Iceland

Visiting Iceland was an experience unlike any other for me.  I cannot say enough about this incredible country. The natural beauty and vastly different landscapes as you drive through is astounding.  It’s the only place that I have been in the world where we would drive for a half hour and not see another person, car, animal, house…anything.  Just remote countryside.  Below are a few of my highlights:

Type of Trip: Groupon Getaway (yes, I actually tried this!)

Hotel: Best Western, Reykjavik 

Transport: Iceland Air (via a fun weekend layover in NYC), and car rental through Budget (via Kayak)

  1. We took a redeye flight from NYC to Keflavík, thus landing super early in the morning.  Since the famous Blue Lagoon is only a half hour drive from the airport, and on our way to Reykjavik, we decided toIMG_7648 stop there forst for the experience.  This turned out to be a brilliant choice as we were some of the first ones in (it gets crowded).  Freezing air, and warm sulfur baths with mud masks.  Absolute heaven and well worth the price tag.

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2. We headed north to check into our hotel.  Pretty basic accommodations, but worked well for the two of us, plus breakfast was included every day.  It was October, so the daylight hour were relatively short and the temperatures pretty cold (frost in the morning, definitely ski coat weather for us).  However, it was sunny every afternoon.  We photo 3spent a day exploring town and had a brilliant time at a local (though touristy) English pub – http://www.enskibarinn.is/en/ .  Lots of travelers during the week and locals on the weekends.  The bar/club scene picks up tremendously over the weekend (it goes all night), when the locals come out.  We also had trendy, wonderful (though expensive) dinners at the following:

Fiskmarkadurinn (Fish Market) – the mussels were a favorite.

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3.  We spent the remainder of our time waking up early and simply driving to explore.  The first day, we drove the famous Golden Circle Route, stopping at the Gullfoss Falls, Þingvallavatn, and Strokkur (Geysir).  The next day, we drove the southern portion of the Ring Route (circling the entire country perimeter).  This was my favorite as we stopped at various waterfalls (Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss), IMG_7751glaciers, lava fields, etc.  When I make my return to Iceland, I am certainly going to plan for a full week of driving the Ring route, and staying at the various B&Bs along the way.  Another day, we drove north to some of the coastal towns.

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4.  The Northern Lights – a must!  It was FREEZING outside in the middle of the night, but we did get to see some of the lights.  Very cool when we did see them, but the cold was a bit much for us to handle.  Learn how to take night photos (no flash) before going – you only get a few moments to capture it!

5.  Our final day, we drove back to the airport, stopping at some of the sulfur springs/lavIMG_7916a fields in the south.  This adventure was an expected joy, as it was essentially void of people.  It seemed that we had the whole world to ourselves, and the landscape looked what I imagine Mars to look like.  Simply cool.

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Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang (and Laos, in general) is an absolutely fantastic destination and I highly encourage everyone to try and make it there…I only expected to stay a night or two and ended up staying almost a week!  As I write this, I am stuck in Hong Kong, trying to fly home.  So here goes…my top five highlights from Laos:

Type of Trip: Self-planned

Hotel: Villa Laodeum (HIGHLY recommended and was only $35/nt…the owners were so accommodating and with me as a single female traveler, they made sure that I made it home each night before closing up) – http://www.villalaodeum.com/

