Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

As I sit on the couch in my hotel waiting for my taxi to take me to the airport, I am a bit of a hot mess. There are faint smudges of white face paint near my ear which I cannot seem to get off, tiny pieces of glitter dusting virtually everything I own (including myself), and my liver is silently waging a protest inside my body – and rightly so. I’ve got my sunglasses on and am clutching my water bottle, relying on it to turn me back into a human being. Despite this, I can’t seem to stop smiling as as I peruse my photos and videos from the past few days. The festivals of Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca fit easily into a list of the top five things I’ve ever done in my life. Simply phenomenal.

What is Day of the Dead?

Called Dia de los Muertos in Spanish, it is believed that during this time of the year the barrier that separates the living from the dead is the most permeable, meaning many spirits come back to visit their families. Every house and every business creates an alter to welcome back their loved ones. Alters contain a picture of the person, lots of food, mezcal, and anything else the person loved (like a special candy, cigarettes, etc.). They also contain both incense and candles which elevates prayers of the living. It is very important to build an alter for a specific person instead of a general alter to the dead, otherwise you could invite back a bad or lost soul. Below are some various alters seen around the city.

Though the actual Days of the Dead are on November 1 and 2, a lot of the festivities begin at least a week in advance. The streets and town center fill with constant parades, street performers and face painters. During the beginning of the week, I filled lots of time simply wandering around – Day of the Dead leads to some top-notch people watching.

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October 31st – Halloween

This is the day that the celebrations really kicked it into high gear. I got my face painted in the market and bought a skeleton costume to match, and went out with some friends to Panteon General – the large, downtown cemetery which was the epicenter for that night’s festivities. Everyone was dressed up – most people with a skull painted on their face. Some people really went all out with stunning dresses and and beautifully drawn faces modeled after Catrina, the famous skeleton symbol of the holiday. Some people wandered around the candle-lit cemetery, admiring both the tombs and the costumes of others. Other people sat in groups around their loved one’s grave while eating, drinking, and celebrating life.

Outside of the cemetery was a carnival, complete with rides and games. Having lost the rest of our group, Jennifer and I decided to try out the teacups. We asked the ride attendant to take our photo as we spun around at high speed, shrieking with delight. Afterwards, we discovered she accidentally took a video, capturing the slow-moving cup spinning around at a pace appropriate for a five year-old. This certainly contradicted our memories of the adrenaline-filled, fast-paced ride, but it did provide us with lots of laughs as we watched it over and over in the taxi home.

November 1st – All Saint’s Day

Day two. Today there was less activity during the day as people stayed home with their families and cooked delicious meals. We spent the day wandering around the city and checking out the craft expos that were set up outside of the cathedral. We had lost track of time, and suddenly the sun began to set and the streets came to life with boys walking on stilts and dancing to the beats of the two parades going on one block apart. After watching them for a bit, we raced home to paint our faces and grab a snack before heading back out to the city center to see what was happening. A few people were going on a tour to a different cemetery about a 30-minute drive outside of the city, but we had opted to stay downtown since there seemed to be so much happening in the streets.

As we walked through the central park with our plastic cups of Corona, we noticed a large parade coming towards us – the brass band blasting the tune and the traditionally dressed girls spinning and dancing. We watched for a little, but soon we were dancing in the parade, too, marching through the streets and twirling to the music. People hung from balconies and lined the sidewalks to cheer and take pictures as we danced along. Dancing in the parade was the highlight of the festivities for me. The parade eventually ended and we made our way back downtown to watch the fantastic street performers – everything from flaming hula hoops to breakdancing.

November 2nd – All Soul’s Day

Day three. After a slow start to the day, we made our way back to the cathedral to see what we could see. The sun was brutal, so we found a rooftop to grab a drink and watch the town from a shady deck with a nice breeze. After a relaxing afternoon, we went back home to get ready. We decided not to paint our faces, but one girl appeared with tubes of glitter and we couldn’t resist decorating ourselves just a little bit.

