Thursday, September 4, 2008

and they lived happily ever after

With grateful hearts and calloused feet, we turn our eyes toward home. Speaking of eyes, am I or am I not staring at Wanida in the photo above? Hold that thought. You see, we've bittersweetly come to the end of our story here, and closure calls for revelation and resolution, so time travel with us back to the beginning in February--no, not six and a half months ago, but eight and a half years ago in February of 2000.

What's the punchline? That the ingredients of our relationship and adventures started coming together not on February 19th when we departed LAX, nor a year ago when we began charting a course around the globe, but on Valentine's Day weekend in the year 2000 when, over a year before we ever met, our hearts shared the same camera space! Once upon a time well into our relationship, Wanida caught a glimpse of the serendipitous pic above before she lost it, but this summer she worked hard to track it down again. What you see are the two of us from our college years--two strangers at the time living in different parts of the state--at Hume Lake Winter Camp. I just happened to be in the vicinity on this particular night when she and her friend posed for a photo op. I suppose we could have met, could have connected, but we didn't. It wasn't until sixteen months later when I moved to San Diego in June of 2001 that we were finally introduced! Revelation: We were on a collision course with each other, so from early on we started practicing how to be in photos and make memories together. :)

As far as finding resolution goes, I'll ask again now: Am I or am I not staring at Wanida? We disagree. Wanida believes it to be obvious that my eyes are gazing at her, while I argue that it's oh so hard to tell, especially with blue jacket girl and her beige hat clearly in my line of sight. :) Let us know your verdict. In the meantime, we'll debate the issue as we conclude this fairytale and fly home in a few hours. The end of the story is that we lived happily ever after.

The end.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

no, this is not moscow

When we purchased our round the world tickets we were given twenty flights to jump around the world at our leisure. It was perfect. After we charted out our flight plan, we discovered that we had one extra Europe leg, a bonus. Halt. Hold on. We had a problem. Both of us had very different ideas on how to spend the bonus segment. Joe was all for Zurich, Switzerland and I was pushing for beautiful Moscow, Russia. Why Moscow? Yeah, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's a strange desire to visit the desolate and dreary over the dramatic beauties of the Swiss Alps. You'll be happy to know, Joe won.

Last Friday, we left our desert summer home, and four hours later we touched down onto a different planet. Snow covered mountains, lush green valleys, and quaint little log cabins dotted the landscape. Within minutes of our arrival we met up with our escorts (our escorts home), as we affectionately call them. The Heinrichses have made the trip over to join us for a week of re-socializing, re-engaging, and are kindly re-acquainting us with speaking in non-broken and normal paced English. They have listened to us ramble on about our stories and reminded us of all the wonderful relationships that await us at home.

I'll post pictures/captions super soon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

it's time to go home

There's not much left to do here. The piano is gone, the sun has set, and we've said a few goodbyes, so all seems quieter now. Soon we will pull down some pictures, collect our things from around the apartment, pack our bags, and double check all the important documents. Like I said, there's not much left to do before we put our heads to our pillows and slow our hearts and minds for one more peaceful night's sleep in Amman, Jordan. In the morning we will rise with the sun and welcome the dawn of a fresh season for us.

In the waiting there is a sort of beauty--an acknowledgment that behind us is the new history of our lives, and before us is the opportunity to live out of the depth of that experience. We find ourselves simply nodding, like people do when they understand a truth without having to speak it. The truth is that it's time to go home. This epic journey is leading us back to San Diego, California, USA--not just San Diego, though, for in the words of our brother-in-law, we continue to be led in the pursuit of "...somewhere much greater, the home of your heart, the bosom of the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

See you after one sweet week in Switzerland. Check back for the end of the story.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

coming to a close

my journal entry from this morning

It is nice out today! I've said it four times already- but today, while I stand out on the balcony, it feels like I'm at the beach! Yes, very random, I know. Because I couldn't be more smack dab in the middle of a desert. But the sunshine, the strong cool wind, yes, if I close my eyes I can go there. I feel like I am sitting on the edge of a giant ocean. I will let my mind transform the unending traffic below into beautiful crashing waves! Oh, here come the waves now. Some waves are noisier than others, but they sure do fly by! As much as I try, I can not seem to transform that man's voice. Yes that one that trills and tramples all over my beach dream. There are no calls to prayer in my beach get away. Well perhaps he could be the lifeguards calling out their safety warnings? Nope, not working for me. The call to prayer brings me back to the very clear fact- I am nowhere near a beach. But, I will be soon!

We are counting down the days- we have two more days at our little Arab summer home. It's hard to believe it's time to go home. I have loved this place. I have felt so very comfortable, safe, relaxed, creative, and in touch with a new voice inside me. Maybe I learned something along this crazy journey of ours, maybe I didn't. And I love that I can say that. Because my first reaction tells me that I need to share something significant... that I need to prove myself and prove the reason for this journey. But I quickly realize that I'm only trying to find my own significance in the process. Maybe, this is all I needed to learn. That I can honestly say "Maybe we learned something, maybe we didn't learn anything- but I'm okay with that, because we had the greatest time!" Like I've said many times along this journey- "This trip isn't necessarily about accomplishing something, it's just something that needs to be accomplished." Or how I described it in Santorini to Joe, "This journey has always been on my recipe card of life. It was always something that was intended and necessary for the full makings of my life." Ahhh, with a deep breath and a true smile to self- I am thankful. Life feels so full today.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

down and dirty

Showering was more important than usual last night after we got back from our two day desert excursion to southern Jordan. It was necessary--and it felt oh so good--to scrub from our skin a thick layer of red sand, a symbolic reminder of another layer of memorable life experience. We enjoyed the company of our good friend Mohammad as we accomplished a whirlwind tour of Aqaba, Wadi Rum, and Petra across the extremes of summer in the middle of the Middle East desert. It was fun to follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones on the path to Petra, but first we bussed our way to Aqaba for a dip in the Red Sea, then camped like the Bedouins among the dramatic cliffs of Wadi Rum.

The highlight for me was our evening to morning stay in Wadi Rum, a protected area of desert wilderness with contrasting sand valleys and sandstone peaks. I like rock climbing, so I was happy to scale a couple of piles of carved sandstone, first for the sunset, then again when Mohammad woke me up to catch the sunrise. Between the times that the sun was painting the mountains red, we squeezed in some good conversation and a fairly comfortable night's sleep in a canvas tent under the blur of a million stars. I can still feel the warm desert breeze blowing on my face and, though it eventually carried me away from Wadi Rum, it was nice to have nowhere else to be that night.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

olympic goodies

Have you ever found yourself on the edge of your seat while archers fire their arrows at the far away bull's eye? Or felt the excitement of a judo wrestler flipping her opponent over her shoulder? Ever seen the crazy intensity of a Chinese ping pong-ist? Or enjoyed the beauty of a birdie smashed down onto a badminton court? Perhaps you've missed the barbarian madness of the Russian handball team? Ever dreamed of watching hours of greco-roman wrestling? I bet you have. Or how about watching the frightening faces of hefty women as they throw themselves under massive amounts of weights. That's right... the beauty of weight lifting. Thailand won a gold in weight lifting; made me especially proud. Or our new personal favorite... each time the competitor jumps sky high my stomach sinks! Then he flips and flies like backyard children only dream of! The excitement of the bouncy trampoline! Yes, my friends, these are the Olympic events that have filled our television screen this last week. Sure, the swimming and gymnastics are on, occasionally, and if we are really lucky we'll even catch it in English. But, the networks serve a different audience over here. Channel after channel, we're getting our fill of Olympic events we have never even heard of! We have found a new love for the Olympic little guys, and we're cheering them on, even the folks running the odd and funky Steeple Chase. Bet you never watched that before. Come to the Middle East, you can find all the Olympic goodies here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

the promised land

We're alive! We visited volatile and historic Israel--probably the most controversial piece of real estate in the world--and lived to tell about it. Let's just say, it's incredible.

