Saturday, December 15, 2007

Intermediate intermediate

Well, here I am at ski camp, and let me tell you it is *nothing* like band camp. or math camp. Not that I've ever been to either, but I was in band for many years, and also on the math team. Yes, there was a math team (in high school) and I was on it. I think I stunk, but I can't quite remember. So back to Methow Valley, Sun Mountain, Washington. Firstly, it is stunning here. I mean jaw-droppingly beautiful at all times. If only skiing weren't so hard I could better appreciate the surroundings.

The first morning you do a ski "sort" they like to call it (instead of ski "test" - you can see the psychological difference), where you ski for a bit in front of professional sorters who will tell you what group you belong to - beginner (3), intermediate (2) or advanced(1). There was no part of me who thought I would be in the advanced group, but I was really hoping to NOT be in the beginner group. I like to think of myself as an intermediate skater, and my ego would have been crushed otherwise. Lucky for me they yelled out "solid 2!" which is the intermediate group. It wasn't nearly as cold as it had been the week before, although I froze my butt off anyway - my own poor gear decisions. I had the necessary clothing, I just wasn't wearing it. So I fell into group 2b. Intermediate intermediate. Perfect! It also wasn't a big deal that I hadn't been on skis since March - it really takes no time to get back into it. What was a big deal was my lack of conditioning. I mean, I am in better shape now than I've been in a long time - weight training, running, rock climbing... well, let's just say it is not enough.

It turned out I had the best technique in my group of 8 which was very cool, but was by *far* in the worst shape. Granted, I was amongst triathletes and telemarkers and pro bikers and rowers, but still. It was a wake-up call! I actually wasn't the slowest, but the two slow people in my group dropped to lower groups after lunch, so then I became the slowest, which was not my desired position. In fact I said to Chris many times - just so long as I'm not the slowest. Oh well. At least I made it through the day in one piece! It was hard - really hard. 5 hours of cross country ski skating is no joke.

Day 2: classic (or striding) skiing. I was sorted into intermediate again which I was somewhat surprised by since I haven't strided in at least 15 years. It was great. Warmer - around 30 degrees, and our coach was amazing. I learned so much and really improved by the end of the day.

Every afternoon they videotape your group for 20 minutes doing various skills and drills and I must say there's nothing quite like watching yourself ski. It's really fun - and really embarrassing. I looked pretty good overall though, despite wearing about 3 times more layers than these cold weather folks, and being about 5 times poofier. It is quite nice to be able to laugh at yourself with a group of people though. Especially when you're skiing backwards across a field.

Day 3 - well, that's tomorrow. Another skating day! We'll see how long I last for, but it promises to be fun at any rate.

I have been kicking myself for at least not bringing my point and shoot camera. That and my down jacket which I rejected from my Africa trip and I rejected again for this trip even though it folds into its own pocket! Please if I ever ask you if I should bring my down jacket somewhere the answer is YES. YES YOU SHOULD.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Off the list

I was just reading my friends blog, when I noticed I was no longer in the list of blogs she likes. Sigh. Could it be that I haven't written in 3 months? Nah. Okay, maybe. Writing about motivation and desire and the battle between. Tonight was my weekly track workout with my cross country ski team - at least those of us who live in the city. Every Tuesday I try to think of every possible reason to not go. None of them are ever enough to keep me from going, but I really don't want to go after a long stressful day at work. All I really want to do is go home and sit on my couch - or go climbing. It's the same with the trainer I see on Mondays - battle. I told him on Monday that I almost call him every Monday morning to cancel (I never have canceled thus far). He said nearly everyone he works out with feels the same way, and it made me feel a lot better. It's just so strange that the high you feel afterwards and the good, positive, confident post-workout self does not eclipse the desire to bail on workouts.

I am leaving tomorrow for ski camp, and I am petrified. Two reasons really: 1. I was sick last week with a sinus infection and feel my cardio has suffered and 2. I haven't yet skied this season. Oh - and 3. it has been 0 degrees in the morning, "warming" to a balmy 18 degree high. Yikes. That's how it was when we were in Alaska in March, and it was painful. PAINFUL. I'm really looking forward to being taught by their professional skiers, and of course I'm hoping that I'm not the worst one there. Chris assures me there will be beginners, but I can't help but be worried about that.

The nice thing about the track workout this evening was that I was able to do a lot more than last year, and it felt really good seeing my progress. Also feeling confident and not dreading any of the parts of the workout. I see the people who intentionally come late to miss the jogging warm-up (only 3/4 of a mile usually). I see the people who do everything they can to avoid fully committing to the real cardio section. I used to be one of those people! I completely understand jogging anxiety. It's so nice to actually want to do the hard parts of the workout. It took me 35 years to get there! Of course it doesn't stop me from not wanting to go at all - but at least once I'm there I'm in it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Final Countdown

It's true, I go back to work in 2 days. Five months literally did just fly by. Sigh. I always used to think I was the type of person who had to work - that if I were to take time off I would be bored after a few weeks, just chomping at the bit to return to the labor force! Not true I have come to realize. I may be the type of person who needs to be doing something, but there are plenty of things that fall into the category of "something" that are not work related! Plenty. Those five weeks I had in San Francisco between Africa and Burning Man were so wonderful, I spent my days splitting time between the climbing gym and the ceramics studio (more heavily on the climbing side), with the once weekly foray into the land of personal training. Those were the days!

Portugal was really quite beautiful, and although I never got the hang of the language (at all) I was able to communicate relatively well with the folks there, most of whom don't speak any English. I don't think I ever even pronounced yes or no correctly. I think they appreciated my effort though. Were the dollar not plummeting to new all-time record lows every day I was there, Portugal would actually have been pretty cheap! Definitely far cheaper than Spain and Italy. People like to ask about the highlight of a trip - and while I couldn't come up with one from Africa, the highlight of this trip was definitely renting a car for my last two days and driving around Northern Portugal. I love a challenge!

One of the issues with traveling alone is only have two eyes, which (at least for me) move in the same direction at the same time. So reading a map while driving - especially a tiny detailed road map - is virtually impossible. I would never have been able to drive around Lisbon on my own unless I was just driving without an actual destination. So I decided to rent a car at the Porto airport, and drive into a less populated area of the country. My Lonely Plant guide had a map of Guimaraes, and it looked exactly like the kind of place I could navigate around on my own - there were approximately 4 streets on this map. So off I head to Guimaraes, only to realize when the highway plopped me off into a large city, that the map in Lonely planet was just a small artists rendition of the old historic area, which was who-knows-where in relation to the rest of the rather large city I found myself in with no map. Asking for directions in Portugal? *Not* easy. It reverted to pointing fingers, which is only good for the first street of the directions. Then which way? I was in a complete panic. Each rotary had at least 4 roads coming off of it, and the signage was not useful when I couldn't tell if the sign was directional, or the name of a street... Plus, where do you pull over? The streets are barely wide enough for the two directions of traffic! So oftentimes I had to drive blocks and blocks further than I wanted to before I could find a space to pull over. I miraculously found the hotel I was looking for - the building that said Hotel Toural was huge - but I couldn't find the door. I am not kidding, I ran around a giant block for over 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get in. I asked more people about the entrance to the hotel than I did how to get there in the first place. Finally I found it - there was another building not adjacent to that one which had the entrance. Phew. After that I got an actual map for the city, and it was (not surpisingly) very helpful.

Far more exciting for me than looking at castles, churches or palaces is driving. Driving in a new country where every road is a new road I've never been on before just makes me very, very happy. So off I went the next day on some road trip adventure, across the Northern part of Portugal, and it was so beautiful, a storm was coming in which made the landscapes even more dramatic. The water is a gorgeous dark sapphire blue, they have a number of very cool dams you can just drive across the top of, and many large windmills atop mountains as well. At one point of a particularly scenic part of the adventure Boy George's Karma Chameleon came on, followed closely by Brian Adams' Summer of 69. I was happy as a clam. Are clams happy? Who came up with that saying? I bet Wikipedia could tell us.

So now my adventures are over for the time being, I have transferred all of this blog over to my other one (which no one knew existed) and I will try to write every now and again about the mundane experiences of life in San Francisco. I also did manage to get my photos up from Portugal which I am happy about

Thanks for reading along and all of the wonderful comments and encouragement!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Smokey Joe

(Sintra, Portugal: September 19, 2007)

What a day! The plan was to walk up a mountain to see two castles, and then come back down to town and go to the Toy Museum. After a bit of trying to guilt myself into going to see the castles, I decided to go to the toy museum first, and then see what I felt like doing afterward - knowing it would unlikely be climbing a mountain.

Sintra is a very small town so the whole Toy Museum was a bit of a crap shoot. Sure, the guide book said it was good, but it also gave a walking tour for 3 sections of Lisbon which was absolutely incomprehensible. I walk in and first thing I see? A giant dollhouse. I was in heaven! I wished it were higher off the ground, because my knees are old and creaky, but oh well. Only later did I realize everything was so low because children are their main clientele. Ha! The size of this dollhouse actually reminded me of the dollhouse I made when I was younger - in 7th grade - which coincided with the year I took wood shop! Ah, two good side stories.

So 7th grade was very exciting for me because I was out of that rinky dink elementary school and for the first time ever, I had choices! I was in charge of my educational destiny. I could choose 1. if I wanted to continue with band - or not. (I did). 2. if I wanted to speak a language. Yes, French please - which I still to this day think was the wrong choice. Spanish, people. Spanish! and 3. either Wood Shop or Home Ec. As if that's a choice! I can't imagine why in the world I would have wanted to take a class on cooking and sewing. I already knew how to do both well enough to get by, and hello - wood shop! I could use powertools and make things! So I, along with one other female Rebecca someone, took wood shop along with every guy in our grade - roughly 100. I took wood shop because I wanted to make things from wood. She took wood shop to flirt with every guy in the class. A pretty smart plan for someone I didn't consider to be all too bright. Then, at the end of the year when the whole school was in the auditorium getting end of year academic awards they announced the winner of the wood shop award: Sara Chieco. I nearly fell out of my seat. It's true at that age I paid a bit more attention to detail than my male counterparts (sanding is a time consuming task), and did better on the measurement tests, but a girl winning the award? Unheard of. I look back proudly on that moment today, but at the time I was completely and utterly mortified, and I'm sure was teased endlessly about being a lesbian.

