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I recall being so pleased that I remembered to get a shot of this scene. Now I’m not sure why…

While in Myanmar in February, and on the trip home, I kept jotting things in the Notes app in my phone. I wanted to be sure and remember to mention them in my blog. I have waited so long that several of the notes don’t mean much to me anymore. What a loss.

But most of the photos I collected into a special folder, and the notes in my phone still remind me of thoughts that never made it into a blog post. Here are my notes, in the order I found them in my phone, which is the order they popped into my head:

  1. shower in toilet. Yes, this was a first for me, but I am told by friends it’s not that unusual. In Myanmar, at a hostel and at one of our hotels, the shower and toilet were the same room. I can’t imagine why. Real estate, you are thinking, and that would make sense, except that the places where this happened were not short on space and the rooms themselves were quite large. In our hotel toilet/shower, the space was as huge as a bedroom, and yet there is the shower head, mounted directly over the toilet, when it could have at least been installed on the other side of the room. There are the distinct disadvantages, such as soaking the toilet paper, filling the wastepaper basket, and dousing the toilet and sink every day so that water spots and soap scum need to be scrubbed off each day. What are the advantages?

    This elaborate box on side of house may hold a shrine? Other houses had a simple rectangle with no adornment.

  2. box thing on house. My guess is that it is a place for a shrine since many many homes had them, they were often decorated, and always in the exact same place on a house. My anthropologist mind tells me there is a ritual/spiritual/cultural reason to place the box in the same place on every home. The box is always on the right front corner of the house as you are facing the house, no matter what cardinal direction the house faces. I tried so many times to describe this to people so I could ask what it was for, but I failed to get anyone to understand. On my last day in Myanmar I remembered to get a photo, so at least YOU know what I’m talking about.
  3. power out. I’ll have to consider this one for awhile. No idea.
  4. chair conversation at restaurant. I remember the restaurant in Mandalay. But I simply cannot remember the context or the content.
  5. 1729 steps. I think this was not a story, but simply to remember how many steps there were from the street to the top of Mandalay Hill.
  6. Rohingya. I did already mention our conversation about the Rohingya with our trekking guide Hein. In a situation that reminds me of Palestinians, the Rohingya have lived in what is now western Myanmar for centuries, but are denied citizenship by the government. Recently, they have been slaughtered and their villages burned, for …apparently for …existing? Hearing about the brutality inflicted against this group of indigenous people by their own government, I expected the Myanmar military to be a constant presence, like police in Egypt. But for the most part, Margaret and I never saw military or police, and the whole country felt absolutely laid back and good-natured. I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that the criminal authorities responsible for mind-blowing violence are relatives of the loving, open, friendly people we met.
  7. honking. Erm, not sure what I wanted to say about this.
  8. recycling. Again, I don’t recall what was on my mind.

    Betel juice spit onto the U Bein Bridge. Betel nut is everywhere, like tobacco.

  9. crepe. For some reason, across the country the primary material chosen for napkins to use while eating is crepe paper. In the US we use it for decoration (think multi-coloured streamers at parties and dances). In Myanmar it was always a grey-blue colour and the rolls were placed at tables for you to tear off a piece and sop up grease from your sticky fingers and mouth. Except…yeah…it’s the worst possible material. Crepe falls apart instantly, and gets stuck to you rather than assists with cleaning. Honestly. Where did this idea come from and why is it so universally accepted?
  10. longyi is the sarong. I’d been calling the wrap worn by men and women a sarong, because I couldn’t remember the name of it. I finally looked it up.  A longyi is a hoop of fabric that is long enough to go from your waist to your toes. To wear it, you step inside the hoop, pull it up, and fold and tuck the fabric in. The tension holds it in place. Nearly everyone wears them in Myanmar. They are versatile. I saw a street person relieve herself in public for example, by loosening the tucked fabric, simultaneously squatting and pulling the fabric up around her shoulders, and doing her business behind the screen. When finished, she stood again, dropping the fabric back to her waist, and securing it once more. On Inle Lake, I saw a woman bathing out on the dock in front of the house using the same method of privacy. The longyi was up around her shoulders and she scooped water up inside the fabric and washed. No one passing by in a boat saw any skin but that on her face and feet.

    This piece of Thanaka wood and grinding stone were made available for my use at our hotel in Bagan. It is used as a cosmetic and sunscreen. One wets the stone with water, then takes the log in both hands and grind it in circles on the stone, till enough powder has been mixed with the water to make a lotion, as you see here. Use your fingers to scoop it up and spread it across your face. It is refreshingly cool for an hour or so, even in the sun. Then it dries up and flakes off.

  11. mingalaba. It turns out this greeting is relatively new (1960s), and introduced intentionally to replace the traditional English greeting by schoolchildren to their teacher each morning. Everyone happily calls Mingalaba! I guess it translates to “blessings upon you,” or “auspiciousness to you.” It can be used to say hello, or goodbye, but we only noticed it being used to say hello. Maybe because they knew we were tourists and would get confused. Ha!
  12. sewers under sidewalks. This one does make sense to me in terms of real estate. Waste water in cities is channeled away in narrow canals beside streets. Large, flat bricks with holes in them are placed over the sewage canals in order to use the space as a sidewalk and also to ventilate the sewage. It’s an efficient use of space and somehow both pedestrian-friendly and distinctly not. Yangon was not the only place I’ve seen this system, but it was certainly the stinkiest city I’ve ever been in.

    I have seen this sign in other countries before, but it still cracks me up. You know the sign was created after enough people fell off – or into – toilets that a demand for instructions was created.

  13. breast feeding. Possibly a remnant of a more isolated, often rural environment only recently opening up to the misplaced scorn of outsiders, women comfortably breast-fed their babies in public spaces. I am a huge fan of this, after having been a mother and became personally aware of how many challenges there are for parents with babies in public spaces where others believe that all the realities of babies (crying, diapers, feeding) must be hidden. So glad to see the open smiling faces of mothers proudly feeding their babies as if it were the most natural thing in the world. (Hint: it is.)
  14. bus food stops. Arggh! So, so, so very annoying. Every single – I mean EVERY single bus ride we took in Myanmar included a mandatory stop at a roadside eatery. This means mandatory bus evacuation. Even if the bus is late. Even in the friggin middle of the night when you just took a sleeping pill to try and sleep on the bus despite the discomfort and the noise, yes, even then you have to drag yourself up out of slumber, put on your shoes, and stumble out into brilliantly-lit fluorescent highway stop with noise, people, and smells to which you are not accustomed. Your extreme squinting from the light is not intentional and only a reflex but since it matches your mood you allow the grimace to remain. Then you sit on a curb and shiver and grumble for half an hour to 40 minutes until the bus driver reopens the bus and lets you get back on.
  15. Buddha’s hair. All the pagodas and stupas have relics. A couple of times the relic was believed to be a hair, or multiple hairs from the head of the Buddha. It made me laugh at first because I always imagine the Buddha as bald. Once drawn to my attention, I realized all the Buddhas in Myanmar have hair. I guess the young Buddha was gifting his hairs out as sacred relics, and then eventually made himself bald. But …since it’s the Buddha… both the generosity to the point of baldness and the acceptance of an altered image seem to fit.

