Camp Galapagos

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9:24, 26-Apr 2012.
Puerto Chino, Isla Cristobal, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

It’s day three out here on the beach called Puerto Chino. Not sure why it’s called this, best answer I got from a taxi “guide” was that it’s arbitrarily named, as each discovered place needs a name! Needless to say there’s not much that’s Chinese about it except for my sandals.

I’ve been on a camping mission since I got to these islands.. for a place that’s so naturally intact, I can see both sides of allowing camping: it’s the best place possible, and there’s the most at risk. In my investigations, however, I found that, on the all the islands combined, there are three beaches and one “eco-turisic lodge” where camping is allowed. The beaches have no facilities (their bad?!) and require a permit from the parks office, and the lodge costs 3x more than any room I’ve rented, so Spencer and I provisioned-up (acquiring a big 5gal jug of water and enough food for three days) and we found our way to the beach.

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As it’s one of the only sites beyond the port accessible by car on this island (San Cristobal), it is visited by a handful of tourists daily. Throughout the afternoon I meet and greet the newcomers, and tell them what to look for: lobster and white-tip sharks in the morning (they’re vegetarian, so no worries!); frigates, pelicans and blue boobies in the afternoon; sea turtles and rays in the evening; and so far nobody else has been around for the scores of hermit crabs (which all come out to mate on the beach) and large glowing bioluminescent algae washed up in the surf. Throughout the day you can visit with the local sea lions (whom I’ve conversed with at length), hop along the rocks and dodge the crabs, whistle at the finches, and match push-ups with the lizards. It’s the kind of place you need to keep your eyes open, because it’s pulsating with life, at any moment you will see the miracle of nature in hyper-active celebration around you.

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The morning is the best time for snorkeling around the rocks. Thousands of large fish swim around you like you’re one of the school. I was disconcerted to find a fishing boat throwing nets just off these rocks yesterday… how can you snare these beautiful creatures? Reading over the national park bulletin which I grabbed when I got the permit, I read that last year there were 350 fishing permits issued and 684 of another license (PARMA) renewed (under the same heading)… and that 179 tons of white fish and 22 tons of lobster were monitored in commercial markets here. It’s a weird concept for me to grasp: an overwhelming 97% of Galapagos land and waters are designated as National Park and closely conserved, yet they allow “only” white fish to be hunted, and at such staggering amounts. Are all those fish I’ve been swimming with really white? Because to me they seemed neon blue and yellow, orange, red and some had the whole rainbow! (It’s kind of funny that the brown are sanctioned to hunt the white here… duh-du–dum!)

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Even funnier to me that while respect and awe of the species here is a ubiquitous theme, that the restaurant menus exclusively feature fish, and that fishing even exists. Why love one and eat another?

A few more statistics from this nifty pamphlet if I may: speaking of demographics, 55,000 (roughly 35%) of Galapagos visitors are Ecuadorians, and 101,000 come from abroad, the bulk (26%) from the USA, followed by UK (5%). Who knew it was such a popular destination?

To my pleasant surprise, the little hamlets and ports which I’ve come to know (12 days here already already!) are quite Ecuadorian, and not run at all by foreigners. And to their merit, the people here are so nice: easy to converse with, extra helpful and full of good will, super-relaxed and generous with information, and just plain sweet… I’m almost as awed by the local people as the wildlife. It must be good to grow-up with the forces of nature so powerful and accessible… I hypothesize it’s one of nature’s perfectly simple recipes for a good life.

While I’m at it, I’ll tell you briefly about some of my other encounters with the local species. There are GIANT turtles (and breeding centers) on every island. I’ve seen five different species of land turtles so far, most noticeably different by their shells, all BIG (and horny). On each visit I’ve seen them slowly working their way back from the brink of extinction, as they were nearly hunted-out by early explorers who took them aboard to eat (no food or water required on long passages, awww!) and who exported turtle oil to the mainland. Now there are 3,500 turtles monitored in the breeding centers and in the wild, with nearly 3,000 marine turtles living off the shores.

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Another population easily observed are the sea lions, who gravitate near the ports. This pamphlet says there are 900 sea lions monitored on these two islands, but I think there must be many more, as they’re everywhere! In the port at San Cris they cover the boardwalk, sleeping by the hundreds under the trees, on steps and park benches, and of course splashing around and honking at each other in the waters, completely integrated with human life in the most relaxed way. For example, a children’s playground at the water’s edge has a slide going right into an ocean pool where dozens of sea lions play. So awesome! Most beaches have sea lions that you can play with and approach, and the only restriction is no touching or going within 2 meters. (But in the water they nearly touch you!)

