Posts Tagged ‘mountains’


Sarah: Pueblito Sueño del Abuelo

November 27, 2011

Yesterday my friends and I went on an adventure up to la culata (the valley) about a 45-minute drive up into the mountains from Mérida. I’ve been up there before, and I love the drive up because it gets colder by the minute. You get in the car wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and then about 20 minutes up into the mountains everyone is putting their sweatshirts on. Another 20 minutes goes by and the windows are rolled up and some people are getting out their gloves.

We stopped in la culata, but if you were to keep driving for another hour or so, you’d reach el páramo, which is a place high up in the mountain peaks where it’s freezing cold and snowy. I’ve been there once at the beginning of the trip and it was absolutely beautiful. Anyways, the drive up to la culata is on a winding mountain road that passes through little pueblitos (towns) on the way. They are so quaint – the road is lined with colorful little cottage-like shops that sell home-made raspberry wine and candies. It is a popular weekend day-trip for Venezuelans to drive up to la culata to drink wine and admire the beautiful scenery. There are also hundreds of little family owned cabins in la culata that people rent out for the night. My group of friends and I have done that too – it’s a nice get away spot for the weekend, and it’s especially pretty if you can get up early enough to see the sun rise.

On our drive up, we were almost to our destination spot (a quiet spot at the end of a dirt road that is popular because of its beautiful view of the mountains), when we saw a little sign off the side of the road that said “Pueblito Sueño del Abuelo”, which means little town called Grandfather’s Dream. We were curious, especially after following the arrow on the sign down a tiny twisting dirt road that disappeared behind a line of colorful houses. We decided to take a detour and check it out.

We clunked along the dirt road and eventually drove over a little wooden bridge that spanned a babbling creek. We could barely see in front of us due to the fog (clouds, really, we were pretty high up in the mountains at this point) and thick greenery surrounding the skinny dirt road. We wound around another bend and climbed up a steep hill (thanks to 4 wheel drive) until we saw this sign:

“PUEBLITO SUENO DEL ABUELO, Un Rincón para Soñar…” Translation: Town of Grandfather’s Dream: a corner for dreaming…”

So, we parked the car and set out to explore this tiny dream town, tucked away in a corner and hidden by the clouds and mountains.

A woman met us at the gate and opened it for us without saying a word. We all walked through the heavy red door, as a little girl stared silently from her perch on a stone wall amongst a blue hydrangea bush. We walked along a skinny maze-like pathway, under a trellis covered in roses, and over a tiny bridge and trickling stream. And then we were inside the pueblito. It was full of miniature-sized houses and buildings in every color – there were cafes and castles and stores, but no people in sight. So we set off silently with our cameras to explore.

I felt like I was in a dream.

After visiting the pueblito, we continued on our journey further into the mountains to catch the view we’d been waiting for – my goal was to be high enough into the mountains to see the clouds rest on the ground around me. And we did it. We got there before sunset and even met a man on the way who let us take turns riding his horse. I’d say it was a successful trip! Now take a look at what I mean when I say “I felt like I was in a dream” and “we had our heads in the clouds”.


Thomas: a land of many landscapes

November 17, 2011

I’ve written a lot about Argentina’s Capital city of Buenos Aires, I do after all spend 95% of my time there. I haven’t, however, written very much about the rest of Argentina. While doing research on the country last Summer I quickly realized how diverse the Argentinian landscape is. I thought I would dedicate this post to the many beautiful and precious landscapes that make up the 8th largest country in the world (by land area). If only one had enough time and money to visit each of these landscapes. Pictures will have to do for now.

The Northwest

Arid deserts, cracked salt flats, colorful deep canyons, and the Andes Mountainside make up the Northwest region of Argentina. This area is also still home to many of Argentina’s Aymara and Quechua indigenous people. One of best parts of this region is its indigenous influences, from food and music, to clothes and artwork. Of course, if you travel slighting south of the far NW region of Argentina, you will run into the very profitable wine country. Olive oil is also a large industry in the West-NW provinces Cuyo and Mendoza. (See an earlier post for more on wine country)


The Northeast

Recently named on the 7 Wonders of the World, Iguazú Falls is the most spectacular waterfall in the world. It is located in NE Argentina, surrounded by subtropical rainforest, and near the border with Brazil. As a matter of fact, the falls are so big, they are located in both Argentina and Brazil. These falls stretch 2 miles and are comprised of over 250 individual waterfalls. “Poor Niagara!”, exclaimed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt upon visiting Iguazú Falls.

Iguazu Falls

Western Patagonia

Extraordinarily colorful lakes and snow capped mountains highlight the landscape of this region. The beauty, wildlife, and many European cultural influences makes this area the most popular destination within the region of Patagonia.


