  :)   Another bonus of being in the park for more than the normal 4-8 day "W" or "Big Circuit" was not having to worry about the Patagonian weather in the context of trekking...if it rained one day, well, there was always another day of sun that might come.  My month in the park flew by - time had wings - and it´s definitely a place I´d like to return to.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Trekking in Torres del Paine National Park

Trekking in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine was...incredible.  Knowing how the weather in Patagonia can change hourly, I set out thinking, "Well...if I have at least 2 days of good weather and little rain or wind...I´ll be pretty happy."  I happened to be very lucky, and thoroughly (can I say that again?  thoroughly) enjoyed a week of great weather and walking by myself.  

My original plan was to trek the "circuito grande" with a guy from Canada; however, plans changed at the last minute and I started and ended the circuit alone.  Along the way I enjoyed talking with some cyclists from England (taking a break from cycling, trekking instead), Argentine and French friends I met in Ushuaia, a handful of people from Spain, and another cyclist from the U.S.  But, during the day, I walked alone, stopping frequently to take in the grandeur of the Andes, and listen to the wind whip through the grass and the trees.  I thought a lot about past trips (High Road in Wheaton, Spain with Katie, Central America with Ben J., India and Nepal), when certain smells and sights brought back great trip memories from the past.  My mind also wandered to a lot of friends and family, wondering what everyone was doing, and also thoughts about the future, getting back to the US in a few months, and pending plans.  I valued the time and space to think, and how physical movement is often so helpful for freeing the mind to thinking through life as well.  

The Andes are beautiful; I will let the photos do the rest of the talking, in case you have any doubt...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

OK in Chile After Earthquake

Hi All -

I've received numerous emails asking about the earthquake.  Thanks for your thoughts/concerns!  I want to let you know that I am OK, and was actually on my first day of a six day trekking circuit when the earthquake happened, therefore was unable to make contact with anyone until now.  I am currently in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, near the city Puerto Natales, which is quite a bit south of Concepcion, the epicenter.

I just got off the trail, and should now have internet access on a regular basis.  I will be volunteering in the National Park for the next 2-4 weeks.  Here is a photo of Glaciar Grey, 17km long, from the trekking circuit.  Thanks again for your thoughts/prayers.  I'll update more soon as I'm able.
Love, Andria

Monday, February 22, 2010

Argentina Pictures Are Up

Argentina blog pictures are up!  Traveling from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (the southernmost city of the world) by land.  Includes:  hiking around Bariloche, El Bolsón, and El Chaltén; visiting Glacier Perito Moreno (near Calafate), and hitchhiking with Sophie (a girl met on a long-distance bus) about 1500km down to Ushuaia and then into Puerto Natales, Chile.  In addition to the incredible trekking and mountains vistas, hitchhiking was a great way to travel.  We talked with a lot more local people, drank coffee and listened to cumbia music really loud during a 6-hour ride with a truck driver, and ended up staying in a few random people´s housing, grateful for unseen hospitality offered by the Argentine people.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Patagonia Instalation #2: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Cerro Torre, the Fitz Roy, and Glacier Perito Moreno

The summer sun (no, that doesn´t mean it´s warm!) is shining today in El Calafate, Argentina. It´s great to feel its warm rays, and to forget that sun's cousins, rain and wind, are on temporary leave. Since Bariloche, I´ve made my way south over the past week. I spent a few days in El Bolsón (think Seattle or Boulder, yuppie hippies and farmers markets), El Chaltén (the "Trekking capital of Patagonia"), and El Calafate (a tourist town, gateway to Glaciar Perito Moreno). The bus ride from Bariloche to El Calafate is more than 35 hours in duration, along the infamous Route 40, the gravel "highway" along the eastern side of the Andes. While Route 40 is slowly becoming more paved, it is a road literally through nowhere, unless you count the scrubby bushes, dirt, and incredibly expansive views as somewhere. It´s been good to break the journey up with a few stops, and to experience more of Patagonia along the way.

