Party in the USA

Call the press, someone: I have found a way to comfortably sit in Economy class on an airplane.

It only works if you’re small, flexible, and comfortable on airplanes. It involves sitting with your legs crossed and your head down on one knee. In this way, I slept well for a grand total of three hours on our two flights today. So I was awake for… drum roll… twenty-five hours today. We are deadxhausted.

Our first flight, from Athens to Frankfurt, was only about three hours. We were shocked when we were not put through another security clearance to get on our USA-bound flight from gate Z25. We finally got to the gate after a surprisingly lengthy bus ride and going up several flights of stairs. If you look at our passports, we didn’t visit Greece and Switzerland: we got our passports stamped in Portugal (since we entered the European part of the airport to get food), in Morocco, and then entering France. We only got another stamp leaving Germany.


The flight was super super long, but we were wide awake when we landed and got through Immigration and our luggage was in our hands. It doesn’t look like we lost anything on that leg of our trip.

We got our Avis rental car and drove south to Kelso, WA, where Dad got a sim chip at an AT&T store for his phone. Then Ethan, the luggage, and I were dropped off at Aunt Linda and Uncle Scott’s house while Mom and Dad left in the Chrysler to buy a car in Sandy, OR. They returned at around 8 pm, about five hours later. Ethan and I played Acquire with Uncle Scott, with four-month-old Guide Dog for the Blind puppy-in-training Navajo looking on.

Supper was, as we had hoped, hot dogs with brownies and Uncle Scott’s potato salad. Tomorrow morning we’ll be having American French toast.

It’s so good to be back in the US of A.


A Week Worth Wanting

With only one week left on our trip (if there isn’t a strike at the Athens airport), here is my Week Worth Wanting list of seven things for Europe (France, Switzerland, and Greece).

  1. THE PASTRIES. In all three countries we’ve visited, the pastries have been to die for. From the chocolate chip twists in Semur-en-Auxois to the chocolate-coated baklava in Rethymno, and everything in between (including pain au chocolat, giant cinnamon rolls, apple pastries, Chocolate Kiss Brownies, chocolate porcupines, and a giant pretzel), we’ve enjoyed just about every mouthful of pastry that we’ve swallowed.
  2. THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING-NESS. Although the language barrier proved almost too much in Semur-en-Auxois, in Greece, Switzerland, and Paris we’ve found plenty of people who speak English, the closest language to our vernacular (which is American).
  3. THE HISTORY. Greek civilization goes way, way back—especially when compared to that of the United States. France is also home to many historical sites, and played a role in many key European happenings, including the French Revolution and World War Two. Notre Dame (the Parisian one), the Eiffel Tower, and Arc de Triomphe are, in my opinion, the most notable French monuments. The Parthenon and Acropolis, as well as Knossos Palace on Crete, are the famous Greek sites that have been patronized by this family.
  4. THE SCENERY. In Switzerland, we woke up to the sight of Staubbachfall pouring down a cliff every morning and seeing glacier-covered mountains just down the Lauterbrunnen Valley. In Greece, when eating supper in a restaurant, we see beautiful sunsets. And France’s mustard fields are not to be overlooked.
  5. THE CATS. Seriously. In Morocco, the cats were, well, quite mangy- and rabid-looking, but in Europe they all seem quite sane (if not tame). They are very social and don’t mind being petted in the least. Actually, they mind if you don’t pet them.
  6. THE FOOD. France’s food may not have lived up to expectations, but our first night can never be forgotten: we had pizza for the first time in over a month. In Switzerland, the Bombay Chicken Pizza at Hotel Oberland was the best pizza I’ve ever had, barring frozen pizza (seriously) at home. Greece’s food has continued to amaze and fatten us.
  7. THE WIFI. Every place we’ve stayed in Europe has had wi-fi. This, of course, was planned, but you don’t know if it’s actually going to work until you get there. It’s worked in every place so far and will hopefully work on Crete until June 18, the day we fly to Athens.


Au revoir, auf wiedersehen, αντίο, and


Cloudy With a Chance of Grape Leaf Rolls

Nothing much was ‘really’ done today. In reality, quite a lot of work on the computer was completed, and we devoured a lot of grape leaf rolls, olives, and strawberry gummies. But no one calls those ‘real’ work.

