Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Friday, May 8, 2015



The view from the roof of my hotel, The Tibet Guest House, a quiet oasis in the turbulence of people and cars, shops and scooters, lying in wait out there in the Kathmandu streets. I don't have any pictures from street level. As I learned on my first day, stopping makes you a target. Not for safety reasons - I don't wander around by myself late at night, it was just that the bright phosphorescent beam of my tourist origins shone out like a beacon when I stood still. It was hard right away because there were no street signs. If I turned the corner without looking, I might never have found my way back. So I tried to orient myself, and immediately, someone introduced himself, tried to tell me his life story (a sad one) and then tried to interest me in buying him food because - his words - "You can afford it! This is nothing to you!" And then he kept following me. So. 

So I learned to not stop walking, but walking itself was draining, because there were no sidewalks and no lanes. You walked on the same street as cars, people, and scooters going in both directions, and the road was not a generous one. Honking was almost a form of conversation.  

Tibet Guest House

This the wonderful courtyard of the aforementioned Tibet Guest House. I tried to wait until there were no people present to take this, so this is as good as I could make it. They pipe in classical music too, and it is just as serene as it appears.
Kathmandu through a crack

I took this through some slats in the hotel wall. They were decorative slats, quite beautiful in fact, and I wanted to capture what was going on next door. I wanted the frame of the slats around the lens.

Dasan festival tour

You see all these people? This is what it looks like when there are less people than normal milling around. You can see some are dressed up. It was the Dasan holiday, and most people in the city had already left to go back to their homes in the villages. This year's will likely be very different.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Line of Stupas
Stupa on the way to the forbidden parts of Kathmandu
As our guide would tell us, you cannot separate Nepal from Buddhism. This is true. Do you see the trails of steepled structures? Those are Buddhist offerings called stupa. I had never heard of them before and my own father is Buddhist. The structures lined Kathmandu in varying forms, from basic stone carvings to the dramatic structure with eyes - those are the eyes of Buddha watching you. They are all stupa. You will walk across pathways that are for stupa and holy structures alone. 
Kathmandu is overcrowded, and that is putting it mildly. Moving from the rural areas where most people are from and into the city center is a proper shock. Hiking was a paradise. You would meet no one for miles and you would wander around places only locals ever saw. Returning to Kathmandu was the opposite of that experience. All these people barely fit into the city and simply navigating your way down streets was an adventure. So many people, such insufficient resources, and yet so much land went to stupa.
Stupa temple
The eyes of Buddha
Here is the main stupa for one of the largest Buddhist temples in Kathmandu. Tiny people are at the base of it, so you can get a sense of scale. At the top, the eyes of Buddha.All stupas
Walking through here, alongside the Hindu offerings, the stupa, and the associated animals, was divine. You can't see it, but there are animal carvings in front of some structures, because some Hindu gods have an associated animal.
Stupas to gods

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


City Tour 6

Here you have my ant's eye view of Durbar Square in Kathmandu, a world heritage site as beautiful as they come. I have no idea what this looks like now and how long it will take to return. I'll share these now because I was there to be documentation of how it was before the 2015 earthquake and to give an idea of what where your donation will go. This was taken during the Dasan holidan, so there are less people than usual, but it was still overrun. I try not to take pictures of people whenever possible, so all the people you see of people sitting on temple (Stupa) steps around are the result of me trying to actively avoid them. A post on Kathmandu city proper to follow shortly.
City Tour3 temples8 Elephants

Tuesday, March 31, 2015



It was a mention made offhand that started it. An Australian girl traveling alone through Peru said she didn't handle altitude very well, she'd already been to Everest base camp and that was even higher than this. Where was Everest base camp? In Nepal. Did I want to go?

