Oh, sweet desert rain. That smell of water evaporating off of sagebrush is intoxicating. They say that scent can evoke deeply ingrained emotional memories and, standing at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, the sweet mist swirls around me in the stillness and silence, conjuring what I can only describe as love. I know this response is nostalgic; some of the best times of my life have been spent in the high deserts of this country with the people I love most in this world. Central Oregon, Eastern Utah, Northern New Mexico… desert rain on sagebrush brings it all back.
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, like many New Mexico destinations, is a hidden gem. The Rio Grande, here still wild and relatively unrestricted, cuts a deep gorge through basalt and the desert plateau, plunging almost a thousand feet below the rim. The Red River joins its flow in this gorge, creating a peninsula-like mesa above. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves this week, with no other campers in the entire campground, and only one group of hikers and llamas on the Arsenic Springs trail for a couple hours. Other than that, our two days in the monument were still and silent, with dramatic storm clouds racing across an expansive sky.
Between intermittent thunderstorms, we hiked down into the gorge and to the Rio itself. The Rio Grande holds some sort of sacred place in my heart that I cannot describe; plunging my hands into her milky chocolate-colored spring flow felt like a pilgrimage. I pressed the red clay beneath my feet, closed my eyes as the sun came out, and listened to the lonely calls of ravens and desert songbirds. And there was that smell again. Just like that, I was home.
“Every time I slip into the ocean, it’s like going home.”
–Sylvia Earle, marine biologist, explorer, author, and lecturer
There is something magical about being underwater. Gravity is much less relevant here. You feel the swell of the tide gently push and pull as you float along the reef. You hear the clicks and pops and alien noises of the deep, and you watch as your breath rises in columns of bubbles toward a receding world of air and light.
Here time seems to slow down. Here your spirit grows quiet, pensive, present. Breathe in, breathe out.
Float, glide, rise, fall.
This video was filmed in Dumaguete and Apo Island in April, but I just now got around to editing it together. Enjoy!
There are few places in this world that still hold vestiges of the distant past, where you can imagine yourself transported, transmuted, transfigured by the landscape and people around you. The far northern region of Vietnam is one such place.
Ha Giang province borders China in the northernmost reaches of Vietnamese territory and is often referred to as “Vietnam’s final frontier” — rugged, remote, and scenic. This region is also home to the recently designated Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 2010.
The landscape is surreal: towering karst formations create a labyrinth of near-vertical cliffs and ravines, gaping caverns, and a few very sinuous roads. The steep hillsides are cultivated by colorfully-clad hill tribes such as the Tay and the H’mong people. While you might occasionally see the indigenous folk riding a motorbike to the market or making a call on an old cellphone, you will see no farming machinery here; water buffalo still pull plows, and tribespeople still tend every plant by hand. Continue reading →
Manila was a tough end to our stay in the Philippines for several reasons:
First, it was hot. So very very hot. I am a person who likes the heat, even. I relished the 100-degree summers in the New Mexico desert when we lived there. But this was… oppressive, stifling, sweltering heat. Relentless equatorial sun, steamy humidity, and near 100 degrees that felt like 120. And we were out in the sun all day for two days.
Second, our arrival in Manila from Dumaguete simply underscored the fact that in the Philippines, everything runs late. Nobody gets anywhere quickly, it seems. Our flight was late (of course), and we had to sit on the tarmac when we arrived as well. Once out of the airport, we had to queue up for a taxi in a line more than 50 meters long, with taxis only trickling in every 10 or 15 minutes. We waited almost 3 hours for a taxi. We did well to resign ourselves to this fate, taking a cue from the locals who sat calmly reading books or playing games on their phones. This obscenely long wait, apparently, was no surprise to anybody except us. We didn’t get to bed until 1:00 am, and we were due for work rendezvous at 5:30 am. Ugh.
What is the value of a lesson learned? In this case, $832. When booking our flights to SE Asia, I was presented with myriad scheduling challenges. After many hours spent researching, I finally came up with an itinerary that would waste no full days, and left a comfortable 3-hour layover buffer at all stops. Denver to Tokyo to Saigon to Manila to Cebu, where we would catch a bus to Dumaguete. Such a good plan.
Flights in Asia are rarely on time.
Nobody is in a hurry at any airport, it seems.
Customs and immigration is, expectedly, a laborious and frustrating process.
Apparently certain budget airlines only operate their check-in counter for an hour every day.
Bypassing this brief window by checking in online renders your ticket non-refundable and unchangable should you miss your flight.
Not speaking a word of Vietnamese is not conducive to speeding things along.
Only 11 days until we leave for Vietnam and the Philippines.
I’ve noticed that the older I get, the more preparation a trip like this requires. Ten years ago, when I left for South America on my first big solo trip abroad, there was little that needed attending to before I left. I simply saved up a thousand bucks, packed up my camera, and boarded the plane with a clear mind. But now…
Now there are dogs to recruit care for. There are bills to pay in advance. There are projects to wrap up at work. There is a yard to tidy before spring explodes in a forest of weeds while we’re away. There is insurance to verify, medications to refill, and gadgets to synchronize. Continue reading →
One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller
I love it when friends or family come to visit us in New Mexico. I look forward to these visits not only because I enjoy spending time with those I don’t often get to see, but also because playing tour guide reminds me how beautiful and wondrous New Mexico—and indeed much of America—can be.
It is so easy to get caught up in the prevailing notion that adventure is the exclusive domain of overseas travel. Let’s be honest–in our consumer culture, travel has become yet another commodity, another sign of wealth or status comparable in some circles to a Porsche or a home theater system. We tick off countries and compare our lists: I’ve been to 16 countries – how many have you been to? Our travels are material conquests, notches on our belts that are confirmed through colorful stories and exotic snapshots. Photo albums on our bookshelves, neatly labeled: Thailand 2006, Czech Republic 2008, Zimbabwe 2011, Patagonia 2013, etc. While this brand of consumerism appeals more to me than the alternative (I would much rather accumulate experiences than “stuff”), sometimes I still question my own motives and the impact of my travel compulsion on myself and the world around me. Continue reading →