flwyd: (spencer hot springs feet)
A TSA checkpoint, an overnight flight[1] with guaranteed less than five hours sleep, a two-and-a-half hour layover, and a late morning (oh so late, for yesterday's morning) flight kinda erase any relaxation benefit from a Hawaiian vacation.

But man, home never felt so relaxing.

[1] All(?) flights from Hawaii to Da Mainland are overnight, I assume to avoid fighting the trade winds.
flwyd: (spam lite)
Some thoughts after a week in Maui, in no particular order:

When you're surrounded by ocean, rainbows are easy.

Even tropical fruit is expensive in Hawaii.

When Hawaiian kids thank someone for giving them candy, do they say "Mahaloween"?

If you stick your ears in the water, you can hear the wails of whales.

On Maui, it's even relaxing to be stuck in traffic.

When the sun sets over the ocean, rather than over a mountain, the clouds lose their color right away.

I wonder which immigrant group is the source of the ubiquity of macaroni salad.

When the ocean is involved, you can make plans, but don't assume the details will be the way you want them.

It's hard to recognize the right street sign when all the place names use the Hawaiian alphabet. "Our street, uh, starts with a K, ends with an i and is about three vowels long."

If you tell people you're on your honeymoon, they invariably smile and say "Congratulations!" Consider having a honeymoon that lasts for years.

Getting in the water from the shore is free, but if you do it from a boat you don't get sand in your swimsuit.

Reggae has played a big influence on contemporary local music. Surprisingly, hip hop doesn't seem to have made it to the islands.

Jet lag is no big deal in Hawaii. Dawn is about the time I'd be getting up at home, and it's also a good time to hit the water.

Even turtles go on vacation.

"Spam sushi" might sound unappealing, but call it musubi and it's delicious.
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
Last month, on the Thursday before the Saturday on which I was scheduled to fly across the Pacific Ocean, I couldn't bear to keep my right eye open for more than a second because everything was bright and painful. The eye surgeon gave me a prescription for durezol, a steroid in eye drop form, to be taken every hour while awake, plus dilation drops three times a day. He told me to come back the next day. "I assume I shouldn't fly to Australia on Saturday," I said, having already resigned to the honeymoon cancellation. "Not unless you're going straight from the tarmac to a doctor's office," he said.

It's Thursday again, and we've got tickets to Maui. Half as far as New Zealand and for half as long, but I have twice as many functioning eyeballs, so I'll call it even. I'm about as packed now as I was a month ago, but I feel much more ready to go.
flwyd: (cthulhufruit citrus cephalopod)
Man, Maui isn't an easy place to set up last-minute travel. I'm definitely going to need a vacation after the stress of setting up accommodation for two weeks.

I miss the days of getting off the bus in a new town and walking around the square to see which hostels have space.

But I'm super glad I can get to Polynesia at all. Hawaii is half way to New Zealand, and two weeks is half as long as a month. Yet I've got all of my eyes, so I'll call it a blessing nonetheless.

I also found it refreshing that you can identify a small local business by their complete lack of adherence to modern professional web design. Like this eco-friendly rental car company-slash-cat sanctuary.
flwyd: (farts sign - Norway)
So far, the only negative about Manhattan is the air. I choked when I exited Penn Station. And I'm spitting more often than usual to get the ambient taste out of my mouth.

Otherwise, it's a pretty neat place.

Playa Bound

Saturday, August 28th, 2010 12:09 pm
flwyd: (playa surface)
My stuff is all in the car. My bike is secured on top. Just need to pick up some fruit, then pick up Zane, unpack the car, repack it sensibly with both our stuff, and hit the road. The goal is to spend tonight at Diamond Hot Spring near Spanish Fork, UT, tomorrow night at Spencer Hot Spring near Austin, NV, and be at Burning Man around midday Monday. Hooray!

We tested out a minimal shade structure from borrowed parts last night. The shade cloth was still covered in playa dust. In the intervening year I think I'd romanticized it a little. It still smells interesting, but it's annoying to breathe in. It also got all over my hat :-/

If you need to get in touch with me, send an email (or track me down at 8:30 and Guangzhou or Ranger HQ). I'll spend much of the latter half of next week unwinding and catching up, so I'll get back to you then. I'm planning to catch up on past LJ entries too, but if you think there's something I really ought to know, bring it to my attention.
flwyd: (red succulent)
Hey various people I know in the San Francisco Bay Area,

I'll be in Mountain view next Monday through Wednesday. The main purpose of the trip is to sit next to some people who know how to build part of our new feature, but I'll be free on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Anybody want to hang out?
flwyd: (Akershus Castle cobblestones)
At Halloween, Google sponsors a costume contest for engineers who dress up as their favorite line of code.
To help relieve the stress of being tied to their computers for such long hours, Google provides employees with free online-based massage therapy.
Google employees who are about to become mothers receive 12 weeks of maternity leave; aging female engineers now coming to terms with the fact they will likely never be mothers receive two weeks of "Crushing Sense of Incompleteness Leave." (It is 50% paid.)
— Cracked's 25 Secret Perks of Working at Google
One they missed: Notification when the Street View car will pass your office so you can line up outside to wave and be silly.

I'll be in Mountain View, CA for the first two weeks of December for my Noogler Orientation. (Yes, Google officially refers to new hires as Nooglers. So if I shake your hand, you'll be touched by my noogly appendage.) If you'll be in the Bay Area and want to hang out, send me an email to tstone (a) trevorstone.org. I arrive in San Jose before noon this Sunday, the 29th and leave on Friday evening the 11th. In the intervening weekend, I'll be visiting [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz a few hours up the coast, but I should have several weeknights free, plus this Sunday afternoon/evening. I'd also love to hear about places worth visiting while I'm out there; e.g., I'd like to take a hike on Sunday.
flwyd: (drum circle w/ fire)
My summer plans came true, but I've entirely failed to blog about them. I'll do so in the near future, for posterity if nothing else, but here's a short summary. Pictures will be forthcoming. I'm not doing well at the whole "put stuff on the Internet" thing this year. On the plus side, in my grand adventures I haven't been constantly saying "This will make for a great livejournal entry."

I spent a week in the semi-desert helping set up Dreamtime. That was a blast, but I was a bit dehydrated by the end and didn't have a lot of energy to enjoy the part where everyone showed up and did stuff.

[livejournal.com profile] mollybzz and I drove through Wytanada for a week and a half, hitting Vedauwoo (Wyoming), Yellowstone (Wyoming), Glacier (Montana), and Waterton Lakes (Alberta). I took 929 photos that I haven't organized yet. Molly and I had some great conversations in the car, in the tent, and on the trail. She also spoke French from our entry into Canada until I cried. Then we bought ice cream with exact change across two currencies.

I was in a good groove for Dragonfest. I visited with old friends, helped run Men's Mysteries, brought a 35-foot dragon to the kid's parade, did some emotional processing, was in a bawdy production of Lysistrata, and drummed a little (though my djembe never left the car). I took some cool pictures of the landscape, the dragon, and some glow sticks. After a year of not doing anything for it, I'm getting to work on an online voting system for Dragonfest.

I capped the summer off with Burning Man. Much of my time was devoted to becoming a Black Rock Ranger, which is a fun way to make an important contribution to the community. I also spent a lot of time (at least six hours, plus the burn) at the temple, one of the most powerful pieces of art I've ever experienced. I took some art photographs, but discovered when I got home that the funny icon on my camera meant it was in the wrong white balance mode. Photoshop's auto-level feature seemed to do a good repair job, but that's yet another obstacle to sharing my giant pile of photos from this summer.

