Turks & Caicos Diving 21 January 2014
Great trip, with lovely friends…saw lots of sharks – such beautiful, fascinating creatures. Did you know that more people are killed by cows than by sharks?
Great trip, with lovely friends…saw lots of sharks – such beautiful, fascinating creatures. Did you know that more people are killed by cows than by sharks?
This is a testâ€¦ But since we moved my site, I am currently unable to add any new photos, or to edit and fix old blog posts – we are working on fixing these problems…
Where to begin?! Well, Patricia started it – she decided last year she wanted to backpack the Wonderland Trail to celebrate her 60th birthday this year, and to do it with friends and family. And we can now proudly count ourselves among fewer than 250 people who do it every year…less than 2% of visitors to Mount Rainier National Park. It was the hardest work I have ever done on vacation, and was actually well over 100 miles, and involved 51,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. This is also one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done. If you would like to just browse the photos and skip all this “talk,” click here.)
The Wonderland Trail is officially 93 miles long, winding around 14,411 foot Mount Rainier. The trail is often described as being like a pie crust, with very little ‘flat’ ground…going up, down, up, down the many, many ridges left by volcanic and glacier activity around the mountain. On our 8th night on the trail, we acquired the lovely book Discovering the Wonders of the Wonderland Trail by Bette Filley from some fellow backpackers who didn’t want it any more – Bette claims that the elevation gain and loss of the trail actually makes the distance feel more like 126 miles. The trail never rises above the 7,000′ elevation, but we camped off-trail for two nights right around 7,000′, and also took a 1/2-mile side-hike to the top of Skyscraper Mountain at 7078′. But at latitude 46 degrees we were often above timberline for long stretches, with exquisitely beautiful views of so many angles of the mountain. Now, it is so much fun to see the mountain from an airplane, or to look at photos or Google Earth and be able to say “We were there, and there…and THERE!!” (more…)
On our way toward Eagles Roost as we started out on Section II, hikers coming the other way told us that the Park Service had closed the back-packing campground at Sunrise because an aggressive adolescent bear had become a problem. But that was still 5 days away for us, and except for Brian and Michele’s encounter, we saw no other bears. And there was no danger at our campsite at White River [public] Campground near Sunrise on the evening of Day 13…too much noise, too many people, too much smoke. (Linda and I did hear a sound on the trail that was likely a bear only about 30-45 minutes before we reached White River.) (more…)
The approach to Curtis Ridge on Day 10 took us up a long, narrow, beautifully lush ravine about 30′ across at the start that was heavily forested on each side, with a creek running down the bottom next to the trail, and boulders and flowers carpeting the floor of the ravine. Hiking alone on this beautiful, warm, sunny day at the back of our group – maybe 5 minutes behind Patricia, I was keenly aware that this was BEAR country. So about every 20 feet, I was yelling out ‘Hey Bear, hello Bear!! I’m just passing through!’ (more…)
Serbs hike like they ski, in reverse – straight up the mountain through the trees! At least this delightful Serb does: Mika, Irena’s long-time dear friend and boss, who I met skiing here in 2004.
But first, another story…
Jim and Sydney (their cat) and I headed for Tara Planina National Park (about 4 hours south of Belgrade) in the brand new car – a dark eggplant Nissan small SUV (Qashqai) – and planned to meet Irena and Mika in Mika’s car up the road, coming directly from work.
Jim and I were cruising along with the traffic, and failed to notice a speed trap (common here) until it was too late – Jim was going 80kph in a 50kph zone, so he got pulled over. (more…)
Thursday morning we drove about one hour north to a ship-building yard in Zrenjenin to introduce Jim’s very close friend, Milan, to the manager regarding a business opportunity. (Do any of you news hounds recognize “Zrenjenin”? – see my last post for this trip, when I get it done!) They build inland chemical tanker and container ships and barges that ply the rivers of Europe.
