Tanzania: The Ngorongoro Crater Edition.

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Despite the extensive driving, once again, we made good time. We stopped for cash near the turn off for Gibb’s Farm, and then proceeded to the long dirt drive. We followed the signs and were pleasantly surprised by the tailored gardens of the hotel entry when we pulled up. We were greeted with cool towels and iced beverages, and our bags were carried off to our gorgeous suite by the staff.

We were in disbelief over our suite. It was complete with a private garden view, a sitting room, and a fire place in our bedroom that connected to the shower. Yes, the shower had a fireplace. It was extraordinary, and it was our for less than 24 hours.

We were desperate to get out to the hotel terrace that overlooked the plantation and the valley below. We sat in large comfy chairs while we were brought refreshments and snacks: nuts, olives, and popcorn. It was the first time we felt we could really relax, and it didn’t hurt that we were being waited on hand and foot. The temperature dropped with the sun, and while I could have fallen asleep there, I, also, was eager to get to dinner.

We ended up on a private patio for our meal, something Brad had arrange while we briefly separated earlier. We enjoyed an incredible 5 star meal next to a fire on a cool night in Tanzania. …and to top it off, I was serenaded with a birthday song and dessert. We still had a few nights to go, but this was so special.

DSC_0676.jpgAfter an amazing night’s sleep in a chilly room, thanks to the air conditioning, we learned that we could check out late. We spent the morning grazing on the breakfast buffet, and after packing we wandered the grounds. We walked through rows of coffee bushes and found a small but tall cactus garden. Everything seemed just as it should.

Relaxed, we decided not to head into Ngorongoro. It would cost us over $350 USD per day to visit the park, and we didn’t want to keep blowing through money. Instead, we decided to just take our time and continue enjoying our day. However, it ended up being a short lived joy.

We had a hard time finding our next hotel. According to the maps that I had seen and the descriptions I had read, I was under the impression that our next hotel was within the confines of Ngorongoro National Park. However, the people at the gate, had no idea what hotel we were talking about. Everyone was confused, and Brad & I were back to being frustrated. When we figured out where we were going, we got back in the car, and headed a different direction. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to the turn off point toward our hotel, and from there it was probably another 20+ minutes on a rough and narrow dirt road up the mountainside. When we got there I was livid while feeling completely deceived. We found out that we were the only guests staying there, and no other guests had been there in 10 days, which meant that internet was not available. If we wanted internet we had to drive back down to town.

I was floored and ready to have a meltdown. I could not believe that we had hit another speed bump in what had already been a turbulent and trying vacation. It was hot, there was absolutely nothing for us to do at our hotel, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near where I had planned on us being. So, we drove 30ish minutes back into town to find a place that had internet. We stopped at a small coffee shop run by a very nice man who served us coffee and sprite (the sprite was for me). Once he got the internet working for us, we started looking for hotel options, justifying the change and additional hotel cost with what we had planned on spending on Ngorongoro for two days anyways. We were incredibly limited, but I worked fervently to rework our itinerary. We decided to only stay at our current hotel one night. We decided that tomorrow we would do Ngorongoro for a half day, then drive immediately to the Serengeti and spend the night there.  We knew it would take a lot of hustle, but we knew it would be better than staying where we were at.

With a plan in motion, and absolutely nothing left for us to do that day, we headed back to our lodge, and just tried to kill time with conversation and antics. The only saving grace that this lodge had was its dinner. It was absolutely delicious, but it wasn’t enough to change our minds. We headed back to our room, packed everything back up, and made sure our hotel knew that we would be leaving before the sun was even up. We were eager to get into Ngorongoro, and wanted to be in by sunrise.

DSC_0722Checked out after breakfast at an unGodly hour, we headed down the bumpy dirt road in the dark, and headed for the park. It took us a while to get the park permit because of all the other tour groups, but thankfully we were able to pay the hefty fees of over $350 with our card. NOTE: Ngorongoro NP claims you can only enter with a guide. We found this rule to be very lenient. Not only did we get in on our own, but we weren’t even questions until we reached the second gate at the edge of the crater.

We drove up the climbing mountain side into the fog over rough red roads lined with lush jungle trees. I was in heaven. We reached a look out point that gave a glimpse into our future. A green gleaming paradise, and I couldn’t wait any longer. We ran back to the car, and cruised. We reached the second gate at the edge of the crater. Brad jumped out to use the restroom, and I dealt with the guard, whose only question for me was if we had been there before or not, after showing our permits.

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Once we had the all clear, we began our descent. The sun was up at this point, but fresh morning light was warm. We escaped the tree line, and were greeted with almost immediate sights of buffalo and zebra. Our eagerness grew as we continued down the road.

DSC_0684It wasn’t long before we were in the flatlands. We had a full 360 view of the massive crater. Animals, appearing as small dots, were everywhere. It was a half day of bliss. We had great sightings as we drove almost the entire span of the crater in many different directions. We saw, hyenas chewing on bones and resting. Jackals. Gazelle. Cranes. Wildebeest. Zebra. Baby animals. Monkeys. Elephants. Lions. Lots of lions. I could not believe how many lion sightings we had We were ecstatic. We had close ups of lions. Lions nuzzling. Lions walking. Lions napping. It was fantastic.

We felt that we had covered the grounds well, and figured we should start our drive, so we found the road that led us out, and we left with slightly heavy hearts. We couldn’t believe how amazing the crater was, but with such unbelievable success here we were curious how the Serengeti would be.

The drive between Ngorongoro & Serengeti, was truly spectacular. The land was littered with migrating Zebra & Wildebeest, and the hills along the outer edge of the crater were visited by loitering Giraffes, and we even a camel sighting.

It took nearly two hours to reach the Serengeti National Park gates, and we were so excited to get to the other side.

…to be continued

Tanzania: The Tarangire Edition.

It was a long drive in. As we got closer to our turn off point, we realized we needed to stop for petrol because we wouldn’t be able to get any for a couple days. The problem… There was not a petrol station anywhere in sight. We had to turn back. At this point, we were ready to kill each other. It was just one of those days… I felt Brad didn’t listen to me or think things through, so here we were rerouting, wasting time, etc. It was nothing short of classic marital nonsense.

So with our journey slightly rerouted, we searched for a petrol. We found a spot, but they didn’t accept credit cards, so we decided to check one more station… …and, naturally, they didn’t accept credit cards either.. We were at a loss and just decided to bite the bullet and fork over more of our cash. We didn’t have a choice. We were burning through our cash faster than we knew was possible. This was a major unexpected problem we were having in Tanzania.

Back on track, we followed the long dirt road back to the Wildlife Management Area which was further back than the GPS made it seem. We wondered if we were on the wrong road, but decided to press on because we had no idea where else it could be. Our perseverance paid off, and we got there around 3PM, but we were not ready for the headache that we were about to experience. Brad got out to speak to the guard who insisted that we were supposed to get our permit back in Arusha. He refused to take payment there, and told us the only way for us to get through was for us to go back to Arusha for the permit. We were flabbergasted, given our experience at Lake Moshi, where the man took our cash without hesitation. NOTE: I wonder if the man at Lake Moshi, just pocketed it…  We wondered, could this day get anymore frustrating?

Young WarriorWe waited patiently as possible, and Brad insisted the man call our hotel to work out the details. After constant back and forth phone calls, the manager of our next hotel worked out a deal wit the guard that the hotel would pay for the permit, and it would be delivered the following day by a colleague in Arusha, but the guard had to let us through. He agreed. NOTE: Thankfully, this time wasn’t totally in vain; the silver lining to this mess of a situation was the pictures I was able to get of the Young Maasai boy dressed in his warrior costume. I was able to trade these photos for a bottle of water 1000 Tanzanian Shillings.

Finally past the gate, feeling agitated and simultaneously relieved, we pressed on. We thought we made it through all the obstacles for the day, and were finally ready to dropped our bags, relax, and unwind so that we could enjoy tomorrow. Unfortunately, an even bigger obstacle lay in our way. A river. IMG_1871-2I wish it were a joke, but it’s not. At this point, swear words were flying from my mouth, and we were feelng defeated and disheartened. We could literally see our hotel on top of the cliff across the river. We were envisioning the worst, such as a night without dinner and breakfast and sleeping in our car. Quickly, I tried to pull it together and plan. We got out of the car to try to examine the depth, thinking it might not be as bad as it looked. I was throwing in rocks the size of my head and sure enough it was a hard plop and they were gone… Brad volunteered to wade in and see how deep it was, but I was strongly advising against it because if I lost him to the river, there was absolutely nothing I could do. I had seen a sign for a hotel a little ways back and decided we should head there to try to call our hotel. We did just that, however, we hit another snag. IMG_1874When we pulled into the parking lot, we were dumbfounded. The place had burned down (I am cracking up while I write this, by the way). Was this situation real, we were wondering. It was straight out of bad dream. Brad took the lead, and headed to speak to the workers who were working on rebuilding the place. They sent for the manager, while Brad and I waited restlessly for about 15 minutes. We still hadn’t heard from anyone so Brad wandered off in search of someone who could help us. Finally, two people came over, and we were able to explain our dilemma. They tried to call our hotel, and while this was going on some of the construction workers ran off to the river to check the depth. We followed along in our 4×4 with the hotel management in the back seat.

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When we pulled back up to the river side, one of the workers was wading his way across the river. He was able to navigate all the way across on foot, and it never went past his hips, so we knew we would probably be fine. Our path was determined.

Once that man was back on our side, a car came charging down the hill to the water, and pushed its way through to us. A British chap hopped out of the vehicle and gave us the run down. He was the manager of our hotel, and came to our aid. He informed us that they had been yelling to us from the hotel, but we were never able to hear them.  Brad and I thanked the locals & hopped back in the vehicle, and followed our new guide across the river, to be led to our next restful location.  As we wandered up the hill and into the tall grass we were delighted to see elephants right by our hotel… NOTE: This meant there were rules… like, don’t walk anywhere alone at night. Stick with your Maasai guide. 

