May 9th is my sober anniversary, this year I am celebrating 14 years. This also happens to be my partner's born day. She asked me to take the day off with her, and being I still have "personal" days left at work, I obliged. (Personal days cannot roll over to the following year and can be used for anything).
At first we planned to head to the Jersey Shore for the day with the puppy. However, as time is running out for us to train for our Cali trip, we decided that a training day would be good for us. I let C do the planning, because she loves doing that sort of stuff. I knew she wanted to go to Harriman State Park. I have not been there in some time, and when I visited, it was only for hiking, never biking. We knew we were ready to bump up our milage, to the 30ish mile mark. C planned a route for us.
Wednesday morning, after coffee, we got ourselves out the door and arrived at Harriman ready to ride by 11 am (a little later than we wanted). With the sun shining bright and beating down on us, we began our ride. Not even half a mile into the ride and we approached our first hill. From there, we faced hill after goddamn grueling hill. On one hill, the climb lasted one bloody mile: my legs burned, my mind burned and I barely kept plugging along to the top.
We picnicked around the lake for lunch and a bit of respite. C hung her hammock and we chilled in it for too short a time. Back on the bikes for a little downhill action, only to head back uphill for some grueling climbs. This is seriously good training for Cali, but I am woefully unprepared for that right now. We will defiantly have to visit this trail again- but dear lawd, not for a few weeks, please!
Here is our first reference, starting our cycling adventures in San Francisco and ending in San Diego.
Two Saturdays in a row, we drove the 1.5 hours down to Trophy Bikes in Philadelphia. Why would we do such a thing? Basically, Trophy was the closet place that had a 42cm frame built, which meant that Cristina could take a bike for a spin. One ride on a 46cm framed Surly Disc Trucker hooked me. I put my down payment on the bike and C ordered a different colored frame than mine, so we wouldn't be *extra* gay. However, this meant we would have to return the following week, when C's bike was built and both of our bikes would be ready for the road.
I woke up Saturday with my crabby pants on, for no discernible reason. I hate it when that happens. On Saturdays, I have a standing commitment, my AA meeting Homegroup at high noon. I left my meeting 20 minutes early so that we could get on the road to Philly. Still in a grumpy mood, I wasn't the best co-passenger. Everything changed after walking into Trophy. My sexy new bike was waiting for me. I started riding her around the store and then around the block. Hip hip hooray for bike day.
November is the third best month for NJ teachers, (behind July + August), because it is a short and usually pleasant month. Aside from teachers convention and Veteran's Day there is the Thanksgiving break. Somehow my district figured out how to give us an entire week off this November. C wanted to show off her hometown part of Texas to me and it was also time for me to meet her family. C is from the Lower Rio Grand Valley and that's where her family currently lives. So, we planned a trip to South Padre Island, Texas.
Although the main purpose was for C to make her yearly pilgrimage to see the family, it was also a vacation for the two of us. Work has been exceptionally exhasuting so I eagerly awaited some respite. (Sidenote: the above photo was taken at the United Club in Newark Airport. It was AMAZING! I had two passes left from a previous credit card and we were checked in to our flight plenty early, so we finally took advantage of the luxury lounge.) We rented a studio condo on South Padre Island (SPI) so we would have our own space, separate from the family. We flew into the Harlingen Airport, which is an hour drive out to SPI. We rented a car to travel between C's family member's homes.
On our way to the island we stopped at the HEB grocery store to shop as it is much cheaper and there is more variety than on the island. Our condo was perfect for the two of us, only one block from the beach with a lovely pool. That strong Texas sun warmed our hearts and souls and baked our skin on the first day. There are several decent restaurants on the island and others located in Port Isabel just over the causeway. We dined on the freshest shrimp and fish and the most incredible Mexican food while we were there.
