Day 26: Falling Behind

Ug, I feel like a big lump on a log.... This week, due to Christmas (I know - excuses, excuses), has not been a very productive one. Actually I think I am going backwards. Last week I was supposed to run 15 miles, but I only ran 10. I skipped the long Sunday run, which was 5 miles, and instead opted to gorge myself with cookies and pie.

WEEK FOUR MIDWEEK SPECIAL: 4 days down. 3 to go.

Days so far this week: 4
Miles I have to run this week:18
Miles run so far: 0

So I guess that is 6 miles a day for the next three days! Whew! Does skiing count? I went skiing Wednesday. I think that was about 4 miles total. I got a new pedometer for Christmas which tells me how far and how fast I am going so tonight should be an interesting one at the gym. I will finally get to see if the track at the gym is really as big as they say it is (supposedly 11 laps is a mile, but it seems to last for hours!)

Damn those cookies!

Sometimes You Just Can't Win!

So I thought it was bad enough that I had to deal with a huge blizzard on my way home for Christmas, but there was no thought in my mind that it would happen twice. Yes, twice. Yesterday I had a flight back to New Orleans from Reno via...oh yeah, Denver again! Where else? Upon calling United to reroute, I was told my only other option was another flight through Denver (and how exactly does that solve my problem?) or a flight two days later...oh - also through Denver. Hm. Not a lot of promise there, huh? So I had to improvise and take American (they don't even have a movie for a 3 hour flight!) via Dallas instead. One good thing is that it got me back to my hotel in time to watch this week's episode of Men in Trees, which I had not seen before. Oh, the small pleasures in life!



I am still here. Stuck in New Orleans. Not that I don't like this place, but I really had my heart set on going home today, hanging out with my buddy Kara and seeing the roommates at the house. I had a flight out for today at 2 pm. But I don't anymore. This is a classic example of "do as I say, not as I do". I told Lea when she was buying her ticket - DO NOT go through Denver!!! She listened to me. But somehow, when I went to buy my ticket, I was caught up in the greed of finding the shortest flight, the flight that arrived just when someone could pick me up and the flight that allowed me to get some work done in the morning and see my friends in the evening. And guess where that flight connected at? DENVER! I have been banging my head against the wall all morning just thinking about what a hypocrite (and see where it got me!) I am.

Actually, I have not been banging my head against the wall all morning. I have been running around like a mad woman. After sitting on the phone yesterday for hours wading through the monotonous automated voice that is the United "help" line and finally getting put through to an agent only to get the busy signal (about 487 times!), I finally decided that the way to figure this out was to go to the airport. So this morning at 4:45, I went to the airport and stood in the premier line (which is supposedly faster) behind (of course!) a lady with about 400 large bags which all had to be weighed and checked (hello santa!), a relative in a wheelchair and then, lo and behold, about 4 other relatives who cut in line with her at the last minute.

I finally got to the counter only to be told by the lady that there are "abosolutely NO flights today or tomorrow". Tears sprung from my eyes for a second before I swallowed them back and asked her again about getting to San Francisco. "Oh...San Francisco. I thought you meant Denver." WHEW! But still, there were no flights even to San Francisco unless I wanted to wait standby all day. Luckily, after about 20 minutes of searching, she found a flight early tomorrow morning (thank you lady!), and after being ticketed, I turned around and walked out. As I was walking out, a lady in the premier line cheered. I thought that it was pretty weird that she cheered, until I realized I didn't care why she was cheering. I felt like cheering too... I am going home! Come hell or high water or a crazy winter blizzard... I am going home!


Day 15: This is Not a Sunday Stroll Ladies!

Sunday is the day of the long run and we usually do it at Audubon Park, which is nice becuase there is a running trail. The trail is a two mile loop or you can extend it and go up and around to the river and it is about a four mile loop. It is really a beautiful run and it makes me wish that it wasn't winter; it gets so dark so early here now; I have to run inside on the weekdays, but every week we look forward to Sunday for our outside run.

After we run, we go to the grocery store and buy massive quantities of food. Then we go to my house and gorge ourselves silly until we can't move anymore and watch silly movies (last night we subjected Noel to "How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days") with our top button of our pants unbuttoned and our bellies hanging low.

Our gym teacher, Ms. Bissell, used to yell at us in class if we ran too slow. She would say, "Come on ladies; pick up the pace! Swing those arms! Move it, move it! This is not a Sunday stroll ladies!" Yesterday my target number was four. Four miles I had to run. I wasn't sure if I could but thanks to Noel, who runs a very consistent pace, and to Ms. Bissell, whose voice was in my head the whole time, I actually ran five miles instead of four.


Target Miles: 12
Actual Miles Run: 13
Laps Run at The Gym: 88
Blisters: 2
Ice Creams Eaten to Maintain Energy Levels: 5


Day 4: What was I thinking?

Well I have only been training for half a week and already my knees are killing me! Is this going to get any better, or will it only get worse?

I began training week by buying new running shoes. The ones I have now are not only old and ripped and dirty, but they have been through a lot - trekking in New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines as well as miles of spinning and a tiny bit of running. Unfortunately, I forgot that new shoes are not as comfortable as the old, smashed, worn in old shoes. So last night as I ran my feet felt like little sausages trapped in their casing.

The second thing I have done (in an attempt to maintain my sanity) is to enlist the help of my friend S, who lives in Seattle. We are going to do "long distance" training together (ie. moral support and someone to nag me if I fall behind) I might have an advantage over him though, as he is running in the snow (oh and did I forget to mention he is a way better runner than me anyway?)

The training calendar says to run at an "easy conversational" pace. Ha! Whatever that means, I am sure I have not mastered that yet. To me that means panting and sweating and red-faced running segueing into walking.

Training progress so far....

WEEK ONE: 4 days complete. 3 to go.

Miles run: 5
Miles walked: 4
Hours in spin class: 2
Degrees in New Orleans today: 28

How old I feel based on knee pain: 78
Dollars spent on tiger balm: 5.67
Tiger Balm applied: half a canister (approx value: 2.83)


Approximate Training Schedule

Half Marathon Training Schedule

The Mardi Gras Marathon is on February 25th 2007, and I have decided to participate by making an attempt to run the half marathon (13.1 miles) that day. I started my training this week and it goes for 12 weeks..... I really do not enjoy running very much but I do enjoy a challenge, so we will see where this one takes me. I figure if I get burned out after week 5 or 6 (the most I have ever run before is 6 miles), I can opt out of the half and go for the 10 K (there are full marathon, half marathon and 10 K options) and I will still get the free t-shirt.

To see my (un?)successful progress and to hear my whining, you can click on the link on the left or go to:


What exactly is a "Tchoupitoulas" anyway?

One of the things in New Orleans that is really strange to me is the spelling and pronounciation of Street, City and Parish (county) names. There are several names that I could never figure out how to pronounce if not for a little help from some of the locals. I decided to find out a little bit more about what these words meant. Below are a few examples.

Plaquemine (Plack a min), a parish and bayou. From the Mobilian (Indian) word "piakimin", which means persimmon.
Tchoupitoulas (chop a too les), a street in New Orleans and a French settlement outside of N.O. at one time. The name of an extinct Indian tribe. Also means "River People".