El Bolsón

I spent a few days in El Bolsón, initially huddled in my tent or coffee shops, escaping the wind and rain. However, the sun eventually did shine, and I got in two day hikes, along blue blue rivers and through some nice forests. My first day I hiked with two Argentine ladies, the second day with three climbers from the U.S. who I´d met near Refugio Frey. They were waiting for the weather to clear (this can be a 2-3 week project in Patagonia) so they could return to Refugio Frey and get in some trad climbing.

El Chaltén

On the bus ride from El Bolsón to El Chaltén, I met up with a girl from France (Sophi) and a guy from Isreal (Oren). We ended up heading into the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares together, and had a great time making Israeli coffee, laughing over English-Spanish-Hebrew-French translation errors, and also delighting in the fact that YES, we actually saw Cerro Torre and the Fitz Roy! Before we arrived, people had waited four days or more for views of these incredible rock mountains. On our second day in the park, the skies cleared, and we stared in aw at the ragged beauty of these two formations. After three days/three nights in the backcountry, we all headed out, continuing the trek south.

El Calafate

From El Chaltén to El Calafate Sophi and I hitched a ride with a local singer and her sound guy. The two hours flew by, with great views out the back of our hitched vehicle, and sharing mate (the local tea) and conversation with two Argentineans. Since arrive in El Calafate, Sophi and I rented a car with three other people (it was cheaper than the bus) and visited the Glaciar Perito Moreno ( The glaciar is quite outstanding to see, as small and large chuncks of ice are constantly falling into the lake. The glaciar itself juts out 74 meters above the water; it's very beautiful, and one of the few glaciars in the world that is currently growing, not reatreating.

Our second day in El Calafate was spent as an "administrative day," catching up on emails and sleep. I also had a job (through Skype) interview with a company that leads international trips for students - Putney (, based out of Vermont. The interview went great, I was offered a job, and will spend the month of July co-leading a group of students in either Costa Rica, El Salvador, or Argentina. I´m excited to try education from a more experiential, out-of-the-classroom perspective, and also guide high school students through the experience of traveling and communicating in a different country. This means that I actually have plans (yikes!) and will be making my way back to Colorado mid-June after flying back up to the U.S. for leader orientation in Vermont.

Continuing South...

In just an hour or so, Sophi and I will pack up, again heading south. However, this time the hope is to arrive at Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego "por dedo" - a.k.a hitchhiking. It´s pretty common and safe to hitchhike in Patagonia, and also a lot more interesting, with more contact time with local people. Hopefully I will be able to post again in a few days, (2-4?) from the southernmost part of the Americas! Wish us luck!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Patagonia Instalation #1: Let There Be Snow

When I first got down to Patagonia, I emailed Ueli, a Swiss guy Hana and I had a great time trekking with in Nepal, and told him how excited I was to be here. Ueli emailed me back (he´d traveled southern Argentina and Chile before) and the last line he wrote was: "Have a good time and enjoy the southern sun. There will be wind and rain too:-)..." In my first days of summer sun in Patagonia, I brushed off the "weather warning." However, it was only a few days later that I realized how right Ueli was! He knew that even though the sun was shining for a moment, there would soon be wind, rain, (and snow!), too.

I´m currently back in Bariloche, after two nights in the mountains. I was trying to do a traverse, over a few passes, but the weather turned bad the first night I was out. It was actually a great introduction to the unbelievable ability of the weather to change around here at a pace unknown to me (and I thought the weather changed fast in Colorado! Patagonia takes it to a whole new level). I hiked up about 12km, and set camp around a lake, near a refugio where there were other people, and a bunch of climbers, hanging out. The afternoon was all sunshine, but towards evening, the wind and rain picked up. When I went to bed, it was raining. When i woke up..hahaha...i thought "Oh, it´s quiet out. So nice. The rain must have stopped." But then i heard soft touches on the roof of the tk tk tk...and thought, uh oh, that´s not rain! Unzipping the tent, and getting powdered with snow in the process, I also found about 4 inches of whiteness outside... Really, it was beautiful, and I love camping in the snow. But not with summer-like clothes! I didn´t have the right equipment to continue an icy/snowy scramble over the pass alone. So, instead of heading down the mountain (what would I do down in the city I couldn´t do up in the mountains?) I decided to stay and hung out with some people. I drank the day away with coffee and mate (Argentine tea, passed around between friends), and reading a bit as well. It ended up being really pleasant. However, the second night I found myself curled up in my 32 degree bag in definitely less than 32 degree weather, wearing everything I had on. In the middle of the night, after dumping my back out, I curled up on top of in search of anyway to insulate myself from the ground (oops...didn´t have a sleeping pad). The following morning after a leisurely breakfast of rice noodle soup (I definitely learned that in Laos), I headed back down the mountain to Bariloche, admits the freezing rain and wind (this is summer...hahaha...).

