All posts filed under: Places

Four Days on the Atlantic

Somewhere in the Atlantic, less than one hundred miles off the North Carolina coast, I’m throwing up last night’s dinner onto the deck of our boat. “Have one of those sodas, the ginger will help your stomach,” Mike says. Our boat is heeled and our bow is smashing into oncoming waves, spraying water over our heads. There’s motion sickness medicine below deck, in the side pocket of my duffel bag. But when you’re seasick, the last thing you want to do is move — I decide that the pain of getting up and hurling is worse than taking a chance on those pills, so I remain put. Sea sickness isn’t determined by your fitness; it’s eased over time with experience on the water. Already two hours into the race and I’m feeling it. It’s like a crash course for first timers. I tell Mike and Tristan I’ve never been offshore before. “This is a good way to get your feet wet,” Tristan says with a smile. We’re on a Class40 boat called Toothface II, named …

The New River Gorge

The New River Gorge in West Virginia is home to some of the best climbing on the east coast. The other place being Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. Now’s the time when the leaves are turning, and climbing conditions are just right. Some climbers call this time of year “gorge season.” I recently spent a few days climbing in the area. Prior to this I’d only climbed outdoors once – and it was only on a route or two in Great Falls. I didn’t really consider it a true climbing trip. For me, this was the first time to really experience the differences between plastic holds at the gym and real, unforgiving rock. And the real difference is not in the holds – in which it’s too easy to draw the distinction. Some jugs remind me of the round plastic pieces I throw for at the wall. Instead, the biggest difference I found was creativity. Climbing outdoor routes (long routes, at that) allows you to be very creative – both in style and technique. Because indoors, …

Crowded City, Peaceful Mind

It’s hard to be mad in the one of the most holy and spiritual places on earth. The Indian Himalaya crane down at you as you wind up the roads to Dharamsala. When the summer heat becomes too unbearable, Indians head north for the cooler weather, high up in the mountains. This makes for a very crowded summer vacation spot. When it’s at its most packed – during the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday Celebration – you’ll come across all types of people on the street: Tibetan monks in their crimson robes, Indian families on vacation, and tourists, who range from the hippie trekkers to the enlightenment seekers. “Three years ago, this street was empty, and very quiet.” But the thing about Dharamsala, is that during tourist season, the postcard tranquility of the city is gone, and the tourist influx causes more vehicles to crowd the already narrow streets like a clogged artery. As I navigated the streets (which were more like alleyways) with my friend, Okechukwu, he told me how the city has changed since …

The Quiet Side of the Quake

Sometimes an earthquake won’t leave tracks. Aerial images and footage of Durbar Square in Kathmandu  – a hub of the city’s most elaborate architecture and historic buildings – have become the iconic representation of what was lost during the earthquake: Nepal didn’t only lose lives, but part of their culture was erased. True, the quake’s damage is undeniable. But for some, the earthquake wasn’t as hectic as it was for others. One volunteer I interviewed was in Thamel during the first quake – Kathmandu’s tourist sector, which is characterized by its crowded, narrow streets. It seems like the perfect formula for destruction, especially during an earthquake. She told me about what happened in the basement of the building she was in. “We didn’t see anything damaged. Nothing really happened here.” “The people were running – I don’t know why they started running. I told them to calm down.” She noted a role reversal: she imaged the locals would be used to the earthquakes, but instead the tourists played the role of the voice of calm. …

Why You Should Be Planning Your Trip to Nepal Right Now

Nepalis and other travelers will ask me: “What are you doing in Nepal?” As far as I can see, there are two types of travelers in post-earthquake Nepal. There are volunteers, here to assist in earthquake relief, and there are tourists, who are just as essential in Nepal’s recovery. I first thought that being a tourist in Nepal during this time was odd. I couldn’t really justify “touring” the country especially after it was rocked by two devastating quakes. But after being here for a month, I’ve realized that tourism, now, shouldn’t be viewed in a bad light. In fact, it’s encouraged. In stores that normally attract tourists, like trekking gear shops, owners have said business is slow. “Normally, this time of year is the low season for tourists. But now, the earthquake has made it even more slow,” my friend and store owner, Yogi, told me the other day. These shops thrive – if not survive – on tourist money. And it’s obvious that tourists have avoided Nepal after the country’s two quakes, making …

