Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Northern Madagascar: Montagne de Ambre, and Ankarana

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After spending the night in Diego Suarez, Shielo and our driver Bertrand drove us south to Montagne de Ambre, to hike into the national park there.  Shielo spotted this blue nosed chameleon in a tree, as we were driving.  The mountain is the remains of an old volcano, now covered in rain forest.  We were hiking towards the larger crater lake in the area.  As we walked, we saw our first lemurs—Sanford’s brown—and were delighted.  They were on the move, and we didn’t get any pictures, but we also didn’t miss seeing them by scrambling for our cameras, which we took as a hard-learned victory.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Madagascar: Tana to Diego Suarez

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At the end of our Bangkok to Antananarivo post, we had discovered our luggage was delayed—but not lost.  We didn’t know how our bags were going to catch up with us while we were moving to a new location each day, but fortunately, we had booked all of our travel here through a local company, Cactus Tours.  We knew one of their employees was waiting for us on the other side of security, and we hoped he would know.  We found Parany holding a sign with our names on it, and after we explained why we didn’t have any luggage, he exchanged contact info with the baggage claim office.  He drove us through the outskirts of ‘Tana, past several hand-propelled carts, each carrying an amazing number of empty barrels.  We also passed ox carts, lots of cyclists, and many pedestrians on our way into central ‘Tana.  Before he dropped us at our hotel, he advised us not to walk after dark, or on vacant streets even in daylight. 

Plumeria Redux

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We saw some wonderful plumeria in Australia, and throughout Asia, and we thought they were pretty big.  Cambodia was thick with them, where they are known as frangipani (side note—our spell check recognizes ‘frangipani’ but not ‘plumeria’). When we reached Laos, we realized we hadn’t even begun to see large plumeria.
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The palace compound in Phnom Penh was filled with old plumeria, often 2-3 stories tall.  Lots of pinks and white-yellow blossoms.
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In Siem Reap, the Royal Gardens were lined with plumeria.  There was an entire quarter of the park where two different trees had been planted next to each other, and had grown up to intertwine.  The pairs were clearly chosen for complimentary blossom colors.  It was a beautiful effect.
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But it was in Laos, in Luang Prabang, where we saw our first plumeria forest.  This photo doesn’t do justice.  The entire hillside of Mount Phousi was dominated by plumeria; some young, many ancient.  Nearly every tree visible above or below are plumeria.   The stairs in the photo below lead up to the left of the path in the photo above.  There weren’t a lot of blossoms when we arrived, but it still smelled amazing.
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The new branches emerging from this old trunk  are roughly the diameter of a broom handle; many of the trees had much larger trunks than this.
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At the  base of this tree, to the left of the trunk, you can just see a woman’s head and shoulders.  The trunk is at least 3 feet wide.
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These blossoms are in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Fortunately for us, they were reasonably short trees, which allowed us to see the flowers much more clearly.
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The plumeria above is at the Monastere de St. Jean Baptiste, in the Montagne de Ambre region of Madagascar; the nuns there maintained beautiful gardens.  We also saw plumeria in the south of the island, in the Isalo region.
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Both of these are in Aswan, Egypt.  The blossom above was in the amazing gardens of Kitchener Island, where Lord Kitchener assembled a large collection of plants from around the world.  The plumeria below was on the grounds of the Old Cataract hotel, in Aswan. 
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We saw plumeria in Cairo as well, but they were the last we saw until we returned to the US.  We’d grown used to seeing them regularly after we left South America, and we definitely missed them for the remainder of our trip.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Postcard: Laos Mekong

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Sunset over the Mekong river in Laos, during field burning season.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Madagascar: An Introduction

Before we dive into our travels in Madagascar, we thought it would be helpful to briefly talk about the island, since it’s unique in many ways.  It is the 4th largest island in the world, and it split off from what is now India about 88 million years ago.  That long period of isolation led to some very interesting plant and animal life.  Roughly 90% of the organisms in Madagascar are endemic, and are found nowhere else in the world.  Lemurs are probably the most well-known of these, but chameleons are an exceptional example as well.
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Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Road Trip Map


We created a tripline.net map for our road trip, in addition to the international leg.  Both can be found on our maps page.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Animated map

A family friend invited us to talk about our trip at the Friendship Force of Northern Colorado.  It was great to talk to a group of excited travelers, and it was also a fun, if challenging exercise to condense a year of travel into 40 minutes.  While preparing our presentation, we discovered tripline.net, which is a great way to visualize a trip with an animated map.  The map animation slows down eventually when you have as many way-points as we did, so we created a less detailed overview (just one point in each country) for our presentation, but here is the full, nitty gritty version:




Friday, January 3, 2014

Bangkok to Antananarivo

We had heard there was a direct flight from Bangkok to Antananarivo in Madagascar, but we couldn't get there that way.  We could fly there via Paris, Johannesburg, or Nairobi.  Nairobi seemed the closest connection, so we chose a nine hour Kenya Airways flight to Nairobi, with a layover and then another two and a half hour flight to Antanananrivo.  Our flight left Bangkok at 12:30 am, on the timetable of international flight that doesn't deal on local time.

We had to check out of our hotel at noon, and so we killed time in the plentiful shopping malls, trying to avoid being outside. It's hot and muggy outside, and that's a reason, but our main goal is to avoid getting caught up in the Thai New Year, called Songkran.  On Songkran a few drops of water and talcum powder are pressed to the forehead of the elders as a sign of respect. But really, after that is done in the early morning hours of the day, it becomes a water gun and talcum powder fight in the streets.  We don't want to lead into 11 hours of flight soaking wet and powdered in talc. We have read about where the water fights are prohibited, and so we stick to our hotel lobby, the elevated railway, and the shopping malls. There are guards with large garbage cans by each entrance to the train, and teenagers empty their supersoaker water guns in them. They are soaked to the skin. As the day progresses they are covered in smears of talcum powder as well.  The trains are crowded and it's increasingly hard not to get damp and talc-smeared as more bodies press into the train cars.
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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Thailand: meh

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Thailand was the only country we visited that disappointed us.  There were a number of factors contributing to that.  Numerous people had raved about how inexpensive Thailand is, but after visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, it seemed outrageously expensive—it was no Australia, but we certainly wouldn’t call it cheap!  It was also very Westernized, which was a strong contrast to the countries we’d just come from.  It felt a bit like the Thailand exhibit at the "International Pavillion" of an American theme park.  And it was relentlessly hot, muggy and buggy.  We’d been in other places as hot (though not as buggy) and enjoyed them, but Thailand just didn’t seem to offer much to offset being completely sweat drenched 10 minutes after stepping outdoors. 
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For perspective, we still want to return to Bolivia, even after our escape from there, but we have no interest in returning to Thailand.  Unfortunately, we’d already committed to spending three weeks there, thinking it would be an inexpensive place to relax and slow down before diving into 6 weeks of fast-paced travel in Madagascar, Egypt and Jordan.