Thursday, June 12, 2008


Once we had arrived in Paris and had taken the train from the airport to Gard du Nord (train station featured in Bourne Ultimatum), we were supposed to call our hostel so they could arrange for someone to meet us at one of metro stops. We had a few minutes left on an old phone card but after 30 minutes of trying different combinations, we still weren't able to get anything but a strange-sounding busy signal. So we went on my hunch of which station we were aiming for.

Navigating the metro was easy, and there was no question we were the local hippies. People were well dressed; we were not. People smelled good; we did not. Once we got there, nobody seemed to be looking for a Chris DuBois. I tried asking the older lady at the metro help desk if she knew of our hostel; she proudly, while keeping eye contact, 'No comprandt' - or something like that - and quickly went back to her work. I think it's French for, 'I'm a snooty bitch' but I'm not sure because I never have studied French. I swear I saw a smirk.

I finally just went for a short walk around the metro station while Emma watched the bags. Our landing site was sweet. Total Europe. Little restaurants on the cobblestone corner, with people sipping coffee from tiny cups. Four story apartment buildings with well styled facades, their ground floor often times having a flower shop or a bakery. And within minutes of looking for a sign saying 'Lucky Youth', I swanky French business dude came up and said, 'Are you looking for something? You look very lost.' He let me use his phone to call the place, translated a little bit for me, and we chatted about Tanzania (he had worked there for 3 years a while back). Booya.
So I figured this would be a good story to relate a few main items:

  • There are quite a few beautiful people in Paris, and far more beautifully dressed people.
  • There are snooty people in Paris, and there are people hoping to be so nice that they overcompensate for this notoriety.
  • The architecture in Paris is awesome, and the apartments are a big part of it, giving the impression that the city only allows this cool, 19th century look.

Once we got settled, we immediately began exploring. Our hostel was really a flat with 6 bunk beds, and we were the only ones there. It was located in Montmartre, so we quickly checked out the local tourist attraction, Sacre Couer. It's huge. And it's got a great view of the city. (That wiki link has a great panorama.) We strolled by the front steps on the way to dinner (which were featured in Amelie), and a few hundred people were chilling on the steps enjoying the view - with a bottle of wine each - and listening to a dude with a guitar and an amp. Not a bad scene.

We also checked out the nearby plaza and got some awesome . A dozen artists were sketching portraits of tourists. We hit up the Salvidor Dali museum; we were sufficiently weirded out.

Both in Montmartre and our next spot, Hotel de Champ du Mars, we really enjoyed the gradually exploration of our surroundings. And the thing that was key in this, the thing that I could talk about for a while, was Paris' newly installed public bike system. For 1 euro a day, you get a card that lets you take out a bike from any of 300-400 stations scattered across the city. The first 30 minutes for each bike is free and it's 1 euro/hour after that. This made incredibly easy to first check out the nearby bakery, fruit store, Japanese restaurant (we had hankering for miso soup... it happens). Then we were able to check out the nearby destinations, which we only really knew about because their buildings were drawn bigger on our free tourist map. Les Invalides? No idea what it is, but let's bike there and check it out.

What was amazing, and I'll never forget this about Paris, is that we would be biking along and around each corner there would be another huge, monumental building. Each would easily be the historical highlight of an United States city, and there were dozens of them!

We did plenty of museums. In general it took me about 3 hours to become weak-kneed and blurry-eyed from hunger and too many pre-impressionist, impressionist, and post-impressionist paintings. The Lourve was especially ridiculous and intimidating with all the amazing crap it has. Paintings that are 15 feet tall and 30 feet wide. We also went on the first Sunday (free admission) so it was pretty stressful not getting trampled by the thousands of people going towards the Mona Lisa. I got a cold sweat at one point. The highlight was the Winged Victory, an Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the crown jewels - which such big gems they looked fake. We went to the military history museum; as you might expect from the French, there was a big emphasis on the style of garments in each period and a glossing over of how easily they were pummeled in World War II. We were much more relaxed when we moseyed over to the Rodin museum, a garden with some awesome bronze casts like the famous Thinker and Gates of Hell. And I would definitely recommend the Museum d'Orsay, too. It's got a bunch of Monets and stuff, and the museum itself looks way cooler.

Paris was impressive and totally overshot all my expectations. It was a great clincher to an amazing trip. But there's no place like home.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Kicking it in Zambia

We apologize for the radio silence, but it's nice to be able to sit down and have plenty to write about.

We've been in Lusaka staying with a family: Bruce and Linda Wilkinson, their 6 yr old (brilliant) son Isaac, and their college-grad intern Kelley. The faith-based family has been here for 3 years and have been generous hosts.

In comparison, our story sounds selfish. We've been traveling the world, checking out the sites, racking up the tourist points. No regrets.

Bruce came to Lusaka after being very high on the NGO ladder at World Vision, a global organization that oversees impossibly large amounts of aid. Now he's running RAPIDS, a new Zambian group which empowers a network of 15,000 volunteer caregivers with the materials they need to help those suffering from the effects of HIV/AIDs. With their $30 million, 5 year grant, they pull together dozens of different organizations (ranging from government to faith-based) in order to distribute both stuff and knowhow; it’s a huge operation for Zambia, but small peanuts compared to his previous stuff. What’s more impressive is the private money he’s helped bring in – an additional $37 million, some of it as gift-in-kind, e.g. bandaids and bikes.

Not surprisingly, the bikes story is one of my favorites here. The owner of SRAM heard the volunteers had trouble getting around to all the people who needed help, and they designed a cheap bike that was a bunch stronger than the bikes they have here. Partnered with the Indian car company Tata, they produced $2 million worth of these bikes, and RAPIDS distributed them. They look the same as the local bikes, but they are far better at handling the weight of a second person on the rack, like when they need to go to the local clinic. (When lent to family members, the bikes are also better at transporting 100kgs of coal, also a common use for bikes around here.) They have served the volunteers well, providing both an incentive and a valuable asset.

What’s the rationale behind all this effort? About 20% of Zambians within Lusaka have HIV/AIDS, and 16% in rural areas. An entire generation seems to be missing in some areas, and there are many grandmothers who are simultaneously caring for 5 grandchildren and 5 non-biological orphans. Poverty, drunkenness, prostitution are all problems; healthcare, livelihood, and education are the focus for most of the hundreds of aid groups here. We were able to tour two of RAPIDS’s caregiver centers with the Accenture consultant who was here helping check things out. She was here to provide 3rd party advice/affirmation that the program model is ready to be expanded to other countries and settings.

Linda started working with a group of widows. After hearing their heart-wrenching stories, she worked with them on several microenterprise ideas, finding success with a project where they knit (awesome-looking) purses using recycled plastic bags. Now about 50 women are making a living through this program. They work together, share ideas, and Linda and others sell the bags in the states. This laid the groundwork for several other initiatives that take place on the same property, including a school for 300 orphans, a group of single moms who make and sell salted peanuts and soy milk, and a young women’s club. We’ve spent several days there. More information is at, and more is coming every day as we help them put stuff up.

Kelley just graduated from UC Boulder and is the hardworking intern who has the neverending todo-list. She’s been super kind to lead us around and point us in directions where we can help, and we’ve had a great time hanging out. We just went to a concert last night, which was a blast. It was a woman with attitude from Ivory Coast who blasted lyrics to funky rhythms and danced with some acrobatic, African-influenced moves.

Kate, their eldest daughter, just arrived last week. She’s in a graduate program at Columbia studying foreign development. She hopes to take Chikumbuso and make it huge. I’d agree it’s close to being ready.

There is a lot to say about the last few weeks, but the last two days should provide a good representative snapshot. We woke up, ate some pancakes, and drove to Chikumbuso. They have a pedal-powered soy bean grinder that makes the mush needed to make soy milk; I pedaled for a while. Emma helped two clinic volunteers administer HIV testing to 30 of the kids; two were positive. We helped tag the bracelets the widows had made, so that they could track who had made what. We taught division to the 5th graders who just begun learning it that morning; I tried using some of the dirty soybeans to help with the lesson, and tried to show the relationship between multiplication problems and division problems. Some kids really caught on with using the multiplication table on their shabby binders, some even were somewhat familiar with long division, and some kept grouping tally marks – even when they had to draw 169 of them.

In the afternoon, we taught basketball. Yes, I know: I have touched a basketball only a handful of times since 3rd grade. Emma “jumped” right into it, though, and we got the kids psyched up about passing, shooting, and defense. The fitness part included jumping jacks, squatting, and pushups. The kids couldn’t stop laughing. We’ve done 3 sessions already, and today we bought two brand new basketballs. The other one had exploded from the abuse of bouncing of the rocky schoolyard.

Last weekend we took a 7 hour bus ride down to Livingston to see Victoria Falls. They were huge. There’s a little walking trail directly across from the top of the falls. When the wind was just right, the ‘mist’ from the falls was heavy enough to feel like somebody was standing over you and dumping buckets on your head. The bridge over the Zambezi just below the falls connects Zambia and Zimbabwe, and there’s a bungie jump operation on it. I signed up for the ‘Big Air’ package, which included the bungie jump and the swing. Free falling causes heart attack-like symptoms. Free falling was a good once-in-a-lifetime experience, if only for the reason I now know what a heart attack must feel like.

Being here and talking with Bruce has given me a chance to think about values, aid in Africa, behavior change, and ways that Africa could become better. I’m not sure I’ve changed any, but things are a bit clearer; all that is for a different post or a long conversation. The kids are also dang cute – which I’m sure Emma will cover in her post.

Summary: The Wilkinson family has certainly changed many people’s lives for the better. We have been lucky they agreed to put up with us for these few weeks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Journey from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka, Hour 49 of Train Ride.

