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. […]
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?
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.
Since this website’s inception earlier in the year, I have been repeatedly asked: “Why nuanaarpuq?” and “What does it mean?” and “How do I pronounce it?” and “Couldn’t you have picked an easier domain name?”
To which I reply: It’s my favorite word; it means “take extravagant pleasure in the joy of living”; nu-an-are-puk; and no. Here’s why:
I have always believed in the power of the written word. Combined with photography, I find these two mediums to be unequaled in their capacity to educate and inspire. I began this website because I wanted to share insight into places I have traveled, outdoor adventures I have experienced, and people I have met in hopes that it might spark a curiosity in readers to embark on similar journeys of their own making. What to call this website was never in question. Since first hearing this word and learning of its meaning when I was a teenager, nuanaarpuq has shaped the course of my life. Even when employed in a 9-5 office job, even while living far from Colorado and the mountains of my youth, “take extravagant pleasure in the joy of living” has been my life ethos.
I am not the only one.
During the waning days of June, five days after completing a 10-day trek around the Cordillera Huayhuash of Peru, I boarded a train bound for Jasper, Alberta with two of my closest friends. We piled into the narrow compartment of a sleeper car, pulled out two bottles of wine, unwrapped the prosciutto and cheese we had purchased at the Granville Island Public Market, and raised plastic cups filled with Cab Sauv in a toast to Canada.
What do you think of when you think of Maine? I have always thought of lobster rolls and sailboats, coastal fog and thick-bearded lumbermen and the spruce-firs that line the Appalachian Trail as it snakes towards its northern terminus at Katahdin. My visits to the state over the years have confirmed this impression: Maine is a Vacationland par excellence.
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.
More than five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year; fewer than 5% of them descend below the rim to explore the Inner Canyon, and fewer still secure highly coveted backcountry permits for overnight trips—which is to say the Grand Canyon feels downright empty when you are exploring its labyrinthine features from 4,500 feet below the rim.
As is wont to happen when you have a healthy collection of adventurer-type friends, I was invited to join a group of women who were headed to Grand Canyon National Park in mid-April to backpack the renowned Escalante Route. Five days spent traipsing through one of America’s most iconic natural wonders with five other badass women who were certain to infuse me with some much-needed inspiration, insight, and laughter? Sign me up.
For a detailed summary of the Backpacking the Grand Canyon itinerary, see the full post in the Travel Itineraries section.
When thinking back on my various travels, an inanimate object usually comes to mind to summarize the place—Florence’s Duomo, Cambodia’s Temples of Angkor, the fjords of Western Norway. Not so Morocco. I returned from that colorful country last week filled with slivers of stories of the lives of people with whom I intersected for only a moment or two as I passed through their world. The varied fabrics of their personalities left me with a fondness for the country that no dazzling riad or crumbling kasbah could similarly impart.
At the end of an inauspicious road in a sleepy Chilean surf town sits the 8 Al Mar Bed & Breakfast. You won’t be faulted if you can’t initially find the place. The boutique hotel sits in its own isolated cove fronting the Pacific Ocean, tucked amidst white-paneled houses with such little signage that you’d think the owners preferred to enjoy their property in complete isolation. And maybe they do. The eight room structure of glass and wood, designed by the Chilean architect Igor Moraga, is a befitting of a profile in an interior design magazine. Each room enjoys panoramic views of the Pacific and private balconies from which you can spend hours watching waves crash against the rocky beach while fishermen scour the coastline for mollusks washed ashore. A sun-saturated wooden terrace is populated with sunbeds and furniture carved from driftwood. Across the way, three hot tubs are screened behind wooden fences, allowing for privacy where guests can enjoy a bottle of Carménère while listening to the sonorous ocean. Is this paradise? I think so.