All posts by Kayla Angstadt

Ethiopia: An Introduction

Sitting in a quiet coffee shop off the streets of a small town in northeast Pennsylvania, I find myself looking back daily on my experiences of Ethiopia. I was only there for a mere month, but my experiences there have caused me to meditate often. For months after I came back, I was fully unaware of how to express my time there. There were so many fierce, mixed, and overwhelming emotions erupting out of me, minute by minute. Almost a year later, I have (finally) decided to start a new method to presenting my time spent there. Rather than blurting out every story in one page, I’ve decided to focus on one story at a time. I only hope it may cause you to pause in your busy schedule to stop, run, breathe, and begin again.

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Cow’s Head for Dinner

A quick forward before I begin:

I continuously find myself coming up short for the best way to describe Paraguay to my friends and family. I, myself am still very much a student. That being said, if you really want to learn about Paraguay in a fantastically descriptive manner, you can find over two years worth of compelling stories and fascinating view points in a wide variety of subjects in Mario’s blog – http://littlehupo.blogspot.com/. They are amazingly insightful pieces that push you to think outside of your comfort zone. All I can say is that I couldn’t be any more proud of my friend to take himself to such limits for the sake of a good cause. So for this blog, I would like to dedicate this little piece to Mario. Without him, I would have never had the opportunity to have such amazing in depth experiences with Paraguay and her people.

                                                                                                                                                

 

After yet another episode of being temporarily stranded with no access to money (newly replaced credit card was being held hostage in Peru’s Customs Border) and being totally alone (until my dearest friend of Peru, Claudio, came to help!), I at last, opened the final exiting doors of Asuncion’s International Airport. Here, I was warmly greeted with open arms and a rib squeezing bear hug from one of my best and oldest friends in the world.  When we last spoke, I was clueless and credit card-less. And with no connection with him for over the past two days, it was a miracle he was still there waiting for me.

Mario was finishing his last and final weeks with his term with the Peace Corps. I was given the amazing opportunity to come visit him and help finish some of his last and final projects at his site before we traveled off together to Argentina and Chile. He seemed glad to see me, but even happier to not have to tell any bad news to my parents.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     We jumped into a cab and worked our way over the next few days out of the capitol of Asuncion and into the countryside. Once we reached the campo, my hometown suburbia-raised amigo showed me the beauties of the simple, hardworking, humbling, honest, and refreshing Paraguayan lifestyle. For the past 2 years and 3 months, he had the privilege to work, educate, and of course learn a few things for himself amongst the locals. It was truly a beautiful change from our fast-paced American lifestyle from which we were raised. Yet as idealistic and charming the campesino life appeared to me, Mario learned and shared many stories of the hardships of the farming life, and the frightening dangers that can change fates and futures in almost an instant.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     We spent the next few weeks, living and working around Mario’s site. Much of the time was spent visiting neighbors and spending time with all of the beautiful families that treated him like he was their own son. Mario was able to assist some of his neighbors by creating worm composts and anaerobic biodigesters, a fairly simple yet brilliant contraption that turns livestock manure into fuel for cooking.  I was constantly floored, amazed, and humbled by the work my friend had accomplished.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    I was also graciously able to help tie up some of his last few school projects. We worked a fair amount with the school, organizing the new library (fund-raised and built by Mario) and making an Eco-brick bench with the local students. We also hung photos around the school that were taken by some of his students in an photography class he created.

 

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     Each morning in the campo was absolutely refreshing. The days rapidly turned to hot and exhausting so for Mario and his neighbors, work was done as early as possible. Afternoons were spent drinking the refreshing beverage of ter’re  and the nights were always spent in good company.

     As Mario’s term drew near the end, it was time for him to say good-bye to all of the families to whom with he grew so close. And what better way to do it than with a Despidida, a good-bye party. If you’re really going to do it right, then you have to prepare a traditional Paraguayan dish. So, we helped prepare Mario’s feast meal of A’kon’guay’u’vu’gu (roughly translated to ‘cow’s head under the ground’). This was a process I never ever saw coming.

***(Heads up! These next few photos and descriptions are not for the vegetarians out there.)***

     The preparation of the traditional dish was quite the arduous task. First, the cow head must be cleaned (with a garden hose of course) and stuffed from all corners with a finely diced onions, peppers, garlic and spice medley.

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     From there, the cow’s mouth was sewn shut with wire to catch all of the flavors and stuffing….yuuuummmmmm.

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     We proceeded to wrap the head in foil, making sure to stuff it with all of the caught juices and mixture again. Afterwards, it was placed in a refrigerator to marinate overnight. In the morning, we started to chop a specific tree that Mario’s neighbor had said would make the best type of coals for this type of cooking. Wood was split and a hole big enough to bury the head was made just outside of Mario’s front porch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA     The next day, Mario’s neighbor returned and prepared a fire until there was a nice bed of coals. We watched him place the cow’s head inside of the fire-pit proceeded by a support beam and a sheet of metal to cover the hole. Dirt was used to seal the rims of pockets of escaping heat. The well seasoned cow head, then sat in the Paraguayan version of a Dutch oven.

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     Hours later, we pulled the dish out of the ground. And almost instantaneously,  everyone’s mouths began to water. The anticipation of lunch had been perfectly prepared. The wires were cut and the foil was stripped, unsheathing the mighty cow head, ready to feed the pueblo. And then, we feasted…

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     Everyone crowded around the table and dug in with their forks and fingers, savoring the surprisingly delectable meat. In less than 20 minutes, another neighbor brought a machete over to crack open the skull to dig into the good stuff: the cow brains.

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     Once the skull was picked clean and after some Polka dancing, Mario thanked all of his neighbors for their hospitality during his stay. Everyone seemed more than elated to have Mario be a part of his community, and it was very apparent that he would be missed by some of his closest neighbors.

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     The impacts Mario had made on this village to some may seem small however, they were blatantly apparent to me. The connections he had created for the following Peace Corps member are irreplaceable and the community will only continue to grow. From his work, his neighbors have the ability to make progress for a more sustainable future while using all of their resources to their fullest potential.

     His services to Paraguay and the rest of the world may seem insignificant, but I for sure know that he has created an everlasting impact on people’s lives. I could only hope that my friend’s life choices may continue to inspire others in a positive light. No matter how big or small the action, we can create a greater quality of living for all, maybe even ourselves.

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Moving Forward

I’ve moved again.

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I live in Philadelphia.

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Lovely weather we’re having this winter!

Yup, I have an apartment, I have a full time job, I get excited over deals at the grocery store and I have now too discovered that there is real no successful way to store tupperware. I have flown the coop, flown a good deal of Central and South America, and I have finally settled down, well, temporarily.

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This is my new apartment.

There has been some rather huge changes of pace for me since my last post. I now am living in a rather stunning loft style apartment complete with unrented first floor studio space (a.k.a. my yoga room!) with my cousin here in East Falls, Philadelphia. I am about 2 blocks away from a rather scenic river and just a few more blocks away from my job. Let’s not forget the roof patio and climbing gym a half a block away. So thats going well…

IMG_2158During my days, I work with Ryan at his companies BuLogics and StratIS, filling in whatever job needs done. And I really mean, WHATEVER job needs done. This includes commissioning wireless thermostats, programing mini computers, driving to Newark, completing random construction work, and even home schooling the CEO’s 3 children to name a few. On multiple accounts, I have been pushed out of my comfort zone and pushed to my limits. This has allowed me to gain so much new knowledge in just this past month that I never thought I’d learn. The nonstop changing of roles really keeps me on my toes, so naturally I love every second of it.  Although I must be honest, the computer programming end of things becomes rather mind-blowing.

Click here to learn more!

Meanwhile in my downtime, the flexibility of my job hours allows me to focus completely on my international pen pal program, Cross Cultural Connect. My program is indescribably and amazingly growing into more than I could have ever hoped for at such a fast pace. I made some really great connections down in Central and South America and am currently hoping to launch a pilot run with a Costa Rican school sometime this year. Big plans are coming along for the world-wide program, and I feel that the Philadelphia area might be the best location to settle in as my official base camp.

I fully recognize that I’ve left many of you in the dark about what exactly happened in between Peru and Philadelphia. Since I had my computer stolen, recovered, sent home to the States, sent back to Peru, and sent home again in October, it became extremely difficult to stay connected to the world outside of what I was living. Now that I’m back in the States, I figure there are just too many experiences to just blurt out in one long and overwhelming post. So I won’t.

And so for now, I can only leave you with the titles of my next three posts; Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile.

Have a lovely day and don’t forget to challenge yourself!

Surviving Salkantay

Well, here it comes, the infamous disclaimer… TomO, the three French-Canadian girls, and myself are currently all alive and well. Although a few days ago, I could honestly not say that same sentence.

It began with the reunion of our 3 new French-Canadian friends at the hostel Kokopelli in Cusco, Peru. The girls were intrigued by our desire to brave the Salkantay trek guide-less and requested that they come along. The more the merrier, I thought to myself.

