super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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[Travel Thursday] Ich Liebe Liechtenstein

 

Liechtenstein is one of those countries I had always wanted to visit. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it’s a tiny landlocked country I never thought I’d have a real reason to visit so it seemed kind of an unattainable goal (when your list of countries to visit in your lifetime includes all the countries in the world, you kind of have to prioritize). It was one of the pitstops of this year’s European road trip and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It’s tiny. Really tiny. No, tinier than that. 160 sq kilometers in total (62 sq miles). And it’s cute like all tiny things are. You know, the same way mini pies are yummier than bigger pies and puppies are cuter than big dogs.

Some facts about little Liechtenstein:

~ It is the only country to lie entirely within the Alps, stuck in between Austria and Switzerland.

~ It is not part of the European Union so even if, like me, you have a European passport, you’re still exiting the Union when you enter Liechtenstein. They’re nice and don’t make you show them your passport. If you want, just for the hell of it, you can pay them a couple of Euros to go to the Tourism Board and get a stamp on your passport. Being the cheesy tourist I am, I had to do it.

~ It is the sixth smallest independent nation in the world

~ It is only one of two double landlocked countries in the world (a landlocked country surrounded by other landlocked countries). The other country is Uzbekistan  This means no short beach trips for people from Liechtenstein. Bit of a bummer.

~ It has more registered companies than citizens. Tax haven, anyone?

~ It is one of the few countries in the world that has no army. In fact, the Liechtenstein National Police, the only force responsible for keeping order in the country, consists of only 125 employees (87 field officers and 38 civilian staff). Back in 2007, during a military exercise, Switzerland accidentally invaded Liechtenstein. The Swiss soldiers got lost at night and went 1.5k into Liechtenstein. Switzerland later apologised for the mistake.

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Click on the photos if you want to see them bigger!


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Lisbon Urban Trail recap

I had never heard of the concept of urban trail until I came across the information about this event. As soon as I read about it, though, I was sold. Urban trail is a style of running that combines a couple of my favourite things in the world (running and tourism/sightseeing). The whole idea is to enter a running event in a historical or cultural significant area mixing running with sightseeing. Perfect, right? I thought so too.

The inaugural Urban Trail in Lisbon took place last month, while I was in Lisbon, proving that somewhere, somehow, the running gods decided to sit around a table and conspire in my favor over a few glasses of Powerade.

It was one of the best running events I’ve ever entered (and, as my credit card statement insists on reminding me, I’ve entered a few).  Lisbon is my absolute favourite city in the world so running through its historic parts, even with all those awful hills and hundreds of steps, was the best experience this little running nerd could ask for. When you have a run that passes through some of the most beautiful monuments in Europe and includes a medieval Moorish castle as your halfway point, you know it’s worth waking up with a sore body the next day.

I wasn’t exactly prepared for this run. I didn’t run at all for the three weeks prior to the event, aside from a couple of really short runs that same week. Plus, I sat in a car for six whole days the week before and the only exercise I got during that time involved bursting open packs of road trip food like biscuits and gummy bears. On top of that, about five days before this event, I caught a virus that ensured food wouldn’t spend too long in my stomach for the next couple of days and, as a result, on the night of the urban trail, I was one real unfit mess.

But I was excited. Adrenaline was really the only thing I had going for me that night and it ended up being all I needed. I didn’t run fast and I even had to walk a couple of those hills but, with my reflective yellow shirt and nerdy head torch, I really felt in my element. Having entire streets that I am so familiar with closed off for all of us runners that night, running alongside hundreds of other people in the city I was born in, and seeing entire crowds cheering for us along the way gave me the energy of 100 Gu shots. Portuguese runners, it turns out, are also an amazing bunch of people. At one point, I stopped my iPod and just enjoyed hearing the random conversations going on in the little running groups that kept forming and dissolving along the way. They were all hilarious and cute and witty and I wish I could run with that bunch of people every week.  Also, I ran across Rossio and it was all closed off and I could run wherever I wanted and OMFG LISBON IS BEAUTIFUL.

