« February 2006 | Main | April 2006 »

March 31, 2006

Mellow day

We went by mini-bus today to Juliaca, to switch to another mini-bus to Lampa, the pink town.

A mini-bus, by the way, is maybe one row longer than a Volkswagon mini-bus, and generally has no shocks but a very loud horn. It comfortably would seat about 11 people if the seats were arranged properly. And if the seats were comfortable. Today, Greg had another Cameroon flashback as we packed in 20, including the driver and a small child.

On the upside, the usual fare is somewhere between 1-2 soles ($.35-$.70) for a one-hour ride or so.

Anyway, it turned out Lampa wasn´t pink so much as it was a lighter shade of adobe. It didn´t look all that much different to us. But we took a loosely guided tour of the small town´s cathedral and catacombs. The cathedral has a big dome inside that houses a ton of bones from Spaniards, and they are all hung on the wall in the dome in a decorative pattern. Some rich guy with a gold mine and no kids paid to have it built and spruce up the church a bit.

Our favorite part was the statue and shrine to the Spaniard saint depicted regally in a red cape with gold filigree. Margaret, who has been our star translator the entire week, was having trouble with the verb the guide was using to describe what the guy was known for. She kept repeating it, until the guide´s 7- or 8-year old son (brother?) looked at her, pointed his fingers into a gun shape, and started making shooting noises. That explained why the plaster statue included bodies on the ground being trampled. Apparently he shot a lot of the indians.

We tried to find out why the guy who killed all the locals was not only sainted but remembered in his own shrine in the cathedral, but all we got was that somehow they liked him anyway.

We had lunch in Juliaca and bought a few things at the market, mostly textiles, then shopped a bit on the walk home from the bus station to the hotel.

On the stomach front, I´ve been feeling fine since last night (didn´t even need to break into the second round of Cipro yet), but Margaret hasn´t been so lucky, and has been suffering most of the week. She started the Cipro this morning. Hopefully by tomorrow she´ll be able to eat real food again.

Posted by sedda at 05:16 PM

March 30, 2006

...and more bugs

Well drat that lovely family dinner, it hit me worse than it hit Margaret about midnight. I´ll spare you all of the Very Ugly details, but to get up in the middle of the night in this house requires: shoes and clothes on, headlamp, bring your own toilet paper down cement stairs, past the kids´toys, around the adobe corner past the rubber-tire-watering bucket for the animals that blocks the sidewalk, past the pen full of seven sheep with eyes gleaming in the dark, past the giant rooster, past the pen where the donkey stays, over the low part of the fence into the muddy field, down between the rows of growing coca leaves trying not to stomp on any, and into the galvanized tin outhouse with the pit toilet.

Yes, it´s a cement floor with a hole, and helpfully: two raised cement footprints to stand on to help with your aim. The door does not securely close, but it is vented and does not smell bad.

At least it wasn´t raining.

New phrase learned: estomach flojo (say flo-hoe) means "lazy stomach" and is a reasonable excuse for not being interested in eating anything. I skipped the family breakfast and had Immodium instead. It´s not what you´re supposed to do, but we had two multi-hour boat trips scheduled, and I´d already noted that the head in Ifrain´s tour boat was being used for cushion storage. It was the kind of emergency situation for which Immodium was invented.

We traveled on to Taquile, which conveniently for me was a steep vertical stair hike from dock to town center. It took me at least an hour, and it was not a fun hike.

But the Immodium held. When we got back to Puno I found a pharmacy around the corner for more Cipro. It took about 10 seconds and cost only 5 soles for the course ($1.75, cheaper than Thailand!). Also interesting is that the pharmacy sells Powerade and Gatorade as well. I guess around here, it´s actually medicine.

I brought some of that home as well. I didn´t chance anything today and only had some fresh bread and water. Greg has been either unaffected or less affected, even when we eat the same things, after the Dietary Boot Camp he went through for two years in Cameroon. Apparently he spent time on and off like this for the better part of his stay there, and has built up quite a set of antibodies.

Oh, and Taquile was beautiful, and so was the boatride home. Taquile is known for weaving and of course knitting, so we found some souvenirs to bring home, all handmade. We´re even meeting some new French friends for a drink tonight. Well, I´ll probably have water. From a bottle!

Posted by sedda at 05:09 PM

More islands...

Yesterday morning we hopped on a boat for a Three Hour Cruise to Amantani Island and an overnight stay. There aren´t any hotels there, so the agents arrange for you to stay with a family, all meals included, for 20 soles ($7). We were assigned a family to stay with, but as we got off the boat, the captain looked at the name and basically said, No, You´re with me, and we went to his house.

He showed us an upstairs room with 4 beds (sleeps 5), stacks of heavy blankets, and a Formica kitchen table. No electricity. Random chicken parts out to dry on the tin roof. He asked us to wait while his wife made lunch, then said there would be a tour of the ruins in a few hours.

