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I have to Ko Phi Phi

So after the civil unrest in the capital, in which the red-shirts thankfully did not seize the airport like the yellow shirts did last November, I was ready to explore the Thai beaches, which eluded me on my last trip to the region. I should add that my worldwide luck in avoiding transit strikes continues. In addition to escaping the original Bangkok crisis, I missed the Budapest airport workers' strike (though Chris did not, and almost couldn't fly home) and the Nepal bus strike came a day earlier than my intended journey back to Kathmandu. I don't want to jinx any upcoming labor union hijinks, especially knowing that Fiji is prone to cyclical coups, but I consider my transportation karma to be born from Jules Verne's spirit.

And if you don't believe I have good transit luck, just look - they even had a parade for me when I came to the airport:

So I rejoined Anne, who flew ahead of me to Ko Phi Phi (pronounced Ko Pee Pee, stop giggling, this is someone's home). She is still nursing a bum ankle, as well as all the cats that come her way. This one got all the shrimp from her Pad Thai.

The waters were the color you would expect. With no roads on the island, longboats with noisy outboard engines are the major form of transport.

Nearby is Ko Phi Ley, famous as the setting for the beach in "The Beach." I remember watching the movie my senior year of college. I didn't really understand the traveler's mentality or the appeal of southeast Asia.  But after another viewing while in Thailand, the film resounded much more. In the opening scene, DiCaprio saunters down Khao San Road and is hustled into drinking snake blood, whereupon he checks in to a fleapit and meets crazy people before setting out on an adventure to escape the masses. Discounting my vegetarianism, which also excludes reptilian foodstuffs, I would have been perfect for the role.

Would you trust this guy with your life? At 12 meters below water, I didn't let him out of my sight. Sure there were sea turtles and the occasional shark, but I like to keep my friends close and my scuba instructors closer. Here he shows us what face to make if you run out of air at four atmospheres:

At one point Jim  took the regulator out of my mouth while on the ocean floor. He insisted it was just for practice. I told him to stand down the middle of the fairway so I knew where to aim my tee shot. You know, for practice.

And this is me with Constance, a girl I met on my ferry to Ko Phi Phi. She is from Paris and decided to wait until our third day of hanging out to say that my French is terrible and I should just speak English with her. Of course, my French was flawless underwater.

A closer view of the actual beach from the movie. Maya beach is where the shark attacks the Scandinavian dudes and, oh just go rent the movie...

By the way, swimming to the island, as they did in the movie, is less feasible than an Alcatraz attempt.

Constance and I climbed through the jungle for about an hour to find an overlook for sunset. You can see the barbell shape of Ko Phi Phi here. The "town" is at the isthmus connecting the two ends:

I show you this to highlight the plight of the islanders during the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004. Unfortunately, tidal waves came in from both bays, leaving the townspeople with nowhere to go. Estimates vary, but Ko Phi Phi lost more residents per capita than nearly any other Thai island (maybe even as much as 2,000 in total). Curiously, the same Buddhism that made many Thais react stagnantly when the ocean initially receded has also helped them moved past the tragedy. Buddhists often believe that the ocean and land are in a tug-of-war, with both sides claiming territory at different intervals, but they also accept death with a measure of insouciant grace that takes other people much longer. No one ever talks about it, even during my first trip here in 2007 (as opposed to 9/11, with 1/100th of the death toll). Still, the bars are littered with pictures of the deceased, both locals and foreign expats and holidaymakers.

So why did they rebuild? Sunsets like this:

Which turned the sky into a canvas of fire-strokes and galvanized waves:

After Anne left for the next island, I met up with three German girls staying at my resort. We rented a longboat for the day and snorkeled until the fish began to bite. From left, Stephi, Elisabeth, and Chrissy (who thankfully added the non-superfluous extra syllable, perhaps knowing that there can be only one "Chris" on these pages). I should add that Elisabeth is also a member of the Klein clan. Next time I am in Munich, we'll have another family reunion - I'll take you to the Hofbräuhaus so you can feel like a tourist.

The fish were biting that day I tell you! Actually, they took to biting us, which felt more ticklish than painful. Kinda like my experience with Israeli border guards. Ticklish, not painful. I have no idea what that meant.

Here I attempt a triple tuck, four-and-one-half gainer with a suicide twist. The German judges gave me all 8s.

But in the world of synchronized cannon-balling, there is no bigger purist that me. You see how Chrissy in the nearground has under-rotated? And Stephi, where is the tuck? Normally that would cost them a full point deduction, but I looked the other way when they bought the first round that night.

It was eat-what-you-catch-with-your-bare-hands night at our beach, so we cheated and got our boat driver to help us. Just kidding - we threw it back, but not before a few tense moments when the fish wriggled out of his hands and got lost on the deck for about 30 seconds.

This guy was making the world's largest and most flammable circle-circle-dot-dot cootie shot.

I can proudly say that I have managed to avoid all the world's aquariums so far. And who needs 'em? I've swam in the Atlantic, Med Sea, India Ocean, Red Sea, Zambezi, Nile and Ganges, and now the Andaman Sea (not to mention the lakes of Nepal and bathhouses of Budapest). If I don't have all the waterborne diseases known to the CDC, then I will renounce my throne as the Prince of Protozoa. Until then, I'll keep going overboard.

The Farang Foreign Legion

There really is no better gauge of a country's friendliness than its fealty toward sports. Everyone in Uganda wore Arsenal apparel. Obviously, since they are a nation of gunners. Thailand respects power and success, as evinced by my trip to the weekend market:

Number 44 may have been Lawrence Taylor. Again, quite apropos given the drug culture in the Land of Smiles.

Next up we have a random pic of me and my favorite cuisine. Here we have some Pad Thai from a street vendor. They add lots of green onions in the recipes here. Ain't nuthin' wrong with that.

And why not wash it down with some Thai iced tea? This guy puts the Moroccan tea pourer to shame:

And my arrival in Bangkok coincided with Songkran, a three-day celebration of the Thai New Year. The streets of Thailand become awash with water fights and chalk-smearing, which is usually about as violent as these people get. In a country that famously has never been conquered, children have to live out their cowboys and Indians fantasies with fake artillery:

But oh boy was I wrong! On the way home from the market, protesters, referred to as the "red-shirts," filled the streets, rallying for the reinstatement of the ousted prime minister. It really felt more like a parade, with people smiling and honking and asking "farang" (literally meaning "white," it is the Thai euphemism for white people) to join in.

Hi Mom! Viva la revolucion!

