Brazil Travel Guide: Florianopolis Island

Brazil

 

Brazil Travel Guide: Florianopolis Island

 

I’m not going to lie; I had zero expectations before I went to Brazil. I had only been to Medellin, Colombia in South America for a few days, so I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. However, I received a fellowship to learn Portuguese for seven weeks on the island of Santa Catarina in Southern Brazil, and I wasn’t going to turn it down. The stress of grad school was wearing on me, and I figured I would spend a few weeks bumbling through a language I had no background in with a bunch of undergrads hell bent on partying (and annoying cantankerous old me) every night. I was resigned to my fate.

However, my expectations could not have been more wrong; Florianopolis Island was one of the most magical places I have ever traveled too, and I ended up having one of the most memorable summers of my life.

 

 

Listen: I know when you think of Brazil you probably think of Rio de Janeiro and its parties, beaches, and gorgeous people. Instead, you need to start thinking about Florianopolis.

This island really has it all… over 40 beaches, mountains to climb, lakes perfect for water sports, hiking trails with gorgeous views, spectacular sand dunes, a wild night life and some of the most chill folks you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. Bonus: it’s the safest capital of any state in Brazil!

 

 

Where to Stay

I lived in Santa Catarina’s most beautiful region (maybe I’m biased…) near Joaquina Beach. Over my seven weeks here, I was able to see much of Florianopolis Island, so I have a lot to recommend. Though of course I would encourage you to stay as long as possible, if you have just a week you can still get in much of the flavor of Floripa (Are you confused about names yet? Though the island itself is called Santa Catarina, the city and the region are called Florianopolis, or Floripa if you want to be cute).  

The best place to stay on Florianopolis Island is near the lakes/lagoon in the middle of the island. The neighborhoods near Lagoa da Conceição are where all the hippies, hipsters, and otherwise strange and fun folk live and hang out. Here you also have easy access to what I’d argue are the best beaches on the island: Joaquina and Praia Mole. 

 

What to Do

Near Joaquina beach, you can hike on the peaceful sand dunes that roll into a bird-filled scrub land good for long walks (keep your eyes peeled for the enigmatic burrowing owls). One of my absolute favorite things to do on Florianopolis Island was sitting on the dunes at night during a new moon when the stars were positively breath taking.

Outside of downtown, other must sees on Florianopolis Island include hiking around the lake and to the waterfall at Lagoa do Peri Park, getting dinner in the quaint village of Santo Antonio de Lisboa, catching a rowdy Avaí FC football match, and tackling the arduous but oh-so-worth-it Lagoinha do Leste trail for the secluded beach that is only accessible by foot or boat.

 

 

What to Eat & Drink

My friends and I really enjoyed hanging out at Books and Beers (a place for good craft brew), The Black Swan (an ex-pat haven) and of course the infamous ice cream buffet at Buffet Sorvete Doce Pecado.

I also recommend a visit to the downtown “Centro” area on Florianopolis Island, which is a fun place to shop, eat, or watch the sunset. My classes were here so I was able to scope out all the best places for lunch (Calzone Mania), coffee (Ponto do Pao and The Baker Seville), and my absolute favorite treat, acai bowls from Amazon Acai.

Obviously, when in Brazil the drink of choice is the refreshing and terrifically potent caipirinha made with sugar cane rum (Cachaça), lime, and a terrifying amount of sugar. The best place to get one on the island? Colher de Pau in the Public Market makes them strong.

 

 

Essentially, my seven weeks on Florianopolis Island went by way too fast. I made friends (yes, even with those undergrads), learned a surprising amount of Portuguese (Eu sou o mais legal!), pet a dangerous amount of street dogs, and fell in love with Brazil. Next time I return, I’ll have the high expectations that Florianopolis Island, and everything it has to offer, deserves.

