Kakamega Rainforest, Kakamega, Kenya

Adventure Awaits: Europe Bound!

Today, as I set off on a three week transatlantic, transgenerational adventure I reflect on what adventure means to me and think about this post I wrote for LifeStraw’s “Adventure Awaits” campaign. Reaching this point has been bittersweet with many mishaps and silver linings along the way. It will take another full blog post to discuss all that has gone on over the past few months. That said, I am thrilled to be bringing 11-year-old Sophia on her first trip to Europe along with my mom, sister and 13-year-old niece. We will be starting in London, taking the chunnel to Lille and then a train to Paris, where it all began for me. I went to Paris when I was 13 and decided on the spot that I would learn French and live in Paris someday which I did seven years later. That fateful trip changed my life and began a lifelong love of travel and exploring.

My husband was supposed to join me and Sophia with our 13-year-old son Max in Munich after my family left. However a turn of events which has left him at home with back pain for the past month means my 75-year-old dad will be taking his place. My dad will fly to Germany with Max, pick me and Sophia up at the airport where we will continue our journey through Germany and the mountains of Austria for the next ten days.

I cannot express the gratitude that my kids will be able to spend this special time with their grandparents. I am certain it will be an unforgettable trip which I deeply hope changes their lives and makes them fall in love with seeing the world as much as me. In the meantime, I will leave you with this post and all will be quiet on the blog for the next month. I look forward to taking lots of pictures and will have many stories to tell upon my return. Bon Voyage!

 

What Adventure Means to Me

To me, adventure means freedom. Freedom to dive in and to completely let go, living in the moment and forgetting my to do list. Freedom to feel alive, like my true self, and like I’m ten again. Adventure feeds my soul with curiosity, passion and unleashes a zest for life that makes my heart sing. For me, adventure means everything and is my world.

There is no better place I can embrace adventure than the outdoors and exploring the world. Being immersed in nature or traveling to new places brings adventure to life. Whether it is hiking in the Himalayas, learning to surf in Nicaragua, walking with the Maasai in Tanzania or simply exploring my own backyard in Minnesota, adventure awaits and can always be found.

Last February, I had the honor of traveling to Kenya with LifeStraw to join the Follow the Liters campaign to reach the one-millionth child to receive safe drinking water. LifeStraw began the Follow the Liters program four years ago in Western Kenya after realizing they could be a catalyst for positive change throughout the region. Children were getting sick and missing many days of school due to waterborne diseases and illness caused by drinking unsafe water. Some were even dying. The need was immense, and LifeStraw had the answer.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

I heard about LifeStraw’s Follow the Liters campaign through social media and discovered that they were running a contest to pick three adventurous storytellers to join the trip to Western Kenya to help document the campaign. I put together a video of my work, crossed my fingers I’d be selected and was thrilled to win a spot on their upcoming trip. I had never been to Kenya before and could hardly wait for the adventure to begin.

I left for Kenya on a Thursday afternoon feeling the normal pre-trip jitters of an exceptionally long 24 hours of travel ahead. I had a packet of detailed information about the program and the campaign but that was all I honestly knew. I was traveling alone and would meet up with ten of the 130 members of the international LifeStraw team in Amsterdam to continue our journey. I was taking a big step into the unknown, having no idea of what lay ahead for the next seven days. Thankfully I had done a lot of these kinds of trips before. In my view, the further I go out of my comfort zone, the more alive and adventurous I feel. These kinds of experiences are always the ones in which I learn and grow the most. These are the adventures that I live for.

