TRAVEL TALES - My Wanderlust Adventures

You can learn a lot through the Internet, books and film, but personally visiting a foreign land and having immediate contact with others cannot be substituted. This drives me to travel, to interact with myriad people and capture the beauty of their various cultures on film. This passion has taken me to more than 40 countries outside of the United States.
Below, I share with you, some of my observations along the way.

Myanmar (Burma) - Land Of Smiles
Burma has some of the most friendly people I've ever met. 90 percent of them wear sarongs (called a longyi), and thongs (flip-flops) are the only shoes they can afford. Most wear a pasty powder on their faces, either in carefully planned designs and geometric patterns or just painted on randomly. They are always smiling, saying hello, trying to help you out as they are very curious about visitors.

Everyone tries to help you (even if you don't ask for help and are simply glancing at your map), but it can be inconvenient because it takes 4-8 people to do the job of one (they have all these helpers who don't really seem to have a function). Sometimes people who are curious just gather around when you go to buy something. There always seems to be this big crowd of people staring at you, they are all friendly though, a lot are trying to talk to you just to practice their English; the pace is very slow , a lot of people are just sort of sitting around, watching the world go by. They are delighted and proud when you ask to take their photo.

Longtail boats are king in Burma (and all over Southeast Asia). The talented leg-rowing fisherman can be found in the Inle Lake area. They stand on one foot on the bow of the boat, row the long paddle along with their other foot searching for fish-abundant areas, cast their nets (or baskets), smoke a cigarette and talk with you simultaneously!

Buddhism is paramount in Burma, and Buddhist temples are everywhere, coming in all shapes, sizes, and locations. I visited many in my stay including: Sule Paya, located in the middle of a rotunda in the center of downtown Rangoon, inside there are pulsating circular lights surrounding the Buddhas; Pindaya, an eerie limestone cave, which contains a mazelike series of chambers containing 8094 Buddha images made from alabaster, teak, marble, brick, lacquer and cement, some are shiny gold, others are blackened. Mt. Popa, a monastery topped on a 1520-meter hill; and finally, ruin-studded Bagan Archaeological Zone, a deserted city from the 11th Century filled with 2000 pagodas and temples. Many of these temples are ornately decorated including many with real gold leaf on the stupas (which can be seen glistening in the sunlight from miles away), sparkly mosaic mirrored hallways and beautiful arched doorways and carved columns.

Indonesia - Cautious Travels
An efficient way to get around and see sights in Indonesia is to hire a driver, but beware of the negotiation hassles. Simply walk by where these drivers hang out and everyone will yell out their offer. "Transport?" But none of them really know what they're doing. Either they'll agree to a price and then change it later, or they won't know the place you want to go, even though they'll tell you they know where you want to go.

Or even worse, you'll go through the whole rigmarole of explaining where you want to go, when you want to go, negotiating and agreeing upon a price and then they'll say, "I have to ask my boss," who'll come along and then you'll have to renegotiate all over again.

One day, the driver my travel partner and I hired had especially bad luck, being stopped and fined three different times by the police. Not knowing the language, it was hard to discern what was happening. We deducted that apparently he didn't have a proper license to escort tourists. At the end of the day when we paid this driver, including a nice tip (especially for a country where tips aren't usual protocol) he had the gall to say, "Could you please give me a little more!"

Another day we spent the usual hour arranging for transport. We finally stuck a deal and had arranged for a driver to start early the next day. He show up in the morning with this 'friend' (everyone, it seems always has a hanger-on). His friend claimed that the guy we negotiated with was inexperienced and didn't know what he was doing, hence the price would be 200,000 rupiah when we had agreed upon 80,000. (renting a car with full insurance is only 50,000!). We immediately found another driver.

