Follow the adventures of Linda and Mike. They: quit their jobs, sold their car, rented their condominium and took an 18-month journey to disconnect and reconnect to what’s important. They’ve been through Central and South America, New Zealand and Australia, and are now in Southeast Asia. This is one of the few examples we have left of travelogues prior to the invention blogs and social media. Even though email made communicating almost instantaneous and effortless, it was still impossible to reach a large audience. So The Argonauts collected snail mail and email and posted them online for everyone to see.
Greetings from the Tiburon Library! Yes, we are back and hanging out at the local library with the old folks and the unemployed. I guess that you could say we fall under the latter category. Anyway, we promised we would send an update of our last couple of weeks in S.E. Asia (Southern Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand) upon our return. So here it is……
Saigon, or more affectionately known to the Northern Vietnamese as Ho Chi Minh City, is a wonderful city. There are approximately 11 million people living in the area (4 million illegally) with about 2.5 million scooters or motos on the roads. You really do take your life into your own hands when you cross the street. Just ask Linda the next time you see her about her close up of the front wheel of a moto after it “mowed” her down. Very exciting! Other than that, we enjoyed wandering around the city and imagining what this place would have been like during the Vietnam or American War. A must see is the War Crimes Museum. It’s a disturbing but highly educational museum filled with extremely vivid photographs of the victims of napalm bombing and the Mi Lai Massacre. The highlight of the museum is the exhibition of photographs retrieved from photographers that died in combat or went missing. You get to see their last shots before they step on a toe-popper (mine) or are shot in a firefight. These men and women risked their lives to get these fabulous photos. Very moving.
The highlight of Saigon, for Mike, was a trip to the famed Cu Chi tunnels (about 60kms north of Saigon). These tunnels were dug by the North Vietnamese troops right underneath US troops. It took them several years and several thousand people to dig this network of tunnels, bomb shelters, hospitals, kitchens, meeting rooms and fox holes (over 200kms of tunnels in all). The freakiest part of the visit was the room filled with “booby traps” that were designed to kill or severely maim US soldiers. When the US finally found the tunnels they had a hard time convincing the soldiers to go in after the NVA “rats” because of the fear of traps. I won’t go into details but the NVA thought of some really good stuff to get back at the heavy-footed “yanks”. Also, the holes were only large enough for very small Vietnamese men. I crawled down inside and had to get on my belly a few times to go through (even after it was enlarged for large Western tourists like myself).
After Saigon, we made our way to Cambodia to see the famed temples of Angkor (North Central Cambodia). We first made a stop in the colonial capital city of Phnom Penh. If you have never seen the movie “The Killing Fields” then go out and rent it. It will give a good description of the genocide which occurred here during the late 1970s under the Pol Pot regime (Khmer Rouge). You can actually visit one of the many “killing fields” right on the outskirts of the city. It is estimated that almost 3 million men, women, and children were brutally murdered in these places and buried in mass graves. Although we did not visit the Killing Fields, we did make a trip to the Toul Sleng (or S-21) Prison in the city. Here the people were brutally tortured or killed before being sent out to the “fields” to be executed. The museum was left just the way that the Vietnamese soldiers found it when they invaded Cambodia in 1979. Plenty of gruesome photos and actual torture devices were retrieved. Very disturbing.
You would figure that after all that killing, Cambodians would be devastated. It’s exactly the opposite. They are some of the happiest people we met. Always smiling and saying hello. Thay have developed tourism enough to get people to come back to Cambodia (it was too dangerous to visit even in 1997). Of course, the big draw is the temples of Angkor (in Siem Reap). These lavishly decorated structures are a tribute to the Khmer empire that ruled SE Asia from the 10th to the 14th centuries. Angkor Wat is the highlight of all the temples. We have never seen such amazing sculpture and stonework (well, maybe at Machu Pichu). Apparently, it compares to the sculpture of Borobudur in Indonesia (that will be another trip). You have to really see it for yourself. We have photos that really don’t do it justice but at least you can get the general picture. We highly recommend that you see Angkor sometime in your life. You will not regret it!
That was our last big destination. We braved the land mines and horrible roads of Western Cambodia to make it to Thailand and on to Bangkok. It was amazing crossing over from Cambodia into Thailand. We literally went from muddy roads to sidewalks and paved streets. Thailand really has their stuff together!
Our last three days of the trip were spent in Taipei, actually called the Republic of China (ROC), though they aren’t the best of buddies with mainland China (The Peoples Republic of China-PRC). It’s an interesting country and they have a museum of liberated, ancient Chinese artifacts that is unbelievable.
Well, now we search for jobs, contemplate life and the high price of Bay Area homes and plan for our next world tour. Hope all is well with everyone, thank you for all your support.
Mike and Linda
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Greetings! We are back in Bangkok once again (3rd time in three months). We survived the horrendous roads of Cambodia. Angkor Wat was amazing, definitely a must see site, and well worth the road travel. We will send a more detailed update upon our return to western civilization (Thursday 9/21). Tomorrow we fly to Taipei, Taiwan for 3 days before returning to San Francisco. Sadly it is all coming to an end, the experience of a lifetime. Hope everyone is enjoying the Olympics. We are looking forward to seeing you.
All our love,
Linda and Mike
Location: Central Vietnam
Hello all and Greetings from Nha Trang, We have been here for 4 days now, drying out from some heavy typhoon rains up north (Hoi An). We didn’t realize Vietnam had such spectacular tropical beach settings. The Central Vietnam coastline is lined with coconut palm trees and has miles and miles of turquoise water.
After 2 days exploring the caves and karst landscapes of beautiful Ninh Binh we took a 15 hour night bus to Hue. Unfortunately, Mike arrived very ill and after a doctor’s examination, he was diagnosed with a severe case of food poisoning. Other than a very high temp (40 degrees C, 104 F) and some crazy hallucinations (though those could be from the anti-malaria medication, Larium) he was fully recovered the next day. The blood test for Malaria came back negative.
Before the American war Hue was a cultural center of a beautiful building and a surrounding Citadel. It was the seat of 200 years of the Nguyen dynasty rulers (we visited several of the Emperor’s lavish tombs). Unfortunately, Hue was the site of the bloodiest battles of the Tet Offensive of 1968. The city was totally destroyed when the Americans finally “recaptured” it from the North Vietnamese after 24 days of Communist control.
We took a day-long tour of the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), guided by a man who was 7 years old when the war began and had some terrifying stories about growing up in this area during the 9 years of US bombardment. Formed in 1954 (at the Geneva conference) the Ben Hai River served as the demarcation line between the north and south. Today, not much remains of the former war sites. We viewed the battlegrounds at Khe San Combat Base, the “rockpile”, Con Thien Firebase, Camp Carroll and the incredible Vinh Moc Tunnels. After 18 months of work, 200 plus villagers lived underground during 4 years of the war. Seventeen children were born in the 2.8 beachside-kilometers of tunnels, and families lived in 4′ X 10′ closet like caves. Craziness. But, today quite a tourist attraction.
A definite stop on the tourist trail is the beautiful city of Hoi An. The city itself is a museum, containing preserved Chinese and Vietnamese style buildings and houses. Luckily, the town was spared during the American war. Another plus is the food, by far the best cuisine we’ve tried in Vietnam, and possibly SE Asia. Besides exploring the town and stuffing our faces, we had some beautiful clothes tailored for us. There are over 100 tailors in Hoi An who can make anything you desire: suits, dresses, bathing suits, all at incredibly low prices. Let’s just say we spent a good chunk of change here, preparing for our reentry into the work world.
We’ve been enjoying the sand and sea for the last 4 days in Nha Trang. Relaxing has been easy. We experienced an island tour on Mama Hanh’s famous party boat and have crashed in lounge chairs in the shade of large palm-thatched umbrellas. Not much else to do, other than wave off the cyclo drivers and numerous used book vendors. Capitalism is all over Vietnam!
Yesterday we starred in our first and probably last Vietnamese TV commercial. We enjoyed delicious cans of Lipovitan energy drink while walking and talking along the beach. The filming and directing were pure amateur and we were happy to assist in their project. Too classic.
Tomorrow we head south to another small beach and then into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Look forward to our final 4 weeks of travel and will talk to you all soon.
