Sunday, July 09, 2006
There are so many things we learned and experienced on this journey. It has changed us. How? I am not quite sure. Maybe sometime down the road it will be more clear. But for now, we know that the thirst for travel can never be quenched. We also know that flying never gets less frightening. You still say a prayer during take off and grip the arm rests and clench your teeth during landing. Even after taking over 25 flights in the last 4 months, I still look out the plane window and feel amazed at the fact that such flimsy looking wings are able to keep such a giant object above the clouds. We are now flying over University of Notre Dame. Seems so wierd that all these different places we visited, along with the people at home, keep existing even when we aren't there. While I'm sitting here in the plane flying over Notre Dame, Clayton in Palau may be chewing betel nut, tuk-tuk drivers all over Thailand are overcharging hapless tourists, Yen the tailor is charming a customer in Hoi An Vietnam, the helpful dog in Koh tao is swimming with snorklers, Neo is smiling and cooing in his hospital crib in Lesotho, the sun is setting over the castle in Bled Slovenia, someone is feeding iguanas on the same porch we did in Bonaire, and our family is waiting to meet us at the airport. Right at this moment.
We are close to landing and my heart is starting to beat harder. However, I am strangly calm about facing life. Yes, normal everyday life. We haven't really experienced that for a long time. But in a way it is comforting. Knowing that in 15 minutes we will be seeing our friends and family is also comforting. Another thing we learned. There are so many fun things in life, but so many of them have less meaning if you don't have someone to share them with. Luckily, Jason and I have each other. But there were many times when we would say, "Man, I wish so-and so could see this!"
So we have learned a lot about other cultures and countries. But somehow when you travel, you learn about your own country as well. It is great to be back in America.
The is the last of the world-in-4-months blog. You are welcome to check out Larissa's blog at http://selfglasslooking.blogspot.com. There probably isn't much new there now, but updates should be coming soon.
Thanks so much for following us on our trip, and letting us connect a bit with home along the way.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Cheapest hot meal: Kao San Road, Thailand, Veggie Phad Thai for two 75 cents
City with most haggling: Hoi An, Vietnam
Best produce: Central market, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Most photogenic people: Lesotho, Africa
Most photogenic daily scenes: Vietnam
Creepiest food moment: "Vegetarian snails", Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
There ya go! If you are going to be traveling to any of these places and want advice whether it be about hotels or cities, we would be happy to share our knowledge! One more post left....
Thursday, June 01, 2006
This is one of my favorite fish. There are a lot of these around.
We haven’t suffered anymore break-ins, probably because we have been leaving all of the windows down. We have been diving stress free, with the “club” locked on the steering wheel and the car free of valuables. We have been leaving some cookies in the car for a thief that comes by and really wants to steal something. We took the day off from diving yesterday so that we could explore the island a bit. It turned out to be Dia Del Rincon, a day that celebrates the oldest town on Bonaire. We enjoyed going to the celebration but didn’t see much besides some booths
and the forming of a parade:
People in Rincon love to celebrate.
We read that the town, while not Bonaire’s largest, tends to be the place to be for partying no matter what the holiday.
We wanted to check out the national park, just north of Rincon. It boasts a good population of donkeys, pink flamingos,
and cacti, but it was unfortunately closed due to the holiday. We did get a chance to enjoy the parks bathrooms however. At first I didn’t know which one to go into, but then I realized that they had used unconventional signs for designating which bathrooms were reserved for which sex.
We drove back to Kralendijk for lunch, scouting dive sites and watching lizards along the way. After hanging around for the early part of the afternoon, Larissa decided that we had better do some more exploring. We decided to take the road around the southern part of the island. The eastern coastline of Bonaire is jagged and barren
but beautiful in places. Larissa admits that she cannot appreciate desert beauty, which Bonaire is.
In fact, it is so much of a desert, they make their fences out of cacti.
She got more excited than she had been all day when we came to a beach almost completely covered with trash that had washed ashore. While I saw an unsightly beach, she saw an opportunity for a treasure hunt. She immediately announced that we would have a competition to see who could find the most unique object. We went off on our separate ways. I noticed a lot of shoes and plastic bottles, among a lot of uninteresting trash. I lost interest rather quickly, though I was mindful of Larissa’s clever attempt to keep my attention by making a competition out of it. I decided, hard as it was, that I would lose this competition. A short while later Larissa arrived with her treasures. Two matching baby stroller wheels found on separate sections of the beach, a high quality toddler’s shoe and, a compact hairbrush and a toilet seat.
