Tuesday, July 26, 2011

in the air

After all the waiting and sitting and standing in lines, the moment the plane begins to roll down the runway, I would grip my husbands hand...usually with him unconscious and drooling from a corner of his mouth...close my eyes and, feel the earth disappear from under the plane and let go!

The moment I feel the plane lift into the air, I for some reason physically flex every muscle in my body from my head to my feet, probably with a constipated look on my face and always the same random thought in my head..."do I have everything?  Well, if I don't, it's too late now!"

Lifting into the air, away from every thought, concern, worry, problem, that I might have had a few seconds/minutes/hours prior.  Where ever we just were, for better or worse, there is no going back.

The second thought I have is also always the same...

Am I going to die today?
.....I guess it's not such a bad way to go.

I begin to let go of the control over my present and future, I'm completely aware of how weightless I am in every sense.  There's no more planning for where we may be heading.  No more packing and preparing...just hours of time to catch up on random chick flicks and consume the small square of questionable gooey pasta and chicken in front of me with a plastic spork...

I'm kind of afraid of flying, but the excitement of landing in a place totally different is for me worth facing the fear.  I secretly love flipping between 15 different feature films and getting refills of wine and juice every 20 minutes.  I love scanning the airline magazines and watching the carts of food, beverage and duty free roll by.  Once in a while I take a look around at my fellow travelers and make up the stories of their lives...off to a business conference, first trip overseas, returning to their childhood home..all based upon how many mini booze bottles are purchased and whether or not they consume their bread and butter or crackers and cheese.  Did they come prepared with travel pillow?  All of our lives are temporarily paused in midair together connected only by rows of seats with little t.v.'s and matching blankets....we are all equally powerless in our current state of affairs....whatever we are in our normal lives, we are temporarily helpless passengers with our shoes off snoring in public....if a plane is public? Or is it more of a hotel room shared by 200 people....the one place I feel comfortable brushing my teeth while sitting next to a stranger.

When we begin the descent, my eyes are glued out the window as the plane begins to shake and turn to odd degrees, blurring the view of the ground with an occasional wing.  Sometimes, I imagine that it's only a similator and we're simply waiting for the movie out the window to finish.  What color is the ground?  Are their mountains, rivers, trees?  I love watching the cars driving along at night below us like little ants with light bulbs for eyes....I wonder if they are looking up at me looking down at them....

Then we're landing and once again, I'm grasping a fist in a sweaty ball, squinting my eyes closed and hoping  for a clean and easy landing, which it almost always is....almost there, almost there, just a few more minutes and we'll be back on land...back to the reality of life and all it's little details...finding food, changing clothes, sleeping in beds....none of it as thrilling as those hours spent surrounded by clouds, dreaming about the what ifs with no control over anything accept which preview to watch next...those are the only moments, in between realities, that I feel completely allowed to do and think of nothing, because there's nothing else to do but that, breathing, thinking, watching, listening...to just be.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Danger! Peligro! Achung!

Bolivia has a lot of things that sound like they may be quite scary. Here are a few examples. You can decide whether or not YOU would be scared.

The Death Train: This is a train that goes from the border of Bolivia and Brazil to a town called Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I am not sure why it is called the Death train, because it was not as bad as I thought it would be. It was long, to be sure (21 hours, I think) but it was not scary. The hardest part was getting tickets. 

Death Train -- doesn't look so scary!
Coming from Brazil, we first had to cross the border, which is in a little dusty town which looked like an old California mining town. There you could change your money over into Bolivianos, which was also scarier than the train, as you never know if the money is going to be fake or not. Also, when we crossed the border, Bolivia had recently decided to start a reciprocation program with the USA, which basically means they charge you to get a “visa”. It is supposed to cost 100 dollars but it IS negotiable, and usually NOT in your favor. The border officials we met said that there was a “processing fee” and the amount of it was…well, how much money DO you have?

So we got across the border and then we had to walk to town to get tickets for the train. We bought the “first class” tickets, which means you don’t have to sit on a bench with a bunch of other people and their chickens. You get your own seat. However, the train did not have food or drinks, so the night before, we had to stock up!

The train ride was long, the first class seats were not that comfortable, but all in all, the Death Train was pretty tame.

The World’s Most Dangerous Road: This is near La Paz and it starts at about 4000 meters (13,000 feet) and goes down to about 1000 meters (3300 feet). We decided to mountain bike down it. This can be done in about 4 or 5 hours. Half of it was paved and half dirt, but the whole thing was a lot of fun!

Strikes and Protests: Pretty much every day I was in Bolivia there was some kind of strike or protest. The president at the time, Evo Morales, was prohibited from leaving one city by protestors; the protestors bombed a bridge to keep everyone in another city. A few days before I was scheduled to leave Cochabamba and go to La Paz, the roads were all closed and blockaded and people were protesting in the streets. I heard stories from the locals about how certain times the cities were closed in for days and people were going hungry.