Story #2 back to the dollhouse. Not much of a story, actually. I built myself a dollhouse, and it was GIANT. Not quite so giant as the one in the front of the museum, but I was no famous dollhouse maker, and it was absurdly huge. I hadn't planned it to be, it just turned out that way. Sure, I glued each wooden roof shingle on by hand, but this dollhouse in the museum has real red clay roof tiles! I did also put wallpaper on and had a staircase, but this one had an elevator. Mine was definitely the red-neck version. It never quite fit together perfectly, and I'm not sure it ever made it out of the basement. You know when you're just out of college, living in the real world and it seems like your mother makes up excuses to call you every week? I remember one such phone call: Hey, can we throw out that dollhouse yet? The cats have been using it to dispose of their unwanted dead prey bits. Yes mom, you can throw it out. Did I mention this dollhouse in the museum had a dollhouse inside of it?!? More like a diorama, but still. Oh, and the crowning touch: a full-on religious procession outside of the cobbled courtyard replete with strange religious figure on a pole.

Then next to it was an Eiffel tower taller than me built from an erector set. If I wasn't quite in heaven yet, I was now. This guy who I imagine I am supposed to know since he name was all over the place built it when he was 15, and they have re-erected it now, 65 years later. Unreal. I had an erector set! I loved messing around with screwdrivers when I was young. Have I told you the screwdriver story yet? When I was about 4 years old I took ballet classes. One time I went into class with a screwdriver in my pocket probably from playing with my erector set. The teacher found it (how did she find it?) and kicked me out of class! I had to go home as punishment. Go figure.

Other museum highlights include their visual history of Lego's. I wasn't around for the super fancy sets or anything (after my time), but they had ones with wheels, and transparent windshield-like pieces when I was little, and oh how I loved them. The museum had Japanese robots from the 50's. Joy, you would have freaked out. There were these really fancy old tricycles and mini cars and a mini Range Rover (?) and then next to them what looked like a few branches put together - titled 'Bicycle made by children in Tanzania'. Enough to make you cry, really. Sure there were some old dolls that were super creepy because all but a few tufts of their hair had fallen out in a terrible pattern, but overall the museum was truly amazing. I may not be a fan of trains or small military figures (sorry fellas), but there was plenty for me to enjoy. Something to check out if you haven't seen them already are Kokeshi dolls from Japan. Stunning.

Oh, and how could I forget Smokey Joe? A mean lean pressed tin fire fighting machine.

Monday, September 17, 2007


(Lisbon, Portugal: September 17, 2007)

So I am reading a book on this trip called Eat, Pray, Love. It's come highly recommended from a few friends, and Isabel was kind enough to give it to me on tape! Of course I left it at home though and wound up buying the book at the airport.

The author is talking about her life and her travels after a large change in her life and she decided to stay in Rome for the first 4 months of her travels to experience pleasure. She talks about the trouble she has truly letting go and enjoying herself fully. One reason for this is the American inability to relax. That Americans don't know how to do nothing. This is exactly one of the major issues I was trying to address in my time off. I don't know how to do nothing. I hardly even know how to do one thing at a time! My desire for efficiency has taught me to multi-task perpetually - mind you not to the point of sacrificing quality, but it does teeter on the edge, especially as I get older and my brain feels a little less capable. I essentially had 2 goals for these 5 months off. One was to learn how to relax and be okay with doing nothing, even if it was just for a few hours. The second was to figure out what I wanted to do about my current living situation.

I wasn't sure if I was any closer to learning how to relax, but I think I have gotten a bit better, although it's only been apparent (to me) secondarily through slight behavioral differences. I seem to be less organized now. For most people that would not be such a good thing, but for me it's progress! I came to Portugal with only a place to stay in the first city, and (gasp) I didn't have a packing list for the trip. This is probably the first trip I have gone on *ever* in my adult life where I didn't have a packing list. Guess what? I didn't forget anything! At least nothing I am missing or remember. I also started packing for Burning Man 6 days ahead of time. Typically I start 6-7 weeks ahead of time. The difference though is in my response to that. Normally I would get into a bit of a panic and go into overdrive in a mad flurry of packing and organizational activity. This time, I didn't care. I mean theoretically I did, and I would say to myself that I'd better get my act together. But emotionally I didn't care at all - if I had I would have moved faster. Right? Right. I do feel like I need another month off though. I had so little time between travels and it was so packed that I wasn't able to really do the relaxing thing. I know, cry you a river. Although I was able to spend a solid 4 weeks going to the climbing gym every day and that for me was most enjoyable. That may very well be my definition of relaxing. I also went back to the ceramics studio and started working again really for the first time in a year and a half. That was really hard - I have no idea why but my being did not want to be there working again, so I had to start working on completely different forms than I was previously working on and that seemed to go over well with myself.

The trouble with this kind of travel is that I have never seen any of these places before, so I feel compelled to cram in every single item in the book I can possibly fit in. Relaxation is not an option. I cut myself some slack at night and don't force myself to go out, but daytime is chock full of tourist activities. I feel like in order to really let myself enjoy a place I would need to live there for a minimum of 3 months (if I were unemployed). Which brings me to the resolution of my second issue - what to do about my living situation. As some of you know, I was wanting to move to NY, and this 5 month break was my response to that - to try to figure out if I really wanted to move or not. I figured travel would give me a different perspective on that. It has! So far as I can tell, I don't want to move to NY, or anywhere else in the US for that matter. I do want to move to Europe though. Not so strongly that I will go about doing it as soon as I return, but it will be in the back of my mind and instruct future decisions that relate to my whereabouts. I don't see myself as a career ex-pat, but I would love to spend several years over here. I think the culture would be very nurturing for an over-worker like myself and hey, free health care!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Luggageless no more

(Lisbon, Portugal: September 16, 2007)

Let me just say I don't think I knew the definition of humid before coming to Lisbon! Bikram Yoga eat your heart out.

Yet I have completely and utterly fallen in love with this city! I just came from what could possibly be the best museum I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum - it was called the hidden treasure of Europe and they were not kidding. Have you ever seen Persian ceramics from the 13th century? Please do.

So in the vein of my favorite trash magazine, USWeekly, here's the 'Portuguese - they're just like us!' (instead of 'Stars - they're just like us!')
1. There is a collective grumbling when the person at the head of the grocery checkout line starts to make a fuss over who knows what.
2. Men yell unintelligible comments at you from their cars.
3. They make out like teenagers in the back of their cars - or more specifically, teenagers make out like teenagers in the back of their cars.
4. They make no sense. So I checked into the residential in Porto, sans luggage of course, already frazzled, and I go to my room which has had no less than 17 packs of cigarettes smoked in it during the past 24 hours. I call downstairs to say that I had asked for a non-smoking room. The woman responds that all rooms are non-smoking, but some people smoke anyway. I ask her why then do they have 2 ashtrays in the room? It's a non-smoking hotel she replies. Um, okay - gee, I wonder why people would think smoking was okay? Hey - no drinking allowed here so I'm going to put 3 bottles of good alcohol next to you. ?!?
5. They try to screw you over. At this same hotel I notice on the door it has 2 prices listed - one for single occupancy and one for double. 25 Euros difference! I find it strange since I know I was quoted the double occupancy rate. So when I'm checking out I point out that since I am ONE person I should get the single occupancy rate for the room. Oh no, she says, you asked for a double. I told you I was one person though, and it's the same room! It's not as if requesting a double gets you a better room. Plus, the common nomenclature for my situation here seems to be double room - single occupancy. Well, she informs me a single guy paid for a double room because he requested it just yesterday. As if I care what that fool did! What a sucker! So finally she calls the boss and he offers me a rate 30 Euros lower. Go figure.

Definitely some big differences though. Let me preface this by saying that I have walked a LOT in the past 5 days. I can't even begin to count the mileage, let alone number of stairs ascended.
* Number of people I have seen panhandling/begging on the street: 1. Yes, that's right, one. I hadn't even realized I hadn't seen any until today when I saw the first which seemed so out of place. Coming from San Francisco that's a pretty big difference.
* Poo - lots of it, mostly though not exclusively from dogs. I have come to realize that the old song "Shoo fly, don't bother me" started out as "Poo-fly don't bother me" and got misinterpreted somewhere along the way. That's really the problem with all of the dog poo here. I mean who wants a fly sitting on a pile of crap and then on your bare skin?? That and the fact that you have to look down all of the time, and wind up missing some pretty cool things not directly on the street in front of you.
* Apparently you can walk through certain sections of a park in broad daylight and be openly propositioned. I accidentally just walked through one such area. One man even hissed at me like a snake! Yeah buddy, that's likely to happen. Yuck. At least in San Francisco that only happens after dark.

So I was sitting at a port wine house in Porto, and a man was talking to a couple from New York next to me - he was from Canada and New Jersey, but first generation from Portugal. His whole family still lives here. He was truly in awe of all of the ecclesiastical architecture. He asked them their religion - and said how so long as you weren't an atheist you would be so inspired by the amount of work that these selfless people put into the creation of the churches. Awe-inspiring in a way that American architecture isn't. Granted, I think he was a little off base by assuming one needs to be religious to appreciate religious architecture, but his sentiment really struck me because that's how I feel about Burning Man. That's what I'm always reminded of by newcomers, as I just take it for granted now. How incredibly inspiring it is to see people put a large amount of their time and energy into something coming entirely from a place of love rather than money or obligation. He did use the word selfless though, the definition of which is part of a debate I've had with myself for quite some time now. To me, selfless means to do something for others, rather than yourself. Whereas selfish would be to act in your own best interest doing something for yourself. I know that creating art at Burning Man for me was both for others and myself - you give a great gift to other people but their reaction and appreciation is so fulfilling it seems to me almost a selfish act. You're creating for others but rewarded handily in turn by them. I wonder if selflessness has become money related - if you are doing something and not getting paid for it, or not getting paid well for it (teachers, for example) then you are acting in a selfless manner. If you create something for a large sum of money, even if you are doing it to affect other people's well being it seems like that could not be considered selfless? Just something I have thought a lot about. I have a feeling if the happiness of others could be quantified monetarily than all of the people giving at Burning Man would be considered selfish.