One of places we went to that day was Pura Luhur Uluwatu, a Hindu temple, perched high above a cliff, a truly spectacular setting, with waves crashing into it. The only problem with it are these ferocious monkeys which are all around. They are absolutely vicious! One pounced on me when I wasn't watching and took my sunglasses right from my purse. So sneaky! There I was fending and fighting off the proliferation of dusk-time bugs, balancing my 11 lb. camera on a fence trying to get some good shots of the temple and simultaneously trying to keep an eye on these monkeys. I was concentrating on all these things when suddenly, one of these sneaky evil beings came from behind me and snatched my hair band right off my head. How bold! I had already given an Indonesian guy a "tip" for retrieving my sunglasses (which had been slightly bitten and chewed on the end), but the hair tie was out the question as this monkey was eating it for dinner! I'm positive the whole thing is a set up -- they must train these monkeys to steal so that they can get tips from the tourists and visitors.

Vietnam - Market Diversity
Out for a stroll at sunrise one day, I spotted a sea of triangles; a cluster of people wearing the signature triangular Vietnamese hat. Drawn to the commotion surrounding this group of hats, I proceeded to investigate. As I got closer to the hat bearers, I realized that I had stumbled upon an outdoor fish market. Because Vietnam has so much coastline, fish is an integral part of Vietnamese life. I spent the entire morning walking around photographing and observing the scene at this fish market.

The market-goers were mainly women, wearing the lovely triangular hats; running around with baskets of fish, stalls of people selling fish, people squatting selling fish. There were different types of fish everywhere I looked. Some of it was so fresh that it was still alive and jumping around, or there would be plastic bags filled with fish and the bag would be moving around! Women were chopping fish, grinding fish, making patties of fish. Then, boats would pull up with even more freshly caught fish, and all the women would gather around and more craziness would ensue.

High in the mountains of Vietnam, I discovered a totally different kind of market. Many ethnic minorities live in the mountainous far north of Vietnam, close to China. Rather than wearing the triangular hat, they have a totally different approach to dressing. I attended one of their weekly markets where they sell anything from produce to clothes, to animals to wares such as baskets and other household items. I found this market to be an exceptional way to witness their culture. People from many different tribes come to these markets and wear beautiful hand-embroidered traditional clothing. The market was very lively with bargaining activity and very vibrant with colorful costuming. Everywhere I turned I saw people so ornately dressed, right down to headdresses for the babies. Some have bells hanging, others wear these bright red turban-like headdresses which bear their partially shaved foreheads. Others have even more impressive red tassle-like type headdresses. Most women sprout elaborate jewelry; long hanging earrings, necklaces, and belts. My only complaint would be that I couldn't press the shutter button on my camera fast enough to capture the essence and beauty of the market scene.

Thailand - Trekking The Hills
One of the neat things you can do in Thailand is go on a hill tribe trek, the majority of which originate out of the North of the country (usually Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai). Treks vary in price, length (one day to one week), activities, and size. Your leader speaks English, Thai and usually the language of the tribes you'll be visiting. The guide also cooks all of your meals for you. Some treks have more walking than others, and it can be quite strenuous as you are in the highlands. Besides walking, you might also ride an elephant and go on a bamboo river rafting trip.

A trek gives you insight into how the ethnic minorities in Thailand live and a better feel for the diversity of Thailand. Most treks consist of visiting and staying overnight in hill tribe villages. There, you will sleep in basic accommodations. Sometimes you're staying right in the village, perhaps in a portion of someone's home; or you might sleep slightly outside of the village, in a communal building which may be used for other purposes (school, meeting hall), or it could be in a place built just for trek groups. Depending on where your trek takes you, it could be pretty chilly, as the cool, fresh, mountain air will probably seep into your sleeping quarters.

A lot of these Thai hill tribe villages have no electricity or hot water, they may or may not have access to a road, and their animals (roosters, pigs, chickens) are living in their front yards. As a visitor, you'll be able to observe their daily activities which include grinding flour by hand machines, feeding and tending to the animals, watching them weave and embroider their clothing, and seeing how the children play.

