Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Home

I have been home now for more than a month. I have a planner again. I've gone to movies. I am busy. I have conversations. I have beer instead of wine. I forget to look at email. I clean house. I do laundry and dishes in a machine. I sleep in a bed and pee in the toilet, most the time. I think of the trip, it was fantastic. I've learned about cultures and countries, priveledges and priorities. India was a study in human deformity and poverty. Africa a study in culutral violence. South East Asia a study in perserverance. Japan a lesson in reverance. I would do it again; and again. But,when all is said and done, Dorothy had it right.

Am I ready?

I had been biking in the rain for several days. I was excited at the possibility of shelter, a roof of any kind; a shower house, a picnic pavilion, at that point a port-a potty would have done. Sleeping in a French vineyard in a damp tent in damp clothing no matter how I romanticized it, had grown tiresome. I rolled into the campground, and true to French hospitality I was turned down for camping. The campground was open, others were camping, but for some reason, according to the mean little woman in the speaker box, the campground was closed. Chit. A German couple leaving the campground overheard me arguing with the speaker box woman and gave me directions to another campground close by but up a steep hill. It was shelter and I was thrilled. At this campground I got to talk to a human behind the desk, was assigned a camping spot and told they had free hot showers. Whoo hoo, I was happy. I went to my spot and started setting up when my neighbor, a woman from England came out and offered me a "cup o tea". Could it get better? We chatted in the light rain while I drank the tea, ate the biscuit and asked for another. When I finished, she gathered her cup and plate, said good night then gave me a hug. My eyes welled up. A tear rolled over the edge. A lump choked off my air. When she let go to say good night again and pat my shoulder she looked at me and said "alright,alright what's this?!". I asked her for another hug. That interaction was my first inkling, my first clue. The next week the weather improved a bit, but not much, so I was still looking for campgrounds at night, and maybe another hug. One evening I was set up, cooking dinner when an elderly woman walked by with her three dogs and five cats. I could not resist. I got up and tried to talk to her. She didn't speak English but she "told" me the names of all her friends and then invited me to her trailer in the campground. She was a permanent resident and was happy to have a visitor. She showed me her whole house, her drawers and their contents, where she did her dishes, her canned goods, the medications she took, (holding up each bottle then showing me on her fingers how many pills she took of each), and the plumbing problems she was having. She indicated that I should help her feed the cats, gave me a can to open and the bowls. The cats came running. She was smiling. I was smiling. The cats... were hungry. I eventually said good night and went to my tent. In the morning she appeared with her entourage and we waved recognition and hello. There wasn't much to say, or much that could be said. I watched her walk by and watched her turn the corner. One by one her animals turned the corner and went out of sight as well. The last one, a cat, dawdled, smelling something, then as it slowly turned it wrapped, then unwrapped its tail around a light post, and was gone. I welled up. I was getting ready.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Home but not finished.

It is a beautiful day today and I will be out on the farm planting, weed whacking and doing general nesting activities. It feels somewhat surreal, comforting and stressful all at once being home. I need a planner. The cats need feeding,the hay needs to be baled and wow, is it good to see friends and family. I have a few more blogs to share and a final entry. I will do that soon, probably after I feed the cats. I am hoping to see all of you (yes everyone , the whole world) June 7th at the farm for a gathering. It will be so great to see you, and speak English. Can't wait!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

France

I had been warned. I had been told. But still I was not prepared. The French are not friendly, at all. They don't think it's funny when you butcher their language. They don´t think they should share the road with cyclists, and they have forgotten it seems that Americans were their friends at one point not so long ago. I went straight from my brilliant day in Italy to this environment in France. I was surprised. How could this happen in a matter of meters? Where were all my "friends"? Bon Jour? ...Bon Jour??

Final tidbit of Italy.

The last day of cycling in Italy was brilliant. The sun was out, the roads were good, the terrain challenging and fun, and, I was nearing France on my way to see a friend I had met in India. I was motivated, excited and rolling along. Every other cyclist in Italy was out as well (or so it seemed). In my excitement of the day I started saying "ciao'" to all the cyclist that went by. Sometimes I would get no response but sometimes a whole team would go by, a line of perhaps 30 cyclist, and as they passed the ciaos would get louder and more enthusiastic. I was hooked. I said "ciao'" to everyone. I said "ciao'" to the birds, the dogs, and tourists alike. I was singing and smiling and ciaoing my way to France. When I saw the sign at the border of France I welled up, I didn't want the "ciaoing" to end. Oh but it did.

Italian tidbit.

I had been biking hard all day up a pass, it was getting late in the afternoon, I was tired, lonely, and wondering where I would stay that night. I entered one of those tiny mountain villages where the streets are about eight feet wide and the buildings line the street like wall paper. The streets were not only narrow but steep so I was in my lowest gear and crawling, barely faster than a walk. I came upon and began to pass an old, bent, Italian woman, scarf on her head, sagging hose on her legs, apron around her waist and black shoes. She was walking with what looked like a large agricultural bag of cotton slug over her shoulders, her elbows bent over her head and her hands clasped tightly on the knot. I passed her and looked , she smiled , I said buon giorno (that being the more respectful way to say "good day" in Italian) and continued onward. As I looked up from our exchange I noticed three older gentleman sitting on a bench, one resting on a cane, one leaning forward past the first to see, the other leaning back; all in tweed jackets with caps on their heads. I said "ciao". Immediately the woman I had passed spoke in a loud voice to the men, all I understood were two words: "ciao" and "buon giorno". The men responded with something and chuckled. She responded to them with a " my hello was better than yours was" tone. I looked back. They all looked at me. We all laughed. Simple, but sweet.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A different chicken story.

I had been biking all day into the wind and I was hungry but it was a holiday and nothing was open. I ate some stuff I had in the packs but it was not satisfying my hunger. Everything was shut down. I went through Genova, a huge city and nothing, nothing was open. I was looking at energy bars for dinner. Ugh. As I got out of Genova I spied a tiny grocery open for business. I broke hard made a u turn and parked my bike. Inside it was like a small modern Krogers. I was thrilled, all the choices, all deli options. The first thing I smelled was rotisserie chicken. I went to it like a fly. I took one off the rack and put it in my basket. I gathered a few more things; bread, olives, pesto, noodles, yogurt and cereal, some apples and coffee. I headed to the check out excited about the pending meal. I took some time stuffing my panniers, and rearranging things to accommodate the bounty but the chicken wouldn't fit anywhere inside, so I tied it to the outside (I felt like I was back in Vietnam) and started down the road. I didn't get far, that chicken smelled too damn good. I soon stopped at a little square in a town center. A few people were sitting around enjoying the late afternoon sun, a few more were feeding the pigeons and talking. I took the chicken off the bike and sat down among them. I looked into the bag and thought... I´ll just eat a bit then get the bread and olives and and my water. I reached in and grabbed a wing. It was a whole chicken so I had to pull to separate the wing. A few pieces of chicken went flying, pigeons ran over, I ate the wing. Man it was good. I grabbed another wing, more pieces, more pigeons, more delight. I turned the chicken over in the bag and tore into the back and thighs. At this time I had it all over my hands, a few pieces had escaped the bag and landed on my face, I had it in my lap, the pigeons were eating off the ground. I couldn't stop. I had another piece. When it was all over the chicken was gone, only a pile of bones remained. I looked up. Some man was staring at me, I shrugged my shoulders, he smiled a bit, I smiled back, he said, "buon appetite".

The Indian

I was on the strip between Naples and Rome. The roads were confusing, numerous and the area was was mostly industrial or port side. I was lonely and not motivated by the scenery and I was a bit lost. I passed an older Indian guy on the road. He was on a bicycle much like Dorothy´s. But it was rusty. I tried to ask him a question but he spoke no English. I showed him on the map where I was trying to go but he could not tell me how to get there. We stood there. He made a noise with his mouth, bobbled his head and waved me on to follow him. I tucked in behind him happy for the draft. I had been fighting the wind all day. He was amazingly fast on the bike and I had to work to keep up. I thought surely could not keep this up long, and that we would be to the eventual turn off soon. I tried not to feel guilty that he was up there breaking the wind and working so hard. We continued. Occasionally he would look back smile and give me a wave onward. I began to get a little worried, we had been riding about 20 minutes. We entered a really bad area. More prostitutes then I have ever seen in my life. One every 5o meters. I was glad to be tucked in behind him for the safety though I still worried about where we were going. I could not check my map as he was moving onward, and fast. We traveled another twenty minutes. More prostitutes, more wind, more worry. He smiled and waved me on again. I followed. Thirty minutes later, he pulled to a halt in front of a big sign that said "Roma". We had been riding for more than an hour. He smiled and patted me on the back. I said my thank you´s. Then, he made a u turn and headed back. He had escorted me to my destination, way past his.