Calliope Street (Cal' i ope) (The "ope" said like nope--no "e" heard) Don't ask where "Cal-lie-o-pea" is, nobody will understand what street you're looking for!

Carondelet St.- not pronounced like the French (cor on do ley), but instead the T is pronounced.
Burgundy St.- seems easy right? We all know how to pronounce this. But wait - there is a stress on the UN, so intead of "burg andy" it is "burg UN dy". I wonder how they say caramel.Marigny (mar in knee)- Got its name from Frenchman, Bernard Marigny who introduced craps to the US. Faubourg Marigny is considered the first suburb of New Orleans. The Marigny neighborhood is a maze of angular streets that form triangles, pentagons and squares. Numbers jump their sequence mid-block and so do street names. Spanish, French Creoles, Italians, Germans, Irish and many free persons of color were among the first ethnic inhabitants to live in this section of the city.
Pontchatrain- the lake was named after Louis Phélypeaux, comte de Pontchartrain, the French Minister of the Marine, chancellor of France and minister of finance during the reign of France's "Sun King," Louis XIV, for whom Louisiana is named.

For more info, go to:
http://www.experienceneworleans.com/glossary.html or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_orleans

Slim's take two...

Get this! The exact same day I wrote the last blog, I went to Slim Goodies and.... They have printed menus! And their prices have gone up! I am so disappointed....


The Story of Slim Goodies

We go there every Sunday without fail. We are greeted at the door by the owner, who's name is Kappa. The waitresses wear striped tights like the Wicked Witch of the West. The seats are red pleather and the menus are handwritten. You can get breakfast at any time for under 7 dollars. You can bring your own champagne and make mimosas. It feels like home.

The first time I went to Slim Goodies was about one month after Katrina. We sat in the backyard; the fence was knocked over, the trees were all broken and torn and limbs were strewn across the yard. We did not get a menu; instead the waitress, who's name was Katie, came up to us and asked, "vegetarian or not?" We told her which we were and she brought us out an array of goodies served on paper plates. I think I had pancakes and a biscuit. And coffee, also served in a paper cup. And water served in a bottle. I think my meal cost about 3.50 or 4 dollars.

Slim's has come a long way since the first time I ate there. They do have a menu now, but it is handwritten and you can order things such as "the little goat" (one of my favorites), "the guatemalan", "the jewish coon ass" (dont get me wrong, this is a really good sandwich - 2 potato latkes topped w/fresh spinach, 2 eggs, crawfish etouffee, biscuit) and the "fancy pants" (Chris' favorite and the first time he ordered it, I thought he was calling the waitress names). They have real plates and cups. Katie is gone; she went to Denver.

It may have changed a lot, but it is still the best breakfast place in New Orleans and maybe even anywhere. So every Sunday, we buy a bottle of champagne, round up the troops and head to Slim's for breakfast/brunch/lunch, where we gorge ourselves on fancy pants and joe.


Third Time's a Charm?

Yes, I'm back. Back again....

I have returned again to Louisiana (for the third time in a year) to continue working with the Education systems that were affected by Hurricane Katrina. I am working in the same office (New Orleans) as I was before, doing the same job with the same clients. However, the dynamic of the group in the office has changed very much. When I was here before, there was a very large group (about 20-30 at any given time) that would all hang out together on the weekends, on the weekdays and at lunch. I arrived back expecting the same thing, even though I knew that everyone had gone home months ago.

Well, it is not the same. There are only about 3 of the original group of 30 left (including me). Having said that, the three that are left have had a great time, but it is very strange not having the rest here...it always feels like we are missing someone. We always go to breakfast on Sunday morning at Slim Goodies (we do this religiously every Sunday, rain or shine). It used to work like this: whoever woke up first and had a rumbly tummy would call everyone else and set the time to all meet. This used to take a long time, so long in fact that sometimes we had to split it with another, like a phone tree. Also, so long that sometimes breakfast became lunch. Last Sunday it went something like this: I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing. It was Lea. She said, "ready for breakfast?" I said, "yes". And then we went to breakfast. It was like culture shock. I was picking up my phone and scrolling through all the names looking for someone to call.

Yesterday, another member of the extended group came back. In the next few weeks, a few more are expected back. And we are making new friends and adding to the group every day. Soon, we will be whole again. Soon, going to Slim Goodies will once again be an all day affair, if only becuase of the dozens of phone calls one has to make each Sunday morning.


Full House: How I became the fourth roommate

Somehow I ended up back in my old flat in San Francisco. I even got my old bed back, but only becuase my brother, who has been sleeping in my bed for the last two years, is out of town at the moment. So I have taken his place, back in my old flat, in my old bed, doing the same thing that I did then...minus the job and school of course. But now instead of one roommate, I have three! 

There is Pam, the responsible one (aka "mom" or "the one that cleans the toilets"), who works at a restaurant down on Church St. Then there is the "old-new guy", Collin. This kid used to come up to my parent's summer resort with his family every summer for about 15 years. I have not seen him in about 10 years though, so when my brother told me he was moving in, it was a nice surprise. Collin and I have spent a lot of time together in the last couple of weeks. 

Then we have my crazy brother, who is only there about one day a week and on that day we have an all day "thank goodness he is home and we are all together" party. All in all, it has been good times.


My Life Goes Downhill

I lifted up my leg, swung it around and over the seat, closed my eyes and started to pedal, all the while praying to god that I would not fall....

The last time I rode a bike in San Francisco was with my friend Omar, who knew all the ups and downs, where to go and how to get there. And that time that I rode with him ended in disaster. Just as we were pulling back into the street where he lived, I slipped on the MUNI (train) track and fell down right in the middle of the street. I narrowly missed being hit by a car and escaped with only a scraped up face and a bruised shoulder.

So this time I gingerly got back on the bike and readied myself (mentally and physically) to go on a bike ride around the city once again. And this time it was by myself. I don't even know how to ride a bike in the city, really. I mean, what am I? Am I a car? Am I a pedestrian? No, I am a bike. But what are the rules for a bike? Can you google them? Well, I did not google them; I just hopped on the bike and got in the right lane of traffic and kept my fingers crossed that nothing too large would ram into me as I was frantically pedalling down the (seemingly) busiest street in town. When I had to turn left, I just got in front of all the fast moving cars and made them wait while I got across the 6 lane, 4 way stop.

I need a blinker! I need a horn! I need a gas pedal. San Francisco is not well known for having many flat areas. Nope, San Francisco is mainly made up of hills, which is cool when you are standing at the top of one, looking down at the beautiful view. But when you are trying to GET to the top so you can look at the beautiful view, it is a different story all together. Why does a bike have so many gears? And which gear makes it so I don't actually have to pedal up the hill? Isn't there one where you can just set it and the bike coasts up the hill on its own? If there is, I have not found it. I put the bike in the lowest gear possible and pedaled so fast I thought my legs were going to spin off my body and onto the street below and STILL it took me (what seemed like) 30 minutes to get to the top of the hill.

So then wouldn't it make sense that if you are at the top, there is nowhere to go but down? Sure, if you were anywhere else but "the hilly city by the bay". Somehow, however, here in San Francisco it seems to be uphill both ways.


Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jog

Whew, made it back in one piece... First thing I did was stop by Ed's (the local coffee shop) and get a nice steaming hot Mocha. I haven't had a good one of those in a while! All coffee in SE Asia is Nescafe...which you do get used to after a while, but bleck, I would much rather have a nice espresso. So I stopped at Ed's, said a quick hello, slurped down my mocha in about 4 seconds (S, you would be proud) and got down to business - Laundry.

When you are travelling, and especially when you are travelling light, you go by the "underwear theory". This is that...until you don't have any clean underwear left, there is no need to do laundry. So, if you take 14 pairs of undies, you only need to do laundry...every two weeks. That having been said, I REALLY needed to do laundry by the time I got home. I had worn my bathing suit as much as possilbe just to save those few extra pairs of undies... I know, some people my think that gross. S is one of them; he was begging me to find a laundry place about every two days... What he doesn't understand is that usually the people at the laundry place do not have dryers. So you have to wait at least 24 hours for the laundry to be cleaned and dried. If it is even dry when you get it back, you are lucky. If it smells good, you are even luckier. After getting mine back a couple of times still smelling like not so dry, semi moist, little bit dirty laundry, I say 'forget it, I would rather go without'. So I'm sticking with the "underwear theory".

I finished my laundry, went and got a huge burrito (another thing I always miss when I am away from home) and promptly fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up, I figured that was the last of my jet lag, but alas, that was not the case. I slept 13 hours last night....from 11:30 pm to 1 pm. I am wondering what time I will finally be able to fall asleep tonight...(or tomorrow perhaps?)

Next Stop: Tomorrow I am off to Lake Oroville for some fun in the sun and waterskiing with the Keesling family... I have not been waterskiing since I was about 10 so am looking forward to showing off my (lack of) skills. After that, I have decided to go up to my parents house, hang out with them and finally...fix my car (her name is Sadie - she has been dented for a few years, but since I have been living in the city and travelling, I have not really needed a car so I have let her sit). I will be doing it myself, so it will be a good learning experience (maybe teach me some patience...haha, yeah right) for me and then she will also be ready to roll for the next time I need her....


What Day Is It Anyway?

Today is the longest day ever... I am leaving Manila at 11:45 p.m. on the 20th. Next I have about a million (well, two) layovers and about a million (well maybe more like 27) hours before finally arriving in San Francisco on the 21st at 9 a.m. Using the points program for United Air has been nice on the pocketbook, but man, do they make you work the clock! There were no direct flights from Manila to anywhere I wanted to go and of course no layover is shorter than, um, 5 hours.

Ah well, I am headed home!


600 Meters Under The Sea: Palau Sipidan

After leaving the Kinabatangan, we boarded the bus, went back down the bumpy road, and headed to Semporna, which is the gateway to Palau Sipidan (Sipidan Island) where we would be doing most of our diving. I thought Semporna would be a biggish city, with all the amenities of home, but S and I walked from one end to the other in about 20 minutes, then looked at eachother and said "what now?"

We found hawker stalls - our favorite. This is my idea of Malaysian fast food. You go into an area that resembles the food area at your local county fair. There are tons of different things to choose from, all being made on the spot, right in front of your eyes. You point at what appears to not have chicken in it (and cross your fingers) and 2 minutes later you are sitting down having a wonderful meal. I have gotten lucky; nothing has had hidden meat (similar to hidden charges?) in it; somehow with all of my grunting and pointing I got my point across.

We spent the next three days diving in Palau Sipidan...this is a wall dive, which means that the coral reef at the shallowest is about 5 Meters down, but then falls off into a wall formation down into the deep sea. At the deepest, this wall goes down to 600 Meters!! That is about 1800 feet! You wouldn't want to accidently get stuck going down there! We saw so many cool things: sharks, tons of turtles, lots of HUGE fish (that's a huge fish!), schools of hundreds of fish, many different types of corals, anenomes, sea cucumbers, starfish, shrimps, eels, rays, triggerfish galore (watch out, they bite!) and even some weird animals I could not identify (I saw one fish(?) that looked like a lump of mud. It hopped along the ground and the mouth was on the top! what kind of animal was it...I don't know!) We stayed on an old oil rig which had been coverted to a dive rig. You could go diving any time you wanted...you just took a lift down, then jumped off the rig and took off. We also just jumped off the rig anyway for fun (it is about 25-30 feet off the water).

We left Sipidan and headed to Tawau, where we would catch a plane to go back to Kota Kinabalu...


Taming the Kinabatangan

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! Welcome to the Jungle! Actually, there are no lions, tigers or bears, but...there are: wild boars, elephants, snakes, monkeys, orangutangs, crocodiles and birds (oh my!).

After leaving Mt. Kinabalu, S and I took a detour on our way to Sipidan Island, where we are planning to go diving. We stopped at the Kinabatangan River, which is nicknamed "the Amazon of Malaysia". Well, I have never been to the Amazon, but this was pretty cool.

The first day we arrived, we got settled and then jumped right into a boat to explore the river. We saw tons of Probiscus Monkeys, which have huge fat bellies and big bulbous noses (hence the name). They can leap...(small buildings with a single bound) from tree to tree, clearing about 20 feet or so easily. We also saw a couple other types of monkeys, but the money shot was the elephants. There must have been easily 20-30 elephants all together eating, playing and swimming. We sat and watched them for a long time before it finally got dark and we went home for dinner. The place where we stayed was very secluded; to get to it you had to take a boat from the "town"; there were only 4 other people staying there when we were there.

The next day we were up early for another river boat ride... we saw 2 orangutangs! That night we saw about 4 crocodiles, which apparently you are not supposed to be afraid of, because they only eat small fish and...it takes them a month to digest that! Hmph.

We left the Kinabatangan with a newfound respect for the animals. Now I think that I not only want to take home a monkey, but also a Pygmie Elephant. Do you think it will fit in my suitcase? I may be a little over the weight limit!

Next stop: Sipidan Island for some very fine diving....


Hell on Knees: The Story of Mt. Kinabalu

I vaguely remember climbing Mt. Whitney. At 17, my attitude was - whatever my Dad wanted me to do, I did not want to do it. I thought that it was too hot, too cold, I was too tired, the pack was too heavy, the hill was too high, the tent was a pain to set up and I had to sleep with my brother who kicked, snored and talked in his sleep. And above all, it was HARD. Then I got to the top, took a long look around and realized that it was all worth it. The pain of the journey was worth the sense of achievement at the end. This is what spurned me to climb another mountain (ford every stream...).

Mt. Kinabalu, located in Malaysian Boreo (Sabah) is the tallest mountain in SE Aisa, standing at 4095 meters tall, which is about 13,500 feet. Mt Whitney is about 14,500 feet tall. So it should be about the same right? No. Somebody forgot to tell these people about the beauty of switchbacks. So instead of a winding trail up to the top, there is a path STRAIGT UP. I looked at the map, saw we were going to be hiking about 6 km the first day and thought, 'eh, no problem'. Riiiiight.. I was so tired by the end of those "easy" 6 km. The second day we got up at 2 am (I know, earlier than some of you guys go to bed!) and hiked up another 3 km to get to the peak in time for the sunrise. It was well worth it, but the temperature at the top was about 4 degrees C, which is about 38 degrees F. It was bloody cold! And we got up there faster than we thought we would (I didn't know I was in such great shape! ha!) so ended up having to wait for about an hour for the sunrise.

