HASH

Hash House Harriers

When I was living and working in Abuja, Nigeria, I was introduced to a fun running/walking group called the Hash House Harriers. This crazy, fun group was made up of people from all over the world. Expats and Nigerians alike. While mighty hot, we did our darndest to follow the trail and make it to the top.

Hash, A History

In 1938, in what is now called Malaysia, a group of British officers started meeting on Monday afternoons to go for a run. The idea was to cleanse their bodies of the ‘excessives’ of the previous weekend. Eating in their mess hall at the time, they decided to nickname their group the Hash House Harriers.

It wasn’t until after World War II that the group was formally established with a constitution. The objectives were recorded in 1950:

  • Promote physical fitness among our members
  • Get rid of weekend hangovers
  • Acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • Persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

Hash Today

Shredd

As the group evolved, so did the rules. First, a “chalk talk” circle would be formed. This lets anyone new understand what to look for as well as what the various call outs meant.

But the hare is still the most vital component. Before the group comes together for a run (usually monthly), a hare goes out and marks the new trail with shredded paper, chalk or sawdust. The hare will often set false trails that challenge the runners (and walkers) to stay alert and be vigilant. The runners out front will yell “on on” when they find a trail marking indicating that everyone is on the right path.  Or they may yell “looking” if they can’t find it. These false trails tend to be at difficult inclines or other challenges and allow for everyone to stop, get a breath and look for the trail. Once the shredd is spotted an “on on” is yelled and everyone is off running again.

HASH

Yucca

In Nigeria our halfway point was always at the top of a hill with amazing vistas looking out on the vast countryside surrounding Abuja. We ran through yucca, coffee and banana plantations as well as over rocks and through thick bush. It was always a challenge and super fun. When reaching the top a truck full of water, soda and beers greeted us and everyone enjoyed a good hour of relaxing, laughing and enjoying the view.

Then “on on” would be called and off we would head down the other side and eventually back around to our starting point.

HASH

Post Run

We would be called to “circle up.”  Long standing members would sing songs, newbies would be initiated with silly songs and a dousing of various liquids. It was always good fun.

Hashing in Nigeria was very special as it took me through areas I would not have seen on my own. The countryside is so unique, the people so warm and I really treasure my experience. I will definitely look for a HASH group the next time I am abroad.

Ever take part in a HASH? I’d love to hear your story – comment below.

HASH

Hiking to the Top of the World

Hiking to the Top of the World

I made it to the “Top of the World.” It wasn’t as high as I thought it would be, just 4,500 feet. And amazingly, getting there only took 2 hours. All kidding aside, hiking in the Sierras was like a deep sigh; my mind relaxed, my eyes opened wide, my breath grew deep and my muscles stretched out long. While much of the US was relaxing for the Labor Day weekend in backyards with friends, bbqs and beers, I decided to head out on a solo hike to rejuvenate my body and soul.

Arnold Rim Trail Starting the Arnold Rim Trail

Sierra Nevadas

Just two hours outside of Sacramento, California I landed in White Pines, a tiny neighbor to the small town of Arnold.

Just beyond the White Pines lake, I parked at the Logging Museum and headed out on what turned out to be a near 12 mile round trip hike along the Arnold Rim Trail to the lookout at the “Top of the World.”

I so hope you have had the opportunity to have walked alone on a path in the woods, with trees over 200 feet tall, dappled sunlight filtering through and a whisper of a breeze at your back. The quiet just grounds me. Then to hear a rustle, almost see some movement, and to realize you are sharing this gorgeous space with birds and lizards and all sorts of wild creatures. I may be waxing too poetically – but it does fill me up with such joy that I wonder why I live in a city.

The Wild One

After about an hour of hiking, I heard crashing sounds as if something were falling – like large branches – behind me and off to my left. I stopped and tried to see what was causing the disturbance, but the small undergrowth blocked my view. I didn’t think much of it. Then I turned back around and 20 feet in front of me a young Black Bear scampered across my path (from left to right). A few feet off the path it stopped and looked back to check me out. Stunned and thrilled at seeing a bear in the wild (my first!), I just stood there and smiled. I was so excited.

Black Bear Cub This is about the size of the one I saw. Photo Credit: The Mercury News

Then my “when you see a bear in the wild” training kicked in and I slowly brought my backpack above my head to make myself look bigger. The cub didn’t move. If it had stood on its hind legs it would have been taller than me. But standing there on all four, it was closer to the size of a very large, hairy dog.