Transport: Lao Airlines from Hanoi, Vietnam (HAN – LPQ); 1 hour flight

1.  The local people of Laos and the lovely, quaint Luang Prabang

I know I raved about Cambodia and the friendliness of the people, but I was blown away by Laos.  Everyone is genuinely warm and welcoming, always greeting you with huge smiles and the friendly “Sabaidee!” (Laotian general greeting similar to Aloha).  It rolls off the tongue quite nicely, and as everyone is so encouraging, I found it easy to pick up bits of their language.  I spent most of my mornings In Luang Prabang at a local non-for-profit “Big Brother Mouse”, tutoring and reading with young Laos kids to help them improve their English.  I worked with a teenage boy, named Thong, on three separate days, and it was wonderful to watch his improvement as he read and had me help him with pronunciation and definitions.  Most of the kids in the program are behind their classmates in English, but they are trying extremely hard to catch up.  Often, I would be exploring the city alone and a local resident or novice monk would strike up a conversation.  They seemed to particularly enjoy practicing their  English with you and helping to immerse you in their culture. Laotians are very traditional people, but they do not make you feel as an outsider when your customs are different.  It was easy to fall into their way of life though – conservative dress, shoes off in homes and restaurants, starting the day early and similarly, ending it early (generally everything shuts down at 11pm), sincere spirituality, etc.  Also, no haggling at the markets, the shopkeepers are honest and asked for fair and reasonable prices, with slight bargaining generally accepted.
Luang Prabang, now a UNESCO World Heritage city, is a wonderful blend of traditional Lao wooden houses as well as those infused with European influences – particularly french, as Laos used to be a part of the French colony Indochine.  The city is very clean and the many golden temples shining down on the roadways create an unspoken spirit in the town, you cannot help but to fall in love with its serenity and charm.  The Mekong River meanders gently through the city, and allows for some fantastic sightseeing boat-trips.  There are lots of french bakeries scattered throughout the town, and the food is exceptional. There were quite a few tourists, but more so than in the other cities I visited – a smorgasbord of languages being spoken on the streets. The town tended to draw a lot of older couples for a romantic getaway as well as young hippie/bohemian backpackers, looking for some R&R. One unfortunate occurrence that happened while I was visiting – there was a noticeable and irritating layer of smoke hovering in the air on the last day I was in town. Illegal deforestation by fires is becoming a huge issue in Laos, and as a resuIMG_0708lt, the air quality is sub par and the gorgeous forests are disappearing.

2.  The temples and the monks

It seems as though you cannot walk a block in Luang Prabang without running into a temple of some sort, ornately decorated with mosaics and murals of the life of Buddha.  The temples are rather modern, in terms of when they were built (1800/1900s), but the religious history runs deep.  The temples (wats) are immaculately tidy and peaceful, with young men training to be monks roaming the grounds.  They spend their day in classes, studying language and Buddhism, as well as working on meditation, art and maintaining the temples.  I spent some considerable time speaking with one such novice monk, and found IMG_0733how far he had come to Luang Prabang to study, leaving his family far behind and knows not when he will see them next.  It is a honor and privilege to be training and these young men carry themselves so maturely (even though some seem as young as 8!).  Every morning, the monks from the various temples walk a specific route around the city and collect “alms” from the locals, who bow on mats on the sidewalks and offer sticky rice and other food gifts to the monks. I participated one morning and found it to be a nice start to the day.  After you give alms, you sit and meditate/pray until all the monks have passed.  It becomes a nice time to reflect.

3.  The waterfalls

There is a gorgeous, cascading waterfall about 30km outsidIMG_0792e of the city, called Kuang Si.  I spent an afternoon there, taking pictures of the local flora (learning to navigate my new camera like a nerd) and swimming in the clear, aqua pools at the various stages of the waterfall.  There were quite a few tourists, but it became a fun time to meet new people and challenge one another to a rope swing contest over the falls.  Never one to back down to a challenge, I had a lovely red mark on my back following a failed flip.  Nice move on my part.

4.  Elephant riding and bathing

In a word, amazing!  Spent one day learning to ride elephants bareback and bathe them in the river.  Incredible, to say in the least!  The animals are so powerful and I must admit, I feared constantly that I was going to be thrown forward as we descended the steep mountain to head into the river.  IMG_0901However, my wise elephant (61 and blind -which they informed me of afterwards, thank goodness) took great care of me and thoroughly enjoyed the bath.  She was spraying me with water from her trunk and submerging her head under for minutes at a time.  She especially liked it when we scrubbed her ears with the thick bristle brush.  It was awesome, though I think I had to bathe for days to get the smell of elephant off of me.

