Destination: Nepal

Those of you who know me personally, (and I suppose those of you who know me impersonally but follow my blog or religiously watch my Instagram stories but never attempt contact otherwise), know that I am always either on a trip or planning my next adventure. Third option is neither, at which point I am dead inside.

Is that a little dramatic? Maybe.

Anyway, I’ll spare you all the theatrics- I’m going on an adventure. In November, I will be trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal for two weeks.

I took the liberty of compiling a list of PAQs (Possibly Asked Questions). I had to make this acronym up, because FAQs would imply that these questions have been asked frequently. They have not.

“Why Nepal?”

Because I have never been there.

Originally, I was planning to trek the Torres del Paine circuit in Patagonia, but one Tuesday evening my father causally called me to say that I should do Nepal instead.

Naturally, I said, “Sure. Why not.”

“Who are you going with?”

Myself. I make great company.

Being a solo female traveller is one of the most exhilarating and empowering things you can do for yourself. Now, did I almost get locked in the cab of a dairy delivery truck hiking alone through the north of Spain (On Getting into Cars with Strangers), and did I have a homeless man protect me from getting robbed at a train station alone at night in Italy (When It’s Not All Fine and Dandy)? Yes, yes I did.

But was it worth it every time? Absolutely.

Okay we get it, Pauline, you’re going to some far away country. But what’s with this trail you’re hiking?

My love for trekking bloomed during my three weeks on the Camino de Santiago, hiking through Northern Spain at the age of 21. Being outdoors revitalizes me. Meeting people from all over the world refreshes me. Walking for miles alone with my own thoughts allows to me recharge and reflect. You should try it sometime.

The Annapurna circuit is regarded as one of the most incredible treks in the world, and I am thrilled to journey through it. I’ll walk between 100 to 145 miles total, and I’ll be climbing from tropical climates at 600 meters to arctic climates at a peak of 5,416 meters.

Although I do not know how I will pack for both tropics and the arctic into my beloved 45L Osprey, I do know two things to be true:

  1. My quads will be totally ripped
  2. I’m about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

 

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Since I don’t have a photo of me there yet, please enjoy my favorite shot of the original travel guru himself in Nepal.

Tenerife and las Cucarachas

After three days in Barcelona, Katie and I flew to the island of Tenerife for a much needed detox. 

We rented a car and spent our days cruising around the island blasting Spanish hits, occasionally stopping at perfect 75 degree weather beaches where you could make like the Europeans and lay half naked. It was certainly relaxing.

One afternoon, we visited Mt. Teide, the volcano that formed the island, and it was the most incredible drive (also the most terrifying because of the fear of crashing a car I can’t afford.) It started out winding through a forest of pine trees which smelled like Christmas and was oddly pleasing. The middle of the drive was above the clouds, which made the entire island look like it was blanketed with snow. The summit of the volcano just looked like a different planet- it was rocky and barren and beautiful in its own way. I felt like Mark Wahlberg in that one movie where he grew tomatoes on Mars, except I wasn’t stranded and I didn’t have to grow tomatoes. Nor was this actually Mars- but you get the picture. 

Speaking of pictures, all of those moments were, in fact, picture perfect. 

My end goal is always to encourage people to travel, so I try to make it look as effortless and fun as possible through social media.

And it’s easy- all you have to do is post a few carefully selected photos, most of them in sunglasses or facing away dramatically (bonus points for both!), so that no one can see that you’re actually sweating profusely, then you slap on a light filter and top it off with a semi witty caption. Voilà! 

But this blog is for reality, and reality isn’t always perfect. 

Katie and I spent our first two nights in the cutest little Airbnb, tucked away in the small fishing village of El Pris- complete with a balcony overlooking the ocean. 

It seemed pretty perfect to us, but reality decided to set in around one in the morning while we were watching Killer Kids in Spanish (a strange yet satisfying combination) and a cockroach crawled out from under the couch. 

A cucaracha, one might say…

And the next thing you know Katie is standing on a chair screaming that the floor is lava and I’m picking up a coffee table book about Tenerife yelling, “not today Satan!”

I slammed down the book and successfully killed la cucaracha, only to have her baby roach appear a few minutes later. After another brief moment of terror, bebé cucaracha met its demise in the same manner. 

Shaken and out of coffee table books, we retreated to bed, from where we listened to Daddy Roach singing the song of his people throughout the night. Naturally, I did not sleep a wink.

Needless to say, we packed up pretty quickly the next morning and headed to the other side of the island for a one night stay at a fabulous beach front resort.

All in all our entire stay in Tenerife was absolutely lovely, regardless of the incident with our little friends. It just goes to show that whenever something looks too good to be true, there’s likely a funny story or two lurking behind it. 

At least it keeps things interesting. 

Places and their People 

When you visit a place you know well with a person who also knows it well, you have the luxury of freedom from the responsibilities of being a tourist. Your trip becomes less about the physical place and more about the people (including oneself!) and experiences in that place.