We waited for about an hour for lunch, not knowing what else to do. Greg wandered around and photographed the neighborhood: the family´s donkey, wheat, neighboring sheep, the adobe houses. Lunch was served in the family´s kitchen, which was a small adobe room with a clay pot fireplace and a propane stove. The small family table looked like an old school desk, and anyone who didn´t fit would sit on tree stumps.

The family seemed to consist of: the boat captain Ifrain, his wife, an older son (jr. hi or high school), a younger son Diego (about 9) and a baby (a little younger than Ciera maybe, but drinking out of a cup by herself, although a little sloppily).

Lunch was a simple homemade soup of barley, carrot, potato, onion and peas, with thyme or a seasoning. Second course was a hard-boiled egg, a potato, and a light salad of cooked carrot, onion, peas, MSG and fresh lime. All delicious, and we all were relieved there wasn´t something "weird" being served that would put us in a position of being impolite. During lunch Diego came in to get his math homework checked and his dad corrected a few errors.

The tour of the ruins was conducted by Assigned Tour Guide Diego. He couldn´t decide if he is 9 or 10 years old. He was an easily distracted tour guide. He showed us his school, then with an amazing superhero move he flung himself over a wall and lowered himself into the play yard to retrieve a free ball he found, which he stashed in a bush for pickup later.

A block after that, he checked out a Known Keyhole, where another family was watching television. We waited for him for a while, then when Margaret asked him what was going on, he instructed us to go back to the main plaza, look around, and enjoy the sights. His eye never left the keyhole and the TV show. We laughed. Margaret found some knitters selling soft alpaca hats, so we bought a few. The ladies didn´t have exact change, so Margaret received her choice of three chocolate bars as change.

We hiked way up the hill behind the village to see some ruins. There were more vendors there, trying to coax us into buying more knitted things. The ruins were blocked off with fencing and there wasn´t much to see. Diego looked cold—although his mother had warned us it would be cold and tried to send us along with brand new hats (that we would buy from her later, I assumed) Diego just had a sweatshirt and looked bored, especially since we´d stopped giving him cookies.

On the way back, he flattened 2L soda bottles and sledded down the steep sidewalk home. We assured his mother he´d been a great tour guide, but through the conversation realized he´d left out a good half of the tour. Oh well. Rain and dark both were threatening and we came home at a good time. Greg wondered if the chicken parts would be brought in if it rained (we doubted it).

By this time, Margaret´s stomach was feeling funny from lunch, so she decided to skip dinner. We thought it was a tea that she and Greg had had but I hadn´t. I was glad I was feeling fine. Greg and I brought down the single candle lighting our room, and joined the family for a dinner of omelette with potato, tomato and some veggies, rice, and more soup. It was very good, a bit greasy, but crispity.

We read and played a game by headlamp. The room was dark and cold, so we went to bed before the family.

Posted by sedda at 04:50 PM

March 29, 2006

¡Ay carumba!

So, those of you who didn´t receive postcards this trip—and there are a lot of you—please don´t feel slighted...when we found out it costs $2 in postage (6 soles) to send each one, we decided you all get to read the blog and view the photos electronically when we get back.

6 soles ($2) also happens to buy here:
-three Cokes in plastic bottles
-two taxi rides across town
-six hand knitted finger puppets, maybe more
-six plastic bags full of fresh bread
-two or three empanadas (i.e. lunch for three people)

Posted by sedda at 08:10 AM

March 28, 2006

Floating Islands

Today we saw the really incredible Uros floating islands near the edge of Lake Titicaca.

These islands are made entirely of reed plants, on about a 2-foot thick dirt clod that floats in the fresh water. The homes are made of reeds (with solar panels—some houses have radio and television), their boats are made of reeds.

There are about 25 islands. When arguments arise, a family can cut the ropes anchoring their homes to the rest of the island, and float off to another island or create their own.

After a great lunch in a local bakery (empanadas!), we hired a taxi to take us to two Inca burial sites. One is called Sillustani (the link isn´t to our photos, we´ll eventually upload those here). Here there are tall stone towers called chulpas at the top of mesas, where people were buried with their families and a bunch of gear to prepare them for the next life.

The stonework was again intricate and amazing, oftentimes with carved animals like pumas or monkeys decorating the chulpa.

Posted by sedda at 05:54 PM

March 27, 2006

Next stop: Puno

After a series of confusing Spanglish phone calls to the travel agent, she actually did show up at 7:30am with our train tickets, as promised—and a bus to the train station!

The train ride was 10 hours, through beautiful country. You could do it on a bus in less time, but there isn't as much space and you can open the windows on the train! We made good sandwiches of avocado, tomato, onion and cheese from yesterday's market.

I got to pet a baby alpaca at the touristy train stop! His nose was very soft!

Posted by sedda at 08:42 PM

March 26, 2006

Pisaq

Greg and I took a local bus ($.60) to Pisaq, about an hour from Cusco, to check out the Sunday market before Margaret arrived from her 20-hour bus ride from Lima. We hoped to check out the ruins there, but ran out of time.