Linda and Mike
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Greetings from Hanoi, the capitol of the People’s Republic of Vietnam. We have been in Northern Vietnam for over a week now and have loved almost every second of it. Getting to Hanoi was another story. It’s all part of the experience (to say the least) of traveling: paying bribes to corrupt border officials, bargaining down extremely high taxi rates ($60 to $25 took three hours of work), hanging out with the smugglers (TVs, red bull, beer, etc.) and surviving the crazy ride to Vinh.
We eventually made it and stayed for the night. The next day we boarded a local mini bus to Hanoi, they packed us in like sardines, which made the humid weather even hotter. On the way we passed several towns which still looked decimated by the bombing 25 years ago, it looks like the villagers simply rebuilt on the old foundations. Very sad. The countryside is amazing, very similar to Laos with its stunning limestone karsts and acres of bright green rice paddies. Mike was glad to arrive in Hanoi since the woman next to him got sick as we arrived in the city (on his shoes).
Hanoi is possibly the craziest city we have visited on this trip. Bangkok pales in comparison to Hanoi’s endless stream of honking scooters, bicycles and cyclos (one out of every 3 Vietnamese owns a bike). You really take your life into your own hands when you cross the street here. Note: We have heard Saigon is ten times crazier! We really enjoyed Hanoi and stayed for five days. There is so much to do here. Wandering the streets of the old quarter (and seeing Capitalism at its best) was one of our favorite things. Other than a bit of hassling from cyclo taxi drivers and t-shirt vendors, the people are very friendly and willing to chat with you. They love to say “hello” and flash these huge, toothy grins. A definite must in their wardrobe is the conical hat or the army green pith helmet (inspired by the French colonial rulers) which only seem to look good on the Vietnamese (westerners look ridiculous).
One of the highlights of our stay in Hanoi was a visit to see Uncle Ho at his final resting place-Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. It took over a year to embalm him (even though he wanted to be cremated) and now he is on display in a glass case for all to see (Lenin style). Every Hanoian chose to visit him the same day we did, an endless line that we tourists were allowed to avoid and jump in at the front. The guards shuttle you in a line to see Uncle Ho, no talking, no hands in pockets, and no stopping! Mike broke all the rules and was kindly reminded to refrain from doing so again. But seriously you can really sense how important this man is to the people of communist Vietnam.
It really hit home for us when we met three Vietnam veterans on their first trip back in 32 years. They served for two years near the DMZ zone, and saw several platoon mates die. They were very candid in their descriptions of the war — all three of them were injured and medevaced out, two of them after the Tet offensive in February of 1968. We were in complete awe of their experience and offered our most sincere thanks for their service here.
Before heading south tonight we just returned from a three day trip to Halong Bay (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). We went as part of a tour group (which at times was difficult since we are used to doing things alone, our way: but it was nice not to do any thinking). We had amazingly clear, blue skies for our 4-hour cruise out to Cat Ba island. Our boat maneuvered through the 3000 plus islands that rise from the emerald waters of the Gulf of Tonkin. We spent yesterday doing a tough, six-hour trek across the island’s National park, among beautiful rainforests and fresh water swamps. At night we enjoyed ice cold draught beers (Bia Hoi) while watching dramatic sunsets over the limestone peaks. A fabulous three days.
More to come soon, we are off to Ninh Binh, 2 hours south and then we will take a train south to Hue and the DMZ. We miss you all and will see you very very soon. We are not looking forward to our job search upon our return and are trying to enjoy our last 5 weeks before we face reality.
Love you all,
Linda and Mike
By Mike and Linda
Hello again, we are back again with a second email with our Laos adventures.
Even though we caused problems only a short time ago, the people don’t seem to hold grudges. To make up for the pain and destruction of the 1960s and 1970s “secret war” there is a higher than average number of World Bank, UN, NGO, and commercial projects underway. It seems every European and western country seems to be doing something to make life in Laos “better”.
Today northwestern Laos is a prime place to do some hill tribe trekking to see the many ethnic groups that live here. It is also a great place to meet Chinese from over the border (which at one point we were only 2 kms from China). The Chinese salesman would walk from house to house with small supermarket style baskets with Chinese electronics, watches, umbrellas and other cheaply made goods.
Since it’s the rainy season right now trekking is difficult due to all the mud. We have never seen so much mud in our lives. After a week of slushing around villages and getting regularly asked to smoke opium, we were ready to head south. Many backpackers choose to smoke opium which hurts the International campaign to stop the harvest of opium poppies by many area hill tribes.
Don’t get us wrong. Northern Laos is great, but much better during the dry season. The people here are the friendliest we have met since Myanmar. They live very simple lives; farming and raising many children and animals. Our western ways have not yet polluted their lives. The people always seem to be smiling and laughing. The entire country does their shopping at colorful markets; minimarts and supermarkets are nonexistent. And only Pepsi bottles their products here, no Coca Cola as of yet.
We made our way south to the charming French Colonial town of Luang Prabang (LP). The city is situated alongside the beautiful Mekong River at the point where it meets the Nam Khan. The village has over 30 working monasteries and beautifully restored temples. Monks, wearing their bright orange robes, seem to make up half the population. LP is a UNESCO World Heritage city containing well preserved French Colonial Buildings. We spent many hours exploring on foot the back streets of the old quarter and enjoyed wonderful Laos foods in this peaceful paradise. In our opinion, it is the most picturesque city in southeast Asia, definitely worth a visit.
We spent another four days relaxing in Vang Vieng — a small town on the Nam Song surrounded by towering limestone karsts. The scenery is truly stunning and the outdoor adventure options endless. We were true eco-tourists enjoying spelunking, mountain biking, rubber ringing (tubing to us Americans), dangerous river crossing by foot, as well as rock climbing.
We arrived in Vientianne, also situated on the Mekong River, yesterday. Unfortunately, there was another pipe bomb explosion at the main post office Monday morning disrupting the peace of this small city. Luckily no one was killed. The recent bombings are being blamed on unrest within the central government/military, but might also be tied to the Hmong rebels (possibly financed by Hmong refugees in central California).
We will spend two full days here waiting for our Vietnamese visas before heading across the border and north to Hanoi. With only 8 weeks to go in our travels, we are looking forward to arriving home, seeing our families and friends, and enjoying Mexican food and margaritas.
We will write soon from Vietnam, we love and miss you all,
Linda and Mike
Greetings from Vientiane, the capitol of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos (pronounced without the s) — a socialist country. We have been a bit lax in sending an update to everyone since we will return home in less than two months.
Prior to arriving in Laos, we spent some time getting to know Northern Thailand. From Chiang Mai we headed north to the little Bohemian town of Pai. Pai sits in a little valley covered with bright green rice paddies and surrounded by mountains. The air is cool, the people are very friendly and the food is delicious. We didn’t do much other than ride scooters (don’t worry mom we wore our helmets) and relax. There is a fun nightlife here with several places offering good live music, cheap cold beer and harsh Thai whiskey — Songsarm.
From Pai we made our way North to the town of Tha Thon. The guidebooks say nothing good about this town, but it turned out to be a real gem. We treated ourselves to a posh guesthouse ($6 including breakfast) on the banks of the Kok River. It was one of our favorite settings in Northern Thailand. If you climb up above the town to the huge Wat Tha Thon, a temple popular with visiting Thai tourists, you get a great view of the Kok River as it winds its way from the hills of Myanmar to Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai isn’t much to write home about, but the trip there is definitely a must. We bought tickets on a long tail boat that cruised down the Kok River. On the way, we passed virgin rainforest and several villages with heaps of children, who spend their days fishing and swimming. Since the water lever is high this time of year, the ride is a bit tricky. Lots of whirlpools and some rapids. We sat towards the stern and stayed dry, while others weren’t so lucky.
That leads us to the country of Laos. We crossed over the border (The Mekong River) into the tiny town of Huay Xai and left the throngs of backpackers behind. It seems that a few recent bombings in Vientiane have kept the tourists, some of them, away. We chose to skip the usual tourist slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang and went for the adrenaline rush, edge of your seat fast boat ride upriver into Xieng Kok. We met two English girls (Charlotte and JulieAnne) and chartered a boat for $20 US each. The price is 4 times higher than the local fare, but it is definitely worth it! Our driver turned out to be an expert at negotiating the rapids, whirlpools, and giant floating trees and stumps-all at the breathtaking speed of 60 mph. Note — we were passed by several boaters wearing helmets going much faster than us. For four hours we skirted the Thailand and Myanmar borders and are witness to some of the most amazing primary growth monsoon forest we have seen. Our favorite was the giant groves of bamboo. Luckily Laos doesn’t have the deforestation numbers of their neighbors and some amazing undiscovered flora still exists.
