Monday, April 26, 2010

Ziplining the C's

(photo: Brandy and I getting ready to zipline in Costa Rica)

For my birthday two years ago, my husband and three of our friends decided to travel to Costa Rica. It was a place I had on my check list to visit (my never ending Have-to-travel-there-before-I-quit list) and since my friend Casey had gone before I decided to include her which then quickly turned into inviting our close friend Jason and another friend Brandy. Granted, I will never volunteer to plan another trip for that many people again (Hello getting everyone to agree on a hotel nightmare) but it was an amazing adventure. We flew into San Jose then had a five hour shuttle ride and one half hour ferry trip to get to where we stayed for the week in Santa Theresa. It's a really small beach town where everyone drives 4-wheelers or walks to get from one place to another. Costa Rica is all about surfing and enjoying the beach but they also have a few activities to enjoy in the area one of which is a canopy zipline tour in Mal Pais, Santa Theresa's neighbor.

I really wanted to zipline even though I was scared to death. When I was younger the camp I went to had a zipline, which was really just a cable attached between two trees, and I was terrified every year they made us do it. The worst part was climbing the ladder then climbing these pegs nailed into a tree which basically led to a tree stand. The concept of wearing a harness that cut off your leg circulation and having it being the only thing keeping you attached to a rope that attached to a cable that suspended you over the ground was not fun to me. Of course once I did it I loved it, but the ride was hardly long enough to even be worth all the anxiety and trouble.

Casey had already done the zipline in Costa Rica so she decided it wasn't worth the money to spend. At $40, it was the most expensive 2.5 hours we spent in Costa Rica but it was worth it:

photos from our tour:

Jason coming in for a landing:

If this dog wasn't scared I shouldn't be right?
The tour went so fast it hardly seemed like it lasted 2.5 hours. Of course they have a safety course in the beginning where they put your harness on, explain what to do and have a mini cable set up between two trees to practice on. There were probably about 10 of us and there were the zipline guys stationed at each post to catch us coming in then send us on our way down the next one. If you have ever been, you know it's a system of cables stretched between trees and once you get to the next one the guy catches you, unhooks your rope, hooks you to the stationary cable, then unhookes you from that once you are locked in to your next zipline. This is basically so no matter if you fall or not you can't get hurt. Comforting in a foreign country being hundreds of fee above the tree tops right? I have no idea how they put these ziplines up but it was awesome.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this blog. My friend Malia, happened to find a place in Salida, Colorado where you can zipline as well! I can't believe they have a place like this in my own backyard I didn't even know about! The company is called Lost Canyon zipline tours and promises sites of 14er mountains and the Arkansas River. Zipline over a canyon? Sign me up!
Looks like fun from the photos huh? At $89 it's almost double what we paid in costa rica for the same amount of time (and I'm sure the views aren't quite as scenic...I mean c'mon it's costa rica) but then again Salida is only 3 hours away and their times coincide which rafting tours so you can easily fit both into one day. I'm sure it would be an awesome trip and though it wouldn't be as risky as not having hardly any of your guides speak English or being in a foreign country, I'm willing to give it ago. Now if I could only find time to fit it in this summer....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Weekend Mind Erasers

I'm as much a fan of "stay"-cations as I am about vacations. To be honest the thought of getting in my car and going on a road trip excites me. Perhaps it's because it reminds me of my high school and college years where we were limited to traveling wherever we could get by car when it came to spring break or a weekend getaway (one such spring break involved driving 18 hours to key west thus proving you aren't as limited as you think when driving). Maybe it's because I spend so much time in airports and flying around the country, packing and unpacking my suitcase week after week. There's something freeing about being able to take whatever you want (Hello full size shampoo bottles!) and as much as you want (4 pairs of shoes and 5 jackets? Yes please I might NEED those). Whatever the case may be, when I do have the wanderlust urge creep into my veins, I seek out engaging places that happened to be in my own "backyard." Which led me to find The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, a Buddhist Destination here in Colorado (pictured above).
Last year, about this time, Chad mentioned he wanted to take a spin class. It was just in passing, and to tell the truth, I don't even know why he said it because he truly hates spin (as I later found out) but it sparked something in my brain. I began frantically searching for a place to take a class where I didn't have to sign up for a gym membership (24 hour fitness? no thanks) which lead me to find Qi Fit ( The spin class was a combination of half an hour of spin and half an hour of yoga. My first class, killed me. I swear I tasted blood during the biking part. During the yoga I was awkward, had no idea what the poses were and spent half the class facing the wrong direction. Yet, I was hooked. And with a wedding 5 months away, I signed up for unlimited monthly classes and began my obsession with yoga.
The challenge of yoga turned into a love for the practice which in turn sparked an interest in Buddhism for me. This is in part, why I picked our honeymoon in Thailand and what led to this tattoo:
Which is my first and only tattoo ( so far at least). Om is where I draw my strength from and practicing yoga taught me about Om and I feel, saved my sanity and my life. I was so stressed out about our wedding and so upset by people and things happening in my life, but after an hour on the yoga mat I forgot all my worries and could focus on what was really important in life.
"Let go, open up and create space for something new.." was a quote I heard quite frequently from one of my instructors and I took it to heart.

