Attempting the Summit of Pico Duarte: Part 2

PART 2: GETTING LOST AND DRIVING ON DIRT ROADS

One of the nicer dirt roads on the way to Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

I don’t remember what clued us into the fact that we were driving the wrong way, but it had been an hour since we had seen the last sign for… anything, and we wanted to play it safe. After all, both my travel partner, Martin, and I were keen on making it to the top of Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Caribbean. Getting lost in the forests at its base would make that hard and we didn’t have time to waste. With just two days to make our attempt (most people take at least three full days), a failure that morning meant the entire thing was off.

Our powerful little rental car, Tina (c) ABR 2016

Luckily, Martin was fluent in Spanish, making turning around to ask for directions fruitful. Some people eating at a streetside restaurant pointed us down a road being re-paved when we told them the name of the town we were trying to reach.

“But you can’t go that way now,” one man remarked, gesturing at the heavy machinery blocking the way. I felt my heart sink. “There’s another road, but we’ll send someone with you, because it’s small and hard to find.” Another man put down his hard-earned lunch and dropped his conversations to hop on his motorcycle. We followed him back into town, and turned onto… a dirt road.

The good part of the dirt road; that little red dot is the guy leading us to town (c) ABR 2016

Let’s pause here to discuss dirt roads. Some dirt roads are no problem for almost any vehicle. Some dirt roads are fine for my Acura which can barely handle pot-holes on the freeway. Some dirt roads might as well be paved, because they are nice and flat and their only downside is all the dust you kick up driving on them.

This was not one of those dirt roads.

But there wasn’t much of a choice at that point. A kind man had stopped mid-lunch to guide us, and neither of us felt like we could turn back now. So, we followed that motor bike, on a road where divots and holes slowly grew where water ran and pooled into them when it rained. Then, up a steep hill that crested so sharply that I thought we might just balance out on the top and have to stay there.  Onward our guide took us through construction sites, literally weaving our way between massive digging machines as they worked, and along roads with deep mud.

The road down into the construction zone (c) ABR 2016

Finally we followed him through a little town with no sign to clue us in to its name, up an embankment, and into the dirt parking lot of Armando Bermudez National Park. Tina had lived up to her name as far as I was concerned. I was proud of her and me for making it to that point. Now, we just had to find the man that our friend had told us about, who would help us set up our trip and make it to the summit…

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Attempting the Summit of Pico Duarte: Part 1

PART 1: AS LONG AS THERE AREN’T DIRT ROADS

Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

I lived in the Dominican Republic for the summer of 2016; there for my PhD field season to study one of the world’s most unique whale watching destinations. It was my first time really living on my own in another country (and perhaps my last), and between bouts of anxiety about bus rides and car accidents, I was primed to explore.

Near my home in Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

Hiking Pico Duarte, the tallest mountain in the Dominican Republic and the whole of the Caribbean, was on my bucketlist from day one. Having little experience with hiking in the tropics, I was thirsty for some new adventure, and interested in the ecological rainbow that was no doubt present as one worked their way up from the rainforest at the mountain’s base, to its sparsely forested top.

There was just one problem, most of the tours to the top of Pico Duarte cost between $300-$500,far outside of my budget as a graduate student. It seemed like the mountain was out of my reach, until my growing desire to plod up its slopes led me to ask my Dominican advisor if he had any ideas about making the trip happen.

Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

“How are you driving on mountain roads?” He asked. I wasn’t concerned. I made a hobby out of driving up the Catalinas outside of Tucson during my undergrad, I spent a summer driving up and down the snaking roads of Mt. Graham, and I had just returned from a road trip through the Scottish highlands.

“If there aren’t dirt roads,” I replied. “I will be fine.” My vehicle for the summer was a small Nissan Versa Note, which I had duly named ‘Tina’ after my favorite character in Bob’s Burgers.

Tina’s preferred habitat (c) ABR 2016

“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “Just be careful about driving on the winding roads. Honk at the corners, go slow.” Ah yes, driving in the Dominican Republic is notorious. Did you know that? The World Atlas rates the DR as the #1 country for car accident deaths in the world. After driving there for a summer, I wouldn’t be surprised if it just happens to be related to  the motorcycles that are EVERYWHERE, or the fact that people casually drive drunk. Defensive driving is a 100% must in the Dominican Republic, and most people advise against you driving there at all. So, I got where he was coming from.

Where I was inspired to seek this adventure (c) ABR 2016

I was fairly confident that I could handle it. It was just those pesky dirty roads that little Tina wasn’t equipped to deal with.

So, he gave me directions to a small, small village at the base of the mountain, and told me the name of a man that my hiking buddy and I were to look for there…

Backyard Discoveries: Unexpected Beauty at Arcosanti

Part of the fun of traveling is doing something unplanned.

