Our New Home! Durango, Colorado

In case anyone has been wondering what happened to us since we got back to the states, here’s an update! After spending some of the summer at my parents’ home in Illinois, Chris and I packed up our truck to the brim, loaded in with our beloved dog, Marciano, with whom we’ve been joyfully reunited, and headed west. We dined in some quaint towns in Iowa and got through Nebraska as quickly as we could on our way to Colorado. Chris stayed behind the wheel most of the time and knocked out the ride until we arrived in Golden, just at the edge of the rocky mountains, where we stopped to climb at a cliff band above the town. We continued from there to Glenwood Springs, where we stopped for a hot soak in the local natural springs. The next day we drove south on the 550, known as the million dollar highway.  It’s a twisty turny route winding through steep canyons and turning your stomach in knots as you look down past the pavement to the river below and hope your driver is watching the road, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful, especially around Ouray and then all the way into Durango.  The sun was setting during the final hour of our drive, illuminating the sky and the mountains, and turning up our excitement for our new home.

For almost 2 weeks we slept in the camper of our truck, enjoying the hospitality of our friends Nick and Candiss, who let us use their home for our kitchen and bathroom needs while we looked for a place.  Then we found a white adobe three bedroom house in downtown Durango, about half a mile from Main Ave, where we moved in with a couple of roommates.

Soon after that we both found jobs.  After almost a year of traveling and enjoying complete freedom, we are both ready to get back to work. I am working as a tile setter in a new 18,000 sq ft mansion being built, and Chris is working at the Natural Grocer and at a bar called the Summit. I bought a 2002 Subaru, Colorado’s most popular car, so now we fit right in. This photo shows some of the tile work I am doing. In this floor I am actually laying a herringbone pattern of century old reclaimed brick from Chicago.

In his free time, Chris goes climbing locally or out to Utah for desert cracks and towers (where is it at this very moment). I am enjoying doing yoga, hiking, and started taking an aerial dance class where we climb up fabric and hanging hoops. Here’s a photo of a couple of my new friends Melinda and Brian playing with the fabric:

Durango is very beautiful, especially in fall. Here are some photos of a short hike we went on about 15 minutes from our house:

 

On one Sunday we drove about an hour north of town to hike up to Ice Lake at about 12,500 feet.  Though the last mile was covered in 2 feet of snow and we all got wet feet, the views were worth it!
A few weeks ago I marched with the Occupy Durango movement down Main Ave, calling for an end to corporate greed and a healthier society. Before the march the group of over 100 people met in a park for an open meeting to discuss peoples’ frustrations and desires:
This weekend we went out to Moab, Utah with 3 of our new friends who I know from Aerial class to climb a desert tower called Ancient Art. We camped out for two nights surrounded by the red rock towers and mesas.  The climb is about 300 feet, and the last pitch takes you to the pinnacle of a free standing tower where you stand up on a tiny platfor about 2 feet diameter:
On December 1st I’ll begin renting an art studio space in a building on Main that I will be sharing with 5 other young independent artists. I hope to start advertising my mosaic services and start teaching some mosaic classes soon.  Chris will be taking his Wilderness First Responder class in Zion Utah soon and hopes to get work in the outdoor industry or maybe just find a job he enjoys more with more time to go climbing.  We are adjusting pretty well and settling into to town. There are so many outdoor sports to get involved with here.  Rock climbing and mountain biking are very popular. Now that winter is coming we can try downhill and cross country skiing, snowboarding, and iceclimbing.   Just north of here is the Durango Mountain Resort, a downhill ski park. In the vicinity are several hotsprings. Not far from here is Mesa Verde National Park, where we visited last week to check out some Anasazi ruins. In town there are dozens of fun restaurants and microbreweries. Durango is home to Fort Lewis College, which sits on a Mesa just above where we live and makes it a vibrant place. Durango is also known for the Steamtrain that runs between here and Silverton, which draws thousands of tourists and has helped keep the economy stronger than many towns. There is a decent amount of art appreciation and many fine local artists. There are barely any mosaics in town so I see a lot of untapped potential and hope to start making my mark around here, one little piece at a time! (:  To our friends and family who have been reading our blog and enjoying the photos, we’d love to hear from you! Now that we’re back in America, we’d love to see you! Come visit beautiful Colorado!!
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Canyoning in Manali

Some photos of Chris’ canyoning trip in Manali, he went gratis as an assistant!

