Portugal! Again.

Early tomorrow morning, the four of us will leave EUG for SFO, then SFO for LIS. This will be our family’s second time in the Lisbon airport, but we will set foot on real Portuguese soil for the first time. We will be there for about a week for spring break.

For Mom, Ethan, and me, this will be the first international trip since 2013. Dad just got home today from an investing conference in Panama City, Panama. Actually, we’ve all been to the Panama airport: on March 21, 2013 (almost exactly three years ago), we flew through it on our way to Newark from Lima, Peru. From Newark, we flew to Lisbon. So we will be in Portugal exactly three years after we were last time, on March 22, 2013. (After Lisbon, we flew on to Casablanca, Morocco.)

Panama City sunset

Panama City sunset. Photo by Dad

Now, all our suitcases are packed, our liquids and gels have been placed in their quart-sized bag, and our alarms have been set. Let’s get this show on the road!

You can read all about it (ideally- we’ll see how it goes) on Eryn and Ethan’s pages.

Broken Arm: Take 2

There is now another broken wrist in the family.

Today, almost three years after Mom broke her arm while hiking down from Refugio Piltriquitron in El Bolson, Argentina, we hiked up to Scout Lookout at Zion National Park in Utah. We arrived here yesterday after a long, icy drive through Oregon, Nevada, and Utah (fortunately, neither Dad nor I crashed the car, despite below-zero temperatures and 80 mph speed limits). This morning, after a high-calorie breakfast, I drove us into the park. 28 degrees Fahrenheit never seemed so warm.

We paid a visit to the visitors’ center-turned-shop before heading to the Court of Patriarchs. There, Ethan and I discovered the ease of letting ourselves slide down the icy hills while hanging onto the handrails. Mom did not enjoy this as much as we did.

We finalllllly found a parking spot at Zion Lodge. It was only a half-mile walk from the Grotto Trailhead, where we started hiking. Ethan had decided not to bring a backpack so I was stuck carrying his water bottle and his hat and gloves as he shed them.

Ethan and I were far ahead of the parents, but we stopped occasionally to let them catch up. The exposed switchbacks up the first mile or so were the hardest. After we entered a shady canyon, the going was easy until we reached eight switchbacks. At the top of those, we reached the infamous Walter’s Wiggles. Apparently these are really difficult, but they seemed very easy, not steep, and short. However, they were also very icy and snowy and we had to go slowly.

The infamous Walter's Wiggles. Now just imagine them snowy and icy

The infamous Walter’s Wiggles. Now just imagine them snowy and icy

Along the way, Ethan and I befriended siblings Ethan and Porsche. Ethan II advised Ethan I on ice hiking technique and the physics of friction. At the top of the Wiggles, we stopped at Scout Lookout while everyone else on the trail continued to Angel’s Landing. Because we didn’t have crampons or any other sort of shoe gear, we played it safe and did not go on.

Ethan and Eryn at Scout Lookout

Ethan and Eryn at Scout Lookout

Ethan and I started down the canyon ahead of Mom and Dad. To take on icy Walter’s Wiggles, we slid down on our feet with our hands behind us, in the form of a crab. This worked well, but Ethan abandoned this approach when some grown men were coming down behind us. In his pride, he continued on down a switchback and out of my sight. Then the two men behind me, who were going much faster than me, exclaimed, “Are you all right?? What happened?”

That was when I saw Ethan, who was grimacing and clutching his left wrist. After assuring him that nothing was broken based on his mobility, the men continued on. And so did we.

We carefully picked our way down to Zion Lodge. We peeked in there and then returned to our hotel, where Mom and Dad set about trying to find a clinic that worked with our insurance. Mom and Ethan finally left for a clinic 40 minutes away. There, they determined that his radius was in fact fractured all the way through, though they only had to put him in a brace because the bone is still aligned.

The worst part about all this is that Ethan will still be able to take notes in AP government as he is right-handed (though he won’t be able to play the piano, saxophone, or guitar).