We picked up some stuff for sandwiches for the train ride to Puno tomorrow—and fresh bread and empanadas out of a hot clay oven. Mmmmm!

The official bus home seemed a madhouse and Greg had spied a private minibus heading back to Cusco for only 1 sole more. We grabbed two seats and the driver filled it up to 14 passengers and a baby, plus two family employees drumming up business. "Uno mas!" the driver commanded, and all the tourists protested. Greg started laughing. He knows from his time in Cameroon that a minibus isn't full until there are goats on the roof and strangers in your lap.

Posted by sedda at 11:20 PM

Machu Picchu!

On the last morning, after we'd tipped and thanked the porters at dinner the night before, we woke at 3:45am to pack up and eat breakfast. We were the second or third group in the queue for the checkpoint, which opens at 5:30am.

After about 90 minutes of steady downhill hiking (bliss!) we arrived at the Sun Gate. It's ideal to be there by sunrise, but you'd have to be a triathlete to get there that quickly after the checkpoint. Anyway, the sky was overcast for us, so we didn't miss much of a sunrise.

The view of Machu Picchu from here is breathtaking. It looks like a castle in the clouds, surrounded by green mountainous splendor. Our guide told us there could be related ruins and towns nearby, hidden in the jungle overgrowth.

We arrived at Machu Picchu, the Temple of the Sun, about 8:15am, long before the crowds of tour buses empty the throngs onto the grounds around 11. We had a guided tour of the site by an amazing guy interested in anthropology and working on a book of the area.

Some people hiked up Wyna Picchu, the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu, where the Temple of the Moon is. This is anohter hour and a half of steep, strenuous hiking and our knees were killing us so we opted out. I was bummed not to see it, but there was no way I'd make it up and back in time to take the train home!

The stones and temples were amazing. Most of the features were designed as annual calendars to indicate planting times and spiritual events. For example, light came through an opening to illuminate the eye of a puma-shaped stone only on one day each year. Stones were oriented to perfect compass points. The Incas were very in-touch with the nature around them.

We caught the last bus to Aguas Calientes before the rain started and met our group for lunch. Every restaurant specialized in pizza, so we had ours with pepperoni.

We tipped the guides then took the train back to Ollantaytamba to meet the charter mini-bus back to the Plaza des Armas (central square) in Cusco. We said our goodbyes to our new friends then took a taxi the half-mile back to the hotel.

Posted by sedda at 11:10 PM

The Hike

Every day the hike was long, beautiful, and extremely hard work. The confidence-builder is: being passed by porters as though you're standing still, and they're carrying double or triple what you're carrying, and wearing huaraches made of old tires and no socks.

Each morning we started with an early breakfast of a rice soup or porridge and a thin veggy omelette or pancake with caramel sauce. I'm never very hungry at altitude, but everything tasted good. Coca tea was available every meal.

Then we began the hours of hiking the rocky stone trail, sometimes divided by stops at fantastic ruins. We learned that messenger runners called "chaski" ran the trail to carry communiques (remember Mercury, with the wings on his feet? I think these guys came first.) We tasted "chicha" corn beer, which Greg particularly liked. We learned that Inca construction uses walls that are wider at the bottom, in an anti-seismic strategy. We learned that they send their dead off to the next world via tombs, placing them in the fetal position—often with a dog for companionship and protection.

The views were incredible when it was clear and utterly non-existent when the fog rolled in—which could occur momentarily.

Lunch breaks included a two-course hot meal every day. Teatime in the evening featured popcorn and cookies with a variety of teas, including coca or fresh anise tea from plants on the trail. Dinner also was two courses—soup and a main dish. Lots of veggy choices, and lots of chicken or fish.

We slept in our own sleeping bags in three-man tents that had plenty of room to keep our gear dry. Actually, gear left outside tends to disappear—feral dogs particularly like to take sweaty, smelly shoes. We were glad to have our Thermarests, since the foam yoga mats the company provided looked pretty thin.

The hike was well-timed and organized. I was feeling back-to-normal on about the second day—just in time for Greg to admit the soup had gotten him, too. He was on Cipro for the rest of the hike.

Posted by sedda at 11:06 PM

Hiking the trail-overview

The hike was pretty much as advertised: long, strenuous, and not for sissies—with incredible views.

Day One: Longish but manageable, gradual uphill climbing, some architectural "constructions" to see.

Day Two: Brutal uphill climbing to a 4198-meter pass called Dead Woman's Pass (which is how I felt getting there), then two hours or more down stone steps of varying heights. Not much to see but vegetation and the trail.

Day Three: Billed as "not as hard" as Day Two (ha), long steady uphill. Great views that were completely obscured by fog and clouds. Cool architectural ruins. RAIN. The ruins are fantastic, the weather: sketchy. It's totally obvious why these people worshipped the sun!

Last Day: Alpine start and mainly downhill hiking, the enjoyment of which is balanced by the screaming of your knees after two days of marching down stairs. Quickly you come upon the Sun Gate and once you see Machu Picchu (and pop some Advil), the pain melts away.

