Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thailand photos!

Hey all, Cindy the photo-monger here. Well, by the time you read this Tracy will probably be on her way to India! Yes, leaving Bangkok she flies into Bangalore and will meet up with friend Sherry for their foray in southern India.

In the meantime, I am posting a slide show made from the latest batch of photos that I just received from Tracy. This one is of Thailand pictures. Many photos have not been posted, mostly from Japan and Cambodia. I will over the next few weeks be posting those on the picassa web albums site where all of these pictures are living. You can visit that site simply by clicking on any of the slide shows and from there you can see all of the different albums posted.

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Everyday stuff

Both Kara and Cindy tell me to write more. I tell them I haven't had much interesting happen. They say write about your day to day details. Here is my trip to the night market for dinner. I have been travelling without staying in a room for three days. (That story will come.)I finally got a room tonight, got a shower,washed my clothes and then headed to the night market for dinner. I didn't feel like cooking. (The night market is this phenomenon that happens in empty parking lots every night in most towns. About five o'clock people appear with their carts, portable booths and tables and set up to feed the town. Apparently not to many people eat at home. There are groceries and cooked food, drinks and every food thing you can imagine. Kind of like carnie food but really good carnie food, Thai style.) I asked the guest house owner where the night market was but she could only point. Thai's generally don't have the english vocab and I can't understand the Thai vocab to give or get directions. So I headed out in the direction she pointed. I noticed as I walked that this town in particular has dogs in bad condition. Most dogs in Thailand have sarcopic mange presented by feverish itching and loss of hair with angry inflammed skin developing into "elephant skin" in later stages. I saw several dogs that made me cringe. They had absolutely no hair and were scratching themsleves silly; they found it hard to take several uninterrupted steps. I found it hard to watch them. I passed a older couple out in the street feeding their local stray dogs. The old man was smiling and talking to the dogs while his wife watched. He caught my eye and we smiled at each other. I "asked" them for the direction of the night market and they just stared at me. We laughed and I walked on in the same direction. Next? Eventually I got to the market area. Along the way there were several carts "outside" the night market area trying to catch the hungry "I can't wait " people of which I am one. I bought two chicken kabobs for 30 cents. As I got to the official night market area I noticed this one was different than most others. The food and clothing and other junk are all mixed in together in a chaotic mess which is not typical of most night markets. Most night markets are clearly oraganized into what is being sold. I had to search but I located some of my favorite sweet potatoes, bought them and continued walking through the booths and such. I saw one of the many dogs and cats that I see with terrible wounds. This particular dog had a gangrenous leg. Who knows what has happened to him but he was doing the best he could do with the wound. I can't look very long. I have had to work hard at not trying to save every dog and cat I see in distress, I am just unable ( though I have "saved" a few). I walked over to the fruit shake place that every night market has and got a shake for 30 cents. I have had a fever for a few days that some damn american expat gave me and I am hoping the vitamin c will help. There I see another dog this one with an eye infection so bad that his face is swollen beyond recognizing it as a dog. His head is heavy for him to carry it is so full. I walked over to him and told him I was sorry, he could not look up. I continued walking and found my favorite sausage things, grabbed a couple of those and took another lap around. I was starved. I hadn't eaten since 6 am and it was 6 pm. I had either been on a train, tuk tuk, motobike taxi or in a bus all day. It is kind of hard to eat when I see these dogs, my stomach flips over, but there are so many of them I cannot begin to change their lot. I have had to work hard on this issue. I volunteered for a vet while I was here on the island of Khoa Tao and she said mange is an epidemic they don't even have hopes of slowing. So I have had to let it go. After my last lap and before I see any other dogs I headed home because I am exhausted after travelling for three days straight. On my way home I passed an old woman sitting up, asleep at her food booth. I wished I had had my camera. Someone could have taken off with her cooked sausages on a stick or her kabobs. I thought about it, they looked awfully good. On my way home I saw this town's version of the songatheiw go down the road. It is a motorcycle, cattle truck thing with a narrow rounded front end that makes them look like a piece of pie going down the road. Then I saw a volkswagon bug go down the street. I checked myself. Did I really see that? It reminded me of Mamaw, she always drove a bug in her early years. I also passed an old woman feeding cats so I stopped and "asked" to pet them. One by one I picked them up and kissed them watching their faces squinch up as I did. I kissed and petted on each for awhile talking my cattie talk to them. It seemed to be a universal language. The older woman and I smiled at each other, but didn't even try to talk. I continued down the street amidst the traffic, trash and more terrible looking dogs. I looked down an alley way that was littered with people and trash, dogs and cats, motobikes, bicycles and other random discarded things. I had to remind myself that this is SE Asia and this is what it is, and I have to appreciate it as such. And I do, mostly. I passed an internet cafe and went in and began writing this blog. Now I will head home to my guest house. It is an old style Thai teak house. I have a very simple room. One bed, one fan, one pillow, one sheet; the bottom one. That's it, and that's all I need right now.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Can I be your friend?

I have been on quite a dry spell. Though I did meet Zofia, I could not really "hang out" and do things; except of course her finances and hitch hiking. Overall I have not been speaking much for about a month. I did meet a young American couple from Alaska but it seemed as though every time I was getting into town they were leaving or vice versa. I had been able to have dinner with them once and take a walk another time but that was the extent of my english speaking contact for the month. So as you can imagine I was quite starved for conversation. To see someone wave and smile in recognition was enough to make me choke up. I needed some friendship. I was determined then to make a time when the couple and I could be in town for a day together and do something. I emailed them and asked if maybe we could meet in Krabi. They wrote back and explained that they might be moving on before I got there but they would be at the Blue Juice guest house if they were still in town and to look them up there. So I did of course, as soon as my feet hit the pavement in Krabi. I was so excited becasue they were still booked in the guest house, so they were there, but were out to dinner. When I met them they said they were moving on the next morning. Ugh. They were excited because they had rented a motobike that day and had gone to this really cool temple that was up a flight of ...1,272 stairs. They said the view was incredible and that I should go. I was holding back tears, I had so wanted to hang out with them. They invited me to go to the night market with them for dinner and I jumped at the chance. At dinner they talked about their day together and again about the temple. Then Richard said it would be great to see the sunrise from the temple and eventually we made arrangements to do just that. They still had the motobike until ten the next morning so we decided we would all squeeze on and get to the temple before six. They would pick me up around five. I was SO excited. I told them I was staying on the street around the corner and that I would be standing outside at five. I could barely sleep that night for checking the alarm. When 4:45 did come ,I got up, dressed and hurried downstairs. In my hurry I almost ran into the locked garage sized door across the front of my guest house. CHIT CHIT CHIT . I had heard about this, that someitmes guest houses lock you in at night. Fuck. I grabbed the gate and shook it and tried to pull it apart, but it was locked. Definitely locked. Then I heard it. Their motobike rounding the corner. I flung myself at the gate, smashed my face against it and shoved my arm through the bars. I waved frantically, they searched casually; and they drove by. I wanted to cry. I might of actually. I stood at the gate, dejected. Then I heard them again. I slammed myself against the gate and this time, five in the morning or not I yelled at the top of my lungs. They slowed, looked around and stopped. "Oh shit" they said. I asked them to give me a few minutes to look around and check the back door. I went back to the kitchen area and found the door locked but a large window open. I looked out and there seemed to be a back yard off the porch but I couldn't see any further than that. I raced back to the gate told them there was a possibility and I needed to get my headlamp. I ran upstairs and then back down, crawled out the window and shone my light off the narrow porch. The porch dropped off (no stairs) to ... the most putrid smelling, gross looking, old, rotten pile of peelings, egg shells, soup broth, and waste the restaraunt had generated plus chewed on chicken legs, rice and other food not eaten by customers. I jumped. Not far enough. My crocks filled with the stuff and my hand dipped deep into the pile. I gagged and kept going. Three steps later I was free of the pile, but in the walled in back yard. Damn. I am shaking my feet and shaking my head. I am searching for a way out. Yes, I am desperate. I find where two sheets of tin meet but are not bolted together. I pull them apart and spy an alley, but I have to make it through someone's packed garage to get there. I step into the garage, onto their night market food cart, over their motobike and scare up the dog. I let out a yelp, the dog does too. I start running for the opening. I get to the alley scare up another dog and a couple cats. I hit the street and ran around the corner sqeaking in the juice in my shoes. I reached Richard and Tasha triumphant but grossed out and stinking to high heaven. I spent the next few minutes scraping my shoes, feet and hand on the pavement. Then I used some of Tasha's purell gel on my hand and I was ready to go. I climbed on the very back of the bike with a huge smile. I was with friends.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hair Cuts, Dancers and Dressing Packages