When we got there, the Tarangire River Camp, we followed our rescuer to the lobby area. We had a good chat about the river (it had appeared just a couple of days earlier because of all the rain), Tanzanian politics and tourism, and how difficult it is to do your own self-drive tour in that country,  then filled out our forms…and, next, we were ushered to our tent. The Maasai carried our bags for us, and led us down the dirt path to our little piece of heaven. We unpacked a bit and got ourselves organized before we went to wander the grounds.

IMG_1884We found our way to the viewing deck which overlooked the river we had to cross. We couldn’t believe the day we had. We were so grateful to be at camp and be able to let loose. We wanted drinks with dinner to help take the edge off, but with our cash situation being slightly dyer we kept it light. We enjoyed the incredible meal, and turned in early.

It was a great night’s sleep followed by an early morning. We were eager to get a jump-start on our day. We got our bags back to the car, and enjoyed a simple breakfast. We had to pay cash (cards weren’t accepted) for the remainder of tab which included our fee for the WMA gate and our beverages with dinner.

With everything loaded and ready to go, we were ready to cross the river again, and take on the challenges of the day. Thankfully the water level of the river had lowered over night, so navigating the water wasn’t quite as challenging.

DSC_0214.jpgWithin 20 minutes we were back at the WMA gate. Brad got out to see if we were okay to exit, but sure enough the guard would not let us through. We were beyoooond frustrated. Brad had the guard call the hotel and speak to the manager, who assured the guard that his guy was on the way with the permit. …but that still wasn’t enough. We were required to wait until the man with the permit arrived, despite showing him the proof that we paid the hotel for the permit. We discussed just going around the barrier and taking off, but we didn’t. We waited about 30 minutes, Brad kept going in and out of the office hoping the man would cave, but he was resistant. Brad contacted the man with the permit who assured him he was on his way and would be there soon… but “soon” seemed to be a loosely used term in this country. Finally, Brad called the hotel manager himself to see what his take was. His advice was exactly what we wanted to hear… just go… haha. So, we did. Brad told the guard we were leaving, quickly got back in the car, and we took off around the barrier. We were not going to keep playing the games. We had shown proof of payment and he had assurance, from multiple people, that it had been taken care of. It was out of our hands; we had to get on with our day.

Luckily, it was a short drive to Tarangire National Park. We got out of the car, had one last bathroom break, filed our paperwork, and paid the fees (they took card). We took the map and high spirits, got back in the car and went through the gate.

DSC_0543Tarangire took us completely by surprise. We were in the park for several hours. We took turns driving, and went down many differentroads in search of lions and leopards and cheetahs. That portion was all standard, but what got us was the insane amount of elephants. We saw hundreds!!! That is pretty much the only thing I even remember seeing in Tarangire: elephants. Old elephants, baby elephants, bulls, females, families, pachyderms… it was absurd. Several hours of our life were spent invading herds of elephants. I would stand out the sunroof filling, photographing, and of course, speaking to these beautiful, powerful, majestic animals.  There was one time we were even threatened by an elephant to back off. Don’t worry, we did.

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Thanks to you pictures, I can tell you that in addition to the elephants, we saw zebra, antelope, springbok, a variety of birds, giraffe, vervet monkeys and more. But, elephants were the only animal in the Big 5 group that we saw. Aside from the quantity of elephants we encounter, Tarangire wasn’t quite what we were hoping for, but we were, also only there for maybe 6 hours. I think with the right amount of time, we could of tracked more.  Here are additional images from the park:

We eventually decided that it was crucial for us to make our way out of the park, and get back on the road. We had to make our way to our next overnight location Gibb’s Farm, which sat on the exterior mountainside of Ngorongoro Crater.  It was about a 3 hour drive, and we wanted to make it in time to relax before the sun went down.

…to be continued.

A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

Egypt: The River Boat Cruise Edition.

…continued.

When we arrived at the boat we were greeted with cool wet towels and free juice upon check in. Our large luggage was put in the grouping with the other passengers and was tagged with our room number. We were given our key and directed to our room.

When I booked our passage, online, aboard the MS Amwaj Living Stone Nile River Boat, I was so excited to travel down the Nile on a 5 star boat. I googled the boat, looked at all the pictured and thought it looked great. However, as you should never forget, pictures can be deceptive.  When we walked in the door to our room, we were a little shocked by how small the room was and how big the bed was. haha. …or maybe the room just made the bed seem big. I knew straight away that furniture would have to be rearrange a bit just to make suitable room for our luggage. We looked around and I noticed the handprints on the windows looking out, the rotting fruit in the basket, and the simplicity of the bathroom. I knew at that point…. It was Egyptian 5 star (which equates to about an American 2.5). haha. I was just happy that the room got very cold & there was a kettle for me to boil water to make a tea.  Amir, our guide, had given us an hour and a half to settle into our room & grab lunch before we met back up. So we did just that. We secured our valuables, I did a breathing treatment concocted of mint oil and hot water (also drinkable), and we were on our way back out.

DSC_0055When I booked the cruise, I made some special tour requests, one of which was to visit the Nubian Village. So, Amir took us there. First, we headed down the main road once again to hop on board a boat. It was a comfortable and beautiful ride down the Nile to the village. We climbed onto the roof of the boat for pictures and beautiful views, and stopped along the way for some Nubian coffee.  This was the first time in my life I ever drank a full serving of coffee, and it was IMG_1164not what I expected. NOTE: I think it tastes better than regular coffee, hence why I never drink coffee in the first place, but I think I will still stick with tea. We sat under a large tree decorated with hanging baskets, and sat on large blankets on cushions on the ground. It was exciting, although the heat was wearing on me.  After some fun conversations, we headed back to the boat and onto the village. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. The boat pulled up to the steps of the village, disembarked, and made our way up. We walked along the dirt road through the stalls of merchants hoping to lure in the tourist with witty and friendly comments. We first walk along to the Nubian school, where the first lesson was to learn a little Nubian… and I did terrible. haha. But we had a lot of fun, and had some good laughs. We climbed up the stairs of the school and found our way to the roof top where you could look out over the Nile and see the Old Dam and a bit of Aswan. It was beautiful at sunset. After school, we headed to a traditional Nubian home, where we learned how the Nubians keep crocodiles as pets for good luck, and stuff them and save them once they have passed. We were able to hold them, and we both opted for the smallest (I was sick in the picture, don’t judge my face too harshly, please.). Then, we sat and talked with Amir about life and had some delicious mint tea. It was delightful… except for the sweating part.

DSC_0124We didn’t have much of an interest in buying things, so we had back the boat. on our way back, we across a pack of camels running free through the village. Something that took us all by surprise. Amir directed us to stand back as the camels flew stomping by.

The boat ride back was surprisingly cool. The breeze created by the moving boat was enough to give you chills. We all walked back to the boat together, in time for dinner. The food was fairly simple, and by no means five-star, but it sufficed. It was pretty much a variety of concoctions consisting of meat dishes and vegetable dishes. It was the Egyptian take on international cuisine. …and each night they had a small Egyptian food section as well.

The boat had a cocktail & dancing night with a belly dancer happening in the lounge, and I was so excited to share it with Brad, but once again… we were beat. The illness and time change once again were winning, and we found ourselves in bed before nine.

The following morning, when I awoke, it felt as if the boat was moving, but I was convinced we hadn’t left Aswan. However, the view out my window disproved my gut feeling. It was definitely not Aswan. We met Amir, after a low-key breakfast, in the lobby to head to our first stop of the day. The Temple of Kom Ombo was just a short walk down the cobblestone path from our boat. We passed by many merchants who were rather pushy trying to get us to look at their goods. We did as Amir instructed us, and ignored them & looked straight ahead. We did not even acknowledge them (it felt so rude, but so good).

IMG_1511 3We waited by the temple entrance while Amir purchased our tickets, and then we were in. Thankfully, it was still early, and so the air was still cool as we explore the temple. Fact: Kom Ombo temple was known for its healing powers and people made pilgrimages to Kom Ombo to be healed. On the back wall of the temple is the first known representations of precise surgical tools. Also, here, Amir informed us that to knock out patients, they would inhale the steam of hot vinegar. Interesting!

IMG_1099We wandered around in complete awe, once more. To be in a place that held such knowledge in ancient times was truly incredible. I wish we could have seem the temple complete, with its colorful murals & strong pillars. Before meeting up with Amir again, we headed into the Crocodile museum (included in the ticket) which housed several mummified crocodiles. We were in and out within a few minutes as the exhibit is quite small, but not to be unseen.

After Kom Ombo, we were back on the boat. We had the morning and early afternoon to ourselves.  Time to take in the views while cruised the Nile River. It was truly extraordinary. You could see locals in their canoes posing along, and birds and cattle along the riverside drinking. The sandy dunes were complimented with immensely lush greenery. We passed by towns, and small houses, and ancient sites (I imagine tombs) along the way. It was truly beautiful. We snacked and had drinks, and rested in the warm air under the canopy. It was like a dream.

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That afternoon, after lunch, we headed for our next temple. The Temple of Edfu. Amir made it very clear, that here the local merchants were the most aggressive, and to make ZERO contact.  We boarded a horse-drawn carriage, and were pulled a fair distance to the temple. Brad’s allergies began to flare up, and I had to start handng out my precious tissues! When we pulled up, we were brought through a long line of stalls filled with horse carriages, and from there proceeded on foot to the entrance gate. Once again, we waited for Amir as he got our ticket & then we all proceeded together. The temple, was large, very large. FACT: One of the best parts was that it was far more intact than some of the others, since for a while, back in time, it had been completely buried and preserved by the desert sand. (COULD YOU IMAGINE THAT DIG!?). The main temple still had the roof on, and the columns were still in fantastic shape. Even some of the colors remained. Amir guided us through and shared much information about Edfu temple. Then Brad and I were able to explore for a little while which was mostly just me taking pictures… and Brad wanting to get out of the heat.  One of the cool things about Edfu, and the fact that it was buried, is that you can see where people built their homes above the previous buried site, it really added an element of interest, that many other sites did not have.