10766753233_62c67e3d52_nRecalling previous events in Cotahuasi Canyon, TomO and I spent a day seeking a real topographic map this time in hopes to not forge any more rivers. We located our map at the South American Explorers Club, plotted our trek, and made our plan. We returned to the hostel and I walked the girls through the 5 day and 4 night route to Machu Picchu.

The team

The next morning at 5 a.m., we just barely caught the only van to our first destination, the tiny town of Mollepata. Here, we stocked up on our day’s carb intake and some last minute reinforcements. We watched a few guided groups head off with their water bottles and onto the road as all of their camping gear and food stayed behind on mules and vans. Together in our 5 man team (well mostly women), we threw all our weight onto our backs and began the long journey uphill.

The very first day was intensely satisfying. We ended up following the alternative trail surpassed by the guided tours. Here, we walked straight up a ridge line. The hike was strenuous and pushed each of us mentally and physically. But once we finally persevered to the top, we were greeted with quite the rewarding view. Both sides of the ridge line were visible for miles as we could see the endless and intricate features of the Peruvian Andes.

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I reviewed the map during our lunch break and discovered we were only half way in our first day’s journey. Nevertheless, we trudged on until we stumbled upon our second breath-taking view of one of the glaciers, Neavado Turcarhuay.

First glacier sighting

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Our hopes for an end of our day were lifted as we cruised down the valley to our next mountain in sight. And only after hiking another 3 hours,  I arrived a bit earlier than the crew to our destination of in the mountain pueblo of Soraypampa.

When we first arrived to the town, we were greeted by an enormous, all-inclusive lodge complete with a hot tub. Slightly bitter, I walked passed the hot-tubing guests, knowing I wouldn’t even be seeing a shower for the next few days. I continued onto the humble farm town in search for a perfect spot to set up my tent.

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While waiting for the rest to find their destination as well, I met a local farmer named Felipe. With his wife and daughter, he lived on the outskirts of the two gentle giants of Neavado Turcarhuay and Neavado Salkantay. He offered us his shed to sleep in for the night as the rain had become more frequent in the past weeks during the night time. We graciously accepted and later found ourselves feasting off the spaghetti and canned hot dogs we had tucked in our bags. We discussed our next days plan of waking up at dawn to get a head start on what was to be projected the hardest day of the trek. And then by no later than 8 o’clock, we were all passed out in our sleeping bags.

The morning came upon us quickly as we forced ourselves out of our sleeping bags and into our hiking boots. We had made great timing with getting breakfast in, packing everything up, and thanking our host family for our one nights stay. By 7 a.m., we threw our packs on and began to make our way to the glacier pass.

Not even a full hour into the hike, one of the French-Canadian girls caught up with TomO and me on the trail. The expression in her face was pure pain as she was fighting so hard to keep her tears from hitting the trail. Immediately, I forced her to sit down and to explain exactly what’s wrong. She went into detail describing to me how she had pulled a muscle in her leg the day before and how her stubbornness and persistence got her through the end of the day. She was hoping the injury would heal over the night and didn’t want to worry me. But now, the pain was just too much for her to bare.

Evacuation. We needed to get her out of there, and in the quickest way possible if we still wanted to finish our day’s mission. I think back to the ritzy hotel and decide that this is her only way to get back to Cusco without walking. I throw on her pack and begin jogging back to town. I finally reach the hotel and explain my friend’s situation to the concierge. She allows my friend to sit in the lobby until the local van arrives. I say goodbye to my friend and remind her the date that we would be in Aguas Calientes. She was still hoping she could meet us there.

I make the best effort to jog back to TomO and the other two girls in hopes to make up for lost time. When I make it back, I discussed with the other girls how their injured friend should have someone accompany her and that we would most likely be hiking in the dark tonight after the two hour evacuation. The girls agree that it’s best they head back as well. We received their weight of food, stuffed them into our packs, and said our final good byes to the Canadians. It was a brilliantly valiant attempt for their first multi-day trek, but it was more important to know when to call it quits.

And so, it was back to the dynamic duo. TomO and I made our best efforts to keep a speedy pace to continue to make up for lost time. When we reached the base of the glacier pass, we prepared ourselves mentally and physically for the physical demands ahead of us dawning raincoats, heavy sweaters, and thicker socks. Little did we really know what we were getting into.

As it began to rain, we began winding up the steep and arduous switchback finding it necessary to stop at every corner to catch our breaths and to prepare to keep moving. The high altitude, weather, newly weighted packs, and previous morning events had each taken their individual beatings on our bodies. And then when we thought the worse of the weather had passed, it began to snow.

This about sums it up...
This about sums it up…

Looking around at our situation and soaked clothes, I couldn’t help but think of the extreme weather chapter in my EMT textbook. “We need to move now”, I urged to TomO. Knowing it was going to take two hours to make it to the other side of the glacier pass and less time to acquire frost nip, I didn’t want to waste any time standing around.

The next two hours became a total blur. Just as we made it through the first hour and neared the top of the pass, TomO had been struck with a light case of altitude sickness once again. Any other place in the world, I would have let him rest for a healthy amount of time. But here we were, in the middle of a snowy glacier pass in soaked clothes. I gave him some water, stuffed his cheeks with coca leaves, and urged him to move on. We made it to the very top of the pass in about 5 minutes, which thankfully meant it was all down hill from there.

Normally, I am quite the photo happy hiker, but I must say these hectic hours were lost in the snow and will have to remain a memory. Though I was able to snag a quick shot of us at the very top for your viewing pleasure.10764666535_bc45bdb108

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At the top with a break from the snow and still smiling!

After another hour of hiking out of the pass, TomO and I collapsed in the middle of the trail deciding it was here we would eat lunch. My hands were swollen with a waxy appearance and I did my best to heat them in the gentlest way possible. With our nearly frozen fingers and embarrassing yet hilarious faulty fine-motor skills, we fought with our cans of tuna and packets of mayonnaise like a couple of neanderthals. Feeling a little better after being recharged, we laughed at yet another perilous adventure we put ourselves in. Knowing fully we had another 6 hours of walking ahead of us, we hoped the worst of the weather stayed in the glacier pass. 

Another blur comes to mind of constant walking. Though this blur was filled with mud instead of snow. The next two days, we continued to trudge to our next check points. Our feet felt broken and our muscles became twisted with knots.  We made it to the town of Santa Teresa where I was told were hot springs just 45 minutes outside of the village. I forced TomO to walk another hour which seemed rather excruciating and unjust. But when I say this, I truly mean that there are no words in the human language that could possibly describe our delight in the hot springs of Santa Teresa. Just photos.

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The hot natural spring water poured onto our heads and soothed into our weary souls. In the pools, our bodies became slaves to the calming water as it became physically impossible for us to move from our spots. Rewarding, is hardly what you could call this experience.

The next morning we awoke from our tent just outside of the springs. We packed up our belongings a final time and began to make our way to our final destination, Aguas Calientes, the town just outside of Machu Picchu.

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10766651756_d2057fd606We walked the train tracks of the hydroelectric plant to the town, following the powerful river below. Hours later, we finally arrived at our destination. It almost seemed unreal. We found a cheap hostel to put our things in and decided to relax for ten minutes before we went and purchased our entry tickets to Machu Picchu. Two hour and a half hours later, we got up and shuffled down into town.

The next morning, we awoke just as the sun was rising. Our hike up the 1,800+ steps (thank you TomO for counting) was almost entirely in mist. When we arrived at the top it was a different appearance than what I had been hoping yet nevertheless, still amazing.

The town of Machu Picchu was covered in a mystical cloud, allowing us to view glimpses of its beauty for only moments. However, after a few hours of walking around, the fog began to rise and we were warmly greeted by the sun and all of the beautiful surrounding sights.

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We walked around the site for hours, making new traveling friends and even running into the French-Canadian girls! It was an absolute relief to see them all doing so happy and well. We ate our lunch at the Sun Gate and marveled in the accomplishments made by Inca population and even in our own personal accomplishments.

This is how we walked Salkantay
This is how we walked Salkantay
We discovered I was the perfect Incan height!
We discovered I was the perfect Incan height!

 

Tom, not so much...
Tom, not so much…
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Far left’ Machu Picchu pueblo, Left mountain- Wanyu Picchu, center mountain- Putucusi

 

When the clouds rolled in and when the sky once again reminded us of the rain season, we decided that it was time to return to Aguas Calientes to prepare for our next game plan, Putucusi Mountain.

Good thing we got these sweet ponchos for 2 dollars!
Good thing we got these sweet ponchos for 2 dollars!

Unlike Wanu Picchu or the actual mountain of Machu Picchu, Putucusi is a free hike on the other side of the river that also over looks the historical ruins of Machu Picchu. A strenuous hike complete with numerous 100 foot tall wooden ladders, we decided that this would be our final hike to the journey. After doing a little research online, we discovered that this hike takes about an hour and a half to complete. Being only 4:30 in the afternoon, we naturally decided the most logical thing to do was complete the hike before the sunset.

10767268464_c6902080b4_zIn a race against the fading sun with the desire to see the view at the top, we raced up the ladders. Even without our heavy packs, it became again a mental game of non-stop trudging to the top. When we finally made it to the top, we looked at our watches and realized we completed the hike in under 45 minutes. Not bad for a busy day.