Ah, and one final selfish plug: I just found out I have a gallery show June 11-23rd. Please come! 8 )

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Back on the blog

(Porto, Portugal: September 12, 2007)

Here I am again, feels like I never left this generic smoky Internet cafe!

So I decided this time to treat myself and fly business class to Spain (followed by super low budget to Portugal). They give you a whole toiletries bag! (Note: this is foreshadowing) How excited was I? Like a young schoolgirl with a new backpack going through every pocket, I devoured the gift bag. Ooohh, a shoe bag! What in the world do I need a shoe bag for? To protect my very dirty running shoes from the slightly cleaner airplane floor? Who cares, it's free. A shoehorn! I started to sense a foot theme - and I for one could use some help squeezing my feet back into my shoes after a long flight anyway. A pair of small brown socks! OOOooohhh a combo comb and brush! Like a jackknife it unfolds - and I am sure could in a dark dangerous situation be used as a weapon prop as well! Sweet. Of course there was the obligatory eau de toilette bottle. I'm pretty sure the woman next to me would have thrown me out of the seat-pod if I had sprayed it to see how it smelled? The only disconcerting object was the very, very tiny toothpaste tube. You know how when you were little making model cars there would be some tiny tube of hard-core glue which would require you to puncture the metal top before the toxic fumes could come out? Well, this toothpaste had a metal top that required puncturing. sketchy. I came up with the following improvement: include those compression socks that prevent your feet and ankles from swelling, and do away with the shoe horn and brown socks entirely!

So from the jovial tone of the first paragraph you are probably thinking my time is going swimmingly. It was! Until my bag never arrived in Madrid from the states. I have come to find out that Iberia is notorious here for lost bags. Apparently the 2 hour connection time I had in Chicago O'Hare was not enough to get my bag from K16 to K19 - a total of 300ft. But they can't confirm that my bag is in Chicago. Off I flew to Porto with no luggage - and I mean NO LUGGAGE. Luckily I had thought to wear my pajamas/lounge wear on the flight out - so I had a pair of hot pink velour pants on, and a black wool short sleeved shirt. It's hot in Portugal. Really hot. Did I mention the black wool shirt somehow turned out to be see through as well? I thought man, I really need a happy pill right now. Good thing they're in my luggage! As well as my allergy medication. As well as EVERYTHING except a camera, 2 lenses, 3 books and knitting.

So luckily they gave me a number to call to check on my bag - it's nice to know it's as difficult to deal with airlines here as at home - and in a language I don't speak nonetheless. Imagine the maze of menu options in Portuguese. Well, didn't matter much, they never answered the phone after being on hold for 30 minutes (sixty dollars later). I will supposedly have my bag delivered to Portugal tomorrow after it comes on the next flight from Chicago. Betting pool anyone?

I´m happy to report I'm sitting here in a bright orange tank top, and beige embroidered skirt with bow at the top... let's just say I was desperate. For a while before I found the skirt I was wearing the bright orange tank top with the hot pink velour track pants! Now that was a look and a half.

Anyway, I'm in remarkably good spirits all things considered, I could write about it after all, which would have been impossible this morning. At least I have my camera! Some underwear would be nice though. Well, tomorrow's another day - and let me just say that so far, Porto is gorgeous. See how the toiletries bag took on a much greater importance by the end? Too bad there's no soap in it.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

State-Side Once Again

(South Salem, NY, USA: June 30, 2007)

Ah, back in the states. I guess there weren't nearly as many obvious adjustments to make as I expected there would be. It felt pretty normal to be back. Part of the problem is that I suffer from a bit of culture shock each time I come back to Westchester as it is - from San Francisco. So coming back here from Africa wasn't all too different. Lots of eating disordered older women in giant SUV's with plastic bodies dressed in exercise clothing. You know - the usual.

One of the main differences and the one I am still not adjusted to is water. I am still spitting constantly while I shower to prevent even a drop from getting into my mouth. Unnecessary here! Tap water - good to drink. Ice cubes - not a problem. Raw vegetables - should be fine. Having good drinking water is such a luxury I never thought about before. I mean, sure, I hear about it as a problem in third world countries all of the time, but it really it surprising how much of your time and psyche is occupied by thoughts of water when you're traveling. When will I be able to buy more, will it be good, will I get sick (again), etc. I got a terrible parasite when I was away that really was traumatizing. A good dose of Cipro and away it went, but still. No fun. It's not like there are nice clean bathrooms with toilet paper there!

The other noticeable difference is space. We like a lot of space. Space in our homes, space in our cars, space when we walk, when we sit, how we interact. The Dala-dala's are the rectangular Toyota mini-van type vehicles used for local transportation in Tanzania. They can fit 18 people. What they do is add another bench and squeeze in 26. 26 people!!!! These are NOT large vehicles - I'd feel claustrophobic every time I saw them pass by. Truly sardines. Of course Americans couldn't do that because we're too large. Even if we could, we wouldn't. Fights would break out! I've seen it before on San Francisco public buses because someone is too close to someone else or accidentally touched them. These people are squished against each other, yet look completely relaxed. The houses here are also very large. Not just the large Westchester Mansions, but even the smaller houses. We have an assumed right to privacy and if we can afford it, give each member of the family their own room. It's such decadence. Then each house needs to have as much land around it as possible. High ceilings. The whole 9.

We as Americans just have a very large buffer zone around us - which I happen to really like.

So lessons learned: who knows. I don't know. I've thought a lot about it, and I just am not sure what if any change will come of this trip. I want to go back to school for either international policy work or research biology. Probably the latter. This won't be possible for a number of years though, I definitely can't afford it now. Sugar daddy? Anyone?

The one thing that was apparent though is that in places like East Africa individuals can make a difference. I don't ever feel like that here. Sure, I give money to non-profits. I call my senators when Move On or Act for Change tells me to. I send countless emails to politicians urging them not to vote for whatever bill. I don't feel like it's helping though. I just do it because other people tell me it helps. In Africa you can go to a tiny village, and see the water pump someone donated making a huge difference. The doctor that Campi Ya Kanzi hired to help the Maasai of the Chyulu Hills. A donated vehicle, a water tank, condom education. Granted, some help can be well-intentioned but misguided and detrimental. I definitely want to return at some point to be involved in a project helping people. If people who have the means each just helped one village out, even if it's just building a new school building, many many people would be living slightly easier lives.

At my grandmother's unveiling a few days ago the rabbi said that we keep peoples memories alive and honor their spirit by our action and our aspiration.

Monday, June 25, 2007

It's so Modern!

(London, UK: June 25, 2007)

Ah, high speed internet. Don't get me wrong, I still use dial-up from time to time. For whatever reason my parents can't get DSL, so I use dial-up whenever I'm there. East African internet is not dial-up though, at least not as we think of it.

The reality is that the internet hardly works there. Sometimes it's just down for an undefined period of time (can be days). Other times certain sites come up, others don't. This happened to me continuously where I could log into one Yahoo account, but the other wouldn't work. Or the person next to me could log in, but I couldn't at all. Many times you could log into Yahoo, but not actually access your mail. So frustrating! At the best of times you could access everything, the computer wouldn't freeze, and it was only about 20x slower than broadband. It took me 45 minutes to place on online order through ebay while I was there. So here in the UK waiting for my plane to NY, I am living in the lap of luxury!

I wanted to say a little something about the transportation in Africa. For those of you reading our friend Liz's blog (she's in Ghana with the Peace Corp) you already know transportation is crap. East Africa is no different.

The first flight I took to Rwanda I needed to be there 2 hours early - no problem! I'll just leave plenty of time in the cab. Well, driving across Nairobi can apparently take nearly 2 hours instead of 45 minutes. So then I was stressed out - as I would be about being late. Typical Sara. So I go to check my bags - but Oh! Lo and behold the print out "confirmation" I have is not an e-ticket. I need to go to an office to get a paper ticket. Uh oh. So now I am panicked I will miss my flight. I get into the office and the fears are confirmed. There are two people behind the desk, and many others waiting. It takes 45 minutes for me to be helped. Why is that you ask? Oh, because one of the women decided to chat with a friend on the phone for 30 minutes without helping anyone, and the other woman took *forever* to write out paper tickets for people. Luckily, my flight was delayed by a number of hours, so I didn't miss it. I decided in the future to make sure to leave plenty of time when going to the airport, and I made them give me tickets for all of my flights then as well, so I should have been all set for future flights.

Ha! the next one from Kigali, Rwanda to Zanzibar had a layover in Nairobi. I got up at 4am to be on time for my flight at 6:45am - funny thing was, the airport wasn't even open 2 hours in advance of the flight (not very funny, really). So I check in for my 2 flights which are both on the same airline, get to Nairobi.... Surprise! My flight to Zanzibar has been canceled, but no one told me in Rwanda, where they could have rerouted me. Oh, but no worries the next flight was only 13 hours later. You can imagine my excitement to wait in a ratbag airport where people are allowed to smoke inside. All of my preparation was for naught there!

Then I wanted to leave Zanzibar, and thought it would be easy to get a flight out to Arusha, I had seen plenty listed on line. Ha again! I went to all 5 airline offices in vain the first time around. Three of them despite advertising flights, had none on Friday? Why? Why not. Air Tanzania only flew into Kilimanjaro, not Arusha as they had advertised. Precision Air had a wonderful piece of paper taped to the desk: Non-stop flight to Kilimanjaro 11am daily. Perfect! Oh, I'm sorry, we don't have that flight. But it's advertised right here on this paper! Yes, but that is starting sometime next week. Hmm... funny thing was the paper looked like it was at least a year old - tattered and stained. So I get a flight out on Air Tanzania, the reason they weren't flying into Arusha is because the airport is closed for 3 months. In typical African fashion they would never give you such useful information though. I had to figure that one out on my own.

So I am leaving Zanzibar and the security guy tells me the machine is broken and asks if he can search my bag. He also says in the same breath that I don't have to let him search it. So I say that I'd prefer he didn't since it was packed like sardines. He says fine he won't and just stands there. this goes back and forth a few more times (the machine is broken, I can search your bag, or I don't have to) and I of course am growing more confused. Finally another employee whispers to me "tip". OH, I exclaim, you want me to pay you money! Yes, he says. How much? He won't tell me how much. So I give him the equivalent of 3 dollars and pass right through security. Sweet! My first security bribe.

