December 9, 2017No Comments

Hiking Nevado de Colima (Zapotepetl) in Mexico

At 4,340 meters, Nevado de Colima (a.k.a. Zapotepetl or Tzapotépetl) is the seventh highest peak in Mexico and can be summited within 8 hours starting at Ciudad Guzmán. We had the whole trail to ourselves for the four-hour hike and enjoyed impressive views of neighboring Volcán de Colima along the way up. Volcán de Colima has a history of 40 eruptions (most recently in August 2017) and has deservedly earned the nickname Volcán de Fuego — for this reason, it is not hikable.

How did we get here? It started with an impulsive late-night decision to summit Nevado de Colima while staying in nearby Tapalpa. We foolheartedly entertained the idea of hiking the volcano ourselves when we couldn't find enough information online, but thankfully looked into hiring a guide after consulting others in Tapalpa. From there we connected with Gerardo from Nevado de Colima tours who luckily accepted our last-minute request for a hike the next morning.

At 10 AM, we met our guide Gerardo at Ciudad Guzmán's town plaza, where we picked up fresh carrot juice and tamales from the market square — and tortas as a lunchtime snack for the summit. While Gerardo has a 4WD vehicle available, he suggested driving up to the trailhead with our sedan. This is doable for someone who knows the road well (in Gerardo's case, 10 years of driving up and down the road), but otherwise, a 4WD vehicle recommendation is warranted. Parts of the mountain gravel road were undependable and at the end, our little car couldn't make it up to the 'official' parking lot and we had to drive down part of the pockmarked road backward to find a suitable place to park.

Upon entering Parque Nacional de Nevado de Colima we signed in and pay a small fee of ~30 pesos per person. At around 3,500 meters we encountered a locked gate (a recent addition), to which only guides and officials have the key - hikers who attempt to slip by the gate are typically told to turn back if caught by an official.

Town is covered by volcanic soot, with people investigating the piles of ash. A mountain can be seen in the backdrop.

Ciudad Guzman after one of Volcán de Colima's biggest eruptions in 1913. Residents woke up to a layer of ash 15 centimeters thick. Image source.

Gerardo studied conservation, eco-tourism, and is also a certified mechanic. As a result, he's knowledgeable about local environmental issues and questions you may have relative to the hike and its surroundings. He and the other residents of Ciudad Guzmán opened our eyes to the tremendous environmental strain that avocados have caused in their area. Because of the hip image cultivated around avocados, demand grows at a remarkable rate of 15% a year. This demand has, in turn, created massive deforestation in Mexico (at a rate of 2.5% a year) and pest fumigation has polluted local drinking water and suspected to be the culprit behind liver issues in the local population. With 40% of avocados being grown in Mexico, the country bears the brunt of USA's market demands. Just another reason why you should reconsider your avocado toast addiction. One of the residents actually introduced us to the chayote fruit, a more environmentally-friendly snacking alternative local to the region.

In more optimistic news, Parque Nacional de Nevado de Colima has invested in reforestation efforts, and nurseries of baby fir trees stretch out across the last meters before the trailhead. After parking our car, we walked up to the trailhead near the radio antennas and encountered a group of scientists who were monitoring the sounds of Volcán de Fuego. The area felt tremendously quiet from our perspective, but many of the sounds volcanos make are often below the frequency limit of human hearing, so we bid the scientists goodbye and let the devices do the listening.

Seismic devices listening closely to Volcán de Fuego.

Entering the brush to the right of the road, we began the hike in a temperate forest, surrounded by juniper and oak-fir. The trees soon thinned out and gave way to moss and zacatonales, marking the start of the alpine tundra. Beyond the entry point, the trail was devoid of signage and we would've likely gotten lost after entering the rocky area where it became less obvious where to walk.

Opps look what we got for an extra hour of sleep. The weather is not kind for late-owls.

While not a technical climb, more care was required once we started ascending the mountain. I was thankful for the gloves Gerardo lent, as grasping onto the jagged holds made ascending much easier. We could easily feel the effects of the high altitude, as our breaths got shorter, though luckily we didn't experience any altitude sickness (other than a slight headache after the hike). We suspect that staying overnight at Tapalpa (1,950 m elevation) helped acclimate us. Whenever struggling through high-altitude hikes, I remember the advice I once heard in Peru to "breathe deeply as if you were smelling flowers" and continue to power through.

