What a Wadi

The day after the desert, we woke up in time for a 7:00am breakfast and an 8:00am departure to Wadi Bani Awf. A wadi is a valley or channel that is dry until the rainy season, and when it is full of water is a perfect swimming hole for relief from the heat. This wadi was in the middle of a collection of mountains that used to be seafloor just like those in Ibri. We had to travel through the rock before finding the little haven. Then, we followed an old falaj* until we found its source of water.

I saw glitter before I realized that there was a pool of water expanding through the landscape. Lush, vivid, paradise. By the main pool, a restaurant was open for visitors and we used the bathroom to change into our swimsuits and cover-ups. Signs requested guests to cover up and be mindful of cultural guidelines. Translation: no bikinis, keep the hips covered and feel free to sunbathe with your shirts on. Other signs warned to be careful of slick rocks and not to jump in certain parts. My favorite sign boasted about creation:

“secret of universe and creativity of God shows the beauty of nature and its charm. Nature is a mirror with which you harmonize your essence and expand your imagination, so take care of its elements because there you find yours”

I smiled seeing that because it reminded me how faithful many people in this country are and how Muslims too share the care for nature just as Christians do.

Once I was lathered heavily with sunscreen, I got a spark of confidence and slid right into the blue. Beautiful. It felt beautiful. I paddled about, absorbing every touch of fish nibbling my toes (free pedicure!), every splash and every polished rock. The water lead through tunnels and walls of rock and I found myself wedged between dry, harsh boulders but yet still there was a lush, living stream.

After a while, I carefully pulled myself up and out of the water onto a slippery rock. I needed sun, so I headed up the wall by intentionally placing my toes in holes narrowed by years of water erosion. My wet clothes turned sticky, but I continued in my bare feet until I reached the top of the mountain. Across the cavern on the other side of the wadi, an Omani family sat down for a picnic while little girls pranced about in their traditional, colorful dresses. I watch for a while, then climbed back down for lunch.

With about 45 minutes left, my friend David and I realized we had not seen the cave at the end of the wadi. So, we set off on a mission to find it before we had to pack up the bus. We followed a trail through pebble bottom creeks, under and through sweating boulders, and barely stayed on our feet—I won’t tell you who took the first tumble, but it wasn’t me.

When we found the steps to the cave, David borrowed a phone for a flashlight from some Omani boys next to the entrance and we headed in. We crawled through damp, muddy gaps and I scrapped my knees and knuckles. I could feel my hair matted on my forehead and under my hat.  My cheeks were red and sweaty and puffy. But we kept going and found a pool of water in the bottom of the cave. In the process of one hour, we had gone to the highest point of the wadi and perhaps the lowest. We rushed back to the restaurant and made it just in time for me to change before heading to another city.

In the bathroom after changing back into my dry clothes, I caught myself in the mirror and laughed at my beet cheeks and crunchy hay-looking hair. I was a mess, but my wild green eyes were joyful.  Little places like the wadi show light in the midst of darkness. Life, where there seemed to be only dead, dry things. Coming into contact with the Lord in this way fills my heart and was an important reminder before heading back to school the next day.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”  (Psalm 27:13)

*ancient water channels and a system of irrigation using gravity to pull water all over the region — I could write an entire blog about the Afalaj systems in Oman

SĂ­, claro…

Chileans are incredible chatters, and they don’t slow down for anyone.  It can be pretty difficult to keep up, especially with all the Chilenismos and “po’s” thrown in.  Within hours of my arrival, I humbly accepted just vaguely understanding most things in the coming semester.  When I don’t know how to respond, or if I get lost in the conversation, my go-to response is, “SĂ­, claro.”

This response can get me into some interesting situations, and this weekend was the perfect example.  Last week, my host sister and I were talking about how I love hiking and being outdoors, and Santiago’s vast opportunities for exploring and traveling was a huge draw to my decision to study here.  Her boyfriend is a guide in the mountains, so she warmly invited me to join their outdoors group on a “hike” (this is at least what I pieced together).  Naturally I responded, “SĂ­, claro.”

Come Sunday, I woke up at 5:30am to gear up for the long day of exploration ahead.  Her boyfriend, Alexei, picked us up in his 4-seater Jeep, along with two other friends.  We met up with the rest of the hiking “group,” about twelve 65+ year-old men.  I’m not sure who was more surprised– me, or them when they saw the young, blonde “gringa.”