I took the GoPro strapped onto my wrist but, as predicted, the excitement made me completely forget about it during the run. Luckily, other people are far smarter than me and so there are some neat photos of the run out there. You can check them out here.

So yeah, you get the message. I loved it. I want more night races. More reflective shirts and head torches. More historic streets. Hell, I even want some more of those super steep hills, especially if there’s a medieval castle at the top with a panoramic view of the city where I was born and someone is up there waiting to hand me a muffin (true story).


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snapshots from the past month

The last month came and went in what felt like approximately 2.4 seconds. In the last 28 days, I packed a journey that passed through 14 countries and included hundreds of photos and endless hours of footage that will surely take months to sort through.

It also included a huge lot of sightseeing, too many hours on planes, an enormous amount of time inside a car, pretty mountains, old monuments, snow, beaches, coffees in multiple countries in a day, running on the longest bridge in Europe (well, part of it), entering my first ever night running event (and loving every second of it), visiting the world’s highest glacier palace, and some of the world’s smallest countries (Liechtenstein is so cute I wanted to put it in my pocket – and almost could!).

It included the bitter cold of winter, the crunchy leaves of autumn and the warmth of summer. It had long overdue hugs from family and friends. It included my favourite people, my favourite places, my favourite food.

What will follow, once jet lag finally abandons my body, is a whole lot of blog recaps of all the cool stuff that happened last month, running events included (spoiler alert, I ran the coolest half marathon ever and didn’t die). For now, bed time. Unpacking can wait.


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welcome to rocktember!

gratuitous kitty photo because you can never have too many of those and, well, I had nothing better to post.

You know how it was January about 10 seconds ago? Well, you and I blinked and now we’re over halfway through this year. Scary, right? What’s comforting, though, is that we have finally reached the month I had been waiting for all year long. September has officially been renamed Rocktember and promises to do exactly what the first part of the made up word says. It’ll start with an epic road trip in Europe and include my first ever urban trail run (a concept I had never even heard of but am already sold on), as well as a half marathon in Lisbon (the location alone make it straight away the coolest half marathon ever). On top of that, and more importantly, some much needed quality time with family and friends I haven’t seen in a year and cannot wait to hug. I’m sure I’ll come back with plenty to write about but, for now, off to get on a plane (well, two planes) to the other side of the world, BRB!


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Hiking the cross-island track with Pa

The other day, while sorting out folders in the external hard drive, I came across the pictures of the morning spent hiking the cross-island track in Rarotonga (Cook Islands) last year. It is still one of the best hikes I’ve ever done and I remember that morning like it happened last week (sadly, it didn’t), when we made our way up to Te Rua Manga (commonly known as The Needle), through luscious South Pacific jungle.

We got picked up from our hotel early in the morning by Pa with his friend Susan, in Susan’s car. It was about 8AM and we could already tell it was going to be another scorching hot day. “So I read online the hike is supposed to take about four hours,” I said to Pa while Susan’s sports car drove on the only road on the island. “That’s if you do the suicide trail. With Pa, it’ll take you two and a half hours,” he replied from the front passenger seat, while I tried to get over my issue with people referring to themselves in the third person. As we drove through the village, it became fairly obvious that Pa is a local celebrity, given the number of “hey Pa!” and waves we saw. “Pa coming through! Pa coming through!” he kept shouting out the window, as Susan’s sports car zoomed through all the scooters on the road.

We had biscuits and water in our backpacks but Pa told us there was no need for any of that. That same morning, he had gotten up and smoked some fresh tuna himself and had also made us smoked tuna sandwiches with freshly picked lettuce and apple. On an another container, he had packed us up some bananas and starfruit (or carambola).

