Travel


4
Mar 11

First Foray into Film

Gina and I spent last weekend laid out on various beds and couches around the house, sick with a vomiting bug. And while being sick is never fun for anyone we did manage to use the time stuck indoors to finally look through and edit all the footage we took with our little flip video camera while we were in India. Don’t expect much, I’m sure we won’t be winning any awards anytime soon but we had a blast getting to revisit all the memories of that wonderful trip.


24
Dec 10

Christmas Cheer

I am sitting here in Geneva airport 28 hours after leaving our home in Chiavenna to fly back to Dublin for Christmas. Obviously this side trip to Geneva was unplanned as our original flight was from Milan airport. After hours of delay at Milan the flight was cancelled and I was thrown into panic at the thought of missing Christmas with the family. We were told “Sorry. If you can find space on another flight we’ll change your tickets for you, but if not tough.” Well there’s no Aer Lingus desk in Milan airport so the only options for finding another flight are by yourself through the internet or the call centre. Of course from Milan all seats are booked up until well after Christmas. It was a wonderful example of the Smyth world web in action: Me in Milan on the phone to Darragh in London, who was checking flights online for us. Jeff sitting beside me talking to Dad in Dublin who was concurrently talking to an Aer Lingus lady on the phone. Seats were found on a flight leaving from Geneva for the next day, and all of a sudden Jeff and I were back in our car driving under the pissing rain for 4,5 hrs, through the Mont Blanc tunnel (a first for Jeff 🙂 and on to Geneva. We spent the night in a hotel near the airport and have been back in the airport for 4 hours so far this morning. Currently we are on hold (again) as our flight is indefinitely delayed. Which means right now we don’t know where we will be for Christmas morning  🙁

Airports are of course great places for people watching. Especially with the madness of cancelled and delayed flights left, right and centre. Kids running riot all over the place, bringing smiles to the faces of otherwise disappointed folk. The arrivals area has been completely closed down for a while after they found an abandoned bag. Jeff and I promptly moved ourselves far away from said bag. Just in case. We find ourselves in a type of Irish neighbourhood, as slowly but surely us Irish emigrants returning home, claim the comfiest seats to be found while we settle in for the long wait. There are 2 little birds fluttering in and out of the rafters above our heads, who have found prime feeding grounds in this airport restaurant. So for the moment we live in this weird airport world, like so many people have done in the past week…

So as a time-filler and distraction tactic (especially for me) we have been browsing through the photos stored on Jeff’s computer. Thinking about all the nice times that have been had over the past 9 months in Chiavenna. So here are a few photos of some of the visitors we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming into our new home. There are more in the photo section of the blog. We’ve also put up some of our new friends that we’ve made here. You’ll also find some from our short visit to Jeff’s family in Virginia just over a month ago, to celebrate his Grandmother’s birthday and an early Thanksgiving. It was as heart-warming as ever. We wish they weren’t so far away, but that seems to be story of our lives together.

Christmas being such a time for family and friends we are thinking of you all. The Christmas rush of the past few weeks has now stalled for a while as we sit and wait. Lots of time for reflection and thinking about each of you and where you are and what you’re up to. Hopefully ( I say that with a lump in my throat) we will get to see some of you over the next few days, but if the gods of dublin airport remain angry, we will see you again soon. Lots of love and hugs to you all around the world. From the two Beans in Geneva airport on Christmas Eve 😉

The expansive view


7
Sep 10

Malware, doh.

For anyone who tried to stop in and was rejected by a malware warning over the last few days: We’re ok, we haven’t been abducted by the radical pasta liberation movement or anything. Just had a bit of a hack into the site where links and redirections were added (sending you all over the place, but mostly China, when you tried to visit Beans on Tour). Everything should be sorted out now, but if you see one of those warning is the future send us an email, it will help us fix it more quickly,

Why anyone would think this blog, with it’s 35 subscribers, would be worth targeting is beyond me but hey, I’m not a spammer so…


23
Jul 10

Snap, Crackle, Pop… Photos!