-R

by Sep 6, 2017

Surviving Misti Volcano: A Photo Diary

Peru

Surviving Misti Volcano: A Photo Diary

The two day trek to the summit of Misti Volcano in Arequipa, Peru is anything but easy. We climbed over boulders on our hands and knees, teetered on the edges of thousand foot drops, and scaled snow and ice covered rock walls… all after a 1am wake up call in thin air at high altitude. It was the toughest hike I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding, and the views were stunning from start to finish. An epic climb deserves epic photos…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Sep 6, 2017

Why You Need to Visit Colorado’s Garden of the Gods

North America

Why You Need to Visit Colorado’s Garden of the Gods

 

The short answer is because it’s amazing. The long answer is below…

 

 

Colorado’s Garden of the Gods is a free city park outside of the city of Colorado Springs. If you are based in Denver on your trip, the Garden of the Gods is only a short drive away. Like Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park, the destination makes for an easy day trip.

The park is called the Garden of the Gods because the surveyor who discovered it thought it would make a great place for a beer garden (it really would tho). His partner disagreed, and stated that if it was a beer garden, it would be a garden fit for the Gods, and that’s how its name came about. The park was actually kept as private property for years, until 1909 when the owner died and donated his land to the city of Colorado Springs. Now, it’s one of Colorado’s most beautiful features, and an awesome day trip from Denver.

 

 

Reasons to Visit Colorado’s Garden of the Gods

  • It’s FREE
  • It’s unique and one of a kind
  • It’s a beautiful place to hike and climb
  • It’s less than an hour and a half drive from Denver
  • It’s open late, so it’s a perfect place to watch the sunset or enjoy a nighttime picnic
  • Inside the park, you can also visit the “Balancing Rock” and “Siamese Twins” formations
  • It’s close to Colorado Springs, so you can visit the city for dinner and drinks after you trip
  • Pikes Peak, on of the highest peaks in the Rocky Mountain range, is only an hour drive from Garden of the Gods, making it the perfect second spot to combine with your day trip.

 

 

Daniel and I had an amazing day trip to Colorado’s Garden of the Gods during our November honeymoon. If you’re in the Denver area, don’t miss this beautiful and unique city park!

 

 

 

by Sep 5, 2017

Climbing Misti Volcano, Altitude Sickness, & How Ski Poles Saved My Life

Peru

 

Climbing Misti Volcano, Altitude Sickness, & How Ski Poles Saved My Life

 

Ok, settle in ’cause this ones a doozy. Daniel and I had NO IDEA what we were getting into when we booked a two day trek to climb Misti Volcano. Climbing Misti Volcano is not for the faint of heart. The volcano sits only an hour outside of the city of Arequipa, Peru, so when I saw a sign for it in the tour agency I was like, “Why not?” Oh man. I can now give you so many reasons why not, but I’ll start from the beginning…

 

 

The Stats

Altitude: The peak reaches over 19,000 feet, which means the air had less than half of the oxygen than it does at sea level.

Time: We left Arequipa at 8 am, and returned at 3 pm the next day. Day one had 6 hours of hiking, and on day two we hiked for 13 hours.

Distance: The entire trek covered about 16 miles, most of them straight up or down. We also climbed 8,000 feet and descended another 8,000 on the trek.

Temperature: Temperatures ranged from 75 degrees Fahrenheit at their warmest at the base of the volcano down to 15 degrees at the coldest in high altitude. Pack layers.

Cost: Most tours cost about $70. This includes a ski jacket and ski pants, gloves and a hat, a tent, sleeping bag, mat, transportation, a guide, and dinner on the first night and breakfast on the second. You will need to pay extra for ski poles (absolutely necessary for the climb) and a tip for the guide, pack snacks and food for lunches both days and pack 5 liters of water per person. In total, we paid about $100 each for the trip.

Popularity: Climbing Misti Volcano is not a common tour. There were only four other people on the volcano with us during our 2 day hike

Difficulty: 12/10 I almost died multiple times. Not like, figurative died, but actual fall off the mountain died.

 

Day One – Base Camp at 15,000 ft.

Our trip began when we arrived at the tour agency in Arequipa at 8 am. All we had in our bags at that point were 7.5 liters of water each. Here, they gave us our ski jacket and pants, gloves and hat, sleeping bags, mats, and tent. Luckily we had planned to only hike in what we were wearing, because all of this and the water completely filled our packs. Keep in mind, there are no horses or porters so we were stuck carrying everything on our backs up the mountain. Even packing light, we still had at least 20 pounds each in our bags.

