Sunday, December 17, 2006

Baby elephant

On Saturday Mindy, Jeff, Megan and I hopped on our motorbikes and cruised up to MaeSa elephant camp. O.k... so there are moral issues with some of the elephant camps, and I haven't quite figured out what is considered a good elephant camp and what is considered bad, but I feel like I need to see some different ones in order to form an opinion. The main jist of elephant camps is that elephants used to be used for logging in thailand. Now they aren't so much. However elephants live to be 60-70 years old and eat 250 kilos of food a day. Therefore, once they became obsolete in the logging industry, people had to figure out how to afford to feed them. Thus the elephant camp was born. Some elephant camps have the elephants doing tricks and taking people on rides (the MaeSa elephant camp is like this) while others just provide a nice home and rely on fundraising to pay for the elephants (we will visit this type later). Either way, the elephants (and their "controllers"- elephants and controllers generally work together for life) are taken care of.
So we watched the show along with 200 other tourists (mostly thai tourists). Elephants picked up logs, painted pictures, plated soccer, danced to their own harmonica music, threw darts, and massaged a guy. You can also buy a bunch of bananas and sugar cane to feed to the elephants which is pretty fun because they gently take the food out of your hand with their trunks and then somehow manage feed themselves one banana at a time while keeping the others in their trunk. While you are focussed on the elephants in front of you, another elephant may sneak up behind you (you can't at all hear or feel them coming), tap you on the shoulder and either walk by you or give a snuggle. It feels weird to submit to such a large creature, but when are surrounded by about 5 of them, you kind of just let go.

After sipping some coconut juice, we were preparing to leave (along with the other 196 tourists), when I saw a small sign for elephant nursery. We decided to follow the sign around the corner and up a road and across a field and through the jungle until we found a pen with a mother and a baby. A sign said that the baby was born in March and that was about it. No sign saying don't play with elephant. Nothing about baby elephants are dangerous. Nothing about playing with the elephant is encouraged. There really wasn't much information at all. Being americans, we obviously assume that if something is dangerous, then there will be multiple indications all around to stay away, because if something goes wrong, we can sue the property owners. Therefore, lack of signage means everything is safe. We though about this for a moment, decided to slowly approach the baby (we had just been hugged by 10,000 pound elephants so a mere 1000 pound creature couldn't possibly hurt us) and with time we became a little more brave.
This elephant (its name is BoomSerm) was truly magical. We stayed there for about an hour playing the little guy. Here is a movie of the playing:

I have to run off to thai class, but I'll put some photos up soon.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I love my neighborhood

Moving to a foreign country is kind of like being an infant (or so I think). The littlest achievements seem so big.

Wednesday nights find Megan out of town for the night and me all alone in the big city. (So I'm not alone, there are lots of people to hang out with but I chose to take a lone evening). On a street about a block from us, there are food stalls lined up either side. Most thai people get take away from these stalls, although many of the vendors have set up a table or two behind their place to sit and eat. I'm a little shy to stop and eat because it can be hard to figure out what it is that each stall serves. However, I haven't really found anything I don't like to eat (except maybe that chicken foot floating in my bowl of soup the other day) so I decided to just try whatever this particular stall has. The guys was really nice, told me to sit down and brought me a plate of rice with some of the best chicken that chickens can make sitting on top. As I'm eating an older woman sitting next to me figure out somehow that I'm not thai and kind of keeps looking over at me. So I say hi. She says hi and then starts asking me various questions in English. I try to answer in Thai (although I don't really know enough yet to answer much) and soon we are talking. She just finished taking a course in English from the British consulate and really wants to practice her english. So here I am, sitting at a food stall in my neighborhood, talking to my neighbor and feeling like I belong here.

After a while, I leave the stall still feeling a bit hungry so I go to another stall that is only take away and order some Kale type thing, rice, and some amazing chile sauce all in thai. The woman serving it up smiles and waits patiently as I try to speak thai, and sure enough, I get what I thought I was going to get. I'm pretty much feeling like the man.

This must be how infants feel the first time they learn to communicate exactly what they want.

Oh yeah, and I can read again. The thai letters are starting to make sense. It may take me about 30 seconds to sound out words, and I have no idea what the words mean once I say them, but at least I can read again. Maybe I'm progressing to the feeling a 5 year old gets.

And here are some cute dogs on a rack.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

We live here

From the same set of photos as the last one.
The smog doesn't seem so bad when you are living in it.

