Peeing in the Extremes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A night critter

The night is so dark, hot and humid. Huge trees overhead block out the light from the millions of stars I saw earlier. I stare up at the roof of the little tent I am supposed to actually be sleeping in and listen to things drop on it and scurry around. I shudder to think what is all out there in the rain forest. That would be the Amazon rain forest, and from a night hike the day we arrived, I know it is teeming with critters like spiders, insects and bats. Not the easiest environment to tent in, but we are determined to experience it all! “Mom,” I hear from the dark. “I have to go to the bathroom.” What?! This has got to be a joke. I don’t want to go out there!Where’s Rafael when I need him? We had earlier laughed when the crew set up two little tents in the small clearing. One of them was clearly a honeymoon suite with hearts and flowers in it. Did they really think I could leave my 10-year-old daughter to sleep in a tent alone in the Amazon? Obviously, they don’t have kids. I’m not laughing now. I should have made her father sleep with her, but who knew? She never, ever gets up in the night at home! I try pleading. “Are you sure? You don’t think you can wait until it gets light?””No Mom. I need to go now!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our home for the night

Shit. Okay. I’m a grown woman. I can handle this. I turn on my headlamp and look around. At least we are both fully dressed. I unzip the tent and peer out, cringing as I hear something fall on the roof. Luckily Rachel doesn’t hear anything, or things could really go south. Our high jungle boots are outside the door. I pick them up, turn them over and give them a good shake. We’ve been warned about things crawling in. I have to wonder why we weren’t allowed to take them in with us. I guess our guides didn’t pack a vacuum to clean up the mess in the tent. Amateurs.

Off we go, into the night. Our “bathroom” is a hole in the ground with a portable toilet seat on a stand above it. “Don’t sit down, Rachel. I can’t see what might be under that seat.” She does her thing with no complaints while I look out into the trees. Wow, it is so amazing here. It’s warm and a little breezy and so alive. Camping is a total pain, but it is so worth it right now. This is a sight not many people get to see, and we are here!

Since I am both a mother and over 40, there is no way I can pass up a chance to pee, so I take my turn and we head on back to camp. That wasn’t so bad!

118_5769

Fast forward 8 months. It is bitterly cold and we are sleeping in a block of ice. Literally. We are at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. The place is beautiful, amazing, another adventure! It is also very hard to sleep in. The very thin mattress sits on a block of ice. The air is so cold that it actually hurts to breath in through your nose. If you pull your neck warmer up to over your nose, it quickly becomes wet and you feel even worse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At check-in, we are given a class on how to prepare for bed. We take all our toasty clothes to a locker room, where we change into bathing suits. The terry cloth bathrobe is a flimsy shelter from the cold as we make our way to the outdoor hot tub. We gingerly settle into the water, shockingly hot on our frigid toes. Our mission? Get as overheated as we can stand. Once we are suitably boiled, we race back into the locker room and put on our layers. Lots of wool to hold in the heat. We make our way directly to our room and zip into our sub-zero sleeping bags. I’ve never slept in a ski hat before and spend all kinds of time trying to make it comfortable to lie on. Whatever. I anticipate a difficult night anyway. A few hours go by and I’m drifting, on that edge of sleep where you’re relaxed but still aware. “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom.” Oh no! What is up with this? Does she do it on purpose to torture me? If I leave my cocoon, I’ll never get warm again. I don’t want to go back in the hot tub! “Are you sure you can’t wait until morning?” “No, Mom, I have to go now!” I am defeated. Well, it’s not like my bladder hasn’t been complaining for the last hour. After a trip to the bathroom, we stick it out for another half hour, too cold now to even pretend to sleep. Luckily, part of the Ice Hotel package is a real hotel room. With heat. “That’s it guys,” I say. “We are heading to the hotel.” I get no arguments, and we gather our stuff and trudge out to the van.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That is not a thick mattress!

I wonder where our next peeing adventure will be? We love to rock climb, and Rafael and I watch all these amazing climbers who go up a mountain partway and have to attach a tent to the side of the mountain to sleep. Maybe we should try that. I don’t even know how they pee, as they don’t seem to highlight that in their films. Spoilsports. I’m sure Rachel will love it!

 

100_7008

Advertisements

Frontier Towns

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Aguas Calientes

The evening streets are chaotic. Filled with people, there is not a car in sight. Music blasts out of the open doors and windows of bars. Incredibly aggressive restaurant hosts push menus at your face as you walk by. Everyone wears rugged, hiking and trekking clothes. Many are seriously not clean. This is Aguas Calientes, Peru, the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Inaccessible except by train, which isn’t all that reliable, or by foot via the Inca Trail, Aguas Calientes is a true frontier town. Myself, I’m a mall kind of girl. I live fifteen minutes from anything I could ever need. Convenience is the name of the game. For some reason, though, I love frontier towns. They’re just so different; vibrant, exciting, colorful and unique. The difficulty of getting to them is part of the adventure. Aguas Calientes, Peru; Ushuaia, Argentina; Talkeetna, Alaska; Myvatn, Iceland and other places like them, are some of my favorite stops in our travels.