Pa recommends sturdy walking boots for the hike – and we quickly learnt why, as we started the steep 400m climb through intricate roots. Our guide, however, did it in jandals, even though, as he told us, he prefers to do it barefoot.

The track was much steeper than I had predicted and, in some places, there wasn’t much of a track at all. In some parts of the hike, there were so many little tracks going off in all directions that it made me wonder how anyone managed to do the trek without a local guide. And yet, carrying the lunch of the two sort-of-fit-but-not-really westerners behind him, Pa climbed up to the Needle and then down again, always at the slow but steady pace he had warned us about in the beginning. We made a few stops when he told us about the fauna and flora of the area, as well as many stories of his over 4000 times on the trek. We made our way through intricate roots – “they are your staircase” – and sweetened our way through the jungles with fresh guavas right off the trees.

He is, as he describes himself, “a spiritual man”. And also a herbalist, natural medicine guru, an endurance athlete, and fluent in several languages. He told us about his years away from the island, living in Germany and about his many children, scattered around the world, living their dreams. Always looking ahead, Pa told us of those who didn’t survive the trek and those who were so transformed by it that they returned to their countries but are still in touch with the guide on a regular basis. He told us about the famous TV personality in New Zealand, who hiked the track on the first day and, seeing Pa wearing no shoes, decided to do the same. And then proceeded to book two other cross-island treks in that same week.

That morning with us was Pa’s 4011th hike to the Needle, known in Rarotonga as the point of male energy. The Dalai Lama considered the Needle one of the eight remaining energy points in the world. Years ago, Pa led the Dalai Lama and his monks to the base of the rock, where they buried an urn with the 900-year-old remains on an ancient master. Pa pointed us to the urn, hidden under a fern.

From the top, the panoramic views show you an infinite sea and how the rugged jungle shapes the island. “I’ve pissed on each one of these mountains,” says Pa, pointing at all the high peaks in front of us and somehow managing to take away the poetry of the moment. “What about the Needle? Have you been right at the very top?” C. asked, looking at the sign saying “climb at your own risk” and the chain next to it. “Pa has climbed it 22 times! But I don’t go that way,” says Pa, looking at the chain. He points at the gap in the middle of the rock, hinting that that’s where he starts his climb. “Do you wear any climbing gear?” C. asks, later telling me he could tell what the answer would be. “Climbing gear? I wasn’t born with any gear! Pa climbs with a grass skirt,” he says, and then laughs, knowing damn well his answer is entertaining for his newfound white friends.

But then there was silence. It lasted a long time as we sat up on the top contemplating the views. I was the one who broke it after a while, when I had to ask him if he realised how lucky he was. I didn’t mean just him, I meant every single person living on that island. With his back leaning on the Needle rock, his eyes looking right into the sea, he said: “Having travelled to other countries and lived in other places, yes, I know exactly how lucky I am”.

If you’re visiting Rarotonga, make sure you get in touch with Pa for one of the best eco tourism experiences of your life. He lives up on the mountain but comes down to take people on the track about three times a week (he opened an exception for us and took us alone on a Saturday, even though he normally takes people in groups and only during the week). For more information or to make a booking, click here.

 


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Meet Ernest Kalkoa

Meet Ernest Kalkoa from supergenericgirl on Vimeo.

After seeing a volcano erupt and spit lava right before our eyes and then spend a few hours alone in the jungle with a native tribe, I didn’t think our time in Vanuatu could get much better. I was perfectly fine with the idea of just lounging around on one of those amazing beaches. In the morning we woke up to a true tropical storm and so the playing-death-on-the-beach plan had to be canned in favor of a drier activity. And so we decided to go for a drive around Efate, Vanuatu’s main island. We had no particular plans or anywhere that we wanted to go to, just a few hours to kill and a rental car available. We had a map that pointed us towards some interesting natural landmarks but none of them were on Havana Harbour so we almost didn’t stop there. I’m glad we did pull over when we saw Ernest’s tiny little museum on the roadside. What was just a way of passing the last few hours on the island quickly turned into one of the coolest little experiences we had there.


