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An introduction to Peru

Written by Emmy on 6 January 2013

On a Saturday afternoon in December, just as snow was finally making its way toward New York City, my family convened at JFK to fly to summer. With my office closed for nearly two weeks and my sisters off from school for the eternity that is college winter break, we boarded a plane and headed due south. And though the time zone never changed, the scenery looked radically different when we deplaned in Lima, Peru eight hours later.

My family got onto a bit of a South American kick a few years ago with a trip to Argentina, followed by a voyage to Chile last winter. I knew Peru would be very different (particularly from Argentina, which feels more European than anything else), but I was shocked at how stark the differences between the neighboring countries turned out to be. We landed in Lima’s sparkly clean and new-looking international airport, but walked outside and found no highways, streets with limited signage and ramshackle houses underneath the airport billboards. And in lieu of a taxi line, tuk tuks! (But truly. They go by the same name in Peruvian Spanish as they did in Thailand, which I found perplexing and amazing.)

We thankfully got into a vehicle enclosed on all sides and made our way through the city sprawl. Home to nine million, Lima has very few high rises, so the formal boundaries of the city extend far beyond what one can see. We drove about 20 km from the airport to an area known as San Yisidro, primarily home to hotels, embassies and office buildings. We got into bed almost immediately upon arrival to prepare for the adventure of the days to come.

We began Sunday with an interesting breakfast and eye-opener into the country we were about to begin exploring. Over local fruits and very strong coffee, we met with two women from the local UNICEF office, who talked about the wildly fragmented country and the challenges in bridging divides, lingual and cultural, and helping to spur forward movement. The majority of Peruvians do not speak Spanish, but one of a large number of dialects, keeping primarily to their own communities. In one country, there are growing cosmopolitan centers (Lima), ancient tribal communities (throughout the nation), inaccessible jungles (the Amazon, in the east), mountaintop people (high in the Andes, north of 13,000 feet up), along riverbeds and nestled in valleys filled with Incan ruins. In the days ahead, we planned to visit many of these different environments in an attempt to begin to understand the country. Hearing about how dispersed the people and cultures are, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how the whole country can be governed and provided for in a seamless fashion.

With a bit more perspective in hand, we set out to explore the nation’s capital. Despite its political centrality, Lima is regarded by many tourists as a must-miss; most visit by virtue of logistics as it houses the country’s only real international airport. Rather than treat it as a fly-over destination, we spent a day trying to see what there was to see, reputation aside.

IMG_2185Yellow is considered an important color in Peru. I also consider yellow to be an important color

Exploring the historic downtown center of Lima, it was evident in every building that this had once been a shining gem of the Spanish empire. Conquered by the explorers in the 1500s, Peru had made peace with its conquistadors. When the South and Central American colonies began liberating themselves in the mid-1800s, Peru had resisted, hanging onto its connection to the crown longer than its neighbors. But ultimately, the nation was swept up in Simon Bolivar’s continent-wide quest, setting off a century and a half of questionable governance. IMG_2193

But much of the colonial downtown is a shell of its former self. Beautiful mansions in downtown Lima are all behind fairly aggressive fences and walls, leftover from the fear inspired by the terrorism-filled 1980s. Many of the elegant old Spanish buildings, previously home to theaters and banks, are now rented out by foreign companies. Peruvian Spanish is known to be clear and unaccented and so Lima has become a call center haven, a place where Chilean and Argentinian companies can pay lower wages by hiring locals. Many elegant old financial buildings are now filled with cubicles and hard-lined phones. But a few old gems, including the country’s congress building, remain true to form, and other businesses are starting to return to the district, bringing back some of its old vibrancy.

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Venturing into one of the city’s oldest churches, we went down into the catacombs where human skulls were lined up along the walls and bones were sorted into buckets by type. And just as we were starting to get hungry for lunch… On our way out of the cathedral we walked past street vendors cooking up local dishes, and while I’m usually one to partake, we had to resist due to concerns over water (tap water in Peru is not potable; locals boil it and foreigners avoid it) and questionable refrigeration. But we made our way to a restaurant filled with local specialities to have our first real exposure to the local culture.

I sampled the aji de gallina, a local specialty. Aji is a pepper typical to the nation; it comes in a vibrant yellow color, which it maintains when turned into a sauce, but it’s oddly not spicy. Instead, it’s almost more of a nutty flavor. Served over chicken, potatoes and a few vegetables, it’s always plated alongside rice. (Note: Nearly all Peruvian dishes manage to include both rice and potatoes.)

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Other members of the family tried spiced chicken brochettes, served with potatoes, enormous kernels of Peruvian corn and multiple salsas, and lomo saltado, a dish of stir-fried beef and vegetables found in literally every restaurant in Peru.

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After lunch, we met up with Penelope, a local chef, for our afternoon adventure. Penelope is a native limeño, so her culinary palette is all local, but by hilarious coincidence, she also went to college in Providence. She’s spent time living in the U.S., but has returned to her native city to help spread the traditional recipes.

We started our afternoon at her local market, where every stall owner was a good friend of Penelope’s. We stopped to meet them all, wish them a happy holiday and check out the wares of the day. At the fishmonger’s, we took a look at the insides of each potential purchase before settling upon our final choices.

IMG_2271IMG_2273The enormous gills of a fish nearly as tall as me, and the dark side of a multi-colored easily camouflaged creature

We learned about herbs that could cure everything from cramps to cancer, and pawed through shelves of fruits and vegetables totally foreign to our eyes. Some were closer to items I had seen in Thailand than to things I’ve ever seen in my Manhattan supermarket. Something about that subtropical climate… Penelope pulled out her sons’ favorite fruit for us to try, the granadilla. On the outside, it looked like an orange. But inside, it looked kind of creepy.

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Willing to at least give it a try, we slurped up the seeds from the granadilla halves. Despite the odd appearance and consistency, the fruit tastes like the child of a pineapple and an orange with the consistency of pomegranate seeds. It was actually quite good.

We saw more potatoes than one could have ever imagined. Some 400 odd varieties grow across Peru, making it the country’s greatest asset. Despite common misconception, the potato comes from Peru; the Spanish brought it back to Europe as a prize, and it was widely adopted on the old continent. We also saw deep black corn, which is used to make children’s drinks and the native version of beer.

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And of course, we had an introduction to the local peppers. While some crazy hot peppers do grow in Peru, one of the most popular is the bright yellow one that had flavored my lunchtime chicken. We bought several of the yellow aji peppers for use in the cooking exercise ahead.