That’s why Katie and I spent our first few days in Barcelona catching up with old friends, eating and drinking at our favorite spots, and even shopping at our favorite stores. A classic day would be a mix of walking down Las Ramblas with hoards of tourists, but then stopping in Zara for a bit (which I’m convinced is better in Spain), and then heading down to the beach clubs for a midday drink and cat nap. 

We had no big scheduled plans, no itineraries- just freedom to roam. And, for someone like me who is a compulsive writer of lists and itineraries, it’s a welcome break from my daily over-planned life.

I even spent an entire morning just catching up with my old roommate Pablo, an Argentinian artist and theater director that I lived with for half a year. I was immediately hit with a wave of nostalgia upon entering my old apartment, where I would spend hours on my balcony just enjoying the city view. I loved that place and it felt good just to be back. It reminded me of the beginnings of my blog- which was born right in this city during a search for the perfect apartment.

Oh how far we’ve come. 

Anyway, after an exhausting day of doing everything and nothing, Katie and I headed to Bastaix, a little tapas place in El Born for dinner. Somewhere between our ceviche and pulpo, Katie noted that one of the three young German men sitting behind us was crying. His friends were comforting him, but Katie and I couldn’t help but feel our hearts break a little. 

Sometimes when things aren’t okay and your world is crashing and burning, you just need to cry in the middle of a restaurant- and that’s okay. I get that. 

Katie and I paid our bill, and walked over to the table of Germans. I smiled at him and said, “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to feel better.” He smiled and you could tell he was embarrassed, but Katie and I each gave him a big hug and he hugged us back like a person who truly need it. 

We returned to our apartment with our hearts full from the day (bellies too because tapas are a gift from the Spanish people to us all). Being back in Barcelona just felt so good for both of us. It was like sleeping in your childhood bedroom. Comfortable and worn in, nostalgic yet pleasing.

Good to know some places never change. 

Back to Barcelona, Back to Me

I booked my trip to Barcelona last November, and as if the universe were looking out for me- this trip could not have come at a better time. 

After you’ve had your heart bruised and you’re feeling a little lost, you can count on the world to still be there and an adventure to welcome you back with open arms. Now, before you start feeling all sad, realize that this is a good thing. 

Why fall in love in your early twenties when you can travel the world and just be yourself?  

Travel will be honest with you and it will be faithful.

It does not try to control you, instead it gives you the reigns and says, “lead the way.”

Lastly, it will take nothing from you as a person. It will only give you back experiences that will last a lifetime. (Okay maybe I’m getting dramatic because anyone who’s ever had their wallet stolen in Italy is probably disagreeing right now. But you know what I mean.)

I’d like to blame movies for our obsession with whirlwind and impractical romance. Romantic comedies have conditioned us to wait at train stations and airports thinking that the other character in our love story is going to race in just in time to stop us and sweep us off or feet. 

That’s absurd. Why would you waste a perfectly good trip? Who are these people who can afford to pay for flights they’re never going to get on?

Life isn’t a romance movie. Get on your flight and don’t look back. Life’s too short to waste on anything that isn’t a grand adventure! 

Now that that’s out of the way, stay tuned for some wild times in Barcelona.  

I’m back baby. 

Death Road and the Trip of a Lifetime

It’s been over two weeks since I’ve returned from Bolivia, and I kept meaning to write, but life got in the way. Isn’t it funny how we permit ourselves the time to do the things that we love while we’re on vacation, but push them aside when we return to reality? 

And by funny, I mean sad. 

For those of you seeking closure in my Bolivia trip, here it is. 

Bolivia to me was like a Picasso. It was a surreal visualization of something familiar. I’ve seen many beautiful sunsets in my life, and because of said paradigm I understood that what I saw in Bolivia were also sunsets- yet somehow they didn’t feel real. And that’s how all my major moments in Bolivia felt.

I drank wine on the world’s largest salt flats, I crawled through the tunnels of the highest silver mine, and I rode down the world’s most dangerous road. And that is where my story ends. (I mean the trip, but that was for dramatic effect…)

Dubbed, “El Camino de la Muerte,” Bolivia’s Yungas road is a 40 mile stretch of road where about 300 people have been estimated to die each year. 

We took a ten person bus down the deadliest road, with a local man, Juan, as our driver. For those of you who know me well, you know that I’m overly trusting of other people to a fault. I entrusted Juan with my life- the man who rode his brakes downhill instead of shifting to a lower gear, and who I caught praying on more than one occasion. I saw this as a good sign in case Jesus needed to take the wheel.

Driving along the winding road of the Camino de la Muerte was impressive in itself. On your right side you had the wall of the mountain, and on your left a straight drop down. Crosses lined the road, marking where cars or full buses had fallen, and in certain places, if you looked hard enough, you could see old wrecks that over time that began to blend in with the jungle flora. 

I would occasionally peer over the edge and envision how our bus would tumble. 

Would we flip over the front like a gymnast or would we roll down like a log? 

And what would happen first: would I fly out through the glass or would a tree punch through the window?

I hurried to distract myself with the jungle views instead, because honestly life will happen the way it wants to and the details don’t matter. 

Plot twist, I survived, so I suppose I will never know the answer to those questions. 

