Friday, September 7, 2012

The Month of Monsoons

While my big plans to keep everyone updated on my amazing last lazy days in Thailand fell short because the Internet cafe couldn't connect to blogspot, I'm secretly glad because the last thing I wanted to do in the most beautiful and peaceful place in the world was sit in a hot Internet cafe and write about what I was wishing I was doing for that hour. Charlie and I successfully made it to Singapore, found each other in the airport (we were on different flights- it made for a lonely day of travel), and got to our hostel. The YMCA, shockingly, was pretty nice. Our day in Singapore showed us why- they're standard of living is ridiculous. I saw so many people walking out of Miu Miu, Prada, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, etc carrying LARGE shopping bags, and the food was so expensive! But the city was clean and safe, so we spent our free day wandering and then watched a few Olympic events at an outdoor restaurant in Chinatown. The next morning we met with Josh, a long time friend and travel companion, in the Singapore airport and got on a plane to Krabi, Thailand. Tiger Air was certainly not the finest travel experience I've ever had, but the service was good and, as a climber/young traveler abroad this is important, cheap! We took a bus from the airport for 500 baht (seems like so much, but in actuality is less than 15 dollars) to the Ao Nang dock and hired a boat to Ao Ton Sai beach, our home for two weeks. Despite exhaustion and agreement that we'd take a rest day, we couldn't help ourselves when we saw the cliff faces on the beach- climbing was inevitable. We hit the sand running (not actually we were carrying heavy backpacks and it was a million degrees). And so for the next two weeks we woke up late, ate lazy breakfasts while avoiding bees and watching monkeys, then climbed till a late lunch when the sun hit the walls, swam/kayaked/napped/tanned/read until the shade covered the walls again in the late afternoons, then climbed until well after sundown with headlamps. We were definitely not the only ones with this schedule- most of the people staying on Ton Sai, rather than the more popular and much more touristy railay beaches just across the bay (reachable by a 30 min hike), were climbing fanatics as well. Railay certainly offers some great climbing, but has mostly easier climbs. We spent zero days there, even though I probably would have loved it-the boys are far to strong to enjoy those areas. I mostly hopped on the boys' warm ups and spent the rest of the day taking photos, finishing my summer reading, and tanning, which of course is just my version of heaven. Josh and Charlie killed it, both flashing and sending several 5.13s each. I re-worked my favorite climb in the world, Lars and Lars, a 7a (5.11d). We also spent a day Deep Water Soloing at the Spiderman Wall. I was terrified, to say the least, as jumping from heights into dark water is not my favorite activity. But in the end I actually had a lot of fun. We went in a group of 14 climbers from all over the world and got to talk to some interesting individuals. Charlie and Josh, of course, had no fear and both effortlessly scaled the walls and jumped off from huge heights. A monsoon came to join us on the wall, although when you're already wet, rain isn't the biggest concern. The coolest part of the day though? I GOT STUNG BY JELLYFISH!!! Really tiny ones, and it barely even registered what was happening-it only felt like tiny pinpricks, but I still feel like such a badass now! My favorite bits about being on Ton Sai, besides the world class climbing and the exceptionally unique sunsets, were the places we ate. If you ever go to Ton Sai, there are a few places you absolutely must try. At Mama's Chicken, a small shack of a restaurant down the path next to the Pirate/Sunset Bar, the pad thai, green curry, and fried rice are all incredible. It looks like a sketchy place to eat, but the food is out of this world. Depending on the day, you pay when you order and sit down to wait before they bring it to you, and other days you pay when you finish following some sort of honor code-ask when you order though, I once sat for an hour waiting and they informed me they hadn't started my food because I hadn't paid, when that day for lunch I had paid after eating...It's Thailand, you just have to go with the flow. The smoothie stall on that same path is MINDBLOWING- no matter what fruit you get the girl who runs it will make it fantastic. My personal favorite was mango, banana and orange. Local Thai is on Railay, another local restaurant that doesn't look appealing and yet has some of the best food I've ever eaten (although Mama's will always have the number one spot in my heart). The restaurant closest to the climbing cave on the beach that has a deck overlooking the ocean has decent food too- I loved the fried rice and the sweet and sour chicken. On my last day, a monsoon like no other decided to strike just as Charlie and Josh were helping me to hike over to Railay to catch a boat to Krabi with all my bags. I was terrified that no boats would leave that day because when I told a local I'd be leaving that day, they laughed and said "no, storm is here". It was very encouraging. But boats did leave, and I took a tuktuk in Krabi to my hotel, checked in, showered in the first truly hot water I'd felt in weeks, and curled up to ride out the storm in my pjs. Saying goodbye to the boys was hard, I always have so much fun with them. The next day I was back on Tiger Air (Note: The Krabi airport is tiny, and there are never lines. You need MAYBE an hour before a flight, even less. Not two. Definitely not two. I had to kill an hour and 45 minutes there on my own.). I spent the afternoon in Singapore with my Mom! Our family needs to start planning on the same itinerary. We went to the Raffles Hotel for high tea, which was incredible. I don't think I've ever seen such an arrangement of tiny chocolate treats. After a champagne toast to an amazing summer, we retired to our own hotel, the Fairmont, and I packed for my big flight the following day. A 3 AM wakeup, a million hours of flying later, and I was safely back at home in LA for a 24 hour layover before heading to school. Overall, the end to my summer could not have been more perfect. Thailand is one of the most beautiful locations I've ever been to, and I would be devastated to even entertain the idea that I'll never return. Mama's Chicken has not served it's last pad thai to me!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Finale: South America

