2008 blog
(2007 blog)


[NOVEMBER 30, 2008] SINCE ZOE STARTED TALKING A LOT A FEW MONTHS AGO, WE'VE DISCOVERED THE MAIN THING ON HER MIND IS, 'WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON AROUND HERE?' A couple days before our Thanksgiving weekend trip to Jaipur, Zoe started asking 'Why?' about everything.

As usual, Zoe, was excited about another 'choo choo train' trip. We found Jaipur to be as crowded and polluted as the city we'd just left (Delhi), but there were lots of fun hotels and we had fun wandering around Jaipur. The Jantar Manar was a park of 18th century astronomical instruments including a very tall triangle shaped sundial that gave the time accurate to 2 seconds! We found an Italian restaurant on top of a dilapidated building that served great wood fired pizzas. They didn't have a liquor license, so they served tea in a tea kettle and called it 'special tea.' We also visited the spectacular Rambaugh Palace, which we couldn't afford to stay at, but we could afford Sundowners.



  [NOVEMBER 18, 2008] A WEEKEND IN BANGLADESH. I just returned from taking our school's girls soccer team to Dhaka, Bangladesh for our regional Soccer tournament. We had a lot of fun! We had a younger team with just three members returning to the tournament. However, the girls were enthusiastic, played hard and won the tournament! Competition was very even and the top four teams were all very close to each other. To get into the final game, we scraped by a team from Chennai, only winning in a penalty kick shoot out to break the tie. Check out this youtube video of the girls just after they won the final game - they were so excited! Here's another short video the host school made of our team and their own team (which won 2nd place).

I went running a couple of the mornings I was in Dhaka. In some ways it was similar to Delhi, though it's all Muslim and the expats there talk about there being almost zero to do. Everyone seems to like the school there.

  [NOVEMBER 10, 2008] PUSHKAR CAMEL FAIR IS A RIOT OF PEOPLE AND COLORS. WE WANDERED THE FAIR AND TOWN TO STARE at the rural Rajastanis that came for the fair, but they were just as curious about us. The fair claims to be one of the biggest in Asia. We got there at the end of the camel fair and the beginning of the adjacent religous fair. The crowds were managable for the first tw days but by the time we left there were the type of crowds where a stampede seems likely any moment.

Pushkar is a holy town in Hinduism, and the camel fair is a warm up to a religious festival. We had fun circling the lake along the bathing ghats and wandering around the camel fair itself. There were loads of tourists and each of them had a camera the size of my leg. The fair itself specialized in the bizarre — dancing camels, horses and tight rope walking children.

We stayed in a cheap hotel with a group of teachers from our school. The hotel had rooms around a pleasant courtyard that provided a respite from the crowds. Two unexpected moments of the weekend were when Robyn got her finger stuck in a Coke bottle (she asked me to help, but instead I grabbed the camera), and when a Monkey in a tree above us shit on our breakfast table. Check out the photo of Gene eating and texting his honey with a small monkey turd in the very bottom of the photo.


[OCTOBER 29, 2008] A FIVE DAY WEEKEND FOR THE HINDU HOLIDAY OF DIWALI MEANT OUR FIRST OPPORTUNITY OF THE YEAR TO TRAVEL OUTSIDE DELHI. We headed for the town of Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Rishikesh is a Hindu holy town because its the last town the Ganges river flows through before it descends to the plains. We stayed in a backpacker ghetto and spent a couple days wandering around the temples, ashrams and streets congested with pilgrims, tourists and cows.

I loved the two footbridges that cross the river. The one in the picture (top left) is taken from a coffee house that is strategically situated on one end, perfect for people watching!

After two days in Rishikesh, we headed up the Ganges 25kms to a rafting camp on the river. Two days of nature there nicely balanced out the two days of chaos in Rishikesh. The camp is on a big sandy beach in the gorge formed by the Ganges. Perfect for kids! We were traveling with the Duffields and their two girls, the three girls had a great time playing in the sand and on the edge of the river. Troy and I enjoyed a day rafting on the river (yes, we got thrown out) and we all enjoyed the campfires, stars and general hospitality of the camp.


[OCTOBER 10, 2008] SHORTLY AFTER BEGINNING OUR BIKE RIDE INTO DOWNTOWN DELHI, WARREN DESCRIBED HIS FATALISTIC OUTLOOK ON LIFE. APPARENTLY, as he sees it, you might as well go out with a bang. I thought about this as we weaved across lanes of traffic, between city buses, cows, and cars trying to go the wrong way down the street.

