Tuesday, December 21, 2010

hit the road, jack...

just four days until my odyssey begins and already there have been changes one couldn't foresee. my first stop was going to be cancun - i was going to visit the mayan temple, chichen itza, before catching a flight to the island that shall remain nameless, a friend went last week and informed me that no tickets were available until mid to late january. shoot.
so i've just purchased a ticket to jamaica instead. from there i will see if it is possible to get to the island, but i am not going to do anything crazy to make it happen. if it doesn't work out, i will head to guyana and see about busing my way to rio where i will meet up with my friend v, an intrepid adventurer who is game for trying out my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants travel style.
i had hoped to be all caught up on old adventures before i began writing about this one, but it seems that is no where near happening. life has a way of forcing you away from the stuff you want to do and making you do the things you'd rather not.
so i warn you now, there will be some going backwards and forwards and to help keep it clear, i will try to toss in a year now and then, as well as keep all current posts titled in lower case and old adventures in capitals.
hope you will stick with me!
"the monkey who stole christmas"
and between now and the next post, let me wish you all a very merry holiday!

pilfered tidings is one of my collage cards, available through my website, www.5036.com

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

random quotes

just watched 180° South and this was my favorite line from the movie about two inspiring adventures:
"the whole purpose of climbing something like that [everest] is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain. if you compromise that process [hiring sherpas to do the work for you], you are an asshole starting out and you're an asshole when you get back"
~ yvon chouinard (founder of patagonia clothing)

1968 adventure

2008 adventure

Friday, December 3, 2010


galway, ireland to cork, ireland
i stayed in a hostel in galway one night before heading off to my next destination. while checking in, i met a fellow californian. we got to chatting about home and found we had similar political views - loved our country, but didn't care for the lack of consideration/respect of others. when we walked into the dorm room that we would be sharing with 16 others, it was only about five, so as we got settled in we talked about going and scrounging up some food.
crazy canadians
there was a huge canadian flag covering one of the bunks (a privacy barrier), and i found i couldn't help myself - i started mocking the canadian traveler's need to make sure they didn't get mistook for american, putting those maple leaves on every available surface. i said some outrageous stuff that i didn't believe at all, like canada was really just the 51st state, mainly to make my new friend laugh. we were being loud and having a great time, but then someone behind the flag groaned a little, and we realized we had disturbed their sleep. we slipped out of the room so as not to further annoy them.
in hostels you get folks from all over who sleep at irregular times depending on where they've just come from and what they'd been doing there. i hated when other hostelers would come in drunk and loud, with no regard for the people trying to sleep, and was abashed that i had just done that - granted it was still light out and they had hidden themselves behind the flag, but still, i felt bad.

the next morning, as i got myself ready to bus down to dingle, i noticed the canadian was already gone.
dingle was stunning. the name sounds silly, but the place is just absolutely beautiful. so green. that shade of kelly that seems just a wee bit too bright for nature. rolling hills, super narrow roads, quaint little village, and a lovely hostel that used to be a manor house.
it was divine.

the first night at the hostel, i met the staff and the only other guest, a canadian gal, k. we made dinner together and talked long into the night. at one point, which often happens to me, we fell into a political conversation. i can't stress enough how much i love my country, but i am also deeply respectful of other cultures and i think assimilation is a terrible thing.
k seemed to get where i was coming from and liked what i was saying, and then started telling an 'ugly american' story. seems she had been in a hostel, sleeping and these two loud americans had come in and woken her up with their obnoxious pro-america blather, dissing canadians -
uh oh.
ballentaggart hostel
i asked if she had been in galway the night before.
'yes, how did you know?'
i somewhat shamefacedly admitted that that had been me and quickly pointed out that i had been kidding, which now that she knew me a little, she could see.
even though we all got a big laugh out of it, i was mortified and decided that i would try to mind my tongue a little closer going forward. jokes out of context can be very bad news!

dingle was amazing, and life was so fine just then, i ended up staying for days, giving up a couple nights in blarney to do so. i hung out with fungi, a local dingle citizen who happens to be a dolphin, went for long rambling hikes, the whole group of us would cook together and watch football on the telly, it was lovely. but eventually i knew i needed to head out.
when i did, k decided she would tag along with me for a little, and since we had completely gotten past my mockery, i was open to the company.
a two way road with room for one car...
we just missed our morning bus to cork. there wouldn't be another one until the following day. we were told that hitch hiking was commonplace and completely safe; feeling brave because we numbered two, out the thumbs went. the first car that passed stopped to pick us up. it was a tiny battered little thing being driven by an eccentric millionaire sheep farmer, johnny dingle. he was very friendly and chatty, and said he could drive us as far as blarney and assured us we'd be able to hitch a ride from there onto cork. i, thankfully, was sitting in the backseat, so was able to ignore the fact that he drove like a demon.
i could see k's white knuckle grip and resolved not to look at the road - if i was going to die, i didn't want to see it coming. but there was no head on collision, seemed some sort of miracle!
he was really very nice, but i learned my lesson, no more hitch hiking for me. when we got out of the car, we both agreed that the bus (which we were now way ahead of, thanks to johnny's lead foot) was the way to proceed.

