California: Ensenada Senior Center and Musical Nuns

The night before we left for Ensenada, photographer Michael Robinson Chavez told Tristan, Julia, Mark, and me to meet him in the front lobby of our hotel by 7:30 am. Originally we were going to drive down an old road and explore the quirky shops and villages along the way. Then, Michael spontaneously decided to contact his friend Tito, who manages a classical music institute in Ensenada. We piled into the small taxi and began our coastal journey down to the port city. Upon arrival I noticed Ensenada’s pristine condition and its repetitive tourist shops. I was concerned that I would not be able to find any good material to photograph that day because it was almost too perfect. After a heavy American pancake breakfast, we arrived at the institute to find that it was empty. When Tito arrived he informed us that the students would not appear until late in the afternoon, which would conflict with our schedule. Tito said he would take us to the only nursing home in Ensenada, and to a Catholic church where he taught nuns to play classical instruments. When we arrived at the nursing home, we were taken down a light-filled corridor lined with couches, blankets, and resting seniors. Many of them were unresponsive, while others struggled to understand me when I said “hola”. We were led into a small room where a group of seniors were painting flowerpots. Evelisa, a woman who works with Tito, quickly stationed herself at the piano and began playing Mexican classics. Immediately the grim atmosphere lifted in the room while many of the seniors clapped and danced. It was charming to see their faces brighten at the sound of the music.

After leaving the nursing home, Tito brought us to the Catholic church. A nun dressed in red and white greeted us. She brought our group to the music room where various nuns nervously filed in. They clutched different instruments including violins, a flute, and a mandolin. The remaining nun sat at the piano. They only played one song for us because they had to rush to their afternoon prayer. I have little experience working with nuns since I am not catholic, so it was slightly surreal witnessing them playing these instruments. As we were leaving they kindly gave us Mexican rice pudding. Unfortunately, we could not include any images of the nuns as they requested we not publish them. We finished our afternoon in Ensenada with the best fish tacos ever! We said our goodbyes to Tito and Evelisa, squeezed into our small taxi, and drove back to our hotel in Rosarito.

Brenna Leaver

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California: Ross Student Cook-Off

Today I awoke to Skelly’s torture for the second day in a row (yesterday it was cold water, this morning a super duper loud wakeup call and a bunch of dirty dishes to wash from last night’s dinner). Ask anyone, I am not a morning person and there is a very specific protocol you have to adhere to in order to wake me up. Most people don’t have the skill set. Lucky for Skelly, he can be equally as intimidating as me in the morning when needed, but the rest of the time he’s just a goof.

 Yesterday was a long travel day as we left Fairbanks at 1:15 am, flew to Seattle and then landed in Los Angeles around 9:30 am. We then had to pick up the RV’s and buy camping supplies so we did not actually arrive at the Malibu RV Park until after dark. We woke up to a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean and realized that we were not in Alaska anymore! After the dishes were washed, we started our Great Student Cook-off Competition! Here’s how it all went down – Ariel’s dad was nice enough to buy us lots of ingredients (Lobster, Steak, Shrimp and much more) and the teachers set up five different buckets with random ingredients like radishes, clementines, scallops or Spam. Each RV drew numbers out of a hat to decide who would cook what. After all of the ingredients were distributed, we had three hours to prepare our dishes and we were required to use every ingredient in our buckets, plus a few “free items” such as salt, pepper, olive oil and charcoal for the grills. Things got very competitive very fast. Each RV team had to bring our completed dishes to the judges by 1:00pm. Our team members were me, Ariel, Jackie, Sabrina, Dillon, Tristan, Maria, Big Kitty, and Jodie and we chose the bucket with steak, mushrooms, potatoes, bacon, Spam, onions, garlic and fennel. We organized ourselves extremely well as the majority of us were experienced “chefs”; we even cleaned as we went! The RVs were extremely cramped to cook in, but we all got along and worked together seamlessly, while some of the other teams had very heated arguments and we heard a bit of screaming. In the end it all worked out and turned out to be nothing more than a fun, healthy competition. Some of us had relatives that live nearby including alumna Julia Greenberg ‘08 and my cousin Jake who were invited for lunch and they turned into our celebrity guest judges. Our final score was based on appearance, taste, and how well we used our “surprise” ingredient (ours was Spam). The boys (Dan’s team) got really creative and displayed their food beautifully on really big leaves they found (and cleaned) in the campground and they came in first place; our team placed a close second. We felt very successful and we all had a great time.

 Later that day, the LA/Malibu area had some heavy rain-showers, which were greatly appreciated by everyone in the campground! It even included a beautiful double rainbow that everyone photographed. Last, but not least, we had a special dinner for Ariel and Dan’s birthdays (both turning 18!) at Typhoon Restaurant, which was really fun and delicious. Overall, it was a very packed, exciting and special day.

