A Warning to Trekkers

Initially, I wasn’t going to write about our trekking experience in Nepal. I wasn’t happy about many aspects of our porter, but I was willing to chalk it up to the luck of the draw when hiring a someone without references upon landing in Lukla. That is until our porter, Karma Sherpa, sent Sheri a particularly nasty message on Facebook. It was difficult to understand because his English is atrocious, but we managed to get the gist of it. In it he makes some reference to the Japanese trekker who died just days after we started our trek, further saying that the Japanese and Chinese are not strong and that Sherpas in the mountains are strong. He goes on to say he doesn’t like Chinese or Japanese and he didn’t think we were good tourists because he says we didn’t tip him. He also included a graphic of a person with a fish head which is a derogatory depiction for Japanese, because they eat a lot of fish. In response to his rather racist message to us, I’m posting his Facebook page and photo here so that others don’t make the mistake of hiring him upon arrival to Lukla. Continue reading

The Chinafication of Tibet


A brief moment of levity between two monks

It seemed innocent enough—two monks talking and laughing with an Asian foreigner, asking questions in broken English about me and the U.S. However, the tone quickly changed as they exchanged some furtive glances and motioned for me to follow them. We found ourselves in a side street off the main road through Lhasa, sitting on some steps in front of what appeared to be an older abandoned residence constructed in the Tibetan style. Satisfied with my answers about the U.S. and that I wasn’t a Chinese spy, they proceeded to ask me about news of the Dalai Lama. Since I hadn’t been keeping up on his whereabouts, I told them he had written some books while in exile in India and then reached into my daypack and pulled out photos of him. Their smiles quickly changed as they looked around wondering if they might be watched, slipped the photos into their burgundy robes, and thanked me profusely. One of the monks reached into his man-purse and offered me a blessing wrapped in a prayer flag. Accepting with both hands, I bowed slightly out of respect. He saw the journal I was holding, pulled out a pen and motioned to see it. Handing it to him, he wrote a street address in both Chinese and English. I wrote my email address on another slip of paper and gave it to him. We never contacted each other again even though I considered it many times. I snapped a picture of the two of them, exchanged goodbyes, and went our separate directions. The entire interaction took less than 15 minutes, but the experience still stays with me nearly 16 years later. That was Tibet in 2000, decades after the Chinese occupation, but before the revolts in 2009. Some things such as the spying on the Tibetan people haven’t changed. Many other aspects have changed dramatically. Continue reading

Indonesia: From Ruins to Beaches

On our RTW trip, whenever we go somewhere I’ve been already, it’s tough not to make comparisons of how places are today versus the last time I was there. In most locations, I’m surprised that things haven’t changed much. I had optimistically thought that 16 years of progress would alter most places for the better. Such was my hope for Indonesia.

I went to Indonesia about 16 years ago to visit my friend, Don. It was an unforgettable experience, mostly for all the wrong reasons. I came down with a bad case of dysentery from some bad food I had in Jakarta and spent a couple days between the bed and toilet at Don’s parent’s home. Even with such wonderful memories, I still decided that Indonesia was worth a repeat visit. However, I didn’t want a repeat of what happen to me to happen again with Sheri during this visit so we took the usual precautions to avoid stomach problems. Continue reading

Halong Bay Cruise

DSC_4971Halong Bay, on the Vietnam coast, is a popular tourist destination. Perhaps a bit too popular. The distinctive limestone island formations have made it a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the Natural World. All this attention has made it more popular than ever. The bay has nearly 2,000 small islands, or more correctly, islets. Some are large enough to have inhabitants, but most are too small, too steep, and too overgrown to easily live on them. There are many islets with small beaches on them. Some have caverns formed over 20 million years of geological evolution, hot wet climate, and slow erosion and tectonic processes.  Continue reading

Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake


DSC_4056This large lake is a prominent feature on maps of Cambodia. Its water levels and volume change dramatically from the wet to dry seasons, filled and drained by the ebb and flow of the Tonle Sap River and its confluence with the mighty Mekong. The size of the lake swells to nearly 5 times its dry season size during the rainy season. We went here based on the recommendation of our AirBNB host, Thony, and it’s unique ecosystem and water culture were a complete surprise to Sheri and me. DSC_4119The lake is only 15 km. from Siem Reap, but the roads are only partially paved and took 45 minutes to get there in our tuk-tuk. Our driver brought us to a harbor late in the afternoon where we bought our $20 tickets per person and proceeded to our boat. We later found out that this price is negotiable depending on the boat operator. The boat launch reminded me of our trip up the Little Yangtze River in China; lots of boats trying to dock somewhere that could barely accommodate them all. Continue reading

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

Cambodia was our first destination in Southeast Asia. At the time, when I made the flight arrangements, I didn’t see any compelling reason to go to Phnom Penh. I figured we would see more than enough temples throughout Asia and the experience would be similar to Siem Reap, the town closest to the Angkor complex of temples. We only scheduled two nights and three days for Cambodia, and in hindsight, we could easily have afforded to stay longer. Cambodia was probably the least expensive place we have visited so far in Southeast Asia. DSC_4328Tourist who used to flock to Thailand for the travel bargains are now going to Cambodia instead. For me, it seems to offer more of the underdeveloped rural experience than some of the more modern Asian countries.

After reading horror stories about people crossing the border from Thailand, we decided to fly directly to Siem Reap. And although flying into the major airports allows you the convenience of getting a visa upon arrival, we opted to get our visa online while we were in Australia. We waited until just 4 days before our scheduled arrival to get our visa, but they were very fast processing it, so I had it within 2 days of applying for it. Although they are fast, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute. We printed two copies as instructed and when we arrived, having our visas beforehand saved us from waiting in a long queue to get one on arrival. Continue reading

Ona, Winky, Grub and Sheep Shearing

Continued from Outback Adventure: State Route 19

DSC_3581Our new friends at the local hotel (we discovered that hotels are actually taverns and motels are places to sleep) eagerly welcomed us like long lost cousins to the family. Pretty soon, Shona, behind the bar, and her daughter, Kalani, were trying to get us to sing karaoke and everyone was telling us off-color jokes. It was all good-natured fun and felt like we had stepped onto the set of a Crocodile Dundee movie. DSC_3626Some people went by a nickname and they’ve had the nickname so long, people don’t even remember their real name. There was Shakespeare, Winky (Peter), and Grub (Grub). Sheri became besties with Ona (Fiona), who owned the store and petrol station next door. Soon she was joking with Sheri and urging us to go see a sheep shearing, because that’s where Grub was working tomorrow. Everyone was fairly drunk, so we took it all as pleasant banter brought about by alcohol. Continue reading

Driving in Oz: From Six Lanes to a Dirt Road

Driving a camper van around Australia is a great way to see more of the country, meet new friends and have a great road trip adventure. Once you choose the right camper van rental company, half the battle is done. Sheri did it before and really loved it. Of course, she wasn’t doing the driving and has a very different perspective. As a driver, I also thought it would be lots of fun, but I wasn’t fully prepared for all the challenges that I faced. Continue reading