Onions & Watermelon

Walking the outskirts of Futaleufu, Chile 2017

Futaleufu, home to the aquamarine, roaring river of its namesake, and the 3lb salmon plate. Due to its proximity to salmon farming, not necessarily the presence of wild salmon in the river, you can get a half-arms length salmon in Futaleufu for $10. The first time I was served with a piece of salmon that was the same length of my shin, I was dismayed and repulsed. 24 hours, a river run and an actual run later, I was craving that absurd piece of fish.

A typical tourist river run, the kind of allowance that makes you both thrilled for lack of precautions and dismayed. The safety precautions were fierce. Dutifully so, as in our raft sat two teenage Germans with rosy cheeks, blonde hair, mushy arms and one gayful Frenchman, also with mushy arms. Then us. A crew perfectly conditioned for class IV and V rapids of the Futaleufu river. Two kayakers, and two men on wooden planked banana boats with a tangle of safety mechanisms that were all but Jurassic and reminiscent of Will Smith’s Wild Wild West were to be our safety crew for the river run. If we were to make it to the end of the run without the Europeans plunging into the icy waters, it was going to be an amazing feat among a pathetic bunch.

Silver-domed Pierre was around 70 years old and full of beautiful life, which made his subtle, distracted paddling endearing at first. Excited by every moment of the ride, Pierre couldn’t keep his hands on the wooden oars for he had to exclaim his joy with a dual-armed rollercoaster excited hoorah after every rapid. Apparent in every gesture of enthusiasm and cheerful with glee after every fall, it was though he had been instructed to pet the river with his oar when he did manage to get his hands on it.

We continued to bulldoze the rapids in the pouring rain. The temperature was dropping and everyone’s hands were noticeably translucent. The Germans, practically mute, and unclear if they actually understood English, acted alive when yelled at, then resumed their subordinate and slumping position. Finally, the output in sight! We had endured and nearly dislocated our shoulders, but we had made it. 

Futaleufu River, Chile, 2017

The oarsman instructed us to stay put, we would not be boarding the bus to head back to Futaleufu just yet. We sat for 20,30,45 minutes in the rafting boat on the river bank eating wet sugar wafers and peanuts. Everything in the boat was filthy, soaked with mud and rain, mildewing lifejackets. The Germans kept their slumping position. What the hell was the problem? 

It was though a cartoon of a road closure had been brought to life. A canvased, capsized produce truck of onions and watermelon was perpendicular to the dirt road at the apex of the hill. On the other side of the truck, opposite the river, was our ride back to Futaleufu. It was suspended in limbo until the road was clear of its rolling farm goods.

We stood, water dripping down our backs while Chileans scrambled to collect muddied, partially cracked melons and rinse them in the roaring Futaleufu. A dozen resourceful men, with their uniform of jeans and checkered button downs, were tying up the truck and trying to rig it with a tractor. The mud deepened and dislodged footing and reduced any friction the men were having. Pierre watched with a content smile on his face, he was even gleeful while waiting in the rain and watching the blockage mayhem ensue.

Among the scurrying and heaving Chileans, a Brit dressed as a pirate in full garb joined the scene. Bearded hat and all (well, everything but the eyepatch).

Enough of this nonsense! The town of Futalefu was 18 miles away. It was time to get running. 

Meandering around Futaleufu, Chile 2017

The rolling hills were a dream, a magic carpet rolled out among the dense forest. The sky was still open, but the rain freshened and lifted the humidity with a pure crisp air that revives the body. Within 3 miles, we flagged over a truck coming head on. In it sat a family of decked-out, avid motocrossers. The two school aged kids and their enthusiastic round cheeked father welcomed us with glee as he turned to head back to town. When one accepts a favor from the good will of a stranger, it’s almost a given that it is your duty to act eager and interested in anything that stranger of good fortune has to say. It is an understatement to say the family was interested in two filthy, wet and spandex-clad Americans. Like Pierre, the dad was so overjoyed that he repeatedly slowed to nearly a standstill and then nearly off the road to show photos of him and his kids. Us riding our bikes two months ago! Us visiting grandma! Here is a picture of our feet.

His excitement was tangible. So was mine for that 3lb salmon.

Up Furnace Creek

A couple dances on the Great Salt Lake on March 13,2020

The problem was, frankly, everything. Comically so if it would have been in hindsight. As I considered the next move in a series of already hasty decisions, the wind snapped a branch from an evergreen and collapsed into the five foot wall of snow that had accumulated overnight outside the front door. The mountain house had a back door but, like most properties in the dead of winter, only one entrance had been even marginally maintained. My gloves and shoes were still wet from barreling myself through the snow upon arrival in the dark after a seventeen hour drive through hellish thoughts and alarmingly calm and noticeably fake public broadcasts. I weighed my options as heavy as the snow falling outside.

