Category: hike

Springing into fall

As we are moving into winter, I am finally finding time to wrap up my stories from the fall.  I suppose I have already told most of them (I did leave out the apple picking excursion that Michael and I went on, but really the best story from that is the delicious apple butter and caramel apple muffins that resulted from it :]).  The noteworthy fall tale that hasn’t yet been told , of course, is Thanksgiving.  I’ve always gone home to Albany for Thanksgiving…so it was definitely a new experience to have my family come up to me this year.  We spent Thursday with Michael and his family, then went to the other end of town and spent Friday with Chris and Julia and her family.  And then, I got my family all to myself on Saturday.  It was a wonderful weekend….I’m so blessed to have such incredible people in my life.

It’s rather amazing how different the three days were, however…the Fenners, the Meeks, and the Purcells are three very different families, lol.  Our afternoon with the Meeks was mostly spent playing games – after eating, of course.  It was a big potluck dinner – everyone was responsible for a different portion of the Thanksgiving meal.  That meant that we ended with a much larger variety and quantity of food than we would have otherwise had – not that I’m complaining, mind you.  My coconut pie and my mom’s chocolate pecan pie were big hits :).  But anyway, as I was saying….all of the Meeks love games – as do most of the people in my family – so we were all perfectly content to play word games and strategy games and party games and….well, you get the idea.

Chris and Julia and the Purcells, however, are not game people, so that did not even factor into the equation on Friday.  Mom and dad had bought Chris a turkey fryer for Christmas last year, and he’s been putting it to good use since then.  He fried 3 turkeys for us for Thanksgiving – one for the Purcells, one for my parents, and one for us all to eat.  We were all somewhat mesmerized by the bubbling oil and sizzling turkey skin from the fryer.  After dinner, Julia’s mom took out a box full of questions.  Some were silly, some were serious, some were long conversation starters and some elicited very quick responses.  Cindy passed the box around the table and we all pulled out 2 slips of paper.  We then took turns answering the questions that we had drawn.  It was a great way to foster conversation and learn more about the people around me.  I heard stories from my parents that I had never heard before, and was surprised by the depth and insight that some of my younger siblings showed in answering their questions

My day spent with just my family was marked by little in the way of specific activity except for just enjoying each other’s company.  Of course that could have more to do with them being tired than us actually not wanting to do anything per se :).  We did go shopping with Julia at IKEA for a little bit, which was fun.  And then in the evening dad took us all to a movie together, a rare treat with our busy schedules and the rising cost of movie admissions.  But mostly we just enjoyed each other, and it was so lovely.  I am trying to develop my gift of hospitality, so getting to practice on my beloved family just made it all that much better.  I bought a bed the week before Christmas to put in the spare room for my parents (and other guests) when they came, and put up a Christmas tree just a few days before Thanksgiving, so it was a very cozy, homey environment by the time my parents and little siblings showed up.  I am blessed and grateful that I am able to offer such a comfortable, welcoming place to people to come to my home.

I’m going somewhat out of order here, but I did also want to mention the fall camping trip that I went on a few weeks ago with some friends from house church.  The idea was to “camp” in my parents’ unfinished cabin in the northeast Georgia mountains – we were going to head up there after work on Friday, have a campfire dinner, and then bundle up for the evening and go on a hike the next day.  But, as I’m sure you all know, life doesn’t always go according to the plan.  We all left later on Friday night than we had wanted to…and then hit lots of Friday afternoon traffic…so by the time we got up to the cabin it was nearly 8:00 pm.  With lots to do – we still had to start a fire, get dinner started, warm the house up, yada yada yada – I was in a hurry to get to the cabin.  So we finally get there, and….my key didn’t work.  It was even worse because there is no cell phone service at the cabin.

