Monday, March 12, 2012

the perfect day

I'm talking about the kind of day that from beginning to end, you just feel sated.  Things go right.  Food tastes good.  The company is great and there is something done or seen that is extra extra ordinary.  But above all, you don't realize how extra special the whole day is until it's all over and done with and looking back, you wouldn't change a thing!  That's the kind of day this was!

The place:  The town of Ancud in Chiloe Chile
The day: February 10th, 2011
The extra extra ordinary thing?  Penguins!

It started, as all extra extra ordinary days start....sweet!

We found a small European tourist friendly cafe that sold a special local nut and potato cake...these particular types of nut and potato being very rare and difficult to find anywhere else on the mainland of Chile, much less the world!

Then, we caught a small public bus that took us along the coast and dropped us in the middle of nowhere...or rather somewhere!


We walked the mysterious 2 kilometres up and down hills over looking the ocean on one side and rolling cow pastures on the other, all the time with me skipping/running/tripping along the dusty small road in anticipation to see one of the cutest animals on the planet!

view to the right!

view to the left!

After signing in at a small eco tourist office, we meandered onto a small 12 person boat with a bunch of other tourists, which whizzed us along to the small rocky islands filled with penguin love!

After all of the penguin awesomeness...we got a bit hungry, so we went ahead and bought a $4 king crab from a fisherman on the beach!  Even in Santiago, this treat usually costs around $50 or more!

We decided to hitch hike home and lucky for us, right as we began leaving the isolated penguin beach, a very nice couple stopped to pick us up and drove us back to the town of Ancud.

We walked the small towns streets hand in hand, stopping for some pints of Kuntsmann beer and a heaping basket of more special local spud french fries.  We then spent the evening sitting around a bon fire with fellow campers up on the side of a cliff drinking spiced warm red wine and talking about the day, listening/singing old songs, laughing at jokes and staring up into the sky at stars that seemed bigger and brighter than usual.

Like I said, a day like this can't be planned, it just happens!
I'll never forget it!

Friday, March 9, 2012

remembering Africa

Recently, I began reading the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver based on a recommendation from a coworker...I haven't been able to finish it from frutration and a bit of anger.   Just today I heard this piece done on a Hearing Voices episode called "Home from Africa" based on the culture shock and experiences of a young women working in the peace corps.  I have to admit, it's hard for me to hear these stories in the way they are told, but I'm glad to hear them all the same.

Although very different experiences than what I experienced in Africa...these run ins with stories of places/problems/crazy culture shock moments bring back shadows of memories...I don't know if I wanted to forget, but I find it slightly difficult to remember.

Throughout all of the traveling my husband and I did over the past couple of years, one thing we agreed on returning home was respecting the memories we had of our time in places with dignity.   We were careful in what pictures we took of people not to intrude on someone's personal space or disrespect them or hurt their feelings inapropriately in photos...this photo is one of just a few that we took of people at all.

A market in Zambia

I didn't do much writing during our time in Africa, mainly due to losing our power cord for our laptop shortly after leaving South Africa (the first leg of our journey) and even though the days were filled with long bus rides and lots of waiting, the feeling of wanting to jot down what was running through my mind at the time just wasn't there....thoughts were there, just so numerous and so fast, it was like watching them fly by as I stared out the window at a world that seemed like a dream.

Being in Africa is a beautiful, spiritual, life changing experience and some of the people and places and foods we were privileged to meet, explore and try there changed our lives.  I think about random things from Africa often at odd moments, but in slightly embarrassing ways for myself that I tend not to share out loud.

When I give away clothes, I wonder if they will find there way to wasn't unusual to see a Packers or Vikings t-shirt worn by someone on a street corner or being sold at a market.

When I look into my pantry at all the different options of flour I seem to be collecting, I remember the aisle upon aisle of the different brands and sizes of finely ground corn meal sold for pap/nsima/nshima/ugali....and nothing else....and feel a bit gluttonous with my stash of powders.

When I buy a tomato or an avacado at the grocery store and remember the texture, smell and flavor of a freshly purchased tomato from a local African market...ripe, delicious...real!