5.  Motorboating with helmets and cruising around the city on a motorbike

Another day, I took a speed boat trip down the Mekong…boating policy that, due to the speed of the boat, helmets were required.  Enough said.  After that, I rented a motorcycle for the day and explored some of the outer parts of the city and visited some neighboring towns, stopping to enjoy a fresh mango shake and play some pick-up soccer with the local kids.  Cruising around on a motorcycle was turning out to be the best idea in a while, until my bike broke down on a side street.  I immediately had a plethora of young girls running to my assistance, and then having me buy things from them afterwards.  I am now the proud owner of about 8 plastic/faded Buddha bead bracelets…but it was worth it to get my bike started again.  I continued to explore, without ever turning the bike off again (including when I returned it to the shop).  I have to admit, it was both exhilarating and terrifying to get used to the ebb and flow of traffic and try to adapt to the seemingly non-existent traffic rules.

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The trip was a great one, indeed!  I wrapped up my adventures in Bangkok and realized the truth behind the statement – “one night in Bangkok, and the world’s your oyster”.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

I am presently sitting in an internet cafe that is the equivalent of a sweat lodge…it’s about 90 degrees and humid as ever here.  So below are just a few of my top reasons as to why I respect Cambodia (in no particular order):

Type of Trip: Self-planned

Hotel: The Villa Siem Reap (HIGHLY recommended and was only $40/nt…they also picked me up from the airport in a Tuk Tuk for a small extra fee) – http://www.thevillasiemreap.com/

Transport: Bangkok Airways from Bangkok (BKK – REP); 1 hour flight

1.  Tuk Tuks

The most common form of transportation here – an open-air cart attached to a dirt bike/motorcycle.  It’s amazing.  If I had my way, I would take tuk tuks everywhere and bring them back to Chicago.  There are shuttleCambodia 003 buses and cars, but transportation is essentially dominated by tuk tuks, motorcycles and bikes.  I am absolutely impressed by the amount of stuff that people are able to load onto their bicycles…crates, at least 4 dozen coconuts, furniture, live animals, multiple children.  There seems to be few traffic laws, if any at all – the only rule I’ve noted is that everyone gives way to the bigger mode of transportation.  Walkers to bikes, bikes to motos, motos to tuk tuks, tuk tuks to cars, and cars to shuttles.  Despite the seemingly chaotic structure, it seems to work well and honks are merely used as a warning of passing by.  I am also amazed by the age of some of the drivers…I swear, mothers have their three yr olds driving these things.  Either way, I’m sold on the tuk tuks.

2.  The temples of Angkor Wat (UNESCO Site)
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I won’t go into too much detail here because the majestic power of this former city cannot really be put into words.  The temples are incredible – some look pristine and powerful, overlooking the vast city enclosed by an enormous moat.  Others look straight out of Indiana Jones, Temple of Doom.  The Cambodian monks walk through the various temples, chanting and bowing their praise to the innumerable Buddha statuCambodia 117es.  The city of Angkor Wat has been around since the 12th century and at that time, boasted a population larger than London. The only disappointing part of the city is that it is operated (and therefore profited by) private companies.  It would seem to me that the city/country’s biggest tourist destination and largest revenue producing venue would truly help the government to assist their people in emerging from the severe poverty that has evolved.

3.  The food

I happen to love curry, so this place rocks.  Coconut curry is their signature dish, and it’s delicious.  They also pretty much make anything into a shake – watermelon, mango, banana, etc.  Their fruit selection is crazy exotic too…dragon fruit, rabutins (and other strange pulpy-seedy-fruit things), egg chicken bananas, lotus flowers…I’m getting pretty adventurous here.

4.  The massages

$6/hr for a full body overhaul.  I’m serious, these women work you over.  Last night, the woman who gave me my full body massage was 4’2″.  But judging from her strength and the way she walked all over my sore legs and back, I would have guessed 6’8″.  Incredible; I’m absolutely getting one every, single day.

