Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stunning

Taking in the view that was the inspiration for the title of this blog post


The last 12 days of the journey have been a “sprint” from Lima, Peru to Santiago, Chile.  Enjoy some of the highlights and musings during my time. 

I love hiking. 

Better yet, hiking is a passion. 

Why?  I had some time to ponder this question last week during my 3-day trek through the Colca Canyon outside of Arequipa, Peru.  Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world, measuring 13,650 feet deep at its deepest point.  This is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon.  Day 1 consisted of about 5 hours of hiking to the bottom of the canyon… as in 5 hours of downhill… as in my knees hated me.  But the scenery was breathtaking.  About halfway through we spotted several condors gliding through the canyon, which is one of the largest birds with a wingspan of more than 10 feet, as well as the national bird of Peru.  They are also in the vulture family… but that diminishes their beauty so we won’t dwell on that fact.  We rolled into our destination on Day 1 and I was blessed to take the hottest shower I think I’ve ever had.  The shower was solar heated (in the bottom of a desert canyon, mind you) with no cold water access.  I don’t think I’ve ever uttered the words “too hot” and “shower” together but the thought entered my mind.  But I wasn’t going to complain.  Day 2 we had a leisurely morning before another 5 hours to our next destination at the “Oasis.”  It was during this time that I began to consider what it is I love so much about hiking.  Here are some of the conclusions I came to. 

Looking for condors



Guide Nelson points out the Oasis, our home in two nights

Started the day at the top of this canyon. 

Church tower dates back to the 1500's

Hiking is a great workout.  I really don’t like “working out”.  But this type of exercise serves many purposes.  Hiking clears the mind. Often times you have hours at a time to contemplate life, in solitude.  In the day-to-day, many times I lose time for this.  Hiking takes you away from other things that distract you and helps to allow you to reflect, something I think we could all use a little more of.  Hiking allows for meaningful conversation.  I think this is why I first started hiking in 2003… to have an opportunity to enjoy quality time with my friends in Colorado.  In many ways you have a captive audience (good or bad) and that allows conversation to get deep, quickly, if people are open to it.  This is one of my favorite things.  Hiking takes you to beautiful places that can’t be appreciated without making the effort to get there.  As in, you can’t get there by car.  I am thankful I have had the opportunity to appreciate some of the most beautiful places in the world as a result of this sport.  Hiking helps me to have a greater appreciation for the Creator, and his creation in nature.  His glory is truly manifested in this creation.  Last week, I kept reflecting on God’s words in Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements – surely you know!  Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? … Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?  Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?  Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?  Declare, if you know all this… Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no man is, on the desert in which there is no man, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground sprout with grass?” (Job 38: 4-7, 16-18, 25-27)   

At the end of Day 2, when we arrived at the Oasis, the destination lived up to its name in every sense.  This brings me to another aspect of hiking: the feeling you have when you reach your destination and you don’t have to hike anymore.  (I think I first learned this lesson on the Camino de Santiago… “The best part of the Camino is stopping at the end of the day.”) 

The Oasis from above

Morning Sky before hiking out of the canyon

Sun rising on the canyon

So after finishing this trek, I found myself thankful, once again, for a body that functions in a way that allows me to appreciate this sport.  I had the same thought multiple times last year during my various treks.  And then, after my Achilles rupture last May, I could barely watch other people being active without cringing at the thought of a similar mishap taking place, let alone imagine that I would be able to get back out there the way I had in the previous 8 months.  I would say that I’m officially out of my forced-retirement but still want to ease my way back into things.  I still feel tension in my Achilles but there is no real pain, something I am also thankful for. 

The desert is a beautiful place.  I’ve ridden about 35 hours through the desert since I left Lima.  I think I have another 20 more to go.  I’m struck by its beauty.  There have been hours between settlements.  And then when we arrive to one of these towns, and I can’t help but think how people got here and how they stay here.  The answer to these questions, in Chile, is simple.  Mining.  Mining, especially copper, makes up 55% of the GDP of Chile.  That is pretty significant.  (Remember the 33 trapped Chilean miners in 2010?  I’ll drive near the site on the next leg of my journey to Santiago.)  The other day I took an 8 hour bus ride from the Wild West-esque Mining Town-turned-Surf City of Iquique to the Hippy-Magnet Oasis-in-the-Desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.   As everyone got off the bus mid way through our trip to have our bags searched by customs, I realized I was one of 2 women on the 50-passenger bus.  The rest appeared to be miners returning home or heading back to work.  So the desert is serving a great purpose for the people of Chile. 

Sun sets over the Pacific - Iquique, Chile

Lemon Pie for breakfast? When in Iquique...

But I am appreciating the desert for its beauty.  The Atacama Desert is considered the driest desert in the world.  My understanding of the definition of a desert is to be “dry.”  Therefore, it seems that the Atacama Desert is winning in this category.  I’m loving the drive and watching the sand formations and mountains change formations and colors as the day progresses.  And the sunsets are especially spectacular.  Yesterday afternoon I took a tour to the Valle de la Luna and then to the Valle de los Muertos to watch the sun set.  I kept trying to take pictures although knowing full well that the pictures could never do the scenery justice.  But I couldn’t help but try.  If you ever have the opportunity, you should come experience it for yourself.  

The Great Dune - Valle de la Luna - Atacama Desert, Chile



Loving this view

Sun sets over Valle de los Muertos - Atacama Desert - Chile

Going, going....

