Tags Posts tagged with "Adventure"

Adventure

Desperate to explore the world but unsure how to do it without breaking the bank? Veteran backpacker, Will Hatton from The Broke Backpacker, has been travelling the world for seven years now on a budget of just $100 a week. Today, he tells us his top tips for exploring the world and having epic budget adventures…

Couchsurfing in Venezuela, The Kidnap-Capital of the World

She met me at the border, all smiles and friendly holas. I looked around nervously, dozens of police and soldiers eyed me suspiciously. I was the only gringo in site. Sensing my unease, she gestured towards a battered car and we made our way past numerous army-check points. A fat officer with a scrunched up face, peered into the back of the vehicle and spotted me. I handed over my passport. Esthela talked rapidly in Spanish and my passport was returned, we sped away from the check-point like criminals fleeing the scene of the crime.

I had been in touch with Esthela for a few months now. I had been nervous about visiting Venezuela, literally everybody I had met, including Venezuelans, had warned me that it was an extremely dangerous country. Seeking more information, I had turned to the Couchsurfing forums. I had received dozens of messages from Venezuelans beseeching me to go elsewhere or face certain death whilst exploring their country. People were making out that Venezuela was as dangerous as Somalia, that to visit was to dance with death. Venezuelans, especially, seemed adamant that to visit was suicidal. I was extremely disappointed, I loved to get off the beaten track, I enjoyed Indiana-Jones-Esque travel but this was looking like it was simply going to be too dangerous. Perhaps I would have to cut Venezuela from my plans?

Like a sign from heaven, a message appeared in my inbox.

“It is a little dangerous here, sure. But, if you would like to come, I would love to show you around. You can stay with my parents and I can meet you at the border to help you cross safely”

Esthela had quickly become my guardian angel. Every time I heard a distressing rumour about Venezuela, I would ask her what was going on…

“Yes, definitely bring toilet paper, it can be hard to get. Just bear in mind that the government-run media cannot be trusted and that Venezuelans themselves exaggerate a lot of the facts. We have some major shortages at the moment, if you can bring us some coffee we will love you forever”

I had instantly headed to the nearest Colombian shopping mall and stocked up on coffee and powdered milk before crossing the border into Venezuela.

Overnight, I joined a legion of international smugglers ferrying crucial yet illegal supplies into Venezuela. Venezuela’s spiralling inflation and crimped economy means that it is in fact more profitable to smuggle milk into the country than cocaine (not that I was thinking of becoming an international cocaine smuggler, I wasn’t!).

With Esthela at my side, guiding me through the police border crossings, we had made it to San Cristobel, a small city just two hours from the Colombian-Venezuelan border. Here, I proudly presented Esthela’s mum with coffee and milk, the whole family were delighted and we instantly began an impromptu chess tournament.

I spent the next two days exploring the surrounding area with Estella who helped me gain a first-hand insight into what the heck is going on in Venezuela at the moment and offered me practical advice on how to travel around the country safely.

I have been involved with Couchsurfing for years and have surfed over a hundred times. For some reason though, throughout my trip in South America, I had found it extremely difficult to get a host.

Venezuela was to prove the exception to the rule, wonderful, kind and unique hosts such as Esthela seemed to be drawn to Couchsurfing; to helping foreign explorers discover Venezuela safely. Whilst in the country, I met many wonderful people but the nicest, most helpful and most outgoing were always Couchsurfers.

Couchsurfing may be dying a slow and painful death in some countries but, in Venezuela at least, it is flourishing. Venezuelans, keen to show the world that their crazy government does not represent all of Venezuela, are throwing open their doors, unrolling sleeping mats and inviting more and more travellers into their homes…

If you head to Venezuela, Couchsurf – it’s a truly wonderful experience and, without Estella, I imagine I may have had a far more difficult time getting to grips with the safety situation during the first crucial couple of days.

To Couchsurfing, and to the wonderful Esthela herself, I want to say a huge thank you – your welcome in my home, wherever that may be, at any time :)

 

hitch-landscape

About Will Hatton: Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if your really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.

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Desperate to explore the world but unsure how to do it without breaking the bank? Veteran backpacker, Will Hatton from The Broke Backpacker, has been travelling the world for seven years now on a budget of just $100 a week. Today, he tells us his top tips for exploring the world and having epic budget adventures…

The 7 Secrets To Travelling Cheaply! 

1: Couchsurf and meet awesome people!

When it comes to really getting to the heart of a destination, Couchsurfing is the best option! In case your not familiar with the concept, Couchsurfing is a hospitality program where you stay with a local in their home, often on their couch but just as often in a proper bed, for free! You may choose to cook for your host (it’s good form really) but the whole thing, even signing up, is based around free hospitality! Couchsurfing is an amazing platform which will help you make new friends and save your hard-earned cash.