One day we rented a jetski and toured the island. Flying 60 miles an hour over the waves made me feel like a mad person. We cruised through the channels and were very close to Mexico. At one point, we were surrounded by dolphins, and they folowed us for a bit, jumping out of the ocean. Another day I took a kite boarding lesson. This was so much more difficult than surfing. There is a lot to learn before you can even get into the ocean.
One of C's brothers asked me when we were going shooting, jokingly because he knows his sister does not love guns. I don't like guns. They're weird. I've never really been around guns (except when I was drunk in Colorado visiting my folks...and some lunatic put a shotgun into my inebriated hands.) But I responded with a 'whenever'. So, on Wednesday we met C's younger brother at the shooting range. That is a weird place. We wore protective eye gear and earmuff things. Yet, when these two cops came in, with their outrageous rifles, each time one pulled the trigger, the sound reverberated through me. Every time the loud rifle released, I had to keep myself from jumping. It was an experience. I am such a northerner, such a city dweller, and I have always lived in densely populated areas that guns never occured to me as a good idea.
The area has strong community of recovery and there were meetings every day of the week, somewhere in the valley. I made it to a meeting in nearby Port Isabel.
There's also a smattering of other things to do on the island: you can visit a really sweet turtle sanctuary, a birding center, nature trails, ride go-carts and see enormous sand castles.
We spent time with all of C's family members. (I was even obliged to join in family portraits). On our final day, C's mom planned a Thanksgiving dinner get-together, which was super cute. We crashed at C's younger brother's apartment to be closer to the airport for our 530 am retrun flight. After spending the week in 80' plus weather, we returned to New Jersey, for a balmy 30'. I would be remiss if I failed to mentioned how friendly Texans were in general. Never once did I feel uncomfortable about holding hands or PDA with my partner.
Back to the daily grind is hella depressing. I was in serious denial of returning to my paying job as a high school literature teacher. Delusions of grandeur perhaps, but I still dream of paying my bills through my writing. I shall hold strongly to that dream. So, to ease the inevitable, C joined me and Billie on a Hudson, NY adventure over Labor(less) Day weekend.
I had contacted Rebecca, an amazing woman I studied herbs with last year to see if she had any surplus of herbs on her homestead. Rebecca lives on the Triform farm in Hudson. It is a shared living community and they have sizable vegetable and herb gardens. It turned out, that yes, there was enough herbs for me to come and harvest. C and I then contacted Tim, who runs the sweet Suminski Innski in Tivoli, NY to see if our little family could stay overnight. Tim had room for us, including the pup, so we headed upstate on Friday around noon. I am still discovering those little towns in the Hudson Valley. It is a fairly easy drive north or you can take the train our of New York City directly into Hudson.
Tivoli is tranquil, with only a handful of restaurants and a general store in town, compared to Hudson, which has dozens of eateries and more. The Inn is down a giant hill and beside the train-tracks and river. (The train passes all night long and roused C a few times, but Billie and I were unfazed). C and I enjoyed a short bike ride that looped out and around Tivoli and back into the center of town, although we did have to cross through a construction area.
We enjoyed some damn fine organic, grass-fed burgers at the town pub before returning to the Inn for the night. Billie enjoyed the hell out of running free around the Inn's property. The next morn, we enjoyed a fresh breakfast and chat with Tim and the other guests before heading to the farm. We arrived at Triform around 1030. Rebecca had time to show us around the community a bit and before we began harvesting some plants. There is something so immediately calming about plants. I was so zen in those fields of calendula, meditating, pruning, collecting flower tops. The incredible scent of fresh lavender soothed my mind, albeit temporarily.
After Rebecca's husband showed us the rest of the farm, including the Icelandic sheep that Billie did not approve of, we packed up for downtown Hudson. I reaped the benefits of Triform Farm, and I am excited to process the various plants we snipped. We parked on a side street and wandered down Warren Street, in search of the recently opened brick and mortar Good Fight Herb Co. Shop, owned by Lauren, one of my amazing herb school teachers. After a chat with Lauren in her magikal little shop, we meandered on to get some grub. We found a fantastic sandwich shop- I had a grilled vegetable sammy with fresh pesto and goat cheese and a cup of amazing pour-over coffee.
