Rather than rehash the trip, I have decided to write in essay form about various topics
A Math book and a Pencil
In order to take this trip, we were willing to return home completely broke. We were willing to sacrifice the comforts of home. We were willing to abandon predictability. We were not willing to have our kids miss a year of school.
We wanted them to receive credit for the year we spent on the road. That meant Jill and I needed to teach them. I was thrilled with the chance to teach the kids and to have the time available to give a good effort.
We decided Jill would teach Cami and Tommy and I would teach Joey. Joey loves history and loves museums. He loves to learn as long as he gets to choose the subject matter.
He had just finished sixth grade and would be transitioning to a brand new college preparatory charter school, one that hadn’t even been in existence in 2006. He was enrolled as a seventh grader for the 2007-2008 school year.
We attended this new school orientation and then sheepishly approached the headmaster. We introduced ourselves and then explained our plan to travel around the world. He was so excited I thought he was going to jump in the van and come with us. He quickly recognized the educational value of our upcoming adventure and said he it would be his pleasure to give Joey credit for our year of travel and to welcome him back as an eighth grader.
Joey would be expected to make academic progress while we were on the road and upon his return he would be tested in math and Latin. If he came up short in either, he would need to attend summer school.
We would use the school’s text books. I was happy to teach pre-algebra. The book provided adequate explanations and plenty of practice problems.
I was thrilled to teach English literature. His school had a list of books and I added a few of my own. These were books about the baseness of humanity and the emptiness of life. In other words, they were classics; All Quiet on the Western Front, Julius Caesar, Lord of the Flies, A Tale of Two Cities. We would try to read them in their corresponding countries: Julius Caesar in Italy, A Tale of Two Cities in France etc.
I didn’t know a thing about Latin. It was a big textbook with two work books that took up a lot of room in the luggage.
Jill would teach Cami (2nd grade) and Tommy (4th grade). Their principal advised us to call the school district and notify them of our plans.
After we articulated the plans for our trip, much to our surprise, the man at the school district said, “That’s great and the lessons they will learn through travel are education enough. Why exactly do you want to teach them math and English?” We explained that we didn’t want the kids to fall behind. He told us that upon our return, the kids would simply be placed in the appropriate grade as though they hadn’t missed any school at all. There was no such thing as testing into grade three or five. By being a year older they would get credit for being a year smarter. If problems arose when they enrolled back in school, we would deal with them at that time or ignore them until they went away.
The man from the school district said, “if you are so uptight that you really want to teach them, bring a math book and a pencil. Math is the one subject that builds upon itself. Oh, also have them keep a journal”. Upon hearing this I rejoiced. “A math book and a pencil” This was zen- like simplicity.
I loved the man from the school district! But to Jill this sounded too simple. It just didn’t feel right to leave out penmanship and grammar. Our little scholars might one day find themselves hung by a dangling participle, or unable to make a small “s” flow. That just wouldn’t do.
Jill talked with many experienced homeschool parents. She sent away for books and flash cards. She went to home school fairs where she researched different home school curriculums many of which were computer based.
We were bringing a laptop with us anyway. We planned on using it to keep in touch with friends and family via e-mail. So we looked into homeschool DVDs. We liked what we saw, but still had some issues.
The laptop could easily break or be stolen. If I were a fourth grader and my parents were bringing educational DVDs, “accidents” would happen. When that occurred, how would we get replacements?
Jill and I like computers, but experience has taught us not to trust them. “Information technology” has always gone hand in hand with “unreliability”. Messages such as “this program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down” or “this program is not responding” do not inspire our confidence.
Pencils do. Pencils are reliable technology. They are elegantly designed to be held in your hand and then lay down a thin layer of graphite whenever they are applied to paper. They may break on occasion but (and this is the key) that break is easily fixable by someone without expert knowledge regarding their design and manufacture.
I trust pencils completely. Pick anyone up-regardless of brand-and it will be "compatible" with any paper you put beneath it. If someone steals your pencil, it is easily replaceable. If there is an “operator error”, pencils come configured to remedy it. Simply turn the pencil upside down and press the eraser lightly to the paper. The pencil is now in “delete mode”; there is no need to send an “error report” or “notify your administrator”.
Trading the Family Cow for a Handful of Magic Beans
I read an article by a psychiatrist who had a patient that he knew very well. The patient had discussed extremely intimate details of her marriage and her faith. One day the topic of discussion turned to money and she told her psychiatrist “I’m not comfortable talking with you about something that personal.”
So, if you are wondering how much our trip has cost, I won’t put you in the awkward position of having to ask. The answers to this question are found below. But before looking at the numbers, you need to have some idea of “how we roll”.
In case you are new to the website, here is a little background regarding our family; Jill and I have three children whose biological ages are 13(Joey), 10(Tommy) and eight(Cami). I say “biological ages” because how old we say they are depends on what we are trying to accomplish. Joey has been as young as ten (to be able to order from the children’s menu) and as old as 16 (to rent an ATV in Turkey). Tommy has been as young as 7 (to eat at the children’s price at the Argentine steak buffet -$4 as opposed to $12) an as old as 12 (to go rock climbing in Thailand). Cami has been as young as 4 (free meal at the Best Western in Pennsylvania) and as old as eleven (horseback riding in Turkey). Tommy has also perfected the art of crawling stealthily behind the suitcases to save “extra person charges” in hotels. All of this is a source of great embarrassment to Jill.
During the past year we have we have called a variety of places “home”. At the top end, we stayed at a palatial 3 bedroom apartment in Dubai whose regular cost was a whopping $875 per night. Since it was Ramadan, there was a huge discount and we were able to stay for $225. At the bottom end we stayed in a cramped, bug infested dive in Varkala India with no electricity ($13 per night for 2 rooms), and in a roadside hostel in Argentina that looked like a place for outlaws on the lam ($22 per night for 2 rooms). We have stayed in travel trailers, camper vans, tents, hostels, and in conventional hotels, sometimes in one room, sometimes in two. The hotels we choose are generally rated 2 or 3 stars out of a possible five (“five star resorts” were way out of our budget). New Zealand was home to our favorite accommodations; clean, two bedroom cabins located at most campgrounds for $80 per night.
Usually we moved from place to place every three or four days, but occasionally we would stay somewhere for a week. When we did, we would often rent a house or an apartment. Using vrbo.com, we found a nice 2 bedroom place with a kitchen on Manhattan’s upper east side for less than half the cost of a hotel. We arranged similar stays for Bodrum, Turkey and Sorrento, Italy. The Villa in Bodrum was wonderful. It had five bedrooms, three bathrooms and a panoramic view of the Aegean Sea all for $1000 per week. The apartment in Sorrento was overpriced and a long uphill walk from where we had to park the car in constant fear of it being towed. The “great view” pictured on the website was nowhere to be found.
We traveled independently this year with two exceptions; a 5 day raft trip on Oregon’s Rogue River and an 8 day safari in Tanzania. In both instances we were paying someone to do the logistics for us. The safari was worth it, the raft trip was not. When we arrived in Tanzania, our guides met us at the airport, took us to the hotel and then over the course of the next eight days drove us around the national parks in vehicles perfectly suited to the task. They spotted animals we never would have, cooked for us, and looked out for our safety. They handled the park permits and took us to all the best campsites. On the Rogue River, our raft guides were OK, but the logistics of the raft trip weren’t all that difficult, and the skill involved not nearly as great.
As for food we cooked our own meals whenever possible. It was not only cheaper, it was easier on the family. The romance of eating out quickly disappears when you travel with kids. If we found good, inexpensive restaurant, we would often return there again and again; ordering as soon as we sat down and then asking for the check when the food arrived.
When we would splurge, it was on travel within countries. We see no romance, and no point in a never ending bus ride, so when faced with long distances to cover we fly (coach) whenever possible. For instance, when we wanted to go from Istanbul, Turkey to Urgup, Turkey, we had our choice between a 35 hour bus ride for $40, or a flight for $180. We flew.
In many countries, locals pay one price and foreigners another. In Thailand ,for instance, our railway journey from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi (3 hours) cost us $12 per person, Thais pay approximately $0.75. We drew comfort from the fact that even the “foreigner price” was a terrific bargain.
Bargaining is a way of life in many of the places we visited. Some folks may wonder why I would take ten minutes to bargain a cab ride from $0.60 to $0.20. After all, cab drivers in India make about $500 per year and they are working instead of begging. So why not give “the working poor” the benefit of the doubt? Jill felt this way and she usually paid asking price. I struggled a long time with what was the right thing to do. In the end, pride got the better of me. I hated being fleeced more than I wanted to help the poor. No one likes to be taken for a fool-and since everyone else was bargaining I did so as well.
In each country where bargaining was expected, the “rules of the game” were different. In Turkey, negotiations were usually done over a cup of tea. Turks are the world’s best salesman and it was fun to watch them work. In Thailand, “saving face” is important, so when bargaining you need to be very polite and even go so far as to praise what they are trying to sell you; “yes, this umbrella really is lovely and you are a master craftsman. I’m so happy you took the time to talk with me, I just wish your price was a little less”. Bargaining is much easier to do when you are rested and it’s very simple when bargaining for something you don’t actually need. If they don’t come down to a reasonable price simply walk away. After about ten steps take a look back, if the salesman is following you, you’ve got them.
We learned to negotiate prices ahead of time, and if restaurant prices were not posted on menus we learned to ask. When doing activities, we always tried to bargain a “family price”. “Cami is so little, can’t you give us five for the price of four?” Turkey, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Chile all offered great discounts for kids whereas in Italy, everyone paid full price.
In places where we spent a lot of time in rural areas we rented cars. Vehicle rental is much more expensive in other countries than in the US, not to mention the cost of gasoline. Here is a cost per gallon estimate of gasoline in various countries (expressed in dollars per gallon):
France, Italy: $8.50
Australia, New Zealand: $6.00
This essay would not be complete without a word about the weakness of the dollar. In the year 2000, $1 was worth 1.12 euro. When we were in Europe, $1 was worth .82 euro. That is a 48% decrease in the value of the greenback. It’s no wonder that Jay Z is flipping through Euros as opposed to “Benjamins” on his latest video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiuNd5SoU8E) . We reckon the cost of our trip would have been 30% less in Europe and 20% less overall had we traveled at a time when the dollar’s exchange rate was at its historical average.
When the time comes to pay, you get the best exchange rate by far by using credit card. Credit card companies give an instantaneous exchange rate that is the fairest you will get. Most credit cards charge a “currency conversion fee” but Capitol One does not. The trouble is that many businesses want to be paid in cash (it leaves less of a paper trail and they can avoid paying taxes). Cash from an ATM is the way to go here. The rate is fairly good and you avoid waiting in long lines at the bank. Because we went to so many different places, our credit card or ATM card would frequently be frozen because of “suspicious charges” from other countries. So wherever we went we always tried to have two forms of payment available as one frequently would not work.
Needless to say, “cost” is different than “value”. It is a fool who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Tanzania was our most expensive destination but was worth every penny. Even though Italy is in the middle of the list, it was a terrible value.
Parenting on Vulcan Villarica
Chile is home to forty percent of the world’s active volcanoes. These run south to north along the Andes and make up the southeast part of the famous “ring of fire” which stretches as far north as the Aleutian Islands and as far west as the Philippines. The beautiful town of Pucon, where we are currently staying, is dominated by the snow covered and perfectly coned shaped Villarica Volcano, altitude 2800 meters (9240 feet). During the day, smoke can be seen rising from the volcano and at night there is an eerie red glow that emanates from the top. The local fire department has a stop light out front that represents the risk of eruption; green=low, yellow=moderate, red=evacuate the town. The last minor eruption took place in 1984 when a small amount of lava trickled down the mountain. The last major eruption was in 1971.
Backpacking with my children is one of the greatest joys in my life. Each year the boys and I take at least three trips-typically two in Arizona and one in Alaska. Our trips have included the Grand Canyon, the Superstition wilderness area and Jordan Lake near Ketchikan Alaska. During the past year we have backpacked in Yosemite, Grand Teton and the Routeburn track near Te Anau, New Zealand. But there is one hike that stands alone in Boesch family lore and that is Deer Mountain.
If you are ever in Ketchikan Alaska, Deer Mountain is easy to spot. It’s the really big one to the southeast of the cruise ship dock. It stands at 909 meters (3000ft) elevation and is typically snow covered for most of the summer. In July of 2004 shortly before Joe’s 10th birthday we decided to try to summit Deer Mountain spend our first night at the top, cross a 6 mile alpine area and descend through some forest to a second camp at a place called Upper Silvis Lake. The entire hike was fifteen miles and we had three days in which to do it. The first day went fine. On the second day, we had some trouble finding the route as it is not very well marked. We summited two more peaks, descended down a rope and entered the forest. By now it was 8:30 PM. My assumption was that by leaving the alpine, we would find a flatter, better place to camp in the forest. My assumption was wrong. The forest was overgrown, steep, and slick with mud. By now we had gone nine miles, it was dark and we were out of water. We turned our flashlights on and as we rounded the next corner, we heard a rustling in the bushes and then saw a black bear coming up the trail. He wanted nothing to do with us and quickly headed off, but the damage was done. Joey, who had done a remarkable job of keeping his head throughout all this was now very upset. We stopped for a few minutes and said some prayers that we would find a place to camp. About 200 meters ahead we stumbled upon a helicopter landing area used by the forest service. After a prayer of thanks, we set up the tent and climbed into our sleeping bags with our muddy clothes still on.
When the sun came up the next morning, I was able to find some water and we finished the hike without incident. I was very worried that Joey would be uninterested in the outdoors because of that experience. I think a kid with less heart would have, but not him. He loves the hiking now more than ever. Our original topographical map now hangs in his room with our route highlighted in yellow. Now, whenever we consider a hike the question always arises “is it going to be as hard as Deer Mountain”.
For the Villarica Volcano, that question never even came up. It is a day hike and how hard can a day hike be? Besides, the light outside the fire station was green! Sure it was 1400 meter (4500 feet) ascent in only 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) but people do it all the time. Maybe I should have wondered when we went to the climbing store the day before to talk with our guides and get fitted for crampons. Maybe I should have wondered when they said it would take nine hours. Maybe I should have wondered just by walking outside and looking at the damn volcano. They say you never hear the bullet that hits you.
