Around the World With the ArvaMonts

Newenka's Impressions

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[Masai Warriors]

Home.  If you can get past the PODS in the driveway and the boxes, opened with contents bursting into the surrounding rooms, it is as though we never left home. 

Galapagos, Ecuador.  Blue footed boobies were our favorites - their fishing is amazing to watch.  They enter the water as a bullet.  Their courtship is magical.  Lots of iguanas, frigates, pelicans, penguins, finches, turtles, sharks, tortoises, lizards. But now we need a vacation.  Wake up time: 5:45 am, breakfast, hike, snorkeling, lunch, snorkeling, hike, lecture, dinner, pass out of exhaustion.  I should really add showers:  breakfast, hike, shower, snorkel, shower, lunch, snorkel, shower, hike, shower, dinner, bed. 

Quito, Ecuador.  We are back at 9000 feet.  Our systems are going to revolt - in subsequent days we have done: 11,000, 9000, 8000, 8000, 11,000, 0, 0, 0, 11,000, 0, 9,000 and in two days it is back to 0.  Interesting goings on at the equator.  We watched water go straight down a drain on the equator, but 5 feet to the north it went down spinning counter clockwise and five feet to the south is spin down clockwise!  According to several internet sites, this is a hoax, so Yannis and I are trying to figure out how they do it... 

Lima, Peru.  The South American Economic Forum is taking place here starting tomorrow.  All employees, government and private, have been given Thursday and Friday off!  And this place is just buzzing with security. 

Heath River Wildlife Center, Bolivia.  We are so close to the jungle, we decided we just needed to get our feet muddy.  We succeeded!  No creeper crawlers, but lots of butterflies!  We saw some beautiful birds, three kids of monkey and of course the capybara! 

Aguas Calientes, Peru.  There are two ways to get to Aguas Clientes - the Inca Trail or PeruRail.  We chose the latter, and it is a good thing we did - the altitude (over 11,000 feet) in Cuzco really wiped Yannis out.  From here you can take a 20 minute bus ride up to the Machu Picchu site.  The town did not exist until a train line was blasted through, and now exists only for the purposes of tourism!

Cusco, Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley, Peru.  "More rocks" according to Anika.  This was the epicenter of the Incan culture. 

Santiago, Chile. We are now further east than Chicago for the first time since June!  Between high rises we can see snow-capped mountains!  This city has a calm feeling, with wide roads, adherence to traffic rules, beautiful architecture and friendly people.  And the most interesting things in Chile are outside the capital.  Obviously, I'll need to come back! 

Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui (Easter Island).  There are Moai all over this small island.  It really does make you wonder why they were built.  There are 5000 people on the entire island. This island is in the middle of nowhere and it is nothing like the Polynesian islands.  It is mostly grass covered, with very few trees, but lots of lava rocks.  The mountains are really more like gentle rolling hills. When Yannis booked our hotel room, the proprietor said he would pick us up at the airport.  When Yannis hung up he realized that he had never told the fellow where we were coming from or what time we would arrive.  There are only five flights a week, two from Tahiti and three from Santiago, and they all arrive on different days.   

Moorea, French Polynesia.  Ah, to sit on our back porch and watch the sunrise; to snorkel before breakfast. The place is delightful, but we made a poor choice of hotel, and we stickled at some of their policies. "Return the snorkel fins every night by 5."  Absurd!  How then could we snorkel before breakfast? 

Bora Bora, French Polynesia.  This truly is a little piece of heaven. The colors of the water are impossible, captivating shades of aqua.  Swimming with sharks and rays was fun, until Anika was bitten by a stingray.  The guide told us that stingrays have no teeth and don't bite.  But Anika has bite marks on each side of her ring finger and I was there when the alleged biting occurred, I sure didn't see anything else that could have caused that injury!  Not to worry, our champion snorkeler will not miss any water time, the injury is slight and was corrected with a bandage.  In fact while there were many bandages on the boat, there wasn't one small enough to handle this injury! 

Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia.  We arrived late at night, so our first real glance of Tahiti was when we awoke in our hotel room.  Beautiful. And this is supposed to be the least exciting part of Polynesia!  What will Bora Bora be like?

Auckland, New Zealand.  Back to the big city!  Amazing how much we all prefer being in the wild. 

Waitomo, New Zealand.  We made it to the North Island! The black water tubing was interesting.  This is where you don full wetsuits and are equipped with an inner-tube and a helmet with light. Anika managed to burst her tube within the first 10 minutes!  And Rodney wouldn't let us turn our lights on while we floated through the pitch dark tunnel with only glow worms to light the way. 

Abel Tasman National Park, New Zealand.  Ah, it's beautiful up here!  Still on the South Island, but getting much closer to the North Island! 

Canterbury, New Zealand. Woke up to see two pods of dolphins swimming by...  The sheer number of stars here is astonishing!  We learned how to find true south, which is a little trickier than finding the North Star, but we got the hang of it!

Southern Scenic Route, New Zealand.  Not as spectacular as Fiordland, but beautiful in its own right.  We watched Yellow-eyed and Blue Penguins returning home after a day of fishing.  We watched some of the yellow-eyeds stranded on shore as they molted - very funny!  We saw a pod of Hector dolphins, the world's smallest dolphins. Yannis was chased up a dune by a seal (actually, he simply yielded to the seal who wanted to come up to rest in the grass).  We stopped off to see New Zealand's Niagara Falls.  (You'll have to wait for the photos, it defies commentary!)  We saw a petrified forest and a bunch of septarian concretions.  And we have friends visiting, so fun all around!   

Fiordland, New Zealand.  The RV seems to be in working order.  We are enjoying eating home cooked meals, unpacking once and having all the supplies one might need for a picnic on the road.  I adore the rainforest - trees covered in moss and dangling lichens, every imaginable shade of green, ferns that grow as tall as trees. 

Yulara, Australia.  At 6 am, the weather is pleasant.  From there it just keeps getting hotter!  We hiked around Uluru and found that as long as you kept up a decent clip, the flies weren't too bad.  If you stopped, look out!!!  Anika ran ahead on our 9 km walk, and some worried rangers stopped her to ask her where her where her parents were!  They observed that she had no water...  Kids.  

Alice Springs, Australia.  It was 37C when we landed at 5 pm!  But yet, the weather is pleasant compared to Darwin! 

Darwin, Australia. Visited a local animal park and were captivated by the birds of pray.  Today we heard that the monsoon is headed back to the Top End right after Easter.  Apparently all of this rain we've been having is nothing compared to the monsoon! 

Jabiru, Australia.  We are in the midst of Kakadu National Park - a real Crocodile Dundee kind of place - in the wet season!  That means it rains several times a day, and when its not raining you wish it was.  The temperatures are high and the humidity is unbearable, unless it is about to rain, then you can feel a cool breeze.  Anika is terrified of the snakes, spiders and crocodiile.  She calls this The Land of Snapping Jaws and Shooting Venom

Hong Kong.  What a place!  We have felt so at home here, and imagine this: you are standing at a pedestrian crossing.  It turns green, and the cars actually stop and let you cross!  It is nice to be in Hong Kong!  In China we just laughed whenever the pedestrian lights turned green.  We couldn't figure out what they were for - they had no impact on the level of vehicular traffic crossing over the pedestrian crossing, nor on the frame of mind of the drivers, who firmly believe they have the right-of-way and to whom it doesn't even occur that we will not jump out of their way.  Perhaps they really were simply intended for bicycles, as Tasha suggested. 

Beijing, China.  The City of Wide Streets!  In China traffic lights do not seem to apply to buses and taxis, perhaps they are merely guidelines.  Yesterday Tasha and I we chatting while crossing the road on a green pedestrian walk when a bus came barreling around a corner forcing us to jump out of the way!   That'll get your heart pumping! 