As you might have guessed from Emma’s posts, the safari was badass. As she mentioned, I couldn’t tell a stump from a lion, or a piece of machinery from giraffe, so I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut and defer to our guide’s uncanny ability to spot wildlife. If it was worth seeing, he’d let us know.

In Ngorogoro Crater, I kept feeling like we were in Jurassic Park, and when we’d get into thicker parts of the forest, I’d half-wonder if a team of raptors had gotten loose. Once in the Serengeti I couldn’t get Circle of Life stuck out of my head (the main theme song from Disney’s The Lion King).

A short explanation about dik diks. Earlier in our trip when we had been looking into safaris, I had been browsing some of the Africa books and flipped to a page about animals. The picture of a dik dik looked so hilarious I decided that I had to see one in real life. Imagine a deer, then shrink it until it’s about 1 foot tall, then put little stubby horns on it, kind of like Hollywood puts on actors that play the part of devils. Seemed like a little mythical creature. So on the third day, I finally got some Where’s Waldo skillz and spotted a dik dik standing just off the road. They were as ridiculous looking as I imagined. Success!

After seeing all the wildebeest, I couldn’t resist the temptation to look for signs of chase. I wanted to see a cheetah or a lion aim straight for the thickest part of the pack, or a team of hyenas corner a youngling. But with the food source so plentiful, these hunters had no need to work that hard for their food.

The crater was incredible, but the Serengeti’s landscape was stunning in its own right. Small outcroppings of granite speckle the plains. (For Disney generation, think of the big rock that overlooks everything at the beginning of the movie. For nerds, apparently these are big bubbles of granite. The outer layers expand and contract with daily temperature fluctuations and, with time, erosion causes some cool boulders to appear. The large flat areas are from volcanic ash from later eruptions nearby, and the resulting top soil is too thin to support anything but the grass.) These outcroppings form cool oases (sp? Plural of oasis) of vegetation and wildlife.

We stayed at posh lodges. Four course meals and a big buffet for breakfast. Combined with good weather? It was a great week.

Right now I’m living in the gentle-rinse-cycle known as the Tazara train, which connects Tanzania with Zambia. Our first class cabin has most the African pleasantries we’ve come to expect. The fan’s broken, as is the lock on the door, and the lights work occasionally. Maybe 1/3 of people play with our door’s handle as they walk by, checking to see if it’s unlocked. They could easily open it if we hadn’t jerry-rigged a $4 bike lock around the inside. We are very grateful to not be in second class seating, since they’re sitting four-to-a-seat, babies on mothers’ backs, with no place to lie down for 2 days straight.

The train stops often, sometimes for 20 minutes and sometimes for 4 hours. It keeps you guessing, and we often wonder if the train will ever start again. On some of the hills, the train was brought to a creaky crawl slower than walking pace, and I put it at 50/50 whether or not we would start rolling backwards. On the downhills, you’re thrown against the wall when there’s a heart-wrenching jerk of the entire train car, causing a few bruises and choked food.

We forgot to bring Subway for our first meal and were pretty bummed about our mistake. We brought some snacks like cheese and crackers, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter, but we wouldn’t have been able to make it without the $3 fried chicken and rice they serve onboard, along with the Tusker beer. Dozens of others take advantage of the beer in the dining car, and they often open our door enough to poke their face in to say hello as they stumble back to their room. We hung out it in the dining car for a while, until our chairs broke from the sudden jerking.

We never really know what time it is (I lost the watch in Thailand), so we’ve been whittling the days away between card games and naps. Sometimes we ask how much longer, and usually double that is closer to the truth.

Emma’s been the victim of some brutal allergies; the first day I woke up and could barely see her over the pile of toilet paper she had used throughout the night. She also looked like she’d been punched, with left eye almost swollen shut with a beautiful purple tint. Teasing her about it was quickly discouraged.

The bathrooms are sketchy enough that I’m holding out for something better. We’ll see if I can last.

For all the hilarities, the view has been unforgettable. Blue sky, expansive grasslands spotted with shrubs, small fields of dead corn, the occasional dirt path and grass-roofed hut, sometimes a village or even a dirt road. The young kids wave and run alongside the train every chance they get.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lake Manyara

As we were headed down to the lake, we couldn’t help but think they were couldn’t possible see anything new. Somehow we were both exhausted after three days of driving and safari, but when we arrived we saw that this park was again totally different from anything we had seen in the past few days. Most of the park is occupied by the huge lake and the remainder is dense forest; a jungle of undergrowth, acacia trees and baobab trees.

Right from the start we saw a totally different group of wildlife. Lots of baboons, black-faced and blue monkeys. (Who we were delighted to find out have permanent blue-colored balls.) Although the density of wildlife in this park is lower than our two previous destinations we were excited about the specialties – hippos, elephants and the elusive dik dik, which was Chris’s only goal of the trip.

First we visited the hippo pool. The shallow pool of thick mud and water is home to more than twenty hippos. They make some pretty funny noises. Watching the huge heads immerge form the mud, I couldn’t help but think of the game hungry hippos. The road through the park weaves in an out of the forest. It was a great change from the scorching heat of the plains. We saw lots of impala in the woods and came across lots of birds. The lake is covered with pink dots like in Ngorongoro, lots and lots of flamingos.

Without question the highlight of the day was the family of elephants. There must have been around thirty of them and we got to see them walking down to the river. They had babies! The tiny little guys were some of the cutest things I have ever seen. All floppy ears and trunk, which they can never seem to keep upright, they ran around and played in the water. We sat and watched for a good 30 minutes.

We were eventually making our way back to the entrance as dark was approaching when we heard about a lion sighting from another driver. Like we were on a mission we went speeding through the forest in search of the spot. Lion sightings seem to be the big money maker on these safaris. They are not to be taken lightly, in fact we passed a few other vehicles that had also heard about the lion and followed us down the road. Granted this was a special sighting – a large male in a tree! Who knew? Tree climbing lions. It was pretty awesome to see. He was just hanging out on one of the branches, lazily opening an eye once in a while to check out all the cars lining the road.

Definitely a great sight to end our adventure on.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Serengeti National Park

Although the two areas share a border, the landscape of the Serengeti is totally different from the lush green hill in Ngorongoro. Entering the Serengeti was like driving into a barren wasteland. Dry grasslands that extend for miles and miles; there isn’t an elevated piece of land to be seen. It was hard to believe there could be any wildlife on the flat empty plains. In fact, our first impressions, or rather my first impression since Chris was taken a short nap, turned out to be totally inaccurate. Almost immediately we started to see wildlife. The grasslands are home to thousands of gazelle. We saw Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle everywhere for the first hour of our drive.

The gazelle are specially adapted to the dry plains; they do not drink, instead they get all their water from dew and grass. We also saw lots of different bird species, some chameleons, and a few jackals and hyenas. As we drove on we could see small hills in the distance, which our driver informed us was our destination for the night. As we got closer he stopped to look at the distant landscape through his binoculars. “See those dark patches in the distance?” We were thinking cloud shadows or maybe patches of trees. “Those are herd of wildebeest.” Shit. There are literally a million wildebeest roaming the plains. They migrate down from Kenya in possible the biggest migration in the world. One million wildebeest. It’s almost impossible to comprehend what it would look like.

One the way to our lodge we stopped at one of the spot known for lion sightings - small collection of grassy knolls surrounding a small water hole. Prime lion territory. They just chill in the tall grasses waiting for unsuspecting prey to come to drink. Sure enough as we entered the small circles of hills we saw two huge male lions and half a dozen females and cubs, not to mention four other safari groups. It was a sight to behold. Male lions are way bigger than I thought they were. Their golden manes and huge jaws weren’t more than twenty feet from our vehicle. I sure wasn’t making any sudden movements or sounds.

We sat watching the pride in silence for a while. Another Land Cruiser pulled up to take the place of one just leaving and promptly got a flat tire. Yikes! There is no way you could have gotten me out of the car to change that flat in the middle of a pride of lions. They ended up driving around behind one of the hills and making a speedy job of it.

We arrived at out lodge exhausted only to find out we were scheduled for a pre breakfast game drive. The early morning hours are better for seeing some of the nocturnal animals. We figured this was a once in a lifetime experience so we might as well drag our asses out of bed a 5:30 a.m.

We barely made it up, and kept thinking, ‘How are we supposed to spot wildlife in this light?’ We could barely pick out movement in the full sunlight. Both Chris and I were forever thinking termite hill and logs were hyenas or leopards. Sure enough the first thing Chris spotted….”Hey, are those cranes?” Huh, machinery in the middle of the Serengeti? Actually they were giraffes.

It finally got a little lighter as we made our way out of the forested hills and onto the open plains. Smack dab in the middle of a giant herd of wildebeest. They stretched as far as we could see in all directions. Driving through them was like parting a sea. In some cases they walk or run along the plains in single file on some endless journey in search of new food and water. We just stared. I have never seen so many animals in one place.

At one point we came upon a group of hyenas tearing into the carcass of a young wildebeest. Yummy breakfast. Many of the herds are intermixed with zebras. Then we drove into an odd empty, perfect circle in the middle of the herd. We soon found out the cause – a couple lions sunning themselves on the rocks. They were just hanging out in the middle of their 24 hour self-service buffet.

Like Ngorongoro, the Serengeti was filled with wildlife. We saw: wildebeest, zebras, topi, gazelle, impala, waterbucks, giraffes, elephants, hyenas, jackals, ostrich, buffalo, warthogs, lots of vultures, buzzards, storks and birds of prey, lions, and a crazy looking Secretary bird.

On our last day we had to get up bright and early to make the drive from the Serengeti to Lake Manyara. We arrived at another beautiful lodge on the hills overlooking the huge lake in time for a great lunch buffet and a quick nap before heading out again “fishing for wildlife” as our driver called it.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Ngorongoro Crater

After spending a few nights in Dar es Salaam holed up in our hotel suite, complete with kitchenette and wifi, Chris and I finally got our act together and booked a four night safari to Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and Lake Manyara. Safaris in Tanzania are a huge business, with most departing from the towns of Arusha and Moshi. The concentration of wildlife in the numerous parks accessible from these two cities is some of the highest in the world. We hopped on a plane from Dar to Arusha to start our adventure.