The red-light area shakedowns cause more concern than these people:

Whoops! What happened? Yes, indeed they commandeered a tank and an armored personnel carrier. The military sent them in, only to have the red shirts stuff rocks and bamboo in the treds to immobilize them. The soldiers didn't want to fight, so they abandoned ship, leaving the vehicles for the protesters. I joined in, and after informing them I was from the southern U.S., they rightfully installed me in the rear gunner position. I fired off a few rounds in celebration. This photo made its way to Yahoo News:

But really, if we invaded Thailand, we would screw up one of the most pleasant places on earth. There is just something so magical about the mix of people, scenery, food and culture. This is my second trip to Thailand, and it is almost better this time around since I know my way around Bangkok. I didn't go to any of the temples this time, but if you want to see pictures of reclining Buddha or Thai kickboxing, check out my facebook page. And if you don't have Facebook, shame on you. Get your kids to show you how to use a computer.

We set out for some serious water-gunning on Khao San Road, the famous backpacker mecca. I didn't make it far when I got my first soaking:

A group of friends from my hostel joined together. This motley crew, the "Farang Foreign Legion," decimated the competition with a series of highly unorthodox tactics. Using standard 2x2 outflanking formation, we caught the enemy unawares at critical moments.

Here is the stockpile of small arms. Later I would water balloons to the weaponry. Our secret was ice cold water, enough to get even the heartiest enemy to submit.

Fireflies were everywhere. Enemy combatants jumped out of bars and came from behind strategic installations, known locally as "brothels." Here I ignored Kevin Spacey's warning, "How do you shoot the devil in the back? What if you miss?" Mr. Spacey, I never miss.

The action intensified. Charlie jumped out of a bunker and overran this Australian battalion:

For love of country, or at least the desire to stay dry, our platoon marhsalled on. But even Braveheart gets it in the end. Let no man say my gallantry in combat was anything less than heroic:

With everyone soaking in water that suspiciously wreaked of Typhoid, the po-po came in and ordered the battle to cease. Seems the actual rioters got themselves some Molotov cocktails and began setting the city's infrastructure ablaze. Our tuk-tuk driver whisked us to the rendevous point, just ahead of this:

I can't say enough about the bravery of my comrades. We all made it back to the hostel, and with the help of a few Singhas, we recounted the battle, knowing it would be our last time together. Some of us would be ending our tours of duty, while others were destined for tanning and travels in the faraway regions of Australian beaches and Thai islands. Ours is a solitary journey, it would seem. As for me, my military transport was due to leave at 0800, and I turned in, knowing the corral reefs of Ko Phi Phi needed some proper scuba-diving reconnaissance. Next mission: Operation Andaman Sea, Surf and Sun.

Seoul Searching

Last June, the Delta ticket agent asked me several times if I realized that I had to connect in Korea three times and overnight twice. Such is life on a free around the world ticket. Delta's only presence in Asia, aside from a few random Northwest flights to Japan and China, is on Korean Air. A pleasant enough airline with a more than pleasant airport (Incheon consistently ranks in the top ten airports to spend a night in, and yes, they have rankings for such things), but a bit far north and east considering my connecting flights. So now I am playing the hand I was dealt, and that means exploring Korea, one day at a time.

A quick shout out to Nate-doggnessity. After seven months and ten gigs of photos, I am down to my last memory card, a gift from the legend himself. Before formatting the SD card and expunging the last vestiges of his incriminations, I offer you one last glimpse of his '08 Asia tour. Nate loves Edo-era pagodas and hyacinth gardens. And like Kurosawa, he makes mad films.

Luckily for me, Korea rolled out the welcoming mat. Though they certainly set the standard for Enron-esque accounting practices in the pastry business, one of North Carolina's finest inventions lives on in the Near East. "Hot and Now" is my kind of Korean expression. I stopped in for a dozen or so. I'm just a man.

I had already spent one long layover in Seoul a few years ago, so I wasn't running to see the sights. I missed the USO tour of the 38th parallel, but I figure I've got two more chances to see DMX, uh, that is, the DMZ before my trip ends. Instead, I took a bus into town and stopped by my favorite landmark in Seoul, a canal that bisects the city. Though the refurbishment of the canal disenfranchised the poor squatters who had been encamped there, it has now become a place for art installations and festive decorations.

I tried to recreate a photo I took there two years ago. I give you "A River  Runs Through It," nay, "Indecent Exposure." ---

And being a financial center, there are of course massive buildings, some more architecturally interesting than others. This one reminded me of the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

I did some proper shopping in Dongdaemun-gu, which boasts boutique versions of every Western retailer. I should add that every hour of every shopping day in South Korea, from Dongdaemun to Incheon Airport, resembles Black Friday. Every single Korean on my flight into and out of Seoul ordered something from the plane's duty-free cart.

My favorite neighborhood of Seoul is Insa-Dong, full of local artists and handicraftsmen, but short on the tough-sell approach. Ah, to be back in the first world, if only for a day. I was asked to be in a rice-ball making contest, first prize 2,000,000 won, but I told them my recipes can't be bought. Here is a painting I fancied at a local gallery:

Then Kim Jong Ill ("Lil Kim") started throwing missiles over Honshu, and it was time to bounce to the Land of Smiles, and apparently, insurrections. But I'll trade a North Korean missile launch for a coup d'etat in Thailand any day of the week and twice on Sunday. For those of you who didn't catch the photo on Yahoo News...

I'm still miffed the caption labeled me as a "tourist posing for a photo." Can't they see I am switching off the safety on the .50 caliber gun turret? More on my commandeering of the tank later. No bigger imperialist than me, it seems.

Emperors of Immodium

Dear readers--> Asia is providing a fecund of reading material to keep you distracted at work, so prepare yourself for a barrage of posts this week. Also, happy Easter bunny and Passach and Thai New Year. I'm fomemting insurrections now, but I promise to keep my tank and water gun stowed under the seat in front of me.

Let's close the book on India and Nepal, shall we?

After avoiding the Delhi-belly, Nepal took care of my string of good digestive luck and Anne's too. But enough about the duodenum duo. Here we find a girly entering the abyssal darkness of the supreme vortex of an infinitely vacuous empty void.

Ok I was actually at the Taj Mahal, the purtiest mausoleum this side ostentacious, grief-stricken lovers. I told Chris I would one day build her one, hopefully before she needs a burial chamber. You know, so she can enjoy it.