Joe, Tommy and I arrived at the base of the peak at 8 AM along with our two guides Rodrigo and Sebastian. There were other climbers there that all appeared fit and in their twenties. There were no other kids, and I was the only one with grey hair. There was a time in my life when I was physically fit. That is not the case now. I have gained weight on this trip and then in Argentina the only pair of running shorts I own caught fire when I tried to dry them over a heater.
Unlike many hikes which start gradually, this was tough right from the start. Here is what Tommy wrote about it:
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The first part was about a mile all uphill. Then we got to a glacier which was really fun to climb on. I don’t really know why but it just was. The next part was the hardest it was almost vertical skree with cliffs on either side of us”
After three hours of hiking many of the fit looking “twenty somethings” had turned around, but we carried on. Several other climbers asked how old Tommy was and seemed impressed when he answered “diez”. True to his nature, Tommy never complained and never asked to go back down. He was roped to Rodrigo in case of a fall. Joe and I were not wearing a harness.
At this point, it was hard to tell how competent our guides were. They would tell us when to stop and take five, but apart from that didn’t say much. In poorer countries such as Chile, just because a guide will take you does not mean they should take you. They will sometimes prefer your money over your safety. We were the last to reach the summit that day at 2PM. There we were greeted by a smoke filled crater and the smell of brimstone.
We didn’t linger on the summit. While walking near the top, Tommy had a hard fall and became pretty upset. The vast majority of mountaineering injuries occur on descent and right away we found ourselves on sharp, steep loose talus. Here is Joe’s description:
“picture a sharp pile of rocks not connected to the ground in any way at a 100 degree angle while carrying a pack and you get the hardest moment of this entire trip. When we finally got down the rocks, all members of the Boesch family fell at least five times and our guides once each.”
We weren’t carrying a sextant, so I can’t verify that it was 100 degree angle, but I will attest to the rest. We were in a tight spot. The probability of a fall was high and the consequences of said fall would have been awful. The kids were physically and emotionally spent. The wind was blowing, we were in a completely exposed spot and there were no other climbers to be seen. It was 4PM. There were two hours of daylight left and it was a long way down.
By now I was coming up with all sorts of positive thinking platitudes. “Way to go guys, you are doing great. Can’t is a bad word. The worst is behind us. Not much further to go.” Joey asked me to “stop the propaganda”.
After what seemed like forever, we finally made it off the loose rock and into the snow. It was then that the guides proved their worth. Young men such as Joey and Tommy typically respond better to a male leader who is not their father. This is particularly true if the leader in question is younger and “more dashing” than their dad. I set a pretty low standard for both youth and “dashingness”. True to form, Tommy seemed to respond much better to Rodrigo’s encouragement than to my feeble motivational psychobabble.
The guides then demonstrated how to glissade down the snow using the ice axe as a brake. The mood of the kids immediately brightened. We slid down the first hill and they hopped up-a little more spring in their step now. Onto the second hill, not as steep as the first, and they were beginning to smile. Now onto the big ice covered hill for a fast trip down and they were laughing once again. It was only then that I realized everything was going to be OK.
As I look back on the day, I truly believe that Rodrigo and Sebastian were watching Joey and Tommy the whole way up the mountain. When the boys kept up a good pace and didn’t complain, they decided we had a chance to make the summit and get safely down. Had they thought otherwise, I feel certain they would have advised us to turn back. They were skilled patient climbers and we are very grateful to them. When we reached the bottom, they gave us high fives and hugs as if we had just descended from Everest.
So, was all this a good idea? As with many things related to parenthood, the answer is more complicated than just yes or no.
On the one hand the kids learned how to use crampons and an ice axe to ascend a snow covered peak and how to glissade down. These are nice outdoor skills to have. They learned that they hate the smell of brimstone-so the thought of an eternity in hell is now even more frightening than it was before. Perhaps most importantly, they learned that most of the limits they place on themselves are in their mind. They learned how to reach beyond their known capabilities and to carry on even when things were horrible.
Be that as it may, the inescapable conclusion is that this is not somewhere I would have led my children. The trouble was that this didn’t occur to me until we were already on the way down the volcano. I feel certain that if I were the one in charge I would have figured it out on the way up. In fact, I was the one in charge I just didn’t realize it. I paid the guides, I know my own safety standards. Nevertheless, I abandoned those standards and allowed their judgment to supersede my own. My assumption that the “guides know best” was based on the fact that they were the designated leaders and therefore the experts. This was a mistake. My first job as a father is to protect my children. In this instance that would have meant paying constant attention to our safety and then challenging any decision that put us in danger. I failed to do that. Our safe descent is tribute to my sons’ gumption, not to my leadership.
They claim they will still go backpacking with me, as to that, time will tell. There is even talk of giving Deer Mountain another try.
A great Day In Chile
We have roughly 2 weeks left here in Chile and then we plan to return home. There are days when we feel like we just can’t wait for the trip to be over. Yesterday seemed like it was going to be one of them.
Two days ago, we drove from our comfortable hotel in Ancud to Cucao-a tiny hamlet with nothing to offer except its proximity to Chiloe Islands national park. We searched and searched for somewhere to stay but found nothing-no hotels, hostels, restaurants stores or even campgrounds. After more than two hours of looking, we finally found a woman’s home to stay in “Casa de Luz”. It was filthy, stinky and freezing cold. To make matters worse, the owner, Luz(er) was not very nice. The next morning, as we tried to cook breakfast, she complained that the scent of our eggs was going to make her laundry (drying near the stove) smell funny. She insisted on keeping a lid over the top of the eggs and sure enough, we burned them.
So we shook her dust from our sandal straps and headed for a drive along the beach. Except for cattle grazing near the beach (sea cows) the place was deserted. We noticed a man fishing and stopped to watch him. He was doing well- “slayin’ em” to use fishing parlance. His “rig” was fishing line wrapped around a tin can with a stick through a hole in the middle of the can. We watched him reel in about 4 fish and then we began to talk with him-using a combination of pantomime, broken Spanish and loud English. The fisherman had two large bags, one filled with fish and the other filled with these brown, squishy things that turned out to be sea cucumbers. He demonstrated how to tear them open, and with a dirty finger he scooped out some of the squishy insides and said how they were “muy bien”. I should mention that before we left on the trip, I offered $100 dollars to whoever in the family ate “the grossest, most disgusting thing”. We had eaten black pudding and lobster eyes, but both Tommy and Joe sensed the chance to win this prize and they each choked down a heaping helping of raw sea cucumber. Neither asked for seconds.
After a pleasant hike along the beach we began driving back to the town of Ancud. There are a lot of stray dogs here in Chile, and as we rounded a corner, I noticed what appeared to be a large orange colored dog that was rather fat and had a face like a wombat. It began to hop away and we realized it wasn’t a dog after all. We later learned that it was a Pudu (latin name pudu pudu). These small deer are endangered, shy and rarely seen during daytime.
As we crested the next hill we saw a huge plume smoke that was grey on the bottom and white on the top rising far above the clouds. We were witnessing the eruption of the Chaitan volcano about 80 miles to the east of us.
Later, as the sun began to set over the Chilean sea we realized that this day which had begun so miserably was one we would never forget.
My point in telling this story is that without the miserable night in Cucao, most of the events of the next day never would have happened. We would have been too late to see the fisherman and certainly would have missed the Pudu. The whole day was predicated on our willingness to trade comfort for adventure, our willingness move from the nice place we had in Ancud to the unknown of Cucao. This remains tough to do even after an entire year of on the road. There is a tendency to think that where you are is where you should stay. But that is no way to travel.
Today was supposed to be another great day. We had planned on kayaking in a remote part of the island but the trip was canceled due to high winds. To make matters worse the boys have the runs. The volcano is no longer visible unless you are watching CNN, here it is obscured by clouds. And so, off we go. Somewhere north I think.
Remember the Falkland Islands?
I know a man who was a talented soccer player and student of history. He wanted a better life and so he left his native Greece and came to America. When he arrived, he had no way of supporting himself, so he decided to learn to cook. As with all things, he dedicated himself completely to his task, and in a short while he had climbed the ladder to head chef.
He took the very best ingredients then blended them together in unusual but wonderful fashion. He allowed no substitutions-ever. You wouldn’t tell Leonardo to add a little more purple to the Mona Lisa, so why would you ask him to change a recipe? It was simply a matter of honor.
He never forgot what it was like to be poor-and every Thanksgiving he would prepare and serve a delicious turkey dinner to the homeless.
He is an independent sort and chafed at having to work for someone else, so he took out a loan and opened his own restaurant. He would get up at 4am to begin preparing cakes and pies to serve for desert. He would work at the restaurant all day, and not finish until after midnight. He would then sleep on the floor of the restaurant and the next morning would start all over again.
His restaurant was incredible! It was a small place with only six tables, but there was always a line outside the door waiting to get in. His portions were huge. As an intern, I would get a large pizza on Monday and eat what was left for the rest of the week. On his wall was a plaque that read “a finished meal is a failure”. I say “was” because that was 4 failed restaurants and 2 bankruptcies ago. His downfall was that he did not know how to manage money. So despite his many talents time and again he found himself broke.
If he were a country, he would be Argentina. Talented, bright, passionate, but forever in financial trouble.
The last time Argentina messed its financial pants was in 2001. Inflation was rampant, unemployment high and the government had a huge international debt. At that time, the Argentine peso was fixed to the United States dollar at an exchange rate of 1:1. People could deposit and withdraw their money in either pesos or dollars. As financial conditions became desperate, people lost faith and began to withdraw their money from the banks. The government responded by limiting withdraws to $250. Then they closed the banks all together. They allowed their currency to “float”. A better term would have been “sink” because when all was said and done the Argentine peso had gone from being worth one dollar to being worth about twenty five United States cents. When banks finally reopened you were only allowed to make withdrawals in pesos, no matter what currency you had initially deposited.
Unions began a nationwide strike and middle class people took to the streets of Buenos Aires banging pots and pans in what became known as the cacerolaza (from the Spanish word “Caserola” meaning pan). Rioting broke out all over the country leaving 25 people dead. For foreigners, Argentina went (almost overnight) form being one of the most expensive countries in the world to one of the cheapest- a situation that continues.
Early the next year the government defaulted on $140 billion of international debt, the biggest default in history. A lot of money went to “money heaven” or “money hell” if you choose to believe in such things.
Twenty years earlier (1981) Argentina likewise found itself in drowning in economic chaos. The President at the time was a boozehound named Leopoldo Galtieri. He was also an army General and when public opinion began to turn strongly against him, he did what Latin American Generals do best; he started a war. Things probably would have worked out OK had he gone after Uruguay or tried to invade Italy, but he made the mistake of picking a fight with the British. Thus began the war for the Falkland Islands.
The Falkland Islands are home to a mere 2,500 souls but a whopping 700,000 sheep. Their “ownership” has been a matter of dispute between the British and the Argentines for more than 100 years. At the time of the war Ronald Reagan famously declared that he could not understand why they were arguing over “that little ice cold bunch of land down there”. Ronald Reagan once said that “ketchup is a vegetable” and he also blamed trees for “causing pollution”. He probably couldn’t find Australia on a map, much less the Falkland Islands, but for once I must say that I agree with him. The Falklands really are by all accounts a miserable place and certainly not worth fighting over.
The war was over in 74 days. The British won in convincing fashion and kept control of the Falkland Islands. God be thanked! Hip Hip Hooray! God Save the Queen! Etc, etc, etc. This conflict served as the coming out party for the British harrier jump jet (that’s the one that can take off straight up in the air off the deck of an aircraft carrier)
There were 236 British casualties and about 700 Argentines. It is a war that most of the world has forgotten. Argentina has not. April 2 is a memorial day for those who died in the Falkland Islands war. A war, by the way, that Argentines did not support and do not try to justify in retrospect. They remember their fallen veterans nonetheless. Argentina loves to party all night long, but April 2nd is a solemn day marked by candlelight vigils and reverence for those who gave their lives in defense of their country.
Tonight We Tango!
March 25, 2008 Buenos Aires Argentina
Tonight we went out for a nice big steak, then Jill and I went to a Tango show. Tomorrow night the boys and I are headed for an Argentine Soccer game. “Boca” is playing “the juniors”. Those of you who know me well are already laughing your asses off and can skip the next three paragraphs.
I know absolutely nothing about dancing including how to do it. My limited hip flexibility, absence of rhythm and Caucasian ancestry conspire to make me the worst dancer on the planet. Remember that video of Al Gore dancing a few years back? The one that was so painfully embarrassing to watch? Well, he looks like Gregory Hines compared with me.
I can’t stand soccer either. It’s not so much the sport I don’t like. I appreciate the endurance and coordination required to play the game. My problem has more to do with the culture and the vocabulary that surround the game itself. When I was growing up, soccer was played on a “field”, the person who prevented the ball from going in the net was a “goalie” and to defend somebody was to “guard” them. Soccer is now played on a “pitch” the goal is guarded by a “keeper” (pronounced “keepah”) and to defend someone is to “mark” them. I don’t know why, but that really bugs me. As for the players themselves, most of them look like they spend more time at the hairdresser than in the weight room. And God forbid anybody bumps into them on the field; they fall down and roll all over the “pitch” at the slightest contact. You might think they just fractured a kidney by the looks of it. I always thought that “America’s sweetheart Keri Scrugg” was the biggest faker ever when she pretended to sprain her ankle in the Olympics (1996)-but she has nothing on soccer players.
For that matter, I don’t even really like steak.
Why then are we doing these things? In order to explain, I must digress.
I love Emergency Medicine. After fifteen years, it is still exciting and interesting. You get lots of time off to spend with your family. You are well compensated and are never called at home on your day off. However, around the holidays it is a real pain. Because “we never close”, someone has to be there to work every single holiday. That means that during the week between Christmas and New years, you rarely get time off. Usually you are off one or two of the four holidays-(Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day). The best holiday to have off, and hardest to get is Christmas Day.
