Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Lots of work today, so maybe you can hang out at the pyramids until I’m done?

* * *

Read Full Post »

It seems we each have a fundamental core where we feel most comfortable, or most ourselves. It may come as no surprise to those who have spent any time on this site, but for me, it’s books and food. 

Those aren’t all I’m made of, of course, but those two elements were established early, before my memories became fixed. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love books and food. One of my first real recollections is sitting on the side steps of the porch eating an artichoke with my father, and it’s hard not to feel happy in a kitchen or library.

Now, if I’d had different experiences growing up I might have become an engineer or a tailor or a computer scientist. I make things and sew and code but not with the intuitive ease some have. Instead, it’s books. And food. I’m ok with that. 

* * *

I’m in the middle of a writing class, designing story ideas and characters. It got me thinking about how experiences become preferences and worldviews underpinning our actions. 

My father and I visited the Grand Canyon once, road-tripping north to the South Rim to hike and camp. The trip was great, full of summer heat and happiness, astonishing vistas and challenging trails.

I may also have spent some of the visit sitting by the edge, reading a book. Because we had a few minutes and that’s how I roll.

* * *

Like places, people have layers. Understanding how time and exposure, pressure and purpose combine makes it easier to build complex and interesting motivations, or to understand our own.

We just have to sit back and consider what we’re made of.

* * *

Photo by Jenn Wood on Unsplash

Read Full Post »

Today is Bastille Day.

Photo by Joe deSousa on Unsplash

* * *

Today is also a family member’s birthday, yay!

Photo by Robert Anderson on Unsplash

* * *

And on this day, years ago, I visited a floating market in Thailand.

At 6:45 this morning I hopped a bus for a two-hour ride to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak. I’m sure the pictures will tell the tale well, as long as the viewer can also imagine the sticky heat of the morning sun rising over a town whose streets are made entirely of water. It was totally touristy and, admittedly, lots of fun.

On the way there the bus stopped at a coconut oil factory, made obvious from the road by the mounds of coconuts piled everywhere. A woman stood by a huge stove and swirled coconut oil or juice around and around in the largest wok I’ve ever seen. She actually had three of these monstrosities cooking at once, each in various stages of reduction. Every so often she’d reach over and grab another handful of coconut husk to stoke the fire. I couldn’t resist a bag of coconut candy; it’s probably 99 percent fat and terrible for me, but it tasted like richly-flavored brown sugar. Delicious.

The first boat driver was a little throttle happy, so we got the speed demon tour of the town’s waterways. He’d race full ahead toward a wall, then turn at the last minute. The front of the boat would turn sharply, the back swing around, and we’d race off to the next corner to do it all again. Along the way I realized how little difference there is between streets of gravel and water. All along the banks there were walkways leading up to people’s houses, small yards where they kept everything from pets to fishing traps, and little garages off to the side where they parked their boats at night. One difference: on the canals’ sides I noticed an odd creature, a fluffy pink worm-like animal that looked a little like a small sea cucumber. It was easy to spot because it was hot hot pink. 

The first thing we were encouraged to do after stepping out of the boat was to get right back in another. For a few dollars a sightseeing boat of sorts would shuttle tourists around the main market canal. In a few seconds we were off with the rest of the boats, making our way along the canal crowded with boats carrying food, trinkets, and other tourists. The only thing they told us was to watch our fingers, as the boat’s metal-rimmed edges collided frequently. Good to know. 

Almost all of the boats selling things were occupied by women. They talked amongst themselves while making fried rice cakes or chopping open coconuts for us to drink. It seemed like a crowded market anywhere, just on the water.

A woman with a Bunsen burner and stack of bowls in her boat made noodle soup. As my boat mate sat back to slurp up his lunch, a man came over and asked me a question.

He wanted to know why I wasn’t eating too, and wanted to assure me that the food was both good and safe. By pointing at a passing boat and a billboard adorned with smiling faces and happy stomachs, he managed to let me know that the market had been established as a “Safe Eating Zone” which was enforced by police. I could eat without fear. I thanked him and let him know by pointing at my stomach that I just wasn’t hungry. I tasted some of the soup soup and declared it delicious. We concluded the conversation with smiles and thanks. 

Pretty good, considering neither knew a word of the other’s language.