Anne and I flew to Kathmandu. You remember a few years back when the Nepal Royal Family was massaced? Trust me, or you can Wiki it. They made it a museum.

Kathmandu is a mess. They are very good at selling fake North Face jackets, losing power, making momos, and, as you might guess, hnking horns. Here is a view from atop our hotel, with Tibetan prayer flags in the foreground.

We mad our way to Pokhara, one of the worst bus rides I have been privy too (and let's not forget the 22-hour jaunt from Cape Town to Windhoek, which felt like a Swedish massage compared to this). However, once in town, getting airborn on a paraglider was the best way to see  the Annapurnas.

Back in October, my friend Meg and I laughed at two men walking mountain bikes up a mountain in Morocco just to ride them down. Five months later, I found myself trudging up a 5,000 ft. hill to do the same. The 25,000 ft. peaks in the background are still on hold until I can figure out a way to attach skids to my Trek.

Before the decent, we stopped at a farmer's house for tea and biscuits. His kids treated us like royalty. I struggled to return the kindness, but after looking in my pack, I puilled out a few rupees and a copy of "The Economist." Not exactly a normal gift, but the pic of Obama got them excited. I taught them how to say "recession."

When I get back to the States, I'll be making a trip to the bike shop to get some double-suspension action. Careening down mountains in the Himalayas was truly breathtaking. I say this because I was out of breath.

The people here combine ethnic features of Indians, Tibetans, and Chinese (yes, I referred to them as three countries, take that Beijing!). The mix is majestic and had I not drank water from a stream on my bike ride, all my memories of Nepal would have been glossy-eyed. I know they tell you not to drink sea water when your boat has capsized, but man when you are thirsty, it ain't easy.

More to come soon kiddos. Check back soon.

Life in the Transit Lounge

Some things happened in Nepal. We'll get to that later. Despite Malcolm Gladwell's new book, which would strike fear in anyone abot to travel 40,000 air miles on Korean Air, I am safely in Terminal 2 for my first of three tours of duty.

For now I could use your help in deciding where to spend the night in Incheon:

Option A (77 Euros):

Option B, the free internets terminals:

Option C, a free movie theater (no popcorn):

Ok, you guessed it, I've already picked out my spot. Honest, it is the quitest place 'round.
Option D, the only thing missing is the balloon animal guy:

Tomorrow, Bangkok, if the rioters don't close down the airport again. G'night interneters.

Big Hitter, The Lama

"Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, 'Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.' So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."
After Rishikesh, I made my way by train and bus to Dharamsala, a town I chose because it is in a Vampire Weekend song. Like I said, I am playing it loose in India. The cows got a second-class berth.

And in a country with so much Chinglish, I was surprised to see that there exists a Tibetan word meaning "circumambulate."

As it turns out, I just missed His Holiness the Dalai Lama while in Dharamsala, home of the Tibetan Government in Exile. His motorcade of generosity was pulling out just as I aproached the temple. HHDL is actually not a progrmamng code (or a type of cholesterol). He is the 14th son of the Lama, is afraid to fly, laughs at his own jokes a lot, and is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, who just recently commemorated their 50th year in exile.

Hearing the plight of their people was wrenching, but you would think that at the Dalai Lama's temple, of all places, stealing would bring bad karma. Sometimes double-knotting just ain't enough:

The moutains of Himachal Pradesh separate India from Kashmir and buildings are dug into the slopes. Most days, I dug in my feet at the cafes and let the mountains take care of the scenery.

Tibetan prayer wheels, the roulette of Buddhism:

My wicket was sticky as I tried for a googly, and I assure you this has no salacious meaning, nor is it related to the internets.

Monks adorned the streets, but there was no sig of Tony Shalhoub.

And in my quest to find the best dentists the world round, I popped in to a clinic. I had to get the tooth implants removed that were installed by the Chinese government.

I stayed in Dharamkot, about a mile from town. It was freezing, so every nght we went to a nearby restaurant that show movies. If you look closely at the subtitles on the screen, you can see the expats who dominate the village. They call Dharamsala "Little Lhasa" but they could just as easily call Dharamkot "Little Israel."

My friend Anne then flew into Delhi, so I backtracked to meet up with her. She'll be monitoring the movements of sendmoneyplease for the next month. On our first day together, we went to the Taj, though I believe I was hoodwinked. There were no slots and I was pretty sure we were a ways from the Jersey Shore.

Then it was off to Nepal, where we just barely made it through customs. We deftly hid our spare tricycle in our luggage, and got someone else to sneak in our second parambulator.

As HHDL says, "Gunga galunga...gunga, gunga-galunga."

The Hippie Hippie Fake

She had the uniform, so it’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into. I descended from my overnight train’s top bunk, and while trying to silently excavate my backpack from underneath the lower berth, I furtively glanced between the hospital gown-colored drapes, cinched together will well-worn Velcro, hanging on against their advancing years. A woman, who must have boarded somewhere between Jaipur, my embarkation, and wherever we were presently, lay asleep dressed in loose-fitting linen – the type of clothes you usually only see at drug-filled trance shows or croquet matches on a summer’s day in Surrey.

We were both bound for the last stop. While most locals had exited somewhere before the mountains, we, the slightly somnambulant gringos, eventually acquainted ourselves. I brushed my teeth with Sprite and tried to make myself presentable. And in the unspoken glances shared by travelers, we knew the next few hours of our lives were of a shared destiny.

I don’t bring a lot to the table, but my forte is negotiation, and I excel when in unknown lands. The more inhospitable and foreign the territory, the better (and some would say self-righteous) I get. Written contracts and fine print may still be a weakness, but not so during street combat. For those fortunate enough to have witnessed such verbal acumen, eyewitnesses attest that my vehemence in getting a price is inversely related to the real dollar amount in question. I may accept that a brand-named plasma screen costs $200 more than its Taiwanese rival, but in percentage terms, that would be much less than the extra shekels, forints or rupees that are usually in debate. And being a teacher, the eyes in the back of my head help me spot the shopkeeper, eagerly chasing me down upon reconsideration of my most generous but firm final offer.

It is here that my knowledge and useful skills ended. Nicole, an aspiring German yogini and seeker of all things unseen, would now take over, what with this being her stomping grounds and all. Rishikesh – mouth of the Ganges, Hindu holy city, birthplace of yoga, inspiration to The Beatles White Album and my home very much away from home for the next few days. I didn’t know a Veda from a Vespa or a swami from a tsunami, so I decided to use our deftly-negotiated 40-minute rickshaw ride to familiarize myself with the vernacular. Really, I just wanted to show up at yoga class not having brought a polka dot mat or some other faux pas that would instantly proclaim to my fellow students my lack of cultural sensitivity.

