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I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Climbs, volcanoes and other trials...

The sneakers I've barely worn since Nicaragua still have black sand in them from the volcano.  I'm wearing them again as the weather starts to warm up consistently. The other day, as I kicked them off, a pile of the stuff spilled out onto my bedroom floor.  Days later, though I pounded them together upside down, I still feel the grit under my toes, reminding me of this:

Yes, I climbed to the top of that thing.  That being the Concepcion volcano on the Isla de Ometepe, a central destination of my late February trip to Nicaragua.  The one I had heard was a 10 hour hike. Part of my initial aversion to hiking it in the first place and the reason I had chosen, months earlier, to hike Maderas instead. The smaller, extinct volcano on the island's south side, was advertised as an 8 hour hike, which I'd heard people testify to scaling in a mere 5 hours.  But whatever, when I arrived on Ometepe, I was almost content to nix the idea of any volcano hike and just sit and enjoy this:

...instead of trying to cram in more activities in the short amount of time I had there. Not so much that my three day romp around Granada and the surrounding environs had taken it out of me.  No, it was just that beautiful there at Finca San Juan de la Isla that I thought, after all the hard work I'd done to afford the trip, I ought to just take it easy and enjoy the rum and the fried plantains with cheese and the sound of the lake and the birds and the hammocks and all the beautiful people I met there, most of them Canadians, some of them local hotel staff who were immensely kind and very open to helping me with my Spanish.  Also, cost was a factor. I was either going to have to find people to go in on hiring the guide, pay him the full amount myself, or go through an unappealing ordeal of phone calls and emails and attempts at Spanish to set up a tour with one of the many other options open to me.  I opted to just wait it out and see.

I met a couple from Edmonton, Canada and another from Toronto, my first full day there.  The Edmonton couple were recounting the story of their attempt at Concepcion the previous day, a feat they told us took them only 7 hours. The Toronto couple listened intently as they were planning on doing it themselves the following day.  I asked if I could join, figuring this was the sign I needed to make my decision.  The path of least resistance. They had already booked the guide and they were happy to let me join them. And I'm so glad I did. 7 hours seemed much more reasonable.

Why did I wait all this time to recount my tale? I don't know, part of me wanted to wait to blog again until I had some good news to share on the music and voice over fronts and even about my various day jobs; all the things that have been brewing there. I do, as a matter of fact, finally.  But in the meantime, life just got away from me and I didn't want to just type up a blow by blow of the whole trip. I had journaled it elsewhere for my own purposes, after all.  But also, I had to think through what it all means to me in terms of what happened to me on that mountain.

Guys, this was the hardest hike I'd ever experienced but I felt so damned alive at the end of it, like I could physically do anything and perhaps mentally do anything as well. Anything at all. Volcan Concepcion is 5,280 feet tall and perfectly cone shaped, making the hike relentlessly steep.  Hiking to the rim of the open and active crater took us a solid four and a half hours and the descent took another 3 hours.

The terrain was ever changing and kept our interest, with stunning views and exotic plant life, but the climb was brutal and taking a toll on us after only an hour, my calves burning with the exertion of continuous ascent.

My new friends and I brought liters upon liters of water that we carried with us, along with lunch that the hotel had packed (unfortunately, the only gluten free foods they could give me were plantain chips, some of their homemade cheese and a few oranges, pre peeled, of course).  We took frequent breaks but always kept going, determined not to stop or slow down for too long.  Although at times, individually, I'm sure we all felt like turning around. Something in me, personally, said no every time the thought came up.  I felt as though climbing this mountain symbolized something for me.  I had to keep going.  Maybe just to prove something to myself.  Maybe because I had set out on some mission and wanted to see it through to the end. Being able to conquer something despite ridiculous odds, to keep going when others would have stopped (another group that was supposed to have set out with us, was delayed and, upon our descent we learned they had quit after just an hour...no one else was on that mountain except us).

We passed through fields of plantain trees and rock strewn pits, and as the mountain steepened, we entered a dry forest with a sandy path that our feet slid into, making each step that much harder.  Everywhere was a chance to turn your ankle or slip. Every other tree branch we tried to grab onto for support had thorns protruding. Rocks were always loose, so part of what set our pace was having to be so sure of our footing each time we took a step. At some point along the way, the danger of what we were doing slowly became clear to us.

We left all the stunning vistas behind as we entered a white cloud and the wind began to blow relentlessly.

We were now in a cloud forest of mostly low shrubs, plants with giant leaves and more and more rocks to slip on.

Coming up out of that we entered a new terrain, unlike anything we had seen before.  Plant life had all but disappeared and all of us, except our guide, had to crawl up on all fours.