The views of Machu Picchu, Wanu Picchu, Nevado Salkantay and the rest of the Andes Mountains were almost too perfectly painted by the setting sun. We sat up on the rocks, in sheer awe of our determination to make it this far in our journey.

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Amed with headlamps, we cautiously made our way back down the ladders and back into town. It was here my body had finally given up on all of my reckless adventures and forced me to slow down.

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See mom, we were careful!
See mom, we were careful!

The next three days were spent traveling back to Cusco, watching movies and doing a whole lot of very-much-needed nothing. Although one of our final days in Cusco, we spent with our guide and new friend Osvaldo, traveling around the Sacred Valley by motorcycles.

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Incan remains in Ollytaytamboo

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Then the day finally came in Cusco where I said my goodbye to my trusty traveling partner. The experiences we shared couldn’t possibly be erased from my memory and I’m thankful to have had someone to travel with that can now vouch for my stories. Thanks for joining me TomO, and for nonstop following me in and out of the insanely unpredictable events that took place.

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And thank you again Peru, for such an amazing time, but now its time to head south!! Future blogs will be written, but they will undoubtedly take some time. Computers and internet are still a bit tricky to come by down in Patagonia. Hasta luego amigos y Happy Thanksgiving!

Sleepover at Lake Titicaca

It is with great pleasure that I do not need a disclaimer for my safety and well-being for this particular blog. Everything went completely according to plan. It was better than I could have even expected it.

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Lake Titicaca

TomO and I have been spending our time in Puno, a decently sized town just outside of Lake Titicaca, the world´s highest lake still navigable by boats. However, yesterday’s adventure out of town may have been one of the greatest cultural experiences from this trip thus far.

It began with boarding a colectivo boat to the Islas de Uros. An unguided boat ride took us to the center of the famous man-made floating islands. Through my unyielding persistence, I was able to locate a family willing to let me stay in their home rather than sleeping in a secluded hostel.

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Their names are Alduerdio and Karina, a couple of newlyweds living on the 15 year-old man-made Isla Q’ota Uma. Alduerdio and I met in the capital of the islands where he told me that we would be permitted to spend the night at his lovely reed hut. In gratitude, I gave him a small thank you offering of rice, toilet paper, spices, and other commodities which he graciously accepted. We took his reed boat used primarily for tourism back over to his island under one condition; that I got to help paddle.

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Paddling one of the beautifully handcrafted reed boats!
Paddling one of the beautifully handcrafted reed boats!

Alduerdio and Katrina working on their mediumsWe arrived at their island to find ourselves living the life of the Uros. Alduerdio is a taxidermist who stuffs and sells the 10 birds a week he is permitted to capture from the lake. Never seeing a taxidermist at work before, I must say it was a bit distracting. However, I was quickly able to understand his passion through his explanations. Katrina is a traditional, patient, and soft-spoken woman of beautifully detailed embrodery and reed crafts. I worked on a little ankle bracelette of my own from the twine given to me by Alduerdio. Together, the three of us sat in the soft reeds working on our projects in the glorious afternoon sun, talking of their ways of life (while TomO took a nap).

Alduerdio and Katrina had just been married this past year. Katrina, in her soft, sweet voice, explained to me the marital customs of the Uros. When a couple decides to get married, they must first live together on the same island in the same house for three years. If everything goes well, they then celebrate with the three day matrimonial ceremony. Not a bad idea if you ask me.

The Newlyweds
The Newlyweds

They explained to me how the reeds, tortoras, are used in every way possible. One type of tortoras are used to make huts and boats while another having cotton-like similarities, is used for stuffing pillows and even Alduerdio’s birds. Even more so, the flowers of the reeds make a tea that not only aids in digestion, it’s also just taste plain delicious. All reeds were used for kindling for cooking and lining the floors of their islands. Generations of knowledge of how to live off the reeds had been passed down to the families living there today.

Alduerdio drying his birds with salt and stuffing them with ¨reed cotton¨
Alduerdio drying his birds with salt and stuffing them with ¨reed cotton¨

Once Alduerdio finished working on his birds, he told me it was time to get ready for dinner. He walked inside the hut and retrieved a huge rifle. This gun looked like it was from the Revolutionary War. And when he told me the handle of the gun was 300 years old, I realized I wasn’t too far off with my assumptions.

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We took off in their motorboat and headed for the high reeds outside of the village. Laying out 350 feet of fishing lines, Alduerdio explained to me we would retrieve it at sunrise for the following morning’s breakfast. We continued to drive around the reeds where we came upon our dinner; duck.   With one steady shot, dinner was retrieved. We returned home where we prepared the duck over a traditional clay crafted fokon and make duck soup for four with vegetables, potatoes, and even the rice I brought them.

Duck, it's what's for dinner....or you don't eat.
Duck, it’s what’s for dinner….or you don’t eat.
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I had the job of keeping the stove on while Katrina prepared the dinner
Not exactly like the getting the turkey leg at Thanksgiving, but still delicious!
Not exactly like the getting the turkey leg at Thanksgiving, but still delicious!

After a few cups of ‘flor de tortora’ tea and some sweet bread for dessert, we decided it was time to retire after a well spent day. As we looked out onto the lakeside city of Puno, we noticed something different. All of the power was out in the massive city. After turning off our solar powered lights, we laughed at the convenience of sleeping in the reed huts for the evening instead of the luxurious city.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlduerdio woke me around 4 am to retrieve the nets for breakfast. The sunrise slowly greeted the morning as I rowed the boat backwards while Alduerdio retrieved the fishing nets. We caught over 20 fish of different shapes and sizes. Returning to the island, we found Katrina beginning to make Pan de Uros to accompany the fish. A simple fried bread with the familiar taste of funnel cake was just the treat to start the day.  Again it was my job to keep the fire going for breakfast as Katrina prepared the fish. I watched Katrina in complete awe descale and rip out the intestines of the tiny fish with a swift and familiar motion of her thumb and forefinger. I would be a liar if I told you I didn’t let the fire go out after watching this event.

Fresh breakfast!
Fresh breakfast!

Hiding from the touristsWe spent a few more hours on the island talking with the neighbors, making friends with a little girl who wanted to french braid my hair, and hiding from a boatful of some new toursits to the island to maintain the indigenous cultural atmosphere. We then said goodbye and thank you to Katrina for her wonderful hospitality. Alduerdio took TomO and I back to the capitol island where he requested I leave him my email information in promise to write me when he soon set up his email account. We said our final goodbye as we watched him drive off in his motor boat, wondering of the odds of us ever actually hearing from him again.TomO and I finally encountered a non-private tour boat back to the mainland a few hours later. We discovered how worthwhile my persistence of a homestay was when we met with other tourists who had spent the night at the hostel. Once we returned to Puno, we grabbed our final belongings from the hostel and headed for the bus station to our next destination, Cusco. Little time was spent in Cusco, it was all for the preparation for our next high intensity and slightly perrilous journey though the five day and four night guideless trek though the Salkantay Glacier Pass to Machu Picchu.

Stay tuned friends, this next blog will require the disclaimer (sorry Mom).

 

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Teaser photo

 

 

 

 

Boots and Bathing Suits

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cotahuasi Canyon- the world’s deepest canyon. Again before I begin my story, I must reiterate that I am alive and safe…And here I thought my craziest adventure ended in Paracas…Here goes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur journey started in Arequipa. A beautiful, white-stoned, historic area of Peru where we began our plans for Cotahuasi Canyon. The more I researched, the more I realized that this canyon was in fact the deepest in the world, but also not as popular as the more nearby, Colca Canyon. Colca was at one point the deepest canyon but was recently beat by some 500 feet in the past few years. The tourism and popularity however, has yet to switch over.

I purchased our bus tickets for the town of Cotahuasi with no map and hardly a plan. From what I discovered, we could visit a 556 foot waterfall (Sipia), a vineyard in the middle of the canyon (Velinga), and the deepest part of the canyon (Ushua) as well. It sounded pretty good to me, TomO as well.

The bus was said to take 10 hours. In reality, this ended up being more around 12.  When the bus would break down, the drivers would get out and wildly smash whatever part of the engine that apparently needed a beating with some other metal object. When we were moving, I was attacked in the middle of the night by a falling plant from the storage area above. Even after finding salvation by storing the plant in the back of the bus, I was then continuously covered in the remaining dirt at every winding turn. This seemed to be the definition a South American bus.

We finally arrived in the small town of Cotahuasi at 4 a.m. We were able to sleep on the roof of a hostel for 5 soles ($1.80) for the next few hours to get some real sleep. What we awoke to, was an amazing sunrise in the world’s deepest canyon.

roof top camp spot
Roof – top camp spot

Instantly, we set out to find a tourist location to obtain a decent map of the canyon. We found no tourists and no real map. Just a cartoon picture of what some of the trails might look like and discovered that the real topographic maps could only be purchased in Lima or Cusco. ¨Well, better than nothing¨, I thought.

Our lifeline of a map...
Our lifeline of a map…

TomO and I set off for the canyon. We found some footpaths along the road and worked our way downhill. While checking to see if we were going the right direction, we were offered a ride to save about 2 hours of walking time. And with our day starting out late as it was, we jumped on the opportunity.