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After we were all sparkly, we stumbled across a clown doing stand-up comedy in the park, so we joined in the crowd. As the only foreigners in the group, we got noticed. And as the person closest to the front, I got pulled on stage. With his rapid-fire, slang-filled Spanish, I understood maybe 30% of what the clown was saying…but I got the parts that mattered and looked like I understood more. (Success!) I was concentrating so hard on being able to follow along and make sassy comebacks in Spanish before he could make fun of me, that when he asked me my age I said twenty-nine instead of thirty. Oops. I realized it as the word “twenty” was leaving my mouth but it was too late to correct myself. My friends died of laughter. After a few more jokes with a phallic balloon…he released me from the stage and we were off in search of our next adventure. We spent the remainder of the evening dancing in local pubs where I showed off my lack of salsa skills to all.

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Oaxaca – you sure know how to throw a festival. But it’s a good thing it only happens once a year; ready to spend some quality time in a hammock.

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The Magical City of Oaxaca

I was really excited for Oaxaca. What better place to to spend Day of the Dead – Halloween done Mexican style, than Oaxaca. Stay tuned for a Day of the Dead post later this week! Plus, as much as I loved the beach, it didn’t have much culture. There wasn’t even a market nearby – everyone I asked told me that they bought their fruits and veggies in the supermarket. But not in Oaxaca.

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One of the 32 states in Mexico, the state of Oaxaca is known for its mountains, cooler climate, traditional crafts, and of course, its mezcal. There are many indigenous cultures which still remain in Oaxaca, the largest of which is the Zapotecs – the Zapotec Empire was conquered by the Spanish many years ago, but their traditions still live on today. Just outside of the capital of Oaxaca City is Mitla – a key site of the Zapotec Empire. Fun fact about the Zapotecs – they built all of their buildings out of stone blocks without any type of mortar in between because of the high frequency of earthquakes in the area. Should an earthquake hit their town, the buildings would fall but could easily be rebuilt…like Legos!

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I spent the majority of my 8 day trip in Oaxaca City – though small, the city is filled with delicious food and is brimming with Oaxacan culture. Known as the Land of Seven Moles, Oaxacan cuisine is famous around the world for good reason. Though the mole sauces contain only a few ingredients, the labor it takes to prepare one is quite intensive and time-consuming…but they’re delicious. My favorite is the black sauce, called Mole Negro. Oaxaca is also known for their cheese (similar to mozzarella) and for their chocolate, typically used to make a hot chocolate drink.

In large part due to the large indigenous population, Oaxaca is brimming with artisanal crafts – everything from clothing to pottery to jewelry. Particularly in the rural areas, many make their living by crafting products to sell in the market. To see more about some of the locally made goods, check out this post from my friend Shannon who spent six months working with an organization empowering women in their small business endeavors.

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In addition to handicrafts, one of the most popular artisanal products is mezcal – a tequila-like alcohol with a sweet and smokey aftertaste which is a local favorite. Oaxacans have a saying: Para todo mal, mezcal, para todo bien, también! Translation: For everything bad, mezcal, for everything good, too!

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Both tequila and mezcal are made from the agave plant – a plant which resembles aloe vera. Tequila, however, is strictly made using a variety called blue agave, and it is generally made using machinery. Mezcal is made from any of the other 30 types of agave which have a high enough sugar content to make alcohol (there’s over 200 types of agave in total) and is only made artisanally. Take a drive through the countryside and you’ll quickly see the hills are dotted with little agave farms, usually accompanied by a roadside shack selling their local brews. I visited a mezcal distillery to learn how the mezcal is traditionally made – it was extremely fascinating to see the process!

The Agave. Plants generally need to grow anywhere between 7 and 12 years before they’re ready to be harvested

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Step 1: The agave leaves are placed in this pit of  hot rocks to cook for a few days._mg_6390

Step 2: After the leaves are cooked, they are crushed in this pit, using a horse.

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Step 3: The juice and pulp are separated and left to ferment for few days

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Step 4: The mezcal gets distilled and poured in a basin where it can age.

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According to Oaxacans, it is traditionally mezcal which contains a worm – not tequila. Worms are added to change the flavor of the mezcal – they are also eaten as a bar snack dipped in a special type of seasoned salt. The types mezcal are virtually endless depending on which species of agave is used, the type of barrel which is used to age the mezcal (typically clay or copper) and the length of time for which it ages. And – don’t forget about flavors!

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Next stop: San Miguel de Allende – my home until Christmas.