Weather Forcast in Chiang Mai

I saw this in a local magazine the other day:

It stopped raing on October 12. Since then, the temperatures have been warmer than usual with average highs around 28 to 32 [celcius]. It will cool off more in December with the lowest highs (20-25) in early january. It will rain for 5 days between December 20 and the New Year due to winds from Burma. After that it will not rain until April.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Teaching in Thailand

Over the last couple of days I began my adventurous teaching career in Thailand and I have been constantly giggling inside wondering how I managed to get into this position. I’ve been waiting and waiting to go back to work. I've missed the children and the schedule... It sounds really weird, but there is something about not working that drives me crazy, literally CRAZY, you can ask Marshall. Many of you know this, but before coming to Thailand I found a job at a newly developed Montessori school that was started for what was described as “orphans”. The children will stay there until they turn 18 and then go off to University.

Picture me staring at a dozen small Southeast Asian children that are completely identical looking. They all have the same haircut and look a whole lot like twins. They’ve had an introduction of me as this science teacher/rock climber/ sign language specialist/ English teacher coming to teach them all she knows. That's actually not all that hard to imagine. Now, picture me staring at a bunch of Thai adults who have had the same introduction and me trying to justify what it is I really know how to do, which is strictly work within a Montessori Classroom structure. That was a funny interaction. One would think if they're headed to Thailand to teach in a Montessori school that one would arrive at the final destination and be welcomed to a Montessori type environment with Montessori type materials. Well, not so much in Thailand. Here the younger children kinda-sorta have a Montessori type of classroom (except that all the subjects are in different rooms where there may or may not be a teacher) and then they turn 5 and head off to the Elementary classroom where they sit at desks for 8 hours and stare at a white erase board and copy everything written on the board. The worst part is I took part in this. I stood in front of a classroom and read from a workbook and tried to teach English to children who had no idea what I was saying. Lucky for me, I know when my students do not understand what I’m trying to teach. Small children don’t ignore you when they’re not interested in what your teaching. Instead they throw themselves on the ground and start screaming. For anyone who has any idea how a Montessori classroom runs this is completely backwards from how I was trained to teach. I have no idea how to work with children with a workbook and white erase board. I was sweating, my heart was thumping, and there were two Thai Teachers staring at me wondering what magic I was going to create for these children to learn English. Needless to say the next day I went into class and told them I can only teach sitting on a carpet with only a few children at a time and only when they want to learn English. This so isn't going to happen, but it's worth a try.

Fortunately the children are absolutely amazing. They are all incredibly excited about learning about anything, which makes it easy to come up with lesson plans. The problem comes when they have a massive meltdown and become large puddles on the floor. Then I have no idea what to do because they certainly don't have enough English or Thai for that matter under their belts to have any sort of rational conversation. Which, I pride myself on with having with younger children. I'm sure I'll figure it out and have a whole lot more giggling on the inside.

Hope all is well and you're enjoying the snow for us --
love - Megan

Monday, November 27, 2006


Since I didn't take any pictures, you'll have to imagine it. We pull up to a market about 10 km out of town. From the distance you can sort of hear a buzzing sound and when we round the corner, there it is. I would guess around 300 motorbikes all lined up, people milling about, revving this engine and that engine, exhaust wafting out the edges of the building and 3 americans with eyes wide open and insecure looks on their faces. We came to buy motorbikes. Fortunately, we were with Boom, a friend of a friend. Boom is a petit thai woman, who speaks english perfectly accept for her british accent. Boom doesn't necessarily know much about the honda dream or the suzuki crash, but it is safe to say that she know more than we do. She certainly knows more about how the market works and explained that the prices you see are only the starting point, but not to expect to bargain down too much.
Megan was the first to find a bike she loved. She test rode it. I test rode it. Boom negotiated a good price (around 19,000 baht ~500 dollars). Jeff found a sweet ride for 14,000 baht. Now it was up to me. For some reason, I was stuck on getting a 125cc bike (sort of the top end for engine size around here) while Jeff and megan settled for 110 cc. There is a price jump and a significant decrease in number of bikes available when buying a 125cc. I test rode a few. One made a weird clicking sound, another had bad transmission, another stalled frequently. There was one that seemed just right. It was built in 2546 (that is thai calendar for 3 years ago), has 10,000 km on it and seemed zippy. The front brakes didn't work too well but that can be fixed cheaply (about 6 dollars for new brakes it turns out), so I took the plunge and just bought it. We were able to bargain down the price 1000 baht (30 dollars) -yippee- and payed 24,000 for it. I took it to the Honda dealer, they told me it was still under warranty- yippee- gave it a free tune up, changed the oil and now I sure hope it will run well for the year.