oh, and i did visit the blarney stone, but i didn't kiss it - i am already cursed with a gabby tongue, i didn't see any need to increase that!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


sligo, ireland to galway, ireland
before i'd been to ireland, the mention of it conjured visions of green grass and thatched roofs. by the time i had gotten to sligo i could understand the green, it was everywhere, in every shade imaginable, but i had yet to see one bit of straw roofing. ten days in, i finally saw a thatched roof! it was ridiculously exciting, and looking back seems really sad on my part, but still, at the time, it warranted an entry in my journal.

and as you would expect, it was quaint. bucolic. made me feel like i had stepped back in time. but thatching wasn't the only thing ireland was going to serve up to boggle my 20th century brain. most folks on aran island lived without electricity - to this day i can't imagine my life without my kilowattage!

i hopped a bus for westport with an aim to go to clare island. the weather didn't cooperate, so i spent a nice chunk of time at matt malloy's bar, an old fashioned irish pub, owned by matt malloy, of chieftan's fame. no matter what time it was, seemed there were always folks up for  performing a little traditional music.

the next day it was still fogged in, so i gave up on clare and headed for galway and the aran islands.
caught the ferry (really just a small boat with an open back that seated ten or eleven people max). the seas were a bit wild and the ride was a rough one. it was here i began to believe i was prone to sea sickness. the fear of the return trip kept me on the island a couple days longer than planned, but that was alright, it was a swell island! i stayed at a hostel run by joel, a gourmand who happened to be a cousin of the great opera singer, jessye norman, a woman whose voice thrills me. he ran a pretty fancy restaurant, but let me use the kitchen to make my famous cheese souffle and as we ate the cheesy clouds, we talked food and music into the wee hours.
i woke up feeling revived and went off to explore the seven churches and dun aengus, the remains of a norman fort on a cliff edge. taking a breather from tourism, i sat in the common room at the hostel and saw a copy of the unbearable lightness of being sitting on the table, face down as if someone had been interrupted and would be right back. i put a slip of paper in to mark the page and began reading from the beginning, knowing that any moment the owner might come back to claim it. as i got more and more caught up in the story, i began to read faster and with a sense of urgency, the idea that i wouldn't get to finish it caused a little despair to well up. i couldn't risk it, so i didn't go to bed and finished the book by morning. the owner never knew that someone else had devoured their book.

"...there is nothing heavier than compassion. not even one's own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echos" - milan kundera

the following evening i ventured out to the pub for what was supposed to be a quick bite. it was so much fun, seemed like everyone on the island was there, that i ended up staying until way past dark. this isn't such a big deal in most towns, but on the island the houses were few and far between and most had no electricity, coupled with no moon the path i walked very carefully was doused in pitch black. as i made my way in what i hoped was a homeward direction, a man's voice boomed next to me,
i nearly jumped out of my skin. he kept on walking down to the pub, but i had to sit down right there in the middle of the dirt road to collect myself. i did eventually get back to the hostel, but i made sure that i always had my little flashlight on my person from then on!

the island was beautiful but a little beyond my budget, so i braved the ferry ride back to galway.

Friday, November 19, 2010


dublin, ireland
at the beginning of my first big adventure, i was a nervous nelly about my stuff, and jeez, i had so much of it! but this was before the world of electronic books, the internet, cell phones and bank cards, so you can hardly blame me.
aside from the 70lb backpack that was mentioned in an earlier post, i also had on my person, that first week of travel, my passport, $1,000 in travelers checks, 2,000 american dollars, 2,500 british pounds, a eurail pass and a trans siberian train ticket. all of this could be stuffed into a plastic pouch meant to be worn around the neck. it was waterproof, so it could be taken into the shower, perfect for the kid who is staying in youth hostels that offer no privacy or security.
well, talk about rookie mistakes - my first night i dumped my pack on the floor by my bunk and prepared to take a shower. i pulled out the waterproof pouch and put all of the money, etc. in it, grabbed some clothes to change into, toiletries and my travel towel and headed to the communal showers. as i washed my hair i thought about the safety issue and was glad i had that pouch -
wait, where was the pouch?
through the shampoo suds i madly searched the shower stall and looked through the tiny pile of clothes, no pouch. without taking the time to rinse my hair, i grabbed the insignificant towel and ran back to my room, a room i shared with fifteen others. folks looked at me queerly, and why not, but all i had eyes for was that damn pouch! i ran to the bunk, and there it sat, on top of the bed, waiting for some kind soul to take a shine to it! i grabbed it and ran back to the showers.
i couldn't believe my luck. my trip could have ended right then and there, at my very first stop. that particular fear induced rush of adrenaline was so unpleasant (i can still remember the roiling of my stomach) i never left that pouch anywhere again.