After a slide show on the business, we were taken on a tour of the shipyard, and had to put on bright orange jumpsuits, hard shoes, and hardhats for safety – what a hoot! We went quickly through most of the construction area, from the huge hangar where they build the hull, stern, and bow (each separately) of the ships, to the outdoor assembly where they begin to put together the upper decks (more…)
Hello once again from beautiful Belgrade, Srbija! This 3rd trip here is so different from my first two, which were in winter to ski. (In 2004 we skied for a week in Kopaonik National Park, about 300k southeast of Belgrade – a fairy wonderland of deep, new snow, A-frames, and deep forest on the mountaintop. In 2008 we drove from Belgrade through Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia, then across the middle of Italy, stopping in Venice, Verona, and Turin before skiing for a week in Val d’Isere, France.) So I finally get to see this city and country not as cold and grey-brown from dirty snow. As I flew into Belgrade, the view was breathtaking – lush fields and valleys of every color green imaginable, dotted, then saturated with terracotta orange roofs everywhere, trees in bloom, and accented by the two great rivers that meet in Belgrade (kiss, as the locals say) – the Danube and the Sava. (more…)
Today I paddled 8 miles! John Sadler, an old (yes, old! :)) family friend invited me along with two of his long-time kayaking buddies to join them on the very flat, calm waters of the Potomac, far above Great Falls. Mom helped out transporting us by coming along with us to the put-in point, then followed the truck driver to the take-out at Algonquin Park, and brought him back to join us. It was a blast, though my arms felt like they would fall off by the trip’s end! It was a beautiful fall day – the water was so clear and pretty shallow (about 6 feet in most places) and the river so wide. To my surprise, the fall leaves weren’t really on display here – too warm? but we glided over lots of grasses and fish below us, and several blue herons swooping along. We stopped for lunch along a tidal creek, then followed it up about a half mile as far as we could and turned around. Some kind of huge bird circled around above us that really excited John…says they don’t see them often. And toward the end of our trip, we were delighted to see an eagle keeping an eye on us from the treetops, so we just floated and nearly lay on our backs in the kayaks to watch it watching us. I think we were gone about 5 hours, round trip. I could do this on a regular basis…most enjoyable, and great cross-training for cycling.
Hello dear family and friends – I hope you will find the following stories interesting and informative! The photo above I took on our overnight expedition above the nunnery at about 15,000′, looking south, on July 1.
Here is a map of our trip (starting in Beijing and ending in Delhi), and the 21 related posts below are in reverse order. On the map, blue lines were flights, red lines were by van/car. We had 2 days in Beijing, 1 in Chengdu, 14 days in Tibet (6 of those in the Drikung Valley where Achi was born, and 4 days on the road), 8 days in Nepal, and 4 days in India.
It was a wonderful and truly amazing experience, thanks to our in-country guides, drivers and hosts, our fellow travelers, Hidden Treasure Tours, and **most of all** to Achi and his beautiful family in Tibet!
If you want to display only this journey’s posts for easier reading, simply click on the Tibet category in the right hand column. The Photo link above has a “Tibet Tour” album with lots more pictures than are in the posts below – there are several sub-albums, including one just of people. And here is a link to my Google Map of the trip – you can zoom in for more detail. ENJOY!
This last day of our trip we spent touring more of Delhi. Actually, when we arrived in Delhi (and before my pedicure), we walked around the area of the Imperial Hotel to Connaught Place, and found only a long block away from the hotel the compound where Lester lived during his last year of high school. Right across the street from there is one of his favorite places, Jantar Mantar (left) – an astronomical observatory built in the early 1700s.
Today was a very full day visiting three of the eight Cities of Delhi, starting with a (more…)
First, a small mundane note: Upon our arrival in New Delhi at the Imperial, I got a pedicure! I think it was the most divine pampering I have ever experienced, given that my feet had been in boots and [mostly] sandals in dust, mud, and rock and sorely neglected, for weeks. I felt like new!
Also, an observation on arriving in India… I was expecting, when we exited the airport, a literal mass of children and beggars to swarm us as we left the main buildings (much as I remember the Philippines years ago), but that was not the case at all. In fact, I found the parts of Delhi we visited to be very cosmopolitan. Yes, there are TONS of people and vehicles (4 lanes of them where only 3 are marked), but in fact Nepal was *far* more chaotic than Delhi.
The very next morning, yep, we climbed back into another vehicle for a 4+ hour drive to Agra, to spend many hours enjoying the Taj Mahal – it was worth every minute of the drive. (more…)
So we spent the next few days â€“ in the unpretentious and lovely Excelsior Hotel, owned by Achi’s Tibetan friends Kunsang Dorje and Jigme â€“ in the heart of Thamel, the â€˜Georgetownâ€™ of Kathmandu. We worked on photos, enjoyed lots of Indian and Nepali food, wandered the streets and shops on foot, and never sat our bums in a vehicle! And Jigme is a jewelry artist, so I was delighted to purchase a sampling of her beautiful wares. (more…)
Today is our last day as part of the “Tibet Tour with Achi”, and it was a great way to finish. We got up *very* early (5am) for our 7:30am flight on…YETI Airlines!! (My sibs will *love* that name!) These flights (several leave within an hour of each other via multiple carriers) operate every day if clear. Before committing everyone who has paid for a ticket into the air, a small plane is sent out to see if the peaks are clear. If not, you can get your money back, or keep your ticket to try another day.
