After our brief stint in Athens, we flew into Chania and immediately took a bus to Chora Sfakion (a.k.a. Sfakia). We were really pushing the limit on time as our flight landed at 2:30pm and the bus to Chora Sfakion leaves at 3:30pm. As luck may have it, I was asked to check my backpack when we checked in for our flight but Andrew wasn't yet his backpack looked so much larger... I am convinced our backpacks were the same size but I was singled out because the backpack look larger relative to the backpack carrier. We did test it against those luggage size things at the airport and his did fit while mine barely did not :(
Anyway, I digressed from the topic at hand! While we thought we would barely make it to the bus, it turned out to be fine as we were reassured by our taxi driver from the airport who was cool as a cucumber. The cost of a taxi would have been upwards of 100 euros whereas the bus was a fraction of the price.
We spent one short night in Sfakia as our end goal was to use that as a starting point for the rest of our hikes along the southwest of Crete.
That's the small town of Sfakia at sun rise the next morning as we embarked on our hike. There is no editing on this photo as I wanted to show how calm and dimly lit it was.
The hike starts next to the parking lot where you are dropped off by the bus from Chania and you have a bit of a steep scramble to get to the top. Once you're at the top, it's paved road for the first 20-30 minutes of the way.
Along the paved road, you'll pass by Ilingas beach which is a nice stop if you want to go for a swim. We did not make the stop as it was still pretty early on in our hike and in the morning.
Past Ilingas is where the trail begins on rocky hills. You first take a descent towards Sweet Water beach
This is me being happy that the hike has been easy so far. It's my 2nd time hiking with a backpack and this time we'd packed for 2 weeks. I did cheat on this hike and bit and offload a few pounds to Andrew. It was his initial offer anyway! While hiking down, we encountered goats upon goats upon goats! Cue the goat picture intermission:
Look at how MAJESTIC they are...come on! A part of me thinks Andrew should look into becoming a wildlife photographer. Okay, that ends my goat picture intermission for this blog post.
We took a short dip in the ocean just before getting to Sweet Water beach as we found this amazing outlet into the water but unfortunately did not take pictures of that. #livinginthemoment? #forgot
We made it to Sweet Water, snapped some photos, and went on our way as it was quickly getting pretty hot despite still being morning. It was probably around mid-70s as this point and was supposed to hit 90s by noon.
We encountered a ton more goats and finally spotted Loutro at around the 2 hour mark from when first started the hike. We spent the day at the beach there then caught the 7pm and last ferry of the day to Agia Roumeli where we planned to check out Samaria Gorge.
As an ending note, I was stung by a bee for the first time in my life at Loutro and I was terrified that I would react poorly. Did some research and it turns out you won't know if you are mortally allergic to bee stings until the second bee sting soooo looking forward to that...!
To get to Cahal Pech from the center of San Ignacio, head up Benque Viejo Road. We walked from Midas Resort, which is further out in the opposite direction of Cahal Pech but it was no problem at all. If you are near any of the major tour companies, including MayaWalk, PACZ, etc., it will be quite easy to find your way to these under-explored local ruins.
Once you get to the massive (for Belize) intersection seen below, walk towards the blue wall near the dirt path. The juxtaposition of the well preserved ruins against an industrial street is only another example of Belize's push for eco-tourism.
There will be a stadium to your left as you walk along the road. It was closed for construction while we were there but looked to be a massive undergoing project.
As you approach the fork in the road, you may or may not notice the tiny green sign in the middle of the black metal fence. This sign indicates that you are well on your way to Cahal Pech.
Simply walk up the dirt road to your right, on the side where Andrew is standing and make your way up the steep incline. I probably recall this much more dramatically than it really was, as the humidity was quite high in September while we were there. However, I still enjoyed going during this season as I dislike large tourist crowds (ironically, I currently live in Manhattan).
At the top of the hill, you will reach a visitor's center, at which point you will pay $10 BZ per person to enter the ruins. The visitor's center has a small museum to meander through that explains the origins and significance of Cahal Pech.
A few steps down the path and you will find yourself in Cahal Pech.
Being 5'3" tall (160 cm for my international readers), climbing the Maya stairs was much harder than expected. Especially since almost every step went up to my knees.
The great cohune palm. 'Tis literally a really hard nut to crack but apparently a resourceful part of the Maya existence. We only successfully cracked this nut by having a 180 pound man stomp on it. This palm tree provides cohune oil from its nuts, leaves for the roofing of Maya homes and is used for many other purposes.
"What is glamping?" one might ask? Well, it is "glamorous camping" and it is my way of easing into full-on wilderness camping. I've always wanted to go camping because the Disney Channel told me that it's a typical American summer past time. (I suppose I forget that I my parents are Chinese immigrants so that doesn't apply to me.)