So I drove away a few miles until I could make a call, and called the only people I knew to call – my great aunt and uncle, who live about 15 minutes from the cabin.  After explaining the situation, they very simply offered all of us to come stay with them for the evening.  They let me and 5 of my friends whom they had never met before come stay with them at a moments’ notice…I was floored by their generosity.  When one of my friends thanked them for letting us come over, Uncle Bill very simply said, “well of course.  Lauren’s family.”  Their simple and enduring love for me nearly brought me to tears.  Although I don’t get to see them very often, it’s amazing knowing that they are always there for me if I need them.  And it ended up (in my opinion, at least) working out much better than if we had stayed at the cabin.  I got to see Aunt Rose and Uncle Bill some in the evening, and much more the next day – Michael and Amy and I stayed and had lunch with them while everyone else headed back to Atlanta.  And I still got to go on a hike, and didn’t even have to freeze on Friday night!  Now if only I can learn to actually not freak out when things don’t go according to plan…

4th of July camping trip and visit to Berry

During my time in Atlanta, I have been blessed with some truly extraordinary friends.  Not only do we love each other dearly and care about what goes on in our lives, but we also like each other.  We spend lots of time together, just because we want to.  One of my favorite examples of this was this past 4th of July.  A big group of my small group members went camping in Cloudland Canyon for the holiday weekend.  Despite having a very inauspicious beginning – one of the cars broke down in the middle of nowhere, and a few people had to go back and get those passengers, and then drive up to Chattanooga at the end of the weekend to get a rental car to get everyone home again – it was an amazing weekend.  In fact, the car breaking down almost made it better – it was really awesome seeing how positive and upbeat everyone stayed…they just pulled together and did what needed to be done, and had a great time doing it!  Plus it gave us a great story later on… 🙂

Aside from our little vehicular misadventure, we did plenty of other more traditional activities – went hiking, made bonfires, found a fun little playground to reconnect with our inner children, played card games, and found a lovely little waterfall to hang out around for a bit (Elizabeth and Caleb even went swimming in it!  Crazy kids…).  It was such a nice, relaxing weekend; I was so grateful to be able to spend it with people that I cared about so much.

(continue reading past the pictures below for the rest of the story)

As a bonus, we even got to stop by Berry on our way home!  Caleb and several others in the group had always wanted to go to Berry but never had, and of course I will NEVER argue about a trip to Berry; since it only meant about an extra 30 minutes of drive time, we decided to make the detour and go visit the place where I have some of the best memories of my entire life.

I got to play tour guide for the people in my car – I was a very enthusiastic guide.  I felt a little bad for the guys in the other car, who were missing all of the stories.  Of course, my story-telling may have gotten a little too enthusiastic at times…perhaps I should have been feeling bad for the people in MY car, lol…

But anyway, we had enough time to visit all of my old haunts – my old dorms and the lovely mountain campus and the famous Frost chapel and the beautiful Old Mill and the original one-room schoolhouse that Martha Berry founded before Berry was even a glimmer in the future. We tried to go to the Martha Berry museum, since most of the people in the group had never been there before, but it was already closed :(.  But it was still a wonderful visit.  I always love going back to Berry, but going back with people who’ve never seen that part of my life before, but are eager to learn about it and hear my stories, just made the visit all the more sweeter.  It really was one of the best weekends of my year.  And to think I almost stayed home and missed it!  Many thanks go out to my friend (and now roommate) Amy for convincing me to go!

Adventures in the jungle of Chachapoyas

We left Cajamarca for Chachapoyas at 4:30 in the morning. Mind you, we are not intentionally masochistic – there’s only one bus a day that leaves for Chachapoyas, and that’s the time it leaves. Apparently it leaves that early in the morning because the road is so dangerous that they have to do the entire route in the daylight.

At first I thought that was silly, but after riding that road I realized that they were totally correct. You know you’re in for a treat when they hand out barf bags to everyone before the journey begins.  Almost the entirety of the 13 hour ride is a single lane road. And not only is it incredibly windy, but one side of the road has a mountain that butts right up to the side and goes straight up, so there is zero visibility around the corners, and the other side of the road is a sheer cliff that falls away hundred of feet below. Oh, and of course there are no guard rails or street lights. That would just be silly :p. At first I wondered why the bus driver was honking his horn so often, and then I realized that was the only way to warn any potential oncoming cars that we were right around the corner. Yikes. Needless to say, I was QUITE pleased when that ride was over.

We found a hostel with Alies and Willem, a young couple from Holland who had been on the same buses and tours with us since Cajamarca. Although I saw them a lot, I didn’t really start talking to them until the bus ride to Chachapoyas. But they turned out to be really interesting; I’m glad I made the effort. Anyway, even though Caro and I were tired from the trip from Cajamarca, we decided not to take a rest, and jumped right into it the next day. We started with a tour of Kuelap, called by some a second Machu Picchu. Although it was super cool, I’m not sure I would agree with that assessment. Not because it wasn’t incredible in it’s own right, but the two are just so different it’s difficult to compare the two.