Home at Last

We have been home a while and have mostly settled back into ‘normal’ activities. We can now spend time with friends that we haven’t seen for a year.

We are home…and I like it.

Welcome Home!!!

If you are on the Pacific coast time for the US, then we woke up at 4 pm yesterday evening when we woke up Greece time at 2 am. We got onto a plane and flew to Frankfurt, and then on to Seattle. We drove down in our rental car to Aunt Linda’s house and are spending the night.

We are back in the US!

Five Days in the Future: Home

With only five days (!!!!) left on our trip (hopefully), we are suddenly looking at a massive pile-up of things to do when we get home (and even before then). To dump some of the load off our (*ahem*… my parents’) shoulders, here are five:

  1. For Dad: Finish our Shutterfly picture book. With Mom, Ethan, and I choosing pictures from each place, he only has Crete and the back cover to complete. I really like this picture book because (a) it has a lot of pictures of me and (b) there is a lot of pink and (c) almost all the pictures I chose passed Dad’s inspection and made it into this draft.
  2. For Dad: Buy a car. This has been very stressful, but it seems to be winding down and hopefully we’ll be able to drive our very own car up our very own driveway in five loooooong days.
  3. For all of us: I’m really excited about this one, because I made a huge, 101-item shopping list that is pink. Seriously. I’m a list-maker. But this list is very important: we need to eat, of course, so it will be used and I am pretty sure that 91, if not 101, items on this list will be crossed off. We will be stopping at Target, Costco, and Safeway on the way home. Items on this list include PopTarts, yogurt, Red Baron frozen pizza, Moose Tracks ice cream, apples, pasta, pistachios, yeast, maple syrup, and cucumbers, as well as seven non-food items including paper towels and postage stamps.
  4. For all of us: Unpack, unpack, unpack. Dad is the self-appointed box carrier, meaning he will bring down the boxes from upstairs and Mom, Ethan, and I will unpack and organize (yippee!). We all hope he won’t fall, but I think Mom will make sure he’s not wearing socks.
  5. For Mom and me: On Friday, June 21, Mom and I have an appointment with a counselor at one of the nearby public high schools to learn more about it. My High School Dilemma has not yet been solved, unfortunately, but I don’t think it has a lot of importance during this next week, barring this one-hour meeting.

Ciao!

Final Country

Now that we are in Greece, we are nearing the end of our trip. In just a month we will be home. For us, a month seems pretty short, but that is still a lot of time for experiencing Athens and Crete.

We finished up France and Switzerland last weekend. Both were great, though a lot of the Alps were “closed” due to snow until the day after we left. Oh well.

Our Grecian experience has started out well. The weather is warm (compared to the past several months) and the food is quite tasty. This is going to be a good month.

French Village Life

130423 25614 FR Semur-en-Auxois, River ArmanconWe have taken up residence in Semur-en-Auxois, a medieval town of about 4,500 souls in the Burgundy region of France. The first several days were gloriously sunny, but it then rained for a couple of days. In this photograph, you can see our white house, just left of centre on the river Armançon. This is providing a good base for exploring the area, and a comfortable place to catch up on things left undone during our hectic days in Paris. Read Ethan’s and Eryn’s posts for more details.

La Rive Gauche

130416 23934 FR Paris, RER train from CDG airport, Eryn, SusanAfter a short flight from Fes, we arrived in Paris where we will stay a week before heading out to the French countryside to stay in a village. We are installed on the Left Bank, on the southern shore of the Seine, in the 5th Arrondissement, just across from Notre Dame cathedral. It is a great location, if a bit tourist-infested. The costs of things has been a bit sobering after Morocco. $50 for the half-hour train ride from the airport, for example; whereas in Fes, a half hour in a taxi ran about 15-18 dirhams, or $2. Oh well.

Lots to see and do here, and the weather seems to be cooperating.

For more details, check out Eryn’s and Ethan’s Notes.

Cast Off

Mom is relieved to announce that her cast is finally off.

