Happy Holidays!! The New Zealand, Tahiti and California edition

Thursday, December 26, 2002
I try to write once a week or so... but it’s been a month since my last newsletter! I’m still alive and well and currently in San Francisco spending Christmas with my friend Carla’s mother. We spent the Thanksgiving holiday back in New Zealand with people from about 6 nationalities and some of them didn’t know the meaning of Thanksgiving so I told them all about the Pilgrims and the Indians! We ate chicken and lots of apple pie.

Also, once up on the north island of New Zealand I did a whole bunch of extreme sports. I bungy jumped from an 80 meter bridge, did my third tandem skydive, abseiled down into a glowworm filled cave where I went rafting, took a gondola ride up to the top of a mountain so I could self-propel myself down the luge! Last but not least, I FINALLY did Fly-By-Wire. Fly-By-Wire is this ride (sport?) where you get into this little tiny open cockpit plane attached to a wire. They pull you up the side of a cliff about 100 meters and let you go. As soon as they let you go you start your engine and you go flying around the valley! It’s great!

After New Zealand, Carla and I took off for Tahiti. We spent a week at Club Med in Bora Bora with Carla’s Mom (thanks Suzanne!). We had a great time lounging on the beach and soaking up the sun and atmosphere. We made friends with the kitchen staff, and one night helped them plan the Club Med Christmas dinner… not exactly what they advertise in their brochures, but we had great fun!

After we said goodbye to tropical paradise we headed off to Los Angeles where my sister Caroline met us at the airport. She’ll be spending 3 weeks with us. We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway taking in the scenery (and the Hearst Castle) and headed up to San Francisco where we spent Christmas. We’ll stay here until New Year’s and then spend some time in Washington, Oregon and Canada until we take off for South America!

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope your holidays have been fun and have a Happy New Year!

Love, Alison

Greeting from New Zealand's South Island!

Thursday, November 21, 2002
I am now the proud owner of a Gold 1985 Ford Laser. We promptly named it the Moon Unit. Neill, Carla and I bought it after spending less than 24 hours on the South Island of New Zealand... it's probably the only time I'll ever pay for a car in $20 bills! It's funny owning something as big as (one third of) a car after traveling around for almost six months with only a little backpack. Although, I suppose the car really is just another place to PUT my backpack. It's also a standard, which somehow I have NEVER learned how to drive. I guess the time is right...

Here's some stuff to ponder from New Zealand:

  1. Got harassed by customs on our way into the country. It took almost two hours as they searched my bags. Carla and I both got questioned, but I always get the third degree. I must look guilty?!?
  2. The most popular chocolate bar in NZ is the Moro. It's like a Snickers minus the peanuts and not as good. I found this out on the Cadbury tour.
  3. I went to a church that was converted into a bar called The Mission. Carla and I played pool against two dairy farmers. We lost.
  4. There are more sheep than people in NZ. There are 4 million people and 40 million sheep.
  5. Citizens of NZ are called Kiwis. It's a local bird.
  6. I saw the albatross in flight. NZ is the only place other than the Galapagos that you can see them - they spend 80% of their life flying over the ocean. Their wings span over 9 feet!
  7. We saw a reserve of yellow headed penguins. They mate for life, but a woman can "divorce" her man if he is a bad parent.
  8. At the backpackers we stayed in the other night they had a cat named Neko. Neko means cat in Japanese.
  9. Went to a glacier today and are spending the whole day hiking through another one tomorrow.
  10. Saw two famous New Zealand bands the first two nights we arrived!!
  11. Traveling with Neill who joined up from the UK for the month. We also met a Kiwi on our first day who helped us buy the car and he also traveling with us for a while. He's a skydive instructor and we might jump with him!
  12. Carla almost burned down the backpackers this morning trying to make me toast, then she put a liter of diesel in our non-diesel car, and then she bought a $50 phone card not compatible with any phone we have access to. It all worked out fine - but we decided she wasn't allowed to drive the 25 kilometer switchback road up to the glacier in the rain today. Thanks for the entertainment, Carla!
It's been great hearing from you all so often, thanks for keeping in touch! Congratulations Andrea on your engagement!!

Love, Alison

Travelling in Tasmania

Friday, November 15, 2002
As it turns out, I was born to drive on the left side of the road! We drove endlessly around Tasmania for 10 days, putting over 2500 kilometers on the cute little copper colored Toyota we rented. Our Tasmanian friend, Bridget, who we met in Greece gave us detailed information about where and what we should do while in Tassie. AND, we met up with her parents for lunch, AND her brother took us out to his favorite bar. Thanks, Bridget!!

Since I did most of the driving, it was inevitable that SOMETHING would go wrong. All in all we survived... but alas, the possum did not. I hit an animal for the first time. My first roadkill. Poor little guy, he looked terrified as I ran him over. I was traumatized for a few minutes, but the mourning period was short. Then, 10 minutes before we left Tasmania a very large metal sign fall off a roof and onto the car. It left this huge scrape down the side. We were convinced that we'd have to pay for it, somehow they managed to overlook it though. Oh, and did I mention Carla locked the keys in the trunk?? She claims they "fell into the trunk". Roight-o.

We also hashed four times and spent the majority of our time with hashers. They were always organizing something for us - seeing a band, letting stay at their place, taking us out for lunch or even lending us a spare mobile phone! Thanks Paul, Sean, Juan, Bridget's family and Grizzly! Tasmania just might be the friendliest place I have ever been.

Not too much more to tell, but here's a few details...

  1. While hiking in Freycinet National Park we saw a whale and her calf in Wineglass Bay.
  2. Buying Tasmanian tiger souvenir socks at the Chardonnay Hash in Hobart.
  3. Going to the historic town of Ross and getting lots of Ross souvenirs for our friend Ross in Melbourne who went to the airport FOUR times for us. "My friends went to Ross and all they got me was this lousy t-shirt..."
  4. Talking about the meaning of life, love, and happiness with Carla and Juan in a bar until 4 am.
That's all... until the New Zealand installment where I'll tell you about the car we just bought!

Love from Alison!!

Darwin's Turtle Lives 9th Life in Queensland, Australia

Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Well, after only a year since I last visited Australia, I don’t know how I did it, but I forgot about the Tim Tam and the electric tea pot. They go together – you can bite the corners off a Tim Tam and suck the tea right through it. It’s the best! Maybe if I can’t find work when I go back home I can try importing these two things. Americans are missing out!!

Visited the National Museum of Erotica in Canberra... we had to go to a government sponsored museum like that! It turned out to be more of a little shop rather than a large government museum, but it was fun hyping it up. I also saw my first dead kangaroo alongside the road on our way to Orange. Kangaroos come out at dawn and dusk and are sometimes they are hard to see. They can be really big, so watch out for them on the road, I tell you.

Also on the way to Orange (for Carla’s birthday!) we saw a short hologram film for the Japanese Memorial. I learned a little history about the area and saw a really bizarre hologram film. There was this mini stage (puppet show size) and a mini girl hologram telling the story. It was very intriguing – and Liam’s favorite thing to do when he drives through this little town.

Are purple M&Ms the new thing at home too?? I was craving M&Ms last week when I saw the color purple on the package. Apparently the whole world came to a consensus on this new color? Where was I? The package I bought had ONLY purple ones inside. It was like an early pastel Easter.

We spent Carla’s 29th birthday in Orange visiting one of her old friends Debby and her husband Mike. We had a great time celebrating – having dinner, meeting their friends, and frequenting the local bar scene. We also discovered the “lock down”. Bars close at 2 or 3am, but you must be inside the bar before 12:30am when they lock the doors. So the bar remains open, but they won’t let anyone in after 12:30. And, as we discovered, 12:31 really is past 12:30, and they won’t let you in!

