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).

What’s New?

I’m glad you asked.

Since Christmas Eve, we’ve been quite busy. Let’s start at the beginning.

On Wednesday, January 1, we piled into the car for an eleven-hour ride to Schweitzer Ski Resort, where we spent four nights with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Five of the nine of us skied on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Saturday was by far the best day, as it was sunny and clear. Meanwhile, back in the cabin, my dad cooked all day. On Greek night (Saturday night), he made everything from tzatziki and pita bread to stuffed peppers and white and milk chocolate mousse with dark chocolate ganache, strawberry coulis, and a raspberry on top.

photo 1

It was delicious.

Soon, it was back to school. On January 25, Ethan’s 8th grade class had a talent show/auction fundraiser, and I contributed to both parts. For the cake auction, I baked a dozen chocolate-zucchini cupcakes with cinnamon buttercream. They sold for $60- up $20 from my cookies of 2012. I also asked my friend Charlotte to play the piano while I played the flute. Our song “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen won first place.

photo 2

 

The following week was filled with tests, as it was end-of-semester finals for me. On the last day (Wednesday), I was thrilled when my band teacher asked me to join the school’s symphony, which is the most advanced instrumental group at my school. The next week was nerve-wracking, as I hardly knew anyone in the group and had to sight-read all the music. It’s been over a month-and-a-half since then, however, and I know that I have improved.

Last Friday (March 14, Pi Day) was the start of what I dubbed Music Week. On that day, I got to school early to join the symphony at South Eugene High School to play in a festival. It was our first attempt to qualify for the OSAA State Championships. We didn’t make it, unfortunately, but we had played well and our scores reflected that. Monday had piano lessons (as usual), and on Tuesday Ethan had his guitar lesson (also as usual). I was excited for Wednesday, which was the 12-hour trip to Ashland, Oregon, for the symphony’s second chance at states. We performed sub-par, and we returned home dejected. However, Thursday night’s amazing orchestra/symphony/band/jazz band concert more than made up for it, even though we knew our scores (which we hadn’t yet received) wouldn’t be good.

Then we found out today that we won districts by one point and had automatically qualified for the state championships, which are in May. As the only flute player in the symphony, I am terrified.

But I made a cake!

photo 4

And it was pretty darn good.

Ciao!

Putt-Putt Police

Mom, Ethan, and I went on the “more easy” mini golf course (the other option was plain old “easy”) today. None of us beat the Junior’s or Men’s record of the day—41—and none of us beat the Women’s—48—either. Mom earned 57 points, Ethan was second with 66, and I won (by getting the most points, of course) with 83. My worst two holes—numbers 14 and 3—were cut short by our 10-hit limit (thank goodness).

Ethan was the only one to hit a hole-in-one—coincidentally on #14, which, as you should recall, I bombed. Mom got 5, making our average for that hole 5.33. My best holes were 12, 13, and 17. I scored 2 on each of those. On 12, each earned a 2. For 13, I actually received the fewest points while Ethan got 3 and Mom got 4. On 17, Mom and I got 2 while Ethan got 3. Mom’s best holes were 1, 8, 12, and 17. Her average for the first nine was three.

Her worst holes were 3, 14, and 16—she got 5 on each. Ethan’s best hole was 14 (getting the only hole-in-one) while his worst was 3, where he got 8. (Yeah, 3 was not our best hole…)

Ethan was sometimes a little too flexible about how far away his black golf ball was from the edge of the course, so I—the honorary Putt-Putt Police—“helped” him place it in the correct position.

Ciao!

…Where Thousands of Butts Have Gone Before

We first went to Oudtshoorn to check out the Highgate Ostrich Farm, but it was inexplicably closed. So we went to the Safari ostrich farm, where Mom, Ethan, and I rode ostriches while Dad took pictures (he’s already ridden twice before). Then we went back through Oudtshoorn to the Cango Caves, one of the Seven Wonders of Southern Africa.

We decided to do the 90-minute Adventure Tour verses the hour-long Standard Tour. That was probably our best choice because the path was very boring (except for the Bushman setting with a leopard in the background) up until the Standard Tour entered and the Adventure Tour began. “Watch out for the animals in here. We have crocodiles, snakes, and bats, so be careful,” our guide, Christopher, warned. Mom started freaking out when he laughed. “Okay, there are no crocodiles or snakes, but there are bats.”

First up is Jacob’s Alley- 172 steps- followed by King Solomon’s Mines. From there, we went up a steep metal ladder to the Lumbago Walk. Ethan and I were glad to be right behind Christopher. If we had been behind all the slow adults, we would not have enjoyed ourselves as much. The Lumbago Walk is basically a low area that ends up in the Crystal Palace and up to the Tunnel of Love. The Tunnel of Love is named because it “gives you a loving squeeze.” Ethan and I were fine, but some of the other members (possibly including our parents) were squished. Following being squished, we passed through the Banqueting Hall and the Devil’s Workshop before hitting the Devil’s Chimney. Ethan went first, followed by me, Mom, Dad, and the rest of our group.

The Devil’s Chimney is a ten-foot-long, two-feet-wide upward crawl. Mom had a hard time, but the rest of us came out fine. Then we slid on our hands and knees through the Postbox, meeting up with Christopher, who had taken the easy way round. We then walked to the Coffin, went in this time, and followed the cave (including the Tunnel of Love) back out.

My title today comes from when we were sliding down into the Ice Chamber, leading up to the Coffin. The rock was worn smooth because so many people had stood/sat/slid in the exact same places over the years, thus causing my quote that became my title.

Ciao!

Raining Cats & Birds

The Tenikwa Center turned out to be a flop. Even though the pictures used for advertisement purposes showed people getting up close and personal with the cats, we were never allowed to touch them. Our guide was asked the question “Where are cheetahs found in South Africa?” and couldn’t answer. They didn’t even have any black-footed cats, which are so cute! They did have marabou storks, meerkats, blue cranes, ducks, cheetahs, a leopard, caracals, African wild cats, and servals.

At Birds of Eden, we saw not only of the many types of birds but also the golden-handed tamarins, a primate species native to South and Central America, and a blue duiker, a tiny antelope that has been known to eat rodents. My favorite bird was probably the Galah cockatoo, which was our first and last bird sighting. It was the same one and hung out around the door area.

We then went on a hike to see another groot boom (big tree)in the forest. After that we returned to Knysna exhausted, esurient, and dying for a Cadbury bar.

Ciao!

Bouncy Bridges

We’re going on forced death marches each day we spend in Knysna. Today our appointed death march was very short, though: 959 meters. That was at the Garden of Eden. We didn’t see any mammals (other than people) there. We did see mammals (rock dassies) at the mouth of the Storms River. We walked a kilometer each way to a suspension bridge that crossed the river. There were even baby dassies, but I didn’t see those. I was too intent on getting back to the car.
Ethan and I stayed on the bridges a total of five minutes waiting for the people to leave the pictures that Dad was trying to take. We held on to the cables, and I ended up with lots of dry salt on my hands—not a very nice feeling.
The suspension bridge was the second today. The other was over the Storms River too, but it was an arch, and cars could go on it. Legend has it that the man who oversaw all the construction (the engineer only came down from Italy for the laying of the arch) said that he would commit suicide if the arches didn’t come together perfectly. When they were lowered together, there was a half-meter gap. He dramatically jumped off the bridge, but a “private investigator” discovered that he lived and directed the repair.
Engineers also discovered that the center of gravity on the arch was a half-meter off center. Oops.
Ciao!

Unhappy at The Haven

Ethan was very sad to have to say good-bye to Sophia and Josi this morning… not. Josi didn’t even show up, and we only saw Sophia after breakfast when she showed off her aerials on the trampoline. Ethan probably was sad to say good-bye to Rocky, Socks, Teddy, Strider, Alto, the horses’ handler, Dayne, and the dog, Rambo.

We weren’t sad to leave the hubbub of the Christmas-party-holding company of forty who ate a lot of meat, bread, and croissants at breakfast. Our favorite village health researcher, Steena, had breakfast after we left. Last night she ate with Dayne. Matthew, the cook, walked by after taking our drinks orders (two still waters, one Appletizer, and one Red Grapetizer) and said, “Aren’t you part of the staff?” Dayne nodded and said, “Yeah, you can arrest me later.”

The staff table was mainly empty last night. Only Sharmane, the girls’ teacher, and Brandon ate while we were there. Sophia and Josi must have been kicked out because of the party.

We also said good-bye to Ashley, the other cook who made the lettuce-and-apple soup, at breakfast. He seemed surprised that we were already leaving for Knysna. We’re not already in Knysna, though. It’s six o’clock and we’ve been on the road since nine. Our GPS (aka the voice of the Australian Karen) predicts our arrival to be in three hours. That’s twelve hours of driving for only 470 miles (750 kilometers). That’s because we spent two hours (only forty kilometers, or twenty-five miles) on bad Transkei roads this morning.

Ciao!

Thankful that the Day is Finally Over

After a long, grueling death march to the waterfall, Ethan and I played Monopoly (it’s the South African version, so instead of railroads it has international airports in Durban, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, and Johannesburg, instead of waterworks it has ‘water board,’ instead of just English it has both English and Afrikaans, and instead of dollars it uses rand in denominations of 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, and 50000).

Earlier on the trampoline, I had watched Ethan jump while Josi, the five-year-old girl who lives here, talked to me. She informed me that Sophia is seven, when their birthdays were, and that she’s homeschooled. She also told me a joke:

There was a family on a plane that was going to crash. The parents and pilot were worried they were going to die, so they talked about what they wanted to do most. “I wish I could have my baby,” the pregnant mother said. “I wish I could be a dad again,” said the dad. “I wish I could fly more planes,” said the pilot. Then the mom, dad, and pilot got in the parachutes (there were only three) and jumped out of the plane, leaving the four-year-old son up in the air. When the mom and dad got home, they found the boy in his room, watching TV. They asked him how he got there, and he said, “Me no stupid, me no dumb, me hang onto Daddy’s bum. When he go toot, I go zoom! And that’s how I get home so soon.”

Now Ethan and I returned to the trampoline, soon to be joined by Sophia. She told us the horses’ names (Socks, Elter, Teddy, Rocky, and Strider) and that Socks was sore and couldn’t be ridden because he had an operation a few days ago. She asked, “Are our horses boys or girls?” I asked if they were both. “Just guess!” she said. Ethan answered, “They’re all boys.”

“How’d you know?” Sophia asked. Ethan smiled. “I read it on the website.” Sophia groaned. “Why’d my mom have to put it there? It’s broken! Are you mad?” This last part was to Ethan, because he was starting to go down the slide on the play structure. (Sophia had told him before that it was broken.) After some more Monopoly, we went back out, this time with the intent to play table tennis. The table wasn’t down there, so we told Sylvia at the front desk. She said she would have Dayne and Brandon take it in.

So Sophia, Ethan, and I played Clue and Scrabble. No one won Clue because, well, we all accused incorrectly. I was winning Scrabble when we stopped with 121 points. Sophia had 78 and Ethan had 77 (although Sophia only got that many because I helped her). Then we went back out to the trampoline and jumped some more. Josi came and joined us. We stayed like that until it started getting dark.

Ciao!

A Safe Haven

Ethan is SO excited: we’re finally at the famed Haven. Apparently it was his favorite place when he was in South Africa back in 2009 with Dad. There is a pool, golf course, trampoline, table tennis set, and beach here, along with many types of animals including white rhinos (which are still hunted in this national park) and zebra. The male zebra, Zebbie, who was hanging out with the horses three-and-a-half years ago,was shot on account of his “amorous escapades” with the horses and donkeys here. So Ethan was a little disappointed that they hadn’t trained Zebbie to be ridden.  We had a supper of lettuce and apple soup, bread, pumpkin, potato, spinach, rice, and a bread-and-butter bread pudding with custard. Yes, I did say “lettuce and apple soup.” To be totally honest with you, I would not advise it to you unless you  love creamed spinach from Safeway. But the dessert was delicious, and we left totally stuffed.

Ciao!

Some R&R

After our long and grueling hike yesterday, we need some rest and relaxation. We got to sleep in and have a late (9 a.m.) breakfast. We left to give the laundry to the laundry company.

Then we went to Falcon Ridge, home to raptors of the world. We saw a peregrine falcon (Squawk), a spotted eagle owl (Hooter), an African fish eagle, two kites, two Harris hawks, and a Wahlberg’s eagle named Hugo. Ethan held Squawk and Hooter. During the sister Harris hawks’ demonstration, all four dogs stayed well away. Allison, one of the bird handlers, said that even the youngest dog, Kaecee, had learned to stay away from these raptors because they had both ridden on his back at one point.

At the next place, we got to touch and hold a tailless whip scorpion, an alligator, a leopard gecko, an African pygmy hedgehog, several types of snakes, and a tarantula. The owner (we’ll call him Rick) had a black mamba, but obviously we didn’t get to cuddle with her. He also had puff adders, and he decided that Dad hadn’t seen a puff adder yesterday; he’d seen a berg adder.

Rick even had a diamond-back rattlesnake and a California king snake! He said that rattlesnakes and puff adders are popular pets in South Africa. He also said that there are some snakes who give live birth. This includes the puff adder.

So today we got to see some Raptors & Reptiles.

Ciao!

In Egypt…

The Sphinx, our first and original destination, was all but ignored when we were in front of it. Once above, though, we sat on the Sphinx’s head and ate snacks. Ethan and I played 20 Questions, and it was a baboon. We saw two later on the hike after passing Breakfast Stream and a kilometer or so of trail. We went down a steep hill for about two hours. Mom’s knees couldn’t take it, so she had to use a stick.

Dad was lucky enough to see a puff adder. He told Mom about it, and she freaked out.

Ciao!

Drakensberg Down Day

Today was a ‘Down Day,’ which means we did schoolwork, sorted pictures, and surfed the web until 13:00.We left for the Spar (a grocery store) in Winterton and to look at Cathedral Peak. We didn’t enter the Drakensberg UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of seven in the world to be chosen as a World Heritage Site for three reasons (in this case, geology, vegetation, and archaeology), because we weren’t wearing hiking shoes and it was four o’clock.

So we drove back to our house, stopping occasionally to look at birds, and working on a newspaper crossword brought from home.

Ciao!

Dinner & Dialogue

“Ah, he’s your tour guide,” Lee said. Ethan was explaining where we were going on our trip to the German couple at the table next to us. We were dining on pasta, chicken, and fish (not each for everyone!) at Mistyque restaurant. The German couple—I’ll call them Mr. and Mrs. Smith—went on holiday for six weeks every year. Their favorite places in South Africa are Kruger and the area around it.

As Mr. Smith and Dad were talking, Ethan and I were predicting that our “life story” (going around the world for a year) would come out. We didn’t know that it would, in fact, be Ethan who would reveal this deep, dark secret of ours. Actually, Mrs. Smith asked, “So, are you on a world tour?” To which Ethan enthusiastically replied, “Yes!” He listed off all the countries, much to my chagrin (I love to be the one to list the fourteen countries), ending in, “So maybe we’ll get to Greece, but with all the unrest right now, it’s hard to tell.”

The Smiths have traveled extensively, visiting places including Cuba, South Africa (of course), Turkey, Chile, and Spain. We swapped travel stories throughout dinner, but finally had to leave, using the excuse of “getting the kiddies to bed.”

When we were checking out, Lee talked to us more about what we were doing, why, etc. He said that Ethan was big for eleven (ha) and that, if we had had any Steelers gear, he would have given us dinner just for that. Turns out he’s a big Penn State and Florida fan after working in Pennsylvania. He told us that Oregon was playing Stanford tonight. If it’s the Ducks, I’m cheering for Oregon. If it’s the Beavers… maybe not.

Ciao!

Calling Cameras in Kruger

Today we left Kruger. While in the park, we feasted our eyes, ears, and noses on the park. We saw lots of animals, we heard the bird calls, screaming cicadas, groaning hippos, and roaring lions, and we smelled the flowers (the park was in full bloom from the recent rains) and dead hippo. The primary point, though, was the animal life. We saw more of any animal than in any of the other parks, excepting gemsbok and springbok, which we didn’t see, and giraffes (in Etosha we saw 91; we saw only 75 in Kruger).

Here is my total:

2,781 black-faced impala
564 African elephants
483 blue wildbeeste
419 zebra
94 Cape buffalo
75 giraffes
67 Nile crocodiles
59 hippos
48 waterbuck
27 lions
13 white rhinos
11 bushbuck
10 spotted hyenas
8 African wild dogs
8 nyala
7 scrub hares
6 cheetahs
2 small-spotted genets
2 honey badgers
2 leopards
1 large-spotted genet
1 Sharpe’s grysbok
1 black-backed jackal

Beyond these, we also saw baboons, vervet monkeys, leopard tortoises, banded mongoose, a duiker, three steenbok, ground agamas, and, apart from the many types of birds including the Southern ground hornbill, Marabou stork, pied kingfisher, Egyptian goose, helmeted guineafowl, and Verreaux eagle-owl, my very favorite animal sighting: a puff adder.

Ciao!

Sorry at Sunset

Tonight we saw a caracal! And a leopard! And a serval! And a civet!

Not. We did see a sunset (good, since it was a sunset drive), impala, zebra, blue wildbeeste, waterbuck, hippos, the dead hippo with the dozens of Nile crocodiles, scrub hares, and birds, but we didn’t see any carnivores. We saw a leopard tortoise, which Cecilia, our driver, told us was one of the Little Five, whose names mimic those of the Big Five: leopard tortoise, ant lion, rhino’s horn beetle, buffalo weaver, and elephant shrew.

Cecilia seemed genuinely sorry that we didn’t see anything interesting after waiting an extra fifteen minutes for the last two people to arrive. We were heading out the gate when someone pointed them out.

Before the drive, Ethan and I had swam in the pool, seen many of the bushbucks who live in Letaba Camp, and watched a crested barbet gobble up a mopane worm.

Ciao!

Animated Animal Sightings

“Ooh, look, some of those impala are preggie,” Mom said.

Preggie?” I asked.

“Preggers.”

Pregnant.”

Ethan laughed. We were driving from Letaba rest camp after resting (it is a rest camp, after all!) up after our tiresome drives this morning. We got up at 3:30 to go on a morning drive, and we saw eight lions, thirteen elephants, twenty-three giraffes, a small-spotted genet, and a Sharpe’s grysbok. We returned to bungalow 117 and had breakfast before finally leaving Olifants.

The drive was about forty kilometers, and we saw Cape buffalo, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, elephants, wildebeeste, zebra, impala, giraffes, waterbuck, a male bushbuck, and lots of different types of birds. The next drive was when we saw the pregnant impala. We also saw a new animal for Kruger: banded mongoose.

When we drove up after I shouted “Stop!”, they ran up to the car, mouths wide open. These squeazels (as we’ve dubbed them- a cross between squirrels and weasels) were bigger than any we’d ever seen before. Just as I rolled down my window to take a picture, they retreated into the shade. After many repeats of this, we discovered that it was a raptor of some sort that was scaring the mongoose back and forth. We left after having taken lots of pictures.

On the bridge over the Letaba River where you could get out, we saw baboons, waterbuck, birds (of course!), and a couple who told us about crocodiles trying to get at a dead, bloated hippo. So after we were done on the bridge, we followed them and saw the hippo. There was another live hippo next to it, and we were told that sometimes the crocs tried to eat it, too.

Ciao!

Lots & Lots of Olifants

Today we saw over one hundred elephants in all different places. The first sighting was on the tarred road at a dam. One herd of elephants had just finished playing in the water, and we stayed and watched the next herd move in. The hippos in the dam had moved off to one side, as if they were afraid of the elephants (a sensible move, since a full-grown bull elephant could easily squash a hippo). We also saw a marabou stork there. On our morning drive at Lower Sabie, we learned that marabou storks pee on their legs to keep cool.

We continued on to a gravel road, where we came across three separate elephants, plus impala, two steenbok, waterbuck, giraffes, vervet monkeys, and a giant eagle-owl. We drove to part of a river where there was water (!!!) and stopped there, watching a herd of 33+ elephants drink. Mom was worried the whole time that an elephant would take it into its head to knock our car over. (None did.)

We saw some more elephants as we continued on, stopping at a bridge over a river to get out and look at birds. We continued on and arrived at camp around 1 o’clock, where I got to put up three dots on the sighting board: one for Cape buffalo today, one for elephants today, and one for a leopard on our night drive yesterday. We got Magnums (biscotti for Ethan, Mom, and me, and Death by Chocolate for Dad) and sat at the view point.

From there, we could see for miles—excuse me, kilometers. We saw giraffes, impala, hippo heads, waterbuck, zebra, and nineteen elephants. Eighteen of those crossed the river in two separate herds, and one was a lone bull wandering on the far side.

Oh, did I forget to mention what the name of the river was? And our camp?

Olifants, meaning elephants in Afrikaans.

Ciao!

Today We Saw a Leopard…

 

… tortoise. It was actually moving pretty quickly at the Elephants waterhole, where we did see elephants.
After going back onto the tar road (H2-1), we drove for five minutes before coming to five stopped cars.
“Leopard on the right!” Dad exclaimed.
“Yeah, right,” was the general reaction.
“What are you looking at?” Mom asked. “Uhm, there’s a leopard on each side. One just killed a warthog, I think…” was the helpful answer from a nearby car.
The leopard then crossed the road from left to right, causing some squealing. We backed up to look for the other leopard, but we couldn’t see it. The people in the car overlooking the leopard waved us up and pointed out the leopard to us. It was laying against a rock, with its spots providing good camouflage. We dubbed him Kinky, after his tail.
Suddenly we heard some squealing and turned to see a large, bleeding warthog run away, leaving us wondering why the leopard didn’t just kill it outright.
Kinky didn’t even blink.
Eventually he got up and walked down the road a kilometer before disappearing into the veld.
We continued on to Satara, where Mom, Ethan, and I had supper before all of us went on a night drive with twenty of our new closest friends.
My wish list for the night drive included  caracal, serval, rhino, and lion, because, if we saw the last two, we would have seen all Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo) in one day.
So we started out by seeing… IMPALA!!! (Gasp.) Then we saw a steenbok, some wildebeeste, a giant eagle-owl, and some more impala before coming across our first carnivorous mammal: a small-spotted genet. It was small and in a tree, but we saw it. Our next big animal was a male lion and another lion (but we only saw its eye-shine).
We saw hippos, a bushbuck and her baby, wildebeeste, and impala before I saw a large-spotted genet. (No one else did because I forgot to tell City, our driver, to stop.)
Even with all the racket we were making, we still saw a cat-like figure crossing the road: a leopard.
So I didn’t get to see all Big Five in one day, but seeing two totally unrelated leopards was awesome. We’ve gone to three game parks (Etosha, Kgalagadi, and Kruger) and we’ve seen at least one leopard in every one.
Ciao!

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

My alarm clock when off at 3:25 this morning. This was, sadly, no accident. We had a morning game drive to catch at four a.m. It would last three hours and we were supposed to see rare animals like leopards, genets, servals, and caracals.

We didn’t see any of those cat-like animals, but we saw three others: lions, hyenas, and cheetahs. The first we saw of these was a spotted hyena, which we saw after a marabou stork, steenbok, and some impala. It was walking towards a family of six cheetahs (a mom and her five cubs). The cubs were a few months old. Martie, our guide, said that the group she took on the morning drive the day before hadn’t seen the cheetahs, so she didn’t mention it to them when she stopped by their car after we saw the two female lions dozing on the road.

They moved off, but it wasn’t because they were intimidated by the two barking African wild dogs. “I don’t know what to say because I’ve never seen anything like this,” Martie said. “Usually wild dogs just move away from lions.”

Later on the tarred H4-2, Martie pointed out a bird and said, “We rangers have funny little things for birds to help us remember their names, like this one. We say it goes, ‘My mother is dead. My father is dead. Everyone is dead dead dead dead.” (“Dead dead dead dead” is the sound the bird makes.)

So our total before 7 o’clock this morning was…

1,000 impala
15 baboons
13 African elephants
08 nyala (“They aren’t usually seen this far south,” Martie said)
06 cheetahs
02 spotted hyenas
02 African wild dogs
02 lionesses
02 African fish eagles
01 bushbuck
01 common duiker
01 brown snake eagle
01 magpie shrike

Ciao!

Lots of Baby Hippos

“Look at it! It’s a baby hippo,” Ethan cried. “Sssh,” Dad hissed. “And what are you talking about? That’s no ‘baby hippo.’”

It wasn’t. It was a warthog, our third one today (and our third in Kruger, too). We saw more when we stopped to look at some vervet monkeys.

Warthogs weren’t our only W-animal today. Guess what it was, please. Walrus? Whale? Warbler?

Think again: wild dog. Officially known as the African wild dog, it was a first for all of us. It was called the ‘wild African dog’ on Fox News when the station reported on a group of the mauling a little boy to death on the USA’s east coast. These six were more docile. There was even a puppy!

Later on we visited the Hippo Pools, where we saw some hippos and a snake coiling around its food. We’re not sure what type of snake it was, though. On the way back up to the Crocodile River Road, we saw a car pulled over and stopped to see what the fuss was about. Turns out there was a smallish pride of lions near the road.

After Hippo Pools we visited the Crocodile Gate camp where used the ablution blocks and bought drinks (yellow fruit juice for Mother, 330 milliliters of Lime & Soda for Ethan, a can of Rock Shandy for Dad, and an ‘Orange Flavoured Drink’ by Fanta for me) and chocolate chip cookies. It was on the road up to Lower Sabie camp that we saw the first baby hippos.

We saw more at the Sunset Dam, where they were all silhouetted. Our plans for watching the movie after supper were dashed because no movie was showing. So now I’m writing instead.

Ciao!

Darth Vader

Since we went to three waterfalls yesterday (Mac Mac, Lisbon, and Berlin), I will mention that we visited those and Bridal Veil Falls this morning before driving to Kruger National Park.

After going through Numbi Gate and Reception, we drove several kilometers to Pretoriouskop, seeing [my first] four waterbuck along the way, plus an impala and several Cape glossy starlings.

After getting another Kruger guide book (the GPS [whose current voice is the Australian Karen] pronounced it “KROO-jer.” It’s pronounced “KROO-ger”), we got back on the road, not knowing that, before arriving at the Berg-en-Dal camp, we would see seven rhinos, eight African elephants (including two little ones who were play-fighting), two honey badgers (which are usually nocturnal), a pride of ten lions made up of three lionesses and their seven cubs, six of which were jumping around (Mom, shockingly, called them “feisty”) playing with someone’s tennis shoe, a mother and her four spotted hyena cubs, and innumerable kudu and springbok.

We arrived at Berg-en-Dal seven minutes before the gate closed. We put our stuff in our chalet and then had supper at the restaurant. For dessert we had chocolate cupcakes after Dad opened his presents (a movie, a pair of rhino, elephant, and lion socks, a South Africa polo shirt, comics from home, and a Cadbury bar). So he is now 52 and a very ou vader. Not Darth Vader, mind you, but ou vader, which means ‘old father’ in Afrikaans.

Ciao!

Diesel’s Dialogue

The people the people the people, people I’ve never seen before! They’re at the door!!! They’re small, which means I can jump up and lick their face. They taste like rain. What? Where are they going??? Back out???

Oh, here they come! (Whew.) I was worried I would never see them again. Oh, no! Where’s my stick?! Who took it?! What? Is it these two new people and the two who came in later? They’re all sitting at a table and—

Oh, look, it’s Alicia Keys on the TV. What? Where’d the TV go? Why is it all dark? Oh, mistress is lighting a candle. The food smells good, but my stick is better. Where is it? I swear I just put it here—

Oh it’s right here on this chair. C’mon. Hey, play with me, Small Non-Person! Please! Oh, please please please play with me. I’m so lonely. Even the men cussing at the bar don’t look at me. Please play with me! I’m so lonely and bor—

The TV is back on! But where is my stick? I put it on the floor! Where is it? Oh, it’s under that other table. Well, big person, don’t think you’ve fooled me! There. Ha! You see, I am smarter than—

Don’t you dare blow on my face Big Person!!!!!!! Here, I’ll blow in yours! How does that feel? Okay, I’m tired now. I’ll just lay right down and take a nap with my stick next to m—

Mmmf yffl… hmm? What’s that? My stick! My precious stick! Where did it go???!!!! Help me, please! I’m looking all around the table but I see no stick, and—

What? You’re leaving? Mistress called me over and I didn’t even get to say good-bye. Well, I’ll say it now:

Ciao!

Out from Oom Dennis’s (and Tannie Mariejtie’s)

Canimambo is a Portuguese-Mozambican restaurant. The three of us had chicken, while Dad ordered a Greek salad.

This came after hours of driving from Oom Dennis’s house to the Wild Forest Inn here near Graskop. We finally left Koster after getting the tire changed, saying good-bye to Tannie Marietjie’s parents, Tannie Marietjie herself, Griet, Dinky, Bessie, and the other dogs, and Oom Dennis, and buying groceries at Choppies. We drove through Pretoria to see the jacaranda trees, which had just passed their prime but were still pretty, and the Union Buildings (government offices).

The weather- thunderstorms and in the 60s- came as a bit of a shock after warm Upington and Koster. It seems like Oregon…

Ciao!

Dog Day

There were seven dogs: Tikki, Bloemie (meaning ‘flower’ in Afrikaans), Bokiche, one Ethan nicknamed “Biggie,” and the other three: a little old dog a year or two younger than the blind and deaf Bokiche, a spotted mutt in the back (I’ll call him Captain), and Biggie’s sister. Biggie and his sister (I’ll call her Rooijana) are the puppies of Mr. and Mrs. Koster’s Bessie and Tannie Marietjie’s brother’s dog (I’ll call him Dennye), making them the siblings of one of Mr. and Mrs. Koster’s other dogs (I’ll call him Max).

Biggie looks almost exactly like Dennye, except Biggie is slightly smaller and is more yellow than gold. Rooijana looks like Bessie and Max; all three are black. Bloemie was the cute Jack Russell terrier. She joined Rooijana and Biggie in licking Ethan’s face dirty. He had, after all, tried to drown himself by attempting to swim across the dam, so it had been clean.