Xi'an, China.  This is a city of 8 million inhabitants!  That makes it comparable in size to the Chicago metropolitan area!  And if it weren't for the Terracotta Soldiers, I would never have heard of it!

Shanghai, China. This place feels a little bit like home.  Tall buildings abound!  Every imaginable designer clothing store with 2 blocks of our hotel.  And delicious Chinese food everywhere!  What an amazing Science Museum

Guilin, China.  We came here to see the mountains, if you can call them that.  Have you ever played with wet sand, letting it drip between your fingers making a long tubular hill of sand?  These mountains have that shape.  In the mist they are hauntingly beautiful. 

Kyoto, Japan. The historic capital of Japan, this is a modern city with historical overtones.  We have seen the most beautiful gardens, had tea, eaten who knows what (most of it quite good) and wandered in the bamboo forests. 

Nagoya, Japan.  We spent an enlightening day in Toyota City!  Wow.  To watch 4 different car models in all different colors and configurations, including right and left hand drive, roll off of a single assembly line was amazing!  The kids thought the welding robots were the most impressive. 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We arrived in time for Tet.  Happy New Year! May the kitchen gods bring only glowing reports of your family to heaven and may the Year of the Rat bring you nothing but good fortunes. 

Siem Reap, Cambodia.  The temple complexes here are huge!  Most impressive is the complex that is hidden by Banyon trees, Looking like a a stone sprouting grasses from its crevasses. 

Bangkok, Thailand.  Did you know that 39.3C = 103F?  When the doctor told me, from my blur, I had to ask what my temperature was supposed to be.  I think it was something I ate - perhaps the lettuce on the burger?  I'm totally back to normal now, thanks for asking.

Mumbai, India.  Record cold weather during our visit - last time it had been so cold was more than 10 years ago - 11.5C on January 22nd.   

Varanassi, India.  Our best attempts to get to Khajuraho were thwarted, so we have elected to spend two nights here along the banks of the Ganges River.  We needed a schooling day, anyway.

Palace on Wheels, Rajasthan, India.  We picked this as a way to see lots of places in Rajasthan.  It was a bit more organized than we generally like to be, but it was nice to have a home for 7 consecutive days and not to have to worry about food.

Dehli, India. Just a short overnight, a quick sightseeing tour and then off to the train!

Pune, India.  Pune is no small town!  It is a three hour drive west of Mumbai.  We stayed with family friends and had a lovely time! 

Petra, Jordan.  Wow. 

The Dead Sea, Jordan.  Now we all have baby soft skin. 

Olympia, Greece.  We visited the village, we visited the ruins, we saw the devastation wreaked by the fires.  And on

Athens, Greece.  Strange to hear the bells ring on Christmas morning.  We have been in Muslim countries for nearly 2 months, where the Muezzin calls to prayer, no bells. 

Istanbul, Turkey.  Back in Europe, ahhhh.  You wouldn't know you were in a Muslim country by looking at the people around you!  Of course the call to prayer does give it away. 

Abu Simbel, Egypt. Wow - these temples must have been utterly amazing in their prime.  They are completely covered in engraved artwork and hieroglyphs.  The stories they tell are great.  Anika is captivated by the mythology and Tasha is enthralled by the hieroglyphs. I just like being in the middle of it all.  It boggles the mind how old some of these places are.  While we loved seeing what we saw in Egypt, it is a hard country to navigate in.  Between the Tourist and Antiquities Police and the countless salespeople you are constantly on the alert. 

Cairo, Egypt.  Again.  We arrived in the early hours, hoping to get right on the next flight to Luxor.  No such luck.  First we had to find our luggage.  Despite what the Pride of Africa (Kenya Air) people claimed initially, we were fairly certain that our luggage was on the flight from which we were bumped and would thus be somewhere in the Cairo airport.  We started by driving to the terminal that Kenya Air uses.  They sent us to the main lost luggage building - another drive.  They sent us back to the Kenya Air terminal, with new instructions.  Here Yannis found 3 or our 4 bags.  Yep - add one to the waylaid bags count.  This bag was eventually recovered and flown by magic carpet by our genie Ahmed onto our boat near Esna.  (Read about salesmen in Esna.)

