monday memories / RTW trip: the end of the end

sadly there are no more photos from our RTW trip, even though we visited three more countries (there were supposed to be five). here's the story of the early end of our trip:

after the last post about israel ... 

we headed north to greece where we had both previously travelled. i had spent my sophomore college year in greece. curt had travelled with a friend to visit someone in my group. amazingly we had both been at the same new year’s eve party in athens 12 years prior but had not met! 

this time, we wanted to stay at the same hotel for old time's sake ... but there was no room. was this a sign of things to come? 

so we island hopped to skyros to stay with the cutest aussie couple we had met just for an evening in egypt ... that’s travellers for you. so open! stayed with them for a week of eating (olives, feta, dolmades, calamari), gabbing and laughing (into the wee hours), motorbike touring (including a flat tire, which we fixed with more ouzo) and beach time. heaven. 

pulled ourselves away from this little piece of paradise and headed to italy to send most of our stuff home, buy bicycles and panniers and start our cycling portion – the last portion – of our trip: cycling and camping from italy to portugal. 

i had been lobbying curt for a bike trip through europe since the beginning of our RTW trip. thinking europe is so expensive compared to southeast asia, let's just ride bikes and camp, keeping our costs down. it'll be fun! we'll wine taste in france. you'll see!

turned out this was the HOTTEST summer on record in southern europe. we started in june in italy. we hadn't yet headed southward (HOTward) to spain or portugal in even HOTTER july. to beat the heat, we rose each day before dawn to eat a hearty breakfast and break camp. had some dazzlingly stunningly beautiful dawn rides down country lanes in italy. but as the mornings progressed into noontime (HOTtime), we melted each and every day. we pedaled between 54 and 108 kilometers daily, then would roll into a campsite and soak in the swimming pool all afternoon. ate pasta every night for dinner and crashed to sleep, waking again pre-dawn for another day of the same. it was europe, it was beautiful, but it was just too darn HOT. 

crossing into france was exciting, except that we somehow lost each other in the hilliest place of all: monaco. we each ended up riding up and down that huge hill in monaco a few times until we found each other, relieved to find each other and furious that we'd become separated and had to ride up and down that @#!&* hill so many times. our bikes were pretty heavy, and even heavier with full panniers.

in nice, we wanted to go to the matisse museum. having left our rear panniers in the tent in the campground, we locked our bikes in front of the museum. i left the handlebar bag on my bike. curt thought i should carry it into the museum, but i didn't want to lug it. no one will steal anything, i argued to curt. (i can be pretty darn persuasive. it'll be fine, you'll see!) both of us forgetting he had put his travellers checks in the my bike bag that morning, which also contained all my exposed film from italy, greece and israel. THIS WAS ABOUT THE DUMBEST MOVE I MADE ON THE ENTIRE TRIP! 

went to the window just 15 meters from our bikes to buy our museum entrance tickets. when we turned around to look at the bikes before entering the museum, my bike bag had already been stolen. 

after a few low days sorting out travellers checks, we steered our bikes into the countryside of france, pointed toward portugal. looking forward to shifting gears back into happiness, we wanted to make our french cycling dreams come true, lavender and sunflowers and wine tasting, all that! still, it was HOT. 

another dawn start and we were in a wine region early in the morning. the first winery sign we saw, curt wanted to stop for a taste. the sign pointed toward a little dirt lane with a bend so we couldn't see how far it was to the winery. the lane was a downhill (which means i have to ride back uphill with heavy bike and panniers). it was 9am. we started down the lane and then i said STOP! 

i wasn't about to go knocking on a winery door at 9am. and it might not have even been a proper tasting room, could have been just some winemaker's home. no way. and especially since i didn't know how far off the main road it was. downhill. i wasn't having any of it! 

infuriated, curt rode back uphill toward the main road. when i got to the main road, he was nowhere in sight. i waited. we had ONE RULE for cycling together: wait at all intersections for the other. i waited and waited. finally i started riding in the direction of our destination. didn't see curt for an hour. stopped at the first sign of civilization, a cafe along the road. excusez-moi, have you seen a cyclist? they had not seen him. i was very worried. where was curt? had he fallen into a ditch? someone offered to drive me back to the country lane with the winery sign. he wasn't there. i looked in the ditches and bushes along the way. back at the cafe, i waited some more. they suggested we call the gendarmes (police). so the gendarmes arrived, i told them my story, and we went out looking for curt. 

we found him riding further along on the main road. loaded him and his bike in the cop car and brought him back to the cafe. i was crying. he was seething. while the gendarmes read curt the riot act in french. 

this bike trip was not turning out to be the fairy tale cycling escapade i had imagined. 

we were arguing. a lot. it was HOT. maybe riding all the way to portugal was not the best idea under the circumstances. we made it all the way to aix en provence. still HOT. still bickering. we looked at one another and agreed. it was time. time to go home. as soon as we even mentioned the idea out loud, a wave of relief came over both of us.