When Oom Dennis and Dad had discovered the front right tire to be a bit flat, we decided to pay Tannie Marietjie’s friends a visit. Who knew that they would have seven dogs?

Tikki and Bloemie fought the most. Well, Bloemie fought Tikki the most. She would grab one of Tikki’s ears and hang on, swinging to and fro. When we arrived, Bokiche’s look-alike disappeared into the house after barking at us. It took us a while to realize Captain’s presence. He never came out to play. Bokiche never really interacted with us, only smelling my hand.

Now Ethan and I want dogs even more…

Ciao!

Dinky’s Daring Day

“Look at that one! It’s getting closer,” Ethan said. He was, of course, referring to a lion at one of Oom Dennis’s friend’s house. The friend just moved in to the house with his wife on Friday. Their granddaughter, Karina, was staying with them for the time. She showed me the mouse and her room.

The main lions we looked at were in a cage with ten, but we only really saw eight. Dinky was with us, and somehow she got out of the truck and ran. The lions instantly perked up and started walking the fence line. Poor Dinky freaked out and cowered under the truck. Oom Dennis picked her up and put her in the back. She is seventeen years old (119 dog years).

What experiences she must have had!

Ciao!

Stuck With Stables

“Do you get stuck often?” Mom asked.

“Yes,” admitted the 8-year-old girl. Her dad had gone to get a tractor and some help, so she, her younger sister, and the four of us were waiting for his return. It had started when we had spotted some zebra and driven forward. Dad had asked, “Is that a warthog hole?” Francois nodded, and we drove around the back to get a better look at the entrance.

And we did, in fact, get closer- much closer- than we had intended. With a ker-chunk and a clunk, we had caved in the warthogs’ lounge. Francois thought that by gunning the engine he could get us out, but the bakkie’s back left tire was firmly stuck, and the front right tire was six inches off the ground.

That was when he left to get help.

We captured the whole affair on camera. By the time we got back in the bakkie, Mom in the front because she can’t handle standing in the bed, we had captured about five minutes’ video and lots of pictures. We also took pictures of the sable, since Francois’ property is, after all, named Sable Hill. I saw my first (and second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth…) sables there. There were also nyala, kudu, red hartebeest, wildebeeste, cows, and, as pets, an ostrich, three meerkats (two adult females and one baby boy that they had just bought today), numerous chickens, a squawking bird, and four dogs.

Ciao!

The Koster Episode

“You must be the family’s clown,” Tannie Marietjie’s mother said. I rolled my eyes.

Him?” (Personally, I think that Dad and I are funnier than him.)

She ignored my comment and kept on talking, telling us about the Koster family—and, yes, we’re staying near Koster. Tannie Marietjie was a Koster, and the town was established by her great-grandfather. On the wall, there were pictures of just about everyone in the Koster family, including a wedding picture of Oom Dennis and Tannie Marietjie.

“It was pure agony,” she was saying. Mrs. Koster was referring to her husband taking her on a drive in his bakkie on a new road on their property. The agony-causer pointed out this road from the top of a hill after he had driven Tannie Marietjie, Ethan, Mom, Dad, and myself up it, followed by Tannie Marietjie’s brother’s dog, two of Mr. and Mrs. Koster’s three dogs (one was named Bessie), and Griet, Tannie Marietjie’s four-year-old Saint Bernard-great Dane.

On our way down, we saw some unnamed antelope bounding away, and Bessie and Griet pursued them. Bessie eventually joined the other two dogs in following the bakkie, but Griet was a long time in coming.

And then we saw her, bounding down the hill, tongue out, feet pounding the dirt, panting. She jumped into the cows’ water trough but didn’t jump into the concrete dam because it was too high.

When we returned to Mr. and Mrs. Koster’s house, she showed us a bird book and fed us ice cream.

Ciao!

Ethan Probably Had a More Interesting Day Than Me, But Here’s What I Did

After having breakfast with Oom Dennis (Tannie Marietjie was gone) and Bucky, the bird, Mom surfed the web and Dad worked with money while I read a book for school. Oom Dennis took Ethan to look at cattle.

Dad searched for better cell reception, but instead he found a grasshopper with bright green and pink wings. It was so pretty!!!

Once Oom Dennis, Ethan, and Dinky (the dog) returned, we had sandwiches and then watched an episode of Poirot. We had watched one episode last night, but Mom had missed it. She saw this one, though.

Five people died.

Ciao!

With the de Klerks

KOSTER, South Africa- “We have arrived!” Ethan told Oom (‘uncle’ in Afrikaans) Dennis. We were told to wait in the Wimpy parking lot. And wait we did… eventually Oom Dennis came and, with Ethan in his bakkie, he showed us the way to his house, which is on his wife’s parents’ property. She came to the house after dark, accompanied by Griet (which means ‘Margaret’ in Afrikaans), who was the big dog that had shied away from me earlier. The little dog, Dinky, was very friendly and very pettable.

Ethan tried to pet Griet, but she was very skittish and seemed uncomfortable around Oom Dennis (indeed, Tannie [‘aunt’ in Afrikaans] Marietjie, Oom Dennis’s wife, said that it had taken Griet a while to get used to her husband). The chill was beginning to get to us, and we moved inside. After showing the pictures of the Cape cobra and its annoying bird friend and the white snake, Oom Dennis deduced that we had seen an adolescent albino python. “I’ll need to think about the bird,” he said.

I set in on my Time magazines while Tannie Marietjie and Mom started supper, which was a squash soup and bread. We talked and talked and talked and talked and talked… and talked. Tannie Marietjie said, “I wish I had asked you earlier to bring me a Hershey’s bar from America, but I wasn’t sure if you’d have room. We’ll have to make another trip to the U.S. so I can taste a Hershey’s bar again. I wonder what they have in those that they don’t have here…?”

I said chocolate, thinking of the ‘chocolate-flavoured sauce’ of last night. Dad pointed out that they most certainly used chocolate in Cadbury bars. (I’m still not done with my Cadbury Bubble bar from my birthday; I’m savoring it.)

Ciao!

Glenda, Grass, and Thick Lattes

Of course, that is the opposite order in which those three things happened. The thick lattes- more like chocolate pudding than the mochas we were expecting- were relished at Choc-O-Latte in Upington before we went to Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay. Then we drove for 220 kilometers to Witsand (literally, white sand). After stopping at our first set of dunes, we went up a little rocky trail to Uiskykpoint.

On the way, I tripped and tried to grab a rock for balance. Instead, I hit a thorny plant and scraped my wrist on the red rocks. I spent the rest of the hike pulling out stickers. At the top, we looked at the view and took a picture next to one of thirty cloth flowers put up around South Africa. An interesting story…

After dipping in the dirty pool (it was too cool for our tastes) and grabbing a sandboard, we went to the actual witsands. All of us but Mom took off our shoes- an important detail that you’ll need to remember for later.

I was the official photographer of Ethan as he tried to sandboard. He tried three hills before finally finding a good one. He went down this one three times and I went down once. After the last run, he walked through the grass, and I followed.

“Ow!” I cried. A tip of grass had broken off and was embedded in the arch of my foot. After much muttering, I pulled it out and continued on. Little did I know that, at just about the same time, Dad had stepped on a stick and it had gone in deep. It was on his heel, causing pain with every step. In fact, it still does cause him pain.

However, he got some relief when he sat down at the computer on the picnic bench outside. Slowly, steadily, a little steenbok crept up to the little pond and drank. I called her Glenda, and she stayed for about five minutes before returning to the bush. We might have seen her this evening as we drove to the restaurant (where Big Bang Theory and That ’70s Show were playing, making us embarrassed) for ice cream, because we passed springbok, steenbok, and a rabbit on our way there and back.

Ciao!

My Brother, the Toilet

AUGRABIE FALLS, South Africa- A bird pooped on Ethan today.

He was alerted as to the presence of the poo by his mother. “Stupid bird,” he muttered. The rest of us were trying not to laugh too hard. His father smiled and said, “Eryn, now you have a post title: My Brother, the Toilet.” I smiled appreciatively, trying to step on Ethan’s shadow. The day was warm- a pleasant 31 Celsius according to the car- and we had driven 120 kilometers from Upington to the town of Augrabies, then on to the falls (which is a national park).

Augrabies is on the Oranjerivier (Orange River in the vernacular), several kilometers before the river becomes the border between South Africa and Namibia, and finally hitting the Atlantic Ocean. The Orange River starts in Lesotho and passes through Upington. From above, the river is located by following the green trail of vineyards.

My father, remembering the falls from a previous trip, had raved about the orange, yellow, blue, and green lizards doing push-ups. This was not to be seen; they were too busy mating with the brown females of their kind. Of other animals, we saw too many bugs, my father saw a fish, and he and I saw Bart Simpson’s face on the rocks across the river.

After having Heaven ice cream bars, we get back in the car and drive through moving water to get to Oranjekom, Ararat, and Moon Rock. Oranjekom and Ararat are both look-out points, but Moon Rock is a gray, round, smooth rock. The Klipspringer Trail follows the crest of this outcrop, but we didn’t hike all 39.5 kilometers for several reasons, including that parts of the trail were closed because the three-day hike is only open from April to October 15. (Ethan and I were not too disappointed.)

After an hour and a half (or thereabouts), we returned to the guest house and Ethan prepared to waterski. After a supper at Bi-Lo and seeing One Direction on the cover of Seventeen, we returned home to find Bishop, the huge dog, roaming free. Mother was petrified.

Ciao!

The Quest for the Café with Mochas and Free Wi-Fi and for Chocolate Ice Cream

We spent this morning searching for a café that had café mochas and free wi-fi. We didn’t find it. The closest was ChocoLatte, which had mochas (hence the name) but no free Internet. At Coffee 4 U, they didn’t have wi-fi. I asked if they had mochas, and my reply was, “What are those?” I paused and then said, “Kind of like chocolate lattes.” Another pause, this time on her end, and then a nod.

“We have those.”

Well, you can’t really go with that. Another coffee shop, Arabesque (which is the same as one of my piano pieces back home), was closed while the Dried Fruit & Coffee Shop made Mom say, “Calling it a ‘coffee shop’ is a stretch.” This was all after Mom had given our laundry to the service at only 15 (about US$2.00) a kilo.

After returning home for a short while, we went back out and checked Gotti Ice Cream for chocolate ice cream. Everything there is bought in bulk. There were HUGE bags of red, brown, and orange Cheetos-style chips. We walked out, dismayed, and looked at Checkers. It was kind of daunting with all the Christmas banners with gingerbread men, dinosaurs, sock bunnies, and dolls hanging in your face. But we managed to find Kit-Kat King Cones.

Oh, well.

At least I know where, if I had a party for 100 people, to get enough Cheetos.

Ciao!

Swimming (on) Sunday

After shopping at Clicks- the chemist’s- and Game- the Target- and checking out The Pizza Place, we drove home to the guesthouse to wait.

And wait.

And wait…

Some more…

“They’re here! They’re here!” Ethan screeched. It was 4:30, and one man had arrived with the inner tube. An hour and a half later, Ethan and I had been jet-skied (without a life jacket. Gasp!) over to the sand, courtesy of Jay Jay. Besides Peter, Franco, and Carly, there were Carly’s friend (Nicki), Girl Cousin, Guy Cousin, and Girl Cousin’s Boyfriend (a.k.a. Muscle-Boy #2. The daughter of the guesthouse’s owner [her name is Lynda] also has a boyfriend, who we nicknamed Muscle Boy). I was the first one I saw fall off the tube.

Darn. When Girl Cousin, Guy Cousin, Girl Cousin’s Boyfriend, and the driver of the boat came over to “rescue” me, Ethan just randomly fell off the tube. Girl Cousin’s Boyfriend took my place on the tube and rode with Ethan. The boyfriend stayed on the tube. Ethan fell off. That was the one time I got to wave the red flag, which was put in my care once I got on the boat.

When Carly and Nicki went, I was sure one was going to fall off. No such luck. What about Girl Cousin, Girl Cousin’s Boyfriend, and Franco? Nope. What about Girl Cousin’s Boyfriend, Ethan, and Franco? No, once again, even though once they were really really close. Carly tried to waterski, but I wasn’t watching so I don’t know how she did.

For supper, Jasper cooked up some chicken and we had a braai (a.k.a. BBQ). I think I ate too much.

Ciao!

Soaked Saturday

We started out the day by being soaked- in sweat. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Upington has a fan, but it was not being used. Ethan was the only boy there, and there were also four or five girls. It was a very small church, with only about a dozen members. The sermon was, thankfully, in English, but just about everything else was in Afrikaans (but they kindly translated it to English for us).

When we arrived back at the Riverfront Guesthouse, there were five kids and their dad and his friend, plus the owner of the guesthouse’s son (Jay Jay), in the water on innertubes, and Jay Jay was on his jet ski. Ethan joined the excitedly, although his original intent was just to ride the jet ski. But then he wanted to waterski, and then he wanted to tube. Well, at least he got to tube with the four boys (including Peter and Franco) and the 12-year-old girl, Carly.

The group then invited me to ride in the boat, but that was too boring for me so I rode on the tube with Ethan. Of course he put me on the more precarious side, so I fell off.  The whole time I was worried about the nonexistent crocodiles thinking my toes were French fries. Then Carly and I went for a ride with Jay Jay on the jet ski. All this was done on the Orange River just outside the guesthouse.

And guess what?? Carly, Peter, Franco, and the rest are coming back tomorrow! Yay!

Ciao!

Foxy Friday

J. was wrong on this day, October 26, Anno Domino 2012. It happened that he and his wife, son, and daughter were taking a morning drive in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the South African side when they came across a dog-like creature walking, laying down, and then watching while her three pups played around he
J. claimed it was a black-backed jackal, and his family originally agreed. After looking through the binoculars and checking the guide books, it was established that the dog was, in fact, not a black-backed jackal but a Cape fox. This idea was firmly dismissed by J., and his wife accepted this.
Until she didn’t. His wife, S., looked through the binoculars and checked and double-checked the guide books. J.’s children, E. and G., knew that it was a Cape fox. S. knew it was a Cape fox. J. didn’t believe for a long while after S. had finished exclaiming, “[The pups] are
so cute!!”

When we arrived at Waterfront Guest Farm here in Upington, South Africa, we found the once-annual “market” going on. There was food, things to buy, and ice cream. We had chicken and salad, and Ethan and Dad had ice cream. We can still hear the tittering of the girls my age as they talk outside. They were sort of wrestling on the grass, and one ran into the back of my chair. Dad said, “Ethan, they’re flinging themselves at you. Not that they have very good aim, but, still.”

Ethan was blushing.

Ciao!

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.)

Thundering Thursday

KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER NATL. PARK, South Africa—After the thunder and rain had passed and Mom had crept over to my bed in the middle of the night to look at the waterhole, Dad’s phone alarm went off at 5 am.

We were on the road with all our stuff by 6:37 am after having had breakfast, showers, and packed luggage. We saw the female lion walking up over a hill, but the male lion (this was the mating pair) was nowhere to be seen.

After passing familiar landmarks such as the giraffe carcass, dead eland, and steep turnoff up to a lookout, we finally arrived on new territory. Three kilometers later, we turned onto the Dune Road (South) and drove between the Auob and Nossob Rivers. We saw many secretarybirds and rocks that looked like animals, plus ostriches and a gemsbok, but not much else until we hit the Nossob River valley.

We turned north, away from Twee Rivieren, and drove for 12K before U-turning south. We passed a snake eagle drinking from a natural puddle (!!!) and our first interesting animal of the day: (well, animals) a small pride of lions sitting in the shade. We kept going and found another cat 20 kilometers down the road: a leopard.

It was lying in the fork of a tree. Dad thought it had a kill nearby (he still thinks that, in fact), but we looked and looked and couldn’t find one. We also saw a pretty red slender mongoose there and at a tree later, where a man pointed out the lions sitting in a bush.

We didn’t see these mysterious lions until our evening drive, when we once again saw the leopard. We also saw an eagle trying to catch a Cape cobra for dinner. However, it took too long and the gate was going to close soon. So the other three satisfied themselves by looking at the leopard again, which had changed trees and gave a nice silhouette.

Ciao.

Wet ‘n’ Wild Wednesday

It actually rained today! Real, live  rain fell from the sky in the Kalahari! Maybe this will be the once-in-a-century when the Nossob River floods. It last flooded in 1963, so there’s a chance.

This morning we left the Kalahari Tent Camp at 6 am. By the time we returned for a late breakfast, we had seen an African wild cat, the same two lions mating, a troop of five spotted hyenas, giraffes, and a Cape cobra. That wasn’t the only snake, though! On our evening drive, we saw a white snake. Of course, we don’t know what it is, but, still.

Mom was totally freaking out, but that is to be expected. On that drive we once again saw the two lions, plus some kudu, which are very rare in the park, and lots of black-backed jackals plus a steppe buzzard. We also saw lots of vultures, but couldn’t find the kill that they had found. That was disappointing.

At the waterhole down in the river valley, we thought we saw lions tonight. Sadly, they were just eland, which would have been great in daylight because we’ve only seen about seven or so eland here. But oh, well. There’s always tomorrow.

Ciao!

Triple Tuesday

We have now seen the three big cats of Africa: lion, leopard, and cheetah. We saw two of these (lion and cheetah) today. We saw the cheetah just as we set out this morning from Mata Mata Camp at 7:34 am. It crossed the road and went over the rise to our left. By 7:39 am, when the car behind us pulled up, the cat was gone.

Ethan got to put the black dot up on the magnetic map. I put up two brown dots for the giraffe sightings. So far, we have seen 25% of the giraffes in this park. Eight giraffes (three male and five female) were brought in from Etosha a while back. After being kept in Mata Mata to adapt, they were eventually released into the wild. They now number around forty. We saw ten, including two babies (plus the carcass, but I don’t count that).

Neither of us put up the red dot for the mating lions because it was 6:49 pm and we had to be back in the Kalahari Tent Camp. So today we saw three of the ten animals on the board (the ten are: lions, cheetahs, giraffes, leopards, honey badgers, caracals, African wild cats, spotted hyenas, brown hyenas, and meerkats. I really want to see a caracal because the dot is pink). We also saw a red hartebeest, blue wildebeeste, a herd of springboks with a whole bunch of adorable skinny baby, ostriches plus some ostrich chicks and their parents, black-backed jackals, white-backed vultures, tawny eagles, fork-tailed drongos, gemsbok, and a stick Dad thought was a chameleon.

Ciao!

Mammal Monday

My day started off with being awaken by the alarm flies, which sound like mosquitoes, causing me to hide under my sheet in mortal fear and lose valuable sleep.

When I officially woke up, someone was using the sink incorrectly, causing the water to thunder onto the metal sink. After breakfast, Mom discovered that our lizard friend had died: his head had been squished in the bathroom door, leaving blood all down the edge of the door. It was awful.

Before we entered the park, we had two more reptilian encounters: a Kalahari tent tortoise  was crossing the road, and so was a large snake. The tortoise was small and we had to keep moving it back so we could take pictures. Ethan was holding it in his hand when, all of a sudden, it pooped on him! I was more amused than he was.

The snake reared up next to the car, causing Mom to scream. I think it’s too bad that it didn’t stop so we could take pictures. Dad and Ethan think it was a kind of cobra.

We left Namibia and entered Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We’re still not officially in South Africa yet, but in several days we’ll leave the Twee Rivieren camp and be in the RSA.  Today we saw springbok, gemsbok (after all, this park used to be the Kalahari Gemsbok Park), ostriches, white-backed vultures, swallow-tailed bee-eaters, sociable and non-sociable weaver birds, blue wildebeeste, meerkat (I didn’t see these, but everyone else did)’ ground squirrels, eland, black-backed jackals, and a giraffe carcass.

At reception at Mata Mata, there is a metal map of the park with different colored magnets where people have seen meerkats, lions, cheetahs, leopards, brown hyenas, spotted hyenas, African wild cats, giraffes, honey badgers, and caracals. Ethan was thrilled to put up a purple circle in honor of his sighting. There was also a brown circle for the dead giraffe. I wouldn’t have thought at counted as a sighting.

Ciao!

1,001 Namibian Nights

Tomorrow we drive into Kgalagadi, a nature park in Botswana and South Africa. That means we’ll be officially leaving Namibia, but not entering South Africa.

Namibia was our home for 26 nights. We stayed eight places, the longest being in Swakopmund (nine nights). Our shortest stay in one place was at Onguma Bush Camp, right outside of Etosha. We celebrated three major milestones in Namibia: Day 100 (September 28), my thirteenth birthday (October 14), and One-Third of the Way Through (October 20).

We visited two major places of interest: Etosha National Park and Sossusvlei. Cape Cross, where the Cape fur seals are, is also a major landmark. It’s on the Skeleton Coast.

Our first place to stay was Weaver’s Rock. Ethan finally had friends in the form of Dominick and his older brother after being little boy-deprived for three-and-a-quarter months. There were five dogs: Choc, Nala, Lilly, Tasso, and Bonzo. (Those were my favorites, from first to fifth.) The food was good, and our showers, like here at Kalahari Farmstall, were fire-heated.

The next night was spent at on Onguma, a kilometer or so from Etosha, and there I went on my first night game drive. We saw bush babies, kori bustards, a bat-eared fox, springbok, and zebras.

In Etosha we saw the first leopard for any of us. It was promptly a female in the minds of Mom and me. She had killed a kudu and was eating it by the Nuamses waterhole. We also saw 134 elephants, 90 giraffes, 17 lions, 12 rhinos, and five spotted hyenas, along with many, many springbok, black-faced impala, gemsbok, ostriches, kudu, zebras, blue wildebeeste, and red hartebeest. We found one dead snake on the road.

Next we stayed at Dinosaur Tracks Guest Farm (the farm’s official name is Otjihaenamaparero). We visited the tracks multiple times, mainly because of the cell service. The dog, Bella, was sweet but fat.

After stopping at AiAiba and playing with the meerkat, Mitjie, we arrived in chilly Swakopmund. There I had my birthday and we lived in a real house, perfect in every way except for the need of a heater and quieter neighbors.

Two nights ago, we were enjoying the good food and company of Wilheim, Hannetjie, Olf, and the three dogs (Coco, thirteen-year-old Polly, and three-year-old Lucky), and enjoying the not so good company of the cold-shouldered meerkat.

Finally, we stayed at Kalahari Farmstall. This stay was mostly to get near the Kgalagadi border and to rest up for the long, long days ahead. So I need to get some sleep.

Ciao!

Realm of Relaxation

Today and yesterday were boring days, except we celebrated a major milestone today: we’re one third through this trip!

Yesterday we recovered from the grueling energy wasted at Sossusvlei. After sleeping in and having a breakfast of bread, eggs, fruit, tea, and hot chocolate, we lounged around the building, doing schoolwork, reading, imagining flying eggs (don’t ask!), and eating avocado, cheese, and crackers.

In the late afternoon, we got off our butts and hiked up one of the smaller mountains. It took us about an hour and a half both ways, but we often stopped to wait for everyone to catch up, or for Ethan to throw rocks at things and miss. We stopped at the top to admire the view, and Ethan tried to kill a lizard to feed it to the meerkat.

(After all, the best way to one’s heart is through their stomach, right?)

Ethan failed, and we all trooped down the mountain to Wilheim, Hannetjie, and Wilheim’s longtime friend, Olf (he said his name was like wolf, but with no W). They were easily speaking Afrikaans, but when we arrived for a dinner of pizza, something quiche-like, salad, tomatoes, potatoes, and vanilla ice cream with kiwi, all spoke English (which we liked!).

Olf appears to work more at Barchan Dunes than at his job as a doctor in Windhoek. He and Wilheim told jokes, explained Namib-German customs, and made the meal generally delightful.

This morning after breakfast, we set off for Kalahari Farmstall, a farm with geese, cows, goats, and sheep 17 kilometers from the South African border crossing, Mata Mata, into Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

We had apple pie for dessert.

Ciao!

Dune Day

Wilheim says that one week, he took guests to Sossusvlei three times. “After that, I was done with Sossusvlei,” he assured us at supper. “But my wife just gave me bad news: I have to take guests there next week.”

We had just finished talking about what we thought of the park. We had gotten up at 4:30 in the morning and gotten back at 5:30 pm. Those thirteen hours had been about 38.5% (five hours) driving, 38.5% climbing the dunes and visiting the vleis, 15% (two hours) eating ice cream and using Internet at Sossus Oasis, and 8% (one hour) exploring Sisriem Canyon.

Once we finally reached the parking lot for the dunes, we got out and walked along the dunes five kilometers to Sossusvlei and the parking lot at the end (we didn’t drive because we don’t have a 4×4). A vlei (pronounced flay) is a marsh, but Deadvlei and Sossusvlei don’t see much water. Deadvlei is more picturesque because it has a lot of dead trees in it and not much else.

By the time we got back in a shuttle bus, we had walked 7 kilometers. We got back in our car, stopped by Dune 45 (Ethan climbed it), and climbed through Sisriem Canyon to a little pond with fish (!!!) in it. We threw rocks in for a while and then got back in the car to get ice cream at Sossus Oasis.

We finally left Sossus Oasis two hours later and eventually got back to Barchan Dunes Retreat. We got all the sand off and had supper with the other guests, Hannetjie, and Wilheim. It was really good (again), ending in another delicious cake, this time chocolate, that attracted two of the three dogs, Coco and Lucky. Coco is big and brown with soft fuzzy hair, while Lucky is one of the black-and-white dogs. Wilheim shared his cake with them, but only after they sat when he told them to and “shook hands” when he told them to.

Ciao!

Falling Flat

We bid good-bye to Swakopmund, the ducks, the male cat, and Nala, the female cat, today.

We took the C14, which www.rtw4four.com listed as the worst road in Namibia. We drove past mountains and river beds, cliffs and grasslands to the sign that said TROPIC OF CAPRICORN. We stopped and took pictures, naturally, and then got back in the car. For being in one of the hottest parts of Namibia, it wasn’t that bad. It was in the seventies and sunny, bringing welcome warmth after  week in chilly Swakopmund.

And then it happened: the near-inevitable sound of a tire hitting a rock wrong. It was the back left tire, and it was killed. It hit another rock, and Dad eased the car off the center of the road. We emptied the trunk, putting the suitcases in the front seats and the 20 liters of water in the middle. Dad got the temporary tire (it had pink stripes on it) from the back and put it on.

Four cars drove by, three passing us and one going the other way. Half the cars stopped, and both were passed us.

We finally got going again and dug into the focaccia bread and read about what to do with Budget in the event of a flat tire. Once in Solitaire, we got a new tire and petrol and continued on our way to Barchan Dunes Retreat. Once there, we were greeted by two dogs nad a meerkat who is scared of people. Wilheim and Hennetjie own the place (although Wilheim jokes that he’s the servant), plus there  are horses and game (zebra, springbok, kudu, gemsbok [oryx]).

Our rooms are 500m from the main building, but it’s no problem.

Hennetjie made supper, and it was delicious: for the appetizer, an asparagus casserole with pickles and grape tomatoes; for the main course, a small side salad and green beans, carrot, and potato wedges; and, for dessert, cake that was sooo good, even though I don’t know what it was, and rooibos tea.

Ciao!

An “Africana” Adventure

Because I had so many Namibian dollars left (each is worth about US$0.13), we needed to go shopping today because, unlike rands, Namibian dollars are useless over the border (rands are pretty much equal to Namibian dollars, so here they’re interchanged. Yesterday I got change back in Namibian coins and a 20-rand note).

We started out going to a shop, but we stopped to look at the people selling “Africana” on the side of the road. They were selling everything from trinkets to baubles to textiles to fabrics. One of my favorite things (though I didn’t buy it) was the hippo with its mouth open. There were many, many carvings of it on the curb.

The man from whom I bought stone giraffes said that his name was Robert, he was from the Caprivi Strip (in the north-east corner of Namibia), and that he had carved the giraffes by hand. In reality, his name probably wasn’t Robert, he probably wasn’t from the Caprivi, and he most definitely didn’t carve the stone because he got all his things from the trailers behind all the other sellers, and the stuff was most likely imported from Zimbabwe.

Ethan bought a kudu leather bracelet and a stone leopard, too, before we moved on, passing a primary school. One of the kids said to Ethan, “Cool hair, dude!” (That’s because he’s gelled his hair up in a spike.)

Ciao!

The Little ATV That Could

NEVER drive this ATV under 16 years of age.

That’s what the ATV that I drove today over the sand dunes said.

Apparently we went so slow that our guide, Gideon, didn’t take us on the whole 90-minute route (but it took us 90 minutes anyways). Halfway through (45 minutes, naturally), we stopped after Ethan and Dad were rescued from the sand.

Gideon took first Ethan, and then me, up the steep dune and around and down and just about every preposition except through. Once we were done, he took Dad, except Dad rode on his own ATV.

We all had blue ATVs because we’re not experienced drivers. Gideon’s, naturally, was red (for experienced riders). I didn’t really want to go fast, but you have to go to get up some steep hills, where the sand loose and deep. But my ATV never got stuck. It could always get over the dunes.

Ciao!

A High Hike

Dune 7 is 388 meters tall and the tallest sand dune in the world. We climbed Dune 7 today.

Of course, it was Walvis Bay’s Dune 7, not Soussusvlei’s, which is the real Dune 7. The one we climbed today was much, much shorter.

The first fifteen feet of the dune were covered in glass shards and bottle caps. After that, it was clean, sparkly sand up to the very tip-top, which only Ethan visited. (Well, there were things like socks and toilet paper strewn across the dune, but other than that it was clean.) The climb was long, and each of us stopped every so often to rest and catch our breath.

At the top, however, if you wanted to catch a breath, you caught that and a lungful of sand. Mom finally finally finally caught up with us at the top and exclaimed, “Whew! What a hike!”

She was the first one to go down, too, after she convinced Dad to give her the car keys so she could get the camera out of the car and take pictures of us coming down the dune. Dad and I jump-walked down like normal people, but Ethan got covered in sand because he rolled.