“Didn’t you know that the Vedic treatises of Brahmin Shri Ram Sukh Daasji discourage non-uniformity in yoga mat color?”

“Uh, I’m only on chapter one. I did shake off the potato chip crumbs before I entered the ashram.”

It turns out Nicole has been yogic (though it sounds like an affliction, and at times it resembles one, practitioners think of more as a way of life) for about 30 months. A few years back, she gave up her job as a model, sold most of her possessions, and crammed a backpack with everything but an itinerary. She initially tried to explain her new life to friends and family, eventually conceding that it was not for them to understand. Nicole has since navigated much of the world. For the last seven months she has lived in solitary in a hut in the Bavarian Mountains, speaking only every three weeks or so when she hikes an hour to the market for supplies. If anyone could teach me about Rishikesh, surely it was her.

As we rode along the dusty roads amidst the rice patties of Northern India, I inquired about the appeal of such a lifestyle. Nicole infuses yoga to every part of her life, insisting that humans need to think more with their hearts and less with their minds. She does not plan where she will be most days, and certainly never her destination the next month. She arrives at answers to life using intuition and she does not seem to allow room for second-guessing.

Nicole, whose hair was mangled from the snug sleeping berth but not yet put in dreads, was coming back to Rishikesh for the second time. At the doorstep of the Himalayas were her people, and with it, thousands of practitioners that needed no explanation the way her previous social circle did. I think I helped her with all the conversation – after arriving on the banks of the Ganges her spirit lifted immensely, erasing the grind of a long night of travel. I imagined myself akin to a sleeping pill that might extinguish a child’s excitement on Christmas Eve – a useful distraction that made time pass with unusual alacrity in the face of unyielding anticipation.

But without getting too far ahead, back to the ride from the train station. My traveling companion’s lifestyle choices did not fall on deaf ears, but certainly on a pair of questioning ones. Part of her argument resonated. Relaxation, centeredness and acceptance were good for bodily health. Though I don’t exactly know how any of these blend vis-à-vis my delight in taxi-driver deliberations, Nicole seemed to enjoy my efforts nonetheless. When she said that my sanguinity during the back-and-forth was a form of yoga, I felt I was on my way. Then, just as I was imagining how well I might actually fit in this place, some of her explanations necessarily turned to those great bastions of hippie nebulae. As if on cue, like Mormons who knock on your door and unassumingly begin with mundane talk of the weather, out came the words “spirituality,” “divine,” and, the hottest buzz-word in Generation-X religiosity, “energy.”

When I hear about these terms in people’s belief systems, I can’t help but respect the monotheistic religions for once. With them, I can definitely isolate exactly which improbable events they believe in. God asking a man to kill his only son. Check. Two of every animal (and presumably a pair of each one of the millions of microorganisms) spontaneously boarding a ship? Got it. Receiving 71, no, it was 72 virginal women in paradise? Seems plausible to me. These are specific events, and though I deem them somewhat improbable, I at least know what great fun I am missing by not attending weekly services.

My irritation comes from the mysterious and usually ineffective explanations from my generation who want to believe in something but certainly not what our parents believe. After all, they grew up watching black-and-white television, writing letters to friends, and proudly driving cars with acronyms like GTO – actually boasting of the gas, tires and oil consumed! It would be unfair to say that their beliefs are not well thought out, I just don’t hear them verbalized succinctly or with precision, but maybe that it what it’s all about anyway. I would, however, just once like to hear a football player conclude during a post-game interview that it was a “special energy that came from within, opening up my chakras and enabling me to visualize a spiritual path to the end zone.” Then, as I imagine the scene playing out, his own teammates come over and beat him senseless.

Nicole became critical of only two things during our conversation. She repeatedly assailed “Western yoga,” which she said focuses entirely on the poses and exercise merits but is largely devoid of any higher purpose. I didn’t ask her if she had seen the girth of the average American. I also inquired if her all-encompassing version off yoga, which she said allowed an understanding of the divine, could still be worthwhile for an atheist. After my best “I am going to ask hypothetically so as to soften the blow, even though we both know I am referring to myself” manner, she looked quizzically at me, in her best, “My English is pretty good, but surely he is not placing the prefix ‘a’ as in ‘not’ in front of the word ‘theist’ as in believer in God?”

After I clarified the definition of atheist, Nicole snapped, “That would be stupid!” That was as sharp as I would hear her tongue all day, and I decided to drop the line of questioning.

Still, though a devout skeptic, I try to remain curious and open to new cultures. Why else would I choose to eat my meals surrounded by multifarious insects and within an afternoon’s drive from Pakistan? And I was pretty sure I would appreciate the culture of the people I was about to encounter. You just don’t hear about Hindus, Buddhists, Janes, or Sikhs hiding explosives in their sandals, which is the minimum requirement for me to respect a religion. Sure, the Falun Gong were torching people for a bit, but they were setting themselves alight. My personal favorite would have been to grow up Zoroastrian. Their belief in the sanctity of fire surely would have required my parents to bury a Zippo in my Christmas stocking instead of making me wait hours for my magnifying glass to produced a few sad embers on a leaf. If only this karma thing were true, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a second adolescence, that is if I don’t turn into a farm animal or something like that.

Our rickshaw climbed the crumbling streets through the lower parts of town, passing the fading umber temples and ubiquitous street vendors. My introduction to Rishikesh was audibly disappointing. Hoping to flee the madness of India’s megalopolises, I was sure that a place of such devotion wouldn’t resemble the McDonald’s Playland noise heard over the rest of the country. Sadly, I found rickshaw and truck drivers pressing their horns with more vigor than a burn victim would on his morphine drip. A Uruguayan World Cup Final might produce a similar decibel level, but with the obvious benefit that there is actually something to celebrate. All over India, the horn alternates between meanings – sometimes, “We are headed for a head-on collision and I thought it polite to inform you that I am both more reckless and religious than you are,” but more often, “I am really trying to give these underpaying foreigners the full experience by driving over the center line and creating havoc during what could have been a pleasant journey.” Lab rats put more thought into pressing buttons. The Indian car company Tata is set to come out with their much-hyped $2,000 sedan soon, a price point that will allow many middle-class Indians to purchase their first automobile. I can only hope that one of the skimped features will be the horn.

