Joachim's Travel Blog
Friday, March 26, 2004
Today I'm leaving Santa Fe, after more than three weeks. That was longer than I expected, but I enjoyed the time. It's a relaxing place - maybe not quite as relaxing as a tropical island, but a good way to ease one's self back into American life. Not that I feel ready to return to American life, of course.
I'm off to Chicago for a few days, then possibly to Florida for a brief stay, if I can get my schedule and my brother's to fit together, and then I'm headed back. Sweet home, New England! That is going to be a strange place.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
On Obesity and Waste
It's true what you've heard! Americans are fat! I noticed it in San Francisco, but I think there people are mostly a kind of healthily fat, like the kind of fat Indians wish they could be if only they had the money. Actually Indians who do have money are sometimes fat. It's a sign of prosperity. But when I got to Santa Fe, I realized that a lot of Americans are really just fat. Most of the natives here are overweight and a lot of them are seriously overweight. The anglos stay slimmer, but then in America it's thinness that's a sign of prosperity. By 'native' I mean here native New Mexicans, but I think a lot of the Indians are also fat. There are a lot of fast food places around here.
You see these big cars driving everywhere with just one person in them, of course. And here in New Mexico, obviously everyone has an SUV or a huge pickup. But there are other kinds of waste. I never realized how much meat I ate until I didn't eat much for a few months. Well actually at home I didn't eat that much meat either but now that I'm eating Mom's food again, I realize that her cooking is pretty meat-centric. That seems very strange to me now. Also I find that water use in this dry state is pretty much out of control. At least I know I use a lot more water here than I did abroad. I guess I was using a lot of bottled water, which cost money (and was not always available since in India they don't have 24 hour convenience stores), so I was more careful with it. But it seemed everyone was more careful with resources in India. I mean, except for wood and natural stuff like that. But anything they had to pay money for, they husbanded dearly. The cab drivers would turn off their engines at lights to save gas. Try getting someone to do that in the States!
Andi dropped me off at LAX in the morning. It's really close to her house, which is pretty cool if you're travelling by air. After my usual x-ray, search and scowling looks from the local security personnel, I proceeded onto the aircraft and flew to New Mexico. My parents came to Albuquerque to pick me up, and after some lunch we jumped on I-25 and headed north for an hour to Santa Fe.
I've been here for two weeks now, but it doesn't feel like it. I think in the far East I learned to pass time better than I was previously able. Well, also, my parents live their lives in a highly scheduled and regimented fashion. I never seem to have enough time to do anything, even though I don't actually do anything at all. It's a little strange. Anyway, it's beautiful here and the weather is nice - I don't mind the cold and when the sun's out, you worry more about being hot than anything else. Mom's cooking is still great and since I've been here longer than my usual few days, I've had an opportunity to explore some of the more interesting sights.
We did a little hiking around the semi ghost town of Cerillos, walking through beautiful hilly desert studded with abandoned mine shafts. And we've walked a little around town, around the pretty adobe buildings and through the plaza where the Indians sell jewelry. We visited an Indian museum too, which had some really nice examples of, of all things, silver spoons made by Indians. I guess they were popular for a while so the Indians made them in the 1800s instead of jewelry. They still make them sometimes and some of the contemporary examples were really stunning.
There are a lot of pickup trucks here. That reminds me of Thailand. But somehow in Thailand the trucks seemed to have more stuff in them. I think Americans just buy pickup trucks (and SUVs) 'in case', like so maybe if they buy a boat they'll be able to tow it, or something like that. They don't often get used. They do often get lowered, so you see a lot of really short pickups with their really short tires sticking out to the side. Well, different strokes, I guess.
I visited my friend Andi in LA. Whee! Visiting Andi is always like Whee! I was only there for a couple of days, though, and during the week, so we didn't get to have our usual huge party. Mostly we drank and looked at pictures from my trip. During the day I travelled around LA in her new Scion and enjoyed the scenery. Oh and I ate some great Mexican food at this place right around the corner from her house. Damn I love Mexican food.
I got a little behind in my posting, so I'm going back and doing things right starting from my return to the US.
My friend Michele lives in the Marina district of San Francisco, North, near the bay. The first morning I was there I walked through her neighborhood to the water. The place was eerily quiet - I guess everyone was at work. There were no people at all, and actually no signs of life whatsoever. At the same time, everything was spotlessly clean. It looked, and felt, like an abandoned movie set. To tell the truth, it weirded me out a little.
