Tag Archives: Memorable

Climbing Sugarloaf Mountain- An Unforgettable Testament of Beauty

View From Sugarloaf At Night

By Siddhi: 

I have written about a few of those breathtaking moments in my travel experiences that have renewed my love and appreciation for the spirit of life that surrounds me. There was the time I kneeled in a cave in Tibet’s Drepung Monastery with monks who displayed unbelievable gratitude on the brink of survival. There were the paralyzing minutes I stood at the summit of the Temple of Poseidon at Mount Sunion in Greece, allowing the power of a sight I only thought could command me in the pages of mythology to overtake me with an indescribable grip. There was the ride I took through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil that shattered and then reconstructed the way I perceived surface-level encounters with the places I visited. All of these moments in my travels have been crucial building blocks in my growth as a person, but their influence only sunk in with time. There was one experience, however, that instantly impacted me by rehabilitating my dwindling sense of faith.

On a hot Spring afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, my family and I stood outside our hotel, waiting for a jeep to pick us up from Leblon beach. We were about to embark on what we were universally told was the city’s greatest attraction: climbing Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar). The peak beautifully overlooks Guanabara Bay and at higher elevations all of Rio. Although we’re not the biggest fans of guided tours, we knew that a legitimate rock climbing challenge would require help from people who had scaled Sugarloaf enough to be able to get us back in one piece. And so after a picturesque drive to the base of the mountain and a necessary dose of caffeine at a modest roadside tea shop, we trekked to the checkpoint where our ascent up one of the most remarkable climbs of my life began.

Snuggled in the tight security of our helmets and harnesses and feeling like the most professionally equipped amateurs ever (hey, it was memorable to feel incompetently official), we step-by-step moved up the uneven terrain of Sugarloaf. I had expected something along the lines of a difficult hike, so the reality that this actually vertical rock climbing overtook me with a simultaneous surge of excitement and downright fear. Even after becoming slightly accustomed to how I was supposed to use my hands and legs to balance my body, I felt like the rope I was attached to would snap with my every subtle movement. My hands were charred from clinging onto the gears for dear life. My paranoia of plummeting down hundreds of feet into oblivion was helped only meagerly by my refusal to look down. Never in my life had I been so fatigued and afraid at the same time. I was literally on this vertical slab of rock, trying to cling onto the smallest ridges I had ever had seen in my life. With the encouragement of our wonderful guides, some mental endurance, and the gorgeous progression of a setting sun, we made it to the summit of a mountain that would give me the one the most soulful memories of all time.

Words cannot do justice to what met me when I stepped foot on the topmost, circular platform of Sugarloaf. All the heat and physical wear of the last few hours was an insignificant price to pay for the ultimate reward: a 360 degree panoramic view of all of Rio at night. It was too captivating to believe. I could literally see every light in the city twinkling, and all that light together reflecting off the surface of the serene water below. It was incredible.

But that’s not why standing at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain became part of the those few travel experiences that embedded themselves so deeply in my conscience. Since my great-grandmother passed away a few years ago, my faith in any sort of power that existed beyond me had began to fade irrevocably (or so I thought) into the memory of a negative life experience. Since that day, there were three special moments where I felt her presence, as if she was watching over me and telling me that I had no reason not to be smiling. The first was on the beach of Sanya in China. I felt her presence through the element of water. The second was when I dedicated my first candle to her on my sweet sixteen. I felt her through the element of fire. And now, standing at the summit of Sugarloaf and seeing all of dazzling Rio at night, I felt her through the element of earth. It was as if she was the force helping me endure that climb so I would get to the top of this mountain and witness the beauty that life was capable of. It was unforgettable.

After spending time appreciating the greatest aerial city view I have seen, we all took a cable car down to the historic center half-way between the Sugarloaf summit and base station that educated us on the history of the mountain, how the cable car system was created, and the mysteries of the nebulous Acai berry that the Brazilians believe unless properly prepared is merely a marketing scheme for nutritionists with few legitimate benefits. Our adventure ended as the cable car descended to the bottom, but the memories of that evening will be forever indelible.

For anyone interested in this climb, Rio Hiking is a fantastic adventure company that leads some great tours in Rio. Check them out here:

http://www.riohiking.com.br/index.htm

Fairbanks to Denali, Alaska – A Visual Feast Aboard The Midnight Sun Express

By Lakshmi:

Who?  Anyone planning a trip to Alaska, plans to visit Denali and/or loves train journeys

What? The train journey from Fairbanks to Denali aboard the Midnight Sun Express.

How? The four-hour train journey from Fairbanks Depot to Denali commences at 8:15 am arriving at lunch time in Denali.

Why?  Alaska is truly a state like Hawaii where no matter where you look, the 360 degree vistas provided by nature are simply matchless.  I love train journeys and the opportunity to take one aboard a train with observation decks and huge wraparound windows facilitating ample viewing was just a bait waiting to be taken.

As soon as the train started pulling away from the station, we knew that every dime spent on this journey was going to be worth it.  As foodies, we kicked off our trip with a celebratory order of blueberry pancakes and the taste was simply divine.  It is in this wonderfully satiated state of mind that we started admiring the vistas passing by.  The added bonus?  Experienced staff who provided a good dose of history while pointing out wildlife and scenery along the way.  Our color infused visual kaleidoscope included mountains, streams, rivers, wildlife, flowers, the area where Christopher McCandless’s bus was found (prompting us to read Into the Wild) and of course every other natural aspect you see on the umpteen postcards on Alaska.

Taking train journeys is always awesome, but partaking in one that makes you seem almost unified with the nature surrounding you is surreal.

