11.15.18

What I’ve been up to: 

A quick trip to Morocco and Barcelona were unquestionably the highlights this month (especially in comparison to coming down with a cold). I wandered medinas and came across all sorts of treasures, saw snake charmers and hawkers, rode in a hot air balloon, rode a camel (again), visited ancient tanneries, bought a carpet, saw the blue city and ate so many amazing tagines and couscous.

Barcelona was super nice to revisit as well and meeting up with Matt, we visited the Sagrada Familia again, went to some of our favorite tapas spots and took in a couple of flamenco shows.

Earlier we also had the opportunity to see Barbara Kingsolver in conversation at Seattle Arts & Lectures and I was (as always), charged up and inspired by her quiet politics and extraordinary storytelling. I love this quote from the program:

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do it live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides”

And finally, US elections happened while we were away and so we were keeping a very close eye on that.

What was beautiful:

Morocco was as amazingly beautiful as I ever dreamt it would be.



Barcelona also had plenty of moments.

 

What made me laugh: 

Some of the crazy dreams I’ve had lately, dog antics and lost of good laughs with Mateo (as we call him in Spain).

What I’m reading and listening to:

Finally watched The English Patient and Lawrence of Arabia to ease myself out of the desert.

How to Live a Good Life

The Rodeo Queens of Mexico

Raving as a Stress Reliever

How to just pick something (the Scientific Method)

How a human chain of helpers moved a bookstore

I have kind of an obsession with Gable Stones and House Insignia

2018 Women of the Year Honorees

Are you too sensitive?

5.27.18

What was Beautiful:

The tropical lushness, turquoise seas, and volcanic activity of Hawaii.

My new Triumph T-120 motorcycle.

My garden bursting with food and flowers.

What I’ve been up to: 

Wrapped up my project at work and headed to Oregon for Flock to the Rock, but then lost my wallet so turned around and headed home. The next week I went to Hawaii for my yoga retreat, except that the retreat part of it was cancelled so I rented a motorcycle and rode around, did yoga at the beach and went diving. It was alright but I need community and connection more than I need a tropical location and so it proved to be an exercise in discipline and letting go more than a holiday. Next was the purchase of a new motorcycle that I had been considering for the past year and the requisite, immediate road trip to break it in. Looking forward to summer.

What made me Laugh: 

Not much lately, honestly. I have small moments of joy but they are easily overshadowed by the larger anxieties. Still, I delight in the dogs playing in the yard, having dinner with friends and making light of occasional absurdities.

What I’m reading and listening to:

On TRAVEL –

Why we travel.

 

On RELATIONSHIPS –

Psychological Tips to Make Your Marriage Happier

 

On WORK –

Why it’s ok to be bored at work. Boredom is trying to tell you something.

How to keep your bad mood from affecting your work.

How to ramp up quickly

How to handle negative situations at work

A hilarious bonus episode of Revisionist History where Malcolm Gladwell debates Adam Grant loosely about organizational psychology

Walt Disney on how to truly love what you do

 

On MOTORCYCLES –

The Happiness of the Motorcycle

 

On BEING BETTER –

The cure for an anxious, sucky life

A depressive’s guide to microdosing

Why Are we Getting More Depressed?

Being Bored is Good

Redefining Work, Love and Play – find people who want to color outside the lines

Happiness is tangible – “The goal with simple joys is not to crowd or rush them, not to chase or exhaust ourselves or make ourselves sick in overindulgence, but to enjoy them gently — to drink them in fully, but then just as gently put them away.”

5 Ways to Have a Good Life – “You have to commit yourself entirely. You can’t love people half way. You can’t leave important business unfinished. You can’t deliberately half-ass your job or your relationship or any other area of your life because you feel more comfortable when you have one foot out the door. You have to decide what you’re in for and then go all the way with it. You have to realize the freedom and possibility that exists within commitment…Be braver than you feel. Achievement doesn’t come with ease or comfort.”

Being Sober for 21 Days Has Improved My Life

How Social Media Impacts Our Reality

On Midlife – “Midlife is not about the fear of death. Midlife is death. Tearing down the walls that we spent our entire life building is death. Like it or not, at some point during midlife, you’re going down, and after that, there are only two choices: staying down or enduring rebirth.”

Fuck where you see yourself in 3 yearsapropos, as I write my 3-year letter

The new prime suspect for Depression – Ketamine could be our best lead in the hunt for depression.

The power of emotional decision making

It’ll work out for you

 

On FEMINISM –

There are no Safe Spaces for Women

 

On AMERICA –

Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruelest Society – “America is the most cruel nation among its peers — even among most poor countries todayIt is something like a new Rome. It has little, if any, functioning healthcare, education, transport, media, no safety nets, no stability, security. The middle class is collapsing, and life expectancy is falling.Young people die for a lack of insulin they cannot crowdfund. Elderly middle-class people live and die in their cars. Kids massacre each other in schools — when they’re not self-medicating the pain of it all away. The combination of these pathologies happens nowhere else — not a single place — in the world. Not even Pakistan, Costa Rica, or Rwanda. Hence, the world is aghast daily at the depths of American cruelty — yet somehow, they seem bottomless.”

The birth of a new American Aristocracy  – “Family, friends, social networks, personal health, culture, education, and even location are all ways of being rich, too. These nonfinancial forms of wealth, as it turns out, aren’t simply perks of membership in our aristocracy. They define us.”

