Sunday, March 31, 2013

Change is in the air again

The Dolomites in Italy made Mike and I giddy.
It seems I am cursed with a disease that is shared by many, it is a case of itchy feet, it is a desire to set off for the unknown when barely even settled back into home from the last journey. I am feeling the pull again to jump on a plane or get behind the wheel. I know, I know, it’s only been a few weeks since my trip to Puerto Rico and the craziness that ensued there but addiction knows no schedule.

A friend the other day expressed surprise that I was ready to take on another adventure after how many ridiculous things have happened in my last two trips, I have no explanation for it really, I just feel the restlessness inside that means it is time for change.
Off to the Czech Republic countryside to look for rock climbing.

I won’t be taking flight until after I graduate though (and finish the research project I am working on) so it will be after May that I leave. Checking my mailbox everyday for the guide book I ordered I have spent quite a bit of time reminiscing about past trips and dreams for future ones. To anyone who doesn’t personally suffer from my affliction I have a hard time explaining what it is all about but this musing kept coming to me:

When we leave to go traveling, we come back changed. But it wasn’t just being gone that changed us, the change was what sent us out seeking in the first place.
Loving the rainforest trees in Puerto Rico.

Looking for creatures in Borneo.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sometimes you get exactly what you wished for

I should know by now that when you wish for adventure, sometimes get exactly what you wished for.

Last week I spent my spring break in Puerto Rico, I went there to give a talk at a university about creating your own research opportunities as an undergraduate student. The main focus was on the fact that I had raised money to support my own research in Indonesia, not a common occurrence for undergraduates. The talk was not the adventure, the adventure started before I even arrived in PR.

Things first got interesting when I got stuck in the airport in Miami. As the time for us to board the plane came and went the other passengers and I were told that we would be delayed. Once our plane was disembarked by the previous passengers a set of police officers came through the airport in a bee line for the plane. Then our flight was delayed again, indefinitely. The airline said they would put us up in a hotel for the night and fly us the next morning but changed their minds (I am assuming since there were so many of us on the flight it would have gotten quite costly to put us all up) and then our flight was delayed until another plane came in from Texas that we could take to Puerto Rico. After finally boarding at 11:00pm we had to sit on the plane an hour for the last flight attendant, all of whom had been called in from home, arrived at the airport.

At 12am we took off…we arrived in PR at 3:30am, and because the plan had been for the professor at the university to originally pick me up and drive me to the other side of the island I had to now find myself a hotel. As people were swarming the taxi’s that were waiting outside the airport I asked a young couple that looked about my age if I could ride with them to their hotel so I could see if I could find a room. I found out the couple was from North Carolina and went to UNC which is right near Duke, we lived only about 30 minutes from each other when I was in Durham in the fall.

Once we arrived at the hotel I was told they were booked, and that every hotel in town was booked. This was not good news. I decided to just walk the hotel strip until I found one with a room, surely someone had made a reservation and then not showed up, right? Wrong, so so very wrong. The couple was nice and told me they would walk with me even though it was nearly 4am. We hit at least 10 hotels with no luck. When we finally stumbled into the Intercontinental Hotel at 5:30am the manager again said no rooms. I must have looked like I would faint/cry/or punch him because he changed his mind and said there was one room and it would cost $250. After going around and around with him I finally ended up paying $125 plus tax which came out to $165. The most I have ever paid for a hotel room! I think I roomed almost a week in Bali on that amount.

At 6am I fell into bed with the sinking feeling in my stomach that now I had to rent a car in the morning. Two hours later, after tossing and turning with crazy dreams that someone was knocking on my hotel door, I woke up. I was exhausted but could not sleep. I am not one of those super humans who can go with no sleep and remain functional, generally when I get less than 8-9 hours I burst into tears at the hint of stress. Needless to say it was a teary morning. Finally after a $30 breakfast (I had now idea it would cost that at the hotel restaurant- no prices) I booked an enterprise car and I was just getting ready to leave the hotel when I got a phone call. In the hour and a half I had wandered with the wonderful, helpful couple the night before I had offered to give them a ride to the other side of the island when I planned to drive there the next day. They said they would be renting their own car but at the last minute when they weren’t finding one they decided to come with me.

