Boudhanath Prayer Flags - On Halloween Night...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Families Inspiring Families

Yesterday we had to find the new obscure Immigration Office to extend Karen's visa... We stood in lines, filled out forms, stapled photos, etc. While milling about the lobby, we noticed an Australian family with 2 young girls also filling out forms... and they had a copy of LOTR "Fellowship of the Rings" on the table. "Hey are you girls reading that? It's one of our favorite books," we asked...

It turns out that they are reading LOTR as a family each night (just like we did 2 years ago), and they just finished hiking the Annapurna Circuit last week!!! "Wow, that's awesome!!! We hiked the AC last year with OUR girls!" "Really?,"asked John (their dad), "did your family have a blog?" Yes.... "And are your girls 2 blondes and a redhead?" YES???? "Oh right, your blog really helped us over the Pass! People thought we were crazy to bring the kids, but we read your blog a few times and felt much more confident and relaxed about doing this trek..."

What great coincidence to meet the fun and wonderful Vazey family, here in Kathmandu on a random Tuesday in the crowded Immigration office, and what a treat to hear that our adventure helped to inspire theirs. We, in turn, have been so inspired and encouraged by other families and friends over the years. It is fantastic to know their are tons of people out there, sharing this wonderful world with their kids! That's what the planet needs... more good stewards, respectful travelers, active adventurers, and curious cultural ambassadors. Teach the children well!

Back in Nepal... for Bird-watching Projects!!!

After 10 months away, Karen and I are back in Kathmandu! It's really a dream come true, as we had no idea how long it would be until we were able to return... Our kids (reluctantly) stayed home this time, as this is only a short working trip. Paul is here for 10 days, and Karen stays for one month. This is actually the first time in 13 years that we've taken a big trip without our children! Our philosophy has always been to travel with our kids and for our kids benefit... We've always planned our big adventures to experience together, so this is something quite different!

Due to the great success and enthusiasm for Karen's birding program at the Kailash Hostel last year, the HYF (Himalayan Youth Foundation) invited us to return. Our goal is to work with the students, continue their training & education, and help them to create a long-term sustainable bird-watching "Eco-club." We are so grateful for the energy and passion that these students have shown us, and also incredibly thankful for HYF's support in bringing us back to Nepal!!!

For more updates, details, and photos from this current trip, check out the New Blog at:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Safely back home...

Ahhhh... We are now back HOME in El Portal! It is so wonderful to sit by the cozy fire, petting our (rather plump) cat, and hear the kids snoring in bed. I am WIDE awake at 3am, surrounded by piles of "stuff" unpacked all over the floor, working on a lengthy "to do" list. Also trying to locate enough warm layers, as it's below freezing here, with frosty snow on the hilltops. Quite a change from tropical Thai beaches.

Our flights home were smooth and easy... Wonderful grandparents met us at the airport with hugs galore... Driving was a snap, even after spending 4 months on the "wrong" side of the roads.

So here we begin the next adventure, and try to process and truly appreciate these past several months of incredible experience. Transitioning back home to our "normal" life is always challenging for me. We'll try to go slowly, and take it step by step... All in good time...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Fulfilling the fantasy!

One of our oft-told family legends is the tale, surely exaggerated, about Daddy’s trip to Thailand in the 70’s. We played all day on the beach, went para-sailing, and, since sunscreen was barely invented back then, got a world-class lobster-red sunburn that laid us up crying and whining in the hotel beds for 2 days… Here we are 35 years later, and our girls have been fantasizing about Thailand for months. Not the sunburn part, but the beach and para-sailing part. High on the Himalayan passes, Eliza would mention “this is SO awesome… I LOVE trekking in Nepal…. Hey Dad, will we get to para-sail in Thailand?” Or at a Kathmandu restaurant Sylvie would exclaim, “Dalbaht is my favorite FAVORITE food!!! …except Thai food. Mom, will we eat Thai food every day in Thailand?” Eliza even claimed that Thailand was her favorite country, weeks before she'd ever set foot in the place!

