November 02, 2004
Brasil (Brasil)

Brasil has been like that Eddie Murphy song that goes, " . . . party all the time, party all the time . . . . party all the tiiime."! Jeff and I had a great time in Salvador. It is known for its music and we sampled quite a bit. They have these drum cores made up of about 10 guys who just go to town on these drums. It is a great base for adding reggae and Carnival type rythms. Salvador has this old town with plazas that act as stages for free concerts. Almost any night of the week you can stumble upon a great act. It's always crowded too and the local dancing is fantastic. They did this great line dance where two opposing sides square off. Everyone was in rythm and the line would grow as the night and music went on so you would have at least a 100 people doing this dance in a crowded venue. We didn't get in on the act that night, but did our share of dancing later in the week. Salvador also had beautiful beaches where you sit at plastic tables and drink big beers in plastic insulation bottles. Mostly, we went to the beach and then went out at night looking for the music. We were also lucky to have a local to help us. A friend from back home, Mark Swanson, put us in touch with his girlfriend, Lena, and she showed us around. Thanks Lena, we appreciate your help.

We headed to Rio after that and got a bit of a bad deal from the weather. We were one block from Ipanema beach, primed to hit the beach each and every day. However, it was rainy and cloudy, and no people on the beaches. Well, no girls. We did walk around each day watching the guys play beach soccer and this awesome version of volleyball where hands are off limits. Nights were, as in Salvador, spent hitting the clubs and eating at the Girl from Ipanema Bar. We also watched a lot of the Red Sox v. Yankees series at a local outdoor cafe. Of course, the weather cleared on the day we had to leave. We hit the beach for about 15 minutes and got a taste of what Rio is like on a sunny day. God bless the man who invented the itsy bitsy string bikini ( It had to have been a man, right? ). We are seriously considering coming back for Carnival . . for the music. After Rio, I spent a few days in the Pantanal checking out all the birds and the alligators, very pretty there.

Brasil is a really civilized place. The people seem to be in a good mood most of the time. I have never seen so many thumbs up signs given as in Brasil. The local vendors will try to sell you something, and when you say, "no obrigado", they give you the thumbs up and a smile, as if to say, "No problem." Quite a change from some other places I have been on my travels. I have seen a lot of smiles here too and public displays of affection are very common.

Jeff headed back home a week ago and the time has now come for me to head home. It is finally my turn! Early in my trip, I met a guy who was on his last night of a year long round the world trip. We went to a bar and talked about his experiences. I wondered what he must be feeling. I wondered what I would feel at the end of my trip. I couldn't really imagine. I mostly feel pretty darn happy to be going home. I am tired and ready for a new direction. I also feel great about the experience. It has been truly special. Climbing in the Alps and learning to surf where deeply gratifying experiences. Meeting so many different people from so many different countries has also been a highlight ( I rarely met anyone from the U.S.A. ) and a learning experience. I will be happy, however, to not have to answer the inevitable question, "So . . . what do you think about Bush?". Actually, it was very enjoyable to talk politics and cultural differences all over the world. It is truly amazing how much the U.S.'s leadership matters to the rest of the world, more than I ever imagined. I would describe this whole adventure as a really big education. I learned more about myself than I ever thought as well. I think I have grown up quite a bit, actually. However, my maturity still does not match my age, and who would want that anyway!

Well, back to the real world. I look forward to starting a new career and taking what I have learned from this time off into my daily life. To everyone I met: please look me up if you are ever in California.

Best Regards,


Posted by Craig at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)
October 08, 2004
Bolivia & Peru (Bolivia & Peru)

From Buenos Aires, I bussed my way to Bolivia checking out the Andes, wine country, and Santiago-Chile along the way. The bus system here is great; comfy seats and movies that have gone from Movie to DVD to S. American bus, which I figure must be the end of the line. Lots of distance here. I did 28 hours in one shot, a record I never want to break and I got the Michael Shoemarker of bus drivers on a windy mountainous section.

Itīs all mountains here. Everywhere you go you see the Andes. They are huge. The altiplano rises dramatically from the coast in northern Chile to form a high plateu with volcanos and Vacunas ( wild llama like creatures ). In the space of 4 hours I went from sea level in northern Chile to about 12,000 feet in La Paz, Bolivia, the world's highest capital. La Paz is a trip, like no city I have ever seen. It sits in this deep, narrow canyon. All the buildings are made from the same red brick and cover the canyon walls. It takes 20 minutes of winding through narrow streets to reach the city center at the bottom.

