Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Playing with others

Ben and I are driving across Wyoming, the night sky already glittering at 5:30 in what would normally be labeled ‘afternoon’. Though it is not snowing, the daze of grey skies and an unending, khaki landscape is a far cry from the blooming Chilean springtime we called home for the past month. Being on the road seems like a bit of a blessing though, able to stretch our legs at will and go at the beat of our own drum…slightly. The journey home is not complete yet; 6 plane rides in the past week brought us to Kansas City last night, where we packed up Forest (our blue Subaru, for those of you who haven’t met) and headed west this morning, in order to arrive in Montana tomorrow, have a quick sleep, and open the mountain on Saturday. Crazy? Maybe. Willing to make use of every vacation day? Absolutely.

I stopped blogging so long ago, I don’t even know where to begin. When in doubt, begin at the end.

In elementary school, we were graded, literally, on our interactions with others. In high school and college, the dreaded ‘group project’ forced us to compile papers and presentations with our peers, seemingly selected at random, but somehow never involving people we actually trusted had a brain in their head. Meant to encourage acceptance, teach life-long cooperation and negotiation skills, and prepare us for a life in the ‘real world’ where things aren’t always going to go according to our specific plans- working with a group as an adult is sometimes fun, often trying, and always good for a laugh and some stories afterward. Let’s face it, every other one dreads working as a group, except those slackers out to do less because they someone else will do more.


The night before beginning our hike on the Inca Trail, we had a ‘briefing’ session at our hotel. Unclear as to what exactly we needed to be briefed about, we were met at 7:00pm by a small Peruvian man who, immediately upon meeting us, stated that he was not our guide. He actually had no idea who our guide was. Whoever it was would pick us up at 5:30 the next morning, he assured. In order to hike the Inca Trail, you must have a guide, meaning you must book through a tour agency. Completely against Ben and my natures, going with a group, especially on a hike, sounded like the perfect way to commit annoyance-induced homicide.


Perhaps our fear stemmed from working with tour groups throughout the greater part of the year at our hotel jobs, or perhaps it stems from our independent traveling nature. Either way, we were on a tour now and we’d have to deal. But we had one question for our non-tour-guide, “Can we hike at our own speed each day?” Completely mortified that we would have to walk at the speed of our slowest link, this was a crucial element of the $600 hike. He assured us that we would be able to carry our own pace, while waiting to meet the group at the designated rest areas.


We awoke the next morning, groggy but excited, and headed out to pick up the remaining 17 in our group. The tour ended up being massive, with 19 hikers, 2 guides, and 20 porters. We hardly paid attention to those getting on the bus around the city of Cuzco, or the porters who leapt onto the bus from a hillside about an hour outside of Cuzco. As we ate breakfast and got on the trail, however, we slowly realized that we had a really young group- everyone in their 20s and early 30s, save for an Indian couple from San Francisco who were scarcely older than that.


Thrilled that we would be with an active group, I started chatting with a gal from Toronto. “So, have you ever done anything like this before?” I prodded. “Actually, no. I’ve never done anything like this. I mean, I walk my dog around the park sometimes,” she responded with a chuckle. That being said, we had an amazing group. Ben and I took turns leading the pack with a Norwegian couple and an Israeli couple, the Norwegian couple usually a half mile ahead of us because they, evidently, weren’t as into the scenery as myself and my new camera.


Though our guide, Raul, insisted we walk as a group, he could never keep up with any of us and consequently gave up telling us what to do. We couldn’t get lost, as there was only one trail, and there was no way in hell any of us was going to linger near him, as he proved to be thoroughly annoying. By day we puffed up thousands of Andean feet, the second day to the notorious ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’ at over 14,000 feet. The Incas were known for their excellent craftsmanship in the working of stone, and the passage to Dead Woman’s Pass was just one ridiculously long and steep stone staircase. Winding through dense rainforest, skirting desert-like hills and hanging above Inca temples and terraces, the trail itself was ever-changing and amazing. By night we collapsed in tents set up by our porters, and ate massive amounts of food prepared by our camp chef.


The bonus about being on a group tour is that everything is included. Three overstuffed square meals were provided for us by our chef and porters every day, who constructed a beautifully ornate spread involving multiple courses. They never all fit on the table all at once. Often a completely unexpected course would appear after we thought we had finished; at breakfast on our third day, a fully-frosted sheet cake materialized after we had finished our bread, jam and pancakes. Nibbling bits of moist banana cake at a table with a tablecloth, I thought, Hm, this must be why the Inca Trail was so expensive. Ah well, better eat another piece of cake!


