Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Simple Existence

Ahh, northern California. Sonoma County. Redwood trees, birds and wildflowers. This morning I awoke to blue skies without a trace of fog.

A warm patch of sun enveloped the back wood deck so I unrolled my yoga mat and began an early morning stretch. The sun comfortably blinded me me so I kept my eyes closed while I focused on deep breaths. Somehow I could sense something was watching me, and it wasn't Emma dog. I peered one eye open and saw a trio of deer at the edge of the meadow staring at me with their ears perked and perfectly still. But then the strangest thing happened. A large doe crept closer to me, prancing almost, showing off her sides before stopping and staring again. I wondered why they didn't bolt away. I was doubly shocked that Emma remained in a deep snooze while these giant creatures shared our space. But I suppose it didn't really matter why. I simply watched the deer watch me while my yoga session gently came to a close. No sooner than my head dropped down and hands came together in a namaste bow than the deer turned and pranced away, almost as if on cue.

This is now a time of reflection for me. Andy and I have experienced life in 22 countries in 15 months and there is so much to digest! Taking the time to refocus and recenter feels just right at the moment. I am finding gifts in life all around me to the point of overwhelm. So I sit, stretch and breathe, downloading what is all around me, basking in its warm patch of sun.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Peruvian Andes Take Our Breath Away...Literally

Only two weeks left in South America. Time is a funny thing - it feels as though we just left the States and here we are about to return to California. We will live and work in Sonoma County for a couple of months before departing internationally once again. Traveling has become an ideal lifestyle, indeed.

Our days continue to be one adventure after the next, a perfect petrie dish for life in the present moment. Right now we are in the Andes mountains on the doorstep of the Cordilerra Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world next to the Himalayas. Our adobe-made bed and breakfast is located at the foot of a 23,000 foot snow-covered peak named Huascaran. It's run by a couple of Canadian expats who have a passion for sustainable and eco-friendly living, from reusing waste, organic gardening, natural home building ingredients and employing the local indigenous men and women to help around the property.

Yesterday we took a hike to Laguna 69 with Stuart and Lynva from Scotland/Britian who are also enjoying the lifestlye of travel. Little did we know it would take four hours to get there navigating around (sometimes over) bucket-sized potholes, mudslides and barking dogs. These meanies ran 20km per hour alongside our taxi, snarling and yapping, darting in front of us so we had to break and swerve. Not that fun of a drive, but practicing my Spanish with our driver, Jose, made me forget about my mounting headache and sloshing stomach during random intervals.

The warm equatorial sun followed us directly overhead for 8km as we traversed a meadow covered in bright yellow, blue and purple wildflowers. The jagged, snow-covered peaks of the Andes showed off for us in the quebrada (valley created by a glacier) while we passed saw-mouthed cows. We made the climb upwards on granite cliffsides to reach the next plateau, our pace slowing and our chests constricting from the high altitude of 16,000 feet. I poured us some coca tea made from fresh leaves. Yes, cocaine is made from the same plant, but the stem, not the leaves, and is highly processed to become the illicit drug. Pure coca, much like hemp, is the natural derivative, legal, and has been used in the highlands for hundreds of years to help altitude sickness, curb hunger and give a boost of natural energy. Admittedly, Andy and I are in pretty good shape but it doesn't matter - we had pounding headaches moving to the point of absolute exhaustion. We drank two liters of water each and still had thirst. Here, even when I take the stairs two at a time up to our room I am out of breath. It's a novel and odd feeling...we are now taking it easy for a couple days. (Bootleg DVDs...yeah!)

Finally, we could see a sliver of bright turquoise that morphed into a giant, pristine glacial lake. Two loud waterfalls poured down from Mt. Chacraraju (about 19,000 feet) staring at us from directly above, doused in perfectly white snow. The contrast of the yellow and purple wildflowers and green grasses on the shoreline to the topaz-hued lake, the grey granite rock wall, angelic mountain peaks and sapphire blue sky was absolute magic. We simply crashed down on a rock and stared in awe at this unimaginable piece of nature.

Though quite a bit colder, the highlands are my favorite place in Peru. One of my best memories while hiking in this remote area is watching the indiginous women as sheep herders, traversing the rocky landscape with stick in hand. As we draw nearer, we can see the details on their hats, each with a specific color, shape and design depending on the community they are from. Most speak a tongue of their native language of Quichoa and Spanish. Each also wear a unique set of clothing, for example a white collared blouse and red sweater with a wide purple knee-length skirt, white socks and black loafers. It's so interesting and different than anything I have seen in the US - a primitive perseverence tightly knitted by community and tradition. Here at the B&B, I am enjoying talking with a few girls from the local community who are new to work here and admittedly having some difficulty learning the "western way" of serving guests. I can't help myself smiling widely right back at them when we make eye contact. They have such a peaceful and simple existence that warms my heart. I feel millions of miles away from California.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

From Relaxation to a Rough Road - continued (Chapter 2)

With our trusty Lonely Planet - South America on a Shoestring book, we had just enough info to know what cities we needed to aim for to get to Huaraz and our Andean salvation. Beyond that we were just 2 gringos looking for help. That is what we got from a nice young women grasping what we found out was her first born child. From Trujillo we could take a bus from a company called Movis tours to Huarez. A nice bus, similar to El Dorado. Next a taxi driver found us after a morning sink bath in the bano and offered us a ride to wherever. There are pre-Incan ruins and the oldest known abode complex in the Americas nearby by at Chan Chan, but we were beelining to Huaraz dammit.

We got to Movis and found out that the next and only bus to Huaraz did not depart until 9 en la noche (night). It was 6:30 in the morning right NOW! Crapola. Chan Chan...? We thought maybe until our driver told us we could take ht America bus company to Chimbote, a fishing town 2 hours south (the right direction at least). From there we could catch another bus to Huaraz. Do it. Do it. We were off and arrived at America as the bus´engine started to grumble. For 8 soles ($2.50) each we were on the bus. They played (as they often do on these South American bus rides) a Hollywood action film in espanol of course. I watched a bank robbery with Jason Stathom. He´s a bald guy so maybe that´s why I dug it so much ,)

2 hours later we arrived in the fishy, cebiche (ceviche)-selling village of Chimbote at the bus terminal. We were again helped in teh right direction. This time to the Yungay ticket window where we saw the dry erase board schedule for 8:30 departure to Huaraz. It was 9:15. Damn! But, the nice lady was not concerned and made a call. We could catch up with the bus on the outskirts of town via taxi. Van, Van (Go! Go!). We got a 6 soles tour of the inland streets (carreterra or camino or calle) of Chimbote and found the dingy, blue Yungay bus waiting patiently for us gringos. Our bafgs were trown in teh under compartment (so far we have not had to store our bags on the roof which is nice). We had been sold 2 seats (asientos) together (junto) on the left side of the bus (25 soles) so when the time came during this 9 hour bus ride, we could see the magestic Canon del Pata. I am intrigued.

Stacy is in a wonderful mode this day, despite the continuous travel and lack of comfort. I am most impresed and tell her often. We were off. Heading east at first then ultimately south to Huaraz. I can´t wait for the snow-capped Andes!! The Peruvian Andes are the worlds´s second tallest mountain range by the way. Who knew? The trip took us from the desert-like caost of northern Peru into a rocky canyon zigging and zagging with the powerful Rio Santo River. The paved road ended abruptly and I was jarred awake. We were now on a makeshift dirt and rock path hugging the steep cliffs on one side goign up (arriba) and keeping clear of the downward cliff on the other falling into the Class 5 rapids below (sometimes 100 feet below!). I was constandtly feeling myself leaning the opposite way of the river.

Our bus had a driver, a porter collecting dinero and a mechanic. Thank god! We had to stop 5 times over the course of the 9 hour trip to fix something. Different somethings each time? Who knows? There was evidence of recent rock slides. I kept prodding Stacy with a wry smirk, ¨Hey, look at that massive rock in the middle of the river. How did that get there?¨ From a rock slde no doubt! The heart rate was constantly up on this trip. I was waiting for a rock to impale the roof of hte bus or rock us into teh river. We had a window open nearby just in case. No joke, we discussed our emergency plan! Twice during stops I thanked teh driver and mechanic for their brilliant work!