 

On Writing –

How to be successful

2017

I love the yearly recap so much, and I love how hard it is to choose only as many adventures as will fit in a 3×3 grid! Last year was tough in a lot of ways but mind-blowingly amazing more often than not and I accomplished a lot of life list items that I will spend this year – going to be a quiet one – mulling over. Before all of the excitement happened, things were just a little bit shitty. My office closed down and most of my team was laid off, but I was kept on and had the privilege of working from home all winter / heading to LA every 6 weeks or so.

That was fun until my dog, Tyler, had to go through two ACL surgeries on his back legs, complete with PTO exercises and weekly water treadmills. And then I crashed my motorcycle, and while I escaped with only a busted finger and damaged knee, it meant that I was sitting out of most of my winter sports and activities.

But! Then I quit my job and went to India, by way of Vancouver (to visit my mom and sister and to check out some new cocktail bars), Montreal (to visit my friends), Ottawa (to do some business at the embassy), Toronto (to visit more friends), and finally London (to wander the British Museum and leave my computer at my UK office).

India is a place I have been wanting to visit for a long time but have listened as so many people tried (and succeeded!) to dissuade me. This time even I wasn’t sure I was going because I had my bag packed but I still didn’t have the India portion booked (and was still working remotely) when I was 3 weeks into being on the road.

India did not disappoint. Random people approached me daily to tell me that I have a good heart and that I’m a lucky one – don’t I know it! I was able to spend the day with an elephant and fed her banana sandwiches to her heart’s content, rode a camel who tried to still a kiss while I got a selfie, showed videos of my dog playing in the snow to young boys in the desert while we drank chai and listened to the sand blow around outside, wandered down to the “back” end of the Taj Mahal where I hung out with security guards / ate free dinner at a temple and was ultimately coaxed out into the boat that takes women home from the temple, so I could see the Taj Mahal at sunset from the water (stunning but even better were my new friends who chatted with me as if we spoke the same language and hugged and kissed me like we were old friends after a crossing that maybe took 8 minutes). And then in Varanasi I met a friend who, after the mother Ganges festival, took me on a tour of the “hidden” places – an ashram of gurus, a secret temple to Durga and finally a “ruined” temple in the abandoned palace that looks over the Ganges which one will find (after crawling through the broken door and through corridors I wouldn’t have attempted on my own) is still very much in use and has regular visitors. Plus so many other amazing bits that will stay with me always.

For the rest of the summer, I spent as many days in the garden or outside with the dogs as I could before I headed out again for about 5 weeks, riding my motorcycle through Washington, Oregon and BC (Cascadia, yo!) and then Arkansas (!!!), visiting friends and family. And only then did I tuck in and start looking for a job, landing at Nordstrom just before it was time to back up again and head to Ecuador (a trip booked a loooooong time ago) where I rode a motocycle through the Andes, dove with marine iguanas, hammerhead sharks, and Mola mola, then camped out in the Amazon for almost a week with monkeys and giant river otters and an insane amount of tropical birds.

Wishing you all the best and lots of love to you and yours for the next roll around the arbitrary calendar! 😘 Happy New Year!

12.29.17

Missed a few due to being on an incredible adventure in Ecuador, so in turn, this is going to be a bit of a massive update (and at the same time just the tip of the iceberg).

What was Beautiful:

Just before we left, my Flamenco teacher organized a studio show to showcase her students. I was grateful to be part of it but the advanced students blew my mind with their grace and skill.

Then we flew to Quito and drank in the colonial architecture – including a Gothic cathedral with Ecuadorian armadillos, marine iguanas, crocodiles, pumas and monkeys in place of gargoyles and a Jesuit church basically covered in gold – sat in the square, surrounded on all sides by mountains – drinking mochaccinos and people-watching. In a way, it doesn’t feel new because I’ve been to quite a few Latin capitals at this point but it really gives you the opportunity to dig into the details and difference and I love that.

Our hotel was an old school hacienda with a well (!!!) in the courtyard outside our room and beautiful wooden beams throughout, local handicrafts put in use / displayed everywhere.

From there we rented bikes and I found out upon arrival that I had been upgraded to a Husquavarna 701 – truly a beautiful machine. I wasn’t all that worried about not being able to touch the ground until much later when I ended up stalled in a steep uphill curve (in sneakers, in the rain 🙄) but the combination of grace and power in that motorcycle is something I personally aspire to.

The Galapagos islands were as amazing as promised and I delighted in my first sightings of Mola Mola sunfish and playing with marine iguanas in the surf, as well as spending more time with hammerheads and various other sharks.

And finally, we headed down river to Napo Wildlife Center in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This was an add-on leg and neither of us expected it to be the highlight but we loved the Kichwa Anangu community, the incredible diversity of the plants / animals / insects, etc. , a chance to practice different camera techniques and learning about all the various species in the area.

We brought the audio recorder to Ecuador so even when it wasn’t in use I was on the lookout for new sounds and that made me experience the boat, the rainforest and even the airport hotel in a new way.