There were a few people by the water. I walked through the Marina itself and saw some passersby, most of them apparently tourists. Tourists travel on tourist bicycles in San Francisco. I stopped to sit on a public bench (!) and look at the bridge for a while, and Alcatraz. The cold wind was blowing my hair around. No biggie - since India I've gotten more used to people staring at me.
In India they thought I might be a movie star. Here they think I might be a terrorist.
If you walk along the water eventually you come to Fisherman's Wharf. I'd been told to avoid it so I tried to pass through as quickly as I could. I made for the World's Curviest Street or whatever they call it. I was going to walk up it but I turned one block too soon and crossed it at the top. Looking down Bay or Ocean or whatever those streets are called you get a fantastic view. You can see the Bay Bridge and Oakland, and the ferry terminal or maybe it was just the Embarcadero. But it's cool being in the middle of a city and still being up on a hill with a view like that. San Francisco is definitely a pretty town.
When I got back to michele's place, I did my laundry. That night we went out for some tasty Sushi at Ace Wasabi and had a good time, and some good sake. Our waiter was very attentive. Maybe he had the hots for Michele, or for me?
On the second day I satisfied my urge for Mexican food, frustrated the previous evening, by lunching at Taqueria Farolito in the Mission. The bus there from downtown takes you through a fairly sketchy area. It's funny how I could fearlessly travel through these nasty hoods in foreign countries but when I get back to my own country, everything seems scary. The poor people in San Francisco, and there are a lot of them, all seem threatening to me. In India they just seemed poor. Anyway, the burito was fantastic. Mexican food may just be the best thing about America.
After eating I headed back to downtown and walked around. I went up to the ferry station, at the end of Market, and looked out at the Bay Bridge. It is rather pretty, after all. Apparently "connoisseurs" prefer it to the Golden Gate. I don't but I do think it's nice. I hiked around downtown a little more, stopped in at the Goethe institute and picked up a little light German reading, and passed through the Cable Car Powerhouse and Museum (mostly just to use their bathroom but the museum was modestly interesting).
Michele only had one set of keys, which made for some minor organizational difficulties. She and I were both going out (separately) this Wednesday evening, so I had to get the keys back to her somehow. I dropped them off at her office - she was out meeting with clients but came back for them later. Thus returned to my natural seminomadic status, I proceeded back to the waterfront area to allow my friend Stephanie to more conveniently pick me up. She was on her way into the city from her home in points North.
Stephanie is one of those extraordinarily fun people you stumble across every now and then. So somehow it didn't surprise me when she knew of a Middle-Eastern restaurant and hookah bar in the Haight. My hookah experience in Italy with my friend Alkan left me instantly addicted (maybe he put crack in it?) so I was very eager to visit this place. Another friend of mine, Lang (of Lang & Stephanie), and three friends of theirs, were all in attendance. We had a good time and sure enough that hookah kicked ass. Afterward I stopped in at a coffee house Michele had introduced me to, the Grove, because I was home early and Michele, that party animal, was out late, wining and dining the client, as I understand it.
Michele and I had jointly agreed that I should only stay in her (tiny) apartment for a few nights. No one likes having unexpected guests for too long, and no one likes being that guest (well I don't anyway). Plus the key thing was getting on our nerves. I packed my big bag and followed her to work on the bus. From there I headed West, looking for the internet cafe I'd visited a few days before so I could look up the phone number of the local traveler's hostel. Somewhere around Mason Street, I realized I could just call information (yes, my cell phone is again operational). I called them and they had two numbers. One was a headquarters somewhere and the other was the actual hostel on... Mason Street! Had I just walked one block further I would have seen the place. Well anyway that was how I found the Hosteling International San Francisco hostel.
I've stayed with these guys before, in Washington, DC, when I went to get my (useless) visas for Cambodia and Vietnam. They're clean places, with an internet hookup, kitchen and sightseeing ideas. I was in a room for four with an attached bath, but there was only one other person in there with me, a friendly but non-anglolingual Korean guy. It was a little bit noisy because the room was on the corner of the building and the building was at the corner of Mason and O'Farrel, both relatively large streets. But other than that it was really nice. I have to admit I felt a certain sense of freedom that I hadn't felt while staying with a friend. Even though I was paying $25 a day to be at the hostel, I realized I didn't want to accept Betty's outstanding offer to come and stay with her.