One of the first things Sherry did when she got to India was pull a few of my whiskers. What are friends for? I guess I had been a bit remiss. My hair was a bit wild and untamed as well. I had cut it myself a couple of times ( with my folding traveling scissors) but that was beginning to show. Not to many beauty shops along the way. In a small "hill station" in India I did spy a barber shop that was churning out short cuts like an assembly line spits out parts. I peeked in, and before I knew it I was in a chair trying to explain the cut I wanted. I have always spoken a different language than my hair dresser but this was something else. The shop had about four chairs, all occupied, me in one of them, a bench packed full of waiting boys and men, and a small crowd hanging around. I of course, was a spectacle. A woman with short brown hair, blue eyes and white skin. The barbers who were not cutting my hair stopped to chide the guy who was going to. In the mirror in front of me I could see guys behind me leaning on each other left and right so that they could see. Some bench sitters were laughing, all were staring and I was a nervous nellie. The barber started in and I indicated " no more than this please" and crossed my fingers. He worked and worked, the more he worked the more I got nervous. He returned to the back of my head several times, I guess I had butchered it thouroghly. Eventually he handed me a mirror and along with the about 25 men in the shop ,I took a look. It wasn't bad! One of the bench guys claimed that my chair would be the "girl's chair" from now on. I paid the equivalent of one dollar, posed for pictures, waved many goodbye's. Just a few minutes down the road while Sherry and I were looking for internet I stuck my head into what I thought was an internet "cafe". Out from behind a wall came this flaming Indian gay guy. He apologized, and explained that he was a I tech teacher and these were school computers and we could not use them. He then proceeded with the ususal line of questions. Where are you from? What's your name? What do you do for work? When I said I was a teacher he threw himself into my arms , hugged me and said in a high, excited lilting voice " We are both teachers!" " I am so happy". And he WAS happy, so excited and I was SO captive. " Please sit dwon, tell me more, let me show you, meet my students...". I called out for Sherry who was by now wondering where the hell I was. When she came in he repeated the whole process. Hugging, questions, excitement, and "please sit down". As he told us about his life and teaching he mentioned that was also teaching dance. We didn't have to ask, he offered. He jumped from his chair, excused his students, pushed back the furniture and began the recital. ( View the movies Cindy posted) He did several traditional Indian dances complete with singing. It was fantastic. There we are in India, watching a gay man dance and sing, and we are the only audience. When Sherry and I tried to make our exit he sighed and complained, and kept talking. We finally convinced him that we had to go but he insisted on pictures. We took pictures with him; his cheeck pressed against ours, then he called his students in and we took more pictures. Upon leaving I asked him for his address and he gave me his land address. He didn't have email. The next errand we had to do was to send some stuff home to the U.S. Easy enough; find a box, package the box, address the box, and mail the box. Not in India. You have to "dress" the box as well. Which means taking the box to a tailor and having them make a linen "dress" complete with wax over the seams. Yes linen. ( See photos) We didn't have to look long for a tailor, as we walked down the street a man asked; " Do you need your package dressed?" Must have been the bewildered look on our faces.

Hitching and High Finance

I jumped off the bus at the road to Khoa Sok Park dazed and tired after my visa run. I was walking down the road surveying the bugalow choices when I saw a woman around 65 years old nervously walking around a bungalow, then squatting, then standing then walking then squatting. I watched her and when she caught my eye she waved me over. She spoke to me in broken english and asked if I needed a bungalow. I said yes and she said "you come, you come here". She had what I thought was a thick Russian accent but she turned out to be Polish. She talked to the Thai woman owner of the bungalow and got me a cut rate price for a nice little place, I accepted and fell into bed. I never found out what she was doing and I am not sure she knew. The next day I had a few friendly "conversations" with her and in the evening she asked me over for a papaya drink. While drinking she sighed a big sigh, looked at me with a sideways glance and said "I have big problem". Soon enough I was helping her with major banking and financial translations and hoping like hell I was getting them right. She had her money in a Chinese bank ( don't ask me why) and the Chinese banking woman had written to Zofia in broken Chinese english asking Zofia what she wanted done with some of her accounts. Zofia had me translate the bad Chinese english into bad regular english so she could try to understand. She thought about my translation in Polish then translated those thoughts into bad Polish english for me to translate into bad regular english and write that translation in a letter to the Chinese banking woman. In the letter I was telling the Chinese banking woman to move this money, reinvest that money, save the interest on this money in a savings account so that Zofia could pick it up in a year. And this was no small beans either. Chit! Zofia was very pleased and treated me to more papaya drink. I was thinking I hope I put her papayas in the right accounts. The next morning it was coffee with Zofia. " Drink, drink more coffee. Drink" she kept saying, pushing the coffee toward me. Three expresso strength coffees later I was B-U-Z-Z-E-D. When I told her no more she pouted, folded her arms, pouted again and said " please one more". Then she asked me where I was going next. I told her Phang Nga and she clapped her hands. "We go together, auto stop." "What is auto stop Zofia?" I thought it was another form of organized travel, there are so many ways to travel here, so many arrangements can be made. But no, she made a hitch hiking sign. A sixty five year old woman hitch hiking in Thailand, I had to go. Next morning we were on the road at 6 am. She had me stay 30 feet from her and had instructed me to wait, that she would auto stop for us both. She was dressed in silky black pants and a black muscle shirt with a purple silky strap tank top over the muscle shirt; one strap constantly falling down. She had a tan scarff wrapped around her head and big hiking shoes on her feet. She was over dramatic everytime a car went by. She would stand in the middle of the lane and wave at the car with both arms and when they did not stop she turned to watch them go with her hands on her hips. I thought " this is never going to work they think she is crazy". Just about that time two guys in a small pick up stopped. One of the guys got out, took our bags, put them in the back of the truck, got in the back of the truck himself and motioned us to get in the front seat. Twenty minutes of hitching and we had the front seat. Chit! We rode about forty minutes and then she told the driver to stop at an intersection. We got out, said our Khow Phoun Ka's and the process started all over again. This time ten minutes went by and she had a ride. Not the front seat but the back of a concrete contruction truck. We got in among the buckets, trowels, shovels and gravel and an hour down the road the guys dropped us off in Phang Nga bus station. Shorter than a bus ride and free of charge. Before I could say much Zofia ran off to catch a bus leaving for Malaysia. I stood in the bus station smiling, hoping she had enough money.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

And the fine print said....

for stays less than thirty days. I would never had known I was in trouble if this woman I was talking to had not said " so what kind of visa did you get since you are staying longer than thirty days?" " Huuuh?" "Visa? " I was about to be an illegal alien. Chit. I needed to do something. So I had dinner. That usually solves everything. While eating I read my guide book and found this was a common problem among expats and Burmese citizens,(needing extended visa's) and all I needed to do was a " Visa run". Seemed simple enough. If you buy an expensive package deal it is. But the guide book said it could be done cheaper on your own, if you wanted a challenge. My challenge started with the sleeper ferry. This time; dramamine and a bunk all to myself, against the wall, opposite the window. Several other travelers were on board, one of which was doing the visa run thing. She had a package deal and warned me against the "on your own" thing. I waivered but was determined. When the boat docked on the mainland at 5 am (I was awake this time) the woman tried to get me to wait with her for the visa run mini van package deal thing, and I waivered, but grabbed a songathiew (a fancy word for a cattle truck with benches) into Chomphoun town. As I left she said " your going to have to wait for hours for a bus". I cringed. When I got to the Chumphoun bus station I had one of the many "conversations" I have when trying to get transport. " Bus to Ranong?" "Yes." "When?" "Many Many." "Next one?" "Soon." "What time?" " Very soon." "When?" "&*%$#*" " What time?" SIX and THREE." "Where?" "Over there." "By the bank?" "Over there." "By the tree?" "No six and THREE!" " Which side?" "It go this way." "Okay; Ticket?" " Bus" " Yes, ticket for bus?" " Yes, bus" "Ticket?" "Bus Bus." "Ticket on Bus?" "Yes." " Kow Phoun Ka." I started wondering why I took on this challenge. I still don't know for sure if I am going to catch the right bus. "Is this worth the money saved" I asked myself? I stand between the tree and the bank and sure enough the bus comes, I get on, and later while on the bus they ask me to buy the ticket. I get to Ranong and there, again, I begin to waiver. A woman at a travel agency calls me in and tells me," Visa very difficult, I have Visa you go Visa with me". I look down at the price and it is SO expensive. I grit my teeth and head out on the search for a crisp ten dollar bill. The Burmese border guards want only crisp brand new ten dollar bills. If they don't like the bill, you don't get a Visa, period. I wander around asking people for a bank. They cannot understand me, or me them. A school girl on a motorbike stops and listens in on the conversation and offers me a ride to the bank. I am wonder what a school aged girl knows about a bank. I get on behind her backpack and all and sure enough she drops me at the bank. The bank people act like they have never heard about this ten dollar thing, even though Ranong is the jumping off point for visa runs, but finally after several "conversations" they produce, and I pay for, a crisp ten dollar bill. It is only 9 am. I think "wow this is going well". I head to the day market to catch a red #3 songathiew. At the songathiew station there is this big Thai guy yelling at me, "Hello you, Hello". I waved him off and climbed on a songatheiw, proud of myself that I can get around on my own. Thankfully the big Thai guy knew better and stopped the songathiew guy and gave me several stamping motions with his hands and a questioning look. Ah I thought, Visa stamp. So I got off, bowed an apology, and waited with him for the right songathiew. THEN I headed for the Thai immigration office. There they would stamp me "out" of Thailand. But instead I got in line with a bunch of illegal immigrants. Thankfully I was still legal and I noticed their leg chains, so I switched lines and got stamped out of Thailand. Next I walked out of the office and down the street a mile then turned right to a pier full of longtail boats. They are called longtails because the propellers are 12 feet behind the boat on a long "tail". The only way these things can go backwards is for the boatman to swing this propeller (while it is spinning) up near your head and beside the boat. There are thirty or forty boats there, all swinging their propellers forwards and backwards, moving into the pier and away, picking up passengers and dropping them off. It is an absolute zoo. I have to walk over four or five boats that are bobbing and bumping with the waves to get to the one that will take me to Burma. Then I have to wait for the thing to fill up before it leaves. When it did, we made our way to an island just off Thailand's shore, there I got stamped "into" Burma. Next we traveled about 40 minutes across the bay (not one life jacket ont the boat) and landed on Burma's shore. I went to the immigration office, got stamped "out" of Burma and got back on the boat in less than 20 minutes. I got another longtail and waited until it filled up and then it headed back to Thailand. On the way it stopped at another island and I got stamped back into Thailand. When we docked back at the original pier, I had to walk back to the immigration office and got my "official" Visa papers. There I grabbed another songathiew back to the bus station, went through another "conversation" and one half hour later caught a bus to Khoa Sok National Park, my final destination. I arrived at Khoa Sok Park exactly 24 hours after starting the Visa run. Yeah. I can stay in Thailand another 30 days. At this point I don't care. I just want to go to bed. Before I got to bed I met Zofia. She is a card.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

You know you have GI stress when.....

you're afraid to sneeze. Well its part of travel I guess. Of course I didn't think it would happen to ME. Thankfully Dr. Bankston gave me antibiotics and such. The boat ride tonight should be interesting. I did not read the fine print on Thai Visa's and therefore did not get the right kind of Visa. I have to go to Burma to renew my Thai Visa so that I can stay longer than 30 days. Not a big deal just a day of travel back and forth across a river. Maybe Burma has toilet paper.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

When it says "sleeper: You ain't sleeping.