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A letter to Samoa’s “craterman”

Dear self-proclaimed “da craterman, world famous in Samoa”,

I’m sorry I have been so busy I haven’t sent you the postcard I promised to send you from New Zealand. I still have the piece of paper where you wrote your address for me and I intend to have a postcard flying your way soon. I guess it’ll arrive at your family home in the village in Savai’i and you will eventually receive it on Saturday when you come down from your hut up near the top of the crater to get ready for church on sunday. Either way, I hope you like it.

Thank you for inviting us into your family home and introducing us to your family. Thank you for offering that we stay with you or at least have a meal next time we visit your island. I’m not sure we will ever take you up on the offer but it was incredibly sweet of you to invite us.

you've been warned.

I’m sorry I was so sick the day we met and couldn’t go up the crater with you. You were so excited that we had found you and wanted you to take us there. I would have made the effort of going on Saturday if you had said no to my Sunday alternative but, judging by how sick I was all day and how rough the road turned out to be, I’m really glad we didn’t. Still, I know how important going to church is to you and how Sunday is a day of rest for you and your community, which is why I’m even more grateful that you offered to do that.

one of his two fales near the crater

I admit I was a bit worried when we picked you up from your family’s house in Savai’i in our rental 4wd and you put what looked like old dry fish in the boot of the car, along with a basket full of taro and coconuts. When you said “this is for our lunch, I’m taking lunch for us to eat at the top”, I was all like “hells to the no!”, thinking that would have to be the most unsanitary meal I had ever had. When you asked us to stop at the store so you could stock up on beer, I said to C. that there was no way in hell I was going to eat that. He was reticent as well. I mean, you have to understand, we’re just a couple of silly little westerners with very weak stomachs. When, after a few minutes at the top of the crater, we went to the hut where you live all week long and you started preparing the taro and getting the coconut milk on the taro leaves and separating the fish with your hands, I got a little nauseated. And then you offered it to me and my mum and dad raised me so well I had to try. And, god damn, it was so delicious. One of the best meals ever, hands down.

taro leaves in coconut cream, taro and fish caught the night before

Your fale was only big enough for you and yet the three of us were there. I was amazed by the fact that you have a roof over your head but no walls. You have almost no possessions and yet you keep a book recording every single person you take up to the crater, as well as their nationality. You know how many countries have come to you. You told me you don’t mind the fact you’ve never left the island because you are lucky enough that the world comes to you. That was such a special thing to hear, considering how anxious I am to see as much of the world as I can. I should learn from you a little bit. I should learn from you a lot, actually.

walking around the crater and trying not to fall through one of the cracks

You take such good care of the road up to the crater and you are always worried about making sure the track is in good condition for anyone who wants to visit. Well, you don’t have to worry. It’s a great track and the crater was favourite spot on the entire island. You said you spend your entire days working on it and I believe you. It looks amazing. Hard work pays off, I guess. Don’t listen to the ones you criticise or say it should look better (you mentioned a couple of occasions when that happened, remember?). It’s a freaking volcano you’re looking after, not the botanical gardens. If they complain again about how it should have more of this or less of that, feel free to use those Samoan words you taught me. They’re be more than appropriate.

he's not kidding about the no rescue stuff.

I should learn to laugh as much as you do. I loved that you spent the entire drive up to your first fale telling stories and making jokes that weren’t even all that funny before proceeding to laughing like someone was tickling you really hard.

messages from past visitors

It was super adorable of you to get some ferns and make me a crown and say “There, now you’re the princess of the crater” before giving me a kiss on the cheek. I also saw how happy you were with the message I wrote in your book. I wonder if you’ve copied it into a piece of wood and picked a really nice spot on the road up to the crater for it, along with all the other messages people have left you over the years. One day, maybe I’ll see it for myself again.
Love,
Vera
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