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We spotted a biplane soaring over the Vista House.

The view is amazing anyway, but I like the addition of the biplane.

The Cherokee Nation puts an earnest effort into maintaining the integrity of Cherokee culture around the country, and into keeping the Cherokee diaspora united. I’m glad the Cherokee government makes connection a priority, because there are many Oklahoma Cherokees who believe that one loses legitimacy if they don’t live in Oklahoma. I often hear them say, “Come home!” For some it is meant as a heartfelt invitation, and for some it is a criticism of my choice to live elsewhere. I have no plans to move to Oklahoma at the moment, and appreciate being accepted as Cherokee with my limited access to Cherokee culture.

One new program Chief Baker’s administration came up with is to have sister communities. The administration makes the matches, and informs the groups. Our Mt. Hood Cherokees were matched with the Stilwell Library Friends group in Stilwell, Oklahoma. The Stilwell Public Library obviously isn’t a Cherokee organization. However, the location is within the fourteen Cherokee counties in Oklahoma, so based on demographics, most of the members of the library group are Cherokee. They are an active group and recently completed a fundraising project to build an addition onto the library. I’d like to think that our groups were matched because we are both active and enthusiastic.

The Nation then supports the pairing further, by sponsoring an annual visit both directions. I blogged about my opportunity to visit the Cherokee Nation for the first time last summer. While in Oklahoma I attended a conference and saw historic sites, and I also had the chance to meet multiple members of the Library Friends group. They looked out for me, gave me rides, and made sure I made it to a traditional country Oklahoma potluck with barbecued bologna. Yes, that is a thing.

We have also had three visits from our sister community so far. Last weekend was the third.

Still a small group, but on this day it’s larger than average.

Susie and Regina gave a great presentation about the introduction and history of loom weaving among the Cherokee, during our monthly meeting. It was a very popular talk and got the attendees excited about weaving. I’m doing a happy dance in my mind because our little group has been fragile in membership attendance for so long, but lately there have been a bunch of brand new faces at meetings. I always hope for a fabulous presentation on the days when new people show up, so they’ll see how much fun it can be, and make time to come again. I got my wish this time!

After the meeting, a group of us piled into cars and made our way into the Columbia River Gorge. The visitors were denied waterfall viewing last year because there were wildfires and the roads were closed. This year we could see the burned trees beside the highway, and along the paths to the waterfalls. The authorities were not joking: the fire was dangerously close last year.

We stopped first at a large parking lot sponsored by the Portland Women’s Forum. It was a great gathering point because it offers magnificent views of the Gorge toward the East, and of the Vista House perched on a cliff along what used to be the main highway here on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

While we stood there, a red biplane came buzzing through! It was a delight to watch it circle the Vista House and then fly away. See the two photos at the top of this post.

Cherokees in the Gorge

The magical postcard view from the Portland Women’s Forum parking area.

The Vista House. It was originally built as a rest stop for people traveling along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Now it’s a tourist location with history, a small museum, gift shop, site interpreters, and unbeatable 360-degree views of the Columbia River and the state of Washington across the river.

A site interpreter explains some of the marble carvings inside.

Tourists enjoying the view from the wrap-around balcony.

Even the bathrooms are photo-worthy. When was the last time you took a photo of a bathroom because it was so pretty?

Much of the Historic Highway road remains closed due to wildfire damage, and we would have to skip some waterfalls. However, what highway remains open does pass three of them: LaTourell Falls, Shepperd’s Dell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the Queen of them all – Multnomah Falls.

At LaTourell Falls, we were delighted to see a bride and groom having their wedding photos taken. The scene was really dramatic, in that sheltered waterfall cove carved out of thousands of basalt columns and electric green moss. I was not able to resist taking wedding photos myself, though I do not know the couple.

Regina captures a shot at LaTourell Falls

This couple was staging some dramatic wedding photos.

I mean. Really dramatic.

The path at Shepperd’s Dell Falls is still closed because of fire damage. Luckily there is a bridge that crosses the canyon and allows a view of the falls for the intrepid and determined.

I tried to capture a creative shot of Shepperd’s Dell Falls between posts on the bridge.

Next we hiked down a steep hill to get a good look at Bridal Veil Falls. Yes, we asked ourselves whether the bride and groom should have been here instead. But I think they made a good choice because the canyon was a little more cramped at Bridal Veil and there were more tourists lounging around having lunch with a waterfall view.

Susie at Bridal Veil Falls

Crepuscular rays light up the canyon

Tourists pose for photographs that really can’t fail with the backdrop available.

For the grand finale, we went to Multnomah Falls. After we parked, David told us that this waterfall was not the most popular tourist destination in Oregon. Instead, it’s the outlet malls in Woodburn. The people that choose outlet malls over this are insane. Truly. Off their rockers. I mean, look at this:

The glorious Multnomah Falls

Susie and Regina in front of Multnomah Falls

Regina and Susie on the bridge over the falls.

The next day our Oklahoma visitors went to the coast, but I did not join them. I did see a facebook photo of them in jackets with hoods on the chilly beach. I know they were both looking forward to being chilly for a weekend, to escape the Oklahoma heat, so I am happy it turned out that way.

24-hour tea shop in Kalaw

The overnight bus from Yangon (craziest bus station ever) was due to arrive in Kalaw at 4:30 am. It was late and arrived at 5:30 am. I was grateful.

I mean, I wasn’t exactly sleeping, but at least it was dark and the intent was to sleep. My seat was in the back of the bus and all the luggage that didn’t fit underneath was jammed behind my seat so I couldn’t recline. And the air conditioning was blasting. I mean, full-on blasting cold air. What the heck? And the little air control thingies over my head were broken, so I was in the wind for about two hours till I found an empty plastic bag and shoved it into the hole. And the road was so rough – the worst in our entire trip. Margaret said she literally caught air on at least one bump. Maybe the worst bus trip of my life.

Despite all that, I actually think I slept a couple of hours. I had thought enough to bring my rabbit-soft wool scarf, and with that, added to the little blanket provided by the bus company, I managed to cover up completely. And we both used earplugs. That way I was a bit shielded from the light and noise and cold.

But at 5:30 we all had to disembark. Margaret had heard from the tour company that there was a 24-hour tea house nearby, and that we should wait there for someone to meet us. It was still dark and cold out, and we had a long wait.

For the next two hours I peeped through a window into a world of twenty-somethings engaging in devil-may-care life of travel around the world on $5 day. Margaret and I walked up the steps into a small room, floor and walls covered in white and blue linoleum, and lit – painfully – with fluorescent lighting. The room had three sides and the fourth was a half-wall and open air. And it was cold. There were a few low tables and 30 tiny plastic stools and heaped all over the place were young, beautiful travelers and their luggage. A vivacious redhead from Croatia caught our attention with her chatter, next to us two slender Italian women were trying to sleep on the floor (people stepped over them without blinking). There was a New Zealander, a Czech, Frenchmen, all crammed together drinking very bad instant coffee and smoking cigarettes. For a moment I was in Michener’s novel The Drifters, with all its young beautiful people traveling around the world with no specific plan beyond the day’s hopes and dreams. We were all meeting guides for treks, and we compared names of companies and how many days we would be out.

