Lessons Learned…

Press Play, then read on 🙂

 

Wow… what a journey it’s been! It’s dizzying for me to think back to almost two years ago when I was contemplating a departure from my comfortable, stable life.  I knew I wanted a change, there were a million places in the world I wanted to see and things I wanted to do, but I was overwhelmed by the infinite number of possibilities. I struggled with the “what now” question for months that summer, until that night at the silent disco benefit for planned parenthood where I met a guy who would expose me to the existence of the Infinity Expedition. (I’m realizing now that the name of the ship is only too perfect for my own exploration).  Less than a week later I would decide that I would join Infinity for a few months, venturing through the south pacific island countries of Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu.

One may say that my chance meeting of a person who just happened to be joining a sailboat that would later become my home was fate.  I love the idea of fate, (or even an unconscious “nudge”) but I think an openness to the possibilities around you every day is far more responsible for shaping a life.  And you won’t even get to hear about those possibilities if you’re not first connecting with other humans, especially those outside of your daily bubble if what you want in life is change.  Then when something piques your interest, take note.  In a minute of free time at the office the day after the benefit, I googled the Infinity Expedition, and I instantly fell in love with the community environment and mission. I also discovered that joining the ship would be very feasible financially, and a couple emails to Captain Clemens later determined it would work out logistically as well.  Too many times we shut ourselves down without even exploring the possibility, telling ourselves “it’s a long shot” or “it will never work” or “not me” … and with this outlook you’ll always be right. But if you give that interest a chance and believe in the ability for it to become YOUR reality, it just might. I feel the same way about my 6-month stint volunteering for Econia.  When meeting Albert and Meritxell, my interest in their company, mission and location was piqued, I did a little research and followed up, and low and behold it became my reality and an incredible learning experience. I think less of this as fate and more a testament to the power of openness – enabling you to connect with others, and ultimately connect with your own inner voice.

Listening to that voice and being open to turning your desires into reality becomes easier when you reinforce the possibility of success through practice.  And you get a daily myriad of practice when travelling alone.  After two months on the Infinity, I was ready to set off by myself in Vanuatu. The boat was mostly focusing on preparation for its journey north, but I had my own journey to set out on.  When you see the pretty Instagram pictures of far off places, you are spared the decision-making process and logistics of what it took to get to that vista. To be honest, after 20 months of travel, I am really looking forward to setting that number of daily decisions aside for a while.  I enjoy it, but it ultimately can hinder one’s ability to be present in the amazing place you’re in.  I already feel more at peace knowing that in two months, I have a home and master’s degree program waiting for me in Gunnison, Colorado.

That being said, I am so appreciative for this journey and the path it’s taken… a healthy mixture of the deep-dive into existing passions that I’d dreamed about, and experiences and locations that were never before on my radar.  I’d never sailed more than a day at a time before but had always been fascinated by the islands of the south pacific.  I then lived in the heart of my comfort zone, chasing snowstorms through western US and Canada, skiing my little heart out over months of powder days.  I volunteered at the SXSW music festival which I’d had on my Google calendar for about a decade.  I then spent the summer venturing around Europe, which had never been a goal of mine but made sense with pre-existing travel plans with friends, and it offered the ability to explore a vast array of cultures and landscapes all on one continent, mostly by public transportation.  There were plenty of days exploring metropolitan centers, taking in cultures through their history, architecture, food, art, music, and personal interaction, and days spent getting out of the cities by bike or campervan. I used my GPS app, Gaia, to guide me on solo treks through the Picos de Europa in Spain and through Norwegian fjords and glaciers.  I volunteered at a farm in the Portuguese countryside. I even got to share 3 weeks in Greece with Mom, experiencing the place where the modern city structure was developed, stunning Aegean islands through seas just as blue as the storybooks, and above all each other’s company throughout the journey.  By the end of the summer I knew I needed to bring more purpose to my upcoming adventures, and found the Himalayan Light Foundation in Nepal, offering the opportunity to combine hands-on experience installing solar power with a culture that lives and breathes interpersonal and natural connection – and of course an opportunity to trek the highest mountains in the world.  Upon leaving Nepal I had an apartment, car and a “job” waiting for me in rural Spain thanks to my encounter in Lisbon months before.  Through my research and work with them, I learned multitudes about what was going on in the world of environmental sustainability projects, reaffirming my dream job of managing these initiatives for companies and communities. I also had the weekends to take “daycations” through nearby cities and countrysides, and was lucky enough to have two sets of friends visiting at the end of my stay to cap off my stay with… first exploring around the region with my apartment as a home base, then venturing south via train and car through Andalucía.  Six months after returning to Spain, I was ready to go.  It was a great experience, but I knew my future did not lie in that location or company.  I’d applied to a couple jobs but didn’t quite feel experienced enough to land them, leading to my decision to return to school.  At first, I wasn’t even considering the US, but when I found WCU’s Master of Environmental Management program in Gunnison Colorado, my heart spoke up and told me that not only would it be a great educational experience but could potentially be the mountain community I’ve always wanted. But I still had a couple months before in-person classes started, and a country that I’ve wanted to live in for years – the perfect opportunity to move to Argentina for their fall/winter. It’s an opportunity to put my Spanish classes into daily execution (only Catalan was heard around small town Catalonia), live in a place I’ve always been fascinated by, and have a “stable” home for the summer class I’m taking remotely.  It’s late fall so I get to hike the mountains now with a dusting of snow and watch the transformation as the local ski hill turns white and the lifts start turning.  And in late July, I’ll pack up my Deuter backpack one last time (for now) and head back to Colorado.  As with the other steps along the way, the timing and destination feel natural, and I feel like this time of travelling has enabled me to truly listen to my own desires and needs.