After a few minutes it became bored with me and started to wander off. I was tempted to follow. Crazy I know. But I would have loved to get a picture. Then I remembered the loud sounds that had come from behind me. Thinking momma might have made them, I realized I was possibly now directly between her and her cub. So I walked away quickly, with my backpack over my head. Five minutes later my adrenaline started to come down and I texted a bunch of folks to tell them where I was…just in case.

Arnold Rim Trail Photos

Hiking Along the Meandering Trail

For the majority of the time, hiking along the Arnold Rim Trail was sinuous and full of gradual ups and downs. Sometimes I could hear the rushing of a creek nearby, but mostly I was slowly going up in elevation at an easy pace through a peaceful forest. At one point, four mountain bikers whizzed by smiling, enjoying the curves of the trail. Then came the last mile or so. The trail itself became filled with small and large rocks. The pitch became quite steep. The path turned into short switchbacks and I soon found myself caught up to the mountain bikers pushing their bikes.

The Top of the World

There have been a lot of fires all over California and Oregon this summer. So, while the vista was beautiful, it was tempered by the haze of smoke from the fires still burning.

5.8 miles down, I decided it was a perfect time and spot for lunch. My frozen Camelback water bottle had now melted, my etee wrap had perfectly kept my pb&j sandwich crisp and I finished off with a sweet mandarin while enjoying my view and the fabulous breeze. Knowing I had another 5.8 miles to go, I saved my KIND bar for the return journey.

lunch at Top of the World

After a lovely break, I did a bit of yoga to stretch myself out and then packed up and started hiking back towards White Pines. While normally I prefer doing a loop rather than an out-and-back, returning on this same path was lovely and all seemed new. I obviously had a different perspective, but also because the sun was now high in the sky. Either way, the return was nearly as enjoyable.  I came upon a fox leaping into the air from her hiding place attempting to catch a squirrel unawares – but to no avail – and to lots of angry chatter. Later a gorgeous garter snake slithered out and alongside me for a few feet.

When I eventually returned to the Logging Museum, I was exhausted, dusty and thoroughly happy. Another great day in the wilderness.

Interested in heading out to hike the Arnold Rim Trail? Click here for more info.

Maya

Maya Temples

Over the years, I have had the joy of visiting many temples of the Maya, mostly when I was living in Guatemala. They were all magnificent and intriguing. But my favorite was and still remains Tikal. Maybe because I spent a lot of time there. I have also visited Yaxchilan, Ceibal, Copan, El Mirador, Bonampok, Dos Pilas, Naj Tunich, Uaxactun to name just a few. When you live in-country, you get the opportunity to really explore. So fun.

Mayan Ruins, Photo Credits: Ancientmayanruins.com, depositphotos.com, destination 360

Tikal, in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala is just stunning in that you are in the jungle as you wander from temple to temple. There are often Spider or Howler monkeys over head. Climbing temple five just before sunrise or sunset fills you with a near out-of-body experience. The photos below are very old, but I hope you get the idea.

Tikal

My latest Mayan temple experiences were in the Yucatan state of Mexico. We went to Uxmal, Kabah and Chichen Itza. Our first outing took us to Kabah and Uxmal. Again we joined Mayaland tours and on this trip, two wonderful women from Australia. Our guide was an old-timer that spoke, and helped to promote the learning in school of, the Mayan language. He also spoke Spanish, English and French – amazing!

Kabah

Kabah is quite small, at least for viewing. Only a small part of the site has been excavated. The main structure is the Palace of Masks, or sometimes called the Governer’s Palace. Upon its facade are over 250 faces of Chac, the God of Rain. Kabah is situated far from the subterranean rivers and cenotes, so the Maya of Kabah were dependent on rains from the heavens to water their most precious crop, maize.

Chac, God of Rain
Chac, God of Rain

 

Maya - Kabah
What is left of the “Governor” – on the left – known for his knowledge of architecture, engineering, language and religion.

 

Besides the hundreds of Chac replicas, the facade was unique in that it had an intricate lattice design. As you can see from this photo – much of this temple was rebuilt (see the small stones surrounding the larger stones).