My Birthday

Cindy was thoughtful and flew out during the time my birthday would pass. She was very happy to do so and was anxious to make things special for me on that day. We were in the Amalfi coast, quite possibly the most beautiful spot I have seen, and we were in the town of Amalfi on my special day. That evening we walked around looking at restauraunts trying to pick a nice one in which to celebrate. During our walk we met a couple from the U.S., started talking and decided to share dinner with them. Cindy told them it was my birthday and the celebration began. We ordered a bottle of wine, and then another. Over wine we talked of traveling, politics and life abroad, getting older and taking opportunities and risks and the rewards of doing just that. I noticed the reward the wine was affording me but before I could think about what I should do the waiter brought out lemon cello´s for the table in my honor. Well I had to partake, and the mix of red wine and lemon cello was ...well delicious. So I had Cindy´s as she was not drinking it, and I had our new friends drink as well. Why waste it right? Our new friends decided to call it a night and so we all retired to our hostels. I stumbled to ours. As soon as I got in the door the room started spinning. I layed down and the speed increased. I got back up and I felt a change, in my stomach. So I made my way to the throne and did what you might expect, repeatedly, like an eighteen year old. Cindy lay in bed shaking her head.I did not deserve more.

Lack of Blogs

Wanted to let you guys know I am sorry about the lack of blogs. I talked with a friend from France and he said that it is common that France and Italy do not have many internet cafe´s even for the tourist... so I have been out of touch. In addition I have been camping all along the way so there is even less internet access in the fields of green. I also must back up from the Indian guy story and make a confession. So read on and enjoy.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tidbits of Italy

Cindy and I made our way to Pompeii skipping the bidets along the way. We spent a day in Pompeii and then made our way to Rome on the train for the inevitable. She had to leave. Jojo would be meeting me at the airport in Rome on the heels of Cindy's leaving so I would be distracted from myself, Cindy did not have that luxury. Jojo walked my legs off in Rome and then in Naples. We went to the Vatican in Rome where I was able to send a special post to my Mom from the Vaticans own mailing system. That was fun. Then Jojo went back to Rome from Naples and I went down to Pompeii where Cindy and I had stopped biking, and I started again, alone. It took me about a week to get going, and that week was spent in the strip between Naples and Rome on prostitute road. That did not help my loneliness. But there was this one Indian guy.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wrong one.

Cindy and I stopped by a gas station for bathroom duties and gasoline for our cook stove. She had to go pretty badly so I stayed out with the bikes and got the gas we needed.She was in a pretty big hurry, unfortunately when she got to the bathroom it was being cleaned. The cleaning woman stepped out after noticing Cindy's distress and Cindy hurried in. After sitting and sighing in relief for having made it in time she began to look around the bathroom as any one of us might do. What she saw sent a shiver down her spine.She couldn't believe her eyes. How could it be? She was staring at a toilet. Then to her horror, to her dismay she realized, she had just shit in the bidet.She got up and looked for the faucet handles. There were none. So she waved her hand in front, behind and around the faucet trying to trigger the automatic water. She broke a sweat, she remembered the cleaning woman waiting outside, she sweat some more.The water would not come on.She waved some more and shook the faucet but to no avail. She looked around for something , anything to aid her.But there was only one option to take and it wasn't pretty. When she left though the cleaning woman never knew a thing. When she came out I asked her what on earth had taken her so long. All she said was "never, never shit in the bidet".

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Hyatt

It was about five o'clock in the evening and we had been biking up a steep pass for about five hours. We were out of water and there was no town in sight when Cindy spotted a farmer bent over in a garden and suggested I ask for water and maybe a place to put our tent. She was an older woman, tough looking, bent and knarled from work, mud covered her hands and knees, was caked on her shoes and a small swath went across her face. I hated interupting her work, but she was happy to stop and give us some water. She took me up the drive a bit and through a gate and into a managerie of animals, buildings, grapevines, parts and pieces of things scattered everywhere. There were noisy goats tethered by one leg, chickens pecking the ground, a man tying grapevines, one dog tied up and one running around. There were stoves, cabinets and machinery long past their usable days mired in the mud. There were many projects half started or finished, I couldn't tell. I was overwhelmed with ...stimulus. I thought we shouldn't stay but I asked anyway, it was late and we didn't have many options. She shrugged her shoulders and agreed to let us camp, though I wondered were we would put up a tent. I went to get Cindy and we spent about an hour setting up camp and looking at the place. We had an amazing view of the coast line we had biked the previous day, it was a grogeous spot to camp. The man tying the grapevines never hesitated in his work and the woman began bringing in the sheep and goats and feeding the chickens. I eventually went to the man to see what he was doing and he "explained" that these were their grapevines and they had a little winery in one of the buildings. About that time the woman finished with her chores and motioned Cindy and I into the only intact building on the place. The man followed. The place smelled wonderfully of herbs and cooking, wine fermenting, machinery and old tools. It was more of the same that was outside but with more density. There was corn, peppers, herbs and dried, salted meat hanging from the rafters. A moped right in the doorway, a table in the middle of the room askew and full of utensils, pots, toilet paper, big loaves of bread, feed for the pigs, a frying pan, a lemon, a hat, a flashlight, some wieners. We stepped around kids toys and tools and ducked under extentsion cords to get to their winery. They showed us with pride their fermenting wine and then poured us a liter. They showed us some pasta in the cupboard, a pot of lamb (from their herd) and tomato sauce from their garden on the stove and and told us we could have that for dinner. Then they showed us their fresh eggs, fresh pressed olive oil, salt, pepper, coffee and sugar and told us to have that for breakfast. They demonstrated how to turn on the stove, the T.V. and the lights and gave us a flashlight to get to our tent, then they packed up, gave us the key and left. We stood there dumbfounded. There we were, the Tyrannian sea to our east, mountain walls to our west, a beautiful sunset and the place to ourselves. Under the glow of one naked light bulb we had dinner (minus the lamb), wine, and bread. Later we stumbled to the tent a bit toasted off their wine, stuffed of their spagettii and and full of their kindness.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thieves

Well I will just write about it, and maybe the sour taste in my mouth will go away. But the bike will always be gone. That's right, GONE, within an hour of being in Italy. I had arrived from Greece on the ferry into the port town of Bari, Italy, stayed one night, and then spent Easter day at McDonald's, the only place open, waiting for my overnight train to Rome where I would meet Cindy. We would travel back to Bari and start our bike trip from there. I was able to leave my bike at a hostel in Bari while I traveled to Rome, Cindy was bringing her bike with her. She was excited about her bike and had spent a great deal of time with the bike shop guys in Fairfax getting it ready for a mountainous tour of Italy. Before leaving for Rome I had arranged for a hotel in Bari and was excited that our hotel had a locked lobby and had planned on staging the bikes in the lobby, tinkering with them and getting them ready to start our trip. Oh but there would be no tinkering. When we arrived at the hotel (in Bari) we left the boxed bike in the lobby, ran up four flights of stairs to check in and get the rest of her stuff in the room and went back down for the bike. It was gone. Finnito. Stolen. Roboerto. Nicked. D.U.N. I was ready to give up the bike trip. We'll just get on a stinking bus I thought, but Cindy undaunted, (well maybe a little daunted), suggested we find a another bike and get moving with our plans. And so we did. We spent the next three days going through what proved to be a good experience with the people of Italy. We found a bike shop guy that was really a motorbike shop guy but had a few bikes, particularly this used one, that was just what we needed, sort of, but he made it work for us. He was big, hairy,loud and spoke absolutely no English but was kind and made sure we had what it would take to get on the road. For two days while he was making repairs and adjustments on the bike we were out trying to buy a sleeping bag and clothes to replace the ones Cindy lost in the bike box. In a huge Walmart kind of place we asked a woman to use her phone to make a call to our bike guy and she ended up spending 20 minutes in difficult translation to help us get the bike guy to go ahead with a particular repair. We met an English speaking woman on the street who after hearing of our dilemma made phone calls to find a store, then took us to the store and translated for us so we could get a suitable bag, and gave us snacks on her departure. An old man showed us to a place to do laundry that was unfortunately closed for the afternoon. We thanked him, sat down to wait and he left, only to return about fifteen minutes later to take us to a laundromat that was open. The hotel guy was a weird one and seemingly not very helpful with the whole ordeal until on the second day after the incident he very shyly coerced us around the corner of his hallway and offered his bike to us. I think the bike was the one used in the film "Wizard of Oz" so it just wouldn't work, but we were touched by his gesture. Eventually we left Bari with everything we needed. Our confidence in Italians intact, though shaken.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

update and pictures

Hi all, Cindy here. Tracy wanted me to tell you that she is having a great deal of trouble finding internet in Italy. I can attest to that. It was very difficult to find an internet connection even at the hostels. One hostel owner told us it was because of the strictness of the police, the paperwork they require and privacy issues. Anyway, Tracy said she has many new stories ready to post when she gets a chance. She is currently making her way from Pompeii, Italy to Madrid, Spain by bicycle.

