Erosion At Its Best


I don’t think it’s quite possible to understand the vastness of the Grand Canyon until you’re standing on its rim at 5am watching the sun pull itself over the horizon and warm the deep caverns and red rock below you. I was lucky enough to visit this wonderful example of erosion earlier this year. My friend Charlotte was visiting from England and what better way for her to see California than to drive immediately out of the state to Arizona.

In order to break up the drive from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon, we decided to stay a night in Las Vegas. A few vodkas, one hundred dollars and four thousand calories later, we left. That night deserves its own post, or perhaps it should be hidden in the vaults of our minds forever. Either way, we were finally on our way to this great big crack in the earth and had no idea what to expect. A few hours in, we ‘stumbled across’ the Hoover Dam. Despite our accents, Brits are not all intelligent. We were both convinced that this monument was on the East Coast. Clearly, it’s not. We shuffled on, never to speak of this mistake again.

There are some things that the British will always find fascinating about America, and that is wide stretches of flat land with nothing but roadkill and rocks. The expansive countryside of America is, in itself, breathtaking and terrifying. If your car breaks down in England, you’re probably within farting distance from a pub or a tractor. If your car breaks down in America, you’re screwed. Our brains don’t deal well with these types of distances, which is why we met every gas station as if it were a glorious oasis filled with water and beef jerky.

As we approached the Grand Canyon National Park the sun was setting and the entire sky was lit up by stars. I can’t imagine what it must have been like as an early traveler walking those boundless plains looking for water and a good place to settle. It does make you wonder how some of those towns actually got founded. Perhaps a really lazy family at the back of the line just threw up their hands and said, ‘We’re done, we’re just gonna set up here.’
‘But we haven’t reached the other side?! There might be more?!’
‘No. We’re good. If you find anything, tag me.’

This, I believe, must be the reason behind Bakersfield.

We finally arrived at our lodge and headed straight into the dining room for some food. We made the mistake of walking past a notice board covered in flyers. Each flyer outlined in painful detail the potential dangers of the Grand Canyon. There were so many warnings, so many pamphlets, I’m not even sure there was a notice board underneath. It was probably all just held up by fear. I swear one of them was titled, “You’re Going To Die This Weekend, Here’s How To Make It Less Embarrassing’. Charlotte and I stood next to each other and gulped. What had we done. We were clearly entering a death trap. Why was this thing open to the public, let alone legal? One of the posters mentioned ‘exhaustion’ and how you need to eat more than you normally would. Enough said. We carb-loaded for the next four hours and wobbled off to bed.
10980734_10153052516164054_4153526398010059583_nThe night was long and filled with the bread-sweats. The next morning we woke up early to watch the sunrise at a secluded spot along the southern rim. It was truly breathtaking. It was also -500 and my eyelids were frozen. There were only a few other people with us, which made it even more lovely. One of the early risers was a local guide. As we gazed across the dramatic scenery, soaking up the colors and vast caverns, she told us of the two hundred deaths that happen each year… (I’m sorry, what?)

Apparently, a large portion of those deaths are from photographers just ‘backing up’… BACKING UP!

“How did she die?”
“Terrible really, she backed up.”

As you can imagine, Charlotte and I are now apoplectic. We got back to our room, grabbed a thousand bottles of water and drove to the tourist center to buy maps. We were convinced to hike into this thing despite all of the warnings. We were not going to let this fear consume us. We had come all this way! Perhaps this is what the other 198 had felt.

We had been told by our waiter the night before to try a trail a few miles east of our lodge (this does not sound like a valid source, but he had a beard and looked like a hiker, so..) When we approached the desk at the tourist center we proudly stated we were headed east. The lady looked up at us, quickly glanced at our yoga pants and sunglasses, and let out a small sigh. The same sigh that your mum makes when you leave the house without a coat on.

‘Is that wise?’ she seemed to say.

