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    Smiling for the camera

    October 10th, 2007 by steve

    This is us at the official Everest Base Camp sign in Tibet. John and I were already feeling the onslaught of AMS so just after this picture we got carted back to the tent and slumped down for the rest of the day. Even the next morning we were dosing in and out of consciousness so we drove down post haste. It wasn’t until noon, and 7000ft lower that we started to recover.

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    Everest, the Easy Way

    October 10th, 2007 by steve

    After Lhasa, we hopped into a 4×4 with our driver and government mandated and utterly useless “guide” for a 6 day trip through the countryside, out to Everest and on to the Nepal border. The landscape is so much more diverse than I imagined, and we saw only a small part. We started with the brilliant blue high mountain lake of Yadrok set against green hills and distant snowcapped peaks. We passed through sand dunes on our way to our first remote monastery. Unfortunately, remote here just means the hordes of tourists come together in big buses.Next stop, a monastery next to a fortress with a great dungeon. And there’s no rules here, just a ladder into the darkness. Even better, -nobody- visits the fortress so we’re all alone in the dark! Well, we hope we’re alone…After a few quality frontier ‘hotels’ we won’t talk about ever again, we closed in on Everest. The peak straddles the Tibet / China border and there is a “base camp” for climbing the on either side. The dubious ‘beauty’ of the Tibetan side is that you can drive a 4×4 right up to base camp and find a village of semi-permanent tent hotels and restaurants. And of course, the mountain jumps right out of the valley in front of you.Quomalangma as it is known here is a truly spectacular sight, but none of us see the sanity of risking your life to climb it.We had a little fun here when our guide and driver insisted we could not walk any further beyond the camp, even though we were pretty sure we could. So we did. A couple hour hike out, they meet up with us (in the 4×4) at a frontier police checkpoint and – call the cops on us! Seriously, other people are crossing a checkpoint without any interaction, but our wonderful guide actually gets us pulled into a guard shack where we argue over the validity of our permits and then they hold our passports to make sure we return! Actually, they finished by saying our permits were invalid and we needed to leave the country immediately. Good times. We continue on just a bit to a viewpoint and then return to catch our breath and our passports before heading down the hill to find a tent to spend a freezing night at 17,000 feet in.

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    Tibet, the New China

    October 10th, 2007 by steve

    Tibet is not an easy place to get to. It is part of China, although China requires multiple “permits” in addition to the standard Chinese visa to get aroud. Of course, you can’t get the permits anywhere other than Tibet (which you can’t get to legally without a permit), so you have to work with a travel agent or similar intermediary who will do the legwork for you. The point is that they want you to be on a guided tour at all times where your actions and interactions with Tibetans can be controlled. We followed a pretty common western tourist route from Lhasa to the foot of Everest and then on to the Nepal border and it required two or three separate permits. Apparently venturing out into the untouristed northern or eastern parts of the country is incredibly difficult.It all seems a bit pointless to me as the Chinafication of Tibet since absorption in 1957 seems utterly complete. Lhasa itself is something like 80% Chinese. The countryside is claimed as largely Tibetan, but that just means the Chinese run the shops while the Tibetans farm or sell sourvenirs to tourists. The serious pilgrims at the monasteries are entirely Tibetan, but the monks are all Chinese! Road and store signs are always written in Chinese and sometimes in Tibetan. It is sad to see a culture slowly erased, but I suppose that happens. The Chinese people who have moved here and taken over are just like any other people looking for better opportunities. It’s hard to blame anyone but a government trying to extend it’s borders. It just means if you travel to Tibet go in expecting China.

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    The Ballad of Denise and Dave’s Postcard

    October 10th, 2007 by steve

    Writing postcards is fun when you find just the right one for someone. You write the note, address later when you have the address book handy and off it goes when you’re lucky enough to find a stamp and postbox.So goes it with this uncanny visage of what could be Dave’s Han forefather, a Xi’an terracotta warrior general. Quite unfortunately, I made the oh-so-simple mistake of misaddressing the card (to ourselves!) when doing that job a couple days later. Ok, no problem. It’ll just wait until we get to Lhasa and I borrow some available double-sticky-sided tape, a slice of white paper and make my new address label. I grab a good pen to ensure legibility when writing out the new address.Then -BOOM, POW, KERSPLAT-. Ever open a rollerball pen that has seen a 17,000 foot change in altitude? So now the card is covered in ink; my hand is covered in ink; my FOOT is covered in ink. There’s a bit of ink on the bed and floor where my body, shirt and pants couldn’t protect. It’s carnage and Mary and John can only look and laugh. Within the hour, I’m cleaned up and the work is finished. Denise, Dave – I don’t know if this card will survive the Chinese postal inspectors, but know that truly unreasonable efforts were put into getting it to you.