To learn more about the Midnight Sun Explorer, click here:

http://www.princesslodges.com/denali-rail-tours.cfm

The Eminem Experience: A Delirious Night in Chicago

Eminem at Lollapalooza
(www.wikipedia.org)

By Siddhi:

There have been very few moments in my life where an experience has left me so deliriously entranced that I couldn’t write anything even semi-coherent to reflect upon it. I’ve been in this state after watching some very special movies. I’ve also felt this way when I stood in front of the majestic Temple of Poseidon in Greece and rode through the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. But never did I think that a rap concert could leave me in a state of complete emotional and physical shock that has been unmatched by almost any other feeling in my eighteen years of existence.

I guess that’s what happens when you go through surreal moments that shatter and redefine your outlook on just what life can surprise you with. I knew that seeing Eminem (who, in my opinion, is the greatest rapper to ever charge through the music scene) at Lollapalooza- a three-day music concert set against the Chicago skyline in Grant Park- would be one heck of a music experience. But I didn’t know the extent to which that night in the Windy City would transform my perceptions of the power of music in helping and healing the human soul.

Less than a year before I saw Eminem at Lollapalooza, I “hated” rap. Anytime I heard any sort of rap or hip-hop on the radio, I immediately changed the station, as if I had developed some kind of an irrationally instinctual reflux against a genre that I had barely given a chance. I was a self-proclaimed classic and indie rock fanatic and didn’t listen to anything else. The online music tracking service Last FM kept track of the music I listened to and displayed it in weekly charts. The Beatles, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire would dominate the numbers for months on end. The kid who “hated’ rap had probably listened to a total of four full rap songs in her life, and those four probably came out a necessity to beat Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

A couple of friends kept telling me to listen to Eminem. I didn’t care. It was rap, which I “hated”. Finally, something- whatever it was- compelled me to download his 2010 album Recovery. I was just starting to come off a major knee dislocation which had taken me out of sports for two years. The transition back into even basic athletics was a rough one, motivationally and physically. But when I put Eminem on, I was suddenly just a little more inspired to keep going. When I was mentally drained after long days at school, I was a little more determined to stick it out and get to the finish line. When I was angry, upset, annoyed, or fed up, I was a little more willing to endure. The trend continued, and within a few months of listening to those Recovery tunes, it became obvious that Eminem wasn’t just a standout artist for me, he was literally an emotional necessity, a staple. I listened to him endlessly, downloaded every song from his Slim Shady origins and Relapse letdowns to top ten iTunes songs (which I generally have minimal tolerance for) just to hear him rap, even if he was only featured for a few verses. From the September I was introduced to the healing powers of Eminem to the August when my plane scraped the runway in Chicago, from hours of  Eminem on runs and bike rides and work sessions, from old rap magazine interviews to autobiographies, from tracking his personal life step by step down to his  rocky Detroit beginnings, Eminem had become one of my biggest inspirations.

And that’s why that night in Grant Park was such a surreal experience. If you are familiar with the way music festivals work, especially those with big name headliners like 2010 Lolla had (Coldplay, Muse, The Foo Fighters, etc.), you know that any hopes of seeing your favorite artist up close entails a whole lot of  resolve. My single goal on that blistering summer day was to get to the Unlimited Stage five hours before Eminem played so I could get as close to the front as possible. The heat killed, and the overwhelming smell of beer and smoke made the humidity even less tolerable in our limited breathing space as our bodies stuck to the thousands of others around us in every direction.

After seeing a horrible performance by Cee Lo Green, the last half an hour leading up to the 8:30 concert was the longest wait of my life. My sister and I were so excited we were jumping maniacally in the nonexistent space we were in. She had made it to the railing in front of the stage and had the best view you could get. When the lights dimmed, my heart rate was soaring. An epic video played with flashing text on the screen of how Eminem canceled his sold out European tour, checked into rehab, stopped performing, turned his life around, and was now back. Those two minutes of vibrant screen images brought me the most excitement I had ever remembered feeling. And then, Slim Shady himself came on stage and blew me away with the greatest musical experience I have ever, ever witnessed.One that drew in the biggest crowd Lollapalooza has ever seen: 60,000 fans.

He literally played every good song he’s ever written that fit the mood of the evening (leaving out classics like “Beautiful”, “Mockingbird”, “Hailie’s Song”, etc. because they were too personal and off-atmosphere for a Lolla night). He kicked off with some Recovery, did a little of his Bad vs. Evil material, went back into Relapse (he joked around about actually relapsing and taking a drink for Chicago for the first time since his sobriety, and then his suit exploded with water as a sign of his commitment to never going back into that world). He finally graced us with the best of Slim Shady. Every minute of the night was incredible.  But the real surprise was “Lighters”. Bruno Mars made a surprise appearance, which blew everyone away because nobody was expecting that. Before the concert started the stage hands threw lighters into the audience, so during the actual song, the crowd looked wicked as thousands of people held lighters and cellphones in the air and jammed along with the King of Rap. The entire experience was just brilliantly executed in every sense. It was visceral on every level. And it was also pretty awesome that my mom was rocking out next to me. That is something that will be impossible to forget.

But what meant the most to me was the fact that the passion, anger, and love on Eminem’s face and veins as he rapped reminded me of what this music had done for me. The rage had, paradoxically enough, brought me peace when I needed it most. It had made the toughness I faced less intimidating. And most of all, the music had stuck with me through thick and thin. Being enveloped by that medicine in a two hour set was more than just healing. It was a message that has endured with me since. If this man was able to turn his life around the way he did and simultaneously inspire millions of people, then absolutely nothing I faced in life couldn’t be overcome.

That night in Grant Park made me feel invincible.