Incredible Uganda: Day 10

This is the moment where the arduous effort to be here pays off. Right now. Coming down from the inexplicable high of rafting the Nile River, I realize the adventure is over and reality begins to chip my anxious excitement into a more settled wonderment. Peering out of the bus into a paralleled taxi I lock eyes with a little girl, no older than two. She stares at me through the cracked window. I wave to her and smile at her mother. I keep waving in an attempt to receive a reciprocated signal of acknowledgement. She waves so I smile and wave again. Back and forth we silently communicate and her mother pushes the window slightly more open. She sticks her face through the crevice, I move to a newly open seat in an attempt to be nearer. I blow her a kiss and she looks at her mom, returning her gaze to see an elated 20 year-old gushing over her. I blow another kiss and wave. She places her flat palm against her lips and waves with the opposite hand. I make surprised faces with her, smile and blow more kisses. A lurch signals that my time is running thin. In an effort to maintain this intimacy between us I blow her another kiss to which she finally blows one back to me. The engine revs and I must return to my place leaving her with a smile and farewell wave. Overcome with joy, I sit back in my seat and cannot help but wonder at life’s intricacies. Morning ensues, weaver birds sing in the distance while roosters welcome the day. The air is fresh from the rain of yesterday and as I lean my head back against the wall from my railing perch I cannot help but giggle and roll my eyes at this life. These are the moments I live for, that remind me why I worked so hard to be here, and facilitate my efforts to explore. I never thought a single experience, let alone one shared with a precious child, could capture the essence of what I experienced all month walking alongside the people of Uganda.

 

Content by Alexandrea Rager

Photograph by Andrew Johnson

Incredible Uganda: Day 2

Looking out from one of many vantage points I sit in wonderment. Agriculture is only a very minute portion of the land found on the farm. Forest looms around patches of cultivation where anything from pineapples to beans might be growing; a constant reminder that Uganda is still a developing nation. There is a sort of inexplicable harmony here which coerces fleeting notions that environmental sustainability is possible. An inspiring man with an expansive understanding of agriculture lives and breathes for the people, animals and well being of the farm. His relentless dedication to this project serves as a catalyst for education about the benefits of farming God’s way and how the farm is making a significant difference in the lives of Ugandans. It wasn’t an outlandish concept, especially when one lives with the constant presence of animals, to follow a group of guys wielding machetes into the Ugandan forest. “This one is for the goats” I tell myself while a single tear slides down my cheek. An advocate for the end of deforestation, cutting trees is not exactly a hobby. In a way however, the circumstances of the situation aided my solace. Trees that fit the parameters, but needed to be removed for further cultivation expansion, were put to good use for the goats to enjoy a larger space.  Working alongside one’s peers pulling weeds, moving blanket or building a goat pen creates a beautiful opportunity to encourage and understand their unique humanity. In a way, the farm became a safe place for one to express him or herself. While not much time was spent, every hour, conversation and bead of sweat was nothing to take for granted as the farm is truly all about the love. This place, so intertwined with who we are and who we will become, has a way of leaving its remarkable impression on our lives.

Content and Photograph by Alex Rager

Incredible Uganda: Arrival

What an incredible setting, Uganda is a country seemingly and sporadically placed within a once-forest. A goat cries in the distance beyond the gate. A solemn reminder that I ate goat upon my arrival here. Arrival. Ramshackle homes and businesses line unpaved roads. Making our way to the compound I stare out the window into a sea of the unfamiliar. Buildings painted with advertisements of Higgies Diapers where Huggies are not sold, roaming animals and the western image of impoverished living were all things left unspoken in meetings and left for us to ponder. What an extraordinary experience it was to arrive. Exhaustion’s grip only tightened as I drew closer. With every hour the need to stay awake and alert while traversing three counties, among strangers and through the unfamiliar proved harder. The incredible thing is that arriving is the easy part. No one tells you that it is going to take a lot of time and careful planning. No one holds your hand. Nothing is for certain. No one tells you that a few days before departure the anticipation builds. Sleep became sporadic, a constant need to work out and eat well fell over me as I attempted to bring a sense of normalcy to my life. In the whirlwind that was a ‘year in the making of an epic journey’ I was also a full time student in college, working part time, president of a service organization and maintaining sorority commitments all with an attempt to work out and maintain a social life. The last two were infrequent at best. In all this chaos I never stopped to think or clearly respond to those on the outside asking all the right questions. The only thing that kept me from the gravity of what I was about to experience for a month was simply that – gravity. In the clouds physically and mentally the only thing I knew to be certain was that I had done it. Never let someone make you feel like you cannot accomplish something because it is too big for them to conceive. Try. Give it your all and roll with the punches while pursuing your dreams. They absolutely can come true.

Content and photograph by Alex Rager

Ensenada

I have vacationed in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with my family for as long as I can remember but this time we were in Ensenada. A new town with new things to discover and experience. A familiar scene greeted us; the main path was lined with sellers and tourists bargaining, sampling and aimlessly looking at the knockoffs and tchotchkes. A natural blowhole, of which there are very few globally, peaked my interest. The tide rushes in and the ever-eroding rock shoots out a plume of water. It was a pretty cool thing to see, but weaving my way through the crowd took some effort. The main path resembled something of a county fair; making your way through the crowd trying not to get lost while being begged to look at the seller’s goods and stopping when something catches your eye. Something caught mine. A jaguar in front of a jungle themed restaurant on a harness being used to generate intrigue and profit. Disgusting. One look and you can tell this animal is unhealthy and miserable. Once we moved on from the main street we went into town and got to experience the area in a different way. I would argue that you have never tasted a taco quite like one traditionally made with a handmade tortilla, locally sourced ingredients and the freshest seafood. Ensenada may not have been what I expected but it was an experience I would never trade.

