where i've been...

My travel map

Sunday, July 26, 2009

scuba diving with manta rays...

is most definitely one of the absolutely most incredible and surreal experiences of my life. I cannot believe that I almost didn't come over to the big island to do this dive. It is rated one of the 10 best dives in the world, and I cannot imagine something more impressive and awe-inspiring. It has been two days since the dive, and I am still mesmerized when I even begin to think about it.

We did a dive in the late afternoon, before the sunset, and saw two mantas then. I cannot fully describe how incredibly peaceful and graceful and huge they are. The two we saw then were about 10 feet in diameter, or wingspan. They just effortlessly glide along, flapping their wings as if they are flying. They are filter feeders that eat plankton and I think I probably almost forgot to breathe for a second or two when I saw the first one. Then we came up to the boat, munched on some food and waited for the sun to set before gearing up again and jumping back into the dark water. One of the most amazing things was that because there were so many divers in the water (about 50, all with a light of his/her own) it was really like stepping into a sci-fi movie...kind of like the abyss. The thing is, each diver has a light and you go down about 10 meters and sit on the bottom and shine your light up, while any snorkelers (about 30 of them) all float on the surface and shine their lights down. These powerful LED lights illuminate the plankton that the mantas feed on. So you go down, get settled and suddenly just inches above your head are these massive mantas, feeding, swimming turning, doing backflips, all in what seems like slow motion and right in front of you. We saw 5 mantas, although I would have counted about 15 if it had been up to me! They were all males and the biggest one we saw had about a 15 foot wingspan. All swirling just above my head. Apparently the females can be much bigger and one night last summer there were a total of 36 mantas that showed up one night. I can't even imagine what that would have been like. Since the divers are all in a circle with a box of lights in the middle, the mantas swim in and out and around of the circle the whole time, putting on quite a show. All I could think about was how incredibly lucky I am. Undoubtedly, it was one of the most magnificent experiences of my life. It was absolute beauty, in front of my eyes, for 45 minutes.

So I continue to be amazed by this little planet. If you want to check out a bit of what I saw you can do a search on youtube for "manta night dive hawaii" and you'll get a little bit of an idea. :) Then you should definitely book a ticket to the big island and do the dive or snorkel trip yourself. Just do it. I promise you will not regret it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hawaii

So sorry I have not posted for such a long time. I am now in Hawaii, and have been since the 4th of July. Rahima and I were looking forward to seeing the fireworks here in Hawaii, and headed down to the beach in Waikiki to watch the show. We joined the throngs of people on the beach, in anticipation for the show to start, and when it did it sadly was on the OTHER side of one of the huge resort hotels, so the entire crown groaned in disappointment as we hurriedly attempted to walk through the downtown streets to get an actual view. 20 minutes of walking later, we could clearly see the fireworks show, and caught the last 2 minutes or so. Sigh. Welcome home.

Rahima's good friend Bridget came to Hawaii for two weeks and we spent a week on Oahu and then headed to Kauai (which is AMAZINGLY beautiful) for a week of hiking, surfing lessons, beach time, and just plain fun. Then we headed back to Oahu, were Bridget (after breaking her to and crutching it to the airport) headed home, and Rahima and I spent a few great days in Oahu with my good friend Emory.

Rahima headed home yesterday (Sunday) and I just took a quick flight over to the big island to hang out here for a week or so. I will be doing a night dive with manta rays out here, which I could not be more excited about. I have already met some great people through couchsurfing (still amazing) and am staying with a guy for the week who is already proving to be incredibly generous and like-minded. We are heading out to volcanoes national park for some camping the next few days, which I am REALLY looking forward to. I will be headed to LA in about a week or so, and then finally back up to the bay. I still cannot believe this adventure is almost over, but continue to be blessed by meeting amazing people and sharing such great adventures.

Hopefully I'll share some more funny stories in the next few days. Sorry again I haven't written for so long, I guess I just forget that people actually read my random thoughts! ;)

Cheers!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lessons learned...

Okay, so I have only been in Japan for about 22 hours, but I have already learned a LOT. Here are a few of the highlights.

1-Toyito is NOT Tokyo in Japanaese. We are in a suburb of Tokyo.

2-The Giant Panda that I went to the zoo to see died in April 2008.

3-Tokyo, and probably Japan in general, would be an amazing place to visit if I had money. Everything here is ridiculously overpriced.

Honestly, if I ever win the lottery I might consider coming back here. Short of that, I am confounded at how people actually live here. We went on a sushi search last night (wouldnt thing that would be so hard in Tokyo, right) and of what we found it is average about $40-80 a person EASILY to eat here. Average price for a two pieces of sashimi is about $8. No cheap rolls...or if there are, there are no English menus, so we cant really tell! We even saw a Chinese Dim Sum place that had plates up to $30...for one thing!

The weirdest/coolest/silliest thing that this overnight has included is our hotel room. Even hostels run $20-30 a person a night. And that is if you can find room in a cheap place. So, not having planned again yet again, we ended up (luckily) getting capsules. What is a capsule you ask? Well my friends, it is litterally a little hole in a wall...imagine a nice mausoleum with sheets and a pillow. It is a hallway/room with about 30 of them, two high, built into the walls...and for $30, you can sleep in a little space, equipped fully with japanese radio, an alarm, and even a tv for your viewing pleasure (once again, much nicer if you speak Japanese). Pretty funny. The trains here are great, but once again, very expensive. We leave tonight, so hopefully I have enough cash to last me until then! I will officially be on US soil in less than 24 hours. Weird!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

haircuts and allergies

We have spent the last few days in Bali split between Ubud, in the center of the island, and back to Kuta, the party beach town just south of the airport. Ubud was great for shopping and eating. We indulged in the latter and were able to visit the restaurant of a former student's father there, which was DELICIOUS. We rented bikes one day and got a little outside of town, up into the countryside a bit and saw the beautiful rice paddies. We visited the "monkey forest" where the tourists feed the monkeys so much that there are hoards of monkeys that hang around. It's worth a small bit of time, but then feels a bit sad as these cheeky monkeys run around fighting each other for their own greed. Amazing what humans can ruin sometimes.

So during my time in Ubud I realized that a)I do love scuba diving and b) it RUINS my hair. The salt water has just fried it and the rubber straps on the mask have ripped and broken so much hair I don't even want to talk about it. So what do I do? What Annette usually does when she's made up her impatient mind. I started to cut it. :) A few inches later, I decided it was kind of good enough, and would wait for a "professional" to finish the job...or at least give in a semblance of style.

So when we got to Kuta we started looking for places (haphazardly to be honest) to cut hair. My requirement...cheap. They say you get what you pay for. I found a place to cut my hair for $2.50. Should I really be shocked that they didn't cut it straight? Of course not. Rahima just stood by and patiently rolled her eyes at me. Then later that night she evened it out for me. So, now I have healthier hair...which feels short to me because it sits just on my shoulders. Rahima says you can barely tell I cut it at all. I say she's crazy. When I get some time I'll upload some pics.

Also, I have spent the last few days here in Bali not feeling so great. Yesterday was the worst, and I actually spent the entire day in bed. Sleeping. So, I have gone basically 9 entire months without being sick, and now, about 2 days before being back on US soil, I get sick again. Hmmmm....anyone else think I'm allergic to the US? I love you all back home, but I just might have to take this as a sign. So consider this fair warning. If after a year at home I bolt off again you'll know it's nothing personal, it's just that my body is rejecting our country. I can't control it. :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

this internet cafe wants me to die...seriously

I have been here for about 2 hours. Uploaded some great pics. Attempted to put them on the blog. Then the computer turned on me. Honestly, if I recount the story now, I might go mad. Luckily, I managed to swipe a few of Rahima's pics for your entertainment. Hope you enjoy them!

So the other day on the Gili Islands, there was a makeshift outdoor movie theatre that would play bootlegged DVDs each night. I got to see "Coraline" the Tim Burton flick that you all probably have heard about for ages. Well, it was new to me, and I thought it was really well done. Would have been amazing in 3D, but you take what you can get I guess.

Here is a picture of Coraline's "other mother".

Then I ate some oreos...and here I am.


Geez...is this what they mean by island fever? I think I'm losing it people...


Here I am with Gnomey. We found appropriately sized boxes of Pocky sticks in the Tokyo airport. Look how happy we are. :) (Rahima was pretty mortified to take this picture, which makes it all the more precious to me)


Me, quite possibly, at my happiest. A glass of red wine in one hand, a bowl of cereal with fresh milk in the other. Ahhh...who says I have no class???

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SHARKS!

Yup. I got to see sharks. And this time, I was not in a cage. :)

So we came to Bali and spent a few days getting our bearings in Kuta, which is super touristy. We decided to come all the way out to the Gili Islands, which are on the east coast of Lombok, the island directly east of Bali. We have been here for the past few days, soaking up the sun, enjoying the relaxing nature of being on an island, and enjoying the company of a lively crew of hodgepodge travelers we met on the boat out here. We did a couple of dives yesterday, and I got to see black tip reef sharks, probably about 2.5 meters long. They are SO graceful. I was in awe. I was absolutely mesmerized. We also say 4 huge turtles, just munching on coral and swimming around. There were some other really fun big fish, like batfish (they look a lot like butterfly fish) but they are about 2 feet long. They are really cool. And the best part about all of this diving is that when you are underwater, none of these animals even care that you are there. It was great. ;)

The food here is amazing, considering they pull most of it right out of the sea in front of you, so you couldn't get it any fresher. Yummy.