It turned into a four-country trauma (Argentina, Chile, Peru, Morocco) but finally ended this morning at a clinic. After the cast was removed, her PT (Physical Torture) began. She now has to go the clinic three times a week for the next three weeks for PT.

We’re all glad that she can use her right arm– now she can wash dishes again!

Four For Four

In twenty-eight hours, we rode four different airplanes and were on four different continents: we started our trip at 2 in the morning on March 21, when we got in a van to go to Lima’s airport. By 5, we were in the air on our way north to Panama City. On the way we crossed over the equator, putting us in Earth’s northern half for the first time in three months.

After a two-hour stop in Panama, we were in yet another Boeing on our way to Newark, New Jersey, USA. We were required to go through customs and immigration, naturally, but that put us “officially” on a second continent. The next flight landed in Lisbon, Portugal, this morning and we went through customs and immigration there to get to the lounge. So we had “officially” been on three continents.

The last flight was short– from Lisbon to Casablanca, Morocco. As soon as we hit the public part of the airport, we had hit our fourth continent after four flight segments and thirty hours of being awake.

And we’re still not in bed.

And now for Peru

Today we left Arica in northern Chile. After a few hours in the airport and a few minutes on the plane, we arrived in Arequipa, Peru. We will be staying here a few days before heading up to the highlands, Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Amazon jungle.

Hello Chile

We said goodbye to Argentina and hello to Chile yesterday. A short 8-hour bus ride (including 2 hours of border officialdom) took us across the Andes and into the Chilean lake district and the small city of Valdivia.

Don’t cry for us

We are now in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. We traveled last weekend from Cape Town to Dubai. We visited there for a couple of days then flew on to BsAs.

Happy New Year!

Our time in South Africa is drawing to a close. Tomorrow we head to Dubai for a week or so whilst on our way to Argentina. We have been six months in countries that drive on the left-hand side of the road, but will be amongst right-siders for the rest of our trip. methinks.

At this point in our travels, we have traversed about 82 degrees of latitude (from 47 degrees north to 35 degrees south), and 223 degrees of longitude (123 degrees west to 14 degrees east), many of those degrees twice as we’ve flown to a fro. Not around the world yet, but making good progress.

Decisions

Quote

“For a dying man it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water, convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side.”
                          -Doctor Christiaan Barnard, the first surgeon to perform a human-to-human heart transplant

 

Here We Come…

We finally officially immigrated into the Republic of South Africa today, although we kept switching back and forth between South Africa and Botswana on the road today. We have a few more visa troubles, but these are relatively minor compared to the India troubles. (Thank goodness.)

Where to look

We seem to have settled into a division of labor here on the away team. Eryn and Ethan do most of the scribbling; click on their pages for daily updates of our goings on. Susan does occasional thematic entries, presented on her page. And Jerry works the photographs, a very small subset of which are on the Photos page. Enjoy.

India Driving

We had heard stories about driving in Thailand and some of its challenges. I must say that Thai driving is extremely civilized when compared to Indian. While lanes and road rules are suggestions in Thailand, they are irrelevant in India. Folks go both directions around traffic circles. And both directions on each side of dual-carriageway highways. I haven’t seen anyone stop for a red light yet. And with monsoon, there can be 1-2 feet of water on the roads in town. Traffic includes everything from guys pushing their handcarts, horses, donkeys, cattle, buffalo, camels, elephants, cars, and monster trucks and buses. In Agra, most streets were two lanes, which means generally 6 vehicles across, in random order of direction-of-travel. And everybody is tooting their horns constantly. Since there is no room for rearview mirrors, people just announce their presence with honking. Spend a few days here and Thai driving will be relaxing.

Television in Lao PDR

Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a Marxist-Leninist communist country. So it was with some amusement that we observed the entertainment provided in the airport. As we were leaving via the Vientiane International Airport, we sat in the departures area and watched parts of an episode of “Criminal Minds” on the Fox channel. It was in black-and-white, so possibly pirated from Thailand.

But still, watching Fox in a government installation in a communist country has a certain richness to it.