On and on this went for hours. We finally stopped in a village that lined this dusty road carved into the rock. Burros everywhere and makeshift shanty tiendas (shops) selling water and sugar stuff. The river was muddy and rushing by FAST! We ate a tidy little meal at a nice lady´s restaurante (4 walls and roof with tables and chairs). Seco de pollo, arroz y yuca. We enjoyed a CocaCola and talked with her and a few others. One guy who made and was selling his own helado (ice cream). It was tasty. I had a lot of fun chatting in espanol with our new friends. They seemed happy to talk too. Everyday the buses drive this road back and forth and they are the salvation in teh middle of nowhere. Everyone from our bus was eating and buying something (we were the only gringos for kilometers!) - business had to be pretty good here! The mechanic took the opportunity to fix whatever needed fixing and eventually we wereoff. Adios Amigos!

Despite th erepairs, we had to stop a few times more, precariously close to the cliff´s edge. The intense drive continued and then we hit the fabulous Canon del Pato. WOW!! A tight and incredibly steep and tall canyon with the roaring river below. How did they make this road?! It was carved out of rock. At times with barely a bus width of space. I was waiting for the rear left tire to start sliding down the cliff! here must have been 2 dozen tunnels we went through. Once having to back up 100M so another vehicle could pass. There were waterfalls pouring into the river. The cascadas started thousands of feet up we could see if we craned our necks to the very very top of the mountain. Incredible!! I was constantly leaning to my left across Stacy as she read her book, snapping photo after photo!! There was a dam at one point and then the Canon was past. We still wound our way through farmland and eventually to a real town wit ha paved road. We caught our first glimpse of Snow-capped Andes in the town of Caraz and the mountain that some revere as the most beautifully perfect peaks in the world, Alpamayo. We had to change buses in Yungay. I´m sure the bus was happy! That was an impossible trip for the poor bus!

The rest of the trip was paved. By now it was dark and my energy was sapped. I napped. I awoke to us nearing Huaraz. Stacy said she saw a serious head-on crash. Yikes! We arrived and were excited to walk and stretch our legs despite teh taxi guy and hostal lady trying to get our business. No gracias. We had sent an email to Olaza´s ( B&B from Piura (seems like a month ago) hopeful for a place to stay but who knows? It turned out they had a room and it was heavenly! I new establishment with large room with private bath and window. Delish!! There is a rooftop terrace, lounge with fireplace, free brekky. Our sense of accomplishment and relief was huge. High Fives all around! 48 hours of travel and we´d made it to Huaraz, surrounded by snowy peaks! Oh thank god. I was so happy - more for Stacy than anything. Also, for myself I suppose so the wife was satisfied.

A Happy Wife is a Happy Life (Oh I hope so!!)!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

From Relaxation to a Rough Road - Sorry Stace - Chapter 1

After 7 days in the wonderful Valley of Longevity in Vilcabamba, Ecuador I felt it was time to go. We had extended our stay from 3 nights to 7, but Stacy was happy here. We talked a lot about it and she seemed happy to go after day 7. It turned out, she was not quite ready to hit the road. So, we compromised. She really wanted to stay in Vilcabamba, Ecuador (it was a great town and a great country!) but I was restless. We decided to head to Peru, but not to the jungle as I initially had hoped.

We had no clue really where, except to get over the border to a large town called Piura (pronounced Pee-ura). It was a wild ride. The overnight $8 bus ride was halted at 3am due to a rumba on the road. A rockslide! It had rained a bit the day before (ayer in espanol) We waited and waited, then I got out with others with my headlamp to check it out. Couldn´t see much but we could hear the frequent cracking and sliding sounds of rock and dirt. Frequent I tell you! I got back in the bus and we all slept there (a few others buses lined up in front of and behind us too). A
t 7am, I was up and curious. I walked over people sleeping in the bus aisle (they oversold the thing - shocker!) and saw the problem. We had serious road blockage and the cracking and spilling continued. I watched with dozens of others as a second rumba began closer than the other. Trees were sliding down with the dirt and rock. I had never seen such a thing. Stacy slept but I was in awe and enjoyed the wackiness. I was not sure how we were going to get to Peru and I really wanted my wife happy. Unfortuantely, this would not be the way to her heart. Waiting on a bus, no shower, not sure where or when we were going. The stars were not aligned for me these last few hours.

I explored our options by walking around the rumba in the thcket of bramble, trees and bushes, past a smellt bano (I did use it though) and up a small hill. I tried to keep my distance from the spillage but a few times I was maybe 20M away. On the other side were a few pickup trucks, taking advantage of the opportunity and the stranded people. I chatted with a few and for $10/vehicle (Ecuador uses the US$$ by the way), we could get a hitch to the border town of Macara 90 minutos away. As I spoke with them, the cracking became intense and the rockslide suddenly tripled in size and came flowing down the mountain sending a plumage of dust toward te hworkers who had begun to shovel away the mess. That was intense. Luckily no one, including me was hurt! I walked back to the buses and told Stacy the news. After her fright of losing me under a barrage of rubble subsided we were grabbing our backpacks (mochilas) and heading by foot toward and past the rumba. An argentinian couple followed, along with a number of others.

We loaded in a pickup and for $1.50 each we weredriving through the intense fog southbound toward the border (frontera). A nice conversation ensued with the Argentinian woman who was 7 months prego and who had been traveling with her husband since August (you do the math! thats daring.). We got to the border, the unorthodox way and met with rather pleasant officers with big smiles.
We were stamped and checked and soon, with the Argentinians, in another car (coche) heading to Sullana. Not Piura, but close. 2 hours later we arrived in the moto-taxi frenzied town and were dropped at t ehfeet of a sleeping local in a camry. He would take us to Piura. Really? It was a little bit rushed and uncomfortable, especially for Stacy, but what other choice did we have? The bus station was dangerous we were told (that´s what we hear about everywhere and we are still breathing!). We gave in and for 8 soles (1 soles = $0.30US) each we got a 45 minute ride to Piura.

Piura was a large town. The 4 of us had decided to be dropped near a cluster of hostels we´d seen in our trusty Lonely Planet guide book. Still, Stacy and I did not know what we were going to do...Stay the night? Go to the jungle? Take a bus today top somewhere? I had figured to head south into the Peruvian Andres to find a nice mountain lodge for a week or so to give Stacy the R&R she wanted. Now, she said we could go to the jungle if I wanted. I was going a bit loco. She was defintiely having a difficult time with all of this travel and leaving the comfort of our Vilcabamba santuary. I understand that. It was nice. But the difference between man and woman (hombre y mujer) was coming out. I was looking for solutions and she was simply going through her emotions at that time. We ended up finding Hostal San Carlos in Piura central for 45 soles. Not sure what we are going to do, but maybe taking some time to sit, rest and think will do us good. Oh, and a shower wouldn´t hurt either! We worked out some differences and hit the streets for a tasty Almuerzo (lunch) at a locals joint. Then we dove into the Internet recon program. Huaraz in the Andes became our focus and Stacy seemed to be getting into it as she read more and more. We were sitting at 2 computers in a tight corner of the place - really tight. So tight I was using my canine teeth to hit the Return key. We decided to go to head toward Huaraz, to the snow-capped peaks and maybe a little chill in the air. When or how we´d get there we were guessing, buses of course...

We walked to the street lined with bus companies (In Peru, there tends not to be a central station. Instead all of the private companies have their own locations. Luckily here they were all along one road). We bought 2 tickets to Trujillo in the south for 12 midnight (medianoche) tonight. Let´s just keep on keeping on we decided.

We shopped for groceries and again found PEANUT BUTTER! and the motherlode of wine! We stocked up and then rested until it was time to leave for our bus. We watched english TV in our matchbox of a room and recouped. The El Dorado bus trip south was a pleasure and we slept hard, arriving in Trujillo, 6 hours away, in what seemed to be 30 minutes! We were on our way. Now what?

And the story will continue ( a guy is painting the ceiling in our hostals so I will need to get going)...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

PB to fill the void, Por Favor!

We are 6 weeks into our America del Sur adventure and are having a blast! We zipped up to Ecuador after 6 days in Peru have are still here! The trip has developed a mind of its own as they have tended to do over hte last 13 months! At times traveling without a care in the world and other times fighting with what our future will bring and what are we doing with our lives?