Cave-surfing outside the ruins of Petra

I myself have couchsurfed all over the world; I have met amazing people and stayed in amazing places – once even crashing for a week in a rock-cut cave outside the ruins of Petra!

2: Buddy up! 

It sounds obvious but if you have a travel buddy, your buying power has just doubled! Suddenly, hotel rooms are half as much, taxis cost less and you can even share meals, if your on very good terms. If you can’t convince any of your friends at home to come with you then take a look online. Travbuddy and the Couchsurfing forums are both a good bet and you are bound to meet lots of cool people. Alternatively, simply choose THE most popular hostel you can find for the first couple of days; you are bound to meet loads of other cool people who will be heading in the same direction as you! If you have a travel buddy it also vastly improves your buying power when haggling.

3: Travel like a local

Locals know everything about their country, well, hopefully. They know where to find the best food, the best bars and they know how to get around cheaply! Take local transport wherever you can – buses, trains, trams, camels – the list is endless. Bear in mind that camels are ridiculously uncomfortable…

If your feeling particularly adventurous, why not try hitching? Hitchhiking is an amazing way to get around, it’s free, unique and you will meet lots of cool people.

4: Local food

From Pad Thai vendors on the infamous Khao San Road to the Tortilla ladies of Antigua, local food is delicious, cheap and plentiful! If you eat in restaurants aimed at tourists or in international restaurant chains you will really miss out on some of the best culture your destination has to offer. Take to the street; search out hole in the wall eateries, pancake wagons (seriously, pancake wagons…) and fruit stalls! By buying local food you will save a fortune!

5: Research!

Before you travel, do some research on your destination…

Travelling to India for a year long backpacking adventure? It would be helpful to know how to book trains in advance (it’s damn complicated!).

Hitching to Romania in the dead of winter? You may be interested to know that it snows… up to a foot thick… and that hitching is nearly impossible.

Determined to get past Burmese army checkpoints and into the highlands? One simple mouse click is all it takes to find out how to do this and not get caught!

Seriously, do your research. Knowing how to get from the train station to your hostel without taking a taxi is a good example; it takes about 1 minute to find out about local transport options online but it may save you up to a small fortune! Wikitravel is a good place to start.

6: Get a job!

Every now and again, you might be really close to running out of money… Do not despair, it is usually very easy to pick up work on the road. I’ve worked behind bars from London to Hanoi and everywhere in between, often for just a day at a time. You can usually find work in hostels in exchange for accommodation, flyering jobs abound upon the backpacker circuit and you can sometimes even find better jobs such as teaching english even if you don’t have any real qualifications; saying that, I strongly recommend investing in some skills before you head off travelling – it makes finding both volunteering placements and paid work a lot easier.

7: Network like crazy!

“Your aunt’s mum’s friend’s brother lives in Delhi? Great! Can I visit?”

Networking in India
Networking in India

This may sound silly but I’ve crashed with people who I really have a very random link to. Meeting up with people you kind of know can be a great way to save cash, land on your feet with a social network and really get to grips with the place your exploring!

 

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About Will Hatton: Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if your really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint.

Lisa Niver We Said Go Travel Camping with the Cows 2015 Sage Porter #CWTC2015
CWTC 2015

Moooooooooove Over Traditional Camping, time for something different!

Each May my family and I pack up our car with our tents, sleeping bags and gear and head out of our busy Los Angeles life for a weekend of relaxing camping. I’m not talking about your usual camping in the woods, secluded from other people, braving the elements with only what we can carry in our packs. Where we go there are no mosquitos, bears or snakes, oh no! But there are COWS, happy cows who graze every day in lush pastures.

Mooooooo CWTC
Mooooooo CWTC

 

One weekend a year for the past 4 years, the family owned Organic Pastures Dairy (who is celebrating their fifteenth year anniversary!) opens up their fields for a customer appreciation weekend of camping, games, family fun and all the raw milk you can drink (and if you’re my family, it’s a lot!)   This year there were 400 people, but you’d never know it, there’s so much space. It’s a two-day event that my family is already looking forward to for next year and we just left!

This year we arrived about 12:30 on Saturday afternoon. It was a perfect, warm afternoon. We picked our site towards the end of the field and started to set up our tents and shade tent as we waited for our friends to arrive.   The kids almost immediately took off to the hay maze (next year they will learn to put up the tent… next year) and as their friends arrived they took off as well.   The environment is one where the kids are free to run around as they want in the kid zone, or the fields, it’s a time where they get to explore and enjoy the openness of the fields.

Tents 2014 CWTC
Tents 2014 CWTC

After a brief welcome from the owners under a huge tent (filled with lots of seating, a toddlers play area, arts & crafts, refreshments and even a charging station for your phone) we headed back to our area for a relaxing drink and catch up with our friends.   The rest of the afternoon was filled with a tractor ride and tour of the farm, a milk chugging contest, a friendly game of Dunk the Dairyman, and my favorite… actually getting to milk a cow named Moolary (she was really adorable!)

Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC
Me, Lisa with WSGT & Moolary CWTC

VIDEO: Camping with the Cows 2015

Milk chugging 2015 CWTC
Milk chugging 2015 CWTC

After a delicious catered dinner everyone gathered around on blankets and camping chairs under the stars for a movie in the field. We watched A Bug’s Life on a huge outdoor screen with cookies and milk.   The kids snuggled in as the temperatures dropped to a lovely cool evening and once the movie was done, some went off to bed and some stayed up for s’mores around the bonfires (you just cannot have camping of any kind without s’mores!) We had a friend with a guitar playing in our group around the bonfire and an evening of fun.

Dunk the Dairymen CWTC
Dunk the Dairymen CWTC

On Sunday morning my kids and I awoke really early. They went off playing as the sunrise overtook the fields.   A bit later as more of the campers awoke everyone walked, jogged or rode the tractor to the site where Organic Pastures Dairy just broke ground for a new milk parlor that will open later this year.   The owners made a beautiful and emotional talk about their passion for sharing great health and a wonderful product with everyone gathered around.   Owners Mark (a former paramedic) and his wife Blaine (a former nurse) spoke of the nutrition, safety and comfort of their customers AND their cows.   Their milk goes through third party triple testing and can land in stores and farmer’s markets within 24 hours.   They also sell other products like cheese, butter (to die for!), cream and kefir.

Sunrise fun CWTC
Sunrise fun CWTC

 

CWTC 2015
CWTC 2015: Lisa and Sage won awards for social media participation during Camping with the Cows 2015

After, we headed back to our campsite and started to pack up our site.   We played a bit more and reluctantly got back in the car for our drive home.   Before heading on the road we stopped at their little store and filled up our cooler with milk, butter and cheese so we could make the coming week a bit more delicious.   We headed back home complaining that we only got to spend one night there at that peaceful, fun farm, but knowing our next trip back would only be a year away.   Moooooooooo!

Fresh field growing CWTC
Fresh field growing CWTC

GayWhistler at Hobbiton

article by Dean Nelson @GayWhistler PART 1 OF 2

An Unexpected Journey to Middle Earth

I really enjoyed my flight with Air New Zealand from Vancouver to Auckland, non stop on their Boeing 777-200. I arrived in plenty of time to YVR – Vancouver International and was greeted by a friendly smiling face behind the Air New Zealand premium checkin counter. The agent said, “Mr. Nelson, we had been expecting you!” I had been upgraded from economy to premium economy. I was really excited as I thought I would be able to try out the airline’s “cuddle class” known as their skycouch however on the 777 that seat category is unavailable (sky couch will be in service starting in October 2015 from Vancouver to Auckland).

I was able to use the electronic boarding pass on my apple watch which made going through security really easy, however checking in to the Air Canada (Code-shared with Air New Zealand) Maple Leaf Lounge, I had to remove the watch so it could pass under the scanner. Not very practical, but the novelty was fun. Boarding the flight to Auckland, the gate agents only wanted to see the paper boarding pass that had been stamped proving your international travel documents had been verified, so could not use the Apple travel feature for this international flight.
GayWhistler with Air New Zealand and Apple Watch

I had a good seat, 24A, for the outbound flight I did not see the sunset (a K seat would have been better) even though I had the whole row to myself I could not lay across the seats as the arms of the chairs are permanent, though had a lot of leg room and managed to get a good night sleep.

I suspect the Airline’s safety video must have played in and out of my subconscious with their captivating tale of Middle Earth and flying safe.

When I arrived into Auckland I was greeted by maori warriors and of course by the massive Weta Workshop dwarf sculpture. I had an idea of what my trip to New Zealand was about, but when I jumped into my rental car and zoomed my way down the highway towards Rotorua I began my unexpected adventure! I was really taken with the beautiful green rolling hills, the highway was easy to drive (once I wrapped my brain around I needed to be on the right side) and made excellent time. Since I had arrived so early in the morning I was able to make Hobbiton my first stop.
GayWhistler visits Hobbiton
I really had not planned to take in the sites of the film set of the epic “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” blockbuster movie franchise, but since I was here I thought I should check it out. It was, after all, on my way to my destination. There was something really special stepping onto this farm in the middle of nowhere that suddenly you are swept into the movie magic and could imagine seeing Bilbo and his cohorts mingling about the Hobbit village. We learned how Peter Jackson was able to make the actors appear smaller or bigger depending on the shot. It was all very fascinating and really glad I made the stop.

Next up was to take in the adrenaline roll down the hill with a Zorb. Imagine what it would be like to be like “Ant Man” and get shrunk down and get swept up in a ball racing down a hill… well, no shrinkage needed with Zorb… just dive in and enjoy the roll down the hill.