Content and Photograph by Alexandrea Rager

This is me

“I am certain of nothing”

I’m Alex, a free spirit with a burning desire to roam and experience, with open arms, the unknown. What started as spontaneous trips with friends, became a catalyst to readily challenge the conventions tailored to keep us from embracing our beautiful existence. I invite you to subtly stalk the curious adventures of my life. I believe that as you create yourself, you will more readily challenge and navigate the world around you. I share with you the stories I cherish from embracing my gypsy heart, these are the moments that fuel my desire to be certain.

The Falls

Hidden in the rocks on the border of a drought-ridden big city adjacent to mine lies a secret. Free flowing water over the edge of towering painted rocks. In this parched residential area the waterfall has been reduced to a steady flow that struggles to maintain a creek running along the length of a dusty trail. Pass under the branches of two trees coordinating the natural tunnel to the rocky staircase and the myths come alive. An artist’s paradise, a sinner’s grotto; The Falls are a sanctuary for any young person feeling trapped. Towering rocks displaying years of painted imagination surround the flow. The experiences I have had at The Falls facilitate my desire to return. Outside of spontaneous sunrise hikes before an eight hour workday and semi-planned mini-adventures with friends, I enjoy solitary trips here as a means of escape. Getting knee-deep in the pools of water, bouldering up the rocks around dusk to chase the sunset, finding those little areas off the beaten path and coming home with the battle wounds are what I live for. The view from the top accompanied by trickling water frees my mind and fuels my passion.

Content and Photograph by Alex Rager

Mount Rubidoux

A mountain seeping in American pride and the love of God. Captivating views of the city make the long ascent worth it. Sleep deprived sunrise chasers – I don’t know why my friends join me on these adventures. Awake in the early hours of the day and at the peak before dawn we waited for the morning sun. It seems like we have climbed, hiked and adventured our way through every crevice of our inland empire. Mount Rubidoux had yet to be conquered together so it had to be the first adventure over the short break we all shared. Thinking that the sun rose at 6 we set off around 5 to meet up and reach the peak. Taking in the sweeping views of a slumbering city as we climbed, we knew the sunrise would be a treat. We reached the peak right around 6 in the morning but the sun wouldn’t greet us for another hour. Huddled up we avoided the wind and got a chance to catch up with each other and communicate the latest chapter of our lives. As if the fall semester had never occurred, as if we had ever gone our separate ways to Arizona, Colorado and respective areas of Southern California, we joked and laughed and the cool windy morning felt like summertime. The sun finally rose and in all majesty painted the sky. This was about more than a sunrise or a hike or sore calves, this was about reconnecting with the friends who have withstood the tests of time and distance.

Photograph and content by Alex Rager

Ohio

One of the most important aspects of my life is found outside the confines of my personal empire. It had been a discussion for quite some time that I should fly out and reconnect with this missing half, encouraged by a loving grandmother and my desire, the trip was booked. Badly sunburned from a previous adventure, packed for the unfamiliar, and ready to meet family I had not seen in too many years, I was off. Two planes and six hours later I was greeted, with open arms, to Ohio by my grandmother and great aunt. The one-week reunion consisted of, among other things, great barbecue, late night family gatherings, scorching humidity, and a two day trip around Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie. If you had asked me what I expected to gain from this trip, or why I am taking a week out of my So-Cal summer to visit what one person described as essential strangers, the answer would be a blank stare. In all honesty, I didn’t fly six hours across the country with an agenda, I just kind of did. I did it for family. What I learned, and ultimately gained from this trip was an elevated sense of understanding, compassion, courage and love from a new perspective.

Photograph and content by Alex Rager

Different Side of Skyline

Very few personal challenges lie within the confines of Skyline, a hiking area around my inland-empire neighborhood. Once one hikes the designated trails and discovers the little differences, little interest is left in this area. While debating what activity to embark on with one of my best friends, we decide to take a trail I had not yet fully explored. I do not have a name for this trail, but I definitely didn’t follow it nor adhere to the boundaries. We came to find that this path held the life of this area that has not been seen in years. The drought in Southern California has stripped this area of unique beauty and life. Deeper and deeper into this trail, bat shelters, tadpoles and interesting rock placement began an intrigue. Eventually we came on the recognized ‘end point’ of this trail and kept going. A small dam held back the water that allowed for a trickle to fuel the miniscule creek that sustained life. This area, once far enough in, and shaded by the trees does not transform itself into a place of beauty, so much as an enchanted space to understand. Since this first experience, I have returned after a much needed rain and the area was full of life and the sound of running water made me think that everything is going to be ok, and skyline will prevail.

Photograph and content by Alex Rager

The Rope Trail

It’s about midnight and I am unable to sleep. I text my friend for added entertainment and end up convincing myself and him that a 4am hike up the notorious yet familiar ‘rope trail’ was a great way to start the weekend. I stumble out of bed before dawn to pick up my friend on about three hours of sleep. The moon guided us along the dusty main path in a hiking spot known as Skyline. We make our way through the trail on the lookout for the entrance. This concealed rabbit hole leads any who know of it into a fantastical path that is notorious in my area. This arduous hiking path is not for the faint of heart, for it requires bouldering, coordination and sometimes a miracle. Reach the top and you feel accomplished and alive while looking out into adjacent towns. At the peak we like to pick out our favorite spots, our high school, In-and-Out by the 15 freeway and the all too familiar traffic of the 91. Debatably harder than the ascent, is making your way down. There are two options, either go back down the way you came or go around, both equally sketchy. How we got through about a four hour hiking adventure on little sleep, without breakfast will always be a mystery but that hike will always be one of my favorite spontaneous adventures.

Photograph and content by Alex Rager