Guide from A1 Trekking carries our luggage from the tea shop to the company’s office in Kalaw.

My seat was facing into the room, and when I got up after a while and went out to pay for our wretched coffees, I was startled to see the pale blue dawn. Soon after, a person met us and led us to A1 Trekking in town, where we checked in and were immediately taken to an Indian restaurant across the street for our first meal with the company.

After breakfast we were told there was still time before departure, and that a market was setting up in the center of town we could explore while we waited. So we explored.

I am grateful that Margaret loves markets as much as I do. Who can resist the colours and textures and smells and sounds?

These fresh veggies trigger an instinct in me to want to buy them all and eat, eat, eat.

This woman twisted leaves into a wand to make carrying the coconuts easier.

Margaret (hands clasped in the chilly morning air) at the market in Kalaw.

Dried fish in heaps.

Pasta, beans, grains, and soup starters.

Bananas and bananas. The market in Kalaw was one of the best we saw during the whole trip. (Trust me I left out a ton of photos.)

We returned to A1 and it was time to go. We met our fellow travelers, Fumi from Japan and Lukas and Anna from Austria. There were just 5 of us, with our guide Hein, who grew up in Kalaw, and the cook. Some of the other companies take 15 people, we spotted one group later that looked like it could have been 18 people. A-1 has a policy of never more than six, to ensure a quality experience for each person. We walked out of town and directly onto a trail.

For the next three days we walked. That day to Hin Kha Gone and Myin Taik villages, through areas with the Paulaung and Dannu people.

Dried up terraces for rice paddies. Hein said they only have one season for rice per year because it gets so dry.

Left to right: Margaret, Anna, Lukas, Hein

While still in the forest we came upon a man herding cattle.

We stopped for a break here at the reservoir.

During our food breaks, Hein handed out a variety of local things for us to try. This fruit was pretty good. I don’t remember what it was called.

The view from our lunch stop.

Unused to walking so much, I was grateful when it was lunch time. We had a cook that traveled along with us, and damned if I can remember his name. But this young man made the most delicious foods and fed us very well, three meals a day, while we were out trekking. While he cooked, we explored the site.

The shop at our lunch stop. What you see here was pretty much the entire stock. Those “water” and “liquor” bottles you see on the left are petrol for sale.

My favourite toilet of the entire trip!! Everyone in the country had outhouses, and this one had an unparalleled view.

We could see a pagoda in the distance.

Hein encouraged us to walk over to the pagoda and monastery during our lunch stop, and down to the village below if we wanted to. And we did.

The village below the pagoda.

Me with some pretty obliging kids.

Off we went and finished up with some serious hiking. At one point we walked along train tracks, which is pretty hard if your natural gait doesn’t match the frequency of the supports beneath the rails. Lukas and I fell back, but it did allow me some shots of the others.

The others gain ground as I struggle with the awkwardness of walking on train tracks.

More lovely rice paddy terraces.

Work truck rumbles along the red dirt road.

Cute little house along the way.

Finally we reached our destination for the night, Ywar Pu village. We were surprised to find out that we were staying in the home of the village chief. The family stayed nearby, but gave up their beds for us that night. Our fabulous cook went to work and we took our chances bathing in the icy cold water of the family’s cistern. Then we walked around the property and the town till it was time to eat. The families contract with the tour companies, and get about $5 per night per person. They also sell water and Myanmar beer and… well… we were hot and tired and beer was just the thing! They probably earn as much selling drinks as they do on rent.

This was not where we stayed, but an example of a typical home in Ywar Pu village.

Our beds. You do not wear your shoes into this room. Each home we visited has a shrine like this.

Our cook in the kitchen, getting the flames hot for our dinner.

Catchment pool to the right, cistern (slightly out of sight behind the fence) to the left.

One of the family’s three pigs poses for my camera.

I had inexplicably slept poorly at the Golden Sunrise Hotel, waking up at 2:30 am and not able to sleep again. The following night I was on a freezing cold bumpy bus ride all night long. Trust me when I say this night in Ywar Pu, under all those blankets, I slept like a rock.

 

Trucks with narrow seats are nearly the only traffic on the mountain road.

The lobby of the Golden Sunrise Hotel was dark and silent at 5:30 am, but as promised, our boxed breakfast was there waiting for us on the counter. So kind of them. Fried egg sandwiches and bananas. I whooped to Margaret, “They remembered us!” and accidentally woke the attendant who was sleeping in the lobby in a little tent. Ooops. Poor kid. We left everything in our rooms because we expected to return well before check out time. It was dark out and in the lovely coolness we made the easy walk into town and quickly found the truck station because that’s where all the activity and light was!

In a large warehouse-type building, tall trucks were parked beside metal staircases. We picked one at random and walked up the stairs and were quickly ushered into seats. The entire bed of each truck is filled with about six narrow rows of metal benches. People cram themselves in. The orchestrators hollered at Margaret and I multiple times to squoosh down, but it was hard. The seat in front was too close to sit with knees forward. Literally impossible for us to sit normally. My solution was to tip my knees down toward the floor, so I could face front. Margaret had her knees to the side. We are not big people, but they wanted us to minimize our space. A woman in front of us said “six,” and we finally figured out that they wanted six people in each row. Ours only had five. I suspect our difficulty condensing had more to do with a rather large grandmother seated next to me than Margaret and I, but since we were the ones at the end, we were the ones getting hollered at.

We leaned and pulled our elbows in and became very close to one another, and finally had squashed ourselves enough to cram one more person in our row. Then we handed our money (2000 kyats/$1.50) over to the orchestrator. We were off!

I quickly became grateful for being wedged in there like sardines. There were no seatbelts, obviously, and the truck began hurtling up the narrow paved road to the top of the mountain where we would find the Golden Rock. We were told the ride was a half hour, but it felt more like an hour because it was a real adventure. I am convinced that the reason no one bounced out was because we were packed so tightly. Grandma and I became friends out of necessity. The whole population in the back of the truck would say “whoah!” in unison, and grab onto each other to stay upright as we careened around hairpin corners and blasted ever faster toward the top.

We were still in the dark, and wind blew through our hair. Margaret and I were in sarongs (the clothing in Burmese is called longyi) and T-shirts, but all the locals had on down coats and hats and mittens. It was possibly as chilly as 70 degrees. About halfway up the mountain the sky began to lighten, and the sun was clearly in mind to rise by the time we reached the top.

Entrance to the Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo is too hard for me to say) is jammed with people.

Off the truck, we had a rather long walk through a pop-up market, designed to cater to tourists. Everyone there was a tourist, even the monks, to some degree. There were many many monks. Everyone removed their shoes early on and we carried them for the rest of our time there. We passed hundreds of shops selling either food or things to dedicate to Buddha.

The walkway to the top is bound by many shops selling things, particularly breakfast.

The sunrise views of the valley were lovely.

Sunrise beat us to the rock, but not by much and we did capture a stunning dawn glow on the Golden Rock. It seemed liked everyone up there was in a festival mood. Likely the crazy truck ride contributed to that. It was like an amusement park ride! Pilgrims can also walk to the top, and I hear it’s a lovely walk. Now that I have experienced the trucks, however, I’m glad we did that instead. I walk every day, but I’ve only had one truck ride like that in my life.