Well, it seems that preparing for, going to, and recovering from Italy has put me behind in getting pictures posted. I realized that I still had pictures from Africa that I haven't posted, including many of the animals she saw in Kruger. I have Greece photos and of course Italy photos. So while she is on hiatus from blogging I'll post some of the photos starting now with Greece.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Places to stay.

I had just finished biking through the city of Patras, Greece and then going across the 2.5 mile bridge into a sleepy little country town. I was a bit frazzled by the trip through Patras, it had been rush hour traffic and I had spent about two hours negotiating my way through the thick mass of cars, buses, motorbikes, trucks and such. I was relieved to be out of the fray but it was getting dark and I had to find a place to sleep. I usually check out the churches in towns for a yard to sleep in but this particular town's church had no yard, not even a court yard to speak of, so I headed out of town. I spied a horse pasture but it was right next to a road and house so I continued on a bit further. I passed a grove of olive trees with a bent over old man and a woman in a dress among the trees herding their sheep and chickens into a little shed. I thought to myself what an idyllic life, a grove of olive trees, sheep, chickens and a garden, everything they need. A simple stress free life. I bicycled on by and as the road narrowed and the country side opened up the camping options dwindled. No woods or olive groves to hide in. I turned around and headed back into town and as I made my way I passed the old man who had been in the sheep field. He was on an ancient rickety bike with a contraption on the front rack that held his milk bucket. He had a traditional Greek cap on, was dirty from milking and had absolutely huge farmer hands, short stubby and muscular from years of work. I said "yahsus" , he stopped and smiled and then I proceeded to make a little tent with my hands and then put my hands together under my cocked head to indicate sleeping and then began to shrug my shoulders to ask where I could camp when he said... " do you speak English". We both laughed. We spoke for some time as I anxiously watched the sun go lower and lower and disappear. Then he told me to come with him. I followed him to his yard and he told me I could camp there and when I got my tent set up for me to come to the house. I spent the evening with him and his wife, she did not speak a lick of English but he was fluent. He was also fluent in world politics and economics. He could tell me what was going on with our election process, what the candidates were claiming to believe and for whom he would vote... Hillary. We also talked about personal economics. He asked me what the average slsary at home was and what kind of taxes we paid. Turned out he did not pay any taxes in Greece, he and his wife made less than twelve thousand dollars a year. They made their money on their olive grove and kept the animals and garden as a supplement. Some years were good and some were very bad. They fed me a dinner of their lamb, cheese, and eggs and I went back to my tent stuffed full. The next morning I met him at their sheep shed and helped do some chores and played with the day old lambs. I had coffee with him, his wife and his sister who lived next door. I asked how they made their cheese. The farmer began to explain but then the wife and the sister took over. They fought over the stage, each grabbing one utensil or another and demonstrating what to do with it as if they were on a cooking show and then arguing with one another about whether they had done it right or not. One would use the utensil and look at me and smile then the other would grab it from her hands and shake her finger at me or the sister and use the utensil in another way. I don't know how they ever made cheese. I was sent off with 6 boiled eggs, and about 4 pounds of cheese, bread and fresh milk. Life was good.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Beautiful beach road.

It rained my third morning biking so I was slow to get up and out. I had camped in a church yard. Greek Orthodox. I had, as usual, waited until dark the night before to set up my tent so I didn't see that the spot I had chosen was on quite a slope. In the night I had slid down and slept in a pile at the end of my tent. As a result my feet had been cold all night as they were pressed against the nylon of my tent and not centered in the nice, not so fluffy, toe box of my sleeping bag. I was cold, grumpy and it was raining. There happened to be a little building in the church yard with a covered porch so I got under its roof to avoid the rain. My feet were freezing, I was grateful for the shelter. I got out some toe warmers, shook them to get them going, put my crocks on, no socks, with the warmers under my toes. I had my crocks on because I wanted to keep my cycling shoes and socks dry, it is miserable cycling with cold wet feet. I made my coffee and had breakfast, sat around and looked at the gloomy weather but eventually I had to face the day. The rain had subsided, but the roads were wet and the air misty. I packed my stuff, got my bike and stood at the top of a hill and tried to decide between easy highway or beach road. Since it was my last few days in Greece I chose the beach. I started down, and man it was steep. So steep that I got off my bike and walked it down. Then the road turned into gravely mud and it sucked me down. It was all over me, my shoes, my bike, my panniers, my tires, all before I could say Chit. It accumulated in my frame so much so I could not push the bike. I had to clean the mud from the frame about every ten steps just so I could continue. I didn't want to walk back up that extremely steep slope to get out so I kept going forward. I could see asphalt ahead but it took me forever to get there. Once I got there I had to clean my bike and myself. The chain, the frame, my shoes were packed with gritty mud, I was packed with gritty mud. I went to the beach to get some water. I got on my hands and knees, put my feet in the air to keep them dry and crawled to the surf. I was stretched out washing my hands and reaching for the sea with my water bottle when the surf took the bottle right out of my hand. I let out a loud CHIT and started crawling fast along the beach . To no avail, the bottle drifted away to the right. I got up and ran for the bottle, grabbed it, jumped in the air and high stepped it out of the surf to avoid my feet getting wet, but in the midst of all that I accidentally threw the bottle near the surf again. I ran after it cursing . Got it again, high stepped it again and got out of the wet zone and safely to dry beach. I looked around to see if someone was watching and of course there was. An old, one-eyed woman up on her balcony held up her hands and said something, which I am pretty sure was " what the hell are you doing?" I held up my water bottle and yelled, "naru naru...( water)". She just walked back into her house. I stood on the beach breathing hard from my fiasco but glad my feet were still dry when she came out in the yard and motioned me over. She offered water from her hose and I accepted. I asked if I could rinse my bike "explaining " that the grit and mud were bad for the chain etc. She motioned to go ahead, so I spent some time cleaning the bike and myself , being careful to keep my feet dry. I put the hose away. She motioned me back over to the hose so I followed her. She grabbed the hose,turned it full on, turned around and blasted it on my shoes to clean them. Her one eye was pointing away, she had a big smile on, and her other eye shone with satisfaction, she was so happy to help. Chit. I said my efaristo's and headed down the road. My feet cold... and wet. I didn't get 20 meters before I noticed I had a flat front tire. Chit. I changed it, getting what mud was left on the tire all over my legs, hands and face. I started on my way again. I didn't get 50 meters until my view of the ocean was obscured by an olive grove. Well CHIT. Then I started up hill. Okay not such a good idea this beach road. About 3k down this beach road I met a guy who came up to me, very excited, and offered me a huge bottle of water and wanted to talk. He said he had seen me three days earlier on the Patras bridge. He was right I had been there. He told me that the site of my bike journey sent him into an evaluation of his life and that he had spent three days there on the beach camping and thinking about how he was living it. We had a great talk. We were both amazed we had met up again. We exchanged addresses, hugged and did the greek kiss on the cheek thing when I left. I had completely forgotten my feet were wet.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Cattin around Athens

Chris and Jan met me in Athens. They decided to stay where I would be in order to spend more time together. The Hyatt they were accustomed to turned into the "Economu" in Greece. No hot water, no towels, no soap, no heat, but the cockroach, free of charge. I fixed them coffee ( starbucks fine grind on my international whisper lite camp stove ) in the morning and brought them pastries, (my efforts at easing their pain). We had happy hour in the room every night with grape leaves, cheese, bread and olives or fruit,(it was as close to room service as they got). We trapsed around the ruins of Greece and I was the sherpa, I carried the pack with the water and snacks (I ate most of the snacks). We stopped for beer thirty every day ( I ate most the snacks then too) and ate untold Greek salads. While we weren't doing the above we were doing our "Cats of Athens" photo shoots, soon to be featured. We had a wonderful time, and so did the cats.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Italy and Greece, Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Well I was able to bike from Athens to Igoumenitsia Greece and catch the ferry to Bari, Italy to meet Cindy so we could bike through Italy. (A few great Greece gypsie stories to come.) When I got to ItaLy and met Cindy ... well ....that's where the thieves part comes in (another story). Now we are tramping ( biking )around Italy together, grinding up mountain passes, staying in empty farm houses in the country, closed campgrounds near the cities and eating lots of great food and drinking mucho vino. The views of Cindy's ass are amazing. That's about all I see for she is ahead of me. If I look left I see the coast, and it is almost as good. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kruger

