Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dragon's Beard Candy in Seoul, South Korea

In Seoul, South Korea, we came across a confectioner's stand in the Insadong area of the city. The guy was a hilarious character, and put on quite a show making this very good candy.

Enjoy!
Sam



ps- my apologies for the one flipped frame. I was able to splice multiple clips and flip the video, however, one frame near the end was quite pesky and didn't give in. Still worth seeing!

Auntie Sam, I jump on bed!!!

S video

Nephews are one of life's great joys, though a nice, calm wake-up they are not! My Mason decided that my bed was a fabulous trampoline and made good use of it. The joys of three and a half year olds!




Sawyer, at 7 weeks, is a bit more sedate and quite a warm little motor (fabulous for Auntie Sam, who is not used to Colorado cold!) "I wuv brother," says Mason. What a good big brother he is!




The goodies from Asia were a hit, including the stuffed animals and the elephant 't' from Cambodia. Yes, this one's in constant motion!

On a side note, my sister-in-law told me about her conversation with Mason a week ago, just following the loss of my dog. After my brother hung up with me, Mason asked why I was sad, and Cortney explained that my dog died. He thought for a minute and said "I bring my Tigger to her." (Tigger is his much beloved golden-doodle puppy whom he loves/loves to abuse.) It was a very sweet offer and I was incredibly touched.

This morning was quite cold, and I learned that a cold three year old is quite snuggly. Definitely the makings of a perfect morning!
S

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 13: Last day in Seoul

We woke up early to squeeze out what we could of our last day in Seoul. We had breakfast at the hotel then headed out to the subway. We went up to the Bukchon area which is considered the middle of the nation's capital city. It was very quaint and had a lot of beautiful old homes as well as a lot of cute little museums and galleries including a Chicken Museum, and a Kite Workshop, that was unfortunately closed. We took a tour of a Buddhist art museum, and walked through several of the side streets in the neighborhood.

Next we headed over to Changgyeonggung Palace, the other large palace in the city's center. It was impressively large and had a bunch more little buildings and homes, but really was more of the same from the palace we saw yesterday. There is a Hidden Garden (not so hidden, I guess) near it, but unfortunately you can only go with a tour guide and the tour started 30 minutes before we had to leave. So instead, we decided to head back to Insadong to get some of that Dragon's beard candy. We got to watch our new best friend give a demo, and recognized us instantly and warmly. He was quite a ham and I got video of it which I'll try to add together and post (for some silly reason, I cut it into a couple of videos.)

We headed back to our hotel, checked out and made our way to the airport, and are waiting for the looong flight home now. This has been such an amazing trip. When I'm back I'll post some pictures as well as provide some more of the things that we enjoyed.

Hope you've enjoyed traveling along with me! Until the next adventure...
Sam

Day 12: Seoul, South Korea

We arrived in Seoul at 5:20 am, after a sleepless flight (well, I was sleepless, anyways!) We tried to book a tour to see the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone between North and South Korea ) with no luck. Even though the website and the flyer at the stand said no reservations required, they insisted they needed one. Since the tour ends at 2, there just won’t be enough time tomorrow so we’re out of luck.

The cab ride from the airport was interesting on many levels. First, because he was by the the craziest driver we’d had yet! I was expecting Seoul to be a larger, more modern Hanoi, and couldn’t have been more wrong. It is very modern, but was not dirty or polluted at all! The air is clean and it’s very nice. It took an hour to get to the hotel. The lobby is very cute, and we left our bags and set out for breakfast and especially coffee! We ate next to the hotel then headed out to visit the palaces. On the way we came across an interesting place and stopped to check it out. It’s the Namsangol Traditional Korean Village, a cluster of old homes stands. It is five traditional Korean houses from the house of Yeong-Hyo Bak, one of eight great families in Seoul that were moved into the traditional village.

We then headed out to visit the palaces. We’ve been finding Asian culture really interesting in many ways. First, the concept of personal space. There is none. And coming from the US, I find myself often bristling when people are pressed up against me, or aim at me walking, particularly when there’s plenty of room around. It’s interesting to see this concept play out in the homes and shops as well. Walking around Seoul, we didn’t see one shop of a certain kind, but multiple shops in clusters, or neighborhoods. There was the clothing area, the textile area, the sewing machine parts area, pet store area and even a prosthetic store area! We laughed as occasionally a ‘rebel’ store would appear, like we saw a blinds store in with the textiles area. What a shock!

Houses were also clustered with apartments in a grouping, and nice homes. My friend read that the homes were numbered as they were built and as a result can be out of sequence, and we saw several instances of that. We walked down a street and saw house 29, then house 84 then house 66.

We had a couple of funny bathroom ‘incidents’ that I’ll share as well (and several that I won’t, for decency sake!) First, I’m noticing that women simply do not shut bathroom stall doors! It’s the strangest thing but quite a few times now I’ll go into a stall only to find it in use and the lock wasn’t closed, and often the door isn’t even shut! Then my friend had a funny occurrence when he walked in a bathroom and there were two buttons, a red and a green. Green opened the door, and he went in, then hit the red door to close the door. Immediately the lights went out. Completely! He finally found the green button to open the door, but never figured out how to get the lights on with the door shut. Given my findings with the women, maybe that’s why they don’t close the doors? I don’t know.. Then in the ladies’ bathroom I found an ‘etiquette alarm’. Intrigued of course, I pushed the button and heard a fizzing sound then smelled a slightly floral fragrance.

We got to the first palace which was closed today, a place called Changedoekgung Palace, so headed to the second and got quite lost. We tried but could not find a good map, and given that the signs are in Korean characters, we had no clue except for a general direction. At one point we needed to cross a major road and couldn’t find a crosswalk anywhere! Thanks to the kindness of strangers! A jolly man with a bike helmet waved to us, beckoning us to follow him. He took us to a small elevator and we followed. When we got down, he pointed us in a direction, then waved goodbye and went in the opposite direction. Apparently there is underground crossing for major streets! It was very nice of him to show us the way!

We then came across a market, and wandered around a bit. Just like on the street there was the clothing area, the textile area, the food area.. and we saw lots of rather interesting things including pig’s snouts, bugs (for eating) and some various animal body parts that I have no idea what they were, nor do I care to consider it for any longer!

We wandered through a large college campus then decided to stop at a Starbucks for some caffeine and warmth. We then headed back out and were told to take the subway to the palace. Interestingly, we haven’t seen a ton of people walking, given the size of the city. We figured out the subway system, which is actually quite decent, and found our way to the Gyeongbokgung Palace. We bought tickets and ran in just as some brightly dressed people were marching in to some beautiful traditional music. We then took a one hour tour with a Korean gal who was funny and very good. The palace is a small part of what it once was, and consists of over 20 buildings beautifully painted, along with some very nice and large courtyards.

I was quite exhausted by then but did catch a good bit of the tour, which was very good. We then did a quick walk-through of some of the two free museums next to the Palace including the Folk Museum and the National Palace Museum of Korea, then headed back to the hotel for a power nap. We realized that we were not sure exactly where the hotel was from the subway perspective, so took a cab back. After our nap and a quick shower, we were on our way to the Insadung neighborhood, known for its restaurants, shops, galleries and other stores. We walked it end to end twice looking for a restaurant that my friend had found recommended by several sites online, but never found it. We asked several people too!

He bought a beautiful painting on rice paper, and I ended up buying two rings that were really interesting, one silver and onyx, and one that is actually tin and a green stone (jade?) Both are quite different looking. We were starting by then and found a really good restaurant and ordered quite a meal including Bibmbap (sp?) a very traditional Korean dish of a fried egg, rice, sprouts, carrots, greens and beef. It’s laid out beautifully and you mix it all together with some hot sauce. It came in a cast iron bowl and the rice was crispy in parts from cooking. We also got potato pancakes, which had a beautiful herb leaf of some kind, and pork wraps. The pancake was very good and the pork wrap was so-so.

We headed back down the street and decided to go to a tea shop to unwind. It was very cute and quaint and smelled wonderful. He got a Traditional Medicine tea which was quite powerful. It had nuts and dried fruit floating in it, and I thought it tasted of strong liquor. Mine was Five Taste Tea, which turned out to taste very much like plum tea (which I’m not a fan of, unfortunately.) We got green tea rice cakes which were ok dipped in the tea, and they brought some interesting cakes that had the texture of cheetos mixed with a slightly sweetened sticky rice.

It got quite cold with the sun gone, so we decided to call it a night and headed back via the subway. On the way out we stopped to look at a stand that we noticed earlier making some kind of thing we weren’t sure of. Turned out it’s a candy-like thing called Dragon’s beard or King’s beard. It’s tough to describe but has a wispy white coating that is the consistency of a very fine string and flaky over a textured nutty-like center. When we asked what it was, the guy opened one from the freezer to let us share it and boy it was great! We’re definitely stopping back there tomorrow! He asked where we were from and we answered ‘the US’ and then he asked what state and we said “Arizona”. He smiled and said “Diamondbacks!” Which is the baseball team in Phoenix. It was so funny that he knew that. Then he asked my friend "Are you a handsome and famous American movie star?" We laughed out loud, and I commented that now I was going to have to deal with him and his swelled head! We took a picture of him and assured him we’d be back.

I did forget to mention, I believe, that not only were we offered marijuana in Hanoi, but we were offered marijuana and opium in Siem Reap, Cambodia! So far, no offers in Seoul and we leave mid-afternoon tomorrow!

Good night all.. last morning tomorrow then we head out for the long flight home!
s

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Leaving the humid jungle, arriving in Seoul!

Last day in Siem Reap, and we’ll be heading to Seoul Korea this evening. We woke up to the sound of loud music which started at 5 am. Apparently my friend had a visitor in his room, and the frog that we've seen outside several times made an appearance! We ate breakfast at the hotel and met Jac. We learned that the music is part of a local wedding ceremony in the neighborhood. We hired a car to go to Pnom Kulen Mountain, as the tuk tuk can’t make it up the mountain. It was a long drive, a really long drive, and a good bit of it was a very rutted dirt road. I was cursing the coffee I drank for sure!

I forgot to mention the high level of foreign investment here ranging from private individuals to non-profit organizations. Quite a few homes have signs either like “The American Wilson family lives here” or “Donation by Cares for Cambodia.” Many of the donated items are wells, schools and homes. There’s also a lot of construction, but we didn’t see a lot being actively worked. Jac explained that much of it was started a few years ago but has not been completed. He showed us a large hotel that has been under construction for five years!