Most people travel halfway around the world and spend weeks in the Promised Land (no doubt there is much to experience); we're already in the neighborhood, plus we felt ambitious and had saving money on our minds, so we did it in three days and four nights. Accomplishing all that we set out to do was easier said than done, requiring not a wasted waking moment and miles upon miles of walking in our sandals (we mostly traveled first century style). On our first full day, we conquered the Old City of Jerusalem, one square kilometer of concentrated historic and spiritual sites. Instead of explaining everything in detail, we'll let you look stuff up on Wikipedia, but highlights included the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall / Temple Mount / Dome of the Rock, a tour of the underground tunnels, and watching the sunset from the Mount of Olives. For orientation, just at the tip of Wanida's silly right foot in the photo above is the famous Dome of the Rock. Truth be told, no one claims certainty when it comes to the exact locations of the majority of the Christian places of interest, but for sure Jerusalem has been the stage for so many significant events, so treading on "holy ground" and using one's imagination proves to be quite meaningful.

Day two began with about four hours at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Memorial. The Jewish State has done a truly impressive job putting together one of the most moving and carefully crafted museums in the world. We learned a lot and were heartbroken a lot. In the afternoon, we boarded a bus for Tel Aviv and, after rush hour traffic, our eyes feasted once again on the oasis of the Mediterranean. We didn't bring our swimmies (mistake--the water was inviting), but we caught another sunset as we reclined in a pair of beach chairs.

We knew we were in for an adventure on our third and final full day as we took advantage of the reliable Israeli bus system again. Our destination was about two and a half hours north next to the Sea of Galilee. Mount Arbel, one half of a mountain split into two after an earthquake, came highly recommended as a day trip by both an old friend of Wanida's and our Jerusalem host. To summarize, the day was scorching hot and the summit was a chore to reach, but the achievement resulted in spectacular views of the entire Lower Galilee region and a fun climb down. Our circuit from the bus stop, up to the top, then to the town of Tiberias consisted of about five miles worth of walking in and out of the National Park and even three hitchhiking legs. We know, we know, don't try this at home. We cooled our bodies and replenished our spirits with a short dip in the Sea of Galilee before dinner. Unlike Jesus, we did not walk on it, we sank.

The Israel landscape is a beautiful one. Much of what we saw reminded us of parts of good old California. The people are a little more difficult to deal with. In spite of the approximately six billion dollars in aid that the US supplies to Israel each and every year, the citizens weren't as happy to see us as we thought they would be. In other words, no one had a problem cutting in front of us in line, or ramming their shoulders into ours as our paths crossed on the sidewalk, or making a scrunched and disapproving face instead of giving us directions. Perhaps it's fair to say that Israelis are hardheaded and aggressive people. We're not surprised, then, that they're willing to endure oppression and propagate conflict in their struggle for survival. It's worthy of mentioning that, in as much as we experienced it, the tension is in the air in Israel--religious and political. Especially in Jerusalem, the presence of Christianity and the promise of peace are overshadowed by Islam, Judaism, and the present day politics of borders and the right to exist.

One more story: Israel imposes mandatory military service on everyone once they turn eighteen. As a result, teenage soldiers with big guns slung over their shoulders are everywhere; our bus from Tiberias back to Jerusalem was no exception. One such soldier fell asleep in the row behind us, I fell asleep in my aisle seat, and Wanida fell asleep on my shoulder with her head in front of the gap between the seats. We were all awoken when she screamed, "Ouch", and started rubbing the back of her head. Military man's gun had slipped from its oh so safe leaning position, fallen through the crack in the seats, and the end of the barrel had whacked Wanida on her noggen. Does that not sound scary and dangerous?! It's just another example of the fact that, around Israel, war is always on your mind. Get it?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

a backyard field trip

According to Tripadvisor, our hometown of San Diego has 260 points of interest. Contrast that to our current hometown of Amman, Jordan, where Tripadvisor, by a big stretch, counts 9. This week we took an outing to point of interest #9.

Together, just after a shwarma lunch, we grabbed a taxi and headed toward Amman's old downtown (headquarters of the world for pirated DVDs and high-end name brands for under a dollar- Christmas presents are coming your way!). We climbed the main hill in the very heart of downtown, and at the top we found Amman's #9 tourist attraction: the Roman Citadel. For about 3 bucks each, we got to see a Hercules temple, a cistern, baths and a church built in the 2nd century. Most ruins we've seen along the journey have been roped off and protected against tourist invasions. But here in Amman (the ancient biblical city of Philadelphia) things are, let's say, a bit more low key. There aren't any ropes to protect the ruins, and there aren't any ropes to protect the tourists either! (There are some deadly drop offs right around the perimeter of the ancient walls!) So, Joe and I carefully roamed this hilltop gem and took in some of the most beautiful views Amman has to offer. For a long while it was quiet, with only occasional honking horns to remind us of the congested city below. Then, in a moment, that all changed. The skies filled; the sounds echoed from hillside to hillside, pouring into the valleys below. It was time for prayer, and you're completely clueless if you don't know it. The mosques dominate the landscape, they are everywhere, and their music is mesmerizing. In that moment, perched above this old city, we listened. The voices sang over the valleys, singing of God and his greatness, to make haste to come and pray, and how nothing compares to God. It was a powerful moment, and a pretty one too.

Tomorrow, we are finally making the 44 mile trek down these desert hills, through the West Bank, and over to Israel, and for 5 days we will explore this spiritual and controversial land. We know, we know, we'll be careful.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

the $2.80 taxi ride (worth a million bucks)

Allow me to introduce you to the new voice telling the story of West / Middle East dynamics. His name is Samir and he drives a taxi in Amman, Jordan.

It was Samir who I happened to flag down for my cross town trip the other day. I quickly realized that here was a man--a small, smiley man--who actually spoke less English than I speak Arabic. That's not saying much, but time for me to practice. With few words, we covered the basics about our names, homes, families, etc. Samir, a Palestinian, then took it to the next level by pointing to his prayer rug and asking me if I am a Muslim and whether I believe in one God. I knew he wouldn't understand much, but I responded by saying something to the effect of, "Well, yes, one God, but I follow Jesus."--half in Arabic, half in English. I freaked out and almost jumped out of the car when he then flashed a knife. No, I'm lying, he did not do that! Sorry about the scare. But doesn't our perspective tell us to half expect a story like that? What Samir really did was continue to smile and use his hands and Arabic to communicate, "You and me, friends, brothers." Beyond that, he spent the remainder of our time together in the taxi trying to make me understand that any Arab-American conflict (Israel was his example) is among the governments, but that between the people there are no problems. Accordingly, we smiled again and shook hands fondly before I got out of the car. Once more before he sped off, he waved out the window to me: "Bye Joe."