5.  Friendliness of the people

Cambodians are extremely friendly people, who always manage to have a smile on their faces.  I don’t know if it’s because I am an obvious foreigner, but everyone smiles and says hello to you as you walk down the street.  It’s so refreshing and their laughter is infectious. Everyone is so helpful and eager to practice their English with you. The kids, oh the kids – so incredibly adorable. They want to learn and they work so hard in school.  Many aspire to be tour guides or work in the nicer hotels in the city, which pretty much requires them to be fluent in English.  The country is still emerging from a holocaust (Khmer Rouge war), so poverty is to the extreme here. Everywhere you go, there are orphanages, shelters for landmine victims, etc.  The entire city of Siem Reap operates off of tourism profits, which unfortunately, is not that much.  I have met so many foreigners that are here to volunteer, which has really inspired me. They volunteer in the orphanages and in the schools, mostly to help teach English.  It’s pretty amazing and I would suggest it to anyone looking for something to do with their time off…the locals are insanely appreciative 🙂

I’ve attached a few pics to show you examples of my time five reasons above.  As a forewarning on the pictures in the next few blog posts: it is absolutely and unequivocally impossible to look good, let alone remotely decent, when you are melting under the sun.  Pale Irish girls were not meant to linger in the Cambodian heat.  Please, no judgments.

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Rafting the Colorado River – Grand Canyon (September Launch)

Upon returning to the world of technology, hot showers and flushing toilets, I wanted to share our inspiring adventure from the last three weeks rafting down the Colorado River, inside the Grand Canyon.  These excerpts come directly from my highly-classified journal.  For those not aware of my journal entry style, I assign a title to each of the 18 days of the trip, along with daily highlight.  Here goes!

Type of Trip: Self-planned on a private permit, 18 people among 5 rafts, used food service company to plan meals

Dates: September 2006

Hotel: The great outdoors!  Phantom Ranch is a great half way point to hike in/out

Transport: Fly into Phoenix and drive to the launch point via shuttle/personal car.

Day 1: “The Launch”  Lee’s Ferry in Marble Canyon

  • Final rigging of the rafts, rafting a bit too long and having to eat PB&J sandwiches in the dark….mmmmm, yum.  Everyone reveals their instrument (required by our trip leader…the Coyote, aka my uncle).  Dick manages to misplace his trumpet mouthpiece in the sand, sad being that it is only our first night.  The first box of fine Merlot is cracked open.

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Day 2: “Dancing for Twizzlers” Rider Canyon, just below House Rapid

  • The “young boat”, manned by oarsman Jess and passengers Matt and myself…established a fun game in order to prove one’s worthiness of a highly coveted Twizzler – dancing.  Chris’ boat was also quite competent at the game.  Soon, all boats were participating as a silly method to stay warm as our first few days were chilly and rainy.  This day marked the famous birth of the “underwear tree” (our clothes were perpetually wet), when beef stroganoff became a regular in the leftovers, the “Birthday song” made its debut, and “ziplocking” became a verb.  Group dance parties by the camp fire becomes a regular evening event, along with group jam sessions (Jess brought an electric piano, Matt – guitar, me – flute).  Apparently, if one is to depart on a river excursion and there is a portable, battery-operated piano along, it is in your best interest to memorize the words to Poison’s “Every Rose Has it’s Thorn”.  Lastly, Brian was the victim of a stealth robbery of his food bag…between those ringtails, scorpions, and soon-to-be-discovered vicious tent carolers…one must always sleep with one eye open.
  • Day hike: North Cyn – it rained quite a bit that day, but we were still able to explore a lot of the canyon.  We sought refuge under a large rock outcrop and had lunch there.

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Day 3: “Three Chipmunks Band” Shinumo Wash, Red Wall Cavern.

  • Slow rapids day though the “Roaring 20’s” rapid definitely left its mark on the Hafner boat, Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 043with Linda at the helm.  In the Red Wall Cavern, the musical instruments saw their second appearance.  Pictures do not do the cavern justice – it is an enormous amphitheater carved out by high river flows.  A must stop for lunch.  I completed my first successful “high side” maneuver today – where you avoid flipping a raft in rapids by throwing all our weight up against the high side of the boat.  We finished off the day with Mike’s delicious halibut.
  • Day hike: Red Wall Cavern – Located along river mile 33, Redwall Cavern is a ginormous ampitheater carved by high river flows into the Canyon’s limestone walls. From afar, the cave looks deceptively small, especially compared to the towering cliff above it. It’s not until you get out of the raft and start walking into the gaping expanse, and keep walking and walking, that you realize just how impressive it is. John Wesley Powell estimated that it could hold upwards of 50,000 people. Modern estimates are considerably smaller, but this sandy cavern is still large enough to play an epic game of baseball or frisbee.