I needed to feel productive, in control of something. Buying staples from the grocery felt like a good directive. After a good sweat-inducing shovel that resulted in the chills due to hunger and exhaustion, I writhed to the Truckee Safeway.

The produce section was heaped with cantaloupe, kiwi and pads of cactus. A few wrinkly turnips. Apparently no one wants to eat tropical fruit when faced with a global disaster. It’s too much of a mockery.

Time is measureless, vague.

For dinner, I dine on winter scrubs and the outcast tropical fruit. The combination of bitter and sweet tastes seem to be a ruthless reflection of my new unemployment status during a time when you can’t go anywhere.

The daytime light has been on a constant dimmer for days. It is as though I am in my grandmother’s nursing home room: shutters drawn, curtains drawn, a yellow glow to the off-white walls, silence besides the grim underlying fact that supersedes the scene. 

The snow hasn’t stopped but I feel the urge to get out of the Valley – there is an innate sense of urgency to relocate. I pack the car, leave the last turnip in the refrigerator. I consider taking all of the toilet paper but opt for half as to not be a total jerk.

Driving around the Lake, vintage neon signs sit lights out. Casinos declare they are temporarily closed. There is no traffic – all the cars seem to be at the grocery store.

// 9 hours and 10 climate zones later, I stand on the side of Hwy 395 looking out at the Owen’s valley. The icy wind is scathing yet I do not acknowledge it until I realize my zipper is frozen and has drawn blood from my neck. Horses graze below, hardly moving. A diorama. Between the radio static I hear Trump’s voice assessing the situation. I go back to the car, turn it off. Look at the map. Death Valley seems like an appropriate destination.

Sand in the teeth, Death Valley March 2020

At the first outpost in the Valley, my nostrils scentilate with the sandpaper smell of the desert. Dusty, devoid of life, warm. This is exactly the place I was looking for. Service-less, slow solitude. I scan the map and look at the drawing of tonight’s weather forecast: storms. Per is customary with ragged outposts, the weathered matron, who was already ornery before I arrived (and at birth), is now glowering at me on her heels. I’ve apparently gone over the acceptable amount of minisculely allotted time looking at the laminated map (60 seconds) and I have inferred too many questions of an otherwise desolate post (none). Just to drive the blade in, I ask if there are any color postcards.

I have a choice it appears. In a sick sense of pervasion, there is a 5-star hotel called the Oasis of Death Valley. Remington reproductions and marble columns complete with a lap pool, 500 count Egyptian threads, and Scottish salmon.

I scan the map. In which range should I spend the day hiking tomorrow? Coffin Peak in the Black Mountains? How about somewhere in the Last Chance Range? Funeral Peak?

Andy the Waiter mentions the 85 yo proprietor is planning to fly down on his private plane to prove it’s safe to travel. I look around at the Remington reproductions. Bruschetta and Chablis under a mahogany afterglow, I know what it felt like on the last evening on the Titanic.

Getting granular, the salt flats of Death Valley, March 2020

Tame eels in London Town

bethnal green, london

A dark caterpillar weaved through Bethnal Green, revealing an eruption of life – as one tends to find in even the most unassuming corners in London.

Offbeat ceramic fair? Hoards of bespeckled 30 and 60 somethings awash in knitted garments. Basement photography exhibit on circus life? Boxy college students pointing avidly. Bar dedicated to KGB-style service and cocktails? 30 minute wait.

Primary-colored houseboats magnetically lined the edges of Regent’s Canal. Some smoked from their slender pipes, adding more grayness to the sky, others sunk into the water as if their batteries needed recharging. A twiggy blonde sat on the top of his abode in a miniature director’s chair, smoking and sipping wine to sultry French tunes emitting from a small 90’s boombox.

Rain trickled down, reflecting a baritone of city lights. Under a now-suspended chess set, a balding, woolen man has found his temporary shelter. The jingle of the shifting pieces accentuated by the treble of cyclists’ bells screeching along like piercing morse code.

I was a thread running through the tail end of rush hour, nearly catching my forehead on brick overpasses or sliding near the canal’s edge after taking a corner too quick.

Packs of oncoming commuters – only noticeable by their bodies radiating yellow in the darkness – shot out of sidestreets like pinballs. French bulldogs emerged from every footpath, adding a comedic sense of ridiculousness to the chaos of the scene.

A short-circuit lamp transformed into a strobe light, freezing still shots of my body’s gestures on the sidewalk, an exercise crime scene.

Mind your head, mind your toes, mind your side.

Minutes later, the sky cleared. Moisture hung in the smoggy air but with the cold it felt deceivingly fresher. The sun had set leaving behind a trace of sublime light in the corners of the sky.