Kuelap is a pre-Incan settlement that is known for its circular buildings. They were eventually conquered by the Incans, and in some places you can actually see where the Incans imposed their own rectangular buildings over the preexisting circular structures. That was pretty cool, although it was also a stark visual image of the brutality that comes from a people conquering and imposing its own culture on another people.

The jungle-like atmosphere of Kuelap gave it a sort of eerie, otherworld sensation. Chachapoyas is considered to be a part of the amazon jungle, and the tropical plants had well overtaken the parts of the ruins that had not been excavated and taken care of. It gave the entire complex a muffled, almost dream-like quality. I really really enjoyed it. Even more so because, unlike Machu Picchu, Kuelap is not well known, and so there were very few people there.

The next day we went to Karajía and Quiocta. Karajía is a group of sarcophagus that were carved into the side of a mountain, while Quiocta is an enormous cavern about an hour outside of Chachapoyas. I really really enjoyed Quiocta. I’ve always loved rocks and caves and things underground, and Quiocta has all three.  The bats definitely freaked me out a little bit, but lucky for me bats are generally more scared of humans than the other way around :). And the mud!! Oh my word. We all had to rent knee high boots to help us trek through the thick, icky mud that was often well over a foot deep. But the closest boots they had to my size were a size and a half too big, so I kept slipping out of them. My poor feet were left with blisters that I expect will leave permanent scars. But that’s ok. It was totally worth it :). Scars show that you have lived, right?

After Quiocta, I must admit that Karajía was a bit of a disappointment. The pictures make it look fascinating, but what they don’t tell you is that the pictures were all taken with high-res and long-zoom cameras. The tombs of Karajía in real life are wayyyy up high on the side of a mountain, difficult to see and impossible to get closer to. Karajía for me was really just a scenic walk. But that’s ok, Caroline was happy, so I was happy :).

Our last day in Chachapoyas found us heading to Gocta, the 3rd largest waterfall in the world. That was by far the most exhausting of the three days – getting to Gocta requires a trek of nearly 3 hours each way, and it’s not a flat, easy trek, either. Huge inclines, steep slopes, jagged stairs, and slippery mud were all part of the package. But, while it was definitely an exhausting hike, the group we were with made it all worth it. There was Kate, the adventurous Australian with the fiery red hair who was traveling all over South America by herself. And Maribel, a native of Chiclayo who was just the sweetest thing you’ve ever met. And Javier, who was born in Lima but has spent the last 14 years in Miami. And of course, Robert. By happenstance, Robert was on the same tour as us all three days that we were in Chachapoyas. The first day I hardly spoke to him at all, but by the last day we had become friends and were talking up a storm. Aside from being just a swell guy, he was also super encouraging. By the end of the return trip from Gocta I was REALLY struggling; if it wasn’t for Robert’s encouragement I probably would have given up and asked for a horse to be sent for me. But thanks to him (and, of course, the jugo de caña, a sweet drink made from pure sugar cane that is sold on the way to Gocta to give travelers energy), I can say that I made it there and back without a horse!  Hooray!!

Although we weren’t actually at the falls for very long, Gocta itself was actually really interesting. The tremendous force of the falling water creates a windy vortex of sorts at the base of the falls. It was wild. Thirty yards away it was warm and still, but then as soon as you got closer to the falls it because super windy and very cold. Was a very unique juxtaposition of weather within a very small area of land.

Since we planned on taking a night bus to Chiclayo that evening, we had already checked out of our hostel. However, after the trek to Gocta and back, a shower was not optional, so we paid the hostel owner 5 soles each (roughly $2) to let us take a shower in the bathroom in the back. I think it was actually the owners’ home and personal bathroom. Welcome to Peru, lol. And then, it was time to catch our bus to Chiclayo! I went to the bus station with mixed feelings. By this time, I knew that Chiclayo would be my last city with Caro – we had swapped out the trip to the jungle for a medical mission trip in south Peru for me, and a trip to Argentina for her, so after Chiclayo we were going to have to split up. While I was sad to leave her, I was also super excited about the mission trip. I’ll have to leave the details of just exactly how God got me there for another time, however. That’s a story in of itself :).

