Archives for: 2006

All Pictures Online!

by Matt Email

Hi Everybody!

I know it has been a really long time since our last update, but I finally got around to getting the rest of our photographs uploaded and into galleries. Now that we're finished, there are 5126 pictures in 109 albums. That's sort of a lot huh? We've had to do some highlights albums for a few things so maybe we'll do a highlights gallery for the whole trip one of these days. Anyway, we're not quite done yet... Stay tuned for The Globies!

China, Tibet and Hong Kong Pictures are up!

by Matt Email

That's it really. Go have a look at all the new galleries.

More Pictures!

by Heather Email

We finally finished uploading and captioning our pictures from Vietnam. There are two more galleries up, but they're big ones. We'll have more pictures up in the coming days so keep checking back.

Done

by Matt Email

Greetings readers,

We are home. In as much as two homeless people can be. We're in Raleigh staying with Heather's parents for a few days attempting to resume normal lives. We hope to make some visiting rounds in the next few weeks, so if you think we're inclined to come visit you, start planning your excuses now.

Its going to take me a little while to sort through pitcures and get the rest of them uploaded, but we'll continue to post when new galleries are up and we might make some cathartic "in hindsight" posts which ought to prove amusing. But given our track record, its possible none of those things will happen. Except the pictures. I promise the pictures will get uploaded.

Also, our mobiles have been reactivated, so if you have our numbers (they haven't changed), call us. We're sick of just talking to each other.

So uh, what TV shows are good this season?

Boobies!

by Matt Email

Blue Footed Boobies that is... And Red Footed Boobies, and something called Nazca Boobies. I have just fundementally changed how search engines see our humble website.

Lets talk about Boobies for a minute. Boobies are one of the Galapagos highlights. They are oddly smug looking birds that have no fear of humans and hence may be the most photographed subject on these islands. The Red Footed Boobies are odd because they hang out in high bushes, something most other web footed birds can't do. The Nazca Boobies are just plain pretty. And the Blue Footed Boobies, well, they... are a pain in the ass. Largely due to the fact that they refused to land so I could take a picture of their bright blue feet and the funny mating dance they do. I did get a picture of some standing on some rocks in the distance, and you can sort of make out a bright blue smudge underneath them, but given the incredible close-ups we've gotten of all the other birds here, a blurry long distance shot just isn't satisfying.

There's still time though, we leave for the airport in a few minutes, maybe there will be some hanging out in the departure lounge here. Weird stuff like that happens here. I was taking a nap on the beach a few days ago and this adolescent sea lion sort of flopped up to me to have a sniff. I moved, sniffing relationships are verboten, but it was still pretty cool. Our group watched the sea lion roll around in the sand for a bit and a Swiss girl in our group decided Weinerschnitzel was an apt name. We got some really good pictures of schnitzel that will be posted soon. (By the way, if you haven't looked lately, we did have time to get two Vietnam galleries posted.)

We also had a few really overpriced dives with dozens of sea lions and sharks. The sea sions are fascinating to watch underwater, they love diver bubbles, so they sort of forget that they're underwater to eat and just show off for divers. I took some movies that I hope will look OK on a TV. The Galapagos can't be called the most beautiful place to dive in the world. The water clarity is not great, but the number of animals you can see is astounding. Even when we weren't diving, just riding along in boats, we saw whales, hammerheads, and rays jumping out of the water.

There are a mess of Iguanas and lizards here as well, I nearly ran out of memory.

Any post about the Galapagos would be incomplete without a mention of the Tortoises. They're huge. And old. Old and huge. And not very fast. Old, huge, and slow. Yeah.

Sorry those last bits were terse, we have to leave for the airport in about two minutes ago, and I still haven't finished packing. Home in two days!

Machu Picchu is Not a Japanese Electronic Pet

by Heather Email

Happy Wednesday night, everyone. Let me start by saying that we will be back in the States in exactly 2 weeks, and we couldn't be more ready. We are pooped. The following will hopefully explain why we are so tired. Unless I fall asleep while I'm writing this.

From Matt's post you should already know that we crossed the Pacific Ocean and International Date Line (meet sexy exotic singles in your area) in pretty quick order. So we slept and did laundry in Santiago. And we slept in Lima. That is until Sunday morning, when we began our trip to the Nazca Lines. That involved getting to the Lima airport at 6:30am, waiting until 10:30 for our delayed plane, eating an Egg McMuffin and Dunkin Donuts, then flying to Ica, where we transferred to a 12-passenger Cessna for an hour-long, vomit-inducing flight over the lines. They were cool. We didn´t throw up, but we felt very sick. The plane just flew in sharp circles the whole time. They would show the spider drawing out the right window, then quickly turn around so you could see it out the left window. It was rough, but I'm glad we saw them. Then we had a nice buffet barbecue lunch, then a short trip to a museum, then a short trip to an oasis nestled between some big sand dunes, then back on the plane to Lima, where we arrived at 6pm. It was airport food or room service, so we headed right into the departure area for some greasy Papa John's pizza. After the pizza, it was back to the hotel to sleep until we had to get up at 3am Monday morning for our flight to Cuzco.

We got to the airport around 4:30am, had more Dunkin Donuts, and flew to Cuzco. We did nothing in Cuzco except pick up our train tickets to Machu Picchu and work on uploading pictures from Vietnam (so long ago, so far behind) on a surprisingly fast Internet connection. By that night I was feeling some of the altitude effects (the same rapid heart rate I had at Mt. Everest base camp). I had a lot of trouble sleeping, which was perfect, because we had to get up at 5:15 to catch our 7:00 train to Machu Picchu. The train ride was beautiful. The rocking of the train promised to lull us to sleep, but we managed to stay awake by talking to a lovely couple from Minneapolis (Hi, Sam and Harvey!).

Our hostel here in Aguas Calientes (or Machu Picchu Pueblo, as the locals call it) "upgraded" us to a suite with a view. "View" means higher up, which means a lot of stairs. We are completely exhausted by the time we get to our room. We did manage to head straight back out for some lunch and the trip up to Machu Picchu. This is the first place savvy enough to know what a fake International Student Identification Card looks like, so we had to pay the full $40 each, instead of $20. And $12 each for the round-trip bus ride up the crazy serpentine road. Hell if I was going to walk up there.

Once we finally got up there, we couldn't have been more pleased. To use the word of a man I met at the ATM yesterday, "Gobsmacked." (I decided I don't use that enough. Expect to see it more: Galapagos? -Gobsmacked.) It was awesome. A little bigger and steeper than I expected it to be. Very green. Polite resident llamas that are very patient with the kids that just jump on their backs. Just breathtaking scenery. We got ourselves a little book to help us know what we were looking at, and we managed to see a lot of it in the few hours we were there.

We went back this morning to see it in the morning light. We ran into a bunch of groups that had just entered Machu Pichhu via the Inca Trail. I felt quite lazy and ashamed of my silly fat self seeing all these people come in, but what can you do? We hit some areas we intentionally skipped yesterday to give us something new to see today. Definitely the best views today from up high. It's also just a fun place to romp around. The climbing up uneven, rocky, old stairs can be taxing, but I would just rest whenever I felt like it and look around. The sun is also really strong up there, but I had a hat and SPF 30. The altitude isn't a problem, because it's lower here than in Cuzco. We came back down to town after a few hours and ate some lunch. Matt went back up just to take pictures with the lateday sun, while I rested. An electric storm came out of nowhere, so he packed it up when he saw lightning hit the next peak over. Tripods and lightning just don't mix.

So, there we are. If my 5th grade teacher, Ms. Bowden, is reading this, I want extra credit for actually visiting the place I did my project on.

Death By Hamster Ball

by Matt Email

Ok, so I probably didn't actually kill the poor woman, but who knows, maybe she took a turn for the worse after we fled the scene of the crime. First off, let me explain that it wasn't my fault. Had it actually been my fault, I wouldn't have felt nearly as badly about the whole incident. Had I done it intentionally, I actually would have been quite proud of the simple elegance of the act. Sadly, it was simply a case of physics gone awry.

As Heather already explained, one of the reasons we visited New Zealand in the first place was to try some of the idiotic activities we had seen on The Amazing Race. With Sledging checked off my list (cold, but fun) we were off to try Zorbing. If you're lazy and haven't read the linked page from Heather's post, here's the short version: Strap into a harness inside a giant hamster ball. Roll. Heather went first. She made it look pretty easy. Get in, tighten up the straps, and then the dude pushes you down the hill, the zorb stops when it gets to the bottom of the hill and rolls up an embankment.

I thought, OK, no problem. Heather was giggling the whole time so I figured it must be fun. My zorbing experience was mostly the same but with one crucial difference, my zorb stopped when it bowled over one of the staff and then rolled up the embankment. I didn't feel a thing. When the staff photographer came to get me unstrapped and out of the Zorb, he was saying over his shoulder "No, I don't think she's OK, I think she needs help up" - had not a clue what he was talking about. I figured maybe a child was nervous about trying the Zorb and needed some prodding to get in or something. When I was finished doing silly photographer directed poses with my Zorb, I went over to Heather who could tell I had no idea what happened. Then she showed me the pictures. She had been shooting in continuous mode, so I got a frame by frame replay of the incident.

Brief Aside
Now seems like a good time to mention that we won't have any more picture galleries posted until after we get home. But I promise that will be my first priority after filing our taxes and eating ribs.
End Aside

We were actually able to trade the pictures Heather took of the incident for a free CD of the shots their photographer took of my Zorb. I felt really bad about the whole thing. I went inside their office to see if she was OK and she had clearly been crying, and looked to be in a lot of pain. I apologized, she said it wasn't my fault, but I don't think she really meant it. Some little part of her clearly blamed me. And some little part of me hopes she isn't dead. At least the pictures will make a cool souvenir for her (or next of kin) someday.

We spent the next couple of days driving around the northeast area of the North Island visiting geothermal features and sheep. We wound up liking NZ quite a lot and are anxious to return for a longer visit.

We left NZ on 9-17 for Tahiti. Crossing the international date line was a complete disappointment. First off, unlike the Equator, there is no visible line you cross. Nor does the journey back in time actually feel like anything. I was expecting some kind of a warp sensation, but not even a chill up the back of the neck. We did take a picture from the airplane window though.

It was strange being in Tahiti. It was the first time we had been anywhere familiar in 8 months. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the budget) we only had a few hours so we checked into the world's most expensive two star motel and then took a tour around the island after getting some much needed sleep. The management was actually really nice to us and gave us a 6pm checkout gratis. Our flight to Easter Island wasn't until 1am so we killed some time at Le Troi Brasseurs, a brewpub/pizzeria that was a favorite from our honeymoon.

I was lucky and managed to fall asleep before we even took off, but Heather was luckier and managed to snag a full three seat row to lay down in. We got about three hours of sleep on the plane and then were somewhat relieved to find that it was pouring rain in Easter Island so we could go back to sleep and not worry about missing much. Easter Island is really tiny. We rented a car which to our horror turned out to be manual. We got a crash course in stickmanship from the owner of the B&B we were staying at and managed to get the car around the island only stalling a few hundred times. The car was really messed up though, it wasn't all our fault. There are no automatic transmissions on the island to rent, so there are a lot of people that learn to drive stick in rental cars on Easter Island. I got a ton of pictures of the big spooky alien statues which will be posted in about a month.

We've spent the last two nights in Santiago. Again, we spent most of the time asleep. I think its actually worse to cross the pacific in a series of four poorly timed flihts than it is to just do it all at once and get it over with. We're just barely adjusted, but the good news is that we're back to Eastern Time, so very little jet lag from this point on. Huzzah. This evening we leave for Lima. Nine flights to go. Plus three flights on Sunday just to go see the Nazca Lines. I'm beat.

Broken Promises

by Heather Email

Okay, so we are big, fat liars. We never wound up writing about dinner at Yacout in Marrakech, our second week in Israel, cuddling pandas, or Hong Kong. We just get behind sometimes. But it just means that you can take us out to dinner and you'll hear fresh stories that you haven't already read here.

Always leave 'em wanting more.

Make sure you read this entire post, because there are special announcements at the end.

We are currently in Rotorua, New Zealand. We arrived here from Sydney, which was sometimes cold and usually rainy. It is Spring, after all.

Australia was great. Prior to Sydney, we were in Cairns and on the Great Barrier Reef. We spent three days and two nights on a very lovely boat. We went on nine dives and snorkelled once. It was a lot of fun and we got to see some great stuff. There's not much to describe about it really. I've found that it's very difficult to make a dive trip sound interesting to someone that wasn't there. I can tell you that wetsuits must be the standard issue uniform in Hell. We saw some big turtles. We saw some sharks. My mom asked what we did after we saw the shark that was swimming in the area. My response, "Chased it." It was too fast for us, though. Mom's confidence in my decision-making capabilities might be dwindling.

While on dry land in Cairns, we also cuddled a baby koala in this kind of weak wildlife dome on top of a casino. Very cute. Very sharp claws. It's a good thing koalas are so sleepy from being high on eucalyptus, otherwise, they'd be deadly. The coast is also covered by a rainforest. Someone got the bright idea to construct a cable car/skytrain/gondola thingy over it to this hippie town. So, we went on the 4.3-mile gondola ride, had lunch in hippie town, and took the scenic train back to Cairns. There were some nice waterfalls along the route, but they were pretty dried up.

Sydney, what can I say about Sydney? Not much, since I've never watched Alias. Ha. Actually, I can't say much about the city, either. It was raining most of the time. And almost everything that one wants to do in Sydney kind of depends on there being nice weather. We did spend a lot of time in the aquarium. Definitely one of the better ones I've seen. We also saw Clerks 2 and Snakes on a Plane after eating dinner at the Sushi Train. During the brief periods when the clouds parted, we managed to go line up our pictures of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. And we discovered a "boutique beer cafe" called Red Oak that had some tasty beers and food. We got to talk to the brewer for a while, which was cool. Always like meeting a brewer.

So, now we're in New Zealand, where we have rented a car. It's a lot of fun getting used to the wrong side of the road. I didn't do much today. Matt went sledging, but I sat it out. I just don't like getting in cold water and getting splashed and swallowing half of it. Sledging is white-water rafting on a kickboard instead of a raft. Matt loved it. He wants his own sledge when he gets home. I don't know where he's going sledging, though. I guess we've got some rivers that are good for it. Who knows? Not my cup of tea, but I'm sure he'll tell you more about it. Tomorrow, we go Zorbing. That's when you get in a giant hamster ball and roll down a hill. It should be awesome. These are both activities we never would have heard of if not for The Amazing Race. Best. Show. Ever.

New-ish Photo Albums
Make sure you visit the Dubai and Southeast Asia photo albums. They've been up a while, and we're still in the process of getting Vietnam up there, but check them out.

Serenity is Gone
Serenity is gone. Big shout out to my Mom and Dad for getting her sold. Book that table at Sullivan's, because you are getting one delicious steak dinner for all your hard work! Seriously, I know they're glad it's out of the driveway. I know it was the last thing I wanted to see when I arrived home. Holla!

And now for some truly upsetting news...

We're Fat
Don't be alarmed. There's no reason to adjust your set. We just got fat while we were traveling. It happens. We have palates that seem adapted to all world cuisines. There just wasn't any food that we didn't like. Sure, we could have tried to keep the calories down on this trip, but where's the fun in that? Dieting is not what this trip is about. But it's all about dieting when we get home. After a 2-3 week binge at all of our favorite restaurants that we'll never eat at again (the early list is Sweetwater Tavern, Red Hot + Blue, On the Border, Lost Dog Cafe, Cafe Asia, Zed's, and more). To prepare you for what to expect when you next see us, here's a recent photo of us.