While I'm at it, anybody know of a good International Talk Like A Pirate Day party this weekend?
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
When we started, we didn't have an itinerary beyond "Spend two months in Guanduras eating fruit and speaking Spanish." After we arrived in Guatemala City, we looked at the map and scanned country highlights. "Let's head towards Peten first to avoid the rainy season, going via Cobán. That should take a week or two, right? Then head towards Honduras. Three weeks in Honduras sound good? Then we can sweep back through the highlands, going through Antigua, then a week in Atitlan, a week in Xela and maybe a week at the end along the pacific coast. And if we decide to spend some extra time in Atitlan or Xela or something, we'll have a buffer."

It's buffer time now, and we followed the plan quite well. Even though we never planned more than 5 days ahead (and that was just signing up for a diving course), we spent exactly three weeks in Honduras and exactly a week in Atitlan. We'll be back in Boulder in two weeks and have seen most of what we wanted to see. But I'd rather have too much time in a fantastic country than too little. If we'd constructed an itinerary first and then bought tickets to fit that, we probably wouldn't have budgeted time for hanging around a friendly hotel all day in case the bathroom needs a visit. I wonder if U.S. customs has the power to deport our bacteria and amœbæ at the border...

We have spent the last four days in Quetzaltenango (aka Xela) like a weekend. We can sleep in, then walk a few steps to the kitchen which is well stocked with our market vegetable purchases, not to mention granola and Boulder-made soy milk. We can walk around and find specialty stores, pay 25 cents an hour for Internet, have our choice of tasty cheap bread, and catch a good movie at 8. We can go for a pleasant hike, take a wrong turn, walk with a long-term visitor, chat with locals, pet a cow, investigate a Mayan altar next to a corn field, and find the attraction: Los Vahos, volcanic vent saunas, only $2.50 a person. Xela is an attractive place to visit -- lovely mountains, neat town, plenty of services -- but it's not a tourist town. 150,000 Guatemalans are here going about their daily business, which for the most part doesn't involve catering to people who are in town for two days to see something famous.

I can see why so many foreigners stay in Xela for quite a while. It feels like home, just without all the people I know. But you guys can wait for a couple weeks, right? Anyone in desperate need of a post card should notify me ASAP.

More Casualties

Thursday, May 28th, 2009 08:45 pm
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
On the bus from Antigua to Chimaltenango (the closest city on the Pan-Am Highway), a woman sat next to us on the school bus seat. I thought it was a little odd, since there was an empty spot or two still. "Maybe she's fascinated by my hair or something." She was silent through the ride, but as we approached the highway junction she said something I didn't catch. ¿Que? ¿Xela? No, vamos despues. ¿Panajachel? Sí, vamos hoy. She pointed at a bus parked on the highway, so I grabbed my bags and headed for the bus door. I was about to get off, but she and the ayudante (he collects the bus fares and puts people's stuff on top of the bus) indicated I should stay on until our bus turned the corner. I sat in the front seat, the women across the aisle, and Molly was behind me. A guy behind Molly was jostling her, she responded by telling him to have patience. In the span between waiting at a stop sign and pulling in front of the other busses, the woman unvelcroed and unziped my pants pocket and filched the wallet I bought two days ago to replace the one stolen in Poptún. Meanwhile, the guy had unzipped Molly's backpack and snagged my old camera that she was borrowing since hers broke.

So, to update the casualties list:
  • My brand new Mayan weave billfold with Q250 (approx US$30), stolen by a middle-aged woman on a bus in Chimaltenango. With the money in the wallet, she can pay for 25 more round trips to Antigua.
  • My five-year-old 3.1 MP Pentax Optio 33L with three weeks of Molly's carefully framed photos and visual memoranda, stolen by a middle-aged man on a bus in Chimaltenango.
  • A $20 bill and two $10 bills, missing from Molly's small blue bag, departure date and location unknown. Oddly, several other bills remain in the same place.

Clearly, Chimaltenango is a wretched hive of scum and villainy.
Lonely Planet advised us not to leave our things unattended there on account of bag-slashing, but I didn't think through the scenario of theives robbing me before I got off the bus. We discovered the theft a few minutes into our ride to Lake Atitlan; too far to turn back and wrestle the theives to the ground.

We spent most of the ride making light of the situation:

  • Now Molly won't get frustrated that my old camera doesn't do a good job taking the photos she likes to frame
  • Now I have an excuse to get a better pocket-sized camera in the next year, saving shoulder stress from carrying an SLR hiking
  • Maybe we should buy several decoy wallets, place them in easily-accessible pockets, and fill them with notes like "Aquí está su boleto al infierno. Es de ida, no más. ¡Disfruta el viaje!" (Here is your ticket to hell. It's one way only. Enjoy the trip!)
  • The average time I've owned a wallet in my life is about 8.5 years. 17 years on the first one, two days on the second
  • With the money from my wallet, the woman can fund 25 more round trips on that route
  • Nathan's advice: "Frustration is a magician's misdirection, leading the audience's eyes toward a distraction while in otherwise plain sight the fraid is perpetrated"
  • (In a discussion about the black plumes out the back of the '80s-vintage school bus) "It's a problem with the catalytic converter." "The Catholic converter is dirty, so it can't put the holy air into the high confession chamber, thus leading to sinful smoke."
  • Things that wouldn't happen in the U.S. #2365: A guy opening the bus's emergency exit to climb on the roof to untie a box while the bus is doing 45 uphill on a curve. #2366: Passengers boarding and departing the bus through the emergency exit while the bus is not at a full stop.

Inventory of valuables still in possession:

  • Two sane minds with senses of humor and knowledge of several languages
  • Two relatively healthy and intact human bodies
  • Two United States passports (with expired visas for China)
  • Two Visa bank cards
  • Two full camera memory cards
  • A camera bag containing a Canon Rebel XT, a 4GB Compact Flash card (over half full and containing fantastic pictures of Molly kissing a horse), and a Garmin hand-held GPS device with the locations of all my photographs
  • Two journals containing daily descriptions and observations
  • One MP3 player/recorder with a few dozen sound clips to share what cannot be photographed

Everything else could be replaced or let go with a minimum of greiving and frustration.

While it's clearly to the immediate personal benefit of the thieves to steal petty cash and old camera equipment, in the long run it hurts their community, and in turn their chance at true prosperity. While I know that not every Guatemalan is a theif, others who hear stories of theft on busses may conclude that Latinos are untrustworthy. They then don't treat them with respect and pay them a poor wage when they work in the north, lowering the flow of remissions to the south. They may also think twice about traveling in "the third world;" if they do, they may choose to stay in expensive foreign-owned hotels and take direct shuttles run by companies that don't keep their money locally. I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone stay in a hotel or eat at a restaurant in Chimaltenango, a place tarnished by the actions of a few who deny respect to people because of the color of their face and the style of their luggage.

flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
This Internet café has 21st Century technology, but 1980s music. "Use a computer" isn´t the first thing I think when I hear Billy Jean. )They also offer the courtesy of a Latin American keyboard layout but a U.S. keyboard for added con?¿¡'´fusion.= I guess American culture percolates at different rates. Of course, in the U.S. if you want fresh goat milk, you can´t wait for the guy with a whip and eight goats to saunter up the sidewalk.

