oh special day

spent my big birthday in boulder. doing things i love with people i love ... 

walked around with my camera ...  

photo fun at lunch ... 

browsing one of my favorite spots in boulder, among the vietri dishes at peppercorn on pearl street. mmmmm ...

then a three-and-a-half hour dinner at the best (ambiance + food) restaurant in town ...  

with fab folks who chose tasty wine ...

and told exotic stories of their days in india and kathmandu ...  

 

they didn't sing happy birthday too loudly ... 

the gals didn't want their pictures taken, so i snapped away at the table.

a lovely day ... feels like the start of a very good year/decade! 

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!