Luckily I had trained hard in Thailand for this by drinking banana shakes and riding around in the back of trucks.

We had a great group of hikers, friendly porters, and a good cook. Lu was finishing seven months of South American travel, her boyfriend Ben had joined her four months ago. This was their last hurrah before returning to the UK. Carlos and Daniella were visual artists and photographers from Chile. Daniella spent days 2-3 sick as a dog from the altitude. Markus from Australia and Moren from Israel were travelling partners auditioning for the part of Entertaining Old Married Couple (though they likely were in their late 20s). Harald was quiet, with experienced travels. Florencia, from Buenos Aires spoke little English, but proved a great hiking partner as the two of us were slower than everyone else. I speak little Spanish, so we complemented each other well, and snapped portraits of each other along the way.

Our guide Marisol hikes the trail weekly, or seven times a month in the high season. She didn't seem winded the entire trip. Neither did Alberto, our #2 guide. Marisol called us all Chicos, the same way in America you'd address a group by starting, "Okay, Guys..." It's intended to be friendly, but actually means, like, little ducklings. Which was sort of appropriate.

Posted by sedda at 10:59 PM

Camino Inka

Well, calm stomach or not, we press on with the adventure of South American travel. The travel agency sent a mid-sized minibus to pick us up, but it couldn't navigate the narrow Calle Fiero where we were staying, so we carried our packs up the block to the corner and were the first on the bus.

The driver then slowly and stubbornly made 8-point turns and drove on the sidewalk to the next hotel to pick up our guides, nine other trekkers and nine porters, many of whom came by taxi. It took 25 minutes to get down the narrow street and around a 90-degree corner partially blocked by a large Rover. The bus kept bottoming out on the curb at the corner; at one point it looked like the guide was going to make the porters lift the Rover and move it out of the way.

At 10:30pm we were finally on the way. Rather than catch the train at Ollantaytamba to the trail head, we blew through a little after midnight and drove alongside the tracks. The road was almost a single lane, dropping off at the left for several hundred feet to a raging and particularly chilly-looking muddy river.

The ride was sketchy at best, and occassionally the porters were discharged to clear rockfall or direct the driver down a particularly narrow bit, where, say, a large chunk of the road had washed away. At one point we met a full-sized tour bus face to face—and somehow our driver convinced that guy to back up along the narrow dirt path and get out of the way.

None of the guides or porters seemed fazed by any of this, going straight to sleep in the bumping bus as soon as they sat down. One guy snored for the last hour of the trip.

Our campsite at last was a gravel parking lot with a pay toilet (1 sole for its use and 10 squares of TP handed to you upon entry) and a lot of vendors, and other tour buses coming through. This was the trailhead, and we had about four hours to rest up for our big first day.

At least my stomach wasn't complaining too loudly.

Posted by sedda at 10:46 PM

March 21, 2006

Bug vs. the Microbugs

So, you know when that Little Voice Inside Your Head tells you something, and you talk yourself out of it?

Well, in order to be brave and adventurous, I´d had a vegy soup in a Very Local place in Cusco yesterday. What can go wrong with cooked vegetables? Even if they weren´t that hot...and the main flavor was fennel or anis, neither of which I like...

After a rumbly tummy at dinner that got Much Worse, I swapped bravery for common sense and started the Cipro regimen at about 3am.

Greg saw some sort of cool church today and took some nice photos. I napped, and prayed the stomach cramps would subside by the time we hit the trail tomorrow morning....

...Or tonight. The travel agent left a message saying they want to pick us up at 9pm instead of 6:30am tomorrow. Something about a porter strike that may cause roads to get blocked. I don´t really buy it, but there´s not much choice since we want to go on the trek, and the trek is going at 9pm. Even though our hotel tonight is paid for already.

It´s apparently not a surprise in South American travel, this sort of thing.

Posted by sedda at 07:38 PM

March 20, 2006

Cusco

An alpine start brought us to the airport at 6am, but as is typical for Cusco, our flight had a weather delay—the windows of good flying weather over the Andes are limited and delays are common, especially later in the day. We were lucky to have gotten an early flight and only were held up for about an hour.

We kicked around Cusco, checking out some markets and cafes Margaret had recommended and toured the church of San Francisco (no photos allowed inside), which really was incredible.

Cusco historically was the Inca capital, literally the Center of the World, until the Spaniards busted through—turning sacred temples into churches and luxury homes, and sending relics back to the king. He became increasingly aware that he was destroying a rather advanced culture, and rather than have the world discover this, he instead melted all of the gold artifacts and put his own seal on them, destroying all evidence of the power of the Inca civilization.

Lunch was an adventurous prix fixe meal at a local vegy place—fennel vegy soup that Greg liked but I didn´t much care for, lentils, beans, rice. Dinner was pizza since my stomach was a little off—you can find pizza anywhere in Peru, it seems.