So, we headed back to the carriage, where inevitably, and again, Brad started to have a major allergy flare up. I realized it was from being in the dirty carriage behind a dirty horse with the dust on the street being kicked up at us. It was no good, but thankfully, he was able to recover once we were back on the boat. Once again, we were free to be. We headed back to the room so that we could refresh. Then we were back on the roof of the boat to enjoy more of the Nile views. Note: I think seeing the river by boat, was truly one of the best parts of Egypt.

After dinner, there were cocktails in the lounge, and everyone headed to the top deck to watch the boat pass through the locks. From there, we passed on to Luxor.

DSC_0485 (2)The next morning we awoke with a new agenda, and a new city to conquer. but first, we had a hot air balloon ride to get too.  We had a pre-packed breakfast waiting for s in the lobby, and were picked up and brought to a boat to cross the river. We sat on the boat for at least 20 minutes waiting for other passengers, and then were motored across to be shuffled into another van and brought to the Valley of the Kings. I won’t lie to you, we were off to a late start, and I was a little frustrated. The package I purchased was for a sunrise balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings, and when we arrived, the sun was up. IMG_1191We were one of the last balloons to take off & I wasn’t very happy to be in a cramped balloon where cameras were not allowed (cellphones were though) with 11 other people whilst fighting off the brutal sickness. The whole reason I decided to do the balloon ride was to get great pictures in addition to the great views. None the less, I ended up feeling much better about things once we were in the air. You could see Hatshepsut’s temple, all of the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, the farm lands just to the west & all of Luxor, or what wasn’t hidden behind smog. The view of the barren desert beyond the royal burial grounds was incredible. The fact that I couldn’t get better photos kills me a little inside.

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Once we landed, I was so relieved to have free space. NOTE: I wouldn’t recommend the hot air balloon ride to people who are claustrophobic, unless you are guaranteed a private ride. They took us back to one of the main areas just outside of the Valley of the Kings to meet up with Amir. Our first stop, the Colossi of Memnon. Two large statues of pharaohs that sit in the Theban Necropolis. FACT: Both statues are approximately 60 feet tall, and intended to be guardians of the pharaoh’s mortuary temple. DSC_0490 (2)

 

We weren’t there long. Probably 15 minutes …and then we moved on in a private car to the Valley of the Kings. Again, Amir got our tickets, and then we were in. Amir gave us a run down of each tomb we visited prior to entering, as Brad and I went in alone. We visited the “Three Tombs” (as our ticket calls them because there are several to choose from) which, for us, were composed of Ramses IV’s, Ramses IX’s, & Ramses III’s. All were beautiful in their own right, but I think the first one we visited, that of Ramses the IV, was my favorite.

In addition to this, we purchased tickets to visit the tomb of Tutankhamun (cameras/photos were not allowed). This, I would say,  is technically not worth the extra money, but at the same time it is… because it’s King Tut’s. The tomb is remarkably small in comparison to the others, but this is because he had a short life. The baboons painted on the wall are beautiful, and one thing I can say about this tomb that I can’t say about the others is that there is actually a mummy in this one… Yep, Tut’s still there, and being cared for properly which, I think, is why you have to pay extra.

IMG_1600After Valley of the Kings we headed on to Al-Deir Al-Bahari Temple, better known as the Temple of Hatshepsut. This seemed so much smaller in person, and I wish it hadn’t been so hot or crowded. The Temple of Hatshepsut is, like Abu Simbel, one of those places you imagine yourself discovering on your first big excavation. You wish it could be the same in real life as it is in your head. You want it all to yourself, to take it in without the distractions of other tourists… None the less, it was beautiful, but not as grand as I hoped.

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From here, we began back toward the boat. We stopped off at an Alabaster shop where they demonstrated how they make alabaster vases or souvenirs, and then allowed us to shop. I found a beautiful Canopic jar that I wanted to take home, however they refused to sell me a single jar. FACT: Canopic Jars come in a set of 4. Each has a specific use. One for the stomach, one for the intestines, one for the liver, and one for the lungs. The organ removal was done prior to the embalming and mummification… Don’t forget they pulled the brain out through the nose!! Also, the asking price was way high, and they weren’t willing to budge much, so we walked away in hopes of finding one else where. NOTE: I had found one I loved in Aswan for a good price & he was willing to just sell me one but Brad was telling me to wait… so I did. WHY DO I LISTEN TO MY HUSBAND!?!? haha. Don’t wait if you find what you like at the start of your trip if you will be visiting other places. 

Afterwards, we headed back to the boat for a late lunch, and rested for a short while before heading back out into Luxor on our own. We had the night to ourselves, so we wandered around and through the nearby areas. We walked through the market, passed by Luxor Temple, and along the walk of sphinxes. It was nice to have the time to ourselves again, but we still had one more day with Amir. We headed back for dinner, got ourselves packed, and hit the hay.

The next morning we were up bright and early. We had our breakfast then headed to check out. Our bags were brought to the street, and our driver loaded them into the car…

We were officially through with the Cruise, and were ready to see what else Luxor had in store for us.

…to be continued.

Colombia: The Cartagena Edition.

Our trip to Cartagena wasn’t a big dream of ours. Honestly, there were other places in South America we preferred to visit, but with a limited amount of time (8 days), we didn’t want to spend too much time in the air. To be honest, I think we mostly went simply because I wanted to get in my 6th continent.  It would have been easier to book a trip to Cancun for some great diving & good food, but we both agreed we needed and wanted to continue visiting new places.

7.22.17 056DAY 1:

From Phoenix to Cartagena took approximately 10 hours with Delta, through Atlanta, which was incredibly reasonable considering. …and it was even better when we were upgraded to first class from Atlanta to Cartagena. Because of traffic below we had to circle several times for close to 45 minutes before we could land. This is when disappoint began to set in.

I had done all the research that I thought was necessary on the city & the things we could do & places we could stay. One thing I took note of was the beautiful crystal clear blue waters that are shared with the bahamas, the Caribbean Sea. As we circled through the air & I stared out below from my first class seat, I notice that the water wasn’t nearly as blue as I thought. In fact, it was brown …dirty murky brown. I hoped we were staying in a different area and that, maybe, what I was seeing wasn’t our beach destiny.  Those dreams were quickly crushed.

When we arrived at our hotel, Hilton Cartagena, we got checked in and laid down… It was lights out in the middle of the afternoon. What was supposed to be just a quick siesta turned into a major snooze fest. (Our flights left at midnight Phoenix time, so we really never slept.)  When we woke up… hunger set it in & we knew we needed to head out to search for food.  We walked off the grogginess in the intense humid air. We made our way down Carrera 2, a main road, and found ourselves at what would be a favorite for us, Carbon de Palo.  There, we were serenaded by a group of older Colombian men, we feasted on international cuisine like pasta with an incredible bolognese sauce & the best fried beef empanadas I have ever head. It made the damp heat tolerable, and put our bodies at ease.

7.22.17 446Because we were still tired, we decided to head back to the hotel. We felt like our meal at Carbon de Palo had made up for the oversleeping & missing out on the culture on day one. But… on our way back, we spotted one of my favorite things, CREPES!!!! How could I not… Nutella crepes and I were made for each other. I had googled where to find crepes, and I had found Crepes & Waffles. However, what we had found on our journey was Mr. Crepe (now permanently closed). …and Mr. Crepe understood my needs & fulfilled them… and my tummy.  With bellies satisfied, we stopped at the convenience store for a few liters of water, before we headed back to bed.

Day 2:

We awoke at a reasonable hour with enough time to hit the breakfast buffet… It was your typical buffet with a bunch of Colombian fare as well. I myself, went with the omelettes and fruit.   Once we were fed, we headed back to the room & readied ourselves for the day ahead. Which meant, I loaded up my bag with necessities & Brad put on sunscreen.

7.22.17 0787.22.17 079We headed downstairs & grabbed a taxi that could take us to the old city of Cartagena about 5 km away. We wandered aimlessly for a while. While we walked, Brad decided that he wanted a hat. It was the first time, in our travel history that he had decided he wanted to buy something before me. So we searched for a Panama hat for Brad in some of the small shops along the North wall of the old city. He walked out a happy man, and slightly more protected from the sun. As we headed back towards the center of town, we went in search of an antique shop I had found online prior to visiting, El Arcon Anticuario. After hours of wandering & trying to follow the GPS on our phone, we found it. The whole reason to visit was for a door knocker. The store was a decent size & filled with all sorts of miscellaneous things (pictures were not permitted). They had ample amounts of beautiful door knockers in all sorts of different shapes. However, since we still had another 5 days, we decided to hold off on buying in case we found anything better.

By this time we were hungry again, so we headed back to where we started at the Plaza Fernandez de Madrid, searching for a place to grab lunch. We walked by cafes, one after another, looking at the menus for something that sounded interesting. Our choice, Atahualpa. Although Google labels it as Caribbean food, I believe it may have Peruvian influence, partially because every picture on their wall is of Peru in some capacity.  Our food was really good.  I had a rice and chicken dish, similar to Paella, that came with long fried potatoes that were like long tater tots & Brad had steak with what I think were fried plantains. YUMMY! Each of our dishes were preceded with a delicious soup. …but to be honest, it was way too hot for soup.

7.22.17 089After wandering a little more, and enduring as much sweating as we could handle for the afternoon, we headed back to our hotel to unwind & check out our beaches. Unfortunately, this is when I discovered the unpleasantness of our beaches. Although they were clean & private, the water was very murky from the up swept sand due to all of the seasonal weather (so I was told). Also, just because it was private doesn’t mean they don’t permit the locals from trying to sell you boat rides across the water, massages, and other miscellaneous things.  We tried walking along the south beach near our hotel, which seemed a little better. But I just have no desire to be in murky ocean water… Jaws! lol.  In this direction, people were also trying to sell us things, and the beach was a bit dirty due to it being public. We felt our only option was to turn around.