In 1993, I was scheduled to be off New Years day and work the other 3 days. I was shocked when my friend Gary Septon approached me to see if I would be interested in trading New Years day for Christmas. I quickly stuck my hand out to seal the deal and called Jill- I couldn’t believe my luck. I asked Gary (who is not a big drinker) why he wanted to work on Christmas and be off New Year’s Day. He said it was so he could watch all the college football games. This was back before the BCS when most of the big games were played on New Year’s Day. I said “I didn’t know you were that big a fan of college football”. He said “I’m not, but the best of anything is usually pretty darn good-and the best college football is played on New Year’s Day”.
That has been our mantra for this trip. If a particular country is home to “the very best of something” then that is what we do. In France we toured castles, churches and museums. In Thailand we relaxed on the beach. In Australia we looked for animals and learned to surf. In New Zealand we hiked and tried extreme sports. We didn’t try to go fly fishing in Thailand, or search for the perfect Chardonney in Dubai. We didn't bring our golf clubs to Bangalore, although for some reason plenty of people do. We put our personal interests aside and did whatever the country was best at.
In Argentina that means we eat. Man do we eat. This is the best food on earth-unanimous Boesch family vote. Juicy steak, great pasta, and the most incredible bakeries on earth at ¼ the price of Italy. The steak tonight was incredible, the Tango show wasn’t bad. Tomorrow night’s soccer game should be interesting. My money is on “the juniors”. Word on the street here in Buenos Aires is that their “keeper” is one of the best.
Thank you Gary for some great advice!
Australia vs New Zealand
In American lexicon, we frequently refer to “Australia and New Zealand” together like we do “bacon and eggs” or “S and M”. The countries do have a lot in common. For instance, both countries have a very low population density. New Zealand (population 4 million) is roughly the same size as Japan (population 100 million) and Australia (population 20 million) is more than twice as big as India (population 1 billion). So if you agree with John Paul Sartre that “Hell is other people” both of these countries will provide you with plenty of opportunities to be by yourself.
Beer is crazy expensive in both places with prices typically running $40 per case or $12 per six pack (on sale!) Both countries have great cheese which is called “tasty cheese” and these are the only two countries in which we have found it. It is inexpensive and, as you may have guessed, wonderfully tasty.
People in both countries have a tendency to shorten words and replace the last syllable with “ie”. Here are some examples ;
breakfast = “brekkie”
Sponge Bob = “Spongie”
We have had some fun with this and made up a few of our own
Postcard = “posties”
Cellphone = “cellie”
Star trek fan = “trekkie”
There are some significant differences however; Australia, of course, is much bigger. It is also much drier. The interior of the country is a desert and no one lives there except lizards. The population centers are all on the coast (mostly the East coast). It’s here that you will find some of the best beaches in the world. There are great waves for surfing, lots of sea shells and endless white sand. New Zealand by contrast is much smaller, more volcanic and more green.
The fauna is both countries could not be more different; Australia is an animal lovers dream. The critters of Australia are unique and plentiful. The worlds only two monotremes live in Australia (the echidna and the platypus). There are an amazing number of marsupials; Tasmanian devils, wombats, koalas, kangaroo and wallabies are all to be found in abundance. I have never seen so many animals and so much road kill. During one 10 kilometer section in Tasmania we saw a Tasmanian devil, an echidna, a wombat and 8 wallabies all squashed into “road pizzas”. New Zealand by contrast has only one native mammal (a bat) . All the other mammals , mostly rabbits and possum, have been introduced either by the Maori or by the British. These non-native species have devastated some of the native bird populations.
New Zealand has always been strictly non-nuclear. They have no nuclear power and have never allowed a nuclear powered vessel to enter their territorial waters. In the 1985s New Zealand vigorously protested a French nuclear test in the South Pacific. Later, in response to these protests, French agents sunk the Rainbow Warrior the flag ship of the Green Peace fleet which was docked in New Zealand at the time. In so doing, they killed a man on board. The French agents were later tried and imprisoned
Rugged scenery, fun loving natives and a paucity of trial lawyers makes New Zealand an ”extreme sports heaven”. Sky diving, bungee jumping, white water rafting, ropes courses, luge rides, and monster trucks are everywhere. The capital of all this activity is the city of Queenstown which has given itself over completely to this. Queenstown boasts the world’s first Bungee jump (43 meters) from the Kawarau bridge. This is the one Joey and I did and it was absolutely terrifying, but if for some reason that wasn’t big enough for you, there were two others close by.
The biggest difference I noticed relates to the relationship between the natives and the white European settlers. New Zealand natives are known as Maori. No one is sure exactly where they came from, but it is clear that they arrived in New Zealand about 800 years ago. This makes New Zealand the newest country on the planet in terms of human habitation. Australian natives are known as aboriginals –shortened to “Abbos” (not “abbies” like you might expect). They are one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
In 1773 British Captain James Cook encountered both sets of natives. First, Cook landed in New Zealand. Here, the native Maori came right out to meet him. Things went well at first but then there was a skirmish. Four of Cook’s men were taken hostage. When a rescue party went looking for them, they found that they had been butchered, cooked and eaten (no doubt along with “fava beans and a fine Chianti”).
So when Cook entered Australia’s Sydney harbor shortly thereafter he and his men were ready for anything, or so they thought. Here is his description of that memorable first encounter:
“Not one was once observed to stop and look towards the ship; they pursued their way in all appearance entirely unmoved by the neighborhood of so remarkable an object as a ship must necessarily be to people who have never seen one”
Cook’s men were a hard bunch and in the past they had been greeted by fierce natives or friendly natives, but this was the first time they were ever ignored. When a landing party did go ashore a couple aboriginals threw some spears and then ran away.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Rightly or wrongly, the British viewed the Aboriginals as cowardly and dim- witted and the Maori as brave and proud. When Britain needed a far away prison colony, they picked Australia in large part because they thought the Australian Aboriginals would move from their land with much less fight than the Maori. Prison colonies were soon established in Sydney and in Port Arthur and in the process a lot of aboriginals were run off or killed.
This continued long after the prison colonies had shut down. Several people we spoke with said that up until the 1950s if a white Australian shot an Aboriginal, law enforcement would typically look the other way. It was during the 1950s that the federal government took Aboriginals away from their families and put them in orphanages in an attempt to re-educate them and help them fit into white Australia. This resulted in “the Stolen generation” of Aboriginals. The Federal government of Australia officially apologized for this on February 13 2008. We were in Canberra (Australia’s capital) to hear this apology. While some white Australians agreed with the apology, many did not.
Nowadays Aboriginals remain marginalized. There are high rates of alcoholism and unemployment. There is little inter marriage between Aboriginals and white Australians.
The British had a much more difficult time with the Maori. They didn’t give up as easily and when there were pitched battles, the Maori frequently came out on top. In 1864 the famous Maori chief Rewi Maniopoto famously said “We will fight on forever forever forever” . He meant it. The British wisely decided to make peace with the Maori at the treaty of Waitanga. Whether this was an act of benevolence or duplicity is still a topic of debate.
In New Zealand today, Maori and white New Zealanders seem to have a very nice relationship. Rugby is the national sport here in New Zealand. The New Zealand National team “the All Blacks” are one of the most famous sports teams the entire world. White New Zealanders and Maori play side by side on the All Blacks and they begin each rugby match with a traditional Maori dance known as a “haka”. It’s the equivalent of the Yankees starting each baseball game with a Cherokee rain dance. It is a beautiful symbolism of cultural unity in a place where different races prove that we can all get along.
1. Thomas, Nicholas. Discoveries. The Voyages of Captain Cook
2. McLauchlan, Gordon. A short history of New Zealand
Smoke on the Water
“At Gallipolli, Australia became a nation”. These are the words that greet you as you enter the National War Museum in Canberra Australia. To begin to understand Australia you need to understand Gallipolli.
The Gallipolli peninsula in Turkey, makes up the western shore of “the Dardanelles” also known as “the Hellespont”. This has been a critically important piece of real estate since the third century B.C. when Xerxes built a bridge of boats and crossed from Asia into Europe, One look at a map shows why. The Black Sea drains down the Bosporus Straits to Istanbul where it becomes the Sea of Marmara. This drains into the Aegean Sea by way of the Straits of the Dardanelles; the Aegean Sea is the North East part of the Mediterranean. Since the invention of the cannon, controlling the Dardanelles Straits means controlling the entire shipping lane from the Black Sea all the way to the Mediterranean.
In World War I, the British faced off with the Ottomans over control of the Dardanelles. Both Empires were in decline and the British underestimated the Ottomans. The British tried to take the Dardanelles with naval power alone but were unable to do so. In order to gain control of this critical waterway, the British First Lord of the Admiralty (head of the navy) hatched a plan to capture the Gallipolli peninsula. Under British command, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) went ashore at the Gallipolli peninsula at ANZAC cove on April 25, 1915. We visited ANZAC cove when we were in Turkey and I cannot imagine a more awful place to land. The beach is small and rocky, it’s completely exposed and as soon as you leave the beach you head straight up a steep hill covered with mud and loose rock. I had Joe and Tommy try to climb up and it was very difficult for them even on a dry sunny day without gunfire. Despite this, the ANZACas made their way up this slope and then, instead of routing the Turks, they dug a trench. The Ottomans dug a trench too.
They stayed this way and fought a bloody war of attrition. The most famous battle occurred at Lone Pine Hill. Here, ANZAC troops were repeatedly sent out of their trenches by an overzealous British officer only to be mowed down by machine gun fire. The attempted invasion was a complete failure. ANZAC troops withdrew from Gallipolli six months later and left it to the Ottomans and their new hero Ataturk-the founder of modern Turkey. The British first lord of the Admiralty lost his job because of this disaster; his name was Winston Churchill.
ANZAC day is Australia’s national holiday. It’s like Veterans Day, Memorial Day and the fourth of July all rolled into one. Each year thousands of Australians make the long pilgrimage to Gallipolli to honor their ancestors. We had the good fortune to visit Gallipolli and the even better fortune to meet our friends Tom Watt and Helen Parry and their children Bryn(14), Tom(11) and Simon(7). They are interesting and wonderful people and they invited us to visit them in Tasmania. That is where we have spent the greater part of the last week. Tom, Helen and their boys had just finished their four month trip around the world and we had a lot to talk about. They invited us to a cabin on Bruny Island, just south of Hobart, Tasmania and recommended we tour the beautiful Bruny Island coast by tour boat.
Tom and I talked at length about Gallipolli both while we were in Turkey and here in Australia. It seemed odd to me that such a devastating defeat would “define a nation” . He explained that it wasn’t so much the outcome of the battle as it was the attitude of the troops involved. Australia began as a prison colony for the British empire and prisoners are known for their selfishness. At Gallipolli this all changed and the troops developed a comradeship that Australia hadn’t known before. They brought this newfound sense of comradeship back with them and now it is celebrated every year on ANZAC day.
In every Australian town, no matter how small there is a war memorial with the names of the war dead on it, and underneath these three words; "lest we forget".
The British have long been known for keeping soldiering on, “keeping a stiff upper lip” and never complaining no matter how bad things may be. They passed this on to their Australian subjects who in turn, added a sense of joy and exuberance. This is how Australians like to see themselves. The late Steve Irwin (TV’s “crocodile hunter”) typified this attitude and so did “Captain Mike” the skipper our Bruny Island tour boat.
The earth is covered by seven oceans, but when it comes to severity of weather, the Southern Ocean stands alone. Perpetually windy and miserably cold it is the home of the largest waves ever recorded. There is never a calm day.
The entire Boesch family is prone to sea sickness, and I well remember puking over the side of a halibut fishing boat in Homer Alaska in 1998. We had serious reservations about going on this adventure and that was reinforced when we woke to rainy skies, but the weather cleared and we decided to go. Our twenty meter boat was ideally suited to the task with an overhead cover, three big outboard engines (975 horsepower total!) and a rubber pontoon that protected the fiberglass hull. I’m not much for holistic medicine, but figuring it couldn’t hurt, I took four ginger tablets to prevent sea sickness.
As we headed down the east coast of Bruny Island, weather conditions slowly began to change. The wind picked up and temperature started to fall. As we motored past Australia’s southern most point, our captain reported that the seas had grown to three meters (10 feet). With great gusto, Mike yelled above the noise of surf and motor, “welcome to the southern ocean mates!” We could not see over the next wave! An Indian dude began vomiting curried chicken (at least that’s what it looked like). Little did he or anyone else know, the worst was yet to come. It was now pouring rain and the wind began to howl. “Smoke on the water!” Mike hollered. Now, being a child of the 70s, my mind immediately raced back to the Deep Purple Concert (St. Louis Arena Circa 1977) and I wondered what this had to do with our current predicament. The body of water referred to in that song was Lake Geneva and we were a long way from there. Marijuana has anti- sea sickness properties, but had Mike had too much? And now, with our lives in the balance, was our trusted captain, wanting his first mate to crank up the tunes? I looked to where Mike was pointing and sure enough smoke was billowing off the water. It turns out that winds of greater than fifty knots are strong enough to lift small droplets off the surface of the water in such abundance that it looks like smoke. It was a sight I will never forget .
We were chilled to the bone but, like the British, we kept a stiff upper lip and no one complained. We saw Shy Albatross and Australasian Gannets (both beautiful birds) on our way back to port where hot pumpkin soup waited for us.
We were on a very well equipped boat for three hours. It was fun, but it was wet, cold and very rough. We just sat there, we didn’t navigate, cook, sleep or use the bathroom, nor did we have to go on deck for a night watch. Our boat was ideally suited to the task and we were clothed in the newest and best gear to keep us warm.
A year before the ANZACs landed at Gallipolli, Ernest Shackleton (the “Sir” would be added later) began an ill fated expedition to try to cross the Antarctic. After a trip across the Southern Ocean, his ship “the Endurance” was crushed by the pack ice. Shackleton and his crew took to the lifeboats and went to the closest land they could find, a desolate, awful place called Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton and his sea captain Worsley crossed the southern ocean to a whaling station on South Georgia Island in an open hulled wooden boat (only slightly bigger than a normal sized rowboat!). Worsley navigated 750 miles in the roughest seas on Earth using the stars and his sextant to guide them. They made it to the whaling station then back to rescue the remainder of the crew. None of them ever complained.