In London there is no uncovering the unknown. The discoveries have been unearthed and broadcasted. What is left is the uncovering of a perfectly timed glance. Or a stranger’s unconscious, submarine movements that bask you in an entire life lived.

Mind yer head.

Diagonal Starting Points

It’s 5 am. A band of knee-high crows are cowering outside my window, seemingly very disgruntled. Their calls range from a cranky baby to a gremlin to an old, curmudgeon. And now I realize where my supernormal dreams originated.

The place is a vinyl box, plastic-coated and purposeful. Each item, knob, hook, cabinet is multi-purposeful and strategic, making use of the mere 500 sq ft. The only clutter was the clutter itself: a 5-division, 8-lid trash and recycling separation system that would confuse anyone who actually knew Japanese.

If there was ever a feeling of needing to escape the confides of a 1950’s Sears catalog, it was now. The muted pink Pepto Bismol decor was all but compelling me out the door. Outside, Tokyo was waking up. I meandered, a witness to the disorderly, comforting nature of society getting their bearings as one. Otherwise orderly, perfectly timed pedestrians and cyclists swayed and wobbled. Disoriented as if they had been playing dizzy bat or were a newly birthed stumbling calf.

It was April, the time for sakura. Bits of pink petals gathered in the curb crevices like discarded confetti and sparklers on January 1st. A disappointing reminder that the cherry blossoms had come and gone.

Multiple Starbucks, brand name megastores sat on the main streets while quaint, compact local store fronts squatted in the narrow side streets and back alleys. Sprouting plants tiered and huddled in every sunlit gap. Bicycles patiently sat unlocked, donning their flimsy, makeshift plastic baskets and showercap seat coverings.


Vending machines sat out of place, seemingly discarded like a worker misread the directions, shrugged and unloaded the shipment. Glossy posters of unrevealing, winking pinups layered the entrances of unassuming, windowless buildings. A three-storied cement crossway straddled a sleepy intersection, I looked around curiously, peering side-to-side. A one-millon dollar extravagance to nowhere.

Slowing down was apparently sanctioned on Sunday. As I continued my run into Yoyogi Park, a expressionless guard scolded me ‘No running!’. A harmonized group practiced Tai Chi on a grassy knoll next to the Meiji Shrine, metallic skyscrappers towered in the background.

The streets remained hypnotic until midmorning at which point people seemed to quadruple in numbers. The air was dazzling and alive with the sweet smell of wafers and incense streaming from temples. Joggers donned yellow jumpsuits and bright blue Adidas-knockoff tracksuits bounced by, old men with lizard-eye bifocals crumpled newspapers, pedalers took long wavy turns. The bevy of life only adding a decibel to the noise level. Quietly synchronicitous but full of life.

A Spaniard in Antartica (or Tallinn)

hip tallinn
Hip Talliinn neighborhood Telleskivi

There is a short catalog of Christmas songs repeatedly played all over the world. Imagine that. The same 1957 Jingle Bell tune that plays while you pass off a store-bought Albertson’s pie for home-baked is the same one playing for half a year in balmy Cadiz. Tallinn was no different.

The Christmas Market in Paekoja Plats was a maze of sugar-coated nuts, unruly hair-balled mittens and wooden spoons. In the midst of free samples and overcrowded corridors, everyone who passed had a revolting quality of ‘me-ness’ about them. They moved without any acknowledgement for other passersby, whether it be in their steps or eyes. It was a bizarrely vengeful atmosphere to behold the tune of Christmas music. No one made eye contact or even flinched a smile. A seated woman clicked her unforeseen heels on the cobblestone from beneath a plastic-lined booth, a strange sound among a woolen array of goods.

With somewhat-morbid curiosity, I continued to meander around the selfie-stick tourists.

Draggy teenagers layered in traditional garb, tower of Pisa berets and long, dangly fur vests, hoisted pictorial menus to white-haired, holiday-obsessed bumbling women. 

I wondered, who does this reenactment act work on?

A shortlist:

  1. Enamored children pleading susceptible parents
  2. Old, cruiseship couples whose sole interests stem from the pictured in the brochures
  3. Those whose pastimes evolve around genealogy
  4. Photographers set on reproducing pictures found in in the guidebook
  5. And finally, drunks.

To unfold the layers of Tallinn outside the Old Town, I headed toward Põhja-Tallinn. Past the quotidian babushkas hawking Chinese-knitted scarves to the backdrop of Bremeni Tower. (It’s gritty granite made the patterned, knock-off knits look slightly more appealing.) Through the multitude of fortresses, rounded, wet manicured gardens and barren trees.

knits in Tallinn

The Peeter Suure rajatised, a crumbling, puke-yellow fortress covered in graffiti – illiterate and unimpressive scribbling – was surrounded by a paper mâché moat of burnt brown leaves and globs of mud. The sky was perpetuated with lines of dusty smoke emitting from indiscernible holes atop nearby buildings, from grumbling trucks, from wool-laden old men’s cigarettes. The air smelt of rank,  dead ocean life and long gone port workers’ sweat.