I told her that I had seen the toilet seat but had had no interest in picking it up. As we were pulling away from the beach Larissa commented, “…And you know what I’m pissed about? Out of all those thousands of bottles on the beach, not one of them had the decency to be a message in a bottle.”
At the town house, we were inside watching TV when we saw a green flash on the porch. We went outside and found a HUGE iguana.
We had only seen little iguanas up until then but this one was a monster. We fed him bits of bread and tons of other little iguanas came to feast as well.
Well, we have really loved Bonaire but tomorrow is our last day. I think Larissa will let us dive four times as it is our last day and everything. Keep your fingers crossed.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Talk to you soon! Promise....
Thursday, May 18, 2006
So was that the excitement I was going to tell you about? Of course not. After emerging from the water on our third dive of the day, we walked back to the car. That was when we noticed that the side window of the van was shattered out.
Someone had taken a big piece of coral and thrown it through our window. Our first thought was “Thank goodness” because right before we were going to swim off into the distance, Jason realized we had left the underwater camera in the car and he went to grab it. There were no other valuables in the car. Everyone we had talked to had told us that we shouldn't leave any valuables in the car and lock it up every time we left it. We followed their advice religiously. That car was locked, we put the club on,
no valuables were to be found. So we felt pretty safe. Jason had left his wallet in the car and for a few heart thudding moments, we though they might have found it. I felt under the passenger seat and lo and behold, there it was, wedged up under the seat into the cushiony part of the chair. They had missed it! They had found the keys to our townhouse though but Benny had wisely put a generic key chain on it so they didn't know what the keys opened. So anyway, no valuables were stolen out of the car. They had, I soon realized, stolen my 299 hair bands. AND to add further insult to injury, they got into our butter cookies and ate all my favorite ones (the sugar topped ones)!
Boy I was mad. Not only had they had the indecency to BREAK OUR WINDOW, they had eaten our cookies after failing to find anything else of value. The people who parked next to us said that their truck was searched but they had left the windows down so no windows were broken. Jason and I, devastated, checked our map for the nearest police station and headed that way. I realized that they probably had their grimy little fingerprints all over the cookie tin so I told Jason to be sure to mention it to the officer. I felt a shot of adrenaline as I pictured the police officer putting handcuffs on the bad guy and saying “Bet you wish you hadn't taken those cookies now, huh tough guy”. Jason went in to fill out a police report while I stayed in the car in my swimsuit fuming about the injustice of it all. The injustice only got worse.
The police officer filled out the top portion of the police report a few times before getting it right. This is the conversation that followed:
POLICE OFFICER: What items were stolen out of the car?
JASON: Oh, nothing valuable. Heh, they just got some of my wife's hair bands and ate some of our cookies.
POLICE OFFICER: What type of cookies were stolen?
JASON: Uh.. some butter cookies, but that's not a big deal, we just-
POLICE OFFICER: What brand of butter cookies were they?
JASON: Oh well, I dunno. But the window is our main-
POLICE OFFICER: I am going to need to know the brand, just in case the dispatcher happens to see them somewhere.
JASON: (speechless, so he is just thinking this line) Well, I think they ate them you idiot.
At this point Jason comes out of the building and asks me for the cookie tin. Thinking they are going to catch the guy from the fingerprint, I sit quite happily outside dreaming about how smart I am to have thought of the whole fingerprint thing in the first place.
POLICE OFFICER: Classico butter cookies. Ok. How many would say were stolen?
JASON: Uh, I dunno. About half the cookies.
POLICE OFFICER: Well how many cookies were in the tin to begin with?
-Jason looks on the side of the tin and sees no indication of the number of cookies-
JASON: Well it only has how many grams total.
POLICE OFFICER: Ok, so how much does each cookie weigh?
JASON: You know what, I think they probably took about 10 cookies. Yes, it is all coming back to me now.
POLICE OFFICER: What brand of hair bands were stolen?