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Since it was a bit too early to begin our cooking exercise immediately upon leaving the market, Penelope took us around her neighborhood. Called Barranco, it’s considered the Brooklyn of Lima. The neighborhood backs right into the Pacific and is filled with tall apartment buildings sitting atop the oceanfront cliffs. Its town center is filled with adorable galleries and artisan shops. We took a quick cruise through the streets, but many things were closed since it was Sunday afternoon. We had a quick coffee at a local shop (the neighborhood’s first Starbucks had opened not far from it, much to the chagrin of the residents) and stopped down by the water as the sun was beginning to dip lower in the sky.

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Back at Penelope’s apartment, it was time to start cooking. We donned aprons, washed our hands and were joined by her eight-year-old son Alonso, who volunteered to help with the cooking (so long as there could be intermittent eating). Penelope made us each a pisco sour, arguing that the drink had actually been born in Peru, not Chile as we had previously been told. And so with drinks in hand, we buckled down to start cooking.

First, we took raw scallops on the shell and turned them into an artistic masterpiece.

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IMG_2336The dish, known as conchitas a la parmesana, is a Peruvian favorite and a headlining item in Penelope’s home. You start with raw scallops, which here in Peru are sold on the shell with their bright red roe. (Penelope noted that during her time in the U.S., she could rarely, if ever, find them that way.)

We started by dapping each scallop with crushed garlic, followed by a healthy swab of paste made from the aji, a swig of pisco (used in cooking here like we use wine in our cooking), salt, pepper and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. I found this peculiar during my time in Chile as well, but I’ve always been taught that seafood and cheese are not meant to be cooked together. However, I am definitely not complaining.

The whole tray of scallops went into the broiler for no more than two minutes. The scallops came out browned from the cheese, but pretty soft and squishy underneath it. (The more squeamish of the group had their scallops returned to the broiler for a bit more fire.) Using a spoon, we peeled the scallops out of their shells and popped them in our mouths in one quick bite. Delicious.

 

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Next we constructed a version of ceviche, essentially the national dish of Peru. While you can make ceviche fancy and dress it up in any number of ways, we stuck by the original recipe. We used trout and shrimp and cut the two into little pieces. While it’s commonly believed that lime is used in order to “cook” the raw fish, that method requires a 12-hour marination and is favored in Mexico. The Peruvians took a note out of the Japan’s book; oftentimes, menus call it sashimi-style to indicate that the fish is raw. We covered the ingredients in a ton of lime, which does change the fish’s color (and add a lot of flavor), but it had about a 15-minute marination period.

We added a ton of julienned red onion, various local peppers, huge corn kernels (because of their size they taste more starchy than sweet) and sliced sweet potato, and put the whole thing atop a few lettuce leaves. It was tangy, a teensy bit spicy and very good.

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Though we were starting to fill up, the main course was still to come. A recipe Penelope inherited from her grandmother, we partook in a fishy stew with langoustines and grouper, served with potatoes and asparagus and (of course) with a side of rice pilaf. The stew had been made with a homemade fish broth and the flavors all came through strongly.

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Over dinner, we talked with Penelope and her husband Mario about how the country was changing. Both had been educated in the U.S. because those who could leave Peru in the 1980s did. They had subsequently lived in the U.S. because of work, but had wanted to come back five or so years ago because they missed their native land and didn’t want to miss out on watching economic development spur before their eyes. The country is in the middle of an evolution; over the last few years, it has seen higher growth than many other countries in the world as the nation begins to really invest in its infrastructure and local economy.

We ended the evening on a sweet note, with a dessert made from local fruits and topped with a fresh meringue. I was almost too full to eat any of it, but of course had to try at least a spoonful.

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Crossing a checkpoint and ending an adventure

Written by Emmy on 23 October 2012

We woke up with the sun on Sunday morning and discovered why we were the only people staying in the woods of Fundy: fall comes early. We snuggled into our sleeping bags for a bit longer before emerging into the morning fog. Originally we had planned to hang around, make some coffee and have breakfast straight from the backpacks, but the chill overtook us, and so we quickly packed up and made our way back to the parking lot and to Adrienne.

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We started driving south, back past Saint John and then through long passes of rural New Brunswick with spectacularly well-paved stretches of highway. We came to a southern tip of Canada and boarded a ferry, the first of the day. We were planning to take the boat to Deer Island, where we would take another ferry, this one from Deer Island to Campobello Island. Campobello, the summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is home to an international park, co-managed by the U.S. and Canadian parks services. The island is actually part of Canada, but during the months when the ferry is not running, is only accessible by a U.S.-controlled bridge. It’s a bit of a brainteaser.

But given the season of our trip, we boarded the first of our two ferries for the day and hit the open seas.

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While on board the ship, I aimed to recreated what Chaz now claims was his favorite snack of America Part 1: Trader Joe’s multigrain crackers, sliced asiago and a spicy dip; in this case, it was the leftover spicy chicken salad. In keeping with tradition, I pulled out a cutting board and knife while the vehicle was moving. I like a little adventure.

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IMG_1865We arrived on Deer Island, which, as part of New Brunswick, has all its signage displayed in English and French. Because of the prevailing religious traditions and the fact that it was Sunday, we found very little to see or do on the sleepy island. We hadn’t planned to do much, truthfully, but were at the whims of the dual ferry schedules. So we meandered our way from one end of the island to the other, pausing to check out what is rumored to be the largest lobster pound in the world, and ending up at the largest whirlpool in the northern hemisphere.

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The lobster pound was uninspiring, but the whirlpool was very cool. The somewhat mesmerizing rush of the currents was captivating enough that we nearly missed our ferry, ending up last in line of the cars waiting to board a boat that looked like it hadn’t been replaced in about three decades, give or take.

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Seriously, the boat was really old. So old that the steering part detached from the car part. The ocean was looking awfully cold, but despite its creaky parts, the ferry ferried us across safely.

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We docked at Campobello and drove to the interior of the park, where we were directed to photo opportunities and to the house that FDR spent his summers in. We walked through an interesting exhibit about the history of friendship between the U.S. and Canada. I was most excited to see that friendship manifest in an international stamp for my parks passport.

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We weren’t interested in waiting for someone to come show us around, so we took the self-guided version of the FDR house tour, pausing of course, in the kitchen.

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We drove around the island a bit, but without planning to take a hike or bike ride, there wasn’t much to tour; we stopped at a few rocky overlooks to gaze out on the water and identify distant land masses. I was more amused by the traffic signs that pointed to “U.S.A.”