The people themselves are shy, but once they feel comfortable around you they are very friendly. A lot of them wear the traditional costuming; hand-made woven clothes, usually some sort of head ornament (oftentimes a turban-like wrapping of cloth, or one made of coins and other metal pieces). A lot of women chew on beetle nuts which makes their teeth brown and red, they usually wear brightly colored beaded necklaces, and some of the older women have very large holes in their earlobes.

As you walk along on your trek, you're able to watch them plant in the fields (soybean, rice paddies, cabbage). You'll be sharing the pathways with the locals, as they go from their villages to work in the fields, machetes in hand. During the river rafting trip, you'll observe people fishing and collecting clams and other river food, doing laundry, swimming and playing in the water. Be warned though, depending on the season (rainy or dry) the trip might take you over some rapids, require some portaging, or, your raft might even crash a few times, like mine did.

Kenya - Whistle While You Work
The land in the north of Kenya is incredibly barren. The people who live there have a very rough life. Scant vegetation, blinding sun and lack of water are just some of the problems. Cattle rustling and tension among the different tribes are prevalent. But for the few intrepid who make the journey, the rewards are many.

In Masabit you can witness "the singing wells": Four very strong men position themselves at different depths in each of two 15-20 foot hand-dug wells. Their task? They come here every few days to water their cattle and donkeys. Filling up a water basin for the animals takes most of the day. The men move four "buckets" (cut off bottoms of large plastic containers with sticks for handles) simultaneously up and down the well. This is truly an act of amazing coordination. The man at the bottom of the well fills a bucket with water. He then passes it up to the next highest man, while that man passes him an empty bucket. The heavy full bucket make its way up the human chain to the top man, who dumps it over his shoulder into the basin and then returns the empty bucket down the chain as a new full one makes its way up. Throughout all this bucket switching, they sing a beautiful melody. The singing (hence, "singing wells") makes the work go by faster. It is an experience quite mesmerizing to watch.

North of Masabit, I visited the Mosaretu Women's coop in Loiyangalani, on the shores of Lake Turkana, the world's largest permanent desert lake. 55 women from four different tribes have grouped together and built a place for travelers to stay. They dress in tribal tradition -- brightly colored fabric adorned with tons of jewelry, intricate beaded collars and wonderful weathered faces. Next to their stupendous dress, we westerners sure look drab. Years ago, long before Western influence, Africa must have been an amazing place to visit, back when everyone sprouted this rich dressing style. Even though only one of the women spoke English, they were so friendly and welcoming; smiles and sign language were our method of communicating. And, if this "eye candy" wasn't enough, I got to stay in the same huts that all the people in the area live in.

Even more amazing than their friendliness were their entertainment abilities. They were working on constructing a new hut and, like the men at the "singing wells," found that singing (and dancing in their case) helped the work go by quicker. They invited us to help by tying on leaves and bamboo strips; they decorated us with beaded collars and taught us the songs and dances they were performing. A lot of their dancing consists of jumping up and down, or, during "Emelialo," a special dance they perform for new friends, they (including some of the male warriors) formed sort of a "conga" line, circled around and weaved in and out of the huts.

Tanzania - Arousing The Senses
The landscape in Tanzania is really varied. While doing a safari game drive this becomes rather apparent. As you drive around looking for animals, one minute you see plains of scrub for miles on end, then you turn a corner to find mountains or a forest or a crater; and other parts are very green and jungle-y. And the vegetation sprouts interesting discoveries such as the sausage tree - a tree with sausages hanging down from it.

Or, for even more vegetation variation, head to the exotic wonderland of Zanzibar. The real name of the island is Ugunja, which, in the original natives' language means 'bowl full of fruit and spices'. With its tropical climate, Zanzibar can grow so many different things. An all day OEspice tour¹ guarantees to demonstrate the variety and to arouse your senses. You¹ll visit many plantations where you¹ll see, smell and taste different spices and fruits -- like the 11 different types of citrus and over 100 varieties of mangos which grow on Zanzibar. Luckily, for the traveler, this means tasty food. Ranging from fresh fish with coconut sauce, vegetables marinated in delightful curries and beverages such as lemon grass tea or sugar cane juice.

