Ecclectic tales from an independent wanderer…

Colorado

No Reservations

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Atop the Pindus Mountains, in the heart of Greece.


A term made famous by Mr. Anthony Bourdain, it’s my preferred method of travel.

But what exactly does it mean to say that you travel with “no reservations?”

That’s a question that can be a little be more difficult to answer, but more than anything I believe it’s a silent statement of traveling with both an open mind and an open heart.

For conversation sake & in more technical terms, here are my thoughts on the subject. Traveling with no reservations, specifically refers to these three things…

1) I truly do like to travel with no itinerary or hotel reservations. In many ways, I like to make my own way, go with the flow and let the journey engulf me in all its magic.
If I do opt for making travel arrangements, I usually limit them to the first and last nights of my journey. This can be extremely helpful if your luggage is lost as well, or if you know that jet-lag may be a reality for you after a long flight.
2) Always trusting my intuition, I NEVER turn down an invitation. A great example of this took place on my spring journey through Greece with Tripology Adventures last May. Following an incredible day of traversing mountain roads in a 4×4 caravan, a gentleman affiliated with the organization offered to talk me on a four-wheel-drive ride in a vintage Mercedes he had outfitted.
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The town of Karpenisi is located high in the Pindus Mountains and is recognized as having some of the cleanest air in all or Europe. Touted as being the Alps of Greece, this Colorado Girl can legitimately say that these peaks and valley’s made the Rocky Mountains look like Kansas. An avid off-roader (my first car was a Jeep Wrangler, Rio Grande addition complete with a front mounted winch & leopard print steering wheel cover) I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to do some real 4-wheeling in this picturesque landscape)
Outside of the hotel, I met my guide – Theodoros Gravanis & his retrofitted, army issue rock-crawler.
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Theo & His Rock-Crawling Machine

The vehicle had no seat-belts, no airbags, no top and was basically set-up to be an all around, trail tackling, mud-busting, mama’s worst nightmare death machine.
Thrilled, I jumped right in – thinking to myself that what Mama-Didn’t-Know, wouldn’t kill her.
The ride was crazy, exhilarating & adrenaline pumping fun with Theodoros dropping it into four-low, taking the vehicle nearly vertical down steep ravines and up blind hills. Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery I had ever seen, I was in car junky heaven, all the while holding on for dear life.
Atop an incredible summit with 360 degree views, Theodoros even let me get behind the wheel and take it for a spin. Both of us swapping stories in broken English & Greek and each with shit eating grins of pure joy plastered on our faces.
My lack of “reservations” led to one of the most memorable experiences of the entire trip and in seriousness, an afternoon that I will never forget.
3) Don’t let yourself be reserved by habits, eating or otherwise that might possibly have you miss out on something spectacular. Food is another great example of this…
Once upon a time in Pacific Mexico, a family offered to host my travel companion & I for dinner in their generations old hacienda. On the menu, Lengua – Cow Tongue which very much maintains it’s look and tastebud texture.
Hesitant to try it, I closed my eyes, shoved it in and was amazed at the eruption of flavors that washed through my mouth! Incredible, delicious and again, something that I will never forget.
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Traditional Cuy – Rotisserie Guinea Pig at a Roadside Restaurant outside Riobamba, Ecuador

I can tell you so many similar stories – Like the time I ate the Guinea Pig or “Cuy” as they call it, at a road side restaurant in Ecuador. All the locals looked on as a tried my first bites, avoiding the toenails that were still attached and the leather thick skin from its open fire rotisserie for who knows how many hours. One nibble in particular didn’t taste or feel right and resulted in a silent, but very obvious gag. The on lookers all roared with laughter and in that brief moment, we bonded – my culinary right of passage.
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Roadside, Rotisserie Cuy Outside Riobamba, Ecuador

Just because it looks funny, smells different or is something you have never once pondered putting in your mouth, give it a go. Chances are, you won’t be sorry.

When did all this begin for me?
Although it is hard to say as my wanderlust set in at a very early age, I know that one specific trip ignited my current drive for adventure and changed my perspective as a young adult.
In 2003 following my first year of University study at the University of Colorado, my very non-adventurous mother and I took a trip to Spain.
A spanish major, I had done my research, spoken with many different people and developed an idea of what I thought the trip would be.
My mother and I departed Denver on a two and a half week journey without one single hotel reservation or plan in mind.
Upon arrival, we found the airport information desk and were given metro instructions and a tourist map. I’ll never forget the train arriving to the platform and the two of us staring at the doors as they refused to open. An attendant ran up to us and instructed us to “Push the Button.” Laughing and feeling a bit insecure, we jumped aboard, bags in tow.
We left the airport in Madrid on the Metro, headed for the Puerto Del Sol, an area of the city that my Basques, Spanish professor had insured me was spectacular. Happy to stay in a hostel, we were told at the airport information desk that we would find many there.
Emerging from the underground metro station, not only did we find ourselves in the middle of a holy parade, but we didn’t see a single Hostel. I asked a shopkeeper, showing her a map with the circled destination. She chuckle and in Spanish replied – “You’re simply not looking high enough…” and then with a grin gestured to the upper stories of the ancient buildings above us where sign after sign displayed “Hostel Aqui.”
The rest of our time, resulted in laughter, tears, adventures, debates about returning home early and ultimately stories that she & I still tell with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts.
Go. Travel. Open your heart and let the world fill it with endless treasures…