La Paz is filled with women in big multi layer skirts and menīs English Derby hats that sit on top of their heads, one or two sizes too small. They also carry a bright colored shawl on their back tied under the neck to carry supplies or babies. Apparantly, an Englishman introduced the hats when he had imported too many and convinced the women that they were all the rage in Europe. Talk about a salesman! Urban legend or not, it must be one of the world's biggest fashion successes because every woman wears the hat.

I had fun buying everything Alpaca in the outdoor stores ( and bargaining, I am learning some very good life skills ) and doing some trips out of La Paz. I rode a mountain bike down the "World's Most Dangerous Road" to a small town in the jungle called Coroico. The van ride back up was scarier. It was awesome scenary and thrilling to see the drops to the left. They actually had human traffic signals who held up a red flag for approaching trucks and green flages if clear at blind corners. I also did a 3 day hike in the Cordillera Real; the huge glacier covered spine of the Andes that appears directly behind La Paz.

From La Paz I hit the tourist route and did Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, and the Nasca Lines. I spent a few days on Isla del Sol in Titicaca and had amazing views of northern edge of the Cordillera Real that rises over 20,000 ft on the eastern shore and went to some Inca Ruins. Inca legend says the sun rose from the lake as well as the first Inca. Titicaca means Puma Rock and that is the rock on Isla del Sol from which the first Inca rose. Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and the home of several small, ancient cultures and their villages. Their fertile valleys of terraced hillsides deep in the Andes ( the mountains that rise above feed the Amazaon ) was very cool. The people and their traditions ( cool bright colored clothes ) were great as well. We also watched the Andean Condor soar on thermals at the edge of the canyon.

Arequipa has colonial architecture made from white volcanic stone to give it a totally unique look. It also has 3 20,000 foot volcanos that rise right out of the city. Everywhere I have traveled I have been amazed at the width and breadth of the high Andes. The highest point is Aconcagua at 23,000 ft. in the center of the Argentine-Chile border. I figured that there would be one or two main high sections of the Andes. However, it seems that 22,000 ft mountains cover the entire range, even spots not on the main spine such as Arequipa. I saw the frozen Inca girl, Juanita, that was sacrificed to a nearby volcano by the Incas and then bussed it to Nasca where they have these mysterious lines in the desert. I flew in a 4 seater as the pilot pointed to a sheet of paper ( no eyes on the horizon or hands on the controls ) that listed the shapes and names of the Nasca Lines we were about to see, such as the Monkey, the Condor, the Dog, the SpaceMan, and more. Then he abruptly banked hard and would shout, "The Monkey . . The Monkey!!", as I and the others, Iīm sure, thought about what we had eaten for breakfast. It was a very cool experience and the lines are amazing. Contrary to some opions, they are not extraterrestrial in nature, but rather for reasons relating to water. FYI.

After an overnight bus ride with the Michael Schoemarker of bus drivers, I FINALLY arrived in Cusco, Peru and met my sister, Julie, and friend, Jeff Dallas. We did the Inca Trail and saw Machu Picchu. We just finished yesterday and had a great time. The trail takes 4 days, follows old Inca roads, and passes several Inca sites before arriving at the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu on the last day. The scenary goes from semi dry cactus land to lush jungle ( many types of orchids, the big attraction ). All of it is surrounded by 20,000 foot glacier covered peaks that rise directly overhead, spectacular scenary! We had a great group consisting of 2 South Africans, 4 English, 1 Irish, 2 Canadians, 2 Dutch, 2 Swedes, and us 3 Americans. We laughed a lot in the dining tent over popcorn, coco tea, and great meals.

Machu Picchu was amazing. The Incas gave so much thought to the city. For instance, there is a temple made from natural features in the rock that looks like a Condor. Itīs as if they scoped out the site, found it had many potentials to build their belief system into the architecture, and then built the city. The views are great too, 20,000 footers on either side in the distance and smaller jungle covered peaks nearer, that circle the city. It was much bigger, more elaborate, and more interesting that I imagined.