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Lily the Vendor, Chris the Climber

While Chris has just started a 6 day trek in the northern Indian mountains near Leh, I have been busy in Barrington selling the treasures I brought home from Nepal. First was the weekend sale at the Ice House Mall, where I was supported primarily by family and friends. It was fun to see some people I haven’t seen in so long, and it was a lovely and calm place to be in the Barrington Cultural Arts Center gallery which was started by my mom a few years ago.

Next I was set up at the first annual International Fest in downtown Barrington. It was a warm, sunny day, and my good friend Danielle who was in town came to help me set up. There were Bollywood dancers, salsa lessons, and Chinese drummers performing.

Vending at the International Festival

This weekend I was lucky to be able to set up my goods at my former workplace, Ambrosia Euro American Patisserie in Barrington, an exceptional pastry and bakery shop that also makes fabulous coffee drinks and teas. The loving owners Debby and Richard have been so supportive of Chris and I throughout our whole journey, and especially so now that I’ve come back!  It was so nice to be able to spend the day there, oggling the delicious desserts, hanging out with Debby, and talking with customers about my travels and the goods I’d brought home to sell. This weekend was really successful, thanks to everyone who supported me, and especially to Debby and Richard and the wonderful staff at Ambrosia! If you live in the Chicago area, and have never been to Ambrosia, I assure you it is well worth the drive! I’m being completely honest when I say I’ve never had better pastries anywhere else in the world! (and I’ve been a lot of places) (:
I also have some of my handmade mosaics for sale there. The sale at Ambrosia was so fun and successful that it will be extended one more day, this Wednesday July 13th from 7-5ish.
 
 

Vending at Ambrosia

 
 
 
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Back in the USA!!

After 8 months in Asia, my parents and I were reunited when they flew all the way to Kathmandu for a visit! We explored the cities winding brick roads and some ancient temples and squares, and also did a 5 day trek back in the Everest region. While they were there we were reminiscing about all the yummy foods and good things back home in the states.  When I said I missed home, they offered me something too good to pass up, a ticket back to Chicago! So now I’m writing from good old Barrington, IL, where I’ve been happily reunited with my brother, the house I grew up in, and the best dog in the world, Marciano!  Chris, on the other hand, was not quite ready to finish the trip, so he’s now somewhere in Northern India with a goal to do as much trekking and mountaineering as he can for the next few months.  We will miss each other a lot, but we’re both happy to be where we are.  I will be in the Chicago area this summer, and will be vending some beautiful arts and crafts I brought back from Nepal, things like Indian textiles, Tibetan and Nepali jewelry with lots of turquoise, lapiz lazuli, coral and other semiprecious stones and sterling silver, and natural paper products made from a sustainable plant called Lokta. I will be adding some photos of these beautiful items soon.  Meanwhile, if you are in the area, I will be at the Barrington Ice House Mall Gallery having a sale in 2 weeks, Saturday and Sunday June 25 and 26, from 1-4Pm.  Can’t wait to see all my family and friends soon!! If you are around, call me, let’s get together! I’m so happy to be home!

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Parents Visit Nepal!

Here are some photos from my parents’ visit to Nepal.  After 8 months away it was so wonderful to see them again!

On the first night we stayed at a simple hotel called the Bouda Meditation Inn, which had a meditation room overlooking the Bouda (Bodnath) Stuppa:

The next day we had to go to what we call the tourist ghetto of Nepal to pick up our trekking permits, an area called Tamel which is loaded with foreigners and shops selling innumerable quantities of incredible handicrafts. The Nepali people are especially excellent artisans, as evidenced by the ancient buildings covered in intricate wood carvings, the silver work in the jewelry shops, and the tiny details in the Buddhist Thangka paintings.

I demonstrated a Tibetan Singing Bowl, used in Buddhist religious rituals and for sound healing purposes.
Walking around Kathmandu’s ancient, winding streets, the areas where only locals live doing their daily business.  It was fun to see Asia through the fresh eyes of my parents, noticing the raw meat vendors on the street, the beggars, the mess of tangled wires put up on the outside of buildings built before electricity existed, the adorable kids, the cycle rickshaws, the way members of the same sex hold hands in public rather than members of opposite.
 