Julia Edelman

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Alaska: Flying Over Denali

As we reached our last day in Alaska, a group of twenty students and teachers decided to venture out and enjoy a small plane ride tour over the dramatic Alaska Range and especially Mount McKinley. When we reached the runway we stood in awe of the beautiful Alaskan landscape. As the first plane came in sight, the students rushed to grab good footage of the landing. Jon Nierenberg, our guide for the week, arranged for the two small planes to fly down from Fairbanks and land on a tiny runway with no terminal at all. An abandoned cabin and an unused RV were the only objects in sight. After the tiny planes landed, we boarded and took off. The mountains of Alaska were even more breathtaking from this point of view. We all sat in silence as we took in every minute of these outstanding sights. Snow covered peaks and giant glaciers were laid out below us. The plane ride was so relaxing and peaceful, with the sound of the engine running and the warm air inside the plane, some students even dozed off, later calling it the most expensive nap they will ever take. We flew around the tallest peak in North America and the pilot even flew close to the sides of the mountain so we could feel the wind pushing the plane around. After a dramatic hour and a half flight, both planes landed safely and we rushed back to the Touch of Wilderness B&B to pack our things as we were heading for our flight from Fairbanks to Seattle and our next adventure.


Dillon Kab

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Alaska: Hiking in Denali National Park

Sun_RiverAlaska welcomed us with a sunrise so picturesque I could post it on Instagram with a #nofilter tag. After a hearty breakfast at the Touch of Wilderness B&B, we started our day. We drove in Skelly’s (A.K.A Yellowjacket) Suburban and blasted Avril Lavigne and sang along to Kelly Clarkson, a secret Skelly will take to his grave, until we arrived at the Murie Science and Learning Center in Denali National Park. The park is over six million acres, roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts. We would only be able to see a small fraction of the entire place.

Group2Upon our arrival at the learning center there were a few civilian casualties courtesy of the black ice lining the walkway. After a very informative talk about climate change and its effect on the Alaskan landscape, we embarked on a short hike into the park. In the winter, the park road is only open for twelve and a half miles up to the Mountain Vista Rest Area. The park was originally founded in 1917 to protect the area around Mount McKinley, which at 20,320 ft. is the tallest mountain in North America. In 1980, the park was expanded to its current size. During this hike we learned more facts about the ground we were walking on, and even got to witness MJ (our teacher) pick apart a piece of moose dropping to show us the difference in their diets during the winter time. She said that in the summer they are full of nutrients like a fully topped pizza but in the winter they are dry as a cardboard pizza box.

MJDuring our hike we were able to take really cool photos and some of the more daring photographers (with waterproof shoes) jumped into a stream to take shots from under a sheet of ice. We got to see Luca fall a couple more times and then we retreated back to the learning center.


At the learning center, MJ kindly let us interview her on all things climate change and her own personal experience with Alaska. After we interviewed MJ we were able to interview Chris, a park ranger from Ohio, who was able to shed some light on why people choose to move to Alaska and the dichotomy between life in Alaska and life in the rest of America (what they call “the lower forty-eight”).

MountainsFinally, once Ivan was satisfied with the interviews and we managed to get enough footage in between phone calls and door slamming interruptions, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the lodge. It was a great way to be introduced to the Alaskan landscape and wildlife and I now have a much better understanding of the place where we are living for the next few days. All of this being said, I can’t wait to go dog-sledding tomorrow!

Ariel Anza


Alaska: Dog Sledding

John hitching the dogs

What better way to get into the swing of Alaska than heading into the wilderness with Frodo, Dos, Python, Cora, Pirate, Willow, and another sixty Alaskan sled dogs. We drove down to the kennels at Earthsong Lodge after breakfast and got acquainted with the dogs. John Nierenberg, the owner of the lodge, gave us a rundown on how to control the sled, and it was soon time for us to mush on our own. It began snowing. We stood anxiously on the sled brakes, bobbing up and down as the dogs tugged feverishly at the towrope. Running is clearly in their blood, and all they want to do is go. The guides gave the go ahead and we released the brakes. The dogs exploded off the line, leaving us at the mercy of their jet fighter-like acceleration. We hung on for dear life as the dogs reached a blistering cruising speed of eight miles per hour. All right, so they weren’t quite jet fighters, but for all of the adrenaline junkies on the trip, it definitely did the trick.


It wasn’t long before we had gotten the hang of it and were mushing through the open tundra. We could now relax a little and take in the spectacular views that Denali has to offer. We were surrounded by miles of rolling hills dotted by spruce trees with a backdrop of towering peaks that pierced the clouds. We traversed fields, lakes, and narrow tree lined paths along our twenty-mile journey. By the end of the day, though we were exhausted, all we wanted to do was keep sledding. The fresh air, the amazing views and the incredibly friendly dogs themselves made for the perfect post-travel day. They gave us an adventurous and lively start to our journey and got us all excited for the rest of the experiences to come in the next three weeks.