After the sun rose and we took the obligatory photos, we hiked back down to the midpoint, had breakfast and then hiked back down to the bottom again. I always thought hiking downhill was so much easier than hiking up... It is easier on my heart and lungs, but surely not on my knees! Today (the day after), I can barely walk on a level surface and forget about stairs (and of course our hotel is up a long flight of them!)

So once again, the climb was hard, but "the end justifies the means". The view from the top was spectacular and I have now hiked my second tallest mountain ever! And my dad didn't even make me do it!

Miles Hiked: well, 18 km, so about 11 miles
KM gained in Height: from 1500 to 4100, so about 2600...so, about 9500 feet...
Body parts totally wasted: Legs, gone. Knees, can tell when it is going to rain. Abs for some reason, sore. Feet, surprisingly good.
Snacks eaten in two days: about one Ton

Next up: Pulau Sipidan, one of the number one dive sites in the world!


Palawan: Taking the Long Way Back

Next stop: the island of Palawan, home of the underground river and many cool dive sites... We are having a bit of trouble with the flight situations.. Many flights are only once a day and from some islands, you can only fly to Manila. So to get to Palawan, we had to take a ferry from Bohol to Cebu, take a flight from Cebu to Manila, stay the night in Manila, then take a flight to Puerto Princessa, Palawan (only once a day). The other thing is that our flight which was supposed to leave at 7 pm, did not leave until 11:30 pm. WHEW! So we finally arrived in Puerto Princessa and took a jeepney (oh this is another story all together) to a tiny town called Sabang (population about 200? basically: forget internet, good luck finding a cash exchange and most of the town is related).

Upon jumping off the top (yes mom, the roof) of the Jeepney at Sabang, we were met by a one man welcoming committee named Frances. He was very helpful. We had planned on meeting Doyle and Rachel at a particular hostel, as they had to run some errands in Puerto Princessa before coming to meet with us in Sabang. Frances showed us where to go, invited us to dinner, introduced us to his friends and invited us to join him the next day for karaokee. When Doyle and Rachel arrived, he also showed them where to find us. We had lunch at his friend Helen's restarurant and then dinner at the place he worked, who opened back up the restaurant, fired up the grill and cooked us a marvelous piece of fresh fish along with the best garlic rice I have had so far.

The next day, Doyle woke us up bright and early for a...cock fight. Our cock lost (Doyle bet 100 pesos - big spender) but it was an interesting sight to see. Next, Frances took us to the underground river, on a hike through the jungle where we saw monkeys and monitor lizards and then taught us how to climb a coconut tree (after which we all climbed easily to the top - haha). That night, we had a very nice dinner at Helen's again (oh by the way, she has a tiny pet monkey - soooo cute!) and then went out to the (one) bar and sang to our little heart's content. I think Rachel won the karaoke contest. The machine actually rates you (not sure what it rates you on!) and you get a score after you are done singing... It was a riot! Frances and I sang Hotel California and got a 95! Doyle had one beer, was drunk (haha) and sang Sweet Caroline. Actually I think Doyle has the best voice, even though he is too shy (what! Doyle? Shy?) to use it. We went home shortly before the power went off (they are on generators and only have power from 6pm -1 am (or 10 in some places, but not the karaoke bar!)

The following day we took a boat from Sabang to El Nido, where we went diving, went island hopping, ate lots of cheese omelets and rice, drank lots of San Miguel and did not do karaoke even though I thought that it was time S took the mike and showed us what he was really made of. Here we learned of the death of S Irwin, ironically just the day before we were about to go diving, and here I was hoping we would see some sting rays...

From El Nido, we flew back to Manila on a... 12 person plane, with a dirt/rock runway and rainy weather. I swear the pilot was sticking his head out the window of the plane to try and see where the airport was... But we (somehow) made it safely to Manila, alive and in one piece. We had dinner all together and then Rachel and Doyle went one way and S and I went the other. The plan is that Rachel and Doyle are still going to spend up until the 16th in the Philippines, while S and I are on our way to the island of Borneo, to Sabah, Malaysia...

So... Next Stop: Borneo! Here we go...


Bohol: Land of the Green Chocolate Hills

After a few very relaxing days in Boracay, S and I headed back out to the airport for our second of many crazy interisland flights. The plane we were on holds about 20 people max and the maximum altitude is 15,000 feet, which is less than one of the skydives I have taken (18,000 feet) but for some reason that doesn't really make it feel any more safe. We safely arrived in Cebu City, Cebu, where we had to battle the barrage of people trying to overcharge us for a taxi to the pier. We finally found an honest (??) taxidriver who used a meter which was not broken and made it to the pier just in time to catch the ferry to Bohol. We were met at the ferry building in Tagbilaran, Bohol by a man with a sign(!!) bearing our names. It was a nice change; usually you have to battle all the dishonest taxi drivers before finally settling on a still overpriced fare to get anywhere. This guy knew who we were, knew where we were going and didn't overcharge us too much. We arrived at the Bohol Divers Resort where Doyle and Rachel were supposed to be staying. The resort did not have anyone registered in either of their names, but did remember a white girl/Filipino guy combo who had checked in the day before. Luckily it was them and we found them without too much trouble.

The first day we took a tour around the island of Bohol, which included a trip up to the Chocolate Hills (a tour guide laughed at us when we said we wanted to go there - "they are not chocolate right now," he said, "they are GREEN chocolate". Well, green or not they were quite impressive) where we even hiked to the top of one of the hills, having to go through a local's yard to do so. We also got to see the world's smallest primate, the Tarshier, which is a tiny (smaller than my hand) monkey-like animal with eyes bigger than its head. We saw also a man-made forest, the area of the Blood Pact between the Spanish and the Filipinos and the oldest stone church on the island.

The next day we went island hopping for the day. We spent the day snorkling, laying around, eating fresh caught grilled fish and drinking San Miguel Beer. I got totally burnt and Doyle almost got sick on the boat ride back to the mainland (it was a little bit choppy). The entire time, I was waiting for him to unclench his hand from the railing. Either that or to put on snorkel, mask and fins in preparation for a dip in the deep.

The last day we went scuba diving twice. Both dives were wall dives, and there were a lot of things there that I had not seen before. The wall dives are also very cool becuase you can look down and the wall just goes down, down, down, but you cannot see where it ends. There were tons of glow in the dark fish and corals and all in all, we got to dive for almost two hours. The boat ride back was fun; the water was pretty choppy and so every time it went down a swell, the water would come crashing up on deck. The only place to avoid that is the very front of the boat, so I rode on the front where you get a good 6 feet of air sometimes when the boat goes over a big wave.