These moments trigger a certain feeling I can't quite describe, a longing for the beauty we felt and saw in our travels through South Eastern Africa and at the same time an embarrassing gratitude that I'm home again in a place where things make sense to me....where I blend in....where I feel normal and full and warm and clean with running tap water and an automatic ice maker....and that at the same time....that feels horrible.  It feels unjust to judge another culture as "not as good as mine" simply because their priorities are not my own, that I don't understand it and try to make sense of's not mine to make sense of....but then again...most people in Africa will never get to experience my life in the States, whereas I have the luxury of a U.S. passport.

I'll never know what it feels like to be African.  I'll never know how it feels to grow up in a small village surrounded by family and neighbors and love....this is something we also weren't welcomed into as an outsider, you remain outside!  It's rare to hear stories from this perspective and I wish there were more available....culture shock can be so blinding.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gay Pah-Ree

My first trip abroad was to France. I have mentioned it before, and I think I have also mentioned how inadequate of a packer I was back then (I have learned a few things since then). I was also totally green to the ways of the world, but in some ways, this is what gave me the gumption to take this trip in the first place. If I would have stopped and thought about what I was getting myself into, I may have faltered. But I muscled right through in my naïve, adventure-seeking way.

The reason I went was for a summer work abroad program that I had signed up for through my college. I had gone to countless interviews and to orientations where they told us things like: don’t put your hands on your laps at the dinner table because the French would assume you were playing with yourself. I had to do language proficiency and writing proficiency tests. I had to write letters to my future employer and roommate, introducing myself and thanking them for the opportunity. I still have copies of the letters. They are pretty funny.

First I flew from San Francisco to Paris. I arrived at Charles de Gaule jet lagged, disoriented and confused. The aforementioned luggage was a hindrance. I tried to get francs out of the ATM while guarding my bags and trying to remember my French phrases. Next, I had to get from the airport to the train station, which seems easy enough, but first you have to take a shuttle to terminal 3, and walk to the Metro where you go through the turnstile and then take a shuttle back to terminal 1, where you catch the bus to the train station. Have you ever been to Charles De Gaule? If not, and you have never traveled before, I would not suggest it be the FIRST international airport that you tackle. It’s kind of big. 

I finally found the train station, bought my ticket and sat and watched the board with the schedules and times go “tick, tick, tick” and flip all the times and track numbers and destinations over. I remember thinking over and over, “what have I gotten myself into?” Here I was in a country where I knew nobody, where I did not really know the language and where I was like a beacon, a small American girl with 4 huge suitcases, just waiting to be robbed. 

I wasn’t robbed. I got on the train and went two hours south to Bordeaux, my new home. Luckily (and I can’t quite remember how, as these were the days of little internet) the girl whose flat I was renting for the summer met me at the station, got me on a bus and took me to her house. Her name, in typical French fashion, was Marie Pierre. Not plain Marie, but Marie Pierre.  And of course, it was not Mehr-ie, but Mah-REEE! Pierre. She had a boyfriend with her named Khalid. Luckily, although not well, they did know a tiny bit of English. Not that I expected them to, but if you have ever taken a long flight, you know how foggy one’s head can be afterward. If you had  then ran around Paris like a chicken looking for the Gare du Nord, and then arrived somewhere new and met new people and you are feeling a little overwhelmed, you would know how nice it was to not have to remember all of your French phrases right at that moment. 
So, we made small talk, which was great, because that was the French I knew the best: How many brothers do you have? Where are you from? Where do you work? Thanks French 101! It was exciting, being in a new place, starting a new, although temporary life, being out on my own, an independent, French-speaking American, ready for an adventure. We got to the apartment and I got right down to business starting my adventure.

I went straight to bed.

Thank goodness for MP and Khalid. Without them, I don’t know how I would have managed that first day. Stay tuned for tales of the adventures at my new job!

Do you remember your first trip abroad? Have you ever traveled by yourself? Do you like it/hate it/don’t care either way?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jakarta nightmares

Our very first stop (for an extended period) in Asia happened to be Indonesia, of which we knew nothing about prior to arrival.  I'll admit, we did everything wrong from the very beginning.

