Finally, We’re Back!

After a mountainful of problems with our previous webhost crashing our data then holding it hostage, we are free of them and have managed to get our site both back up and with the ability to add new posts. Such is the life when you are not so good about backing your site up and you have to rebuild databases yourself. All I will say is no one should ever use Mochahost for any reason. There are so many other places that will at least honor the terms of what they sold you and not crash your server. Is that so much to ask?

But as we close 2010, we’re back thanks to a New Year’s miracle, and we’ll hopefully be bringing you some more content soon. Happy New Year everybody!

There’s a few issues yet to figure out, like why the comments below have nothing to do with this post. We’ll get there … sigh. (And they’re gone, yay!)

Yellowstone in Pictures (Day 1 and 2)

Well, according to this blog, it took us multiple weeks to get into Yellowstone. We apologize for way this blog has gone the last few weeks, but it’s just another casualty of a very busy schedule. It’s pretty amazing how life is busier when you’re at home as opposed to constantly traveling. So we’re gonna go full photoblog and share a gallery of photos from our first two days in Yellowstone. We’ll have the last two days in another two days.

Road Trip: The Long Road to Yellowstone

These posts have been a long time coming, but here we go. A few weeks ago, myself, Theresa and her two brothers, Greg and Mark, embarked from Chicago avoiding Interstates on a ten day journey to Yellowstone and back. This is that story.

Even though I spent my formative years less than 10 hours away, as a child, I never went to Yellowstone. I suppose that happens when you play a baseball doubleheader every weekend during the summer. But I never really resented missing it until I found myself there. And wondering why in the world I didn’t come sooner. We spent a year traveling to some of the most exotic and distant places in the world, but I hadn’t even been to one of the most exotic right in my own backyard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s a long way from Chicago to Yellowstone, and landing in Chicago, I knew we had three days in the car before arriving at America’s first National Park. The roads started off busy and slow as we plodded our way through the Chicago suburbs, which last all the way to the Wisconsin border. We stopped for an Amish farmers market in Viroqua, Wisconsin, and found some great cinnamon rolls and bread. For a market in Wisconsin, though, it was decidedly lacking in cheese. We managed to find some in the next town over though, and our breakfast and lunch for the next day or two were complete. And we found these amazing cheesehead hats!

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A small wrong turn in Minnesota cost us an hour or so, and by the time we made it to our planned campground in eastern North Dakota, the sun was setting. And though we’d noticed some strong gusts in the car, we hadn’t quite appreciated how fierce the winds across the northern plains can really be. We were met by park rangers that warned us of possible tornados and thunderstorms. Stepping out of the car, the winds told us they weren’t kidding. Maybe this whole camping idea wasn’t so hot after all.

Ever stubborn (and really just more out of any options), we found the most sheltered campsite we could, set up our tents and then cooked up a dinner.

After dinner, certain the thunderstorm was imminent, we retired to the car to wait it out, only to have it skirt by us with hardly a drop of water. Even though it lit up the sky across the plans beautifully, it was sure painful to try to stay up after the whole day of driving. Eventually, at some ridiculous hour, we crashed into our tents, only to be woken up as we always do when camping, at sunrise. Not a particularly restful start to the trip.

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Day two started early, but man the state of South Dakota does not change much until you get pretty far west. We drove a straight line for six hours before reaching Wall, SD. For anyone that has ever driven in this area, all the billboards point you here, to Wall Drug. It’s undoubtedly the most famous pharmacy in the country, and these days, a ridiculous tourist attraction in its own right. About ten minutes was all any of us could take, so we headed for the real reason to come the area, the Badlands.

There’s something funny about traveling the world before your own backyard … you tend to reference really far off places to make comparisons. Driving through the Badlands, both Theresa and were commenting on how this looks like Patagonia, and that looks like the Quebrada de Cafayate, ad nauseum. I’m sure Greg and Mark got pretty tired of it, especially as it continued all the way through the Tetons. But, well, those are apt comparisons. It was a really beautiful, scarred landscape, that’s probably best shared in pictures.

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We were entertained as we drove by the prarie dogs (or prayin’ dogs as a 5 year old Mark used to call them) and frightened by two rattlesnakes, one in the road, the other (a juvenile) Greg almost stepped on at a turnout! We also got our first look at a wild Buffalo. It was very exciting at the time, but by the end of our trip, after the massive herds and baby buffalo at Yellowstone, they really weren’t worth all of our excitement.