After we met our guide, we jumped in a car and drove an hour to the trailhead. We started climbing Misti Volcano at 11,000 ft. The trail began with a sloping incline, that steadily got steeper as we walked. The views were beautiful from the start, with the volcano rising in front of us, and the city of Arequipa laid out behind of us. We could also see the Pichu Pichu mountain range on the the right.

 

 

We walked for 6 hours on the first day. It was tough climbing 4,000 feet with our bags, but definitely manageable. The trail was clear from the start and required some rock climbing but nothing too strenuous. Finally, we arrived at our camp site at 4:30pm. Me, Daniel, and our guide were one of only two groups climbing Misti Volcano that day. We had the place to ourselves, and we set up our tent at 15,000 feet. The views were spectacular. We ate dinner as the sun set, and we could see the city of Arequipa sparkling below us. It was an absolutely amazing night that I will remember for the rest of my life.

 

Day Two – 1 am Wake Up Call

Day 2 of climbing Misti Volcano starts out with a 1 am wake up call. Yes, you read that right. So, this whole insane excursion that I’m about to relate occurs on about 4 hours of sleep. We woke up, put on our headlamps, grabbed our bags, and had a quick breakfast of tea, bread, and cheese. One great aspect of this volcano being so sparsely hiked is that we could safely leave everything at our campsite, and only had to carry a bottle of water each up the mountain. Lighter packs made all the difference. I’m confident I couldn’t have made the summit if I had the same weight as the day before.

 

Altitude Sickness

We set off in the dark and cold around 1:30am. Luckily, we had a full moon so the trail wasn’t too difficult to see. As we started climbing, though, I began to feel sick. Like, really sick. My head was pounding and dizzy, and my stomach was super nauseous. I had been to 17,000 feet before, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t expecting to get hit with altitude sickness, but these were all the warning signs. I began freaking out internally, knowing that if I couldn’t complete the climb I would either be stuck waiting all night alone at our camp, or turn back with the guide and Daniel and ruin his chances of summiting.

However, when you’re in Peru, do as the locals do. Luckily Daniel had thought ahead and brought a bag of coca leaves on the climb. Coca leaves are the dried leaves from cocaine plants, and they’re used to combat altitude sickness and give energy. I took a handful of the leaves and chewed them up even though they have the most bitter, disgusting taste and I almost threw them up right there on the side of the volcano. Thank God I didn’t though, because they did exactly what they’re supposed to do. Immediately, my headache disappeared and my stomach felt fine. I pushed the chewed up leaves into my lower lip and sucked on them for the next thirty minutes. They solved my problems and I didn’t have any more trouble with altitude sickness after that.

 

 

Certain Death

I’m not being dramatic here when I say Daniel and I almost died multiple times while climbing Misti Volcano. The first couple hours on day two were fine. We were making good time and feeling up to the challenge. We watched the full moon turn orange, then red, and finally sink behind the mountains in a display rivaling any sunset. The night got darker, the stars got brighter, and the temperatures got colder. Even in my ski coat and pants, I was freezing and my hands were numb. However, I was still enjoying the climb. But when the sun came up, everything changed.

Four hours into our hike it was light again, and I could see just. how. high. we were on the volcano. I could also see that below us on the sides of the trail were sheer drops, running thousands of feet down the volcano with only super sharp rocks to break them up. I was sleep deprived and the air was thin. Not great conditions to be in when a strong gust of wind or a single misstep can mean the difference between life and death. We still had hours of climbing ahead of us, and no choice but to keep going.

As we climbed, the trail seemed to disappear below our feet. There were times we had to put our ski poles aside and climb up boulders and rock piles on our hands and knees. As we got closer to the top, we began reaching patches of ice and snow. I’m not exaggerating when I say at one point, I was climbing a sheer rock wall covered in snow and ice with a 5,000 foot drop below me… and no ropes or equipment. I was terrified. I was fighting back tears and telling myself over and over in my mind something our scuba instructor told us on our first day of diving classes: “If you panic, you die.”