People really seem to love “top X (number of things)” lists, so here’s my recount of the most powerful things I learned while travelling:

  • Listen to and trust your inner voice: As mentioned before, this is so powerful, both for every day decisions and big life ones.
  • Don’t stress over decisions: Goes along with number 1. If you listen to and trust your inner voice and check in that it makes sense rationally and for your goals, then #2 becomes a heck of a lot easier.  There’s a lot of information out there too if you’re assessing options, but at a certain point go with your gut and make moves. Because…
  • There are no “wrong” answers: If you’re doing what’s right for you at the time given everything you know, your decision cannot be “wrong”, it’s just different from the path that the other decision would have put you on.
  • Give yourself space and time: Our lives are so busy. Before I took this time off, I rarely did   I was fairly uncomfortable when I found myself on the boat with no way to get to shore and not a lot “to do”… but then I opened up the book “the subtle art of how not to give a fuck”, and within minutes the wheels in my head started spinning with things I wanted to prioritize in my own life and how to go about doing that.  Without space and time, we don’t give our inner voice the chance to speak up, and instead stay in the same routines without questioning them.
  • Let go of attachment: I “dated” two guys over the course of my year and a half of travels. I said the L word to both.  In particular, the first guy and I had a strong connection right off the bat, and even though we said we wouldn’t get involved it was apparent early on that it was going to happen anyways.  I knew for a while that he wasn’t in the emotional place to be in a relationship, but nevertheless I was crushed when he told me those exact words (over a bad wifi connection no less).  I came to realize that I was less in love with the person and our relationship and more in love with the idea of us being together and frankly the idea of spending a life with anyone.  And as luck would have it, the very next day I met the man of my dreams in a mountain refugio that was telling me I was his soul mate… In time I had to repeat the process (although not so painfully) of realizing our relationship for what it was and detaching from the idea of us.  More so, I needed to detach from the concept that having a partner and getting married is the key to my happiness. I still want a partner, for sure, but we should supplement each other’s already happy lives, not be reliant on one another for that.  I hope that now I can better identify a partner in the same emotional place, ready to contribute to a relationship but not needing it for happiness.
  • “Every little thing that you think that you need… I bet that you’ll be fine without it”: Spotify put this Peter Doran song in my “Discover Weekly” playlist one time, and it finds its way into my head on a regular (and very necessary) basis. Many times in my life I’ve found myself consumed by the need to have something that I didn’t or to just “change one thing”.  Guess what – the song is right about 99.9% of the time, and in many cases the need disappears after singing couple refrains out loud.
  • How to practice meditation and yoga for self-healing: Emotional breakdowns happen. Mine came when I was super alone in a hotel room in Spain when I hadn’t really “connected” with anyone in a couple days – and that’s when Phil “broke up” with me.  I lost it.  I could have called a friend, the time zones worked out to where it would have been a reasonable hour in Colorado, but instead I got online and found a couple guided meditations to talk me through it.  Through my frantic google search for meditations on “Letting go of someone”, I came to realize that my anxiety was triggered by attachment, and as hard as it was, I needed to learn that lesson on my own.  It was empowering to know that there are tools out there for addressing emotional anxiety that we can use on our own in a time of need.
  • Learning a Language is hard – but is so incredibly worth it. As mentioned, I’m learning Spanish.  I’ve been in Argentina for about a week and can communicate on a very basic level, especially one on one.  I think back to even a couple months ago and I’ve made so much progress.  But get me in a room with a bunch of native Spanish speakers and I can barely follow the conversation.  I have no hope of being “fluent” by the time I leave, but with regular practice and continued education I know I’ll get better, and the better I get, the more people in the world that I can now communicate with. Learn from. Help. And really, how incredible is that. “After” Spanish, I would love to further my pre-existing French core as well.
  • The US isn’t perfect – but we sure are fortunate. I feel insanely fortunate to be able to take this journey, or even quit my job in the first place.  For so many, just having a job that makes enough money to cover basic expenses is a struggle enough.  Our country(‘s president) is a big freaking asshole right now, but we still have to accept that we’ve got it good.  The societal drive that created the “most powerful country in the world” provided us with a breadth of opportunity unheard of in most of the world.  The problem is that our fortune has led to a greed that’s now out of control.  I believe that those of us who have ample money and time have the responsibility to 1) get our own country’s, or at least our local priorities back in check, and 2) provide opportunities to those not so fortunate, especially internationally. A little bit of volunteering and financial contribution can mean drastic improvement in the life of an individual not as lucky as you.
  • Don’t be scared. People are generally good.  And if they’re not, you’ll probably sense it – see #1.  But if you go through life closed off to everyone scared that they can’t be trusted, you’re missing out – connection is crucial to travel and learning about the life beyond your own.  To really connect with a place, you need to go beyond taking pretty pictures – you need to immerse yourself in it, talk to the people (see #8) and live their lives, not the path created to keep tourists comfortable. Eat the food, drink whatever they’re drinking, go where they go and do what they do.  And if you’re not sure, ask, they’ll probably tell you or take you there themselves.