Warren organizes periodic weekend bike rides to random places around Delhi. The weekend before we'd ridden through the Delhi biodiversity park to the tomb of Sultan Ghari, the oldest (~1200) muslim mausaleem in the area. That trip ended for me with a flat tire and tuk tuk home!

This weekend, we headed through much thicker traffic to old Delhi. We passed through Connaught place and the weekend flower market on our way to old Delhi. Bicycles proved to be great for navigating the small lanes of the old city. We swerved through cows and stopped to visit Hindu pilgrims along our way. Warren has an encyclopedic knowledge of even the most minor sites along the way, and can comment on the period, style and architecture of anything.

Since Warren's the technology director he also has never seen a gizmo he doesn't like. He mounts a camera to the front of his bike (Check out this youtube video of our ride), and synchs his digital camera to his gps to create a google earth file that includes thumbnails and pictures of your trip. Yowzers!

Can't wait for the next trip!

    [AUGUST 17, 2008] SO THERE I WAS, LOST IN THE JUNGLE, WORRIED ABOUT STEPPING ON COBRAS, monsoon rains starting up, mud up to my ankles and a huge Brahmin bull with testicals down to his knees blocking my path. It was a good moment for reflection. My running partner the previous day told me 1) make sure the first few times you come into here you have someone to show you the way and 2) look out for the cobras, we see them all the time. The bull's ass was in the jungle on one side of the 3 foot wide path and his head was in the other. I though maybe if I calmly walked near him, he might let me by. Instead he turned his horns straight toward me and blew smoke out his nostrils, he didn't sound happy! I decided to retreat the way I came and spent another half hour going in circles before I heard a road and bushwhacked towards it, man was I glad to make it out of the jungle!

[July 21, 2008] Turns out that flat bicycle routes tend to go through swamps with millions of mosquitoes!  Who would have guessed?  At least, that’s the way it worked out this summer in Wisconsin, which everyone agreed was unusually infested with mosquitoes.  Everywhere we went people kept their mosquito repellant close.  Our ‘Moon’ guidebook to Wisconsin recommended bringing ‘whatever you want’ – but ‘don’t forget the mosquito repellant’!
Turns out that Wisconsin is rated one of the best states to bicycle in.  Apparently, Madison is the second best city in the US (after Seattle).  Accordingly, we started a weeklong bike trip by bicycling right from our my parents front door.  We used a sleek set of urban bike paths to effortlessly escape a city of 400,000.  We biked another ‘rail-to-trail’ to Milwaukee, turned up the coast to Sheboyagan and then turned back inland to Fond-du-Loc in central Wisconsin.  With eight days in our legs at Fond du Loc, we were out of time and had to have my parents pick us up so we could get back in time to make our flight to India. 

We have a fantastic new REI tent (thanks for the present Chris!) that weighs just five pounds, but has room for three adults.  Thankfully, it held out the rain during a spectacular eight hour lightening storm right above our heads on our 3rd or so day out.  We hid in the tent and drank a six pack, teaching Zoë how to clink drinks with us. (Who says these trips aren’t educational for her?) The next day we used a brake in the rain to dodge the mosquitoes and skip town, but we got thoroughly soaked an hour later.  We were biking through the forest with nowhere to hide, so we took refuge at the first building we saw, which turned out to be a retirement home!  The receptionist took pity on us and stripped Zoë down to her diaper, tossing her wet clothes into the dryer.

Zoë was a champ!  She didn’t whine once during 8 days of all day biking!   She mostly slept, but sometimes woke up and sang for an hour.  Current favorite on her playlist – ‘This old Man, he played one, ..’.  I’m thinking about introducing her to some more diverse musical tastes, perhaps some Stones.  We often had to play with Zoë until ten at night, since she slept so much during the day. 

Robyn thought Milwaukee looked like an overbuilt meth lab, but I thought it was ‘edgy.’    It was a fun kaleidoscope of diversity and hadn’t been gentrified to sterility, like a lot of cities these days.  People were friendly and it was a bike friendly city.  It felt real.  We stayed downtown and had dinner, drinks and a walk on the downtown ‘River Walk.’.  Zoë had fun watching the boats.

Milwaukee proved to be our second out of  three nights in a hotel, but after that we got further from the big city, the campgrounds became easier to find.  Our favorite was Kohler-Andrae National Park, a beautiful forest that ran right up to the beach.   A few days, we got a bit too far from civilization and ended up with grim meals—one morning we had chocolate milk, beef jerky and a snickers bar for breakfast!


