Jason’s Top Ten

As Ash and I are nearing the end of our trip’s first leg, I have thought back to the highlights of the past year and a half. Ashley has already listed her top memories, so I feel like it is only fair to even things out with my top ten trip list. We have met some amazing people that I will not soon forget. A special thanks to my cousin Barbara, Sandra, Tim, Barry, and Rebecca for hosting us during our travels! Here my list…

10. Couch Surfing, Camping, Hitch-hiking

Throughout our trip, we have met the most incredible people, had the most interesting and unexpected experiences, and picked up the funniest stories simply because of where we stayed and how we got there. In Costa Rica, we stayed in a number of hostels and came away with hiking partners, tour guides, and great coffee. In Hawaii, we were able to hitch-hike almost 75 miles in less than two hours. We camped beachfront for most of our stay, waking up to gorgeous sunrises, fresh fruit breakfasts, and 7am dips. Our hosts were from walks of life as diverse as kayak instruction and indigenous instrument design. In China, we were shown around Beijing in 5-star style, even checking out the back rooms of VERY NICE rooftop clubs. One club was nice enough to have appropriate footwear to “borrow” to be allowed in (true story).

9. Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail on the island of Kaua’i, Hawaii was done via a permit switch, thanks to an impending tropical storm that rapidly change our plans. The trail was extremely windy and there was more than one instance in which I went dashing to a cliff side to catch my pack cover or hat. Whoever said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has never been here. No one in their right mind could describe this place as anything but beautiful. The contrast of the deep blue and turquoise sea against the deep green foliage and reddish-brown soil is mind blowing. The isolation only adds to the wonder and enjoyment of it all. The first evening we sat on large boulders watching the sun disappear over the horizon as three “forest dwellers” (you might refer to them as hippies) literally ran from the treeline to grace us with a skinny dipping show. I must confess I was slightly disappointed¬† that we did not run into any crazy serial killers as the movie “A Perfect Getaway” (which came out at about that time) seemed to promise.

8. Expand Peru Crew

I enjoyed my time working at the special education center and in the Casa Project after school program in Huancayo, Peru. What really made the whole experience incredibly memorable, however, was the group we volunteered with and worked side-by-side with for almost a month. We each did our best with our “Spanglish” -well, ok, not Tonje, but the rest of us- to instruct the kids in their school work. Weekends were quite diverse. One was spent exploring the mountains and ruins of the central Andes, one was spent in a nice hotel (with hot water!) in the jungle, one was spent enjoying a local rock festival, and another was spent rock climbing in the middle of nowhere. The latter was graced by a Michael Jackson anthem blaring from a nearby town. The group was represented by people from various countries and backgrounds, but fit together like we were all long-time friends. We have since had a reunion with one of our friends (yeah for Mandarin lessons!) and have a reunion scheduled with another in October. We have to catch up with you Canadians sometime soon! Through great times and some horrible sicknesses, our group was always supportive and I couldn’t have imagined our experience any other way.

7. New Year’s Eve Japan

Japan was all it was cracked up to be…historic, scenic, and expensive. We had a great time visiting along with my brother Kevin, aunt Deb, and cousins Cody & Jes. My favorite Japan memory by far was our trip to the temple/palace on New Year’s Eve to join a few thousand of our closest friends in welcoming the year 2010. We were running a bit late, thanks to a very complicated subway map. If you have ever been to Tokyo, then you understand. This confusion resulted in an all-out run down the streets of Tokyo, along with many foreigners and Japanese. We arrived just before the stroke of midnight to see the Tokyo tower all lit up, the temple bell being rung, and thousands of people cheering and taking pictures.

6. Gandoca

We volunteered with the Widecast Association in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge to relocate leatherback sea turtle nests to a protected hatchery. The project itself was great, but this proved to be one of the most relaxing weeks of my life. We stayed with Sandra, a local villager, who provided volunteers with three delicious meals and a bed for a small fee.¬† Sandra’s house consisted of a large, tiled open-air kitchen, juxtaposed to a jungle/forest filled with howler monkeys that made breakfast each day sound like something out of Jurassic Park. Our room was a small, with two beds and came complete with mosquito nets, a fan, and a single light. Our days were spent relaxing on the unpopulated black sand beach and watching horses saunter by freely throughout the neighbors yards. Coconuts were our largest worry as the path to the beach was filled with them. As we walked, we could hear them falling from trees all around us. Also adding to the path were colorful crabs and massive birds. Our patrols were in the middle of the night, on which we were all dressed like ninjas to avoid detection by the turtles.

5. Haleakala Sunrise and Crater Trek

Before departing on our trek through the Haleakala volcano crater, we woke up prior to the crack of dawn to ride 10,000 feet up to a lookout point and take in the surreal views. Pre-dawn was an eerie sight as we could see the silhouetted volcanic cones shrouded in clouds. As sunlight broke over the horizon, the clouds dissolved and we were treated to an extraordinary view of the world below.