We landed in Nairobi to a sea of darkness and sparkling lights. It was already ten o’clock in the evening and we would spend the night at a hotel before continuing our journey to Western Kenya in the morning. Despite the jet lag and pure excitement, I was so exhausted from all the flying that I slept peacefully. The next morning, we boarded a domestic flight to Kisumu, and then continued by car for another hour and a half to reach our base in Kakamega. If reaching Kakamega was an adventure, getting out in the field and visiting the schools would be even more exciting. Some of us would travel hours on bumpy gravel roads each day while others traveled by small boat to reach the most remote schools in the area. A few people on our international team had never left their home country let alone go to Africa. Most of us had no idea what we had in store for the next week.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were welcomed with song and dance by the local Kenya staff, all wearing their blue LifeStraw t-shirts. I would soon discover that song and dance is an essential part of Kenyan life as we would be singing and dancing all week long with the school children. We spent the next two days training and getting to know our amazing international teams.

The highlight of the weekend was the group hike to the Kakamega Rainforest on Sunday. After we completed a long day of technical training, we loaded up into a long caravan of cars and headed to the outskirts of town where we did a forty-minute steep hike up to the top of Kakamega Hill. The views on top were absolutely stunning as all you could see where the lush, green tops of the trees. Somewhere out there in the sea of green lived the children of the schools we would be visiting over the next week.

Kakamega Rainforest, Kakamega, Kenya

Monday was the first day of the campaign and I was up at the crack of dawn hardly able to contain my excitement and anticipation for the week ahead. Although the sky was still an inky black, the world outside my window was alive with noise and commotion as drivers rolled into the parking lot thumping African rap music and fellow LifeStraw staff talked robustly as we all began to start our day. The smell of breakfast being served two floors below crept through the cracks of my door. Despite the early morning hour and my fatigue, the exhilaration of the adventure ahead filled my veins with a rush of adrenaline. I could hardly wait. Little did I know what a massive operation this would be and how incredibly inspired I’d feel by my time in Kenya. By the end of the week, we reached our goal and it was a monumental feeling to know that now 1,015,652 kids at 1,621 schools now have safe water.

LifeStraw1million Campaign Kenya

Demonstrating washing hands with safe water

When my flight took off over the African savannah I reflected on the miraculous realization that a week can truly change your life. I took a leap of faith when I boarded the first flight to Africa only seven day prior, feeling uncertain of the adventure and my own personal journey that loomed ahead. Yet I realized that it is only through taking chances that we will grow and thrive as a human being. The beauty of adventure is it can always be found for those who seek it, trust it and are willing to take the leap.

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Tenorio Volcano National Park/Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio, Costa Rica

Exploring the Rio Celeste at Tenorio Volcano National Park

We met out guide Wilson early in the morning at our hotel and were on our way to Tenorio Volcano National Park. Although the park is only about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel, the Rio Celeste Hideaway, we drove and in the end it was a good decision due to the high heat and humidity that day.  It was overcast and had just rained that morning leaving a thick humid mist to the air and lots of mud.

Wilson recommended we pay the $4 to rent a pair of mid-length plastic mud boots and despite the discomfort it ended up being an excellent decision. The trails were slick in fresh, thick mud and my new hiking shoes would have been ruined had I worn them. The only downside was the boots were too big, a bit cumbersome and needed knee-high socks to avoid rubbing. I clumsily walked last in line during our three hour hike but at least I saved my shoes.

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Tenorio Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio) was created in 1995 and encompasses over 18,400 hectares of rainforest and cloud forest as well as the Tenorio Volcano itself. Although the volcano is no longer active, there is still a large amount of volcanic activity present. There are hot springs and bubbling water within the river where the volcanic gases are released way below the ground.

The prize possession of the Tenorio Volcano National Park is the Rio Celeste “Blue River” that meanders through the jungle. As you hike along the trail, you can visit a spectacular waterfall as well as see where two rivers converge to create the celestial blue Rio Celeste, a natural phenomenon.

As we entered the park, the first thing Wilson pointed out was the green walking trees which are endemic in this park. They can live in water because it passes through them and a special sap drops off the ends for animals and birds to eat. Although they don’t actually walk the trees do move a small amount each year.