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Always sound the floor!

When they dropped us off, TomO and I spent another two hours of walking in complete solitude. This place was completely untouched by tourists. We crossed over a slightly shady bridge, and an hour later, we finally reached our first destination, La Catarata de Sipia.

TomO soaking up Sipia. The entire waterfall was actually impossible to take a photo of, as it descended completely into the canyon.
TomO soaking up Sipia. The entire waterfall is actually impossible to take a photo of, as it descends completely into the canyon.

The power of the water was overwhelming. As warned earlier about the misfortune of a French tourist, we kept our distance from the fall but continued to stare at it in awe. We spent no more than 30 minutes of wandering the area for the best view of the never ending waterfall into the deep abyss of the canyon.

 

 

For five more hours we walked, trudging along the steep and winding trail. We passed through the ¨town¨ of Chaupo and other pueblos as the map called them. In reality, there were no more than five or six people living in a farmable area. Any time we ran into someone (which wasn´t very often), I would double check to make sure that we were still on course for our plan of sleeping in Velinga for the night. So far so good.

We passed through the cactus forest of Judiopampa. Immense towers of cactus as far as the eye could see were scattered across the canyon for over a mile. Over 58 different species of cactus resided there. Though for the common gringo, it was quite hard to tell the difference between them. After another break in the hot sun, it was time to continue on.

Bosque de Cactus Judiopampa
Bosque de Cactus Judiopampa

Just before the sun began to recede over the great canyon wall, we reached our destination point, or so we thought. While talking with a local, we discovered that the area we choose to spent the night in was called Maya, a small town of another 8 people just below the vineyards of Velinga. The road we followed in was relatively new and not on the map that we had received. We were told that if we just follow the road in the morning, we would reach the deepest part of the canyon in about 4 hours.

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Our home for the night in a vineyard next to Rio Cotahuasi

When the morning came, we were both eager to get to our final destination of the canyon, Ushua.  Before we headed into the canyon, we purchased our bus tickets to leave the town of Cotahuasi at 7 p.m. the following evening with the ultimate goal of leaving plenty of time for Macchu Picchu. We knew we wouldn´t have much time to wander around the canyon if we wanted to hike out the same way we came in for the following morning. From speaking to locals, I was told a caravan would be leaving at 9 am the following morning from Velinga for the farmers and that it would be possible for us to hitch a ride as well. l did not want to put our whole schedule in the faith of something that might not even be definite, but it was a nice option to think about.

The only path we could see leading straight up to nowhere
The only path we could see seemingly leading straight up to nowhere

TomO and I set off on the newly created road for no more than 15 minutes. It was then where the road ended and two trails began. We could see a bridge below us but with no safe way to walk to it. In front of us was complete crumbles of rock, looking very precarious if one were to slip. Also, the trail from the bridge seemed to dissipate straight up into the mountain into a road of nothing. Seeing broken down bridges like this before on our trek in and according to our cartoon map, it was far too early to cross the river and we should have been walking further away from the river.

I looked around and sighted another foot trail leading up hill towards the pueblo of Velinga, since we had already started off on the wrong road in the morning, I figured that there was the original road somewhere above us. I followed the also precarious footpath to the top of the first canyon rim.

A photo taken from a distance of the town of Velinga. The first moutain ridge is what we then climbed in search of a road on the other side
A photo taken from a distance of the town of Velinga after the journey. The first mountain ridge is what we then climbed in search of a road on the other side

When we made it to the top, I looked around at our options. We continued south on at first what seemed to be a highly used trail. Off in the distance, I could see another path leading up the next level of canyon. From the view below, this section appeared to flatten out at the top. It reminded me of the trek into the canyon as we were not along side of the river for the majority of the trek. I assumed that there was a road at the top of this pass that would then put us back on track and take us to Ushua.

Another hour of hiking went by and we were just seconds away from the top of our goal. I took my last few steps to the top to discover that we are now at the peak of a extremely high and uninhabited mountain. No way would there be a road around here. Yet, as we peered down below, we could still see a path taking us in this continuous direction. What we also could see was a clear-as-day trail on the other side of the river. No sense in turning back now.

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Making the descent

TomO and I took turns sliding down the chaucy gulley. I would work my way down the crumbling rock a few hundred feet until I could find a location safe from any falling rock that TomO would generate on his descent. Once we finally made it down this part, we realize that the challenge was still not over. We were still in fact, on top of a giant plateau.

Again, I found my familiar river-left trail and curiously continued to find its end to the other side of the river. But the trail had begun to become rather steep and technical. So technical, that I found myself giving TomO a bit of climbing technique advice as we slowly worked our way along the path to somewhere. 

The road less traveled
The road less traveled

We finally made it to a shorter part of the plateau where we decided it would be easiest and less time consuming if we just climbed and jumped down the drop and lowered the packs down on a 15 foot utility cord I had handy in my bag. TomO and I sat in the shade of the plateau and ate some of our apples we had packed for our morning snack. While we sat there, he told me that the hike we completed was probably one of the craziest things he´s ever done. I couldn´t recollect far back enough to say the same but nevertheless, unfortunately the mountain pass we made was about to become the second craziest thing young TomO has ever done.

In search of my path, I quickly discovered that the end of the road was indeed here. It appeared to be that over the years of the use of this trail, the canyon walls had eroded into a sharp cliff off into the river leaving us at the end of our path thus far. With two options in hand, I decided that it would be indeed safer for two river guides to cross the Cotahuasi River rather than to try and make it back up the same pass we had just completed.

In just my boots and baithing suit, I worked my way back upstream in seach of our safest area to cross
The benefits of hiking a canyon with no other tourists

We picked a first spot in the river to attempt to forge. In an attempt to keep all of my things dry, I changed into my bathing suit and jumped into the icy cold water. I quickly realized that this was not where we were going to be able to make our pass while keeping ourselves safe and our gear dry. So from that point, I put back on my socks, boots, and back pack and proceeded to hike back upstream in my bathing suit in search of our safest area to pass. No one was in the canyon anyways.   

The first part of the pass involved TomO and I just getting our backpacks onto the first rock of many. We decided that since TomO was taller, it would be easier for him to complete the next step. He swam to the next rock and from here, I lightened the loads and we made about fourteen passes of gear from one rock to the next using a carabiner and my oh-so-handy 15 foot utility cord.

Making the first pass with just enough rope
Making the first pass with just enough rope

Once we gathered all of our gear onto the closest rocks, I swam over to TomO to make the next step in our plan. It required swimming through some decent currents to eddies, throwing bags from rock to rock, leap-frogging while taking turns holding packs, and finally jumping from rock to rock to make it to shore. We made our first successful pass with my water proof bag containing our passports, camp stove, and other essentials.  Below us, was a class II-III rapid waiting for us to slip up.The rapid below

The more I studied the rapid and the more passes we made, the more I began to feel to truly know the river. I learned where each important rock was placed under the water. I used them to my benefit to enter the river, keep myself more elevated in a current to make a pass, or to thrust myself from one eddy to begin my swim to the next eddy. But no matter how much understanding I had, it was only a matter of time before the cold water and exhaustion began to take over TomO and myself.

As we worked, I looked again downstream. The sun was once again making its way to the other side of the canyon walls and time was beginning to run out. ¨TomO, if one of us should miss an eddy, it´s really important you swim to river-right. Got it?¨

Not five minutes later did I turn around to see poor TomO attempting to save his river walking stick before surrendering it to save himself from swimming down the more treacherous part of the rapid. Luckily, he swam away from the crux of the rapid in the utmost nick of time. Knowing that this was a 100% full team challenge, I watched Tom make his way back up the river to assist me with the next pass.

The shadow of the sunset began to creep closer to our forging area. We both were becoming more and more cold and exhausted by the minute. Left on the furthest rock, was the tent and the two nearly empty backpacks. All of our passes had lead up to this final moment of passing the heaviest and bulkiest gear. All I could really say to poor shivering TomO was that this was his training for the Seals. I had put him in this situation and now it was time for me to get him out of it.

I swam out to the tall rock, where it was my task to cling on to the tiny crimp holds above and hoist myself onto the boulder. I lowered the bags to the next rock and met TomO half way where he sat in the water as I leap frogged around him to the next boulder. He made the pass of the first pack and I threw it onto the next rock.

A view from river right where we forged the river!
A view from river right where we forged the river

Two more times, I swam back to the main storage boulder and retrieved the last two items, passing them to Tom and carefully stacking them on top of one another. Tom swam to the next spot where I again climbed the rock, tossed an item to him, swam to the next set up spot, made the pass, put the pack on the following rock and finally swam back to repeat this step another two more final times.

Couldn´t be happier
Couldn´t be happier

After about 15 passes and 4 hours later, we some how made it to the other side of the river with 100% of our belongings dry. We ran over to the sunlight to warm our shivering (yet still slightly burnt) bodies and instantly put on our warm and dry clothes. Completely elated that we actually accomplished this ridiculous task we had created for ourselves.