one of the hardest parts about backpacking is feeling like your possessions are never really safe, that you aren't ever really safe. there are opportunists, pickpockets and nasty, bolder thieves, thugs who like to hit things, rapists and murderers - just like at home! but at home you have your home, and it provides an illusion of safety that gives you peace of mind. you also have accumulated knowledge of what parts of town are especially dodgy and even if you live in that neighborhood, you know, roughly, how to avoid being a victim.
when on the road, i don't really think you are in more danger, but when you don't know your surroundings very well, you are more likely to accidentally wander into a dead end alley or a part of town that the locals refer to as 'murder city' (or, as in the case with my belfast experience, not realize that a place you want to go presents dangers to the ignorant) and without the safety net of the known, you find yourself operating on a higher level of alert which is stressful and exhausting.
rookie mistakes still get made all these years later, but accumulated knowledge means they happen less often and usually come with less painful consequences. touch wood - let's see what happens this first time of traveling with my computer...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


london, england to belfast, ireland
so i left london with not much of a plan. i had a little over six weeks to get to my first destination, if i was going to stick to the 'itinerary'.
i took the train to holyhead, wales, caught a ferry across the irish sea and found a hostel in dublin. the first thing on my to do list was get my visa for russia. i don't remember now why i didn't get it before i left, but i am guessing it had something to do with poor planning on my part. russia had an embassy in dublin, and it would take several weeks for them to process my transit visa, so i left my passport with them, always a little nerve racking, and headed off to begin a loop around the island. at the hostel i met two aussies who had rented a car and were heading up to belfast, so i caught a lift with them and headed north, hoping that border patrols would accept my passport photocopy and let me in, and out - they did.

belfast is a fascinating place. there is a wall that separates one half of the city. it is a big cement thing with additional fencing and razor wire. it starts near downtown and goes straight up the hill and seems to go on and on. there are several breaks in the wall, allowing passage from one side to the other, checkpoints, manned by serious looking soldiers. once you are somewhere towards the middle of this so called peace wall, there is a sense of martial law and of being protected from political terrorism. but the thing that made the wall seem completely absurd was that at the bottom of the hill, where the wall began, you could cross over onto the other side completely unchecked. if i were up to no good, why would i try to smuggle anything through a checkpoint, when i could walk 10 blocks to the bottom of the hill and walk up the other side relatively unnoticed?
so, the divide, which i had difficulty understanding as a physical thing, and my ignorance of the religious animosity got me into a little bit of trouble, but nothing unmanageable.
i walked up the hill on the catholic side, thinking of it as nothing more than a touristy ramble. as i was rummaging through my bag, looking for the map that would show me where i could crossover to the protestant side, i was startled by a vision of british soldiers, in full combat gear streaming into the street - it seemed like they appeared right out of the brick wall! i realized one of the soldiers was pointing his gun at me and i froze, hands still in the bag. apparently this was considered suspicious behavior (seems the locals just ignore them and continue with the business of living), and he kept his gun pointed at me until all of the other soldiers had passed out of my 'danger' range and then he followed them. having the rifle pointed at me kind of freaked me out, and even though i probably had never been in any danger, i decided to take this divided city a little more seriously - but i was still going to crossover and walk down the protestant side. a couple of teenaged ne'er-do-wells saw me pass through the checkpoint and decided to follow me. when we neared the bottom of the hill, they thought it would be funny to chuck some rocks in my direction.
i began to feel like my lack of understanding could get me into real trouble and i pledged to do more reading about cultural biases down the line. i turned on the teens with my best crazy new yorker look and ran at them shouting gibberish at the top of my lungs. i am not sure what i expected to happen, but they took off, and i resumed my walk down the hill, though at a slightly faster clip.

this part of the city is peppered with political murals and the martyrs are remembered everywhere. it is equal parts disconcerting, emotional and beautiful.

i talked my new aussie friends into going to giants causeway, an awesome natural wonder and then we headed for londonderry and the border.

giant's causeway
as we crossed from one ireland to the other i snapped a few pictures of the soldiers. only after i put the camera back in my lap did i see the sign that said NO PHOTOGRAPHY. while they let me pass with my illegal photos i pledged to be a little more mindful of the local rules and regulations!