A couple of things I forgot to mention previously (this is what happens when I don’t bring my travel journal with me!):
First, at the monestary that we visited yesterday, we saw a memorial to the killing fields in Cambodia, where thousands were violently killed and buried in unmarked graves during the Polpot/Khmer Rouge regime. It was a large building with glass sides filled with bones and skulls.

The second thing I’ve forgotten about is the fact that when we toured Angkor Wat, Jac told us that the scientists who excavated and repaired it were trying to determine how they got the blocks to stay together without mortar, and they found sticky rice between the stones! Rather ingenious, I think, though makes me wonder about eating it!

We got to the mountain and parked, and the humidity was so heavy it could be cut with a knife. There was a strong smell of lilies in the air, though unfortunately, I’m quite allergic! We saw lots of Buddha shrines, as we’ve seen all along this trip. We walked through the market of stalls and up a long set of stairs to where the sleeping Buddha lies. Jac said they don’t know exactly how long its been there, but for at least a thousand years. It was cut from a large bounder at the top of the mountain.
We then walked down and through the jungle a bit, and saw the largest spider I have ever seen. It was black and yellow like the last one we saw, but the leg-span was like that of a small bird! It had a huge web too. We then went to see the thousand Linga under the river, which was a really long set of carvings. I don’t think I’ll do it justice, but linga are an ancient item that is a square with an oval in the center that sticks up that the ancient people believed if you pour water over it, it has healing powers. The bottom of the stone riverbed is carved with a thousand of them.

Next we walked through the jungle further and came across a small village that had a lot of children running around. We continued walking over a wobbly wood suspension bridge, then through a really old ruin, that Jac said was undocumented so he didn’t know anything about it, to a large waterfall with several viewing points. The last was the most spectacular, and we climbed down a long set of stairs and and over several wood planks nailed into the rocks to view the waterfall. The spray felt so wonderfully cool with the humidity! We then stopped and tried a banana cake, which was roasted in a banana leaf with bananas and sticky rice. It was really good though quite sticky! We also stopped on the way to try some red banana, which were good. Only about four or five bites to them, and they tasted a little different than plantains but not much different.

We headed back, and while the drive didn’t seem quite as long, it still was lengthy. I enjoyed the trip but don’t think I’d recommend it. Certainly not as much as our last three days. I’m really sad to leave Cambodia as I’ve enjoyed it tremendously.
We made our way to the airport and were happy to still have the air conditioned car as we’re dressed in jeans since Seoul is much colder. the first flight got in early to Hanoi, but unfortunately, you can't check in until 2 hours before. We were sitting on some metal chairs without armrests just next to check-in, and a Vietnamese man sat down next to me. Then another squashed in between us! So I'm sitting on 3/4 of my chair, and he keeps looking over at me as if to say 'why aren't you moving over more?' Welcome to Asia, where the concept of personal space is very, very different!

Time to go check in!! Thank goodness.. my New England sensibilities and need for personal space are at their limits.
S

Goodbye humid jungle, hello Seoul!

Last day in Siem Reap, and we’ll be heading to Seoul Korea this evening. We woke up to the sound of loud music which started at 5 am. We ate breakfast at the hotel and met Jac. We learned that the music is part of a local wedding ceremony in the neighborhood. We hired a car to go to Pnom Kulen Mountain, as the tuk tuk can’t make it up the mountain. It was a long drive, a really long drive, and a good bit of it was a very rutted dirt road. I was cursing the coffee I drank for sure!

I forgot to mention the high level of foreign investment here ranging from private individuals to non-profit organizations. Quite a few homes have signs either like “The American Wilson family lives here” or “Donation by Cares for Cambodia.” Many of the donated items are wells, schools and homes. There’s also a lot of construction, but we didn’t see a lot being actively worked. Jac explained that much of it was started a few years ago but has not been completed. He showed us a large hotel that has been under construction for five years!

A couple of things I forgot to mention previously (this is what happens when I don’t bring my travel journal with me!):
First, at the monestary that we visited yesterday, we saw a memorial to the killing fields in Cambodia, where thousands were violently killed and buried in unmarked graves during the Polpot/Khmer Rouge regime. It was a large building with glass sides filled with bones and skulls.

The second thing I’ve forgotten about is the fact that when we toured Angkor Wat, Jac told us that the scientists who excavated and repaired it were trying to determine how they got the blocks to stay together without mortar, and they found sticky rice between the stones! Rather ingenious, I think, though makes me wonder about eating it!

We got to the mountain and parked, and the humidity was so heavy it could be cut with a knife. There was a strong smell of lilies in the air, though unfortunately, I’m quite allergic! We saw lots of Buddha shrines, as we’ve seen all along this trip. We walked through the market of stalls and up a long set of stairs to where the sleeping Buddha lies. Jac said they don’t know exactly how long its been there, but for at least a thousand years. It was cut from a large bounder at the top of the mountain.
We then walked down and through the jungle a bit, and saw the largest spider I have ever seen. It was black and yellow like the last one we saw, but the leg-span was like that of a small bird! It had a huge web too. We then went to see the thousand Linga under the river, which was a really long set of carvings. I don’t think I’ll do it justice, but linga are an ancient item that is a square with an oval in the center that sticks up that the ancient people believed if you pour water over it, it has healing powers. The bottom of the stone riverbed is carved with a thousand of them.

Next we walked through the jungle further and came across a small village that had a lot of children running around. We continued walking over a wobbly wood suspension bridge, then through a really old ruin, that Jac said was undocumented so he didn’t know anything about it, to a large waterfall with several viewing points. The last was the most spectacular, and we climbed down a long set of stairs and and over several wood planks nailed into the rocks to view the waterfall. The spray felt so wonderfully cool with the humidity! We then stopped and tried a banana cake, which was roasted in a banana leaf with bananas and sticky rice. It was really good though quite sticky! We also stopped on the way to try some red banana, which were good. Only about four or five bites to them, and they tasted a little different than plantains but not much different.

We headed back, and while the drive didn’t seem quite as long, it still was lengthy. I enjoyed the trip but don’t think I’d recommend it. Certainly not as much as our last three days. I’m really sad to leave Cambodia as I’ve enjoyed it tremendously.
We made our way to the airport and were happy to still have the air conditioned car as we’re dressed in jeans since Seoul is much colder.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 10: Siem Reap

We ate breakfast at our hotel again, which is always very good. We’ve gotten fried eggs with “toast” (a toasted French baguette which is very good!) and my friend has gotten a pancake with honey with it for the last couple of days. The honey is really fresh and good.

I forgot to mention a couple of things yesterday that I’ll write about now. First, we saw small bottles on the side of the road at many of the stands set up to sell various items. Jac told us the bottles are gasoline for the cars and mopeds! He also shared with us the marriage process in Cambodia. While some people, especially in the city, are marrying for love then telling their families about it, many people still marry in the traditional way. It starts with the man having interest in a woman he has seen. He tells his family, and his parents, if they accept the match, go to a broker who reaches out to the woman’s family to see if they are interested. If they are, the couple meets with the family present. If they decide to get married, they consult with a fortunate teller who, after they share their birthdates, tells them if it’s acceptable and recommended that they marry. There are several thresholds passed where approval is required of the couple or the family as well. With a shrug, Jac said that if the fortune teller says no, then they move on.

If the fortune teller agrees, then the process begins with the man paying the bride’s parents a sum of money for the wedding ceremony, ranging from $500 in the country to several thousand in the city. One requirement that I found interesting is that the man needs to present 35 different kinds of fruits to the bride’s parents, and only if they approve can the couple marry. The ceremony traditionally goes for three days, with lots of steps and stages, though now more often it goes for one and a half days. The new couple typically lives with the bride’s family.

We headed out to the Tonie Sap lake, the largest lake in Cambodia and hired a boat to take us to the fishing village. It has wicker chairs sitting on it and would seat around 20, though we took it for just us. The fishing village was interesting, and so different from the one we saw in Vietnam. In Vietnam the boats were all tied together so you could walk over each of them, and was very much a village of people working together. The village in Cambodia was a large cluster of independent boats that were mostly flat and buoyed with tires, metal jugs or whatever materials they had to keep it afloat. There were people cleaning out their fishing nets, people mending nets, and a lot of people sleeping in hammocs. Jac explained that they usually fish at night and sleep during the day. Women were cooking and kids were playing and running around. The water was high, but when it’s low, they move the village elsewhere.

The village had two large shops and we stopped in one. It showed displays of some unusual local fish, and there was an alligator farm which is mostly for export. There was a large tank maybe 20 feet down and alligators climbing all over each other.
We left and headed into town for lunch, and ate at a place Tany Khmer Family Kitchen. It was adorable, and had thatched wood all over the walls and ceilings and brightly-colored linens. Lunch was costly for the area but really good. I got a Khmer stew with green tomatoes, onions, lemongrass and a tangy red sauce and my friend got noodles with veggies and chicken. One of the best yet. We got apple shakes as well which were good, but not as good as the one my friend got yesterday. Yum.

We headed over to the old market for some shopping, but I’m all shopped out and bought a ton of gifts already. So we picked up the dress I bought last night (not sure if I mentioned that either, but we stopped in a dress shop specializing in silk. I tried one on which was pretty retro looking that was a medium shade of blue with thin stripes, and it’s a wrap dress. They tailored it overnight and I tried it on today. They made a minor adjustment and we were on our way. It’s a blend of silk and cotton and I love it. We decided to call it an early day and went back to the hotel to relax for a bit. I took a quick dip in the beautiful pool at the hotel and we made arrangements for tomorrow.

I scheduled an hour and a half massage to work out the kinks from all the hiking around the temples over the last couple of days. Did I mention that life doesn’t suck? It was a really good one, in an open-air room near the pool with flowing curtains, and so nice and relaxing. Interesting experience though, as any typical western modesty is tossed out the window.. or in this case, there actually were no windows!