We have learned a lot about the Incas from Cusco and Machu Picchu ( such as they only ruled the Andean Empire for 100 years and were only in existence for 400 years! ). The stone masonry or architecture is amazing. In Cusco they have remnants of a stone temple. The stone blocks that make up the walls are so finely shaped and so precisely fiited together. I can not believe they developed such refined building techniques in such a short period of time. They also have remains of other old walls that have bigger blocks, more bulgy, but just as tightly fitted to form this totally unique wall shape. They even have hidden patterns in the wall that form, say, the shape of a puma. The local kids point this out and expect money in return. The local sales kids have been an attraction all by themselves. They ask where you are from and when you say, "USA" for instance, they rattle off facts like the capital and even the presidents all the way back to Wilson. We have learned a lot about other countries by telling them that we are from Canada, Sweden, etc.

Well, I enjoyed having Julie here. Unfortunately, she headed back to the States today. Jeff and I head to Brazil tomorrow for a little fun and relaxation. We deserve it after 3 nights in cold, damp tents!

Posted by Craig at 03:51 PM | Comments (4)
September 08, 2004
Eastern European Cities (Eastern European Cities)

Hola everyone! I am in Buenos Aires. I am on my last continent getting into the swing of things here. There is always a transition period when switching from regions. I am easing into it by going to Tango shows and going out at night. The show I saw last night was great. The dancing is sooo good and the music was just as good.

Eastern Europe sure does not feel like the East anymore. I started in Berlin and found that the former Eastern section is now the new hip, center of the city. Everything has been renovated. Berlin is doing an excellent job of integrating the new with the old in their architecture. For example, the Reichstag ( congress ) has a clear glass dome and you can walk to the top of it and look down on the politicians. Transparency is what they are going for in their new society I was told. The new government buildings also span the river that separated East from West and are connected by a high bridge. Berlin certainly feels like one of the hippest, exciting places to be in Europe.

From there, I went to Krakow, Poland, one of the most charming and best cities I have ever experienced. It is filled wth castles and churches with narrow, gold topped spires. They even have a dragon near the castle. Everyone sits around the main square drinking coffee or beer and checking one another out. I did a lot of that. My favorite was the park that surrounds the entire city - it was once the moat. I also went to Auschwitz and Birkenau. It is truly disturbing to see what we can do to our fellow man. I also took a bike tour and saw the Jewish ghetto and Oscar Schindlers factory ( You recognize several of the scenes out of the Pianist ).

Finally, I hit Budapest. More sightseeing and partying. The night river cruise on the Danube is spectacular. They have one of the most attractive parliament buildings in the world. The baths in the park were awesome. The older folks sit outside in the hot mineral water playing chess. We need to copy this in the states. Taking a dip on your lunch break would be nice. They had a bunch of hot rooms and different temp. pools as well.

On my way here I stopped in New York and saw some good old friends from the UCLA ski team: Shauna Finnie, Rebecca Pringle, and Big Jim Shephard. It was great to see you guys.

Being in New York made me feel a longing for home, but now it is on to my final portion of the trip. As I said above, I am easing into a new area and I think I am going to like it . . . a lot.

Posted by Craig at 11:28 AM | Comments (2)
August 25, 2004
Trans Siberian Railway (Trans Siberian Railway)

I'm in Berlin now, but I just spent 30 days in Russia, most of it training it from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg on the Trans Siberian Railway. You pass small villages with big gardens that grow food for the winter months, some big towns which surprise you since it's the middle of Siberia, and many small stations where the locals meet the train to sell berries, cabbage pastries and much more. There is a lot of forest filled with different pines, birch, and aspen as well. I stopped in Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ekaturinburg, and Moscow. Irkutsk is a 600,000 person town near Baikal, a gigantic blue lake that holds 20% of the world' fresh water. I stayed in a log cabin and took many cold refreshing dips in the lake. Irkutsk is a bustling place with these amazing log houses that have beautiful trim around the windows and roof. Ekaturinburg is near the Urals, the boundary between Asia and Europe. It's the home of Boris Yeltsin and where the czar and his family were murdered. I had fun going to the outdoor tented cafes. Moscow was probably my favorite. There is so much history to do with the Soviet Union days and Red Square with St. Basil's Cathedral is very cool. The city is really alive and changing it's identity in front of your eyes. Life on the train was very relaxing, a lot of time for reflection. It was 6 full days from Vladivostok to Moscow, plus one night to St. Petersburg ( where I think I broke a landspeed record by doing the Hermitage in 1 hour ). I also met some great people including Chuck and Chris from the U.S.A.. Our schedules coincided and we hung out at the stops along the way. We also laughed about the Russian Mafia on one of our train legs. No joke, these guys get drunk in the dining car and whip out their guns during arguments with each other. Russians are great people, I think very similar to Americans in temperment. They can be very friendly and they enjoy life. I noticed many crying at the stations as loved ones headed west. I think they are passionate people. What a country! Well, I'm enjoying Berlin now ( same as Moscow in that it is changing in front of your eyes ) and then off to Poland and Hungary.