Once in town, Nicole and I found a hotel with two free rooms overlooking the Ganges River. We checked in and made our way to a local restaurant to await her friend’s arrival. More specifically, we sat down at a German bakery, one of two in as many blocks, which left me flummoxed. I still don’t understand how the German mentality and yoga coalesce.

Rishikesh’s two suspension bridges span the holy waters of the Gunga, as the locals call it. We were only a few meters from the northern bridge, a perfect spot to gaze at the town’s current residents. The Indians looked like they did in other parts of the country – men in dress shirts and pants pulled high and women in traditional garb, sometimes with a sari draped over their other clothing. They ran around taking pictures, much like Japanese tourists with the exception that Indians limit themselves to one camera per family. But the Western visitors were as predictable as the rhymes in a country song. Pants were three-quarter length, outfits unisex, and shoes were most certainly optional, despite the prevalence of cow excrement all over town. Hemp was the new cashmere. Belts are best made from rope, and if the wind picked up, the more you resembled a spinnaker, the better. I assumed that for Halloween these people washed their hair, cleaned their nails, and dressed up in tuxedos and evening gowns. The woman at the next table had unevenly spaced fuchsia streaks in her otherwise blonde hair. She was reading Chomsky, what else? For the first time in my travels, even the foreigners seemed foreign.

There were clichés walking around everywhere, and I soon realized I was one of them. I overheard another restaurant guest retell the story of a traveler she recently met. He was on a one-year trip around the world, and having arrived with no background in yoga, she railed at his temerity to visit Rishikesh – the Yankee Stadium of the yogic mindset. “It’s like he just came to check this place off a list.” As she said this, I looked down and did my best to hide the Nike swoosh emblazoned on my t-shirt. I was the sweatshop-labor clad outsider, barely willing to try to understand the Eastern mentality and a little jumpy with the critique trigger. I thought of myself as a voyeur at a nudist colony – I wouldn’t take off my towel and I couldn’t put down my camera. I was sure that if I swatted a fly I would be run out of town.

Rishikesh has a set of laws that make New York City’s ban on trans-fats look like dietary bliss. No meat or alcohol is allowed, and smoking is severely frowned upon. Drugs too, but I have to assume by looking at these people that they are lighting up a spliff in the ashram bathroom between reiki sessions. The travel humorist Tim Cahill once wrote about his experience attempting yoga during a Jamaican vacation, but at least he had spiced rum to keep him buoyed in between classes.

Still, if another world war broke out, this is probably the safest place to be this side of any given South Pacific atoll (assuming the warring didn’t start in Kashmir). The people here are only likely to riot if Starbucks opened shop, but even then a few pumpkin spice double lattés may quell the mob. A Hardee’s should do it, though.

After Nicole collected her friend, a fellow German named Phillip, I took my leave and began to roam around town. Within minutes, I felt more comfortable. Massage parlors all over town offered Swedish, Thai, or Ayurvedic massages for less than ten dollars. There were no bars, but ice cream stands proliferated, as did Indian restaurants serving thali and mango lassi. Though it is sometimes demanding work, I am becoming a burgeoning international expert on being massaged and fed.

A few minutes into my walk, I struck up a conversation with an Australian woman. I repeated one of the house jokes that usually receives tepid reviews in America. “I have an idea for a t-shirt,” I said. “It reads, ‘Bikram is the Hotness.’” The joked killed, and she called over her friend to repeat it.

Later I tramped across the footbridge straddling the Ganges and found Nicole and Phillip along the beach. Unaware or unconcerned by my presence, they shuffled circularly in an equal pace. Their counterclockwise frolic resembled some sort of cross between tai-chi and a middle-school dance, four hands gyrating arrhythmically to the sound of their own subconscious. We had made plans to meet for a sitar concert, but how could I interrupt such unmitigated splendor?

After aimlessly journeying through other parts of town, the weather began to turn ominously, suggesting that heathens like me might be punished for passing on the offering plate, and that right quick. The winds howled through the canyon, and now justifiably worried about instant karma, I hurriedly scampered back to my side of the river. The once-sturdy suspension bridge now swayed helplessly and seemed suspiciously devoid of any Dutch engineering. I wondered which Hindu God should receive my prayers, but I decided instead to mumble, “Jai guru deva, om.”

Vishnu listened, or maybe it was Shiva, and my feet once again touched solid ground. For once the soiled pathways didn’t bother me, and I jelly-legged it back up the stairs to my hotel. I took off my shoes, climbed into bed and closed my eyes. Amid the cacophony of stray dogs yelping outside my window, I mumbled, “Jai guru deva, om.”

The next morning I awoke and ordered breakfast on the patio overlooking the Ganges. The weather warmed and the flies took notice as Nicole’s door opened. Her face brightened when she mentioned something about a silent retreat she would attend. Two weeks of not talking to anyone about anything. I wondered if she could take the neighborhood dogs with her.

Nicole bounded down the steps in search of bliss. After she was safely out of sight, I followed, making sure that if she looked back I would still be clear. I passed by several ashrams, and nearly entered one, when I turned and spotted an outdoor adventure office advertising trekking, biking and rafting. A man popped his head out and asked if I might be interested in tackling some whitewater today, and I thought, this is something I know how to do. A few hours later the sun began to set and our inflatable boat eased back to Rishikesh. Full of adrenaline, I gazed at the riverbank, and saw naked hippies sunbathing and meditating. I had my world and they had theirs. Soaked and shivering, I closed my eyes and chanted, “Nothing’s gonna change my world.”

Incredible India!?

I don't know if the commercials that the Indian Tourist Board runs on the BBC have made their way to the States, but the song is stuck in my head. It is now inexorably linked the way the "Beef, it's what's for dinner" commercials have forever hijacked Aaron Copeland's fourth movement of "Rodeo."

Closing the book on the Middle East, I must say that Thomas Friedman's assessment of the region beseized by walls, both literal and figurative, is accurate. The disparate groups there live in seeming harmony, but the minute conflict breaks out, they retreat within their communities and form idealogical islands. My stay with the Orthodox Jewish family was well within sight of the wall separating the Palestinian Territories and settlements in the West Bank. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo, as per Shabbat rules (and I had already slipped by forgetting the religious edicts of Saturdays by getting out my Ipod in syanagogue to check the time).