[July 5th, 2008] ROBYN, ZOë AND I JUST RETURNED FROM RIDING AND CAMPING ALONG SOME OF WISCONSIN'S 'RAIL TO TRAILS.' We chose three trails that connected together starting with the 'Great River State Trail.' These trails are great because they follow old train routes, so they are straight and have very gentle grades - perfect if you are pulling an increasingly heavy two year old!

We camped for three nights along the trail. The first night in a state park which was nice but it was right on the Mississippi and had a million mosquitos! The second night we ended up in a commercial campground which was nice but featured some colorful segments of American society. We were kept up late by a July 4th Karoke session! The third night was in a great community campground that one of the small towns along the trail had created. We shared the campground with a christian youth group. When it started raining, we shared the rain shelter. Robyn and I swigged a six pack while amusing Zoë while listening to the youth group leaders berate their charges for lack of enthusiasm for 1) singing gospel songs and 2) committing to covenants. (?).

The towns we passed through were small! The 3rd night the entire town was closed and we ate dinner out of the microwave in the towns gas station!

The trail started in a swamp, passed through some prairie's, and then climbed through some forest which included three very dark tunnels, the longest of which was 3/4 a mile. We had to use our headlamps and walk our bikes through the tunnels. The tunnels were cold and almost opaque with cold mist.


[July 1st, 2008] AFTER MY BROTHER'S WEDDING, our entire family (sans Erik and Shona, of course!), spent a week in Canmore, just outside Banff Canada. It was my first visit to the Canadian Rockies, which reminded me of the Lake Tahoe area in Northern California. We ventured into Banff a couple times, but spent most of our time in and around Canmore, which seemed just as beautiful but less crowded.

Robyn and I rented a couple mountain bikes with a child trailer and did a 20km (mostly) downhill trail ride from a pass near Canmore to the (famous) Banff Springs Hotel. Robyn was one unhappy biker for the first five bumpy and deserted kilometers, but the trail smoothed out a bit, Robyn’s morale picked up considerably and it now seems unlikely that Zoë suffered any irreversible brain damage.

The last day of the week we did a short but beautiful hike up to ‘Grassi Lakes’, which were 2 small butbeautiful blue lakes nestled in a pass above Canomore. Zoë and I took a dip in the freezing snow melt water that reflected the trees around the shore.


[June 30th, 2008] MY PARENTS DECIDED TO DRIVE TO CANADA, so we’d have the car available to us while we were there. That’s 3 days of serious driving each way! We sped through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Alberta. Boy are there some small towns in those places! I was surprised, however, to find some stunning scenery in spots. The ‘bad lands’ of western North Dakota, in particular, merit a return some day.

On our return route, we took a slightly longer route that took us through South Dakota. We stopped for a quick look at Mount Rushmore, which struck me a bizarre in a very American way – a sculpture that was notable mostly for being huge. Piles of RVs filled the parking lot, but nobody was sure what to do after a minute of 2 of obligatory photographs. The park guide suggested getting an ice cream. J

Easier to appreciate were the ‘Black Hills’ that we drove through to get to the monument. The ‘Black Hills’ are beautiful rolling forests. Even more beautiful was the nearby Badlands National Park. In true American fashion, we were able to appreciate this park almost entirely from our car; we drove a loop through the park that only slightly delayed us from our highway trip


[June 22th, 2008] MY BROTHER (ERIK) MARRIED SHONA GUPTA at the end of June. The wedding was a riot of colors and traditions and a ton of fun. Everyone stayed in the Westin Calgary, which is a sweet hotel right in the center of the city. Shona is Canadian/Indian, so Erik was excited to include Hindu traditions. There was a henna party the day before the wedding and a charismatic Hindu priest at the actual ceremony.

The rehearsal dinner was at a Chinese restaurant very near the hotel. There were some funnyandtouching speeches, particularly by my sister! The restaurant had a 1-foot deep pool in the front with huge catfish. Zoë leaned over the side of the pool too far and took a header into the pool, startling both herself and the catfish!

The ceremony was at a fantastic lodge and restaurant in a provincial park just outside the city. The weather was beautiful and it was fun finding old friends and distant relatives amongst the 200 guests.

The ceremony was a fun mix of traditions. In addition to the Hindu ceremony, Erik had a friend fromCalifornia do the legal bits of the ceremony and they also included a few Jewish elements, such as the breaking of the glass that symbolizes permanent change. My brother-in-law Pat sang ‘Ich Liebe Dich’, which was a surprise for my parents since my uncle sang this same song at their wedding (51 years ago) and at my sisters more recent wedding (sixteen years ago).