However, I was there for a couple of months and I did see a lot of protests and strikes, but they were not usually violent. What they usually consist of is the everyday people rallying against the government, who, to be fair, are pretty much taking everything from them. By far, the biggest cash crop in Bolivia is Coca leaves, which are picked and then shipped to countries like Columbia, where they make cocaine out of it. However, the farmers and the little people don’t see any of that money. The government takes it. So people like Evo get rich while the little guys do all the (dangerous) work.

Altitude Sickness: Bolivia has some of the highest places that you can easily get to. However, this can pose a threat, since you really shouldn’t fly from sea level and land at 13,000 feet. This doesn’t stop people (my friend Heather) from doing it. We went to Lake Titicaca, which sits at about 13,000 feet, the day after she arrived and she was having a very hard time walking around! I suggest taking a few days at a lower altitude before jumping right to the high stuff! 


So, even though Bolivia doesn’t have (like Australia) the MOST deadly snake in the world… it has its share of danger, both real and imagined. However, even though they have scary names, I personally never felt like I was in danger there.

Have you ever been in a (real or imagined) scary situation? What did you do?

Also, this little blog was nominated for Best In Travel at For The Love of Blogs. Go HERE to vote for us (#48), or any blog you think is your favorite. Just click the “like” button below the one(s) you like!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The late homecomer - a hmong family memoir

I've been reading the novel "The Late Homecomer" and every page is like reading about the life of a woman and her community that I've seen and heard everyday growing up around me, but never felt in my heart I understood and always wanted to....

Kao Kalia Yang tells the incredible story of her families journey from the mountains of Northern Laos, where they were forced to flee for their lives into Thailand due to a secret war in which the young Hmong village men  were fighting for the Americans.  From the camps in Thailand, they then immigrated to St. Paul Minnesota.....the city I was born.  I grew up on the "other side" of her story, which makes it all the more precious for me to learn about her families journey to the East Side of St. Paul Minnesota....my childhood home.

...thru this book, combined with the experiences of my travels thru Thailand and northern Laos, a whole world and culture that once mystified and puzzled me is opening up!  It's as if the authors personal life and my life have been running on two different sets of tracks, always running close to parallel and now they have finally crossed!

Her story has hit me deep.  We were the same age growing up in the same city, but with completely different experiences..until now.  I understand her difficult cultural experiences growing up in my home town, perhaps even sharing the elementary school playground with my brother, or her mother buying groceries next to my mother, but I've also now gotten the chance to travel thru Thailand and Laos and eaten the Khao Pad she loved as a toddler and seen the mountains of Laos her family once farmed.  I crossed the Mekong river which her family was forced to swim across to save their lives and I've driven in buses thru the winding forest jungles of Northern Laos.....to have first hand experience now of both sides of her story, it makes every detail that I read of what they've been thru come to life!

It's a unique experience now to finally hear and understand her story from where I stand today, not as a little white girl confused about why her classmate doesn't speak to her or want to share her potato chips, but as an open minded grown adult yearning to understand and learn about how other women live in other cultures....or perhaps like Kao....to hear how women coming from other cultures think about and live in my own...speaking of it as a foreign land where mustard looks like baby poop....perhaps similar to how I felt about some of the fishy sauces I tried and made pucker faces at in Laos!

My husband is from Chile and although my time there has not been anywhere as close to what Kao's family has been thru to move to America, the experience of living in a different culture as an outsider long term, unable to speak the language, eating weird foods and feeling stared at (something all travelers experience) has made me much more focused on how important it is that women learn how to communicate their stories of their lives to one another, that although we all look different, we are more similar then we think, our own unique group of like individuals...women who've experienced many parts of the world....we are not alone!

Like Kao has done in her articulate and heart felt novel of her families history....without storytellers who can cross the great cultural divides and speak out to other women about their experiences, we will remain divided!  The more I travel, the more I crave to hear stories such as hers, both the good and the bad of their adventures as women and what it's been like for them.

For anyone who wants to learn more about the hmong community and have a clearer understanding of why they needed to immigrate to the States and what that was like, this is a wonderful book I think you would appreciate and enjoy reading!  I hope that some day it could become required reading in my school district where students of different race still sit on opposite sides of the lunch room, scared to cross the divide....may my children's understanding of the cultures around them be more open minded then my own!

Friday, July 15, 2011

food of the sea

I had never eaten or seen so many kinds of aquatic delicacies and in so many different cultural ways before spending time in other countries.

