I’m probably a bit late with the 2015 post—but hey, it’s still January!
I thought about doing a highlights post, but as I listed all my highlights from 2015, I realized that I can so easily fall into really cheesy/sappy descriptive language. Instead, here are 15 photos from the year and the stories behind them.
1. Making Plans – Jan 2015
Last winter was a little depressing for me. Yes, I’m Canadian, but I grew up on the coast. That means the average winter is pretty wet and mild by Canadian standards (-20 is pushing it). Edmonton introduced me to what -40 C is (and below that on certain days). All of this means that I spent a lot of time avoiding leaving the apartment. I’d go to work, then home, living within a pretty small radius for the coldest winter months.
What helped me get out of my winter funk was the prospect of planning something big. Having something to look forward to really lifted the depression and helped me redirect my energy. I put a map of South America on my wall and used tacks and string to play around with routes. Thoughts of beaches in Ecuador and desert in Peru helped get me through the winter.
2. Cold Weather Comforts – Feb 2015
When I was living in Korea, one of the teachers made honey lemon tea for Tim and I when we were sick during the winter. So, when I got sick last winter, I tried to recreate it for myself.
I don’t know why, but I just can never bring myself to call in sick to work. Instead, I stock up on tissues and hot beverages and suffer away at my desk all day. This is a great one for those days.
3. In An Ice Cave In Iceland – April 2015
This day was a lot of firsts for me—my first time wearing crampons, hiking on a glacier, using an ice axe, and venturing inside a glacier. Unfortunately, I got to share the experience with some very ignorant tourists that refused to listen to the guide and kept taking photos when we were supposed to be paying attention to where we were walking. So, the guide spent a lot of time trying to get their attention and making sure we were all being safe. Luckily, we got to venture inside this ice cave in small groups, since it was such a small space. Tim and I waited until the end and got to have a few solitary moments within the glassy cavern.
4. Frozen Lake Louise, Banff National Park – May 2015
When my parents came to visit me in May, part of the plan was to rent a car and see the sights of Banff and Jasper. Of course, Lake Louise is probably (definitely) the most photographed attraction in either park. Normally, it’s milky and aquamarine in colour—an idyllic glacial lake. What we weren’t really anticipating was the fact that it would still be mostly frozen in May (even though, we really should have anticipated that). Nevertheless, the throngs of tourists were still present and unhindered by its frozen appearance. We still got our photos and took a small stroll along the frozen lakeside.
5. Crevasse Rescue Skills Weekend With The Alpine Club of Canada – May 2015
Between May and June of 2015, we made a bunch of trips to the Rockies — Banff and Jasper National Parks. On this weekend, we set out with a group of around 30 people to get some training in crevasse rescue skills. The previous day, we got to slide down a snow-covered slope in garbage bags and practice self-arresting with an ice axe. On this day, we got to dangle over a ledge while three other people set up to rescue us (and practice being on the rescue end as well, of course).
While this was an awesome weekend, I learned a very important thing about being properly prepared for spending sunny days on snow-covered hills—your SPF can never be too high or reapplied too often. I got the worst burn on my face that I’ve ever experienced in my life. My skin was a mess for the next couple weeks—dry, peeling, painful, and red. And I had applied sunscreen regularly. Seriously, next time I will get some kind of industrial strength sunscreen.
6. Rock Climbing Skills Weekend With The ACC – June 2015
For our rock climbing weekend with the Alpine Club, we camped in an area just outside of Jasper National Park. When we pulled into the campgrounds, the rangers told us that a grizzly had been sighted near our campsite earlier in the day.
I know I’m Canadian, but I did not grow up with bears. And, I’m always a little paranoid about bears when hiking or camping in areas where bears are known to reside.
Aside from that, this threat of a storm actually did almost ruin our climbing weekend. It rained all night long and the rocks were wet in the morning. Luckily, the sun came up and dried things up for us. All was saved, and we spend a full day learning about setting up anchors, rappels, and climbing with some very epic landscapes surrounding us.
7. Hiking the East Coast Trail, Newfoundland – July 2015
I had such high hopes when Tim and I set off on that first day to hike the East Coast Trail. Of course, our attempt to thru-hike the entire length failed quickly. We spent the day battling muddy trail conditions that wore us out and turned a 3-hour hike into 5 hours. Along with that, we definitely overpacked. After a night of camping beside the trail, we were spent. We woke up broken and called for a ride back to the city.
We did manage to do a few more sections of the trail in the following weeks, but I think our spirits were a bit soured by the whole experience.
8. The Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve – Aug 2015
Before we left for Quito in late August, Tim and I went for a drive with my parents. We drove through the Cape Shore in Newfoundland, out to Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve to see a whole lot of gannets. The sea cliffs there are high, and there are little stakes in the ground that define the viewing area that you are supposed to stay within. On this day, my mom wouldn’t even go down to the cliffside—she was so sketched out by Tim going outside the stakes that she couldn’t even watch.