I read about Shackleton’s journey fifteen years ago and I have been an admirer ever since. Our brief sojourn to the Southern Ocean has greatly increased that admiration. I have no doubt that if Shackleton had been along with us, his journal entry would echo what Captain Mike said at the end of our voyage; “A fine day for a cruise!”
Ups and Downs Down Under
Travel is truly “life under the microscope”. Little things that don’t matter so much at home can have a huge impact when you are on the road. The ups and downs on the roller coaster of life are simply bigger . For instance, if your ATM card doesn’t work at home, you just call your bank, write a check, or borrow money from a friend. When our ATM card didn’t work in India, and neither did our credit card, we had big problems. It can make for good stories later on, but at the time it is no fun. When things really go bad, you find yourself just wanting to go home. That happened to me for the first time three days ago when I wrecked the camper.
As part of Medical school, I spent two months at the University of Sydney in 1988 and then spent another month traveling up the East coast to places like Brisbane and Cairns. I remember this country as a friendly, inexpensive, rather sleepy place with awful food. Australia has changed a lot since then, the pace of life here seems to have quickened and prices have certainly gone way up. The people are just as friendly as I remember and the food has gotten better.
After traveling through Asia, we had begun to think that there were no more animals or wide open space left in the world (one look at the "critter list" will demonstrate this) Australia has lots of both. This is also the most "green" country we have traveled to in terms of recycling, energy efficiency and water conservation. Australia is only slightly smaller than the U.S., but has just over 20 million people. The US has more than 300million-and India which is smaller than both has nearly a billion. Despite this low population density, Australians insist there are too many people here already and join the rest of the world as being fervently anti-immigrant.
Australia has a lot in common with the American West. There are good roads, not much of a rail system, and a lot of wide open space. It seemed an ideal place to rent an RV. So, after a brief stop in Caloundra where we learned to surf, we headed for Brisbane to pick up our Winnebago. Those of you who have read my previous essays know that I am not a good driver, so I paid extra and got the upgraded insurance policy which covers everything but “overhead damage”.
This beast is nine meters long, 3.6 meters high and sleeps five uncomfortably. It has a stove, microwave, A/C and a refrigerator and the inside is covered with nice brown paneling-circa 1970s. It does have a few quirks though; The sink and shower water (“grey water” to you RV buffs) drains through a long, narrow plastic tube. Because of the law of Laplace (which relates flow to the radius of the tube as well as the length of the tube through which a liquid flows) it is necessary that the camper be uphill from the drainpipe or the hose partially fills, but doesn’t drain. The transmission can be either automatic or manual (your choice) but neither work very well when you are stopped on a steep hill and the thing frequently rolls back. It is also incredibly loud when it is underway with frequent loud crashing noises.
We were livin large when we pulled into the “Broken Head Caravan Park” just north of Beautiful Byron Bay in New South Wales Australia. After two days , we were ready to move and the gray water was full. We couldn’t drain it at our campsite, so I devised a plan to move the RV to a place where we could drain it. We loaded up and headed out but shortly after rounding a corner there was a tremendous crash. I kept driving, but by then, Jill was yelling for me to stop. The top of the RV had run into a huge branch and knocked a hole in the front as well as knocking loose our awning, you guessed it both overhead damage and therefore not covered by insurance. We were in an RV park, so the thought of an unmarked, low hanging obstacle never even occurred to me-after all, aren’t RV parks designed for RVs? In the U.S. there is no doubt that the park would be the one responsible for not keeping their roads up to code, but not here. The rules are a little different in every country and this time there is no getting around the fact that this is going to cost some money. How much remains to be seen.
We considered going back to Brisbane and giving up, but we put duct tape over the hole, tied the awning up with a rope and decided to soldier on. I’m glad we did. We drove the next few days into Australia’s “New England” and it is cool, beautiful and wide open. The boys and I did a great hike in Dorrigo National Park and we have more of that to come. We went to a dog show yesterday which Cami loved and today we head a little deeper into the Australian Outback.
I consider myself to be frugal. Jill and the kids often use another word. I don’t mind spending money, but I loathe wasting money and to me, this seemed like a big waste. I had trouble getting to sleep, but finally convinced myself that “no one was hurt and it’s only money” –but the next morning, I woke up once again worried about how much this is all going to cost. We do have a budget on this trip of about $300 per day and Australia has been much more expensive than we imagined-even before this accident.
Cami’s Broken Leg
Several years ago, Tommy, Joey and I hiked seven miles to Phantom ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. At night, they have ranger talks that the kids enjoy. We had the good fortune to have a ranger who was not only very knowledgeable, she was also incredibly funny. The first night's talk on mountain lions was so terrific that we came back for the second night's talk “canyon stories”. In this lecture, she told funny stories about unprepared souls who hike to the bottom of the canyon and then struggle to get out. She told a story about a Japanese man with cameras around his neck standing by the bell near the dining hall. He was not at all dressed for hiking and when the ranger walked by she asked if everything was OK. He responded “everything is fine, I wait for bus”. The ranger laughed, but the Japanese man did not. He became visibly upset when she explained that this was not a bus stop and that the bus stop was, in fact, on the canyon rim, seven miles up.
You don’t have to be Matlock to figure out what happened. The man didn’t speak English and asked someone where the bus stop was. That person played a trick on him and told him to hike to the bottom of the trail and wait for the bus by the bell. At the time I heard this story, I thought it was hysterical. I no longer think it’s funny (OK maybe just a little) because now my family and I are the foreigners and we depend so much on the kindness and competence of others. This takes on added importance in a place like Japan where it is impossible for a westerner to read the alphabet or understand the language. It becomes even more important when something goes wrong.
Japan was not originally part of our itinerary. We booked the first six months of travel (up to Thailand) and thought we would probably go next to Australia. It was Joseph who convinced us to come here. He read about Japan and became very interested in the culture and also the opportunity to go snow skiing. I heard they had heated toilet seats and that you could buy beer out of a vending machine and wanted to see for myself.
Japan is unique. As you might expect from an island, it is entirely different from the rest of Asia. Japan is much more mountainous than I thought and while people crowd into cities, the countryside which remains is pristine. Japanese people have a true sense of the aesthetic; you see this in their gardens and in the very fashionable way in which they dress. The trains are on time, no one litters or jay walks and they immunize their preschool kids against the flu (a very good idea because they are the ones who spread it the most). Japan is not perfect, they eat whale, can't make cheese and the emergency number is 1-1-9 instead of 9-1-1. But it is a very interesting and enjoyable country in which to travel.
We flew into Osaka and took the 09:23 am express train to Kyoto. It left promptly at 09:23- "Hai, so adesu" (yes, so it is! a very popular saying her in Japan). After two days, we took the train to Nagano-site of the 1998 winter Olympics. We expected big crowds and high prices but were pleasantly surprised. The lift tickets were about $35 for adults ($20 for kids) equipment rental was reasonable and we had the place to ourselves. The snow was fantastic with tons of powder. Cami took a lesson and was soon speeding down the mountain.
We were happy that she chose to ski for a second day and she picked up right where she left off. Cami and Jill were heading back to hand in the skis when she wiped out and began to cry. She couldn’t bear weight on her left leg and it really hurt to take the boot off. The ski patrol (who didn’t speak a word of English) came and took her to the first aid station. I was at another part of the mountain and it took a while for Jill to find me and inform me that Cami was injured. By now it was two O’clock. We had a train to catch at 3:49. Our man, Mr. Kato was coming to take us to the train station at 2:30. We asked him to take us to the hospital instead.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were greeted by three young women with a bow and a “kunnichiwa” (good afternoon). They brought a wheelchair out for Cami and we headed in but not before being sternly corrected to take off our shoes and put on slippers. They examined her leg carefully and wheeled her off to x-ray. Cami was very brave during all of this. After the x-ray we met Dr. Shintani Tsuyishi, the Doctor on duty and the owner of the clinic. I told him that I too was a physician and we traded a few stories. He sees roughly 110 wrist fractures per year, 90 dislocated shoulders and roughly 5 dislocated hips- “snowboarding, you see, has been very good for business” "Hai, so adesu!" He was proud of his new 4 detector spiral CT scanner. He showed me some images of a pulmonary contusion from his CT files (snowboarding). It was nice to use the “medical part of my brain” which has been dormant for a long time. He invited me to come back later that evening for some saki. I told him I would love to, but we had a train to catch. By now Cami was in a long leg cast above her knee and it was time to pay the bill-$420 for everything. The train left at 3:49 and we had time to get Cami a happy meal before boarding.
Throughout the entire day, I was struck by the great pride the Japanese take in their work. Jobs that we consider menial such as chair lift sweeper, train ticket checker, McDonalds nugget cooker are all performed with great care and dignity. You don’t need to speak Japanese to figure it out either, you can tell it by their body language, dress and mannerisms.
We have decided, for now, to continue to travel and not to come home. Cami’s fracture is in good position and won’t require surgery. Cami is doing well and definitely wants to keep traveling. She had a little pain the first night but none since. She is sad that she won’t be able to swim in Australia (our next stop). They didn’t have crutches at the clinic, so I carry her everywhere and she loves it. She gets heavy sometimes, but I try to enjoy every minute. Before long she will be too big a girl to have daddy to carry her-"Hai, so adesu".
Dollar Snacks (co written by David and Jill)
In May, 2007 shortly before we left for the trip, the kids cleaned out their savings accounts and put all the money onto a pre-loaded Visa gift card. This allowed them some money for gifts and personal souvenirs along the way. We told them they could spend it however they wished-within reason. We wanted them to feel like they had a little bit of discretionary money to call their own.
As we made our way across the United States with the van pulling the camper we got terrible gas mileage and so we found ourselves stopping at filling stations at least twice a day. When we did, the kids would descend like vultures into the convenience store that typically accompanies the gas station. They would look up and down the snack isle and study each item individually-then after about half an hour, they would head for the cash register and pull out their visa gift cards. Then off to the van to begin feasting on Pringles, ice cream or “flaming hot Cheetos”.
Of course they never purchased anything like fruit or yogurt. They were full from all the junk food, so they began to not eat at meal time. We figured they would tire of this after a few days-but it only seemed to get worse. There was enough spilled food on the floor of the van that we probably could have survived for a week just on that. One day, Tommy picked out a big thing of Bugles, Joey was actually considering a “Moon Pie” and Cami had graduated to the quart sized Ben and Jerry’s. We had to do something.
First we tried logic: “If you spend all your money at the Quickie Mart here in Iowa, you won’t have any money left to buy souvenirs when we get to Africa”. Surely they would understand the importance of delayed gratification. But no, this was met by the usual blank look.
Being Catholic, of course we tried guilt. “You know, you are spending birthday and Christmas money and I don’t think your dear Aunts and Uncles would want you to be buying this stuff. Furthermore, it isn’t healthy and there are people starving all over the world while you are over eating”. More blank looks followed by “dad, please move you are standing in front of the gummy bears.”
Drastic action was needed. Jill and I talked about it and came up with the idea of a “dollar snack”. The kids could each have one snack per day as long as it was under a dollar and under three hundred calories . Furthermore, we would pay for it and if they didn’t want a snack they could just take the dollar and save it. This would keep them from eating a bunch of junk food and also save them money. Having solved this problem in such a simple, wise and just manner, we slept “the sleep of the innocent” that night in the camper. We congratulated each other on our sublime parenting skills. What could possibly go wrong?
The next day we stopped for gas ready to begin the new plan. “What about tax?” Joey asked. “Huh?” I replied. “Well, these cream filled raspberry Zingers are a dollar but tax will bring them up to $1.06”. Jill, “sure, no problem.” David, “No way, it’s a dollar total.” Joey stormed off angrily. Tommy piped up, “these pork rinds are over three hundred calories, they are actually seven hundred. So can I eat 2/5 today, 2/5 tomorrow and 1/5 the next day-and then take my dollar for the next 2 days?” Jill, “good use of fractions, Tommy!” David, “huh? No, that’s a violation of the spirit in which the rules were made.” Tommy storms off angrily to join Joey in the van. Jill and I roll our eyes and head for the liquor section wondering what are pork rinds anyway?
These were the first two questions but by no means the last. The tax issue went away when we left the country. Everywhere else, the tax is figured in before hand-so the price that is marked is the price that you pay.
“Buy one, get one free Skittles” created a huge controversy. “We are only spending a dollar, and we get two big bags of skittles!! Why can’t we buy one, get one free and eat them both ” ANSWER: “Because then you would be getting more than 300 calories. COMEBACK “why can’t we eat one today and save the other one for tomorrow and then save tomorrows dollar” Answer: Because I would need a #@*& notebook to keep track of all of this! Do you want ONE snack for ONE dollar or NOT?!
It has helped the kids with currency conversion because as soon as they arrive in a country, one of the first things they want to know is how much they have to spend on their dollar snacks: 0.50 pound snacks (Britain), 6000 shilling snacks (Tanzania), .75 Euro snacks (France, Italy, Slovenia), 111 new Turkish lira snacks (Turkey) 40 rupee snacks (India) and now 30 baht snacks (Thailand). They learn these numbers all very quickly.
You would think we would have things all worked out by now, but it never stops! Just when it seems like they have found every possible way to try to bend the rules, they come up with new ones. Today (219 days into the trip) Tommy bought some chocolates and didn’t like them. “Since I didn’t like them, can I get a different dollar snack?” ANSWER: “No, that would be two dollars instead of one”. "What about when we cross the international date line, does that mean one or two snacks for that day?" Even now as Tommy is reading this over my shoulder, he is asking about this grave injustice and reminding me how two months ago, mom ate Joey’s dollar snack. One thing they are taking away from this trip….Life is not always fair.
The biggest issue now is “does this count for my dollar snack?” and they are tricky enough to ask that about food with marginal nutritional value. Today, Cami was pleading (while giving me a hug and batting her big blue eyes) the case that “chocolate milk shouldn’t count for my dollar snack because it has lots of protein in it and that’s good for you”. I’m proud to say I didn’t give into this female manipulation. She returned the chocolate milk to the refrigerator from which it came and picked up a big ole’ candy bar. Now we’re talking. Things are cheap here in Thailand, and the calorie content of the food is not listed.