We then ventured down the road a short way and found ourselves in awe of the buildings at Uxmal.

Uxmal

This is the first (and arguably the most impressive) structure at the site. While not allowed to climb this, it was stunning just to look up and see its mastery. There are apparently two or three other temples inside this. It was the norm, when conquering, to simply use the previous structure as a base to build and even larger one.

Below, notice the unique rounded corners of the side view of the main temple in Uxmal.

Uxmal

We climbed one of the temples at Uxmal. While very steep (60 degree angle), it was fun to climb. Coming down was a bit more challenging.

Uxmal

Maya Engineers

The Maya were amazing engineers. Without any type of grout, they layed perfectly cut stones tight against each other, slowly moving inward to form giant temples.

stones

stones

Check out this arch! Nothing but engineering and physics.

Photos of mom and I
Mom and I at Uxmal.

Inside what was called the “Nunnery”- no reference to Christianity and no other explanation given, were a lot of long images that expanded the length of the buildings (some over 500 feet). Below is the head of snake that undulated along one of those walls.

Chac – Maya God of Rain

Poor Chac – his nose just didn’t make it through the centuries. These temples were built some time between 600 and 900 AD.

At the building below was a wonderfully restored Mayan arch.

Along the wall below – when it is noon on the solstice, all the Chac noses, are lit by the sun – leaving everything else in some shadow, apparently making it quite striking to see.

After a very sweaty (100 degrees F, 98% humidity) day at Kabah and Uxmal, we headed back to Merida and tumbled happily into our dipping pool at our wonderful VRBO.

VRBO

All and all, Mayaland tours did a great job of hooking us up with a knowledgeable and friendly guide at Kabah and Uxmal and the transportation to and from was comfortable and air conditioned!  Ahhh.

Coming up – our day trip to Chichen Itza.

Flamingos, Yucatan

Yucatan Adventures

There are so many fun day trips to take when you are based in Merida, Mexico. The Yucatan is full of adventures. With limited time, only ten days, we were able to enjoy four great experiences utilizing my Lonely Planet guide and Mayaland Tours.

Flamingos in the Yucatan

Celestun Biosphere Reserve is a short 50 minute drive from Merida. We went with ten other folks, from Italy, Germany and the US in a comfy bus. The road was smooth all the way out to the gulf of Mexico. The park is named for the founder of the area, Celes Tuno and the main industry is the collection of salt. The protected park is over 145,000 acres and is located along the Emerald Coast of the Yucatan.

Once there we boarded boats and zipped out to the middle of the lake where hundreds of flamingos were dipping their heads underwater to nibble on shrimp larvae. It is in the eating of these small nibbles that the Flamingos get their color.  When they are first born, they are nearly pure white. Then as they feast, their feathers take on the pink hues.

Flamingos

While our boat driver was very respectful of the birds and didn’t get us too close or make any sudden movements while near them, it would have been better if I had been in a kayak and able to stay for much longer. I didn’t want to leave. They were truly mesmerizing. There were a few hundred feasting while we were there. In January and February there can be upwards of thousands.

Our boat excursion continued to the island of birds were we saw the swooping and heard the chatter of Frigats, Herons, Pelicans, Cormorants, and many, many more species.

Island of Birds
We then slowly made our way through a mangrove before heading back to the beach, lunch and swimming.

Mangrove

Celestun Beach
Restaurant on the beach at Celestun
Celestun Beach
The water was perfect.

Celestun Beach

Celestun Beach

A fun full day. Coming up – visiting three Mayan temple sites.

Until then, have a happy day dreaming of flamingos and sunny beaches.

~ Gretchen

Merida, Mexico...Delightful

Merida, Mexico

Merida, Mexico was delightful. The weather was hot and steamy. Sometimes the humidity was higher than the temperature. But the town of 892,000 was bustling both day and night. The center or centro, was definitely the most packed with tourists from all over the world as well as locals enjoying the Plaza Grande and the numerous other parks dotted throughout the city.

Life in Merida

When we weren’t out on excursions, we spent much of our days wandering the vibrant streets (calles) and enjoying the lovely evenings filled with good food and music.

Our first morning we had a delicious breakfast and coffee at Latte Quattro Sette on Calle 47, just a couple blocks from our fabulous VRBO.