It seems like most times I fly, there´s rain involved. I remember bussing through drizzle from airports in Minneapolis, Detroit, Hong Kong and even Las Vegas of all places. Surprisingly, Denver was overcast and rainy (and I hear snowy), but Guatemala City was dry if muggy. Oh, and after an hour of absurdism in Benito Juarez (Mexico City), I´ve got lots of respect for the efficiency of transition in Narita (Tokyo). "No, we don´t want to go through immigration, we aren´t leaving the airport..."

I didn´t expect to see so many prostitutes on the taxi ride to our hotel last night, but by day this city is friendly and colorful. The favorite hobby of small children is chasing pigeons and many shops and fruit stands are run by quiet and unassuming entrepreneurs. I have a new hat in record time. We´re often hesitant to take photos of people just going about their daily lives. They´re fascinating, but recording it feels imposing. That´s why it´s convenient to have a cathedral as a backdrop. Nobody knows that the actual subject is a kid diving for a pigeon.

Now that we´re here, we´ve concocted something resembling an itenerary, heading first to Cobán, hoping to get to Tikal and the rest of El Peten before the rainy season begins in earnest. There´s a lot to visit in Guatemala, so we only budgeted a couple weeks in Honduras. The Honduran flag is blue and white horizontal stripes while the Guatemalan is blue and white vertical stripes. It should be easy to make a checkered Guanduran national flag, no?

Checklist

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 12:53 am
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
Camera? Check. GPS unit? Check. Towel? Check. Supplies for playing Boggle by hand? Check. Two shirts, two pants, five underpants, six pairs socks? Check. High-volume RSS feeds removed from main LJ friends group? Check. Hiking boots and river/beach shoes? Check. Ginger candies and trail mix? Check. Passport? Check. Debit card? Check. Hepatitis vaccinations? Check. International health insurance? Check. Three hats? Check. Itinerary? Uh...

With two Lonely Planets and command of the Spanish Language, I think we'll just make it up as we go along. I'll post short updates when I get the chance, but you'll have to wait for photos until I have reliable Internet access in late June. I make no promises, but if you'd like a post card, send me your mailing address.

If you need to get ahold of me while I'm out of town, drop a line to my gmail account: trevorstone. If it's not important that I read it in the next two months, toss it @ trevorstone.org. Have a great spring!
flwyd: (asia face of the earth relief)
My "quit my job and go to Central America to eat fruit and speak Spanish" plan is tame compared to Keith Baker's(*) awesome plan. He's going to couch surf around the U.S. and the world running Dungeons & Dragons and Over the Edge games. If you know any interesting geeks in any interesting places (or you are one yourself), they too can be part of the Baker World Tour '09 and might even make it into print.


* Keith Baker, by the way, is the creator of the Gloom card game and Eberron D&D world, among other things. He's also a fine and entertaining fellow to hang out with
flwyd: (Trevor over shoulder double face)
In the morning I head to Valley View Hot Springs. The next day I think I'll take US 160 to Mesa Verde, possibly spending Tuesday night in the San Juan mountains. Come Thursday afternoon, I'll be at Dreamtime outside Paonia. I'll be back late Sunday or some time on Monday.

Should you decide that running around with a bunch of hippies and listening to music until late at night sounds like more fun than your plans for the end of this week, tickets for Dreamtime will be available at the gate. I'll be the one with a big beard and a silly hat.
flwyd: (octagonal door and path)
"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to do." -- my mishearing of "Me and Bobby McGee"

(Read my previous post if you're not into the whole brevity thing and would like a long-winded backstory.)

So here I am with 20 (maybe more) paid vacation days and a summer of high temperatures and high gas prices. What should I do with them? Here's a tentative schedule. Let me know if any look fun and you'd like to come along.
Memorial Day - May 24th through 26th
There's drumming at Bob's place on Saturday night, Boulder Creek Fest, and probably other interesting activities. Or I might take the opportunity to camp at Valley View. If you're planning a Memorial Day party and would appreciate my presence, please let me know!
Apogaea - June 5th through 8th
Colorado's regional Burning Man event. Should be full of colorful weirdoes. I might meet some people and join forces for the full burn. Or maybe I'll get the burning sensation without 2000 miles of driving and a week of dust, making a full burn superfluous.
Tuatha and Kan'Nal at Mishawaka Amphitheatre - June 20th
Tuatha features some of my favorite musicians from Dragonfest. Kan'Nal is a great tribal band. Put them together for a performance by a river on Summer Solstice and it sounds like a good combination to me!
Boulder SolFest (actually near Berthoud) - June 21st and 22nd
Organized by Double Rainbow Ranch and featuring performances by Lunar Fire (the feminine side of Kan'Nal), Tzol (the masculine side of Kan'Nal), Tuatha, and some folks not performing the night before ;-) If I camp the night of the 20th along the Cache La Poudre I can have a fun solstice weekend in Larimer County. I'm not tied to this one, though, so I'm open to other interesting solstice events.
Road Trip? - June 28th through July 6th?
I'd like to visit Glacier National Park before it becomes Ironic National Park. That probably means this year or next. I realize that driving to Montana contributes to the melting of said snow, so I'd like to make this a group (or at least paired) outing. Anyone want to visit the northern parts of the eastern edge of the rockies, stopping at hot springs and mountain vistas?
Dreamtime Festival - July 17th through 20th
I've heard this festival is a lot of fun, with elements of Burning Man, music festivals, and weekend workshops. Should be full of colorful weirdoes. I might start the week by visiting Conundrum or another west slope hot spring. With any luck, Paonia should have some tasty fruit I can ravage while I'm over there.
Dragonfest - August 6th through 10th
I keep saying "By next Dragonfest, I may have moved out of state," but it hasn't happened yet. I'm going to teach an introductory I Ching workshop, visit with friends I see once a year, and dance around a few fires. Who knows, maybe I'll draw down again.
Burning Man or Democratic National Convention - August 23rd through September 2nd or August 25th through 28th
Burning Man will feature tens of thousands of colorful weirdoes in the Nevada desert celebrating the theme of The American Dream. The Democratic National Convention will feature tens of thousands of political partiers in Denver celebrating the theme of electing America's first black or female president. It'd be pretty amusing to say "I'm at Burning man because my hometown is full of chaos," but I feel like I ought to spend less time driving and more time participating in the American dream when it lands on my doorstep. And if I do the latter, I can still go camping on Labor Day weekend. I'm not sure what I'd do outside the convention. I've thought about printing some "FREE HUGS" shirts and sharing human energy without a political message. I'd be interested in participating in some public/interactive political art pieces; I should probably see who got a permit. I could also get a video camera and act as an outside observer in case "Recreate Sixty-Eight" gets taken too literally. (I'm not sure why they named their organization after an event which featured police violence and the nomination of a candidate who lost to Richard Nixon.) How I feel about the convention will probably depend on whether Obama, Clinton, or neither has been anointed in advance.

Alternatively, I could say nuts to both and go berryquesting with [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz.

That should be enough to distract me from work for a while.

If I attend Apogaea, Glacier, Dreamtime, Dragonfest, and Burning Man I'll use 17 of 20 vacation days. If I turn Dreamtime into a full week for more west-slope adventures I'll expend them all. I should probably leave a few days free in case I need to fly somewhere for a job interview. So maybe I should ask for more time off as compensation. Or maybe I should put Glacier off until next year.