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After cruising around for a bit, we selected the only completely empty picnic spot and overlooking the water, emptied the contents of our cooler onto a table – of course using a Delta blanket as the picnic cloth. Using a couple different containers of already-ready ingredients, I whipped up sandwiches of turkey, grilled eggplant, and red pepper and feta spread.

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Once we had finished our sandwiches and packed back in all the cooking implements, we loaded the car and made haste toward the tip of Campobello. We made the requisite lighthouse visit before approaching the bridge to the other side.

We were briefly reprimanded at customs. Evidently, limes cannot cross the border between Maine and Canada because of some weird soil disease; we think the border attendant just needed a spritz for his drink. (This was not my first time being stopped at a border crossing for a citrus infraction, but this stop was a little less alarming.) We entered the U.S. into Lubec, Maine, the easternmost town in the country. The town itself didn’t have much going on, but we made a pit stop at West Quoddy Head lighthouse, noted for being the easternmost point in the country.

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IMG_1998Now able to say we’d dangled out feet over the eastern edge of the modern world (or, you know, something dramatic like that), we headed a bit south to the entrance to Cutler Coast. Cutler is an area of land preserved and maintained by the state of Maine, but in a much more rugged way than the national parks. Cutler’s waterfront campsites are first come, first serve, and you claim them by logging your name into a guestbook at the trailhead. But when we found a completely packed parking lot and a fairly empty guestbook, we were a bit confused. If we chanced it and found the campsites totally full, we would have to turn back – a challenging feat given threatening rainclouds, vanishing daylight (ok, it was 3 p.m.) and a relatively lengthy hike (almost 10 miles to do the full loop past the campsite and back to the lot). But if we gave up and found the campsites empty, it would have been hugely disappointing. So we decided to hedge our bets, assume most of the parked cars belonged to day hikers and charge forward. The only people who had signed the guestbook were a pair from New York, Adam and Jake, who we kept calling for as we hiked through the brush, assuming that they would take us in under their wing if all else failed.

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IMG_2015The hike took us almost immediately down to the water, where we could see several bits of Canada off in the distance. But mostly, we were just surrounded by the very vast ocean – a truly beautiful site. We could feel bits of rain beginning to fall from the sky, but luckily had brought layers and the majority of the trail weaved through trees, providing cover. The only catch was that the state of Maine seemed content to let the wild run wild and so maintains their trails a bit less than the NPS, leading to overgrown brush. I think that might explain the mosquito bites I later discovered in somewhat inexplicable places.

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As we hiked, we could hear a dim noise in the distance, growing louder and louder. Chaz was convinced it was an owl, but I was determined to prove it was mechanical. We had to round several craggy corners and summit many slippery rocks, but eventually, a lighthouse came into distant view. To keep myself entertained, I yelled back to it every time it yelled hi to us.

After the yelling, beeping and raining went on for a while, we found ourselves at the first campsite, where a woman was standing guard. We kept walking until we came to the second site, where we found Adam and Jake, setting up fancy hammocks in the trees. Excited as we had been to make friends, we abandoned the cause, and like Goldilocks, tried out the third campsite, which was just right. We set up shop and I began to prepare our gourmet dinner, beginning with a cocktail hour of G+Ts (yes, we had managed to import them), cheese, crackers, sliced veggies, and Annie’s bunnies.

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Dinner was going to be a fancy home-cooked affair, which required a series of spices. In lieu of bringing spice jars with us, we had mixed Thai spices in a ziplock bag, to which we added peppers, celery, scallions, cashews and spiced chicken sausage.

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As we dined, we enjoyed the bright, glowing sunset over the water. We could still see our lighthouse friend blinking and beeping in the distance.

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IMG_2146We awoke the next morning, rolled up our sort-of soggy tent and hiked the five or so miles back to the parking lot, which was significantly less full than it had been the prior afternoon. We started the drive back south, where we encountered a rather strange site – several towers looming in the near distance. Ever the journalists, we got closer to investigate, stopping just short of the “Property of the federal government” and “No trespassing” signs. We later uncovered that we had happened upon the VLF Transmitter Cutler, which provides one-way low-transmission communications with U.S. submarines. Having completed our journalistic mission of the morning, we picked up the scenic Route 1 and a bit of speed, making our way back down past the turnoff for MDI and toward new pastures. As soon as we regained cell service, I was hot on the pursuit of little-known and well-regarded lobster rolls, figuring I should get one more in before leaving the state. Our other major planned stop was to be Freeport, Maine, birthplace of L.L. Bean. Our attempt to stop at the famous Red’s in Wiscasset, Maine proved a bit fruitless when we encountered its 30 minute line. The food did look good from a distance. Just after Freeport we stopped at Cindy’s Lobster Rolls, which had been hyped on the internet for its lobster roll (what I was most excited about) and its fried clams (which Chaz had requested as a final item).

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IMG_2165We had a little fun at the kitschy roadside stand while we waited, but at 2 p.m. or so, we were among the stand’s only patrons and so our lobster roll, clams and mix of french fries arrived quite quickly. We dug into our seafood, hob-nobbed with Cindy’s eclectic owner and after not too long, hopped back into the car for the less scenic portion of our day’s drive.

From Cindy’s, we left behind the scenic highways of Maine and merged onto 95, making our way south through traffic-filled New Hampshire. But with shocking expediency, we found ourselves back in Boston. We undertook the great feat of unloading the car, making quite a mess of Chaz’s sidewalk in the process. We hadn’t been back in the urban world for long before Chaz walked me to the train, where I boarded my New York-bound Amtrak, and he walked back across alone. It had been nearly a year since we had bid each other farewell from our last road trip adventure, as we ran to our separate gates in the Detroit airport. We were older (definitely), wiser (debatable), and heading home to our grown-up lives and real person jobs. But really, we’re still the same people as when the checkpoint began. We’ve still got backpacks full of unnecessary electronics, eyes bigger than our stomachs, and a sense of adventure tuned to the open road ahead.

From sunrise to sunset

Written by Emmy on 4 October 2012

On Thursday morning, we rose bright (well, not even bright yet) and early to see the sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain again. The weather forecast was a bit more cloudy, but since there was no rain, we made our way to the top again to see the clouds lit against the horizon line. It was a bit chillier, but still beautiful.

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Chaz, Liz and I made our way back down the mountain — Chaz on bike, Liz and I in the car. We parked along the beginning of the one-way loop road that runs through the park and each mounted our own bike, this time with me on one that actually fit, and began along the beautiful route, which winds along the park’s most scenic water and mountain views, and is made all the more conducive to biking by the relative lack of traffic.

