From Camping

Agradecido: How the Inca Trail showed me my true inner strength

Words by Nadia Ibanez, photos by Alaina Hower, Romina Rossel and Nadia Ibanez

When you carry four day’s worth of stuff on your back. Packin’ heat. Photo credit: Romina Rossel

Editor’s note: The times of day, our wake up calls, distances, anything number related. These numbers might be slightly off because I was likely delirious with bliss and pain on the Inca Trail and also because I’m really bad at numbers. My apologies, I’ll let my travel mates let me know if I miss anything 🙂

Spoiler alert: If you have not seen the finale of “The Great British Baking Show” Season 3, please scroll down few paragraphs until I tell you to stop. I know, a British baking show is a tall order, but I figured I’d offer the spoiler alert so that I don’t get my first piece of hate mail 🙂


“I am never ever going to put boundaries on myself ever again.

I’m never going to say, ‘I can’t do it.’ I’m never going to say ‘Maybe.’ 

I’m never going to say, ‘I don’t think I can.’

I can. And I will.”

These were the words that home chef, Nadiya, said after winning Season 3 of “The Great British Baking Show.” My roommate got me hooked on the show and just a couple days before I left for Peru, I realized I never watched the last 45 minutes of the season finale. I was giving my brain and body a rest before leaving for the trip so I turned the episode on…not realizing it would leave me bawling at the end.

When I heard this contestant say these words, I couldn’t help but put myself in her footsteps. And it wasn’t just because we shared the same name. Feeling like an underdog and having to prove herself (in a group of men, no less), Nadiya had a certain attitude and prowess I started to see within myself.

These words were haunting me because I knew I was about to embark on not only an amazing vacation, but the hardest thing I was ever about to do.


OK, THE COAST IS CLEAR! SPOILER ALERT OVER.

Four days to Machu Picchu…

When Romina asked if I would be interested in hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I said yes without even thinking about it. She mentioned words like “long trail” and “camping” and “trek”. I still instantly said yes. I had an approximate idea of what the trip would be: Hike and camp for a couple days. Be out in the middle of nowhere. Altitude.

No joke, you guys. I’m not going to lie. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

As I’ve grown as a traveler, I’ve found this weird new habit of deciding to go to a new place or check out a new thing without doing a lick of research. I love the surprise of just showing up somewhere and having no preconceived notion of what that thing would look like. I did it once before when my man took me to Gas Works Park in Seattle and I have loved that moment of awe ever since.

I knew the Inca Trail was going to be insane. Yet, I continued this habit of doing zero research…other than what to pack. I knew I was about to walk — a lot. And I figured that I knew my body enough to understand that it was possible to do this trek. I work out pretty much every day. I’m fit and I can walk long distances without a problem. It sounded like I had all of the prerequisites to do this trip.

I didn’t know anything. No clue how many miles we would do everyday. No idea about the change in altitude or how to treat it. (I ended up getting some meds from my doctor, and hallelujah that worked out.) I had no idea what I’d see and I didn’t mind keeping it that way.

We acclimated in Cusco, approximately 11,100 ft. in elevation, for two days before we left for the Inca Trail. The night before, we met with our guide, Clima, to get a brief on what to expect each day and how to prepare. He named off historical places we’d see, the slowness of what our pace should be when we started Day Two, what we needed to pack, and so much more.

Bright and chipper on day one.

All I kept thinking about was how crazy day two was supposed to be. It would be the hardest day but the shortest distance. We’d have to climb something called Dead Woman’s Pass with a peak of 13,800 ft. What the eff did I just get myself into?

Alas, I played it cool in front of everyone. I even remember telling my boyfriend the night before on the phone, “Oh, I feel so much better now knowing what I’m getting myself into!”


We woke up around 3:30 or 4 a.m. to catch our two or three-hour ride to Kilometer 82 in Piscacucho (9,200 ft. above sea level), the start of our trek. Clima started us off on the trail, teaching us the medicinal values of a few of the plants we’d pass along the way. We were a group of seven friends with one trekker who was dealing with food poisoning from the night before and another who was still nursing a neck injury from a surfing accident. Clima called us the Sexy Llamas but really we should have been the Sexy Tortugas (turtles) because we just needed some extra time. Clima probably thought we’d be hopeless and take forever to everrrything.

Starting out strong on day one.
Horses and mules were everywhere on day one.

We started day one and it was hot. We must have been in the desert, or at least that’s what it felt like to me. We were baking and my altitude pills said I couldn’t be in direct sunlight. Grrreat. We made it to our first stopping point after what Clima said would be a five minute hiking sample of what the insanity of day two would look like.