I was elated that I would have companions on the road. We spent the majority of the afternoon driving before we were all famished and we veered off the “highway” to a local food joint. I know some Spanish but not enough to decipher exactly what was on the menu, needless to say I ordered what was suggested and was not disappointed. I got grouper that was pan friend in butter and yellow rice with beans and bacon and a few spicy peppers. Finally I dropped my travel buddies off at their friend’s house who happened to be staying 2 miles down the road from me in Rincón.

Rincón was beautiful, it definitely had a beach town vibe. I wish I could say I lounged by the oceans edge drinking piña coladas, but alas this was a working trip and I had to head to the university. Once at the university in Mayaguez I had meetings with professors, a trip to the zoo, and my talk which all went really well. I was left wishing I had more time and more Spanish in my repertoire so I could really fit in with the graduate students who were so kind and welcoming. But the whirlwind trip was so short before I knew it, it was time to head back to the other side of the island. I helped out the couple that road with me initially and picked them back up for more road trip adventure. And what an adventure it was…

We decided to take the panoramic road which wound up, over, and around the mountains in hairpin twists and turns. One of the best compliments I received recently was that my driving skills “progressed” (or regressed, not sure which) and I was fitting in with Puerto Rican drivers! Now from my experience Puerto Ricans do not drive any worse than Peruvians or Indonesians so it wasn’t super surprising to me when I noticed that stop signs and stop lights were optional. But what was surprising was the speed at which those drivers took the cliff edge turns, wow they could be pro race car drives for sure.

This fenced in area in the jungle felt just like Jurassic Park!
Anyway the drive was long but so beautiful and we literally drove through the fog on the top of a misty rainforest mountain top, it was amazing. Also memorable was the pack (and when I say pack I don’t mean 2 or 3, try more like 10) wild dogs who chased the car when we came around a turn while in the national forest reserve. We were even able to get to El Yunque Rainforest to see the dense, fragrant beast of forest there. I breathed in the sweet air and it felt like home. I know that I am very lucky that I have been able to experience three different rainforests in my life and I can tell you that they are all different and special, it’s not like  you can just say “check, saw a rainforest what’s left on the bucket list”. You will always want more and you will want to return. I might just have to return to Puerto Rico someday, I have unfinished business, I need to actually make it to the beach!

Mmm, tastes like a raspberry!

More Jurassic Park...

Monday, February 18, 2013

The fuss about grad school

The reaction is basically the same, “What!? You aren’t planning on going to graduate school next year?” When I break the news that my plans have changed the first reaction tends to be the same, surprise. Then there is a wealth of second reactions, ranging from the popular, “You’re never going to go back” to the also popular, “What are you going to do for a year before you do go?”

It is probably my fault that these are the reactions I have gotten. For the past two years I have said over and over that I was headed to graduate school to study primates. But I had an eye opening experience in Indonesia and I want to make sure I will be happy going to grad school and more importantly happy with the career I end up with after. If not, what is the point?

Let me drive this point home, if the reason I go to grad school is because that is seen as the obvious next step after undergrad and there isn’t a better reason like, it will help me get a job I want, then I don’t see a reason to go now. School is tough; I am a perfectionist so anything less than 4.0 doesn’t satisfy me.  Although when I want something I don’t mind working hard for it. But when I don’t care about a subject, like chemistry, it is painful to drag myself through the material. So it seems clear to me that if in this time I am taking off I find a good reason to go to grad school then I will go and I am certain I will do an amazing job. If I don’t happen to find a good reason to go and I just go because that is “the next step” I see myself being unhappy as I drag myself through the years it will take to finish. In the later scenario if I don’t have a reason to attend more schooling then what will be the big difference when I am done if I don’t need it for a particular job that I want, yes I will be qualified for more jobs but ones I don’t want to do…does that make sense?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Solo Yolo

If you are unfamiliar with YOLO (you only live once) then I am sorry to say you haven’t been spending enough time on Facebook since this expression is currently trendy. (Which means it is soon to be replaced by the next meme that comes along). Anyway in honor of those mischief makers and uninhibited souls who invoke this particular war-cry I decided to set off on an expedition I have been wary to commit to for some time now. But since you do only live once I figured I needed to get my big girl panties on and just go for it.