10 months. 13 countries. a lifetime of memories. 

~~~~~

lessons learned: travel. go! go NOW! you never know when or if you will have the opportunity again. oh, and never ever EVER leave important things in a bike bag. 

+++++

before the trip, i had recently graduated grad school in journalism and was freelancing as a photojournalist at the oregonian. curt and i had seen "jean de florette," a movie about a parisian couple who moved to a village to live a simpler life. we thought it would be fun to rent a house in the french countryside for awhile. then we thought, why not travel? which mushroomed into why not travel around the world? i was 30 years old. i would have a full-time job someday and wouldn't be able to just up and leave for 10 months. curt had just been accepted to art school after working at the same job for many years, and was ready for a change. so we travelled!

a month after our return to portland, i was offered my first full-time job as a photojournalist at the long beach press-telegram. and moved to socal. curt and i went our separate ways. 

we are still very close and he has helped me remember our travels, so i could share them here. and i'm going to portland for christmas to see curt and other friends from college. this is the last installment of monday memories until the new year, when i will continue to remember and share. 

2011 monday memories will include stories of athletics, school, family, friends, spirituality, and of course, lots more travel! 

thank you for coming along on these journeys, which i hope inspire you to remember your lives, your special moments, and your lessons learned while living.

peace.

xh

monday memories / RTW trip: the promised land

while i have my around-the-world photos out from their usual home in the garage, i think i’ll continue telling some more stories from that adventure. after the last post about egypt ... 

we took a bus from cairo -- worrying if there would be any issues entering israel from an "arab country" (no problem) -- to jerusalem. spent a few days in the old city, soaking up the ancient ambiance and the LIGHT reflecting all that white and gold colored jerusalem stone from which the entire city is made. stunning.

i love love love the church of the holy sepulchre where they say christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. the space divided into six sections for six different christian denominations. the entire ceiling adorned with ancient oil lamps and incense burners, making it easier to imagine what it might have been like 2000 years ago. dark. mysterious. holy.

arab market, old jerusalem

my other favorite thing in the old city was watching everyone scurry around on friday afternoon, running last minute errands and doing last minute doings before shabbat which paralyzes the place. no running, no errands, no doing from friday sunset til saturday sunset. everything closes. full stop. a real day of rest. the one thing open on shabbat is the wailing wall, where many and especially the orthodox converge to sway and pray. we placed little notes to god in the crevices of the rocks, along with all the other notes from people over hundreds of years. 

my friday afternoon scurry to the store before sunset ended in tears. just outside the jaffa gate to the old city, a huge man was selling postcards displayed on poles. laden with a plastic bag of groceries in each of my hands, i stopped to look at his cards ... when he reached up with both hands and touched my breasts. fucker! enraged at him and at all the men who had dared to touch me throughout our trip and throughout my life, i dropped my bags and pounded on his chest. i always thought i was the kind of girl who could throw a punch as good as the guys. NOT. i pounded away while he -- completely unfazed -- just laughed and laughed at me. aaaaaaarrrrrggggggghhhhhhh. adrenaline racing, i picked up my bags and marched away. i thought about going to the police. but i just wanted to retreat to the safety of curt and our little room. (rrrrr. this still makes me mad as hell!)

then we moved to kibbutz yahel, an amazing piece of green in the negev desert right next to jordan, for a month. 

most kibbutz employ "volunteers" ... usually young travellers who work in exchange for room and board and per diem. we worked HARD in the HOT sun -- curt picking watermelons, me packing galia melons -- made $120 per person per month and spent it all at the kibbutz store on chips, ice cream, water and beer. 

NOTE: the above photo was the security memo they gave us upon arrival at yahel. THIS IS THE LAST PHOTO i have of our RTW trip. and i'll tell you why next week. below are photos i found on the internet of yahel ... 

when we weren't working, we swam in the beautiful swimming pool and sipped in the bombshelter bar. other than that, we slept. didn't have much contact with the kibbutzim. while israelis are renowned for their exotic good looks ... they are not famous for their politesse. from my journal pages ...

the kibbutzniks treated us a hair better than they treated the arab workers. then the office ladies read my postcard on which i said just that and then they were REALLY RUDE to me.  

NOTE: 20 years later, i now know what a stupid/insipid/immature thing that was to think/say/write on a postcard. but it's what i did at the time.

but then there was also this from my journal:

in spite of everything, we did learn a bit about what kibbutz life is like, and had good times as well:

- waking up at 5am, dawn, and hearing hundreds of birds chirping away. slouching to the dining hall to find a cup, any cup, and wash it and fill it with instant coffee.

- driving the tractor to the dump, amidst all those hazy purple mountains, and the mountains of jordan, and feeling very free.

- going running around the perimeter road, inside the barbed wire, happy to be in a country again where they don't think you're totally crazy for doing such a thing, especially a woman.

-working so hard all you could do is go home, take a shower and fall asleep -- totally exhausted after a hard day's work. it actually felt GOOD some days, if our bodies weren't too sore.

- seeing bicycles left in the middle of the paths with no worry, never to be stolen.

we had committed to staying two months at yahel, but left after one. and i even had to talk curt into staying for the whole month. his work in the fields was really tough. so after our 30 days, we hopped a bus and went north to haifa, where we ate the best falafel in the world at a little sidewalk stand. which signaled our exit from the promised land. and thus we headed north via ferry to greece ... 

~~~~~

lessons learned: manual labor can be very gratifying and grounding. a weekly, real day of rest is beautiful and revitalizing. 

+++++

put on the to-do list: learn how to throw a proper punch.

monday memories / RTW trip: ancient egypt ambiance

while i have my around-the-world photos out from their usual home in the garage, i think i’ll continue telling some more stories from that adventure. after the last post about kenya ... 

 

arriving in cairo after two months in kenya was like landing back in civilization ... albeit a muslim civilization (our first experience of muslim culture except for a few days on java and yogyakarta at the beginning of our trip.). in a great city ... great coffee. great food. movie theaters. museums. history. peace. safety. we were psyched!

people were quite friendly, wanting to have a coffee and practice their english. different from kenya where we felt we couldn’t trust people, they wanted to rip us off.

we spent a few days in cairo getting acclimated and doing some business and banking. stayed at the nicest place on our whole trip (except, of course, the uber fancy hotel in bombay, which is in a whole tier to itself) ... the very friendly, clean and well-run pension roma ... in an old building with tons of character, huge rooms with ultra high ceilings and antique armoires and furniture, private bath, and complimentary breakfast. curt bought roses for me several times, just like in portland where he bought me a beautiful bouquet every friday. a far cry from our stay in kenya! and all for 30 egyptian pounds or $10/night! so good that i even noted it in my diary: 

the fruit juice was cheap, too! 30 cents for a big glass of fresh squeezed anything. our favorites: orange and strawberry/banana.

you have to understand ... this was straight off the heels of two months in kenya, preceeded by a month in india, and a month in nepal. all fascinating places in which we, as budget travellers, had stayed in some mighty grotty places. thailand and bali were really quite clean in comparison ... high standards of cleanliness. nepal, india and kenya ... not so much.  

then we headed to luxor. and stayed at possibly the very worst place of our entire trip. ah well, this is budget travelling. sometimes the little budget finds something great, sometimes not so great. i was pretty much the master at finding good places. i have a need for “ambiance.” (my college pals will laugh at this word, but it was true even then, a nascent sensibility and vocabulary word for me!) but it took some looking. curt got used to it, and we developed a system. we would arrive in a new place. he would sit with the luggage while i ran around looking at all the accommodation in our budget. and i'd always find the best! except in luxor :-(

and since we were travellers -- distinct from tourists -- we decided to rent bicycles and tour the valley of the kings on two wheels. hah! we dumbly handed over curt’s passport as collateral for the one-speed bicycles (we'd been travelling for six months by then and we KNEW BETTER!). but off we went sans passport. saw tut’s tomb, hatshupset’s magnificent tomb, and more. and it was the hottest, sweatiest, dustiest day of my life. and perhaps the most dangerous with all those monster wide tour buses racing past us, with their fancy schmancy air conditioning. i was jealous, but it was too late to turn back.

eventually curt’s bike failed ... we can’t remember exactly what ... flat tire? sticking brake? if i recall correctly, curt and i both got on my bike, he pedalled and i sat on the seat holding the broken bicycle to the side. it wasn’t pretty. when we got back to the bike rental place, they wanted us to pay for the repair. we said no, we didn’t do anything wrong, the bike just broke. they were holding curt’s passport until we forked out. i’m sure it wasn’t much, but we were on a budget and didn’t have extra funds. we argued for 20 minutes, loudly, before getting the passport back, without paying for the repairs. not exactly my proudest moment. and limped back to our crappy hotel. NOT the best day of the trip.

back to cairo and pension roma. we toured the fabulous egyptian museum. shopped in khan el khahlili souk. bought perfume. needed a usa fix so went to see “born on the 4th of july” in a movie theater which was an experience in and of itself. you had to sit in your assigned seat and the vendors came to you. weird. no popcorn. not the greatest fix ...  i much prefer the movie-going experience at home!