Machu Picchu – maravilla del mundo

(I have to apologize in advance…this is a very long post.  Not huge amounts of text, but there are lots and lots of pictures and videos ;])

We woke up at 5:00 on Monday morning, so that we could catch the first bus from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu at 5:30.  Even at that ungodly hour, there was a huge line of people waiting to go the rest of the way up the mountain. And the line continued once we arrived at the entrance. Despite the unexpected amount of people, however, our timing was actually pretty good. We made it to the entrance gate by the time Machu Picchu opened at 6:00, which gave us a little bit of time to walk around the grounds before there were too many people, like there would be in the afternoon. We were a bit nervous at first – it had poured most of the night before, and we were worried that it would continue into the day.  But it turned out to just be cloudy, which helped with the heat and actually made it quite a nice day.

Here are a few videos from Machu Picchu itself:

So at 7:00, we made our way to the entrance of Huayna Picchu, a neighboring mountain. That was our entrance time to begin our ascent – they only allow 400 people on Huayna Picchu a day, and we were fortunate enough to snag entrance passes by buying our tickets over a month before we left. There were 2 options, an easy and a hard climb; of course we chose the harder one. I couldn’t come all this way and then take the easy way up the mountain! :-). While we waited to be let in, we struck up a conversation with a fascinating couple from California, Kim and Sally. Kim is a photographer, and he has been all over the world taking pictures of different news and travel stories. Together, they’re an intrepid traveling couple who has seen nearly every country in the world together. They became our buddies for the rest of the climb – when one of us got tired, the others would encourage them to keep pushing, so we all made it up to the top.

The encouragement was definitely needed. The climb was…challenging, to say the least. Thousands of stairs stood between us and our goal. And these were no ordinary stairs. Some were nearly two feet high, others so narrow that even my tiny feet couldn’t fit sideways on them. Often there were sheer cliffs that fell away just inches from where the side of the steps ended. My fear of heights was definitely kicking in with a vengeance. And of course, don’t forget to factor in the altitude – Huayna Picchu stands over 8500 feet above sea level. It’s truly amazing how much high altitude messes with your body when you’re not used to it. Caro and I are both in fairly good shape, but we still had to stop every few minutes or so just to catch our breaths.

Here’s an example of some of the stairs, tunnels, and ladders we had to climb to get to Huayna Picchu:

But getting to the top made all of the effort worth it. When we first got there the entire mountain was shrouded in fog, so we had to wait a while before the clouds cleared and we could catch a decent view. But it was truly gorgeous. And, although the clouds were a bit frustrating at times, I kind of liked them – they added to the mystery and excitement of the whole experience.

Coming down, though, while physically easier, was wayyyyy harder for me. Fears of heights are much more applicable when you are going down instead of up. By the time we got to the bottom my poor legs were like jello from having been shaking the entire way down. But I did it!! I was really proud of myself :).  After the climb, we spent a few more hours at Machu Picchu itself. We learned a ton about it without even having to pay for a guide – the advantage of understanding both English and Spanish is that you can sidle up to pretty much any tour and hear what the guide is saying without having to pay for anything ;).

To head down the mountain back to Aguascalientes, there are of course buses available for a small fee. But there is also a stairway, hewn out of the side of the mountain, for those hardy souls who didn’t endure enough punishment climbing Huayna Picchu. Guess which route we chose? Oh yes. The stairs. Only ten minutes into the trip, we were regretting our decision.  But by then it was too late. So we shouldered on, and finally reached Aguascalientes about 2 hours later. It made for a very long day. But it was fun. And totally worth the hassle. Worth the multiple bus rides, the train ride, the hike, the money, the sore muscles, the bug bites on steroids (I was left with scars from the bugs of Machu Picchu)…everything. All throughout Peru, the sort of unofficial slogan for Machu Picchu is “maravilla del mundo” (marvel of the world).  While it is admittedly a somewhat cheesy slogan, it is undoubtedly true.  I don’t generally like super touristy places, and Machu Picchu is one of the most touristy places in the world, but Machu Picchu is indeed a marvel, and definitely worth putting up with the tourists.  I ended that day a very happy camper, indeed :).
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