Okay, one really weird thing that I will share about Indonesia is that there are a ton of cats here. And most of them have short, stubby little tails. So we asked around to find out why this was. Apparently when a street cat is "adopted" by someone, they chop off about half of it's tail to let other people know that that cat is being taken care of. Weird way to show love and ownership, huh? This disturbs me a bit, so I have decided that they also need a carefully worded letter. in regards to this particular matter.

Dear Indonesia,
Try collars.
Love,
Annette

Let's see if that helps...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the longest re-route ever...

Well, when we first bought our "around the world" ticket, we had to stipulate our route, including all flight destinations, abiding by many rules and regulations all administered by the partnering airlines in the OneWorld alliance. Since we bought our tickets in May 2008, we would have one year to complete travel from our start date of October 2, 2008. I asked before purchasing our tickets, "What if one of the airlines either a)goes out of business or b)changes their flight routes before we take one of our scheduled flights?" I was assured that if either of those things happened, it was OneWorld's responsibility to re-route us, charge free.

Well, since May 2008, Qantas has discontinued their quick 3 hour flight from Singapore to Bali. After many phone conversations (thanks to my mom and dad in the US who are communicating with AA on our behalf because MANY of the international representatives don't seem to have the authority to authorize anything) and a few visits to local offices, AA graciously re-routed us, free of charge, to Bali from Sinapore. Through Tokyo.

Yes. You read that correctly. Our 3 hour trip to Bali became an adventure of 24 hours of travel, all the way to Tokyo and back. He he. I have to say though, it was kind of fun. I watched a total of 5 movies, many of which are old to all of you back home, but movies I have heard a bit about through the grapevine and have been dying to see. Any of you who know me well know I LOVE the movies. TV, well, I could take it or leave it on most days. But movies I LOVE. :) I got to see MILK (amazing), Gran Torino (fantastic), He's Just Not That Into You (fun), The International (not fantastic, but good) and I re-watched Good Will Hunting (one of my favorites).

In between my movie watching, we had about 8 hours to explore a bit of Narita, the city around the airport. Going on no sleep and either sake (me) or red wine (Rahima) from the flight (we realized a bit too late that no sleep, free alcohol and 8 hours to kill before the next flight is not always the best combination) we headed into Narita. We got ate udon, saw a great temple complex, got to watch a buddhist prayer ceremony, and see some wonderful Japanese gardens. I caught a quick 30 minute nap in the gardens (where a vampire mosquito bit my neck) before heading back to the airport.

I am looking forward to going back to Japan in a few weeks, but I have to tell you one of the funniest things that I saw there. The toilet in the airport bathroom. It had a whole electronic console. One of the options was "flushing music" with adjustable volume so that you could play the sounds of a toilet flushing while you emptied your bowels to cover up the actual sounds of emptying your bowels. Although I only had to pee, of course I pushed the button. ;)

So at this point I have officially visited all of the countries I will eventually visit on this trip of mine. Wow. I just crossed over into visiting 20% of this little planet. I know it's not over yet, but all I have to say is...

80% to go.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Singapore

Well, we got to Singapore about 7 hours ago, and I am already ready to leave! Sad to say...but this tiny place is super expensive. Well...food is cheap, but drinks can run up to $12 a beer. Yikes! Guess I will have a few dry days here. ;) We got in this afternoon, and have just had a bit of a look around, but we had been warned about Singapore by other travelers, so we only planned on spending two days here. I'll keep you posted.

As far as the end of our time in Thailand went, it was fantastic. We stayed on Ko Chang, a sizeable island on the east of Thailand. We spent a good mix of time doing a few touristy things (I got to swim with an elephant...awesome), scuba diving (saw some huge jellyfish that made me suck a lot more air than I usually do underwater...made me wonder how I will react when I actually see sharks swimming around for the first time!), and just lazing around on the beach. We also met some cool locals, one of whom invited us over for dinner one night, and let me come early to watch her cook. The cool thing about Thai food is that it is remarkably quick to make, and with relatively few ingredients...but it is absolutely delicious. Yum. :)

We are off to Bali in two days, and I am hoping to get a few minutes here or there before we go to actually put up some pictures. I had them up the other day, and just before posting the blog, the computer crashed. Sigh. Soon I'll get up the courage to try again!

Monday, June 8, 2009

biking in Cambodia (again)

Yes. Again.

Rahima got me on a bike. Again. This time we are in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The historic Killing Fields are about 12 kms outside of the city, so instead of taking a tuk-tuk or motorbike, we ambitiously pedaled. Luckily, Cambodia is still flat, so after such a nice biking experience the other day in Angkor Wat, I had few reservations about this journey.

But I learned very quickly that biking in a city is very different than biking on nice, wide, empty country roads. Here, where luckily they at least drive on the right side of the road, they do not pay strict attention to dividing lines, sides of the road, or merging in or out of traffic. It is every man for himself, with the pecking order seemingly being bigger has the right of way...or faster has the right of way. So while I am trying to get the basket on my bike to balance correctly and not fall down so that my knee is hitting it on every rotation of the pedal, Rahima is feeling the adrenaline rush of biking with the possibility of death. The brakes on her bike worked fine, but screeched like the music from the shower scene in Psycho. No joke. She enjoyed that too, as she said it make everyone around her scared and pay attention. Who AM I traveling with?!?!

As for me, I was not enjoying the constant competition for road space with cars, trucks, motorbikes (which whiz in and out of everything stopped or moving at all times), other bikers, vendors with their carts, etc. The other thing was that as you are in the mix of the melee at any time any one of those vehicles can decide to come straight for you. Why? Usually because they realize crossing the road would be a death sentence, so just go against the flow of traffic, which is obviously safer. (read the last line with heavy sarcasm)

The good news is, I made it out there and back with no major or minor injuries. :)

On a much more somber note, the killing fields were intense for me. I took one look at the monument built amongst the mass graves which holds almost 9,000 skulls, many categorized by the age and gender, and just started to cry. Those skulls are under half of the 20,000 people (many children) who were beaten to death (to save bullets) and then thrown into mass graves. I'm glad I skipped S-21, the school in the city that was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as a place of torture and death. Never being good at history (and not ever having been one to really like things I am not good at) I am shocked as I learn about things like this as I continue on this trip. I feel like everyone should be as outraged and affected as I am learning about these atrocities, but then I remember how until I was actually here I remained ignorant to them. Guess it is just one more thing I will grapple with as I return home in a few months...trying to continue to find the beauty, tragedy, and comedy in life, and then figure out what to do with it.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

pop quiz

Annette is:
a)sitting on a beach, soaking up the sun
b)eating the best cambodian food of her life and washing it down with an ice-cold margartia
c)stuck in the sweltering heat on the side of the road because the bus broke down

Teaching in my blood

Yup...seems like even here, in the villages of Cambodia, I can find a way to end up teaching a classroom full of 5 to 12 year-olds for an hour. :) How fun!
Yesterday was an activity day. I started off the morning by taking a Cambodian cooking class, which was very interesting and yummy. We went to the local market to get the ingredients. It is funny how local markets don't phase me in the slightest anymore. There was once a time when lumps of meat covered in flies (with the minimal attempt by the vendors to get them off of the meat), baskets of fruits and vegetables, people killing and chopping up fish right there in front of you, etc. had me a bit stunned. These days, I absolutely love the whole market culture. Depending on the country I am in, I recognize maybe half of all the food items that are being sold. The rest fall into one of three categories.
1-meat (or animal byproduct, such as intestines or fishpaste or insects)
2-fruit/vegetable
3-absolute unknown substance
Luckily, the ingredients we bought fell into the first two categories. :)

So we made three Cambodian dishes, amok (very similar to a thai massaman curry) was my favorite. The other one was a lemongrass/chicken soup and finally a really spicy chicken curry. I only put two chillis in that dish, but found out quickly that two chillis is a bit much for me. Those little suckers sure do pack a punch!