So now I am officially here. We have a home, I have a motorbike, I have a membership at the climbing wall, I can count to one million in Thai, and I have had a stomach bug. In fact, just now I'm feeling even more committed because as I write this, I'm on Skype with Verizon Wireless trying to disconnect my US cell phone. So far I have been on the line 20 minutes trying to do this. Why does it take so long? For all the hassle of trying to figure out the cell phone over here, it does seem like the systems are way easier with much less need for crazy call centers.

As it turns out, Jeff took some photos with his new fancy cell phone. Pretty hot.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

A place to live

House shopping was a bit tiring. From what we could gather, the way to rent an apartment or house here is to walk around a neighborhood we might want to live in and if we see a phone number (we can at least recognize numbers if not any other writing) and the front, then it is probably for rent. Since we have our handy dandy cell phones (I still have no idea when they might stop working) we can call the number from right there and hope that the person on the other end speaks some english. In this fashion we found a few homes and condos and became depressed at the quality. After days of this, I saw a phone number on a fence post (no, I didn't want to live on a fence post) and called it. This turned out to be a real estate agent named Nid who took us to a house that was under construction but probably 3000 square feet (too big) and another way out in the country side that was built by a scottish man. This was an awesome house, but the daily commute would have been about 1/2 hour. However, it would be the perfect place for a writer looking for a secluded beautiful place in the country side. If anyone wants to give up their day job and write, let me know. So the real estate agent thing didn't work.
After some frustration, Megan and plopped ourselves down in a wawee coffee (kind of like starbucks but much more thai), drank something that tasted like a meted frappacino, got way too cracked out on coffee and opened a local publication for expats called City LIfe. We found an add for something that seemed too good to be true called the number and found the cutest house in Chiang Mai. It is in the old part of town, down a quite secluded street, owned by an english teacher named Suwy, and cost about 200 dollars per month.

Here is a photo of our kitchen. Yeah it is simple, but this is the way it works. When we looked at places, none of them had kitchens. People simply eat out for every meal. At first this sounds cool, but sometimes, I just want to scramble up some eggs for breakfast.

In order to cook, we needed to buy a wok and some ingredients. So we took a trip to the day market and had an adventures buying some goods. Here are some photos of said market, I like how this lady is surrounded by vegetables. She must climb in at 8 am and not leave until 5. She looks quite at home in her vegies.

So today we go motorcycle shopping at some used motorcycle market. We hear we can get a pretty nice ride for around 500 dollars. Hopefully this is the case. The good news is that there are cheap mechanics everywhere, the bad news is that I have no idea how to look at the motorcycles around here and tell if they are good or bad. We have a thai woman coming with us which is helpful. Hopefully we end up with something sweet.

Oh yeah, and I got sick about 5 days ago which is fine. I knew it was going to happen and I might as well get it out of the way.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

My Skype Number


Through the miracles of modern technology one can call this number from any phone and talk to me in Thailand. If I'm not online (which I probably won't be) you can leave a voice mail that I will get next time I get online. Try it, it will be fun to here your voice.

Another option is to go to, download the client software and call me (my skype name is mabalick) using your computer. This works well too and allows me to video conference with you. Once I get an apartment I can give you a tour of it using my camera. The catch is that we have to be online at the same time to chat (obviously) and with a 15 hour time difference, this might take some orchestration, but can be done for sure.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I think I got a cell phone in Thailand