The ‘real’ work revolved around finding dinner. Since today was cloudy and cool, we knew that the waterfront restaurant on which we had been planning to visit was a poor choice. We tried heading to Mesi and Faragi, both tavernas, but we could never find them. In the end, we settled on roadside Hovoli. There, we ordered seven (!!!) dishes: tzatziki, Greek salad, grape leaf rolls, stuffed tomatoes, herb pastries, fried zucchini, and the ‘village rooster.’ Although the name acted as a slight deterrent (we were planning on ordering the chicken with okra, but it wasn’t available), I found my piece of the village rooster to be tasty, tender, and mostly boneless.

The highlight of the meal was the petulant cat (even more petulant than two nights ago, on the south side of Crete), who ran to any hands dangling below chair level. It was a very clingy cat and hung around us because all the other guests at the restaurant were oblivious to its needs.


The Story of Mewmew

I am a cat. I have three orange-and-white friends who also hang out at Taverna Zisi. We live on handouts and hope that we’ll one day land on a fly. Those flies—they really bug me. Today Mewey found a good, slow fly, but it was still too quick.

The most interesting part of my day was when one of the Humans put down her hand and I smelled it. On accident, my whiskers touched the hand. It startled me—contact with a Human!!!—and I ran away. She seemed disappointed, but I can’t let small Human emotions get in my way.

Another highlight was when the same Human dropped her knife onto the patio and fell through a crack to the ground. The filling of the stuffed pepper smelled delicious, and Mewey and I ran towards the smell, hoping for a taste. Mewey was faster and devoured the one grain of rice that remained on the patio.

My day pretty well ended with Mewey, Rrmew, and me play-fighting (claws were sheathed) in the sunset.


From Fez to France

We woke up (ridiculously early) this morning in balmy Fez, Morocco. On our way out of the medina with our luggage we actually saw a dog. And not just one—three!

Once at the post office, Majid met us and we piled into his van. We arrived at Fez’s small international airport half an hour later. About two hours later, we boarded our Paris-bound flight. After that I don’t remember much, since I slept for most of the flight, but I do remember crossing the Mediterranean.

Now we’re in Europe, where it’s safe to drink tap water and it’s okay to flush toilet paper down the toilet. (I also have some slight knowledge of the French Revolution, thanks to The Scarlet Pimpernel.)

At four p.m. (two in the afternoon by Fassi standards), we were outside our apartment, which is on the Seine about a hundred meters from Notre Dame. Our landlord is Italian, but he spoke in English. Our experience at dinner was totally different: six different languages were spoken: Japanese, Afrikaans, English, Italian, Spanish, and French. On our way home, we stopped at a chocolate shop. Then we stopped to check out the gelateria, which happens to be three stories down from our living room. Yes!


Save the Guinea Pigs!

Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.

How could they hurt the innocent little guinea pigs at a—I shudder to think of it—cuyeria????? (In case you don’t know, cuy is guinea pig in Spanish, so a cuyeria is where you eat guinea pigs.) I knew that guinea pigs were on the Peruvian menu, but I wasn’t expecting to see “CUYERIA” in big, bold letters painted on the side of a building in blood red.

This was on our way out of Cusco. We arrived in Cusco after a short and uneventful flight from Arequipa. From there, Ronnie took us in his Yaris to Apu Lodge. It was about five minutes into this drive that I saw the dreadful word.


We are safe (unlike guinea pigs) in this lodge from the cold and wet of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is a little village at about 8,000 feet above sea level that is, apparently, a popular American tourist destination, as we learned tonight at supper.

For supper, Dad ordered his usual agua con gas, and Mom, Ethan, and I chose agua sin gas. When our waters arrived, instead of three aguas sin gas and one agua con gas, there were three aguas con gas and one agua sin gas. Mom got lucky and selected the agua sin gas, and Ethan and I had to suffer through our 350 milliliters of nastiness.