We started on the coast in Puerto Lopez (Poor Man´s Galapagos), went northeast to Puerto Quito (luckily avoiding the 80M wide gap in the highway which had recently been washed away by intense rains, volunteered in the jungle with the biting bugs and sloths, planting trees and more. We headed east into the Andes to the capital of Quito, then southeast to Tena for an amazing Jungle Lodge adventure.

Then to Banos, then we took the brilliant train ride from Alausi down the Devils´s Nose,
and found ourselves after a 6 hour swerving and stopping bus ride, in Cuenca, the home of the Panama Hat (Yes, Panama didn´t make squat!).

We are now in Vilcabamba in the south, nearly to Peru. Stacy will for sure broaden your knowledge of the Valley of Longevity and its tremendous attributes, but lets just say our 3 night visit has turned into 7!!

Throughout this itinerary-less journey, we have been dealing with the mindfuck that has been our last 13 months. It has been incredible no question. But it also has brought up loads of questions and concerns. Amazingly liberating and fulfilling days have been followed by days filled with self-analysis and questions of why? (Por que?) and when? (Cuando.? Do we have money? Where are we going next? Where can we buy wine? Why are being the way you are? Geez! It has been an education on so many levels.

Luckily for us here, unlike in SE Asia, we do have bread (pan) and cheese (queso), wine (vino) ain´t great, but it you find a SuperMaxi (grocery store) you can embrace a good selection at good value! The comfort food (comida) has been a blessing, no doubt, but still, for for the first month something was lacking. I really didn´t know what it was, but when we were eating queso fresco (an Ecuadorian staple that looks like mozzerella, but tastes bad) again, or those wonderfully delicious Coco cookies (galletas) I found myself yearnign for something. It wasn´t until we were in Banos (not the toilet!) that I realized what it was that I missed. We take it for granted back home. It sits in the cupboard, sometimes for months on end. But here, you must search and search! I know, I´ve done it!

PEANUT BUTTER!! (Mantequilla de Mani) It has a special place in my heart that comforts me when those analytical questions arise or I wonder what we are doing?? We have spoken to people who had friends bring it with them from the states when they visited, one group had 2 CostCo-sized half gallons in their carry-on when they left the USA and had it confiscated under the liquid rule. Then, finally in Banos, a female traveler was spooning it out onto her plate in mounds and I had to keep myself from charging over there! It is in Ecuador afterall!!! The next day, Stacy, the wonderful wife that she is realized that it was in our town even and secretively disappeared with a smile on her face and returned bearing gifts (well, one gift). A small glass container of local mantequilla de mani!!! I was in shock!! Finally!! After searching long and hard for weeks, we had it!! I had it!

We are now on container number 3. In Cuanca at the SuperMaxi we found Peter Pan Crunchy which we are now enjoying (lots of sugar though!). Who needs dessert or chips or a carrot when you can finger-spoon a clump of PB into your salivating mouth.

Muchas Gracias Ecuador!!!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

El Baño en Baños, Ecuador

Photo Album. Baños is a quaint town located in a dramatic Andean valley with creature comforts all around. It's the first truly touristic city in Ecuador we have visited thus far. Our hostal, Plantos y Blancos was a highlight. Baños literally means 'baths' in Spanish due to the healing natural pools in the town from the giant volcano that towers over the town only miles away.

Our hostal has an early morning steam bath that Andy and I experienced three mornings in a row. It is a natural body cleanse that originated in Chile. You sit in a hot vapor box for 4 minutes with fresh eucalyptus leaves like a steam room, except your head sticks out. Then, you wipe your legs, arms and back methodically with a cold towel all the while following an attendant. You alternate this process five times, each time opening all of your pores, extracting the toxins, then closing your pores before the toxins have a chance to seep back in. There is also a time in the middle when you sit in a tub with freezing cold water and massage your intestines for about 1-2 minutes. Lastly, a cold jet spray. Afterwards, I felt revived and full of energy (and pooped like a champ) and clearer skin.

We enjoyed a 35km bike ride (oi) along la Routa de las Cascadas (Avenue of the Waterfalls). Oh my, Ecuador is a beautiful place! The highlands (Andes mountains) much more than the coast. No mosquitoes here, either. It rained everyday there but I didn't mind.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Amazon Jungle in Ecuador

Photo Album. Andy and I had an unforgettable four days in the Amazon jungle. The Shangrila Lodge reminded me of a giant tree house made completely of wood with loads of different levels and stairways. It faces west, perched on a cliff 100 meters above the winding Rio Anzu below. It was consistently about 70 - 75 degrees with only slight humidity. Thousands of hectares of secondary rainforest stretched out before us glittering in a spectrum of brilliant green colors. In the distance, the Camino des Volanes popped out from above the clouds - four volcanoes in the Andes mountains. The panoramic view was completely private with no other lodges or people in sight from our private deck and hammock. No mosquitoes this high up, either. A perfect paradise.

It was pouring rain the first day we arrived with the river too high to be able to canoe across for our scheduled activity to visit the indigenous Quichoa community in the rainforest. As an alternative, our guide Gilberto (pronounced Hilberto) decided to take us on a three hour canyon hike to the east in the dense primary rainforest. Little did we know we'd be scaling canyon walls and waterfalls in narrow passages with bats whipping by our faces and their screech in our ears. Though we had rubber boots to our knees, the rain was so insistent and intense that we were completely soaked through by the end, yet strangely satisfied. After all, this IS the rainforest.

Because the forest is so dense, the majority of the trail was in the stream bed which that day was up to my mid-calf. Gilberto only speaks Spanish with a few important jungle-related nouns or verbs in English thrown in, like "resvaloso" (slippery), "semillas" (seeds), "hoja" (leaf) and "monos" (monkeys). I was both surprised and pleased that during the hike we not only became acquainted with the jungle, but Spanish as well. It's incredible to hear about the various leaves, plants, roots and mushrooms the indigenous cultures have used over the centuries to cure headaches and stomach problems, malaria, as an antibiotic, to hallucinate or increase energy levels. Andy was daring enough to eat some crunchy lemon ants but I passed on that one.

The next day the sun shone brightly as we hiked in the secondary forest filled with thousands of brightly-colored butterfies to the Quichoa village. Along the way we tried fresh bananas and saw tiny monkeys swinging in the trees. I could hardly believe this jungle is only ten years old - the original primary forest was cut down years ago to make room for cow pastures. It's beautiful to see it back in its natural state now. At one point, Gilberto grabbed a spiky plant and hit my arm with it and stung like nettle. Red rash bumps quickly appeared but before I could get pissed off at him, Gilberto explained it's good for blood circulation as he pegged his own arm and lower back. Who knows.

Le Comunidad de Santa Maria is one giant family of 80 inhabitants. Maria and Delphin are the matriarch and patriarch, respectively. We arrived around 11:30am yet it felt like a ghost town because no one was up and around. Gilberto took us inside Delphin's house and explained because it is Saturday, they all get "baracho" (drunk) on the weekend from fermented yuca root until the wee hours of the morning and that is why everyone is still asleep. His house is made of bamboo with a couple of bamboo benches and a space for a fire in the center of the room. As Gilberto served us some tea from the huayusa plant (the "Viagra of the Jungle" as he called it), Delphin appeared (still half drunk it seemed) and we greeted him with "alipuncha," Quichoa for good morning. He spoke Spanish also so we could understand him some. We also tried the fermented yuca (which tasted like thin rotten yogurt to me) and Gilberto showed us the baskets they use for fishing when the river runs low. Along the hike, Gilberto had picked up other various leaves, mushrooms and a giant buttery grub which he cooked up in a banana leaf. Though otherwise completely primitive, I was not surprised to see a television in the room. In Southeast Asia it was the same way.

After lunch at the lodge, we tied three tubes together and cruised down the Rio Anzu for a couple of hours. It was both relaxing and beautiful to watch the "selva" (jungle) pass us by, engaging in yet another impromptu Spanish lesson. Gilberto was interested to know English words as well, so it was a fun activity to banter back and forth, teaching one another, asking questions and telling stories. I have never taken a formal Spanish lesson, but my comprehension and basic speech is improving drastically by the day. This is a gift from South America that I didn't expect but will cherish always. The trick is to CONTINUE practicing...

