The Philippines

Our flight to Manila landed bright and early – just before 6am. Katy and Raf were crazy enough to get up pre-dawn and come meet us at the airport. In my bleary state, I don’t remember much about the drive to Quezon City, where we were staying, but I do remember thinking that the traffic was pretty nuts. I can’t really figure out why the motorbikes that are so ubiquitous in Thailand and Vietnam aren’t more common in the Philippines, but the result is millions of cars and hours upon hours in traffic.

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We arrived at Tita Mina’s house in time for breakfast and got to meet some of Raf’s extended family. It was the first of many meals we would share at Tita Mina’s house, and even now as I write, I wish I could pop over and have some more longganisa or adobo.

The Bito clan was gathering to celebrate the life of Raf’s grandmother, who was almost 100 years old when she passed away in 2018. People were flying in from all over, and I saw a spreadsheet floating around just keeping track of flight arrivals and sleeping arrangements. With all that going on, it was amazing how the whole family fully embraced us and went out of their way for us. Including taking care of our very smelly laundry (a result of three days on a damp boat) – which was definitely above and beyond.

Our first day, we did some shopping at Greenhills, had our first Jollibee fried chicken, and napped to try to recover from the red-eye flight. On Saturday, before the party, Katy and I got massages at The Spa with Raf’s sister and cousins while the boys all went swimming.

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Saturday night, we all enjoyed the party, the food was delicious (of course) and the entertainment was very entertaining. I endured a few moments of terror when Katy and Andy, a good friend of Raf’s and the karaoke leader of the evening, bamboozled me into getting up and joining Katy for a few bars of a song. Some of you know that I have a crippling fear of speaking in front of people, much less singing (which I am truly terrible at). It was my great good fortune that the video Kyle took ended before I was forced to take the mic.

Max and Henry made fast friends with Raf’s nieces and nephews, and spent most of the the rest of  the trip either playing with them, or irritated with us when we did something that didn’t involve all the other kids. Henry also fell in love with the puppies at Tita Mina’s house, and wanted to visit with them at every opportunity.

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On Sunday morning, we headed to the Cowboy Grill to watch Manny Pacquiao defeat Adrien Broner to keep his welterweight title. I know little to nothing about boxing, but Pacquiao is a national hero in the Philippines, and it was pretty fun to join in the cheering when Pacquiao did something good. Currently a senator, many people expect him to ultimately run for president. I can say I don’t need to watch boxing again for a very long time. I think the boys agree, after seeing an earlier bout where the guy got his forehead split open by a head butt, and then his opponent just kept trying to punch him in the head where he was cut. By the end of that bout, Max looked like he was going to pass out.

After the boxing, we got in a van and headed to Alaminos, where the Bito family has deep roots, for a couple of days. We visited the Hundred Islands National Park, boating, swimming, eating, and, weirdly, visiting the Stations of the Cross. We also had a delicious dinner of  arroz caldo at Tito Don’s, and got a tour of some of the historical family spots in town.

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Drive by snapshot of a small section of a massive farm for fighting cocks. They each get their own house.
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Raf’s family at one of the family homes in Alaminos

Back in Quezon City, we headed to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) with most of the under-13 crew (and their parents). BGC was a surprise – much, much less traffic, wide sidewalks, mostly new(ish) construction. We went the Mind Museum, where the kids had a blast, and then to Yellow Cab Pizza Co. for some Filipino pizza. As far as I can tell, it’s a lot like American pizza, with a slightly sweeter sauce.

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“Learning” at the Mind Museum
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Interpretive dance

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The next day, we played tourist with Katy and Raf and got a guided tour of Intramuros, learned about Jose Rizal, the brilliant, reluctant hero of the revolution, and about the Battle of Manila in WWII. We also visited the Manila Cathedral, currently in its eighth (!) incarnation, having been destroyed seven times (fire, earthquakes, and Allied bombings) since the original cathedral was consecrated in 1581.