¨That, was the craziest thing I´ve ever done¨, TomO again confesses to me.

Not five minutes after we dressed and repacked, we saw 3 locals returning home from their own journey to Quechualla, the little town we hoped to see that day. We decided it was a good idea to just follow them back to the area of Velinga where we would prepare to hike out for the next day. The walk back to the bridge we thought was no longer in use took less than an hour. Our entire day´s adventure was created with one wrong turn. Though, I still can´t say that I regret it. 

Following the locals back to Maya
Following the locals back to Maya

When we made it back to Maya, we were greeted by a very welcoming man who invited us to stay at his vineyard for the evening.  He assured us that there was sure to be a van in the morning which we could take back to the town of Cotahuasi. After filtering some water from a nearby waterfall, we decided that we would take him up on his hospitality.

 

The govenor of Cotahuasi!
The governor of Cotahuasi in his vineyard

His name is Aldo. We later learned that Aldo is in fact the governor of Velinga and Quechualla. The district has about 30 people residing there and it is Aldo´s job to make sure that all of the funding made by the other district governor working in Lima is put to good use through the construction of new roads (such as the one being made in Maya), bridges, and other such topics. Aldo and his father Ernesto invited us for dinner in their home along with some freshly bottled red wine from their vineyard. What might have been more exciting is that we learned that the trail we had chosen was one of the original Inca Trail pathways leading down into the canyon (completely explains the frightening erosion). Anyways, enjoying their company and learning much about the history and governmental system of Peru was all too perfect of a way to end our day´s nearly catastrophic journey.

I only wish I could say that the adventure stops there.

The next morning, TomO and I prepared for our ascent back out of the canyon. In the morning, he barely touched his oatmeal that I had prepared for him. I knew it wasn´t his first choice of meals but I urged him to eat it being that there was still a chance we would have to make a multi-hour hike out of the canyon and that he would need all of the energy he could get. Poor TomO had been getting nosebleeds the past two days and I was too goal and schedule driven to actually recognize the signs. I thought he was just getting them from the dry weather of the desert-like atmosphere. In reality, it was altitude sickness.

Tom was able to make his way up to the bus stop but was extremely drained. Thankfully, the van did arrive and we were able to get the bumpiest evacuation ride out of the canyon back to the main town two and a half hours later. When I got him out of the van and onto the curb he was just seconds away from passing out when locals came up to me and gave me a bottle of some strange topical astringent to apply to his face and neck. It helped him stay to and regain more of his consciousness.

A few hours later, I was able to find TomO a bed to rest in. He was practically passed out in the streets before I begged a hotel to let us use a room for a few hours. Here TomO was able to rest before our bus back down to Arequipa. I wandered the streets of Cotahuasi meeting locals of all ages, and soaked in the little time I had left in town. 

When the sunset came, I carried the both bags to the bus stop and found some fine convenient store owners who let me keep the bags there while I collected and assisted Tom.  This time thankfully, there were no falling plants or broken down buses. The morning we returned to Arequipa, I set up a secluded spot in the bus station for Tom to rest while I took a taxi back to our first hostel to collect the last bit of our things in storage. We made it all the way to Puno by early afternoon.

So now I sit here in Puno, a town just on the rim of Lake Titicaca, the world´s highest navigable lake by boats. I agree, not the best place to recover from altitude sickness, but thankfully I can say that Tom is near back to full recovery.

The French-Canadian girls all wanted hair wraps!
The French-Canadian girls all wanted hair wraps!

We took an extra day to relax We walked around town and I even made some friends with some French-Canadians! Today, we make our move to spend the night on the Islas de Uros; man-made floating islands still inhabited by indigenous people.

And so it is here I must leave you hanging until my next update. In conclusion, I´ll leave you with two thoughts… 

Thought Number One:

Even though we make wrong turns sometimes, they will always bring us to a new and sometimes highly unexpected challenges  we may overcome.

Thought Number Two:

Make sure you recognize the signs of altitude sickness. It´s real.

 

Til next time, amigos.

20 Hours Without a Passport

Oh hey there friends, family, and internet. It’s been awhile. I now sit here in Barranco, a delightful suburb of Lima, Peru. And it took me quite the journey to get to where I sit today. As a forward, I would like to state that I am indeed alive, safe, and well. I digress…

I last left you off with my journey in Costa Rica, returning to Turrialba one last time. I finished strong with a remarkable meeting with a very forward thinking school in Turrialba. Our hopes for bringing Cross Cultural Connect to their school seems to be one of our best connections yet. I then said goodbye to my dear friends and practically family of Costa Rica, making sure to stop by my most favorite pipa man, Minor.

Armed with a box of cereal, a can of tuna and granola bars, I made my way back to the airport in preparation for my 45 hour mix of flights and connections. I made it all the way through customs with only loosing my carry-on spork. In my defense the plastic wear that was on the airplane was far more dangerous (which I ended up saving).  My advice to you; always bring a spare spork in your check bag.

Once I landed in Mexico (apparently it is cheaper to fly in the opposite direction first), I dragged myself though customs and was finally stamped into the country. Peeking my head outside of the airport, I realized I was far more safe alone in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle than I would be in downtown Mexico City. I turned around and walked though the halls of sleeping nomads waiting for their next flights as well. And after finding my own little corner in the completely empty check in area, I pulled out my sleeping bag and mat and settled in for the night.

My bed for the evening
My bed for the evening

When I awoke in the morning, I was accompanied by over 200 people anxiously awaiting to check their bags. Not really curious about how long people were staring, I decided to get at least one more hours sleep. My flight wasn’t until 6 p.m. anyways.

I found myself wandering the immense airport and eating packets of mayonnaise exactly like Tom Hanks in The Terminal. Don’t get ahead of yourself, I ate the mayo with my tuna. It was delicious and rewardingly free. After discovering the free WiFi, reading an entire book, and making friends with the most interesting of strangers, I finally boarded my flight for Colombia 20 hours later.

Now my first flight to Mexico, I found myself sitting in a seat where the headphone jack was utterly debilitated. I made use of my time and found other things to do. This time however, The Lone Ranger was on, making the next broken headphone seat I was given a little more unbearable. I requested to move my seat, and discovered my seating choice was no better than the first. As I stood up in a third and final attempt, I was invited by an American Colombian to try the chair next to his. Well, that headphone jack was broken too, but we decided to make our own words to the movie. After 4 hours of conversation, he refused to let me sleep and wait in another airport for 14 hours. His cousin owned a hostel just outside of the airport and he invited me to stay there for free.

Moe showed me around the nice parts of Bogota and the evening was spent meeting Spaniards, other foreigners, and some hilarious locals as well. It was an unexpected and fantastic weekend spent in Colombia!

Now here´s where the real story begins.

decent surf discovered in Lima for only 15 soles!
Decent surf discovered in Lima for only 15 soles!

I made my final flight to Lima, Peru where I was to meet my good friend, TomO in the Lima airport. As I waited another five hours in the airport for his flight to arrive, I prepared our accomodations for the evening. Another few hours went by and we finally arrived in the absolutely beautiful beach-side suburb of Barranco. The next few days were spent wandering the city, surfing, and meeting fantastic people, locals and foreigners alike.

We said our goodbyes to Barranco and to our new close friends and headed south to Paracas. First thing in the morning, we took a boat to visit Isla Ballestas. Also known as “the poor man´s Galapagos”, Ballestas is alive with hundreds of animals including lobos (sea lions) and 10 percent of Peru’s bird population (including but not limited to; Humbolt penguins, pelicans, various types of seagulls, cormorants, and hundreds more).

La Isla Ballestas
La Isla Ballestas
LOBOS!
LOBOS!!!

 

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Possibly related to the Nazca Lines, "el Candelabro" is just another one of Peru's historic mysteries. Possibly related to the Nazca Lines, “el Candelabro” is just another one of Peru’s historic mysteries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATomO and I made our way to the Paracas National Park and spent the day wandering through the desert. We found breath-taking views of cliffs, mountains, and a whole lot of nothing that was amazingly something. We spent our first afternoon bouldering on the beach. We then camped on the top of a cliff where we could easily watch the sunset over the west coast and wake to the sunrise on the east mountains. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking.

Hiking in to the desert

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We camped at the top of this cliff the first night. 
I can't say no to crack
I can’t say no to crack
This was by far my most favorite of climbs in the park
This was by far my most favorite of climbs in the park

Our second day was spend wandering around the park some more. Here, we met our new friend, Orr, a delightful chap from England. He joined us back at the 7 person town where we ate our freshly caught fish dinner and camped for the evening.

On the third day, we all caught a bus out of the park after a last round of exploring. We found a delightful beach-front hostel called Kokopelli where we could camp outside on the beach for free and use their much needed showers for just a few soles. Little did we know how our luck was about to drastically change.

Now again, I would like to forward that I am safe and that all of my ends are basically covered. But this story is just too crazy not to tell.

Here’s where things got too intense.

The evening was spent almost too perfectly, playing pool with Frenchmen, a game called Sappo with the locals, slacklining on the beach, and viewing the amazing southern sky with no light polution. Everything seemed great. When the morning arose, we realized our shoes outside our tent had gone missing. We continued to discover that our friend´s tent, along with my small backpack was also gone.

