Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ready for the dead

It's that time in Mexico. Painters are furiously whitewashing the cemeteries, and flower sellers are stockpiling their sweet-smelling inventory - especially sunset orange marigolds - to get everything in place for Day of the Dead.

I'm currently on the road in the Yucatán for Moon Handbooks, breezing along some of the back roads (read: potholes) connecting the major sights here. Daylight seems to be slipping into the trees earlier and earlier every evening, and yesterday I shut down my overachiever tendencies and spent the night in a nondescript transit town instead of pushing on in the twilight.

So I was walking the streets of Tizimín this morning after breakfast, and talked to these guys prepping flowers for sale next week. The floor of their shop was awash in leaves and stems, as was the street outside.

Tonight I'm in the town outside Chichén Itzá, where December 2012 is reaching a fever pitch and everyone's offering tongue-in-cheek "end of the world" packages and the archaeological site is revamping its sound and light show to capitalize on the influx on Maya doomsday revelers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Four seasons on the JMT

I  didn't start backpacking in the wilderness until I was an adult. My first trip was organized by friends of friends, and we were a group of six women with varying amounts of backcountry experience. I still wince thinking about the slip-on leather shoes that gave me blisters within a half an hour and the hip belt-less pack I carried, but I'll always remember scrambling to a natural rock pool and skinny-dipping in the 90-degree afternoon heat.

I started backpacking by myself a few years ago, mostly because I couldn't find anyone game for longer hikes. Before setting out the first time, I geeked out overpreparing myself. I borrowed library books on wilderness first aid, lurked around online backpacking forums for gear pointers and read up on the most effective bear hazing techniques. My bicycle suffered benign neglect as I walked everywhere for weeks, loading up my backpack to hike home with big grocery shops or ambling miles over San Francisco hills and back to meet friends. I also read Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and thought: if those jokers can take a stab at the Appalachian Trail, I can plod along a well-marked footpath without requiring a search and rescue team.

So after four summers, I recently finished section-hiking the John Muir Trail. Hurrah! If not for the snow-packed Sierra Nevada passes last summer, it would have been three seasons, but no sense dwelling on that.

After logging all those miles on the trail, one sticky issue keeps swirling through my brain: where are all the girls? I hiked alongside a dozen Boy Scout troops and scores of father-son duos, but encountered only one group of girls (a Girl Scout group from SoCal) during that entire time. Besides the ubiquitous Boy Scouts, most of my fellow hikers were men going solo (beard mandatory), groups of male friends (duuude!) or men with their female partners. And so few women hike alone that almost everyone I met assumed I was there with someone else.

So why aren't more girls trekking the trails? It bugs me that it's such a boys-only (and mostly white) rite of passage. If no one takes them into the wilderness, how are girls going to learn the self-reliance and camaraderie found there, or a deeper respect for the natural world? I'm committed to change those statistics as best I can, and I hope that other folks will do the same. 

If you're wondering why it's worth slogging over mountains with a heavy pack and digging catholes every day, I'm posting a few photos from the southernmost section of the JMT (accessed via Onion Valley) below.

Kearsarge Lakes

Forester Pass facing east

Bighorn Plateau

Guitar Lake basin

Sunrise over ridges west of Whitney

View from Mt Whitney

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Venezuela in photos

Blame it on the road, but I've been too exhausted to do much more than hit the pillow every night. Here are a few photos to narrate my trajectory over the last few weeks.

In Caracas, and soon to open as the new resting place for Simón Bolívar. Some have derided it as overpriced ski slope architecture, but it does mirror the upward slope of El Ávila behind it.

Flying in over Gran Roque, the main settlement in Los Roques. Most of the houses on the island are on the righthand side, next to the lagoon.

An astillero, or boat-building yard, along the northwest coast of Isla Margarita. I think it looks like the skeleton of a whale.

A worker preparing tobacco leaves in a cigar factory in Cumaná.

I noticed this store in Puerto Ordaz during my first visit to Venezuela back in 2006. When I asked them about the name, the folks working there had no idea where it came from.

One of my biggest disappointments was just missing the arrival of presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski at the airport in Ciudad Bolívar, but my plane was leaving for Canaima. Hundreds of flag-waving supporters mobbed the airport- a true rockstar moment.

Dusk at Playa Medina, along the northeast coast near Rio Caribe. I hired a taxi to drive me to remote beaches along the coast all day, and this was the last one. We drove back in the dark along a road that had more holes than pavement. Wish I could have stayed here instead. 

Bus . . . or boudoir? One of my many experiences with unusual interior decorating on public conveyances. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Touchdown in the land of Bolívar

A friend described arrival in Venezuela as akin to getting your sea legs. To me it feels more like running a gauntlet. It's certainly not like flying into any other place I know.

First of all, the embassy travel reports hyperventilate about crime at the Caracas airport. Don't arrive after dark. Don't catch rides with unofficial taxis. Be wary of strangers, who could be drug smugglers (putting things in your bags), or run-of-the-mill thieves (removing things from those bags).  Other warnings include nightmares like "express kidnappings" en route to town and extortion by police authorities.

Because of an artificially pegged currency situation, local currency withdrawn from ATMs means you’re essentially paying double for everything- unless you change money on a dodgy black market.

And the merciless airport touts know you need bolívares and transportation, with every other person trying to herd you into a makeshift taxi or whisper “change money” as they stroll by.

It's enough to make you completely paranoid.