IMG_0895Chaz, perched high above the loop road, while waiting for the slower bikers

IMG_0906Following our bike ride, we made a pit stop at Beech Hill Farm, a local farmer’s market we had been trying to visit all week to no avail. Call it flexible summer hours. But Thursday was a good day for the farm and we were able to spend some time in its small store.

Chaz made a new friend, who was highly entertained by chasing a small piece of basil. Meanwhile, we inspected the fresh produce and selected a few goodies to bring home for brunch. (Waking up for the sunrise and biking for nearly two hours left us hungry and ready for our second meal at about 9:30 a.m.)

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With the summer squash and fresh yellow onions, we whipped up a vegetable, basil and goat cheese frittata, accompanied by fresh berries.

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We ate our brunch on the patio of the house while overlooking the water, a remarkably calm and beautiful surrounding. But no rest for the weary. Once we had gotten our fill and regained our energy, Chaz and I refilled the backpacks and headed back out onto the open road. We bagged another peak; this one was Dorr Mountain, the initial ascent of which we did along the Ladder Trail, yet another aptly named vertical climb.

But a vertical climb always makes for a beautiful view, and we received one standing atop the summit.

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We found company in a number of tourists atop the mountain, and so after asking them to take our picture, quickly fled the scene.

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We sought refuge along a stream running by the return trail and pulled out our picnic basket containing sandwiches with homemade spicy chicken salad. (I had needed an activity while the frittata was cooking, and we also had begun to realize that the kitchen was full of ingredients we should probably think about using up.) Full from lunch part two, we basked in the sunlight briefly, but then packed it all back in and moved along in an effort to stay on a relatively tight schedule.

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We ran a few quick errands, took the fastest showers imaginable, and hopped back in the car to make a beeline for Seal Harbor. Charlie and Rosemary had graciously invited us to join them for a dinner picnic on board their boat, and so we loaded tote bags and coolers onto the boat and pushed off into the open seas. Liz had prepared a large helping of homemade guacamole for the voyage; we enjoyed cocktail hour in the middle of the ocean for a change of pace from our usual ocean view from the patio.

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Rosemary had prepared a lovely picnic dinner, which we spread out across the front of the boat: a selection of cocktail hour goodies, including cheese spread and vegetables; corn salad; cole slaw; and homemade chicken salad in wraps. (Let’s just call chicken salad the theme of the day.) We enjoyed our dinner with local brews while idling in Otter Cove.

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IMG_1177The water became increasingly choppy, so once we had all finished eating (and of course, taking photos of all the eating), we packed the picnic back in and headed toward shore. We had one minor mishap when a lobster trap got stuck in the boat’s motor, but thankfully were able to get it out before too much damage was done (to us or to the trap).

We anchored back in Seal Harbor, waved goodbye to our hosts and headed home to the other side of the island, just in time to catch the sunset over our own personal harbor.

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The next morning we uncharacteristically overslept, missing our scheduled 6 a.m. departure by a few hours. We had a very full morning planned, but rather than compromise on activity, found a way to compress a very packed schedule into a shortened time frame.

We loaded the bikes back onto the car and within moments, were racing toward the start of the carriage roads. The carriage roads are one of the features Acadia is most famous for; a network of gravelly paths, they were once used by the Rockefellers and their carriages for scenic rides throughout the island. Now mostly subsumed by the park, the carriage roads are used by runners and bikers, making for a beautiful and completely car-free riding experience (even if uphill gravel is a bit tough on the tires). We each completed a solo ride, able to select the length that worked best for our personal pace thanks to the multiple options provided by the vast circuit.

90 minutes and 12 miles (or 17, depending who you are) later, we met back at the car, loaded the bikes on and hopped in. We drove to the Beehive, one of the park’s most popular hikes, named for its beehive-like shape. We quickly scrambled up and took in yet another panoramic vista of the park’s surroundings.

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We hiked back down and found ourselves at the car basically on schedule, despite the late start. Taking a break from physical activity, we went into real estate mode, poking around at a few For Sale properties along the park’s boundaries. After letting ourselves into a more or less deserted house and taking a few pictures, we abandoned mission in favor of some lunch.

We returned to the Docksider, where Liz and I each had a crab salad and Chaz tucked into a fried clam roll. I had essentially made it my mission to eat only seafood while in Maine and was more or less succeeding.

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IMG_1236Despite having just finished lunch, we came home to begin work on a large scale cooking project. Chaz and I had plans to pack up the car and hit the open road very early the next morning, waving goodbye to Acadia and making our way north for a weekend road trip through New Brunswick and more remote coastal Maine. The accommodations would be less plush than our gorgeous house on MDI (read: tent), but while the checkpoint may compromise on places to sleep, never on things to eat. In order to make the cooking-while-camping experience a bit simpler, I had planned to precook several items in our very well-stocked kitchen, including pasta with fresh shrimp and tomatoes.

There was a brief moment of panic when I poured the pasta out of the box and noticed things moving at the bottom of the box. The only natural reaction was to shriek and thrust the box at Chaz. After we determined that, in fact, someone else had gotten to our pasta before we had, we handled the situation, recovered our emotions and resolved to seek out a new base for our now steaming shrimp.

IMG_1256With our various dishes cooling, we cleaned ourselves up and headed over to the Claremont, one of the island’s more historic locations and one of the venues the Obamas visited on their own trip to the island. The old hotel is in the town of Southwest Harbor with, of course, stunning water views. We took ourselves on a self-guided tour of the grounds and the dock.

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And because a view like that just begs for a scenic cocktail, we obliged.

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Following Chaz’s boring gin and tonic and my more exotic blueberry mint mojito (local flavors! come on!), we drove slightly inland to meet Liz for dinner at a Southwest Harbor favorite, Red Sky. The cozy local restaurant was filled and the owners wandered around checking on all the diners, making for a friendly, intimate experience.

We continued the strategy from earlier that week, ordering a selection of starters to share before committing to our own entrees. Up front, we sampled crispy polenta with fresh greens, a lobster-filled puff pastry and pate, served with a cranberry relish. All were as beautiful as they were delicious (even if the mood lighting of the restaurant didn’t aid my photographic efforts).

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For my main course, I decided I needed to have one last lobster before departing the island. Red Sky made it easy – no cracking or shelling required – by serving the beast of the sea over a mushroom risotto and grilled asparagus.

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Chaz looked at the menu for a whole 30 seconds before announcing he would be having the ribs, having had and thoroughly enjoyed them at this venue before. Between his bones and my decorative lobster tail shell, we had quite the discard pile building on a bread plate.