My daypack was guarded by me at all times in the national park, especially when the owner of the restaruant allowed us to leave our bulky bags in the kitchen for safe keeping while we explored. Half trusting him, I left my main pack there, but hiked with my money, passport, cards, cell phone, and iPad. I let my guard down for one minute at the local hostel/restaruant/bar and was robbed of all of my most valuable possesions. I foolishly and lazily did not reseparate my belongings when we returned.

The morning was devestating. I truly believed my entire trip had come to an end. I had no passport or money. I took five minutes along the beach alone to absorb and accept what had actually happened. I then hurried to a computer to cancel my credit card to ensure not to lose any more. We spent the next few hours filling out police reports and making claims to our insurance companies. Troubling times in paradise…

In the afternoon, we were approached by a local we spoke with the night before who had an inkling on who possibly took our things. He was followed up by a Paracas security guard who was also had a lead. It was here where we experienced first hand South American corruption. For 150 soles ($55), I was promised my passport and cards when he returned and possibly my bag in the morning. We negotiated that I wouldn’t give him a penny until he brought me my papers. For fifty five bucks, I was willing to pay the man.

Surprisingly about two hours later, the security guard came back. In his chest pocket, stuck out my passport, cancelled credit card, even my driver’s license and EMT card.

We gave him the money. I told him about the passcode for iPads and the trackers inside of my technology, and he said he would try to return with my bag in the morning. Being that we were just next to the hostel check-in, this caused a huge uproar between the hostel workers and the security guard. We were all exhaused and the young man was clearly afraid of losing his job. I took him aside and just asked him to bring my things back and we wouldn’t take it to a higher authority (who really had done nothing for us earlier that day).

Less than an hour later, the man came back with my bag with my iPad inside, along with all of our shoes and Orr’s tent. The only things we lost in the end was a decent amount of money, my phone, and strangely, Orr’s shoelaces. The man said he’d come back tomorrow with the rest of my things, but I knew I would never see this man again. I figured we were much better off than how we started in the beginning of the day. I was completely astonished he even came back at all.

Through more discussion with locals and hostel workers, we discovered that the theif was most likely a cousin of the security guard. Therefore, the guard was simpathetic to us and at the same time was conflicted between his job and his family. Regardless, I was unusually lucky to get the majority of my things back.

In the end of it all, I’m glad it happened early in the adventure. I had multiple travelers and locals come up to me with similar theft stories, including passports and valuables, all in which ended up with them not being as fortunate as we. I am relieved I purchased traveler’s insurance before I left, as I will now be reimbursed for all of my material losses. As well, I am now even more prepared for another occurance like this to happen. I am even more on my guard, and truly trust no one with my valuable possessions (not to mention, I bought a stronger lock).

Along with some more pros, TomO and I stayed one more day in Paracas, where we took a trip out sandboarding as planned to do in a city further south. We discovered that this was the absolute best way to end our week in Paracas. Again, I’ll let the photos do the talking…

Peering over the lip next to the dune buggy that brought us into the desert!
Peering over the lip next to the dune buggy that brought us into the desert!
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Almost like snowboarding! I loved it!
Tom might have ate some sand a few times...
Tom might have ate some sand a few times…
But sandboarding in the Peruvian costal sunset was priceless.
But sandboarding in the Peruvian costal sunset was priceless.

 

So until next time friends, family, and internet! Future stories of trekking the world’s deepest canyon and homestays in the man-made lakes of Titicaca soon too come!!!

 

A Ping a Pela

As some of you may have read earlier, this week, I stepped into a twilight zone of golden opportunities. I truly cannot think of any other way to put it.

It all started with my successful interactions with a bilingual school just outside of Montezuma. I had scheduled an interview with the head of the board for the upcoming Wednesday at 8 in the morning. I decided to leave Sunday in order to gain my bearings to the new and unfamiliar area. I especially wanted to make sure I knew where the beach was located.

imageAndrew and I set off in his brother’s car that Sunday to surf the Pacific. I have been quite enjoyably staying at their place when I spend my time in San Jose, washing their dishes and doing their laundry as needed. Our first challenge however was getting the manual car out of the tightly spaced driveway. When we surprisingly discovered that my manual operating skills were just slightly more advanced than his (and I mean slightly), I was awarded the task of driving out of the city and out to the beach. Being that the lines on the roads are more like guidelines, my driving experience in San Jose was a bit stressful to say the least. But I am elated to say that I didn’t stall the entire way!

Once we finally made it to the beach, we unpacked our boards and headed towards the water. It was a lovely beach by a river that was inhabited by a plethora of pelicans who would soar right next to you as you waited for your next ride in. I quickly learned that I need more work with my short board game. Never the less, a day well spent.

Sunset ride on the ferry
Sunset ride on the ferry

Andrew dropped me off at the ferry later that evening around 5pm. I watched the sunset over the mountains as I made my way to my newest location. On the way, I met a man about my age from England who was traveling completely on a whim. After much discussion, he decided to join me on my night’s quest to Montezuma. He had met three Spaniards on his trip to the ferry. When we all got off, they asked me where I was headed. Again I told them of my plans, after looking at each other and with a quick nod of the head, Bernardt said, “Ok. We go too.”

And just like that, it was off to Montezuma, three Spaniards, the Britt, and me.

We all found a cheap taxi to split along with an equally cheap hostel when we arrived. It didn’t take us too long until we were out and about, exploring the three main streets of the beach town. We talked of our travels and home lives over some crepes for dinner on the “main drag”. Across the street was a Rastafarian band playing music on some stairs with their full set-up of instruments, microphones, candles and donation basket.

After a few rounds a pool, the Spaniards quickly retired to bed leaving it up to me to make some new friends for my non-Spanish speaking friend and myself. It was here when I met Tony and Jose, two locals from Montezuma. Have you ever met someone that you just instantly clicked with? As though it seemed we had known each other for years, it purely felt like this moment of meeting was meant to happen. The three of us became fast friends as I explained my upcoming interview and possible long term commitment to the area. Their hilarious antics and tricks made me feel as if I were Alice in Wonderland having tea with Mad Hatter and Rabbit. They warmly accepted me and treated me as if I were now a local.

The following day, I met Jose’s boss, Peter. Peter is a highly interesting man from Switzerland who made it huge in the candle-making industry. After selling his company, he made his way down to Montezuma. One day, he missed his flight home and hasn’t been back to the Alps in 7 years. He now owns an ATV quad rental company that I had the pleasure of working with for the past few days. Peter suggested that if I sell a few quads in the day and help trim the shrubbery around a house he was looking after, I could gladly sleep there for free. Little did I know to exactly what kind of place we were headed.

After driving about two miles on a quad up the steep Costa Rican mountain, we came to my new house. My jaw still drops just thinking about it. I couldn’t understand how this man had an entirely separate house for me to live in until he told me it’s recent history.

imagePeter is paid to take care of this house while the owners are away in the U.S. by providing maintenance and security. This requires him to stay at the home, use the oven, plumbing, and electric to ensure all the equipment stays in shape. Also to ensure that no one tries to steal anything. Recently, the owners had rented the house to another couple for the following three months. It turns out the couple did not like the rain season here in Costa Rica and decided to leave after the first month, leaving the place abandoned. It was here where Peter handed me the keys to my house and I set up my new shelter. I know what you’re thinking, I’ve really been roughing it.

We dropped off my things at my new house and returned to the center of town. I managed to interest some Germans in a quad and my work day was completed according to Peter. Tony and I headed to the beach where we enjoyed the sun and sand with some delightful girls studying to be yoga instructors. A few hours later, we decided it was time to head to the waterfalls of Montezuma.

imageWe parked Tony’s dirt bike at the head of the trail and made our way to the top waterfall. Hiking though the rainforest that day seemed so much more different than the jungle along the Pacuare River. As alive I felt the jungle was there, it seemed to double in the Nicoya Penninsula. There were birds of all shapes and sizes, monkeys, bugs and even mammals that I’ve never heard of just living their lives inside this immensely diverse ecosystem. We arrived at the waterfall and instantly jumped off of the first 12 foot waterfall into it’s pool. The water was refreshing and soothing after a strenuous hike to the site. We played on the rope swing and then swam over to the next view with much caution. At the edge of these rocks, began a 50 foot waterfall.

I don't remember what these little guys are called,  but they sure are cute!
I don’t remember what these little guys are called, but they sure are cute!

I peeked over the edge with extreme caution as I watched the water cascade and crash below. Following that pool, I was told, was the largest of waterfalls, making the jump even more dangerous being that the rain season had heightened the water level. When Tony asked me if I was going to jump, I instantly responded no, it was crazy, when shortly after arrived my three new friends from California.

My Cali friends scouting the jump
My Cali friends scouting the jump

These dare devils proceeded to not only jump off this cliff, but embrace it with backflips, gainers, and somersaults. I could hardly believe my eyes. They told me I would instantly appreciate the moment I did it, so I proceeded to the edge. My feet sunk into the rock and I became welded to the surface for a minute that seemed like an hour. No way could I make those three steps.