The next day we went white water rafting with a group of Germans on the Rio Jalunyacu, mostly level three rapids but with the tricks, games, our company and sheer number of rapids, it was a blast. Our guide (who also didn't speak English, shocker!) Jorge was a kick, with a bright smile and contagious zest for life. I decided he might have one of the best jobs in existance. My cheeks hurt at the end of the day from all the smiles and laughter (but now my neck and shoulders hurt from all the rowing). Also a memorable day, indeed, with the added bonus of the continuous Spanish lesson which I am growing to love and purposely find myself seeking out.

Like dozens of our experiences on this world trip, it was sad to leave this jungle sanctuary and a handful of new friends. But everything is temporary and this notion forces us to remain living and enjoying in the present moment to the fullest.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quito, Ecuador

It's not often that I report it's nice to be in a giant city for a few days, but this was an exception. Infrastructure outside of the large cities is minimal so we were thankful to be able to have hot water, access to supermarkets, a dentist and pizza.

Quito is a beautiful colonial city set in a valley in the Andes at about 8,500 feet surrounded by beautiful green mountains. It took our lungs a day or two to get acclimated from sea level. The road from Puerto Quito was a mess from the recent storms and we watched out the window in awe as we circumvented a stretch of road completely washed away from mudslides. I am still not sure how these giant buses make it up alternate muddy roads, but they do.

We spent most of our time in the Centro Historico, a beautiful area of town with old colonial buildings and squares from the 1500s when the Spanish settled. People watching was one of my favorite activities while relaxing in the squares - indigenous ladies with a child or two expertly wrapped on their back with an old sheet selling homemade plantains, or the modern day mestizo on his cell phone walking briskly to a meeting. It was Carnaval, but to my surprise people flock to the small towns (Banos, Tena) and the coast (Esmereldas) to celebrate instead. So maybe that's why I liked the city - it wasn't crowded at all. Although when we arrived on Saturday, we had our packs on our backs walking to our hotel and heard a child yell 'Gringo! Gringo!' I turned around and saw a few kids racing towards us and after I dodged them, they doused Andy with foam, a Carnaval tradition. It was interesting to see the town full of people and commerce on Wednesday. Thousands of people had a inked cross in the middle of their foreheads, a symbol I can only guess is related to Lent.

Quito is extremely dangerous after dark so each night by 6:30pm we were safely inside our guesthouse doors ($8.50 US per person per night by the way). It had internet access (80 cents per hour) and a kitchen, so we shopped and cooked our own meals again and we continue to have happy stomachs.

The last time we visited a dentist was about six months ago in Bangkok, so we decided to get our teeth cleaned here. The place was professional, the price was right at $15 a pop and our dentist loved to talk and spoke only Spanish (like everyone), so we enjoyed an hour long Spanish lesson as well. The most memorable word I learned was 'escoupe' meaning spit. I did plenty of that.

There really isn't that much more to report of our time in Quito. We ate, we slept, we caught up on errands, traded our books and walked all over the city. Yesterday we took a five hour bus ride to the province el Oriente in a city called Tena, the gateway to the Amazon. This weekend we are off on our first tour, a jungle adventure into the Amazon Rainforest to hike and white water raft.

We heard the devastating news today that Dean Dosdall has passed away. Dean was an incredible person who Andy and I have both had the pleasure of working with over the last five years. So Dean, today we celebrate you, your open heart and your kind soul. We cherish the memories and laughter we have shared over the years and we will miss you very, very much.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Saving the Rainforest in Ecuador

Photo Album. On February 19 we celebrated one year of traveling around the world. I can hardly believe that this year has gone by so quickly and we are still hungry for more...well, that's true most of the time anyway. At times, Andy and I go through bouts of aimlessness. What are we doing? Where are we going? How do we get there? When do we stop traveling? Why would we? Why wouldn't we? Imagine your life for a minute without a cell phone or a computer, without a car or a job, without your friends or family. With this dual-edged void in our minds, these questions arise. We talk it though and discover we need purpose. Working on a rainforest reserve to regenerate the native trees was a perfect remedy...for then, anyway.

Our host, Raul, finally arrived to the house after two days there on our own with another volunteer named Annika, a German biology student. It was the first morning of work that my horror story images disappeared from the half a dozen machetes laying around the house. Each of us with a giant machete in hand, we sliced away the invasive vines that inhibit native tree growth in a primary and secondary rainforest. Next, we planted 60 native trees underneath the pockets of sunlight we created. Unfortunately for me, as I was hacking away I must have gotten close to a wasp nest because I received four stings - two on my middle finger, one on my forearm and I batted away the fourth one as it was mid-sting in my bicep. OUCH! Both my finger and forearm were pretty red and swollen and I could hardly bend my finger (see photo album for pics). Thankfully, I am not allergic.

The next day I had the day off from the machete and planted seedlings instead. Between three of us, we planted over 1,000! It´s exciting to see a project like this in action. That afternoon, we learned how to make chocolate from the cacao plants on the property and have been indulging in organic coffee in the mornings from here as well. Raul also taught us how to make palm nut rings.

We have learned so much about the flora and fauna on rainforest hikes with Raul - I have a journal full of drawings. The sounds at night were plentiful. We heard all sorts of frogs, cicadas, geckos, sloths, birds, kikajous...and Andy saw a snake. All kinds of creatures out here. Some great news is monkeys are coming back since the forest has been regenerated in this fashion. Apparently they haven't been seen here in over ten years because of the massive clear cutting.

We have eaten all kinds of organic food from the property: macadamia nuts, sesame seeds, papaya, coffee, chocolate, starfruit, najarilla (a fruit), bananas, plantanes, hearts of palm and lemon basil. My stomach is in heaven since we have been able to cook our own food. You must be wondering what Ecuadorian food is anyway. A lot of rice, chicken, broccoli, plantanes and tomatoes. Plantanes are a staple. They are a type of large, unripe banana. They can be cooked in dozens of different ways - I learned how to make chifles, patacones and bolones. Chifles are very thinly sliced, deep fried, sprinkled with salt and taste like potato chips. Patacones are a thicker, pressed version and bolones are boiled, mixed with butter and salt and then stuffed with cheese. Yum.

Favorite foods we have eaten out are empanadas, tamales and mochiles (yuca root that is made into a soft dough, stuffed with a white cheese and fried). Unlike being in Asia, we stop into a panaderia (bread shop) most days to make a sandwich or have a fresh croissant for a snack. Oh, and there is a fruit here called guanabana that is made into juice and yogurt that is simply delicious. Be sure to check out the photos .

Now, we are in the capital city of Quito. More to come on our experience here later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Adventures in Ecuador (Puerto Lopez & Puerto Quito)

Buenos tardes mi amigos...

Ecuador. Who knew we would come to this little country on the equator? By now, that is half the fun for Andy and me. Where we go is as random as rolling a dice sometimes. Jaunting over to Puerto Lopez, Ecuador did have some draw, however and it is called Parque Nacional Machalilla. This giant national park is the only one on the coast of Ecuador and covers 20,000 hectares of the sea as well. After another overnight bus ride, we awoke feeling groggy and managed to find our way around potholes, litter and stray dogs to our guesthouse Itapoa on the sea. Raul, the owner, greeted us at the entrance and welcomed us inside the tranquil palm-covered grounds. Unlike everyone else, he spoke fluent English and gave us a few recommendations of what to do.

Since our room wasn't ready, we headed out again to grab some breakfast at a Columbian restaurant that offered yogurt, granola, fruit and real Columbian coffee for breakfast. YES, whole grains and real coffee! Much better than white breads and instant coffee we had in Peru (and some nasty fish, but I won't relive that memory). It's a new success to not feel nauseus after eating, and this was one of those coveted times. We met another couple who had just spent five weeks in Columbia and raved about it. Andy and I didn't have a clue where we were off to next, so hearing about others' adventures is a welcome treat.

Our time in Puerto Lopez was spent in the national park, on the beach and in our hammock reading books. The highlight was an excursion to Isla de la Plata, otherwise known as "the Poor Man's Galapagos" where we went snorkeling and hiking around the island. Blue-footed boobies were the most interesting creature, completely unafraid of humans since, like on the Galapagos, they have no predators. In fact, we were scared of them as father and young squawked and darted towards us in a protective measure.