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IMG_1377Liz had the special, a steak with caramelized onions and blue cheese, served alongside the same fresh string beans and scalloped potatoes as Chaz’s entree.

Everyone was pleased with their ordering choices and though we could have left without dessert, we rationalized that we had biked around one mountain and climbed another that morning. So we ordered the lemon blueberry cake (deemed to have a better lemon-to-blueberry ratio than a similar item from a previous day) and a slice of gingerbread cake with homemade caramel sauce.

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After dinner, we drove down to the water to look up at the stars and listen to the ocean splash against the shore, taking one last look at the island before heading back to get in bed. We caught a spontaneous fireworks show, a coincidental celebration of the end of a wonderful week on MDI.

Feeling crabby

Written by Emmy on 5 August 2012

In mid-June, I took a break from the hustle-bustle of Manhattan and headed down to the shores of Maryland with my family. My cousins have a house just off the Chesapeake Bay, and we drove south for a weekend of sunshine, saltwater and seafood.

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We arrived midday Saturday and made a beeline for the water. My sister Alix, cousin Ruby and I endured a whipping on the back of my uncle’s jet-ski as he towed us around the bay on a tube. We collectively swallowed about half of the river in the process.

My interest in food has been cultivated since an early age by my family, and so a weekend with my immediate unit, cousins and grandparents meant a weekend where we spent a lot of time eating and, when not eating, discussing what to eat. Such discussions were fueled in part by mojitos, made with mint fresh from the garden. The making of said mojitos is an art form that my aunt and uncle have perfected.

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Seeing as we were in Maryland, the evening had to feature crabs. My uncle has a set of traps at the end of his docks that we peered into, but there were not quite enough squirmy little guys in there to feed us all. But the whole experience really defined local food; the crabs we did eat came from a roadside stand about two miles away.

We had a chance to meet them before beginning the evening’s process. Luckily none of us got too attached.

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In an effort to show us just how alive the crabs were, my uncle Steven sacrificed a small piece of his thumb. The crabs hang out in their box pretty quietly, but we shook their habitat a bit too violently and nearly had them running across the deck. But before long, we had them all safely inside a giant pot, where we sprinkled them with Old Bay, shook them around with a few other spices and vegetables for flavor, and then put them over an incredibly hot fire.

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After about 20 minutes over the smoldering flames, the crabs turn from blue to red and are ready to be served. For an incredibly hands-on dinner, the crab experience leaves minimal mess; we sat down at a picnic table we had lined with butcher paper, poured the pot of crabs atop the paper and dug in, with the plan to wrap all the limbs up in the paper once we finished.

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I spent a few summers living in Washington, D.C., and so had occasion to come down to the bay and try my hands at the Maryland natives. My aunt Lisa provided a tutorial for those members of the family who had not taken a crustacean apart in some time.

We demolished a good number of the crabs between the eleven of us. But we were still no match for all the little guys sitting on the table.

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The good news is that the crabs have a life even after being dumped onto the picnic table. We pulled their limbs apart and piled them into baggies that then went in the freezer. A few weeks from now, as crab season starts to slow down, they’ll become the base of a homemade crab dip.

As full as we were after dinner, there was obviously still room for a campfire treat. We loaded the flaming logs back into the pit, stuck marshmallows onto our official roasting sticks and crowded around the fire. I have a tendency to burn my marshmallows to a fiery crisp — I like them on the brink of charcoal status. Evidently so does my entire family, and so we lost a few good marshmallows in the process.

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The next day, we fit in a bit more outdoor time and seafood eating before heading back up to New York. It was a very quick visit, but a welcome escape from Manhattan and a wonderful weekend with family.

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Christmas with the family

Written by Chaz on 6 February 2012

Though the real world usually makes it harder to spend time traveling, sometimes it makes it easier. I’ve spent much of the last couple months in Texas for work, and since I was going to be so close, I decided to spend the Christmas holiday at my uncle Eric’s house just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. My grandmother was also coming down from Fargo, North Dakota, where my dad grew up, and my other uncle was coming with her from Minneapolis. So I was very happy to have the opportunity to join all of them.

I arrived a few days before Christmas, and had to do some work the day after I arrived, which was still a normal working day. Luckily, my uncle, who is an avid and proud hunter, provided his home office, which was more than adequate.

Chaz’s N.M. office

We had a ton of snow in New Mexico the day after I arrived, and our trip into Albuquerque to pick my grandmother and uncle Joel up at the airport was a bit dicey. They had even closed the interstate. But we made it there and back safely, and set to work immediately taking full advantage of the snow with my uncle’s ATV, some rope and a couple sleds.

Though probably not the safest activity I’ve ever engaged in (“Try not to fall off into a cactus,” my uncle said), it was really fun.

The culinary portion of my time in New Mexico began on Christmas eve, when my cousin helped my grandmother make some holiday cookies before my grandmother turned her attention to our family’s Christmas eve tradition: oyster stew.

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Oyster stew, it turns out, is very simple. You just cook the oysters until the edges curl and combine with butter and cream, then serve. It only took a few minutes before we were ready to sit down at the table.

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My seafood odyssey has come a long way, but oysters are still a little much for me. I didn’t object to the stew, though. What’s not to like about butter and cream? And I guess this is why they call them oyster crackers.

We woke up the next morning to a pile of presents from Santa Claus and a delicious egg bake prepared by my uncle Eric.

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After presents and breakfast, my uncles, my cousin and I tied the sleds back onto the ATV and headed out for some more sledding (if you can call it that).

Ever the outdoorsman, my uncle couldn’t conceal his glee when we found some bloody snow that had been the site of someone’s dinner.

We headed home to make the Christmas turkey, and my uncle and grandmother worked together for a while in the kitchen on getting things ready. My uncle had found his mother’s old kitchen apron under the Christmas tree, apparently salvaged from his childhood home, and was seen sporting it in the kitchen for much of the rest of the week. I love the traditional turkey meal (it’s a big part of why I love Thanksgiving), and it turned out wonderfully. Of course, there was a little familial strife in the kitchen along the way, but what can you do.

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We suited up the next morning to head out to Sandia Peak for some skiing. It was my first time skiing outside of the beautiful state of Pennsylvania, and the conditions were way better, just as everyone says. We were very fortunate to have gotten as much snow as we did. I read in the newspaper that New Mexico had the best skiing in the country that week.

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My trip was off to a great start!