An old woman slugged her carriage through gray clay pits. The same shade as the concrete encroaching on the sea. Her skin. The December sky. The peckish pigeons. The puddles of rainwater. The congruent gray abounded.

The smell of wet leaves and an old man’s morning tobacco.

As water dripped into my eyes, my shoes. I paused, catching the eyes of a bundled man as we both snatched a ray of partitioned sun. A finite pleasure of winter in Eastern Europe lies in the monotonous cast of dull light, sprawling its long shadows. You can stare directly into the sun’s eye. That is, if you can find it.

estonian park at night

The rounded haze of light smudges late night walks.

Wait, it’s 8am.

If you go:

Venture out to Telliskivi for food, coffee or a drink. There are tons of places in this area, venture to the side streets or ponder at Sveta Baar.

Metsakalmistu – a huge park with a cemetery amongst a forest.

Stroll around:

  • Kadriorg, a baroque palace with extensive gardens
  • Paljassaare

Abnormalities & contradictions in Australia

Green had never been such a complex yet vague idea. Seafoam, ivy, sage, spruce. Sharp needles, crosshatched blades, overhanging branches.  As I wound through the wild coastal grasses of the Great Ocean Trail, parts of the trail rode the ridge high, performing optical reveals when emerging from a burrowed, cored-out meadow’s nest.  The wind pushed and shoved in all manners of direction giving me a drunken gait as I ran.

​Glenaire-Melba Gully bellowed dark alleyways of green canopy, knotted branches of broomstick trees twisting into gray scribble atop a glistening meadow. I could have been a superhero who could brandish the wrath of a tornado by the looks of how many flies hived & swirled around my limbs as I dug along. At Princetown, 72” reeds shot out of the Gellibrand River like whiskers.

Aire River Wildlife Reserve, Australia 2019

As the light diminished from the sky, the clouds vanished along with it. Filling its space was the whooshing of the tide – a deep, voluptuous breath during wintertime. The birds sung their glory bells, tapped their 80’s keyboard keys, clinked champagne glasses – tink, tink. One periodically gurgled in glory as if it was downing salt water with a raw throat. A faint mist began to set – smudging the tops of the eucalyptus.

I leapt out of the door at sunrise the next morning for more of the Great Ocean Trail and within a few minutes time I was sticker than a cinnamon bun. After breakfast, I angled down to the Glenaire Campgrounds where brambling red gum trees stacked neatly near the river’s shore. Coffee in hand, I wondered if the koalas would be obvious enough to spot. I surveyed for knappy balls of fur in the trees. After only a few minutes I spotted a pineyed furball coiled in a metronoming branch. The wind pulled the limbs for feet in either direction but this did not concern the marsupial from following my step and gaze.

Aire River, Australia 2019

// Up Binns Road was a slippery track through gargantuan beeches & ferns that put the palms of Santa Monica to shame. Beams of light emphasized the towering bohemeths. The road dropped down into a redwood forest with a suspicious lack of green underbelly – devoid of all but the carmelized needles that had piled year over year. A few steps away, a river scrambled over sharp green lichen and capsized timber that was gradually assuming a new shade of green. Lake Elizabeth sounds like a pleasant, convivial spot where one would picnic on crustless sandwiches while wearing straw hats. In actuality, it feels like a trapdoor into purgatory – dark, mysterious. An erie timelessness engrossed the area, recalling Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil. Topless, dagger-like trees jutted from a murky lightless pond. Crawling ivy enmeshed with a mischievous purple flower seemed an innocuous highlight meant to distract.

Lake Elizabeth, Forest, Australia 2019

As the story goes, Lake Elizabeth was created a century ago after a year when the rains never stopped. The water led to a mudslide, blocking off the waterflow and creating this mysterious home to the coy platypus.

A sign announced ‘beach’ at the banks of a sludgy, immobile green river surrounded by jagged rocks. The path led down to the banks of the whiskey colored water, shards of decapitated white beeches stood erect in the middle. Black cockatoos whistled in the trees, everything else was noticeably still. As soon as I had begun to let my guard down, and get used to this evil lair, I turned the corner and nearly stumbled into a gigantic black & red snake at my feet. I nervously turned on my heels to make my way out, cataloguing each branch and dutifully playing the game ‘snake or stick’? An echo emerged and the sound of the trees creaking like rusty hinges of wooden doors filled the void.

​I shambled out back towards the town of Forest trying to shake off the abnormal air and headed back towards the ocean.

