Posts Tagged ‘Albania’

Why I Joined Mountain Ambassadors

While I was attending a Travel Massive meetup at TBEX 2012 in Keystone, Colorado, I found an opportunity. The people from were talking up their Mountain Ambassadors program for writers/bloggers who live near world-class mountain destinations.

Mount Sherman summit at dawn, September 2012

At 14,035 feet on the summit of Mt. Sherman, one of Colorado’s famous “fourteeners”

That weekend in Keystone, I was one of very few people who chose to camp in order to attend the travel blogger conference. The idea was to save money, but I also to share a fun outdoor experience in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Gazing at the stars, I realized that I take these mountains for granted. I made it a goal to spend more time in my great Colorado backyard and decided to join Mountain Ambassadors to help me meet that goal.

Volcano Santa Maria in the highlands of Guatemala

View from the top of Volcano Santa Maria in the highlands of Guatemala

Here are a few more reasons why I think Mountain Ambassadors is a good fit for me:

1) Love for mountains

Growing up in Denver, the mountains have always been right there, decorating the sunset and revealing which way is west. I have childhood memories of summer trips to Evergreen where my dad grew up, Winter Park, Crested Butte, and the Great Sand Dunes. I spent my college summers working at a camp called Rocky Mountain Village near Idaho Springs, Colorado.

Serra Tramuntana, Mallorca Spain

The hiking club that explored the Serra Tramuntana mountain range with me in Mallorca, Spain

When I began traveling abroad, I would always seek mountain adventure. During my semester in Puebla, Mexico I joined the university’s alpine club and summited volcanoes like La Malinche. In the highlands of Guatemala, I reached the top of volcano Santa Maria. In the outdoor adventure club in Mallorca, Spain, I made it to the highest (reachable) point on the island – Massanella in the Serra Tramuntana mountain range.  In my most recent trip to South America, I reached 15,000 feet of altitude near Cochabamba, Bolivia and did some awesome Andean trekking in Southern Bolivia and in the lakes region of Northern Patagonia.

mountains palma de mallorca, spain

Taking in the Serra Tramuntana mountains in Mallorca

2) Winter fun within reach

Despite my Denver upbringing and all my summer mountain adventures, I’m a newcomer to winter mountain sports. I didn’t learn to ski until college, and I’d still describe myself as ‘advanced beginner.’ I was trained on sledding and ice skating as a kid, and I’ve taken up softer winter sports like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, but the full investment in downhill winter sports has always been a little out of reach.

Albanian Alps

Hiking the “Accursed Peaks” of Northern Albania

Now that I’ve moved back to Denver for the foreseeable future, I decided that this is the winter to change that. With the free season pass perk from Mountain Ambassadors, I can finally get out to the mountains often enough to make some progress. I’ve already found a handful of other amateur skiers to join me on blue runs and maybe some blacks if we’re feeling ambitious.  Wish us luck …

At 15,000 feet in the Bolivian Andes

At 15,000 feet in the Bolivian Andes

3) Creative Challenge

With a nine-to-five office job, I have less time for creative travel writing than I did before. My portfolio isn’t growing as fast, and my blog has been getting a little neglected lately. This new gig as a Mountain Ambassador will help me stick with it and hold me to at least two posts a month. I’ll be doing one mountain travel-related post here on my own blog, and one for or It’s a thrill to be selected for this program and I look forward to diving in!

mountains patagonia northern Patagonia

Locating the elusive Laguna Negra in the lakes district of Northern Patagonia


09 2012

Six UNESCO Cultural Intangibles I’ve Encountered

One cool thing about tourism is that it can help preserve endangered cultural heritage.  I first realized this in Guatemala watching an indigenous woman practice the ancient art of backstrap weaving.  Tourism was providing an audience and a market for this beautiful craft, helping to keep it alive in communities plagued by poverty and urban migration.


Expressions of local culture are what makes a place really special.  All too often, these intangibles are at risk.  Three years ago, UNESCO began its list of Cultural Heritage Intangibles in hopes of safeguarding these local practices and expressions.  Now, over 200 of them have been inscribed.

As I perused the list, I found six that I have been lucky enough to have encountered in my travels.  They are:

1. The ritual ceremony of the Voladores

I saw this ceremony while studying abroad in Puebla, Mexico in 2004.  The display was absolutely mesmerizing.  As the four “flying men” spiraled gracefully downward from their perch on top of the wood pole, I watched in suspense.  How would it end?  Their landing was as fluid as their descent.

2. Traditional Mexican Cuisine

When I returned home from that semester abroad in Mexico, I had some tangible evidence that I had experienced this cultural intangible — I had gained about 10 pounds.  It was all so worth it.  I think the most memorable new dish for me was mole poblano.  Always a little different, always with dozens of ingredients, it never ceased to amaze me with its use of cocoa as a savory seasoning.  Recommended reading: Like Water For Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel.

3. Spanish Flamenco

Flamenco, to me, will always sound like Granada, Spain.  I first saw a real Flamenco as a performance with my study abroad program in the summer of ’05.  It was in a cave with a small stage — a huge hit with tourists.  I soon realized, though, that I could find street-level, improvisational Flamenco in Granada’s plazas, on the steps of the cathedral, at gypsy bars and at the Mirador.  No ticket necessary.

4. Castells of Catalunia, Spain

I caught a glimpse of one of these Castells (human towers) while I was living in Mallorca, Spain.  During Palma de Mallorca’s annual city-wide fiesta called San Sebastian, a troupe had formed a Castell with a small child(!) on top.  At least he was wearing a helmet.  I found it both entrancing and nerve-wracking to watch.  Incredible.

5. The Mediterranean diet

I sampled some highlights of the Mediterranean diet while in Spain, Sardenia, Albania, and Greece.  The best part is the olive oil.  So good and so affordable there.  I didn’t even like green olives until Spain, where they are taken to a whole new level.  The Mediterranean was also the first place I tried fresh figs and fresh pomegranate — right off the trees!  Spain is famous for shellfish and rice dishes like paella and my personal favorite: arroz negro (black rice) made with squid ink.  I found lots of red wine and roast lamb. Mmmm.

6. Albanian Folk Iso-polyphony

Perhaps the most at-risk intangible cultural heritage that I’ve been exposed to, this traditional chanting has become so rare that it is hardly passed down from generation to generation in the home at all anymore.  Professional performers struggle to keep the form intact.  I didn’t manage to see it performed live, but I heard it on recordings that Albanians (especially the older generations) proudly play for foreigners in their homes and cars.

For every cultural intangible I’ve seen, there are dozens more that I would love to see. And for every intangible that is still going strong, there are dozens that are swimming against the currents of globalization and urbanization. But I’m optimistic about the forms of cultural tourism that will help keep them alive.


12 2010