Eastern Patagonia

I want to highlight Puerto Madryn, a city in the eastern Patagonian coast, and the Valdés Peninsula. This peninsula is most popular for people wanting to see wales leap out of the water just off the coast or to hang out with penguins or hundreds of other marine species. It is one of the world’s great nature preserves, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Puerto Madryn

Southern Patagonia

The end of the world. The southern type of Argentina is shared with Chile and is a gateway for many explorers on their way to Antarctica. Beautiful glaciers and more arctic wildlife can be found here. The city of Ushuaia has become a popular tourist destination for people wanting to climb the glaciers or journey to one of the southern-most point in S. America.

Ushuaia; located on Tierra del Fuego


Sarah: A moment to remember

November 8, 2011

I fell asleep to the sound of rain last night – heavy, crashing, stormy rain who’s sound envelopes your whole body, compressing your eyelids, filling your ears, and forcing you to sleep. I must have had a thousand dreams.

I woke up early this morning to the sound of a rooster crowing. I stretched and pulled back the heavy curtains covering my open window, the only thing separating me from the gorgeous mountain view, fresh air, and clear blue sky. The morning sunshine flooded my bedroom. I love mornings here, they feel so tranquil. Maybe that’s because the mountain barrier surrounding the city keeps the noise out, or maybe because the sound doesn’t wander up this high until later in the day. I always imagine Mérida as a small city embedded in a cluster of mountains at the highest altitude in the world, sitting amongst the clouds. That would explain the chilly mornings, the clean air, the silence, and the strength of the sunlight when I pull back my curtains. I like to picture it that way, even though I know for a fact that Mérida sits at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

I pulled a t-shirt over my tank top and threw my hair into a loose ponytail. I grabbed my book and my glasses and headed for the kitchen – my usual morning escape. I’ve adapted so much to the ways of life here. I silently and mindlessly prepare my café con leche on the stove, without so much as thinking of a coffee maker. I always check the inside of my coffee mug for ants before filling it, and I wipe down the table for the same reason. I take a spoonful of sugar from a giant class jar in the cupboard and add it to my coffee, then sit down at the kitchen island – always on the side facing the window.

I love looking at the mountains. One moment I’ll ever forget is when I was walking home from school alone one night. I was admiring the view of the houses and the mountains as the sun lowered completely behind their peeks and darkness spread over the city. I was trying to trace the rolling outline of the mountain range with my eyes until the darkness was so pure and so thick that it disappeared in front of me. I continued walking and then looked up again when I thought I saw thousands of little stars coming to life in the distance. There were strings of them twinkling way up in the sky, in a distinctive curving pattern. I stopped and stared – amazed – and then realized that what I was seeing weren’t stars at all. They were lights coming on in little houses perched side by side along the curve of the mountain tops. The houses just sat there, like little stars all in a row – like christmas lights strung from peak to peak, twinkling and flickering in the velvet darkness. I felt like I was in the center of the solar system, inside a giant ring of stars and comets. I felt so small standing in the middle of the street, gazing up at the overwhelming sight of the sleeping Andes Mountains, so quiet, steady and powerful.

I soaked up every bit of that moment – the amazement, the first prick of fear, the silence that made me feel as though I was the only person awake in the entire city, the sudden calm and satisfaction that washed over me when I realized what I was looking at. It felt magical, really, that people had lives up there, in little cabins far above the city – far away from the noise and the lights. I wondered how silent it was up there. I imagined a silence so profound that they could hear me breathing at that very moment. That was magical. And so was the thought that I happened to be in just at the right place at the right time, lucky enough to experience this moment – one that I’m sure I’ll never forget.


Alex: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

October 28, 2011

Yesterday, I did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It was life-changing in a way I thought not possible.

I am not a fit man. I am technically obese (I’ll spare you my rant on that system). I also do not handle heights well. I’m not petrified by them, but I certainly do not seek them out. So the idea of an 20-kilometer alpine mountain crossing was not the most attractive idea I have ever heard. I am so glad that I did it.
I’m having trouble articulating this experience in the usual way, which is to say circuitously. So, I’m going to cut straight to the action, and hopefully that will spring my brain into its usual florid, overly philosophical tone.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is 19.3 kilometers long. It climbs up between two mountains, Mount Ngaurahoe (Mount Doom) and Mount Tongariro (not Mount Doom, but also awesome). It takes somewhere in the ballpark of 7 hours, if one does not summit either summit. Experienced a walker as I am, this was massively daunting to me.

But I did it. I soldiered on up the full hour of stair climbing. I kept my cool when I felt as if the wind would literally rip me from the side of the mountain. I walked in shorts in snow up to my knees. I saw massive heights, and in the face of them choked back my abject terror and took in the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen.

We were unable to summit Ngaurahoe, as it is quite steep and quite snow-covered, and requires crampons andice axes, of which we had neither. We did, however, summit Tongariro. It was perhaps the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. The snow was deep, the wind was strong and the heights were dizzying. The sky was clear, and the view in every direction was overwhelming. As I crossed a small, snowy ridge blasted by the wind, with nothing on either side but a steep slope down to a rocky demise, I had to keep my hood closed tight around my head just to limit my periphery and keep my cool. Only once we reached the summit and I was able to sit and hold firmly on to some rocks could I relax enough to keep my heart from beating out of my chest.