Oops, We Did It Again...

by Heather Email

Our wake of tragedy continues. Did our mere proximity to Steve Irwin contribute to his unusual and untimely demise? Maybe we're just narcissitic in believing that we have the power to bring doom to a place just by visiting it. But it's getting weird. We were on our first day of diving the Great Barrier Reef, just a couple of miles from where the Crocodile Hunter was killed by a stingray. It's easy to get hurt by a stingray, but it's very, very hard to be killed by one. Australia offered him a state funeral, but his dad and Terry declined because he was just an "ordinary guy." Too sad.

We're back on land now. More on diving and a backpost on Hong Kong and a couple of China stories later.

Only Big Bird Could Go to China

by Matt Email

I had sort of a plan for how this post should start out. I was going to include a link to the Wikipedia entry on the phrase: "Only Nixon could go to China". Unfortunately, Wikipedia is banned by the Great Firewall of China, so I can't read what it says, nor can I apologize to the originator of the phrase as I am unable to learn that sort of information from an article I can't read. I'm not sure why Google provides search results that point to websites banned by the government, but there you go. I have a secret wish that The Wander Yonder is also going to get banned for all of this subversive bitching and moaning.

I've just re-read that first paragraph. Sorry. It turns out I can include the link in my post, I just can't read it myself. Nor could I come up with a clearer way of saying so other than this explanatory clause here. I really don't want to re-write the first paragraph as this is about my ninth attempt to start writing this update and I'd just like to get on with it.

Nine times? (Read that as though you're Ed Rooney from Ferris Beuller's Day Off) Yes, nine times have I sat down at these damn Guilin/Yangshuo (that is where we are right now) internet cafes and tried to write an update on what we've been doing since we got back from Mount Everest. I am close to tears. Normally when I write an update I upload pictures in the background, but I've been unable to do that here because none of the computers have cd rom drives or working usb ports. What the hell is the use of an internet cafe in a tourist town if people can't look at all the pretty pictures they've taken? Actually, I know the answer to that question and it kind of pisses me off. Everybody around me is playing computer games online that look really fun and violent. The guy on my right just blew up the guy behind me with a grenade, and the guy on my left is attempting to kill a sort of dragon looking thing. I'm really jealous. I haven't killed anything online for months. To add insult to injury, all the menus are in Chinese, and I can't figure out how to even get to any of the games so I can play along. Which is just as well, I have work to do.

Back to the beginning. With apologies to whoever said "Only Nixon could go to China", Only Big Bird could go to China. No other children's character really had a tough enough anti-communist image to really pull off a 75 minute public television drama about a desperate search for the Phoenix Feng Huang all the while being thwarted by the maniacal genius of the Monkey King in the magical land of Guilin and Yangshuo. Starting to make sense now isn't it? Yeah, I didn't think so. Oh and don't bother trying to Google the bit about Nixon, other than the Wikipedia article, everything that comes up on Google is about Spock saying that the Nixon quote is an "old Vulcan proverb" in Star Trek VI, The Undiscovered Country You see, it sort of also applies to Kirk and the Klingons, what with Kirk being their sworn enemy. Come to think of it, it hardly applies to Big Bird at all, but I still think its a cute title, so I'm sticking with it.

I think I've come a bit unhinged. Its quite warm here.

Way back in 1983, I was five, Big Bird and Barclay (the vaguely dog-shaped ball of orange, yellow and white yarn) took a trip to China after they found a scroll in a New York Chinatown shop that described a Phoenix. It turns out Big B. was having a bit of an epistemic crisis, wondering if he, like his own best friend Snuffalupagus, was in fact also imaginary. Obviously, the lack of other seven foot birds added to his self doubt, so the discovery of a scroll describing a giant yellow bird in China, gave him hope that he was not alone in the world. Naturally he had to leave Sesame Street to find his long lost cousin. His adventure took him to Beijing and the Great Wall, then to Zhouzhuang in Suzhou (recently seen in Looney Cruise's new Mission Impossible movie) and finally to Guilin and Yangshuo. I won't ruin the movie for you by telling you much else but, I highly recommend adding it to your queue.

I suspect watching this on TV for the first time was the moment I caught the tourist bug. It is certainly one of my clearest early childhood memories, particularly the scenes from the end of the film where Big bird travels through an area covered in dramatic pointy mountains, glassy rice terraces and a misty snaking river. Twenty four years on, I have been to 22 other countries, learned to abuse parentheses, FINALLY learned where exactly those scenes were filmed and I've arrived in the place that may have made it my dream to want to see the world. I am not disappointed. Despite the summer haze (which has ruined most of the pictures I've taken here) it is truly on of the most stunning places I've ever been.

Its hard to say more than that. Guilin and Yangshuo don't quite come across as shocking and aweing as Mount Everest, (which may have something to do with plentiful oxygen, I'm not sure...) but the towns and surrounding countryside are perhaps even more beautiful and at times I've had the odd sensation of being trapped in a classical Chinese water color. Oh and did I mention that they are the only towns in China where almost everybody speaks fairly good English? Other bonuses include a pretty good beer bar in Guilin and Yangshuo has restaurants with burritos and chicken fried steak! We've also been killing a lot of time with hour long foot massages for five dollars. Its not quite Thailand massage pricing, but its pretty close and the massages themselves are slightly less brutal.

OK, yes, I do realize there's still about a week missing between getting back from Everest and arriving here. Most of it wasn't very interesting so I'll provide a quick recap. Heather may wish to add something more about the Pandas later.

Back In Lhasa
We tried to go see inside Potala Palace but couldn't manage to get tickets. Lhasa is packed these days and apparently the ticket procurement process is three days long. We were bummed about that and we also lost Heather's account book in which we have tracked everly last dime we've spent since August 29th 2005. It was kind of a bad day. The next day we flew to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

Chengdu
Visited the Panda Research Center and ate a lot of spicy food. For the most part the Chinese food we've had here hasn't been very different at all from the chinese food we get at home. Sichuan cuisine was a big exception. A lot of the dishes used ridiculous quantities of Sichuan peppercorns (a type of black pepper, not a chile) that is not really all that hot, but it numbs your mouth. At home, sichuan food has a lot more chile heat and I've never had my tongue go numb. I think I prefer the americanized non-numbing but spicier version, call me crazy, but I like to be able to taste what I'm eating.

Yangtze River Cruise
We took a river cruise through the Three River Gorges area and saw the big new dam they're building that will flood the area in 2009 or thereabouts. We mostly wanted to do this because the dam will radically change the area in a few years and we wanted to see it before that happened. The highlight was the side trip to the "Little" and "Mini" Three River Gorges, which are just what they sound like, increasingly narrower river gorges. Lovely scenery etc. We spent four nights on the boat mostly sequestered in our somewhat dank cabin. None of the excursions off the boat provided any English language guidance whatsoever. Which is a little odd, because there were certainly enough non-Chinese on the boat to justify grouping us together and getting one of the tour guides who spoke English (of which there were several) to take us all around to sights together. Instead, the guides actively separated us whenever we seemed to clump together, like we were dangerous or something. We did have a pretty good time at all the food stalls when we got off the boat though. Since we couldn't understand the guides anyhow, we snuck off and ate dumplings and Chinese sausages while we had time because on the boat our only option was instant noodles, of which, one can get very tired. On the fourth days the boat docked in Yijang, we got up early and flew to Guilin that day.

Guilin and Yangshuo
Arrival in Guilin filled me with a huge sense of accomplishment after waiting so many years to visit this place. Naturally something had to go wrong, so all the ATMs decided to stop working and we found ourselves with about $10 in local currency and all the exchanges were closed for the day. Eventually, we did find that Bank Of China ATMs were still working, but not before we ran around stressed out in the heat, fighting off touts of all kinds and English skills, to find a stinkin' internet cafe so we could email our bank. The next day we visited the city parks, booked an English speaking river cruise (just a half day this time) and Heather had a rather remarkable shampoo in the middle of the night. The river cruise the following day took us to Yangshuo. Aside from the horrible maddening internet cafes here (which Lonely Planet audaciously claims are the best in China - unscrupulous twits.), Yangshuo has been very good to us. We've had lots of delicious food and yesterday we took a lovely bicycle/bamboo raft tour around the outskirts of town. The haze probably means that none of the pictures I got will probably do this place justice, but thats what coffee table books are for. Tomorrow we return to Guilin for a couple of nights before flying to Hong Kong for five days.

Heather has just completed a thorough itinerary of our last forty days on the road, so email us if you want us to send it to you.

A: Because It's There

by Heather Email

Q: Why did you poke that anthill with a stick?
Q: Why did you touch the plate that the waiter said was very hot?
Q: Why did you eat the whole pizza even though you were full?
Q: Matt and Heather, why did you go visit Everest Base Camp while in Tibet?

Okay, so once we got to Lhasa, we immediately met up with two other people that wanted to do the same four-day trip to Everest Base Camp (EBC). (Hi, David and Yumi!) You get charged per Land Cruiser, so it's best to have a group. We got ourselves signed up and headed out bright and early on Tuesday morning. Much of the trip consisted of very boring (but pretty) driving, which I will gloss over below.

Tuesday:
Departed Lhasa at 8:30 am. Off-roading, off-roading, paved-roading, off-roading, monastery, lunch, off-roading until 8:30 pm. Slept in very icky place in Lhatse.

Wednesday:
Departed Lhatse at 6:30 am. Off-roading, breakfast, off-roading...

Caught our first glimpse of Mt. Everest. Wow! We could see the peak poking out through the clouds. It was a perfect white triangle just that much taller than everything else around it, so we knew in an instant that we were looking at Earth's highest point.

Second glimpse of Mt. Everest at the Pang La Pass at 5,100 meters*. Good picture spot, but too many souvenir stands.

More off-roading until we arrived at Rongphu Monastery around 1:00 pm. We got our stuff loaded into our room (again, not spectacular), used the world's most disgusting toilet (seriously, I've seen some nasty things before, but...puke noise), and set out to find a horse cart to take us the final 8 kilometers to EBC. We had a very bumpy one-hour ride along many switchbacks, which took us from 4,900 to 5,220 meters.

Once we got up there, it was clear that Mt. Everest wasn't going to come out and make an appearance. The clouds just seemed to hang perfectly in place. It was very cold and windy, too, as you would expect. But probably not as cold as you would think. There is actually a summer here, and it's not that bad. Which was a good thing, because I already sent all of my warmest clothes home. Matt bought some turquoise worry beads, and I hung out in the shelter of the China Post shack and sent postcards from the world's highest post office. I tried to send them to everyone I could think of, but stopped short when the man selling them started smoking. Being in a closet at 17,000 feet with someone smoking in your face is not pleasant, so I had to leave and I didn't get to send all of the postcards I wanted. Apologies if you didn't get one.

I should mention at this point that I was not having a good time on this trip. While I fortunately didn't have any altitude sickness, I did have very serious lower back pain that started on the train and just got worse with all of the off-roading. 2400 mg of ibuprofen per day barely seemed to be helping at this point. The awful accommodations and lack of running water and toilets just made matters worse. The only thing that would help was to really see the mountain in all of its glory. On the way back down in the horse cart, Matt asked if I thought it was worth all the trouble getting there. I said it wasn't, but that I was probably just cranky from my back hurting. I just really wanted to see it.

We got back to the "restaurant" and met some folks that were hitchhiking around Tibet, but were stranded for the night. We had a good time decompressing with them and it made me feel a little better. Since we had cellular service on Mt. Everest, we figured some calls were in order, so we called the folks. At first my dad thought we were at Space Camp, which would also be cool. Finally, we each sucked down a can of oxygen and went to sleep.

Thursday
What a difference a night makes! We were scheduled to leave at 8:00, so we got up at 7:30 (not much to do in the morning to get ready when there isn't any running water). I looked out the window and my jaw dropped. There was a completely unobstructed Mt. Everest in the pink glow of morning, before the first light from the Sun had even hit it. We threw on clothes and were out the door with the camera in less than a minute.

Now, in an unprecedented move on The Wander Yonder, we are giving you a sneak preview at a photograph (click it to go to the bigger image):

Thumbnail of Everest

Guess what I had to say when Matt again asked me if it was worth it.

We couldn't stay all day and drool over Everest, because we had a lot of driving to do. We left around 8:30 and stopped for breakfast around 9:30. At some point Matt realized that he couldn't find his special Mt. Everest worry beads. Always the believers in karma and the balance of the universe, we assumed that losing the worry beads was payment for waking up to such a beautiful sight. Boy, were we wrong.

We were forced to take a very long, off-road detour due to construction on the main road (or so our driver said, I never trusted him). He said we would get to Lhatse for lunch around 1:30. Well, around 2:30, we were still off-roading, and the expletive deleted driver drove straight into a small lake with the world's most slippery mud. Of course, we were stuck. This was a stupid move as there was dry land on either side. He just thought he was cool enough to make it through I guess. Grrrr. It was at this moment that I told Matt we would find his worry beads. This was our payment for seeing Everest at dawn.

There was a Land Cruiser right behind us, but we were too far in for it to reach the tow cable to pull us out. They eventually left and said they would send help. Another Land Cruiser did exactly the same thing about thirty minutes later. Then, nothing. This was the definition of the "middle of nowhere." Even the nearest village was a four-hour walk. Eventually, a pony cart appeared with two guys. Our driver and his friend, who we agreed to take along because he only needed to go "across the street," had been jacking up the wheels and putting down stones all this time. The old passenger was getting close to hypothermia as he had stripped down to his shorts and was laying in the mud trying to dig the car out. I kid you not, they tried to use the pony to pull the Land Cruiser out of the mud. Not successful. Instead the pony cart left with its owners, the old hypothermia man, and David, because he could speak Chinese and get us help. He was going to get to the nearest landline or cell coverage and call the travel agency, then the US consulate. It was 5:30 when they all left.

Matt and I were the only people involved that were dealing with the reality of having to spend the night out there. Everyone else had taken off their shoes and gotten themselves wet and muddy and cold. We stayed in our GoreTex boots, nice and dry. The driver used bottled water to clean his hands. We suggested that we might need to reserve the bottled water. He constantly got in the car and gunned the engine to try to drive out, usually making things worse. We suggested that he might save the gas to run the heater overnight. Things looked very gloomy at this point. There hadn't been a car in over two hours and nobody was pretending there would be one. But there was one Land Cruiser, finally. But it passed by and didn't stop. There is a very special place in Hell, I tell you.

At the same moment, five figures appeared on the horizon. They were five teenage Tibetan boys that looked like they were walking somewhere. It seemed odd, with the nearest village a four-hour walk away, they must have been walking for a long time, with a long way to go. By this point, I was cold and had gotten back in the car. Matt was standing on dry ground and the driver and Yumi were still collecting rocks and digging under wheels. I got a little nervous about being in the middle of nowhere, outnumbered by some teenagers, so I locked the doors of the car, got out my knife (blade open), and started figuring out how to MacGuyver a flame-thrower out of the cans of oxygen we had in the car. With the help of these five kids, the car actually got out of the mud. It was 6:30. I was still very suspicious of them, especially once they started going back and forth with the driver about their compensation. In the end, two of them got in the car with us. It wasn't long before we caught up with the pony cart, David, and old hypothermia man. They got back in the car, so there were now eight of us and our luggage crammed in there with all of the mud. Eventually, the driver made the kids get out in the middle of nowhere, but I guess they were ahead of their friends. We drove straight to Shigatse, where showers (our first since Lhasa on Tuesday morning) supposedly awaited us. Somewhere along the way, I reached into one of our bags and found Matt's worry beads. Do I know karma or what? It was 11:30 pm when Matt and I got into our hotel room.