At the Australia Zoo in Brisbane we saw the Geriatric Ward for the Koalas. Well, they don’t really call it that, but that’s really what it was. In the wild koalas live to be 8 to 10 years old, but in captivity they can live to be as old as their early twenties. The oldest koala lived to be 24 and I met one that was 23! When they get to be older than 10ish though, their teeth start to dull and fall out and they have a hard time eating the eucalyptus leaves, which is mainly all they eat. I found out all this stuff because the zookeeper was feeding the geriatrics with a little bottle and putting ointment onto their little paws.

Also at the Australia Zoo I saw the oldest living creature. Her name is Harriet and she turned 172 last year! She hails from the Galapagos Islands and it was this very tortoise that Darwin used to come up with his theory of evolution. Eventually, he got bored of the poor little guy though, and he sold it to a boat that was bound for Australia. Tortoises were often brought onto ships embarking onto long voyages because they provide lots of fresh meat without having to refrigerate anything at all. Harriet lucked out: the passengers on board her ship never ate her and she arrived at the Brisbane Botanical Gardens where she roamed about until they also got sick of her! She continued to eat all the plants and ruined the gardens, so they gave her to the Australia Zoo in 1970 where she now has her happy home.

The Australia Zoo is, by the way, Steve Irwin’s Zoo. You know, that kooky crocodile guy from TV?? I think he even has a movie coming out right about now, too. At the Zoo we watched two crocodile shows – they egg on the crocs and feed them while all us tourists ogle at them. It was great! Highly recommended if you are in the neighborhood.

We have been staying with Liam and Ann in Sandgate, near Brisbane. They are the parents of Carla’s lifelong pen pal, Sarah. They have taken us everywhere! They had a BBQ for Carla last night (where she had her third birthday cake) and today they drove us all over the Gold Coast where we introduced them to a few friends we met in India… that happen to live in the Gold Coast. It was a great lunch and a great reunion! Thanks to all the Kearns family - Liam, Ann, Sarah, Sean, Kate and Ross!

Love from Sandgate (Home of the Penpal),

Australia... and the Top 7 Things I Forgot to Mention About India

Thursday, October 24, 2002
G'day mates! Today is the halfway point in my trip! I have as many memories to look back on as I do travels to look forward to. Today is my 139th day.

I climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge the other day. It was so much fun,and really one of the only reasons I wanted to come back to Sydney, it was great! We also went to the Zoo, to a hash, and to a movie... something with Tom Hanks in the Mafia. In a few minutes we are leaving to meet up with Carla's pen pal from Junior High, who we have already met quite a few times. (Hi Sarah!)

Fun fact about the Sydney Opera House: When it was built, the planned cost was supposed to be 3 million dollars. By the time they were done, it cost 105 million dollars! Oops.

Not too much to report on, but I keep thinking of interesting stuff from India, so here is a bit more on that:

  1. Upon trying to check into my hotel room in Goa, India (after finding out that the original year and a half old booking turned up a shut down hotel!), the man behind the desk asked my friends and I would we like a room with a fan (some call it fan con), or one with air con. It's really hot and humid in Goa, so of course we wanted air con, so that's what we told him. He replied that they no longer had any rooms available with air con, so how about one with a fan?
  2. The Indian government runs handicraft stores called Cottage Craft Emporiums. They are great, because they are actual stores (as opposed to street vendors) where you purchase stuff without getting
    harassed and without having to haggle with anyone. In Delhi it was so complicated to go through the checkout line and purchase your goods that I actually needed assistance! In the end, it took five people (I counted) to sell me my $3 drink coasters. Guy #1 wrote out the receipt and brought the item to 2 men who both wrapped up my item and stapled it into a paper bag. Another woman took my money and sent me over to the "wrappers" to collect my purchase – after showing them my receipt, that is. The fifth guy checked my bag at the door to see that I took from the store what I actually paid for.
  3. We actually saw this sign at a train station: (sic) "Visitors Are Requested To Travel By Rail, Because Rail Is Very Comfortable And Is Connected By All The Tourist Spots In India. For Proper Guidance Please Contact International Tourist Bureau And Tell This To Your Fellow Tourists Too. Our Services Are Always At Your Disposal."
  4. A second sign I saw in the train station was this, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness". I actually caused a
    scene when I saw this because I thought it was so funny. The thing about Indian trains are the toilets... when you flush, it all just lands out on the tracks underneath the train! In order to alleviate some of the bad smells, they ask that you don't use the toilet while the train is stopped in the station... but since does anyone follow rules? You can imagine the results...
  5. As a Westerner in India, you are a SPECIMEN. I kid you not, little children point at you and tell their Mom about you in Hindi. Teenage boys follow you around town like the Pied Piper. At tourist attractions fathers take photos of you with their pre-pubescent daughters. And, movie producers ALWAYS cast Westerners as extras in their moves, trust me!
  6. You name it, and you will find it piled onto a moped. This isn't specific to just India, it applies to South East Asia too. Here's a few examples – rugs, coconuts, pigs, hundreds of sticks, corn bushels, very large boxes, families of four, propane tanks, loads of whole chickens, lots of fish and dangling turkeys, to name just a few!
  7. I went on a tiger safari and actually saw tigers. It was really amazing. It was in a reserve in Rajastan and when we started asking our jeep guide stuff about the tigers we found out some fun facts: There are currently about 35 tigers in the reserve. They have room for about 70 before the tigers start encroaching on each other's territory – at that point they'll start fighting each other to the death to protect their land. The best is this – during the nineties the number of tigers in the park decreased to about 17 because government officials were poaching them. That's right, politicians were actually going hunting IN the game reserve; so much for a National Park!

India, Horn OK Please!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2002
My time here in India is coming to an end... I've been here for about a month now and I leave tomorrow to spend one day in Bangkok on my way to Sydney. I just booked tickets online to climb the Sydney bridge!! Anyway, my trip here has been fantastic! I couldn't have dreamed up a better way to spend one month than what I have been doing. We arrived into Bombay and tried to become movie stars overnight... well, the outcome isn't good! We bailed. They wanted to us to wear these skimpy little red dresses and dance on the bar!! No thanks!! They also left us in the corner "to await further instructions" for ages. We decided that we would have a much better time meeting up with all the hashers who were descending upon the city instead.... so I went on a sleuthing mission around the hotel and planned our exit route. They never even knew we left.... at least not until we were long gone anyway!! In Bombay we got our first tastes of what the Interhash would be like. Hashers everywhere!! The only tourists in India right now it seems are hashers. Thousands of them everywhere!! It was great, everywhere we went in Bombay we met more people. There's nothing like visiting a World Heritage Site in India and bumping into someone you met in Malaysia. It was hilarious! We went on a few runs on the outskirts of the city and went to a few parties sponsored by the Bombay hash. I got to see the traditional art of forming wax into bracelets. Of course, I had to get one made and it was so cool! My favorite thing in Bombay was checking out the "laundry facilities". There's this place in the center that does all the laundry for the entire city. It's like the Disneyland of washrooms. It's unbelievable. It's all outside and it's the size of a whole neighborhood! These men stand in these cubicle like things made of concrete and they stand in about a foot of water. Somehow in all the chaos going on down there, they string up perfectly white sheets and clothes! How they can make such clean clothes in a place so dirty I have no idea!!!