On the way up we were stopped by some officials who were not stopping anyone else. We obligingly walked into the building that had large posters in English stating that we had to pay a “Foreigners fee” of 10,000 kyats. We signed our names in a book and were handed badges to hang around our necks. M and I decided: why not? They are smart to capitalize on tourism in this way.

Our first view of the Golden Rock from a distance.

In front of the rock, I proudly show off my expensive”Foreigner” badge.

Women are not allowed to approach the rock itself. Men will purchase gold foil pieces and queue up. When it’s their turn to touch the rock, they say prayers and press the gold foil to the rock. Or, that is what appeared to be going on as I stood at a distance and watched. Legend has it that when locals were concerned that the rock would fall, the Buddha gifted three of his own hairs which were used to prop up the rock. That is why this is a sacred and holy place. I wondered if each man who pressed his fingers against the rock worried that he would be the unfortunate one to push the rock off its precarious balance.

Men applying gold leaf pieces to the rock.

We wandered across the top of the hill, stopping to take photos for ourselves, for others, and regularly being asked by locals if they could have their photo taken with us. I am still surprised by this behavior; how frequently a person’s gaze will lazily drift past the crowd, notice us, and then come alight with delight and a dazzling grin. They wave, giggle, shout “mingalaba” and “hello.” I am also, disturbingly, getting too used to this behavior, and gradually coming to expect it. In anticipation of adoring smiles and waves, sometimes I’ll wave first. On occasion, I get a blank stare in return, with a face that says “Who are you, lady?” And then I feel like an idiot.

In no time we had circled the complex and were ready to return to the madness of the trucks. We again joined a great group of all locals, and as with the morning crew, they all seemed to be enamored with us Westerners. While we waited for the truck to fill up (six to each row!!), many selfies occurred and everyone practiced saying “hello” in each other’s language. Children climbed the staircases to attempt to sell us cheap worthless crap while we waited. Two items were offered by every child on the whole mountain: fake spectacles made of bamboo, and fake unrealistic machine guns. I was rather puzzled that machine guns were so popular at a holy site – a Buddhist holy site no less. People bought way more guns than glasses.

Workmen carry cement to the top for construction.

Pathside food seller can offer an unparalleled view. Just don’t lean too far while you’re looking.

These shy ladies were offering breakfast, and agreed to have their photo taken.

Beautiful pair. We saw some fun fashion on the Burmese: dyed hair, tattoos, even ear plugs.

Carrying trays of food up the hill.

This boy is selling dried beans.

We saw this a couple of times: monks in a row, collecting alms.

The trip down was even crazier! This time gravity assisted and we moved as though we had been shot from a cannon. The truck may have gone up on two wheels at times, while screeching around the switchbacks headed back down. Every so often we would meet a truck coming up the mountain, and both drivers would be forced to slam on the brakes and move to the side.

Waiting for our truck to fill up before we headed back down.

Fake guns for sale, with “love” written onto the stock.

One of the turns on our way down the hill.

Our truck pulled over and we were asked to pay for our trip. Then we waited another 15 minutes while kids sold guns and glasses.

A little shop on the way back to Kin Pun.

All we had left on the agenda for the day was to check out of our hotel, and get a bus back to Yangon in time to catch our night bus that was leaving the Yangon bus station at 6:00 pm. After disentangling ourselves from the mass of humanity on the truck, and before heading back to the Golden Sunrise Hotel, we found someone who could sell us a bus ticket. This was accomplished by telling the woman who ran a restaurant that we wanted a bus. She walked out into the street and started hollering. A kid heard it and took off running. In five minutes, a young man in a white shirt with a name tag and a clipboard came running up and told us all we needed to know about buying a bus ticket. Awesome! 😊

We could take the 9am, 11am, or 1pm bus back to Yangon. We decided to spend our time waiting at our cool, clean, lovely hotel rather than at that crazy bus station we had already spent 3 hours at yesterday. So we bought a ticket for 1pm and then went to the hotel and lounged a bit. We came back to the restaurant by noon and bought lunch there, to pay a debt of gratitude for the woman who helped us get in contact with the bus man.

We waited at that restaurant because that’s where the bus kept stopping to drop people off. But at about 12:55, there was still no bus. A young man in a white shirt came up to us, “Ok, come with me.” He explained that the bus departure was actually on a different street, and he would show us the way. So we grabbed our gear and followed him.

This bus trip was fraught with complications. The entire trip should have taken 4 hours, dropping us at the crazy bus station at 5pm. After about one hour, the bus pulled over at the side of the highway near some tiny huts. No announcement. We sat there, looking around, asking the other people on the bus if they knew what was going on. Somehow they had obtained additional information. “I think we are supposed to change buses,” they said. We looked out the window, and sure enough, the bus driver and attendant were dragging luggage out of the bus and lining it up in the red dirt. We scooped up our stuff and climbed out and grabbed our luggage. There was a bus parked in front of us on the highway, and we all climbed onto it. This bus already had people on it, but luckily we all fit.

We went another hour, then – again with no announcement – the bus turned off the highway in a tiny little town, onto a narrow dirt road and parked beside a large building. There were a couple of men sitting beside the building on plastic chairs in the sun. Neither of them stirred. We remained parked there for quite awhile. Twenty minutes maybe. Margaret spotted some oil drums beside the building and guessed that it could be a gas or maintenance stop. Finally, with no warning, the driver and attendant got back on, and began to turn the bus around.

There was a problem. The bus couldn’t go in reverse. Multiple attempts by the driver to pull forward a little, then back up, failed. The men sitting in the sun got up and walked over to watch. A tool bag was produced. More attempts.

We were getting nervous because we were way behind schedule and still needed to catch the 6pm bus. Luckily we had given ourselves a buffer, and as long as we started moving again, soon, we would make it.

The bus attendant came onto the bus and headed down the aisle to where Margaret and I were sitting, carrying a wrench. He walked all the way to the very back, right next to Margaret, and opened up a panel in the floor that seemed to open to the dirt below us – I couldn’t really see. Margaret hid her face rather than watch the great hole next to her. The assistant guy held his wrench in there and hollered at the driver, who attempted reverse gear again and finally did it! Yay! We were off again.

With 40 minutes till 6 pm, we hit rush hour traffic in Yangon, and things came to a stop. We alternately stopped and crawled all the way to the bus station. The bus arrival section was about a mile from the bus departure section where we needed to go, but we did not know that. At 5:55 we leapt off the bus, grabbed our luggage and began trotting toward the congested, confusing bus station we had been at the day before. The place is really enormous. We had no idea how big it was yesterday: like it’s own little bus station city. We’d run a block, say the name of the bus company we wanted, a person would point, we’d run some more.

Through alleys, past stray dogs, vendors, children, shops, and all of this was part of the bus station. It was hot. We were sure we were going to miss our bus.

Finally, finally, we found JJ Tours, and there was no bus parked in front. The young man at the counter spotted us and knew who we were immediately. “The bus is gone! You can’t take it, I’m sorry! Why didn’t you call? I would have held the bus for you. Why didn’t you call? I didn’t know you were coming. I called you but you didn’t answer. I’m so sorry.” We tried to explain about our phones not working in another country….but there really wasn’t a point. He told us there was another bus that left at 7pm. He walked us to the other bus station and helped us buy a ticket.