Another "sleeper" experience. This time a boat. "Show up at 11pm and you are at the island of Koh Tao by 6 am. No NO don't take the midnight boat; to rough, no blanket and pillow. This better, comfortable." I wished Cindy had been there we would have been cracking up. Well I bought the ticket and showed up at the pier at eleven but could not see my boat. There was a boat there but this boat had all kinds of things on it's deck. Gravel and bricks, wood and other building materials in haphazard stacks, cars, scrap metal, old engines, vegetables in crates, chickens in cages and people in bunks. Yes people in bunks. On the deck, but with a roof and sides to the "bunk house". That was my boat. I wished Cindy could have seen this sleeper. I took the rusted out teeter totter of a plank from dock to deck and made my way over the building supplies and around the chicken cages to the bunk house. It was dark and I was glad. There were about 40 "spots" in bunk bed fashion and lucky for me there was one top bunk position open. ( You'll know later why I was lucky. ) I get up and on the "bed" and am again glad it was dark. I was against a wall and the corner was ... full of ickies. I put my pack there and settled down happy to have a window directly in line with my head. Fresh air. The engine started, there was loud yelling and the engine stopped. This happened several times. Then revving the engine, yelling and stopping. I began to worry about my safety and located the life jackets. All three of them. But before I could log a complaint with the captain we were off. It was smooth at first and I fell asleep to the sway of the ocean. I thought as I fell asleep this isn't bad. The next thing I know the light fixture above my head is rattling so hard that it wakes me and eventually the light bulb pops out and lands beside me. In addition I am making my way to one end of my body then the other inside my skin. You know how you do that, your skin stays put and you move? Then my butt cheeks are being squished to one side and then the other while my body is sliding around inside my skin. Next I begin to slide across the bed as the ship begins to really pitch and yaw. People are letting out a few gasps and I am contemplating my life. During one pitch half my head slides out the window! Lucky me I get the window. I could have slid out to sea at night and all that would have been left was my gear. Now I'm worried. I survey the window and am relieved to see that I probably will not go out to sea. Just about then someone heaves and I hear it hit the floor with a splat. And again. Thank god for top bunks. I put my hands over my ears and start humming. I think of Cindy. We would have been; cracking up? I wonder if chickens get sea sick. I wonder if I will get sea sick. I contemplate my life, again. I am so exhausted I finally fall asleep and when I wake everyone is gone. The ship is docked and being unloaded. I crawl over the light bulb, out of the bunk, around the chickens, over building supplies and off the ship. In two days, I go back to the mainland. On the same ship.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Feeding the Monks

Susan and I decided to participate in alms while in Loas. Alms is the daily early morning ritual of the monks accepting offerings from the people of the town. Everyone lines up on the sidewalk and waits for the monks to go by and when they do the people make an offering of food in exchange for a blessing. I didn't know this was the ritual, so you might say I missed the whole thing. And I did at first. Susan and I hit the sidewalk at 6AM and waited for alms to begin. Of course as soon as I get there I have to poop. I am dancing around, I am anxious I might miss the monks. I don't want to miss the monks. I look way down the street both ways and I can't see any monks. I tell Susan what I have to do and I run back to our room. When I get back all I can see is a dot of saffron. Chit! Dammit if the temple wasn't right across the street behind some trees. As soon as I left the monks slipped onto the street and were completely gone by the time I got back. We did it wrong anyway. We brought no offering, we got no blessing. We decide to try again. The next morning Susan's little Loas boyfriend ( our guide the previous day) picked us up on his motorbike ( I got the "back seat"). Having been a monk himself he was able and willing to give us a lesson in participating in alms. I thought you buy a bowl of rice and give it to one Monk, he says something like "bless you my child" and that's it; I am blessed. No it is even better, you give just a pinch of rice to each Monk and you get many blessings. One blessing per pinch. Susan complained becuase she ran out of rice before I did.

A better cross section than they thought.

Cindy and I had been on a "mountain" trek with a guide in the morning and were on a tour of the city Dalat when our guide got a call. He smiled at us during the call and then after hanging up he said " special offer tonight". That should have been enough fore warning but instead our ears perked up. "You come to village for dance, barbeque and music; half price tonight". "Well maybe" we thought, "free food" I thought, and soon the answer was yes. Later that night we found ourselves on a bus bound for ... little did we know ...glory. Cindy and I, as fate would have it, took the front seat behind the driver. Soon after setting down a man with a huge video camera and serious light started filming people getting on the bus and Cindy and I talking in the front seat. I of course was complaining while being filmed about these canned tours and how they were now going to sell us a film of the whole event. He filmed us while the bus was moving, and us getting off the bus, us going into the "long house" and us sitting down on the tiny benches lining the walls. When I say "us" I mean us in particular. He was filming others but seemed to focus on Cindy and I and an Aussie couple. "This is weird" I said. All night the camera man ran around like crazy filming the ceremony and seemingly, the white people enjoying themselves. While we danced (see the pictures), while we drank wine from a crock ( after everyone else in the place), while we listened to the music and clapped, and every time we participated in any of the ceremonies (see me with the chief). We were offered a barbeque sandwich but poor Cindy ended up with bread and butter (vegetarian). She did get a beer (which helped wash the bread and butter down) and we both drank rice wine. We toasted to good times with the Vietnamese guides many times over. We had a good time really. It was fun to dance and sing but it felt strangely disneylandish. And it was. The film was not for us to buy, it was the beginnings of a tourism commercial to intice Americans and Westerners to Vietnam. We represented a cross section of tourist. They got more than they wanted I am sure.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The last of Vietnam - datbeit

Hue, Hoi An, Dalat - floods, elephants, tribal celebrations, rice wine... karaoke.

So, we suffered through two typhoons that pelted us and flooded the towns we were visiting. We kept moving south hoping to get to better weather. Hue was flooded so we left a few hours after we arrived, staying only long enough to slosh around a bit. Hoi An was flooded as well but we stayed a couple of nights anyway. It would be a charming and beautiful town if not flooded.

On another bus trip to yet another town we stopped in the middle of the night at a roadside bus stop/restaurant. We were traveling along the coast now and the place had a patio out back where the "bathrooms" (squat toilets) were. Stepping out on the patio I looked up and said "Tracy... look!... Stars!!!" That meant clear skies! We rejoiced.

We eventually did get to better weather and things got better as we moved south. Our last stop in Vietnam was a town called Dalat. By the time we got to Dalat we were feeling pretty comfortable, thinking "yeah, we got it now". We were crossing the streets like natives. We had gotten some of the language down well enough that we could be understood now, at least for things like "hello", "good bye", "please", "thank you" and Tracy's favorite "Excuse me, I'm sorry". I was feeling pretty ready to try out the new phrase I had been practicing on the bus. I found it was very important to be able to order coffee with fresh milk instead of the sweetened condensed version they usually drink. I practiced and practiced, repeating it over and over to myself. The next rest stop finally gave me my opportunity. I walked in first and in my best Vietnamese ordered coffee with fresh milk. Tracy walked in after me, ordered coffee and pointed to the fresh milk container in the see-through cooler. Our order came up... Tracy got coffee with milk... I got black coffee. Chit! Vietnamese is hard.

In Dalat we took an elephant ride. I was terrified. It had been raining (duh) and so there was a great deal of mud. This kid (our elephant driver was an 8 year old) was taking our elephant down a path so muddy she (the elephant) was sinking up to her elephant knees. When we started going down a very muddy hill straight into a rushing river I knew we were going to topple head over trunk and be crushed. Of course we didn't but Tracy did say she was a little freaked as well. At one point on the way back she pointed at a path that went up this steep hill and said "someone takes these elephants up those hills!" Not more than a minute later our elephant turns and guess what, "WE'RE taking an elephant up those hills!" It turned out to be a good ride.

Dalat is in the mountains where there is the culture of the hill tribes. We visited one of these hill tribes but that is a story I need to let Tracy tell you.

After Dalat we were on our way to Cambodia to meet Susan.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The sleeper bus

About 90% of the hotels and guest houses in Vietnam also double as tour operators. Some legit some less so. Our hotel manager/tour operator talked us into taking a "sleeper bus" from Cat Ba Town to Hue which was our next destination. We had previously considered taking either a train or flying. "Oh, no... Sleeper bus better, cheaper, more comfortable..."