Friday
At 9:00 am, we headed to the Tashilhunpo Monastery, which is the seat of the Panchan Lama. I've been kind of templed out, but it was actually pretty cool. There is one chapel that houses a sitting Maitreya Buddha. The statue stands 86 feet high and is decorated with gold, copper, pearl, amber, coral, diamond, and other precious stones. The statue was handcrafted by 900 craftsmen in 9 years. Finally, we met the crew, had lunch and hit the road. It was a better day of driving on paved roads, and we were back in Lhasa around 4:30 pm.

Now it's almost midnight, and the yak enchilada (seriously) I had for dinner isn't keeping me full. I'm extremely tired after such a marathon trip to a place that so few will ever see, and such a marathon blog post about it. It's time to convince Matt to head back to the hotel for some well-deserved shut-eye.

*Apologies for all of the metric use, but that's how I've been forced to think for eight months, and it's starting to stick. At least I haven't started spelling it "metres." I will quickly enroll in a re-education course upon our arrival home. I promise. For now, go to Google and type: convert Thing1 to Thing2.

We Need Lhasa Oxygen

by Matt Email

Greetings from what everybody around here seems to call the roof of the world. Lhasa sits at 3700 meters. Which is fairly high, we've definitely gotten winded just walking up a flight of steps, but so far we haven't had any major symptoms of altitude sickness. Which is good, because tomorrow we leave for Mt. Everest Base Camp at 5200 meters. That's about 17,000 feet, almost 3000 feet higher than the summit of Mt. Ranier. We'll spend the night at Mt. Everest Base Camp before returning to Lhasa for a couple of nights. Then we fly out to Chengdu in Sichuan province to visit the Panda sanctuary.

We got to Lhasa via the new express train from Beijing thanks to some serious help from family, friends and a complete stranger. We are very grateful. The train was an interesting experience. We frightened away one couple from our sleeper cabin and they were replaced by a man travelling with his grandson, who shared a bunk, and two full grown humans were moved into the extra bed. That's 8 people in a six person sleeper. Fortunately one of the full grown humans found an empty bed next door, but we still had 8 loads of luggage and 7 people in a six person sleeper. It would have made for an interesting ride anyway even if the child wasn't a complete disaster. He had a rather explosive amount of energy which we suspect was exacerbated by the coffee drinks his grandfather fed him in the morning. Which in turn made him have to pee rather a lot, which he did into an empty water bottle. That worked out OK when grandad was awake and could supervise the process, but grandad got a bit sleepy from the altitude on day 2 and the child naturally didn't want to wake him up for such a mundane task. Unfortunately, this resulted in some spillage.

Oh, and later there was spewage as well. Tell me this, if you operated a train that ran at high altitude, which makes some people queasy, and still others get queasy just from motion sickness, you would provide some kind of bag like one finds on airplanes right? I thought so. Man would that have made the morning of day 2 a lot cleaner. All three sinks were clogged and the bathrooms had taken some hits as well. It was pretty gross. So then the terror child goes and pukes in our cabin. To be fair to him, he did try to make a run for it as he drooled a bit on the floor in a clear pre-spew signal. Then Grandpa did the unthinkable. He restrained him, and went to clean up the measly saliva that had hit the floor. Serves him right, 6 seconds later he had puke on his pants. I have no idea how he didn't see that coming. Our belongings were mostly spared. Heather's backpack got just a tiny bit on it. Heather also had some fragrant wet wipes that managed to mask most of the smell.

I just reread all this and it sounds like it was a 47 hour nightmare, but it really wasn't all that bad. I spent most of the trip asleep in my berth and there was some stunning scenery in the last 6 or so hours of the trip. Heather had a little bit more trouble than I did since she was on the bottom berth, but she doesn't seem too scarred.

I had better leave it there for now, we have a few more things to do to get ready for the trip tomorrow, like buy some Oxygen.

Duck You!

by Matt Email

We are spending our fourth evening in Beijing doing some more work on uploading pictures from Cambodia. What's kind of interesting about tonight is that its the first night that we've been in Beijing that we haven't had Peking Duck for dinner. Only they just call it Duck here. (For the simpletons reading this, Beijing and Peking are the same place)

We tried a different duck house on each of our three previous nights and we had to take a break because we think duck might actually contain more tryptophan than turkey and we were worried we might sleep through a day. Once we've tried a few more duck joints we'll have a report on which one was best. Though it hardly matters because any visitor to Beijing should do their own research and eat as much duck as possible, its delicious everywhere.

Today we visited the Forbidden City. If you are planning a visit to China just to see the Forbidden City, reschedule. At the moment, about a quarter of the main buildings are covered in scaffolding for restoration work before the Olympics hit town. The good news is that by the looks of it, the restoration work was much needed and the buildings that are already finished really do look fantastic, and the ones that haven't been done yet look pretty run down. I'm thinking fall of 2008 through late winter of 2009 will be a good time to visit. The Olypics will be over and the outdoor temperature should make the crowds a little bit more comfortable. The temperature today was actually pretty comfortable, it was hot but not oppressive. That is until we got into the Forbidden City. It was practically a mosh pit in some areas. Just wall to wall sweaty tourist flesh holding their cameras above their heads to get pictures of the things they couldn't actually see. It took a bit out of us.

Yesterday it rained, so we flipped through our lonely planet to find some indoor activities. We settled on a visit to the underground tunnel network that was built when China was worried about the Soviets invading, a peculiar sounding Daoist temple, and a belgian beer bar. All followed up by a randomly discovered middle eastern bar called Souk that had Sheesha available, and duck for dinner at Beijing DaDong Roast Duck Restaurant.

The tunnels were odd, wet, smelly and plastered with pictures of enemy ordinance. Oh, and there was a silk shop of course.

The temple we visited was the Dongyue Temple and it was peculiar as all get out. Its a big square and there are wee stalls in the walls of the square that house colorful sculptures of the netherworld beauracracy at work. Yes, I said netherworld beauracracy. Each stall represents a "department" and its function, for example: "The Department for Implementing 15 kinds of Violent Death". You can't make this up. There were maybe 50 departments, each with fairly good english descriptions of department's function. Pictures of the most interesting ones will of course follow in several weeks.

We then walked a couple of miles to the Belgian beer bar and watched "Jury Duty" (yes, that's a Pauly Shore movie) on HBO. It had stopped raining somewhere in the middle of the movie and we probably could have salvaged some more of the day for sightseeing, but a couple 8% beers each can be a fairly bad infuence. Instead we settled for a long walk to the Souk, followed by an early Duck dinner and called it a day.

It's Time to Rock It from the Delta to the DMZ!

by Heather Email

Some of you may recognize that from Good Morning, Vietnam. The rest of you just think I'm weird.

After catching yet another sleeper train (our third in five nights--ouch), we arrived in Dong Hoi. It is on the coast and we stayed at a lovely beach resort with the most amazing sand. But the only real reason to visit here is the nearby Phong Nha - Ke Bang underground river and cave system. It is the world's longest underground river. Although it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nobody outside of Vietnam has ever heard of it until now. Matt and I were the ONLY non-Vietnamese tourists there. Out of many hundreds of people. So, if you ever go to Vietnam, be sure to check this place out. It was truly amazing.

On our way south, we visited the Vinh Muoc tunnels. During the fighting with US troops, the villagers dug out and lived in these tunnels off and on for a number of years. They were dark, hot, very small, and not easy to get around. But they had everything the villagers needed, including a maternity ward. 17 babies were born there.

Our next stop was the Hien Luong Bridge over the Ben Hai River, which is roughly aligned with the 17th parallel of lattitude. This was the boundary established by the Geneva Conference to separate North Vietnam from South Vietnam in 1954, after they fought for independence from France. It was also the mid-point of the DMZ, or demilitarized zone during the war that America was involved in.

Finally, we arrived in Hue, the homeland of a friend of ours (Hi, Vi!). We visited the Imperial Citadel, which was very architecturally interesting. From a historical perspective, it has seen a lot of fighting - most recently during the Tet Offensive of 1968. The Vietnamese are slowly catching on that they should keep their historic sites restored for the tourist dollars. This is one of the places they seem to have prioritized. In Hue, we also visited a few tombs and temples, all of which are set along the Perfume River. We took a boat out on the river (about 50 yards to the middle, where we stopped), and listened as some local musicians played Hue's traditional folk music. We also got to place paper lanterns in the river and make wishes on them. I must have forgotten to wish for health and wealth, and instead wished for something funny to happen, because all of a sudden the captain's eight-year-old daughter fell in the river. Not a problem, as she can swim just fine. But, man, did she look surprised.

Our next destination was Hoi An, which is basically a tourist town these days. It's an ancient city inspired by the Chinese and Japanese merchants that lived there. However, it's easy to miss the architectural joys when every building houses a souvenir shop. From Hoi An, we visited My Son Holy Land, which is a collection of ancient temples of the Cham people. These were nice, but not that impressive after seeing Angkor Wat a few weeks ago.

We flew to the vacation destination of Vietnamese locals, Nha Trang. We took a boat around some islands, which were all very crowded, snorkelled, then went back to the mainland to visit the mud baths, which were a new experience. Not much to report on Nha Trang, really.

Finally, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC, or Saigon). We visited the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. It had a fascinating, and surprisingly non-propagandist, photojournalist exhibit.

We also visited the Mekong Delta. It's a good thing we went in a boat driven by a professional, because I would have been lost inside three minutes. There are all kinds of canals and stuff carved into the Delta, which of course saw lots of bombing during the war. But it's thriving now, with floating markets and tourist spots like the place where they show you how to make rice candy and rice paper, or the big muddy factory where they make bricks. Matt sampled some snake rice wine, which mostly tasted like it was infused with chili peppers. It was a relaxing two days of floating around the Mekong Delta, even with its many souvenir stops.

Today, we drove out to the country to see the Cao Dai religious order. These are people that have mixed Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, and Buddhism, among other things, into a religion all their own. There are between 3 and 4 million Vietnamese that follow this strange sect. Did I mention the portrait of Victor Hugo, who is considered a "master," even though the religion began long after his death. Very strange. Very colorful temple, though, with lots of interesting imagery.

Finally, we visited the Cu Chi Tunnels. These were constructed by guerillas who fought against the Americans. The tunnels worked and the Americans were taken by surprise many times. This site was all about glorifying the Viet Cong as heroes, which was strange for me. It's like, "We killed your soldiers and defeated your country. Now give us $5 so you can see how we did it." We crawled through the tunnels for a number of yards. They are tiny and it really hurt to crouch over like that. And those are the tunnels that they expanded for Western tourists. The coolest thing we did, though, was shoot an AK-47 and an M16 at the Cu Chi Shooting Range. Don't ask me why they have one, but we couldn't resist the impulse to shoot something. Having fully explored the Cu Chi area, we headed back to Saigon to our favorite deli/restaurant/bar/gallery/internet cafe.

We head to China on Saturday, and we are very excited.

NOTE: I just finished re-reading this post, and I think I finally think it's funny. I caught myself laughing, so I must be past the trauma.

Homeward Bound... Sort Of.

by Matt Email

We're coming home. Well, eventually. What I mean is, we now have an actual plan as to how to get home and some specific dates.

We leave Vietnam for China on July 29. We will be starting off in Beijing for about a week and then taking the new express train to Tibet. We will then make our way to Hong Kong by August 28, where we will stay until September 2.

On September 2, we fly to Cairns, Australia and plan to spend 3 days on a live-aboard dive boat in the Great Barrier Reef. We fly to Sydney on the 8th, and spend a few nights there until we fly to Auckland, New Zealand on the 12th. We spend 4 nights there and then we fly back in time on September 17th to arrive in Papeete, Tahiti on September 16th. Weird huh? We spend one night in Papeete (Not nearly as good as it sounds, but it will be nice to be somewhere we've already been for a change) and then at 1AM on the 18th we fly to Easter Island. On the 20th, we fly to Santiago, Chile for a couple of nights and then we move on to Lima, Peru (briefly, to see the Nazca Lines) and then to Cuzco and Aguas Calientes on September 25 to see Machu Picchu. Contrary to prior ambitions, we are not planning on hiking the Inca trail. Oh well, the train will have to do. We leave Peru via Lima again and arrive in Guayaquil, Ecuador on October 1 where we will fly to the Galapagos Islands for 10 days, and then we finally fly home via Miami on the 10th, spend the night in Miami, and finally arrive back in Raleigh on October 11th.

Which gives us four days to finally file our taxes and still fall within the six month extension deadline. After our taxes are filed, we're going to sleep for about a week. I'm exhausted just reading this.

We'll have a bit more to say about our time in Vietnam in the coming days, but in the meantime, check your calendars and see if you can meet us somewhere!

History is Written by the Winners

by Heather Email

In this case, North Vietnam.

Matt and I have spent the past two days seeing the sights in Hanoi. "The sights" consist of the Ho Chi Minh Masouleum, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Ho Chi Minh's house, Hanoi Hilton, the Army Museum, and a couple of very old Buddhist temples. As you can tell, "Uncle Ho" has been a central figure in our tour so far. At the museum, we were able to "follow Ho Chi Minh's thoughts and exemplary morality" through a series of oddly artistic displays (pictures will be posted someday).

Basically, most of the information here deals with the Vietnamese fight for independence from France. Very little is written anywhere about the war with America. For instance, there are only two very small rooms at the Hanoi Hilton about the American POWs held there. It mostly showed pictures of them playing ping pong and talking about how wonderful it was. And the Army Museum has a lot of captured planes and tanks and helicopters, but not many displays with explanations about why America was bombing Hanoi in the first place.

Despite the propaganda (which they have every right to), Hanoi is very lovely. It actually has a very European flavor to it, with most of the buildings built by the French. There are lovely tree-lined avenues and a number of large lakes where old people do their calisthenics and play badminton at 5:30 in the morning. And the food, in restaurants or on the street, is very tasty. But it's hot and we're heading south tonight, where it's actually supposed to be cooler.

Before trotting around Hanoi, we visited the tourist town of Sapa, way up north near China in the mountains. They aren't lying when they say it's the Alps of Vietnam. It is very pretty. There are hill tribes there that still wear traditional clothing (which they will attempt to sell to you off their backs), and terraced rice fields that make for some stunning photography. And, with an elevation similar to Denver, it's cooler there!

It's actually been a pretty exhausting week, but we're really enjoying it and can't wait to see what the rest of Vietnam has to offer.

Evil Genius Paradise

by Matt Email

If you are, or are aspiring to be, an Evil Genius, get thee to Ha Long Bay just east of Hanoi because the Evil Hideout real estate market is HOT! We just spent about 24 hours on a junk in Ha Long Bay which is incredibly beautiful. Its a bit like Thailand's Andaman coast, but with a lot more islands. Almost 2000 of them, many of the islands have caves that are completely unexplored, and better yet (for evil geniuses at any rate) many of the caves and lagoons are only accessible at low tide as their entry points are below the tide line. That's what I call a stellar Evil Hideout. But forget I told you any of this! I want them all for myself. Do you hear me?! The Evil Real Estate is MINE! ALL MINE! Mwuah-hah-hah-ha!