We topped the night off with a trip to the MAP museum of pre-Columbian art, at Margaret´s suggestion. Beautiful examples of timeless artifacts like bowls, staffs, plates and jewelry.

Cusco overall is quaint, ancient, dated—and yet, modern. Streets are narrow and cobblestoned. Taxis are all Ticus, which are wannabe cars about the size of a rollerskate—but nothing larger really can navigate the streets, although they try. Doors in the city could date back 400 years. And still, like Lima, everything is locked. You don´t see into people´s homes, the outer wall of the compound is on the street and generally opens into a family courtyard. Even the payphones are behind bars, with the receiver chained to the base. One has to wonder whether the Incas had to worry about theft before the Spaniards came?

Posted by sedda at 07:17 PM

March 19, 2006

Taxi trouble

After an exciting trip to Museo e Iglesia de San Francisco and its catacombs (20,000 people have been buried there), we had lunch at a small pub and taxied to the grocery store, to pick up a few things and check it out. (Knitters+crafters—if you're interested in some funky Peruvian fashion that you can create yourself, see the photos here.)

On the way home, as we were cruising down the highway, the hood of the taxi flew up, smacked the windshield then drifted to the side. The cabdriver slowed down, and Greg held the hood up out the open window so it wouldn't get bent or stuck in anything. The driver asked us to stay in the car, to fix the hood. After sizing up the situation for a moment he said, "Please, get out," and motioned to a cab that had seen it all happen and had pulled over. "It's best for you." We left him at the side of the highway, driving slowly to an exit with his hood balanced on the front of the car. The rest of the drive home was uneventful!

Posted by sedda at 04:50 PM

March 18, 2006

Welcome to Lima!

We've had a fab first day hanging out with Margaret and Andy in their neighborhood of Barranca in Lima! The flights in were fine, a bit long, though maybe that's because the movie was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I have to say I'm spoiled after my Asian travels on China Air...our Delta flight, with loud flight attendants, prepackaged snacks, prepackaged meals, dilapidated tray tables, loose toilet seats and barf-like marks on the seat in front of you were pretty ghetto in comparison to the soft-voiced personal service (including hot towels, metal silverware and in-seat TiVo!) you can get to Asia.

Andy and Margaret picked us up at the airport in a taxi with a nice driver, and by gut instinct I buckled in, even in the back seat. It wasn't long until we hit a mogul in the road at such speed that we caught air—all of us flying up with our feet off the floorboards and Margaret missing crashing her head on the ceiling by about an eighth of an inch. Even our mild-mannered cabdriver muttered, Whoa! and slowed down a bit.

We snacked on Peruvian cheese and beers until late as Margaret and Andy checked out the new stereo they ordered on Amazon that Greg had schlepped for them. It turns out there are about three kinds of music on the radio here: sort of a Tejano-type traditional music, reggae-rap, and New Wave. Mostly New Wave.

Yes, the old New Wave that Detroit's WDRQ (sort of a KCRW back then) used to play when I was in high school. Remember Alphaville? Though occasionally they play versions with a twist: Have you ever heard The Smiths in Spanish?

Our short sleep after a late night was interrupted by the neighbors downstairs, who decided that 7:30am Saturday is a PERFECT time to crack out all of the tile from their bathroom with sledgehammers and crowbars. V. Funny, as Margaret had warned before we went to bed that their shower situation is "outdoor, or something" and we might hear her neighbor singing in the shower in the morning. Not the case!

We kicked around Barranca neighborhood all day. Went to a fabulous lunch nearby and shared ceviche, tiny garlic buttered fried shrimp, calamari and tacu-tacu, which is a bean/rice block smothered in a creamy "mariscos" sauce, which are random seafood that's not fish. Squid, octopus, other unidentifiable things smothered in a sauce so rich it didn't really matter what they were. It all was very good (though—I'm still not a calamari fan, even with the fried skin. I gave it the good college try, though.)

Greg has been enjoying his new high-res digital camera. Photo at the top of the post is his William Wegman moment with Bogart, who doesn't seem as patient a model as those weimeraners. I've posted some other photos on the Kodak Gallery site as well (find the View Photos Without Signing In link when you get to the page.

We also saw a great museum, a fun food market, and Greg tried Inca Kola. It's a soda made here, though recently bought out by Coke. It basically tastes like liquid carbonated Bubble Yum. A step up from Pink Fanta, I can attest.

Margaret bought a Granadilla — passionfruit! — and cracked it open on her forehead in the proper style. Delish! The seeds are similar to pomegranate seeds, but slimier inside—in a good way.

Tonight? Faux sushi in store. Andy raved: "It's good!—Well, sort of."

Posted by sedda at 07:49 PM

March 16, 2006

Thailand Slideshow online

I was able to make a little Quicktime movie of my Thailand photos. However, it may take a very long time to download (62mb as currently configured. I may have to make a much shorter presentation!)

By the way, the music is typical of the Karaoke tunes they play on the bus when you go places...But I have no idea of the artist's name, since the CD I got is entirely in Thai. If you have any clues, drop a line!

