In case anyone is still checking this blog, I hope the past months have been really good to you. 🙂
In case anyone is still checking this blog, I hope the past months have been really good to you. 🙂
The year is almost out. The last time I wrote, Christmas and my birthday and nearly the whole month of December on the road was still to come.
Now it’s a rain-drenched night in Nashville where I’m sitting and tomorrow morning we leave for our final destination of this month/year (nearly the final destination of our road trip – of our epic journey – but that’s a though for another day), where we’ll ring in the arrival of 2013 holed up in a cabin in the Virginia woods, cut off from internet and, most likely, cell phone reception, where I plan to watch movies with Roman, cook, eat, nap, read, sit by the wood stove, nap, write if I get ambitious, walk if the weather cooperates and nap some more.
And it’s not a moment too soon.
The past month has been AWESOME.
December first saw us leaving San Fran for a couple days on the pacific coastal highway. Then there were all the dear friends we got to spend time with in LA. A rollicking drive through twilit Death Valley to a surreal stint in Las Vegas. Zion National Park. Monument Valley. The Grand Canyon.
Reconnecting with my most favorite friend from college in Phoenix. Meeting her husband for the first time. Less than 24 hours in Santa Fe. A long drive to Amarillo, Texas for a surprisingly snowy and bitterly cold Christmas.
Oh, and we got to watch the Hobbit in 3-D Imax at the movie theater next to our hotel – one of two places we could find in Amarillo that were actually open for Christmas. The other being the Big Texan, home of the 72 ounce steak, where we out of necessity and an appreciation for the kitsch factor ate dinner both nights we were there.
And finally, two long days of post-Texas driving changed the landscape dramatically and brought us to Arkansas and now Nashville.
We’ve been on the road trip for just over nine weeks now. In the month of December alone, we covered 9 states, made 11 stops, spent time with lots of people I love dearly, saw lots of new stuff. And now I am TIRED.
This afternoon I crashed. We’d gone to see Jack White’s Third Man Records. I was so excited to be there. I took bunches of pictures, chatted with the friendly lady working the counter, fed the automaton monkey band a quarter so they would play a White Stripes jam.
Suddenly I was just done. At the moment, there’s not a single thing more I want to look at, hotel I want to research or book, place I want to go, history or natural wonder I want to ponder or regional specialty I want to eat. Sometimes with travel this happens. You just get full up. Any drop more would simply be too much.
I’ve been watching sit coms in a horizontal state in the hotel room all night and it seems to have helped – I’m over the grumps at this point. But I’m still SO glad it worked out (in the last minute!) to rent this cabin that – from the looks on google map – is pretty much literally in the middle of no where. There will be nothing to do but chill. I mean, the closest Starbucks is an hour and a half away! 😉
And that’s exactly what I need. A few days to digest all that the past month – two months really – has been. And a few days during which the future – 2013 and the end of the trip both – can wait.
I hope December has been good to everyone out there. Once I have space to think again, boy will I be excited to see what 2013 brings. 🙂 Happy New Year everyone!!
It’s been weeks since my last haiku; it may as well be months and months for how busy we’ve been and how far away Wyoming is feeling.
Circumstance has gifted me with a quiet day today. We are in Big Sur, California. It’s our one full day here and it is positively sodden outside. It’s been pouring since well before I woke up, and the rain continues now into the afternoon, dripping down through the branches of the redwoods all around us and pattering on the rooftop while the puddles outside grow increasingly broad and deep.
It might seem like a shame – I’d been really excited to see the beautiful coastline that the area is so famous for. Not to mention that it appears the wet weather has been following us around since we arrived in Seattle a couple of weeks ago. But actually I’m just as pleased to have a “day off” from typical travel.
We’re staying at a little cabin at the Big Sur Campground. Everything is rustic wood and light and warm inside, making it a delightful place to hole up in against the gloomy weather. The place even comes with a “wood stove” with a gas-powered fire, which has been glowing warmly in the corner pretty much since we arrived last night.
There’s no wi-fi (I’ll post this when ever we return to connectivity), no cell signal, and aside from the other cabins in the campground, the only things in sight are redwoods, ferns and a swollen, rushing stream. I’m loving it and wishing we were staying in this peaceful retreat for a week, rather than a day.