There are experiences when you travel that can frustrate you, but while in the midst of them you have to remember that this is why you chose to live overseas- to experience new things and to feel like a gumby.
On our first day here, Megan, Jeff and I went cell phone shopping. After asking around we figured the best place to buy them is at the mall. The mall is a masterpiece of American Culture plopped right down into the middle of Thai bedlam: Sizzler, KFC, McDonalds, Mr. Bun, and 65 cell phone stores. How do you choose which store to go to when the options abound? You go to the one place that looks like it might speak english, of course. We went to the DTAC store (DTAC is one of three telecommunications companies in Thailand), found a woman who spoke some english and spent the next 1 1/2 hours trying to figure out what we were buying. We chose some phones- that part was easy- but then had to pick out a SIM card and a plan. We had heard that there was a plan that allowed me and Megan to talk for free so we asked the woman if this is possible and in response we heard the word "buffet." Buffet? No we don't all you can eat, we just want to talk to each other and then pay whatever it costs for everyone else. "Promotion Buffet!" O.k.... so if we get promotion buffet, then we are good to go. We understood that we had to buy a 300 Baht (Baht is the thai currency) card to activate it. O.k.... I think we should do that? The phones came out of the wrappers, the SIM cards were inserted into the phones and then special numbers were called to activate Promotion Buffet. Great. We were all done. We were grabbing our bags to leave and then I thought to ask how we regenerate our 300 Baht. "No, you don't have 300 baht at all," was the response. " It costs you 300 Baht per month just to activate Promotion Buffet." So now I understood that we had to pay 300 baht per month to talk to megan for free and that I still had to put more money into the account in order to talk to anyone else. I just got a big smile from the sales person in response. Smiles are great, but they aren't too helpful when trying to figure things out. At this point I had to remind myself that I am the one who doesn't speak any Thai, that I am the one who can't make any sense out of the Thai Smile Happy Promotion cell phone programs and that this woman is doing better with me than I would do with her if the roles were reversed.
We left, understanding only that I can make a cell phone call, and I figure I will continue to make cell phone calls until my phone doesn't work anymore and then I will go to the DTAC office and ask how to make it work. It isn't really my style to not understand the subtleties of how something works, but I think I'm going to have to get used to it while I'm over here.

Obviously my life has changed quite a bit since the last post. I seem to remember that Smith was cold, then it got hot, then it rained and we climbed a lot. We traveled back up to Seattle for a few days, packed out lives up into a duffel bag and then jumped an airplane for Thailand. We sat on airplanes for about 30 hours total and arrived in Chaing Mai feeling tired and excited about what is to come. After eating some delicious thai food, we went and got one hour foot massages (for 5 dollars) and then fell fast asleep. The next day we got cell phones (I think) and started searching for apartments. I won't go into too much detail, but most "apartments" are 5 meter by 8 meter boxes with windows at one end and no kitchen. The good news: they cost around 125 dollars per month. The bad news: from what we can tell, this style apartment is pretty much all there is. We checked out a lot of apartments and seem to find the same wherever we go. I'm sure we haven't seen everything yet, but hopefully we can find something a little more livable then a box. On Tuesday, we are going apartment (or maybe house) hunting with Josh who speaks thai and understands how it all works. Perhaps I'll know more by then.

We also met a bunch of great climber/ ex- peace corp/ nice folks at a party last night. It seems like we will make some great friends here and have plenty of people to hang out with.

In short, I am super excited to be here, Thailand is hot, cell phone plans are confusing, don't ride bicycles in Thailand at night time on busy streets when you don't have a light on your bicycle (it took us literally 15 minutes to cross a street- and that was probably one of the most dangerous things I have ever done in my life), the people here are great, and life is good.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

It got even colder at Smith

8 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. It sort of froze everything.

Fortunately, we stayed on our friends' floor those two nights... not that the van wouldn't have kept us warm, but going to the bathroom in the middle of the night wouldn't have been too enjoyable. However, it was generally sunny during the day so the temps would warm up a little. In fact, I think I may have taken off my down coat when I climbed yesterday, but only while I was climbing.
Then the clouds moved in. We heard the pitter-patter of rain on the van last night which encouraged us to sleep in until 9, read harry potter out loud, watch an episode of Alias, and finally break camp at 12:30. That pretty much turned today into a rest day. I went for a jog around Smith (stared at the backbone of the monkey in awe) and here I am in front of a computer at the local Yerba Mate cafe, Santiagos. What sucks is that the forecast for the next week or so is "mostly cloudy with a chance of rain." This is the fall smith that we know so well: wear your down, climb on cold rock, send lots of projects because the rock is super tacky, use heater packs in your chalk bag, hope it doesn't rain or snow, and admit that summer really is over.

That would be a major bummer if we weren't headed to Thailand in 2 weeks!

Below are some links to photos from last weekend. We had a large posse from Seattle come down and siege trout creek. Now... I have to admit that I am currently not so fond of crack climbing, but I had a good old time hanging out with the folks for a weekend. Tim even has some photos of me taking a few falls on Latest Rage at smith. I was trying to get used to falling again, and heh, I might as well have tim take pictures while I do it.

  • Tim Matsui's photos

  • Andreas' photos

  • That's about it for now. Hopefully the weather stays climbable.

    Thursday, October 26, 2006

    It's cold at Smith

    However, the temps are pretty much perfect for climbing. 60 degrees during the day and around 25 at night. It is that rare time when you can climb in the sun or the shade.