We flew in to Jakarta around midnight from Singapore.  As soon as the plane landed I knew it was going to be a crazy country....the moment all the wheels of the plane were on the ground, people started standing up to get their bags and push themselves to the front of the plane.   The pilots had to make continual announcements to get people to sit down again...all I could think was...where are we going?

A view of Jakarta from its National History Museum (taken the next day)
So there we were in Jakarta...with no hotel reservation, no plan for midnight.
The lonely planet said that the cheapest way was to take the on belief that the lonely planet could do no wrong (did I mention it was our first stop?) I paraded my way thru hoards of desperate taxi drivers to the bus stop, where we were pushed on to a bus by very loud, short men....and then waited for 2 hours....from there, after 2 more stops at other airports and more waiting, we were dropped off at the train station at 2am, covered in sweat, in a rain storm, terrified and hungry, with mosquitos swarming us in darkness.   We had no idea which direction to go and were terrified of looking it up in the sacred book of answers and having someone 'know' we didn't know what we were doing....looking back...our idiocy was pretty obvious!  Could we have had a better experience?  Most definitely...will I go back to try it all over again?  Absolutely not!

Our second meal in Jakarta - found in the basement of a mall downtown,
(right next to a basement mall grocery store)
Not bad food in retrospect, but as my first toasty whole fish, a bit terrifying
We eventually meandered our way to the "L.P. recommended" mosquito infested hostel (there were smears of blood covering the walls from previous guests swatting the gigantic mosquito bodies against the white windowless cell like walls) and found some food down the street to the screeching melody of old, drunk, expat Australian men.  The one major achievement that evening?  The discovery of super large sized Indonesian Bintang beers for $1 each!  After a few of those while waiting the required hour it takes to get food in Indonesia (pretty sure they had to go find and kill a chicken for every meal we ate there), the rest didn't seem quite so bad...the large, hairy Australian men seemed more like friendly accomplices and our hostel room was...cozy at 4 in the morning.

The next day we discovered the side walk we had walked along in the dark the night before with our oversized paks and looks of terror had sporadic 2 foot gaping holes here and there that you had to leap over or risk breaking a leg.  All of the decaying sidewalks in Jakarta have a deep and wide gutter system underneath them, which keeps the entire city from flooding and terrifies pedestrians...we were the only people walking the's almost impossible to cross the 5 car wide streets in some parts of the city.  Most people take taxis!

'walking' downtown Jakarta
This photo was taken on an overpass we fortunately found to walk over  the 'normal' street
Also, because we had no idea what we were doing, we had booked a flight out of Sumatra for 3 weeks later, so we decided to set up a plan with a travel office to get to Medan.  When we told the women we wanted to find a ferry to Sumatra, she simply looked at us a bit stunned and said....that's not possible.  A first of many surprising transportation realizations in Indonesia.  So.  We paid for two first class train tickets (which let's you have a little fan throw air towards you and has a little towel on your head rest) to Yogyakarta Indonesia...and would eventually fly out of Bali....

waiting for hours at the train station to leave Jakarta!
We ended up having to pay a man who grabbed our bags at the very last moment and demanded money
The real story of anger and complete despair lies in the next leg of our journey from Yogyakarta to Bali.....the part we really wish we'd known more about in our lack of research for the trip.  I will save that lovely story for another next blog!

All that being said....I will never return to Jakarta.  Worst place we visited on our entire trip by far!
Dirtier then the long dusty bus rides in Africa.  Hotter then the sun filled blistering days of Thailand....
Yup.  Just as there are beautiful places I'm dying to return to....there are places I would rather not see again.  Jakarta is one of them.  It did teach a lot of important lessons on the do's and don'ts of first days flying into new places  -

DON'T arrive late at night!
DON'T hand your bags over to ANYONE and not expect them to want money seconds later.
DO book a room before arrival for your first night in a new city!
DO make sure to plan how you're going to get there!
DO enjoy and have fun trying out the local foods and beverages!
Mistakes we didn't make again after that!