If an animal escapes from the zoo on Friday night, the place you are most likely to find him is back in his cage on Saturday morning. We think of zoos as cruel places that cage magnificent beasts who yearn to run free in the wild. Evidence suggests otherwise. Animals covet predictability-their own territory, a reliable source of food and water, familiar neighbors etc.. So, an animal such as a tiger that could do very well in the wild will frequently give that freedom up and return to the safety of his cage and the certainty of his free meals.
People are no different. We are creatures of habit and we treasure the familiar. As such, this trip of ours is a most unnatural undertaking. Now, more than two hundred days have come and gone since we left home and we find ourselves searching for familiarity in a variety of ways. We unapologetically eat at McDonalds, Subway and Pizza Hut. We eat there not because they are good, but because they are predictable. We know what we are going to get before we order it, and the food itself is comforting and reminds us of home. It gives us that false sense of security and order that comes from “a clean, well lighted place”.
We do it in other ways too. Jill reads books every night. She must have read at least forty on the trip so far. The kids talk endlessly about Sponge Bob, the Simpsons and Nacho Libre. I have a beer most evenings, just like at home. The kids complain about school, but that has become a source of routine also. I typically feel more at peace after a school lesson than before it.
I realize that coming to conclusions about a place as a tourist is a very dangerous thing. It is analogous to looking into a room through a keyhole. You see some things in the center of the room and may be able to deduce some of the room’s goings on-but you don’t get the whole picture. In fact, important things may be in the corner and you may be completely unaware of them. But even just looking through a keyhole, it is possible to get a “feel” for a place.
As with every country, our “feel” for India began at the airport. We arrived in Delhi and since we were seated near the front of the plane, we were one of the first to go through passport control. The passport control agent was wearing an extremely dirty suit-he had hair growing out of his nose that could have been braided. He smelled horrible and even the sight of our children couldn’t make him smile. He unhurriedly stamped our passport and we walked through customs and looked for the domestic terminal. Note to countries such as India who are aggressively promoting tourism: You really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression! It is just as easy to stamp passports with a word of welcome and a smile (Dubai does it this way) than it is by being a grouch. Some nose hair clippers, a can of deodorant and a three hour customer service class would be money well spent.
Our first impression of India was that it was extremely dirty. Outside the Delhi airport, it smelled like soot and our eyes and throat began to burn. There was a black cloud of pollution hovering over the city that the locals tried to tell us was fog- but it wasn’t. You could literally taste the particulates in the air. Tuk tuks crowded the potholed streets along with motor bikes and old taxis-each one spewing a gray cloud of smoke behind it. Not one of these vehicles would have passed the Arizona vehicle emissions test. Having now seen Delhi and numerous other cities with pollution just as terrible (Bangalore, Cochin) I find it hard to believe that the USA is responsible for more pollution than India.
India has a water pollution problem too. When we went Dubare Elephant Camp, our friend Murli said that “it is very unusual in India for a river in India to not be polluted”. Indeed, a bacterial culture of the Ganges River taken from near Calcutta has the same concentration of coli forms as undiluted human stool*.
Let’s not forget noise pollution. Every tuk tuk and taxi comes with a horn and it gets used any time day or night whether in a residential area or in the city. In the U.S., we blow our horn only in cases of emergency and a discourteous use of the horn can be a prelude to a fight. In India, as best I could tell blowing your horn could mean “look out” or “wake up” or “here I am” or simply “look at me, I have a horn”. The result is that it is used so much that it is simply ignored.
Later on in the trip, Joey collected garbage from the back seat of our car and put it in a bag. He handed it to our driver saying “would you mind throwing this away at the next garbage can”. The driver bobbled his head, then promptly rolled down his window and threw the garbage out in the road!
When Joey was a baby he used to love Barney the dinosaur. I would often watch the show with him. They did lots of dancing and sang songs. One of the more familiar songs goes like this:
“Clean up, clean up
Clean up, clean up
Everybody do your share”
Sometimes after I had a few beers, I would think about that song. Barney was commanding everyone on the earth to clean up. I would find myself wondering what the world would be like if everybody did what Barney asked. How would the world look different? India needs to hear that song every day, repeatedly. It needs to be played from loudspeakers at 10, 2 and 4. If every one of those billion people picked up a piece of garbage, within a couple years, India might actually be clean.
We thought it was 5:00 but it was actually 05:30 (India is half an hour different than everywhere else on earth) and we had a domestic connection to catch from Delhi to Bangalore departing at 06:45. Every airport has an international and domestic terminal, so we looked for the domestic terminal. In Delhi, the capital of India, it’s fifteen kilometers away! So a well armed security guard directed us towards a waiting room and told us to wait for the bus. The trouble was that the bus didn’t come until 6am-so if we would have waited, we would have missed our connection to Bangalore. Various cab drivers campaigned for our services and we finally settled on a fair of 790 rupees –about $20 (OK, we got gypped but being half asleep and fairly desperate and needing a big car for our mountain of luggage, we took it). We loaded the luggage and headed for the domestic terminal, but after about 200meters our cab had a flat. The cabbie radioed for someone else to take us and then had the nerve to ask me for a tip!
Dilapidated airports, poor roads, frequent power outages, poor water all are signs of India’s terribly deficient infrastructure. This lack of infrastructure must take a huge toll on doing business. Imagine trying to run a plant with unpredictable power supply, or trying to get to work on unreliable roads. Indians, by the way, are keenly aware of this and I am pleased to say that this is rapidly improving. The term “developing world” is a perfect fit for India because it really is developing. (To use the term “developing world” to describe a place such as Tanzania would, I believe, be incorrect and would reflect more the hope of the observer than the reality of the country).
We had to run to catch our plane but we made it and found ourselves in Bangalore. Bangalore is billed as the most modern city in India. It is India’s information technology capital, with some manufacturing, but is mostly serviced based. If you call customer service for Dell, AT& T or Holiday Inn, it is quite likely that the person on the other end of the line is speaking to you from Bangalore India (next time you call customer service ask where they are and they will tell you). We drove by office towers for Intel, IBM and Microsoft on roads that were shared by Ox carts and goats and cows. I have never seen such a mixing of old and new.
As we exited the airport-our driver was there and waiting. He had been waiting for over an hour. He took us to the hotel-then took us out and around town later in the day all for RS 1000 ($25) that includes the tip. That is very uncomfortable at first. He drops you off at a place to shop and says “I will wait” and you say “well, that’s very nice of you, I’ll hurry up” and he says “no problem, take your time”. Waiting for you is actually his job-and it’s considered a good job. It’s the gas and the car that are expensive; his time is worth next to nothing. Cheap labor is India’s biggest asset and greatest hope for the future. Foreign investment (which has only been permitted since 1992) has been taking advantage of this for some years now. We noticed this in other ways too. A shave and a haircut cost me $0.75, a 5 mile tuk tuk ride across town for all five of us (we look like those clowns in the circus who keep getting out of the little car) costs $0.20, a ferry ride across Cochin harbor costs our entire family $0.12.
Our driver got us to the hotel alright, but getting him to understand anything else was impossible. India has over twenty “official languages” and over four thousand dialects. English is one of the official languages and I was told time and again that “English would get us by just fine when we came to India”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indians when asked if they speak English don’t want to disappoint you, so they uniformly say “yes” or they nod like a Randy Johnson bobble head doll. Then you ask a question and they either stare at you, or say “yes” again-but they don’t understand a word you are saying. A typical example was when Jill went Christmas shopping in Bangalore. The driver took her to the shopping place:
Jill: I should be about 45 minutes, do I meet you here?
Driver: Yes with a bobble of his head
Jill: right here then?
Jill reported to this place after about 45 minutes but the driver was nowhere to be found. He was on the other side of the store where people are supposed to exit.
Jill: I thought you said you would be over there.
Driver: Yes (bobble, bobble)
Jill: but you weren’t where you said you would be!
Driver: yes (bobble, bobble)
This is frustrating beyond belief and much worse than if they just didn’t say anything because you are lulled into thinking they know what you are talking about and that leads to bad things. In other countries it was clear that people didn’t speak English and we didn’t expect them to. We got by with phrase books or with studying the language ahead of time, and occasionally we ran into people who would help us out. Hindi sounds is unintelligible to our ears but if by some miracle we actually learned to speak it, it is quite possible that the person we were talking to would be speaking Tamil or Kanata. I know that in the US, we have our different accents, but someone from New York can understand someone from Alabama. Here it is entirely possible that a person from one state will not understand a person from another.
A curious thing though, we were watching the Indian equivalent of “American Idol” and the judges were talking:
“Llllaaallalalalallalalalal. You were very good. You scored well. Lllalallallalllallalllal etc.. “. There was this seamless mid sentence language switch into English and then right back to Tamil or Hindi
At our hotel in Bangalore, Tommy was trying to plug something in. We have adapters for all over the world, but none of them seemed to quite fit. We heard this scream of pain and sure enough he had been hit with 220Volts. His every compassionate brother said "looks like you got a little culture shock there Tommy".
If coming to a conclusion about a place is tricky, drawing conclusions about the people who live there is even more so. Like it or not, wherever we travel, most of the “locals” we meet are involved with the tourist infrastructure (waiters, drivers, maids, hotel workers etc). In wealthy countries these folks tend to be people who like to travel themselves and want to meet people from other cultures. In poor countries, people in the tourist industry tend to be predatory with no concern whatsoever about you or your well-being. Traveling begins to wear you down when people are constantly trying to “get in your pocket” and India never seems to let up in this regard.
Regardless of the country you are in, people trying to take advantage of you always have the same shtick and it goes something like this:
A smiling local approaches you and begins the conversation with questions such as “Hi, I am trying to practice my English. Where are you from? (Invariably, they will have a brother, cousin etc from your country), How long are you in India? How long are you traveling?”. All questions designed to gauge how naive you are and how much money you have. To say “I’m from America, I’m a doctor traveling for a year with my family” is like saying “here just take my checkbook and write down whatever you want”. To combat this, as is my custom, I came up with a plan:
Tout: Where are you from?
Tout: How long are you here?
Me: As long as it takes. (This has a sinister, kind of bad-ass tone to it)
Tout: What type of work do you do?
Me: I’m a shepherd, I tend my sheep
I tried this approach in Turkey, but the people there were just too charming and I felt bad about not telling them the truth. In India, this was not an issue, and so I said this all the time-It worked. Maybe they thought a Bolivian shepherd was too poor to buy their goods, maybe they had never heard of bolivia. Many simply didn’t know what to say and walked off bobbling their head.
Language, food, transportation, cleanliness-many of the pillars on which rest our culture and from which spring our level of comfort were shattered by the experience of India
Kalvero Oberg coined the term “culture shock” in a presentation to the women’s Club of Rio de Janeiro on August 3, 1954.**
Culture shock is a term widely known and a condition widely feared. It involves emotional and physical responses to “the accumulated stresses and strains which stem from being forced to meet one’s everyday needs in unfamiliar ways”
The symptoms of culture shock are
-fatigue, discomfort, generalized frustration
-excessive preoccupation with personal cleanliness, manifested in worries about food, drinking water, bedding, and dirt in one’s surroundings
-fear of physical contacts with attendants or servants; excessive fear of being cheated, robbed, or injured resulting in negative feelings toward hosts and a refusal to learn their language or practice their common courtesies
-irritability at slight provocations, criticisms, fits of anger over delays and other minor frustrations
For me, it was all about the last symptom:
We were staying at a garbage laden beach called Varkala in southern India and I needed a Tuk tuk ride to go to the ATM on Thursday because our hotel only took cash. As expected, the driver asked for 150 rupees and after ten minutes, I bargained him to 80 rupees which is what everyone pays. The driver was a pretty big guy and was one of those people who fancied himself a business man and was always on his cell phone. Friday I needed to go to town again, I asked if he could take me to town, he said 150 rupees ten minutes later we bargained down to 80. Saturday, I needed to go to the ATM again-same driver only this time he had to call for someone to bring a tuk tuk-again he started at 150.
I am, at heart, a peaceful man. I haven’t been in a fight since freshman year of high school (the outcome of that is considered questionable by those in attendance. I maintain that I won) –but something just came over me. I felt my right hand clench into a fist, felt my head lower and move forward to within an inch of his face and said slowly “80 rupees is that clear?” He said “yes” and stepped back. I said “well, let’s get a few other things clear too. I am a busy man and I don’t have time for this every day. If that taxi is more than one second late getting here, I’m leaving is that clear?”
This trip is not a vacation. This trip is about cultural learning and family adventure. It was very easy to say this when I was reading “the Iliad” to our kids overlooking the Aegean sea on a sunny day. But in India we are challenged as to whether or not we really mean it. It is our nature to choose the pleasant over the difficult-but in the end the difficult is usually more meaningful.
A friend of ours had this to say when we told him of our struggles here:
I am sorry to hear this.
Not the whole of one year long journey is supposed to be equally nice and easy though .The tougher places will also be an important part of the experience I believe.
The world is beautiful but not Disneyland. There are many places that are beautiful and there are many places that just are not. The kids will value this tough India experience as much as the ones at the beautiful places. (Maybe not right away but in future they will).
Our last eight days in India were unforgettable. We stayed with a family who welcomed us as one of their own. They fed us, played with our children, took care of us and overwhelmed us with their kindness. They also taught us about the rich history and cultures of India. We learned about religion, partition, the caste system, the good-but mostly bad side of British colonialism. Bombay, Madras and Calcutta are now Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. These changes were not done “to confuse whitey” but to throw off the shackles of colonialism and return to traditional names.
We learned that the reason there is so much garbage is that many places in India don’t have garbage collection-so what is the point of finding a garbage can?
We met two Ursuline nuns who by themselves take care of 43 orphan boys. With very little money and a tremendous amount of Gods’ grace, they feed them, clothe them and care for them when they are sick.
We spent an unforgettable day at an Indian perfume factory run by a fascinating man. He told us all about the manufacturing and perfection of fragrance from flower to perfume. He also told us what it was like to be an Indian business man doing business with France and other more “developed countries”
We drove down a road where saffron clad Buddhist monks and burka clad Muslim women waited in line to buy chapatti from a Hindu woman who was cooking in front of a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary-and thought “only in India”.