the absolute best part of our egypt time was wandering around the back alleys of cairo. i admit i'm not the usual tourist or traveller. even now when i'm on a short trip. i don't love going around to tourist sites, just because the place is significant historically. just because the guidebook says you have to see it. i don't usually care to go SEE things. ruins. churches. museums. you know. it all becomes a blur after the first two or three. unless it is significant and meaningful to ME for whatever reason ... to me, this sightseeing is of the head.

i want to have an EXPERIENCE. of the heart. my heart. i much prefer to wander around and meet people, see what their daily lives entail. soak up the ambiance of the place. experience it. 

while meandering the little dirt lanes in the ancient coptic christian area of cairo, we found ben ezra synagogue. having been raised jewish, i was interested in this place. what? jews in egypt? i thought they all left with moses! crossed the red sea and all. the passover story. the man at the door said he had been offering tours of this tiny temple for 40 years. 

this man took us around the old synagogue where he said moses and jesus, mary and joseph spent time. moses was found as a baby in the reeds of the nile near here. this man showed us stones and stairs and all kinds of unphotogenic sites, always asking "photo? photo?" charming.

this man was my favorite part of egypt. just. look. in. his. eyes. now THAT is an experience. i'll take that over any ruin, no matter how historically significant, any day, any time, anywhere.

~~~~~ 

lessons learned: never turn over your passport, for anything! ever! and especially not for a broken bicycle! and don't think for a minute that being a traveller is any better than being a tourist. it's the same! that was just my egotistical youth talking.

monday memories / RTW trip: in to africa

while i have my around-the-world photos out from their usual home in the garage, i think i’ll continue telling some more stories from that adventure. after the last post about india ...

**note: most of these photos were scanned from contact sheets, thus the low quality.

we flew to nairobi, our luggage arriving splayed open on the conveyor belts, along with many other bags arriving in similar shape. curt was missing a few items, but we were glad to see our bags. many fellow travellers' bags didn't arrive at all. an airport luggage worker, either in bombay or nairobi, jimmied open the zippers on our bags and rummaged around. both places are filled with desperate people. still, we have a feeling it happened in nairobi ... 

curt and ngugi

we were there visiting curt's friend ngugi in ngong (pronounced "gogi" and "gong") outside nairobi. ngugi lived in curt's neighborhood in portland from age 10 to age 20, and they grew up playing together. at 20, ngugi had an apartment, a car, a job, a girlfriend, a bank account, and was going to college. he decided to make a trip back to kenya to visit his dying father. had all the necessary visas and paperwork. he took two suitcases, one with his clothes, and one filled with gifts for his family. at the end of his visit, he went to the airport all ready to head back to portland, and was denied transit. as in, the airport officials denied his visa, which had been fine a month prior when he had departed portland. ngugi later learned that while he was overseas, president reagan had changed the law. ngugi was not allowed to return to the US.

ngong

what? curt's family and all the neighbors worked on ngugi's behalf to help him return to portland, to his LIFE. but they were unsuccessful. and unable to send his things. ngugi had one suitcase to his name. 

with nowhere else to go, ngugi first built himself a mud hut in a shanty town. then eventually he married, moved in to a compound and had two beautiful children. ironically, he worked sporadically as a photographer of passport pictures. 10 years later, he was still bitter about how he was treated by the united states government. yeah, i get it. 

ngong

curt and i stayed with ngugi, his wife mama-ciku (once a kenyan woman has a child, she takes the name of her first born preceded by "mama") and their children ciku and jack in their two-room home for a few days until we were able to find lodging. we rented an unfurnished house -- a mansion compared to ngugi's place -- with an eastern (aka: squat), but porcelain and flushing, toilet. at ngugi's place, the shared toilet facilities were not porcelain, not flushing, and ...  how can i say it ...  the worst i've encountered ... anywhere, ever.

ciku (left) and jack and neighbor (right)

our house was clean and simple. we borrowed a single bed and a propane burner, and lived there for two months. but we only had running water for the first few days. from then on, we had to join in the queues of people with our five-gallon buckets. we had to boil our water for drinking, we used one-liter bottles for bathing and for flushing the toilet. 

mama-ciku and neighbor girl

we did take ngugi's family on a low-budget/high-adventure safari (the post which started this whole series of our trip around the world).

and we did visit ngugi's family farm one weekend. they even killed a goat in our honor (i was a vegetarian at the time. horrible.)

ciku and jack on family farm

and curt and ngugi got to spend a lot of time together. they had 10 years to catch up on. but two months was a long time for me. ngong was a poor african town with not much happening, no opportunity for the locals, people having to walk far for water. lots of people hanging around not working because there just wasn't any work. it was depressing, hopeless.

one night we visited ngugi's brother who was living in his old mud hut in the shanty town. we were drinking beer. two local policemen paid us a visit, and from what i could gather, demanded beer. they stayed and drank it, loosened their uniforms, disheveled. they had guns. it was very scary.

i also made a collage out of newspaper stories and headlines while i was there. horrific stories about people hacking each other up with machetes. police raping women with coke bottles. astounding brutality. 

mombasa

we also visited mombasa on the ocean. curt got really, really sick. more sick than when we were stranded in that nepali village

i literally just found my travel journal out in the garage. here's an excerpt from that time:

mombasa was a bust, we are nonplussed and both got bacterial dysentary. curt was so sick and with such a high fever (i'm glad we had no thermometer!) and chills, i thought he might even have malaria. but after several hours of his suffering and my nursing, his fever broke. he was still not well enough to take the bus back to nairobi, so i exchanged our tickets for tomorrow and got more medicine from the nice indian pharmacist. 

mombasa

and i have to say, africa -- or maybe it was just travelling in general -- was taking its toll on me. 

the morning we were going to the family farm, curt and i took our usual path to ngugi's, but the monsoons had started and it was pouring. i stepped in mud down to my ankles and basically had a meltdown. we got to ngugi's and i wouldn't stop crying. the children were concerned. curt laughed at me. i was not a happy camper. it was kind of funny that a little mud would warrant such an explosive reaction, but i just had had it up to here (karate chop in the air over my head).  

view of ngong hills from the karen blixen museum

to escape our heartbreaking surroundings, we snuck away -- somewhat guiltily -- and rode the insanely dangerous matatou (minibus) from ngong halfway to nairobi ... to karen. ah, karen. karen was the wealthy suburb where many europeans had plantations and farms. karen blixen (also known as isak dinesan, "out of africa"author) had her farm there, which had become a museum and which i visited often. and there was a great restaurant with a safe salad bar, candlelight and cold beer! curt tried game meats. i soaked up the sparkling clean ambiance. heaven.

another journal entry:

curt and i really do get along well, we have had nothing but time on our hands and have managed to keep ourselves and each other entertained -- thank god we both like gin rummy. he really is a pleasure to live with ... 

exotic plant at karen blixen museum

i'm embarrassed to say that i needed to get away to karen. but i really did. i just did. it was peaceful, subdued, beautiful. 

in spite of the hardships, in spite of my heart breaking over and over witnessing so much hopelessness, i did find beauty in the landscapes, the majestic animals, and the courageous people who live and laugh, day in and day out, with such rawness of LIFE. and what a treasure for curt and ngugi to have had that time together.