It was an 11 hr. ride. We met up with 3 other backing-packing travelers and we all took the upper bunk in the very rear of the bus. When several people came back yelling at us in Vietnamese we realized there were assigned seats. With gestures we indicated we weren't leaving and hunkered down as a bastion of stubborn foreigners. We began pointing to the seat assignment on our tickets and pointing in the other direction indicating they should just take our seats. This worked for most. However, one woman.... that onnnnne woman... she just kept yelling. Even without an interpreter we could tell several people around her were telling her to "just go to the other seat for crisssake". Eventually the bus driver intervened and she went away. Tracy said, looking back at us from the front, that we were one big white smudge in the back. What an experience. Being like a roller coaster ride it was dangerous to assume any position other than prone. I cracked my head on the ceiling a few times, smashed my mouth on the back rail, then realized I had better just lie down.

The bus slowed at one point in the middle of the night. It woke me out of my scarce sleep. I looked out of the window and saw what I thought was a roadside accident but then realized it was actually more like a funeral. A woman was lying on a stretcher obviously dead, hands crossed, face covered with one of their conical hats, she was ceremonially dressed. Nearby were lit candles and a coffin. It was so puzzling that this was happening in the dead of night by the side of the road. We often wished we had someone we could have explain to us what we were seeing.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

another side of vietnam

After only about 3 days in the city Tracy and I were ready for some nature so we headed east to Ha Long Bay. According to the wikipedia: "Ha Long Bay (Vietnamese: Vịnh Hạ Long) is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in Quảng Ninh province, Vietnam. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes."

We booked ourselves on a "cruise" on a Vietnamese "junk" which included kayaking. While there were lots of cruises and the port area is very touristy the bay is large enough to absorb all of them and we were often in more remote areas where we were the only tourists to be seen, especially when kayaking. It was amazing. We made friends with an Austrian couple and two British ladies whom we saw again later in one of the towns we stayed in further South. The Austrians were on their way to a wedding in Ho Chi Minh City and invited us to the party. All of them invited us to visit them at their homes which is a distinct possibility. It was such a welcome change from the city. The food was great and we often sat on the deck after dinner drinking wine and talking culture and politics until well into the night.

Our guide "Chu" was wonderful and took very good care of us. He was impressed at our kayaking skills and basically let us go where we wanted which was very excellent. While kayaking in the bay we were able to visit the floating villages. People live in these villages floating on the bay year round. We were able to get out of our kayaks and visit the village school house and meet the teachers and "speak" with them a little bit. This was a special treat as it was not a standard stop on the cruise tours and it was just Tracy, me and our guide visiting.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

jaw dropping hanoi

Cindy here. Tracy has wanted me to post about our Vietnam experience so here is the first of the installments. This first one is of Hanoi. It really was an indescribable time so I've posted some movies and another slide show.
You can see Tracy was still a bit stunned later that night. You can see a professional street crosser (dressed in blue) towards the end.
There are no rules, no traffic lights, and no hesitating. This is not rush hour, it is like this constantly.

Tracy and I eventually did very well crossing the street.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Live on the Vietnam show...

More coming soon... maybe on your T.V. screen...... Miss all of you guys. Cindy just left. I am sad; we had a great time and could have gone on and on.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Goooood bye Vietnam

Well we've had fun but we are on our way out. But not yet. Right now we are in Natrang which is a tourist town. The Miami beach of Vietnam,sort of. There is not as much abject poverty and panhandling here as in the North of Vietnam. People still do "accost" us at any time, during dinner, breakfast or any walk we take. They sell everything from raincoats to the tours on which you will you use the raincoats. They sell books, postcards,shoes, sunglasses,and watches. They sell food and drinks of everykind of course and they do this on every corner. Cindy and I noticed that also on many of these corners there were old water bottles filled with pink, green sometimes orange fluid. We wondered what on earth these bottles were doing on the ground ? They were often tied to a post or a large rock; they were obviously meant to be there. Then we saw the answer. A bicycle pump. The fluid was soapy water used to find the holes in the tires of the passing motorbikes and bicycles. (Well they had to stop to find the holes. ) Once we noticed the pump we started noticing tools, compressors and patches, usually stashed behind a tree or post and a waiting repair man close by. It was the only entreprenurial venture we had not been subjected to. And I think the only one we will NOT be subjected to. We've met travelers that were brave enough to rent a motorbike or bicycle and had actually seen a few blue eyed white people going by, but we couldn't bring ourseleves to do it. Call us chicken, go ahead. We just didn't want to end up in the market.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Finally

I picked up Cindy at the Hanoi airport at 11:30 pm. (No, I did not drive, are you kidding?) It was, of course, a relief to finally see her beautiful face. We had our hello's and such but quickly had to follow the driver to the car. It was great to watch her in the taxi. Vietnam was so compelling she was drawn to look out the window as I talked (what about me... me, me, me, me?). The next morning we hit the streets... around noon. When we got out there I watched her and I realized what I must have looked liked the day before. I would start down the street, eventually realizing I was alone. I would turn around to see Cindy, still where we started; standing, mouth open and eyes wide. The Vietnamese must wonder why we are so surprised at their life. What hit Cindy as particularly interesting were the street "restauraunts", but they would be more aptly named sidewalk kitchens. Every ten feet on the sidewalk there would be one to three tables as big as a milk crate and a few tiny, tiny chairs (think kindergarten)around each table. The cook would be squatting,working over a small hand made ceramic "stove" set out near the street. The "restauraunt" would be serving one thing. Of course that one thing had just been killed and cut up at the market and then prepared at the feet of the squatting cook. It took us a long time to get up the nerve to eat at one of these places but we were determined to do it. We would stop,stare, discuss our options and usually move on. Then we did it. We stopped at a noodle soup kitchen. Oh my gawd that chit was good. Luckily,our dinner was "saved" by a nice woman who sat down at our table. The woman grabbed Cindy's hand after Cindy had pulled a small scoop of reddish liquid from a bowl and made her pour most of it back, then smiled and nodded at her. It was a good move. Just the little bit left on the spoon was a potent amount of heat. We ate, waited to watch a local pay, then walked up and offered the same amount. The total for our dinner... $.70 USD. Of course the very next minute I spent 4 or 5 dollars on orange pop and desert.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gooood Morning Vietnam!

Okay. I have to admit. I have been in Disneyland until now. It is another world here. And it started as soon as I stepped out of the airport. Cindy had arranged for the hotel driver to pick me up. And just like Anne the driver had no trouble recognizing me. I was white and my blue eyes were as big as saucers. I was looking at the traffic. I got into the car and we merged, and not a Japanese merge, into something I have never seen before. Trucks, cars, cows, bicycles, rickshaws and motorbikes all on the expressway. Yes expressway. The motorbikes and bicycles were loaded with everything imaginable and lots of it. One motorbike had chickens,lots of chickens. Chickens on the back in cages, chickens on the sides in bags and chickens hanging upside down on the handlebars ( their feet tied to make the loop). Motorbikes had construction materials on them; bricks, steel re-bar in ten foot lengths,marble slabs, or lumber enough to build a shed. Some motorbikes had three people, groceries and tonights not yet dead dinner. Cows were mostly on the sides of the road though not always. The drivers use their horns as turn signals. If any of them want to go around another car they honk until either the car moves over or, they themselves get past. They honk when they are turning a corner, or going through an intersection. Oh yeah intersections; no lights, no signs, no signals, no hesitation by any drivers, riders or cows. Yes that means that everyone is going all directions at one time. Left turns, right turns, u- turns and of course forward. It's kind of like stirring soup. At one point during the drive my driver could not pass on the right because there was to much traffic so he went into the on coming traffic lane (full of on coming traffic) beeped his horn the whole way, passed,and moved back into our lane. My eyes got bigger as I was dropped off at the hotel. The sidewalks were covered, absolutley covered with parked motorbikes, marble carvers, squatting construction workers, vendors, and sidewalk restauraunts, but no people, there wasn't any room. People walked in the streets with the "chaos", and that's exactly what I did next. I had almost a full day before Cindy arrived in Hanoi so I hit the streets trying to act like I knew what I was doing. Then I came to an intersection. I had to enter that intersection chaos. I was brave, undaunted, and I blended right in. I picked a little old lady to follow and when she stepped into the mess, so did I. Just when I thought my eyes could not be more telling, I walked into an open market. OH MY GAWD. Live things soon to be dead, dead things soon to be cut up, and dead things being cut up, their guts in the street. Tongues,livers,kidneys,hearts,legs and ears. Bowls of squirming maggots ready to be roasted, or squirming eels soon to be dinner. A whole roasted pig, no....Fido. I headed back to my room.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I`m ready.

I`m ready to leave Japan. It`s been nice, but I am on my way.

No language barrier here.

I had to break down my bike for the train ride back from Hiroshima. When I got back to Tokyo I needed to put it back together and try to sell it somewhere, somehow. When I tried to put my back wheel on I noticed the chain was all screwed up and the derailuer was a mess as well. I worked with it for awhile but did not have the appropriate tools for the repair. I remembered the store I bought it from had a bike repair shop, so I decide to carry the bike up there and get some help. The guy was gracious enough to take a look right away. He took the chain off, took the derailuer off and futzed around a bit. He signaled to me that the derailuer needed to be replaced. I tried to tell him okay but please put the chain back on, and I will ride the bike as a single speed. He signaled to me, no, that the derailuer needed to be replaced. We began an argument that really did not make any sense because neither one of us understood a word the other was saying. He kept putting up his arms in an X "telling" me nothing could be done. I knew the bike could be made a single speed and I kept signaling to him to PLEASE just PUUT the chain on so I can ride it out of here. He did put the chain on the bike... in a bag. He picked the bike up and carried it out to the street. I followed him. He set the bike down and stared at me, and then pointed down the street. I said with a smile " no really I think we can work this out". He stared at me and then pointed down the street more emphatically. I asked him if he wanted to but the bike. It was pretty clear. I picked up my bike and walked.