[June 13th, 2008] I'LL GO TO ERITREA! I'LL HIKE THE SIMIEN MOUNTAINS IN ETHIOPA! I’ll swim with Hammerhead sharks in the Red Sea, or I’ll hike through snow bound passes of the Teton National Park. My first 2 unrestricted weeks in the 2 years since Zoë has been born - this is going to be huge!

My fantasies ended with a crack against the kitchen chair. I almost blacked out from the pain. The cats blushed from the sailors talk emanating from my mouth. I figured it must be a ‘bad stub’, but 4 days later I took it to the doctor and they confirmed a broken toe.

A clean break of the big toe would have been more macho. The small toe? Pathetic! Amazing how debilitating it is. I can barely walk. Doc reckons it’ll be 4-6 weeks before it’s healed.

  [February 15, 2008] IT WAS PROBABLY THE SECOND BOUNCE THAT BLEW OUT MY REAR WINDOW. NOTE TO SELF: "NEXT TIME SLOW DOWN WHEN NEARING THE TOP OF A DUNE, ESPECIALLY IF MY BABY'S IN THE BACK SEAT." It happened to quickly for me to be scared. A little lip before the top of the dune popped my front wheels up and a steep angle on the other side sent me airborne across the top. I couldn't see the ground at all, all I could see was sand everywhere. I hit the ground hard, multiple times, as I bounced along. When I came to rest I couldn't believe that the only damage to the car was that my back window had fallen out. Luckily, the glass didn't shatter and I was able to strap/tape it to the back door.

Zoë seemed unimpressed by either our short flight or our hard impact, she didn't make a peep! However, Robyn was also unimpressed by my prioritization. Next time, I'll have to check on the baby before I check on the car!

A visit from Robyn's Aussie girlfriend provided the perfect occasion for a three night camping trip. We took her to remote ruins hidden in the desert — pharonic, roman, 6th century Christian and neolithic. Camping in February can be cold, but after our first night, the weather was perfect: sunny, warm, clear and no wind at all. Each night the stars were perfect, and Mars burned a bright dot just above our heads. Each day our party gained participants. The third night we had five cars and fourteen people. We spent the last night in the Ghorabi Dunes near Bahiraya, which was new for us. Our friend Steve took us to a great Neolithic site where the ground was covered with spear heads, fossilized ostrich egg shells and grinding stones, a veritable open air museum. The site probably dated from a wet period about 10,000 years ago. Not far away, Robyn and I found a small intact vase.


  [January 25, 2008] CHECKLIST: STRETCHER, NECK BRACE, SATELLITE PHONE, BODY ARMOR AND CREDIT CARD FOR HELICOPTOR EVACUATION (NO IOUs ACCEPTED!). AS I PREPARED FOR OUR MOUNTAIN BIKING TRIP, ROBYN WAS BECOMING INCREASINGLY NERVOUS. FOR GOOD REASON, the weekend before I'd participated in evacuating a mountain biker from a desert location only a few kilometers from our house. He'd spent hours lying in whipping winds on the cold ground with a horrifically dislocated and shattered ankle. Worst of all, he was in a military zone and at the bottom of an inaccessible waadi (dry valley). It took three hours for my friend Tim and I to get a land cruiser to him, to get him out we had to run a military checkpoint — lucky thing they don't give those guys live ammunition. Once we got him out, he was evacuated the next morning to the UK.

So, as we prepared for our own mountain biking trip to a much more remote location in the Sinai, we were thinking defensively. The chances of a problem were not high, but a problem would definitely not be good. It's no secret that I'm one of Cairo's worst mountain bike riders (but hey, I'm enthusiastic!), so I was obviously over my head.

Anyway, our trip passed without incident and I followed up our Christmas hitch-bike tour of Thailand with a hike-bike- carry of two of the best trails in Egypt. On Friday, Mike, Tim and I biked (and carried our bikes!) 35km from 'Ain Haifa' in the mountains of the Sinai to the sea. The scenery was amazing! Most challenging part of the ride for Mike was trying to figure out the brakes on the mountain bike he borrowed from Tim worked - it seems the Brits put their back brake lever on the opposite side!

The next day Mike rested while Tim and I spent another excellent day biking 'Ras Abu Ghallam'. Another big vertical drop to the sea followed by a spectacular ride along a rocky trail by the sea. You could look straight down onto fish navigating the reef!

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