Two weeks ago India was just an area on a map. Now it is a real place filled with real people with their own unique history, language, religion, food, and yes problems too. When our children are back in school and meet a native of India, they will have a frame of reference from which to begin a conversation . Was it always easy and fun? No. Am I glad we included India in our journey-Without question, yes.
*Stock, Gregory. The Ganges next life. The New Yorker. January 19, 1998. 58-67
** Hess, J. Daniel. The Whole World Guide to Cultural Learning. 1994. 138-144
I just finished Charles Nicholl’s book called Leonardo Da Vinci “the flights of the Mind. It was a wonderful book and an example of how history should be written. Easy to read, well referenced, not hagiography. What follows is essentially a book report about the life of Leonardo Da vinci “the most relentlessly curious man in history”.
Leonardo was born in the town of Vinci in 1452. Hence the name Leonardo Da Vinci means Leonardo from Vinci. It would be as if Joey were named “Joey da Mesa”. He was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero Da Vinci and “Peasant girl named Caterina”. He was raised by Caterina and his hard-living stepfather Accatabriga.
Leonardo Da Vinci had very little of what we would consider formal education. He wrote in his native Italian language, whereas the educated of the day would have written in Latin. He famously describes himself as a omo sanza lettere literally “an unlettered man”.
Leonardo learned to love the outdoors and his early drawings were of landscapes, dogs, horses and other animals. He continued to draw horses throughout his life and his most famous project ever was an unfinished equestrian bronze statue (more about that later). When his father realized that Leonardo had talent, he arranged for him to apprentice in Florence with Andrea Del Verrocchio.
“When we speak of Leonardo entering the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio we should avoid extraneous notions of what an artist’s studio was and what it looked like. The word generally used in Leonardo’s day was botegga which means workshop. This conveys well enough the daily reality of Verrocchios’s studio. It was a workshop or indeed a small factory devoted to the production of works of art. Over the years it produced painting of various types and sizes; sculptures in marble, bronze, wood and terracotta; gold work, silverwork and ironwork, tombstones, marriage chests, suits of armor and theatrical sets and costumes. It was a commercial operation and there has been a tendency to think of Verrocchio as more a master craftsman than a great artist”
At that time in places throughout Italy, there were buchi della verita (holes of truth) placed throughout the city. If you had a complaint about someone, you could “denounce” him by writing it down and putting it in one of these receptacles. The authorities would investigate the complaints and administer justice. (We saw these receptacles on our trip to Venice, they are still there although no longer checked by the authorities)In April 1476, Leonardo was “denounced” and briefly imprisoned because of a homosexual affair with a man named Jacopo Saltarelli. Shortly thereafter, Leonardo left the city and moved to Milan.
Artists of that day had to have a patron. Patrons would pay a commission for a project some paid in advance, some on completion. Very wealthy patrons would frequently put artists ‘on the payroll’ and take care of all their living expenses. Leonardo had three primary patrons; Ludovico Sforza , Cesare Borgia and King Francois I.
It was Ludovico Sforza who gave Leonardo his first big commission. Ludovico asked Leonardo to make a model of his father (Duke Francesco) of a large horse in bronze. This became known as the “Sforza horse”. The duke provided Leonardo with a down payment as well as with enough bronze to cast the statue. The horse was such that it would require a full sized clay model to be constructed before the horse was cast. Leonardo worked long and hard to get the clay horse just right. Everyone who saw it, thought it was his greatest masterpiece. The logistics of casting the horse in bronze required that it be cast upside down, so Leonardo had a pit dug into which the horse would be cast. Shortly before this was due to happen, a war broke out between Milan and France. Duke Ludovico took his bronze back in order to use it to make a cannon for the war. Leonardo was furious. The duke lost the war to the French (led by Louis XII) and Leonardo’s beautiful clay model was used as target practice by French crossbowmen.
The Sforza horse was the most famous, but certainly not the only project that Leonardo left unfinished. This was partly due to the fact that Leonardo had many things going on at once including human dissections, math, bridge building, engineering a castle, party planning, diverting rivers, music (he was very accomplished with a violin like instrument called a lyra de bracchio). It was also due to the way in which Leonardo worked. What follows is a fascinating first person description of Leonardo’s work habits on “the last supper”. This was written by Matteo Bandello a novice monk at the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria dell Grazie in Milan where the Last supper was being painted:
“He would arrive early, climb up on to the scaffolding, and set to work. Sometimes he stayed there from dawn to sunset, never once laying down his brush forgetting to eat and drink, painting without pause. At other times he would go for two, three or four days without touching his brush, but sending several hours a day in front of the work, his arms folded, examining and criticizing the figures to himself. I also saw him, driven by some sudden urge, at midday, when the sun was at its height, leaving the corte vecchia where he was working on his marvelous clay horse, to come straight to Santa Maria dell Grazie, without seeking shade and clamber up the scaffolding, pick up a brush , put in one or two strokes, and then go away again”
Leonardo’s next patron was the infamous Cesare Borgia. The Borgia were a Spanish family, and Cesare’s father was Rodrigo Borgia-a.k.a. pope Alexander VI. It was said of Alexander VI that “he was perhaps more evil and more lucky than any other pope before him, he had in the fullest measure all the vices of the flesh and the spirit”. Cesare followed in his dad’s footsteps and did such things as; cut his brother’s throat and throw his body in the Tiber. His motto was “Caesar or nothing” and for three years, Leonardo travelled with him as his military engineer. It was during this time that Leonardo got to know Niccolo Machiavelli. It was Cesare who served as Machiavelli’s model leader in his famous book Il Principe (the prince). In 1503, Pope Alexander VI died and Cesare escaped from Italy only to die at the age of thirty back in Spain.
His patron gone, Leonardo looked for a new one, he wrote a letter to Sultan Bejazet in Istanbul offering to build a bridge over the golden horn. The sultan never replied to his letter, but his plans survived and were used (as a smaller version but to exact specifications) to build a bridge in 2001 in Aas Norway. It now serves as a pedestrian bridge over a highway. Leonardo’s parachute design worked too: “Leonardo’s pyramid shaped parachute remained on the drawing board until June 26, 2000 when an English skydiver, Adrian Nicholas test jumped it from 10,000 feet over the Kruger national Park in south Africa. The parachute was made almost exactly to Leonardo’s specifications except that cotton canvas was used instead of linen. The canopy, lashed to pine wood poles weighed nearly 200 pounds, about forty times heavier than modern parachutes-but despite this weight the drop went perfectly. Nicholas fell 7,000 feet in five minutes: a slow descent. He cut himself loose for the final descent by conventional parachute. The one flaw in the Leonardo model being that it was not collapsible, so there was a danger of the whole contraption landing on top of him. ‘I had a feeling of gentle elation and celebration’ said Nicholas afterwards. I could not resist saying “Mr. Da Vinci, you kept your promise, I thank you very much””
It was during this time that “for Francesco del Giocondo Leonardo undertook to paint a portrait of his wife, Mona Lisa”. He worked on the painting for over ten years and (as with the last supper) he would frequently make corrections. It’s current appearance is due to several centuries of protective varnish tinged yellow by oxidation (very noticeable when you see the painting in person-that is if you can get close enough!). At the time, Mona Lisa was not Leonardo’s most famous work-the Sforza horse was. It certainly is not his most beautiful portrait that title belongs to his portrait of Ginevra de Benci. Over the years these other works have faded while Mona Lisa has become the world’s most famous painting. No other work of art has developed such a mystique. This comes partially from the fact that there is some disagreement about the identity of Mona Lisa. It also has to do with the painting’s interesting history. Leonardo carried Mona Lisa personally to France. Napoleon later hung it in his bedroom. Then, in 1911 it was stolen from the Louvre. “The thief was a thirty three year old Italian painter-decorator and petty criminal Vincenzo Perugia. He put the painting under his workman’s smock and walked out. A police hunt ensued, but despite his criminal record, and despite his having left a large thumb-print on the frame, Perugias’s name never came up. Among those suspected of involvement was Pablo Picasso. Perugia kept the painting hidden under his stove for more than two years and then in November 1913 he sent a letter to an antique dealer in Florence offering to return the Mona Lisa to Italy.” He was later arrested in Florence and sent to prison.
In 1504, Leonardo was fifty two years old and again living in Florence. He was called upon to be part of “an extraordinary committee to decide on the most convenient and congruous location in the city of Florence to place the marble giant”. Leonardo’s idea was to put it “somewhere in a corner where it won’t get in the way”. Leonardo’s view did not prevail and “the giant” known to us as “the David” was placed in the Palazzo Vecchio (a very prominent location in the city) where it stood for several centuries and where a nineteenth century replica now stands. It is clear that Leonardo felt threatened by Michelangelo and there were a couple of shouting matches between the two of them in the streets of Florence. It’s interesting to note that both were commissioned to do a “fresco of the enormous walls of the Florentine council hall” at the same time. One can only imagine what the anghiari Fresco would have looked like- a huge hall with Leonardo’s fresco on one side and Michelangelo’s on the other. They were there at the same time, both frescoes were to be of battle scenes (fitting because there certainly would have been battles between the two of them had they been there at the same time) They both did extensive preparatory drawings but neither finished their projects.
In 1516 at the age of sixty four, Leonardo took the longest journey of his life, crossed the alps with three of his paintings and became “the King’s painter” to king Francois I of France. King Francois was a mere twenty one years of age when they met and he adored Leonardo:
“Because the king was a man of such plentiful and great talents, he was completely besotted with those great virtues of Leonardo’s and took such pleasure in hearing him discourse that there were few days in the year when he was parted from him, which was one of the reasons why Leonardo did not manage to pursue to the end his miraculous studies. I cannot resist repeating the words which I heard the King say of him. He said he could never believe there was another man born of this world who knew as much as Leonardo and not only on sculpture, painting and architecture, and that he was truly a great philosopher”
It was here that Leonardo lived out his last days in a lovely manor-house at Cloux, now known as Clos Luce. We visited this place and the kids absolutely loved it. In the basement there were small models of Leonardo’s many inventions and on the walls were many of his famous sayings including one of my all time favorites:
That man is of supreme folly who always wants for fear
and his life flies away while he is still hoping to
enjoy the good things which he has with
extreme labor acquired.
Driving in Europe
I read a survey once that said “over eighty percent of people consider themselves above-average drivers”. I don’t. I’m not a very good driver. Not only can I not back up an RV, but I can’t parallel park and am often indecisive about whether or not to turn. It was therefore with great trepidation that I decided to drive in Europe.
Driving in England was not bad. Everyone thinks that driving on the left side of the road is difficult, but you get used to it fairly quickly. We picked the van up on the outskirts of London and drove through the countryside into York and Stratford upon Avon. We had problems driving in Bath; it’s an older city with a lot of one way streets and winding narrow roads. A big cause of anxiety there was in not knowing where we were going.
In order to ease that anxiety, we bought a GPS or “sat-nav” system in Paris. Ours was made by a company called “tom Tom” and came pre loaded with maps of Europe. For those of you who aren’t familiar, these devices are receivers for signals sent by global positioning satellites (G.P.S.). Once the receiver gets a clear signal from 3 satellites, it can get an exact fix on where you are by a process called triangulation. It then overlays this point onto a pre programmed map. The GPS can tell you exactly where you are, what direction you are travelling and how fast. It can efficiently guide you around towns you have never seen before and even guide you towards a gas station, hotel or restaurant. It speaks to you to tell you when you have a turn coming up. The British voice on ours sounded intelligent, confident and very re assuring. It seemed to say, “you may not know where you are, but I do”. Shackleton speaking to his men could not have sounded more convincing. Our British GPS voice even had a name- “Tim”.
France was my favorite country in which to drive. The roads were wide and well marked, the drivers polite. We went from Paris to Normandy to the Loire Valley. The toll roads were quite expensive sometimes a day’s driving would cost 60 Euros ($87). “Tim” was a big help, especially getting to some of the more remote locations, but his reliability was a problem. Sometimes he wouldn’t respond for hours. His mind seemed to wander and sometimes he would give us the wrong directions. He seemed to work when he “felt like it”. I began to wonder if he was really British at all. In fact, I began to suspect that Tim was actually Italian. As we were driving across the Eastern part of France and into Switzerland, Tim would give commands such as “in two hundred meters turn right”. He shocked us once by saying “turn left, now get on the ferry”. There was no water to be found let alone a ferry! It turns out that the “ferry” was a train that took us through the mountains from Switzerland into Italy. I was beginning to feel dependent on Tim -we no longer bought detailed maps and didn’t pay as close attention to where we were going. He was feeling more and more in charge of things-you could hear it in his voice.
I have heard that driving in Italy is not for the faint of heart-but the first week was okay. We were in the northern part-near Largo Maggiore and it went quite well. The key word in that last sentence was Northern. As you get closer and closer to Rome, the rules of the road begin to change. The white lines become purely decorative and driving on the shoulder or the sidewalk is considered acceptable. It’s also OK to park your car wherever you feel like, even in the middle of the road.
I observed that Italy has three basic types of drivers. The first type, watch the formula one races on Sunday. Before getting in their Fiat, they put on their driving gloves and little hat and then they drive fast down the autostrade in the left lane. They flash their lights at you to let you know that they are serious drivers (much more serious than you could ever be), so you better change lanes. As they pass, they kind of lean their car into you (like Karl Malone used to do) then they straddle the line in front of you-like they are carefully choosing which lane to drive in, but for now, they will take both.
The second type, are older men and women in little bitty dented cars who drive slower and with an attitude of learned helplessness (like those dogs that get shocked repeatedly in the psychology experiments). They seem to say “honk all you want, but please don’t hit me again”.
Last but not least are the scooters and motorcycles. Lanes truly have no meaning for them. They drive in and out of traffic, the wrong way up roads-on sidewalks etc. We actually saw a guy on a scooter with a propane tank on his lap, weaving in and out of traffic, talking on his cell phone and smoking all at the same time. The only rule that matters is that mufflers are strictly forbidden.
I was surprised then by how seamlessly Tim guides us into the heart of Rome to our hotel. It was a wonderful, low stress experience.
As we left our hotel on a rainy Wednesday morning and pulled into heavy Roman traffic, Tim suddenly decided to stop working. Surrounded by screaming motorcycles and drivers trying to make four lanes into six, true to his nature, Tim decided to take a siesta.