So having learned oh so many lessons I am sure that the charter to southern Kenya will go smoothly. I arrive 30 minutes early to the tiniest airport I have ever seen (it's one shack). they tell me to wait anywhere - funny thing is, there weren't any chairs, so I go sit outside on the steps. We were supposed to be there by 9:30am for a 10am flight. Seven of us. So I wait. and I wait... and suddenly it's 9:20 and no one is there yet. Then it's 9:30 and still no one. What are the chances I am in the right place if no one else is there on time? I call the tour company and they don't answer. Then I am in a complete panic (and I am sick as well, to top it all off). Where are they? Where am I supposed to be? What's *happening*?? I get a call at 9:50am about 100 grey hairs later: people are on their way, we'll be leaving soon, not to worry. TYPICAL AFRICA.

My last anecdote is regarding changing my return ticket to come back to NY 2 days earlier. My cell phone is long since dead (no charger) so I need to call from the hotel. Talk about expensive - 6$/minute. First I call BA, wait on hold for 7 minutes and decide to cut my losses after 42 dollars and still no live person. Then they call the local office in Dar Es Salaam for me. I go through the flights with the woman and finally I ask how much it will cost. Oh, she says, I have no idea. Well, how will I know then? She says well, we have a huge line here, I don't have the time to do it now, I can call you back? I explain I am on a hotel phone and she says she'll email me. When will you email me? Oh, I couldn't say. Today? Yes, by the end of the day. I wish I had asked when the end of the day was... Needless to say, no email, no nothing. I bite the bullet and call American Airlines. 1 hour (360$ later) i have changed my flights. I refused to pay for all of it though, I argued that I had only been on the phone 30 minutes, which was a lie. So my grand total came to 268$ for the phone calls. You can imagine my frugal self literally curdling over that.

Really though, of all of the travel adventures I am so looking forward to not smelling terrible diesel fumes constantly. I must have taken a few years off of my life inhaling the thick black smoke that permeated every single parcel of air. Apparently the diesel there has some other bad additives that make it smoke so badly. Regardless, it's overwhelming.

Off to NY now! I'll write once more to wrap up once I'm back stateside.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

She's a Beauty

(Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: June 24, 2007)

You may be wondering - did I make it? Well, yes! … and no.

We started out as a group of 7, with about 30 porters and two guides: Victor and James. I have done a fair amount of serious backpacking in the past – but always carrying my own gear. It was strange to have porters carrying all of our gear – all we carried were small daypacks with water and extra layers. Not that I’m complaining about carrying 20 pounds instead of 55!

There aren’t any easy routes up Mt. Kilimanjaro - they’re all pretty much the same. The difference is how many days you take to summit. Our route was supposed to be easier because we took 6 days to ascend instead of 4 allowing for extra time to acclimate. The first two days were surprisingly easy. Not too steep, slow pace, minor altitude gain – we were only at 11,500 feet after 2 days. I was really relieved my sinus infection and lack of recent exercise wasn't an issue. Mind you, the second night was our first below freezing – it was so incredibly cold, and only got colder. You can imagine that after drinking the requisite three liters of water each day, I had to make many trips outside the tent at night. Torture!! I would lie there for at least 30 minutes before getting up the energy and willpower to even unzip the sleeping bag. As soon as that frigid air leaks in though, it’s time to get up and out as soon as possible. Sometimes I would decide to wait until morning, which was equally unpleasant.

Day three was tough for me. It was our first day at higher altitude (12,000+) and I was light-headed and a bit nauseous, and generally not feeling like myself during the hike. I almost passed out once. As soon as we got into camp at 13,000 feet I had an instant headache – it was so severe that I was incapacitated. My vision was throbbing, seeing spots, and if my head were in any position other than upright, it felt like it would actually explode. I was certain I would need to be evacuated, or walked out in the middle of the night. I didn’t think I would be able to continue. Amazingly, many Advil later my headache was gone by the next morning. It was a terrible night. Thank you Ibuprofen!

Day four went well actually, we went up to almost 15,000 feet for the first time. Unfortunately one of the girls in the group, Daisy, wasn’t feeling well, so I walked to the next camp with her while the others got to do a little rock scrambling up Lava Tower. I was feeling completely better, much to my surprise. She got really sick though, which was really hard for our group.

The next day was the first really strenuous day. We’d been walking for up to 8 hours each day, but with a reasonable amount of elevation gain. Day five was Barranco Wall day - 1500 feet of scrambling straight up. Unfortunately Daisy couldn’t make it up the wall due to altitude sickness and had to be walked down and evacuated after she passed out. That was a really big loss for the team – it made it apparent how quickly our health could change in those conditions. I felt really strong that day, but another team member, Andrew, started to get a stomachache, either dehydration or altitude sickness. The next day was our summit day so we were all hoping for the best.

Spending each night in near zero degree temperatures at high altitude made for really difficult sleeping. I would sleep for about 3-4 hours, then be awake for the majority of the night and if I was lucky fall back to sleep for an hour or two in the morning. The night before and after the summit day we camped at 15,180 feet, which was terrible for me. Since I couldn’t take the high altitude medication I was a bit of a wreck.

Day six, aka summit day, started out poorly. I felt terrible after another sleepless night. I was winded just walking to the mess tent, which was no more than 20 feet from my tent. My body felt like it was a zombie body someone had attached to me. To say I had no energy was an understatement. I was hoping that by the time we were moving I would perk up a bit. Hardly! Andrew only made it for an hour before he had to turn back – he was too low energy to continue which was so very sad. He wanted to summit so badly, and had definitely trained more than any of the rest of us. That really was hard for me to see him turn back. We still had about 4 hours to go until lunch, and then at least 2 more hours to summit and the trail was straight up - 4000 feet straight up. Every step was harder than the prior step. Our leader, Victor, kept checking to make sure I could continue – I’m sure I looked like the walking dead. At one point I knew I had to turn back, because every shuffle of a step was more energy than I had. A porter offered to carry my daypack, so I continued on at a snail’s pace literally dragging one foot in front of the other. A little further along I again said I was ready to go back, but I wanted a slightly better view to take a photo, so I decided to go up to the big rock ahead. Then to the next switchback… I kept setting goals that were no more than 30 feet away each time, knowing that I had to try my best to get to the lunch spot because I was out of water and food. After what seemed like an eternity of trudging up this FREEZING cold, blustery wind blown high altitude desert, I made it to the lunch spot with the team, and just sat and cried for a long time. That didn’t help my breathing!

Rather than turn back then, I followed the team, knowing I would not make it to the summit, but just trying to get as high as possible before I needed to turn back. I had already decided I would not allow myself to go so far that I needed to be carried down, so I used that as criteria to evaluate if I could take another step or not.

About 45 minutes later I started to get loopy and light-headed, and before I knew it we were at the top!! Not the Uhuru Peak summit point, but the top of the crater rim, 19,000 feet, Stella point. I had made it! I honestly could not believe I had gotten myself up there. It was truly a miracle, and I was so proud and so grateful. My mind actually dragged my body up that mountain.

I knew it was time for me to turn back as the remaining 4 team members continued along the glaciated and snow covered crater rim to the highest point.

I somehow made it back down – nearly running down the scree and deep loose sand with no control over my body. That night was so hard to stay at 15,000 feet - the altitude did not get along well with me. Two days later and we were back in Arusha in such comfortable beds – it’s amazing to sleep through the night and not be a frozen block of ice each time you wake up! Such luxury.

So I got my certificate for making it to Stella point, and now I know – I am not doing any more high peaks – there are plenty of lower ones to climb!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Twas the Night Before

(Arusha, Tanzania: Thursday, June 14)

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, and all through the house...

[Note: This is an entry with a parental warning attached as per their request. Although there's nothing violent, or sexually explicit, it may be nerve-wracking for them.]

... we were all freaking out basically. Me more so than the 6 others. I came to Africa in great shape and have since become completely out of shape. Having a sinus and tonsil infection for the last week didn't help! I spent nearly all of the time in southern Kenya in bed - after running out of books I wound up reading the Da Vinci Code - not bad. I am feeling much better, but still not 100%.

So what exactly am I afraid of?
1. That I will need to kill this woman on the trip with us who already drives me nuts. If you think I'm a control freak... She actually had the audacity to say to the leader who is taking us up Kili: would you like to explain how it works or should I? YOU? Who are you??
2. That my inability to take high altitude medication (Diamox) due to the fact it's a sulfa drug is going to be a problem for me. Everyone who hears I can't take it gives me the UH OH look before saying 'Oh, I'm sure you'll be fine'. The reality is that over 15,000 feet, our bodies just aren't able to function as well as they normally do, and without Diamox, it's much harder to acclimate.
3. Snow. When our guide was there 2 weeks ago the crater camp (upper most camp over 18,000 feet) was under a lot of snow. Yikes.
4. COLD. It is below 0 (not 32 degrees, zero) at the last camp and for the day or two prior to summit. I can not imagine how I will be able to keep warm, but everyone else seems to be able to do it, so I'm sure it will work out somehow!
5. General illness paranoia. As I have now had one *terrible* stomach bug/illness requiring Cipro, and this sinus thing, I sense my immune system doesn't really like Africa. but I do!

Positive developments:
1. We can summit and then drop to a lower camp for the night, skipping trying to sleep at 18,000+ feet. I have a sneaking suspicion I will do that, if I make it that far. I mean, when I make it that far.
2. There's only one so far, but a list of one isn't really a list.

Well, I'm going to try my hardest, but be completely honest about my physical state and symptoms and hope for the best! They have a very high success rate with Kili summits (this outfitter) so my fingers are crossed.