Italy - Vineyard Vistas
Walking provides some of the best insight into Italian life. Whether via Vespa-filled streets or twisty-windy alleyways or pathways that go between the cathedrals of each town, it's such a special experience to walk along, sampling the local life.

I walked a portion of the Amalfi coast, up high through the vineyards. I went from hill to hill, enjoying the views of the beautiful coastal towns in front of me, built right into the mountain tops, spilling into the sea. Every spec of space was taken up with a building, villa, vineyard, grove of olive trees or patio seemingly dusted on top of hills, with sheer cliffs tumbling to the sea.

I meandered for a day, running into only a few farmers tending to their grapes. There was such a calm that I forgot all about the people nearby, until I found myself descending into the outskirts of Minori. Activities picked up and I realized where I was. Soon enough the path ended and I lost myself in the maze of twisty streets and skinny alleyways.

Try to experience city life as well as the countryside. Florence, like most Italian cities, is a living museum. When wandering the streets you run into all types of little stores, workshops and bakeries. Laundry strung over alleyways, brightly colored window shutters and quaint window displays provide a glimpse into the crossroads between rural and cosmopolitan Italian life.

One morning in Tuscany, I opened the window of my room to find the most breathtaking view of the valley, fog clinging to the valley floor like a soft blanket and magical light hitting the church . The church beckoned me. I proceeded down the valley floor. Once there, I spotted a tiny town glimmering off in the distance. While not in my original plan, I ended up spending most of my day walking the country road to this hill town. It was so worth the effort.

After all the walking I did in Italy, I learned why Italians are so famous for their shoemaking skills.

Portugal - It Must Have Been Rainy Season
I spent 17 days in Portugal, and it rained every single one of them (who says the Brits have all the nasty weather in Europe?). As if rain isn't bad enough, it is common practice for hotels in Mediterranean Europe to only provide heat during the winter to customers who stay in three star hotels or better. You can, however, pay extra for heat, but usually (depending on the country), its only in the evening. What a thrill to see your breath in your own hotel room!

So here I was traveling all around Portugal and everyday, no matter what I tried, I was getting soaked. My shoes were in a constant squishy state, my socks always soggy, and my clothes were continually damp (and of course would never dry as all the rooms I stayed in had no heat). Nevertheless, I was determined to explore Portugal, rain or not.

I stayed in the Algarve for a week, and even though I wanted to stay longer, I decided to go up to Lisbon. In Lisbon I was met with more rain experiences than I could possibly imagine. I kept waiting for the rain to stop in order to check out the city. I kept thinking of things to do to pass the time, but I had already seen three movies, and all the museums -- How can I see Lisbon when its raining out? It was impossible to see the view out the window of a bus (fogged up and rain-dropped windows). I even went to shopping center to pass the time, but there was a power outage for five hours in a major chunk of Lisbon, so my final refuge couldn't even be sought.

Giving up on the concept of a clear day in Lisbon, I decided to head even further North (Could there be rain in all of Portugal?). All throughout the train ride to Coimbra I witnessed extreme floods, with many trees buried 3/4 of the way. I was so numbed by all the rain I had experience in Portugal, that I didn't even get surprised by the fact that my 2 1/2-hour rain-free train ride ended precisely when I hit town. Like clockwork (so it seemed), I was, of course, met with pissing down rain upon arrival.

Even though my perspective of Portugal was always being formed from a "where can I find shelter" point of view, I managed to see a lot and enjoy this country that is, in my opinion, truly a hidden treasure. In Sagres there are fishermen who are fishing 100 meters off the (sometimes edges) of huge cliffs. I discovered many wonderful, quaint villages, great fishing boats (both the old/wrecked/weathered types, and also the new/brightly colored painted ones ), and friendly people. My favorite discovery were the amazing alleyways of Lisbon, filled with authentic street life, giving me insight to the lives of the Portuguese.

As a footnote, the day left the country, there were, of course, unbelievably clear skies as plane was leaving Lisbon.

