Tags Posts tagged with "Adventure"

Adventure

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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

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I sit under a pillar of a city turning to ruin. Pompeii. How I wish I could’ve seen the people roaming around the common, the smiles and laughter. My mother trusts me enough  to sit here without causing too much trouble, being the boisterous son I am. The longer I sit here the more I feel at peace, I feel like I belong here. I am filled with courage as I think about the day of this great city’s demise. I slowly lay back on the pillar and close my eyes…

When I awaken, I am surrounded by Romans chatting with each other, bargaining for armor and daggers. A small girl knocks into me as she chases a mischievous boy. She whips her head and waves at me as if to apologize. I nod to acknowledge her. The boisterous chatter erupts from the many people, they all speak in Latin.

I can hear the hooves of a mule carrying various supplies in bags and carts hit the cobblestone path beside me. Suddenly, a shaking knocks me down to the floor along with some supplies from the small cart. I brush myself off and stand back up seeing blood run down my knee. What happened? I look up and see Mt. Vesuvius spewing out gases and ash so high I cannot see the top. A small boy starts crying, but the parent shakes her head and remarks “It’s only smoke.” That seems to calm him down, and he stops crying. The people continue with their daily lives, but something is wrong. I know something terrible is happening.

The clouds of ash cover the sun, and it turns dark. Many people look confused at what is happening. I have never seen anything like this. The sun is gone, and it isn’t from an eclipse. A woman looks at me as small rocks fall into her hands, then bigger rocks. I see a man collapse, blood running down his head. We have to get out of here; I know what will happen next. Panic sets in and people start fleeing to the openings of the city. I can see the ash cascading down the mountain. The reds and greys envelope all sights of green. I have to get out. I shove people out of the way. Run. I need to make my way to the gate. The small rocks pile up so far that they are up to my knees, and are wiping away the blood from my cut.

I’m almost to the gate. I’m surprised I can see it, considering the amount of bodies trying to cram through. I am so close to getting out when I hear a scream for help from a small girl. I can’t leave her here to die. I whip around and push everyone out of my way. I try to focus on her screams, but the cries of everyone else cloud my mind. I continue to trudge through until I break through the crowd. I target the screaming from a small hotel, abandoned. I run in to see the little girl who ran into me from earlier. Trails of tears stain her cheeks, and she is curled into a fetal position rocking back and forth. I run over to her and pick her up into my arms. There is no time to talk. I start coughing, the fumes are collecting in my lungs, almost causing me to double over in a coughing fit.

The gate is now almost empty, so I don’t have a lot of trouble getting through. The little girl’s face buries deeper into my shoulder as the smoke gets heavier. I can see the ashes plowing closer and closer towards the city. We aren’t going to make it. I see a cart with a horse and a rider running through the gates past us. I know what I have to do. I run after the cart which causes me to hyperventilate. The fumes go into my lungs with every breath I take burning the insides. I can see my vision go darker. I have to make it. I reach the small cart and lift the girl up to place her in it. She looks at me and with tears running down her crystal clear blue eyes. She gives my forehead a kiss, and I place her in the cart. She is safe from this unknown fiery disaster. I take a deep breath in relief as I see the ashes kiss my burning skin.

I open my eyes. Mother? Where are you? “Jonathan!” I hear her call. “There you are!” I wave smiling. She takes me by the hand and leads me to the exit gate. “So how did you like Pompeii? How did it make you feel?” I look back to the ruins and nod to her. “Brave.”

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When I found out that it was possible (albeit near-impossibility at that time) to visit this sacred temple on a day trip from Siem Reap in 2012, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to see it while it was then — once again — enjoying a short “time of peace”. For a very long time in the past, as a disputed territory, the promontory of the Temple of Preah Vihear and its environs have had some serious history of crossfires between the Cambodian and Thai military forces. In fact, a few months prior to my visit, several soldiers from both camps were killed in an unexpected clash.

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The iconic first gopura, which contains some of the most impressive carvings in the temple complex.

Three years after that brave trip, as I look back, it is still perhaps the single most unique experience I have had in visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Back then, it took me nearly four hours on a private vehicle to reach the temple from Siem Reap. Given the road constructions recently, the travel time is now reduced to nearly half of what it took when I went there.