The other thing we worried about was meeting our guide on time the next morning. The trek was supposed to start at 8:30 am, and our original bus was supposed to arrive at 8:00. Now what would we do? But the new bus had a different schedule somehow, and planned to arrive at 4:30 am. We dropped into our seats, heads spinning though relieved, and tried to get some rest.

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City's Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Women head into the water to surf. Pacific City’s Haystack Rock sits almost a mile offshore.

Confession: I live about 40 minutes’ drive from the Pacific Ocean and I hardly ever go there! That’s a crime, isn’t it? Yes, yes it is.

In 2016 I’ve been to the beach two times. I went to Astoria for my birthday in January, and later in the Spring, I went out with a group of friends. All the photos have been sitting here on my computer, patiently waiting to be posted, and now it’s time. This was a weekend in early May.

D is a serious cyclist and most of his friends are cyclists and their idea of fun is to rides their bikes a thousand miles to the beach and then party. Luckily, I was assigned car support duty. It’s a good thing because I have personally been upon a bicycle twice in the past twenty years.

Someone had rented a couple of houses across the street from each other in a cute beach community filled with houses that appear to only exist for that purpose. They were decorated as though a family lived there, with bathrooms stocked and children’s photos on the walls, and kitchen utensils available. But it was not quite lived in, and I guessed the places had been “staged” to feel like a family home. I find it interesting how I reacted to that idea, in this time of Air BnB popularity. While many people obviously love the idea of staying in someone’s home while they’re out, it’s actually an uncomfortable idea for me, and I feel the need not to touch anything, or disturb anything in their absence. I feel as though the owners have done a huge favor by letting me stay there (payment notwithstanding), and I can only repay them by not using any bathroom products and as few towels as possible. I remain uncomfortable the whole time. Whereas in a hotel! It’s purely built for transients. No one claims ownership. Every single thing in the room is MINE as long as I’m there, and I feel complete luxury. I use way too many towels, and all the shampoo, and I rearrange the furniture, click the remote control, fill up the closets and drawers with my clothes, and collect all the brochures and placards and pile them in a drawer somewhere to get them out of my way. If there’s a kitchen, I use anything I want and leave dirty dishes in the sink. Luxury.

Everyone chose a room in one of the houses and we dumped our gear and then went to play on the beach. Pacific City, Oregon is west and a little south of Portland, so still at the northern part of the state. It’s a small community that appears to survive on tourism, since that was the theme of nearly all the shops. I’m a fan of that sometimes, because it provides classy dinner options and great coffeehouses in rural communities that could never provide that without out-of-town tourists. In particular, this beach town hosts Pelican Bay Brewery, and a comfortable and friendly brew pub with burgers and fries and great craft beers on tap.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

Our group climbed a sand dune at Cape Kiwanda and were treated with coastline views.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.

I found this sign somewhat disconcerting.

 

The weather was cool and and wet most of the time, but the second day the skies cleared up and we all decided to hike to a lookout point on Cape Kiwanda. The hike is literally straight up the side of a huge sand dune, so that was a bit tricky. But the views at the top were worth the long steep slog, and shoes filled with sand.

Whales are a big tourist draw, particularly during the height of migration season in December and January. In late May there were stragglers making their way from Mexico to Alaska for the warm weather. It didn’t take long before we began spotting their spouts just offshore. Gray Whales make this trip in about 3 weeks. The photos I took don’t do it justice, but it really is fun to stand on shore and see sea creatures as large as a bus exhaling a blast of water into the sky as they surface for air.

When we returned, we ate tons of food and played games together at the big family table and told stories. When the weekend was over nearly everyone rode home in a car, but one crazy person rode their bike back to the city again. That’s close to 100 miles each way. 200 miles in a weekend. Now there’s a person who is in good physical condition.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

The white-and-gray speckled body of a Gray Whale is visible as she surfaces.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

These whales are said to spout water and vapor up to 12 feet into the air.

There's another one!

There’s another one!

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Haystack Rock from Cape Kiwanda

Lovely Oregon coast

Lovely Oregon coast

The Butchart Gardens in March offer a mood of dark quiet, wisps of foggy intrigue, and solitude.

The Butchart Gardens in March offer a mood of dark quiet, wisps of foggy intrigue, and solitude.

Prior to our long road trip last month, M had called from Boston and asked me, “What’s the weather on the coast like in March?”

I exhaled with doubt and not a little cynicism, “Wet. Grey. Temps in the 40s, maybe around 50.”

“That sounds great!” he gushed. It left me puzzled for several minutes, till I remembered he was going to fly away from New England, and a record snowfall in Boston. Obviously rain was an improvement, and 40s sounded like a heat wave.

Though it was cool and wet, it suited me just fine and kept most of the other tourists and locals away. We practically had the grounds to ourselves, as you will see from the photos.

A road trip on the coast in March may be just what the doctor ordered, as long as you bring a bright fuchsia rain jacket and a friend with a great attitude.

A road trip on the coast in March may be just what the doctor ordered, as long as you bring a bright fuchsia rain jacket and a friend with a great attitude.

My earlier blog post referencing our trip to Butchart Gardens included only a couple of lovely shots and a promise to post again. Here it is! Lots of photos. In fact, way too many for a blog post. If you really want to see a bunch of garden photos, please visit my Flickr page.

Jennie Butchart was the chemist for the family business, but her soul’s work was gardening. She and Isaburo Kishida began designing a Japanese Garden in 1906. Mrs. Butchart also had her eye on Robert Butchart’s quarry. As her husband exhausted the limestone quarry in 1908, Jennie was having topsoil hauled in to line the floor. One of the first things she planted was a row of poplars to block the view of the concrete factory, and those trees remain. Mr. Butchart was very supportive of his wife’s garden, and was pleased that the grounds and ponds were suitable to his own hobby of collecting birds.

The couple gave the garden to their grandson Ian Ross for his 21st birthday. Mr. Ross revitalized the garden and the couple’s home, and hosted events – such as the symphony – to share the place with the community.

By the 1920s, more than 50,000 people a year were visiting Jennie’s garden, and today visitors number nearly one million each year. In 2004 the garden was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The garden has grown to 55 acres and spread well beyond the old quarry pit. In addition to the Sunken Garden (in the pit), other main gardens are the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Italian Garden. (More info at The Butchart Story.)

The welcoming sign

The welcoming sign

The Sunken Gardens are one of the first things a visitor sees. It's a truly amazing and beautiful garden in a hole left from a old quarry.

The Sunken Gardens are one of the first things a visitor sees. It’s a truly amazing and beautiful garden in a hole left from a old quarry.

The water feature

Ross Fountain, built by Ian Ross

Another view of the Sunken Gardens

Another view of the Sunken Gardens

The Carousel. Look at those wonderful animals!

The Carousel. Look at those wonderful animals!

This is where they prepare their own starts from seeds.

This is where they prepare their own starts from seeds.

bells in the rain

bells in the rain

Petals provide enough rays of golden sunshine to suit me this day

Petals provide enough rays of golden sunshine to suit me this day

Twisty branch of Corylus with catkins

Twisty branch of Corylus with catkins

Cherry blossoms covered the ground as though it were snow!