So all this realization has led me to be interested in visiting this Buddhist Retreat. The Shambhala Mountain Resort is located in Red Feather Lakes Colorado and has been around for 30 years. People come from all over the world to see The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya which transformed the site into a pilgrim's destination. Stupa's are related to ancient Asian burial grounds. When Buddha was dying his disciples asked what they should do and he told them to build a Stupa for his remains. Since then, these Stupa's are erected to signify the remains of a great teacher. The teacher buried within is Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who died in 1987, after establishing several Tibetan Buddhist communities in the United States with The Shambhala Mountain Resort being one of them.
There are yoga and meditation programs and visitors can stay anywhere from nice lodging to tents. You can hike the surrounding property, eat vegetarian dinners, meditate or practice yoga or simply talk to many of the Buddhist teachers around the campus. While some of the weekend programs are pricey ($445 for a weekend Yoga retreat which is equal to about 4 months of classes at my studio) but I would like to go up for a weekend just to visit the center and see this amazing piece of architecture in Colorado that I had no idea even existed. It's amazing you don't have to travel half way around the world to see something of this magnitude. Being that I am more spiritual than religious I can respect the Buddhists and their dedication to meditation and reaching a higher level of enlightenment. Many times in spin or yoga class I have to "quiet the chatter" or turn my brain off so that I can power through the intense workout. Your mind gives out long before your body does and you have to silence that inner voice that says "you can't do this." I am always open to new experiences and learning so I think this place would make an ideal weekend retreat....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hiking a Colorado 14er

I've lived in Colorado nearly 5 years and I'm sad to say I've never hiked a Colorado 14er . Colorado has 54 peaks that are over 14,000 feet with Mount Elbert being the highest at 14,433 feet. I decided, when making my new years resolutions this past year that I would try to hike at least two a month during the summer which would hopefully mean I'd hike at least 6-10 depending how long the season lasts. I have done plenty of hikes in the flat irons but 14ers are a world apart. Most aren't even available to hike until late June depending on the snow melt and even then there will still be snow on the peaks. As you can imagine at 14,000 feet the air thins out a lot making it difficult to breathe and the terrain gets pretty rocky making for a good chance of twisting an ankle. Not only that but the conditions at the top can change so drastically you have to be ready for rain, hail, snow storms or anything the mountain throws at you.
Still, I'm determined to do it this summer as one of my main challenges and weekend activities. I know this means waking up at 5 am and driving up to hit the trail head early but I can manage. Given the fact there are so many peaks in Colorado to climb I started researching which ones were more geared toward beginners and which climbs were advanced. For Quandary Peak (14,265) the Summit County Explorer's website said, "if you're intrigued by the challenge of bagging a
fourteener and interested in experiencing oxygen deprivation, then this is the hike for you. Quandary Peak located south of Breckenridge will provide an exhilarating, lung-popping experience for all who conquer its summit.
" Well I like my lungs in my chest. So I've decided to start with Torrey's and Gray's Peaks. As you can see from the photo they are practically side by side which means I'll knock down two of the 54 in one long hike! Gray's is 14,270 feet making it the highest on the continental divide in the United States and Torrey's is 14,267.
(photo of Gray's peak) Now I'm not sure why, at 14,270 (about 5 more miles higher than Quandary) that Gray's isn't considered lung popping according to the website, but whatever. I am in good shape and so is my husband and our dog can definitely kick both our asses so I'm sure the three of us can handle the challenge. I know people train for these hikes and go all out with the fanny packs and leki poles and all that other fancy equipment but really for me the best way to do something is to just do it. I can't see how training would make this hike any easier and it's not like I'm going to die hiking (unless I fall off the cliff that is) so I might as well go for it. Besides it's only 8.5 miles round trip...piece of cake right?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's Official we are headed to Peru