I spent ten days in Kruger National Park. I had a great time as a junior ranger driving around in my safari mobile. There is not much I can say to explain my experience. To say it was great would not touch it. To say it was beautiful could not describe it. To say I learned things would not be enough. I did become acutely aware of my position in the food chain. I was in awe of the bird life, and was able to identify 64 species and recognize some of their calls. I had elephants shake their heads and trumpet their disgust at me after accidentally driving to close to them when I came around a curve. I set up camp close enough to elephants to hear them fart. I slept under African skies and was awakened in the night by a lions roar. I observed baboons harvest grains. I had a buffalo turn on its heels, glare at me and ask " what you lookin at?". I lost my head, got out of my car and took many pictures of a dung beetle rolling it's prize across the road, forgetting I could be eaten at any moment. I watched three cheetahs spend their morning grooming themselves and each other and I watched a leopard slink through the bush. I watched ten beautiful sunrises and sun sets over acacia and balboa trees on the African plains. I was right where I wanted to be at each moment. I was in heaven. I cried when I left.

Taming the Cheetah

Yeah, I petted a Cheetah, Elaine did too. Yes, we tamed the cheetah. It cooed for me (you know how I am with cats, my own run from me) and purred for both of us. I almost had it talking ..... the way my cats do. They call people over to tell secrets and ask whole groups at a time if they are fat. This cheetah was just about to engage in a conversation with me alone. You can see it in the pictures, it is looking over its shoulder at me, just about to tell me something loving. I had it in the palm of my hands, she was putty. I was the cheetah tamer. And just as she was about to say that loving something to me, the Cheetah Land employee told me my time was up. You only get so long for your 150 rand, but you do get your very own 8X10 photo as a souvenir all included. Yes I paid money to touch a cheetah. So did Elaine. At Cheetah Land. And we had fun.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Chicken did the trick.

I finally got my prized horse ride on the beach. It wasn't quite what I wanted, but it did happen. The guy I had booked with the night before had not followed through with the booking so in the morning when I showed up the horses were not there. By the time the guys were called and the horses saddled, I had waited and waited and watched my five hour ride slowly disentigrate into a two hour one. The horses finallychucklin arrived. They were quite underwieght, ill equipped and trained by whooping and hollering cowboys. I went anyway. The horses had some life in them and we were able to canter along the beach, dodge in and out of the waves and then move up a small pass to a mountain village. I was a bit apprehensive about the village visit because the S. African natives are not known to be friendly nor welcome more whites into their lives. The guides and I though made the scheduled stop at a traditional village house where I was offered a type of beer made of corn to drink. The women of the village passed a pitcher to me, the two guides that were with me and several villagers that were hanging around. The beer was awful, I couldn't drink it but they seemed to love it and drank three pitchers among them. It was a brillant day. We were on top of a mountain, the wind was blowing through the tall green grass, the horses were grazing, the sea spread before us as far as the eye could see and mountain farmland spread out behind us. Among this beauty we sat strangely quiet and disconnected. The villagers doing their obligatory offering of beer and entertainment and me sitting there not able to drink their beer. The guides and I had to wait some more time to let the horses rest and while we waited I noticed some chickens walking around. I asked one of the horseman if they could catch one of the chickens for me. They chuckled and said "no". I waited for a bit and asked again explaining that if they could catch a chicken for me I could show them some chicken tricks. He said to me "these chickens aren't trained". I tried to explain that any chicken could do these tricks, but he just smiled. He took some newspaper from his pocket and tore a small square away, filled it with tobbacco and rolled a cigarette. He smoked. I looked around. I tried again. I told the guide I was serious about the chicken tricks and asked if he could get me a chicken. He answered that we didn't have time to train chickens. I persisted ,telling him that the chickens could do these tricks without training. He made a face, said something to one of the women in the houses and then looked at me and said " there is one in her house over there". I went into the small round hut , waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark, and found the chicken. I walked over to it and made a casual grab for the bird, they are usually easy to grab with one hand on its back and partially wrapped around its front. As soon as I grabbed it though, it turned on its back, scratched at me, pecked my hand and squaked and screamed. Dust off the dirt floor billowed up from her flapping wings and feathers went flying, as she got away I was left with two in my grasp. I looked at the woman in surprise but she didn't hesitate, she headed the chicken off at the door. I made another grab at the chicken and this time got a leg. More screaming, squaking,pecking, scratching, and beating the floor with her wings, but this time I had her. Man she was wild. Probably had never been touched by a human. It took me a few seconds to get her collected in my hands, but when I did I walked outside to a collecting crowd. I pushed the chickens head under her wing and rocked her through the air between my legs as if she were on a swing. I let go of her and she rested in my hands in a deep sleep. The women and the two horse guys looked at each other. I smiled. They twisted their mouths around still looking at each other and then looked at the chiken. I put my index finger up to indicate there was more to come and woke the chicken. She made a loud crow and shook herself. I grabbed a small sharp rock and walked over to a bare spot that was hard packed earth, void of grass and near the center of the crowd. I put her on the ground, held her down firmly and stretched her head out and down to the ground. I started with the rock at the point of her beak and quickly drew a line in the dirt away from her head. Her eyes locked onto the line. I lifted my hands from her back and walked away. The chicken didn't move. Everyone stared at the chicken. Then they looked at one another and started laughing and mimmicing the chicken's outstretched neck. They clapped their hands, shook their heads and laughed a bit more. I snatched up the chicken and put my index finger up indicating there was more and I smiled. They gathered around a little closer. I turned the chicken on her back and laid her on the ground. I waited for her to relax and as she did her legs stretched out into little 'L' shapes and her beak came down to rest on her breast. I let go of her and danced a little jig and as I did her head followed my every move. By now the people were in stitches. They had their hands stretched out like her legs and their own heads tucked into their chests. They were laughing and slapping each other on the back. I was laughing with them. I got the chicken up and let her go and she took off with an indignant shake of her tail feathers. People were still laughing. When we got on the horses to go the villagers came over and waved goodbyes as I did to them. I smiled as I left. The chicken did the trick.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

As the hostel turns.