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Day 4: “Commencement of the Water Wars” Nankoweap Ruins (~mile 40-53)

  • The river version of the Wild Wild West was born with the attack on Chris.  The plot and perfect execution of the attack by assailants, Jess and Erin, wrecked havoc on the Coyote Crew of 16.  Chris was standing on his raft, gazing off into the canyon walls (typical), when Jess strategically asked if there was a rapid approaching…both parties knowing full-well that there were no rapids for miles.  All the same, Chis stood puzzled, and turned his head for a split second.  In that second, a bucket of icy chocolate water soaked him from head to toe.  Erin, grinning devilishly, clenched the empty bucket…and two significant events occurred simultaneously: the beginning of the 1,000 year was and the nickname “Precious”.  This day also marked the beginning of our bocce ball obsession.  With a crew of adventure junkies and engineers, a new game was fashioned “Extreme Bocce” (names for it’s difficult, rock-laden courses).  Soon to follow – “Night Bocce”, with the reigning champions “Dos Beeches”.  For a sentimental reminder, the stars.  The stars. The stars.  Just wow, I have never seen a night sky the rivals the beauty of endless stars, shooting stars, planets, constellations and satellites.  So vividly cool.
  • Day hike: Nankoweap Ruins – super awesome Indian ruins carved into the side of the cliffs.  Incredible history lesson, and the views of the Colorado river from this spot are stunning.

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Day 5: ” This is one big ditch!” miles 53-71

  • Nurse Mol (my mother) went overboard in Tanner!  Thus, the cocktail clinic opened a little late this day.  Mom and Brian were thrown overboard on a monster wave in the middle of the rapid.  They were washed a ways downstream, only to be rescued by Woody in the ducky (kayak) in knee deep water.  Alliances began to form in the water wars.  All teams were suicide diving…going for legs, empty buckets, wristwatches…whatever they could get their hands on.  Julie’s ruthless commitment to the war gained her the title “Zena, the Warrior Princess”.  The name stuck until we realized another Backbuster had already claimed that name, so Julie’s was promptly changed to “Athena, Goddess of Justice”.  That woman knows revenge.  Dick coins the phrase “This is one big ditch!”, referring to the Canyon.

Day 6: “Poisidon’s Revenge” miles 71-87, including Hance Rapid

  • The oarsmen had their first scouting session just before the Hance Rapid (9/10 on the rapid scale) to determine how we should approach and tackle the beast.  Every oarsman had a specific method of attack.  Chuck always managed the courage to go first and be the “probe”.  Chris needed his angels down in the bow. Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 144 John needed absolute silence on his boat.  Coyote has a calm that manages to make one forget that they were in a smaller boat with a leak on the bottom.  Jess threw on his lucky bandana and smiled reassuringly.  Christine turned, non-chalantly, towards the dukcy and got ready to take Hance head-on.  Needless to say though, I think everyone was a little nervous despite appearances.
  • The aftermath: Jess, Matt and Erin were thrown out, Coyote was washed overboard, and Christine swam nearly all of the monster.  Jess somehow managed to hoist himself back into his own boat, row out of the rapid and rescue Matt…all in a matter of about 20 seconds.  Wendy, Julie and Chris graciously saved me and agreed to a temporary truce in the water war.  Christine was ultimately rescued as well, after a few unsympathetic encounters with boulders in the rapid.  I was pretty shaken up afterwards, and gagging on water for a while after.
  • Day hike: Clearwater Creek – on of the canyon’s best kept secrets.  We had the whole place to ourselves!  Great waterfall at the end.

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**Reflections on the first half of the trip**

The biggest challenge of the first half (before Phantom Ranch) was getting to know everyone in the group and discovering each other’s comfort zones.  We spent a lot of time rowing the flat water, with little current, and learning how to prepare the meals and pack/unpack our bags.  A lot of work to do, little day light to work with (9pm being absolute bedtime) and I obviously cannot ignore the fact that whenever there was a lull in the conversation, “Groover chat” came up (the Groover is our portable toilet).  The women wanted to Groover set up in hidden forested areas, emphasizing privacy.  The men, on the other hand, preferred the edges of vistas, with great views…great views for the groover and great views from camp of the groover.  Not my thing.