~~~~~

lessons learned: important friendships are worth any hardship. 

+++++

while we were travelling, we didn't really have any extra money or things we could give to ngugi and his family. but when we got home, it felt good to send ngugi some extra camera gear i had. and curt still sends money. 

in kenya, i became a huge karen blixen fan. read her "letters from africa, 1914-1931." when i returned home, i found this wonderful book "longing for darkness: kamante's tales from out of africa" by photographer peter beard. he collected stories and drawings by blixen's servant kamante, the hero in blixen's "out of africa."

portrait of kamante in the karen blixen museum

monday memories / RTW trip: desperately seeking india

while i have my around-the-world photos out from their usual home in the garage, i think i’ll continue telling some more stories from that adventure. after the last post about nepal ... 

we flew from kathmandu to varanasi, india on feb 6. when planning our trip, india was the only place i was afraid to go. i was afraid i would be surrounded by hordes of desperate, destitute people pulling on my sleeves with outstretched hands, breaking my heart. it all happened, and more.

varanasi. holy holy. on the banks of the holy ganges river. regarded as a holy city by buddhists and jains, and the holiest place in the world by hindus (considered to be the center of earth in hindu cosmology). one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and probably the oldest of india. one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in india. you get it. OLD. HOLY.

we stayed in the heart of the old city, wanted to be in the midst of it all. thought we could handle anything after shockingly dirty, poor, mysterious kathmandu. yet varanasi was so overwhelming. all systems on overload. 

nearby were the ghats, the steps leading down to the ganges river ...  over 100 of them. some are bathing ghats, some cremation sites.  (hindus believe bathing in the ganges remits sins and that dying here ensures release of their souls.) ancient narrow labyrinth streets. teeming with people from all over india to celebrate their most important life events: to be born, get married, die, give alms. temples galore. monkeys, dogs, cows. silk merchants. maimed beggars lining the alleys to the ghats. (the best place to beg, people give for good karma.) sheer  bedlam. we witnessed it all. child wedding processions. bodies on carts being pushed by their families, going to die. burning pyres. so much assaulting the senses, we could only manage to leave our room for a couple hours at a time.

and then there was the boat ride on the ganges. with three men. lovely. until. one of the men dared to touch me where i didn’t want to be touched. i screamed at them to take us back. (this was not the only time i was touched by indian men. when asking the time, they’d brush my breasts with their arm. or, i don’t know. they did it seeming to do it by accident. but i later learned, it wasn’t by accident at all.)

after a few days, we fled to dehli. to see the taj mahal in nearby agra. we planned our day-long excursion so we could take the first class train to agra. but our taxi didn’t arrive on time. i will never forget the harrowing scenes in the pre-dawn shadows outside the train station: row after row of people sleeping on cardboard on the side of the road, hundreds if not thousands of them. by the time we got to the station, the only train we could get was second class. and my worst nightmare came true: standing room only. legless, maimed, scarred, destitute beggars – some of them children -- scooting through the car the entire two hour journey, pleading at us, tugging our sleeves, with desperate eyes. we were the only tourists dumb enough to take the second class train. and we knew if we gave anything to even one person, we’d be instantly mobbed by hordes. there was nowhere to hide.

on the train, someone told us princess diana was scheduled to be at the taj mahal that day.

disembarking the traumatic train ride, we were instantly encircled by taxi men, each wanting desperately to drive us to the taj mahal. desperation driven by survival in a land of too many people and too few resources. curt and i got separated into two throngs, each of us surrounded by pressing, pushing -- and in my case, touching -- men.

we finally extricated ourselves into a taxi with one man driving, the other guy facing backward pleading with us the entire ride to hire them as tour guides for the rest of the day for $20. we said no. they kept pleading.

we arrived at the taj mahal ... tense, frazzled, heartbroken. buying our tickets at the entrance, we learned the whole taj mahal complex would be closing in 20 minutes so that lady di could have a private viewing. 20 minutes!

curt and i were miserable, arguing, blaming each other for this nightmare of a day (and when i think that millions of people LIVE like this. my heart breaks just thinking of it). we didn’t even want to walk together. at one of the most magnificent sites on earth! built in the 1600s by a mughal in memory of his third wife, the grandest gesture of love in the whole wide world. and my love and i, we despised each other in that moment. and then, just like that, we and all the other tourists were escorted out. doors closed. thud.

nothing to do but take a walk, regroup, have lunch. curt and i reconnected. relaxed. let the tensions of the morning float away in the afternoon breeze. we returned to the great taj mahal at sunset, lady di long gone. and had the most magical, love-filled time amid the stunning architecture, details and light.

hopped the fine first class train back to dehli. took a midnight flight to bombay and promptly checked ourselves into the most luxurious hotel in the city: the taj mahal palace. broke the budget at $200/night. put it on the emergency credit card. we were now the desperate ones, in dire need of peace, calm, safety, cleanliness. (this was the one and only time we stayed in a fancy hotel on the whole trip). were going to spend only one night but couldn’t bear to leave. to leave the fluffy duvet. the spacious clean room. the luxurious bathroom! the heavy white bathrobes. THE SALAD BAR! (we hadn’t had a salad in months – my favorite food -- can’t eat salad when traveling to these places, it’s washed in local water). we didn’t leave the hotel for two days.

our spending spree came promptly to an end. sadly and with trepidation, we stowed most of our luggage at the hotel, including both of my cameras. we were heading from the ultimate in luxury to the most primitive of accommodations, on a recommendation from a fellow traveller. talk about how flexible the human spirit can be!

 

in the early morning hours, we embarked on a mind-numbing, 24-hr bus ride. departing the city, overlooking shanty towns for as far as i could see, men squatted by the side of the road for miles, pants down, little tin cans of water for washing beside them. (apparently, indian women go discreetly in the darkness before light.) we indian bus novices were seated right under the speaker blaring jarring indian music the entire 24 hours. it took us a few stops to figure out the bathroom/chai breaks. everyone disappeared so quickly into the roadside (indian version of a truckstop) chaos. i couldn’t find the bathroom our first two stops. the third stop, in desperation, i decided be one of the first off and follow the women to the “bathroom”. oh dear. it was really just a squatting place, kind of in an alley by the side of the building, no real facilities. about as disgusting as it gets.

we arrived in diu, a fascinating melange of india and portugese influence. we had been told to find the albino lassi man. that was all we knew. but the lassi man (lassi: that yummy drink of mango and yogurt, the indian version of a milkshake) wasn’t there. we waited in the little town square in the heat of the day for hours. as people started coming out from siesta, so, too, did the lassi man! we paid him our fee of 15 rupees (25c per person per day) for the week for a hut, a “mattress” and our cooking gear. and he pointed the way to hut number 8.