The hostel I stayed at in Cape Town was a bit different. People lived there full time. They had been living there together long enough that they knew each other's habits, idiosyncrasies and struggles. I stayed for two weeks on a work program and in doing so I became part of the "family". Jane. She worked and that was all she did outside her room. That's about all we knew about her, where she worked and when. She was mysterious. She had a four day weekend while I was there and we only saw her when she had a smoke or was eating in the kitchen. She ate only T.V. dinners and instant coffee. She had no radio, no T.V., no books in her room. She had no dates and went nowhere other than work and the grocery. We would try to talk to her but to no avail. She would reply to a few comments or questions but then would get up and leave, in mid sentence sometimes. She was always pleasant however, always smiled when we said hello. Ask her to go anywhere though and it was an immediate "no". Ask her if she wanted a book you were finished with and it was, "I am not reading now thank you". So of course we all speculated about her life. We made up sordid pasts and extravagant futures. We predicted her smoke times and which T.V. dinner she would have. We invited her to places and knew she would turn us down. If we hadn't seen her in the usual amount of time though we worried. She wasn't the black sheep, just the mysterious one. And then there was George, the guy who lived in the broom closet. He did a little work around the hostel and he lived among the tools he used. He would unroll his bed underneath the brooms, rakes and hoses at night, then roll it back up in the morning so he could get to the tools he needed. He hung his clothes on hooks meant for screw drivers and pliers and kept his alarm clock and other miscellaneous items on the steps of a ladder folded against the wall. About once every two months he would travel for three days by bus to Malawi, his native country, and buy tourist trinkets to sell in Cape Town. He would sell the trinkets, live in the broom closet until his money ran out, and then return to Malawi. He spent much of his money on ganja (and as a result walked around with blood shot eyes) and Bob Marley music. If he didn't have enough to eat Elaenor would make him sit down and eat dinner with us. He had short dreadlocks that looked like cell phone antennae sprouting from his head in all directions. He was a nice guy with a broken heart and a winding path. We all liked him. Helen was the proprietor of the hostel. Long story short, Helen was depressed, disillusioned and downtrodden. Her husband was a spiritual leader and guru in the community, and a complete asshole. One day he surreptitiously took the cat that belonged to the eight year old living in the hostel to the animal shelter. Left it to the boy's mother to explain the cat's disappearance. He was so pedantic it was tiring, he would have told you how to breathe if he had enough time, but he was busy. He had many important "meetings" to attend. Everyone knew what his meetings were about. They were day time soaps and evening reality shows. If he was at the hostel he would announce to us that he needed to leave for a meeting. As soon as he got out the door people in the hostel would yell out, "Days of our Lives" or "Big Brother" and chuckle. He and Helen were vegetarians and ate no processed sugar, at least when Helen was at home with John. What John didn't know was she had an entire side of the hostel fridge stuffed with sausage, steak and sweet things. And ganja; ganja George sold her. Ganja she would smoke frequently and in total secrecy, or so she thought. She would go down the hall to the bathroom with her purse, to roll her doobie. That was the sign, the trip to the bathroom with the purse. When she went to the bathroom with "the purse" everyone knew what would come next.She kept a ladder propped up in one of the trees in the back yard and she would disappear (although everyone knew where she was) into the tree to smoke. Then came the sun glasses, a mad rush of energy, new ideas and a clean office. When the trip down the hall with the purse happended everyone would scatter, the hostel would empty and her ideas would bounce off walls instead of others. The guy that lived down the hall had a good job, and a nice car ( Mercedes S.U.V. of some sort )and lived in one room of the hostel, with a roommate. Sometimes his whole extended family would come to visit him, but they stayed in their cars. Fifteen or so people outside the hostel sitting around, cooking on fires and sleeping in their vehicles. (It was to dangerous to sleep outside.) They would be in and out of the hostel, using the showers, the kitchen, the dishes and the water. He never explained their appearance or their dissappearance for that matter. He never asked if they could come nor gave us warning that they would be there crowding us out. We spent time speculating about his life, wondering why someone with such money would stay in a room of a hostel with a roommate. We thought maybe he had a prison record or sold drugs and didn't really have a job. Maybe he had murdered ten people and the car was one of theirs. We never knew. Tumba was the woman who cleaned the hostel in return for her stay. She had been there for years. She also lived in one room but seemed to have friends and things to do outside the hostel. I tried in vane to get her to talk to me. I was at the hostel ten days before she did. The last four days I was there she would say hello and smile but that was as far as it would go. She talked to the other people in the hostel including Helen whom she worked for. She was Helen's personal attendant, cooking savory meat dishes and delectable desserts that Helen wanted. She was in on the game of hide and seek with John. If she were cooking for Helen and John came in she would not serve Helen until he had left. She hadn't liked John since the cat incident and was glad to participate in the secret eating habits Helen kept, besides she got what Helen didn't eat, and that was good stuff. There was romance in the hostel, and Tumba was at the heart of it all. She had a thing for George, but George's heart belonged to someone else, who didn't return his love. Felecia also helped to clean the hostel. I never got to know her though I got to know her hair. How could I not? She parted her hair into triangles against her scalp, about 15 triangles in all, and each triangle then lead up into a point. She was not friendly and we never spoke but I wanted to ask her about that hair..... Eleanor was my dear friend and confidant. She was a big formidable woman. I was nervous around her at first. She was not friendly right off. When she looked at me the first time I knew she was sizing me up and making conclusions before I had a chance to speak. I found out she was going to the grocery the first morning I was at the hostel and asked if I could ride along. She said a reluctant yes and I climbed in for a silent ride to the store. We left each other's company to do our shopping and met back at the front of the store after our purchases. I had gotten a little over zealous at the grocery and she did not hide her astonishment at the amount of groceries I bought. I tried to explain it was for ten days but she was not convinced I was sane and that was written all over her face. When I invited her to share in my dinner that night, that began a great friendship. We spent the next 12 days talking, taking walks, sharing dinners and dreams. She had lived eight years at the hostel with her son. They both lived in one room. She lived there so she had enough money to send him to a good school.She had no other options so she made do with the hostel as her home. She was the matriarch of the hostel. If people were out of line she put them back on the straight and narrow path. She told people at the hostel how it was going to be and they did what she said. She gave me a good example of how to stand up for myself. On our last night together we shared a nice meal and a bottle of wine and were set to eat a fruit salad for dessert but were to full. We left the fruit salad out on the counter for us to eat later. When we did come out to eat it about half of it was gone. She knew George and another hostel resident had been in the kitchen while we were gone. Immediately she hunted them down. She didn't ask if they had eaten the fruit salad or ask if they had been in the kitchen she just went right into how rude it was that they did not ask to eat her food. Then stood there silently until they apologized. I was impressed. She didn't waver under uncertainty,she didn't give them the benefit of the doubt and therefore doubt herself, she went with her intuition without hesitation. She did not question her ability to asess the situation, nor did she question how to handle it. She was pissed and let them know it. I liked that. I wanted that. I needed that in my life. We still write Eleanor and I. I was sad when I left her country. Somehow even though I had not seen her for three weeks,and would probably never see her again, leaving S.Africa made me feel far away from her. I spent two weeks at the hostel and learned about many lives, speculated about a couple more and came to deeper understanding of that line : Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting some battle.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

South Africa photos - first batch

I can guarantee that some excellent stories are coming. In the meantime here are some more excellent photos.

More India photos

New photos of India. And no surprise there are some real gems here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

As the hostel turns.