That’s all my notes, and the random photos that I also kept for some reason. I am hoping that some of the forgotten things will come back to me now that I’m thinking about them again. If so, I’ll come back here and edit.

A panoramic view of Mt. St. Helens from the west side.

My friend Vladimir and I have known each other since I lived in Eureka, California. That was right around the turn of the century (makes it sound like the distant past, huh?). So yeah, 18 years or so. At the time we both worked for the National Weather Service. Vlad recently retired from his forecasting job in Honolulu, and decided to move to Portland. Sans car. While Portland has super great public transportation…it still limits a person to the city. He has yet to get a really good look at his surrounds.

It was Vlad’s idea a while back to enlist my help (and the Jeep) to explore the local area. Our plan is a series of mini-road trips (RTs) to see some of the local stuff that a person can’t get to via lightrail.

The view from the north, standing beside the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Monday we drove north into Washington state to see Mt. St. Helens. This is the volcano that blew in May 1980. For Vlad and I, growing up here on the West coast, we clearly remember the news stories and the fear and the awe…not to mention the ash clouds. We went to see what it looks like today, 38 years later. The surrounding beauty is remarkable in that it looks so far along the path of recovery. At the same time, it’s genuinely startling how much has not yet changed since the eruption.

We drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and arrived just in time to hear a Ranger talk about the high points of the eruption. First, there was the largest landslide in human recorded history, as the north side of the mountain sloughed off. Right behind that was the explosive blast that blew the whole side and top off the mountain. Then the pyroclastic flow, which is not so much a “flow” but more blasting, of ash, rocks, lava, etc. that hurtled down the mountainside and destroyed everything in its path.

The Ranger talked all the way through the area’s natural recovery, including the giant Roosevelt Elk herd and the mountain goats that live in the crater. He ended on a very interesting tidbit. Due to the characteristics of this particular spot, we have the fastest-forming glacier in North America, possibly the globe. Pretty cool, huh? I didn’t realize glaciers were growing anywhere. Snow falls into the crater, which is sheltered from the sun. The dome is slowly growing inside the crater, compacting the snow up against the walls. Regular showers of rocks and ash coat the top of the ice from tiny eruptions from the mountain. Badda-boom: recipe for glacier.

We hiked a trail in the area, ate a picnic lunch with a fabulous view and a chipmunk that needs to lay off the carbs, and then got home by dark.

Trying to be artistic with the gorgeous wildflowers.

more flowers

Not that I’m the type to judge body shape, but this was one fat chipmunk, begging while we ate our picnic. (He’s standing right now, to make himself look slimmer.)

The view from an overlook about 10 miles from the Observatory. The extent of recovery is impressive.

A monk feeds some pigeons on the bridge/hotel/train station.

At breakfast we decided to try to find anything but temples, pagodas, and Buddha. Mandalay is a big city; there must be other things to see. After reviewing pamphlets, Trip Advisor, the front desk…we decided it would be a crafts day.

First though, we walked over to the train station to buy a ticket for Margaret’s departure to Hsipaw the next day. It was a little confusing to find where to go, but we eventually discovered the ticket offices in the open air second floor of a hotel, on a bridge over the train tracks. (Yeah, get your head around that) We explained what we wanted at the counter, and the man shook his head and pointed for us to go somewhere else. We didn’t see anywhere else to go, but he seemed insistent, so we walked away and stumbled upon an identical ticket office on the other side of the building. After much discussion behind the windows, someone finally said “sixteen,” which we realized was window #16, and once we got there, everything was rather self-explanatory. Language is really not so much of a barrier when you look at it practically: two tourists show up at a ticket window at a train station. It doesn’t take language to realize they are most likely hoping to buy a ticket. All the tourists have to say is “Hsipaw,” and all the counter agent has to convey is the price. Except…. there was a little more to say, and thank goodness our agent was able to convey it. First class was sold out, and the only seats available were coach, it was a 12-hour journey, and it departed at 4:00 am. Margaret decided to take the bus instead.

On 78th Street near the train station.

Blur of the hammer as a man pounds thin gold into very thin gold. In the bowl of water is half a coconut shell with a small hole drilled into it. The coconut fills with water in 3 minutes, then the pounders know to flip their packet and beat the other side of it.

Woman applies gold flakes

Then we walked to the gold leaf craft shop. We arrived soon after two tour busses arrived, so the small place was filled with tourists from England. It was noisy the whole time we were there, while two men banged away at their tiny pieces of gold flake, making them molecule-thin. An employee came up to me with a bunch of samples and explained the whole process of making gold leaf and also of making bamboo paper (which is made exactly the same as other paper, as far as I could tell). The gold flakes are pressed between layers of bamboo paper, then bound into a packet. The packet is then pounded for hours, periodically opened to split the flakes into smaller pieces, then bound up again and pounded some more. Eight hours total for each final flake of about 2 inches squared. Inside the show room I found a few lacquered bamboo boxes, embellished in gold designs. Continuing to test what I had been told (look, I just don’t trust that the stories told to tourists are always accurate), I asked if they made the lacquered boxes here in Mandalay. “No, the boxes are made in Bagan.” This pleased me, since I had purchased a box in Bagan, believing it to be a local product. From my casual investigation, it appears to be true.

Margaret and I were sitting on a bench in a corner, looking at the map and trying to figure out where to go next, when the buses pulled away. The banging of the men with hammers ceased immediately. Ha ha ha!

Our next stop was miles away so we hired a taxi. The hotel front desk had told us that the wood craft shops were near the Mahamuni Buddha Temple, so we asked the taxi driver to take us there, just to give him and easy landmark to aim for. We had no plan to visit the temple at first. But our driver brought us to a quiet street with a less popular entrance, and the quiet was inviting. We decided to step inside and check it out, since we were there anyway. It was a good decision.

A wooden Buddha sheltered by a cobra.

The entrances to many temples have people selling things on both sides, and this place was no different. Small Buddha statues, jade jewelry, textiles, and paintings were offered. This one held multiple palmists, which we had not seen previously. Margaret bought jade bracelets and I browsed.