Copious amounts of coca were also part of our all-inclusive trek to Maccu Piccu, which we chewed, drank, and sucked on as though it were going out of style. In a way, I believe it was a go-to for our guides when they encountered resistance or slow hikers. Feeling the altitude? Just chew some coca, you’ll be fine. Can’t relax? Have some coca tea. Not energetic today? Coca candy. Haven’t gone to the bathroom in a few? Coca. Want to feel like an Inca? Coca.


As I said before, our group turned out to be fantastic- a bunch of liberal-minded and interesting young travelers from around the world with which we shared stories and good humor. We loved them. Couldn’t have asked for a better group. Our guide, on the other hand, was horrible. Our tour actually had two guides, Raul and Jose Luis, but Jose Luis was the ‘Spanish’ guide, exclusively for 6 Argentinians who were sharing our campsites, porters, and food. However, it was Jose Luis who actually had excellent English and knowledge of the Incas, not Raul. Raul repeated the same ten-or-so facts about the Incas (‘facts’ used very loosely here), every time asking us if we knew what he meant (which we didn’t), and repeatedly addressed the group as ‘Senores’ (really, we weren’t). Thus, nearly all spoken interludes headed by Raul went something like this: “Hola Senores, Senores attention please, Senores. Here we have an Inca outpost, you know what I mean? An outpost. You know what I mean? The outpost was used by the runners. The runners, you know what I mean? The runners, Senores.” We usually did not know what he meant, but were fearful of more conversation if we objected. So we didn’t. I am definitely buying some books about the Incas from Amazon when I get home.


The final day of hiking on the Inca Trail is very minimal, only about an hour and a half, followed by a comprehensive tour of Macchu Picchu with your guide. When booking the trail, Ben and I jumped on the opportunity to also purchase permits to climb Huyana Picchu, the peak overlooking Macchu Picchu. This meant we had to be fast in our last day of hiking, so as not to miss our entrance time of 7:30am. Ridiculously enough, all hikers are to wake at 3:30am on their final morning, only to wait in line until 5:30 at the next permit outpost. We waited, and then forged through the masses (of course, our group was one of the last in line at the permit outpost), turning our bodies up a notch and, admittedly,racing to The Sun Gate. We were able to witness a cloud-free sunrise on Macchu Picchu before we made the final summit to Huyana Picchu, where we spent a glorious hour crawling and climbing over the nearly vertical ruins of the Inca temple.


When we returned to meet the group below (no one had Huyana Picchu permits but us) we were exhausted, sweaty, and exhilarated. Our group, on the other hand, looked as though they were ready to strangle Raul.
Stay tuned for the next quip on 'playing with others'...about Chile!












Saturday, November 3, 2012

You know what I mean?

Today, we are exhausted. Ben and I sat for over an hour this afternoon in Cuzco´s Plaza de Armas, staring at a fountain. We then went to ¨the world´s highest Irish pub¨ -at 11,000 feet- and watched the entire Manchester vs Arsenal soccer game. We just came off the Inca Trail, four days of waking early, walking up millions of stairs, and relishing in the company of good people, physical activity, and beautiful scenery. It was fantastic.

Between Arequipa and the Inca Trail, we stayed in the city of Puno (also known as the ´folklore capital´of Peru) for three nights, of which one was spent on the island of Amantani, about three slow-boat-to-china hours out in Lake Titicaca. Only three minutes into our taxi ride from the bus station in Puno, we realized that we were going nowhere. The only information I had obtained before coming to Puno was that the city was known for its festivals, and you would be hard off to be there on a day when there wasn´t a festival going on. Stalemated in our taxi, and only about 5 blocks from the hotel we were to stay at, we realized that the thousands of ornately costumed Puno-ians were not letting up their festivities in the street anytime soon. So, we passed along a couple of soles to our cab driver, grabbed our bags, and headed onto the street. Full of color, a repetitious mantra of music, and costumes of what we assumed to be reflections of folkloric characters filled block upon block of Puno. Being as it was nearly impossible to make our way to our hotel, we set down our bags and, entranced, watched the next hour of parade. We came back later to see more, and then even later to see the pinnacle of dancing in the Plaza de Armas. We even left to take a cruise on Lake Titicaca, and the festivities were still in full force when we returned 2 days later!