It's slightly unrealistic to think that everyone everywhere expresses the sentiment of Samir's heart, but maybe, instead of driving a taxi, he should be using his voice to influence more people in the global community.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

more maertz milestones

Although we remember with fondness our rainy days in New Zealand, we have since come a long way in terms of time, distance, and weather. We are happy to report that it has been exactly two months (May 19th in Rome) since we last experienced even a cloudy day. Yes, it's been quite "enlightening" to live life sunny side up. In other news, we're also marking exactly five months (February 19th) since we left home, plus we're halfway through our time in Jordan--less than seven weeks left before we land in San Diego, California, USA! How do we feel about that? Ask us in seven weeks. Next up is a highly anticipated visit to our neighbor, Israel. We've pushed it back twice now due to an overall unwillingness to deal with any sort of travel logistics, but sooner or later, we'll make it.

On a more serious note, please take a short time to know and remember a special little guy by clicking here. Our nephew's cousin, Jackson, is barely six months old, and this Thursday he'll be undergoing open heart surgery. Please pray.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

sa'id said

Sorry, no fun videos nor big stories today. (Although, Wanida did insist on one picture below.) Instead, a thought provoking, question raising, answer seeking post for your consideration. Fun!

Generation after generation, the relationship between the West and the Middle East has been increasingly steeped in issues of oil, politics, military moves, the media, and Israel-Palestine. I'll risk a generalization and say that now, post-9/11, the average American's interest in and attitude toward the Middle East have deteriorated, except of course for questions of our own security and prosperity. Are we fully awa
re, though, of just how far we've come in our awareness and understanding of the Arab Muslim world--or should I say, just how far we have to go? In an article written in 1980 (that would have been just as relevant if written yesterday), one man seems to have summarized it.

Edward Sa'id (Sa-eed) was a Palestinian American author/writer and Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University before he died of Leukemia in 2003. Born in Jerusalem in 1935, he described himself as a "Christian wrapped in a Muslim culture", and he was an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights. Sa'id is best known for his book Orientalism (1978), but two years later he wrote an article in The Nation in which he analyzed
the West's perspective of the Middle East:
"So far as the United States seems to be concerned, it is only a slight overstatement to say that Moslems and Arabs are essentially seen as either oil suppliers or potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world. What we have instead is a series of crude, essentialized caricatures of the Islamic world presented in such a way as to make that world vulnerable to military aggression."

Big statements.
Any thoughts?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

alive in the dead sea

I know what you're thinking: "Nice legs." To focus on those, though, is to miss our Dead Sea story, so stop staring and keep reading. Here's the story: We went to the Dead Sea. Not enough of a story? Let's review, then, some of the fun facts that make the Dead Sea quite an interesting and unique place. From Amman, its shores are only about 30 minutes away by car, and doing the drive involves descending from an altitude of about 2,500 feet to the lowest point on the surface of Earth, 1,378 feet below sea level. The waters of the Dead Sea are the second saltiest in the world with approximately 30 percent salinity, making it about eight and a half times saltier than the ocean. What this means is that floating on the surface is probably like no other swimming experience you've ever had; bring a book, bring a drink, but don't bother bringing a raft. Bobbing in the water is a strange sensation, especially because the water itself feels different--slimy and slippery like baby oil. Everything about the Dead Sea and the climate of the region, from the minerals to the sunshine to the temperature to the humidity to the barometric pressure, is supposed to be therapeutic and beneficial to the human body. It should come as no surprise, then, that the two of us have been transformed by our visit into superhumans with many new and unnatural powers. Now that's a good story!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

how to overstay a welcome

We met Hassan in the dairy section of the grocery store. As an employee, with great English, he was determined to help us find sour cream. Up and down the aisles, this search became the foundation of our friendship. When the sour cream was discovered, we had already exchanged numbers and he had invited us to go out with him to his home. It was settled, he was picking us up at 7pm. Together we cruised through the Jordanian hills in his father's 1976 BMW, and about 30 minutes later we arrived into his neighboring town of Salt. At the door, we were introduced to his father, mother, and two of his sisters (a brother and four other sisters also make up this big family). It soon became very obvious, they were eager and delighted to play host, and we were their honored guests! It began with Arab coffee, a coffee so intense they only serve it in half ounce shots. On their best silver trays, they presented Pepsi, pears, water, chocolates, mango juice, tea and watermelon. As far as we knew, to reject any offers would be offensive, so we carefully and strategically managed to consume all the offered confections and drinks. During our third hour together, in fancy little glasses, they presented us with infamous Turkish coffee, and after the coffee the evening continued. This sweet family sat with us for hours; without understanding any English, they were committed to being proper hosts. Eventually I whispered to Joe "Do you think we should go soon?" But we both agreed, that might be rude, so we just sat there content, enjoying the kind hospitality of this wonderful Jordanian family and the warmth of this quiet little town. Finally, in our fifth hour together (and just before midnight) another round of coffee circled our way. Like any good guests, we drank up... and with our limited (but humorous) Arabic vocabulary, we continued to fuel the conversation. As another caffeine rush subsided, Hassan said "If you are ready to go, just let me know." Without wanting to appear too eager, we waited a few more minutes, then started our goodbyes. It wasn't until one week later that we learned a very important lesson in Arab hospitality: When the host serves coffee, it's a signal that the evening is coming to a close, and the guest knows it's time to go after the coffee is gone. Our gracious hosts catered to us for almost five hours and through multiple rounds of "this is your clue to go" coffee--if only we had known!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

going domestic, please help

On our third day in Amman, we met these two Arab girls: Rania and Tamara. From the moment we met, they have showered us with kindness. They have gifted our apartment with DVDs of the TV show Friends and big red heart shaped pillows "to make you feel more at home." At a mere twenty years old, they have captured our hearts. To celebrate the girls finishing their 2nd year of university, I offered to make a special lunch. Rania requested Fettuccine Alfredo. I looked at the cooking light recipe, but to me it read like chicken scratch. So, I invited the girls to come make Fettuccine Alfredo with me! Together, we chopped up garlic, guessed on butter, milk, flour... and soon enough it began taking on the resemblance of Fettuccine Alfredo! Rania added the parsley garnishing and Tamara set the table, and together the four of us (including Joe) sat around the table and enjoyed our home cooked meal. Okay, here's the real truth, not all my cooking stories have been as pretty as that one. I offered Tamara a taste from my third attempt at oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. She carefully examined my rounded oat creation and kindly took a nibble. With a big smile she said "perhaps you need a new recipe?" and walked herself over to the trashcan. Living overseas makes us miss places like Costco, where all our meals are a simple 10 minutes away. I have no choice but to become domestic. It's been a road of discovery for me; and I've been dealt my share of challenges. There is no oven... only a toaster oven. We have no measuring cups, spoons, etc... everything is in pinches, handfuls, and the very accurate "pure guess-timation." Don't even get me started about metric conversions. I've learned that butter is a very important element in cookies, that lasagna noodles stick together in strainers, and that yeast is very high maintenance. Here's my request: send your recipes this way! But here's the catch, please explain everything in terms like "3 small handfuls" "big pinches" and "about 2 cups." Anything that needs precision is a sure disaster. Share the recipe in a comment, for others to enjoy too. The girls loved cooking, and when I hinted at cooking together more, they were all for it. Later that evening, Rania sent me this text message: "When I pray, I don't see God, but I know he listens. As such, when I text you I don't see you but I know you think of me and smile." I was doing just that.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

we agree with the queen

"What in the world are we doing here?" "Why have we committed to spending a summer living in Amman, Jordan?" It's not that we ourselves are still struggling for answers to these questions, but people from all over the place continue to scratch their heads and ask, so we thought we'd spell out the method to the madness of our being here.