After our five minute intro to the Incan Hills.

Good lord, these hills do not love you. They want to break you down so much so that you can feel every muscle fiber light on fire. It burned and day two was starting to sound even more nuts. After a few more hours of hiking and Learning Corner with Clima, we made it to our lovely campsite alongside the Urubamba River.

Meals in our tent with Florenzio looking over while we enjoyed his delicious food.

The food on the trek was unbelievable. Sure, our blood sugar levels were probably through the roof when it came to meal time everyday so anything would have tasted delicious. But our chef, Florenzio, was fantastic. We had some of the best guacamole, grilled fish, lomo saltado, fresh vegetables and salads, the most amazing popcorn, and hearty soups. Each meal was like sitting down for a private three-course meal from a fancy Peruvian restaurant in our own little tent. One of our porters even took it upon himself to sculpt animals out of food for all of our meals.

One of our porters carving animals from fruits and vegetables.

I will forever be grateful to our porters on this trip. They took care of us in every way we needed, from serving Romina and I Chicha Morada when we’ve had enough of the trail to preparing warm water for us to wash our hands before meals when it was freezing out. While we had a bit of a language barrier, we made friends with each other. I called them my “novios más fuerte” and I will always remember you all.

Washingtón, descansa en paz.

Mis novios mas fuertes y yo 🙂

Saeko and Tony getting amped for day two.

The start of day two was hours away. I popped a sleeping pill, since we had an early wake up call, and fell asleep underneath the stars and to the sounds of the river.

The entirety of day two was a bit blurry. We were to hike up to “Dead Woman’s Pass” (because the shape of the mountains resembled a woman, not because it’s named after a horrendous incident). Clima warned us again to take the trek very slowly. I took the tiniest of steps as we started approaching the peak of the Pass. I could barely breathe. I would take a few steps and instantly have to stop because I felt my heart pounding unlike I’ve ever felt before. Nonetheless, I was determined to finish and I kept telling myself, “The more steps you take, the closer you will be to the peak. Just get there. You are stronger than you think you are.”

The scenery on day two was amazing. We passed through the tundra, mountain ranges, the forest, and up into the clouds.

That entire morning, I kept hearing

I’m never going to say, ‘I can’t do it.’ I’m never going to say ‘Maybe.’ 

I knew that my body was capable of getting to the peak. I realized that I’ve proven myself to my actual self and I started to cry. The closer I got to the peak, the more emotional I was getting. My breathing was becoming even harder and I knew that if I didn’t keep my cool until reaching the peak, I’d have way more problems breathing.

All of us after ascending Dead Woman’s Pass.
Clima, leader of the Sexy Llamas, and Chrissy after reaching the peak on day two.

 

On top of Dead Woman’s Pass.

Finally. We made it to the highest point of our four-day trek. Clima gave us all hugs and congratulated us. We took a group photo at the top and everyone started to head down the crazy steep exit. Clima said I had three minutes until we all needed to get down. Apparently, your body can only handle a few minutes in that altitude. I climbed up a small hill (the breast of Dead Woman’s Pass, if you will) and sat for a moment.

These photos might be my favorite 🙂

“You did it. You f*cking did it. You made it. You are so strong,” I remember telling myself.

I started to cry — like full-on bawling. I couldn’t control it. I was so happy and felt an emotion I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. I had just accomplished something that seemed so unattainable. I will never forget that moment.

Our campsite on day two. It might have been the hardest day but it was the prettiest campsite.

The insanity of day two wasn’t over. We still had to hike down some treacherous steps for a few hours to get to base camp. But we all survived and celebrated. Camp was in the middle of the most amazing mountain range and we arrived with enough time to watch the sunset. We even had our own stream alongside our tents for us to fall asleep to. It was mystical and magical.

Sunrise from our campsite on day two.

Day three was definitely the most beautiful day of the trek. We climbed through mountainsides, the valley, clouds and jungle. We walked through tunnels and hugged the mountainside when the trail narrowed only to show off the massive and dramatic cliffs and drop offs just inches from our feet. Day three was the longest but somehow we didn’t notice because we were surrounded by beauty 100 percent of the time. We learned about the Phuyupatamarka ruins, the indigenous Andean religion, and the symbolism behind the native lands and animals.

We continued crossing through the jungle that seemed to closely resemble the movie Tarzan and I watched and listened as the birds and butterflies flew around us. We could see Aguas Calientes below us, a small town near Machu Picchu and the absolute finish line of our trek and where we’d say goodbye to Clima.