The hike itself was no less amazing. First, we were able to check out the animal fence that Ashley helped to erect in high school on a Student Conservation Association (SCA) trip. She is proud to report that it is still standing strong : ) We dropped down into a scrub grass covered portion of the crater, then moved onto a black volcanic carpet of twisted rock and ash. Our first night was spent in awe at how quiet and dark it was in the crater – best sleep ever! There were only two other people anywhere around us and they were barely close enough to see. As we moved on through the trail, we took in an incredible lunar landscape, lava tubes, and extinct volcanic cones. The scene was like a water painting, with striations of red, green, and gray painted below a vibrant blue sky. Nothing but fresh air and very bright sun surrounded us. During the day we hiked and snacked. In the afternoon, we sunbathed…and snacked. Yes, we like to snack. I will be with you soon Panera. I promise ; ) We ended the amazing hike going up the “wrong way” via the Sliding Sands trail. Afterward, we were able to hitch hike all the way back to our Couch Surfing host’s house almost 50 miles away.


4. PSF group/work

We volunteered with Pisco Sin Fronteras, an earthquake relief group set up in Pisco, Peru after a massive earthquake in 2007. We worked along side almost 20 other volunteers, representing North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. We stayed in a volunteer residence, which was an open-air house with a number of rooms. Each room was filled with multiple bunk beds. The center of the house had a covered porch with chairs, hammocks, and a TV. The camaraderie among the group was something I can’t quite explain. It was a number of travelers swapping stories and experiences, just hanging out and helping. Everyone was comfortable with each other and sat around a campfire or around someone playing a guitar at night. We hand-poured concrete roofs together, laid house foundations, disposed of rubble piles, and set up community workshops. I highly recommend this organization to anyone traveling in Peru.

3. Cerro Chato

Cerro Chato is an extinct volcano, with a large caldera that is filled with a lake of chalky-green water. The initial part of the hike is semi-treeless and you can see great views of the surrounding town of La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. As you ascend towards the top of the volcano, you enter a jungle of twisted roots, vines, and muddy trail. The heat and humidity were almost comedic as we were soaked to the bone within minutes of beginning. As we crested the top of the volcano, we caught a glimpse of the lake within. We descended a couple hundred meters using vines as a ladder at times to find a small strip of clearing along the side of the water. We dropped our packs, took off our shoes, and jumped into the refreshingly cold and colorful water. While we dried ourselves on a branch overhanging the water, we ate our packed lunches and watched black and white birds glide around the silent cove.

2. Machu Picchu

Being interested in world travel almost all my life, I have long dreamed of seeing the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. I had built them up so much in my mind over the years that I quietly feared they had no chance of living up to my expectations. I was wrong. Machu Picchu is simply amazing! We began the morning at 4am as part of a daily traveler’s pilgrimage through the dark streets of Aguas Calientes. Soon we found ourselves headed ever upward in a mile-long string of single-file headlamps dotting the trail. We arrived a short time before dawn, where other travelers were anxiously awaiting the opening of the gates. To be eligible to climb Huayna Picchu, the stunningly scenic peak overlooking the Machu Picchu ruins, you need to be in the first few hundred to the park. Just to be safe, I made sure we were 17th : ) The climb up Huayna Picchu was extremely steep and was assisted by bolted-in ropes. You might say Peru does not have the same legal culture as the USA. There were no guard rails or safety nets. My best advice for future travelers… don’t fall. We arrived at the peak just as the sun was rising into the sky and the fog was blowing out of the deep valley below. As the sky cleared, we were treated to our first mind-blowing views of the Machu Picchu ruins below and of the surrounding lush green cliffs. After exploring the upper areas, we meandered through the lower ruins, discovering a llama pack that is kept roaming the premises for effect.

1. Choquequirao

The trip to Choquequirao is the toughest trail, in terms of elevation gain and loss, that I have ever done. We reached the town of Cachora via a 3-4 hour taxi ride (they double as race car drivers apparently). Upon reaching the beginning of “town”… To be honest there are no words that I can use to finish that sentence that will describe the feeling of seeing the town of Cachora. It is located on a VERY STEEP mountainside, with a single dirt road winding back and forth for 30 minutes that provides access to the bottom of the valley. Rows of a few houses are located on each switchback and many locals can be found walking up or down with various items in their hands. The town is located at the far end of a bootleg valley. As your eyes follow the path of the valley, they travel along a small river and gradually come upon the towering, snow-capped mountains on the far end – miles away. The first day, we had a mule train attack our packs, trying to eat our food (no, the packs were not on us). The second day we descended almost 6,000 feet to a riverside camping area, lined with huge boulders. The third day we climbed 7,000 feet (with full packs) to reach the little known ruins. The fourth day was spent exploring the upper and lower ruins, which seemed to fall off of the cliff face below. The last day, we hired a mule and porter to carry our packs (this is actually the way most people do the whole trail, but we were stubborn on the way there) and made it almost all the way back on a 32 km hike, which ended with us camping in a small cliff-side farm field. The small brunch the next morning was to die for, although I am pretty sure it would not have been all that great if we had not just hiked that far.

Well, that’s my top ten experiences from the first leg of our trip. I hope you enjoyed the post! Stay in touch and keep following us on the second leg of our trip, starting at the end of October. Be sure to register on the site so we can see who is visiting.

J

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