the huts rented to budget travellers sat on a bluff outside a peaceful little fishing village. all the men were away fishing. the women, children and old folks remained. what a treat to witness village life up close. our mud hut was cosy and dirty, but fun! we could use the running water in the village to wash, but it only came on sometimes. after a few days, we finally figured out it came on for a brief time with a generator pump which we could hear from our hut. so when it came on, i hurried over to the village to wash my hair.

as the mornings warmed, the biting flies woke up, too, forcing us to leave our hut by 8:30am each day. we went to the beach. in the evenings the village women and children would come around to sell us food. as i got to know some of them, one day i mustered up the courage to walk through the center of the village. there was even an englishman living in this village, an artist. it was all so dirty, so poor, so basic. but the people were lovely and warm, shy but friendly.

we had ventured from the village into the larger town one day, and the place was spectacular with run-down beauty. but i hadn’t brought my cameras! so on our last day, desperate to make pictures, i borrowed a camera from one of the other travellers in a neighboring hut. i think i gave him my passport as collateral. still, i can’t believe he lent me his camera, what trust. wow. the comraderie among travellers is astounding. there’s a sense that we’re all together in this travelling way of life, separate from the locals but joined by our journeying.

that day, i found the picture making to be the absolute best on the entire RTW trip! with borrowed camera, humbled.

after diu, we made our way to bombay to fly onward to nairobi. in the bombay airport while waiting for our flight, i watched a young western guy dressed in white indian kurta wandering around aimlessly, alone, muttering to himself. after watching him for awhile, i approached him to see if i could help. he was completely stoned on something. something strong. heroin maybe? he wanted to get home to england. he didn’t know where he was.  he couldn’t find his ticket or a passport, if he even had them. i tried to find an airport official who could help this man. but it was time for us to catch our flight. and we left. leaving behind so much desperation. and so much richness. so much life.

~~~~~ 

lessons learned: don’t sit under the speaker on indian buses. don’t leave my camera behind, ever! see the inner human beings behind their desperate circumstances.

+++++

ps – i’ve returned to india twice, both times spent in the peace of ashrams. i will return.

pps – favorite indian movies: slumdog millionaire, water, monsoon wedding, lagaan. favorite book about india: shantaram.

monday memories / RTW trip: hugging hills and yaks

while i have my around-the-world photos out from their usual home in the garage, i think i’ll continue telling some more stories from that adventure. after the last post about thailand ...

flying into kathmandu from bangkok was like entering a completely different planet. (and we hadn't even gotten to india yet ... i know i keep saying that. india is a different universe altogether!) kathmandu in january: misty, dark, mysterious, ancient, impoverished, damp. we had to spend about a week gaining our bearings, figuring out which trek to do, getting all the necessary official papers and permits, paying fees, gathering gear. 

before our RTW (round the world) departure, curt and i had set up a very loose itinerary which we gave to our friends and family, including the american express offices in each country we were to visit. back in the days before email and cell phones, amex offered locations for mail and packages to be held for travellers. so out in kathmandu one day, searching for the office, i spied a young western traveller coming toward me on the sidewalk. i stopped her and asked her if she knew where the american express office was located. she pointed me in the right direction, and we went our separate ways, not knowing that moment began a long and deep friendship. 

a few days later, karin was on the bus to pokhara with us along with her bf chris, another young couple from canada, and a load of nepali people. the six of us became instant friends, all on the same adventure: trekking the 21-day annapurna circuit. but first, we had to survive the treacherous eight-hour, gut-wrenching, brain-jostling bus ride. the road from kathmandu (capital city) to pokhara (second city) was virtually the only road in nepal, and much of it wasn't paved. our bus looked like it had been through a war, but many didn't make it, evidenced by rusted busted bus parts strewn down the mountain cliffs. harrowing. but we survived. 

one night in the idyllic, lakeside village of pokhara (where i left my whole fanny pack -- wallet and passport inside -- at a store, and later retrieved it from a gentle woman who would have had a year's worth of income had she stolen my cash) and we started our trek.  

fortunately we were young, strong and fit. even so, our six-some dwindled to a four-some just a few days in ... canadian christine suffered terrible headaches, nausea and sleeplessness due to altitude. her system just couldn't acclimate, so they had to turn around. you can't mess with mother nature, especially around the highest peaks on earth. karin, chris, curt and i heaved onward and upward. 

elevation in METERS, not feet!the annapurna circuit was and still is the most popular trekking route in nepal. easy to navigate without a guide(though i would get one now, to learn more about the culture), from tea lodge to tea lodge, each equipped with shared bunk rooms, filtered water, people from all over the world, decent food (even "beritos" and "vejjie bergers" -- though curt consistently chose the local daal bhat 3x/day). and yet, we were alone on the trail most of the time. the scenery varied from lush terraced fields -- lemon trees, almost tropical -- to monkeys swinging through forests, to barren hillsides and mountains, to bleak desolate villages, to the ultimate peaks reaching the heavens. 

these paths and trails we walked on every day were the "freeways" of the nepali. they had to carry everything they needed in their villages on their backs, usually with a tump line strapped around their foreheads. crates of eggs, canned goods, coke bottles!, firewood, etc etc etc. and usually, the locals were barefoot. or in the simplest footwear. the calf muscles on these folks! you could tell the professional sherpas -- they sported expensive hiking boots. 

we learned early on, "hug the hill" (not me-hill, the mountain-hill). on one particularly treacherous 5-foot-wide trail along a rock face, along came a yak train which i mistakenly got on the outside of (as in, NOT hugging the hill), staring down a 200-foot sheer drop. adrenaline surging, i had to hug the yaks to stay on the trail. even though they are huge/scary/smelly creatures, they were less scary than my other choice. hug the hill, definitely. but when in doubt, hug a yak! (i did not make that mistake again. when i saw a yak train coming our way, i just found a safe place to pull over, hug the hill and wait for the beasts to pass.)

only wealthy nepali can afford to ride horseback to their marriage ceremony 

i didn't know a lick about nepali/buddhist/tibetan culture or religion. chris did, though, and kept us well informed, and he's good with maps, too. so many hours to talk while we walked. (such a blessing to have so much TIME to just be with people). but my interest in spirituality of all kinds and the religions of the world has grown since then. had i known then what i know now, i would have been spinning these prayer wheels at every opportunity!

curt is very strong (he carried a huge backpack so i could carry only a daypack), but has a weak tummy. he got sick pretty much in every country. this time, it was bad. the daal bhat eventually got to him. or maybe some unclean water. on about day 6 he was in a bad, bad way. so sick that while entering a village late in the afternoon, he didn't even manage to get off the main trail and dropped trou, as in, had diarrhea right then and there, on the trail. kinda like shitting on someone's front steps. we stayed in that village for three nights while curt lay in bed moaning and groaning and felt like he was going to die. i was sad to see them go, but karin and chris trekked on. i nursed curt in a little ramshackle dark, dusty room. we didn't have much in the way of medications, so we just had to wait it out. and waited. and waited. 

but he came back to strength. we hiked along the spectacular kaligandaki gorge where a dog found and followed us for three days (helping curt? he missed his dog so. perhaps this furry friend bolstered him.) we made it all the way up to the desolate, eerie muktinath, finding our stride. we missed our friends karin and chris who were ahead of us on the trail. we loved having them as hiking partners, and wanted to catch up. 

we kept up a good clip, walked long days. we thought we could make it to tatopani, the next village on the map, where we might find our friends. darkness came and we kept walking (not smart). we reeeeeaaaaallllly wanted to get there. curt's feet were bleeding. i don't remember but i'm sure mine were aching, too. we arrived in tatopani, found the tea lodge and entered the open-air dining room to gasps and applause. karin and chris were there, they knew how fast we must've walked to catch up to them, and they spread the news to the other travellers. we recieved a standing ovation by all! celebrated well and rested the next day. 

rest and laundry day, with karin

a few more days walking and we made it back to pokhara. where we both got sick. really sick. as in, all orifices exploding at once (vomit and diarrhea, the combo pack). fortunately, we had a private bath with western toilet. thank god! (and thank god i was the one with the camera, no photos of sick hilly here!)

 back in kathmandu, we enjoyed ourselves. lattes and pastries at the pumpernickel cafe ... 

 curt got a shave which he still talks about to this day ... 

we felt like heroes, having survived our own trek!

little did we know what was in store for us in india ... 