I never made it to base camp. Everyone who goes to Nepal goes to base camp, about thirty thousand people descend every year from all over the world to this one part of the country, and they never go anywhere else. Base camp, or so I've heard, is an ugly place. The trees have been razed to make warm showers for travelers. There's litter everywhere. Plastic doesn't decay. Once you drop it on the ground, it will remain there forever. Instead, I would go on a trip titled Lower Everest Trek. This trip would begin at the house of a local family, and would continue by foot across areas almost entirely untouched. The land would be lush and fertile and you would only see other people now and again carrying up to 70 pounds in a basket, using a strap that wrapped around the basket and braced against the forehead. Infrastructure would be non-existent. Local people, when you saw them, would be happy to see you. I don't have pictures of these people, mostly because I think it's rude. There you are, carrying 70 pounds on your way home to the village, and here is a complete stranger taking your picture to take home and show their friends.  
Altitude was not a problem. I took altitude medication when I went to Peru, and never acclimated properly. When I tried not taking the medication, I got nauseating headaches and went back on. In Nepal I didn't take anything, which sounds insane. There were the usual effects -  higher altitude usually meant more pressure on the kidneys and the almost incessant need to pee. The world become your toilet. It also means slower digestion, and difficulty digesting proteins. I tried to stick to eating mostly carbohydrates the higher I went. But what was different on this trip, was that the elevation was gradual. Every day we walked, and every night I slept at a consistently higher elevation so my body was able to acclimate naturally. The highest I went was 13,000 feet. From that vantage point, I saw the peaks in the first photo. Their names: Gauri Shankar (a sacred mountain that no one is allowed to climb), Karyalung, Khatang, Numbur, Everest, Lhotse, Amadablam, Makalu, Buruntse. My spelling may not be entirely correct. 
cheese factory views
View from the Cheese Factory
While I was researching for guides - this was not the kind of trip I would feel comfortable just "winging it" on my own, living on luck and a prayer - I was surprised by the lack of information available. When I got to Kathmandu, I could understand why. There were next to no Americans. There were Europeans (Germans mainly), Australians, Indians and Chinese (these being the two neighboring countries). It could have been because the country only recently opened for business. Nepal had immersed in civil war from 1996 - 2006. In 2006, the country became a republic. During the war, the government devoted all its resources to fighting the Maoists, and forgot about its people. While I was there, the country was still putting itself back together. We rode part of the way in a jeep across dirt roads. The next day, it rained and the roads washed away. So the country is still finding its way.

Mani wall
Mani Wall
Above is a Mani Wall, which is a Buddhist structure built along the roadside. As you see, you cannot separate Nepal from Buddhism. The two are intertwined. If I talked about Nepal and casually omitted any mention of Buddhism, I might as well have just hiked the Appalachian trail.  

My biggest fear on this trip, was not the physical exertion, the country conditions, or accidentally drinking exotic e. coli and getting diarrhea. It was potentially handing over money to a fraudulent or inept travel agency. In that sense, I was very lucky. I wanted to work with a smaller travel agency, and I wanted a local guide, and both these needs were met. The trip was very well organized, my guide provided food for me in the middle of nowhere, three meals every day, and I did not get sick. In fact, I ate very well. 

Travel Agency:
Himalayan High Treks This agency is based in the US and has offices in San Francisco. I took the Nepal: Lower Everest trip. The agency will help you prepare everything you need. The Nepal trip is listed as moderate, so you can pick the level you are most comfortable with. 

Three Jewels Adventures: Our guide for the Nepal trip, Amber Tamang, also owns his own travel agency based in Nepal and can offer more extensive and personalized trips.  I trust Amber, and I also trust his staff. I always felt safe as a female in the middle of wilderness. 

Third Eye Travel: I worked with Sonam and Usha to book my Airline tickets to Kathmandu, Nepal. Airline tickets were my biggest expense, and I wanted to get a deal on a nicer airline, such as Cathay Pacific, because flight would take a long time, a layover was inevitable, and I don't believe in unnecessary suffering.  

I will talk a little about Kathmandu in another post. 
Nepal Landscape9 Before sunrise

Thursday, March 12, 2015


waking up2

While in Peru, I met three women, all of them wore eyelash extensions like they were t-shirts. You go out onto the Inca trail, you take only the basics with you. You leave the rest behind. They considered eyelash extensions to be a staple, somewhat the way I view SPF 50 and a proper water filter. And in a way, they were going about the Inca trail differently. They were horseback riding their way to Machu Picchu. This would cut the normal three day journey down to two. And it would require considerable skill. I asked one of them how she learned to ride. Well, she said, both her friends had been trained to ride and had 10 years of experience on horses. She, on the other hand, had always been something of an adventuress. She had seen a horse in Bermuda, and she had taken it into her head to learn how to ride it. And now here she was, in Peru ready to embark.