But (aside from everything in Big Sur being crazy expensive) we’ve recently discovered that we won’t be able to extend the rental period for our leased car – something that we’d been assured was not only possible but easy when we picked up the car back in Connecticut. So our travel plans have now been reduced by two weeks and it’s important that we keep moving if we’re going to make it back to return the car on time.
So I’ll enjoy this time in Big Sur for what it is – a day of comfort and quiet indoors – and maybe we’ll get to come back some day for the beaches and the hiking and the views and all that other good stuff. After all the moving and activity of the past three weeks, being more or less forced to do be quiet and do nothing is exactly the blessing that I need. 🙂
Rain and redwoods – recorded this morning; the sound of rain pattering on our roof and the metal tank outside our cabin. 🙂
We pretty much only saw Wyoming from the car. We drove through its south-west corner to get from South Dakota to Colorado. I don’t know if the entire state is like this, but the little bit we saw was bleak. Highway-side towns comprised of small clutch of ramshackle buildings, rows of white, bare trees like arthritic skeletons offering the only shade for miles around, and empty, rolling planes fading toward the horizon in all directions.
It’s the tenth largest state in the Union, yet it has the lowest population of all of them – less than 600,000 people live in all of Wyoming. It is pretty darn empty.
At one point, one of those brown recreation signs along the highway caught my eye – “Oregon Trail Ruts“. Apparently there was so much covered-wagon traffic in this particular area that the wheel ruts can still be seen to this day. It was not hard to picture pioneers making their way across the empty vast planes on either side of the highway. I have to wonder if the landscape has changed at all in the 150+ years since those people took their fate, luck and lives in their hands and crossed the country into an unknown future.
Even in our little SUV, behind glass and with freshly bought bottles of water in our cup holders, I still felt exposed in Wyoming. At the mercy of the sun that burned my cheeks through the wind screen, overwhelmed by the emptiness all around, speculating in the back of my thoughts about how far the next rest stop might be…
It wasn’t a far jump for my mind to be able to speculate about what it was like for the pioneers pressing westward. A place as big and empty as Wyoming does make one’s imagination wander…
And maybe it was just the timing – the sun’s harshness softening as twilight set in, but after leaving Wyoming, something about Colorado seemed instantly and entirely less harsh.
Driving day: Wyoming to Colorado
Oh Wyoming, so
vast and so empty! Where am
I supposed to pee???
No where to run, no where to
hide under this sky.
We cross the border
into Colorado as
the sun softly sets.
Gold clouds smudge the sky
and blue mountains fade to grey
as twilight gathers.
I first heard about the House on the Rock in Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods.
Not that I would ever need prompting to want to road trip – anywhere but especially in the US – but Gaiman’s book taps into and is a wonderful reminder of one aspect of what I’m looking for out here on the road – unexpected magic, myth and beauty in my home country.
The novel’s image of the meeting of old, forgotten gods in the carousel room stuck with me, and I felt like I hit the road-trip-jackpot when I was flipping through a road trip book to get ideas for our route to Wisconsin, and I happened to notice that the House was more or less along the way to our destination.
The House on the Rock sort of defies explanation. The place itself offers a video biography of the House’s creator, but never really manages to delve into the why. Here’s their website if you want to learn more, but this is one of those places that you have to just see to believe, and even then, the why will probably remain elusive.
The world’s largest carousel is only one part of the entire experience of the place. But of everything we saw, it was for me the most overwhelmingly jaw-dropping. It is insane. It is beautiful. It is haunting. It is awesome in the old-school definition of the word.
I will borrow from Neil Gaiman’s book/blog – why bother when such an amazing writer has already described the place. 😉 Photos are from the carousel as well as other parts of the House.
From American Gods, Chapter Five:
Calliope music played: a Strauss waltz, stirring and occasionally discordant. The wall as they entered was hung with antique carousel horses, hundreds of them, some in need of a lick of paint, others in need of a good dusting; above them hung dozens of winged angels constructed rather obviously from female store-window mannequins; some of them bared their sexless breasts; some had lost their wigs and stared baldly and blindly down from the darkness.
And then there was the carousel.
A sign proclaimed it was the largest in the world, said how much it weighed, how many thousand lightbulbs were to be found in the chandeliers that hung from it in gothic profusion, and forbade anyone from climbing on it or from riding on the animals.