Posted by Craig at 01:46 PM | Comments (0)
August 02, 2004
Kamchatka (Kamchatka)

I just spent 10 days in Kamchatka, Russia looking for brown bears. Kamchatka is a huge peninsula that juts into the ocean at that eastern edge of Russia. It is still a pristine and unspoiled wilderness.

Our group of 11 was led by a head guide; Dimitry and his assistant; Sasha, a cook; Elena and her assistant; Tanya, and an interpreter; Yulia. The group consisted of 2 French; Phillip and Maris, 2 Dutch; Irene and Helen, 4 Swiss; Barbara, Peter, Christian, and Barbara, 2 Germans; Sigrid and Martine, and 1 American; me. We got along great. I learned as much about Russians as I did the wildlife. They are very warm and fun. It was fun to exchange Russian and English words. The food was great too. We had great Russian soups like Borsch and many specialities like cabbage wrapped pork, even Chaga, a birch born fungus that wards of colds.

After watching the soldiers perform at Navy Day ( Petropavlovsk was home to a top secret submarine base ) and taking a bay cruise where we saw hundreds of Puffins and views of the surrounding volcanos, we left Petropavlovsk on a huge Soviet era helicopter. We were dropped off at the edge of steaming lake in the middle of a caldera. We spent the next 3 days hiking around this volcano and then out of it, and down to a lake about 30 kilometers away. Along the way, we saw a bear sow with her cub and hundreds of huge bear prints. They were everywhere, as well as bear do-do, everywhere! Kamchatka is known for its bears and this is prime bear country. The country is lush green. The birch forests even look like jungle canopy.

We stayed in dorm rooms at a cabin by this lake and went out everyday looking for bears. The salmon and berry season is late so we did not see them as up close as we hoped, but it was just as exciting to track them and then suddenly say, "Bear!" as one magically appeared. The best sighting was when we were sitting among some trees overlooking the tundra hoping one would wander by us. Within 5 minutes one came within 200 meters. It was so exciting. He was just grazing, sort of like a cow. In the end, we saw 12 bears. One even came within 50 yards of us at the cabin. We had been looking all over that day without success and then this guy just drops in our laps. Even when we did not see them, it was thrilling to be walking in their territory, even on their trails.

On the way out yesterday with the helicopter, we stopped at some remote hot springs on a river next to a volcano and had an end of trip dip.

I'm in Vladivostok today and I board the Trans Siberian Railway in a few hours. Vladivostok is really cool. It is surrounded by water. It even has an in-town beach. Well, I've got my books and my food. I guess I'm ready. I hope my compartment mate is cool.

Posted by Craig at 11:54 PM | Comments (2)
June 02, 2004
Mongolia (Mongolia)

Mongolia is totally awesome. Gregory, Sebastian, and I just got back to Ulaan Baatar from a 9 day jeep tour through the middle part of the country.

After driving 9 hours the first day, we spent the afternoon and night with a nomadic family in their ger. A ger is the nomads' house. They move every spring and fall and therefore need something mobile ( a third of Mongols are nomads ). The felt and canvas shell cover a wood lattice frame and a roof of red poles ( representing the sun ) meeting in the middle where the stove pipe rises through the ceiling. The floors are covered with wool rugs, and are very comfy. This camp had two families and 4 gers. The whole family contributes in some way including the grandparents. They had cattle, horses, sheep, and goats. The day is spent milking, making the food, repairing the motorcyle, and rounding up the grazing "snouts" at the end of each day, as well as taking them out to pasture each day. You should hear the sound of hundreds of goats and sheep going out to pasture in the morning. It is hilarious. This family was very hospitable. They served us salt tea, yogurt w/sugar, homemade bread, and an egg like substance filled with cream. We had fun taking their pictures, which they enjoyed as well. The little girls were very cute and did traditional dances for us. I enjoyed watching the mom round up the cattle on horseback while her husband playfully joined her for a bit on the back of her horse. They have a sharing tradition and we made the mistake of giving them a bottle of vodka in the morning while they were giving us tea and bread for breakfast. They shared it with us and it was finished by 9 am. From then on, bottles of vodka were given in the evening. They were still always finished within a few hours.