A Week in Tulum

Tulum was everything I wanted it to be and more. In addition to having zero travel issues for the first time in a long time, Tulum had the pristine beaches with crystal clear water – like something straight out of a dream. The week that I spent here, the majority of my time was spent either laying on the beach or frolicking in the waves.

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I did explore a little bit – only when the beach was too windy. Connected to the public beach is Tulum National Park, which contains ancient Mayan ruins and stories of the once great empire. It was fun to explore and had pretty views…and tons of iguanas!

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One of the highlights of my time in Tulum was a day trip to Sian Ka’an Natural Reserve. Only about 8km outside of Tulum, Sian Ka’an is seeping with wildlife, and is home to the second-largest coral reef in the world. We saw alligators, sea turtles, iguanas, and manatees, in addition to the thousands and thousands of birds. Osprey, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, great blue heron, ibis, and so many others. I began to see why people get into birding – that was really cool! After checking out the birds in the lagoon, we had lunch and headed out to the Caribbean for some top-notch snorkeling. Fun fact of the day: coconut trees aren’t native to the Caribbean – they’re actually an invasive species! Who knew!?!

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The excursions were cool, but I mostly enjoyed hanging around town. My comfortable routine of eating breakfast at the hotel, taking 20 minutes to apply sunscreen to my own back (Do you know how hard this is?) and biking to the beach was the epitome of relaxation. When I got hungry, I would bike into town. My goal was to try a new place each day…but I ended up finding a little French bistro that I adored. The owners are delightful Belgian couple that kept me supplied in delicious food and the smoothest tequila I’ve ever tasted. The tequila comes from their friend’s basement across the street, though, so unfortunately there won’t be any coming home. You guys will just have to take my word for it.

After lunch I’d typically head back to the beach until I was hungry for dinner, when I’d bike back into town. I did manage to try a new dinner place every night – no repeats. The first night, I almost ended up in tears after dousing my taco with a salsa that was wayyyy hotter than expected. But I got it together just in time and only ended up with some hiccups. On the next night, I learned that Tulum loves happy hour – for the first (but not the last) time, I ordered a margarita only to find out that they were on special: two for one! Gotta love vacation!

It was on the bike rides home after dinner that I discovered the truly horrifying part of the city: how many spiders were lying, waiting, all around me. My headlamp was reflected off of each set of eyes, like a small piece of glitter lying in the grass. It looked like someone had just cracked open a piñata over top of the bike path – glitter everywhere. I stayed safely on my bike until reaching the hotel.

Spiders and all, I made it out and onto the airplane. Next up – Oaxaca. Bring on the skulls, parades, and festivities. And – Happy Halloween! 🙂

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Road Trip: Arizona and Utah

2,500 Miles, Four States, Four National Parks

Upon landing in Phoenix, our road trip was officially underway. After working together in Alaska for the summer, my friend Liz and I met back up in Arizona to do some exploring. Being the planner that I am, I prepared for the trip by doing lots of research and creating a color-coded Google Map marking the route. Being the non-planner that she is, Liz kicked back with a beer and arrived fashionably late. But we made a nice team. And when we finally arrived, we were both ready to camp under the stars and check out some of the lovely naturaleza housed in the Southwest, including several National Parks.

Day 1: Phoenix

Following the internet’s suggestion, we set up camp in Peralta Canyon for the night. It is about an hour outside of Phoenix and filled with cacti, tumbleweeds, and dust – meaning that our brand new rental car (which only had 7 miles on it when we picked it up) was promptly filthy and covered in a film of desert particles. Despite the stars and almost full moon, it was quite dark.

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But that just made waking up in the desert that much better.

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We decided to start our trip off with a bang – skydiving. It was a big item on both of our bucket lists and we were filled with nervous excitement as we made our way to the skydive center. On the drive over, we passed through the desert and watched other skydivers parachute to the ground up ahead. Once we got into the plane it happened so quickly – we geared up, got in hopped in, and glided above the shrub-covered mountains. Ten minutes later, the door opened, and out we went – it felt like we were floating. Once the parachute was open, I took off my goggles and my nose ring immediately fell off inside. Having no free hands, I popped it into my mouth while I steered the parachute and learned some cool tricks. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was over, or how amazingly fun it was. Mark my words…there will be more dives in my future.