The temple proper was surrounded by pillars encased in jade in myriad mosaics. It was specatacular, all green and glistening in the sun. Just inside, we found the Mahamuni Buddha. Like we saw at the Golden Rock, worshipers bought gold flake and applied it to the Buddha while praying. Again, only men were allowed to do this. Women sat in rows outside, praying. And for the benefit of the people outside, there was a livecam going the whole time, so we could watch our men apply the gold. We continued on and realized this was a large complex with museums and other holy sites. We explored bronze sculptures on display, magnificent art, artifacts, a giant gong, several giant bells, and additional pagodas. There were at least four separate museums with different categories of collections. One appeared to hold manuscripts, and looked something like a library, with books, parchments, and even dusty old cassette tapes.

Interestingly, very few foreigners were there, which could have explained the amped up excitement of the local visitors. Many more group photos were taken. We were delighted when a super happy monk begged us for a photo with him, then demanded (with a sly smile) that his shy, blushing sister also get a photo with us. (Margaret has the photos of this, or I would show you.) Twice more we bumped into the same monk and his sister, and it felt like we were old friends after awhile.

Jade pillars of the Mahamuni Buddha temple.

Mahamuni Buddha in the background, with livecam out front for the women.

Golden hall around the Mahamuni Buddha.

Margaret loves to get people to be goofy in photos. Here she begged them all to hold their fingers up, which made them laugh. Look, I’m tall and thick like an Amazon next to them. It was something M and I were always conscious of.

Posing for us.

Here, Margaret demonstrates that she is also willing to goof off in photos.

One of the paintings in the art museum.

Bronze figures on display were originally from Angkor Wat in Cambodia and were taken to Thailand. After winning a battle in 1599 when the Thai king attacked Taungoo (in the Bago region of Myanmar), the Taungoo king presented these bronze figures to the Rakhine king in gratitude for his assistance, and thus they came to live in Myanmar.

Bronze elephants

Bronze men. One 8 feet tall and the other 7 feet tall.

We were both so glad we randomly decided to tour that temple. It was one of our best stops of the trip!

Outside we went to a wood crafters shop, which held some pretty cool wood carvings but was not really set up for tourists like the gold flake place. No craftsman was around, no evidence of the work being done, just a very dusty showroom with one young woman and a baby on site. I found it amusing that the baby’s blanket, crib, and diaper pack were in the center of the showroom.

Across the street we found marble crafts, which weren’t even mentioned by the hotel front desk or in any of the lists of things to do that we found during our morning search. There were many shops selling marble statues (mostly of Buddha), crowding each other on both sides of the street. This is clearly a major craft in the area and I’m surprised that we hadn’t heard of it before stumbling onto this part of town.

Baby blanket and crib in the middle of the wood craft showroom.

Thousands of Buddha statues sit, in various stages of completion, in this section of town.

One crafter at work.

Near the marble Buddhas, a dove guards her nest in a very protected place. Can you see it?

We were hot and tired at this stage. Our plan had been to grab a taxi to our next stop, but there were none in sight. I can’t understand why, but there are simply very few tourists here, among all the marble and wood and the wonderful Mahamuni Buddha complex. That explains why there were no taxis. We thought to start walking to the bridge. Why not? But soon we had to stop for a rest. We picked one of the millions of tiny little shops beside the road to sit under an awning in the shade. There was a woman rolling up betel leaf packets in the front. A dirty little boy in the back sat on the floor beside a cooler. I went to the back and tapped on the side of the cooler, and the boy opened it for me. I bought a soda for 500 kyats (38 cents), and we sat there while the women and children from other nearby stalls drew close and chatted happily around us, though we couldn’t speak to each other. I gave some of my mandarin oranges to the kids. Would you believe it? While we sat there, the happy monk and his sister showed up and stopped at the stall next to us. We all laughed at seeing each other again.

The soda was finished and we were ready to go when a taxi pulled up. The woman had laid down for a nap, and the taxi driver obviously knew her, because he went right to her betel stand, grabbed what he wanted, and said a few things to her and she nodded. M and I asked him “Taxi?” he nodded, and we asked “U Bein bridge?” and he sort of hesitated, then nodded. So we climbed into the back.

The driver turned the taxi around and began heading north, and we were pretty sure the bridge was south. We found the photo of the bridge in our itinerary, and tapped on the window to show one of the men in the cab where we wanted to go. The driver nodded with great assuredness, but did not change course. We waited until we were confident again that we were going the wrong way. We tapped on the window to get the driver to pull over, which he did. We showed him U Bein bridge on the GPS. He nodded – clearly no hesitation that he knew what we wanted. He spoke quite a bit, but obviously we didn’t understand anything until he began pointing to the bags of goods in the back with us. OH! He needed to make another trip first! The man in the front was a passenger, not his buddy. We dropped the man off at the hospital, with all of his goods, then turned and headed due south.

It was a rather long trip and Margaret and I realized we would never have made it walking. It was a good 5 miles south of where we stopped to rest. Once we arrived, the driver would not accept payment, which puzzled us. We tried multiple times to pay him, but he wouldn’t accept it. We thought maybe his plan was to wait for us and then get a larger payment by returning us home, so we used sign language to say we would be back and we would meet him at that spot. We hoped he understood.

U Bein bridge was packed with tourists, both local and foreigners.

The piles of food for sale always looks delicious though we often won’t eat it: like these fried crabs.

The bridge is built in a curve shape to withstand the current of the water when the lake is higher.

I saw these men trying to pull down a piling.

They seemed amused that I wanted a photo.

The U Bein Bridge is 3/4 mile long and believed to be the longest teak wood bridge in the world. Tilapia are farmed in the lake, but due to recent growth in industry along the shores and tributaries, there is a wastewater pollution problem. Thousands of fish are dying, impacting the fishermen and causing a rotten fish smell that we noticed along portions of the bridge. In 2016, the government of Myanmar designated Taungthaman Lake an environmental conservation area and began making plans to clean it up.

The popular thing is to see the bridge at sunrise, but we were there at midday. Still, there were plenty of tourists. This, unlike the Mahamuni Buddha temple, draws the masses. People hawked their wares all over the parking lot and the roads up to the bridge, and for a good portion along the bridge as we walked it. I was very excited to see my favourite snack of Myanmar – sliced green mango in chili powder – sold here, and I bought some within minutes. M’s tummy was still upset and she didn’t share the spicy treat with me. In fact, she was still feeling poorly when we had walked all the way to the end of the bridge and back, so we bought a coconut to drink the milk and fill up on natural electrolytes.

Crunchy spicy goodness!

Natural health food drink.

We searched and searched for our taxi driver, but he was nowhere to be seen. We were disappointed because we wanted to pay him for that very long ride earlier. We couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t accept payment – he was a taxi driver after all. Maybe it was because the shop owner said good things about us. Maybe they appreciated that we had befriended the monk. Maybe he regretted the confusion about delivering the guy to the hospital before taking us to the bridge. Finally we hired another family that was thrilled to get our business. There was a man sleeping in the back of the taxi and the son thumped his leg to wake him up. We showed them our map of where the hotel was, and they happily carried us north again through the entertaining streets of Mandalay.