Anyway, this girl needs a shower wherever she goes and the idea of not bathing for a week while camping was not something I felt ready to dive into. Instead we stayed at our humble abode below this past April:
Earth domes!!! We found this place on Airbnb --> https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/499485. Lisa, our host, was wonderful in giving us the lay of the land. It was also hyper-convenient that Joshua Tree National Park was only a few steps and a hop over the fence away!
The landscape was amazing and one of a kind. This is one of the reasons I love California - you can drive a couple of hours in any direction and you feel like you end up in a completely different part of the world.
Amateur wheel pose below from April of this year. I can see some progress from April to my paddleboard wheel pose in Belize this past September but there is still a ways to go.
Today is Thursday, May 9th. I've said this many times over the semester but these past 5 months have been nothing less than a whirlwind. I am currently overlooking Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province, China on Day 2 of a trek over mountains, rocky inclined paths, and waterfall streams.This is is Day 7 of 9 in this province. Andrew and I have gone through quite a bit of travel starting with flying into the Kunming Airport from Shenzhen (after taking the 3 hour MTR from Hong Kong).
We started off our trip by staying at this interesting hostel/bar called The Hump Hostel in the city of Kunming.
We then took a bus to Dali which turned out to be a beautiful ancient town with lots of character and cheap and delicious food (6 yuan/meal!). We took a half-baked hike to one of the small hills in the area and passed through the remnants of what appears to be a poorly-cleaned night/day festival. Here are some handy bins part of the amenities provided to us by the bus service.
We encountered the Great Wall of China! (Just keeeeeding)
After a couple days in Dali, we took a 2 hour train to Lijiang, another beautiful but very touristy ancient town.
Now that I'm in Tiger Leaping Gorge with some time to reflect, I can't quite perceive life the same way anymore-more specifically how much I struggle with Chinese and Chinese culture. I tend to claim that I have intermediate fluency in Putonghua but I get so nervous and flustered when speaking at times. It doesn't help that my listening comprehension is particularly weak in Yunnan where there is a strong local accent. My strength lies in the more standard Beijing/Taiwanese accent.
中虎跳 has been so amazing and gorgeous with its ridiculous 28 bends and hours of trekking. Admittedly, at some points during the trek inclines I really just wanted to buy a donkey ride. It didn't help that local men followed us up the mountain path on their donkeys early on constantly shouting over, "美女, 你要騎馬嗎? 美女, 累嗎?" Yes, I was 非常累, but Andrew let me take many breaks along the way and was incredibly encouraging. In retrospect, I wish we stayed 3 days instead of 2 so we could have finished the trek from one end to the other. Breathtaking beauty.
We got lost a couple of times since the arrows on the ground are no longer very obvious. Once, we ended up in the front yard stable of someone's home while it was pouring rain. Andrew finally decided to put on his waterproof clothing so there we were in the middle of a stable with a new horse as our friend and Andrew stripping down to his boxers to change. With our stroke of luck, the woman who lived there walked up the path to her house and saw us while Andrew was mid-change. Thankfully she was a nice old woman who told us that we were on the wrong path and redirected us. "走錯, 走錯" became more common on our trek than we would have liked. However, there was always something to see and it was always so rewarding because of the kind locals we were surrounded by.
Had to re-energize some time through the hike with a quick power nap!
And, of course, it was unbelievably worthwhile.
The day immediately after amazing relaxation on Ha Long Bay, my friends and I set off to northern Vietnam and to the rice terraces of Sa Pa. We planned a 2 day trek with 10 miles of hiking the first day and 5-6 miles the second day with a comfortable home stay the night in between.
We walked through so much natural beauty, I almost forgot that places like Los Angeles (aka Home) existed. I was so taken aback about how nimble and agile the (ridiculously) young H'mong women were. These women all wore simple rubber slippers and were able to climb slippery hills and march through brush without any difficulty. Meanwhile, all of us westerners in our expensive hiking boots and gear were slipping and sliding all over the terraces.
I think one person I will always remember is our 19 year old H'mong tour guide who was very sweet but sometimes moved too quickly for some people in our party. I was interested in her lifestyle so I asked about what she did in her youth and what she did for fun. The first surprise was finding out that she was 19 when she really looked 13 or 14 (Bless the youthful Asian genes!). The second was that she was married to her 16 year old husband and had no children. She explained to me that she was got married relatively late compared to her peers as the normal age was around 14-16. She also mentioned that most of her younger friends already had babies while she was just trying to work. I learned a lot about traditional H'mong customs including the general acceptance that if you are a woman and not married by 21 or 22, you are considered lazy and unfit for marriage. In this world, men stayed at home and tended to the farm while women worked in tourism mainly because women are more marketable for tourists.
Before I go off into more detail about my interactions with H'mong women, here are some great shots of the two days!
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