Tidbits on Japan

I pulled up to an intersection early one morning and a truck packed with 8 or 9 Japanese pulled up next to me. They were eyeing me cautiously. I smiled. A few of them raised their hands slowly,barely, their fingers just above the window opening.I bowed and said "ohiyo", or good morning. One girl claps her hands and says "ohiyo" back. Then the whole truck is in an uproar of good mornings and laughter. The light changes and they begin to pull away. I raise my hand and yell "syanora". Now their hands are above the window, out the window and they are bowing and yelling "syanora". Good chit man. Good chit. I am at a rest stop and I am frazzeled. I have been lost, I have been in terrible traffic and now ahead of me is construction. I am also looking at tunnels. Lots of them. Narrow tunnels. With trucks. Loud trucks. Fast trucks. Big trucks. Mean trucks that make mash potatoes out of cyclists. There is a woman at the rest stop making and handing out tea. She brings a cup over to me and "asks" me what I am doing. I show her on the map. She raises her eyebrows.....I "ask" her about the tunnels. Another woman comes over. They disscuss the tunnels. She brings a cup of tea. They assure me the tunnels will be okay but wave their hands behind their rear ends and then hold their nose. The first woman brings me a roll and places it my hands. The last supper? They again assure me the road is "okay, okay" for bikes. I am refreshed and am able to start out again. Of course they were wrong about the roads but their assurances got me started again. I was bicycling up a slope and passed several school boys about 11 years old. They start some kind of chatter that sounds like they are egging someone on to race me. I swing my arm around to signal "come on" and the race is on. One of them and I start up the hill neck and neck, the other boys are cheering from behind. We weave in and out of another crowd of kids. Of course he gets me on the weave. More cheers. I get cut off at a narrow place and he beats me to the light. These little stories and more are why I bike through the country side.

She had her eye on me too.

The Japanese are amazing cyclists. Everyone cycles. I regularly see men and women over 60 adeptly bicycling through the crowds. I see old men in suits, young men in suits, and middle aged men in suits riding their bicycles. Women in heels and in the latest fashion. Mothers ride with their front basket full of groceries, a kid in front of them, but behind the handle bars and a kid on the back. Amazing. Iv`e seen guys who collect cans with a load on their bike 4 foot wide and 2 feet above their head on the back and another bag about that big on the front. All the cyclists travel in,with and among each other with incredible agility,ease and predictability. That predictability thing is important. Yesterday I was headed for a bridge. The sidewalk on the bridge was for pedestrians AND cyclists. A concrete barrier was on the left and a guard rail on the right. Regular size sidewalk and people are going every which way at speed. I tried to merge onto the bridge with the crowd but at the very last minute... I chickened out. I stopped. Voided the merge. I also jammed up traffic five and six bikes back; created a pile up. I was thankful for the language barrier once again. I finally got on the bridge. People were passed each other within inches. I cringed as people on bikes passed walkers, came right at me and at the very last moment, with ease and grace, they glided on by. No facial expression,no cringe,no exchange of bows to indicate who should go first or stop or anything. I in the meantime involuntarily lifted my hand off the near side handle bar, flinched, sucked my shoulder in and tried not to say " whoa whoa whoa". Before I started across the bridge I had noticed a tiny tiny elderly woman on her bike in the middle of all this controlled chaos. She had to have been in her seventies and could not have weighed more than 85 pounds. She had a bunch of flowers in her front basket along with a few groceries. She had gone ahead of me on the bridge. I had opted to be the last rider onto the bridge so that I could wimper and flinch in relative obscurity. I lost sight of her on the bridge but as we all piled up at the end I noticed her again. She moved ahead of me; she was better on the merge. I caught up to her on a straight away, passed her, then had to stop to adjust my seat. She glided on by. I passed her again on a uphill only to have my load shift; so I stopped and she... glided on by. It got crowded at another intersection and I lost her. As the crowds thinned out further down the road there she was. Now I am not saying I was being competitive with an elderly woman on a Ozzie and Harriet bike but, well, she was impressive. And dammit she was ahead of me. I did pass her again only to have to stop. I pulled my bike close to me. I smiled and said "Gomen na sai" or " excuse I`m an idiot". She smiled and rolled on by. I watched her as she went. Incredible. She was so tiny and damn old to be on a bike but she was slow and steady for sure. She dissappeared beyond a curve and I figured she was gone. I took a drink, tied my shoes and started off again. I was going uphill on the sidewalk. It is a tight fit. It got crowded again. I weaved and cringed. Stop,go,stop,go, shuffle shuffle. As I came through a crowd there she was on the corner. She was shopping at an outdoor market. I began to pass and as I did she caught my eye, smiled,waved and said "bye bye".

I didn`t have much to write about;then it rained.

 I came into a town for the night and could not find a hotel( I could not find my own ass in Japan) so I opted for the beach. I found a park and headed to the far end near a sea wall. People were walking and running at the park so it seemed pretty safe. I was getting my stuff out, had leveled a place in the sand to sleep on and was beginning to cook dinner when a woman ran by and stopped at the wall to rest. In an attempt to "talk" with her I clapped my hands and said " good job". Now all conversations in Japan have really been a game of charades. The people who were supposed to have spoken English in Japan lived somewhere else. Any time I say " she or he said" they really just acted it out, and so did I. This leaves lots of room for assumption and misinterpretation. So any way. She "asked" what I was doing, I showed her on a map. She raised her eyebrows, made a surprised look on her face. She "asked" where I would sleep. I showed her my place on the beach. She cocked her head. I shrugged. She left. I cooked. That is a "conversation". About an half hour later she came back with her mother and two of her mother`s friends. They were trying to tell me something. They all kept pointing to their noses and pointing somewhere down the beach. I had seen people point to their nose, actually touch or smash their nose while talking to me. I always thought, "I must have something in my nose" or " boy these people are not shy about telling you you have something in your nose". But this time they all were telling me I had something in my nose, and it must have been really big. Then it dawned on me. We point to our chest to indicate ourselves; they point to their nose. Thank God, I had not had a booger after all. They were adament about me going with them, somewhere. I stopped cooking dinner, packed up and followed them to a ...pavillion. Ahhh, I remembered it might rain sometime this week. This pavillion was good but was very visible to the public. And I didn`t like it. But it was shelter and there were bathrooms nearby, so I stayed. Turned out this was the local place for truckers and the like to get some sleep, go to the bathroom and otherwise cavort around. I was up all night peering out of the screen on my tent. A car pulled in, the guy got out changed into pajamas and got back in to sleep. A van pulled in, very close to me, the guy got out, made a bed in the back, arranged some things and got back in,turned on the radio and closed the door. Cars pulled in, people got out; they went to the restrooms, they stretched, they walked around. One guy dissappeared then later tripped over my tent stake out strings. I jumped out and yelled at him; he "asked" me if I would like to take a shower with him. I put my forearms up in a big X and yelled "NO". Chit. As soon as dawn came, I got up and started my coffee. The guy in the van also got up about that time. He stretched, peed, scratched his... head and started his breakfast. I watched him. He had a van much like Stephens. He didn`t have it organized as well but he was ahead of his time in Japan. He was cooking out of the side of the van on top of the bed. He had things piled way to high and precariously. He had it all wrong. I was "changing" the design in his van when he started my way. Oh Chit. I had been staring. I had given him an opening. I smiled to hide my fear; and he asked me to... breakfast. "I`ll be damned this can`t be happening again." I accepted of course. Then it started raining. After breakfast he invited me to go for a ride to a park.. or somewhere. I stashed my bike, jumped in the van with him and his friend who had joined us for brekkie and we headed up into the mountains in the pouring down rain.They took me to the number one temple in Japan, the number one waterfall in Japan, and to a 1000 year old tree,all of which just happened to be in that area. Amazing chit mate. We spent about three hours walking around in the rain. Then of course it was "beer o`clock". We headed to the grocery. He came out with veggies,miso,noodles,chicken,sake... and beer. It was also lunch time. We parked underneath the expressway for shelter from the still pouring rain, and he proceeded to cook the most amazing Japanese meal. All I could do was shake my head. There I am at beer o`clock, underneath the expressway, with two people I just met,in a van, having a wonderful meal,drinking beer and sake and I am in; Japan. During lunch he tried to tell me something. He started with the nose thing, then pointed to town, then he made this gesture,undeniably a ....sexual gesture with his hands. I jumped up,crossed my forearms and said "NO". He put his head in his hands, shook his head and undoubtedly thought the exact same thing... NO. We finally worked out that he was going to be with his girlfriend that night and that, since it was raining, I could use his van for sleeping. (See what I mean about misinterpretations?) His girlfriend however it turned out wanted to meet me and wanted me to spend the night. After lunch and after a visit to a bar we headed over to his girlfriends house. More charades, more gesturing, but I do hear one word I recognize. "Onsen". Yeah we are going to go to the public bath house. The woman dissappears for awhile then comes out does the nose thing, points to me then the door. I gather up my underwear, socks, toothbrush and clean shirt and excitedly follow her out the door。We head down an alley, turn right to another alley, and left around the corner of a building and go in. I`m in the grocery store. Chit. I`m in the grocery store with my clean socks, underwear, shirt and toothbrush. I put my stuff in the basket, we pick up groceries and head back to the house and she makes the most delicious Japanese meal I have ever had. THEN we head to the onsen. When we get to the onsen she tells me to go on in like I know what I am doing. She has to stop at the toilet. I head down the hall,take a deep breath, turn right and push open a door and enter a room with about 6 half clad to naked ,tiny ,Japanese women. They stop talking and stare. I am immediately aware of how big I am. Big. I feel like Shrek. I bumble around. I take off my clothes, slowly, very slowly and stand big and naked at the edge of the room. My friend comes in, points me to the onsen and gets ready herself. I enter the onsen. More naked women. It is a long narrow room with the hot spring baths along one long wall and 4 feet away another long wall full of shower hoses and very tiny stools with soap and shampoo next to each. I sit down in full view of everyone.( The Japanese do not have the issues we have about nudity.) I take the shower hose off the wall and begin to wet myself down. It is not to long before my shower head falls off and I begin spraying everyone in the hot spring bath behind me. Chit. I slap my hand over the open end and promptly begin spraying everyone beside me. Chit! I take my hand back off the hose and while spraying everyone behind me I get the water turned off. All in one rainy day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In the meantime...