The Temple of Preah Vihear never failed my towering expectations, to say the least. After all, it was confidently inscribed on only one criterium: “(i) as a masterpiece of human creative genius”. So far, only this temple, the Taj Mahal, and the Sydney Opera House are inscribed solely on this basis.

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The second gopura: the carving style of the pediment is different from the first one.

In my opinion, the temple rightly deserves to be on the same ranks as Angkor Wat and Bayon, if not even better. The incomparable beauty of this site stems from the following:

1. its history – older than those in Angkor, dedicated to Shiva and, according to some sources, is also one of a few that has a history of critical lingam worshiping;

2. its architecture – the extensive 800m-long layout of the temple is unique, the galleries surrounding the central sanctuary served as inspiration for the arrangement of Angkor Wat 300 years later, and the carvings offer a different style from those in Angkor (notice the style of its nagas, and the impressive quality of its carvings can only be compared to those of the much younger Banteay Srei) .

The third gopura as seen from the elevated fourth gopura that encases the main sanctuary of the Preah Vihear Temple.
The third gopura: the walkway leading to the fourth gopura prior to the main central sanctuary is dotted with lingams. One lingam near the portal can be seen in this photo.

3. its relevance – a major pilgrimage site for Khmer kings, as well as a rare key temple off-route the Angkorian Royal Road;

4. its location – situated right beside a cliff, on top of the Dangrek Mountains to a height of nearly 600 metres. From the temple, one can already gaze at the Golden Triangle, an area shared by Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos; and, lastly,

The Infamous Golden Triangle: transnational boundaries of Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos.
The Golden Triangle

5. the geopolitical struggles and controversies associated with its WHS-inscription in 2008, and the earlier landmark International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 1962. More recently, in 2013, another ICJ ruling finally awarded the contested peripheral forest zone of the temple to Cambodia, putting an end to the long-standing dispute between the two Southeast Asian kingdoms.

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As a military zone, several soldiers are stationed in and around the temple complex. A political statement such as that in the photo clearly asserts Cambodian ownership over the promontory and its immediate vicinity.

As the Temple of Preah Vihear lies in an active military zone, it comes, then, as no surprise that not many travelers take the effort in seeing this site when I made my visit. In the five pleasurable hours that I spent there, I only managed to see about three other civilians — who might just be even locals — in the temple complex.

Aside from the breathtaking view from the top, I truly enjoyed receiving blessings by chanting monks guarding the central sanctuary; as well as exploring the interior of the largely ignored vegetated Tower of the Long-haired Lady that is reminiscent of Ta Prohm in Angkor.

The central sanctuary guarded by a military personnel
The central sanctuary that is guarded by chanting monks. Outside, a soldier is also on guard.

 

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The tower of the long-haired lady, an isolated structure that has been overgrown by plants and a tree.

Clearly, I got the strong impression that the Khmer people are indeed proud of the Temple of Preah Vihear as suggested by the displaying of the flags of UNESCO, Cambodia, and the World Heritage Committee not far from the first gopura. Such subtle declarations never fail to get noticed.

The temple of Preah Vihear together with its brother temple atop Phnom Chisor in the province of Takeo, which I also got the chance of visiting back in 2010, will always have special places in my heart for the wonderful experiences they have left me. In sum, the Temple of Preah Vihear clearly and easily justified itself as being one of the best single sites I have seen so far.

Just behind the temple: one simple mistake and I am history. The cliff drops to a height of 600 metres.
A view of the plains of the Preah Vihear province. This was taken at the edge of the Dangrek Mountain cliff.

There is no entrance fee to the temple. But, at the base camp, visitors have to pay for the motorbike that will transport them to the top for a fairly reasonable price. On this trip, I also went to the nearby town of Anlong Veng, visiting some ‘Khmer Rouge’ related sites such as the house of Ta Mok and the final resting place of Pol Pot.

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Don’t Look Down in Bolivia

On first consideration it seems surprising that people still die when cycling the Bolivia’s North Yungas Road, more eagerly referred to as El Camino de la Muerte or ‘The Death Road’. If a person were going to be cautious, I reason, surely it would be a place in which ‘Death’ is half the title. But as I sit astride my bicycle, teeth chattering in the sub-zero bite of 4700 meters above sea level – the start of this revered freewheel – I change my mind.

