Recently in Travel Category

The Ask

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Last week I spent the afternoon wandering around the Great Pyramids in Giza. Several years ago, I got to see them on a visit to Cairo, and we rode camels out to them, which meant that we came in the back way. It also meant that we had already committed to some kind of alternative transportation (that is, besides walking).

This time, we walked up to the pyramids on foot. That meant that we were fair game for all of the purveyors of transportation: the camel and horse and horse-drawn-cart sellers who--it seems--go on as far as the eye can see, all the way to the base of the pyramids, which rise shockingly from the desert and by themselves justify the trouble.

They do justify the trouble, too. Because they are so hard to believe, and yet there they are, both larger and smaller than you expect them to be. They've been there for century upon century, and standing there staring at them (while you tell yet another man on a camel that you'd really prefer to walk) it's hard to avoid thinking about all of the people who have stood there in the same spot, thinking the same kinds of thoughts.

I'm really grateful for spaces that take us back into the past, that remind us that history is long and slow and our lives are short and the years flash by like sand in the wind. But I'm grateful, too, that the earth is rich with beauty--amazing, astonishing beauty--that doesn't require you to learn how to say "halas" to a man on a camel.

Uncommon Experiences

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So my stay in Bangkok is short-lived, like every other stop on this trip. I've got work to do, so it's not really about seeing the sights.

But you know me. I'm doing my best to get a little taste of every place--making my best guess at where to go and what to do.

Here in Bangkok--which is an overwhelmingly huge city, with no discernible city center--I just rode the skytrain to a gargantuan mall (very very Bangkok) and wandered around the indoor canal, staring unabashedly at the incredible burgeoning Thai middle class.

And then I rode the train back to the hotel (short trip, remember) and jumped in the huge pool. It's dark out and there are plenty of bugs (we may be in a huge city, but we're still in Thailand) so there are bats out there, and there were several--maybe four or five--who were flying around just above the waterline, buzzing around my head and hopefully catching the majority of the bugs who were probably hunting me.


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Hong KongI was really nervous about travel this time around--which isn't normal for me. But it's been a while since I've been on the road alone, and while the parts of Asia I'm visiting have pretty sizable English-speaking populations, I have this fear of being alone in an airport, completely unable to get myself to a hotel or on a plane or anything at all.

That fear isn't totally unfounded. It almost happened to me earlier this year in Villavicencio, Colombia, where the plane I was supposed to catch to Bogotá was canceled, and no one in the entire airport (if you could even call it that) spoke English. I got myself a juice at a little cafe and patiently (and hopefully) called the team I had been traveling with. Fortunately, they were still around and I just joined up with them and headed home. But the thought of negotiating a new plane flight in Spanish (which I speak, but not very well . . . certainly not well enough to arrange that transaction) was more than just daunting--it was terrifying.

I haven't felt that alone in a long time, and it was the worst kind of alone--alone, surrounded by people.

There's this girl named Carly who was recently in a serious accident and who is recovering amazingly (miraculously, even) but who cannot communicate yet with her family. She is an old, dear friend of some of the finest people I know.

I don't know her, but I think that moment in Villavicencio--when I was surrounded by people who wanted to help me, but we couldn't seem to get the words to mean anything to each other--that moment is probably something like what she is experiencing now. It's the experience I don't want to have in Singapore, or Chiang Mai, or Shanghai.

Traveling is an adventure. It's a privilege that I get to do it at all, even though I miss my family fiercely while I'm away. But it's also a challenge, and there are moments that are utterly terrifying. I wouldn't trade the adventure to avoid the fear, though. I guess that's just how it is.

I'm still at the Streaming Media West conference, on a break and preparing to make the trip to Mountain View to visit Lars and Anne. Just now, I'm sitting at a table in the middle of the convention center, very close to the wireless node that is providing Internet access to a pretty sizeable chunk of geeks, nerds, and geeky nerds in suits (the business types).

It's day two, the sessions weren't particularly exciting today, and I'm a bit worn down. So I just threw on my headphones and put on Frou Frou. Amazing! Suddenly everything is much better. Honestly, I could sit here for hours watching streaming media types walk back and forth from session to session without getting bored. That says something about the music, doesn't it? It helps me focus, and it makes everything more beautiful.

And that is beautiful.