Cafe Latte Quattro Sette

Then we ventured off for a free walking tour of the historical buildings surrounding Plaza Grande. Merida’s main square is situated between what was once five Mayan temples. Many of the foundations of the current buildings still have the original stones used from the dismantled temples.

Government Building Archway

Archway, church
Looking out from the Government Building towards the church in Plaza Grande

History

Merida was founded by Francisco Montejo, a Spaniard in 1524. Only the facade remains of his original home, and it is adorned with interesting sculptures and carvings at the entrance. Inside you’ll find a small musem replicating the European furniture brought over to fill the house, as well as a bank.

The main church on the plaza was originally used as a bunker and still has slits in the upper walls for rifles. The church was built using the stones from the temples of the conquered Mayans.

Church on Plaza Grande

In front of the church you could almost always find a carriage ride waiting.

Art Abounds

At the Governor’s Palace, we found extraodinary paintings by Fernando Castro Pacheco, painted in 1971. His paintings are approximately 12 ft. x 36 ft. and grace the lower walls and stairway. His focus was on the Maya and their beliefs. In the image below, you see a man rising out of an ear of corn. The Maya believed that the maize plant symbolized the creation of all life.

The conquered Mayans were treated as slaves by the Spaniards. It wasn’t until Salvador Alvarado became Governor of the Yucatan in 1915 that social emancipation was enacted. Not total freedom, but a beginning that favored education and women. Here is an image of Alvarado painted by Pacheco:

Salvador Alvarado painting

The upper hall of the Governor’s Palace is lined with large paintings from a variety of artists. These are all free to visit and the signage by each is in Spanish and English.

Governor's Palace Art Hall

Pasejo Montejo

After a really nice (free) two hour tour, we headed to lunch and then to wander the Paseo Montejo. This wide boulevard is where the wealthy first built their homes. At the time, it was a bit on the outskirts of town, but this allowed the inhabitants to utilize a new mode of transportation – the car. Now the homes are filled with businesses and museums.

Museum of Anthropology
Museum of Anthropology

We also found a cacao museum and took a short tour learning about the cacao and how chocolate used to be made. They also showed quite a few representations of the Goddess Ixchel holding cacao. Ixchel is the only female god of the Maya.

At the far end of the Pasejo is the monument to the patriarch.

Monument to PatriarchIn the evenings, after a siesta and perhaps a dip in our little pool (more about our amazing VRBO coming soon), we would head out to find a new restaurant and music. We tried most of the traditional foods offered. My favorite was the Cochinita Pibil; pork with delicious sauces on a banana leaf.

Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil

On Thursday nights in Santa Lucia park, there is a serenade to the history of Mexico. After the dancers leave, the band, with four amazing guitar players, continue to enchant the crowd. Listen to the end, the man on the right really jams.

Merida is a delight and I highly recommend a visit. More info on our excursions and VRBO to come.

Adios for now,

~ Gretchen

Adventures in Writing

Hi!  Lots has changed over the last month.  I’ve moved states, bought a house, started a new job, started coaching 3 volleyball teams, started teaching a youth creative writing class and…found a little sister – 2 months old/2 lbs – for my Oscar (cat) who lost his brother one month ago. PHEW!

I am loving Sacramento.  It is not how I remembered it.  It has such diversity here.  From ethnicity to neighborhood vibes, a wonderful mixture – I just love it.

Yesterday I finally ventured out to explore the Artists Open Studios.  Very creative people here.  Driving through the neighborhoods – full of big trees and quaint houses – made me smile and think about how lucky I am.

I ended my wanderings along the American River.  There are paths for miles along the two rivers here.  So fun to think of great hikes after school once my schedule calms down a bit.

My school, Sacramento Country Day, is great.  The 5th graders I am teaching are so excited to learn and embrace new ideas.  My 5th/6th grade volleyball teams are doing really well.  Last Friday, one team had a game and they really played well together – and won!

img_5642My ‘Adventures in Writing’ after-school class is full of kids that love to write.  I am having fun challenging their minds to explore broader possible paths for their characters and settings, and to create tension and drama – it is all great practice for me as well.

Home life:  I bought a bit of a fixer-upper – and it will be a fun work-in-progress.  Sophie – the newest addition to my little family is so tiny and adds lots of springy, impetuous energy to our house.

So all is good in my world.  I hope it is in yours as well.

Have a great end to your September!

Gretchen