I'm from Minnesota...the closest we get to 'exotic seafood' comes in a tin that could still be eaten in 20 years. Tuna is about it.....maybe some pre cooked, pre peeled shrimp with cocktail sauce for you know...weddings.

Yes, you can go out and find anything and everything, but the average Minnesotan wouldn't touch most of it with a ten foot pole....which, makes sense....if you live in the middle of prairie land with no ocean in sight and someone offers you a raw oyster...now, where exactly did that oyster come from?  It sure wasn't Lake Michigan!

So.  This past year I got myself a little seafood education!

Our very first stop happened to be Tokyo...you know....just the capital city of all seafood eating in the entire world!  So, of course we stopped by the fish market near Ginza, not quite in time to witness the selling of the tuna at 4am, but around 8am when you can still watch squids scurry around (among many other mystery creatures) in little tubs and men also scurry around on little carts speeding around as if their lives depended on it.

Fish market at 8am - crates and crates of  mysterious seafood

Tuna heads in the Tokyo fish market
Tokyo squid waiting to be bought
When we were traveling S.E.Asia, I realized that most of the world eats their fish/seafood whole...with skin, bones and little heads still attached!  I still remember the first time thinking, "For real!?!  Aren't they going to cut it up?  Did they take the guts out?  Am I supposed to eat the eye balls?"  Now, I prefer getting the entire fish on my plate, because it's fun to poke around and get all the meat from the bones, (less waste) plus, it's nice to get to know what kind of fish I'm eating and see what it looks like!

Krabi Thailand outdoor food market  - grilled squid on a stick
They display it whole and cut into small pieces for you to eat it - because it's chewy!

When you buy a grilled fish in Thailand, it often comes with  spicy sauces and salads
We ate this fish sitting in the sand on a beach, waiting for the sunset.

I have to admit that our trip to Spain opened my horizons to seafood as a delicacy!  Eating it was a reason to live!  Everything tasted so delicious, prepared so perfectly with just the right amounts of herbs/lemon/olive oil/butter/smoked paprika and of course sides of olives or pickled veggies... then you dip your fresh bread into the juices leftover from these delicious concoctions...wow! I'm dying to go back!  
I can only imagine what it's like to eat in Portugal!

Just a taste of the the incredible seafood tapas/dishes we shared with friends in Spain.  

I heart tapas!  I loved the culture of sharing that takes place with eating these incredible seafood dishes in Spain.  You sit with friends and family for hours talking and sipping wine as they bring out the different plates one by one and everyone takes little bits of each as they go, totally unconcerned about the rest of the world or what time it is, which creates a beautiful moment of togetherness as everyone "mmm's" away chewing deliciousness.

The last stop of our journey was 5 beautiful summer months in Chile, which is a country with a great love and passion for good quality seafood, being a very long coastal country giving it access to such things!  There are types of seafood here that don't have names and can't be found in other parts of the world and they take great pride in that!  From sea urchins, to peubre (little bright red chewy mussels that live in rocks) to oysters, to all of the different types of mussels available.....if it's growing in the ocean....they'll eat it!

Pictured: Chilean king crab, mussels, oysters, locos, shrimp, but in Chile there is plenty more where that came from!
The king crab (bottom/center) we purchased from the fisherman in the orange shirt for $4 on the Island of Chiloe
...that same crab generally sells in Santiago for around $60-70

Chileans like to keep their seafood dishes basic and simple.  Butter, salt, lemon, done.  But really, to add on extras to something that is so delicious by itself is a bit ridiculous!

Chile is where I first discovered on my first trip there 5 years ago that people actually eat mussels, not just pull them off of their boats when they fish!  There are so many delicacies to try in Chile, particularly on the island of Chiloe in the south where seafood is good, in huge portions and cheap!  You can eat like a king on fish, mussels and so much more!  However, any coastal port/city/town/hut on the side of the highway can offer you the fresh catch of the day for a few dollars....when my Chilean husband first visited California, he drove up and down the coastal towns looking for that "fish shack" offering the catch of the day and was so disappointed to learn that it didn't exist!

The fixings for a  seafood steam boat (vat of spicy broth) in the Highlands of Malaysia
Also the first time I ever tried cuddle fish

Before journeys to far off lands that were close to far off oceans, I had no idea what seafood could be like.  Now, I'm spoiled, I love trying odd and unusual looking treasures from the oceans, each with it's own unique flavor and texture, as well as learning how each country and culture has a unique way of eating and appreciating these delicious creatures.  I can't wait for more!  Why did I move back to the mid west???