People on the streets of Mandalay.

They look much more gruff than they really are. Takes two seconds to get them to smile.

Uh…cattle? Ok.

The beds at our room on Inle Lake.

I wanted to say a little bit more about the luxurious Inle Resort. I guess that’s because it was such a change in accommodation after two nights of homestays in the mountains around Inle.

The living room

Our cabin from the outside

A patio near the dining hall

The dining hall.

Guests arriving by boat, as we did last night.

Same view, at sunrise this morning.

outlet cover

Our arrival was by boat, though the resort is on the shores of Inle Lake and was not on stilts but upon land. The service was excellent and the grounds were exquisite. We stayed in an individual cabin with two large rooms – living room and bedroom, with a spacious sink area, and additional rooms for the toilet and a generous shower room. (Did I mention hot water? Hot water is so great.) The dining facility was a separate huge building and the breakfast buffet was included with our room.

After checking out we had breakfast then waited for our driver. Before leaving Hein yesterday, we had asked him to help us arrange for a driver. It was a great decision by Margaret to have someone handle the driving for us today because we covered a lot of territory and trying to navigate it all by bus would have been maybe crazy, maybe impossible. If we had rented a car, we never would have found the stupas at Kakku.

I had to look up the word. “Stupa” simply means heap, or pile. The word in this case refers to a small pagoda built over a relic. At Kakku there are 2,478 stupas together. The Internet site we referenced to find this place says, “some are simple and unadorned while others are covered in a riot of stucco deities and mythical beasts.” It’s a great description.

Stupas at Kakku

Row upon row of stupas

a riot of deities

elephant

love the colours

more riotous colours

crossed foot turned down

A more open area between stupas.

There is a temple on the grounds, but since Margaret and I did not wear a long skirt and had our shoulders exposed, we could not go in. But the woman who took the entrance fee assured us that we were dressed appropriately enough to wander the stupas. We did remove our shoes, of course.

Each stupa is itself fascinating. Though we passed thousands of them, they continued to catch our attention. The many styles we saw are attributed to the changing styles of architecture through the years as more were constructed. We didn’t see any new stupas going up, but many of them were undergoing renovation. Some were shaped like buildings, mausoleum style we thought, and housed multiple Buddhas typically.

After the stupas we wandered the little market out there. Kakku is very rural, and there didn’t appear to be a town. The market held about thirty stalls, all selling the exact same things. These included sunflower seeds, rice cakes, fava beans, dried corn, garlic, ginger, and a bunch of stuff we couldn’t identify. There were a couple of textile stalls as well, and a couple of small convenience stores.

Photo is poor quality due to shooting through a dirty windshield.

This kind of sight is not unusual.

Farmers working the fields

Side saddle is necessary due to the long skirts.

Interesting trees along the highway.

We returned to our driver, Aung Ku Zin, who had been waiting in the shade for us the whole time. He is a friendly man and a remarkably safe driver. He also used some English to explain some of the sights we passed such as garlic fields and the Taunggyi University. Our trip from the resort to Kakku was 1 ½ hours, and the trip from Kakku to the Heho airport was two hours. We had the opportunity to see much more of the Myanmar countryside, this time Shan State in particular. We particularly enjoyed seeing the people we passed on the road, women often riding side saddle on bikes, bikes loaded down with incomprehensibly large loads, a truckload of ducks, trucks filled with people and more people on top. There are no lanes, and there is a natural flow of faster vehicle passing slower vehicles while looking out for oncoming traffic on the single lane strip of pavement.

The road was always in pretty good shape. A single lane of blacktop down the middle is flanked by the red dirt of this area. Most of the time there was enough room for automobiles to creep past each other and not leave the pavement. Most of the vehicles in this area are motorbikes, unlike Yangon, where we were surprised not to see many bicycles or motorbikes in the three days we were in the massively congested city. We agreed that motorbikes made a lot more sense in Yangon than their huge American-sized trucks and SUVs. In the city of Taunggyi we were impressed with the wide roads in good repair, often bordered by attractive roadside landscaping. We were also impressed with how clean and organized everything appeared. After the chaos of Yangon, I admit we were surprised to find a city like this in Myanmar.

Taunggyi is a clean, organized, and apparently economically sound city.

Typical roadside view.

The tiny little Heho airport runs smoothly, and it was a piece of cake to get our boarding passes. We have a short flight to Bagan. I suspect that once the flight lands, and we get to our hotel, and then find a place to eat dinner, that will be the extent of our adventures today.

Watching the sun set beyond a plane at the Heho airport.

The Golden Rock from a distance.

Our day was primarily travel. We are aimed for the Golden Rock, or Kyaikityo Pagoda, well outside of Yangon. We are planning a trip up the mountain to see the balanced rock at sunrise. In the meantime, our goal was simply to get here. From what I read prior to the trip, there is little else to do out here aside from visit the rock.

From the hostel this morning, we walked 10 minutes to a travel agency and bought bus tickets for the day. To get there we passed through a marvelous market just steps from the hostel that we had no idea was there. I just LOVE these markets. They are so crammed with activity. People, food, rickshaws, trucks, and dogs, all jumbled together in this kind and warm environment where everyone is looking out for each other and ready to laugh together in a shared experience. I believe this loving community must be how no one dies amidst the ruckus.

Unlike my previous experience of east Asia, in Japan, here people stare directly at you and fully engage in acknowledging your presence on the street. A truck honks from behind, one of us yelps in surprise, and three or four people nearby laugh with us. A woman carrying a large tray of fried shrimp and spinach cakes tells me she likes my sarong. Her face is covered in the yellowish-white Thanaka lotion that most women and many men wear. Children, beautiful beautiful children – I can’t even express how beautiful they are to me with their dark hair and enormous eyes and trusting, open stares – wave and smile. These people are loving toward each other, often laughing, often with their arms around each other: men, women, adults, children, makes no difference. I have relaxed my own careful observance of others’ personal bubbles and reach out and touch people when I speak to them here, the same way I would with my friends at home. Only these are strangers, and they are completely comfortable with physical closeness.

Woman prepares betel leaf with Areca nut.

DSC_0190

Betel nut expectorant splashed on the road.

I haven’t mentioned the betel leaf that we see constantly. I have read about it often enough that when I saw it for the first time, I guessed right. Among the vendors of toys and food is always someone with a tray of leaves. They lay out the leaves, spread a thick white creamy liquid across them, sprinkle some kind of spice, then drop some chopped crumbles of the Areca nut. The leaves are wrapped up into a little packet. I haven’t seen anyone put one in their mouth, but I assume the whole thing goes into the mouth. Betel nut is a mild stimulant, like tobacco, and people keep it in their mouths and spit out the red juice. People who chew it have bright red mouths and teeth. Sidewalks are stained with great red splashes. The walls in toilet stalls are stained with red. Nearly all of our taxi drivers have opened the door and spit during a pause in traffic.