After being tossed about it was time to continue my journey towards Rotorua. I had been traveling now for some 26-hours and thought it would be best to check in to my hotel.

After checking in and relaxing for a bit, aka a quick 30-min power nap, I found my second wind and was off to explore this wonderful Geo-Theromal city. The scent of sulfur became quite nostalgic for me as I had been here some 14-years prior and had many good memories. The city had grown a lot since my first adventure and really did not recall too many familiar places other than Whakarewarewa – the living Maori Village.

After wondering the village and taking in the Maori culture I headed to my “perfect cure” forGayWhistler at Polynesian Spa jet leg… a night at the spa! As the sun faded behind the hills across Lake Rotorua I checked in for my hot springs experience under the starry sky.

The Polynesian Spa is one of the oldest commercial hot springs in the Southern Hemisphere dating back to 1878. The alkaline pool Whangapipiro (now known as Rachel Spring) and the acidic pool Te Pupunitanga (referred to as Priest Spring) have both been used by the Maori for generations for their therapeutic, healing and curative properties.  The spa experience was wonderful.  It reminded me of the Onsens in Japan.  The primary difference is in New Zealand all the thermal pools are co-ed and bathing suits are required.  It was wonderful to just relax in the warm waters and stare up into the night sky. The night I was there the facility was fairly quiet so it was like I had the whole place to myself.  Had a great night sleep after.

Travel Resources

– Air New Zealand flies non stop from both San Francisco and Vancouver to Auckland. Visit: airnewzealand.ca
– Car Rentals – I use CarRentals.com to see what is out there and then will check the car company direct. In this case I used and rented directly with NUcarRentals.com they had great rates. The only down side was their office did not open until 7AM, so I had to wait at the Airport for 2-hours (5AM arrival) however weighing the extra $70 to have the car 2-hours earlier by using Avis really did not seem like such a good use of my budget (both time and money).
Hobbiton Movie Set Tour – was actually quite interesting. It was expensive at $75 but that did included a guided tour and some great Hobbit Lager or non-alcoholic Ginger Beer after the tour.
Zorb Rotorua – just down the road from Hobbiton are a variety of adventure tours to be had including Zorb!
– Need to unwind from an active day? I suggest the Polynesian Spa. It is a full service geothermal spa but if you want any body work done, I do recommend booking well in advance as they do book up quickly. polynesianspa.co.nz

Follow me on Social Media

You can follow Dean Nelson on Social Media at @GayWhistler on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest

Be sure to follow @WeSaidGoTravel for other great travel tips and ideas

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What comes to mind when you think of Portugal? Cathedrals? Historic sites? Sixteenth Century explorers? Former colonies in Asia? Lethal jellyfish?

How about some of the best hiking in the world.

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This past October, my wife Katherine and I hiked the Algarve, Costa Vicentina and Alentejo regions in SW Portugal. For the first four days we hiked along the Atlantic coast, including two days on the Rota Vicentina, the old fisherman’s’ trail that runs along the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Walking along the flat, sandy path on the cliffs we gawked at rugged headlands, walls of rock and empty crescent beaches pounded by foaming surf. We occasionally had to hike down a steep, narrow trail to a beach and back up again on the other side. In places we hiked through pine forests and waded through streams, soon to be waterfalls, as they rushed over the cliffs into the sea. Whitewashed fishing villages broke up the wild views every few miles. The trail was easy to follow, and we never needed to use the handheld GPS provided by Macs Adventure, the tour company that hosted us on this trip.

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If this wasn’t the best four days of hiking I have ever done, it was damn close!

After the Rota Vicentina, a taxi shuttled us about an hour north and inland to the Alentejo region, a place of lakes, rolling hills and forests of oak and eucalyptus. As soon as we arrived at the Quinta do Barranco da Estrada, a lodge overlooking a lake, I plopped down on the patio in front of our cottage and decided to take the rest of the day off to sit, read and gaze at the lake and explore the lush gardens surrounding the lodge.

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The next day we went for a six-mile hike along the roads and through a forest near the Quinta. The views from the road were not as dramatic as along the Rota Vicentina, but the landscape of low rolling hills, forests and vineyards was plenty attractive and matched our relaxed, easy going pace and mood.

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The places we stayed during the trip, including the Quinta, added to the overall experience. Our accommodations for the first three nights were at the Aldeia da Pedralva, which is more like a village than a hotel. In fact, it once was a village with a population of about 200 people until it fell on hard times. Over the last several years the current owners purchased most of the cottages and converted the ghost town into a thriving hotel and jumping off point for hikers, surfers and tourists from around the world.