~~~~~

lessons learned: always hug the hills! stay alert,  for the next person you meet may just become a dear friend. 

+++++ 

postscript: karin and i are still friends, 20 years later. we still joke to each other "do you know where the american express office is?" she's super crafty and taught me how to make greeting cards, planting the seed that was to become eyechai. now she's busy with bigger things ... she and chris got married and just had a baby boy! but their little guy hasn't dampened their wanderlust ... they've taken him camping in botswana, namibia, iceland, and nevada!

monday memories / RTW trip: no turkey in thailand

while i have my around-the-world photos out from their usual home in the garage, i think i’ll continue telling some more stories from that adventure. after the last post about bali ...

we walked across the malaysia/thailand border. that was weird. no man's land for a few hundred yards. then after a harrowing minibus ride overnight from the border of malaysia, we made it to a perfect little island. away from the touristey phuket, ko samui and ko pipi, we found ko lanta. off season. pretty much deserted. as in, no full-moon parties (one can only imagine the insanity!). lovely.

we stayed in a place that was “closed” but – in gracious thai style -- they allowed a few folks to stay anyway. an interesting couple from port townsend and an aussie couple.

we arrived on thanksgiving (my very favorite holiday). and we arrived provisions in hand. we hadn't been able to find a turkey so we bought chicken. no sweet potatoes so bought white potatoes. no regular string beans so bought those long asian string beans. at the beach bungalow, we were told we needed to find the chef and ask permission to invade his sacred, sand-floored kitchen and cook up the thanksgiving feast. this young chef eyed us up and down – you know how chefs are – and grudgingly turned over his kitchen to us. we prepared the feast, and invited everyone staying there to join in. so the six tourists (we say “touri”) and the three local guys caretaking the hotel, including the chef, regaled at our meal. it was a great, right up there with all-time perfect ambiance, company and food.

from the islands we headed up to bangkok ... to the blare of tuktuks and the first masked people i ever saw because of the pollution. pretty overwhelming after the harmony and balance of bali and ko lanta. but we were two months into our trip and getting our travellers’ “sea legs” by now. curt dove into the thai spicey food, sweat dripping down his face, savoring the pad thai and gai pad graprow (chicken with holy basil) dishes. i had read a one-liner in our lonely planet guidebook about a monastery that offered an herbal detox process for people hooked on the ever-prevalent and highly addictive opium and heroin from up north. decided i had to go there to see for myself. a journalistic bug, if you will. left curt in the city -- the only time we separated during our whole 10-month journey -- and headed to wat thamkrabok 130km north of bangkok.

the monastery was spectacular, in a rough, primitive way. huge buddha statues gazed down on the tranquil paths and the dark-brown robed monks -- mountain monks -- who use no transportation. walk everywhere. eat once a day at 7am. hard core. i think they're like the navy seals of monks (at least that's what i understood from my guide). but peaceful at the same time.

the receptionist monk wrangled up the only english-speaker to give me a tour. my monk guide was american. huge. hailed from new york, his bronx accent still strong. said he had been a mercenary before coming to the monastery to change his ways, 18 years prior.

i was in awe of him, a little fearful, and thrilled. i’m walking with an ex-mercenary-turned-monk, i thought. it was like a dream. hard to take it all in.

as we walked, at one point i swayed into him – you know, the way you do walking with someone -- brushing his shoulder with mine. he said, a monk may not touch a woman, with a half-smile -- still serious -- whispering, that’s the most fun i’ve had in 18 years. i stayed three feet away after that. didn’t want to mess with this guy.

he showed me the monks’ life, sitting on rocks, chipping away at stones or carving huge buddhas. breaking down and building up. a perfect metaphor for the addicts there for drug detox.

the recovering addicts stay in a secluded dormitory for the first 5 days where they ingest a secret herbal potion morning and evening which causes immediate vomiting. they also take herbal pills and drink special herbal tea. and twice daily, they leave their seclusion to walk across the grounds to endure HOT herbal steambaths. cold turkey detox. i didn't have much access since i wasn't with a big news organization, but i did see the procession to the steambath. here are more images of the process, if you can "stomach" it. the monks have been delivering this detox process since 1959 for over 100,000 addicts. apparently they have a high success rate.

after bangkok, we headed up north to the enchanting, lush, mountain region of chaing mai and smaller chaing rai ... and the thai portion of the golden triangle. from idyllic mae hong son, we left on a seven-day hill-tribe trek.

our group was led by the lovely burmese man leung.

we walked all day, entering a village in the late afternoon.

we stayed in local homes – one-room bamboo homes on stilts -- the animals live underneath. no electricity. no running water (thus the little dirty faces everywhere).

we ate and slept with the families, scattered on the bamboo floor.

our first night after dinner, sitting around the fire INSIDE the bamboo house (how do they not burn them down?), a very old woman entered and made her way to a dark corner of the room. leung went off in the dark after her, then returned. one by one, people went into her corner, then returned. turns out she was the opium dealer in town. as it was described to me, she lay on her side with a candle and the opium pipe on the floor. for a small price, anyone could go and lay down next to her, facing her. she would stoke the pipe and keep it going while they smoked, she took turns. many of the others in our group tried it. me? are you kidding? i wasn’t going anywhere near the stuff. no curiosity at all, not after what i’d seen at wat thamkrabok.

every evening in each village, someone would enter after dinner and offer opium in a dark corner. leung seemed to like it. i was afraid he was becoming addicted, if he wasn’t already.