Fog and clouds occasionally rolled across the landscape, blotting out our view of Volcán de Fuego — our own fault really, as we knew that an earlier start ensured better visibility, but traded the views for some more sleep. While we read reports of Volcán de Fuego temperamentally exploding several times a day and saw photos of hikers with plumes of smoke in the background of their photos, the volcano was silent throughout our hike. Despite the dry months of November to April being peak volcano mountaineering season, we didn't see a single soul on the trail.During breaks, we simply sat and marveled at the quietude and texture of Volcán de Fuego. Recent lava flows and landslides etched lines into its slope, while vegetation settled into the grooves of lava flows.

Once we reached the summit we were treated to 360º views of the Colima Volcanic Complex and scarfed down our lunch by the Flagstaff that marked the summit. We sat and rested in the crater of the extinct Nevado de Colima for about half an hour before setting back down the mountain.

Halfway up the mountain.

Man overlooks mountain view

At the peak, we could see the progress of our 2-hour hike — we started from the antenna on the right!

Three girls at the summit of Nevado de Colima

Above the clouds at the summit of Nevado de Colima.

Man points his hand at horizon to measure the remaining hours of sunlight

Another risk of starting late — you could end up driving down in the dark. Gerardo measures how many hours of sunlight we have left for the rest of the hike and drive down.

Going down was way easier than going up, we even dared running down the last stretch of the hill. Walking back to our car, we heard the sounds of woodpeckers and spotted mountain lion tracks in the volcanic ash. Apparently, pumas, tigrillo, and ocelots are all native to the mountain — though not frequently spotted on Gerardo's trips up the mountain. On the way down, we got pretty close to emptying our tank of gas which would have been disastrous — luckily we were able to get some additional fuel from the officials at the entrance gate of Parque Nacional de Nevado de Colima and got back to Ciudad Guzman just fine.

We ended the night with an impromptu Thankgiving dinner at a local taco place, filled up from the day's adventure, new friends, and delicious food.


The Rundown on Nevado de Colima

How long does it take?

Short way: 8 hour non-technical roundtrip hike - split between a 4-hour drive up the mountain and a 4-hour roundtrip hike.

Long way: 3-day roundtrip thru-hike. More information can be found here.

What to bring

Temperature transitions from hot to cold (70º F - 30º F in November) depending on your elevation and the shade — so layers are key. Nevado means 'snow-covered' for a reason, so prep for snow in the winter months. The terrain comprises of volcanic ash, so hiking shoes are ideal (but it's doable in sneakers!). Gloves are also helpful, as you'll often be grasping onto rocky holds as you ascend and descend. Gerardo, our guide, helped provide helmets as loose rocks from the sandy terrain can get dislodged as you ascend and descend.

Tips

Best months for climbing are the dry seasons of November through May. Start your hike in Ciudad Guzmán with a guide like Gerardo, since it's actually closer to the base than Colima. The earlier in the morning you start your hike the better, as there's a better chance of good visibility - also no cars are allowed up past 2PM. Bring change for entry to the national park - otherwise be prepared to get chocolates in exchange for change if the gatekeepers don't have change on hand. To check volcano conditions, one can peek the livecam and call Proteción Civil in Colima 1 (331) 45944, or as we suggest, secure a guide.


September 4, 2017No Comments

Sharing a Tiny Home in the Woods of New York

“The wild places are where we began. When they end, so do we.”

— David Bower

One August afternoon, Vincent and I found ourselves peering out the window of our New York tiny home, marveling at the red spruce and balsam fir trees that like other natural wonders, may not be around long enough for your grandchildren to see. While we often think of glaciers as the first victims of global warming, you don't need to travel far to see the effects. Instead, our neighboring Adirondack's spruce-fir forests, prove a worthy fighting ground for a rapidly declining community of plants and animals. With the increase in temperature and acid rain deposition, the leaves of mountain spruce-fir forests become stripped of nutrients, and as a result, are now listed at S2S3 —meaning very vulnerable to disappearing from New York. 