We ate every night at the excellent restaurant at the hotel. My favorite dishes were the baked camembert covered with berries and nuts, the rich, meaty chorizo, and the Portuguese classic, bacalhau (pronounced like the name of Tony Soprano’s massive brother-in-law), also known as salt cod on bread. It’s sort of like a very thick chowder or stew of cod, vegetables and garlic served in a hollowed out loaf of crispy bread, similar to the clam chowder in a bowl of sourdough bread served on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, but much better.

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Our lodgings for our fourth and fifth night were at Cerca do Sul, a comfortable and intimate guesthouse close to the Rota Vicentina (about 2.5 miles). We ate all of our meals there. The breakfast buffet was extensive and varied and the dinners were some of the best of our trip. The place was small with only a handful of other guests while we were there, so our conversations involved more than just the usual exchange of pleasantries.

In fact, all of the people we met on the trail and in the lodges — mostly from the UK, Portugal, the Netherlands and Germany — were friendly and well informed. They were also polite enough to avoid the kind of argument that makes social interaction in the US such a minefield these days. That didn’t mean that the conversations weren’t interesting, just that they were always cordial. Maybe they agreed with everything I said.

And the wine! I’m not much of a wine drinker. I prefer my alcohol in the form of single malt whisky and west coast IPAs, but if I lived in Portugal, I might switch to the fermented grape. We drank local wine every night and never paid more than $11 for a bottle. As for the quality, I have to rely on the opinion of my much more sophisticated wife whose alcoholic preferences lean toward wine, vodka and tequila (not at the same time!). She was impressed.

Life is short and the world is big, so I try to avoid repeat trips to the same destination. But if I have a chance to return to Portugal, I’ll take it. There is more chorizo and bacalhau to eat, fine Portuguese wine to drink, and many more miles of the Rota Vicentina to hike.

(for more info and photos, check out Don’s Adventure Geezer blog on his website)

 

 

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What are the odds?

This is my new favorite game. My friends introduced it on our recent road trip from Tennessee to Idaho. One person in the group thinks of a task for someone else to complete, and challenges that person by asking “what are the odds” that he/she will do it. If they are up to the challenge, that person names their odds, one out of whatever. On the count of three, both people say a number out loud between 1 and the range stated. If the numbers match, the challenger wins and the person who named odds must complete the task. Obviously, the game is most fun when people get bold and set very low lines for odds.

Challenger: “What are the odds that you will eat this entire jalapeño pepper for breakfast?”

Me: “Hmm… One out of five”

Challenger: “Ok. One, Two, Three…

Both: “TWO”

That pepper went down even less smoothly than I thought it would.

This was really one of the more mild dares that happened over the course of the trip. I won’t go into detail about all the ridiculousness that was imposed, but you can imagine how heinously uncomfortable/embarrassing some of it was.

What are the odds that I would end up road tripping for three and a half weeks across the country? A few months ago, when I was traveling Europe, I would have said the odds were low. At that time, I was spending my savings to visit old friends and see new countries. I was satisfying my travel bug and looking forward to a long, relaxing summer in East Tennessee—or so I thought.It was this game and other such shenanigans in the company of good friends that made my summer trip Out West so memorable, but of course, the amazing whitewater, mountains, and rocks were pretty influential as well.

After enjoying a full month back home, I was restless again and ready for more adventure. Friends of mine had a private permit for a trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon, a 100-mile section of class III-IV whitewater that rolls through the Idaho wilderness.

A separate group of friends had planned a climbing trip to Colorado for the week after the river trip was to end. If I was going all the way out to Idaho to kayak, why not take an opportunity to climb in Colorado as well?

I still had a little money left over, and I figured if I spent it wisely and played my cards right, I could link the two trips and make the most of my remaining time off school.

I didn’t know for sure whether the odds would work out in my favor, but I knew that I wanted to seize this chance while I had it. I knew that graduate school would make spontaneous adventures to new places much harder to realize.Was going on this trip an impulsive and irresponsible decision? Maybe. Could my time be better spent working in Knoxville, saving money, and preparing for the future? Perhaps. In a way, I was playing the odds that my savings would hold out; that I would find a place to live for graduate school after putting off my housing search to hit the road; that I would have enough time to pack for the big move after I returned home. To some degree, I was playing the odds that I would complete the trip healthy and unhurt, and physically able to move and start school at all.

So I went for it. I hopped in with friends from Tennessee and we trucked out to Idaho. We saw new cities and met new people along the way. We floated the river with old friends and a few new ones. We experienced nature in a way that most people never get to, from the bottom of a rugged river gorge, inaccessible by any road. Entirely self supported, we lived in our own isolated world of wonder for seven days. I didn’t regret one second of it.

Afterward, I hopped in a different car and rode to Colorado, seeking mountains and tall rock faces, playing the odds even further that everything would work out. It was there that I was reminded of the true weight of this game I was participating in.