The people here are so warm and friendly, and also very meek. They appear genuinely happy to serve, and to do their jobs to the best of their ability. The other thing all of the locals do which is really wonderful is their bow: they put their hands together in front of their chest and incline their head while leaning forward in the ultimate gesture of respect and humility. Everyone is so appreciative of any kindness and just really warm. Being in Cambodia has been a really wonderful experience, and I feel like I’m watching a people who have been so devastated by the violence and poverty over the last 20 to 30 years really evolving into a wonderful society that works hard and truly cares about the image they project to the world. I loved Vietnam, and would have liked to have seen a little more of the countryside for comparison, but I have to say that Cambodia has really touched me.

It took me a while to get moving after that wonderful massage, but finally I did. We went into town for our last dinner in Cambodia walking amidst the swirl of 'hey lady, hey lady, you buy? Good price' and 'tuk tuk? You want tuk tuk? ' We went to Khmer Kitchen again, but a different Khmer Kitchen. After walking around a while to find a place, we decided to go there again as it was good the last time. He got lak lak, a traditional chicken dish, and I got friend morning glories with chicken (it had an amazing chilli sauce and ground chicken which was delicious.) We did some people-watching then headed back as we have to get up early to pack and head out for our day before heading to the airport.
s

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 9: Siem Reap

We had a great meal at a local restaurant that was recommended Neixta Shmer (sp?) It was all open air, and had lots of tables with mostly locals dining. We ordered two soups: chicken noodle, and a soup with khmer spices, chicken, morning glories (ok, so I was told it’s morning glory, and it’s a green leafy vegetable. But the item on the menu said morning lories. So, unsure what it was but it was good!) It tasted like a light curry and the flavor was magnificent. Our dishes were serpant fish with shrimp (though didn’t see any!), onions and carrots with a light Khmer sauce, and my friend got fried frog. Yes, frog. Immediately after ordering, he saw a big frog bouncing away from the kitchen and we got a good laugh. The dishes were good, but not as good as my soup! The total bill was $28.

Our tuk tuk driver took us to the market, which was a strip of souvenir and crap stores. I got my Cambodia magnet, and a long flowy dress that looks like it would be comfortable to kick around in, and we got a bunch of spices and teas. We let our driver go home as it was a very long day for him, so we got one for the way back. The kid was sweet but had no idea where he was going, and twice stopped to get directions. The second time, when he clearly wasn’t understanding where we wanted to go, we paid him the $2 fare he wanted and went with the guy he stopped to ask for directions. We made it, but now we can say we were lost in Cambodia!

We sat on our little porch for a while listening to the singing of bugs and watching the braver frogs jump up to say hello. There are lizards as well that scamper about, as well as other things that I’d rather not consider. It’s very peaceful here and this is a nice way to unwind after a busy day of walking through the temples and the jungle.

I woke the next day at 2 and couldn’t sleep, so I wrote for a while until I started to hear the roosters. Once the sun started to awaken, I went to sit outside to enjoy the cooler weather and the sound of the crickets in the jungle. We had breakfast at the hotel then met Jac and Piero at 9 for more touring of the temples. We shared our tuk tuk experiences of last night and all had a good laugh! We had a long drive to the first and got to see lots of local homes. They are up on long wood beams to provide air circulation during the hottest months. We passed many stands with rattan weavings of bowls and platters, and lots of large metal bowls steaming over a handmade cooking oven making palm juice and wine. I did forget to mention last night (I think) that we tried ginger palm wine. Not our favorite, but it was fun to try the local brew.

A truck heaped with bags with a dozen people sitting on top passed us. There was a woman who made eye contact with me as they passed and she rewarded me with a big smile. I returned the gesture. People here are so friendly and are so happy for tourism flooding money into the poor local economy.

The first temple was gorgeous, and a lovely tan and pink stone carved with hindu designs. It was very decorated and really beautiful. I’ll provide all the temple names when I get them from Jac tomorrow. The second was very nice as well though not nearly as impressive as the others we’ve seen, but worth visiting. The third was the temple made famous by Lara Croft Tomb Raider, with the trees growing up through the temple walls and ceilings. It was really amazing and did look straight out of a Hollywood movie set. We walked around there for a while exploring all of the different rooms and angles, noticing just how many trees had invaded the temple. Jac told us that determining what to do with the temple was a cause of much debate, as some want to preserve the temple by removing the trees, while others want nature to take its course. The latter has won, though they do prop some of the trees and the doorways to preserve what they can.

We went to see the land mine museum that a man named Aki Ra founded to help keep people safe from the mines and to support those injured as a result of them. There are thousands that still litter the countryside, and many people are injured as a result of them, even still, every year. The museum was sobering, but definitely something to see. Some of the mines were bigger than Jac, and were from USA, Russia and other countries, planted by the Khmer Rouge in the 70s and 80s. Aki Ra fought during the struggles with the Khmer Rouge, toting a gun when he was younger than 10. He buried land mines at 3 or 4, as soon as he was able to carry them. He now dedicates his life to removing the mines and supporting the people impacted as a result of them. The museum houses hundred of mines, ranging in size.

http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/history.html

Jac told us about the civil war with the Khmer rouge and the struggles of the people to shake off the horrors done to them. His family escaped to the mountains, and he described what the people did to survive. Children were told to kill their parents, friends, family and they did. For twenty years the people were completely oppressed and saw horrors that no one should. You can still feel it in the country, though there’s a sense of almost child-like optimism that has sprung from what they have been through.

We stopped for a quick lunch, well, as quick as any meal is in Cambodia on the way through the temples. The place was very touristy and had American prices, but it was conveniently located on the temple path. Jac shared with us the history of all the temples, what they were built of, and who lived there. On the way to one of the temples we saw a family of five on a moped. Impressive, though we haven’t seen as much impressive stuff here on mopeds as we saw in Vietnam!

The next temple was impressive for its steepness. Jac said it is the highest temple in Cambodia, though I suspect he said that to make me feel better. Let’s just start by saying I am petrified of heights. Absolutely petrified. So, climbing the stairs as I have to the top of the temples has been no small feat, but I find a way to go down (up’s easy!) Not always the most graceful of downward climbers, I’ve done several backwards or on my butt. I have no shame, but hey, it gets me up there and down. Well, this temple was so steep, as I was climbing it I even commented that it wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done. At one point I think I was praying that they would leave me there, and after a somewhat minor bout of hysteria and a few tears, I made it down the worst of it. Yup, I don’t see any reason to lie in my blog that I was quite freaked out, but the pictures prove I did it and I must say, I’m quite proud of myself for the accomplishment. My mom would never believe it. The rest of the stairs seemed like nothing after that one!

We toured a couple more small temples then headed up the hill to climb the last temple, where we planned to watch the sun set. As luck would turn out, yet again, it was too cloudy and while the view was beautiful, we will leave Cambodia without seeing a sunrise, or a sunset over the temples.

As we walked down we heard the sound of acadias, a bug which is also found in Arizona. They were so incredibly loud though, it was hard to believe it was just a bug! My friend commented on the likely size of them! I did forget to mention the spiders that we’ve seen touring the temples as well. Not a lot, thankfully, but we did see an interesting large black one with yellow and black stripes that Jac said is poisonous, as well as another rather large one that bounced a bit. I was very happy when he bounced on away. I’ve also forgotten to mention the monkeys, I think. We saw two climbing Angkor Wat, and they are by the river near that temple. They go right over to people as they are clearly used to being fed, and no, I didn’t try it. I know better. Really, Barb!
We headed back to the hotel to shower and change. It was disgustingly humid today, though not quite as hot as yesterday due to the cloud cover. Piero took us into town, to the old market area, for dinner.

We went to the Khmer Kitchen, the place that Piero and Jac recommended. They said it does have a lot of tourists, but that it's good. They were right! We told Piero to go home for the night, and that we'd get a tuk tuk home. He had another long day! We got Khmer dumplings which were.. interesting. a moist doughy circle filled with shredded green spices of some kind. It was interesting though don't think I'll get that again. We shared two dishes: a curry which was excellent, and amok, a local curry-like dish with greens that was ok. My friend got a Tiger beer to try, and said it wasn't bad, and I got a mango shake with yogurt to cure my dairy craving! It was really good.

We walked around a bit and I finished my gift shopping. I also got an interesting dress that is being altered, which I'll pick up tomorrow. We then decided to give the fish massage a go. Yes, I said fish massage. You jump up to sit at the side of a tank and tiny little fish eat the dead skin on your feet. A friend of mine raves about them and after all the hiking we've done through the temples, I figured it was worth a shot! It was fun. Both of us did it and we both pulled our feet away as the fish approached, without meaning to. But after a while we got used to it and it felt pretty good. The gal that worked there was a riot, and in a heavy accent kept yelling to passersby "fish massage! Happy funny fish massage! Free beer! Come back tomorrow!" She massaged my back and arms for a while, which felt great too. $3 each for a really different and interesting experience.

Tomorrow we visit the fishing village on the largest lake in the country called Tonie Sap, and then we'll do a city tour with Jac and Piero, our new best friends. Then we scheduled massages at the hotel. I'm getting a 1.5 hour one with aromatherapy oil for $27. In the market someone was shouting out about a 1 hour massage for $5, which is just amazing, but doesn't beat the convenience of our hotel!

Sam

Day 8: Siem Reap

We woke at 4:30 a.m. to go to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, and were picked up by our guide and tuk tuk driver at 5 am. Before we left, we saw a large toad near our rooms and a rather large spider. I was a little more excited about the toad. The guide told me that I had to change to pants as women aren’t allowed in the temple in shorts! I took my offensive legs back and clothed them.

The ride took maybe 15 minutes and we headed back through town over this incredibly gutted dirt road where I had my second ‘I wish I was a man’ moment (wishing I wore a sports bra!) Our guide’s name is Jac, and he’s really wonderful and knowledgeable. He pointed out some of the five star hotels (there’s an excessive amount of large hotels here). We purchased our tickets and were on our way. Cambodians do not pay for entry, and it was $40 for three days for each of us. It was still dark when we arrived, though starting to show small wisps of light. We walked over the Rainbow Bridge crossing the moat to the temple and found a spot next to the lake to watch. There were a lot of people here, particularly Japanese, and several hundred waited for the same sight.

It never happened. It was so cloudy that we didn’t view the sun rise, though we did get to watch the shadows creep away over the temple. Jac shared with us some information about the Cambodian people and the temple, then we shared breakfast. I got noodles with pork as well as a plate of fruit with bananas, mangos, and pineapple. Jason got nutella pancakes, which when it appeared was a fat pancake over some cut up bananas and a container of Duncan Hines chocolate frosting! It was hilarious and an interesting interpretation. We also got coffees, which were not as strong as the Vietnamese style, and are served with a can of condensed milk.