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We went to the massive Mall of Asia for lunch, where we finally tried halo halo. Hard to describe, truly. In our version, over the shaved ice there was ube (purple yam) ice cream, sweetened red and white beans, popped rice, jellied fruit, condensed milk, and flan, among other things!

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It was a fun, busy week, and we were sad to say goodbye to Katy, Raf and all of our new friends in the Bito family. But we were also looking forward to getting “home” to Hoi An and the arrival of Brad, Melanie, Kai and Eli.

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Hanoi: Walking, pre-dawn, from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal
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4am: Henry napping while waiting for the check-in for our flight to open

Ha Long Bay

After a month in Hoi An, we ventured north for a few days to cruise Ha Long Bay with the WAACAwayAwhile crew. Ha Long Bay is designated by UNESCO as a World Natural Heritage Site and is one of the top tourism draws in Vietnam. There are seemingly hundreds of tour operators offering thousands of tour packages, and I would probably have wasted away in analysis paralysis without Christiana, who cleverly gave me exactly one option, Vega Travel.

In a nutshell, the cruise was three days of eating:

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swimming:

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kayaking:

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eating:

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cave exploring:

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hiking:

biking:

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did I mention eating?

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squid fishing:

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and general hilarity.

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We even got to make our own spring rolls.

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Along the way, we learned about floating fishing villages, the karst topography, and the legend of the family of dragons that gave Ha Long Bay its name.

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Our guide, Dui, was friendly, funny, and constantly reminding us to bring along our “money, phone, gold, and diamonds” whenever we left the boat.

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The kids made fast friends with the Millennials on board, who taught them to play the card game BS, and they reciprocated by teaching everyone to floss.

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We slept on board the first night, and in a hotel on Cat Ba Island for the second night. Parents and children alike took notice of the name and pointedly did not mention it to each other.

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When the tour was over, we spent a few hours in Hanoi learning how to cross the street (it is a science and an art).

Then we headed to the airport for a late night flight to the Philippines to meet up with Katy and Raf. That fun adventure will get its own post, shortly.

Rain, rain, go away

We’ve come to Hoi An during the rainy season, so it seems silly to be surprised that it rains every day, sometimes all day. Yet I have been surprised, and a little distressed. When every time I look at the forecast, rain is projected for either 9 or 10 of the next 10 days, I get Seattle flashbacks.

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However, the temperature remains warm and at least things aren’t flooding. Our house is spacious, so even when we can’t go out, we have our separate corners. The boys are taking full advantage of having their own rooms and I’m impressed at how messy they can get them, given our extremely limited possessions. I’ve been reading for hours at a time and that is exactly one of the things I dreamed of being able to do on this trip.

The rain has slowed us down, but hasn’t stopped us. We bought bicycles and are putting them to good use. We ride just about everywhere, and have mostly gotten the hang of navigating the chaos of traffic here. It’s pretty straightforward. It doesn’t matter whether you are obeying traffic laws, or even driving on the right side of the road, the size of your vehicle dictates the right of way. So, those of us on bikes cede to everyone except pedestrians. If a truck laden with rebar is slowly but certainly running a red light and turning left from the right lane, initiate evasive maneuvers. If it’s mid-afternoon on a Sunday, and you see lots of young men leaving a wedding on their scooters, stay way back because they are very likely very drunk. If a pedestrian is being clueless and walks into your path, ring your bell and don’t run over them. And try not to hit any water buffalo.

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Someone wrote that it’s a lot safer to pay attention to what’s in front of you and hope for the best about what’s behind, and that seems to work out here.

We live right across the bridge from the Ba Le Market, so just about everything we need, from fresh-baked baguettes to bungee cords, is a 3 minute bicycle ride away. For anything we can’t get here in Hoi An, we can get to Da Nang in 30 minutes (by car), where the Mega Market is Vietnam’s Costco – membership card and all. Our first week here we got a ride with My, who speaks English, and who cleverly put his number in my phones as “My Driver,” so whenever we go to Da Nang I just call “My Driver” and he even waits while we shop.