only one night did we camp out, in the jungle. leung made all the cookware, tea kettle, serving spoons, and chopsticks out of bamboo! then cooked the meal. we ate off of big leaves. the whole trek ... amazing.

after saying goodbye to our new friends, we found another little village where we’d heard several peace corps workers were living. they invited us to stay for christmas and enjoy the turkey they'd been fattening up for months. we remembered our turkey-less thanksgiving and were quite tempted ... but we wanted to keep moving to get to nepal. 

so we headed out of the hills, this time on the top of a bus, soaking in the tropical air, the floral scents, the late afternoon sun ... no fear, just contentment. we were real travellers now. we could handle pretty much anything. we could get around. we were safe. having fun. learning. making all kinds of friends. having all kinds of experiences. in. the. world. free.

ps - i apologize for all the photos of curt. he's just so dang photogenic! 

~~~~~

lessons learned: cook for the locals. just say no. ride on top of buses whenever possible. 

+++++

ok, i'm cooking thai food tonight! 

 

monday memories / RTW trip: harmony & balance

while i have my around-the-world photos out from their usual home in the garage, i think i’ll continue telling some more stories from that adventure ...

we started our around-the-world tour in october 1990, leaving from our home in portland and flying waaaaaay across the pacific to taiwan, our first stop. i had a friend living there at the time who was waiting for us at the airport. and waiting, and waiting, and waiting. we had decided only a month before to take this grand tour, talk about impulsive (me, not curt)! and in our frantic preparations to start our journey, we (probably my idea, again) had neglected to get visas for taiwan. oops! and in that ancient time before cell phones, there was nary a thing we could do, quarantined in the holding area, to alert my friend. so onward we ventured on the next leg of our flight to singapore. 

singapore is a great place to start an asian adventure, easing in to the east. except that in those days, i didn’t know the slightest thing about “easing.” after our god-knows-how-many-hours-long flights, jet lag, gooey humidity, foreign beds ... i brilliantly decided to go for a run our first morning there while curt, sensible guy that he is, slept in and then waited for me at breakfast.

i ran out the front door of the ywca hostel along a road through a tropical forest, with ENORMOUS green leaves and jungle bird sounds, marveling at the exotic all around me. returned dripping in sweat, stopping at the payphone outside the entrance to call home and tell mom we had arrived safely. mom was a big talker (understatement of the century) and wanted to know all about everything. but midway through our conversation, i started feeling dizzy, and then nauseous. not wanting to worry my mom, i abruptly said i had to go, but she had no intention of ending the conversation just yet. mom, i really have to go, i don’t feel well. mom. i. have. to ...

the first thing i saw was the phone receiver dangling from its cord three feet above my face. i took in the sky, the leaves, the birds ... from the ground where i lay. i roused myself, dirt and dust sticking to my sweaty legs, arms, shirt and shorts. found curt in the dining room. curt, i fainted! he made me drink litres of water, fed me some toast. i guess all the air travel, dehydration, running, and sweating had gotten the best of me. mind you, i am not a fainter. have the constitution of a bull. but i fainted on the first morning of our big adventure. was it an omen of things to come? 

singapore was eye-opening and fun, a strange shoppers paradise, full of multi-story shopping malls. we bought a little shortwave radio and stocked up on the items we had forgotten at home. enjoyed the best indian food of our whole trip (including the time we spent in india) in the “little india” section of the city. yum! and we booked our boat trip to jakarta. no more planes for us. the budget-travel had begun.

excruciating pretty much sums up our three-day boat trip. the sleeping berths were packed with people and the stench of sea-sick vomit. we opted to stay outside on deck, along with the other budget travellers. we slept in our brand new sleeping bags on a dirty wooden deck for two nights and sat, stood, and walked on the deck for three nightmarish, long days. our time was punctuated by vendors who’d come out to sell food, but the only thing that seemed palatable to us was crackers. and the other  budget travellers? many of them were the uber-long-term-traveller-types and had gone to singapore to get medical attention for their various ailments. one guy had a bandaged ear from some weird infection. one a bandaged foot from a wound that wouldn’t heal in the moist tropical air. and more bandaged body parts paraded on deck. many of them didn’t seem like they’d washed their clothes or hair any time recently. curt and i stayed to ourselves and ate our crackers, quiet and sobered from this scene. what had we (me, again, the whole dang trip was my idea) gotten ourselves into? 

finally debarked in jakarta, off that godforsaken boat, and straight into dante’s inferno mixed in with the biggest slum and garbage dump imaginable (we hadn’t yet been to india). resilience is key on this kind of trip. we found a decent little place to stay for one night, and tickets for yet another (one day, not so bad) boat and bus to bali. 

needless to say, our trip didn’t start out as well as we’d imagined.

but bali? bali. oh bali. sweet, sweet bali.

bali was exactly what i’d imagined, only better.  we’d planned on staying three weeks in the artists village of ubud, in the mountains in the middle of the island. surrounded by terraced rice paddies, jungles, walking paths, bicycles for rent, delicious food, friendly bars, gentle people. we found a lovely and super cheap place to stay where our breakfast of tea and papaya and banana was delivered to our doorstep each morning, along with a little leaf tray holding a few grains of rice, flowers, and incense to keep the bad spirits away. we were grateful for this offering, after the journey we had taken to get there. we were in some serious need of peace and safety and serenity. 

apparently there had been a large local gathering right before our arrivel, kicking off a month-long ceremony at ubud's temple. sitting in a pretty ravine along the river at end of the main road, the open-air temple made of bamboo and flags hosted a slew of activity. every day we saw the balinese carrying trays of fruit piled high as they made their way to the temple to make offerings to the gods. and every evening, the temple gamelan rang through the jungle. at first the gamelan sounded like a lot of clanging iron; but over the weeks, it grew on me. i eventually found deep appreciation for this heavenly music.

we rented bikes and rode through the fields. we took in a shadow puppet play. made some friends. saw art. bought sarongs. went swimming. curt learned the art of balancing a papaya on his head, making the local women giggle (later in our travels we learned that only balinese women balance things on their heads). walking. eating. drinking. so peaceful. now this is how travelling is supposed to be! 

and we found better and better places to stay, closer and closer to the temple. our last place was the best, in the middle of the jungle just above the temple, complete with outdoor bathroom (walls but no ceiling!) and one daily lizard poop (the first few days we thought it was an olive pit ... weird, how did that get there?) delivered smack dab in the middle of our bed (no doubt a protest for invading his space). we spent each night falling asleep to the sacred gamelan and balinese prayers.

just before leaving ubud, we heard the month-long ceremony would close the following weekend with a procession through the village. and the reason behind the ceremonies? the balinese from ubud and neighboring villages intended to restore balance and harmony in the world (at least that was the gist as we understood it). we decided to stay another week. could use a good dose of harmony and balance before heading on to god-knows-what, god-knows-where.

perched in an open-air bar alongside the road, cold beer in hand (it was probably too early for beer, but what the heck, it was like a parade, bali-style!) we gazed at the orderly procession of color and costume and platters and platters of tropical fruit and flower offerings. first came the giant puppet, then the little boys, then the little girls, then the older boys, then the older girls, then the men, then the women ... each group wearing matching outfits. elegant. serene. festive. pious. simply gorgeous. all culminating in a grand ceremony at the temple.

did they restore harmony and balance to the world? they certainly did to my world. we spent our last night, after cleaning the “olive pit” off the bed, slumbering to the magical gamelan sounds.

 and we left the very next day.