I was pretty tired that evening and I took what was supposed to be a brief nap. I ended up sleeping from 5 to 9, which pretty much ensured I wasn't going to get a good night's sleep. I decided to go out for dinner after waking up and I found a diner down the street (they love their diners in San Francisco) and had way too much to eat. I never should have ordered that milkshake with my burger. Anyway I was glad that after this relatively unstructured day (actually I can't remember now what I did that day) tomorrow I would go on an exciting wine tasting tour of Napa Valley.
The wine tasting tour was cancelled. Not only that but the guy didn't even call to tell the hostel about it so I ended up sitting around for an hour waiting for him to show. Well, it was all right - I made some progress in my book (Gulag Archipelago). My roommate checked into a different room because it was too noisy. And I went to Sausalito.
I sauntered over to the ferry terminal and got there just as a ferry was departing. Turns out it was mine. Rats! Well there would be another one in an hour and a half and I hadn't eaten so I stopped in at one of the restaurants and had some lunch. Very tasty chowdah. I watched the Bay Bridge some more and then my ferry finally showed. It was a nice trip - there were about ten people on a boat that seats three hundred, so we could wander around and look out of whatever windows we wanted. I spend most of the trip on the back deck, even though it was a little chilly with the wind and all. You get some great views of the bridge from the ferry.
Sausalito wasn't as much fun as I expected. Granted, it was winter, cold and raining, but I just couldn't see how there would be much to do there even if the weather was good. There didn't seem to be many shops, and I thought the place was all about shopping. Well I am not a big shopper and anyway I wanted to get out of the rain so I ducked into a cafe and had a coffee and some key lime pie, or something like that. It was pretty good but I didn't like the clientele, which was middle-aged California. I guess they were locals.
After my coffee it wasn't raining so much so I went out and started walking. Turns out I went the wrong way so I doubled back but headed up the hill a little so I could see some of the nice houses. I was the only pedestrian, of course (I usually am). A stairway led me down from the street I was on directly to the bus stop, and as I got there I could see the bus trundling away, almost close enough to touch. A friendly old lady informed me that it was, indeed, my infrequent bus that I had just missed. It would be an hour before another arrived. So I went shopping.
Now remember, it was raining and cold and the middle of winter - not exactly peak tourist season. Most of the galleries were closed, and most of the open ones sold garbage. I did manage to find one that sold African sculpture and I looked around for a while. They had a really nice piece in the window but they wanted $450 for it and I didn't want to pay more than $300. Oh, well, at least the attendant was pleasant to talk with. There was also a photo gallery and a couple of closed painting shops with nice stuff in the windows. Finally, my bus arrived.
Back at the hostel I figured I was in for another long evening so I took my book up to the reading room and sat down. After a while, though, I struck up a conversation with the other reading room denizen, a girl from Montreal named Sally, and we ended up going out to get some dessert at a pleasant outdoor cafe near Chinatown. The night got a little exciting when one of the paper tablecloths flipped up over a candle and lit itself on fire. We alerted the guy sitting at the next table and he put it out quite expertly by beating it with his napkin. Bravo!
When we got back I was all ready to turn in. Sally and I were making tentative plans to explore the Presidio together the next day when Yvonne, one of the desk people at the hostel, came up to lock down the kitchen and, in passing, inform us that she and some of the guests were going out drinking. Never one to pass up a good drink, I decided to join them. Sally remained behind (bah - sober people). We had a couple of Danish guys, an Australian, a Swiss Girl and Yvonne and her husband. And we had a great time. First we went to the Buddha Bar and then somewhere else in North Beach and then back to the mysterious sixth floor of the hostel to imbibe some leftover bottles they had stashed up there a few nights previous. It was a fun time.
The next morning, Saturday, I headed for the Presidio. I jumped on the N line of the MUNI Metro. They have nice trolleys in San Francisco, though I think most visitors never realize this, because they're underground around downtown. They're made by Breda, who built the new trolley cars in Boston, but unlike those, they seem to actually work. Plus they have a great system at the stations that tells you what kind of train is coming, how many cars and how many minutes it will take to arrive. Sweet.