More Photos on Flickr


24
May 10

6 Planes, 7 Trains and I’m going to bed

In the past 3 and a half weeks, between Chiavenna, Virginia (USA) and Bristol (UK) Jeff and I have enjoyed the pleasure of some ‘quality time’ with every member of our direct family, except my brother Matthew. In the process we have further enlarged our carbon footprint to embarrassing proportions. It now resembles a large astroid crater rather than a footprint and shall be referred to from here on as our “carbon crater”. Our feeble attempt to reduce it (or rather, prevent it growing) by buying a GPL car seems like a laughable idea at this stage…

Anyway, as I was saying, we enjoyed our first visitors to Chiavenna, with a trip up by my parents for a few days, and more recently a short but sweet visit by two wonderful friends Síle and Ben. In between we spent 8 days in Virginia for my sister-in-law (Amy)’s wedding, and a 3 day stint in Bristol, UK with all my siblings (and “partners”) except Matthew, who was missed. 🙁

It’s impossible to cram all of the fun of the past few weeks into one blog post, and quite frankly it is unnecessary. So here’s a random collection of memories that come to me…

Strolling through the streets of Chiavenna, arm in arm with my mum, busy solving all of the world’s problems.

Hiking up the mountain side in the pishing rain with my Dad, as only the Irish do well.

Being refused permission to board my flight to America, and nearly ending up stranded in London instead of at Amy’s wedding. Of course I remained calm and Zen-like throughout.

The buzz of wedding plans in the final few days, with many an hour of ribbon tying and decoration-making and displaying.

Photos of the bride-to-be playing basketball in a red bikini the night before her wedding. Officially the most relaxed bride I’ve ever seen. And of course beautiful, in that lovely glowing bride kinda way. Good work Amy. 🙂

Dancing our socks off for hours on the wedding dance floor with my family of in-laws, with some particularly memorable dance moves from my brother-in-law (aka “an entire boyband in one body”) and my father-in-law (dentist turns gangster rapper).

Laughing ‘like ol’ times’ with some of the crew from Blacksburg who made the trip up to Jeff’s folks house for a sweet night of chatting, eatin’ and appreciatin’.

Touring the streets of Bristol with Lucia, my sis, catching up and philosophizing while scouring all the skips (dumpsters) for potential plant pots for her new garden.

The look on Diarmuid’s face when he discovered his siblings waiting for him in Lucia’s back garden for his birthday surprise.

A day in the park with most of the Smyths (& co), and some special cousins, playing ultimate frisbee in sweltering midday sun, and circus school with Lucia, who by the way, is very good at what she does.

And finally, a blissful 24 hours with Síle and Ben, friends from Ireland, during their somewhat spontaneous visit to Chiavenna, filled with ice-cream, pizza, walks and wine, under the sweet italian sunshine. 🙂

Normal life in Chiavenna recommences tomorrow. Although, we’re not really sure what that is yet. Whatever it is, it begins tomorrow morning when I head to the town-hall, papers in hand, to officially become a resident of Italy.

The rest remains to be seen…
(as do the photos which Jeff will post soon…)


13
Feb 10

The beans are back in town…

People have asked if it is bitter-sweet coming home from our travels, but I think we both agree: there’s nothing bitter about it. And yes, returning to Virginia feels like coming home to me. One of two homes of course. What a wonderful, magical feeling – coming home. It fills me with a warm sensation, like hot chocolate in my belly. Everything familiar is a treat. Our cosy bed, my favourite jeans, the cheese I love that Asia/South America apparently do not… and the pleasure of savouring dinner and a glass of wine in the warm company of my in-laws.