Our basecamp for the day, surrounded by the beautiful Andes Mountains!

Two hours of windy roads, an outrageous amount of speed bumps, and a stuffed Jeep took us to the beautiful CajĂłn de Maipo.  We pulled over at a roadside barren area, mountains surrounding us.  What I thought was a pit stop to admire the grazing horses and mountainous views was actually our basecamp for the day, which I didn’t even realize until a few hours later.

Alexei began his lesson on map orienteering, compass skills, and GPS navigation. I tried to understand, but as mentioned before, Chilean Spanish is muuuuy rápido, and I can’t say that I got much out of it.  I was also a little antsy for the long-awaited hike (that never came).  Hours later, we began knot-tying.  This is a skill I’ve been interested in picking up, so I eagerly participated.  I can’t say I have really mastered the skill, but I’ve added it to my semester goals.

I may need to retake this course in English…
Knot-tying competitions! Can’t say this was my fortĂ©…

 

 

 

 

 

After 8 hours of Outdoor Adventure Orientation, we took a short drive to a mining town to hunt for fossils.  Good conversations were had with my new adventure buddies as we admired Argentinian cordillera at golden hour, working up our appetites for the fresh empanadas that were to come.

On the late-night drive back to Santiago, my eyes batted heavily from the carsickness and exhaustion of only Spanish communication for the last 14 hours. However, I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought about how my expectations were quite different than the reality of the day’s events.

As much as I love admiring the cordillera from my apartment window in Santiago, it was so refreshing to see the Andes up-close and personal!

Language barriers are tricky, but I am excited to see what else comes from the things I accidentally respond “SĂ­, claro” to.

CIEE Excursion: Châteaux de la Loire

This past weekend, CIEE took us on a fun (and educational!) trip to 4 castles in the Loire valley. If anyone knows me, they’ll know I have a great love for old stone, so this excursion was right up my alley. Rock lasts for centuries, even millennia. It’s easy to picture all the historical figures who may have touched a cornerstone of a castle–both famous and common. Since the trip, numerous people have asked me which one was my favorite. But that’s such a difficult question! Each one was unique and I felt connected to it in a different way.

Brissacjpg

BrissacWe visited le Château de Brissac first, and I think it was a lovely place to start. Compared to the later castles we visited, Brissac was fairly small. But it felt the most like a Disney castle to me. I swear they turned Gaston’s tavern into the dining room. Even more interesting, a family still actually lives there! Brissac is particularly known for its ceilings, and I must admit, they set the tone for the rest of the weekend. I couldn’t stop looking up in the three other castles. Brissac also produces its own wine, and after our guided tour we were treated to a small wine tasting in the dungeon. This was followed by a stroll through the grounds in the sunshine.

VillandryjpgVillandry is a château best known for its vast and intricate gardens. At one point, the castle was in disarray and was actually saved by a couple comprised of a Spanish man and an American woman. As such, there were many Spanish influences in the decor and in its small collection of art. The castle felt much like a manor house to me, and our self-guided audio tour concluded with free time in the grounds and gardens. The view from the hill was definitely the most breathtaking. We just stood and looked for a long time.

ChenonceaujpgOf course, one of the best-known Loire Valley castles is le Château de Chenonceau. We arrived first thing in the morning, and without the crowds of tourists it was easy to picture Henri II and Catherine de Medici (or Diane de Poitier, Henri’s mistress and favorite) walking down the path with us as we made our way to the entrance. By the time we left, however, the grounds were packed! And for good reason. I thought Chenonceau was the most beautiful castle we visited overall. Both its interior and exterior are uniquely stunning, and the grounds and gardens are also something to see.

amboiseIn the end, though, I have to say le Château d’Amboise ended up at the top of my list. Amboise fireplaceFitting, I’d say, as it was also the last one we visited. Not only was it gorgeous, it also had an incredible view of the town and river below and a lot of history behind it. The history made it stand out to me the most. Out of all the castles we visited, Amboise was the only royal residence. Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne lived there, as well as Henri II, François I and Louis-Phillipe, the last king of France. Leonardo da Vinci is buried there too! Because of the connection to Bretagne, the decor featured various combinations of the fleur-de-lis (symbol of the king of France) and the hermine (Bretagne’s emblem).

All in all, this was a wonderful excursion. Learning about France’s history through its architecture made me appreciate the current culture even more. And knowing this was the last outing as a group gave the weekend even more meaning. We only have one month left!