Pati Valley Hike in Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil

Ahhh, the Pati (Pah-chee) Valley.

We left for the Chapada Diamantina National Park on an overnight bus from Salvador, Brazil.  Within the park, we planned to spend the majority of our time with Pati Valley.  The “we” in this case is Jordan and I, along with Jordan’s friend Chris.  Though Chris (originally from SoDak) has lived in Brazil for almost two years, the three of us together stuck out.  We all have hair with at least hints of blond, fair complexions, and limited to no language skills when it came to Portuguese.  Without Chris or a guide, this hike would not have been possible.  While waiting in the bus terminal, a friendly Brazilian (who had spent years in the U.S. Midwest) mosied over to strike up a conversation.  He said many things, but ultimately, I came away with one major point: this was going to be the “trek of a lifetime.”  He was genuinely excited for us.  Believe me, I was excited for us too, really, but he seemed even more so.  After the trek was over, I understood why.

I have not decided if an overnight bus ride can actually be comfortable.  But this one did not come close.  In contrast to the rest of Bahia (the state that the National Park and Salvador are in), where air conditioning can seem scarce, the bus was freezing, as its air conditioning system worked overtime.  I had a long-sleeved tee shirt and pants, expecting cooler nights, but nothing that could fight off the AC.  Not long into the ride, I was awoken by large drops of water falling on my head and chest.  That evil AC was dripping.  I switched seats, but never managed to get into a decent REM cycle before we arrived in the city of Palmeiras in the morning.

I remember just a few things about Palmeiras:

  1. Buying cashews, bananas, chocolate, and bottled water at the market
  2. Watching nearly a hundred children wander through the streets toward school in the morning
  3. Waiting and struggling to find a ride to our trailhead.

Eventually, Chris was able to convince a local to drive us Guiné.  As I said above, we clearly stuck out as a gringo group, so we had to settle for a price above what we should have and were not even driven to the actual trailhead, adding maybe a mile onto our first day.

What I have been calling the Pati Valley, the locals refer to as Vale do Pati.  Right there in the middle-ish area of the map.  We hiked, once we got started, within the valley for four days.  That’s right.  We spent four days in that small area on the map.  There’s still so much of the park we didn’t get a chance to see.  (To be fair, we did venture to Lençois from Andaraí afterward and stayed for an extra day).

I think I worked physically harder on this first day than ever before in my life.  No lie.  I know I have never sweat that much either—ew.  Of course, I could have been more in shape (has that statement ever not been true for me?).  The sun was strong and the temperature steady.  After the first flat mile to the trailhead, we began a climb.  It was pretty exhausting.  I should mention that we hauled all we would need for the trek on our backs.  I should also mention that Jordan, being the great guy he is, had a much heavier pack than I did, as some of my stuff managed to find its way into his pack.  When the climb leveled out, we “breaked” underneath the shade of tree, swallowing water and gorging on soda crackers and those bananas and nuts we bought earlier.

From there, we continued on a flat walk, resembling the U.S. Southwest.   Small lizards scattered from the trail when we approached them, and we sidestepped parts of a relatively small, dry river.

This section went on for quite some time (an hour or two, who knows).  Out of nowhere, we saw this:


Really, it felt like it was out of nowhere.  It’s one of those drop offs where Roadrunner might find itself during a frightening footrace, barely skidding to a stop after knocking pebbles and rocks down into the valley, while Wiley Coyote doesn’t notice the ledge quite in time and falls to a horrible injury that ultimately only lasts long enough for the bird to get away.  Luckily, no skidding.

It was breathtaking.  And no other human noises could be made out.  Sure, we could see one of the very few houses down in the valley from where we perched, but I felt that we were quite alone.  It was one of those moments when I realize how lucky I am to be exactly where I am.  You know, one of those places that you feel you don’t deserve to see, feel, and experience.  Except in this case, the sweat and exhaustion in your legs remind you that you might deserve it a little. 🙂  In that moment I was reminded that God chose to let nature be a blessing for humankind, and how nature displays his glory.  I would be reminded of this time and time again in the next couple days.  Wow, do we need to embrace conservation efforts for these amazing places in the world!

There were so many highlights to this trek that they really can’t all be described in detail, without this blog post turning into some sort of repetitive mini-memoir or something.  So, I will spare you, and you will get the choppy, glossed-over summary.

Toward the end of the first day’s hiking, I had a spell bordering on heat exhaustion.  I felt dizzy and disoriented.  Jordan forced me to drink water and poured water on my head.  I was able to carry on.  I waded in a river later that evening, while Jordan and Chris’s swim was cut short by tiny biting fish.  At the first banana plantation we spent the night at, we ate more of a delicious, traditional, homemade supper than I thought was possible and afterwards, quickly fell asleep, since there was nothing much that could be done in our simple, concrete rooms with an open roof and no electricity after the sun went down.

