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The (belated) end to a Peruvian adventure

Written by Emmy on 19 May 2013

After departing the natural wonders of Titilaka and Lake Titicaca, we flew back to Lima and hopped into a van bound for our last destination. We were headed to the city of Paracas, an oceanfront town known for its natural reservation and spectacular wildlife. We drove south with the ocean on one side, and sparsely developed land on the other.

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Except for the occasional small town, the majority of the drive looked like this, exposing us to another side of Peru — the migrant farming communities that look abandoned or industrious depending on the time of year. Looking out on the arid land, it was hard to imagine who was farming what and when, but we were assured that more people lived and worked just over the hills.

The drive took a while, mostly due to the underdeveloped nature of the roads we were traversing. We watched as the sun beautifully dipped below the Pacific.

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When we finally arrived in Paracas, we found ourselves among a very different set of Peruvians than those we had spent the last few days with. Because of its proximity to Lima and its beautiful waterfront, Paracas attracts the moneyed crowd of the capital city, particularly around events like New Year’s. The traditional floral woven dresses were replaced with racy clubbing outfits and skimpy bikinis. Still, we were among very few foreign tourists, so it still felt very Peruvian — albeit a different side of the same country.

We finished off the evening with pasta at the hotel’s trattoria. Because of the ocean’s proximity (less than 100 yards away), most dishes were dotted with seafood. I enjoyed a squid-ink pasta with shellfish.

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We woke up early the next morning, ready to explore what the Reserva Nacional de Paracas had to offer. We boarded a boat and headed out to sea. Our first stop was a mysterious candelabra drawn in the sand. Though it looked from afar like it could have easily been blown away, the etching has in fact been there for hundreds of years. Indigenous tribes carved into the rock under the sand, creating a permanent fixture up on the rocks.

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This is very similar to the Nazca lines, a popular destination further south of Paracas. Indigenous people drew massive pictures in the sand and tourists flock to them; the only way to appreciate them is to take a small plane above the etchings. We had opted to skip this destination, so our mysterious candelabra served as substitute. It is suspected that the candelabra dates back as far as 200 B.C., a relic of the ancient Paracas culture and meant to symbolize the staff of an ancient god.

After boating through open waters for a little while, we saw something rising out of the ocean. As we got closer, we could see that it was a series of large rocks, each completely covered in birds. The stench was overpowering — the rocks have changed color over time from the sheer amount of bird defecation on them.

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Since the 1970s, these rocks out in the ocean have been under protection from the Peruvian government because of the many natural and cultural treasures they hold. Driving around, we saw a dizzying array of birds, including the hilariously named red boobie. (Okay, so we’re a little immature.) We also happened upon a large pack of sea lions.

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It was apparently mating season for the sea lions. This seemingly entails a lot of sleeping, though we were taught that each female sea lion was staking out her area on the beach. The males would later waddle around and start the courtship process. But for now, the large mammals were just hanging out.

Nearby on the rocks, we encountered the most exciting of the Paracas National Reserve’s residents. For reasons I can’t exactly explain, I have a deep fascination with penguins. I was extremely excited when I learned we would meet some of them on our trip to Paracas. While I had always learned that penguins require ice and snow, there are a couple species that thrive in the equatorial climate in Peru, Ecuador and Chile. They’re a bit smaller than their Antarctic brethren, but still very adorable. They do, however, smell terrible.

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We spent the next few hours weaving in and out of the rock formations, observing one interesting animal species after another. We saw many more sea lions, all of whom were either asleep or searching for a new nap spot. The variety of birds was endless — we made many more boobie jokes and spotted several flocks of pelicans. Though harder to spot, we did find more penguins. They were generally more sedentary than I was expecting, but perhaps that’s the influence of movies like Happy Feet.

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After spending a couple hours with the native creatures, it was time for us to head back to shore. We waved farewell to the napping sea lions, the waddling penguins and the very stinky birds.

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Back ashore, we revisited the ocean, but on our plates. Being able to see the water from our lunch table meant very fresh fish. For me, this came in the form of Peruvian ceviche, prepared in a style very similar to that which we had learned from Penelope earlier that week. This time it was a bit spicier, which I was naturally excited about.

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We spent the afternoon exploring our surroundings and taking it easy in order to prepare ourselves for midnight and the start of 2013. Many of our fellow hotel guests were partaking in a massive party on the beach, the entry ticket to which cost about the same as the annual wages of a salt miner. Truly, we had managed to see both ends of the Peruvian lifestyle spectrum over the course of a week.

We had a more low-key evening, but still managed to get dressed up and watch the fireworks light up the sky.

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We woke up to a calm and peaceful 2013 under the southern sun. After our hectic touring schedule of the earlier part of the week, we took the next two days to relax before heading back to work and reality.

We took bicycles out onto a path that very quickly became beach, working against the resistance of the wet sand. During low tide, we came upon the most remarkable creatures I have ever seen — jellyfish with bodies nearly as large as our bike wheels, dotting the entire coastline. They looked prehistoric in size and nature, and navigating around their tentacles added another challenge to the ride.