Thursday, July 14, 2011

One of the most ferocious and fearless animals in the world

Honey badger....sounds cute right?
He even looks and acts cute, as you see here:

Honey badger at Moholoholo Rehab Center in South Africa
Awwww...totally adorable!  Look at those little beady eyes!  I just want to hug him!

or how about this:

Honey badgers waiting for their dinner

It just makes me want to ooh and ahh and make little gargly baby noises all day....or....
that's what I thought until our guide pulled out scraps of meat and threw them into their 7 foot deep and 20 foot wide dirt hole that they lived in surrounded by electric fencing.....the sharp teeth came out with bits of meat disappearing in seconds and blood dripping down their chins...

As we learned that day, the honey badger is a vicious carnivore that is considered one of the most ferocious animals in the world...the dudes are smart, nasty and go for the kill in the most, well, uncomfortable way possible....

So...you see those cute little paws with those cute little claws? (pictured to the left)

The honey badger's preferred way to hunt is to take down a small to medium sized animal...beit elephant, water buffalo, antelope,  by grabbing on to the animals junk...and biting it off...

....yup, you heard right...the family treasure, the goods, manhood...

from there, he follows it around until the animal bleeds to death

They can also get bitten by poisonous snakes and survive by sleeping  it off for a few hours, similar to a bad hangover, wake up, shake it off and be fine!

These little guys are nasty, cruel and really, really smart!
Just the pair in the rehab center had at one point escaped from their 7 foot deep hole by collecting sticks in their dirt cave and put together a homemade badger ladder.   They managed to escape in the middle of the night!  They were (fortunate for the other animals I guess) found and returned shortly after.

It was cool to see them in person, but at that moment, I was pretty glad not to be a dude in Africa.
Definitely a bit less to worry about!

After we went to visit Moholoholo Rehab Center (near Krueger Park in the north of South Africa), we were staying at a hostel down the road and started talking with the owner about how cool and crazy we thought these little guys were and he immediately had this to say:

"Don't talk to me about honey badgers!  I hate them!  Nasty bleepity bleeps!  They're horrible!  A pair of them came thru my land and killed all 30 of my chickens and 5 of my sheep!  Didn't even bother to eat them, just killed them for fun!  I stayed up for 3 nights with a shot gun waiting for the little *bleeps* to come back!  So don't talk to me about honey badgers!"

Uh.  Ok.  Fair enough!

The one thing I learned in South Africa watching and learning about animals is that every animal is a part of the natural order of the food chain.  Without one, the others cannot exist.  There are even different kinds of vultures that do certain kinds of carcass picking....some designed to find the animal from the sky, others to break it open with their super strong beaks and small ones to pick off the bits and pieces the big ones can't get to....full service carcass cleaning!  At your service!

I can see how having a honey badger around for a vulture or a coyote could be nice and plays a valuable role in the circle of life, but as a farmer with nice juicy chickens that have little delicious necks to chew on as well as your own personal, well, safety!...I can totally sympathize....
But the point remains, no matter what your take is on them...
Wow.  What a way to go!  CRAZY!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Method To My Madness

You’ve probably seen the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It’s been a long time since I have seen it, but I remember John Candy trying to get somewhere (for Christmas?) and he has to take all these different methods of transportation. I can relate to that! I thought I would go over a few different weird ways to get around that I have come across in my travels.

Bad quality photo...but you get the point!
Matola: This is an African bus. But it’s not really a “bus”. What it really is is a small pickup truck, stuffed to the gills with people. In the front, there are usually 2 or 3 people, not including the driver (and if you sit in the front, you will probably have to hold some random person’s baby). The back is also filled with people and the amount of people they fit in there is astounding. I rode in one where there were probably 20 people, at least, as well as a few 50 lb bags of maize, a guy with about 15 dozen eggs, our two huge backpacks (I think someone was sitting or standing on mine) and a couple of ladies with babies stuck to their boobs. Just when you think they can’t fit any more people, the truck pulls over and somehow another person gets on.

Speedboat: In Laos, there are no good roads, so you have to travel on the river. The boat I decided to take (because it was faster) was the speedboat. Now, this appears to be a canoe with an outboard motor. It fits only one person across and is roughly 6 people long. And somebody needs to fix the muffler, because it is VERY, VERY loud (like an airboat in Louisiana if you have ever been on one of those). I naively thought I would be able to get some reading done until I saw the boat. I was still a little hopeful until I heard the boat and once it started up and we went bouncing over wave after wave, I lost all hope and donned my mp3 player. Even though I turned it up as loud as I could get it, I could still hear (clearly) the drone of the engine. And my butt, you ask? Yes, it was pretty much numb. Imagine sitting on a piece of plywood for 6 hours without moving. Next time I will choose the slower boat!!!