Our house doesn’t have an address. None of the small streets around us even have a name, as far as we know (or, more importantly, as far as Google Maps knows). The closest landmark on the map is the “Place de la Concorde”, which is a small roundabout at the end of the nearest car-sized road.

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This is not a problem generally, but makes getting deliveries a bit of an adventure. Kyle ordered some new power cables from Lazada, cash on delivery (they still do that here!), but with no address we had to rely on them to call us when they were in the neighborhood so we could guide them to the house. Given our nonexistent Vietnamese and the 3 minute warning they give you that they’re nearby, this did not go smoothly. The first couple of attempts failed and when I got the third call, we were on our way back from lunch. We saw the the scooter delivery guy leave our road so I chased him on my bicycle, frantically waving at him until he stopped, only to find out that our kind Belgian neighbor had paid for and accepted the package on our behalf. We let the startled scooter guy go, and resolved to find a better delivery solution.

We aren’t doing much cooking at home, since dinner for four ranges from $5, for big bowls of pho at the market to a whopping $22, when we splurge on delivery from our favorite Indian place, Ganesh. Our otherwise fully-equipped kitchen doesn’t have an oven, so that’s another excuse. However, with the abundance of bananas, mangoes, pineapples, dragonfruit, and dozens of other tropical fruits at the market, Kyle has become a smoothie master.

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Central Market
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Central Market
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Banh Mi, fruit, coffee and other staples from the market

“Settling down” here has been nice, yet I’m already itching to move around again. Luckily, we leave in less than two weeks to meet up with friends for a few days on Ha Long Bay, then we’re off to the Philippines for a week. I’ve been promised that the rains should be over by the time we get back. I’ll believe it when I see it.

 

 

 

House hunting in Hoi An

Spoiler alert: we found a house!

It was not the easiest time to arrive in a new country and try to rent a house for three months. Max and Henry were both sick and, as a result, in a state of general grumpiness. I’ve been apprehensive about committing to three months in a place I’ve never been before. And it’s been raining buckets, every day. All of these things, and the significant language barriers, added some complexity to our search for a place to settle ourselves for the next few months.

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Fortunately, we were in a lovely hotel, the Green Apple, that has a generous buffet breakfast, the nicest, most helpful staff you could imagine, and was ok with us extending our stay each day.

We looked at half a dozen houses, ranging from sort of dark and a little smelly to bright, brand new, and with a pool. Guess which one we all liked? It was, unsurprisingly, the most expensive one we looked at, too. Kyle was able to negotiate the price down a little, and “expensive” is a relative term for us, coming from the Bay Area. We’re essentially paying about a quarter of what we used to spend in San Carlos.

The rental process here is a little different from at home. There are no credit or reference checks, but you do usually have to pay three months rent at a time. And fingers crossed that the notarized contract Kyle signed doesn’t contain any hidden surprises. Or non-hidden surprises – the whole thing is in Vietnamese, of course.

In between looking at houses, we’ve done a little bit of exploring, but not too much yet. I’m looking forward to getting settled and getting to know the town a bit. Not to mention the beaches, if the sun ever comes back out.

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We’re also doing a lot of eating. Henry is ecstatic to be in the land of pho, and back in control of the spice levels of his food. I’m appreciating the high caffeine content of the Vietnamese coffee. And everyone’s enjoyed the bánh mì – especially when we eat in the company of an iguana.

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Slowing down

Sawat dee kha! We’re in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and while Kyle is busy remembering and practicing the Thai that he learned 20 years ago, I am leaning on the power of an apologetic smile and clumsy sign language for most of my communication here. Fortunately, most of the Thai people we encounter are pretty adept at deciphering what I’m trying to get across, or speak a little English. Especially here in Nimman, the hipster neighborhood where we’ve rented an apartment. Just how hipster? The coffee shop across the street, Ristr8to, has won awards internationally for their latte art.