And such animals! Shadow stared, impressed in spite of himself, at the hundreds of full-sized creatures who circled on the platform of the carousel. Real creatures, imaginary creatures, and transformations of the two: each creature was different – he saw mermaid and merman, centaur and unicorn, elephants (one huge, one tiny), bulldog, frog and phoenix, zebra, tiger, manticore and basilisk, swans pulling a carriage, a white ox, a fox, twin walruses, even a sea serpent, all of them brightly coloured and more than real: each rode the platform as the waltz came to an end and a new waltz began. The carousel did not even slow down.
“It’s not there to be ridden, not by people,” said Wednesday. “It’s there to be admired. It’s there to be.”
* * *
No photo can do the carousel justice. No video either – and this one is extra grainy (had to make it small, or else I’d be uploading for another month with our current internet), but this might give a bit more of a feel:
Roman and I arrived in Chicago last night. Our weekend in Pittsburgh was perfect – full of comfort, good food, exploration and discovery, and best of all, reconnecting with an dear high school friend of mine who I hadn’t spent time with in years.
I truly feel so blessed and lucky to have this amazing chance to visit loved ones all over the US. I love living abroad; I love all the travel. (At this point, it’s coming up on eight years since I left home. How and when did that happen??)
But nothing can replace good friends and family. The fact is that I do suffer being so far away from those people that matter so much to me. I can handle it no problem and even enjoy myself, but THIS aspect of this portion of the trip – time with long lost friends – makes my heart happy and my soul sing!
For anyone concerned, we had a soggy first bit of the ride west, but we mostly managed to stay ahead of Sandy, and so far Chicago is windy but fine, as my family back in Connecticut are also fine. Another thing to be grateful about. 🙂
Roman and I are making today an admin and catch up sort of day. We have post-Chicago to organize and Evanston, a northern suburb where we’re staying, to explore. We’ll get started on Chicago proper tomorrow. And I’ve got blog-catch-up to get to!
So, without further ado, I’ll be picking up with our last stop in Asia – the Philippines. I actually wrote this next post while we were still in South America, but haven’t had a chance to post until now…
Where’s she been?
Time has passed – nearly a month since my last post. As always happens, I get easily, wonderfully distracted when I’m in my hometown. There’s never enough time with friends and family and, knowing that, I greedily try to fit in as much as I can every visit, which means that most other things fall to the wayside. Like the blog. So what was meant to be loads of posts catching up on the last 10 months of travel has ended up as simply silence and now Roman and I are on the go again!
So this is an unofficial announcement to say that I will keep endeavoring (begin again to endeavor?) to catch up on past travel even as we are plunging into our final chapter of the big trip: the US road trip. Expect the usual mish-mash of what ever I feel like writing about. 😉
Hope for the United States
Prior to this final chapter of our big trip, we’ve spent months and months and months exploring countries and continents I’ve never been to before. Asia, Australia, South America. Cultures and places I had assumptions, dreams, ideas about, but places I really didn’t know. Places that amazed, confounded, surprised and enchanted me.
Not a single country we visited ever matched the picture I had for it in my head. Places I was nervous about, that seemed so foreign and intimidating from the place I was sitting before arriving – my assumptions on the outside – never ever lived up to any of my projected fears or disappointments. I loved the transformation a location would undergo – from unknown fantasy to something real and much more complex and amazing than I could have ever expected.
Traveling mostly in developing countries has changed my perception and projection about my home country, the US, as well. (For example after traveling in South America, I’m allergic to calling it “America”, since of course that could refer to South, Middle or North, and none of those places are the country of the United States.)
Seeing the States more and more from a global perspective, I have to say, I have developed a huge chip on my shoulder about the place. Returning here after all this travel, I feel like I’ve fallen out of love with my own country.
US history was always one of my favorite topics in school. I have a romantic view of our genesis story, the founding fathers amaze me to this day and I can get teary-eyed-patriotic thinking about the declaration of independence and the bill of rights.
But, after being welcomed with open arms in so many places, I hate how unwelcoming, bordering on hostile, we are to foreign visitors (at least at JFK airport! It is the pits!). I despair over our arrogant stance on the world stage. Watching the debates on TV as the presidential election cycle reaches its apex makes me heartsick.