The memory surfaced recently, when I was preparing to go snow camping. It's a combination of backpacking, snowshoeing, and camping all in one. I had gotten it into my head somehow that this was a great idea, and it stressed me out. I had to invest in real gear. Some people like that part, buying shiny new things. I hate that part. I wish everything were free, especially down-filled pants. But if I trotted out into the snow in jeans and a t-shirt, I would probably die. Cotton kills, as the saying goes.

How did I get here? At some vague point in time about two years ago, I decided to change into a different person. This other person, I decided, would be someone who liked the outdoors. Now, I have neither a hero's heart nor a puppy's spirt. I was built for quiet contemplation. But sometimes, it's nice to try on a different persona, a different mindset, and to look out at the world as opportunity for adventure.

So what I have here is a cave I dug for myself to sleep in. The walls and floor were made of snow, and when I woke up, my boots were frozen stiff. The next day, I summited an unknown peak and looked down. I was adventuring. 

views frozen boots At the Top Sharp angles2 walking

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Red Rock2
Red Rock Canyon
I been away from this site for awhile, partly from lack of discipline, and partly to discipline myself to get away from my computer. This thing sucks up way too much time. Do I want to look back on my life and recall that 70% of it was spent online? So that was my train of thought

In order to distract myself, I went here: Red Rock Canyon, a little ways outside Las Vegas. Most people come to Vegas to indulge in their vices, and I came here and got lost. This park is good for climbers, and people that stay on the road. It's a relaxing scenic drive, and everyone you see teetering out in the fringes is most likely bushwhacking. That's where I was, mucking about.

There are hardly any signs to show you where you are, and no one mentioned this little detail on Trip Advisor. But if you keep the main road in sight and don't have a tendency to wander, the scenery will grip you. The rock is red in color, and thereby gives the park it's name, I assume. Nature rarely gives you this much color to work with, this much texture.  When I got back, I assumed I had become a much better photographer.

Red Rock10 Red Rock1 Red Rock19

Monday, December 8, 2014


Zurich river

Whenever I read travel posts, they alway seem bursting with positive energy. No one ever has bad travel stories. They always come back with a tremendous good time and a bucket full of memories and matching photos to boot. With that in mind, I decided to start a different trend, not to complain, but to share everything ranging from not great to downright horrific. Because I have no image to maintain and I work for free.

At some point during the trip, I decided I couldn't stand any of the people I had traveled with, and further decided to embark on an aggravated walk out into the night, alone, and there, in the twilight, I came across this river above, with the man silhouetted in the corner, a man who I assumed was contemplating his own death. Death, a friend informed me later, is a recurring theme in Switzerland because of the social pressure to always conform. I had no idea. Your house and lawn must always be in perfect order, you lawn perfectly coiffed. You always have to behave in such and such a way, and so on. So there is in Swiss society, an underlying current of despair, and possibly I picked up on that.
West Zurich2
Now, why then does this picture look markedly different than any of the others I have shown so far. Possibly it's because while I highly recommend staying in Central Zurich, or possibly the Northern suburbs, or any place bordering the central river, that isn't where I stayed. I stayed in the post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland known as West Zurich. There is stuff to be done there. There is a bar or two. There are business offices. There are train track you can lie down on if the idea of leaping into the river doesn't appeal.  The hotel where I stayed, the name of which will go unmentioned*, was a touch older than most. Or this is what I hope explains some of the curiosities.

For instance, each room, regardless of the number of occupants, only had one key. A single key. You have no idea how inconvenient that is until you cannot leave the side of the holder of the room key and you become some sort of international siamese twins for the duration of your trip. I highly do not recommend it. Second, my single key hung off some sort of object that was large and solid enough to be a weapon and seemed to serve no other purpose than to add bulk to my pants.

What does not come across in photographs, is how expensive this country is. And everything is expensive. Burger King is expensive. BK was also, to my regret, not very good. In fact, I didn't enjoy most of the food there, and this is part of the reason why I declined to list any restaurants. This was somewhat surprising. I went to a restaurant in the northern suburbs, I tried one of the most established restaurants in town. I even tried the restaurant in the hotel lobby. Crap, crap, and crap. All of it, including a desperate budget foray into Burger King.