We headed over to the temple and walked in and around it for several hours. There are three levels, and we climbed stairs to the top level to walk around as well (yes, that was * fun * climbing down). Jac gave me the scarf around his neck to cover my shoulders as I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, so I also covered my offending shoulders before climbing up the steep and long stairs. My friend wasn’t very good to me, taking a picture of me clinging to the railing trying to climb down, and was rewarded with a gesture of my pleasure. We saw two young Buddhist monks in bright orange robes. Jac pointed out and explained many of the carvings in the walls, which were very intricately carved with dancing women, gods, monkeys and various other animals including horses, elephants and alligators. The four outside lower walls were completely carved with fighting scenes and scenes of rebirth and reincarnation. The local people were originally Hindus, but most converted to Buddhism. Even so, they still honor the old ways, and the temple was a mix of both. Buddhist monks lived there until they were told that they hindered conservation efforts and moved to a monestary near the Wat in the early 1900s.

Jac told us about his family. He lives in the country with his wife and her family: parents, and two sisters-in-law. He stays there when he doesn’t work as a guide. It’s typical that people live with their wife’s family so the daughter will care for the parents when they get old. He has a 9 month old son, and really lit up talking about him. He has a dog and a cat, both with jobs to do as the dog protects the house and the cat hunts mice. He’s had an interesting life and has lived at a monestary, worked as a grade school teacher, a realtor and now a tour guide. He also told us about finding guns in random places, even now, from the country’s long civil war. There was fighting from 1970 to 1975, then 1979 to around 1998.

We looked at all the carved walls, and Jac told us the stories they depicted, and stepped off the temple for a little bit to take some pictures of it, before heading out. There were some nice, long sun dresses in the stalls outside the temple, but I was a bit overloaded by the rush of people trying to sell us things, and we left. We were quite tired so decided to head to the hotel for a nap and some lunch. I think I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow, and woke a short bit later still tired. The heat and humidity really seems to have an effect.

The hotel is quite cute by day, and there’s a nice pool right in front of our rooms that we didn’t see at night. It’s really charming, though is lacking in some amenities like hot water! Even still, I’m enjoying it there and am glad we chose it.
We had lunch at the hotel consisting of two pork sandwiches with pan fried pork and great flavor (Khmer sandwiches) and enjoyed the sounds of the jungle for a bit. I kept a piece of pork for the skinny cat we’ve seen twice now on our hotel grounds. We met Jac at 2 to head to another temple, then into the market for some shopping and walking around.
We went to see Angkor Thom, a smaller temple complex in a different part of the complex from Angkor Wat. We saw the Preah Ngok Pagoda with many carved Buddha statues, the Bophuon Temple and climbed two rather steep areas (one a ladder and one steps—Barb, you would have been impressed!) to enjoy this beautiful small temple. We saw the Royal Palace, the Elephant Terrace and the Leper King Terrace. There were many amazingly beautiful carvings, including several five-headed horses, dancing women, gods and animals.

We headed back to shower then planned to go to the market for some dinner and shopping. The shops are in buildings supported by stilts over the water, and many have homes attached. The people are poor and own no land, so this was their way around the cost of land. Building over the water requires no land.

Tomorrow we head back to spend the day touring temples, then watch the sun set over one. What a perfect time!
Sam

Sunday, November 7, 2010

day ?: leaving Hanoi and arriving at Siem Reap

We had another great breakfast and went downstairs to check out. We saw Nhung, the receptionist who has been so helpful, and arranged a ride to the airport for later in the day. We learned that her name means ‘velvet.’ We stopped to visit the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which just let out their services, and took some pictures of the beautiful stained glass. We then headed out across the historical city center area to the Hoa Lo prison, where American airmen (most famous of which was John McCain) were kept during the Vietnam War. It was really interesting though a bit eerie when we learned it was used for decades, built by the French Colonialists to house, torture and kill ‘rebels.’ There was a women’s area and a men’s area, and people were shackled by the feet. Death was by gunshot or guillotine.

The perspective on the Vietnam War (their civil war) was quite interesting, and my friend commented that no matter the feelings about the Americans, the Vietnamese surely didn’t hate them as much as the French colonialists! There were pictures on the wall showing different historical scenes, many of which showing the reasonableness of the care of the American soldiers. There was also a wall of Vietnamese prisoners who became political leaders after the French were no longer in power.

We then went to a tour of a beautiful old home in the historic district, and visited the Ca luang community house which was described as a Vietnamese version of Alice in Wonderland. It was quite trippy and interesting, and an old woman was sitting there watching tv in her living room when we visited. We stopped in a couple of shrines and temples, all of which were beautifully and ornately decorated. We did some shopping for gifts, going to the textile place we enjoyed for a third time! The sweet girl in there suggested a very local Vietnamese place for lunch, and the only thing they served was a dish called bun cha. It was noodles, a sweet and sour tasting stock, a plate of basil and greens (which we couldn’t eat), some fried ground beef, grilled pork, a bowl of some kind of root vegetable cut up, and a plate of fried fish spring rolls. It was quite tasty for the most part and at $7 total it was quite a deal. It was entirely Vietnamese and we sat on the plastic stools that cover the sidewalks—at least, where there’s no mopeds!

We decided to head to the airport early and the ride didn’t disappoint. We saw a man walking a cow on the side of the highway, several mopeds in the far right driving opposite traffic, and a bus crossed from the far right lane, across three lanes of traffic to take a left. Now that was impressive!!

We went through the quickest check-in and security check known to mankind and had lots of time to spare, so we walked around the airport a bit when we discovered a foot massage place. We decided to get foot and shoulder massages, and were glad we did! It was really wonderful though I’m quite ticklish, but it still was great!

The flight to Cambodia was only around an hour and a half, but it felt like forever for my poor friend who had to sit next to a man with an incredibly strong… aroma. Man, the guy just stunk! We made it off the plane, gasping for air and grateful to be off the flight. There aren’t jetways here so we walked down the stairs, which was interesting as they were covered.
Our bags came quickly and we went through immigration and customs. I had put one of my bags down for a few minutes, and when I went to grab it I jumped as I noticed a huge grasshopper-like bug that was at least 5 or 6 inches long!!! Yikes. If that’s any indication..

We had a ride arranged with the hotel, which turned out to be a tuk tuk, a motorized scooter towing a cart. It was hilarious! We rode maybe 15 minutes to the hotel past some of the largest hotels I’ve seen. We were amazed by how built up this is and how touristed it is. We crossed the river through a quaint little area which we assumed is the town, and the place we’re at, Mysteres d’Angkor, is just a few streets away but definitely off the beaten path. I can’t wait to see it during the day as it seems just perfect! The lobby of sorts is totally open, and is comprised of a few rooms including an office with a computer and a sitting /recreation room with a pool table. We went to our rooms which are all through a very jungle-like area with lots of plans, and walked across some wooden plans to get there. The rooms are adorable and have lots of character: terra cotta floors, a four post bed complete with mosquito netting (we now understand why!), Wood shutters on the windows, a large wood chest, and the bathroom is a walk in shower and an adorable sink with a metal bowl and a little spout that pours into it. Lots of fun!
We unpacked and went to the restaurant, which is also adorable. The only down side is that it’s totally open so not air conditioned, and it’s very humid here. We got ‘snacks’ which were large plates of fried rice and noodles. Service was very slow, but the food was good and hit the spot.

We arranged for a tuk tuk for the day and a guide to go to Angkor Wat tomorrow. Both cost us $45. We were told to go for sunrise, so will be picked up at 5 am. It’ll come way too early but will be well worth it! I’m quite excited. Speaking of which… good night!
S

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hanoi: Day 6: Perfume Pagoda trip

Yesterday we decided to get out of the city for the day and booked a trip to the Perfume Pagoda. It's around 2 hours out of town, and a complex of Buddhist temples and shrines built into the limestone Huong Tich mountains. Legend claims that the site was discovered over 2000 years ago by a monk meditating in the area, who named the site after a Tibetan mountain where Lord Buddha practiced. It's the site of a religious festival every year drawing large numbers.

I had the idea to turn on the air conditioner to dull out the street noise and what a great idea! I slept really well except for the call on my cell at 2 am (grumble). I went out onto the balcony as I do every morning to watch the goings on below, and noticed it is incredibly humid. There was funny music playing really loudly which sounded like kid's music and made me laugh.

We had another great breakfast then packed up our laundry for the hotel to do it. We went downstairs to meet our tour guide to take us to the Perfume Pagoda. My friend suggested it, and it sounded like fun and a great day out of the city to give us a break from the craziness here. Le was our guide, an adorable young guy. He was a little hard to understand, but very friendly and enthusiastic. We headed out in a private car for the two hour drive and passed another 'kid sandwich' on a moped. Not only have we seen babies balanced on the handlebars, but two people riding with a baby sandwiched between them!

We passed through many small towns that were as poor as we've seen. One had incredibly gutted roads and it was tough passing. We passed a crowded town and were told it was a wedding party. We then passed a toll, or what turned to be one though we might have never known. It was a bunch of guys sitting at a table, and there was a wooden upside-down u shaped structure over the road with vietnamese words written on it. One guy got up slowly and made his way to the car for the fare and off we went.

We stopped and were greeted with welcome tea, which we shared, and pointed to the bathrooms. I had another 'I wish I were a guy in this moment' moment, when I discovered the bathroom was a hole in the floor. They did have foot pedals, which is a nice touch, but... yeah. Not even the benefit of pointing downhill for this so it's not so easy when wearing shorts. I did manage and off we went to the river where we were greeted by a woman boater.

It was a beautiful ride by the river, and we stopped at a large pagoda to look around and take pictures. There were a lot of gorgeous bright pink water lillies on lily pads, and the woman picked two and gave them to me. We proceeded past some small pagodas as well. The ride took maybe 30-40 minutes then we arrived.