* * *

J.R. Johnson

Read Full Post »

Sunday

Istanbul-Cappadoccia

I’m in seat 34 and already seven minutes late. We’re on the night bus to Cappadocia and I’m settling in for a ten-hour ride into the heart of Turkey. The old woman ahead of me is getting feisty, pounding on the window and demanding to leave, loudly. This little drama is all in Turkish, of course, but it’s hard to misunderstand this kind of impatience. Most of the country seems to travel by bus and this is the largest terminal I’ve ever seen. The station is huge, complete with hotel and shopping complex, mosque, 200,000 lira WCs, and plenty of air guns to keep the kids occupied. 

What’s this? We’re leaving right on time, only 14 minutes behind schedule.

Tops in Turkey: Topkapi Palace, cherry juice and jam, beer on a rooftop terrace with a view of the Haghia Sofia and Blue Mosque.

* * *

Photo by Fatih Yürür on Unsplash

Read Full Post »

I’m still thinking about travel, so today we have a short excerpt from my trip to Egypt (and apologies to anyone from Cairo, but that taxi ride made an impression).

* * *

June 29

Thursday

Cairo

I’m liking Egypt. Even the boys’ open stares and the sticky heat don’t deter me, and the organized chaos seems creative rather than threatening. That’s how I know I’m infatuated, not truly in love. No clear-eyed observer looks out from the back of an Egyptian taxi and sees anything but fear and death.

* * *

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Our guide picked us up in yet another van, but this time we were the only ones aboard. It seemed that no one else was crazy enough to tour the Valley on a June afternoon. And yes, it was hot.

The guide was very well-informed, trained in the States, and proud. He took us to many burial sites, tomb after tomb baking in the hot sun. As the day went on the heat made it harder to listen and certainly to remember all the facts being thrown at us. This caused us some trouble as the guide kept giving pop quizzes. At first we thought he was joking, but it turned out he really did care if we knew exactly which Ramses we’d seen (three in total), what the symbols on either side of the tomb entrances meant, and how the tombs were built. It was a little disconcerting, but kept us on track. We spent most of the time in the Valley of the Kings, but also headed around one of the mountainous valley sides to visit the Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman buried as a king.

When Hatshepsut’s husband the king died, she bribed his priests into declaring her a man, transformed through divine will. In that way she was able to become more than a regent for her husband’s heir and take control of the throne directly. Her tomb is backed into a towering cliff wall and covered with carvings. Wherever her name appeared, however, her bitter nephew later scratched it out, hoping to keep the gods from finding her spirit in the next life. No love lost there.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt. Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash

* * *

I find it fascinating to see how much the world has changed, and how much humanity hasn’t.

Read Full Post »

I had an unexpected rush at work today so here’s a bouquet of dried flowers I collected in Switzerland, and sketches of architectural and other details at the Swiss chalet* where I stayed. 

* * *

Much of the work I did today involved editing for other people, bringing an outside approach to a problem. Fresh eyes can give a whole new perspective, and as the UK’s GCHQ has noticed,** a neurodiverse mind sometimes sees things in a new light.

Like the keyhole I drew at the bottom right of the picture below.

Walking down the hall on my tour of the chalet, I asked, “Are all the keyholes in the house shaped like upside-down and backwards numbers?” The family member who had been visiting his entire life hadn’t noticed. 

(I now feel compelled to say that I am not actually a spy.)

Happy Friday!

* * *

click to embiggen!

* The original kind in Switzerland, not the one that will deliver roasted chicken with multiple side dishes in a cute little yellow car. Great, now I’m hungry.

** Americans, and anyone else wondering about the number-themed through-line between this bit and the sketch, think MI-5.

Read Full Post »

Today, a travel journal excerpt: Once upon a Wednesday in Peru.

