Short hair, cuba, and dirt bagging – it’s going to be a good 2015!

Greetings Friends and Family,

History has a lovely way of repeating itself. During my short 25 years I’m already seeing patterns. In January I chopped and donated my hair for a new look, only to realize I was copying my spunky five-year old style.

And last week I once again gave my one-month notice to work, sparking the beginning of a new adventure. “We knew this day would come,” said our HR lady sadly, upon hearing the news.

This time, however, Miss Independent will not be traveling solo. My sweet, sexy, and adventurous partner Tyler will also be at the helm.

Left to Right_ little V, chopped, hot springs, bike tour, SF

Left to Right_ little V, chopped, hot springs, bike tour, SF

We start our trip in late April with two weeks in Cuba. Fifty percent of my blood hails from this rhythmic land of salsa music, yet it remains an enigma. Now that Tyler and I are enrolled in a latin dance class and because tensions are easing with the U.S., it’s the perfect time to experience the culture before it starts to change.

From there we’ll spend three weeks traveling through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, an encore to the reverse route that my cousin and I followed in 2011. I have very important lingering questions about these regions. Were the tacos really as drippy and delicious as my tastebuds remember? Do the nurse sharks still linger by the fishing docks on Caye Caulker, Belize? Does the “Quieres pan?” lady still shuffle the Guatemalan shores of Lake Atitlan selling her daily bread?

We will return to Lake Tahoe with bellies full of fresh fruit just in time to load up Tyler’s truck with the newly purchased camper shell and head north. We’ll be spending June camping, climbing and eating cliff-bars through Oregon to Whidbey Island, Washington.

During July and August we plan to bike along Highway 1 from Seattle to San Diego, taking way too many pictures in brightly colored spandex and helmets which will be available on our blog (coming soon).

Then we meander back to Washington and live out of the truck from September through January. We’ll start in Canada’s National Parks like Jasper and Banff, and then follow the warmer weather south to take advantage of some good ol’ Ahmer’can treasures like Glacier, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Zion and Bryce National Parks. Our google map has become so overrun with place markers that only bits of terrain leak around them, depending on the zoom.

In early 2016 we will take advantage of being under 30 and able to get year-long work visas in New Zealand. To plan beyond 2016 would be out of character, and likely useless as Plan A typically evolves into plan W by the time it rolls around.

The promise of a big(ger) adventure has not slowed the quality or quantity of our weekend warrior-ing. Winter skipped Lake Tahoe altogether this year, making it easy to leave the snow-less mountains when not biking or climbing.

On Valentine’s Day weekend we teamed up with a couple friends to do a three-day bike tour around the hot-spring riddled Eastern Sierra. Every day we followed a simple mantra: Bike. Soak. Camp. Rinse. Repeat. Turns out, this easy recipe yields unlimited servings of gorgeous views, relaxing soaks, well-earned meals, and good odds of a shooting star sighting.

Tyler takes the “other duties as required” section of the boyfriend description to the next level and surprised me last weekend with a San Francisco weekend getaway and concert tickets. We frolicked in golden gate park, squirmed under the gaze of an anaconda in the California Academy of Science, and split a meal with my best friend and her beau.

A backpacking trip to the Lost Coast in northern California is on the docket mid-month, and we’re hoping to do a big-wall climb in Yosemite before we take off.

Sending you lots of love,

V

Our Bicycle Friendly Community

Our Bicycle Friendly Community, as published in Tahoe Mountain News:

By Victoria Ortiz

Mindy and I on a bike tour through SF and Marin

Mindy and I on a bike tour through SF and Marin

Our friendly bicycle community has a louse amongst us. Fortunately, this den of fragrant pines and recycled ice water also breeds heroes, and thus an everyday Knight’s Tale was conceived.

The scoundrel, unnamed, unknown, armed with cable cutters and a subdued ethos, found his prey on a sunny July Sunday. Her name was Mindy, a mint green road bike recently introduced to its mountainous palace from the Bay Area via Craigslist and a Thule rack.

A red helmet perched on her hammerhead handlebars when I locked her to a dulled bike rack near the Y.

She and I had become fast friends the last couple months. Equipped with a stick of deodorant, we charged the shortcuts of South Lake to work and grocery outlet, up Ebbett’s Pass, and shared regular sunsets at Lakeview Commons.

I researched and scanned the Internet for the perfect touring/commuting bike for six months like an eager online dater. She was the first bike on which I spent more than eighty bucks and she was destined for great adventures.

All of those details cycled through my mind as I stared at the discarded helmet, no trace of cable or Mindy in the empty parking lot. She was gone like the sun-drunk spill of a Nalgene in the Mojave Desert.