The hostel I´m at is pretty sweet - it´s filled with lots of super chill Argentineans and Chileans. I was planning on taking off today for El Bolsón, but I decided to hang out and read a bit, cook dinner again with some Argentineans, and catch up on the "administrative part" of traveling (i.e. this blog). While I´m not trekking through the wilderness at the moment, I am connecting to local travelers, which fits into what I´d hoped to find in South America. Headed south...more to come (soon).

A Few Days in Buenos Aires

Thoughts from Buenos Aires (email excerpts)...

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im in buenos aires, with a dog sleeping under my feet, and a cute kitty named felix running around. today i toured the city by bicycle with cecilia - the woman's house i'm staying at (note: i connected up with cecilia and alejandro through SERVAS ( similar to Hospitality Club ( it was really generous of her to take time to show me around. we took the train into the city (buenos aires has great public transportation) and then cycled around. most notable (or interesting for me) was seeing the plaza de mayo, where women still come every thursday to protest the disappearance of their sons...over 30,000 people disappeared (los desaparecidos) during the military dictatorship in the late 70's-early 80''s really tragic. it was good to see the monument, and reflect on the mothers that still come, in protest, to the human rights violations that took place.

* * * * * * *

staying with cecilia and alejandro was great...i played with their animals, went to an asado (think a barbecue of cow that lasts 3-4hours plus wine/beer), and simply enjoyed meeting regular people. a hostel in the city. will probably stay here one more night, might move if i can find something cheaper...

* * * * * * *

it's weird speaking spanish again. ha. it´s not like friends in india who are so used to moving back and forth multiple's taking me a bit to be able to do the same. it's like i operate in either english or spanish, but not both simultaneously. i'll find myself choking on my own thoughts as i walk down the street, because i'm thinking in spanish and can't remember a word. :) ha. it's kinda funny. it'll get all sorted out after being here awhile.

* * * * * * *
buenos aires is different than all of the other latin american capitals i've been in (guatemala city, san salvador, managua, san jose, quito). it's a lot calmer - traffic obeys the laws - and it's also a lot more european. both culturally, in the food (pizza and pasta and bread. yikes!!! where's the rice??), and also that most people in the city are really light skinned. like, people can't tell just by looking at my that i'm not argentinean. it's a very different experience for me...than even walking around quito, for example, or another part of latin america. i almost feel more like i'm back in spain, for all those reasons, than in south america.

* * * * * * *

i've been debating since i arrived if i should go to uraguay or's really just right around the corner...and i'd be great to see another country...but the only thing to do really is go to the beaches and beach hop for a week or so (but i'm not really in the mood for beaches). otherwise, the transportation costs to get there for a quick trip just aren't worth it. i decided today that the mountains are calling me. i was looking at a book today with different trails/routes...and oh made my heart sing just thinking about possibilities. so, i'm headed to bariloche on the 29th, a 22hr. bus ride, arriving sometime on the 30th. from there...i'll spend some time in the lake district around bariloche, and eventually start making my way south, hopefully hopping on and off some day hikes to 3-5 day circuits...should be great. i got a confirmation from parque nacional torres del paine (it's pretty well known, i'm sure you've seen pictures of it) and will spend the first few weeks of march volunteering there.

Whirlwind Tour of the USA

It was a whirlwind after leaving India and getting prepared to go to South America. After nearly 22 hrs on a plane (Bangalore --> Delhi 2.5hrs, Delhi --> Chicago 16 hrs, Chicago --> Naples, FL 2.5 hrs) and many more hours in transit, I was able to spend 5 days with my grandparents and mom in Florida. It was great to be back in the US for a few days, mostly to catch up with people, most notably, be on almost the same time zone as everyone! However, those 5 days few by, in the attempt to juggle friends, family, and graduate school applications for the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque in the fall. I´m hoping to start a dual degree in Latin American Studies and Community and Regional Planning (think: sustainable communities), but a lot will depend on if I can get funding or not. In the meantime, I have 4 or 5 months to disfrutar (enjoy) in South America.