Things I learned in Bohol: S is deathly afraid of crabs (I plan to put one in his bed sometime before the end of the trip). Sinigang (sour soup) is really good (who would have thought!). Doyle and S both take longer than me to get ready in the morning (it is a toss-up as to who takes the longest - I am betting on Doyle). When driving, if you lay on the horn heavy and long enough, you can run over, go around or pass anything (legally/safely?). Philippine time = + at least one hour past or 1/4 of the proposed time. Lancones (sp?) is a fruit that we definitely need to get in the US.

Things I want to take home with me when I leave this country: a baby (they are sooooo cute!), a monkey (not quite as cute as the baby, but close!), a massage lady (for obvious reasons - can you say...daily massage?), a boat hand (they may be smaller than me, but their bodies are nothing to sneer at!)

Next Stop: the island of Palawan!!


From the Arctic Chill to the Tropics

Ah, another bus ride worth remembering! I have arrived in the Philippines...

MONDAY 21: The first day was spent in Manila just hanging around. S and I went to see Intramuros, which is the old part of town. There are a bunch of cool old churches and whatnot as well as a fort where a revolutioniary of the Philippies called Rizel was held for some time before finally being executed. It rained the whole time we were walking around; we were soaked (August and September is their rainy season)! All we wanted was a nice hot coffee and lo and behold, what did we find...sadly enough, a Starbucks! I know, I know.... I hate Starbucks, but sometimes the old tried and true is...just too good to be true. After a nice hot mocha and some time to plan our next move, we went back out into the pouring rain. Next we went to the mall of Asia, which is either the biggest mall in Asia or maybe the whole world, I couldn't quite figure that one out. We didn't spend much time there - we got a massage, ate and watched a movie (all in English with no subtitles; it is just like being at home).

TUESDAY 22: Our next move was to go up to the north to a city called Banaue, where the 2000 year old, world famous rice terraces are. To get there, we had to take a 9 hour bus ride which left Manila at 10 pm. Now, having taken many bus rides in Australia and other SE Asia countries, I consider myself a pro at the bus riding experience. Rule number one: take warm clothes because they always crank up the AC on the bus. Rule number two: take a pillow on overnight rides becuase the seats are not that comfy. So I took a makeshift pillow and got ready for a long bus ride. I was not even close to being prepared. The bus was about 30 degrees inside the whole time. I was freezing! I finally used my pillow as a blanket, but was still not warm (and now I also did not have a pillow). I think over the course of 9 hours, I perhaps slept... 20 mintues. It was so uncomfortable! Finally we arrived in Banaue, found a place to stay, had breakfast and warmed up a bit. We took a nice tour of the rice terraces, which are soooo cool, and then had some food (the best veggie curry ever! I am not having too many problems with the whole vegetarian thing yet) and went to bed around 7 pm (yeah, pathetic, I know) thinking to just have a nap but ending up sleeping the whole night through.

WEDNESDAY 23: The next day we went to a town called Sagada, where there are hanging coffins and caves. We went caving and got to crawl through really small spaces, climb around on limestone falls and wade through water while holding our cameras high up in the air... We ate the "famous" yogurt, which was good but a bit sour, drank the "famous" rice wine, which tasted like apple juice gone bad and was not very good and hung out and played cards since it was still pouring down rain (who decided to come to the Philippines during the rainy season anyway?)

THURSDAY 24: Travel day... 5 hour jeepney ride on dirt roads from Sagada to Banaue, 9 hour bus ride back to Manila, 20 minute cab ride to the airport where we got ripped off by the cabbie when he said (after starting the journey) that his "meter didn't work", 1 hour flight to Boracay...

FRIDAY 25 and SATURDAY 26: Boracay. Finally, we arrive in a place where wonder of wonders...it is NOT RAINING!!! Yay. We found a bungalow close to the beach and have been relaxing, swimming, snorkeling and eating (a lot! I am a bottomless pit!) Today we plan on taking a sailing trip around the island, maybe renting motorbikes and riding around the island, doing some diving, windsurfing, kayaking... I am already sunburnt and perfectly happy about that... It is so nice to see the sunshine!

Next stop to be determined at a later date. S and I are planning on meeting up with Doyle and Rachel at some point, perhaps in Palawan or Cebu, two other islands in the Philippines. More later and photos will be forthcoming..!


On my way to S-E-A

The trip begins:

It began in San Franciso, where I flew first to Seattle. S took me out to his neighborhood bars, introduced me to all his crazy engineer work buddies and took me to Pike Place, where they throw fish... Honestly, the fish thing was really the only touristy thing I wanted to do while I was there and it was fun. We also went to the Red Hook brewery, where we somehow added ourselves to a group of beer connisouurs. They go from brewery to brewery sampling beer and finding out everything about the particular brand. We arrived at Red Hook and it was too late to take a tour, but one of the guys in the group invited us to go with them so we got... a free tour and lots of free beer! Good times.

We leave for the Philippines on Friday, where we will hang out at the beach, do some scuba diving, snorkling, kayaking and other water sports. We also plan to meet up with Rachel and Noel, who are currently in Palau, but will be arriving in Manila on the 27th.

More later and hopefully I will be able to upload some photos once I have some!


Go Fish!

Fishing...is something I have not done in a long time... When I was a kid, my dad and I used to go all the time and sit next to the Feather, put a hook up some poor worm's little butt and cast off. I remember (from pictures mostly) catching lots of shiny, happy, rainbow trout, gutting them, frying them up, eating them...Mmmmm. Good times! And fishing is so relaxing; you get to sit by a moving body of water, in the shade, daydreaming and enjoying being "one with nature". At least that is what I thought until two days ago, when I once again went fishing with my dad.

First there was a 3 mile gruelling uphill-both-ways hike to the summit of the mountain. Then the trail dips down and starts heading downhill and you think "joy, a reprieve!" But it is not meant to be. The trail that we were hiking on has not been maintained in probably 20 years or so and about 6 years ago there was a huge fire, which wiped out the brush...but, the brush grew back 10 times worse the next year. So our whole downhill "easy part of the" hike was spent bushwhacking through scrub brushes, branches and woe-of-all-woes POISON OAK. Yes, poison oak. And you go to avoid one clump of it just to fall off the side of the trail, then when you try to clamber back up onto the trail, you have to grab ahold of something and what is near you? Poison Oak.

So we finally battle the horrid poison oak, branches and scrub brush (and lose horribly - I am wounded, scratched and bleeding) and get to the creek, which is nice and shaded and cold as ice. Now, things have changed a bit since I was a kid. Where we used to stick the hook in a nice fat worm and let it lazily drift around in the water, now we actually have to have a bit of finesse! Today, we fly fish.

Now, fly fishing is not a lazy, relaxing sport. You have to sneak up on the fish and whip your pole about and then just at the right moment, set the fly right on the water so the fish thinks it is a bug and then.....when the fish takes a taste, you snap the pole backwards, hook him and haul him in. This is easier said than done. First, sneaking up on a fish when the sun is almost above your head is not an easy task. We also took the dog with us and she wants to be right smack dab in the middle of the action, so she spooks the fish away as well.

next, when it comes to whipping your pole about, I though if you just snap it back and forth, you were doing things right. Apparently there is a method to it. The only thing I am good at when it comes to that is getting the hook stuck in _____ (insert area here - trees, rocks, bushes) or getting the line tangled up on itself. In fact, if there was one thing I could wish for when I was fly fishing, it would be a little "cabana boy" who untangled/unhooked my line for me while I relaxed with a cold beer. This would save me a lot of time, and also this could be a way to put the relax back in fly fishing.