The view was absolutely worth every moment of terror. From here, one can see what seems like the entire world. The desert on one side of the mountains, and the rocky scrubland on the other. Down to the forest, and lakes Rotoaira and Taupo. It is truly magnificent.

On the descent from this summit, I saw the the huge red crater and the gorgeous emerald lakes, just beginning to peak out from underneath their frosty winter covering. I was assaulted by the smell of sulfur from the many volcanic vents in the area. I slid down treacherous loose gravel trails.

After all of this there was more walking. Lots more. We descended down past the snow line, and further down to where the vegetation began again. Before we knew it we were walking through sub-tropical forest.

Every part of my body hurt at the end of the day. I was sun-burnt on every exposed piece of skin. My hips, knees, feet, legs, and back all ached from a level of exertion they rarely, if ever see. I am still sore, and I suspect this burn will last some time.

It was fantastic.

Sarah: Fútbol

September 29, 2011

In Venezuela, fútbol is like the mountains, the plants and the storms….


And very different from the U.S.

I went to my first “soccer” game ever in South America on Sunday, and I definitely got a taste of the latin american fútbol scene. The passion these people have for the game of soccer is incredible. My favorite example of this is the huge sign I saw hanging from the fence surrounding the soccer field. It said “pasión y locura” – passion and craziness.

This is what a fútbol stadium looks like in Mérida, Venezuela:

And this is what a football stadium looks like in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It is an amazing feeling to be sitting in the stands on a beautiful, warm, Venezuela evening gazing at the mountains that seem to be swallowing you up from every direction.

And it is an entirely different feeling to be freezing your butt off at TCF Bank Stadium with your friends, watching the Gophers play and smiling when you look up at that oh-so-familiar skyline in the distance.

But they are both exhilerating and give me a rush when I think about them. One makes me realize how lucky I am, how far away I am, and what an incredible experience I’m having.

The other makes me nostalgic, proud, and greatful to have the best family, school and friends in the world waiting for me when I come home to winter in Minnesota.

Needless to say, it would be impossible to forget either one.


Sarah: Andes excursion!

August 27, 2011

Yesterday my group took a trip through the Andes Mountains. Our goal was to find snow…and we did! When we woke up at 7 a.m. it was already almost 80 degrees outside and sunny. I hardly believed our group leader when she told me to bring my North Face, one of my warmest fleece jackets, but after riding on the bus for several hours I started to shiver.

We stopped on the way up the mountains at two places. First, to see this view…

and second, to take a closer look at this lonely mountainside stone church.

After that I didn’t think it could get any more beautiful…

until we got higher up in the mountains.

We finally reached a high enough elevation that we could see snow and sleet (thank you mom for the rain jacket!), and I could see my breath, so we stopped for lunch and a hot chocolate at this little mountain restaurant.

I was starving at this point and was definitely not disappointed with my meal: traditional Venezuelan soup with potatoes, mild white cheese, and cilantro

and chicken in mushroom sauce with seasoned potatoes and “arroz con vino tinto”

After eating, we continued on to our destination and finally reached the snowy peaks of the Andes!

There are really no words to describe what I saw, but what I will never forget the way I felt – thrilled, overwhelmed, a little dizzy from the elevation, and very very cold.

The Andes Mountains are now at the top of my list of most beautiful places in the world.


Mountain climbers.

Monster flowers.

Winter lake.


Rainbow hat.

All in all, it was an excessive amount of beauty to absorb in one day. I think I still feel the adrenaline.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”        – St. Augustine.

What I’m thinking right now: nothing tops traveling and seeing things you NEVER expected to witness with your own eyes.


Kelly: montañas

January 25, 2011

I went mountain hiking/climbing/traversing today! It took my breath away—from the altitude and the spectacular views (excuse the joke). The pictures do the scenery no justice at all.

Rachel, Adam, and I took a taxi (my first taxi ride in Ecuador) to the cable car (Teleférico—the longest in the world) to 4,100 m. We figured we hiked up to about 4,500 m. The hike up took 2.5 hours and the way down took considerably less time. It was fantastic.

There was one point where we were climbing fairly steep rocks—you could call it a cliff in honesty, I think—and I started to freak out (plus I was already a little light-headed from the altitude and looking down). I had to talk to myself out loud to get myself back down the ledge… which is harder to do than going up it.  I hope there will be more time for playing in the mountains. I still am having a difficult time believing that what I saw/did was real.

Click to view slideshow.

After we got to “Quito-level,” we found a restaurant in the touristy area of town and I ordered my first beer here. The Pilsner comes in a glass liter bottle (recycled, I believe) and costs $1.43. Although in reality it’s pretty watery, it was perfect for the moment.

Again, I have failed to read my homework and will be up later than I want to skimming the articles. But really, who wants to do academic work when there are mountains to explore!!

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