all in all, northern ireland proved to be a great place to cut my vagabonding teeth. i realized that my lack of cultural awareness could get me into real trouble and i found myself excited about delving into the personality of the countries i was going to visit. i would still go on to make some rookie mistakes, but i was miles ahead of where i had been just weeks earlier!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

first trip of a lifetime

if you think my itinerary for the 2011 odyssey sounds loose, take a look at the one i worked up for the wanderings i did in 1994:
budget - $6,800 (and $1,200 sent home for safe keeping with mom - where ever i ended up penniless, she could purchase my ticket home)
timetable - until the money runs out
type of travel - train and boat
countries being visited - ireland, france, italy, russia, china, and as many as i happen upon in between
itinerary -
    dublin on st. patrick’s day
    paris on my birthday
    rome on easter sunday

that’s right, only three dates in what was planned to be six to nine months of travel!
oh yeah, no taste
i bought a eurail pass and a ticket on the trans siberian train, i had a big backpack, a sleeping bag, copies of rick steve’s europe through the back door, lets go europe and lonely planet china, a handful of phrase books, a walkman (tapes included bjork’s debut, highlights of opera, the best of the disco era, take that’s take that and party, jamiroquai’s space cowboy, the best of beethovan, stravinsky's rite of spring, a mixed tape of gothic dance club hits and three tapes of my favorite 80’s tunes), two cameras (so i could shoot color and black and white film at the same time - thank god for the digital age!!!), some clothes and a journal to record the misadventures of each day. backpack weighed in at 70lbs. idiotic. i have since learned how to pack light, thanks in part to gadgetry.
times two - what a control freak!

back when i let fate determine my path on that trip to italy, i discovered lucca, a city that stole my heart. this armed me with a new sense of adventure and trust in the universe, so my plan for travel was to go to the train station and get on the first train going anywhere and be open to other opportunities that presented themselves.
i think there was a small part of me that recognized this as possibly dangerous, but mostly i was stupidly fearless, i trusted myself to be observant and resourceful and it never occurred to me that i might get into something i couldn’t get out of.

as it turned out, that was usually true...

Monday, November 8, 2010


london, england to rome, italy
when you work two full time jobs, it is difficult to get two days off together, even with schedules posting at two week intervals - but when you get four days off in a row from both gigs, the universe is telling you something! i headed off to the nearest student travel agency to book something last minute. i'd been in london for about ten months and i missed seeing the sun in a blue sky, so that was the goal.
sistine chapel ceiling
i couldn't get a flight in and out of athens, cairo, casablanca, seville, barcalona or nice. when i was nearing the giving up point, the agent suggested rome. i didn't want to go to italy - i'd heard the men could be 'persistent' and there just had never been any pull for me, despite my love of puccini and michelangelo. she looked anyway, and found a flight into rome and out of milan - not ideal, but the closest i could get to sun, so i gave in, and two days later i was landing in rome with pavarotti blaring nessun dorma through my headphones.

my first impression was that the light was different, diffused with red and orange filters. i fell in love almost immediately.
i wandered through the city with a slight sense of urgency - i was heading to sienna that evening. i saw the colosseum, ate pizza at the spanish steps, discovered gelato and hung out at the sistine chapel (so beautiful). at 7pm i caught my northbound train, but missed my stop (being a monoglot has it's drawbacks), and ended up in florence. that night i paid for a moderately fancy hotel room near the train station and fell asleep watching the a-team dubbed in italian. a wonderful first day!
lucca tower
i had intended to backtrack to sienna in the morning, but the first train didn't leave until noon. i headed off to the uffizi to visit david and then wandered around the famous duomo, but i killed too much time and missed my train.
i gave up on sienna and took the first train going anywhere west or north. 10 minutes later i was on a train headed to lucca. there was an italian deli by that name where i grew up, but that was the extent of my knowledge on lucca. what i found was an utterly charming, non-touristy, medieval walled city that turned out to be the home of puccini (i visited his house and touched the piano he composed turandot on). instead of heading on to pisa, i stayed in lucca, just wandering the streets, drinking in the light, basking in the sun, finding hidden art treasures in the little cathedrals that were everywhere, and, of course, eating gelato.
i was enjoying lucca so much that when i finally left for milan, i only had time to go see the last supper before heading to the airport to go home. but it was an overcast day there anyway, so i wasn't sorry to miss the city famous for fashion.

when you get it in your head to do one thing, but road blocks come up everywhere you turn, being stubborn can kill your joy. letting the universe point you in a new direction can be an amazing gift. if not for that travel agent, i probably would have avoided italy my whole life, and what a loss that would have been for me.
to this day it is my favorite country in europe and the only one i continue to return to.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


london, england to glasgow, scotland
two coworkers, one a fellow american the other a canadian, invited me to go along with them on a long weekend roadtrip to see the band kingmaker.
we left early on friday morning and drove straight through to glasgow, trying to get to king tut's wah wah hut by showtime. we were told it would take about nine hours, so we thought we would have plenty of time. for reasons still unclear (possibly to do with the blasted roundabouts) it took much, much longer and when we finally got to the club the roadies were packing up the gear. we were drowning our disappointment and hunger in alcohol and crisps (potato chips), when i started telling our woeful tale to a fella who turned out to be the drummer from the band. sympathetic, he told me that they were playing in aberdeen the following night and if we could get there by 8pm, he'd get us on a list, as the show was sold out.
so long glasgow, i hardly knew you - okay, truth be told, we spent approximately 25 minutes wandering around our b&b before we got into the car to zag across the country, so i knew you not at all! one day i'll return and give you the attention you deserve.