JASON: I don't know, they took the whole bag.
POLICE OFFICER: (sigh) Alright, how many were stolen?
JASON: 300. You know, I am mostly worried about the window being smashed out. Did you put anything about the in there?
POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, here you go
Jason read over the police report but didn't really because it was all in dutch. The only think he could read was “Classico Butter Cookies......10” and “Rubber Hairbands.......300”. Jason thought he better get out of there before he went crazy. But figured he should at least try to ask about the fingerprints or else I would be mad.
JASON: Uh, do you guys do fingerprints here?
POLICE OFFICER: (snorts) Nope.
As Jason was leaving, another guy was just walking in and telling the front desk lady that his car had been broken into just one site up from us. I guess these jerks just made their way along the road, vandalizing as they went. The police station was a waste of time but we had to get the police report for insurance purposes. I guess Jason used his Visa to rent the car so it was covered under Visa insurance. We were quite relieved to find that out.
The rental lady was pretty nice. I guess it happens a lot. She said that the best thing to do is to keep your car windows rolled down. Well now she tells us! That was frustrating because most people we talked to told us to lock it up and don't leave any valuables. But then afterwards, they tell us we should leave the windows down. So that was our day in a nutshell. Hope that was more entertaining than eat, dive, hang out.
Friday, May 12, 2006
The plane landing was a terrifying experience. The runway starts basically at the beach, so we came in to land low, very low. I (Jason) thought that we would all die. It looked like we were going to land in the water. When we landed, everyone cheered. That pilot must get that a lot.
We were met at the aiport by our landlord, Benny. He showed us to our car rental agency. After we signed some papers and handed over our visa, we were ablt to transfer our lunggage to a nice little van. From there we followed Benny to our Bungalow.
We were immediately impressed. It is set back in some tropical landscaping, where a hammock hangs on the porch.
We were introduced to the Bungalow's many luxuries: an air-conditioned bedroom, a screen door on the living room, cable TV, gas range, microwave, toaster oven, rice cooker, etc, etc, etc. I was particularly happy to see the racks for hanging our scuba gear after we rinsed it.
When Benny found out that we were excited about scuba diving, he showed us to his shed, where he had some equipment stored. He offered to let us borrow whatever we needed. I gratefully accepted a BCD, regulator, and fins. Larissa took some fins and a wetsuit. Less gear to rent! Needless to say, we were already impressed with his hospitality and generosity. After getting our place organized, Benny wanted to make sure that we got a tour around town. He hopped into his pickup and drove to Bonaire's main waterfront streets in the town of Kralendijk. It is colorful and very islandy. From there he showed us some dive shops and the main supermarket while reccomending some restaurants along the way.
Written on the lisence plates of Bonaire are the words "Diver's Paradise", which explains why we had to come here.
This place is often referred to as the shorediving capital of the world. Dive sites around the island are only a few meters off-shore, and thus are ideal for shore access. The popular thing to do here is sign up for an unlimited shore diving package. With such a package on is provided with unlimited tanks, along with a weightbelt and weights. All you have to do is drive you car through the drive-through,
load up with tanks, go do a couple dives, and return to the shop to trade out the empties.
The morning after our arrival we bought a 7 day package from the photo tour dive shop. We chose them because they have a network of shops around the island where you can pick-up and return tanks. Oh, and they give a discount to people who stay at Bonaire Townhomes, where we are staying.
Before going on our first dive we were obligated to undergo a Bonaire Marine Park Orientation. Dive tourism is huge here, so they have put a big priority on protecting their reefs. No spearfishing, no collecting, no touching whatsoever.
Shorediving Bonaire has been made quite simple. All of the dive sights have been named and numbered and are all marked by yellow painted stones along the road.
After doing an orientation checkout dive near town, we headed down south to partake in a couple more dives. We had a great time comparing the sights and creatures of the Bonaire underwater world with that of the other places we have visited on our trip.
Groceries are quite expensive here. We would just eat rice and potatoes, but potatoes here are actually very expensive so we have to stick to rice. We were interested to see that Worthington veggie meat products are sold here, though they are way out of our price range.