Here's some foot tappin' entertainment for y'all...

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Language Barrier

Hi all, Cindy here. Tracy wanted me to let you all know that she is fine. She is making her way SouthWest through Japan by bicycle. When she last called she was just outside of Hamamatsu (I may be spelling that wrong, sorry), which is on the the Southern coast. She is having quite a challenge navigating the roads when she can't read the signs or the map. It is truly difficult matching up those symbols.
She said "As technologically advanced as Japan is there aren't any internet cafes around... or at least if there are I can't tell."
In true Tracy form though, she is meeting some wonderful people. But she is spending a lot of energy staying off of expressways and avoiding trucks (they don't seem to know the meaning of "ding, ding").
She plans to continue on to Hiroshima (through Osaka) where she will then take a train back to Tokyo. She wanted you to know she will spend October 26 blogging and emailing aplenty. Then October 27th it's on to Vietnam! "Yea!!", I say since I will be meeting her there for 3 weeks. We're not sure how updating will go. We will try to update often. I believe you may get both Japan and Vietnam pictures together.

p.s. If you click on the map below to see it bigger Hamamatsu is where the number 23 is, Osaka, I believe, is to the right of orange dot number 2 (or therebouts anyway) with Hiroshima to the left of orange dot number 2, and Tokyo is just south of the number 4 in that little crook of a bay area, just to give you an idea of the ground Tracy is covering.



Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Last glimpse.

Cindy put the last set of photos on the "Australia" blog I just recently posted. She as usual did a great job.

If you want to see the last batch of Australia photos just click on the post titled "Australia" in the blog archive to the right.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lesson 7: Not everyone has ice cream trucks.

Anne and I spent the day in the city. It was hot. I have not yet experienced a seasonal change so my brain registered this hot day as a summer day. On our last stop we had to hunt for a spot to park and to do so we made our way through a neighborhood. Children were playing and hustle and bustle was all around. We got out of the car and were walking down the street; sweating, talking and moving our way to the store. All of the sudden I heard an ice cream truck. Unbelievable. They have ice cream trucks in Japan? Now I thought this was strictly an American thing. I listened again. Yes, it was that music box sound. High pitched,crackly,and recognizable only as the ice cream truck music. Then I smelled wood smoke. Wow did that smell good. But my brain was thinking ice cream,and it was counting yen. It was arguing with itself over chocolate and vanilla bars or soft and creamy cones, maybe a popsicle. I hadn`t had a popsicle from a truck in years. Then I spotted the truck, it was on our street and coming at me. Hot damn, I`m going to get a soft cream twist. Then I smelled wood smoke. The truck was just as you would imagine; small with those sides that are up, open and ready for business. I waved the truck down; big smile, appreciative bow. As the truck turned the corner and stopped,I saw an open fire in the back, a stack of wood on the side, and a grill full of foil wrapped somethings. "Kon-ni-chi-wa" "Kon-ni-chi- wa" Bow. Bow. He hands me one, takes his 500 yen, and I walk away with a... potato. Chit. A potato truck.

Lesson 6: More on Toileting

1. I was right, it IS a backsplash. 2. In Japan, don`t look under the door to see if someone is in the stall.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Lesson Five: I really can`t read this chit.

I am going to bike from Tokyo to Hiroshima, I think. I got the maps out and I can see there are roads I should be following, but I can`t read the map. Oh yeah, there is a number on the road, but quite often there are two roads with the same number. There is an explaination but I can`t read that either. Chit I thought, instead I should try to go to the city and figure my way for a bit, see what happens. Do you know what it is like to not understand a word, let alone a syllable of someone`s language? Well it was never so poignant to me than when I was in Tokyo. A stupified look though, is universal.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lesson Four: Standard Equipment

I got my bike fixed up and ready to go about 6 this eve. It was about dark, Anne had to leave the house for a few hours and I wanted to go for a ride. Anne told me where a park was, the old Olympic park of 1964, told me there was a 2k path around the park and said it would be safe. Good enough for me. On the way there I met a woman feeding cats. She spoke English enough to tell me that she was feeding and trying to spay and nueter 50 cats and had had a garage sale all weekend to raise money. I was able to pet a few catties and then of course gave a minor donation and was on my way. Got to the park and it was crowded. Japanese crowded. People everywhere, going every which way. The first thing I do is run into somebody`s dog who had walked out in front of me. (No worries mates, no damage done.) I was grateful for the language barrier. Not 3 minutes down the path someone else pulls out in front of me on a bike. Alright I think, I`ll start saying something. I clear my throat. They don`t notice. I say " on your left"( oh yeah they understood that). I say "hi". Well that means yes in Japanese, so that doesn`t work. None of it was working very well. Then I noticed they were all using bells. "Chit", I thought, I should have bought one of those. So I start saying "ding ding". People are everywhere remember. I am quite often saying " ding ding". This works but people are looking at me funny. (I don`t have a bell alright? No bell.) A half hour of "ding ding" goes by and I think " I am definitely getting one of those bells". I had seen a Hello Kitty bell at the shop earlier and I thought about getting that one " ding ding ". I thought about when I would have time "ding ding" to go back to the shop. One more purchase and I would be ready "ding ding " for the road. As I was thinking all this, I started to relax on my bike "ding ding" and explore it`s gears and gadgets. It was dark and I was fumbling around. I found a reflector and decided it should be on the back of my bike, I found the shifter cable and thought maybe I should adjust it for easier shifting, then I found this little black ball with a lever. I hit the lever...."ding". Oh. Ding ding:standard equipment.

Lesson Three: I`m big. Japan is small.

I bought a bike in Tokyo so that I could tour here in Japan. I found it in a Japanese K-Mart kind of store. Now this store is "like" a K-Mart. Same amount of stuff, one fifth the floor space. Packed. With the help of Anne I was able to ask a few questions, get some added gear and pick out a particular bike. The guy was very helpful, spent a fair amount of time with me and even gave me some tools for free. We closed the deal and made arrangements to pick up the bike after he added the front basket and rear rack. ( Yes I said basket. Wait until you see this bike.)We do the bowing, thank you and more bowing thing and I picked up my back pack and turned to go. It was at that moment, I don`t know how it happened, but I guess when I turned to go my backpack hit a row of bikes. There were about fifteen bikes in this row. They all went down. Crap. More bowing, apologizing, bowing, thank you`s and more bowing. My seat post is to short on this bike ( surprise surprise) and the " K-Mart " does not have a longer seat tube. So Anne and I have to head to a local bike shop. She explains to the bike shop guy what I need and he scratches his chin, thinks, then gestures to go by me. I step back, directly into a box that grabs my foot and hangs on. I, of course, begin to fall and take two or three giant steps with the box on my foot. As I turn to catch my balance I begin knocking things off shelves with my backpack. More bowing, apologizing, bowing, and picking up.

Japan: Lesson two. Toileting

I did not anticipate this being a lesson.I had done my research and I had a plan.I would tackle the problem in the Tokyo airport. Turns out in the airport you are given a choice: Western or Japanese style. (They break us in gently.) I chose the japanese style,patted myself on the back for bravery and stepped in ready to go. The toilet is just a shallow trench on the floor, oblong; but not what you think. The hole goes ACROSS the stall. In addition on one end there is a .... hump. It is as if there is half an empty walnut shell sitting there. So I wondered; which way does ol` one eye go? I tried both ways. What was most weird about it all; I was sideways in the stall. I decided to use the walnut shell as a "backsplash" and wa la it was done. Until the coins fell out of my pocket. Damn. I read about this. I gave Japan the 250 yen. I think it is a conspiracy. Then came the flush. It was so weird to watch a toilet flush sideways across the ..... floor. No swirl,no rim,no protection. I mean, what if you had a wild one? No wonder they take their shoes off at the door. Luckily I had a long wait for the bus at the airport so I got to pratice this ritual several times. I got relatively comfortable with the whole thing and was ready for my stay in Japan. By the time I got to Anne`s apartment it was late. We did the chit chat thing and then they showed me my bed and the toilet. I looked in. Hot damn! A western style toilet. They head to bed and I head to the bathroom. I sit down. I notice the toilet seat is warm. Very warm. That`s when I remembered. Japanese take their western style automated toilets very seriously. Yes I said automated. And the automation can be sophisticated. Very sophisticated. I got nervous. I sighed. I slowly turned to the wall on my right.I looked up. It looked like NASA control center. All in Japanese. I got more nervous. I looked down. Another panel. CHIT! I count the options. Thirty one buttons! Two readable screens. I stand up. I remember some of those options and I`m not having it. I back away, I pause, close one eye and begin pushing. First button; nothing happens. I wondered what I missed. I feel lucky. I push another. I hear wind chimes but get no flush. Next button; I hear a flush but don`t get one. I look for clues and notice the control panel opens. I pull up the flap. Pictures! Fan spray. Narrow spray. Jet spray. Interesting. Air dry. Air dry? Oh my gawd; air dry. I give up and go to bed.

