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Month: March 2015

Pomona Natural Bridge

Pomona Natural Bridge

The Pomona Natural Bridge is one of my all time favorites in Southern Illinois. I’ve been many times bringing friends with me and of course my camera. I’ve almost always had the place to myself. This area features a short half mile loop that crosses over the sandstone Natural Bridge. The bridge is fairly large, about 90 feet across, and the woods mean you don’t see it until you’re quite close. These characteristics make it hard to photograph, but gives you that wonderful feeling of being in the middle of nowhere without having to travel far.

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Getting there isn’t hard once you know. The very first time I tried to find it was on one of my photography drives and I turned seeing the state sign. Driving south down 127, you see a sign advertising the Pomona Natural Bridge and the unincorporated community Pomona (an intersection with a general store). Turn right at the intersection with the general store. This road curves left or goes straight onto a gravel road. Take the gravel road. The first time I started down this, I thought I had made a wrong turn. It felt like someone’s driveway and there are always some dogs that come out to see me. Drive about 2 miles on this road, which feels a lot longer due to your slow speeds on the gravel. Then you’ll see the parking area for the Natural Bridge.

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The hike is an easy one. Only half a mile loop with the bridge at the far side. The area is classic to Southern Illinois filled with trees, rocks, bluffs, and foliage. During the Spring, the drive is lined with wildflowers.

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The southern part of the trail crosses over a trickle of a stream that runs down the side of the cliff and under the bridge.
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Right past the bridge on the west side is a path to walk down under the bridge.

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The area around Pomona is also quite beautiful. I have explored the fields and country roads many times. Pomona Winery is in the area with all delicious non-grape fruit wines. Little Grand Canyon is in this area too, but it’s still on my to-explore list.

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The Vagabond Adventures: Lessons Learned

The Vagabond Adventures: Lessons Learned

“You get a strange feeling when you about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love, but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” -Azar Nafisi

I read that quote while I was on Isla de Ometepe and it felt so true. It was a wonderful week of my life, without responsibilities. Nicaragua was a beautiful, cheap and friendly country that welcomed us around every corner. There was an interesting mix of the old and new. One of my friends spent a bus ride talking to a mom and her daughter in Spanish. When they got up the girl looked at her and said in perfect English “Happy 4th of July, its trending on Twitter today.”

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The people in Nicaragua were so nice. There was only one time I felt even a tiny bit unsafe and the restaurant owner escorted out the man. One of our drivers, Monolo, told us that because the government was/is so corrupt and stole so much from the people, that now as it is slowly improving, stealing is one of the most despicable crimes in the eyes of the people. I never even felt as if someone eyed my bag. Everyone we met was willing to talk, share about their lives and their homeland.

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I had a half hour conversation with a man on the bus about the education system in Nicaragua and other random things (talk about a stretch for my Spanish!). The children only go to school for half a day, because there is not space for all of them to attend at once. The younger children went in the morning and the older students in the afternoon. I know that this may sound like a better deal, because we have all wanted to not sit in classes as long, but think of how much more education we are able to get because we can attend school for a full day. It really is a privileged to attend school as we do and to have the classroom resources that are available.

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I met a woman who lives in Germany, but is here working on building a hydroelectric plant here. She works 14 hour days, some others work longer. But she said “but it is so fun, everyone is always joking. The people here are so happy.” Wow, to have such a great outlook after working that long is unbelievable! I have seen a strong work ethic time and time again both in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Yes, chores may not be pleasant, but try using a machete to cut the grass in your front yard or having to break up the old cement in a drive way using basically a spear (I saw both these chores being done these ways).

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Common courtesy is yet another ideal I saw in many people. When I needed a taxi and would approach a waiting line of cars from the end, the last car in line will tell you to go to the first car, who has been waiting the longest for a passenger. Obviously not everyone in Central America works hard, doesn’t steal, and is always polite, but I was blessed to meet some wonderful people on my trip.

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There were so many great memories I couldn’t capture with my camera. Two sisters doing laundry by hand in the river, a dad lifting his boy up onto the back of his motorcycle and kissing him, a group of children playing ball in their yard, and an old woman face full of wrinkles smiling a huge smile as we drove past. These memories will stay with me and I hope to return again.

The Vagabond Adventures: leg three

The Vagabond Adventures: leg three

“If you don’t have any plans, you can end up doing some interesting things” -Karl Pilkington

Lago de Nicarage, Lake Nicaragua, is the largest lake in Central America and the 19th largest in the world. It dominates the Southwest part of Nicaragua. During our previous trips, we traveled the sliver of land between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean. Our final destination was la Isla de Ometepe, an island inside Lago de Nicaragua composed of two volcanoes. Volcan Concepción, an active volcano, makes up the Northern half of the island, while the extinct Volcan Maderas is connected by a narrow strip of land. It was by far my favorite place during my whole study abroad.

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We took a one hour ferry from San Jorge to Moyogalpa on Isla de Ometepe. We chatted with the ferry workers and they let me “drive” the ferry!

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We stayed in a hostel called The Landing Place in Moyogalpa. Cheap, clean beds, our own bath, and a room full of hammocks on the top floor. We ate at Mar Dulce, an Argentinean restaurant up the road, multiple times during our stay. They had the most delicious smoothies.