The next day started early thanks to an obnoxious rooster and hand-cranked juicer, and ate a large breakfast.  We climbed Castle Mountain; an absurd amount of scratches appeared on our legs due to the narrow trail.  To reach the (almost) top, we climbed through a cave.  Once to the top ledge, Jordan got nervous, and we retreated.  We spent the rest of the day hiking upstream, balancing on rocks and stones, finding our way to three remote waterfalls.

That night passed much like the rest, except after the hiking was over, I indulged with a Coca-Cola that had to be hauled in by mule.  (J & C enjoyed something called a Nova Schin ;)).

On day three, we found ourselves hiking through the valley to the house/banana plantation closest to Andaraí.   This only entailed three hours of hiking, so we stopped at a swimming hole, that I believe might be Jordan’s favorite place on earth (aside from home, of course).  We swam and stayed there for a long time.  At the second plantation, we ate well, but simple, again.  Great chicken, but watch out for critters in your sugar (made for some bitter Brazilian coffee).  Slept through the windy night relatively well and were on our way in the morning.

We climbed uphill again, switchback after switchback, and finally out of the valley, leaving a long, but gradual, downhill walk to Andaraí through sock-monkey-like cacti and lizards and boulders with naturally-eroded bullet holes.

We arrived to town in the late morning, and the noises, colors, and activity came as a shock to our systems after the days in a sort of tranquil FernGully (I swear I saw Crysta buzzing around one night after supper).  You trade the tranquility for convenience, though, and we ended the trek at a small restaurant with a sort of junk food binge, consisting of personal pizzas, cashew ice cream, Fanta, Coca-Cola, bottles of water and Skol for the boys.

So that’s it.  That’s the end of our Pati Valley experience.  I think I found, maybe stretched, my physical limits (which I know could be augmented if I ever made a full-hearted effort).  I think I also stretched my comfort level in respect to cleanliness.  I became so comfortable in my own sweat and the dirt that stuck to it, but will admit that I did enjoy the showers—cold as they were.  The things I glossed over were amazing to see, truly, but I think for me, nothing compares with the moment we first laid eyes on the expanse of the valley in front of us.  Often, we hear talk of the mountaintops and valleys in life, and view the valleys as the horrible lows we wish to avoid.  Those valleys have been short-changed.  I am excited for what life has in store for me, and believe that there is beauty to be seen every valley (whether it be a stretch of unemployment, a bout of homesickness, or any other personal challenge) that I am required to enter, traverse, and leave behind.

Smoky Mountains in the Fall | Brushy Mountain Hike

We were fortunate (or unfortunate depending upon how you look at it) to not have jobs during the month of October.  We went on one epic trek of a lifetime in Brazil, as well as a hike to the top of Brushy Mountain in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

The Smoky Mountains are beautiful in the fall.  But let’s be real, every senior citizen in the continental U.S. knows it to be true.  Particularly if you go on the weekend, expect a lot of seniors and a lot of traffic.


We spent some time driving on Newfound Gap Road up to the road’s namesake.  There were breathtaking views to be had, naturally.

The trailhead for Brushy Mountain and Grotto Falls, which is along the way, stems off of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  To the top of Brushy Mountain, it is about 3.4 miles.  The trail was well-maintained and fallen leaves were scattered about.

Since we went hiking on a Tuesday, the trail was mostly filled with retirees or families with very young children.  Most seemed to turn back at Grotto Falls, however.  It is a destination in itself.  Hikers are able to walk underneath the falls.

Leaves made their way into the river.

To the falls, the trail was very easy.  Beyond that, I struggled a bit more…but the views continued to encourage us to move onward and upward.

Eventually, we summited.  There was only one other group at the summit, and there was plenty of room for us to share the top of the mountain.  From the top, you can look down to see the cities of Sevier County.

Now if only I didn’t have to work Tuesdays or traffic wouldn’t be horrible on the weekends I could get back to fall hiking in the park.

Shenandoah National Park in Two Days

I turned the big two.five. We celebrated by getting out of the city and doing some hiking in camping in Shenandoah National Park. Yes, we did listen to John Denver on the way. I think John Denver would have liked the Terrapin (aka our Yaris). In two quick days, we completed two hikes, stalked several butterflies, played cards in the middle of a river, marveled at the views, and ingested copious amounts of s’mores at our campground. Couldn’t think of a better way to bring in the quarter-century mark. Here’s what our weekend looked like.



shenandoah views


shenandoah centipede

shenandoah shelf fungus

shenandoah shelf fungus orange

shenandoah deer in campground

shenandoah butterfly

shenandoah butterfly

shenandoah butterfly

shenandoah butterfly

shenandoah butterfly

shenandoah butterfly



keen hiking shoes on rock



hiking and playing cards


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Exploring La Ciudad Imperial | Cusco, Peru

After one short evening in Lima, we caught a flight to Cusco.