As the day wore on we made plans for dinner. We showered & got cleaned up, and then Brad led the charge to a Mexican restaurant he had found, DF COMIDA MEXICANA. To be honest, I had completely forgot about this meal. I don’t even remember what I ordered…which I think speaks for itself. I remember thinking it was decent food, but I think for Mexican I will stick to eating it here in Arizona. With the night still young, we headed on to just walk. Our walk, naturally, led us to Mr. Crepe where I indulged in my usual.   With that, we just headed back to the hotel.

Day 3:

This day was a challenging one. I think it was the only day we really thought that we didn’t like Cartagena & it was because we felt like we had been duped.

After breakfast, we were ready for something new. We had decided that we wanted to go diving, and had found a place just up the way along the lagoon. We were impressed with what they had to offer & booked three dives the following day. We were really excited to get back to it.

As we began our walk into town, we were talked into a trip across the water to another beach, Buru. We were so enticed by the beautiful photo we were shown of candy blue waters and bright white sand. We were told it was just a boat ride away for a set price (I think $20 each). We were sold. We went back up to the room to change & grab all of our beachy needs. We headed back down & met the guy who directed us to the boat. We loaded on & then were pushed out to sea. It took between 20 & 30 minutes to cross the bay, and to our dismay it was exactly the same as the other side, except worse. We were directed out of the boat and shuffled along the beach & shown a “cabana” where we could sit and set our stuff.  We were unsure about what to do at this point, so we tried to make the best of it. The water was warm, we had semi-cold beers to drink, 7.22.17 099and that was kind of it. I couldn’t get over how murky the water was here too. The air smelled of gasoline from all of the boats, there was load music blaring, it was full of people, there were jet skis screaming by & other water activities happening that just did not suit the relaxing mood we were looking for. Our dreams of just lounging on a picture perfect beach where we could relax and drink cocktails had been smashed.  We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t want to be under the cabana because really it was just a long tent crammed with plastic chairs and tables and other people & we didn’t want to be in the water because you couldn’t see what was going on… We opted to leave, less than an hour after getting there.

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We found our guide, and told him we wanted to go back. We asked him where the place was that he showed us & he then told us that it was another 40 minutes away. That the weather had made Baru all murky. He proceeded to tell us that we had to pay for the table we had been sitting at in addition to the beer.  7.22.17 107Brad started getting very upset at this point because none of this was communicated to us. We told him we would only pay for the beer, not the table. …and it turned into a whole debate that we finally ended up winning. It took another 20-30 minutes to get back on the boat since it had to come back from the other side. This time, they packed it full of people.

When we were off the boat outside our hotel, Brad paid the guy for everything. We were both frustrated at this point & had to just shake it off. We knew we would laugh about it later, and with beaches out of the question, we opted for the hotel pool. The area was clean & there was a swim up bar… (I should make a mention that I don’t typically use hotel pools, especially beachside ones.. so that should really tell you about the ocean water here.)

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We decided it would be a good night in for us after all of the craziness, so we made a reservation at the hotel restaurant, Tinajero Steak & Seafood House. This was probably the most low key moment of our trip. There was no pressure to find anything, deal with language barriers,  minimal sweating, and we didn’t have to go far. The food & vibe were great & we finally were able to laugh about what had happened earlier.  We enjoyed the setting of an old-fashioned Cartagena style home with loads of Spanish influence. It made the meal that much more enjoyable.

Day 4:

7.22.17 126It was scuba day!!!!!!!!!! We were so excited to dive & were at the dive shop, La Tortuga Dive school, bright and early.  We were loaded into the vehicle with another family, and we did our best to squeeze in. It really was a tight squeeze. They drove us a little ways to a dock around the bay where we boarded the small boat & headed for the open water. We  had two separate dives planned off of the Rosario Islands. We first headed toward an island where we dropped the first group who were doing a shallow dive.  Then we headed to our location. The first  dive was around a large sunken boat, we were able to swim all around it’s surface which was truly neat because this was our first time diving around a wreck. There were many little colorful fish & the boat was covered in colorful coral & large clams. When we were finished we boarded the boat, stripped off our gear, and headed back toward the other group.

Once the other group had boarded they parked the boat & we all jumped back in and swam to shore. It was so fun! This was another first. Usually, you are never close enough to an island to do such a thing.  This little event added to the adventure. We all rested on the white sand, some of us shade and others not. We had little snacks & just enjoyed the warm water rushing up onto our legs.

7.22.17 177Before long, it was time to head back to the boat. We swam for it. After we all climbed abouard, we headed to our next dive location. It was around a reef. There were loads of colorful fish, but nothing I found to be truly noteworthy. One way or the other, I was in my happy place, the ocean.

When we arrived back to the mainland, the guys unloaded the boat, and we were taken back to our hotel. Brad & I got cleaned up and headed back out. We wanted to get some food & in our American shame knew exactly what we wanted. Domino’s. Just off of Carrera 2, was our pizza paradise. A nice cheesy pizza with garlic crust was calling out to us!  We feasted.

7.22.17 185With our stomachs full, we decided to just walk. We walked, and we walked, and we walked. We walked in the rain a little ways, but as it started to come down harder we took cover inside of Juan Valdez Cafe. Brad sipped down some coffee, and I just hung out until the rain seemed to slow. As we continued on our way down the road, we did make a pit-stop for crepes… But this time we stopped at Crepes & Waffles7.22.17 191I ordered my norm, while Brad ordered nothing (a mistake). He insisted I share, and I did involuntarily, as usual. I enjoyed my sweet treat, but I assure you that it was not has good as Mr. Crepe (RIP). We returned to the street once again to dry skies and kept to our path. We walked all the way into the old city which was approximately 5 kilometers (from our hotel). It was necessary considering the pizza we had just scarf down… and the crepe. 

We spent the rest of our day here. The late afternoon turned into night. We explored the streets in the dark with the city lights shining bright. We encountered a musical performance and dancing in one of the squares, and were wandered in and out of small shops. In one of them, I bought a beautiful water color painting of the old streets of Cartagena. We ate skewers of grilled meat and vegetables and had salted corn on the cob from street vendors. We even tried the arepa con queso, a cheese stuffed corn cake (it is incredibly salty). It is safe to say that the meat and veggie skewers were our favorite since they cook their corn a little less than Americans.

It was a really fun night. I think possibly one of my favorites. I love wandering & discovering new places, things, and food. …but maybe not the arepa con queso.

With the night coming to a close for us, we decided it would be good for us to head back to the hotel. It had been a busy and active day for us. The heat had worn us down & we knew we would sleep well.

Day 5:

yosemite & cartagena 1333With a tinge of uncertainty of what the day would hold for us, we decided over breakfast that it could be a good idea to visit Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. So, we grabbed a cab back to the old city & started from there. Brad grabbed a snack & a local food cart, an amazing arepa con pollo (maybe), and snapped some photos of more of the lovely buildings. Even though our walk wasn’t extensive, the humidity on this day was insane. It was mostly cloudy, but we were dripping sweat. It was the Colombian Cleanse! Thankfully, I always carry an umbrella, which Brad used to guard himself from the peaking sun. …and I just managed. We wandered up to the top of the Castle (fortress), and through the winding tiny hallways throughout. To me, it seemed that Colombians were a smaller people (There is no way that vikings would have ever fit down the narrow corridors). After exploring for maybe an hour, we couldn’t take the heat anymore. We were melting & Brad was riding the struggle bus. (He should’ve brought his hat.)

Before we crossed back over the bridge, we both new we wouldn’t make it without water. We found a small grocery store & made our way in to the air conditioned mecca quickly. We tracked down the refrigerated liter bottles of water & checked out. Within minutes, our bottles were half empty. We were quickly restoring our bodies lost water contents.

Then came our desire for lunch. We made it back across the bridge into the Gethsemane side of the old city. We stumbled upon an Indian restaurant, Ganesha Restaurante, and thought, “why not!?”. We sat down in the cool restaurant & ordered chicken korma & naan. A perfect combination for the sweaty day. It was exactly what was needed. By now, the sun was out with a much stronger force. It was a brutal day as we pressed on.

I found another great shop full of imported goods and antiques, Casa Chiqui, they had beautiful things. However, alot of things I could buy here at home, and for some of the more local pieces the prices were way to high to be justified. It was a fun place to look, maybe dream, but not to buy… and definitely not with Brad by my side.

Instead, we ended up buying a brass iguana door knocker from the man on the street. Unfortunately, when we had gone back to the antique shop from a few days before, they were closed.  The one we had bought was very nice, and the price was fairly reasonable. It wasn’t my ideal situation, I don’t even know if it’s an antique (extremely unlikely).

yosemite & cartagena 1385-2.jpgAgain, we needed a break. So we headed up the stairs of a small cafe called El Balcon. We just got a couple of drinks, and tried to regroup, but it felt impossible. We sat on the balcony overlooking the street below and taking in the breeze, we did our best to let our bodies cool. Finally, with Brad tipsy and me hydrated, we hit the streets again. We were spent. We began to try to find our way back towards the outskirts of the old city to grab a taxi back. The inevitable heat had us stopping for gelato on the way at Gelateria Paradiso.

When we reached the outer wall, we found a line of kiosks that offered boat rides & a day on a private island in the Rosario Islands. We were very intrigued. We knew the water near the islands was far better than what we had by our hotel, and we were running out of things to do. Not to mention, a day of just chilling on a luxurious beach sounded great. We booked it for the next day, and went to grab a taxi back to the Hilton Cartagena.

7.22.17 325Once we got to the hotel, we decided to head back down to the pool for a bit to cool off. We spent maybe an hour goofing off in the water again. Then we did the usual showering before getting ready to head to dinner. We knew exactly where we were going, which felt rare. The restaurant was Kiosco el Bony, a beach side restaurant (it sits on the sand) serving up fresh seafood.  We grabbed a table near an open window in the muggy building and watched the sunset over the water. It was a gorgeous view in a fun spot. Since I am not a huge seafood person, especially in foreign countries, I let Brad order the fish, and I opted for a chunk of beef and a pile of fries. Safe… and worth it. We both enjoyed our meals immensely. It was a great recommendation from diving guide the day before & I would definitely recommend it to anyone else in the future.  After dinner, we wanted to stay out a little bit  loner & what better way than with crepes!? …That’s right we went back to Mr. Crepe,  wandered a little, then grabbed our bottled water at the market & headed back to the hotel.