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After that, it was on to Mt. Rushmore, thankfully not a long drive away, but via an awesome road, the Iron Mountain highway. It was clearly built before today’s modern interstate routes, because it hairpined up the mountain, followed by loop-de-loops and one lane tunnels back down. It made for a really fun drive, especially in the thick morning fog we set out in. This fog was troublesome as we arrived to Mt. Rushmore, since it made it so we couldn’t see Mt. Rushmore. Fortunately, the clouds soon “thinned” out and we got our view of the giant heads.

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Frankly, I don’t know what to think about Mt. Rushmore. On the one hand, it’s a really impressive accomplishment. It’s absolutely massive, moreso than I’d ever imagined, and the sculptures are very well done. And I sat there thinking that future civilizations, long after we’re gone, are going to look at these giant faces on a mountain and it’ll be reflective of our culture like the Pyramids of Egypt or Angkor Wat. But looking at the “before” and “after” pictures of the mountain, I couldn’t help thinking it looked better before. It just seems like such a silly thing to do to such a nice mountain.

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After that it was onward, all the way across the state of Wyoming (with a failed attempt to see Devil’s Tower that was fully thwarted by the fog) to the end of our long road to Yellowstone, our gateway, Cody, Wyoming. And that’s our next starting point.

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I think the site is fixed

I make my long awaited return to the blog to announce … that after countless days of annoying correspondence with our web hosts, I think we took care of all the crap that was going wrong on our blog. Please do let us know if you notice anything weird because we had to move servers and reset links and insanity like that. So hopefully no more spam and hopefully links keep working. Just what I love doing while on vacation!

Toothbrushes Galore!

Toothbrushes all in a row

Place Taken: Altagracia, Ometepe, Nicaragua

Date Taken: Oct 15, 2008

While visiting the Si a la Vida kids to deliver the goods we brought from the US for them, we got the “grand tour” of their facility to see how they lived. They were amazing kids with such spirit, creativity and charm. Compared to their previous lives of glue sniffing and homelessness, they must’ve thought their shared rooms and single shared sink were fantastic, but two days out of the US, it was a bit shocking to us. Their row of toothbrushes lined up on the courtyard wall next to their shared sink was emblematic of that for us and made for a really colorful picture.

Homeward Bound!

363 days ago, we sat in the Houston Airport and shared with you all this post. We were excited, nervous and anxious about the year ahead. Today,we share with you the same image of us in the Seoul Airport, waiting to go home.

All those things we were so anxious about are now memories. It’s been more exciting than we could possibly have imagined. It’s been a magnificent year, but now, we are ready to come home! See you all very soon!

Rajasthan Wrap-Up

We’re quite happily back in Thailand now, enjoying the last week of our trip at the beach before heading home. We didn’t, however, keep you updated on our whirlwind tour of India, with all of its ups and downs. So with that, I’ll pick up where we left off and finish off our tour of Rajasthan with visits to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.

Jaipur, dubbed the Pink City, was not as pink as you would think. The shops along the bazaar were painted in more of a peach color, which was at least uniform if not particularly “pink,” but everything else was painted however the tenants wanted. Suffice it to say that was a variety of colors.

Nevertheless, the city was teeming with fantastic Indian architecture. Without even counting the interesting historic houses and commercial buildings dotting the city, the city palace, the Jantar Mandar and the Hawa Mahal were fascinating to explore. I thoroughly enjoyed the Jantar Mandar, an astrological observatory with a sundial accurate to two seconds, and all sorts of fantastic angles to photograph.

From there we headed on to mainly two forts: Jaisalmer Fort and Jodhpur Fort. Both were fascinating in different ways. Jaisalmer Fort is still lived in and in many ways reminded us of Zanzibar, will tiny alleys leading to fascinating slices of life within the fort. It was great to wander around and get lost. We met a few locals that were given to conversation and found ourselves on a beautiful rooftop for sunset. The lit up for after the sun went down was particularly beautiful.

Jodhpur Fort was physically, a more imposing and more impressive fort. The architectural majesty and beauty of the fort was unrivaled in the India we saw.