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We didn’t mean to spend quite so much time lounging and wandering about in Cusco, really. But when you’re in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu is closed due to mudslides, you plan for other hikes and spend time celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

In general, we were all left with really great impressions of the city. Yeah, it’s too touristy and not as authentic as it could be. It’s definitely on the Gringo Trail, but for good reason. There is an indigenous spirit, and even though much seems to be done for tourists, most of these tourists are coming to learn more about one of South America’s most well-known indigenous cultures, so there is an honest respect for heritage (at least in well-intentioned part). It’s charming and the scenery is amazing. The city has a nomad/hippie/backpacker vibe, which put even the ever-planning traveler (that’d be me…) at ease. Our main trip plans had already been changed and you really can’t help but go  with the flow in a place like Cusco.

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We didn’t do anything besides meander, eat and adjust the first day. Cusco’s elevation is extremely high and we were trying to give our bodies a bit of adjustment time. The hostel even offered coca tea to help with the acclimation.

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Speaking of the hostel, we stayed at the same place both the first and the second times that we were in the city. Our rooms were different each time, but both were comfortable 3-person options. The place was clean, the breakfast was good and the staff were cheery.

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A lot of our time was spent wandering around markets. Our Spanish was, well, así, así, so bargaining wasn’t exactly our strength. Still, we loved looking at all of artisan crafts.

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More than shopping, more than eating, more than lounging in the amazing town square, I enjoyed seeing the architecture of the city. (Wait?! Did I say I enjoyed something more than eating?! I’m checking my temperature right now). To me, Cusco will be forever known as the city with beautiful blue doors. The stone from the Incas still remain and are even worked into the modern buildings. It’s really a remarkable city to see.

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Okay, maybe I enjoyed the food just as much. I mean, I had an alpaca steak. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to do, but it tasted mindblowingly good. One of us did order the obligatory tourist meal: cuy or guinea pig. And there was a traditional chicken soup in there. There were also a couple fancy beverages that made their ways into our meal plans.

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The food in this city is good. The drinks flow. And the wandering is great. But when you’re tired, want to sit, and want to save money, there’s still a perfect place for you. Find your bench or your corner of the plaza and see what the city has in store for you.

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Yes, we tourists paid for our picture with this guy.

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Yeah, we could have hurried and tried to fill our travel itineraries with side trips and excursions to make up for our Machu Picchu disappointment. And I’m guessing I’ll be bitter every time someone talks about Machu Picchu (until the day I actually see it). But there was something so right about taking our time in Cusco. For one, we got lots of down time to hang out with Jordan’s sister, Emilee–something that is rare for us. For another, we actually got a vacation that felt, at least for a couple days, a little like an actual vacation.

The Big Apple and the Winter Wallop | NYC in December 2009

We visited NYC for approximately 36 hours, but still managed to sleep there for two nights. The city was a whirlwind, but it really did seem almost magical at Christmastime. I’ve never felt another place so intensely Christmasey. I mean, it almost makes a girl believe in Santa Clause.

Jordan’s sister, Leah, met us in DC and joined us for the trip. The trip to NYC went smoothly. Once there, it was frigid, but then the snow fell. Central Park was beautifully dusted with snow. And then the snow kept falling. And falling. And falling. And then they called in the winter wallop. And our bus home was canceled. That’d be fine if the hotels weren’t so expensive in Manhattan. We finally weaseled our way onto another bus and made it back to DC really late into the night. Knowing what I know now about the weather, I still wouldn’t change a thing. 🙂 Except for maybe seeing a different show….haha. More on that in a bit.

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We checked into the Gershwin Hotel in Midtown. Nice place, really. We loved everything except that the hot water was a little touchy.

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We immediately got to work looking at Christmas lights and window displays.

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We also sought out some nourishment along the way.

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We caught a Cirque du Soleil Winter-themed show. It was…trippy…weird…maybe meant for children only? We still had a good time, but definitely would have splurged for something else had we known.

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After the show, we made a stop for some New York style cheesecake and went out for a drink.

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These two are the cutest brother-sister pair known to man.