Electrifying…

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In the summer of 2010, three friends and I took off on a backcountry camping trip into Colorado’s, Great Sand Dunes National Monument. What transpired that afternoon, changed us all forever.

Checking in at the visitor’s center, backcountry campers are required to sign a waiver, advised on supplies, are informed of the dangers and instructed to hike far enough in the Dunes to not be visible from the established campsites along the tree line. Roughly a distance 4 miles, getting into the thick of the landscape is no easy endeavor. Traversing each sandy hillside is a matter of one step forward, and three steps back. Hard work, hours pass before you make it deep into the wilderness.

With no water sources, backpacks are heavy going in, lighter coming out, and emergencies, meals and water rations, need to be prepared for.

Setting off later in the afternoon than I had hoped, wanting to skirt the heat of the day, inevitably thunderheads started rolling in. Hiking for over 2 hours, our party was tiring, but finally getting deep enough into the Dunes to start looking for a place to make our camp.

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Made up of myself, a gal pal and two male friends, she and I were both runners and in good shape. Consistently pulling ahead of the two men; we were in a constant game of ‘hurry up & wait.’ Making our way to the summit of a large dune, she & I sat down to catch our breath while we waited for the other two to make their way.

Suddenly, the sky erupted. A crooked rod of lightening struck the summit of a dune, no more than 75 yards away. Just as she and I looked at each other, mouths gaping, a deafening roll of thunder shook us to our skeletons.

Still climbing & out of breath, the men were ready for relief. With one glance, I told them they couldn’t stop. We had to get lower.

A nationally registered EMT, certified in Wilderness First Aid, I knew we were in a dangerous place.

Pulling ahead of the others she and I walked into the saddles of a large Dune. Far enough from the guys, we took pause and waited for them to join us.

Giving a little chuckle she asked quizzically, “ha, ha, why is your hair standing up on end?”

Turning to face her, like a spiny sea urchin, her hair was straight on its ends, framing her face in a ‘Mad Professor’ halo of brunette fly-aways.

“Drop your pack”, I exclaimed. Doing the same, we started making our way down the wall of the saddle. Not wanting to venture too far knowing the work it would cause on our way back. Catching up, I told the boys to do the same.

That was when the cloud-to-cloud lightening started.

Jumping back and forth above our heads, we had no choice but to go deep, down into the belly of the dune.

At the bottom, took the lightening crouch position; Butts in the air, one hand on the ground, tripods quivering with fear.

It rained.

Our hair stood up on end.

It hailed.

Our hair stood up on end.

Megan cried. I sang Christmas Carols, trying to lighten the mood. Every scenario played through my head, what we would do if one of us was struck. If it was anyone other than myself or Megan, I’d send her for help and stay with the victim. If it was her, I’d send one of the men. If it was me… I started making my peace with the world.

We waited in the belly of that Dune for close to an hour and even though the rain continued, we decided that with dusk quickly approaching, we needed to find a place to set-up camp and try to create some sense of shelter for the night.

Climbing out, we were greeted by a magnificent sight. The most incredible, double rainbow I have ever seen. Dipping below the horizon, both were crystal clear, extending past 180 degrees. Stunning.

Terrified, none of us bothered to take a picture. Instead we hurried along, keeping our eyes on the sky, looking for our next electric threat.

Cold, wet & exhausted, we made camp. Huddled in our tent, dinner was prepared, ‘Cup o’ Noodles,’ cheese, granola bars, all washed down with whiskey we had packed in.

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Shaken, we listened to The Beatles from an iPhone, watching the sky light-up above us.

The next day, we woke to crystal blue skies. Packed hard from driving rain, beautiful ripples crusted the sand. A hard surface to easily traverse through our exodus.

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Ready to leave, we made breakfast, packed camp, ready to hike out. Despite the beauty, we were tired of the landscape, ready to escape the clutches of this backcountry danger-field.

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To this day, my gal pal still gets tears in her eyes anytime a storm comes too close. Still shuddering, fear strikes me anytime lightening is within a threatening range.

Changing each of us in our own way, lightening inevitably leaves an invisible mark our memories. Harsh lines that course through our veins, year in & year out.

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