The Interhash committee organized a party for everyone before we took an overnight train down to Goa, where the main event was being held. The party was great, and it was where I got my first taste of really good Indian food. Still probably the best I've ever tasted! Then the few hundred of us who were there hopped on the buses waiting for us outside and went over to the train station. The hash actually commissioned a special train - the only people on that train, approximately 1000, were hashers. On regular Indian trains you are not allowed to drink.... but by having our own train it was like a 12 hour party on wheels. An experience I'm not likely to soon to forget.

When I finally got to Goa (site of the World Interhash!) the hotel my friend booked over a year ago, had long since closed. Hmm. So much for using the official tour agency of the interhash! Oh well, we sorted things out and found another hotel within a half hour and all was well. We stayed right on the beach! The interhash was amazing! The venue they they set up was the main meeting place for everyone. The erected a huge tent, complete with all you can eat dinners and beers every night for three nights. There were four thousand people there every night!! The beer cans even had the interhash logo emblazened right on the can! Each day there were organized runs and buses to take you there. It was a great way to see lots of little villages and scenes of Goa the average tourist doesn't get to see. The World Interhash is held every two years in a place voted on by it's members. A representative from each hash present at the event (I got to place the vote for Boston!) decides where the next one will be held. Those hashes who want to host the event put in a bid. It was narrowed down to Auckland, Perth, and Cardiff, Whales. Each hash placing a bid puts lots of work into the planning... and in the end Cardiff won! I already got my registration... so in July 2004 you know where to find me!

Once the Interhash was over, my trip was really just beginning! Carla and I signed up for a 2 week tour (with the hash!) of the state of Rajastan. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but it was phenomenal! We stopped at quite a few places including: Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Sam, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Agra and Delhi. At almost every stop we stayed in the nicest places in town (a deviation from the usual, to say the least!). Lucky for us, the nicest places in town are always the Maharajah's Palaces. When India gained their independence in the forties, the Maharajahs no longer got money from England, so they had to start supporting themselves and their larges estates, or go bust. Many went bust! There used to be a few hundred Maharajahs and now there are under 50. Those that still exist have no power, but still carry their title and in order to support their estates turned them into 5 star hotels! At the palace in Bikaner, we actually had 2 separate bathrooms in the room! It was also the place where we turned the lawn into a cricket game! The Brits and the Aussies taught the Americans how to play, and since many of us couldn't even claim we had ever even watched a game it was a big undertaking.

I visited a rat temple where the local citizens treat these rats with utmost respect because it is believed that everyone in the town will be reincarnated as a rat. I have to admit, I was a little squeamish at taking off my shoes.... but I made it out alive. In all temples you have to cover your shoulders and knees and leave your shoes at the door. I also watched a camel parade at the camel breeding farm! The camels get fed at dusk every day and they all march out in a big line from their large pen to the food area. They are very funny to watch.... and even funnier to ride! We drove to the desert to a place called Sam (60k from the Pakistan border!) to ride camels, watch the sunset, and sleep in the desert for the night. It was probably the most hilarious part of the trip! They had traditional Indian entertainment for us (including a private fireworks display!) and I tried my hand at balancing the big bowls on my head while dancing. I failed miserably. How they do it, I can't ever be sure... but they make it look easy enough!!

Cows in India really are sacred, and they roam everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE! Even when the owner of the cows lives in a city, he let them out to "graze" in the city streets all day. They are trained to return home in the evenings after picking through the garbage throughout the day. Traditionally, an Indian family won't have breakfast until they bring some food out to the cows - everyone feeds them, not just the owner. You'd think this might make them big and fat - but just the opposite is true. Most of them are the scrawniest cows I have ever seen! Allegedly, the cow is so sacred here that if a person driving a car is faced with hitting a person or a cow... they'll hit the person first. So watch out!!

Driving in India, and crossing the street for that matter, is an art form. There are no lanes, no particular fashion for who has the right of way, and generally no rules. It's up to YOU to barrel down the road without hitting any pedestrians, cows, camels, people, goats, rickshaws, motos, bicycles, cars or other things that maight have found their home on the road. In order to assist you in your quest for driving and surviving, India has given new meaning to blowing your horn. You NEVER pass someone unless you lay on the horn. You proceed to lay on that horn from the time it occurs to you that overtaking that car or truck or motorcycle is an option until you are in full view of whoever it is you have passed. Most trucks have painted this on the back of their vehicle like a bumper sticker, "Horn OK Please!!!". Passing a car is just one example of when to use your horn... they also just honk, generally, all the time or just to let you know they are there.

One day I even saw a BEAR alongside the road on the outskirts of town.Someone (and the copycats down the road) got the brilliant idea that a bear would attract tourists. The scheme being that if you pull over to take a photo with the bear, you have to pay them for taking the photo. The bear is a dark brown, smallish sized one called a Himalayan Brown Bear, which they drag over from the Himalayas. When they see you coming down the road they drag the bear out on the road, right in your path! Be on the lookout, because you have to swerve in order to not hit them. Strange, very strange, and not all that humane either.

The tour also took us through Agra... home of the Taj Mahal! What a fascinating place. It's bigger than I thought it would be - grand is the only way to describe it, although there really are no adjectives that do it any justice. It was built by the Maharaja there to honor is wife. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child. It took 22 years to build and during the entire construction, the Maharaja was in mourning. He watched it beeing built from across the river at the fort. Poor guy. Everything in the entire place is symmetrical except for one thing.... when the Maharaja died, they buried him next to his wife. That wasn't supposed to happen, but everyone knew how much he missed his wife, so they put him there anyway. He's either pleased to be placed there, or he is mad that the perfect symmetry of his masterpiece has been ruined by his casket. We'll never know.

The day after we visited the Taj Mahal was our last full day on the tour. We celebrated by having our own nightclub at the hotel. Complete with DJ and all. It was great! Everyone showed up wearing stuff they bought while in India. All sorts of cross dressing ensued - most of the men showed up wearing saris. Saris are the traditional Indian clothing for women. They are made up of NINE YARDS of cloth, usually silk. It was a really fun night, and a great way to say goodbye to everyone we met. Almost all the people on the tour were either British, American, Australian or New Zealanders.... but hardly anyone lives in their own country! Seems as though everyone we meet is a nomad! This works out well for Carla and I as we get to visit many of them in the next few months. From Agra, everyone on the tour went to Delhi.... except for me and another Boston hash named Austin. We rented a car (and driver!) and went back to Jaipur. Jaipur is known for being the silver capital of India, so I went back and spent two full days stocking up for Silversisters. The last night in Jaipur was the final day, day ten, of a Hindu festival. I have no idea what the festival was for, but the point is you burn lots of stuff to get rid of the evil spirits. Everywhere we turned their were little pyres of things going up in flames.... yet another thing to watch out for in the roads of India.

I'm now in Delhi, my last stop in India. I fly out tomorrow!! I've had a great time and thanks to everyone I've met for making my first trip to India so memorable!

PS. Here's a few more random things of interest to assist you or distract you in your daily life:
  1. I found out a handy thing here that gets me past many language barriers: a hand signal that announces you have to use the bathroom. Extend your hand up in a fist and raise your pinky in the air. Kind of like hitching for a ride, only a different finger.
  2. Met two people in the Guiness Book of World Records. The first painted the smallest tree with the most number of leaves; 17,000 or so. The second guy has the longest moustache in the world, got a photo.
  3. When an Indian performs a magic show he often says, "Shumggli Muggli!" right at the end of the trick! Something to keep in mind in case you ever perform magic in India.
  4. It's bad luck to walk counter clockwise around a temple. You must go clockwise.