Greece - A Big Roast
One of my most memorable experiences of Greece was the smell of roasting lamb. Allow me to explain.

The Meteora area has absolutely breathtaking scenery. Twin towns, Kalambaka and Kastraki, are on a looping mountain road close to a series of six monasteries. The marveling thing about it is that each monastery stands atop of a large, steep, vertical rock, beckoning the viewer's curiosity of how they could possibly have built them.

The mountain road that takes in all the monasteries was built rather recently, miraculously after all the monasteries were completed. It certainly is easy for one to spend their entire day (or many days, in my case) hiking around this road visiting the monasteries and enjoying the scenery. Each step of the way is different, and your perspective is always changing.

I happened to be in this part of Greece during Greek Easter, which, for the Greeks, is the biggest holiday of the year. The Greeks have many traditions on this day, however the most important is gathering the family together and roasting a lamb, rotisserie-style in their front yards. The whole country does this, every family, hence, everywhere you find a very thick smoke and smell. My location in this valley, made it impossible to avoid, as it certainly lingered on for awhile.

I purposely woke up very early to hike up the mountain road in the early morning light and mist. As I was walking along this mountain road, Easter morning, I found a bench perched on top of the town, overlooking the valley and picturesque snow covered ountains. Down below I could hear the sounds of the town waking up and making preparations for this very important day. As time went on, I imagined the activities going on. I must have sat there for three hours, listening and appreciating the view. I finally left and walked slowly down the mountain. The closer I got into town, the more excitement I felt. I witnessed these family lamb roasting scenes and celebrations, and definitely was able to have a better appreciation for Greek traditions, even if I don't like the smell of lamb!

Great Britain - Off the map
Some of the best travel destinations are those you discover by accident. As my Whitby-bound bus winded through the Cleveland Hills in the North York Moors National Park, a small village off in the distance caught my eye; the red rooftops gleamed in the sunshine and spilled down the hillside to the sea, a proliferation of beautiful flowers littered the windy tudor-filled streets in this charming, tiny place. Upon arrival in Whitby, I learned that all accommodations were full, a blessing in disguise. It provided my excuse to check out the cute little town I had past on the way there, the town that wasn't even on my map, Robin Hood's Bay, the epitome of quaint British life.

I kept thinking, "Where will I find a place to stay in this itty-bitty place?" Not to worry. Heather, the friendly waitress at the first (and only, I think) restaurant I came across sprung into action to help my cause; she set me up with a cottage right on the sea, all to myself.

Up on the ridge I could see horses roaming about and wildflowers everywhere. I decided to take a walk , but should I hike on the beach or up on the coastal path along the ridge? The quick-moving incoming tide made the decision for me.

Later on, back at my seafront cottage, I was writing my postcards from "Robin Hood's Bay, located at the end of the Coast to Coast Path." After all, I walked part of it that day, and I had the right to claim my accomplishment! My bragging was interrupted by Heather. She stopped by to invite me along pub-hopping with her friends. I guess they don't get many "Yanks" in small, out-of-the-way places like Robin Hood's Bay. They treated me as a novelty because I was American. Everyone in the pub was gathering around and asking me endless questions about my life in America. It was really a blast being the center of attention!

The next day I walked up the road to Flying Thorpe, south on Cleveland path among the cliffs and beautiful scenery, the other direction from the previous day's walk. It was foggy and drizzly, and I knew what this meant, so I returned to Robin Hood's Bay, gathered my belongings, said goodbye Heather and my new friends, and went on my merry way to discover other new British destinations.

Spain - Eating Fascination
What was my biggest fascination with Spain? It wasn't the evening "ramble" most people do, where they take to the streets for a friendly stroll; window shopping, gossiping, visiting friends, family and neighbors. It wasn't the plentiful white-washed villages, strewn with white houses, white fences, painted white cliffs, and even white doghouses. It wasn't the abundance of Moorish/Moroccan influences in Southern Spain, the charming pillow-laden Teterias (teahouses) or the azulejos (blue tiles) and plants found at every turn.