Being in Northern Laos you really get a since of the recent history of this country. Until we arrived here, we never realized the magnitude of our government’s efforts to stop the spread of communism. From 1964 to 1973 the U.S.A. used northwestern Laos as a base for the “Secret War” against North Vietnam and fought in Laos. Both the US and North Vietnam presence in Laos was against the 1962 Geneva Conference accord to stay out of Laos. US Bombers dropped an average of one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years in Eastern Laos. Many of the small towns we visited still have landing strips used by bombers at the time. All of that and we still didn’t manage to disrupt the flow of Viet Cong supplies south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. But we did succeed in leaving thousands of unexploded bombs (UXOs) that still kill and injure people every day.
We will continue tomorrow with details of our travels here in Laos. We miss you all.
Linda and Mike
Sewat-dii khrap! Greetings from Thailand! We have been here for about 10 days now and are due to depart to Myanmar (Burma) on Thurs. morning. Myanmar you say? Yes, Linda talked to a few people and got really excited about it. We found out here in Bangkok that you can get a visa and plane tix for really cheap (US each). So away we go!!!
Thailand, or Siam as it was called until 1939, has never been colonized by a foreign country, unlike its southeast Asian neighbors. Because of this and the attitude of its citizens, it remains a unique and individual country. Lots of Thai culture. The cuisine is delicious and the streets colorful and chaotic, yet efficient. It is a wonderful country and soooo easy to get around, maybe too easy, there are lots of backpackers and tourists groups here. Today we visited the Grand Palace, and Wat Phra Kaew-home of the famous Emerald Buddha. Beautiful and the buildings ornate, and covered in gold, gems and colored mosaics. It is quite a compound, and well worth a look.
Thailand is very different religiously from Malaysia, Buddha is king. Every Thai male is expected to become a monk at one point in their lives, usually after high school, yet Mike thinks that most of the men on Khao San Road never have, nor never will. It is quite the scene here, 24-hour party.
We left Malaysia for the tropical islands of the Samui archapelago-Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao. Aaaaah the island life!!! We spent 4 days on Koh Pha Ngan, famous for its full moon parties. It was nice to relax since we were about 2 weeks past the last party. We had a great view from our bungalow out over Haad Yao beach. Great people, wonderful food and the snorkeling weren’t bad either. Koh Tao was another story because it was amazing! Great white sand beaches and four days of pristine scuba diving conditions. If anyone out there is interested in diving this is the place to go in Thailand to get certified for really cheap or for fun dives (about each including equipment). The backpacker scene on the islands is big. Most people have one injury or another, lots of exhaust pipe burns from mopeds, coral cuts from the sea and burns from the sun. Lots of people come for a couple of days and stay for months or years.
The last night on the island we experienced the crazy sport of Muay Thai or Thai kickboxing. Let’s just say that we left from that night feeling a little shook up. Linda took a little while to get used to the violence. A bit of history: This sport was so deadly that it was banned in the 1920s. They changed the rules and brought it back to make it more “civilized”. All surfaces of the body are considered fair game and you can use any part of your body to inflict blows (elbows and knees are the favorite weapons). We saw 7 bouts that started with 13-year-olds and worked its way up to the big guys. The last fight was a knockout with a haymaker kick to the chin. I could feel it from the stands!
Bangkok is crazy!!!!!!! We arrived on the infamous Khao San Road to see drunk backpackers and Thais enjoying the end of the first Euro 2000 matches. Finding a decent place to stay was an adventure in itself. One of the places was so bad that the rats were running downstairs to get out. They ran right into Linda who was on her way up to look at a room. We didn’t ever see that room. Other than that, Bangkok is a nice city and the dirt is no worse than San Francisco. It helps that we have acclimatized to the heat by now. It’s hot here! We have been running around crazy getting visas and plane tix for the rest of our trip. Here’s our updated schedule for the rest of the trip:
Myanmar: 6/15 (our one year travel anniversary!) until 7/5 (we have open-ended tix) Northern Thailand: about two weeks Laos: up to 30 days Vietnam: up to 30 days Cambodia: the remainder until our 9/18 flight to Taipei, Taiwan for 3 days then home to SFO on 9/21
We are excited to explore the untramped country of Myanmar. The pro-military government changed the country’s name as well as those of many cities in 1988. After democratic elections that weren’t accepted by the military government, the country has been little visited by foreigners. There are only certain areas we can visit and citizens are not allowed to discuss politics with tourists. It should be very interesting. Many people do not visit because of the government’s denial of basic human rights. The country does not have internet, nor any real contact with the outside world in the form of media. We will report back upon our return.
Goodbye for now, we miss everyone and appreciate your updates.
Linda and Mike
Location: Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand
We have settled into the easy backpacker lifestyle of Chiang Mai. Traveling here is about as far from our adventures in Myanmar as possible. Chiang Mai is the northern capitol of the country and quite popular on the foreign travel circuit. There are also lots of families traveling here, which is different to see, we forgot it was summer vacation. Western restaurants and Internet cafes are plentiful. It is nice to eat Italian food for a change, but I will be ready to move further north tomorrow.
The city, though full of foreigners (many of which live here permanently — some of which never went home after the Vietnam war), has a lot of culture, wonderful shopping and friendly locals. Mike spent yesterday learning how to cook Indian food (I got to taste his work and am excited for meals at home). Today he is learning how to cook traditional Thai food, I will stop in for lunch after I send this message. I am also hoping he will learn the art of Thai massage. After that, I will have the perfect husband :-)
Other than attending Thai cooking schools, tourists fill their days with hill tribe trekking, bamboo rafting and elephant rides. Not for me, though lots of tourists seem to enjoy these things.
Between here and Bangkok we spent 4 days touring on a bicycle the ancient cities of Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and full of magnificent ruins (dating back to the 13th century) and history. Many of the ruins are Khmer style prangs, similar to what we will see at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The Thai government has done a great job with the preservation of the sites, and they are definitely worth a visit.
We’ve been taking Thailand’s fast, efficient and cheap train service. Amazing and perfect for travel throughout the country. If you are planning a trip here, this is the way to go.
Tomorrow we visit the village of Pai, then we go further north into the Golden Triangle area (area between Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, known for its Opium plants), before crossing into Laos at Huay Xai and traveling by riverboat down the Mekong River. We have about a week left here in Northern Thailand, and plan to enjoy some day hikes to non-touristy small town villages.
A special birthday wish today to my mom, Adrienne. She has made our travel over these last 13 months possible, and for that we will always be thankful. The hardest part about being gone, other than missing our friends and family, is dealing with the bills, mail, taxes and transfers between financial accounts. Lucky for us, she has done it all! Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you and miss you!
Book recommendation: Mike and I both enjoyed “Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China”, by Jung Chang — amazing, true story about life in China. It is over 700 pages, but quite easy and quick to read. Probably one of the most important books I’ve read this trip.
Well, I am off to try Mike’s cooking. Keep your updates coming, we really enjoy hearing about life at home.
Linda and Mike
Current Travel Itinerary Northern Thailand Thru July 17 July 17-August 8 Laos August 8-September 7 Vietnam Sept 7-Sept 17 Cambodia Sept 18 Taipei, Taiwan Sept 21 Return to San Francisco
Location: Penang, Malaysia
We are back with another update. Nothing has changed about Malaysia, still wonderful and the people amazing. Unfortunately, with only 3.5 months left on our trip, we are off to Hatyai, Thailand tomorrow. Then it is off to the islands of Ko Pha Ngan, and Ko Tao. They are very popular with the backpacker crowd, because of the cult type novel “The Beach”, by Alex Garland (read the book, much better than the movie).
We are currently on the island of Penang, in the state of the same name, on Malaysia’s Northwest coast. Georgetown, the main city, is an eclectic mix of culture, lots of color and energy. The British founded the city in 1796 as a port for the trade of goods between China, India and Europe. We have enjoyed wandering thru Chinatown and eating Indian food with our hands. Thali is an all you can eat rice and curry dish. They load rice onto a banana leaf and you knead the curry into the rice with your right hand and scoop gently into the mouth. When the leaf is getting low they come by with more food. We left very full. It is important to eat with your right hand, because you use your left for toilet matters. All part of the culture.