Bangkok Impressions

After only a week in this city, it is a bit presumptuous to summarize it, but this is my web site, so I will presume anyway.

City of Angels  Bangkok is a bit of paradise. Its Thai name (Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit (กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลก ภพนพรัตน์ ราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์ มหาสถาน อมรพิมาน อวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะ วิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์)) designates it the City of Angels, among other things. I think you have to look a bit harder these days for its heavenly virtues, what with 20 million denizens in the metropolitan area, but it is still there.

Motorcycles  There are lots of motorcycles plying the streets of town. That eases congestion a bit. It is interesting to watch as they weave through all the cars at traffic signals so that the first several dozen vehicles at any intersection is a mass of cycles. In Spain, we were annoyed by the way folks adjusted the exhaust systems of their motorbikes so that they sounded like hoards of angry wasps. In Bangkok, the motorcycles are nice and quiet. Much more pleasant.

Clothing  Even in the hot, humid days of summer, Bangkokians wear long pants, even jeans, when wandering about the city. The shorts-wearers are tourists. If ever there was a place that deserved a more lenient dress code, this is it.

Bilinguality  Bangkok has language issues. Much signage is in both Thai and American English. But few of the Thais we met are comfortable with spoken English. On one hand they are proud of their heritage and language. On the other hand, they are inveterate shoppers and technology users, and brands and the Internet are primarily English-based. We met school children at tourist sites whose assignment was to interview Americans. We are easy enough to pick out of the crowd and they had a set list of questions. I sensed that most of our answers were not understood, but it was a start.

Traffic  There is lots of traffic.

Public Transport  The public transport is not as robust as this visitor would like. They have one underground metro line (MRT), two elevated “SkyTrain” (BTS) lines, one bus rapid transit (BRT) line, and ferries that ply the river. We used all of them but it can take a long time to get between points, and a lot of the city is only served by a regular (complicated and non-English) bus system. And the various systems do not have integrated ticketing or schedules. But at least they are air conditioned, which can be wonderful after a long walk from some city destination. Our flat is located at the Wat Pariwat BRT station, so at least it was convenient for us to enter the system.

Con Artists  Some of the cons in Bangkok are quite famous. One of these is that an individual outside the Grand Palace will tell visitors that the Palace is closed due to a visiting dignitary, and wouldn’t you like to take a tuk-tuk ride to see other sites while waiting for it to re-open. We encountered just such an artist, dressed as a policeman (quite possibly a real policeman). We decided that we would enjoy the con since there is little downside. We got a cheap (40 baht/ $1.50) tuk-tuk ride through the government part of the city (administrative departments, king’s palace, etc.), saw a less-visited, but still interesting, temple, and then sat in air conditioned comfort for 10-15 minutes while a salesman tried to tell us we needed to buy more stuff to stick in our luggage. Not very convincing, and not very painful.

Shopping  Bangkok is big on shopping. It has several of the largest malls in Asia. The weekend market at Chatuchak has thousands (!) of little shops that add to the commercial mix. While we were not in a buying mood due to our limited budget and luggage space, we did do several of these just to experience the “culture.”

Carelessness  It seems to be a cultural quirk that people don’t care overmuch about getting the details right. English signage is wonderfully fractured, even though the city has many thousands of proficient English speakers. There are typos everywhere and no one seems to do the transliteration from Thai to English in any sort of consistent way. A visitor cannot tell if that is due to thoughtful differences of opinion or just sloppiness.

King  The king is obviously respected. Many shops proudly display a photo of him. There are many billboards honoring him. He is the ninth in his kingly line (Rama IX) and by far the longest reigning at 65 years. He is a presence in the city.

Heat  The Thais point out that it is hot in the city, so I guess it is OK for visitors to note this as well. Daytime temperatures peak at around 90F with some humidity thrown in. It can be uncomfortable, but not unbearable. We look at Delhi’s upcoming 110F daytime highs with trepidation.