Somehow, by the grace of God, I made it up that rock face intact. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the dangers on our trek. On the final push to the crater, we crossed a path of gravel and sand. It was thin, slippery, and sideways on the edge of the mountain side. I was taking the tiniest, most careful steps of my life, and slamming my ski poles into the sand and dirt as deep as they would go. The only solution was to keep walking, swallow your fear, and don’t look down.

 

The Summit

Our small group finally, finally, reached the top of Misti Volcano’s crater at 8:30 that morning. We sat down to rest and enjoy the beautiful view of Arequipa and the surrounding valleys. I was dizzy and had absolutely no appetite, but I forced myself to eat a sandwich and some peanuts, because we still had a long day ahead of us, including making the final push to the summit.

From the large crater, it’s still a 45 minute climb to the highest point on the volcano, where a 1,500 year old cross marks the summit at 19,110 feet. We walked up on the gravel and sand trails along the mountainside, avoiding the places where snow and ice still covered the ground. As we climbed higher, we could see inside Misti’s still active central crater. The smell of sulfer was strong, and smoke rose in puffs from her inner core.

Finally, we reached the summit. Now that I’m safe here on solid ground, I can almost say the climb was worth it. We had 360 degree views for miles into every direction. The city of Arequipa, the large salt mines, the Picchu Picchu and Chachani mountain ranges, Misti’s craters, and Peru’s many green valleys and lakes spread out below us. It was absolutely stunning and by far the best view I have ever seen in my life.

 

 

Ski Poles, I Love You

All too soon, though, it was time to begin our descent. At this point, my energy was completely depleted, and I was worried because we still had hours of hiking ahead of us. I have to say, as we climbed down from the summit back to the base of the crater, I was the most scared I have ever been in my life. We were on the slipperiest slope, covered in gravel and sand. We were slipping and sliding down it as we descended, and I firmly believe if I hadn’t had my ski poles for balance I would have slipped and fallen… right off the edge of the volcano. I think the tour agency was irresponsible for allowing us to climb the volcano at all, but they were downright malicious to not include or at least insist that we purchase ski poles for the hike. The ski poles really were the only reason I didn’t slide off the path and down 7,000 feet to the base of the volcano. If you are somehow still planning on doing this hike absolutely DO NOT attempt it without them.

The Descent

We reached the crater and began our descent down the volcano at 10:30am. At this point we had already been hiking for nine hours. In comparison to climbing Misti Volcano, though, getting down was a breeze. It took us 15 hours of hiking over 2 days to reach the summit of Misti, but only 4 hours to get down. How? By sliding down the scree.

A scree is a mass of loose dirt and stones that cover the side of a mountain. Misti is a volcano, so a portion of her side is covered in black volcanic sand. We literally jumped off the top of the crater, 8,000 feet off the ground, and onto the sheer mountainside into the thick sand.

Everyone had their own way of managing the scree. Our guide chose to run down it, but I preferred a skiing method. After some trial and error (and a couple falls) I figured out how to move my feet exactly as if I was skiing under the sand, and used my ski poles as, well… ski poles. We went down the mountain in this way for over an hour until we got back to camp. Here, it was time to clean up, pack up, and remove our warmest layers before we continued down to the bottom. Once we were done, we hopped back into the scree again for another hour of sliding down the mountain.

Finally, we reached the sloping walking trails at the base that led back to the trailhead. Each step was like torture and I have never felt more exhausted. We reached our car at 2:30 pm, after hiking for a total of 13 hours that day.

 

Home Sweet Home

What more can I say? It was an hour drive back to Arequipa, with us finally feeling like we could laugh and joke about the experience after getting our feet back on flat land. We returned our gear to the tour agency, got some tacos, and headed home. I passed out at 6pm and slept for 13 hours to recover from the whole ordeal.

Am I happy we climbed Misti Volcano? Yes. It was the most difficult physical accomplishment of my life, and something I really do feel proud of. Would I recommend it to a friend? Hell no! Unless you are an experienced hiker or truly have no fear of heights, death, or the unknown, stay far away from this trek! There are plenty of less life threatening choices to do in Arequipa, like visiting Colca Canyon or Lake Titicaca, so do yourself a favor and skip this one.