Day 6:

7.22.17 353Once again, after breakfast we were out the door early to head back toward the old city. We made our way to the docks where we were instructed to wait with the large group of people heading to our tropical paradise with our own private cabana & luxurious beach.

We got our wristbands, made our payments and waited patiently before we were all boarded onto the full boat one by one. The large number of passengers made it somewhat uncomfortable, but I didn’t care. Paradise was waiting. As we began to slow down and made our descent into the small stone built dock my dreams, once again, began to slowly be dashed. It wasn’t quite what I was thinking of, and the pictures we were shown, once again were slightly misleading. Although we did each have our own private cabana on a private beach, the water was still a little ways away down a rocky set of steps, or from a small ladder off the dock that was down a set of stairs. The beach was littered with small sharp rocks and broken shells that made walking in slightly like torture. It was more pleasurable to swim around and exhaust your muscles than it was to walk in and out. I knew I had to make the best of it, this was as good as it was going to get. Hey! At least the water was crystal clear!

7.22.17 399The other bummer is that I anticipated a bit nicer of a facility. What they didn’t tell us was that our meal would be served at picnic tables on the much more 2nd world appearing behind-the-scenes facility.  I should preface that the whole situation wouldn’t have bothered me if I truly knew what I was getting into before booking. They made it seem so much more glamorous than it actually was.  I will say that the lunch (I chose chicken) was very delicious!

After lunch, Brad made friends while swimming & I sat on the beach for a little bit looking for shells that weren’t broken (there were none) before I joined him. We both donned our hats in the water trying to keep any further UV rays from turning us pink while we waited for the grey clouds on the horizon to push in further.  I think we were both happy to be in the beautiful aqua waters despite the rough entry. Sunburns or not…  “Deception” or not… It was a good way to spend the better half of the day.  NOTE: I feel like I may have made it sound like I was very unhappy with the whole experience, and I wasn’t, just caught of guard to be truthful. This was a far better experience than what we had in Baru.  

The boat ride back was a little different than the one going. Instead of just going straight back to the mainland, we made several pit stops to pick up additional passengers and their luggage. They crammed them in the best they could, and then we continued on our merry way. At this point, the weather was stirring and so were the waters. The boat ride became quite choppy and little more exciting than some may have wanted. However, we made it back safe and sound while taking in the lovely views of the old city.

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7.22.17 431Once on dry flat land, we made our way back across the street to grab a cab & head back to wash up. When we got to our room the rains had hit & it became a waiting game. When we walked out the door we had no idea what we were in for and headed along our usual route. We noticed the roads had flooded and anticipated a slightly more challenging excursion than usual. It wasn’t long before a set of cars made their way through (nearly a whole tire deep in water), pushing the waters over the curb and onto the side walk, drenching the lower portions of our legs. We were partly amused and partly disgusted thinking of having the dirty Cartagena street water all over our shoes and clothes.  We quickly turned back to the hotel to change, laughing along the way.

All changed up & re-rinsed, we headed back out, but decided to take the back way around the lagoon. We were in the process of looking for a place where I could get dumplings. We found a place not too far, Maii Sushi. This worked out great since Brad’s favorite food of all time is sushi.  He stuffed himself with sushi rolls & stuffed myself with chicken and pork dumplings… It was great. NOTE: That was the nice thing about Cartagena is that they have all sorts of different types of cuisine to enjoy!  

Afterward, you guessed it… Crepes… and then a leisurely stroll back to the hotel.

Day 7:

7.22.17 450It was our last day in Cartagena & once again we were unsure of what to do. We went back and forth until after breakfast when we decided that we should just go to Aviario Nacional de Colombia. We didn’t do much research on it. I just kept seeing it on all of the tour cards in the taxis. We aren’t huge bird lovers, but we love nature & wildlife and figured there was nothing better to do. We were a little surprised at the cost to get there & back, I think $60 or $80 USD, but the driver said he would wait for us. Because of the remote location there were no taxis there to bring us back.

7.22.17 457When we pulled up to the Aviario, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. We saw the quaint but nice, entry set up with a large hang out area for a bunch of Macaws and other types of parrots. We said our hellos to the birds, and followed the arrows leading us in to the first exhibit.  The very first exhibit was a large walk-in aviary full of beautiful exotic colorful birds. Many of them were not shy and loved chatting with us. Others played coy and we had to admire from afar. As a whole, we easily spent over half an hour in this one enclosure. It was that exciting. NOTE: I can tell you this now, what we experienced at the Aviario Nacional was hands down the best experience of our trip & possibly one of the top 10 in all of our travels. This was the best “why not, we have nothing better to do” decision of my life! 

We continued on our way down the path and saw many other stunning birds including more parrots in all the colors, large cranes, emus, flamingos, etc. The last encounter we had was with a bunch iguanas near the water that mingle with the ducks. There were bright green and deep brown and had no interest in being too close. They were truly something to behold though.

On our way out we stopped at the main parrot encounter near the entrance. We were having a lot of fun with some very interactive and quite cheeky small green parrots. They were not at all shy, and had no problem hopping all over at us, biting us, and just being flat out impertinent .

7.22.17 511As we were headed toward the exit, I couldn’t resist one more stop on the big enclosure we first enjoyed. We spent several more minutes inside snapping last minute photos, and Brad said goodbye to his favorites. We didn’t want leave.  As we made our final exit our two green parrot friends were now sitting on the railing out side the entrance of the large enclosure. They stalked us, so Brad decided to start talking to them again, and within a moment of my arrival one was on my shoulder and biting at my ear. I was at a loss, and Brad had to help me free. I said my last goodbyes to these little monsters, while Brad headed on without me. As I made my way behind Brad, I suddenly felt an impact with the top of my head. No joke…. There was a parrot on top of my head. The little fella loved me & wanted to come with. All I could think to do was call to Brad. “Braaaad….. Help!” When Brad turned around & saw what was happening he couldn’t help but laugh at what had unfolded.  (I think it will be one of his favorite memories of me until he dies, and I don’t blame him.)

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I was parrot-free when we got in the cab, but the last thing I wanted to do was leave. However, I was looking forward to escaping the mass amounts of mosquitoes in the park. TIP: If you visit the National Aviary bring bug spray or buy it at the window because you will get bit over and over if you don’t. Brad was craving pizza again, and I couldn’t blame him. He can’t get Dominos in the Congo, so we had our driver drop us off outside of the restaurant. We ordered, we sat, we soaked in the humidity… actually, it soaked the water out of us, and we chilled. We enjoyed the savory meal for a little while, but the wind was picking up & there was a light rain happening on and off and we thought it might be wise to head back to the hotel for a little bit. My feet were filthy from wearing flip flops at the Aviary (all the paths are dirt), and I wanted to just get cleaned up & start packing. It seemed reasonable.  We made our way back on foot. 

A little while later we were ready to go back out for our last supper in Cartagena. I was ready to go, but also, not. I would miss the great food & the Aviaro, but I would not miss all the sweating. We made the conscious decision to have our last meal back at Carbon de Palo. The same place we ate our first night. We figured with empanadas like that, how could we go anywhere else. The atmosphere was great and the food was good. It was all we needed to close out our trip. We enjoyed the singing of older men & feasted in the intense heat while praying the fan get stuck in our direction.  We talked about the women’s wrestling that was playing on the tv & soaked in our last night alone together.

We walked along the streets listening to all the sounds. Brad wanted ice cream so we stopped at a shop along the main road & then headed back toward the hotel for my nightly crepe. …and finished up our last night in the hot tub talking about life.

Day 8:

We woke up, ate breakfast zipped up the luggage, and headed to the airport a little early. We had plenty of time until our flight left & it felt like it never would. The Cartagena airport was fairly small, and getting out was challenging. Literally…. They did last minute random passenger checks while the flight was boarding and I was one of the lucky few. We were all grouped together and escorted to another room off to the side of the terminal. I thnk all of the Americans were a little sketched our and people were pretty upset to be missing their boarding groups for this. Brad boarded the flight without me& thankfully was able to ensure that our seats and baggage were all set, while I had my personal carry on sorted thru (again) and answered random questions. ….there was no coccaine to be found. haha. Once they had their way with my bags, I was sent on my way & thankfully got to cut the line for the plane since I had priority boarding. Finally, I was on the plane & and headed home.

There is no place like home… but those empanadas were the bomb!

Cartagena Travel Tips: Don’t go with overly high expectations… I feel like that was my biggest mistake. Cartagena is a neat city, but 7-8 days was too long for me. I could have settled at 5. Also, Cartagena isn’t a great beach city… Not like Phuket or Cancun… I, personally, wouldn’t go back to go the beach. As a whole the beaches were dirty, crowded, and full of muggy water… Unless you want to take the long boat ride to the islands… but even then there are better beach options. Go to Cartagena simply for the culture, and the Aviario… & get the empanadas at Carbon de Palo. Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and be ready to sweat!

Yosemite National Park: The Tourist Edition.

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There is no point in me going on and on about our day to day visiting the main attractions of Yosemite… so, I’m just gonna hit you with the highlights and cover the various activities that are available…  Ready? Let’s do this.

Yosemite as a tourist (not a backpacker) in the month of June may be one of the most frustrating experiences I have had. Though Yosemite is very beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there… I have no desire to go back during the height of the tourist season. The place is packed!!! To the brim!!!   Hotels are booked solid, there is no parking and everywhere you look there are people…. in my opinion it defeats the purpose of being in nature…. You know what I mean?? That time to immerse yourself in God’s beautiful creation, find your center, and just unwind and relax.  If you think your time in YNP will be relaxing in June, you may be mistaken… It’s like Disneyland. …but there are no churros. Thankfully, it is more spread out, but the parking is an absolute nightmare, traffic is backed up, and the buses are maxed out with people trying to get from point A to point F, and the bus lines require waiting for possibly an hour.