Chrissy and Sara <3

After hours on the trail, we made it to base camp. We shared our last meal with Clima and our porters. I think we all lavished in the idea that day four was going to be a breeze and that we’d end up at Machu Picchu by 8 a.m. the next day.

Near Cloud Forest, in all of her beauty.

Our wake up call on day four was around 3:30 a.m. We started the trek when it was still dark out and we passed through the clouds and vines as the sun started to rise. It was such a magical experience and I took a few breaks to just sit and listen. We finally approached the Sun Gate to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately the clouds didn’t have enough time to burn off by the time we passed so we didn’t get a clear shot of the ruins.

Finding a moment to sit, meditate, and listen on our way to Machu Picchu day four.

Clima gave us a tour of the grounds and taught us the significance of the stones, how the ruins were discovered, how the sun and moon played a role in how people used to live in Machu Picchu and SO much more. We had our own time to roam before eventually making our way to the bus out of the ruins to start the next leg of our adventure.

I wish I had all the words to say about the four days we spent on the trail. Knowing that only 500 people (with only 200 as fellow trekkers) are allowed on the trail on any given day, June 27-June 30, 2017 will always have a special place in my heart.

Walking through the jungle…
In the clouds on day four.
This photo barely shows how steep our paths were on day two and three.

Pachamama, te recordaré. Siempre estoy agradecido. 

Atop Machu Picchu.

And for all of you numbers people out there… (Thanks to Alaina’s Fitbit)

Inca Trail Numbers

Day OneDay TwoDay ThreeDay Four
Hiking: Five hours
Steps: 23,900
Floors: 170
Miles: 8.3
Calories: 2,900
Hiking: Six hours
Steps: 28,000
Floors: 449
Miles: 6.4
Calories: 3,500
Hiking: Eight hours
Steps: 33,000
Floors: 207
Miles: 10.8
Calories: 3,100
Hiking: Three hours
Miles: 4.3

Thank you Alaina for taking these amazing photos. You’ve captured our trip in the most beautiful of ways 🙂

IgNight Fire Flow Conference brings Light, Fire and Dance to Joshua Tree

by Andrea Verdin

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The wilderness of the desert brings life to many, especially if they’re looking to improve themselves. There’s just something about the quiet and beauty of the great outdoors. That’s why IgNight Fire Flow Conference is such an amazing experience. Each person attending will develop their abilities in aerial acrobatics classes, archery, astronomy, and yoga.

Of course, you can’t have a conference called IgNight without having elements of flow tools, like lit wicks, flow tools like hoops, poi, fans, staves, torches, wands and swords. The conference features lectures with spiritual teachers from all over the world. The event began today at noon, and will end at 5p.m. Sunday, more than 160 classes will go on during the daytime. A nightly spin jam session allows students to practice and develop their muscle memory.

night-fieldAccording to Michael Engel, lead organizer for IgNight and fire performer with almost 10 years in the flow arts community, the great event truly gets started on Saturday night. Once all of the conferences and classes have finished, the attendees join together into a dance circle and put all that they have learned from the two days into practice. Together, they play music, and dance until sunrise.

In addition to having a great time, the conference goers  take care of the nature they enjoy. IgNight’s leadership works closely alongside The San Bernardino Fire Department to make this, the safest event possible. All participants must attend a mandatory fire safety workshop, which grants them access to the fire spinning area.

In a letter to the IgNight team, San Bernardino County Fire Marshal Curtis Markloff  wrote, “You guys always amaze me on how safe you all are at your event. Thank you for organizing and putting on this event.  I hope that you keep coming back year after year.”

Since IgNight’s inception in 2012, the event has sold out and it is still the only event of its kind and size in southern California. Each time, the rapidly growing contingent of local flow artists transforms it into an epicenter of growth, play and magic.
fire-blow “It’s for everyone to come and learn,” said Engel. “Ultimately, it’s an exercise in community building and community building is always a positive thing.”

IgNight’s location is the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, the oldest and largest center of its kind in the country. The buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, meaning that they are beautiful elements to the backdrop.

The retreat center’s elegant spaces house luxurious amenities: air-conditioned classrooms, a swimming pool and Jacuzzi and shaded meditation nooks to relax and reflect. However, most participants will sleep under the stars in the property’s ample camping space.

The vast, clear desert skies are ideal for stargazing and the Black Rock Observatory will be giving nightly lectures and telescope demonstrations.

With all of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences occurring in one weekend, it’s easy to have a life-changing transformation. These types of arts allow for a better understanding of who you are, and what you are capable of doing.