I wrote that two months ago in a cabin in the Patagonian woods, right before starting a summer class of “light reading” (a book, multiple papers and articles with a 2 page written synopsis due weekly) that combined with my need to get out and play fully consumed my two months down there… So though I didn’t get the time to post it, I still agree with and appreciate these takeaways.  I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions, and am so ready and thankful to rejoin my Coloradan community! More accounts of the last two months in Argentina and Chile coming soon!

 

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The Last Hurrah: Peru & intro to Argentina

When I decided to take some time off work and was considering what to do and where to go, the first place that came to mind was Argentina. I pictured the perfect combination of Argentine cowboys, imposing mountains, expansive countryside and of course incredible meat and wine. Once I knew I was heading back to school in the fall and had a couple months of freedom left, South America was without a doubt going to be my destination. It would be their fall/winter and (hopefully) provide both an opportunity to trek the mountains before too much snow fell and ski the Cerro Catedral once it opens in July. Dani had been wanting to visit Peru for years and it was “on the way”, so why not trek the Incan trails and explore the Amazonian Rainforest? And I’m so glad we did… the trip offered so much more than expected. Our 4 day trek, an alternative to the popular Salkantay trail, was just phenomenal. The weather, no so much, but the Andes are green for a reason. We had rain almost every day, which turned into snow once we got high enough. The pouring rain, especially when combined with driving winds, definitely was not the most comfortable, but our guide David and his team did absolutely everything in their power to make up for it with incredible meals and dedicated service! Neither of us had been treated so lavishly in our lives… We signed up for a guide, and what we got was that plus a chef, a sous chef, a horseman and 4 mules! On top of cooking absolutely amazing meals (one time we counted 7 courses… at lunch time!) at altitudes up to 15,000ft, they set up our tents, mattresses and sleeping bags, set up a porta-potty tent, gave us nighttime hot water bottles for the cold nights, served us morning tea in “bed”, literally gave us the ponchos off their backs when our own rain jackets weren’t cutting it, and carried everything aside from our minimal daypacks. These guys were rockstars. Service aside, the views along the way were breathtaking and we both commented that the clouds often added to the allure of the scenery. The incan ruins were so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes, especially the ones we had to ourselves along the hike. Our guide David was actually half incan and still spoke the native language of Quechua; although the Spanish conquistadors largely succeeded in their takeover, it felt good to see that the culture lives on and to be supporting the locals through our choice of guide service. David gave us so much valuable history of the incan civilization and the Spanish conquest, instantly transporting you in time. Although Machu Picchu itself was impressive with it setting nestled in the mountaintops, it was a little harder to appreciate with the hordes of other tourists we were sharing it with. But what a vast and impressive city. I was most impressed by the technical skill of the incans. They formed perfectly square rocks as the building blocks of their city walls. They did so by first creating small cracks where they wanted the rock to be cut, and then either wedging wooden sticks in the crack and thereafter soaking the wood with water, the expanding wood shearing the rock. If they were in a colder climate, they would instead pour water into the crack, and the freezing process of the water would be enough to crack the rock. I observed stones the size of elevators and small cars at the Sacksywaman ruin site, formed the same way and moved via placement of sticks beneath the gigantic blocks to roll them into their designated places.