Once the adrenaline died down, we went back downtown and spent a few hours at the Arizona State Fair soaking up the sunshine and the amazing people watching. Who knew so many things could come deep fried and wrapped in bacon? Or that the poop-emoji turned into a hat would be such a hit? Apparently the Arizona carnies did. When we hit the point of sensory overload…we packed it in and headed to Sedona for the night.

Day 2: Sedona to Page

We didn’t realize how soon the altitude would kick in – gone were the warm Phoenix nights, 100 F days, and the cacti. Instead, we were surrounded by brisk, fall weather, beautiful red rocks and coniferous trees. Sedona was where we started two recurring phrases of the trip: “Wow, I didn’t expect it to be this cold!” and “Wow, I didn’t expect the altitude to be this high!” But it was gorgeous. After a little exploration, we hopped onto the scenic route up to Page, traveling along precarious cliffs with amazing views.

Page was the city which spurred the entire road trip – I signed up for a half marathon in Lake Powell National Park, part of the National Parks Anniversary series, which was taking place the following day. I was really looking forward to checking out the beautiful views and beating my time. After checking in for the race, we drove over to Horseshoe Bend to watch the sunset. It was really gorgeous, but unfortunately about 500 other people had the exact same idea. Even a bride and groom were taking wedding photos along the edge. After escaping the crowds and grabbing some dinner, we headed back to Lake Powell and camped out at Lone Rock on the beach.

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Day 3: Page to Monument Valley

This was it: D-Day. Liz was volunteering at the finish line while I ran, so we both got an early start. After a gorgeous sunrise and lots of waiting for the race to begin, it was finally time to run. I quickly discovered that I was not yet acclimated to the altitude…apparently living at sea level for the past six months hasn’t done me any favors. And I was extremely distracted by the gorgeous views along the way. After about five miles, I decided I would prefer to enjoy the scenery and take pictures along the way instead of hitting my time goal. My runner/photographer combo got me to the finish line in 2 hours and 30 minutes instead of my goal of 2:10…but I really enjoyed the course and the stunning views. Added bonus: I wasn’t even sore the next day.

Afterwards, we got out of town reallllly quickly – the tiny town of Page was over-saturated with the 2,200 runners and all of their respective families, so it wasn’t a hard decision to hop back on the road and head out to Monument Valley.

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Day 4: Monument Valley to Moab

We passed through Monument Valley just as the sun was setting – we even pulled off of the road to wait for the glare to subside…it was intense. Monument Valley is solidly inside Navajo Nation, meaning no off-the-path exploring. There wasn’t really much around, so after taking lots of rock pictures we decided to grab some groceries and beers and hang out at our campsite. An hour and 20 minutes later, we were back with groceries from the nearest store, and with the knowledge that Navajo Nation is dry. Good to know. The man running the campsite was just as disappointed as we were when we came back without booze – apparently he saw tourists and had plans for a party. So…maybe it was for the better  🙂

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The next morning, I witnessed the most amazing sunrise that I’ve ever seen – the clouds were simply stunning. Liz slept through sunrise because she had  been awake the entire night fearing a potential coyote encounter. She huddled in her sleeping bag with her knitting needles ready to attack. But…she managed to catch some shut eye before we headed out to visit Four Corners. We stopped to check out Mexican Hat along the way – it really does look like a guy in a sombrero. Pretty cool.

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Next stop: Four Corners. Who says you can’t be in more than one place at once? We took a brief tour of the site and hopped back into the car towards Moab, Utah. The past two days, we bounced back and forth across the Arizona and Utah border (it cut through Lake Powell and Monument Valley) so it was nice to be in only one time zone. Arizona doesn’t participate in daylight savings time, meaning that we were an hour different each time we crossed the boarder.

Moab is a cute little adventure-ready town which acts as a gateway to Arches National Park. After a some fun long-exposure photography and a little exploration, we found the perfect campsite. But our plan of camping in Arches was dashed by the wind – the 60 MPH gusts blew me right off of my inflatable sleeping mat and filled all of our possessions with sand. We eventually sought out refuge and slept in the car, which shook like an airplane going through turbulence for the entire night.