We booked our trip with a company recommended by Chris’s friends from Portland – Bushbuck Ltd. Their motto: it’s rough…it’s dusty…but it’s an adventure. Sounds good to us! We left Arusha after lunch to drive to our first destination, the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Ngorongoro Crater is a collapsed volcano, a caldera similar to Yellowstone National Park, but there are no crazy hot springs or geysers here, only animals galore and Maasai. The Maasai live in the conservation area raising cattle and goats.

In this part of Tanzania, the rainy season is just about at its end. The result is a lush countryside that is completely green with patches of bright yellow wildflowers and fields of corn and coffee. The two hour drive was beautiful. We arrived at our lodge on the crater rim just about at sunset. The clouds were settling in along the walls of the crater, but our first view was amazing. Check out the panorama in our Picassa album. I’m not sure what either of us was expecting; definitely not the expanse of open plains surrounded by the steep crater walls of dense vegetation we saw before us. Even from the top of the crater rim we could see tiny specs of wildebeest, buffalo and zebras.

Eager to start we were both awake for breakfast long before our scheduled 8 am departure. Climbing into our trusty Land Cruiser, specially outfitted with a pop-up roof and elevated floor to allow for optimal wildlife viewing, we descended into the crater through forests of acacia trees. Once on the crater floor we found ourselves driving among the wildflowers searching the horizon for movement and signs of life. There were animals everywhere! Throughout the whole afternoon it was difficult to drive for five minutes without seeing something. Groups of water buffalo mixed with herds of wildebeest and dotted with zebras.

We spent the entire day driving around the crater. We saw: elephants, black rhinos, wildebeest, zebras, spotted hyenas, flamingos, ostriches, warthogs, crown cranes, a cheetah, a lion, jackals, monkeys, hippos, gazelle, storks, doves, Egyptian geese, and lots more birds. As we soon found out, the season also means lots of babies!

The elephants are huge beasts. Zebras look totally out of place with their wacky stripes and short stubby legs. We both loved watching the warthogs running with their tails held vertical – like little flags, you might not be able to see the body in the tall grass but you could still see its tail. We saw one baby wildebeest with a chunk of skin ripped off its side; it will most likely end up somebody’s dinner soon. The hyenas look almost like small bears and they are butt ugly. We saw two black rhinos, which are extremely rare due to poaching of their huge horn. We saw a female lion just walking along the road through a herd of wildebeest like she owned the place, which she does, totally unconcerned about the animals around her. They, on the other hand, were extremely wary and gave her a wide berth.

But the highlight was definitely the cheetah. She was beautiful. We watched her explore the tall grass and hang out near one of the small streams. We were watching as she jumped across the water and made her way towards us, eventually coming within 50 ft. Awesome. It’s hard to describe the beauty of watching these animals so close, knowing they could destroy you in a matter of minutes, and marveling at their power, speed, and grace. You have to stop and remind yourself that these animals of wild and living in the wild. The crater provides such a unique viewing experience, it’s a natural zoo.

Exhausted after a full day of adventures, we left Ngorongoro extremely satisfied to drive to the Serengeti. The steep road out of the crater had some hair-raising twists and drop-offs, not to mention slick mud and no guardrail. But we were not even ten minutes outside of the crater when we saw more herds of zebra and a bunch of giraffes! The scenery is spectacular. We could see the flat endless plains of the Serengeti in the distance as we passed through the arid foothills below the crater rim. The countryside is dotted with Maasai villages, consisting of half a dozen to twenty mud huts. It’s somewhat startling is round a corner and see people walking through the grass literally in the middle of nowhere. Their red and purple clothing provides vibrant dots of color to the landscape.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Getting off the plane, Uganda was immediately a pleasant change from Dar es Salaam. The land was green, Lake Victoria was huge, and the air was refreshing. We came to hang out with Megan, a friend who I grew up with and is now halfway through her Peace Corps stint.

Taxi drivers seemed super friendly and we later found out why. Coming from airports, all the taxi drivers have a small monopoly going, so they are pleased to take you for 2-3 times what it should cost. Once we started hanging around Megan things changed a bit because she had a better idea of non-Muzungu prices. "I take you for 4000." "We go for one five. That is fair price." (1500 shillings = $.80) "Ok 3000 and we go." "No, you know that is not fair price and we find someone else." After Megan's take-it-or-leave-it bargaining, taxi drivers would often seem on the verge of tears, mumbling about high gas prices and hungry families. Same went with the drivers of the 14-person vans (aka matatus); Megan has reportedly had screaming matches over 500 shillings ($.30). It’s the principle of it – the injustice of two sets of prices. But many Africans feel entitled to charge white people more nonetheless, and they feel cheated when they can't.

Megan's village was a 15 minute drive from the nearest town, Lugazi. The village is set between sugar cane fields and a dense forest. We would arrive there either in a taxi or on the back of a motorcycle (boda), and the vehicles would slip and slide in the thick, sticky mud that was inevitable after big rains. On sunny days, the red, empty dirt roads were idyllic enough to make any runner or cyclist salivate.

Most of the houses in the village were mud huts, but Megan's and a few others’ were brick and concrete. Arriving, we knew we were in Africa: a dozen women were outside her house singing with some boys drumming, and little piglets were running around the yard. Kids ran up to us: “Muzungu! (white person) How are you?” The kids who didn’t know that much English were satisfied with just pointing and yelling “Muzungu!” until you couldn’t help but laugh.

Megan's main activities on rainy days: cook, clean, read, and sleep. We welcomed this relaxing routine and tried our best to follow Megan's protocols. Shampoo here, silverware here, these tubs for washing dishes, these tubs for bucket baths. She had a newly made couch that was perfect for reading, and the interior decoration was definitely Megan-esque with kitchen items placed neatly, photos of friends arranged perfectly, and small stars painted on the bookshelves. It’s always a nice surprise to step out of the African village and into her little two room apartment; the stark contrast with its surroundings is immediately apparent and you almost feel guilty for living in America again.

The corrugated metal roof was so loud during rain storms that it would wake us up, and we would have to yell to communicate. A few times we couldn't help but think it was about to fall down on us. But Megan's stocked up on some great goodies, some sent from America, some brought by visitors and some left by people heading home. We ate Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, we ate by candlelight, we had sweet chili sauce and parmesan cheese, made bean dip, guacamole with $.10 avocados, homemade chapattis, movie nights with the laptop, and warm bucket baths whenever. Not a rough life by any stretch of the imagination.

I took bodas to the village to get internet and get some work done. One time I bought a 135 liter plastic water tank and a few metal gutters and brought them back to Megan’s place. We had the local carpenter help us install the gutter for 3000 shillings (he had a ladder and a hammer). The new rain collection system got a good workout during a few storms while we were there and should get plenty of use by Megan and her neighbor in the months to come.

Megan's front yard has a small garden surrounded by two buildings for the local preschool. The kids usually assemble around 7:30am to start banging on the car hub that hangs from a stick placed in the middle of the yard. Megan usually gets out of bed by 8am to tell them to be quiet, occasionally putting a few in timeout, which sometimes works. By 9am about 150 kids are receiving lackluster education from 2 teachers (mostly rote memorization). This usually resembled chanting repetitively or copying from a single blackboard. On their way to the bathroom, they would pause and stare at us until one of us waved. They shyly wave back, then scream and laugh as they run away. At 11am, Megan hosts an hour of “art,” where 5 kids shyly enter her room, sit on the concrete floor, and draw on printer paper with crayons. Emma and I helped them build stuff with Megan’s Jenga blocks.

Their creativity, Megan says, has been beaten out of them. We tried providing positive reinforcement to those who finally drew things that hadn’t been featured on the blackboard every day.

Three other Peace Corps volunteers came for a weekend to help out with a soccer camp for the ladies in the village. Megan bought the ladies soccer shorts, and they were clearly embarrassed to put them on, but loved the chance to learn soccer skills and play an hour long game. A few dozen men sat watching from the shade and got drunk from plastic bags of the local moonshine.

After a week in the village we went to Jinja, a town next to the source of the Nile. From there we visited the Hairy Lemon, a small kayaker hangout on an island. Very laidback and picturesque. We also went to another hostel/hotel/campsite/restaurant/rafting-outfitter/British ex-pat hangout called Nile River Explorers. The place has been battered by its fair share of parties, many of them led by rafting guides and kayak bums. The single TV was only allowed to play big rugby games. There was a well stocked bar and a wooden deck looking West over the Nile.

Rafting was a highlight of the trip. With a handful of Category 5 rapids, it was a heart pounding day and we fell out of the raft a few times. Emma was on the lookout for crocodiles but only saw a water snake. I was preoccupied with the fact the river seemed to simply end where the next huge set of rapids began. The waves were huge and the current was fast, and we caught air when the raft got tossed by a monster rapid.

I took a kayaking lesson; it’s way harder than it looks. With the massive amount of water flowing, there are countless different current happening simultaneously, with boils coming from nowhere and threatening to tip your kayak, and the instability on the edges of huge eddies caught me off guard a ton. Even in the Category 1’s and 2’s it was a challenge to stay upright, but it was super exciting and I could see how people get addicted to this sport. They taught me how to roll the kayak and I almost did it, but unfortunately I’ll have to try another day.

As for food, it was great to be able to cook for ourselves again. The best local food I found was called Chicamandos: warm, greasy chapattis with beans dumped on top. It’s a street vendor thing, and it was AWESOME. With some fresh avocados and tomatoes, all served up in a small clear plastic bag. Pure greatness.