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We set sail, repeatedly, taking in the coastline from another perspective.

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Our proximity to the water also continued to give us access to a wealth of seafood dishes. Some of the native Peruvian items continued to perplex me, like causa, the boiled potato stuffed with crabmeat and mayo. Others were more redeeming, like the countless ceviches we continued to encounter. Some came prepared with the traditional corn-and-onion base; others artfully decorated seashells and came spotted with brightly colored peppers. I avoided the former and over-indexed on the latter.

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After our week of planes and trains and boats and drives and hikes, Paracas provided many quiet moments to sit and reflect on the trip.

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Peru turned out to be one of the more culturally fascinating places I have ever been. In one country, there were so many different cultures — not to mention languages – and each seemingly lived independently. Among all the Peruvians I met, there was a great sense of pride for their nation and for their people; the same sense of pride in Peru’s growth and confidence in the brightness of its future seemed to extend from the cosmopolitan residents of Lima, like Penelope, to the young weaver near Titilaka. In some ways, I found myself surprised at the underdeveloped nature of the country, but at the same time, it presented us with a richness that I have never seen elsewhere. Truly, colors seemed brighter in Peru, and I still see that now as I look through my photos.

The country and its residents welcomed us with open arms and let us explore what they had to offer, and we really saw just a fraction of the nation’s diversity. The food may not be as spicy as I’d like, and the roads may not all be easily traveled, but Peru is a country worth seeing, and one that I would love to see again a few years down the line.

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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.

More whirlwind adventure

Written by Chaz on 30 September 2012

The weather forecast for Tuesday morning was, for the first time since I arrived in Maine, rain. The thought of getting wet scared off all but the most hardy travelers, and my mother, Emmy and I left home very early on Tuesday morning for a hike up Mansell Mountain and around the Great Pond Trail. Mansell is one of the more scenic trails on the much quieter western side of Mount Desert Island, where a large section of the national park lies, and we did not see anyone on the trails for the first couple hours of our hike.

We climbed Mansell using the Perpendicular Trail, famous for its long granite staircase.

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Though it was barely raining for most of our hike, the mountain was entirely shrouded in fog, so there were no views from the top. But still, the different climate made a nice change from the full sun we had been having. (Not to say I wasn’t delighted when the full sun returned.)

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As we began descending the back side of the mountain into Great Notch, a small mountain pass, the fog swirled around us through a beautiful lichen-covered forest.

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We wound around the mountain through a damp, lush forest back to the shores of Long Pond, where the fog had barely begun to rise.

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We headed home for breakfast, where we waited for the last of the rain to leave the island before we headed out to Bass Harbor Head Light, a lighthouse that has become an icon of Acadia and is even now featured on a quarter. The view out to sea remained bleak.

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From the lighthouse, we drove just east to the Ship Harbor and Wonderland trails, which, both being flat and easy, made a nice change from all the peaks we had bagged a couple days earlier. The trails opened onto the rocky Maine coast, and we explored the tide pools a bit.

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For lunch, we drove over to Seawall, a long stretch of beautiful granite that anchors its section of the national park. We explored the rocks more and took the opportunity to take a few more inspired photographs.

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Lunch was again turkey, muenster and avocado with spicy honey mustard on rosemary bread, and it paired very nicely with the scenery.

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We also took the opportunity for one final shot of all of us in our T-shirts.

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Ben was leaving us that afternoon, and I had planned to drive him to Bangor. After lunch, I realized that we were relatively tight on time to get him to the airport. So we stopped at Sawyer’s Market, an adorable grocery store in Southwest Harbor that my family has been patronizing for nearly three decades, with items for each of us to grab already distributed. We high-tailed it from there back to Seal Cove Pond, where Joanna and I dove into the pond for an express swim that was refreshing by both its nature and its cadence.

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We went home and left Joanna, Seth and Emmy to enjoy cocktail hour on the porch while I drove Ben back to the airport in Bangor. From the looks of it, I missed a very nice afternoon.

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I returned just in time for the sunset.

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The parents of a college friend live on the island full-time and we see them whenever we come up here now. When my mother and I took a long-weekend winter trip, we stayed Rosemary and Charlie and spent time exploring the ice-covered park. On this much more summery evening, Rosemary came over for dinner, and we had an amazing feast. We began with a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, and my mother reprised her homemade crab cakes that I had enjoyed in sandwich form on Isle au Haut, served with potatoes and string beans.

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As Ben’s departure left us with four people, I tried to teach the group to play spades, a Kelsh family favorite, which was only moderately successful but a still a very good time.

Emmy and I rose early on Wednesday, threw two bikes on the car and tried to take a bike road on Acadia’s beautiful carriage road, but due to technical issues with my mother’s bike, we barely got anywhere. We returned home before 7, and decided to do a bit of kayaking in the little inlet by our house. For reasons of safety — the camera’s, not ours — there are no photos.