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The next day was spent wandering in Central Park, getting lost in Christmas markets, and visiting Grand Central Station, its markets, and a museum. There was also a bagel or two and diner coffee involved. We decided to hit up one museum, but limit ourselves to just the one. We opted for the Natural History Museum because even though we’re adults, we simply couldn’t resist the idea of huge dinosaur skeletons and enormous whale replicas.We loved the origami animal Christmas tree.

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We had our first ever cannoli (that’s already plural!). Delicious.

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The night’s Little Italy trip was delightful. The pizza at Lombardi’s didn’t disappoint. Maybe it was the snow falling down outside the window, the fact that it was our first time in NYC, or the fact that we were reunited with Leah. Or maybe the savoir-faire of the pizza makers…but it was delicious. Awesome meal.

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The next day was mostly breakfast, trying to catch our bus, realizing it was canceled, finding a new one, and eating at an overpriced diner near Madison Square Gardens.

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When it’s your first time in NYC and you’ve only got 36 hours, time flies. We’ve got to go back. It was overwhelming, crazy cold, and everything we thought it would be.

Fallingwater, Fallingleaves

Though Jordan and I have both been Frank Lloyd Wright fans for a (sort of long, sort of short) while, neither of us had actually visited any of his creations.  There are not nearly as many Wright houses in this neck of the woods as say Illinois, Fallingwater, or the Kaufmann house, one of his most famous homes, is located in Pennsylvania.  A Pittsburgh family, the Kaufmanns, had the house built in the late 30s.  A visit generally requires a reservation, especially during the fall, so we booked early.  Last night, we were hesitant to make the trip because the weather was looking iffy, but the weathermen changed their mind by this morning, so we headed north yet again.

The drive, which is supposed to take around three and a half hours, ended up being more like four and a quarter, thanks to accidents on the Beltway and and entrance ramp onto I-70.  I called ahead to say we’d be late, and the woman on the phone acted like they would do their best, but couldn’t make any promises.  Fortunately, we discovered that being a little later really doesn’t matter at all…wish the woman on the phone would have just told us that.

Though the driver might not have liked it as much since he didn’t get to look around the whole time, the drive to Fallingwater was beautiful.  The foliage is really beginning to peak further north.  Last night, they received a dusting of snow in the higher elevations, so the pines seemed quite picturesque as well.  Even what was kind of an annoying detour, thanks to the accident, led us by some beautiful homes surrounded by fall trees.

About Fallingwater, you ask?  The grounds were nice, well kept, and have a few short hiking trails that we might have tried out if it had been a little warmer.  The wind shook the leaves from the trees at the perfect rate.  From the visitor center, you have to walk about a quarter of a mile to the house where you meet up with your tour guide.  Our tour guide seemed relaxed and was informative, but she seemed a bit jaded by having to give tour after tour.  I think tour guides often forget that the people on their tours are usually seeing something for the first time.  Maybe she was mad that she was missing the Steelers’ game or something.

We were able to walk inside the main house and the guest house.  After being there, I have decided that I greatly desire built-in bookshelves and a fireplace in my dream home.  The eclectic art collection of the Kaufmanns was quite to my taste.  They had many sculptures, woven baskets, etc.  There were two original Diego Rivera paintings (he was actually a guest at the house), prints of unique birds, and Japanese prints as well.  I would be fine with out their Tiffany lamps, though.  There were books and places for books everywhere.  Each bedroom had its own bathroom and terrace.

With every touristy thing, though, there are just too many people around to get the perfect shot.  We still tried.  I mentioned that this house would be perfect for Jordan, since he likes waterfalls and the house has its own.  He replied very seriously with “Yeah, I don’t know.  I think these crowds might bother me.”  Goober.

After leaving Fallingwater, we stopped to view the falls in nearby Ohiopyle State Park.

And then we couldn’t resist stopping in to split a pizza, before picking up a latte and fudge for the ride home.  Every good day should end with pizza and fudge.

Me and My Maine Squeeze

Well, we’re home.  As we were turning the corner into our little, park-like community, Jordan and I both decided that we were ready to be done driving/riding in the car, but we did not feel ready to be home.  Ahh, vacations–no matter how short or long–just make me long for more vacation.  I even say this in spite of my stiff legs, upset stomach (I did disregard the health-conscious train of thought while away), and smaller bank account.

Instead of giving a chronological description on the trip, I’ll just highlight some of our experiences.