We spent the last 4 days in the Chyulu Hills in southern Kenya on property which is "co-owned" by an Italian couple and the Maasai. There are approximately 7000 Maasai in that area. They have a doctor now for the first time, who we briefly visited. He has no electricity, no running clean water (they need to boil it), no lab to get tests done, no transportation, and no means of communication (radio, phone). He described how in the month he's been there it's been incredibly hard, especially since the way to transport really critical patients the 60K over the dirt road to the nearest hospital is via motorbike, or a random passing vehicle. If the patient comes in at night, they have to wait until the morning! Talk about a brave man! He is amazing. I can't even imagine. The camp we stayed at was really inspiring - the owner Luca has won a lot of environmental awards for it, recycling water to turn into drinking water for animals, solar power, collecting rainwater and dew on PVC sheets for the camp. They have a lot of great collective programs they are doing with some of the villages too, but the juxtaposition of west over traditional culture is really difficult to process. I'm still not sure if it seems like the right thing to be doing or not. It does seem like they are helping a lot of people, but my Western evaluation may be completely off base. They have an interesting program to save lions. the problem is that the lions kill the Maasai livestock (cows are the valuable ones) and then the Maasai kill the lions in return. Luca has a program to give credits to owners whose livestock has been killed by a lion. If no lions in the area have been killed for 90 days thereafter then the Maasai can trade in the credit for a good amount of money in return. It seems to be working very well. I don't know enough to know how sustainable it is. You can read about what they are doing here:

OK, off to bed.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Potentially Polygamous

(Arusha, Tanzania: June 9, 2007)

Soundtrack: Africa by Toto. Have you ever had the same song stuck in your head for 10 days?

I just spent the last 10 days on safari – what a terrific time. It turns out we (Jon and I) had a guide, Marc Baker, who has to be the best guide in Tanzania. He’s a biologist, originally from England, who was raised in Tanzania by research biologist parents. He seemingly knows everything there is to know about Tanzanian ecology. We spent 10 days in a Landrover with him traveling across Ngorongoro Crater and Conservation Area, Ndutu, Central Serengeti, Western Corridor, and Loliondo. Rather than bore you with a list of the animals we saw, you can refer to Appendix B. My favorite animals were spotted hyena, warthogs, giraffe, lions, secretary birds and ostrich.

Animal highlights:
Hippos stay in the water all day, and then graze at night. Nocturnal if you will. It is highly unusual to see one out of the water during the day. Well, we did! We even followed it and got in between it and the swamp at one point. Whoops. Have you ever seen a 2-ton animal running straight at the side of your vehicle with incredible speed? Marc never had either – first time for everything! It stopped no more than 3 feet away at which time I was already bracing myself for the massive impact. Marc’s first question: Did you get the shot? [side note: I did get a shot of it charging – somehow my finger pushed the button without my knowing]

I happen to be a bit squeamish, especially in regards to gore. We were really lucky to be able to watch a lioness feeding on a zebra. It’s not the easiest thing to watch, especially when the back half of the zebra is already gone and he’s been out in the African sun all day. Tough but well worth it, and the blood is really red!

Random Musings:
So in Tanzania the marriage license is only signed by the man, and has 3 boxes on it – Monogamous, Polygamous, and the good old catch-all: Potentially Polygamous. ?!?

Marc is very into conservation, he was just in the states last year giving a talk at UC Santa Cruz on the balance between tourism and conservation. What luck to be able to have such a great resource to talk to! Conservation is SUCH a difficult problem. Fifty percent of the GDP of Tanzania is aid money. While aid is certainly helpful in some situations, it also creates dependency, which can be really dangerous. With an employment (not unemployment) rate of 30%, how do you wean villages off of aid food and medical supplies when they have little to no means of ever making a living? Part of the problem with providing aid is that while a typical family would previously have 5-6 children, half of whom wouldn’t survive, the same family is now able to (barely) feed 5-6 children. Without serious family planning education, you wind up with a population that grew 2.3% last year and is set to double sooner than later. The resources of the country can’t even provide for the existing population, let alone a growing population. Aid will not just increase and continue forever. It’s a very, very difficult situation. The good news is that there is a program that is very successful educating women about family planning and providing birth control in Northern Tanzania.

Many of the projects that are done to “help” people are ill thought out, with the recipients not being part of the planning process. A water pipe was put in a village (which cost tons of aid money) so that the women wouldn’t need to walk 5K each way every day to get water. Within 2 weeks of its completion the women had torn it out of the ground and destroyed it. When they were asked why, they explained that for them walking to the water was how they enjoyed spending their days. They brought their children, all of the women got together to chat, they did laundry, the children played, they were away from their husbands for the day, and then they went home to cook at night. With the water in the village they never saw each other, the husbands just found other work for them to do, and they hated it. One lesson I have learned through the work I do is that if you are creating something and you don’t include the end user or a representative group of them in the planning, then you wind up with something they don’t want and won’t willingly use.

I’m off to southern Kenya tomorrow morning and then starting the Kilimanjaro climb in 5 days! I am completely scared – 19,000 feet is no joke, the altitude is not agreeable to the human body, so you get up and get down. I put on pounds of padding during the safari, which included eating 3 huge meals everyday and sitting in a car nearly the entire time. Yikes. Wish me luck!

Appendix A: Technical Failures
Sunglasses: Arm broke into two pieces.
Watch: “Water-proof” it isn’t. First it got water in it, then the water killed it.
Cell Phone: Left the charger behind in Zanzibar. It’s waiting for me in Kilimanjaro, where I will hopefully pick it up in a week.

Appendix B: Animals seen
(in order or approximate numbers viewed)
tsetse fly
gazelle (Grant’s and Thompson’s)
olive baboon
guinea fowl
gorilla (Rwanda)
red colobus monkey (Zanzibar)
tawny eagle
spotted hyena
jackal (black backed and golden)
crowned crane
Kori bustard
secretary bird
2 leopard
2 saddle billed stork
1 rhino
1 vearaux’s eagle owl
1 puff adder

Sweet Dreams?

(Serengeti, Tanzania: June 9, 2007)

Lately I feel like people have been divulging bits of information about themselves. It must be something about being in your thirties – suddenly you’re able to talk about some strange, quirky aspects of yourself or your past. Well, here I go, jumping on the bandwagon.

So many of you know this already – I have a rather strange sleep “disorder” let’s call it. Ever since I was 13, sometimes when I wake up, my dream continues even though I’m awake. It can take up to 15 minutes or longer for it to fade back to reality, even when I’m interacting with someone. Of course the dreams themselves at the point of waking are not pleasant, happy dreams with pretty fairies leading me through Candyland. They’re terrifying. The good news for anyone sharing a room or bed with me is that for the last 5-10 years I’ve mostly stopped screaming when they happen.

You can imagine the awkward discussion… “Yeah, so I kind of have this thing sometimes when I sleep. It probably won’t happen, but if I should scream out, don’t worry. It’s nothing - just ignore it.” Well, I can assure you that when it actually does happen with someone else in the room, no amount of prior warning prepares them. It’s just really freaky being awoken by someone screaming out in abject terror. Jon can now newly attest to this (hence the ‘mostly stopped screaming’).

This doesn’t happen when I’m home, and usually not in well lit rooms, either, but it’s been happening nearly every night of this trip unfortunately. Some nights it’s just waking to a person standing over the bed. Just lying there completely petrified with fear wondering how they got in and what they’re going to do. After 5 minutes or so they fade out. If the waking dream is being buried alive, I do try to physically get out. I’ve even tried to bite through a tent in the past – biting a zipper is no fun, I assure you. During that dream in Rwanda I just tore back a curtain. Not too bad! No harm done. Last night’s episode was a pretty cool dream though – looking back after the fact. The room we were in was balanced on a long round cylindrical object of some sort, under the middle of the room. So every time I moved in the bed, even an inch or two, the entire room tilted in that direction. This wasn’t the kind of tilting room that would just stop at some point either. It would fall over, come crashing down and crush me inside. So I would move a hand or a leg an inch, it would tilt wildly and I would wait for it to settle down, then move a little more, then quickly go back to sleep. Cool, huh?

I’ve met two people in my life who suffer from the same thing, neither knowing exactly why, but having a reasonable hypothesis. I think when I get back I’m going to look into some sleep disorder programs. I’m thinking after 21 years it could be time to get rid of this!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cows, please

(Arusha, Tanzania: May 29, 2007)

Just wanted to talk a little bit about the Maasai people before I run out of time here.

Tanzania has many, many Maasai. They live in round huts called boma, which are typically not used year round. they are nomadic and move depending on the season. Mainly they herd cattle for a living - selling them at the market. They do a little farming, but I think I was told are not allowed to have plots that are very big. When the dry season comes twice a year (now) and the water dries up, they need to move to a place where their cattle will be able to feed and drink. During the wet season the cows can drink every day, but during the dry they rotate and only get to drink every 2 days. The Maasai can walk 30-40k per day with their herds!

Maasai men can have many wives - the husband has his own boma to live in, and each wife has her own as well, in a circle around his. The wives take turns alternating who stays with the husband, in 6 day rotations. Each woman may only have one husband though (of course!). Rich men may have 10-20 wives, and many many cows. It used to be the case that all marriages were arranged, up until even 20 years ago. Now people are free to choose their own partner - some even go to other tribes. While this isn't common, it is acceptable.

My guide, Thomas, is 37 and unmarried. I asked why he had not married yet, and he said because he doesn't have enough cows to buy a wife!

The Kindness of Strangers

(Lake Natron, Tanzania: May 29, 2007)

The title of this entry was going to be "You win some..." with the obvious inference being you lose some. Although this experience was so difficult, it was definitely not a losing situation.

So I spent the last 4 days up at Lake Natron in northern Tanzania. Aside from hearing how beautiful it is, I was interested in doing a really challenging climb up Ol Doinyo Lengai, an active Volcano. Because of the incredible heat there, you start the climb around midnight, and it's 6000 vertical feet! For those of you unfamiliar, that a really, really steep climb. I wasn't even sure if I could do it - many people can't make it. You reach the rim just before sunrise, and once the sun comes up, head back down. The climb takes roughly 6 hours. So I set off with my Maasai guide, Thomas, a little after 11:30pm. Yet again, I immediately felt under prepared. Why had no one mentioned the ferocious mosquitoes? Sure, I am taking malarone, but the number one way of avoiding Malaria is not getting bitten. Why had no one mentioned the really strong winds? So off we go - straight up. I could tell there's a bit of a gentler slope at the bottom, and already I was drenched in sweat. After a couple of hours we reached the "halfway" point, which is nowhere near halfway, after which there's really no turning back. What had been a straight, steep trail was going to turn into pure lava runs, and in the darkness, with the moonlight feeble, turning back later would be near impossible. Only problem was I was freezing. The winds were incredibly fierce, and my light jacket and shirt were drenched. Poo. But, I was determined, so off we went. We were passed by 3 other small groups about an hour later. I was in no rush, and enjoying not really feeling stressed aerobically.