The hostel I stayed at in Cape Town was a bit different. People lived there full time. They had been living there together long enough that they knew each other's habits, idiosyncrasies and struggles. I stayed for two weeks on a work program and in doing so I became part of the "family". Jane. She worked and that was all she did outside her room. That's about all we knew about her, where she worked and when. She was mysterious. She had a four day weekend while I was there and we only saw her when she had a smoke or was eating in the kitchen. She ate only T.V. dinners and instant coffee. She had no radio, no T.V., no books in her room. She had no dates and went nowhere other than work and the grocery. We would try to talk to her but to no avail. She would reply to a few comments or questions but then would get up and leave, in mid sentence sometimes. She was always pleasant however, always smiled when we said hello. Ask her to go anywhere though and it was an immediate "no". Ask her if she wanted a book you were finished with and it was, "I am not reading now thank you". So of course we all speculated about her life. We made up sordid pasts and extravagant futures. We predicted her smoke times and which T.V. dinner she would have. We invited her to places and knew she would turn us down. If we hadn't seen her in the usual amount of time though we worried. She wasn't the black sheep, just the mysterious one. And then there was George, the guy who lived in the broom closet. He did a little work around the hostel and he lived among the tools he used. He would unroll his bed underneath the brooms, rakes and hoses at night, then roll it back up in the morning so he could get to the tools he needed. He hung his clothes on hooks meant for screw drivers and pliers and kept his alarm clock and other miscellaneous items on the steps of a ladder folded against the wall. About once every two months he would travel for three days by bus to Malawi, his native country, and buy tourist trinkets to sell in Cape Town. He would sell the trinkets, live in the broom closet until his money ran out, and then return to Malawi. He spent much of his money on ganja (and as a result walked around with blood shot eyes) and Bob Marley music. I he didn't have enough to eat Elaenor would make him sit down and eat dinner with us. He had short dreadlocks that looked like cell phone antennae sprouting from his head in all directions. He was a nice guy with a broken heart and a winding path. We all liked him. Helen was the proprietor of the hostel. Long story short, Helen was depressed, disillusioned and downtrodden. Her husband was a spiritual leader and guru in the community, and a complete asshole. One day he surreptitiously took the cat that belonged to the eight year old living in the hostel to the animal shelter. Left it to the boy's mother to explain the cat's disappearance. He was so pedantic it was tiring, he would have told you how to breathe if he had enough time, but he was busy. He had many important "meetings" to attend. Everyone knew what his meetings were about. They were day time soaps and evening reality shows. If he was at the hostel he would announce to us that he needed to leave for a meeting. As soon as he got out the door people in the hostel would yell out, "Days of our Lives" or "Big Brother" and chuckle. He and Helen were vegetarians and ate no processed sugar, at least when Helen was at home with John. What John didn't know was she had an entire side of the hostel fridge stuffed with sausage, steak and sweet things. And ganja; ganja George sold her. Ganja she would smoke frequently and in total secrecy, or so she thought. She would go down the hall to the bathroom with her purse, to roll her doobie. That was the sign, the trip to the bathroom with the purse. When she went to the bathroom with "the purse" everyone knew what would come next.She kept a ladder propped up in one of the trees in the back yard and she would disappear (although everyone knew where she was) into the tree to smoke. Then came the sun glasses, a mad rush of energy, new ideas and a clean office. When the trip down the hall with the purse happended everyone would scatter, the hostel would empty of people and her ideas would bounce off walls instead of others. She had big dreams and had done some great things but somewhere along the line had run out of steam. The guy that lived down the hall had a good job, and a nice car ( Mercedes S.U.V. of some sort )and lived in one room of the hostel, with a roommate. Sometimes his whole extended family would come to visit him, but they stayed in their cars. Fifteen or so people outside the hostel sitting around, cooking on fires and sleeping in their vehicles. (It was to dangerous to sleep outside.) They would be in and out of the hostel, using the showers, the kitchen, the dishes and the water. He never explained their appearance or their dissappearance for that matter. He never asked if they could come nor gave us warning that they would be there crowding us out. We spent time speculating about his life, wondering why someone with such money would stay in a room of a hostel with a roommate. We thought maybe he had a prison record or sold drugs and didn't really have a job. Maybe he had murdered ten people and the car was one of theirs. We never knew. Tumba was the woman who cleaned the hostel in return for her stay. She had been there for years. She also lived in one room but seemed to have friends and things to do outside the hostel. I tried in vane to get her to talk to me. I was at the hostel ten days before she did. The last four days I was there she would say hello and smile but that was as far as it would go. She talked to the other people in the hostel including Helen whom she worked for. She was Helen's personal attendant, cooking savory meat dishes and delectable desserts that Helen wanted. She was in on the game of hide and seek with John. If she were cooking for Helen and John came in she would not serve Helen until he had left. She hadn't liked John since the cat incident and was glad to participate in the secret eating habits Helen kept, besides she got what Helen didn't eat, and that was good stuff. She had a thing for George but it was not returned. Felecia also helped to clean the hostel. I never got to know her at all though I got to know her hair. She parted her hair into triangles against her scalp, about 15 in all, and each triangle then lead up into a point. She was not friendly and we never spoke but I wanted to ask her about that hair..... Eleanor was my dear friend and confidant. She was a big formidable woman. I was nervous around her at first. She was not friendly right off. When she looked at me the first time I knew she was sizing me up and making conclusions before I had a chance to speak. I found out she was going to the grocery the first morning I was at the hostel and asked if I could ride along. She said a reluctant yes and I climbed in for a silent ride to the store. We left each other's company to do our shopping and met back at the front of the store after our purchases. I had gotten a little over zealous at the grocery and she did not hide her astonishment at the amount of groceries I bought. I tried to explain it was for ten days but she was not convinced I was sane and that was written all over her face. When I invited her to share in my dinner that night, that began a great friendship. We spent the next 12 days talking, taking walks, sharing dinners and dreams. She had lived eight years at the hostel with her son. They both lived in one room. She lived there so she had enough money to send him to a good school.She had no other options so she made do with the hostel as her home. She was the matriarch of the hostel. If people were out of line she put them back on the straight and narrow path. She told people at the hostel how it was going to be and they did what she said. She gave me a good example of how to stand up for myself. On our last night together we shared a nice meal and a bottle of wine and were set to eat a fruit salad for dessert but were to full. We left the fruit salad out on the counter for us to eat later. When we did come out to eat it about half of it was gone. She knew George and another hostel resident had been in the kitchen while we were gone. Immediately she hunted them down. She didn't ask if they had eaten the fruit salad or ask if they had been in the kitchen she just went right into how rude it was that they did not ask to eat her food. Then stood there silently until they apologized. I was impressed. She didn't waver under uncertainty,she didn't give them the benefit of the doubt and therefore doubt herself, she went with her intuition without hesitation. She did not question her ability to asess the situation, nor did she question how to handle it. She was pissed and let them know it. I liked that. I wanted that. I needed that in my life. We still write Eleanor and I. I was sad when I left her country. Somehow even though I had not seen her for three weeks,and would probably never see her again, leaving S.Africa made me feel far away from her. I spent two weeks at the hostel and learned about many lives, speculated about a couple more and came to deeper understanding of that line : Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting some battle.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I think it's time for Africa.

I will be out of internet service for ten days. I will be in the Kruger park looking for catties. Big ones.

A tidbit of bobbling, thrashing and heaving.

You know the bobble head dolls. I will never look at another and not think of India. Strange I know but you would too. The Indians while they talk, answer, or while they listen, bobble their heads as if they were in the back window of some car.*************** Almost everything is done by hand in rural India and they have come up with some ingenious ways of getting things done. They seperate grain from the stalk by spreading the whole plant out in the road and waiting for traffic to thrash the grain.***************** Sometimes travel in India is worse than the "Vortex" at an amusement park. On many bus rides over mountain passes Sherry and I would hold onto the seat in front of us and look wide eyed at each other. The overloaded buses would heave heavily out and around the hairpin turns, all the while the driver was busy passing another car or bus and beeping loudly; in case another vehicle came aroud the curve.

A Tidbit of Racism

I wanted to go to a bird sanctuary that was off the beaten track. Sherry had suggested it but we had run out of time to do it together. I decided to go even though accommodation there was a bit scarce. It was a long bus ride, and when I did arrive it was nearly dark. The place that promised accommodation did not have any accommodation. There was no other option. None. No accommodation. So I went back to the village outside the sanctuary and took my only other option. I knocked on doors. I pantomimed sleeping and smiled a big smile and let the worry that was rising in my self, show in my face. A family (one in the ten that was in the village) agreed to let me stay the night. They took a few things out of their bedroom and then showed me in with a smile. In the corner was their bed; a piece of plywood on four posts, worn and frayed in the middle. No sheets, no cushion, no pillow. The only other thing in the room was one small cupboard for their belongings. Well there were a few other things in the room; the frog on the bed, the mosquitoes, the gigantic crickets, the jumping spiders, and mold. Lots of mold. Oh and heat. Thick heat. Close heat. Heat you cannot escape heat. Humid heat. Heat. Did I say steamy? I put my stuff in the room and thanked them many times. They invited me to dinner and indicated we would eat when their children got home from school. It was 5:30 at night. Around 6:00 pm three girls jumped off the bus and came running. They stopped short at the sight of a white woman in their house. It took a little while, the camera and petting their baby goats to befriend them. Soon, I was sitting doing their homework and they were off spending the battery in my camera. ( Yes I did their homework. ) They would return often to see how the homework was coming along and show me their pictures. At one point we were all sitting close, leaning over and working on the homework when they began to stroke my hair and touch my skin. They were fascinated but prejudiced. Those beautiful Indian girls, with deep, dark,innocent eyes, creamy coffee colored skin and hair down their back; combed and cat black looked at me and said: " I wish I was white like you."






Friday, February 22, 2008

Tidbits of India

It was my last day in India. I was ready to leave. I wanted out of the trash, the stink and the human poop. (Now looking back it was not that bad.) I was standing at a very crowded bus stop. The smell of urine was in the air, trash was everywhere, the station and the buses were crowded, it was hot, and I was D.U.N. with India. Some middle aged Indian guy came over to me and started talking. He was one of those guys that solves everyone's problems even if you don't want him to; he began solving mine even though I did not have one. He asked me where I was going and I told him Chennai airport. He asked me what bus I was taking and I told him. He replied that the bus I was to take bus was dirty ( which bus wasn't?) and crowded (there were buses in India that weren't?) and that if I got on his bus it would be faster and cleaner. He guaranteed me that his bus, (with only one bus change) would drop me off at the airport door just like my other bus was supposed to. I declined. He pushed the idea. I declined. He pushed. I inquired. His bus came first; I got on. The ride was long and the roads were busy and rough. The bus went through construction zones, eventually got stuck in traffic, and stuck in mayhem. It got dark and late, and when we got to the bus station for the change I was doubtful this transfer was really going to happen. We got off our bus and he looked around at the thirty or so buses in the area. He took me from bus to bus. He would ask the driver something, they would shake their heads, and he would move on to another bus. It was clear to me. I was in a city I didn't want to be in, I didn't know where it was on the map, it was dark, busy, and there were no buses going to the airport. CHIT! I was holding my anger in but I wanted to strangle the little fucker. I told myself not to be mad at him as it was me who made the decision to get on the bus; but I still wanted to strangle the little fucker. I was stressed, angry and stood a chance of missing my plane. He looked at me with resignation and apology. I told him thank you, I would find my way to the airport. He said " No, I will get you to the airport". I shook my head and said " thank you " again. He insisted that he take me. I looked around; at the hoards of people, the darkness, the language barrier, and the crowded, absolutely jam packed buses. I smelled the piss in the streets, I looked at the trash, the goats, and the thirty or so buses parked this way and that, moving in and going out; and I felt my stress. I said "okay", and we began our journey. Two hours and six buses later we arrived at the airport door. I got my plane. And a perspective on Indian culture.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Africa

A few tid bits of India left , then Africa.