The IgNight Fire Flow Conference brings an educational celebration of fire, yoga and flow arts to Joshua Tree, CA on May 8-10. Admission is $150.00 and covers all three days of camping, workshops, shenanigans, and music from Friday at noon to Sunday at 5pm. For more information about IgNight, go to http://ignightconference.com, call (310) 497-4775, or check out their Facebook Page.

crowd

Joshua Tree Music Festival paints a perfect picture of music, relaxation and fun for festival goers

As some of us are preparing for the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that kicks off today, many of us are dying of envy as we watch our friends done headdresses, lace, and art gear to enjoy the festivities. However, there is another amazing festival that takes place in awe-inspiring Joshua Tree — the Joshua Tree Music Festival, which is happening May 14-17, 2015.

The Joshua Tree Music Festival is its own experience, and festival planner Barnett English is proud to plan a global music festival that is fun for people of all ages. This is completely different experience from other festivals because your children, friends and family can all come to this event, bond, and truly revel in the experience that can only be had at Joshua Tree.

sam english 11

If people aren’t familiar with the Joshua Tree Music Festival, it’s important to note that it’s definitely an intimate affair, said English.

“We are not a huge festival – we have at most 4,000 people on site,” he explained. “There are no crushing crowds, and you can get right in front of the stage. It’s super laid back. From my experience, Coachella has about 100,000 people, and the madness can get pretty intense. Ours is not like that. You can see the eyeballs of the guy playing the guitar. It’s a more authentic experience because you are not getting lost in a sea of people.”

Fr-889

This festival melds the overwhelming spirit of desert freedom with powerful music from around the world to create a lighthearted oasis for music lovers. Magically magnificent art installations, a robust Kidsville schedule, the heavily shaded Music Bowl, a full spectrum of yoga classes from sunrise to sunset, 27 different music playshops and didjeridu classes, late night Astronomy theatre, and a World Market further inspire, intrigue and invite festival goers.

Not to knock bigger, louder, and rowdier festivals like Coachella; it is absolutely a blast when you know how to survive Coachella and all the insanity that comes with it. However, for some, the overwhelming crowds, heat, and overall experience is dampened because you don’t really connect with new friends, or even have the same experience as your own friends. At the Joshua Tree Music Festival, your kids can dance and sway to the music, or you and your significant other can spend time stretching at the yoga class before heading to the main stage together.

Th-19The festival has been held at the same site since its conception, and is held at a privately owned campground with sweeping views of Indian Cove National Park.

“The folks that own the place have given us five acres of 40 acres for us to dream and build stages, shops, and yoga area,” said English. “At the end of the festival, we don’t tear down; we get to leave it here and add onto it every year. It’s not very common that a festival can do that, and we are super grateful to make it funkier.”

The Joshua Tree Music Festival has two main stages, and bands alternate between the two so that no two bands are playing at the same time. This allows for guests to have the same experience, creating a bonding experience.

“All weekend long and afterward, people are affected in a positive way,” said English. “The music has been inspiring and they walk away with more energy. I love to see people have the time of their lives. People come away with meaningful conversations and new friends that they can’t live without.”

If you can’t make it this May, don’t fret. English is proud to say that the festival is so much fun, he and the other planners host it twice a year.

“We are having the 13th annual festival in May, but we also have the 10th annual fall event in October,” he said. “We just couldn’t wait a whole year!”

Full festival line up, schedule, and more information at the following sites:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest

Zambia jeep safari with Wild Planet Adventures

Experience Extraordinary Zambia Safari Tours with Wild Planet Adventures

by Andrea Verdin

It’s time to plan your summer getaway, so the Wander team has begun to look at ways to get the most out of your vacation. We’ve been looking both at international and domestic travel, small weekend getaways and elaborate international excursions.

If you’re the type who loves diverse travel, looking for a chance to see exotic wildlife and stay in the middle of nature, then see Zambia – Africa’s Hidden Safari Gem – with Wild Planet Adventures.

zebras

The safari season in Zambia is year-round, but the best wildlife viewing is from July through October, so you want to make sure that you plan with this in mind. Because African safari travel is such a popular getaway, it may be hard to choose a travel company to plan a safari with. However, Zambia safari tours are a head and shoulders above all others for several reasons.

Wild Planet Adventures founder Josh Cohen explained that Zambia is one of Africa’s least visited countries, and since his company specializes in intimate encounters with exotic wildlife, this was a perfect option for his guests.

“Guests have the ability to see unusual animals and their behaviors that might not always be seen,” explained Cohen.