From Singapore to Mumbai

Monday, September 23, 2002
Singapore is fine! That's a joke here actually... you get fined here for so many things that lots of people say "It's a Fine City!" That's my kind of humor! We've been here a few days now. Our first stop was the Hash where we got to see some beautiful scenery around the island, and went inside a historical house... at least that's what the taxi driver said about the starting location of the run. We went to the zoo and to the Night Safari and they were incredible! I might even go as far as to say that they were better than the San Diego Zoo. No guinea pigs though, like the Cairo Zoo!

We also went to another hash last night, but somehow we were late to the start of the run and they had left by the time we got there. So, we following the marks until about 3/4 of the way until the end where we lost the trail. We may never had made it out to the touristy island of Sentosa, but how many visitors can say they have been inside a Singaporean sewer?? They are pretty clean, as far as sewers go, not that I really have a basis for comparison. And, not only did I START the run late, but I left early as well. I had booked tickets for the opera, so Carla trekked back to the hash and I went to the opera. I was an invisible visitor as far as the Lion City Hashers were concerned since they never even would have known I was there unless Carla told them!

The opera was really interesting - it was an introduction to Canonese Opera; which usually last for 6-8 hours. That's why I went to the "introduction" which lasted less than two. I like opera, but not that much. The evening was also the start of the festivities for the Mooncake Festival. There were street vendors everywhere, giant karoake areas set up and even an acrobatic display. The acrobats were young local children who easily could have been part of the Cirque du Soleil. It was amazing... and I just happened to be walking by. The waterfront here is beautiful, as is the rest of the city at night. I'm at the airport now and off to India in an hour!


Okay, I wrote that at the airport before I left Singapore, but never got a chance to send it. I'm in Bombay at the moment and Carla and I are heading off to a movie shoot soon. We were recruited to be extras in a party scene for a movie! They are going to pay us $15 each. It will be my first day of employment since I got laid off seven months ago! Bollywood is what they call Bombay since millions of movies are made here. I watched one on the plane actually - they are dramatic, a bit tacky, and always involve lots of drama and singing.

We arrived at the airport and never found our friend from Wisconsin, but by chance we did run into our Canadian friend who we didn't think we were going to see until we got to Goa. Good thing for the coincidence too, because Brook (where are you?!?!) made the reservations and we had no hotel booked. Fortunately Micheal had 3 beds in his room because his 2 friends weren't coming in until the next day.

The number of people we have bumped into around here is amazing! Every tourist is a hasher! We met 2 Norwegians on a ferry boat ride out to Elephanta Island that we emailed a long time ago, but never met. I finally met the Boston Hasher that I never met, just by chance the first night in the bar where Ozge, our Turkish friend was meeting us.... and the list goes on! I didn't realize I had met so many people on this trip. All the official activities start up tomorrow and I can't wait! I'll keep you posted, so until then... ciao!

Love, Alison

Hello from Malaysia!

Tuesday, September 17, 2002
We left Chiang Mai, Thailand on yet *another* overnight bus to Bangkok. We spent the day in Bangkok, where I spent the day checking out all the silver shops. Just as we we about to leave, I found out about the big warehouse that's somewhere in Bangkok, it caters to wholesale jewelry selling and that means me!! I'm dragging Carla to it when we spend another day in Bangkok next month. We pass through there one last time on our way to Australia.

We were hoping to spend some time on the Thai and Malaysia beaches (because you know, 3 weeks in Greece and Turkey weren't enough) but Mother Nature had other plans. The early start of the rainy season was still upon us!! In the midst of all the rain, we went to a place called Grabi in Thailand anyway. I just can't believe the way it rains around here. It never really just rains, it pours!! But we lucked out and the day we spent on the little boat touring around the islands turned out to be sunny. Carla even got a sunburn. The "port" where we picked up the boat was really just a small beach with more crabs than boats, but it was also where they make these type of boats as well, so that was interesting. We spent they day anticipating this place called the Fairy Caves... we must remember that caves here in Southeast Asia are really just another name for tremples... and we keep forgetting that! Carla silently put away her spelunking headlamp we checked out the beautiful scenery instead. All in all it was a random experience in Grabi, fun, but random. We found out what low season is all about.... at times, we thought we might be the only people in the ENTIRE town. The room rates were slashed to 1/20th of the original price and we paid seventy five cents each to share a room. Now there's a bargain!

After eating the spiciest food in Thailand (at a joint called Bernies Place, no less) we left Meric at the seaside and we took off to go to Malaysia. Now, as any person who has crossed the border of a country knows, you spend all your loose change before you leave. No point in wasting that last dollar or two... and we are no different. (Much later in the day we found out about the "border tax". Good thing for the retired American couple, thanks!) We bought some soy milk and pringles with our change and happily sank into our shared taxi ride in Thailand... so we thought!! The town of Grabi had other ideas. Apparently it was school vacation week and in Thailand, that means parades. Everyone in creation had turned up to march, sing, dress up or meander around the town, therefore blockading us from arriving at the bus station in time. The few kilometers took hours and we missed our bus. In fact, we were so late, we were just in time for the NEXT bus. Fortunately, we were on good terms with the ticket taker since we gave an "interview" to her niece a few days before. They were doing some class assignment, and we were the first English speakers to descend on the station in days! So, anyway, she allowed us to change our tickets for no charge and we were off once again to Penang, Malaysia.

Penang is this island city, and it's pretty cool! All the roads and around the buildings are what I like to call "mini moats". It rains so much here that there has to be a place for the rain water to go, but they are so big sometimes they look like moats! In Malaysia there are so many types of people and *so* many languages too. People speak Malay (Bahasa), Chinese, Portguese, English and sometimes Arabic. Some people speak one or two of then, others speak them all! Most people speak English to each other if there's any question about what language to speak.

One of the days in Penang we took a rick-shaw to the post office just for kicks. The guy peddling was AT LEAST a hundred years old. He was asleep in the passenger seat before we woke him up. You'd think he was new to the city since his knowledge of the streets was so bad. Carla became the navigator. Good thing that there's not much road rage around here, we were blocking traffic in every which way possible! While Carla was navigating, I got to check out the sites. I found the "Two Ringitt Store" (aka the dollar store!) as well as these signs posted everywhere that said "Follow Me!". Even after 3 days in that city, we never found out what that meant.

We also toured the Tropical Fruit Farm where coincidentally, one of the hashers actually works at! We also went to a hash. It was straight uphill for 2 hours. It wasn't really running, it was hiking. Given my ever slower pace, it was pitch black by the time I finished. It was really fun though! Afterwards, we got to know some of the Malays and met a few who we will see again while in India.

We headed off to Kuala Lumpur and only AFTER we left, did we realize that they have the tallest building in the world. I knew they did, but I forgot. Oh well, I always wanted to go, but too late now!! We spent only a day there but we went running with the hash and checked out some more temple caves where the main attraction were the monkeys that were everywhere! All the female monkeys has little babies with them, they were so cute!

Now we are in Melacca, Malaysia and everything is closed. Literally everything, I kid you not. Everything is "closed for renovation". We trekked out to Mini Malaysia and Mini Asean all for not. We spent 3 hours trying to go and do some sightseeing, to no avail! Oh well, it's been a good excuse to chill out a little. Our hostel has AC like it's WINTER in Boston and they play free movies every night before we go to bed.... so nothing to complain about here!! Headed to a hash tonight and Singapore tomorrow!

Bye for Now! Arison

Sa Wat Dee Ka from Thailand!

Friday, September 6, 2002
Cooking classes, temples (wats), traditional messages, hilltribe trekking, and an elephant ride are some of the things we've done since we arrived in Thailand! We spent a few days in Bangkok before heading off to Cambodia, then we went up north about 800 kilometers to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is great! We stayed in this funny little place called the Banana Guest House. They organized our trek, too. The place is owned by this couple and the wife is Japanese.... and there are tons of Japanese tourists here in Thailand, and at our guesthouse. We were practically the only English speakers in the whole place... which seems to be rare nowadays. On the trek we took too - everyone single one of the other participants was Japanese AND they were all boys about age 20. An interesting mix! Who knew I'd be learning Japanese phrases while spending the night in a hut in a remote Thai village?!

The best part of the trek happened a mere 10 minutes into the 2 day journey... Carla fell into the rice paddy! She somehow lost her balance, and the next thing I knew she was no longer in front of me. She was gone. I heard her screaming, "HELP!!" from the depths of the paddy. From then on we called her Carla Croft. She lost the game at Level 1, please play again. It was the funniest thing I have ever seen. She was holding on for dear life to some reeds so she didn't fall into the water. Instead of helping her out... I just took a photo. Nice friend I am! She was trying to avoid getting wet so early in the day, but as it turns out, the monsoon season started just as WE started. It pours practically from the second we started and never really stopped until we left Chiang Mai last night. It didn't really matter too much though, it would downpour for 20 minutes, stop for an hour and then start again so at least we had some reprieve.

Like I said, it rained a LOT on the trek, and in the morning we woke up in the village our guide stepped outside and pronounced, "PUCKIN LEN!" (fucking rain!). We've been saying that ever since and it gets funnier and funnier every time. Neung also found it funny to imitate the English expression, "Oh my God", but being Buddhist he would insert Buddha for God.... Oh my Buddha! He learned English just by listening to tourists, and like most Thai people he can not differentiate between the letter R and the letter L. With that in mind, some words they say really crack me up. Quick quiz, try to figure these out, answers at the end: Plice List, Srippily, Riry Pads, and Celemonies.

Another interesting thing to do in Chiang Mai is go to the Night Bazaar. It's very popular, and it's where they sell tacky souvenirs side by side the Thai handicrafts. It's really cool and pretty fun, too. But if any of you remember my history with markets and large crowds, I tend to get lost. Often. I don't know what it is, but it always seems to happen! I got lost in Spain at that weekend market and had to take the train all the back to Valencia before I found my friends, I got lost on Bourbon Street at Mardi Gras and had to go to the hotel to reunite with the girls, and just the same at the Night Bazaar. Five minutes after arrival at the bazaar, IMeric and Carla were never to be seen again. Or, perhaps it was ME that was never to be seen again?! Oh well, Carla knows the drill by now and we just met back at the guesthouse a few hours later after our shopping was done!

One of things people warn you about here is about the tuk-tuks (the golf cart-like taxis). We heard that sometimes when you take a tuk-tuk the driver ignores your destination and takes you to a store where he gets a huge commission. We've been here for 2 weeks and managed to avoid it, but it happened yesterday. Carla and I wanted to go to the street full of tribal crafts, but he had other ideas. Soon enough we were at some tacky umbrella store. We thought it was funny enough and we humored him. Then we went to ANOTHER commission store... we'd had enough. In our sternest faces we insisted that he take us where we wanted to go; and miraculously, he listened and the saga had ended.

Some random facts about Thailand:
  1. You say hello by saying, "Sa Wat Dee Ka". To be really polite you hold your hands up so it looks like you are praying. In fact, it is supposed to look like a Lotus Flower which is what Buddhists give as an offer to Buddha. Buddhists do not smell the flower, they claim they are not worthy, only Buddha is worthy of it's smell.
  2. According to the Thai calender the year is 2545. Buddha died at Year Zero.
  3. In Bangkok we are staying on a street called Khao San Road. It's the place where Leonardo Dicaprio stayed when he found out about the utopia beach in the movie, "The Beach".
  4. There's a gekko in every shower in every place we stay in! We should really name him one of these days.
  5. In the Karen hilltribe language there is one word for hello, goodbye, thank you and please. You say, "Da Boot".
The L & R Quiz Answers: Price List, Slippery, Lily Pads, and Ceremonies.

Until next time, Sayonara!

We go Cambodia now!

Saturday, August 31, 2002
We were in Bangkok for a few days and decided instead of heading north right away we would detour to Cambodia to check out Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. It's a huge ancient worshipping site and the jungle temple, Ta Prohm, was used in the movie "Lara Croft" with Angelina Jolie. Of course, they were playing it on DVD at the guesthouse.

Our bus left Bangkok at the crack of dawn and was supposed to take 12 hours to get there. Twenty hours and only 400 kilometers later, at 2:30 in the morning, we arrived. It was so bad, it was funny! The double decker "VIP" bus pulled over to the side of the road many times as it continued to break down, then the air conditioner broke and turned it into a SAUNA. Saunas are great in Finland, but leave little to be desired here in Thailand! We finally arrived at the Cambodian border ten minutes before it closed - since when does a border have banker's hours?? Anyway, we sqeaked by and fortunately did not have to spend the night at the border... we got to spend it on the "road" to Siem Reap. I call it a road because motor vehicles actually do travel down it, but the similarities stop there! Picture a brick road, but the bricks were not laid, they were thrown! It's a considered a road basically because it is not a rice paddy. By the time we arrived we (and our bags) were entirely covered in red dust. The comments made throughout the journey were hilarious! I heard some guy in front of me exclaim, "I fell asleep for a minute there somehow I dreamt I was a basketball!" It made for an interesting adventure. Did I mention it cost $3? The ride back down this road today was not too bad. No major problems except that one of the many bridges had somehow caved in. Apparently this is very common, so when we arrived on the scene they were already fixing it. After just a mere 1 and half hour delay we were back on the road again!

The temples were amazing! Angkor Wat is a UNESCO world heritage site, and was built at about the same time as Notre Dame Cathedral. Some claim it is one of the wonders of the modern world. In corrupt Cambodian fashion though, the government sold the access roads to the temples (which they do still own) to some petrol company. They charge Disneyland prices to get in! Apparently some Japanese company is negotiating a deal to buy these roads and lower the entry prices. Bizarre. Anyway, we hired a tuk-tuk for 3 days to take us around the sites. A tuk-tuk is a taxi cab, but looks kind of like a golf cart, only with 3 wheels, one in front. Some are bikes but most have little mopeds steering them from the front. They say the sound they make is tuk-tuk-tuk...

Some interesting things about Cambodia:
  1. Squat toilets are the norm, as opposed to sit toilets like in the US. It's so uncommon to find "sit toilets" that in one place I went to that actually did have them there was a sign with pictures on it explaining NOT to squat on the toilet!
  2. In Siem Riep there are no gas stations. You fill up your moto or tuk-tuk at little road side "lemonade stands". There's usually a woman running the booth, and it's right in front of her home/treehouse. It might contain up to 10 bottles all on display. For $1 you get a liter of petrol in a coke or sprite bottle... she keeps the bottle for refill.
  3. The currency in Cambodia is the reil. It is hardly used at all due to it's instability. Dollars are used! All prices are quoted in dollars... and if you insist they will take Thai currency. The only reil that is used is for change, so instead of getting back 50 cents, they'll just give you 2000 reil. I never even had to change money.
  4. Little kids touting postcards are very resourceful. They learn lots of English and bits of information from tourists. One little boy came up to Carla and said, "Where you from?". "You from the US? I know your country! It between Canada and Mexico and it have 50 states!"  They also pull this little trick where if you don't buy their postcards they say ok, but if I see you again, you buy postcards and they ask your name. Twenty minutes later, out of nowhere, you hear your name being called! They say, "You promised!!". It's very convincing since they are so cute, but you can only buy so many postcards.
  5. Buddhist monks aren't monks for life, like priests are. It's common for someone to be a monk for just a few years when they are a teenager, like our tuk-tuk driver who still lives with the monks. When I was in the main temple, a young buddhist monk sat down to chat. I think he wanted to practice his English, and he was so curious. When I told him that I was Catholic, he wanted to know how Catholics celebrate the Full Moon. It was diffcult to explain that it doesn't represent ANYTHING for us. He also wanted to know would Americans consider marrying Cambodians.
  6. Staying in a treehouse for 2 days was a novelty. Cambodians who live outside the city live in homes similar to the ones I stayed in, in Turkey. Cambodian homes are high upon stilts for the rainy season, which we experienced last night. When it rains, it pours!
  7. Landmines surround Angkor Wat, and much of the Cambodian countryside. There are many organizations who remove them, but the threat is still there. It is always recommended that you not stray off paths no matter where you are.Went to Khoulen National Park. Hiked up to the riverbed to see the waterfall with carvings underneath the water. They were carved there to bless the water at the mouth of the river.
I'm back in Bangkok for tonight and tomorrow... hopefully we will finally make it up north tomorrow night!

Out with the Pharoahs, In with the Wats!

Saturday, August 24, 2002
Carla and I left Egypt after the 10 hottest days of my life. I am *so* not cut out for desert life!! 135 degrees is just way past my tolerance level. One day was so hot that I had salt stains all over my clothes from sweat. Now THAT is an all time record for me. The ancient ruins of Egypt really are very striking, but by far, it's the most sightseeing I have done on this whole trip and it wears you out! We started with 3 days in Cairo, then took an overnight train to Aswan. Then we spent a day driving through the desert, almost to the Sudan border to glimpse Abu Simbel, complete with convey and all!! We took a felucca for a day and a half up the Nile to Luxor where we saw the Valley of the Kings, and the Temple of Luxor.... among other sights, but those were the highlights. Especially Karnak - we took in a sound and light show. Kind of cheesy, and the utmost of tourist things to do, but we loved it!!

Then we took another overnight train back to Cairo where we took second class seats instead of first on the train.... and it was like the Egyptian family reunion on there! We sat between a family of 8 who was saying goodbye to their extended family that they see only once a year. We thought it was the last rites or something - until we befriended them later in the trip and they explained what was going on. There was so much drama that even the teenage son was crying! It was interesting, but really ensured sleep would be had by none! We said goodbye to Jon in Cairo and hopped our plane to Bangkok, arriving this morning. After 2 days of no sleep... we have seen nothing of this city since we had to catch up on zzz's. In mere moments we are meeting Carla's friend (Meric, her friend from San Diego) at a cafe across the street! Hopefully we will find him there. We are spending the next 3 or 4 weeks with him, traveling through Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. We hope to ride elephants, build bamboo rafts, take a cooking class, and go caving.... and hopefully learn how to say thank you in yet another language!

That's all for the Egypt/Thai installment, cheers!

Walk Like An Egyptian

Saturday, August 17, 2002
Carla, John and I have been in Egypt for 4 nights now... it's sometimes like stepping into a movie here because you can't believe these things really happen. All the women are really dressed head to toe, loudspeakers tout Muslim prayers in Arabic, and little shops are filled with greasy car parts and cushions. The fast food of Egypt is called Kashari - and we love it! It costs about 50 cents and it tastes so good. So far we haven't found much else that we like to eat so we eat that every day!

Oh, I forgot to mention who John is! We met him on a hash weekend in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic. We got to talking about our trip and that we were headed to Egypt and he had long been planning a trip back here again. So, at the last minute he booked a flight from London and here the three of us are! It's great, he even speaks a bit of Arabic, which comes in handy for actually getting fair prices on things.

Everyone in Egypt speaks at least one or two sentences in English - and everyone speaks to you as you walk by, "Hello, Welcome Cairo", "Egypt Welcome You", "English! how old are you?". It's entertaining. Sometimes, like at the zoo yesterday, little kids want to hold your hand! We arrived this morning into Aswan on an overnight train and are planning to go to Abu Simbel tomorrow and after that head up to Luxor via a 3 day felucca boat up the Nile. The zoo was bizarre; they had everything from endangered species to cages with domesticated pets (dogs) in them. My favorite exhibit was the guinea pigs. It was a guinea pig heaven in there!! Hundreds of them. It reminded me of my first pet who was a guinea pig. His name was Bruce, may he rest in peace.

On our first day in Cairo we headed over to the Egypt Museum. What a place!! They have basically everything that has ever been dug up in Egypt... and more. It's just sort of haphazardly been throw into the place in whatever spot there was room. There's hardly a sign or label anywhere ... but it's amazing all the same. We got to see Ramses II as a mummy and all that other stuff you read about in history class! On the second day we went to the Pyramids... not much to say about that except that it really is awe inspiring. We spent our nights playing backgammon and drinking Turkish coffee at little sidewalk cafes... where only men usually go, so they got a kick out of Carla and I being there. The first night we actually had an *audience* for our low skill backgammon games. By the second night they were a bit more used to us. So much so that there was only one urinal for men along the back wall... nothing for women. And, I always knew that Muslims didn't drink - but it's true!! Even on a sidewalk cafe there is no alcohol served. Everyone drinks mango juice or Turkish coffee - both good alternatives I might add!!!

Alright, off to the market I go to check out the spices....

Istanbul... or is it Constantinople??

Sunday, August 11, 2002
My first random story of the day started when the doorbell rang at 11am this morning. We are staying with our friend Ozge (hi Ozge!) here in Istanbul but she was out at a wedding. Carla is sick in bed with the flu and she is directing me on how to take care of her. Mainly I make thermoflu tea, cut bread and spread nutella... so I am pretty good at this nursing thing and am considering it for a new profession ;)

Okay... back to the story! The doorbell rang and there stood this Turk holding fresh bread. He was trying to hand me the bread. I thought he must have telepathy because I was STARVING and had no idea where to find bread within walking distance and there he was front of me. It was Sunday morning after all... and I thought maybe Turks get fresh bread delivered instead of the Sunday paper! I took it and he kept staring so I figured I probably had to pay him. I held out the equivalent of a dollar hoping it was enough... and lucky me! It cost less than 15 US cents to get that bread. I found out later today that this apartment complex has a grocery delivery service. You call them up and they will deliver anything! But, they are known for delivering to the wrong door... so I ate someone,s bread. Who knew?? I figured my guardian angel had it delivered ;)

Anyway, Carla and I arrived yesterday morning into Istanbul on an overnight bus from Olimpos. Olimpos is this place where me and my 13 friends from the 4 day boat cruise went after the 4 day excursion ended. It is this random little village type place in what seems like the middle of nowhere Turkey. It is the site of the ancient city of Olimpos... you have to walk through the ruins to get to the beach! And what a beach! You can even swim past some more ruins into a cave... which we gladly did. Another lovely part of this little town is where we stayed. It is called Bayram's and each "room" is a little treehouse. The treehouse looks just like the kind you always wanted as a little kid! In the back of my treehouse you could pluck limes, others could reach walnuts or oranges. And, on your way to the bathrooms you could see the chickens running everywhere. It's no coincidence we had eggs for breakfast both mornings!