Japan: Lesson One. We are not the only ones in this world.

I was fortunate enough to have someone meet in Tokyo. Cindy had a family member named Anne that lives in Tokyo and was kind enough to not only meet me but to let me stay with her and her husband. Cindy went to lengths to make sure things went well. Anne was patient with my many changes of plans. She eventually, once I had a confirmed flight, was able to tell me what public transportation to take to her apartment once in Tokyo. Cindy sent Anne pictures of me so that Anne could easily recognize me when I got off what was promised to be a crowded bus. I was happy about that because, well, I was a little nervous without my gypsies around. What Anne later told me was she could not understand why we thought she needed pictures of me, she said I was easy to recognize. It was then that I realized I was the ONLY big, tall, white, blue eyed, blonde on the bus. Thank God Anne had pictures.

Australia

Autralia was a backdrop to my experience with the gypsies. Kaya,Jack,Melanie,Antony,Sylvan,Christoph, Yuka and of course Stephen. I only saw a fraction of the country with them but in that I saw another world. I saw croc`s and coral,heard cockies and kookabooros,learned about roo`s and rainforests and learned more about friendships. It`s funny how you can refine revelations time and again. Who would I be writing to if it weren`t for you guys back home? Who would I tell these stories to? Who would I think about during a beautiful sunset or a poignant moment if it were not for my friends and family? Australia was more than I thought it could be. Sharing this experience with all of you has been even bigger.I have dreamt of traveling for years; I can`t thank you guys enough for sharing this with me. It is all of you that has made the difference.


Thursday, October 4, 2007

More Australia photos

It has proven to be a challenge for Tracy to find a computer in Tokyo with an english operating system and keyboard. You think you know your menus... Anyway, until she can get to a computer that understands her I will entertain you with still more photos from Australia. Here are Steven's photos from Cairns and the Daintree forest. He is quite a good photographer and there are some gems in this batch, so even though some of the subject matter is the same the photos are really nice to see (and there are a few more with Tracy in them). Also, here are photos from the dive trip. Really cool. And finally, if you remember Tracy talking about a guy named George she met who gave her a CD of his sunset photos now you can see those sunsets. They are amazing. All of the slideshows need to be started by hand since there are a few here together. Same with the music. Just click the play arrow above the slideshow you are looking at. (And as always you can click on the slideshow to go see the photos larger and longer.)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Tokyo bound

Tracy's flying to Tokyo right now. (10:30pm our time).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Toughen up Mate

Well I made myself not cry, but I wanted to cry. Travelling I have found is a series of hellos and goodbyes. Thing is, Stephen would have just said "toughen up mate" anyway. Mount Isa was my last stop with Stephen and Yuka. They stayed all day there with me. They could have dropped me off at a hostel, or a hotel, but instead we kicked around together. We went to a tourist trap, tried to burn a CD, drank a beer, caught a footy game and watched the sunset from "the lookout". All the while I watched the hours tick by. After sunset we found a beautiful camp spot, made dinner ( pesto pasta) and then laid on our backs in silence. Yuka and I looked for shooting stars. She's good at spotting them, if you can imagine she's a bit more patient than I. She saw three. In the early morning we packed up our camp and headed to the Greyhound station. We had our morning breaky ritual in the parking lot while waiting for my departure time. When I had to go, Stephen and Yuka walked me to the bus and said goodbyes. I got on the bus but I didn't look up. I got ready for a long ride. The bus took some time to do the same and it was 15 minutes before it left for the coast. As we pulled away I watched the anxious passengers looking out the window for their last exchange. One older woman moved from one side of the bus to the other to wave goodbye. I looked at the bus station, the info sign, the picnic tables; all the inanimate objects I could find. I looked at the parking lot where we had parked for breakfast; the spot was empty. As the bus turned for the coast, I saw a red van, and two people waving. My two people. They waited. I jumped up and gave them big smiles and big waves but I could no longer "toughen up". After I passed them, I sat down and cried.

F'in Desert

You guys know how I feel about the desert. It was easy though to romanticize about the OUTBACK. All the hype,the allure, the adventure and the F'in sand. All the pictures of the beautiful barren landscape, dotted with graves, dead cattle and anthills. Oh yeah. I have a haiku. Flies. Flies and more flies. Flies in my eyes. Flies. WE did get to search for fossils in this barren sand filled, sandstone sand pit once, for FREE! Yes, I opted to drive for three days with Stephen and Yuka to the "Outback" then take a 12 hour bus ride back through the same F'in desert. One evening before I left on the bus I was having a F'in desert fit. I was stamping my feet and they were laughing about how the outback had been a bunch of nothing really. Nothing but sand ,flies, graves, anthills, and hype. And I was going back through all of it all over again. And I had volunteered for it all. The east coast is a great deal more interesting than the outback. Let there be no more romanticism about the F'in desert.

More days.

Poor Stephen snores. Or I should say poor Yuka, Stephen snores, she sleeps in the van. Not even I am spared. Outside the closed van in my tent I hear him sawing logs. Yuka and I share over brekky how much he snored the night before. He laughs saying " Its nauwght my fauwlt". Space is limited but not really. The three if us are living out of a van not any bigger than a walk in closet and we have everything we need. We could have used one more seat belt I guess but otherwise we have it all. We can stop anywhere, anytime, cook and call it a day. Food is stored in plastic bins in the back underneath the sleeping platform. We have the brekky box ( my favorite), the dinner box and a tiny cooler ( no ice ) for the cold stuff. Yuka I found, is not afraid to break into Stephen's world and cook. At Wallaman falls we had Udon noodles in Miso soup with eggplant, carrots and zuccini compliments of Yuka. Wow they both can cook. I cooked once,(thankfully Yuka saved my dish from blandom) and only once. Our clothes, shoes, oil for the van and other misc. things are stored underneath the middle of the sleeping platform. Stephen and Yuka's bed clothes make the back seat. In a small basket in the front are some CDs, (that are played over and over and over), our cameras, the lighter and a few good books. That's all. That's our material world.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Another slide show!


OK, after much genuflecting to the techno-spirits the technical difficulties have been overcome. Yea! So here is another slide show for you all from Tracy's latest delivery. You can click on the slide show to go to the web album if you want to see the pictures longer or bigger. Enjoy!

p.s it may take a minute for the slide show to load.

Gypsies, moons and mokies... (and a melonie or two if you wait long enough)



Monday, September 24, 2007

Every day

The music is playing, the windows are open, and we are on the road. There are three of us now, Stephen, myself and Yuka; a Japanese woman Stephen met at the Big Mango in Bowen. The other gypsies sadly, have gone on to other travels. As we drive, we pass cane fields, banana farms, tropical rainforest, beef and dairy farms.Yuka is in the front, feet up on the dash. I am in the back sitting on a sleeping platform, my feet in the cuby hole for the sliding door, my elbow and head out the window. Stephen drives staring, mesmerized by the miles and the music. Janis Joplin or Bob Marley are usually playing with Stevie Wonder taking his fair share of play time. We are silent, all in our own little worlds, taking in the sights but not sharing our interpretations. We stop when something interests us. A beach, a bush walk or lunch. Stephen cooks, we clean. We often succumb to "napo'clock" after lunch. We usually end up at a pub in the evening. We drink a few beers, talk to people of all different nationalities, then head to our "spot". This is how our days go. No hurry, no goal, no place to sleep at night. We solve the sleeping problem shortly after dark and then Stephen cooks again. He calls dinner "Tea". Stephen is a good cook. I would say a chef. His favourite meal is pasta with mushrooms and onions in cream sauce and beer. The beer is never in the cream sauce. If it is not pasta it is some vegetable dish always mixed with some herbs or sweet chili sauce for tang. After dinner we clean,set up sleeping arrangements and go to bed. I love our morning ritual. Stephen makes coffee and sets out brekky. Nutella and bread or peanut butter and jelly. We eat, talk a little and pack up for the day. Right now we are on Mission beach listening to the waves and Bob Marley and watching some sky divers land. Stephen's cooking again. Soon it will be "napo'clock". During lunch Stephen smashed a bananna through his teeth for Yuka and I to see. It is hard for our humor to get any more complex than that when we don't have language or culture to back it up. Still he is funny. Yesterday we did a rare thing and went to a tourist attraction. It was a castle, or the remains of one on 13 acres of "park" land. It was a bit weird as the castle was broken down and delapitated but not quite a "ruins". The grounds were in the same shape. The castle was used in the 1930's like a Kings Island water park only the slides and pools were all natural. Up to 500 people a day come to gaze at this place. I don't know why. The neatest thing there was a colony of bats in a tunnel. We were able to walk right up to the bats and see them all huddled together for their daytime sleep. Last evening we stopped at one of those free coffee stops along the road set up by the Red Cross. We had been there for just a bit when two dodgy blokes came to the kiosk as well. We had cautious conversation. I was leary of them. As darkness fell we all decided to camp there for the night. Stephen suggested we cook dinner together and they agreed needing some company after a long haul. Chicken, sausage, pork chops,potato pancakes, pasta and beer. And beer. And beer. They were full on Aussie's with many stories of hard living in the bush. We stayed up way past our bedtime entertained by these two. In the morning we all shared brekky and then went on our way happy to have met each other and shared the time. Tommorrow or the next day we will do these same kind of things. We are however always on the lookout for Smirnoff's and Bunnies. The Big Mango
The kitchen

So small! So frigg'in cool.