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Day 5: Moab to Page

We got up early and semi-rested to go hike up to Delicate Arch, which was listed as the best sunrise spot in the park. It is also the picturesque arch on the Utah license plate. We drowsily joined the parade of tourists with DSLR cameras and tripods climbing up the rocks. To our dismay, the wind was even worse on this side – when we got up to the top, we were almost knocked over. It felt as if we were sitting in a skydiving training center…which is not a good place to be when you’re sitting on top of a cliff. After each snapping a photo and tying our hoods tighter, we looked at each other and quickly decided that the sunrise wasn’t worth the miserable wind and quickly headed back down to the refuge of the lower altitude and canyon walls. Plenty of other arches to see in the park. We spent a little more time exploring and then took off to Bryce Canyon National Park.

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It was about a five hour drive, so we were quite excited when we came into Dixie National Forest and found some scenic points to stretch our legs. The Red Canyon inside the National Forest was one of the highlights of our trip; we spent a good chunk of time climbing the red hills and exploring the cliffs. The beautiful contrast between the rocks, the blue sky and the green trees was simply stunning.

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After some more exploration in Bryce Canyon National Park, we were back on the road.

Google Maps had told us that it was only a 20 minute drive to our next stop, which ended up being completely untrue. 2.5 hours later, we ended up back in Page to camp at our lovely Lone Rock beach in Lake Powell. It was wind-free and lovely, and we both got a good night’s sleep.

Day 6: Page to The Grand Canyon

After more Google Maps confusion, we ended up having to skip our visit to the Grand Staircase National Monument. I was sad, but I quickly got over it because today was finally the day we were headed to the Grand Canyon. We were planning to go to the South Rim, but a guy in Page gushed about how great the North Rim was and even printed us a map. We had seen signs for both the North and South Rim on our initial drive, so we figured we could hit both. We excitedly drove off through beautiful country in search of one of the World’s Seven Wonders.

Today’s lesson: Despite the fact that they’re both inside the Grand Canyon National Park, there’s no road between the North and South Rim…they’re about 5 hours apart. So after driving about 3 hours to get there, we backtracked our route about 2.5 hours to get back to the highway. Essentially, it was a 5 hour detour for a 20 minute walk, but it was uncrowded and beautiful so it was totally worth it.

In addition, we got up close and personal with a few herds of deer…and an extremely perturbed park ranger who was not pleased about our proximity to the animals. There were about six other cars in front of us which had pulled off of the road to take pictures. After a few screams and an angry march in our direction, we joined the rest of the fleeing tourists and escaped in our car before she could catch us…but not before we got a few nice pics of Bambi’s friends.

We couldn’t quite make it all the way to the South Rim that night…sleep was catching up. We stopped and camped for the night outside of Flagstaff. We ended up sleeping in the car again because we could hear coyotes howling and yipping nearby – we were too afraid to sleep outside. Because of the coyotes and the chilly 40 F weather, this was the only night we didn’t get a picture of our camping spot.

Day 7: The Grand Canyon to Phoenix

Finally, we were headed into the Grand Canyon South Rim. After overcoming some major traffic – we arrived at National Park number four. And Oh My God…it was gorgeous. I couldn’t believe that the Colorado River created that entire canyon – it is amazing to think about. Our initial plan of hiking down into the canyon for the night didn’t quite pan out. Instead we spent the day hiking around the park, even seeing some herds of deer and elk along the way which we photographed in peace. When we grew cold and tired, we headed down to our favorite camping spot in Peralta Canyon outside of Phoenix, ready for the lower altitude and warmer weather.

Day 8: Phoenix

Final day. After spending the morning at a cafe to organize our lives and prepare for the next stages of our respective trips, we headed out to Papago State Park  to hang out in rock holes among cacti and palm trees. And there was a picturesque lake I could dip my feet in while we hung out in the shade, because we finally found the heat – it was 100 F in the shade. Ahhh…exactly how I like it. I am certainly ready for Mexico – bring on the sunshine.

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All in all it was pretty amazing. And, I found so many more places that I either want to visit for the first time, or places that I want to revisit and better explore. Eight days isn’t a lot of time, but it was a fun and fantastic taste of what the Southwest has to offer. I cannot wait to return. But now…off to Mexico! The next post will be coming to you from Tulum.