Once the full gang was up and at ’em, we drove into Bar Harbor for one last meal as a group before Joanna and Seth had to return to the airport. We were able to be seated right away at Cafe This Way, which was a minor miracle. Cafe This Way, an island landmark in recent years, is perhaps the only restaurant I have ever known that serves only breakfast and dinner. Emmy, Joanna and I had omelets — Greek, trout and sundried tomatoes with mozzarella, respectively — while Seth enjoyed a veggie sausage burrito and my mother went for the eggs benedict.

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After breakfast, it was time for another chauffeur run up to Bangor. Emmy and I said goodbye to Joanna and Seth inside the tiny terminal, delighted at what a great time we friends had had together and sorry it had to end. Emmy and I stopped at Walmart on the way back to pick up some supplies, and by the time we made it back to the house, it was time for lunch. Emmy whipped up some tuna melts, which we enjoyed on the porch.

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Unable to rally ourselves for much physical activity, and not excited at the notion of doing something in the mid-afternoon sun, we settled for a quick dip in Seal Cove Pond. As we wove through the backroads of the park, we spotted some friends along the way.

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After an abbreviated cocktail hour, we drove back into Bar Harbor for the early showing of Headhunters, a Norwegian film about an executive recruiter who moonlights as an art thief. We didn’t know much about the film and had basically no expectations, which made it even better when we thoroughly enjoyed it. For dinner, we began with a nachos platter during the first half of the movie, and at intermission moved on to the High Plains Drifter pizza, Reel Pizza’s take on the classic barbecue chicken pizza, one of our favorites in Providence.

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We returned home full and happy, and got in bed early, ready to start the next day bright and early.

Icy cold water and red hot lobsters

Written by Emmy on 26 September 2012

Monday morning began early for half the group, as Ben, Chaz and I set off to conquer the Precipice Trail in the post-dawn sunlight. Precipice was advertised as a very steep ascent; parts of the trail are comprised of iron rungs stuck into rock, requiring you to hoist your full body weight up while sort of dangling in the air. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

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Truthfully, it wasn’t that scary. (I’d put it at comparable to Angels Landing and far less terrifying than the final moments of our Half Dome ascent, which I use as my barometer for holy-crap-I’m-nervous statements.) We gained height quickly thanks to the vertical ladders and iron bars, and before long our parked car was like a tiny ant on the ground below.

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By the time we reached the summit, the sun was already blinding overhead, making us all very glad for our crack-of-dawn departure time. The views both along the way and from the very top were positively stunning.

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After scrambling down a more rock-based and less iron-rung-reliant trail, we arrived back at the car and headed home to pick up the rest of the troops. The five of us and Chaz’s mother Liz set out for the Great Head trail for an oceanfront jaunt and the moment of the trip I was most excited about.

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We had been discussing the need to brand ourselves for quite some time, and in advance of the trip to Maine, I finally took the plunge and designed our 120 T-shirts. A note about this group: We were all, to some degree or another, friends before we took on the newspaper reins in early 2010. But while serving in our role and in the subsequent semester, we formed a bond that I have to believe is truly unique. It has its roots and its heart in our shared commitment to spending time at The Herald when we could have been in a million other places, though it has come to stand for far, far more than that at this point.

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Our shirts did inspire a bit of amusing confusion, as passersby inquired as to why we all had the same number on our backs. Call us a less-than-standard sports team.

From our perch atop Great Head, we could see Sand Beach, one of the island’s most popular sunbathing and dip-your-toes-in-the-ocean settings. We looked down on it from up above, but decided to bypass it in favor of installing ourselves somewhere quieter.

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IMG_0141We set up shop on rocks and picnic blankets (thanks Delta!) at Little Hunters Beach, a quiet alcove where we were the only picnickers in sight. We dined on sandwiches of turkey, avocado, muenster and spicy honey mustard, a checkpoint picnic lunch favorite.

We did dip our toes into the ocean, largely for the shock effect. The last time I visited Acadia, I was 14 and on a trip with my sleepaway camp. We visited Sand Beach and standing in a line, walked into the ocean. The wager was simple: last person standing would be exempt from cleaning the bunk (or something similarly lucrative). I made it to the final five, but surrendered when I lost the feeling in my toes and emerged with them slightly purple in color.

The water this time around was just about as cold as I remembered, but we braved it briefly as a group.

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Given our inability to get further than ankle deep, we relocated back to our personal swimming pond and lounged about in the significantly warmer water. We learned that despite being, in some senses, a professional swimmer, Joanna is terrified of touching the bottom. Thankfully Seth was willing enough to hold her upright. (And really, Chaz and I lost at a competitive game of chicken fight to the pair completely out of courtesy to Joanna’s fears; I’m less worried about hitting the bottom of the pond.)

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We returned to the house and began cocktail hour a bit early in anticipation of an early dinner to follow. The selection of noshes was quite generous, including 120’s absolute favorite, and fresh summer rolls from the cleverly named Chow Maine. Joanna had infused gin with cardamom in preparation for the trip up north and we splashed it into our drinks for a bit of fancy flair.

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We had one minor mishap during our otherwise calm and relaxed cocktail hour.