I was really apprehensive when we traveled to China. Based on its rep on the world street, I thought I wouldn’t like it very much and I braced myself for disappointment. It ended up being one of my favorite countries.
I’m a slow learner sometimes but I have been through this enough with the travel now to dare to hope that this road trip might heal my broken heart. A country’s current politics and foreign policies is NOT its people. It’s not its landscapes, its cities, or its history. It’s not its essence or its soul.
I arrived in China nervous because of everything I’d read about the country in the news; I left having fell completely for its incredible nature, it’s unique people and its rich culture. If China can transform completely for me in two months, I think I stand a chance of rediscovering plenty to love about the US again too. Here’s hoping anyway! 😉
There’s more to this leg of the trip too. Roman and I will be driving a big loop through this country, from the east to the west coast and back again. There’s plenty of “big stuff” we want to see – famous cities and some of the typical tourist sites.
But for me I’ll also be reconnecting with some of my dearest friends in the US, some of whom I’ve not seen for years and years.
So after all we’ve seen and done out there in the world, this last bit of travel is really feeling like the icing on the cake for me. Such a big treat. Driving at our own pace, in a culture I’ve grown up with but in a country I’ve been longing to explore for ages, and on top of that, I’ll get to spend time with people I adore. Am feeling tremendously grateful at the moment.
And here we are in Nazca. We arrived last night after a long, hot bus ride from Arequipa. Machu Picchu, impressive as it is/was, is already fading into an amazing memory. The days have been busy and intense and wonderful with all sorts of stuff and this poor travel journal of mine remains neglected. We have a bit of down time in Nazca so I will make some attempt to get back into the swing of writing/posting.
First the random stuff.
While I was busy elsewhere, the two-year anniversary of my departure date came and went!
Insane but true; it’s over two years now since I said goodbye to Roman (for about three weeks, until he would meet me in Delhi) and the apartment that had become my home with him (most likely forever), and boarded a plane for India, kicking off this amazing adventure we’ve been on!
Last year this time, we were camped out in a lovely little studio apartment in Hong Kong and I managed to put together some video montages in celebration. I’m not nearly that organized or productive this time round, so for now I’ll just repost the videos at the bottom of this entry for anyone who might have missed them the first time, and I’ll say that I do intend to pay proper audio-visual tribute to the countries we’ve visited since then at some point. 🙂
Equally insane, we have just a bit over two weeks left in South America. We’ll be visiting Lima briefly, then hopping over to Galapagos (!!!!!) for the grand-South-American-trip-finale!!!
Which is exciting but which also means that the final chapter of our big trip is staring us in the face. Which is wonderful and weird. Post South America, we’ll be doing a road trip in the US. Route and timing yet to be figured out.
I imagine we’ll stretch our time in the US out a good amount – there are friends for me to visit and family to hang out with at home (I’ll be there in time for my Grandma & nephew’s birthday parties at the end of the month!) and lord knows there’s tons of amazing places in the States that we’d like to visit. We’ll see how long our time there ends up being.
The end of the road trip in the US will be the end of the BIG TRIP though, which means time to figure out just how exactly to rebuild a stable life in one single location. It’s going to be another adventure no doubt. I’m excited and curious to see how we manage – what the transition from nomadic life will be like, what sort of a home we manage to find/create, what I and/or Roman will do for work… Will leave the musings for now – still plenty to enjoy in South America and loads that I’m excited about for the States. 🙂
It’s also coming up on six months since we left the States to start part two of the big trip, which means that I’ve gone just about a half a year without a hair cut. I haven’t done anything spectacular with my hair during the trip – just always kept it long enough to tie back. But this must be the longest my hair’s been in ages. I think I like it. 🙂 I won’t post a picture but Roman’s last hair cut was nearly as long ago as my last hair cut and there are days when he’s starting to look like one of the Beatles circa 1964. 😉 I think I like it too! 😉
There’s so much to write about Machu Picchu. I’ll save it for another post, another day. Suffice to say: it impressed.