What would you do if you had a month worth of vacation to spend and might be in your last summer of residence in Colorado?
flwyd: (spencer hot springs feet)
Speaking of having a life, I'm thinking about camping at Valley View Hot Springs next weekend (May 3rd and 4th, one night stay). Anyone interested in joining? Forecast highs are near 60, lows in the mid- to upper-20s, so you'll want a decent sleeping bag or a reservation for one of the dorm beds.
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
"You've crossed the line, bucko. Now you're dating internationally." This is inscribed in The Book [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz and I maintained of quotes, by-hand boggle games, and 88 auspicious things to do in China. It accompanies a diagram like so:
                      \
                       \.--- really complicated
                       /            portion
                       \
                     In|
   Dating            te|      Not Dating
                     rn|
   *                 at|
International        io|
Date                 na|
                     l |.--- amorphous "it's
Monday               Da|     "complicated" zone
1-28                 te|     (on facebook)
9:30 am              Li|
                     ne|
Well, my four-week-long international date ended as I crossed the international date line, turning Monday night into Sunday night, which quickly became Monday morning. I got on a plane in Hong Kong around 8 on Monday morning. I spent about two hours several feet above Japan on early Monday afternoon. I left the land of ten feet above the land of the rising sun at 3 on Monday afternoon. I landed in Minneapolis (land of 10,000 ice sheets) before 11 on Monday morning. By quarter to five in the afternoon, I was having a burger and a beer at City Grille in Denver.
Time is an illusion.
Lunchtime doubly so.
Especially when you've slept like I have.
How's that?

On Saturday night I took a bus from Xiamen to Hong Kong. China has these creepy things called sleeper busses. They're half way between the stretcher busses from M*A*S*H and a regional bus. Beds are too small for big euro builds, you have to watch your stuff carefully, several dozen Chinese are coughing and smoking in the shared air space, and right when you're about to fall asleep, they stop the bus, make everyone get out, and serve a 不 好 吃 (not well eat) meal. The bus I took was nothing like that. Except the midnight meal portion. Those with money can bus overnight to Hong Kong on reclining leather seats with other folks well enough off that they can get respiratory ailments cured and smart enough to read the no smoking signs. I only remember waking up twice on the bus ride, but I got a lot of REM wakefulness with my eyes closed and song lyrics cycling through my head.

So Saturday: decent rest, but not much sleep.

At 7 AM on Sunday I passed through Chinese exit customs. Passport stamp #1. I then passed through Hong Kong customs. This is somewhat akin to going through customs when traveling from the U.S. to Puerto Rico. Except you can take a bus. Passport stamp #2.

The bus took us through the 山 of New Territories (山 is Chinese for both mountain and hill, Hong Kong's terrain fits somewhere between the two), down the Kowloon peninsula, and across to Hong Kong Island. I caught the metro to the ferry terminal and spent about an hour looking for a public toilet and following misleading signs to "Electronic Luggage Locker." Having finally found the latter (but not the former), I purchased a round-trip ferry ticket to Macau. Less than 4 hours after entering Hong Kong, I went through the exit process. Passport stamp #3. An hour later, I passed through Macau customs. This is somewhat akin to going through customs when traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands from Puerto Rico. Except the boat takes an hour. Passport stamp #4.

For the next six hours I wandered around Macau, admiring the yellow building with wraparound balconies, windy streets, and vendors selling breadlike products. There's lots to like about Chinese cuisine, but they don't really have bread down. The ethnic minorities have some tasty bread dishes (try a Naxi banana pancake) and the Muslim Chinese (physically indistinguishable from other Han except for the headgear) know how to make good breads, but on the whole, the last month didn't feature a lot of cooked non-rice flour. Ah, but the Portuguese know bread. I ate a curry fish roll, a green onion "pancake" (more like pan-fried bread circle), a beef curry and savory salad dressing crepe, and a bunch of connected round balls cooked on a waffle iron. Oh, and a mango smoothie.

Aside from tasty bread products, Macau has some good churches, a 500-year-old Chinese temple (maintained and currently used), and a bunch of hotels, casinos, and boutiques. It's billed as The Las Vegas of the East, but it's got some authentic old buildings. And typhoons instead of dust storms. If you're in that part of the world and any of that appeals to you, it's worth a short visit. Know, though, that stuff is significantly less expensive in China, so if your goal is to pick up clothes and gifts on the cheap, cross into the mainland. If your goal is to blow a lot of cash, Macao and its casinos and Hong Kong with its entertainment and shopping are good bets.

At six I passed through Macau customs at the ferry terminal. Passport stamp #5. After half an hour waiting on the ferry, they announced the boat had another problem, so we all migrated to a new one. In the intervening time, the seas in the Pearl River delta had picked up, so somewhere around the halfway mark, a hundred people started vomiting in unison. Now that is entertaining cacophony. I only felt slightly queasy and all the bread in my stomach sat firm. Maybe the others had fancy casino lunches instead of saying om nom nom nom out loud while eating US$1 clumps of carbs. Suckers.

By 8 I had cleared Hong Kong customs for the second time in 13 hours. Passport stamp #3. I reclaimed my luggage and decided to follow Lonely Planet's suggestion for ethnic food in SoHo for dinner. After riding the longest escalator in the world several stops further than I'd intended and wandering around looking for an alley with good Thai, I settled on a good Vietnamese place. A combination of the $ currency symbol instead of 元 and the menu's entree prices after a month of great Chinese food for 10 to 35 yuan reminded me that I wasn't really in China any more, but Chinatown organized by the Brits.

With an early morning flight, I didn't want to spend HK$150 or more on a bed without an alarm clock, so I walked along the tip of Kowloon, photographing the Hong Kong skyline and then walked up Nathan Rd in search of a night club. Quintessential Hong Kong moment: six Asians in a rock band ended their set with a very good rendition of Play That Funky Music White Boy. Then the DJ started mixing (poorly) disco and other 70s hits. Then another band of four or five Asians (one might have been Filipino or Brazilian) took the stage and played a really bad version of Sweet Home Alabama.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd Rule: You're not allowed to play Sweet Home Alabama unless you've lived in or visited Alabama and enjoyed the experience.

The place was called All Night Long, but I didn't want to listen to bad versions of American songs of already questionable quality, so I decided to see what else was shaking in the New York of the east. At 2:30 on a Monday morning, the answer is apparently "not much." Maybe there are more all-night clubs on the Island. Or maybe they take Sunday nights easy. But the signs on sky scrapers had been turned off, the taxis were thinner, and a higher percentage of the open bars had pictures of scantily clad girls on their signs.

I found an open entrance to Kowloon Park, where my international date had begun four Mondays before. I hear New York's Central Park is a pretty dangerous place to be at 3:30 in the morning, but in Kowloon Park it's a very peaceful time to sit by a pool and reflect on a four-week date. I saw two other people walk through the gate at about the same time I did. I saw three security guards, one of whom was napping. I took a picture of some sleeping parrots. The only other folks awake were a flock of about 50 flamingos having a late night flamingathering.

So Sunday: lots of relaxation, but no sleep.

I took the 4:10 bus to Hong Kong International Airport, for some reason chiding myself for falling asleep for a few minutes and missing the quiet city scenery. You can't really check in at HKG before 6 AM, but I felt my time with the city was complete. I quickly went through security (5th of 7th airport not to notice or care about the tube of toothpaste in my carry-on bag) and Hong Kong departures. Passport stamp #7. My sleep plan worked, and I fell asleep shortly after the Pacific ocean got dark, waking up above a cloudy morning. I told three people at U.S. customs that I'm a { computer scientist, software engineer, computer programmer }, though I'm not sure how the answer would affect anything. Would they scan my bags if I said "second assistant pig-keeper?" What about "I don't work, that's why I was traveling in China, where life is cheap?" Passport stamp #8.