After cocktail hour, we squeezed ourselves into one car and made our way to Thurston’s Lobster Pound, a noted lobster shack poised right above the water.

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We walked up to the restaurant and took a quick look at the menu before walking in. Basically our options boiled (no pun intended) down to what size the lobsters would be.

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Hi friends!!

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With our sea beasts boiling in their pots, we picked out a picnic table on the roofed-in patio and settled down with crab dip and crackers and a pitcher of Bar Harbor Blueberry Ale. We switched tables a few times, concerned there wouldn’t be enough room for us and all of our clawed friends. But we finally committed to a table and before not too long, received a tray full of bright red lobsters, ready for the taking. I could barely contain my excitement.

 

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Because we had a few novices at the table, Liz provided an instructional lesson on how best to handle the whole lobster.

For some, her lesson created great success.

The before: 

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…and the after: 

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What was most exciting (or rather, a bit alarming) about the whole experience was Seth’s display. Seth has been a vegetarian for as long as I’ve known him, but a fresh Maine lobster left even him weak in the knees. Growing up as a Long Island lobster eater, I’m all about getting every last morsel out of the thing. Seth really did a number on his, extracting more meat than I think I knew possible.

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It was messy. It was aggressive. It was delicious.

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IMG_0456We returned home, covered in a combination of lobster juices and lemon juice to mask the lobster juice smell. Back at home, Liz produced a triple berry pie that she had picked up at the farmer’s market down the road that morning. Well, when in Rome…

With pie and port in hand, we decided to play a round of Celebrity, a game I learned from a good friend in college. The competition was fierce, but after a couple surprise moves by Liz, she, Chaz and I triumphed over our competitors, who sat watching in awe. (Or something like that.)

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Another wonderful day.

Beasts of the northern wild

Written by Chaz on 26 September 2012

I had planned for us to rise early on Saturday morning in Bangor and high-tail it down to Mount Desert Island for an early hike to introduce the newcomers to the park. But a canceled flight got in my way, and so our Saturday turned out to have a more relaxed cadence than I had originally envisioned. But no matter — we more than made up for that on Sunday.

We woke up at four, poured coffee into a thermos and piled into the car for the drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. East Coast, where the sun’s rays first hit the United States each morning. We made it to the top with plenty of time before sunrise, and were among the first to settle onto the granite ledges and hunker down under blankets to protect ourselves from the chilly morning. There was already a bunch of fire-red light on the horizon, and morning fog was rolling across Schoodic Peninsula and Frenchman Bay.

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Before long, the sun was peeking up over the horizon. It was a perfect, clear morning to watch the sunrise.

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The sunrise was one of many moments that I have loved all my life and loved even more as I shared it with some of my closest friends.

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We drove back down the mountain and over to Upper Hadlock Pond, where we left the car and began our morning’s hike, which one guidebook lovingly calls Peak Bagger’s Delight because you can summit four peaks with relatively low mileage. Sure enough, before long, we had make it to our first peak, Bald Peak.

We had made such an early start that we had the trails entirely to ourselves, and we were on our second summit, Parkman Mountain, by 8:00. We continued to have stunningly gorgeous weather, which we were very fortunate to have for almost all of our time in Maine.

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The troops began to tire as we approached the top of Gilmore Peak, but our hike was far from over.

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Another push took us to the top of Sargent Mountain, Acadia’s second highest peak, where there were more panoramic views, a bit of a rest, and, best of all, snack.

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From Sargent, we were due to head back down to the car. But it was still very early, much too early for lunch, and though there was a bit of dissent among the ranks, I guided us onward to the top of yet another mountain, Penobscot Mountain. The hidden benefit of this added effort was that we would pass one of Acadia’s few truly hidden gems, Sargent Mountain Pond.

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By the time we got to the pond, we were all hot and tired, and we peeled off our clothes and dove in to the small body of water (allegedly Maine’s first lake). It was unbelievably refreshing, and so quiet and secluded, and we swam and splashed for a while.

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From the pond, we bee-lined back to the car, where the scene was quite a bit more crowded than when we had left it before 6:30.

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By the time we returned to the car, it was noon, and we were all more than ready for a hearty lunch. So we drove down into Northeast Harbor to one of my oldest favorite places, the Docksider. Though the restaurant is world-famous for its lobster roll, I’m a relative newcomer to that menu item, as my seafood odyssey is much newer than my family’s Maine tradition. But lobster roll it was, except for Seth, our resident vegetarian. We each also began with a cup of chowder.

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Though I of course was overcome by nostalgia, temporarily incapable of rational analysis, and completely in love with the food, there was not overwhelming delight with the lobster roll at the table, unfortunately.

After lunch, we headed home for some much needed naps and relaxation after a quick grocery stop in Northeast Harbor. We drove back across the island for an early movie at Reel Pizza, my personal favorite movie theater. You order pizza in the lobby and are alerted that your order’s ready using a bingo board in each theater. Even better, the pizza is phenomenal. We went for the Babette’s Feast — chicken, avocado, roasted garlic, walnuts and sweet red pepper sauce — and the Five Easy Pieces — breaded eggplant, spinach, garlic, summer squash and tomato. Both excellent.