Currently occurring here in Penang, are the Malaysian Games, Sukma 2000. Last night we watched Wushu competition. It is sport originating in China and is comparable to a self-defense martial art, kind of like Kung Fu. Hard to describe. The competitors are judged on the precision and agility of the strong moves. Lots of kicks and flying thru the air. Mike’s favorite was the choreographed roll in the air, with a soft landing on the rug. One group even used swords.
Before coming here we spent 3 days tramping thru tea plantations and jungle in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s largest hill station. Much of the tea consumed in SE Asia is produced here. The rolling hills are full of what looks like a bright green maze or a puzzle. Beautiful postcard-perfect scenery and cool high mountain temperatures. So nice to be away from the heat and humidity.
We spent one afternoon with a 4th, 5th and 6th-grade Muslim school group. Their bus was full of pillows, plastic bags of Malay food, junk souvenirs, and rock videos blaring on the tv. They were excited to be touring around with 2 Americans, and we had our photo taken as if we were movie stars.
We look forward to Thailand and the adventures ahead. Mike’s hair is probably longer than mine now. We will be home to share our photos and stories with everyone in September.
Miss you all,
Linda and Mike
Location: Myanmar (Burma)
Greetings from Ayuthaya, the capital city of Thailand before the Burmese sacked the city in the 17th century. It’s a good that sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore. We just wanted to send part two of our experiences in Myanmar because we felt that one e-mail just wouldn’t do it justice (plus we didn’t want you to fall asleep). We think the most important part of this wonderful country was the people that we met along the way. They really made our short stay a great experience.
Although we didn’t plan on it, we managed to do some trekking in Kelaw. This small town is the trekking Mecca of Myanmar. Most people come here to take an overnight trip into the outlying villages. Our guide was Mr. Chain, a former school teacher that decided to take up guiding when trekking became a more lucrative occupation (he makes $5 per person per day). We visited four different ethnic groups during our trek. Their lives seem to evolve around the Kelaw Market Day held every Monday. The children were so amazing with their beautiful, dirt smeared faces and constant “hello, bye-bye” everywhere we went. We were really popular because we handed out balloons to all the kids. Some kids really got scared when we approached them because we are just so much larger than the average Burmese person. You really do feel like a celebrity with the constant giggling and open-mouthed stares. These people are so poor but are truly happy. They live in longhouses that accommodate 8 families totaling 100 people. Birth control is not used in conversations here. They couldn’t understand why we didn’t have any children since we had been married for a year already.
Last e-mail we promised that we would tell you about our “accident”. It just so happens that after leaving Kelaw, we got into a bit of trouble. Our bus was weaving its way down this crazy mountain road that caused most of the passengers to be sick. Now We know why there were plastic bags at every seat. We pulled over to the side to let a truck pass us coming in the other direction and WHAM!!!, our sides collided. The drivers got out to “discuss” the accident and I really felt like they would be going to blows at any moment. They argued for the better part of an hour in Burmese you could tell what was being said. Our driver wanted to be compensated for his damaged bus and was going to head back to Kelaw to get his money. We, of course, were not ready to make take the “throwup express” back and got off right at that spot (we did manage to get all of the money back). All of the locals just sat there resigned to the fact that they had to go back. They are such patient people and seem to never show emotion (except when someone wrecks their bus).
We made it to Mandalay with really no more problems other than sore feet for standing up for two hours on a cramped bus (It’s all a part of the experience Russ). We spent my 28th birthday washing clothes and seeing a wonderful sunset from the top of Mandalay Hill. Mandalay is Myanmar’s second largest city and home to the Pwe Comedy Troupe known as the Moustache Brothers. We met the leader of the group, Lu Maw, whose brother and cousin are in prison (for 7 years) for telling jokes about the government during a 1996 event. Since then, the government has banned his group from doing their traveling show that would sometimes last all night long until the morning. It was mind-blowing to sit and listen to this man talk about his country and the things the government have been doing since they came into power. After 2 hours of talking with him, his family provided us with a one hour show of traditional Burmese dancing in full makeup and costumes while he provided the jokes (all of them about the gov’t). All for the $6. They poured their hearts out to us through their dancing. It’s amazing to see these men and women move with such agility and grace for their advanced ages (48-60 years old).
We also managed to fit some sightseeing of the Ancient cities in. Our guide was Mr. Moustache, a trishaw driver (3 wheeled bicycle). He was a little rusty with the facts about each place but he got us into some places for free (he knew the back ways in). The gov’t charges really high entrance fees for foreigners ($4-$10) and keep raising the prices anytime people complain. It’s sad because the more the prices go up, the less people will want to go to these places. That means less work for guides like Mr. Moustache.
Our final destination was the ancient city of Bagan. There are about 5,000 pagodas and temples across the countryside. We spent two days cycling around and taking photos. Most of the temples are from the 13-15th centuries and have beautiful murals painted on the inside walls. The only bummer about Bagan is that you must pay $10 each to enter and of course, this fee goes right to their gov’t. We just hope that they use some of the money for the upkeep of the sites. At sunset, you can scale some of the higher temples and watch the sun set over the Irawaddy River. It really is a magical place.
Well, we have to get going. We hope that you have a better understanding of this wonderful country and the people that we met. Let us know if you ever plan on visiting and we can get you set up with the goods. Until then, keep the updates coming. We will be home on Sept 21.
Mike and Linda
Location: Myanmar (Burma)
Greetings from Bangkok (again!). We are back from three weeks in a forgotten country. Sorry, we have alarmed a few people by not responding to emails, but the Internet is not available in Myanmar. The purpose of this email is twofold; to let you know what we experienced and to inform you of what’s going on politically and socially.
Myanmar, or Burma as it was known until 1988, was a British colony until Independence was gained in 1948. Over the next 4 decades, the country saw several coups, takeovers and failed economic policies that continued to lower the moral of the people. In 1988, the people had had enough and protested the government and its policies. Free elections were planned for 1989, but the victorious Democratic Party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi (a woman), was never allowed to take office. Aung San Suu Kyi, with others, was placed under house arrest, while the military government never gave up their power.
Our first impression of Myanmar was of its backwards bureaucracy. All foreigners are required to exchange $300 US dollars for the governments FEC (Foreign Exchange certificates). We were able to change $250 combined by giving a gift ($5 bribe) to the friendly government employed woman at the counter. One of our main goals while traveling here was to give as little as possible to the government, a small victory.
On the way into Yangoon, we passed several political billboards (in English) outlining the government’s anti-capitalist strategies for the nation. Political propaganda. What a joke in a country where people make an average of $6/month, working 2 jobs.
Walking around town, we were pointed at, receive many giggles, and shouts of “hello”, “goodbye”, and “Where you go?” (this continued for the duration of our visit, we never got used to being celebrities). It was very different from any other place we’ve visited thus far. We didn’t see another foreigner for over 2 days (we finally ran into 3 at the tourist market). Tourism is slow in Myanmar, very slow.
In Yangoon, the capital, we visited one of the forgotten “wonders of the world”, Shwedagon Pagoda, a religious site over 1000 years old. Very impressive and of great importance in the 95% Buddhist populated country. The pagoda contains 8 hairs of “Buddha”. The religion is so complex, our guided tour lasted 3 hours and left us even more confused. I guess people study the religion for years, Dan still doesn’t know all the answers. All Linda wanted to know was why 108 images are imprinted on the bottom of Buddha’s feet. Does anyone know?
Westernization is scarce. 95% of the men wear the traditional longyis, sarong-like skirts, Mike found one long enough for himself, but was too embarrassed to wear his. Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and Magnum bars don’t exist. Though you can get Coca Cola and M&Ms at a few western type stores (over the black market, thru Thailand, at 3 times the Thai price). It was a nice relief not to read advertisements of US products, a first, instead, we saw signs that read, “Please Provide necessary assistance to the International Traveler”. We liked that!
Burmese people did provide a lot of assistance. They are the friendliest overall population we’ve encountered on our 1-year adventure. They smile constantly, want to talk with you and practice their English, want to pay for your meal and show you their country. They are dirt poor, yet are very content with what they have. Teachers make $3 a month, teaching 60 children sitting on wooden benches, no books, or posters on the walls. Yet, they have real energy and are determined to educate their pupils.