We were privileged to witness a part of natural history that is sadly overlooked by those with the power to protect these environments.

In raising awareness on these issues, you can join local communities like MillionTrees, Big Reuse or Lower East Side Ecology (each of which focuses on a variety of environmental subjects: planting trees, diverting construction materials from landfills, and community-based recycling/composting programs), and volunteer to educate your peers on the importance of simple decisions you can make every day to reduce your impact on the environment. Be it finding alternatives to driving, turning off the lights when you leave a room, eating locally and reducing your meat and dairy intake, or recycling and sorting your trash — every small moment counts towards the health of our earth, which has given us absolutely everything to support our life here.

Man resting on bike in woods

Choosing to surround yourself with trees that have been around much longer than you, in a low carbon footprint lifestyle such as a tiny home, even if just for the weekend, instills within you a sense of calm and immense respect for the environment. Furthermore, disconnecting from your email, your phone calls, and the internet, and getting in touch with yourself and with your partner and understanding what it means to be present in a moment, is an immense relief for those city-dwellers that are constantly connected and in need for reevaluating their priorities. Getaway House, a company that rents minimal off-the-grid tiny homes offers just that.

From the start of your experience with Getaway, you understand, that the point of it, in a simple term is — nothing.

Nothing.

Person illuminated by morning sun in wooden cabin

Forget your annoying iPhone alarm — the only wakeup nudge you need is from the sun.

As opposed to planning out your weekend vacation, you are meant to do the opposite of what your schedule-crazy mind is telling you and instead, focus on: nothing. This is truly difficult and can be unnerving at first for the classic "I have a million things to do and a million places to be" mindset of a New Yorker but within hours you'll find yourself submitting to the slower pace of life (partially to the credit of zero cell service and Getaway House's suggested cell lock box). And hopefully, when you return from your Getaway House, you are able to apply what you have experienced from a slice of true, simple, beautiful life to your position within and outlook on modern society. And this tiny home makes it easy with the surrounding woods and unexpected comforts of kitchenware and minty shampoo.

Smoothie Bowl on Bed

Our take of the classic smoothie bowl with fruits, nuts, and coconut flakes brought from home.

Just wake up to the chirping birds, or the wind rustling the leaves, rising from your slumber slowly to appreciate the sounds, the rest of your senses beginning to create their own awareness of nature. You see the sun's rays through the branches tickle the sheets and play orange light and shadow across the ceiling. The drumming of the morning rain lends a rhythm to your day. And finally, when you are ready, Getaway stocks their tiny homes with dry provisions (at a pay per use) that you can eat for a perfect breakfast in bed.

Time melts away as you observe the surrounding area and wander the woods. Take in the details of the tiniest of things while sketching the outlines of bark and the back of a toad. Back in the comforts of your tiny home, browse through the books, learn about the history of the region and the adventures that took place centuries ago exactly where you are, and be architecturally inspired to create your own vision of a tiny home. Even the space-age toilet that creates foil-clad sausage-links of your waste is a phenomenon to marvel at.

Lighting complimentary fire starter from another member of the Shark Tank series. We struggled for a bit, but we had the added challenge of rain drenched kindling.

Memories resurface as you witness the spectacle you are a small part of. How funny to bike along the same ancient foothills that once led Rip Van Winkle to a deep slumber. As our stay in our tiny home was coming to a close, it was hard not to make parallels with his rude awakening as we imagined being thrust back into a different sort of tiny home within 21st century New York City. Could we use this time in the woods to shape how we think about the environment around us and our relationship with technology? For closure, I think about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whose respect for both nature and machines was not of paradox, but in response to what he saw as two forces that guided awareness of each other.

But how can anyone conceive that the machine is an end? It is a tool. As much a tool as is the plough. The microscope is a tool. What disservice do we do the life of the spirit when we analyze the universe through a tool created by the science of optics, or seek to bring together those who love one another and are parted in space?

...

It was only yesterday that we began to pitch our camp in this country of laboratories and power stations, that we took possession of this new, this still unfinished, house we live in. Everything round us is new and different - our concerns, our working habits, our relations with one another.