Shopping: Oh, yes, I am honest and materialistic enough to say that shopping was at least part of our trip to Maine.  You can hardly go to Maine without stopping in at L.L. Bean headquarters and pretending that you’re camping in the displays.  I felt obligated/excited to at least buy one thing there, so we both picked out some pullover fleeces, which came in very handy during the ferry ride the next day.  We also spent a little time browsing shops in Portland.  Most of our shopping time here was spent in a used bookstore/art store.  After an extensive elimination process, we left the store with a colorful Picasso print.  While still in Portland, we also purchased a tiny lobster hanging on an anchor, which will hang on our tiny tree come December.  And finally, we made a stop at the outlet malls along Route 1.  Couldn’t help it…and we found some okay clothing at okay prices.

Lodging: Oh, we weren’t extremely adventurous, nor were we living a life of luxury.  Since we’re currently tentless (but hopefully not for long!), we did not make this trip a camping trip.  We stayed in a basic hotel one night, spent two nights in a small cottage, and one night in a(n) historic inn.  By far, my favorite was the cottage.  It felt one step closer to camping and was the most peaceful of the three places.  The owners/staff at this place were so hospitable and excited to share Maine with visitors.  It’s always nice to know that someone likes to share their home and isn’t just there to take your money.  The inn, too, was very cute and quaint, but our room was right over Rte 1, so not exactly peaceful.

Geography: Of course travel always involves geography to some extent (navigating the roads, messing with the atlas, observing new places), but we did make an especially geographically-centered stop on this trip.  We stopped in to visit Eartha, the world’s largest globe.  It even spins!  It was impossible to get all the globe in one shot from within the building.  For more information:

Lighthouses: In total, we saw six lighthouses if my math and memory are correct.  We really only spent time exploring a couple, though, but they were very picturesque.  I think Jordan’s favorite was the first, which is Nubble Light, on Cape Neddick.  I can’t pick a favorite between Nubble Light and the one on Cape Elizabeth.  Well, actually I did think the one in Port Clyde was great, but we didn’t get a chance to get too close.  We wondered if maybe G&G Graesser and G&G Waterhouse had seen any of these before, but bought postcards for them anyway.  Still need to send those….better late than never?

Seafood: Neither of us ate shrimp.  And neither of us ate mussels.  But have no fear–Jordan tasted eight types of seafood, and I had seven.  (He tells me that I wasn’t missing much by skipping the haddock sandwich for a Reuben).  We had lobster, crab, clam, scallops, halibut, oysters, and calamari (along with the haddock sandwich).  I was allowed to twist the tail of the lobster, and didn’t do too badly.  I did get that excellent cup of clam chowder I was looking for.    In fact, all the seafood I ate was delicious….except for the steamers (oysters).  I learned that I prefer the grilled-and-covered-in-bacon-and-cheese kind of oysters.  The best dining experience we had was at the Two Lights Lobster Shack.  The restaurant is right next to the ocean, providing plenty of outdoor seating with wonderful views of the nearby lighthouse and waves.  Jordan waited in line for at least half an hour to order, while I held our place at an oceanside table.  Both the wait and the struggle to find a parking spot were worth it.  After eating our lobster roll and crab roll, we played on the rocks, and examined the sea creatures in the small pools of water that gathered on them.  In order to decrease our mercury poison risk, we opted for pizza twice and hotdogs once.  A great, tasty change up.


Hike: We only did two hikes on this trip.  The first was a very short trip by York around the top of a mountain.  From the top, we were able to see the White Mountains in New Hampshire after climbing to the “Vulture’s Viewpoint” area.  We saw some neat things on this hike, but mostly I was thankful that we had a chance to use our legs after the long drive up north.

Hike number two was more than we expected.  We drove two hours north to hop an hour-long ferry ride to reach our hiking destination: Monhegan Island.  Every minute of travel was worth it.  After filling up on pizza and coke (excellent health food for hiking, I know), we left for a much more challenging three and a half hour hike.  We climbed up and over rocks, through trees, and moseyed on through a storybook forest.  There was a moment when we both got giddy.  We felt spoiled–spoiled because the island exists at all and because we were able to get there.   We took breaks to listen and watch the waves crash against the cliffs, and watched the birds bob up and down.  Even though the island was quite full of tourists over the holiday weekend, there were many times when we were able to look around and see now other people at all.  Other times, the only other people we could see were artists who had set up easels to try to capture the scenery with oil or watercolor.  Of course paintings, pictures, or even videos, do not seem to do the experience justice. (Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy a few that I’ll add)

That pretty much sums up our weekend trip to Maine.  I know we would both love to get back to Maine, since we still have so much to explore.  After dreaming of returning to Maine, we took it a step farther.  We each created a list of our top ten vacation destinations/excursions, and then compared the lists to see where they overlapped.  Surprisingly (or maybe not), only four were matches, meaning we had a total of sixteen destinations.  Looks like we need to start saving for more trips…