We spent a half day wandering around soaking it in, another day hiking Montaña Machu Picchu (Stairs. So many stairs! Every single step worth it though – the hike will be one of the highlights of the trip for me, no doubt!) and exploring the ruins some more. Here are a few panoramic shots I took of the views from the trail and summit of Montaña Machu Picchu as well as from the ruins. WordPress won’t allow me to embed the images, so you’ll have to click through the links to go to Photosynth’s site to view.
The view about half way up the mountain
You can see Machu Picchu down below in the distance in the right half of the picture
The view from just-about-the-summit
You can see the last bit of steep steps off to the left. Felt on top of the world to be there! Just amazing! 😀
Last year’s videos:
Holy cow what an amazing year that was!! 😀
A lot of things have happened since then.
There’s been loads going on at home – soul searching and trials by fire within my heart, exciting exploration in the name of future scheming, lots of time spent with beloved family and friends, yoga, yoga and more yoga, travel research and preparation – and while all this has been going on, Spring managed to arrive on the scene. While I’ve been busy, my hometown exploded into full bloom, sunny afternoons, and birdsong. (Morning birdsong is how I was waking up each morning the past week or two – beautiful sounds that transported me, in the comfort of my familiar bed – right back to childhood memories) It’s been absolutely glorious!
All of this important and lovely stuff has kept me engaged in the present and not very keen to look forward. Or, put more accurately, to think about leaving. I’d been decidedly sticking my head in the sand, assuming that we’d figure out some sort of scheme by which I’d get to stay home for longer. However, the expiration date of Roman’s visa began to loom in a most un-ignorable way and forced us to decide and act.
Which is how we’ve some how, suddenly seemingly (to my heart at least), landed here in Sydney, Australia!
We booked a couple of weeks ago (I think – my sense of time is not the best at the moment!) and it’s been a mad dash to prepare in time for our flight plus I’ve also been busy wading through Olympic sized swimming pools of sadness about leaving my family. We flew into Los Angeles on Wednesday to break up the journey, where we had a fantastic overnight visit that ended with us leaving the country with about an hour to spare on Roman’s visa. 😉
15 hours of plane-ride later and we arrived in Sydney, who was gracious enough to welcome us with her best face forward. I had no preconceived notions about the place and really, with everything going on prior to departure, didn’t really think or care much about where we were going. Yet now that we’ve arrived, I’m SO excited and glad that we’re starting part two of the journey here.
We landed on a perfect Autumn day. Warm sun, brilliant blue skies, and that crisp feel of Fall in the air.
After leaving the airport (where we got our first auspicious sign – we got to watch Nestor Carbonell and his family rent a car. 🙂 Even though we’d just been in L.A., we had to come to Australia to see a famous actor…), we headed straight to the prime tourist spot where we’re spending our first couple of nights: the Rocks. This part of Sydney seems spotlessly clean, at least what we’ve seen so far, and absolutely stunning with a lovely mix of older, colonial buildings in lovely shades of brown and beige countered by impressively sleek modern skyscrapers. All the urbanity is off set by fantastically massive, tropical trees of the many parks in the area and the amazing and iconic harbor at Circular Quay.
We ended up spending most of the day wandering around on foot and discovering delight after delight. Sydney seemed determined to offer us a spectacular welcome. 🙂
Incredible tropical birds, a massive cruise ship parked across from the opera house, an open-air artisan market, fantastic musicians performing Spanish guitar under an overpass, our first didgeridoo performance, delicious food, peaceful parks stunning scenery.
Love was in the air in the city the day we arrived too; we must have seen three or four hen parties cruising the town and countless wedding parties having their photos taken in front of the city’s iconic spots, boarding ships at the Quay for a celebration on the water; there was even one party taking place AT the Opera House. All this added to the magical atmosphere for me and I’m so grateful for this welcome, which has eased the heartache of leaving home and gotten me completely juiced for Part Two of our Big Adventure!
Obviously at this point there is a LOT to catch up on. 🙂 I’ll be doing a combo of posts going forward – filling in all that we did in Asia, bits and pieces about our time in the States and more current events now that we are here in the Land Down Under. Hopefully one of these months this online journal will be up to speed… 🙂
My grandmother and nephew share the same birthday, only he’s one year old and she’s 90. They’re great buddies and it’s awesome getting to spend time with the both of them. Martin is a vocal kid and Jackie always talks about his “war cry”. There’s no audio in this post, but I think the picture speaks for itself. 🙂