It was fun to be here. I won’t miss all the stares we get. I also won’t miss the ever present annoyances: inefficiency, inconsistency, and incompetency. Those things are to be expected while traveling, but it’s one of the things that makes America great.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Goodbye Zanzibar.

On our last day in Zanzibar we finally organized a snorkeling trip. We listened to rain all night hoping we would wake up in the morning to a clear blue sky. We didn't quite get our wish, but the sky did clear enough for us to be able to begin our trip in the sunshine. The snorkeling tour took us to four different islands off the western coast in a narrow wooden boat with a small motor. Luckily it had a covered area which provided some protection from first the sun and then the rain. The first island, which turned out to be the best snorkeling, was actually a small sand bar. Clear white sand covered with tiny sand piles about a foot tall. Upon investigation we found these sand piles were made by crabs and spent a few minutes trying to coax one from its layer. They dig spiraling tunnels under the sand.

The water was filled with tiny colorful fish, my favorite being the mini bright purple and the all yellow ones. There were tiny lumps of coral and lots of black sea urchins, some had spikes over 6 inches long. On our way to the second island the dark clouds rolled through giving us a downpour of cold rain – lovely. The sea turned a darker green and there were even a few white caps, very pretty if a bit uncomfortable. We tried to snorkel in the deeper water off this island were the coral was more dense, but the water was filled with tiny octopus particles. Boy do they hurt. It felt like lots of tiny pinprick all over your body. Ouch. So we decided to Here we had our lunch of tomato sandwiches, oranges and coconuts.

A couple of the local fishermen were hauling in their catches of the day while we were eating. Not only did they bring in a variety of fish, but also octopuses and eels that were almost three feet long! I was sure glad I was seeing all of this after I got out of the water. After lunch we went to the last two islands, where the main attraction was the land animals - tortoises and birds. Some of the tortoises were over 100 years old and did they chomp down on the greens we were allowed to feed them. It was rainy again on the boat ride back to Stone Town, but overall is was a great day.

That night we purchased three bottles of wine, brought travel Scrabble and cards to a restaurant and had a awesome three hour meal. It might have been our best meal so far...swordfish, red snapper, chicken burger with guacamole, prawns, and some delicious sticky date pudding for dessert. It was the prefect way to top off our week before heading to Dar es Salaam, that is before our walk home. The rainy season is approaching rapidly and of course it immediately started to rain as we left the restaurant to walk back to our hotel. The walk couldn't have been more then 10 minutes long but within two we were soaked to the bone. Laughing, we ducked into the alley that led to our hotel when all of a sudden we heard Claire screaming. It took us a second to realize it wasn't the result of the waterfall we had just run under, before we turned and ran to find out what was going on. Back on the main street Claire and Corey were yelling thief at some guy and standing up from being on the ground. Not a good situation. What had happened? How did we go from laughing to stunned and scared in the matter of minutes? We found out later that some guy had tried to grab Claire's purse, ended up dragging her backwards down the alley. Corey turned around to see what was going on and jumped the guy until he finally let go. Fuck. But why was he still standing there? Why did we drag her into the most public stop on the street? How could two incidents happen to us two days in a row? Back as the hotel the mood was somber....what a way to end what had been an extremely fun week. Sometimes traveling sucks.

Needless to say Chris and I were a bit depressed when we arrived in Dar. We holed up in our room and a day and just listened to the rain and traffic. We ventured out only to visit the Subway the girls has told us was only a block away. Delicious! Just like in the U.S., we ate Spicy Italian subs for the next two days straight and loved it. We eventually walked around, found a nice bakery with hummus and spent some time at the five star hotel using the wireless internet. We bought tickets to Uganda to visit Chris's friend, Megan, who is in the Peace Corp just outside of Kampala. But we never ventured out after dark.

We are posting this from Uganda - it's awesome - more to come soon. Sorry for the delay in posts, internet is a little hard to come by out here. Miss you all!



Saturday, April 5, 2008

Dude, where's my swimsuit?

I could not find my bathing suit bottoms anywhere. The top was hanging next to the window where I’d left it after my shower but the bottom was nowhere in sight. I searched all over our tiny thatched banda – in the bed, hanging in the bathroom, in my clothes bag – nothing. How could I have lost my bathing suit? We even looked outside in the sand around the bungalow in case it had fallen out or someone had reached in to grab it, creepy but maybe. Remembering the sounds that startled us from our sleep last night, maybe some animal took it. There is was, wedged into the tiny crack between in the two halves of the thatched roof, a tiny bit of light blue fabric hanging from the ceiling. We both stared then broke out laughing. Seriously, my bathing suit was stolen by some animal during the night. Needless to say we had to get the management, who also started laughing when I told them about it, to retrieve it.

We thoroughly enjoyed our last few days at the beach and met up with three of Chris’s friends from high school, Claire, Corey and Laura, who just happened to be in Zanzibar – great coincidence. It was great to have new people to hang out with! We exchanged stories, played cards, read on the beach, and even snuck in a few games of Scrabble.

One of our goals for being in Zanzibar was to go snorkeling, which we had yet to accomplish. We decided to take a trip to four of the islands south of Stone Town back on the west side of the island since it was cheaper and we were all leaving for Dar in a few days. Of course, after a week of total relaxation and zero stress, we had to run into problems at the last possible moment, with the shared taxi ride back to town. None of us where really sure what happened, but what was supposed to be a simple 60 min ride back to town turned into a trip to them local police station.

After talking to a travel agent in town we had arranged to be picked up by a shared taxi for the trip back. Claire, Corey and Laura were picked up first and arrived at our hotel promptly at 11:00 am as planned. Then we realized there were two taxis. A private one for us and a different shared one. Realizing our mistake, the girls started to switch taxis but were prevented by the angry driver of their previous van. Out of nowhere he snatched Claire’s sunglasses off her face. Next thing we knew, one of the other passengers, a testosterone filled guy from the UK was yelling at the guy to give back the glasses. Then punches are flying, everyone is trying to restrain the crazy driver. The guy picks up a rock about the size of a football and starts threatening the dude from the UK. By this time people are coming to watch, hotel workers, locals, there must have been 20 people just standing around watching the commotion. One of the security guards at our hotel called the police and locked the entry gate. Luckily, the fighting calmed down – no one was going anywhere, we all had to wait until the police arrived.

Dealing with police in countries where corruption is commonplace and many times expected is not advisable. Well, we all took a trip over to the local police station hoping that what was a simple misunderstanding wouldn’t become anything more. As the various parties crammed into the small one room station, Laura and I decided to wait outside. The taxi driver immediately started telling his version of the story, at which point it was very fortunate that both Claire and Corey speak Swahili.

Since most of the argument was about the money the taxi driver was losing with less passengers (mind you it was money it didn’t have to begin with because we hadn’t scheduled our ride with him), they explained that we never intended to pay any drivers – we would only pay the travel agent in Stone Town, which both drivers worked for. Luckily they accepted this explanation and we were able to get back into our rightful taxi for the trip back to town. The guy from the UK and his girlfriend joined us, everyone feeling bad for the rando girl by herself who was still riding with the crazy driver.

It was quite the morning. We were all feeling fortunate and a bit emotional exhausted by the time we reached town. But we found a great lunch place, one of three we actually liked in Stone Town, and had lunch before wandering around the streets and browsing shops until dinner. Good food makes up for everything.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Paradise Found

We came to the East Coast and Emma proclaimed, “This is my kind of vacation.” The green shallow waters extended for kilometers into the ocean. I tried walking out to the end of it, but 30-40 minutes later, I didn’t feel any closer and was getting monster-radiation from the sun, so turned back. It was very cool standing knee deep with green water almost reaching to the horizon. We’re on a super-long (maybe 2 miles?) white beach. Some of the sand is so fine it is almost the texture of baking soda.

I apologize for the whining in the last post, but to my defense we had been trying to order local cuisine with no luck. Most often, the kitchen simply didn’t have the seafood mentioned on the menu, and when they did, it was pretty abysmal. But we found out why. It’s the beginning of the rainy season, so for restaurants, it’s the start of the low season; they don’t keep their refrigerators stocked with beer, sprite, shrimp, fish, etc. So that explains it.

Last night I tried the Swahili platter. It had beef, octopus, prawns, mystery fish, and some Swahili side dishes: plantains with coconut, potato-like things with coconut, spinach with coconut, etc. The coconut in all these dishes is like a paste that they sautĂ© it with. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it just reminds me of a pina colada or a cake, since those are pretty much the only times I eat coconut. The octopus was intimidating with all its tentacles visible, and your tongue notices them too; in the end it’s just chewy and not a big deal.

I have been barefoot running the beach in the mornings. It feels great to the legs and the lungs back into at least a little action, but going so slow is hard on the soul. I couldn’t help but pick up the pace until I found myself sprinting towards some finishing line. I swim a bit afterwards, but even after 50 yards, with the salt stinging my eyes, I decide I am meant for land.

It’s hot here, but a few times a day we have been getting rain storms. It makes cool textures in the sand, but it also made a small puddle on my side of the bed last night. The thatched hut roof had been doing great until it started dripping on my forehead.

But ah! The beach! Sitting on the beach, looking at the water… nothing beats it. All of sudden you don’t feel like doing anything else. Em’s been rolling through books, and we’ve been playing chess here and there. Not bad at all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


We just returned from another crappy meal. It’s not that we’re spoiled; it’s that our emotional state is dependent on the quality of caloric input. The calamari was rubbery to the max, the cheese on Emma’s pizza made me gag so much that I couldn’t get it down, and the chocolate milk shake was warm, so it was probably just milk mixed with Ovaltine.