After we finished teasing my brother about the cute girl in the pink shirt and he finished begging to go quad riding on the dunes, we left for home and stopped only to take pictures of flamingoes. For supper we had cake and ice cream for my 13th birthday.

Ciao!

A Day in the Life…

Of a Cape fur seal living at Cape Cross:

0:13- Hunger overtakes reasoning and I slide down to the water for a midnight snack.

1:01- I’m shamed as my friends discover me in the water without them.

1:34- After some good-natured fighting, we climb back onto shore and fall asleep to the sound of our fellow species bark-bark-barking.

6:27- The sun rises, bringing light back to our little world.

6:30- After some more stretching and scratching, my friends and I maneuver around big bad bulls and piles of females to the Atlantic Ocean.

6:41- We finally arrive in the ocean. The waves are hard, but I love it. A big wave comes and I’m knocked back a meter. (I am, after all, a metric seal, being born and raised in Namibia.)

6:43- We find a big school of fish- breakfast for all!

7:59- The cold isn’t what causes us to drag our wet bodies out of the water; it’s fatigue. After all, we haven’t even slept five hours today!

9:16- After an hour of sleeping, I’m bored. I go stir up trouble in the big meanie’s territory, and he chases me up the sandy hill to the boardwalk where those nasty two-legs are. I hide under the walkway and finally go to sleep.

14:48- That’s more like it! After a good nap, I yawn, and those things the two-legs carry- shutterflies, I call them- start click-clacking. There is one small two-leg with brown hair above me and she aims an especially large shutterfly at me. I hear the two-legs around her call her “Eryn,” but the way they say it- at such a low tone- makes me believe it’s an insult. I see my buddies down on the beach and head toward them, avoiding the bull that sent me up in the first place.

14:55- Friends are finally reunited, and we all go in the ocean and try to find the school of fish that we found this morning. Well, we can’t find it, but we do ride some pretty impressive waves (and look pretty impressive ourselves, if I dare say so myself).

15:26- We’re exhausted and flop down on the rocks. We’re cooled off every 10 seconds or so by the pounding surf.

18:44- The light around me is dimming, and it seeps into my dreams. I’m surrounded by water, deep, dark, and cold, and I know that out there is a shark that wants to eat m-

18:45- I’m jolted into reality by a wave breaking on my face and one of my friends hitting me with a flipper. I lie on my back and observe my fellow animals. Some two-legs up on the boardwalk have covered what are, I think, their faces. I can’t think why- the stench maybe? But we smell like roses!

19:02- The sun finally sets. I splash around in the water a bit and then slowly, tiredly, make my way up the hill, passing skeletons and warm hairy bodies as I go.

19:09- I get my last glimpse of October 13. It was a good day, as days go.

Ciao!

Flamingo Fun

 

We finally finally finally went to the river to see the flamingoes. We think at there were two types (greater and lesser) because there were the big white birds and the smaller pinker birds.
To get to the mouth of the river (coincidentally, “mund” means mouth, and the river is the Swakop. So “Swakopmund” means “mouth of Swakop”) we had to park at the aquarium and walk past the Tiger Reef Bar and along the beach. We watched the cormorants, seagulls, and blacksmith lapwings wade/dive in the water. The flamingoes spent most of he time with their heads submerged.
There were at least two dead flamingoes at the edge of the river, which has turned into a lake because it doesn’t have enough water to reach the ocean. Apparently a favorite Namibian pastime is racing the water from Windhoek to the ocean along the Swakop river after the first big rains.
We also got to see the flamingoes fly a bit, too, and the undersides of their wings are pinker than their bodies.
After that, we got more groceries, dropped those off at home, played on the playground, and finally had supper at 22° South, which is the restaurant in what used to be the lighthouse-keeper’s house. No one is allowed to go up to the top of the lighthouse because it is still used by Walvis Bay. We couldn’t eat in the building, either, but that was because we hadn’t made reservations.
Ciao!

A Downtown Day

We did another part of the Swakopmund Triangle today: the lighthouse. It is, in fact, a pizza and gelato place (22 Degrees South) that we will visit in the future.

We were going to do another part of the triangle- the river with the flamingoes- but Mom and Dad took too long shopping. So instead we had a Cadbury bar, supper, and walked down to the beach where we found the other end of the crayfish exoskeleton (we found the head yesterday).

We also checked out the Hansa Backerei, where Dad bought two black forest tortes, which were so good. After the seeing what the lighthouse was all about and playing on the playground right beside it, we visited the Kristall Galerie. It’s home to the largest crystal in the world and lots and lots of amethysts. There was also a ‘rock garden,’ where Ethan and I selected polished stones to stick in a small bag.

Then we went to Karakulia Weavers after browsing through the leather shop next door. We saw people making yarn, weaving rugs with things like elephants, footprints, and leopards on them, and making the finished product perfect. Ethan tried to make yarn too, but he wasn’t that good. (Of course, he was better than me, since I didn’t try to.)

We returned home where we did homework and sorted pictures until supper.

Ciao!

Food’s Our Friend

Now that we’re in our own little house, we had to go grocery shopping. Well, we couldn’t find any good fruits or vegetables at the Spar, so after visiting the jetty and river in Swakopmund, we stopped by Food Center- Fruit & Veg City on our way home. They had rows and rows of gummies and Jelly Bellies and dried fruits and nuts and popcorn and chocolates… it all looked delicious. The cheapest thing was sesame seeds, at N$3.99 per 100 grams.

We also looked at the cake and baked goods. I decided that the chocolate mousse cake looks good. We’ll probably be having that on Sunday. There were also US$0.50 brownies! And cookies and breads and pies and cupcakes and all sorts of wonderful things. And all of it was (almost) dirt cheap. So we think we got a good deal.

(Besides the good looking stuff, there were also some disgusting things, like grapefruit [which we had to get] and crème soda milk. Ew.)

Not to say we bought so much ‘junk’ food. We only got a few Tangy Toppers (sour gummies), a handful of Jelly Bellies, a twist, a big flaky cookie, a brownie, and a slice of apple pie. And we’re sharing that between four people. So don’t get the wrong impression! We’re not getting fat.

Ciao!

Mitjie Mouse

Mitjie (pronounced MIC-key) is the name of the meerkat who ‘owns’ AiAiba lodge where the Bushman paintings are. He was lying on the floor next to Cecilia, our waitress, when we arrived. When Ethan squatted down and said, “Hey! Meerkat!” the meerkat ran over with its mouth wide open.

Mom was worried that Mitjie would break skin, giving Dad, Ethan, or I rabies or something, but he never did. His mouth can’t open very wide, and his teeth aren’t very sharp.

Besides a meerkat, which made Dad’s life worth it, we also saw Bushman paintings of giraffes, springbok, kudu, mountains, and people. Once back at the lodge, we ordered ‘lunch:’ a Greek salad, four servings of ice cream, and juice. Dad got grapefruit vitamin-flavored juice, I got apple, Ethan ordered juice with ‘A Touch of Lemon,’ and Mom got orange juice. Dad, Ethan, and I had chocolate ice cream with canned peaches while Mom had plain old vanilla with chocolate sauce.

And then, out of nowhere, Mitjie reappeared! There were three little boys there, two who ran screaming to their mom (one climbed on to the table) and one who tried to approach Mitjie but ran away. Mitjie gave chase, and it was hilarious.

We then drove on another rocky road to the soundtrack of “Oh mercy! Jerry! Whoa!”

We’re now in Swakopmund, which is on the coast. We had pizza, salad, and part of a Cadbury bar for dessert.

Ciao!

A Letter

Dear Danny the Dinosaur,
You left many footprints on hills in what is now Namibia 300 million years ago. Today we went up to the tracks just so we could get Internet connectivity. That seems like a waste of time, but we have no cell reception at the B&B so therefore Dad cannot make a hot spot.

So we went up the hill and checked our emails. While Mom and Dad were checking theirs on the computer, I played Hearts and Sudoku. We then searched for the elusive cat-like footprint in the ground that Mr. Strobel had shown us two days before. We couldn’t find it and finally left the area at 6:12 pm, eighteen minutes before supper was to be. (I’m sure that you, Danny, could have found the print. You might have even eaten the poor mammal!)

After a supper of ‘comfort food,’ as Mom called it, we talked to Mr. Strobel in Afrigermish, which is his mix of Afrikaans, German, and English.

It’s very hard to follow. He ended his end of the conversation with, “You understand?” We all nodded and said yes multiple times just to reassure him. As soon as he had left the room, I turned to Dad and said, “What???”

Now it’s time I finish writing, dear Dinosaur. Have a good night, or, should I say, have a lekker nacht!

Signed, Eryn the Human

Ciao!

A Rocky Road

Not to be confused with Rocky’s road (Rocky is our neighbor), which is paved, smooth, nice, and lovely.

We went on a rocky road from Omaruru back to Dinosaur’s Tracks, to the soundtrack of, “Oh, mercy!!! Oh goodness!!! Hhhhhhhh!!!” (That last bit was Mom breathing in sharply.)

It was worst, probably, when we were talking about SeaWorld and Disneyland and breakfast with the [Disney] characters. Dad said, “That’s where you shove toast into their mouths and they choke!” And he proceeded to demonstrate the choking.

“JERRY!!!” Mom squealed. We were going down a steep hill at 80 kilometers per hour and there was a little river at the bottom of the hill. I grabbed my seatbelt for dear life.

Once we were past it, I announced, “For the record, I just saved the computer.” No one bothered to thank me. Mom just said, “Please go more slowly.” Ethan screeched, “WHEEEEEEEE!!!” Dad stepped on the gas to get up the next hill.

All in all, it was a very entertaining ride that opened with a huge bump and Mother hurting her neck on that bump. Dad asked, “Isn’t it just like a ride at Disneyland?”

Ciao!

A Dino Day

This morning we went up the hill to the dinosaur tracks. We stayed there for about two hours because there was cell reception, so Dad checked his emails.

We then retired to our rooms until five pm, when Mr. Strobel took us up to the tracks and talked in detail about the dinosaurs who made the tracks.

He also told us about all the snakes they get at their house, like the cobra under the china cupboard and the mamba in the dog’s (Bella’s) box. He also told us of a camper who ran screaming with a gun because of a snake. That snake was actually a millipede.

After a delicious supper of chicken schnitzel, potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower, Mr. and Mrs. Strobel sat down at the table and we talked for about an hour. Mostly we discussed rain and what the animals, trees, and burglars are like back home in Oregon. Mr. Strobel asked us to send him some rain.

Ciao!

An Amount of Animals

The total animal count at Etosha was (approximately) as follows:

881 springbok
379 Burchell’s zebras
132 elephants
84 giraffes
39 ostriches
17 lions (including one cub)
12 black rhinos
5 spotted hyenas
1 leopard
0 cheetahs

Most of these animals were seen at the 20 waterholes (Wolfsnes, Okaukuejo, Chudop, Ngobib, Kalkheuwel, Batia, Springbokfontein, Goas, Nuamses, Moringa, Rietfontein, Charitsaub, Salvadora, Sueda, Aus, Olifantsbad, Gemsbokvlakte, Ombika, Newbrownii, and Okondeka) we visited. Besides the ten species mentioned above, we also saw greater kudu, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, black-backed jackals, black-faced impala, red hartebeest, Damara dik-diks, steenbok, warthogs, and banded mongoose.

We saw many birds besides ostriches, the most common being guineafowl, Gabar goshawks, and francolin. However, we also saw secretarybirds, kori bustards, a Ludwig’s bustard, pale chanting goshawks, cattle egrets, a marabou stork, blacksmith lapwings, doves, double-banded coursers, hornbills, a Verreaux’s eagle owl, an African hoopoe, crows, crimson-breasted shrikes, violet-eared waxbills, and weaver birds. Of reptiles, we saw little lizards in and around camp and, most significantly, a dead snake on the road.

Ciao!

Ways of the Waterholes

We went on two drives today. The first one was in the morning, starting at 6:30. On this drive, we went to four waterholes: Newbrownii, Gemsbokvlakte, Olifantsbad, and Aus. At Newbrownii, we saw kori bustards, gemsbok, guineafowl, springbok, and jackals. At the next stop, Gemsbokvlakte, we saw first a lot of jackals, then a hyena, then vultures, and then the dead zebra.

At Olifantsbad and Aus, we saw red hartebeest, kudu, impala, and more guineafowl. We returned to the camp for breakfast, and then we paid a visit to the Okaukeujo waterhole, where we saw zebra, kudu, wildebeeste, springbok, gemsbok, and 29 elephants.

We returned to the Okaukeujo waterhole after a drive up to Wolfsnes and Okendeka waterholes where we saw lions and a cub, ostriches, and a gemsbok with a curly horn, a birthday call to Mirinda, a dip in the pools, and supper. We all enjoyed our Magnums (Death by Chocolate for Dad and Ethan, Mint for Mom, and Chocolatier Collection: Biscotti for me) and watched 16 giraffes come and go. There were also the typical jackals and a handful of springbok.

One of these antelopes almost died when the lion pounced. In its place died a wildebeest. Mom, Dad, and I snuck off to see how long it would take Ethan to notice our absence. It was a new record: eight minutes. We’re now quenching our thirst with refrigerator-chilled, good-tasting, bottled water.

Ciao!

On Okaukeujo

We could have seen the leopard again today, but we arrived ten minutes too late. We visited the Nuamses waterhole at around 11 am and saw the dead kudu and a hyena hovering over it.

Before Nuamses, however, we’d visited four waterholes.

We left the house at 6:30 am so we could be out the gate as soon as possible. We passed a sign, and Mom said, “Isn’t that where we’re staying tonight? Okaukeujo?”

“Yes, but it’s oh-kah-kwee-oh, not oh-cocky-joe.” We went east to Rietfontein, where we saw a male lion. Then, at Salvadora, we saw birdwatchers drinking their coffee. We scanned the trees for leopards but found none.

At Charitsaub, we saw a group of five lionesses. They were covered in blood, signs of a recent feast. They became alarmed when a hyena walked into the area to share the food, but it realized that it was outnumbered. At the last waterhole on our early morning drive, we saw a lone black-backed jackal.

Back at Halali, we had breakfast and finished packing. We were on the road again by 10:30. We visited Goas, hoping to see a dead gemsbok and lions feasting on it, but all the animals were alive and healthy. Darn.

We had to stop on the road to let a herd of 60 elephants go by, and then we continued on our way to Rietfontein, where we saw only springbok and elephants, Salvadora, where we saw cattle egrets, and Charitsaub, where we saw two of the five lionesses of before. There was also a lone bull elephant.

At the next waterhole, Newbrownii, we watched the elephants, ostriches, zebras, gemsbok, and springbok be “feisty,” as Mom puts it. And then they all ran to the left side of the car. A lion was on the move.

Even though we watched for the better part of an hour, the lion didn’t kill anything, which was disappointing.

Ciao!

A Lazy Leopard or Uno Unicorn

Dad says that she wasn’t that lazy, but how hard is it to move a kudu fifteen feet? I could do it.

Okay, that’s because I stand on two feet, not four, and would pull with my hands, not my teeth.

But on the bright side: we saw a LEOPARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! She was at the Nuamses waterhole, which is five kilometers off the main road. I was surprised at how few cars were there, although there were six nonetheless. She had just killed a kudu and it was lying dead with its back feet in the water.

She tried pulling it several times to no avail. She eventually bit the kudu’s tail off and ate it. Finally, after an hour, she pulled it behind a clump of twelve-foot trees. Then she walked off, which seems very risky because a lion or a group of hyenas could easily walk in and say, “Hey, I want some kudu!” and then eat it.

We saw four more giraffes and a herd of 23 elephants at the Goas waterhole. We also saw a gemsbok with a broken leg. We returned after seeing the leopard, and, too our great surprise, the gemsbok was still there and alive!

Yesterday we saw a real live unicorn. How awesome is that???

Ciao!

A to Zebra

Between today and yesterday, we have seen no fewer than 27 giraffes and two lions, both adult males. We’ve also seen two bush babies, a whole troop of mongoose, starlings, a few ostriches, and a million trillion each of zebra, springbok, rooibok (a.k.a. impala), gemsbok, and kudu. We saw most of these animals at the Chudop waterhole.

We visited several other waterholes and saw nothing of interest. In between two, we saw two elephants trying to hide in the shade.

Once at Halali Camp, Ethan and I swam and then Dad bought all four of us Magnums.

At the waterhole, we saw two rhinos, a few jackals, and two springbok, plus lots of little birds. We could hear the lions roar but left at around 10:00, before they got to the waterhole.

Ciao!

Day 100!

Only 265 days to go!

Today was another hot day and we spent it hiking up, down, and around the Waterberg Plateau. We went on the Kambazembi Walk first, accidentally, thinking it would bring us to the top. After an hour, we decided it wouldn’t. So we made a 360-degree turn and finally got on the Mountain View trail. Mom kept saying, “I don’t do well with rocks” as the trail was covered in chunks of plateau.

There was a little canyon in the side of the plateau, and that was the way up. To go beyond the lookout, you have to have a special permit. Which we (thankfully) didn’t get. The view was great, grand, and gushingly gorgeous. To get down, we followed the white footprints (not the yellow brick road). Mom and I were worried about territorial baboons attacking us, and we almost choked with terror as a herd of gemsbok (more commonly known as oryx) fled through the bushes.

I commented on how I was relieved, but Dad said, “I wish it had been baboons.” Just then, we reached the road and had to walk up a hill to get to our South African car. As we rounded a corner, we saw- you’ll never guess!- baboons! We only saw three, but Dad reassured us that there is always a group. (That wasn’t very reassuring.)

Walking by the little brick buildings used in the hotel, we saw a group of warthogs, or vlakvark. We finally got in the car, went a little ways on the Francolin Walk (francolin is a type of bird), and then got Magnums at the shop.

Once home, Ethan and I swam in the pool, using the little yellow boat to recreate the Titanic.

Ciao!

Hohenfuls Hike

Today the four of us, with Lilly, climbed to the top of Hohenfuls Mountain. Ethan left a note in the success notebook by the white cross. Not many people have left notes since January 2012, which is when the book started. Ethan said,
28-09-2012
Made it to top with Lille, the dog, and family. Beautiful view. Wish you were here. Oh wait- you are!
Ethan, age 11
Oregon, USA

So he spelled Lilly wrong. But he used his best handwriting.

We weren’t officially at the top at the cross; we were just at the end of the spray-painted orange dots. Even when we stopped we weren’t officially at the top.

With all the rocks, you had to watch your step. I fell once, Mom slipped once, and Ethan fell/slipped the most. Lilly was the most sure-footed of all of us. We didn’t see any snakes, which was kind of disappointing. Dad kept saying, “Watch out for snakes,” as if I wasn’t on hyper-alert for the reptiles. I saw one yesterday. Not the whole thing, just the last five inches. For a second I thought it was a lizard, but then I remembered that it was moving in a squiggly motion.

Ciao!

A Dog Day

Tasso, Lilly, Nala, Choc, and Bonzo are the dogs’ official names. Susa, Choc’s mother, was killed by a snake. I suppose that Miro is dead, too.

Tasso is the giant hulk. He is the father of Choc but seems loathe to admit it. Tasso loves the rope and was growling at Alex- the owner- when he tried to take it away. Whenever he’s thirsty, he goes for the nearest water, be it planter, pool, or pond.

Lilly is not who I thought it was. Lilly is the medium-sized black dog. She usually stays out of fights but loves the rope almost as much as Tasso. One of her favorite pastimes seems to be being chased by Nala and Bonzo.

Nala looks like a docile little daschound. That’s just a cover for the demon who comes out against Choc and Bonzo. Her teeth are like little razors. Nala is sweet when you get near her… just as long as the rope isn’t around.

Choc is the daughter of Tasso and the late Susa. She was the only puppy of six who looked like Tasso. She is eight weeks old. Susa died three weeks ago. Choc is short for Chocolate, and she was so named because of her milk-brown coat and floppy dark brown ears. She is, in my opinion, the cutest of the dogs. She is a fierce fighter. Well, she wishes she was. She’s too small to challenge Tasso, Lilly, and Bonzo, but Nala is just her size. Actually, Choc is slightly bigger than Nala. And Nala is full-grown.

Bonzo is the most outgoing of the dogs. He was the one who came to greet us last night as we arrived. He seems the most content with his life and spent this afternoon curled up by the side of the pool. Bonzo play-fights often with Nala (and Choc, too, but she is too small to really count).

I love all five, but Choc has to be my favorite, followed, in order, by Nala, Bonzo, Tasso, and Lilly.

Ciao!

Tons of Traveling or Ze Zany Zoo

In the last week, we have been in four countries, stayed in three, traveled in two continents, and are still on one planet. (The countries are Australia, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.)

Just today, we’ve done two: Botswana and Namibia. The border crossing still took a long time, but that was just because it took a long time for Dad to fill out all eight forms.

We got across, took a picture of the sign, and drove for hundreds of kilometers before reaching Weavers Rock Guest Farm. The sun went down and it got dark, and we were very worried about, say, an oryx jumping out in the road and stabbing the people in the front seat as it slid through the windshield. However, we hit nothing. We saw dozens of warthogs, though, plus two rabbits and a little dik-dik, which is a teensy-weensy type of antelope. (A klipspringer is smaller than that, though. It’s about the size of a rabbit and jumps from rock to rock. And yes, it’s an antelope.)

We pulled in to the barking of Bonzo, one of the four dogs. The other dogs are Tasso, Lilly, and Miro. Tasso is the huge black one, I’m assuming that Lilly is the daschound, and Miro is the medium-sized black dog. There’s also a very friendly cat and supposedly two ponies and their foals. It’s like a zoo!

Ciao!

An Overview of Oz

This Oz is not the one Dorothy and Toto visited. No, this Oz is- you guessed it!- Australia. We visited about eight distinct places (Sydney, Darwin, Ambalindum Station, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Gnaraloo, Amble Inn, and Perth), and it is fair to say we liked them all. My personal favorite would have to be Darwin of the beaches and warmth, followed closely by Ambalindum Station with Mel, Dave, and Fatso, and Amble Inn, home to Sandy, Millie, Peter, and Mr. Fluff.

Sydney: When we first arrived at the airport in Sydney, we were in for quite a climate shock. It was a frigid 55 degrees (or so) that night as Andre Wu picked us up in his van. After a week in Jaisalmer, India, we were about to freeze. Andre and Sabrina Wu, along with their son Anthony, were our hosts for the week. Sarah, from Germany, was a fellow guest. We lived far away from the city center but the transportation system made it relatively easy to get around. The city didn’t officially end even on our way up to the Blue Mountains.

Darwin: Our limbs warmed up as we landed in Darwin. We had a pretty good apartment that had a pool, and we often watched the sunset from the beach. The entertainment was good, especially watching Brave at Deckchair Cinemas.

Ambalindum Station: I am the Reeder star in Ambalindum Station’s TV commercial. I am in the background as Mel lifts the damper out of the camp stove. We befriended Dave, the gem-collector and cow horn polisher, Fatso, Skinny 1, and Skinny 2, the magpies, and Rex, the director and film crew of the station’s TV ad. We tagged along behind a cattle muster, too, which took forever but provided some interesting experiences.

Alice Springs: Ethan and I braved the chilly depths of the pool at Kathy’s B&B. Once. That was more than enough. Ethan also took a didgeridoo lesson there and was disappointed at the price of an instrument.

Ayers Rock: Now called officially called Uluru, Ayers Rock is a popular tourist destination, even though Ethan doesn’t get why. It was cold there, too, but the bush fire along the highway warmed the car up to 31 degrees Celsius.

Carnarvon: We were only here two nights, but while we were, we murdered pancakes, walked along the beach, and sorted pictures.

Gnaraloo: Snake tracks were everywhere, and, in what Ethan and I dubbed Valley of the Shadow, there were plenty of sheep skeletons. Valley of the Shadow was between the big dunes and the ocean. At Gnaraloo Bay and 3 Mile Camp, Ethan and I made awesome sand creations that got destroyed by the rising tide.

Amble Inn: Ethan and I fell in love with Sandy, Peter, and Mr. Fluff. Millie was harder to like. I never really did. Peter and Mr. Fluff, the adorabubble bunnies, were vicious. At least, Peter was, scratching my arms when I was holding him securely and therefore ruining my tan. I still love him, though. We visited the Pinnacles, Mt. Leseur, and nearby Jurien Bay, where we met two siblings who were named Erin and Ethan.

Perth: In Perth we did nothing that stands out to me except playground-hunt and eat pizza at Hero’s, where there were free slushies and Pac-Man games.

Ciao!

Come Look Inside

I now invite you to turn off your cellular devices and any other noise-making electronics or young children. Cameras are allowed, but using the camera on your smartphone is not.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Chalet #1. There are two rooms. Walking through the front door you’ll see a double bed, and there is a cot to your left and a low mattress to your right. Also on your right, you can see a table with a hat, glasses, and a kettle on it. Beyond the wall the double bed is against are the bathroom and a closet. Now let’s do a U-turn and see what lies outside.

You’re now on the front porch of the plastic-walled raised cabin. To your right is a table, a bench, and an ashtray. That is the living room. On the ground in front of the living area is a tree with weavers’ nests. Return your view to straight ahead. You can see dirt and trees. Now go left and down five stairs. Go straight for about five meters, turn right for five meters more, then turn left and follow the stone-lined path for about 25 meters. Stop! You’re about to hit that table!

Turn right and pass the firepit. You’re now at a low brick wall. Follow the wall to the left to a bench. From this bench, you can see the waterhole that animals like rooibok, springbok, impala, elands, ostriches, wildebeest (or gnus as I like to call them), and many flying birds to visit. Keep going, past the metal crocodile and past the shallow pool. Go up the steps. Take a sharp right.

Oops! You just fell into the pool! Here’s a towel. Dry off and we’ll grab some rooibos tea from the restaurant. That’s right back down these steps and straight across the muddy path. Yes, it’s mud. In the Kalahari. That’s because those sprinklers are always on. Here, let’s sit down. The dogs are over there by the parking lot playing. Holly, the dog that looks like Sandy of Amble Inn B&B, is the wild one. However, it gets beaten by Candy, the dog that looks like Millie of Amble Inn B&B, in playfights.

I hope you enjoyed your tour. Thank you for choosing Reeder Tours.

Ciao!

Gnu Animals

Today I have seen four new animals. They are just-seen in the wild for only me because I, unlike Mom, Dad, and Ethan, had never before last week set foot on African soil. The four animals were ostriches, guinea fowl, gnus, and springbok.

Ostriches lined the Trans-Kgalagadi Highway today as we drove northwest. There were dozens, and after a while we stopped taking pictures. Most had the brown colorings of females, but there were some males, too.

Mom was the one who spotted the first guinea fowl on the side of the road. I saw the birds, too, and there are more here at Thakadu Bush Camp. These reminded Mom of the bowls Dad brought her from South Africa in 2009, which are colorful and have guinea fowl on them.

Another name for a gnu is wildebeest, which is the Afrikaans word. I always thought a gnu was sort of like a kangaroo or rodent. I had only heard of a gnu once, in a play when I was in fourth grade. The character Harriet was given a word in a spelling bee and told to spell it and use it in a sentence. Harriet said, “Gnu. G-N-U. Gnu. The new gnu knew.” That line has stuck with me ever since.

Springbok are smallish antelope. They were nervous and scattered when Dad got up to take pictures of them.

There were some other animals, too, just of the human sort at supper tonight. One woman claimed to be from Oregon.

Other humans were involved in today, too, as an entertaining call to the classmates of Ethan and I was made. Naturally the guys were all too shy to say hello to a girl.

The service was awful and we got cut off. That Orange network is very disappointing.

Ciao!

Cheerfully Chowing on Chicken

After breakfast at News Café, we drove out with Dad intending to climb Kgali Hill. We couldn’t find a road up, so instead we did a U-turn and took pictures. We stopped by Riverwalk for groceries, and then put the food away at our hotel. A few hours later, we emerged for rooibos tea at the President Hotel, which even has a Mma Ramotswe Tea Corner.

All of us had the same thing: rooibos tea and chocolate cake with cream. It was delicious, even though the chocolate cake got boring after a while. We looked around the African Mall for a Clicks, and then at the Westgate Mall, but there wasn’t one that was open. So we retreated to the cool of our room until six o’clock, when we went out to supper at Nando’s, the chicken restaurant. Ethan and I had burgers, and Mom and Dad shared a salad and chicken with Spanish rice.

It was delicious, and the chicken made me think of ‘partridge’ for the game of 20 Questions Ethan and I were playing. Sadly, Ethan guessed the name of the bird. But then I discovered his ‘okapi,’ leaving me the as-of-yet winner.

Ciao!

A Bout of Botswana

We’re mainly in Botswana because of Mma Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. In the fictitious series, detective Precious Ramotswe lives in a little house on Zebra Drive. We went looking for Zebra Drive, but the closest we found was Zebra Way. There are lots of animal street names here. We’re on Giraffe Crescent, off of Hippopotamus Road.

We visited one of Mma Ramotswe’s favorite places, the President Hotel, and took a look at the African Mall behind. Because it was high noon, we did not stop to have yummy rooibos tea at the hotel like the detective commonly does. We may return tomorrow at tea-time.

We eventually returned to our hotel and got wi-fi for 48 hours from the front desk. It was a relief to check email after a whopping twenty-four hours “off the grid.”

For supper, Mom persuaded us to visit Embassy, which is an Indian restaurant. We had ordinary curries and extraordinary garlic naan.

Ciao!

An African Adventure- 1

Within the last 36 hours, we have traveled through many towns, six time zones, three countries, two continents, and one land border crossing.

Where are we now? Peermont Mondior, Gaborone, Botswana, Africa.

We had supper in Perth, filled the rental car with fuel, and left it with Avis at the Perth International Airport. At the airport, we checked in, lounged in the Qantas Departures Lounge drinking lemonade and eating olives, and finally got on our flight behind all the tired little kiddies and their parents.

We took off after midnight and landed twelve hours later. Along the way, the girl across the aisle from Dad and I got motion sick, I watched Glee and Modern Family, and all of us tried to sleep.