Day 7: “Pumpkin and his Seeds” Phantom Ranch, mile 87-96.5

  • We said good-bye to some of our esteemed friends, including Linda, Jess, and Woody.  We were introduced to our new comrades, Tom, Jim and Willy.  Chris, donning all orange clothing, became known as the “Pumpkin” (he preferred “Great Jack-o-Lantern”, for a more masculine title).
  • Day hike: Phantom Ranch – the midpoint of the rafting trip and the only place where members of the group can hike in/out.  There was also a payphone where we could make calls to our loved ones.  

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Day 8: “Day of the Gems” Crystal Rapid, miles 96.5-112

  • The rapids, named for precious gems, were fairly big in this stretch.  The crew scouted Crystal and all managed to find the line perfectly to avoid the big holes.  Excellent run by all oarsmen.  Chris’ boat, amidst the celebration, managed to find its way to another rock in the lower Crystal Rapids.  HIGH-SIDE!  Good thing he had the angels working for him.  Julie was also nominated for having the most adorable shiver in the group.

Day 9: “Longest Day Ever” Elves Chasm, miles 112-133.5

  • Covered a ton of ground today.  Grasshoppers have found their way onto our rafts.  ThIMGP1108is marked the day when Brian ran Bedrock and won the understatement of the year award “Yabba Dabba Do!”.  With a nonchalant, but somber, high-side instruction, Matt, Brian, Tom and Willy pin-balled down the water road less traveled.
  • Day hike: Elves Chasm– very cool hike where the oldest rock in the Canyon can be found (~1.8 billion years old!).  John was the first ambitious one to jump into the chilly pool beneath the falls and make his way up the cave to jump off the top.  

Day 10: “Mama and her Sherpas” Tapeats Creek

  • Note to self: a hike with the Coyote is never just a simple stroll down Main Street.
  • Day hike: Thunder River– this hike is absolutely stunning.  Cascading falls, water plunging out of every Canyon wall, vegetation so lush that you find it difficult to believe that you are in the middle of the desert. The picturesque landscape reminded me of a postcard.  The hike back to camp proved a little more difficult.  Molly was shimmied across the teeny excuse for a trail, hugging the side of the mountain.  Matt was in the front and Brian was bringing up the rear…that’s a family that knows the value of teamwork.  With the wind blowing wildly, the gravel trail narrowing, and the cacti calmly waiting at every bend for another innocent victim to embrace them…the group finally made it to the end.  The end of the trail, that is. We had gone the wrong way back!  Ultimately, we decided to free climb down the vertical face, with some scary exposure.  Not excellent for those with a fear of heights.  Luckily, with the help of some experienced climbers in the group, everyone got down safely and my mother was re-nicknamed “Mountain Goat Molly”.

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Day 11: “Tent Caroling and Food Fights” Deer Creek & Pancho Camp

  • This evening, at the request of the “Old-Wise One”, Chris nominated himself as the “Sacrificial Pole” for the pole dancing competitions.  John took the heavyweight title for the foot war championship, Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 148beating out our exquisite chef, Mike.  The tent caroling began with earnest.  Caroler’s at Jim’s tent saw two full moons that night.  We learned the true meaning of “hit ’em straight” and finding a “tight spot” on the river.
  • Day hike: Deer Creek – a neat day hike along the Thunder River with Hopi Indian hand prints embedded into the Canyon walls and small, warm-watered pools at the top.  The pools, with small waterfalls cascading into them, provided a nice shower amidst a hot, sweaty hike.

Day 12: “Upset at Matkat” Matkatamiba

  • We successfully ran Upset rapid later in the day (a 7 on the rating scale with current water levels)

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  • Day hike: Matkatamiba – hiking through the caverns of Matkat.  The pristine cavern, carver out by an ever meandering stream, was astounding simply based on its structure and color schemes.  Thin cavern walls in a symmetrical pattern of ghostly white, grey and blackish stripes accented by the water flowing through.  