After a quick return to Cusco, we hopped a plane to Purto Maldonado for the other end of the weather spectrum – 4 days in the balmy rainforest. Actually, while we were there it wasn’t too horribly balmy and not at all rainy, so we lucked out. We were picked up at the airport, driven 30 minutes to the Tambopata river, then had another half-hour boat ride to deliver us to our jungle lodge home. We took night walks in the jungle, canoed nearby lakes, visited medicinal and fruit gardens, watched sunrises from canopy towers, and sunsets from sandbars alongside the river. We saw huge caymen on day 1 on the river, along with a number of dog-sized caipybera, a tarantula, a few (small caipybera), macaws, parrots and parakeets, and more monkeys than we could count of at least 4 different varieties. Growing up in the Maine woods and learning quickly that the way to see animals is to be as quiet as possible, it was a challenge walking through the woods with 10 other humans and to stay optimistic… So we snuck a few yards into the woods by ourselves and instantly had a number of monkey buddies playing in the trees above us. Our stay in the jungle was full of activities but still left relaxation time, and we became buddies with the 6 english and 2 swedish people in our group, always the last to leave the dining room and closing down the bar on the last night.

Dani and I had an afternoon left in Lima, ate some incredible ceviche at a place that intimidated both of us at first but sent us out the door with new friends, took in the sunset over the Pacific, then swung through the cool Barranco district before delivering her to the airport and me to my hotel to get a quick few hours of sleep before my own flight to Santiago early the next morning.

It’s funny, I’ve been in Santiago twice, and both times in was waiting for ridiculous amounts of time in one place. The first time it was the airport for 8 hours, this second time it was at the bus terminal for about 6. And for a bus I almost didn’t make it on. They give you this itty bitty piece of paper that could double for a gas receipt at Chilean customs, and apparently you need to carry that at all times – especially when boarding a bus that’s crossing country lines like the one I was taking to Bariloche, Argentina. I had thrown that little receipt away in the bathroom garbage, but when it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be let on the bus without it, I sprinted back to the bathrooms, past the counter where you pay to use the bathroom, to the stall I’d been in hours before, fished through more than I want to say but you can use your imagination in the trash and low and behold FOUND my customs receipt, sprinted back out of the bathroom to confront a very angry woman screaming at me demanding her money (times are tight in Chile, especially at the bus station), after yelling back a little emptying out my change pocket into her hand and sprinting back on the (thankfully) waiting bus with receipt in hand. All this, mind you, in the limited Spanish I have. The 20-hour bus ride itself was surprisingly comfortable in the equivalent of recliners, and I had a fascinating conversation with a man of Mapuche descent explaining the current tension between the indigenous people an the government claiming ownership of the resources and land they are so connected to. This conversation, relevance to the Incans, and what I learned of the Sherpas in Nepal all led me to thinking we stand to learn a lot from indigenous peoples on how to truly live sustainably; might be a project for my Mountain Resilience Coalition fellowship!

So here I am, IN argentina, and yes taking a couple days somewhat removed from civilization to catch up on blogging, but I’m here! It’s beautiful, lakes surrounded by stunning mountains that have just gotten a new coat of snow, a great little town (well not so little) with more cerveserias than you can count and a whopping 45 pesos to the dollar exchange rate (making a beer a buck or two and a hostel bed about $10 if needed), hence “splurging” on an Airbnb for $9 a night to write and get some quiet time in the forest. The hostel welcomed me with open arms, the volunteers cook delicious meals together every day (covered costs by the owners) and soon I’ll test my capability to speak enough Spanish to interact with customers on my own. Here we go! I’m reserving the right to relocate to another workaway or even just stay with a couchsurfing host if I’m not loving the work or don’t feel like I have enough time to explore the area and do my one course of remote classwork… but we’ll see how it goes! I know the remaining 8 weeks will fly by unfortunately but I will absolutely make the most of the time I have in the area! Hasta siempre ?

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Settling into España

True to my word, I didn’t write much (ok at all) after “moving” to Spain. Although I wanted to capture this journey both to look back on myself and share with the world, I was ready for a break from documenting every day, and I also anticipated a more stable life with not as much to say. To an extent that was true, a blog about going to the office everyday would probably lose an audience pretty quick, but there was still so much to share about the life I was living. So here goes…