The full list of wildlife sightings is:

  • Frigatebird Various Finches
  • Blue-footed Boobies
  • Red-footed boobies
  • Magnificent Frigatebird
  • Flightless Cormorant
  • Agamie Heron
  • Great Egret
  • Black Vulture
  • Snail Kite
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Hoatzin – beautiful, but very common where we were
  • Greater Ani
  • Short-Tailed Swift
  • Neotropical Palm Swift
  • Ringed Kingfisher
  • White-throated Toucan
  • Grey Antbird
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Crested Oropendola – beautiful song and neat nests
  • Yellow-Rumped Cacique
  • Blue-grey Taninger
  • Brown-Black Grosbeak
  • Common Squirrel Monkey – had a neat interaction with this one
  • White-fronted Capuchin
  • Black Cayman
  • Sea lions
  • Mola mola (!!!!!)
  • Scalloped Hammerheads (!!!!!)
  • Galapagos Shark
  • Silky Shark
  • Galapagos Bullhead Shark – found only in the Galapagos
  • Torpedo Ray – rare, and found only in the Galapagos
  • Eagle Ray
  • Stingray
  • Marine Iguanas (!!!!!) – found only on one side of one island in the Galapagos
  • Yellow puffer
  • Box puffer
  • Mexican hogfish
  • Harlequin Wrasse
  • Parrotfish
  • Barberfish
  • Sea turtle
  • Common Dolphin
  • Red-lipped batfish
  • Octopus
  • Spotted Moray Eel
  • Shrimp
  • Nudibranch
  • Crabs
  • Line-spotted fish
  • Damselfish

What I’m Grateful for:
My amazing flamenco teacher, Ana Montes, who has suffered through trying to teach me how to clap and walk, amongst other basic things that have suddenly become important.

Being on this Trip of a Lifetime to explore Quito, Otavalo, volcanoes, the Galapagos and a bit of the Amazon.

My new job, that has paid me for all of this vacationing, even though I’ve only just started.

What made me Laugh:
Pictures of (my) dogs, children in the market, children at the flamenco afternoon, river otters, monkeys, my own dog and cat monkeys being super excited to have us home.

What I’ve been up to:
Dancing, travelling through Ecuador, crossing the equator!, trying to remember my Spanish, holding space.

What I’m reading this week:

Radio Handbook Manifesto, to try and learn a bit about podcasting.

Celebrate your accomplishments. Remember to look back as well as forward.

How American Women Helped Win World War II in the Wake of Pearl Harbor

Using star maps to identify whale sharks.

Patagonia and REI have posted about Trump’s decision to reduce the size of the public land allocation in Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante parks. Tragic stuff but it feels like just another drip in the ocean during this administration.

And speaking of lost land, Ecuador is drilling for oil on edge of the pristine rainforest in Yasuni. At the Guardian. 😩

And speaking of the Amazon, I fell into several rabbit holes learning about the people;  Uncontacted tribes of the AmazonAmazon AwakeningInto the Amazon (a photo essay) and what felt like all of Wade Davis‘ writings and half of Wikipedia. 400 indigenous groups live here.

Why Birds Matter also proved more interesting to me after looking at birds for a week.

Plus two actual books that were incredible; Yiddish for Pirates and the Orenda, and a LOT of poetry.

and Watching:

Islands of Change Galapagos. My dive master is featured in this episode as he is one of the local success stories of a fisherman converted to ecotourism and guiding.

and Listening to

What “namaste” really means. At the Allusionist podcast.

 

11.28.17


What was Beautiful:

Grey sky stretching out to grey waves crashing against grey sand beaches… it’s weather that only a Pacific Nor’wester family could love but we do. So much.

What I’m Grateful for:

This is a big one since it was Thanksgiving weekend in the United States but for me not a tough one. I am grateful every day for these dogs that get me up in the morning, get me walking even on rainy days, get a laugh out of me even when I feel like I could clobber them….but also my sister who is the most amazing person I know, and our proximity to the sea, our ability to come down here once or twice a year and re-connect to our souls (human program) and / or to our joy (dog program).

Additionally this year I am grateful that I have started a new job at Nordstrom, and in spite of now working in the retail industry, they were gracious enough to gift me this time off as well as for our upcoming trip to Ecuador.  And I am especially grateful that when Tyler decided to bolt down the beach, some combination of my being able to keep up with him in Wellies and he stopping to smell the dead sea creatures meant that he didn’t run all the way to California.

What made me Laugh:

Fawlty Towers is the easy one, as my sister and I watched almost the whole season last night and found ourselves holding our guts pretty frequently, but also dogs running on the beach for all they’re worth.

What I’m creating and doing:

Before we left for the weekend, I started a new job at Nordstrom, made a coffee scrub and a couple of face spritzers, bathed the dogs, ordered a bunch of stuff for various parts of our upcoming expedition and then got us all to a place of resting and not thinking so much.

What I’m reading this week:

I picked up 2 volumes of “Whiskey Words & a Shovel” poetry by r.h.Sin as well as Felicity by Mary Oliver and while I didn’t get through all of them it was the perfect pile to leaf through while curled up on the couch at the cabin, raindrops pelting the windows and the sea crashing, continuously,  just a little ways off.

Mumbai

Mumbai was my entry to India. I was staying on the Queen’s Necklace – Marine Drive along the back bay between the Gateway of India and Malabar Hill, close to Chowpatty Beach – all landmarks familiar to me from Indian literature, but also a pretty post area of a bustling city.

I spent a few days exploring the area – the hanging gardens, the Banganga Tank pool going back to the 12th century, a highly decorated Jain Temple, Gandhi’s residence (now a museum), and the art gallery – while eating my way through street vendor chaat stalls and local restaurants.