Grab a cup of coffee! There are about 200 photos in the show, which should take about 14 minutes to view after it's downloaded. Enjoy!

Posted by sedda at 05:50 PM

Easter always brings surprises

Every year around this time, my dad starts getting nutty about Easter. I'm not sure what it is, as we never were a particularly religious family (and I don't really care for the ham even if you just boil it down to a nice family dinner), but there's something about the chickies and bunnies that makes my dad go Hallmark-wild.

One year he sent a small, white Easter Tree with little egg ornaments. It fits right in with the Buddhas, Day of the Dead figures, African mudcloths and tribal masks we have around the house.

Right.

This year we not only got visited by the Easter bunny—we GOT the Easter bunny. Actually he is a Hallmark Rockin' Rabbit who sings—his mouth actually moves—to the tune of Rockin' Robin ("I bring a lot of goodies and I hide them on the lawn, but you better hurry up before the candy's all gone....").

The chickie cheeps on cue.

It's thoughtful and everything? But you know it's not a bag of Dove Promises, if you get my drift. There wasn't even a single chocolate-covered Michigan dried cherry in the box.

Posted by sedda at 03:38 PM

March 15, 2006

Almost ready!

Well, we're just about packed up and ready to go to Peru. I went to the bank today to get some crisp $1 bills for tipping—apparently in South America giving less than clean money can be construed as an insult!

My pack is heavier than it was in Thailand, with the addition of a sleeping bag, rain pants and jacket, some high-tech trail t-shirts, Thermarest and hiking poles. Bummer, since we're going to have to carry it all. We're basically traveling progressively, rather than from a home base and radiating out with smaller trips. But, better to have a few spares than spend the trip damp and miserable—since we're going to be in Peru in the mountains at the tail end of rainy season, we could end up getting soaked. Spare duds will be appreciated!

Posted by sedda at 04:06 PM

March 13, 2006

Termiting on hold

Our landlord had wanted to have our house tented for termites while we were away, but I am really uncomfortable with having everything exposed to all of that poison! They say: The treatment is effective for 8-10 years but it's not a problem for groundwater or for animals or humans!

I found an "alternative treatment" company so he could compare methods and prices.

Apparently he has at least two kinds of termites. The sub-terranean ones he will have to treat for right away, but that is done outside or under the house. The drywood ones will require a separate treatment—but the bug guy advised that until a certain rotting wood fence is removed and a few other things are taken care of, it's not worth it to tent.

So we're off the hook for this month. What a relief!

Posted by sedda at 11:56 AM

March 11, 2006

Peru locaters

For those geographically-challenged Americans reading along, here's a locator map for Peru.

Here's today's weather in Peru. We'll be in Lima, Cuzco and Puno (near Lake Titicaca). We're also hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu! It's a four-day hike, although you also can take a bus from Aguas Calientes for $10.

Lima is in the same time zone as the east coast.

Posted by sedda at 12:06 PM

March 03, 2006

More videos uploaded

Check out some videos of ordinary stuff around Khao Lak, including:

• The launch of a longtail boat at Baan Nam Khem

• Gauguin caulking a longtail boat at Cape Pakarang.

• A view of Khao Lak from the bus.

• Scene from the Takuapa bus station.

• View of Nang Thong Beach in Khao Lak, which is now rebuilding after being flattened by the tsunami in Dec. 2004.

If you're interested in what some of the building projects look like, I also found a video from a week ago of a student group in the area working in Thap Tawaan, Nam Khem and Koh Kor Khao.

Posted by sedda at 12:16 PM

Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Sixty degrees and steady rain. Hot shower. No banana shake for breakfast. Stack of bills on the dining room table.

Toto, I don't think we're in Thailand any more.

But it's good to be home with G. .

Posted by sedda at 08:13 AM

March 02, 2006

Safe Journeys

I had really wanted Kong and Nid at my going-away dinner last night—but Nid likely had family stuff going on at home in Takuapa...and since I didn't have Kong's phone number any more I relied on someone else to give him the details and I suspect the message didn't get through.

So even though I'd planned to spend the morning at the pool again, I needed to say my goodbyes at the boatyard. Jonathan, in a year of volunteering and working in the area, had never seen the boatyard and tagged along for a tour. We all met at the usual morning spot, the Dive In (Dine Out), and rode to the site in the back of Scott's pickup, the way I did every other morning.

I gave Jonathan the nickel tour but the boatyard was humming like a busy hive, with preparations to make delivery on the Georgetown boat. I thanked Gaugin, the caulker who taught me how to fill in the slim lines between the planks with string and sealant, a chisel and hammer. We couldn't find him at first, so Kong and Jonathan helped me write him a note that said I enjoyed meeting him and I admire his work.

Nid wanted to get a photo, and Kong did too. Nid kept taking hold of my elbow, and stroking my arm, squeezing it in a polite, anxious way. Thai custom dictates that out of respect you avoid touching people high on their bodies as it would indicate that you think they are "lower" than you are. So, for example, you don't throw your arm around a Thai person's shoulder for a picture, you politely hold her around the waist.