Before class in the morning, I met a tuk-tuk driver who is from the countryside just on the outskirts of Battambang who has started an NGO to teach children from the countryside English. He relies heavily on tourist volunteers to come in a teach classes for an hour a day so that the kids can be exposed to many different types of English accents. So he arranged to pick Rahima, me, and Sarah (an Australian woman who took the cooking class with me) up later that afternoon and take us to the school.
No lesson plans, no idea what their level of English was, no idea on the age range, but they just gave us each a classroom of about 30 students (ranging from 5 to 25) and let us go. Rahima and Sarah both had classes that were a bit older, with some formal English and who were die-hard to continue to work out of the book they had. The class I had, in contrast, were a bunch of the cutest little kiddos ever, who had a great capacity to mimic back what I said with almost no comprehension. So, it only took a few minutes before I had them copying me, jumping up and down (lots of verbs and adjectives and emotions) saying things like, I am big (and making themselves as big as they could) followed by I am small (getting as small as they could). It was hilarious. They must have thought I was a trip...and I forgot how much I love that look when students realize a)I can teach them a lot and b)I am borderline insane.
I think what this man is doing is really impressive and ambitious. He is in serious need of more funding (I saw his business plan and for only $12,000 USD a year they could do some amazing things for 100 kids. Currently he is attempting to run it on about $200 USD a year. Yikes!) But more than money, he is extremely dedicated to getting volunteers into the school. So here is the plea...if anyone out there wants to do something extremely rewarding for a week, or a few weeks (or longer) and can commit to teaching in the school, 1 hour a day, I know a guy in Battambang, Cambodia who wants your help. :)
Today we hopped on the back of motorbikes to be taken around through the countryside and to the killing caves of the Khmer Rouge, as well as a few temples in the area. Cambodia really has so much beauty, and such a violent and tragic past. The things that the Khmer Rouge did, just 30 years ago, are so haunting. How people can be so violent and cruel to one another is just beyond me. Tomorrow we are off to Pnohm Penh, the killing fields. Considering I couldn't face the concentration camps, I am not sure how well I will fare, but I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Angkor Wat

Angkor What? Angkor Wat. For those of you unfamiliar with the incredible temples in Cambodia, just think "Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider" and you'll get an idea. :)

We spent the last two days visiting the immense area of incredible temples in northern Cambodia. They are an interesting combination of being restored and preserved while the jungle silently continues to reclaim them. I wish I had my camera here to post a few pictures of these massive temples with huge trees grasping at the walls and slowly crumbling some of the structures as they grow around them. There are so many temples, and they are spread over quite a large area. The first day we got up at 5am and headed out with a tuk-tuk driver to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, probably the most famous of the temples. Then we spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon driving between some of the more famous temples and then getting out and climbing in and around them.

The following day, Rahima coaxed me back onto a bicycle. Thank God, Cambodia is NO Easter Island. Cambodia is FLAT. :) Happy biking for Annette. We did about 35km, but seeing as how it was literally all flat, it made for a great biking day (for me). We got off of the beaten track much more than the previous day and got caught in a few torrential rainstorms. It was really, really fun. I played tic-tac-toe with a few Cambodian kids peddling things outside of some of the temples, and of course, I lost. Tic-tac-toe has never been my strong point.

I am slowly getting used to seeing the fried or roasted insects and larva in huge piles being sold as snacks on the sides of the street. I only wish I could have caught my cockroach and sold it. That sucker could have been a proper meal for someone!

Today we took a bus to Battambang, a little town and supposedly there is some great countryside around this area that we will explore in the next few days. It is a little eerie to keep reading in the tourbooks not to "stray off the beaten path" in certain places due to the high density of land mines still in the area, and to see so many land mine victims as well. Incredible, once again, the things we take for granted back at home. Like walking a few feet off of a major road.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Goodbye Thailand, Hello Cambodia

Yesterday we arrived in Cambodia, after a little over 26 hours of transit. I quickly fell asleep and enjoyed about 14 hours of it...straight. Yummy. ;)
Kevin and David left a few hours after we did, they flew back to Bangkok and then flew home. It was great to see them, and tough to adjust to being a "tourist" for me. It is amazing how much we haven't really been proper tourists for quite some time now, and it was surprisingly hard for me to be surrounded by more vacationers than backpackers. I guess this is where I reflect on who I am and what drives me as a person, right? We had a lot of great laughs and stories from day 1 which we kept reminiscing about for the rest of our time together. Thanks Kev and Dave for coming halfway around the world and spending your vacation time with us. You are the best.
So, upon leaving Ko Samui, Rahima and I jumped on a ferry boat back to the mainland. I had to use the bathroom at one point (a squat toilet of course) and had to grip the sides of the bathroom for support from the rocking boat. Lo and behold, I came out of the bathroom with loads of little, tiny ants running up and down my arms, my shirt, and of course, my pants. Pretty sure I had ants in my pants for a bit there.
Then, a few hours later, when we had reached the mainland and completed our overnight busride to Bangkok, we stopped in to grab something to eat and figure out how to get to Cambodia. We took a taxi to the right bus station and bought our tickets. Luckily the bus we needed left in just ten minutes so we headed to the platform to wait for the bus. While we were waiting, I felt something tickle my leg, just below the knee. I gave my leg a quick shake, thinking nothing of it. A few seconds later, I felt it again. Still not alarmed, and thinking it was the straps that I use to turn the pants into capris, I gave my leg another good shake. Then I looked down. BIG mistake. I looked down in time to watch a TWO INCH COCKROACH run out of the leg of my pants, see daylight and hurridly run towards a patch of dark garbage in a corner. EWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!! Disgusting. I totally freaked out. How long was it in there??? What was it doing? Better not to think about the answers I guess. Ants and now cockroaches? I was ready to fall asleep on the bus and wake up in Cambodia.
So, like I said, we are here now and it is HOT. I have already been told that clothes will probably not fit "big europeans" like me, and when I stepped in some mud/sand mixture after the mini-monsoon this morning the guy at the hotel laughed as I sank in about a half an inch and said, "maybe because you are too big". Wow. Talk about getting a complex! So today is errand day seeking out things like internet, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner. Tomorrow and the next few days I will try my best not to melt completely in this heat as we head to explore Angkor Wat in all of its glory.
Tomorrow marks our 8 month anniversary of being on the road, and I can't believe how quickly it has gone by. Sadly, somehow I misplaced my camera cord when we left Thailand (Dave or Kev, did you pick it up?) so I can't upload any pictures until I find a new one. :(
Just know I am still alive and kicking...ants, cockroaches and all.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thailand

The rundown on Thailand...
it is hot.
it is humid.
there are mosquitoes that love me.
i itch.
we are currently on the island where they filmed the movie "the beach"
(no leonardo dicaprio here)
went diving yesterday...saw a hawksbill turtle. AWESOME.
the beer is good.
the company is very entertaining.
the food is delicious.
the tourists outnumber the locals where we are at least 10 to 1. (insert sad face here...but it is a vacation for Kevin and David, so it is perfect for them)
the internet is ridiculously overpriced. in fact, i could have eated breakfast and a snack for what i am paying to write this riduculously short update. :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

addendum

I'm an idiot. Yes, time changed, but now I'm actually 14 hours ahead of you all.
Next time I should philosophize about sleep, not time. And maybe the effects a lack of sleep have on a (usually) intelligent individual who (for obvious reasons of embarassment) will remain nameless.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

an important day

Today not only marks me hitting my coverage of 18% of countires in the world as I enter Thailand, but it also marks a pretty pivitol point in my journey as far as I see it. Today, I actually moved CLOSER to being back on California time. I have spent the past 7 months slowly moving away from California time...inching my way eastbound across this little planet of ours. Except for my little jaunt in Australia and then backtracking to India, I have always been moving more or less east, and thereby gaining hours (and of course worldly knowledge of the "future") ahead of all of you back home. India was 12.5 hours ahead of Cali, and Nepal (just to be different from India) was 12.75 hours ahead. More than a half of a day. You were sleeping, I was getting up. I was going to bed, you were just starting the day I was drifting off to sleep reflecting upon.
But today I moved closer to all of you back home. I am now 11 hours ahead of you...and will only get closer and closer to catching back up. I guess to me it signifies that, although I still have some months left, my grand adventure is starting to wrap itself up.
Time. It's a weird thing. Sometimes it passes so slowly you think you will never escape your current situation. Othertimes it flies by so quickly you aren't really sure where it went at all but you would do almost anything if you could just stretch it out and make it last a little longer.
For all of you reading this is the morning, don't worry...today turns out to be a good one. :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

kayaking and thinking

My kayaking trip was amazing. I finally figured out how to roll in a kayak, so when I capsize (in white water or flat...let's be honest) I can roll back up instead of pulling myself out and swimming to shore. I was so happy. Unfortunately, no pain, no gain and the backrest in the kayak kept sliding down. I didn't want to complain (I tend to be a big baby) but I was leaning on the metal clamp when I rolled, which, after a day, felt like I might have a little cut there. When we got out to camp that night I checked my right hip, only to find a fist-sized bruise there. Ouch! The guys fixed my kayak (duct tape truly can fix anything) and aside from not being exactly bikini-ready with this massive hematoma, I'm fine.
It was wonderful to spend so much time outdoors in Nepal. I think I had forgotten how much I need that.
Coming back to India was intense. After serene Nepal, I had almost forgotten the chaos that is India. We headed for Varanassi, the holy city on the Ganges. You can easily identify the tourists who are taking pictures while carefully not touching the water and the Indians who are bathing, washing, and even having swimming lessons in it. All within meters of some of the burning ghats where the cremations are happening.
And now we are on a train, back to Mumbai. Currently we are 21 hours in with hopefully 7 hours to go. We are in the ac car, which is nice and we have sleeper seats, middle bunks and have been laying down the whole way because the seats are too shallow to sit up on. On some level I have an entirely new appreciation for the middle passage. The good news is, I've been able to catch up on a lot of sleep.