I stepped back in frustration with my inability to make the plunge when an Italian swam up to the rock were we huddled. We discussed our worries and fears when we also laughed at the idea of us meeting in the middle of a jungle at the top of a waterfall. Ok, now we both have to do it. I watched two of the Californians leap off of the rock, clearing the bushes and into the pool. “Breathe, Kayla, stop over thinking”, I must have repeated to myself a thousand times.

Again, I approached the launch pad. This time, I stood there for only a brief second before I let go of my fears as my last step thrusted me off the rock, over the bush and outward into the air with my arms high. I realized just exactly how high this was when I continued to free fall for much longer than expected. With a forceful plunge, I submerged deep into the pool. As I made my way to the surface, I was accompanied by the exorbitant amount of adrenaline that rose to the surface with me.

I let out a cry of sheer exaltation and quickly found myself holding on to some rocks at the side of the waterfall, staring up at the beauty surrounding me. I couldn’t stop yelling as my friends above cheered for my accomplishment. Down came my Italian friend as we congratulated each other on overcoming our worries. I took a few beats to breathe and fully embrace this moment as I watched my friend make his way back to the top. The only way up, a 50 foot scramble on wet rock. But here, there were no nerves on my end. My years of being a dirtbag climber finally came to legitimate use as I smoothly danced up the cliff. Here, I felt completely centered, completely Om.

Tony and I returned back to town and collected some food from the grocery store. We went to “my house” and cooked a decadent dinner for four. We indulged in delicious food and took pure delight in each others company. After I graciously washed the dishes in my beautiful kitchen, we decided to join the fiestas downtown.

Making dinner in my kitchen!
Making dinner in my kitchen!

Congo, the previously mentioned Rastafarian guitar player and lyrical genius, was having a concert on the beach. We went to an open deck with a stage set up for pure entertainment. Jose, Tony, and I later joined others on the stage as we jammed and created beautiful music together singing a song Congo wrote called, ‘A Ping a Pela’. This is pure Montezuman slang for ‘without a penny to pay’, being flat broke, without rum, or without any other luxury. But even with the amount of poverty amongst the town, all I could see was the pure wealth created by these locals in entertainment and enjoyment of each others company.

Peter and Tony joined me at my house for breakfast the following morning. Tony has been spending his last few days in his home town before he returned to his work providing tree maintenance in Connecticut. He suggested we take a ride down the beach and head to Santa Teresa for the day. We drove for over an hour, making our way through rugged steep roads, overly muddy intersections, and nearly inhabited, out of season beach towns. Santa Teresa, as I’ve been told, is where the World Championship of Surfing is held each year. When we got there, we were two of the very few people there.

I gazed upon set after set after set of waves on the huge oceanic strip. Completely dumbfounded at the vast and endless view. Tony took a nap and I walked, swam, practiced yoga and meditated the pureness of the life I had obtained for myself in the little time I was there. After watching the sunset on the Pacific, we returned to Montezuma. Then after feeding Jose some pasta, I quickly retired to bed in preparation of my morning interview.

Bright and early at 7:15, Jose picked me up on a quad as he drove into work down town. He ran into a friend during the drive down the mountain and decided to hop off and join him in his walk. As previously arranged, mis amigos taught me how to drive and allowed me to take the quad to use as my transportation to my interview. I truly don’t know how many teachers can say they arrived to their job interview on a quad.

Best transportation to an interview yet!
Best transportation to an interview yet!

The meeting was delightful as was the school. Khalida and I discussed the endless opportunities for the newly developing school. She even sounded thoroughly interested in making a connection with my program! We agreed to keep in touch over the next month and she promised she would contact me about the exact position that could be available for me at the school. Completely elated, I raced my quad back to town, giving two locals a ride to their destinations and collecting my things from my house.

I said my good byes as I returned all of the keys that were bestowed upon me, hoping that I would see my amazingly genuine friends again. The generosity and purity of the people I met was astounding. It is simply another example of the Pura Vida.

I continued to make new friends on my ride home, meeting two Germans making the same voyage. We worked together, guarding each others luggage, splitting taxis and sharing information all the way to San Jose. Again I sit in my room so nicely prepared for me by Matt and Andrew, planning my next move.

This weekend, I will return to Turrialba to strengthen my connections with the Jamikari and the private schools in town. So tune in next time as I prepare for my maiden voyage to Peru!!!

 

Sleeping on Eggshells

Well, after my survival weekend in the jungle, I thought it would be a good idea to take it easy for the week. So, I worked on banana farm and slept in a room full of eggs.

imageMonday was spent with Minor and his daughter, Tess, at their banana farm. There, we first unloaded all of the pipa compost out of the truck. Tess and I then proceeded to walk down the road to load crates of banana on the back as Minor drove his 1980 pick up truck down the bumpy road.

To past the time, Tess and I began racing each other to the next load of crates. The sun was shining, the day was beautiful and it felt like the The Beach Boys or some other corny peppy music should have been playing as we laughed and ran down the hill. Then all of a sudden, I hear a dainty scream from behind me. I look back at Tess who has began running in the other direction. About 4 feet away from me to my left, was a 3 and a half foot snake. Whoops.

Crates of bananas to be loaded for sale
Crates of bananas to be loaded for sale

After loading banana crates, collecting guavas in our shirts and uprooting yucca using machetes and brute strength, we retired to the house for dinner and some English lessons for Tess. It was a beautiful day well spent in the country side.

Around 6 o’clock, I was picked up by an old American friend. Marty and his wife Mayra own a chicken farm that is one of the top ten best egg farms in the entire country. Marty took me to his beautiful house where he graciously allowed me to sleep in his spare room. In exchange,I provided some motivational support for his son who is currently being home schooled through an online program. If I was 13 and living in Costa Rica, I think I’d have some trouble studying too.

My room of eggs for the next few days
My room of eggs for the next few days

 

But with a really great view!
But with a really great view!

Tuesday involved selling pipas and making connections. I actually ended going to Tess’s school who has an English program in search of teachers interested in CCConnect. Not only did I find interested teachers, I found an interview for the position of Head of the Elementary English program which will be held next week!

Walk to the waterfall
Walk to the waterfall

On Wednesday, I traveled to los cataratas Aquíarres with a close friend. It started by a beautiful walk through a coffee plantation at the most north end of town. We walked for about a half hour, discussing kayaking and life pursuits. When we finally made it to the river, we stepped out of the woods and peered out to an 80 foot waterfall.

Los cateratas Aquiarres
Los cateratas Aquiarres

Once we trudged up the trail to the very top, we spent the afternoon sliding down the natural rock waterside, swimming, scrambling around the rocks for the best view of the valley and speaking non-stop in Spanish. This day was one of the first days I felt like I’ve truly obtained a higher level of fluency. My friend only speaks “farm” Spanish, which when we first met, made it extremely hard to communicate. But the day was tan tranquillo and it felt great to finally focus on perfecting my Spanish by just making general conversation with a splendid and very patient individual.

Seems like a pretty good spot! Turrialba volcano in the distance
Seems like a pretty good spot! Turrialba volcano in the distance

I made my temporary goodbyes to the families and friends who have been nothing but amazing to me and made yet another transition to San Jose. I was comforted by good friends, guitars, National Geographic in Spanish and a little bit of Aztec chess. As I feel compelled to write a more exciting/life threatening story for my readers, I must say that this week was rather easy going and the definition of PURA VIDA.

So tune in next week as I regale in my future adventures in surfing the Pacific, traveling to Montezuma and living again in the rainforest. It’s gonna be a good one. Chau amigos.

Black Beans and Drama Queens

 

image

“¡Cuídate para las culebras!” (“Be careful of the snakes!”)

That was the last thing I heard from the raft as it slowly faded off into the distance. Quite possibly, it may be the last group of people I see for the evening as well.

The plan began with the intent to visit a group of indigenous people called the Jamikari (ham-ee-car-ee). I knew these people solely from my previous guiding job. Our safety boater, Octavio, is one of Jamikari. We used to travel to their village during our two day rafting excursions to teach our guest about their way of life. The village has been visited by volunteers in the past who have obtained electricity, running water, and soon, Internet as well. They are located at the top of the mountain in the center of the Pacuare River. A place that can only be traveled to by two routes; either hours of walking through the rainforest or traveling halfway down the river proceeded by an hour long hike straight to the top. Naturally, I choose the river method.

My morning started by dropping my bag off at the casa de Minor after he said he would gladly keep my bag safe for the weekend. He filled my nalgene with fresh pipa juice and said a prayer on my head to wish me the safest of travels.

I proceeded down the road with a dry bag loaned to me by one of my closest of friends here in Turrialba. Inside was my sleeping bag, camp stove, headlamp, a change of clothes, and some food. My food included coffee, granola bars, two packs of ramen noodles, and a can of black beans. I reached my destination at a local supermarket and waited on the curb for my ride.