Because I lost my wallet and green card in Ottawa, I had to take several trips to the consulate to deal with paperwork which was an interesting experience but took me to another part of town that I may not have seen otherwise.

One of the highlights was taking a boat to the Elephanta caves built into an island. The caves are filled with statues dedicated to Shiva, dating from the 5th century.

It’s fairly busy with tourists and the monkeys know it – one stole my popsicle and another tried to get my water bottle.

I also visited the Dharavi slum which made me a bit uncomfortable because I don’t feel like that is really an acceptable tourist activity, but having attended the UN Conference on sustainable cities and human settlements a few years ago, I was interested to learn more first-hand.

This slum is one of the largest and highest densities in the world and has issues with lack of fresh water, disease, and extreme poverty, but also has distinct economic areas such as a busy laundry and fishery where the main catch is pomfret.

Mumbai was hot and that took some getting used to – I went back to the art museum and a hotel cocktail bar because they had air conditioning, and I decided against seeing a 3 hour Bollywood movie as the theatre was hot and I would not have understood anything anyways – but the breeze off the water was nice and I enjoyed walking around in the evening and talking to the locals.

Everyone was very kind, although – being a big city – kept to themselves more than other places I visited later.

Travel planning and Traipsing through Canada

Current status: hanging out with Kim Crawford on the couch, listening to Spotify and mucking about on the internet. Not all that different from a typical Tuesday night except that I am in an Airbnb in Ottawa and there are no dogs.

I’ve quit Facebook, quit my job, and taken leave of my husband and animals and home to travel to India and Nepal but I lined up a bit of “practice” travelling first, wrapping up work remotely and visiting friends. The day before I left a friend told someone I was off to India the next day and then I had to backtrack a bit ruefully to explain that I wasn’t going to be there for a little while still. Leg #1 was Seattle to White Rock to visit my mom, leg #2 was to Vancouver, leg #3 Montreal, leg #4 here to Ottawa, and then I will carry on to leg #5 Toronto, leg #6 London (with a layover in Iceland) and finally Mumbai from where I will make my way north to Delhi (as well as east and west and a bit farther north, and finally home through Hong Kong. I can write that now because although I’ve been on the road for 10 days, I only just booked my flight home.

It’s been kind of exciting, really. As a project manager (and therefore usually a super-planner) I often make reservations months in advance but this trip I am kind of making things up as I go along and that has meant some scrambling (for visas, passport renewal, giving my company enough notice, figuring out outfits that will work across cultures and climates and landscapes, etc.) but it turns out that most of these things can be done in a rush and / or online – something that I am finding out at a whole new level now that I have lost my wallet.

New credit and debit cards overnighted to me? Don’t mind if I do. New green card and Nexus rushed to me so I can get back in the country later? Yes, please.

I consider myself a fairly seasoned traveller so this feels like an embarrassing and rookie mistake on a terrifying level. I had an errand at the embassy in Ottawa where they require you to bring no bags, sunnies, or cell phones so I was literally carrying everything in my pockets, in the pouring rain, in a country that I feel safe in so I wasn’t really on my guard. I managed the errand without incident and then bought a snack at a stand. I am pretty sure that I left my wallet on the counter as I added food and packaging and napkins to my load, but I didn’t realize until a few blocks later when I had thrown the trash out and put my hands in my pockets. I ran back to the kiosk who had not seen anything left (or anyone come after me), then searched in the garbage bins in case I had thrown it out with the wrappers, but no luck. I don’t even think there was much money in it, but it did have my green card which ended up meaning many more visits to embassies over the course of the trip. But I was so grateful that it happened in Canada, that my passport and cash were with my luggage, and that I was able to carry on.

And this was on top of dropping my work laptop in the airport in Vancouver. It works but I need to return it to the office in London and so in Montreal, I spent a good portion of my time trying to get it fixed.  It was an ordeal of genius bar appointments and working out of internet cafes or taking meetings on my phone but eventually, it all worked out. Hopefully, all of the bugs are getting worked out of this trip before I head overseas.

Travel is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly…that is how we grow., and even these experiences build character and resilience. I try to be grateful, but sometimes it takes time. So, instead of grumbling, here are some of the many new and / or cherished experiences I’ve had this week while travelling through Canada:

VANCOUVER:
Sorting through all kinds of old nostalgia and photos with my mom, a great sleep with her tiny dog curled up in my armpit (as compared with my mediocre sleep most nights cramming between my two enormous, snoring bulldogs at home), a ride to the bus stop on the corner (literally 3 blocks away) so she could see me off, the ahhhh-mazing Apple customer service and quality program fixing my laptop on the road – for free, high quality delicious and sustainable sushi at Hapa Izakaya, inventive vegetarian Chinese comfort food at Bao Bei, delicious and creative cocktails in beautiful rooms at Nightingale and The Botanist, and spending time with my sister who also gave me a ride to the airport.

MONTREAL:
Being met at the airport by my lovely friend – who I’ve not seen in a while and who then fed me all kinds of delicious food and wine, snuggles and kisses and playtime with the second loaner dog of the trip, happening across an amazing Chagall exhibit at the art gallery and another Amazonian one at the archeology museum, surprising sunshine allowing for wine and burrata on a terasse with a good book, more wine and deliciousness at Vin Papillon, and then even more wine and more deliciousness at Nora Grey, teaching the loaner dog to waltz, brunch at the spectacular Satay Bros. and finally coming across an urban “cabane à sucre” in a park.