Gatos and Great Food

I always thought that dogs howling to the sound of a fire truck’s siren was an urban legend. Well, today I was wrong—someone should write that down; it doesn’t happen very often. It was startling to hear that as I typed away on the computer, Dad napped, and Mom and Ethan read.

After I had been on the computer a while, we left for supper at Espiritu Santo. We tried to eat there last night but they were fully booked, so its English-speaking owner reserved us a table at Amaya and we made reservations for tonight.

There was only one vegetarian dish: a plate with an orange sauce and eight pieces of ravioli. Ethan chose that. Then there were three fish dishes without any other type of meat: two dishes of rockfish and one of Patagonian toothfish, a type of sea bass. Dad chose the last option and enjoyed the warm salad (originally I thought our waitress said “worm salad”) more than the fish itself, which he said was bland. Mom and I chose two separate dishes of rockfish.

Mom’s was a filet on top of mashed potatoes in a pool of a spicy orange sauce. It was spicy as in it had lots of different spices, not as in it was hot and burning. I chose the rockfish filet on a warm salad, but mine was in a lemon sauce, unlike Dad’s, which had a sweet sauce.

Mom’s pineapple juice was good, too, and each of us had a sip while we talked about Yellowstone National Park and what we want from home (things like all the boxes in the tower and Emma won’t fit in my uncle’s suitcase).

We walked home the long way, through the alley, onto Rudolph, then up Ferrari and our own Rainbow Alley (that’s what I’m calling it now, because of the painted stairs). Our friend the “grrr…BARK! BARK! BARK!” dog wasn’t there, sadly. The way he growled before he barked at us two days ago kind of endeared him to me.

Ethan and I did, however, find three of the cats. The fourth one wandered by, and we decided to name them. First was the fat yellow cat: Bassy, short for Basketcase because he spent a lot of time in his basket.

Next came the black cat, who jumped so elegantly onto the next house that I named her Olga, after gymnast Olga Korbut. She was followed by Pillar, the brown, black, and white cat who sat on the pillar, and Mickey, who was the thin yellow cat. Unfortunately, Bassy is the only one who was brave enough to be petted.

“Did it bite you?” Ethan asked as I came up Rainbow Alley.

“No,” I said, “but its mouth started following my hand, so I left.”


Lazy Luna

Luna was, apparently, the third visitor to our cabaña this morning. According to Mary Lou, Paz and Juan came by around seven to say good-bye. (Ethan and I were still asleep at seven, and our parents didn’t notice them.) Fortunately, Mary Lou came by after breakfast to say her own good-byes and give us the email addresses for Paz and Juan. At some point during the conversation, Luna slunk out of our house. Dad thinks she’s pregnant—she really is a skinny kitty except for her belly.

Mary Lou told us that Paz’s family is from Buenos Aires Province, and her dad is a veterinarian. Of course, Mom then had to say how our cousin is in veterinary school and all that. The family had left early to go on a seven-hour hike. We did a shorter hike—it was about 200 meters, actually, to a creek up near a glacier in the mountains surrounding Lago Mascardi. We also saw the Black Glacier, which is really just a glacier covered in a layer of dirt. These were the first glaciers Ethan and I’ve seen that I can remember. Mom went on to tell us a story about blue ice, how when she and Dad were in Alaska, they went on a plane ride around a glacier, took lots of pictures, and then got home and discovered that the blue part doesn’t show up on film.

The road system in that section of Parque Nacional Lago Nahuel Huapi is somewhat confusing: at the end, eight kilometers are both ways. There is also a section at the beginning, about twenty kilometers, which is both ways. After a corner, it’s one way. Starting at four, you could drive back from the glaciers to the park entrance/exit. We left after a meal of sandwiches and salad.

When we drove into town, we found part of a hill on fire. It seems like fire has been an awful lot of places lately: melting down the ends of the bracelets Paz and I made, burning down a club in Brazil and killing 231 people, inviting rebellion in Catching Fire

We’re now comfortably installed in Villa Sofia, eating delicious chocolate ice cream from Rapa Nui.


Pets, Pollo, and Perón

“I could name our cat Harry, or Harriet if it’s a girl,” I said. We were at the Origen Café (again) and I had finished my Pita Pollo. Dad was still eating his chicken, Mom had given up on her Vegetarian Wok, and Ethan had eaten half his Caprese Pizza. Ethan and I were talking about pets.