Kong was rushed because he'd just been assigned to run out to the Sawasdee Homemart to buy a second or third cement ring to cap off the new sceptic tank for the boatyard (a long, smelly story that has been developing over weeks; you can fill in your own details). Scott had just accidentally cracked it with the backhoe and was in quite a state with himself about it.

Jonathan and I had hoped to get a ride back into KL on Kong's motorbike, but as ever the winds of change flowed us to a new plan. We asked only for a ride up the 2Ks to the main road to find a sawngthaew (a taxi that runs on a given path sort of like a bus) to get back.

Kong hopped in the back of the pickup with us, even though there was plenty of space in the cab. I tried to hold back the tears, the reality of leaving Thailand by leaving behind one of the true Thai friends I had. Banged on the side of the truck to get the driver (Chris?) to stop at the corner.

I wanted to give Kong a hug to tell him I would miss him. But hugging isn't really what Thais do (they don't even shake hands), and I remembered how embarrassed he'd been when I hugged him in thanks for giving me the Buddha amulet last year. So I didn't know what to do, what to say, how to translate it into Thai.

Kong held his fist out to me, and I thought it was for some sort of secret boatyard handshake. But Jonathan said, open your hand, he wants to give something to you.

From his hand, Kong dropped his braided ring into mind and siad, "For good luck on your trip. Good luck to you." This is one of the highest blessings someone can give you in Thailand. It's what monks say to protect your spirit as you travel. Kong had been a monk for eight years, though he had left the wat since then.

I was choking back the tears and gave him wai. He climbed into the cab and the truck sped off.

I didn't see that Kong's eyes were full of tears as well.

"He's really sad," Jonathan said.

I just tried not to cry. How is it that this journey above all others is never a trip, but a change of life? Each time I come here I don't just travel through but somehow manage to move my life, to live here, and to go back home is to move away again.

Jonathan kept me company at the pool the rest of the day, and kept me distracted from the inevitable. We talked about teaching, Thai customs, the past, the future. G. called and I had so much to tell him but my overwhelmed words came out stuttered, abrupt, halting.

I wanted him to understand the power of this place, the messages and gifts I receive in being here, in wanting to help. But any shortening of the story might have sounded like: "So I'm in this beautiful resort pool with this guy you don't know? And we're sipping fresh pineapple shakes in the cool water? And this other guy gave me a ring."

So I gave G. headlines and told him that Kong had sent me off with a special good luck charm. Then G. and I quickly exchanged I Love Yous so I could squeeze the last few minutes of Thailand out of the bright humid air and store them in my heart until I can come back and see these friends again.

Posted by sedda at 04:05 PM

Moving beyond Feather Woman's longings

There's a book I read to my first graders in Los Angeles, it's a Blackfoot Indian fable called Star Boy, and here's how it goes.

Feather Woman falls desperately in love with Morning Star, son of Moon and Sun. "Together they flew into the sky as magically as the spider casts his silken threads." Moon teaches Feather Woman the ways of the Star Land.

Feather Woman and Morning Star were married, and had a baby named Star Boy. Moon said to Feather Woman, you must learn the ways of our people if you want to stay up here in the Land of the Stars. Moon showed her which plants were edible, but also pointed to a particular large turnip root, and told her never to dig there.

After a while, Feather Woman became homesick for her own family and community in the earth world. Forgetting her promise to Moon, she curiously dug at the forbidden turnip. When it pulled up, she saw underneath its roots a portal to the earth world and a view of her own family. She became very sad and filled with longing.


Sun recognized the sadness instantly, and knew Feather Woman had seen the earthly world. There was no room for sadness and longing in Star Land, so he sent her and her son back to the earth world, condemning Feather Woman to a life of always knowing two worlds, both beautiful to her, but always desiring pieces of the life in the other one.

In my last day in Khao Lak last spring, I felt consumed with longing, as Feather Woman did when she realized her heart was in two places. I could hardly bear to leave the pure work and good friends that were my small community in Khao Lak...but I couldn't stay without G. and the many people in the community I love in LA. I knew what I needed to do, but I was sorry to have to choose, and the depth of the realization of having these two loves made me feel both melancholic and ever the richer.

Native American teachings acquire deeper meaning as we interpret the symbolism and fable for ourselves. Unlike Feather Woman, I don't feel condemned to my life in one of my worlds, and I try to incorporate the beauty and strength of what I learned in Thailand enrich every corner of my lives.

As Native American educator David Risling learned from his father, I hope to construct all of my experiences into spokes for wheels that turn for myself and others. It's a wonderful story he tells.

But seeing the good and the strength in these experiences doesn't make getting in the taxi to Phuket a whole lot easier today. It will seem better in hindsight, as these experiences grow like seeds and intertwine their stems and branches with the others until they can't be separated, even from the roots.

Posted by sedda at 08:12 AM

Circle remains unbroken

This is how circles are completed.