Unfortunately, the Universities were closed by the government in 1996, and a few actually opened last week offering correspondence courses and classes for Military families. Sadly this undervalued population is without access to higher education. Many bright 20 something’s seem determined to make a difference in their lives and seek out other educational opportunities, learning English and even getting into the tourist trade. We met many and made some great friendships. One 20-year-old, Khaing Zin (pronounced “Cousin”) from the Inle Lake area, can’t continue her higher education, but hopes to return to school to become a teacher. But, while she waits, she works 2 jobs to provide for her large family. She sorts tomatoes for 8 hours, making 60 cents a day and still went out of her way to provide a gourmet feast for us one evening. It was very depressing, but her strong will is incredible. It is so unfair that she and many others can’t contribute and better the country, because good jobs don’t exist. And since Universities are closed, betterment thru learning is unavailable. Can you imagine no higher education being available in the US?
Well, as you can tell there is a lot we want to share with you about Myanmar. It is a country like no other we’ve seen and many things we saw and heard are unimaginable to our privileged western upbringing. One thing we know more than ever, is how lucky we are to be Americans, with the opportunities and basic rights we possess.
More about Myanmar soon. We will provide details about our bus accidents, don’t worry mom, no injuries. We travel north thru Thailand tomorrow!
Love and miss you all,
Linda and Mike
Location: Kota Bharu, Malaysia
Greetings from Kota Bharu (KB)! We decided since we have spent the last week “vegging” on white sand beaches that we should send an update. Besides if we waited longer than that there would be too much stuff to write about! KB is a nice place but it’s going to be a short stopover before we head back South to the Cameron Highlands (can’t wait for some nice cool weather!).
We are currently in the state of Kelantan which is Malaysia at its most Malayan, a center for Malay culture, crafts, and religion. We just found out today that there is a Sultan (traditional ruler) for each state. The kingship is rotated between these sultans every five years so everyone gets a turn. Like I said it’s mostly a traditional position since the country is governed by the Prime Minister (similar to those in British Commonwealth countries). The Sultans just buy expensive cars and drive really fast.
So where have we been? We have been enjoying the good life of the Perhentian Islands. The islands, Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Besur, are just 20 km off the coast. Out of all the tropical places we have visited on this trip, these islands are the most beautiful, with crystal clear aquamarine waters and white sand beaches. We didn’t really plan on staying for too long but got sucked into the relaxed lifestyle. Although it’s filled with backpackers (it was hard to find accommodation at first) you can still get away from the crowds. We spent most of our time reading, writing, snorkeling and showering (it’s hot!). The snorkeling was first-rate with lots of fish and plenty of black-tipped reef sharks. No turtles this time but we did see a sting ray. At night we ate at one of the many beachside restaurants that served great BBQ fish like barracuda, marlin, kingfish, shark, and stingray for about US. You can dive here. Apparently, it’s very nice but we decided to save it for Thailand. Besides the snorkeling just can’t be beat (it’s free)! In Malaysia, we have been spending about US per day for the two of us. It’s a reasonable first world country to check out.
Before we ventured out to the islands we spent 3 days at the beach town of Cherating, enjoying a local market and friendly Malay hospitality. The highlight for Linda was watching a giant green turtle haul itself onto the beach, lay 108 ping pong shaped eggs, cover them with sand and return to the sea. It was an exhausting 2-hour ordeal. An incredible act of nature.
We love to hear from everyone and hope everyone is looking forward to summer fast approaching. Our travel days are flying by and will see everyone at home soon.
All our love (and Kisses),
Linda and Mike
PS-do we have video CDs in the states? CDs with movies on them? They are everywhere here?
Location: Melaka, Malaysia
Good Day from Melaka, Malaysia.
We had no trouble arriving at the beautiful, brand new Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Friday night. It is a colossal, state-of-the-art facility. Yet, we stepped out of the air conditioning into an oven. It is super hot here and very humid.
The people, food and sites make up for the sweating and discomfort. Malaysia’s population includes many ethnic groups. There are Malay, Chinese, Indian and various indigenous groups. This makes for lots of diversity and great food. We are really enjoying the food stalls and different dishes (some are really hot!). An average meal costs 3 ringgit (RM) and there are 3.8 RM to the US Dollar. So eating is cheap, delicious and enjoyable. We have done a lot of it. We also enjoy the strange looking, sweet tropical fruits, so many different types.
Kuala Lumpur (KL), is an amazing, clean, techno-savy city. The malls are gigantic, full of expensive stores and American eateries. We had a root beer float at A&W Root Beer, we couldn’t believe it. They also have Kenny Rogers Roasters, Chili’s, TGIFs, the coffee bean, San Francisco’s Best Coffee, Bud’s Ice Cream, Baskin Robin’s 31 flavors, and of course the standard 3: Burger King, KFC and the Golden Arches of McDonald’s. It is hard to get away from the chain restaurants, it’s a little distressing to see the world Americanized. Religion is a big factor here. Most citizens are Muslim and dressed accordingly with robes and scarves, I’m not sure how they cover their bodies in this heat, but it’s a way of life. Most people and school-age children speak English. They are very friendly and willing to help and offer various information and facts about life here. Other than Muslims, there is a large Hindu population as well as the 3 Chinese religions of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Lots of amazing temples, and mosques to visit.
We spent 2 full days in KL before traveling south to Melaka. Melaka is a very historic city; during the 15th century, it was the greatest trading port in South East Asia and attracted waves of conquering Europeans. Lots of Portuguese, Dutch and British influence in the buildings that make up this colorful city.
Our next stop is the East Coast, we plan to visit some seaside beach towns, before traveling north to the Perhentian islands to dive and relax. Then across the Peninsula, visiting the Cameron Highlands and resorts of the West Coast (Penang and Langkawi), then into Thailand.
Any recommendations of yours are appreciated.
We are glad to be traveling in a challenging and diverse country. It is very safe and easy to get around.
For those of you concerned: The hostages taken from the dive resort of Sipidan are still being held captive on a Philippine Island. That is in Malaysian Borneo, very far away.
Linda and Mike
PS-We sold all of our camping gear thanks to Linda’s determination to make a sale.
Location: New Zealand
Greetings! This is our last e-mail from Oz. We’re a bit sad to be leaving but are looking forward to the challenge of SE Asia. Today we board a plane for Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia and then it’s anyone’s guess as to which direction we head from there. The last few days we have been selling our camping gear. Linda must have asked about 500 people (Do you want to buy this nice tent?)in town and everywhere we were instantly recognized.
Before I talk about our last week in Northern Queensland, here is a bit of our sked: Malaysia, then possibly over to Sumatra (not sure about that yet). Then to Thailand and north out of Bangkok to Chiang Mai. After that, it’s Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, then back to Thailand and some relaxing on the beach. Finally, it’s back to KL before Sept. 8 for our flight to Hong Kong. We plan to spend a week or less there before we fly back home (scary) mid-September. Of course, the direction of our travel could all change with weather and the intermittent rebel fighting that still occurs. We would also like to go to Burma but that will remain to be seen when we get to Bangkok. As we have said before, everyone is welcome to visit us anywhere along the line.
OK, so now we are in Cairns. What can I say about Cairns except that it’s loaded with heaps of English backpackers? They’re everywhere! It’s a nice place to get stuff done (shopping, e-mails) but get out as soon as you can before you get sucked in. before Cairns we were in Mission Beach. It’s a bit South of here and is surrounded by rainforest. We slept in a hut that had all sides open to the forest (it was protected with screens to keep the bugs out). Great to listen to the sounds of the jungle at night. We were also lucky enough to see a Cassowary, a huge, ugly, prehistoric looking bird. They can be pretty feisty when they have babies with them. This one did and didn’t like me getting too close. They really can run fast!
From there we headed North to Port Douglas and the Cape Tribulation area. This is where the “rainforest meets the reef”. Sounds kind of lame but because it’s in all the brochures but it really is an amazing place. So many things to see such as waterfalls, swimming holes (nice on a humid day), unspoiled rainforest. We had some nice weather for our week or so there considering that they had 25 inches of rain the week before. In the town of Cape Tribulation, we stayed at a place called PK’s Jungle Village. It’s pretty crazy backpacker place that really goes crazy each night. They have crazy theme nights like “Sex Change” night where the women dress like men and vice versa. It’s a lot of fun (we have photos) and the bondage show is a little scary. I guess it prepares us for the cheesy sex shows in Bangkok. Besides that, you can do a lot of walks on the beaches and can do some walking thru the rainforest at night.