All my love,

Di

 

by Sep 5, 2017

The Perfect Day Trip to Boulder, Colorado

North America

 

The Perfect Day Trip to Boulder, Colorado

My one year wedding anniversary is coming up, and with it I’ve found myself reminiscing on my wedding and my absolutely perfect honeymoon. Daniel and I had a fall wedding (of course, it’s the best season of the year). Afterwards, we flew out to Denver, Colorado for our six day honeymoon ’cause all inclusive resorts just aren’t really our thing. A day in Rocky Mountain National Park was the main draw for us, but all of the small towns, hiking, parks, and breweries in Colorado are amazing. There is so much around Denver to see and do. One of my favorite excursions from the city was our day trip to Boulder, Colorado.

Boulder is known for being a college town, and definitely has a major hippy/artsy vibe going on. It is only an hour drive from Denver, so we decided to check it out. Here are my tips for having a PERFECT day trip to Boulder, Colorado.

 

Day Trip to Boulder: Our Itinerary

Daniel and I started our day trip to Boulder with a late brunch at Snooze cafe. The breakfast food was phenomenal and super filling. I had the eggs benedict on hash browns (yum) and Daniel had a mixed platter with different flavored pancakes, like sweet potato and apple pie. Seriously delicious!

 

 

After we were stuffed to the brim, we decided to check out downtown Boulder. The main strip has tons of amazing cafes, bakeries, restaurants, breweries, and shops selling handmade art, foods, drinks, and other interesting things. Parts of it are closed off to traffic too, making it super communal. It had a great atmosphere even on a November weekday, so I can only imagine what the vibe is like on summers and weekends. Wandering down the cobblestone streets and through the little shops was one of my favorite parts of our day trip to Boulder.

 

Next, we left downtown and drove just up the street to visit the University of Colorado, Boulder campus. Maybe this is just a quirk of mine, but I love visiting college campuses in new cities when I can. They’re always manicured to perfection and boasting beautiful buildings and happy students. It’s hard not to feel as carefree as they are when exploring a new campus! UC Boulder is no exception, and we had a great time walking through the green space and enjoying the views of the city and surrounding mountainsides.

 

Afterwards, we decided to head out to the famous flatiron mountains, which somehow looking back I failed to get a photo of (I am so ashamed). They’re very unique looking and look like they we’re sliced in half. Definitely a must see on your day trip to Boulder! There are also hiking trails around the mountains, but it was too late in the afternoon for us to start one so unfortunately we had to give it a pass.

 

 

The flatirons are right near Flagstaff Road, one of Boulder’s well known scenic drives. We took it up into the mountains for awesome views of Boulder, the valley, the flatirons, and surrounding peaks. The lookouts along the drive offer some amazing views and photo ops, especially as the sun started to set.

 

 

As evening set in, we returned to Boulder. For dinner, we hit up Riff’s Urban Fare for their amazing cocktail hour. It’s on the main strip in the heart of downtown, so we sat by the large windows watching the world go by. I splurged on the salmon, which was amazing, but they also had four, five, and six dollar plates to pair with their selection of $6 happy hour cocktails for a lighter option or shared dinner.

 

 

If you’re spending the night in Boulder, there are also tons of craft beer breweries to check out in the small town. If you’re not spending the night, Denver is only a one hour drive away, and has it’s own beer scene to tempt you 😉 Either way, a day trip to Boulder is a must do when you visit Colorado, and was one of my favorite days of my honeymoon! Don’t miss it!

 

All my love,

Di

 

Have you been to Boulder? What did I miss on this must see list? Comment below to connect, and don’t forget to sign up to get updates to receive to your inbox!

 

 

 

 

by Aug 31, 2017

Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Diary

North America

 

Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Diary

Did you know Daniel and I went to Colorado for our honeymoon? Yep, the flights were only $26 so it was a no brainer! When we arrived in Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park was our first stop. The park was only a two hour drive from the city, and is definitely one of the most stunning places I have EVER been in the United States. If you haven’t planned a trip to hike and camp in Rocky Mountain National Park yet, check out my photo diary and definitely add it to your bucket list!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Aug 30, 2017

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