The scenary makes you feel very free in Mongolia. We drove 12 hours the next day through the most wide open and green steppe/pasture land. The steppes are a series of endless, open valleys, surrounded by low mountains. The tops of the mountains are covered in pine and they descend and give way into sloping, grass covered hillsides that slowly turn to the valley floor. You could hike and ride a horse forever. Sprinkled throughout are ger camps with their grazing sheep, cattle, goats, horses, yaks, and camels.

If you love horses, you will absolutely flip over Mongolia. Throughout or trip we saw countless herds of the prettiest horses. They came in every color and color combo you can imagine ( black, grey, brown, light brown, cream, brown w/white, black w/white, etc. ). The Mongolians have over 300 words to describe horse coloring. There were many newborns running around and lying on their sides. Many of the horses had beautiful thick manes from the recent winter. They all seemed wild because the herders leave them to fill up on grass. You also get very close to them.

Our destination was Lake Khovsgol. It is ginormous. It holds 2% of the world's fresh water and it freezes! In fact, it was still frozen and white when we arrived. We spent one day riding horses for 40 kms. Of course, there is always one problem horse in the group, and I got that one. However, it was great fun. We were largely left on our own and we got the horses to run around the lake and at the grazing yaks. The horses seemed to love that. My guy galloped for the home stretch. I thought he had been galloping before, but apparantly not! Wow, what a feeling. I felt like I was flying through the woods. We found our own ger tent right on the lake. It was georgeous. It sat on a manicured grass lawn with flowers, pines, and a view of the melting lake 100 yards away. The next day we hiked through the forest to view the lake. You could actually only see halft of it, it was that big.

Next we headed to another night with a true nomadic family and then to another beautiful lake called White Lake. We got our own ger again and had fun swimming in the freezing water and hiking to a volcano. The bed of the lake is the lava flow from the volcano and the lake is a sapphire blue. Great bird life as well. From there we headed to the ancient capital of Karakorum ( now called Kharkhorin ) and the earliest Buddhist monastery, Erdene Zuu Khiid, in Mongolia. It was built from the stones of Karakorum and these stones are the only remnants of the capital of what was once the largest empire in the world. It looks like the middle of nowhere now. After that we headed to Khustai National Park where we saw several herds of the last remaining, truly wild horses on earth, the Takhi. They were magnificant. We also saw some Turkic graves from the 6th to 8th century AD. The Turks were in Mongolia before Turkey!

Gregory, Sebastian, and I got along great and had a great adventure. It was a positive step for U.S. / French relations! We had so much fun with the nomads in their gers and loved the scenary. Mongolia is fascinating. The history is amazing. They ruled the largest empire in the world under Kublai Khan ( Chingis Khan's face is still all over the place here, still a national symbol ). I have heard the American Indians came from Mongolia. Several other ethnic groups started here, such as the Turks, before being pushed out. The nomadic lifestyle was great. Greg, Seb, and I were seriously thinking about finding Mongolian wives and living the nomadic life. The wide open, grassy steppes are so liberating. You feeling like running or riding through them on a horse forever. I met one guy who summed it up nicely saying, "My eyes have never seen so far before."

I have a few more days in Ulaan Baatar and then I head home for a month by way of Shanghai. I'm looking forward to seeing friends, family, and home, but Mongolia will be missed.

Posted by Craig at 09:09 PM | Comments (1)
May 24, 2004
China (China)

I have been in China the past two weeks. I started in Xi'an and saw the terracotta warriors. 6,000 of them were burried in tombs to help the emperor fight in the afterlife. They were found by a farmer in 1974 and uncovered. They are immaculate and look like they could spring to life at the snap of your fingers. Each warrior has a unique face. Xi'an was very friendly. It was the first capital of China, but less crowded and touristry than Beijing is now. I had tons of the local dumplings and the best duck ever; Peking Duck.