Tomorrow we will leave India and head to Thailand. I don't know what to expect from SE Asia because it is a part of the world I've not yet explored at all. I'm excited (and my brother and David are coming...yipee!) but am still trying to process so much about India in particular. You just can't come to India without really pondering the tragedies and injustices of life, and especially as a westerner, how privileged you are. I have seen so many things and somehow I am often paralyzed by not knowing how to truly help people and especially children. Somedays I feel like I have so little (and by western standards I probably do). A depleted bank account, an upside down condo, a mortgage I can't escape from, no car, blah blah blah. But here, in comparison, I have so much. I'm not wondering if I can afford food, water, or clothes. I have a job to go home to. I choose which of my 3 pairs of shoes I want to wear depending on the purpose of my day, and which will be most functional. I guess I just am scared to forget, not just what I have seen, but what I have felt in these past months. When you are comfortable, it is easy to not remember those things that make you uncomfortable.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A little more of an explanation

Well, now that I have had a decent night's sleep to recover and a good day out of the Phewa Lake learning (or attempting to learn) how to river kayak, I have a few minutes to explain my last adventure before heading off tomorrow morning at 6:30am to start the next one. This is definitely a great spot to come and play...as if I hadn't mentioned that before!

So we started our six day trek in the Annapurna mountains with the intentions of doing a circuit (loop). Not too strenuous, but a good 5 hours of hiking a day through foresty-jungle and up and down mountainsides. Well...the locals won't actually call them mountains unless they are over 5,000 meters, so I should really say "hills".

We did a semi-leisurely hike the first day and got to a little tea house just before the rains came in and thunder and lightning and heavy rain on little tin roofs pounded at us all night long. That is where I met a few British trekkers who were coming down from a different route, the one that goes up to Annapurna Base Camp, or ABC. Usually it takes much more than six days, mostly because people are not insane, take their time, and stop more often. They do this to a)enjoy the scenery and the great little towns and b)acclimatize because base camp is so high up and c)they are not overly-ambitious Annette.

So while Rahima was sleeping, I got some altitude drugs from one of the girls (who obviously didn't need it anymore) and planned our new route: to do in 5 days what most do in 8-10. Rahima, being the amazing friend that she is, knew how much the idea of "getting to the top" really inspired me, so despite her concerns that we had NOT prepared for this as far as gear and clothing were concerned (we're talking 90+ degrees at the bottom of this trek, and literally freezing at the top), she let me run with it.

It was hard. Hard. Rahima is like the mountain goat/pack mule of hiking. She sees uphill and puts on the turbo-boosters. I have hiked with her enough to know this. But somehow it never ceases to amaze me. She is just the little engine that could, and the only living thing that actually GAINS speed while going uphill. I, on the other hand, make it. I'm not saying it's pretty...but I get there.

Most of the time we had beautiful views, blue skies and cooler weather as we got higher up (yeah for me, bad for Rahima). We did get rained and subsequently hailed on as well at times. Not as fun. And who knew that ladybugs, yes ladybugs, live by the billions all the way up to 4100meters?!?! They were absolutely everywhere.

So going up was great...but coming down (end of day 4) either something I ate or drank caught up with me a bit and let's just say thank goodness for Immodium, and we'll leave it at that. :)

Met some really cool people along the way, and saw porters (both local and for tourists) carrying the most amazing loads and running both up and down the hills I was struggling with. And even more amazing than that...they oftentimes are doing it in rubber sandals and flip-flops!

I have so much more to say, but my time is up and I am starving...so I'm gonna run for now, but I'll be back in three days with some (hopefully) good white water kayaking stories.

Cheers!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

made it!

Just a quick note to let you all know that we made it up to Annapurna Base Camp (not our original trekking route...but well worth the change) at 4130 meters.

We also made it back down. :)

More later...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

made it!

Well, after arriving at the jeep/taxi stand at 7am on Wednesday morning, we got in a jeep at around 8am (due to the elections in India many of the jeeps were not going that day, or the following two days). We then waited until almost 9am for it to be filled to the brim and headed down the hill from Gangtok to Siliguri. After passing an accident that had just happened, a dead dog, and getting and repairing a flat tire, we made it to Siliguri around 2pm. From there we took a one hour taxi ride to the border town of Panitanki, where (surprise, surprise) due to elections the border was blocked to cars. So we walked the 1k over the border into Kakurbita, Nepal. After obtaining our visas, we were lucky enough to just catch the 18 hour bus which left at 4pm, heading to Pokhara. It is usually a 12 hour ride, but was going to be 18 due to the strikes in Nepal which are somewhat ongoing and block the roads until the police and army come to allow safe passage to the buses again.

So around 7pm we stopped, with all the other buses, and people just calmly got out and waited, watching the sun set and the fireflies come out. (I had never seen fireflies before, and they are INCREDIBLE! I think my ability to be completely entertained by almost nothing really helps me cope with travel inconveniences!) Promptly at 8pm all of the electricity went out, which is apparently a daily thing here in Nepal. No electricity from 8pm until midnight. Then there is power from 12 to 4am. From 4-6am it is out again, and then returns for the day at 6am. You can set your clocks by it.

We finally left about 10pm, only to go down a road and get turned around by police about 3 hours later, which sent us backtracking who-knows-how-far. In any case, our 18 hour journey 21 hour ride. The last few kilometers were some of the bumpiest roads I have ever traveled, and they were exacerbated by sitting in the back of the bus. Literally we kept getting jostled and tossed about 2 feet up in the air, landing off our seats or on each other. Funny for the first few minutes, but then pretty annoying. :(

Pakhora is looking pretty amazing. We were warned off of Kathmandu a bit, and steered towards this popular trekking spot instead. Looks like we will do a six day trek starting on the 2nd. When we return I think I am going to do a 4 day white-water kayaking course while Rahima takes off on a 3 day mountain bike trek back into the mountains. Nepal is truly an outdoor paradise, with everything you can imagine...right down to the grungy/hippie/outdoorsy tourists. ;)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

death cabs

We have had a great few days here in the state of Sikkim, India. It is the second mallest state in India, and like Darjeeling, it is a town precariously balanced on a hillside in the himalayas. It is amazing how these multi-story buildings literally balance on steep hillsides.

Today we took a taxi out to one of the monestaries in the area and then walked the 14 kms to another one. It was a beautiful walk, through the mountains/jungle, passing through a few little villages and seeing lots of schoolkids doing the same walk, only a bit shorter for them, and in school uniforms, giggling at the sight of us!

Then, we took another taxi back to Gangtok, and let's just start by saying that these roads are windy, steep, and not well maintained. Many of the drivers drive uphill, but turn off the engines and coast down these perilious roads. Our particular taxi had the squeakiest brakes ever, convincing Rahima and I that they were about to give out and send us over the edge at any moment. Picking up speed as you roll downhill in a minivan, careening around turns and honking (if your horn works while the engine is off) and attempting to avoid other cars (even though the roads are really only wide enough for one), potholes (aka small craters) and pedestrians. (FYI, if the choice is pothole or pedestrian, hit the pedestrian).

But we made it and will start the day to two-day process of crossing into Nepal tomorrow. That means staring with about a 3 to 5 hour jeep ride, downhill, probably mostly coasting...

Friday, April 24, 2009

What have you accomplished today?

Let's see...
I woke up. Walked down to the clocktower in Darjeeling. Got in a jeep. Waited for about 15 minutes for it to fill up with other passengers and then headed to Tiger Hill to watch the sunrise and light up the Himalayas as it did so. We watched as the 3rd highest peak in the world (Kangchendzonga) changed from a shadow in the distance to a pinkish hue, to beautiful white-capped mountain-tops. On a very clear day, you can even see Everest from there. (We weren't so lucky). Then, we headed back down to Darjeeling, 12 kilometers away...but we chose to walk instead of returning in the jeep.

About 5 kms in, we stopped for a breakfast of momo and tea. Momo are similar to gyoza. Boiled, but sometimes fried, dumplings. The food in this region of India includes a lot of Chinese-influenced foods, such as dumplings and noodles. Then, we continued on, back to Darjeeling and our hotel. Where I showered, read, and then decided that at 9am, I might as well go back to sleep for a bit. :)

The adventure started at 3:45am...just a mere 4 hours after returning home from the pub where our newest travel buddy, Brad, has pretty successfully explained the game of cricket to me. He is Australian, and I think glad to have someone else around who is even remotely interested in cricket. It is huge here in India as well, so there are matches on constantly...and everyone is glued to the tvs. Kids in the streets and on rooftops are constantly playing. South Africans were crazy about it as well...so in the last few months I have tried to figure it out, but you really do need a translator to explain it to you as you watch a game.

So I took a quick nap, and then headed out for lunch, and wound up here at the internet cafe. I am still exhausted, and somehow can't believe that it is only 2pm. Feels like 8 or 9 at least. Darjeeling is amazing. It is beautiful and peaceful and completely different from any other part of India I have ever experienced. Yesterday Rahima and I got permits to head to the state of Sikkim in a few days. It was another experience in Indian bureaucracy. We had to go to one end of town to get the form, fill it out and have it stamped. Then we had to walk that form to another building, clear across town, to have it signed and stamped there as well. Of course, then we had to walk it back to the starting point to have it stamped a third time, and now we are allowed to go. Hmmmm...okay. Why wouldn't that process make sense to everyone?