We did splurge on a tin of Danish butter cookies. I figured it would be a good idea to get Larissa to associate one of her favorite foods with diving. We instituted a program where each of us would award ourselves with a few butter cookies following each dive. This soon proved to be a successful system. On our third dive, the first words out of Larissa's mouth were "Cookie time!"
So we have settled into our new home quite nicely, and are enjoying the last days of our honeymoon as much as possible.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Unfortunately, we never got around to doing this research. While at our timeshare in Hungary we decided to head down to the internet café to take care of our Amsterdam accommodation needs once and for all. We soon found out that we would have to pay for our procrastination. There was virtually no availability. We guessed that this was because of the tulip bloom. Instead of spending an arm and a leg to stay in a five star hotel in Amsterdam (even 40 bed hostel rooms were booked) we opted to spend an arm for a place in Gouda, which is about an hour away from Amsterdam by train.
We really didn’t have any idea how to get to our hotel when we arrived in Gouda. We did not have the option of taking a taxi, as they were very expensive. The train station was all but dead when we arrived well after dark. After a few failed attempts to phone the hotel, Larissa found a helpful girl at the snack stand who provided just the right instructions: “Take bus number 178 toward Bodegraven, after about ten minutes you will see McDonalds, next to which is your hotel.”
As it turns out, our hotel, while technically in Gouda, is actually closer (much closer) to the Bodegraven city center. The hotel was quite nice, though a bit out of the way of things. Here is the beautiful view from our room. As you can see, the hotel was indeed very close to McDonalds.
When we woke up Saturday morning we thought we’d head out to find some tulip fields. We asked the lady at the front desk where we might find some. She informed us that we had arrived on the busiest tourism weekend of the year for the Netherlands. She told us that people come every year, from all over, to se the famous flower parade. Within about 5 minutes she had helped us plan our whole day. We would take a train to the town of Leiden, from where we would take a bus to Lisse, where the world famous Keukenhof Gardens are located. Lisse is also on the flower parade route. The lady told us that the bloom had started a couple of weeks late due to cold weather, but that both the tulips and daffodils were now in bloom.
We walked to the Bodegraven train station, disappointed with the cold dreary weather. Before taking a train to Leiden, we took some time to tour the streets of Bodegraven. The compact streets lined with bakeries, pastry and cheese shops, and fruit stands charmed both of us. We bought and avacado and a disc-shaped loaf of bread and then made our way along a canal en route to the train station.
When we got to Leiden it became immediately apparent that pretty much everyone was going to the same place we were. There was a huge line for the ticket stand where combination Bus/Park Entrance tickets were sold. After exploring other potential ways to get to the flowers, we got in line with the rest of the tourists.
All of the Buses doing the Leiden to Keukenhof route were jam packed with people, and ours was no exception. We enjoyed the 20 minute ride nonetheless, as we were treated to flashes of color as we passed by various flower fields.
When we arrived at Keukenhof Flower Gardens, a 32-hectare park which exports more tulips around the world than anyone, we noticed that we were just about the youngest tourists around. We questioned whether it was natural for us, each of us at only 23 years old, to be so interested in fields of flowers. We didn’t come to any conclusions, but decided not to let our self-awareness hinder our excitement.
We enjoyed a small portion of the gardens for an hour or so before following hoards of people back into town so that we could take up our positions for the parade. We arrived far earlier than we needed to. We got bored waiting, and became complacent. Unfortunately, as we lost focus, we also lost our prime street side positions.
The floats were impressive. Everything from elephants, to grand pianos, to space shuttles, to china sets had been crafted out of flowers.
We enjoyed what we figured was most of the parade before leaving a bit early to beat the crowds back to Keukenhof. We agreed that we would have stayed longer had they been throwing anything edible into the crowds.
Shortly after returning to the gardens, Larissa informed me that her new favorite flower was the hyacinth. She told me that she would plant them in our own garden soon. I told her that we probably wont have our own garden anytime soon.
There is a nice windmill on the property, from which there was a nice view. Within the gated part of the park were mostly manicured gardens. We had our fun there, but wanted to dance a bit in the vast flower fields. We exited the park gates and took a short walk to a daffodil field, and then to a tulip field.
We came home that night satisfied with ourselves. Though we had dome some very touristy things, at least we had done the most touristy things in Holland. With this satisfaction, and budgetary concerns in mind, we made the decision to hang around Gouda on Sunday rather than making the trip into Amsterdam.