We didn’t see any “crocs” there although Linda made a point of going into all of the croc-infested areas to find one. Apparently, you can see them on the Daintree River but we did hear of one 15-footer in Cooper’s Creek. Besides that, you have more of a chance of getting stung by a box jellyfish (can be deadly) or getting kicked by a Cassowary (which almost happened to me).
We spent the last few days of our trip seeing a bit of the Atherton Tablelands west of Cairns. We rented a car and drove up to the little town of Kuranda to see the markets. It was sort of cheesy but the waterfall outside of town was going crazy due to the recent rain. It managed to rain for the entire time we had the car which made the waterfalls really awesome but made camping a pain in the bum. Around the Tablelands a lots of opportunities to see crater lakes, small patches of rainforest and wide open countryside. It’s a bit sad though. All of that land used to be rainforest before it was cleared in the name of progress (cattle).
Other than that, here are a few things we are leaving behind:
30 cent McDonald’s ice cream cones (17 cents US, Linda would live on these if I let her), Crocodile Dundee (I think I saw him in Cairns), those crazy leather bushman hats that all of the Euros love to wear, 19 year old English backpackers living on baked beans and toast (they really eat that for breakie), and Men at Work (the Aussies really do play it all the time on the radio).
So as I said before you are all welcome to come and visit us before we return. Keep the e-mail updates coming and we will see you in less than 4 months (ugh!). We are also not looking forward to finding work. Mike still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up (I think Doctor, Lawyer or Fireman is out of the question now).
Cheers to all,
Mike and Linda
P.S. We will write soon from Malaysia
OK. Great to hear from everyone that has taken the time to let us know what’s going on. This update is brought to you by Mike who usually sits behind Linda. For some reason, Linda can’t sit and watch me “hunt and peck” at the keyboard. I should have paid attention in typing class in high school. Somehow I still got an A. Anyway, Linda and just celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary (4/24) by going on a 5-star dive trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef.
Before I start I have to say congrats to Scott and Amy Dohemann on the arrival of Mr. Nicholas Scott Dohemann on April 24th. Nicholas picked the best day to come out and say hi!
Before we took off on our trip we had a few days to burn and didn’t want to spend it in the “Spring Break” atmosphere of Airlie Beach. The weather was perfect for a trip to Hook Island (part of the Whitsunday Islands). We camped on the beach of great of the Hook Island Resort and snorkeled in clear blue waters. We virtually had the entire place to ourselves. Great to see the sun come up over the ocean in the morning and then watch the full moon rise at night.
If anyone is ever in Australia during Easter Weekend, make sure you do all of your business before Good Friday. We wanted to buy some wine for our trip for the weekend and found out the hard way that the entire country closes up (even the drive-thru liquor stores) for Good Friday. This incredibly “religious” country also requires you to buy food if you want to purchase alcohol. Go figure!
That aside we boarded our dive boat (the OCEANIA), met the crew and the rest of the passengers, and got our safety brief. Most of the other passengers had heaps of diving experience, so we felt like total rookies. I won’t go into too much detail about this trip but the diving was excellent! The GBR is a world heritage site and is protected. I would hate to see what would happen if a ship ever spilled oil here. It would be a total disaster.
After Linda and I worked out our underwater communications problems (we really put underwater arguing on the map) all the dives went smoothly. The amount of sea life on Alexandria and Fairey Reefs just blew us away. So many beautiful corals and fishes. I can only imagine how this place was 30 years ago before the boatloads of divers arrived. We did 10 dives which 2 of them were at night. Saw some really big fish like Mauri Wrasse, trevally, bumphead parrotfish, a few whitetip reef sharks and Humphrey the loggerhead turtle. We were unable to do the SS YONGALA wreck dive due to high winds. Bummer! That leads me to the ride back to Airlie Beach on our Anniversary. We had to pull up the anchor and head in for the protection of the Islands because of the bad weather. Of course, we started to head back right after we ate breakfast and you know what that means: with 2-meter swells and 20-30 knot winds, a LOT of people lost their breakfasts over the side, including Linda. Of course, I had to help her out through all of this. Came close to spewing a few times myself. What a way to spend an anniversary!
So now it’s off to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree NP before we head off to Malaysia. Only 2 weeks left in Oz. Keep the updates coming.
Mike and Linda
Sorry, we have taken so long to send an update. Please keep your emails coming, we love to get individual responses and apologize we can’t send more detailed replies. We miss everyone very much and will be home in about 5 months. Scary.
We have had a blast traveling up the East Coast (the English backpacker party route-we really don’t fit the traveler profile-they drink a lot). Anyway, we’ve had a lot of fun at both the beaches and the hinterland bush country. Mike has gotten a lot of surfing in and really enjoyed having his wetsuit to keep the strong sun from frying his pale body. Luckily no shark attacks, but he still has a lot of salt water dripping randomly from his nose.
We enjoyed the inland towns, not as touristy and lots of great bushwalking and really Aussie people to meet. We floated down dangerous Bellinger River full of rapids and tree limbs, and climbed thru rain forest to the peak of Mt Warning (a magma chamber of an extinct volcano, eroded over the last 20 million years, beautiful views).
We spent 4 days on Cabarita Beach, the southern end of the Gold Coast, where Mike got to hang out with the local and visiting Australian surfers, great experience for him, lots of good tips and big waves. Beautiful, undeveloped spot, soon to be taken over by the chaos of the Gold Coast/Surfers Paradise high rises.
We crossed the New South Wales state line into Queensland, and lots of sugar cane fields, great for making rum! We spent a few days at the beautiful resort town of Noosa Heads, hiking in the national park and surfing and boogie boarding the great waves.
We met up with 4 friends (Jeanette and Peter from Holland and Mike and Carol Brady from Manchester, England-lots of football (soccer) talk between the 2 countries) and rented a 4 wheel drive ex-army jeep to explore Fraser Island from Hervey Bay. The island is the largest sand island in the world and a world heritage site, because of its 45 perched lakes (crystal clear freshwater lakes on sand dunes), the beautiful coastlines and mangrove and rainforest reserves. It is full of backpackers driving in dangerous deep, soft sand. Lots of warnings and stories when you rent it, but we were very confident in Mike’s 4wd driving experience. The first day was a wet one and 20 minutes onto the island our jeep stalled and the 6 of us were pushing it thru the mud in the pouring rain to get out of the way of the parade of 4wds following us. Always an adventure. We learned to hand start the thing, and when the weather cleared we were off again. It was wonderful to drive along the beautiful, wild beaches, the ocean is not safe for swimming, due to the large number of sharks, but there were plenty of lakes, rivers and ocean pools to swim in. We checked out the MAHENO Shipwreck (Mike liked that!) We walked on a 5km long sand blow, it seemed to go on and on. It was an incredible experience and a lot of fun riding in the jeep, especially when the sun was shining and we took off the canvas top!
We are now in Airlie Beach, another backpacker mecca and gateway to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands and further off the Great Barrier Reef. No more surfing, we now snorkel and dive. This weekend (our 1 year wedding anniversary and Easter) we are going on a luxurious dive boat, the OCEANIA, for 10 dives off of the outer reef. We will dive the YONGALA wreck, supposedly one of the best dives in the world, plus 2 night dives. It should be an amazing time and a real treat.
Last night Linda, in an effort to fit in with the backpackers, rode a mechanical bull at one of the crazy bars. The atmosphere here is comparable to Spring Break in Ft Lauderdale, without the Americans.
Cheers and goodbye to the next note,
Love Linda and Mike
Hello Everyone, Mike and I are getting back into the swing of life with the backpacks. After three-and-a-half weeks of easy living in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and then hotel living with my mom, we are back in a hostel and cooking our own dinners.
We left my mom at the airport after 8 great days of family togetherness and updates from the real world. We enjoyed eating at fine restaurants and having a bathroom attached to our room. It was very civilized. We showed her the sites of Sydney, including beach days at Bondi Beach and a historic ferry ride to Manly Beach. Plus we got to spend time on the south coast, enjoying the beautiful farmland scenery and kangaroo watching.
We also got to see my brother for 2 days, which was wonderful, he is planning his wedding for September 30, which means we will be returning to the real world, jobs and health insurance in September. Looking forward to seeing everyone!
Yesterday afternoon, we took the first leg of our bus pass to the city of Newcastle (2 hours North of Sydney). The second biggest city in the state of New South Wales. The town is busy with a surf fest surf competition, lots of great talent, Mike is very excited! He recently bought a wetsuit and is hinting again about purchasing the board. Crazy.