After Xi'an, I trained it to Beijing. Much more hectic there. I saw Mao at the "Mao"soleum, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City. Beijing is building at such a fast rate and it already feels like Los Angeles. I would love to be a construction crane salesman there. The highlight was walking 10kms of the Great Wall. Many of these "main attractions" can be letdowns, but this did not disappoint. The wall snakes and winds all over these green mountains. It was in very good shape at some points, and crumbling in others. The section ended Simatai. The locals tag along with you trying to sell you drinks and T-Shirts and trying to point out stuff, like pointing to the northern side of the wall and saying, "Mongolia".

Next I trained it to Mongolia. That was an adventure because I got left behind at the border. I met two great Israeli guys, Tomer and Odeb, because they got left at the border too. Long story as to why, but we had a good adventure crossing the border the next day in a mini van filled to the brim with people, luggage, and fruit. We also had to battle it out in line to buy train tickets with the locals. The little old ladies were the worst cutters of all. Asia is competitive, let me tell you.

I've been in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia for the past few days arranging a Jeep tour. I finally found some other guys to join me, Greg and Sebastian, from France. We leave tomorrow at 9 am and start our 10 day drive across the Steppes. We just went to an outdoor market and bought our supplies. Mongolia is very cool so far.

Posted by Craig at 04:04 AM | Comments (0)
May 13, 2004
Tibet (Tibet)

I spent 10 days in Tibet, 5 of which consisted of being shaken and vibrated in a bus like you can not believe. I felt like Scotty in Star Trek, "Capt. she can't take much more, she's braking up!" The roads were dirt or gravel the whole way and at first glance looked ok, but obviously needed some major grading. Aside from the rocking and rolling, the scenary was amazing. Tibet really is the Roof of the World. Most of it is above 4,000 Meters or 13,000 ft.

We spent a day climbing out of Nepal on narrow winding roads. The next day you get a great view of the Himalayas from the north or from Tibet. The contrast of the white mountains in Nepal with the brown of Tibet is quite striking, along with the dark blue sky overhead. A little later we even saw a clear view of Everest and the Cho Oyu Range. It looks completely different than in Nepal. You sit on a brown plain at 15,000 ft and look at Everest rising like a blue/white wall in the far distance. Then we passed a 5,000 Meter pass and from the top the whole of Tibet looked like a sea of brown peaks.

The next few days were spent driving through this sea of brown mountains going over several more big passes. Along the way we saw the local Tibetans, their white castle-like mud brick homes ( always with red, yellow, blue, green, and white prayer flags, the colors represent the elements of the earth: fire, earth, water, crops, and clouds ), and many yaks. We passed several fertile valleys where they were plowing the fields with the yaks. They decorate the yaks cerimoniously to help guarantee a good crop. They had these red plumes above their heads that made them look like the soldiers who guard the Queen in London. We also passed a village where the wives take several husbands. Actually, she will just take brothers. They do this because it saves dowery money for the brothers' family.

Of course, we saw many monastaries as well. They are very nice and in one we walked through a large assembly hall where hundreds of monks were chanting. I sat down and they signaled that I should chant too. The thing that struck me about the monastaries is that they must be a significant portion of national GDP. The Tibetans are devout. You would see many Tibetans moving through the monastary's many shrine rooms paying tribute with yak butter. Yak butter has an . . how shall I say . . . interesting smell.

Our destination was Lhasa and Portala Palace. Lhasa is the largest city by far and has about 50% Chinese. I think almost all of the businesses are Chinese owned. Mainland China gives incentives for the Chinese to move to Lhasa so they will dominate Tibet. It seems to be working. Portala was cool, but after seeing many other monastaries, it seemed like simply a bigger one. The cool thing was watching all the Tibetans walking around the temple in the middle of the bizar, clockwise, with their handheld prayer wheels. Hundreds if not thousands do this every day in the evening. Some look to be professional prostrators. They prostrate every few feet around the whole city. Not the norm, thankfully.

I'm in Xi'an now and off to Beijing tonight. I've enjoyed eating good food and relaxing. I'll send a report on China after Beijing.

Posted by Craig at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)
April 30, 2004
Nepal (Nepal)

The Himalayas are fantastic. Truly the most spectacular mountains I've seen. I guess that is probably no surprise, but they beat my expectations.

