Meteora

I feel like I’ve mostly been describing days instead of any great reflection or insight into what I’ve actually been doing or learning. There’s so much to learn, process and think about and I am very much still working through my thoughts on it all. Add in the logistics of normal life in a new place with all the housing moves we’ve done and I’ve been more eager to sleep then contemplate and write. Which is also, what this has turned out to be, but there’s pictures at least!14525235_10153758040991736_1584701461772033392_o

It somehow feels like I’ve been on the run constantly since last Thursday and I’m pretty well exhausted. I think it’s mostly that I’ve started making connections and those take time and are in different parts of the city combined with it just taking longer than at home to take care of life logistics. Without a nearby Fred Meyer (and a car to drive to it) where everything is in my native language and makes sense to me, things are a bit more adventuresome and time consuming. Which is a good lesson in many ways for us. We’ve managed to cook several meals, successfully grocery shop and are very comfortable getting around the city on the metro. I’m really impressed with how clean and efficient it is. Much cleaner than any public transit system I’ve been on in the states for sure.

We ended up with about 36 hours free between various work/volunteer commitments this weekend and after much debating between staying in town and getting out of the city decided to go for the adventure route. We picked up a rental car Saturday morning and successfully drove across the city and north to Meteora. It’s a region of Greece in a central plain near mountains where there’s a grouping of rock pillars that monasteries were built on the tops of beginning in the 13th century. Six monasteries remain and are much more accessible now than they used to be. In the 1920s stairs were added to the remaining 6, replacing previous wooden ladders and a rope/sack pulley system. Today there’s a road that winds close to most of them making the area easy to explore. It’s a climbing destination and has lots of great hiking trails and is a great to catch the sunset/sunrise.14566347_10153758047241736_3439097756995133736_o

We drove up Saturday after making it through Athens, checked in and took off driving the 15 km road around the monasteries. We hiked the steps into one of the 2 nunneries, which was bombed by the Nazis and then rehabitated and restored in the 1980s. After catching sunset we meandered back to the village and walked into town for dinner. The next morning after the usual breakfast of honey, yogurt and bread we took off on a guided hiking trip. We meandered around the valley and slowly made our way up to the Grand Meteoron monastery – the largest, which ironically has I think he said only 3 resident monks. It was a great tour, just 3 other people including a Dutch couple and a man also from the outskirts Portland.

We made it back to Athens and the next morning returned the car in the heart of downtown with only minor traffic confusion and even mixed up the running routes by running back to the apartment from the rental company.

Since then, we jumped back into volunteering and working. It’s been nice to be in one place for a few days – 8 days in this apartment will make the longest we’ve slept in one place since we left the house in July!

I spent my first day at the second center I’m volunteering with and enjoyed the chance to connect with new people, see how a different place works and continue to learn. They have someone on staff who works with immigration law/services and provides assistance linking refugees to other services, answering questions about the asylum process, etc. Since today was both pouring rain and a Shia Muslim holiday the center was pretty quiet, which provided a good chance to learn about how things work and get to know a people. It also meant I could head out when the husband left to work and sneak in a couple hour nap this afternoon and we even got a chance to go out to dinner tonight!

Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada)

Waterton National Park was a particularly enjoyable landing spot that I knew nothing about prior and would happily go back and spend a few days hiking happily. We spent one night there, explored a bit then hopped across the border to Glacier, hiked the Grinnell Glacier trail in the Many Glacier region of Glacier National Park (east side) on a recommendation and it was incredible. Then on a whim that I couldn’t quite let go, we cancelled the next night’s reservations and hopped back across the border the next morning into order to do the International Peace trail between Waterton and Glacier National Parks, which was the first International Peace Park.

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Waterton Lakes from Prince of Wales Hotel

Since we did limited prior research, we turned the 8.5 mile hike into just over 10 since we hiked from town and spent a bit of time searching for the trail head. The Canadian side of the trail had a few handfuls of people and a good amount of elevation change as you wind along the lakeside towards the border. After crossing the border and checking off hiking/walking across a border from my life list with a handful of cheesy pictures you have a couple of options. First, turn around and hike back to Waterton or continue on to the US side and the Goat Haunt Ranger Station. At which point if you’ve prebought tickets and timed it right you can hop on a boat back to Waterton otherwise you turn around and hike the 8.5 miles back to town.

We had opted for the boat, but had a limited amount of time to make it to the boat, made more interesting since it took us a bit to find the trail head. This added to the adventure a bit since we spent the last ~4 miles on the US side speed hiking through waist or higher berries and brush, finding lots of berry filled bear scat, but not coming across any other hikers. This way, I suppose the husband felt his bear spray was well justified and we made sure to make lots of noise along the way.img_20160823_142609324_hdr

When you round into Goat Haunt and begin to encounter a few buildings the first people we ran into were full fledged US Customs and Immigration officers. As the hike winds down there’s signs warning you that you need to present your passport to the ranger station if you hiked in from Canada, but for some reason we were expecting a rather more casual quick glance by a National Park Service Ranger. Instead 2 Customs officers, complete with bullet proof vests and side arms asked us a few questions and stamped our passports, including a nice little goat stamp!

Thankfully we made it just in time to catch the boat and enjoy the leisurely ride back to Waterton before grabbing a much deserved beer and dinner at the Prince of Wales Hotel. The hotel has an unbelievable view, good food at reasonable prices – the perfect post hike stop. Then we hopped back across the border for our 4th time that day, laughed at the border officer’s warning to watch for cows in the road in the dark and then quickly realized how creepy black cows hanging out in the middle of road really are in the dark. A bit like crazed otherwordly beings attempting to thrwart your ability to drive safely.

And now this has somehow turned into a little hike trip report, but I’m going to go with it for the day. Plus, it’s well past time to get to the trip planning so that we have somewhere to stay next week!