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Our film for the evening was “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” a fantasy based loosely on the real-life location of Isle de Jean Charles, where people continue to live on land that lies outside the levee system and is therefore sinking into the sea. The film, which had a mixed reception among the group, seemed to ask more questions than it answered, and for me personally, it was difficult to enjoy a story described as fantasy without desperately trying to understand how much of it pertained to actual lives in coastal Louisiana. We spent much of the drive home frantically researching the movie’s origins and the reality of the Louisiana bayou.

We continued the vigorous discussion over port when we arrived home, and before long, we were all heading off to bed, exhausted by the day’s agenda.

Up a mountain (and back down again)

Written by Emmy on 17 September 2012

I learned to ski at a very, very young age. There are photos of a year-old Emmy bundled up, smaller than the scarf thoughtfully draped around me, standing between my parents’ legs as they prepare to take on the mountain. Many of my childhood vacations centered around snow-filled mountains and days spent in ski school. (Fun fact: I met Chaz’s friend Diana when we spent a week together shuffling around the mountain at age 9.)

This is all to say that a snowy mountain crowded with skiers is a familiar sight to me. This, less so:

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Vail Mountain, a place I have been many times, looks very different without snow covering its sides. On a quick weekend trip with my family in late July, I could not stop commenting on how strange the mountain looked with chairlifts running and trails visible – but lined with grass and mud, not snow and ice.

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The back story: My dad had a business trip that took him out to the area and never a group to pass up on an adventure, the Liss family followed along. So on a Friday night in July, I landed in Colorado very late at night, following a crazy work week, and in just the right mood for an open-air vacation. So we all woke up on Saturday morning, surrounded by trees and mountains, and ready to go.

Given our historic visits to Vail, we’ve skied down the front of the mountain many a time. But up? In summer, that does seem to be the way to go. So we walked our way to the base of Golden Peak, one portion of the Vail area, and started up the side of a familiar mountain face.

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The hike was strenuous (steep mountains + altitude + a lifestyle of sitting at my desk in front of a computer) and unbelievably gorgeous, but also the source of a bit of cognitive dissonance as we came across posts for ski trails and markers for where the snow makers normally reside.

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Several hours after we began (and it’s only a 15-minute chairlift ride; truly quite deceptive) we arrived at the top and were provided a bird’s eye view of the mountain and its surroundings.

Before having to head back down for a work meeting, my father paid tribute to the beautiful landscape surrounding us.

The other four of us – my mom, sisters Jessica and Alix, and me – took the when-in-Rome approach, or rather the when-on-top-of-a-mountain-in-the-Wild-West approach, and tucked into a hearty lunch at the smokehouse on top of the mountain. We felt very deserving of our (aggressive) barbecued brisket sandwiches.

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To complete the somewhat reversed nature of our journey, we hopped onto the gondola atop the mountain and rode it down to the bottom, looking out at the tree-lined hill as we went. (Well, some of us looked out. It can be a bit disorienting and nauseating to descend in such a fashion…)

IMG_9216Alix Liss, woman of the mountains

Back a bit closer to sea level, we sat ourselves down by a lovely creek to read and bask in the afternoon light. A very welcome change from the hustle bustle of my usual Saturday afternoon.

We spent the rest of the weekend maintaining a similar balance between family time, aggressive athletic activity and delicious local eats. On Sunday, we boarded a raft and made our way several miles down the Colorado River through a handful of raging rapids. (My camera did not make this journey with us.)

The following day, we attended a cooking demonstration, where local chefs showed us what exactly you should do with the fish that come from the Colorado.

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During the course of the lunchtime cooking tutorial, we learned all about the fresh ingredients grown and sourced from the area. The main attraction was a local fish, sliced and deboned, and then cooked with crab on top of it. We learned the secrets of fruit-based gazpacho (who knew??) and fancy Italian dessert cookies.

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We spent a decent amount of time riding around the area on bikes, which was another new way of seeing Vail. Biking on ice-covered roads is not something we’ve ever entertained as an option, but grassy summertime paths are a different story altogether.

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All in all, it was a great long weekend with my family, a nice escape from the city, and a wonderful trip to a familiar place.

A night in the white dunes

Written by Chaz on 30 July 2012

IMG_1943Eric and I continued our journey east from Las Cruces through the Organ Mountains, headed toward White Sands National Monument. Based on a bit of Internet research I had done, we took a short driving detour through the Organ Mountain National Recreation Area, which sits just east of town on Bureau of Land Management land. It turned out to be a perfect detour on a hot desert day: a one-way scenic drive into the small but dramatic cluster of mountains that looped right back to the highway.

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White Sands National Monument is encompassed entirely by the enormous White Sands Missile Range, the largest military installation in the United States and the site of the Trinity nuclear test. Fortunately, lawmakers had the foresight to carve out the most beautiful portion for protection as a national monument. But the rest of the missile range remains in some mysterious use by the military, and in fact the park and the highway through it are closed from time to time to allow for unknown military exercises. Already, from the Organ Mountains drive, we could see mysterious government buildings out to the east in the middle of the desert, and we were warned to mind our business by a rather ominous sign.