The typical touristy thing to do in Puno is take a trip to the islands on Lake Titicaca. We decided to take the regular trip, and then spend the night on the island of Amantani with a local family. Our hotel owner was quite helpful and assured us that it would be cheap, our boat would be fast, and we would have a great time. Nevr one to completely believe things in developing coutnries, we knew it would be fun enough just to be on the lake and see the islands. We left early in the morning and made our first stop at the ´floating´islands of Uros. While historically interesting- the islands are indeed ´floating´built upon a strategic arrangements of reeds and roots- the islands themselves no longer house actual inhabitants, but instead an array of overpriced knick knacks and overly dressed ´traditional´Urosians. It was like a floating section of Epcot Center at Disney World.

A little disappointed in the first section of our journey, we ventured onwards into Lake Titicaca with a great group of internationals on our little putting boat. We watched as every other group of tourists sped past us, and realized that we, again, were on the cheapest trip. Luckily for us, the cheapest trips always have the best compatriots, and we chatted away the three hours to the island of Amantani. We arrived to the beautiful island, where most inhabitants still live as they did hundreds of years ago. We stayed with a local family at their farm, in a comfortable room decked out in Minnie Mouse comforters and ridiculous Peru tourism posters. The members of the community rotate tourists each night, so that each family gets a share of the meager stipend that we paid, and each family only gets tourists once every couple of months. It seemed like a good system from our end, as then the money was evenly distributed. We were able to hike up to the top of the island that night, a beautiful 360 view of Lake Titicaca, with our whole group. Needless to say, Ben and I were at the front of the pack, the altitude of about 12,000 ft only minimally affecting us! It felt great to get out and hike, and the journey upwards was a great confidence booster for the upcoming Inca Trail, which caps at about 14,000 feet.

A group of 6 of us stayed at the same homestead (there were about 20 people total), but ours happened to be the most language-inept of the group. With Ben and I speaking minimal Spanish, we attempted to communicate with some snotty French girls (who also spoke minimal Spanish, and little English) and a couple from Lima who only spoke Spanish. There was a lot of repetition to get conversations going, and altogether our meals were a little tedious. Also of note was the final dinner at the house- a miracuous mix of three starches! We have had issues in Peru with the constant double-starch meals (usually a meat plus potatoes and rice) but this meal was...drumroll...rice, potatoes, AND macaroni (with a thin tomato sauce) though kind of tasty, we dreaded the next 24 hours, when our intestines would surely curl up and die.

Our intestines didn´t die, thank the lord, and we traveled back to Puno the next day to see the end of the weekend long festival (of what, we are unclear), to which we realized that Punoians just love life and love a party! The next day we headed northward to Cuzco, where we´d quickly be scooped away on our trek on the Inca Trail. More on that to come!

Friday, October 26, 2012


Well, I got real close to completing that post without error, but alas, nothing is perfect. I believe I was about to mention the amazing digs we reserved via a website I have tried to use before while traveling, but never worked out. Out room was in the open-air apartment of Gaby and Gawain, a beautiful and extremely quiet second floor apartment equipped with a roof clad in wicker and 360 views of the city and mountains. Not only was it cheaper than a hotel, it felt so homey that Ben and I found ourselves sleeping in, taking daily afternoon naps, and eating dinner on the rooftop. And now my hand is falling asleep, so I must retire for the evening. More on Puno in a few days!

Nasca, Arequipa, y Puno

This is something new for me. I am going to attempt to type a post via my iPod touch. Mostly stemming from my current laziness, I have decided to curl up on the deep foam mattress of our 'matimonial' bed at the Hostal Uros in Puno, Peru and see what comes of my fingers on this tiny keypad. As a fervent anti-supporter of a lot of modern technologies, there is something luxurious about being able to type with my pajamas on. After all, nearly every other blog post in my history had been from a shady international Internet cafe, where some I am either surrounded by teenagers on role playing games or creeps on porn sites (that being said, I've never actually seen anyone on a porn site, but in both Asia and Africa, the Internet cafes tended to consist of small, curtained cubicles...leaving intentions up to question).

