Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Khmer Dance

Dance Blur

While in Siem Reap, we went to see a traditional Khmer dancing group.  We had seen dancing in Bali, and while both were accompanied by a gamelon orchestra, they were quite different, both visually and musically. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Frequently Asked Friday: Best Meals?

Anyone who knows us knows we travel on our stomachs. And we certainly ate enough this year for some weight gain. So the question is, was it worth it? And if so, what was the best meal you ate? 

First of all, it was worth it. There is some work to be done to undo the damage of our consumption in the last year, but it’s ok. Most of the time the experience outweighed any caloric overload in the decision-making process.  But we couldn’t narrow it down to one meal, as we each had some pretty solid contenders that came to mind as soon as we started thinking about it.  These are in chronological rather than ranked order, as we couldn’t choose one favorite.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Photography and Long-term Travel

Branches, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park; Vancouver, Canada

The demands and challenges of photography on a long trip are fairly different from a vacation-length trip.  Primarily, the difference is in the volume of pictures, but there are other surprises too.  This is a collection of ideas, tips, and lessons learned while taking pictures for a year on the road.  Some of them may also be helpful for vacations, or even general use as well.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

Frequently Asked Friday: The Now Question

Independence Pass, Colorado

We get variations of the following question every single time we hook up with our friends or family here in Colorado, as well as getting asked it by folks on Facebook, Google+, and just about everywhere. 
So, do you have jobs yet?
When are you moving back into your house ?
How does it feel to be back?

Yeah, this one we get a lot. We would say it is the most frequently asked question of our lives right now.  Including by ourselves. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Angkor Wat Sunrise

Before Sunrise
We got up very, very early to photograph sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Our guide enjoyed photography, and knew where some of the best vantage points were.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Twelve years on…

We don’t have a lot of money at the moment for expensive gifts (traditional is apparently silk/linen, modern is pearls) for our 12th anniversary. This year I made something for David—a slideshow.  Normally he’s in charge of all things photo/slideshow oriented, but I wanted to try my hand at a little visual love letter. This one is a little bit goofy, a little bit sappy, and hopefully conveys some of the fun we had this year.  
Happy 12th Anniversary!
There are a lot of people whose marriage wouldn't survive this kind of togetherness, but I believe that ours is stronger for it. This 12th year has often been challenging, but David embraced all the challenges with all his good nature and more joy than I'd seen in many years. I could have never dreamed what our life would end up being on our wedding day. And I certainly couldn’t be more delighted in the surprise it continues to be. Happy Anniversary honey!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Frequently Asked Friday: Safety

There are a range of questions that can be summed up as: “Did you feel safe?”

Yes and no.  Actually, it was: no, and then yes. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


We had a suggestion to post a collection of vividly colored photographs.  Here are three collages, followed by a slideshow of all the individual images.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Mr. Bee Travels The World

It wasn’t just the two of us on our travels around the world. We had a stowaway who tucked himself into Lana’s backpack but managed to find his way out for a photo op whenever we got somewhere touristy.  The story behind Mr. Bee is that he comes from Alice Birney School (home of the Birney Bees!) in San Diego, where a certain friend of ours is currently enrolled in second grade. And so we thought what better way to introduce the world to Alice Birney and vice versa than by taking Mr. Bee along with us. 

Mr. Bee had his own share of adventures, including a flight he took when a sudden gust of wind in front of the Sphinx in Egypt sent him down off a ledge and into the sand. Thankfully one of the boys who takes shots of tourists kissing the Sphinx hopped down and retrieved him for us for a small fee.  We’re glad that we were able to finish the journey with Mr. Bee in September, driving him home to San Diego via the Grand Canyon.  Mr. Bee was an excellent traveling companion, keeping to his spot in the luggage, never getting lost, and being light and flexible. Mr. Bee was such an undemanding companion that there were times when we forgot to whip him out for a photo shoot, and some places that, while interesting, weren’t particularly indicative of a place. But we still believe Mr. Bee got a good flavor of our trip, and he added some fun himself.  He also inspired chuckles from onlookers in many different cultures.