After we purchased tickets, we said goodbye to our lovely hosts at the hostel and walked out to the main road. We knew we were headed north, so we crossed the street to catch a taxi northbound vs. southbound. Crossing streets here is always an adventure, but we are getting used to it. Rarely are there crosswalks, and always there is congestion. In Yangon there are so many large vehicles that it catches our attention. Large, like USA large, and not something I’m used to seeing outside of the US. Very few motorbikes or bicycles, and way more vehicles than the infrastructure is prepared for. It’s always bumper to bumper and painted lanes are more of a suggestion than a rule. Someone tired of waiting might pull out into the oncoming traffic lane if no one is coming, in order to pass several vehicles and then cut back into the proper lane when oncoming traffic shows up.

Anyway, crossing a road is an adventure because one must walk right into the street and make a path. Just wait for a bit of a space between cars and go. People tend to wait and cross in clusters (safety in numbers!). It’s best when the cars have come to a halt because of a light, or simply because of congestion. Then people walk with no fear at all, bicycles, women holding hands of toddlers, weaving in between vehicles to get through. At first it’s unnerving, but after only three days, I’m so relaxed about it. Just step right into moving traffic, and everything kind of flows around. No one gets concerned. And voila! Soon enough you’re on the other side.

A taxi pulled over immediately and we asked him to take us to the bus station. It’s supposed to be a two hour drive. This man got us there in an hour and 15 minutes. Margaret was having a heart attack and I finally told her to stop watching! Me, I was having so much fun. The driving is simply astounding, the way vehicles swerve and merge and slow and speed up. I was constantly delighted. Our driver took multiple shortcuts, such as through the University of Yangon campus, to get around stalled traffic.

This wins the prize for craziest bus station.

Market behind busses.

You can see Margaret in there, waiting for the bus.

Thus, we arrived at our bus station with over two hours to kill. This is the craziest bus station I have ever seen, and I’m guessing it will hold that top spot for years. It looks as though many bus companies all have their offices side by side in a big square, all facing the center. As we had already seen in Yangon, vendors set up their stalls anywhere people might walk, which is an excellent business plan you have to admit. People walk through, busses occasionally drive through, honking to warn the people to get out of the way. So imagine a giant “U” of shop fronts that belong to a menagerie of bus companies. Then imagine a bus parked in front of them all, making a smaller U. And out at the front of the busses are some vendors, but between the busses and the buildings is a regular market. There are kiosks set up, and walking vendors carrying their wares will thread their way through.

Even though I ate all of my breakfast at the hostel, I was hungry. I wandered around and bought some cookies at a small shop, then bought some more green mango with chili powder. Out here the chili powder is coarser and you can identify the chili seeds, unlike downtown where it really is just powder. Yesterday we had purchased some avocados on the train, and I put the leftover chili powder on the avocado, which was delicious. I ate some roasted peanuts. Finally I felt full.

Our bus took off at noon. Another nice thing about a super friendly country: they look after you. At one point a kid came up to Margaret and me and told us it was time to get on the bus. He took my bag and stowed it, then asked for our ticket, which I showed him (written in Burmese so the information it held was lost to me). The boy led us to our seats on the bus. I was oblivious the whole time, but this kid was not an employee, just an entrepreneur. He wanted a tip and Margaret was at least savvy enough to figure that out. She gave him a few hundred Kyats (which is mere coins in US dollars).

The plane ticket to get to Myanmar was expensive. But balancing that out is that everything is unbelievably inexpensive once you arrive. Our rooms are cheap, food is cheap, transportation is cheap. Each day Margaret and I settle up the day’s expenses. We are splitting costs, but often in the moment it makes sense for one or the other of us to pay for both, like a taxi ride. It inevitably arrives at something like this, “Ok, I owe you 2500 kyats, let’s call it $2.”

Kin Pun is small and clean, with mountains in the background!

The bus ride was comfortable and clean and not that adventurous other than vendors selling stuff during stops. It’s still a bit weird for me: a guy hawking boiled eggs, for example. He was going down the cramped bus aisle selling chicken eggs and quail eggs to people for a snack. At one point the bus stopped and everyone got off. We had to ask other tourists what was going on. “Lunch stop!” we were told by the Germans. “How was Yangon?” asks Simon, from Denmark. BTW, every tourist seems to speak English. It makes me embarrassed.

We arrived, and Margaret carried her backpacks while I dragged my bag (I am clearly not as cool as the other tourists) less than a mile to our hotel. The town of Kin Pun is small and clean with red dirt. It feels more like home than the big stinky city of Yangon.

The Golden Sunrise Hotel is gorgeous. Landscaped and classy, with no trash in sight. The staff is all fluent in English. This is more English than I’ve heard since I arrived. I’m feeling distinctly spoiled.

Our rooms are here, on the second floor.

View from my room.

Restaurant on the grounds

Entrance lit up at night.

We are going to meet in the lobby at 5:30 am to pick up a boxed breakfast and then we will walk into town and find the “truck station,” where we will get a ride up the mountain to the balanced rock in time for 6:30 am sunrise. It’s a lot of time, effort, and expense to see a rock. Margaret likened it to Mount Rushmore, which I think is apt. The attraction itself is amazing. But the time, effort, and expense to get there is significant. And once you’ve seen the display, there is nothing left but to go home.

Killing time in the Hong Kong airport.

Margaret and me in San Francisco

I just checked into my room in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) with my girlfriend Margaret. You’ll remember her from the trip to Chile last winter.

I’ve been traveling since yesterday, and I’m exhausted and it’s 1:35am Tuesday local time and 11:05am (what’s with the different minutes?) Monday back home and I’ll try to keep this short.

Margaret and I flew different flights on different airlines, so it was a delight to bump into her in the San Francisco airport! We had enough time to share some chatter and hugs and lunch and then we went our separate ways. She arrived in Yangon before I did, and sat on the other side of the glass, periodically waving at me while I stood in line for a half an hour to get through customs.

Saw a lot of this today. A lot a lot. One flight was over 15 hours long. Ugggggg

…but luckily modern planes have tons of media to help kill the time. I just love this feature that tells me where I am. And also, you can see I’m charging my phone at my seat. SO convenient! Also… what the heck… did my pilot go to sleep there for a few minutes, then correct course?

Our hotel is wonderful. It’s warm here but not miserable. I’ll certainly be able to sleep. And honestly. Sleep is the main thing on my mind. Our plan is to explore Yangon (formerly Rangoon) and then slowly make our way northward. I’ll fly home from Mandalay in a couple weeks. Margaret will be traveling for 90 days! I can hardly wait to see this country and bring you along with me!! I’ll blog when I can.

The approach to San Francisco early in my trip.