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    When it rains, it pours

    September 29th, 2007 by steve

    I’ve had a lot of free time the last couple days, so there’s been some good progress on photos. Albums from Malaysia, including our scuba adventures with Peter and John are up.

    More exciting if you have plenty of bandwidth to steal from the boss, the video collection has quadrupled in size and is caught up through diving in Malaysia.

    Enjoy!

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    Live from the train to the roof of the world

    September 29th, 2007 by steve

    September 27th, depart Xining in Western China
    10:15pm The “hard sleeper” cars on this train are crazy. Six bunks stacked 3 high in a narrow compartment with no door.

    September 28th, somewhere on the rails to Lhasa
    6:30am A thin band of sky sandwiched between the endless horizon and the low clouds is glowing a radiant yellow as sun rises over Tibet.

    7am The cabin lights come on and the overhead speakers shout something at us before playing Chinese opera music. I guess it’s time to get up.

    10am We’re running through snowcapped peaks. I’m sure our photos will show nothing but the intense white of the snow fading into the soft white of the clouds that blanket us.
    12:15pm Mary and John can no longer handle the beauty. They retreat to their bunks to hide out for a while and see if they can shake the altitude sickness.

    2:30pm Some people absolutely love riding trains. I’m finding it totally frustrating. Every time I pick up a book or startup the laptop, some amazing scenery shows up and I have to run and get the camera. It’s really distracting. Worst part is that the only windows that open are in the bathrooms. Yech.

    3pm John is still sleeping and Mary feels a bit queasy. I had a little shortness of breath quite a while ago, but it’s been ok for a couple hours. I think we’ve already hit the 17,000 foot pass and should be heading back down, so hopefully they start feeling better soon.

    3:20pm I just finished a whole package of wasabi peas. I’ve already finished catching up on our China photos and there’s nothing left to do but eat and sleep!

    4:30pm The plains just go on and on. Mary and John are still feeling a bit unwell and are back into bed. It’s truly beautiful here, but it just keeps going! I’m almost bored with the constant beauty.
    6pm Mary is feeling worse and John is still asleep. I just put her on oxygen to fight the altitude sickness. I’ll go wake John up in a few minutes and get him on O2, too.

    8:30pm The sun has gone down and left a brilliant royal blue background to the black mountains around us. It’s a beautiful sight. Mary hasn’t gotten any better with the O2 and both of them are still asleep. It’s been a lonely day for me!

    September 29th – Lhasa
    12:15am Finally in bed! The train arrived by 11, but it took us half an hour to gather our gear (and Mary and John) and get out of the station. Luckily, the frantic hostel owner waited for us even though all other passengers and the train crew were already gone.

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    What the -bleep-?

    September 26th, 2007 by steve

    We’ve finally gotten off our butts and posted a few blogs for the last 6 weeks of travel that covers Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau and a bit of China.

    It wasn’t bad enough that it took so long for us to get moving, but when we did we found that the blog is banned in China. Apparently the Chinese censors can’t handle all the uncontrolled content at blogspot.com, so they just block everything. So that’s our excuse for the poor formatting (and writing?) in all the posts below – because we can’t see what we’re posting!

    That’s right, the blogspot domain is blocked so we can’t see our final posts, but the censors haven’t figured out that it is through blogger.com that all the objectionable content get’s put on the web. Yes, we have peeked at it through an anonymizer, but that’s just too slow and I’m too lazy…

    Better yet for you non-readers out there, the photo albums for Indonesia are posted. Just click on Indonesia in the itinerary list to the right.

    It’s well past my bedtime now, so go read the blogs. We wake up in a couple hours to fly east to Xining where we’ll catch the highest train in the world to Lhasa. Yay!

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    Steve’s happy Manta dance

    August 11th, 2007 by steve

    Most people that come to this speck of the world are divers because the waters around Derawan are known for their abundance of marine life, particularly manta rays. These have specifically eluded us in our underwater adventures so we were excited to have yet another chance to see them. Sangalaki island is the manta magnet with its constant currents, rich cloudy water, and numerous cleaning stations. We saw mantas on 3 out of 4 dives. But it’s not just seeing these graceful rays with 9 foot wingspans that’s amazing here but the fact that you can lay on the sandy bottom like coral and watch them hover over the cleaning stations just five feet away, basically reaching distance, for minutes at a time (an eternity for underwater viewing). As an intermission they swim a lap then come back for more.