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Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The Last Sunset in the Osa

“Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees”. –  Rumi

As I walked along the beach, heavy water-laden clouds began rolling in, bringing the threat of rain. Despite the pleasurable relief that rain would bring, I prayed it would wait until after sunset. For it was my last night in the Osa Peninsula, and I could hardly wait to see one of nature’s greatest gifts.

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

I walked slowly, stopping often to pay attention to the changing of the clouds and light. Tiny beams of sunlight burst through the dark, thick clouds leaving glowing streaks of gold across the gray water. Despite the dark palette of grays, blues and creams the sunset had a calming effect on my soul. It was just what my spirit needed to end an adventurous week.

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

When I arrived at the end of the beach, I found the perfect spot on the sand to place my towel and sit. I saw a lovely family of five playing in the water and took that moment to capture them on film. They were so beautiful and radiant with happiness and joy. The scene could not have been more idyllic as it brought happy thoughts of my own family back home. They would be seeing this for themselves soon. Not the Osa Peninsula, but the beauty of Costa Rica.

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

I did nothing for the next hour but sit there and enjoy the unfolding of the show. As the sun dipped further and further below the horizon, I noticed the slight variations in cloud formations and light. I snapped away on my camera, trying to capture this moment in time.

I couldn’t resist putting slideshow of the small changes in light, color and clouds.

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I deeply wanted to stay down at the beach but it was starting to get dark and I was getting eaten alive by sandflies and mosquitos. Thankfully, the Bella Vista Lodge was perched at the opportune spot high above the beach for the grand finale. I got up the steep gravel road just in time to see the grayness come to life in a fit of color. Like nothing I’d ever seen before.

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Slowly it unfolded. From pink….to orange…to red.

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa RicaPlaya Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

And I couldn’t think of a more serendipitous send off from this incredibly magical place. But the good news is that I will be back. Tomorrow at this time, I will be in Costa Rica! Pura Vida!

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Isla del Caño, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

A Day of Snorkeling at Isla del Caño

“In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans”. – Kahlil Gibran Jr.

I awoke at 6 am to the beautiful sound of the birds yet to a terrible backache. I had tossed and turned all night feeling like the Princess and the Pea moving beds and eventually sleeping on the twin bed in my room with three mattresses stacked on top of each other. Obviously I wasn’t 16 like I felt the night before when I was galloping into the sunset with glee. The horseback ride that I had so blissfully enjoyed had done a number on my lower back and I was feeling more my age.

Despite dealing with chronic back and neck pain my entire life, I wasn’t going to let pain get in my way today or any day on vacation. It was my very last day in Costa Rica and today we were going snorkeling to the reefs off of Isla del Caño, an island about 12 miles offshore of Drake Bay.

Besides hiking, snorkeling and being like a fish in the water is one of my other favorite activities to do while on vacation. Unfortunately living where I do and often choosing mountains over oceans, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to snorkel. Similar to horseback riding, swimming was something I spent a lot of time doing in my youth.

I grew up with an outdoor pool which was pretty crazy given the fact that we lived in Minnesota and our season for swimming was a mere three months. I will never forget the excitement that brewed in my blood come Memorial Day weekend and knowing we would get to remove the ugly dirty tarp and finally fill up the pool with water.

By the end of May, we opened up the pool and for the next three months until Labor Day my brother, sister and me were fish. I spent entire days swimming and eventually joined a competitive swim team for five years until I hit 13 and was too embarrassed of my ugly duckling pre-puberty body in a speedo. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise I quit the hours of practice and turning my neck because a few months later my neck hurt and it hasn’t stopped hurting for 30 years.

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

There was a plate of freshly made huevos rancheros with tortilla, beans and dark rich Costa Rican coffee awaiting me on the terrace of our hotel. The sun was long up, the day was warm and clear, and the birds were singing with all their glory. I knew it was going to be a delightful day.