It's been a while now, but one day, post-9/11, a seed was planted--a seed that eventually produced fruits of interest in all things Arab and Muslim. Times are turbulent, true, but moving in the direction of the Middle East started sounding more beneficial than turning our backs to it. In the context of this trip, we decided to devote about half of it to engaging with the elements of one Arab Muslim society by immersing ourselves in it. On the surface it may smack at being foolish and idealistic to think that it will matter, but we're maintaining the faith to believe in a few ideas:

Real, personal relationships between the West and the Middle East have been replaced by politics and the media, and unfortunately, stereotypes are being enhanced instead of eliminated.
many misunderstandings between those who follow Jesus and those who follow Mohammad have resulted in a rift of fear and conflict.
Perhaps, then,
an open-minded approach to building a bridge between us and the Arab Muslim world through friendship and genuine conversation is important in light of today's global cultural climate, and at the very least we can enrich our own lives in the pursuit.

Jordan is a monarchy (quite a progressive one at that), and at the end of March, Queen Rania issued a challenge via YouTube for our different worlds to be more connected. Below is her optimistic and positive video in the spirit of dissolving stereotypes. In the words of one of my new Jordanian friends, Mohammad, "It's the time to understand each other."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

the sun sets on our sojournings

Turks are warm and welcoming people, and likewise our time in Istanbul has been sunny and sweet. It's also been characterized by our awareness of tomorrow's imminent transition. We are, admittedly, a little burnt out on the backpack life, but nonetheless we maintain a sense of bittersweet closure as we share a smoke from the water pipe on our final travel night. From east to west and back as far as the Middle East, all five of our senses have feasted on every experience between two horizons and under the sun. Tomorrow we leave Istanbul, and leave behind 107 days worth of memories worthy of reliving. We don't really leave it all behind though, for with us we carry these nuggets of life into season two as we settle down in Amman, Jordan. Getting here has definitely been half the fun, and being that we're about to "arrive", tomorrow our pilgrimage road becomes an Arab city street in a home away from home.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

the $184 taxi ride (and other feats of endurance)

In Istanbul, we're marveling at the 36 hour timeline of events that finally and surprisingly brought us here. From noon Friday until midnight Saturday/Sunday, we endured sleeplessness, hopelessness, and visions of hitchhiking nightmares that we thought were sure to befall us. Triumphant after a day and a half of back breaking pack carrying, like turtles in a marathon, we finally closed the door of our Istanbul hotel room, and gloriously closed the door on this travel chapter. The point of this post is to tell the tale; to read about it may take you almost as much time as we spent living it.

Friday, noon
. We check out of our Mykonos hotel and, with our bags on our backs (and fronts), we brave the blustery island wind as we head down to town for lunch. Maybe we would have never moved on had we known what it was going to take.

2:15pm. In uneventful fashion, we board our ferry for a five and a half hour cruise back to Athens, Piraeus Port. The trip involves playing a lot of cards and sleeping on our arms. Let's go over what the plan was. Based on much internet research and some overthinking, we believed that we would take an overnight train from Athens to Thessaloniki, then catch another train on Saturday morning from Thessaloniki to Istanbul for arrival at 9:30 that night. It was almost that easy.

8:00pm. Back in Athens, the metro to the train station is cheaper and easier to use than we expect. We have an hour until the international ticket office closes (we didn't know that we actually had two), but inconsequentially we're above ground again in 20 minutes. The ticket office is easy to spot and unapologetic about being the bearer of some bad news.

8:30pm. There's now only one train per day to Istanbul departing in the afternoon? The man with alcohol on his breath presents us with a piece of paper outlining the schedule for traveling by train to Istanbul. There are indeed two options, but the sheet has been torn in half, and the other option (our method of choice) has been inexplicably and recently shelved--literally trashed. We talk to the domestic ticket office, she also talks to drunk international man, she talks to us again and offers no consolation, then we check with the bus terminal and consider spending $500 to fly instead.

9:30pm. Well, we don't want to unpack and pack again by staying in Athens, so we stick to our original expectation and purchase tickets for the overnight train to Thessaloniki. The one train per day schedule applies to the international leg from Thessaloniki to Istanbul. What this means for us is that now we'll have a 13 hour day in Thessaloniki before boarding a second overnight train at 8:00pm Saturday. We won't get to Istanbul until Sunday morning, but hey, here's to being cheap and on a budget and saving money by sleeping on the train two nights in a row.

11:59pm. On time--and prepared for the long road ahead--we depart. We make three Greek soldiers get out of our seats, but then befriend them and make good conversation in English for two and a half hours, then we sleep.

Saturday, 7:00am. Startled by our sudden arrival into Thessaloniki, we gather our stuff and squint at the dawn of a new day. Now what? We pass the international ticket window and figure that we'd be wise to check out the situation for our next night train. Maybe we'll bus it from here, who knows? The woman is kind, but provides only the expected information until, as we're walking away, she calls us back and informs us that there's a 7:15am train leaving for the Greece-Turkey border where we can then make a connection the rest of the way to Istanbul. Exactly! Why couldn't she have been in Athens last night to tell this to drunk international man? We're over Thessaloniki, give us two tickets.

7:15am. In hand we have our tickets and the following supplies purchased in a hurry: two chocolate croissants, one bag of oregano flavored chips, a 500 mL Coke Zero, and a pack of Werther's Originals. Ah, a balanced breakfast. There is no platform information anywhere, so we run to a station attendant and ask for the train to Pythion; Pythion, as we'll later learn, is a train depot, an outpost, in the farthest frontier of the Greek countryside. The station attendant doesn't even know our train, so he asks someone else who looks at us, says "Pythion?", and points to the same train we got off only 15 minutes ago.

8:00am. The train's rolling, but we're not quite sure about the direction in which it's rolling. Nonetheless, we have confirmation from four people that it ends at Pythion (well, at the Greece-Turkey border, at least). A man checks our tickets and sort of huffs and puffs as he says, "Istanbul?" He proceeds to tell us that there is no train to Pythion and that we'll need to catch a bus at the end of the line in Alexandroupolis, then he returns to checking tickets. What? Is he conspiring with drunk international man?

8:45am. My nails are nearly chewed off as the train clunks and clatters us toward our new destination, Alexandroupolis. There's a new ticket checker who's nicer and speaks better English, so we ask him about the Pythion situation. He only confirms our new reality, but adds that the bus is run by the train company and, even better, that it's included in the ticket price and should be waiting for us just when we arrive--brilliant!

