Thursday, February 27, 2014

Our First Trip to South America

Finally Off!

It's been hectic, but things have come together, and we're about ready to head off to the airport. Kathy's mom is doing much better and may be out of the PT unit soon.  She has friends who will take her to the doctor.  Kathy's brother, Steve, is also doing well.  

With most of our work and volunteer commitments done, we're ready to kick back and enjoy. It's 87 in Iquitos, Peru on the Amazon where we will be in about 26 hours.  We've been to Asia quite a bit, so this whole South America thing is a a new adventure for us.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Chipping Away at the "Bucket List" and Seizing Opportunities While We Still Can

We're in a sweet spot right now.  Our daughters have long flown the coop; Kathy's 89-year old mom is (was) in decent health in an independent living facility; we have more flexibility with our work and volunteer commitments; and we're in very good health, if you don't count aches and pains.  So when opportunities present themselves, we decided that our prime directive should be to take advantage of them. We may not have a second chance to do so.

As we were packing for an REI bicycle trip in Vietnam and a side trip to Cambodia with our daughters and some friends, a friend presented an opportunity to join his small group on three-week  trip to the upper Amazon, Machu Picchu, and the Galapagos. We're not organized tour types--especially not 'curizers'--and we just about choked on the price.  But if not now now, then when? 

So on the 27th we depart the rain and fog of Salem, OR for the low and high elevation tropics. We'll get more excited as we get some major volunteer and work projects out of the way. Stay tuned, and we'll update you as we can.  Meanwhile, we'll post some dispatches from our Vietnam/Cambodia trip before we leave.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Things That Weren't On Our Bucket List

It's More Than About A Bucket List--It's about Other Things That Weren't On Our List

Long day, but like with our kids in the old days, it was a day of 'divide and conquer.' Kathy spent several hours at Salem Hospital getting them to discharge her mother. Talk about bureaucracy! Finally at 4:00, I took her out to the physical therapy/assisted unit at Dallas Retirement Center. Went to her apartment, got clothes, watered her plants, responded to phone voice mails, got her mail, talked with all the curious residents, met with the intake people, helped her revise er POLST form, labeled all of her clothing with a Sharpie (weird!), got the TV-hearing aid amplifier set up. She's doing much better, but gets confused easily and is still unstable while walking--but at least she can walk and stand, as you can see by the photo of her seashells in the game room, of which she is very proud. Home by 7:30. She'll be in excellent hands after we leave for Peru and Ecuador on Thursday.  Now, to finish our day-job obligations and finish packing!  Obviously, dealing with Doris' health events over the past few days wasn't on our bucket list, but they are a part of an aging boomer's mid-life adventures.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Counting down--Controlled Chaos

Count down--Controlled Chaos

We're finally getting packed.  Running errands, trying to find our aqua socks, vaccination records, and mosquito nets; and realizing that we are taking way too much.  Looks like we will have to check a bag.

In the midst of all of this, Kathy's mom suffered a mild occipital stroke Thursday evening. So we're dealing with that.  Hopefully she can move to a rehab facility right next to her independent living facility in Dallas, OR Monday morning.  She will be in good hands.  Meanwhile, Kathy's brother returned from Paris and was in surgery today to remove a kidney stone. His sons in Portland can help him.  So glad none of this happened the day before we leave. And oh yeahh--did we mention that Kathy's computer keeps getting blue-screen crashes?  

Backing up the Truck--Vietnam and Cambodia

Backing up the Truck
(For those of you who missed our Facebook posts or email dispatches, here is a recap of our few dispatches from Vietnam and Cambodia.)
Sunday afternoon, December 1, Da Lat (the cool SE highlands)
Greetings from Warm, beautiful, and friendly Vietnam:
The flights were long and uneventful, but we made it to Ho Chi Minh City (called Saigon by everyone but government officials in Hanoi) late Thanksgiving day.  It was a delight to wake up early the next day and see the city of 8 million people and 3 million motorcycles come alive.  We hired a private guide tour with our friends from Spokane, touring back alleys and even going to the top of the former CIA building where people were frantic to get aboard the last helicopter out in 1975.  It is now surrounded by much taller office buildings, hotels, and apartments. Shanti and Skyler arrived at different times, and it was great to be with them again.