By 7 o’clock, we piled into the Land Cruiser and drove over to Drake Bay where we were fitted for flippers and masks. It was the first time in six days that I had been anywhere near tourists and it felt a bit strange after being in rural, local-based travel lodgings for so long. The group of 20 was a mix of mostly Europeans and all ages. Our svelte snorkel guide was a 40-something man from Spain and he was like a mermaid in the water. So incredibly agile and graceful. He had moved to Costa Rica to follow his passion of free diving and was an incredibly knowledgable guide. We were truly lucky to have him.

We boarded the boat and set off into the hot morning sun, wind blowing in our sun kissed faces and the taste of salt clinging to our tongues.

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Drake Bay

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Heading to board our boat that will take us to the island.

A visit to Isla del Caño is one of the most popular excursions from Drake Bay. Roughly a thirty minute boat ride from Drake Bay, the crystal clear waters and reefs surrounding the island make up the Caño Island Biological Reserve, one of the best areas for snorkeling and scuba diving in the Osa Peninsula. The protected reefs around the island shelter a large variety of fish as well as sea turtles and birds. A recent push by the government to protect and conserve the national parks of Costa Rica has helped preserve this pristine ecosystem. Since 2014, the Costa Rican National Park Service has restricted access to the island and only allows a certain amount of visitors each day. You can no longer explore the island on foot and need a permit to visit. There is only a tiny bathroom facility and other than that the rest of the island is wild and undeveloped.

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Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Finding my soul at the Playa San Josecito

“Witness and stand back from nature. That is the first step to the soul’s freedom.” – Sri Aurobindo

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine setting off into the afternoon sun horseback along a remote beach in the heart of the Osa Peninsula. The ocean air gently caresses your face while you slowly ride along the beach. Only the sound of the waves splashing  against the shore and the rustle of the monkeys playing in the trees remind you that you are truly in a magical place where jungle meets the sea. The beauty surrounds you and touches your soul with purity and ease. For that moment in time, you feel truly alive and free. 

Then, the roar of the howler monkeys make you open your eyes and smile. Your horse senses your excitement and begins to trot. You give your horse a gentle squeeze, and you are off, galloping as the wind whips your hair, your camera rocks back and forth against your chest and you let out a loud, exuberant scream. Ah so this is what it is like to feel 16 again, young, happy, pure and free. 

We set off around four o’clock down the steep gravel road that leads to Playa San Jocesito. The air was thick with humidity, blanketing my sunscreen arms with a thin layer of heat. It had been a long time since I had last rode a horse which seemed funny to me since I grew up loving horses so much and being an avid rider.

Drake Bay, Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The steep gravel road leading down to the remote beach.

I was filled with an energy and playfulness that I hadn’t felt in years. Was it being on a horse that made me feel so joyous? Or was it the fact that after an entire week in Costa Rica, I finally would get to go for a swim in the ocean and watch the sun set at the beach? I couldn’t stop smiling.

At the bottom of the road, we arrived at the entrance to the beach. Except for a couple of cars, there was no one else there. It seemed surreal to have such a beautiful place all to ourselves. But given the isolation and remoteness of the beach, few people came.

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It would take us an hour to reach a special cove along the beach that was known for its swimming. There are no roads to this beach and the only way you can reach it is on horse, on foot or by boat.

While we rode along the shore, some of our group embraced in lively conversation while I remained quiet, deep in thought. I grew up riding horses and spent several summers going to a sleep-away horseback riding camp that felt worlds away from my home. At the camp, we were each assigned our own horse to care for and ride the entire week. I started going when I was nine and went every summer until I was 13. I loved it and especially enjoyed the feeling of responsibility and pride at having a horse to call my own if only for a week. When I hit puberty and was no longer that wide-eyed little girl, my passions changed. I no longer rode horses.

Along the beach, I relished the feeling of riding with no trail, no single file line and no rules. When it came time to run I embraced it, letting go of all my inhibitions as my horse raced effortlessly into the horizon. I was aghast by the liberating feeling that swept over me. I was young once again, with pigtails and free.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The jungle literally travels down to the sea. There were tons of scarlet macaws and monkeys within.