Cherry blossoms covered the ground as though it were snow!

Entrance to the rose garden. It was not rose season when we were there.

Entrance to the rose garden. It was not rose season when we were there.

Entering the Japanese garden, I had M place a pebble onto the Torii gate for us. While I was in Japan, it was explained to me that, since the torii is a gate to the spirit world, the rock holds a connection back to your own world, so you have a better chance of being able to return. I don't know if it's a true Japanese tradition, but I love it. Torii that I saw in Japan frequently had pebbles along the top.

Entering the Japanese garden, I had M place a pebble onto the Torii gate for us. While I was in Japan, it was explained to me that, since the torii is a gate to the spirit world, the rock holds a connection back to your own world, so you have a better chance of being able to return. I don’t know if it’s a true Japanese tradition, but I love it. Torii that I saw in Japan frequently had pebbles along the top.

The Japanese garden is large and well done.

The Japanese garden is large and well done.

Lantern balanced on an uneven rock.

Lantern balanced on an uneven rock.

Path through a pool

Path through a pool

Butchart Cove is directly behind the Japanese garden, and is picture perfect.

Butchart Cove is directly behind the Japanese garden, and is picture perfect.

Part of the perfection of gardens is arranging features so that, when viewed from different angles, what you see forms a portrait.

Part of the perfection of gardens is arranging features so that, when viewed from different angles, what you see forms a portrait.

Frogs in the Star Pond.

Frogs in the Star Pond.

In the Italian garden.

In the Italian garden.

M had been asking me periodically what the plants were called, how they grew, were they found in the wild. We walked into the greenhouse and our roles reversed! M talked with delight at how many of the plants we saw grew wild in Sri Lanka where he grew up, and he found it a delight to see those same plants showcased as  "exotics" in the garden.

M had been asking me periodically what the plants were called, how they grew, were they found in the wild. We walked into the greenhouse and our roles reversed! M talked with delight at how many of the plants we saw grew wild in Sri Lanka where he grew up, and he found it a delight to see those same plants showcased as “exotics” in the garden.

Dripping with colour

Dripping with colour

Like cotton candy

Like cotton candy

Orchids are my favourite flower.

Orchids are my favourite flower.

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Girl In a Wetsuit, by Elek Imredy, in Stanley Park

Thursday we were able to spend the whole day in Vancouver, and that was a boon, because this huge fabulous city deserves as much time as you can give her.

One of the first things that struck me was the number of apartment high-rises sprouting like shiny stalks from a garden. On both sides of the highway bridge, grey and glossy in the daylight, home to how many tens of thousands of apartment-dwellers, I don’t know. Right away M and I could see that people want to live in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

Apartment high-rise buildings in Vancouver.

We agreed that it would be a good idea to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour, to get a sense of the place. I think those tours are a great idea for your first time in a big city: get off and look around at the interesting places, and then get on the next bus when you’re satiated. We took the trolley tour so we could push back the windows and take lots of photos.

I was struck by the creative architecture in Vancouver. I’m not used to so many modern skyscrapers in a single city reflecting so many elegant, sweeping curves. No fish-eye lenses used in the photos below: those are curved buildings. Seems like I’ll spot one stunning example in any given city, but here, there were many. Too many to catch them all from the window of the trolley.

One nice stop was the lookout over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park. This is a 1000 acre forested city park on a high hill overlooking First Narrows, separating North Vancouver from Vancouver. The huge park holds gardens, biking and running along the seawall, memorials, wildlife, and some really old Western Red cedar trees.

We were hungry by the time we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville Island, and it was the perfect place to be hungry. M was fascinated by the large open-air market, and commented how it was similar to the one he had seen in Arcata, California. I am used to these markets, so it was fun to be amazed again, through his eyes. We stopped at the butcher to ask for a recommendation on where to get a good steak. M owed me a steak from a little mishap on day one (someone forgot their camera battery charger and we had to turn around and go back). This resulted in our finest meal of the trip: steak and lobster perfection. The flavour was not better, but equal to the oysters earlier, but the presentation was fine dining this time.

We took the last trolley out of there, and the driver was hilarious and gregarious. Since it was the last trip, he delivered each person on board exactly to their final destination, even if it wasn’t part of the tour route. Score!

By then it was evening and we had to blast on out of town. Before we knew it, we were going through the border crossing. The man at the gate headed directly for the back of the Jeep, pulled out the luggage, and lifted the storage lid in the back, like he knew exactly what he was doing. The only thing we had hidden back there were nearly six pounds of Tillamook cheese! It had been my idea to keep it in the back, likely the coolest place in the car. For 10 minutes we had been grilled with pretty official questions, and then we were asked, “Why do you have so much cheese?!” M and I burst out laughing. “It’s Tillamook!” I answered. “Have you tasted it?”

As we made our way south in m.p.h. rather than kilometers, we debated whether to bang out the last few hundred miles and go all the way to Portland that night. M asked if he would miss anything by skipping Seattle. I said, “Well, it’s a city on the water. It’s beautiful, eclectic, West-coast laid back, diverse, and energized. The architecture is awesome. The food is outstanding. And since you like outdoor markets so much, Seattle has one of the best.”

I texted my brother about recommendations for places to stay, and – as I suspected would happen – got an invitation to stay at their place! Woo hoo! Their place is a treasure. They rent a three-bedroom home (we won’t disclose the amount, but the owner has neglected to increase the price for years) with a full yard and fruit trees and a garden only blocks from the Space Needle. It is surrounded on all side by apartment buildings, and the entrance to the house drops down a hill, so you can’t even see it from the street. As we were chatting before bed, we found out we were walking distance to Kerry Park – a famous overlook spot for the city – so M and I went for some spectacular nighttime views.

One Wall Centre

One Wall Centre

Carina

Carina

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Waterfront in Stanley Park

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Gardens in Stanley Park.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Marine Building with the MNP Tower behind it.

Couldn't find the name of this one - love the bronze colour.

Couldn’t find the name of this one – love the bronze colour.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

When the Crazy Squirrel Lady travels, she notices the foreign squirrels. This handsome black critter caught my eye.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. "Not to the kid who owns it," quipped M. And he's right.

I casually mentioned that the lock was more valuable than the bike. “Not to the kid who owns it,” quipped M. And he’s right.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Super funny art. Each figure is an image of the artist himself.

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

Downtown, with the Harbour Centre Tower

The Lion's Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

The Lion’s Gate Bridge in Stanley Park

Steam-powered clock

Steam-powered clock

Vancouver's Chinatown

Vancouver’s Chinatown

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park

My brother and his girlfriend's oasis in Seattle.

My brother’s and his girlfriend’s oasis in Seattle.

North Six-Shooter Peak

Thursday morning we packed up and left the beautiful little Hamburger Rock campsite. We stopped a few times on the way so that I could snap a last couple of photos of North and South Six-Shooter Peaks, on our way back to the highway. We headed back toward Moab to replenish supplies of dry ice and water.