The 'town' of sorts was a bunch of metal stalls set up with women selling souvieners, food and plastic toys. They were a bit assertive in trying to sell things, but we quickly moved past. It reminded me a bit of Aguas Caliente at the base of Machu Pichu in Peru. We took a tram ride up which was beautiful but a little nerve-wracking. The mountains are lush with vegetation and really beautiful, though even here everything is covered in a haze of smog and fog. We walked up some steps then down several very long staircases made of cut rock until we entered the Perfume Pagoda, which is actually a large cave. There were many shrines with incense, offerings of rice, fruit and other items. At the large one at the end of the cave there were many people chanting and praying.

We climbed back out and went back down in the tram. I think my heart was left at the first dip, but I recovered quickly enough. We then stopped for lunch. Le ordered a bunch of dishes, six actually, and we dug in. It included some fried spring rolls, greens, chicken, fried fish, beef and onions and scallions, and fried tofu, along with some plantains for dessert. We gave some beef to the local dogs, though I scared one who was sleeping and got snapped at (I wasn't all that close, thankfully). The poor thing's eyes were pretty awful so that may have been some of the issue. She gobbled it right up.

The boat ride back was beautiful as well and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery. The ride back was fine, though we missed a turn on the highway and actually backed up a good distance on the exit to get back on the highway (we saw that quite a few times!) We also had to cross lanes of a busy street with two lanes each way and that was a bit harrowing. I think I had forgotten how crazy Hanoi was in the leisurely day we had, as I was a bit overloaded by all the mopeds all over the place! Nonetheless, we did make it back to the hotel to find clean laundry. Yay! They earned high marks as my bag had several bills in it that I must have left in my pockets.

We decided to go to dinner at Hoa Sua, a lovely restaurant which is a school for disadvantaged youth for hospitality, tourism and restaurant. The school has 500 students annually from all over Vietnam, and a portion of the cost of meals goes to fund scholarships. Students learn everything from cooking and waiting, to managing a restaurant.

We decided on a cyclo (the bicycle 'cab') and off we went. It was a young guy and he moved very quickly. He charged us a large amount (over three times what we paid the last) and while it was a longer distance, it seemed excessive. Then he asked what time we would be done, so we figure we paid the fare in advance. Too bad as the meal took much longer than anticipated so he sure made out!

Where he dropped us was not quite it, and we wandered down the narrow street looking. A really nice local woman asked if we were looking for hoa Sua and pointed us in the right direction, which was around the corner. The place is absolutely charming, in a large old colonial home with a huge courtyard marked by a long white staircase. There was a dark terra cotta tile on the ground, and some beautifully decorated tables. We decided to sit outside and two vietnamese teens came right over to help us. They were absolutely adorable.

We settled on fresh spring rolls, duck a'la orange and beef medallions with bernaise sauce, along with a bottle of light red wine. The spring rolls were excellent: vegetarian with finely ground peanuts which made for a nice twist. The beef was so-so, and the duck was really great. They were fairly attentive though there was a large table (20 or so people) that sat shortly after us, so we lost them for a while. They started with fresh bread and overall the meal was great. I ended with a mango smoothie for dessert which was good as well. And for $60 US (including a 30% tip) it was a great deal. High for this area, but hey, it went to a good place so we felt really great about it.

We left and walked down the road with the intention of walking, but then realized we headed off in the wrong direction. We saw a family of four on a moped with a 2ish year old squished between mom and dad, and a baby resting on the front of the bike. Amazing. Oh, and we saw a person riding with a 6 foot high ladder on the way to dinner, which was impressive. My friend joked that the only thing we haven't seen, and would be incredibly impressed by, is seeing a rhino on the back of a moped. I think a car would be equally impressive, and not really out of the realm of possibility given what we've seen!

Given the crowds (it IS a Saturday night, after all) we decided to just hail a cab, and found one quickly.) The fare with tip was only around $2 US, so not a bad deal. The streets were more crowded than we'd seen them, and it was completely overwhelming! The volume of people and mopeds on the narrow streets had probably increased 50%, so it was simply amazing. We decided to just call it a night and start really early tomorrow.

Tomorrow's our last day in Hanoi, and we head to Siem Reap in Cambodia at 5 pm. We'll be checking out early and hitting a few of the sites that we haven't yet seen including St. Patrick's church (which we saw at night but want to tour during the day), a Hanoi house tour, and the Hoa Lo prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton. That will probably take up the time we have but we'll see! Unsure if I'll be able to post tomorrow, but will do my best to by the day after to keep you all part of this adventure in Asia. What a trip!
S

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vietnam day 5: Hanoi

I'll start this post with the things that I forgot to write about earlier this morning (yes, it's been a loong morning, starting my day at 2 am it appears!) My first bit is musings of all that can ride on the back of a moped. It might sound silly, but we've been incredibly impressed by how much volume and weight can go on the backside of a moped, and here's a few examples: crates of chickens and other animals in various states (not something I wish to discuss further), a pig (and not a delicate baby either), building materials like long stalks of bamboo and metal girding (think: Don Quixote with metal of over 15 feet on the shoulders of a lady),many loaves of bread, large bundles actually larger in size than a moped, and our favorites: another moped! and a huge water tank with probably several gallons of water in it! the moped swayed precariously back and forth, but continued it's move forward impressively.

We again were impressed by the mopeds driving straight into traffic, and it reminds me of a game of chicken of sorts. Several came straight at us, and their nerves of steel impressed as they certainly didn't hitail it out of the way quickly. Nor did pedestrians for that matter. Almost as if they have a confidence that they simply won't get hit, which is amazing given the sheer volume of people on the crowded streets and the fact that there doesn't appear to me to be any rules for driving except to go!

The Vietnamese people are incredibly happy, and everything is punctuated by clapping. On the boat when asked by Thinh if we liked our meal, and providing an affirmative reply, we received a full round of clapping from the crew. When asked if people enjoyed their swim, their positive response was greeted with proud clapping. In Halong Bay, anyone that met your eyes greeted you with a ready smile, and many were just simply smiling without realizing they were being watched. The vendors in Hanoi greet you with pushy gestures to buy their wares, but still with a smile.

And then there's the double wave. It's absolutely adorable, but many of the people in the fishing village that we waved at, replied with a vigorous double wave.

I also forgot to mention that in one of the textile shops that we went into to look at the silk, we were greeted by a very friendly black cat. "Mow.." then a solid stare. When he received no response he got much more vocal. "Mow, Meowww.. MEOWWW" and talked a steady stream for a few minutes, prompting me to decide he wasn't a rabid beast and pet him. I know, Barb, I know, but sometimes it's ok.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, which again was a nice mix of local breakfast food (noodles with beef and veggies, potatoes and bacon, etc.) and western (bread, pastries, yogurt, etc.) We laughed about the motorcycles zooming down the street at all hours last night, making it sound like a harley convention going on. We decided to head out of the old town to visit some of the sights today, and enjoyed the view of the lake from the 9th floor balcony before making our way out.

******
I'll confess that my first meeting with Hanoi was not a love affair. The city is rather overwhelming with a mass of buildings, people and mopeds, and it's noisy, dirty, smelly and the smog can be cut with a knife leaving me to wonder if we'll end up with black lung disease. But I have to say that it definitely grows on you with a surprising charm. Hanoi is what it is, and makes no efforts to hide it. There's something about the honesty and directness that is truly charming.

Today we headed out across the old town area to the Temple of Literature. On the way and around the corner from it we found a really amazing non-profit textile place with hand-woven goodies in every shape and color. My friend got a bright big bag for his daughter, and I got a bunch of things including a little book with natural pages, a small woven picture frame, and several other things.

We made our way to the Temple of Literature, which was beautiful. There are several large courtyards surrounded by narrow red buildings with traditional asian roofs and beautiful gardens. There was a lot of really adorable topiary including cats, mice and other animals, as well as interesting shapes. The path was punctuated by some greenery with asian characters, symbols to honor the 1,000th anniversary of the city of Hanoi.

The Temple of Literature is a Temple of Confucius, and served as the first University in Vietnam. It began as a Confuciun temple and became a university in 1078 to serve members of the elite. The smell of incense filled the air, there were students sketching the rooflines, and people chanting and praying inside.

We had to cross a major street to continue which was rather.. exhilarating to say the least. We stopped at a coffee shop outside of the Army museum for a snack and coffee (they had delicious chocolate brownies covered in chocolate sauce singing my tune!) then made our way to the museum. It's known for having a tall tower with a good view of the city, though we wondered if we'd see much through the haze of smog. Unfortunately the museum was closed, so we'll never know! We then headed out and passed a funny scene with a rooster standing next to a food cart that had a fried egg and a cooked chicken inside!

We next stopped at the one-pillar pagoda, a beautiful building with, yes, you've got it, one pillar! It is a historic Buddhist temple and one of the best-known structures in Vietnam. It was built by an emperor around the year 1,000 who was childless and longed for a son. he then had a dream and married a peasant girl who granted his wish, and he built the temple in gratitude. There was a walkway around the pagoda to see it from all sides, and it's a beautiful and interesting place. There are steps to the top, however, a sign states that people with shorts cannot enter so we admired it from the side. A woman was chanting and praying in front of the pagoda, swirling with the scent of incense. I'll say I've never really liked incense much, but it sure does beat the smell of Hanoi! There were two guards standing next to it hysterically laughing at some tourists that walked by.

There was a food cart nearby and my friend went to get some water. The woman saw his interest and yelled out 'free bananas!' For the cost of $1 american he got a 1.5 liter bottle of water and two bananas! The fruit here (I'm not sure if I've mentioned it) is simply incredible and has a flavor and a sweetness like nothing I've had. I particularly like the pineapple, which is quite small, the bananas, which are small too, and the watermelon. Sure cures my sweet tooth!

We noticed the Ho Chi Minh Museum was closed on Friday and went to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which was also closed as Ho Chi Minh, who's dead, mind you, is in Russia being restored. Apparently it happens two months out of the year, and this is his month for a little touch up. There were marching guards outside and they did a brief version of the changing of the guard for us before marching off.

We stopped in another temple wandering in this part of town, and came across the two German guys from our Halong Bay cruise! How strange to run into people we knew in such a large and crowded city, especially in a place not all that well known! We walked along a lake for a little bit and came across a fleet of swan boats, which looked adorable then decided to head back to the hotel. We decided to take a cyclo, the little carts pushed typically by tiny and scrappy old vietnamese men. What an experience that was! We shot pictures and video of it, with cars and mopeds whirling all around us and at us. The seat was so narrow we couldn't sit flat down on it, but it was fun!