We’ve had terrible luck so far with food in Zanzibar. I’m not a picky eater: I was raised with the clean-plate-club-mentality, and for the last 10 years food’s served more as a fuel than a source of enjoyment. And because of that, I have a finely tuned sense of nourishment and non-nourishment: and this food is not up to par.

Dad’s been asking for pictures of food, but I haven’t had the heart to pull out the camera for fish tacos that have two meager chunks of fish each accompanied by French fries that are still cold in the center. We even gave this place in question a second chance (which failed) because it was the top rated restaurant on the island.

As we commiserate over our failed attempts at finding good food, we usually start talking about the burrito places we’ll hit up when we get back to the states, or the first thing we’ll cook up, like a bomb breakfast sandwich with great sausage the Spiros always get, or a breakfast burrito with Jose’s salsa and homemade guacamole. Mmmmm…..

We also take turns at deciding where to go, both of us hoping not to be the one that chose the terrible restaurant. And we’d love to make food ourselves, but the markets are mostly seafood hidden by a swarm of flies (and the octopus doesn’t look especially appealing, anyway).

We’re currently staying in a small town that has a gorgeous beach and half dozen places to stay, all with their own restaurants overlooking the water. The people seem tired and a bit frosty, but the beach is only 100 feet away and is perfect for swimming and has a great green color to it. Just after sunset, the water was so inviting I couldn’t resist jumping in. It was peaceful to watch the silhouettes of dhows coming back to the beach. Dhows are old-school wooden fishing sailboats with a triangle sail. They look really cool. I’d like to try and get onto one.

Two momentous occasions: we trimmed my beard an imperceptible amount, and Emma shaved her legs.

We're heading to the east coast now to hopefully get some snorkeling in and stuff.

That’s all for now. Hope all is well back home.


We arrived in Sinuwa, a town situated in the edge of one of the steep foothills, after a two hour stint down and up 4000 stone stairs – Chris counted. Our room that night felt like it was about to fall off the side of the mountain. We were both thoroughly surprised to find out the guesthouse had hot water! And true to their word the shower was amazing, definitely needed after the long day of ups and downs. After a week on the trail our stench was reaching intolerable heights. (Maybe it should remain unmentioned but let’s just say Chris has to cut out the built-in underwear in his pants and my shirt got sealed in a ziplock bag.)

From Sinuwa it was a two day climb up to ABC. The first was relatively uneventful – meandering through forests until it eventually broke out into rocky landscape as we reached higher elevations. Around mid-afternoon we were watching dark clouds roll up the valley. Within a matter of minutes the sky turned dark and we could hear the distant roar of thunder. Luckily we were within sight of our destination, Durali, when it began to sprinkle. We arrived 5 minutes before the storm broke into a violent downpour of hail and rain.

Listening to the rain pelting the tin roof of our room, I was glad to be warm in my sleeping bag. In the morning we awoke to crystal clear blue sky and a beautiful day to continue our ascent. We did hear the distant rumble of a few landslides/avalanches but didn’t see any of them. The trail brought us closer to the river as the valley narrowed. To our right we could see the towering ridges of Machupuchare, the Fishtail. Everything was covered in a few inches of snow, making it look all the more imposing. A few times we did see small patches of falling snow after hearing a rumbling echo through the valley.

To our left was a sheer rock cliff extending for a couple hundred feet – so high we couldn’t see anything beyond. A few waterfalls cascading over the top of the wall provided for some excellent photo opportunities. After passing a small sign warning of avalanche danger, we crossed some old avalanche fields. At first they look like dull rocks and mud but on closer inspection they are really dirty snow. Some of the ice chunks and boulders caught in the mess were up to 4 feet in diameter, crazy. We continued along the bottom of the rock wall, pausing occasionally to take photos and strip off our layers of warm clothing in the sun. Suddenly, we head the deep rumble of falling snow. All three of us paused to scan the opposite bank. Nothing.

Holy shit! We turned to find snow pouring over the cliff above us, landing just a few hundred feet behind us. It was shooting over the top like a gigantic waterfall of white. Following our guide’s yell, we ran down the trail a few hundred feet before turning to stare at the huge avalanche stunned. Somehow I fumbled around and was able to get out the camera to take a short video. It went on for upwards of 5 minutes, a cascade of snow that covered the very trail we had stopped on to take pictures not 3 minutes earlier. We had almost died. In a nervous voice Pemba asked, “No one on the trail right?” Visible shaken we couldn’t do anything for a few minutes but stare at the huge pile of snow and ice. Literally, we had almost died. There was no way we could have escaped the snow had we been caught.

For the next hour we walked in almost silence, with a few intermittent comments about how lucky we were. We questioned if we should continue along the trail, but were reassured that it got better. I was definitely scared as we continued to climb and eventually reached Machupuchare Base Camp, the final village before ABC. In hindsight we should have been more careful and our guide should have taken us on the alternate route on the other side of the river – designed specifically to bypass this high risk area. But we lived and eventually the stunning scenery warmed us again. Our close encounter was a story at every lodge we reached, Pemba chatting away with all the locals.

As a testament to instant weather changes in the mountains, the last hour of our climb to ABC was a whiteout of clouds and snow. We couldn’t see fifty feet in front of us, making the journey seem never ending to me. The altitude makes each step feel like a chore, but surprising enough I wasn’t dying as I had expected. After what seemed like ages we eventually reached base camp – a small cluster of buildings in the middle of a cloud of snow, or so we thought at the time.

Best thing about reaching our goal – hot chocolate and some bomb French fries. Yum. It was freezing, of course, so we piled on the long underwear and down jackets and pretty much jumped into our sleeping bags ASAP. We did get to see some amazing stars once the weather cleared. It was eerie to find yourself in a bowl of towering mountains that you didn’t know where there.

The next morning was another sunrise not to miss. Chris again had to drag me out of bed after snapping a few pictured in the pre-dawn glow. The morning was crystal clear. Annapurna South towering on one side, Machupuchare on the other. As the sun rises it touches the very tops of the peaks first before slowing descending and throwing a golden light throughout the bowl. The sun reflecting off the snow was blinding and everywhere was covered in snow. The morning was so perfect for our descent, but it was sad to have to leave in such beautiful conditions. A total transformation from our arrival. But slip and slide down the snow we did. Of course we stopped to take lots of pictures along the way.

And eight hours later, tired and worn out, we finally reached our guesthouse. How we made it down and up the 4000 steps again at the end of the day I’ll never know. To be honest the downhill was ten times worse than the uphill. Boy, our legs were aching. The following day was another long one all the way back to Nayapul and Pokhara. By hour two Chris was getting quite tanky and I had to appease him but talking about dorky mathematical models for a few hours. And done. Definitely one of the best hikes I have ever done.



Friday, March 21, 2008

Hiking n Stuff

Once we were in the hills and walking through the little towns, it really hit me how ridiculous it was that these people were living in this area at all. We were on the sides of steep hills that would not be arable without the endless terracing that could only have come from many generations’ worth of hard work. And they don’t have many other options other than sell things to tourists or subsist off the land.

Waking up and going out on the deck of our lodge I saw that these foothills were simply monstrous. It felt like I was standing on top of a 100 story building. This path is the only way to get to these places, so if you want something, either a person or a donkey must carry it. Women seem to be in charge of hauling wood and grass. Here distances are measured in hours/days it takes to walk.

We had fun learning a few things in Nepali. Our guide was ADD for sure, so after he taught us a word, he’d sing a song feature that word (and only that word) for a few minutes. He wore an MP3 player with a few hundred Hindi songs loaded on; he liked to mention that “music is friend.” It broke our hearts to see him the morning one of his earphones went dead. He was pretty sullen. On the uphills, Emma goes quiet pretty quick, and I kinda stop talking too, and then he would get a little antsy and swing on a low-lying branch or start jumping off stumps and stuff. On the way down from ABC it was slick and his antics caused him to fall on his ass 7 times. (Em and I both bit it once.) He also tripped once and fell off the steep side of the trail, but did a graceful run-out recovery onto a terrace 15 feet below. A few of his most common sayings stuck with us and cause a chuckle for Em and I.

In many of the towns, the kids are a highlight. My favorite are the two year olds who are wandering around barefoot and dirty, chasing chickens and babbling incoherently.

These trails, as Emma mentioned, do not feature many zigzags, instead taking advantage of the unlimited rock nearby. Aside from the visually awesome stone steps, the slate roofs and bridge supports are also notable. And much of the stone has a glittery effect from the minerals in it, and it looks cool as you walk along the trail. But then you’re rudely awakened to the fact that this cool-looking trail goes straight up for 2 hours. It became the running joke that when Pemba said 1 more hour of hiking, it meant we had to go 1000 ft higher.

We saw tons of waterfalls. For a few towns, somebody has built a small stone building on the edge of town that has a PVC pipe running from a water source up the mountain and a waterwheel and generator inside. I thought it was pretty cool that there’s small scale hydropower in the middle of the Himalayas. If they’re going to have power, this is the way they should do it, rather than rely on coal power from the valleys. These installations appeared to be a foreign contribution.

Sleeping at altitude wasn’t much of a problem. A bigger problem was when I would have to go pee, and I would try and hold it to avoid getting out of my warm sleeping bag and walking the cold journey to the shared bathroom. A few times I would end up being awake for a few hours in the middle of the night because of this procrastination and false hope that it would go away. After a while, my farts usually made it a necessity to escape the sleeping bag.

The lodges always had a simple dining room where most of the trekkers would convene to hang out and eat. The lodges closer to ABC had an interesting heating system that cost 50 rupees per person: the table had a dark, flame-resistant(?) blanket stapled along the edge of the table, and an employee would bring a kerosene stove on high flame and stick it under the table. There it would just burn and burn. There was a wire strung around the inside of the table to hang socks right where all the hot air collects. We were skeptical about the safety of the whole thing, but it made our legs marginally warmer, so whatever.