So if you can go, go before kids are out of school, or when they are back in. Maybe, when it’s cold. The waterfalls may not be in their full glory, but there will be more room for you to enjoy them.  Winter, when the ground is covered in snow, also, sounds magical.

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 Here are some of the things we did while in the park.

  • latest iphone 138Walk around Yosemite Valley. We were fortunate enough to find parking outside of the Village store, which was almost as difficult as actually backpacking through the park. We headed through the shop full of souvenirs and groceries where we later picked up a variety of souvenir tees & camp cups.  The walk around was really enjoyable. In June it was quite warm, but nice to be out of the car. We walked down the bike/walking path stopped into the Ansel Adams Museum, visited the Visitor Center while we continued our walk toward Yosemite Falls. It was lovely & the oncoming mist was incredibly refreshing in the warm air. However, I was very excited to get past the falls. Once again, there were just too many people for my liking.  (I should note that I don’t thrive in crowds. They make me uncomfortable and can give me anxiety – so take my notes with a grain of salt if you are the opposite.)  We continued on our nature walk around the grounds and eventually headed back to find a place for lunch. We stopped in at the Mountain  Room Restaurant & Lounge. It’s safe to say the food was subpar in the lounge. I actually sent my chili back as it wasn’t even hot enough to melt the cheese on top. I was greatly disappointed, and instead of ordering anything else, I just nibbled off everyone else’s plates & decided to hold out for dinner at the hotel. The food my mom had gotten from the Yosemite Valley Lodge Food Court when we she picked us up post-backpacking was far better, and seemed fresher. …but that also, may be because I was dying for real food when I got in the car.
  • latest iphone 177.jpgVisit The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. If you aren’t staying here already, this is a great place to stop in for lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Bar or dinner at The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room. The food is far superior to that in the valley. The interior is very cabin-tastic, historical, and interesting to wander through. The grounds are beautiful & it’s easy to walk through parts of the park from there. We found our way toward Mirror Lake across from Half Dome. We were able to wade in the water to our knees to cool down our body temperatures and shrink our feet before wandering back.

  • Explore the great Sequoias. There are 3 groves within Yosemite NP that you can explore. Tuolomne Grove ( this is the one we visited), Merced Grove, and the biggest and most famous Mariposa Grove.  These light nature hikes are a great way to get some quieter time, a little work out & time away from the crowds and, of course,  marvel at some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet.

  • Just drive. See what Yosemite National Park has to offer, with miles and miles of winding roads, scenic views, and possibly some great wildlife sightings you can’t go wrong with a packed picnic lunch & a little wanderlust.

  • yosemite & cartagena 723Technically, we hiked past Vernal & Nevada Falls on the last leg of our backpacking excursion, but it’d make for a great day hike too. Be forewarned, the Mist trail is very packed. However, the closer you get to the top, the less crowded it is. The bulk of the people stop between Vernal Falls (lower) & Nevada Falls (upper) sunbathe on the flat rocks and take in the scenic views near the railings. This hike up is probably pretty tiring as it has a lot of steep steps covering the incline, but the way back down is fun. …and Vernal Falls does provide a nice cool down of mist along the way.
  • Enjoy dessert with a view. At the Mountain Room Restaurant you can sit in the dining room enjoy a sweet treat or a full meal with the possibility of watching Yosemite Falls in it’s fully glory. One of my dad’s favorite things… preferably with apple pie (they no longer serve it). latest iphone 128

There are other things that you can do while you are in the park such as climbing the rock face of El Capitan or Half Dome. You can, also, attempt the rigorous hike up Half Dome’s backside, feel free to be just an onlooker of rock climbers, get a massage at the lodge, camp in one of the camp’s campsites, day hike some of the many trails. The list probably goes on and on with things like bird-watching… but that’s the most I can come up with right now.

Hopefully this will be helpful for planning your upcoming trip to Yosemite. And hopefully you will enjoy it’s beauty as much I did… maybe even more!yosemite & cartagena 881

Yosemite National Park: The Backpacking Edition.

When my Dad initially brought up the idea of backpacking through Yosemite, I didn’t take it all that seriously. I wasn’t sure how committed I would be because the idea of roughing it in the wilderness was never my idea of a good time.  Eventually, though, things began to change. My dad reserved a few nights at a hotel just outside the park for all of us to stay after we backpacked through.

At this point, I had no choice but to commit. My dad had always wanted to take my sister & I backpacking in his favorite spot. He had been backpacking in Yosemite since the age of 14 (nearly 40 years!!) , and Touloumne Meadows is his favorite escape from reality.

As the dates came closer and closer, I knew there was no backing out. Thankfully, in March, during my trip through the African wilderness with Brad, I did get a little “roughing it” experience which including popping squats in the African jungle to relieve my bladder, missing entire meals, and light snacking in time of desperate hunger…. Not to mention, all those mosquitoes, which were actually worse in Yosemite.

Finally, it was prep time. We began plotting our course through the forest on our map, and shopping for our gear. We were doing back and forth trips to REI for footwear, backpacks, sleeping bags, and doing our best to take advantage of the periodic promotions to save as much as possible.

My dad kept making phone calls to the park rangers to find out about what trails were open and what was closed due to the record snowfall that they had been having last winter. He was sad to find out that the trails, Toulumne Meadows, and the roads leading to it were all closed. We had no choice but to reroute.

He kept reaching out to the rangers, in an attempt to plan our journey and to check on the snow levels… The problem was that with the record snow, our plan kept having to change. We had a loose plan to hike near Upper Merced Lake in the High Sierras, but knew that nothing would be final until we arrived.

Finally, the day was here. My dad and I headed to the airport, checked our backpacks, and brought along our carry-ons. We headed to our gate where we awaited the arrival of my sister. She had flown in from Charlotte earlier that morning & was heading on with us to Fresno. We were all tired, but also anxious to get there. We were ready to have a good time, and have a new adventure together.

When we got to Fresno, Erica (my sister) & I gathered the bags while my dad went on to collect the car. We had a red Dodge Durango that we loaded up with our gear before hitting the road.  On our way out of the city we made a pit stop at Big 5 Sporting Goods where my dad picked up some fuel cans for our quick boil stoves & some emergency space blankets, just in case it rained at night (it didn’t) because we were sleeping under the stars. That’s right… no tent.

We finally arrived at the park gates where we paid the $40 park entrance fee, and then headed on to get our permit at the Wawona Visitors Center north of the south park entrance off of the 41.  The office was a few miles up the road.

When we got there, we parked the car & we all headed inside. My sister and I took turns wandering through looking at displays and keeping my dad company in the very short line. Finally, it was our turn. We  made our inquiry about getting a permit for an area around Upper Merced Lake, and thankfully, we had no issues. There was plenty of room for us in the backwoods. TIP: You have to get permits to backpack throughout the national park, so I would advise to be checking on availability prior &/or have a backup plan.

We all got back in the car, and began our drive to our final stop, the Glacier Point lookout.  I should point out, first, that the traffic in Yosemite in June is ridiculous. There were long lines of cars, and parking lots were pretty full. We were directed to the visitor shuttles originally, but when we explained that we were backpacking they forwarded us on to Glacier Point.  When we got there, we began getting our gear in order. We changed into our hiking boots, and got our backpacks stuffed and organized with any possible necessity that we had. My sister and I made the mistake of using the bathroom before we began the journey. TIP: These bathrooms are one the most rank and disgusting things I have ever encountered. They don’t flush, are covered in every type of bodily excretion possible & smell so bad that it took all I had not to vomit all over the floor four times!!! So, in other words, if you can hold it… Pop a squat in the woods, ladies. It’s far more pleasant, believe it or not.  

With that stinky experience behind us, we headed back to the car and got strapped into our backpacks which all weighed between 30-40 pounds. It was literally a physical burden.  We made our way towards the lookout point where we snapped our starting photo in front of Half Dome & the falls. …and it was all downhill from there. …or so I thought.

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The descent was pleasant. We were in the shade, the air was tepid, and I was in the company of two wonderful people with some of the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen.

When we arrived at the Illilouette Creek,  we all dropped our packs to cool off and fill up our water bottles. It felt so good to drop the weight for about 15 minutes. The great thing about the record snowfall is that rivers were rushing with freshly melted clean clear water. We didn’t need to filter or treat it. We just drank straight from the earth.

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yosemite & cartagena 124With packs back on we crossed the river over the bridge and proceeded on the trail. We made it up a couple of the switchbacks when we began to question our path. At this point, I was beginning to struggle. The uphill climb combined with the weight of my backpack was slowing me down immensely. We stopped to look over the map since the path seemed wrong.  My dad & sister were in charge of directions while I was handling the photos.  The general consensus was that we must have somehow missed our trail, so we headed back down to the river and crossed back over the bridge. We went one way, and then the other, but were surrounded by dead ends. My dad headed out to survey the land and search or the missing trail, but there was no sign. Our only option was to head back the same way we were going before.

So, we began to climb once, again. It was exhausting, draining, and down right brutal, or as my dad just called it, “a bitch”. ..and it truly was. By the time we reached “the top” AKA Panorama Point, the lookout point that overlooks Yosemite Valley, I didn’t know how much further I could go, but I knew I had to keep going because we were nowhere near water.  So after, calling our mom (I know, I can’t believe we had service either) and I texted Brad… We put our packs back on and kept pushing ourselves forward, or should I say up. The views along the way were incredible. Being able to see Half Dome at sunset was truly a special moment for me.