By the time we boarded our plane in Buenos Aires, Jeff and I were well ready to be back with family and friends. With our upcoming relocation to Italy fast approaching, reuniting with folks back in Virginia is doubly special because we know our time with them will be brief. Watching the snow from the plane window as we came down to land in DC made me think of Christmas and all the excitement that surrounds it. Crisp cold air rushing up my nose as we step out of the airport under bluebird skies, like liquid contentment filling every part of me. Home sweet home.

It’s funny though, usually when you return from a long holiday you are thrown back into your “normal life”. This time there is no “normal life” for us. Our journey is merely on pause for a few days. Such a delicious pause. But nine more days and we will be back on a plane. Headed for Italy. Soon to be Home Number 3.

Watch this space.


4
Feb 10

The Luckiest

We lay in the tent in the fading light of dusk. Every so often a freight train tore through the tree tops above. The noise of each passing gust precluded any reading outloud or talking – all we could do was lay there, listening and wondering. I looked at my watch again. We had lost altitude, only a few meters, but a step in the right direction. The pressure was rising.

All climbers know the meaning of the word Patagonia. No matter that the real definition refers to a massive area of southern Argentina and Chile; when you are speaking to climbers, the word has one and only one meaning. Some of the best climbing on earth, situated in an area renowned for some of the worst weather on earth. It is a word that inspires awe and fear in a single breath.

The lore that surrounds these peaks has held me in a trance for years now. The legends of climbers and summits, snow mushrooms and rime ice had gelled into a knot of emotion in my stomach. A sort of reverence for the powerful extremes present in this landscape. So I had been prepared for the overwhelming sense of awe but it was the minute beauty of the place took me completely by surprise. The lenga, gnarled into natural bonsai by the ceasless wind; the small racketball sized birds, with feathers sticking out at odd angles and mohawks raised in defiance to the weather; the way that constant wind can become a tangible object – like cotton shoved into your ears or a brace to lean on while hiking. My dreams that night were filled with trains, jet planes and birds circling around while I rappelled down frozen “shrieks turned to stone” (as Maestri so aptly described Cerro Torre).

Dawn was shrouded in silence. No freight trains, not even the rustle of leaves. It had been a cold night: Gina had reported snow on an early morning trip to the bathroom. I looked again at my watch, we were 180 meters lower than we had been last night. Could this be right, I wondered sleepily? I dragged myself from the tent to make porridge and was hit squarly over the head with a blunt object. Appreciating the minutiae would not be necessary today. Monte Fitzroy, flanked by Cerro Poincenot, stood sentinal over our campsite, wrapped in ice and fresh snow. Needless to say, breakfast was quick.

When the clouds finally do part in Patagonia it creates a sense of panic deep in the pit of your stomach (at least it should) and you just keep thinking, “This could be the only time I get to see anything!”. Forty-five minutes. We had done the Lago de los Tres trail in half the suggested time. My lungs felt like they were bleeding, my breaths came in ragged, shortened spurts. But the view more than made up for it.

The high pressure lasted for two days. Nearly half our time trekking in and around the Fitzroy massif was in clear weather. In addition to the frosty view of Fitzroy, we watched the sunrise on Cerro Torre and spent our day hiking back to town throwing glances over our shoulders at the entire range, standing in clear relief against a cobalt sky. The significance of this is best illustrated by the first comment we heard upon returning to El Chaltén: “It’s been almost a month since we’ve gotten any view of the mountains.”

Jackpot.


25
Jan 10

Cochamó

I first heard about Cochamó through the grapevine in Camp 4, the climbers dustpit in Yosemite, in 2005. The vague rumors were of a barely known valley in southern Chile with multiple El Cap sized walls, many of which had only one or two ascents. Five years later we finally arrived in Cochamó; the rumors have long ago been confirmed and the walls have quite a few more ascents now, but the jaw dropping power of the huge granite walls hasn’t been diminished in the least bit.

Many of the comparisons between Cochamó and Yosemite hold true (beautiful granite, lots of climbing potential) but there are some pretty major differences. The most striking of which (besides the weather) is the method of entry into the valley.