A Cracked City

For many people in Kathmandu, the morning of Saturday, April 25th had all the signs of a normal weekend. But before noon, all signs of normalcy were shattered. Nanda Maharjan was about to have her midday meal as she felt her floors shaking. And within seconds, it was clear to her what was happening. Bhūkampa! Bhūkampa! her mind raced as she went to wake her husband. She and her husband darted under their door frame and waited until the shaking stopped. After what seemed like hours, they slowly made their way outside. Thankfully, their house wasn’t severely damaged. But quite the opposite was true for many other Nepalis. As you fly into Kathmandu and scan the cityscape, you’ll see the familiar square architecture, complete with rooftops and colorfully painted walls. But for the past few weeks, many of these buildings have been vacant. Past the houses and into the fields are numerous tent-villages – clusters of tarps and makeshift structures to shelter families from their nearly collapsed homes. This has become a common sight in …

The Wet of the Smokies

A rainforest in the middle of North Carolina. That’s how one park ranger described the Smokies, at least parts of it. “Up top [on the mountain], it rains 80 more days out of the year, compared to down here.” We’re at the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the headquarters of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The center is technically in North Carolina, but if you jog up the road, you’ll be in Tennessee. The northern edge of the park is oddly situated between the Vegas-like tourist town of Gatlinburg and the misty hills of the Smoky Mountains. It’s both a blessing and a curse: if you’re ever in need of gear, or a hot shower, it’s less than a 10 minute drive to town. But if you’re seeking solitude, expect the trails (especially the parking lots near the front of the park) to be crowded with dayhikers and tourists. On a Wednesday in early March, I didn’t expect to feel like a tourist – especially in the offseason. But, as you’ll find in any new place, both …

Peruvian Slug Lines

At 4:45 am, the bus station in Huaraz is busy. Colectivos, the size of mini-school buses, crowd the lot – engines on. Dust and emissions cloud the air as headlights beam through the haze. Bus drivers flag people down, yelling out their intended destinations – neatly printed (and laminated) signs of these towns stand in their dashboards. As a passenger, it’s easier to directly ask where they’re heading, to avoid any confusion in the morning rush. These are the early birds, up before the sun to start their day. Among the first awake are women in traditional Peruvian dress, clad with polleras, llicllas, and k’eperinas – colorful wool cloths draped over their shoulders and chests. They’re up early to sell knit hats, gloves, baked goods and fruits, traveling from town to town on the colectivo circuit. Older men with baseball caps and leathery wrinkled faces board the buses dressed in their Sunday best – but on a Tuesday. These are the Peruvian early birds, up before the sun to start their day. The Huaraz bus …

The mountain Taulliraju high in the clouds. (Taken with iPhone 5s)

Jest of the Mountain Gods

We set out to complete a thirty mile trek through the Peruvian Andes. On paper, it seemed like the perfect hike – but what we got was far from it. I never thought I’d see Pepto Bismol at fifteen-thousand feet. It’s easy to become adjusted to the color palette of the mountains: the white, icy peaks and the black rock jutting out from under them, the brown of the surrounding hills, and the blue sky – which didn’t appear often enough. But there they were – the pink chewable tablets strangely out of place, scattered on the ground. I looked up at Michael, who was holding the empty tube of medicine in one hand, and in his other, my poor water bottle, which he’d just vomited on. We were drawn to this place, this small mountain pass in the Peruvian Andes – and we made it. But getting there was rough. As we climbed to the pass, we felt a force against us, constantly watching from above with a stern eye. For the normal traveller, …