If you go, practicalities:
Coffee & eats:

  • Forrest General Store – Forrest, Australia
  • Forage on the Foreshore – Port Campbell, Australia
  • Grab specialty picnic items at Battaglia’s Marketplace in Lorne and hit the beach but beware of aggressive seagulls.

Must stay:

  • Glenaire – I can not say enough about Chi Medicinal Farm & the couple behind the operation. A lovely, natural space that incorporates the plant life and natural elements into the lodging & food. Plus the location is to die for: right off the trail, next to a koala habitat & lucious meadow.
  • Make sure you pick up groceries & wine before heading to Glenaire. There are NO services.

Other places to check out:

  • Grampians – Hall’s Gap – an entry point for an outback experience. Combines ochre cliffs & red gums with boundless opportunities to watch marsupials and variety of bird species. White cockatoos the size of rabbits, kangaroos galore. Utah-like hikes and spectacular syrah winemakers to partake in. Stay at the Stone Cottages in Grampians Pioneer Cottages
  • Royal National Park –  Run the perfectly laid trail along the eastern coastline of Australia, just south of Sydney. Outstanding views for just a short drive.
Hanging with marsupials in Grampians, Australia 2018

The rust-colored kilometers of Bolivia

Chilean/ Bolivian border near San Pedro de Atacama, 2019

The journey was windier than I could have possibly imagined. The road leapt over mountainsides, through chalky gray rivers swirling with metallic reflections of the sky. Emblazoned, minted. As we traversed Sur Lipez, the water diminished, reminisces of the last rain gashed into the rivers edge. A drawbridge spanned sandpaper. Windowless mudhuts dotted the hillside. The only variance from the muted terra firma was the shimmer from the corrugated steel roofs and the darkness of an impending storm.

San Pedro de Lipez, Bolivia 2019

Remote outposts, destinations for mere minutes, inferred generations of life. 

​Some were narrow passageways between rows of connected camel row-houses, where squatting old ladies retreated like turtles into their rainbow woolen ponchos. Tiled public squares freckled with energetic children wreaking havoc on a brood of hens. Teenagers lazied on abandoned metal sheets jutting from the ground burning holes with their universal bored stare.  ​Other villages were mere dots on a map, an analogy for the particles of dust that swept and stained everything – not a color besides blackening bananas in sight.

Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, 2019 A strange alagam of diligence, exertion and tedium extended everywhere. A fence marked by rocky cairns extended for a mile. Road hazards were recognizable by strewn rocks or metal abruptly positioned in a lane. Road maintenance was done by the hands of leathered, shrinking men in whose vests had nearly lost their reflective sheen. One man pushed, rolled, scooted a boulder across the nadir of a winding valley, valantly entrusting oncoming drivers to anticipate and react to sudden hazards in the road. On top of a snow-speckled mountain, the wind smacked like waves and we came to an abrupt stop. At each unsuspecting town or approachment to a random site of interest, there was always a kid and a man to pay. Their scattered system of tolls. Donde vas?

That was a good question. Where were we going? Yes, there was an itinerary that we had, places to be by the end of each day. Towns were supposedly our end destinations. The dusty, ragged frontier of Tupiza. It’s colors faded like an old shoe, all of its white yellowed, smelling of everything it’s been through. Sol de Manana, a town spaced between two smooth volcanoes whispering a bitter wind between the quiet streets. The gigantic palms of Villa Abecia shading the bodegas peddling mapley sweet wine, it’s streets echoing the crackle of parrillas and the squeaking of one little boy’s bike. But these were simply the cornerstones to the pocked dirt roads atop endless mountain-passes in the clouds.

Over the years, I have come to shun a constant travelers proverb. It seemed to emit from tongues like the greeting ‘How are you?’. Yet I found myself reflecting over the hundreds of miles/hours as I stared into the endless valleys, watching the shadows of the various peaks play out on the hillsides.

​No other expedition had the saying ‘It’s more about the journey than the destination’ been more applicable than that of Bolivia.

If you go (& you should), practicalities:

THE ROADS: If you want to be able to take in the scenery and get through the long distances each day without wanting to scream, I highly recommend hiring a driver.

  • Between Sucre –> Tupiza, roads are decent and paved
  • Between Tupiza–> Eduardo Avaroa –> San Pedro a driver is a Godsend. ‘Roads’ – dirt/rock paths – will be washed out and will require a car with sufficient clearing. Typically cost/price is less to hire a driver than to rent a car.
  • Between Santa Cruz –> Samaipata a driver is not necessary and many agencies run transfers like Kaleidoscope Travel paired with a hiking guide in Amboro. A hiking guide is required for hikes that take place in the protected rainforest/ fern gullies. A local lady checks with guides to get to the final trailhead. 