Puddle Jumper: In the Himalayas, they don’t have roads, so in order to get from place to place, you have to either walk (which we did plenty of) or take a 12-seater plane over the mountains. I am not afraid of heights or small spaces, but if you are, I would suggest the 5 day walk instead. There apparently was not a cargo hold, because a few seats were taken out and all of the luggage was put in front of me, including, you guessed it, a couple dozen eggs. The runway was on the side of a mountain and was probably about, I don’t know, 50 feet long.

Watch for spitting!
18 Wheeler: When there are no buses, you have to do what you can. What we could do was hitchhike. A nice guy in an 18 wheeler picked us up and even let us drive when he was sleepy!

Rickshaw type things: It’s a three wheeled motorcycle cart in India. The same thing in Thailand is called a Tuk-Tuk. In Malaysia, it’s an old guy with a bike who petals you and your heavy luggage around. You almost want to help him.

Camel: This was definitely the most uncomfortable of modes of transportation. We thought it would be great to sign up for a THREE DAY camel trek. After day one, I had already had enough. My groin and behind were so sore! However, we were not done. We suffered enjoyed two more days of it and boy was I glad to get off when it was over!

What is the weirdest method of transportation you have ever experienced? Have you ever ridden on a bus with a chicken? What IS the weirdest animal or thing you have shared a bus ride with?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Art of Racing

Crossing the street is an art form and all around the world it is done differently. I was in Washington DC once with some friends as we jaywalked across the street, the middle aged woman behind us who was standing on the curb, stated to her friend, “Hmph. They must be from California”. Well she could have been guessing, as we were two blondes and an Asian, but I think what she was referring to was that we had crossed the street in a non-crosswalk area. The nerve of us! What were we thinking? I wasn’t aware that this was a typically Californian trait.

In fact, she may have been better off saying, “They must be from Nepal”. They cross the street wherever and whenever they want. In San Francisco, the pedestrian judges the speed of the cars and walks accordingly behind or in front of the traffic (and rarely in the crosswalk). However, try the same thing in Sacramento and just as you are about to cross the street behind the Honda that is heading your way, the Honda will slow down or even stop and wave you on. Then everyone is confused. You are not sure why they are waving at you (do they know you?) and they keep waiting for you to cross. If there are multiple lanes, other cars may come and who knows if they too decide to stop or if they are going to keep going. The rules are different everywhere.

However, the most exciting and difficult street crossing I have ever encountered has been in Vietnam. In Vietnam it is a race. A race against time. A race for your life.

The traffic in Vietnam is not only horrible and busy but there are no rules that I can see. Many people drive motorcycles and they sometimes drive on the wrong side, run red lights and pass cars on the left and or right as they see fit. They drive to fast and swerve around cars. They drive on the sidewalk. They seem to think that a honk or twenty is the only thing you need before doing whatever you want. Throw into the mix dozens each of cars, trucks, buses and bicycles and you have a melting pot of chaos.

Now, imagine crossing this jungle on foot. There are no crosswalks, and as I said before, nobody obeys the lights anyway. You have to cross in the middle. There is always traffic. It took me a while to learn how to do this. I was standing on a curb, waiting for the traffic to thin, which it wasn’t. I was wondering in my mind, “How in the H am I going to cross this mess?”

And then I saw her, my guardian angel, an old woman, about to cross the street. So I got right behind her and decided to do what she did. What she did was this. She stepped off the curb. The traffic was still whizzing by with frightening speed. She started walking across, as if she was Moses and the traffic was going to just part and let her by. The funny thing is, it did. As she walked (and I scampered behind her), the traffic went around her. They judged her speed and avoided her (and me, since I was basically clinging to her Vietnamese pajamas).

I was amazed. So this is how they do it! Now I know. The key is to remain calm and to keep the same pace. If you jump out of the way or speed up, you may get run over. You have to just set your pace and stick with it and they will go around you. And this is how you win the race.

Imagine trying to cross this!
This was taken from my Travel Spot blog and was one of the popular posts so I thought I would share it again.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Game Face Time

Ding.  Ding.  Ding.. (engine shutting down)....."you may now walk freely about the cabin"
That's when I jolt up in my seat, wide awake, a million thoughts running thru my brain all at once and not a single one makes any sense, finding myself determined to try to mentally prepare for the unexpected and at the same time knowing full well there is nothing more to be done but wait.... walk out.... and see what happens!


It's a total high of fear, anxiety, excitement, exhilaration, a feeling unlike anything else and totally addictive!
I love it!!!!  After those few moments of exhilaration, the thought, oh my, I'm really doing this!  I'm really here!  It's time to put on the "GAME FACE"!

Whenever I would exit some form of transportation, be it a plane, a train, a bus or a tuk tuk, I began to notice a pattern to my behavior when encountering a new place and group of people...sort of a defense mechanism that would come into play, like the stance a defensive line backer might make in preparing for a tackle, or a model about to hit up a runway, perhaps a super hero getting ready for super hero time?..and... IT'S... ON!