With our bellies full, we started for home but decided to make a stop off at the Walkway Over the Hudson, located in the town of Poughkeepsie. Billie was mostly behaved as we walked the 1.25 miles over the bridge and back again before hopping in the car and heading homeward. Although, I made one last stop once we were close to home, so that C could get the homemade salted caramel ice cream from Holstens in Bloomfield.
Elvis, C and I enjoyed a wee cycling tour around Montclair my final day before going back to work, which sadly did not include ice cream.
Below is a photo of C from our first geocaching adventure as well as photos of my herb-filled apartment and my handmade smudge bundles.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, after doing the financial math, and much consternation, I decided to book a last minute cruise. My cruise ship, a yacht called the Aida Maria, held 16 passengers and 6 crew members, not at all like the cruise ships in North America. On the first night of the cruise, we needed to cruise eight hours to reach to Genovesa, a secluded and uninhabited island in the north, one of the only places that the red-footed booby lives and nests. We were fortunate enough to see baby boobies nesting.
We turned out to have a really great and mostly young group on the boat. Among our motley crew, the Irish couple and both Australian couples, the Uruguayan fellow and Swiss girl were also last-minute cruisers like myself. There were two older couples who had paid twice what we paid for the journey because they had booked many months in advance.
I had never been on a cruise before and was not exactly sure what to expect. Meals were delicious and served three times a day plus snack times, yet I hated having to wait for my dinner. Anyone that knows me, knows that I graze all day long. I hate waiting too many hours before a meal, or my blood sugar drops and I get hangry as hell. I also prefer to eat smaller meals rather than gorging myself. Sleep was easy, after popping the Ecuadorian version of Dramamine, the boat rocked me to sleep. Although there were some choppy times and a few passengers were ill.
There were daily excursions from the ship that included walking, hiking and snorkeling. I think I have had enough snorkeling to last awhile. An important note: the water is cold! I wore a shorty wetsuit and became cold after 20 minutes in the ocean. One day we had three freaking snorkel activities, which is one more than my max. However, we swam with Galapagos Penguins and sea lions- which was so damn beautiful. Below I have links to videos that one of the Australian's took with his Go-Pro. (I am totally saving up for one.) On the last day we walked around Dragon Island, and saw many land and marine iguanas, pictured below. Looking at those creatures really made me think of evolution and how those things looks so un-evolved. I seriously can see how one of the marine iguanas would inspire Godzilla.
Cruising is probably the best way to see the Galapagos. If you are debating whether it is worth it, I say go for it, especially if you have the time to negotiate a last minute cruise deal.
Early bird gets... to see Maccu Piccu. We found out many travelers couldn't get to Aguas Calientes due to the strikes and the disruptions they caused. At our hotel we spoke to several folks who were stranded in Aguas Calientes after seeing MP.
We were up at 4:20am to have a little brekkie before catching the bus to MP at 5am. I think part of the mystique of MP comes from being a sleepy or weary traveler as I was a little out of it when the bus pulled up to this wonder of the world.
MP is strategically placed high in the mountains and between several peaks, so that it remains partially hidden and shrouded in mist. The sun appears late on this mountaintop, adding to the magic and mystery of the ancient Incan ruins.
We walked the grounds in the brisk air with our tour guide, Vilma, who explained the historical importance of the different structures. Sun burst through clouds, slowly warming up the air. The site is overwhelming, it is enormous and spread out. As I meandered, I tried to imagine what MP was like as a thriving little village. It is belivwd that the Incans observed the land and climate many years before they built upon it. This is how they knew exactly when the equinoxes and solstices occurred, and how they were able to build a Sun Temple which the sun shines through on the solstice.