Noon. We've befriended a Greek travel agent, and at this point, instead of pointing out the window at passing lakes and mountains, he becomes our interpreter. Another train attendant is trying to tell us in Greek that the train is running late and that we can't count on the bus to expedite us to our Istanbul train waiting at the border. We don't even know what time that train may leave, nor are we sure from where on the border this will take place, but we take his word for it. Oh yeah, and we're then instructed to get off the train at the second stop, where a taxi will be waiting to whisk us away to Turkey.

1:30pm. We don't really believe anyone or anything anymore, but at the same time we still listen to everyone. We're packed up as the train is coming to a stop in Komotini, and we follow the pointing fingers of men who may actually be trying to help us get to Istanbul. There's a taxi, backed in, trunk open, and an overweight Greek driver named Spiro (who speaks no English) becomes our escort. The best part about our upcoming ride is that, according to the train company, they were late, so they're paying for it.

1:37pm. We're doing 150 kph on a Greek highway with the windows down, and the jolly man behind the wheel is ecstatic because he knows he's getting paid today. Are we still in a hurry? We don't even know. We just keep driving, the meter keeps counting, and I keep pointing at our train tickets and saying, "Train. Istanbul." It's a beautiful day, and Spiro is blasting Greek music as we all snap our fingers to the beat. He points for me to mess with the radio station; I find Snow Patrol and give him the thumbs up, so he turns the volume way up.

3:05pm. We're passing through farmland when Spiro turns down a side road and reaches to remove his seatbelt. At this point we expect to be introduced to Spiro's friends and their weapons of choice for the quintessential crime, but alas, there are train tracks. Pythion! It's written on the station.

3:08pm. The meter is at just under 115 euros, but we don't care. All Spiro wants from us is a handshake. He walks us around the corner and introduces us to the Greek passport control agents who will stamp our pages for departure from the EU and the West. There are actually humans at this frontier station. It's old and quiet. All that's missing for the perfect scene from a country western movie are Clint Eastwood and some tumbleweeds. The train's sitting there, waiting, and it will leave on time at 3:30pm. We've made it! We even have time to stock up on supplies and relieve ourselves by trying our luck at the squatty potties. For the record, there is a second train from Greece to Istanbul, and you'll pay one third the price of a plane ticket for a ride and a better story. We had to hear one more train clunk and clatter on the tracks, only this time we were certain that the music was moving us to Istanbul.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

halfway home

100! Incredibly, it's been that many days since the two of us embarked to fulfill this life size dream. While we're halfway home--and that's a nice thought--we also continue to wonder whether we're halfway to anywhere else. You know, whether we're making progress in our spiritual, relational, and personal pursuits. We like to believe so, and in that spirit we press on in our journey of the heart. Yesterday I was inspired by the following Arab proverb: "What comes from the lips reaches the ears, but what comes from the heart reaches the heart."

Greece has been an exercise in doing very little. With views of the Mediterannean below and sunshine that doesn't stop from above, we've been soaking up a week of the hottest May here in years. We've also been writing, reading, chatting, and eating way too many gyros. Yes, there is food for the stomach and food for the soul here in the Greek islands.

As we move on to Istanbul and approach our arrival into Amman, Jordan on June 5th, we're reminded of the many who step into our world by visiting us here on our blog and keeping in touch with us. We're thankful that our family, friends, and future are never far from us.

Friday, May 23, 2008

when in rome (and sorrento)

We wrapped up a week's worth of Italy with Dad and were sad to see him go; the time was sweet. He did some writing of his own, so we thought we'd share it below and let him tell a couple tales from Sorrento and Rome.

This morning we sleep a little longer. I spend the most relaxing morning of my life watching the boats pass, the flowers grow and the birdies fly. I read and relax. I think of Mary and feel her presence. I doze off and wake up drooling. It is good. Later, we shop, eat some lunch (pizza number 5). We jump the 2:30 boat to Capri. Once there, we rent our own Capri boat and circle the island, navigate an arch, savor the blue water of the Tyrrhenian Sea (still not the Mediterranean) and anchor for a swim. It is a memorable day. Back in Sorrento, we watch another sunset on the roof, listen to music and talk.

I wake early--kind of. I check on the car. OK good, still there and no ticket. What does that sign read? I shop a little, we eat a light breakfast. We head out and decide to buy tour bus tickets--you know, one of those jump on / jump off type. We see the Pantheon (eat lunch at McDonald's across the piazza), grab the bus to the Vatican and climb to the top of St Peter’s for some great views of Rome. We see the Sistine Chapel and I decide that either the early Romans had too much time and money on their hands or we have too little. This place is impressive, big and there are lots of tourists. And Wanida is taking just as many pictures as the rest of them. Hers are just more creative. No more Italian food. We eat at a fine Chinese restaurant on the other side of the apartment complex. They are not kidding when they say that Italians like their food. There are restaurants everywhere, and we are staying in a local neighborhood.

Back to just the two of us. It's sunny and splendid right now. We're basking on the picture perfect island of Santorini in Greece. It could be difficult to leave this place, so we may be here a while. Consider it an opportunity to catch a flight and catch up with us in person; pull up a chair and join us, sitting, perched above the sea.

Monday, May 12, 2008

family and the french riviera

On Friday we officially welcomed (with many hugs) my dad, as the three of us now venture together through the France/Italy leg of our trip. What a treat to share such experience with someone so dear. For four nights we've been living the high life on the ritzy French Riviera, soaking up the colors of Nice, and going big by trying to mix and mingle in rich and famous Monaco and Monte Carlo. Tomorrow we don our wings again as we catch a flight and puddle jump to Italy--Rome, Sorrento, Capri, the Amalfi Coast, and a return to Rome.

As always, photos and stories are being added to our Picasa page. Hopefully you haven't missed the little pics link on the right side of this page, but just in case, click here too: pics on picasa

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

finding ourselves in barcelona

Spain is a country that makes it easy to relax. One is obliged to pose the question: Do people work here? I mean, they must, because everything is open and everyone is tending to his or her shop, but it doesn't take long to realize that each and every venue is open (and open late) to facilitate the enjoyment of life. Perhaps I've managed to avoid the business districts and corporate headquarters, because my eyes have surveyed only street entertainers, corner restaurants, patio cafes, backstreet bars, local markets, and picturesque parks. What's more, my heart and soul have surrendered to slowing down, stopping by, and just being instead of doing. In that time, I ask bigger questions and think deeper thoughts, and then, suddenly, I begin to believe that I have all the answers I need. Yes, I think I'll just remain in such a state of bliss for a little while longer, then tomorrow night we'll leave for France to meet up with my dad, and French people will start getting snooty at me for being an American, and I'll get frustrated too, and I'll forget all my life answers.