After going through customs, immigrations, and the motions of getting a rental car, I got in the front seat, Dad got in on the right, and Mom and Ethan chilled in the back. We eventually left Johannesburg proper about a half hour (or so) later. We stopped to buy snacks at a grocery store along the way. Tom Bodett entertained us up until the Botswana-South Africa border.

We  parked. Got out. Took out the passports. Entered the building. Entered our vehicle’s registration number so that Botswana could be sure that we weren’t stealing it. Walked down the hall. Left the building. Got in the car. Drove in to No-Man’s-Land, between the border stations.

The stress level got higher as we couldn’t find all that we needed to declare to enter Botswana. Finally Ethan and Dad went back, and when they returned, all was well. We got to our hotel, got a SIM for Dad’s phone at the mall, bought take-out pizza and milk shakes, and ate supper here. Yum!

Ciao!

Perthian Playgrounds

Today Ethan and I tested five different Perth playgrounds. Here are the results:

Near East Fremantle: – – – – –
This was, I think, the most disappointing playground. Where the sign said ‘Playground’ in big, bold letters stood a U-shaped wood structure with steps. That was it. I was not thrilled, and therefore did not join Ethan in trying it out.

The Steamboat: O O – – –
The Steamboat is right next to the river. It is shaped like a steamboat (*gasp!*), and Ethan and I played Escape on it. In case you don’t know what Escape is, I will tell you: The person who is ‘It’ closes their eyes and hunts, relying on their senses of sound, feel, and smell alone. They finally tag the next person, and that person becomes It. There are two ziplines, multiple horizontal ladders (that’s what I call them), and two rock-climbing walls.

The Pack-a-Punch Playground: O O O O –
The PPP was an orange playground. The actual playground part itself was made of ropes and just begging to be made an obstacle course. There’s also a zipline, swings, microphones, a slide, a sand pit, a see-saw, a spinning climbing net, and a tire swing. We did not play Escape on the PPP because it seemed too dangerous.

Playground in Miniature: O O O O –
The PIM gets a high rating because it was surprisingly fun. It had a tire swing and rocking horse off to the side, and then there was the main castle: a climbing rope wall, two Siamese-twin slides, a climbing wall, and a shelf beneath. The person who was not It regularly cowered on the low shelf.

The Playground for Children of Ancient Times: O O O O O
Ethan and I give this one a full 5/5 because we stayed there the longest. There was a clever sort of see-saw, a bar for me, a chain climbing wall, and a playground on which Ethan and I played Escape. It is for children of ancient times insomuch as the floor is rusted metal and some things are creaking and cracking. But it was So. Much. Fun!

Ciao!

Another Park: DNA Makes Its Mark!

Today we went to another park!

It was Kings Park, a 1,003-square-acre park, located near downtown Perth. We only visited about ten of those acres. What we visited includes the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) Tower, Synergy Parkland, and Lotterywest Family Area. The Parkland and Family Area were, yes, sponsored by Synergy and Lotterywest.

Our first stop was Synergy Parkland. It has a playground based on the dinosaur ages, with fake climbable Stegosaurus and little dino babies. Ethan and I quickly tired of it and sat down with our parents to enjoy the corn chips and the pumpkin and chili dips.

Next we visited two lookouts, from which we could see Perth, the Darling Range, and the harbor. At the Lotterywest Family Area, Ethan and I climbed on the Space Net. I did flips on the lower, stiffer ropes. Ethan challenged me to a round of C-O-W. Ethan went down to O-W when I did several flips he couldn’t perform. Then I did a drop that he thought I couldn’t do.

Ethan changed his mind and made yet more rules: “Okay, and these can’t involve flips.” I quit then and went to the ziplines. We zipped and lined for a while, then returned to the Space Net. We finally left for the DNA Tower, which supposedly has 101 steps. The stairs run like a double helix, with two sets of stairs, and from the top you can see Perth, Kings Park, and the Darling Range.

Our last stop was a ground. They took the ‘play’ out of ‘playground.’ I was very, very disappointed.

Ciao!

Sigh-Tech

 

SciTech is kind of like OMSI in Portland, except I like OMSI better. SciTech is more for little children who get scared of robotic dinosaurs and electronic things in general. However, there were a few interesting things.
The speed section had two races: pedal cars and an electronic car. For the pedal cars, you pedaled as hard as you could until your little figure on the screen crossed the finish line. The electronic one was just like a typical car race at, say, Roaring Rapids or an arcade. Except this was at no extra cost.
We visited Horizon The Planetarium for the Wildest Weather show. It was done by National Geographic and detailed the trip of the imaginary spacecraft Arion. It dropped probes, landers, or the like, depending on which planet it visited. It visited Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Titan, which is one of Saturn’s moons, Neptune, and Triton, a moon of Neptune.
They found seasons on Triton, an atmosphere of its own on Titan, and diamond hail on Neptune.
The lady at the planetarium also told us that we could see Mars and Saturn in the night sky here in Perth. That is, if there was less light pollution.
Ciao!

Lucky-to-be-Free-mantle Prison

 

Fremantle Prison used buckets for toilets in 1991.
That’s one of the reasons it was shut down in 1991- for sanitary reasons. When it was shut down, there were about 600 inmates, all men. Women used to stay there, but they eventually got their own jail.
The blocks of cells even have nets above the floor to stop suicide. The first block we visited  is the largest and tallest in the southern hemisphere. In several rooms, writing was allowed on the walls. One was the cell of an Aboriginal, one was the cell of someone whose painting was therapy, and one was the church. You wouldn’t want to insult the church here; the only man who got 100 lashes from a cat o’ nine tails got these for cursing the preacher.
In this Church of England, there are the Ten Commandments painted on the wall. The sixth one- typically known as “Thou shalt not kill”- reads “Thou shalt do no murder” because the gallows were still being used. In fact, forty-four people, all murderers, were hanged at Fremantle, including one woman, Martha Rendell.
Rendell moved in with her widower boyfriend and his five children. She killed three of Thomas Morris’s children with hydrochloric acid. She gave first seven-year-old Annie something to eat that would make her throat sore. When Annie complained of a sore throat, Rendell applied the acid, claiming it was medicine. This inflamed the throat, making it so the child couldn’t breathe. Annie died on July 28, 1907.
Then came Olive, 5, and Arthur, 14. Olive died on October 6, 1907, and Arthur died a year later. Dr. Cuthbert asked to do an autopsy on Arthur, but nothing was ever found. His death certificate most likely stated that he died of diphtheria, as did his sisters’. Then Rendell tried to kill George, who ran to his mother’s house because he didn’t want to die like his siblings.
Police eventually noticed, and she was tried and convicted. Rendell died on October 6, 1909, two years after Olive and a year after Arthur. The last person hanged at Fremantle  was Eric Edgar Cooke, a self-confessed serial killer. He died on October 26, 1964 and was buried above Rendell in Fremantle Prison’s cemetery.
Ciao!…

Perth Pastimes

 

Ethan and I had to bid good-bye to Sandy, Peter, and Mr. Fluff today, but only after taking Peter on a walk (yes, with a leash) and getting the chickens’ eggs. We drove for three hours and saw, on the way, emus, roadkill kangaroos, and a bob-tailed
lizard.
Once in our house in Perth, we settled in and then went to Coles for groceries. Upon our return, Ethan and I went to the nearby playground. We returned in time for supper, which ended with chocolate ice cream.
Now we have to empty our luggage in search for two cords, one of which I’ve found in my luggage. The other is still lost.
Ciao!

Sandy’s Stare and a Kangaroo Pair

Peter the rabbit is my favorite of the two rabid rabbits. Mr. Fluff is what I call the other one. (Peter really is the other one’s name.) I still love Peter even after all the scratches he gave me on my arms, ruining my tan by breaking the skin.

He gave me all those scratches after Mrs. Murray took us on a ‘tour’ of the land. She showed us the two ponds, the canola fields, their son’s house, Dennis fixing the barbwire fence, and the fields of yellow wildflowers she called dandelions (they weren’t our definition of dandelions). These flowers pollinated our shoes, so Mom’s hiking boots, which were once brown with the sands of India and red with the dirt of Ayers Rock, are now yellow with pollen.

Dennis gave Mrs. Murray, the four of us, and the dog Sandy a ride back to the house. Sandy is the rabbit-watcher. A herd dog by breed, she has a long attention span and was obsessed while Ethan, Dad, and I held and ‘played’ with Peter. Sandy is only three years old while Millie, the inside dog, is fourteen and nearly blind and nearly deaf.

Once Peter was safely in his pen with Mr. Fluff, Mom, Dad, Ethan, some food, and I climbed into the car and drove to the IGA supermarket. Mom and I got out and bought bread, chili-and-lime flavored corn chips, cheese, and lettuce for our picnic at the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. We drove to Thirsty Point first and got attacked by sand.

At the Pinnacles Desert Discovery, Mom and Ethan flew through the Interpretive Center and discovered that there are no picnic spots. We eventually had a supper of sandwiches, oranges, and a chocolate-mint bar in the car. We saw three kangaroos at the next lookout: a joey in its mama’s pouch, Joey’s mama, and another one.

We watched the sunset that was 38 seconds late and then drove to Amble Inn B&B in mortal fear of suicidal kangaroos.

Ciao!

Leaning Trees and More EEs

Today could technically be called a driving day, but we didn’t actually go anywhere. We stayed in the car for a long time, but there were intervals of hiking/walking. Our first break was at Mt. Lesueur, named after a French zoologist. We hiked- or, should I say, I hiked- four kilometers up and down the plateau. Ethan, Dad, and Mom did another 2K loop while I went in search of the facilities.

Before this death march, we had gotten out to look at the informatory signs and take pictures of the flora. This flora included kangaroo paws, buttercups, and melaleucas.

We stopped several other times before leaving Lesueur National Park. Our last time was to look at a sign with a leaning tree on it. Well, a leaning tree that was an echidna. Mom was like, “Oh, that’s a leaning tree sign!” Ethan: “That’s an echidna, Mom.” Mom: “No, that’s a leaning tree!!!” (In her defense, it looks like a tree from a distance.)

That was the first of three echidnas, or porcupines as Dad called them just to bug Ethan, we saw: two on signs and one on the road near Amble Inn. It was so cute and I wanted one (I still do), and I also wanted one of the rabbits that three-year-old Sandy, the Murrays’ dog, was watching so intently. One was brown and white and it was the cuter and fatter one. I picked it up, but it was pooping. I put it back down. Immediately.

I finally got the black-and-white one in my arms and it is, in my opinion, the cuter of the two.

While playing at the playground in Jurien Bay, Ethan played tag with a brother and sister whose names were, coincidentally, Erin and Ethan.

Ciao!

Driving Down

 

Amble Inn B&B is our current location. It’s kilometers away from Gnaraloo, Jurien Bay, and Carnarvon. We drove about 750 kilometers south, plus some east-west. We only hit one animal, a rabbit, although we saw a dead kangaroo, dead rabbit, and a stupid sheep that ran across the road right in front of us.
Anne Murray (who owns the B&B) said that there are lots of foxes, and about once a year the people in this area go on a fox-shoot at night. Two years ago, Mrs. Murray said, they were out from nine pm to three am and bagged 120 foxes. That’s one every three minutes, plus the ones they didn’t hit.
Ciao!

Building by the Bay, Part 2

 

We went to Gnaraloo Bay once again, and Ethan and I built things once again. The tide was coming in, but it was at the place where the beach drops a foot. Ethan put a line in the sand after I started building my own “castle.” I put a hole in the back of mine and a canal going through o that, should the tide actually reach it, there would be a place to store the water. It didn’t really work, though, and our time at the bay ended when trespassings started occurring and a land rights fight proceeded.
After doing homework, we went out to the dunes where Ethan and I tried to parental units and dead sheep. Supper was beans, salad, zucchini, avocado, and pumpkin, and then Dad, Ethan, and I made our own toast over the little fire on the stove.
Ciao!

Sand & Salt

 

After climbing on the dunes, Ethan and I dug a hole. It was frustrating with all the sand-falls, but after while we could see the red-and-white layers of sand.
On the way back, we looked again at the lizard (dubbed Lizzy) and for the first time at the six emus. Dad had found them and was taking pictures. (Lizzy had already been photographed.)
We drove to 3 Mile Camp, where Ethan and I first tested the chilly waters and then built Lump. I dunked and then got Ethan mostly wet. Once we were sufficiently cooled, we dried off and Ethan started digging/building. First it was an O. Then he suggested that we fill it in and make it three or four feet tall. So we did… Just not that tall. Why?
The tide was coming in. Two feet up and two feet wide when a wave hit it and the ocean-facing half slid off. My piece of coral, the Lump’s topping, fell, too. I quickly built the top up so the coral could have a place. Then I helped Ethan.
I quit because we were trying to hold back the ocean. It still stood by the time we left, although I doubt it still does. Time for supper.
Ciao!

Building by the Bay

 

Down by the bay
Where the watermelons grow
Back to my home
I dare not go
For if I do
My mother will say
Have you ever seen a goose
Kissing a moose
Down by the bay?
No watermelons actually grow at Gnaraloo Bay, but I’m sure that Ethan and I could have sculpted one from sand. We tried to make a castle with walls and a double moat, but the tide started coming in. So I tried to make a hole, but only its wall stayed standing with all the waves coming in.
So Ethan and I added onto it, making a crescent, named It, which eventually got mostly destroyed by the killer half-inch waves. My corner still stood, though! So we built an O off of that, and it wasn’t destroyed by the time we left with our loot, which consisted of cool shells and formerly, cool coral, too, but we’re not allowed to take that. Oh, well…..
Ciao!

Now in Gnaraloo (NAR-uh-luu)

 

We finally arrived at Gnaraloo Station today after 150 kilometers and a blowhole. We were greeted by the bleating of sheep and the barking of dogs as we walked in to the office.
We’re in Cabin 6, which is overlooking the dunes and ocean. Walking to the ocean once everything was organized, we saw lots of squiggly snake tracks. There are six types of poisonous snakes here, plus two sea snakes, sharks, a venomous octopus, and jellyfish. To increase my fear, we saw sheep skeletons on our walk.
We dipped our toes in the Indian Ocean and saw a pod of whales blowing. Mom was lucky enough to see one breach; the rest of us only saw the splash. After some more sandy episodes, we climbed back up to the cabin and watched the sun set.
For supper we had salad, snow peas, beans and rice, and a raspberry mousse Cadbury bar. Delicioso.
Ciao!

Carnarvon Capers

Carnarvon is a little town on the Indian Ocean. It is (obviously) in Australia, directly across from South Africa. It is the only place where the Australian desert touches the ocean, Indian or otherwise.

It is also home to Mt Augustus, which is more than twice as large as Ayers Rock, but apparently less impressive because it is covered in shrubbery.

Carnarvon is, as Dad put it, a resort town without the resort. It is a very sleepy little town, but it has oceanfront property, three banks, three supermarkets, a dozen restaurants, and even a Target Country. The town must have a gymnastics club, too, because yesterday at Post Office Café there was a girl on the lawn doing cartwheels, handsprings, splits, handstands, and head stands.

Carnarvon has a few places of interest, including Mile-Long Jetty, which was built out into deep water. This way big ships could have an easy way to transport goods to the mainland. There is now a train out to the end, or you can walk, but both cost money. There is a new Interpretive Center being built between the jetty and the old sheep-shearing museum.

We also went to Pelican Point, where we felt the chilly waters of the Indian Ocean wash over our feet. Ethan tried to be elusive among the sand dunes, but it didn’t really work.

Ciao!

Coming to Carnarvon

Jurien Bay is about 400 kilometers south of us. We’re at some rest stop on the way up to Carnarvon. We stopped halfway to here at Geraldton for some fruit, crackers, and water at Coles. Sometime between here and there we switched from right next to the Indian Ocean to a long ways inland.

Ethan has played Colossal Cave for pretty much all four hours we’ve been on the road. I’ve been sleeping and playing Hearts on the iPad, Dad’s been driving, and Mom has been feeding us, sleeping, or writing a menu.

Dad has woken from his teensy-tiny nap and requested chips and dip. (He got them.) So far he’s had some capsicum dip and a sultana and carrot cake today. Oh, would you like to know what those are?

Sultana– raisin
Capsicum– bell pepper

The beet and sweet-potato chips with the capsicum dip is “pretty tasty stuff.”

We’re now in Fish Tales, which is a little 7-room house in Carnarvon on the ocean. We went to supper at Post Office Café, where we enjoyed a pizza and a salad. Ethan had a red lemonade, which was called a Fire Engine. I tried it, and it was the same as pink lemonade (just a different color).

Ciao!

Airborne Above Australia (Again)

We’re finally in WA- that is, West Australia. We got here after flying from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs to Adelaide to Perth. There used to be a regular flight from Ayers to Perth, but Qantas Airlines canceled it.

On the flight from Ayers to Alice, we got a snack of two cookies, cheese, 110 milliliters of water, and three crackers. There was an hour-long layover in Alice, and then we headed for Adelaide. I watched an episode of Big Bang Theory, and then, because the regularly scheduled programming was canceled, two really boring programs played. Instead of watching those, I read Sacajawea.

It was raining in Adelaide. In case you don’t know, Adelaide is on the southern coast of Australia. We had a three-hour layover (or so) there. The domestic terminal had a surprising variety of shops (of course, Australia is a big country), including Chocolat & Wicked Desserts and Smiggle. I love Smiggle! They organize the store by color. There is pink, purple, green, black, blue, and white/rainbow. I found the cutest mouse mouse, which is a cordless pink computer mouse that is shaped like a mouse. The ears are the buttons and there’s even a little face!

Chocolat & Wicked Desserts was more my style, though, what with its generous scoops of gelato that were inexpensive by Australian standards. I got two scoops, one of chocolate and one of honey-cinnamon. Ethan got one of chocolate and one of hazelnut. Mom got the same as me, and Dad got one scoop honey-cinnamon and one scoop chocolate-hazelnut.

We finallyfinallyfinally got on the plane after a ridiculously long delay. Once we were on we were told the reason for the delay.

When we were coming into Adelaide, there was some really strong turbulence. Some people threw up, so we had to clean it up and replace some seat cushions.

TMI. We did not need to know that there was a storm that we would fly through. There was a little bit of turbulence, but it was the first time that I have heard people (females) squeal on a plane. For supper, we were served pumpkin pasta, a mini Toblerone, cheese, and crackers. I also watched The Sapphires, the beginning of Rio, and three episodes of Modern Family.

Once we landed in Perth, we got our four suitcases and our Avis rental car and headed north for two hours until we reached Jurien Bay. It’s been a long day.

Ciao!

Point of View

 

Rise and shine Ethan! No sleeping in today! We have to go see the sunrise at Ayers Rock! C’mon, up up up!… Ethan, NOW!
Oh, you’re cold? Go stand by Mom. Yes, it’s freezing. The car said it was fifteen degrees Celsius. No, I don’t know what that is is Fahrenheit. Ask Mom for her phone.
Are you done with your breakfast yet? We have to go walk to the waterhole.
That was some waterhole. I’ve seen Periodic Tables with more H2O than that. You want to climb the rock? And die? Be my guest.
Look, you could actually climb the rock here; there’s the chain. No, it’s closed due to high wind. When will ten-o’clock ever come? Here’s the ranger, five minutes late. Let’s go.
What did you think of that? I thought he said “I don’t know what I’m talking about” too many times. He was also trying to convince you not to climb the rock. Like you would’ve even if it was open!
Sorry, I’m not going swimming in that freezing cold pool. I’ll stay here.
Mom, let’s open the Tim-Tams!!! … I want the last one too! Fine, we’ll split it. NO, I do not have the bigger half. I intentionally gave you the bigger one.
Ugh, this walk goes on forever. Ugh, that pun was so blah: “This is gorgeous!” We’re in a gorge. In the Olgas, 50K away from the Rock. That’s where we are. What is Sparta?!
Ohmygoodness, these potato crisps are so good. DO NOT sit on me. I’m serious Ethan. Pose for the camera. UGH! That picture is so embarrassing!!! Yes, Mom, we’ll be quiet. Oh, did you see that bus that was missing an S and said, This bus is licensed to  eat 46 passengers?
Ciao!

Flaming Foreigners

We barely, just barely, made it to Ayers Rock today. We wouldn’t’ve if it hadn’t been for a Californian couple on their way to Alice from the Rock.

Oh, you want details? Okaaay…

We left Kathy’s Place at around nine-thirty am after breakfast and several games of tetherball. Mom and Ethan were dropped off at Woolworth’s and my postcard was dropped off at the post office.

We left the actual vicinity of Alice Springs about an hour later after our car had become sparkly clean. We dug into our garlic-and-chives-flavored spreadable cheese (with crackers) at about noon-o-thirty and enjoyed it to the finish. Another hour or so passed, and The Cloud loomed ahead.

The white swirls at the edge of The Cloud merged with the blue of the sky. To the south was a red-grey wall. Straight ahead, to the west, was a sliver of blue. Looking north we could see a dark-grey column rising, defying gravity.

Three cars passed us, all heading toward town. A fourth finally stopped. In it was a couple from California coming from Ayers Rock. He advised us to put our aircon on recirculating and to keep our high beams on, but he convinced us to do it.

We could see the flames leaping on both sides of the road ahead. Mom took a deep breath. I dug my fingers into Ethan’s arm. Dad pressed down on the gas and… we were past. But the white smoke, it was awful. Swirling ash filled the air and we couldn’t see three feet. We finally pulled through the wall, only to have the worst still ahead.

I think Ethan has bruises on his arm now.

Looking back we could see The Cloud growing in size. A mile or so away from our hotel was a police car that blocked the road. The only way from Ayers Rock is by air (yes, there is an airport). I’m guessing Ayers Rock Resort has a lot more visitors than they planned on tonight.

Ciao!

A V-Air-y Good Day

Ethan took a didgeridoo course this morning at the Sounds of Starlight Theatre at the Todd Mall. After that half hour, Mom, Ethan, and I looked at the shops around it until Dad got frustrated of waiting on a bench for us. So we meandered down to the Royal Flying Doctors museum. We were all disappointed that the “cockpit” was out-of-order (OOO), but we got to see a movie and look at the displays.

After some more walking, we bought some Rocky Road, which is really marshmallows on fudge, thinly covered in the same chocolate. It was really good and we ate it by the Todd “River.” We had a ten-minute delay, but we finally got to the School of the Air center. We got to see two lessons being broadcasted from Studio 1 and watch a movie in the room next door. We also got to look at the Harmony Quilts made by the kids. All 131 students get together at least three times a year. There are 15 total teachers, and each teacher meets every one of his/her students once a year.

They also had a map that showed where and who and at what level all of the Students of the Air were. We even found Jackson from Ambalindum, who is a preschooler. On another wall it showed pictures and autographs of famous people who’d been to the center, and it including Queen Elizabeth II (signed ElizabethR) and Princess Diana and Prince Philip.

On the way home, we bought peppermint Magnums at Wentworth’s. After eating ours, Ethan and I went swimming in the chilly 70-degree pool. We only stayed in for a mere half hour. Once warm and dry again, Ethan and I played tetherball (sadly, he won all three games). We went up to Anzac Hill for the sunset and then bought pizza and a salad from La Casalinga. It was very good, and we ate all fourteen slices.

Ciao!

On the Grid

Finally back to civilization! After two whole days of being off the grid at Ambalindum, we’re finally able to catch up at Kathy’s B&B in Alice Springs. We also got on the grid on the way here when we drove over them. We saw some kangaroos last evening and this morning before we left the station. On the way here we stopped at Trephina Gorge and took a two kilometer hike around the rim and on the bed of the creek.

Once we got here, Ethan saw the pool and instantly started begging me to swim with him. Well, at 68º Fahrenheit, I’m not touching that water. Ethan eventually did, though, and Dad watched him. I hope he had fun.

Ciao!

The New Cowboy

The New Cowboy is on an ATV. He drives across Australia at the back of 990 head of cattle. He stands up in his seat and his jeans are covered in fine red dust. He and seven partners, one in helicopter, three in trucks, two on motorbike, and one on ATV, have the task of moving mothers and their babies to the yards.

He stops for a lunch of a ketchup-and-cheese sandwich and Lamington squares before heading up the hill to herd the cattle. He turns around and cuts off a calf’s escape. Sometimes the calves get so far behind that the two ladies in the rear truck have to rope it in. The helicopter lands to help them, but they can’t do it without the New Cowboy.

He tosses the calf in the bed of the truck with ease. He does this for three more strays later on. By the time he gets to the yards with his seven partners, he is exhausted. But the cattle are finally where they belong; he can finally go home.

(I am not writing about a specific cowboy from today because this is a combination of things different people did. Mel was on an ATV, and so was some other guy whose name we don’t know. Glenn and Michael were on motorbike. Ambalindum Station’s owner’s niece and the helicopter driver’s wife were in the truck at the rear. The owner, Tim, was in the truck at the front. His wife, Emily, and their three kids, Jackson, Harrison, and Georgia, were in the car at the very front.)

Ciao!

Action!

Ethan should be so happy; we got to sleep in! (Well, 8:30.) We had showers and a quick breakfast of cereal, toast, veggie sausages (with sundried tomatoes and kalamata olives), and oranges before moping around the homestead for hours. Well, not really.

First, Mel gave us a tour. She showed us the garden, the Bunkhouse, the Cottage, the Bush Camp, Dave’s cool rocks, the Shower Under the Stars, and the sheep shearing shed. In the garden are her and Dave’s cool rocks, including granite, quartz, quartz with iron oxide, and sticks of rock that a Japanese mining company dug up. Some of these have garnets in them.

Mel reminds me of a friend back home, from the blond hair to her love of Australia to the worn cowboy boots. She is, I think, 26 because she was wearing a Class 12 2004 shirt. She told us that the whole station is 3,316 square kilometers, which is the same as 5,121 homesteads, 819,401 acres, 3,277,606 roods, and 1,280 square miles. Mel also showed us the old butcher’s shop, and in it is a meat cutter, a poster showing different cuts of meat, and a freezer with beef on hooks in it. She told us that she likes the beef at her home, where they get it from English cattle. Here they mainly have Drought Masters (or something like that), with some others mixed in.

She also asked if we’d seen Lollipop the pony or Rapunzel the calf in Claraville on our way up. (We hadn’t.) She said that they belong to Tim, the owner of this place, and that his two-and-a-half-year-old son named Rapunzel. Mel gets to name the next calf here. She’s planning on it being a little girl who’ll be christened Amba, short for Ambalindum.

After schoolwork was done and Dad had gone on a walk and seen a live kangaroo, we got in the Kluger and went up to the lookout. After coming back down, we found that the film crew for the Old Ambalindum Homestead TV commercial was here! (Film crew of two.) So were Dave, Tim, and the other owner of Ambalindum. Dave, by the way, is an older guy who likes rocks.

The first shot that I saw taken was of Tim driving in twenty-four horses (there are twenty-seven owned by Ambalindum). Ethan was supposed to be captured leaning against the fence of the pen. He and I don’t think he was.

Once Rex (the Kiwi cameraman) came back from his wild ride across the bush, Mel and Dave built a fire and, once it got dark, we got filmed. Mel was supposed to take the pot off and on, depending on Rex’s command, the fire, Ethan and I were supposed to roast our marshmallows, and the adults (Mom, Dad, Dave, and Rex’s wife) were supposed to chatter. Dad said, “Whoa, did you see that huge spider?!” I dropped my first marshmallow; the second burst in to flame. Mel had to present the damper (a huge sultana scone. She called it raisin, and Dave said, “Getting fancy now, are we?” Rex’s wife said, “He doesn’t know the difference.”) to the camera. We were dying of laughter before Rex said “Cut!”

Ciao!

Driving Day Dos

We had another driving day today. We drove from Tennant Creek to Devil’s Marbles to Some Little Town in the Middle of Nowhere to Alice Springs to Emily Pass to Jesse Pass to Corroboree Rock to Old Ambalindum Homestead.

  • Tennant Creek: We stayed there last night and had breakfast at Top of Town Café where Mom and Ethan had French toast with faux maple syrup and vanilla ice cream. Dad and I each had eggs and toast- he had fried eggs with plain toast while I had scrambled eggs with raisin toast. He also got a chocolate malt cupcake, as Top of Town Café is home of the Pink Molly cupcake. The owner has a daughter named Molly who likes pink. The owner also gave Mom and me a raspberry brownie cupcake.
  • Devil’s Marbles: This is an area with round red boulders stacked on top of each other and just begging to be climbed by eager little children (such as Ethan). Mom just read the signs as she was scared by the snake we saw when we first got there. For the record, I saw it first. Then Mom, then Ethan, then Dad. Thankfully, it didn’t attack but just slithered off. It was brown.

It is well known that the Country is home to the World’s most Venomous snakes. There are two different Varieties of these snakes: snakes that are brown in color and the dreaded Taipan. The Taipan will kill you; you have no Chance. If a brown snake bites, you have an Opportunity to live if you hurry to Help. Providence is with us thus far; we have encountered only three snakes. Two of these were Pythons and one was a Taipan crushed by one of our wagon wheels.
A Record of My Experience in the Great Land; Australia by Geoffrey Allen Reid

  • Some Little Town in the Middle of Nowhere: We tanked up on fuel here. The official town name actually began with a T.
  • Alice Springs: We had to stop and buy groceries like eggs, cheese, milk, and bread. We also got four Magnums: they were Infinity Chocolate Caramel. They were delicious!!! At the store in Some Little Town in the Middle of Nowhere, and elsewhere, it was AU$7.00 per Infinity Magnum. At the Wentworth’s it was AU$7.99 for four.
  • Emily Pass & Jesse Pass: Two gaps in big red rocks. There were Aboriginal paintings of caterpillars and emu fat. In reality they were just white lines made from white lime, animal fat, and dirt of some sort.
  • Corroboree Rock: Another big black-and-red rock. Some inappropriate jokes were made here, and I discussed my future. Unfortunately, I discussed it with Ethan.
  • Old Ambalindum Homestead: This is a farm in the middle of nowhere, a hundred-some kilometers from Alice down a dirt track and some sealed road. On this road we saw two dingoes, four dead kangaroos, and plenty of cows and their calves. We have a whole house to ourselves. I was in my element, organizing all our food perfectly in the kitchen. For dessert we had a chocolate-mint Cadbury bubble bar.