    The days usually consist of waking up when the sun hits the van (around 7:30 or 8), making coffee, read for a bit, make breakfast, drive to the park, climb, drive back to the grasslands, make yummy food (so far we have created pasta with cream sauce and brocolli, sloppy joe corn bread pizza, quesidillas, maple glazed chicken over lemon rice, and something else I can't remember). Then we watch some Alias on Megan's computer, maybe read some more and fall fast asleep.

    For the weekend we had a bunch of people from Seattle come down and we sieged climbing spots at Smith. On Saturday it was shipwreck gully (I think I climbed everysingle pitch there, including flight of the killer skud buster missiles or something like that).
    On Sunday we took over the pure palm area at the lower gorge. Fortunately for the rest of the climbing community, no one else was there. It was quite a posse.

    In other news, Megan is feeling better although her stomach still cramps and her blood pressure is too high, but mentally she is more content. We are trying to eat low sodium, but it can be tricky. We just aren't used to think about salt.

    Since it is a rest day, we are in a Yerba Mate cafe in Redmond, OR, drinking Mate and surfing the web. Megan snapped this photo of me focussing on the computer.
    So that is it from smith for now. Give a call if you are coming over.


    Thursday, October 19, 2006

    Directions to Trout Creek

    Here are the directions to Trout Creek. Again, we will be there the weekend of the 28th and 29th (arriving the evening of the 27th).

    A link to google map page is :,-121.087017&spn=0.055403,0.112095&t=h&om=1 The campground is the green spot in the middle of the frame.


    Hwy 26 east over Hood. As you cross the Deschuttes River in Warm Springs start paying attention!! As you drive out of the canyon and top out on the mesa……

    Turn LEFT on Gumwood
    Take your first RIGHT on Deschuttes and go to the end
    Turn RIGHT on Juniper and go to the end of the mesa
    Drop down the Gateway grade into the town of Gateway
    Take your first LEFT on Clemens..take this dirt road all the way to the camp ground!!
    All said, it takes around 20 minutes from the turn off of the highway to the campground.

    We are going to try and get sites #1 and #2 which are some of the first ones you come to from the road. You won’t miss us.

    A reboot to the system

    Sometimes it just needs to happen. Things get too cluttered. You have too many applications open. All your memory is allocated. You need to just force a shutdown, and then bring it all back up online slowly.
    This is what we needed to do.
    After returning from Europe we landed in Denver and slept at our good buddy's, Jeffy Poodle's, house in Boulder. Megan was still feeling quite strange from whatever type of bug or whatever she came down with in Croatia or Greece. Her heart rate wasn't up, per se, but she felt like her heart was beating to harshly, like it wanted to pump a lot of blood without raising it's rate. We went to a clinic in Boulder and when they took her blood pressure, it was 190/ 120. This is way too high for someone her age. The doctor did an EKG (which looked normal) prescribed some blood pressure medicine, and said: I have no idea what is going on. Word of advice, if you have no idea what is going wrong, don't go home and research you symptoms on the internet. Most likely, you will finish this experience quite sure that you have some sort of life ending disease. So, with anxieties mounting, we went back to the clinic to see what more could be done and met with another doctor. She listened quite well, but only brought up worst case scenarios of what this could be.
    Well... I was getting a little stir crazy sitting around in Boulder (although I can certainly think of worse places to sit around), so I developed a plan with Megan to hit the road and make our way to Oregon where there are hospitals near buy and more importantly, Smith Rocks is near by. We spent a night in Maple Canyon hoping to get a day of climbing in. We woke to better than perfect conditions (fall had moved in and it was gorgeous), but Megan was feeling light headed, so we headed down towards the local clinic. Once arriving there she felt better, but rather that going back up, we thought it best to just keep moving towards home. In fact, the more we thought about it, the better it sounded for us to go to Seattle, seek medical attention there, and force a reboot. This is what we did.
    Megan has since seen a doc in Seattle, she has had many tests run on her (we got to see her heart valves working with an EchoCardioGraph), and of course, we still have no idea why her blood pressure is high. However, she is feeling better, and so today we head to smith. Hopefully this is the best plan of action, but after relaxing at the parent's house and getting recentered, we feel like it is time to go climbing (can you tell I'm excited?).
    We head off today. If anyone is coming down, let me know, and we'll be happy to cook you dinner. Also, we are planning to be at Trout Creek for 2 days of the best camping and straight up crack climbing in the Northwest during the weekend of October 28 and 29. If you want to come email Gavin (gavin @ and he will give out all the directions on how to get there. This is sort of an obscure crag, but the climbing is excellent and we'll have the perfect guide, Gavin, there for the weekend. He even has a mega rack stashed up at the crag (for some of the climbs, you need 10 of one size piece).