But to end on a good note...the best coffee I've ever had?  1 block away from our jail cell hostel at a hole in the wall restaurant:

Coffee Jakarta style - strong with the grounds still in with sweetened condensed milk on the bottom.

Monday, November 21, 2011

the itch

Nope...I'm not talking about sand flies in the Perhentian Islands of Malaysia
(although those are quite a nuisance and not so fun)

sorry...gross photo....but I make my point.
I'm talking about that intense pressure in the back of your brain, that slight hint of something missing when you're sitting at work looking at travel blogs, that nervous tension on the bottoms of your feet that they should be moving!!!!

When we first got back from traveling, (the first 2-3 months back) we immediately started planning and thinking about the next...unpacking, buying new pairs of socks and finally putting away our kitchen once seemed like anything was still possible and if we didn't like it here, we could simply pack up and go.

Now it's been almost 6 months since our return from snail living (all our belongings on our backs) and I'll admit, the idea of getting back to wandering the world is slowly fading into the distance and disappearing from view and survival/scheduling/priorities/education have hit home instead....the itch is still there, but the reality of daily life has definitely set in once again.

I'm wondering if there are others out there with this odd dilemma and how they feel/deal about it.
What do other travelers do to hold on to that hope and start saving once again for that next great crazy trip.  I know the majority of people don't really get what I'm talking about.....especially with the photo I've just featured....why would you want to be homeless and wandering about in another country far from home....but for me, it's always a shadow in the background that makes me wonder more so...what am I doing here?

That all being said, there is plenty to appreciate in non travel life.
A bed!
A bathroom of my own!
A stove/condiment shelf and coffee pot!

But that crazy adrenaline rush of wondering where we might be tomorrow....
There's nothing like it!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Today I just got honked at while single honk.  One.
I was crossing legally on the bike path, on a green bike crossing light and I was in the middle of the street at the time of said honk.

Looking behind me at the older gentleman driving his beat up truck with his fist in the air staring in my direction, I saw anger in his face and a little resentment...thinking something on the lines of....

"Damn bikers, they think they can just bike however they'd like!  They think they own the street as well as their beloved bike paths!  Stay off my god damn streets you good for nothing sons of $%^$!"

What does he do to express all of this deep feeling?  A SINGLE HONK!

Well this whole thing got me gruffed and riled up to shout a single profanity one!
RIGHT!  Just me!  Waiting to legally cross the other intersection, patiently/peacefully waiting my turn accept for one verbal outletting of...

"What the F*** was THAT?!?"
and.... I felt better!

Thinking about this afterwards, I started laughing at the incredible midwestern passive aggressive weirdness that just occurred in comparison to so many other places....

One honk.  One F bomb....and that was enough to release the tension.  In comparison to Jakarta or Bangkok, Santiago, Buenos Aires, New York City.....I can't imagine the same 1:1 ratio of honking to profanity....just one!  It just doesn't happen!  I almost miss the continual non useful honking now....what a continual release of inner stress!  To be allowed to honk and not mean anything by at!'s flipping annoying to everyone else...but to be the honker ....not just letting it go once, but 50!  WOW!
and then!  To be on the receiving end...where one can feel comfortable to rip open...arms flailing...words flying....screaming, ranting....letting it all go!  Well, in comparison, my one little baby f bomb at no one 20 seconds after being honked at....pathetic!

I mean...heck...he could have even been honking as a caution!  "Hello biker...I have no breaks...I'm turning right behind sincerest apologies!"  Here in the midwest, this is just as likely.

I'm befuddled by it all!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Freaky Foods

Things that seem totally normal to us can be strange to other people, and other things that are normal to them are completely strange to us. Here are a few examples.

India: fried tubes

Bali: snake fruit

Spain: anchovies (not just for pizza, and PS -- they are delish!)

Spain: leg of pig complete with hoof (jamon) and liver of duck (pate de pato)

Namibia: wieners, in a can

Vietnam: several varieties of hedgehog

Vietnam: dragonfruit

South Korea: no idea what these weird shellfish are

For more strange foods, go see my other blog later this week! There were just too many for one post!

Have you ever eaten any of these? What's the strangest food you've ever eaten? Or seen?