But, dear neighbors, I am a fighter and an optimist, and that evening I filed a police report, sent out a mass Mint-Alert email, created flyers for the lost bike, and even posted to my sparse Facebook page.

Bike thieves belong in Dante’s sixth level of Hell, and the following morning I felt the sour surge of distrust flowing through my eyes at every biking passerby. Then, the phone call.

“I’ve got your bike!” said the ecstatic, slightly out of breath voice. “I’ll drop it by your office now.”

At 10:30am, less than 24 hours after her bike napping, Mindy was safely leaning on my desk, completely intact minus the bike lights. The hero, my now-boyfriend, saw Mindy lying at the feet of a teenage boy standing outside the Verizon store on Highway 50. He pulled in and parked.

“Look kid, I’m not calling the cops, but I’m taking that bike,” (I picture a flourish of a Superman cape here).

“Aw, I just bought it,” the kid protested weakly.

Lies or truth I know nor care, but you can bet that I bought a Kryptonite U-lock a few days later.

Mindy remains my faithful steed, leaving my car to collect pine needles. This story could have ended differently in a big city, but in our bicycle friendly community, happy endings do come true.

My drug of choice

My journal pages always get more ink when I’m on a plane. Maybe because looking down onto a mosaicked landscape with the meditative buzz of engines makes me reflect on where I am and where I’m going (and, often, where I’ve been).

“From this high you also get a good view of who you are.” The Nature Valley magazine ad rings true whether on a plane or hanging on a rope hundreds of feet above a sea of trees and granite.

Tyler and I on top of Fairview Dome, Yosemite

Tyler and I on top of Fairview Dome, Yosemite

IvaBellHotSprings

Iva Bell Hot Springs, a 13 mile trek into the heart of granite bodies with forested skirts

I’ve been taking advantage of a mostly-healed back by verb-ing every chance I get and relapsing with my drug of choice: endorphines. Mountain biking overlooking Lake Tahoe, dancing in the streets of Boston, backpacking to remote hot springs in Mammoth, the adventures hardly seem to fit within the confined weekend walls of my Outlook calendar. My vacation balance hovers around zero, and for good reason – life is too short not to explore!

A montage of beautiful memories and sensations frame this summer: the taste of Cheezits and Ukrainian champagne while watching the sun set into the Grand Canyon, the shaky legs and exhilarating heart-thump while climbing up 1000 feet of granite, and the full-body shock of jumping into many a snow-fed alpine lake stark naked.Grand Canyon

It’s not all sunsets and teva-clad unicorns (though it mostly is). On my last international escapade to Colombia I brought back a stowaway. The intestinal parasite spent the next few months making sure that I dropped weight like Galileo’s gravity experiment with a bowling ball. Thank you modern medicine for removing my need to instantly catalog the nearest bathroom or bush.

I also acquired a new family member. Her name is Mindy and I found her on the San Francisco Craigslist. I named her after her mint-green frame and ride her almost every single day. She is, of course, my new bike!

Mindy and I on a bike tour through SF and Marin

Mindy and I on a bike tour through SF and Marin

We’ve already experienced the pain of separation (she was stolen in July) and the joy of reunion (my boyfriend found her within 24 hours!). We’ve become well acquainted on daily commutes, during a bike-tour near San Francisco, and up a few mountain passes in California and Nevada.

When V gets boredTonight, on the eve of becoming a quarter-century young, I want to thank each of you for your hugs (because I don’t know how you could avoid that with me), laughter (again, unavoidable) and constant inspiration to savor this time on our most remarkable planet.

I also hope that this serves as a reminder that I’ve been waiting all year for your birthday song, especially if it’s off key.

Love and chocolate cake,
V

True, unadulterated, vibrant jungle life

Sometimes the urge to pull out the pen and paper hits us in sticky situations. For the last week and a half I’ve been running out of ink recording the constant stream of humid Colombian adventures with my gringo partner in crimes against arepas (corn meal pockets of deliciousness), Mateo.
I roasted myself into a candy cane gringo zebra my first day in Bogota walking up a mountain to 9,000 feet with a definite lack of sunscreen on my winterized skin.

A posterchild for how high altitude burns can happen to you!

A posterchild for how high altitude burns can happen to you!

The midday traffic and honking makes LA look like the remote desert it should have been. We couldn’t escape quickly enough, and when we got off the plane in the colorful Caribbean city of Cartagena we felt a wave of heat like a clean blanket fresh from the dryer. Colorful walls with flowers hanging from the balconies serve as backdrops to innumerable coconut salesmen, women cutting up fresh mango and papaya, and of course the hat men who can help you fulfill a secret desire to embody Panama Jack.