Ciao!

A Thousand Kilometers of Nothingness

 

Today we got to see 992 kilometers of “sealed” road go by on our way to Tennant Creek from Darwin. That’s a long way to go south in one day, but we do it from home to California just about every summer. Anyway. I rode up front for the first three hours, then Ethan, and then Mom rode on the left side for the last 256K.

992 kilometers of dead kangaroo after dead kangaroo. Ethan and Mom each saw a live one, but Dad and I got to see a dead horse. That’s a fair trade…right?

Once we finally arrived, Ethan and I jumped at the chance to swim in the pool. It was FREEZING! Okay, it was probably just about the same as a lake in the Cascades, but to our India-hardened bodies, it was Antarctic. After a mere fifteen minutes we hopped out and went to Room Five of El Dorado Motel. There we dried off and warmed up and got ready for supper, which we had at a Portuguese restaurant run by a Portuguese woman. We ate tiny portions of our pasta to the tune of Nicki Minaj, hardly making dents in the huge amount served.
After we refueled the Kluger, we passed the Red Rooster restaurant sign. You should look it up.
Ciao!

Water Way, Water Day

Today was our water day. And guess what? We even went to a park! Not a waterpark, officially, like with slides and rides, but it was Berry Springs Nature Park. It is supposedly crocodile-free, and we didn’t see any so I can’t officially argue with that. A lot of people on TripAdvisor and signs at the springs said that there are lots of wallabies and water monitors, but we didn’t see any. So why am I supposed to believe that there are wallabies and water monitors and pythons and no crocs?

At first it was uncomfortable. The rocks were slippery and spiky, the fish were nibbley, the people (namely Ethan) were annoying, the croc attack was imminent, the water was dirty, and the bugs were buzzing and biting.

We left the first and shallowest pool through the shallow canal to the Main Pool, where nothing really interesting happened except Ethan and I got brave enough to do handstands and I thought I saw a crocodile’s head. We went through another canal to get to the Lower Pool, and this time Mom said, “Wow, the current’s really going!” Dad tried to float with the current but kept hitting rocks and I said, “Currently, I’m feeling no current.” And when Ethan said that the current was really fast (or something to that effect), Dad said “Is that a currant or a gooseberry?”

What pathetic comedians we make.

Anywho, we got into the Lower Pool alright and went to the little dock. Ethan was singing the tune to Jaws. I was doing handstands. Mom and Dad were off to the side talking, probably about us. I did handstands and front flips to my heart’s content (not!) and then we swam downstream a little ways. We couldn’t find the weir, so we turned around. Ethan tried touching the bottom where it was twenty feet deep (feet-first). Actually it could have been deeper than that. We couldn’t see the bottom.

Oh, by the way, he failed. He also had a moment where he was scared of logs.

We fought our way upstream through the really-going current ‘til we got to the little platform at the Main Pool. Ethan snuck up on me and touched me with a leaf. I freaked out because I was still worried about crocs. He said, “Geez, it was just a leaf Eryn!” And I said, “That’s just like you hitting me with a log!!!” Of course that made him mad and he started lurking (though he was already mad about something else). (That’s when you lag behind because you’re mad. Not to embarrass Ethan; I do it too.)

Dad was the first one to the Upper Pool, and he and I stuck our heads under the waterfall. It was really heavy and I almost (not) drowned. Then Ethan and Mom came and Ethan and I stuck our heads under the waterfall, and eventually our whole selves til we were in this little cave. Then we left it backwards and floated out with the current-that-is-not-a-grape.

We finally left, picked up ice cream at Crazy Acres (two mangoes, one banana, and one passion fruit), and fed fish bread at Aquascene. It was mostly the same boring old slimy (yes, we touched them. We know) fish, but there was one spearfish- Speary, officially, but Ethan called it Speargun- and four rays: Raygan (the first and biggest one) and a group of three we called Robbie, Ronnie, and Rex. Robbie is short for Roberta. These and Raygan and Speary were too shy to get any bread, but I tried and tried for Speary. And therefore I failed and failed.

We’re also planning on going swimming again tonight. Yay!

Ciao!

Darwin Down Day

It was so nice to be able to sleep in today!

After a (too-long) breakfast of rice, beans, and toasted (and non-toasted) crumpets, Dad sorted pictures, Mom did laundry, and Ethan and I forced ourselves through grueling hours of schoolwork: a review and mid-book test in Science, reading a lesson (or five) and a book in History, and doing a day’s section in Math. I also finished reading Prince Caspian and started on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. So far, Reepicheep, Kings Caspian and Edmund, Queen Lucy, and “Useless” Eustace have been captured as slaves. Aslan has not yet appeared. (In case you don’t know who I’m talking about, I would advise you to read The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.)

After eating our peppermint Magnum bars, Dad decided it was time to Do Something. So we got in the car with our swimsuits on to go to the beach and Do Something. Casuarina Beach is an actual beach, unlike the rocks outside our apartment. Ethan and Dad went way farther out into the surf than Mom and I did because I was worried about jellyfish and Mom didn’t want to be burnt to a crisp.

Soon enough we left and drove to Wentworth’s. Mom and Ethan got out there to buy groceries while Dad and I continued to the Greek restaurant and ordered supper. I memorized the twelve flavors of ice cream alphabetically: Boysenberry Swirl, Butterscotch, Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Coffee Chip, Mango Swirl, Mint Chip, Rainbow, Rum and Raisin, Strawberry, Triple M&M, and Vanilla. Sadly we didn’t get any, but we did get a salad (consisting mainly of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions and not much lettuce) and four pita-wrapped things in three different flavors: one Chippy, two Falafel, and one Saguaraki (we think that’s how it was spelled). We enjoyed these at a picnic table across the street from our apartment, and Michelle, our landlord, came to talk to us.

Ethan biked up and down the path by the side of the beach until he tired of it, then we all came in, and hopefully we’ll have chocolate ice cream and go swimming before bed. Ciao!

Meet the Crocs!

Today we went to Crocosaurus Cove. It is (obviously) in Darwin but it took us a seemingly long time to get there because we couldn’t find it at first. Once we did find it, we parked two blocks away and walked through the heat to the entrance.

After paying, we walked through the little cave at the entrance, ran past the aquarium displays, sped up the stairs, and arrived at the Jaws of Death just in time to see the (fake) crocodile head bite a piece of ice. The saltwater croc has over a ton of pressure behind its jaws.

The lady then showed us most of the crocs in the display: first there was Burt, and one of the other croc-keepers, Paul, fed him chicken. Burt starred in the original Crocodile Dundee and provided the basis for the computer-generated croc in Rogue. Next to Burt was Chopper, who was named after the Aussie criminal Chopper Reid because “they both have missing limbs and fierce attitudes.”

After Chopper came Denzel who is apparently the meanest crocodile at the Cove. In confinement next to Denzel was Wendell, who was named after the rugby star Wendell Sailor. Sailor said that the name was fitting because the croc was big, bad, full of attitude, and loves the spotlight. Wendell is the largest croc at the Cove right now at 5.5 meters, just barely longer than Chopper, who is also at 5.5 meters.

Houdini and Bess- nicknamed William and Kate in honor the royal couple- came next. Houdini got his name for getting fish out of a trap and escaping enclosures at the Darwin Crocodile Farm. He has been tamed since being put with Bess in 1991, and Bess laid a clutch of eggs in November 2011.

Harry was named after the inspector in Dirty Harry. He is apparently psychic as he has correctly selected the results of the Federal Election, AFL, and World Cup Grand Finals by picking the chicken under one competitor or another.

After we all were introduced and friendly, the four of us left for the mall, which sadly closed at 3:30 pm because it was a Sunday, the pool at our apartments, and the Deckchair Cinema, where you sit out under the stars and watch a movie. We saw Brave. Ciao!

Corroboree Crocs

Corroboree Billabong was our destination today, and we arrived after many kilometers in our Kluger.

We got on the flat-bottomed boat with two dozen of our new closest friends and rode out on to the billabong, which is an oxbow lake that connects to the river system in the wet season. Corroboree is forty kilometers long and is home to over 1600 white-bellied seagulls. After seeing just one saltie (saltwater crocodile), we had a lunch of salad, cheese, a boiled egg, and two slices of bread. We then saw more salties and a couple of freshies (freshwater crocodiles) and plenty of seagulls, bats, and other flying things.

There is one croc, Rosie, who lurks in the area around the docks. She is very territorial because she is a female saltie, and one of those could have a territory with a radius of up to one hundred kilometers. Their bodies can be a significant fraction (one out of 25,000) of those hundred kilometers as they grow to be about four meters in length. Males are even larger, growing their whole life and even to a whopping 8.6 meters!

They also have a good memory, sharp eyes, and a keen sense of smell. They can smell you (if you give off a strong enough scent) from ten kilometers away and can see colors just like you or me. They can feel vibrations up to a kilometer away using the sensory cells that are all over their body.

Salties can live in both fresh and saltwater, unlike freshies who can, you guessed it!, live only in freshwater. Some other random facts from today include:
1. The bats were there to eat mangoes.
2. If you cut off a saltie’s leg, you can count the rings on it and know how old it is, just like a tree.
3. The jabiru (a type of bird) bend their legs in the opposite direction as us.
4. The male jicana (another bird) takes care of the babies.
5. The white-bellied seagull was originally the white-breasted seagull, but its name changed because of the need for political correctness.
Ciao!

Yet ANOTHER Park

Today it was Leanyer Recreational Park, which was run by the YMCA so it was free. It has a playground, a skate park, shade, a café, and, best of all, a waterpark!!!

It included three tube slides plus a water playground and a big pool. The playground had two short tube slides (pink and green), water guns, two superfast red slides, and a huge bucket that dumped water every three minutes and twenty seconds (Mom counted). Ethan and I had races following one format:

  1. Go through a tube.
  2. Run back to the stairs and go through the other tube.
  3. Go to the net.
  4. Climb up and go down one of the superfast red slides.
  5. Pull the three ropes (that activate water flow) that are near the main stairs.
  6. Go up the stairs.
  7. Ride the other superfast slide.
  8. Run to the water gun in the corner.
  9. Touch it first.
  10. WIN!!!

The three big tubes were okay. The blue and yellow tubes were for people only (no inner tubes), which meant that you felt the bumps as you changed section of slide. Those hurt. The red slide was good. You had to go down in an inner tube, so Ethan was in the back and I was in the front. It is pitch dark in the tube once you get away from the entrance and exit. That meant that I could tickle Ethan’s feet without him knowing I was going to do that. And that could have been the sole reason to go to the park! Ciao!

A (Mostly) Darwin Day

The day started off with breakfast at the Wus’ consisting of cereal, eggs, toast with Nutella, and oranges. We took the apples with us.

After finishing packing and saying good-bye to Andre, Sabrina, and Anthony, our host took drove four people, four backpacks, four suitcases, and two hats to the Sydney airport where we checked in. We got on our plane at Gate 5. There were a lot of people from the US Army on our flight, and when we touched down our captain wished them “the best of luck here in Darwin.”

The flight lasted four hours and forty minutes, and we were entertained by the movie Mabo about an Aboriginal man fighting for his land and The Big Bang Theory episode. Once we landed and got our luggage, we got our car from Hertz and watched (and heard. Definitely heard) the F-16s take off from the air force base next to the airport. Dad told us to be quiet on our short drive to our apartment because he hadn’t driven in about two months and hadn’t driven on the left side of the road in about two years.

We arrived safe and sound at Villa de la Mer, which is right on the Indian Ocean. After settling in we drove to the nearby Woolworth’s and picked up a week’s worth of groceries, including, but not limited to, lettuce, potatoes, tomato sauce, cupcakes, and butter. We hurried home to see the sunset, and we could watch the pink sun sink below the horizon. After that we hung out on the rocky beach for a little while then came home to have a homemade supper of pasta, tomato sauce, beans, broccoli, salad, and chocolate ice cream.

That makes for full people and a full day.

Ciao!

Feelin Blue

 

Today was our day in the Blue Mountains, which are a three-hour ride from our house. We missed our first train so had to wait an hour for the next one. Meanwhile, I had a Drumstick and the other three had Magnums.
Once in the little town of Katoomba, we walked down the street and walked in to Hot French Bread. After long moments spent dilly-dallying we finally chose: a cinnamon roll for Mom, a piece of cake for Ethan, a chocolate eclair for Dad, and a sticky, sultana-y snail danish for me. We enjoyed these about
 an hour later at Echo Point overlooking the hilly forest. After eating those and some crushed multi-grain Pringles we looked down the cliff and walked out to the Three Sisters via the Giant Stairway. The mountains and sixty-degree weather had it feeling like home but with the Three Sisters…
After that we walked to Katoomba Falls on the muddy track. We saw the last trolley go by following a photo shoot starring a flock of yellow-crowned white parrots.  I went to entertain myself on the playground while Dad finally came to conclusion: we would walk back to the train station.
It wasn’t that far. It only took us thirty-three minutes including our time in Subway ordering our sandwiches. We ate on a bench in the cold but finally moved when it started drizzling. Just like home, right?
Ciao!

Time-taking Transportation

Getting to places from a suburb called Beverly Hills takes forever in Sydney. Thankfully there is a complex transport system and a handy app called NSW TransportInfo. (NSW stands for New South Wales, the state in which Sydney is.) To get to the main harbor (Circular Quay train station) from here takes about an hour.

First you have to walk to the Mortdale train station. You have to get on and head toward Bondi Junction. You get off at Central (or Redfern or Town Hall) and change trains. After riding a few more stops you get to Circular Quay and the main harbor.

The way with less walking is: walk to a nearby bus station and ride to the Padstow train station on the green line. Get on the train and ride all the way to Circular Quay.

Once we were there we poked around until we missed the 2:10 ferry to Watsons Bay. To waste forty minutes we got on the train, switched at Redfern, and crossed the bridge to take in the view. We promptly got off at Milsons Point and took the next train back to the quay.

Finally we were on our ferry. We went through all four stops and were informed as we stepped on to dry land that that was the last ferry to Watsons Bay.

We were stranded! (Not.) So to ease our minds Ethan and I went to a playground and rode the spinning seesaw. After we tired of that, we walked up the hill to the cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The last time we saw the ocean (not from a plane) was last spring in Costa Rica. And it was the same ocean, too.

Ciao!

Another Park!

Another Park!

This time it was Luna Park, which is an amusement park. It is ridiculously overpriced, but entry is free and only two tickets (for Ethan and me) were bought. If you get an annual pass and go three days of the year, you save money.

Our first order of business was, after buying tickets and shedding our jackets, riding the Ferris Wheel. It went around a surprising five times and we could see for miles (if the skyscrapers weren’t blocking our way). Ethan and I took pictures of the Sydney Opera House and the park and listened to the chatter of Ruby and Rosa, two English girls who said that their mum had a ticket but hadn’t gone on any rides and was drinking coffee.

Next we went to the Tango Train. It was set up like this: two dozen cars (we were in #5) on spokes from a sparkling pole. The spokes are covered in a yellow-with-red-stripes plastic sheet that is supposed to be a woman doing the tango’s skirt. Since the “woman” is dancing, the skirt naturally goes up and down… and so do you. At first you go backwards at about ten seconds per rotation. The lady slowed it down and told us we were going to go forwards, fast. We did. Soon we were going at four seconds per rotation. It was crazy.

The Wild Mouse was next. It’s a roller coaster, the only one in the park. It looked very tame. It was very jerky. First you go slowly up a hill in your car (#1). Then you speed up and hurtle towards the edge and the harbor. You seem to go over the edge when WAM! Your neck jerks as you turn sharply and face the rest of the park. After more painful turns and Ethan saying, “Death number three. Death number six,” we found ourselves closer to ground as the turns slowly took you down a hill. There is another sharp turn and a nice, smooth run when CLACKCLACKCLACK you turn another sharp corner, then another, and then you’re screaming as you go down a hill and up and down and up and hope the camera wasn’t back there. Another turn and another and you can see those to Us that you went up and down. You start going down and then a flash blinds you. Darn, you think. I just ruined my picture.

Back up on top and another two corners. You slow down, the man unbuckles your seatbelt, and you step shakily on to the platform. Only one minute and one second of your life have gone by but it feels like an hour (and most of your brain cells).

Coney Island was next and there were steep slides that you go down in potato sacks, tricky floors, a mirror maze, and so much more (and some inappropriate pictures). After some more walking, Ethan and I found ourselves at the Rotor, which you can watch free but with the tickets you can participate. You are in a cylinder. The floor comes up and you put your back against a wall. You’re slightly tentative about this as there is an audience above you. It starts spinning fast and the floor lowers.

You don’t. You’re stuck to the wall because it’s spinning so fast. Minutes later it slows down, you slide down, and the door opens. Not like I experienced this. Ethan did. I chose not to. Earlier he also chose to do the Flying Saucer without me and later he did the Moon Ranger without me too. We also each did the Music Trip three times each (not always together). You’re strapped in on this row of chairs and suddenly you’re up up up and spinning up and down and back and forth and you’re thinking I’m going to die or puke my guts out. Why why why?

And then it’s done.

We also did the Wild Mouse again and it was less scary that time. Ciao!

Parking [a]Lot

Isn’t it interesting how you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?

(Unrelated content above.)

Today we went to three parks. Two were intentional. One was on the side of the road. The three parks were Plaza Park, Millennium Park, and Sydney Olympic Park. The Plaza and Millennium Parks were in the Olympic Park. We saw the Millennium Park as we rode by on a ferry up Parramatta River. We got on a train at Parramatta (which is a city, separate from Sydney) and rode to the Olympic Park. Once there we argued about the correct way to go and finally went the right way (my way). After a few minutes, Ethan saw the playground at Plaza Park and headed for it.

It was a climbing playground, filled with ropes walls just begging to be scaled. Ethan was done in five minutes.

Kilometers later, we arrived at the ferry wharf and walked the 2.7K to Millennium Park. Dad was waiting for us there.

The Millennium Park is awesome. There is a giant chess board with foot-tall pieces (the king is two feet), swings, a giant fort, slides, tunnels, climbing “walls,” a spinning thing, a giant spider web, and zip lines. Ethan and I had a race that went from the top of a hill, through the tubes, across the web, up and down the fort, down three slides, across a beam, and to a pole. It got cut short after Ethan had gone down two slides and I had gone down one. The sun had set so the park was closed. Ciao!

Exchanged

After a day spent taking in the Delhi sites- the minar in a complex, the lotus temple, the India Gate, government buildings, ice cream- we hopped on the plane at 11pm. After a few hours and a couple of time zones, we flew in to Bangkok at five. A few minutes later, we were in the Thai Royal Silk lounge and enjoying the “free” cake, fruit, and hot cocoa. Our time came to leave and we loaded the near-empty Boeing 747. Sadly we weren’t on the top floor, but our seats were comfortable enough. The seats were 3-5-3. Dad had the whole middle section to himself, and I watched our first Australian sunset out Ethan’s window after watching The Hunger Games.

 

EXCHANGE RATE:
1 Hindi word IS 1 English word
1 cow pie IS 28 bird droppings
1 Taj Mahal IS 1 Sydney Opera House
1 wrinkled paper rupee note IS 1 plastic Australian dollar bill
1 veggie burger IS US$24.00 (AU$22.83)
2 meals at waterfront restaurant ARE AU$500.00
1 family’s week-long train passes ARE 3 tickets (second child is free)
1 40-degree Celsius reading IS 1 40-degree Fahrenheit reading
Ciao!

Teeter-Totter Train, Take Two

We finally arrived in Delhi, India, after eighteen hours on the train from Jaisalmer all the way to the Old Delhi Station.

The ride was relatively uneventful. We had take-out from Hotel Surja that included rice, paneer, pakora, korma, and chipatis. It was very good, and we finished supper with cappuccino Bourbons, which are the best cookies here.

First class was a relief, although I didn’t think much of the mouse that crawled down my curtain.

Today is Independence Day here, so the taxi drivers had a day off. We were hoping for a pre-paid taxi, as Sandy Jerath, owner of Jerath’s Villas, said that he could send a driver but it would cost twice as much as a pre-paid taxi at the station.

Well. Even Sandy’s drivers had a day off today. So Dad called and Sandy told us what to do. We got on the Metro and rode to Green Park station. We got off and walked a little way to the white temple. Sandy picked us up in his car and drove us to Jerath’s Villas. We went up all the trillion million stairs to our rooms and decided to rest. At about five-thirty we went outside, had ice cream, and went to the park down the street.

We returned in time for supper at seven-thirty. It was good, and we once again had Bourbons to finish it. Yum! Ciao!

Super Supper

Yet another superhero title (see “Power Post,” August 12, 2012).

We didn’t really do anything today, so I’m going to focus on our supper. It was cool outside, in the low eighties, and lightning was still flashing in the west. We went to Hotel Surya, right next to our hotel, Surja, to eat. We got our menus and sat on the still-wet plastic lawn chairs. We ordered a butter naan, a garlic naan, a banana lassi (for Mom), a Maaza (mango soda by Coca-Cola for me), a Fanta (for Ethan), a bottle of water, vegetable pakora, jeseera rice, aloo mutter, vegetable korma, and paneer tikka masala. I predicted that it would cost 710 rupees (about US$14.20).

It was good. True, the naan was really chipati, but it was still good. The sunset was spectacular because of the late-afternoon rainstorm. The sky was pink and purple and blue and then black. We could see the silhouettes of the monster-sized bats as they flitted about. The lizards caught flies in the light of the lamp. The people from our hotel watched us eat. The lightning made a backdrop for the dark gray clouds. The moon rose behind a cloud, and we could see a moon beam. Old, 70s television shows were discussed (not like Ethan and I’ve seen any, really) after Ethan asked who Samantha Stevens of Bewitched was.

After we ate most of the food, we paid the 710 rupees (YES!!!) and left, but only after seeing the men on the rooftop kneel towards Mecca and hearing a Justin Bieber song. Sigh. At least the giant bats didn’t touch us.

Ciao!

Power Post

Mom said that sounded like a super cereal. I said that sounded like a blog-entry title. Whatever.

The point is, we’re out of power. We lost it at around 8:15 pm after one hour and fifteen minutes of waiting for supper. We lost power twice already today, from ten to eleven and two-thirty to three-thirty. Those were planned, though, to ration out electricity in Rajasthan. This last one started with a flash of light and then… darkness except for where there are annoying people with batteries.

It’s only been an hour, true, but it seems like a lifetime. At supper at the Little Tibet restaurant after the power went out, the couple at the table next to us started talking loud (-er than before). They were playing Bananagrams and used his lighter/flashlight to see. They’ve been everywhere we have in the same order in India (“this trip,” he said) except for Udaipur. I’m not sure where that is other than it is in northern India.

We’re already drenched in sweat now that we’re inside and it’s so stuffy. Ugh. I hope they solve the problem soon. Ciao!

Okay, this kind of loses the effect but the power is back on!!! It is 9:50 pm. Thank goodness!!! Ciao!

Camel Ride: Not as Smooth as a [Flying] Carpet Ride

In case you’re wondering why there wasn’t a post yesterday, we were abducted. By camels. In the Thar Desert. And left to die.

All that is true except for the abduction and the dying parts. We did ride camels yesterday and today. We left at around 2:30 yesterday and went to a cemetery, a temple, the empty village, and the camel village. The empty village used to have people until the 1700s or 1800s when everyone packed up and left overnight. Now it is “of archaeological, historical, and architectural importance.” Next to it is the Jurassic [Cactus] Park. We didn’t go there.

The camel village is in the middle of nowhere. We got there after a long, long ride in the Jeep driven by Amin. We had chai tea in someone’s house and then got on our camels and rode off. Goonpat and a man rode on the first camel, then Dad, then me, and then Mom. Ethan didn’t ride in our line.

Before we crossed the road, we saw the goats of the village heading home. We also saw skeletons of goats and cows. After we crossed the road, we followed a dirt track for about an hour until we arrived at the dunes. Ethan was disappointed because there were other groups of people there and because we were so close to the main road. We could hear the cars drive by we were so close.

Ethan and I jumped off the dunes (sometimes Ethan jumped with Goonpat, the eleven-year-old boy who came with us) until we had some chai tea and supper. After supper we looked at the stars, heard a song by Amin, the man on the camel, and two who came in the Jeep, and went to bed. Our beds had actual sheets and blankets, which I didn’t think I would need. Well, it got cold (in the lower 80s).

We woke up to watch the sunrise, which wasn’t very impressive, and had breakfast which was fruit, toast, and cookies. Then we got on our camels and rode for two hours because Ethan had wanted to. Because my camel kept slamming my leg against Mom’s camel, I got to ride seperately. Ethan was mad because he couldn’t kick his camel hard enough so he had to be roped to Mom. On this ride, one of the two dogs chased foxes and antelope to his heart’s content.

We finally piled back in the Jeep, said good-bye to the camel man, Goonpat, and the others, and rode back to Jaisalmer. I don’t think a shower has ever felt so good. Ciao!

Toast Post

 

Today was toasting hot. It spiked to 100° Fahrenheit and felt like 110. We’re inside, though, in the air-conditioned Hotel Surja that serves… toast! For breakfast this morning, Ethan had a chocolate-banana pancake, orange juice, masala tea, and toast. Mom selected a cheese omelette, tea, orange juice, and toast. Dad ordered scrambled eggs, tea, OJ, and toast. I had a masala omelette, tea, and- you guessed it- toast.
After going to the Jain temple complex and buying two wall-hangings from a woman (!) named Bobbi, we wandered around inside the fort. Dad had Ethan and I stand next to a cow for a picture. Ethan was wimpy and stood two feet away from it. Dad tried to pet it like he had another, but this one (the cow, not Dad) was in a foul mood.
We now had a chance to be prey to the vultures/shopkeepers. One young man came up and said, “Sir, I can help you spend your money. We have lots of ways.” Dad said, “No, thanks.” The man persisted. “Please sir. Shirts and pants, twenty rupees.” Dad shook his head again. The fellow was desperate and said, “Please, sir, is there no way I can rip you off?”
We finally reached home, did schoolwork, and got hungry. Not even chocolate cookies could cure this hunger, so Ethan ordered plain (boring) naan and I had toast. I finished teaching Ethan an important math lesson and went to look at the latest gossip on Yahoo. Mom went to clean clothes and my closest male relatives went up to talk with Raj, who is the face of Hotel Surja. Suddenly someone knocked on the door of my parents’ room yelling “Hello? Hello?” Confused and slightly annoyed, I replied, “Yes?” They barged in and strode over to the window. The balcony’s cushion and pillows were left in a heap on the floor and with a short explanation:”The rain is coming.”
What!?!? We’re in the middle of the desert! The cloud I see as I put the cushions under the bed in a nice, neat stack is light years off, farther east than the train station. The cloud that was suddenly at the window was, however, not light years off. Were those birds or trash flying around against the white that was all I could see? And why was I getting
wet? I rushed over to the window and discovered that the wind was blowing the rain in just before Dad returned from the roof. I quickly moved Mom’s backpack and my Kindle out of the soak zone, and soon Dad had grabbed a towel and stuffed it at the bottom of the window and I went to go answer Ethan’s cry for help. His bed and belongings were getting soaked and the towel he had put at the window wouldn’t stay put. I went back and forth between those two rooms, pointing out another leaky window and holding down a towel. My room, where Mom had been, was fine except for the rattling windows because it was facing west. 
This gave a new meaning to “When it rains, it pours” because it hasn’t rained in Jaisalmer for about a year. Dad said we went to the desert to escape monsoon. Well, it caught us. The thunder and lightning are still going, but it’s not so hot that you could toast a piece of bread on the sidewalk. Ciao!

J-Cubed

 

I woke up at- oh, this hurts- 3:20 am take a shower so we could be in a taxi at four. Our train was supposed to leave at 4:45. It left at 6:30.
Between these times, we saw a pickpocket trying to rob a man sleeping on the platform. We think he failed.
Once on the train, we went to sleep and when I woke up, I put my hand on the window. It was the inner of two. And it was almost hot.
Our train finally chug-chug-HONKed into Jaisalmer. The brown buildings were a welcome sight after hours of red dirt. We got off and maneuvered our way to the exit and the man holding the sign that said “Jery.” Four people, four suitcases, four backpacks, and one hat piled into the Jeep. The vehicle slowly wove its way up narrow streets, into the fort, through four gates,  and to a small parking lot. We got out and walked the fifty meters to Hotel Surja. After the necessary obsessing over our rooms, we settled in, cooled off (we were already drenched with sweat after only fifteen minutes outside), and waited through several short power outages.
Dad decided we needed to go explore, so we left the fort and walked up and down a few streets. Thankfully we didn’t get lost. After another short power outage, we went up to the roof and ordered a round of lassis. I should have remembered the hot “chocolate” of Mandore Guest House. It was only a lassi with hot cocoa powder mixed in. Yuck. And that should have prepared me for the custard at desert which was like hot pudding with, once again, hot cocoa powder mixed in. I’m sure breakfast will be better, though, since they have toast, which I pretty much eat by the loaf. Ciao!

Indian Elementaries

Today was our village day and our last day in Jodhpur. We did this with Lorrianne. Rachel was with us at the very beginning and end.
I  liked the two schools better than the village because the kids were less shy and so cute. The first school we went to was the one where Rachel, our next-door neighbor, is working for three weeks. We only went to her classroom, which was kind of disappointing because I wanted to meet some of the younger students there.
The class sang songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” for us and two of the girls danced. The school was nice enough to serve chai tea, which was so good but scalding hot. We went to a village after that and then another school. This one was in the middle of no where and had far fewer students. We passed out pens and chocolates there and got to “help” some of the first-class students. Khavita, the girl Dad and I were with, taught us that butterfly in Hindi is “tiki.”
We got back in the Jeep and picked up Rachel. On the drive home we saw lots of people going on pilgrimages. They were walking to a temple 150 kilometers away. They were lucky to choose today because guess what??? It started raining at around 7:45 pm!!! Ciao!