Lastly, the hook and haul in. I hooked a bunch of fish but many of them decided to let go at the last moment. Even when sometimes I hooked and began to haul them in, they decided to let go. So the ratio of fish hooked to fish hooked, hauled in and not wiggled away at the last minute is like 10 to 2.

I ended up catching 3 fish so all in all it was a good time. Until the walk back. We had to bushwhack back UPhill to get to the top of the mountain. We were tired and so kept misstepping and falling off the edge and so having to grab onto even more poison oak than before. By the time we reached the top, I was feeling more like rolling downhill than walking. Then I looked at the dog. She is about 10 years old now; the last time we took this hike, she laid down in the middle of the path and refused to get up. This time, although she is in better shape, you could still tell that she was not a happy camper.

Finally, we all made it to the bottom of the hill and I finally got to have that cold beer, although my cabana boy was still nowhere to be found.


...And helllooooo San Francisco!

Yay, I get to go home!! I have been gone so long I feel like a visitor now. Well, really I am a visitor. I don't have a home; my brother took it. So I have to stay with him. I was talking to a friend last night and he said "so you go home and sleep on your own couch?" Well, really, that about sums it up. Yes, yes I do. And he sleeps in my bed. Hmm. Something seems wrong about this story!

So next Friday I board an airplane in New Orleans and I arrive in San Francisco with just enough time to do one of my favorite things at one of my favorite places with one of my favorite people. That would be a) Eat, b) Indian Food - Chu
tney..mmmm and c) K. Then in the next few days, I will eat all the food that I have been missing while in the fried food mecca of the US, aka the South. I mean, they think they have REAL Mexican food! All I can say to that is HA! They have never tasted real Mexican food (well maybe I never have either, but the Mexican in California is awesome!) They also think that anything healthy, ie vegetables or fish, should be fried! And probably dipped into a weird red or brown sauce while you are at it. Actually, in New Orleans there are many choices for good food, but I am still missing my California/San Francisco roots!
So I will go home, spend some time in San Francisco with some friends, eat like a pig all weekend, and then my bro and I are going up to Mom and Dad's house to do some fishing, swimming, sunbathing and fair-going. Last time I went fishing with my Dad, he and K both caught fish but I did not, so hopefully I have better luck this time. I can't wait to sit by the river and relax with the dog, a good book and a sunny day.

After that it is back to San Francisco for a little more culinary goodness, then I am onto the next leg of my journey..... The Philippines! More about that later!


Farewell Louisiana!

Well, the end is near.... I will leave Louisiana in about a week and never look back. Okay so maybe I will come back and visit the few locals that I have met while I was here.... And I will definitely remember the fun times that I had and great friends that I have met while I was here. And there were so many!

The first day I got here in October '05, I took the infamous "9th Ward Tour" where I saw devistation like I had never seen before. It was like New Olreans had gone to war and lost very, very badly. In the 9 months since then, there has been so much progress; I can
almost imagine that the city may someday be the same (well, at least similar) to what it was before. But to the casual observer, who never saw the level of devistation in the beginning, it looks as if barely any work has been done at all. There are still abandoned cars, boats in the street, traffic lights and power that doesn't work, huge abandoned malls, restaraunts and neighborhoods. There are still so many people living in trailers....

It has been such a cool thing to be a part of this; through all of the politics, the grief and the finger
pointing, through the corruption, the deceit and the lies, through the good times and the bad... we have been face to face with a total disaster and lived! There is still a long way to go for New Orleans, but I am moving on. I am done here; I have said my piece, I have done my bit and I have been a part of history. It's not over yet, but I will leave it for others to finish.

Katrina came, she saw, she conquered! But we shall overcome! New Orleans will rise again!

I will miss this place...


What actually goes on in New Orleans

Whaaat(?) really does go on in New Orleans these days? Well first of all, like they say, "what happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans." Or is that Vegas? I can never remember. You can look at that statement a couple of different ways.

First of all, I think that many people who are not in Lousiana think that sure, the Hurricane came through and messed everything up, but that people should be over it by now! For goodness sakes, it has already been almost a year since it happened. That is plenty of time to get everything back to normal, right? Well, the people who say this...have never been to Louisiana! So, what is happening here...is staying here. The real news doesn't get out to the public. Well, if you count the crap the media spews out, I guess there is news, but not very real. The city has not been rebuilt. The city is not back to normal. "Le Bon Temps" are "roulez" but not as hard as they used to.

Of course the people of this city want to rebuild, to forget... but many of them are not coming back. What will happen to the spirit of New Orleans? Did you know that before the storm, in a city of roughly 600,000 people, there was an average of 1 murder per day here? Do you know that 1 year later, with a rough population of about 200,000 (many of these being contractors or relief workers) there is STILL 1 murder per day!? Public Schools with overall enrollments of 12,000 in 2004-05 have a total enrollment of 1,200 for 2005-06. One tenth of the student population has returned. How long will it take for the other 9/10 to come back? Will they come back? I have talked to many people that, especially because of their children and the importance of having them in a good school, have moved away for good..

You can also look at the opening statement in a good light. The things that used to happen before the storm, the life that New Orleans had, the jive, the vibe, it has stayed. People are broke, they are fighting over insurance settlements, they are trying to start their business back up, to raise their kids, to fix their houses... But this city still has life. It will never lose the glow, the allure, the fun that it has.

Men at Work (no, not the band)

Men at Work (no, not the band)
Okay there are are all these old guys at work and if we do not know their names, we just make something up.
For instance, there is "old guy smoking", who is ALWAYS out front puffing on a cigarette. And he is all wrinkled and grey and...always smoking. Hence the name. Then there is "curly q-tip". Well this has a background story though. A Q-tip is an old guy with white hair. And don't get me wrong, this is not prejudice or rude; a q-tip told me about it! So...in my office we have A LOT of q-tips. In fact, mostly q-tips. 97% q-tips, 3% under 50s. What can you do? So anyway, "curly q" has a funny wild and crazy head full of curly grey hair. He also has another name - stoney-q, but that is only becuase he walks soooo slow and he always had droopy eyes. I even caught him eating a kit-kat the other day at his desk! Can you imagine! Then...there is "grumbles"; he is a guy on my team who is about 70. He sits at his computer all day and complains about everything...the weather, the computer is too slow/too fast, people are too loud/too quiet/too black/too white..... he never gets enough! Then there is "creepy guy" who stares at me every time he walks by... Chris had a guy that sat behind him that always had a fan on at his desk which blew him all around - "fan guy". And then there is "bear claw guy" who brings a bear claw to work every day and eats it precisely at a certain time every day.
So the other day I was at a bar with Lea, having a drink and who shows up but "old guy smoking!" And he wasn't smoking! That totally destroyed my image of him. Then a few days after that, I was at my desk and I must have been staring at "curly-q" because he said hi to me (at least his hair was still curly). Turns out, get this, they both have names! Haha. Things will never be the same after this.
Old guy smoking = MikeCurly Q = SonnyGrumbles = JohnFan Guy = undeterminedBear Claw Guy = undetermined
If anyone knows the identities of Fan or Bear Claw guy, I would be interested to know....

uptown pub golf extravaganza!