The name is an invitation to push the boundaries of good sense and later bath in the glory of having nearly died, but not. This occurs to me as a band of game-faced bikers are conjured from squalls of cold mist, yards away from splintered wooden crosses – memorials to the backpackers and locals who have plummeted to their death. Beside us is the long vertical drop that flanks the Death Road for most of its course – the reason for the well-deserved reputation.

The setting of the Death Road is as staggering as the premise of biking it: cut into the mountains of the Yungas, where jungle owns every bulge and whim of the land, the track twists a continuous descent for over forty miles and three and a half thousand vertical meters. The trees hide the rusted carcasses of hundreds of toppled trucks and cars. Among the cyclists who have dared, not all have reached the small town of Coroico near the finish line. In the last fourteen years, eighteen “I survived The World’s Most Dangerous Road” t-shirts have gone spare.

As gravity takes charge of my wheels an internal monologue kicks up: “DEATH road… be careful!” on repeat. A fleet of Konas and their hooting jockeys rampage past, in yellow elbow pads and helmets, and I can’t help but consider what the protective kit and their human contents would look like after a hundred meter free fall and a jungle canopy crash-landing. A van trails behind so the guides can assist in case of accident, or get a front seat view if a client flies a short cut to the finishing altitude, ET-style.

Throughout these upper reaches water patters onto the rocks from high above, only the truly courageous, skillful or imbecilic veer to avoid getting wet – I am none of the above and receive a sopping for my cowardice. After each hairy switchback another curling ribbon reveals itself, along with one clear impression – roads do not belong here.

The soundtrack of the Yungas doesn’t mesh with the chilling vista, a timid and quirky blend of squawks, buzzes and clicks attest to life that lurks in the greenery. Underneath, barely discernible, there’s another layer of sound – the trickle and gush of invisible streams. As well as the magic of the precipice, it’s exhilarating too being so enclosed in nature. At times it’s tempting to wonder at the rows of impossibly deep Vs formed from converging mountainsides, or to glance behind and search for whatever squawked or screamed, but then the inner voice shouts ‘DEATH ROAD!’, my knuckles pale, and I refocus on the track and the ever-present peril to my left.

Towards the lower reaches though I relax, my wheels spin faster and I realize another voice has supplanted the last, something like “YEAAAAAAH! I’m riding the DEATH road! WOOOOOOOOH!’ The temperature rises, clouds evaporate, multi-hued butterflies dance beneath my handlebars and fetching purple flowers and banana plantations crowd my peripheral vision. I’m soon coasting through a village towards a river, birds of prey fly low wheels overhead as Bolivia welcomes me back from the edge of reason with women festooned in bowler hats and traditional pollera skirts of shocking pink.

I’ve made it; I’m not sure about my brake pads. Some bikers down celebratory beers, others pull wheelies, but most don’t feel the need to show off any more than donning their “I survived…” t-shirts. A quick body count by a guide confirms that, this time, everyone gets one.

There’s a subset of cyclists who enjoy climbs, I’m one of them, and from the off my inner masochist wasn’t entirely happy with the prospect of spinning downhill for hours. Where’s the payback? I needed to know. Where the pain to go with the gain? Fortunately for the guilty, the Death Road has another currency – you pay for freewheeling with fear. It’s more than a fair deal.

For the vast majority El Camino de la Muerte will fail to fulfill its eponymous promise, for me at least the opposite was true. I finished the ride not just giddy with relief, but fiercely alive. They could change the name, somehow though, I don’t think it would have the same draw.

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

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Mountain gorilla baby eyes

With barely a sound the 160 kilo/ 350 pound gorilla walked right in front of me on the jungle hill side. Mountain gorillas only exist in high terrains of south western Uganda and neighboring Congo and Rwanda. For some, having the opportunity to hike to a family of mountain gorillas is the trip of a life time. I was pinching myself that here I was standing next to more than a dozen gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Africa.

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Mountain gorillas were hunted almost to extinction and are a critically endangered species. Within Volcanoes National Park there are eighteen different groups of gorillas.

baby eating celery

Eight are observed solely by researchers and ten of the groups are the groups visitors are allowed to be guided to. We were assigned to be led by our guide Eugene to the Umubano group which had thirteen members.