    So... to drag out the analogy too far... hopefully we are clean of viruses and we can keep our desktop clear of clutter for the next couple of weeks at Smith.


    Sunday, October 15, 2006

    The drippy kitties- a week in Greece

    As we travelled through Europe, we became accustomed to cats everywhere. Most of them are feral, many are cute, and megan tried to make friends with almost all of them. All of them except a certain type of kitty that we encountered on Ithaka in Greece. This type we named the "drippy kitty." We were enjoying a meal in the picturesque town of Frikas (supposedly named because the people in this town are "frika" which stands for freak or horrible). At the table were a bunch of friends from Seattle: Leah, her dad Mark, Austin, Becky, Ian, Megan and myself. Of course the cats are combing around our feet looking for any scraps that we might drop. In a close by flower box a little kitty was snuggled up enjoying the afternoon rays. To get a better shot at the sun, he moved his head a little and exposed the nastiest lesion running the length of the underside of his neck. It was way too gross to look at, but it was one of those things that made it hard to divert your eyes. Ian, who was sitting next to me was wondering why I was so distracted and started to look in the direction of the kitty. I told him not to, but it was too late and he let out a growl as he saw the mutilated kitty. We then noticed that other kitties around the table had this defect. We started to loose out appetite, but the yumminess of the cheese pie, the spinach pie, the perfect tzaziki, the tender calamari, the baked lamb, and the chicken souvlaki kept us going. Without too much incident, I noticed that Austin was standing in the mediterranean, (which was right next to the table) kind of splashing his feet around. We asked him what he was doing and he replied "oh just walking in the water." He was trying to save us from the horrible truth: One of the cats (which looked like it was about to die that evening) had dripped on Austin's foot. I'll let you figure out where the drip came from, but needless to say, Austin didn't feel like eating anymore. We never did see anymore drippy kitties after that, but when we cruised around as a pack on our scooters and dune buggy, we called ourselves the drippy kitty gang. Don't mess with us or we'll ruin your appetite.
    Ithaka is the land of Odysseus. In theory (it depends on whose theory you look at) it is the beginning and the end of Homer's Odyssey. Either way, It has been inhabited for a very long time. We went for some hikes while we were there and would stumble across an ancient village from the 16th century (now in ruins), but you could sort of get a feel for what the town was like. Of course, there are places all over the island named for things in The Odyssey. Who knows if they really are, but it is cool to imagine it. Here is a photo of Megan and Becky in front of the Cave of the Nymphs. This is supposed to be where Odysseus hid his treasures while he went and took care of (killed) all of the suitors who were after his wife. We walked around the archaeological site of what was Odysseus' palace. We swam on beaches which I'm sure Odysseus swam on. We saw dogs that must be descendants of Odysseus' dogs. And then there were the goats. For those of you who don't know, I sort of have a goat obsession. At some point in my life, I will have a goat farm in Utah because I think they are just the coolest creatures. Ithaka is covered with goats. They are everywhere and it makes me quite happy to be around them.
    Who were the people we were with? The story goes like this. Our friend from Seattle, Leah Kiveat, has a family house on Ithaka. Her grandparents bought a piece of property on Ithaka back in the 60s when they were on a Pan Am world tour. I think it cost them something like 500 dollars. When Leah's Dad started to get close to retiring, her decided it would be nice to build a house on the property. When he looked into building on their land, he discovered that since there is one olive tree on the property Ithaka law states that you can only build a 300 square meter cottage on the property. That is just too small for the Kiveats (if you know the Kiveats, you will certainly understand). So they worked with a Ithakan architect to find another piece of property on the island. They ended up with a piece of land in the town of Vathi. This land is on a very steep hillside. Ithaka building code is very strict. In order to build you have to start all the way down at bedrock (In 1953 there was an earthquake that destroyed the entire island, so now everything has to be earthquake proof). You also have to build x amount of meters above the road. The Kiveat's property is on a very steep hill. Therefore, the house is three stories tall. Since they wanted to have a house that had a largish single floor plan, they ended up with a structure that is enormous. The bottom two floor aren't finished (the kids will inherit these floors to finish as they will). Leah was planning a small trip to Ithaka, and in typical Leah style, she started to invite all of her friends. Soon there were 7 of us heading to Ithaka to enjoy blue waters, white churches, lots of old stuff and a good dosage of Leah's cooking.
    Besides Megan having some sort of stomach bug (more on that later) it was a great week with great friends.