About 2 hours shy of the rim it became so steep that the ground was about a foot and a half from my face. OH DEAR. At this point the moon had set, everything was pitch black, and my feeble headlamp only served to illuminate the lava rock right in front of my nose. I felt almost relieved we couldn't' see anything, because I knew it would really scare me. I could tell we were climbing something for crazy people. So with one hour left we huddled to figure out if we should turn back or not - the problem was I was an icicle and I was worried. The exertion was extreme, but mostly muscular and not heating me consistently enough to keep warm. Out of his bag he pulled a thin wool blanket to offer me! I was in love. So we decided to push on even though he, too, was freezing.

By this time I had noticed the distinct odor of sulfur. Uh Oh. For those of you who don't know, I am extremely allergic. I have only ingested it or had topical reactions though, so I wasn't sure how breathing it in would affect me. the last hour was a literal scramble on all fours. I think I "stood up" twice the entire time. Even being someone who is not afraid of heights, I was very, very afraid. We got to the top at 6am and waited until 6:30 for the sunrise. Unfortunately huge billows of white sulfur were coming out of the entire crater, as it is still an active volcano. It was really noxious and I worried for a bit but then concentrated on not freezing. We could see Mt. Meru and Kilimanjaro in the distance - they were spectacular. Still frozen I wanted to start down as soon as possible. Looking over the edge at what we had just climbed was quite a moment. I can't even express how steep and scary it was going down - my knees still have not recovered (even the "good" one). I did feel a bit feverish and nauseous after an hour and a half or so, but I figured it was just no sleep and all of the anxiety of the climb, and ignored it until I couldn't any longer. I had reached the halfway point again, so there was actually a trail and the rest of the descent would be a piece of cake. Not so if you are dreadfully ill! Every step was an exercise in determination. Determination to get to the bottom, and determination to not throw up. Well, I lost out on that one. I got very ill - my poor guide sat there watching me not knowing what to do. But I felt a little better afterwards so I tried to walk some more. Nope. Not happening. I got sick 3 more times, and can't think of a time I have ever felt so badly in my life - not even college alcohol poisoning came close. I couldn't stand, I couldn't speak, and there was no position that could squash the pain. My abdomen at this point was feeling permanently spasmed. I had no idea how I would get down, or even then how I would survive the terribly bumpy 4x4 ride home for 40 minutes. My guide had NO idea what to do - he tried at one point to poke my stomach, it was all I could do to shake my head NO.

So he went to find the group of 3 people still descending and they were incredible. This one woman Natasha took one look at me and started barking orders at everyone - to find some sort of simple sugar to get in me, to find people to carry me down, to try to get someone to drive the truck up the mountain a little closer... it was unbelievable. Coleman started sprinting dwn the mountain to the waiting trucks below to get more help waving his poles like a madman. I was just trying not to pass out. I couldn't take a step even assisted, so these two skinny Maasai guides dragged me down this really steep slope in incredible heat while she doused my head with water and gave me tiny sips of water with orange squeezed in. After many breaks, and getting the truck a good deal closer, the got me into the back. I can't remember ever being so relieved. She sat with me the whole way back and I could actually speak by the time we got back to my camp. Natasha, Coleman and Rebecca were so kind and generous and went WAY above any help I could have expected. I get weepy thinking about it.

Turns out I got a really high fever from the sulfur, and that coupled with the difficult descent gave me heat stroke. It took all day to get rid of the fever, but I successfully ate toast and rice before the end of the day, so I was back on my feet.

I feel fine today except for an upset stomach, and am just so very grateful - I'm taking my 3 new friends out for drinks tonight in Arusha! Jon gets in tonight and we head out on 10 days of safari tomorrow, so I will be offline for a while.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hey, lady

(Zanzibar, Tanzania: May 25, 2007)

Zanzibar is a beautiful island, but MAN is it hot and humid here - and this is the "winter"! Think NYC subway on a 98 degree day. Instant sweat. So I spent the first 3 days in Stonetown - which is a bit of a mixed bag. The old buildings are gorgeous, completely run-down. Covered in mold. I needed a mainline of allergy medication! The stench of mold in my room was so overwhelming that there was never a time I grew accustomed to it. If I pretended really hard, I could convince myself at times it was just pungent mint. Even my clothing smelled by the end, although I couldn't tell until I got to the east coast of the island where it doesn't smell. The was a wonderful market in Stonetown, which I didn't get up the nerve to actually buy anything at (it's *all* locals, and really chaotic), but I think if I had gone there another day I could have mustered the energy to buy an orange. I was on the verge!

A note about Stonetown: Here the people are so overly friendly
that it's as if they are trying to sell you something. Oh, wait - they
are. I adapt quickly though to my surroundings and realized if I said
no with a big smile and a sweep of my arm, they generally left without
asking twice. Here are the top 5 things I was approached literally
hundreds of times to purchase:
1. Africa greatest hits CD
2. Spice packets
3. nuts
4. soccer jerseys
5. necklaces
Of course, then you get people who know you're going to say 'no' when
they approach you so they give you the guilt trip - "hey, lady, I
wasn't going to ask you for anything - what's wrong with you? I'm just
being nice... " So you say hello... they follow within a foot of you
for far too long (it makes me very uncomfortable, as I like my personal
space empty) and then eventually ask you if they can be your personal
tour guide. Or want to go to their restaurant. Shocking! They want something from me?? Here I thought they were just being nice.

So here I am now in this gorgeous resort on the east coast of Zanzibar. When I first walked in I thought, WHY was I not here the whole time? Or more to the point, why am I going anywhere else? I can just sit on a pristine white sand beach, sleep in my room with sheets that don't feel like sandpaper, which doesn't smell of anything bad, and just relax. Well, it's two days later and I'm leaving tonight, and I'm glad to be - because I am already bored. I just needed a nice rest.

Speaking of mustering the nerve to buy something in the market reminds me of two funny experiences here. Firstly, I had a Balinese massage. It said something about deep work, and I was all in. I knew from the minute I saw the woman that she was going to destroy me. I could tell by the look in her eye. Sure enough! Each of the joints of her thumbs most *definitely* have Popeye muscles coming out of them. I wasn't able to actually look and verify this, but I am certain of it. I kept thinking, okay, she knows what she's doing, so even though it feels incredibly painful it must be fine. Then that changed to if it hurts like this one more time I'll say something! Needless to say, I said nothing. Why is that?? Each time I gave myself an extension and held out one minute longer just in case... just in case what? It stopped hurting? She moved to some other painful area? I think I must be like a guy in that way - it's like asking for directions I guess.

I also took group yoga lessons while I was here since I couldn't afford the one on one. Well, I was a group of one. Apparently 35 German seniors are not interested in yoga.So 3 days in a row I went, even getting up for the 7:30am class this morning since I'm leaving before the evening class! That in itself would normally be unheard of, but I have been going to sleep by 10 every night here, 7:15 one night. So it wasn't such a big deal. I don't know about regular yoga classes, since I only do Bikram, but in our class, if the instructor actually comes around to you, it's to do a minor tweak, turn your hand a millimeter this way, straighten that leg more... this guy was UNREAL. He would come over (since it was just the two of us) and "help" me with the poses. By help I mean wrench my body into contorted positions which I could never come close to doing on my own. I'm talking full-on putting his thigh on one part of me and leaning his entire body weight into the other side! Knee in my back, pulling my arms in opposite directions. Stepping on my thigh to better grip my leg so he could stretch my hamstring which didn't want to go anywhere. At one point with a spine twist I though he might actually rip my arm off. But again - did I say anything? Like HEY BUDDY THAT HURTS!!! Nope. Sure didn't. I think I almost hit him at one point though - you know, reflex action.

What is the matter with me???? (feel free to answer that if you like, suggestions welcome)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mountain Gorillas

(Ruhengeri, Rwanda: May 20, 2007)

As a picture is worth one thousand words, I'm afraid you'll have to wait for my photos on Flickr to get a good idea of the gorillas. It would be a waste of time for me to try to describe them. Suffice it to say they are like furry, amazing people.

The conservation efforts are extraordinary in Rwanda - really impressive. I wonder if we in the states could even do such a good job? There are only 729 mountain gorillas in the entire world, and they are an endangered species. Their population has grown by 29 in the past 2 years! They live in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo. They are all in one area, some of the volcanoes are divided among the 3 countries, so the gorillas roam across borders. Poachers come in to kill the mothers and take their children so they can sell them to zoos, since mountain gorillas don't live in captivity - only lowland gorillas which are not endangered. I will not sadden you with the specifics we learned of the deaths of the past few years. In response to the killings the government has trackers which follow each group of gorillas from early in the morning until dark, at which time the military starts their rounds, providing 24 hour coverage of the parks and protection for the gorillas. This past year there were no deaths from poaching!

In order to see the gorillas, you have to purchase a very expensive permit. They only allow a maximum of 56 people to see the gorillas per day, for a maximum of one hour or else it can disturb the gorillas and stress them. You are divided into 7 groups of 8 people and each visits a different group of gorillas. On a yearly basis, the park officials get together with the neighboring villages, and ask for their needs. They then disburse the money from the permits to the villages for the projects. Examples of some projects are a primary school, a local water tank, a health center. This keeps the villages supporting the conservation efforts.