THE CLIMATE: If you are planning to go during the rainy season, the Altiplano is where you want to be. The weather is likely to be stable and your journey relatively easy. Steer clear of La Paz & the Amazon. Samaipata and the Southeast will be a bit wet but not near as bad as La Paz.

Highly recommended stays:

  • Stay at least one night in the Eduardo Avaroa, La Lamphaya Lodge Andina is THE BEST for the value.
  • Stay at least two nights at Ckamur Atacama Ethnolodge. Spectacular property with biking distance to San Pedro town & park. You’ll see the stars and sunset away from the hoards of tourists in a ethno-property. The photos online do not do it justice. Unlimited trail running, hiking, biking around Catarpe valley. Don’t take a tour to the Valley of the Moon or you will be annoyingly chaperoned. Eat at Baltinache.
  • Stay at least two nights at La Vispera in Samaipata, it is a lovely ecoreserve on the hillside, with a wonderful garden-based & property-sourced restaurant in walking distance to town. Take the hike behind the property, up the mountain, and look out over the lush valley and vineyards.
  • Stay at least one night, two full days at Hotel de Sal Luna Salada in Uyuni. Spectacular decor, even though the staff is a bit odd…. BYOW! 
  • Stay one night at Hotel Parador Vina de Pereira in Villa Abecia. Hike to the outlook, swim in the springs. Be wary of the wine….

And now, take in these spectacular snapshots from Bolivia:

Deciphering Slovak

All aboard the Slovakian Express, 2018

Circling the roundabout for the fifth time, my patience began to wane. The backpackers that I had seen walking from the bus stop on the main highway had almost made it to their destination. I knew were they were heading. The one hostel in town, the Ginger Monkey, where I had originally planned on staying but decided last minute against for seclusions sake. I cursed myself, if I had stayed there I would be drinking wine by now! Finally, I parked at the one restaurant and desperately waited for a passersby.

Two little old ladies, each draped in floral prints (red poppies and yellow daffodils), shuffled on their evening stroll up the solitary road with a panoramic view of the High Tatras to their right. I attempted my best Slovak pronunciation. An instant click of comprehension and she was off pointing and motioning. ‘Obviously it’s up that side gravel alley behind these abandoned buildings’, she implied.

Veľký Rozsutec, Mala Fatra 2018

Relieved, I pulled up to the lodge – reminiscent of a kitsch wooden lodge you’d find in the Appalachians, adorned with all types of multicolored windmills and objects. The owners were gathered inside talking loudly, inattentive to the tv that blared out the open doors. I excitedly put off dinner to share wine with a supposedly English-speaking Slovak. ‘What time does the restaurant close?’ He assured ‘10pm’. Since the options were abounding, I was hankering to get his local take on hikes. But, surprisingly, his were identical to the English blogs that I had read: ‘Zelené pleso’. Only when he repeated the directions to the trailhead did I realize what little English he spoke. At that minute, I dashed down to the restaurant.

The place was as dark as a medieval tavern, one obviously drunk couple remained, their heads swaying to & fro while they attempted to gaze in each others’ eyes. I begged for bread. The waitress replied that they only had frozen loaves. I could try the restaurant in the next town over – 20 minutes away. She must have seen the desperation in my eyes, she rushed back to the kitchen and returned with the drunk couples discarded bread basket. I was overjoyed.

On the way to Zelene pleso, High Tatras, Slovakia 2018

I knew from the start that I was going on the wrong hike. None of the names matched up – not the chata, nor the medley of hikes stacked on the posts. But, I reasoned, I signed up for this hike. One I didn’t read about in countless blogs – it felt more adventurous, more mine.

Ahead, a Slovak man ferociously trekked through the forest with his poles swinging, it appearing to be his morning routine. The trail overlooked a stream rushing with winter’s water, sprouting wreaths of yellow flowers. I soon reached a chalet hunkered in the one nook the mountain had to offer. Every hike in Slovakia has a beer chalet waiting to reward you.

Nearly down, I ran into a shirtless man starring at the trail pole. ‘You are alone?’ Well, there is no denying it. We are in the middle of the woods.

I asked why he was so shocked. His frightening reply, ‘Sometimes it’s good, man and woman being alone. Sometimes not so good.’ Broken English can have wondrous implications.

It was a breezy hike that I decided was to be the warm up before Zelene pleso, I was craving more of a reward than beer. 5 minutes away was the unmistakable trailhead for Zelene pleso. Cars lined a dedicated parking area, a large wooden map showed the path. Along the way, several crews of men were constructing new bridges – pulling the timber from the forest, halving the logs and sawing them into place. Dust & shards of wood flying through the air, none of them sporting eyewear or protective gear of any kind. I passed a dipshit wearing a ‘Budafuckingpest’ shirt, one earphone dangling out of his ear. I wondered if the construction guys would give him a go on the saw.