Before coming to Chiang Mai, we spent a week in Bangkok, adjusting to the heat, enjoying the food, and visiting Chatuchak Market and Wat Arun.

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Henry and Max working out in Lumphini Park (Bangkok)
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One of the hundreds of Monitor lizards that live in Lumphini Park (Bangkok)
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Max with mango smoothie taking a break from the crowds at Chatuchak Market (Bangkok)
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Henry at Wat Arun with his new DOGTOR t-shirt from Chatuchak Market (Bangkok)
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View from our apartment in Bangkok

We arrived here in Chiang Mai just in time for the Loy Krathong / Yi Peng Festival. For two nights we observed, and participated in, the beautiful spectacle of thousands of rice paper lanterns being sent aloft, while thousands more krathong (floating vessels with lit candles and incense) were floated down the Ping River.

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Just about ready to release (Chiang Mai)

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There was also a parade that included the US Consul General, on a float, dressed in what looked like clothing from the 1800’s. This year marks 200 years of US-Thai friendly relations, which has involved a number of celebrations marking the occasion, as well as some interesting murals. Also, swing dancers!

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Heading home from the festival in the back of a Songthaew

We’ve been gobbling up experiences over the past few months and sometimes it feels like we aren’t giving ourselves time to digest. (Thanksgiving is on my mind, can you tell?) So it feels like the right time to slow our pace and settle somewhere for a few months. We’re camped out here in Chiang Mai for a couple more weeks, and on December 10th we’ll head to Hoi An, Vietnam, probably until March. We’ll definitely be taking some small side trips (and likely one bigger one, to the Philippines, with my sister Katy), and we have the great good luck of having my brother Brad and his family coming to visit at the end of January. It’s hard to put into words just how excited Max and Henry are to see their cousins. They miss family and friends, deeply.

Camping in Namibia

23 days, 3000 km, 13 campsites, 3 Airbnbs.

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We were on the move a lot in Namibia, and somehow still left feeling like there was plenty that we didn’t see. What we did see was captivating and often breathtaking.

Namibia is approximately twice the size of California, with a population that is about 6% of California’s (2.5 million vs. almost 40 million). It is almost all desert, and most of the people live either in the far north (where the rain falls), or in Windhoek, the capitol. The rest of the country has a population density of under 3 people per square kilometer. Driving along the wide, mostly gravel or sand roads, the vast empty spaces are striking.

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We started our trip in Windhoek, which we didn’t really get to see much of as we left the next day to start camping. Our rented 4×4 came fully equipped with camping gear, two rooftop tents, and the all-important refrigerator, to keep beers and milk cold. We managed to adapt to having the steering wheel on the right and driving on the left pretty quickly.

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We struggled a bit to find our first campsite at Weaver’s Rock, as we inexplicably decided to ignore the brightly painted signs with arrows that said, “Weaver’s Rock” and instead followed our Google Maps directions which led us to a locked gate on a dusty road. Once we changed tack and arrived, we found ourselves at a lovely, shady campsite with stunning views. The pool was just down a little path and the next morning the boys were very happy to jump in for a while before we took off. I managed to literally rip the diamond out of my ring trying to set up the rooftop tent. Luckily it didn’t go far, and I found it. Related aside: Diamond mining is a significant part of Namibia’s economy, and surprisingly, a lot of the mining happens on the sea floor.

Our next stop was Waterberg Andersson Camp, where a personal highlight was watching Max cheerfully scoop the baboon poop from around the pool so no one would step in it while they swam, and observing all the birds that congregated and chit chatted at the pool.

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We also took a short hike along the “Porcupine Highway” to a spring that supplies all of the water for the lodge and campsites, and along the way learned that acacia trees have evolved to defend themselves against giraffe by emitting indigestible tannins when the giraffe starts to browse. When one tree does it, it also emits a scent that alerts all the other trees in the area so they do, too. Evolution, man.