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Gorillas are considered babies from ages zero to three, juvenile from ages three to six, adult ages six to eight and after age eight females are mature enough to start reproducing. Gestation period is for nine months and female gorillas will usually have about six babies in their lifetime.

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Around age twelve the black back of a male mountain gorilla will turn silver, giving them the revered title as now being a silver back.

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For diet, gorillas are vegetarian consuming around 2000 different species of plants. An adult will eat about 30 kilos of vegetation a day and they get all their water needs from the plants they eat. Gorillas make a new nest for themselves to sleep in every day, usually on the ground and will start constructing it around 5 pm or so.

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With their immense strength, visitors are often nervous to be in the jungle with these wild animals. Rest assured, the gorillas usually want nothing to do with you. They are too preoccupied with feeding, socializing and taking care of their babies. You are with guides, guards and trackers the entire time who are familiar with all of the gorillas. As long as you do what you guide tells you to do and do not use flash, (which applies for almost all wildlife photography in Africa) you will have an amazing time.

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I couldn’t imagine having gone to Africa without having had the experience observing mountain gorillas. Looking at the faces and reactions of people when they come back from sharing the space with these gentle giants, they are impacted. Viewing wild gorillas changes you. Eugene, our guide thanked us all for coming and  told us how much our park fees are instrumental in helping the gorilla population increase. The park can pay for gorilla doctors and if an animal does get sick, usually the medicine cost a minimum of $1000.

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If you want to help conserve mountain gorillas – go see them for yourself. In Rwanda it appeared that the park fees were being put to good use as poaching was down and gorilla numbers have increased from 500 to 900.

baby going for ride

With these fees the park can continue employing rangers who patrol and monitor for poachers. Among our group, some people had chosen to hire a porter (someone who will carry your bag) for the day. Eugene did not say whom specifically, but some of the porters who were hired used to be poachers in the park. Now instead of killing gorillas, they were earning an income from tourists coming to see the gorillas in a safe environment. Learning that around us were would be poachers that were now accepted and welcomed as porters, really drove home to me how impactful responsible tourism combined with effective leadership and park management can be. Seeing how the park was being run gave me hope that the mountain gorillas may have a chance to keep striving in these jungle hillsides.

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The opportunity to view gorillas in their home was a fairytale-like adventure. Hopefully the conservation effort will continue to move forward in such a way that gorillas never become animals the next generation can only read about in a fairy tale book, but hike to for themselves and view these animals striving in their home as the magnificent creatures they are.

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For more information:

 Volcanoes National Park

We stayed at a church mission called Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima. It was very nice, clean and well located.

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I have always been interested in both film and music and the way the creative process works for both, but was unable to choose which brought more passion to my life.  It wasn’t until I started back at college, this past year, to complete my degree, that things started to turn around.  It has taken me ten years, due to many financial struggles and lack of confidence in myself, for me to be able to finally get back into school. Taking my Intro to Theatre class, and being introduced to If/Then’s soundtrack at the same time, something just “clicked” inside and I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life.  From that moment on, and every day since, I have felt such a strong desire to become involved with the workings of theatre and music. I want to help bring original musicals to Broadway (similar to RENT and If/Then) and share the joy they have brought to my life with others.

Like Idina Menzel’s character, Elizabeth, I am also in my thirties and looking to start anew. I connect with the song, “No more wasted time” on a deep level for this reason.  I want to start my life bigger and better than ever and stop living “stuck”. I need to stop living life waiting for it to get better. I need to take charge of it and take risks to better my future.  I have tried living in small towns in various states along the east coast with no avail.  Even with fresh starts, something was always missing.

I feel New York City is that missing piece.  It is a place full of possibilities.  Even just the idea of the city at this point, gives me the strength and hope I need to keep plugging away at my dream.  It is where I will be able to be my true self and not have to look back on what could have been.  Although I have been there before, I will be traveling there for my birthday with a whole different outlook and excitement for the city.  I will be able to submerge myself in the sights and culture, not just as a tourist, but as someone who will feel “at home” for the first time knowing that this is where I am meant to be, and what I am meant to do.