    We even saw a rare all black manta up close. We inched towards him until we were almost directly below the edge of his wing.Our fingers dug into the sand trying to get enough grip to keep from being pulled away by the current. It felt like we were watching a Discovery channel show live while lounging on a sandy sofa under 50 feet of ocean. All we needed were the chips and dip. I guess we did have sashimi at our fingertips. Then he glided right over us so that his belly was 4 feet above our heads. He hung over us for a while as we stared up in awe from his shadow. Even the snorkelers saw 4 mantas. I thought I’d save you from watching Steve’s actual dance by not taking video.We did see some other cool things while diving here like a 7ft leopard shark that let us crawl up to his tail to get a closer look. Also a jawfish with eggs in its mouth, some frogfish, and schooling barracuda. Yeah, even if you didn’t include all the typical idealic island attributes like crystalline water, pristine strips of white sand spits (like the ones in brochures), and friendly natives this place was more than worth the effort. Get on the next plane!
    –Mary
    editor’s note: i did catch mary trying to draw the manta closer …

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    No earthquake for us!

    July 26th, 2007 by mary

    In case any of you caught the news about the 6.9 earthquake in Manado, Indonesia just wanted to let you know that we weren’t there at the time so need to worry. Actually we flew out one day before.

    Save your worrying for all the flights we had and will be taking on Indonesian airlines. They’re banned the world over for all kinds of recurring reasons; like flying with failed mechanic checks, no clearance from air traffic control, and planes that just ‘disappear’ in the air.

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    Be chased by a Komodo dragon – Check

    July 6th, 2007 by steve

    We pulled up to the pier and as the group walked to the entrance gate our cruise director Susana yelled for them to step back as everyone had walked to within 5ft of a dragon. No one had seen it and all of a sudden everyone jumped. We were all very excited and were able to get quite close to the sedate ten footer. That was also when the mozzies came out as half of us starting scratching uncontrollably. We walked to the ranger station and saw another big male laying on the low grass and again we didn’t see it until we were within tripping distance. There were 3 more conveniently outside the kitchen window. The dragons are so still, like Disneyland rocks, that you don’t take notice of them until they’re pointed out to you then you can’t figure out how you ever missed these menacing beasts. They’re rather evil looking lizards, even when they’re laying flat on their bellies. Their eyes look like they’re constantly following you. One month ago a local boy was mauled by one while relieving himself behind a tree and died soon after from all the rotting meat bacteria in the dragon’s saliva. Knowing this we kept our distance at first. Slowly we got braver with our proximity to them as they would at most lift their heads to follow us. At the end I was even brave/foolish enough to touch the big male on the tail. I thought that would be the peak of the excitement, silly me. On our way out we saw the dragon that met us at the gate had moved down the way around the rocky shore. Peter the Polish Canadian decided he wanted to toss some little fishies, 1 inch long, at the dragon to see if he could insight some reaction, any sign of life. Four of us inched to within 6ft of the ten foot long Komodo dragon. He had turned his head to regard us. One fish, two fish, three fish land right in front of his snout and he didn’t even blink. I turned off the video. Peter gives up and tosses the last one at the dragon. The dragon raises his head then feet and advances towards us. As someone had joking pointed out earlier, we didn’t have much of an exit path if the dragon decided to rush us. And he kept on coming, closing in on our cushion of safety. Knowing the dragons could run at 30mph we wasted no time to recognize we had dropped on the food chain and turned to bolt. I hobbled down the rocky shore imagining the dragon increasing its speed behind me. I looked back to see if it was still in pursuit and saw that he was advancing with his forked tongue leading the way. Steve had fallen off his precarious position, the water bottles were on the ground, and he was fumbling to get up. Granted he did stay behind the longest and got some good photos of the ‘attack’. I yelled for him to ‘leave the water!’ while I kept hopping over the rough rocks. One of my flip-flops broke and flew off, then the other so I continue on barefoot, ripping flesh off a big toe. At a safer distance I looked back over my shoulder and the dragon had stopped its pursuit and was glaring at us in his raised ready position. We hurried to the boat and every time we looked back the dragon was still on its feet watching us. Don’t worry we’re fine, and we’re sure to put the ‘Blair Witch’ style video of our chase online in the video library, eventually. It’s both lame and hysterical.
    –Mary

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