Aguas Calientes stands out because of how remote it is, how hard it is to get to, and the kind of people who frequent it. The atmosphere is one of relief to have arrived and anticipation of what is to come. Machu Picchu sits high above the town, visible from the window of our little Inn. The imposing mountains are part of the town, closing it in, making it seem even smaller than it actually is. The trekkers who have just arrived from the Inca Trail seem to make their way directly to a bar to celebrate. We ride the train, as our daughter, Rachel, is a bit young for a three-day hike. The train may be easier, but it sure isn’t seamless! The tracks are covered in debris from a recent rock slide so they pack the train passengers into vans to drive beyond the slide. Only, there are no roads. We bump through fields, along streams and even on the tracks. It takes forever and is nausea-inducing. It feels like paradise when Rafael, Rachel and I finally board the train.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Machu Picchu

118_5635

The thing about frontier towns is that they’re there for a reason. Something amazing is nearby. Machu Picchu is an experience of a lifetime. The beauty, the history and the way the sun hits the ruins, makes it almost otherworldly. In Ushuaia, you have the southernmost city in the world, “El Fin del Mundo,” an amazing National Park, and the last port before Antarctica. Talkeetna, a picturesque, fun town, is the staging area for those who are climbing Denali, and a great place to float down the river.  Myvatn has natural hot spas, set in a stark volcanic landscape, far from the crowds of the Blue Lagoon in the south. These towns attract people who are looking for something amazing. And they find it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Myvatn hot springs

When we travel, we try to experience as much of a place as we can; its food and drink, music and dance, wildlife and scenery. There are new experiences to be had everywhere, from big cities like Buenos Aires to small islands like Santa Cruz, Galapagos. For us, it’s all about finding out what is unique about a place and then experiencing it. Frontier towns are a great way to do this. They offer up a unique and interesting view of a people and place. Go the extra mile (or hundred) and see for yourselves!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Myvatn

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Myvatn

Picture 079

Ushuaia

Picture 066

The southernmost post office in the world!

Picture 061

penguins live outside Ushuaia

Picture 099

overlooking town

Picture 092

hiking in the National Park

Picture 116

climbing the glacier above town

654

Talkeetna. Ready to float.

658

the view on the river

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 2 Most of these towns are easy enough to get to if you’re willing to drive. Aguas Calientes is the only one you will need to have a bit of fortitude to reach. Anyone can do it, though!

Fitness Level: 2 Again, only Aguas Calientes will make you work a bit. The rest you just need to be willing to drive!

More info?

When we flew into Lima, Peru, we stayed overnight at the airport hotel and then flew out the next morning to Cusco. From there, we were picked up at the airport by a driver from El Albergue Inn, located in a Sacred Valley town called Ollantaytambo. We spent a couple nights there, acclimating to the altitude and enjoying this amazing Incan town. The Inn was just perfect – wonderful people, beautiful room and grounds and delicious food. We walked everywhere we wanted to go. Here is the link: http://www.elalbergue.com/en/

In Aguas Calientes we stayed at the Rupa Wasi Eco Lodge. We loved it there. It is set on a hill, away from the craziness of town, but close enough to walk to everything. It’s rustic, but everything there is! They have a high quality restaurant, with some tasty passion fruit offerings. http://rupawasi.net/ingles/index.html

In Iceland, you will find that once you leave Reykjavik, there are not a lot of choices in where to stay. As you get as far northeast as Myvatn, the options are down to one or two. We chose Skutustadir Farm. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the views are spectacular and breakfast is tasty. http://skutustadir.is/en/

Talkeetna, Alaska had more options for lodging. We stayed at the Denali Fireside Cabins, which was perfect for us. We had room to spread out and relax and the location was great. We even got takeout and ate in the cabin as it was so nice! http://www.denalifireside.com/

Ushuaia, Argentina also has a lot of options for lodging, many with a high price tag, as it is the jumping off point for travel to Antarctica. We chose something that was family friendly and affordable for the five nights we were there. The Tango Bed and Breakfast was great. The room was small, but ensuite. The breakfasts were good and, best of all, there was a tango night! The owner plays the accordion and teaches guests who stay for more than three nights how to tango. There is also plentiful wine! http://www.tangobyb.com.ar/index.php