It was 9 o’clock in the morning, and everything in sight was bathed in the brilliant, blazing light of an Arabian Peninsula sun. I had my sunglasses on and still felt the need to hold up a hand to shield my eyes from the glare. Around me stood men buying fresh produce, men selling khat for camel feed, men chatting amiably in long white dishdashas with colorful kumas perched atop their heads. I was standing in a souk in Ibra, Oman—the lone female and the lone foreigner—surrounded by Omani men going about their morning business in a market scene so customary to them it surely felt banal. Little here seemed ordinary to me, though, and I was savoring every second. I was the Other, the outsider, the ferenji, and my senses were heightened in anticipation of the unfamiliar, my eyes wide open to novelty. Situated somewhere between the dunes of the Wahiba Sands desert and the mountains of the al Hajar range, Ibra is an old city in a very old part of the world. Not for the first time, nor surely the last, I found myself wondering how did I get here?
Peru is a country of color. There are the terraced hillsides of carefully tended crops whose greens range from basil to emerald to pistachio. There is the Andean sky built like a layer cake of ever-varying blues stacked high into the atmosphere. There are the 3,800 potato varieties plucked out of Peruvian soil whose outer skins range from canary yellow to beige to aubergine. There are the fish markets of Lima with their dark red tuna steaks, mottled brown squids, blush pink whitefish fillets, and mounds of mossy seaweed. And, of course, there are the densely crowded markets from which goods and foods explode out of tiny stalls—white alpaca ponchos and multicolored tablecloths with an orange-pink-green-blue pattern best resembling neon Sour Skittles draped along the walls; vibrant red wool blankets and hand-knit rainbow belts heaped atop chartreuse skirts and cobalt scarves; and bouquets of cilantro sitting alongside spicy scarlet and orange peppers next to mounds of purple potatoes all spilling out onto the sidewalk.
The eyes feast in Peru.
“Let’s go somewhere. We need an adventure,” a dear friend once said to me. We were sitting on the couch in my Denver, Colorado apartment, digesting Thai food and drinking wine. I had just earned a Master’s degree; Nicole was slated to begin medical school in the fall. We were both feeling equally free and adrift and antsy at that particular moment of our lives. Let’s go somewhere exotic. Somewhere far away. Somewhere where we could lose ourselves for a few weeks and forget our respective realities. Let’s go on an adventure—that’s what was said, but the subtext was so much greater than that statement. It took us five minutes of naming destinations—Turkey, the desert (but which desert?), somewhere beautiful in Europe—to settle on a trip so vast it would feel more like three trips in one: The Trans-Mongolian Railway. Rather than end in Vladivostok, the traditional terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, we would switch trains in Irkutsk and venture through Mongolia to our ultimate destination, Beijing. The distance from St. Petersburg, Russia to Beijing, China via train is approximately 6,000 miles. Eight time zones are crossed en route. We would begin our trip in Europe, end in Asia, and circumnavigate the globe before it was all said and done.
“Let’s go somewhere,” Nicole said. And so we went around the world.
For a detailed summary of the St. Petersburg to Beijing via the Trans-Mongolian Railway itinerary, see the full post in the Travel Itineraries section.
19 people, 16 days, 15 campsites, one mighty river coursing through one inimitable canyon: these are the numbers that come to mind when describing my trip down the Colorado River through the heart of the Grand Canyon. Rafting down the Grand Canyon while the sun is out, the water is green, and those grandest of […]
Summer 2018 has been good to me. In typical Centennial State fashion, the warmer months can be distilled into some combination of hiking and camping in Colorado, frequently venturing above treeline where outings are timed to experience maximum wildflower color explosion, warm temps, and long days. One objective I had this summer was to visit some […]
The Omo River Valley of southern Ethiopia. Home to eight different tribes whose population numbers approximately 200,000. I spent a week exploring this ethnographically rich part of the world in October 2016 and left with two prevailing questions: What is beauty? At what point does modernization and cultural assimilation cross the line from welcomed to […]
John Steinbeck once said that people don’t take trips—trips take people. He’s right, of course. I should know. South America has always had a way of taking me—whisking me away from wherever I was in life and depositing me somewhere along the Andean spine, awestruck and in love with wild people and even wilder places. […]
There are more than six million people living in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Traffic is incessant; trendy, new bars are standing room only even on weeknights—and there are trendy, new bars everywhere; politics somehow seeps into all conversation, innocuous at first but injurious to your mental health once you realize you’ve been debating fiscal policy all day. The reasons you love the city can soon become the reasons you resent the city. Escapes are essential. Nature is necessary.
Shenandoah National Park lies a mere 75 miles west of our nation’s capital, a narrow strip of undulating mountains which extends from north to south for over 100 miles. Skyline Drive runs the length of the park, bisected by the Appalachian Trail as it snakes its way back and forth over the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the fall, birch, ash, and oak trees flaunt their autumnal colors. This lasts for a few weeks, then the blacktop becomes a carpet of red, orange, and yellow leaves that flutter skyward as car wheels roll over them. It is during this ephemeral window of time—after the hills are set aglow and before leaves coat the ground—that I try to make my much-needed pilgrimage to the Blue Ridge.