OTTAWA:
Arriving at my Airbnb to find it so charming and lovely and welcoming that I didn’t even want to leave…and that was before I saw that my hostess had left me some chocolate, ducking in out of the rain at a cosy pub to have some seriously good pizza and beer.

TORONTO:
Having my credit cards arrive over night – with a photo that my husband had included of him and all of our animals, catching up with more good friends I haven’t seen in a while, delicious cocktails and dinner at Byblos, mind-blowingly amazing peach beer at Momofuku (and lunch to go with), the availability and ease of hailing cabs, interesting and sumptuous flavours at Banu Iranian restaurant, and cafes with good coffee that haven’t minded me hiding out from hours from the rain.

I am feeling very loved, cared for and connected…and this is another reason one must travel – so that we can spend time connecting with people in person. As I have learned from working from home this winter, video chat and IM just don’t cut it.

Finally, being away from home is an opportunity to appreciate the things one normally takes for granted. I am so happy to have my high quality pack / boots / Goretex with me, my Canadian passport, to be free of injuries and allergies, to be pretty good at adapting, and to be hosted by so many lovely people (both because it helps my travel budget but also because it’s so good to spend time with people). I have also loved and needed the downtime in between staying with friends, appreciated the flexibility to work remotely, and of course to have enough health and wealth and courage to be able to take this trip in the first place.

Next stop: Londontown.

Peru

I’m not sure how many trip reports I’ve started with, “I’ve wanted to go to X place for ages…” Having a penchant for travel and adventure, a bent for research and planning, and a desk job with access to the internet make it a very long list. I have planned literally hundreds of trips that may or may not ever make it onto these pages, but, I have been planning a trip to South America since I was 19..almost since I started planning trips! Here’s a map I drew in my journal planning my route way back then:

South America

But life gets in the way and after years of research and planning and saving and stalling, I never made it farther south than Costa Rica. My problem was that I was trying to see it all at once, everything from Cartagena to Tierra del Fuego, and preferably on a motorcycle. It’s a trip that I still hope to do someday, but it will take months and thousands of dollars, so I decided to start with one place: Machu Picchu.

Peru

LIMA

Machu Picchu was top of my list for South America and it got us to Peru but I’m just not going to go all that way and only see one thing. So we landed in Lima and got ready to eat – Peruvian cuisine has become world-renowned in recent years (much more than Pisco and ceviche now!) and so we planned to feast at Central, Astrid y Gaston and Maido – the 4th, 14th and 44th best restaurants in the world, according to some.

Maido

We booked the restaurants before we booked our flights and somehow I didn’t go back and check the dates – meaning that I scheduled our meal at Central a week too far in advance. The Horror! But the host found us a spot in the lounge and disaster was averted. It was absolutely incredible and we’ll be keeping an eye out for more opportunities to eat there. Maido was even more amazing, if that’s possible, but Astrid y Gaston was a bit of a disappointment. Very luxurious with some excellent dishes but unfortunately not consistent.

Maido

Because we were staying in Miraflores (an upscale, safe suburb of Lima), and because we had travelled so long to get there (left the house at 5:30 AM and got to out hotel at 2:30 AM the next day) we didn’t go to as many museums as I would have liked but we did visit the Plaza de Armas and went on a monastery tour of Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad with its mouldering library of books from antiquity – untouched since WWII, beautiful courtyard and a depiction of the Last Supper with cuy (guinea pig) for dinner and Pizarro as Judas. It was beautiful but the all the stray dogs, some of them dead, were just heartbreaking.

And the traffic was incredible – 30 minutes by cab to get across town – so we spent some time lazing around the hotel and exploring the Barranco district nearby. Bohemian and busy, we were reminded of Madrid; everyone out on a Saturday night, taking wedding photos, strolling with babies, recording music videos, practicing guitar on a bench and of course eating and drinking. We stuffed ourselves with ceviche and Pisco sours and then it was time to hop on the plane.

Peruvian textiles

CUSCO

I was terribly worried that Cusco was going to be a tourist trap and almost regretted how much time we had to spend in the city but on arrival we found it to be a gorgeous city, full of history and culture and warm people. Before we noticed any of that, however, we noticed the altitude. As soon as we came out of the airport we swooned, and I wondered if that was the Hawthorne Effect or a combination of our fatigue and being out of shape. After some coca candy, a nap and some altitude pills we were feeling alright but still trying to remember to breathe deeply, walk slowly, etc.

Cusco

Cusco was the Inca heartland and the stone walls still form the foundations of the city but everything else has been taken over or topped by the Spanish. Qurikancha, the sun temple was the most important site in the Inca empire. Dedicated to the sun god, it was filled with life-sized gold statues but now not much of it is left –  only a few rows of stones topped with the Santo Domingo convent. It’s sort of is a miniature model for Cusco itself, full of beautiful Spanish colonial art and architecture with Andean flavor. Our hotel was a retro-fitted Spanish mansion with meandering hallways, surprise courtyards and fountains and the walls were covered with with religious oil paintings. It felt a lot like Granada.