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Returning to the highway, we pushed east toward the monument, stopping only briefly at a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint that was nearly 100 miles from the Mexican border. I had no idea that these internal checkpoints existed, much less that they could possibly be constitutional, especially since the only check performed seemed to be whether the occupants of each car were white. But there it was, and of course, Eric and I were waved through the absurd checkpoint without even a question.

The entrance to the national monument lay just beyond, and we pulled into the visitor center to register for the backcountry permit that would allow us to hike and in spend the night. At 4:30, only three of the 10 campsites had been reserved, so we had our pick of sites, choosing one that was a little further in so that we would be less likely to see other campers. The park ranger also gave us a stern warning about unexploded munitions that could still be scattered around the park from military tests of yesteryear. Given that the park is sand dune after sand dune, the chance that you would actually be able to avoid stepping on an unexploded munition seems low. Fortunately, we ended up emerging alive.

We stopped to apply sunscreen, since even in the late afternoon the sun was still roasting the desert, and were then ready to begin exploring.

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Our first stop along the eight-mile Dunes Drive was the Playa Trail, a short walk into a desert playa, essentially the remainder of what was long ago a lake. Though the park’s trademark white sand dunes were visible in the distance, we were not quite there.

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Our second stop was at the Dune Life Nature Trail, a loop trail that took us deeper into the beautiful white dunes. Our walk was narrated on a series of signs by Katy the Kit Fox, who explained that not very much wildlife is able to survive in the dunes, because there just isn’t anything to eat — not to mention the lack of water.

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But, as the signs explained, some things can survive in the dunes. Two struck me as noteworthy. In some places in the dunes, there are actually cottonwood trees growing right out of the sand. Cottonwood trees thrive near riverbeds, and because they need so much water, that’s usually the only place they can be found. In fact, the last time I saw them was along the Virgin River gorge when we were in Zion National Park. How, then, can they possible exist in a place as dry as White Sands? Apparently a generous aquifer is just a few feet below the surface in some places. You’d never know it from the surface. But these trees have their roots essentially in a riverbed, just as they like it.

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The second amazing bit of wildlife was three species of lizard that have all evolved, only within White Sands, to be white instead of their original darker colors so that they can avoid predators. As the dunes are only about 6,000 years old, this evolution is much, much faster than you can usually find anywhere else, and as a result, the lizards have gained national attention. The darker lizards must have been simply unable to survive at all.

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Returning to the car, we made one more stop at the Interdune Boardwalk, a short promenade into the dunes where we asked a stranger to take a picture of us.

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We drove the rest of the Dunes Drive around to the backcountry camping parking lot. On the way, we saw people engaging in what is apparently one of the most popular draws of the park: sledding. In a flat place that won’t get much snow, the dunes are a fun place to sled year-round.

The backcountry campsites are arranged around a loop trail, each about a mile’s hike from the parking lot — somewhat closer to the car than my last backcountry experience. We stopped in the parking lot to get our things together before heading into the dunes. It was a bit more organized than in the parking lot of the North Kaibab Trail, starting with the fact that we had actual backpacks.

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Along the mile-long walk to our campsite, we began to hit the true unadulterated beauty of White Sands. The unblemished snow-white dunes were unreal in their scale and grandeur, especially as the sun began to hang lower over the desert. If you visit White Sands and do not opt for the five-mile Alkali Flat Trail, I highly recommend the backcountry camping trail as a much shorter but equally beautiful alternative.

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We arrived shortly at our campsite and set up our tent in our incredible surroundings.

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Though our tent was in a dune basin, we climbed to the top of the closest dune to make dinner and watch the sunset. We had brought freeze-dried chicken and rice for dinner. Expiration date: “lasts for years.” We set up the camp stove and began to boil water as the evening light fell over the endless ridges of white sand that surrounded us.

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After we resolved some technical difficulties with our camp stove, the water boiled and we poured it into the plastic bags of dried chicken and rice. A few minutes later, our delicious feast was ready.

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As we watched the sunset from our position atop the dunes, we could see a forest fire raging far in the distance. Little did we know how close it would end up being to Eric’s vacation house in Ruidoso.

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We rose at 5:30 on Saturday morning and struck camp, stuffing everything back into our backpacks for the short hike back to the parking lot. The dunes looked radiant in the early-morning light.

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We had a quick bite to eat at the car before driving to the trailhead of the Alkali Flat Trail, a longer five-mile jaunt into the dunes. We rose early to avoid the extreme desert heat that the day would bring, and sure enough, the temperature had not reached 80 degrees by the time we returned to the car at about 8:30. Our 6:30 start also meant we were the only people on the trail, as the gates to the park aren’t open until 7:00. The only way to be inside the park earlier than that is to spend the night.