It wasn't the heavy influence of tourists in the area, with menus in 12 languages, money exchanges with every possible currency and the non-stop bar action raging on into the wee hours in the night.

What stroke me as being the oddest custom in Spain was this: I don't understand where all the Spanish people eat! It seems as though all there is to eat are tapas (appetizer size hour d'ouerves) which I found only in the bars. The only real/proper meals I could find in a non-bar environment were at Chinese Restaurants! Where do the Spanish eat when they are together as a family - do they bring the kids into the smoky bars and sit up at the counter and order tapas? This concept was endlessly frustrating to me. Growing up in America, I'm fixated on the "single woman alone in a bar" syndrome. Hence, I didn't really care to spend all of my meals in bars where Spanish men would potentially view me as "available."

In the end my hunger prevailed. One night, fed up with Chinese food or eating takeouts in my hotel room, I ventured out and found myself in one of these bars. I tried to hold my head up and appear confident as I ate tapas at the bar, ignoring what I assumed to be stares from the clientele, majority being smokin' and drinkin' Spanish men. In walked a genuine Flamenco band, decked out in stylish threads, handmade instruments, questing for a live performance.

They weren't scheduled to play in this bar, rather, I surmised, that it was their favorite hang, and they decided to stop in for a drink on the way to that evening's gig. The scene was pure delight for me: They whipped up what seemed to me to be an impromptu set of traditional Spanish music; beautiful sounds spilled out of their fine handcrafted wooden guitars, the singers belted out crystal clear notes, and their choreographed movements left me thirsting for more. I can't believe that I happened upon this scene by accident, for I was in total awe of this centuries-old tradition appearing right in front of me. The small audience cheered them on and applauded graciously. Before I knew it they departed into the night, perhaps to entertain the next accepting crowd they came across. Never again will I criticize having to eat alone in a bar, the risk is certainly worth the payoff! But my conundrum still continues, will I ever discover where all the Spanish eat?

Guatemala - Don't Mess With The Shaman
If room exists, riding on top of a bus in Guatemala can be an exciting experience. This could actually be safer and more comfortable than riding in the extremely overpacked and crowded inside! I opted for this unusual experience on my way to charming Todos Santos, a village situated in a verdant valley amidst the breathtaking Cuchamantes. Of course, this meant that the bus had to undertake the usual poor road conditions: a bumpy, harsh, slow, nerve-racking, bone-jangling and nailbiting ride. Moreover, my high altitude destination added to the equation that we would make this over-one-hour steep incline up the tumbling mountains.

This experience, while unusual for me, is not unknown among the Guatemalans. The locals are so friendly and will wave at you every step along the way. And once you get to your destination, the adventure only heightens.

In Todos Santos, I went to a Mayan religious ceremony lead by a Shaman. He built a fire, put in sugar, candles, incense, slit the throat of a chicken and sprinkled its blood onto the fire. He spit alcohol on each member of the audience, as well as individually blessed us before we were directed to put our own candles into the fire. He originally became a Shaman when all eight of his children died within a very short period of time with no explanation. His dreams kept telling him to become a Shaman. He explained to us that there are different kinds: some bless marriages, some help with problems, there are even Shaman who can cast spells on people who you hate. He said that a number of people who are planning on immigrating to the U.S. for illegal work have come to him for a blessing. When these people cross the border, mysteriously, the immigration officials get very flustered and let them go by even though they had no papers. Hmmmmmm.