Adios, Alaska

Summer is over. Alaska seems to skip what I define as fall – this morning when I got up, it was 27 degrees (F) outside. So, as much as I’ve loved living here, it’s time to migrate south to sunshine and warmer weather.

The past two months were pretty awesome. Here are a few of the things that kept me busy while I was slacking on updating my blog:

Camping

A few nights in McKinley Lake cabin were a great way to spend a vacation…even though it did rain about 10 inches while we were there. That kind of rain really separates gear which claims to be waterproof from gear which is actually waterproof. Meaning that I was pretty wet. It was still a great adventure. We explored an abandoned mine scattered throughout the forest, went over Million Dollar Bridge to the very end of the road, picked lots and lots of blueberries and tried to find some bears.

Glaciers

Sheridan Glacier remains one of my favorite spots around town. Its accessibility and beauty rank it pretty high up on my list. Child’s Glacier was also pretty cool (no pun intended). We took a tour to visit the massive glacier which calves directly into the river, and it was well-worth it!

Exploration

I always start out on the trail, but when something catches my eye, I’m quick to blaze my own trail to go explore. Sometimes makes getting back a little tricky, but it’s always an adventure.

Half Marathon

Training for this has taken up a significant chunk of time outside of work. I successfully ran my trial run last week…so I’m now on the downhill slide until race day. I’m eager to get back to warmer weather so I can run outside instead of on a treadmill – it’s not quite the same as running in the sunshine. D-Day: October 15th. Alaska has really spoiled me with beautiful, scenic runs and fresh air. I can’t wait to see what Arizona has in store.

Northern Lights

They’ve put on an excellent show so far this fall. Generally green but sometimes with hints of purple and pink, they don’t disappoint. One night, the northern lights danced across the sky while otters splashed in bioluminescent water below. That was pretty amazing.

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Salmon, Salmon, Salmon

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat salmon from a restaurant or buy it in a grocery store again. Smoked, baked, fried, or raw. Silver, red or king. It. Is. So. Good. And then you have the various products, like homemade lox and freshly salted fish eggs. Oh man. Not once have I gotten tired of it. And I’m pretty sure I’ll go through withdrawal once I leave. I see it now: Liz and I…searching the menu in a cafe in Arizona…wondering how people eat boring chicken.

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What’s Next?

Though I’m sad to say goodbye to Cordova, I’m ready for new adventures. After a short trip home, Liz and I will meet up in Phoenix for some road tripping, sky diving, and half marathon running through Arizona and Utah. Then: Mexico! The plan is to relax on the beaches of Tulum, celebrate Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, then spend a few months in San Miguel de Allende. Stay tuned for new adventures – I promise to be better about updating!

 

Updates from Alaska

I’m not really sure where the summer is going – or where July went for that matter. It’s been a month since my last post (oops). July was filled with lots of sunshine and picture-perfect weather, which doesn’t lend itself to sitting inside on my computer. And between the hikes, the dinners, the dancing, the berry picking, and the general summertime shenanigans there was barely time for work. But it was time well spent, of that I am sure.

Fourth of July

The month opened with lots of Fourth of July celebrations. What the town of Cordova lacked in a nighttime fireworks display they made up for in their awesome daytime activities. The morning started off with a Kelp Box Derby (think: soap box) where adults and children raced homemade vehicles down the hill on Main Street. This was followed with a town-wide block party, kid’s games, a massive BBQ, pie bake-off, and of course a square dancing competition.

Grand Finale of the Kelp Box Derby
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Adorable

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Berries

Salmon berries were in full swing and are just only beginning to peter out. Blueberries, strawberries and the highly revered nagoon berry have all made strong appearances and Liz and I are in full jam-making mode. We’re up to about three dozen jars and we haven’t even started on blueberry yet! And the berries are amazing. They are easily on my list of my favorite things about Alaska.

Blueberries!

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Picking blueberries is quite labor-intensive

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Watermelon berries!

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Friends

Fishing isn’t too great this year, which is a tough break for all who make their livelihood from salmon. On the plus side, however, it means that all of my fisherman friends are hanging around town with nothing to do…which has made for a fun social scene. And hopefully the next run will be open soon. Fingers crossed!