My return to Spain did not entail jumping straight into work, and instead I had almost two weeks of staying in the countryside under the Picos de Europa mountains, including 5 days of trekking between mountain Refugios. This trip was courtesy of Mr Perfect Spaniard Skiier as discussed in Spain pt 1. It was a stunning trek, but nowhere near “perfect”. This was only really the second period of time we’d spent together, and in so many ways it was really great. There was a change of plans in that his boss at the refugio got into a horrible bicycle crash (perhaps after a consuming bottle of wine or two, but I digress) so we ended up working at the Refugio for the weekend before setting out on our own trek. It was there where a couple things came to my attention about Mr. Perfect Spaniard Skiier, things verging on uncomfortable, like his need to clean a house or cook a meal just so, without accepting other ideas or input. I didn’t take it all too personally, this was his job afterall, but I took note. Also, even though we spent almost two weeks together, there were days where I was craving more interaction with him, specifically if he was hiking far ahead of me (he was a former professional “football” player and in excelled at all things athletic, but in thrse moments actually spending the time with me didn’t seem like a priority). My head was still literally and figuratively in the clouds of where this could go, especially when he would say things like “if I had a ring I would give it to you”… but I was aware of the things that just didn’t feel quite right. That being said, the trip was beautiful, showcasing fall in the Picos at its finest. We were accompanied by Ribeco the whole way, an incredibly agile animal similar to a shorter, stalky antelope, typically high in the mountains in the summer but relocating to lower elevations for the fall and winter. They would bound up and down cliffs effortlessly, and one time we watched a pack of hundreds cross a rugged bowl. Although most of our journey was above treeline, at one point we were immersed in a spectrum of autumn leaves upon approaching our last night’s refugio. The most memorable moment for me was without a doubt our crossing of a 200-yard icefield. Rather than take a much longer way around, we tried our luck that a particular mountain pass would be free from last season’s ice, and it was – mostly. The ice field we encountered wasn’t really that long, but in was inclined just enough to slide you right off the edge. The perimeter of said icefield dropped off abruptly ~10 feet or more on all sides, leaving a crevasse between the ice and the rock that would surely swallow either of us whole. Neither of us had crampons, I had hiking poles, and Dani had his trusty walking stick. And what happened next made me want to marry that man on the spot. Being that he was tall, he was able to step one foot onto the ice field with one foot still on the rock beside it, and actually chisel a step into the ice with his (wooden) walking stick. After making two steps, he would step on these and repeat the process just beyond him, keeping in mind that my steps were far smaller than his and distancing them appropriately. It was a slow process, but it worked, and I absolutely loved his perseverance and ingenuity. Two days later our trek ended perfectly, with stunning sunset over the ocean beyond and a harvest moon rising above… We said our goodbyes at the airport, anticipating seeing each other in the not too distant future, even though he was heading to Scotland for the winter and I to my tiny town in Catalonia. It would only be about 5 weeks until we did see each other again, but that’s another story…

I flew to Spain with my all too-much stuff, spent a quick day in Barcelona as introduction, then met my new boss Meritxell to drive to L’Ampolla and get settled in my new home. I was about a block from the beach and had a whopping TWO BEDROOM apartment, more space then I’d had to myself in about a decade (even when I owned a house I shared it with roommates). I hadn’t even had a “home” in a year. And I nested – HARD. I did a lot of yoga, a lot of running (especially after finding a beautiful trail that ran along the coast just steps from my door) and consumed myself with my work. I also started Catalan classes with the thought that in weeks I would be joining the daily banter with my coworkers. THAT was a wake-up call! Even with my two classes a week and homework, I just didn’t feel like I was making much progress. It wouldn’t be until months later, reading a blog about needing to spend 5 hours a day to become conversational in a language in 3 months – that I realized that my expectations for language progress were WAY overestimated. Also, I was never fully committed to learning, being that I didn’t see myself in Catalonia in the long term, even if I did end up continuing work with the company, and Catalan is only beneficial in Catalonia. I just happened to be in a small town where Catalan was what was spoken out and about, and although everyone knew “Castilian” Spanish, it was only spoken if spoken to them in such. Add to the fact that this was the “off” season for L’Ampolla and there really weren’t many people “out and about”, and this time of nesting became downright isolating overall. Everyone was nice enough for sure, my coworkers were kind and my bosses invited me to join them around town regularly, but the language barrier is REAL – hence why I’m now focusing hard on learning Spanish to pull at least a few bricks out of that wall.

 

A handful of sunrise shots… because when the Mediterranean is only 2 blocks away and sunrise is at 7:30… you go watch!

I did get the opportunity to take many weekend “daycations” around the area… The region was stunning with dramatic mountains, buttes and rock formations providing many great day hikes. The towns were straight out of centuries past and sometimes millennia – the nearby city of Tarragona had an incredibly preserved Roman Coliseum and apparently was the first Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula. An old train line had been repurposed into a bike trail spanning 35 miles in total, all the way to the Catalonian border, passing through (lighted!) tunnels, over canyons and past vineyards which I took as sign to stop for a wine tasting to get the full experience (the rest of the way was downhill anyways). I spent a long weekend in Barcelona which was SO cool – Gaudi deserves every ounce of his notoriety. These trips were beautiful, but almost always alone. I’m an only child and can handle and even revel in my alone time, but spending the majority of 6 months alone was a little much for me.