Pink  Much to Eryn’s delight, Thailand is a pink country. Most taxis are pink. Many of the king’s official portraits have him dressed in pink shirt or jacket.

In Bangkok

We arrived at the Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport around one o’clock this morning. We were a couple of hours late due to airport construction and the associated air traffic congestion. After boarding in Tokyo, we sat on the ramp for an hour, then idled another hour over Thailand in a holding pattern. In the airport, everything worked just as planned. Immigration and customs were non-issues and we just sailed through. In the terminal we quickly found the DTAC mobile phone shop and obtained a couple of SIMs for our phones. Then we wandered down to where the hotel touts were holding court and the representative for our lodging was there and had our name on the list. We were in our rooms by 2am and blessedly horizontal shortly thereafter.

The pool at the curiously named BS Residence was very nice. It is one of the largest pools we have encountered at a hotel, and Ethan and Eryn had it to themselves.

At noon we took a taxi to our flat in Bangkok itself. We are at Rama III overlooking the Chao Phraya River. It took an hour for the drive, passing through two toll stations (25 and 45 baht). The taxi fare was 215 baht (about US$7). Upon arriving we walked around the corner to the 7-Eleven store and picked up some bottled water. Eighteen baht (about US$0.60) for a 2-liter bottle.

We could grow to like these Thai prices.

Thais generally tend toward the left side of the road when driving. However, there is some flexibility in driving rules in order to fit more vehicles on the roads. It occurred to us that we will not be in a right-driving country until we arrive in Argentina next January. It also occurred to us that having a taxi driver take us through town can be a real aid to intra-family civility. Our next chance to drive ourselves is in Australia in August, but that should be relatively benign given the wide-open spaces of the outback.

The time changes are interesting, if that is the right word. From Seattle to Tokyo is a 10-hour flight. We left at 1pm on Wednesday and landed at 3pm on Thursday. We arrived 26 hours after departing Seattle, what with time zones, date lines, and general relativity.

We had been warned about hot temperatures in Thailand, but so far things are not too bad. Today is generally in the 80s Fahrenheit, with 50% humidity. Warmer than we are used to in Oregon but far from unbearable.

We’re Off

We completed packing the house and getting out the door Monday, just two hours later than planned. Not bad.

Now we are between flights, sitting in Seattle’s airport, waiting for our fight to Narita.

So far, the travel dramas have been minor ones. At United Air Lines check-in, they couldn’t issue boarding passes until they had “proof” that we were going to leave Thailand someday. Since we are on a one-way ticket, it took a few minutes to figure that one out. Then their boarding pass printer decided that it had a 10-coupon limit. Let’s see: four passengers times three segments = 12 coupons. Oops. Susan could only get as far as Seattle while they rest of us go on to Bangkok. United is still struggling through the transition of their computer systems to Continental’s, so the legacy United agents at the counter were challenged by this. Another bunch of minutes and several agents later, all is swell and we can all go. Then at boarding this morning, we were informed that the adults cannot sit in their assigned exit row seats because we are unsafe, what with children elsewhere on the plane. So more boarding passes are produced, and we are on our way.

Life is getting simpler all the time. Now that we have our luggage in hand, we no longer have to decide what to pack or worrying about stuff fitting. It just works now. We’ll see how long this nirvana lasts.

Preparation

We leave home in a couple of days for our trip. The cars have been sold. Our friends who will be staying in our home are slowly moving their stuff into the garage and closets. The house is 90% packed.

Departure is getting close.

As we have talked about our trip with friends and colleagues, we have been asked several common questions. Herewith are some thoughts on these queries.