Cusco

Our first night we wandered around the historic centre, saw the incredible Inca stonework and the famous 12-sided stone as well as the Plaza de Armas, then ended up on the patio at Papacho’s (a burger place owned by Gaston Acurio) on the square. It was a bit chilly but watching all the people and dogs and Andean woman with bundles of weaving and alpaca rugs was just the thing we needed. I had a drink with tumbo (banana passionfruit) that was too tropical for the Andes but really delicious and Matt had his first coca tea – not realizing that although it is much weaker than cocaine it is still definitely in the stimulant category and he was going to have trouble sleeping.

Peru

I could have spent days longer in Cusco, climbing up the hills to the Sacsayhuaman ruins and the San Blas neighbourhood (I saw them later) but once we had acclimatized to the altitude, we were off in search of motorbikes.

Dirtbiking

MARAS 

So many people told us that we needed to explore the Sacred Valley but the options we had were all by bus; wake up at 5 AM, see all the sites and get back to Cusco by dark. I am always conflicted by bus tours; you get to see the sites but you pay in advance for a set itinerary and if you want to stay longer you’re hurried on to the bus and if you want to skip something, you can’t. Eventually I found a place that rented dirt bikes for super cheap and we made our own plans.

Maras

Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. First we had to explain that we wanted two motorcycles – that I would not be riding on the back of a 250cc dirt bike at altitude – and then we had to go and pick up the second bike – in the back room of the proprietor’s house, up the stairs, on a street dug up for construction. But eventually we were on the road and heading out to explore the Sacred Valley. First stop, Maras, the ancient Inca salt flats that are still being worked today.

Getting out on the bikes was amazing! It was Matt’s first time on a dirt bike and the altitude affected the speed quite a bit but travelling through small towns, walls painted with slogans from various political parties, llamas grazing all over the place, women selling textiles at high altitude markets….and of course the backdrop of the Andes. It was thrilling. When we got to the salt evaporation ponds, we walked down and took a look around, then got back on the bikes and went on to explore more of the valley. We ended the day by signing some house purchasing documents at the hotel and celebrating with a round of pisco sours, our new tradition.

INCA TRAIL

We had brought our backpacks as luggage with us to South America, but as the time arrived for us to set out on foot, we stashed books, shoes, our nice clothes and whatever else we thought we could do without into a bag that we left at the hotel, then filled up our water bladders and got the weight adjusted on our backs. We had wanted to walk the Inca trail to Machu Picchu rather than taking the train and once that decision was made it hadn’t occurred to us that we wouldn’t carry our own gear. We found out later that most people opted to carry day packs and have a porter take the rest.

After being on the bus for hours getting to breakfast and the trailhead, the pack weight felt good and we bounded along the rolling “Inca flats,” stopping to learn about the cochineal beetle on the prickly pear cactus from which carmine dye comes, the angel trumpet that is used by shamans in a hallucinogenic tea or to visit with the Andean families (and their dogs) at the rest stops. It was hot but not very strenuous and we were both delighted and annoyed to find our porters setting up the tent for a hot lunch. It seemed unnecessary to be stopping for so long, so soon, but not even a few hours later we were glad of the pace.

Glacier

Our guide was excellent and we learned that Machu Picchu served as a royal estate for Inca emperors and nobles, as well as an important crossroads for trade and Inca trails criss-cross the Sacred Valley (and the Inca empire, from Santiago to Quito) but the one we were following was meant for royalty. The Inca venerated nature and stone – mountains were objects of worship – so they chose the path that went the highest into the mountains to be close to the sky and one that followed the valley without destroying anything. Lucky for us that meant straight up.

The Urubamba river follows the same path as the milky way and the Inca trail to Machu Picchu starts at 82 km close to Ollantaytambo, passes the Patallaqta ruins, and then climbs up through the high jungle to Dead Woman’s Pass (Warmi Wañusqa) at 13,700ft. Day 2 was spent almost entirely gaining altitude. When we got to the pass after climbing all morning we could still see the campsite where we had started out that day.

Matt

We were exhausted and moving so slowly, dragging ourselves up on our hiking poles, chewing on coca leaves and gasping for air as we got closer to the pass but having only gained a space of about 30ft at the summit, we almost immediately started the trail down. Up 3000ft in one day and then back down another 1000 before making camp.

Inca Trail

Machu Picchu was fairly remote, even in Inca days, but a series of relay runners were set up to deliver a message from Cusco in only 6 hours. On special occasion, fish could be brought fresh from the sea in about 16! Because of the distance and the speed of the runners, the Spanish never found out about Machu Picchu. They only got to about Ollantaytambo (where we started our hike) and from there, bridges were destroyed, the trail was covered and the Inca royalty escaped to the jungle.

Our third day of hiking was the “scenic” day where we stopped at the site of several ruins but at times it seemed only to alleviate the constant descent. My toenails! My ankles! My knees! In many ways it was worse than the ascent but maybe only because I hadn’t accounted for the difficulty. The experience of hiking the trail was so worth doing but Matt and I agreed that without a doubt it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done.

Machu Picchu

MACHU PICCHU

On the last day we got up at 3:30 AM – not to see the sunrise from the Sun Gate, as we had originally believed, nor to be the first at Machu Picchu, but because the train for the porters leaves before 5 AM and they had to run down the mountain to meet it. I cannot believe that with 500 people on the day every day that a better arrangement can’t be made, but maybe the tourists are just too tired when they get home to advocate. We were able to walk to the end of the campsite but couldn’t go further because the checkpoint doesn’t open until 5:30 AM. Standing there in the dark, someone joked that we waiting in line in the dark on Black Friday but otherwise we were pretty quiet, waiting for the last stretch.