La Caramella Ravine & Waterfall Hike

Daycation: Biking Via Verde de Zafan, Xerta to Arnes

Barcelona Weekend

 

 

Prague with Eric, Sam & Ellie!

And to be honest, it wasn’t even 6 months – I spent 2 weeks in Scotland with Dani over Christmas & New Years (by this time we’d decided we’d exist in a kind of more than friends but not “dating” grey area) which was SO great. The highlands of Scotland are somehow rugged and inviting all at the same time. He played tour guide and we lived out of his campervan on 2 4-day stints in between his working days at the ski shop. We hiked and explored by day and he played guitar and I sang by night. It was magical – even though we both knew it was temporary. And I’d gladly go back to Scotland in a second.

“Home” for the holidays in the highlands, Scotland!

I also spent 3 weeks in New Zealand with my parents, joining them on the trip they’d been planning for years. We trekked for 3 days through lush mountainous landscapes with the ocean not far out of view, spent a night on a boat in a tranquil sound, and a number of days at a retreat on the coastline. The trip was amazing, but I’d say sharing it with them was what I really enjoyed.

New Zealand

Sidenote – Don’t all mountains start looking the same? Never. That’s what’s so great about mountains. The forces that create them, their composition and the way that they weather is never exactly the same, even within the same range. Their surroundings, their flora and fauna, even the weather creates a landscape truly unique to every area. I’ve now spent significant time in mountains of every continent with the only exceptions of Africa and Antarctica, and it NEVER gets old or repetitive. There may be things that remind me of other areas or experiences, like Peru and Nepal for example, both regions where to this day the lives of the indigenous people are intertwined with their mountain homes. But one look around reveals either the Peruvian Andes, round, monolithic and covered in a blanked of green, or the dominating jagged summits of the Himalayas. I stand in awe of them all.

I was wrapping up my projects at Econia, but still had a few places I wanted to visit in Spain while I was there. Perfect timing – I had not one but two sets of friends coming to country to share the explorations with! First Erin came to town and we had the perfect combination of historical, cultural, gastronomic and straight up fun. We toured (apparently) 6000 year old cave paintings, then spent the weekend in a beachside town taking in the cultural spectacle of Setmana Santa (Easter). They take their Easter SERIOUSLY in most towns outside of Catalonia, and Peniscola was the closest city where we could experience an Easter procession in all it’s glory. Everyone in town comes out multiple times Easter to watch or participate in the parade, either playing instruments, singing, or carrying the full-sized crucified Jesus or virgin Mary statue. What’s perhaps even more impressive is that the thousands of onlookers are dead silent – a feat for a culture that loves using their words. The setting was also perfect – the procession exited through the main gate of a millennia-old Moorish castle. We would spend the next day exploring said castle, perched atop a point and prevailing over the coastline. After that we would spend a full day touring vineyards, caves and cellars of local wineries, visiting & going out in the adorable seaside town of Sitges, and eating all of the seafood we could get our little hands on. Great success.

Daycation – Siruana & Hiking Around

Daycation – Montserrat

Daycation – Sant Carles de la Rapita

Daycation – Biking to El Perello & Minavet

Staycation with Erin – Ermita de la Pietat cave paintings and Peniscola Santa Setmana

 

Staycation with Erin – Gandesa & El Pinell de Brai

Staycation with Erin – Sitges

Once my apartment was packed up, I ventured south, now solo, and spent just over a day in Valencia. Gosh was this city beautiful! It’s as if the whole city was perfectly preserved from it’s 1400’s heyday. Gorgeous, intricate architecture everywhere you looked… even including the gigantic Mercado. I made sure to get my authentic Valencian Paella while I was there and a few of the craft beers the area is gaining notoriety for now.

30 hours in Valencia

Then it was southbound to meet up with Nate and Laura for our Andalucian road trip! They were kind enough to let me tag along for their babymoon as we explored Southern Spain, starting in the quaint coastal city of Cadiz, then down to Tarifa to ogle the epic windsurfers, down to Gibraltar to visit the monkeys and walk around “the rock”. From there we headed up to the cliffside pueblo of Ronda which was the perfect combination of historical presence, modern authenticity and sheer beauty. Our last destination together was Granada, perhaps my favorite stop of our journey. It’s a bigger city and as such has a more prevalent tourist presence, but it really has it all. The Alhambra towers over the metropolis, with only the neighboring (and still snowcapped) Sierra Nevada mountains sharing the skyline. I booked us a Flamenco show and we were all blown away by the performance – I for one am ready to start taking Flamenco classes as soon as I get back to Gunnison. They must exist, right?
After 1 more churro and chocolate, we parted ways, I headed to Madrid for the night where I’d be catching my flight out in the morning and said my ‘dios to Spain. I won’t be calling it “home” again any time soon but was an incredible experience I’m so appreciative to have had.

Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Cadiz

Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Tarifa

Windsurfers taking full advantage of a gusty situation!!!

Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Gibraltar and Ronda

Babymoon with Nate and Laura – Granada

 

 

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Let’s talk about the Environment (GASP!)

In March, I had the opportunity to attend 2 different conferences discussing the state of climate change and what to do about it. These conferences were in two different continents with two different objectives, and yet my takeaway was the same – Yes large corporations may be the biggest emitters of carbon, but WE create that demand and WE are the solution.
Wait even me?
Yes you!
And me too!

And what’s the number one thing we can do to address climate change? Talk about it!!!

From what I’ve heard, all of the addiction counseling programs start with ADMITTING you have a problem. So I’ll start first.

For the first time, I figured I’d try a couple carbon emissions calculators to see exactly how much of the problem I was responsible for contributing… And I’ll cut to the chase, my carbon footprint is HUGE – and this was confirmed by multiple sites. I fell right at about 22 tons of equivalent carbon emissions a year, about 20-25% more than the national average and 5 times more than the worldwide average! I feel pretty conscientious about prioritizing the environment in my every day actions… I reject one time use plastics most of the time. I ride my bike to work a few times a week. I don’t buy new things often. I eat meat or seafood only 1-2 times a week, and usually only with friends or family, something I see as a “special occasion”. I’m even completely divesting from Carbon Underground 200, the top 100 coal and oil public companies in the world. But – I can afford to be wasteful. These last two years alone I was probably the worst abuser, flying more times than I could count and spending last winter criss-crossing the US in my 100% gasoline fueled car. Turns out taking a flight is about the worst carbon emitting thing we can do; a cross country flight alone emits 1 metric ton of carbon. Turns out the worst carbon emitters are the richest countries because we can afford to consume A LOT. But we can’t buy another earth… Through our actions and our dollars, we can do everything in our power to help the one we have!

Getting back to the conferences – the number 1 thing we can do is free – Communicate! Talk about the problem, talk about the solutions. And I know just jumping into conversations about the environment and personal actions is not always easy, so to save you the carbon footprint of travelling to your own conferences, I’ll summarize my how-to here (although you should totally join a conference or talk in your area if you get the chance!!).

Why should we communicate? Because we’re not. Every month fewer than 1 in 5 Americans hear someone they know talk about Climate Change. News about climate change is 0.01% of the news on TV, even though its rated as the number one global issue by the UN foundation. We should talk about the environment because the technical solutions we think that we need to cut carbon emissions exist – we just need to spread awareness and acceptance to make change happen. A conversation can easily make you think twice about hopping on the bus versus taking your car alone, or who you vote for on election day. Not only does every behavior count, but it’s contagious both within the rest of your life and for those around you.

What do I talk about?
Talk about whatever is on your mind… if it feels forced, well, you won’t do it (because you won’t enjoy it), and frankly you’ll scare people away. Talk about places you love and can connect over, like your favorite mountain or beach. Your experiences and passions cannot be “wrong” and avoids polarizing the conversation. Talk about things happening in the world that you and your audience care about. Talk about opportunity, like how transitioning to renewable energy creates jobs, increases a country’s economy & decreases emissions all at the same time. Don’t use jargon or make stuff up; it’ll question your credibility and hinder genuine connection. And remember that (as with all conversations) it’s just as important to LISTEN as it is to talk. No one wants a bunch of unsolicited facts in their face, and the input we can garner from each other will result in solutions that best address everyone’s needs.

Beyond communication, you can address climate change with your food choices, purchases, means of transportation, your financial investments, and activism for causes you care about! I’ve got a slew of statistics behind the impacts that each of these decisions can make, indications of both progress and ongoing climate effects around the world, and a ton of other notes from both conferences that spoke to me. Knowledge is power, so learn what you can about what you care about, then spread the word – and we CAN create change. Remember the hole in the ozone layer? Effective communication and policy banned substances responsible for ozone depletion, and we’re on track to have the ozone back to pre-1980 levels by mid-century. Bam. If we have the power to cause this mess we’re in, then we’ve got the power to fix it – together.

If you are concerned about facing objections to talking about the changing climate, you’re not alone. Somehow the environment has become a very bipartisan topic in the US, when in reality it affects every one of us without judgement. Wildfires, floods, droughts and hurricanes have no bias. If you need any further inspiration to create change through communication, watch (and share!) this great video by climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. Every conversation is one step closer to bridging what divides us; one step closer to ensuring a beautiful future.

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Valeda Scribbles in Green!