Time disappeared into the silky soft white sand beach of Playa Blanca, our island home for a couple days off the coast of Cartagena. Matt and I sat on blue plastic chairs entranced by the turquoise water still sticky on our skin after our umpteenth dip. A constant line of Brazilian bikini clad ladies boasting Playboy booties filed by slowly searching for their cabana, tent or hammock for the evening. Matt and I splurged for the $15/night cabana, run by a conspiracy theorist named Nico (apparently Castro was a Jew who worked for the CIA). our home was a ladder climb above the check in shack, basically a mattress covered by a mosquito net. Fresh water was not an option for washing and the toilet, a hole in a tent next to the cook shack, left nothing about your neighbors to the imagination.

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$15 view of paradise

From island paradise we zoomed back to Cartagena on a speedboat that gauged its speed on the squeals of the passengers. Did I mention the 6 foot waves and massive air time and the engine that cut out most inconveniently next to the rocky cliffs?
From there we travelled up the coast to Santa Marta, where we clutched our bags on an hour long jeep ride into a jungle town called Minca. We took a chance on Airbnb by reserving two nights on a coffee farm for $16/person/night.

Matt's first mule ride

Matt’s first mule ride

In the “town center,” four shacks at the dirt intersection, we were met by our host Eugenio and three mules. Matt’s first mule ride (other than a pony ride at a five year old birthday party) was this 45 minute ascent into the verdant hills during an orange sherbet sunset. Eugenio’s wife, Ana, welcomed us with fresh, organic coffee grown on their farm, followed by a delicious Colombian dinner.

For those of you who don’t mind geckos chilling in your shoes and bugs the size of Paris Hilton’s dog, La Candelaria promises an unforgettable slice of authentic Colombian jungle life. Brilliant green hummingbirds zoomed over our heads while we sat around the table conversing about Colombian politics, climate change and travel stories. 2014-04-02 10.17.45From their deck you can see the city lights of Santa Marta in the distance, with hundreds of avocado, mango, papaya and cacao tree leaves crinkling in the breeze. Eugenio gave us an in depth tour of the coffee making process and I now know more about seed to cup than most other people who don’t drink the stuff. One of our three days sharing their haven we day hiked to a series of refreshing pools and cascades hidden in the jungle. I even caught a glimpse of Toucan Sam in all his fruit loop glory.
Tomorrow Matt and I start a five day trek into La Ciudad Perdida, a sacred ancient lost city estimated at 1200 years old (450 years older than Machu Picchu).
From the rooftop hammock in the sea breeze,

Your crazy gringa

Nature’s Tinsel, Eureka Dunes, and a Happy New Year

Dear Family and Friends,

Full disclosure: Christmas is my favorite holiday. While toffee and pie wage war on the waistline and inspire optimistic resolutions, I relish the corny holiday songs and extra helpings.

The misty redwoods of Humboldt county

The misty redwoods of Humboldt county

A white Christmas was not in the e-cards for Tahoe, much to the chagrin of 60,000+ pairs of skis. Matt and I were granted a gray Christmas Eve walking in the misty wonderland of Redwoods covered in spider webs, nature’s tinsel. The crackling of crab shells filled the Robertson house last night, as we all devoured the candy of the sea. The evening faded into the living room by a raging wood-stove fire, wailing along to my talented boyfriend as he serenated his wonderful family.

Since our return from the Spanish land of wine, cheese and lisps, Matt and I have put our sleeping bags to work with regular camping trips.

2013's List

2013’s List

I got to check off a few more “To Do in 2013” items off my list hanging in my bedroom (literally a 3×4’ list of goals): a bike ride through the golden aspens along Tahoe’s famous Flume Trail and biking up Tioga Pass (Yosemite’s east entrance).

The stunning Eureka Dunes of Death Valley

The stunning Eureka Dunes of Death Valley

photo (3)Matt and I celebrated the national day of thanks amidst the vast beauty of Death Valley. We battled the tryptophan long enough to gawk at nocturnal astronomy shows by my favorite artist – nature. My camera could not quite capture the magical glow of Eureka Dunes rising above the valley floor protected by snow-capped peaks

Last week I traded the -14 degree evenings of Lake Tahoe for 86 degree days in Los Angeles. Both sets of parents were in the same city, and I jumped (or rather flew) at the opportunity to celebrate an early Christmas with them. Family, food and shorts kept me smiling and hugging in the massive metropolis.