We have continued on the aptly named 'Gringo Trail' into the heart of southern Peru this past week. It's not a trail as much as a path through Peru that all the white tourists seem to follow, as it covers the most ground and delves into all the famous sights. From Lima to Paracas to Nazca, which was a sweltering town (the town of the horrible sunburn, which only today has abated and is starting to peel) . Nazca was a desert oasis of little interest save for the famous Nazca lines, and a couple other Inca and pre-Inca leftovers. As the only way to see the famous lines is from the sky, we took an early morning flight on our second day. The flight itself was a tour-de-force in a 4 seat Cessna, total flight time being about 30 minutes, we banked circles around each of the 20 or so lines and characters. If you do the math, that equals about a minute a circle; remember to keep your eyes on the horizon, it keeps you partially sane.

A 500+ year old Inca cemetery was just outside of town, so we visited one afternoon with our friendly guide, and marveled at the fact that, though completely exposed to the elements, the 20-odd mummies in the area were almost completely the same as when they had been found, less some gold jewelry stolen by grave robbers. The air is so horridly dry in the area, that the mummies haven't changed a bit during their post-mortems! Fantastic, if you ask me. However, even more fascinating to me was our two consequent side trips. Usually I'm kind of against tour guides stringing you along to their friends' establishments post-tour, as it usually ends awkwardly with a lot if refusals to buy trinkets. Our guide, on the other hand, wanted to show us both the processes of gold mining in the area, and how traditional Inca pottery was made. Being into the arts and culture aspect of anything, I was all for it. The former gold miner turned out to be a hilarious old man who sang whilst demonstrating gold mining in miniature. He made Mr. Rogers land of make believe look like a side show. While he provided a good laugh, the woman who showed us how to make traditional pottery was just extremely sweet. Her studio, which appeared to be the entire backside if her house, reminded me of any other artists'studio, complete with a little old man in the corner painting a n Inca mask. The process was equally fascinating, as the colors are extracted from minerals, painted on the green ware, and then buffed to a shine with a polished stone. The piece is then fired, and the colors remain glossy.

Though Nazca had some cool aspects, as did Paracas and Lima, I didn't really love anything here until we got to Arequipa. It was in this city, glittering with buildings of volcanic stone, perched at about 7,000 ft, in the shadows of 5 volcanoes (only 3 are active!) that I thought, "Okay, this is awesome" for the first time. Sorry desert Peru, you are just too vast for my comprehension. I had no idea there was that much sand, and I've been to Africa. Arequipa was a lush oasis, where we strolled the streets by day, popping in and out of museums, and by night we cooked up delicious fresh foods purchased at the market. We were lucky enough to get a great room through 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ceviche and Ancient Mummies

Remembering what a sunburn feels like is not the most comforting memory in the world. Though it brings back thoughts of beaches and vacations past, it also brings back the instensely horrible feeling of sunset chills (simultaneously freezing and scalding) and a reminder that you do have nerve endings on every square centimeter of your body. ¡Yo es idiota! I did, in fact, give myself the worst sunburn I have had in years today when I fell asleep in the sun, wearing only a bikini and staring into the shimmering pool-reflection of a crystal blue sky. However, to that I attest that 1) I was wearing only a bikini for the first time in over a year, 2) I was sitting by a pool, and 3) there was a crystal blue sky above. Take that, Alaska! Spending the summer freezing my butt off, wearing layers- LAYERS- of clothing every single day of this past "summer", and having the sun shine on my face a maximum of 8 days the entire 5-month period, I willingly accept the curse of my poolside choice. I guess I could have applied sunscreen. And not fallen asleep.

Our first week in Peru has consisted of eating accented by sleep, with a dash of touring. We started in Lima, where we spent a couple of days sleeping more than being awake. The past month (or more?) has been a rush of driving, organizing, seeing friends, and then- OH!- getting married. We were exhausted. I think I took 4 naps during our first two days in Peru. This, of course, was only aided by the fact that I over-ate, some of the first bites of deliciousness on our journey. Every single meal thus far in Peru has been delicious. My Spanish is improving from nothing to minimal, but I continue to randomly pick something off of each menu I am handed.