We stopped at the Don Xuan market which was an absolute mad house of three floors. There was a bag section, a kitchen section, a shoe section, a clothing section and a fabric section and it was absolutely crowded with people and wares. As we made our way back to the hotel, we saw a woman selling the designer face masks we've seen on some of the moped riders. Some even match their designer helmets!

I needed a nap after the evening I had-- had a reaction to the anti-malaria drug and woke at 2 extremely dizzy with the spins, which got worse every time I tried to lay back down. As a result, I didn't. I was dizzy much of the day as well, unfortunately, and my stomach was a bit off as a result. So, I'm a little nervous not taking the meds for Siem Reap, Cambodia, which is where we decided to get them for (it's a low to moderate risk of malaria), I decided to go off the meds. It was not a fun experience at all! I was able to sleep a little bit then we headed back through the maze of streets, people and mopeds to a restaurant called Bitet, that someone I know recommended. Bitet means beef steak. We never ever would have found it were it not the for the recommendation (thanks Sandy!) It's in the old section and there's a sign above a long, very very long, alley way. We walked and walked then entered through the kitchen to a small restaurant filled only with locals. We both decided to get the traditional beef steak, which was two pieces of thin cut fried steak and fries. We got some tea and french bread, which was fresh and really good, and dug in. It was delicious and covered with a brown sauce of onions and meat drippings. Surely the least healthy meal we've had, and quite tasty!

We wandered around the maze of streets peeking into the shops for gifts then wandered to the lake. We crossed the bridge to walk over the Lake of the Restored Sword. It's a large lake in the center of the old city, and has a bright red bridge that crosses to a little temple. We decided to then stop for coffee and found a cute tiny little cafe off the beaten path to give us a brief respite from the mopeds. The coffee was strong, sweet, and very good, and served in a cup inside a little bowl of hot water. There was the punctuation of yips from her little chihuahua sporting the largest ears I've seen on a small dog. It looked like a chihuahua deer mix!

We then went to the Water Puppet show, one of the top attractions in Hanoi. It was very crowded and they sure packed us into the small theater. Our tickets were at 9:15 pm, if that gives you any idea of how quickly they sell out! We bought them yesterday. The seats were quite packed in and my friend had to fold himself up to sit there, but it was worth it. A small band played interesting, very different music, there were two female singers with beautiful ethereal voices, and a male voice that told the stories in Vietnamese. The water puppets danced around in their songs and stories, really telling a lot about the culture. It's a thousand-plus year tradition and they do tour the world.

We made our way back to the hotel for some rest after a long and fun day. I found the trick of a good night's sleep in a noisy city and put the air on.. wow! What a difference! The city drifted away..

Sam

Vietnam: days 2-4

Hi everyone! Just realized that my last post didn't publish, so sorry to leave you hanging! I posted the first night we were here, then we went to Halong Bay and lost internet. I wrote a good bit from the boat and will paste it here, then finish with the first night back in Hanoi:


We got up fairly early for the ride to Halong Bay. We ate breakfast at our hotel which was quite good. The fruit here is simply amazing, with a flavor and sweetness unlike in the US. On the way out of the city we had an interesting ride, though not quite as breathtaking as the ride from the airport! Mopeds are everywhere and skirt in and around of all the larger cars and trucks. We did see two overturned bikes, which is impressive considering how many are around and how crazy people here drive.
The highway was lined with people selling bread; large loaves of French bread. We went through a toll ‘booth’ with three people standing in each lane: one to take the money, 1 to hand out a ticket, and one to mark passersby on a clipboard.

The architecture here is interesting. Most of the houses are three floors and very narrow across. They go very far back. The front is beautifully decorated and almost looks Victorian in style with multiple bright colors. The sides are usually a grey concrete color. Very few are painted on the sides. They are mostly free-standing structures, so it’s quite an interesting look. Almost like the side buildings that looked the same were taken down to expose the grey unfinished sides.

We drove through many towns on the three hour drive. There aren’t many loose dogs, and we actually saw some cows tied by the side of the road. People burn their trash and tree/plant cuttings, so fires blazed also by the side of the road. Cemetaries also were scattered about, in small clusters in seemingly random areas. What’s interesting is that each are decorated with a brightly-colored structure that looks like a small house and a lot of care seems to be put into what it looks like. They aren’t in graveyards but in random places scattered by the roads. There are a lot of farms right next to the roads as well and the highways. The farmers wear the pointed crème-colored hats to cover their faces from the harsh sun here.

There was a surprising amount of construction, with a lot of new homes, and homes replacing their windows. We stopped halfway through at a tourist trap of sorts where we could buy things or stop at the restroom. They had a room full of women weaving silk tapestries, which was really beautiful to watch.

We pulled into the small port area of Halong Bay and walked past some large glass tanks with different kinds of fish for sale. There was a large room where people waited to gather for their boats. We waited for a few minutes, then decided to walk around a bit to explore. Five minutes later after finding little to see, we went back to wait.

Our table slowly filled up with the 14 other passengers on our boat. We took one of the IndoChina Sails tours called the Dragon Pearl. The boat we are on is only 2 months old and very nice. We had to ride a boat to it as the water is too low for it to dock at the harbor.

Our tour guide in Thinh and he’s a very good guide. His name means long prosperity. The boat has a wonderful representation from Scotland, France, Germany, England, Australia and the US (seattle and San Francisco.) Everyone’s very nice and friendly. We checked into our rooms which are quite nice with red wood, white linens and a very small but nice modern bathroom. We sat for our welcome tea. We talked and got to know each other a bit, then settled in for lunch to eat one of our huge and fantastic many-coursed meals. Most of the food is vegetables, fish and fruit and delicious. We’ve had haddock, crab, shrimp, mussels and clams, and watermelon, bananas, and a fruit that I can only describe as a bland white kiwi. It has the seeds of a kiwi and the texture, but isn’t as sweet.

The boat is three floors with the lowest with sleeping quarters, the main which has some sleeping quarters and the inside and the outside dining, and the top with chairs. We spent the afternoon heading into the bay which is just the most magnificent place I’ve ever seen. Jagged limestone rocks and cliffs are in clusters randomly placed, jagged by erosion and covered in lush green vegetation. The water is a crystal blue. It’s humid and warm, but there’s a beautiful breeze that runs through cooling you down.

We spend some time talking, then headed out in kayaks to a cave. Thinh told us this boat goes a bit off the beaten path, which is nice, and even still we saw several boats. The cave had two large rooms and a sandy floor indicating it had been filled with water. We looked at the stalagtites and stalagmites for a while and headed back to the boat.

I was quite whipped from the jet lag and actually headed to bed a little before 9, sleeping soundly through much of the night.
I woke and opened my curtains to see the sunlight shining on the crystal turquoise waters and again thought how lucky I am to see this, as it’s so very beautiful. We laid up top for a while enjoying the view as the boat headed off. Breakfast was chicken pho, a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup which I enjoy in the US, and toast and eggs.

Next we stopped at a fishing village in a secluded area of the Bay. The village was started by IndoChina Sails, and was supported by them. There are 34 buildings with 120 people living in them. Many are tied together so you can walk from building to building. The entryway is a large welcome area that also serves as a school. We were greeted warmly by some of the most beautiful craggly and warm smiles. Their faces are so warm and so expressive. Everyone watched us approach, and the children waved to us. Even the adults did and everyone seemed so happy to see us. Thinh told us each house costs US $3000, as do the boats which were made of woven wood covered in pitch. We had welcome tea with the head fisherman, the chief, who greeted us warmly. ‘Sin ciao’ means hello or welcome. We were invited to tour one of the homes, which had a small entertainment unit with a tv and radio, a very small bed and a cracked linoleum floor. We were told that they run the generator for two hours a night to watch tv.

A dozen young girls and women came to pick us up on small boats, and we went to a small secluded cove which was beautiful. We then went to another area to enjoy the views and headed back. The girls rowing were so tiny, both in size and stature. They apparently made it look very easy as a couple of the guys tried to row and had a hard time of it! They gave us the pointed hats to wear to protect us from the sun. Mine didn’t fit so well over my ponytail but I was happy to have it. The sun is quite strong here and 30 suncreen only goes so far with my fair complexion!

Everyone watched us and were very curious and happy to see us. I couldn’t help but feel little strange, as if we were taking advantage of them but the tourism provides them with an easier life than they’d otherwise have. They had fish between the wood planks in netting, and Thinh fed them to make the swim around and jump. There were quite a few and some rather large groupers!

We went back to the boat and some people swam. I of course, sat here writing this to post tomorrow when we have internet again! This afternoon we go by kayak to another cave for dinner, which will be really interesting. It gets quite cool at night here between the breeze, which settles a lot, and the sun going down. It’s amazing what a difference it is.

We ate a huge lunch which again was delicious with some different dishes of fish and vegetables, and this time some beef and pork. Then we rode off to another place and people sat on the deck in the sun reading or napped. We arrived at a beautiful small beach and kayaked around a bit then went ashore. It was really pretty and the best part (this won’t surprise anyone who knows me) was that there were three dogs with two puppies. The two females were friendly enough and the male patrolled his beach. The puppies were adorable and one was nestled into my chest for a bit while I walked around, quite content to just sit there and be carried.

We watched the sun set over the beach and blue water and I don’t think I’ve seen anything more gorgeous in my life. The sun turned shades of orange and red and pink, and cast a shimmery pink glow over the water as it fell.

We took a boat back to our boat to shower and change for dinner, which is back on the island in a cave. We were told it’s a ‘special dinner.’ We rode the boat back to the island and the pathway up to the cave was lit up. We climbed maybe 50 steps into the cave, which were really large rooms. The second room was really large, and a table was set up. The entire cave was lit with small tea light candles and it was beautiful. We ate dinner then the crew sang some Vietnamese songs for us. Then they made people from each country sing a song representing them. Hotel California, Hey Jude and two national anthems later… Then I was really surprised that they brought a cake out and sang ‘happy birthday’ to me! My birthday was yesterday, and Halong Bay was my special birthday treat. I didn’t expect it, and was quite surprised and embarrassed. I blew out the candles and made a wish (but I can’t tell you what for!!) I also got some beautiful petite red roses. Of course I had to cut the cake into 16 pieces, which was a trip to do!