Real life comes as quite the shock after 3 monthes of traveling. We had no time at all when we got back to Cusco after our trek to Machu Picchu, so I planned on writing a post about it when I got back to LA. Instead, friends, work, and the calling of the sunny sands at the beach got in the way. South America seemed to be a surreal experience. Now that I'm planning a new trip and new posts I'll be writing, I want to conclude my last trip. MACHU PICCHU TREK AND THE LAST FEW DAYS: I had been looking forward to the trek as someone looks forward to a final exam- I was prepared, well studied, and knew it was going to be hard. Despite my family's affinity to the great outdoors, and my own love for climbing, hiking has always been the bane of my existence. I have asthma issues, I trip a lot, I usually end up twisting an ankle. Needless to say, the day before the trek began I was hoping for the development of some new tropical disease so I didn't have to go. Looking back, I'm so beyond grateful that I didn't spend those days in a hospital and got through the trek. Yes, it was physically demanding. Yes, I was the second to slowest hiker in the group. Yes, I did end up twisting my ankle. And yes, I have never had such issues breathing (although no asthma, we were just at 15,000 feet in altitude... try taking one step without panting and I'll pay you good money). But I've never seen such devastatingly beautiful, untouched nature in my entire life. Every day I could swear I saw something more beautiful than the day before. Even my photos couldn't capture the feeling of being somewhere that you could only find in that place in that moment. Day one of the trek we did an extra hike to see a bright turquoise blue mineral lake surrounded by snow covered mountain peaks, Day two we passed by Salkantay's peak, and the last few days we saw some of the most gorgeous views of the jungle we'd seen on the trip. Once we actually reached Machu Picchu, I was kind of actually shocked to find that I had been so awed by the natural beauty we had seen while trekking that I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be by one of the world's wonders. Every day, the trek was a struggle. My legs hurt all the time, we never seemed to get enough sleep (especially the first night when our sleep was interrupted by cows grazing two feet from our face and several avalanches from Salkantay nearby), and it was hard to breathe. One day was optional- the hardest day of hiking, three hours straight uphill, three hours straight downhill. My ankle was tender, my calves were on fire, and Eli coerced me into sucking it up and doing it. Even though I was ready to cry by the end of the hike, when we all piled into the train that took us to the town closest to Machu Picchu where we'd get to shower and sleep in a real bed before seeing the great site, I've never been so proud of myself. Each day was a mental and physical struggle, and every day I completed the hike without being (too) whinney and too down on myself. Machu Picchu, while not as stunning as I imagined it would be, was well worth visiting. The intricacy of the site was astounding- we'd all just learned first hand how hard it was to trek there from Cusco, and the original people there somehow were able to bring those stones up there to build a city. Huayna Picchu was actually the hardest part of the week- imagine the steepest stairs you've ever been on, meant for people with feet half your own size, and then imaging climbing those for an hour and a half without pause after trekking 50-60 miles over the course of four days. OUCH. Again, at the top, I've never been more proud. Thanks to the encouragement of my friends, I hadn't turned down the opportunity to see Machu Picchu from above. After a full day of exploring MP, we headed back to Cusco to wrap up Carpe Diem business, have our final dinner at a great restaurant off of Plaza de Armas called "greens", write everyone in the group quick letters, and pack for our flight for the next day. Throughout the trip I learned a lot about myself. Consumerism had become a natural part of my life while I knew very little about the US government and the destruction it has caused abroad with our foreign initiates to "help" develop other nations (read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, I did while experiencing first had the destruction the damn in Banos, Ecuador has caused to the wildlife and fishing industry). The trek, however, reaffirmed my belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. Even if you're like me and swear that you hate hiking, believe me, I'd do it all over again to feel the pride I did when I reached the top of Huayna Picchu. THE AFTERMATH: I still have the scars from the bug bites and from my Machete incident in the jungle, but staying connected with my travels and the lessons I learned there has been difficult. It's hard to answer "How was it? Tell me everything!" because how do you describe the weirdest but most incredible experience of your life? I struggled, a lot, when I was uncomfortable with the living conditions, when I was sick and didn't have my family around to baby me, and when I missed my friends back home. Traveling with a group of people was way harder than I expected too. But looking back, those hard times were the best times. How do you tell someone living in a dirt floor cement house with people who barely spoke the language you had just started learning was the most incredible 10 days of your life? I'm still working on figuring out a way to tell people, but I know what counts is that I'll never forget a minute of it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The yoga retreat, as expected, was incredibly relaxing, despite the fact that we woke up at 6 and did intense yoga twice a day for two hours each session. We also did some meditation every day... not really my favorite but it was definitely interesting to learn more about. On my way to Machu Picchu in two days! Probably at some ungodly hour. The next time I´ll be updating my blog I´ll be packing to go back to the US! Ciao Emily