Can You Say ‘Cow Poo?’

This morning on our way home from the park down the street, Dad commented on the lack of cow poop in the road.There is a lot on the road, including filling up potholes. “There is some,” he admitted. “But there are lots of cows.” These would be the holy cows, naturally, and a few minutes after he said this, I found two reasons why.

1: There was a wheelbarrow full of the stuff on the side of the road.

2: There were bricks of cow poop drying on the side of the road. Whether they’ll be used for bricks or fire fuel, I’ll never know.

Also on the topic: the walls in the restaurant here at Mandore Guest House are made of cow dung, which would explain why I said, on our first day, “It smells weird.” Ciao!

Indian Impressions of India (or what Columbus thought was India)

“Where are you from?” the man asks. “United States,” my dad replies. It seems like half the population of India should know that this family are from the US. Obviously five hundred million people don’t, but it feels like they do.

When people ask “Where are you from?” they usually add, “England? Canada? Germany?” No one has guessed the United States. I’m surprised they guessed Germany because they heard us speaking English, which is why most think we’re British.
When we say “United States,” there are plenty of funny reactions. Here are some of my favorites:
Boy: Where are you from?
Dad: United States.
Boy: Oh… Obama, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan?
Man: Where are you from?
Dad: United States.
Man: Oh, Obamaland.
Man: Where are you from?
Mom: United States. America.
Man: Ah, Mexico.
Man: Where are you from?
Dad: United States.
Man: Oh, land of Obama. I like Obama… He’s Muslim. You can tell by the name: Osama, Obama.
These last two happened today at the bazaar. Ciao!

J-Squared

We’ve arrived at J number 2: Jodhpur, India. We’ve just left Jaipur, and Jaisalmer is next on our list. After a late (7:30) wake-up call, we had breakfast, watched some Olympic highlights, and moved out of Devi Niketan. The Admiral took our picture in front of the building and said he’d send it to us. After saying good-bye and thank-you and have-a-nice-trip, four people, four suitcases, four backpacks, and one hat piled into the taxi and rode to the train station.

Each time we ride, I feel a little less conspicuous. Apparently we look like seasoned travelers (or just English-speakers) so much that a young lady asked us if she was on the right platform (#3) for train number 14865. We told her she was. What we didn’t tell her was that we were on train 14865. I’m not sure if she saw us getting off, but I’m relieved to see her as the train changed from Platform Three to Platform Two. The side of the train read it and the announcer lady said it, but it didn’t seem like she spoke English very well.

After a six-hour train ride in second-class, we almost got off at the wrong station. We took our cue- and a clue- from everyone else, though, and returned to our seats. I wonder what the Indians in seats 1, 2, 3, and 4 thought since we passed them twice.

We had to wait for about ten, maybe twenty, minutes for our driver to come. Then four people, four suitcases, four backpacks, and one hat got into a taxi for the second time in one day. We went on a curvy, bumpy, but thankfully paved, road to get here, and on the way I saw a truck hit a tuk-tuk in the back. No one was hurt but the driver sure was mad.

Happy and Pepsi were the first to meet us; they’re the dogs of Mandore Guest House. Poor Happy has huge amounts of thick black fur. Pepsi is more suited to Indian desert with a short tan coat. Our luggage was carried to the doors of our rooms, which are in the same little cottage. We discovered that we aren’t the only guests here (a first in India); there is a family, a couple of couples, and a group of people that I know just about nothing about except that they’re staying at Mandore Guest House.

We read, walked around, and finally had supper. To finish it, Dad had ice cream that looked like panna cotta (pah-na-COAT-uh) from Boutique della Pasta in Chiang Mai but tasted like tonic-otta (ton-ick-OH-tah). Ciao!

Another Day, A Brother Day

This morning we “did” the pink city’s main attractions: the observatory, the palace, and the wind wall. The observatory wasn’t like I thought; I was expecting a telescope. Instead, it had things like holes in the ground (to tell time/date) and UFO-shaped trees. (Seriously- they were pruned in the shape of UFOs.) We didn’t go in the palace because it cost US$20 for all four of us, but we did see our first snake charmers outside. Mom freaked out and kept her distance. It was my job to keep her calm.

The wind wall is a wall (surprise!) that high-ranking women could go to and watch events on the street below without being watched themselves. There were windows with stained-glass and fancy stone work and shutters (not all at once) and little pagodas that we used as shelter from the sun.

We were going to immediately go to the Rajisthali Emporium but Dad said we had to be in Jaipur. We were in Jaipur. I bought Ethan a rhaki, which is what you’re supposed to give your brother on Brother’s Day (today). In return, they’re supposed to give you a present (yay!). I think that’s kind of a win-win for the sibling, not the brother, because you spend a little money on a bracelet and then get presents. I’m not complaining, though. I’m just stating my opinions.

Ethan got me cookies from Kanha (we had supper at the restaurant above the fast-food floor, which is above the bakery) after another delicious supper at Four Seasons. Because Mom didn’t want to cross the road which has six lanes’ space of heavy traffic (no one stays in the lines), we rode a tuk-tuk there and back. Both were interesting for different reasons: the first tuk-tuk we tried to hitch a ride on wanted to high a price, so we moved on to the one waiting for our business behind it. We got in and drove right up to the Four Seasons, except we were across the road. Dad started getting out and our driver swerved to cross the road. He (Dad, not the driver) almost fell out. While getting out, we saw the first tuk-tuk stop across the road. It had followed us to the restaurant.

The ride home was much, much shorter because we walked some of the way to meet Mom and Ethan after Ethan had bought the cookies. The driver said his name was “Chikki Chocolate.” I want a name like that! Ciao!

Good Fortune

Today we had the good fortune to visit three forts near Jaipur: Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort, and Nahargarh Fort. We spent the most time at Amber Fort because that was the first one we visited. We were trying to get to Nahargarh Fort because the Amber Fort tickets included a visit to its neighbor, but our driver misunderstood and took us to Jaigarh Fort instead. At Nahargarh Fort, we only paid a visit to the palace because we were looking for a good place to take pictures of Jaipur. Apparently the conditions weren’t right, but we did get to smell some more ancient bathrooms that didn’t stop being used once ancient times ended. (When did ancient times end? In a couple thousand years we’ll be ancient.)

Amber Fort also ended up being our favorite for a number of reasons: it was big enough to not get bored in after a short time, it had cool passageways, it had a tunnel, it had shade (yes!), it had ice cream, and we weren’t exhausted and hot when we visited it. We also got an audio guide. Ethan and I were supposed to listen to it and then tell the other three what we’d learned. The whole program was 2½ hours long, so we didn’t listen to all of it. We did learn, however, that the walls around the diwan-e-aam (hall of public audience) that looked like marble weren’t really marble. This was evident by the wasp coming out of a tiny hole in the wall, but we finally learned what the walls were: a strange mixture including yoghurt, limestone, honey, and marble dust. It was polished with agate and felt and looked just like the Taj Mahal marble.

Our favorite part was the zenana, or women’s apartments. There are stairs leading every where, a water pump, passageways just begging to be explored by kids eager to escape their parents, and plenty of smelly latrines. There were smelly areas in the other palaces too, but by then we’d learned to avoid those areas. Ciao!

All About An Admiral (Almost All)

Today was another sleepy day. After a huge breakfast that included papayas, bananas, corn flakes, toast, and omelettes, we got suggestions about things to do in Jaipur from the Admiral.

His name is Madvhendra Singh, but “Admiral” is so much easier to pronounce than “Madvhendra.” In the book in our rooms, you can read about things from the rules of bocce to when your guests have to leave to the Admiral’s family’s story. His son, Bhriguraj Singh, is the Senior Vice President of HSBC bank in Mumbai while his daughter, Dr. Piyusha Singh, is a Programme Director at Excelsior College in Albany, New York. You can also see evidence of the Admiral’s successful career as the house is dotted with paintings of him in uniform and more, including plaqueaw given to him from countries including the US (there are a lot of these), South Africa, Australia, India, and New Zealand.

After getting information, we did schoolwork and read and listened to the power shut off. At one we rose as if from a slumber and went swimming in the Pool With the Bumpy Bottom That Scrapes Your Feet. Once dry and sufficiently sunburned, we walked down to an ice cream parlor and then two malls. We bought an outrageous amount of chips, snack mix, and cookies at the supermarket below the second mall and rode a tuk-tuk the short way home. Another example of our wimpiness in riding tuk-tuks was when we rode one from Four Seasons, the restaurant at which we had a delicious supper. This one was called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and even had seats to match the flying car. The driver has never seen the movie. I have but I don’t remember it. Ciao!

At Last…!

We got to sleep in! (Sort of) We were allowed to wake up as late as 7:30 so we could have breakfast an hour later. Shiron’s mother made an Indian breakfast for us: putis and a potato curry. You’re supposed to scoop the potatoes into the puti (which is like a tortilla that is very thin and circular) and stick it in your mouth, using your right hand of course. (In case you’re wondering, Shiron is the owner of N Home Stay.)

After eating, we finished packing and learned more about the power outage: it was nation-wide and had happened at about one in the morning. I heard our AC go off and wondered what had happened. I didn’t learn until Mom woke us up that the power had gone. Thankfully, though, Agra got some of its power back so we could stay cool. Shiron had a battery that powered the lights but, sadly, not the AC.

Shakil’s friend, Jeetu, drove us to two monuments on the outskirts of Agra. It was surprising how much water there was in the roads after just one night and a couple of hours of precipitation. In some places it was about a foot deep. The road was not designed very well as parts of it were washed out and the middle of the road was far higher than the edges.

I was kind of surprised that it took about an hour to get to the first monument and then forty-five minutes to get to the next. From there, it took about an hour to get back to N Home Stay. On the way back, Ethan thought he saw Shiron in a tuk-tuk. Mom didn’t believe him but Ethan turned out to be correct! Shiron’s car had broken down because of the water.

When we said good-bye, Shiron’s mother gave Ethan and me a bag of masala-flavored Tangles, which are like pieces of cereal. We enjoyed these on the train about an hour ago along with some cookies and crackers we bought at the train station and Vientiane. (Yes, those are very old cookies.) We finally started moving again and we’ll be to Jaipur in a while. Ciao!

{no title thought of yet}

We woke up this morning at 5:40 to get to the Taj Mahal by six. (Shakil took us.) After two hours there, Shakil returned us to N Home Stay where we showered, rested, and had a breakfast of toast, eggs, and, for Ethan and me, Cadbury chocolate shots and strawberry gummies. We tried to get Olympic coverage on the TV but for some reason we couldn’t get power.

The mini-Taj was next on our list. It was built for the king by the king but he never finished it. It is waaaaay smaller than the Taj Mahal across the river, but it is, to me, more interesting. It had narrow passageways, peepholes, and paintings. The stone outside the main part was burning hot, but Mom and I (for some reason) chose not to use the shoe-covers and just went barefoot. Agh!

Our next stop was a garden. To get to it, Shakil had to take the car through poor parts of Agra. The people in some of those parts live in mud huts and we saw women carrying ten bricks on their head in a construction site. In New Delhi, we saw a woman in her bright pink sari sweeping and picking up trash on the side of the road.

The garden was right on the river and is, according to the sign, the best place for viewing the Taj Mahal in moonlight. It wasn’t nighttime but it got dark fast. The clouds rolled in and the rain came down and we ran back to the car as fast as we could… except Shakil wasn’t there. So we waited a couple of minutes, called him, and eventually got back in the car. He had gone looking for us.

The marble shop was interesting. We bought a table for our living room that has to be shipped to Seattle (!) because that’s the nearest port. The owner gave Ethan a chess set as a gift. It is a wooden box with the marble board on top. Inside are the little pieces, which are also made from marble. We learned that the marble for the Taj Mahal is the strongest in the world. It has to be cut with river sand and water because the marble is crystalline. The sand contains crystals, too. The owner tested our knowledge of semi-precious stones when he had us name seven or eight that were in the “flowers” at the Taj. These stones included mother-of-pearl, jasper, tiger-eye, and turqouise.

The red fort, officially known as the Agra Fort, is almost boring without a guide. It is red and it’s on the river, but I think we still needed a guide. We did learn, however, that the giant cup in the courtyard was for bathing. I thought it was for coffee. It was raining slightly so the walkways were either slippery or slightly submerged. It was fun though, and it would have been more fun if we had been allowed to go up to the top of the walls and walk around, getting an archer’s view.

Ciao!

Entering India

We arrived in Agra last night at eight after five hours on the plane and about four hours on the train and too many hours awake. While on the ramp out to our plane, I picked up an Olympic magazine, which kept me company along with A Thousand Words on our flight. Once we landed and went through customs and immigrations, we got some cash, water bottles, and mochas. The mochas were delicious, and so was the Oreo brownie Ethan got. My peach and banana cake was bland and dry.

We got into a rickety taxi at Post 36 and rode to the train station. It took forever and gave us some more near-death experiences. Once at the station, we waited until 4:30 to go down to the train. The doors finally opened and we piled on. We were seperated because, if you will recall, we got these tickets last week because of our visa problem. Mom and I had seats 17 and 18 in AC-1 and Dad and Ethan had seats farther down but still in the same car. In case you’re wondering, AC does stand for air-conditioning.

After several delays, we arrived in Agra. A man named Shakil picked us up, and he joked how he was Shaquille O’Neal. Shakil drove us to a place for supper where we had naan, rice, lady fingers (okra), and two main dishes. He then took us to N Home Stay and we finally went to bed. Ciao!

Terminal 21- Almost an Airport

Terminal 21 is an awesome mall. We went to it today and finally figured out how it works: each floor is a different international city. The lowest floor (parking and dry-cleaning) was Bangkok… kind of. It had no theme but it was Bangkok. Above that is the food floor which was Caribbean themed. We even saw a sign on a palm tree for Half Moon Bay in Antigua and Barbuda. We’ve been there!

Above that was Rome which was a mix of clothes and accessories. Paris was the floor that connected to the skytrain station. That was handy during the sudden rainstorm. Tokyo, an escalator ride up from Paris, was full of fancy dresses that I lovelovelove. London was a short escalator ride away and it had one of those red double-decker buses. That floor was home to casual clothes. Istanbul connected to Paris by way of one looooong escalator. That escalator skips floors one and two and stops at the floor of knicks, knacks, trinkets, and baubles including giant stuffed animal poodles, video games, and postage stamps from Israel.

The fourth floor- San Francisco- was awesome. There was the Golden Gate Bridge above it, and when you looked at it from the fifth floor you could see the little toy cars on it. The San Francisco floor had Swensen’s (of course!) and even a trolley car. The fifth floor was also San Francisco: the coastal (food court) part of San Francisco. There was a Chinatown part, too, except there was Thai food in it. The sixth floor was Hollywood and there was a movie theater and gym there. Nothing particularly interesting.

It was the best mall I’ve ever been to, and we even heard One Direction! Ciao!

A Vientiane Visit

 

Today we leave Vientiane, Laos, and fly to Bangkok for the third time. There were many things that stood out about Vientiane, but the main ones for me were traffic, money, and animals:

 

Traffic: Laos’s capital’s drivers seem to take life slowly. There seems to be no “fast lane” here. There are also plenty of one-way streets which can make life stressful as you try to find a way to go south on a street that allows only north-bound vehicles. These vehicles include jumbos, motorbikes, tour vans, and VW bugs. Jumbos are the Laotian version of tuk-tuks… kind of. They are, as their name suggests, bigger with the seats in a U-shape instead of two benches opposite each other. There are mini-jumbos, which are technically the same size as tuk-tuks but, because of the shape of the bench, can hold more people. They are also the loudest and ricketiest “vehicles.” They buzz and whine and putt-putt their way through the streets, and our mini-jumbo this morning stopped running more than once while we were stopped.

 

Full-sized jumbos are a whole different story. They have three seats in the front, too, with the one in the middle being the driver’s and the other two for passengers. The seats have all sorts of different patterns on them, and the outside can be all different colors. My favorite so far has been a purple jumbo with seats that are purple with a pink stripe down them. We didn’t get to ride in it, but maybe we will on the way to the airport. That would be awesome! We probably won’t, though, because the most common jumbo color is white with red, yellow, blue, and green accents.

 

There aren’t very many songtows, but the ones we’ve seen have been, for the most part, stuffed. Just today we saw two songtows go by Swensen’s that were full of novices in their bright orange robes (that’s why we noticed them). Vehicles the same size as or larger than a Ford Escape seem humongous unless they’re a cement truck. The motorbikes are still here and dominating. At every stop in traffic, these little beasts move up to the very front of the line of traffic. The bicyclers could do this, but it seems like the only people on bikes on busy streets are tourists, who, for the most part, aren’t brave enough to get up to the very front.

 

Money: The official exchange rate is ₭8,024 per US$1 as of July 24, 2012. It fluctuates a lot; on July 20 it was 7,100 kip per US dollar. This makes prices like 72,000 kip seem low: that’s only US$9. The coins were deemed so worthless that they no longer mean anything. The bills are in denominations of 500; 1,000; 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; and 50,000, which is worth about US$6. There may be a 100,000 kip bill, but we haven’t seen one. Even then, though, it would only be US$12.5 (approx.).

 

The face on most of these notes is the face of President Kaysone Phomvihane, who was Lao PDR’s first leader.

 

Animals: The most common type of animal in Laos is probably humans, but dogs and ants are close seconds. Actually, ants most definitely outnumber people. The guide yesterday told Dad that a popular Laotian dish is fish and ants. The ants add acid, which is sour, and the people like that. Personally, I find that disgusting, but maybe I’d like it… if I felt like trying it. There are ants everywhere– on the sidewalk, in the fried rice yesterday, along the trail, inside Swensen’s, in my pants… (Yes, I did have ants in my pants.)

 

We are of the opinion that dogs in Laos (or, at least, Vientiane) are cuter than the dogs in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. There are four that live right around Vayakorn House: the short, furry one with floppy ears and a nasty bite, the tan short-haired dog of some kind, a black dog, and the cutest black and white dog with a heap of fur and a tail that looked like a fountain of black fur. The last one followed us home from Joma Café this morning because it smelled the chocolate chip cookies and banana cake Mom was carrying. It stopped at a sign post, we turned the corner, and I’m guessing it tried to decide what attitude the other three dogs would have towards it since it was an intruder. The little furry one looks like it belongs in Great Britain for some reason, but it can hold its own just as well as the tan and black dogs.

 

Pigs are here but we only saw a few yesterday in a truck heading towards Vientiane. There were four or five on the roof of the car and more below. They were all alive and smelly.

 

There are many cows here, too. Not in town so much (although we did see some along the Mekong on our first day) as the countryside. We saw dozens yesterday as we drove to and from the waterfall. Our songtow had a musical horn that was used to get the cows out of the way, although we usually just drove around them. Cows are very stupid, and we discovered just how stupid they are when we looked back and saw a calf running along the road with a van right behind it. It could have just turned to the right and been safe, but it chose to turn to the left just as another van was coming. It was hit.

 

It got up, though, and went back to running in its own little world.

 

I hope it lived.

 

Ciao!

 

We’re Now Officially Trekkers!

Meaning we went on one “trek.”

Vin, Lindsay, Kristen, and our guides were our companions today on our trek from Vientiane to the waterfall and back to Vientiane.

We started off at 8:13 instead of eight o’clock because we had issues with the laundry. In the songtow, we took some more turns on all the one-way streets ’til we finally got to the guesthouse at which Lindsay and Kristen, two Canadian friends, were staying. Some more turns found us picking up another lady: “This is Vin,” our guide said. “She is from Vietnam.” She opened her mouth and out came English words with an Australian accent. She later explained, “My parents [who are Vietnamese] moved back to Vietnam when I was young. I stayed with my grandparents in Australia.”

We picked up two guides in a village, and from there we walked down to a river. We got into two long boats and went upstream for about forty minutes. The scenery was not overly exciting, but it was interesting that Ethan had to keep dumping water out of the boat as we motored along. Once he let the can into the water, but the driver got it for Ethan. It was on a string, so it would’t have gone any where, but it was rather annoying when it was splashing us.

The hike lasted about two hours, although Ethan said, “That wasn’t a hike this morning. That was a walk.” To keep ourselves occupied, we sweated. We also crossed several streams and finally came to a stop at some large rocks in a creek. After resting for five minutes, we finished crossing the water and walked for another hour or so before arriving at the end of the road and the sign announcing the waterfall. After the appropriate amount of pictures was taken, we continued on with Ethan, Kristen, and I leading the way. We didn’t actually know where we were going, so we leaders had to wait at the fork for the guide to catch up and take us where we wanted to go.

The lunch was not very good. It was vegetables and pineapple on a skewer with barbecue sauce (which I am not very fond of), fried rice (the ants added flavor), and bread (smeared with barbecue sauce). The only thing I had nothing against was my banana. Even my water bottle deserted me, rolling down the rock and into the dark depths below.

Vin, Lindsay, Ethan, and Dad were the only ones courageous enough to swim. Vin actually did swim, but Lindsay didn’t really need that towel she brought. Ethan and Dad went underneath the waterfall and, I think, swam the longest. After they all dried off, we went back to the road. Ethan and I were in the process of getting in the songtow when we were told we were going to visit another waterfall, which was more impressive. The first waterfall was in the form of stairsteps. This one was just a drop. Lindsay and Kristen also discovered little pieces of flora that looked like hands. Dad was holding one, attached it to his nose, and pretended like he was being attacked by it. Okay, it doesn’t sound like it was funny, but Ethan, Mom, Lindsay, and I were dying. You had to be there.

On our way to supper tonight, I heard One Direction playing. I reacted (I’ll never tell how), and Dad asked if I was being directional. Ethan said, “No, she just heard One Direction.” Don’t worry; he eventually got it. Ciao!

The Laos “Laundry List”*

At Ethan’s persistence, we went for a bicycle ride today after a delicious breakfast at the Scandinavian Bakery. We were trying to find the water park, but we either passed it or it was torn down. Because of this, Dad decided that we should ride to the Promenade. The wind was blowing in our faces, making it difficult to move as we biked along the Mekong.

At noon we returned our bikes and retreated to the shade and AC of our rooms. We read for a bit and then Mom and Ethan went out to buy Magnums and cookies. After the ice cream was enjoyed, we went outside again and looked at a couple of Lao shops. When an appetite had been sufficiently developed, we went down the street and had supper at the Taj Mahal. The garlic naan was the best part of the whole meal; it was amazing. Mom and Dad’s lassis were also very good.

We were going to take pictures of the sunset on the Promenade (which is on the Mekong River), but it got cloudy right as we arrived. We persisted, though, and found a Sunday night market and a group workout. At the market, I got a T-shirt and Ethan got a necklace with a stone made from aluminum from a bomb or an airplane. The plane and bomb fell near/in a village and the people took the aluminum and made things like spoons, bracelets, and necklace charms out of it. (At least, that’s the story they give.) Another interesting part was hearing Every Day I’m Shufflin’ play.

*Dad says that sometimes we just write down what we did and that is called a laundry list.

Ciao!

Today Was a _ _ _ Day

Hot. That’s what today was; I don’t need to ask you to describe it for me. It is a dry heat here in Vientiane, which is probably a good thing since it’s preparing us for India. Even then, it’s hotter in India than here, which is not a good sign for us. Today was as follows:

Cool- in the 70s: This morning we got up at a more respectable time- 7:00- and had breakfast at 8 o’clock at Cafe d’Croissant. We had the Viking Breakfasts, which consisted of five small slices of fruit (three of watermelon and two of pineapple), three pieces of toast, butter, jam, and shredded cheese. It also came with hot coffee or tea, but Ethan and I opted for the mochas. Dad accepted his water as it was, but Mom was brave enough to order the black coffee that came with the meal. Ethan and Dad ordered baguettes instead of the toast, but the former received the toast (against his wishes, of course!). There was also a dog who hung around us the whole meal, most likely waiting for a handout (which he did not receive).

Warmer- in the upper 70s: A short jumbo (like a tuk-tuk, only bigger) ride away were two wats and a golden stupa. The wats were both museums and were across the street from each other. The first one- Haw Phra Kaew- used to hold the emerald Buddha, but when the Siams invaded, they stole it. It’s currently in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. The second one, Wat Si Saket, contains at least 10,000 Buddha figures. It is the oldest temple in Vientiane at the ancient age of 194 years. The current version was built in 1818 by King Anouvong. It was built in the Siamese style of Buddhist temple, which could have been what saved it from destruction in 1827 when Siam invaded Vientiane. The invaders used the wat as their headquarters and named it after Wat Saket, which is in Bangkok. The French restored the temple in 1924. We only had fifteen minutes at the golden stupa, named That Dam, which is the pretty much the symbol of Laos.

Hot (seemingly)- lower 80s: Our jumbo driver then took us to Patuxay, which literally translates (from French) to “Gate of Triumph.” The money for it was given to the Laos by the American government to build an airport during the Vietnam War. The Laotians figured that they knew a better way to spend it: build a monument in their capital city honoring the Laotian soldiers who had died in WWII and fighting for independence from France. The arch is refered to as the “vertical runway.” The Chinese also “helped” with this monument by donating a musical fountain, which is covered in grime. However, it is spectacular to look at when it is running. The arch has multiple levels: there is the ground underneath it, the level up one set of stairs where you can look down into the shade below, up the next set of stairs to where little windows with Buddha carvings let the light come in, a level with shops, a level that is supposedly a museum but also contains shops, the “top” with the sun beating down on you, another little shop slightly above the center of the “top,” and the true top, which can only hold about ten people once you go up a set of steep and twisty stairs. While we were coming down, we heard someone doing a cover for One Direction and they were awful.

Even hotter- mid-80s: After our ride, we went to The Pizza Company and Swensen’s for lunch. It’s awesome having a Swensen’s- the first foreign chain-restaurant in Laos- a two minutes’ walk away from where we’re staying.

Hottest (we’re guessing)- upper-80s, lower-90s: We stayed inside and read on our Kindles. I actually got Ethan to read Heidi!

Cooler- lower-80s: Our supper at the Lao Kitchen was delicious. The two most important parts for me were these: I got to drink a Mirinda for the first time in my life and that cat scared me. I had an orange Mirinda in a bottle. Ethan thought it tasted like Fanta, but I think it tastes more like Thomas Kemper, which is, in my opinion, the best orange soda ever. (Except Mirinda may now edge it out to win gold.) That cat was the feline who kept walking back and forth in front of the Lao Kitchen. It seemed to have nothing better to do than pace and, as Dad and I saw, jump at the occasional bug. Mom said that it looked like a Jersey cow because it was white with brown splotches. I said that it seemed like it was a guard cat, but Dad said that it couldn’t seem to guard its tail, which was little more than a three-inch stub. It crawled under the table, I pulled my feet back, we touched each other, I squealed, and that cat ran away.

Colder: It’s getting that way all the time! Ciao!

Over Here!

We’re in Laos! That’s because our Thai visas expire today and we had to go somewhere else. We’ll return later to give our passports to the Indian Visa Application Centre in Bangkok… hopefully. We’re not so sure they’ll let us back in after such a short time away. But I’m crossing my fingers.

After breakfast at our hotel in Bangkok, we went to the airport, mailed some postcards, and waited in the Thai/Star Alliance lounge until we had to flaunt our boarding passes at Gate D1. Our plane to Vientiane, Laos, was tiny (comparatively) and was in the air for about one hour. We landed in Vientiane, applied for and received our visas, and met the man from Vayakorn Guest House. Dad got 1,000,000 Lao kip (about US$125) at the ATM and we piled into the van with our four suitcases, four backpacks, four people, and one hat.

Vayakorn Guest House is nice enough, but my main issue with it is that, because the floor is wood, you have to take off your shoes before continuing upstairs to your room. This can be very uncomfortable when you have multiple pairs of shoes and you’re packing up to leave, forgetting the pair of shoes you left waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

We went out around four o’clock for water and shampoo and to look at the Mekong River and Thailand, which is about 1/4 mile away from where I sit typing this. (The Thai-Lao border is, like the one between Washington and Oregon, down the middle of the river for most of the way.) There, people were setting up their booths for the Friday night market. We finally found a little store (NOT a 7-Eleven. In fact, we haven’t seen a single one!) and bought our shampoo and 12 liters of water (eight 1.5 liter bottles). We also saw the Mirinda soda bottles. I wanted to get some of that and a chocolate truffle Magnum bar, but we needed to get back in an air-conditioned place. However, we need to come back soon as Ethan is dying to get his hands on Mirinda (for those of you who don’t know, Mirinda is the name of my best friend).

We returned to my parents’ room to look at the kip bills. Lao money is so worthless that the government quit making coins. The largest bill is K$50,000, or about US$6. In the lobby of Vayakorn, there is a framed two-dollar bill, which was surprising on so many levels.

For supper, we went to Makphet, which is a restaurant that gives poor people jobs. Our food was pretty bland, but our kips went towards a good cause (see it here at http://www.tree-alliance.org/our-restaurants/makphet.asp?mm=or&sm=mp). We returned home, ate some more strawberry creme Oreos, and typed this up. It’s getting “late.” Ciao!

Today Was a(n) [insert adjective] Day

You can comment on what sort of day you think it was after you read this. This is in chronological order according to the times on my stupid (you’ll see why) watch:

2:33: I wake up, look at my watch, think Thank goodness there’s still an hour, and go back to sleep.

3:25: Alarm doesn’t go off.

4:08: We wake up to Mom knocking on our door. I tell Ethan to get his butt in the shower, and I answer the door. We think she had been standing and knocking for quite a while.

4:10: Ethan finishes his shower- if you can call a nozzle sticking out of a wall and spraying the toilet a shower.

4:33: We’re all dressed, showered, packed, and out the door in the airport shuttle.

4:44: Our arrival at the airport is too early; we have to wait until five o’clock rolls around.

4:59: We’re checking in and the lady looks at our tickets from Bangkok to New Delhi.

5:00: She asks if we have our Indian visas.

5:01: We don’t.

5:06: She pulls up a list of countries whose citizens don’t need visas beforehand: Cambodia, Singapore, South Korea, Mexico, Vietnam… the US is not on there.