    Eventually our week was up. So we got up at 5 am to catch yet another ferry (if I don't take another ferry for a few years, that will be a o.k.). Drove the most exciting expressway ever towards athens (it is a two lane road that greeks drive like it were a four lane road- some sort of code involving blinkers and light flashing keeps you from slamming into the cars that are coming the opposite direction in your lane). Took a plane to london, spent a night in an airport shopping mall (thank god for overstuffed starbucks chairs) and then flew back to Denver to pick up our van and continue with our indulgent adventures.

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Paradise in Croatia

    We got off the ferry after taking an overnight from Italy, took a taxi to this small town that we couldn't pronounce, hiked around for a bit trying to find this guy who I had emailed before our trip, finally figured out where he was supposed to be, walked to 1 km or so along the Mediterranean when what should appear in front of our eyes but a paradise for climbers.
    Limestone cliffs that rise about 40 meters out of a crystal blue sea with a natural port for swimming and a private beach to lounge around on between climbs. What could be better? How about the host of the climbing area offering us glasses of local red wine (he claims that it is the best in Croatia).
    The name if the area is Sveta Nedjelja on the island of Hvar. In order to get there, you have to drive through a 1.5 km 1 lane tunnel with no lights in it. The woman at the information office told us that it is a "Croatian Style tunnel, different from any tunnel we have been in". She was right. Because of the tunnel and because it is fairly remote, there really isn't a lot happening in Sveta Nedjelja. There is a church. There are vineyards and olive trees galore. There is a grocery where you all the merchandise is behind the counter and you have to ask the grocer to get it down for you (this guy ended up giving us a ride back to the ferry after our stay. Here is a picture of Megan with him. There are a few apartments for tourists to stay (we rented a studio for 20 Euros a night). It is pretty darn sleepy.
    Our days generally went like this: Wake up when we wake up (usually around 8 or 9), make some eggs and drink Croatian coffee. Walk up to the market to get a fresh loaf of bread for the day and some beers for the evening. At around 11 we would walk to the crag. If it was super hot (it usually was) we would jump into the Mediterranean for a swim before getting on the climbs. The climbs ranged in 15 meters to 40 meters in length and were rated somewhere between 5a and 8a (5.8 and 5.13). We mostly climbed stuff up to 6c or so. The rock was limestone with all types of features on it. Pockets, tufas, edges, razor sharp texture, overhanging and vertical. It was all bolted, sometimes closely bolted sometimes a little more sporting, but usually pretty safe. The biggest problem we had with the climbing is that we only has a 60 meter rope so we couldn't do all of the climbs. Many were 40 meters in length. So... After climbing and swimming and then climbing and swimming some more, we would get a glass of wine from Miro (the guy who owns the land and has done all the development- his website is and sit around to watch the sun set. We would then mosey back to apartment, make dinner, eat some chocolate, and then fall fast asleep. Pretty much a perfect day as far as I'm concerned.
    We had one rest day so we decided to get a ride into Jelsa- a town on the other side of the tunnel with more varied types of food than we could find at the local grocer. We hitched with a couple from Austria that we befriended: Martin and Watraub. Here is a picture of them. These two took us under their wing the first couple of days and fed us full of cheese and wines from Austria. They were heading back home on our rest day so they gave us a one way ride into Jelsa. We had to figure out how to get back and we didn't really want to take a taxi again as that was kind of expensive. We heard rumors of a bus back to our small village, but as it turns out the bus is a school bus and won't let tourists on. We considered walking up and over the mountain that the tunnel cuts through but thought that might be a bit much with the groceries on our back. After studying a map of the island, we decided that we would take a bus towards Hvar City, ask the bus driver to drop us off at stop in the middle of nowhere and then hike the coast for 10k or so back to Sveta Nedjelja. This bus driver looked at like we were crazy when we asked him to drop us off in the said middle of nowhere, but he did it anyway and then we started hiking. It was pretty cool. We quickly stumbled across the world's smallest town that has no road going to it (only boat access). As we walked through what seemed to be a deserted town, I noticed an old man sitting in under the shade of some vines in front of what seemed to be a bar of sorts. We walked over towards the bar, and the guy woke up from his nap with a start. It kind of scared us a bit, but he insisted (in some form of German/ Italian/ Spanish/ Croatian that I could understand parts of) that we sit down and have a drink. After repeated attempts to convince him that I wanted a Pivo (beer) and that megan wanted red wine, he brought the drinks out and gave us a good smile, exposing the one tooth in his mouth. We told him we were walking to Sveta Nedjelja and he just about had a heart attack. Berge (mountains) are in the way and he didn't think it was a good idea. Well we drank our drinks made some more small talk about arrogant italians and then started on our way. He watched us hike out of town. It kind of felt like a western. 10km later and a most beautiful hike through olive trees, limestone crags, sea cliffs and small beaches we arrived home with a bag full of groceries and feeling pretty excited about our adventure.
    So the week passed, the grocer gave us a ride to the ferry, we spent a day in Split (a most marvelous ancient city), we took an overnight ferry to Ancona, Italy then caught a 21 hour ferry to Patras Greece where we were scheduled to meet up with friends from Seattle. The ferry rides kind of sucked because we didn't have cabins so we did some quality floor sleeping. But hey, such is traveling. It was worth it to have been able to spend a week in paradise.