Finally, I want to point out that it rained almost the entire time. No one takes pictures in the rain really, unless you want to get all artistic about it. Mostly because it's impractical, I have some pictures with fat drops of water on the lens running right down the middle, and that pretty much ruined the whole shot. But those will never appear anywhere, because those are more popularly known as "bad pictures." 
West Zurich
So here you go, pictures from my moody nighttime wander through some deserted industrial parts. Sometimes I would see people, and I just pretended I was invisible and moved on. In some ways, I quite enjoy moody nighttime meanderings. You're finally alone with your thoughts. You pick up on sounds, moods, contrasting objects. In hindsight, it's not too bad. 

West Zurich5

*Because as long as you don't stay in West Zurich, your chances of staying here are significantly less.

Friday, November 14, 2014


wandering in the desert
Walking towards the East Fork river
If you navigate your way through miles of desert, via foot or car, you will eventually reach the river, and just a ways beside the river, there is a stream blowing steam. When water from the spring mixes with water from the river, the temperature becomes perfect. Absolutely perfect. 
east fork carson river
East Fork Carson River

hot spring tributary
Hot spring tributary at sunrise

Friday, October 17, 2014


Zurich from above
I wracked my brain and then my camera trying to find a picture that didn't look like every other picture anyone's ever taken of Switzerland and came up with this. It's not pretty, it needed a touch up, and it probably doesn't even look like Europe at this angle, but there you have it: Zurich. My home base.

Incidentally, upon my return, I read that "going to Switzerland" has become synonymous with saying you are going to have yourself killed, because euthanasia is legal there and banned here, so there you go. To be clear: this is not why I went. An opportunity presented itself, and I took it. More and more, I'm embracing the notion of doing more and contemplating less ahead of time. This way, I can avoid the trap of rationalizing my way out of doing things. There are always reasons not to do something. Always. It's too expensive, you don't have the time, the timing is wrong, and so on. You can contemplate these excuses afterward, after you've gone ahead and done the deed. The doing option might not always be there.

In comparison with Lucerne, physically, there is no contest, Lucerne wins in the looks department hands down, no contest. However, if you think about it, here is a distinction: Lucerne is a place to visit, whereas Zurich is where you want to live. It's much more practical. I get the impression (based solely on a day trip) that once tourist season ends in Lucerne, everybody leaves. You have a city built around a singular industry: entertaining visitors. There's nothing wrong with that, it just makes the city less appealing to me rather than a fully functioning city. Don't misunderstand me, pretty much every server working in Zurich was from out of town, and good looking to boot. I don't mind that at all.

Zurich lakeside
Walk down by river
Zurich is a fully functional city. Public transportation is immaculate. Trains arrive constantly and will take you to every little corner of the city proper. It also operates - miraculously - on the honor system. As someone who is constantly being hustled awake on the bus by overly vigilant MTA* fare enforcers at ungodly hours (Sunday mornings, during rush hour), this is basically unheard of. You buy a paper ticket at the train stop, and then you just get on board. No flashing of paper, no clocking in. This is the way the honor system works. Upon boarding, other passengers are suspiciously courteous. Again, the contrast, where everyone in the US seems intent on staring down at their phones to the point of rudeness, the Swiss sense of social awareness is refreshing.

Zurich and swans2
Feeding swans is a national pastime
Where to stay: Practically speaking, I would find a hotel in Central Zurich, because that is where everything is: the shops, the restaurants, the nicer parts of the river. I would highly recommend becoming a morning person as well because, like Lucerne, everything closes around 6:30pm, so the earlier you get up, the more you can see. Did I stay in this area? No.