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 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. Many other comments were flying around but i had no idea what they were saying. 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 explained that he was a I tech teacher, the computers 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, very happy; 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 were in India, watching a gay man dance and sing, and we were 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 cheek 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 to have them make a linen "dress" for the box. Yes linen, complete with wax over the seams. (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.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Friday, February 8, 2008

Generosity

Well, I am completely out of shape. You would think I would have time to get in shape, but I don't. Cindy is training for a half marathon. She's been telling me about how good she feels and how much energy she has and so I was motivated. I went for a run. Well, a shuffle. I was in Mamallapuram in a small fishing village when this motivation hit; so I headed to the beach. I wasn't on the beach long until I saw a line of men; all pulling on one rope that lead out into the ocean. They were each temporarily tied to the rope and leaning hard against the pull. There were about 25 of them and each walked backwards until they reached a guy on the end who was coiling the rope. There, the men would untie themselves and move to the head of the line and begin pulling again. I wondered what was on the end of the rope. But I kept on with my shuffle. About a quarter mile or more down the beach I saw another line of men doing the same thing. I stopped to watch and catch my breath. One guy caught my eye so I walked over and began asking him questions. He explained that the other line of men and his line were working together. On the end of the ropes was a huge net. As each line pulled backwards they also moved toward each other, eventually pulling the net closed as it came to shore. They had been at this for an hour so far and had another hour or so to go until the net was on shore. I helped for a bit. It was hard work. I didn't feel like I was helping much; I had no way to tie myself onto the rope and as I said, I am out of shape. I eventually gave up and went on with my run. When I came back the net was near shore so I stopped to watch them bring in the catch. I expected big fish in the net, fish of all kinds. Sharks, squid, grouper, jelly fish, barracuda, and maybe something strange and wild. As the fishermen pulled the net in close you could feel anticipation in the air increase. The pulling sped up, the effort increased, instructions were being yelled and some men began doing other jobs. Two men came off the rope and jumped in the water, each doing something with one line, diving, surfacing and diving again. Soon more men, ten or so jumped in the water and began splashing and yelling. They were "herding" the fish back into the net; preventing them from swimming out and around the open end. More yelling, more men in the water and eventually...the net came into view. It was alive and moving but I couldn't see inside, the mesh was tight and the fishermen were crowded in close. People from the village had begun to arrive and were gathering in close as well. Everyone was saying something, yelling something, moving around to get a better look, gathering their buckets and bowls or working with the net. When the net was drained of water and the catch revealed I was stunned. The only fish in the net were... sardines. Sardines and a few fish the size of your hands. Forty four men, forty four families; and that was their catch. The fish were sorted and the pan fish were sent to market to be sold for cash. A few widows and beggars were given a handful of fish from the catch, and then, forty eight piles of sardines were laid out in the sand. The boat man got three shares, one for the motor, one for the boat and one for himself. The net owner got two. The other forty two men each took home a pile of sardines that would fill a large bowl. Four hours work. About a gallon of fish. And yet, my fisherman friend invited me to lunch. I accepted.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

movies

Tracy's comments during this movie of a baby elephant had me laughing out loud (lol).

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Urgent

Well it is not urgent but I needed to get your attention. Kathleen Imherr, Tracy Graves, Deb Baker and all those who have commented and have not gotten a personal response please send me your email. I cannot email you from your comment and would love to. Thanks for all your interest and comments it is so fun for me to hear from all of you. Thanks!

Monday, February 4, 2008

India oh India

It is a nose pick'in, honker spitting, flip flopp'in, human poop'n, dirty, filthy, stinking country. And it is fascinating. It's kind of like road kill, or a train wreck. But friendly. Somewhat like the cat lady's house but big, very big. It is busier than the cat lady's house, less bloody than a train wreck,and stinky as road kill, but more interesting. It is... hard to describe. The first city Sherry and I made it to was Madari. As Sherry said it was a village that woke up one morning to find it was a bustling city but had no infrastructure. It was crazy there. Crazy. Cows were milked on the streets, tailors squatted on sidewalks working hand powered machines, chickens nested in corners and trash piled up everywhere. It was so noisy you could not hold a conversation while walking. The smell was offensive, the food was fantastic and the pollution stuck to your teeth. There were beggars and temples and beggars in temples. There were dogs running amuck and people so thick you couldn't see the shops. The shops were spilling out onto the streets and the streets were spilling into the shops. There were no sidewalks. Buses only "stopped" to pick up older passengers. The young had to do the hobo grab to get on, or run to ease the jolt as they jumped off. Chaos was the rule rather than the exception. Muslum prayers woke you at five and the clock tower chimed rhymes all night long. Bad versions of nursurey rhymes. Horns honked, people in your hotel halls talked, roosters crowed, dogs barked, doors slammed and tuk tuk's roared; day and night. Cows walked down the middle of the street with cars passing them on both sides. Cows "went to market" pushing people out of their way as they moved down the aisle ways. It truly appeared that they were shopping. There were dumpster diving cows and trash pile cows. There were cows that would follow you into shops, and cows that would lie on the sidewalk and chew their cud. Who knew whose cows these were. How they got water or something other than trash to eat. They were, however, part of the population and society for that matter. And of course with cows come cow patties. Just another addition. Welcome to India.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

more pictures comming soon

Hey all, Cindy here, I just got another influx of pictures that I will post very soon. One batch from Thailand (including some heart pumping climbing pictures) and a batch from India. Tracy has an artistic eye for photography indeed. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Was he real?

I wanted to go to this bird sanctuary that was completely off the beaten path. I had to change buses in a town called Chegalput to get there. When I arrived in Chegalput I knew was the only white person who had been there in awhile. Kids ducked behind their mothers and cried, people stared at me, and a few, obviously alerted, came out of their shop to have a look. A young woman who could speak some English came up to me and asked all the normal questions: " Where are you from? How old are you? What is your name? What is your job?" Then she laughed and said that I was a source of entertainment for her and her friends because they did not get to see white people in town. As we talked, I noticed a young boy about ten years old standing behind her, listening and staring. I smiled at him, he looked away. The woman asked where I was going and told me that her bus was coming after mine and that she would be sure to get me on the right bus. Her friends gathered around during the wait, we shared snacks and a few laughs. (I told her that her friend looked like my sister and they all assumed I had a black sister and thought that was very funny.) As it would happen her bus came before mine and she handed me off to one of her friends. I moved over to where her friend's shoe stand was and as I stood there waiting I noticed the boy had followed me. I smiled, he looked away. When my bus rattled into the station (and I mean rattled) the appointed woman directed me excitedly and waved goodbye. I got on the bus. So did the boy. He sat directly behind me. I smiled, he looked away. I offered him biscuits, he declined. I turned around and minded my own business. As I sat there waiting for the bus to fill, the fifteen people on the bus got into an argument, got up, and filed off. I sat there. The boy got up and said to me " not bus". So I got off. I headed to the ticket office. I had to pee and I needed to find out where the toilet was. As I was trying to ask the ticket guy about the toilet I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I looked around the boy was pointing. So I followed his direction and sure enough there was the toilet, or what you might call a toilet. When I came out the boy was there. I smiled. He stared. I trotted around to the back of the terminal trying to make sure I did not miss which ever bus was now my bus. I looked around nervously. I walked from bus to bus. As I walked the boy came up to me, pointed and said "bus". I smiled a big smile and thanked him. He stared; no response. I got on the bus and sat behind a woman who had a baby around 18 months old hanging over her shoulder. I settled in, looked around, and OUTSIDE the bus; was the boy. I wondered why he was on the last bus and off this one. I worried if maybe it was a trick, a school boy prank to put me on the wrong bus. The baby in front of me suddenly became very agitated and in an effort to save myself I grabbed a piece of paper, made a paper airplane, and flew it out the window. I thought the baby would watch the plane fly, but he didn't. The boy did. The entire distance the plane flew and as it landed. My attention was drawn to the baby again as it cried, so I looked for another piece of paper, this one I crumpled up and handed to him. He seemed interested enough. He grabbed it and pushed it back to me. I pushed it back to him. He pushed it back to me. He was happy. His mother was happy. I was esstatic. I glanced outside the bus; the boy was still there. Soon enough the paper ball fell to the floor and I was down among the legs and packages trying to retrieve my life saver. The bus started; people were hurriedly crowding on and I was getting smashed. I reached and stretched and finally got the paper; I had to. When I sat up, I handed the paper ball to the baby. As the bus began to pull out I looked out the window for the boy. The boy was gone. And so was the paper airplane.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