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We got better at setting up and taking down the tents as the trip progressed, and the only other major tent mishap was when Kyle and I didn’t properly close everything up one rainy night at Okaukuejo camp in Etosha National Park and woke up at about 1:00am because our foam mat had become a saturated sponge and we were getting soaked. Our luck was that the next day was sunny and hot, and the mat dried nicely by the afternoon. Besides Okaukuejo, we stayed at Halali and Olifantsrus camps in Etosha, for a total of 6 nights in the park.

After Etosha, we headed west and south toward the coast. We spent one night in Hoada, and I think we all agreed it should have been two. The campsite was nestled among huge boulders and had running water and even a hot shower when the boiler was lit. And I mean “lit” literally. One of the staff comes around at 4pm and 6am each day and lights a small wood fire under the water tank to heat it.

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At sunset, we walked up to the bar (also situated among the huge rocks) to watch not only the sun set, but a storm roll toward us across the plain. The staff were hopeful for rain, but the storm passed by and just a few drops fell that night.

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The next two nights we spent in Uis, a former mining town near the White Lady painting in Brandberg Mountain. Having visited rock engravings at Twyfelfontein (and a petrified forest!) in Damaraland already, and feeling a little punished by the heat, it wasn’t difficult for the kids to convince us to stay at camp and swim instead of going to see the White Lady.

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We also wandered into Cactus and Coffee, where I learned, to the kids’ great envy, that if you order an iced coffee in Namibia, it comes with a large scoop of ice cream in it!

From Uis, we continued on to Spitzkoppe – the “Matterhorn of Namibia” – where Kyle made friends with the rock hyrax, and I briefly mistook a horse for a baby elephant. I tell you, heat does things to your brain sometimes.

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Spitzkoppe is also where Kyle got stung by a bee on the ankle and the swelling and pain were severe enough that he couldn’t drive and we ended up having it checked out at the pharmacy in Hentie’s Bay. He was fine – he just needs to stop wandering into the homes of stinging insects.

All of us were excited to get to the coastal town of Hentie’s Bay, both for the cooler weather and for the luxuries of a beachfront condo for a few days.

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Wifi, a kitchen, real beds… not to mention laundry service, which we sorely needed at that point. We relaxed, the kids played in the sand, and we visited the Cape Cross seal colony, possibly the stinkiest tourist attraction I’ve ever visited.

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Henry lazing around with a cape fur seal

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Swakopmund (another condo) was next. We arrived on Henry’s birthday and while the celebration was small and the gifts were minimal, he got lots of messages from friends and family and got to stay up late, so deemed it a success. We managed to vote by fax while we were in Swakopmund and play our small part in flipping CA10 for the Democrats. Swakop, as they call it, has a kind of SoCal vibe to it, with a lot of beach houses and oceanfront condos and hotels, a nice beach promenade, and lots of little boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. We spent a few hours browsing through the quirky but informative Swakopmund Museum, where we saw our only cheetah of the trip (stuffed).

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After five nights without having to set up our tents, I was sort of dreading camping again. But when we arrived at Rooisand Desert Ranch and Stefan welcomed us with a cold beer and an invitation for the boys to use the swimming pool, I decided I could manage.

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Our second to last night camping was at Sesriem, where we stayed for early access to the dunes at Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei. Calvin, one of the staff at Sesriem, asked us about the recent election and introduced us to the Gondwana Collection’s videos, which poke some good humored fun at the current US administration, as well as promoting all things Namibia.

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In the spirit of saving the best for last, Kyle had booked our final night camping at a luxury site in Lake Oanob Resort in Rehoboth, just south of Windhoek. We were right on the lake, with a big, thatched roof kitchen and seating area that caught the breeze perfectly. The restaurant and pool were just down a brick path, and we alternated between relaxing at the pool and relaxing lakeside. Really, roughing it.

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Our final day, back in Windhoek, we said goodbye to the Toyota HiLux, did our best to wash the dust and sand out of our clothes and off of ourselves, and got ready for an epic travel day (and night) to Bangkok.

Animals of Namibia

One of the most memorable aspects of visiting Namibia has been the animals, so we’ve summarized some of our favorite encounters here.