When we reached the cove, we got off our horses, tied them up and got ready for a swim. Slightly off the beach, a group of monkeys were quite excited about our arrival and decided to put on a little show. We watched for a few moments but the lure of the water didn’t keep us long. It was time to dive in and swim like a fish.
Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa RicaPlaya San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The water felt absolutely amazing. It was perfect — warm, calm and silky soft. I floated, I swam and when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I grabbed my camera to take a few shots of the beach from the water. It was too beautiful to resist.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

The last group of people on the beach were getting picked up by the water taxi. Soon we had the entire place to ourselves!

And too beautiful not to capture it and share in this short video.

We swam and played in the water for a little over an hour. I could have stayed longer, but the sun was beginning to set and before long it would be pitch black. It was time to get back on our horses and head back.

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Playa San Jocesito, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

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Cascada Naguala’s Hidden Treasure

“Advice from a Waterfall” 

Go with the flow. Roar with excitement. Let your cares fall away. Create your own magic. Immerse yourself in nature. Stay active. Make a splash!  – Ilan Shamir

After a delightful Costa Rican dinner made by husband and wife team Eric and Francesca at the Cascada Naguala Ecolodge, it was time to put our headlamps on and walk back to our cabins in the jungle. It was pitch black outside with not a single light except for the radiating glow of our headlamps. Despite the darkness, the jungle was alive as ever with all the nocturnal species. I confess that I was constantly watching my footing fearful I would finally see one of Costa Rica’s many snakes. But I didn’t thank goodness.

I slept well inside my little jungle cabin, listening to the ebb and flow of the cicadas and whatever else was out in the jungle stirring in the night. I arose wonderfully rested and ready for my final day in the jungle before heading back to civilization. I was half excited half disappointed thinking it would be nice to have wi-fi again yet how sad it would be to leave such a tranquil place where I felt so attuned to nature. If only there was a way to incorporate this relaxed state of being into my daily life!

It was another gorgeous day in paradise. A fresh pot of rich, dark Costa Rican coffee was waiting as was our breakfast of gallo pintos and fresh smoothies. I enjoyed all the birds greeting the rising sun and singing their melodic songs. The roar of the nearby waterfall reminded me of our upcoming adventure. After breakfast, we would hike a half an hour following the river to another even larger waterfall. After seeing the Cascada Naguala yesterday, I couldn’t imagine there being anything more spectacular. I was in for a special treat.

Cascada Naguala Osa Peninsula Costa RicaCascada Naguala Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Cascada Naguala Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

Our delightful breakfast

Cascada Naguala Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

The hilarious hummingbird who was obsessed with his reflection in the mirror.

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Mount Kilimanjaro

Atop a Mountain is Where I Long to Be

“The mountains are calling and I must go” – . John Muir

I have always loved mountains. Perhaps it is their breathtaking beauty or their earthy mystique or even the challenge of getting from the ground on up atop a mountain that lures me to love them so much. I’m not sure what it is about mountains but I long to be near them, in them and a part of them. I love to hike them, climb them, ski them and just see them. If I could pick one place to be, I’d be in the mountains.

Unfortunately we don’t really have mountains in Minnesota. The highest peak, Eagle Mountain, in Northern Minnesota is only a meager 2,301 feet (701 m) tall. So when the mountains are calling, I must board a plane and fly to them. I am beginning to get those itchy feet again, longing for lacing up my hiking boots, throwing on my pack and heading to the mountains. I’m not sure which ones are calling me now. There are the Himalayas in Bhutan and India that I long to see but don’t have the two-three weeks available to climb them. There are the unknown peaks of the Peruvian Andes. And there are even those beautiful Canadian Rockies that call my name thanks to all those Alberta bloggers and Instagrammers I follow.

There are no immediate plans to go to the mountains so instead I will reflect on some of my most favorite mountains I’ve had the luxury of being atop of.