5:07: We head to the benches to regroup and an exclamation is heard: “I want to go home.”

5:38: A family sits down across from us, happily eating their Hilton breakfast and displaying their Swiss passports.

5:52: They finally leave.

6:37: We go to the United Airlines counter and reschedule our flight to India for Friday.

6:39: The benches are a wonderful find.

7:32: Our bags (except for Dad’s backpack) are left with the people at LEFT BAGGAGE.

7:33: We find another bench.

7:46: Ethan and I go up to the (frigid) observation deck. That airport has the AC on waay too high.

7:49: We head to the FamilyMart and look at all the sickly-sweet looking foods.

7:51: We return to our parents.

9:31: The female half of us changes the new flight to Saturday, July 28.

9:35: Mom goes looking for unguarded electrical outlets for her phone.

9:41: She returns with no luck.

9:47: We look for breakfast.

9:58: Chocolate waffles!!!

10:03: We buy our tickets for the airport train, which goes in to town.

10:07: Oreos are bought just to get some smaller bills/coins.

10:09: We begin to wait for the train.

10:23: It finally comes.

10:52: We quickly exit the station and walk to the tube.

11:09: We’re spit out of the train into the rain.

11:10: We start walking the wrong way.

11:22: We stop and ask where we are.

12:01: Finally! The stairs up to the GLAS HAUS loom in front of us.

12:07: We enter the Indian Visa Application Centre.

12:09: We’re back in the hallway to fill out the remaining three forms- Mom’s, Ethan’s, and mine- on the iPad.

13:12: We’re now officially in the Centre.

14:29: After being forced to pretend that my signature at age nine is still the same three years later, we leave with the promise to return with our passports next week.

14:57: The underground’s doors close too soon and I am left behind.

14:59: A Thai lady tells me that she’ll make sure I get to the right place (the next stop). That was nice, but I would have been perfectly fine on my own.

15:01: The next train comes.

15:03: I get off and Ethan tells me that Mom’s looking for me. Thankfully she didn’t go back (although we could’ve easily called her. We had four bars… underground!).

15:07: We’re back on our way to the airport.

16:32: Supper is served at Twin Time, a restaurant in the airport that serves tiny portions. My chicken satay and Thai iced tea were AMAZING.

17:49: Ethan invites me to come to the bookstore with him so he can show me the Justin Bieber book. Of course, he didn’t tell me this beforehand.

18:13: 31 Flavors! (Ethan counted- there were 30 flavors in 32 tubs. FYI, 31 Flavors is Baskin Robbins)

18:17: I try a spoonful of green tea ice cream. Be warned! (Unless you like greasy ice cream that tastes like moldy [and looks] like moldy vanilla.) Dad, Ethan, and I each get one scoop of Chocolate Mousse Royale and one scoop of World Class Chocolate. Mom had one scoop of the former and one scoop of mint chip.

18:31: Dad buys water at the 7-Eleven.

18:37: We retrieve our luggage.

19:29: We arrive at Mariya Boutique Residence, and I grab a banana.

20:46: Mom chokes on her malaria pill as I read her this post.

21:13: I bid you… Ciao!

The Day of the Doi

Today was another- and our last- day in Thailand. After waking up at an hour too early to write about, we went up to Doi Suthep and watched the fog roll in and out. Ethan and I also bought some bananas deep-fried in batter. These were delicious, although it was hard to tell how delicious they actually were because we wolfed them down so fast while they were still burning hot.

We had our typical breakfast at Nature’s Way: one mango pancake each for Mom, Dad, and Ethan, a banana pancake for me, a pineapple shake for Dad and one for Ethan as well, a pineapple-banana shake for Mom, and a watermelon shake for me. We were almost persuaded to buy a flower chain from the little old lady who was selling them on that street as it smelled so good, but we didn’t. I’m not really sure why.

Back at M.D. House, we finished packing and crammed our four suitcases, four backpacks, four people, and one hat into the van of Mr. Sombat. I decided that a van that big- it holds ten people plus the driver- would be a good way to carry my friends and me around town. Not that I actually have nine friends who would want to do that, but it was a pretty cool van.

We went up to Doi Kham which has a huge white and gold statue of Buddha. We were told that we didn’t have to take off our shoes to go inside the wat, which seemed crazy. But, being obedient little children, we did as the monk suggested and went inside, pausing to look at the Poster of Horrors on the wall. It said something in Thai, but the pictures made it obvious: the little blue people were the victims of the big yellow people’s abuse. The little blue people were being sawed in half, pressed to death, burned, hanged, poisoned, forced to work and climb cacti naked, and other horrible things.

The monk was, thankfully, right and we didn’t end up looking like the stupid tourists. There was a Thai couple who seemed very Buddhist. They had their shoes on.

Once outside on the balcony, we could see all of Chiang Mai. (All of it, that is, except for the part that was blocked by the hill to the northeast.) We could see, just below us, the gardens we went to a while back, where we first saw Doi Kham from afar.

Mr. Sambot took us back to the airport and we had Dairy Queen there. That was a mistake because we found chocolate Magnum bars in ToGo, a little store by the waiting area. Not that we were starving. My Blizzard was excellent, and the sandwich with mysterious contents on the plane was pretty good too. I don’t think it was so good, though, that the flight attendant needed to wake us up for it. We went back to sleep, though, and soon enough we were in Bangkok. Ciao!

Good Morning Chiang Mai Cafe

We finally found it! We were in a totally wrong part of town when we looked for it last time, but Dad went to its website and we rode a tuk-tuk to Good Morning Chiang Mai Cafe. Well, not directly to it. We rode it to a wat and then walked around the corner to the “eclectic” cafe. The menu was pretty good and I got a tall stack of pineapple pancakes. They were called “Fruit Pancakes” but the only fruit besides pineapple was the watermelon that came with it. Dad had the fruit waffles and the yellow chicken curry, Ethan had the whole-wheat pancakes, Mom had the French toast, and each of us had a mocha, which was just a latte with a pseudonym.

We spent the time eating and looking at the three books in the cabinet by the beanbag I sat in. There were two modern hotel picture books and a book called An Idiot Abroad about a British guy sent by his two friends to go see the seven wonders of the ancient world. Dad does not have a very high opinion of it.

We visited the park in the corner of the old city, and there Ethan and I played hearts and sudoku on our parents’ phones. I also got frustrated with some stupid cannibalistic ants. Our steed home was yet another tuk-tuk, which we rode in only after Dad and the driver haggled over the price.

I’ve decided to let you in on a little secret: we’re going to Boutique della Pasta for supper. Ciao!

Boredom Buster

I do not know anyone named Buster, but today was filled with boredom. After going to a wat early this morning, we went to breakfast at- yet again- Nature’s Way. I had a latte with chocolate syrup and a banana pancake smothered with chocolate syrup. After that very healthful breakfast, we returned to M.D. House and sat around for the next three hours doing nothing. Okay, we read. But that was it.

Ethan and I were going to go down to the computer room, but our parents had other plans: we needed to go to UPS to mail a package and to the market to buy fruit. On our way to UPS, we stopped at the Thai airlines building and Mom, Ethan, and I got to relax in the air-conditioned room while Dad took care of our flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.

Once on our way again, we took a left turn and walked down the outer edge of the square part of Chiang Mai to find UPS. Well, we took a wrong turn. We finally discovered this and had to walk back and beyond, going almost to the corner. After buying a box and paying for the shipping, we lost an extremely large amount of money for two reasons: one, we were shipping finished school books home and, two, I sent away my foreign currency that I don’t need on this trip such as colones, pesos, and pounds.

We went back out into the scorching sun and walked around the corner of the city and all the way to the market, where Mom bought mango and pineapple. Ethan and I both got shakes: he got a pineapple shake and I got a mango-banana shake. Never again. Ever!

Once we got home, we did our schoolwork and went on the computers in the computer room. After a short visit there, we retreated to our parents’ room and looked at places to stay in Greece. Don’t worry! I won’t be a spoiler and tell you where we’re going! My dad can do that for me on the itinerary page. Ethan and Mom also finished their game of War. She won.

Supper was, for the third time, at Aum. We have plenty of memories there: playing the guitar (and fighting over it), Dad eating the spoonful of what looked like avocado but was really wasabi [horseradish] that came with our avocado maki (sushi with vegetables instead of meat. Aum is a strictly vegetarian restaurant), playing with the Barbie and trying to make her hair look less greasy, trying to figure out what the yak-like animal under “N” on the alphabet-board was, and discussing what a hard time the people are having at work without Dad. Would you like me to explain the alphabet-board? Well, we dubbed it the Periodic Table of the Elephants. It shows the Thai alphabet and our alphabet, and for each letter is a picture. For example, under the letter B is a bird with a ball and a boyfriend bird. It is named for the elephant under “E” because Ethan asked if it was the Periodic Table of the Elements. I responded, “No. It’s the Periodic Table of the Elephants.” Some of the other ones were not so obvious, but we decided that, yes, it is a xow underneath “X” with 1.5 bottoms.

We got Magnums at the 7-Eleven after discovering that the lady who did our laundry couldn’t find one of my socks. We didn’t get Magnums because of that, mind you, but because we hadn’t had ice cream all day (!) and desperately needed to. I find it amusing how at home a pack of gum costs about $1 and here it costs about $33.33 cents. Ethan wanted to spend his pocket change on things beside just ice cream but we had a record of 1:40 to beat on our way back. Guess what? We didn’t. But we did finish the easiest e-crossword puzzle on the website that I found with 30%. We got all the words/letters right (it tells you), but I kept guessing on the letters which lost us the 70%. With my parents’ help, though, I finally finished it. I absolutely hate to say this, but… I could have never done it without you. Ciao!

Buatong Bash by Boon

Buatong Waterfall was our destination today, and after an hour on the road, we finally made it.

Buatong is named after one of the king of Lanna’s daughters. He and his wife were killed and only his daughters Buakaew and Buatong escaped with their lives. Alas, they had no water in the jungle, so they prayed to one of their goddesses for help. The spring came out of the ground and the girls were saved.

The water contains calcium carbonate which has turned leaves, roots, and other things there into smooth rock. Well, not completely smooth. If you’re climbing up or down the waterfall, you’ll notice that the places where the flow is weak are the slippery parts. (Those parts are also green, brown, or black.) There are three levels, and at the bottom of the third one are two shallow pools (one is made for you to jump into. The other is probably too shallow). The top level is by far the longest. From the spring, there is a deep little stream that turns into the falls. After centuries of flow, there are turns around trees that are perfect little chairs.

The second and third falls are much the same, and for the best part you can, like Ethan and I did, climb all the way up to the top in the falls instead of on the trail. If you want to walk 150 meters, you can see the crystal-clear spring. Besides the waterfall, there is a bathroom (Europeans/Americans be warned: these are not Western toilets) and two places to buy necessary food staples such as fried chicken, papaya salad, and ice cream.

We drove back to Chiang Mai in Mr. Boon’s car. He has been of the utmost help to us and we thanked him greatly. Ciao!

Recording Life

Today Ethan and I finally beat our parents to the breakfast table. We were down at 7:43 am with the intent to pleasantly surprise them (“them” in this case being Mom). After some cajoling, our twosome became four at around 8:19. At church we visited the English Sabbath school and listened to the service and sermon,which was all about what women shoulwe wear according to the Bible, Ellen White, and the speaker herself.

Potluck was the high point, what with one of the boys turning two, and there were noodles, spring rolls, and chocolate cake. Three people from our Sabbath school talked with us about our trip, and we discussed their travels as well. One man had been to India, Australia, Burma, Thailand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Laos, Pakistan, Great Britain, Italy… the list goes on.

Once home, we read: I on my Kindle and Ethan 360 Degrees Longitude. We finally went down to the pool and disrupted the sunbathers’ orderly afternoon. We timed ourselves and I can hold my breath for a pathetic 31 seconds and Ethan a mere 24. I can also do an underwater handstand for only eleven seconds. Once dry, we were dismissed to run to the 7-Eleven for four Magnum bars. It took us 6:44 minutes total, and we were out with the melting and cracking for an astoundingly long time of 2:19. We enjoyed that chocolate as well as our panna cotta at Boutique della Pasta after our potato and olive pizzas. Ciao!

The Search for the Perfect Cafe Take 2

Mom found the perfect place for breakfast this morning: Good Morning Chiang Mai.

 

Except… it wasn’t there. After spending a trillion hours looking for it, we finally settled on some cheap coffee shop playing So You Think You Can Dance. Their waffle maker wasn’t working, the pancakes were bland, and the fried rice was too onion-y. Ethan said that his mocha was good!

We returned home and did nothing except dip in the pool (we didn’t swim or dunk because it smelled strongly of lethal chemicals) until four. We got up and left for the Central Airport Plaza, where we found Ethan some lightweight shoes, got some chocolate ice cream at Swensen’s (Sticky Chewy Chocolate Fantasy for Mom and me, Chocolate Crunch for Dad, and an waffle bowl of some sort for Ethan), and had pad Thai noodles for supper. Ethan also got a pineapple shake afterward (we all tried some- so good!) and we all rode home in a little songtow. Ciao!

Sunshiny Days

Our father decided that we should get up at the awful time of 6:40 am to be able to leave our hostel at 7:30 for Doi Suthep, the wat up on the hill. After climbing 618 steps and watching Ethan slowly eat a cup of hot corn (and discovering that the waffle man doesn’t get to his shop before 9:30 am), we climbed back in our songtow and headed down the hill.

Once we returned to Chiang Mai and had breakfast yet again at Nature’s Way, we did homework, ate Magnum bars, and played Temple Run until about 3 o’clock. That was when we left for Mom and Dad’s foot massages (Ethan decided not to at the last minute) and my manicure (purple and gold!). Ethan sat on the couch for the whole hour and enjoyed the sticky rice candies. Each massage cost US$5 for one hour, and my manicure cost US$5 as well.

We returned to our rooms, took our doxy, and left at around approximately 6:44 pm for supper, which we had at Ourhouse, the restaurant  associated with the Ourhouse 3 guest house. The little girl of one of the servers, who was wearing a pink dress with Minnie Mouse on the front and Mickey Mouse on the back, was trying to be helpful. She achieved this by taking Ethan’s empty Fanta bottle and napkin off our table, which was only a few inches shorter than her.

It had been roasting hot all day, and as we left the restaurant, the rain started to fall. We had heard the thunder, seen the lightning, and felt the sudden chill, but we didn’t know when it was going to rain. We left in the nick of time. Ciao!

“Our Food is Guaranteed to Make You Look Pregnant”

That’s what the wall at the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre says. (Not that I would know. I never saw the sign in person. I just saw it on the camera.) The Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre is where Mom and I went today for seven-and-a-half hours, from nine o’clock to four-thirty.

We were picked up at approximately 9:01 this morning. We were the first of nine in our songtow and were followed by three British guys and a group of four with a couple from Malaysia and a couple from China. After a few minutes at the Centre eating sugared dried bananas, we got back in our songtow and rode to the market on the other side of the river. After our “guide,” Aum, showed us how to make coconut cream, which chilies are spiciest, and more, we had ten minutes to look around as she bought our groceries. I bought a pink Thai cupcake for five baht. Mom and I ate some of it (I didn’t like it very much) and saved the rest for Ethan and Dad.

Our ten minutes were up and we joined the rest of our group at the table with our baskets. We each got to carry some groceries out to the songtow. Upon our return to the Centre, we split into groups according to what noodle/rice we were making (the rice and noodles were pre-made). I was making the thick Thai rice noodles, so I joined a group with Tae and some others. (Tae is kind of important, but I’ll tell why in a few lines.) We cooked our egg, chicken, noodles, and herbs and ate the delicious dish. After we made that, we made and deep-fried our spring rolls (but we couldn’t have the peanut dipping sauce too spicy because we have a kid in our group [me]) and went to work on our green curry paste. This we added to our green curry, which included chilies (with the seeds taken out), chicken, eggplants (mini, of course), and some herbs.

Do you want to hear about Tae now? She’s from Wales and left her job for two-and-a-half months with her boyfriend Richard (who was also at the Centre). The reason she’s important is because she and I cooked the exact same things except for the dessert.

Before we could eat that, though, we had to make our stir-fried dish. I had chosen sweet and sour (my favorite!). That made, we joined the others in the air-conditioned room and savored the curry and stir-fry. The curry was amazing (mostly because there were hardly any spices in it), but the sweet and sour was kind of tasteless. We only had four pieces of pineapple to put in the stir-fry, but all four were very, very, very good.

We had an hour-long rest from eating, and then we made our desserts. Only three of us had chosen to make the fried banana with vanilla ice cream (the ice cream was pre-made). The other options were black rice pudding and sticky rice with mango. I tried my mom’s sticky rice with mango and found the rice’s sauce too salty for my taste. My banana and ice cream, on the other hand, was to die for. So was my panna cotta at supper tonight at Botique della Pasta. Ethan and I had it last time we were there, so we knew just what dessert to get. Ciao!

Hot and Dangerous

That would be the sun. Today it was more than that: it was a skin-burning, egg-frying, ice cream-melting, sweat-inducing, kid-blinding, plant-withering ball of fiery fire. How do we know? We spent two hours in the light of the very same star you just read about. Where were we? We were at the Ratchapruek Royal Gardens, about 10K southwest of M.D. House.

It was apparently funded by government agencies and large companies like Toyota and AirAsia. Some of the buildings were more interesting than others, like the Groundwater building. Ethan took the time to pump all six water pumps in the front as we watched in the blessed shade. After that, we walked a bit farther to a little pond with a pagoda. Ethan and I were supposed to go to the pagoda and smile for the camera. I’m not really sure if we did that. All we really did was scare the hundreds of little fishies and make the water boil. On our way back to the main walkway, we saw a boot in a different pond. I’m still of the opinion that there is a body attached to it.

After drifting through the orchid section, we found the playground. It is hardly worth mentioning, but I will say this: there was a whale slide.

After [too] much more drifting, we found ourselves at the entrance buying deliciously cold water in .6 liter bottles. Those finished, we walked up to the monument for the king and looked at the walls, which show of his love for his subjects.

Our alotted time over, we climbed back in our song tao and rode off into the sunset. 🙂 Ciao!

The Royals

  • Bhumibol Adulyadej- His Majesty’s full name is Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatbophit” (Thai: พระบาทสมเด็จพระปรมินทรมหาภูมิพลอดุลยเดช มหิตลาธิเบศรรามาธิบดี จักรีนฤบดินทร สยามินทราธิราช บรมนาถบพิตร). He is called Rama the Ninth  as he is the ninth in his line, and his job is called “Ruler of the Country.”
    There are three books about His Majesty: The King Never Smiles, The Devil’s Discus, and The Revolutionary King. All three are written in English; The Devil’s Discus is written in Thai as well. All three are also banned in Thailand, as well as The King and I.  However, in 1985, the king and queen went to see The King and I on Broadway.
    He was born in 1927 Cambridge, Massachusetts, and  is the only American king. (He has dual-citizenship.)
    If you come to Thailand, do not dare to write His Majesty’s name in red ink. Writing someone’s name in red means that they are dead or that you wish them to be dead.
    HM is also an excellent saxophone player and has played with some of the world’s best jazz musicians. 
  •  Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya- Rajakanya is the oldest child of the king of Thailand. She has a younger brother and two sisters who are even younger than him. She has two daughters and had an autistic son, who died at 21 in a tsunami in 2004.
    She was born on April 5, 1951, in Switzerland. When she was sixteen, she and her father competed in the fourth SEA Games and won gold medals in sailing. Her parents nicknamed her La Poupée, which means “doll.” Eventually, it was shortened to Pée.
    The princess was born with the titles of “Her Royal Highness” and “Chao Fa,” but these she relinquished because she married an American commoner. She still holds the style of Tunkramom Ying, meaning “Daughter to the Queen Regent.”
    Her father is sadly getting older and will soon no longer reign. There is hot debate about who will follow him: will it be the princess, who everyone likes because she helps the Thai people, or will it be the prince, who would continue the tradition by becoming Rama X and who would get angry if his sister got the title but who the people think doesn’t deserve it? Ponder deeply.

    Ciao!

     

Market Day

Today was hot. Okay, compared to, say, what we’ll experience in India, it was not hot. But to our inexperienced selves, it was very hot. And we decided to walk (walk??? in summer in Thailand??? who does that???) to Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. Once we were done at Wat Phra Singh, much to our relief, Ethan got us a tuk-tuk and we rode home.

Once at home, we lounged around for a bit after getting more Magnum bars and sandwich cookies (including blueberry ice cream Oreos) from the 7-Eleven. We finally went swimming in the wonderfully cool pool. Once we got tired of that, we dried off, organized (i.e., deleted) more pictures, retrieved our clothes from the laundromat, and went in search of supper.

We didn’t find it at first. We were going to try Botique della Pasta again, but we passed it at 6:05, and it opens at 6:30. What a bummer. So we decided to try street food at the Sunday night market. All we ate in the “food court” section was a fried banana with a sugary sauce. It was good, but not very filling.

We looked around the market, and it didn’t seem that different from the Jatujak market, which was in Bangkok. Well, there was more variety in Bangkok. The Sunday night market in Chiang Mai is just a street that goes from wall to wall. It is lined with people selling their trinkets, baubles, and food and is filled with tourists, Thais, and musicians trying to earn a few baht. We bought two lamps (one for Ethan, one for me) and tried out our bargaining skills. We ended up with both lamps- originally 160 baht each, but we got a “discount” so it was 150 apiece- at 280 baht total (about US$3.70). After we walked up and down the street several times and looked at several restaurants, we decided on Aroon Rai, where we’ve gone before. (Mr. Boon recommended it.)

The food was good, as usual, and afterward we went to “Bird’s” (you want the real name? Fine. It was Bud’s.) With almost no chocolate left, we had limited choices. Well, there were only ten flavors in the first place, and only a few of those had chocolate (we can “only” eat ice cream with chocolate!). Mom had one scoop of rocky road, Ethan had one scoop each of rocky road and cookies and cream, Dad had one scoop each of rocky road and mocha almond, and I had a scoop of peanut butter (there was chocolate in that. Just a very small amount). It was very, very, very good (and it was cold, too. That made it even better!). Ciao!

The Search for the Perfect Café

This morning, other than breakfast and updating the pictures on this site, we did… nothing!!! We were going to go to church, but the English service started at 9 am. This we discovered at 11. Eventually, we left with a certain destination in mind. To get there we had to ride in a songtow, which is a red “bus” that works like a taxi but has multiple stops with each load, as different people want to go different places. These are usually red with green padding on the benches and walls of the truck, but there are also yellow songtow. We call these “yellow red buses.” The lining of our songtow was pink.

Chiang Mai Zoo is what the sign says. But it is more than that. It is also a place to buy ice cream, land of the [lame] Snow Dome (-7 degrees Celsius, but it’s only really a photo oppurtunity), and the place to feed big cats (leopards, jaguars, pumas) and hand-feed giraffes. AND it is the only location of the Loo Café (I misread “Zoo” on the cursive sign).

After a very refreshing swim with Louisa (remember her? She’s the one who likes One Direction.), my family members chose the Free Bird Café for supper. It was being renovated. So we walked some more and found a [really good] Indian restaurant. The garlic naan is to die for!!!

Now I’m sitting next to Mom as she gets a foot massage. She says, “It’s wonderful… I could do this every [week].” Hmm. For US$5, I bet you could (and would) do it too! Ciao!

R&R

After an extremely good breakfast at Nature’s Way consisting of mango pancakes, banana pancakes, dragon fruit, Thai iced tea, and shakes, we did pretty much nothing the rest of the day. Well, nothing other than school and sorting pictures and reading. At around 2 pm, we finally got ourselves moving: Ethan and I went swimming for half an hour. I also got frustrated with some tiny ants for not caring about when we submerged the others (we didn’t let any die, though!). Then we decided we needed Magnum ice cream bars like we had yesterday. So Ethan and I got to go by ourselves (!) to the 7-Eleven a couple yards down the street. We got three chocolate truffle bars and one chocolate ice cream cone, which was for Ethan.

For supper we went to a suggested restaurant: Aum. It had a very small downstairs and a fair-sized loft. We ate in the loft, where you could recline on chairs and play with the toys in the toy basket, including…. BARBIE!!! 🙂 Well, all we really did with her was do her greasy hair. Who knew synthetic hair could be greasy???

Our meal was good. We had deep-fried soybean leaves in tempura, red curry, spring rolls, green beans in a spicy sauce, brown rice, sweet and sour vegetables, and deep-fried tofu. To drink, I had a frothy pineapple lassi, which seemed the same as a pineapple smoothie. Apparently it’s made with yogurt, but I detected no difference. Ethan had apple Fanta, which he said tasted like Listerine mouthwash. Dad had a pineapple-lemon shake, and Mom had a banana-orange smoothie. For dessert, Dad and I went to the 7-Eleven and bought four types of cookies for 40 baht (about US$1.34): double-chocolate Cream-Os (Oreo wannabes), vanilla-chocolate Cream-Os, and strawberry and blueberry cookies, both by Dewberry. So far, the blueberry cookies have been the worst. Ciao!

Dumbo

The Disney elephant certainly had big ears, and, compared to the size of his body, they were humongous. But he probably grew into them. Our elephants today at Ran Tong Elephant Training had huge ears. True, they were all full-grown, but, true, they weren’t blue animations.

After a long drive up a road that makes our gravel road at home seem like a newly-paved freeway, we arrived at the camp. Since we were the first group to arrive, the elephants and the cook and all the mahouts were there to meet us. We walked for about five minutes, giving us time to think about what we were about to do and who we were with.

First there were the two college-aged British girls. One especially (Lizzie, I think) was outgoing and laughing. The other girl was quiet around the other eight of us until the ride home. Maybe it was because the oldest two in the group- my parents- were in the cab of the pick-up, but maybe not. Then there was the Canadian couple. They spoke both French and English fluently, which is good because they’re going to university in Ottawa and I overheard them say that the university classes are taught mainly in French. She is a med school student who will graduate in 2014 (there was a sign on her backpack). The French couple was probably relieved to find more French-speakers on the trek, but they could speak English just fine.

We finally arrived at the Ran Tong camp. The Canadian couple, Ethan, our guide, and I were the first to arrive (everyone else was behind the mom and baby elephants). We were given our mahout clothes and told to change. Because Ethan and I are so small, we had red shirts and everyone else had pink striped shirts. The rope on the shorts went around me twice and dragged a couple inches on the ground.

We sat at the picnic table under the first shelter and listened to our guide explain the instructions for an elephant. “Sie” is left, “qua” is right, “how” is stop, “toi” is back, and “bie” is forward. We then practiced on the one male elephant they had and then boarded our own. Everyone had to ride with someone else except the two Canadians. Luckies.

Ethan and I were the drivers on our elephants, and Dad was Ethan’s passenger and Mom was mine. Our elephant was always begging for bananas (which we had). We were at the end and Dad and Ethan were one of the two elephants at the front. The four elephants in the back were so slow because we all got stuck behind the biggest elephant.

After a short ride, we went to the second shelter for lunch: pineapple, noodles, and make-your-own spring rolls. The second group had arrived by then and went on the elephants for the short ½ hour introductory ride. By the time we finished lunch, a third group (that was thankfully only hiking, not riding) had arrived and the second group had started their lunch. We got on the elephants for a second time, this time going to a waterfall. Mom and I rode a 22-year-old elephant named Mesvah (or something close to that).  Once at the waterfall, two elephants were left behind as the others went to go bring the second group. We were supposed to wash them, but Mom, Dad, and I weren’t too keen on the getting wet part. We did go in the water for the pictures, though. There were certainly a lot of those. We also got sprayed by the elephant, which is why one side of me was soaked and the other side was hardly wet. (I was facing away from the elephant so I wouldn’t get water in my eyes.)

After the elephants finally returned with their human loads, we got on- this time I was with Dad- and rode back to camp on the path that went up and down the side of the hill instead of along the stream. My passenger was groaning the whole time, and it was uncomfortable too.

As he put it, “It’s like riding a piece of plywood with a three-inch bump in the middle.” That’s because he rode on the actual back, not at the neck like I did. It started raining once we were about half way through, and, combined with the waterfall water, we were soaked by the time we returned to the camp. We changed into our own clothes and walked to the truck. There we saw the cook. She had slipped in the mud from the rain and her whole back was covered in mud. And her shirt was white.

The rain had also done wonders to the road. Well, not really. It seemed the same as before just with slightly deeper puddles. I was on the end of the bench that was at the edge of the bed, so I could “almost” fall out (but only if I tried). My parents were smart enough to grab a ride in the air-conditioned cab. As we drove down the road that consisted of two one-foot-wide lines of concrete (washed away in places by the torrential rains), we peered behind us at the slick road that was really only red mud. Oh, yes, and the concrete!

We stopped at a little roadside store for drinks, but only Lizzie bought a drink (a can of Coca-Cola). However, all of us bought either a Magnum chocolate cone or ice cream bar- “made with real Belgian chocolate!” They were so good. There a can of seaweed Pringles was bought, and those of us in the bed of the truck shared the chips on the way to Chiang Mai. They just tasted like regular Pringles instead of some “special” flavor.

We dropped of the two Brits first, and then came the M.D. House. We were the only ones who got out, but it was good to be home, sweet home, at last. Ciao!

Happy Fourth!

Today was spent with our friend Mr. Boon, who had driven us home from the train station on Monday and was familiar (in detail) with Chiang Mai. We had him drive us around to various places, and he was also a very valuable source of information about a lot of things, ranging from King Rama IX to Thai schools to street food.