After leaving the reserve, we continued through a few other small towns, had lunch in a restaurant above a gas station, and stopped by the boats of some fisherman who’d just come in from a day of work. My mom even managed to get some free cod that day.
9. The Summit Of Illiniza Norte, Ecuador – Sept 2015
This was (and remains) the highest I’ve ever hiked, climbed, and scrambled—at 5,126 m (16,818 ft). In preparation (and also because we just wanted to), Tim and I hiked the 3-day Quilotoa loop, which peaks at around 3,900 m. Still, the altitude quickly made me light-headed and dizzy. The 5-hour trek uphill felt like a lifetime and I complained the whole way. By the time we reached the summit, clouds had drifted in and taken over the views from all angles. However, it was freezing and I was exhausted, so I wasn’t that into hanging around at the peak anyway.
This wasn’t the kind of experience that I appreciated at the time, or even on the same day. In the car on the way back to Latacunga, I even told Tim that I would never do something like that again. I was drained. It wasn’t until a few days later that I began to feel a bit more positive about the experience. Sure, it was hell, but it was a hell that I made it through. And that’s worth something.
10. Climbing Cojitambo Near Cuenca, Ecuador – Sept 2015
I know I went over how terrifying this experience was for me before, but it bears repeating: I was probably the worst person to climb with in the history of everything on this day. I was on the verge of tears, shaking and moaning the whole way up. I’m afraid of heights. I try not to be, because I feel like I’m afraid of everything these days, but I really am. So, this was quite an uncomfortable moment. See how I’m leaning back with my arms up? Yeah, that was just for 3 seconds for the photo.
11. Sea Turtles Near Isla De La Plata, Ecuador – Sept 2015
This happened to be the first time I fully submerged my GoPro, and I was pretty anxious about it. Even though it was in its waterproof case, part of me was sure that this would be its end. Luckily, the worst didn’t happen and I ended up with some up-close video footage of these guys, who were attracted to our boat with the lure of some snacks.
12. The Sand Dunes Surrounding Huacachina – Oct 2015
These dunes were spectacular, that’s no lie. However, you don’t quite get them to yourself, the way I tried to make it seem in the photos. At 4 pm, a bunch of dune buggys take off from the village. Luckily, there’s a whole lot of space out there and the angles allow for photos of seemingly empty landscapes. This is one of the few times where I felt like the photos actually kind of did the place some justice.
13. Weekend In The Atacama Desert, Chile – Nov 2015
The Atacama is one of Chile’s big tourist destinations. Because of that, it is expensive. A decent place to stay within San Pedro de Atacama (the main town where people stay) is easily double what you’d pay in a lot of similar places in Chile.
Before Tim and I went to the Atacama, we crossed the border from Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile. Before that, we accidentally drank water that hadn’t been boiled adequately. So, we were incredibly sick. We were sick when we crossed the border, and we were sick for our entire time in Arica. I was being very optimistic when I booked the bus to and hotel in the Atacama. I did it while Tim wasn’t in the room. I thought surely we’ll be fine to go on a 12-hour bus ride tomorrow night? Wrong. A terrible experience. We ended up paying for an expensive room (though, one of the nicest places we stayed) and staying there for three whole days. We did manage to go stargazing, but that’s about it. I did learn a lesson about assuming that you will be over an illness in a day—just don’t.
14. Free Walking Tour Of Valparíso, Chile – Nov 2015
Valparíso surprised me. It’s a cool city with strong urban and bohemian vibes. You can see it in the street art—the murals here are spectacular and colourful, and really liven up the streets. While I don’t usually focus on cities while travelling, I found myself really enjoying Valparíso. You can easily spend a day wandering in the hills and taking in the city from a million different angles. It’s kind of like nowhere else.
15. Life On A Vineyard In Santa Ana, Chile – Dec 2015
I know a lot of these photos have slightly negative captions. That’s not because I’m a pessimist at heart, but because real life is always a little less ideal than the pictures seem to portray.
One thing I learned in my tiny vineyard home was the beauty of not trying. This was one place on my trip where I really settled in and just lived. I worked outside during the day, wrote and cooked in the evening, played with the dogs, took pictures of the vines, the sunset, and drank plenty of wine. Not trying to go everywhere and do everything allowed me to let go of some guilt about my trip, to relax and realize that my style of travel can change as I age. I have more defined interests and hobbies now. I’m not content to just see things anymore, but I want to engage myself more in what I’m doing and where I’m going at every turn.
So, I suppose that’s something to end with. If I have a resolution for this year, it’s to be more thoughtful and honest, to allow myself to say no to things, and to be more focussed on what I really want and enjoy.