India

There is a distinct absence of India posts. I can't explain it either. I guess I am still trying to get my head wrapped around India. It is something so far out of my realm it is hard to reconcile in my western mind. It is something I rejected and accepted all at the same time. Was grossed out by and fascinated with. Drawn to and repelled by. Kind of like a train wreck. I'll get to it though. Soon. Right now I am in S. Africa. Wow is this place beautiful; and ugly with turmoil. I am staying at a hostel that is part of an organic farm. There are horses here as well. I am able to work three days in the garden in exchange for seven days of free accomodation. Went to the grocery today and bought food. My total expense for 8 days 7 nights will be 36$. My kind of place. Kruger here I come! Remember the film "Born Free"? The day I saw that film I wanted to be here and see lions. Sometimes it chokes me up to think it just might happen. Miss you all!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm getting there......

Sorry about the delay on India. I've got some stories for you soon. Working on them now. Dancing gay men, hair cuts, dressing packages and more. Don't go away.

Friday, January 18, 2008

India oh India

It is a nose pickin', honker spitting ,flip flopp'in,human poop'n,dirty,filthy,stinking country. And it is fascinating. It's kind of like road kill, or a train wreck. But friendly. Somewhat like the cat lady's house but big, very big. It is busier than the cat lady's house, less bloody than a train wreck, about as stinky as road kill, but more interesting. It is... hard to describe. The first city Sherry and I made it to was Madari. As Sherry said it was a village that woke up one morning to find it was a bustling city but had no infrastructure. It was crazy there. Crazy. Cows were milked on the streets, tailors squatted on sidewalks working hand powered machines, chickens nested in corners and trash piled up everywhere. It was so noisy you could not hold a conversation while walking. The smell was offensive, the food was fantastic and the pollution stuck to your teeth. There were beggars and temples and beggars in temples. There were dogs running amuck and people so thick you couldn't see the shops. The shops were spilling out onto the streets and the streets were spilling into the shops. There were no sidewalks. Buses only "stopped" to pick up older passengers. The young had to do the hobo grab to get on or run to ease the jolt as they jumped off. Chaos was the rule rather than the exception. Muslum prayers woke you at five and the clock tower chimed rhymes all night long. Bad versions of nursurey rhymes. Horns honked, people in your hotel halls talked, roosters crowed, dogs barked, doors slammed and tuk tuk's roared; day and night. Cows walked down the middle of the street with cars passing them on both sides. Cows "went to market" pushing people out of their way as they moved down the aisle ways. It truly appeared that they were shopping. There were dumpster diving cows and trash pile cows. There were cows that would follow you into shops, and cows that would lie on the sidewalk and chew their cud. Who knew whose cows these were. How they got water or something other than trash to eat. They were, however, part of the population and society for that matter. And of course with cows come cow patties. Just another addition. Welcome to India.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tidbits: Did I just wet my pants?

I took a rock climbing class in Krabi. Krabi is supposedly in the top ten most beautiful climbing sites in the world. I was very excited to have one on one instruction. On the first day I climbed ten routes, most of them rated more difficult than I had ever done before. I was stoked. The climbing was great, I had done well, and my instructor was impressed. The second day I was supposed to learn to lead climb. ( Leading is when you take the rope up with you as you climb. As a result if you fall there is no rope above you to catch you. You have to fall down to where you last clipped into a bolt and THEN fall the length of rope you had out above that bolt.) Because I had done so well on the rocks the first day I went to class a little over confident. I was smiling, had my chest out, and I was ready to take on any wall. I learned some basic lead techniques and was ready to go. My guide sent me up a route I had climbed the day before and that was relatively easy. There is something wholly different about being above your point of protection. Suddenly simple moves became death defying, I was scared out of my wits. I tried to settle myself down a couple of times. "It's alright if you fall, the rope will stop you in 20 or 30 feet." Or, "You won't slam into the rocks too hard." Self soothing was not working so eventually it came down to pride. I was NOT going to have some twenty something little Thai guy bring my ass down off the rocks. It was either go up or get rescued. I went up. Eventually I was able convince myself that leading did not necessarily equal death and was able to lead several more climbs, but none of them comfortably. I went home that night with my tail appropriately tucked between my legs. I wasn't all that, and I had no chips. The third day of class I showed up but my confidence did not. I spent the morning learning how to set up a multi-pitch climb; where I go up the wall first, rig a safe belay system then belay my partner from above while he climbs. ( Now not only did I have my own life in my hands I had someone else's as well. ) While I was learning,I was busy worrying. I worried about leading. I worried about rigging the belay and I worried about dropping my instructor. I worried about dropping myself. By the time I was to lead and rig the belay I had myself worked into a frenzy. I wanted my mommy. I knew I was going to die. My hands were shaking, my mind was racing and so was my heart. I was 60 feet up already and had to lead to 80. I had my chest against the wall, my feet on a three inch ledge, my neck craned back looking at what I thought was an impossible featureless climb, and a 20 something Thai guy waiting, and watching. I had to put on my big girl panties. I have to admit though it was only pride that pried me off the ledge. I started to climb. I wanted to cry. I got to the first hold and I wanted to stay. I got to the first bolt where I had to let go with one hand to clip in and I was in a tremendous hurry to get it done,but I could not get the beaner clipped to the bolt. I was losing my grip. I thought I was going to fall. I had to get a hold of myself. I finally got the thing clipped. When I got to the anchor at 80 feet I set my rigging and belayed my instructor as he came up to me. He lead the last 15 feet. When I completed the last pitch I clipped in with my safety sling and leaned back to look around. Damn it was beautiful.

Tidbits: Heaven and Hell

I rented a bike in Phang Nga, Thailand and set off to see a National Park and the Heaven and Hell Temple. The National Park was beautiful, full of waterfalls, caves, cliffs and other limestone formations. I went swimming with a bunch of Thai school girls who had coaxed me into the water. They like most Thai's went swimming fully clothed. It was a good start to the day. When I finished seeing the park and had a spicy ass lunch I headed over to the Heaven and Hell Temple. It was hard to find but when I did it started out as a pretty cool thing. A huge dragon was the entry point (in the pictures) and you had to walk through it's mouth and belly to get to the temple. Coming out of the dragon I was assaulted. The temple weirded me out. (The pictures are on the blog now.) In an area of about one acre there were fifty or so statues of people killing other people in every horrible way imaginable. People being smashed between huge rollers and coming out crinkled and bloody. Large screws being turned into people's bellies, spears into various orifices, and people being eaten by dogs, wolves and other predators. All the people being killed had horrified looks on their faces, blood painted in the appropriate places, and occasionally entrails hanging out of their bodies. It was creepy to say the least. I left as quickly as I could. They asked for a donation. I refused.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Tidbits of S.E. Asia: Tsunami

I went diving outside of Khoa Loc, Thailand, the town that received the brunt of the tsunami Dec. 26th , 2004. The beach front is still scarred and naked. It is eerie to be in a place where over 200,000 people died. I asked on the dive boat if they had any idea what had gone on the day the tsunami hit. They "explained" that they didn't know as they were out to sea but they had noticed, depending on the depth of the water they were in, a 20-60 foot rise and immediate fall in water level. Only when they returned to shore from their overnight trip did they see, and know the devastation on shore. The reef 40 miles off shore also suffered from the tsunami, but from it's undertow. Over 40% of the reef was devastated. Hard coral grows at a rate of one inch per year. The reef looks as if a mower went through at about an 8 inch height. This of course has effected marine life as they have not had shelter and they have begun to die off. Then of course add global warming, pollution and collection of marine species for home aquariums to the mix and you have a sad situation. Not the wonderland I thought it would be, but real life none the less.