Dubai, United Arab Emerates.  What a place.  We arrived at 1 a.m. and left at 4 a.m., so we were only there for a short time in the middle of the night, but let me just say: this might be the best place to spend the wee hours of the morning, if you have to be up.  It was lively and bustling!  The main terminal of the airport looks and feels like a swank two story shopping mall!  Well, probably it feels that way, because that is what it is!  We had a snack at the McDonalds in the food court, and then a DQ blizzard for dessert!  These places were busy!  It took us all a while to let it sink in that is was actually the middle of the night!  By the time we had had our snack and I had done a touch of shopping at the book store, it was time to board our flight to Cairo!  We didn't even have time to consider getting a room at the hotel in the terminal!

Nairobi, Kenya.   Again.  Another case of AFT (African flexible time) - bumped from our flight, no big deal, just go tomorrow!  Nooooo!  They will pay for a hotel, but you have to pay for the visa required to leave the airport!  We have to be in Luxor tomorrow by noon, though, so we are taking a different routing - through either Addis Ababa or Dubai, the verdict is still out.  We spent 11 hour here two weeks ago.  We will spend 10 here today, at least.

Arusha, Tanzania. Just a layover visit, tomorrow we head back to Cairo via Nairobi and Khartoum, and then back down to Luxor.  (Don't ask!)  Wish us luck!  I know you're curious - yes, Anika is still the recipient of much unwanted, though innocent and well meaning, attention.  Everyone wants to talk to her and touch her hair.   The gate attendant told her she couldn't get on the plane and would have to come home with him.

Lake Manyara, Tanzania.  A huge salt water lake along the dramatic Great Rift Valley.  They have groundwater forest and acacia forests (known by Anika as tsetse fly territory), plains, salt marches, fresh water rivers, dry river beds and a huge number of birds.  The kids are so tired of bird watching!  This is the only place where giraffes regularly sit down!  Did you know that giraffes have nursery schools?

Serengeti, Tanzania.  The plain that goes on and on!  But the little rains are late, and so the wildebeest have not come south yet.  They're no dummies, they're waiting for the greening of the grasses!  Still, we watched some leopards and some lions and amazing sunrises! 

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania. What an interesting place!  Using the same animals, just in different numbers, the ecosystem is very different!  For starters, the crater floor has few trees.  It is mostly a vast plain with a lake in it.  And there are more carnivores than anything else!  There are lions and cheetahs and hyenas (two kinds) and jackals.  And the hyenas are often the primary predator, with the lions scavenging their kill! We watched a pride of lions attack 4 buffalo in sequence, killing two of them within 22 minutes!  Amazing, it was like living National Geographic!  

Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.  Elephants, giraffe, leopards, hornbills, warthogs, bat eared foxes, hyrax and so much more.  Unfortunately, we have grown used to roughing it and being on our own.  Every time they decide to feed us again, we all groan!  And the food is so good.   

Arusha, Tanzania.  What a beautiful and lush area!  It was wonderful to come to such a green place after Marrakech and Cairo.  Tasha's bag didn't make it, though.

Nairobi, Kenya.  It is not fair to comment on my opinions of Nairobi, after having only spent a day there in the airport.  But after spending 2 hours at the transfer desk because we missed our flight to Kilimanjaro, because our flight from Cairo via Khartoum was almost an hour late, we did spent a whole day at the airport, all of which might say something about Nairobi, I think.   

Cairo, Egypt.  The Tourist and Antiquities Police are ubiquitous!  We arrived at night.  Our impression - big city, lots of traffic, lots of stars.  We awoke in the morning; our impression:  washed out, dirty, pollution, SMOG!  And of course still, big city,  lots of traffic.  See Welcome Ma'am for more impressions of Cairo.  For the record, Egyptians are as captivated with Anika as Moroccans were!  What is it about Anika?

Marrakech, Morocco.  Wow - culture shock.  See Attenzione for a bit of a feel.