July 2015 – Mount Kilimanjaro

Me in front of the mighty beast, Mount Kilimanjaro

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro TanzaniaBase Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

On top of Uhuru Peak Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

On top of Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro July 2015


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Cascada Naguala Osa Peninsula Costa Rica

A Slice of Heaven at the Cascada Naguala Ecolodge

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love”.-  Marcus Aurelius

After my peaceful canoe ride down the Laguna Chocuaco, it was time to leave Rancho Quemado and head to our next adventure in the community of Los Planes. We loaded up our rented SUV and headed northwest towards Drake Bay, the main tourist town in the Osa Peninsula.

The drive was rough and lovely, affording sweeping views of the stunning Drake Bay and the verdant tropical jungle. I was quite thankful we had our heavy duty SUV as there were several river crossings along the way and I cannot imagine how we ever would have made it in a car. Eytan told me that there had been times when he got stuck for hours waiting for the swollen waters to subside enough for him to safely pass and he had even once seen a small bus floating down the river. I definitely didn’t want that to be me!

As we entered the river I held my breath wondering how I’d break the news to my husband that we may have to do this ourselves during our upcoming family trip to Costa Rica in April. Hopefully the roads in northern Costa Rica are a bit better than in the Osa Peninsula.

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This afternoon we were headed to a remote, sustainable family-owned ecolodge called Cascada Naguala that is in the middle of the jungle and only accessible via foot across acres of beautiful private land. It had opened up to tourists only a few months ago after a series of tragic losses in the family. The first owner died eight years ago by a fallen tree and his brother took it over only to die in an ATV accident six months ago. Despite the tragedy, his son Eric and lovely wife Francesca reopened the lodge and went into business. We would be their first customers.

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Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Hiking Saguaro National Park

“The desert, to those who do listen, is more likely to provoke awe than to invite conquest”. – Joseph Wood Krutch, Author, Naturalist, Conservationist

Desperately seeking a break from a cold, dreary Minnesota winter my kids and I decided to come out to visit my parents in Tucson, Arizona for the long holiday weekend. The first few days have been absolutely spectacular however against the odds the past two days have been rainy and cold. Even stranger is the fact that we are having record warmth back in Minnesota with highs in the low 60s and sunny which is unheard of for February. Nevertheless, I’m one to look on the positive aspects of life. There is nothing we can do about the weather.

Friday was spectacular and we decided to take a three generational hike in a new part of Tucson. I have been visiting Tucson for over 23 years and have done many hikes in this gorgeous mountainous place however I had never been to the Saguaro National Park. I had passed by it several times en route to the famous Desert Museum in the western reaches of Tucson but had never stopped. Little did I know there are actually two parts of the Saguaro National Park: The Tucson Mountain District in the west of Tucson and the Rincon Mountain District in the east. We decided to check out the Saguaro National Park East as my dad had read a recent article about a beautiful hike to a waterfall.

We packed a lunch and headed out to the park a little after eleven. We were shocked to see the parking lot was full as we were really in the middle of nowhere. I am assuming the other hikers had read about the falls too.

There are several hikes inside Saguaro National Park however we chose to follow the Douglas Spring Trailhead to the waterfall, a six-mile hike roundtrip.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

There was a steady wind sweeping over the desert most likely from the oncoming storm that would bring us two days of rain. Other than the wind, it was perfect hiking weather. Not too hot and not too cold.

I had happily convinced my ten-year-old daughter Sophia to join us on the hike. She had already completed two longer hikes in the past, one to the top of Eagle Mountain in northern Minnesota and another to Harney Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota. I knew she could handle a six-mile hike, I just needed to get her confidence up that she could do it. My twelve-year old son Max has already done a ton of hiking in Arizona, and then of course my dad is an avid hiker. My dad and I have hiked all around the world together. It would be the first time that Sophia got to join us so I was pretty thrilled.