We loved Saigon for its energy, public parks, and strange blend of Asia and colonial France.  It's clean and the people are friendly.  The food and traffic are amazing, but unlike Bangalore, the traffic flows.  One simply steps out into the street and the hundreds of motorcycles avoid you.  
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) Temple
Out for a Sunday outing to look at Christmas decorations.
After getting up at 4:00 AM today, we took a short flight to the highlands to Da Lat..  It's a mountainous tourist area for Vietnamese who want to escape the heat.  We're staying in a very nice, but deserted villa.  We rode about 21 miles today, stopping for tooth-enamel-eating coffee and later for some delightful Pho. The traffic was a little nerve-wracking at first, but we just go with the flow.  Shanti and I are taking it easy this afternoon, but Kathy and Skyler went into town to explore and visit the markets.  Tomorrow we have a 62 mile ride to the coast.  The two guides are fun and knowledgeable, and the 12 of us tourists from the NW get along well and are fortunately all about in the same physical shape. 
The Kelemen Klan
Kathy the Cow Piper
December 8
Hue, Vietnam
When we went to a Salem Travel Club presentation about Vietnam last month, the presenter was asked "What are the downsides of going to Vietnam?"  He replied, "None!"  Some other members of the audience who had also been to Vietnam echoed his comments.  And now Kathy and I join the chorus.  The scenery, the food, the accommodations, and above all, the people are all delightful. as are our traveling companions and our REI Adventures bicycle guides.
Yesterday, after a day layover in the beautiful city of Hoi Ann, we bicycled along the 20-mile Da Nang (China) Beach, then climbed a 1500 foot pass in 6 miles, followed by a fun 7 mile descent back down to the coast.  After lunch we biked through over 20 miles of elaborate cemeteries, where the markers were more elaborate and expensive than the homes next to them.  Ancestors and family are everything in this culture.  
December 6 was an emotional morning as we experienced the news of Nelson Mandela's death and a visit to the site of the shameful 1968 Mei Lai massacre.  We were granted a rare interview with one of the seven remaining survivors.  He was 11 at the time and only survived because his siblings and parents' dead bodies shielded him.  Mr. Comg bore no ill towards Americans, and thus, like Nelson Mandela, he is living proof of the redemptive power of forgiveness.  I still marvel at how Vietnam and its people have seemed to get over the war and move on.
We travel mostly on rough remote rodes where tourists are seldom seen.  The bus transports us and our bikes through the dangerous Highway 1 traffic.  Today, after a tour of Hue (the site of the Tet Offensive), we fly to Hanoi.  And then tomorrow or the day after that, we bicycle to a village and stay with a family.  
Coming down the Hue pass
 Miles and miles of grave markers
Every meal is a new adventure.  Everyone is healthy, we put ice in our drinks, especially the strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk.  It can almost dissolve the stirring spoon!  We have our aches and pains, but they seem insignificant compared to the whole experienced.   If there were downsides to Vietnam, they  would be the plastic litter in the countryside, and air quality, which is starting to take a toll when we need to use our lungs so much.  Most of the Vietnamese wear face masks, both to keep their skin from tanning too much (lighter skin is highly valued) and to help protect against the air quality.  I think I'll buy a couple fashionable ones for my bike rides in the cold mornings back home.  
Hope you are all staying warm and are enjoying the holidays.  It seems so wierd to hear Bing Crosby or Frosty the Snowman in tropical 80 degree weather!
December 9  Hanoi
Today we are leaving Hanoi this morning on a 4-hour bus ride to the top of a 3,000 foot pass, then a 20-mile ride to our home stays with a Vietnamese family.  Will miss our very nice hotel in Hanoi.  These were my thoughts last night:
40 years ago I would  have never guessed that I'd be on a Boeing jet  to Hanoi, having a delightful conversation with a 38-year old Vietnanese factory supervisor named Susan, then having a fabulous dinner with a fine Chilean cabernet and  conversation with our tour hides whose fathers served in the North Vietnanese army, then going to a Citibank ATM (totally unimaginable in 1973), finally strolling through the French quarter to our hotel with Jack Daniels in the mini bar and a big screen TV playing Stephen Colbert.    The future had been good. 20 years  from now, I hope my unborn grandchildren can say similar things about Baghdad and Kabul.
Christmas Time in Hanoi
Want to see more?  Here's a link to some selected photos:
December 15
Siem Reap, Cambodia
It's 10:00 Am Monday, and probably 7:00 PM Sunday on the west coast.  Kathy and Shanti are asleep.  Skyler is now back in Boston, and I am at our one-half star hotel's computer that has a floppy disk drive, but no port for a thumb drive.  Kathy came down with a bad cold and sore throat, so she did not get up at 4;30 to catch the 6:00 AM sunrise at the magnificent Angkor Wat temple.  It was definitely worth it, but apparently, many other tourists thought the same way. 
Cambodia is a very hot, humid, and relaxing place, compared to cool, bustling, and polluted Hanoi, which we also liked very much.  It's definitely less developed and a much poorer country than Vietnam.   It's a matriarchal society, so the women are more casual in their apparel and everything just seems more mellow.  Our private guide takes us over rough roads where many don't go.  We've seen some amazing things here, including the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed.  Yesterday we went to a floating fishing village by muddy road, then a half hour small wooden boat ride. 
At night, this town comes alive.  Quite the bustling nightlife, open-air restaurant, and bar scene.  Thousands of tourists, mostly from Japan, China, Korea, and Australia.  Lots of young backpackers in short-shorts and skimpy tops, which don't play well at the temples. After Kathy and I went to bed last night, Shanti went out by herself and enjoyed the nightlife.  Ahhh, to be young again, but hey, I'm the one who is still up and about.  We'll have drinks and dinner tonight with some friends from our Vietnam trip, who are with a different guide company.  This whole trip has been quite a social event. 
We depart Tuesday evening to Saigon, the to Seoul for a-hour layover, then to Seattle, then to PDX.  By crossing the dateline, we get back Wednesday afternoon.   We'll miss this place, but I'm looking forward to getting back to my normal life. 
And good news:  It looks like books sales have taken off, following this nice article in the Oregonian yesterday.
Hope this finds you all well and in the holiday spirit.