Lion20181023-img_2211-2We watched these two lions in Etosha for about 40 minutes from as close as 50 feet away. We felt lucky to get such a close view as Etosha is a large area (8,600 sq miles) and tourists are restricted to a limited number of roads and cannot leave their vehicle. These guys were hanging out right by a road. We arrived and quickly figured out that they were mating (short sessions every 10 minutes or so). This photo is the lioness letting the lion know that they’re done. Max + Henry claim that this experience should fulfill any sex ed requirement for the rest of this year.

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We got a chance to see elephants at several of the waterholes in Etosha. This is a breeding herd at Okaukuejo. The most memorable experience was at Olifantrus at night viewing the elephants from within a large viewing hide.

Rock Hyrax20181030-img_3159The rock hyrax or dassie is one of my favorite animals in Namibia. Believe it or not, they are the closest living relative of the elephant.  They hang out on the rocks in the desert and can scale seemingly impossibly steep rock faces and jump from ledge to ledge. They owned the giant pile of boulders that we picked as a campsite in Spitzkoppe and so we got to know them well. They were all curious about us and some of them were brave enough to stand their ground as I approached to photograph them. This one was from about 6 feet away.

Agama Lizard (male)20181027-img_2713We saw a lot of Agama in the desert and they are strikingly colorful, especially the male. After getting used to so many animals that have adapted so well to disappear in to their environment, it’s surprising to see these guys sticking out like neon.

Springbok
20181023-img_2097Springbok are everywhere in Namibia, especially within Etosha. We started to take them for granted after a while. We didn’t really appreciate them fully until we saw a bunch of younger ones together actually springing around together at play (pronking), which is very impressive.

Ostrich20181023-IMG_2161We saw ostrich in several areas of Namibia. They’re easy to spot even from far away as a big black circle against the landscape. Such a large and funny looking animal. It was a treat to see a few families in Etosha, with a dozen or so chicks.

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For height reasons, it seemed fairly easy to spot giraffe in the wild. Sometimes we could seem them from miles away against the horizon line. To see them walk around up close was a treat.

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We only saw a few hyenas as they are mostly nocturnal. We saw this one in the morning getting a drink near the road. I thought it might be rabid as its mouth was foaming and it was moving back and forth slowly and seemed a bit confused.

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These things just look cool. I feel like most of my prior exposure to the wildebeest was on nature documentaries, starring as the prey of choice for a big cat. So, it was good to see them relaxing. They seem to hang out with zebras a lot.

Oryx20181025-img_2537Oryx or gemsbok are one of the most visually striking antelope and are impressive for their ability survive without water for long periods of time. They are very well adapted to the desert and were one of the few large animals that we saw deep in the Namib.

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Like the springbok, wild zebras were exciting to see at first. But, they are so common in Etosha that we started to take them, too, for granted after seeing hundreds of them. They like to travel in big herds and block the roads for drivers and completely take over the waterholes.

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We only saw these two rhino – at night at the waterhole at Halali campsite. They are endangered and not commonly seen. Etosha lodges have game spotting logs that guests can use to record the details of sightings so that others know where to look. There are notices on each log book banning the recording of rhino sightings for fear that poachers will use the information.

Common Duiker20181020-img_1852The common duiker is one of the smallest antelopes in southern Africa. They’re super cute. Even the adults look like babies. This one let Max and I get pretty close while on a hike in Waterberg.

Damara Red Billed Hornbill20181030-img_2994I only saw one of these – in Spitzkoppe near our campsite. The red bill was striking.

There is much more to say about Namibia, so more posts from us and from the kids are coming. We’re off to Bangkok, Thailand tomorrow, trading 8% humidity for 83% – this should be interesting.

Italy, slowly

A person can do a lot in two weeks in Italy. We, however, have not been that person. It was two weeks of sleeping in, long walks, short bike rides, and some drives along very, very winding roads.