I have always determined that this is the best way to order in a country you are unfamiliar with, and in turn you learn a new word! I mean, the worst thing that could happen would be to get some ghastly organ on your plate, and even then, you would be none the wiser and eat it anyway! From chicken to seafood, ceviche to chupa, A-MAZ-ING. Perhaps my favorite dish thus far (besides ceviche which is simply the best way to enjoy fish or seafood, if you ask me) has been "chupa de langostinos". Neither Ben nor I had any idea what chupa was, so I went for it (or langostinos for that matter). It was not in our wholly Spain-Spanish language book. Well, it turns out that chupa is a soup involving everything you could possibly imagine. The one I received was a thick broth, perhaps a puree of sweet potato and spicy pepper (it was orangeish) and it´s contents were not limited to: shrimp/crawfish, mozzarella, peas, potatoes, 1/2 cob of white corn, carrots, egg (like in egg drop soup), and peppers. I am probably missing something here, but don´t ask me what. It was spicy, vegetably, and like moving to a different room at a discotec with every bite. At one point I remember saying something like, "I think I just got a piece of mozarella...wait, I think it was GOAT mozzarella!"

And so it has been with most meals, though offerings have changed quite a bit as we have traveled down the coast. We started in Lima and then bussed it down to Paracas, a small town on the coast where we toured the Islas Ballestas, a series of islands that produces something like 1 million tons of guano every year. Yes, there are some poor souls that go to this island twice yearly to "harvest" said guano for use as fertilizer. Talk about a dirty job, Dirty Jobs guy. Nonetheless, we were not allowed off the boat, and instead spent our time gawking at seals, penguins, seabirds and narrowly escaping "guano rain" (actually Ben was fortunate enough to not escape the rain...hehe). The town itself was rather small, so we roamed the streets and more in our spare time. It was here that I had my first Pisco Sour, the national beverage, which was to my taste buds a fantastic margarita. In fact, the drink is something like grape brandy, lime juice, sugar, and egg whites, but margarita with a foamy top it was to me!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


The only day I have had to explore the park so far.... at least it was the awesomest!

Denali photos from the sky

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Great One

Sometimes it is hard, even for me, to comprehend my life. All this moving around, changing residences, changing jobs, and traveling was hard for those closest to me for a long time. Even now it's probably hard for my parents sometimes, but my friends have gotten used to it (it seems) and others just shrug it off. While I like to think that it has kept me active and excited about life, even I find it difficult sometimes to be in constant motion, and it often takes a toll on me physically. After being in Denali about a week, I came down with a head cold, which is really not that awful. However, when starting a new job and trying to make an impression, staring into space and speaking with a voice like a 70-year-old throat cancer survivor feels a little awful. No matter what I did, I couldn't kick it. I tried to sleep a lot, but I'd just get angry when I slept.

So today, we went for a hike. I was a bit wary at first, thinking my stamina with this cold wouldn't be the best, but I went anyway. A bluebird day in Denali is rare, and the chance of seeing Denali itself is even more rare. It's been on and off rain-snow-hail-sleet-sun here for the past week, in an unseasonably cold spring (so say the locals), and there was no way I wasn't going to spend some time in the sun today. So after lunch, Ben, our new friend Mike and I headed out to the park to cruise up the road and find a place to walk in. Denali NP is huge- twice the size of Glacier in area, 2 million square miles- but is very open. There are miles-wide floodplains creating valleys between the mountains, obviously remnants of massive glaciers. There are still massive glaciers all around Denali itself, and even some of the "lesser" mountains, which are still all over 14,000 ft. Take that, Montana.

Even more incredible is the accessibility of hiking in and around Denali. Because it is the arctic tundra, there are little to no trees. There are some, but avoiding clusters of trees is fairly easy. We parked on the side of the road, a bit past the 12-mile mark, which happens to be the normal turn-around point for personal vehicles during the normal season. Mike has worked in the area for years, and pointed out a footpath that skirted up into the brush and quickly emerged into a ridge walk. Within an hour we were on the ridge, albeit rather out-of-shape for ourselves, squinting into the distance at a cloud-free Denali. We figured we were at about 80 miles from the massive mountain, and it's summit about 16,000 above our heads. It is huge. Though the peaks around it are tall, none of them compares to Denali itself.

 Denali/ Mt McKinley

moose on the loose!