Monday, May 5, 2008

cheers and tears: granada, spain!

we rolled into granada on our high flying overnight bus ride, and crossed our fingers as we arrived to our "completely booked" hotel. she shook her head. we were nervous. she apologized for not having our room available... instead she offered us a key to a suite!!! she upgraded us!!! trying to compose ourselves, we giggled the whole way up to our grand suite. we could have invited a host of elephants, that's how much room we had. the enormous balcony, the bed, the two person jet bathtub, all of it... rocked!!! it took a lot to get us out of that room, and back onto the granada streets, exploring again. we explored; and we discovered a charming little spanish-arab town. the pride of this town is their 9th century Moorish (arab) palace, the Alhambra. like joe had mentioned, smart people get tickets in advance, not so smart people (like us), wake up really early and get in a line, hoping to be one of the lucky ones. that's exactly what we did the next day. we were prepared; we had a plan. we arranged for a 5:30am wake up call, and a 6:15am taxi to the Alhambra, ready to wait in line until the office opened at 8:30am. everything was set, until, instead of a wake up call, we got a call, "your taxi is here." the hotel had forgotten to write down our wake up call, and that's when our perfect plan began to unravel. we rushed rushed down to the taxi, only to be greeted by a waiting meter of $16. at 6:40am, our taxi delivered us to an Alhambra ticket office that held a crowd of people 2 football fields long. miserable. we climbed into our spot, and in the darkness of morning, we waited. anxiously, we waited, as the remaining 600 tickets could be sold out at any time! we could not believe how the story unfolded. it was 9:20am when the moment came, and we realized we were lucky number 601. not good folks. the guy right in front of us bought the very last ticket!!! ahhhhh.... the misery. we wallowed for some time, and then tried to gear up for their consolation prize... the Alhambra gardens. no one comes to granada just to see the gardens, but we did. :) in the end, we had to make the most of it. later in the day we found a market and treated ourselves to a sweet bottle of cheap sparkling wine and a bag of 10 plastic cups. as we sat at the foot of this fountain in a busy little square, we filled our two glasses to the rim and toasted to spain and all that lies ahead... including another overnight bus ride to barcelona!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

west side

We know, we know--where in the world have we been? Good question. We've definitely failed of late at keeping you in the loop. Our apologies if you feel like you're not getting your money's worth out of this, and sorry too if we're not better bloggers this month either. We made it to Europe last week, and this continent is expensive! Prices for internet will be no exception, we're figuring. Just a warning. Anyway, an update on us:

Going back in time a little bit, we wrapped up six weeks in Asia by continuing to explore the sights and sounds of Beijing, then last Wednesday we bid farewell to eastern culture as we followed our compass west. So, Portugal is where we've been, Portual is where we are--for now. Tonight we depart for Spain, perhaps Wanida's favorite country in the world, but our time here has also been a favorite. A best friend of Wanida's lives here near Lisbon with her husband and two young children, so for a week we've been babysitting (practicing for parenthood), catching up, sharing some good meals, walking by the water, and going on outings here and there. Last weekend we even joined them up north in Porto for surf camp! We don't surf though.

As we begin our trek back east across Europe toward Istanbul and, ultimately, Amman, I'm coming to terms with the fact that last minute travel through Europe on a budget is a logistical nightmare. Take tomorrow, for example. It's a holiday weekend in Spain (who knew), so we'll get to Granada (in which there are zero beds available) to see the Alhambra (for which they limit the number of daily visitors), and we can't find a place to sleep in the city or purchase advance tickets to see the attraction. We believe we've got a hotel just outside Granada, but I Skyped the front desk, and the woman's report of the room situation conflicts with what we booked on the internet. Nonetheless, we're showing up tomorrow with our reservation confirmation, then we're showing up early Saturday morning to buy Alhambra tickets. Admittedly, in the grand scheme of planning and preparing for this trip, Europe was a minor detail, but now it is not. Flights are expensive, Eurail and trains are expensive and a hassle, and gas--if we rented a car--is painfully expensive (converts to $8 or $9 a gallon, it does)! Start thinking old school, and I'll let you in on what we foresee for the future: tonight, a 12 hour bus ride from Lisbon to Granada (that's right, bus ride); tomorrow night, staying in Granada, hopefully sheltered from the elements; Saturday night, another 12 hour bus ride from Granada to Barcelona. Beyond that, life may be a little easier again. We'll spend probably four nights in Barcelona inventing teleportation before we use it as a new and creative way to get to Nice, France, where we're looking forward to meeting up with my dad next Friday. Watch the news for word of our scientific/travel achievement for the 21st century.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

the wall of greatness

china has been a wonderful surprise. all of our preconceived ideas of an old, shabby infrastructure and ancient, far away place have been shattered. come august, beijing will give the world an impressive olympic show. china is almost ready, and the olympic spirit is everywhere! olympic flags, a "no spitting" policy, olympic souvenir shops, vast amounts of chinese lanterns, 90,000 more police on the street, a tienanmen square that has a 7 o'clock curfew... these are all signs that china is getting ready for the world. we passed the "bird's nest" stadium, and it looks fantastic. yesterday, we ventured outside of beijing and took a cable car to some of the best preserved portions of the great wall. at the top of beautiful grey mountain ridges, we walked along a wall that has been in existence for over 2000 years. everything about the wall was impressive... the enormous stones, the ancient architecture, the great history, the beautiful chinese landscapes. it was absolutely incredible. someone thought of a very creative way to make more money at the great wall... instead of taking the cable car down again, we took a super fun toboggan ride to the base! joe went first, and i followed! we went straight down the whole way! the chinese workers kept yelling at us to slow down, but we just nodded to them as we zoomed past at full speed!! i'll be honest, the toboggan ride was a close second to the great wall! we've been blessed (once again) to have some wonderful hosts along our journey. we are reaping kindness from a student my grandparents taught english to while they were living in china over 20 years ago. our host got us settled in to our hotel (no one speaks english there) and he helped us understand some very important information from the front desk. he translated: "you should know that it is common to find long centipedes and scorpions in your room. if there is a problem, just call the front desk and they will take care of things for you." so... these are the phrases that we know in chinese: "hello" "thank you" "how are you?" and "scorpion".

Monday, April 14, 2008

my people

welcome to songkran!
from the early stages of planning, we always knew that the second week of april would be in chiang mai, thailand. in fact, our entire first portion of our trip evolved entirely around thailand's new year celebration. and finally, this week has arrived. songkran was three days of pure water dousing. it was everything we imagined; thailand was everything we imagined, wonderful. today we're off to china!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

time out in thailand

All of our ambitions have returned void since we last wrote. Instead of capitalizing on our bonus week by embarking on a last minute excursion to a new and exciting destination, we've been digging deep into the medicine bag to find the right formula to fix me. I got sick. Felt like the flu, but I also tend to think that I had emotionally ingested all the extremes of India and, upon leaving it all behind, my body sought to physically express and purge itself. The good news is that I wasn't throwing up, but a fever, fatigue, congestion, and shortness of breath were enough to be out of commission for four days. Other good news is that we've been able to maintain a home base with friends in Bangkok whose house and hearts have made for a comfortable recovery.

Monday was my first day of near normalcy, and yesterday we ventured deep into downtown to sneak a swim at one of the posh hotels by the river. Next on the agenda is our departure for Chiang Mai via overnight train tomorrow night. We'll visit with Wanida's extended family and experience the traditional Thai new year and the Songkran water festival; think country wide water fight, everyone's in.