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Day 13: “Eco-Quest: Are These Guys from New York City?” Havasu Canyon & camp at National Canyon

  • Layover day, due to the extended day hike.
  • Day hike: Havasu Canyon Hike – this was my absolutely favorite hike of the whole trip.  Known as the Garden of Eden in the desert, Havasu Falls is one of the most well-known waterfalls in the world. Located on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, the beautiful turquoise pools and spectacular waterfalls are breathtaking.  Wendy, Chris, Matt, Tom, Christine and myself embarked on a 4-hour hike through river crossings, over rock ledges, past the famous and lush Beaver Falls, and into the Havasupai Tribal Lands.  We were walking so fast to make it to Mooney Falls, we were likened to an NYC city pace.  Mooney Falls was astounding – huge turquoise falls billowing over the edge of the Canyon about 50 yards up.  The Falls cascade down into a pool of water only ankle deep.  Large, droopy trees grow from under the water and provide ample opportunity for rope swings over the smaller, descending waterfalls at the base of Mooney.  Truly a magical place.  

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Day 14: “Eco-Quest: Part II?” National Canyon

  • Perfect layover campsite.  Chris, John, Wendy and Willy set up a ropes system to get our group up the Canyon wall and into some spots unknown to our veterans.  This evening marked the All-Team Bocce Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 198Tournament.  The teams included Scorpions, Sacrificial Poles, The Hobbits, Wet Willies, Bleached Bums, Dos Beeches, Big Kahoneys, and the Trash Tours.  The night’s festivities were made up of limbo competitions, Lava Falls shots in honor of the River Gods, tent caroling, Dick’s trumpet playing TAPS, wheelbarrow races, lap dances performed by men…and so it was, the “15-year laugh” resonated throughout camp.

Day 15: “SPAM & Not-so-smart Bombs” Lava Rapid

  • Lava Rapid has been on our minds since we started the trip.  This scary, mega-sized rapid is a challenge for all who embark on a Colorado River trip.  In our case, success.  The oarsmen all found the bubble line, missed the Greyhound bus hole and dodged the meat grinder…need I say more?? The celebrations to follow were unprecedented.  Everyone had been storing a costume in the very bottom of their river bags for this moment alone.  We saw everything from an obviously chilly “Julie” to an actual “Piece of Crap”.  Chuck might have been surprised an albino toothless beaver didn’t make it to the party…or did it?  About 5 Budweiser/Bailey’s/Early Times Bourbon shots later.. the tent carolers were on a mission for Chuck.  The chants and animal grunts could be heard all over camp.  Chuck even stuffed a sleeping bag to try and dupe the poor, drunk tent carolers.  Gas was set alight, Dr. Evil disciples emerged in the kitchen, “Build Me Up Buttercup” became a theme song, and the Hammus Alabamus still lingered in the pot.

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Day 16: “Tenacious Tadpoles” mile 191-205

  • The group all wore t-shirts and skivvies to breakfast in honor of their beloved trip leader.  Apparently, one big night can put an entire crew to bed by 8pm.
  • Day hike: Spring Canyon – not a very exciting hike. Minimal water surrounding the algae-laden creek filled with tadpoles and mini frogs.

Day 17: “I don’t see anyone here who is above the rim” camped at upper 200, Pumpkin Springs

  • Last full day and I cannot believe how far we have all come.  Tom’s boat officially became the party boat of the trip, manned by Dick, Willy, Jim and Tom.  The were armed with water guns and a full drag-bag of Budweiser.  Grand Canyon Trash Tours 2006 252The 1,000 year war saw a peace treaty after Chuck pulled out the secret weapon, and the water equivalent of an Atomic Bomb: the pee-bucket.  The Hobbits won the Bocce Tournament.  The theme of the trip became “Go Big, or Go Home”.
  • Day hike: Pumpkin Springs – cool little pool on the edge of the river but only the Coyote braved the arsenic waters.

Day 18: “Feeling Sedimental” Diamond Creek Take-out

  • Brian’s wit inspired today’s title.  Back to civilization.  Extremely sad saying goodbye to our new, but lifelong friends.  LAST CALL FOR THE GROOVER!  An epic adventure that will stay in my memory for a lifetime.