In a hub terminal of the Hong Kong airport.

Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

Sunshine glistens off the water of Beaver Creek on my property.

After the heat of Santiago, I arrived at the airport in Portland to the winter season once more. In a few hours I was home in Rainier, where a thin layer of snow still covered the ground. Over the week that followed, more snow fell. It’s not a lot of snow as far as snowy places go, but for our area it is unusual. And just in time for Christmas!

Winter is not so bad when it's this pretty.

Winter is not so bad when it’s this pretty.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Looking along a different stretch of the creek.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Snow collects on the top of the frozen pond.

Chicken tracks.

Chicken tracks. When I arrived home, the chickens were lose and running free through the snow. They missed me and were glad to be led home.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Kitty covering her nose for warmth.

Deer don't mind snow much.

Deer don’t mind snow much.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

The view out my home office window. Having a view like this while I work makes me grateful in so many ways.

Tara and I bought a $5 tag from the U.S. Forest Service and went up into the mountains to collect a tree. We didn’t find much in the way of trees, but we had a great adventure. Soon after we entered National Forest land, we came upon a couple of young men trapped in a little car on an icy bridge. They had tried to cross the bridge the night before and became high-centered on the snow berm in the middle, and couldn’t get any traction on the ice. They had spent the night out there and were SO glad to see us! I towed them off the bridge with the Jeep and we pushed the car to help them turn it around and get them out of there. They looked in pretty good shape, but were ready to eat and get warm again.

Waterfall in the forest.

Waterfall in the forest.

Tara bundled up.

Tara bundled up.

Things turned violent.

Things turned violent.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

We made it home with a tree from a U-cut tree farm instead.

front of the old note

front of the old note

back of the note

back of the note

In the chill, it’s obvious my thoughts keep going back to those warm days such a short time ago. I’m still peeling from the sunburn, but the mosquito bites are all healed. Yay! I’ve got the stamps on my passport to prove it really happened. I was gathering some of the money together to send to my brother, who collects foreign currency as I do, and it occurred to me that my Uncle Sean was a missionary for the Mormon church in the 1980s and did his mission in Chile. He sent me a 100 CP note back then and I still have it. The currency has de-valued, and Chile doesn’t even *make* 100 peso bills anymore.img_2697

 Merry Christmas everyone and have the happiest of New Year’s celebrations! My long, annual Christmas missive is delayed, obviously, but I’ve had a really productive December. I spent two weeks on vacation, I finished the Mt. Hood Cherokees newsletter this morning, and sent it out to everyone on the mailing list. I’ve got all Tara’s presents wrapped. The tree is up and simply gorgeous. Santa comes tonight and we are all very excited about it!

My favourite volcano of them all was back home in Oregon. Here, Mt. Hood rises from the clouds as we approach Portland.

My favourite volcano of them all was back home in Oregon. Here, Mt. Hood rises from the clouds as we approach Portland.

Margaret and I got up early with intent to blast out of the Barn and Puerto Varas by 7am. Vicki had insisted she would be up to wave goodbye, and sure enough she greeted me on my last scramble down the stairs. Hugs and kisses (Chileans kiss once, on the right cheek) and I found Margaret waiting in the rental car with the motor already running.

It had been a stressful night for her. For some unexplained reason, her phone access to Internet had stopped working. This was bad news for a person who was planning to be in South America for another month. She has an Android, and I don’t know how those work, so I was no help at all. Everything looked fine. It just wasn’t connecting to the Internet. So, while there was the initial stress of trying to get M to the bus on time (the next bus would leave 12 hours later, so we really had to make the right bus), there was the pervasive stress of how to communicate during the remainder of the trip.

We had poured over maps the night before, and also asked directions of Vicki, because in Chile our phone GPS was not working. Roads looked easy to identify on the map, and intersections looked distinct. As we zoomed through the countryside past a little green sign with a “590” and an arrow, a quiet voice in me said that was our road. Bless Margaret for being able to have faith in her navigator. She was already turning around by the time I located the road directions I had jotted down and confirmed that 590 was the road I wanted. The way we remembered directions was different, and this time we were in such a hurry that it made us doubt ourselves. But viola! Out we popped right at the aeropuerto.

Bust of O'Higgins I couldn't resist because his is the most popular and wholly unexpected name we saw during our trip in Chile.

Bust of O’Higgins: the most popular and wholly unexpected name we saw during our trip in Chile.

A Toyota auto parts store made me think of my brother, who visited me in Japan, mostly to see the cars.

A Toyota auto parts store made me think of my brother, who visited me in Japan, mostly to see the cars.

We dropped the keys at the car rental counter at 7:30am, this time more used to the circadian rhythms of Chileans, so we didn’t expect that a car rental employee would even show up for two more hours. We then looked for a taxi, and realized…it’s 7:30 am in Chile. There are no taxis, even at the airport. I went to check my bag at the LATAM counter while Margaret summoned a taxi. My plan was to go play in Puerto Montt until my flight left, 7 hours later. By the time I got my boarding passes, Margaret and the driver were waiting for me.

We had a hard time explaining where we wanted to go. “bus estación” was apparently not enough information. We tried and tried to get the message through, and finally Margaret said she was trying to get to Chiloé. The taxi driver immediately brightened up. “Ah, Chiloé?!” With total confidence he drove us half an hour into Puerto Montt, and out to a remote, industrial part of town. The minutes were ticking to get Margaret into place in her itinerary, and I was relieved to see a row of busses parked at this interesting and very very quiet building. We stopped, and the taxi driver checked in with us one more time “Vas a Chiloé?” and we replied yes. So he proudly gestured to the building. We paid and went inside, and our transportation drove away. Inside was quiet, and clean, and attendants stood in uniforms. What kind of bus station was this? We stood in line and watched the clock inch ahead. Margaret eventually absorbed enough visual cues to become convinced there was a problem. She showed her already-purchased bus ticket to one of the uniformed attendants, and he assured her that all was well and to get back in line. When we finally reached the counter, the woman looked at the ticket and said, “No, no, no. You have a ticket for the municipal bus line. This is a tour company.”

A wooden church in Puerto Montt.

A wooden church in Puerto Montt.

The empty morning streets of Puerto Montt.

The empty morning streets of Puerto Montt.

A home I would readily expect to find in Portland.

A home I would readily expect to find in Portland.

While M frantically tried to ask the woman to place a call for a taxi for us (the woman had to ask a co-worker for a number, and the first number didn’t work, and…), I glanced outside and saw a miracle: a lone taxi was pulling up to the tour building. I went outside, armed with the proper words this time “estación de bus municipal?” Si, he answered, and I grabbed M and jumped in. She managed to express that we were in a hurry, and the sweet man understood immediately and got us to the right bus station pronto. M checked in and had her ticket confirmed and we were pointed to the right bus. We went outside of the (disheveled, loud, busy, confusing…i.e. a proper) bus station, found the driver of our bus and loaded M’s bag. Success! With 14 minutes to spare.