 I strongly believe that this is my time to shine.  The song says “No more wasted time, not one more day.” That is something I have been trying to live by ever since.  I constantly am reminding myself that it doesn’t matter what setbacks I come across, as long as I follow my passion and my dream, anything is possible.  Taylor Swift’s new song, “Welcome to New York”, has also stuck with me since this revelation for my future.  The lyrics:

Everybody here wanted something more

Searching for a sound we hadn’t heard before

And it said

Welcome to New York

It’s been waiting for you

 

add to the feeling of this beautiful city calling to me.   New York City, theatre, If/Then, and the music of Idina Menzel and Taylor Swift have helped continue to inspire me every day to never give up. I have never felt or wanted something so strongly for my life before.  For that, I will forever be grateful to the city of New York and the magic of theatre for giving me a new purpose and a positive outlook on life again.  “No more wasted time. No more holding back”.  I am ready to live my life the way it was meant to be!

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

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The sandstorm engulfs me like a swarm of angry wasps. Each gust fires a thousand grains of dust at my helmet and fills my ears with a noise like static, as I crouch by a drystone wall. My thirty-eight year-old Royal Enfield motorbike sits abandoned by the roadside. My hands sting as they cover my face. This is starting to feel like a mistake.

Several hours earlier, after weeks of nervous procrastination, I’d begun my Indian motorbike adventure at the Rajasthani town of Pushkar. My engine echoed through narrow streets of guano splattered, whitewashed buildings. Tourists, holy men, gypsies and cattle bustled about. Languars leapt from roof to roof, as cows poked their heads into sweet shops to lick the walls clean of grease. The scent of spices, rose gardens and rubbish filled the air.

My plan, to ride through the desert lands, up to the plains, then into the great Himalaya. I’d never ridden so far alone. I departed with a nervous cocktail of fear and excitement as I headed into an adventure way beyond anything I’d taken on alone before.

Relieved to leave the throng behind, I smiled as a green parakeet flew along side me while I put-put-putted along the black tarmac strip of the highway. The air was cool in the bright morning, and the road was quiet heading northbound toward the Great Thar Desert. Just occasional buses, 4x4s and brightly decorated trucks broke the spell of the road.

As the sun crept high, the temperature rose to a stifling peak. I stopped to seek shade under the dry knotted branches of a khejri tree. An old goat farmer lead his herd close by, their bells tinkling through the dry air. I saw the horizon ahead begin to darken with an ominous, low-lying haze. The goat herder hobbled along in his grubby white garments, paying no heed to the creeping darkness ahead.

I rode on and the haze grew closer, filling the sky as the wind picked up and the sands began to rise and swirl up from the desert floor.

This was a terrible idea, I think as I huddle by the roadside. I could be on a train, reading a book and making friends. But no. I’m alone.  In the middle of nowhere, surrounded by natural disaster, and relying on an antique motorbike that could fall apart at any moment. My romantic fantasy of cruising the Indian highways is becoming something much too real. But what do I do, give up? Go back? Or be strong, wait it out, then ride on towards the Himalayas. What drove me to do this? Some burning desire to leap headlong into a big adventure. I’ve never wanted to be a biker before. Until a year ago I didn’t even know how to ride a motorbike. But after months of traveling on busses and trains, not being able to stop when I want and having my life the hands of some crazy driver, the want to take control was too strong. I think of the old goat herder, hobbling into the storm with his herd in tow.

The mocking honk of a horn snaps me back to my senses as a truck passes through the dust. That’s it. Enough. There’s no going back now because this is happening. And nobody’s coming to save me.

So when the storm breaks and the sand settles down a little, I tighten the scarf around my face and wipe the dust from my sunglasses. Then I point my bike northwards, and ride.

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Fitz Roy Mountain, Argentina

We arrived to El Chalten after midnight tired, hungry and having to set up our tent in the dark with a strong wind. Our bus broke down twice en route and we got into town hours past when we were supposed to. Too tired to make any dinner, we crawled into our tent and slept in what is dubbed the trekking capital of Argentina. When we awoke in the morning we found we had arrived to one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Welcome to El Chalten, Argentina, a young mountain village sitting at the base of the massive Fitz Roy Mountain. The town was founded in the late 1970s – early 1980s in anticipation of land disputes with Chile.

With landscapes like this, it’s easy to see how this area earned it’s title of Argentina’s trekking capital. We came here to hike and were blown away by the incredible beauty that surrounded us. Although one could make big day hikes to most of the area we covered, we opted to route out a 3 day hike. There are countless treks all around the area. During the summer, climbers strap themselves into ropes and harnesses and spend weeks ascending climbing routes.