It took two hours of sitting still, not talking, and not falling asleep. A nearly impossible combination. I must admit we moved once. Okay, we did talk some as well, but mostly we were silent and mostly we were still. It happened for Yuka and Stephen first. I was jealous. I had to work on being happy for them. I wanted it to happen for me. I was nearly desperate. This was the only time in my life I might be at this spot and have this opportunity. They saw it again! How did I miss it? Chit! Yuka and Stephen were trying to help me but I seemed to be looking the other way each time. It took another fifteen minutes but then it happened. First, all we saw was the rustling of weeds along the bank, and then a ripple as it went down. Then, it popped to the surface long enough to eat it's catch and was gone again. Amazing! It was so small, the size of a guinea pig. I was shocked.I thought they were as long as my arm and as big as a cat. It popped to the surface again with another catch; they need to be at the surface to chew. It continued this behavior for about ten minutes; searching for small crustaceans and larvae, bringing them to the surface to eat and diving again. Then it did not return. We sat in silence. After awhile Stephen said " I can die now , I have seen a duckbilled platypus". At that moment, I had to agree.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Soon

I am going to blog soon. I am really.

new batch of photos coming

Hey all, Tracy sent me a new batch of photos but I'm having a little technical difficulty getting them all posted at the moment. So, here are a few to whet your appetite. Tracy is back with her personal gypsy Stephen and a Japanese woman (her name escapes me at the moment) and they are traveling the coast again doing bush hikes and the like. She has not had a chance to get to a computer to post her blog yet. She is set to leave Australia all together on Oct. 2nd for Tokyo and a drastic change of scenery.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Oh yeah ,I can do this!


Over the first two days on the ocean I have completed all the underwater skills, passed the test, and am now a certified diver. Thank you, thank you very much, hold the applause. Now we have to dive without an instructor. Yes! But always with a buddy. Yes! We also have to use our navigational skills to get back to the boat once we have explored the reef. Oh yeah baby, I got this! So my buddy and I set up a plan. Decide on a course to follow; 150 degrees north then a reciprocal reading of 300 degrees back. Easy I've done this before. My buddy and I jump off the boat, give the old "OK" sign and descend. I am excited, I have begun to settle down while diving and this dive will only build my confidence. I can navigate. I am so confident in fact that we have decided to only leave 70 bars of air for the return trip. That is only 20 bars of safety, at fifty bars you MUST surface. So really we have left 20 bars for the return. No problem. We take off. I am reading my compass, and I am holding a bearing. We hit the reef and play around for thirty minutes. The reef is spectacular. I can hear fish eating. I am enveloped in schools of fish. I make clams 2 foot across close up by waving my hand and making a current. There are fan corals and sea stars, sea slugs, and sea worms. There are big fish,little fish,skinny fish and fat fish. Colors and more colors; on the fish, the clams, the coral, the crabs. The reef is huge! It is over one hundred feet tall. We go to the bottom and see different fish than we did at the top. We find Nemo! We see sharks! It is another world down deep.I could have stayed all day but we noticed we were at 70 bars and needed to go back to the boat. I was excited. I was going to surface port side stern. I had my bearing and we were following it without deviation. Sixty bars left, okay that gives us a few minutes more. We continue on our course. Fifty bars. We have to surface. I am smiling. I know I got this. We surface. I cannot see a thing. No boat, no other divers, no nothing. I start thinking about sharks. We saw two down there. I start panicking. I think about the movie Open Water. I think about being lost at sea. I think about my elevated, breathing and heart rate attracking sharks. I check my bearing. I check for sharks. I check my panic. I turn around. I see the boat. Holy Chit! We are so far from the boat the people on it are wee little. I feel the same. They send a boat. I don't know if this diving thing is for me.

Not in Kansas anymore!

I was in a pool my brain was sure of that. But there is something dead wrong with breathing underwater. My brain was sure of that as well. As soon as I went under the surface my brain started screaming at me: "What the F are you doing??? Get that thing out of your mouth and swim for you life!!! Swim for your life! Go for the surface! You're going to drown!" I was having my own little panick attack while everyone else looked so calm. I was fighting the urge to explode and go to the surface(6 inches above my head).I was questioning if this was a good thing to do. Instructor? What bloody instructor? I was the only one in the pool (except for seven other people who were going to stare at me if I surfaced in a panic) and I was going to die. And so it went; my first day of scuba training. I spent the day fighting the urge to swim for my life.I think the only reason I stayed that day was peer pressure. I was NOT going to be the older, weird ,wussy woman who could not take the heat. I came back the next day. More fighting against instinct. It is so weird to breathe under water, it's just all wrong. I can't compare it to anything. Any ideas? Third day of training,we are in the ocean three hours from shore. We all get ready, get in the water and begin our descent to a depth of forty five feet. I am very busy telling myself not to panic. When we hit the bottom we are supposed to fully DE-flate our Bouancy device so we can stay at the bottom. Instead of hitting my DE-flate button, yes , I hit the IN-flate button. The more I go up, the more I press the IN-flate button in a panic. Kind of like the elderly that hit the gas instead of the brake and end up going through their house. I'm looking down between my fins at seven people looking up at me. My bouancy device is so full of air I look like a blimp. And of course I am screaming. (Remember sound travels well through water.) I am struggling and kicking and flailing my one arm, the other arm is busy pushing the IN-flate button. Just as my head pops up to the surface I realize what I have done. Chit! I quickly hit my DE-flate button and sink,slowly,ever so slowly, in front of everyone, back down to the group. My instructor tilts his head to one side and gives me the " Are you okay sign". I sign back "Of course, yes of course" just a little mix up guys. Just a little mix up.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef

Hey all (Cindy again). I thought I'd let you know that Tracy is out on a boat for 3 days scuba diving on the great barrier reef (with a planned night time dive). So we won't hear from her for a few more days.
Since she is, after all, a science teacher, I thought we could all entertain ourselves with the following links. Have fun!

virtual tour of Tracy's dive experience.
dive trip itinerary.
learn about the great barrier reef.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh Maties, the Rainforest!

Stephen, Macky and I went to the Daintree Rainforest. (Cindy has informed me that this forest is 135 million years old. I believe that.) We opt to go for a bush walk. ( you guys already have the picture of us at the top of the walk) It is going to be a simple walk, 3.5 k up and 3.5 k down. No problem. I just wear my crocs. ( Not the live ones) The sign at the beginning of the walk says to allow 7 hours. Hmmm. Seven hours for less than 5 miles. Right. We start. It is up hill. Definitley up hill. Right off we are all huffing and puffing so that we can barley talk. Our chit chat goes something like this:" Steep" "yah" "Wicked" "Yup" "Beautiful" "uh" "True bush walk" "Yaa" Bush indeed. The density of the population has to be 2x that of Bejing (only taller).This place is thick with vegetation. We are constantly ducking under,climbing over,pushing aside or squeezing between or around trees, roots,vines, palms and ferns. The path we are following is small,hard to follow and covered with vegetation. If Stephen or Macky get 5 meters ahead of me I cannot see them. The ground is covered. Roots are everywhere, crisscrossing, recrossing and crossing again. They go on for 20-30 meters and are sometimes two foot tall. Vines hang like someone toilet papered a house. Vines of all sizes, some as big as your leg. Most of the vines have stickers,thorns or jabby things all over them. Some vines have large barbed hooks on them and hang down like Vietnamese booby traps. They grab you and cut as you go by. I begin to believe that sci-fi stuff about vines. There are these trees/vines that are called strangler figs that do just that. These figs slowly,very slowly over hundreds of years engulf a tree and kill it, all the while using it as a framework for its own growth. When their deed is done there is an eerie lacework of vine like branches in the shape of the former tree. Its spooky in a way. These fig trees in turn are used by other plants, but that is happening everywhere. Branches,forks of trees, tops of palms or the "basket" of a fern are all covered with other plants robbing Peter to pay Paul. There are these Fan palms that look like ridged potato chips but are 2 meters in diameter that house another kind of palm that looks like a house plant gone wild. It is an exotic,eerie,and wild walk. We climb for an hour non stop and reach a sign that tells us we have gone 1.5 km. Less than one mile an hour. Hmmm. Near this sign we meet an Aussie on his way down. He says "It gets steep up there". I say " you mean it hasn't been steep yet?" "Nahr,its pretty steep for the next 300 meters". Stephen says "Chit", I think it. Soon enough we know what the bloke means. We are in full time fourwheel drive. All I can see is Stephens butt and Macky can only see mine. We are climbing nearly straight up. We, as you can expect, get to the top and the look out is spectacular. It is an absolutely amazing ecosystem to see. But Stephen says it best " This is good chit, thick nature chit. Amazing chit". Strangler Figs: