Monthly Archives: March 2008


I don’t have travelling experiences like this very often. Not since my friend Darren and I arrived in Paris for the first time in 2000 have I thought to myself, what am I doing here, what made me think I could just do this!?! My mom and I were totally unprepared for Sicily. We booked our tickets from the comfort of our home and gave little thought to that portion of the trip other than getting on the plane.

Tuscany was planned and easy, 2 nights in Venice, 3 in Florence, a night in Lucca and 3 on the road in hill towns around the region. All extremely beautiful and all totally easy. You can look up the street and expect that most people speak some or are fluent in english. There are tourists everywhere, you can’t go anywhere without seeing others like you, which isn’t a big deal, but it is easy, the road is paved. We had out guidebook and we were set.

Sicily- we arrived at 7am from Pisa on a flight that required us to be at the airport at 4am. Trying to be creative about our budget and realizing that we usually don’t end up going to bed before midnight anyway, we decided to wait in the train station for 4 hours before our flight. Needless to say, we were dirty, hadn’t washed our clothes in weeks and probably smelled like the homeless people we ended up hanging with all night.

The airport in Trapani was small and it was a Saturday. we got off the plane and confidently walked out to catch the bus. Elsewhere, Ryanair had provided easy transportation door to door to a place of interest, but this was not the case here. At this airport there was no information booth and no bus. We walked out and quickly realized that people were getting picked up by friends and family and everyone was leaving and going somewhere. It was at this point that I felt it, that we could possiblly be the only people in the whole place who were tourists, who needed to take a bus and no one spoke english. I kept checking the bus schedule, but it was different on Saturdays and someone had warned us that sometiems the busses just don’t come in Sicily. A woman finally appeared and said she needed to take the bus. The thing is, in situations like this all you can do is trust people- trust that the woman knows what she is talking about, trust that the next bus, if not this bus will come for you and more importantly, trust yourself that what you are understanding from your 1 weeks worth of italian is giving you the correct information. The bus finally came!

All four of us got on, mom and I, the woman who was waiting with us and one other lady plus the driver. The driver was really charismatic and though he treated us like circus animals (Americans in Trapani? Why? What are you doing here?), he was very helpful. We told us where to go and even took us on the bus to a hotel he had reccommended in the city center (probably why the busses are never on time). He called his friend who spoke a very little english and picked him up to translate a little more for us. The hotel was great, right in the center of town, right where everyone strolled at night. He reccommended a place to eat that we went to and loved and we made it to the ruins at Erice that he had told us about. Had we not gotten on that particular bus, we would have never had the experiences that we did in Trapani.

When we first got in, we went right to bed for 5 hours, woke up around 5pm and went for a walk all raround the city. We strolled with the crowds and tried to go to the restaurant, but it was full that night. we decided to order out pizza from this place that looked like a mob scene and spent 10 minutes getting up the courage to go inside with al those people who did know what they were doing, another 30 minutes waiting inside to get to the counter, and then 15 minutes waiting to be acknowledged when at the counter. After that another hour for the pizza to be done. I was scared to speak talian in such a large crowd of people, but my mom made me and I’m glad she did, it was good pizza. Sicilian style of course, we got proscuito and parmasean and took it back to our room and ate it while we watched Home alone in italian and went to sleep.

The next day was a Sunday, the most difficult of the days to travel on. Most things were closed and after finding our way to the station, realized that perhaps the bus didn’t run. However, we recalled one of the train conductors saying something abot a feniculare and a 3K walk. We headed out of town toward something we thought we heard, passing all the people with their families coming out of church. 3K later, we found it, a large ski lift that went to the top of the hill, Erice! In the lift, we gave ample high fives and headed to the top. It was sunny and clear. teh town was beautiful, old and tricky. We found a bus back and made it to the reccomended restaurant that night for some local pasta. MMMMMMMMMMM Sicily.



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Rush hour

3/19/08 We arrived at the Ryanair airport in an out-lying town of Venice around 5pm. Not knowing what else to do and being scared off by warnings that Venice is one of the moste expensive places in Italy, we thought about staying one night in the remoter town. Laziness, however had something else in mind and there being a bus with a sign to Venice for 6E tempted us to just step on and ride. We made it to the city around 6, completely dissoriented and found out that we were actually on the island, a complete surprise to us both. We found a stream of people going to and from somewhere and decided to follow it. It led to the train station, where people were coming and going in the dark. Honestly, I expected to hate Venice with its crowds and tourism, but this stream was real. It was people doing something, going to or from somewhere, leaving work to take the train home or arriving with bags. No one was buying glass crap or wandering aimlessly to the big attractions. Rick Steves, who I now think is a someitmes helpful alarmist (for various reasons) says the train station is nothing more than an area meant to rip off tourists and you should get away as quickly as possible. I found it the most authentic part of the island, I felt like I was doing something just be walking in the ant stream of other people doing things.

We made it to the train station without reservations anywhere and no idea where to look. They were no help, would only book hotels (meaning 300E a night) and finally pointed us in the direction of an internet cafe. They were a big help. The guy informed us that there were hotels with no stars and they lined the main road from the station. We found one right across the street from the internet place for 50E. It was in another building from the hotel and was obviously a converted flat in a back alley. We put our things down and navigated the small streets, going with the flow without a map. We found ourselves in St. Marco Square, a crowded Disneyland by day and fairly empty and glowing int he moonlight that night. I like the fact that people leave the city at night. It makes it feel so small after dark. You find yourself alone on a back alley and can undrstand what it was like way back when. We had seen a really cute and reasonable place to eat on the walk and surprisingly found it again on the way back after 2 hours of walking and getting lost.

The next morning, we woke up to shining blue skies, which were definitely not predicted. We headed up the road to a cafe on the canal right across from the fish market. There were people bringing goods to and from the shops by boat and the trash boats were out. Again, people were doing things on this particular alley, which made me so happy. An old woman sat alone at the table next to us. She was probably 80 and wore fur, as many of them did and would call to her friends, all of them over 70 and also wearing fur, who were heading to or from the market. Apparently 25 percent of the population is over 65.

We headed back to the hotel to get our things and meet Jamie at the place we had booked for that night. We took the water bus and found our way to the place. It was in a beautiful area near the hospital and the college. It wasn’t on the route to or from St. Marco, Realto or the station, so it was relatively empty. The thing about the city is that you only have to go off the path 2 blocks to find yourself walking alone looking at the aged buildings, all impressive, all showing you a glorious time long ago without cars and when people took the time to make their homes beautiful and unique.

We met up with Jamie and mom took us on a self guided river tour on the public waterbus (OK, thank you Rick Steves for this). We saw the 7 storey mansions and the museums and the doors half underwater, where long ago people entered by boat. Venice itself is an amazing idea and it is wonderful that people took the time to make it real.

We went to drinks at a stand-up bar, drank wine and chatted for over an hour before heading to dinner. It took us a while to find the right place, some places were intimidating, only local men over 50, some were too hip, only well-dressed teens, but this one was perfect, the waitstaff was older and didn’t smile a ton. There were middle aged people there, well dressed, but not too much. There were tourists from Austria and locals and us and it was perfect. We tried spritzi, which was tasty and got us a little drunk. All in all, I can say I was surprised and excited by the city and I’m glad we were able to start our trip with such fun memories.

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Thinking that Mike would be out of communication until next Saturday due to his silent meditation retreat, I thought that I had time to catch up on the blog-he is the only one who consistently bugs me about it. We’ll I got word that he left, it wasn’t for him, I’m sure he’ll explain more later. Anyway, mom, Jamie and I are in Florence, our third night here. None of us are on a normal sleep schedule. The first night, Jamie was up until 4, I was up until 6 and mom slept fine, last night, Jamie was up until 6, mom and I slept until 4 and then couldn’t sleep. I had been thinking about how nice it would be to walk around the major sites without other people there, so mom and I decided to take advantage of our early morning and went for a two hour walk at 6 am. As we expected, it was pretty deserted. We walked to Ponte Vecchio, through the Uffizi courtyard and into the Piazza della Signoria. We were alone most of the time, with the exception of a few other early risers. It was beautiful this morning again, sun with some clouds, but bright enough where the sun shone on the river, but illuminated the clouds and fog in the distance. It was so quiet and deserted, such a change from the day before when we had to push our way through the whole way on the same route. We walked quietly to the old doors of the city and back to the hotel by 8am.

At around 9 we went out again to watch the easter progression that the lady at the hotel had mapped out for us. We didn’t really know what to expect, but we caught up to the route right at the end, which as we found out was the main event. We turned a corner and all of a sudden we saw these huge oxen all dressed up in their fancy outfits pulling large shrine. There were people blocking the sidewalks, like at a parade, so we walked with the shrine for a while through the streets to the Duomo where it finally stopped and set up a fireworks festival. We had made reservations the day before for Accademia at 10:30, so we had to go about a half hour before the fireworks were lit from the shrine, but it was really exciting to be in the crowd with all the bells chiming from the church and the drummers and trumpeters.

Accademia was nice, small for the hype, but it housed David and the slaves statues. I am usually not one for museums, but I must say David is one large and impressive man. All naked and looking good.

After our sleep part 2 (a four hour nap), we’re heading out to dinner and drinks as usual.


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Back in Seattle notes

Azure and I had been touching less in South America and both of us noticed it subconsciously but didn’t say anything. When we got back to Seattle it was back to normal, lots of contact. We figured out why: It’s damn cold here. We’re drawn to each other’s body heat. In South America it was so muggy that we kept to ourselves to stay cool (and because we were covered in sweat most of the time).

The cold is also affecting my appetite: I’m eating a ton just because I’m cold and I guess my body wants me to fatten up.

On a bus in Argentina I sat next to a guy (who spoke perfect English) and told him how much I loved his country, the food, the landscape, the pace. He said something along the lines of, “Yeah, but the government is corrupt and the politics are all messed up and the economy is on a bubble…” and I realized how much more I was enjoying his country than he was just because I wasn’t paying attention to the chatter. I’ve noticed that the more I pay attention to the chatter here in the states, the less I enjoy my time here. Haven’t yet turned on the radio nor the TV since returning and Azure’s avoiding her phone.

A flower in Ilha Grande.

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Lasting Image

On the bus from Ilha Grande to Rio we went past a little town with a couple soccer fields that had metal-framed, unnetted goals on either end. There were about a dozen white horses grazing on the fields. This is an image that keeps surfacing.

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We made it back to Seattle safe and sound this morning. Our first order of business was going straight to Paseo’s for a Cuban sandwich, and only after that was I ready to reacquaint myself with the PNW. I’d been thinking about that damn sandwich for months.

I wasn’t happy to be back in the States, to be honest. Leaving Buenos Aires was painful because I had such an amazing time with my cousins and I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to get to know them better and eat at more new restaurants with them and continue our exciting conversations… but the plane was going to fly regardless. I had a knot in my stomach the whole way home just like the very first time I returned from a big trip in 2001. My first impression of the US was this: Headlines are used to generate fear, advertisements are used to create inadequacy. Pretty powerful one-two punch. I don’t know why it stood out on this trip more than others, maybe we’re in a particularly fear-generating period of our history. It’s ugly, anyway, and I wish they’d shut up.

The highlights of the trip for me were:
Hostel 1004 at Bariloche. I could have spent all three months there staring at the mountains & lake.
The samba club on Florianopolis – a life highlight for sure.
The endless churrasco dinner in Rio.
The favela tour in Rio.
The pace of life in BA with Tom, Maya and Tally.
Being with Azure in Punta del Diablo.
Walking across Ilha Grande.

We’d planned on going to Europe this month, but I decided I wasn’t focused enough for it so I’m staying home while Azure and her mom eat up a storm in Italy. (Everything’s great between Az and I, don’t worry). Inspired by my cousin Maya and our new friends Nathan and Annette, I’m going to be going to a 10-day silent meditation retreat later this month (3/19 to 3/30). I’m trying to keep an open mind about it, but I know it’ll be challenging. I won’t be allowed to talk to anyone nor write nor listen to music or read, etc. They’ll feed me and provide a place to sleep, plus instruct me in meditation. I guess it’s my way of extending the trip, extracting more from this quarter year.

Between now and then, though, I’ll be back to washing windows and reconnecting with Seattle.

Thank you all for reading these emails and responding or not. You can still go to our blog where Az will write about Italy and I’ll write about the meditations. Our pictures are at Flickr but not everything’s uploaded yet. Check it again in a day or two. We took about 1500 pictures on the trip, so our work is cut out for us, only a fraction have been uploaded thus far.

I’ll contact you again next Fall when I’m putting together the email list for our next trip. Until then, take care!

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Ilha to Buenos

I was pretty happy about our last day in Brazil – the last day on Ilha Grande. I was hoping to get some sun but woke up to find it overcast and even raining, as it had most of the time there… it’s the rainy season. We got on the boat to head to the main surfers’ beach that faces south toward Antarctica and it started clearing up a little. We had to take the boat because there are no cars on the island and we were tired of hiking through the jungle with soaking feet and tired legs, we’d hiked about 12 miles a couple days before. So we sat in the boat and made our way around the tip of the island. It dropped us off in this little “town” which consisted of no more than a couple places to eat on the beach and we hiked 20 more minutes between mountains to finally get to the beach.

It was a gorgeous arc of white that bent around a bay, there were probably 50 people there or so but we didn’t spread out to get our own private area because we really didn’t need to. I don’t know – first of all, as great as private beaches are, it’s more fun to people watch. Also, there was plenty of space, so it wasn’t like we had to compete to be near the ocean. People just set down and relaxed.

The waves were great, I spent about 2 hours playing and riding the waves and the sun was out by then so we were getting one more dose of sun. My eyes stung from the salt.

The next day we got on a bus and headed back to Rio, then immediately got on another bus that took us to Buenos Aires over the next 40 hours. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds – when you’re resigned to spending a day somewhere, it’s easy to find stuff to do. We talked with new friends, watched movies, napped, etc. The landscape through Brazil continued to be amazing – green, lush, rolling. I felt lucky taking the bus all over the place because we got to see how the land changed from Santiago to Mendoza, all over Argentina, then up through Uruguay to Rio and back across to the west. Brazil is so beautiful. Azure and I keep saying it deserves a trip of its own. We never once felt unsafe as everyone kept telling us we should. We never once got knifed or robbed.

We’re back in BA now and I’m beginning to feel really sad about leaving here, actually. I want to go home because I love Seattle, the evergreens, my friends & family & work, but I love the rhythm of life down here, too. I’m not really ready to stop traveling. I’ll send out another email next week when I get back, and until then check the blog.

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