On July 11, and again on July 12, hikers were struck by lightning within a radius of only a few miles in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Each strike killed one person and left others injured.They say lightning never strikes the same place twice, so what are the odds that lightning strikes would kill two people, in two days, within the same area?

I was spending that weekend in the town just outside the park. My friends and I were watching the weather carefully, knowing the dangers full well and bailing from climbs when prudent to do so.

The victims were not climbers; they were simply tourists on a short walk away from their cars, but news of the deaths spread quickly among the climbing community, because climbers pay close attention to the dangers of lightning. On a tall face or a high peak, storms can roll in suddenly, and often from the backside of the feature so climbers may never see it coming before it is upon them.

However, hearing of the lightning strikes on hikers did not convince me that I was on the losing end of a game of chance. In fact, it did quite the opposite.  The sudden deaths reminded me that life is fragile and short, and that every day we play ‘what are the odds’ that we will live to see another.

The tragedies of the lightning struck so close to home because as a climber, I have long accepted such risks inherent to the activity. I know how to minimize the risk, but ultimately, I can be killed by lightning just as easily as unfortunate tourists can, so why would I not spend my valuable time doing something I truly enjoy?Those people did not have the odds on their side that weekend. But it could just as easily have been me that lost the game of odds—driving my car, crossing the street, playing sports, or even going to school. The reality is that any mundane activity could be my last, so although kayaking and rock climbing may put me in marginally more danger than sitting behind a desk, I am willing to accept those odds because I would rather use my breath for something exhilarating than something boring.

I can name my own odds that I will eat a whole jalapeño, but I am constantly at the mercy of certain odds that I just can’t control. When I see these odds come into play in such jarring proximity to my own life, the other odds games I play seem so insignificant.

What are the odds I’ll eat that pepper? What are the odds I’ll spend too much money before graduate school? What are the odds I’ll find a place to live?

All of a sudden these things don’t matter so much. Why not just eat the pepper anyway? Just go kayaking anyway? Go climbing anyway? I should take my chances while I still have them, because there’s no telling how many more chances I will get.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Life after Actun Tunichil Muknal, Belize

As someone who can struggle with motion sickness, a 30 minute bus ride along a muddy and bumpy road seemed like a nightmare at the start of my adventure into the jungles of Belize. In a few short hours on our return trip, that ride would seem like a pleasure cruise.

It’s amazing what a little Dramamine and some perspective can do for an outlook on life.

The bus ride was just the first of many challenges on a group trip to Actun Tunichil Muknal.  A local Belizean who ran a tour company sold my husband on what was billed as an adventure of a lifetime. It’s a sales pitch perfected over time: “It’s an easy walk!” the promised.  Sure, you’ll walk through some water, but it’s always warm: “so warm!”

They lied.

The first part of our cave adventure doesn’t start at the parking lot.  These elements are left off the tour guide’s sales pitch.  First, there are the three river crossings in murky water and a healthy hike along a trail where large cats could be lurking behind the next corner. Finally, we arrive at camp only to be told the adventure is NOW beginning.

So, we leave behind everything we’ve carried along this early part of the adventure, and walk straight into the mouth of a pitch-black cave with a river running through it.

We wear miners lights on our helmets help us see, as we walk through yet another river – the same river we crossed three times earlier. The water comes up to our waists.  Sometimes, it reached our shoulders. We squeeze through narrow openings left behind by fallen boulders and balance in soaking wet shoes on loose rocks beneath our feet.

I slip.  My knee hits a rock and I bleed.  But I’m stuck in a cave miles from daylight.  So, I keep going.

After what feels like hours, we reach a rock wall.  We climb.  From there, we’re told to take off our shoes. I’m really in no place to argue, seeing that the guide who makes the request is really my only lifeline to ever seeing blue sky again. At least we’re out of the river.

From there we walk in our wet socks towards a small opening.  We squeeze through and enter a huge cave several dozen feet tall.  Our guide tells us it’s a sanctuary once used by the Maya. It’s a place they went to hide when danger came their way.  Left behind are signs of life which include a rare clay pot left behind for centuries.  But the main attraction centers on death.

We take one last climb, this time up a creaky ladder, and our tour ends with at the Crystal Maiden.  She’s a fully intact skeleton, whose bones seem to sparkle under the light of our headlamps.  Who she is, no one knows.  Questions on how she got there will likely never be answered.  One thing I do know is the discovery of these bones and they mystery surrounding her death lead thousands of people just like me into a dark, wet cave every year to look on her skeleton and wonder about life, death and everything that comes after.

 

With another tour group waiting for their chance to take their turn looking at the Maiden, our group leaves this final resting place.  We head back down the rickety ladder, though the cave littered with ancient pots and put on our wet shoes.  It’s back down the rock wall and into the water for the slow walk in the river and along the rocks until finally we see the sun.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Have you ever heard of Dominica?