Tangier, Morocco.  Another port town but this one had a cool train station. 

Gibraltar. Wow.  There is a rock just jutting our of the Mediterranean.  On the rock live 30,000 people and 1,000 Barbary Macaques, tailless monkeys.  Interesting that the relations with their Spanish neighbors, which went into a deep freeze in the fifties, when the queen visited, only thawed when Spain wanted to join the European Community in 1984.  That is when the land border was opened.  Just after entering Gibraltar we were stopped at a red light.  No big deal.  A gate came down in front of us.  Strange.  Then a policeman pulled a chain with spikes poking out in every direction across the opposite lane on the road.  Yannis got out to take a photo, the policeman was there in a flash to hustle him back into the car.  Then a BA jet landed right in front of us!  The road crossed the runway.  When air traffic needs the runway, the road is closed and secured!   

Algeciras, Spain.  Just a port town, but we can see the Rock of Gibraltar out our window!

Madrid, Spain.  On a luggage hold, courtesy of Iberia.  Moves our lost luggage count to 3 bags, for anyone who's counting. 

Barcelona, Spain.  Beautiful city, interesting, varied architecture, but hard to drive in! 

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France.  Where, you ask?  In the Camargue, a wildlife refuge and national park located in far southern Provence, due south of Arles.  And as luck would have it, it was the feast day for one of the Maries!

Florence, Italy.  Staying on a mountain outside of town was a great idea.  Waiting more than 3 hours to get into the Uffizi was not. 

Rome, Italy.  Every block there is another amazing think - a fountain, a church, a piazza, a Roman column, the Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, the Vatican, St. Peters Basilica, the Trevi Fountain and the list goes on an on.  In fact these things are on top of one another, so you can't even compose a photograph to capture the essence of them.  You just can't get that kind of distance.  History at every turn, so much of it piled on top of itself that it is hard to discern what is from when. How strange it must be to grow up with 3000 years of history glaring up at you as you run to the grocery store, head to the movies, or go off to school.

Venice, Italy - or is it Italy?  Venice belongs in a category all it's own.  The peacefulness provided by the lack of cars.  And the independence.  Not to mention the FedEx boat, the garbage boat, the moving boat...

The Autozug.  The overnight car train to Italy.  On the whole, the ride was too short. 

Hamburg, Germany.  My hometown.  People often ask, "Where are you from?" Which is a really hard question to answer.  This is where I attended middle and high school, so this is where I am from.

Sandvort, The Netherlands.  Frisbee on the beach, and windmills and Amsterdam.

Wiesbaden, Germany.  My parents home town.

Berlin, Germany.  There it stands, the Brandenburgertor!  You can walk under it and around it and would never know that it stood alone in a vast wasteland between the two Germanys as a symbol of their disunity.  In fact, there is very little sign of the divided city at all.  So little, that they have recently put a few sections of wall back up for the benefit of tourists, though without the no-man's-land in between, they just look like graffiti collection points.  Checkpoint Charlie stands as a strange tourist point.  Young Germans in old American uniforms posing for pictures with tourists for 1.  The utilitarian Soviet architecture, which was still so apparent in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the former East Germany, is not to be seen in Berlin.  The former East has been totally demolished and rebuilt! 

Prague, Czech Republic.  The most amazing architecture!  Every building has a cupola, and every spire has turrets! 

Budapest, Hungary.  We had a little trouble navigating Budapest initially.  Read here - Navigating Budapest.

Vienna, Austria.  Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert... and Sachertorte to boot! 

Obertraun, Austria.  Around the lake from Hallstatt, surrounded by beautiful peaks.  Ahhhh.

Abersee, Austria.  A tiny town in the mountains on the Wolfgangsee.  Beautiful, but not awe-inspiring.

Munich, Germany.  A quick trip to pick up Mischy and Joel, of course we had to visit a few Biergarten, sample some food and ride through the Englischergarten. 