The trail we were on was leading us straight for Nevada & Vernal Falls, which was not where we were wanting to go on day 1.  So when we came to a fork in the road, the map came out once more. Erica and my dad looked it over, and not 100% certain, mostly because of drinking water restrictions, we took the road less traveled. As we walked, we noticed a couple of spots that would make good campsites, but there was no water source. My sister went ahead to scout it out, and came back with the assumption of water ahead. We continued to trek forward with flashlights in hand because by this point, we were in the dark. We found ourselves, quickly making our way back down the mountain in the dark, and slowly wandered back below the tree line. We were wandering through a “bear infested” forest in the dark.  I was getting so frustrated and crashing fast. We still had not found water, and were at a complete loss.  …on day 1. I couldn’t keep going, I felt like my body was going to collapse.  We found a large clearing, and set up camp. I’d like to say that we got it done quickly, but considering we all were exhausted, and we all somewhat felt sick, it took a little longer than planned. Armed with flashlights, we started setting up camp. We laid out our tarp, and sprawled out our gear. My dad took the initiative to start the fire, after all, he was the Yosemite expert.  We gathered wood, and as he got it started I couldn’t help but  stare. I was so exhausted, in physical pain, and at this point my desires were food had vanished. All I wanted to do, all we all wanted to do, was sleep. We each took turns wandering off to relieve our bladders, and change into our sleepwear.

We all agreed that we had no desire to eat except for a light snack. We all had two issues, a lack of desire for food, and a lack of water to cook our food.  We were to concerned with the fact that we had not found water, to waste it on a hot meal.

As the fire began to fade, I struggled to sleep, I kept fading in and out. I was having severe pain in my chest & trouble breathing which I figure was muscle fatigue from my pack mixed with stress & anxiety. I couldn’t sleep and was so overwhelmed with emotion, thinking I might die in the wilderness on my first night (haha). I was ready to jump off a cliff to relieve the suffering, I knew I just needed my body to relax. As I sat there knowing that I was miles from civilization, had no way of calling for help, I did all that I could do: I stayed calm. I knew if I woke my dad or sister they would not be able to help me, so I took 3 Advil and a small sip of water, and stayed lying flat on my back, and stared up at the night sky focusing on monitoring my breathing.  Within, 30 minutes I was finally asleep. Although, my painful & difficult symptoms subsided. My first night was rough. I got hardly any sleep.  I kept thinking about the spiders getting into my sleeping bag, and was plagued by one pesky mosquito as the sun began to rise. It was just very uncomfortable.

I laid there as long as I could. My sister and dad finally woke up & were moving around before I could. We took our turns finding cover to use nature as a bathroom & change. We all agreed that cooking breakfast was still out of the option. We had to conserve water. We munched on some of our nuts and granola, and packed everything up.  It was time to get back to the trail.

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As we continued in the same direction from the night before, it wasn’t long before we ran into another backpacker.  We had a very quick chat about how he hadn’t seen anyone in a while, and there was water ahead.  We marched on through the forest with hope.  Water.

When we reached the small creek, we all grabbed our “camp cups” , and filled up. We were basically chugging at this point. It was cold and incredibly refreshing. We were all so excited. The pep had been returned to our step.

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Onwards, we went.  We need a deeper stream to fill our water bottles.  Within about 30 minutes we had it. Sadly, there was no shade to keep the brutal sun off of us, but there was water. We tried to find the best place to setup our make-shift kitchen. We crossed the creek one way, and then back to the other side to a small clearing. It was perfect. There was a tree to prop our packs against, and a stream just a few feet away. We were dipping our cooling towels, and constantly filling our water bottles to hydrate, cook, and clean.  Our dehydrated egg breakfast tasted soooooo good. It was so nice having a hot meal.

We enjoyed the break to play and truly reset our bodies for the grueling journey that was ahead.  Our goal was to try and make it to Upper Merced Lake. Little did we know we would never make it.

With breakfast devoured, and cleaned up, we strapped back in and headed back to the trail. The sun was beating down on us hard. We all re-wet our cooling towels, and had them draped all around our necks and heads. (They were a game changer.)  We made our way around Mount Starr King, and found ourselves reemerged in the forest. yosemite & cartagena 278

Because of the record snowfall they had last winter, there was tons of caked tree debris on the ground, which I think also contributed to the large amount of insects.

As we trekked on, we found ourselves, walking across large fallen trees to get across raging rivers. My sister, had a hard time with this, and several times had to have my dad help her across. Oddly enough, crossing over dead trees above a raging river with 40 pounds on my back was nothing. I’d rather do it 100 times than endure day 1 again.

 We crossed Clark Creek where we stopped for a lunch break. Tuna with avocado & mustard on pita pockets. Let me tell you… It was one of the most delicious sandwiches of all time.  I  enjoyed it with a side of cheese filled Ritz Bitz & a fruity snack.  We soaked our feet in the creek & cleaned up our mess once again.  We all had been slightly revived, and had to face the reality that it was time to move on.

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We geared back up & continued to press on. It wasn’t long before we came up on Red Creek. The water levels were quite high, and so we had to wander a bit to find a place to cross. Finally it happened.  We had a short climb before we rose up into a clearing which overlooked the beautiful snow covered Buena Vista mountain range.  We ran into a group of people out for a day hike (from their camp), and chatted for a little while about what each other had experienced thus far.  Erica rigged her phone on a tree so we could take a group photo, and then we shuffled along. As we moved on rain clouds began to finally catch up with us. It started as a light drizzle and only picked up for a few minutes. The cool water was incredibly refreshing, but

did also slow us down a bit.

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Eventually we met up with Illilouette Creek, and it was much more than that. It was a raging river. We had been trekking in the rain for a while now, but as we started moving further and further along the creek, the forest floor became more and more treacherous. There were many fallen trees that had yet to be cut through, there was rotting plant debris everywhere, and I had mosquitoes biting me through my pants.  I was losing momentum fast, but knew I had to keep moving & keep up with my sister… especially my sister. My dad & were feeling about the same physically on and off for the duration of the trip, my sister on the other hand was a lot like the energizer bunny until the final day.  We all did our best to keep each other going. My sister wanted to keep pressing on to the lake, but my dad & I had to persuade her to our side. It wasn’t going to happen.  Instead we found an incredible make-shift campsite with a great flat spot on the granite. We were able to set up between a creek and the river.

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My bodies physical pain began to melt away as I slipped my feet out of my Merrils and into my Birkenstocks. That act alone had a sense of revival in it. We took turns heading down to the creek to wash up and do some light laundry, mostly socks.  We got our camp set up, collected firewood, & then began preparing for dinner. We all pulled out our dishes and sporks. We boiled the freshly collected water & poured it over the dehydrated beef stroganoff. As we let it stew, we also boiled up some Lipton chicken noodle soup.  We were so excited for our dinner. We were starving, and ready to get comfortable. As we sat there, we saw a furry creature run from one end of the granite to the other and then vanish into the forest. It was one of two animals we had seen so far.

We enjoyed our dinner immensely. The temperature was dropping and so was the sun. My dad got the fire going, and we gathered around with s’mores necessities. Yes. I brought stuff for s’mores, and we ate them off of sticks! But now, I would pack it completely different.  The sweet crunchy gooey goodness was overwhelming to my taste buds, I couldn’t eat much, but it was fun to roast marshmallows on a stick over a campfire under the glowing stars. It brings out the kid in you.

We each enjoyed tea while we finished up by the fire. Then we brushed our teeth, and were off to bed. I was at peace watching the stars shoot across the sky above me while we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company from the comfort of our sleeping bags. (It will probably be one of the most memorable nights of my life.) As the fire died off in the distance, we drifted off to sleep one by one. It was the only night I slept the whole night through. I was at peace on that slab of granite.yosemite & cartagena 483

The next morning, my sister was the first up. She started the fire, and made sure we got moving. I finally had a full night sleep. I slept like a baby. I did not want to crawl out of my sleeping bag despite the fact that my air mattress had deflated. Clearly, my body was able to relax enough after all of the exhausting experiences I had put it through in the previous 48 hours. The temperature had been just right to allow me to sleep comfortably without being too hot or cold. However, freeing myself from the clutches of the sleeping bag was a different story. It was cold. I was bundled up in sweat pants, wool socks & my fleece pull over. I slipped on my Birkenstocks and found a quiet place to use as a bathroom.

yosemite & cartagena 570 - CopyWe readied our small quick boilers to make some breakfast, tea & coffee. At this point, the dehydrated food was starting to wear on us. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as it was before, but our bodies needed the fuel for the day.  We started packing up our gear, and as we sat on the tarp doing so, a critter appeared from the forest: a marmot.  It was scavenging for food, and wasn’t too concerned with getting close to us which seemed odd. In this area, it was doubtful that they interacted with humans regularly. It was easily within 10 feet of us, sniffing around our open bear vaults, hoping to snag a prize. Slightly skittish, it kept a close eye on us, if it thought we were getting to close, it would skedaddle.  A little while later, we watched it sifting through the ashes of our exhausted fire, where we had dumped our breakfast scraps, and the area next to it where we had washed our dishes out with water. That marmot  ate every tiny morsel that it could get its tiny marmot lips on. Off in the distance, we noticed a second marmot. It’s possible they were tag teaming our camp for food.

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Finally, we were all dressed and packed. ..but our journey was different this time. I had removed the day pack that came with my back pack and filled it with our essentials. We hid our backpacks (without the bear vaults) back behind a large rock in the forest & left our bear vaults out on the main rock behind a boulder.  We didn’t want to risk a bear getting into our packs while we were away, and we didn’t want to risk other backpackers getting into our bags, so everything was hidden.

latest iphone 045We set off on our journey. We headed further back into the wilderness in search of  Upper Merced Lake. We climbed over large granite rock faces with the tiniest trickles of water flowing down, along the rushing rapids of Illilouette Creek, and through the marshy forest floor.  Nothing had prepared us for the wilderness we were wandering into.  The forest floor was in such shambles that it was almost unbearable to walk through. Between the amount of bugs, decaying debris & the lack of crossing points for the river, we were tempted to give up the journey. …but we didn’t. We headed down river a ways and found a large fallen tree that spanned from one side to the other. Mind you, it was close to 30 feet across.  We each took a turn crossing. My sister lead the charge in trying to find our way back toward the trail. We were basically in a free climb through very rough terrain, but eventually met back up with the trail. We followed it for as long as we could, but it wasn’t long before we were back on our own.

yosemite & cartagena 629All we had to navigate with was nature, and that wasn’t much help.  The theory is that because of the large amounts of snow melt passing through the area, the trails were basically gone. We had no way of finding it. Our only option was to wing it. We were crossing stream after stream over log after log, jumping from rock to rock, trudging over snow banks, and eventually found ourselves climbing up the side of mountain wall made entirely of granite.. Steep granite that was at times slippery. There were a couple close calls. We had come so far, and it seemed like we were continually losing hope, but for some reason we also held onto the hope, saying “we have to be close” & “we’ve come so far”.  We were all feeling it, but we kept going. Eventually, we ended up on top of a mountain top… or close to the top of the mountain. We stood across from Red Peak on the edge of the Buena Vista Crest. The views were incredible You could see for miles. We could see where we came from (around Mount Starr King) over the last couple days. It was truly incredible. We found a shady spot under a juniper tree and snacked on our sustenance… Nuts & stuff.  We were all hungry.