The Alkali Flat Trail, which guided us using a series of plastic orange posts that sometimes were not as evident as one might like, took us nearly to the edge of the dunes, where the sand fades into a large alkali flat. Off in the distance we could see more military buildings.

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We returned to the car, tired but accomplished, and logged our time-out in the trail register in the parking lot, presumably used to make sure no one is lost in the dunes.

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Though we didn’t meet Katy the Kit Fox during our time in the park, we did see evidence of plenty of wildlife. Seemingly around every turn was a new set of footprints, some apparently from mammals or birds, others from a creature we had been warned about at the visitor center — the stinkbug.

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I had wanted to visit White Sands for a while, since I realized how close it was to Eric’s vacation house in Ruidoso, and my eagerness grew when I discovered you could spend the night deep in the dunes, which sounded like a particularly exciting way to experience the park. The adventure didn’t disappoint. White Sands was absolutely beautiful, and spending the night under the stars among the dunes rated up there with our night in the Grand Canyon. As we explored the park’s trails, each fresh vista of dune after white dune was breathtakingly different from anything I’d seen before elsewhere.

We drove out of the park and turned east again, toward Alamogordo and lunch.

Chilean summer in December

Written by Emmy on 2 February 2012

Never ones to sit still for too long, the Liss family took off for another adventure in late December. With everyone miraculously off from school and work for the week, we set our eyes south — way south. Very late on Christmas Eve, an evening when JFK is particularly concentrated with traveling Jews, we boarded a flight bound for Santiago.

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On our whirlwind tour of Chile, we planned to cover a lot of ground. We landed in Santiago early in the morning with plans to connect to a flight headed south. First we had to claim our bags, go through customs and re-check them. Simple, right? Well, as documented on many checkpoint adventures, a picnic basket for the plane is crucial. And the Liss family is always prepared. However, the Chilean border control was not so thrilled by our picnic basket of clementines. Our lengthy layover suddenly became a lot shorter once my father was finished with his official interrogation.

Finally we arrived in Puerto Varas in the southern lakes district, surrounded by mountains, volcanoes, lakes and national parks. We claimed our Chilean SUV and piled in, headed further south. Because Chile is so narrow, we passed as many signs for Argentina as we did for domestic cities (prompting my father to continuously sign the central refrain from Evita’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”).

We arrived in the picturesque town of Villarica in time for a very late lunch by the lake. Following our long day of travels, we all took a rest by the waterfront under the delightful summer sun.

The town sits under the shadow of the volcano by the same name, which is still very active. Even from a distance, once the light was quite right, we could see little sulfur clouds puffing up from the snow-topped peak. Our hotel was situated just between the village of Villarica and the slightly larger town of Pucón just a few kilometers away. We explored Pucón later that day, taking in some light fare at the adorably named Mamas & Tapas and contemplating our adventuring options for the coming days.

Despite its regular activity, Villarica is a very user-friendly volcano. During the winter it serves as a ski slope and during the summer as a place for climbers, though it always maintains a thin layer of snow and ice. Climbing the whole things is an ordeal largely because of the snow. You need to start very early in the morning in order to finish before the daily melt, which can be incredibly dangerous. Most people sled down after reaching the summit.

We opted to climb from the base just up to where the first snow could be spotted, walking next to the chairlift operational the other half of the year. One of my sisters likened the experience to walking up a ski slope (which we were, in fact, doing) because of how steep the brief climb was. The view of the Andes from the (semi-)top was incredible.

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We took a quick lunch break before heading out into some more nature. The region is filled with national parks and having explored the volcanos, it was time for the lakes.

Chaz and I noted while out west that America’s national parks had the bare minimum in signage; just enough to make it clear where you’re going, but not so much that it’s overbearing. Chilean national parks take a much more relaxed approach, by which I mean: there are no signs. No signs in English, no signs in Spanish, and only sheep to seek directions from.

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After several wrong turns, we found what sort of looked like a hiking trail. Once on it, the signage was still pretty unclear. We knew we were walking to a lake, but we had no idea how far it would be nor did we have any confirmation that we were actually going in the right direction. We hiked for a few hours, and it’s not clear that we found our intended destination, but the scenery along the way was still pretty breathtaking.

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After making our way back to the car — using not quite exactly the same route we had taken to get there — we returned to the village of Pucón for dinner. Chileans are big on grilling; most restaurants have a large sign outside advertising the parilla. We chose one such place and ordered fresh fish and steaks. I was served the largest, most aggressive piece of salmon I have ever seen. It could have easily served three people. My father took his extra steak back to the hotel to make it into a sandwich for the car the next day. We also had grilled tomatoes with parmesan cheese, which were excellent.

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The next morning we set off in our vehicle for points further south. During the early part of the 1900s, for economic and political reasons, Chile experienced a mass migration from Germany, Austria and surrounding nations. As a result, some of Chile’s little villages look more like they belong in the Alps than the Andes. Cafes offer German coffees and cakes served alongside little wooden bridges and lakeside cottages. We stopped in a few villages for sightseeing and refreshment.