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    The end of Maple

    Mt. Pleasant Utah is the local town where we go on rest days to do laundry, get groceries, and read books under a shade tree in the local park. A couple of years ago when we were there for the 4th of July we even has the pleasure of seeing an amateur rodeo where none of the cowboys could stay on the bull for 8 seconds. Since we missed the rodeo on this trip, we felt a little disconnected with local culture so we decided on night to stay in town a little late and taste the delights at the drive-in theater. I noticed that Monster House was playing, but I was going to go to the drive-in despite the movie. After all, it isn't about the movie, now is it? Much to our luck, Monster House had finished its run and Talladega Nights was playing. I had no idea what this movie was about, but it had to be better than Monster House. We pulled the van in, parked it sideways so we could lounge on the crash pad by the open side door and went to the snack bar and bought popcorn. We felt a little awkward at first since we were the only people in the lot that didn't have a huge pickup truck. What is the etiquette? Is it o.k. to drink beer? Is the sideways parked van blocking the view of others? Is it o.k. to get out and take photos of the van? We quickly relaxed when it became apparent that nobody cared a lick about what we did.
    For those of you who haven't seen this movie, it is pretty damn funny. Maybe it was the beer, maybe it was the trucks running their engines during the movie, maybe it was the large extra butter popcorn that I consumed during the movie, but I laughed my ass off.

    Other things that happened: we met tons of cool people. Here is a photo of Megan and I hanging out with Guy and Wendy. Wendy is from Santa Fe and takes long road trips with her dog, "Lolita, Lolita, Donde estas su pollo?" Lita for short. Wendy and I immediately became friends after I mentioned to her that I helped to start "Climbers for Kerry" and she gave me a big hug. Wendy is nursing an elbow injury, but that doesn't prevent her from climbing on 5.12s at maple. Pretty cool.

    Guy travels in his truck 6 months of the year with his dog Mica (cute chocolate lab) and sent Millennium (14a) last week. He has the road trip life perfected. His rig is a custom made Truck topper that is quite well designed. On rest days, he gets a private study room at the college in Ephraim and turns it into an office. He's got it all ironed out.

    The camp hosts, Charmaine, Bill and their daughter Risa are some of the sweetest people you'll ever meet. If only all camphosts could be so kind and loving. It makes the experience that much nicer to know that you are being protected and loved by great people.

    So after sending some projects and not sending others we had to pack up and leave maple for Boulder, CO. The drive is 9 hours and it freakin' rained like crazy all the way through Colorado. The van, being the powerhouse that it is, kept a roaring 35 mph pace over some of the passes. Also, at elevations over 8000 feet, it emits a loud knocking sound. A bit to make me nervous. Needless to say, the drive sucked.

    So here we are in Boulder, hanging out with our good friend Jeff and taking my 94 year old grandma on drives through the mountains. I don''t think she had left the old folks home for a couple of weeks so it was great to get her out. We got a little lost on dirt roads in the hills above boulder, megan got car sick in the back of the van, and that knocking sound kept coming back as I was trying to use the engine to brake the car on the super steep hills. It was an adventure, but my grandma sat there smiling the entire time. She is so incredibly cute!

    On Tuesday morning we pack up and board an airplane for Rome, then Lake Como, then Hvar in Croatia, then Ithaca in Greece. I'll keep the updates coming from Europe.

    Take care out there,