Getting out in the air, letting my nose run a little bit, feeling the sun and wind chap my cheeks was a nice reminder of the beauty in these ridiculous places we choose to inhabit. This summer I hope to write quite a bit in this blog, as I would like to practice my writing and bounce ideas off of the soundboard that is the world wide web. Maybe getting my ideas out in the open will challenge me once and for all to start this book that has been festering in my mind for the past couple of years. Either way, I will provide photos of our escapades in Denali, and maybe a story or two about our time here, but facing the facts about our summer: it will be short and it will be busy. Total immersion in the workplace needs to end somewhere, and hopefully writing here can be my escape. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2181 miles to Tok

We started the drive in Whitefish, six days and 2181 miles ago. A close approximation, of course, as we didn't turn on the odometer until Eureka, MT and have probably added a few miles looking for gas and whipping u-turns to photograph bears. Today we arrived at our 6th stop, Tok, Alaska, at about four in the afternoon, Alaska time (which happens to be one hour before Pacific Time). Though we still have two days of driving to our destination, Denali National Park, the sense of ease that came with our entering the state of Alaska cannot be ignored. After almost a week of driving through Canada, through ever-changing landscapes and weather systems, we have entered the largest state in the Union.

We began last Friday, a little later than planned due to some revelrous activities the night before with good Glacier friends. Sad to part with those we have come to know so well, but also thoroughly excited about bigger mountains, bigger animals, and well, bigger jobs, we left on good terms with Whitefish, Montana, and hope to see her in the future. The first day we only drove about five hours, crossing the border at the Port of Roosville and camping for the night in Golden, British Columbia. Just west of Yoho National Park, Golden was a sleepy little town, that definitely blows up with tourism during the summer months. Right now, as in every place we have stayed, Golden was at the bare bones, just setting up for the season and collecting only the very early travelers like ourselves. After a dinner of lentil stew with sausages we curled up in our tent, situated just beside a river leading into a canyon. Though train tracks bordered the opposite side of the river, we have become so used to the bumping and clanging of the train cars through our winter in Whitefish that we didn't even notice.

Kurt's beautiful rice bowls proved extremely useful on the journey

Saturday we set out to explore Yoho, the Columbia Icefields, and Jasper National Park. The last time we had been to the Canadian Rockies was the summer of 2009, when Ben and I had first started dating. It was our first international adventure, and Ben's first trip abroad. Needless to say, we were both really excited to see the parks in their winter glory. Though it was still very snowy, especially around the Icefield, the weather outside was gorgeous and warm. Driving the road we passed loads of parked cars, mostly Canadian folks out backcountry skiing for the weekend, making me wish I didn't have a broken hand and wish we had brought our skis with! As I can't describe the beauty of these parks with words, I will let the pictures tell all.

(above) Huge glacier in the middle!

We camped in Jasper Saturday night at a full campground, and actually ended up sharing our site with some latecomer Canadian boys fresh out of exams for the year. The campsite was the only winter/ offseason camping in Jasper, and as it was the first beautiful weekend of the spring, it was filled with RVs and tenters alike. Sunday they took over our site as we bid them adieu and headed still northward toward Grande Prairie, Alberta. There we crossed again into British Columbia, and stayed the night at a little family-owned RV park at Charlie Lake. The RV park had a host of grassy spots, wifi, and hot showers- and it was fabulous. Only about an hour after we arrived, a couple from Minnesota pulled up to camp next to us. Jared and Katie were also driving up to work in Denali, not at our properties, but at a large restaurant in the area. For the next three days we would criss-cross paths, staying at the same campgrounds, and gradually getting to know that they were fun, nomadic folks like ourselves.

While at Charlie Lake we commented on how we had hardly seen any wildlife yet on the trip, and attributed it to the time of year. That night, I was awoken out of my slumber by loud footsteps outside the tent. Waking in the middle of the night always causes irrational thought, and I had a brief vision akin to the scene in 'A Christmas Story' where masked bandits jump over the fence to raid Ralphie's house. Shaking my head and convincing myself that it wasn't bandits stealing things out of our car, I listened closer and heard... chomping. And munching. It sounded like a large ruminant. It was a moose. Or more than one moose. Horrified, I didn't move and tried to make myself go back to sleep. I thought I felt one brush the tent. I find moose to be the most horrifying animals I've ever encountered, aside from hippos. Both large, cumbersome creatures, they are aggravated randomly, and strike with the vengence of a small army. Hilariously enough, curled in my tent, I remembered our experience camping at Lake Baringo in Kenya where night-roaming hippos chomping on grass woke me up. Even more coincidentally, Ben woke up both the hippo night and the moose night with an unignorable urge to use the bathroom. Though hippos were enough to force him to forget the urge, he wasn't as scared of moose and proceeded without any trampling occurances.