The view of the sea from the municipal bus station in Puerto Montt.

The view of the sea from the municipal bus station in Puerto Montt.

“Should we just wait here?” I asked her. “No, I saw a phone store,” she answered, heading back into the building.

Get a load of that woman! In all the craziness, of taxis and hauling our bags and running through the madness of the municipal bus station, Margaret had another part of her brain still working on the broken phone problem. We found the phone store, and an employee that spoke English! (angels singing) He poked around with the phone for 5 minutes and said, “It’s fine. There’s no problem.” M tried a few things, sent and received some email, and confirmed that her phone was indeed working perfectly. We don’t know if the man fixed it, or if it fixed itself, but it didn’t matter.

We shared hugs and kisses and many thanks to each other for the companionship of the past 10 days, and M boarded the bus and off she went.

Birds roost on the pilings beneath a restaurant on the water.

Birds roost on the pilings beneath a restaurant on the water.

Looking downhill to the sea. Nope, nothing interesting up here either.

Looking downhill to the sea. Nope, nothing interesting up here either. But check out the bike-and-pedestrian friendly paths.

The municipal bus station in Puerto Montt is in the city, and not in some remote warehouse industrial area, like the tourist office. It’s right on the shores of a bay in the Pacific Ocean, so my hopes were high for a lovely diversion until it was time to go back to the airport. Instead, the skies were grey, and it was cold and windy. So cold my fingers were frozen. I walked up and down the streets briskly – partly to try and get warm, partly to look for something interesting – and found very little that captured my attention compared to the wonderful places I have been in Chile. I had to keep my head bowed to avoid the blasts of wind, even along the backstreets away from the waterfront. I did take photos on my phone (the broken camera was packed in my luggage), and those are what you see in this post. Tip for travelers: spend as little time as possible in Puerto Montt.

A memorial in Puerto Montt recognizing the German families welcomed to settle by the Chileans in this area.

A memorial in Puerto Montt recognizing the German families welcomed to settle by the Chileans in this area. I see two interesting things: the dog is obviously patted more than any other part of it, and the height of the people is proportionate: Margaret and I have found ourselves distinctly taller than most of the people here.

It was still too early in the morning for commerce or activity, but I chanced upon a bakery with the lights on, and bought the best cheese empanada outside of the fish market in Santiago. It was warm and flaky and perfect, and gone too fast. I threw in the towel, went back to the bus station, and bought a ticket back to the airport. I paid $23 to get onto an earlier flight to Santiago. In two hours, I was sweating in Santiago. What a difference!

I found the same bus Margaret and I used on November 30th, paid for a ticket, and hopped on. We had been on the red line subway so many times, I was pretty sure I would remember the name of the stop. I watched out the windows, and easily got off at the right place, where the bus station is co-located with the metro. I went underground, bought a subway pass (using up handfuls of 10 peso coins, in an effort to get rid of them), and popped up above ground again in downtown Santiago at the stop for Universidad Católica. I was warm and knew my way around. It had been the correct decision to leave Puerto Montt.

A week earlier I had left my book at Angelo’s place, and used that as an excuse to come back into town on my long layover. I arrived at the apartment building and was buzzed through the gate into the reception area on the ground floor. Though Margaret and I had seen the same attendant every single time we passed through the foyer, for three days straight, wouldn’t you know it that a totally new person would be there this time, ensuring that her building was safe. I had such a poor grasp of Spanish I knew there was no possible way for me to explain the situation. This does not come up in English-Spanish phrase books: Hi, I’m an American, yes, but I do know Angelo and Evelyn on the 22nd floor, and they know me. I’m here to pick up my book, that I left here last week. I’ll be gone soon and I do not pose a threat to the tenants.

I opted for confidence. I waved “Hola!” at the desk attendant and headed for the elevators. The woman asked me something I didn’t understand, and even stood up behind the counter, trying to get me to come back and engage. “Ventidós,” Twenty-two, I said with a comfortable smile, and pointed at the elevator, “Es bueno.” She said something else to me, and again I pretended all was well. The elevator opened and I stepped on, punched a button and waved at her, saying once more, “Es bueno!” I watched out for security in the halls when I stepped out, but apparently my ploy had worked and there were no carabineros waiting there to take me down.

Evelyn let me into the apartment with a gracious smile and hugs and kisses and she made me feel genuinely welcomed. Oh how I wish I had this skill of grace and hospitality that comes naturally to some nations. She asked me to sit down and poured me a drink of water right away because I was parched. Imagine that, after a morning of frozen, shaking fingers numbly pawing at an empanada to get at its warmth. I offered to leave a couple times, but Evelyn seemed confused, and again I admired her hospitality. In the US, so many of us would be eager to extricate ourselves from a meeting with an AirBnb client who spoke another language and only stopped by to get her book. I know that some of us are able to genuinely put strangers at ease, but many of us would be looking forward to the end of it. What a lovely lovely human being she is. I stayed for an hour. Neither of us speaking the other’s language, but knowing a few words and supplementing with pantomime.

I pulled up photos of Tara to show off, and she showed me her sister and parents. Evelyn pulled up a translator app and we were able to ask each other more complicated questions. I asked if there were tensions with Indigenous people, as there are in the US. She said yes, especially in the south (as I had noticed) “they fight for their land.” Wow. It really is the same story all over the world. I thought it would be a good time to talk about the recent success of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe – with the help of so many other Nations – in preventing the oil pipeline crossing their land. But that was too many words, and I kept it to myself.

I tried to leave as graciously as I could, and I hope I didn’t cause offense. Evelyn insisted that I wish a happy journey to Margaret and I said I would, and completely forgot to do the same for Angelo. (Evelyn, if you’re reading this: tell Angelo I send my love and hugs and thanks!!) ❤

One of my many tickets to get somewhere today.

One of my many tickets to get somewhere today.

Right below the apartment is a supermarket, and I went in for some miel (honey). I had counted and recounted my pesos, and had enough to get gifts for someone back home. In the store I found a jar of the exact same miel I had tried on the day of the rafting trip! I was very excited and spent all my surplus pesos to get it. Thus, I could not do any more shopping. I walked across the street to the base of Castillo Hidalgo (mentioned in a previous post, and one of my favourite places in Santiago already). The park is landscaped with both grass for lounging, and with flowers and bushes to appease my love of plants. The stone walls and arches are pleasing, there is lots of shade, and benches. Though an afternoon on a Thursday, there were many people in the park, skateboarding through, smoking on the grass, napping, talking and laughing. I stripped off my outer layers of clothing (it was so warm!), and laid on the grass with my head on my backpack for an hour and a half reading my newly-retrieved book, and most of the people there when I arrived were still there when I left. It was a comforting and happy atmosphere.