Mala Fatra, Veľký Rozsutec, Slovakia 2018

// The trail wound through the lush, bright green forest and emerged in a col-de-sac of limestone peaks spotted with snow. The lake an emerald green, reflecting the surrounding foliage. A barrage of tourists had schlepped their photography gear up and were manically snapping photo after photo of the lake as the clouds rearranged its overhead lighting. I tried to sit in seclusion and reflect myself, but each time feet would find their way to me. I had to keep myself from snatching at their ankles.

After a dozen miles, the chalet was definitely calling me. I counted my euros, and realized the parking fee had dissolved my chances of beer. Defeated, I began to turn back when I heard a manly roar, ‘Colorado!’. It was the group of Slovak men I had seen hiking in the low Tatras a few days earlier. They summoned me over for beer and tripe-stomach soup.

If you go to Slovakia:

This blog is about Zelene Pleso but the real gem is Velky Rozutec.

The train is slow and the transfers many for outdoor adventuring. If you have limited time, rent a car.

– Stay in Štefanová and hike the Veľký Rozsutec loop (it is technical at the top). It is an amazing quaint town in the middle of Mala Fatra that has unlimited hikes. I could have stayed here for 5 days alone. I highly recommend Penzion Sagan.
– Make sure you pick up groceries & wine before heading into the High Tatras.
– Stay in the new building at Hotel Nad Przełomem in Sromowce Niżne, Poland. Kayak the Dunajec, hike Trzy Korony, you can bike along a river trail forever. Pieniny was amazingly underrated.

A Tale of Immediate Departures, Part I

Badlands South Dakota, 2016

// Mt. Rushmore Road had a new median: rows of bumbling motorbikes. Each with the heft of an antibiotic, force-fed cow. And the same went for their owners, who were parading around like Macaque monkeys in their cheek-perforated leather pants. One of every two bikers tramping around was grossly overweight and the same statistic was applicable to the quantity of bored, stupefied facial expressions on the passersby as they peered into Rattlesnake Jakes, Full Throttle Saloon, and Dakota Leather Outlet.

Cabo San Lucas t-shirt vendors had made the journey north for the month of August, and left behind their beachcombing, shot-sipping and sunburnt gregarious customers for, well, the same. Only this time their patrons digressed to hair metal instead of chicano rap.

They had reassembled their hawker stands with banners loudly pronouncing their menu del dia: Sleeveless Denim, and Gun Pocket Vests (which pictured a sinister pocket knife emblazoned with the American flag).

​Two Polaris mules pulled up and parked, three more inches and they would have made it inside. The drivers were clad in fuzzy house slippers and carried themselves with the implied attitude associated. As the man picked over the merch, he revealed the ink show on his arms: a hollowed skull bedazzled in a headdress next to a PBR. Thirty minutes later I would see them processing behind a skinny Indian boy carrying a wicker replica of a motorcycle.

The absurdity of Custer was soon to be trampled by the Crazy Horse Memorial – yet another monstrous human defection on the granite walls of the Black Hills. This memorial seemed even more outrageous and hypocritical than Mt. Rushmore as it ran contrary to the Native American tenant of good stewardship of natural resources.

Castle Trail, Badlands, 2016

// All night long, sleep was interrupted by the rumbling of motorbikes on their pilgrimage. I awoke the next day with an annoyance and desire of flight similar to how one feels at the end of a soured relationship. I had to get out and take refuge somewhere where the sound would not carry or a knife fight would be imminent. The strangeness had also reached another level as an 8 y.o. child had been running through the campground at the break of dawn wielding an axe shouting ‘DIE’. I peered at the map and headed to the nearest trail system and body of water, Sylvan Lake. After a nice respite, it was finally time to head west towards the Badlands.
Beheld on the drive west:

  1. In the town of Keystone alone, I passed the following: Presidential Wax Museum, Horror Antiques, Cosmos Mystery Area, Christmas Village + NFL Shop
  2. VIP Property Listing: 730 acres and Cave
  3. Reptile Gardens: Reptile Gardens houses the largest collection of reptiles in the world.  Look for the giant glass dome at the bottom of the hill.
  4. Bear Country USA: Enjoy the playful antics of bear cubs and other park offspring in the walk through Babyland. See where the animals roam free!
  5. Wall Drug: Plan a road trip through South Dakota, and do not forget to stop at Wall Drug, the ultimate South Dakota tourist attraction known around the globe for its American charm and FREE ice water.
  6. Dinosaur Park: Did you know there are dinosaurs looking over Rapid City? They’ve been there for nearly 80 years. The park contains seven dinosaur sculptures on a hill overlooking the city (not real dinosaurs).
  7. Corn Palace: Some 500,000 tourists come from around the nation each year to see the uniquely designed corn murals. ​

// Everything is gargantuan in South Dakota, the road signs, the parking lots, the baby blue sky. And then, at once, the vastness becomes meticulously fine-tuned. The Badlands is its own space, with its own canon. The sky grays, colors fade into a matte, dusty palette. The crusty earth exposed, frothing up, writhing. Soft yet stolid. Hints of green swaths providing the only depth perception.