Some of my favorite memories will probably be in these villages, where we would huddle in the dining room with a plate of French fries and a small pot of tea, and switch off between chess games and Rummy 500. Emma’s definitely getting better at chess. Although I’ve only lost twice, often times I am behind by quite a bit and emotionally exhausted from having to beat off all of her attacks. As for Anapai, Emma’s the ruling champion after our last best-of-nine game.

Poon Hill

After waking up to our first views of Annapurna South we set out along the ridge and down into another small river valley. Winding our way along we reached the beginning of our next climb. The town of Ghorepani sits at almost 9,000 ft. We kept climbing and climbing until we came out on a saddle between the two mountain ranges and valleys. The town is situated right at the top of this pass, overlooking both valleys and the stunning mountains beyond. Ghorepani is a major destination for a lot of the trekkers in this area. On one side of the town the trail climb to the top of Poon Hill. The view from the top draws travelers from all over.

For many people, Poon Hill is the highlight and goal of their trek. Of course to get the best views you have to reach the top of the 500m climb right at sunrise. This means waking up at 4:00 am to start the hike. Chris successfully dragged me out of my cozy sleeping bag at 4:30 and we bundled up. It was completely dark except for the tiny lights leading up the hill – people slowly climbing to the top. As you might have guessed climbing 500m at 4:30 am is not my cup of tea so I was struggling to say the least. Chris was of course grumbling as people kept passing us, but I give him credit for waiting. With the altitude on top of that it was not an easy hike for me and I was feeling a bit sick when we finally reached the top. Definitely not enough sleep for me.

Standing at the top, cold despite my long underwear and puffy down jacket, I was mesmerized by the surrounding mountains. It’s pretty much a 360 degree view of peaks over 15,000 ft. Not a view you can get in very many other places in the world. The clouds were still low in the valley and the sun was just beginning to touch the tops of the peaks. We watched the landscape transform from a cold, misty darkness into a sparkling world of snow. Awesome.

It was a quick trip back to the village where we had a much needed breakfast of toast and eggs before setting out for the day. The day before our guide had played volleyball with the locals on the town’s dirt court, and he visibly worn out as we started on the trail. From Ghorepani the trail follows a ridge line before climb over another pass and heading down into the neighboring valley. In one of the towns just below the ridge we stopped for a small break and bought a few knit woolen hats from the local women. We had been eying the cozy hats for since we arrived in Kathmandu.

Descending we reached another river, but this one cut through sheer cliffs. Down and up we went through the forest of rhododendron trees. Their red blossoms where in full bloom throughout the valley. Looking across we could see patches of red dotting the landscape. Passing through the village at the top of the saddle we dropped again and ended up on a flat terrace that turned out to be a quiet guesthouse. From the lawn we had an expansive view of the valley and mountains, giving us a great sunset and sunrise. That night we geared up for what we knew would be three hard days to come – the ascent to ABC.



Monday, March 17, 2008


Hi everyone! We are back from the playground of the gods and our trek up to Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) in the Himalayas of Nepal. The trek was stunning and the mountains enormous. It will probably take a series of blog entries to get up to date with our adventures so here is the start.

After my quick trip back to SoCal to visit graduate schools and play a little beach volleyball with Will, Seaners, and EP, I flew back to Bangkok to meet Chris and off we flew to Nepal. Another whirlwind of buses, planes, and taxis, but we made it to Kathmandu without too much trouble. We have been here for only two weeks and wish it could have been more. Because of our time constraints we arranged for a guided trek to ABC before our arrival. We were a little nervous about whether the company we had arranged our trek with after we received the following in an email:

''Good news. Money has arrived. I just picked up this afternoon. Now we are very much looking forward to serve you soon in Nepal.''

As it turned out they were there to pick us up from the airport and have been extremely organized and helpful with everything. (The company is called Nepali Experienced Adventure Treks – NEAT.) We drove directly from the airport to their tiny, hole-in-the-wall office to meet the director and our guide for the next few weeks, Pemba. The next day we had a 7:00 am bus ride to Pokhara - the jumping off point for most of the trekking in the Annapurna area. Luckily both Chris and I were so exhausted we slept for most of the seven hour ride. The "highway" that runs from Kathmandu to Pokhara winds along the steep cliffs alongside a huge river gorge. Swerving around blind corners on the edge of a cliff isn't exactly the safest endeavor but we made it in one piece and arrived at our hotel just in time for dinner.

Pokhara definitely has the hippy, outdoorsy vibe going on. The main tourist area is lined with stores selling woolen hats, scarves, and North Face knockoffs. We didn't get to spend too much time walking around because of the scheduled power outage and our early departure the next morning. From Pokhara we took a two hour taxi ride to the beginning of the trek. The ride brought us up and over some of the foothills, which of course seemed like mountains to us. The countryside is so steep it’s incredible. Then on top of it all there are villages dotting the hills and more terraces then I have ever seen in my life. The whole mountainside is terraced to grow rice, wheat, and vegetables. It's crazy!

We started walking in the village of Nayapul. The majority of the buildings in this village are little shops selling Coke and various trinkets to foreign trekkers. They also sell buckets, baskets and containers used for hauling materials up the trail to reach the higher villages. From Nayapul we entered the Annapurna Conservations Area Project – the first and largest conservation area in Nepal which was designed to promote sustainable community development and environmental protection. The trail brought us along a river valley, slowly climbing into the foothills of the giants above. Because of the overcast weather we couldn’t see any of the towering peaks – at first we didn’t even know they were there. In hindsight this might have been a good thing because we would have had second thoughts about just how we were going to arrive at our destination thousands of feet above.

Lower in the valley the weather was fairly hot. As we climbed higher we reached out first destination of Tirkhedunga. Following the advice of our guide, we decided to continue for another two hours to the town of Ulleri. Pemba pointed to some of the buildings way above us on the hill. Here was our first introduction to the preferred method of trail building – stone steps. We climbed and descended thousands (literally we counted for a few hours) of stone steps on this hike. How the people have managed to build these staircases I’ll never know, but they are everywhere. There is none of the winding gradual switchbacks you have in the U.S. – it’s stairs straight up or straight down.

Halfway up the hill we reached the first houses. Overlooking the entire river valley and terraces, these small stone buildings all have incredible views. Here we found out what we thought was our stopping point was only about halfway. I was not too happy about more stone stair climbing, but it was time to sack up and keep trucking. We finally arrived at the top of the hill some 500m later, tired but very happy to be there. The decision turned out to be a life saver, not only because of the big climb the following day, but because the next morning we got our first view of Annapurna South out our bedroom window. Wow, who knew such a huge mountain was right beyond the hills? Of course the question going through our minds was – how are we going to get way up there?



Monday, March 10, 2008


well, as a testament to the ubiquity of the internet, there is now a small wooden shack in Ghorepani, Nepal, with 5 computers and a satellite connection. the only way this could have gotten here is a 2 day trip by donkey. the trail's been great, and we've been climbing up and up and up (now at 2700m) and we have a long way to go until base camp. we'll be doing poon hill tomorrow morning. the climb is a constant rock staircase, and last night before arriving at our teahouse/lodge we climbed about 1000 ft straight up. waking up and looking out it seemed like we on top of a 100 story building to the towns down in the valley; the moms would def not have liked it, as even I had to step back after first seeing how far down it looked. we also had a bomb view of Annapurna south right out our window this morning.

so we might wander over and check out the view some more (hopefully the good weather continues!) and then go check out the local volleyball game (locals vs. guides, I think). Emma's getting stronger by the minute, but still is wary of the next few days, checking the topographic map often (ps. we still have 8000 ft to climb).

talk to you soon and love you all.
chris and em

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Goodbye Bangkok, Hello Nepal

Well, we're off to Nepal. I haven't been eating very much; I have no appetite (very unusual - bad sign) and some abdominal discomfort, but no symptoms other than that. Weird. I've been getting massages every night the last few days ($6/hr). I found out there's a certification you can get at one of the local temples, but it takes a week and I only just found out about it. Both Thai massage and foot massage, too. I went to see the floating market north of Bangkok today and it was a total tourist trap but whatever, it was cool. But the other accompanying tourist trap was crazy and worth it: the snake dudes.

It's a snake farm where they have a bunch of snakes and milk their venom to produce the serum for snake bites. They also host groups of 100 or so tourists for a freak show every hour. They have these four dudes that are absolutely lunatic and go into this ring and agitate the snake enough for it to try to attack them, and they doge it. They're really good at it, but it still looks dangerous as hell. I posted two pics, but I have some incredible video once I have a good connection.

So I thought you guys might be interested in what we brought on this trip, so Em and I arranged everything and took a few pics. Here's the list, of what's in the picture, starting in the upper left and going counterclockwise.

rain jackets
hiking boots (2 pair)
running shoes (em)
closed toe sandals (me)
flip flops (me)
clogs (em)
lightweight daypack
socks, underwear, long johns
pants, long sleeve shirt, running shorts
chess set
plastic screw container (spices n stuff)
Aloe Vera
toothbrushes and toothpaste
laundry detergent for washing clothes in sink
pain killers
hand sanitizer
dish rag
strong bug repellent
watch (lost soon after photo was taken. also almost immediately after chris starts wearing it.)
more bug repellent.
water tablets
hand soap
women's deodorant
2 headlamps
more sunscreen
books: The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Bird of Thailand, John Irving's World According to Garp, Memoirs of a Geisha, and a few romance novels
maps: around vang vient, around Koh Tao, around Laos
traveler bible: lonely planet
2 silk sleep sacks
small leather notebook
purse with most official paperwork
regular wallet and travel wallet
water pump
petroleum jelly
emergency shelter
sleeping bags
stove with windscreen
first aid kit
2 spoons (usually, one's missing)
emergency fire starters
2 sarongs
1 hat
2 sleeping pads
medications, as noted previously
camp towel that smells like ass
wall plug converter
more meds
camping cup for tea and shit
big camera (canon SE15)
small camera (canon)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Meditation Class

So I took this meditation class. It was the Buddhist style of meditation where the underlying method is to note everything. When you see something, you note this; when you observe anything with the senses, you try to note that as its own. When you make a particular movement, you note it. When you intend to do something, you note it. For a less butchered explanation of the exercises and their reasoning behind them, check out
an introduction to Insight Meditation as taught within the tradition of Theravada Buddhism.