Having been refreshed by the healing of body, mind, and soul, it's time to check back in to this magnificent adventure.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

taking flight

india was incredibly overwhelming in every sense of the word. it was emotional, it was draining, it was manipulative, it was colorful, it was spiritual, it was sad, it was powerful, it was frustrating, it was intense, and there were always moments of beauty in everything.

still, we made a decision on tuesday morning (april 1) to change our tickets, and leave india 8 days early. tuesday evening, we were on a flight to thailand. we needed to leave; it felt right to leave. india is not for the faint of heart. it's a very sad and wounded place. i don't think that i can even share all that india did to us, but, i will say that as we were waiting for our 3:30 am flight to bangkok, joe and i had one of those talks. those talks that you pray for. the ones where god moves in your heart, and moves you to grow. joe started sharing one of the many incredible stories we collected in india, and instantly we both were moved to tears. together in a little indian coffee shop, we cried for the sadness that drowns this country. honestly, if we stayed any longer, we would have been drowning too. even as i share, there's a lump in my throat, it hurts. india was just too overwhelming to commit eight more days to. i know its impact will stay with us much longer.

so now (deep breath), we are in this cyber cafe in bangkok, trying ot figure out how we want to spend these extra days! we could stay in thailand, perhaps find a little thai island to frolic in, or head to cambodia? or southern china, singapore, malaysia? the change brings refreshment, and it feels good.

today marks day 44. so much ahead, and we're excited. i'll share the india stories as we upload more pictures, uploading pics has been a bit of a challenge lately. the stories and pictures will give you a glimpse of our wanderings through india.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

pondering on a pilgrimage

On our last night in Tokyo, we returned to the free observation deck on the 45th floor of the Municipal Government Building. Had a cup of tea. Journaled a bit. I thought I'd share some of my reflections from our "ascent".

Every now and then one must ascend to take in the view--to appreciate the reality of the surroundings and the promise of the horizon. I'm above it all, but not for long. The reality is that I'm in the thick of it, and the thickness is sweet. To descend now means to return to the deep river of addictive experience by which I've been carried away. The trouble is that rivers only flow in one direction, so to go back is an impossibility. No, I must navigate these waters, and sooner or later I must be swallowed into the sea. There are many directions in which to paddle out there. There may be fog to inhibit my sight. There may be storms and waves to rock and sway me. Alas, my Lord will bring peace, and even if my anchor is lost or my boat is flooded, I will rise to follow him as we walk on the water. Upon returning home, I will not, I cannot be the same.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

in the hub of humanity

Last I heard, Tokyo is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Whether or not that's true, there are more than a handful of human beings here. The city's electric, both literally and figuratively. It's a land of effectiveness and efficiency. It's a contrast of big of small. Everything is shrunk down so as to squeeze in as much as possible--appetizers, appliances, apartments--then the critical mass explodes up and out in the form of sky high bills and buildings. From 45 floors up it's quiet, but one can be sure that, down below, there's no shortage of activity in the concrete jungle that stretches as far as the eye can see.

We're hooked up with more great, gracious Maneevone connections here in the western suburbs of Tokyo. No, we're not sleeping on the 45th floor, but every now and then one must ascend to take in the view--to appreciate the reality of the surroundings and the promise of the horizon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

bagus bali

Yes, Bali is very bagus!! Bagus (bah-goose) means good, or great, or something like that. All we know is that we say bagus when we like something, and we like Bali. This wonderful place is worthy of more than just two blog posts, but we’ve been out and about doing everything under the sun—literally. Our faces have been lit up by a week and a half of mostly sunshine and a couple of Maneevone family friends who have treated us to more than we bargained for. Also, we admit it, we just indulged ourselves (for the first time) in an American Idol rerun of the top twelve performers that we stumbled across on tv.

About Bali, though, some highlights: We spent the first five nights here at Hotel Padma on Legian Beach, then did three nights on the north side of the island in Tulamben, and now we’re wrapping up our final three nights back at the Padma. Time to move on to Tokyo tomorrow night! The purpose of the Tulamben excursion was primarily to wrap up our open water scuba certification course. Yes, we succeeded, we can breathe underwater. In fact, Wanida has the ability to make the air in her tank last much longer than I do; having to return to the surface is always my fault. I hear it’s a gender thing though. Really, it is. Females take shallower breaths and their muscles don’t use as much oxygen. Is that true about the muscles because they’re smaller? Now I’m in trouble. Anyway, we saw a warm underwater world full of coral, big clams, lion fish, scorpion fish, eels, barracuda, and maybe a small shark. By the way, coral is not merciful, even if you scrape it by accident. My hand is only now getting over it. We’ve been to the beach many times, the pool many times, and we’ve had many food adventures—I ate a pigeon heart, for example, among other innards. We also wandered among monkeys and held a certain flying nocturnal creature. Pics? Of course!!

Many humble thanks to Yanto, Mie Khie, and their families for being the kindest of hosts to us. Very undeserved. As far as we’re concerned, bring your travel dollars to Bali—they’ll go far, and the experience is worth the mileage. Today we mark one month since we departed. Missing you all, but savoring the moments.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

they walked all over us

Today, Joey and I were victims of the Adian Hotel and Spa. Side by side, the pranced and danced down our bodies. Balinese toes are really quite remarkable. With a fierce prodding, their toes almost brought us to tears! Over and over, they tenderized our backs, our arms, and legs (down to each individual toe). If there were only cameras to capture our hidden faces! We were dying! Our survival method was to laugh through the pain, and we laughed a lot! Today the Maertzs were weaksauce. In the end, our Shiatsu toes masters asked us how we liked it? Our response came with a big grin, "It was intense, amazing and intense." Joey and I are walking a little more gingerly, and enjoying life at a slightly slower pace. Life is slower in Bali, and we love it. The massage was simply a fun story, honestly we really can't share enough wonderful things about this beautiful little island, and all the people in it. We ended our day, sharing drinks and a cherished conversation with a old family friend MieKhie. He and his family have showered us with kindness. Every time we express our gratitude to him, he says "I have many friends, but only one spiritual father, your dad." That statement meant a lot to me tonight. My mom and dad have made wonderful relationships with many international students, and here we are in Bali, reaping the benefits of my parent's kindness. It all feels very undeserved. Reminds me a bit of grace, and the grace that we have already seen throughout this adventure, all completely undeserved. Joe and I have been gifted with so much. That's just a little of how I'm feeling tonight... grateful, really grateful.

Monday, March 10, 2008

little joeys everywhere

Baby kangaroos, that is, but no, we didn't see any. Actually, you can't see much of Australia in 48 hours, but we did our best in Sydney. The city is beautiful, cosmopolitan, and surprisingly diverse. We arrived on Thursday evening with enough daylight to locate a hostel downtown (didn't sleep on the streets after all), then walk farther and faster than expected to be at the Opera House by dusk--wanted a landmark and a panorama with which to breathe in the moment and say, "Ah, we're here."