We were lucky! Our flight actually took off around 8:45 am, and on all of these flights, only the window seats are sold. So, as the plane reaches just past Makalu, it turns around, and both sides of the plane have a wonderful view. (more…)
After that fantastic “morning of mountains”, we breakfasted in the hanging gardens with the resort management (they don’t get many American guests, and were interested in feedback), and then flew back to Kathmandu.
The afternoon was filled again with too-short visits to ancient temples, stupas, and pagodas – we started in Patan, one of the four kingdoms, and it’s Durbar (royal) Square, and marveled at more of the beautiful, intricate woodwork everywhere. One highlight of our tour in Patan was to a renowned Tibetan singing bowl vendor. (Patricia gave Lester one for his birthday several years ago, and I love it.) The bowls in this shop were exquisite; the vendor informed us that the handmade bowls are used for healing purposes. He invited me to come inside his tiny shop and be seated on a small stool. I was instructed to remove my hat and pony-tail holder and place my hands on my knees in the traditional Buddhist meditation pose (palms up, thumb to middle finger). (more…)
On arriving in Nepal we only one night in Kathmandu before flying off in the morning for one night in Pokhara (POKEâ€™ uh ruh), a resort town on a large lake nestled beneath the Annapurna Himal range at ~3000â€™. The flight was beautiful with a wall of snow-covered peaks poking up through the monsoon cloud cover. (I was also finally feeling much betterâ€¦maybe it was the altitude?)
We toured the town, stopping at Deviâ€™s Fall (Patale Chhango – below), a river/waterfall carving horizontally through rocks for hundreds of feet, and then falling far below into a cave. (more…)
The next morning, on the last day of our road trip, the sun was out!, and we continued down the gorge to the Friendship Bridge â€“ the border between Tibet and Nepal. Only foot traffic is allowed on the bridge, so we bid a fond farewell to Kunchok and Sangye, and crossed over, porters carrying our luggage. On the other side of the bridge we were met by equally efficient and personable Prabin, who would be our Nepal guide, and his assistants. We were SO thankful they quickly ushered us through immigration, bypassing what most tourists had to contend with, which was an absolute, chaotic mess…a tiny, dark, packed room off a narrow muddy main street, elementary school desks used to sit and complete the paperwork…wow.
The road – a MAIN road – was even worse than before (I wrote â€˜madnessâ€™ in my journal!), going from wide mud holes to smooth new concrete, construction in fits and starts. (more…)
Lester called today a “perilous journey” – maybe exaggerated, but it felt like an APT description!
The very short version of this very long day goes like this: Only a couple hours after we got underway and through a Chinese checkpoint, and saw Everest for the second time, we got told the road was closed until 8 pm. Then were let through after only one hour, but told we had to detour; we then built our own road (the 8 of us in the van) at ~16,000′, and then we hairpin-turned over and over, dropping over 9000â€™ in elevation for the day. The last few hours were in pouring rain, during road construction on the slopes of a near-vertical gorge, and for the last hour we competed with literally hundreds of semi-trailer trucks for one lane of road. More than once I found myself thinking “please don’t let the road slip away underneath us!”
So, to back up to the beginning… Appropriately, we slept our last night in Tibet at over 14,000′, and were looking forward to having MORE AIR to breathe! But most of us were pretty well acclimatized by now, and no longer huffing and puffing when climbing stairs. (more…)
These two days our road trip took us to the major Tibetan cities of Gyangtse and Shigatse. Mostly traveling through valleys bright with florescent-yellow mustard fields and surrounded by rugged, brown, rain-starved mountains, we wound our way back and forth up an amazing, Chinese-built road over Khamba La pass at 15,750′ (4799m). Engineers’ efforts to tame nature by channeling the occasional but powerful rainstorm runoff away from and under the road are simply awesome.
As we crested the pass, we could finally see a beautiful, snow-capped crook of a peak above the clouds beyond the monstrously huge Yamdrok Yumtso reservoir. Even so, it is still only Tibet’s 3rd largest. (more…)
Our poignant departure from the Drikung Valley once again featured the kata scarves, tsampa-and-beer, finger-flicking-and-drinking-ritual of our ‘formal’ arrival celebration, but with significantly more laughing and hugging and forehead touching (I don’t think I have mentioned that is also a traditional Tibetan greeting among friends). We have made life-long friends, and the originally shy young women were now relaxed and joking.
We will truly miss *every one* of these gracious and fun-loving family members, and will think of them in many ways as our own extended family. Konchuk, who had set the standard for drinking the afternoon AND night before, was clearly suffering with a smiling face, and the young folks were merciless with him, insisting he finish off the beer bowl after it had done its rounds! (Poor fellow- he slept most of the way to Lhasa!)