After Vilma set us free, our group decided to hike Wayna Piccu, a higher mountain beside MP, with an altitude of 2,668m. The steep climb up was slow-going at points, and I kept thinking about slipping and falling over the edge. (Unlike the US, Peru doesn't feel the need to 'idiot-proof' the grounds, so there aren't any guardrails.) There are tiny steps that even my 6.5 foot cannot fit on.
The breathtaking view from the top was worth the climb. Although we were among the first groups to climb Wayna Piccu that morning, it got hairy at the top as there were too many people vying for the perfect selfie or photo.
After the treacherous climb down Wayna Piccu, C and I wandered the grounds a bit more before catching the bus back to Aguas Calientes.
Lago titikaka, or Lake Titicaca, means "puma head" in the indigenous language. At 3800 meters, Titikaka is the highest lake in the worldand belongs both to Peru and Bolivia.
We boarded a boat around 845 in the morning to access the man-made floating island of Uros. It took about 30 minutes to reach Uros.
I was a bit uncomfortable at first, because it felt like we were exploiting the people there, as it seems they put on a show for us (tourists in general). But they have chosen tourism as their main source of income. Four families live on the island of Uros, and they have set it up for tourism. The community works together to build the island by tying layers of tampote grass. (When dried, it reminds me of bamboo). Obviously, the grass rots from the bottom up, as it sits in the water. Layers must constantly be added to the top to keep the island from disappearing. The people built their homes in the traditional way, made of grass and straw so that tourists can see how they lived in the past. The women on the island hand embroider and sew various handicrafts.
We hopped back into the boat for an hour and 45 minutes to reach the peninsula of Llachón.
I suppose it was good to have a rest day off of the bikes and an interesting stopover at the homestay, though I could have lived without it. The people are genuinely kind. It was freezing last night and though C and I cuddled close and were warm enough in bed, we couldn't get out of bed. There wasn't any heat, electricity or running water in the rustic accommodations, and I woke up stiff and achy this morn. One of my glands feels a little swollen, I'm hoping it's just because I slept fitfully last night. We huddled under the covers by 845 last night and called it a day.
We slept in the canyon, in cabanaconde. The temp dropped down but there were many warm and heavy blankets in our lodging. Usually I'm a furnace during the night, so C snuggles up close to me for warmth.
We left after breakfast so we could view the condors putting on their show. The Cruz Del Condor is a location that has thermal winds, which the giant birds catch to become airborne. This is a big tourist a lot with several local traditional women setting up shop to sell handmade alpaca items.
After about an hour, we hopped on our bikes and began our descent into the canyon. 3800m (12,844) and traveled 17k. After lunch I rode another 10k to the town of Copraque, before hopping into the support van, while the others continued by bike to the next location. I am usually the last rider in, the slowest, but I'm getting the job done.
The isolated accommodation was, by Peruvian standards, a resort. There were hot springs on the property, so we soaked our aching bones for a bit before dinner. It's been a few days since I have been able to get online. (Totally okay with that.)
Last night was chilly and we had piles of heavy blankets on us in bed. When we came back from dinner, we found a lovely and mysterious surprise of candy on the nightstand. When C got into bed she exclaimed how warm my feet were, but my feet weren't yet under the covers! Along with the candies, we were left the gorgeous surprise of a hot water bottle at the foot of the bed. Although we were in bed early, we were awake enough to watch a (pre-downloaded) episode of Orange is the New Black on my iPad. (Almost done with this season!)
The next morning we loaded the van to continue on to Puno and Lake Titicaca.
Cycling Day Two: Arequipa
The van brought us further out into the countryside and we cycled around small villages, up some killer hills and some slow, steady inclined as well. We covered about 10 miles and reached an altitude of 2900 meters. Whoa, that's high!
I think I'm adjusting to the altitude alright so far. Tomorrow we head out to Colca Canyon, reaching an altitude of 4800 meters.
Hi, I'm Reverend J, a queer+ sober wanderer, activist, writer and ordained minister.