For those of you who have never played a round of pub golf, I recommend it! A couple weekends ago, we got about 20 people together to make up 10 teams of two, each with a caddie and a golfer (we switched at each bar). It all started at my house (the clubhouse) where we got the teams together by picking not numbers but golf terms (I was one half of the "divot" team). Then we began the game. There were 9 holes (bars) on the course.

The terms: at each hole, the golfer has to drink. However many drinks it takes to finish the drink is your score for that hole. So... down it in one - hole in one... If the golfer cannot finish, the caddie may finish for them. At each hole, the caddie and the golfer swap roles.
By the end of the route, the scores were pretty much even, but by then nobody was counting anyway!

Kudos to Brenda - she can down a beer in about 2.54 seconds! Also congrats to Noel - this time he was both the first to pass out AND to puke!



Click here to see photos of the Guatemala trip. The boys are John, Noel and Chris from work. We went down there for the weekend for a little fun...


Cambodia (10-13 April)

Angkor What? It rises up out of the jungle.. It is something you can't even imagine building... It used to be a fortress where the people lived and worshiped and went about their daily lives. Whoa!

I was suitably impressed. I wandered around in the hot hot sun... I think it was about 100 degrees the day that I was there... I did have a nice little guy who drove me around on a motorcycle all day though. This was both exciting and scrary. He was a lot better driver than the guy I had in Vietnam, but still, there is something about going down a dirt road without a helmet on a bike meant for one person (you know, one of those little tiny ones...like a Honda 90). Anyway, for about 7 dollars, he would take me from place to place and wait for me to look around before taking me to the next one. He even got up at 4 in the morning with me so I could go and see the sunset. It was worth every penny.

Unfortuntaely, my stay in Cambodia was very short and so I only really had time to explore Angkor Wat and then high tail out of there so I could make in time to Thailand for Songkran, which is their New Years festival...I had a hard time getting out of the country, as what I did not know was that Cambodia also celebrates Songkran and all the busses are shut down for a 4 day period while they celebrate. Fortunately, I met a nice guy who was willing to share a cab with me to the border (a long, bumpy ride!), where we took a bus from the border to Bangkok. For some reason the busses WERE running in Thailand, thank god. We arrived in Bangkok and took a cab into the city, where we got drenched with water, as it is the tradition to soak everyone for 4 days straight.... What fun!


Quincy: Class Reunion???

So are we going to have a 10 year reunion or what? Who would come? Who will organize it? Go HERE to post comments...


Vietnam (April 3-April 10)

And it's one two three what are we fighting for, don't ask me I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam...

Hoi An (4-5 April)

As soon as I could, I got out of Danang. It was another big ugly city and I really wanted to just go to the beach. So another (scary) motorcycle ride and one more bus ride (only 45 mins! how nice is that?) got me to a small town called Hoi An, which is situated 5 km from the beach. I checked into a hotel which was quite nice considering the price and the amenities. For 7 dollars you get hot water, a bath, a TV and two huge beds. That is a lot of money to spend compared to say, Thailand, but in Thailand for about 4-5 dollars, you get a crappy toilet (sometimes shared) in a semi-smelly room. So this was like the Ritz Carlton to me!

First stop was the beach, for which I rented a bicycle and rode down to. It is about a 5 km ride which is not too bad, but the people in Vietnam drive like madmen (and women). Most people ride motorcycles and bicycles and the few cars that come through are honking and honking and passing in the middle, on the left, on the right... Another funny thing is that they carry everything on their bikes. So I am pedalling along next to...bananas, chickens, 4 people on one bike (the most I have seen is 5!), marquis, you name it! honk, honk, quack, quack...

Ahh the beach. The only problem is that there are people constantly trying to sell you something. If you talk to them at all, even to say "no thanks" they squat down next to you and make themselves at home. Not that that is so bad, but I really go to the beach to relax and read my book and it is hard for me to adjust to people trying to sell me stuff all the time. I don't like shopping and so when I want something I get in and out of the store asap. All this pressing me to buy something is not only quite foreign to my culture but to my own personal shopping style as well. I did meet a really nice lady who sat and chatted with me for a while however. But then in the end even she tried the same old lines... (she has a baby, she hasn't sold anything today, her boss is going to be upset, if I buy it will bring her good luck....) Games, games!!

The next day I went to the ruins of My Son, which are very old but have mostly been destroyed in the war (here it is called the "American War"). It was very cool, except after a while all the moss covered brick and stone structures start to look the same... It was also VERY hot that day; it was about 35 degrees C (95F).. I was pouring down sweat! I couldn't even hold my camera as my hands were so slippery! When we got back to Hoi An, I went to the beach again and then boarded an overnight bus (only 12 hrs..seems so nice now) to Nha Trang.

Nha Trang (6 April)

Ohmygod!! I have been violated! I was sitting on the beach at Nha Trang, reading my book, minding my own business, when... this man strode up to me and bent down and grabbed me in the crotch and walked away. I couldn't bring myself to do anything but just sit there, stunned, with my mouth open, trying not to look at him walking off but amazed at the nerve of him!!

Then I lie back down and start reading my book and he walks back up to me holding a beer in his hand as if it were a truce offering or some sort. Pffft. I smacked him with my book and shooed him off.. I still couldn't believe that had actually happened. I still can't!

Then four annoying little boys kept sitting right next to me and messing with my towel, my water, my hair, my book....so finally I decided that this beach just wasn't meant to be and I left...

Dalat/ Bus ride Dalat-Saigon (8 April)

Uunnnnnghhh...another crappy bus ride.

But first - Dalat is very beautiful; It is up in the mountains (seems very high, but I think they are only 1000 M - 3000 ft) and there are waterfalls and caves and hiking. The town of Dalat is easy to walk around and there is a lake and a really cool market. We walked around the market (I met a few people on the bus) and bought all kinds of weird things. They have the weirdest fruits... dragon fruits, jackfruits, custard apples... and more that I don't know what they even are. (I did take photos and will post later). They also have a great section with meats, one with flour etc, one with vegetables, one with herbs and spices... they even had a whole section with tofu and fake meats!! I love it! I learned how to say vegetarian right away - "chay". And I thought it would be hard to find "chay" food in Vietnam but it isn't.

So... the bus ride. I decided to go from Dalat to Saigon (which leaves at 7:30 am and gets into Saigon at 2 pm). Then I changed my mind and decided to go to a beach town called Mui Ne. What the tour operator told me was that I could take the bus to Mui Ne, arrive in Mui Ne around 2 and then another bus would leave for Saigon at 1 am arriving there at 6 am. That sounded great to me; I could have one more day on the beach and then still have a whole day in Saigon. I was a little worried about the 1 a.m. bus however. So I made him double check to make sure that it was going to be coming the next day. He called someone and apparently everything was fine.