I'm not very tough.  I'm a wimp.  In a Star Wars play fight with a 4 year old involving plastic light sabers, I didn't last 30 seconds.  I think perhaps a lot of women who don't travel might be antimidated by travel because they're afraid of getting hurt, but in 1 year and 5 months of travel, I never once had a problem and almost never felt afraid....how is this?

Over time, I discovered I tend to have a certain look on my face that slowly came about after the first or second time of getting harassed by taxi drivers, bus drivers, tuk tuk drivers.....it's my "don't mess with me or I'll punch your face" look, and it works!  Yes, perhaps it's mean when first arriving in a new place to pull out the inner bad ass in you, not speak to anyone and stare straight ahead, walking in a straight path to the tourist information desk/ATM machine, but I have to be honest, it's worked out great!  I just pretend I'm...you know...Beyonce....workin' my stuff!

It erks me that some people choose not to travel because of these issues...that theives and fast talkers/assholes win so often because we let them, because we are afraid of them and that's just not right!

As a women, I felt I had a great luxury in knowing it was all right to be rude sometimes, because I had to!  My male counterpart on the other hand has yet to this day discovered that it's all right NOT to smile, greet and say no multiple times to strangers offering transportation and lodging, where as I have no problem walking by and ignoring anyone with the inappropriate balls to think it's all right to scream in my face demands of what I should and should not do immediately in their country looking to get an easy buck.  If they want my money, they have to work harder and be more polite then that!

Would they speak that way to their wife?  Their mother?  Beyonce?  U-huh..(cue snap) That's what I thought!

As a women tourist, we hold the money....we hold all the cards!  It's up to us to make sure we get treated appropriately and we will be, as long as we show confidence in ourselves!

Here's some details of my game face:
Jaw tight.  Eyes straight.  Not angry, just with great focus and intent.  Not in any hurry.  I'm not confused or lost at all and know exactly what I'm doing.  It's all right to smile or say hello, but if a conversation begins to follow me or goes longer then I'd like, I walk away....I don't ask them to stop, or that I'm not interested a million times, I just ignore them, their shot is over.

(Of course, on the inside I'm terrified, have no idea what I'm doing and all I can think about is where my money is, which pocket my passport is in and how fast I can run with a gigantic pack on my back for dear life)

Occasionally the 'face' backfires....
like the poor dude who ran a Bed and Breakfast on the island of Chiloe Chile and would stand outside the bus door with a card for his facilities....I totally pulled a face and walked away....when my husband walked by him later, they had a nice chat,  shared some friendly banter, talked about soccer and we walked away with a card for a cool place to stay at a reasonable price....sometimes....really...people are just nice, but that's hard to tell as an outsider.

The point is, as long I pushed myself to feel confident in myself, I rarely had a problem getting what I needed when I needed it.  Don't let the creepy dudes antimidate you.   With a little confidence and an inner diva, traveling can be so much more fun!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Attached at the hip

I know this is a women blog, not a couple blog....but I want to take a moment to evaluate a question R man and I get asked a lot that had a very large impact on my travels as a women rockin the road.....

"How was it spending so much time together?"

Traveling as a couple, just like traveling solo has a lot of pros and cons and I'm now absolutely positive everyone handles it a little differently, (if they can handle it at all) cuz it does get crazy weird fast in the middle of nowhere, without a map, not speaking the language, with no clue where an ATM is, all while hungry and tired, looking at the other person with puppy dog eyes that hold a meaning of:
"You go ask!  I did it last time...besides, you smell better, they might just listen to you!"
(this happened more often then we'd both like to admit!)

First there's the basic communication stuff:

Our first day of travel, we quickly learned some simple guidelines with each other in deciding the basics: where we wanted to go that day, what restaurant to eat at, where to sleep and what form of transportation to use...it all had to be discussed thoroughly over sometimes a period of days or weeks until we talked it to death.  When the moment happened when we didn't agree, it was like being in a three legged race wanting to go in two different directions at the same time, but never being allowed to untie our legs from one another with no foreseeable end date.

On a tough day, it could go like this:
person 1:  I want to go here!
person 2:  I don't.
person 1: Oh!  $%&*!

Most of the time, luckily, this didn't happen, because one of us (R man) would give in.  Hee hee hee.
When it was a tie, that meant we'd have to truly perfect our arguments to p.h.d. thesis level.
It's called: "Why my idea is so much better then yours!"
This could include references, weather conditions, pamphlets, 3rd party interviews, proof of educational potential, how much it cost and of course, because we love each other (awwww), it came down to who plain old wanted it more - comparing how much happiness one of us would feel by the other person giving in...a fine balance of happy karmic energy...of course there's cheating; fake tears, whining and some occasional swearing involved.  When it comes to pure love, nothing is off limits!