If you go:
Horse Thief Lake Campground
Sylvan Lake – Cathedral Spires Trail
Sage Creek Campground – Badlands (enter from the east side of the park)
Castle Trail – Badlands’ longest trail, it’s easy to complete all the trails in one day/ one attempt

Other Notables:

  • Make sure to buy the food for the Badlands in Rapid City
  • Wind is pretty bad at the Sage Creek Campground but it allows for more seclusion and views of the night sky. The trails are at the other end of the park and it takes a decent bit of time to travel between the two sides, so keep that in mind.

Coasting with uncertainty

Top of the Besseggen trail, Norway 2017

Two days went by without seeing another soul. I slept to complete silence and perpetual daylight in a cabin sprouting turf. I hiked deep into forests worthy of Midsummer’s Night Dream, picked distant mountain tops and found my way to the top. Then I arrived at the edge of Lake Bessvatnet to a slammed parking lot. 

The night before, Marcel the Belgian had arrived and we spent the night drinking bottles of wine and discussing our route. We scoffed, mocking the herds who had taken the typical route written in guide books and travel blogs. We knew they were at the other end, simultaneously staggering in queues up the trail like the start of an oversold marathon. They had taken the boat to Memurubu, the tiny compound along the end of the trail, to start their hike and stroll to a finish at their cars in Gjendesheim. We chose the opposite and figured we would use the boat only as a scapegoat on the way back.

The purples, yellows, and pinks that sprouted along the trail were a mental softening. We made our way up the well-maintained ramp and the views became astounding in no time. We reached the apex in little more than an hour. Only when we were dangling our feet over the edge, taking in the lines of peaks that flooded the sky, did the herds start to ascend, snapping photos of their formulaic poses. Hands on knees. Ducklipped selfies. Friends forever arms intertwined. ‘I was just sitting there on the edge and this stranger took a photo of my back as I postulated on life.’ We had inadvertently chosen to reap the reward before the work and now we had to swim against the current.

Descending from the trail towards Memurubu, Norway 2017

​The first step was to avoid stepping on hands or laughing as we descended from the mountaintop. Thus we had to avoid looking into the wide eyes of the struggling, cringing zombies with their outstretched hands, wearing shirts declaring their sporty superiority. Or inadvertently kicking a small dog over the edge. Or kid. The second step was to determine our route back. The night before, in our wine-induced arrogance and haze, we had planned to summit a second ridge to complete the loop back.

​If we were to take that ridge, we’d be hiking well into midnight. I sped up, cursing myself for relaxing at the top. I caught up to two hikers in front of us – two of the mere six that had chosen the same direction. All had massive packs, obviously staying overnight in Memurubu. Do you know the time of the last boat? The blonde one pointed: ‘That is it’.

The sky continued darkening, provoking an internal sense of urgency. Even though we had hours of time, It had been sunny for ten days straight and it felt like dusk. When the black roofs of Memurubu were in sight, a Norwegian crispy whisked by. I thought I would ask as once last hopeful, desperate measure. ‘I believe another boat at 5:30 was added.’ It was 5:12.

We we’re lucky, though. there was an alternate trail out following the water. It was a 10 mile stroll comparatively.

​// When I resumed thought or sensation in my limbs, I thought of the truly hopeless and destitute roaming the cracked earth, desiring merely a sip of water. Or the true adventurers – the hikers that made these journeys without. Then I would think of me. Me with my gortex, sunscreen, Camelback, Salomon runners with the tire soles, my shelf-stable prebaked bread and croakies. Croakies! Fucking croakies!

The absurdity and embarrassment of croakies consumed my thoughts for several bends. When the end was in sight, we sat along the shore to sip a Pilsner and stare at the still-dusky sky. In that moment, the fabled boat sped by to dock for the night.

I ran down the path on the spare energy reserves and slid into the dock. I reread the schedule, checked my watch. Reread the schedule, glared into the distance of the lake. Yes, a 5:30 boat was added. Starting next week.

If you go:
Sweet nearby Airbnb * check out the image below
Trail info
Boat info

Other notables:

  • Buy a hiking map of the Jotunheimen National Park from a convenience shop
  • Nearby, there are three other national parks and one of the largest glaciers in Europe.
  • A rental car is nice to have as buses are infrequent and some hikes require high logistical transportation.
  • If not an option, take a train to Otta.