I'm spending the week in San Jose, at the Streaming Media West 2006 conference. It's very interesting, and my time here has been productive. We're talking about video deployed through the Internet to multiple devices -- primarily PCs, but also mobile phones, iPods, etc.

Since I have a lot of experience with Flash, and Flash Video is one of the fastest growing formats used to deliver all of this content, my past life touches the edge of "streaming media," but just barely. The world has changed in the last 5 years, and the "bleeding edge" work I was doing way back when with Flying Rhinoceros is old hat now. Drag and drop, and boom you've got a video interface in Flash.

The one bonus is that I get to see Lars and Anne tonight, and I'll get to meet Kira for the first time. Having Zoe around has helped me to appreciate all of the beautiful children my friends are having. I miss my daughter, and seeing Kira and her wonderful parents should help to dull the "where's my daughter" ache a bit.

I thought about going to In-N-Out Burger for lunch today, but they provided a box. Maybe I'll make the trip tomorrow. It's rare that I'm in Cali (or even out West) these days, so I have to take advantage when I can.

Sorry that this is such a boring update. I've been swamped at work, and all of my time at home is focused on my daughter and my wife, or on recovering from work and family commitments.

Hiking, anyone?

Cape Town

In May and April this year, I was back in South Africa ("back" because I was there in 2005, too). It was a crazy trip: I spent eight working days there: two in Mpumalanga, two in East London, two in Cape Town, and two in the Free State. There wasn't much time for picture-taking, and I was working very hard (interviewing people, which was fascinating . . . but that's another story). Lucky for me, there was one moment of rest, in Cape Town, when I was able to explore the city a bit.

It's an amazing place, a jumble of mountains, oceans, and city, with a rich, lively culture. I loved it, and I hope I get to go back another time with more time to explore.

As it was, I spent the first day there driving around the cape, getting a good look at all of the ways the city reaches into the ocean and up into valleys between the crags.

The second day, I was planning on taking a tram to the top of Table Mountain. But when I parked, the man who was watching the cars asked me if I was planning on climbing.

He pointed to a trailhead, and said, "it takes about three hours, most of the time."

I'm completely out of shape, but I couldn't resist. I hadn't been hiking in years. (YEARS. Isn't that awful?)

So I grabbed a bottle of water (not enough, by far) and huffed my way up the mountain. It wasn't technical, but it was definitely a climb. It took me four hours (not bad for a fat guy who hasn't even been on his bike in the last year) and it's impossible to express how incredible it was to see Cape Town from the side of the mountain.

joburg or bust

So here's the news: I'm leaving for Johannesburg in the morning. I'll be arriving there (after a quick stopover in Atlanta and a few moments on some island to refuel the plane) on Wednesday morning. I'm going there on business, so I won't be much of a tourist, but let's face it, I'm a tourist -- in the warmest and most generously positive terms -- wherever I go, for whatever reason.

So I'm going to do my best to take lots of pictures, and if I catch any good ones, they'll go up in my flickr photostream.

Okay, I'm off to pack.

back from germany

It's the middle of the week, I'm just now recovering from jet lag, and Amy is in Kentucky until the 23rd.

Yesterday, on my way back from lunch, I drove right by one of the many shelters in Portland that serve lunch to the city's homeless. The line wrapped around the block.

Amy's plane had a difficult time landing in Kentucky. The weather was horrible, she said, and the plane was bouncing around in the sky in ways that commercial jets shouldn't bounce.

When I pulled up to the light and looked to my left at the long line of my hungry and homeless neighbors, I thought about what it used to be like when I lived downtown. Every day, I encountered people like this -- people living on the street, for whatever reason. Sometimes they asked me for money. And sometimes I gave it to them. More often than not, we just ignored each other.

The cats across the street -- the strays we feed every day -- were really glad to see me. There was a six-day period between Amy's departure and my arrival. Dad fed them at least once while we were gone, but I'm sure they were hungry. The one with the scratchy voice was really vocal. I don't know if she was happy to see me, or if she was angry that I'd been gone for so long.

The funny thing about Germany: I never saw a single homeless person. Granted, we didn't visit any of the really big towns: Berlin or Munich or Frankfurt. And we were right smack in the middle of one of the richest parts of the country. It's strange though. When you don't see people suffering (though they are suffering, the world over) it's hard to think of them at all.

I had to wait a long time to hear from Amy after her flight, because of the time difference. So there were hours there when I was wandering around Europe just hoping that she was okay. It may have been difficult, but she made it. Thank God. I would give anything for her.