Into the canyon

Written by Emmy on 5 October 2011

On Monday morning, we rose early, ready for adventure. We made coffee at the campsite and started to get organized, but decided that we were making way too much noise for the early hour and so packed up camp and relocated to the trailhead. Once we had parked Dorothy, we got to work trying to assemble our make-shift backpacking packs. To the expert hikers in the parking lot, we must have been embarrassingly amateur — our belongings were spread around Dorothy, we were tossing twine and a knife back and forth, things were falling out of the car and all the while, I kept yelling, “Hydrate!” (I was concerned about our insufficient water intake.)

After over ninety minutes of struggles, we got it all together. Highlights included a percolator strapped to the outside of my backpack and Chaz’s Crocs dangling from his.

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Inside (and outside) of those two packs, we were carrying:

  • One tent
  • Two sleeping bags
  • One makeshift first aid kit
  • Two flashlights
  • Extra clothing, fleeces
  • Crocs
  • Four sandwiches
  • Five waters
  • Six Clif bars
  • Three apples, one banana
  • Two cereal bars
  • One gallon Ziploc cashews, one small bag honey roasted peanuts, one small bag Thai chili lime cashews (collectively referred to as the NUT EXPLOSION)
  • One bag peanut butter crackers
  • One bag cheddar Bunnies
  • One giant tupperware of tortellini and spicy chicken meatballs
  • One Ziploc bell pepper strips
  • Map, permit
  • Car keys
  • Two wallets
  • Two phones
  • Camera
  • Knife, twine
  • Two packs of baby wipes
  • Sunblock, chapstick
  • Trash bag
  • Two toothbrushes, toothpaste, face wipes
  • Two packs gum
  • Ground coffee in Ziploc
  • Percolator, pot, stove
  • Propane, lighter
  • Fire-handling gloves

Puts our previously excessive-seeming Half Dome list to shame. Finally, at 8:03 a.m., only about an hour after predicted start time, we were on the trail.

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We hiked to Supai Tunnel, the first destination along the North Kaibab Trail. Mules (carrying people) go just as far as the tunnel, so we encountered quite a bit of their droppings along the way. The walk was just under two miles and was fairly steep. As we criss-crossed down the hill on switchbacks, I could only imagine — with slight fear — trying to walk back up them the next day.

Just like I had a difficult time imagining what the Grand Canyon would be like until I saw it, I had not known quite what to expect when climbing down the inside. Here was this giant thing and we were going to get in it. The first part of the trail was not entirely dissimilar from hiking down a steep peak, like Angels Landing. What was strange was just that the downhill was coming first. It was an odd feeling to descend on fresh legs.

From Supai Tunnel we continued past Eye of the Needle, a landmark on our map, but we’re not quite sure what it was. We crossed over a bridge and then came to a fork in the road. Roaring Springs was to the left — the endpoint recommended for a day hike — and so we decided to go check it out. We hadn’t realized it would be a detour off the planned path, but figured we’d see what was up.

The springs themselves were not especially noteworthy, but we found a bathroom, a water fountain and a good place to take a snack break.

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We headed back to the main trail and kept walking. We were now far enough into the canyon that the landscape really began to change into one of a desert. The top of the North Rim, at over 8,000 feet, resembles more of a dense forest. Much of the elevation change we endured was at the start of the climb, condensed into the first few segments, but we would ultimately lose over 4,000 feet over the course of the day — the very reason why I kept insisting we hydrate.

If I had been awestruck by looking over the rim and into the canyon, being inside it was a whole other story. Here we were, scaling down the wall of the Grand Canyon. The facts themselves were pretty awesome, plus the view wasn’t too bad either.

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We stopped at Pumphouse Residence, a ranger station complete with a helipad that received equipment drops all day. We tried to make friends with the project managers and park rangers, but they were busy. So we kept on walking. Finally, after 6.8 miles with our packs, we reached Cottonwood Campground. We set up our campsite, one of our more basic but with undoubtedly the best views of all. From our campsite, we could make our the faintest glimpse of the lodge at the North Rim. We had traveled so far during the course of the day, but because our journey had been mostly just downhill, we weren’t actually that far from where we had started.

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IMG_4844We gobbled down a lunch of turkey, roasted eggplant and tomato spread on whole wheat with a side of several water bottles each. We took a little walk to explore the creek beside the campsite and got our feet wet. We sat down on a bench and I announced I needed to close my eyes for 10 minutes. An hour later, Chaz announced it was time to get up. During my accidental nap, he explored our surroundings and made friends with some natives, pictured to the right.

We put on more casual footwear and took a brief 1.5-mile walk to Ribbon Falls, a highly recommended sight of beauty just beyond the campsite. The walk was gloriously flat, a nice change on our feet, and our singular backpack was very light. We carried only a water or two and a few cashews, a downgrade from our earlier heft. As we approached the falls, the path splintered — it seems that no visitors could agree on the best route, and so everyone had formed their own. We followed the most legitimate looking one (and also followed the sound of rushing water) and soon found ourselves in front of the majestic falls, which get their name from the unusual way they flow, appearing just like ribbons.

Hot and eager to cool down, we each took a quick rinse in the falls, which were flowing quite intensely. I gave Chaz a lot of abuse for his Crocs over the course of our two-week trip, but they came in handy in this particular moment.

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IMG_4884After thoroughly rinsing ourselves off in Ribbon Falls, we began to make our way back to Cottonwood. Because it was so late in the day, we were really the only ones on the short trail. Most people begin their hikes very early in the morning so as to avoid the heat of the day. During the summer, temperatures inside the canyon can reach 120 degrees. Park rangers also recommend hiking after 4 p.m., but we’re still perplexed as to why you might want to do the whole hike in the dark.

The distance from the North Rim to the Colorado River is twice that of the South Rim to the Colorado River, the reason why we did not go all the way to the river but many South Rim hikers do. There are also many people who hike from rim to rim in a day, about a 21-mile journey. We also heard in the visitor center about hikers who do rim-to-rim-to-rim in one day, but that’s a journey we’re not quite ready for yet.

Back at Cottonwood, we unpacked our propane stove and began preparing dinner. Most hikers carry down freeze-dried food, but the checkpoint never compromises on cuisine. We had lugged a very heavy tupperware full of leftover tortellini and meatballs, to which we added a few slices of bell pepper. When I played soccer in high school, we always had a pasta party the night before a big game in order to load up on carbs for energy. I viewed this dinner as our personal pasta party, preparation to climb out of the canyon. Never mind that we were both eating out of the pot; we still managed a gourmet experience as we watched the dimming light in the canyon change from desert orange to salmon.

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By 7:30 it was getting dark and we seemed to be losing the battle against a herd of angry bees eager to eat our food. Because we planned to get up before the sun, we decided it was about time to get into our tent. As we climbed in, we could see the stars beginning to shine overhead. I don’t think I have ever seen such a clear view of the constellations in my life.

