October was a great month with lots of friends and food. The great food was found from San Jose to San Francisco but the friends came from much further, Australia, Brazil, and Seattle. It was great to try out so many new places with old friends. The highlights were Tepanyaki (not pictured) and a local dive bar in San Jose, Sonoma Chicken Coop, Destino in the City, The Sand Dollar in Stinson Beach, and Consuelos Mexico Bistro at Santana Row. With so much great food for inspiration, I also bought a cooking with lemons book to concoct a few new recipes taking advantage of the abundance of lemons we have in California. Halloween also inspired me to make some finger food.
While it appears that we’ve been in hibernation and resting, we have been busy with new top secret ventures as well as California exploration. Stay tuned for more to come from our California Adventures.
Now to recap, we arrived in the bay area post burning man in September 2012 and started our explorations with the Northern California Renaissance Faire, getting the watch the Giants clinch the NL West Title, buying my new 2013 Ford escape (quite the upgrade from my previous 2000 Toyota Corolla), and seeing Alanis Morissette in concert at Golden Gate Park. Nathan was also fortunate enough to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor fly over San Jose while I was flying back from job interviews in Boston.
Black Rock City is the home of the annual week long Burning Man Festival. We made our way there via a few National Parks while en route to our new home in the Bay Area. Initially I was unsure if I wanted to attend Burning Man 2012 as it would be the end of our year long journey. Somehow though, it turned into a poetic end since we had started our adventure with Burning Man 2011 as our first destination.
While this was my 3rd year and Nathan’s 4th, Burning Man did not cease to amaze us with creativity around every corner. The shiny and new Char Wash, Super Street Fire, and a giant sunken ship were amidst some of the favorites. Old classics that returned included District Dance Club, the fire throwing octopus art car, Blackies, and the Disco Roller Derby. We had some small dust storms keeping us close to camp one night, a bit of rain, one stolen bike, one bike that went from 18 speed to 1 speed, and a lot of late nights. Black Rock City…YOU ROCK!!!
In much the same way I was unsure if I wanted to attend Burning Man 2012, I hesitated when writing this, the final blog entry of our 380 consecutive days on the road as I didn’t want it to be over. Just as Burning Man is full of new adventures each year and surprises around each corner, so is our new life. We left one adventure to start another; this one just has a bit less international travel.
Stay tuned for more entries of our California Adventures.
The drive through Utah continued from Bryce to Zion National Park. This was a leisurely park excursion as during the summer months, they don’t allow cars on the main road to all the action. We hopped the shuttle bus and made the obligatory photo stops as well as fitting in a few hikes for the day. Zion was certainly crowded but we heard a bit more English here vs. what felt like a French colony at Bryce Canyon just 2 hours away.
As we moved into Nevada we took the travel recommendation from some Nevada natives we met in India, so off to Great Basin National Park we went. Where you ask? Exactly, apparently no one else knows about it either because after the crowds of Bryce and Zion, this park felt deserted by comparison. While we didn’t have time to do any long hikes, this was not an RV friendly park as most of the side roads were at extreme elevation and windy with signs clearly prohibiting vehicles of our size. That left of us exactly one thing to see and do in the park, visit the Lehman Caves, which despite the name, is actually only one large cave. The cave was worth seeing and we took an 90 minute tour which turned out to be a private tour, good for us and our photo taking. I have seen plenty of stalagmites, stalactites, and columns in our cave explorations but this was my first time seeing a shield and Lehman Caves is partially famous for having so many of these rare features. I also particularly thought the hanging bacon (not sure the official name) was cool. Maybe that had something to do with how hungry I was when we got there. Hungry or not, if you are driving near that part of Nevada, don’t drive past, drive through Great Basin National Park, it’s worth it.
The anticipation builds prior to every long road trip in our RV. Will it be smooth sailing, or will we break down four days into our drive? Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait four days for an answer. Or even four hours. The lesson learned is that one should always bring along a few extra fuel pumps. The issues with the RV were frustrating, but were offset as we were able to spend a few more days with family. We put the time to good use sewing fashionable outfits for Burning Man.
Our itinerary took us to see family in Seattle, Cashmere and Boise before heading south into Utah to do a loop of the National Parks. Our first and favorite park of this drive was Bryce Canyon. We spent two brief nights, and could easily have added a third. We hiked the trails, went overboard photographing the hoodoos (the rock spires) and partaking of the ranger’s telescopes. During the day we saw solar flares coiling away from the sun, and at night viewed binary stars and the moons of Jupiter.
The weather was spectacular, though one afternoon a storm quickly enveloped the canyon. Naturally, that brings me to the point of this story: motorcycles. Some people think that RVs are for old, rich, retired people. Motorcycles, on the other hand, are for fun loving, uber-cool, James Dean rebel types. But in the midst of the most vicious hailstorm, sipping my hot chocolate while dinner was simmering, I couldn’t help looking out across that parking lot at the group of motorcycle riders waiting out the storm. And given the choice of being warm in my RV or looking like a drowned rat… no regrets.