Our very psychology has been shaken to its foundations, to its most secret recesses. Our notions of separation, absence, distance, return, are reflections of a new set of realities, though the words themselves remain unchanged. To grasp the meaning of the world of today we use a language created to express the world of yesterday. The life of the past seems to us nearer our true natures, but only for the reason that it is nearer our language.

― Antoine de Saint-ExupéryWind, Sand and Stars

woman reading in bed in cabin

The end goal isn't to banish technology and retreat into a hermitage in the woods. Getaway House's tiny home strips us of all distractions, giving us the time and space to examine the natural world around us and our relationship to it. Can we challenge ourselves to use the tools we're most familiar with as a means for ecological responsibility? This will be the question I ask myself as I leave this home for another.


Thank you for reading. Words by Vincent Ribeiro and me, photos from the two of us. We're grateful for Getaway's accommodations & Artist Residency to facilitate this post. As always, our opinions are our own. Check out Getaway House for your chance to recharge in the woods near New York City & Boston.

Do let us know if you a question through a comment below ♡

 

December 28, 2016No Comments

Road Tripping around Iceland

Renting a car is a great way to see Iceland

Traveling at your own pace allows you to soak up all the sights and grants you the freedom and flexibility for spontaneous detours. The famous Ring Road is the most direct way to road trip around Iceland (~832 miles), but we'd argue there's much to see along local roads and winding fjords.

Relish the endless Olís gas station coffees (get the discount card) and make the time for the numerous hot springs you'll pass along the way.

Below, are (1) general FAQs answered (2) places of Interest we mapped out for our trip (3) and a quick language gloss for the nature lover.

The most cost-efficient car-rental options we found were Cars Iceland and Blue Car Rental. 2WDs are a fine option if you plan to stick to the ring road, however; if you plan to take some more unruly roads a 4WD is the way to go. You also have more cost-efficient options if you know how to drive stick shift!
July - August is a popular time to visit Iceland thanks to the sun and warm weather. The downside is steeper prices and more tourists. Shoulder season, September - October has the benefit of off-season rates, fewer people, but comes with greater colder and windier. Many of the campsites are closed during this time (though still accessible).

For us, visiting mid-September offered a great balance between daylight hours, aurora sighting, hiking & camping accessibility, and staying within our budget. However, we were definitely cutting it close with a lot of the longer hiking trails that tend to close past early October.

Winter road tripping comes with its own hazards. We've heard harrowing stories from locals about how snow and lack of visibility led to close calls. More preparation and planning is definitely required. Vegagerdin is a useful site to consult, as it keeps road conditions updated. While, Vegasjá provides a more in-depth view with live webcams and colored indicators that show how many cars have accessed the road.
Our host generously lent us his Kortabók Iceland Road Atlas, which turned out to be a great travel companion that encouraged us to venture beyond ring road. The maps (scaled at 1:300,000) are detailed with topography and intriguing points including abandoned farms, waterfalls, hot pots, and camping grounds. The latter half of the book has camp-site, swimming pool, and museum-specific maps for the entire country – something extraordinarily helpful for finding last-minute camping spots without wifi.
The most dismaying part of our journey was seeing the amount of disrespect towards nature. Iceland's locals and primordial landscape already have it tough with the massive influx of tourists, but what's insane for me to comprehend is the sheer number of people we saw trapezing off-trails through mossy fields and disobeying clear signs not to go beyond fenced off areas. We even recognized a few cordoned off, yet heavily-trodden and now "bald" vistas from popular nature Instagrammers – which was disappointing. It takes AGES for moss to grow back, so think before you consider stepping off the path – believe us, there are countless pictures to be taken without disturbing the nature and allowing others after you to enjoy it as much as you did 🙂
Places of Interest.

Pin symbols correspond to: hikes, camping sites, natural sights, hot springs, churches, restaurants, & points of interest. Clicking the top left icon allows you to filter the categories & see the POIs in list view. Luckily, Iceland is one of the countries you can download an offline map from Google Maps.

*Note access to some of the destinations are season-dependent.

Details of our adventures by region:
South Iceland (Suðurland)

Hiking Fimmvörðuháls

North Iceland (Norðurland)

Horse roundup in Skagafjörður

 

Language Tips.