South Six-Shooter Peak

We had enough gas for the return because we had stopped at the tiny gas station at Needles Outpost on our way in, the first day. There are two ancient gas pumps, and price is about $6.85/gal so I decided to get two gallons to make sure I could get back to Moab. Arno helped me get the thing going. (I had forgotten how to operate those old things. Remember back when we had to lift the nozzle in the side of the pump, then crank down the long handle on the side of the pump to open the flow, then watch the plastic numbers flip behind the glass?) As it clunked into gear, Arno proceeded to tell me a story about gas a long time ago…and I forgot all about my stupid expensive pump. Luckily we caught it at $27.50 for four gallons!

In the meantime, we met Lizard Lady. The kids had spotted some northern whiptail lizards sunning themselves on rocks outside. When I went to pay for my gas, the woman running the cash register noticed the kids and went ballistic! She opened a window and yelled at them, “Don’t kill my lizards!” We tried to assure her that our children would never kill the lizards, to which she responded, “oh, not intentionally!” Poor woman was very very upset and could not take her eyes off the three teenagers placidly watching lizards in the parking lot.

Three Gossips to the left of the road, The Organ and Towel of Babel to the right

After we had our supplies, we found parking spots in the shade at the downtown Information Center, then made sandwiches for lunch. It was hot and dry and the bread dried out before we were able to finish them. Sated, we decided to browse the shops a little. Miguel was still feeling sick and laid down in the truck again, and the rest of us took off. We had the most fun at a T-shirt shop. The entire place was filled with blank T-shirts and hoodies, of all colours and styles and sizes imaginable. The walls were blanketed in T-shirt decals. There must have been thousands of them. We chose the clothing we wanted, then chose the image we wanted, then the shop owners pressed it for us in just a couple minutes. We were able to have them remove parts of the designs too. For example, I had them scratch off “Moab, Utah” from my design, but I had them leave the artist’s name at the bottom corner.

A desert queen

Our next adventure was to head into Arches National Park. Miguel was still feeling sick, so he laid down in the truck – still in the shade at the Information Center. The rest of us left in the Dragon Wagon. At the entrance, a park ranger handed me a park paper (like they always do), and the cover story about how Arches National Park receives over a million visitors every single year would have made Edward Abbey aghast. We made our way in, and were treated with wonderful sights along the way, as was the case in Canyonlands. We stopped to look at a rock in the shape of Queen Nefartiti’s profile, and we saw rocks aptly named Three Gossips. Right from the road, we were able to spot the Windows Arches. With my zoom lens, it was like we actually drove out there!

North and South Windows Arches

View of “The Windows Section” with the La Sal mountains in the background

Balanced Rock

We stopped at one short path, and walked around balanced rock. With only half a day left, we had chosen our destination of Devil’s Garden, and did not take any side roads. We did stop for sights we could walk to from the main road. Though Arno assured me that Delicate Arch is beautiful up close, it is also the most famous and most visited. For that reason, we left it alone as well. We can see it on all the license plates anyhow.

We parked at the very busy trailhead at the far end of the park, and made our way in between sandstone fins on a wide, flat, beautiful path in Devil’s Garden. We listened to tourists twittering in Korean, German, Spanish. It was a wonderful trail with several arches and even when there wasn’t an arch we were treated to magnificent scenery.

For a millisecond, no tourists visible on the trail at the entrance to Devil’s Garden

View along the trail

I don’t know what I’m laughing about, here in front of Landscape Arch

{click to enlarge} Tara breaks rules

Landscape Arch is very impressive and – dare I say it – more delicate than Delicate Arch. From our viewpoint, it looks as though it could crash into a thousand shards tomorrow. Or in a hundred years. Due to a relatively recent (1991) peeling off of 180 tons of rock from the underside of the arch, we tourist sheep are not allowed anywhere near the arch. I imagine some moron would get beaned with a falling rock and then sue the park for a gazillion dollars, so the Park Service is forced to keep us all away. The trail is clearly fenced off, and a sign declares that we are not allowed to get any closer to the arch.

 

 

Hikers climbing down to the hole left by collapsed Wall Arch. You can see the wear of the trail. Yes, that is a trail.

We hiked past Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. Arno was looking, and pausing, and finally said that the trail looked different from his last visit. Then we spotted the sharp edges like broken pottery pieces. By this point in our trip, Tara and I had finally acquired mild slickrock skills, so we scrambled up past the crashed Wall Arch. Arno remembered correctly: there was a different trail that used to pass Wall Arch until 2008 when it collapsed in the night. I didn’t mind: the trail in use now is a bit challenging, which added excitement to our afternoon, and a distinctly worthy view from the top. After a look around at the high point of the trail, we turned around and went back down. Arno of course descended by his fingertips over the edge of a rock nearby, rather than use the trail like us sealubbers. (Well, if a landlubber is unfamiliar with the ways of the sea, then a sealubber would be….)

Arno descends over the edge of the rock

We were beginning to worry about Miguel at this point: still in the truck back in Moab. So we made our way to the car. Arno, driving, was getting better at anticipating what kind of views call to my camera, so he pulled over a couple of times for me to run across the highway, clamber up onto a ledge, switch my regular lens for the zoom lens, and pull in just one more awesome shot. I keep my spare lens in a purple felt Crown Royal bag, so any observant tourists might have suspected I was a crazy drunk running around in the orange sand of the desert.

Partition Arch

Miguel was fine, and the shade was still covering the truck. In no time, we were heading north on the highway again. We found a campsite in Green River with actual grass to pitch tents on. The bathrooms had showers! Tara and I scrubbed clean for the first time since we were at my Pa’s house.

A raven squawks at us in an enviable setting. He is saying, “Nyahh! Nyahh! I live here and you don’t!”

The long week was taking its toll on Arno, and I got my chance to be a partner and family member by dragging Diego’s attention from his dad to me. Diego wanted to build an apple cobbler dessert in the Dutch oven I brought. His dad was too busy to deal with it. It was obvious that D had been counting on making this recipe for a long time and was terribly disappointed on our very last night camping to be told “no” yet again. After multiple redirections of D’s attention from dad, and dad’s attention from D, they both let me step in and handle it. I was able to build a little trust with him, so he finally realized he could ask ME for help too, not just his dad. With Tara’s help cutting up apples, the cobbler turned out so yummy!

Sun sets on desert hoodoos

Waikiki Beach

Tara heading to the gate in Portland

portal view

Our flight into Honolulu went very smoothly, especially since we took a direct flight from Portland: only 5 ½ hours. Tara and I sat together on the plane, next to a very old woman who was next to the window and slept most of the way. We were off the plane rather quickly, and walking through the open-air airport in no time! Really! The moist tropical air just blows through. We found V at baggage claim, and our own bag was about the third one to show up on the carousel.

Duke Kahanamoku festooned in leis

After dropping our bag at his condo, we went directly to Waikiki beach. My intent with that infamous beach was merely to see it, to look with my own eyes upon Diamond Head, but not to spend a large part of our vacation there. In general, I find that places that attract the most tourists will repel me, and it was the case with Waikiki. Tara and I laid our beach towels out in a free piece of sand between lounging tourists, beneath one of the dozen lifeguard shacks, and soaked up some equatorial rays. We took turns playing in the water so the other person could watch our stuff.