Best hula hooper there is: The Magical Eloise

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Hanging out on the deck outside of our house and enjoying the sunset. And Teal, of course, photographing all she can. PS: she’s amazing. Check her out here!

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The facial expressions in this shot crack me up. I think we were talking about black slugs.

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Salmon Jam

Salmon Jam is a three-day festival with local artisans, yummy food, marathons, and live music. I ran in the 10K…I’m not quite ready for the half marathon yet….but soon! The entire town filled up with tourists, fisherman were around, and everyone came out to join in the festivities.

10K-ers lined up at the starting line

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Not a bad looking starting line. This made me think back to my 4am runs through the dark streets of Bangalore. This area may be slightly more conducive to running.

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Finish line!

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Hiking

The gorgeous weather has allowed for lots of hiking, exploring, and outside adventures. I finally made it all of the way out the road to see where the bridge (which used to connect Cordova to the rest of the world) was washed away. I saw a bear, but only the silhouette running away from us through the forest. Still working on my bear and moose pictures…I am very determined and I will capture some before the end of the summer!

Immature eagle snacking on salmon scraps while simultaneously fighting with crows

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Power Creek – I love how the glacial silt makes the water such pretty colors

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Beautiful sunset over the Sound

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Out the Road

Perspective is a tricky thing. It can make or break a situation. A good sense of perspective can help avoid arguments and provide compassion and empathy in difficult times. And gaining a sense of perspective is one of my favorite side-effects of traveling and living in other cultures. It’s easy to get caught up in the rote, minutia of day-to-day life. It’s easy to forget how lucky most of us are. If you’re reading this, it means you have access to a computer and internet. It means you have the time to find and read my quirky, little blog (which I obviously really appreciate!) and these two aspects, along with many other likely characteristics probably put you in a category better-off than many people around the world. This makes you lucky – it makes us lucky.

The other day, while picking salmon berries along the side of the road and watching eagles soar overhead in the sunshine, a friend said “We’re so lucky to live here,” which made me think about perspective. And, she is completely right. This town is so weird but oh so great.

Cordova is a very small town. It’s basically divided into 4 areas, geographically. You have “town,” which is about 2 city blocks and you have the harbor, where all of the boats are parked. There is one main road that goes through town. Leaving town and going west will take you to a hotel called Orca Lodge, where the road dead-ends after about 3 miles. Going anywhere in this direction is called going “out Orca.” Leaving town and going east, towards the main airport is called going “Out the Road.” The road passes Eyak lake, winds along the Copper River and passes the main airport, but mostly it is surrounded by wide-open expanses of land lined with snow-capped mountains. It dead-ends where the bridge which used to connect Cordova to the rest of the world was washed away years ago, about 30 miles out of town.

I love going Out the Road. There’s the Copper River  in all of its glory, there’s Sheridan Glacier (among others), There’s countless well-maintained hiking trails and endless wilderness to explore off the trail. There’s moose. There’s bears. There’s delicious berries. There’s fishing, kayaking, climbing, swimming, boating, and pretty much whatever else you feel like doing. It’s paradise. Running out the road is where I run to train for my half marathon. It’s where I ride my bike when I want to explore something new. It’s where people go to have a bonfire, celebrate holidays, picnic, and relax. And virtually all of the land around here is nationally protected, so it is acceptable to set up a little camp and hang out wherever you please. And, any time I get to say I “went Out the Road” I feel like a local using insider lingo. It makes me smile.

It’s easy to take Cordova for granted. It’s easy to feel stuck; without a road connecting you to the real world it can seem isolated. Mail takes forever to arrive, everything is expensive, and Grub Hub or Uber certainly don’t exist. Sometimes it feels a little like living abroad – for example, one half-mile stretch of road has been torn up and “under construction” for over a month because someone decided to repave the road without knowing that there is a national asphalt shortage. Really? A national asphalt shortage?? In the US? Ha. But it is totally worth it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in these details and forget what Cordova is – a paradise of naturaleza.