we raced down narrow country roads, defying speed limits, fearful of reliving the previous day but arrived with plenty of time. we found a b&b, had a proper dinner (not a crisp in sight), and then got dolled up for the show. the band was awesome and we were stoked as we headed back to the b&b. i think there may have been some expectation that we would hang out with the boys, but honestly, i've never aspired to be a groupie.
we woke up to an amazing highland breakfast - tea, crumpets, fried potatoes, eggs, bacon, tomatoes and blood sausage. while we ate, our hostess, and wonderful cook, told us about ben nevis, the tallest peak on the island, and about how we could climb it in just a couple of hours. after our hearty meal we were sold on the idea, so off we went, zigging back across scotland.

i don't think the b&b proprietress had ever climbed ben nevis.
partially stepped trail going up ben nevis
we hiked and we hiked and we hiked. every time we saw the top, when we reached it, we would see it was really just a little further up. it was vexing. but more frustrating was watching the kids and senior citizens who would pass us going up, and then pass us going down again. clearly we were city folk not used to a little up hill action.
after four hours the top was finally achieved!
this was where i was at when we reached the peak. unbelievably, there were two lovely british soldiers stationed at the summit who made us each a cup of tea and passed their biscuits around - oh so civilized! nothing but snow and frostbite greet you at the top of everest.
going down the mountain took about an hour, practically running. the thought of a nice juicy steak pushed us to go faster and faster and take silly shortcuts - thankfully we only sustained one slightly sprained ankle between the three of us. we got to the one restaurant in town just as they were closing. we begged them to throw three more steaks on before they turned out the lights and i don't know if it was the near homicidal look in my eye or the pathetic limping canadian, but they turned the fire back on.
best. steak. ever.

the following morning we zagged again, this time heading to edinburgh. we stopped briefly to see lock ness (no monster, big disappointment) and followed a detour to doane castle (my namesake, now just a crumbled down outer keep). we arrived at our destination a little after sunset and opted for the touristy 'creepy' walking tour (not creepy at all, and honestly, a bit of a bore), and then headed to the hostel for the night. in the morning we were eager to get back on the road for home. it had been quite the long weekend.

lessons learned: don't do cheesy walking tours, waste of money and when a local tells you how long it will take to get up that there hill, double it and bring the trail mix!

Monday, October 25, 2010


nyc, new york to london, england
after i graduated from college, i moved into manhattan for a few months, saving my sheckles from a waitressing gig i had at the once famous cafe wha? and comedy cellar (some of our regulars were ray romano, dave chappell and jon stewart - it was a very amusing place to work). i had a vague plan of travel, but it was pretty abstract. i didn't particularly know where i wanted to go, what i wanted to see or when i wanted to begin. such is the headspace of the recent college graduate.
a few happy accidents helped push me in the direction of moving to london. again, no plan, but at least it was action and vaguely exotic, being across the ocean and all.

my first living situation was in a stoke newington house with twenty aussies and kiwis, all transients. no one stayed at the house for more than four weeks. this was my first real look at the life of a vagabond - i liked it! my housemates introduced me to mr. bean on the telly, walked me to the best local for sunday roast/lock in (pubs in london closed between 2pm and 5pm on sunday afternoons, they got around the law by locking their doors, with folks inside, and those folk could continue to drink, on a tab that they would pay at 5pm - at the right place, this was a lot of fun) and told me the best places to go hunting for a job.

one of my favorite moments from this time was when i learned that my modesty was more powerful than my desperation. i had moved to a house in brixton, a hood with a slightly unsavory reputation. i'd had a miserable job at a coffee shop, where the owner felt he didn't have to pay me, i finally realized, as i kept dipping further and further into my meager savings, that i had to quit, and fast, to find a job where i actually got money in exchange for my time and effort. i had been job hunting for a month, and despite being legal, i was having no luck. i was down to my last ten quid (approximately $15 at the time), i didn't have my rent which was already a couple days past due, i hadn't eaten anything but rice for two weeks and i was getting depressed and desperate, a terrible combination.