The computers and connections aren't really consistent or fast here, so sorry for the lack of pictures as of late. I'll get some up as soon as I can. Now I just might go back for another nap. Mmmmm...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

travel or vacation?

Sorry! I know some of you are worried after not hearing from me in a few days, but amazingly I have spent most of that time on trains! And guess what?!? We just got on another train.

So the quick rundown on our train trip. 26 hours turned into a 28 hour trip. We had an upper and lower bunk which we quickly found out means that during the day anyone and everyone jumps on the train and sits anywhere they can fit or squeeze on the bottom bunks. So in a space allocated for 8 people, we had (most of the daylight hours) about 25. Honestly.

It was interesting trying to manage our big packs, so we threw them on the upper bunk and I climbed up like a rat in a hole for the first 4 or 5 hours. Slowly as people shifted we got the bags stowed under the lower bunk and around 9 or 10pm we attempted to sleep. It was seriously the dirtiest and dustiest place ever. By doing nothing my hands and fingernails turned black. Grimey. Yucky.

We were awoken by a lively fight (who knows what happened, some lady was yelling at everyone in Hindi) at 5:45am. Seriously, people should NOT be allowed to yell before 6am.

So our journey continued until 3pm yesterday. We ate some yummy and some interesting food that the vendors came by selling, and tried to find the balance between stayimg hydrated and not having to pee! When we got off the train we stayed in the train station for another 2 hours getting out tickets for the Darjeeling Toy Train (from the movie the Darjeeling Limited) for today. Then we got a room, killed about 30 mosquitoes in it, bombed ourselved with repellant, and fell asleep. This am we were at the train station at 8:20 to catch a 9am train, only to find out that they switched the starting station to the next town 20 minutes away. So we hurriedlu bargained an autorickshaw and made it here (where of course we found out that they have delayed the train for an hour!).

So now you can all see how "traveling" and "vacationing" differ. :)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Going deaf in India

Seriously. And I thought the honking was bad in Egypt! Clearly I had India-amnesia from being here last time and forgot how everyone honks constantly and for everything. I am amazed again by the incredible and irratic driving of all those who share the road...from cars, to autorickshaws, to bicycle rickshaws, to pedestrians, to cows, to goats, to camels and even elephants. You name it, it is on the road...mostly staying to the left, but generally fitting and squeezing between anything that might be in its way to get from point A to point B. And apart from being a cow, you better move quickly or suffer the consequences. India is certainly not a country for the faint-hearted. Plug your ears, close your eyes, and pray. Maybe that is why India is so open to the idea of a country of Muslims, Hindus, and Christians...they know you need to pray to SOMEONE to survive here. Take your pick.

Yesterday we arrived in Agra and had amazing luck because the Taj Mahal (and all Heritage Sites) were free for the day. YIPEE!!! So we saved a bundle of cash and got to enjoy both the Taj and the Agra Fort. Rahima got chased by monkeys in the Fort, because they got territorial and mad at some other people, and then chased Rahima by association. I don't know who was screaming louder, Rahima or the monkey. I haven't laughed so hard in a while. Now though, she is petrified whenever she sees a monkey, which is almost everywhere. They were all over the stairs in the train station today and she refused to walk near them. One crossed the street later on and she freaked out again. Me with spiders...that is now Rahima with her beloved monkeys.

Oh, and speaking of spiders...those little bastards ate me alive the other day. At first I thought I had fleas. No, really. You name it, it bites me. I am a walking advertisement for anti-malaria pills. So I have some mosquito bites, then the flea bites and then two days ago it must have been spiders, because now I am all welted up and itching like MAD. There must be at least 7 bites. I hate them. Hate, hate, HATE them.

But the food here is amazing and finally we are in a country where we feel like we can afford to be. A full meal is about $2. And that is a few vegetable curries, rice, naan, roti, tea, and desert. Breakfast of eggs and toast and coffee is about $1.20. Rickshaw rides, about $1. Bought a pair of linen capris for $5. My newest favorite Indian streetfood desert (galub jamun) is about 20 cents. They are little donut hole-like fried balls soaked in a simple syrup. Delicious.

So tomorrow we jump on a train for a 26 hour ride (not air conditioned, God, Allah, and Vishnu help us) to head towards Darjeeling. Eventually we will cross over into Nepal for a while and hopefully do a bit of trekking. In any case, we are really enjoying India and the overwhelmingness of all that it consists of. As most of the hustlers will tell you, "In India, everything is possible." And guess what? They're right.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mumbai

Well, India is India, always full of beauty, tragedy and surprises. As we wandered around the streets of Mumbai the past few days I have seen it all. Too much heartache for me to write about her, but I will get to that in a few days. I just can't write it without crying and I feel like being a little happier at the moment.

So I will share a funny story instead. Our hotel was near the Gateway to India, down by the docks and waterfront. As we wandered around there the other day, an area full of Indian tourists and locals, we were stopped by a young woman who wanted to shake our hands. Of course, my first (cynical) instinct is to make sure of what is going on behind us, as we are obviously both looking forward, with my bag slung over my shoulder but definitely hanging on my back. I can be highly aware of pickpockets and the art of distraction, as I was taught well in Costa Rica years ago. Well, lo and behold, she actually just wanted to say hello, and then ask for a picture with us. AFter she got up the courage to do so, the party started and others who had been watching followed suit. Rahima was mortified, but I think it is hilarious to be so clearly the minority, and the object of people's attention. Whitey-whiterson...that's me.

So as we continued to walk around, we continued to be stopped by young women, young men, small families, grandmothers, and even larger families, to pose for pictures with them. I made Rahima start taking pictures of us too. I figure if they want a picture of me, I want a picture of them! :) If I had been smarter I would have started charging. 10 rupees for a picture with the white girl!

Celebrity status is really a funny thing. I liked the people who were just up-front about it, but also got a chuckle about the people who were trying to walk a few meters in front of us, pretending to answer their cell phones while clearly trying to take a pictures of us over their shoulder. Oh the things that make the world go 'round!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Australia is...

fantastic. Well, I guess now that I sit here in an internet cafe in Mumbai, I should put that into past tense. Australia was fantastic. I can't believe that I went almost two weeks without blogging, or logging onto the internet. Wow.

Due to my side trip in Uganda, I only spent a short 9 days in Australia, and will definitely go back. It is a massive country, so I don't feel too badly missing the lot of it because even if I had spent months there I could never have really seen it all anyway. That, and it gives me a great excuse to return. :)

My friend Jill came and met us, which was really fun. Let's just say that she is not quite the backpacking type (self-admittedly) so Rahima and I enjoyed a few of life's finer perks, such as real hotels, and really felt quite like tourists on vacation for a week. It was amazing. Jill got to laugh at how Rahima and I have gotten this far in life and stil have no idea what to expect from 4 star hotels and their staff. What is the difference between the concierge deak and the bell desk anyway? Answer: Doesn't matter. Everyone employed there is meant to help you. :)

So we started off in Sydney, where we were also spoiled by my Dad's friend's daughter and husband. (Did you follow that?) So my dad lived in Australia for a few years before moving to the US, and some of his friends from Austria stayed there. So David and Kirsty took us sailing around Sydney harbour one day, had us over for a bbq another day, and just generally took good care of us showing us some of the tourist areas with a nice balance of local flare. David was sure that we got to see the authentic kangaroo scrotum bottle openers, etc. in the tourist shops.

We rented a car and headed to the Blue Mountains for a quick hike and some great scenery, then down to Canberra to stay a night with Robyn and Gus, my dad's friends. We got a quick tour around Canberra the next day, then continued down the coast for the next few days, eventually arriving in Melbourne, where we spent about three days. Very, very fun.

I have to say that I could listen to Australians talk forever and not get tired of the accent. I love that they say, "How you going?" instead of "How are you doing?". I love that "Good on you" means "Good for you", and yes, there were quite a few people who really do say "G'day mate!". I ate kangaroo one night (delicious), and my new favorite Australian dish, the incredible Spaghetti on Toast. No joke. It's actually on menus and stuff. It is as if Australia is the land of frat boys and bachelors. Anything put on toast becomes a legitimate meal. Australians are quite entertaining and always willing to poke fun at themselves. That, and there was an international comedy festival being held in Melbourne the week we were there, so we got to see a few comics doing free shows and that might have influenced my perception of all Aussies being funny. ;)

So, sadly, I left Australia but I did wake up in India :) My fickle soul (or as some call it, ADD) is now enchanted by these new surroundings. We will be here for about three weeks, spreading our time between India and Nepal and trains. :) When they built Asia they shouldn't have put Mumbai so far away from Nepal.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Uganda, and now airports

Well, I just flew in to Johannesburg from Entebbe, Uganda and am now sitting at an internet cafe, where I have about 4 hours before my flight leaves for Sydney, and the next continent on my journey. Unfortunately, that really isn't enough time to really get out of the airport and do anything, so I am stuck here paying about $1/10 minutes of internet. At least it is kind of fast, (althought I can't upload pictures here) and I am getting to check some emails, pay some bills, and attempt to catch up with the first world pace again.