Living in this little bubble is unlike anywhere else in the world. I’ve picked 15 quarts of Salmon berries within a 15 minute walk of my house. I have the ocean at my door, grassy meadows and snowy mountain peaks within walking distance. People wave when they pass on the street. People use the phone book to look up phone numbers (which, by the way, is 5″ by 7″ and about 50 pages long). Trump supporters are neighbors and best friends with  Clinton supporters. Different religions, races, and ethnicities coexist peacefully. I can get (almost) wherever I need to go without owning a car, but I am in the middle of nowhere. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty amazing. And I think I am pretty lucky to be here. I am trying to appreciate this, knowing that when I do have access to Uber and Grub Hub again, I will certainly not be able to ride my bike out to a glacier and pick wild berries. It’s just my perspective, but I think it’s pretty great 🙂

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The Copper River

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One of the many, many meadows Out the Road

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Liz, hanging out on the Copper River. We spent the afternoon watching the trout jump and laughing at the kayakers that flipped over (they were ok – only their egos were bruised)

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Midnight Jam Session

Last week we had a midnight jam session – Alaska style. Meaning: we picked about 10 quarts of wild salmon berries and made some homemade jam while rocking out to Beyonce.

Salmon berries, which are about 2-3 times as big as raspberries (and equally large seeds), made an early appearance this year due to the mild winter. Being the competitive person that I am, I wanted to make sure that I got out before everyone else ate all of the berries…so as soon as they ripened, I was ready!

Salmon berries are pretty common around here and apparently less interesting for the locals. Blueberries and Nagoon berries, however, are all the rave. People get really serious about their berry spots, and it is apparently rude to even ask others where they go to pick their goodies. Oh, Cordova…

I couldn’t find the recipe that I wanted…so I tried to piece together pieces of different recipes I found online that matched my memory. I also thought I was supposed to use gelatin instead of pectin (oops) but it all worked out in the end.

Hot tip to thicken jam that comes out a little syrupy (courtesy of Jam Master Brenda): add chia seeds!!

Here is the process in photos, from berry bush to jam jar 🙂

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There are three varieties of salmon berries here: red, pink, and yellow. I think the yellow are the sweetest.

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After filling my bucket (and then filling Liz’s and Annabelle’s buckets) we were ready to head home and make jam.

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Step 1: wash berries and sterilize jars.

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Step 2: mash up the berries to strain the juice away from the seeds.

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Step 3: heat to a rolling boil with sugar, lemon juice and pectin (NOT with gelatin)

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Step 4: I like to seal the jars the easy way by inverting them. Our jam/jelly (because almost all of the seeds were strained out) was mostly a success. And…we have about 10 more cups of juice in the freezer to make the next batch, ready to go!

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Do you have a salmon berry jam recipe or hot tips? Let me know!

 

 

Walkin’ On Glaciers

Seeing a glacier has been on my to-do list for quite a while now. A month or so ago, a friend and I hiked to a glacier only to find a pool of teal water in its place. Thanks a lot, global warming. Yes, the disappearance of a glacier was inconvenient for me – that’s the real problem. I kid. But it was disappointing.

Last week, I finally got my chance. Sheridan Glacier is about 10 miles outside of Cordova and is pretty accessible to the public. And…like the rest of Cordova…it looks like a page straight out of National Geographic.

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Sheridan Glacier is named after the US Army General Philip Sheridan. He was a Union General in the Civil War who used some pretty questionable tactics to win his battles. Naming a glacier after him is a little like celebrating Christopher Columbus…but it is what it is. Regardless of the name, Sheridan Glacier is a breathtaking sight to see.

With a little extra attention given to where you step…you can easily walk right onto the glacier for some up-close exploration – which is exactly what we did. A close look at the surface of the glacier will reveal thousands of little black squiggles: ice worms. These little, creatures live in the glacier, burrowing little tunnels with their enormous mouthes.

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In Cordova these creatures are somewhat famous. February 3rd is Ice Worm Day, which is celebrated with the Ice Worm Festival – a winter carnival with lots of family activities and competitions, like putting on survival suits and jumping into the icy harbor for a little swimming race. Sounds fun…

Ice worms are cool…but nowhere near as cool as the view. Small, icy peaks gave way to jagged, looming mountains in the distance. And walking across the crisp, crunchy surface and stepping from one giant chunk of ice to another is quite humbling to say the least.

It was all pretty amazing…and I can’t wait to go back. Here are some other photos from the adventure.

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