The mountain under Machu Picchu is 6 kms high, if measured by the route I traveled to get there. The winding road looks like a serpent coiled on its side, weaving up the incredibly steep slope in turns almost too tight for the bus to manage. It is possible to walk and save the bus fare, but you’d have to pay me a lot more than $13 to walk up a slightly tired cliff face such as that. Most use the road, but a few intrepid souls choose the steep stone steps that link each turn in the road, heading straight up the slope. The climb can be done in an hour and a bit, and coming down takes 40 minutes or so, if you’re a tourist. If you’re a local you can climb a hill like that in 15 minutes and little children run down the stone steps as quickly as the bus makes the journey. There’s a mini-Mafia of sorts making money doing just that. Called the “Goodbye Kid” in guidebooks, there are at least three boys dressed in bright traditional clothing who stand by the road calling out “Goodbye!” as the bus leaves the mountain’s top. Lovely, we think, a friendly local. Imagine our surprise when, at the very next curve in the road, the same child flashes by our window in a bright red shout of “Goodbye!” At each and every loop of the road the boy is back, and it gets funnier at every turn. By the time we reach the bottom we’re all happy to present him with whatever goodbye gifts we can find in our pockets. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We had fifteen minutes of rest at the top, which was enough time to buy empanadas, stuffed pockets of baked dough with meat, and sit on a wall with a Coke enjoying the view. It also gave me a chance to assess the site’s layout and the awesome nature of the place. Mountain peaks rise sharply all around, tickled by the Sacred River below. Clouds brush the very tops of the trees and sun beats hot through thin air. To my left and a bit below I see the remains of hundreds of stone houses on the bar hilltop overlooking the valley. Above, the ruined city continues up the slope’s face with dramatic purpose. Incredible to think that in 1911 Hiram Bingham had to hack those stones free* of a jungle that had completely covered all traces of this powerful regional outpost. We wiped the empanada from our fingers and slowly filed our way inside.

It doesn’t take five minutes at Machu Picchu to figure out why the Inca’s first rule of conduct was “Don’t be lazy.” Every step is either straight up or straight down. The guide moves our group along as quickly as we can go, and 15 minutes and some history later we are at the Caretaker’s Hut. The hut is at the top of the site just above the Inca Trail. The building itself was home to the one who guarded a sacred stone of sacrifice, set nearby on the high ledge. 

Incan tradition dictates that when a person goes to a holy site for the first time they must bring a rock from their home as an offering. The space between the hut and stone is, to this day, filled with rocks. There in the white-granite mountains now rest rocks from all over the country, in different colors and textures and sizes attesting to the pilgrims’ dedication. On the shelf just below the hut a couple of llamas grazed. Rumor has it that they were trained by the Peruvian Tourist Board, and they did seem to tolerate a remarkable number of photos. Around me people collapsed for a quick rest, a Japanese woman began what became a solid hour of coughing, and one foolhardy soul enjoyed a cigarette.

Incan cities had gates, temples, guest houses, running water, grain storage, terraces, and hockey fields. What they did not have were sewers. It turns out that the llama (20 per person in the city’s heyday) weren’t the only ones busy leaving “offerings to Mother Earth.” Part of their sustainable urban environment depended on a steady supply of fertilizer from all animals in the area, people included. Llama dung was used as fuel as well as fertilizer. Seeing the crumbly, almost dry soil it made sense. Somehow the Incans managed to have a clean, healthy city despite the fact that 500 people were peeing in the bushes. It was also forbidden to cut down trees without permission and a special replanting ceremony. My hunch is that the Inca knew a lot more about soil erosion than we modern descendants. 

* Although I have to wonder how much of that he actually did himself.

** I’m guessing it was a lot more sophisticated than that.

* * *

Photo by Lee Scarratt on Unsplash

Read Full Post »

It’s lunchtime and I’m snacky, so for today’s post I bring you an excerpt from my European travel journal, featuring the delicious and mysterious (not really) zalmforel!*

I like the map, too.

* * *

Bron: OTRES. Licentie: Publiek domein

* * *

* It is a trout that looks something like salmon, but isn’t (despite what the nice lady told me at the time) an actual cross. Still very good, and isn’t it nice to learn new things?

Read Full Post »

In general, I like being home but these days I’ll admit, at times my thoughts stray to travel. As in, “Oh yes, once upon a time we used to go places and see things” and “There was a whole world out there, remember?”

And then I ran across scans of an old travel journal and had the fun of paging through the journey. Visiting the Swedish royal palace, discovering my brother’s previously hidden talent as a navigator, outrunning a swarm of mosquitoes, champagne in Stockholm, eating fish cheeks, taking tea in a converted windmill.

It was all lovely, even the insecty bits. And I’m pretty sure I’m not just saying that because travel has become one of those mythical ideas, like unicorns and shaking hands with strangers.