Back in Denver, I saw about six guys with beards as I got off the plane. It's good to be back in an environment where, on the off chance someone were to ask "Is your beard real," I can come up with a suitable comeback. I've never seen white folks yell out "¡Hola!" and then giggle whenever they see a Hispanic person walk down the street, but I'll accept bilingual public signs in my language in exchange for amusing locals with my greeting word.

I don't usually get hit by jet lag very bad. It's 10:30 PM local time and I'm fairly alert, but will probably get some good sleep soon, even though it's mid-afternoon China time. I won't go in to work until Wednesday, though, giving me a day to unpack, read mail, and loaf about in my hammock.

So Monday: perhaps 8 hours of napping, followed by a good night of sleep. But it is a 39 hour day.

China Update #5

Thursday, February 21st, 2008 08:40 am
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
Ahhhhhhh. We've been home in Xiamen since Saturday night and it's been quite relaxing. On Sunday we wrapped up our tiring three weeks on the road with a luxurious day at Ri Yue Gu hot springs (another AAAA-rated Chinese tourist site). For less than US$30 we soaked in water infused with lavender, rose petals, lemongrass, several kinds of tea, wine, beer, ginger, and curry. (Not all at once, natch.) I discovered a new Trevor Superpower: evacuating Chinese from pools. When they saw the big laowai with hair all over his face, chest, and legs get in the pool and then squeeze the air bubble out of his baggy swim trunks they would exit as soon as they felt it would be polite. Perhaps two or three people got in a pool while we were already immersed. Maybe they think chest hair is a water-borne contagious disease. But we didn't mind the luxurious solitude. To complete the experience, we spent an hour soaking in a special pool full of Turkish hot springs fish. They think dead human skin is hau chi (good eats), and tickle visitors mercilesly in pursuit of such morsels. I kept my feet out of water or well-guarded, but the rest of me served as a tasty platter. The fish didn't seem keen on my chest hair either.

[livejournal.com profile] mollybzz is back teaching school this week. Her schedule is pretty gruelling; she gets up at 6:15 to catch the bus to the mainland. She teaches a few classes each day and takes an hour-and-a-half nap in her on-campus apartment. When she's not done early, she takes the bus back, returning home at 6:30. Add dinner and there's not much time or energy for personal improvement tasks like learning Chinese. I joined this schedule on Tuesday, talking about myself and my interests in English Comprehension class. Then after lunch and nap, I used the period designated for computer class (for which there were not yet any computers) to teach a U.S. geography lesson. The night before I'd drawn on paper a fairly impressive U.S. outline from memory. Armed with a print out, I struggled a little to get the right proportions in chalk, but it proved quite serviceable. I asked the students to name cities and universities they'd heard of. The first was San Francisco and I drew an enlargement of the bay with the city, Berkeley, and Stanford. We also covered Boston, NYC, Washington DC and State, Miami, Disneyworld, Austin, Houston ("Does anyone know another city in Texas? What team does Yao Ming play for? Yes, the Rockets. What city are the Rockets in? Yes, Houston..."), Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, LA, Yellowstone, the Mississippi/Missouri river, and Boulder. In the university/attraction color I wrote "Hollywood" under LA and "Molly's woods" in Northern California.

The rest of my time in Xiamen has been fairly laid back. I walked around Xiamen University, encountering a woman who recognized me from the fish pond. She posited that Chinese people think my beard makes me look like Karl Marx. When I asked at school, the kids came up with "Osama" and "Saddam." To be fair, Americans usually come up with those two before Marx too. Her dad took a picture of us by the lake and then pulled out a battery-operated digital photo printer, which was a nice exchange. I should've kept count of the number of pictures I've been in with random Chinese people. Yesterday a guy was very excited to see me and insisted he take a picture of me standing next to his girlfriend. Perhaps the next time I see a Chinese tour group at a national park I should run up and say "Ni hau" and motion to them, my camera, and a fellow traveler and say "Take picture girlfriend" very excitedly. I don't mind the photo requests, though. And I usually don't mind the folks who call out "Hello!" and then giggle when I say "Hello" in return (even though it's kind of like shouting "Hola!" and then laughing every time a person who looks Hispanic walks by). I've taken over 1100 pictures of Chinese mountains, buildings, signs, vehicles, and people, so the least I can do is give back my unusual personal presentation. I'm just a walking tourist attraction.

Xiamenis a pretty diverse city. It's an island across from Taiwan (and has flowed over to the mainland). As a big city in Fujian with a natural port, it's undergone a lot of growth lately. Skyscrapers are done in six months. Particulate matter from autos, busses, and factories adds to the coastal haze. Migrants from elsewhere in China seek their own slice of high income (and setting up some great restaurants as a side effect; we ate some very tasty Xinjiang-style food last night). But there's still lots of charm. Maybe its time as an opium war concession port brought some playful sensibilities. While I only saw a statue or two in Yunnan and Guilin, Xiamen is full of statues of people and books and lightbulbs and animals. There's a lovely lake on the university campus and another lake by the main city park. (The latter will be packed with people tonight, enjoying the glowing structures, fireworks, and human chaos for Lantern Festival.) Gulang Yu is a small island off the main island on which
automobiles are not allowed. It's got some nice walks among old European-style buildings, piano music playing from speakers in the park and along the sea walk, and a rediculous fee to walk to the highest point on the island. Quaint, but touristy.

I'll bus back to Hong Kong this weekend and then I fly home on Monday. It's been a great vacation; I'm very grateful that I have the luxury of taking a month without pay to fly across the Pacific Ocean and have adventures in The Middle Kingdom. If you need to do anything auspicious, there's a lunar eclipse tonight at 8:01 MST. Have a happy Lantern Festival and eat a tasty meal. You only have so many days left, you know.

China Update #4

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008 09:48 pm
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
The microscopic demons of Xishugangbanna invaded the gastralaowai systems and sat around in the lower bowel regions muttering things about the small bumps and numerous turns of the Yunnan Expressway First Grade Freeway. The road is something akin to driving from Golden to Glenwood Springs and then immediately driving back. Except with ten times as many tunnels. And with a sign that instructs "Elephant Passage Don't Blow." And toll booths at each city. We spent an hour going from the tool booth at the entrance of one city to the toll booth at the exit of that city. Unfortunately, the driver was in the blowing lane the whole way. But The Unmatchable Match was on the bus's VCD player. I knew it would be a good movie when it opened with a tow truck dropping a flaming police van off a cliff.

The next day we spent three hours in an Indian restaurant drinking sprite, chai, and banana lassi and eating vegetable curry and tandoori chicken in small increments whilst assessing our digestive abilities. We then walked thee stores up and spent 45 minutes listening to The Cranberries in a fruit drink shop before buying some fruit and big bowls of ramen for the next stage of our journey.

Two friends with a soft sleeper room to themselves is the most enjoyable way to travel, not just in China, but in the world. We cooked ramen, played boggle by hand, watched lovely karst scenery slip by, and slept better than the previous night's hostel while covering the distance from Kunming to Guilin in an evening, a night, and a morning, all 355 Yuan each (that is, transportation and lodging for less than US $50). I wish American rail travel was this good.

Today we met a guy who, in good English, complimented me on my beard. We proceeded to learn that he owns a tea shop, so we sampled the osmanthus (a local speciality), molihua (he claimed Guangxi produces the best in the nation) and oolong with ginseng. For the second time we spent too much on tea, but for the second time it was to nice people. He then lead us to the cheap (relative) place to buy river ticket cruises and helped translate the situation. I'm glad to get some kilometerage out of my fuzz face.

Have a happy Valentine's day and buy a red tassel for your sweetie.