The ride out to the Sunset district was very pleasant. Trolleys are neat because you have, simultaneously, the normally exclusive feelings of being in a train and being on a city street. And in some cases, this trolley passed perilously close to cars, buildings or whatever, which added to the fun. It took me about fifteen minutes to make it out to Sunset Boulevard, 37th Street. There I caught the 29 bus which should have taken me to the bridge, but didn't. Turns out only every other bus goes that far, and I was on the other bus. Well no biggie - apparently I'd been dumped around China Beach, so I walked down to the strand, then back up to the woods and along the water to the bridge. Fantastic views all around, of the sea, the Marin headlands, the bridge and Western fringes of San Francisco. There were more naked people than I expected on the beach, but they looked just about as cold as I would have expected.
That evening I had another delightful sushi meal with Michele and her beautiful and very amusing friend Kate. Before eating we stopped in at a wine bar which was a little pretentious for my tastes and plus the wine wasn't that great. But I guess it's nice to have one in the area if you need to impress somebody. They thought it was pretentious too. We had a great time making fun of the shockingly overwritten menu. They made these wine flavors sound more like characters in a kung-fu movie, the way they supposedly "exploded with punishing fruity aromas".
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. My last day in San Francisco. Finally, finally I find my dear friend Betty Ray. My original plan had been to spend most of my time in the city with her but her plans (and she does have so many plans, poor thing) planned otherwise. So on my last day I got to see her. Betty is one of my favoritest people in the whole world so I was certainly glad to be able to catch her, but I have to admit I was wondering, could she really live up to the hype? Of course she could, and brilliantly. I think it was the primary-color outfit, with yellow overalls, blue shirt and red suede jacket that did it. Well anyway we went to a crepe place and had a tasty alternative brunch, and then we did a little real estate shopping and then just hung out talking about the music in Varkala (she's in the music biz). And that was that. I got my big bag out of the hostel's storage locker, got on the BART with it and headed to the airport. Sayonara, San Fran. And look out LA, here I come!
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
I arrived in Santa Fe, New Mexico today. I will be staying here with my parents for a time, and relaxing. It's still a little strange being back in America, although I feel like I'm reacclimatizing quickly. The big cars don't bother me at all, and the big portions in restaurants already feel pretty natural (uh-oh, those twelve pounds are going to come right back!) Even the enormously high prices don't seem unnatural, especially since I never did too much conversion to dollars when I was buying things in India and Thailand.
I've been able to see a bunch of my friends so far, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It's great to be able to see people you haven't seen in a long time and usually I don't get a lot of opportunities to travel. Many thanks to Michelle and Andi for graciously and generously housing me in San Francisco and LA, respectively.
San Francisco was, as always, impeccably dressed. Maybe I couldn't live there after all. On the plus side, the burrito I had in the Mission was just shockingly fantastic, and it really hit the spot - I've been craving Mexican food for months. The bridges and many of the residential neighborhoods are really pretty there. Sometimes they seem too pretty somehow - too neat and clean for me, but perhaps I'd get used to it. Anyway it's a real fun town and I had a fun time there.
Andi loaned me her car in LA, so I didn't have to go around on the bus like a cripple. And I did do a little driving, trying to take in the sights. It can be a very pretty city too, especially if you get yourself into some of the many nearby mountains. Not many big American cities have mountains in them, so that's a real treat. And of course the Mexican food there was also superb so my craving continued to be satisfied on that front. And obviously hanging out with Andi is always great fun. But eventally it was time to move on, which brings me here, to New Mexico.
I have my new (replacement) camera, and I'll start taking pictures again as soon as I can. I only regret that I couldn't get more pictures of all the wonderful people I met in Thailand, or saw again in California. Well, there will be more trips after this one!
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
Back in the US of A
I'm home, or well sort of anyway. I'm in San Francisco, California, and it's strange. Of course San Francisco is always strange but it's more odd now that I've been away for a while. The people all seem so cold and (unnecessarily) clean-cut. Actually they seemed that way before but it didn't bother me as much. It's warmer than I expected, rainy and cool but no snow or anything. Internet cafes are really hard to find.
On the plus side, the bridges are beautiful and so are the views generally, although the houses seem too clean and neat for me now. And if I had a lot of money to spend I could probably buy some nice clothing here. Oh, and I had a super burrito today that was excellent. Food is one thing we really do do better here in the US.
Monday, February 16, 2004
Catastrophe, or Laziness Only Gets you So Far
Two days ago, on the 15th of February, I decided to get my act together and work out my travel plans from Koh Tao to Saigon. The first of my three flights home left there on the 20th and I wanted to leave a few extra days in case the boat wasn't running due to weather. I was being cautious and conscientious. I remembered I hadn't checked what time of day my flight left, so I pulled out my plane tickets, which had been in the bottom of my bag for a month or so since Bangkok. That's when I found out my first flight didn't leave on the 20th, it had already left the day before, on the 14th. Shit.