Dominica is a tiny island in the Eastern Caribbean also known as “The Nature” island, an unspoiled paradise tacked away between Guadaloupe and Martinique.

My life was completely transformed by simply spending eight days on the island. Never before had I felt so inspired and at the same time overwhelmed by a culture with a big array of sensory stimulations that touch your soul.

Everyday I woke up in the middle of the rainforest in a place two miles off the grid reachable only by a dirt road that crossed a running river twice. Waking up to torrential rain in the middle of the night or to the deepest of silent was exciting and disconcerting at the same time. It made me wonder whether I would make it to the main road again.

In the mornings, I would allow myself to get lost wondering in thick vegetation. On the first day especially, I took a walk to the river then around a banana plantation and realized that, never before in my life. I had seen so many shades of green, not even in Oregon where I live. I lifted my eyes and I felt like a tiny creature in a vast incredible paradise of towering trees and mountains, where there were no familiar sounds, the busy and annoying freeways gone, cars gone, the sound of office keyboards gone, phone ringing gone, busy crowds gone, stress gone, it was just me, the rain forest and its concert of colors, sounds and natural beauty.

A rushing river was my only companion as it was also my only reference point to find the way back. You have to muster up a lot of courage to walk alone in a jungle without a destination or a map, not knowing much about the plants and the animals that surround you, especially at night. To be alone with your thoughts in a place completely foreign to you is to be brave. At night you can barely see your hand fully extended except when you stumble on a firefly that illuminates the path for you.

You and the immense nature and nothing else force you to go inward and take note of your fears, your joys, your emotions, and your overall state of mind. In doing so you realize that you are in the safest of places, the perfect laboratory for inspiring thoughts and ideas, the perfect time to align with your values and your passions.

Dominica did that for me. I had not expectation and not plan and found the island inspiring at every corner and every interaction with locals.

You can also test your bravery by adventuring on 2 hour hikes up stream in a river crossing water, climbing boulders and keeping your senses alert in case of flush floods. The reward at the end can be a tall majestic waterfall that you can swim under.

So, do you want to be inspired and be brave? Dominica is a destination very conducive for both.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Big Rocks and a Brave Heart

By Nicole Dacanay

I am not a brave person. I like comfort. I like warm tea and blankets and happy movies. But I also have a fierce desire for wanderlust in my soul. The need to travel and experience new things is something my husband and I both feel within us, so for our honeymoon last summer, we decided to take a road trip. One of the stops on our road trip was Zion National Park, a high desert paradise located in Springdale, Utah. Among many things, Zion is famous for its extreme hikes, from a trek through an endless river to a trail that leads straight to the sky. That trail is named Angels Landing, and when we arrived at Zion National Park, my husband and I placed it at the top of our “to do” list. But the more I studied the hike, and the more I learned about it, the more terrified I became. The numbers made me nervous: 5 miles, 1488 feet in elevation gain, and a peak that hits over 5,000 feet. Hours after studying, I felt lost. The “once in a lifetime opportunity” tagline no longer made me feel inspired – I felt my confidence beginning to spiral as I considered excuses to tell my husband. “I can’t do it” wasn’t enough.

The following morning, I was too awestruck to complain. Mornings in Zion are unparalleled to anything else I’ve ever seen. The luminous orange landscape contrasts starkly with lime green trees that line the banks of the Virgin River. High above, sheer cliffs beg to be climbed, and trails cry out to be explored. And I couldn’t say no – not to Angel’s Landing, my husband, or myself. So we hopped on the shuttle and I crushed my hands into fists, facing the fact that I was about to attempt something I truly thought I was incapable of doing. The trail pulsed with a river of people, up and up toward switchbacks that looked like they belonged in an Indiana Jones film. I felt my stomach churn. I can’t do it.

We wound through the switchbacks steadily. The hot desert sun threw orange light from the rocks into our eyes, and the cool breeze spread dust over our faces. But as we climbed higher, we remained in a constant ebb and flow of other hikers seeking the same prize. Despite the sweat, sand, and sun, I focused on the man at my side and the trail at my feet.

Finally, the switchbacks ceased. We were met with a cool, quiet canyon punctuated with trees. For a few glorious minutes, we breathed easily. As I stood still beneath the shade, I suddenly realized something: my fears were slowly dissipating. I’d been so focused on keeping one foot in front of the other that I’d completely forgotten to be afraid! And just like that, the most strenuous part of the hike was behind me. All I had to do was focus on the present.