What to do: To orient yourself, just go to the travel agency located in the train station, and treat yourself to a proper map. In English. Now the world is yours to command. This map will list pretty much any museum worth seeing, and there are quite a few, along with multiple points of interest. This is one of the joys of being in a well organized city: you don't need a guide, you can find your own way.  
In an ideal world, you would also make sure to find your way to Sprungli, which is a chain chocolate store. To go to Switzerland and not eat chocolate is the equivalent of going to Paris and taking a pass on the Eiffel Tower. It's just not done. You can purchase truffles here by the gram (metric system), just as you would any other precious commodity. 
Deer lamps
Day trips: Uetliberg, for one (see above). If you train out of town, the train will drop you at the base of a peak. From there, you still have to walk, only a trifle, past deer lamps (see above) until you reach the overlook. For an added adventure, there is also Rhine Falls (see below), a quick and dirty bus ride away.
Rhine Falls
Rhine Falls
botanical gardens
Zurich Botanical Gardens
Now, a reality check. First, it rained all the time. Second, Switzerland is expensive. And you can forget about finding healthy snacks anywhere for the plane ride home. There's only chocolate and chocolate with nuts. I forget sometimes how San Francisco lives in a health bubble, one filled to bursting with  kale chips, protein bars and gluten-free vegan cookies that taste just like wood.  

A probably harsh lesson I'm still in the process of learning, is figuring out when to be rude on international soil. No matter where I go, whether first world or third world, I am still constantly being approached for money. Every time, I find it shocking. If they are good, they never lead with a request for money, they approach you with friendly conversation, and then the matter of helping them just comes up, usually after they have established that you are indeed a good person. In these situations, I have found, there is really no nice way of brushing people off, they will be insistent, and a firm "no," followed by a firm walking away is in order. I hate being rude, but when the alternative is feeling used, Miss Manners can turn the other way.
China Garden
China Garden, in Zurch
*San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Authority

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I had plans, I honestly did, to have posts queued up while I was gone, but I realize now that this is not going to happen. I'm leaving the country to a remote region in Southeast Asia. It's always been a dream of mine, to travel alone. Somewhere difficult. I've always traveled with friends previously, and that's a crutch. This solo trek is something that just needs to be done.  

One of the most difficult parts has been informing people. I'm using a smaller travel agency, and things might still go south. Until I'm physically trekking on foreign soil, I probably won't believe the whole thing is real. So usually, I prefer to do something, and talk about it afterwards. Just checked the weather report for the region, and there's nothing but thunder storms where I'm headed. I'm writing this post partly as an impulse, and hoping for the best.

What have you done recently outside of your comfort zone? 

I'll be back in two weeks. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Lucerne Bridge
Lucerne: Chapel Bridge
For the sake of sanity and brevity, I'm going to divide this post into discrete, digestible parts. Here we have Part 1: Lucerne, or Luzern, as the city is also otherwise known.

If you have ever found yourself in the middle of a dream, in an idyllic town that borders a lake, the water crystal clear, swans dotting the waterfront, charming sloped and steepled were probably in Lucerne. One dead giveaway is the iconic Chapel Bridge, above, which I have caught at a bad angle under bad lighting, so you miss the flow of red flowers that run down its flank. As soon as you emerge from the train station, you can traverse this iconic structure and settle into any of a number of quaint restaurants that line the water. There, you can sip, eat, and otherwise take full advantage of Swiss hospitality.

It rained almost the entire time. The moment the rain stopped, I took pictures, but every picture looks as if it were taken on a different day.

What there is to do:

Lucerne is clearly a city meant for the wanderer at heart. However, if you don't want to lounge, or wander elegant streets, or savor rich food, there is also the Sammlung Rosengart Museum, which houses a staggering private collection of modern art, mainly by Picasso.  I would include pictures, but they were not allowed, and you'll just have to take my word for it. Just keep in mind, however, Lucerne sleeps early. All shops close by 6:30pm, and the museum closes around 5:30, so if there is a store you want to visit, get there early, it won't always be there.  

Alternately, you can take a tour of the lake by boat. While I was there, there were two options: 1 hour, or 3 hours. My ideal time: 2 hours. Nothing's perfect. However, if you remain in the city awhile, and you should, you may decide to stay in one of the charming hotels right by the water, where I saw people fishing, rowing, and enjoying life.

To and From:

My home base was Zurich. Lucerne is a one hour train ride away. Trains generally come every half an hour, because the Swiss don't just make excellent timepieces, they use them as well. 
Lucerne lake Lucerne lakeside hotels
Lucerne lakeside tiny
I don't often include too many pictures, but I wanted to convey a sense of the place. That feeling you get from a city, that visceral immediate impression it makes on your memory through your eyes. It's the impression that stays with you, like an aftertaste, but in a good way.
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