Somehow, now that we’ve returned Mr. Bee home to San Diego, it feels like we’ve finally finished our travels too. At least for now.

Here’s a slideshow, for a slower-paced, silent version:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

Frequently Asked Friday: One Destination?

Our next question was intriguing, and we knew the answer immediately, but the explanation took more thought.

“If someone could only go to one place ever, where from your travels would you send them?”

As we said, the answer was easy, and it was the same for both of us: 


Why Madagascar?  Because it has stunning, amazing, “you’ll see this nowhere else on the planet” wildlife*.
Because it has some of the strangest trees you’ll ever see.
Because its gorgeous and diverse landscapes will take your breath away. 
Because its people are beautiful, friendly, and generous. While the people in Madagascar are some of the poorest people we encountered in our year in the world, they were also some of the happiest. 
And we also want you to go because it is a third world country as well as in spite of the fact that it is a third world country.  Why would we want to send you to a third world country?  Because travel should be about experiencing all sorts of things that are different than your personal experience.  And believe us, this place is full of those experiences.
It isn’t always an easy place to travel in.  The roads are mostly in bad repair, and those that aren’t are very busy and one lane each direction. The best way to get around is to fly to various regions, and hire a local car and driver. Locals take something called a taxi-brusse, which translates into bush taxi.  It’s slow and uncomfortable, usually something like a small wagon or a pick-up truck with bench seats in the back, and stuffed to the gills with people, livestock, and parcels.   As more people board, the parcels, and then the livestock get strapped to the roof.  Often, your destination would be more than one day’s drive, and you’d need to find a room for the night, and then squeeze your way back on the taxi the next morning.
The food was largely not great, but not terrible either—as we mentioned in this post.  The local diet consists mostly of rice with a small portion of some stewed meat: zebu(a type of cattle), pig or chicken. We met other travellers who became vegetarian just for the length of their stay in Madagascar; while we found some tough meat, none of it was objectionable.  Generally the tourists there are French (it was a French colony until 1960) so you will find lots of steak with fries,  and breakfast is almost always baguette and butter with jam (the bread is generally quite good).
And while it isn’t an easy place, it’s an adventure.  It will change you for the better. You will come home grateful for what you have, and hopefully inspired to change some things for the better.  And if you’re only going to get one shot at having your eyes opened to what 2/3 of the rest of the world lives through on a daily basis, then we want to make damned sure that you love it, despite the hardships. And Madagascar will deliver on that, and then some.
We haven’t talked much about Madagascar, other than this photo post and the video of the food, but there is so much to tell you about. We’ll be talking about it more in depth in our upcoming posts. So if you’re still not convinced, just stay tuned, because we’re just getting started about Madagascar.

* The magnificent Indri Indri, is just one example; it has never lived more than a year in captivity, and has never bred in captivity.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Elephant Safari