We spent a good amount of time chatting with our host Raul during breakfast over organic coffee from his rainforest reserve. He described a volunteer opportunity there which is located near the town of Puerto Quito (not listed in Lonely Planet...uh oh!). Our interest was piqued as he described collecting and planting native seeds to regenerate the native rainforest in the area, as well as educate the locals about this important process. We would learn how to make palm nut rings, harvest coffee and cocoa beans for chocolate. We tasted the bitter flavor of 100% pure cocoa - it definitely needs a bit of sugar! Andy had just been talking about how he wanted to volunteer somewhere, so this looks like our next destination. Sold.

The plan was to take an overnight bus to Quito, spend a couple days in the capital city, meet up with Raul then take a four hour bus ride to Puerto Quito. Didn't happen quite as planned. Our bus stopped in Puerto Domingo in the middle of the night and we heard word that the rains have washed out both main roads to Quito. Now what? The driver decided to take us the long way around through Puerto Quito - the town we wanted to end up in ultimately. Good thing Andy woke up at just the right time because he called to the driver to stop the bus when he saw signs mentioning the town. A local asked us where we were headed when we exited the bus and he let us use his phone. Raul answered and said of course, we can go to his house a couple of days early. Miguel, the man who looks after his house, biked down the hill to meet us. Meanwhile, I went shopping for some bread, fruit, milk, vegetables and other food supplies. If you ever find yourself in Ecuador, make sure to look at the date on all goods - so much is outdated on the shelves.

We make it up to the house and it is indeed in the middle of a beautiful Ecuadorian jungle. After dropping our bags in our private room, Miguel showed us around the property, pointing out beautiful orchids, papaya trees, giant butterflies and pineapple fruits. Stupidly, my arms and shoulders were not covered and in less than 10 minutes I had dozens of mosquito bites. Damn it. Good thing we are hopped up on malaria pills. Then, Miguel leaves and Andy and I have this giant house in the jungle to ourselves. We start work the next day. Today, we read and sleep and cook our own meals for the first time in South America. Nausea stays away, hooray.

Our shower dribbles like a strong pee. The screens are rusted and torn. The smell of mildew pilfers down the hall. Grime is caked on the sink and countertops. Mosquitos bite and then bite again. The humidity makes our bodies smell very strange. Certainly, it is times like these that make me yearn for the comforts of home. But then it wouldn't be an adventure, now would it?

We worked in the garden for a few hours this morning. It's a lot like WWOOFing, except we have no host. Raul is supposed to come this afternoon, but without a phone, who knows. It depends on if the road from Quito is repaired. Again, who knows? The expected becomes the unexpected and the uncomfortable remains so.

P.S. Our Spanish is getting better everyday. Not a soul speaks English!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mancora, Peru - R&R and that damn little Muchacha!!

We made it to the coastal meca of Mancora early last Wednesday after 17 hours of relative ease on Cruz del Sur bus lines. The place is definitely 3rd world we realized as we made our way from the bus stop to our place which we had booked at the Lima aeropuerto, Kimba´s Bungalows. The roads we dusty and shanties lined the main drag, hwy 1, selling lots of shells, food and alcohol. Little motobike chariots were zipping by as were giant semi trucks and buses nonstop.

Patterned after Balinese hidaways, Kimba´s was an oasis for us. A cute upstairs bungalow, hammock and chairs with agorgeous little pool and lots of palm trees. Kimba even had a pet parrot squaking periodically! We spent 5 nights in Mancora soaking in warmth and sun. We ate cheap and just relaxed. Walks on the OK beach away from the swarms of local vacationers were nice in the evenings. We slept in until 930 each day and snuck in for our breakfast just before 10 todos los dias. Our angel from SF and Lima, Carlos arrived the second day we were there and had the room directly underneath us. Too funny! He was a really nice guy and was also here in Peru to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of Americana for a while.

I mentioned earlier we ate cheap. Evening number 2 found us walking ht ebeach and then up a main dirt road mocked with potholes and puddles of standing water from the recent rain. We saw the board and the little chica advertising 2 courses and a jugo for 5 soles each(1 dollar = 3.2 soles, you do the math!). Andy Bergdahl was IN! And so was the Mrs. We ate tasy ceviche and ric dishes, ordered 2 beers and got out o there for 5 bucks. Crazy. The next night we ended up at the same place with the same cute little muchacha. Only this time, stacy´s stomach was growling back before we left the table. Again, 5 dollars, but th ebonus of this experience was the cheapness of the NEXT day as we we unable to eat much of anything. Stacy´s Montazuma´s Revenge hit early and was copnsiderable. I on the ther hand thought I´d gotten away clear. When Stacy grunted her question to me in the middle of hte night, ¨how are YOU feeling?¨I said my stomach was tight but I think its from the run and stretching I did earlier that evening.

Uh no. Sure enough before daybreak I was bent over the basin ridding my body of the little muchacha´s poison. We both slept until 1pm this day and louned around the pool like slugs toopained to do anything. We both agreed it was nothing near the worst such experience we´d had in our lives but our affirmations about ¨Being Healthy throughut America del Sur¨quickly had to be re-written. Ugg.

We slowly got back to OKsville and by the next day we were eating and I was back exercising. Stacy was not 100 percent bt doing better. To say that we began paying more for food goes without saying. Andy, there are some things that you cannot chince on is hte lesson I learned.

We also met 2 Brazilian sisters, Kate and...(damn we can´t recall). We had lots of convos with Kate and enjoyed 2 dinners with her. She has the traveling bug too! Not that bug, but the good one thta keeps us on the move! Are we going to Brazil she asked and Stacy and I looked at each other...¨Maybe? Is that an invitation?¨ We had a nce group of amigos and amigas going here and happened to meet some Argentinians as well. Pablo helped me with espanol one day in the pool and his sister and friend welcomed us into their Yerba Mate tea circle. We wer thinking of heading north to Ecuador and now we are being invited South to the big countries down there. We´ll see.

On Monday we took yet another overnight bus trip. This one on CIFA, going to Ecuador. We had heard about sketchy night buses and not to go with CIFA. What did we do?? Oh well. It was fine actully. Despite having to get on and off hte bus thrice for various immigation and policia checks we drove through th eheavy rains, into Guayquil. This town is Ecuador´s largest city, but not its capital. that is Quito. We were dropped right on time at 6am at the largest and most impressive bus depot EVER!! It was like a massive socol indoor mall with 3 levels, directories to help and people all over, even at this early hour. Stacy spotted stall number 26 and we were buying our ticket to Puerto Lopez. You know, Puerto Lopez! Ha! Its the closest mainland city to the galapagos and it has Ecuador´s only coastal National Park and we are read for hiking and diving!!!! We were rushed up stairs (escalators actually) and onto the 615 bus. 4 hours for 4 bucks. The rain was pouring, but the angst we had been worried about yesterday had passed. We made teh 2nd bus.

Next Stop, Puerto Lopez!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Caught between hello and goodbye

Hola amigos and amigas! I write from the coastal vacation spot of Mancura, Peru. We first arrived in Lima on Tuesday, Feb. 3rd around 5:30 am. Off on the road again. Home, road, home, road, home, road. Which is it going to be!?!?! I am a little confused I must admit. But for now it is the road. Bring it on!

In our attempt to flag a bus or taxi al aeropuerto we met a fellow who was on the hunt as well, but he knew el autobus was not his desire. ¨Be careful,¨he warned Stacy as he walked past her toward the main road outside the confines of the airport. The bus would be cheap if the wife and I found the one with an ¨S¨ but there are so many little buses and equally as many cabbies trying to solicit our business. ¨Geez,¨ our exhausted faces said to each other. Carlos, the man with the words of warning, was looking for someone to split a cab with so I caught up with him and suggested we were his compadres. He flagged an accommodating taxi and for 30 nuevos soles (approx. $9.50 US) we were on our way. C-los happened to be on the same flights from San Francisco and Miami. He was Peruvian but had lived in SF for nearly 18 years. No kidding?¨ I knew both Stacy and I were thinking it, but I voiced it. We were ALMOST in an accident a handful of times, and as Carlos tried to apologize for his countrymen´s driving we laughed and said we´d been to SE Asia. Sorry, but this ain´t nada.