I interpret this exercise as one that helps the practitioner to try and discretize the input of senses. Instead of looking around with that glossy look and having all your senses meld together, you really focus on that instant that you realize you sense one thing. Similarly, you really focus on the exact moments you have a new thought, becoming aware of the existence of that thought.

One of the first exercises you practice is becoming aware of your breathing. You note the movement of your stomach, and focus on the moments that you are breathing in, the moment your breathing in stops, your breathing out, and the moment your breathing out stops. This wasn’t that helpful or new for me, and I doubt it would be for any athlete, although I think it’s valuable for those who aren’t used to listening to their body. However, I think that this exercise revealed their hopes in getting the practitioner to discretize their experience of time.

Because of these two, I think the result of this discretization of time and space is that the person gets a better handle on the interface between their consciousness and “reality.” They are better able to grasp this smaller number of inputs on their consciousness and deal with it in the moment. (Whether this reality is embedded within consciousness or whether consciousness is embedded within reality is still a point of contention between Sam and I, but outside of the scope of this discussion.) I think this is helpful in some ways, but more than anything, it feels kinda cool. Lots of nothing, but a better grasp of the thing you’re concentrating on. The problem I see is that these exercises, as well as the teacher, seem to support that good-ol’ Cartesian mind/body dualism. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I need to do some more reading on that stuff.

On the other hand, I do like how this doesn’t interfere with any science whatsoever. Of course, when she was explaining the act of hearing and listening, to explain how one might note this event, she said something to the effect, “You speak and the energy of your words travel through the air and hit my hear and I have energy burst at my ear and I can hear those at that time.” And I thought to myself, “Well, in my day-to-day life it seems a more accurate explanation has been provided by science, where my vocal cords create a vibration that creates a compression wave of molecules in the space between you and I, and your eardrum … but then again, I guess your explanation works just fine for our purposes right now.”

So two of their stated goals of all this: to live in the moment and become removed from the pain of life, and this reportedly coincides with discovering truth and reaching nirvana. I agree that improving your ability to conceptualize the reality around you would help you gain more footing in the present, and yeah I agree people who do this might be happier than those who dwell in the future (which I often do) and in the past (which I do too little of). And I agree that these exercises help separate you from reality (and pain I guess – maybe that could have helped with bike racing!) because all of sudden reality is just this little items entering your experience for a moment, then vanishing and being replaced by other infinitesimal snippets of reality.

Now is this getting any closer to discovering any truth? I’d say no at first, nothing more than some personal realizations. But then again, what if spacetime is at least partially discrete? This is definitely not impossible; time’s a weird thing/illusion. What if these exercises do help you conceptualize your experience in a way more in tune with the-way-things-are? That’d be kind of cool.

But there’s something about being firmly embedded in the whirlwind of life that’s kind of fun, so why give it up? It’s kind of like that wisdom thing. It just doesn’t sound as fun as being young and thinking that everything matters and having no responsibility.

So that’s my current take on Buddhism thought. The religion part of these kinds of systems I usually don’t like, and I haven’t often seen a more streamlined religious process than in Bangkok. You can get your prayer incense and flowers at the door; there are security cameras and ceiling fans and a voice on a speaker system once you enter the big building with the monstrous statue of Buddha; entire neighborhoods survive by producing the little buddha icons people carry around. Taxi drivers bow slightly as they drive by some of the wats (temples) at 100km/hr, taking their hands off the wheel to execute that palms-together-at-the-chest move, whatever it’s called. Even the calm meditation exercises look like mindwashing to the outsider with all the cult-like chanting and glossy looks.

Yeah, the buildings don’t impress me a huge amount after a while. The big artifacts are cool, but they all fit in the category of “What humans have done in the name of religion” which encompasses plenty of other great things, and plenty of other stupid/bad things. So seeing things in that category gets tiring after a while.

What doesn’t get tiring? Seeing 100 Asian girls dancing up and down screaming along with a live Asian punk band at one of the bars down the street. Wow. Needed another beer after that one – after walking a good kilometer as quickly as possible to get away from the sound.

Lost in Bangkok

My main purpose for being in this 3rd-world version of LA was to deal with the Indian consulate, ensuring that I can get to Nepal without delay. After Skyping the office, both in Bangkok and Phuket, it seemed that to get it done in time I would have to get to Bangkok immediately to complete my application in person.

I took the overnight bus. I sat in the back, unknowingly next to the airconditioning unit that was jacked up to restaurant-freezer-status. Everyone was cold, but my seat was colder, and only having a t-shirt on I had to steal some extra blankets from another part of the bus. After not sleeping much, arrived in Bangkok and took a Tuktuk and the guy dropped me off at some random guesthouse. They had a windowless room for $12/night and I was glad to put down the stuff and relax.

After remembering they were only open 9am-12am, I hurriedly looked up the address and jumped in a taxi. I organized my papers and other stuff and then looked up to realize I didn’t really get a good look at where I had started. But I saw some big temples and got the name of one.

Dealt with the visa stuff all morning. [You can easily skip this paragraph.] Turns out to get a transit visa, they need exactly 5 business days, and there was an Indian holiday next week that I hadn’t accounted for, so my transit visa would be ready at 4:30pm on the day we fly out at 2:30am. So, they pronounced smugly, it was absolutely impossible and I would have to change my ticket. But I said I wouldn’t even be leaving the airport, and they finally let on that I didn’t even need a transit visa unless I were flying to another Indian city before going into Nepal. Whew. But since I go from Dehli to Mumbai on the way out of Nepal, I’ll have to get one there, but they couldn’t help me find out if this is even possible (no phone number or internet address). I realized that these were outsourced visa services provided by a corporation for the state of India, so they didn’t know/weren’t responsible for anything but Indian stuff. Sorry for all the boring details, but there you have it.

I was proud of myself for taking the subway back, which cost 20baht instead of the 200baht I paid for the 1hr long taxi to rush to the consulate. I hopped off the subway at the stop closest to my destination and knew I should roughly head north to get where I was staying, so figured I’d just walk. I guess I wanted to prove to myself I wasn’t too good to walk in Bangkok.

Apparently everybody else is. All traffic. All pollution. All the time, and everywhere. I had to limit myself to little sips of breath.

There are cool little pockets in Bangkok, found via the sidestreets off every road, with more secluded little shops and markets a little more shielded from the noisy hustle and bustle. In the right pockets, no one cares where you’re coming from or where you’re going or if you’ll buy anything. I found hints of them, but don’t know how to begin the search for the best ones. There’s too many of them.

And I should have checked the map’s scale a little more closely, because 2 hours of walking and I was just getting to where I wanted to go, and I couldn’t orient myself enough to figure where I wanted to go at the 6 street intersection, cursing myself for being so zoned-out in the taxi ride. Those big temples I saw? Well, there were about 10 just like it in my area. And nothing else looked right, either, and then I realized that everything within a 20 block radius had indeed transformed during the day to a market, with sidewalk stalls ubiquitous enough to block view of the businesses, especially a hole-in-the-wall kind of place I was staying in. I got a little claustrophobic with all the backpackers milling around and all the shit for sale; piles of tshirts and CDs and lighters and all that. I was just super disoriented in general.

After another hour of walking like this, I remembered I my room key had the name of the place, Googled it, walked to it, and instead discovered a restaurant by the same name (Popiang House). Another hour and I found the right spot. Promptly locked the door to my room, took a cold shower, and fell asleep. Not too hard to get lost here when you’re half awake.

Friday, February 29, 2008

On my own

Yeah, that beach at Haad Yao was awesome. My soul enjoys beach living. The ocean looked so inviting, and the green water just off the beach extended far enough and was calm and shallow enough to treat like a swimming pool; yes, we bought a floatee and used it.

And the party, I knew it was something special as we walked through the streets to the beach: I first saw a girl getting a tattoo at one of the many parlors and she looked passed out drunk; next door you could see a doctor’s office/makeshift operating room. In the middle of the room you could see four nurses/doctors standing around a 20-something male with a bloody towel in his hand, and you could see them stitching up a cut on his head. We overheard a few feet away that a fight had caused it. Both of these businesses looked like one of dozens of similar operations within a few kilometer radius. Those two sights side-by-side really clued me in to the level of party we were getting into.

After Emma went off to Bangkok, I went down to Krabi in the southwest. I found a cheap place to stay, checked out some of the scenery, and got some work done at the internet cafes. The ocean down here is similarly awesome, but this time you have islands sticking out of the water like small skyscrapers, with limestone cliffs and vegetation on top. Apparently one of these formations was special enough to be filmed in Bond’s Man with a Golden Gun. There was even a tour called “James Bond Boat Tour.” Down there was pretty touristy in general.

So I embraced the touristy-ness and took a Thai cooking class. We had been meaning to do it the whole time in Thailand and was one of my main goals in coming to Thailand at all. I found a pretty sweet operation and it was a great experience. They drove me out to this lady’s property where she had a structure with maybe 600 sq feet of undercover space, with 10 stoves, 3 sinks, two nice clean tables for preparation, knifes, cutting boards, mortars (I forget what they’re called), and all the ingredients cleaned and ready for preparation, sitting on the table. They show you how to prepare both red and green curries from scratch (using a mortar thing to pound out the pepper, cumin, and coriander), as well as the staple dishes: pad thai, tom yum, and stir fried stuff. When actually cooking, there’s an assistant there who tells you when to do each thing and how much. “OK, five spoons of alskdfjla.” “Five spoons of what?” They point. “Oh right. That bowl of mystery liquid. Of course. Roger that.” No, she explained the mystery ones later: tamarind mixed with water (kind of tasted vinegary), chicken stock, one bottle of fish sauce or whatever, and the other ended up being soy sauce. So nothing too crazy. But it was fun because what we were making tasted fricking awesome and if I can ever reproduce something half this good, well, let’s just say major good-at-life points.