The main tourist thing to do there in Olimpos (other than the beach and ruins and the treehouses) was visit the flames. There is this spot where methane gas shoots up from the inner somewhere and it has been burning for years. Carla and the rest of the group INSISTED on singing Eternal Flame during the entire little hike up to this spot... and only paused their singing when a tarantula (yes really!) came running out of the rocks. It felt like a scene out of the Brady Bunch. I felt like I needed my tiki... just like Peter.

Before we arrived in Olimpos – we spent 4 days on a boat sailing along the Turkish coast. Let me tell you... the best thing about Turkey is how much you unexpectedly like things. You have no idea where you are headed, or what you will find there, but by God... it will be fun! The 2 crew who ran our boat would just randomly stop and say things like "Sunken City!". What is it? How did it happen, we wondered... they couldn't tell us... so we made up our own story and pointed out places like the local tavern, the town jail, and the general store. We seemed to miraculously arrive at destinations like Butterfly Valley, a waterfall, an ancient castle and endless snorkeling sites. I'm sure it was a planned itinerary... but I just knew nothing about it!!

Okay, another thing I'll have to go on and on about in this email is the ocean fairy dust. I don't exactly know what it is (Carla's theory is phosphorus) but it's like you are Tinkerbell! When Tinkerbell flies about, there is this sparkly cloud that surrounds her, right? When you swim in the ocean on the Turkish coast in the evening – every time you move you are surrounded by fairy dust! It's amazing!!

Lastly, I just want to say hello to all my new friends that I met in Koycegiz and on the boat! You have no idea how much it meant to me to be surrounded by such wonderful people for a whole week! I feel like I've known you all for a lifetime and can't wait til we meet up again. Chris, see you in Sydney! Marnie, Karla and Mark, see you in Vancouver! Karen, Pete and Brigid, see you in London! Boys, see you in Melbourne! Mark, see you in Rio! Carla, see you after your nap ;) It's such a small world and I'm lucky to meet you all not only once... but twice! Being with people like you made the boat and Olimpos feel like another home... and that is a hard thing to recreate. Thanks again and safe travels everyone!

Greetings from Koycegiz, Turkey!

Saturday, August 3, 2002
After 2 weeks we have finally left Greece! The islands were beautiful, the beaches were great and we loved it there. But, the Greeks just don't want you to be there, you really get the feeling sometimes that they just want your euros and they could care less if you enjoy the country or not. Most foreigners living in Greece say the only thing they would change about the country is to get rid of the Greeks and it would be a perfect place to live! One woman actually told me to hurry up and pay and get out of her way she had other stuff to do! Ah well, we loved it anyway.

Turkey has a completely different attitude. They are thrilled you are visiting and they actually have a saying that you are NOT a tourist, you are a guest in their country. It really does seem that way too! We arrived a few days ago from the ferry where we met 4 people that we we will spending a whole week with. 2 Canadians and 2 Australians. We went cycling the first day to a nearby waterfall. Yesterday we took a boat tour around the lake and went to some mud baths, a sulfur spring and swimming in the lake!

We got to witness some real Turkish dancing last night too - they guy who ran the boat tour took the six of us - 5 girls, one guy - to his favorite local bar. Also, we had this cheese at the bar and wanted to take home the leftovers and apparently this is a very uncommon request even though they obliged. But, they had no takeaway containers. So, he let us take the cheese and tonight we are bringing back the plate it's on! It was pretty funny. Now, for those of you who get Carla's email, she claims to have had too much Raki last night - a Turkish drink smilar to Uzo - but just to clarify, it was only one drink!! Don't worry Suzanne, I look out for her!

Tomorrow we are headed to a four day, 3 night boat cruise down the Turkish mediterranean coast. We are going will the 4 others we met on the ferry! We meet most of our new friends on ferries, it's quite the social atmosphere!

Thanks so much to everyone who has written to me, I will respond soon enough but right now I'm going hiking in Feriye!

Greetings from the Greek Isles!

Sunday, July 28, 2002
Greetings from Greece! Well, after much ado, we finally made it to Greece. We originally bought train tickets that took us through half of Eastern Europe in 55 hours... but we had some visa problems getting us through Yugoslavia. So, the day before we were supposed to leave Prague we refunded our tickets to Athens and bought a train ticket to Bratislava, Slovakia. That afternoon we bought one way plane tickets to Athens from Vienna. Fortunately, Bratislava is really close to Vienna. So, we called up some friends we met in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic and with 3 hours notice they met us at the bus station, rounded up some hashers and took us to their local pub. We were only in Austria for a mere 12 hours, but it was a great time! Thanks guys!

Everyone we have met who has been to Athens immediately says - spend one day at the Acropolis and get out to the Islands!! They must not be in the hash. We stayed for 5 days and has a great time! We went to 5 BBQ's, took a ferry to a nearby reclusive beach, and met up with the Athens Hash House Harriers. The great thing about Greece is all the random things you see... I'm sure you all know how I love a good story, especially if it's random and I can be involved!! Every morning when we woke up in Athens we heard this loudspeaker touting something or other. On the last day we figured out what it was... the Gypsies sell stuff from the back of pickup trucks, and this particular one was selling fruit! It sounded more like they were trying to evacuate the neighborhood. We thought ALL trucks sold fruit until we saw another Gypsy truck selling plastic chairs.

Now we are in the Greek Islands. We spent the first few days in Naxos. A really cute little island where ALL the buildings are painted white with blue trim. I'm convinced it's because those are the colors of the Greek flag, but I have no confirmation on that. In Naxos, the beaches are peaceful, the water is clear and a vibrant blue and it was so relaxing. We had a balcony overlooking the town where we ate breakfast every morning. There was also a Greek Orthodox church across the road that had Mass via loudspeaker every morning. Interesting. We have been on an island called Santorini since the day before yesterday. It's great fun here! The entire little island was covered by volcanic ash many years ago so ALL the beaches are black sand... and one is red!! Also, the entire perimeter of the island is rock and plummets to the shoreline, creating mountain side cliffs and views everywhere you look. The first night we spent in what we called the James Bond Bar. It had an incredible view of the shore, the donkey path, the old volcano, and the cave hotels, bars and pools. We went to the Red Beach yesterday and watched the sunset in Ia last night. We were supposed to go to a Beach Party that takes place in the wee hours every Friday and Saturday night.... but we um, fell asleep before we left and never made it!!

Tomorrow we are headed to the Greek Island of Rodos for a few days. Rodos is a mere one hour ferry from Turkey. We've heard about a few nice places to visit before we head up to Isanbul. I can wait to get there!! Everyone we have met on our trip who has traveled to Turkey says it is there FAVORITE place. So, my expectations are high... I'll let you know if the reality lives up to the myth!

Thanks for keeping in touch everyone and I'll be back online again soon.

Hello from Slovakia!

Wednesday, July 17, 2002
Carla and I just arrived into Bratislava, Slovakia today. We just spent a few days in Prague staying with our friend Geri. She was so hospitable and welcoming! We did some sightseeing at the castle, in the Old Town Square, crossed the Charles Bridge, and took some paddle boats around the river. We ate goulash, played volleyball in the park as well as blew a fuse in Geri's apartment when we tried to do our laundry. We spent the weekend in a place called Kutna Hora with our running club - what a fun weekend! We ran in a town one of the runners is from. We met her cousins, her Dad, and her sister, and we met tons of people from the hash who were in town from all over Europe!