Northern lights Norðurljós
Glacier Jökull
Mountain peak Tindur
Volcano Eldfjall
Earth Jörð
Lake Stöðuvatn
Waterfall foss
Cliff bjarg
Beach Strönd
Coast Fjara
Fjord Fjörður
Desert Eyðimörk
Highlands Hálendi
Cave Hellir
Swimming pool Sundlaug
Hotspring Hver

December 3, 2016No Comments

Horse roundup in Skagafjörður

In the spring, farmers release their sheep into the wild to graze and roam. It's not uncommon to find sheep wandering in the most extreme of places. While hiking Fimmvörðuháls, we saw some precariously perched on craggy rocks that looked impossible to ascend or descend, while we found another that had unfortunately lost its footing and careened down to the bottom of a canyon we were hiking through.

In Iceland, Fall brings the dangers of extreme weather and malnourishment, so the farmers make a collective effort to bring the sheep home, painstakingly tracking them down by horseback and by foot. Running after the sheep is actually a job you can volunteer for on workaway, if you have sturdy legs and lungs. Each farm is required to contribute volunteers relative to their farm acreage. After all the sheep are brought back, they are sorted back to their original farms based on the tags on their ears.

Iceland sheep wool

Sheep we encountered in Borgarfjörður Eystri.

After a whole spring and summer of roaming, the furthest a sheep goes is within 3 days worth of horseback riding.

As we drove along the northern fjords, we found that the same goes for the famous Icelandic horses. After pulling out of Hofsós, we came across a group of horseback riders who invited us to try their spirit of choice, hot chocolate and Icelandic alcohol, and take a closer look at the horse roundup.

The horses from the valley shifted impatiently in the temporary corral, having grown unfamiliar with confinement. They had been sorted by farm earlier in the day, and the farmers were ready to bring them home. They burst out when the gates were opened and a young teen rider led the team of horses towards their farm. Impressively, the horses followed in an orderly fashion. Punkish manes to butts to shaggy mops to butts to luscious locks. Until one horse broke out from the team, giving rise to an intense chase and eventually a reluctant return to the herd. Skagafjörður's annual horse roundup is especially impressive, considering it's the only county in Iceland where the horses outnumber the people and famous for its horse breeding and training.

The horse roundup brings together all the farms in the valley, and usually wraps up with generous libations and singing, while we were generously invited to join, we had to politely decline and drove to meet our hosts on time, just a few blocks away from the post-roundup festivities.

December 2, 2016No Comments

Hiking Fimmvörðuháls

Finding solitude in Iceland is more difficult than it sounds.

While we're fed a steady stream of Iceland images that seem to be set in the remote wilderness, many of the famous sights and waterfalls are within 5 minutes walk of a parking lot or constantly inundated with selfie-stick wielding tourists. At times you even start to run into tourists – funny for an island that's 39,769 mi² (roughly the size of Maine). One man even remarked to me, "I can't escape the drone! I've been to three sites and the man flying the drone always turns up!"

Accessibility to natural sights is totally underrated – so I'm glad Iceland does a great job of it. However, for those who are looking for some more solitude it often means spending a bit more to rent a 4WD to get into the highlands or strapping on hiking boots. Being on a tight budget, we opted for the latter.

We seized the opportunity to go on a long hike after finding out we had a rare Autumn day of 100% sunshine coming up on via vedur. Our spur of the moment ambition to hike to Þorsmörk, led to some frantic mobile phone research, while pressed against a closed wifi-emitting booth at 11 PM the night prior. We ditched the idea of hiking there from Seljalandsfoss, and opted for the more conventional Fimmvörðuháls trail (aka Five-Cairn Trail) that starts at Skógar.

South Iceland landscapes

Common FAQs about Fimmvörðuháls.