I’ve been on a bit of a posting hiatus, but the time has come to share what I’ve been up to offline.  In summary, I have become a human sponge (the organic kind that isn’t made from petroleum products) for all things sustainability! Yes, of course there is a TON of science and tangible everyday evidence out there demonstrating the pretty scary trajectory that our precious earth and frankly life as we know it is on due to our overuse of carbon emitting fuels…. But the flip side of that and what geeks me up is the opportunities we have now that we’ve reached the tipping point demanding change.  There is SO much cool technology available to transition to a sustainable world! My biggest argument for making the changes is WHY NOT? I came from aerospace, and although there’s still some people who feel like space exploration is an unnecessary expense, when the challenge was presented and the opportunity arose, it excited and motivated enough people to put a man on the moon only 12 years after the launch of the first satellite.  If we can do that, you better believe we can create less waste (and find ways to use it in new products) and transition away from dirty, unsustainable fossil fuels that are heating up the globe as we speak and instead harness energy from the wind and sun which we have PLENTY of (just ask these kite surfers in the bay a block from where I’m living!)

Speaking of the Catalan coast of Spain, my weekdays here have been consumed by assisting Econia with some fascinating LIFE projects, researching new areas for opportunity at the vehicle recycling facilities they manage, and other projects like assessing the possibility of introducing solar power our office building.  If you’re not familiar with LIFE projects I forgive you – I wasn’t either until I arrived.  LIFE projects are initiatives proposed by businesses, schools, and non profits across Europe that the EU co-funds. From what I’ve gathered in my 4 months here, the EU has developed regulations that all member states must abide by in the areas of climate and the environment, and in turn they hold an open call for proposals every year.  If you are selected, they will fund up to half of your proposed project budget. Your proposal must be a well-developed idea that you’re willing to put your own elbow grease and dinero down to complete.  It must also be a collaboration between other EU member states (at this time, this still includes the UK).


The ones I’ve worked on so far are LIFE COOP2020 and LIFE Regenerate, both projects specifically demonstrating progressive farming techniques to keep farming sustainable in our changing climate. LIFE Coop2020 which just wrapped up focused on the benefit farms can have by forming and utilizing Cooperatives.  Cooperatives provide a means for regional farms to share lessons learned, provide a location for sales and distribution of products, and allocate a specific team that can stay on top of new technologies and management principles, allowing individual farmers to focus on the farming. This project was funded predominantly by Cooperativa Cambrils a cooperative of farms primarily focused on olives and olive oil production.  Coop2020 incorporated both fascinating micro-windmills and smart grid technology (managing whether energy is used from solar, wind or the grid depending on availability and cost at the time) to irrigate participating farmers’ fields.  The project also demonstrated the process of testing and selecting biofuel crops for otherwise abandoned lands.  As if that wasn’t enough, a boiler used in the processing of olives was converted to use biomass instead of diesel, and olive pits from the facility were used as fuel. Now that’s circular!


The other project I’ve done some work for, LIFE Regenerate, also demonstrates holistic farm management for sustainability, this time focusing on delicious Iberico ham! If you’ve ever been to Spain or Portugal, I’m sure you saw Jamón ibérico all over the place… and hopefully you got the chance to try it (unless you’re vegetarian, which I completely appreciate).  The ham is from a specific species of pig which eats only acorns for the last few months of its life, lending to an incredible nutty flavor and the thin slices just melt in your mouth.  Many farmers have learned that the best quality ham comes from happy pigs (shocker!) so they provide a pretty sweet lifestyle for the swines.  I had the opportunity to visit one of the participating farms, and I’d be thrilled to call it home myself.  Wouldn’t you?



In recent years with rising temperatures leading to weakened trees, a fungal outbreak has attacked the holm oak, the pigs’ acorn provider of choice. LIFE Regenerate is testing a theory that introduction of another well known fungi, the truffle, can protect the oaks from disease as well as produce valuable (and equally delicious) truffles! Yes please! The project also incorporates the age old but lost practice of multi-species rotational grazing to revitalize land.
I’ve seen these projects successfully demonstrate new technologies and management tactics, yet I’ve also seen that when the grant runs out the businesses involved often do not have the funds to continue  implementation. I know the goal of the LIFE projects is to then replicate the technologies in other locations, but I don’t know how much this is happening.  Do you know of funding opportunities like these in the US or worldwide? I appreciate government support of progressive initiatives for sustainability such as these, but any suggestions for how to best manage continuation once outside funding is removed?

This post will mark a shift in my blog – since my world is consumed with environmental sustainability these days, my blog will undoubtedly be to! I would LOVE feedback and encourage open conversation – let’s share ideas and learn from each other! None of us is as smart as all of us!

 

 

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