 
I took them up the long stairway to Swayabumath, Monkey Temple, with the big stupa on top and a view of l Kathmandu. We met a monk who enlightened us to two truths: he said I must be a stable person because of the symbol I chose to wear on my necklace, then he told my mom her sunglasses were of poor quality.
On our way down from there we stopped a little family’s momo shop, where they served us 2 delicious plates of buffalo momos and cold Nepali beer. The old man sitting next to us offered us some of his Rakshi, rice liquor, and the sweet girl who made the momos obliged us by demonstrating how to make them.
Early the next morning we flew out to Lukla where we began the uphill trek to Namche Bazaar. Because Chris and I had just come back from the same trek he decided to stay in the city and rest.  This time, we hired a porter who carried all of our stuff and stayed right behind us the whole time. He was a young sweet Sherpa who barely spoke English but worked hard and was always smiling.  Akas was apparently in the wrong profession however, his true calling was a photographer. Each time we gave him the camera and asked him to shoot us, he got very serious about it, bending his knees and turning his head and the camera this way and that until he came up with the most creative angle, usually at about a 30 degree tilt:
Though the trek was much more difficult than they imagined, my parents kept moving steadily along, as we moved up to the market town of Namche. On the way they took shots of the beautiful rolling countryside, the mountains, rivers, yaks and the sweet people we passed:

The last part of the path up to Namche is the hardest, about 4 hours all uphill.  The next day we went even higher, up to Kumjung, where a 3 day festival was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the school built by Edmund Hillary, the first person to summit Mt. Everest.  As we walked above Namche we could look down at the town situated in the horseshoe shaped valley.
These kids helped show us the way to Kumjung:
At the festival many villagers were gathered to listen to speaches and watch song and dance performances:
We had momos for lunch at a small teashop. We ate next to these cute kids, the older ones were helping the younger to eat there Dal Bhat.
We visited the monastery at Namche, Tibetan style, colorful and full of photos of the Dalai Lama:
 
 
The way back down was a little easier than the way up, but still tough considering now your legs are sore and you’re still at a pretty high altitude. But of course the scenery and sights are still fantastic!
 

 
 We stayed one night in Lukla, and the next morning were lucky to have no delays leaving the infamous Lukla airport. This time we were on the tiny Pilatus Porter, a mini plane that carried only 6 passengers in the back, though there were 7 of us outside waiting to board. A man told me to follow him to the opposite side of the plane, where he motioned for me to get up into the co-pilot’s seat! So that’s how they fit 7 passengers! It was exciting to be there with the controls and the steering yoke right between my knees! The flight was longer and bumpier than that of the slightly larger plane we came in on, but it was certainly memorable!
Back in Kathmandu we met up with Chris and found a nice hotel with real mattresses, room service, TVs and even a bathtub! A major upgrade from the basic rooms available in the Everest region, and my parents were very relieved. The last few days of their trip we relaxed, shopped, ate good, and visited Durbar Square, the city center’s ancient palace complex.
  
 
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Mt. Everest National Park Trekking Part Two

From the top of Renjo La Pass at 5400 meters, we gazed accross at Mt. Everest and down to the village next to Gokyo lake. It looked so close, and after the long hike up to the pass we were all ready to get down to a room and a hot meal. Since I had made it up to the pass first, I set off first and figured we’d all meet up down there within an hour. How foreshortening can deceive! The walk down to the village took a lot longer than we expected, and I don’t think any one of us had any water left. It was a beautiful hike, but sunny and dehydrating. I had left the water purification droplets with Chris so I ended up having to drink straight from a mountain stream. Even at that elevation you have to be concerned about Giardia from yak droppings, but luckily I never had any problems.  Finally I made it to the edge of the lake, and all of a sudden it was hot, there was sand under my feet, and ducks in the sparkling turquoise water which lapped up against the shore. It almost felt like I’d made it to the beach, if not for the frigid cold water and the mountains which rose from all sides of the lake!

I walked along the edge of the lake for another hour until I finally reached the little village, consisting of about a dozen guesthouses.
This is the view from the window of our room!!
We decided to spend two nights in Gokyo, so the next day we took it easy and just took a short walk up the glacial moraine towards some smaller lakes higher up. This is the next lake after Gokyo. The higher you go, the lighter the color of the water as it mixes with the sandy silt of the glacier:
On the walk we spotted female Himalayan pheasants, a horse, and of course more yaks.
And more gorgeous lake and alpine views:
On our way out of Gokyo, this view of Cho Oyu, a giant mountain known for being the easiest to summit over 8,000 meters.
 