As the van pulled up, I met my first raft to whom I would be venturing with down the first half of the river. His name was Chalo and was with our safety boater, Julio. After gathering the days lunch, we picked up our 3 Hungarians and 3 Spaniards. For at least four of them, this was this first time rafting. Dios mio…

The trip through the majority of the class IV’s went rather smoothly and as always with much excitement. I only had to pull the one Spaniard back into the raft twice, otherwise, everyone stayed in the boat. I helped Chalo and Julio prepare lunch when we made it to the camp. After eating, Chalo requested to me that I return the life jacket and helmet to him and he would make sure that Manfred would bring one for me the next day.

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A view of my camp from the river

After I watched them trail off into the distance, I grabbed my belongings and proceeded uphill for my home for the evening. No one was there. I took my bag to the upstairs portion of the hut and made my bed in the hammock. Afterwards, I walked around the camp in search of someone, anyone. And aside from being freaked out by some lizards that were larger than your average lizard, I still found nothing.

 

My home for the night
My home for the night

 

The trail head into the jungle
The trail head into the jungle

With no watch, I looked up at the sun. It had to be around noon. Plenty of time for one of the Jamikari to come down to their camp for some reason. I walked over to the trail head. I then peered deep into the head of the mysterious trail that lead into the foreign rainforest and to their village. “Yea,” I thought, “I can wait a little longer.”

Hours went by of me exploring the camp, meditating, doing yoga, singing absurdly loud to myself and mastering the “cups” song with an actual cup. Still no one. I made myself a pot of coffee and some of the ramen noodles with my stove and the cooking utensils at the camp that I had previously hoped would still be there.

I went back to the river to watch the sunset across the valley. I listened to the howler monkeys across the river and thankfully thought about the forceful river between us. I watched toucans, orupendulas, humming birds and cormorants make their way to their nests. And then, the night inevitably came.

After they would scare me, I enjoyed their company tremendously
After a few good scares, I slowly began to enjoy their company tremendously

Now, the sun sets here around 5 o’clock. This instantly drove my suspicions of an unlikely attack up tremendously. But I’m sure you can relate to the similar feeling after you just watched a horror movie alone in the dark. Yea, it was like that, but in a rainforest. I sat downstairs with some candles for a little while, realizing it was entirely too early to go to bed. Yet after every slight panic attack proceeded by an quick recovery pep-talk created by every occurrence with a massive toad, lizard or bug, I decided it was best to retreat upstairs.

Where the lizards and toads can't follow
Where the lizards and toads can’t follow
I wasn't always the biggest fan of discovering these guys under my table
I wasn’t always the biggest fan of discovering these guys under my table

 

Peering out at one of the most beautiful of night skies I've ever seen
Peering out at one of the most beautiful of night skies I’ve ever seen

When I got up there, I organized my things and looked out at the view. As I peered up, I was instantly comforted by the stars. One by one, I watched every star come to view in the jungle over the mighty Pacuare. It was here, where I felt completely safe. I probably fell asleep around 8 o’clock, but I would be a liar if I told you I hadn’t kept a machete under my hammock.

When the morning came, I arose with the sun after probably one of the best nights sleep I had in awhile. I watched the sunrise over a pot of coffee, a granola bar and more noodles. Still, no one had come to their camp. At that moment, I realized that if I really wanted this connection, that I’d have to go up and make it myself. Armed with a rusty old machete and a sharpened walking stick for snakes, I mentally and physically prepared myself to enter the jungle.

Surprisingly, the path was just as I remembered, very obvious yet extremely steep. My walking stick was kept in front of me, rather than along side, to give myself some extra space and reaction time if I were to find a slithery fellow. Thankfully, no snakes. Once I walked though my fair share of spider webs, I realized my machete was more useful when I held it in front of my face rather than at my side as well.

imageI quickly adapted to the sounds of the woods. The frogs, toads and bugs no longer surprised me yet rather intrigued me. Their blends of color are simply magnificent and colorfully compliment their plant and tree habitats.

The view at the top of my hike
The view at the top of my hike

I finally made it to the top where I soaked in the sun and majestic view. I peered over the mountains where I found my next path to the village. All of a sudden, I heard something come running though the jungle. It sounded large and fast. I quickly armed myself with my dull machete and puny stick. As it came into view, I realized what my enemy was. Just a pig, one that belonged to the Jamikari. I unarmed myself and couldn’t help but laugh.

As I made my way down to the village, I could see the families staring up at me. They probably thought I was lost. I approached their home and the first person I was greeted by was Urbano, Octavio’s brother.

Urbano and his family
Urbano and his family

Only meeting him a few times, I wasn’t surprised he didn’t remember me. Yet, he treated me extremely warmly, especially for coming to his house unannounced. There, I met his mother, wife, children and nieces. They all crowded around me and jested at the “lost macha” with the rusty machete. Yet they admired me for my bravery and gave me their time to talk about why I had made such a journey. I brought the family a shopping bag full of the remains of the river guide’s prepared lunch which they accepted graciously. There house was filled with smoke as Urbano’s mother roasted freshly slaughtered cow over an open fire in the kitchen.

Those girls were good.
Those girls were good.

Since it was the weekend, the teacher of the school was not around. I told Urbano’s family of my plans to connect them with other schools of the Central, South and North America to teach their children and other children about different cultures of the world. They seemed generally pleased and took delight in the idea. His children took me to their school and we even had time for a game of fútbol. Urbano gave me multiple numbers to contact him, his family and the teacher to keep in touch with over the next year. After I said my goodbyes, Urbano took me to another entrance that would take me back down to the camp a little faster. He told me with a smile if I get lost, I should send smoke signals.

My worries of the jungle subsided as my senses heightened with still a deep respect for where I was. I quickly found my way home to the camp with plenty time to spare. I packed up my things, my clothes, stove, and the can of uneaten black beans. Silent ‘goodbyes’ were said to my camp as I made my way to the river. There I would meet Manfred as prearranged on Friday for my return to Turrialba.

For the first hour, I patiently awaited my ride to return home basking in the sweet Costa Rican sun. This notion however, quickly subsided. I exercised, stretched and cartwheeled my way around the beach for the proceeding hours. Finally, some rafts came. It was not Manfred as I hoped, but different companies. Knowing this is a small community of boaters, I asked each them if they saw Manfred. Each replied that he would be coming later or was further upstream.

As doubt began to set in and just before all hope was lost, I was sent an angel. No really, his name is Angel, he’s a raft guide I knew from before. I asked him my question of the day; the location of Manfred. To which he replied, “Manfred’s trip was cancelled today. He doesn’t have a trip.” And here I always thought angels generally brought good news. I guess this time is was a challenge I must over come.

My jaw instantly dropped as I thought of my soul can of black beans in my bag. As I gave my life jacket and helmet back to Chalo the day before, the option of just jumping in with Angel’s raft wasn’t so easy. Angel told me there was one more trip above them, a safety boater in an inflatable kayak and a raft. They might have a spare jacket and space for me. I thanked Angel for his information and waited anxiously for the upcoming group.

Finally, I see the kayaker come over the rapid. He paddles up to me and I greet him as warmly as I can with my trembling voice. As he takes off his sunglasses, I instantly recognize him as he does me. It’s Pokas! He gives me a hug and the common greet of kiss on the cheek as we meet again after two years. His raft comes closely behind as I notice its an oar rigger with lifejackets galore. Lifejackets for seats, flotation devices for kits, coolers, I never saw so many jackets before. Pokas explains my story to Max, the guide in the oar rigger, and asks if they can help me. Max asks his guests, who were apparently professional fishermen, and they said yes. Overwhelmed with joy, I collected my bag, thanking my lucky stars that I would not be spending another night (or more nights there being that there are not many trips during the week) with my sole can of black beans.

Max hands me a rafting paddle and his helmet. At first, I decline, feeling guilty for taking his only helmet. But after I am told that I will be going in the duckie with Pokas, I graciously accept, realizing I am much more likely to swim than he.

When I look closely, I realize this is a two person kayak. I am overly excited to paddle some Class IV whitewater in the front of a partially deflated duckie. We make it down the first few rapids fantastically. Again, I quickly adapted to my new surroundings of balancing on my knees while paddling in the front.. I asked Pokas if we could try and surf a few waves. Immediately following this request, he puts only the nose sideways into a wave twice my size. It instantly flushed me out of the kayak. When I resurfaced, I only hear Pokas contagious laughter. From there, we proceeded to take more chances. This only resulted in both of us swimming after flipping the duckie in attempt to boof over a rock and finally Pokas being ejected in the last major rapid of Dos Montañas.

My rescue craft!
My rescue craft!

We found a paddle in an eddie that could only be retrieved by climbing part of the canyon and jumping into the deep waters 25 some feet below. When we finally made it to take-out, we were greeted with sandwiches and fresh towels. In gratitude, I helped clean up their days trip. They even offered to take me back just shy of 15 minutes outside of Turrialba where I could easily take a bus for less than a dollar. I really don’t think my day could have gone any better.

When we arrived at the bus stop, Max proceeded to help me get my bag out of the back. Just before I said my ‘thank you’s’ and ‘good-byes’, he asked me if I would like to take some of the food he received in bulk. Unable to refuse, I gladly accept. He hands me the bag and says good-bye. As he walked away, I look down at what more these guys could have given me.

It was a pound of uncooked black beans.