We will be heading north along the coast over the next 7 weeks to Cairns. We have to leave the country on May 6, when are 3-month visa expires.
We miss you all and look forward to hearing more about your travels, trials and experiences at home and on the road.
Love and happiness,
Linda and Mike
Greetings everyone, We have just returned from 10 days in one place. Probably a personal record for us. We spent our time in Katoomba, a town in the Blue Mountains, 2 hours West of Sydney. It was a great spot to relax, hike, read, watch the latest video releases and get some illegal work in. The hostel, now our second home, was too comfortable and several days of rain kept us indoors. We did, however, get the chance to do some medium labor landscaping for a local guy, which got us some much-needed dollars. Mike wants to buy a surfboard with his earnings (though he still is a little fragile around the ribs). He also got his first haircut in 10 months, though it is still long, his hair is no longer uneven.
We left Sydney after the crazy Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade Finale on the 4th. It was a lot of fun and by far the best parade either of us has ever seen. If any of you have ever been to Halloween in San Francisco’s Castro District, this parade is 100 times crazier. It began with 100s of dykes on bikes (Mike’s favorite) and featured sleek well tanned, dancing men and women. Lots of sexually suggestive, creative and entertaining floats. Many floats featured current political hot topics (some difficult for us Yanks to comprehend): Australia is beginning a GST tax in July and the debate now is whether or not to add a tax on tampons, hence lots of dancing tampons in the parade. We took many photos of it all!
We loved Sydney, though it is a very Americanized city. Lots of culture, sites and people watching. It is Olympic chaos here, most people are very excited for the games to begin (Sept 15-30). However, there are those who can’t wait for the madness to end. Lots of people wearing shirts that read “F@#K the Olympics!”. Linda just bought herself an Olympic hat to fit in.
We stayed in Newtown, with Alistair, a Scottish transplant and his Australian wife, Lesley. They were great and we got to experience life in a funky and diverse inner neighborhood. Sydney has lots of great restaurants, no cooking for us here. Other than eating lots of Asian food and drinking delicious Australian wines, we enjoyed a piano recital and symphonic concert at the picturesque and famous Opera House. The pianist was a French man, Jean Yves? Some thing or other, we had seen 2 years ago in a small church recital in Perugia, Italy. Linda insisted on telling him after the concert, small world.
Linda’s mom and brother are due to arrive tomorrow morning and we will spend another 4 or 5 days touring the city, before renting a car with my mom to visit some neighboring Australian regions. She really wants to see kangaroos and koalas in the wild! We just want to spend time with her, since we haven’t seen family members in 9 months.
Well, that is it for now, we miss home, but are really loving doing nothing but travelling. It is too much fun.
Cheers and as always love from the road,
Mike and Linda
Greetings mates, Lots of sun and fun here. We have spent the last 2 weeks traveling the coastal route between Melbourne and Sydney (about 1000 km). We started on Phillip Island, a Melbourne holiday spot, where Mike took his first real surf lesson. All was going great, he was even able to stand up, unfortunately, his afternoon ended with some bruised ribs on a nasty 6-foot wave wipe-out. It was hard as the surf babe on the beach to watch the disaster. But he can once again be hugged hard and is looking forward to upcoming surf sets.
Then we explored one of Australia’s favorite National parks, “The Prom”, Wilson’s Promontory. We were tramping around for 3 days in the heat, 38 degrees Celsius, over 100 F. Crazy hot here. Anyway, beautiful beaches, with warm water, great for swimming and body surfing.
We spent the remaining days at random caravan parks, beach resorts and National Parks. We have met heaps of locals, very friendly and extremely helpful, plus interesting to talk to. Australia is much more “Americanized” than NZ. Faster pace, busy lifestyle and growing problems. Sad to see them catching up to the states. But, we really are amazed by the beauty we’ve seen. The beaches and wildlife are spectacular. We enjoy camping along with the Aussies in their big canvas tents and giant cooking set-ups. They are well prepared, to say the least, and very generous about sharing what they have with us.
We had a camping disaster 3 nights ago when a possum bit a 6-inch hole into the side of our little 2 person tent to reach our fresh food, he got a bit of a nectarine and some bread and caused us both possum nightmares and a restless night. But, luckily Mike can sew, and we are back in business.
Most of the school kids here where large brimmed hats as part of their uniforms and adhere to the “slip, slop, slap” method before exiting the schoolroom for lunch or recess. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a wide-brimmed hat. Very concerned about the effects of the hot sun here, the skin cancer capital of the world. Great to see them dressed in their gingham outfits with this big hat upon their heads.
Tomorrow we go on to Sydney, the big city, some like it, others can’t stand the place. I guess we will judge for ourselves. Saturday night is the giant Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, apparently quite a party.
We miss you all,
Cheers and Love,
Mike and Linda
Hello everyone, We have enjoyed a hot and amazing first week here in Oz Lots to see and the distances are far, but it is a lot of fun.
We arrived easily in Melbourne, which is the capital of the state of Victoria, the Garden State. Lots of gardens and cool neighborhoods to spend time eating, shopping and people watching. Great big city and we have heard it is much more relaxed than their neighbor to the Northeast, Sydney.
We joined a local in his souped-up van along the famous Great Ocean Road. We enjoyed boogie boarding and wave jumping at Bells Beach, famous Rip Curl headquarters. Lots of great surfing to watch. Mike had a lot of fun boarding, but managed to be crushed by a couple of waves and still has sand coming out of his nose.
We camped in a couple of cool Oceanside towns, viewed lots of rock formations and then made our way into the mountains to the Grampians National Park. We saw our first emus, kangaroos and wild Koalas. They are everywhere and so interesting to watch. Also lots of great bushwalking, plus a famous Jazz Festival was taking place. Great luck. Lots of fun with the Australian jazz crowd, lots of drinking and great musicians.
Today we are heading south to Philip Island to camp amongst penguins and then along the coast to Sydney, taking a couple of weeks to get there. Lots of little coastal towns to visit.
Mardi Gras in Sydney is March 4, and is supposedly a wild time. Come and meet us.
Keep the updates coming! Send us any travel favorites for Australia.
Linda and Mike
Hello Everyone, Greetings from Auckland, in New Zealand’s North Island. Sorry, it has been so long since our last note. We have really enjoyed being away from the computer, but miss interacting with everyone at home.
We have really enjoyed beautiful New Zealand and are sad to leave. Tomorrow we fly across the Tasman Sea to Melbourne, Australia.
It has been wonderful enjoying summer and the outdoors for the last 7 weeks. We did numerous multi-day tramps (hikes), our favorites being the Routeburn, the Kepler, the Inland Pack Track, the Matukituki Valley (Linda thought it was more beautiful than the Yosemite Valley) and a 4-day beach walk thru the Abel Tasman National Park.
The Department of Conservation (DOC), who manage the land and trails, is incredible. They have more than 900 back-country huts for public use. The trails are numerous, well marked and full of New Zealand (Kiwi) families. It has been great to experience the outdoors with the locals.
Which brings us to our favorite part about New Zealand, the people. So friendly, conscientious and fun to be around. They are not afraid to start a conversation or tell you about something they enjoyed or are thinking about. Very open and easy to be around. We hitchhiked our way around the South Island for the month of January and met some incredible Kiwis (and other foreign travelers). It was a great experience, and probably one of the last places on the planet, you can easily and safely hitch.
Kiwis love their sports. We have learned a lot about Cricket, but Rugby is king. We attended a Rugby, super 12 test match, the other night and learned a lot about the sport and those who attend. We have also been keenly following the America’s Cup challenge, tomorrow is the 9th and final race and we are pulling for the Americans. Italy’s Prada boat, however, is the Kiwi favorite to face the New Zealand champs beginning Feb 19. I think they are tired of the Americans. And of course, there is surfing, which Mike and I tried on New Years Eve day in the surfing capital of Raglan.
We have enjoyed lots of bird watching, so many interesting species to view and learn about. Mike got me a bird book for Christmas and we have been quite the bird nerds. We even saw the national nocturnal. Kiwi bird (it was in a bird reserve, but still cool to watch).