 And from this point, Chris and I parted ways, him proceeding over the more difficult and technical pass called Cho La. He needed to use his fancy mountaineering boots and ice axes, and camped out one night alone on the side of a beautiful mountain. He met me back in Kathmandu a week later. I walked the easier way down from Gokyo with our friends Ian and Dani, taking just 3 days to get back to Lukla. On the way down we saw people processing yak dung to use as fertilizer.
And many porters carrying insane amounts of heavy goods on their backs, like this guy, whose load of wood weighed literally about 200 pounds:
And more incredible treats for the eyes on the way back to Namche Bazaar:
Mt. Amadablam, a famously technical and serious mountaineers’ peak, admired for its beautiful aesthetic shape:
 
 
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Mt. Everest National Park Trekking Part One

After a few days in the city, both of us, but especially Chris, were hot to get out. I was dead set on heading to a yoga ashram but realized I’d be making a mistake to be all the way in Nepal and not go get a good view of Mt. Everest.  So we headed to the Everest region, known as the Khumbu. We took a 30 minute flight to Lukla to save an 8 hour bus ride and 7 days of walking in the hills. The Lukla airport is the most dangerous in the world, and several planes have crashed trying to land there. The airstrip looks about as long as a football field, and seems to be at about a 30 degree angle. Planes are not equipped with radar and landings are done only by sight, the weather has to be totally clear, and there are often delays, sometimes days long. But luckily our flight took off only a couple hours late, and we safely landed and skidded to a stop.  The mountains were already right there surrounding us and we started our trek. My goal was Gokyo lake via one of the famous “3 passes”, Renjo La pass. From Gokyo I planned to head back down whereas Chris continued to do a second pass, a little bit higher and more technical, called Cho La. We met up with our friend Ian who we’d met on the Annapurna trek, this time he was with his very sweet daughter Dani. The first two days were hiking along a beautiful river with villages dotted along the path providing food and shelter every hour or so.  The next two days were slightly more remote, the day over the pass being the most spectacular, with virtually no structures or services available for a full day of uphill hiking. The last bit of the climb up to the pass is steep, snowy and exhausting, but once you reach the prayer flags at the top of the pass, the view is completely stunning. From the top we saw Mt. Everest and lots of of other huge peaks, as well as down to the sparkling turquoise waters of Gokyo lake.

The view from our very first morning!
Yaks have been used for transporting goods this way for a long time. They are also eaten! Many Buddhists believe it is wrong to kill any living being, however, many believe it is acceptable to eat an animal killed by someone else or by perished due to natural causes.
 
 
These stones have been patiently hand carved for centuries by Buddhist devotees. Most are inscripted with the repeating prayer “Om Mani Padme Hum”, Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus, a metaphor for honoring the universal divine.  When a large boulder carved with mani is in the middle of a path, people traditionally walk to the left, or clockwise around it, as they do when circumambulating around temples, prayer wheels, or other religious sites.
 
 

These were painted inside of a gateway at the entrance to the National Park:
 
Springtime is baby yak time!
 The majority of travellers here walk two days from Lukla up to Namche Bazaar, known historically for its market where traders from the lowlands meet traders from the mountains, and also as a major point on the trail up to Mt. Everest. From here most people head northeast towards Everest Base Camp. Instead we chose to walk west from here on a more remote loop that would take us up to the Renjo La Pass.  From this point we met less foreigners and less people in general. Our first night out of Namche Bazaar we stopped in a very tiny village and stayed at a teahouse run by just one old Tibetan lady named Lakma who was like anyone’s sweet old grandmother. We were the only guests there. On her wood fired stove she cooked the best food we had had so far in all of Nepal, especially her mouthwatering vegetarian momos. (Note: Food is not exactly one of Nepal’s strong points. Most people eat  the standard Dal Bat just about ever day for every meal. Dal Bhat means lentil soup and rice, with some curried vegetables. It can be very good, depending on who makes it, but gets tiring after a while. Despite the occasional eating of yak or chicken meat, most Nepalis get the majority of their protein from this watery lentil soup, which is to say, they don’t get a lot of protein at all.)
View in the morning from Lakma’s guesthouse.
 The next day we had a short day till the last teahouse before the Renjo La Pass. There we met up again with our friends Dani and Ian, as well as a new friend Ellen from Canada. The long way up to the pass is beautiful and is constantly surrounded by incredible views, but it’s not until you actually reach the pass that you can see east over to Mt. Everest.  We all left together around 5:30 that morning in hopes of reaching the top of the pass before the haze and clouds cover the views of the world’s tallest mountain.  The first hour or so was steep, gloomy, and difficult in the early morning. Then all of a sudden we arrived at a high point, and all the dawn clouds cleared in the morning sun, offering us a spectacular 360 degree view of these majestic peaks:
As we continued we passed a couple of alpine lakes, one rock shelter, and more jaw dropping views:
 
 

The last part of the climb took us up the steep, snowy, exhausting, side of a mountain until the prayer flags at the top marking the pass. It was difficult for everyone, even the Sherpas. Finally we made it, one by one, step by greulling step, to the top, at 5430 meters, over 17000 feet, and were greeted with clear views across to Mt. Everest, and many other of the worlds tallest peaks:
 
 
 
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