Anyhoo... We arrived in Hanoi late Sunday night. We checked into our hotel and made a pathetic attempt to stay awake to watch the World Cup final, we fell asleep around the time Italy tied it at 1-1 and then had to turn off the TV sometime in the extra period. Woke up the next morning, drove to Ha Long Bay, and well, you know the rest (kind of) from the first paragraph. Wow. That was really dull, so against my better judgement, I'm going to tell you about Beng Melea.

The day after we visited the main temples in the Angkor Wat complex, we visited a somewhat remote temple from the same time period called Beng Melea. Which turned out to be a fantastic find. It is, or rather was, laid out almost identically to Angkor Wat, but looks far more like Ta Phrom (The Tomb Raider temple). Only where Ta Phrom is fairly crowded and cleaned up by virute of being 300 feet from Angkor Wat, Beng Melea had about 10 visitors the day we went and we hardly saw them. It has also been left in its "discovered" state, which means only about 60% of it is still upright, and to visit any significant portion of it, you have to climb over the giant bricks that once made up the ceilings. Which was quite a lot of fun really. There was a bit of Indiana Jones/Lara Croft channeling, only there was nobody trying to steal our newly-discovered-ancient-and-powerful-artifact. Probably because we didn't find anything like that.

The moral of this story is to always read your in-flight magazine because that's how we found out about Beng Melea in the first place.

And stay away from Ha Long Bay! There's nothing to see there!

Anchor What?!

by Matt Email

Angkor Wat actually. Home of the cheapest souvenier t-shirts on the planet. Also a complex of 12th and 13th century Hindu and Buddhist temple ruins that rival Egyptian temple ruins. Granted, they're 3000 years younger, but (I think at least) the detail is far more impressive. Why am I telling you this? We visited there today and holy Pete was it ever hot.

Speaking of the heat, what I was struck by was how much the temples actually look like they're melting away. As though they're constructed of wax bricks that are just giving out under the heat after almost 1000 years.

By far the temple complex with the biggest "Gee whiz, isn't that cool" factor is Ta Phrom, portions of which you would recognize from the Tomb Raider movies. The temple is essentially being swallowed by the surrounding forest. Tree roots have replaced columns and even walls in keeping the structure upright. It gives the temple a very creepy suggestion of life, as if its going to eat you at any minute.

We leave Cambodia on Sunday for Hanoi, Vietnam.

Maybe Matt will stop bugging me now...

by Heather Email

Matt keeps complaining that I haven't posted, so here goes...

First, I would like to tell everyone about Dubai. Actually, before we got to Dubai, we flew on a lovely airline called Emirates. It is the best airline I have ever flown and only wish that I had the need to fly around the Middle East more often. We had planned to get some sleep on the overnight flight, but it was just too good to sleep through. The best part is that Emirates is often cheaper, because they own their own fuel and don't heave on that hefty fuel surcharge.

We got to Dubai (as Matt mentioned, they didn't even check for Israeli stamps), and the first thing we noticed is it was HOT. Like really hot. Like 110 degrees HOT. But that wasn't a problem, because everything is very air-conditioned, and everyone avoids the outdoors as much as possible.

We got to our hotel, had a nap and a shower, and headed out to Friday brunch (Friday is like Sunday in Dubai). While we couldn't justify the expense of getting a room at the Burj al-Arab, we did manage to talk ourselves into eating there. Brunch was amazing. King crab legs, prawns, two kinds of lobster, six kinds of caviar, foie gras, asparagus with shaved truffles, the best tableside-carved roast beef I've ever tasted. I could go on and on. It was delicious and we were there for three and a half hours. The views from the 27th floor were outstanding as well. We were actually able to make out the Palm and the construction of the World. The lobby and atrium defied description. Arab opulence at its best. I loved every second of it.

From brunch we delved straight into the other Dubai pasttime - shopping. While it is a deal for most of the world to shop in Dubai, the prices are pretty much in line with (or maybe a slight bit more than) America. However, there are some things we needed that just couldn't wait (sunglasses, SLR camera), so we happily bought them duty-free in Dubai. The mall was nice, but now that we've seen the malls in Bangkok, I'm not as impressed.

The next day, we did the only other thing you can do in Dubai when it's that hot. We went to Wild Wadi Waterpark. It was great. The slides actually propel you up! It's like a roller-coaster in a tube. We had a ton of fun, and Matt worked at boogie-boarding on the fake waves. It looked a lot harder than I would have imagined. Wild Wadi is also a strange cultural experience. Obviously, there are a lot of conservative Muslims who prefer to remain fairly modestly dressed, so you saw lots of girls in t-shirts and lightweight capri pants on the slides. You also saw tons of Westerners in little bikinis. And lots of hairy men in speedos. I did see one woman in a full-on burkha walking her little boy around the park. She was not wet, so I guess the burkha is a little too much for the slides. They also have ladies' nights once a week, so I guess everyone gets their chance to enjoy the slides. All of this is in the shadow of the Burj al-Arab hotel.

That was about all we managed to do with our two days and one night in Dubai. After a shower back at the hotel, it was time to head to the airport for another overnight flight (2 overnight flights in 3 nights!) to Bangkok. Alas, it was on Thai Airways, not Emirates, so I did get some sleep.

As for everything we've done in Thailand since Matt posted about Bangkok and Koh Tao, it's pretty much been your basic beach vacation. We left Koh Tao and headed for the Indian Ocean side of Thailand. My birthday present was the resort we stayed at on Koh Phi Phi Don (actually a pretty good deal in the low season). We explored the island and Koh Phi Phi Ley (where Leonardo DiCaprio's "Beach" is located). We were generally just very lazy. A couple of days ago, we came to Railay Bay, which is back on the mainland. We took a Thai cooking class yesterday, so I can now make Tom Yum soup and Pad Thai. Matt is doing some rock-climbing today. I'll hit the spa soon (Thailand has the best value massages in the world). We want to go diving tomorrow. And Wednesday, we are going kayaking and snorkelling at Hong Island. And that's it. Thursday we fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We are staying for three nights just to visit Angkor Wat, then we're heading to Vietnam for the rest of July.

That was quite a post. I hope you (and Matt) liked it.

We are Siamese if you don't please...

by Matt Email

I was going to start this post with the traditional Thai greeting, "Swadeesomethingorother" but its honestly quite annoying so I won't do that. It has taken us a little bit of time to really get the hang of Thailand. When we got to Bangkok we were pretty tired and I was sick for a bit, so we stayed in Bangkok for eight days and didn't really do that much. We did see the two major temples, we went on a lovely dinner cruise on the river, and saw one of the infamous cabaret shows (Though to protect our sanity, we picked the family friendly one).

Other than that, we just hung out in the incredible malls and saw a few movies in what could possibly be the best movie theaters on the planet. There is a phenomenon in Bangkok called VIP theater seats. Instead of plain old movie theater seats, you get a big reclining massage chair and there is a full bar with service to your seat. Since the theaters are so nicely refrigerated, you get a nice big blanket and pillow for your chair. Some of the theaters even have people that come around and do neck and shoulder massages before and after the show. Unfortunately, the seat was so comfortable I slept through the first half of Over the Hedge.

The food courts also deserve a special mention. Thais love street food. Thais love air conditioning. Until the invention of the food court, this was a great irreconcilable problem, but no more. So pretty much everyone seems to be eating in the mall these days because you can pick from about 100 different food stalls in air-conditioned mall comfort. They even have clever little debit cards so you don't have to constantly fiddle with small change. It really is kind of odd that the famous giant open air market at Chatuchak (what one thinks of as traditional) is loaded with Chinese, Japanese and western tourists, and all the Thais are in the climate controlled embrace of the shopping malls.

We had some major irritations with cab drivers in Bangkok though. If you're within sight of a tourist destination, its impossible to get a cab driver to take you anywhere for the meter price and they always want to take you to a tailor shop in hopes of getting a comission. Its really irritating, we actually had to get out of six cabs the other day before we found a normal cab ride. When you do find them though, they're a really good deal, as they're a lot cheaper than tuk tuks, and far more survivable. Some even have working seat belts.

Anyhow, we did eventually escape Bangkok and for the last four days we've been diving off of Koh Tao which has been lovely, and I'm finally getting a bit better with air consumption! Tomorrow we head for Krabi and then on to Koh Phi Phi for Heather's birthday. Speaking of whom, it does seem like I've been doing the majority of the long posts recently doesn't it? She mentioned something about the fact that we never blogged anything about our 32 hours in Dubai so I'll see if I can't get her to write something about that. At the very least I'll get her to do a post on her birthday.

Thanks again for reading and especially for the comments and emails about the Africa pictures. That reminds me, we've heard from our parents and friends that there are at least a handful of people out there that are reading this journal that we might not be aware of. If you're one of them, would you mind sending us an email or posting a quick comment to say hello? It can be a bit lonely on the road and we really like hearing from people. There's nothing worse than sitting down in a hot internet cafe and having no e-mail to read. Thanks!

Africa Photos Complete!

by Heather Email

That's right. We spent many backbreaking, neck-aching hours in various hot and seedy Internet cafes, but every last picture of our trip through Africa is now online.

View them here.

Also, we've uploaded the video of Matt's Bunji Jump! It's really big, so download it on a fast connection, and make sure you have the sound on.

By the way, we are now in Bangkok, Thailand. More on that later. It's hot.

Halfway

by Matt Email

This is just a quick post to mention that we are about halfway around the world from our starting point of Portland Oregon. We're in Dubai, UAE for a few more hours before heading to Bangkok. For those of you who are curious, nobody ever even checked for the Israeli stamps in our passports.

Out of Africa

by Matt Email

We've been in Africa since January 12th with a brief hiatus in Israel and Jordan. We're finally leaving on Thursday.

Africa has been pretty amazing. We thought we would like Morocco a lot more and we had no idea we'd love Egypt as much as we did. We haven't been sick nearly as much as we thought we'd be, (Maybe dysentery contributed to not liking Morocco so much) though the jury is still out on whether or not we have contracted Malaria or Bilharzia. In March and April we were constantly singing Toto's lyrics "I've seen the rains down in Africa" and at one point we thought the mud would never wash out. We've been mere feet from Mountain Gorillas and actually touched lions and cheetahs. We saw TWO leopards when we were in the Serengeti. We came to understand the true depth of the swahili word pole-pole (slowly slowly), and we learned to enjoy warm Tusker beers like the Kenyans do. I jumped off a bridge and we both jumped out of a plane. We feel pretty lucky to have had such a remarkable 5 months or so.

The overland truck trip had its ups and downs. It's a very economical and easy way to see a lot of the continent's highlights. The downsides are obvious, the only advice we can offer is that you might want to pay a little more to guarantee a trip with fewer than 20 people on it. Ours had 29 people on it, and it did test people's patience. Overall, though, it was absolutely worth it. The truck took us to places we would never had known to go to on our own, or would never have had the confidence to go to, like Zimbabwe, which was one of the trip's highlights. We also made some very good friends that we'll be imposing upon for places to sleep in the future.

Some advice:

*Mosquito repellants are pretty hit or miss. Some days they just don't work. Make sure you have long pants and sleeves.

*Bring a wheelbarrow to carry around your Zimbabwean currency.

*Consider learning to use an SLR camera, I certainly wish I did, and that I had one with me.

*If tent camping, have a really good sleeping pad, especially if you sleep on your side.

*Beware of acid-beetles.

*Try scud, ask the locals in Zimbabwe where to find it. Its local cornmeal beer. Thick, low in alcohol, and slightly sour. Oh, and its disgusting.

*Get over your bathroom hangups. Squat toilets and shrubs aren't that bad. And that smell is just ammonia. Pretend you're cleaning the kitchen.

*If there is ever anything you're not sure you really feel like doing, do it anyway. Chances are you'll be glad you did.

*The weather is colder and wetter than you think it is.

*Its not as cheap as you think it is, except Egypt, which is cheaper.

*The internet access can be suprisingly good until the power goes out.

*Read _Dark Star Safari_ no matter how annoying it can be.

*If you're going on an overland truck trip, bring some recipies.

*Relax, it's Africa.

We're very excited to be moving on to new and different things. We are flying to Bangkok via a stopover in Dubai. Our next challenge is getting the UAE passport control people to not notice the Israeli stamps in our passports. Otherwise we'll have a very long wait in the international transit lounge.

PS: There are a LOT of new photo albums up. I normally post links to all the new albums, but there are just so many and they're all at the top of the page when you go to the Photo Gallery. I hope they keep everybody occupied for a while.

Kenya and Uganda Pictures!

by Matt Email

Hi all,

We've been off the truck and in Cape Town for a few days now. We still don't have any flights booked out of South Africa, so we're stuck here for a bit, but its given me plenty of time to get pictures uploaded. In addition to the new albums, I've added links to two videos we shot to the "Mzungus in the Mist" Post. Be sure to check those out. All the links with new stuff are below:

Gorilla Videos in Blog Post
Kenya
Uganda Part I
Uganda Part II
Uganda Part III

Those should keep you all busy for a while. More to come in a few more days. Thanks for reading!

Matt Jumps Off a Bridge, And Other Money Wasting Activities

by Matt Email

When last you heard from us, we were on our way to Motobos National Park to walk with Black Rhinos. That was sort of bleh, overpriced, and didn't actually involve Black Rhinos, so we won't speak of it. So, onto Victoria Falls where I jumped off a bridge.

I had it in my head that bunji jumping was something I wanted to at least try once, and where better than the Vic Falls gorge, over the Zambezi river at the third highest commercial bunji in the world? Is it just me, or should rhetorical questions not have actual question marks? D'oh! There I go again. Anyhow, I jumped. Heather captured it on film which we'll post in a few weeks. What she was unable to capture was the audio, which consisted of me screaming "OHMYGOD" over and over again. Now that you all think I'm an idiot, I will alay some of your fears by telling you that I did not enjoy it one bit. I didn't get any sort of a buzz from it, it was mostly just unpleasant plunging to my doom. I did like the bouncy bit though, that was fun.

So the sick thing is, that as I write this, I'm waiting to jump out of a plane (seems just as dumb, no?), by the time I finish writing this, Heather and I will have both tried skydiving for the first time. In fact, its time to save what I've written and return to this when I'm safely back on land in Swakopmund, Namibia. Back in a minute.

Heather and I just jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. There's yet another DVD to watch when we get back home. Two more in fact since we got one for each of us. It was far more enjoyable than jumping off a bridge, and I'd even do it again if somebody else was paying for it, which is not something I can say for bunji jumping.

Before I get carried away though, there was actually a lot that happened between jumping off a bridge and jumping out of a plane, so lets rewind back to Victoria Falls. The day after bunji jumping I went out and did something called an Adrenalin Day, which consists of rapelling, forward rapelling, the Flying Fox, and the Gorge Swing. Rapelling requires no real discussion, attach rope, descend cliff. Forward rapelling is the same but you go down face first. Both fun, but unremarkable. The Flying Fox was by far my favorite activity of the day, its basically a zip-line that you do with a running start, and prone in a sort of superman pose. Lots of fun, I highly recommend it. So having done all of those things, it was my turn to do the gorge swing, and something happened that's never happened to me before. I couldn't make myself do it. I despised the bunji jump so much, I couldn't make myself voluntarily plummet again. Oddly, jumping out of a plane was no problem, go figure. Just to end on a high note, lunch was delicious, and there was free beer.

Whilst I was off doing fun things with ropes over a gorge, Heather went on a horseback Safari and got charged by an Elephant, which I think is the most dangerous thing that's happened to either of us since we started this trip. I'm not really inspired to try to top it, which I think means I'm nearing 30.