Uganda was absolutely amazing. Chris' friend and colleague, Charles, had told Chris that if I had only been to Morocco, Egypt and South Africa, then I had not truly been to Africa. He was right. I feel like in the last week and half I saw so much that will take quite some time for me to fully process. I can say, I would love the opportunity to go back. Uganda is full of potential and lovely people. I grabbed a book off of Chris' shelf while I was there (and almost finished it, but sadly had to leave it so he could actually read it), called The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey Sachs. It takes an economic perspective on the challenges of the world's poverty and extreme poverty and the realities of moving steps closer to actually eliminating extreme poverty in the world. Great read. I recommend it (and clearly I am hoping to find a copy somewhere to finish the last 75 pages!)

We spent some of our time in Kampala (the capital city) which I thought was a bit overwhelming, like I think of most major cities. We spent a day in Jinja, the source of the Nile and went white water rafting (in class 5 rapids!) It was excellent and the water was really warm, so as we got dumped out of the raft and into the churning water we were at least not freezing. Most of all, I really enjoyed the town where he works, Soroti. Chris and one other fellow, Julia, live in a house/office compound where they work as well. The compound is set on a dirt road (most all of the roads are dirt) right next to the local huts which are made of mostly mud walls with thatched roofs. No electricity for most of the villagers, they pump water from local bore holes, and the kids run around waving and calling hello to us "mzungus". (white people) I bought some balloons to give to some of the local kids and it was really funny showing them how to blow them up and then watching them play with them. Another great thing that people would say, oftentimes as a greeting, is "Obama". It is universal for hello for some folks. Talk about feeling good finally about being a traveler! There are also Obama restaurants and stores, etc. He is truly loved, and so are Americans now by association.

So the last night in Soroti, Julia, Chris and I cooked dinner for their co-workers and the folks who live/work at the compound. Julia and I rode into town with Simon who helped us pick out two good chickens. (We eventually went back and got two more, just to have enough. Chickens sure look a lot smaller when they are a)alive and b)still covered in feathers. Who knew?)

We then had to ride back on botas (a main form of transportation) which are bicycles with an extra seat in the back for a passenger, carryign the chickens. We stopped to watch part of a local championship football game, chickens under our arms like pets, and the only two white people in the stadium. Then we headed back to the house for the slaughter. I thought I could do it, but let's face it. I'm weak. Simon showed us how to slaughter the first chicken, and Julia, the champ that she is, slaughtered the second one. If you are a vegetarian, STOP READING HERE. Really. Do NOT keep reading this blog entry.

But if you are reading this, you either cannot follow directions, or you are not a vegetarian. So I will continue. You see, I have heard the phrase "running around like a chicken with it's head cut off", but I never realized how literal that was. Woah. New world for me. Simon literally had to hold down the body of the chicken for like 2-3 minutes after being decapitated. Crazy. Julia slaughtered the chicken, and then ran away from it, leaving Simon laughing hysterically at us (and he continued to laugh about it everytime we saw him for the next day. I am sure he is still laughing at us.)

So like I said, I "chickened" out (yes, very, VERY bad pun intended) on the slaughter, but was able to defeather the chicken, which is also bizzare. They pour hot water over the bird so that the feathers can be plucked out easier. You clean the whole thing, then cut it up and cook however you want. It made me wonder about how this is all done in the US. Are there professional chicken de-featherers? Or is there somehow a machine or streamlined process? Things I just never thought about before.

The cutest part was the local kids peeking through the fence at the mzungus, and giggling at us.

So from start to finish I can say that I took part in the process of buying and cooking dinner. Everyone else got a kick out of how this process is so strange to us and how we could have lived so long and never have had to slaughter a chicken (or any other animal for that matter).

So, that is just a highlight of my time in Uganda. I have so many other stories to share and hopefully I will be able to, if not now, then when I get back. Hope you all are well, and really, REALLY appreciate how easy you have it the next time you pick up boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a multi-pack at Safeway or Lucky. :)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Market

This is a picture of the chickens I saw at the market two days ago. Yes, all of those chickens are still alive. Just tied up and waiting to be sold, then of course slaughtered. Actually, we have to go get chickens today in a few minutes. There is no such thing as picking up some chicken breasts or thighs or wings at the supermarket here. You want chicken? Go buy a live one and kill it. Or go buy chicken meat that has just been cooked. Option A or Option B.

The internet here has been really spotty, so I haven't done a very good job at blogging. It is really an incredible place and experience, and I feel like I have so much to write about and reflect upon. But I dont have time to do it now...so you'll have to wait!

Oh, but want to know my favorite thing??? (Well, maybe not my real favorite, but a little hyperbole goes a long way, right?) The other day we asked some the Ugandan's who work in the organization if they knew what McDonalds was. What was there response? "McDonalds? What is that?" So the McDonalds empire hasn't conquered the entire world...yet.

Kruger pics

As I fight with internet connections in Uganda, here are a few of my favorite pictures from Kruger National Park in South Africa. Truly an amazing time. Hope you enjoy!





















Saturday, March 21, 2009

the breakup

Well, that's what it feels like! Tomorrow Rahima will board a plane to Australia while I fly up to Uganda for just under two weeks. It feels so weird, considering we have spent nearly every waking (and sleeping) minute side by side. Incredibly, we have done so without one fight. Lots of laughs though, and a really good balance of personalities. Now that is a good travel buddy and a great friend! Now if only I could find a guy who can put up with me like that...

So back to Uganda. My friend Chris (Young) is working with an organization in Uganda and so I decided to go check out what he is doing while I am so close. Since it wasn't in our original plan, Rahima will stick to our itenerary and I'll meet up with her in a few weeks time.

We had a blast in Kruger Park. We had incredible luck and saw all of the big 5 (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhino) along with so many other amazing creatures. Hippos are pretty cool. :). I got some amazing pictures and even got chased by a greedy little monkey who snuck into the car and stole two plums. I kept him from stealing the whole food bag, but boy was he mad at me. He hissed at me and then literally ran after me, grabbing at my ankles and scaring the sh*t out of me! Nasty little buggers, but very cute.

We just got back to Jo-burg tonight and everything is closed early being a saturday evening, so no great internet cafes to upload pictures. The hotel where we are staying wants $25 US for 4 hrs of computer usage. Yeah right! I could live for days on that.

Monday, March 16, 2009

out of service

This is just a quick note to let you all know that we head to Johannesburg today (we are currently waiting to board the plane at a nice and early 5:33am) and then we drive up to Kruger National Park where we will be intil the 22nd. Don't know how the coverage is there, so don't worry about me if I go MIA for a few days here!

We had an amazing time in Cape Town and stayed with a friend of a friend, Jess, who is quite possibly one of the most inspiring and humble people ever. She is doing her MA on sustainable environments and communities and her work is so interesting. The institute that she is linked up with is affiliated with a government (public) school, which she took us to visit yesterday. Her mom (also amazing) is the director of finance for a private school which we got to go visit as well. Two very different worlds for sure, and really great to be able to see both, so close together and yet so distinct.

We definitely could have stayed much longer in CT, but had to keep moving since we had booked accomodations in Kruger a few weeks back. Urgh! How I hate schedules these days. Spoiled, spoiled, spoiled!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stop and think

So yesterday we visited Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town. It is famous for being the prison for many political leaders, such as Nelson Mandela. It is very similar to Alcatraz, in the sense that it is a prision-island, off the coast of a city on a peninsula, with beautiful view of the city itself. It is now a national museum and no longer a prison, but our tour guide through the prison part of the tour was actually an inmate himself from 1984 to 1989. The inmates were forced to do hard, manual labor 8 hours a day, 7 days a week in the quarries, (which due to extreme sunlight reflecting off of the limestone rock caused many eye problems for the prisoners) on only a liter of coffee for breakfast each day. They were supposed to do this for six months, but it lasted for 13 and a half years. Nelson Mandela himself had his eyes operated on after he became free and no longer produces tears from the tear ducts in his eyes.
The thing that struck me the most was that these prisoners were not rapists or murderers, but political leaders, who opposed the government. Great lengths were taken to isolate these leaders and their followers so that they could not organize from within the prison. Many of the inmates were iliterate upon arrival, but through the idea of “each one teach one” they secretly educated almost all of the inmates. This was done scribbling in sand in caves of the quarry that were supposed to be used for bathrooms, but that prisoners agreed to only use for these quick lessons during the day, which means they didn’t go to the bathroom all day long, but the guards thought they did. They also would secretly exchange messages buy burying them in certain places, or even hiding messages in tennis balls, which they were allowed to use to exercise sometimes. This way, they could exchange ideas between the 8 different cell blocks of separated prisoners.
One of the saddest stories was of a man, Robert Sobukwe, who was deemed such a leader that they actually built him a single room house on the island and forbade him to interact with anyone, including guards. He died something like 13 years later, still in this type of solitary confinement. Can you imagine?
While Cape Town is beautiful, and we have been enjoying many of its wonders, one only has to drive a few minutes outside of the town to see all of the Townships, where many of the blacks live. The townships are literally made of corrugated tin houses, and at dusk the dividers between the four to five lane major highways are filled with everyone who has come out to play soccer. I mean hundreds of people, from kids to adults, just playing between the freeways. It is a totally different way of life.
It really makes me grateful for the freedoms that we definitely take for granted in our country, and it also leaves me with a sense of confusion about our world. How can this really be an acceptable way of life? How do we change and help these people overcome the circumstances that society has left them with? I don’t really know that there are any clear-cut answers, but it sure does remind me that we all need to think about these things, because they exist. Not just in the past, but in the present and in our future.