Thursday, April 19, 2012

In da jungle, da mighty jungle... Emily slices her hand open with a machete


Somehow. It´s been a tough week. Let´s just say I´m so happy to be back in a city with a Starbucks and air conditioning.
I appreciated my time in the jungle for like... a day. But then it got old. And then it got older. Because the more time you spend in the jungle, the more you sweat, and the more you sweat, the more you start to smell like jungle fungus. I´ve never smelled an odor coming off of clothing that has been so terrible. And I´ve gotten dog poop on the hem of my pants before. The laundry place had to wash my clothing THREE TIMES before it stopped smelling/the water ran clear.
The group spent five days in the heart of the jungle working with Camino Verde, an organization dedicated to reforesting and the preservation of the unique rainforest in Peru. Specifically, the group and I were working on clearing a path through the jungle so that the people who protect the area can check for poachers and squatters (a serious issue around the area, because squatters actually have rights to the land if they start planting crops there). Which means some guy hands us all machetes and tells us to hack away at the overgrowth that has sprung up on the old path.
Let´s describe day one for Emily-
I hit my head TWICE on two different trees hanging over the path on the walk out (the Fall Carpe Diem group cleared a lot of it and we had to hike out about an hour every day to where we began working), then I machete my left hand open. It wasn´t a deep cut, but damn it bled a lot, and I felt pretty stupid. Then, on the walk back, I got caught on Poisones Bamboo thorns and couldn´t get un-caught. Robin, our contact in the jungle, had to come and pry the curved thorns out of my arm. A few minutes later, poisones bamboo slices at my leg. Once we get back to the house and I peel my soaking socks off (we had to wade through a swamp every day), I get bit my a nest of fire ants. I don´t know if they give them steroids or what down here, but they are significantly larger than the fire ants in the US.
Fortunately, the subsequent days were MUCH better. Although on Day two Lizzy sliced her foot open... with an ax. Five of our group members had to carry her the hour and a half back to the house and she left on our boat to get stitches at the hospital in Puerto Maldanado. But everyone else remained fairly in tact for the remaining days- only one other superficial machete cut to a hand.
We worked hard, sweat a ton, smelled like nothing I´ve ever experienced, and ended up clearing a mile and a half of the path.
Other than the humidity, sweat, and injuries, I liked the jungle. The birds sounded and looked incredible, the whole place smelled fantastic (except for us), and we got to see capybaras and monkeys on a daily basis!!!
After leaving Camino Verde, we spent a night in Puerto Maldanado, then did a more touristy adventure in the jungle. We visited Lake Sandoval overnight, and got to see more squirrel monkeys, a few spider monkeys (MY FAVORITE), cayman, spiders of all sizes, tucans and macaws, and some otters! I had a minor panic attack when I swatted at something on my neck and it turned out to be the most gigantic cockroach EVER that had crawled up me, but other than that it was fun and totally exhausting.
Being in the jungle definitely pushed me more than any other part of our trip, even those ten days we didn´t have a shower. Luckily, we had showers in the jungle, and I was grateful that they were cold because otherwise I would have never cooled down ever. I was pushed physically with the amount of work we were doing, and my comfort level was pushed when I would wake up in the middle of the night in itching attacks because of my thousands of bug bites. But overall I´m glad I went. (Although I´m a little more glad to be back in a city haha)
This week we head to the Sacred Valley for a yoga retreat, back to Cusco for a night, then on our trek to Machu Pichu, and then we´re all done!
Time has been flying by here, and we only have 13 days left in Peru!
So excited to see what these two weeks hold though.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Our plane is delayed only 25 hours.

Seven hours. Seven hours in an airport, and we´re informed that our flight is canceled. Yesterday was not the best day of the trip.
It was certainly not the worst.
WE STAYED IN A HOTEL!!! Not a hostal, a hotel- you read that right. It had the most beautiful shower, two queen beds to a room, a beautiful breakfast buffet instead of just bread and butter, a spa, airconditioning and heat, and a doorman. While some of you back home may say, DUH that´s what a hotel is suppossed to be like, remember that we´ve been staying in 15 dollar a night hostals, and usually we only get sporatic hot water dribbling out of the shower heads. The airline put us up and paid for our dinner and breakfast, athough that didn´t stop Max and myself for ducking out one last time to Jack´s. After two meals each and a chocolate chip cookie split, we were finally satisfied after having access to zero edible food all day.
Ivy, Lizzy, Max, Eli, and myself spent the night watching HBO- they were playing The Town (Awesome movie) and got a great night´s sleep on our cushy beds.
This morning we all returned to the airport, leaving our hotel at 7:30 (Ivy and I woke up at 7:25, it made for an interesting breakfast) and took off FINALLY at 10:45 AM.
We are now in Puerto Maldanado, enjoying the heat and humidity before our six hour boat ride deep into the jungle tomorrow to start our final volunteer project of the trip.
It´s so crazy to think that we have 22 days left! It seems like nothing.
Expect quite the update after our jungle adventure is finished.