I was driving back down from Northern Arizona where I had just gone snowboarding (aka, falling on my behind allllll the way down a small hill) for the first time, and I saw the sign for Arcosanti.

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From what I knew about Arcosanti, which was admittedly very little, it was small artistic community. Already late in the afternoon, I wasn’t sure if they’d be open. WERE they even open to the public? If so, would they be open now – did art even HAVE hours?

I shrugged and took the exit anyway. I had time and nothing to lose.

The exit made way to a dirt road which eventually wound its way to the entrance (I took a little longer than usual to make some excited noises at a few cows on the side of the road who continued to not care about my existence).

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I was greeted by a sign that gave me pause. An urban laboratory? What kind of diabolical experiments could be taking place here? Completely unsure what that meant, I continued on (bravely, stupidly or both) to meet my fate.

And I was pleasantly surprised by a light breeze, blowing through the open plateau of space that the Arcosanti visitor center sits on, the bronze and ceramic bells hanging around the property awake with noise.

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The bells are everywhere across Arcosanti, created by artists-in-residence (and sold on-site and online if you want to get your paws on ‘em). No bell is quite the same – different shapes, sizes and designs – but all of them bear the mark of Paolo Soleri.

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Soleri was the founder, the dreamer, the architect of Arcosanti. You learn more about Paolo and how they’ve kept his hope of a self-sustaining and eco-friendly community alive if you take the tour. Tours run about an hour starting at 10 a.m. and are donations-based, so BE NICE. Check their website or call to be sure, because they do charge for specialty tours (non-English, etc.). I also 100% recommend the tour because if you don’t join a tour, you’re not allowed to wander. Which means you’re stuck at the visitor’s center and miss all the history, learning about how the Arcosanti runs now and seriously cool architecture.

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The next time you find yourself driving (up or down) the I-17 in Arizona, pop over to Arcosanti for some artistic inspiration (and then stop at Rock Springs Cafe for some pieeeeeee). Or, wherever your travels may take you, think about doing something a little out of the ordinary – it might just end of being one of your favorite parts of the trip.

Stay weird!

xx,
Katie

Week 15: Lookout Circumference Trail

(c) ABR 2017

It’s Easter, and we have a brunch and a dinner to go to. So, I wanted to explore a new trail today that wouldn’t take more than an hour to finish. Lookout Circumference seemed like a good choice.

I have tried to hike this trail once before, but since Lookout is very popular, there are trails crisscrossing all over the mountain, and it can be pretty hard to figure out if you are on the main trail or not, especially in less trafficked spots.

(c) ABR 2017

Luckily, today I didn’t have too much of a problem, although I chose to take some of the smaller trails to avoid crowds here and there, and to make my hike a little longer. I really enjoyed some of these narrow trails; there’s just something extra wild and exciting about them, even in an urban setting.

(c) ABR 2017

I also found a neat little rock carving. I’m not convinced that this is a real petroglyph, but it’s nice to imagine.

21st Century Warriors: Keeping Culture Alive at the Kenshin Dojo

It’s not every day that you see a bunch of guys with swords.

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But there they are. And here I am – not hallucinating or anything, even though it’s already hot enough outside in the early Phoenix springtime to consider sunstroke delusions.

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The only reason I’m not running in the opposite direction, is because these students from the Kenshin Dojo practicing iaido are fighting imaginary enemies, not real ones. This isn’t Feudal Japan, after all.

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Instead, these modern-day warriors are performing for a captive audience at Arizona’s Matsuri Festival. Festival goers are quiet, mouths agape as they watch these movements being executed with precision and grace. After all, how often do you witness an martial art form that’s more than 400 years old?

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I caught up with one of the students afterward, we’ll call him RB for short (to protect his warrior identity), to try and get the skinny on iaido. Read on for the answers to all of your burning questions (or at least some of them).

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NBT: What is iaido? (I ask, BRILLIANTLY.)

RB: Iai refers to ‘the draw’ of the katana (sword) from the saya (scabbard) and Do is loosely translated to ‘the way’. So together, iaido means ‘the way of the draw’.

Iaido is the general term for the art form composed of the kata (techniques) mimicking fighting and killing an opponent. In iaido, it is very important to visualize your enemy, and imagine the combat play out. In our dojo, we say that you must ‘wait for the body to fall’.

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NBT: Tell us more about the cool cats at Kenshin Dojo – the dojo you belong to.

RB: Kenshin Dojo was founded by Sensei Robert Corella just about 30 years ago.

But the style, Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, was founded by Araki (a young samurai) himself as a reward for distinguishing himself to Toyotomi Hideyoshi (a daimyo, or feudal lord/ruler for us normies) in a campaign in Manchuria.

Presently, our Soke (headmaster) is Richo Hayabuchi. The 16th Soke of the style.

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NBT: Are there different levels of skill or belts to be earned? (I says because I knows nothing.)