For all of our current lamentations about India, Rajasthan was an area we thoroughly enjoyed. It is rightfully the most well traveled part of India, it has the culture and history and tradition people come to India looking for.

The Silliest Border Ever

It’s no secret that India and Pakistan are long-time rivals and, often, enemies. Border territory, like Kashmir, is still disputed, and more than one war has been fought over the last fifty years. But the rivalry descends into its silliest at the border in Wagha, outside Amritsar.

It seems, over the years, “oneupsmanship” between the Indian and Pakistani border guards has led to quite a spectacle every night as the border closes. We arrived in our rickshaw amid hundreds of other Indians attending the ceremony, many with Indian flags, many in armed forces uniforms. The number of parked cars along the road makes for a long walk to the border, where giant permanent concrete spectator stands line both the Indian and Pakistani sides. It’s really like attending a major sporting event. We are lead to seats in the “tourist” section and have a seat.

Though we are 45 minutes early for the ceremony, the party has already started. Bollywood music is blasting over the speakers and people are lined up to carry the Indian flag down the road to the gate separating the countries. The old, hobbled people receive the biggest applause.

A little later, the flags disappear and the dancing begins, and the stands continue to fill. By the time the ceremony starts, the Indian side is completely full, while the Pakistani side remains decidedly empty, perhaps with 50 or so people. Not really a contest over who will be the loudest.

It starts with the introduction of the guards, almost like a starting lineup is announced, and as they enter, it is our first view of the much repeated high-leg kick. Then, repeated shouts of “Hindustan” with some sort of incomprehensible response from the crowd. This will also be a recurring theme.

It’s hard for us understand and remember exactly what all happened next, but there was definitely some speed marching to the gate, long, drawn out “aaahhh” sounds, a few salutes, and a few openings of the gate where at identically but oppositely clad Pakistani guard would do the exact opposite of the Indian guard. Each action was met with thunderous applause and celebration. Eventually, both sides were in position holding their still waving flags, and at the signal, everyone pulled down their various flags at exactly the same time and exactly the same speed. Then there was the emphatic closing of gates and speed marching back into the border guard house, all met with more thunderous applause. We couldn’t help but laugh through nearly the entire event.

While it was completely silly and ridiculous, it’s the kind of thing that gives you some hope about the relationship between these two countries. If I may paraphrase Lewis Black, things go to shit when there’s no one to poke fun and everyone is too serious to laugh. India and Pakistan are always going to be rivals, but it needs to become a friendly and silly rivalry rather than a dangerous one. These kinds of events seemed to be step in the right direction, and it was hilarious to watch to boot!

The Weather Turns

Sometimes you wake up at 5:00 AM and start walking through the pouring rain … and really start to question why you keep doing this. Then you get on the painfully slow, narrow gauge train that supposedly has such wonderful views only to realize you won’t see anything due to this wonderful rain that has now soaked you through to the core. And all the while, we’re trying to cope with a sensation we haven’t felt in a long time – cold.

But then the train starts. It chugs along, winding uphill steadily. We dip in and out of the clouds as the rain comes in spurts. The views, while not vast, envelop hills in various shades of cloudy grey. We get a hot cup of tea to warm us up, and we sit back and enjoy the show.

The train chugs in two hours late and we trudge to a hotel, though mercifully, the rain has stopped. The clouds slowly diminsh as the day wears on, until we are rewarded for our early morning efforts with a gorgeous sunset.

We have landed in Shimla, the famous hill station and seat of the British Raj every summer. More rewards await us the next morning. We awaken to crystal clear skies and a view of all the hills surrounding us and stretching all the way across to the Himalayan range.

Thrilled with the prospect of our first good weather day in India, we decide to go for a walk the tourism office recommended. It turned out to be a bit more challenging and less clear than a “walk,” but it was the kind of day I really like. The terrain was varied, we wandered downhill through wooded forests in the “glen” before winding back up hill through local villages on a trail that led to a beautiful waterfall before returning to the British opulance of the Viceregal Lodge, the former summer home of the Viceroy of India and a classic British building that looked like something out of Harry Potter.

The people were wonderful, we said a few namastes and hellos, posed for a few pictures and shared a whole lot of smiles. And the weather was perfect. So we got our answer … days like this are why we keep doing this.