We walked around a bit then headed back. What a lovely evening!! Back at the boat Scotland, England and Australia enjoyed some Baileys and some red wine so we sat outside talking with them for a while before heading off to bed. They’re a really great group, and I’m glad to have met them. I’m also glad my jet lag has worn off as it’s a ‘late’ night at past 11!

The last morning on the boat was very relaxing. Some people swam, and most of us sat up on the top deck and talked. The woman from Scotland is 3 months pregnant and very excited. she showed me her ultrasound pictures, and told me of their plans. I spoke with the Polish woman from San Francisco a bit as well. Great people.

We started to head back and everyone felt a little sad to leave. I took some pictures and just stared out at the beautiful scenery, wanting to imprint it in my mind forever. We ate lunch and docked, heading back to Hanoi.

The ride felt much longer on the way back but took around the same amount of time. Hanoi was the same crazy scene of darting mopeds and large trucks and busses that barrel their way down the narrow streets. The driving is something you need to see once in your life. People drive down the center of the road, weave around other cars and bikes to the left, right, or any way they can. There's no obvious traffic rules except to drive forward (whether with the flow of traffic or against!) and not get into an accident. We got to the hotel and it was the easiest check-in ever. "Hello, here's your keys. Same rooms" and off we went! We unpacked then set off to explore. I was very happy to let my friend lead through the maze of mopeds, and crossing the street is a real trip! Crosswalks be damned, you just start to walk and hope no one hits you! He got used to it much more quickly than I did, and i'll confess to a few yelps trying to make my way over to the relative safety of the narrow sidewalks! Each of them is covered in mopeds and people, so navigating is a real trip!

The air quality is horrible here, and you can't even breathe through your nose as it just smells awful of smog, exhaust and whatever else. The vendors are friendly and a little pushy and people sitting or standing on the streets are generally friendly. Much more so than I ever expected.

I was quite overwhelmed so we stopped to get tickets for the water puppet show then headed to the restaurant recommended by our hotel. It was a small place, and we noticed the locals were in a back room away from the tourists! We were grateful that the menu had english and vietnamese, as I only know three food words! They sat us next to the most adorable old woman, whose entire face folded up as she smiled 'hello' to us. She was the cutest thing but I couldn't find a polite way to take her picture! We ate a four course meal that was $4 (Sandy, I know you'll appreciate that!) and with water and tip it was just around $5 each!

The exchange rate here is amazing, as it's around $20k dong per dollar US. So our meal was something like $200k dong. Some vendors do take american dollars too, but many take dong. We changed a bit of money, but didn't realize just how inexpensive it is here! The food was good and we had pho, or noodle soup, fried spring rolls, chicken curry with white rice and yogurt for dessert. Everything was really good though I think I'm still full from all the food on the boat! We then walked around and did some gift shopping. I treated myself to a beautiful silk tapestry (which was only $60 US and hand woven) and a silk hand embroidered bag. Bought a few gifts and have ideas for a few more. We'll also need to find a bag to carry some things back in at some point.

We walked around until 8:30 I think, and since it was dark since around 6 pm it felt so much later! We came across a catholic church and walked through. It was very intricately decorated so we'll have to go back tomorrow during the light. We decided to call it a night and headed back to the hotel. Of course, going to bed at 9:30 could be why I'm wide awake at 2 am now, but allows me to update you all so it's fine by me. I woke with the spins and I'm thinking it may be a reaction to the malaria meds I'm taking. Hopefully it'll subside!

Today we'll do some more exploring and see a few of the sites, as well as the church. Our tickets for the puppet show are at 9 pm, which should be interesting as we've only been awake once that late! The tickets were only $3 each, and it's a well-known show that I was told you can't miss. Sounds like fun to me!

I'll write again later today/tomorrow!
Sam

Monday, November 1, 2010

Asia Adventures: day 1

Hi everyone! I just settled into my hotel across the world in Hanoi, Vietnam! It's the first time I've ever been to this part of the world so I'm really excited to explore. Uneventful flight and thankfully our bag made it as we head to Halong Bay tomorrow to float in the most beautiful area I've seen to wear off the effects of jet lag. Neither of us slept on the long leg of the flight (San Francisco to Seoul Korea, and we lucked out with a exit row with no seats in front of us) but both passed out for a couple of hours from Seoul to Hanoi.

My first views once we went through the clouds was jagged glowing lines and hazy clusters of lights that seemed to go on forever. We got in around 10 pm local time, so didn't have a view of the city coming in.

There was no paperwork to complete and we went through customs quickly and was on our way. I had forgotten that I brought two apples to snack on, but no one minded us a bit. The concept of personal space is definitely different here than in the US. There could be plenty of room around us, and people would still wheel their bags and cars right next to us.

The ride to the hotel was... something incredible. We had a driver from the hotel pick us up, which, for long international flights is SO much easier than getting a cab and trying to explain where you're going when you don't speak the language. The driver went skirting around garbage trucks (there were a lot out for some reason!) and little motorcycles, honking all the way. The bikes often drove in clusters, and would just casually meander around not paying any mind to the other cars on the road. Our driver skillfully and quickly dodged all of them --- sometimes on our side of the road, and sometimes passing in the other side of the road of the highway! Bikes also seemed to go both ways on the street, and a couple of times we had bikes headed right for us. There appeared to be two lanes each way most of the time, but drivers just did what they felt like doing. At one point we had so many motorcycles in front of of swaying in a dance, and our driver was honking away to no avail. He managed to finally swerve around them, almost taking out a pedestrian, who didn't walk any better than any of the drivers on the road did. He barely missed her and she didn't seem to react at all! I meant to check the side of the car to see how many dings it has but I forgot! Tomorrow we head out during rush hour traffic at 8, and we are so looking forward to this adventure!

The hotel is gorgeous! It's brand new, having been opened in may of this year. We had been looking at another small botique hotel that a friend of mine recommended, but they didn't have all the nights free that we wanted so settled on this one, called the Golden Sun 4. It's in the historic old town area and on a small side street so quiet. The man who checked us in spoke some English, and agreed to store our bags for the time we're in Halong Bay so we don't have to carry so much.

The lobby is gorgeous and we took a small elevator to the third floor to our rooms. they are beatifully done with wood laminate floors, a flat screen tv, a beautiful new bathroom and a big wardrobe. There's even a little balcony which is overlooking the largest tangle of wires I've ever seen! We took pictures and I'm curious to see what this looks like during the day! It was quite impressive for a huge mass of electical wires!!

I'm wide awake, which is surprising. Hopefully I'll sleep a bit, but I think tomorrow will be a mellow day. I know in the next few days we'll do some hiking, boating and touring caves, as well as visiting the floating fishing village, which I'm really looking forward to! I won't have internet so I'll be sure to provide an update when I get back!!
S

Friday, June 4, 2010

AZ Adventures

Hi everyone! I took a three-day 'detour' through Arizona and figured I'd share. My friend, Kim, is in town visiting from Alabama (though she lives in Shanghai, China, officially and has a house in AL on the coast. Yes, the oil has now moved into her turf and she's not happy about it!) I decided we'd do a mix of areas I've seen and some new ones.

First we drove up to Holbrook, AZ to visit the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. On the way, we took a short detour to Walnut Canyon State Park, and hiked around a cavern viewing over 20 cliff dwelling ruins in the area. The area was occupied for less than 100 years until around 1,250 AD. It was really beautiful and a nice break from the drive. We stopped at a native american shop on the way and looked at the Hopi Kachinas. The man working there is Navajo, and he told us about many of them. The Petrified Forest was much more interesting than I expected. We did three walks/hikes. The first was behind the museum and called the Giant Logs trail. It was short and went weaving through some really thick petrified logs that had split every foot or two in length. What amazed me was the colors, as the logs showed colors you'd expect in shades of brown, but also yellows and reds too. It was quite beautiful. Then we walked a trail called Long Logs and viewed the Agate house, made of petrified wood 'bricks'. It was really stunning, especially the array of colors. It was quite hot and the sun was really beating down, but the views were amazing. Then we went to the Blue Mesa trail and hiked through the 'badlands'. They were really gorgeous mounds in shades of pink, brown, cream and white. Last we went to the Puerco Pueblo, a 100 room pueblo that may have housed over 1,000 people. Near the pueblo were some petroglyphs as well.

Driving through the park was beautiful, and then we drove through the Painted Desert which showed mounds in colors and were extensive 'badlands.' As the sun started to set, the colors really became quite dramatic. We toured the old Painted Desert in, which is now a museum, then headed out. We went to dinner at the Turquoise Room at La Posada Hotel, which was amazing. I had tried some of their food at a food festival last year, and jumped on the opportunity to try it (Thanks Kim!!) The hotel was amazing and we took a quick tour. Right on the train tracks, it's a National Historic landmark built in 1929 by the Santa Fe Railroad. Many of the rooms are named after the 'golden era' movie stars like Cary Grant, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe and others. The restaurant was amazing and we had a great meal. We were told the heirloom tomato salad was wonderful, including heirloom tomatoes just purchased from the farmer's market in Flagstaff. Kim got a 'deconstructed' meal including duck, elk sausage and lamb. I had a plate with lamb made three ways including a red chile posole. Both were quite amazing, and we split a prickly pear bread pudding for dessert so Kim could try the local flavor.

The next day we got up early and drove down to Sedona to take in the gorgeous red rock views and go hiking. The drive through the pine forest was gorgeous, and we drove by Oak Creek for a good ways down it. Every now and then we'd see the red rock views on the way in, and would also see views of the creek. We stopped for breakfast at the Orchard Restaurant on the main drag to take in the views, then headed to hike. We picked a trail by the Bell Rock called the Llama trail, though climbed some of Bell Rock first. We didn't find the Llama trail right away and started on the Courthouse Butte trail, though came across it after a bit. It was quite quiet and we only passed two bikers along our way. The hike was around two hours and really beautiful. We then got smoothie's and went to a couple of lookout points, and also toured a beautiful chapel that was built into a mountain. We then went into Flagstaff to walk around and grabbed a bite at a little wine bar. Flagstaff is very similar to where we went to school in Massachusetts (Amherst and Northampton) so it was a fun walk down memory lane.