i found an ad in one of the locals about a bar looking for a waitress. i called, made an appointment and showed up on time and crisply attired. i had my first tingle of apprehension when i saw the big glittery sign above the door, 'toppers'. too desperate to make snap judgments, i walked in. the main room was really dark but there was a little light over the bar and the man loading cases of beer behind the counter told me to 'go on down'. there was a second floor to this bar below street level. as i headed for the stairs my eyes adjusted and allowed me to catch a glimpse of a lady carrying a tray wearing black shorts, tights, dark shoes and nothing else. i am pretty smart so it only took a second for me to understand why this place was called 'toppers'. i fervently hoped that she was a performer and not a waitress. my need for a job and near pennilessness pushed me down the steps. i met mona, a large, fiftyish, no nonsense woman, thankfully totally clothed. she gave me an appraising look and asked 'do you have a problem with nudity?' i answered honestly 'not with other people's nudity.' she told me that the position require that i go topless. before i could respond she went on to say that while she thought i had "talent", she could tell that i would not be working there and that if i changed my mind, to come in any time.
i walked out slightly dazed and thinking, rashly, that maybe i could do the job, ignoring the years of high necked shirts and oversized sweaters that i had used as camouflage, trying to deflect attention.
and then i started laughing, really laughing. i felt lighter than i had in weeks. no way was i taking that job, i simply don't have the guts to do it, not to mention i don't think i'd last long in an environment where men were being encouraged to objectify me - i'd be sure to slap someone and fast.

desperation doesn't rule me!

i went home and cooked myself a bowl of rice and began scouring the days want ads and there it was - the shuckburgh arms needed a barmaid and i was the gal they were looking for!
my home for 6 wonderful months

Saturday, October 23, 2010


buxton, me to new york city, ny.
when i was seventeen my mom, step-dad and i piled into the car and drove down to nyc, ostensibly to look at colleges i was considering. for me it was love at first sight. for my mom it was a whole new passel of dangers her daughter would face and a precursor to what i would put her through for years to come.
stupidly fearless is great for the girl, but hell for the people who care about her!

while i adored manhattan, it was brooklyn that won me over. all of that wonderful brick architecture was so welcoming and pratt institute had a campus, with a quad and trees and everything! i put everything i had into getting accepted to that school.

my first taste of the big apple included great food, subway adventures and culture, so much culture - the metropolitan museum of art, the frick, the guggenheim, moma, not to mention a gazillion galleries.

that trip introduced me to my first home away from home, a place that has always held some magic for me. while i could never call myself a new yorker, i only lived there for four and a half years, i've always felt like a part of me belongs there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

odds and ends of entertainment

in preparation for the trip i have been stockpiling various bits of media. i found that the easiest way to cure homesickness when backpacking is a visit to the local mcdonald's (i know, yuck! but it really does work) and jumping into a book or a movie. the nook and ipod are getting stocked up with all sorts of goodies.

to this end, i've been gathering book suggestions from friends and family and getting them for the reading gadget. so far i have the complete works of mark twain and jane austin (yay for free books online!), the girl with the dragon tattoo, into thin air, the wizard of oz series, me talk pretty one day, three cups of tea, american tabloid, a is for alibi, saving fish from drowning and the adventures of cavalier and clay. with all the bus riding i will be doing, i am guessing i will get through this list by the time i get to patagonia. seems i won't be able to buy new nook books from outside the us, so i am on the lookout for more!
(if you are hesitant to recommend something, let me just say the last four books i've loved are kon tiki, beat the reaper, where men win glory and generation kill. i am happy to dive into any well written non-fiction on just about any topic, mysteries, spy thrillers, adventures, chic lit, classic kid lit and novels about angsty gen-xers - but in all honesty, i'll give just about anything a gander!)

i've put together a swell collection of movies that i can play on my ipod (star wars, it's a wonderful life, the princess bride, footloose, saturday night fever, mr. smith goes to washington, wizard of oz, the thin man, twilight and the matrix) and tv shows (wonder woman, charlie's angels, starsky and hutch, the bionic woman, dean martin roasts and pushing daisies).
one of the things i will miss most while on the road is streaming media on netflix.

i have some great music mixes. a couple of years ago i started making these collections for a friend - 'the last 18', 18 songs from the last 18 albums i had listened to. i have no taste, i like everything, and my music collection is eclectic to say the least, so these mixes were fun to create and revealed little or all about me! (here is the latest: violent love - oingo boingo, hysteria - muse, boom swagger boom - murder city dolls, it's not fair - lily allen, oklahoma stomp - spade cooley, have mercy - loretta lynn, long hard times to come - gangstagrasse, mahatma's message - mc yogi and sukhawat ali khan, right down the line - gerry rafferty, hold the line - toto, let's get physical - the black ghosts, you can't win {the wiz} - michael jackson, sitting, waiting, wishing - jack johnson, mystify - inxs, oh my love - john lennon, people are strange - the doors, bring it to me - she & him, no.3 la campanella {liszt} - andre watts)

and lastly, a whole season of real time with bill maher podcasts! it is so hard to resist listening to them now...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

a little plan for a big adventure

okay, so a loose itinerary for the 2011 Odyssey has been set...