Some might say that the year off Nathan and I took was somewhat like a honeymoon. I wouldn’t entirely disagree. Just to be sure, at the end of the trip I booked us a honeymoon package in Kerala, a state that lies in the southwest tip of India. If you are traveling with anyone that looks like they could be a spouse, it’s definitely the way to go. Unless you are allergic to flowers. Not only is the honeymoon package cheaper but they book you in nicer rooms and decorate the bed with flowers petals. One night we had a romantic candlelight dinner for two served in our room overlooking fog shrouded hills draped in tea and spice plantations. The next night we dined from the deck of our private houseboat while sailing the canals of Kerala. Another night was spent on a private island amongst the canals, enjoying a heated round of badmitton, venturing out via paddle boat and later a speed boat to see the Chinese fishing nets. We ended our trip through Kerala like all good honeymoons do, at the beach, watching dolphins play in the surf while we dined from the cliffside above.
We found it difficult to immerse ourselves in New Delhi. The capital is busy, as would be expected of any capital city in Asia. But it moves at its own pace, one which we never seemed to match. During the warm nights people slept on the streets, on top of their taxis, or in the bed of their trucks. Our most memorable experience was walking through a night market and acquiring a few decidedly Indian clothing items. During the day we spent some time visiting the local archaeological sites with various success. Our timing coincided with the independence celebrations, so many sites were closed. If I was to spend a month or two in one location in India, Delhi… would not be it. Oh, and whatever you do, avoid the masala lemonade.
Jaipur on the other hand, was quite interesting. Located in the desert state of Rajasthan about eight hours drive from Delhi, Jaipur is a kingdom of its own. We had a chance to cross paths with the princess who was the mother of the king. Like everything in India, it makes perfect sense to locals, and no sense to me. The lady was the princess who had a son, but her father didn’t have son, so her father adopted her son so she became the mother of the king. Got it?
Rajasthan has a strong history of kings, palaces, and the usual chicanery associated with royals. The amber fort and the palace in the lake were particularly beautiful. We spent a couple days touring through the usual tourists sites, and somehow managed to avoid buying fake rubies, carpets, and the rest of the tourist trap must have items. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t tip the elephant drivers.
Agra was about immersion. I had purchased a sari to wear to the Taj Majal thinking the colorful wrapped fabric outfit would be fun for the photos. Never did I dream of how readily it would endear me to the locals. Everyone wanted to help dress me in the sari. Our guide, his friends, the ladies at the Taj Mahal’s security checkpoint, and then a final touch-up by a group of 10+ ladies all took part in the sari adjustment process. It was not uncommon in India for people to want photos with westerners such as Nathan and I but this was insane, even other westerners were taking pictures of me socializing with the locals. And of course the local ladies wanted me to show more belly. Don’t ask.
We also went to the movies in Agra, but not just any movie… the Bollywood film Super Kool. We could catch the gist of the movie through the over the top expressions, but our insufficient mastery of the Hindi language meant we consistently missed out on some very funny jokes. I think I laughed more at the fact that their movies show everything that their society finds taboo, from risque clothing choices, gay/lesbian issues, to arranged versus love marriages.
Easily overlooked from the typical itinerary of northern India lies underrated Orchha. Once the seat of power for the kingdom, it is now striving to work its way into the hearts of tourists and the pages of history. Our Intrepid tour stopped a few days in this surprising town. Not all was glamorous. It was fly season, and everything was covered in swarms of houseflies. Meals were uncomfortable affairs defending against suicidal flies intent on drowning in my Coke bottle. But we weren’t in Orchha for the flies. It’s beauty lies in the palaces. They are unique blends of Hindu and Muslim architectures, reflecting the delicate balance of religious influences that have defined India till this day.
Slightly smaller than the palaces, Tammy visited the house of a local lady who demonstrates northern Indian cooking and the art of henna painting. Other activities included the local markets, temples, and a shop that recycles old clothes to make paper.
During a train ride en route to our next destination, a local asked where we’d come from. When we answered Orchha, his eyes lit up. “Orchha, I’ve heard much about it. The train goes by that stop every day, but I’ve never been there. How did you like it?”
On the banks of the River Ganges lies the holiest city in India. It is also one of the oldest living cities in the world. Hindu pilgrims from around the world come here to pray, to bathe, and to die. In our travels through India we were often told “You haven’t seen India until you’ve seen city X or Y or Z.” And they were right, the ones who said we wouldn’t know India until we experienced the city of Varanasi.
They call the Ganges the River of Life. We thought it was a possible mistranslation. To us it felt more like the River of Death. We watched people bathing in the river, or urinating, or performing religious ceremonies. We watched in silence as dead bodies floated by, and saw the fires of cremations dumped in the river. From Varanasi we broke up a two day sail down the Ganges by camping on a sand bar island. The tents were unbearable hot, so Nathan slept on the sand. Throughout the night insects swarmed, curious cows investigated, and wild dogs howled. With the morning light we took a walk around the sand bar. Where the water lapped at the sand endless fragments of bones glistened, both animal and human. The dead are not buried, they are cremated or simply given to the river, and the river gives the remnants of the dead to the whims of the currents and the shifting sands.
The city of Varanasi isn’t much better. Vultures circle overhead and dead animals lay bloated on piles of garbage in the streets. Cows and their excrement mix effortlessly with the muddy streets. But Varanasi is more than it first appears. Thousands of pilgrims come here to pay respects to their dead, to their religion, and to renew their faith in the promise of life. There is a pulse that beats through the city, culminating at the ghats, or steps leading down into the Ganges, the River of Life. To experience India, be it the good, the bad, or the ugly, Varanasi and her waters are a must. Enjoy, but wear closed toed shoes.