The places we went to today were as follows:

  1. Wat Umong- the tunnel temple. We were slightly dissapointed, I think, because on Trip Advisor it said that there were plenty of temples, it was interesting, etc. There was a fish pond, too, and apparently it is a good investment to buy fish and pigeon feed and sell it to visitors at the wat. There were two Thai ladies there who had dozens of pigeons around them.
    We were also growled and fauxtacked by the stray mutts there. There must be at least twenty of those creatures there.
  2. Doi Suthep- There are 309 stairs to get to the wat at the top. That, OR you can take the tram. Obviously we walked. On our way down we stopped at the waffle shop, and Ethan and I got waffle-and-chocolate sandwiches and Mom got a wafflized banana. (A banana wrapped in waffle.)
  3. Orchid and butterfly farm- One of the most beautiful places in the world. First we went in the butterfly section, where Mom, Ethan, and I got some amazing pictures. Drifting on into the orchid part, we found the best and most colorful blooms placed at the ends of the long aisles, but there were some pretty ones in the actual aisles, too. The most interesting part? The orchids aren’t in pots; they’re just hung from a hook once they get to a certain size/age.
  4. Tiger Kingdom- I’ll admit it now: I was scared going into it. I was thinking, They’ll bite. Of course they’ll bite. I’ve seen Animal Planet enough. They stress that, despite what it seems, animals like tigers are still wild animals and can still act viciously.
    Which they (kind of) did. Just not to me, or anyone, for that matter. Just to their playmates.
    We couldn’t go in and see the newborns in the nursery because it was off-limits to visitors, and Ethan and I couldn’t get in the cage with the big cats because we’re under 15 and less that 160 centimeters tall. But Mom and Dad survived.
    We did get to cuddle with the 3-4-month-olds and laugh at the 5-7-month-olds’ antics. That wasn’t even the best part- we got to see three (and, sometimes, all four) of the big tigers play after we had our ice cream and pineapple drinks. They destroyed all the toys that got in their reach, though.
  5. M.D. House- Where we swam. It only rained for about three minutes total today.
  6. Boutique della Pasta- An Italian restaurant for supper. We all shared the appetizers: caprese and bruschetta. I had pumpkin-carrot ravioli, my dad had cheese ravioli, Ethan had an orange sauce with his pasta, and my mom had a pesto sauce with hers. We all had dessert. Ethan and I had a sort of chocolate pudding (Panna Cotta), Mom had tiramisu, and Dad had, I think, a scoop of chocolate ice cream. That was when we heard the fireworks, reminding us to celebrate our country’s independence from Britain.
    We asked the lady who worked there what the fireworks were for, and she said some sort of festival. Mr. Boon had explained that tonight all those who wanted went the 15K up the hill to Doi Suthep. It was a traditional Buddhist Chiang Mai celebration of sorts.
    Still, I’m sticking with it: some Americans set those fireworks off knowing today was the fourth of July.

 Ciao!

Taking M.D. House by Storm!

We finally arrived at M.D. House around 9:30 yesterday morning. There we spent about five hours sleeping, rehydrating, reading, and eating (Jelly Bellies, of course!). We soon decided that we had done nothing for long enough, and we set out to find the Buak Haad City Park, which is about as far away from M.D. House as you can get while staying in the old city (it was the original Chiang Mai. Funny thing: Chiang Mai means “new city.”).

The old city (built in 1296 by King Mengrai) is almost a perfect square. It is surrounded by a moat and walls that were built to protect it from Burma, which was a constant threat to the Thais who lived there. Chiang Mai was Chiang Rai’s successor as capital of the Lanna Kingdom. It was also another replacement- the replacement of the old city called Wiang Nopburi, which was once a bustling city on the same land as Chiang Mai is today. The walls are ever-shrinking because of erosion and people.

The park itself was full of teenaged Thai couples just out of school (It seems like Thai kids go to school every day of the year, even now, in July, and on Saturdays and Sundays.) and male pigeons trying to get a girl. Ethan took the oppurtunity to ride the swings that were chairs (they had backs), and the rest of us just sat and soaked up the shade. Ah, what a life! And then our stomachs growled.

We had had next to nothing to eat the whole day, just some water, juice, hot chocolate, and two slices of bread for breakfast on the train. Oh, and a handful of Jelly Bellies. Can’t get much better than that!

So we returned to our hostel and found the perfect place for supper: Boutique della Pasta. Yes, it is Italian. Well, we never tried it. After we finally found it on the alley we had passed ten minutes earlier, we discovered it was closed. But we kept going, knowing there were more Thai restaurants nearby. We finally found it, a place with a name that we can’t remember, where we found young coconut curry, spring rolls, mango curry, glass noodles, banana curry, and the best iced tea I have ever had. (I don’t usually have iced tea.) It seemed like it was sweetened with honey, but it just had condensed milk and sugar in it. It was mostly ice in the cup, yes, but ohsogood.

After the bill had been paid, we returned home and swam in the less green of the two pools. The waterfall had sadly been turned off, and the water seemed almost frigid, but we got numb and got used to it.

This morning we ate a meager breakfast and planned our two weeks here. Our plan for today had originally included the Dok Mai Garden, but it got shortened to just the Central Airport Plaza. Now that’s a plaza. (Haha. It’s a mall.) We only did the first floor and the below-ground floor. There’s a Northern Village section of each floor with handicraft items from some of the villages here in northern Thailand. On the food court floor (below-ground), there was a HUGE Thai food section, and we enjoyed two sticks from Banana Grill and coconut ice cream in a coconut. The sticks had three flattened slices of banana that were grilled and dipped in a delicious sauce. The coconut ice cream was just coconut ice cream, except for it was topped with nuts and it was in a coconut with real coconut shavings in it. Yum!

While swimming after all that hard shopping, we met a Brazilian girl named Louisa. She’s (obviously) staying at our hostel, speaks a good English (especially as a second language), and is thirteen. She likes One Direction too! And pink! And she helped me attack Ethan. She tickled his feet as I flipped him over in the pool.

Supper was at the suggestion of our renters, the Hernandezes: Just Khao Soi. When we finally got there after a few wrong turns in our tuk-tuk, it teaches you how to eat northern Thailand’s dish that binds “oil-splattered mechanics” and “polished secretaries” together. It’s very interesting- you have a bowl of soup with noodles in it and seven food items you can use to fine-tune the soup to your taste. The options were coconut milk (for texture), sugar (for sweetness) , cabbage, shallot (for “tanginess”), peppers (for spiciness), lime (called lemon here), and fish sauce. The vegetarian soup came with soy sauce instead of fish sauce (for saltiness). It was very, very good. Now I’m writing from the Computer Room here at our hostel. It’s getting late. Ciao!

Teeter-Totter Train

Last night was, quite literally, a bumpy night.

When we got on the train to Chiang Mai, we were expecting- well, I don’t know what we were expecting. I don’t even know what I was expecting. However, I have one-word descriptions on several different points:

Funny- The lady selling the Lays and Pringles was going up and down the hall saying, “Sheeps, sheeps.” (She meant “chips,” but she had a very strong accent.)

Overwhelming- At least, this is how I see the man who took our meal orders and served us. He was also our alarm clock, and as soon as we unlocked our doors this morning he was there with breakfast.

Gross- Most of breakfast. We all drank the juice and had the two slices of toast, but I think I was the only one who ate beyond that. I had a few bites of the slimy fried egg and the piece of carrot.

Tasty- Supper could be described this way. We ordered ours without the duck and pork and were, I think, pleasantly surprised. For the main course three of us had the sweet-and-sour chicken and vegetables (which consisted mainly of baby corn and onion). Ethan had the chicken with macadamia nuts. His curry was red, unlike ours, which was whitish with chicken and onions. We all had the same soup, and three small slices of pineapple were our desserts.

Umm…- Okay, this isn’t exactly an adequate description of the fruit plate we bought, but it’s accurate. There were apples, huge grapes, and three or four other types of fruit that I can’t rightly name.

Loud- That would be the train.

Bumpy- Also the train.

Ciao!

Certainly Saying “So Long” to the City

As the miles of rails pass by, we get to think about what we did in Bangkok, especially what we did today: we hit three malls in the time frame of less than six hours. Obviously we didn’t hit every stall and shop, but we went to the important things: Cream and Fudge Factory (for the best ice cream since Friday) and Madame Tussauds wax museum. My experiences?

I got to cuddle up to Justin Bieber, have a friendly conversation with George Clooney, be Oprah Winfrey’s guest, take charge of the Oval Office as President and First Lady Obama looked on, moonwalk with Michael Jackson, backup dance for Madonna, get a hole-in-one with a jealous Tiger Woods watching, play Wii tennis with Serena Williams looking on in total awe, win four Oscars– dream come true, play paparazzi to an Asian celebrity nicknamed “Pancake,” be Bruce Lee’s replacement figure, yearn for One Direction figures (and be duly disappointed), pose with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on the red carpet, show Picasso how to make a perfect painting (an eyebrow with an eye!), be taught by Beethoven, and take pictures of many, many more, including Princess Di, Buddha, Gandhi, King Rama IX and his wife, Beyonce, Nicole Kidman, and Will Smith.

Once we had fully appreciated the wonders of waxmanship, we found our way to the sky trains station and headed to Chong Nonsi. There we switched to the BRT and rode for seven stops down to Wat Pariwat. After one last look at the Star Estates @ Rama III building that was our home for a week and the temple that was our view for a week, we grabbed our luggage and hopped in a red taxi. It’s funny- we’ve been in Bangkok for about eight days and had had only one taxi ride. The taxi was green and yellow. The most common color is pink. And, nooo, of course we couldn’t ride in a pink one! If we had gotten to the curb with all our luggage a mere minute earlier, the pink taxi would’ve been ours. Instead, it was pulling away with a single tourist in the back. Sigh.
Ciao!

On a brighter note, we made it safely to the train station, got our postage stamps (for the postcards) and Trident gum from the 7-Eleven across the street, read our social studies books (Beware, Princess Elizabeth and Horrible Histories: The USA), and boarded our train. An hour later, we’ll still technically in Bangkok. It’ll take us thirteen more hours by rail to get to Chiang Mai, when it would have taken a mere hour-and-a-half by air. Ciao!

Bidding Bangkok ‘Bye

Today we had a more relaxed day. After a typical breakfast (rice, eggs, mangoes, mystery sauce, chocolate soy milk, and pomegranate juice), we headed down the street to the Chimney Cafe for mochas and desserts: hot lava cake and whipped cream (I thought the sign said “Chocolate lava with whipped cream,” but it said “and” instead of “with.” They were right. There was more whipped cream than cake!), a brownie, and a piece of almond mocha cake. They weren’t all for me… :(. I had the lava cake, Ethan had the brownie, and Mom had the piece of cake. We all had mochas, which were, as usual, very good. Ethan also got a bottle of water because he “need[ed] something cold to drink.”

On our way home, we stopped by the Buddha Dharma Relics Museum across the street. It was a bit confusing since we’re not Buddhist because to us it seemed like the relics (such as brain, heart, skin, hair, tooth) were just little rocks. That makes us sound disrespectful, but no one could speak enough English to explain, and Wikipedia wasn’t much help either. There were stories written in English and Thai on the walls, though, and we read those and appreciated the many statues, including the three of Buddha in his three different outfits: one for winter, one for summer, and one for the rainy season.

Once home, we all went down to the pool and swam. Our parents got out after only an hour-and-a-half and Ethan and I left fifteen minutes later. I had Mom take 366 pictures on my camera. Okay, I didn’t have her do that. I let her do that. We just had supper in Bangkok for the last time at our favorite place, Buri Tara, which is across the street. Sigh. Well, duty calls. Ciao!

 

High ‘n’ Dry

Let me start off by saying we were neither high nor dry today. Now I will continue:

We were going to visit the floating markets of Dar, but we, as obvious American tourists, were advised against it. Instead we had the second-most laid-back day of our trip. We had our typical breakfast of rice, eggs, and some mysterious (but thankfully mild and flavorful) sauce. We also had oranges. We spent a while after that just dilly-dallying until about ten. After a few stops, we finally got off the sky train at the Sala Daeng stop to visit the park given to Bangkok by King Rama the sixth. It’s called Lumpini Park, which is a very Italian name. That explains the sign on a nearby skyscraper that reads “ITALIAN-THAI” in fifteen-foot red letters. That building also has a big white sign on it that says Oregon!

Way back in the 1920s, when the king gave the civilians the royal property, the area was on the outer edge of town. Now it’s in the middle of the business district and has two train stops- a Metro and a sky train- on its edges. There’s also a big statue of the king. The park was named after Lumbini, which is where Buddha was born in Nepal.The whole area is 142 acres and has plenty of things to do, including watching the water monitors and people, paddle-boating in boats that look like ducks, zoning out in the shade, playing on the playground, and getting soaking wet in the sprinklers on the ground and fountains in the lake. We did all of these things, plus getting bit by mosquitoes, bouncing on the see-saw, playing “Escape” on the play structure, “working out” on the gym equipment, and getting pelted by rocks from the edger.

But that wasn’t even the most interesting part of our day. At the station that connects the bus system and the sky train system, we saw part of a movie being filmed. We weren’t in it (sadly), but all the extras were white and the cameramen were speaking in English and the five main actors looked slightly familiar. This isn’t the first time that we’ve been in the same city as some famous people. When we were in Venice in 2010, Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp were there filming The Tourist. We figured this out because there was a sign by a canal that said something in Italian, but we found the words “The Tourist” and “filming.”

After that “exciting” event, we went on to the food stalls where we bought our first “street” food: waffles. They came in all different styles, including maple (which I got) and cranberry, and with all sorts of different fillings, including chocolate (which we all got), taro root, Thai custard, and red bean. The outside of the waffle was the best I’ve ever had except for in Florence, Italy: large grains of sugar and coated in a sweet syrup. On the return trip, we got some dried kiwi and mango from a different stall. Yum!

On the way home we bought some groceries at MaxValu, including ice cream, chocolate soy milk, and pomegranate juice. For supper we’ve ordered two pizzas. Since we’ve been home, we’ve swam in the pool, ordered two pizzas and a salad, eaten the dried mangoes, and worked on schoolwork, which made it just a typical day in Bangkok.

Steep Stairs, “Steep” Prices

Today was our “Wat are we doing today?” day. The answer? Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Wat Pho was filled with high-schoolers working on their English and asking American tourists questions in English on video. We had two groups of girls come up to us, and one girl told us what to say when you bow. Bowing means lots of things including thank you, hello, and good-bye.

After Wat Pho (pronounced “poe”), we crossed the Chao Phraya River on a ferry that cost $0.10 a person. When we got to the other side, the clouds burst into tears. We found our way to the entrance and, once inside, our parents sought shelter as Ethan and I climbed to the fourth- and top- level of the temple in the torrential rains. It didn’t rain that much, however, until we decided to go down. I hid in a corner, trying not to get soaked. It finally let up ever-so-slightly, and we decided to go down the slick stairs. My parents and Ethan went up in the sun after that, and, as I watched and waited, three teenaged Thai girls came by. Two of them asked to take a picture with me (I complied); the other couldn’t find her phone.

On our way out, we saw more of those boards that you stand behind that make you look like you have a different body. The guy was charging 40 baht (about US$1.34) to get your picture taken behind them! We had already done that upon our entry. He hadn’t seen me and therefore we saved a dollar-and-a-third. Another cheap way to make money is to charge five baht to go to the bathroom. Yes, we could pay the  sixteen cents, but it was still frustrating.

MK & MBK

Today was the most non-touristy day so far. After over-sleeping, we went out for mochas, fried rice, and chocolate cake at the Chimney Café. Yum! (Despite what seemed like sarcasm, it was really good. ESPECIALLY the chocolate cake.) Mother, Ethan, and I all had the chicken fried rice and Dad had the green curry chicken fried rice. The mochas were good, especially with the whipped cream and sugar. 🙂 Ethan and I each had a piece of double chocolate cake, and Dad got a piece of chocolate fudge cake, which was by far the better choice of dessert. Our cake was heavy and dense (but it tasted good!) while his wasn’t so sweet but was light and airy.

After we had frittered away two hours, we returned to our apartment and just chilled for an hour. Finally, at around noon, we decided to visit the huge MBK mall. It’s seven stories tall and sells just about everything except the kitchen sink. Oh, wait. We skipped Level 5, the household items floor, because we have no house for which to buy things. Yeah, I’ll bet they sold kitchen sinks.

Anyway, here’s our (small) haul:

1. Pink shirt for me

2. Blue dress for me

3. Red and black shoes for Mother

4. Flowered Converse for me

5. Ice cream at Swensen’s (got to have dessert first!)

6. An interesting supper at the elusive MK

Here are the things we wanted to buy:

1. MBK

 

Ciao!

—zzz—

Today we made it our goal to visit the museum across the street. Well, in the end (or as of 5:30 pm), we accomplished nothing other than more schoolwork, eating more chocolate bars, sorting pictures, reading, drinking plenty of water, and taking a nap. Oh, we also added photos, as you probably saw. Well, the museum will still be there tomorrow. Ciao!

Today’s News Report

Today was an interesting day. We got up early and were supposed to leave at 7:30, but due to our late breakfast, we finally slugged out the door at 8:05. After four modes of transportation (super crowded bus [morning rush hour], sky train [also crowded], Chao Phraya Express’s blue flag [tourist] boat, and our own tired, blistered feet), we finally got to a corner diagnol from the Grand Palace. There, a man with a lanyard that said ‘Royal Thai Police’ saw that we were looking for the Palace (and had walked right by!) and asked if he could help. Then he told us that a prince was there, and the Palace was closed until 11:30 am. He suggested that we take a tuk-tuk ride to the Marble Temple and the James Tailor warehouse. He called his friend over, and the price was 40 baht (about $1.35… total).

Well.

That was an unnerving experience.

After what seemed like some near-death experiences, we finally got to the Buddhist temple. The most interesting part to me was the pair of ladies selling live fish, eels, and baby turtles at the entrance. I even saw a tourist buying a bag with water and three of those poor babies in it!!! Oh well. 🙁 I can’t rescue all the helpless animals on Earth, although I did rescue a slug from the rental car in Oregon. Anyways, the inside was mostly statues of Buddha. Someone had put an orange monk robe around the last Buddha. So I took a picture. The most interesting Buddha, however, was the statue of him fasting. It was very skeletal. Another interesting one had elongated ears.

After that, we went back to our tuk-tuk and told the driver, who I will now call Frank, that we’d decided to skip James Tailor. He convinced us that we should go there for just five minutes because they’d pay for his gas. So we went, looked through a catalogue, avoided the salesman’s questions, and left. Then, instead of returning to the Palace, we went to a jewelry factory/store. It was really interesting, or at least the factory part was. Apparently if you put certain gems under your pillow, your pains will be relieved, or, as my mother eagerly said, “With a rock that size, you’ll get a new pain.” Then we had to look through the whole showroom with things as expensive as $1,000,000! Dad later noted that the lady at the front had written down our tuk-tuk’s license plate.

I also found this at http://thailandforvisitors.com/central/bangkok/ratanakosin/prakeo/: “The Grand Palace is open every day from 8:30 to 3:30, unless it’s being used for a state function, which is quite rare.  Be careful of touts working outside the palace area who tell you its closed, and suggest their own guided tour instead.  They’re most likely lying, and their ‘tour’ will be to several shops where they get commissions on  purchases.” Hmm. Mother’s starting to have her doubts about the liability of our ‘Royal Thai Policeman.’

We finally got in the Grand Palace, found a guide who was very nice and learned about the palace. She told us a lot of things, including her name, which was hard to say and really long. After the Palace, we went to Tesco Lotus and the Swensen’s for ice cream. Ohsogood. I think it’s the second-best ice cream I’ve ever had (Moose Tracks is always #1). Following that, we got some oral rehydration “sachets,” or pouches. We returned home to the pounding of thunder and the calling of schoolwork and the moaning of children. We spent about two hours on schoolwork and found a restaurant. The food was really good, even the mushrooms, and we ate almost everything. Ciao!

Exploration & Transportation

Today was apparently cooler than yesterday, but obviously we couldn’t tell. What we could tell, however, was that the Or Tor Kor vegetable market was missing because of construction in the area. We walked what seemed like miles just looking (and never finding) it. It was supposed to be right by the Jatujak Market (nicknamed “JJ” by the locals), but we walked up and down and side to side on those streets and never found it. We did, however, find the three main forms of transportation in Bangkok: BRT, BTS, MRT. (The bus rapid transit, the sky train, and the underground.) Well, all three except for the Chao Phraya Express (pronounced Chow Prayuh), which is the system of taxis on the Chao Phraya River (แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา).

First, we got on the BRT at the stop 50 feet away from our apartment– Wat Pariwat. Wat (วัด) means ‘temple’ in Thai, and, yes, there is a wat that you can see from our balcony. Anyways, we got on the BRT and rode to the Sathorn station, which is the end of the line. It connects to the BTS station Chong Nonsi. As you should remember, the BTS is the sky train. Most of the people on our train, including a Canadian family who, no, Destiny, we did not talk to, got off at the station that connected one line of the BTS with the other. That was at the station of Siam. After that, we got off at the last stop on the second route, Mo Chit (หมอชิต). Once you walked out the doors, you were in the blazing Thai sun and the Jatujak park and market. We arrived around 8 am and finally left at around noon.

On the return trip, we entered the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit- การรถไฟฟ้าขนส่งมวลชน) station of Jatujak Park. The moment we entered the shade, it seemed like it was five degrees cooler. As we descended into the tunnels, it became even cooler until we were in the train itself and it was like a freezer. It was on there, and at breakfast our first morning in Thailand, that we noticed the weird TV ads they have. I’m not going to describe any, for the sake of both my weary fingers and the content, but some are very interesting.

We rode the MRT to the MRT Si Lom/Sala Daeng BTS station and boarded the sky train. We rode the one stop to Chong Nonsi, where we switched to the BRT. We rode the bus from the first stop on the route– B1:Sathorn– to B4: Thanon Chan, which is where our landlord told us the Tesco Lotus was. Well, we looked and asked and were finally redirected to the next station, B5: Nara-Rama III. We walked a ways, found the store, and ate sandwiches at Au Bon Pain. After we bought some groceries like rice and eggs and Tim Tams, we found a Bangkok map and finally arrived in our own B7: Wat Pariwat. Ciao!

Fame Scmame

For all you die-hard Directioners…

On the planes from Seattle to Japan to Bangkok, I listened to One Direction. Okay, now for the rest of you… At supper last night, “American” music was playing. I use quotation marks because it was by a certain Canadian… Justin Drew Bieber. At a Thai restaurant!!! Then there was a Bruno Mars (I think) song and some others. The real surprise was when the three guys doing the live music covered the Lazy Song, Set Fire To The Rain, and a bunch of others… In English. And these guys are Thai! Oh, and if you Directioners are still reading, I bet they covered, say, Up All Night after we left.

And when we got off the plane in Japan, there were TV cameras and guys with ‘Press’ signs waiting at our gate. I was hoping for One Direction, but it turned out that a famous mountain climber was returning home. Ciao!

Help! There Are Whales In My Swimming Pool!!!

Today, Saturday for us and 1/2 Friday and 1/2 Saturday for you Pacific coasters, we got up at around 8 am, showered, and walked down the street 850 meters to the Chimney Café. We had an interesting mix of food- to drink, Mom and I had hot chocolates and Ethan and Dad had lattes. For the main course Mom and Ethan had chicken fried rice, Dad had green curry chicken, and I had a chicken soup of some sort and steamed rice. Let me tell you: salty chicken soup and a creamy latte don’t taste good together. At all!

Anyway, we decided we needed to make a plan for the rest of our time in Bangkok, so we spent what seemed like forever talking and writing and thinking. In the end, we decided that we needed to go grocery shopping. We rode the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) down three stops, from the Wat Pariwat stop 50 feet from our building to the Charoen Rat stop, which is number ten on the line. We’re near number seven.

At MaxValu, which is only a few feet from the BRT stop, there was a singing competition going on in what we discovered to be a mall. There was even an Office Max! That and the Nutella were the only really familiar parts, and I think we were the only white people there.

We bought some cool looking fruits, a mango, rice, a spicy looking sauce, eggs, an onion, and some shampoo. When we returned to our apartment, we ate another chocolate bar, and then Ethan and I went swimming in the awesome pool: it has blue tiles on the bottom and whales made with green tiles. It’s only about three feet deep in most places, but it has cool fountains to compensate. Ciao!

17 Hours

17 hours, 17 things:
1. Landed in Thailand
2. Checked into BS Residence
3. Gone to bed
4. Woken up
5. Had breakfast (rice, toast, and chocolate dry cereal… yum)
6. Swam in the (“biggest … I’ve ever seen” Ethan said) pool at BS Residence
7. Packed up and moved out of BS Residence
8. Rode in first taxi of my life to Star Estates
9. Entered apartment to find it wasn’t yet cleaned
10. Left in search of the Holy Grail… okay, bottled water
11. Went to the “market” across the street
12. Sweated
13. Crossed back and found a Seven-Eleven
14. Bought four bottles of water, a huge bucket filled with H2o, and a tube of toothpaste
15. Returned to apartment and chose rooms
16. Taxi-watched (10 colors, 1 street: Pink, red, orange, golden, yellow, yellow & green, green, blue, purple, and dark purple)
17. Finished 2 pages in my math book and 2 pages in my science book

We’ve only been in the land of the Siam for 17 hours* (1 am this morning to 6 pm tonight) and already we’ve been through so much (and yet, comparatively, so little). Ciao!

*I found several mistakes in this, so I edited it 17 hours after posting it. 🙂

Afternoon Fun

We chose to go bowling (since it was raining), and we played two games at the Hollywod Bowl from 2 to 4 pm. All that arm use made us hungry, so we drove for forty-five minutes to get to the Old Spaghetti Factory, which was 3.5 miles away. On the bright side, if we had taken only five minutes to drive to the restaurant, it would have still been closed. (It opens for supper at 4:30 pm.) After spaghetti (obviously), spumoni, and Oreo milk shakes, we said good-bye to my aunt, uncle, and Fergus and headed to Fred Meyer because we couldn’t find a Target. There we bought things such as pencil sharpeners, plain watches, and erasers.

We checked into our airport hotel and made sure it had a pool. Then Ethan and I went swimming while our father went to return the rental car and our mother watched us (because we’re not 14 yet). We played Marco Polo… you should try playing that with two people in a small pool. You can bet you’re going to get tagged!

Ciao!

On the Road

This morning, we got up at the odd (okay, even) hour of 4:30 am.

After breakfast, we loaded up the hotel van, got to the Portland International Airport a few minutes later, and boarded our Seattle-bound plane. We landed on Washington tarmac at 8:27 am according to my watch. We’re supposed to get to our Bangkok hotel at midnight in Thailand on Thursday, or about 7 am (on Thurs.) Oregon time.

Between here and there, however, is the Pacific Ocean, a layover in Narita, and the South China Sea. Ciao!

George Washington

Okay, this post is not about George Washington but about Washington (state) in general. We are at my aunt’s house in rainy Kelso, Washington, and, now that we’re all here, we’re trying to decide what to do. Two options on the table: minigolf and bowling. Tell me what you think!

Bur here’s what’s happening: my uncle and Fergus just came home from work, my father just woke up and is now discussing how we don’t have seats on our plane, Ethan just beat my aunt at Stratego, and my mother was a spectator of her sister’s epic loss. My cousin Candace, woke up early and left to babysit, and we’re having the time of our lives entertaining her crazy cat Jade with the fuzzy fish on a string. I think we’ve decided to go bowling. Well, at least it will be a totally new experience for me! Ciao!

So Long, Farewell #2

Okay, two hours later (1:45 pm) we were still at home, but a mere 34 minutes later we were at the bottom of our driveway. Everything fits (!!!), and Ethan and I have room to spare. We’re currently at our grandparents’ house saying goodbye and dropping off frozen and refrigerated goods, cherry tomatoes, a banana, and some potatoes. Also, it’s June 18. Shouldn’t it be sunny?!

(no) It is Oregon after all. Ciao!

So Long, Farewell

Today we leave the house. Tomorrow we go to the airport. Wednesday we fly.

It’s 11:45 and we’re supposed to leave in fifteen minutes. I personally don’t think that’s  going to happen because we haven’t checked our luggage yet… or finished laundry. In two hours, though, we’ll be on the road and this will seem like only a bad memory.

Tonight we sleep at my aunt’s house in Kelso, WA, and then spend tomorrow with her and my uncle and their puppy-in-training, Fergus. Tomorrow night we check into our airport hotel and on Wednesday, in two days, we fly from PDX to Seattle.

Have to go fold the sheets. Ciao!

Height

Status

For those of you who know us well, you know that the height of Ethan, our mother, and me is very important to us. Until today, we thought that our mother was 4’11.5″. When Ethan and I were measured and it turned out that I am 4’11.5″, we took the time out of breakfast to measure Mother. Turns out, she’s 5′. Ethan’s still only 4’10.5″, and I’m lording it over him because I’m pretty sure he’ll end up taller than me. And you can bet there will be a post when one of us become taller than Mother.
Ciao!

June 1 (Rabbit rabbit!)

Aah!
We leave in 20 days! Wasn’t it just Christmas??? Wow. Someone emailed me today and said “20 more days until your trip!!!” I knew it was June as of today, but I had forgotten– okay, not forgotten, but it had slipped my mind– that we leave so soon. We still have so much to do. How can we get it all done? Ciao!

Eryn’s Note #1

Eryn’s first note– in pink! 🙂

It’s April 27th, and we’re stressing.

About what?
Everything.
Why?
We leave in fifty-ish days. (June twenty.)

So? You’re all ready, right?
Wrong. We’ve hardly packed our belongings.

In what?
In the suitcases and in the tower in boxes.

Suitcases? How many?
One per person. There are to be no checked bags.
How will you fit everything?
Magic.
Magic doesn’t exist, silly.
Or the power of sitting on it…
Yeah. Like that’s gonna happen.
Well, we’re buying super-thin-lightweight-waterproof stuff, so it can’t be heavy, but it seems like there’s no way I’m gonna be able to fit all the stuff I’ll need for a year in a suitcase and a backpack.
Wow. I couldn’t do that– pack up my life and take off for a year, trusting my ah-mazing house to people I don’t even know.
Well, we do know the Hernandezes, brilliant.
So?
Melia was in my class in Kindergarten.
One grade? Please.
Look, she and I are friends, and I trust her and Marissa to take care of my room.
Whatever. Look, I have better things to be doing… bye!