island that shall not be named (january)
brazil (january/february)
argentina (february) - a detour to anarctica may occur if the fates line everything up just right for me
chile (march/april)
peru (april)
easter island (april)
pitcairn islands (april) dropped from itinerary in november
gambier islands (may)
french polynesia (may)
cook islands (may)
american samoa (june)
samoa (june)
tonga (june)
fiji (july)
vanuatu (july)
new caledonia (july)
new zealand (july/august)
australia (september)

some of the decisions regarding this itinerary were influenced by heyerdahl's book. i probably would have flown from easter island to tahiti to new zealand if i hadn't just read kon tiki. instead, inspired by the baddest badass adventurers ever, and game for a few memorable exploits, i have decided to cross the pacific using whatever mode of travel the locals use to get from island to island...this means i may fly, or use a water taxi, ferry, small boat, canoe or just wade across (okay, so it isn't a medieval raft, i am not a badass, just your average non swashbuckling adventurer!) it also means that i will be at the mercy of weather and transportation, so the above dates, loose as they are, may fluctuate wildly.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


buxton, me to washington, dc.
so we moved to maine and for several years travel was limited to visiting family back in s.f.
when i was sixteen we finally went somewhere new, our nation's capitol to visit my aunt (the same one from EQUATOR) who was there studying. we arrived in a blizzard that produced about 2 inches of snow and the entire city shut down. as it began to move again we visited a hundred and one museums - it was absolutely amazing! aside from the glorious john singer sargents and georgia o'keefes, i also got to see the ruby slippers judy garland wore in the wizard of oz (click here to see why i might get such a kick out of that). after we had our fill of museums, or rather, once my step dad couldn't take another minute of looking at paintings, we rented a car and drove to amish country.

i'd never heard about them before, so it was kind of exotic. as we were making the drive, my stepfather, who is a retired baptist minister, shocked everyone in the car by making the risque old joke 'you know what town comes before intercourse? foreplay! hahaha! you know what town comes after intercourse? climax! hahaha!' i think he had a few more, but i was so busy being mortified i tuned them out. now, i find it as funny as he did, and love that he shamelessly shared his cracked sense of humor with the rest of us.

while in DC i read the declaration of independence and much of the constitution (granted it was a homework assignment), and i was struck by the enormous promise my country held. this was probably the beginning of my personal brand of patriotism - pride in what the country could be and hopefully would be some day. don't get me wrong, we have a ways yet to go, but we have a path with a little light showing the way, and not to get too political here, but if we temper capitalism a little (profits are grand, greed is not) and keep working on equality and race issues, we will get there.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


san francisco, ca to searsmont, me.
when i was in yakima (see BOONDOCKS), my mom took the train across the country to visit her sister in maine. she liked it so much she started thinking about moving us there. a couple of years later, we flew to boston, where we walked the freedom trail, and then greyhounded our way up to searsmont to visit my aunt and her husband. the bulk of the travel took place on my eleventh birthday. another big holiday ruined by parent planned travel. i wasn’t overly excited - i was aware of mom’s agenda and i didn’t want to move, i liked the freedom i had in s.f. but i was momentarily distracted by the snow. i'd never seen it and there were piles and piles of it everywhere. it was late march, so there was a lot of mud involved as well, but snow is snow. before i got so cold i couldn’t think straight, i found it to be marvelous stuff. snowballs, sledding, snowmen, great fun. but cold is not my friend, and when asked that old question ‘would you rather be too hot or too cold?’ my answer is always, emphatically, HOT! after a week, i couldn't wait to get home to california where i would finally be able to thaw out.

Friday, August 27, 2010


san francisco, ca to esmeraldas, ecuador.
ten years old carrying a snoopy suitcase with my name in big letters across it, i got on an airplane that was supposed to fly nonstop to quito, ecuador. my mom told me not to get off the plane for any reason until i got to quito, she was very clear about this. we landed in bogotá, colombia and everyone deplaned. no one was speaking english, including the flight attendant talking on the pa system. i was savvy enough to understand that we weren’t in quito, so i didn’t budge. eventually i was persuaded to get off by the family sitting behind me - they explained that there had been technical difficulties and our plane was not going anywhere. standing in the middle of the largest airport in south america, clutching my monikered suitcase, i tried to figure out what to do. i didn’t speak a lick of spanish. i was stymied but not smart enough yet to be terrified. a little man, just slightly taller than myself came running up to me, puffing out my name. i foolishly figured if he knew my name it was safe to go with him - i had forgotten about my snoopy suitcase advertising who i was. luckily for myself, braniff airlines and my mother’s sanity, he turned out to work for the airport and he eventually got me on a plane bound for quito. the stress did catch up with me and i vomited on the descent into quito airport. it has been thirty years without a repeat performance, but i still make sure there is a barf bag in the magazine holder when i buckle in for a flight.
ecuador was amazing and provided many novel experiences. people loved to pet my head and comment on my blue eyes. i was forced to hitch hike with one of my aunt's friends - even at ten i knew this was reckless, and told her so, but i did it anyway. i got to swim in an ocean that was as warm as bathwater. i ate things that should have been familiar, like chicken and hamburgers, that were completely foreign and foreign things, like café con leche and local biscuits that felt familiar. i got a paintbrush stuck in my ear and had to get emergency care (kids, never put anything smaller than your elbow into your ear, seriously). i got a thousand and one mosquito bites because i always ended up sleeping pressed against the mosquito net. i saw six feet long iguanas and house spiders the size of my fist. i developed an unholy love of street side oj - an orange with just the zest removed and a hole cut out of the top (you squeeze it and drink the juice as it comes out of the hole). but the thing that made the biggest impact on me was that poverty meant something very different in third world countries and that people could be happy without tvs, their own rooms and big wheels.