The country is easy to get around, rental cars are plentiful and reasonable (we have enjoyed one for the last 4 days here on the north island) and the US dollar exchange rate extremely favorable to American tourists. I don’t think we will be able to eat in an SF restaurant without remembering the quality of food at low NZ prices. Our favorites being the green lipped mussels.
Another great part about travel here is the Maori culture. The Maori arrived here from the Polynesian island area approximately 1000 years ago. Tomorrow is Waitangi day, celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. A treaty which released sovereignty to the British Crown and granted the Maori people the same rights as English citizens. However, this was the beginning of land skirmishes between the Maori and the European settlers, and a series of violent conflicts. Financial reparations are being made to those whose land was unjustly taken. The Maori language is seen in most place, city, mountain, lake, river and area names. Makes things very interesting, but difficult to pronounce at first.
One thing which is popular with long-term travelers here, is WWOOFing (we aren’t sure what it stands for, but work and organic are two of the letters), a way to work on organic farms, gardens, sheep stations, vineyards, etc, in exchange for food and board. We worked for 2 days in Motueka, near Nelson, in the North of the South Island. Great opportunity to live with a Kiwi family, and to learn more about life in New Zealand. We did some painting (it rained for one day) and garden work. Mike was quite a pro with the pitchfork pulling up the new potatoes. Lots of fun.
We spent my 28th birthday enjoying 2 nights at a beautiful, Victorian B&B in Wellington (thanks to a wedding gift from our friends Shannon Davies and Jason Wolfed). We enjoyed great food and wine, the theater and a jazz bar, almost like being back in the big city.
Tonight we rest and organize our packs, (I’m getting a little tired of seeing mine and the clothes inside it) before our flight tomorrow afternoon. Please keep the updates coming. We would love to hear more about everyone’s New Years happenings.
We promise to send another note soon, Missing everyone, but enjoying traveling,
Love, Linda and Mike
Hola friends, New Zealand is wonderful. The people are extremely friendly and the scenery beautiful. We enjoyed 10 days of sightseeing in the North Island, before returning to Auckland for Christmas and Boxing Day Celebrations.
We visited the Coromandel Peninsula (quaint Mendocino type towns, hot thermal water beaches, and amazing walking trails) and the thermal bath town of Rotorua. Lots to see and so easy to get around. New Zealand is a great vacation spot for any outdoorsy person.
We met our good San Franciscan friends, Shannon Davies and Jason Wolford, at the airport on the 24th. Then spent Xmas, Boxing Day, the 27th and 28th and Rhys’s (Shannon’s brother in law) parents house in the Northland, with 15 young children and 20 plus adults. Big family fun. Very different from our small family get-togethers at home. Nice to spend the holidays in nice weather (though we heard San Francisco has been unusually warm). We got to water-ski and relax on the beach. Plus we had a Maori hangi (cooking food in the ground) for Boxing Day, though we haven’t found out what the history of the holiday actually is.
We will be on an East Coast beach for the New Year, first to see the light of the new Millennium, should be fun, we hope to stay awake for the sunrise.
Wishing everyone happiness and adventure during the New Year. Enjoy yourselves, be safe and keep us updated on your happenings and Christmas stories.
Linda and Mike
Hello everyone, It is going to be hard not to think in Spanish. We made it to Auckland on Sunday (NZ time-21 hours ahead of the West Coast) after an easy and enjoyable eleven hour Qantas flight. Flights like that are so much better when you can get exit row seats.
Definitely, a culture shock coming from Buenos Aires (BA) to Auckland. BA was definitely Mike’s favorite city in all of Sur America. There is so much to see and do here. We only had 3 night and 3 days here so we had to pack in as much as possible. Mike thinks that you really need about 2 weeks to see most of the good stuff in BA (if your budget can handle it). So much going on, culture-wise, in this place. They were having the BA Tango Festival during our stay. We went to a concert where the city orchestra played the music of the tango. So beautiful and emotional especially when they had a famous cantor sing with the orchestra.
We also got to see the opera, Lucia di Lammermoor (the Bride of Lammermoor), at Teatro Colon. Amazing singing. The place was packed with locals that would yell “bravo” at every curtain call. They just went nuts for the soprano, Lucia. We have never heard singing like that before.
The city is very large and easy to get around on foot. So much to see. Lots of little parks and plazas with these amazing old trees with huge branches sweeping down to the ground. We did make a visit to the City Cemetery to find the tomb of Evita (Eva Peron). Found it after walking through all of the spooky walkways of tombs and mausoleums. Very scary. During our stay, we happened to be present for the craziness of the Presidential inauguration. De la Rua is the new guy. People seem to like him well enough. I guess anything can be better than the horror of the ’70s and ’80s when thousands of people disappeared. We happened to come upon a gathering at Plaza de Mayo (in front of the President’s house, Casa Rosada) of family members that lost loved ones. It’s pretty sad to see the photos of all those missing/disappeared people.
When in Rome……..eat like the Argentineans. Beef, beef and more beef. It’s what’s for dinner! We had heard so much about the beef here in Argentina that we waited until we arrived in BA to get the real experience. People don’t really eat until about 10 or 11 pm. We went to Des Nivel in the San Telmo barrio and ate so much beef (even the guys beef next to us, long story). Possibly the best beef Mike has ever had!
It was nice to arrive in Auckland and not have to ask for directions in Spanish. We could actually walk up to someone and ask how much does this cost without having to bargain for the price. Don’t get us wrong, we will miss speaking Spanish. Linda still has problems. Saying “gracias” and “ciao” to everyone. People here look at us like we are crazy.
We are staying right now with Shannon Davies sister Karen. Karen, Rhys and new baby Hannah have been nice enough to let us throw our stuff all over the place and even wash all of our clothes. We are planning to head North now to see the Bay of Islands, Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula before returning back here to spend Christmas and the New Year with our SF friends Shannon and Jason.
America’s Cup update: The Louis Vuitton Cup which currently belongs to New Zealand, is finishing Round 3 of the Qualifying round robin before the Semifinals in 2000. The San Francisco Yacht Club (Belvedere, Calif.) Boat, America True and America One from the St Francis (SF) Yacht Club as well as Dennis Connor’s Stars and Stripes boat will qualify for the American entries. The New York Yacht Club (that held the cup for 132 years) was knocked out yesterday. Hard to watch the races, but you can see the sails!
Ok, we are off to the city center to get a bus or boat. Enjoy the last 2 weeks of Christmas Shopping! We miss you and love the updates, keep them coming.
Mike and Linda
Hola todos, We hope everyone is enjoying their holiday weekend and got at least one day off from work.
We just returned from three days at the coast, taking a break from our adventures in a holiday-weekend beach town called Isla Negra. The town has the museum and home of Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet and eccentric. Quite interesting and beautiful.
Santiago is beautiful (mostly because of the fact that we haven’t seen any of the so-called smog that usually blankets the city). There are numerous city parks, museums and statues. We visited a very old winery, Viña Cousiño Macul, close to the heart of the city. Wine is super cheap here and very good.
The residents of Santiago and most of Chile, are very friendly and very nice dressers, lots of Spanish and European influence, much different than the poorer countries to the north.
We are enjoying the big supermarkets and endless choices while shopping. Plus a travel agent that is helpful, we changed our flight out of Buenos Aires to Dec. 11, allowing us more time in Chile.
Lately, we’ve been staying in hostels/homes where we can cook. It’s been fun to make pasta with other travelers, instead of eating out like usual, though we don’t miss washing dishes.
The weather here is quite warm, strange to be in the southern hemisphere, and have the days long and sunny in November. There are lots of Christmas decorations and Santas basking in the sun of store windows and buildings.
Tonight we take an 11 hour night bus to Pucon in the lake district. It is a big adventure hiking, trekking, volcano climbing town on Lago Villarrica and next to Volcan Villarrica. The volcano is an easy day hike, but it is currently erupting, so we are not sure as to how close we can get.
We will spend 10 days around the lake district and the folklore and densely forested island of Chiloe, before getting a 4-day ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, past icebergs and fjords and the wonders of Patagonia. It is supposed to look similar to Alaska and we are looking forward to hiking in Torres del Paine national park and Fitz Roy in Argentina.
We will then visit the most southern island, Tierra del Fuego, before returning north and eventually up to Buenos Aires for our new December, 11 flight to Auckland, New Zealand.
Lots to do and see in the next month. Thanks again for your great updates, hope everyone has a wonderful Turkey day. We will miss cooking and enjoying our annual meal with our friends, however.
Linda and Mike