But what I can tell you is that there is nothing that can make you feel more alive than the moments in which you take yourself out of your comfort zone. Whether that means traveling to a new country or entrusting your life to a Bolivian man named Juan. 

In the end, Bolivia and Death Road ending up being the ride of a lifetime. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a trip off the beaten path. 

Miner Barbie In Potosí

After an incredible stay in Salar de Uyuni, we headed towards the colorful and charming mining town of Potosí, that had once been one of the most powerful and rich towns in Bolivia. After the Spaniards arrived in Bolivia and learned of riches in Potosí, they created a mint here producing Spain’s coins using silver mined from Cerro Rico.

At 4,200 meters the mines in the Cerro Rico mountain of Potosí are the highest in the world. Each day, 14,000 miners enters the nearly 10,000km of tunnels within the mountain in search of silver or zinc. On the second day of our stay in Potosí, we had an opportunity to visit the mines and venture inside. 

Our first stop of our tour was at a small store where we needed to buy gifts for the miners per local tradition. These gifts consisted of soda, cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol and dynamite. Yep, dynamite. In Bolivia you can buy sticks of dynamite from any tiny and weathered local woman with a storefront- no questions asked. 

Now, because you can’t just meander into a mine without proper attire, our next stop was at a warehouse where we were properly outfitted for our journey into the center of the earth. I wandered out from the building drowning in an oversized plastic jacket, pants and rain boots- the only thing that fit well was my helmet, complete with a lamp in front. This was certainly not the version of playing dress up I was use to, but that day I was Miner Barbie. 

I was prepared to make my grand debut in a new career, but as soon as I stepped into the tunnel, I felt myself choking on the mix of dust and fumes that filled the air. As our group ventured deeper into the tunnel, the light at the entrance became dimmer and the tunnel itself became smaller and smaller, to the point where most people couldn’t stand up straight. At all of 5 foot 3, I only needed to duck my head down a bit (I was like Goldilocks, and the tunnel was just right size). But, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone else managed to work in these cramped conditions when I could barely walk through.

I looked around at the tunnel walls, laced with traces of arsenic, and the stream of dust that my lamp illuminated, wondering what awful disease I will develop from these thirty minutes. 

Here I was playing Miner Barbie, when this was someone else’s reality. 

I work at a desk (with an option to stand because sitting is the new smoking, ya know?), I have healthy snacks and meals readily available, and I can go home at 5pm.

I do not need to pay for my own equipment like these miners do. I don’t have to crawl through tunnels for hours on end, breathing in toxic fumes. And I most certainly am not risking my life by throwing sticks of dynamite and hoping I can run away in time. 

As miners, young and old, passed us by,I was filled with admiration for the incredibly difficult and dangerous work that they do. 

For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that gratitude and humility are common themes. So, I shouldn’t surprise you to know that as soon as the tour was over, I hurried out towards the sun and the fresh air- grateful for my education, the opportunities I’ve had, and my employment.

Plus, I realized that I would have made a terrible miner.

Heaven on Earth

There are a few moments in my travels that I remember distinctly as some of the most beautiful moments in my life. They are the moments when time pauses, and you look around and you’re wondering how something so magical can also be real. These moments include sleeping under the stars in the Sahara desert in Morocco, diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and watching the sunset over Gili Trawangan in Indonesia. 

Watching the colorful sunset reflect off the water over the salt flats in Salar de Uyuni was one of those magical moments that will remain with me until the day I die. 

Or until some awful disease ravages my brain, but you get the picture. 

For those of you who are not familiar with Bolivia and the salt flats (no need to be ashamed, just blame the lack of global perspective in the American education system) Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. In fact, it can even be seen from outer space. OUTER SPACE. 

We spent two days driving around the flats in jeeps, and the whole experience just felt very surreal, maybe even extra terrestrial. I was Hans Solo and this was Star Wars. (Bet you thought I’d go with Princess Leia, but Hans Solo has a way better outfit.) You looked out ahead of you and all you saw for miles and miles was pure white ground and an intensely blue sky. No cars, no people, no buildings. 

Just you and the white and the blue. 

Of course, if you turned around you saw the other jeeps and a handful of people-but perspective is all about choosing where to look. And I choose to look ahead. 

As if the flats couldn’t get more extraordinary, the area was entirely covered in a hexagonal pattern that the salt had naturally formed. From the honeycombs in my backyard to the basalt columns I saw last May in Iceland, nature just loves hexagons. And I suppose I do too- because it looks wicked cool. 

However, nothing could prepare me for the sunset that I saw my last night in Salar de Uyuni. Our driver took us to a part of the salt flats that was entirely covered with about two inches of water and you could see the clouds, the sun and the sky reflecting off the water. I poured myself a glass of lovely Bolivian wine and watched as the colors got more and more intense. 
Every time I thought the sunset couldn’t get better- it got better. Normally I would blame drinking wine at 12,000 feet, but this was pure magic. The sunset in itself was an incredible array of oranges, pinks and blues- the water doubling its effect. I felt as if I were floating through the kaleidoscope sky, just passing through the clouds- my reflection being the only form of proof I needed. 

It was heaven on this beautiful Earth of ours.