Machu Picchu

This was the last, “easiest” day and we were buoyed up by the fact that Machu Picchu was only a few hours away but we were beat and before we got to the Sun Gate we needed to climb on hands and knees up the Inca “staircase” and try to keep from falling into the valley (some 6000ft) below while hikers jostled past. But we made it and the first glimpse of Machu Picchu through the mist was still magical in spite of all the photographs that exist.

We were awed and wowed by this city in the clouds. Watching the mist cover and reveal the city it seemed as special as it has ever been – to the Incas and to Hiram Bingham when he ‘discovered’ it and every morning with every new batch of visitors. That the Incas build such a monument to stone and sky so beautiful and so remote is incredible, but that it has survived virtually unharmed after more than 500 years is astounding.

The city has about 200 buildings, with a quarry and farming terraces to support it, high above the Urubamba river, although archeologists still say that there would not be enough infrastructure to sustain a completed and populated city there. But in one hundred years there was a quarry built on top of the citadel (to bring the granite slabs down to where they were needed, instead of up), terraces, houses, and several temples. The most special parts of Machu Picchu are the Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Condor and the Room of the Three Windows.

The Inti Watana translates as a place to “tie up the sun” and on a certain day it is a marker for the sun. Similarly, the Sun Gate lines up with the Temple of the Sun with mathematical precision. For our part, it was just neat to look back on it and see how far we’d come only that morning, never mind that week.

Our amazement at the ruined city was tempered by our fatigue, hunger, pain and stench and hopped on the bus that would take us down the hill to our hotel in Aguas Calientes. Cruel joke that Matt had booked us into a room without an elevator and we groaned as we climbed up to our room on the third floor, quads aching.

Cusco

The rest of the trip was spent recovering; thermal baths, reading, wandering around Cusco and drinking pisco sours. My mom asked me today if I would go back and I would without hesitation. I’d love to see some of the other ruins and to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu. I’d even do the hike again, although maybe a different path.

Andean family

See all the photos here.

Also, check out the story I wrote for Steller stories:


2015 (in Pictures)

I generally have more adventures than time to write about them, but last year was so spectacular I don’t want to forget it. I saw the northern lights for the first time and I narrowly missed seeing the Southern Cross while we were hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, I drove on an ice road and did two speedy drift dives through narrows in BC and Washington, I made it (barely) up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,700′ and down to about 130′ underwater to see Gorgonian corals…but most of the summer was spent on the road – either on my motorcycle or camped on the ground beside it. Between commuting, camping with the Rainier Ravens and going on a couple of trips with Matt, I put a lot more miles on my bike than I have in a while and ventured down the Oregon Coast, near to Mt. Adams, around Crater Lake, over to the Olympic Peninsula and through Joshua Tree National Park.

I also got a job I loved, hit publish on my 500th blog post on my food blog, made a coffee table, and cooked an incredible amount of delicious food. I had set a goal for myself of eating less meat last year and inadvertently completely became a vegetarian again…except for a handful of meals, I found I just didn’t want meat anymore. We ate some truly incredible meals in Lima then closed out the year by buying a home in Seattle and moving into our lovely blue house in the last few weeks of December. Phew! I crossed so many things off my life list that I’m tempted to sit back and take it easy for a while but knowing me that won’t last long.

Here are some of my favourite photos:

SUNSHINE COAST

Dive boat

Egmont

Red Irish Lord

Early in the year (so early I almost forgot), I went on my yearly dive trip to Skookumchuck Narrows – one of my favourite places – with Porpoise Bay Charters and my Vancouver dive crew -some of my favourite people. We revisited all of our favourite sites and had a bit of a more exciting time than we intending, surfacing at night in the middle of the channel. Skookumchuck means ‘strong water’ and it’s not a place you want to be too far from shore or the boat. Afterwards, we warmed up with port and cheese and the telling of tales.

YUKON

Yukon

Northern Lights 2

Northern Lights

Yukon

Yukon

I am only beginning to understand the nuances of night photography but what I experienced in Dawson City couldn’t have been captured on film anyways – bright colours streaking and dancing across the sky, then dipping below the horizon only to come back around and surprise you. One of the most profound experiences of my life.

EATING

Boat Street Cafe

Vegetarian

Field table

Outstanding in the Field

We’ve had a lot of excellent meals this year, both out and at home but one in particular was at Outstanding in the Field.  It’s been a dream of mine to go for a while but I have always put it off because of the expense. Matt surprised me with tickets for my birthday and I can’t say it’s a great deal in terms of value but the food was excellent and we had a lot of fun wandering around the farm and meeting new people.

AUSTIN

Austin

Sisters

My sister and I are slowly exploring the US on little city breaks – for my birthday it was Austin and we had an absolute blast. Between cocktails, food trucks, cocktails, live music and more cocktails, there was maybe more laughing than remembering but that’s just fine with me. Next year we’ll go to Memphis, Nashville and Chicago.

OREGON

Jellies

Jellies

Riley

We took Riley to the Oregon Coast to play on the beach. Oregon is so civilized that dogs are allowed off-leash on all the beaches and there are just no sad dogs to be seen anywhere. Riley literally played until she couldn’t stand up anymore – she looks drunk in this photo! – while Matt and I celebrated our anniversary drinking Champagne on the sand.