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.  The mountains are awe-inspiring.  They tower over us on both sides of the valley, spiky, rocky, snow-covered peaks.  And the waterfalls everywhere are beautiful.  Of course, this awe was hard to see during the three days of torrential rain!!!

Blonay, Switzerland.  We have arrived in Switzerland.  The moment we crossed the border you could see a difference.  The houses are different.  The land is organized differently.  Everything is neat, clean and orderly.  And the mountains are amazing.  Gazing across the lake at the tall rocky peaks is inspiring.

Poc-sur-Cisse, France.  The density of chateaus here is remarkable!  These aren't castles but rather mansions.  And surrounding the mansions we have vineyards! 

Ste Sebastian, France.  It's as rainy here are it was in St. Petersburg, but there it dried faster!  Needless to say, the gardens are lovely.  Every time you turn a corner, there is another hydrangea!  All in shades of pink, purple and blue and absolutely loaded with blooms!  Harry Potter in French was still good, as long as you've read the book! 

Normandy, France.  Lying on Omaha Beach, bluffs in the distance, beach carpeting a wide swath to the sea it is hard to imagine what those landing here on a dreary morning in June some 53 years ago would have felt. 

Paris, France.  I have been to Paris three other times - at 12, at 17 and at 21.  I remember as a kid driving around in the back of my parents car in circles at night in Paris looking for a hotel.  Over and over and over again.  The headlights in Paris were yellow, instead of white. And the hotel we ended up with was dingy and scary and had a toilet down the hall.  At 17 a bunch of friends and I stayed a block off the Seine in an apartment above the business of the father of a friend of our gym teacher's.  We spoke no French, he spoke no English, but we enjoyed ourselves.  At 21 I came with my college roommate.  We must have been broke by the time we reached Paris, because I only remember us looking at things from the outside.  We talked about Versailles and we looked at the Eiffel Tower, we walked by the Louvre and Notre Dame.  At any rate, this visit has been the most enjoyable.  We are in the Latin Quarter, near the Sarbonne.  We are close to many things we want to see, parks, museums, churches galleries.  And the weather has been cool and pleasant. 

Tallinn, Estonia is a beautiful all city.  It still has most of its old town walls, many of which are now lined with stalls and cafes. 

Helsinki, Finland is clean and sunny and empty.  Our first day in Helsinki was a Sunday and the first thing we noticed was how empty it was.  There were no cars and no people in our neighborhood.  You could safely walk down the middle of the street.  Even during the week, there isn't the congestion that we are used to.

(It's a blue moon!  Time to live up to all those promises you made! - Finland, June 30

St. Petersburg, Russia is endearingly friendly.  The city looks like it was picked up from somewhere in Italy and dropped down in the cold, wet climes of the western Baltic.  All the canals, the architecture, it was beautiful.  But still - no drinking the water.  Interestingly, even the locals don't drink the water!

Moscow, Russia is just like any other European city.  Lots of people and lots of tourists and all the same shops and restaurants.  People have a different sense of space than we are used to.  We were constantly running into people or they into us.  Also, the Cyrillic letters make reading a challenge.  The fact that Moscow lacks a certain foreignness is itself an interesting thing.  Having said that, there were several occasions when we saw plain clothes officers: monitoring a parade, protecting a facility and watching in our hotel lobby.  A little eerie. 

Stonehenge was impressive, and first thing in the morning there were relatively few tourists.  We missed the Solstice Ceremony by a day, but from reading the paper the next day, I am glad we did.  

Wales was nice, except the last few days we had a lot of rain.  The people are so friendly and the hills are so green.  You just think about planting a seed and a plant grows!  Honeysuckle was blooming everywhere!

London was hot!  And for a whole week - no rain!  Our feet really hurt from all that walking!  And we missed both the pirate ship and the Globe!  (Ship was booked with school groups, but looked really fun!  Globe performance of Othello was being stage, theater closed to tours.  Of course we could have spent the ₤5 for a ticket, but Tasha really didn't want to walk out during the show, and we didn't have the energy for 3 hours of standing.) 


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