Before we even got to Laos, we heard about the elephants that roam the border between Laos and Vietnam, and how there are people who trap and train those elephants in Vietnam.  Their training in Vietnam, and in truth in much of Laos, is in the logging industry.  But often these animals are mistreated in order to gain the results they need.  There are also lots of places outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, where you can ride elephants. But we heard about a place in Laos called Elephant Village Sanctuary, where we could ride an elephant that had been rehabilitated, feed the elephants a snack, and even get in the river and bathe the elephant if we wanted to.
We decided, after some research, that we didn’t want extensive contact with the water of the Mekong in Laos, because the river was at the seasonal low, which exposes the local freshwater snails to the sun, and all of their parasites bail out into the water, which significantly increases the chances of picking up a nasty case of schistosomiasis mekongi. We’re adventurous, but not that adventurous. So we decided just to go for a ride on an elephant, with the possibility of feeding the elephant and a lunch at the Elephant refuge thrown in just to round out the day.
While we didn’t actually bathe the elephants, we did cross the river, which was close enough for us.  The contraption you see strapped to the elephant is called the howda, which is essentially the seat you ride on, and is strapped across the elephant like a cross between a saddle and a rumble seat.  A few pictures below, you can see that the howda has a bar across the front, much like you’d see on an amusement park ride about 20 years ago.  That bar is really, really useful when the elephant is walking downhill—it’s the only thing that keeps you from sliding out.
This isn’t where the driver sits, however. 
The driver sits on the elephant’s neck, tucking her legs up just behind her ears.  This is Lana, playing mahout to our elephant, whose name is Mae Uak. The gist of the directions were sit here, put your feet here, and your hands here. Lana tried grabbing on to the wiry, coarse hair on her head, but was told instead to simply place her palms on the top of Mae Uak’s head for balance.
Lana never really felt that she and Mae Uak came to an understanding (she seemed to be testily flapping her ears for much of Lana’s time in the driver’s seat), but it was nevertheless an amazing experience.
Lana had ridden an elephant before, at a circus when she was small, but this was nothing like she remembered.  For one thing, it seemed very, very high up. For another, there was nothing to hold onto, except the top of Mae Uak’s head, which is a bit like trying to hold onto the top of a coffee table—a hairy coffee table.
After we crossed the river, Mae Uak’s actual mahout (on foot, merrily experimenting with all the features on Lana’s camera) suggested we swap places, which was a little exciting.  David had never ridden an elephant at all, let alone sat in the driver’s seat.  He and Mae Uak got along much better, though at no point did either of us actually steer her.  She went where she wanted, with one or two interventions from her mahout, mostly involving her insatiable appetite.
When you are sitting on the elephant’s neck, your sit bones are right above her shoulder blades; every stride of her front legs lifts that side of your pelvis, threatening to pitch you off the opposite side.  To counteract this, all you could do was to push on her head with the opposite hand, and try to get into the rhythm of her motion.
Just about as soon as you got the feel for it, she’d veer off, tilt her head down, and rip a large shrub or small tree out of the ground, and munch away on it.  I imagine she enjoys unsettling her would-be rider almost as much as she enjoys eating, and who can blame her?  We were easy marks for her.
Not that we minded.  Once we settled into the motion, and the occasional, mild surprises, we could enjoy the beautiful river valley we were riding through.
Though it looks misty, it’s actually smoke.  Not only was it the season for low river levels, it was also the season for farmers to slash and burn for planting.  The smoke wasn’t strong enough to be irritating where we were, but it did make for some dramatic scenery, if somewhat challenging to capture.
After our ride was over, we had a chance to get up close and personal with our elephant, and buy her a bunch of bananas as a thank you present.  We later learned a bit more about Mae Uak on the website, which explained a lot:
Mae Uak’s character is generally sociable, though sometimes strong-willed. She can be tended by each of the camp’s mahouts, something very unusual in an elephant. She seems perpetually hungry, and if one does not pay attention, she will quickly pull everything edible out of visitor’s pockets. Wherever there is something to eat, her trunk is there, as well. At feeding time, there are constant “trunk battles” for food between her and her herd-mates, the other elephant cows.
Lana bought a bunch of bananas for Mae Uak, and instead of eating them one at a time, she grabbed the whole bunch and shoved them in her mouth at once!  Live and learn—hold out one banana at a time.
We shared our tour with a very nice Canadian couple (in our experience, ‘nice Canadian’ is redundant); after dismounting, we also shared an additional bunch of bananas, once we’d learned to mete them out one at a time.  Thom was courageous enough to place the bananas directly in their elephant’s mouth (Mae Uak wasn’t patient enough for that—her trunk had the banana before you could say “here…”).
It was a really special day for us, and one we will remember forever as the day we each drove an elephant.  Later that evening, we were rewarded with a smoke-enhanced sunset.