The next day I got to Mui Ne and asked the tour operator there if I could leave my stuff with him until the 1 am bus... and he said "there is no 1 am bus. The only bus is at 2 pm" which was right at that moment. So... I had to get BACK on the bus and ride it for another 6 hours when I could have just taken the bus from Dalat and been there by now. I was very annoyed. AND I had to pay an extra charge for the next bus.

I took out my anger on the hotel operator in Saigon. She was so shrill and she kept yelling at me about taking off my shoes "YOU! shoes OFF!" and about leaving my key with her "YOU! KEY! KEY!" and about leaving my passport with her "YOU! PASSPORT or PAY!" and trying to sell me a tour for the next day in Saigon "I give discount!" I finally just snapped, yelled at her and went to bed...

Then I found another hotel for tonight and bought my tour from a much friendlier person...

I am ready to leave now.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) (9 April)

Another big city. Some 10 Million people here. Although they do have a great market with fabulous vegetarian food! They make every kind of fake meat you can imagine. And it looks like real meat. In fact, the "vegetarian lamb curry" in Singapore was probably in fact, vegetarian, after all. Morning Star Farms, eat your heart out!
I had a near miss with a pick pocket today. She seemed like such a harmless old lady.. I opened my bag to get out a candy and accidentally left it a little open. I felt someone behind me jostle me and I whipped around but she was already crossing the street. I checked my bag, found it open and so checked to make sure everything was there. As far as I can tell, the only thing she got was the candy, which had been right on the top. Whew! I felt very lucky but also a bit scared after that. I kept watching my back and checking my bag to make sure it was closed all the way. Sneaky old lady! I hope she enjoys the candy!

Laos (March 30-April 3)

See what befell me in the quiet mountains of Laos.

Bus Ride or Hell: You decide (3 April 2006)

Ohmygoodness, I just had the bus ride from hell! What started out to be a 22 hour busride from Vientiane, the capitol of Laos to Danang Vietnam, turned out to be a 28 hour busride from hell...

It all started off badly. We were scheduled to leave at 7:00 pm from Vientiane. We arrived at the station around 6:30, settled into our seats and got ready for take off. We sat and sat and sat....There was a little Vietnamese lady who kept yelling at us, apparently about some boxes that she was taking on the bus (which they stack 10 high in any availible seat) which one of the Canadians who I was riding with was sitting to close to or something like that. She kept yelling at them and swishing her hands around, trying to get them to move to another seat. And then she was doing the same to me. What I understood from her is that she wanted me to move over and sit with an Australian girl so she could have two seats to herself. Now that did not seem fair to me, so I did not move and she kept giving me dirty looks for the rest of the ride (let's not forget, that was a 28 hr ride!)

We stopped for food with no problems and then got back onto the bus. I had just curled up on my (two) seats when I was poked repeatedly on the shoulder by a young boy who was apparently the spokesperson for the crazy woman. He again tried to get me to move over, but I again refused.

The bus was filled with boxes (what I did not understand was that there was a perfectly good roof rack on the top of the bus which was not being properly utilized) and bags and little plastic stools. I later came to find out, once we all settled down to sleep, that the stools were meant for spreading in the aisles and sleeping on. So we slept. The bus stopped at a reststop some time around 3 and parked for 3 hours before heading on down the road. The reason for this is that the border doesn't open until 7. Now WHY didn't the bus just leave Vientiane at 10 rather than 7?

We arrived at the border and...once again sat and sat. First we waited for it to open, then we had to wait in a huge queue (wait - it wasn't really a queue - it was a mass of people) to get our passports checked, and then we had to walk to Vietnam and wait again to get our passports checked. Then we sat and sat and sat while the bus was....(??) waiting in line to get checked, getting checked...something like that. Oh and then I had to transfer busses. It took over 3 hours. We arrived at the border at 6:30 and finally left at 10 something. We got about 5 km down the road and the bus broke down. So we sat there for about another hour.

Let me also explain the bus. It was a local bus which means: no A/C -only windows, no stopping for smoking - people were just doing it in the bus, again, boxes piled EVERYWHERE - this means under the seat, under my feet, behind, above and below me, and mostly Vietnamese people (I was one of 6 foreigners and then we transferred busses and i was 1 of 3) which is no problem in fact I like it, it makes me really feel like I am in a foriegn county instead of being with people who I could be with at home, but it means that nobody speaks English so you have to just guess at everything.

After the breakdown there were really no problems except that I saw a bucket of pigsfeet soaking in water right near the toilets and I thought how glad I am that I am a vegetarian...

We arrived in Danang at 11:30 pm (we had been scheduled to arrive at 5 pm). To me it looked like everything was closed and I was a bit worried about getting a place to stay. When the bus arrives in the city, the only way into the center is via motorbike. This is fun, especially when you have a 50 lb backpack on your back. Somehow with my terrible (non existent) Vietnamese and their terrible English, I explained to them that I needed a cheap hotel somewhere in the city center. It must have worked, becuase they took me to just what I needed. It was not as cheap as it could have been - (gasp! it was 15 dollars) but they had a hot shower, comfortable bed, free internet and great coffee and baguettes (thanks to the French influence) so I was happy.

Vientiane, Laos: 2 April 2006

I was told by a couple of fellow travellers that:
a) Vientiane is the only place with ATMS (which I have yet to see)
b) Vientiane is not really that exciting (it is the biggest city in Laos however, so it depends on what floats your boat)

Usually, if you are coming from Bangkok, the easiest way to get into Laos is to cross at Vientiane. I however, did not come from Bangkok, but instead crossed over at the North of Thailand at Chang Khong. So really there is no reason for me to be in Vientiane. Knowing that, I have decided to only stay here for a few hours. I took the bus down from Vang Vieng this morning and am taking another bus to Vietnam (Danang) this evening. All in all I will only have been in Vientiane for about 5 hours. So, from what I see, there is pretty good soup, the internet is not really very cheap and I did not find an ATM but I did find an exchange.

I also found a nice little guy named "V" who runs the P P Guesthouse and who is letting me store my bags and loaf on his couch and watch TV while I wait for my bus (granted, he did have on WWF Female wrestling which I am not particularly interested in). He also was nice enough to rub something similar to Vicks Vapo Rub on my toe when I came back into the guesthouse bleeding from an unfortunate accident with a sidewalk grate. Now I have never had Vicks Vapo Rub rubbed on a cut before and I expected quite a sting, but really it was no worse than iodine or the like. Funny, becuase the Thai and Laos people rub Tiger Balm on everything. I even read the back of the package after seeing a Thai woman rub some below her nose before going into a stinky bathroom (good idea, by the way! Except doesn't it make one's nose burn?). What the back of the package states is that tiger balm is good for "aches, pains, headache, constipation... now WHERE are you supposed to rub it if you are constipated, may I ask?

So my time in Vientiane is limited to learning:
a) if they do have ATMs I don't know where they are hiding them
b) whoever said Vientiene is not that exciting may be right unless you can count cutting your toe on a sidewalk grate and having a small Lao named V rub Vapo Rub on it exciting.

So now I am off on a 22 hour journey (hopefully more comfy than the one on the train to Bangkok) from Vientiane, across the border and into Vietnam. I arrive there tomorrow at 5 pm and I plan to check out the city a bit before heading down the coast towards Ho Chi Minh city. 


What is going on at home??

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