Oregon Coast

A few weeks later I was back down on two wheels although I didn’t actually get down to the beach.

School of Rock

Matt joined a band program with another friend with ours so for the first time I had the opportunity to see him perform on stage instead of on our couch!

OLYMPIC PENINSULA

Ravens' campout

Hurricane Ridge

Hot tub

Summer really ramped up in August where I felt like I was on a motorcycle trip every weekend. Lucky me! The Rainier Ravens (my motorcycle group) put on a spectacular camp out event where we had about 50 women join overnight to Port Townsend on their bikes. I’ve done some camping on a bike before but certainly not on the Ducati so it was a fun project to get it all loaded up with gear. We camped out in the trees, road up to Hurricane Ridge, went to a drive-in movie, had a hot tub and basically the best time ever. These women are incredible.

MT. ADAMS

the Dream Roll

Dream Roll

The Dream Roll, another (larger) all-women moto camp out, was happening the following weekend so some friends and I headed down for that and luckily brought our rain gear because that was some of the wettest riding I’ve done in a while. The countryside was beautiful and the roads were amazing but I had to keep reminding myself that it was August and not October. That’s summer in the Pacific Northwest, I suppose!

CRATER LAKE

Painted Hills

Crater Lake

In September some friends and I had planned to ride to Glacier National Park but sections were closed due to snow so we headed south and went to Crater Lake in Oregon instead. It was still incredibly cold on some of the mountain roads and as the roads got dark and full of deer we pulled over earlier than we had intended. The views didn’t disappoint though – the lake is deeply blue and serene and the ring road needs to be done (despite crappy pavement and an abundance of RV’s).

JOSHUA TREE

Nevada

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Desert

I thought I might have had enough of women’s motorcycle campouts but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride through the desert to Babes Ride Out in Joshua Tree (now in its third year, it is one of the inaugural events that are inspiring all the others). Some friends and I flew to Las Vegas and rented Harley’s, rode down to the campground, pitched tents and then got up and rode almost all the way to L.A. on some very sweet roads. In the morning we got up early to ride through the park and take a look at the strange-looking Joshua Trees. Amazing trip. Next year Matt and I will go to a co-ed camp out in Moab, Utah.

PERU

Lima

Lima

Lima

Maido

Lima

Cusco

Peru

Sacred Valley

Cusco

Inca Trail

Macchu Pichu

There’s not much I can say about Peru yet…I’m still processing it (and Matt’s still processing photos). We went to Lima to eat and we ate exceptionally well at the 4th, 14th and 44th best restaurants in the world – Astrid y Gaston, Central and Maido – then flew to Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude before riding motorcycles around the Sacred Valley and hiking over the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Despite all the photos you’ve ever seen, being there is absolutely magical with the clouds coming in and out and hiking for four days to get there made it a prize well deserved.

HOME

Degan

Finally sitting still, on the stoop of our new home. This winter is going to be a quiet one but here’s to 2016!

Never Say Die! Oregon on 2 Wheels

Goonies Ride 9
Not long after my last trip to the Oregon coast, I was back with my pack of lovely moto-babes, the Rainier Ravens.  It was roughly-themed as a “Goonies” ride because (although I had neglected to recognize the landmarks or remember this fact on any of my prior trips) large parts of it are filmed there. The ‘Goon Docks’ home that the kids were trying to save is in Astoria, as well as many of the street scenes, and I don’t know how I didn’t recognize Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach from the end of the film… there aren’t many like it.

Goonies Ride 8
But as much as I loved the film as a kid (second only to Gremlins), I wasn’t there for nostalgia but rather for the road and spectacular scenery, to be enjoyed by motorcycle. It’s long been a dream of mine to travel down the coast to California by bike so I jumped at the chance to take a trip at least part of the way down the coast.

Ducati
We met at Dick’s Drive-in and, after a series of communication debacles, got on the ferry at and filled up with some of their awful coffee in Styrofoam cups. The ride down was nice but uneventful until we got to the coast. The first sight of the ocean always takes my breath away, even though I haven’t lived or worked more than a few blocks from the sea in quite some time. Coming around the corner before Astoria and seeing the white caps on the water, then from the monstrous bridge is just amazing. For a few of the new girls, it was the longest they had ever ridden so we took it easy and it ended up being a bit of a long day. Eventually, though, we arrived in Manzanita where we were rewarded with gorgeous sweeping vistas of the sea, a dip in the pool, and dinner and drinks at the local watering hole.

Manzanita
The next day we were meant to meet more Ravens at a roadside restaurant but we had some time to kill so we rode along the beach and then up through Astoria (where we could hear the sea lions!), through all the beautiful long curves and seaside vistas until we reached our turnoff and just as I – bringing up the read of our group – made the turn I caught sight of a group of women coming down the hill towards us…more Ravens! It was an amazing experience as we all joined rank together then piled into the restaurant parking lot, giddy and excited at the timing. It could not have been more perfect.

Goonies Ride 7
I’ve been riding motorcycles for a long time…15 years or so, but to be out riding as part of such an amazing group of women was just amazing.

Cannon Beach
We were all excited on the ride back, cruising through the forest-flanked twisties, up into the mountains and then as we approached Seattle it was like any of the 80’s cult movies – Breakfast Club, Stand By Me, Karate Kid, Goonies –  where an epic summer adventure ends and each individual peels off with a wave towards home.

Manzanita