The following days we visited the falls on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides, the Zambian side is better. Heather spent four hours getting her braids taken out, and we both went for flights over the falls in really tiny aircraft. Heather went for a flight in a Microlight, and I went for a flight in an Ultralight. Both are essentially wings with lawnmower engines attached. But they offered stunning views of the falls and are an absolute can't miss.

Leaving Vic Falls, we drove to the Chobe river in Botswana and had a lovely sunset river cruise and saw a ton of elephants, some hippos and a crocodile. That was probably our most enjoyable game viewing of the whole trip. The next day we moved on to the Okavango Delta where we spent the night and punted around in traditional wooden dugout canoes. We're still not sure whether we really enjoyed it, it certainly was overpriced, but the flight over the Delta was really enjoyable. It should be pretty clear by now that we think Earth really looks its best from a discrete distance.

We left Botswana about a week ago I think, and had a long drive through Namibia stopping at Cheetah Park, which is a Cheetah rescue reserve. We got to pet some domesticated Cheetahs and then watched some of the semi-wild ones get fed donkey parts. Cheetahs make some remarkably non-threatening cat noises, it sounds really wrong coming from a cat that big though.

We reached Swakopmund (our current location) three days ago and it has been really nice to finally be in one place for more than one night again. Swakopmund is a lovely Germanic beach town with some gorgeous dunes. I spent the morning sliding down them on a modified snowboard, which I didn't manage to do very elegantly. There will be yet another video. We leave tomorrow, but with a little luck from the weather, I'll get to go solo-paragliding in the morning.

We both feel pretty lucky, and also a bit exhausted to have had such a ridiculously packed month. We've crossed a lot off of our live's to-do lists, and some of it we would even consider doing again. Sorry its been so long since you've heard from us, Our next big update will probably be in a week once the overland truck trip is over and we have a chance to get some pictures uploaded.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

by Heather Email

So we just finished up three days at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. It is a very cool place where you can do something that you can't do anywhere else in the world - walk with lions.

On our first "lion walk," we followed the 3Ps: Praise, Paka, and Phyre. They are 10 months old and siblings. Praise is the boy and Paka and Phyre are girls. They are about the size of large labradors at this age. They have huge paws and claws. They were very cool with us. Lions are notoriously lazy, so they would walk for a couple of minutes and then just flop on the ground. While they are laying down, you can go up behind them and pose for pictures and pet them and tickle their ears. They are playful in the same way as housecats, but they can really hurt you if they get carried away. But it's not their fault because they don't know that. Everyone got a ton of pictures and really enjoyed the time with the 3Ps. We got them back into their enclosure after about an hour and a half of walking. They didn't want to go back in, just like any little kids being sent to their room for the night. It was very cute. We got a DVD of our lion walk so you can see just how much we interacted with them (if you want to see it, that is).

The next morning, we went on a cub feeding. This is where you get in a safari vehicle and drive to the lion enclosure, throw giant pieces of cow over the fence, then go inside. The theory is that the lions are too busy eating to be very bothered by you (they only feed them once every three days, which is about how often they might eat in the wild). This was slightly unnerving to Matt, but I thought it was great. We fed the 3As: Achilles, Apollo, and Athena. Then we fed the 2As (3As sisters): Arial and Ashanti. They are all 17 months old and enormous compared to the 3Ps. Lions don't chew. They just rip off the meat and swallow it whole. This leads to a lot of throwing the meat back up, because they swallow giant chunks way too fast. We saw lions throw up. It was gross. But it was nothing compared to what the 3As would do on our walk early the next morning.

At 6:30 a.m., we joined the 3As, who immediately started farting at us. Sure, they blamed it on having eaten an entire cow less than 24 hours before, but I think it was just rude. Note: Lion farts stink. A lot. More than Matt's. Besides the farting, this lion walk was much different than the previous one. As I said before, they are much bigger and more aggressive. They weren't as interested in interacting with us. They were much more interested in playing with each other. We got to a little muddy pond and they just started wrestling each other in the water and splasing around. It was so fun to watch. Achilles doesn't like the water, so he let Apollo and Athena fight for a while, but eventually he couldn't resist. Once he was in the water, it was over for him, the other two ganged up on him (presumably for being a pansy in the first place) and got him very wet and very muddy. It was all our guide could do to get the three of them to move on from the pond. I think they could have stayed all day and played, but they might have wound up killing each other. Athena got a little knick on her ear that was bleeding. Eventually they got tired enough to lay down and let us pet them and take pictures with them. They weren't too keen on going back in their enclosure, either. But all of the lions are very well treated and are really being prepared for a life in the wild.

Other activities we enjoyed at Antelope Park included an elephant ride on Amai, a 19-year old African elephant that was rescued as an orphan in a 1992 drought. We also went fishing out on the lake. We didn't catch anything, but it was beautiful. Correction: Matt caught a tree. We canoed. And we ate the delicious buffet meals that they prepared there.

We are now in transit to Victoria Falls, where we will do various silly things like a jet boat ride, booze cruise, fly over the Falls in an ultralight (Matt), and a 1920s bi-plane (Heather), bungee jump, gorge swing, rappel, rappel facing down, and other stupid stuff (all Matt), horseback safari (Heather), and have a nice high tea at a fancy hotel.

Tomorrow, we head to Matobo National Park, where we will drive up to black rhinos, get out of the car, and take pictures with them. Zimbabwe just doesn't seem to have the concerns about personal safety as the rest of Africa we've visited so far. But it sure is fun!

That's about all of the updating I can remember to do right now. We promise to sit in Cape Town until all of the pictures are uploaded, so you can all spend your employers' money looking at them soon. But that won't be until the end of the month, so hang in there.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Please have some margaritas and TexMex for us. God, I miss Mexican food.

Maybe We Should Just Stay Put...

by Matt Email

When there was a bombing in Tel Aviv shortly after we left, I didn't think anything of it. When I heard about the bombings in Dahab I felt lucky we weren't there. But now 400 dead dolphins have washed up at Nungwi beach in Zanzibar two weeks after we left, and I'm starting seriously to think that we are somehow leaving disaster in our wake. So maybe we should just stay where we are.

Which, for those of you who are interested, is Harare, the capitol of Zimbabwe. Which honestly, couldn't possibly have much worse happen to it. The inflation here is just silly. We just had pizza for lunch with a couple of cokes. It came to 2.1 million Zimbabwe dollars (about ten US dollars). Which would be fine and all if they had some million dollar notes, or even some hundred thousand dollar notes. Unfortunately, the largest note available is $20,000. There are $50,000 notes, but we haven't managed to get any. Instead we had to pay for our pizza with a stack of 105 bills that was about a half inch thick. I have the equivalent of $40 USD in my bag right now, which is like three inches thick, and must weigh two or three pounds. The funniest part is, all the $20,000 notes have expiration dates, specifically December 31st, 2005. Nobody seems to care. Possibly the most fascinating bit of currency we've come across is a 5 cent coin. It would take 4 million such coins to equal the value of a dollar. People actually use the $20 bills as toilet paper because they cost less than toilet paper. Stunning really. Its not all bad though, the people here are incredibly nice, if a bit pickpockety, and we even found a brewpub last night that served real ale.

Despite any desire we might have to stay in Harare, our truck moves on tomorrow morning to Antelope Park and then Victoria Falls. We have four weeks left on the trip and the week after we'll be figuring out where to go next, which is probably Pad-Thailand. Which sort of gives me an idea...

Perhaps we can make a living by having people pay us not to go to places they like. So, Botswana, we're scheduled to arrive in about a week. If you'd like us to stay away we will happily do so for the bargain basement price of 42 truckloads of Zimbabwean dollars.

Grr.

by Matt Email

This would be a post about what we've been doing in Zanzibar and Malawi, but we're a bit preoccupied with news out of Dahab as we were there for a few weeks in February and grew quite fond of it and the friends we made there. We wish Dahab a speedy recovery, and wish everybody else would quit blowing shit up. It's irritating.

Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti

by Heather Email

We just finished up a couple of days of game driving in Tanzania. First, we got up very early and piled into our Land Cruisers (with removable safari tops, of course), and drove through the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater was formed 5 million years ago when the volcano that was there erupted. Now it's a very happy home to many different animals, because there is always plenty of food and water. The animals that live there never have to migrate. Among the animals we saw there: water buffalo, black rhinos (very endgangered), elephants (only old bulls live in the crater), a cheetah, some lions, hyenas, jackals, zebras, tons of gazelles, and hippos. We actually ate a picnic lunch beside a pond full of hippos. They didn't seem to mind, though. I guess they weren't very Hungry Hungry Hippos. Or we didn't have any marbles to feed them.

After the crater, we drove on to the Serengeti. We drove around the park until sunset. Right off the bat, we saw a lioness hiding on a grassy hill above a watering hole, waiting for her prey to arrive for a drink that night. We thought that was lucky, until we saw that she was collared, and thus pretty easy to find. We kept driving and saw another lioness sleeping on top of a big rock. She was probably about two years old, but really big. A little gecko kept running up to her and poking her. We decided that it was some kind of initiation process for the Gecko Ghetto gang or something. As sunset approached, we saw some Masai giraffes, which are very cool. We actually saw a couple more lions in the distance. The sunset was very pretty.

The next morning, we were up and moving around 6:00. Not that any of the animals were awake at that time. We drove for almost an hour and half before we saw anything. Then, Score! A leopard sleeping up in a tree. We were told we were very lucky, because it is very rare to spot a leopard. We must have been VERY lucky, because after about 20 minutes, we found another leopard in a tree. She was awake, though, and watched us closely before getting bored and climbing down and wandering off. We came very close to two young male lions with manes. They were very handsome. They too got bored and wandered off. We saw more underwater hippos and a crocodile and monkeys and mongooses, and so much more. We even saw more cheetahs on the way out of the park after lunch.

I have always wanted to go on safari, and now I have, so I couldn't be happier at this moment. And the best part is, we still have 6 weeks of this stuff to do! We are on our way to Zanzibar right now, via Dar es Salaam. We will get there on Saturday, and should be diving on Sunday (Happy Birthday, Alex). I can't wait.

PS - Did I mention that I got my hair braided and some guy on the street just called me "Rasta Sister"? Yeah, I look cool.

Tomorrow, Tanzania

by Matt Email

The mountain gorillas were fantastic, the drive back to civilization, was not. We spent five hours in a van on the verge of self destruction, behind another van that was kicking up so much dust we were all completely covered in red muck by the time we got back to Lake Bunyoni. The region that Bwindi park (where the Gorillas live) is in, is called the Impenetrable Forest. Sadly there's not a ton of forest left to be impenetrable, but the name is still apt because the road really sucks.

We spent a further two relaxing days at Lake Bunyoni where we tried to manage some laundry drying in between torrential rains and beers, its not the most exhilerating recreation in the world, but it passed the time.

From Lake Bunyoni we went to Jinja, the Malaria Capital of Africa. Or so they told us. Fortunately, the mosquitoes were incredibly stupid even if they were plentiful and completely ignored any amount of repellant. I think we only managed to get two or three bites between us over the three days we were there, so we'll find out in about three weeks if we have Malaria.

While in Jinja, most of our group went on a white water rafting trip down the nile which hit four class 5 rapids. Our raft managed to get through all but the last rapid unscathed. Then came "The Bad Place"... we weren't actually supposed to go into The Bad Place because the water was too high, so the raft was basically guaranteed to flip due to the giant standing wave. Well, our guide completely failed to steer us around The Bad Place, so flip we did. You'll all see it someday, as we bought the DVD. We were held under for a bit and then unceremoniously spit out into more white water. We did a lot of not breathing and wondering when we were going to surface, and we sampled some Nile water, my leg banged into a rock under water and that hurt a bit, but we were out of it in about 30 seconds. My leg is better now aside from some slight abrasions. It looks really cool on the DVD.

The next day I tried Kayaking, which I've ruled out as a future hobby, its just really annoying, but I'm glad I tried it. Next watersport to try... Sledging.

We had a long drive back to Nairobi where we are swapping some passengers tomorrow before we get back on the road and head to Arusha.

Mzungus in the Mist

by Heather Email

Well, we are almost 2 weeks into our Africa trip, and it is amazing. I will start with what we did 2 days ago - gorilla trekking. After a 5-hour drive on a dirt road, we camped outside the gates of Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest. The next morning, we got up and trekked for 2 hours over a mountain (surviving attacking ants and attacking thorn trees). We eventually left the beaten path and began climbing over stinging nettle bushes and other shrubbery until we got to the gorillas.

Gorilla Trekking Picture Gallery

Gorilla Movies:

The family of 6 gorillas we visited is the most habituated to humans. They have been getting visits since 1993. We were able to see the alpha male, a 35-year old silverback, even though he didn't come out much from the bushes. His 6-year old son, Kunyoni, gave us a good show, hanging out right in the open, just feet away from us. I wish we could share the pictures right now. I think he was actually posing. We even have a picture of him as "The Thinker." Less classy was the video we got of him scratching himself and eating his own boogers.

Toward the end of our hour with the gorillas, the 6-year old girl and 1 1/2 year old baby girl came out into the open. Again, close enough to touch. Our tracker was playing a little tug of war with a branch. The baby tried to act big by beating on her chest and attacking the bushes. We saw their mom, but only through the shrubs.

I had a very emotional moment while we were there. I just felt so lucky to have this opportunity. Matt and I constantly tell each other how lucky we are to be doing all of this travelling, but this was an absolute pinch myself moment. I felt really LUCKY.

After trekking all the way back over the mountain to camp, we enjoyed a "graduation ceremony," and received our certificates saying that we successfully tracked the Ugandan mountain gorillas. We also found out that the other groups barely had to hike at all to see the gorillas. In fact, one of the groups saw their gorillas crossing the road, just as they started their walk. But I think it was better that we had to work for our visit, and we got to see the gorillas deep in their natural habitat.

We have done a number of other really cool things in the last two weeks, but I don't have time to recap them here. I wanted to make sure that I could share the gorilla story with all of you, because it will be one of the greatest things I have ever done.

(Mzungu means "whitey".)

Jambo!

by Heather Email

We are currently in Kenya. On Tuesday, we began our overland truck journey from Nairobi to Cape Town. We have spent the last three nights sleeping in tents, 70 more nights to go. And we've had one shower, but should get one tonight. Our group has 25 people (plus a tour leader, driver, and driver trainee) between the ages of 18 and 32. Some couples, some singles - all white. All Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis except for us. So we look pretty darn strange driving through these villages in our GIANT yellow truck named Murray (she's a girl despite the name).

We have already spent three days looking at wildlife. We've seen tons of water buffalo, giraffes, zebras, gazelles, impalas, warthogs, white rhinos, hippos, colobus monkeys, baboons, among other things. We also visited Elsamere, which was Joy Adamson's (of Born Free fame) house. We enjoyed a lovely afternoon tea, and the monkeys were polite enough to wait for us to finish before jumping on the table and stealing the food.

We are off to Uganda tomorrow and will be on our gorilla trek very soon.

NOTE: It is highly unlikely that we will be able to post pictures anytime soon, or even maybe at all, on this trip. So don't bug us about it. And Matt is correcting some incorrect captions from Jerusalem. He was very tired when he did them the first time and had just finished doing our taxes, so we'll all have to forgive him for giving the impression that we visited a church that is actually in Bethlehem.

E-mail us or use the Contact Us button above. We miss everyone and will try to update the blog as much as we can.

GO HOYAS!!!! Sweet 16, baby! (Thanks, Mobrist)

Photo Albums and Blog updates

by Matt Email

We have just posted the photo albums for Petra and Israel. We'll have more to add to Israel later, but have a look at these for now. Also, we finally finsihshed the Egypt Encompassed Saga. See below.

Egypt Encompassed - Part V

by Matt Email

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Chapter Six

There had been a lot of talk about the super-fast hydrofoil ferry that we got to take to Sharm-El-Sheikh. But due to the tragedy of the prior week, everyone was being a bit cautious, so our fast ferry had to move a bit slower than normal. It still felt pretty ridiculously fast to me, but lunch did wind up being an hour later than it was supposed to be.

We got off the ferry and had an hour long bus ride to Dahab, checked into our hotel, went off to lunch and had our Dahab briefing. Lunch turned out to be an excellent introduction to several great Dahab institutions: warm beer, cats (and cat spray), and wee Egyptian girls attempting to sell us bracelets. After we heard from our guide, and the owner of the scuba shop next door, we signed up for an introductory dive to see if we might want to get certified. But we would be doing that in another two days, our immediate concern was trying to take a nap, because that night we were going to climb Mount Sinai.

Unfortunately, climbing Mount Sinai turned out to be a really bad idea. Several factors contributed to this:

1. We were climbing the mountain in the middle of the night. So it was dark, we had one weak headlamp between the two of us, and after a couple of hours, and by 4 AM, we really wished we could find somewhere to go to sleep.

2. There were about a thousand other people also climbing the mountain. A lot of them could have been a little better behaved.

3. There were at least a hundred camels and really annoying camel guides going up and down the mountain all night long. It was bad enough that camels are completely silent, so you never know when one is going to run you over, but then the guides yelled at us for using artificial light because it was bad for the camel's eyes. They also had this irritating habit of lurking right behind you offering rides incessantly. It was just constant irritating harassment. We got to the point that we were just yelling and cursing at them anytime they spoke to us. Oh, and the whole mountain smelled like camel urine.

4. Once the camel path was finished, we had to climb some seriously old steps to get to the top. The steps were last refurbished in the 9th century. That's not an exageration either, so they were difficult to manage in the first place. Only now, the camel guides had taken up positions on the narrow steps in order to offer assistance in exchange for baksheesh. This just pissed us off even more and there was a lot more shouting, only now, some of the other climbers had joined us. About halfway up, they finally got out of the way.

Once we got to the top, and stopped moving, we started freezing. I had a backpack filled with blankets and sleeping bags, but since there were so many people, there was nowhere to actually sit and attempt to warm up, so after a brief break we attempted to fight the traffic jam up to the summit and find someplace to sit and watch the sunrise, which was apparently the whole point of this ordeal. It actually was a nice sunrise, but it wasn't worth all the pain.

The way down was fortunately much more pleasant. We took the stairs down the backside of the mountain that lead to St. Catherine's Monastery. The stairs, thankfully, are not camel compatible, and our group pretty much had the path to ourselves. I did manage to appreciate the scenery on the way down, but near the end, it became a very painful descent.

Once at the bottom, we paid a brief visit to the Monastery, but were a little too delerious to really pay too much attention. And all the people that had been on the mountain that night were now crowded into the monastery. The monastery is really famous for this shrub, we got a picture of it and stumbled back to the van and attempted to sleep during the two hour ride back.

Our second day in Dahab was sort of blown because we had to sleep so that made us even more bitter about climbing Mount Sinai. But the next day we woke up early and did our resort dive, and then our whole group went snorkelling at the blue hole. Every night for dinner our whole group would pile into the Chinese restaurant to buy beer, and then we took it to one of the Bedouin tent fish restaurants for ridiculous amounts of food, and some of the most incredibly giant squid I've ever seen. We enjoyed ourselves so much, and Dahab was so cheap, that we decided to come back once our tour was over and get scuba certified.

Chapter Seven

Our tour left Dahab on an overnight bus back to Cairo. Overnight busses in theory are an efficient use of time, but I never manage to sleep much on them. We spent four more days in Cairo, two of them sleeping and updating the website, and two days playing tourist. We attempted to go see the Coptic museum, but it was closed to flooding, so we wandered around the Coptic quarter instead, which proved to be fairly interesting by itself. We liked the cab driver that took us to the Coptic quarter, so we hired him to drive us to Sakkara, Dashur, and Memphis the next day. The pictures sum those sights up fairly well.

We returned to Dahab (travelling in daylight this time) and on the way managed to see some boats moving through the Suez canal, which we thought was pretty cool. When we got back we discovered the weather had turned pretty cold and windy, and Heather had a cold herself, so we had to wait three days before we could start our scuba classes. We met up with our old guide's next tour group when they came through Dahab and tried to warn as many of them as we could off of climbing Mt. Sinai, but none of them listened. Actually there were only five of them planning to go in the first place, and they said they enjoyed themselves, go figure.

Our scuba classes were quite tiring, but we had a fantastic chain-smoking, tea drinking, English instructor named Tim. Hi Tim! If you go to Dahab, we highly recommend the dive shop we used, Big Blue. Tell them we said Hello.

From this point, the rest of the story has been told. I'm not sure why we felt compelled to give such a ridiculously detailed account of our trip to Egypt, other than we really enjoyed it. We hope you've enjoyed reading it.

The End

What's Next?

by Matt Email

Laundry actually. Hm, that sounds like a promising sequel to Love Actually. But we thought some of you might be curious as to what we are doing after the laundry is finished. We are currently in Tel Aviv and are basically running errands like mad. Thankfully Heather lived here for a semester, so things are going slightly more smoothly than they otherwise might. We obviously need to finish the whole Egypt story and post an update about what we've been doing in Israel, but we're also trying to file taxes, send some things home, and until yesterday, decrypt the secrets of the Israeli customs system so we could collect some things Heather's parents were kind enough to send to us. Namely our sleeping bags and camping supplies that we needed for...

Wait for it...

Our 73 day overland truck trip through East, and Southern Africa. Stop laughing Donovan. We get to Kenya on Monday, and between now and then I hope we have two more photo galleries posted, and two more blog updates, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading everybody.

Shalom Y'all!

by Matt Email

Before you start reading this, you might be interested to know that the final photo album from Egypt is now online. Enjoy!

Despite the fact that we haven't finished the Egypt Encompassed story yet, we have moved on. We left Dahab on the morning of Feb 27 for Petra, Jordan. It was a tad slow for the tiny amount of distance involved, but considering there was a ferry involved, I think we did OK. Actually we could have really screwed ourselves in our choice of which ferry to take. There's a fast ferry and a slow ferry. Naturally the fast ferry is more expensive, but it's supposed to get from Nuweiba, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan in about an hour, just like Lens Crafters. Due to fog and choppy conditions, and then a very slow customs process, it took about four hours, which is how long the slow ferry takes. We were wondering for a little while if we had just wasted money by taking the fast ferry. Fortunately some people told us later that the 4 hour "slow" ferry had actually taken 18 hours that night and that a 24 hour crossing was not a rare occurence.

Anyway, we manged to get from Dahab to Petra in one day and were fairly proud of ourselves. Day one in Petra, we got up and had breakfast and got a reasonably early start walking down into Petra. I was very excited. Petra for me was one of the major reasons for this trip, so I was actually a little giddy. As we were walking down towards the main city of Petra, Heather ran into Parag, a friend of hers from Georgetown. We all thought this was a little strange, commenced with the usual "small world" banter - which it's really not, it's friggin' huge, I have a much greater appreciation of that now. We parted ways with Parag having exchanged contact info so we could meet up later in Tel Aviv. We spent several sweaty hours climbing around Petra and covered all the major highlights on our first day, and even managed to do some serious damage to the lunch buffet. It was dark by the time we were leaving the ruins, and we were in need of fuel, so we stopped at The Cave Bar for beer, and the best tuna salad sandwich I've ever had. The Cave Bar really could be considered a part of Petra itself. Its carved into the sandstone like all the other major buildings in Petra. It used to serve as a Nabatean Caravanserai, which to my understanding would have basically meant it served many of the same functions of a bar way back in the first century. So now I can say I've had overpriced Dutch beer in a 1900 year old pub in Jordan.

Heather's legs were too sore to go poke around Petra with me the next day, so I went by myself to get pictures of The Treasury when the sun first hits it at around 9am. I climbed around the ruins until about noon, and then my legs gave out on me, so I started the long walk out. I had another tuna salad sandwich for lunch and then Heather and I went to do some travel planning in town. We returned to the Cave Bar for dinner (Yes, I did have another tuna salad sandwich) and then we went on a candlelit walk back down to The Treasury and listened to some Bedouin music and had some herb tea. We wanted to get an early start back to Aqaba in the morning, so we called it a night right after the Petra by Candlelight tour.

On March 2nd we had a leisurely border crossing for breakfast into Eilat and picked up our rental car. We drove straight for the Dead Sea, and due to an aggressive lack of planning, had to check in to about the most expensive hotel/spa in Ein Bokek.

I was totally blown away by how much fun floating in the Dead Sea is. So our second day in Israel we spent doing nothing but floating. First we floated in the Dead Sea itself, and once we were sufficiently irradiated, we retreated inside the hotel to the indoor pool of Dead Sea water, where we floated for a few more hours. Floating is fantastic, I highly recommend a trip to the Dead Sea, I've never enjoyed a body of water more. For those of you who have asked whether anything lives in the Dead Sea, there are apparently four bacteria that live in it. Now whether that is four individual bacteria, or four different types of bacteria is beyond me.

The next morning we spent a very hot 2 hours at Masada, which was interesting to me because it is tangentially related to the Josephus Mass Suicide Problem, for which all computer science students are required to write simulations. Over the course of the evening my sunburn developed rather nicely (its not a bad one Mom and Dad) so I got hot pretty quick up on Masada. We went back to our Dead Sea beach in front of our hotel with some black Dead Sea mud in hand to use as sunblock. We smeared on our mud and cooked for a bit. We had a quick rinse in the Dead Sea, and made another retreat to the indoor hotel spa for some pool floating before it was time to leave for Jereusalem that evening.

Which brings us to this post. We are now in Jereusalem, which we will have a lot more to say about later. For now, go enjoy the last photo album from Egypt, the final chapter of Egypt Encompassed will also be posted soon.

PS. I'm really sorry about the lack of links in this post. Try Google or WikiPedia.

Egypt Encompassed - Part IV

by Heather Email

Part I
Part II
Part III

Response to Matt's Chapter Four:

I really don't have anything to add about the felluca. It's just so enjoyable and relaxing and fun. Sure, I could tell stories about some of the crazy things that different people in the group did on our trip down the Nile, but I choose to protect the guilty.

It was on the felluca, however, that we decided we were having way too much fun to skip out on the Red Sea part of the trip, so we arranged to do the full 14-day trip, which turned out to be a great decision, as you may have noticed from our posts about diving.

Chapter Five

As Matt said, the felluca pulled up next to Kom Ombo Temple pretty early in the morning. We managed to get all of our stuff off the boats, up the stairs, and onto the bus. Then we all walked like zombies around Kom Ombo Temple. I can't tell you much about it, because we did this part without a guide, so here's a picture. The same goes for Edfu, which we arrived at about 2 hours later.

We finally arrived in Luxor just in time for lunch, then a quick break before we walked from the hotel to Luxor Temple. This time we did have a guide and he hurried us through as the sun was going down. It's a very impressive temple, but it just gets overshadowed by other places you see in Luxor over the course of your stay. The one thing that is pretty funny is that there is a great view of McDonald's through one of the chambers. "I'm Lovin' It!" (Yes, we ate there. It was delicious. And I bought a McDonald's in Egypt beach towel that is very cool. So there.)

Six new people joined our trip in Luxor, so we were all very awkward for a while as the newbies adjusted. By this point, the original group had no problems discussing every toilet-related issue with one another, but it just got weird around the new people. They turned out to be perfectly cool, though.

At dawn he next morning, we awoke, crossed the Nile by boat and boarded our donkeys for the Valley of the Kings. We visited three tombs, plus King Tut's, with his mummy still inside. It was a lot of information to absorb from the guide so early in the morning, but it was really cool to see all of it. You have to pay extra to see King Tut's tomb, which is fine. What I don't get are the people who travel halfway across the world to see Egypt, and then wonder whether it's worth another $12 to go into King Tut's final resting place, the only tomb with a mummy still inside it! It's freaking King Tut, people! Did you come to Egypt to stand outside the tomb and look at dirt?

Moving on, we visited the Valley of the Workers. These have some of the best preserved art in all of Egypt, just because grave robbers were never interested in them. Wish I had some pictures to show you, but picture-taking is verboten.

That historically packed morning on the west bank of the Nile was the exact moment that Killer Fatigue hit me. Everyone, with the exception of Matt and myself, loved the donkey trek and said it was one of the best parts of the entire two weeks. I thought it was okay on the first leg, and for various reasons, decided to take a cab to the other stops with the older lady, the scared lady, and the pregnant lady. I ws the deliriously tired lady. Matt continued on with his donkey, which might have been ill-advised since his stinky donkey stepped on his foot and they both fell. Matt joined the ladies in the taxi after that.

Given the choice of the Valley of the Queens (more tombs) or Ramses III's Funerary Temple, the group wisely selected the Funerary Temple. The best story was about how the Pharaoh would have his soldiers count their kills. First, they were supposed to cut off the left hand, but this was unreliable. Then, they used a foot. Again, it didn't work out. Then, they used tongues, but that just wouldn't do. Finally, they settled on penises (penii?). So, in Ramses III's Funerary Temple, there is a wall carved with a giant pile of penises.

That night, we all got dressed up for a big buffet dinner at the Nile Valley restaurant. That would have been our last night, had we not decided to go on to Dahab. Sadly, it was the last night for six people with whom we had done some serious bonding. The worst part about this was the obligatory dancing. These entertainers can be so annoying!

We got to sleep in a little the next morning, as our horse-drawn carriages didn't leave for Karnak Temple until 9:00. Karnak is the largest temple anywhere in the world. It is just very, very big.

I feel like I haven't explained anything in Luxor very well, but I think it's because everything is kind of beyond description. It really just has to be seen with your own eyes.

For our final hours in Luxor, we did a little shopping. Not too much, though. Matt got some more 18-cent falafel sandwiches. That night we boarded the bus to the Red Sea.

But that's another chapter. I thought I had it in me to finish all of Egypt in this post, but I'm pooped now, so we'll have to revisit it later on.

Egypt Encompassed Part III

by Matt Email

Be sure to read Parts One and Two first.

Chapter Three

The train arrived sometime in mid morning on January 31st (My birthday), we piled into our bus, and checked into our hotel in Aswan. I was still feeling a bit wrong, so I caught a nap before lunch, and everybody else in the hotel tried to use the hotel's small hot water supply as quickly as they could.

I was feeling alright by the time lunch rolled around and I managed to eat a bit. I almost managed to excuse myself early to go have a shower since all of the other potential bathers were at this point, either clean, or still eating lunch. But Heather gave me an evil eye and told me I should go sit back down, so I sat. I figured she thought I was being rude by leaving early, but I caught on a few minutes after the birthday cake came out and everybody started singing at me. There was only one candle to blow out, so I think that means I haven't actually turned 29.

I did manage to get a shower before we went off to the Philae Temple (which has a fascinating story to it, I highly recommend actually reading what's at the other end of that link back there) for a wander around our first proper temple. The temples are actually a bit more impressive than the pyramids. There's more to wander around, and some of the construction is just as mind boggling. They don't have quite the absolute presence that the pyramids and Sphinx have, but they're much more interesting. I was especially excited to see the actual spot where Cleopatra's Needle once stood.

We had some free time until dinner, so I took another nap, I have no idea what Heather did.

Dinner was kind of interesting, we took a boat across the Nile and into one of the cataracts for dinner at a Nubian family's house. We learned a bit of culture, had some really fantastic food, and then we got Henna'd. Quite an interesting birthday all things considered, and I was even feeling better by the time it was over.

The next morning we were on a bus by 3am to Abu Simbel. By this point, you should be picking up on the sleep deprivation that was the norm on this tour. For those of you playing along at home, drink every time we don't get a full night's sleep. I managed to sleep for a bit on the bus, but managed to wake up in time to see a lovely sunrise in the desert with a really bright Venus visible before the sun came up. We got into Abu Simbel at around 7am, and it was already ridiculously packed. There must have been 60 busloads of tourists when we got there, but I think we were the absolute last bus to arrive. Apparently it just gets worse in the afternoons. This was in the middle of winter too, I can't imagine coming here in the middle of the day in the peak season. Anyhow, very impressive, but we were too tired to pay very good attention to the Egyptologist, and the interiors were really crowded, so after our obligatory visit to the interiors, we headed back outside and admired the temples from there. Until our four hour bus ride back to Aswan.

We had the afternoon free after that, so some of us, okay me and a bunch of the girls, went and had tea at The Old Cataract Hotel and we watched the boats float by until sunset. At least that's the official story... What we really did was break into the Agatha Christie Suite with the help of housekeeping. We had time for a mad dash through the room, and after we paid our baksheesh, we returned to our beverages.

That night we had a really nice cookout on the roof of our hotel and there was some compulsory dancing for those who didn't know how to look properly occupied when the press-gang came by. The evening ended when all of the hotel's beer was gone.

The next morning, after a full night of sleep, we boarded our Fellucas.

Chapter Four

A Felluca is a wee sailboat. Our felluca had a cooler of beer on it. Those are pretty much the important details.

Ten minutes after getting on the boat, I was in my pareu and half asleep. I spent two days in that exact condition. Heather was a bit more lively and managed to do a bit of reading. At some point on the first day, a few people went swimming, and I (sort of) had my first rescue since September 1996. The felluca guys could really make some fantastic food with their single propane burner, dinner on the second night was the best fried chicken any of us had ever eaten. At nights we tied up and had a camp fire and the felluca guys beat on bongos and sang the same song over and over again. Oh, and there was beer.

Our two days on those wee boats were really pretty fantastic. The pictures tell a bit of the story so be sure to have a look at them. I'm actually a little bummed there isn't more of a story to tell about this bit of the trip. Maybe Heather can have another crack at it. It was probably my favorite part of the entire tour, but its really hard to put it into a narrative, because it was simply so incredibly relaxing to just do nothing for two days, the whole experience blurs together a bit. There were some sleepy bits, some tasty bits, some funny bits and some mildly annoying bits, but the end result was that when I went to bed on the second night, I felt like I'd been on vacation for a week. OK, technically, I've been on vacation for like 10 months, but a lot of it has been quite strenuous, I swear.

So now, they've got us all relaxed, and practically paralyzed from not using any muscles for two days, so on the third day, we get woken up at 5am, sailed a bit more to our destination, and then told to climb up these ridiculous steps in our delerium, and then we're expected to enjoy our visit to Kom Ombo Temple. But that will have to wait for another update.

PS: Thinking back on this, I realize I was pretty much the only one that was still half asleep when all this was going on. Everybody else had woken up, had breakfast and was reasonably alert. So maybe I was the only one that was actually delerious, but everybody hated the stairs.

Advanced Open Water Divers!

by Matt Email

We're now advanced scuba divers, rather flash eh? We finished our advanced open water course this afternoon with dives to The Canyon, and The Bells of the Blue Hole. Both took us to 31/30 meters where we got to experience some very mild nitrogen narcosis, but we managed to do the math problem our dive instructor gave us. Well, I managed to do it, Heather and our Instructor Tim, didn't seem to know about order of operations, so they actually got the math wrong, but I guess that's ok if you're just as dumb on land as you are buzzing on nitrogen. After the math problem, Tim handed us the slate, which asked us to "Write your name backwards." Heather went first, and then Tim handed the slate to me, I had fully expected Heather to have written "enam ruoy" - but she didn't, so it was left to me. I think Tim was a bit worried as to why I was taking so long, and then it took him a minute to get the joke, but once he figured it out he nearly spit his regulator out. Things are just funnier at 31 meters. Both were pretty spectacular dives, I even had a cleaner wrasse swim into my ear, which is an odd sensation, but does the job much better than a Q-tip. Anyhow, that's all the diving for us in Dahab, we're taking tomorrow off and taking a ferry to Jordan on Monday or Tuesday.

We're scuba divers!

by Matt Email

Hello all,

We're taking a break from the chronicling of our Egypt trip because we're pooped. We've been taking a scuba class for the last three days and today we got our open water diver certification. We have a day off tomorrow before starting the advanced open water diver course, and so hopefully we can make a third installment tomorrow. Anyway thanks to all of you who have emailed us comments about our pictures, we really appreciate it.

Egypt Encompassed - Part II

by Heather Email

Note: There is no longer a committee. I am writing this by myself, so expect better grammar.

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Upon arriving at the group hotel, we were given what amounts to pure gold in the backpacker world - our very own International Student Identity Cards. No, we haven't done anything insane, like apply to grad school (cough... Bew and Eliot). They just give them to everyone in Egypt. And you get in everywhere for half-price. I was expecting to get a counterfeit ISIC in Thailand, but this one is real, and we're getting it pretty early in our travels, so it has the potential to save us a lot of money.

We chilled out in our room, watched a movie until the power cut out (must remember to add to Netflix to see how it ended), then joined the 14 strangers and one tour leader for dinner at a restaurant nearby. That's when we realized that these trips are mostly composed of Aussies and Brits. However, of the 16 people, six of us were Americans, so we were proud of this unusual showing of Yanks.

The group went back to the hotel for Stellas and shishas. Everyone seemed cool (lots of couples), so we were off to a good start.

The next morning, we awoke early (for us) and I had breakfast while Matt drank coffee. It is important to note here that I ate the scrambled eggs. Matt ate nothing. Everyone piled on the minibus and we headed to the Egyptian Museum with our Egyptologist guide. Getting there early has its advantages, as there are many, many bigger bus groups that visit in the morning. But our guide got us in, and proceeded to show us the highlights, while telling us where to find other cool stuff during our free time. We started in the Old Kingdom and moved straight through to the New Kingdom and the truckloads of King Tut items. Then it was on to the Mummy Room, and finally the animal mummies, which were really cool.

[Note: If you are considering seeing the King Tut exhibit that is currently travelling the US, don't inconvenience yourself to get to it. I can tell you firsthand that the good stuff is still in Cairo. It's not like the 70s, when they sent everything over.]

From the museum, we headed to Giza. Before we were to marvel at the pyramids, we enjoyed the obligatory group stop to a perfume factory. I downed my free Coke and Koshary with no intention of buying any perfume. While packing up the condo in April, I only just threw away a bottle of Lotus flower oil that I bought at a similar Giza shop in 1998 and never used. Matt barely ate, as he was starting to feel a little sick. He kept complaining about having "sulfury egg burps," which was strange, because he hadn't eaten any eggs at breakfast. Once everyone besides us bought their bottles of perfume, we got back on the minibus and headed for the pyramids.

We arrived first at the Great Pyramid and walked around it, wondering how to take pictures, since it was so big. We climbed up to where the entrance was, but we didn't have a ticket to go inside this one as we were going in the second pyramid later. Back on the bus and over to a nice panoramic view. We took our silly pictures, then we got on our camels.

These camels are much bigger than the ones we rode in Morocco, but they had better saddles. I had the best two-year-old camel boy ever. After Morocco, we're kind of over camels in general, so we were just kind of along for the ride at this point. It was a short ride to the third pyramid, which we examined briefly before boarding the minibus for a quick ride over the second pyramid, which we did have a ticket to enter.

They really need to pump a little bit of air into these pyramids. It was pretty chilly outside, but we watched person after person come out stripped down to their t-shirts, sweating, and panting. We started our hunched-over descent of the stairs/ladder/ramp. Once we got to the burial chamber, we had enough air to say, "Hey, look. A sarcophogus." Then we had to head right back out for sweet, precious air. It was really cool, though, because it's not everyday you get to go inside a pyramid.

Back onto the minibus and over to the Sphinx. This area is very crowded, and there is really only one angle you can view it from, so we didn't spend much time here. Got the picture, got out, avoided roaming souvenir boys.

Now, its the obligatory group trip to the Papyrus Temple. We watched as the guy demonstrated how they turn it from a plant to an indestructible writing surface. Then they served us a drink so we could sip and browse. Again, not buying anything. In fact, I was very pleased to see that the papyrus we bought from Fouad was much cheaper, but was just as good quality. Matt, who was still complaining of eggy burps, disappeared to the bathroom for a while.

Finally, we went back to hotel and were to reconvene for dinner before going to the train station for our 13-hour overnight train to Aswan. By the time we got to the room, Matt was pretty sick. He had chills and diarrhea, and we couldn't imagine what was wrong, because he should still have some Cipro in his system from Morocco. He called Dr. Dad, who was without a clue until I reminded Matt to mention the eggy burps. Aha! Turns out the hard-boiled egg he had eaten at the prior day's breakfast was probably a little rotten and had given him hydrogen-sulfide poisoning. Zantac and Tums were prescribed, and I ran out to the nearby pharmacy and acquired them without a problem.

By the time we got on the train, Matt still felt really crappy, but was clearly on the mend.

Egypt Encompassed - Part I

by Matt Email

How, you might be asking, did we come up with that for a post title? And it is "we", even though I'm the one logged in and typing, Heather is sitting here pestering me that I write funny, so technically this is a committee-drafted update, but if Heather were the one typing, the above comma would be inside the quotes around the word we.

My how one can get sidetracked... Back to the original question; Egypt Encompassed is the name of the tour we took with Oasis Overland and we just couldn't think of anything better, so there you have it. Perhaps its best to begin with an overview of our itinerary and then we'll move to minutuae, OK? Mashi-mashi? Right, let's proceed.

Preface

We arrived in Cairo three days before our tour officially began. Then our tour began with a day at the sights in Cairo, and an overnight train to Aswan. We spent two days in Aswan, and left Aswan by a Fellucah on the third day. We spent two full days floating down the Nile and on the morning of the third day, we got an early start and went to Luxor where we spent three days. From Luxor, we had a bus to Hurghada, and then a Ferry to Sharm-El-Sheik and finally another bus ride to Dahab. After four days in Dahab, we returned to Cairo via overnight bus and our tour officially ended. We spent three more days in Cairo before returning to Dahab by ourselves to get scuba certified, which is where we are now.

Ok, so clear on the general itinerary? Excellent. At this point I would like to point out that the committee structure has dissolved. Heather is on the phone with her parents and is basically useless, so I'm not giving her full credit for the assignment.

Chapter 1

We landed in Cairo just after midnight local time and had a transfer arranged from the airport, which I think is a pretty classy service for a hostel to offer. After a scary elevator ride in what can only be described as a perforated box on a string, we got settled, made a quick post to let everybody know new pictures were up and fell asleep for 18 hours. The next afternoon, we rolled out of bed and attempted to turn in our laundry six hours past the deadline. I really wanted to get our laundry turned in, so I tried pretending that "tomorrow morning" was not a real phrase in English, I didn't get very far, so we had a wee wander around our street, found some Kentucky Fried Chicken, and made our way to Giza to watch the Pyramid Light and Sound show.

"Made our way" is being a bit glib. One might think that two tourists hailing a cab in Cairo and saying "Giza Pyramids" would get to THE PYRAMIDS in fairly short order. Unfortunately, our cab driver did not know the word Pyramid, did not speak a lick of English, and on top of that, seemed to have a significant amount of difficulty communicating in Arabic with the people on the street he had to flag down and get directions from. About the fifth guy we flagged down was able to explain to us that the cab driver didn't want to take us to the pyramids because it was late and they would be closed to visitors. This presented the new challenge of trying to explain that we were going to the Light and Sound show, which, for obvious reasons, takes place after dark. So it turns out that nobody who actually lives in Cairo knows anything about the Light and Sound show, so after some rather alarming pantomime that I think nearly got us arrested, our cabdriver of all people seemed to get the message. He said something in Arabic to the poor guy translating, and with a confused look he asked us:"You want to go to a show of sound and light"? Never in my life have I said "yes" more emphatically, which the driver seemed to understand and we were off like a shot.

We arrived at the ticket office and then played dodge the pushy shopkeeper for half an hour before we found Frank Bazaar. We decided Frank Bazaar might be a safe harbor because he had a t-shirt in the window that read: "I came to see the pryamids, leave me alone!" and there was also a sign advertising no-hassle shopping. We browsed unaccosted for about 20 minutes before Frank, actually Fouad, approached us and offered us drinks. We talked for a while and he told us about a bunch of stuff in his shop, and we told him we would return after the show.

The show was cheesy, but worth it. I especially enjoyed the bagpipers. After the show, we returned to Fouad's and engaged in retail revenge. Which is a little like retail therapy, but the motive involves more spite towards all the shopkeepers that have been a total pain in the ass up to that point. (Technically this was partially pre-emptive retail revenge)

Basically, we bought a ton of shit. We also bought some wood so Fouad could have a crate made for all of it. During the purchase and shipping process we were supplied with Stellas to keep us sedate. By this point we had been at his shop so long that all the Sound and Light shows were finsihed for the night, all the shops were closed, and hence all the taxis were gone, so Fouad offered to drive us back to our hotel once we were all finished. Sensing we had found a generous soul (Before we had even bought anything he had provided us with turkish coffees and sodas and he got me two falafel sandwiches, after we made our purchases, the beer came out.) So, we asked him for help with another detail on our todo list. We are traveling without sleeping bags because, well its just the way all the hardcore backpackers do it, but we found ourselves in need of them for the upcoming Fellucah ride. We decided instead that thick blankets would serve just as well, with the idea that we could donate them to some Sudanese refugees (known to our tour company, we didn't just pick Sudanese refugees out of the blue) after we were done with them. We asked Fouad if he knew of a place we could buy blankets. Not only did he know of one, but he drove us there on the way to our hotel, and went in with us to help us with the cryptic Egyptian Wal-Mart processes. In short, we're big fans of Fouad. His son also deserves special mention as he was along for the ride and didn't seem to mind. ...that makes him sound like a toddler, which clearly wasn't the case as he had a law degree.

We managed to get up in time to turn in our laundry the next morning, and promptly went back to sleep. We slept and read our overpriced English language fiction from the Barcelona airport for most of the rest of the day until the Egypt vs. Ivory Coast game of the African Cup of Nations came on TV. Egypt won, there was much rejoicing, and by this time, Heather was hungry. We went right back to KFC, and then back to bed. The next morning, we ate breakfast, collected our laundry, checked out, and headed to our new hotel to start our tour.

...Stay tuned for Chapter 2

Egypt pictures are up.

by Matt Email

Hello all,

Heather and I have been spending a fair amount of time in an internet cafe in Dahab in order to bring you picture updates in a reasonably timely fashion. We're also waiting for Heather to get over her head cold so we can take a scuba course. Anyhow, we have two of three galleries for Egypt posted, plus pictures from our dummy-dive and from snorkeling the local blue hole. I promise we'll have a real post up soon about our Egypt tour, we're still fighting about who has to write it though :-)

Morocco Pictures are Online

by Heather Email

After an exhausting (but awesome) trek across Egypt (more to come about that later), we have found time to sit down and get all of the Morocco pictures uploaded to the gallery. You can view them here.

Just Landed in Cairo

by Matt Email

It's late, very tired, but happy not to be sick anymore. We finally started feeling better just in time for our 6 hour bus trip from Essaouira to Casablanca. By the time we got to Casablanca, we were ready to go out and do what we do best. Eat. Which of course meant Rick's Cafe. We went for lunch on wednesday and enountered a rather significant amount of security for a restaurant in the middle of a rainy afternoon. It turns out there was a US congressional delegation there for some function, we looked, but didn't see any familiar faces. Anyhow, lunch was so good we went back for dinner. We also walked around Casablanca a bit, but didn't really do much else... except upload pictures.

We have two completely new galleries ready for your perusal, and there are also new pictures in two of the older galleries. Here are the links:

New Pictures from The Museum
New Pictures from our week in Bath
Hogmanay
Our last 10 days in London

...and here's a link to a post you may have missed unless you were paying really close attention as it was never at the top of the blog:

Hazy Recollections...

Enjoy the pictures, and let us know what you think!

I've Seen the Rain Down in Aaa-fri-ca...

by Heather Email

Back on January 12, we left a cold and wet London for a more pleasing climate, or so we hoped. Turns out Morocco is having one of it's colder winters. We arrived at our Riad in Marrakech too chilly to change into Tevas and t-shirts. We did manage to have dinner at the Djemma el Fna, however, which was an experience. If you have occasion to go, Stand 114 had the best food (fried eggplant and potato pancakes) and mint tea. We didn't gather the courage to try sheep brains or snails, though. The next morning, we discovered that chickens must have their own 5:00 call to prayer, because that damn rooster muezzin wouldn't shut up.

Marrakech is pretty overrated. You only need about 2 days there. The Djemma el Fna is definitely worth seeing. It has snake charmers and monkeys and acrobats. It really picks up on Friday night when all the weekending Europeans arrive. Most of the "gardens" mentioned in the tourist literature are actually just olive groves. However, there is one that was quite lovely, the Jardin Majorelle. Finally, dinner at Yacout was a fabulous night of beautiful, but not over-the-top, food and music (i.e., no bellydancers). Matt will post more on Yacout later.

It was clear that we needed to get out of Marrakech and the reach of its hassling shopkeepers and psychotic mopeds. So, we booked a trip to the south with Mohammed and his trusty Fiat. What an adventure this would be! Traveling across the desert on camels like Lawrence of Arabia.

Not quite.

We left Marrakech around 7:30 a.m. and headed for the Atlas Mountains. We crossed over the Tizi n'Tichka pass, seeing many Berber villages on our way. It seems to be quite the engineering feat that places built with rocks and mud stay in place, but they seem to do just fine. On the other side of the mountains, we visited Ait Benhaddou, a excellent example of a Kasbah, and now a UN World Heritage Site. Not to mention that Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator shot scenes here. That accomplished, we arrived in Ouarzazate for lunch. It's the Hollywood of Morocco. We didn't see any movie stars, though. A few more hours of driving and we arrive at our destination for the night, the Todra Gorges. The hotel provided a space heater, but that didn't seem to warm anything up too well. And since the entire hotel lost power in the middle of the night, it didn't really matter.

In the dark and cold of the next morning, with just eight or so hours before I had to ride a camel, I got Berber Belly (sorry for the graphic details, but I have to tell the story the way it happened). This made me very unhappy as we drove for hours to our next stop, Merzuga and the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. Sure, I took some Immodium, but it just wasn't kicking in yet. Fortunately, the hostage compound that releases you once you buy a rug had a real toilet, so I was able to evacuate. The Touareg that evenutally sold us our three rugs, noticed my discomfort and force-fed me about two heaping tablespoons of dry cumin. That seemed to do the trick, for a while anyway.

Yes, we bought rugs. Three rugs. We haggled. We think we did well on the price. Certainly better than we could have done at home, but you're just never sure how much better you could have done. And Matt got himself a djellaba (Jedi robe). They also served us lunch, gave me a lovely necklace as a gift, and showed us pictures of Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn from their visit while shooting Sahara. They even showed me Matthew's home address. We actually did enjoy ourselves and learned a lot about the tribes. It was probably the only positive experience we had those three days.

Transactions complete, we headed for the camel meeting point. I was feeling energized now that the diarrhea seemed to have disappeared. It was cloudy and cool, but we hoped for the best. Eventually, we got on our camels, and headed for the camp. About 15 minutes into the two-hour ride, it started to rain a little. Then a lot. Then the wind decided to join the party. By the time we reached the tents, we were pretty wet. However, our extensive research into technical clothing proved well worth it, because we weren't as wet as the other people that showed up. So, we spent a while sitting in a cold tent with five Dutch kids, one Canadian, one Peruvian, one Brit, and one Smokestack (that's what we call the French now).

Dinner arrived, but I had no real desire to eat it, as, you guessed it, my diarrhea had returned. I downed about three more Immodium tablets. Matt was concerned what this would do to me, but I didn't care. I had no intention of shitting in the rain and wind and spraying the contents of my bowels all over the Sahara, or worse, myself. Unfortunately, this also means that I couldn't go pee. More on peeing later. Again, sorry for the gross stuff.

We suffered through dinner (along with an adorable cat that kept sneezing on us), and everyone headed straight to their tents for bed, as this night could not end soon enough. The tents turned out not to be rainproof. But they seemed to get the rain down to a fine mist before it hit us in the face. The Berbers provided us with eight camel blankets to sleep under. These are the same blankets that were between our butts and the camels' wet backs earlier in the day. Surprisingly, they could have smelled worse. As wet animals go, camels really don't smell that bad. Somehow we managed to get some sleep (I think the two Benadryl helped me a bit). But I never did go pee that night, so I slept with a bursting bladder.

Our guide came to get us around 6:40. It's time to go! But first, I had to pee. Fortunately, the Immodium overdose seemed to have done the trick, so there would be no Shitstorm in the Sahara today. My mother, while shopping for travel goods for our trip, purchased what I fondly refer to as "pee cones." They are paper cones that allow a woman to pee standing up. I have used them many times with great success before. But that morning I learned a valuable lesson. Don't go too fast. The pee can only come out the hole at the end of the cone so fast. If you fill the cone up, it will backsplash down your leg. Not caring that I just peed on myself, I climbed right back on that camel and headed off into the sunrise. Of course, there was no actual sun to speak of, it was still raining, and the wind was blowing harder than the night before, and some of the rain was actually sleet, but we made it back to Mohammed and his trusty Fiat.

Now, somewhere during this trip, the Great and Powerful Jinx, Matt, uttered the following sentence: "As long as a car has a running engine, the heater has to work." Dumbass. Wet, freezing, with just a little bit of pee on my leg, we rode in the car for about eight more hours. We had to take the long way, as the roads in the desert were flooded. THE SAHARA WAS FLOODED! Along the way, we passed places that were getting their first snow in 20 years, and lots of kids were out playing, but I didn't really care that much, because I was very, very cold. Eventually we got to a hotel in Ouarzazate that gave us a deal on a room with lots of hot water and a working heater. We were supposed to return to Marrakech, but the storm dumped a lot of snow on the mountains. We returned to Marrakech the next day in a Land Rover, went straight to the Sofitel, where we turned our room into a laundromat, I had a trip to the spa, Matt shaved his head, and we ate at the nice French restaurant. We like to recover in style.

The next day, we left for Essaouira, a sunny beach town, which we managed to enjoy for about a day before we came down with the flu, and, unfortunately, more diarrhea. Our fevers and chills seem to be over now, and we found this lovely little Internet cafe around the corner (close enough to run back to the room in a bathroom emergency). So, we thought we would use this downtime to update the website. We are working on pictures as well, but that takes a lot more time, so please bear with us.

I hope you enjoyed this story. My Dad keeps telling me I'll think it's very funny soon, but I'm just not sure.

In Brief...

by Matt Email

We are in Essaouira Morocco and we think we have the flu. This will be short because I am typing this on a french keyboard and the letters are all in the wrong place.

After Hogmanay, we returned to London for another ten days, more on those later. On the 12th of January we left for Marrakech. It was not as warm as we had hoped. We had a fantastic meal at Yacout - more on that later - and then we headed south to spend the night in the Erg Chebbi dunes on the edge of the Sahara, where we endured the worst rainstorm the region has seen since pretty much anybody down there could remember - more later. The same storm closed the Atlas mountains, so we could not return to Marrakech. Oh, and our car didn't have heat. We were cold and wet for basically 3 days straight. We made it to Essaouira two days ago, and we suspect its a town we would really enjoy if only we felt well enough to leave our room.

On the bright side... no wait, There is no bright side.

Hazy Recollections from the UK

by Matt Email

Those of you who have been paying attention to the blog will know that we've had a bit of a tough time in Morocco. Those of you who have really been paying attention will wonder how they missed this post the first time around, you didn't, I changed the date on it so it would be slightly more temporally accurate for posterity. It's new.

So let's roll back the clock a few weeks to our ten days in London after we returned from Edinburgh. I apologize in advance if this is not a gripping narrative, but the memory has gone a bit hazy in the last week and to be honest we just didn't do all that much.

We were primarily occupied with finishing The Baroque Cycle, largely because we didn't want to lug the books on another flight, but also because the events in the final chapters of the book take place in London, and we had a great deal of fun - Ok, a reasonable amount of fun - tracking down the modern sites mentioned in the early 18th century setting of the book. We have been reading this trilogy since sometime in September, around when we started our trip in Serenity, and we've each had our own copy of the book, so it was like our own little dorky bookclub. So we spent a lot of time during those ten days sitting in pubs reading our books. Which is quite honestly a really pleasant way to pass a frigid wet London day. We didn't actually wind up accomplishing our goal, we finished the books three days after we got to Morocco, but the heavy beasties are now out of our hands and on their way home with our rugs. Where was I going with this exactly?

Right, tracking down the sites, this will be of interest to pretty much Alex Scherer, who is the only other person I know dumb enough to have started reading this 3000 page monster. The really pleasant surprise of this hunt was our trip to the London Fire Monument. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, its a massive enclosed spiral staircase with a tiny platform on top, that offers some really stunning views over London. Its also a quarter of the admission price of St. Paul's Cathedral, for essentially the same panorama. We also made the obligatory visit to the Tower and paid rather close attention to the prisoner grafiti that we now have a much grander appreciation for. During our entire time in the UK, we went to a ton of "historical" pubs, but the one that actually gave us some historical context was The Town of Ramsgate which saw the capture of Judge Jeffries aka The Hanging Judge, which was an actual historical event that the author borrowed for the narrative.

Slightly less successful was our trip to The London Museum, which is at the end of The London Wall Walk. Perhaps I'm being a bit too critical, the museum itself was actually very interesting, lots of interesting bits about The Royal Society, the Plague, The Fire, Dickens, Romans &c. Go there, you'll enjoy it, its free. But by no means attempt to arrive there via the Wall Walk unless you happen to have GPS coordinates for all the various bits of wall. We made it all the way to Site #3 before we lost the trail. Granted, this really wasn't our fault, the site was hidden by construction. We asked a nearby hotel concierge if he could help us find the fourth site, he happily obliged and sent us a mile in the wrong direction all the way to Whitechapel. I'd have been seriously miffed if there hadn't been a couple of good pubs on the way. Having decided that the wall completely defeated us, we just hopped on the tube and went straight to the museum where we enjoyed ourselves. As I said, very good, very overlooked museum. Go there, free, &c.

Alex S.: We also paid a visit to Crane Court off Fleet Street but there's not much there.

We did manage a few Non-Baroque Cycle activities as well. We went to Spitalfields Market, and saw an enormous amount of junk that we plan to buy for a tenth of the price in the actual places where they're made. But we did avail ourselves of numerous dining options while we were there. Our first stop was an American owned BBQ joint that makes reasonable BBQ, but the grilled french duck breast is the real winner on the menu. We also had Paprika Chicken at the Hungarian food stall, also excellent, but especially since it was served on top of a big ol' piece of fried bread. Since it was so frigid out we had a few cups of hot mulled wine at the cheese shop and later we met my parents (who were there for a week) at a really good world cuisine chain called Giraffe - think Rainforest Cafe, but tasty.

By far, the best value for the tourist dollar is the Fuller's Brewery Tour, which for 6 quid gets you a full brewery tour followed by a 5 pint tasting. We had a blast. Hi Dieter and Fritz!

Hogmanay

by Matt Email

Hogmanawhat? Hogmanay is what they call New Years Eve up in kiltville. Its one of the gigantic New Years Eve bashes around the world. As a fan of Edinburgh in general, it was something I had wanted to do for some time, and the timing was going to work out well for this trip, so off we went.

Now those of you who know us are probably thinking, "New Years Eve bash? Heather and Matt are not bash people." You would be correct, but Hogmanay somehow made it onto my To Do list. I figure I was going to have to go to a giant New Years street party at some point in my life and this one seemed most suited to my tastes, I definitely don't think I could deal with the Times Square crowds.

Edinburgh was twice as damp and darker for about two more hours of the day than London, but it was also about 15 degrees warmer, so it was a reasonable trade. We really didn't do much else in terms of tourist activity while we where there because we do intend to visit again in better weather. So we spent our time sampling scottish delicacies. I got Heather to try Haggis, and now she has to have that "No, I swear, Haggis really is good!" conversation too. The chip shops also make a Cheese-in-burger fried thing that she liked a lot. For those of you who haven't heard of the infamous scottish chip shops, this is where the deep fried mars bar comes from, the height of candybardom, and indeed, scottish cuisine.

Speaking of tasty scottish things, I bought a few souveniers at Cadenhead to drink upon my return to normal life. And since they do custom bottling right from the cask, we also got a small supply of 15 year old Springbank to drink during the Hogmanay street party.

The street party itself was one of those over-hyped events, but I'm glad we went all the same. We got there early so we could find a spot with a nice view and a fence to lean against that was near enough to one of the stages that we could hear the Scottish Dixie AC-DC cover band without having our ears blasted out. And we basically stood there for two hours trying to figure out the perfect balance of whisky to drink to keep us warm, but not make of have to go find the porta-potty. Fortunately there were some friendly South Africans standing next to us (Hi Stephen and Lisa) so the time passed a bit faster.

The fireworks themselves were apparently better in days of yore, because they had a show that was seven times bigger than it is today. They used to shoot off all the fireworks over the castle, but now they have extended it to shows on all the hills around town. The castle itself is a really scenic place for fireworks, I think its a tad unfortunate they've spread it out so much. The other detractor was that we wound up in the smoke cloud from the fireworks, so we really didn't see that much of the show anyhow. But overall, it was definitely worth the experience, we certainly had never been to one of the big New Years bashes before and even if we did think it was a tad over-hyped, we still had a lot of fun and are glad went. Most importantly, we can now be fairly certain that if extended an invitation to New Years Even in Times Square, we know what our answer will be.

S.A.D. Sufferers Need Your Support

by Heather Email

I seem to be suffering from a severe case of Seasonal Affective Disease (they say Disorder, but I'm convinced it's a Disease). I've decided a telethon is in order, as they have been trendy lately. I expect George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon to be in attendance. And I would like Kanye West to tell America that George Bush hates S.A.D. sufferers.

God, I cannot wait to be in Africa. Bring on the sun and dry air!!!