No. Only 4WDs. There is the option to bus to Þorsmörk without the hiking, or bus back after one-way hike (runs from mid-May to mid-October). You can leave your rental car in the Skógafoss public parking lot for free.
The Fimmvörðuháls trail is 25km long (estimated 9-11 hour hike), but it depends on your end destination (see 'Where do I sleep'). Altitudes reach over 1,100 m. We did it in one day, but some prefer to split it into a two day hike.
It's a popular trail, and it is neatly marked with wooden poles, which become tall yellow poles when you reach the glaciers. With good visibility, we had no problems, however; fog can complicate that. You may have difficulty with wayfinding when the ice on the glaciers build up and decrease the visibility of the yellow poles.
This is dependent on the weather. We hiked it at the end of September, some people say ~ October is when it should be off-limits for hikers. Be sure to confirm the trail status with locals establishments.
Check out Ultvist's recommendations. Rain, snow, and high winds are not uncommon, even in the summer, so be sure to be prepared!
Listed by distance: There are two no-frills huts around 16km and 20km into the trail. These huts are small and require booking in advance (and are usually only open mid-June to mid-October, ~65000 ISK). Near the end of the trail into Þorsmörk, is the campground Básar (24km in, N63°40,559 / W19°29,014). Next would be the lodge Skagfjordsskali (28.3km in, 63°40.960 / 19°30.890), and the fanciest for last – Volcano huts (30 km in). You're not allowed to camp off the trail, however; use your judgment if you find yourself in an emergency situation.

Fimmvörðuháls was perhaps the most demanding, yet subliminal hikes I've ever done. You start by climbing to the top of Skogafoss and for some time, you can slake your thirst with glacial run-off that's tumbled down the numerous waterfalls you'll encounter.

Then incredible wind. The scenery transforms into otherworldly hues, as you pass Magni and Móði – spawned by Eyjafjallajokull's 2010 eruption.

volcanos near eyjafjallajokull

Baldvinnsskali hut bathrooms

Outhouse of the newly rebuilt Baldvinnsskali hut.

Volcanoes-iceland

Móði and Magni, the two new craters that emerged from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption.

A monochromatic landscape dramatically opens into the lush vista of the Land of the Gods (Goðaland).

hiking-thorsmork

The river(s) in the distance is the one you would have to cross with your vehicle to drive into Þorsmörk!

Cat’s Spine (Kattarhryggi) calls command of heights, with a real risk of teetering off the either side of the ridge. It's flanked by velvety hillocks and a craggy primordial landscapes.

Thórsmörk-landscape

backpacking-FimmvörðuhálsFimmvorduhals

By the end of Fimmvörðuháls I was definitely on auto-pilot, footslogging my way through due to dehydration (eat sodium-heavy camp food in moderation), though the intoxicating feeling of drifting between planets and fiction is something I'll remember for a lifetime.

We reached an eerily empty Básar at the end of the hike – and as if on cue, the sun set behind the mountains. Soccer nets and burnt campfires seemed frozen by the arrival of autumn, however; fresh bananas in the trash and an up-to-date weather report hinted live habitation. What looked like complete abandonment of the site meant we had our top pick in terms of camping spots. We got to work setting up our tent and cooking ramen and ginger tea for the night.

Despite our minimal packing goals, at the end of the hike, I realized that John McPhee’s The Control of Nature hitched a ride in my backpack. Luckily, the stories of how humans have made foolhardy, cartoonish, and sometimes "successful" attempts to tame nature made for the best tent read-aloud. The chapter Cooling the Lava, an epic hail mary involving dedicated manpower and puny water hoses to stop lava from reaching an Icelandic harbor, seemed fitting to read while nestled in the shadow of Eyjafjallajokull.


Photographs by Vincent Ribeiro and Jocelyn Chuang.

Other great resources that cover hiking Fimmvorðuháls can be found at Spice & Dice, Iceland for 91 days, and Alex Buri's write up on KimKim.

 

January 8, 20161 Comment

Primavera Das Mulheres‬

On International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women we took to the streets to protest House Speaker Eduardo Cunha's efforts to further restrict access to legal abortion for victims of rape and modify the legal definition of sexual violence (PL5069).

End the criminalization of abortion in Brazil

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November 20, 2015No Comments

Surfing in Recreio dos Bandeirantes

Learning how to surf in Recreio dos Bandeirantes with the wonderful team at Rio Surf n Stay.

R. Dr. Raimundo Véras, 1140 - Recreio dos Bandeirantes, Rio de Janeiro - RJ, 22795-115, Brazil

Rio Surf and Stay 2

Rio Surf and Stay