  • “How do you pack for a year?” The short answer is, “lightly”. In our case, we have decided that we do not want the drama of lugging huge amounts of baggage around. We are doing carry-on only: one small piece of baggage and a “personal item” as they say at the airlines. Two of the pieces of luggage have wheels so that we can consolidate the four bags onto wheels for treks through airports and on sidewalks. All four pieces have backpacking straps for when rolling is inconvenient. Inside these bags are nestled about a week’s worth of clothing. We have endeavored to get quick-dry items, both because the dry quickly (we hope) and because they are generally nylon and therefore lighter and thinner. We all have ultralight down jackets for colder climates, but they will not escape the luggage for at least six months as we are starting out in hot places. Then there are the bulky medicine supplies, mostly doxycycline for malaria, but also several types of antibiotics and altitude pills for our time in the Andes. As a dyed-in-the-wool gadget guy, we are also carting along a lightweight computer, Kindles for all, GPS, a couple of cameras, and the associated cords, batteries, and memory cards. And the quart ziplock containing our liquids and gels. (How our lives and vocabularies have changed since September 11, 2001.) If we need anything that was not packed in the bags, then that is why they invented credit cards.
  • “I am so jealous. How did you manage to do it?”I am afraid that I am not very gentle in my reply to this question. First, I question the premise – I suspect folks are not really jealous. Curious, perhaps. Certainly envious of avoiding work for a while. But I think that most people would far rather spend their time and treasure on other things than a year-long trip. Travel is very uncomfortable. Human nature seeks a sense of belonging to a place. All cultures have homes. And humans like to accumulate stuff. Long-term travel rubs human nature the wrong way in at least these two areas. So I think that my interlocutors are really quite satisfied to spend their resources on homes and cars and friends and family. All good things, just different than travel. The second part of this question (“how did you manage it?”) is a bit easier to answer. It is just about priorities. It takes a good-sized stash of cash to do such a trip. This is neither easy nor trivial. We have been setting aside since our kids were toddlers, 10+ years ago. While we have lived well, we drove old cars that we bought used. We have not landscaped our house. Both parents have worked, even when it might have been more fulfilling to have one be stay-at-home. I believe most of my associates could do such a trip if they made it a priority. There is nothing heroic in our ability to do this.And there is nothing wrong with those who choose different priorities. That is what makes this a most interesting world in which to live. Everyone has different goals in life, creating all the different people and societies that can make travel fun and interesting.
  • “How do you plan such a trip?” Pretty much the same way you climb a mountain: one step at a time. Against the best advice of people who know better than us, we have planned our trip in some detail. We have all the transit legs planned and tickets purchased, as much as possible. While major airlines let you ticket 330 days in advance, some smaller airlines only ticket 6 months out. Indian trains allow booking 120 days before travel, and buses in South America generally do two months of advance sales. So when we depart next week, we will have all the transits planned up to arrival in Morocco next March, with the exception of some bus and plane segments in South America. The other area where we have planned in excruciating detail is our lodging. Some have suggested that it is great to travel without much in the way of plans. This gives you flexibility to go and see and do things that you learn about during the trip. We decided to take a different approach. We are staying in each place for more time (generally 1-3 weeks) to enable spontaneous exploration, but every night is booked through April. And the remaining nights will get booked over the next couple of months. We have convinced ourselves that all this planning is good because it lets us experience where we are instead of spending the whole year in a struggle to find accommodation and transport. We will see how it goes. The area we have not planned is the activities we will enjoy. That is where we have enabled ourselves to see what happens in each place and go with the flow.
  • “How much does it cost?” While lots of people want to ask us this question, few are actually brave enough to do so. In the spirit of beating around the bush, I will leave this unanswered for now. We have a budget that approximates the price of three middling new cars, but it will be more interesting to see how we live with it. We are starting out in Asia which seems relatively inexpensive. Later we spend the Christmas holidays in Cape Town, at the other end of the expense spectrum. In general, the monthly budget is about one third lodging, one third food, and one third ground transportation and activities.
  • “When are you coming home?” This one has a non-satisfying answer of “sometime next June.” You can only get airline tickets 330 days before the flight. That means that we cannot buy our homebound flights until about August of this year. We are leaving home with no specific, concrete plans to return. Sounds ominous when you say it that way, no?

Yesterday (Friday) was Susan’s last day at her school. She is a high school teacher. On Monday, we leave home. Lots to do and only two days to complete it.

Back to packing we go.