I walked back to the metro, bought another ticket to the bus station. At the bus station, bought another ticket to the aeropuerto. (You may be wondering, with all these tickets I was buying, traveling back and forth all over the place, how much I was spending. I spent about $6 total in all my trips for the day, with the exception of the flight and the $23 changed ticket fee. Tip for travelers: use public transportation.)

Many uncomfortable hours in a coach seat in a couple of airplanes later, I emerged from my vacation world to a startlingly snowy Portland.

Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa's.

Evening fishermen head home on the Snake River in front of the house that used to be my Pa’s.

For awhile it seemed like paradise, this 5 acre plot of land on the banks of the Snake River, just southwest of Boise, Idaho. And when my Pa was younger, the upkeep was somewhat invigorating. But health problems mounted, and the work was never done. Morally defeating was the fact that tasks completed had to be re-completed every so often. Well pumps re-installed, soil Ph balance restored, railings repaired, deck boards replaced, dead trees and bushes re-planted with live ones. One huge blow was when an impressive three-tired retaining wall built of railroad ties (my father did everything himself), was partially destroyed when the above-ground pool (guaranteed not to fail) burst and flooded the hillside, washing out the retaining wall on its way to the river. Insurance refused to pay saying that this was flood damage and my father didn’t have flood insurance. Search as he might, Pa couldn’t find the original purchase receipt of the lifetime guaranteed pool, so that wasn’t replaced either.

I’ve blogged about this place before. Pa called it something like the “Trulove River Rat Rest & Relaxation Ranch,” or TRRR&RR for short. Right across the river is the Shoshone Indian Map Rock, and my post on that remarkable set of petroglyphs is one of my most popular.

Pa had already been wistfully talking about selling and moving someplace with trees, that was smaller and easier for him to take care of. Then, as I mentioned a few posts back, he married a Romanian woman and began trying to bring her to the US. After nearly a year it just wasn’t happening, so he gave up and decided to move to Romania. The beautiful house on the Snake River sold in a few months, and Pa began preparations to leave the country. The new owners graciously allowed him to stay on the property after it was sold, and he lived in a camp trailer while he continued to sort through what was left of years and years of possession-collecting.

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

A view off Interstate 84 in northeast Oregon

Wildflowers in the heyday of Spring

Wildflowers (or onions?) in the heyday of Spring

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

I liked the variety of textures of the different plants here.

Wild roses blooming

Wild roses blooming

In April I made the first trip over to help him pack. This second trip was in late May to continue helping him, by taking loads of donated items into the city’s equivalent of Goodwill, and packing the Jeep full of things he was donating to me. Also, importantly, to collect some cats. The Crazy Old Cat Man asked only that I take two. Still, it’s a traumatic thing for our dear Racecar kitty at home, who hates all other cats except herself. D and I brought home Thomas (14 years old) and Yeowler (4 years old), named for…yes, you guessed it. We will see how the summer goes, and then decide if new arrangements need to be made. So far, all three of them fight constantly, and it’s not peaceful when they are too close to each other.

Anyhow, I wanted to show some images from our trip over there, which was like a vacation and tons more fun than an 8-hour drive to Boise would imply. We stretched it to about 11 hours, with multiple stops along the way, and that’s what made it so fun.

First we took a side road that promised a viewpoint. I had been there years ago and vaguely remembered it as worth the look. This time we showed up in a profusion of desert wildflowers and we climbed around the mountain like a couple kids. D found something he thought might be wild onion, and we couldn’t decide. So I took a bite. It was pretty oniony. He thought I was crazy. 😉

Next we stopped for lunch in the little eastern Oregon town of Baker City. The day was an early season reprieve from the winter greys, and tourists were out in force, to the chagrin of unprepared staff in the few restaurants downtown. We stopped for only a pint at the Grand Geiser hotel, but the harried barmaid was pressed beyond her capacity. We left after 15 minutes with no hopes of getting a beer anytime soon, in hopes of easing her burden, and walked down the street to a little Mexican cafe and drank imported Mexican beer instead. Our waitress was the younger sister of another waitress, and had been called in to help.

We walked the streets and delighted in small town shop windows. I photographed the old painted advertising on the walls of several buildings.

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

Grand Geiser Hotel in Baker City, Oregon

I'm a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

I’m a sucker for wall art, especially when it has this much character.

Stay at The Antlers!

Stay at The Antlers! It’s absolutely modern.

The valleys around Boise, Idaho are filled with crops. It’s an agricultural area that doesn’t just produce potatoes, though our state is famous for its potatoes. I remember when there was a big debate over changing our state license plates to say something other than “famous potatoes,” because it wasn’t the snappy image some residents wanted to present. Tradition prevailed, and Idaho remains famous for the root crop instead of diamond mines, suggested instead. You can find onions, sugar beets, corn, wheat, and much more out there. There is lots of sun and water in southern Idaho, which is what a breadbasket valley needs.

Once we arrived at Pa’s place, I called a friend of mine in the area. We grew up together in a tiny town farther north in Idaho, so he knows my dad and our memories go back 30 years. He came out to visit, so we all sat in the shade and watched the river and caught up on each others’ lives.

There wasn’t much left to pack and sort this time, since my Pa had dealt with nearly everything. Of the things left to sort through, I found an English sword I purchased for him a few years ago after hiring a company that researched the Trulove family name. They came up with what my brother had already discovered: our name is English, spelled Trewlove and a variety of other versions before settling down to the one we’ve got. We took turns playing with the sword.

D and I set up our tent on the front lawn of the house that now belonged to someone else. Pa was pleased with the Montana rancher who had purchased his place. I am pleased that passing the baton to a decent new owner will give my Pa some peace. It must be a little like handing your child off to a new caretaker, when you personally build a dry piece of desert into a home oasis and then sell it.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

Fields of hops in the valley. The source of so much brewed goodness.

My friend J hands the sword off to D

My friend J hands the sword off to D

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

Taz is the only kitty who made it to Romania. I wonder what she thinks of Europe?

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

This quail perches on this particular pile of rocks nearly every night.

Another quail. So photogenic I can't help myself.

Another quail. So photogenic I can’t help myself.

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can't see the fish in this photo...trust me it's there. ;)

A bird flies off clutching a fish in its claws. You can’t see the fish in this photo…trust me it’s there. 😉

Tent in the grass

Tent in the grass

Finally we were all out of steam and went our separate ways. D and I walked through the fields looking for the coyotes we heard that sounded very close. All we found were cows grazing quietly, unconcerned about the coy dogs. Have you ever heard that term? Coy dogs? We used to say that when I was a kid. Then we walked down to the river and I took some parting sunset shots.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Cows graze in the evening, as the hills turn purple.

Sun sets over the Snake

Sun sets over the Snake

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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.

One of my many guises

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