We stayed in campgrounds during the trip, and first was in a cabin and in Flagstaff was in a teepee. It was really cute, though the opening was low so we laughed trying to get in and out! A really nice family from Phoenix was next door to us, so we talked a bit. We woke really early again and decided to hike some of the trails behind the campground. Then we went to Wupatki, a beautiful pueblo style ruin around 30 minutes north of Flagstaff. It's one of my favorites in the area. The nearby mountain, Sunset Crater Volcano, erupted, possibly driving the inhabitants from their home in the pueblo. It's over 100 rooms and made of striking red rock. There's a ball court, which was unusual in northern Arizona, a large room off the main structure which they believe served as a community gathering area. There was also a 'blowhole' which was a little vent that blew very cold air up from the ground.

We left and decided to visit Jerome, a cute little town on the side of a mountain. Jerome used to be a copper mining town that was almost deserted when the mine reduced production in the 1930s. It's been somewhat revitalized by a thriving artist community, though still maintains its flavor from over 100 years ago. Lots of buildings are run down but maintain their original look and architecture with sloping roofs and walls. Plaques are on the walls indicating the history of certain buildings, during a time when the community was thriving. It was once the 4th largest town in Arizona. The streets are quite steep and walking up them is an adventure!

We then made our way back to Phoenix. We saw the Desert Botanica Garden, which is a beautiful place that showcases the natural beauty and variety of plans available in the desert. We'll see the Heard Museum, a native american museum that provides lots of historical information of the southwestern indian tribes through their art. We're packing in lots to her trip, but she'll leave with a great view of all the wonderful, beautiful, historical and fun things in Arizona!

Sam

Monday, May 10, 2010

4 corners pics

I've posted some pics on Facebook, but wanted to post some here as well! Enjoy! It was a beautiful adventure and one I'd highly recommend.
Sam

4 Corners 5/10/10 5:31 PM

Friday, May 7, 2010

Canyon de Chelly- last day

We woke early again for our guided hike at 8 am. I may have mentioned, but with the exception of the White House Ruin trail, you can only enter the canyon with a guide. We learned that the reason is mostly because the canyon is all private land so you need to know where to go. We were supposed to go with Ben, Adam’s father from the tour yesterday, however, Harris was there instead. He’s a cousin of Adam’s, with a grandmother in common.

Harris is around 35 years old and lived in the canyon with his grandparents until the age of 16. He is one of eight children, 7 boys and the youngest is a girl. He dropped out of school at 16 to leave the reservation to find work to support his grandparents that raised him. He lived outside for 9 years in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Amarillo Texas and in Oregon among other places, then moved home. He then married, and has two boys ages 2 and 4. He lives on his grandmother’s land as his wife’s family lost their land a couple of generations ago, in a card game.

We did the Twin Trails hike on the North Rim of Canyon del Muerto, the northern canyon. It was fairly steep going down, a little more than the hike yesterday, and absolutely beautiful. Off in the distance we could see his grandmother’s land where their summer home is. On the land is a large orchard with apple and peach trees, as well as others. He still plants them and harvests them for his grandmother every year, in order to preserve the old ways.

His mother’s family is Christian, however his grandparents and he were raised in the traditional Navajo way. Harris is a storyteller, and it’s important to him that people know where they came from and their history. He picks plants that his grandmother will use for dyes. His grandparents are 102 (though it is believed that his grandfather is older than his birth certificate, which was an estimate) and his grandmother is 94. As we climbed down into the canyon Harris told us that he climbed the same path every day as a child to go to school. A bus picked him up at the top. He said when he was only a few months old, he was rolled without clothes in the snow. The Navajo do this to strengthen their children. His grandmother would insist that he be strong against the elements, and run in the summer when it hit 100 and go outside to herd sheep in the winter when there was snow on the ground in just a sweater.

His uncle is a medicine man. He explained that there are four kinds. I forget two, but his uncle is two kinds- a stargazer, who uses crystals for their vision, and an ash (something!) that uses the burned pine trees to spread the ask for their visions. He was raised with both Navajo healing and traditional medicine, and uses both as needed.

The Navajo people voted several years ago for the elderly to get a government benefit. However, he told us that many of the young collect as well, instead of working. They wait for their checks twice a month which only total a couple hundred dollars. He believes that many are lazy, and don’t work and feels that it’s largely because they have strayed from the traditional ways. He takes it as his job to teach those who are willing to listen many of the stories and the lessons he learned from his grandmother.
We saw two petroglyphs of coiled snakes, which are a warning symbol. Harris told us about the history as well, which a slightly different slant than we had heard before. I asked him about the word Anasazi, as he used it frequently and mentioned that in Mesa Verde we heard it was being replaced by ‘Ancestral Puebloan’ as Anasazi was deemed to be negative and inappropriate. We had been told the Navajo wanted the change. He laughed and said no, that Anasazi is what the Navajo call the ancient people who lived in this area before them. They were believed to have been from South America and related to the Mayan, Incan and Toltec people. He suggested that the Park Service was dictating the change, and not his people.

We got to the base of the canyon and saw two sets of ruins. In one you could see that much of the cave roof fell, and he told us that the US brought cannons into the canyons and were seeking to destroy the ruins, thinking that the natives lived there. It was really so beautiful there, and though it was a really cold morning, it started warming up beautifully with a nice light breeze flowing through. As we started to climb it got warmer, but was still quite nice for hiking.

We got around halfway up and stopped for a rest and to talk. Harris told us that four of his uncles were Code Talkers though two died during the war. He also told us a few other stories about his family. One was that his great-great-great-great grandmother was kidnapped by the Spanish and held for several years. She had two children with a Spanish soldier, when she escaped barefoot in the winter. She was pregnant when she left, and arrived a couple of months later to the canyon and her family. She had the baby which was Harris’ great-great-great-grandmother. Navajo don’t have facial hair, however, Harris does. He explained that it’s because he does have some Spanish lineage, and said that while many people say they are full-blooded Navajo, he usually doesn’t believe it. When the Spanish invaded the area they raped many of the women, so there is mixed blood.

I asked how the Navajo feel about mixed marriages. He said those raised in the traditional ways usually try to marry within their kind, though not within their clan. On the Christian side of his family, it is very mixed. He said the Navajo still consider them ‘brothers and sisters’ and all are accepted, regardless.

Harris told us that the Navajo and Hopi were contemporaries, and lived in peace (though there are land disputes today.) The Navajo only fought for protection, and it was only the Ute people that sometimes tried to raid. Typically they stayed in CO and UT though. He said that the Navajo knew their priorities, in taking care of and protecting their people. While others are different, their strength was in their unity among the tribe.

When we were close to three quarters of the way up, we saw five horses descending the path. Quite impressive given how steep it is! The guide is his sister-in-law and she had four in her party. They walked their horses down the incline, then were riding a good distance in the canyon to the Mummy Cave and the White House. We saw a rock that had carvings in it from 1959 and 1972. One was from his grandfather, who helped survey they land.

We got to the top and Harris told us stories about herding sheep as a kid and walking them up and down the same path we just took. There was a pond at the top, which is long since dry. He then took us to meet his grandparents, which was a really wonderful experience. He showed us where he lived, and has several horses and sheep. There were more, though no one wanted to herd them any longer. He had several dogs as well. There were four small houses in the immediate area, his, his grandparent’s, a new one he is building for his grandmother, and his auntie’s house. There were probably a dozen nearby, also belonging to family.

His grandmother was absolutely beautiful and waved a greeting. They only speak the Navajo language, so Harris greeted them. His grandfather, at least 102, was napping when we entered but woke up and waved a greeting with a smile. The home had a lot of pictures up of the family, and a stunning one that has won awards of his grandparents in the canyon before the first ruin. It was sepia and taken a couple of years ago. They had a wood stove, a very basic minimal kitchen, and a little storage area.
The homes were all very utilitarian and had the basics. Nothing is done for beautification, and if windows are broken they are patched or boarded. So are walls, so they end up a mix of different materials of wood and metal. The floor was partly linoleum, rug and wood. While some of the homes are nicer, this seems pretty typical of most. His grandmother had a beautiful and ornate jewelry designed of turquoise. Life is hard, but good.

The land is all his grandmother’s, however, she has already signed it over to her oldest daughter. With each generation the land is divided further, however, the family remains in ownership. He said everyone gets some, so there is no reason for land disputes as all will be taken care of. His grandmother had 7 or so children, and he said his family is over 300 people in total!
We thanked them for welcoming us into their house through Harris, then said our goodbyes. He wishes us a wonderful time in the Navajo reservation, and that we should return sometime. There was no mistaking Harris’ house with toys and bikes in the front! I think Harris will do well—he’s hardworking, smart and passionate about his beliefs and history. He shared with us that they were having a family meal tomorrow night for mother’s day, where they would slaughter a sheep. He was responsible for the butchering, so he hoped he remembered what he needed to do from the year before!

We drove off to explore the north rim a bit, and stopped at Mummy Cave Ruin where several mummies were found. It’s believed to be the longest-inhabited place in the Canyon and one of the largest in the area. It was occupied to around 1300 and includes a tower complex believed to have been built by the people who migrated from Mesa Verde in 1280 as it is similar to the design of the ruins found there.

We then visited Massacre Cave. In the winter of 1805 a Spanish military expedition led by Antonio Narbona killed over 100 Navajo who took shelter on the ledge. Shots fired from the rim killed all. The Spanish account was that there were over 90 warriors and 25 women and children, however, the Navajo account states that most of the men were away hunting, so almost all were women, children and the elderly. The overlook is also called Two Fell Overlook as it is said that a brave Navajo woman fell over with a Spanish soldier when trying to defend her people.

We drove back to the RV to make lunch. We saw Howard, who told us Boy was out on a tour of the path and the ruin with a German couple. Sonnie was excited to see us and tried his hardest to steal my lunch again. Little bugger!

I forgot to mention that Harris recommended two authors who have written very authentic accounts of the Navajo working with the tribe for accuracy: Tony Hillerman wrote a bunch of mystery novels, and there's a book called Blood and Sand (forget the author) that is very accurate, in case you want to know more.

Lazy last afternoob here, reading a book, enjoying the sun on short walks. A new family moved in nearby with a kid with a 'radio voice'. He's cute though, so I'll forgive the volume! They went for a walk and Boy trotted on after them after a quick visit with me to escort them. He's a very busy dog! We hit the road tomorrow, so this adventure is coming to an end. It's been a lot of fun! Back in Kanab UT for a little bit to spend time with mom before heading out. So, signing off until the next adventure!!
S