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The trail begins very flat until you reach the base of the Rincon Mountains and climb upwards for over an hour. The views throughout the hike are breathtaking and the topography changes quite drastically from rough rocky canyon to desert scrub and grassland. What is the most astounding of all, however, are the multitude of enormous saguaro cactus dotting the landscape, many which are hundreds of years old. Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert and can live upwards of 150-200 years. They are amazing plants.

I found out this fun fact from the Desert Museum:Most of the saguaros roots are only 4-6 inches deep and radiate out as far from the plant as it is tall. There is one deep root, or tap root that extends down into the ground more than 2 feet”.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

There were even some desert flowers starting to bloom

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

This guy is amazing. Probably a couple of hundred years old.

The Saguaro National Park was created in 1994 and encompasses two distinct areas – east and west- of over 91,445 acres.  The Eastern district reaches up to 8,000 feet in elevation covering over 128 miles of trails for your pleasure. The hotter, drier Western district is much lower in elevation and the saguaros are much more densely populated across its landscape.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

“The Sonoran Desert’s extreme temperatures, perennial drought, frequent lightning, banshee winds, and voracious predators keep the saguaro forever at the limit of its endurance. Odds against survival rival a lottery: Though the cactus annually produces tens of thousands of pinhead-size seeds—some 40 million over a life that may last two centuries—few ever even sprout. Even fewer seedlings achieve the grandeur of towering 50 feet and weighing up to 16,000 pounds”.National Geographic

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

We followed the trail and continued to the turnoff to Bridal Wreath Falls. We had heard a week ago that the falls were pouring down after the recent snow in the mountains. We were curious to see if it was true.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

I was amazed how much the landscape had changed. Now we were in the high desert grassland. There were barren trees yet still the greenery of the cactus. There were also some pretty desert flowers that I couldn’t resist photographing.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Finally, we reached a split in the trail and headed a short distance to the right where we would reach the falls. It was just a trickle now but still quite spectacular to find an oasis in the desert.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Bridal Wreath Falls

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

We enjoyed our lunch and the trickling falls all to ourselves. No one else was there however we had seen a lot of people hiking on the trail. What amazed me is that the water didn’t pool at the end of the falls. Instead, it ventured into the rocks and sunk somewhere down below. A mystery as to where it ended up.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

Heading back down the trail.

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

I laughed at the fact that despite the longevity and steepness of the hike, Sophia remained strong and steady at the lead. I beamed with pride thinking that I have a future fellow hiker on my hands. How wonderful is that?

Saguaro National Park East, Tucson, Arizona

It looks like I not only found a hiking mate but a new hike in Tucson. I can hardly wait to do it again on my next visit.

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Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

A Stay in the Jungle at Amazonita Lodge

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more”. –  Lord Byron

By four o’clock, I was hot, dirty and exhausted after such a thrilling day that begin with watching the sun rise over the Osa Peninsula and ended with a six-hour remote trek through the thick jungle of the Corcovado National Park. I can’t quite remember ever having a past twenty-four hours so incredibly invigorating and succinct to Mother Nature. I’d seen sloths, a troupe of collared peccary, pizotes, a mating pair of scarlet macaws, monkeys and more. Yet best of all, it was only us and the wildlife. Not another soul had ventured into this part of the park and for that I was truly blessed.

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Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre, Osa Península, Costa Rica

We left Dos Brazos de Rio Tigre saying goodbye to our newly made friends and traveled the short distance down gravel roads to a locally-owned eco lodge located on the outskirts of town, surrounded by tropical rainforest jungle. I would soon discover that the Amazonita Lodge was the ultimate nature lover’s paradise.

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Scarlet Macaw

The Osa Peninsula’s Crown Jewel: Corcovado National Park

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean”. – John Muir

After watching the spectacular sunrise over the Osa Peninsula, we returned back down to Xiña’s cabin and ate a delicious breakfast of homemade pintos, eggs, tortilla and fresh fruit. I lavishly drank several cups of freshly roasted Costa Rican coffee and prepared for our day of adventure at Costa Rica’s crown jewel, the Corcovado National Park.

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The Corcovado National Park was created in 1975 by the government to protect and conserve this amazing place which contains over 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity and is the last remnant of humid tropical rainforest on the Pacific Coast of Central America. The Corcovado National Park is enormous. It is the largest national park in all of Costa Rica and covers one-third of the Osa Peninsula. It is home to over 750 species of trees (1/4 of tree species in Costa Rica), 390 species of birds, 6,000 species of insects, and 140 species of mammals, and 116 species of reptiles and amphibians. It also is one of the only places in Costa Rica that has all four species of monkeys – howler, white-face, squirrel and spider, and has the largest concentration of scarlet macaws in the country.  All in all, the Corcovado National Park is a pretty magnificent place and a natural treasure that is well worth protecting.

Our guide Rolando (who goes by the nickname “Toti”) was there waiting for us. Toti is from Dos Brazos de Tigre and lives just a few houses down from Xiña. He grew up in a mining family with the surrounding Corcovado National Park as his playground. After he finished school, he trained to be a certified guide for the park and began working with tourists once the new park entrance at Dos Brazos de Tigre opened a couple of years ago.

A farewell shot of Nuria, me, Xiña and our guide Toti outside of Xiña's cabin.

A farewell shot of Nuria, me, Xiña and our guide Toti outside of Xiña’s cabin.

Josue (the carpenter working on updating the cabin), me, Eytan and Xina.

Josue (the carpenter working on updating the cabin), me, Eytan and Xiña (still in her pajamas that she wore on our morning sunrise hike).

After breakfast, we packed our daypack of belongings, took a few last minute photos and said our goodbye to Xiña and her sister Nuria. We loaded up on bug spray, sunscreen and water for our six hour hike. The air was thick with humidity and I was already sweating profusely at nine am when we left Xiña’s cabin and headed back up the trail to the entrance of the park. It was going to be another adventure-packed day and I could hardly wait.

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Sea Kayaking in Lake Superior

Sea Kayaking on the edge of Lake Superior to Houghton Point

A few weeks ago, my husband and I had a rare weekend away in Bayfield, Wisconsin , a beautiful little town located in northeastern Wisconsin along the shores of Lake Superior and home to the pristine Apostle Islands. We chose Bayfield because we wanted to explore the Apostle Islands National Park, a collection of 21 islands and 12 miles of windswept beaches, cliffs and sea caves offering visitors the opportunity to hike, paddle, sail or cruise this stunning area. I had always heard about this amazing place but had never been there despite the fact it is only a four hour drive away from Minneapolis.

One of the main things we wanted to do was go sea kayaking and explore the sandstone sea caves along the shores of Lake Superior. We had seen them from above while hiking at Meyer’s Beach and knew that it would be something that cannot be missed. We were able to reserve an 8 am paddle on Sunday morning with Lost Creek Adventures launching out of Cornucopia near Meyer’s Beach.

Photo credit: National Parks Services www.nps.gov

Photo credit: National Parks Services
www.nps.gov

It had rained and stormed the entire day on Saturday so we were concerned that our kayak adventure on Sunday morning would be canceled. However, when we rose at 6 am the sky was clear, the birds were singing and the sun was glorious. It was going to be a spectacular day!

We ate a quick breakfast and drove about twenty minutes to the other side of the Peninsula where we would be launching off that morning. As soon as we turned the corner  around the tip of the Peninsula, we realized that the weather on this side was completely different. I was stunned to see that only twenty minutes away from Bayfield, the weather in Cornucopia was cloudy, exceptionally windy and cool. It was the unprotected edge of the shoreline and the winds were fierce. To our dismay, there was no way we would be able to safely go sea kayaking there because the waves were over four feet high making the situation extremely dangerous. We would have to go to Plan B.

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