Southern Perspectives on India

10 Days in Goa

After arriving in Bangalore (India) from Bangkok (Thailand) I met up with Kuttss, who was a leader from my NOLS mountaineering course. He lives in Bangalore part-time, when he´s not in the mountains, and he had time to travel in January. So, it worked to meet up to travel together, and shortly after I landed in India, we headed to the western coast of India to the state of Goa to spend Christmas with one of his friends (Xavier). My friend Hana (also on the NOLS course, we trekked in Nepal together), was also able to meet up with us. Together, Kuttss, Xavier, Matty (another friend), and Hana and I had a great time exploring the un-touristy parts of Goa. We zipped in and out of local beaches on motorbikes, ate delicious home-cooked Goan food (lots of fish curries and rice), visited Portuguese cathedrals from the 15th century, crashed weddings, and lazed around, avoiding the mid-day heat.

During these 10 days, we stayed in Xavier´s village. Throughout the Christmas to New Years season, the village is alive with many events. Because a lot of the villagers work on cruise ships for 9 months of the year (often times as cooks) or in the Gulf (Dubai), the community is seasonal and people take advantage of the times when everyone is back home. It was great fun to watch their week of Christmas and New Years events. Most mornings, there were different sports games such as soccer or volleyball. However, on New Years day, there was the equivalent of sports days. The whole village participated in events such as tug-of-war, egg tosses, short distance and long distance running races, slow cycling "race", and much more. The whole atmosphere was very festive and celebratory.

Speaking of celebrations...we also went wedding crashing two times and to Christmas Eve service. Xavier´s mom was kind enough to dress Hana and I up in sarees, and I learned important lessons such as: 1) don´t sit slouched down or with your legs spread in a saree, very un-lady or un-saree like (I horrified Xavier during Christmas Eve service!), and 2) how to ride a moped "side saddle" with both legs on one side while wrapped up in a saree. Not only was it fun to get to wear a saree, it also helped me understand a bit more how important, and personal, a saree is. For example, for Xavier´s mom to let me borrow a saree (the first time the saree was more basic, the second time fancier) was actually a pretty significant act of trust and sharing. Also, while women often wear a basic cotton saree, a nice, dressy saree could easily cost the equivalent of a prom dress or much much more. According to Xavier and Kuttss, the saree is the "sexiest dress in the world." I don´t know if that´s a fact, but the saree is definitely important to Indians, and like a Western person might say: "You look great in that dress!", an Indian person might say: "Wow, that saree looks really good on you."

A few more notes from Goa..
  • I didn´t realize that some states in India have a significant Christian population. Goa was heavily influenced by Portuguese missionaries, and a lot of that culture and ideology remains. Additionally, in Old Goa, there are many remaining cathedrals built in the Portuguese style.
  • Indians brush their teeth before breakfast so that that their mouth is clean and their food tastes better. One morning Xavier was confused why I was brushing my teeth after breakfast, and I said, "Well, to clean the food off of my teeth after I ate." He was quite confused, and at first I thought both Kutts and Xavier were pulling my leg, but no. They really do brush their teeth before breakfast.  It's just a different perspective, that's all.
  • One of the most hilarious moments of the entire month was probably when Kuttss, Xavier, and Hana and I (both dressed up in sarees) were dancing at a Goan Christian wedding, and the next song they played with the funky chicken. Hana´s jaw dropped and she completely froze, her face to be consumed only moments later with a goofy smile of the irony of dancing this song in India. We all had a great time moving to the funky chicken, 70's rock, and Bollywood/Hindi hits...while also hitting up the free buffet table. I highly recommend wedding crashing (it was a distant connection of Xavier´s, actually) if you can...
  • Realize that everyone, everywhere, has their own "home remedies." For us, if you feel sick, drink Sprite and eat soda crackers. For Xavier in Goa, drink "feni" - cashew liquor. Pour some into a glass, light it on fire, and then drink the warm feni. For Kuttss in Coorg (in the state of Karnataka), drink rum with hot water - you´ll wake up the next morning, good as new.
Kerala, "God´s Country"