Heading inland to Zion

Written by Chaz on 2 October 2011

Ambition became reality when we awoke at 3:30 a.m. to take quick showers and ready ourselves for the long drive east to Zion National Park. Everything was in the car and ready shortly afterward, and by 4:02, Dorothy was pulling away.

Los Angeles had one last chance to confuse us with its freeway system, but we were ready for it. By 5:30, we had maneuvered from the 405 to the 105 to the 605 to the 10 to the 15, making an essential stop for coffee along the highway. We watched the sun rise over the California desert.

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Interstate 15 winds east from Barstow through the Mojave Desert to the Nevada border. And as we approached the Silver State, it became clear that the casinos and outlets started immediately across the border. In fact, the town of Primm, Nev. is right up against the border, positioned as a first temptation for gamblers coming from California or a last hope for those leaving Vegas.

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Shortly afterward, around 8:30, we arrived in Vegas, where we stopped for gas, a bathroom stop and a good look at the casinos. It was my first time in the city, and my initial reaction was that it reminded me so much of Macau — which was ironic, since Emmy’s reaction to Macau was that it reminded her of Vegas.

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Northeast of Vegas, I-15 cuts through the rural northwestern corner of Arizona and winds through the Virgin River Gorge, a dramatic rock formation created by the same river that made Zion.

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We pulled off the highway in Washington City, Utah for a last supermarket stop and lunch at In-N-Out, which we had missed in California. From there, it was only a short drive into Zion, where we parked Dorothy at our campsite in Watchman Campground and walked back to the visitor center. To reduce congestion, you can’t drive into Zion Canyon, the heart of the park — you have to park and take one of the frequent shuttles. As a result, there aren’t any parking problems in the canyon, and the views are unspoiled by heavy automobile traffic.

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Zion was given its name by Mormon farmers who discovered it and believed it to be close to paradise. I really liked the idea that the park was preserved because people saw it and said to themselves: wow, this place is close to God.

After checking in at the visitor center about our best course of action, we hopped on a shuttle and rode to the Weeping Rock stop to begin exploring. The beauty of the canyon was readily apparent.

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We hiked from the shuttle stop up a steep trail toward something called Hidden Canyon. As we ascended, the views of the canyon became even more picturesque and panoramic.

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The weather was visibly deteriorating, and when we got to Hidden Canyon (surprise — it was a hidden canyon), we quickly turned back around, not wanting to get stuck on the steep trail once it became wet and slippery. We took a short detour to Weeping Rock, and as it had begun to rain, the weeping was even greater than usual.

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We walked back to the shuttle and rode up to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava, where we took a soaked stroll up the paved Riverside Walk along the Virgin River. The canyon gets too narrow for the road to continue, and at the end of the path, it gets too narrow for the path to continue. But, we learned, many people rent special boots to wade through the Narrows, as the section of the river is known, starting above the canyon and hiking through the water back down. It sounded really cool, and it definitely made my next-visit list.

We had to wait a few minutes for a shuttle back to the campground, as the heavy rain had apparently caused a mudslide on a section of the road. Sure enough, we passed a park ranger directing traffic around the debris in the road. According to our shuttle driver, the rainstorm was “one for the record books,” and the subsequent mudslide was “unprecedented.” When we got back to our campsite, we took advantage of a momentary lull in the rain to set the tent up at a record pace, and fortunately, the rain mostly held off for the rest of the evening.

Our campsite at Zion was one of the nicest we stayed, with a beautiful view of the canyon. We settled in to enjoy some appetizers by the fire before dinner. Naturally, given our early wakeup, we were getting quite tired.

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As the sun began to set, Emmy whipped up some apple chardonnay chicken sausage with mixed fresh vegetables.

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After a round of s’mores, we were more than ready for bed.

Out of the hills onto the beach

Written by Chaz on 30 September 2011

When we woke up on Wednesday to start our second day on the Pacific Coast Highway, we found that dramatic fog had rolled in, blanketing Big Sur.

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We made breakfast and coffee, taking our time leaving our beautiful campsite in the hopes that weather conditions would improve with time. We took a walk around the campground and down to the beach below it. But unfortunately the fog didn’t show much sign of lifting, so we struck camp and set out south.

As we drove, we soon left the cliffs of Big Sur behind and found that we were driving in and out of very obvious shelves of cloud cover. We stopped a few times at remarkable beaches or views as we slowly made out way south. Realizing that we would need a little more fuel than we had to make it through Big Sur, we bought three gallons of gas at $5.69 per gallon, the going price on the cliffs of Big Sur. Naturally, there were tears in our eyes.

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We also made a quick stop at Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s mega-mansion, and though we didn’t do any of the tours, we got a good look at his magic kingdom from the bottom of the hills.

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We stopped in San Luis Obispo, the first sort-of-real city south of Big Sur, for a much-needed fuel tank fill-up, and pressed on to Pismo Beach, where we spent much of the afternoon and the night. After picking up a few supplies, we set up camp at Pismo State Beach’s North Campground, where our campsite, No. 18, was just a short walk through the dunes from the ocean.

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Emmy made a delicious lunch of bean and vegetable salad and turkey, avocado, muenster and corn chip sandwiches, and we packed a beach bag and headed down to the beach for some sun and surf.

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As the afternoon drew to a close, we retreated to our campsite for some appetizers and a couple rounds of Set. We took the last of the appetizers back to the beach to watch the sunset.

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For dinner, Emmy pulled off one of her best camping feats, roasting chicken sausages and bell peppers over our campfire to add a smoky flavor before chopping them and throwing them over the stove to soften and stew a bit. More so than the other hot dishes we had while camping, this one relied on the quality of its ingredients and preparation, rather than its recipe, and it was delicious.

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After a round or two of s’mores, we cleaned up and headed to bed.

The grandest of all special temples of Nature

Written by Chaz on 28 September 2011

We woke up early on our second day in Yosemite, around 6:30, marking the beginning of a long, productive and somewhat unpleasant trend of our beginning our days between 4 and 7 a.m. We hopped in Dorothy and headed down to the Wawona Hotel to “borrow” their wireless Internet for a pressing need: securing permits for the trail up Yosemite’s famous Half Dome. Though most are reserved months in advance, the Park Service releases a few each morning at seven for use the next day, and so by 7:02, we were back in Dorothy, permits successfully reserved.