On Friday we picked up our Daytrippers ($16 passes that allow you unlimited travel on all of Sydney's buses, subways, and ferries for a day). First stop was the famous Bondi Beach. Bondi's a nice beach for sure, but nothing to write home about (just blog home about), and we had just enough time to eat lunch and twinkle our toes in the water before the clouds caught up with us again. We packed up, cursed the weather, and moved on. Next we bussed and subwayed ourselves to the north side of the Harbour Bridge, then strolled back across it. Very nice. Ferried ourselves to the Manly Beach area for the evening, and wished for sunshine and more time there. For dinner we ate the best, tastiest, most authentic and reasonably priced Thai food right at the Manly wharf. It's one of those places that you don't think could possibly produce the meal that you're eating for the price that you paid for it. Good stuff. Riding the ferry back, rain started. Friday night in Sydney, Australia and it was raining. Don't cry for us, though, we've had enough precipitation.

Redemption: Saturday was splendid. In the morning we did the Starbucks thing (for Wanida's sake), read and wrote for a little while. We walked miles and miles that day, enjoyed the city (and weather), took plenty of pics, and just chatted.

What in the world are the subjects of our conversations these days? Well, we remind each other how blessed we are to be able to do this, to savor it and to be thankful. We replay stories and memories that we've already left behind, and get excited about the many things to come. We get serious and ask each other about ways in which we want to be "better" when we get home, the point being that we want this trip to transform us. Acknowledging God as the true transformer of all things, we talk about how we can be used to transform the world around us. So many places and people are passing before us, and by these creations and through these experiences we seek to refine our God given vision and mission.

Getting back to our adventures and exploits, we got stuck--due to flight unavailability--with an overnight layover in Perth on the way to Bali. How unfortunate. Really. We knew it was coming, but to make matters worse we always approached it with a budget mentality and a plan to persevere through one night at the airport. Some of you are already grinning at the thought of splurging on bungy jumping, but pinching pennies on much needed accommodations. I know, because we're talking about an almost sleepless night of pushing chairs together, flopping around on the ground, flies and mosquitoes, bright lights, and enough random noise to remind you that you're always awake. The morning brought swollen eyes for Wanida, but we celebrated the fact that Bali and the beach were only hours away.

Yes, we're here now--Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. It's incredible. We've been very much looking forward to moving on from western culture and, although we're well taken care of here, it's still foreign and exotic and wonderful. Check back for a Bali post in the near future, but we had to share about Australia.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

a toast to a happy ending

Hanmer Springs showed us the sun, and we showed them our shine! All smiles. The sun came out for an afternoon and we soaked it up! Joe and I spent our final New Zealand day in a mountain village paradise. We left our jackets and hats in the camper, and charted some gorgeous new territory in our bathing suits and sunscreen. We basked in God's hot springs and sunshine, the waters were perfect in color, warmth and garden surroundings! Of course the clouds rolled in in the later afternoon, but that didn't bother us, we had our moment in New Zealand's sun once again! Our final stretch back to Christchurch was lively and full of noisy campervan campers (one particularly happy camper)! Happy to be all done with the camping (all done joe, all done)!

We're leaving this fantastic country today. Heading to Sydney! Trusting we will find accommodations upon arrival. We'll just tell our taxi man... "Take us to the Opera House!" And we'll go from there! No worries mate.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

running from the rain

We find ourselves way up north in Nelson and the Abel Tasman region, but we've been unable to escape the overcastness. Summer in New Zealand has the potential to not be very summery. Through five days of barely seeing the sun, we're thankful for hot beverages, good books, and adventurous spirits. Speaking of adventurous spirits, Wanida is worthy of recognition for surviving and thriving as a campervan camper (almost done, Noodle)! Also, speaking of good books, today I finished The Alchemist--very timely for the start of this journey. Read it if you're a dreamer with a "Personal Legend" to live out.

On Friday night we were relieved to realize that we can still be social; we hooked up with a few friends-of-a-friend in Wanaka, then also met up with a good friend of mine from college who happened to be traveling through Wanaka on the same day! Thanks to Amy and the crew for hosting us and reminding us what it's like to be in the company of friends.

Wanaka to Franz Josef was the drive for Saturday as we intended to crampon our way over the Franz Josef glacier for an all day guided adventure on Sunday. Instead, enough rain dumped to freeze into an entirely new glacier, so we decided to save the money and our extremities by canceling. Bummer, though, as we were left with the rainy day blues and only our imagination to picture the ice castles and ice caves.

Welcome to Nelson, then, the sunshine capital of the South Island. Show me the sun and I'll show you the shine! One highlight that still remains before we depart for Sydney on Thursday is soaking in the thermal pools at Hamner Springs. Join us, won't you, for a drink and a dip in one of God's jacuzzis?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

our alpine hike

god took everything beautiful & dramatic and placed it along one beautiful hike, called Rob Roy Glacier Hike. this explains why joe and i have jelly-like legs today. we worked hard yesterday, and loved every minute! joe must have gotten tired of hearing me saying over and over, "this is so pretty!" i'll admit, i said it a lot. this hike was incredible. it starts in the prettiest alpine meadows, and then across this scary bridge... around some winding paths that run just beside a crystal blue roaring river. the long path drops you off at the foot of an enormous glacier. it was some of the most concentrated beauty i've ever seen. i thought of all my hiker friends and family back at home. as most of you know, joe and i aren't big hikers... but yesterday you would have been so proud of us, we hiked our hearts out!

pay up folks

he did it. for reals, he really did it. joey maertz was the last person on wednesday evening to jump off the original bungy bridge! joe was all smiles! the only nervous person was me. i was shaking and so scared!! joe stepped onto the plank with a big smile and began rallying cheers from the crowd. joe was in the spot light, and he gave the everyone a good show! at the end of the big "3-2-1" countdown, joe leaped into the air, and took a dive to the bottom of the gorge!! the bungy guys did a good trick on him too... they gave him a little surprise dip into the river below! when it was all said and done, i asked him how it was. his first response, "where's my t-shirt?" (you get a free t-shirt when you jump). he proudly wore his new t-shirt the rest of the day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

we're good at camping

Well, we try at least. Four nights in the campervan down, eight to go! Our wheels have taken us from Christchurch past Mt Cook through Queenstown to Te Anau and Milford Sound, and now back to Queenstown again. Campervan rules--as far as we know--are that you can park and sleep anywhere out of town so long as there's no sign telling you that you can't. The results, after a stormy first night, look like the view above, and we awoke to clear views of Mt Cook from the south shore of Lake Pukaki.

Queenstown is charming. It's also very touristy. We like it, though, so we're back. When it comes to experiencing the place, you have two options: You can spend hundreds of dollars to eat, sleep, drink, boat down a river, ride a gondola, bungy jump, and use the internet, or you can do what we try to do by living on spaghetti out of the back of a van, skipping the speed boats, hiking an hour up to where the gondola would take you in three minutes, being bungy jumping enthusiasts (by jealously watching), and finding the only free wi-fi in town at the local ice cream joint. We're still suckers, though, and New Zealand is fairly expensive, so we've spent some cash. Should we just go for it? Are we missing out?

Te Anau and Milford Sound were beautiful and wet. We did fork over $30 in Te Anau for a spot at what's called a "holiday park". We were lured in by the guaranteed place to sleep, the showers, etc. They got us at Milford Sound too when we paid probably too much for a two hour cruise around the fiord. Wanida got sprayed and soaked by a waterfall!

New pics are up, so enjoy!