The reason Zambia safari tours are markedly different from other African safaris is the lack of tourism and jeep congestion.  With less than 860,000 annual visitors compared to South Africa’s 9.5 million, Zambia ranks among the least visited African countries.

canoe safari

“Unlike East African countries where it’s common to find up to 50 vehicles chasing a lion, Zambia boasts remote sectors where guests are unlikely to see other vehicles,” said Cohen, who explained that his Zambian tours do not require his guests to be in caged busses. “Safari-goers still enjoy 360 degree views from open jeeps instead of being crowded into nine-passenger mini-vans.”

Without numerous vehicles surrounding the same animals, there is no risk that animals will lose their ‘wild’ instincts.

“Wild Planet Adventures goes to great lengths to preserve the authentic safari experience by combining truly isolated and remote locations with master guides who exemplify tracking as an art form, so travelers see authentic ‘wild’ animal behavior while minimizing adaptation,” Cohen said.

lion at shumba camp

In addition, guests can choose to combine tours, so they can experience walking, jeep, and canoe safaris. This allows for a broader experience of animal exposure.

“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Cohen. “Once we saw a herd of elephants surround their matriarch while she gave birth. On our canoes, we enter watering holes where herds of elephants and hippos just walk across, right in front of us. When these factors come together, you get a superior experience.”

shumba camp

Of course, just because you are in the middle of the safari doesn’t mean that you have to stay in an uncomfortable tent on a lumpy cot.

“Zambia has the same high end camps that other African tour camps have,” said Cohen. “Overall, Africa has high standards for its guests.”
There are a lot of safari travel options for guests to choose from when planning Zambia Safari Tours, with options for every budget.
For detailed tour itineraries on all of Wild Planet Adventures wildlife eco-tours and safaris, call toll-free 1.800.990.4376, visit http://www.wildplanetadventures.com/ or contact trips@wildplanetadventures.com.

 

WPA Zambia from Wild Planet Adventures on Vimeo.

RiSE Lantern Festival 2014 Lifts Spirits in the Mojave Desert

August has greeted us, and we are wrapping up all of our summer plans and looking forward to our end of the year excitement. Before we jump into the holidays, why not have a once in a lifetime experience? You can join thousands in the beautiful Mojave Desert for the inaugural RiSE Lantern Festival 2014 on October 18.

RiSE Lantern Festival 2014
RiSE Lantern Festival 2014

At dusk on October 18, thousands will flock to the desert to reflect on dreams, hopes, and aspirations, releasing them to the skies in the shape of lanterns. The simple beauty of each lantern represents a hope, a dream, a new leaf, or a forgotten wish coming together to form something beautiful.

Together, 10,000 attendees will launch 20,000 lanterns into the Mojave Desert sky, just outside Las Vegas at Jean Dry Lakebed. Shuttles will pick up guests from the Las Vegas Strip, as well as the Gold Strike Casino and the gravel lot.

With the purchase of a ticket, attendees will receive an individual bamboo ground mat, two sky lanterns and one ground lantern.  During the first hour, guests have the chance to write personalized messages on each lantern while listening to live music, relaxing and enjoying some great food and wine available for purchase. An hour after sunset, RiSE culminates as everyone lights and releases their lanterns in unison, giving a collective voice to dreams, leaving each spectator with one unforgettable evening.

RiSE Festival 2014
RiSE Festival 2014

Even if you choose to partake on this adventure alone, you’re bound to make friends. Each lantern will take 2 to 3 people to launch, so you’ll be able to share your hopes and prayers with others who have come to celebrate.

RiSE becomes more meaningful when you make your lanterns personal, so guests are encouraged to personalize each lantern with something special. Inscribe them with a message, prayer, or resolution. Guests will also be given the right type of markers to make sure lanterns aren’t damaged in the process.

“Each person’s lantern means something unique to them, but one thing we all share is a love for the planet,” said representative Jenna Rose. “That’s why it’s RiSE’s responsibility to leave no trace, and it’s a responsibility they take seriously. The wide-open nature of the event area makes conservation possible.  Because they’re able to retrieve between 98-100% of the lanterns, and because each lantern is 100% biodegradable, sustainability is something they achieve with every event.”

Additionally, RiSE purchases carbon offsets for every vehicle they use in the setup and cleanup of the festival, and they encourage participants to purchase carbon offsets for their travel to and from the festival.

Tickets for RiSE Lantern Festival 2014 are available for purchase at www.risefestival.com. There will be another taking place in Bali in November, but it’s invite only – will open to the public in 2015.

If you are looking for a supernatural adventure, get a chance to illuminate the sky with RiSE Festival this fall.

For more information, go to the RiSE Festival website, or visit their Facebook page and Instagram feed.