This was where I fell behind a little and had to keep talking to myself, telling myself I had to keep going. After all, regardless of whether I made it to the top, I still had to go all the way back down.  This realization was the most harrowing thing after everything we had gone through, knowing that, even after we reached the summit there was still a long road before we could finally rest. In a way, though, it helped knowing that no matter what we decided, we still had a long way ahead of us.  It would have been barely any relief to stop and go down at that point because the ordeal of descending such a steep slope was just as difficult, and ascending the 500 odd feet that we had left to climb would not have added all that much to our troubles. Only actually reaching the top could have lifted our spirits enough to power us for the rest of the hike, though.  That and lunch.  But only after we had reached the top, we agreed.

It was during this last stretch that I felt that something come over me again.  Something that told me to just go despite how hard it was.  I could feel my companions' spirits breaking a little.  I felt like each step was harder than the one before. I would get in five or six and then have to pause.

At one point our guide shouted down to us to get out of the way because there were rocks tumbling down.  Adrenaline pumping, not knowing, at first, exactly why he had told us to get out of the way, we scrambled sideways along the rocks as quickly as we could.  Someone who had hiked up on their own before us, had loosed a few rocks and sent them down in our direction unintentionally.  Seeing this bloke from California walking upright down the mountain past us like it was nothing was the last straw (you can see him in the shadows just out of sight in the above pic of my two Toronto friends).  I could smell the sulfur gas from the crater by now.  Knowing we were so close to the top I powered through, one last burst of climbing, grabbing at rocks and propelling myself upward, quicker than my body could signal the pain in my muscles. Behind me, Kelsey was saying she was done and ready to go down.  The wind was blowing her around so that she couldn't straighten up for a second without getting knocked over.  Just then I looked up and saw our guide perched on the edge of the crater.  I lifted myself into place right next to him and peered into the crater.

"No, c'mon! We're here.  It's right here, you can make it!" I shouted down to my companions.  I practically begged Kelsey and Ryan to come peer in the crater with me.  300 meters deep and 3 acres around at the bottom, and all of it obscured by sulfuric gas and clouds. She took one look and declared, "Nope!"

We all collapsed for this photo and agreed after a few moments of basking in our victory, that we should climb down out of the wind and eat our lunch before heading back down.  Without any shred of visibility there wasn't much in the way of views to take in.  I watched some YouTube videos of other people's hikes when I returned home, though, and concluded that, had we hiked up on a clear day, it would have been absolutely terrifying but exalting and gorgeous nonetheless. Here's my panorama when we came out of the cloud.  Close enough:

But what did I learn about myself from this climb? For one thing, that I'm strong and I can show determination and accomplish something big if I have my mind set on it.  Something I'm doing on a daily basis here in NYC but that I tend to forget. The other thing it taught me is to just keep going.  The last few months have been harrowing in their own way.  No stunning vistas, no payoffs, just waiting and waiting for one or more things that are up in the air, to show me some kind of sign I'm on the right track.  It's hard, even though you know you've done things and set other things in motion, to just wait for them to give you some sort of feedback.  It's hard to not always feel like I could be doing more. But then, that one thing happens that may or may not be a true accomplishment but that tells you that, yes, you're doing fine, you're on the right track, keep going.

It happened a few weeks ago.  An agent with whom I had spoken over a year ago, who had told me that I sounded as though I had some regionalisms in my voice, called me to tell me she liked the new demo I sent her and wanted to send me out on an audition for a job she thought I'd be good for.  Yes, an agent liked my demo.  So I went out there feeling pretty damn good, knowing that, even if I didn't get the job, it was still quite an accomplishment and felt like a nice step up to a new plateau.  The next day, another agent that I'd met at my voice coach's salon emailed me to say she loved my demo (exclamation point) but that she couldn't accommodate me as they keep a very short list and there isn't currently a space for me. There are still more steps to take up onto even higher plateaus but just to know that I have things ahead of me is exciting.

"The Life" finally had its premier screening a few weeks ago too and everyone in the cast and crew showed. It was amazing to see how many people were involved in bringing that thing to fruition and how many cared enough to come out for the screening.  Some of them hadn't even seen the whole thing yet so we got to see some candid reactions to the finished product which made it all the more worthwhile. Great things are ahead for this project, almost none of which I can speak on definitively and it's likely to be like this for a while but suffice it to say that I'm happy with the progression.

And I even had an opportunity to help out with the music on a web series called Redheads Anonymous that is getting all kinds of attention lately.  I played some guitar and bass parts on a song for the second episode which you can watch here. Huffington Post did an article on it and episode 2 even won Indie Series Network's Web Series of the Week award.  It's going to be a great affiliation, and they may yet call me for more music.

At any rate, I'm still feeling pretty good about this year so far. And if any of you are interested in seeing the rest of the pics from the trip to Nicaragua, I've posted them here.