I had a friend in college that used to sayy that the problem with terrorism is that it works. The tactics are brutal and fear reigns. The same can b said of this wall. While still under completion, so far, it has been very effective at curtailing suicide bombers. It wasn't that long ago, during the second Intifada, that buses and cafes were being bombed weekly. Unfortunately, this wall is creating a kind of system whereby Palestinians who work in Israel have to register upon entering and exiting, very similar to the pass laws of Apartheid. My host, Aaron, is from South Africa, and when I mentioned this, he shrugged it off. He has a family to think about, and if a wall is needed to keep them safe, so be it. The question of to divide Jerusalem, and what to do about the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, well a few thousand pounds of concrete and rolls of concertina wire can't fix these questions so easily.

I might also add the Israeli taxi drivers are the worst people in the world.

So after a quick St. Patty's day revely, I boarded a red-eye to Delhi, with a geographically-paradoxical stopover in Paris. Ihad a croissant at De Gaulle and arrived in India shortly before midnight the next day. Though people here drive as crazy as anywhere, the only accident I saw was when a rickshaw driver left his three-wheeler in gear and let it roll into the cab in front  of him.

I am really here because of the food.

I have thali for lunch most days, which is basically an Indian bento box. All the food pictured here for about a dollar. And they actually make it spicy, unlike all the other bootleg Indian places around Europe and Africa that insist on training wheels for whitey.

What else? Delhi is awful, but I found a pretty Baha'i temple with a lotus flower structure. They've got a lot of Gods here.

After a few days it was off to Jaipur. I am now traveling without any guidebook, which is nice in many ways. I find serendipity in travel choiced in strange places. I decided on Jaipur becuase there is an India restaurant in Charlotte of the same name. What I found inthe capital of Rajasthan was more chaos and grime, but I found a temple on a lake, so that was cool.

The highlight of my time in the "Pink City" was my trip to a Bollywood theater. Despite my asking several times what language the film would be in (and every time the staff insisting, "Yes, English!") it was of course in Hindi. I should add that Indians, like Egyptians, will never answer "I don't know" and they will happily deliver false information or  wrong directions at a moment's notice, all with a not-so-endearing head bobble that looks some sort of self-chirpractic aligment. Still, "Delhi-6" was fun to watch, guessing at the plot some moments and playing a sort of Mystery Science Theater at other times. The soundtrack was by the same music director that did "Slumdog Millionaire" and was the best Punjab hip-hop I have heard yet. All the Westerners in attendence missed the jokes of course, but we all laughed out loud while the Indians remained stoic during one of the previews. After a few clips advertising an upcoming action flick, the promo said "Coming this Monsoon." I guess it is a way of life in India, but all the whites sseemed to think was "Coming this season of tragedy."

I said goodbye to Southern India by feeding my inner monkey and set a Darjheeling Limited course for the mountains to see if I have any inner hippie.

A Short History of the Middle East

This from an actual menu description at a waterfront restaurant in Egypt:

“Death by Chocolate” – the marketing term for various desserts that feature chocolate as the main ingredient. The trademark is owned by Bennigan’s Restaurants, but unlicensed use of the term is common.

Uh, thanks for that. Does Bennigan’s even exist anymore? In any case, I sure am glad Death by Chocolate made it into the public domain.

My Middle East leg, a.k.a. the “Tour de War,” was as memorable as any. It began early this month, with my sneaking, a.k.a. “stealing” a blanket from a certain airline carrier based in a certain country that I certainly don’t want to name. And for good use, I should say! I overnighted in the Cairo airport while awaiting the delights and debauchery of my old friend and former roommate, Bennie “the Bank,” and his ladyfriend. The only problem? I got his flight wrong and he arrived a full day after my arrival. But no worry, I can report that the terminal’s leather chairs are quite cushy and the airport police quite harmless.

So my first day I ran solo, but quickly discovered what would be my two favorite restaurant items: sheesha and mango juice. One lightens your head and the other sweetens the deal. I couldn’t ask for more for 50 cents.

Ben and Katie arrived in due time and we hopped a cab, by far the most dangerous/exhilarating/frustrating/fantastic experience in Cairo. A short drive to a friend’s house and we landed in the poshest digs of my six months on the road. Thank’s to Katie’s connections, I learned that State Department employees live large in the third world. Later on, my connections at the embassy earned me various perks, including a movie screening, free drinks with the marines on the roof and help expediting my visa to India. But the true test of how much your country loves you came when my stomach grumbled at 11:00 in the evening, and my host called the embassy switchboard and asked for the phone number of Dominoes. Pizza and passports, now that’s a full-service embassy. Thanks again, Lawrence (no connection to Lawrence of Arabia).

Oh, along the way we saw some pyramidal objects of nondescript importance. Turns out they are smaller in person:

After a few days of crisscrossing the Nile, it was time to head down, or rather up the northward flowing behemoth. We took an overnight carriage to Aswan, where I shared a berth with Najib, a Parisian of Moroccan descent who saved us in several situations, from finding a hotel to paying backsheesh for us to get exiting train tickets. Merci beaucoup, mon ami. While in Aswan, we skipped the dam but enjoyed her fruits by spending our day lazily floating on her shores, gently absorbing local culture slightly downriver (upriver?) from the world’s largest manmade lake.

Being newbs to the Nubians, we inquired about life from our captain, who spoke better English than any Arabian Egyptian and surprisingly supported Bashir (now a wanted man). But he also exuded a calm and confident demeanor, which I can only guess is typical of his people. But our time was short and after another gorgeous sunset we sailed our train back to Luxor.

I didn’t see any shining beam of light or craps tables, but the conductor insisted we had arrived. At midnight we drank hibiscus tea on the rooftop of our Luxor hotel, and you could just about make out the Bellagio in the distance.

The next day was as full as any on my travels. Our morning began early enough, and our driver whisked us to all things old and all things entombed.

Hieroglyphics abounded during our trio of sites, including the famed Valley of the Kings, final resting place of King Tut, Ramses the Great, and other pharaohs of  Disney film fame.

Still, while beautiful and really, really old, I couldn’t help but thinking how ostentatious the whole mummification and burial process was, and how the Nubians were arguably equally as old. Though slightly less advanced, they didn’t have the ego fulfillment that the Egyptians found in golden sarcophagi, and it is this humility I can respect.

Most inspiring was the nighttime visit to Karnak Temple. A clear sky and a full moon revealed 70-foot columns once buried by sand.

The falafels and feluccas were on hold for a bit as I backtracked up (down?) to Cairo to collect my onward passport stickers, then duly rejoined Ben and Katie on the Sinai for some proper sunning and relaxing. Ceded back to Egypt from the Israelis in 1982 (though Menacem Begen didn’t win over most Israelis with his pacification), the locals aren’t really either one, as most hail from Bedouin roots.