In less than a month and a half I will be seeing this amazing site in person. This is, of course, a photo of Machu Picchu. Every year I take a trip for my birthday which usually is some place involving a passport. Last year, with the wedding two months away from my birthday we decided to stay in the state to save money so we drove up to the hot springs for my birthday. This year, however, my friend Casey is getting married in May in Birmingham and so I decided, as long as we are going we might as well plan our trip to Peru because we can fly from Birmingham to Atlanta and then on to Lima. Conveniently Casey's wedding is May 15th and my birthday is May 18th which means I'll be in Peru on my actual birthday. I hope they have cupcakes for me (haha).
Being that I am the flight attendant of the family and it's usually my crazy idea to travel to these far off destinations, it usually falls on me to plan everything. I use to view this task as an annoyance but now I love it. I have control of all the details and get to pick where we stay and what we do so at least I am assured I will have a good time. Whenever I start to plan a big trip like this, especially to a place I don't know, I always look up flights first and see how I'm going to get where I want to go. Lima is a big city and easy enough to get too from Atlanta but if you want to see Machu Picchu you have to travel to Cusco. As with Bangkok and Phuket I first wanted to see how far apart Lima and Cusco were and the easiest way to get there. I do not do foreign buses and especially long distance foreign buses unless they are a private charter (as we did in costa rica to get from san jose to santa theresa) because there is too much opportunity for things to go wrong and if it's a 26 hour bus ride that eats up most of your day. So I did some researching and found TACA airlines which operates out of Lima to cusco and the fare was only $66 round trip per person. I booked a 5:45am flight which is so early but my research suggested earlier was better because the area is so mountainous that the weather can turn bad and flights later in the day will often get canceled.
Since we are flying standby from atlanta to Lima I wanted to give ourselves a cushion in case something happened. I bought the plane tickets on TACA and I don't want to risk rebooking in case we don't make it that sunday night. As with most international destinations there is only one flight in to Lima so if we don't make it sunday night we have to try again Monday. This is also why I booked a considerably cheap hotel for Sunday and Monday, the days we will be in Lima. Since Lima is such a big city I didn't want to spend too much time there but we are staying in Miraflores which is a safe part of town.
(photo: the Kokopelli hostal we are staying at in Lima) When I book hotels in foreign countries I truly have no idea what I'm getting into. So I try to narrow it down to the few things I know I want: hot water, an airport shuttle, cheap, free breakfast, within walking distance to things. I usually just google "places to stay in (insert location)" then once I find a few cool spots I'll plug them in to trip adviser and see what people have to say about them. I found this place and loved the pictures of the lobby and it's owned by some Americans so I figured I couldn't go wrong. Plus it's only $30 a night and there is a bar. If nothing else it's always good for your hotel to have a bar that way if you feel to unsure about going out or the weather is crappy you are at least entertaining yourself.
Finding a place to stay in Cusco was a bit more challenging because it's a smaller town so prices are more expensive. They have everything from luxury resorts that are $100+ a night to hostals where you share a bathroom for $8 a night. You can't actually stay in Machu Picchu because it's a protected park (which is great because it means no one hawking you junk once you are inside the gates) so you have to stay in Cusco then take a train up into Machu Picchu. I figured we would buy our train tickets once we got down there. If it's anything I learned from Thailand is that it's much easier and cheaper to book once you get there and since almost everyone staying in Cusco is making a trek to Machu Picchu it won't be hard to figure out where to go. I'd like to visit Lake Titicaca as well so I'm hoping we can take the train in for a day and visit. Once again, details I'll figure out when we arrive.
So knowing we would spend the bulk of our trip in Cusco I wanted something a little nice but still affordable. After reading many reviews and looking at various websites I booked this place: Hostal Llipimpac
It's $40 a night and includes breakfast and airport pickup. It also has this sweet courtyard and is in a more quite section of the city which is great because we will be having some early mornings if we want to get a day of hiking in. Apparently there are also some Aquas Calientes nearby (hot springs) so I'm hoping we can make it over there too. The flight back from Lima to Atlanta leaves at midnight and our flight from Cusco to Lima gets in at 9am so I'm thinking we may just have to take a taxi from the airport to the beach or something and kill some time. Chad and I always travel with our backpacks so it makes it really easy to jump around and go from city to city because you aren't worried about lugging around a roller board. Plus it considerably makes you look like less of a dumb tourist.
I'm really excited about our trip to Peru. I know a week won't be nearly enough time to fit everything in but I'm going to try to see and do as much as possible. Chad and I were discussing the problem with us is that we travel to all these great places we'd love to go back to and yet there are so many new places we want to discover as well. And as Chad says, "you've only got so many years to live how do you do it all?" I guess the answer is you probably can't, but what's to stop you from trying?
(picture: Cusco, Peru)

(picture: Lake Titicaca)