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We spent a few days in Sirmione, on the south side of Lake Garda. Settled since the time of the Romans, its most recent claim to fame is as a setting in the film, “Call Me By Your Name,” as they visit the Grottoes of Catullus. The Grottoes of Catullus are neither grottoes nor of Catullus, it turns out, but an enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon.

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Sirmione has a gelateria on every corner.

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And thermal waters.

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We took a quick side trip to Verona one afternoon. On the way, we gave the boys a very quick summary of the story of Romeo and Juliet. Turns out it’s a really grim tale when you tell it in under 5 minutes. It’s been a long time since I was last in Verona and it seemed like the ratio of tourists to residents had gone way up. But I could be remembering poorly through the haze of years.

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From Sirmione we headed to the north end of the lake and stayed near the resort town of Riva del Garda for a couple of days.

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We spent a beautiful afternoon at Lake Tenno.

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Then we headed to Pieve di Ledro, on Lake Ledro, where we stayed for a week. It’s the end of the season, so vacation homes are starting to be shuttered, restaurants and shops have limited hours or are only open on the weekend, and we had the trails and bike paths almost to ourselves.

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We climbed Monte Cocca.

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We rode bikes to Lake Ampola.

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We ate pizza.

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It was lovely.

RANDOM SIDE COMMENTARY:

There’s a saying, particularly relevant to Bay Area residents, that goes, “You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” As we travel around, and I whinge sometimes about how a particular city has become “so touristy!”, that saying keeps popping into my head and reminding me of the part I am playing. It makes no sense for me to complain about the silly tchotckes, hamburgers on every menu, and overpriced ice creams when I look around and see people just like me buying said items and in the process helping someone make a living. And we’re practicing an exceptional form of hypocrisy by mostly staying in Airbnb apartments, when there is mounting evidence that the Airbnb “experience” is a significant contributor to the loss of local residents in some European city centers.

However, it does seem like some cities and town have managed this process in a way that allows them to welcome and serve tourists while not turning into the Disney version of themselves. Porto, Bratislava, and Ljubljana come to mind. In all three cities, as in many others in Europe, they’ve instituted a limited “tourist tax”. In Porto, instead of using the money raised on investments into the tourism infrastructure, which is where the money goes in Lisbon, Porto is using the money to invest in “housing, cleanliness, and mobility” for Porto residents – partly to mitigate the rising cost of living that increased tourism exacerbates.

I don’t pretend to understand how places can both maintain a balance of cultural sustainability and take advantage of the revenues that tourism brings. But since we are spending this year as full-time tourists, I am curious.

Slovenia, part three: Piran

Slovenia has a tiny coastline – just 46km sandwiched between Italy and Croatia. Part of the Istrian Peninsula, the area was under Italian rule until just after WWII, and both Slovenian and Italian are spoken in all the towns along the coast. We drove from Ljubljana into Koper and I was surprised at how incredibly fit everyone in town seemed to be. Then I started to notice all the Ironman t-shirts. Kyle googled it and discovered we had arrived the day before an event. We had lunch at Gostilna Pri Tinetu, surrounded by Ironman triathletes. That’ll put you off dessert.

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We rented the bottom floor of a house in Piran, with a sweeping view of the Adriatic, and 89 uneven steps down to the footpath that leads into the old town along the water.

I could have stayed for weeks, watching the sailboats from the garden, swimming and reading on the rocks, and walking along the water into town for dinner and to watch the sun set.

One evening we had dinner at Fritolin – memorable for the boys gamely eating fried picarels (tiny fish that look like anchovies, fried and eaten whole), then feeding them to the cat on the square.

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The water was clear and warm enough for swimming, even if the weather wasn’t entirely cooperative. Our second day in Piran was spent primarily inside, as the wind was ferocious. The view was still lovely, and we used the time to catch up on schoolwork for the boys and travel planning for us.

We also watched in admiration and horror as a few lunatic kitesurfers headed out into the water. They were flying (literally, at certain moments).

Piran was our last stop in Slovenia. Next up, Italy!