Although a broken back has kept the running shoes off my feet for six months (an unfortunate record), the wanderlust has not been quenched. I’ve been wondering HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, and I think I’ve found an opportunity to do so. A Fulbright National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship proposal to examine the global perspective on the spirit of volunteerism has been on the forefront of my mind. If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or connections to places to volunteer internationally (or want to hear more), please let me know.

Trinidad, NorCal

Trinidad, NorCal

On this most wonderful of days I am sending you hugs as sweet as Grandma’s sugar cookies. You are the ornaments on my tree of life that shine beautifully on every branch of my being. Wishing you a joyful, healthy 2014!

Love,

V

10 Reasons to Visit (or Live in) Spain

Dear Friends and Family,
 
Ten days in Spain and I’m hooked! My best friend and boyfriend Matt and I are halfway through a three-week adventure to soak in the sun, aromas, and  lisping Spanish accents. We are currently bicigrinos, pilgrims on a six-day bike tour along the 300+km Camino de Santiago.
 2013-10-01 16.43.47
As we sit in an albergue, one of hundreds of old monasteries turned hostals, a lightening storm crashes and interrupts the pouring rain on the cobblestone streets. We have splashed through mud, climbed thousands of meters up dirt roads and gawked at the vistas while following the yellow arrows and sea shells that mark the Camino. Despite a faulty pedal (me) and a broken gear shifter (Matt), I wouldn’t trade this part of our trip for all of the tapas in Spain. We’ve crested green hills pillowed in clouds with windmills in the distance and countless flower lined medieval towns with effervescent cathedrals.
 
If the cowbells and buildings dripping with history weren’t stereotypically European enough to make you fall in love, I’ve compiled a list of ten additional reasons why Spain deserves your company:
 
1. Food: Of course, this would be #1 for me.

2013-10-02 13.25.53

Salud-ing with a bocadillo de jamón

Hot chocolate that left me unable to speak(whoa!), the first olive I have ever enjoyed, and jamon (ham) like I never knew existed often paired with fresh bread and perfect cheese. They invented the art of snacking and understand that drinking should always be accompanied by good food. Hence, the free tapas with every glass of wine or cider, which leads to número 2…
 

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Homemade noodles under chicken cacciatore, with the national drink… vino tinto!

2. Wine: plentiful, cheap, expected. Oftentimes ordering a glass = free food or vis a versa (see #1).
 
3. Bike lanes: automobile-centric USA culture take note, drivers CAN coexist with bikers. The kilometers upon kilometers of heavily used bike lanes contribute to an active culture, which helps to combat the effects of daily chocolate croissants.
 
4. History: It’s normal to live in an 18th  Century building or to sit in a medieval plaza.

2013-10-02 17.06.24The modern amenities seamlessly weave into a fabric so rich in history that the footpaths have been worn soft by the soles of hundreds of years of pilgrims on the same path.

 
5. You can drink the water: Compared to most of my travels, this is a luxury I do not take for granted. It’s on par with flushing the toilet paper.
 
 
6. It’s Cheap(ish): I went to Spain expecting my frugal self to squirm whenever the wallet came out. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that for 10€ ($13) Matt and I can split a three-course meal with wine, or simply have a bottle for 1.5€($2) and stay in a clean room with a shower for 20€ ($26) without worrying about bed bugs.
 
 
7. Trains are so fast!: Latin American buses, despite having great dubbed Jet Li movies cannot compare to the zoom zoom of the rail system.
 
 
2013-10-03 10.55.128. No hurrying allowed: As one of our friends warned, ” Whatever you do, don’t fuckin’ hurry in Spain. It’s just not Spanish.” We’ve taken this to heart and enjoyed many a cafe con leche (Matt) or a pastry (V) to watch the clouds and people float by.
 
 
9. Sleeping in is not an issue: In fact, it’s encouraged. We stayed up till dawn with our incredible hosts in the foothills of Madrid  then subsequently slept till early afternoon.
 
 
10. The national lisp: I have to grin when they say Zaragoza (pronounced Thar-a-go-tha).
 
Spain’s cultural history is nearly as diverse as the many dialects that inhabit its various regions. We are less than 20 km from Santiago and our bums are looking forward to relinquishing the saddle. My back (which I broke in June) is doing great and hasn’t bothered me on the tour.
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Matt and I have hardly stopped smiling since we took off from Tahoe and we still have almost 11 days to explore San Sebastián and Barcelona. I hope that life is keeping you smiling as Fall begins to tickle the leaves to the ground.
 
Besos y abrazos,
V