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Our first adventure was going to the Ojo de Agua, the Eye of the Water, springs of mineral waters that are supposed to have healing properties. It cost $3 to get in and was a little disappointing. It was basically a swimming pool they flowed the water through and the water was not warm. They did have a rope swing to jump into the water and we had fun floating around, talking to other tourists.

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The second day, we hiked the trail up to the San Ramon waterfall. 3 km, that felt more like 30, straight up the side of Volcan Maderas. The trail was not always well marked and included climbing up rocks and over trickling water. It was one of the harder things I have ever done. The 350 feet waterfall waiting at the top, however, is more than worth it. We waded in the cold water pooling at the bottom of the waterfall. This was what I had been searching for, a natural waterfall I waded into and could stand beneath the falling water. We had fun playing in the pools, finding some water creatures, and drying off in the sun. In all, it took the whole day between our ride from the other side of the island and the hikes up and down the volcano.

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One thing checked off my bucket list

For our third day, we decided to explore the island a little more freely and rented dirt bikes. There is one big road that loops around the island, so it’s hard to get lost. The road was nicely paved for about 2/3 of our trip. Our end destination was El Caballito’s Mar Kayak Tours. Between day two and three, I was getting a full body work-out. We paddled along the lake shore and up into a river, about a 3 hour round trip. In the river, we saw birds, alligators, lizards, monkeys, turtles, and sleeping bats.

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If I ever return to the island, and I sincerely hope I do, I want to do the hike up Volcan Concepción, about an 8 hour trip, and hike up Volcan Maderas, about a 6 hour trip (not back to back!). There were also many beaches and a few small towns we didn’t get a chance to explore.

Southern Illinois Bucket List

Southern Illinois Bucket List

“Anyone can take an adventure even if it’s only in your own backyard. Let your imagination be your adventure and see where it takes you.” -Carmela Dutra

Usually when I think about travel, I imagine far off places: Colorado, Canada, Iceland, Ireland. But adventure can be found right by my home. Southern Illinois is very different from Central and Northern Illinois. The Shawnee National Forest is our claim to fame and it is beautiful. Forest, lakes, rivers, cliffs, waterfalls, hiking… nature-wise, adventure is not hard to find.

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So I created a Southern Illinois Hiking Bucket List if you will. I searched online to find a list of hiking trails in Southern Illinois. Of course, a comprehensive list doesn’t exist. They are not tech-savvy down here. I printed the largest list I found and added as I went.

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The goal is to visit all these places before I leave Southern Illinois. Some of the ones not marked off, I have been too, but feel the need to visit again. This list still is not complete. I’m constantly adding to it. But any time I am bored or feeling the need to GO, I can pull at my list and ask myself “Where to next?”

Southern Illinois Hiking Bucket List:

  • Piney Creek Ravine
  • Fountain Bluff
  • Lake Kinkaid Spillway
  • La Rue-Pine Hills
  • Pyramid State Recreation Area
  • Hutchin’s Creek
  • Little Grand Canyon
  • Trail of Tears
  • Bald Knob Wilderness
  • Pomona Natural Bridge
  • Cave Creek Valley
  • Horseshoe Lake Nature Preserve
  • Alto Pass
  • Cove Hollow
  • Cedar Lake
  • Giant City
  • Rocky Bluff
  • Panther’s Den
  • Ferne Clyffe
  • Rend Lake
  • Heron Pond
  • Tunnel Hill State Bicycle Trail
  • Mermet Lake
  • Fort Massac State Park
  • Millstone Bluff
  • Jackson Hollow
  • Bell Smith Springs
  • Dixon Springs
  • Burden Falls
  • Lusk Creek Canyon
  • Stone Face
  • Glen O Jones Lake (Lake Trail, Cave Hill Trail)
  • Garden of the Gods
  • Rim Rock
  • Cave-in-Rock State Park
  • Beall Woods

These are organized approximately West to East across Southern Illinois. Southern Illinois is defined loosely as South of I-64, with the exception of Beall Woods.

The Vagabond Adventures: leg two

The Vagabond Adventures: leg two

GO and SEE all you possibly can.

Our hostel arranged for us to ride to Granada in Monolo’s truck. We stopped along the way as he “wanted to show us his homeland.” We saw fields and our first glimpse of the volcanoes that make up Ometepe island. He drove us through Granada and pointed out the 4 huge beautiful Catholic churches. Monolo said “there are 4 churches here and if you have a lot of sins you go to all 4.” We said adios and gracias to Monolo, found our hostel and settled down.

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La iglesia número uno

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La iglesia número dos

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La iglesia número tres – I loved the cheerful yellow against the bright blue sky

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La iglesia número cuatro

While searching for a place to eat, we found a little used book shop ran by Troy who used to live in Seattle. I could have lived in his tiny shop (he did live in the adjoining space). Walls of books and beautiful original photography hung up. It seemed like everywhere we went we met Americans who had since settled in Costa Rica.

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In Granada we took a boat tour around the Isletes off the coast in Lake Nicaragua. Granada was a bold and bright city with wide cobblestone streets down the center.

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The next day was spent in Masaya. Masaya is considered the heart of Nicaraguan handicrafts. They have a huge market with everything from hammocks and jewelry to souvenirs and clothes. In hindsight, I would have skipped Granada and spent more time in Masaya. Unfortunately, I did not take any photographs in Masaya.