Loaded like donkeys with two sleeping bags, a tent, clothes for 10 days, and other camping paraphernalia (which mostly James was carrying) we finally managed to get to the departure point at Columbus Ave in San Francisco. I did not know what to expect from this upcoming trip but was excited and at the same time a little bit uneasy.
After suffering for three hours in the somewhat unfriendly Bay Area weather, we found ourselves in a long line of heavily- equipped travelers waiting to board a Green Tortoise travel bus.
To my surprise, the people joining the adventure were mostly international travelers, and as we found out later, they came from different countries and even continents. We shared a great experience with people from China, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Britain, Russia, Spain, France, Bulgaria (my home country) and the United States.
Once on the bus, eager to meet the other fellow travelers, we began talking excitingly with each other. The young Chinese man to my right smiled friendly at me and soon we were talking about Chinese history, the global economy, and our respective cultures. The outgoing Japanese girl to my left told her story of travels, living abroad, and the sometimes not-so-easy experience of belonging to more than one culture. I would later discover that this was the beginning of a new friendship.
Soon we were to experience another surprise called the “miracle.” At about 10 p.m. our driver and travel guide Dave asked us to leave everything on the bus but a toothbrush and a pillow. Then, we unloaded all small bags from the bus to leave space for sleeping. We were getting ready to convert the seats into beds. Somehow 34 people with 2 drivers had to fit into a lying position and sleep for the rest of the night while the driver covered endless miles towards our next destination.
James and I got the “beds” under the tables. Wooden boards above us and under us boxed us into a very small space. A leaning wooden bar hovered over my head and pressed into my stomach. It felt like sleeping in a coffin. I was thinking the whole night—“Oh, no! What did we get into?!”
We woke up in the Ruby Mountains, Nevada. Our luggage laid scattered; people were searching through their bags unsure what to put in and what to take out. We soon learned that we are the ones who would prepare our own meals and clean the mess after that.
Our first breakfast was ready. Everyone was required to “wash” their hands in three buckets of water: the first with soap, the second with clean water, and the third with a drop of bleach. After that we patiently waited in line to serve ourselves some delicious food.
We had different breakfast every day: sometimes hot cereal with fruit salad and yogurt, other times, French toast and pancakes. Our awesome boss Dave, the driver, had prepared in advance a diverse and healthy menu for the whole trip.
The landscape along our first hike to the Lamoille Lake was somewhat desolate, lined with rocky hills and sparse trees; our final destination- a pristine lake at 9,740 feet (2,969 m) height. Breathing in the rarefied air, bodies out of shape, our hike felt really challenging. Later we realized that this was one of the easiest hikes.
Water was cold yet inviting. I dipped my swollen feet in it. Some of our fellow travelers enjoyed a refreshing swim after a long sweaty night on the bus. I thought to myself, “After all, I may enjoy this trip.”
Today we headed towards Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the main activity on the schedule was white water rafting. James unwillingly agreed to participate and would later discover that he had made the right choice. I was quite excited yet a little bit apprehensive because of memories from a previous quite daring rafting experience. Expecting challenging rafting, I was surprised to find out that the river was mellow and only few of the rapids were a class three. The raft drifted seamlessly down the stream.
We floated on a fifteen-people capacity boat and pretended that we were rowing. The boat guide did most of the rowing and gave us commands that we hardly followed because when approaching rapids we were too busy being afraid and screaming to pay attention to the rowing task at hand. James unexpectedly had a lot of fun on the raft and managed not to break his glasses. I was relieved.
Some people jumped into the water to cool off. Then, people on the boat had to pull them by their safety jackets. One of the girls had a bleeding nose from the cold and we were all quite worried about her; the bleeding soon stopped. The rafting ended in victory with no boats flipped and no injuries.
Eventually, we set up our first camp at Grand Teton National Park. We had to work together to arrange dinner tables, cut vegetables, wash dishes, prepare food. Somehow things got done and chaos turned into order and order into chaos.
To be continued…