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We had a long journey still ahead of us, so with no lake at our feet, just a tiny murky pond tucked in the crest, we knew it was time to head back down. We quickly made our way down the granite mountain side, navigating our way over and around large boulders while hoping not to misstep.  Before we knew it, we were back in the tree line. We navigated our way back through the marshlands, trying to find our way across streams and river. We would go one way, and then back the other. It was truly challenging terrain that we were all incredibly thankful to get out of. There were many mosquitoes that were constantly pestering me. I just wanted to be free and clear.

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On our way back to our main crossing log, we stopped off at the raging rapids plummeting over the small waterfall. We grabbed a couple of photos, and then it was back to trekking. It truly was trekking. The floor was treacherous. The goal was not to misstep… not to scrape your leg… not to walk into a spider web… because there is no way to call for help should something be broken, you fall into the rushing freezing river, or better yet, you’re unconscious or dead. WooHoo!!!!

Finally after weaving our bodies over and under fallen trees, we followed the river quite a ways. There was concern we had passed our crossing-log. We didn’t it was just a little further ahead. My sister led the way, I followed, and then my dad. We were making our way back quickly. We kept going. I kept swatting away mosquitoes and we searched for the trail we had lost hours ago.  Within minutes, we were back on track. We hustled our way back to our packs. We grabbed our gear and headed to the opposite side of the river, on a clearing just downriver from where we slept. We found a great spot where the water was shallow & the raging water slowed to a safe pace allowing us to wade in slowly and soak our aching feet, refill our water, and clean our dishes. We set up for lunch which was a mix of snack, tuna, and whatever else. NOTE: Don’t leave a bag marshmallows in the heat. They turn into one giant sticky blob. We were famished. We soaked our feet in the shallow granite shore of the rushing river, and tried our best to regain our energy.

Once again, it was time to put our hiking shoes back on & strap into our Gregory backpacks. We filled our water bottles & headed back North West. We knew where we were going to camp. Just on the south side of Clark Creek where we had eaten lunch the day before. We pushed ourselves hard that afternoon. It was a lot easier to make the journey without the rain, fatigue, and inclines.  We were moving quick. We came face to face with a dear on the path, and watched it until it ran. Once again, I didn’t have my camera out and ready which was disappointing, but it was okay. I enjoyed a beautiful & serene moment while wondering how long it would last & how close could we get before it left us.

In the last 24 hours, we had seen more wildlife than people and we were okay with that. It was great to have a break from people, an opportunity to truly connect with nature. We came to the intense river crossing once again. We waited as my sister kepting waiting to step up and cross. I couldn’t take it anymore. I cut the line & went first. My dad helped her across, and we wrapped up our trek for the day. Finally, early that evening we reached our campground.  Found what seemed to be the clearest spot, and did our best to make it even clearer by shifting small rocks & moving the bigger rocks over by the already built fire pit.  We laid our tarp for the last time and strategically placed our sleeping bag, my dad & I at opposite ends, and my little sister in the middle. Everything  was laid out as we wanted it.  Pillows were placed at the top of sleeping bags which laid on our inflatable mats. The knives laid by head and the tarp was lined with a border of Off! (the bug spray).  Our backpapcks were propped up against the adjacent tree, and our bear vaults sat by fire pit.

We took turns by the river washing up and changing our clothes into our sleeping gear. The water was freezing, but it felt good to wash away the sweat. When we were ready we wandered the campground to gather firewood.  My sister took charge of the fire while my dad took some time to rest. She became very proud of her ability to start fires. …but this one wasn’t taking off the way she hoped. We were all involved. …naturally, my dad was the one who got it going.

With the fire burning, it was dinner time.  We opened up our bear vaults & sifted through the food. It was Chili Mac night. We lit up the quick boilers and heated the correct amount of water for two packs of food.  We let it sit until it was ready and split it up amongst the three of us. The only problem was… none of us had much of an appetite. Two days of grueling activity and dehydrated food are just hard on the body & on the digestive system. We all ate as much as we could, but then decided it was time to clean up. We dumped the remaining food into the fire, rinsed the food bags & stuck them in our ziplocs , then my dad and I washed the bowls a little ways away.  We reconvened by the fire. As the sun was setting we had a lot of fun talking and taking  group photos. We drank tea & tried to relax.

Once again, it wasn’t even completely dark when we nuzzled into our sleeping bags, but it felt good. It was cold that night, and for whatever reason I was struggling to sleep. In fact, I barely slept (my tea was probably caffeinated, haha). I was so cold. Sleeping without socks this night was a mistake. (It was however, the only night that I got my air mattress pad to stay inflated the entire night, so that was a win.) As I laid there frigid, tossing and turning, I kept trying to sleep. It felt impossible. I couldn’t shake the concern for bears and spiders as I laid there cold and almost shivering. Looking back, I wish I had made an effort to find my socks, but in the moment it felt far to overwhelming in the cold darkness.

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The next morning, we all slowly woke up. But, of course, my sister was the first up, eager to start the fire. We all gathered around for our last breakfast. A mix of random things from our vaults. We didn’t even bother with trying to eat the freeze-dried stuff, we could barely stomach the thought of it.  We all had uneasy stomachs & a long journey back to the village area. We headed back over to our sleep spot & started packing up. Within 20 minutes we were ready for the final leg of our great excursion.  We made sure our fire was out, and headed back across the river in the direction we came barely more than a day before.

yosemite & cartagena 708yosemite & cartagena 709The final leg was rough. It was hot, we were tired, had uneasy stomachs, and were all ready to drop our packs for good. We were sluggish but pushing our hardest to make it through. We took a different route than we had before, and it was paying off. It was a little shorter, but a good chunk of it was in the hot sun. We had our last water fill in a small creek near the back of Kings Peak, and pressed on. We went up and over & found ourselves at the lookout point facing the back of Half Dome near the falls.   We were so excited. We finally had cellphone reception to call my mom to let her know where we were and where to meet us.

latest iphone 077We thought we were almost done. My dad had made it sound as if we would be down and out within 30 minutes, but it took us at least 2 hours, maybe 3. Honestly, I think the end may have been the worst part simply because of the amount of tourists that we came into contact with. First we headed down a long paved trail that took us from the lookout point down to Nevada Falls. This part wasn’t too bad because it seems fewer people decide to go past Vernal Falls. We had to cross the bridge over Nevada Falls & began our next decent down steep rock steps. Thankfully, the traffic was still mild.

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We continued down and along the path until we hit flatter ground and the next bridge. It was time for the next crossing. We found the crowds…. We continued on the given trail which was a little tricky to find at first because the large space was packed with sunbathers and families. We made it to the railed in stairway down… It was steep. The further down we go the more people we were coming into contact with. Here we were walking along massive water falls on rock steps that were completely lined with tourists that half the time didn’t seem to be fully paying attention. After over 72 hours in the wild without a real shower, sweating, drinking river water, and not having a hot fresh meal, the last thing you want to deal with is mobs of people who could care less about about your sleep depravity, aching feet, and bruised torso.  #respectthebackpackers  Its hard to slow your momentum on your downward climb of massive rock steps, so it’s incredibly frustrating when you have people just coming out of nowhere right in front of you.

latest iphone 095When we reached the south side of Vernal falls, we were soaked. Vernal Falls is the one you have to look for! It It was like my encounter with Vic Falls. There had been so much snow last winter that the snow melt was raging over the cliffs  and was drenching every person that was bold enough to pass through. It was 100% unexpected, and although it wasn’t ideal, I still sort of enjoyed the cool down and the little bit of peace that it brought to my soul. …but then came the traffic jam. The rest of the way down had the largest amount of traffic, at one point there was a small mob where it seemed no one could move. It’s how I imagine a New York department store is during Black Friday. …awful.  Finally, we made it to flatter grounds, but it just kept going. The paved trail just kept going. It was cloudy & damp, my poor dad was lagging behind, and my sister was really worn out. I was on my second wind with the thought of being done. We just wanted to reach the end.

When we did cross the final bridge and made it to the road, we headed to the bus stop where the line to get on seemed a mile long. We called my mom & found out that there was no way for her to get to us. We came to the realization that the only way this was going to work was for us to take the bus into the village & meet her. However, the traffic in the area was so dense that buses were not running on time, were taking alternate routes, avoiding stops & doing whatever they could to keep things moving as efficiently as possible. I think just our bus ride took nearly 40 minutes, and it wasn’t the most enjoyable. We all got separate seats and I was freezing as I sat next to a stranger in my damp clothes looking like a trainwreck. Haha.  We stayed in constant contact with my mom, and rearranged our plans in an attempt to meet sooner.  Finally, it worked out. We got off the bus with our packs and headed her direction. We got into her rental car, where she greeted us with cups of chili, soups, salad & drinks… She had literally read my mind in some magical mom way.  Earlier that day we had all been talking about what we were wanting to eat… mine was a salad.  Thanks, Mom!

Our day still wasn’t over though. We had to go back up to the Glacier Point Lookout in order to get the other rental car. It was probably another hour and a half of driving before we ever got back to the hotel. It’s safe to say that shower was one of the best of all time.

…to be continued

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