I need to preface my story with some facts. For one thing I have a large imagination, I am sort of afraid of the dark (I still run and jump into bed when I turn off the lights), and I have grown up with a family that likes to remind me of what happens to girls when they (insert activity) alone, you get kidnapped/robbed/rapped/etc. Now I know that this is serious business and sometimes unsuspecting women do fall prey to those seeking to take advantage of them, this is a sorry fact of life I wish was not true. Also a fact though is that if we are supposed to be afraid of everything that could harm us in life we might as well not leave our houses (and even there we have plenty that can go wrong so really we’re never totally safe.)

With these facts kept in mind I offer you my solo backpacking trip. This trip has been a long time coming for me, I have always wanted to be brave enough to hike off into the wilderness with my survival essentials on my back and sleep in the forest. For many reasons I had not actually gotten around to doing this. Some of those reasons are listed above. Possessing a very active imagination is great for creativity until you find yourself picturing just how large the strange creature must be that is making that unearthly noise in the dark. Also when one wants to backpack into the wilderness there is certainly going to be long periods of darkness where anything beyond the scope of a small illuminated slice of the world lit up by a headlamp is mysterious and potentially full of things that go bump in the night.

 For these reasons and also the time constraints of internships, college classes, and work, I had not yet ventured alone into the forest. Note: I didn’t discuss the potential threats of being a woman alone in the forest because I believe that being smart about your surroundings and whom you interact with as well as knowing important self-defense, ie. Kick, scream, run, gouge eyes out (and these are things my martial-arts-black-belt-toting boyfriend told me when I asked for self-defense lessons) can make it potentially as safe or safer than being in a city. Plus I have a few really amazing friends that are women, who I look up to, and they have gone many times alone into the wilderness. Anyway back to the point, I hadn’t yet joined these wonderful women in taking a solo trip.

This past weekend I remedied that. I recently bought myself a Big Agnes Copper Spur 1-person tent I strapped that along with my sleeping pad to my backpack, threw in some food, water, and a guidebook to the North Carolina mountains and I was in business. I ended up hiking out 6 and ½ miles, up two mountains (Shortoff Mt. at 2,880’ and The Chimneys at 3,557’). I ended up camping at the top of The Chimneys with an amazing view the other mountains spreading out before me. I can’t say I fell asleep right away, which partially stems from the fact that the tree I picked to hang my food in ended up having a bear sanctuary sign on it and my imagination was plenty amped once I was zipped into my tiny abode. But eventually the length of the hike, ascents and descents of some good elevation, and that it had been 60+ degrees (I got sun-burned!) took over and I fell asleep. In the morning I watched as the sun came up over those beautiful mountains and I hugged myself against the chill of the morning, but also to congratulate myself on finally going it alone.

On my hike back out that day I ran across two guys who were hiking out the opposite direction. I had seen them the previous day on my hike in, and I stopped to ask them if they had camped near the spring that I was going in search of to get water. They gave me directions and then as we were getting ready to part one of the guys looked at me and asked, “Are you going it solo?!” I smiled and told him I was, without missing a beat he followed with, “That’s awesome!” And I have to agree, it felt pretty damn awesome.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


I am currently doing an internship at Duke University, and being here in North Carolina so close to some mountains has been torture since I have been too busy to go visit them. But this past weekend I decided I was going to finally purchase that 1-person tent I have been wanting and just go and do it. But then things didn’t quite work out and I ended up staying in Durham for the weekend.

So instead of just sulking in my bedroom I decided I should go find what wilderness was near here. I went to the Eno River State Park, which is only about 20 minutes from where I am living here. The State park is 3,900 acres and the hiking trails crisscross over and along the river. I think I might have missed the best of the colors but it was still very beautiful and very comforting being in the forest.

If it’s possible a need as basic as that of food and oxygen is time I require in wilderness. Often forgetting this leaves me frazzled and an unenjoyable person to be around. Some people go to church, I go to the woods.

My new water bottle!