Carlos had the cabbie drop us in Miraflores, a newer part of Lima and told us about a place for great coffee & desayuna. We said adios but knew we´d see him again soon because he told us he was going to travel in the same direction we were headed, to Mancura and to the SAME exact bungalows. I ask, what are the chances, really? Unreal.

Stacy had booked a short 17 hour bus trip (!?!?!) on Cruz del Sur via the magic of the InterWeb a few days ago, so we had 7+ hours to kill here in town. Delicious churros y cafe plus an omelette, know aqui as a tortilla. We were back on chill mode, killing time and catching up on lost journal moments from the past weeks. It was warm and somewhat humid. We decided to rest on the grass in Kennedy Park in central Miraflores. That is until we were shooed off the grass by a nice civil servant just doing his trabajo. We tried the curved benches of a rotunda only meters away on the concrete of the park but soon were told in Spanish by a different guy not to lay on the bench. ¨We just want to take a nap, dude!¨ A restful experience it was not and with the third conversation with the MAN that was basically about Stacy closing her eyes and sleeping, we decided enough was definitely enough and went searching for internet. Ugg.

An hour typing and then some grocery shopping were the precursors to a long hike to our bus terminal. We stopped for some ceviche and cerveza at the Blue Dorado restaurante and headed north along the broad center divider, fully equiped for walkers. Cool, so walking is OK here I guess, just not quiet time. Hundreds of little motorcycle-rickshaws passed by but we figured an hour walk would serve us well if 17 hours of sitting was in store. We fanally made it to Cruz del Sur and asientos (seats) siete y ocho. The air conditioning was strong and the seats kicked back better than our American Airlines ones. Nice. We were off and happy to be able to rest. Hollywood movies with Spanish dubbing and Portuguese sub-titles blared on the TVs, (Ingles is not widespread here, fyi) but we were happy to be on the move to our paradisical beach. Before darkness stole the light from us I could see that the landscape was extremely arid and sandy desert stretched as far as one could see. The coast was off to our left somewhere over a dune. I thought to myself how we would be the perfect bus to hyjack out in the middle of nowhere. No towns, nary another vehicle besides giant dump trucks or semis. Time to put those thoughts to rest. Goodnight.

Luckily, all went smooth and without a single petrol stop (how is that possible by the way?) we arrived in Mancura town safe and sound. The sun is hot here, but not too humid surprisingly. Our whiteness and tendency to burn is magnified by the fact that we started taking our malaria pills this morning. We are sun-sensitive for sure, but with SPF 30 in hand we hope to survive. Beach, a pool, song pajaros(birds)some comida (food) and a book proposal to finish. These are the things that make up our waking hours.

I must admit that as I sit hear in Mancura, Peru on the northwest coast of the country, I feel I am floating in limbo. We have now said goodbye to our loved ones for the third time in 12 months, this includes parents and the dog. We are living our dream but at the same time struggle with aimlessness and purpose. Our hearts agree that this is the time of our lives and we are amidst a great journey, but my mind is still caught up in my current past of logistics and planning. What next? Why? How long? and When? I do not have any of thee answers for my mind but with some good heart to hearts with Stacy feel a lot better about our NOW. She has taught me the benefit of discussion and truth, to one another and to one´s self. I have discussed my feelings with her, written them down for me and embraced the fact that I am going through these emotions, rather than sweep them under the rug. I feel extremely confident that with Stacy by my side all of this anxiety will quickly subside and we will have the experience of a lifetime, together...once again!

Hasta Luego>!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Calling All Book Proposal Reviewers

Yes, it's true. Andy and I are writing a book. What began as an expedition of travel and adventure also became a journey of personal self and relationship discovery. We have a story to tell, but we need your help.

I am asking for volunteers to read the book proposal. It needs to be the very best it can be before we distribute to book agents. If you are interested in sharing honest feedback, please email: We will email you the proposal in MS Word with a list of what we are looking for.

Today is our last day in Southern California before we leave for Arizona to see Jeff, Caitlin and baby Zack for a few days. Next we take a road trip to visit the beautiful Southwest: the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion and Arches National Parks. We'll head over the Rocky Mountains and stop in Cascade, Colorado to visit my Mom and her boyfriend Edward. We leave for South America on February 2 from San Francisco, and looking forward to seeing our friends and family there for a few days before saying ADIOS to North America.

Thank you for your consideration, and please stay in touch either way!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Hello California, It's Been a While

I have mixed emotions about being back at home after three months. On the one hand, it is unbeatable to spend time with loved ones. It's gratifying to swap stories and reconnect with those who know me inside and out. The sun is shining and it's 70 degrees during the day - heck, I am wearing flip flops in San Diego after months in a down parka, gloves and scarf. However, my daily life is more stressful. Cell phones, driving in traffic, "to do" lists and other logistics tire me out in a way I haven't felt in a long while.

Life becomes surprisingly simple when you live out of a backpack. That 25 pounds housed all I needed for 1/4 of a year tramping all over Europe. Can it be true? You mean I don't need a car? Or a house with the loads of items that fill it? There is no such thing as Target? I learned that I don't need any of these "things" to be happy in life. Racing from train to train to bus to train was a whirlwind of activity, whisking away from one city to the next mountain village. But as soon as that metro door closed behind us with our hearts beating quickly, a sense of satisfaction washed over as we found a pair of seats and read a book or journaled until the next stop. It was so much fun. Carefree in fact. When we missed our train or the bus whizzesd right past us, so what? It's not like we have a meeting to attend to or a dinner we can't miss. What a joy it was to live each day completely in the present moment: walking, hiking, stretching, eating and writing. I can get used to this.

Traveling all over the world for the last 10 months has widened my tunnel vision to a girth I never knew existed. And going to South America next will widen it even more. This is why I am passionate about travel. I see and experienced things I never conceived and am awed at its magic.

Now, back to my cell phone.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

10 Ways to Visit Europe and Save Money

There is no question that a holiday in Europe can be expensive. Transportation, accommodation, food and souvenirs add up each day. However, there are a number of ways that you can save money yet still have a wonderful and memorable experience.

1. Travel During the Off-Season. Summer (June – August) and the holiday season (December) are the most popular times to visit Europe and therefore the rates are highest. Choose to travel during the spring and autumn months when crowds are thinner, the weather is nicer and prices on airfare and room rates drop 20 – 50%. It is often less expensive to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to boot.

2. Visit a Country or City Off the Beaten Track. Paris, Rome, London, Prague…if you haven’t visited these cites, one day you certainly need to go. But if traveling on a budget is your current focus then these are not the cities to visit now. There are dozens of places that are quite remarkable that are not nearly as expensive. The Eastern European countries and Portugal tend to be the most cost-effective. If you prefer to visit Western Europe, simply travel to places that are less popular and less expensive. For example, the Loire Valley just outside of Paris is stunning, covered in ancient castles in the middle of wine country. Or visit Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic which is known as a “pocket-sized Prague” with half the tourists at a fraction of the cost.

3. Holiday Apartment Rentals. Instead of pricey hotels, seek out holiday apartment rentals. The best resources online are and Both websites offer photos and information on thousands of independently owned apartments in cities all over Europe. During the off-season, remember to negotiate the price and you’ll be surprised how many rentals bite. Think about it: it’s better for them to rent to you for a lower price than have their rental go empty for a week or weekend. Remember that most apartments will have a kitchen, so go to the local supermarket and cook and save even more!

4. Picnic. All over Europe there are thousands of beautiful plazas and parks to relax in with a picnic lunch. Shop at the local markets for bread, cheese, salami, fresh fruit and a bottle of wine. Ask the shopkeepers for the local specialty and try it. The price is right, the taste is delicious and the memory unforgettable.

5. Buy Local Beverages. Each region in every country in Europe is known for a special wine, beer, liqueur or other beverage. Reference your tour book, an information center or simply read a menu outside of a restaurant for an idea of what the local specialty is and there is no doubt that you can get a delicious mug of beer or bottle of wine for a just a few dollars. Remember that soda is often very expensive. Also, the tap water is fine to drink (and free). Refill and reuse your water bottles.