And yesterday, I drove right by a line (stretched around the block) of people in need. What is my responsibility to them?


Annemarie and Aaron planned a lakeside wedding, but the weather didn't cooperate. Instead, we packed snugly into the dining hall while the rain poured outside. Thunder pounded during their vows. It was absolutely perfect. Beautiful.

On Sunday morning, Amy and I had breakfast in Bellingham. We stayed in a B & B on North Garden street--a huge Victorian house with small (but quite comfortable) rooms.

We drove to Vancouver and spent the day tooling around the city. Amy had never been to Canada.

And we spent two hours waiting in line to get back into the U.S.

When we reached the border, the I.N.S. officer asked us the important questions:


 "United States."

"Where do you live?"

 "Portland, Oregon."

"Why did you go to Canada?"

 "We were in Bellingham for a wedding, so we dropped into Vancouver for the day."

"What are you bringing back from Canada?"

 "Some Starbucks coffee."

"Anything else?"


"Have a nice day."

We waited two hours for that.

The poetry of soccer

"Go ahead and kick it."

"Yeah, you say that, but what if I miss you and it goes in the water?"

The boy looked like a soccer player, though he was young and very small. A pair of maroon indoor soccer shoes and a dusty mop of blond hair gave him away.

His cousin was older--probably thirteen or fourteen--and she was not as comfortable as he was with the ball.

But he kept prodding her.

I looked at Ryan and Heather and remarked on the lack of railing and the small sidewalk, and the possibility of the ball ending up in the sound.

The cousin kicked the ball.

It bounced across the feet of another child, and against the heels of the smallest girl in the crowd. Down the steps it went. In two bounces, it was in the water, rolling over and bouncing through the salty waves.

We were close enough that we could have slipped in to grab it, but we didn't. We figured the soccer child's father was going in. He made motions like he would.

But instead, he leaned close to his boy and began explaining the reasons for not calling his little sister names, though the ball bounced off of her feet last.

She hadn't even been looking.

So we watched the ball drift slowly along the bank. It never came within reach.

It didn't move quickly.

Suddenly, the family pounced into action. The father--young, smiling, and admirable to the three of us as we drift toward a time of life he knows--told the children to get their walking sticks from the car.

They didn't reach.

Ryan and I looked at the ball with shining eyes. We were thinking of how the water would feel, weighing the cold and wet against the glory of retrieval.

"I would probably just tell him that I would get him a new one. It's like a three dollar soccer ball."

"I would have jumped in for it right away, while it was still shallow. We could have grabbed it, you know, without getting too wet."

Despite our words, we hung out over the water, one foot planted against the concrete walkway, one hand gripping the railing, the other hand and foot pointing out across the Sound, toward the Olympic Range, toward the drifting ball.

Further along the walk, the father looked at us with a half smile. Part of him was enjoying this. Another part was wondering what we were thinking.

He climbed down to a three-foot-square swatch of rocks and dipped his toe in.

By this time, the ball was thirty feet out, where we could no longer see the rocky bottom of the sound. It was drifting around a point, headed casually toward Lincoln Park.

The father climbed in to his waist. We excitedly anticipated the rescue. I kept thinking about how much I love to swim. I counted three good strokes to the ball. Three strokes back, and then out.

But the cold and wet were threatening, and I was wearing my change of clothes for the weekend already. I found myself wishing I lived on the beach.

The father jumped up and down a couple of times. Then he looked at his son and said, "there's no way. We're going to have to let it go."

And he climbed out.

Ryan and I scaled a pile of rocks and stood on them like child kings. We threw a few rocks into the water, toward the ball.

The family gathered around a park bench nearby. One small boy had a life-preserver wrapped around his waist and he was running back and forth along the edge of the bank. He was dreaming of the glory of retrieval, too.

"Well, if your ball is going to go, that's a pretty good way," we said. "Into the sunset."

The father looked at us and smiled. He looked at his son and said, "Yeah. Into the sunset."

The boy pointed away from the ball, toward the sun, and said, "the sunset is over there."

We laughed at his objectiveness.

For him, there was only the loss of a ball.

For us, there was the possibility of parenthood, the dream of being wet and cold for glory, and the poetry of the ball's slow drift.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Travel category.

The Wilds is the previous category.

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