China Update #3

Sunday, February 10th, 2008 05:20 pm
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
One area in which America has distinguished herself is public safety. Case in point: on July 4th, every city has well-organized safety-first fireworks displays. Some people buy legal or illegal fireworks and set them off on their own, but safety precautions are usually followed. For instance, adults set off anything dangerous, kids just get to wave sparklers around. But in China? Five-year-olds are handed Roman candles to fire over the heads of chaotic traffic. And when they get bored with that, they chase each other around with them. American New Years' celebrations are typically marked with a few hours of private self-destructive behavior and a short period of public nuisance. Chinese New Years' celebrations are an entire night of public nuisance followed by several days of "Oh hey, we found this pile of loud firecrackers lying around. Let's set them off in the middle of the street."

Xishuangbanna is, as expected, warm, humid, and full of fruits. We ate two fruits [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz had never encountered before. (Molly afficcionados will be impressed by this occurrence.) We then wandered around the local botanic gardens and soaked in a 24-hour hot spring pool. The next day we took a bumpy two hour bus to Damenglong, a dusty rural village in a Dai minority area. After a rough night of gastronomic revolt, we visited some Hinayana temples during cleaning time. We taught a monk some English, were fed by his mother, ate two mandarins from the temple offering, helped sort rice and fruit from the swap-meet/temple-offering event, and chatted with part of a large family living in a few shacks among the rice paddies.

Also in China? The bus driver stops to buy a lighter because he lost his last one after smoking a cigarette on the bus and he wants another. Molly paid him for the ride to Xiaojie (to which he said he'd take us), even though he took us all the way back to Jinghong saying "Xiaojie is no fun."

Tomorrow we bus to Kunming and will then take a train to Nanning, Guangxi. From there, we head to Guilin, picturesque karst capital of China.

I hope you're enjoying the Year of the Rat. If you've done anything awesome, leave a comment and tell me about it!

China Update #2

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008 11:04 am
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
If you ever find yourself in Lijiang, Yunnan, China, make sure to stay with Mama Naxi. The Chinese version of an Italian grandmother takes care of all the awesome native-and-adopted-English-speaking backpackers, feeding us family style dinners for 10 yuan (a buck and a half), banana pancakes (flatbread + banana = yum), and organizes travel tickets all over China and mini busses to Tiger Leaping Gorge. If you need a reason to be in Lijiang and Mama Naxi isn't sufficient motivation, do an image search for Tiger Leaping Gorge. Then you'll have a reason to come.

When you come to Lijiang, be sure to take a side trip to Shuhe. Like Lijiang, the streets are cobbled, and the rooves are fanciful. But Shuhe's streets are wider, their canals bubblier, their shop owners more laid back. In all, it's a more photogenic city. And it's an Oficial AAAA Chinese Tourist Site. American measurements usually only go up to AAA, but China's undergone immense growth in the last few decades, so they'va had to import some additional As from Africa.

Tomorrow night (Chinese New Year), we fly to je ne sais pas banana pancake (Xishuangbanna), a jungle region in southern Yunnan which has warm weather, diverse people, and lots of fruits for us to devour.

China Update #1

Friday, February 1st, 2008 08:23 pm
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
nuts to the shift key, the keyboard in this guesthouse doesn't like me.

i met [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz before noon in Kowloon five days after the full moon. Swoon, I'm in china! we wandered around hong kong, eating tasty morsels like curry beef donut, Macanese dishes, and fresh fruits from roadside stands (supervised by cats).

i hear there's a big blizzard all over china. we discovered the impact of this when we arrived at the shenzhen and then guangzhou train stations. thousands of chinese waiting patiently for canceled trains. fortunately for affluent tourists like us, China southern airways has a ticket office open 24 hours a day a few blocks from the southeast corner of the trainstation in guangzhou. 850 yuan and a night's sleep later and we were on a plane to kunming, capital of yunan province.

kunming lacked the chaos, cold rain, and general getmeoutahere feeling of canton. instead, it had a colorful market selling sweets and crucified ducks, across-the-bridge noodles, and pleasant busrides through streets towering with sky scrapers and trendy shops. we climbed Xi Shan to the south of town, purchasing boiled eggs and radishes held like ice cream cones sold by peasants with cute kids along the side of the trail. We had dinner full of delectible vegetable morsels we didn't recognize in a restaurant the size of a garage, tucked away on the hill. We then paid too much for taxi rides on the principle that they knew where this Dragon Gate was. Carved into the hillside are caves housing statues of Taoist deities. we then walked down through the miniature stone forest.

i've been fighting a cold the last two days, but that didn't stop me from wandering through old Dali today. It's the right mix of "preserve the quaint" and authentic locals selling wares. we bought chops (stones to stamp one's chinese characters with), countless tasty morsels for two kuai (about 25 cents, I think), and a few items not too heavy to cary for the next several weeks. The highlight of the day, though, was bicycling through rice paddies to Erhai Hu, a lovely lake surrounded by peasant hamlets. It would be easy to visit China and think it's full of cities and cars and shops like the western world we're used to, but a trip past women bent at the waist in the fields, through winding streets wide enough for a minibus to pass a scooter, and around corners where little kids shout "hello," turn and run, and then cutely throw rocks at the tall hairy white people shows a side of china that's got more of a foot in its own past than what it's got in the modern world.

Tomorrow we take a bus to Lijiang, which will probably be rather nippy, but hopefully not as snowed in as the center of the country. If Tiger Leaping Gorge isn't snowed in, we'll hike that soon.

happy new year, and may the rat bring you luck!
flwyd: (Trevor Stone Character)
My alarm goes of in two and a half hours (which is not a 90-minute multiple, unfortunately). I hope you all have a fantastic new year!

Trvel Plans

Monday, January 21st, 2008 08:48 am
flwyd: (asia face of the earth relief)
Northwest flight 554 takes off from Denver (DEN) at 9:10 AM on Saturday the 26th. The 7:07 AF bus gets to DIA at 8:27, which is less than 45 minutes before takeoff. So I'm going to take the 6:07 bus, leaving my house at 5:30 to walk to Cold Spring. (Unless someone has an unnatural desire to waste gas crossing town at dawn thirty on Saturday).

I will land in Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) at 12:04. At 1:40 I will board Northwest flight 3. The airport layout looks like I can go from domestic to international flights without another trip through security; I assume they'll just check my passport at the gate. Flight 3 will land at Narita Tokyo International Airport at 5:10 PM on Sunday the 27th, meaning I take off on Saturday afternoon and land Sunday evening.

The Narita (NRT) website makes it sound like connecting international passengers have to go through security between flights. However, all the Northwest flights yesterday were within about a five-gate range, so I sincerely hope that I don't have to spend my 50 minutes in Japan going through security to get from gate 25 to gate 23. Northwest flight 1 leaves NRT at 6 PM on Sunday and lands in Hong Kong (HKG) that night at 10:20 PM. I will then wander out with unknown hours of sleep and my just-small-enough-for-carryon backpack and take the subway to a hotel of some sort, probably in Kowloon.

On Monday the 28th, I will meet up with [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz for big hugs and lunch in Hong Kong. We will then sally forth to Shenzhen or Guangzhou to catch the train to Changsha, capital of Hunnan. After an eight hour train ride (plus a two-day flight for me), we'll probably want a cheap massage from a blind guy.

On the 29th and 30th, we will climb up and down Heng Shan, the southern of the five Taoist holy mountains.

We will take a train from Changhsa to Guilin in Guangxi, arriving early in the morning of February 1st. We will spend three days in Guilin and Yangshuo admiring karst formations and other art-inspiring features. (Search for images of Guilin... it's a stunning area.)