 ~~~~~

lessons learned: research visas! don’t go running after flying! gamelan is beautiful, once you get the hang of it. always seek harmony and balance.

+++++

ever since the eat pray love phenomenon, bali has become THE destination for 30- and 40-something single women looking for love. i read an article about the new ubud, where the author saw a sign on a cash register which read: “eat pray leave.” i think they might need to hold another "harmony and balance" ceremony!

monday memories / RTW trip: the perfect safari

my aunt nancy (not to be confused with my birthmother nancy) left for south africa a few days ago, saying she she sure hoped her safari would NOT be anything like mine …

... my safari was twenty years ago, while travelling around the world for a year with my boyfriend. we stopped in kenya to visit with curt’s childhood friend ngugi who had since married, had two beautiful children, and was living in ngong outside nairobi. his wife and kids had never seen wild animals, so we decided to take them all on a two-day safari.

safari. just the word sent exotic images wafting through my head: karen blixen, born free, and architectural digest safari décor

the reality was, our pockets held 30-year-old’s-budget-travelers-wallets. still, i was going on safari …

we rented a jeep, two tents, and set out … along with ngugi’s baseball-bat-sized stick (tourists had recently been attacked, not by animals but by people) … intending to camp out. how naïve were we???

driving toward the masai mara, we encountered giraffes and ostrich. exciting! getting closer to a real safari! the first night we stayed in a masai campsite just outside the oloololo gate to the park. it was relatively similar to campsites at home … assigned spots, a bathroom/shower building, etc, but for the tall, lean men wearing red plaid sarongs milling about. (we heard the masai men typically did not wear underwear under their sarongs … so i, in my curious -- if juvenile -- way, wanted to see if it was true. it was.)

the next day we bumped down the dirt road south through the park. saw herd after herd of animals: antelope, wildebeest, kudu, leopard, even a lion feasting on a zebra, hyena and vultures lurking. the majesty of the land and the animals converged on one point: we humans -- not just in this game reserve but all over the world -- are on their land, the animals' land. we are trespassing on their land! so clearly and naturally, the earth belongs to the animals.

toward the end of the day, it was high time to find a campsite; we drove to the largest one we saw marked on the map in our area, only to find nothing resembling our experience the previous night.

this “campsite” consisted of an outhouse in the middle of a savannah, with trees in the distance on three sides and a dried riverbed behind us. spectacular african scenery, but still … nary a soul in sight! we decided to try one of the other two campsites nearby. each one was less impressive than the last, so we returned to the first place.

soon two masai men -- with spears -- showed up, said it was their campsite, and we needed to pay them the equivalent of $6 to stay. and for $2 more, they would sleep with us. not sleep WITH us! just sleep nearby. we promptly dug in our pockets for the additional cash. they turned and said they’d be back later, ambling away gracefully like giraffes.

after putting up the tents, curt and ngugi went scavenging for firewood, leaving me with ngugi’s wife mama-ciko (kenyan women take on the name of their first born, preceded by “mama”) and small children. traditional division of labor was seriously bugging me at this point in our travels. i was 30 and still needing to prove my i-am-woman independence. but i had to swallow my enormous pride and go with it; we had bigger things to worry about at that point. we began assembling camp, the sienna sun setting over our little piece of savannah. we were in the middle of wild africa, tiny in the grand scheme of nature. it was exhilarating! we had had the jeep between us all day. now i was feeling the nakedness of being one with nature.

unloading bags and pots and food, mama-ciko and i startled at the sight of a troupe of baboons, cackling and galloping across the far side of the field and disappearing into the trees. they seemed far enough away (about 100 yards), and i was thrilled with this brush with real safari life! mama-ciko, however, was fearful and kept the children nearby. we went about our business.

a few minutes later, however, these 12 or so waist-high baboons scampered up the riverbed and surrounded us in a circle around our little camp. mama-ciko scurried into one of the tents with the children and i deftly found our big stick. what else was there to do? one at a time, a baboon lumbered toward me, grunting. i held the stick up and, when it got closer, stabbed the air between me and it, sending the monkey to retreat to its former place in the circle. then another came at me. then another. i fended off four baboons before they all, suddenly, ran off across the field again and into the trees. the masai men had appeared on the hillcrest, thank god! i guess the baboons had “history” with the masai. regardless, we were saved (pride out the window)!

the guys returned with firewood, we ate with the masai men, and went to bed. but not to sleep. the dark night filled with ominous animal noises. ngugi got up to make another fire closer to the entrance to our two tents. he was afraid, mama ciko terrified. fortunately curt was pretty calm. my stomach was in knots. i was having my period, and was sure a lion would come bounding through our tent and devour me. the masai men did hear a lion's roar, and wanted to leave to check on their herd of cattle. no way, josé! ngugi talked them into staying … (i hope we paid them a bonus in the morning, and i hope their cattle were ok.)

morning. yes. then came morning. we had survived! spent the next day completely sobered and quiet, still driving and watching the animals. midday we came across one of those fancy tented camps (safari dream coming true??), but it was closed (sigh). desperate at that point -- and wanting nothing of a reenactment of the night before -- we found the caretaker who i pleaded with to allow us to stay in one of the enormous and luxurious walk-in canvas cabins, complete with two double beds and a private bathroom, for $50. a large sum for us, but i was primed to break the bank for some semblance of safety, and romantic safari experience! and we were able to finally relax.

sipping warm beer (better than no beer) on the stone veranda overlooking a bend in the river, all of us perched in comfy director’s chairs in the late afternoon glow. we marveled at the scenery: hippo in the river right before us. gazelle, waterbuck, oryx, fox, and even those pesky baboons at a distance on the opposite bank. we were safe. and having my ultimate safari experience, budget be damned! a spalding gray perfect moment. yes it was.

the monsoon rains poured down that night, but did we care? we were cuddled up in our grand tent. next morning the caretaker told us the hippo did some serious damage in the camp that night, while we were safe and soundly sleeping.

we made our way home to ngugi’s the following day. with stories to tell for a lifetime. and with dreams made real.

and i can’t wait for my aunt’s return to hear more safari stories. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

lesson learned: hold onto your dreams. they just may come true!

+++++

twenty years later and i still have romantic safari dreams. doesn’t everyone? the march 2008 issue of the late domino magazine featured kenya-based photographer liz gilbert (for some reason i’m enamoured by all liz gilberts) and her stylin' african nomad tent she uses travelling around the bush.

liz is now helping local kenyan women sell their stunning jewelry, and runs a straight-out-of-my-dreams lodge in kenya. dream on!