Then there's the freaky weird mind reading stuff:

We've definitely noticed some couple 'super powers' we now possess after so much time together...light years of normal couple time compacted into too much together time....powers we try to use for good and not so much evil....

  • We can press each other's nervous break down button's with a mere twitch of an eye brow and catch each other from freaking out with a slight wink and a nudge
  • Finishing each other's sentences and thoughts is a given, to the point where it's an effort and sometimes better not to!
  • We can have a screaming hysterics end of the world fight and kiss and make up in 5 minutes or less
  • Everything can be said with one look - getting the other person to actually look you in the eye - eh
  • We know what kind of mood the other person is in most of the time...sometimes an issue best left alone!
  • "Remember when that guy in that village did that thing with that avacado?"  "Yeah!  That was so cool!"    But also, "Remember when you did that thing I told you not to do, but you did it?!?"  "Uh...well...uh..."                                                                                                                      (I actually really love that we can do that, since my memory of names of persons/places/things is crap and R man is a walking dictionary of unnecessary/necessary knowledge!)
  • Have you seen those old couples sitting on a park bench not talking?  Yeah...we do that.  The best was when we went to eat at restaurants on the road...after spending all day together, asking about the other person's day was a bit redundant.  We'd eat in silence, commenting only on the food, the weather or the street scene in front of us and be perfectly happy about it....yes, in couple years, we are both 55!
Then there's the he/she stuff:

The basic fact is that different people have different interests when they travel....I'd like to say it's a gender thing, but I have no hard cold facts to prove these are truly boy/girl related tendencies.
(I could also just be a super lame-o traveler - you be the judge)

R man liked to stay busy and active, move more rapidly from city to city, do more adventurous sports and activities as well as see everything and anything possible and get it all done in just one day no problem, budget be damned!  (I'd call this cave man travel:...Ugh. Ugh.  Me want now!)

I tended to want a day of rest doing nothing once in awhile to catch up on reading and chilling out, didn't mind staying in a city or town for a week or more if the food was good, very rarely got bored just walking around and tended to avoid activities or transportation I thought might kill us or break the sacred budget.  So you see....a bit different!

It's all about values.  A little bit of both tended to be a good compromise for our quality of life.
Of course....perhaps my other half would see this all quite differently if he were writing....????
(But he's not!  BWA HA HA HA HA HA!)


Would I do it again with the same dude?  Absolutely!
Did I learn a lot about this dude?  No doubt!
Do I still like the dude?  Madly in love!

Granted, I've only had this one experience so far with just the one travel buddy....
I'd like to hear how other ladies 'deal' with who've traveled with, be it a significant other vs. going solo meeting strangers vs. with a friend and how they now feel about those experiences???

What they preferred/enjoyed more?    
Things they'd do differently?!? 
Still on speaking terms with travel buddy?
It's like that game of "stranded on a desert island" in a lot of ways...
If you could choose one person to be with on a desert island while having access to only one kind of powdered crap coffee to drink and no steady supply of mid western American dairy products for 5 months ...oh yeah...and no t.p.!  So.  How'd that all work out for ya?  

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Getting to Croc Camp in Zambia Africa

"I don't know Sarah, everyone is telling us to take a taxi.  I don't have a very good feeling about this..."
"I don't care!  This is bull#^*#!  I'm not paying  a taxi $5 to drive me to a $5/night campsite!  That's ridiculous!  I can see the entrance down the road!  They're just trying to scam us!  We're walking!"

R man and I were in the middle of a small village in Southern Zambia a half mile away from the entrance of South Luangua National Park and Croc Camp (a reasonably priced campsite that offers safaris) where R man had begged me to go so he could finally see his LION!  Men and their lions....we'd just spent 8 hours (4 hours waiting and 4 hours moving) in a very small minivan with 12 adults, 5 kids, a bicycle, a large screen television, enough toilet paper for an end of the world hideaway, two live chickens and about 15 dozen chicken eggs....I was not too excited about yet another form of Zambian style overpriced, ridiculously bad transportation if I could help it...

"But Sarah....you haven't seen their eyes!  Look into their eyes....they think we are walking to our death!"
"No. No. NO!  I'm walking!!!  I don't care!  They just want to rip us off again and have a good laugh at our expense.  I'm not doing it!"
"Ok....but, I'm taking a taxi."
"FOR REAL?!?  Ok!  I'm your husband.  I love you.  You're crazy.  We are going to die, but I'm coming with you!  At least we'll die together.  Happy?"
"Yes! I don't see any hippos or lions, do you?!?"