We started our 3 day trek on the north side of town hiking in an anti-clockwise direction going towards Fitz Roy first and then cutting over to Cerro Torre. For anyone looking to hike this loop, given the slopes of the terrain I would definitely recommend hiking the loop in that direction. For experienced hikers, it made the grades seemed so easy and if you are a beginner, then at least you will be going in the easiest direction.

This is the land of mountains, streams and glaciers. After we set up camp we hiked to Piedras Blancas Glacier. In the park, there are 47 larger glaciers and over 200 smaller glaciers.

By camping at Poincenot it is possible to wake up 1-2 hours before sunrise and hike up to watch the sun come up over Fitz Roy. Making the effort to do so is definitely worth it. The morning we were up there we were among around twenty fellow hikers and everyone had found a little spot to quietly watch the rays cast their morning light along the rock face. People were considerate of staying along the same perimeter line for the peak of the sunrise lighting so everyone could capture great photos without random people in them.

We were so lucky with the weather and the early morning rays colored the sides of the mountains. If you are going to try and catch sunrise at the Fitz, it’s a good idea to pack a small day bag the night before. Make sure you have your flash light handy (you’ll need that to see as you walk in the dark in the morning), at least 1 liter of water and snacks. Depending on the season, you may even want to carry up a backpacking stove to make hot tea and your sleeping bag at the top. It’s colder at the viewpoint and after hiking up a fairly steep ascent, you will be sweaty which will make you even colder. A dry under shirt to change into isn’t a bad idea to carry up as well.

Day two we hiked to De Agostini camp which we were again, so lucky with the weather. All that white you see was a glacier and every so often we could hear a massive boom as a piece fell off. To the left was a great example to view what climbers and hikers call the tree line. On mountains there is a point in altitude in which trees no longer grow and usually it’s a pretty straight, latitudial line. If you are climbing mountains, it’s always important to know how long it will take you to get back down to tree line so if bad weather does come in quickly, you can at least seek some shelter.

Our camp was on the left side of Lake Torre, up over the mini rock wall and by the dark green cluster of trees. A trail followed the left side of this photo so one could walk up and see Glacier Grande. Those little white specs in the water are pieces of the glacier floating around.

At 3102 meters/ 10,177 feet elevation Cerro Torre had it’s own climate happening around its rugged peaks. For hours over the course of the morning we watched clouds rolling in, out, over, under and all around these peaks. This was the clearest picture we got.

One of the things I love most about traveling is not being sure of what a destination will be like, going there anyway, and having the experience be one of the best from the trip. We had no idea how El Chalten would be, if we would have good weather or have to wait days for a storm to break, but we went anyway because that is what travelers do. When one starts off to travel or begins a trip, no one really knows what’s out there, but one thing we know is we must go. For without taking the chance, we may miss out on what may become one of the best experiences of our life. And for that reason, the traveler must keep on exploring.

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If you go:

Please remember Leave No Trace camping principles. One of the reasons this hike was so awesome is because the area was so clean and people genuienly made an effort to follow low impact camping skills. Not washing your dishes in running water (carry water and wash dishes at least 200 feet from water source), using the bathrooms provided, being conscious of even the smallest bits of trash, being quiet and respectful in the mornings and night made this hike awesome.

There’s a handful of different campgrounds in town. We stayed at Camping at El Refugio, Calle 3, 49-3221 for $40ARS pp.

Los Glaciares National Park entrance and camping in the park are free. (Note for Moreno Glacier side of the park, there is an entrance fee of $180ARS pp.)

We paid to store our extra gear at Rancho Grande Hostel while we were on the trail. No reason to carry what you don’t need.

Buses come and go from the town pretty regularly now. For ~$23 pp we took a bus from El Calafate. Cal-Tur and El Chalten travel seemed to be good bus companies.

Don’t go here if you want to do a lot of internet chores – at the present time there is not fast, reliable internet. So do your important internet chores somewhere else before you get to town.

Stock up on base food staples (like pasta and rice) before you get to town if you can. There are enough little restaurants to get meals from along with teas and coffee. There is a decent grocery store that does sell dehydrated food goods and last minute items for hiking.