So now we are finally here in "tropical paradise," hoping that Thailand will meet their lofty expectations. The fruit & food is exquisite, plentiful, and delicious. Mangoes, star fruit, dragon fruit, mangosteens, pineapple, papaya, etc. etc…. Pad thai, green & red curries, tom yum and tom kha gai, spicy green papaya salads, chicken satay on the streets, ice cold beer and soy milk and fresh fruit juices…. Ahhhhh… It is SO wonderful to just eat here! And the parasailing bit? Will it be possible on Koh Chang? We came here because it’s not too far away from Bangkok (5hrs.), but still has some mellow quiet affordable places to stay… But on our first day splashing in the waves, we saw parachutes way down the coast, so we boarded our scooters and zipped down to check it out. Oh yes! They do parasailing, and such a deal too… 700 Baht per kid ($23 each). Each of them got a 20 minute ride, out around some smaller islands, and managed to land safely back on the “launching pad” raft. Lupin was so light that they sent an extra boy up with her to add some weight…. He just grabbed on, dangling from the slings, and upon takeoff, scrambled up into the rigging to sit above her harness. They all came down smiling and giggling and squealing with joy! Fantasy fulfilled, and on the first day at the beach!

The motorbike bit has also been a blast! The girls were begging us to ride scooters or motorcycles in Nepal, but egads, Kathmandu traffic is pretty daunting with kids! Even down in mellow rural Chitwan, we couldn’t find scooters to rent, as the entire town seemed to have only 3 rentals, all of them constantly booked up. Here in Koh Chang, scooters are like an extra appendage… everyone rides them everywhere, sometimes a family of 4 on one unit. It was so much more fun, efficient, and economical to zip around the island by scooter, as every pickup-truck taxi ride runs about 50 Baht per person… that’s 200 baht ($7) for the family one-way every single ride! Yikes… but the scooters go for 150 ($5) per 24 hours, which must be 10 to 20 times cheaper than shared taxi rides.

One great ride was up a quiet side valley, with a hike to Klong Phu waterfall… plenty of tourists on the trail, but also plenty of tarzan vines, snakes, and cool jungle trees. The slot-canyon waterfall was cool and exciting… and it was so nice to swim in fresh water for once! So far so good… parasailing, tropical waterfalls, fresh mangoes, motorcycle riding, snorkeling, rope swings over the sea, and luscious sunset swims every evening… I think they’re loving Thailand so far!

Lounging in Koh Chang

What a radical shift…. A total phase change…

We are “suddenly” on Koh Chang in the Gulf of Thailand. Sipping a cool Singha beer, with the tingly fire of green curry and tom yum soup on my lips, while the kids take turns on a rope swing hanging from a palm tree over the waves. I’m reclining on comfy triangular cushions with Karen, listening to smooth Thai pop love songs wafting from the bar. The girls have just located a friendly dog to play with, as well as a nice young Dutch boy to attempt communication... A shirtless Sammy Hagar look alike is hanging out by the bar, and several European couples are also hanging out nearby, enjoying the sunset with lungfuls of tobacco… the dang French! They all still smoke!

After a couple sweaty nights in our claustrophobic Bangkok guest house “cell,” it was wonderful to board a comfy bus bound for Trat… We were headed for Koh Chang, a huge island down near the Cambodian border, to get some beach and snorkeling time before we head home to ski season… Karen and I were here about 12 years ago, back when the bumpy one-lane road only went part way around the island. Back then we walked past the end of the dirt road to find several cheapo bamboo cottages for a few bucks a night. Well nowadays this place has exploded with development! There are hundreds of places to stay now, from plush 5-star resorts to a few hold-out crusty “budget” bungalows in the $20-30 range. The main road is now smooth & freshly paved, and lined with countless souvenir & dive shops, restaurants, pharmacies, and 7-Elevens… There are ATMs everywhere! Times change, especially with Thai island tourism!

Nonetheless, we walked 10 minutes down a quiet dirt side road, to find some mellow beach huts. The kids are literally flipping out with glee, as we now have warm water, sand, shells, coconut palms, cool breezes, papaya, mango, and pad thai in abundance. They don’t care about what this island “used to be like.” They are thrilled to just hang out, swim, and play on the beach for several days! And so are we…