It just tasted too good, and the other 4 people in the class would give me strange looks when I was oohing and ahhing after taking a taste of something, closing my eyes in enjoyment. I’m no great cook, but at least I wasn’t as stupid as the goofy Austrian dude who cut himself within – no joke – twenty seconds of receiving his knife and beginning preparation of the curry ingredients. He also ruined one of the dishes when he didn’t hear her say two spoons and instead dumped an entire small bowl of tamarind juice into the dish. The assistants had to go and quickly get the ingredients prepared again.

All the students ate together and we were all truly stuffed by the end before finishing all the things we had made. It made me teary-eyed to see some of the soups get thrown out. And I won’t remember much of anything from the class – there was too much information, too quickly – but hopefully following the little recipes I’ll eventually jar some of the great things they showed us.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Full Moon Party

Sadly we found out we were getting kicked out of our hillside bungalow. A few days before Full Moon Party, when almost 30,000 people are on the island and we had to find a new place to stay. But by some awesome stroke of luck, Chris scored us a sweet, if a little sketchy, bungalow right on the beach! Complete with a money front porch and bar out in front, it was a great place and I wish we could have stayed for weeks. Our front row seat gave us full opportunity to take advantage of morning swims, Frisbee, and a few beers at sunset.

Another score was the free Wifi at a place 100 ft up the beach. Chris could sit and work while I was lounging in the sun, it doesn’t get much better than that. Days spent like this always seem to pass too quickly and before we knew it, it was party time.

The Full Moon Party at Hat Rin, Koh Phagnan draws a crowd upwards of 20,000 people most months. Imagine a pack of sweaty, drunk, young people raving all night long and you pretty much get the idea. After stashing our valuables, stocking the backpack with some beer, Faderade, and Bacardi breezers, we hopped in a taxi with the Canadian couple staying in the bungalow next to us and headed down to the madness. Within seconds of stepping down from the taxi we were offered “buckets” – the drink of choice at this event. Buckets come in all flavors: rum, vodka, gin, and tequila. Not only to you get a bottle of alcohol, but also a few mixers, straws, and ice. Mix it all up in the plastic bucket (think pail you would bring to the beach) and you are ready to go.

The closer we walked to the beach the louder the music, and the more crowded the streets. People stumbling along laughing, swearing and a few not looking so hot. Emerging on the beach was kinda shocking. There were people as far as you could see in both directions, music blaring from all the beachside bars and the ground was littered with bottles and straws. The first thing we saw was drunk people running through fire. Always a great idea of course. They had set up a ladder of flames allowing people to run across the sand by stepping between the rungs on the sand and jumping through the flames. Then there were fire dancers. People waving flaming balls, flaming poles, and flaming chains - probably one of the coolest things at the party. The visual effect of twirling flaming anything is pretty awesome.

And of course there was dancing.

The party really gets into the full swing of things around 2-3am. By this point there are people passed out in the sand, peeing and puking in the ocean while others swim, and lots and lots of empty buckets. Luckily we finished our buckets before seeing vendors collecting empty buckets off the sand and bringing them back to their stand to reuse. Yuck. Around 3 am it started to rain and the beach quickly emptied of all but the most serious party goers. Nerds that we are we had brought an umbrella, just in case, and had a great time dancing under it. We got a few funny looks but hey, we were dry and having a blast.

By 5 am we decided to call it a night and jumped in a taxi back to our bungalow which was about 45 min away. Let’s just say I was not a happy camper for the ride. The crazy driving, windy roads, alcohol and exhaust were all doing a number on my stomach. But we made it back without incident and even met a guy from Bozeman who was working on building Gates’ house at the YC. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Unfortunately the next day was travel day.

We had to catch the ferry back to the mainland. After packing the maximum allowed passengers onto the boat we finally left from the port. Forced to sit outside because there weren’t any seats, a fact I was happy about because of my still queasy stomach, we huddled on the deck and tried to stay dry when it started to sprinkle. And so began my 48 hours of transportation. 3 hours on the boat, hour bus ride, 13 hour train ride, hour bus ride and then 15 hour flight to LAX, not to mention the hours spent waiting around for my next departure. Sounds fun huh? But here I am at UCLA. I’m back in the U.S. to visit graduate schools for the week, while Chris is still living it up in Thailand. So weird to be back in the States, I actually brushed my teeth with tap water and slept with real blankets.

That's all for now. Love,


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Haad Yao

A hillside bungalow overlooking the palm trees and white sand beach, a Frisbee, a chess set, and a few bottles of beer. Yep folks, things are looking pretty great from this side of the globe.

Last week we made the journey from Laos to Thailand, which turned out to be a piece of cake. From Vientiane we crossed the border by bus and hopped on the overnight train to Bangkok. Sleeper trains are definitely an awesome way to travel; only downside is you can’t see the scenery going by. These trains have the program down pat. Not only to they make up your bunk with fresh sheets and a pillow, but they serve food and wake you up for your stop. Not the best night of sleep we’ve had, but certainly not the worst.

We arrived in Bangkok at 6:30 am. Of course nothing was open, but we watched Letters from Iwo Jima, ate some donuts, and bought another train ticket farther south. Our second sleeper train arrived in Chumphon at 4 am. Surprisingly this small city port was not completely dead, there were moto taxis milling about and a few businesses open here and there. We decided not to rush to the islands, but find a hotel for the night and catch our breath before any more travel. Chris found a café with free Wifi and worked for much of the afternoon. The following morning we caught the ferry to Koh Tao, the first in the group of three islands we are planning on visiting.

Stepping off the boat in Koh Tao brought us into a swarm of taxi drivers and people advertising various hotels and bungalows. The majority of the accommodation options on these islands are camps of bungalows. These small structures vary from very basic with only a bed and fan to those complete with aircon and hot water showers. We opted for a cheap room in town and decided to explore the rest of the island. Koh Tao is a very tiny island, it took us all of 15 min to drive from one end to another on our moto. The main attraction here is the scuba diving. There are dozens of diving operations offering week only PADI certification courses. The island was definitely picturesque, but not quite the vibe we had been hoping for. After a few nights we decided to move on to the second of the three islands.

Our current location, the island of Koh Phangan is well known for its famous Full Moon Party. Some 30,000 visitors flock here for the giant party of the beach. The next party is February 21st (another reason for our change in location). By a stroke of good luck Chris was able to find a vacancy at one of the bungalow operations on one of the northern beaches. Because of the upcoming party, cheap rooms are almost impossible to find on the island this week. We were picked up from the ferry and showed up not quite knowing what to expect.

We jumped out of the pickup, exchanged looks and knew we wouldn’t be leaving this place for a while. Our bungalow is situated on a steep hill overlooking the bay and beach below. It contains a comfy bed, bathroom and has a small deck in front. The best part? The hammock, of course. (In fact, I’m lying in it right now.) Walking along the beach that night, we felt our kinda vibe. Quieter, clean beach, chill people, I’m not really sure how to explain it. We decided it was absolutely necessary to buy a Frisbee and Chris bought a mini chess set. Today we spent the afternoon lounging in the sun, tossing our bright green “Flying Ring,” and reading. Chris destroyed me in a game us chess, but we are both pretty terrible right now and in need of more practice.

Other news…Chris loves driving around on our bright pink moto.

Miss you all! Love,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just a sidenote

I’m not sure if you’ve seen them, but some workout gyms in the US have a machine which at first looks like a stairstepper, but it has one horizontal platform for standing, and this platform moves in an elliptical motion with varying amplitude and velocity. It’s a quad machine, and you see plenty of people doing the typical behavior you see on workout machines, like supporting most their weight on the handrails, or proudly showing the no-hands-technique and scrunching their face to show how much they’re working. On this particular machine, this means you keep your head at the same height by extending your legs in rhythm with the machine; at one moment you’re standing on the platform and the next you’re in full squat.

So I was going to the bathroom on the night train from Northern Thailand to Bangkok and I finally understood what these machines are perfect for. As the train bounced up-and-down and wobbled side-to-side, the pit toilet was a moving target to say the least. I imagined those people at the gym and figured they must be pit-toilet-on-a-train professionals.

From a few days ago:
I was feeling fine at breakfast. But soon thereafter, I was reduced to a sniveling pile of worthlessness. Even more sniveling than Harry Potter in book 5.

Diahrrea. Quite a bit of it. And nausea. A few possibilities:
The food we gorged ourselves with last night. After all the sore butts motorcycling around, we had promised ourselves a good meal. I had steak, I had spring rolls, I had Tom Yum soup, I had some of Emma's meal, and some Beer Lao. Tasted great then. Not the second time.
I hadn't taken my malaria medicine for a day. Since they are pretty much antibiotics, we thought maybe that's what had protected me from whatever Emma got earlier in the week, and without it, the shield was down. Possible, but likely?
Still thinking of some more...

I stayed in bed all day, reading Shogun, having a hard time ignoring my nausea. Shogun’s a badass book by the way. I voted to not induce vomitting. Probably should have, because 4 hours later I was on my hands and knees, relishing the touch of the cold tile, and ralfed some knarliness into the wicker basket trash can.

Emma got me some white rice and Sprite and we watched a Blade Runner DVD we bought for $1.50 down the street. Feeling a bit better, but only at about 50-60% right now, if that. Ugh.