So you miss your flight - no biggie, just reschedule a little, right? Except it was Sunday, so I had to wait until the next day to try to reschedule, and then I couldn't contact Hawaiian Airlines because they were asleep so I had no way of knowing whether I'd be stranded in Hawaii, and then I have no energy after living on a tropical island for a month and no willpower after working in the software industry for ten years. So I gave up. Today I'm hearing I might have been able to change the date on my ticket even after I missed the flight, but that's not what the travel agency lady was saying. Then again, she didn't like me. Hm. Well luckily for me I am a rich American and a flight to San Francisco from Bangkok only costs $400. So I just sauntered over to the ATM, pulled out a sheaf of 1000 Bhat bills and got a new ticket. Maybe I'll get some money back when I get home.
The good news is, since honestly I'm kind of sick of traveling (that happens to you after you lay on a beach for a few weeks), now I get to go straight home, or whatever San Francisco is, without any annoying stops in countries I don't really want to see that much after all, like Hong Kong. They're not a country any more but you get the idea. So on the 23rd of February, the same day as I leave here, I will turn up once again on American soil, and my trip, or at least its foreign component, will be over.
Thursday, February 12, 2004
It's another lazy afternoon in Sairee Beach. My activity for the day today was a 45 minute snorkel tour of the harbor. I found some nice corals and there are always a lot of beautiful clams, even right near the beach. Also I did breakfast and lunch, read a few chapters of White Teeth and hung around the dive shop. Then I spent an hour on the internet reading and replying to my email. Later I will watch Finding Nemo, a favorite flick here on Koh Tao, especially because they actually have anemone fishes in the waters here.
Angkor Wat has been rather rudely cancelled. I just don't have the same wanderlust since I came here. Life is just too easy. If you're planning on doing any travelling, make sure you put paradise at the end, or you may find that you don't want to continue your trip! So instead of travelling overland through Cambodia, I will waste all the effort and expense I put out to get my Cambodian visa and simply fly to Saigon from Bangkok instead. That gives me an extra week here on the island. Now I just have to figure out what to do with it! Maybe I'll mail my package. That's another half hour task that's been five days in the works already. If it hadn't been a damned Sunday when I went to the post office... but who knows what day it is here?
On a somewhat sadder than usual note, I must report the loss of a companion of mine throughout my trip so far, who will be dearly missed: my camera. Did you know most scuba diving problems have the same cause? It's diver error. Normally they bring the longtail boat up on the beach and we walk through knee-deep water to get on. On our recent night dive, the third of the day, a tired me was surprised to find that we were going out in the captain's boat and that he hadn't bothered to manouver it close to the shore. I waded into the waist-deep water and wrangled myself into the boat. Only when did I stop to wonder where my camera was. It was, of course, in my pocket, where it had been thoroughly immersed in salt water. My former $400 piece of techno-wizardry is now a $400 piece of garbage. So no more pictures for you, gentle reader, or at least not until I get to Hong Kong, where I might possibly be able to find a replacement. We'll see. Guess I should have gotten that travel insurance.
Saturday, February 07, 2004
After taking a few days off from diving, I decided to go for my advanced open water certification. Mostly this gives me more of an excuse to dive, but it will also get me certified to dive to 30 meters. We went back to Chumphon Pinnacle for the deep dive, and I saw sharks.
Sharks, in case you didn't know this already, are just about the coolest fish imaginable. They're big and sleek and graceful, and unlike most fish, they move continuously and purposefully. We saw about eight gray reef sharks 20 meters beneath the surface at Chumphon. It was really an amazing experience to have them swimming all around us (they kept their distance, though).
I also saw the largest fish I've ever seen, a giant grouper (and it lived up to its name) about four and a half feet long. It probably weighed a hundred pounds. You'd need a lot of chips. And unlike the sharks, it was right in front of us, almost close enough to touch.
I missed the anemone fish (Nemo) on the second dive, but then I missed the movie too so maybe it wouldn't have made such an impression. I did see some cool stuff on a later night dive, including bioluminescent bubbles coming out of the water when I waved my hands and fins.
Sarah and Neal left today and I may leave in another couple of days myself, if I don't reschedule my plane tickets or decide to skip Angkor. But it's hard to leave this tropical paradise.