“What if you’re still not obsessed with them?” he asked, meaning One Direction. Dad looked over at Ethan. “Them? Harry has multiple personalities now? Harry and Shavy?” I groaned. Everyone else laughed, and Mom said, “That’s something you don’t need to put in your post, Eryn.”

“What if I want to?”

“I will!” Ethan announced.

“Harry will be insulted,” I protested.

“It would be great if he was reading our website, but he’s not,” Mom pointed out.

You don’t know that, I thought. “Wouldn’t it be really great if he saw it? He would find out about it because I posted it!” Ethan went on. “Eryn would have to give me all the credit!”

Well, I don’t think Ethan wrote about that, so it’ll be all my fault if Harry sees himself on our website.

We woke up this morning hungry and expectant for waffles but guess what? Wafles Sur was closed! So we’ll try tomorrow… and the next day… and the next. I do hope it opens.

After our great disappointment to our great expectations, we wandered over to the Independencia subte station where we rode to San Martin Plaza. We walked from there up Santa Fe Avenue to Avenida 9 de Julio, which, at twenty lanes, is the widest boulevard in the world. And the Argentineans even drive on the right (and correct) side of the road!

We continued up Santa Fe to Libertad, where we got some more pesos. Pictures and video clips from a train crash were being shown on the TV.

We walked to a subte station, going into two pet stores where I saw a chinchilla dust bath, a Yorkie puppy, and some ferrets. Once we got to the other end of our subte ride, we looked at the cats in the botanical garden before walking on to Museo Evita, which was mostly in Spanish. Despite that, I think we left knowing more about Eva Perón, who died of cancer at thirty-three.


Pretty Little Penguins

I think Bella, my stuffed penguin from home, is much cuter than the African penguins we saw on the beach at Simonstown today. We drove from our B&B in Somerset West to our original accommodations, where we had a breakfast of toast, fruit, cheese, chocolate muffins, and orange juice. We said good-bye and, after I downloaded Grace, Gold, and Glory on my Kindle, were on our way.

After several traffic delays, we arrived at Boulders Beach in Simonstown, where we saw lots of the African penguins. From there we entered Table Mountain National Park. We drove to the Buffelsfontein Visitors’ Centre, where we got our keys and a map. We then drove to the death march start near the original Cape Point lighthouse. It was too high, making it hard to see with fog and mist, so the new lighthouse is down about 150 meters or so.

We walked up the hill, envying the people riding on the Flying Dutchman tram, all the way to the lighthouse. We then went a little farther out on the point, as far as us mere mortals are allowed to go. (We also saw three tourists illegally pass that point.) We climbed back up to the lighthouse and went to the gift shop, where Ethan bought a bottle of seawater. We slowly slowly returned to our car, stopping at almost every viewpoint along the way.

We then went to the southwesternmost point of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. We took a picture, examined a dead bird, and then went on to Olifantsbos Cottage, where we’re staying the night. Ethan and I constructed a fort against the side of a boulder on the beach made of rocks, sticks, and boards washed up on the beach. Ethan’s worried the tide, which comes right up to the bushes, will wash it away.

We had pasta and zucchini for supper, after which we went out to the beach for a sunset walk. We heard the baboons on the hill calling to each other as Ethan and I showed the parental units the fort. Ethan wanted to race to Dad, but I didn’t want to. “Why don’t you race?” he demanded. “Because this is a non-racist country,” I replied sarcastically. In the end, I did race… and won, of course!

The little bugs on the sand drove us insane… and away from the beach, so we retreated to the cottage where we enjoyed a Cadbury bar.


A Poem for Your Pupils

Two little girls screaming and playing

Horses trotting, galloping, and neighing

Ethan’s so excited to be here

He was thrilled with some horses to steer

Ashley makes us really good food

Visitors don’t want meals to conclude

Everyone says it’s always alright

Now they say it’s time for ‘good-night’


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.


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:


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…


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…


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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,
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.


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.


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!


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
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.

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.


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.


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.

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.




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!

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!


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!