And we begin to walk out of the bubble like village of men standing on the streets staring at us while drinking cheap beer and children running around us begging for money....we were most definitely the entertainment for the evening.  We leave the security of normal (for Africa) and step out onto the dusty road of nothing for half a mile, which became a tree covered area of the unknown shortly after that with a small wooden sign that you could just make out - Croc camp - $5 camping -   Looked pretty easy.  I had no idea what I was doing.

R man: "I sure hope you know what you're doing!"

We were about 5 steps out on the dusty road of abyss when we heard a voice that sounded like Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter "Hey!  Guys!  What ar' ya' doin'?  Yo' gonna get killed!  Stop!"  

R man:  "Oh thank god!  SARAH!  I TOLD YOU!"

The best part was, when he ran out to us barefoot, for a moment I really thought he WAS Steve Irwin!  Dressed in his best Khaki short and shirt combo, crazy wild blond hair and big!  As he loomed down over us with a scolding concerned face, I felt smaller and smaller...and a little stupid....

"Right past those trees is a whole family of elephants with a big angry daddy who will KILL YOU!"

"oh  uh.  ok."

"come over 'ere and I'll give y'all a ride"
You know...in his personally owned safari truck. 

Turned out the guy owned Croc Camp and knew what he was talking about.  Sure enough as we drove in right next to the side of the road was a heard of elephants...4 females, 2 kids and a great big DADDY!

He spent the rest of the week telling our story to fellow travelers, discussing how silly and idiotic foreigners can be to the point he'd forgotten who we were and told it to us, slapping R man's back and laughing in hysterics.  "Can you believe these kids?!?  HA!  Wanted to WALK!"

To this day, when we tell the story, Rodolfo still enjoys a good "I told you so" at my expense!
Plus, he lived to see his lion:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Alone in the Dark

I was by myself in Brazil. My friend had flown to Peru to meet up with his family, my other friend had flown home and I wasn’t supposed to meet up with someone else for a few weeks. I was a little nervous to be honest; I had heard many horror stories.

“Did you know that Salvador da Bahia is the most dangerous city in the world?” some people asked me. “You should NEVER take your camera out with you. If you take your camera with you, you will surely get mugged, or killed!”

“Make sure you try not to act like a tourist. They will rob you for sure.”

“You should never walk around at night, even WITH someone else”.

“You shouldn’t stay in the Pelourinho (the old town). It’s very dangerous.”

I had heard it all before. Before leaving for South America, I lived in New Orleans, which, supposedly, was the murder capital of the US. Now I know that most of the people killing each other in New Orleans aren’t really bothering me, and I hoped that Salvador would be the same, because one of my first stops after my friends left was…you guessed it: Salvador.

On my way to Salvador, I got an email from a fellow (girl) traveler saying that she already had a place in town and it was cheap (PS Brazil is expensive!!). She gave me the address. It was right in the middle of The Pelourinho.

I took an overnight bus. It was my only option. I arrived at the bus station around 4 am. It wasn’t anywhere near the old town. I don’t speak Portuguese (although I fake it with Spanish pretty often). I had a Lonely Planet (guidebook) which I was afraid to take out of my pack because then I would “look like a tourist”. Speaking of that, I had a pack the size of Texas on my back AND one on my front as well. The website that I booked the hostel on had given directions: go across the street from the bus station and catch the number X bus going to Such and Such.

I swung my pack onto my back and crossed 6 lanes of highway, all the while shiftily looking over my shoulder for a murderer or a thief. I stood at the bus stop on the side that I hoped with all my heart was going in the right direction and waited in the area that I hoped was for the correct numbered bus. The site had said the bus came every 15 minutes. I waited for about 40. People were driving by and staring at me. EVERYONE was staring at me. They were going to double back and take my stuff, I just knew it.

Finally, I got a cab and paid 46 times more than I would have on the bus, but, ah the relief. I whipped out my Lonely Planet, gave the guy quick directions in broken Spanish and away we went. He knew where he was going!

However, we got to the area where he said (gestured and spoke rapid Portuguese) was the right area, but he just stopped the cab and let me out and said good bye. I was trying to ask him, “Which way? Which way?” But he just kept gesturing at me. And then, much to my horror, a homeless looking guy started to approach. “He is going to ask me for money,” I thought, “and then when I don’t give it to him, he is going to attack.”

He didn’t ask me for money. He offered to show me the way to the hostel. And when we arrived, he left. Just like that. No hand out, nothing.

And Salvador was beautiful. There were beaches and markets and colorful buildings and fat Bahia women dressed in outrageous outfits! It was great. Nobody robbed me. Nobody jumped me. Nobody took my precious stuff. I walked around at night. I took photos with my camera! And when it came time to go to my next destination, I even took the bus.