Akaka Falls

See the World for Free

The idea here is to TRAVEL THE WORLD regardless of time or budget. It dawned on me one day that even if I had unlimited time and money (which I definitley do not), I still couldn't see everything in the world that I'd like to see--I'm simply not going to live long enough to do it.

But I had a bit of brain wave and soon after the travel envelope was born. This is an actual physical envelope. I typed the name of every country in the world, plus every state in the US on little slips of paper which I then put into the envelope. In the beginning we (myself, my husband, Dave and daugher Catherine) would draw out a slip at random at the beginning of the month and that's where we would go---at least in our minds. We grab some books about the country from the library and put them in our bathroom to look at. We also check out some videos about the country if any. We check it out on googleearth, listen to the music, try the food, maybe even attempt to learn a dance or celebrate a festival.

After the first two years we discovered that even virtual traveling can be tiring, so we travel now whenever I happen to be in the mood.

It's great fun. I especially love it when people I meet have been to the place I'm "visiting" in real life, or get excited and have some virtual adventures of their own. I hope that anyone who comes across this blog will feel welcome to come with us on the trip!

You have a standing reservation to see it all!

Feb 6, 2010

Afghanistan Poem

From Rumi, an Afghan poet born in the 1200's.

The water said to the dirty one, "Come here."
The dirty one said, "I am too ashamed."
The water replied: "How will your shame be washed away without me?"

Feb 5, 2010

Afghanistan oppression

ooooffff.  The Bookseller of Kabul remains fascinating, but the author has described how the Taliban went through the country destroying the museums and everything in them.  She left out just enough so that my imagination went wild graphically supplying the details.  I feel sick to my stomach.

Feb 4, 2010

Afghanistan February 2009

Catherine shook the envelope and drew out......drum roll......AFGHANISTAN!!
      Okay, so it's probably the last place on earth I'd like to visit right now in real life---but what a great chance to visit in virtual reality.  A beautiful mosque graces the background of my computer at work, and I'm determined to get at least a partial grip on some current events and maybe we can write to some soldiers as a family project.
       Today I went to the library after work and picked up four children's books (lots of pictures) about Afghanistan, a dvd about a midwife, and the book, "The Bookseller of Kabul" by Asne Seierstad.  I read a little while riding the stationary bike and am fascinated.  I sense many future posts will be about this book.  Just a few pages in and already the middle-aged bookseller has taken a second wife (16) without the permission of the first wife.

Feb 3, 2010

December 2009 Merry Christmas

We decided early on to take December off from our travels--well, our Christmases usually  have a distinctly German flair anyway due to my heritage.  But Christmas is just too crazy.  So, be sure to check out Norad's Santa Tracker on the internet every year to see when Santa's coming to visit you.   

New Mexico November 2009

Having grown up in Utah, New Mexico is close enough that it qualifies as an officially “boring” place in my mind. It isn’t though. For starters there is Carlsbad Caverns. Unfortunately located at the bottom of the state and therefore as far as possible from us, but what a cool place it would be to visit! There are multiple tours you can take depending on how adventurous you are. Something like 100,000 bats live there and you can watch them fly out of the caves at sunset.

Also, there is the UFO museum at Roswell. And the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque.

One of the things I enjoyed most about visiting this state was a children’s book I found called (I think), Pueblo Storyteller. It’s a picture book featuring a modern Indian girl and the culture of her life. Her relatives make figures from clay—specifically the famous “storyteller” figures. You may have seen these—a large seated man or woman (some cuter than others) with children all over them. The thing I loved about the book is that it showed how to truly make these figures from scratch. First the girl and her grandfather dug up the clay from near the river, then they mixed it to the right consistency with sand. Then they modeled the figures—then they fired the clay. Then the cool part---they built a one time kiln with sticks and dried cow pats. The clay goes in the middle then they light the whole thing on fire. It burns for quite awhile and when the fire goes out the figurines are ready for painting---with paints and dyes made from native plants of course.

I love crafts, especially low-tech ones. These pictures went straight to my heart.

Actually I do have a special memory of New Mexico. We lived in Texas for several years and Catherine and I both struggled mightily with respiratory problems due to the heat, humidity and pollution of the Houston area. Eventually we moved to Colorado. Catherine and I came on ahead to scout for an apartment. This was summertime but when I pulled into a rest stop in New Mexico, I got out of the car and the air was cool and suddenly I felt like I could breathe. It felt amazing. Catherine perked up too, we stayed for a snack and she bought a little dream-catcher at the gift shop that hung over her bed for years. The next morning I stepped out of our hotel room and even though it was August, I needed a sweatshirt. Pure paradise.

There are endless books of scenic photography taken in New Mexico, and since my imaginary self rides horses very well, I promptly took off into the sunset.

Nicaragua October 2009

Not exactly what springs to mind when one thinks of a vacation paradise, but apparently even Nicaragua has a tourist industry. But don’t go to the capitol city Managua!