The waves were amazing! Really great! The colour of the water is aqua and the sand is pale gold. The waves were averaging about 8 feet. Smooth, consistent. Having never been there, I didn’t have a sense of whether that is what Waikiki waves are always like, or if something special was going on. If there were waves like this in Humboldt County, where I learned to surf, it would have been a stellar day! Tara and I both wanted to rent a board and head out there, but there were SO MANY surfers. The water was obnoxiously crowded. Not appealing.

I counted about 75 surfers in this image

awesome waves

I felt the sun on my legs and began to worry about my girl (even paler than myself), so I got her up out of the sun, and we lugged our heavy bag through the crowds of tourists, getting a sense of the area. We found a place to buy sunscreen, some flip-flops (which I am told are called “rubba slippas” here), sunglasses, an extra bag to share the load. We stopped for Haagen-dazs ice cream and water.

We walked along the beach, staring at tourists, watching the surfers, trying to stay awake. Travel makes one sleepy, and the three-hour time difference was not in our favor. The sun shone brightly, but our bodies felt like sunset.

the famous Diamond Head

Tara holding roots

When V picked us up, he explained that the southern swell responsible for the awesome waves was actually the first big swell in some time, and the locals were as excited about the waves as the tourists. We could see the locals at that point, since the workday was wrapping up, and people were spilling out of pickups and cars with their boards and heading excitedly to the beach. Though we had been out of the sun for hours, our sunburns began to heat up, and I was glad we had decided not to surf. I know it would have been so fun we would have stayed out there and got crispy-fried before we knew it.

All in all, a good first day. Now that we have Waikiki out of the way, we can move on to other places.

looking up into the Banyan tree

humans are disgusting

Our nation's Grand Canyon in all her glory

On Saturday, Janice and I caught an early morning tour van and zoomed up to the Grand Canyon National Park to snap a few photos. It had to be done. In March I spent some time in Arizona exploring and by the time I reached the exit signs for the Grand Canyon, I had run out of time and was forced to drive past. This was a well-timed follow up to my spring excursion.

Bell Rock

Janice is one of my co-instructors, along with Terry. Janice is a world traveler, and accustomed to planning tours and excursions, and making the most out of seeing the place she is visiting. She found an inexpensive and quick trip to the northern part of the state to see one of our planet’s great wonders. I decided to purchase my own ticket and go along with her.

Our driver and tour guide was Tom Haas, who kept us entertained and made stops along the way for us to take photos and to browse souvenirs for possible purchase. Our first stop was outside of Oak Canyon, Arizona in the Coconino National Forest. We had a great view of gorgeous red rock formations that make the Sedona area famous. We took quick photos, then jumped into the van and continued on into the town of Sedona.

Sedona downtown has a stunning natural backdrop on all sides

Tom dropped us off for a half an hour, while he went and rounded up a few more people to add to the group. I decided Sedona is distinctly NOT a town I could live in. I do not care for perfectly polished communities. It reminded me of the town in Edward Scissorhands.

Javelina

I would be afraid that if I lived in Sedona and one of my cactus plants in the yard tipped over, I might have the local neighborhood Beautification Committee pounding on my door within hours. We got to see large, lovely homes that supposedly belong to celebrities and directors, actors and actresses, politicians and athletes. Further research shows that no mega-stars live in Sedona. Which is fine by me.

Cameron Suspension Bridge

Janice and I had shared the ride up from Phoenix with the Suzuki family from Japan, who spoke limited English. “Motorcycles!” joked Mr. Suzuki, and his beautiful family smiled at us. Their daughter was stunning and looked about twenty. Maybe she was a particularly mature 17. But in any case, culture differences became readily apparent because she clung to her parents and looked to them for approval in everything she did. She was extraordinarily sweet, polite, demure. My own 13-year-old would have barely had time to wave goodbye upon exiting the van, and would have disappeared into the town, eager to discover it without me.

Janice and me in front of Courthouse Butte

On the way out of Sedona, we took a winding road through forests and shade. It illuminated for me the reasons why so many people are drawn to Sedona. Not for the kitschy tourist town, but for the jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape. Here, maybe, is an example of what a god would do if I believed a god existed. Green leaves splashed against red rocks under a blue sky umbrella. It is stunning. The rivers, streams, lakes and waterfalls are a constant surprise in the unceasing sun. I just don’t expect it to be that brutally hot and then still see a rushing river and dozens of people swimming and cannonballing into Slide Rock State Park!  It seems like everything would evaporate, but instead there are delicious canyons of shade trees and water.

One of many stunning views from the South Rim

We stopped at the Cameron Trading Post, near an abandoned suspension bridge built in 1911 that caught our attention. Janice and I went to explore the bridge and the canyon it spanned. By the time we made it into the souvenir Mecca, we had only 15 minutes left to use the toilets and browse. We did not buy anything there. It would have been the best place to buy souvenirs though. A range of prices and variety of wares, from 50 cents for a tequila candy with the worm inside to $6000 for hand-woven rugs. I would have like to have had the chance to browse for a few hours. Our goal was not to shop, however, and off we went.

The van was now crowded, and the eight of us were smashed into bench seats. I was grateful to be a party of two, so Janice and I had room. We were also in the front seat because Janice gets carsick if she’s in the back. My knees were a little jammed behind the driver’s seat, but I was glad for my spot. I wish we had found a better means of travel, but enough on that topic. It was not too hot, and also not too cold as is usually the case with air conditioning. The other tourists were mostly silent, and Janice and I jabbered away during the entire trip. I hope we didn’t annoy them!

Trail below moves through a cluster of trees, up to the edge, and drops out of sight into the canyon.

Finally got to the Grand Canyon and made one stop at a lookout point before being deposited at the main Village area, site of the famous El Tovar Lodge. We were starving, so wasted our first 40 minutes there getting food. Then we were left with an hour to look around. We did not go far, didn’t even hike a trail, but the canyon is sufficiently stunning no matter how one is able to see it. We played the role of tourist, taking many shots of each other at the canyon’s edge. Browsed a gift shop. Watched foreign tourists with curiosity: listened to their German, and French, and Spanish voices.

The temperature was more comfortable there at around 6000 feet elevation, than it had been in Phoenix. We were probably in the upper 80s to around 90 degrees, as opposed to the 109 degree temperatures we left behind us. Surprisingly, though still hot, the difference was noticeable and appreciated.

We had met Tom at 6:30am in the hotel lobby. By 3:30pm at the Grand Canyon, it was time to crawl back into the van and head for home. It was a long, quiet drive and we were tired from our day. Finally, at 8:00 pm, we arrived at our home away from home. Tom sent us off with autographed postcards of some of his artwork. It was a good day!

Pyramids of Giza - deceptively close to Cairo

Woke to the calls to prayer this morning. It began around 5 am and continued off and on till almost 6 am. The buffet breakfast was fair, and the Oasis provided tolerable coffee. The downside to being a coffee snob such as myself is that traveling presents a coffee challenge. I resign myself to suffering inadequate coffee or no coffee in any populated area other than my home. It was appropriate that I began the journey reading Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory For Forgetfulness – Beirut, August 1982. Darwish dedicates much of the first 22 pages to his love affair with coffee. His aching desire for the first cup of coffee so powerful it rises above the reality of a morning destroyed by Israeli bombing from the sea off Beirut. His deep, soulful connection to life with coffee endures simultaneously with the terror of death by explosion. I can’t know what it’s like, though I can understand that kind of relationship with coffee.