One look at the landscape shows you why – inhospitable desert with jagged peaks for as far as the eye can see. But when Moses commanded the mountains to end, thereth lie picturesque beaches with bountiful corral beloweth the surface.

While in Dahab, we hiked, we snorkeled, we drank, we smoked sheesha (disclaimer to kids: sendmoneyplease does not endorse the inhalation, distribution, inflammation, ingestion, temptation, promotion, purchase or marketing of tobacco products, except where allowable by law). But it was time to make a play to the Holy Land, and I bid farewell to my fellow American tomb raiders. Thanks again to my Prospect Park friends. Transatlantic visitations are cherished, and I hope to burn one down with you two in Brooklyn after I find my way home.

I took a bus to the Israeli border, as thanks to Begen’s gift, the normalization of relations means that you don’t have to fly to a third-party country to enter Israel (like Americans still have to for Cuba). But shortly after my remark regarding how streamlined this border crossing was compared to Uganda-Kenya, the border guard deftly noticed my Moroccan stamp. Two things worth mentioning here:

1- Israeli checkpoint guards are the most attractive people with guns you will ever see. This is not some small-town sheriff mold or bailiff in a ceiling-fanned courtroom. These people are late teenagers who are constantly grooming themselves and personalizing their dress in any way that the normally staid  army allows – gelled hair, various shirt-tucking maneuvers, and, ah, makeup. I have to assume that it was only love for country (and the automatic weapons slung on their soldiers) that kept them from putting on trance music and breaking out the Red Bull.

2- How did she find the stamp? I have a full passport, even requiring me to later add pages at the consulate in Jerusalem, and in some cases even stamps placed over other stamps (goodbye, sweet Zanzibar, Egypt rubbed you out). I can only guess that Israeli youths have these icons memorized, going to be each night with visions of Syrian and Yemenite ink floating in their heads.

After I was discovered, two hours of questioning, waiting and more questioning ensued. Why was I in Morocco for a whole month? Did I know that that is a long time to spend in a country? – My first thoughts turned to comedic diffusion. The bus service is very slow in Morocco. Also, it takes at least two weeks to learn about wiring and circuit boards. Four weeks to foment an insurrection. And didn’t Moses spend 40 days touring Egypt?

As you may have guessed, I played it straight and tried to be forthright, but all the while I felt the frustration of all those incorrectly arrested for a crime. I wanted to stand up and yell: Look at my last name! I’m one of you! No bigger Zionist that me!

In the end, as I hinted, I got through, and in due time I boarded a bus to Jerusalem, found a cheap hostel in the Old Town, was awoken at 4:00 a.m. for a bunkmate’s fulfillment of his Islamic prayer duties, and grudgingly awoke. It was apt to rise in a place with so much religiosity within its walls. I took a tour my first morning (don’t worry, it was free, and I think I get double Jewish points, given my location). We passed through the Armenian quarter, Orthodox quarter, Arab quarter and Jewish quarter. Four quarters usually make a whole but in this case the quadrants offer détente at best. The biblical, medieval and recent history of the city is well documented, so I’ll give my usual not-so-accurate Cliff’s Notes by saying that the Romans, Turks, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks have all volleyed their weaponry at the town, and some of them more than once.

By the way, I am huge in Jerusalem.

The tour guide gave nearly equal measure to all religions, making no claim that the Wailing Wall was any more important to Jews than the Dome of the Rock is to Muslims. He also showed Via Delarosa, the famed 12-step path where Jesus walked his final steps. Here is station three, where he fell for the first time:

The guide’s evenhandedness was then astonishingly usurped by one of the guided, who took it upon herself at the final station of the cross to remind us all that Jesus died for us and we would not be here without him. And this spoke volumes about so much. Here was a Jewish guide who walked eager pilgrims and historians around, able to inform and entertain without proselytizing or prejudice. But along came a religious zealot, able to risk a crowd’s worth of opprobrium (which she thankfully received), whose self-assuredness was as admirable as O.J.’s smirk when he tried on those leather gloves. Believe in whatever you want people, but don’t condescend by thinking it possible and admirable to brainwash others.

Though I don’t particularly think a snake can talk or a man can live inside a whale (call me crazy), I don’t mind some of the cultural aspects of religion, which is why I found myself racing in a cab against a setting sun to accept an invitation to Shabbat dinner with an orthodox Jewish family I met. It was a proper feast indeed, complete with my first salmon fillet since Europe, along with enough accoutrements to satiate both me and any Jewish mother in the world who may worry about my caloric requirements. A big thanks to Aaron and his family for the food, conversation and culture. I tried to give back by teaching his three daughters chess, quite apropos for his family since his wife is Armenian and they are of course Israeli (collectively, the top two finishers at last year’s Chess Olympiad; chess is Armenia’s national sport).

I also attended Saturday morning services, where I mostly tried to stand and sit in line with this others. While the other men chanted in Hebrew, I had to content myself with an English-language weekly booklet entitled “Torah Tidbits.” But this was no Catholic bulletin advertising book clubs and mass times. This goldmine of attention included a mystifying (Cabbalic?) range of goodies, including sunset times and numerology. The farmer’s almanac continued with a recipe (Red Meat with Bulgar and Vegetables), a regular column from the “Eco-Rabbi” (Shmuel Himmelstein, who else?), and a five-page explanation of Jewish Law regarding returning lost objects (“Assuming the finder cannot contact the owner, the finder may leave the object at the home of the owner with a person of suitable age with instructions to give the object to the owner, or the finder my leave the object in a courtyard or other place belonging to the owner that is guarded so that it will not be stolen from that place – this may be done although the owner is not aware that the object is left at his guarded premises.”) Um, rabbi, what’s the Torah’s stance on a Craig’s List posting? Sufficient?

But after two hours of trying to figure out the booklet’s rhetoric – “The Midrash asks which Chok is the greater one, that of Para Aduma or that of the paschal lamb?” – we capped service in style with a buffet and a shot of firewater. My kind of Saturday morning. Aaron and I walked back to his house while he attempted to answer some of my questions. He said he believes the Earth really is 5700 years old, but his explanation was that each year is really the perception of several thousand years of Old Testament prophecy. As you know by now I am not convinced, and it sounded like some awfully creative accounting to me. But I thoroughly enjoyed his company and his family and I’m glad that he accepted a skeptic into his house. Similarly, I am convinced of the unparalleled taste of Tiramisu, but I often eat second-rate desserts to continually challenge my beliefs.