Why I like South Africa

1- it is warm. :) I like that a lot.

2- the accent is really cool. I like accents.

3- they drive on the "wrong" side of the road, which I am now getting used to. It is a little bizzare to shift with your left hand, signal with your right, and regardless of how good I am getting at this, as soon as I climb in the driver's seat, I inevitably reach over my LEFT shoulder for the seatbelt!

4- did I mention it is warm?

5- in Cape Town the hiking is literally overlooking the city. Look up, there is a big mountain (or two or three or five) to hike. We hiked Table Mountain yesterday, and I am sore today!

6- wildlife. Okay, so I've only seen great white sharks and huge monkeys crossing the road so far, but soon we will head to Kruger Park to see more big game.

7- they make outstanding wine.

8- they have penguins. :)

9- they call stoplights "robots".

10- they make a really great liqour from a fermented fruit that tastes a lot like baileys irish cream, but better. Apparently there are videos of elephants and baboons alike eating this fallen marula fruit, and getting drunk, and then being hungover the following day. now that is funny.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

thursdays

Sometimes great things take place on Thursdays. For example, I was born on a Thursday, and todays Thursday will be just as important and memorable to me as that was. Why? Because today, I went on a boat off the coast of South Africa, suited up, and waited patiently with 14 other passengers as the crew started chumming...for great whites.

They had warned us that because the sharks are wild animals they can't guarantee any sightings, and the first boat out this morning saw no sharks at all. Well, our luck was much better.

It only took about 45 minutes before the first (and littlest at about 2 meters) made an appearance. We all gawked from the boat, then the cage was lowered in and they asked for the first five suckers who wanted in. Rahima and I probably would have knocked people clear off the boat to get in first, and lucky for them, no one was in our way. So in we went and waited for our little friend to come back.

The water is pretty murky so you kind of balance in the cage without scuba gear or a snorkel (apparently the regulator bubbles annoy the sharks and keep them further away) and keeping all hands and toes in the cage. When the sharks get close (lured by the chum and a bunch of fish heads all tied to a buoy) the crew baits it towards the cage (within inches literally) and they yell "down" and you hold your breath and submerge yourself to see the big fish swim by. It is really cold, but you are so excited, waiting at eye level to the surface for jaws. And when you see these sharks you forget about everything else. You just want them to stay right in front of you so you can study them...but they couldn't care less what you want, and why should they?

You can surprisingly see a lot more of the sharks from the boat than from in the cage, and even with that said, I had semi-jinxed shark luck. They are the only surface feeding sharks (sorry surfers) so they come up, jaws fin and all, and then grab their prey, sometimes even launching themselves clear out of the water because of the speed they use for their surprise attacks (as many of you have probably seen on Discovery. Yup, that's here.)

The first shark to really grab at the bait came up right as I looked down to pass someone a pair of booties. Then I went in the cage and saw it swim by, but no looking down its throat or anything. The next time, on the boat I turned to go get my fleece, and shark number 2 showed his face. The third time I looked left, it was right. So I saw a lot of fins and back and thrashing (and boy do they thrash like you wouldn't believe!) and underwater shark, but not that real picture perfect jaws face I had been hoping for.

So when we got the chance to go back in the water, we jumped in. After about 15 freezing minutes of waiting in the cage I joked that if I got out a shark would definitely come, and kind of believed it. Rahima told me to take one for the team and get out. So, numb fingers and toes, I climbed out, grabbed my camera and focused on the bait. And true to the day, about 7 minutes later the last shark came into sight. Huge sucker. About 3.5 meters and massive. He came right at the cage, mouth open and hit the cage sideways, about 5 feet from me in the boat and probably 5 inces from Rahima in the cage. We couldn't believe our luck. And I got a decent picture. It was perfect.

So like I said, sometimes great things happen on Thursdays. How was yours? ;)




Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So, what do you miss?

Simple question, right? Deserves a simple answer.

Mexican food.

Seriously. I never actually realized how much the rest of the world is completely deprived of really good Mexican food. For the last five months, even in South America, we have not seen a whole lot of Mexican food and we have observed a complete absence of black beans. Can you imagine?

So yesterday I headed out to Oxford, which is LOVELY, to see a friend from college I hadn't seen since then. He's been livin there for about 5 years and one of the first questions he asked was "when was the last time you had a really good burrito?". Just hearing the words made my mouth water. I think he recognized the look on my face (which probably conveyed a combination of really high hopes for good Mexican food and a psychotic twitch of what bodily harm I might try to inflict if this were just a mean spirited joke) and said that a pretty good Mexican place had recently opened up there. :)

I actually finished the whole burrito (anyone who knows how much I normally eat at one sitting should be shocked) along with a good old Sol beer. Yummy.

The other "food" I miss is hostess cupcakes. (Yes...I know. That's why I put quotes around food!). I swear that if I find them I might have to eat a few packages at once.

Other than that, London has been a really fun time to wander and to catch up with a lot of good people. We sent back our jackets and donated some other warm stuff this morning. (Side note, who knew mailing this was SO expensive?!?) We just went on the London Eye (thanks Joe!) Which gave us nice parting views of the city. In a few hours we'll head the airport and onto South Africa, where we will be for a few weeks. Warm weather, here we come!!!

Friday, March 6, 2009

quick update

Well, it seems that when we are staying with friends or couchsurfing we visit internet cafes much less frequently and therefore the blog falls a bit to the wayside...so here I will attempt to give a quick recap of the last week of our trip.

Milestones:
1-We passed our 5 month anniversary of starting the trip on March 2nd. And learning from our previous mistakes, we made NO attempt to travel on that day. It was great. Well, kind of. We did rent a tandem bike in Amsterdam, and come to think of it, after riding clear across the city and out into more of the suburbs, the back tire broke. We had to walk the bike back clear across town, which took about an hour and a quarter. Hmmm...maybe April 2nd we'll just stay indoors!

2-We officially used up our eurail pass. Lukily we were able to squeeze about an extra week out of the thing, due to brilliant forgery. :)

3-We are now back in London, our final stop in Europe before we leave this continent. We have met so many great people from in and around London on our trip so far, that we are taking a few days just to meet up with them here before we move on. Kind of funny to have a social calendar.

4-I met a guy in Jordan who is British, but convinced that I would like olives if I just ate 13 of them in a row. We made a bet (he clearly had no idea how stubborn I can be) that I would try to eat them. Well, I did it in Berlin...lined up 13 of the little suckers and Rahima videoed it. All I can say is...I STILL dislike olives very, very much. Apparently though, I should have known to get "good olives", but what do I know? So last night, we all met up and went to see Les Miserable. Oh...how I love that musical. Ed and Rahima were a little perturbed by the fact that every word is actually sung in the MUSICAL, and Ed came to the great conclusion that the French Revolution was not caused by poverty or strife, but because they were sick of singing everything. :)

I think that just about catches us up!

Friday, February 27, 2009

the berlin wall is...

ONLY 13 feet high! What?!? Did everyone else know that but me???

So Berlin is a really cool city. It is surprisingly cheaper than many other european cities we have been in lately, which is really nice, and we are couchsurfing with an Irish-Italian guy who has been an excellent host. I know I was 12 when the wall came down...and I was old enough to more or less understand the situation, but being here has been really thought provoking for me. It is just mind blowing that overnight a government threw up a wall that prohibited people from going to work, going home from work, separating families, etc. for over 28 years. Wow. And the scarier part to me is that these so-called crazy things are still happening in our world today. It started as a barbed wire fence...then a 13 foot high structure that people could SEE over. Just not cross. Then, of course, on the eastern side they enforced a ¨death zone¨ so people couldn´t get close to the actual wall, but on the western side people could walk right up to it, paint on it, whatever they wanted. I am blown away.

So we have been wandering around what used to be East Berlin these past few days. It has all kinds of great pockets, gourmet food and restaurants (which we haven´t taken advantage of at all), super funky neighborhoods of hipsters, tons of historical buildings and monuments, and more. There is a lot of great graffiti as well, my favorite of which was a sign that reads, ¨David Hasselhoff saved the world¨. He did. Little known fact. Look it up. =)

Apart from all of that, we have been amusing ourselves with a newly invented game called ¨flattering or frightening¨. It is kind of a take on the whole ¨Would you rather...¨ game. But in this case, you present a scenario and the other person has to deem it flattering or frightening. For example, Rahima recently introduced me to the website and book of Post Secret, where people decorate a postcard and anonymously send in a secret some of which are posted on the website or in a book. They range from the simple to the heart-wrenching. One of my favorites was one where a woman confessed that when she makes her husband a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she secretly draws a heart in the peanut butter before closing the sandwich. Cute, huh?