I try very hard to not swear in front of my children and am not at all proud of what happened next:
David: Jesus Christ, of all the times for him to stop working! Now when we need him the most.
(After ten minutes of aimless wandering, Tim finally got his voice back.)
Tim: In 200 meters bear left
David: Where were you when we needed you Tim?
Tim: In fifty meters turn left
David: If I turn left in fifty meters, I’ll drown the whole family in the God--mn Tiber River
Jill (the voice of reason): I think what he means is that if you go up a little further we can get turned around and headed back the right way
David: How can you trust this piece of s--t after the way he left us hanging? This whole thing has been a set up. He has gained our confidence only to let us down when we need him the most. That bas---d! We are getting out of Rome ourselves.
Jill (the voice of reason): well, he wasn’t working then and now he is.
David: I can’t believe you are taking his side! If he takes us over the Go---mned river again I’m stopping the car and throwing him in.
Jill (heavy sigh)We finally made it out of Rome with Tim’s help-but things will never be the same between us. I am a family man, and as such, I count it as a victory that I did not use the “f word” even once during my profanity- laced tirade. I am also pleased to report that I only crashed the car twice during our entire two weeks in Italy-minor collisions at that; no deaths, no serious injuries. I count that as a victory too
Boomtown in Oil City
October 7, 2007 Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai already has a flag, but if they asked me to design one, it would have to include two symbols: The crescent moon and the building crane. This incredible city is both devout and dynamic, a growing monument to both God and money. Dubai is one of seven small kingdoms that comprise the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). I’ll buy a steak dinner for the first person who can name the other 6 -without looking it up.
Dubai was a “last second addition” to the trip. In our original travel plans, we had not considered a stop anywhere in the middle East. However, our flight from Dar Es Salaam Tanzania to Paris had a twelve hour layover in Dubai. We figured that instead of sleeping at the airport we might as well stay a couple days. That way, even if we remained holed up in our hotel, at least we could rest comfortably. Except for the Dubai Open Golf tournament (Tiger Woods plays every year) none among us had ever heard of Dubai.
After two weeks in Tanzania, we had all become used to things not working; doors that don’t close , toilets that don’t flush, broken hot water heaters, mystery meat for dinner- we grew fond of saying “hakuna matata, T.I.A.” translated, “no problem this is Africa” Our last experience in Dar Es Salaam was typical-after flying from Zanzibar in a non air conditioned, “festival seating” propeller aircraft, we landed at the Dar Es Salaam gathered our luggage, tipped the luggage guy, the security guy and the lady in the burkha who was hosing out the mens room. Then, we headed for a one hour wait in “passport control” where they took ten minutes to look at our passports.
Our first clue that things were about to change should have been cool, clean, efficient Emirates Airlines which we flew from Dar Es Salaam to Dubai. Each economy class seatback boasts a full selection of free in flight movies, music and news. The food was delicious with a huge hot meal and a choice of entrees. Tommy and Cami got souvenir toys and backpacks.
A word about arriving into countries by air; After landing, you are required to go through passport control, claim your bags then head to customs . For instance, when we arrived in Heathrow airport (London) after an all night flight, we had a three hour wait to get to passport control. The passport control agents perform their tasks with a bureaucratic indifference and a complete lack of urgency-then you claim your luggage and head to customs. Passenger comfort and satisfaction are non issues, herded cattle are typically treated with more compassion.
Dubai is different. After landing, you walk down a well marked hallway (Arabic, English and French translations) to passport control where a polite, dishdasha clad Arab welcomes you to his majesty’s kingdom of Dubai and “hopes you will enjoy your all too brief visit”. Magically, your luggage is already waiting for you and so is a cheap, efficient taxi (gas is cheap and there is no tax here) to take you on clean new roads from the airport to your beautiful hotel. Wheels on the ground until head on the pillow a record-setting 75 minutes.
We visited Dubai during Ramadan. This is Islam’s most holy month and it occurs at a different time each year. The faithful are required to fast from both food and water from just before sunup until sundown (iftar) each day. It is amazing to see the thousands of fasting construction workers out in the hundred degree heat . Most restaurants and markets close during daylight hours and it is against the law to eat outside. It is very difficult to find alcohol anywhere. Ramadan is a nice time to visit, not just because we got to see this side of Islamic culture, but also because prices are dramatically cheaper. Few people travel at this time of year, so our hotel (Chelsea towers and suites) had a “Ramadan discount” the regular (non Ramadan rate) was $825 per night, but we only paid $225 . We spent the day at the “Wild Wadi Water Park” which boasts some of the biggest water slides in the world-the place is usually packed, but we had it all to ourselves.
Dubai is in the oil bidness- and in case you haven’t heard, bidness is good! That money all has to go somewhere and since they already have an indoor ski resort , a lot of it is going into real estate. Construction cranes are everywhere-even on top of the Burj Dubai (the tallest building on earth is getting taller) Real estate advertisements line the motor ways of Dubai and are the malls are full of designs for new developments such as the “Palm Jumeirah” and “the world” each more opulent than the one before. Unlike the “bridge to nowhere “design which has been in the Ketchikan Alaska mall for at least five years without ground ever being broken-construction in Dubai happens at a breakneck pace and there is no end in sight
Thanks to Jill for editing the following:
Balance in the Serengeti
The United Republic of Tanzania used to be two countries (Zanzibar and Tanganyika). The Zanzibar archipelago was infamous as a Portugese slave trading port. Arab slave traders rounded up the slaves and brought them to Stonetown Zanzibar where, under the most awful conditions imaginable, the Portugese sold them and loaded them onto ships. The Arabian influence is still greatly felt in Zanzibar- it is 80% Muslim whereas the mainland is 80% Christian. We were in Zanzibar during the month of Ramadan so we not only had the typical five times daily call to prayer, but the very loud 4;30 am wake up call to remind the faithful to eat before sunrise. We made our first big social faux pa of the trip by eating Twix bars (Cami’s dietary staple)and drinking warm Diet Coke on the streets while everyone else was fasting. When its slave trading days ended, Zanzibar became a British colony. The Brits initially handed control of Zanzibar to the Arabs in the early 1960s and a bloody revolution followed.
Tanganyika was initially colonized by the Germans. After World War I, the British made it a protectorate of sorts. Zanzibar and Tanganyika merged in 1964 to create Tanzania. Tanzania is home to over 120 tribes, but has been spared the civil strife that is commonplace throughout most of Africa. Much of the credit for this goes to Julius Nyerere-the father of Tanzania. Nyerere made Swahili the official language of Tanzania. All of those 120 plus tribes had their own language, but the common language of Swahili made it easier for them to trade, talk and inter marry.
Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. Our first night on safari, our campsite was over a corrugated metal wall from a place of abject poverty-there was the smell of charcoal fires and the sound of drums until late at night. Locals here can live fairly cheaply, but the places we have stayed have prices comparable to the USA and have no problem “stickin it to whitey”. In one of the most unforgettable sites on the trip we saw a young boy-probably no more than 6 years old, dirty, dressed in rags walking through a destitute village and talking on a cell phone! I am certain that his service was better than Cingular.
The unemployment rate in Zanzibar is a staggering 50% , yet you can walk the streets in relative safety. Imagine how terrible crime would be in Seattle or Salt Lake City with an unemployment rate that high.
Tanzania is an economic failure, but when it comes to biodiversity, it is unsurpassed. In the Arusha Airport (the main gateway to the major parks) there is a big sign that says “If western countries can get rich off our animals, why can’t we?” . It is clear that the Tanzanians want to use their remarkable fauna to make money. People will pay a lot of money to come to Tanzania to see the animals. Tourism is the business in Tanzania. Therefore, conservation of public lands is critical if Tanzania is going to improve its standard of living.
In the United States, different types of public lands have different missions. National forests, for instance are considered “lands of many uses”. People live in them, and resources, such as timber, are often harvested. These lands are administered by the department of agriculture. By contrast, Wilderness Areas are those places whose mission is to keep the impact of man as close to zero as possible. People are not allowed to live there and no man made” improvements “are allowed. Wilderness Areas are about preservation. National Parks are the most heavily trafficked public lands (the first one was Yellowstone). These are the finest gems in the whole jewelry store and as such they are proudly displayed with easy access. They have an educational mission as well. In the United States, national parks are about conservation.
Tanzania manages its public lands in a similar manner. Over twenty eight percent of the entire country is either a national park, reserve, or conservation area. Hunting and trapping is still allowed in game reserves. If you have seen a giraffe in the zoo, there is a good chance it will have come from Selous game reserve in southern Tanzania .
Ngorongoro Conservation area is unique in Tanzania. The seventeen mile diameter Ngorongoro Caldera has the greatest concentration of wildlife on the planet . It is home to over 25,000 animals and 50,000 people.
Those people are called the Maasai, and their ancestors have herded livestock in the crater for centuries. They continue to live there, but in the 1970s, in order to allow for tourism and game management, they had to make some compromises with Nyerere’s government. The Masaii are no longer permitted to live on the crater floor, but they can live on the rim. They are still allowed to bring their cows down to the crater to drink, but then they have to march them back out as soon as they are done. This is an all day trek for both the cows and the herdsmen. There was a time when prior to marriage, Maasai boys were required to kill a lion with a spear to prove their manhood. This tradition also had to stop (I’ll bet some of the boys were secretly very grateful for this). Because the Maasai pose no threat to the wildlife in the crater since they don’t hunt or eat them, they have been allowed to stay in the conservation areas. Their diet consists of the milk and meat from the animals that they herd. After a Maasai woman gives birth, she is given a mixture of cows blood and milk to drink. The blood is obtained from piercing the cow’s jugular with a spear. They then mix that blood with an equal volume of milk.
We had two interactions with the Maasai and they provide a nice illustration of the difference between culture and tourism. On our first day, we were hiking along the crater wall when we happened to meet a Maasai tribesman. He helped carry Cami through some thorn bushes, then took us back to his village where a whole bunch of little kids and Maasai mothers came out to great us. They were clearly surprised to see us. There was the usual hand gesturing between people who speak different languages. Jill took pictures of the Maasai kids (free of charge!) and there was genuine amazement on their part when she showed them the digital images of themselves on the camera. The second interaction was a planned “Maasai Cultural Tour” where we were greeted with singing and dancing and then ushered straight to the souvenir stand. Afterwards we went to a “school” which just happened to be in session at 6PM and the kids dutifully recited their ABCs and numbers for us. When we left, the next group was ushered in. We felt very fortunate for our first chance encounter with true Maasai culture and very much like suckers for our second “touristy” encounter.
Like the Amish in our country, the Maasai stubbornly cling to their old ways of doing things The Maasai are polygamous and a typical village will consist of a central house (where “da man” lives) and surrounding houses for various wives and children. Young cows will also live in with the wife until it is safe to let them out. The houses are straw huts with cow dung applied like stucco to the outside. The cooking takes place inside but there is no chimney. Needless to say there are no lights, running water or indoor plumbing.
Maasai men are tremendous outdoorsmen. Traveling in pairs and often barefoot, they can go all day in the tropical sun drinking almost no water.. They sleep outside wrapped only in the blanket that they wear as a cloak during the day with only a spear to protect them.
If Maasai men are tough, Maasai women are tougher still. The men herd the livestock, but the women do everything else. Maasai women have an incredibly hard life. Forced to undergo “circumcision” at age 9(which is now illegal but still occurs in secret) they gather the wood, collect the water, take care of the children. They also build the houses. If there is a leaky roof, or if anything else goes wrong, she can expect a beating from her husband.
In Tanzania’s national parks, no hunting is allowed and people may come only to observe and study the animals. No attempts are made at game management-the animals just have to work things out for themselves.
Serengeti is a Maasai word that means “endless plain”. It is the largest of the national parks and the most well-known. It has over 2 million animals. Admission to the park is US $30 per person per day unless you happen to be a Tanzanian citizen in which case it is $1.00(for some reason almost everything here is in US $) and only 790 people are allowed to sleep within the park per night. This ensures a wilderness feeling to the park and makes it so there are few traffic jams. We slept in budget tent camping accommodations throughout our safari. This consisted of an old canvas tent, a pit toilet. There was no running water, no power and no fence around the campground. We heard spotted hyenas outside of our tent both nights in the Serengeti.
The first thing that strikes you about the Serengeti is that the Maasai were correct, there are grasslands for as far as you can see. The next thing you notice are herbivores (the critters who eat the grass and the leaves). There are tons of them: Thompson and Grants Gazelles, zebras, hippos, wildebeests, giraffes, cape buffalo, dik-diks, and elephants to name but a few. You have to look carefully to see the carnivores (critters who eat the critters who eat the grass and leaves). Camouflage is incredibly important to them-cheetahs blend in seamlessly with the grass, leopards look like part of the trees. Then there are the carrion eaters (critters who clean up after the critters who eat the critters who eat the grass and leaves), hyenas, jackals and buzzards. Above them all sits the mighty “king of the jungle”.