After my errands yesterday, it was time to do something special on my last full day in Khao Lak, before my farewell dinner. I went to the Viewpoint Resort, set on a hill above Khao Lak with lush views and a cool, clear pool. For nearly three hours I soaked and read The Kite Runner (which I highly recommend, btw), blissfully resisting the close humidity of the hottest day of the trip.

It was finally time to get ready for dinner. I had been alone at the pool but a small group of farang had come up to the restaurant. I needed to preserve the purity of the mellow, volunteer vibe I wanted to take home with me, so I avoided looking at the tourists. But an accidental glance met with familiar faces: three volunteers I knew from last year, two from the boatyard.

I knew Dave and his dad Vic were locals now, but I hadn't seen them around (though I did see Dave and Mel on their motorbike in Bang Niang a couple of days ago, speeding by). I read Vic's blog from time to time, but they were the only familiar faces I hadn't connected with this time.

They live in Khuek Khak now, and are starting and arts and English program in the Takuapa school.

It happens to be Mel's birthday today, so I gave her one of the silk cell phone covers I'd stitched up to give to friends on my trip, wishing her a happy birthday.

It was such a pleasant coincidence to run into them in this out-of-the way retreat I'd never been to before. I happily hurried home to change clothes for dinner. We all met at The Place Next to Khao Lak Seafood (which this year has a sign out front: Weerapat's) and my favorite people were there—Lisa Ruth, Saundra, Jonathan, Dana, Jodie popped in before her special dinner with Edward. Scott and Wendy and Lucky, Nicole, Timm, Paul and Idele were at yoga and coming by later, but not before sharing bites of a Nutella and banana crepe bought from a new vendor in front of Nang Thong Supermarket.

The group split up a bit and semi-reconvened at Ocean, nearby. Paul told a story about trying to change into his swim trunks on the beach under a towel, and teetering over into the sand when trying to get his food into trunks that had been stapled shut! I innocently said, "Oh! you mean they were stapled like THIS?!" And I showed him the photo of Chris secretly setting up the prank. "Ah, bloody hell, you were in on it too! You can't trust anyone, can you!" Paul said in his Irish accent.

Jonathan told teacher stories from his years of Miami-Dade experience and we stayed out too late.

It really was a lovely eventing and a nice sendoff to complete the circle of the journey.

Posted by sedda at 07:25 AM

March 01, 2006

Errands

Finished up some things on my list today before the big flight home tomorrow. I can't even believe this day has come so quickly.

I had breakfast with the boatyard crew then hopped on a bus to Takuapa, the 'big' town 30 mins north of here. I mailed a couple of packages (one of the two post offices nearest here is in a Khuek Khak living room, and packages that go through this post office don't always seem to make it to their destination)...then kicked around. I chatted with some Thai men when I bought water from them, and showed them photos of the boatyard on my camera and shared my chips (crisps) with them.

Which proves how irrisistible chips are. Once the bag is open, everybody wants some, whether you're speaking the same language or not.

Then I had the bus drop me off in Bang Niang for one last look at the craft shop and a tour of the beach where I did beach cleanup last year.

I hardly recognized it. Grass has filled in a lot of the lots that were rubble-strewn gravel fields. The resort where the King's nephew died is nearly rebuilt. The damaged buildings where we held the 100 Days' ceremony are rebuilt and filling up with tenants.

The trash on the beach is for the most part, ordinary trash. Water bottles, flip flops, beer bottles. Some occasional tsunami things washing in, and I'll be they'll see more after a squall when the ocean waves get big and pull things off the bottom.

German women were walking around topless, people were swimming, a kid with a mask and snorkel ran for the water and plopped in to see what's on the bottom.

Buildings are being rebuilt, and the focus is on progress and growth. Khao Lak's tourist industry is healing.

Posted by sedda at 02:58 PM

Lao Tsu

An old friend sent along this thought from Lao Tsu:

Go to the People
Live with them
Learn from them
Love them

Start with what they know
Build with what they have
But with the best leaders
When the work is done
The task accomplished
The people will say
"We have done this ourselves"

Posted by sedda at 02:53 PM

more things you can only learn by traveling

—Just because the sawngthaew driver is speeding like New York taxi driver in a yellow cab doesn't mean you'll get there any faster.

—Between 11:30pm-midnight, all the stray dogs in town turn into Hounds of Hell, barking as you go by and threatening to fight with each other with you in the middle. Lisa Ruth reports being chased on her bicycle if returning from the bar late, and Moira says she couldn't walk home alone after 10pm in Nam Khem for the same reason.

—The Thais don't seem to have any version of "God Bless You" when you sneeze. They just don't say anything.

—There are always monkeys at the wats. I'm not sure what monkeys have to do with temples, but it's generally a featured attraction.

—Tablet medicine, like Advil or Tylenol Cold, melts in the heat.

—Even if sealed in the can with the lid on, Pringles will only last a couple of days before going limp in humid climates.

Posted by sedda at 02:05 PM