After two attempts, I was able to make us coffee using our camping stove and percolator (both worked flawlessly for the rest of the trip). We stopped by the campground’s amphitheater to ask some questions a park ranger about our plan for the day. Her coffee setup put ours to shame.

At the ranger’s advice, we hurried into Yosemite Valley to leave Dorothy and catch a bus back to Glacier Point, where we would begin hiking back down into the valley via the Panorama Trail and the Mist Trail. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Yosemite Lodge, the bus was completely full. We pled our case to the very friendly bus driver and before long, we were on our way to Glacier Point in the most comfortable seats on the bus: two white towels in the center aisle.

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The bus driver, Charles, kept us entertained on the drive with a very interesting narration of the park’s history, botany and geology. By the time we arrived, we were already hungry again, so we fueled up with some Clif bars before heading down the trail to begin our nearly nine-mile hike.

The hike took us around the edge of Yosemite Valley to Illilouette Fall, the first of three huge waterfalls we saw on our hike, with sweeping views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the other two waterfalls along the way.

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John Muir, who fought to preserve and protect Yosemite as a national park, called Yosemite Valley “the grandest of all special temples of Nature.” As we began to explore, I started to see what impressed him so much.

We stopped at a beautiful overlook just past the waterfall for our packed lunch: turkey, muenster and avocado sandwiches on whole wheat bread.

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After a couple more miles across the valley ridge, we stopped at the top at Nevada Fall, where just a few hundred feet before the fall’s precipitous drop is a calm pool, ideal for a quick foot bath in the middle of a long hike. We stopped and had a snack and relaxed our feet. At this point, we were nearly directly in Half Dome’s shadow, though the trail to the summit winds around through the forest to ascend one of its hidden sides.

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From Nevada Fall, we began descending back into the valley, passing Vernal Fall on our way. Vernal Fall is a very popular destination if you’re going to do just one hike out of the valley, so the trail began to get significantly more crowded. The views remained spectacular.

We wound down the Mist Trail’s thousands of stone steps back into the valley, through the mist from the fall that gives the trail its name.

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We made it back to the valley in one tired piece, and after picking up a couple things at the general store in the valley, we headed to the visitor center to get advice about our hike up Half Dome. The ranger in the campground had told us to start the 18-mile hike at sunrise or earlier, and we were hoping to get a few more tips. As we walked up to the counter, we saw that the weather board indicated a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms for the next day. I pointed this out to the volunteer on duty and told her we had Half Dome permits.

“Well, if there is lightning, do not go on Half Dome,” she deadpanned. “You will die.”

Scared but not deterred, we decided to get as early a start as possible the next day to maximize our chances of a death-free experience. As we left the valley, we stopped at Tunnel View, a scenic overlook named for the long highway tunnel to which it is adjacent and owes its construction. A fellow tourist took a wonderful picture of us in front of the valley’s splendor.

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We hopped back in Dorothy and hightailed it to the Mariposa Grove, a grove of enormous giant sequoia trees. We were only able to spend a few minutes there because we were quickly losing daylight, but we got a good glimpse, included one fallen sequoia that has been there for centuries, preserved by the trees’ natural composition.

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We drove back to Wawona and kicked off dinner with an appetizer of hummus and carrots, before Emmy whipped up some chicken sausage and vegetables on our trusty stove. After our long hike, it tasted just about heavenly. I made a fire, and we roasted marshmallows for s’mores.

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After dinner, we began preparing our extensive supplies for the next day’s voyage, and we went to bed under the stars before long.

In which we meet Dorothy and our adventures begin

Written by Emmy on 25 September 2011

On Wednesday (September 7th — it’s been a while), we began our west coast adventure road trip. The day began early in each of our hometowns, as Chaz boarded a plane before 7 a.m. and I boarded one just afterward. Several hours and plane rides later, we reunited in the Salt Lake City airport. We nearly missed our last flight and had to be paged to the gate, though we’re not really sure how that happened because we were waiting at the gate. Mishap was avoided and we took the short flight to Fresno, Calif.

We touched down in the small airport just after noon and made our way to baggage claim. In celebration of what the region is most known for, the airport was filled with giant redwood trees (truly — they were poking out of the ceiling). We simultaneously addressed two hurdles: the baggage and the rental car. We had reserved a car as part of a great Hertz deal: rent in California and return in Arizona in exchange for a great rate. (They need more cars down south for winter vacation.) This deal guaranteed us a small car and we were prepared to take what we could get. When we reached the counter, the woman explained that due to a series of regulations, there were only two cars available to us: a Chevy Aveo, which would barely have fit the two of us, let alone our luggage, and a Dodge Grand Caravan. We weren’t thrilled about the minivan, but said we’d take it, especially since we didn’t have to pay extra since it was their mistake. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we had basically won the rental car lottery.

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Our baggage made up the vast majority of what had been on our little plane and we loaded it into the minivan, which we formally named Dorothy. For the record, we’re really not sure how we would have fit into a smaller car; we left the airport with three suitcases, a cooler, a huge box of camping supplies, two backpacks and two additional carry on bags. We then went to Trader Joe’s and loaded the car up even further with food. After making our way toward Yosemite, we bought more supplies at a second supermarket stop. Less than two hours in and Dorothy was reaching capacity.

After about 90 minutes on Highway 41, we reached the outer perimeter of Yosemite. Yosemite is a large park — larger than little old Rhode Island — and there are campgrounds throughout. We headed toward Wawona Campground for our first night, which is conveniently close to the entrance nearest to Fresno.

We set up camp and began preparing dinner after a quick appetizer of guacamole, chips and mango salsa. Camping really challenged my culinary abilities, but we persevered in an effort to eat and create beautiful food. The first night’s menu featured turkey burgers and so we tried to use charcoal, but those coals took a while longer to heat up than we might have hoped. We were aiming to eat in enough time to be able to watch sunset from Glacier Point, about a 30-minute drive from Wawona, but the burgers just weren’t cooking. So in a moment of desperation, we put them in a pan, popped them on top of the propane stove, aggressively cooked them and then ate them while en route with muenster and avocado atop honeywheat buns. Though we faced some technical difficulties, dinner could at least be classified as gourmet to go.

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Chaz navigated the winding roads of the park while I handled the car-based cuisine, a common theme throughout our trip. We got to Glacier Point, one of the best (and most accessible) overlooks in the car just as the sun was setting.

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From Glacier Point, we could see all of Yosemite Valley stretched out in front of us, waiting to be explored.

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After watching the sun dip below the mountains (and taking the obligatory 20+ sunset photos) we headed back to our tent and quickly fell asleep, tired from our day of travel and ready to wake up bright and early for adventures in the park!