6. Seek Out Discounts and Free Activities. There are a number of free activities in Europe. During warmer months there are plenty of complimentary outdoor festivals and other events (check out Wine tasting is generally free as well. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, hiking trails are at your fingertips all over the continent. Some cities even offer city tours with the sole expectation of just a few Euros for a tip. Museums in London are free. Check museum websites in advance to find out which days and times discounts are offered. Often there are group, student, senior and child discounts and if you don’t see it mentioned, just ask.

7. Package Ticket Purchases. If you love museums, cities such as Paris and Amsterdam offer a “Museum Pass” that allows entry into multiple museums at a discounted price. You can do the same thing in many cities with a subway and a train. If you are planning to visit multiple countries, check out to see if a bundled train ticket is right for you – it is possible to save hundreds of dollars!

8. Use Public Transportation. The European Union invests quite a bit of money into its infrastructure. The end result is public transportation that is quick, efficient and cost-effective. We all know how pricey taxis can be. Instead, spend 5 minutes and figure out how take the subway, bus and/or train. It’s much more relaxing, too!

9. Eat and Shop Away From the Main Tourist Trail. There is no doubt that in European cities the shopkeepers know where the tourists go. Just venture off the main streets a block or two and pop your head into a restaurant to see if they are speaking English or the local language. Chances are if you hear locals, the prices will be lower and the food much better. With regards to shopping, you will find better prices on many of the same items if you walk a few blocks away from a main tourist street or attraction. In some places, bartering is acceptable so if you do not see a price posted, name a price and negotiate from there.

10. Volunteer or Couch Surf. There are a handful of volunteer organizations that exchange work for room and board. For example, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF, is an organization that promotes organic farming. A traveler works for 4 hours a day on an organic farm in exchange for a place to sleep and eat. Another way to sleep for free (and not work) is Couch Surfing ( Check out the website for details.

With these tips in mind, you can visit and thoroughly enjoy a holiday in Europe and save money. Simply create a budget and stick to it and you will have a vacation filled with memorable experiences – and Euros left in your pocket. (By Stacy Bergdahl Copyright 2008)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Working in Rural France

From France: WWOOFing in Collognes
I have lost count of the number of times on this world trip that we have ended up somewhere completely unexpected and turned out to be wonderful. Is it luck? Our attitude? An unknown force pushing us down a path meant to be? For the second time on this world trip we WWOOFed but this time in rural France instead of New Zealand. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and the way it works is you stay with a family and work for them 4-6 hours per day in exchange for room and board. The idea is to learn about organic farming, green and biological living as well as the family life.

And what a unique experience it was. We were in the south of France, but not the French Riviera as you might imagine. With no neighbors in sight, we were outside of a tiny village called Collongues in the Provence region in the Maritime Alps (2 hours north of Cannes/Nice). Our host, Christian, picked us up at the train station (if you can call it that) and drove us the 19km to his house up a steep and curvy mountain road. He spoke English quite well which is perfect because Andy ended up working with him during the days on a wooden pool deck, getting the garden ready for the spring with compost and a tractor as well as helping to make a wooden door. Laure, his wife, spoke little English. It was a perfect opportunity for me because I used to be fluent in French but over the years I have forgotten quite a bit. I was astounded at just how much flowed back to me when Laure told me stories throughout the day as we worked in the kitchen or outside in the garden. Stories about her passion of aromatherapy and herbology, her experiences teaching Montassouri School, her love of non-pasteurized French cheese, directions on how to make true French bread or anything organically related. French words were swimming in my head and it was such a special gift to have the vocabulary come back to me in the way that it did! I love that I translated for Andy and Laure at the dinner table as the conversation flowed in a combination of both languages over a meal of wild boar (complete with buckshots), roquefurt and compte cheese and fresh tea from the local wild herbs. In the last 9 months traveling all over the world, we have spent much time against a language barrier. Honestly, I have felt inadequate and a bit bad that we require others to speak our language – it feels so ethnocentric. Finally, I feel satisfied that I had the opportunity to give back with my words in THEIR language. C’est vraiment magnifique!

Laure, Christian and their 6-year-old son Tom live in a house that Christian built 8 years ago complete with solar power and ecological materials throughout. The original stone building was built by the Knight’s Templar in the 13th century and while there is not much of the original house left, there is one wall with initial cross engravings in a shale stone archway. Pretty cool. Seven mountain ranges are visible in a 360 degree view including the snow covered French and Italian Alps. Badgers, wild boar, deer, birds and wild goats are aplenty. Not a single other person or house was in sight. It’s truly a mountain paradise. They are big on minimal environmental impact and all things green. I am pleased to have learned how to make organic jams, make effective compost and improve my French. Though I have also learned something new about myself during this experience. It is and always will be important for me to make choices that are natural, eco-friendly and healthy. However, I won’t be one to freak out if one day my child eats honey with some added sugar or if Andy forgets to reuse a plastic bag. While these things are incredibly important to me, I will choose not let it rule the level of my happiness or judge others because they don’t make the same choices.

The trio certainly is isolated there and part of the reason they host WWOOFers (in addition to the work) is the companionship and the social interaction for Tom. It’s perfect for Andy and I too to spend some time apart. Can you imagine spending 24 hours per day/7 days per week with a single person? It’s absolutely wonderful yet also quite difficult at times. We haven’t written too much about it in the blog thus far because we have to leave some surprises for the book we are going to publishJ

I would like to speak to that for just a moment. As you can imagine, on a trip like this one has lots and lots of time to think. What truly makes us happy? What do we want to do for the rest of our lives together? What is the most important? Etc. To start, we are going to publish a book based on our travel experiences. But what will make it especially unique is that it will come from both Andy and my voices with an intimate look into our relationship in the backdrop of traveling the world.


Thursday, November 20, 2008


Beware, I tell you. Keep your eyes peeled always, in case you see them wandering by. Be quiet, hold your position and look for that tell-tale sign, one that has become unmistakable over the past nine months.

If the Berglons appear at your front door or perhaps phone you and ask about sleeping over, just watch out! Make sure they do not have their signature piece of coveted property in hand, their journals!

If they do, follow these important Rules of Engagement:

1) Hide all of your brochures, newspapers, magazines or photographs
2) Keep scissors & glue hidden
3) Do not make the experience memorable or you may discover later that you are missing one of grandma’s lace napkins

Nine months with nothing to do – no work, no agendas, no meetings to attend, no alarms to wake up to (well, not many) - will do crazy things to a person, or persons for that matter. Maintaining a written journal has filled that void, almost to an obsessive level. As each day passes, finding time for Berglon Journal Hour becomes more and more critical, TO THEM!

If a napkin has a pretty picture, you might find Andy folding and licking and ripping and gluing. Or if a future goal crosses Stacy’s mind, the colored pencils may find their way to paper and then…?? Panoramic vistas need to be drawn, beer bottle labels must be peeled and stuck, a well-used map or memorable train ticket? GOLD I tell ya!! Armed with nine journals in nine months between the two, make these two a scary prospect for any castle handout or already-been-used pass or ticket. Instead of the trash where such sought after items might normally find themselves, they end up stuck in a book forever with these two.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

WI-FIght It?

The even flow of our world travels, that is. For 6 months we circumnavigated the globe with nary a care in the world, besides getting to the next bus, finding a place to sleep and eats of course, we were living in the NOW! Living each day for what it was and barely thinking past the tips of our noses. Two months into Leg #2, and railroading our way through Europa, our experience has definitely been a different one. Sure, the environs are uniquely varied, the language, historic castles everywhere!! But where I find the most variance is at the computer, as we email or phone about the next accommodation possibility. Apartment, single room, cozy cottage, it doesn’t matter, our needs are the same: kitchen, close proximity to public transport, near to the city centre or as far away as possible (depending on our mood) and INTERNET!

Talk about reality interrupting a good time!?! Internet? Really?? WIFI would be ideal thank you very much. We travel with the 17” silver Macintosh. You know, the thin one with the nice little half-eaten apple? I am working for my past employer this winter on the production of the Rose Bowl Game, which takes place on January 1st on ABC by the way.
From Germany: Neuschwanstein Castle

That being the case, keeping in touch has never been more important. Skype conference calls, emails and excel documents are now part of this world adventure. Sorry babe. Nothing like traveling with a little piece of home, right? So now, in an effort to work in the privacy of our own ‘home of the week’, we follow the WIFI signals. When we first get the keys to our new place, we do not jump on the bed or check out the kitchen accoutrements, we sit down, whip out the computer and test the signal.