We will then fly from Guilin to Kunming, capital of Yunnan province. We'll spend ten days enjoying the many cultures and features of that fantastic province including the cities of Dali and Lijiang and a two-day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge. (Search for images of that, too.) We'll experience Chinese New Year (of the Rat) celebrations somewhere fun. We might even get to the volcano+hot spring area of the province.

On the 14th of February, we'll fly from Kunming to Xiamen, where Molly must return to work. We'll enjoy the nooks and crannies of her neck of the woods for a week; I'll make sure to procure some fine tea as gift tokens for folks back home. On the 21st, Lantern Festival will light up the night as I prepare for the final piece of my journey. I'll take the overnight buss on the 22nd to Hong Kong. I'll spend a day in Hong Kong and a day in Macau before boarding Northwest flight 2 at 8:45 AM on Monday, February 25th.

My return to Narita will occur at 1:30, granting me a grand total lifetime Japanese soil accumulation of two hours and twenty minutes, assuming no airline delays. Flight 20 will then whisk me back to my ancestral land of Minnesota, departing at 3 PM on Monday and arriving at 10:55 AM on Monday. After that jaunt through the space-time continuum, I'll take a comforting flight 555 from 1:18 to 2:23, landing in Denver with my head full of Chinese and my belly full of airport food. I've told work I won't be in on the 26th of February, giving me a day to lie in my hammock until strange hours and then catch up on email, buy some groceries, and recover my postal deliveries from the neighbor who will be watering my plants.

Should you wish to contact me while I'm on the road, use my gmail.com address (trevorstone), as I'll be more likely to skim through its slim volume than my (still preferred for general contact) address at trevorstone.org (tstone or any other username you choose). I hope you all have a wonderful Groundhog Day, Shadowboxing Day, Lunar New Year, Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day, Lantern Festival, and every day in between. If you visit when I return, I'll make some tea for you.

Oh Belgium!

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 11:36 pm
flwyd: (asia face of the earth relief)
I think I'm going to China.

I bought a plane ticket two weeks ago. Round trip to Hong Kong for just under $1000 including taxes and fees. Departs January 26th, returns February 25th. I got approval from work for a month-long leave of absence. I coordinated schedules with [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz who, like everyone in China, has time off for the lunar new year. I got vaccines for hepatitis A, tetanus, and typhoid this afternoon. I've got money in the bank, a travel guide, and tapes to learn Mandarin.

All set, right?

I'm missing three things: travel insurance, a passport, and a visa.

U.S. citizens need a visa to enter China. I waited to apply until I knew I had approval for time off work so that I knew I'd be able to go in the 90 day window granted by a typical tourist visa. So after I bought the tickets I sent my passport and visa application via DHL to a visa agent in Washington, D.C. The visa agent, for a fairly reasonable fee, delivers an applicants documents to the Chinese embassy and retrieves them upon completion, saving the traveler a trip to a city with a consulate for the purpose of standing in line.

On December 28th, I wondered why my application status wasn't showing up on the agent's website, so I contacted customer service. They had not received my package. I checked DHL's website with my tracking number:
Estimated delivery date: 12/26/2007
2/24/2007 7:32 am Arrived at DHL facility. Rockville, MD
1:38 am Processed at DHL Location. Allentown Hub, PA
12:26 am Transit through DHL facility Allentown Hub, PA
12/23/2007 5:49 pm Depart Facility Wilmington - Clinton Field, OH
1:26 pm Processed at DHL Location. Wilmington - Clinton Field, OH
12/22/2007 7:16 pm Depart Facility Arvada, CO
12:44 pm Shipment picked up Arvada, CO
I had other stuff to take care of that weekend and figured the package might have been held up by inclement weather or something. On Monday, December 31st, I called DHL customer service who confirmed what the website said. They had someone from the Rockville facility contact me to let me know the manager would look for the package and call me on Wednesday when it was delivered. This evening I called customer service again and they informed me that the package had not been found and that I could file a loss/damage claim form.

Belgium, man, Belgium!

I rarely get mad for more than about ten minutes, but I'm still pissed over six hours later. The only thing I can think of whose shipping loss would anger me more is my hard drive.

Thanks to technology, dealing with this crap is easier than it must have been twenty years ago. I used an automated phone system to make a reservation at the Colorado Passport Agency in Aurora for Tuesday the 8th. That gives me less than three weeks to get processed by agencies for two federal governments. The passport agency is for people who are departing "in less than 14 days" or who need to get a visa in that time. Even it takes 14 days to process and send my passport, I could overnight it on the 21st, have it processed on the 22nd and 23rd, picked up on the 24th, then overnighted back to me on the 25th so I can grab my bag and head out the door on the morning of the 26th.

Dear DHL,

Your incompetence will force me to spend lots of money for your competitors' services. You suck.

Sincerely,
A Furry Ball of Fury

I wonder if it would be cheaper to pay $150 to change my flight to start in San Francisco or LAX and get a last minute flight out there, get a visa in person, and work from a friend's living room while I wait for the bureaucrats.
flwyd: (spencer hot springs feet)
The weekend focused around rafting the Colorado with several of my coworkers. The Feuchts own several rafts and like taking groups, so we were happy to oblige.

I headed west from Work on Friday night and got to Pumphouse, our designated Saturday morning meeting place, at around 9 (significantly after dark). I walked around and didn't see a place to camp, so I headed down to Radium. That looked like it had a few places one could camp, but I was worried about (a) the sign stating one needed a wildlife stamp and (b) the raucous group near where I'd be. So I drove back to Pumphouse figuring I'd sleep in the back of the Subaru. Upon arrival, I found that someone had claimed a camping site but was sleeping that night at the group site, so up went my tent in the dark.

Unlike everyone who carpooled from Lakewood at 6:30, I woke up at 8:30 (not counting the several trains that went by in the night). Pumphouse to Rancho del Rio is a very casual stretch of the Colorado River, especially in fall. Highlights included water fights, cliff jumping (in which I didn't participate), and a relaxing (naked) soak in Radium Hot Springs right on the river. Back at the Feuchts' we constructed burgers, ate corn, and played croquet in the dark. I slept in my sleeping bag on my cot on the driveway (to avoid early sun) under the stars. I didn't wake up at 5 to watch the meteor shower, and I'm okay with that.

On Sunday we rafted from Shoshone to Two Rivers (Glenwood Springs). This stretch has a lot more rapids, but we handled them without trouble. A lot of folks were on the river, catching the Labor Day summer bookend. We stopped to soak in a hot spring outside Glenwood which is only above water seasonally. Not wanting to offend random travelers on I-70 and the hordes of Bud Light Drinkers that docked, I kept my suit on for that. Having stayed upright in the raft for two days (no dunking here), I decided to overcome my dislike of water in the face and poor swimming skills to float the last (half?) mile in the river. Aside from a few rock scrapes when I jumped in, the experience was quite pleasurable. Maybe next summer I'll go tubing a bunch.

After a brain freeze courtesy Dairy Queen, I sallied north to Steamboat Springs. My casual driving pace and map confusion in town led me to Strawberry Hot Springs about 10 minutes after they closed admission. The guy at the window let two folks in, but I didn't want to pay $10 for less than an hour of springing, so I set out to find a place to camp. Being Sunday night of Labor Day weekend, the Routt National Forest campground (toward Buffalo Pass) was naturally full, so I decided to look for a big box retailer who wouldn't mind a guy sleeping in a Subaru. Steamboat discourages "formula stores" from downtown and I didn't know how to get to any other part of town, but I found an empty parking lot with (in ascending order of importance) four baseball fields and a soccer field or two, no "No Overnight Camping" sign, an unlocked bathroom. I parked in what looked like it might be shade, flipped the back seat down, laid out the cot, and settled down for a somewhat restful night of urban camping.