RB: Iaido doesn’t grant belts, per se, but ranks as issued as a result of being graded (once a year by Soke).

Lower ranks are called Kyu ranks. They are ordered five to one, lowest to highest. Higher ranks are called Dan (pronounced dawn) ranks. They are ordered one to five, again, lowest to highest.

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NBT: Last question! Do you think carrying on these martial arts traditions is important?

RB: Man, good question. Absolutely, I think this important. At a high level, iaido exemplifies an aspect Japanese culture separately from any other martial art. Unlike others, the value of iaido isn’t both practical and spiritual. Iaido isn’t used for self-defense.

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Well, class, this has been Intro to Iaido 101, there WILL be a test on Friday. But seriously, readers, I hope you learned something new and this inspires you to do your own research on iaido or another martial art. Perhaps even take up a class and become your own warrior.

Keep fighting the good fight!

xx,
Katie

5 Reasons You Should Visit Sevastopol Station Before It Plummets Into KG-348

(1) Unbeatable Views: So many space stations are just hanging out in the middle of nowhere, but not Sevastopol. This lovely city in the stars hangs right over the beautiful gas giant, KG-348. Nothing could go wrong in this romantic, breathtaking location.

(2) Your Safety Always Comes First: A lot of us are worried about safety when we travel, but Sevastopol Station is definitely not one of those destinations. There are always Emergency Phones close at hand, and a state-of-the-art medical center just a ten-minute train ride away. Of course, the safety of residents and visitors is a priority for Weyland, so you never need to worry if aliens are running loose or the AI suffers a head cold.

(3) Let APOLLO Handle the Logistics: The APOLLO AI runs Sevastopol, and will take care of all your concerns for you. From public transit to medical care, this AI will keep things sorted for you, and make sure you have nothing to worry about for the duration of your stay. Just sit back and relax with some light reading.

(4) Make Best Friends with a Working Joe: Most androids are made to look as human as possible, and that can be confusing. This is not a problem in Sevastopol, where Working Joes have been made to look like the robots they are. If you want to be best friends with one, feel free! They are really good at hide and seek, and great for thinning out the crowds when you need some space.

(5) Check Exotic Wildlife Off of Your Life List: You wouldn’t think that there would be much by way of wildlife in a space station like this one, and you wouldn’t be wrong. That being said, this is one of just a few places where you can snap a picture of a Xenomorph. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I Can’t Believe I Almost Missed That!: On nearly skipping the Kennedy Space Center and why you shouldn’t

(c) ABR 2017

This December I took an epic road trip through Florida, during which I drove from Jacksonville, all the way down to Key West, and then back. I was focused on seeing the state’s national parks (and I saw all but two!), so the Kennedy Space Center was originally an extra attraction that I slapped into my itinerary at the end of one particularly long day of sightseeing.

When I found myself sitting on the beach in the Cape Canaveral National Seashore after waking up early, visiting two different forts maintained by the National Park Service, and walking around in the historic city of St. Augustine, I realized that I wouldn’t make it to the Space Center in time to see it. It didn’t help that tickets were $50 and parking was $10- if I’m paying $60, I’m going to take my sweet time. So, I gave up on the idea, feeling disappointed that I hadn’t managed to get it into my packed schedule.

(c) ABR 2017

At that point, I figured that I simply wouldn’t visit, and I didn’t think about it again until I was staying in a hotel outside of Orlando. I was planning on spending my last day in one of the Disney parks, but it ended up making me feel too sad, since it is a family tradition to visit Disney together. Dismayed that I was feeling unenthusiastic about one of my favorite places, I eventually came to the conclusion that I should spend the day at the Kennedy Center instead. It is unique to Florida, and I wouldn’t feel too guilty about visiting without my folks.

In retrospect, I am so grateful that I made this decision. I would not have known what I was missing, but it would have been very unfortunate to not visit here. When I first got into the park, I wasn’t sure how things worked, but it turns out that there are two main things to do on an average day here, take the bus tour, and explore the visitor’s center.

(c) ABR 2017

The bus tour takes you to see launch pads, the massive building where shuttles used to be built, and a museum that houses an Apollo ship as well as some very amazing relics. I have to say, this little tour was very emotional for me; getting to see so many places that I had seen in movies and read about in American history was amazing. There is also a recreated space ship launch experience, in which you get to sit in the old launch control room.

(c) ABR 2017

Once you get back to the main park, things are a bit more immersive, but no less amazing. The shuttle experience is extremely well done, from the movie covering the story of the shuttle program’s creation, to the reveal of the Atlantic, and the shuttle experience ride. Seeing the Atlantis may be one of my favorite memories from Florida; it is such a marvel of human ingenuity and imagination.

I would highly suggest visiting the Kennedy Space Center, whether you love history, space, or just a great time. It isn’t to be missed and it is nowhere else in the world.

(c) ABR 2017