There's a place in the town called the Bone Church - apparently there were so many people during midevil times who were dying of Black Death that there was nowhere to bury the bones.... so a half blind priest used them as decor around the church. It was very bizarre, photos later!

Last night we ran with the hash again... I recruited my friend Zhenya who I met in St. Petersburg a few months ago (Hi Zhenya!). It was really humid, but it was great. We also realized that a few others from the club were headed to Bratislava today for work or other commitments, so we are having a few drinks tonight with them.

We had planned to be headed to Greece today. It was a 55 hour train trip from Prague... and we booked it. But yesterday I realized that the train crossed through Yugoslavia. Americans need transit visas (which we don't have) to pass through, so we had to refund our tickets! It's probably for the best anyway. We are hoping to book a flight today to still get there by this weekend!

Alright, I have to get going so we can check out the castle looming over this internet cafe!

Love, Alison

PS. Has anyone been to Egypt? We are trying to find out about Nile cruises and possibly tours. It would be great if anyone had any info. Thanks!

Hello from Poland!

Tuesday, July 9, 2002
Hi everyone! Right now we are in Krakow, and had a nice time chatting with two kiwi girls (from New Zealand) last night who gave us heaps of good advice on Turkey and shared their wonderful tourist stories from Croacia and Bosnia. They've been some places we always thought we should avoid! Who knew? Maybe we'll expand our itinerary next time around.

We spent the day yesterday visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau which was quite intense. We couldn't believe how large the compound is, and with many of the original structures still standing.

Today we're going to check out Wawel Hill and Kazimierz. The Jews resettled here in this neighborhood after fleeing from all over Europe in the 1800's. The Jewish population in this area used to be close to 200,000 and now numbers less than two hundred. I might actually be a history buff after this trip :)

Tonight Carla and I take an overnight train to Prague where we will meet up with the running club in a few days for a weekend outside of Prague. I'll also get to buy a garnet or two... a purchase I didn't make when I was in Prague 7 years ago. I've been regretting it ever since! Also, my friend Zhenya, who I met in St. Petersburg, Russia a few months ago will be arriving on the same train as us! She is spending a month in Prague for a conference. I'll hopefully be finding her on the train tonight... what a small world.

Thanks to everyone for emailing so often. I love hearing from all of you who respond, even if it's just a line or two. They all make me smile and make me feel like I'm not so far away!

Happy trails! Love, Alison

Greetings from Latvia!

Tuesday, July 2, 2002
 Right now Carla and I are in Riga, Latvia. I'm actually checking my email from the US Deputy Ambassador to Latvia's downtown apartment in Riga. She's 37, and she's in charge of the US Embassy, next in line after the ambassador. She's a hasher (my running club is called the Hash House Harriers), and that's how we met her. All the hashers here were SO excited to see us arrive at a hash, we are the first American hash visitors since they started the hash a few years ago, so we got a huge warm welcome, and she threw an impromtutu party so we could all hang out some more. We also met the Latvian Ambassador from the EU!! What a riot! I explained how to upload photos to yahoo so his wife can see their new apartment before she moves here :)

We extended our stay in Latvia for 3 more days because it's so fun. Tonight we are going to Karoake at the main beer tent in town, and tomorrow we are taking a day trip somewhere to get out of the city and tomorrow night we are going to see this hasher (latvian but russian descent) sing in an Irish band. The other singer is English, there really is no Irish people in the band. Should be a hoot!

After we leave we are headed to Lithuania. A guy we met in Estonia is meeting us there, then we go to Poland, and then to Prague! The hash is having a huge weekend event 2 hours outside the city. We are going to that, and then a hasher invited us to stay at her apartment for a few days. Literally, our luck HAS to run out soon. We have met so many nice, nice people. At almost every hash we go to, someone knows someone from the Boston hash, or someone we have met along the way. By the time we get to India, we might already know half the people at the hash event in Goa!!! Mom, not to worry, everyone looks out for us because they think we need someone to look out for 2 women traveling alone.

One more thing, we just uploaded tons of photos to the newsletter photo section, check them out. They are funny!

Love, Alison

Crazy Happenings Newsletter Volume 1

Thursday, June 20, 2002
Hi everyone! As some of you probably already know, I got laid off from my job in early March, and I decided that instead of looking for a new job I wanted to travel around the world! It's something I always wanted to do and the time seemed as good as ever... so, I called up Carla, and we decided to go together! We left on June 7th and started our trip in Copenhagen, Denmark where we stayed with our friend, Per.

Copenhagen was wonderful! So wonderful that when you step off your flight at the airport there is a sign that says, "Welcome to Wonderful Copenhagen!". Apparently there is a really old Danish movie that was called Wonderful Copenhagen, and so the name stuck. Per showed us everything there was to see - a bicycle tour around the city, my first motorcycle ride (why did I wait so long?? it was phenomenal!), and brunch at a converted military building complete with floor hockey in the back. Of course, we met up with our running club we had a great time meeting all the Copenhashers. The run took us past many of the foreign embassies. Also, did you know that Legos are from Denmark? Who knew? The word Lego is a combination of parts of the two Danish words, Play Well. Just a fun fact...

After Copenhagen we went to Trollhatten. A cute little place in Sweden with an ancient lock system, a Lego museum (I made an ambulance), and a Saab museum. It also had this cool interactive kids learning museum which, thought we are not kids, we had a great time there anyway.

We spent a few days in Olso, Norway and my favorite thing there was a bunch of statues! There is this granite statue which is the largest carved granite statue in the world. The statue has people cared all over it - if you have ever been emailed a photo called malebrain, it looks similar to that! Surrounding the statue are other smaller statues, and each one of them is represented on the granite statue, all of them in curious poses. We took advantage of the ample photo opportunities, since I enjoy posing, and making Carla pose like every statue we see. The granite statue took 6 months to drag over from the boat that brought it to Oslo... whenever that was, I forget!

We spent another day hiking to the top of a cliff called Pulpit's Rock on the coast of Norway, outside of a city called Stavanger. It was a great hike, and the view of the fijord was absolutely phenomenal - it looked like the Northern version of the Great Barrier Reef! The waters in the fijord were stunningly aqua.

We arrived in Stockholm the night before last and to our pleasant surprise we found out we will be here for one of Sweden's biggest festivals!! Up here in Scandinavia, the sun bearly sets at all during this time of year. I haven't seen darkness since I left Boston! It's strange to wake up at 3am and it still looks like dusk. Anyway, about the festival... It takes place on the longest day of the year, June 21st, and is a national holiday! They celebrate the day with all sorts of fun things. Carla and I are going to a small island (I think it starts with the letter G) to go camping under the stars... well, I guess there won't be any stars since the sun will be up all night, but you know what I mean! Today we are hoping to go to the Abba Museum, walk around the Old Town, and go to an Ice Bar this evening. The Ice Bar is made entirely of Ice. The glasses, chairs, tables - everything is ice! You have heard of Absolut Vodka, right? Absolut in Swedish means strictly, so the vodka is actually called Strictly Vodka! Just another fun fact...

So, that's Volume 1 of the Crazy Happenings Newsletter, and many more newsletters are yet to come since I still have 8 1/2 months left on my trip! I changed the content of my website to reflect things about my trip, if you are interested. The address is http://www.crazyhappenings.com if you want to see what my itinerary is, etc. I set this newsletter up as a yahoogroup, and please note that no one else can post to the group to prevent someone from sending email to everyone in the group. So if you would like to email me I can be reached at alison@crazyhappenings.com. Thanks for reading and I hope to hear from you!!

Love, Alison

PS. Photos will be posted soon!