Talk about Karma. I went to this Shaman for a reading of my future and for advise to cure my cold. He advised me to make a tea consisting of specific herbs, soak a handkerchief in it, then wrap it around my head. This would cure my cold, he claimed. It was recommended to me to have a midwife perform this service. At the time I came to see her, she was unable to do it, so we made an appointment for 8:30 p.m. I already had made an appointment for a 7 p.m. Chu, a traditional Mayan sauna. You have to make an appointment for a Chu because it takes them two-three hours to prepare it. They have a little room (usually made out of wood) where you go for the Chu. Its very small, and its usually not possible to stand up inside. There is a fire made from charcoal in the corner and along with it, they heat up a bucket of hot water (ouch!). There is also a bucket on hand of very cold water -- thank god for the mixing cup! It was pretty awesome. The experience was so mystical & tranquil with its smells, multitude of candles, and removal from my surroundings. It was so relaxing that immediately afterward, I crashed and missed my appointment with the midwife.

The next morning I made the decision to take the only bus that day which left at 5 a.m., not enabling me to explain my mishap to the midwife. This decision would go on to haunt me for close to 2 weeks, as my cold worsened to new heights, making it almost impossible to travel, and making me gravely ill. I'll never question Karma again!

In Guatemala, markets are a way of life. The weight that the usually tiny Guatemalan people carry is unbelievable. Its not uncommon to see a women carry a huge and heavy basket on her head, a baby slung around her back and she'll be carrying another bundle in her hands. She may even be pregnant! The men carry huge loads, too: crates piled on top of each other are harnessed together with a strap around their heads, their foreheads bearing the weight. Everyone works, even the smallest children. When they're old enough to carry, you can bet there's a baby on their back. And when the girls are old enough to walk, they're balancing a basket with contents on their heads.

Jordan - Ancient Awe

Petra is one of the world's oldest, most intact cities. If it's not on the list of the eight marvels of the world, it certainly should be. It is carved into red sandstone and miraculously remains almost untouched for more than 2,000 years. You enter through The Sique, a narrow, winding, long chamber, mystically magical with the light coming in this cavernous entryway.

Soon enough you see the fabulous treasury building peering through the end of the tunnel walls. Stunning carvings are everywhere. The ruins and caves are so vast, going on and on for 100 kilometers. When I visited, it was very cold and rained most of the day. Not at all what I would have ever thought possible in a desert. During my approximate eight mile journey around the area, I got soaked in what must have been the annual rainfall for Jordan. However, I was pleased that I was able to experience Petra in this type of weather as the fog made for ethereal views, and the overcast light brought out beautiful shades of the red sandstone. Even though it was a lot colder than I expected (probably in the 50s), I'll take it hands down to the usual 100 degree weather the region usually has.

USA - The calm before the storm
A big green bus was my home for two weeks as I crossed the U.S.A. One of the overnight stops was a North Dakota Indian reservation. The advantage of arriving after dark is that it heightens curiosity: You can't tell where you are until the morning, especially in the plains of North Dakota, where it's mighty dark.

Usually we slept on the bus, but this particular North Dakota eve, the warm, clear, still air beckoned, and majority opted to sleep outside. It was like summer camp: We all pitched our sleeping mats around the smoldering fire, gazed up at the stars and told tales. A pickup truck of reservation residents arrived and chipped in with their stories, and they warned us of the innocent looking lightning off in the distance. We were marveling at it, but they said it was coming our way with a violent storm. "There will be no storm on this perfect night," we joked.

Sure enough, smack in the middle of our sweet dreams of pioneers traversing the great frontier, the crash of thunder and the pounding of rain drove us straight for our big green bus. The small group who were snoozing inside were not too happy with our party-crashing.

The next morning I awoke to a divine scene: I was enticed out of the bus by the wonderful smell of breakfast being cooked by some of the early risers, and by the curiosity of where we were. A gorgeous vista of the plain went on for miles in every direction, as far as the eye could see. Far off in the distance on the very straight horizon line, I noticed figures moving toward us. As time passed their shapes began to take form. A herd of something was coming our way and they were getting closer and closer with every worried breath I took. No one seemed to notice or care but me. Upon alerting the others, they immediately became startled and panicked as the buffalo neared our camp.

In the nick of time, last night's group of reservation residents pulled up in their pickup truck. Effortlessly, they shooed away the animals, mesmerizing all of us, who were confident that instead of eating our breakfast, we would have been the breakfast of someone else!