From Goa, Kuttss and I headed south along the coast to the state of Kerala. There, we spent a few days with an old school friend of his before heading up off the coast and into the hills. Kerala was coined "God´s Country" by the tourist advertisements and while it is a beautiful state, the constant tourist promotions have made it difficult to navigate for non-tourist prices at times. In Kerala, we hiked up a hill/mountain (2100 meters), visited Fort Kochi (the first Portuguese colony in India, later fought over by the Dutch as well as the British), rode a slow boat through the Kerala backwaters, and watched men walk around in lungis (like a wrap-around skirt, really great for staying cool in the furnace-like heat of the Kerala summers). An interesting note is that Kerala is a communist state, and while the upward mobility of women in society isn´t very progressive, Kerala has succeeded in having one of the highest literacy rates in India, and also has one of the most successful health care systems as well. In Kerala, the predominant language in Malayalam (a palindrome).

The Southermost Point of India, and Northward Through the State of Tamil Nadu

After Kerala, we landed in Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of India. This point of land is the confluence of the Arabian Sea (from the west), the Indian Ocean (from the south), and the Bay of Bengal (from the east). Sunsets and sunrises are a main attraction, as well as it being a pilgrimage destination for many Indians. There is a large monument for Swami Vivekananda (a religious reformer and philosopher, formerly Hindu, who later adopted a spiritual worldview that was less "religion-centered"), a statue of Thiruvalluvar (Tamil poet), and also a Gandhi Memorial (where Gandhi's ashes were kept before being dispersed into the ocean. The memorial was designed in such a way that on Gandhi's birthday, 2 October, the first rays of the sun fall on the exact place where his ashes were kept).

From Kanyakumari, we went up to Madurai, an important Hindu temple town. The temple itself is quite impressive, full of colors and multitudes of figurines. However, it was a bit disappointing to find out that they´d changed the rules, and that foreigners are no longer allowed inside. After a few hours in Madurai, we had enough, and set out on a night bus to Pondicherry.

Pondicherry...Puducherry..Pondy...This formerly French colony has retained a strong French "feel" and culture. It was a fun city to visit, especially during Pongal (a 4-day Hindu harvest festival). We lucked out, and watched a very impressive dance performance that was staged on the street for Pongal. The dancers, a professional dance company, combined modern dance elements with dance traditional to Tamil Nadu, for a spectacular performance accompanied by local music. Overall, we didn´t "do" much in Pondicherry, but enjoyed a few days of moseying around, before starting the journey back to Bangalore.

Bangalore, Once Again

Back in Bangalore, I was fortunate enough to catch up with one of my college running buddies. She happened to see from a Facebook status message that I was in India. Of all the cities for her to be living in, it was great to spend a morning with her, catching up on life, and drinking South Indian filter (local) coffee. The last few days in Southern India flew by, eating my last few dosas (rice pancakes), drinking my last few South Indian coffees, and hanging out once again with Xavier and some of Xavier and Kuttss´ friends.

Saying Goodbye t
o India (for now...)

It might be an understatement so say that I really enjoyed my time in India - I really loved it. Compared to how I felt leaving home, thinking about India, I was surprised I liked it so much. India is a fascinating country. There is so much variety, so many languages, so many different cultural expectations (from when to brush your teeth to not passing a gift with your left hand), that after a month I still felt that I was only scratching the surface in regards to "knowing India." Also, I really enjoyed the food (Southern Indians LIVE on rice...oh so beautiful for my gluten-intolerant stomach) and getting to know local people, from Kuttss to Xavier to Xavier´s family and their group of friends.

Thus concludes nearly 5 months in Asia.  While I valued the opportunity to visit South East Asia (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia), I don´t know if they are places that I will return to again soon. However, I still feel drawn to exploring in more depth the complexities of culture and natural beauty of India or Nepal. Now I´m off to chasing more mountains and summer sun in South America.