At the very back of the journal I rediscovered my father’s bird list. I think it was made after the trip, and there’s something precious about our layered handwriting, anchoring our shared memories to the page.

* * *

Female European Marsh Harrier
Female European Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Paco Gómez, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Read Full Post »

I woke this morning with a story start in my head, and it’s using up most of my mental bandwidth at the moment. So instead of something new, here’s something old, from a trip journal I took to Latin America in 2000. I’m laughing at the memory now.

April 26
Wednesday
San Jose

I’m late writing again today because we got up at 6:30 a.m. for a rainforest canopy tour and just got back. It was a lot of fun. I was a little worried that I’d need strength, you know like hand-over-hand on a wire, but then the guides started talking about how they’d had an 80-year-old man on tour a while back who was fine. It was a lot of fun (again!).

We drove north 45 minutes or so into the woods, a bit of protected land that’s part of a larger park containing 6% of Costa Rica’s land. We were the only ones on the tour and had a total of four guides. We parked at the “Canopy Adventures” headquarters and were outfitted with harnesses, caribiners (climbing rings), and gloves. We got back in the car with our gear and drove another kilometer or two up a very rocky and steep road. It wound up into the mountains, through a farm and past pastures. After parking at a little turnabout in the trees we proceeded on foot.

The hike was only 20 minutes or so but through the forest and steep. In some parts we walked along a road paved 60 years ago by farmers who needed to get their milk to market despite heavy winter rains. The rocks they used were hauled from a far-off river bed, then set carefully enough that the road is still useable today. The rest of the walk was over a path paved by tree rings, given added traction with metal mesh embedded into their tops. Along the way our guide pointed out different flowers and plants native to the rainforest. I remember the bromeliads (a relative of the pineapple that grows on trees and air), plants to eat if you get lost in the mountains, and plants used to weave coffee-gathering baskets.

Suddenly we were at the base of Platform 1 and the real start of our adventure. Our first task was to climb a wooden ladder up into a tropical oak tree, then out onto the first platform high up in the tree. Each of us carried our gloves and pulley attached to the climbing harness we’d been wearing since HQ. At this point, we were hooked onto a cable with one caribiner, then told what how to move along the wire and land safely. I felt a little like a side of beef, hanging from the wire by my belt and hoping my tippie-toes were enough to keep me on the platform.

We were to travel from one platform to the next along these wires through the trees. At each platform a guide would stand facing us as we held the cable running between platforms. Pulling the cable down in a modified pull-up, the guide held the pulley on top of the cable while connecting our second caribiner to it, just below the cable. Once this clamp was secure the guide unhooked the first caribiner from the cable and clamped it to the pulley, in the opposite direction as the first. Now there was nothing keeping me on the platform but the guide’s hand in front of the pulley. Upon hearing an answering cry of “¡Listo!” from the team at the receiving platform, that hand too was removed. Feet up, head back, one hand on the caribiners and one on the cable behind to brake, and I was off.

There were nine platforms, all fun, with the longest and steepest drop being the best as far as I was concerned. At each I was unhooked from the pulleys, then secured to the tree, which I climbed up or around or through to reach the next jumping-off point. The trees were huge, and seemed to carry the weight of the wooden platforms with ease.

After one or two jumps I noticed that a light touch on the caribiners attached to the pulley would keep me facing forward as I shot through the overgrowth. I also got quite good at braking and had lots of fun zooming at full speed just to the platform’s edge, then stopping right in front of the startled guide. Very fun. They got me back at Platform 9 though. Rather than climbing down from our final jump we rappelled, although the guides controlled the descent. No problema, I thought, I’ve done this before, and I’d be happy to go first. Rope between my legs, hands gripping the locked caribiners, I sat into the harness and eased slowly past the platform’s edge. Humph, I thought, this isn’t too baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddddddddddddddd!!!!!!!!! And almost swallowed my tongue as I was playfully dropped half the distance to the forest floor. The guides thought it was funny as hell, especially when all I could say after that heart-thumping, stomach-inspiring drop was “Jesus Christ!” Total free fall, unexpected, scary, and yes, funny as hell. I was still laughing five minutes later.

* * *

Not me but it gives you the idea; I was too busy to take photos for most of this trip.
Photo by Mam NC on Pexels.com

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »