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From Down Under to Up & Over the Top!!

Monday, November 1st, 2010

I write this from my hotel room in Sydney with my last 24 hours in the city before returning home to my family in Hawaii.  I just scheduled myself in for “The Bridge Climb” over Sydney Harbor this evening!  I hesitated about doing this last experience mainly due to the cost, but in the end I decided to go for it, since I know I’ll never regret this memory as the way I finished this year of adventure. 

I’ve also planned a really great surprise for my family since I was due back on Nov. 3rd but instead moved the date up to tomorrow evening arriving back in the islands on Oct. 30th.  Reasons for the change in plan were several, one was due to the fact money was running tight (Australia has become a very expensive destination due to their dollar’s strength & the US’s weakened one) but mainly I was just ready to get back to my family.  The surprise will be sprung on Halloween night when my sister in law’s sister, Marcie, throws her annual Halloween bash.  The family will all be together and I’m going to show up with my niece, Noelani, in costume of some sort as a “mystery guest”….should be a lot of fun.  =)

For now though I want to share of my latest experiences and some of my thoughts on what I’ve seen, as well as felt, in the past few weeks since I last wrote.

I arrived in Sydney, Australia on Oct. 11th after having spent three wonderful weeks in Bali, Indonesia.  My last post was very introspective of all the experiences, emotions, and thoughts of all that had transpired along the way, with a sense of wanderlust lingering still.  Bali was the perfect place to reflect on all the wonderful responses I received after that post.  It is a country filled with beauty on so many levels, scenic, cultural, and the individual people there too.   It was what I needed at just the right time.  Thank you each & every one of you that responded, it meant more than you will ever realize…

Ubud's Rice Terraces

Coincidentally my final days in Bali ended with “The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival”—wonderful serendipity!  I met some very interesting people during the festival, from actual authors, to publishers, to people like myself that lucked into having this event to enjoy while visiting Bali.  I made some new friendships and left with some inspiration as well.  

 

Australia was a wonderful welcome into westernized society for me.  I hit the water my first day in Sydney via the ferry that goes across Sydney Harbor to the town of Manly daily.  It’s also a great way to get an excellent harbor cruise for a fraction of what you would pay for a “harbor tour”. It was a beautiful afternoon with some local folks on the ferry offering me to join them for a mini tour of Manly Beach.  What a nice welcome!  The next few days I spent walking around the city, exploring all the great sights it has to offer, from The Rocks area (where the first settlers arrived) to the waterfront along Circular Quay to Bondi Beach.  I just love Sydney!

After a few days in this great city, I caught a train heading south to visit some friends, one in Goulburn the other in Melbourne, a brother & sister who I know from times back in Hawaii and their sister Debbie. So off I went on the Southern Cross train line to visit Andy & Nikki McCay.  I only spent the weekend with Andy & his family Carolyn & Harry but we had a really great visit.  It was surprising how easily we finished off several bottles of wine that first night, but the conversation flowed as easily as the wine did…  We talked about traveling experiences comparing notes.  I more of a flashpacker than a backpacker, at this point in my life but it’s all good, traveling for extended periods opens you to worlds only someone that has also traveled in length can relate to.  It was a great night. 

 We headed out the next day to Canberra, Australia’s capital city to see a few sights and the National Museum of Art.  The museum left me completely moved about what had happened in Australia that I was never aware of, The Stolen Generation.  It’s a sad reality in Australia’s history but so is slavery in many countries too.  The Stolen Generation was the actual removal of Aboriginal children from their families without parental consent.  This was official government policy from 1909 to 1969.  These children were placed in orphanages or institutions to be raised by others in hopes of eventually “breeding the black out of them”.  How awful.  It makes me wonder how that mentality can exist in human nature, but then again so did slavery in the United States for many generations.  The redeeming factor in this sad part of Australia’s history is that their prime minister not that long ago made a public apology to the Aboriginal people.  Proclaiming a “Sorry Day” but that alone cannot remove the deep scars remaining, only time and more change will heal what damage was done.  I again was amazed at what I learned in the span of a few hours in a museum.  I’m glad we made that trip up the road.  Thanks guys.

 The next day instead of boarding a train, I headed out on a bus unfortunately for Melbourne, due to the fact the night before we had heavy rains which left the railway flooded out in areas.  So off I went further down under to visit Nikki in Melbourne.  The scenery along the way was beautiful, reminding me very much of what you might see in Montana’s “Big Sky” country.  Just rolling hillsides with pastures, dotted with cattle, sheep or grain growing otherwise.  Australia makes me think of the “new west” not the “old west” in many ways. 

When I arrived later in the evening, Nikki swept me off to a friend’s home for a wonderful home cooked meal of lamb roast, roasted veggies, all smothered in gravy.  What a warm welcome!  Nikki was so gracious in letting me stay at her place for nearly a week while I explored Melbourne.  She was busy at work and at night school most evenings.  She is an aspiring writer & actor that will make her mark in the world one day for certain.  We had a couple of fun nights out together, again drinking this wonderful Australian wine way too easily, finishing off my last night with her in Yarraville, where I finally got a chance to experience real “Aussie” culture.  It was a really great final night.  Thank you too, Nikki!

 The next day I hit the highways in a rented car for the Great Ocean Road, which is Australia’s version of Big Sur in some ways.  It’s a beautiful coastal drive along the Southern Ocean with highlights such as Bell’s Beach, that is world famous in the surfing world, the Ottoway Lighthouse which was Australia’s oldest lighthouse constructed around 1848 if memory serves me right, finishing up at the 12 Apostles, which are haystack rock formations out in the ocean.  I also saw koala bears in the wild, which were awake!  =)  These creatures sleep as much as sloths do I think, that along with the cold weather they are exposed to most of the year, it’s no wonder. I saw some each day. I forgot to mention I also saw some kangaroos while at Andy’s place.  He took me by a cemetery spot he knew and sure enough we saw maybe a dozen of them around twilight. I think I’ve experienced some things in my short few weeks in Australia, some people that have lived here for years never see.  I took a few days to drive the Ocean Road which most tours do in a day, I’m glad I went the route that I did.  It was a great road trip.  

The Twelve Apostoles on Great Ocean Road

My final night out was a “blue moon” which is when there is a full moon twice in one month.  It was really special, since I knew my niece Noelani and her brothers were camped out that night too, looking at it with me across the miles—we were sending our love to one another & their dear mother, Vicki, who had passed away tragically two years ago to the date.  That act of sharing the moon with them and the next day waking up to an email of the newest family member, Reagan Morton, joining our ohana (family), left me ready to go back home sooner than later.

When I returned to Sydney the next day, finding I couldn’t get a room reserved anywhere on Saturday night for a reasonable rate, that is when I told myself, “it’s time to head on home…”  So after calling to check on flight change costs versus staying for a few more days it all made sense, that and the realization of how much I wanted to be back to my family—it was an easy decision. 

So I’ll be boarding my flight a few hours from now, going home to the islands, to be surrounded with people I know and love very much.  I’ve said this often while traveling, “I am so blessed to be doing this journey at this point in my life”.  Well I am.  I am equally blessed to have what I do, to return to….

Aloha oe’ and a hui ho!

India on my mind….

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Once again, I am writing of a country, in a different country, but India still lingers…

Perhaps it is due to the fact I am currently in Nepal, where I find many people from India have moved, as well as the fact they share similar religious beliefs, their writing style (Hindu) but also the same openness & kindness due to their spirituality.

I chose to go through India with a tour for various reasons, the main one being I knew it would be extremely difficult to navigate as a solo female.  I waivered considerably about going with a tour, since my one and only other tour experience was while in Egypt.  That tour left me so exhausted by the end of the two weeks I needed a few days to just catch up on my sleep.  I don’t understand how folks go on “vacation” via a tour.  The itineraries are just unbelievable.  But again, in the end I’m glad I did the tour in India, which I cut in half from the original 15 days I had booked to just 8 days.  It was a great decision.  I saw some incredible places, experienced every possible form of transportation available in that country I think, and met some great people too.

I started off in New Delhi, with a wonderful welcome from the son of a couple I had met while in Croatia.  Ilse & Jurgen are a lovely, gracious pair, who I met in Zadar, Croatia they are from Wolksburg, Germany.  Their son, Marc had just recently moved to Delhi from the Philippines.  Marc and his girlfriend, Lay, greeted me at my hotel the afternoon I arrived into Delhi. They took me on metro ride into the heart of Delhi.  It was great!  Talk about seeing it all from a real perspective right away—we walked around the city center a bit, but everything was so muddy since it was still monsoon weather in India, so we settled in for a happy hour cocktail and appetizer.  We only had a couple of hours to spend together but it flew by.  I had to get back to my group, who were having an orientation meeting at the hotel at that evening.  We said our goodbyes and made plans to meet after I was going to leave the tour at the end of the week, when I’d be flying back through Delhi.

I met the group a bit late, but it all worked out—we went on a metro to see Delhi! =)  It was good since we went to a different part of the city than previously with Marc.  We went to the actual New Delhi, where all the new official government buildings are as well as the India Gate, also India’s presidential palace, all made of the same type of red colored sandstone architecture, at sunset it’s quite beautiful.

The next morning we went via train to the city of Jaipur,…

Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan, India.  It is also called the “Pink City”, which it is in color due to the sandstone much of the city’s made of, but also much of the city is painted that color too.  Here we went to see the Amber Fort (we saw another palace but it was nothing in comparison).  We arrived via tuktuks, which are three wheeled motorized taxis of sorts.  They are powered by compressed gas and they are a blast to ride in!  I must say I was totally awed by the Amber Fort when we drove up to it.  It has walls surrounding it for many miles that look somewhat like the Great Wall of China in terms of their construction.  The rulers during this time period had really good relations with the Mongolian people, so I believe that had some influence on the design of the walls.  The views though from the Amber Fort were just stunning.  The walls surrounding it just seemed to go on forever. 

Amber Fort, Jaipur

Afterwards the group was going to do some shopping with the help of our guide.  I opted to not go with them, since I had no desire to purchase anything and took a tuktuk back to the hotel.  Along the way back I had the driver stop at The Floating Palace for some pictures, which was the rulers “Pleasure Palace” back in the day.  This palace sits in the middle of a lake, when the maharajah wanted to not be disturbed by anyone this is where he would go to indulge himself.  Talk about hedonism!

We moved on the next day, again via train to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.  We first went to the Agra Fort, which was the home of the emperor.  We had a somewhat rainy, drizzly kind of day unfortunately, but it actually turned out quite nice.  The reason why is from the Agra Fort you have a stunning view of the Taj Mahal.  It was first covered in a bit of a mist from the rain but then it cleared up as we continued around the palace and when you got to the upper levels we had a spectacular view of what awaited us shortly.

I must admit when we finally did arrive at the Taj Mahal, before I walked through the archway, I stopped in my tracks.  It really is an incredible site to see.  When I cleared the archway and all the people are just standing around taking pictures it really was breathtaking…  I now understand why it is a wonder of the world.

We spent several hours at the Taj Mahal that afternoon, taking it all in from every possible perspective.  I wandered away from the group choosing to just sit by the river that runs behind it.  Watching locals that were floating by using empty plastic containers to stay afloat, laughing as the current took them on downstream.

The next day we boarded a train once again, for four hours to a town called Jhansi, from there we took tuktuks to the town of Orcha, which was about a half hour away.  Orcha was great.  We stayed in this great tent-type of accommodation, with beautiful temples as the backdrop.  Orcha is a small town of only around ten thousand inhabitants.  It was just what the doctor ordered after the hustle and bustle of our last two stops.  India really lived up to it’s reputation the past few days, with its masses of humanity coming at you in every direction, its masses of noise, honking horns non-stop, but also with beautiful, beautiful people smiling so easily in spite of the poverty surrounding them.  So genuine, so kind.

Street Life

The day we arrived in Orcha was also the birthday of two of the folks in our group.  We celebrated by hitting the pool that was on the property and had a bit of a pool party that afternoon.  It felt great to be able to just kick back and relax some finally since the last 4 days were just constant motion.  At this point I knew I’d made the right decision to end the tour early as well.

The following morning I started the day with a private yoga session as the sun was peeking across the temples and the river behind where we were staying.  I followed that with fantastic ayurevedic massage.  Talk about feeling cleansed! =)  Also since India’s diet is pretty vegetarian, I decided to not eat any meat for a few days to take full advantage of the massage and yoga session, as well as not drink any alcohol either.  It felt great really.  It’s been now almost another week since then and I’ve still not had any beef and only a little bit of chicken at this point.  But you all know me well—I did finally have some wine and cocktails a couple of days ago, since the group just met up with me here in Pokhara, Nepal.

I can’t skip writing about Varanasi though, since this is where Indian people come to cleanse themselves in the River Ganges as a spiritual pilgrimage.  It is also where they bring the bodies of loved ones to be cremated.  The Ganges and Varanasi have huge spiritual significance for the Hindu people, through its reigning deity, Lord Shiva.  We went out on a boat at sunset, seeing the thousands of people that come to the riverside for their burning rituals, bathing rituals, and prayer ceremonies.  We did a candle flower lighting ceremony together.  I was given three candle flowers to set afloat in the river.  I said a prayer for myself, another prayer for a friend who was getting married that day, and finally a prayer for others.  It was beautiful seeing those candles float down the River Ganges into the night….   Namaste.

Train Time, Town Time…

Friday, August 27th, 2010

I’m on the fast train to Denmark, which I fortunately made, by sheer luck!  The train was delayed five minutes which is just what I needed, since I’d remembered the departure time at 11:36 a.m. as opposed to the actual departure of 11:26 a.m.!!  Whew…  =)

 Come to find out the reason the ticket was twice the cost of other trains I’ve traveled on the past two months is because, this train loads up on a ferry when we get to the ocean, crossing into Denmark.  How cool, I’ll get to be on the water again!  There was also a special at the bahnhof when I went to purchase my ticket, for only 5 Euros more I’m leaving Europe via first class.  I must be doing something right.

I’m due to arrive in Copenhagen around 6 p.m. where two lovely ladies will be joining me for dinner tonight; they are local Danish friends of another friend back home in the islands.  Gitte & Minna are who will be showing me around their great city of Copenhagen, which Lone left several years ago when she met & married her husband, John. It’s all about the folks you meet in life as the journey of life continues to unfold, right?   You never know where a brief hello will take you, since that is all the time I had with Gitte & Minna in Hawaii.  We met for sunset cocktails at the Hale Koa Hotel with Lone, sipping on mai tai’s together, now I’m on my way to Copenhagen.  “Life is good”, as Lone would say!

 Yet, Berlin is where I’ve just spent the past six days.  Each day the city kept revealing itself to me in a new way, even when I would see the same place on another day from a different street or mode of transport—the city just kept on redefining itself each time, with each impression.  It’s really a unique city in comparison to other European cities for many reasons.  The most obvious one is that it has rebuilt itself, after the 28 years that the Berlin Wall stood through its borders, literally separating families, friends, and communities overnight.  The wall came down in 1989; it went up in 1961, all within my lifetime.  I can only imagine what the lives of those it physically separated must have been like in those days, also in the years that followed when it finally came down.

Berlin Old & New

I remember well when the headlines read “Berlin Wall Coming Down!”  It rekindled dreams of the days when people believed that change is possible.  We could end wars, or an oppressive government, by protesting, that a collective consciousness can move mountains or walls…  How wonderful is that?

Achtung Berlin!!  What a city—from the touristy trap of Checkpoint Charlie, to the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Tiergarten, to it’s impressive museums like the Pergamon and the Jewish Museum, both left me totally impressed, moved and educated, especially the Jewish Museum for obvious reasons.  Thank God, my ancestors did not have to live through any of the horrors that happened to the Jewish people during World War II.  Although the museum really didn’t focus on that aspect at all, but more on what Germany has lost in terms of its society.  So many Jews left the country when they could, both before the war and afterwards, when they said, “Enough”, giving birth to Israel. 

But Berlin is so much more than these things today. 

 It is a vibrant city with all kinds of artists vying to make a mark in the world, be it music, visual arts, classical concerts, you name it—the best talents in the world come to Berlin to launch careers.  I found a great little spot a few blocks away from my hotel that was a music school, with students performing free shows each evening.  It was called the “Schlot”.  Great jazz…for free!  Then I noticed when I was cruising the city on my rented bicycle (the only way to really see this city in my opinion) in the Old Town area, at the Konzerhal, a “Young Euro Classics” series of classical performances in the Konzerhal.  Only 15 Euros per night!  I went yesterday on my last day, with it being a series of piano performances throughout the day at two hour intervals, for only 6 Euros!  Again, I think I’m doing something right.  The pianist came out for two encores to standing ovations—amazing final night in Berlin for me.  I had preceded that by going to the top of the “Fernsehturm” TV-Tower, to get a bird’s eye view of the city. I wound up having dinner in one of those revolving-type of restaurants with a sweet Scottish woman by the name of Violet, who was waiting for a solo seat also.  We had a great time talking over so many things, exchanging emails at the end of dinner.

 And so the journey continues…

Copenhagen via my room in Jaipur, India

Aug. 23rd 4 p.m.  (tea time)

To write of my 4 days in Copenhagen after my last 48 hours in India, may prove a bit difficult to do it justice but here I go…. 

Let me say this though, India is everything you imagine it to be like—sounds (noise, honking horns at all hours, masses of people everywhere, poverty & affluence side by side in the street, on the metro, at a temple) but for now—

Copenhagen.

I spent 4 nights in this seaside city of 3 million inhabitants.  It does live up to its reputation of being VERY expensive.  My first evening after my train ride from Berlin, I was met at my hotel lobby by the dear friends of another friend in Hawaii, Gitte & Minna, who were my “Ambassadors of Aloha”!  =)  These two wonderful women certainly did their best to show me their city and countryside, in what time they could manage to take off from their busy careers and families.

Scandinavian Sweeties

We rendezvoused around 8 p.m. and walked through the city, crossed a canal with a bunch of folks on a river cruise, were greeted with champagne corks flying, us waving to them a “royal wave” as they continued their celebration they were having.  We finished down on the harbor front in what is the original harbor of Copenhagen, off Larsens Plads.  It was lined with beautiful old homes with typical Danish architecture, somewhat like what you would see in Amsterdam or in the Netherlands.  It was a Monday evening so we didn’t stay out too late but enjoyed an appetizer & a bottle of wine together.  When I said it was expensive, this will give you an idea—I only ordered some soup which was priced about the same as other appetizers on the menu…my bowl of soup was approximately $17 USD.  Ouch!!

 We made plans to meet the next morning since Gitte wanted to drive up to the north end of the island to this seaport town called, Gilleleje–right down my alley!  Unfortunately the weather gods were not cooperating with us the next day, but it was a good day to be driving in a car, as opposed to the rain & cold all around.  By the time we got to our destination the rain had stopped.  We were able to spend a little time walking the docks looking at the various fishing vessels around, snapping a few shots of the area.  We then had a typical seaside lunch from the area, talking together and getting to know one another somewhat finally.  It was a really nice afternoon.  We topped it off by stopping at this castle called, Frederiksborg, for some coffee & dessert.  It turns out the castle’s church is where Minna was married at.  What an incredible setting!

 It literally is still surrounded by a moat, with gorgeous gardens beside it and a lake that looks out on the town where Minna has lived for several years.  We really had a great time walking around there, taking lots of pictures again, since the rain decided to stop again after our decadent dessert of walnut pie—OMG, was it delicious.

 We dropped Minna off at her car in town there and then Gitte drove me all the way back into Copenhagen, where she had to turn around and probably drive another hour to where she lives….talk about aloha spirit.  Thank you, once again.

Cycle City Copenhagen

The next day I took care of a lot of details for my next destinations, such as finding accommodations, flights and so on since it was a pretty cold rainy day.  Finally in the afternoon it cleared up, so I got out rented a bicycle for 24 hours and did some exploring on my own.  I wound up in another harbor community known as Christianshavn—beautiful.  There were tons of sailboats here, as well as houseboats.  I found one for sale that would be just down my alley for my next abode, only problem would be getting it to Hawaii.  Any takers?! =)

 My final day I just rode around the city some more on my bicycle, found the king’s gardens and his castle, Rosenborg.  Again, just gorgeous landscapes, gardens, and some tranquility in the midst of a huge city—I think the tranquility I find in these places is what keeps drawing me to them.  That and also the beauty of the garden designs, all for free. 

Rosenburg Castle

My last evening I hit Tivoli Gardens to ride an amusement ride, for an adrenaline rush.  Maybe in preparing for the rush of adrenaline that I knew awaited me in India. 

 Stay tuned…….

Trains, Towns, & traveling on…

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

I write this from my seat on the train to Prague, in the Czech Republic.  I’ve just finished up 5 nights in Budapest, Hungary after having spent a week in Vienna, Austria.  Next stop after Prague is Berlin, then on to Copenhagen, where a girlfriend awaits to show me her lovely city & countryside. 

The road, the rails, the rambling this soul has been doing is starting to catch up somewhat.  The week in Vienna was excellent, since I had the pleasure of a couple of girlfriend’s company.  It was great to not have to think ahead or plan anything or research a thing.  Do I sound like I’m getting a bit tired of this traveling nomad’s life??  Perhaps, yes—but the reality is when it’s over with, I’ll wish I was on the road again.  So I’m taking it all in stride as best as I can.  Let me recap some of the highlights of the cities I’ve just visited, while they are still fresh in my memory.

Vienna…  What an elegant city–that’s how I kept describing it to people I would talk with.  Sites that were just a delight to explore more than once were definitely Shonbrunn Castle & its beautiful grounds.  I believe it is something like 40 hectares in the heart of the city.  Simply gorgeous.  Tranquil, even with all the crowds that come to see it daily.  My dear TEFL classmate, Kathi, shared it with me my first day in Vienna.  What fun to explore the grounds, we never went to tour the inside of the castle; the grounds were so spectacular we didn’t want to spend our time indoors!  I returned on another day with a friend that joined me in Vienna for a few days, without really seeing the same areas in the same manner twice.  It truly is a splendid place to spend a day or several hours.

Kathi & Shonbrunn

Something I’ve come to realize in my travels is the real joy I find when I’m in nature.  It can be in a city park, a botanical garden, or lovely settings like the national park in Plitvice, Croatia.  I find serenity in these places, but also a real connection with the environment around me.  I knew this at a young age, when I decided to major in forestry in college, later finishing in horticulture.  After my travels are done, I intend to find work in a national park seasonally. 

Vienna has so much to offer it’s really hard to put into words the feelings I felt about the city, other than it is cosmopolitan, sophisticated, culturally aware, and just a real gem of a city.  The public transportation is excellent; there are bike paths throughout the city too, so if you are so inclined the choice is really up to you.  Fun experiences were at the Rathausplatz (town hall plaza) where my final night they had the opera “Carmen” on the big 50x 80 foot screen with incredible high definition & a sound system that was equally impressive.  All for free! =)  Also, the Praterplatz with its amusement park, the Danube River of course which my friend Tina took me out on for an afternoon cruise.  All equally wonderful experiences and the list could go on & on.

Rathausplatz

Next stop was Budapest…..

But now I’m on the train from Prague heading to Berlin.

Where to pick up?  I think from where I am—although I don’t want to side step Budapest. 

The city was also beautiful, but a definite air of depression seemed to cover it too.  The buildings were covered in soot, from years and years of traffic exhaust. It sort of gave the city a feel of the obvious in terms of the years of oppression from communist ruling and occupation.  The streets are all under some type of construction with a new metro line being installed, so the city felt like it was trying to come out of its past, but it has not emerged yet.  I hope it recovers the way that the Czech Republic seems to have. 

Prague is alive. 

Budapest was best experienced for me by hitting the amazing baths it’s renowned for.  The one I went to the first day was definitely my favorite.  I went to the Gellert Baths on my last day, which is known as one of the original bath houses.  The Szecheryr Furdo baths where I went first, were pure indulgence, vibrant, & filled with all kinds of people.  I spent a good 6 hours there that day, which flew by.  At the Gellert Baths I stayed maybe 3 hours and was ready to leave at that time…enough said.

Szecheryr Furdo Chess match

Bathing Buda-style!

Budapest also has some amazing sites to visit all of which I really enjoyed, from the Parliament where the crown jewels are on display, to its castle that overlooks the Danube from the Buda-side of the river, to Margaret Island, with its lovely gardens & bike paths to ride along under beautiful wooded paths, while the Danube is circling it’s coastline.  It’s what you make of it right?!  I indeed made the best of the city, in spite of a traveling companion who turned sour quickly.  I knew something was up when that feather floated down in front of me as soon as we entered our hostel—life really is like a box of chocolates….  =)

So as I said, previously Prague is ALIVE!

Its buildings are beautiful, its architecture amazing, the pastel colors of the buildings all speak to you as you walk by them, the tender care that has been taken of them is so evident everywhere you turn.  The city is vibrant, with tourists, locals, music & art forms everywhere you turn.  The weather while I was there was cold, rainy, but instead of feeling like remaining indoors I felt inspired to take photographs in sepia my first day out!  Does that tell you something?

Prague Castle from Charles Bridge

Prague also has a beautiful river flowing through it, called the Vltava River.  It also boasts the Charles Bridge with fantastic statues every few meters on either side of it.  There is no lack of great photography that has captured it from every possible angle & time of day, via the artists that line the bridge as you walk across to the other side of town where its impressive castle is known as Prazsky Hrad.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about Prague was it’s wonderful music scene, with composers such as Mozart having adopted it as a second home, during his glory days, it has brought a diverse population of musicians with the best you could ask for in everything from classical, to opera, to jazz, blues and beyond.  I was in Prague only for 4 nights but was able to hear live music for free in the Old Town Square two of four days, due to the Prague Jazz Festival being put on by the Agartha Jazz folks.  My last night I spent listening to some hot R&B, by a Scotsman named “Stan the Man” at the U Maleho Glena club.

Berlin—you have a tall order to fill!

Prague at night

Across the Sands of Time–Morocco, Egypt & Israel

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

It’s a bit hard to write this latest post for various reasons.  I guess first off since it’s been about a month and a half since my last one, when I was in Morocco.  But the other big reason is because so much has happened since I last wrote, it’s hard to know where to pick up and what to share of all that has transpired since my last writing.  So I will do what seems the easiest and that is to pick up where I left off, in Tangier, Morocco and having found my grandfather’s grave.

I spent only four days in Tangier.  I traveled there alone, not certain of what would come of it.  Let me begin by saying this, I am so grateful that my grandparents had the foresight to leave Tangier when they did, in 1914 when the Panama Canal was completed, to live in Panama…

I would not leave my hotel at night while in Tangier.  The looks I would get in the daytime from the people on the street were enough.  I was always dressed very modestly.  Maybe this image might help to sum it up for you folks, in the afternoon, when everyone would be out for their afternoon tea, as you walk down the main street, at every sidewalk cafe all that would be sitting at the outside tables would be men.  Period.  On my third day I finally decided to heck with it, I went to the famous, “Cafe de Paris”, sat down inside and had my first mint tea….with all the men in the room, and only one couple in the entire place.  Does this begin to explain what the time in Tangier was like? =) 

I had some fun too, as in my first camel ride.  Another followed in Egypt at the Pyramids…

Let me just say again…four days alone in Morocco was enough….

The positive side was finding my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s graves.  I believe I am the first person in our families to have been to their graves since the day they were buried.  What I wasn’t prepared for were the emotions that overcame me when I finally stood before my grandfather’s grave.

At this point, I wish to record some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal.  Because to be honest, it best says what I feel I want to say at this point, instead of trying to describe all the experiences in each country I was just in.  Each country was unique, different, each very special.

I think my last journal entry says it best and hopefully can bring you all up to speed with where I am at, at this point in my travels–so here are some very honest, unedited, insights.

June 24th/Old Jaffa Hostel

I’ve been trying to gain an understanding of the history of everything I’ve experienced.

Assimilating it, trying to put it in perspective, with my own family’s and ancestors history. Looking at it all with eyes wide open, trying to understand the people and their cultures, and how it all translates into their daily lives.  It’s such an amazing experience for me on so many levels.  As I was sharing with a girl, I met at the hostel last night…. 

You see it on the news, or read about it in a magazine article, but you really don’t get it until you see it and live it a little.  In reality you are only scratching the surface….it’s so complex, the layers of history, wars, corruption, and struggles these people have been subjected to–I can only barely begin to understand what their lives are like.

The beautiful part of this history lesson I am living though is this.  I have been able to connect family to each other.  I have been able to connect for myself, a sense of understanding at last of the fabric of life, generations laid out before the following generations.  To enable future generations to have better lives.  To those of us who chose to take from what was laid out before them.  The paths were not easy for any generation to continue down.  But what I have learned is this–

My grandparents

My great grandparents

My ancestors back to before the Spanish Inquisition

They each had a choice to make, a path to choose.  Including my mother who chose the most difficult one; for love.

The path was not an easy one for any of them.  They experienced isolation, loneliness, Probably at times extreme doubt, if their decision was the right one.  But now today, I look around, very grateful.

For their strength

Their passion

Their commitment to their hearts and their beliefs.  Thank you.

Shalom

Jaffa, Israel at Night

Playas & Praias

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

I am writing to you from  Ilha de Santa Catarina,  in a little town called Lagoa da Conceicao.  Most folks know the name of Florianopolis best, which is the main city you arrive in via bus or plane (bus was my mode of transport) to get to this sweet island off the coast of southern Brazil.  It’s pouring rain out right now, so much that I’ve decided to have a pizza delivered instead of attempting to go out in search of something to eat tonight. I decided what a better way to spend a rainy night than bringing you all up to speed on my latest travels.

I spent two and a half weeks in Uruguay searching for Carnaval festivities, connecting with relatives (a cousin by marriage, Moises, and his sweet wife, Rebecca which I’ll write more about in this post) and searching for beach towns and the ocean that this “island girl” so loves to be near.  I thought I might find a sweet secluded beach that had not been discovered or developed yet.  Well I did find some sweet beaches along the Uruguay coast, but the water was definitely a lot colder than it was inviting.  Not to offend the dear, kind folks of Uruguay, they truly have a beautiful country with equally kind, beautiful people, but there is a reason their beaches aren’t overrun with tourists and travelers.  That Atlantic ocean is COLD!! =)  There is the exception of Punta del Este, which is like a mini-Miami beach of the jet set from Buenos Aires and surrounds.  But again, when I got in the water it was like those cold plunge pools at a spa you dip in and get right back out.  I guess I will state the obvious–I’ve been spoiled with the waters from Hawaii but it was a great adventure nontheless. 

Playa at La Pedrea, Uruguay

Playa at La Pedrea, Uruguay

The picture I’ve inserted here I really love, because it captures what the feeling was like that day, the southern Antartic winds were blowing strong and cold and the weather was overcast.  The winds can be so strong at times, I’m talking gusts to 30 knots or more, you wonder “this is their summer/fall?”  But again the effects of an El Nino year we’ve been having as well.  It was beautiful in it’s own way, but again no replacement for the beaches I’ve known for over half my life.

I explored the coastline on another day with my cousin, Moises and his wife Rebecca.  We went to Piriopolis, Punta del Este and Punta Ballena.  These two people certainly know the meaning of hospitality!  They took me on tours of their city, Montevideo on the first day we met, had me over for lunch on another day and if that wasn’t enough had me over for dinner the night I left for Florianopolis.  I hope I can repay their kind hospitality one day…  

I’ve added a new Picassa photo album of some of my favorite images from my time in Uruguay.  So if you want to see more of that country than the few pictures I’ve shared on this blog, they are there for you to enjoy.

So as I wrote earlier, I am now on the Island of Santa Catarina off the southern Brazilian coast.  From here I’ll be heading onto Rio de Janeiro and some of the most famous beaches in the world like Ipanema and Copacabana, but for now I am quite content with the beaches near me.  Praia Mole and Praia de Joaquina are awesome! I finally have been playng in the ocean again.  I also managed to find a sweet little pousada with a kitchenette for $35 a day.  Quite a deal for these beach destinaions and also a rental car for the same.  So I’ve been doing some serious exploring and it feels great to have some freedom of mobility too! 

Ilha Santa Catarina is a really beautiful island that has 3 “lakes or lagoas” through the middle of it.  Driving along the coast there are some sweet fishing villages that are still quite connected to their Azorean Portuguese heritage along with some fantastic fresh seafood like oysters and shrimp…and I had pizza tonight???? =)  But I did have a shrimp pastel (like an empanada or meat pie for my southern friends) for lunch today with a nice cold beer.  So yes, I’m really enjoying my time on this island and seeing island life from a Brazilian perspective.

Tomorrow I go to get my bus ticket to head onto Rio de Janeiro.  I know that city will be an amazing adventure too, I’ve been kind of saving it to finish up my travels in S. America.  I have a couple of other destinations in Brazil to see before swinging back through the USA to visit some family and friends. I will then be going on my way around the rest of the planet.  I know I’ll need the “downtime” to regroup and hopefully get my visas in order.  So mi amigos, I will say “Ciao” for now and “todo biem!!”

Praia Mole

Praia Mole

Carnival in Montevideo, Uruguay

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Carnaval dia 2 (2)I am writing this from the little beach town of La Paloma which lies along the Atlantic coast of Uruguay.  Today is pretty overcast and cool, so I’m catching up again on bringing you all up to speed, since later I’m hoping the day will improve and I’ll be off again to explore.

I spent the past week in Montevideo in search of Carnival celebrations and candombe (drumming groups) in the various venues and events I could find after arriving into town last Friday.  It’s kind of funny but the Uruguayans are either ambivalent about Carnival or just are not very good at self-promoting themselves when it comes to Carnival.  I think it’s more of the latter.

When I arrived and checked into my room, asking the front desk about what was going on it was like uncovering a mystery.  This was Carnival weekend in my mind–huh??!!  Turns out their big event is called the “Llamadas” (The Calling) which had happened the weekend before–sigh.  It’s a two day non-stop street drumming parade throughout the city.  Well, in spite of my poor timing there still were barrio candombes to be found and luckily on Saturday night it was happening in Ciudad Vieja (Old City) barrio. 

I went off that evening with  huge warnings of being careful, how dangerous it was in that part of town, to not carry even a purse or id of any kind, put my cash in my pocket not my bag, etc.  I needed my little  sling bag I use to carry my camera along with whatever essentials I might need while out and about, so I emptied it of everything except my camera and a map of the area, money in my pocket and off I went.  From what I was able to find out the parade began at 8 p.m. and was just for a short while, were they ever wrong!  It went on till midnight… =)  What fun and what energy.  These guys in the drumming/candombe troupes get going and then the crowd starts clapping a rhythm to it as well that takes on another beat,  you just get going to the synergy of it all and before you know it you’re dancing in the streets with them.

Carnaval 4Carnaval 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second night which was a Sunday, I chose to go to one of their performances instead, which was in an outdoor theater setting, since there weren’t any barrio candombes to be found.  Turns out this is a major holiday weekend for the local Montevideanos so they all leave town and everything is closed for business till Wednesday.  I’m thinking to myself, “What???”  So again, trying to make the most of the situation I go off to the performance at the Teatro Verano, which was not a disappointment at all.  The first group was called Senegal and had candombe, dancing, great costumes, and the crowd loved them.  After the show you can get right up with them, since they dance through the audience keeping the show going on even longer.

Carnaval dia 2Carnaval dia 2-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My experience was different than anticipated, but it was unique.  I gained some understanding of their history behind it all which was pretty interesting.  Montevideo and Colonia were major slave trade ports during that era and there remains a significant black culture here.  Interesting enough, I never once came across a person of African descent, in Argentina which lies only 50km across the water from here.  During the late 1800′s when the Africans were still enslaved, their owners would let them leave freely for a week when the drums of the Llamada would begin.  The slaves would return to their masters after their celebrations were done.  Today there are murgas, which are performances based on political satire, that allow people the opportunity express themselves without any repercussions.  These performers are fantastic singers and are pretty amazing to watch…if only I could have understood the messages better.  The audiences sure did because there was lots of laughter during each performance.

So yes, it wasn’t Rio but it it was real.  Hasta la proxima!!

Chilean Chapter

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
Pucon & Mt. Villarica

Pucon & Mt. Villarica

It seems writing of my travels is taking me back to the experiences and not written in the moment of having them.  But at times of reflection, you gain different perspectives of the adventure you just had and that is where I am today….back in Buenos Aires, regrouping for the next leg of my journey.

Chile was as beautiful as I thought it would be. I had some surprises mainly in terms of the weather (really, really cold for their “summer” this year). This was due to the fact of it being an El Nino year season-wise, but I bought some wool socks and a wool hat and went for it!  I was not disappointed by the beauty of the places I saw nor of the kindness of the people I met along the way.

The adventures really began for me in the town of Pucon in the Lake District, which has every imaginable activity you could ask for.  In the summer there is white-water rafting, horseback riding, canopy rides, sailing, bike rentals, you name it–you can do it.  I even saw a lone skydiver with the entire mountain scenery to themselves.  In winter, I can only imagine all the ski related fun there is to do.

I opted to go white water rafting as my first thrill, for the first time in my life, on Category III rapids.  By the end of the day I knew the Chilean way of saying awesome–”La Raja!!” =)  My fun didn’t end there though, I went horseback riding on another day.  And on another day I hit these amazing hot thermal springs that are abundant around Pucon.  The mountains in the Lake District are volcanic and are still active to some degree, which leads to the formation of thermal springs.   It was heaven on earth at the springs I spent the day at…Thermas Geometricas.  An architect had created these beautiful slate pool foundations and walkways among the natural environment.  It was gorgeous and at the same time had retained all of it’s natural elements.  The architect had won a national award for his work there.

I spent an entire week in Pucon.  I found a yoga studio which did this soul much good.  After spending long hours on buses getting from destination to destination, you need to give the body some therapy.  I enjoyed bike rides, sunsets down by the lakeshore, watching all the various boating activity.  It really was a great visit. 

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t warming up.  I also knew as I continued south the temperatures would go down as well.  And further south the prices were only going to go up.  Chile lived up to it’s reputation as an expensive destination.  But south I had to go to continue forward, weather and costs not working in my favor.  So on down the road I went to Puerto Varas, which is known for it’s beauty as well.  It’s a port town with amazing seafood and the jumping off point to do the Andean lake crossing from Chile to Argentina’s Lake District, which was my plan.

On Cruze de Lagos Todos Los Santos

On Cruze de Lagos Todos Los Santos

 After arriving in Puerto Varas and realizing the huge cost to do the entire crossing, I chose to just boat on the Chilean side and take a bus over to Argentina instead.  The logic behind the decision was not just cost but weather conditions too.  In hindsight I wish I had done the entire crossing, since I most likely won’t venture there again.  But it was a beautiful day, even if the weather wasn’t the greatest.  I met some really fun Brazilian folks again and a sweet girl named Dana from Wyoming.  I’ll tell you the ride back to Puerto Varas was really subdued after all the Brazilians left the ship!  Those folks know the meaning of enjoying life.  I’m looking forward to visitiing that country in the near future.

Then I set off in search of PENGUINS!  Down to the Chilean island of Chiloe.  It was a fantastic day playing with penguins.  I couldn’t get the Lyle Lovett song, “Penguins” out of my head that day.  I met up with some nice folks again that were part of a tour with Gap Adventures, who chose to do this penguin experience as a side trip.  You know it’s often the people you meet each day that make this adventure so great.  Sure the experiences are amazing as well–but it’s the people you meet along the way, those sunny spots in the road that make this journey wonderful… Dana, Lucia, Miguel, Carlos and familia, and more that I can’t remember right now. 

And with that I will let you browse the pics I’ve added to the Photo Album link or not =) and leave you with this song (I hope the link works) and final shot…oh and Happy Birthday, Lucia!!

01 Penguins (Live)

 

224

A New Year & A New Country!

Friday, January 1st, 2010

I write this latest post from the town of Valparaiso, Chile.  On a hillside overlooking it’s harbor and coastline.  What a memorable New Year’s Eve celebration I had last night, but first I feel I owe this post/blog a little bit of catching up.

To say my time in Buenos Aires flew by would be an understatement. Even though that was the case it truly is a city worthy of it’s reputation. I had the opportunity to finally get to the countryside one weekend to a town called Tigre, which is along a river that reminded me somewhat of the bayou country of Louisiana. There are these beautiful teak “shuttle boats” that take locals and us turistas to islands or their homes along the waterway. Pollyroger finally came out to play some! =)  Take a look at the latest album I’ve created to get a glimpse of it from the favorite’s link.

Punta Pals

Then the following weekend was my “Graduation Trip” weekend with a sweet new friend made in TEFL classes, Katharina. We headed off to Uruguay for the weekend to Punta Del Este, via the ferry from Buenos Aires. And yes, again–Pollyroger came out to play! So the line might be becoming a bit blurred between Polly and my Soljourneys, but Kathi is definitely a “sunny spot in the road”. I am sure we will meet again and travel to some other water-type destination, since she surfs and sails too. Truly a beautiful person inside and out…and definitely a Polly Pal as well.

We returned from our trip a couple of days before Christmas.  I spent Christmas Eve day indulging myself at a spa and was it ever wonderful!  That evening I spent at my apartment, making myself a nice dinner and getting my bags packed for my flight to Mendoza on Christmas day.  I arrived in Mendoza to a somewhat sleeping city, since Argentinians take their Christmas holiday seriously beginning on midnight the 24th.  They celebrate with fireworks and opening Christmas gifts and continue on to dawn depending on some variables… =)

My Christmas festivities continued as well on the 26th, with my first wine tasting tour that totally put anything similar I’ve done in various locals from Napa to New Zealand to SHAME!  My goodness…the bodegas were incredible.  I did another tour a couple of days later via bicycle in Maipu Valley and teamed up with a really sweet Brazilian couple who turned out to be on their honeymoon, Walter and Luci.  We had the most amazing time riding through the vineyards, down sycamore and poplar lined roads withthe Andes as our backdrop.  We shared emails at day’s end with an invitation to visit them in Brazil when I make my way there.

Mendoza Wine Country

Mendoza Wine Country

 But that wasn’t all that Mendoza had to offer.  I also rented a bike another day and explored another of Carlos Thayes city parks.  What an amazing landscape architect that man was…  But even better was the final adventure I gave myself in Mendoza and that was going to Aconcagua National Park my final day there.  The mountain peak the park is named after is the highest elevation in the Americas, next to the Himalayas.  It was slightly covered with a little cloud cover the day I went, but the following day when I took the bus from Mendoza to Chile, we went over the same pass just not into the park and–yes, Aconcagua was clear as a bell! =)  It was a fantastic bus trip till we got to the border.  What should have been a two hour border crossing was a FIVE hour one.  Note to Lonely Planet and anyone else that plans on traveling to Chile during the holiday season…do it at night and not before a holiday.

So that brings me to Valparaiso where I now am after arriving on the 30th.  Last night was spent with a lovely Chilean family that have one of the first approved B&B’s in Valparaiso known as “Coasta Azul”, with father Carlos, wife Laura, sons Carlito, Rodrigo and daughter Valentina.  They made me feel quite at home immediately.  Their view is unbelievable from the hillside that takes in all of the coastline down to Vina del Mar.  And with that I will close with this video clip of the amazing fireworks display I had in their sweet home last night with other guests from Santiago and towns nearby. 

We celebrated together and rang in the New Year as new found friends with hugs and toasts of felicidades y prospero ano nuevo…  Many of you were with me in spirit as well.  Even though we may be miles away, my thoughts and wishes of wonderful blessings go out to each and every one of you.  May 2010 bring all our dreams to fruition.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

(click video link below)

Panama Update

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

I sit in my newly rented apartment in Buenos Aires as I write this post.  It’s perfect in almost every way and it has touches that are so like my home I had back in the islands with glass block accents, color schemes and attention to detail.  I like this living simply “Argentinian Style”! =)

But this post isn’t about Buenos Aires yet, but about my time spent in Panama with family and friends made along the way…

Aerial view-Panama City from Casco Viejo to the Bridge of the Americas

Aerial view-Panama City from Casco Viejo to the Bridge of the Americas

My time spent in Panama was the perfect way to introduce myself back into Latin cultures by sharing it with such wonderful family.  I spent time in the city of Panama the first few days, seeing relatives and taking in the city some and it’s changing dynamics.  It is a city that is being reinvented in many ways and it will be interesting to see how it evolves as it develops.  There are massive construction projects being done all in and around the city.  Many people from Canada and the US are finding it as a destination for early retirement or for health reasons.  I’m not sure that it can quite live up to it’s goals yet, with a severe crime factor, along with that a big part of it’s people still struggle to make a living.  But as in every place on the planet there are people that are thriving in many ways.  If people have made an education a priority and are willing to do the hours and the work it demands to be successful–many people are doing that quite well in Panama. 
      I am proud to say that my family is doing so in many ways and in many different types of enterprises.  From being graphic artists, to owners of various types of businesses, to technology industry sales.  The opportunities are there for the asking….
      After several days in the city I took a bus north to the city of David where a part of my family still lives.  I reconnected with them over a few days there and was able to spend a day in the town of Volcan, visiting my cousin Flor’s daughter, Cynthia.  They are farmers living a very wonderful existence off their family farm, growing a variety of products for market.  The next day was a birthday celebration with my cousin, Emilia’s family for her daughter in-law.  Another memorable evening spent.
     The following day I headed out in my cousin Flor’s old Buick, to Boquete.  I loved it–I was totally incognito until I would get out of the car and start talking! =)  My time in Boquete flew by,  I was there 4 nights and 3 days and managed to visit an animal resuce center, also a natural hot springs near the town of Caldera with my guide Ana Gonzalez….truly a “sunny spot in the road”. Finally my last excursion was a morning horseback ride along the Rio Caldera and around one mountainside that looks out on Boquete.
Boquete, Chiriqui-Panama

Boquete, Chiriqui-Panama

      Boquete is suffering from growing pains as well with many “estranjeros” (foreigners) moving to this lovely mountain town.  But the town still holds it’s charm and beauty.  Driving around the mountainside in El Buick I was able to take in some gorgeous scenery.  It reminded me a bit of the Big Island with it’s coffee farming industry and landscape, but it definitely was not Hawaii.  So many species of birds everywhere you turn…and flowers–the town truly lives up to it’s name “bouquet”. 
      Three days flew by and I needed to get back to David to catch my bus back to Panama City.  This time around though I was lucky enough to get the last seat on the bus, but next to the toilet and a Dominican woman who wouldn’t quit talking loudly on her cell phone or to me even when I had my earphones on for my iPod! =)  That was a longer six hour ride than the one up for sure…    But all part of the journey–right?!
       My last night I spent with my wonderful hanai family The Echevers.  We had a wonderful lunch the next day and I left almost in tears, not knowing if I would return to Panama again for certain and if this may be the last time I saw them for many years…  And with that said, my time in Panama was about family more than anything.
      I think the one thing to know and understand is the beauty of family and what raising one another closely nearby does for the bond it makes over a lifetime.  Just like my family in Hawaii, same as my family in Panama, children that grow up together become a part of each other’s lives in a way that cannot be replaced in any shape or form.  It’s beautiful to witness in my cousin’s children and their children’s children.  Same as it is with my beautiful ohana back in the islands.  Children raised together as a family form a bond over a lifetime that is unique, special, and immeasurable.  I am privileged to have been a part of that in Hawaii and to have seen it again through Panamanian eyes.  
     More to follow…
Coriat-Mendez Familia in Volcan

Coriat-Mendez Familia in Volcan

Mi Familia en Hawaii

Mi Familia en Hawaii

Familia Echevers
Familia Echevers