So here is an example of the game:
Rahima: Flattering or frightening? I secretly draw a heart in your peanut butter sandwich.
Annette: Flattering.
Rahima: Flattering or frightening? I use my dirty finger to do it?
Annette: Eww! Frightening.

Try it with your friends. It is really fun. =)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Train rides, cold, and more cold

Well, whoever said Eastern Europe was cold in the winter sure was right. We left Prague a few days back and hopped on a night train to Krakow. Most of the cars were pretty empty, so we thought we were in luck, and would be able to lie down and even sleep part of the way. Shortly before the train started on its way, we were joined by a very nice Russian or Polish middle-aged man who insisted on speaking to us in his native lanugage, despite the fact that we understood next to nothing. Okay, nothing.

It only took a few minutes to realize how intoxicated he was. Very friendly, and the saddest mess I think I have ever seen. He proceeded to drink another (I am assuming he had at least one or two prior) bottle of vodka. Then he kind of passed out. By kind of, I mean that he would not stay passed out. He kept waking up when the train slowed or stopped, and this somehow signaled him to reach for a)more vodka b)a cigarette or c) a beer (which I dumped out on his behalf once his eyes closed again). We spent a good part of the night just making sure that as he fell off of the seat he didn't hit his head too hard on the floor. About 2am, when he was pretty still, we realized there was no one in the compartment next to us and decided to move to try to sleep for a bit.

When we arrived in Krakow (very well rested at this point...note the sarcasm) we had about 5-10 minute walk to our hostel. Wow was it cold. My face actually stung as we came out of the building and headed down the street. Another note to self: Never be awake and outside in Eastern Europe prior to 7am.

We are at at great little hostel and we have exlpored Krakow quite a bit and eaten our fair share of perogis. Rahima headed to Auschwitz today, and I will go explore a bit on my own. Yesterday we went to the Wieliczka Salt Mines here in Krakow which was really incredible. They have one chamber where everything is carved into the rocksalt. The floor looks like tiles, but it is actually one big slate of salt which has been etched into. And it even appears to have "paintings" on the walls, which are also carvings, including one of the Las Supper. Everything, right down to the chandeliers are...you guessed it...rock salt. I can't post pics on this computer, but you should google it to see how amazing it is.

Hope you are all nice and warm while reading this! :)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

gnomey's blog

Well, Rahima and I are thoroughly enjoying our adventures, but so is Gnomey. He has started his own blog, to share his side of the story as well. He has just started writing, so be patient with him, but you can find his blog at www.throughagnomeseyes.blogspot.com


Enjoy!

(yes...we have that much time on our hands!)

Most of us remember Prague...

for its castle, its toy-like charm, or its cheap beer. But for me, Prague will always hold a deeper and more personal connection. Prague will be the location of the discovery of my first, real, official grey hair.

Yes. It's true.

Yesterday I went walking around Prague with Alan, a real Scotsman (kilt and all which he donned for us the night before) to see most of the sights. As I knelt down to take a picture of a swan on the river, Alan said, "Hold on! I see something here!" A second later there was a sharp twinge of pain as a single hair (or maybe a few and that is what hurt so much!) was yanked out of my head and presented to me for the viewing. Yup. Unquestionable proof. Grey.

And yes. I saved it. :)

So there you have it. The latest development and milestone in my life. And now the thoughts running through my head include: because I plucked it will seven really grow back in its place? How long have I really had grey hair, but covered it up with my incessant hair-dying addiction? Will I look as good with grey hair as Maria Rosa does? God, I hope so.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We finally made it to Munich


Manarola. One of the five towns of le cinque terre. Sigh.

Wow, I can´t believe it has been almost a full week since I have sat down and blogged! Believe it or not, we finally dragged ourselves out of Italy. It was so difficult! We really got used to our lazy little lives, living just above the waterfront, waking up to good breakfasts, then long beautiful walks, good people in town, frisbee in the public square with the little old man who watched from his window, and then three course homecooked meals for dinner. Seriously, if anyone had previously tried to tell me that some of the best food on this trip would come from inside a little apartment with two guys from Pennsylvania while in Italy, I would have told them they were crazy. But it was true.

Paul, Me, Rahima, Jason on one of the trails between two of the towns. Not a bad view, huh?

We played cards, (Briscola being my new favorite card game, but unfortunately I didn´t buy a deck before I left...), drank wine (lots of it) and ate and ate and ate. The Italian way I guess! Pesto-broccoli riosotto, pasta with a mussle-clams sauce, ribbolita, eggplant parmesan, gnocci, omlettes galore, more pasta with meat or fresh vegetable sauces, and the list goes on and on. Fresh breads, meats and cheeses everyday as well. Yummy.


One of our nice dinners, in our tight quarters. By the end of our stay, we had a total of 11 people in that apartment. Yes, you are looking at one of the bedrooms (4 beds) and the kitchen-dining room! The other seven beds were in an adjacent room, about the same size!

But like I said, we did manage to leave. It was hard, but I know I will be back there someday, hopefully soon. And maybe in the summer, but maybe I don´t want to ruin the sleepy little vision that I have of that area. Imagining it overrun with tourists and packed doesn´t make me think I´d like it all that much.

So off we went to Munich. We arrived at 6:30am and my cousin, Holger, was all smiles at the train station, ready to greet us. His apartment is only a few blocks away and so we walked through the icy cold back to his house. Everything here is covered in snow. It is cold, and beautiful. We certainly have not packed for snow, so all layers are on at every moment! Holger and his girlfriend, Isabel, are the two nicest people, who have completely spoiled us. We have been showered with so much love and kindness, advice, and food, it is incredible. In the past week, we have done so much, and we could be here for a few more weeks and still not see or do nearly enough.

The first day we kind of took a day to recover and plan our time here a bit. Since then, we have been on a walking tour of Munich, a Third Reich walking tour of the city, Rahima went to Dachau (I couldn´t stomach the thought, considering I broke down and had to be led out of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. a few years back), but she said it was really powerful.

My other cousin´s son, Yannick, came by to meet me because he left for an internship in the US a few days later, and it was our only chance to meet. He is 15 and much taller than I am! He is so nice and smart and wonderful. He and Holger cooked us spinach dumplings for dinner.

We ate at the Hofbrauhaus one night and made friends with a bar-owner who showed around to some of the Munich nightlife. We were up until about 4am and rang in Valentine´s Day right with lots of loud music and treats. Rahima bought me an oversized gingerbread cookie on Valentine´s Day, and I returned the gesture with a pack of ferrero rocher candies. Can you tell food (and consumables) are the way to our backpacking hearts? :)

Look at the size of those beers!


Neuschwanstein Castle

After a few hours of sleep, Rahima and I headed out to Tutzing, where my aunt lives and left Isabel and Holger to enjoy their Valentine´s Day. We got to see my other cousin and her family who live there as well. I come from good people. They are all always on the go, and always joking around about something. We went to see the Neuschwanstein Castle (the one Disneyland is modeled after). Wow. We drank gluhwine (a mulled wine) to keep warm and Sebine, my cousin, properly engaged me in a snowball fight. I turned around at one point to be met dead on with a snowball to the face. Rahima caught some of it on video, which is even funnier because you can quickly see who grew up with snow. While I try to make cute little snowballs like they do in cartoons, my cousin expertly sweeps armfulls of snow directly at me. I think I got one good shot at the end there though! (sadly, I can´t figure out how to get sound on here!)

video


My family. Isable, Rahima, Holger, Tante Inge, Me, Rene, Sebine, Finn (the dog)
The next day Holger, Isabel, my aunt Inge, Sebine, her husband Rene, thier daughter Marie, and Rahima and I all headed out for a beautful hike in the snow. We rented sleds so that after two hours up, we could sled down. I have never been sledding before, but it was so much fun. For some reason I kept taking facefulls of snow (similar to my previous day´s snowball fight) but had a blast.





Wait, where´s the sled? :)

That night my Tante Inge taught me how to make a lovely Bavarian dish, Kaiserschmarrn. It is amazing how many sweets, or dumplings covered in melted butter make up the main dishes here. There is a reason I love those types of foods...it is aparently in my blood! :)

Me and Marie. My second cousin? Is that what you call your cousin´s kids? She is so great. Really funny, and sarcastic, like the rest of us!

Yesterday, sore as could be, Holger and I went skiing. It was so much fun. The weather wasn´t sunny, but there was very little wind and the snow was absolutely PERFECT! It was great. We skied, drank more gluhwine, and had a really, really special day. And finally, I am sitting down, able to tell the tales, via my blog. Being with my family has been such a treat. I feel so lucky to be across the world, and yet to feel absolutely and completely at home. I only wish I had more time here, but I keep reminding myself that a plane ride makes me a lot closer than I think. :) I will be very sad to leave tomorrow, but I am really grateful for all the fun things we were able to do in such a relatively short amount of time.