And although not exactly the desert, my first morning in San Pedro I took another tour to the Altiplano Lakes.  Liyana, a fellow traveler, described the scene as “stunning.”  I don’t believe there was any better way to describe what we experienced.  Again, here are some pictures that don’t do it justice.  

Ever wanted to know what quinoa looks like in its natural form?  It's the tall thing. 

Laguna Miscanti - Atacama, Chile

Laguna Minioues, Atacama, Chile - Stunning!
  
Can't get enough of it

Laguna Chaxa - Chile

There are flamingoes behind me. 

During the last few weeks I’ve met some fun peeps as well.  Let me tell you about a few.

Nelson Smith (full-on Peruvian contrary to what his name might suggest) was my fantastic guide through the Colca Canyon.  He was super knowledgeable about the terrain in the canyon and the vegetation that we passed by.  I love learning so this made the trek much more than just a hike through the desert. 
Awesome Guide Nelson at the end of our trek

 Completing our small group were the mother-son duo of Roxanna and Fabian.  Roxanna had never been hiking, much less camping (although we weren’t technically camping as were staying in rooms but considering the accommodations, you might as well imagine we were camping).  But Roxanna overcame many fears this trip, all in an effort to fulfill 12-year old Fabian’s desire to discover the canyon.  Fears such as spider, beetles, and horseback riding… which was the only way she was going to be able to make it out of the canyon as the first 2 days had taken a pretty seriously toll on her body.  To say that this may have been the worst 3-days of Roxanna’s life may be an understatement.  And, it’s possible you could say the opposite for Fabian.  He talked about how he is usually on his phone or computer playing games so he seemed to be soaking in every moment of running down the trail, swimming in the pool at the oasis and appreciating his first real taste of appreciating natural beauty.  For this gift, Roxanna has easily won the Mom-of-the-Year award in my mind.  In the end, I was blessed to share this journey with 3 Peruvians, something that is pretty rare for a trek that is usually undertaken by foreigners. 

Roxanna at the end of her terrifying ride.

Me, Fabian, Roxanna and Nelson - a good team

The next day, I made my way for Chile.  I had done my best to use up all my Peruvian Soles (the local currency) but was off by the equivalent of 2 dollars.  It’s probably not a great idea to be on the short side of the stick at a border crossing, but as has always been the case on the journey, the Lord provided.  I was standing in a 30-person line waiting for the taxis that take you through the border crossing to the Chilean border town of Arica.  The cost of the taxi was 20 Soles.  I had 16.  Thanks to a sweet Chilean couple who had been visiting Peru, they spotted me the extra 4 Soles and then kept a close eye on me to help me make my way through the border and on into Arica.  Gracias a Dios!  I’m sad I didn’t get their names. 

My one-night stay in Arica, brought me to the hostel Arica Unite, hosted by a French couple, Jenny and Nico.  The highlight of the stay… and incredible breakfast (included in the cost) of a crepe topped with mangos and a banana puree mixed with chocolate.  My hosts were kind enough to take a few minutes out of their typically hectic morning to answer a few questions about life in hospitality. 

6 hours after a midnight arrival in San Pedro, I was on a bus to see the Altiplano Lakes (pictured above).  Joining me on the tour was Liyana from Malaysia.  She works in the travel industry and had all sorts of ideas for me for career opportunities.  We had a fun time exchanging travel stories and resources.

Yesterday morning I was scheduled for a 4:30 sunrise tour to some nearby geysers.  After waiting in the hammocks at the hostel until 5:45 for the tour van to pick me up, I went back to sleep.  I was bummed, but tried to set my mind on the fact that there is a reason for everything.  After sleeping in a while, venturing out for breakfast and then coming back to the hostel, maybe I understood the reason.  A young couple, one of which was wearing a St. Ambrose t-shirt, was walking out the door as I was walking in.  I asked if he went to St. Ambrose.  He said no but was from nearby Macomb (Illinois).  I said I was from Peoria.  His girlfriend said she was from Washington (Illinois).  Turns out my cousin’s cousins, the Kricks, are family friends of hers!  Julie was her name.  Her boyfriend is Luke.  They are both recent grads of Illinois State and trying to figure out what their next steps are.  My advice: keep traveling!  They ended up on the same afternoon tour with me.  This is the kind of small world stuff I love. 

Central Illinois Shoutout!  Julie is from Washington (IL) and Luke is from Macomb.  Recent ISU grads!  FUN!


Also joining in the tour on the last minute was Matas from Sweden.  Matas was just coming off the high of a 5-day trek through Torres del Paine in Patagonia (Argentina).  We also swapped travel stories and recommendations while appreciating the incredible terrain throughout our tour and a most amazing sunset over the valley.  We were hoping to catch a “star tour” at one of the local observatories, but they were sold out.  The region is known for its amazing night skies so we headed to the outskirts of town where we appreciated the views, sans telescopes.  The Milky Way and the rest of the night sky were literally shimmering.  It was an end to a day that did not begin how I expected.  This is the story of my journey. 

Long story short: It’s been a “stunning” 12-days through the deserts of Peru and Chile.  But I’m trying to contain my excitement for my next destination.  In less than 4 hours I’ll be in Patagonia – Coyhaique, Chile… my home (and job) for the next month!              


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