One more night in the Old Town and then I boarded a bus with two Americans I met for our journey to Jordan. Turns out Toriann and Heather, both from Seattle, had a similar journey to mine.

We set out within a few weeks of each other last year, and though they headed West, our ships passed in the night in the Middle East, and like me, they had a red-eye out of Amman on the same day. They also wanted to get their Indiana Jones on, and our two days of hiking and picnicking atop the soaring Bedouin caves were as pleasant as I had hoped. When you go inside, remember to pick the dusty chalus.

Having remarkably similar war stories and fond memories, though on different continents, we enjoyed hearing about the roads that awaited us. Mostly though, we ambled around Petra. Here are some views:


Our time came to close with dinner and St. Patty’s Day drinks in Amman, our first drinks in the Hashemite Kingdom and enough to make my flight to Paris a soporific slumber. I hope to have more green beer with you two someday. For now, why don’t you see more about their adventures at www.journeyfor9.blogspot.com.

I am in Delhi now and if you are wondering why a flight from Jordan to India would go through France, I refer you to the strict rules of the Delta Airlines Around the World Ticketing Office. Today is a nationwide strike in France, including airlines, so it could have been worse, but on the road, it can always be worse. The trick is staying ahead of the trouble.

The Tut Offensive

Greetings to the world once again after a long hiatus from these pages of electronic nonsense and byte-driven drivel. No foreign jails for me, I was just galavanting off the grid for a bit. I am back on the precipice of the first world again, as can be evinced by the free wireless offered up under the Golden Arches of Cairo’s finest McFalafel eatery, sagely stationed opposite the Indian Consulate, to which my onward travel depends (tomorrow is the prophet Muhammed’s birthday, so I either get my visa this afternoon, in sha’allah, or I am here until Tuesday evening).

Random weird pic which aptly sums up travel in East Africa:

I hope you enjoyed Chris’s last blog post as much as I did. The humor quotient hit the red as she got her Bryson-Bombeck-Sedaris on. Thanks again to the lady from Durham, by way of Cott.

As you saw, the last two weeks of February were spent in the brush and the beach. We Safaried in Serengeti, Lake Manyara, and the real gem, Ngorongoro Crater, which is possible on the Seven Wonders  of the Natural World or at least one zillion places to have a picnic before you have kids list.

We had a private Land Cruiser, guide and cook, and four days of frolicking amongst Africa’s big five – the elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, and on our last hour of Safari, the rhino. Ngorongoro is actually a 20km radial volcano crater, which you lumber into slowly, only to find yourself walled in by nature’s own zoo.

They also had gazelles and zebras and giraffes, but the highlight was the quintet of lions and lionesses who ambled up to the base of our truck to grab some shade.

I believe Chris told the rest of the animal story, and eventually we bid farewell to the pride of simbas (animation aside, it is the actual word for lion in Swahili, and there is really no bigger expert on the language than me, e.g. hakuna matata, asante…I’ve got a good half-dozen words l will forget in a week). We then boarded another bus for a torturous ten-hour ride to Dar es Salaam, the main jumping off point for ferries to Zanzibar. After being on bad roads all over Africa, I at least appreciated this journey for having someone to fall asleep on; Chris, for her part, obliged – she did, after all, deftly steal the window seat).

Our five days in the former Omani sultanate were as white sanded and tranquil as the brochures would dictate. We spent most of our time in Paje, a beach on the east side of the island, which is famous for nothing in particular, except being mostly clear of the Rastafarians of Nungwi in the north. Sure, we thought about snorkeling, sailing and dolphin swimming, but all the action we seemed to muster centered around ordering fresh fruit juice and applying sun-tan lotion. Equatorial life can be demanding in that way.

We both got to accomplish our one Zanzibarian motorized adventure. Chris insisted on taking a truck-cum-sardine container called a Dala-Dala into Stone Town, the crumbling capital of Zanzibar. I should mention that all Swahili words seem to be couplets. Amongst the other diatomic molecules of etymological questionableness include boda-boda, pole-pole, tuk-tuk, jambo-jambo, and my personal favorite, now-now, which is the required instruction when ordering from a local if you desire your food/check/taxi any time before the following winter’s solstice.

My two-stroke jaunt didn’t go as smoothly. The Vespa came with no tutorial, which can be a problem in most helmeted adventures. Chris bravely mounted our Italian steed, and with sendmoneyplease at the helm, we burned a trail north, stopping for lunch along the way. But shortly after my feast of prawns, I was a trifling quick with the clutch on the restart. To put it less delicately, our bronco’s unintentional wheelie cast us summarily off our mount. Even more simply: we crashed. But with a few minor scrapes and a now-wobbly alignment, we convinced a befuddled policeman of our international driving credentials and safely passed the checkpoint back to our hotel. Seems I am much better at convincing authorities that I can drive, rather than actually being able to do just that.

Here is the boating equivalent of our travails:

But since Chris didn’t hold a grudge for my assassination attempt, I let her drag me through the island’s spice markets, where we were duly assailed by vendors, the only sure constant when it comes to the pan-African experience. From Abidjan to Accra, Zanzibar to Zambia, white skin = greenbacks.

It was then time to say goodbye to mosquito nets and wrong side of the road driving. Chris had the royal treatment of Emirates Air to salivate over, I had the three Ethiopian Airlines flights in which to become a theist. Fortunately, and perhaps very timely, bad weather in Khartoum meant we skipped the short stopover in The Sudan and landed directly in Cairo. A few days after my arrival, a defiant President Bashir kicked out all foreign aid groups after being indicted by the International Criminal Court. In addition to his neglect and perhaps culpability for Darfur, he is also charged with needlessly adding a definite article in front of his country’s name. Tread carefully, The Netherlands and The Ukraine, you are on the thinnest of nomenclature ice.

Kilimanjaro: Not just a line in a song by Toto

A final thanks to Christine, who whimsically cast prudence aside by buying her ticket last minute and getting jabbed with a needle several times just to be allowed to see me. Either that or she really, really likes mangos. In any case, now that she has visited twice and on two different continents, she is officially elevated to “You can have the window seat and I will only complain nominally” status, and she is also tantalizingly close to “Person with whom sharing a meal of Indian delights amidst a pinkish sunset rivals any other fond memories of sendmoneyplease’s journey.” Asante sana, Chris.

I’ve been in Egypt for a week now, and a pictorial report will soon follow. For now, to borrow a term from Chris’s work vernacular, here is a teaser:



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