I flew into kathmandu a few weeks ago and met my guide/porter, Kancha ( sounds like Can Cha, as with all of my updates, please overlook spelling on places and names ) from Above the Clouds Trekking ( the Nepal based one ). Great guys. We flew out the next day to Lukla. That flight was one to remember. You land on a short, I mean really short, runway which actually tilts uphill . . . dramatically. As you fly in you have this sense of being underwater because the moutains are so close and rise way above you. Then you see this crazy runway and you think, "We are landing on that?!" Quite the thrill.

From there, it was two weeks of trekking. Each day we had a view of a different and famous Himalayan peak. We saw Thamserku, Ama Dablam, Makalu, Lhotse, Nuptse, Pamori, Choletse, Cho Oyo, and of course Everest, plus many, many more. We also did the popular attractions such as Gokyo Ri, Kalapatthar, Cho La Pass, and Everest Base Camp. Two were vantage points of Everest and we had clear views. The route was a circuit which took us through 5 valleys and towns such as Namche Bazar, Gokyo, Lobuche, and Penboche to name a few.

The first two days are spent hiking up a river valley with pine, rhodadendrum, and suspended bridges. After Namche, you round a corner and BAM!, an unreal panorama of Ama Dablam, Lhotse, Everest, and Nuptsue ridge from right to left. From then on, each day is dominated by a view of each mountain or a very different perspective of the same mountain. First a full frontal view of Ama Dablam, then from your back, Thamserku appears fuller and fuller, and
then Cho Oyo is right in front of you. We climbed Gokyo Ri next and had wonderful views of Everest and the surrounding mountains as well as the Cho Oyo glacier. It had snowed the night before so it was a winter wonderland.

In the middle of the trek, we made it to Everest Base Camp. They camp right on a glacier so camp is re-erected each year. It is at the base of the famous Khumbu Ice Fall. You see the young guns, the Sherpas, coming off the ice fall in the afternoon. They look like tiny, tiny ants. We walked around the camp and had lunch at two of them. My guide knew a few of the cooks. These camps are well run machines. The climbers have a whole army behind them. The cooks drink lots of Everest Whiskey. I think it gets a little boring in Base Camp. The next day was the big finale, the hike up to 18,000 foot Kalapatthar for the sunrise view of Everest. What a view. Everest really is quite impressive to view. The biggest mountain in the whole world could have been just a little bigger than the surrounding mountains or inconspicuous. Not Everest. It stands there as if to say, "Yes, I am the biggest mountain in the world. Any questions?!"

There were many sights along the way. Many, many sherpas carrying loads and wearing horrible shoes, even thongs. They have these great walking sticks that double as seats. They will quickly stop in the trail and put the Y shaped sticks under their bums. Also, lots of Yak trains. Yaks were in every stop as well. In Gokyo, I had to circumnavigate them at night ( also in the snow, they just lay there covered in snow ) when going to the outhouse. Yes, outhouses . . . that is a whole other topic which would take pages to fully describe. The rhodadendrums were also great. Tons of them, red, pink, and white mixed in with the pine. From a distance, the dark red looked like Captain Crunch Crunch Berries. The view was making me hungry.

The guest houses or tea houses were nice for the most part. You eat lots of potatoes, rice, and fried eggs. You drink lots of milk tea. No fruit, veggies, or meat. They were built from plywood mostly ( plywood palaces I call them ) and each had a small dining area with a metal stove. Yak shit went into the stove and that was the heating. I met a ton of really cool people at these tea houses. I keep running into them again here in Kathmandu.

It is a magical world up there. The mountains are so magnificent. Too many other sights and sounds to describe. You'll have to come up here yourself. Off to Tibet tomorrow!

Posted by Craig at 06:13 AM | Comments (0)
April 10, 2004
India (India)

"I think I'm going to Kathmandu . . . . I think I really, really want to . . . " Come on, sing it with me! Off to Kathmandu tonight! The rest of my trip in India was great. I saw a wild tiger in Ranthambore Park, saw the Taj Mahal, and spent two days in Varanasi. Varanasi is very interesting. I also just got of a 19 hour train ride. I slept with two screaming babies. Ear plugs, thank God for ear plugs! I just talked with 5 young Indians at breakfast in Delhi. They work the night shift calling the U.S. and selling mortgages. They were very nice and wanted to know all about the U.S.A. They have American sounding aliases like Laurie Williams, Scott Parket, etc. A few had some strange ones like Melvin George. I gave them all new updated names. Guess who's names I used :-) It could be you!

Posted by Craig at 11:41 PM | Comments (3)