I had permits for 2 days of gorilla trekking. The first day I decided I wanted to do the longest walk (I'm tough, right?). Since the gorillas move around in the morning, you never quite know how long it will take to find their location - the guides are in constant contact with the trackers, so you do your best to catch up (they move fast!). Well, our gorilla group which was a group typically only for research rather than tourism was not very high up the volcano when we began the hike. They must have known we were coming as they moved up towards the top of the volcano. The guide told us it would take about 2 hours. We must have heard that 4 more times that morning! Did I mention it's the rainy season? We embarked on a hike that would put climbing Kilimanjaro to shame. The trail was at least 6 inches of mud - more like a foot deep in many spots, and STRAIGHT UP. No sissy switchbacks for the Rwandans. We climbed from 2100m to 3400m (4000 vertical feet!!!!) in what was at times torrential downpour. The altitude was really difficult to deal with, as was the mud, and the *freezing* cold temperatures. It took us 3 and a half hours to climb and I thought at times I wouldn't make it. We had 2 researchers and 3 military personnel with us who helped me tremendously. Without one soldiers hand helping me up some of the tougher terrain, I would still be stuck in the mud. They could have run up it, they were in such good shape (and acclimated). I had no idea we were going on such an adventure so I had 2 nectar bars to last me 8 hours, 6 of which were rigorous hiking. It was worth it though, as much as any really, really difficult experience feels rewarding in hindsight.

A typical trip to see the gorillas involves about an hour of strolling over mildly rolling terrain. Needless to say, I chose an easy group the next day, which amounted to a 2 hour hike to find them over dry flat-ish land. Phew.

I *highly* recommend this trip to everyone - it's truly one of the 'once in a lifetime'-ers.

Note to TNT'ers: someone asked me if I knew Ron Lichty as I was climbing the mountain!!! Figures.

Quelle Surprise!

(Kigali, Rwanda: May 20, 2007)

Well, granted Rwanda is pretty much the first place I've been to so far other than Nairobi - but I think this statement will still stand true at the end of the trip - it was the surprise of the trip!

Firstly, Rwanda is a gorgeous country. They call it the land of 1000 mountains, and I think that could be an underestimate. In stark contrast to Nairobi, Kigali was very well paved, hardly any cars on the road, and clean. I have no idea what I expected, but considering the genocide was a mere 10 years ago, I was expecting something far more war-torn. The city of 800,000 has been rebuilt remarkably well. I spent my first afternoon there at the genocide memorial museum. It is pretty much beyond words how difficult that was. Having been to the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, in Israel, I'd say it was quite comparable.

So you may or may not know that the war was a "civil war" between the Hutu's and the Tutsi's. I was under the impression that these were different tribes, which is incorrect. Rwanda had originally 18 different tribes, but Hutu or Tutsi was a class designation, similar to middle class or upper class, and these designations changed as your circumstances did. When the Belgians came in the 20's they decided that anyone with 10 or more cows was a Tutsi and anyone with fewer than 10 cows was a Hutu, and that designation was yours and all of your descendants forever. Slowly these designations morphed into a racial designation rather than one which had previously been class related (I'm unclear how that happened, but physical characteristics like forehead and nose size became relevant). The Tutsi's (only 15% of the people) were favored by the government and this lead to the imbalance which eventually became a hatred that lead to the genocide of the Tutsi's in the 1990's. There had been other mass killings prior to then starting in the 60's. I guess when you can get a group of people to believe another group is responsible for their misfortune, and you feed it with propaganda and let it fester, you create the environment for genocidal cleansing.

The people of Rwanda will speak of the genocide but typically refer to it as the war. There are no longer any racial designations whatsoever as everyone is very adamant that they are "one people undivided" now, and are happy to say there will never be another civil war. They don't really like to talk about it as dwelling on it will not help them move forward, but they definitely acknowledge it. It's amazing to think of the horror these people went through only 10 years before! Nearly everyone you speak to lost at least one family member and numerous friends and neighbors. I had a guide for my 4 days here, Mike, who was terrific. He was able to escape Rwanda before the war broke out which was quite lucky as he was on the death list because he supported the RFP - who eventually were victorious in stopping the Hutu's. Two of his brothers were killed, but his parents weren't because they were old. His mother was Hutu and his father Tutsi.

He calls sweet potatoes 'sweetie potatoes'.

The government obviously understands the importance of infrastructure as the entire country has wireless access and radio! I swear, we were at 3400 meters (10,200ft) clinging to the side of a volcano and one of the guides used his cell phone! I can't even get reception driving to eastern California.

I asked Mike about public assistance, as much of the country are "poor" farmers. But really, poor is not a fair term. These people have houses, albeit small ones (one or two rooms), clothing, food and jobs. They have families and loved ones and they seem really content. Why wouldn't they? They have everything they need to be happy. Now I see why people start to get rid of their possessions when they return from traveling. Most people don't even have shoes, but they're not very necessary in such a warm area. They do nearly all have umbrellas though, which I found to be quite amusing. The answer was no, there is no public assistance at all. They government does give out loans though, through banks. So if you want to rent a plot of land to grow sweetie potatoes, it seems relatively easy to get a loan to do so. The one thing that *completely* shocked Mike (and he is very well educated and well traveled) was to hear we have homeless people in the US. 'How could this be?' he kept asking... 'They live on the street?' Makes you wonder how their isn't homelessness in Rwanda but there is in San Francisco. On another note, they do suffer from AIDS - 3% of the country has it. This is not nearly so bad as Kenya or the Congo, but still a big problem.

I stayed in Kigali only for one day, spending the rest of my time up in the mountains to see the gorillas (entry to follow).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Excited Yet?

(Nairobi, Kenya: May 16, 2007)

It's the question I've heard most often in the past few weeks - as recently as boarding the flight to Nairobi, "You must be so excited!" Then the subsequent implied question when I don't immediately respond - "You must be crazy?". Well, I have to admit, excitement is not really something I've been feeling - at least not in the way I am used to experiencing it. Excitement to me is driving a10 foot box truck packed with dusty gear out to the Nevada desert every August. Then I am nearly jumping out of my uncomfortable, sweaty vinyl seat. This has been different. I'm not going to a festival where I've been going for 6 years already, or seeing a movie I've wanted to see for ages. I'm going to 3 developing countries for 2 months, which is dangerous, and scary, and exciting all in one. So, it feels different. Two people now have talked to me about the importance of going outside of your comfort zone - and how necessary it is for growth. I completely agree. I figured once I got on the plane I would be excited - but it's really just a calm readiness to experience, with a bit of apprehension and a hyper-alertness. Most of the people talking about Nairobi start out by saying "I don't want to scare you, but..."

I haven't really seen Nairobi so far because I came in late at night. The roads are *terrible*. I thought the roads in New Orleans were bad - they don't hold a candle. Potholes the size of small cars litter the incredibly lumpy road, and the drivers swerve towards you instead of away to avoid them! Traffic control devices (like red lights, for example) are ignored. Carjackings are somewhat common, so no need to come to a complete stop unless a larger vehicle than yourself is coming. Same goes for those pesky painted dividing lines in the street - if there are any at all. Apparently based on the width of the road, you just know how many cars wide you should be. Kai's house is amazing, as is his Irish setter. The grounds are tropical, lush and noisy! So many insects and birds chattering. I wish I had a recorder with me.

A little known fact (to me at least) - the plastic bag is known as the African flower. There are so many in trees. Kenyans apparently have an obsession with them, and use them for everything. Which is why I was surprised (pleasantly so) to hear I should not bring any plastic bags with me to Rwanda or they will be confiscated - they are illegal for environmental reasons! Good for them!

So today I head to the UN complex to check out where Kai works, and then I'm off early tomorrow to Rwanda (sans plastic bags) to see the genocide museum and the mountain gorillas.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Airplane Etiquette

(London, UK: May 12, 2007)

A mixed bag of notes and observations to follow...

As soon as the guy sitting next to me put his heavy laptop bag on top of my daypack, I knew I was not going to like him. Not only was there other space in that overhead bin, but the two adjacent were completely empty! I told him I needed to move his bag off since I had an expensive lens in my bag, and he told me that the data in his computer was worth far more than all of the lenses in the world! Then he proceeded to tell me to be really careful with his bag, and not to drop it even though I was not even taking it out of the bin. Okay guy, if that data is so precious, here's an idea: make a back-up!!! We didn't exactly start off on the right foot. Then it turns out he's the kind of guy who takes the "shared" arm rest over completely - and unfortunately for me actually has his arm over the invisible dividing line in my seat, so no matter how i sit, his arm is always touching mine! Ewww. Could I stand 11 hours of this? I was so annoyed, and sat there silently fuming over it for a bit. Then I thought why am I letting myself be so bothered? I either need to ask him to remove his arm from my seat, or just let it go. I opted for the let it go approach since our former interaction led me to believe asking him would be useless - and then I would be more annoyed. I was moderately successful at letting it go - I think the Valium definitely helped. Funny thing happened at the end of the flight. They told us to please put our seat backs to the upright position. So we did. Then magically his was back to reclining. The flight attendant came by again to tell him to put it back up and he said it was broken and couldn't stay upright. He was told he had to go sit elsewhere then - in a *very* middle seat in the middle section. He threw his neck pillow off in a huff. Once he left, the flight attendant came back to check out the seat - oddly, it had no problem staying in the upright position! Hmmm. First thing I did was drape my arm over the arm rest into his seat.

Cool things about London:
1. They call an umbrella a brolly.
2. The intersections have directions painted on the street "Look Left"and "Look Right". Seriously - without those, I would either have already been run over, or just would never cross the street. You would think it wouldn't be too hard to just look the opposite direction I usually do in the states - think again.
3. A nap is a kip.
4. My awesome friends who I miss terribly the rest of the year.

Off to Nairobi in 3 days!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Gospel Tent

(New Orleans, LA, USA: May 6, 2007)

Wow, what a jam-packed trip. Jam-packed as in an overwhelming amount of fried food, sun, humidity and drinking. Much thanks to Milli and Reece who are terrific tour guides, and Elizabeth for an amazing dinner.