In Lhasa, after being re-ensconced in our favorite Kyichu Hotel, Konchuk rallied to lead the five of us around the nearby Barkhor market to do some shopping, and we all were delighted to make some or all of the purchases we had anticipated. Alexandra’s insight from a dream was to acquire an authentic page of Buddhist scripture – hand-written Tibetan script (like Sanskrit) on waxed hand-made paper. I too could not resist, and cannot wait to get this beautiful piece of culture-art-history translated and framed.
We finished the evening with one last family dinner at Tsewang and Kesang’s beautiful home. Tsewang was *instrumental* all week in dealing with the authorities and smoothing our travel and entrance permits at the many places we visited. And as I have already mentioned, but worth mentioning again, Kesang is a superb chef, and we ate one last time like Tibetan royalty.
Almost unbelievably (after the past two days’ efforts), we arose at 6 am today, after hiking ~20 miles to well over 17,000′. I was…AM exhausted! But we were ‘willing,’ because today was our last opportunity to witness the sky burial, since we are heading back to Lhasa tomorrow.
So it was that around 7:30 am we found ourselves once again trudging along the path at the base of the Drikung Til Monastery, up, up toward the top of the ridge to the burial site. This time however, our ‘trudging’ was due not the effects of the altitude, but to our having gone much higher for much longer. We were ALL knackered, and I recall even saying to Lester that, where we were headed NOTwithstanding, my stomach felt ‘fragile’. But we also ALL did not want to miss this experience…I doubt any of us would say we were looking forward to it though, especially given how tired we felt physically. (more…)
According to Achi, we were well prepared for this trek with our hikes of the previous two days… Maybe, but these last two days, especially Friday, I believe may nearly equal a trek to Everest, because we were literally on the roof of the world, at somewhere around 17,500′, and really felt like it (although Everest, over 350 miles away, was not yet visible).
On Thursday morning after an early breakfast, the five of us and Achi, plus 14 more support folks – 20 in all – collected in a nearby valley at about 14,000 feet (near the hot springs we visited Tuesday). The 14 consisted of his family and 5? neighbors from the village. From there the six Americans climbed onto small ponies, each with a handler (some were the pony’s owners), and two more ponies and a rider carried most of the supplies: food for two days and camping gear, including bedding, four beautiful new expedition-quality tents, and one traditional nomad tent (canvas, not yak hide). So we had six riders (the NON-acclimatized Americans), and 14 walkers – six leading the ponies, and the rest carrying more supplies…keep that in mind. (more…)
Yak tent wake up call: yak snorting *very* close to the tent! We emerged in the pre-dawn mist to find Chotsomo tying up the calves so she could milk the mothers undisturbed (the bag contains salt which the yaks love). Soon Achi’s mother (left) came along and took over the milking, which she clearly does on a routine basis. After enjoying the ‘phe’ (baby yaks) and morning tea & coffee, we headed back along the river path, marveling as Chotsomo’s husband Tashi rode over the suspension bridge on his motorcycle.
Our all-day hiking/picnic excursion to the cave where the founder of the Drikung Kagyu lineage became enlightened was with many of Achi’s family, and was a blast. We drove to the start of the ~8 mile hike, up the valley from the Guest House, all of us in the van, plus three motorcycles each with a rider also along. (more…)
First full day in Drikung – waking up to dogs barking, yak bells tinkling, and a great breakfast of fried egg sandwich between a lovely chapati- or naan-like bread made with onions, and bananas, watermelon, and apples. And surprisingly, the instant coffee is quite good!
Today we visited the Drikung Til Monastery, one of the oldest still functioning in Tibet. Buddhists believe this valley to be one of the power centers of the world with 108 sacred springs, and it is also the most sacred sky burial site in Tibet. Those who can afford the time and expense bring the bodies of their loved ones from the far corners of Tibet. (more…)
We left Lhasa around 11 am in a 9-seater van (with Lester and I in the back, and we learned the shocks are completely shot!).
One thing I have not yet mentioned is that the boom town of Lhasa has a very strange and mysterious traffic flow system. Many busy 4-way intersections have great lights, but one of the MAIN 3-way intersections at the heart of the city has NO streetlight, and it is LITERALLY every vehicle AND pedestrian or bicyclist for itself, going in every direction imaginable. In addition, there are almost no horns heard, and it is as if drivers have a sixth sense for other vehicles or pedestrians. It is quite amazing how people drive – not just here, but everywhere in China we have been. On a two-lane road, everyone drives in the *center* in order to leave room for pilgrims, bicyclists, and motorcycle carts on both sides, and weaves continually around slow and between oncoming traffic. On a four-lane road, usually the outside lanes are blocked by parked traffic, and it is quite common to for vehicles to move all the way over to a far, oncoming lane!! We see vehicles coming straight at us all the time – I am astonished that we have yet to witness an accident, and wonder what the vehicular death rates are. (more…)