A second set of switchbacks led us to our ultimate goal: the road to Angels Landing, and a rest at Scout’s Point. At first I stood my ground, frozen by the fear of looking down and seeing the endless drop to Zion’s floor. I couldn’t move. I looked up and saw crows and vultures circling like veteran acrobats, their eyes on the ground far below, and I felt my heart race. The cool, gusty wind was urging me forward, reminding me that I did not come this far just to shrink beneath fear and self-doubt. I’d already conquered so much – what was a few more feet? So I took a deep breath, strode forward, and stood beside my husband. Together, we surveyed the vast desert land below Scout’s Point. It was a singularly inspiring moment, and one that I will never forget. Standing at what felt like the edge of the earth and facing my fears with a thrilled smile, I finally felt like the adventurer I always wished I could be. I’d taken my fear of heights and stared it down, challenged it, and overcame it. I was finally brave.

Bravery should be boxed in by any one definition. To me, bravery was staring my fears face to face, and overcoming my perceived limitations. Bravery meant that I was taking a new step, conquering a new challenge, and sharing an experience with my husband. Zion National Park helped me feel brave, because it gave me an opportunity that I’d never be given at home. Even now, when I’m writing or running, I consider my moment in the sky, staring at the earth below. And every time I think I am not enough of anything, I remember what I conquered on Zion’s peaks last summer.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Read Parts I, II, and 3

“Realization,” Italy: Blood and Sacrifice Part 4

Salvatore’s team won the game and as was custom after every game of calcetto we headed to a pizzeria to celebrate. It wasn’t about the celebration of victory it was about the celebration of life and being with close friends. Nicolas and Salvatore hadn’t seen each other in seven years. We arrived in Brindisi the day before after a rough and snowy twenty-four hour drive from Gaeta.   One of the things I love about Italians and Italian culture is that you can arrive on a moments notice and within thirty minutes a five-course meal and an abundance of wine has been prepared for you without complaint. Not only do they not complain they celebrate the arrival of a guest as if he, or she were family. Since I was with Nicolas, whom Salvatore and his family considered a brother and a son, I was also considered in the same light.   Without any notice of our arrival and knowing we would stay for a week they scurried to find us a place to stay, as their apartments were full with their extended family. Within fifteen minutes of our arrival we had a place to stay at no cost. With bags in tow Salvatore told Nicolas that when we entered the building we could come and go as we pleased at whatever time of day, or night, but that under no circumstances were we to speak to anybody. I didn’t get it at first, but after witnessing what we saw at the pizzeria the following day it all began to sink in.IMG_5973

Following the victory at calcetto Salvatore invited us to the pizzeria with his teammates and friends. It was a warm and sunny afternoon and so we sat outside. Beer and wine flowed with abundance. I felt good, although I couldn’t understand what anybody was saying and that frustrated me. Italian, unlike German was so beautiful, lyrical and poetic. Don’t worry Germans I’ve learned to love and appreciate your language as well. When I first heard Italian I felt like I was in a fairytale. It sang to me. I wanted so badly to communicate in their language that it ate at my psyche. I think this is when I first knew, subconsciously, that Italy and Italian would play a major role in my life.

As we sat there drinking with Nicolas translating and just being merry it happened. Around seven unmarked and marked police vehicles sped by with lights on, but no sirens. They suddenly stopped about fifty yards away on our side of the street. Many men in masks with machine guns got out of the vehicles and went inside a building. My heart began to pound. I began to speak, but Nicolas gave me a look and nodded his head indicating I should keep my mouth shut. Salvatore got up and went inside the pizzeria to use the telephone. Other men in masks stood guard outside the building, ready to pounce on anything that moved.

Nicolas leaned in and whispered, “Whatever you see, or hear, you didn’t see or hear, got it!”IMG_5672

I nodded.

After ten minutes the police officers came out of the building with three people in handcuffs. Some women followed and began yelling. The three individuals were put in three different vehicles and off they went. The whole operation took no more than twenty minutes. We ate our pizzas in silence. Later that night Nicolas and I returned to our hotel. We entered the building and Nicolas nodded to the lady at the front desk. She nodded back and handed him the key to our room. As we walked towards the elevator we saw three scantily clad women with long dark hair escorting a few gentleman towards a room. I smiled, but said nothing. When we got in the elevator Nicolas pushed the button for the 4th floor. Exiting on the fourth floor we headed towards our room. More scantily clad young women and men were walking about. Some of the women even winked at me. My head began to spin. The past two weeks had been crazy and today I got a glimpse of a part of Italy that was a hotbed of current political activity and represented in every newspaper around. We arrived at our room and went inside. Nicolas closed the door behind us and locked the door. In a whisper he asked me if I knew who Giovanni Falcone was. I told him no.

“What about S.C.U.?” (Pronounced sku).

“No. Sorry what is that?” I asked.

He then went into his backpack and got a pen and piece of paper.

Quietly he scrawled out the meaning of the acronym S.C.U. It was the first time I had ever seen the name, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Sacra Corona Unita.

 

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Coming Soon:

“The Dream Begins,” Italy: Blood and Sacrifice Part 5