Not the moose outside our tent...but a moose nonetheless

The next two days of driving blew by as a whir of trees, plains, trees, plains, mountains. Northern British Columbia is somewhat monotonous and akin to the Northern Plains at points. Towards the end of our driving on Monday, however, it began to get hillier and more interesting, but also colder. We had one thing driving us, however. Hot springs. We read about the Liard Hot Springs the day before, and were dead set on checking out the campground-cum-hotsprings that was the 'one thing to absolutely see on the Alaska Highway'. We arrived in the late afternoon, and immediately set out for the hot springs after setting up our tent. OH it was fabulous. It was the hot springs of my dreams. I have been to quite a few hot springs in my life, and there seems to be two types: 1) large, warm concrete pools resembling nothing but a communal bath without the chlorine, or 2) slimy rocks in some hot water. I am more a fan of the slimy, if I had to choose, but the Liard Hot Springs changed my mind forever. It was a minimally developed natural spring in the forest with a large deck and gravelly bottom. No slimy rocks, but beautiful surrounds. Even more amazing was the relative changes in temperature- you could position yourself close to the spring for the scalding hot, but the further you went downriver, the cooler it got. Even more awesome, was that approximately 8 other people at the campsite were all heading to work in Alaska/Denali as well. One huge, crazy caravan.

 Drying my bathing suit
 The river pool
The actual spring and hanging gardens

Hard to top the hot springs, I didn't want to leave. I had spent a medicinal hour in the hot tubs soaking my mending hand, and it felt soooo good. Nonetheless, we headed out in the morning and covered the remainder of the Alaska Highway in British Columbia until we hit Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. The Yukon is big. Everything about it is huge, which makes it apt that Watson Lake, the first town over the border would be home to the world's largest signpost forest. What is a signpost forest, you ask? Well, some road construction worker in the 1940's was homesick for the lower 48 and decided to start collecting signposts, and each year it grows by about 2,000 signs- making the collection over 70,000 current signs! We added our front license plate, of course.

 our plate!
 my personal favorite sign
 note: yield for camels sign in far back

After the signpost forest, there wasn't much to be seen until the town of Whitehorse, where we stopped for the night. As we drove through rain and snow all day, we pondered the idea of staying in a hotel, and when we heard that the forecast for the night was in the teens, we decided for sure. We stopped at the visitors center in Whitehorse, where we ran into Jared and Katie again. Together we determined that Canada's Best Value Inn was indeed Canada's best value at a whopping $100/night. A little bit weather worn, and in a sketchier part of town (a local on the street told Katie that she was staying on 'skid row'), the Best Value turned out to be decent enough for what it was. Perhaps the most interesting part was the evening front desk worker, Ron. A Montreal-er by birth, a BC-er by life, and a Yukon-er in retirement, he is also a wildlife and landscape photographer who just loves what he does. Ron's goal in the next year is to actually stop working, buy an RV, and come up to Alaska himself (you can find him on Flickr- The Yukoner).

This brings us to today. Another day of driving, starting with a rather bumpy 200-mile stretch to the Alaska border, and ending here in Tok. That being said, it was not really that bad. For the amount of warning we got about the Alaska Highway- "Bring at least a 5-gallon gas can!" "You should definitely have a couple extra tires"- the entire highway has been a gem. Even today, with shallow dips and crests giving the sensation of a childrens roller coaster ride, it was nothing compared to a lot of the roads in the Chicago-land area. So know now, the Alaska Highway is not the Al-Can of yesteryear! There have been major improvements in the past 20 years- i.e. it is a normal highway. We skirted the ouside of Kluane National Park in the Yukon, the vast landscape of Lake Kluane giving way to mountain range upon mountain range. No one lives there. We saw decrepit businesses, of poor souls thinking they could make it selling gasoline, only to find themselves out of business in who knows how long. It was a beautiful but desolate landscape, that seemingly changed when we crossed the American border. It was strange, but the moment we crossed, not only did we cross to freshly paved highway, but we crossed into snowy mountain passes, sunnying skies and the mountains of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Though the clouds were low, the mountains looming on the horizon are the biggest ones we've seen yet. And at that, I will leave with some photos of the day.

Lake Kluane