For some reason Managua is the only place in the world that doesn’t use miles, kilometers or even North, South, East or West. Everything is relative. The use their own form of measurement (which I have forgotten) and directions sound like this, “Go three mm’s (mystery measurement) to the church and turn left, then 9 mm’s to Carlo’s house and veer right again…. This goes on for pages. The problem is that the city was wiped out by an earthquake in the 70’s and mostly never rebuilt. So the church is now a Laundromat, and Carlo’s house is gone. And if you think you’ll just simplify things by walking and asking directions at every intersection forget it. The sun is boiling hot, everything is miles and miles apart, and all the missing manhole covers make any walk treacherous.

You know how tourist guide books put a positive spin on everything? Well Fodor’s couldn’t manage to find anything much to say about Managua. Fly in and get out is their advice.

My readings on this country were a bit schizophrenic. I tried to nail down once and for all who the Sandinistas were and why the US was involved in that mess. Wish I could tell you, but I only managed to move from a thick mental fog to a slightly thinner one. On the other hand, since the only thing I associated with Nicaragua was war, I went out of my way to look at pictures of anything else. It is a beautiful country.

To celebrate Nicaragua we invited my sister and nephew up for a dinner of carne asada with two kinds of pico de gallo. I made one version with a habenero pepper and one without, but I was too timid with the habenero and both versions turned out pretty mild. For dessert we had “pastille de los tres leches” or cake of the three milks. This dessert originated in Nicaragua and has become so popular that versions of it can be found all over Latin America. It’s basically a white cake made with a whole lot of eggs. When the cake is cooked, you take it out and make hundreds of little holes in it with a skewer. Then you pour a mix of whole milk, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk over the whole thing and let it sit. The cake is extremely moist, very dense and just very plain. I took most of it to work and fed it to the office.

Malawi September 2009

     It took us a good while to find Malawi on the map.  I thought I'd never heard of the country, but Dave pointed out that that's where Madonna adopted some children from.  Okaaaaaay.  Armed with that information, we were set to explore!  
     Unlike other poor countries, the pictures I found of Malawi didn't look wretched.  They looked charming.  Probably this is because the country borders on a huge lake and has some mountains and valleys that look a bit like Switzerland.  It IS a desperatley poor place however quaint looking.  The guide books repeatedly warn travelers about difficulties getting from anywhere to anywhere. "Drivers are often drunk" is a common problem apparently.  Still, it would be a fantastic adventure to go there.  The thing to do--according to the book 1001 Places to See Before You Die, is to book a three week water excursion.  Everything is included and you can probably see more of the country that way than any other. 
    I learned a little about the game Mancala.  Some of the version in Malawi are much more complicated than what we typically play here.  But the game is supposed to represent seeds and birds.  On your turn you represent the farmer planting the seeds in your own field and the bird gobbling up the seeds of your opponent.  I never knew that!
    We also checked out a huge coffee table book on African Textiles.  I was especially fascinated with the batik style designes which are made in much the same way as Ukranian easter eggs (a hobby).  I'd like to feel the fabric made this way--is it really stiff?
     For dinner I made a stew with lamb meat and pumpkin---very rich, and some deep-fried yam balls. Also yummy, but not worth the calories.  Dessert was a baked banana dish which surprised me---very tasty and I don't usually like baked bananas.   Most meals in Malawi are eaten outdoors around the fire.  I didn't have a fire pit, but we did spread some blankets in the backyard and had a picnic.

Break August 2009

We took a break in August to shake the sand out of our clothes and let Catherine recover from jet-lag.

Turkey July 2009

Turkey was a virtual trip for me and Dave, but Catherine actually got to spend two weeks there for free! She was selected to go as part of a group invited by the Turkish Department of Education in a program called, “Teaching Tolerance through English.” As it happened we got back from Mexico on Monday (where she came down with the flu—probably the swine flu) and she was due to leave for Turkey on Friday morning. Thanks to Tamiflu she was able to stagger onto the plane.

Knowing virtually nothing about Turkey, other than that it borders on Iran. We were at first a little hesitant about the trip. No need. Turns out Turkey is a vacation paradise with the Mediterranean Sea and all kinds of fascinating places to explore. Catherine was housed in a school in the town of Canakale. Her room came complete with Smurfs on the walls—so much for the mystique of the Orient.

We have GOT to all go to Turkey someday. The street vendors and the spice market look fantastic. There’s the blue mosque in Istanbul (which is half European and half Asian), plus there are whole ancient underground cities. Catherine got to see some neat stuff, like the Trojan horse (Brad Pitt wasn’t there though), but the group she was with was too large to see everything she would have liked. And we went about crazy because there were problems with the internet connections and the phone at the school so we hardly heard from her at all.

To ease our extreme jealousy she brought us spices, Turkish delight, official protection from the evil-eye (handy!), and a gorgeous little lamp—not magic, but pretty just the same.

Definitely we have to go to Turkey in real life.