Sometimes, it goes great! Like Luca’s House in Amsterdam, we actually had a hard line in our room. When I didn’t trip over the blue coaxial coming from the hallway, it worked amazing. Or at Thomas’ house we were linked into his home signal, sweet! We had to remind each other we were in the room sometimes, we were so entranced.

Other times it doesn’t go so perfectly. In places like Prague or Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or in fact this place we are right now in the Dolomites. We had been sold on the place with the opportunity for connecting of course. But upon arrival, it was determined on all occasions that either there was a broken signal or none at all inside the cozy confines. But, luckily enough for us, if we sat at the base of the stairs on the way out of the buildings, we could get a nice strong connection. “Honey, are you going to check email? Don’t forget your beanie & blanket.”
From Italy: Hike to Prager Wildsee (Dolomites)

On a few occasions, the hotel at Disney Paris for example, we had WIFI in the lobby, but not in the room (not in the room, Disney? Seriously?). We had to buy an hourly internet card for too many Euros and then we could sit in front of the giant Sequoia fireplace, or in the bar, and 21st Century ourselves into a frenzy. “Where is my wife anyways?”

Often I walk around holding the Mac in my arms searching for a signal, like the guy at the beach you see looking for your forgotten gold watch or a penny in the sand. There has got to be a better way, Andy. There are 11th Century chapels, cobblestone roads and Alpine peaks outside and you are in here like a chicken with your head cut off.

Nevertheless, this is the world we live in wouldn’t you agree? This is the world we are living in now everyday as we embark on every new interlude. It was a blessing in disguise when we had our wonderful place in rural Czech Republic. Fireplace - yes, wood-burning stove - check, Internet – HELL NO!

I ask you, what happened to the simple things in life?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Have you ever wondered?

Well, to be honest, I never had. In fact, the prospect had never crossed my mind. Not until I was drawn to that little picture was I able to cognitively form the thought. The drawing was on the label. It drew me in, intrigued me a little. Could it be? Does Stacy know? Doubtful.

As it were, Stacy & I have found ourselves in the majesty of the Dolomite Mountains, somewhere lost in the cultural divide of Austria, Germany & Italy.; a place where no one really knows which language to speak, but definitely not the English one. What an incredibly beautiful place, especially in this, the off-season which we lucked into by happenstance.
From Italy: The Dolomites in the Alps

As we love to do, we shop for our meals, if we go out to eat 1 meal in 10 its an anomaly. Bread, cheese, veggies, fruit, muesli, wine of course & salami are all staples in our worldly diet (at least now that we have left SE Asia!). Picnic style is Berglon Style!

As I prepared our homemade pizza dinner a few days ago at the wonderful place we call home, the Maurerhof House, I saw something that would shape our grocery shopping forever. It has become one of those unpredictable tidbits that crosses your path and is always remembered. Like the crazy camp dude in Upper Hutt, NZ or the vicious overnight buses in Vietnam, these moments are the ones that make us laugh and cringe all at once.

The toppings I’d planned (yes, I cook occasionally) were fresh tomatoes, zucchini, mozz and salami. I always like to do my best Benihana chop on the cutting board when I get the chance and this night was no exception. But when it came to the phalic paper-encased salami I had to stop and look closer. My Italian comprehension escaped me at the time (shocker!), but the black & white line-drawn image on the label could not be more palpable. Cacciatore Equino, the label read, which, along with the image seen here,
From Milking a Cow?
was all the evidence this detective needed, to know that rides on the ranch and Elmer’s glue were not the only things our favorite 4-legged stallions were good for.

Cacciatore Equino has a distinct smoky flavor, but honestly, I would not have thought twice about sinking my teeth into it otherwise. Nevertheless, I did not download the news to the wife until AFTER she loved the pizza. “Honey, guess what?”

Needless to say, that will be our last experiment with horse meat…hopefully.

Cheque Please!

Adventures in the Dolomites

From Italy: Hike to Prager Wildsee (Dolomites)">Now, in my silent moments, I remember that Obama is the president-elect and I become giddy as a child with a bit of a squeal and a quick hop up and down. I just finished his book as tears streamed down my face with the inside knowledge of his essence. I am filled with joy knowing that this man just changed the vector of the Earth’s course in a positive direction. Yes, hope is alive and well!

Andy and I are in the Dolomites, a unique section of the Alps in Northern Italy close to the Austrian border. It is a fusion of both cultures in architecture, food and language. Danke and grazi both work. We found a contemporary 1-bedroom apartment just outside of a tiny village called Stefansdorf at 962 meters (~3,100 feet) located on a small farm. Each morning we are enjoying fresh milk from one of the 15 cows with our coffee and muesli. November is the only month of the off-season all year as it is well past the warm months but there is no snow yet for skiing. We can see the Kronplatz mountaintop/ski resort from our 3rd floor balcony. I learned from our host Marcus that we are his first American guests. Forst (Forest) beer is the local brew and quite tasty.

Recently, we’ve been challenging ourselves both mentally and physically. The other day, a mountain bike ride into the town Brunico (in Italian) or Bruneck (in German) 5 km away took us down 100 meters, knowing we’d have to make the climb back up. We discovered an old castle on the hill and a forest cemetery – the most unique and beautiful I have ever seen (photo).
From Italy: The Dolomites in the Alps
Since there was an actual supermarket here, we loaded up our backpacks full of food (and wine of course) and trudged up the steep hill, sweating and panting all the way.

Another great challenge was our hike yesterday. Photo Album. We explained to Marcus that we wanted to embark on a day hike in the classic Dolomites (giant, jagged limestone peaks) and he suggested starting at Pragser Wildee, an azure glacial lake. Perfect. Marcus kindly drove us to the train station where we needed to switch to a bus in Welsberg, except there was no bus. We must have had an old schedule because this bus doesn’t run on Sunday, we learned through broken English and hand signals from a local. Now what? Our map showed that we could hike to Prager Wildsee from here. Our eyes looked to the direction of the lake which was directly over a giant mountain. Topographically, the map said it was about a 920 meter climb up and over and total trek of 4 ½ hours. Well, what the hell, we are here to hike – let’s go.

Impressively, the trail was marked well much like New Zealand’s effiicient trail directives. I experienced my first feeling of vertigo as we traversed the mountainside with it straight up on one side and straight down the other. Dizziness at this high elevation hiking already for an hour uphill caused me to sit on a mossy stump with my back to the valley slope. I panted with my head between my knees until my heart slowed down and the dizziness passed. Onward and upward.

Finally, after singing all the Christmas songs I could remember, we approached the summit and what a beautiful sight it was with the classic snow-covered Alps on the one side with the grey, jagged Dolomite peaks on the other! But it was below freezing, clearly, as we passed patches of large snowflakes on the mossy ground as we walked along the ridge at 2020 meters. And look – there is Prager Wildsee!

We stopped for a picnic lunch along a meadow in the shining sun facing the Dolomites and relaxed for a half hour with a beautiful view. A sense of satisfaction washed over us as our destination stared back at us from below. In 3 hours, we passed only 4 people.

A couple of kilometers along the road finally got us to the lake. We had a look at the permanent sign at the lakefront to see just how far we’d gone when Andy stepped in dog poo, ha ha! Ok, now we are here – now what? Surprisingly, the souvenir shop at the hotel on the lake was open so we popped inside. I tentatively asked, “Spreken zie Englick?” when the clerk answered “Yes” to my great surprise (no one around here speaks any English!!!). We chatted with Yas for a while, checking out his shop and learning he had lived in Santa Barbara, CA for 6 months – what a small world. We bought cappuccinos and relished in the indoor warmth as we explained about no bus, the hike over the mountain and would he mind calling us a taxi? Yas happened to be driving near the train station in an hour with his son and could give us a ride. Great! We played with his giant Newfoundland puppy named Happy, and that is just how we felt.

A day of unexpectedness turned into a wonderful memory. I am consistently in awe at when we as humans let go and surrender to what is, the most beautiful and magical things happen if you let them.