I woke up a few hours before the springs opened, so I went for a hike in Routt National Forest. Maybe I should take more early morning hikes: there's much prettier lighting for photographs (forthcoming). Strawberry Hot Springs were fabulous. At least nine pools and tubs contain varying measures of hot spring water and cool river water so one can heat up, cool down, rinse, and repeat. The water and and infrastructure are on par with Valley View. Since Steamboat Springs is a tourist town, Strawberry had a lot more people than Valley View typically has (though I don't know how busy it was this Labor Day). I heard families speaking in Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and English, which is a flavor I haven't tasted at Valley View. The communal aspect felt absent, though. The magic of VVHS is often found by striking up conversations with strangers in a pool, but everybody at Strawberry seemed to keep to themselves. Oh, and Strawberry requires swimwear during daylight hours. Have I mentioned I dislike swimsuits? They take way longer to dry than skin, provide drag in the water, and just call attention to the fact that your genitalia isn't visible.

After lots of heat and probably not enough water consumption I drove down the hill thinking about the Pho restaurant I'd seen in town. Unfortunately, they were closed for the holiday (what tourist town restaurant closes on holidays?) but the coffee shop hooked me up with a hydrating smoothie.

On the way home, I decided the scenic route would be preferable to sitting in holiday traffic on I-70, so I drove through North Park, Medicine Bow, and Cache la Poudre. North Park is even more desolate (but perhaps hillier) than its better-known southern cousin. The Jackson County seat, Walden, sports "The Moose Watching Capital of Colorado" on its welcome sign. Really, it felt like southern Wyoming draping its leg over the edge of the bed. The Medicine Bow range decided to welcome me back to the Atlantic basin with an intense but pleasant downpour. There are lots of good hiding places for powder along CO-14 in Larimer County. There's also an impressive number of national forest campgrounds. I'm surprised I haven't been up there before.

Speaking of scenic Larimer County, I bet there's still room at MeadowFest this coming weekend. Drumming, dancing, and great people will be in abundance.

Ideas I had this weekend:

A T-shirt with Colorado's outline and a bunch of landmarks with elevations. 14'ers, Leadville, Conundrum Hot Springs, major river paths, several points on the Continental Divide, and other Colorado points of note as well as some low points of note in other states: Burlington, CO is higher than the highest point in Kansas ("Mount" Sunflower), which is within a couple miles of the border. Oklahoma and Nebraska's highest points are also close to the Colorado line. Above the picture is some stylized "Colorado." Below the picture is the caption "It's all downhill from here."

A Creative Commons-licensed T-shirt on print-to-order websites with the phrase "Free Hugs" written in many languages. Perfect for travel through international airports.

I can float for extended periods if I wear flip flops to keep my feet up. I can also float downstream without trouble if I wear a life jacket.

On the way home, Radio 1190 mentioned a show at Rhinoceropolis and I thought of [livejournal.com profile] tamheals. How can you go wrong with a name like that?

Note to self: a chopping knife and biodegradable dish soap should be added to the camp cookware bag.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
When I posted last week, I forgot the second half of the joke. The full exchange goes

Hello, I'd like to make a reservation. The name is Jackson. Andrew Jackson.
I'm sorry sir, we don't accept reservations.
Well that's all you'll get.

The road trip was fabulous. I managed to avoid a coyote on the way out and fires on the way back. I soaked in a river, two hot tubs, and hot springs in Nevada and Utah. I walked through Redwood forests, along sandy, rocky, and glass beaches, up and down slickrock, and 10+ miles from the Marin Headlands to Fisherman's Wharf. I ate copious grasses, flowers, fruits, and pseudofruits native and foreign to California, tasty dishes from the kitchens of people related to [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz, fantastic potluck dishes, and wonderful beverages ranging from Dr Pepper (for night-driving enhancement) to "four day old" green tea to California wines to mangosteen juice to homebrew beer and cider. I even ate at Woey Loy Goey, the same Chinatown restaurant my dad's still telling stories about from a trip in the early '70s. (The location has changed and the sign has "new" before the name, but the food is still good.) I played Apples to Apples, Scrabble, Boggle, and 20 Questions, all with formidable opponents (I've never been skunked in A2A before and I've yet to beat [livejournal.com profile] mollybzz in a game involving letters.) The only rain in two weeks came in Nevada and I managed to get sunburned in a city famous for fog. In sum, 3500 miles of great fun.

Incidentally, if I ever move to San Francisco I may have to cut my hair and take many of my hats out of daily use. Fortunately, Silicon Valley doesn't seem to have the same blustery tendencies
flwyd: (charbonneau ghost car)
In a few hours I will head west young man and won't be all the way back east young man for the next two weeks. Due to some tricks of scheduling, I'll be in the Bay Area without (as yet) any plans on the night of the 1st through the afternoon of the 3rd. Feel free to suggest something. Should you need to contact me, leaving a comment on this post or an sending email to Trevor Stone at G mail dot com are the most likely to elicit a response.

In the absence of my presence on the Internet, feel free to leave a comment with a Limerick, haiku, sonnet, epic poem, obfuscated code, or other structured statement. You may also amuse yourself with Elizabethan Curses.

Be seeing you.
flwyd: (spiral staircase to heaven)
Due in part to excessive personal hygene, [livejournal.com profile] tamheals was running quite late for her flight to Orlando this morning. When we hit traffic on I-70, I informed her that she would not arrive at DIA in time to check her luggage. After a rough decision about high heeled shoes, I consolidated her luggage down to one carry-on bag and one personal item, the latter containing her toiletries bag containing essential oils bottles, a tube of toothpaste, and small bottles of shampoo.

Speeding on Peña Blvd. didn't make up enough time, so she realized in the security line that she wouldn't catch her flight. When she got to the checkpoint, they informed her that her toothpaste and shampoo exceeded the allowed 3 oz maximum.

The purported purpose of draconian measures at airport security checkpoints is to make sure that flights are safe because nobody aboard the plane is carrying anything dangerous. However, the rule is not "Passengers may not bring dangerous items on board." Instead, there is a long list of specific items which are not allowed. I ca nunderstand not letting passengers take an ice pick on board (clearly dangerous). But they didn't say "Sorry, ma'am, you're not allowed to bring shampoo and toothpaste on the plane." They said "Sorry, ma'am, you're not allowed to bring this much shampoo and toothpaste on the plane." (I believe she even left her 2.5oz of personal lubricant at home.)

There are four possible conclusions to draw from this:

  • There is a way to hijack an airplane with five ounces of shampoo and five ounces of toothpaste (and a dash of eye medicine and personal lubricant) which is not possible with three ounces of shampoo and three ounces of toothpaste.
  • The TSA has no idea what can blow up an airplane, but some Muslims in England came up with a (well-shampooed) hair brained idea involving unknown liquids, so the TSA is throwing chemistry to the wind assuming any liquid in sufficient quantities can blow up an airplane.
  • The TSA is well aware that you can't blow up a plane with shampoo, but wants to hassle you anyway for political purposes.
  • The TSA doesn't trust its employees to make decisions based on the gestalt of a traveller's luggage, so they devise a spaghetti code security policy in the hopes that any terrorists get entangled in mindless rule enforcement.

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