As we drove into the Serengeti, our guide drove by some rocks and then hit the brakes and backed up. I have no idea how he saw them, but in a small crack there were four tiny lion cubs. Mom was out hunting and we watched the cubs for ten minutes before they disappeared into the rocks. A pride consists of a mature male, several females and cubs. Lion cubs stay as part of the pride for about 2 years. After that, the females stay longer while the male cubs go off on their own. If a new male takes over the pride, he will eat the cubs from the previous male (mmmmm cubs from previous male). Adult male lions are no good for hunting though. They are very powerful, but too big and slow to catch anything and their big mane gives their camouflage away. They spend their days lounging around and waiting for the females to bring home dinner. Lions will kill anything they can catch and will eat every animal they kill except for spotted hyena.The adult lion is the only animal in the Serengeti that can sleep soundly through the night (remember the song from the 70s?) knowing he or she will not be preyed upon. But, this does not mean they have an easy life. All of the animals that we saw looked well fed, except for the lions. Some of the females were skin and bones. To understand why, imagine that the next time you open your refrigerator for a snack- the cheese tries to bite you, the yogurt kicks you and the beer runs away at forty miles per hour. This is what the lion has to overcome in order to get food. There is never an easy meal for the king of the jungle. For the lion to have a chance, it must sneak undetected to within an animal’s “flight distance”. For example, if the lion wants to catch a gazelle, it must begin the race within about 20 yards and catch the gazelle within about 300 yards. If the race is longer than that, the gazelle wins every time. Older, younger or injured gazelles will have a longer flight distance and therefore will be easier for the lion to catch. One of the most unforgettable sites was a lion sitting at the base of a tree and a near perfect circle of gazelles surrounding it-each safely grazing just outside of flight distance. This race is a race that is run millions of times a day in the Serengeti. The lion wins just enough to keep from starving and just enough to keep the balance of animals staying as it has for
Lessons from Cicero and Alaska
The Roman civil war (circa 50 BC) was a time of tremendous anxiety for Marcus Tullius Cicero. Forced to choose between Caesar and Pompey, he chose the man he considered the “lesser of two evils”-Pompey. Unfortunately, Pompey was also the lesser of the two generals. After the war, Caesar, in all his greatness chose to forgive Cicero (unheard of at that time in history) and eventually Cicero was restored to the senate. To Cicero’s credit even though he owed his career and his very life to Caesar, he continued to oppose Caesar and work for the restoration of the Roman republic. After Caesar’s assassination, Cicero was targeted for assassination himself by Marc Antony. It was during this time that Cicero would frequently escape the intense political struggles in Rome for his Villa in Formaie- “for it is only here that I feel at peace”.
I am certainly no Cicero, but we do have one thing in common; for the last six years, 110 Raspberry Lane Ketchikan Alaska has been the one place on earth I have felt entirely content. The question then arises; “well if you like it so much, why don’t you move there?” The answer has more to do with human nature than it does weather, work, or even fishing. Ketchikan is special precisely because we are not there all the time. We never take the beauty or the bounty of Alaska for granted because we know our time there is brief. If we lived there full time, it would become habit and habit strangles joy. Our human nature quickly adapts to our environment and turns the extraordinary into the ordinary. That brings me to the point of this essay.
Think of a typical vacation, you go somewhere, spend a couple days slowing down, do a few fun things and then it’s time to go home-all the while wishing you had more time. The newness of your destination never fades. When we first started this adventure, I longed for the day when I would think of myself as an explorer, not as someone “taking a vacation”. As an explorer, I would have all the time I needed. Well, I have what I wished for, and a funny thing has happened; “Travel Planning” has become my job and it’s not always fun.
The logistics involved in traveling as a family are complex. We need space to do home schooling. We can’t go too fast or they tire out, can’t go too slow or they get bored. We need to keep to a budget so it can’t be too expensive. Things that would be simple at home are much more difficult; In Italy, for instance, everyone seems to want cash to pay for a place to stay and there is no way I have found to bank wire money from a bank where no one knows you. I’m not asking for sympathy here, my point is that anything-even something as fun as traveling around the world can become drudgery and therein lies the danger. Passion comes from newness and travel is all about exploring the new. It is “life under the microscope” with bigger joys and bigger disappointments than ordinary everyday life. But to do it well takes an explorer’s spirit- you have to be open to those new things or they will fly right by you. That is easy on a two week trip, but can become difficult after one hundred and seven days away from home. So on the bad days, I look to Joey for inspiration. He loves traveling even more than I do- is undaunted and always wants to explore and try new things. He invigorates our family when we need it the most
We have been on the road now for 52 days. The kids have managed even long trips with a minimum of fighting. I would like to attribute this harmony to our sublime parenting skills, but the truth of the matter is that during our long days in the car, the kids spend time watching movies, listening to their IPODs or playing PSP games.
We have not been troubled by homesickness and feel as though we have kept in touch with many friends (and even made a few new ones) through the website. . The ability to pay our bills online, send and receive e-mails, etc. has greatly simplified travel. Digital cameras have allowed us to take pictures and share them on the website the same day. All of this would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.
And yet, the unreliable nature of information technology has been the greatest frustration of our trip. Many places have "free wireless internet"-and yet for us it never seems to work. It takes several reboots in order for us to log on and even then we frequently get an error message that comes with a number and a prompt asking if we want to try to fix it (does anyone ever not want to fix it? why then do they ask?). This is followed by a screen that says they tried to fix it and can't so please contact our "administrator" (who the hell is that?) Our cellphone drops more calls than it completes, our fancy GPS navigation system is now a $350 dollar paperweight., our xm radio doesn't change channels, and we can't seem to get songs loaded on our IPODS very easily.
In a broad sense a pencil represents technology as well. Pencils were designed to lay down a reliably thin layer of graphite whenever they are applied to paper. They may break on occasion but (and this is the key) that break is easily fixable by someone without expert knowledge regarding their design and manufacture. Pencils are reliable. Pick anyone up-regardless of brand-and it will be "compatible" with any kind of paper you put beneath it. If someone steals your pencil, it is easily replaceable.
When we begin homeschooling in a few weeks, we will take books, paper and pencil. It isn't that we wouldn't like to take fancy laptops and DVDs it's just that we don't trust them.
My day at The Baseball Hall of fame
Before we departed Mesa, I would often be asked what United States destination I was most looking forward to. I would always answer “the baseball hall of fame in Cooperstown, New York”. Well yesterday my dream came true-only it was better than I ever thought.
The museum is in Cooperstown because that was the home of union civil war officer Andrew Doubleday who is given credit for inventing the game of baseball. It is a picturesque northeastern town in a rural area of New York (the closest big City is Albany). It has a classic “main street” with tasteful shops and restaurants, but no go Kart tracks or mini golf. There is a nice lake close by.
The outside of the museum is smaller than I expected and more understated. It opens at nine AM. I arrived at 8:30 expecting large crowds, but this wasn’t the case. There were probably 20 other people waiting, and I got right in. It costs $14.50 for adults and $5.00 for kids 12 and under. There were a lot of little league teams with their parents and coaches. I went by myself for the first 2 hours, then went back to the campground to pick up the boys and we stayed until 6:30. Jill and Cami spent the day boutiquing.
Before I go any further, I want everyone reading this to know that I am not some gushy aw-shucks baseball sentimentalist. I hated “The Natural” squirmed a lot, but managed to sit through “field of dreams” and loved “bull durham”. I am the first to admit that the game can be tedious. When it’s one hundred degrees in August and the Cardinals are ten games out of first place and playing the Pirates it drives me nuts that the game still takes three and a half hours! Does Tony LaRussa really have to bring in a washed up left hander to pitch to the Pirates left hander with two outs in the fifth inning of a five run game? But there are moments in baseball where the excitement is far beyond any other sport . One that comes to mind is Yankees vs Diamondbacks 2001 world series, game seven, bottom of the ninth inning. It’s a dramatic match up between teams; new vs old, teal vs pinstripes, the Yankees for once the sentimental favorite because of September 11. But look closer and you will see there is another match up going here: Leading off for the Diamondbacks is Mark Grace nearing the end of his career, in his first world series vs Mariano Rivera as close to unhittable as a pitcher can be. Grace is overmatched, but on the first pitch he guesses speed an location correctly and drives a single to left . The hall of fame reminds you of moments such as this. Time and again I would see something and get goose bumps:
Here are some things I learned during my visit:
-Election to the hall of fame is based on career achievement- not single game or single season achievement regardless of how great those may be. For instance, Roger Maris (61 home runs in 1961) is not a member. Jose Canseco (40 hr, 40 stolen bases) will likely not be elected to the hall of fame-but he is pictures in one of the exhibits on the Oakland A’s of the late 1980s.
-Pete Rose has not been elected to the hall of fame either, but he is found everywhere. I counted his picture 6 times and his name 13 times in various exhibits.
- Babe Ruth has his own room with one of his jerseys, multiple pictures, letters etc. Cy Young has a case all to himself, but most of these cases have to do with particular teams. For instance, there was a good sized exhibit on the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals with Darryl Porter’s Jersey, Vince Coleman’s spikes and pictures of John Tudor, Jack Clark and Willie McGee.
-There is a case that has an autographed ball from every no hit game that has been thrown since the 1950s. I have listened to or been at 4 of them:
9/26/83 Bob Forsch (STL) 3-0 over the Montreal Expos. I was sitting in my 1969 mustang outside the McDonalds by St. Louis University.
8/28/91 Dennis Marinez (Montreal) perfect game 2-0 over the Dodgers. I was driving my mother in law’s car back through Salt River canyon with Vin Scully fading in and out listening to this one
6/25/99 Jose Jimenez (STL) 1-0 over AZ diamondbacks. Went to that one with Jill
5/18/04 Randy Johnson (AZ) perfect game 1-0 over Atlanta. Like a good dad, I was sitting in the parking lot outside my daughter’s graduation recital from preschool listening on the radio
-Curt Schilling’s famous bloody world series sock is there and in this Dr.’s opinion, it looks like real blood.
-there are very few Cubs mentioned or pictured in the hall of fame. This is as it should be.
-Hank Aaron was awesome-his name is everywhere. 755 HRs, 3771 hits, 305 career average, 2297 RBI, 3 MVPs, 7 batting titles, 24 consecutive all star games. I wish I had appreciated his greatness more when he was playing
-Walking around the exhibits, you get a very clear sense of baseball history and how one era differs from the next. It kills me to say it, but I have no doubt that the last ten years will be remembered as “the steroid era” in baseball
We are now 32 days into the trip and our home for most of that time has been a 19 foot travel trailer. It weighs 3400 pound unloaded, has 2 fold out queen sized beds with a big seem in the middle of them. It has a refrigerator, stove, heater and microwave. We pull this with a 2005 Toyota Sienna van(V-6 motor)
I have done a lot of backpacking, but this is my first "camper experience". In his book "Travels with Charlie in search of America", John Steinbeck traveled the county in a recreational vehicle and predicted a time would come when we would all travel in trailers and hotels would become a thing of the past.
I am certainly no John Steinbeck, but here are my observations regarding life in a recreational vehicle:
Driving is completely different when you are towing a camper. As you can imagine, you don't accelerate as fast or brake as fast. It is tough to change lanes and parking is a nightmare. Things such as parking garages are out of the question. Even normal sized parking lots can be difficult if they are full of cars.
Towing a camper saves you a lot of money. The cost of an RV park is a fraction of a hotel room (typically around $30). Furthermore, in most states RV parks/camprgounds are exempt from those obnoxious taxes that municipalities always tack onto your hotel bill(occupancy tax, AZ Cardinals stadium tax, etc).
When you look carefully at travel expenses, one of the things that always kills you is the cost of dining out. For years, Jill and I have said, "we'll buy a cooler and go shopping then eat in the hotel room" but we never do. The RV changes that because you have a refrigerator full of food and when you get to a rest stop you pull out the bottom drawer of the fridge and a loaf of bread and you are ready to go with sandwiches.
Not to mention the fact that we always have a supply of cold drinks on hand and if someone needs to use the bathroom, we just pull over.
Granted you do pay more in fuel costs. We get about 20 miles per gallon without the RV and 9 miles per gallon with. So far we have traveled 3500 miles and gas is roughly $3.30 per gallon. That's an extra $175 roughly 2 nights at a Best Western.
There is a hierarchy of camgrounds. State parks tend to be beautiful with campsites spread far apart. They are my favorite. State parks tend to be wide open during the week, but filled to the brim on weekends. They have fewer facilities than KOA camprgounds and a cheaper in cost.
K.O.A. camprgounds are nice and clean. They run from $30-$50 per night. Frequently they have a pool and a gameroom. Sometimes breakfast is included. Lots of families and noise has not been a problem thus far. They have full hookups (for those un initiated folk like me, this means you can empty your crapper in real time and not have to haul it to a dump station).
At the bottom of the RV park food chain are places where people live permanently ("#3" stickers on the back of pickups is a clue that you are in a place like this). We have stayed in a few of these and they tend to be louder, dirtier and more likely to have a meth lab than a pool noted on the park map when you check in.
The great majority of RV travelers are very nice families who want to travel without spending a fortune. That makes it a nice fit for us-and when the day comes to sell the camper, I will genuinely miss having it.
6/24/07 day #25
6/4/07 Day # 4
A few surprises so far. I always thought that when we began this trip there would be this immense sense of freedom-but it wasn’t that way. When we drove north on AZ state route 87 heading for Woods’ Canyon Lake, we simply felt exhausted. After 5 years of preparation and a tumultuous last 2 weeks, it was nice to finally be on the road.
As for the van, so far, so good, it did well pulling the trailer al the way to Colorado, although at times the “instant fuel economy guage reads” 3 miles per gallon”. Given the $3.07 we paid for gas in Arizona, we figured a 2 mile long stretch of road cost us $6.14. The rest of the trip has been (so far) less expensive than we had hoped.
We seem to have made every possible mistake with the RV at woods canyon Lake: We ran the battery dead, ran out of gas in the generator, ran the car battery dead, ran out of water and over filled the “gray water”. Mike McClafflin was a huge help fixing all these things and we not only immensely enjoyed his family’s company we also deeply appreciated his common sense expertise which I so sorely lack.
On June 7th, we were heading west on I-70 between Glenwood Springs Colorado and Grand Junction Colorado when a tire blew on the camper. Jill figured out how to get the jack out of the van and I went to get the spare of the backside of the trailer. By the time I got the spare off and came around the other side, the lugnuts on the flat were already loose and she was commencing to crank up the jack . I was struck by the fact that on a hot day such as this, most women would have stayed in the passenger seat (with the AC on "high") but not my wife.
Yesterday on the way to Crescent city there was a sign that read "blueberries for sale". I happen to love blueberries, so I pulled the trailer into this little driveway lined with trees and bushes. The blueberries were delicious, but the trailer was stuck and so I got out of the driver's seat and had Jill drive it out. I have no clue how to back the trailer up even a few feet without having it jack-knife. This is a great source of amusement for the kids, by the way-but my absent mindedness in this regard has gotten us into some real predicaments.
Jill doesn't know I'm writing this, and I'm sure would be embarrassed if she did. I write it because the story of our trip would be woefully incomplete if you were unaware of her resourcefulness, her toughness and her kindness. I would also mention what a sex machine she is, but with five of us in a trailer that just isn't happening!
-Leave home at 4am. 6am southwest light to chi