Unfortunately, Sundays in the smaller towns of the Netherlands mean that almost everything is closed. We had hoped to eat bread and cheese all day, so that we could save a buck or two, but all of the bread and cheese places were closed. Fortunately McDonalds and Subway were open. For breakfast we had two large fries and two ice cream cones. For lunch we split a veggie delight sandwich and each had another ice cream cone. Feeling sufficiently satiated, we committed to skip dinner that night.
Gouda is a nice little town with canal-lined streets and interesting architecture. It also has a few classic-looking windmills. We spent the morning and early afternoon touring the city center and some peripheral areas. Much of the place looked like a ghost town in the morning, but things livened up a bit later on, when church let out.
I guess Gouda is the birthplace of Gouda cheese, though due to the fact that everything was closed, we weren’t able to get much history on this. A guy at subway told us that Gouda is no longer made in Gouda. We had read somewhere that there is a cheese museum and tastery somewhere around, but we didn’t find it. We were sure to have Gouda on our sandwich at least.
When we got back to the hotel, mid-afternoon, hunger was already setting in. We were able to distract ourselves with a movie, but eventually we went downstairs to get a snack. We saw that Twix bars were offered at the best price per kilogram, so that is what we got. Add that to our earlier meals, and you’re not looking at a very healthy day. Funny how when most places are closed, your most inexpensive food options are also the most unhealthy.
This morning we walked back to Bodegraven to catch a train to the airport, which cost around $10 each. As expected, Amsterdam proved to be our most expensive stop yet. Europe as a whole was not kind to us financially. We are now well over budget, but still optimistic that this trip won’t put us into debt.
When we checked in for our flight to Bonaire we were told that the flight was over-booked and that we did not have seat assignments. This was particularly stressful because as far as we knew, there was only one flight per week from Amsterdam to Bonaire. The only other way to get to Bonaire using the SkyTeam alliance is to fly on Continental from Houston, also a weekly flight. So, we spent a stressful hour and a half trouble-shooting and going on over our options. Fortunately, some people didn’t show up for the flight, so we were able to get on. We were also fortunate that the person who was supposed to sit in Larissa’s seat had ordered a vegetarian meal. They found another one for me. For lunch we had couscous with some sort of eggplant curry. We were also served fresh warm rolls and a warm chocolate dessert. For a mid-flight snack we were served chocolate chunk ice cream. For dinner we had chocolate mousse, Italian salad, a calzone, and a roasted pepper sandwich. Anyway, we were very impressed with the food.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Thursday, April 20, 2006
This is about the most fun I have had in my life. Canyoning is basically following a creek up or down a canyon. We followed the canyon down river. SO much fun. Jason saw the poster and knew immediately that I would love it. Many times we have passed a creek and I have said, "Man, I wish I could just follow that creek......in the the creek." That is exactly what we did. It was really cold water but we had thick wetsuits and hoods and gloves and wetsuit socks. So we were fine. Jason's hat didn't fit over his gigantic noggin.
There were some parts that we had to repel down.
Other times, we jumped
or slid on our bellies
I think I may have a new hobby.
Unfortunately, canyoning used to be popular in the US about 15 years ago but now it isn't as popular. Maybe we can change that yes?
Don't worry about that blood, it is just from the pressure of the water. He wasn't injured.
Today was finally sunny! We got some great pictures around Bled. Here is a nice spring picture:
Here is the island with the church and the castle is on the cliff in the background. Those are the Julian Alps in the background.
Jason decided to go ahead and go kayaking. He went with the same people who took us canyoning. They are a really great outdoor adventure agency. They have good prices and the people are really laid back and nice. Compared to Vietnam and Thailand, they are AMAZING! Here is their website. So if you ever come to Slovenia, look them up! Anyway, Jason said it was an amazing time. The water was crystal clear and he went down the river with a really good guide. Jason said he can do tons of amazing tricks. I only saw him do a cartwheel which I got a picture of Jason doing.
Jason said he messed up in this picture but I can't tell. He got to float passed a couple cool river villages and got to go down come class 3 and 4 rapids.
Thank you for all your happy birthday comments! See you soon!