In Yosemite, you drive right into the valley floor, craning your neck to see the tops of the walls through the windshield. In Cochamó, the price of entry begins with taking a two hour bus to a backwater town, then walking 6 km of gravel road to the trailhead. From there 4-6 hours of walking on the muddiest, most rutted trail I have ever seen brings you up into the valley proper. It’s only in the last half hour of this slog that you begin to get glimpses of the walls through the thick canopy above you. And those glimpses knock the air out of you: Literally leaving you speechless. You have arrived in a place every bit as awe-inspiring and powerful as Yosemite, but not the tourist meat grinder that the park has become, the Yosemite of John Muir lore. This price of entry may be dirty and difficult but it acts as a wonderful filter; helping to effectively maintaining sustainable numbers of visitors to the valley. Cochamó is barely touched, except for a few permanent structures the valley is completely natural. And the semi-permanent residents are fighting hard to keep it that way.

A few years back a partnership between American and Italian companies expressed interest in buying the water rights to Cochamó so they could dam and flood the valley for hydropower. In response, the residents, headed by Rodrigo (Chilean) and Daniel (American), formed the group Conservación Cochamó. Speaking in terms that the Chilean government could understand, namely tourism jobs and profit, they took their plea up the ladder until it finally made it to the desk of the Chilean president. The then president, Michele Bachelet, recently signed a bill protecting the water rights forever.

But as Daniel told us,

Water is only one part. Cochamó is still at risk. And God forbid the mining companies become interested, because in Chile, the mining companies get whatever they want, period.

For now, Cochamó isn’t a National Park, it isn’t a reserve, it’s not even on public land. It’s just a beautiful valley that is protected by its distance from people and its difficult access.

After spending two days hiking and gawking in Cochamó and a day on either end to hike in and out, we both hope it stays just the way it is.

For more general information about Cochamó check out: http://cochamo.com

To see how you can help with the conservation effort check out: http://www.cochamo.org



23
Jan 10

Ready to sit still for a bit

About to embark on about 35 hours of bus travel to El Chaltén in Southern Patagonia. Only 3 weeks until our flight back to the US. We were sitting here wondering where the time has gone and why we feel so tired…

I think we’ve worked it out…

Since reaching the Andes we have spent:

  • 20 days trekking
  • 3-4 days climbing
  • 4 days on buses
  • 6-7 days resting or waiting out bad weather ( and gorging on fruit and Dulce de leche mmm 🙂

And yes, I am a nerd.


22
Jan 10

Trompsing Over Mountain Tops

Three days in on a four-day traverse of the mountain range outside bariloche. This is high mountain trekking at it’s finest. The route passes up and over multiple high peaks, up and across steep snow slopes and today, the 3rd day, spends much of the time traversing a spectacular high ridge line. Standing on this ridge looking down into the bright blue waters of Lago Azul I feel like I might burst with happiness and the excitement of it all. It’s just all too wonderful to absorb at one time. So much beauty everywhere I look that it turns my thought processes to mush, and I start to sound like someone who has just fallen in love for the first time. Diarmuid would be busy slagging me off right now.

Each morning we set off early to catch the snow while it is firmer and easier to walk on. We spend most of the day walking through the mountains, with nobody else for miles around us. Such a wonderful feeling, allowing us to daydream that we are discovering these mountains and valleys for the first time, making the first tracks across the snow and drinking water from the unspoilt rivers and streams.

Of course it wasn’t all sweetness and light. Finding our way gets tricky at times, especially when the only way past is to walk through a lake, or when loose soft snow is covering the usual route with scary cornices hanging overhead. By the end of each day we are exhausted.

We reach our chosen camp spot for the night, which becomes home as soon as our yellow tent springs into action. It’s funny the bond you make with your tent over time, a constant when most all else is variable.

Life becomes so simple up here; walk, eat, sleep. Free time in between is just that : completely free. Time to sit and chat and watch the beautiful world go by…