the return flight should have been eventless, considering the letters my mother had exchanged with the airline. but no, and i can’t entirely blame braniff. for some reason we made an unscheduled stop at lax to go through customs. right before i got on the flight, my aunt had given me a couple of those awesome street side ojs for the journey. i had one right away and was saving the other for later - needless to say, it lay forgotten at the bottom of my bag. the customs agent asked me if i had any fruits or vegetables and i said no. big mistake. huge. they found that orange and put me in a little green room for several hours. eventually they decided that i wasn’t an eco terrorist, but in the meantime i missed my connecting flight and no one on the s.f. end thought to inform my mother that i was being held for suspicion of trying to bring down california’s agricultural economy with an orange. more letters were written but i had a bonafide adventure story under my belt.
other than the valuable barf bag lesson and an enlightened perspective on poverty, i also learned that not knowing the language, angry customs agents and unscheduled stops do not impede the trip, but rather enhance the stories that will follow. i believe this was where my insatiable wanderlust was born.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


san francisco, ca to durham, nc.
right before i entered fourth grade, the teachers were involved in a nasty strike about layoffs, so school didn’t begin when it was supposed to. mom’s friend pam (the same one from SMOG) was going to visit some friends in north carolina and offered to take me with her. six weeks after the strike began, it ended - the day i was heading off to durham. i still got to go but i had to agree to the dreaded home schooling.
having grown up in between the mission district (mainly latino) and the castro (mainly gay) in san francisco, i had a pretty generous idea of what constituted ‘normal’. in north carolina i got my first introduction to prejudice. pam was continually being harassed (i was never entirely sure if it was because she was a lesbian, a feminist or that she looked like a radical hippy, but we got yanked into the back rooms of several stores and made to wait for security and cops - we were always allowed to leave eventually, but the hassle was very tense and sometimes downright scary) but, more impressively, the greensboro massacre happened while we were there. pam’s friends knew people who were killed so it was discussed openly. i learned about the kkk. i learned about the socialist movement. i wore a black arm band in solidarity with the victims. i was more than ready to go back home to where you could be different and not get killed for it.
on a happier note, i learned how to ride a bike there and i’ve never forgotten the skill.

Monday, August 16, 2010


san francisco, ca to yakima, wa.
the summer after second grade i went on a roadtrip with my best friend and his mom. she had a vw bug that broke down at least five times, but she always managed to fix it, if only temporarily.

we stopped at several communes on our way north, sometimes run by gay and lesbians, sometimes hippies. i remember one near eureka that was a nudist colony to boot. j and i were eight and not particularly comfortable with all that saggy old people skin we were being exposed to. the sweat lodge/yurt made it a worthwhile pit stop, though. j got stung by a bee, i jumped over a rattle snake, we tested out electric fencing with grass, ate stolen peaches fresh off the tree, i got bit by a dog (and developed a healthy phobia of them that lasted 25 years) and we got to go to a small town school for a couple of months. the teachers weren’t comfortable with j and i being best friends and living under the same roof, since he’s a boy and i’m a girl, so they decided to separate us by putting me back a grade. j’s mom went ballistic, she yanked me out and i got home schooled. home schooling, i learned quickly, was way harder than regular school because adults who love you also know how smart you are and therefore will challenge you at your actual level. i didn’t care for it. on halloween my mom picked me up and we jumped on a train headed home. that was my first overnight train ride. if it had been almost any night other than october 31st, i probably would have enjoyed it. as it was, i got a tootsie roll from the conductor and was bitter about my lackluster halloween candy haul.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


san francisco, ca to san diego, ca.
my first solo plane ride, i was seven. my mom put me on the plane and her friend pam picked me up at the other end. it was exciting. i don’t remember much about the vacation itself, i think we went to the safari park, but i do remember looking out the plane window as we passed los angeles and seeing the layers of yellow, brown and green smog. it was gross. and somehow compelling. i loved the sky from that vantage point. i loved the idea of flying, even if i was trapped inside a big metal bullet. i couldn’t wait for my next trip anywhere!

Friday, August 13, 2010

in the beginning

as i start to fantasize about the next adventure, and lets be honest, i am doing a little more than fantasizing, i am actively planning,

i find myself getting nostalgic for past adventures.
so i thought i would begin at the beginning...