Miss T partway up the Great Pyramid

Hossam cautioned us with many admonishments of what not to eat, and I find myself wavering between hesitantly unsure and devil-may-care. We can’t drink the water. We can’t eat any fresh vegetables or fresh fruit because the water is so bad. We can’t eat dairy products. Is this list designed to protect frail, elderly, disabled people? Is it to protect Gate 1 from angry sick people? Is Egypt truly that poisonous? Finally I decided that though I would acquiesce to bottled water, the rest of the food rules were too restrictive, and I would just eat whatever they served. How bad could it be – honestly?

Tied to a rock

Our day, our week, in Egypt began with a pow! at the pyramids of Giza. Very very cool. I wasn’t expecting more than big, crumbling pyramids in the desert, and that’s what it was. Some people expressed disappointment because they weren’t big enough (seriously I think some people can never be happy), but I think crumbling pyramids in the desert are AWESOME. The most interesting thing about the pyramids to me is how we are able to spot them from many places in the city. I recall this from Athens as well, when I could spot the Parthenon somehow only mildly conspicuous above the city. Here, between rows of apartments, are pyramids – THE pyramids; one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – soaring up and ignored in the background.

Pyramids of Giza

Our first stop was at King Cheops’ (or Kufu) Great Pyramid itself, built around 2500 BC. There are dozens of pyramids in Egypt. Today we saw the pyramids of Giza. We climbed up the side a little bit, where a path was clearly worn from millions before us. Then we moved on. We bought two extra tickets for things that were not part of our tour: camel rides and an opportunity to go inside a pyramid. Our pyramid tour went down, down, down a long narrow tunnel and then up, up, up a long narrow tunnel, and came out into a small room with a vaulted ceiling. It was a plain, dark, rectangular room with an empty sarcophagus at one end.

My girl in the desert

We discarded our misconception that pyramids were built by slaves. None of the pyramids were built by slaves or foreigners, but mainly by unemployed farmers, who needed a livelihood during the seasonal Nile flooding.

Of course we rode the camels! We handed our pounds over to Hossam, who negotiated a good price. Soon we were coached onto the large beasts. You climb on the same as a horse, then lean way back as he gets onto his hind legs first, and lean forward as he stands all the way up.

Hardly a Bedouin

The men handling the camels are a motley crew: sun-darkened skin and shining eyes; many dressed in gallabiyas and turbans to ward off the sun. Many dressed in jeans and sweaters and hats. They were multicolored, multilingual; impressive in their ability to bounce from French to German to Japanese to English…as they attempted to determine from what country their customers hailed. They helped us onto the towering camels with ease and humor, then tied the camels one to another and led us out into the desert. Tara was up on her camel well before I was, and she seemed to have a fun time watching the rest of us climb.

We were treated to about a 10-15 minute ride that brought us a little bit closer to the pyramids. My gentle guide took my photo for me many times, then pleaded “I take care of you, you take care of me” through our trip back. As was often the case throughout the rest of my trip, I had left my money elsewhere, and was not prepared to hand out baksheesh, or tips.

Egyptian entrepreneur

As long as we’re on this topic, I will say a bit about how completely unprepared I was for managing money in Egypt. No one in Egypt will make change for you. They’ll change a 100 pound note (Egyptian pound = EGP) into 50s. If you find a particularly generous soul in the practice of handing out their own favors and not obsessed with milking you for yours, you can get 20s for your 100. But the only way to get smaller than a 20 pound note is by determined strategy. “Who cares?” you might ask. Ah, well, therein lies the rub. An American tourist needs small bits of money for multitudinous reasons in Egypt.

People mill about simply waiting for an opportunity to do something for you and demand baksheesh for their service. Someone will point to the way to what you are seeking, then hold out a hand. Stand at the doorway of the bathroom, and request payment before you pee. Hold out a steadying hand as you step off the curb, and ask for a tip. Open a door; pull out a sheet of paper towel on your behalf; lead you to a good place to take a photo; offer to pose with you for a photo; answer a question; it’s all a reason to hand over baksheesh. If you don’t, you get a pitiful look that will guilt you into tipping the next time. This look says to you something like, “My family will starve today because of your selfishness, but how could you understand, rich American?” I could have managed it more gracefully if I had a steady supply of change to help feed the hands. But I frequently received a bitter scowl – even wagging fingers as though the mere request was a faux pas! – and a good scolding: “No change! No change!”

The Great Sphinx and King Khafre's pyramid

our busses

The bus dropped us next at the Sphinx. Yes, the Great Sphinx, I could hardly believe it, and Tara was very excited. We snapped some awesome photos but could not go close enough to touch.

Back on the busses to reach a papyrus workshop and tour. I hadn’t even considered purchasing papyrus, but apparently it’s one of the key souvenirs from Egypt. We saw a demonstration of how it’s made, and then wandered the showroom of course, and ended up purchasing an image of Bastet, the cat goddess, and an historical Egyptian calendar.

Instruction on how to make papyrus paper

Calendar

Goddess Bastet

After eating barbecued chicken at a local restaurant, we went to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities where we were forced to zoom from display to display, shouldering our way through hoards of people. The museum collection is huge and every piece is remarkable, so our guided tried to get us to the really big sights rather quickly. He turned us loose to look for whatever we wished, so Tara and I quit the place. We found a bathroom – paid a dollar (5½ Egyptian pounds) since we didn’t have anything smaller – and then moseyed outside to catch a few last rays of sunshine and to get away from the people. Before long, members of our group began to cluster around us. When our bus arrived we were tired and most of us wanted to go home.

Egyptian Museum of Antiquities

We went instead to the market, arriving around 5:15pm, and given an hour to shop. Tara and I had an agenda of sorts, so that made it a little easier to stay awake. We both wanted gallabiyas (traditional robes) to wear for dinner tomorrow night. Tara wanted to get several gifts for her friends in Egypt, so she bought a handful of scarabs and a sparkly keychain.

Minarets glowing above the market

It was a very crowded market with shops crammed in and around and on top of each other, and we were given a safety speech before released from the bus. Hossam gives us so many words of caution that I am never sure when to feel safe. Is he pandering to the majority of the American public’s need to feel frightened of everything? At home I ignore the official safety warnings from food to purchases to companies to travel, etc. etc. In my opinion (here’s my conspiracy theory), all that caution to excess is a system by which our government and our religions hold us hostage. A bunch of mouton (French for sheep, but in slang it means a bunch of people doing whatever everyone else is doing. The English equivalent to “lemmings”) unable to be independently resourceful. I think CEOs and Senators and Popes prefer us this way because we’re easier to control.

A glimpse into the depths of the Cairo market

So with this opinion firmly carved into my mind, I can’t decide whether to take Hossam seriously. It doesn’t really make sense that Egypt has danger lurking every 5 steps…it can’t possibly be that dangerous, or there wouldn’t be swarms of mouton out here. Hossam seems extremely comfortable at every stop and with everyone he comes across. Tara and I were thrown for a loop due to our inept bargaining savvy, and to the superior salesmanship of our Egyptian vendor… but in the end we had our gallabiyas.

One of my many guises

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