I'm glad I have 2 days back in San Francisco before I head out to London - I will need every second to recover, especially my heart and my liver! New Orleans was not as I expected it to be. I think that the drunk frat-boy quotient was definitely filled in the Jazz Fest daytime festival, but for the most part i found the people i encountered in New Orleans to be quite pleasant and friendly. We took a trip to a lot of the hurricane devastated areas which was really eye opening - not so much in terms of the damage done to houses, neighborhoods and communities, but more so the policy and political issues that still exist. It's been over a year and a half, and there are still vast communities that are physically devastated. Each house in the flooded areas has a spray painted marking on it - a circle cut into 4 quadrants which includes the number of dead found in the house, the date of the search, and the group who performed the search. These searches were done in boats weeks after the hurricane hit. Most of these symbols are still on the houses, whether or not they are inhabited (most are not). It feels really strange to me to be able to see a body count on a given street just by walking down it and counting numbers. I guess if you live here you get used to it? More surprising to me was the lack of rebuilding which has occurred. Certain areas are low lying and at risk for the same thing happening again. Do you spend the money to rebuild the entire electrical and plumbing (sewage) infrastructure, rebuild the houses and do the toxic cleanup required? The answer seems to be no. Of course the majority of the lower lying areas were populated by people of color. In the context of this country it makes perfect sense. Lower lying land with a flood risk is cheaper. Cheaper land is bought by people with lower incomes. These people tend to not be white. It's not racist per se although the root of the pay and financial inequity may very well be. So the politicians seem to be struggling with writing off entire communities of thousands of African American people which will never be rebuilt. Then you have the sole person who comes and rebuilds amidst a community of ruins. We saw a lot of that. Then there are neighborhoods which should be rebuilt (risk of additional flooding is low) but there seems to be no one leading that effort. These are prime projects for federal funding - large amounts of job creation, money feeding back into the local economy, a circle of economic success. Capital and machinery are required though to make this happen - skilled labor training as well. The federal government is not making a move to do so, and the local government has no money to make it happen. It is SHOCKING how much has not been rebuilt still, almost 2 years later.

The Jazz Fest itself was a mixed bag. I really enjoyed the groups I went to see at night - Kermit at Vaughan's and Johny Sketch and the Dirty Notes at the Maple Leaf. Fantastic. The daytime festival at the fairgrounds was a bit too much for me. I spent a lot of time in the gospel tent and aside from stifling heat today was really inspired by the music - all of the baptist gospel choirs from various states - and then to top it off Grammy winner, Irma Thomas. I may not be a religious person, but could completely appreciate the faith and love and self-understanding they were preaching. Then Stephen Marley (Bob's son) came on - and spoke the words to a song I have heard at least a few hundred times: Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. And I decided that would be the theme of my trip to Africa.

Check out my photos: or if that doesn't work:

Friday, May 04, 2007

down came the rain...

(New Orleans, LA, USA: May 4, 2007)

holy rain. So I was just out enjoying a late night of *phenomenal* jazz - the kind that just carries your soul, helps you forget where and who you are for a good hour or two. Kermit Ruffins. They were going to do another set later, but it was almost two, and well... I'm old. With no nap and a day full of muffuletta's and booze, I had had enough. I decided to take a cab back and left my friends at Vaughan's. Unfortunately the rain came tonight. Similarly to San Francisco, there are no cabs to be found in the rain, there were at least 30 people waiting, and well, I'm not exactly miss patience. I found a nice group of kids from LA, struck up a conversation and we decided to try to walk home.

Mind you, the bar is really far away from where I am staying (2-3 miles they said) and everyone says that you should not walk much of anywhere in New Orleans. As I learned today, the whole environment lends itself to a bit of lawlessness, especially against vulnerable tourists. But we were feeling tough in numbers, and honestly, we figured the baddies were home keeping dry. So we walked for 45 minutes and got to within 10 minutes of my Inn. We parted ways there, and I knew I shouldn't go on by myself, especially since by this point the rain was truly torrential (but the thunder and lightening awesome!) and I wasn't quite sure where I was. Somewhat sure, but not quite. I'm kind of like a guy though in that I think I have a great sense of direction (I do!), so off I went. Passed a familiar Thai restaurant, but then things were not so familiar. Then after about 15 minutes - at this point my clothing must weigh at least 15 extra pounds - I realize I am completely lost. I have never heard of these streets and i have no idea where I am. I meet a nice trannie who points me in a general direction and I go that way for about 6 blocks, but then I panic. For the first time it occurs to me that I may not actually magically just find my way back. Just at that moment a minivan slows down and starts yelling about my ass. Great! So i dive into a doorway and call a cab company whose number I luckily still had from earlier, and lo and behold, I'm only 5 blocks from home. PHEW. At this point I am beyond drenched. It's actually quite comical, and take away the danger and fear, and it would have been really fun. At least it's really warm and the electrical storm is truly electrical. So in I trot, leave my only pair of jeans and bra in a giant puddle on the floor, and eat another piece of my muffuletta. yum!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Maiden Voyage in (travel) Blogland

(New Orleans, LA, USA: May 2, 2007)

Whew. This first blog entry has been spinning around in my head for quite some time - finally finding its way onto paper (yes, you heard me - paper). It started when I began telling people about my trip and a surprisingly large number all said exactly the same thing "wow - that will be life changing". Which of course got me thinking about those life changing events - where in an instant your life is on a different trajectory - everything is seen in a new context with different filters. I've been trying to identify what/when those moments have been for me and I can only think of one so far that didn't involve death, or news of an illness. Then there are other times when it wasn't an exact moment or event that lead to change, but a more prolonged experience. Hard core backpacking trips I've done in the past have brought about such clarity that decisions nearly made themselves - deciding to be a math major was one. Can you imagine Sara the American Studies student? Burning Man is another experience which has also at times been life altering - more so the first few years than the last few.

So when everyone tells you something will change your life I have to wonder if my thinking about in that was will change it's effect? If you think something will change your life, will it still? Tree, forest, falling, sound... I guess I'm really just hoping to have a nice, relaxing, safe, challenging time - to learn more about myself and to learn to let go more - both in controlling my circumstances and my work. We'll see! Not having regular access to a computer is certainly going to help. New Orleans is the first stop so that will be a nice entry into traveldom. I feel very lucky that my first visit is with my friends who grew up there. I'm looking forward to a deeper than tourist level picture of New Orleans!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Up up and away

I'm off to travel in 3 weeks. More importantly, I'm not working for 5 months starting in 3 weeks! I've never had that much time off from work since I was 14. I worked through high school, and college, and ever since. It's been a long 20 years of working, and I am just so excited to get such a nice break - and very thankful that my job gave me a leave of absence. I do feel like my time is already totally booked though. For some reason 5 months is feeling like not very much time at all - and I haven't even started it yet.

But to go off on a tangent - why is it that there will always be a close female friend who will cross the line with either an ex-boyfriend or someone you really like? Shouldn't it be automatically understood that these people are off limits? Especially when you confide in your friend about the man in question. I would never cross that line. Obviously, everyone is not like me - and that I'm sure is a good thing, don't get me wrong. Every 5 years or so there's another high school-esque betrayal, and it sucks. Sucks, I tell you. sucks.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cross Country Ski Marathon

Wow! What an event. First, the great news - our team raised over $290,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society! I raised $5555, with a whopping 56 donations! Thanks so much to everyone who was able to donate.

Now onto the race details - as many of you have been asking. First, a note about the race itself - over 2000 people ski either 25K, 40K or 50K races. 99% of these people are amazing skiers (why else would you be racing?) including former olympians, national team members, etc. Half of the remaining 1% is our team. Not to be negative, but we're definitely not professionals. We tend to come in last in all of the races, although we do have a few strong skiers who finish in the bottom third. I decided after doing a "test" ski the day before that I would do the 40K race instead of the 50K race - I was not feeling my strongest and decided it was more important to me to enjoy the race rather than struggling through and being miserable. The extra 10K distance was not so much the issue - that it's up one very steep mountain was really the kicker.

That may have been the wisest decision I've made - ever? Let's paint a picture for you of race day: temperature: 4 degrees at the start at 10:22am. No, that is not including windchill. When you ask someone in Anchorage (as I asked my friend Adam many a time) if the temperature they just said (-10 for example) is including wind chill, they look at you like you're crazy. Why would they include that? Nope, this was just plain old 4 degrees. Adrenalin and panic go a long way to keeping you warm, as does the incredibly intense cardio of cross country skate skiing, so I started out only with a thin wool layer, and a pretty thin Apex jacket and pants (like a dense fleece). My feet were blocks of ice to begin with, and never warmed up. As this hadn't happened previously, I thought maybe I'd been over zealous and tied my shoes too tightly, but of course never bothered to loosen them at any of the feed stations.The only other equipment issue I had was the freezing of my breath (fog) on my glasses. Take them off, and freeze your eyelashes together. Keep them on and see nothing except a grey blur. So, I compromised. I kept them on, but pushed them down my nose whenever I had to go down a big hill so I could see the turns. That only lasted about 10-15K, then they defrosted. They tell me it was about 19 degrees around the time I finished! Balmy.

The race itself was really tough, but a lot of fun. Most of us realized our camelback water bags would never stay liquid, so rather than carry a backpack of ice on our backs we opted to ski without water. For me, this was especially scary - I am a water fiend and was concerned feed stations every 7K would not be enough. Turns out it was fine. It's not easy to drink from a little paper cup with a mitten on and a long pole strapped to your hand while moving, but it sure was fun trying. I actually would stop and get a few refills since 4 ounces every 7K was not going to be enough. Seeing as how my time was really not going to be affected much by a few extra minutes here and there, I didn't stress about it.

One of the coolest things was seeing all of the really fast people go by, since the 50K starts after the 40K. About halfway through the leaders came flying by, and everyone else in order of decreasing speed thereafter. So cool! My friend Adam who won last year came in second, I was really happy to be able to cheer as he went flying by. The other really amazing part of the race was the scenery. Gorgeous! I have posted some pics to my Flickr account, but none of them are from the race track itself, they are just from around Anchorage.
Lastly, skiing by my teammates at times and cheering for each other was really great.

I actually reached all of my goals too - I didn't stop at all except at feed stations, not even on that last long hill. I raised over $5000 and I finished the race! I look forward to having some loftier goals for next year, and maybe convincing some of you bay area folk to do it with me!

Here's a pretty funny picture of me looking like I'm about to fall over!!! My coach calls it relaxed.

Right before the race I got amazing news that after only 3 chemo treatments, Leanne's stage 4 lymphoma is 95% gone!! What fantastic news, and only 6 weeks or so after her diagnosis. If you haven't checked out her site yet, please do, she can use all of the support we have to offer.

My training blog if you're interested:

Thanks again, everyone, for all of your love and support both financial and otherwise! I could never have done this alone. Extra huge thanks to Adam who helped me out beyond expectations in Anchorage and is more than generous!