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Our drive wound through the various lakes and volcanoes of the area and as the fog lifted, we could see Vulcan Osorno rising in the distance. Osorno is one of Chile’s largest, though it has not had an active eruption in a few decades.

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During the early part of our drive Osorno had been shrouded in clouds and so when it finally emerged, we were quite pleased and turned a little bit paparazzi.

We kept driving until we hit Puerto Varas, one of the larger lakefront towns in the region and where we would be staying that evening. We planned to keep driving a bit further to one of the more famous of the region’s lakes, but decided to pause for lunch while in town.

Chileans love empanadas, which I had assumed, given that this is their place of origin. So we had a few of those and they were pretty delicious.

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But what I was intrigued to learn upon our arrival down south is that Chileans love sandwiches. Sandwiches here are big and delicious and filled with things I love. Avocados are sold by the barrel down here (literally) and cost absolutely nothing compared to the going rate in the U.S. Chileans also seem to be pretty religious about their bread making. Pan casera, which translates to “homemade bread,” is found in warm, delightful abundance. Small rolls graced every table we sat down to and the larger versions were stuffed with sandwich ingredients, like my chicken, avocado, tomato delight from Dane’s in Puerto Varas.

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Like most food items we had in Chile, we discovered after ordering that we could have easily ordered half as many entrees and been, collectively, just as satisfied. There is definitely a go-big-or-go-home mentality to Chilean eating.

Fighting off our sandwich-induced food coma, we piled back into the car and headed to Lago Todos Los Santos, one of the largest of Chile’s lakes and a featured item in the New York Times’ must-see in 2011 list. (We squeezed it in just under the wire.)

We arrived at the lake, which is inside another large national park, and encountered the same scarcity of information that we had dealt with the day before. The welcome station was closed (despite signs indicating that it should be open), there were no brochures available and the one posted map had been all but destroyed. We found the park’s emergency medical clinic and I tried to extract some logistical information from the chief medic. Meanwhile, my father located the boat launching station and by waving a few bills and his key Spanish vocabulary words, secured passage for the five of us.

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The lake is large and beautiful, surrounded by the nearby volcanos and mountains. The lake is also quite long and if you sail its full length, will eventually find yourself in Bariloche, Argentina. However, that would have taken quite a few hours in our little motorboat and so we just puttered around a portion of it.

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Had we continued further south from Todos Los Santos, we would have come to the national park found on the island at Chiloe — the furthest point north where penguins can be found. I have wanted to see penguins in their natural habitat ever since “March of the Penguins” (and also “Happy Feet”), but Chiloe was several hours away. We decided to save the waddles for another visit.

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We headed back to the town of Puerto Varas for dinner. The majority of restaurants open for dinnertime bore close resemblance to the little cafe where we had eaten our colossal lunchtime sandwiches. We found a nice Mediterranean restaurant among the casual cafes and three-fifths of us ordered a stewed chicken with vegetables and a pea puree, served with the same familiar basketful of warm local rolls.

We retired to bed and early the next morning hopped back in our SUV, ending our brief, adventurous jaunt through the southern Chilean wilderness.

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Emerging from the canyon’s depths

Written by Chaz on 7 October 2011

The alarm went off at 4 a.m., and we were up and striking camp by 4:15. We had made the decision after packing all our things the day before that we could afford to bring the requisite items for making hot coffee, and I was extremely grateful that we did. (Even if we did have to both drink the coffee straight out of the percolator.)

Though it took us a little while to take down the tent, pack everything up and tie everything back onto our backpacks, both of our packs ended up much more securely attached than they had been the day before, when there had been a little bit of uncomfortable shifting back and forth. Given that we had the much harder trek out of the canyon ahead of us, we were both happy about that.

We got on the trail at about 5:45 after filling our water bottles and making one last stop at the composting toilets at our campground. Though the sun was still at least an hour from rising over the crest of the canyon, it was already light out, and we were able to put away our flashlights nearly immediately. We made excellent time, setting a timer to ensure that we took regular stops for hydration and snacking. We took a long stop for more turkey-muenster-avocado sandwiches, and to prop our legs up, which we read helps your body drain waste products out of your leg muscles to reduce soreness. (Ew, though.) We met a few interesting people along the way and enjoyed sharing and hearing Grand Canyon stories.By the end, we were sharing our tips, experts that we had become.

Though the last, steepest 1.7-mile section after Supai Tunnel wasn’t exactly fun, the hike out really wasn’t that bad, and we returned to Dorothy in a mood of extreme triumph by about 10:15. We threw all our things in the car, refilled our water bottles, and headed back down to the North Rim Lodge, where we walked out onto Bright Angel Point to reflect on where we had just come from.

After a few more bathroom stops (that hydration really gets to you), we drove away from the rim to a picnic area that overlooks the canyon for one last meal with a view. We couldn’t resist a celebratory cocktail — we considered that we had more than earned it — and we whipped up the leftovers from Mexico night as well as some macaroni and cheese, doctored to have some Southwestern flair.

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Amazing memories made, we packed everything back into Dorothy and said our goodbyes to the Grand Canyon, grateful for a wonderful visit.