Will Greenburg

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Alaska: Cross-Country Skiing

The third day of our Alaska adventure offered, yet again, an experience of a lifetime. After waking up to one of the most beautiful sunrises of all time and eating a mouthwatering breakfast, we put on our snow gear, packed into the Suburbans, and headed off for a day of cross-country skiing. After a short drive to the meeting point, the highest point accessible by Stampede Road, we became acquainted with Chris Mayor, a Denali local and our ski instructor for the day. Chris gave a short spiel about safety and the basics of cross-country skiing and then we laced up our ski boots, snapped into our skis and headed off to the races. Well to be honest, it wasn’t exactly the races yet.


The first hour of skiing consisted of a lot of falling, struggling to get up, followed by more falling. Cross-country skiing is best described as walking with 5 foot planks attached to your feet; in other words, very awkward. Even so, by the time we skied down the first hill and stopped in front of Eight Mile Lake, most of us had got the hang of the skiing. In front of Eight Mile Lake we were also forced to take off a couple layers of clothing during our short break due to the clear skies and the rigorous aerobic workout of cross-country skiing. We were midway across the lake when we were able to sit down for a well-deserved lunch. It was an amazing experience to be able to eat lunch on the middle of a lake with nothing but frozen tundra hundreds of yards in every direction.


After lunch we kept skiing for the rest of the day. We skied in every type of terrain imaginable. We skied up hills, down hills, across vast catwalks, on top of dog sled trails and over frozen lakebeds. By the time we returned to the starting point, we had skied over seventeen miles. We packed our bruised, beaten, and exhausted bodies into the Suburbans and drove home knowing the only thing you can do when you fall off the skis is to get back on.


Travel Day: East Hampton to Denali

Our Fire and Ice trip began with a 38 hour journey to the depths of the tundra. Unfortunately, that tundra was Newark Liberty International Airport. New York snow, stronger, heavier, and more cumbersome than the snow in Alaska, covered the runways and turned our departure into an overnight adventure. After hours of sitting on the plane, getting off the plane, singing a karaoke version of “Stand By Me” with the Alaska Airlines gate agents for the entire terminal, and getting back on the plane, all in hope of taking off, the pilot finally called it quits and rescheduled our flight for 9:30 the next morning. So instead of spending night 1 in Alaska, we had to spend it in lovely Newark; unfortunately we didn’t know where. The sweet Alaska Airline crew understood our situation, offered up a closet in the airport to stuff our sixty oversized bags into, and put us up in a Hilton Hotel for the night. But even the trip to the Hilton wasn’t a breeze. The air train took a solid 40 minutes to show up, and Skelly (code named Yellow Jacket) unfortunately realized he misplaced his wallet and passport and we did not find it until the following morning—phewf. At last the air train showed up, and about 25 children (and one random Newarkian) smushed into a tiny train car for an uncomfortable ride to the hotel shuttle. Just when we thought we would escape the cold and get to our beds, we had to fight to the death with other strangers to fit onto the small shuttle buses and arrive at the Hilton. After about 45 minutes of waiting, we went to our rooms and finally got a good nights rest—or more like we got a good few hours of rest. At 9:30 the next morning, we finally took off and six hours later we were in Seattle. We landed there and looked at our boarding passes for the next plane and noticed that we had 13 minutes to get off the plane and hustle to the other terminal to make our connection. Three and a half hours later, we were finally in beautiful Fairbanks, Alaska where the temperature was a balmy 39F, almost twenty degrees warmer than New York! Once we collected all our bags (none were missing!), we realized that there was no way we were going to fit all 60 of them plus 35 of us into five suburbans. We strategically stuffed all of the cars to the brim of people and bags, but there were a handful of bags that were not going to fit. Thankfully, Walgreens and AutoZone had the right tarps, bungee cords (and candy) to fit the rest of the  bags on top of the cars. With all five CB radios hooked up, we finally ascended into the mountains on the icy roads, each car blasting music and constantly bantering on the CB’s. After another two hour drive, we were warmly welcomed by Becky and Vangie at the Denali Touch of Wilderness Bed and Breakfast—a remote and comfortable log cabin—with a wonderful dinner and plenty of cozy beds and hot showers. After our delicious dinner, we slept soundly through the night to regain our energy for a busy day of dog sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing!

Nikki Betuel

Our extensive collection of luggage

Our extensive collection of luggage

Napping at Newark

Napping at Newark


The snow-covered Newark runways

The snow-covered Newark runways

Our drive from Fairbanks to Healy

Our drive from Fairbanks to Healy