She told us of a great trail closer to our lodge that might be better suited. Apparently there was ice on the eastern trail and very few places to refill our water. Our egos were bruised and our fears confirmed. But we were happy. This might be our last day on earth, but we were going to hike into this eroded lump of land and DAMN WELL ENJOY IT!

After walking down the wrong trail-head for about 15 minutes we were finally faced with the correct one. First red flag. Our fears started to subside as we descended into the earth. The view was awesome – the original use of that word. It was unforgivingly AWEsome.  Charlotte’s fingers started to swell and we were sucked right back to the notice board. I told her to lift her arms up and to keep going. I’ll admit, if there is adventure to be had I’m not particularly caring. Fat Fingers and I walked on, giddy with excitement.
10978641_10153053555814054_7984277158481603355_nWe managed to hike a mile into the crack and survive. As soon as we hit the first resting point we heaved a sigh of relief. We had not been hiking into a cavern of death and disaster, but had merely been a victim of mollycoddling. The national park, probably gripped with fear from law suits, had clearly posted a thousand warnings in case someone did indeed meet their maker sliding down the canyon. But for the majority of us, it’s just a lovely hike in the hills. When we realized we were not going to die, the climb became that much more enjoyable. Seven minutes later I slipped and landed a few inches from the cliff edge. Charlotte gasped with a fear that only mothers have, and best friends hiking the Grand Canyon. Should I sue, I thought? No. I picked myself up and marched on.

When we returned to the top three hours later we slumped down on a bench and waited for the bus to come collect us. We’d done it. The fear had lost. That night, we ate a bucket of pizza and apple pie. Naturally.

No one died on this trip, and if they did it wasn’t me. Despite all of the red flags and warnings and carb-sweats, we survived, and witnessed one of the most incredible landscapes in the world. Never let fear ruin your adventures; there are so many beautiful places out there to see. After all, if something scares you it’s worth doing.

Just don’t sue if it goes wrong.


Me & My Amoeba


I had just finished a three month placement at an orphanage in Cusco, Peru, when I decided to head to the coast. The work I had done in Cusco had been incredible. I felt so attached to the city it was hard for me to leave, but my time was up and my body craved oxygen. Cusco is over 11,000 feet above sea level and I had sucked on enough coca leaves to knock out a TSA agent.

After a short plane ride and twenty eight hours on a coach, I arrived at the coast. The streets were unpaved and the town was small. A few locals were cleaning their front porches and nobody was selling me a magnet with Machu Picchu on it. Perfect.

I was desperate to explore, so I dropped my bags at the hotel and headed out for some lunch. I passed a small cafe and wandered in. It was empty, and I had landed directly at the owner’s feet. Since I am British and awkward, I wanted to leave immediately. Ironically, because I am British and awkward, to leave then would have been a social, physical and emotional disaster. So I sat.

“Everything comes with rice, I see?”

“Si, everything” He replied.

My Spanish was broken and my vocabulary consisted of taxi directions and formal greetings. Surprisingly, the menu was not filled with any of these buzzwords. Unable to decipher the options, I asked him to choose something for me. I’m not a fussy eater, plus he had a nice Lonely Planet mention back in 1998. How bad can this be? Right?

As he walked away from the table he grabbed an apron and headed back to the kitchen. It was at that point I realized he was an owner\cook\waiter combo. A one-man-band, if you will. This worried me. Surely you lose sight of quality if you’re judge and juror.

Thirty minutes later I was presented with a plate of rice, as promised. No surprises there. Alongside the rice lay fifteen dead octopus babies. BIG surprise there.

Their limp little bodies lay deflated on my plate. Upon further inspection, I realized they were also sporting small purple beaks. If you don’t know what an octopus beak is then Google it. Yeah. They exist, and my plate was now home to fifteen. Not fried, or covered in a sauce, but slowly lulled to death by a warm fish juice. How to eat fifteen small animals without crying? I managed to chew the legs off about seven. The remaining eight needed to be hidden; under rice, under plates, under anything. The owner wandered over for some feedback.

“Delicious. Very unusual” I said. With a hint of ‘WHY DID YOU SERVE ME A PLATE OF FACES?’

“I’m very happy” He replied. Well good for you.

My table was riddled with dead sea life and I was eating rice by the fistfuls. It wasn’t glamorous, this was not a concern. I left, hungry and sweating, and headed back to my hotel.

Damn you, Lonely Planet.

That night was not as expected (or perhaps completely as expected). A few amoebas had jumped into the mix, and now my body was riding a wave of regret. I don’t remember much. A violent fever had taken hold and I was fairly unresponsive. At one point I was trying to retrieve my ‘lost limbs’ from around the room before the ‘door people’ claimed them as their own. This sums up the next few hours of my night until I awoke to sweat and clarity. Home. I packed up my stuff and wobbled to the bus depot, still slightly feverish and pale. The bus driver gave me a ticket and a look of fatherly concern.

The journey was sixteen hours back to Lima. It might as well have been two hundred. The man next to me ate vacuum-packed omelets, on the hour, every hour. Of course.

I longed for Cusco and the time I had spent there. My beautiful trip had ended up in the hands of six million amoebas.

I landed in New York the following day, smelling of seafood and coca leaves. I’m surprised I wasn’t held in a contamination pod by the US officials.

Everyone should visit Peru, or any other country for that matter, because they’re beautiful and unique and filled with wonderful people. Just remember, if you’re British and faced with something uncomfortable – smile, eat what you can, and leave politely with your amoeba.



The Holiday Issue

Throughout the year, America glides seamlessly from one national holiday to the next. It swaggers past Valentine’s Day, flies into Easter and hurtles through Thanksgiving with little to no self-control. It has been estimated that people spend roughly $7.4 billion on Halloween each year, a holiday about ghosts and sugar. America gives a lot of its time to Holidays. A lot of time.

It also gives its employees an average of about 1 weeks vacation a year. It can take a week to just get out of a Trader Joe’s parking lot. How can someone vacation in that time? France gets 4 weeks vacation, as does most European countries. But you can’t go to Europe, because you’re too busy buying easter eggs in bulk from Costco. You’re constantly bombarded with in-house commitments that you never stopped to noticed the front door is wide open. Before you realize, fall has arrived and you’ve committed to 3 Halloween parties, bought a papier-mâché turkey and stuck 4 life-size reindeer statues on the front lawn. New Year’s Eve hits, you kiss a stranger and your life slips further away from yourself. Land of the free.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, what about the summer? Aside from July 4th, it’s a vast wasteland of nothingness. No national holidays, just sunshine and time to kick-back. But remember, you’ve only got 1 week. The July 4th party you just threw cost the best part of $400 and you’re still facing all those summer BBQs and overpriced hot dog buns. Taking 1 week to travel to Cabo with the kids and unwind seems counter-productive at this point. So you stay home and use your vacation days around Thanksgiving. This way, the 4-day weekend can feel like a semi-break and you can go to sleep feeling mildly happy.


As you lie in bed, you think of Monday. How did it come so fast? Oh yes, because you’ve only had 4 days off. You think of the French and their 4 weeks. This annoys you. Why have you been given 1 week and most European countries get 4? Did they figure out that happy, relaxed, traveled people work better, live happier lives and are more productive? No. That can’t be true. You don’t like the French, remember, you read something about Freedom Fries a few years ago that upset everyone. Now you’re annoyed and hungry.

If you keep citizens busy with glazing turkeys and buying copious amounts of chocolate eggs, chances are they won’t notice they work 358 days of the year. This might sound like a conspiracy theory, but I’m OK with that, it’s more thrilling. There’s nothing like a good conspiracy to start a conversation.

Aside from revolutionizing the vacation system and/or sending stern letters to your employer, you can use that week to show them who’s boss. Next time you see the country flying face first into buying July 4th decorations, fight the urge to spend your savings on fireworks, pack a suitcase and jet off to another country. It might only be a week, but it’s your freakin’ week!