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My next favorite might be the marine iguanas, who of course are giant, but also are unique in their adaption to this place, with black skin (to blend with the volcanic rock and resist the sun), but more interestingly, they swim and eat marine algae! They’re so chill, freeze like statues when you approach, pile atop each other like little cuddly families, and look just like dinosaurs with smug, cute smiles. Don’t tell anybody, but they let you pet them too! (I only did it twice.) It’s soo freaky to be swimming along the shore among the mangroves, and see them snaking through the water alongside like sea serpents or crocodiles… incredible.

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The birds are amazing too. Over 4,000 albatross (biggest birds in the kingdom?) and scores of giant pelicans grace every beach, sometimes dive-bombing for some fish just in front of you. Blue boobies are cool as they have blue beaks and feet (and inspire so many silly tourist t-shirts like “I love boobies”) and unique to Galapagos, as well as the friget who are numerous here in Puerto Chino, the males having big, ballooning red necks for attracting mates (akin to turkey necks but way bigger when ‘excited’). I saw Galapagos penguins, another of the hundreds of endemic species here, doing it the other day, horny little things!

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I must say that in the wild, the main theme is sex. From the hermit crabs to the penguins, turtles and lizards, they’re all doing it all day, every day. It’s hilarious, and I wonder how much of this instinct is a guiding force of all living features. Naturally, evolution of species is on my mind here, and I wonder how similar we humans are in our lives.. certainly sex and reproduction are big themes, but to what extent can we decode our behaviors as manifestations of this principle of our species’ continuation?

Ok, snorkel time.

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21 bottles of beer…

Sun Oct 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jocelyn! In honor of your 21st birthday, here’s a list of 21 things I love about the last couple days (ie. your long birthday weekend which I’m celebrating down here).

A fair warning to my weary-readers… this list of doom is long & random, written for the girl whose ear I’d chew-off (not Mike Tyson style) if I only could spend it with her tonight. It’s been too long. Here she goes:

First, I’m most pleased with this FOGATA (campfire) I just made. Raging, keeping me warm, effortless to make in this dry desert-scape, it’s my finest inferno to date. I’m burning COW PADDIES. This fucking rules.

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no these aren't the cow paddies, they're dulce de leche! Happy bday to yoooooo...!

Third is Jeff’s PASTA. He’s outdone himeself this time. Merquén spaghetti, onions, garlic, potato, TVP (veggie-meat), carrot, ginger, arvejas (peas)… omg how does he make it so good? We make consistently amazing food – like $14.95 good – every night. But this is a pasta nite to remember (of which he is usually chef). Somehow we always innovate, using mostly the same basic ingredients. Innovation #33: Cold oats & coffee (separately). Who needs hot water? Nescafe & instant oats are both great with cold water, who knew? Not prime examples, but hey, we’re camping. Saves lots of time in the morning not to boil. Blam!

My specialty is RE-INVENTING LEFTOVERS. Last night it was rice & dal turned into patties (w a little flour & water), pan fried & topped w salsa.. Mmm! A pasta-cooking snafu in Coihaique inspired crazy creativity: next day breakfast I fried up onions, carrots & spinach, mixed in the soft spirals with spices & flour.. fried em up in patties.. Home run! And so much fun!

Back to what makes me really happy.. Campsite SHEEP! Who can ask for better neighbors? (Almost as cool as beach cows in India.) And it’s lambing-season, meaning they’ve all just been born. So at every turn, extreme cuteness! Really. Freakin’. Cute. I love hearing their tiny bleats before I even open my eyes! Yes, I count them.

Speaking of seasons, MERQUÉN is the best seasoning ever: smoked coriander mixed with chile pepper.. mmmm it goes in everything! And it’s OFF-SEASON for tourism down here. There’s Never anyone else around, camping, hiking in national parks, at hospedajes (guest houses) and restaurants. It’s pretty awesome though. We get to see Chileans in their natural flow, before they’ve got their tourism-faces on, or not at all! Upon entering Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo, we find a well-equipped campsite with gates closed (to cars) & no Park Ranger. The ped/bike entrance was certainly open & passable, so in we pedaled! Over firm snow we roll in & choose the pick of the litter, with fire pit, picnic table, a shelter to cook in & block our tent from wind. We melted the snow (4 feet deep in some places!) to drink over a roaring fire of winter’s fallen branches… all alone in our own National Park (again, as always :). There was even chopped firewood at every site! Wth?

I love the availability of CLEAN WATER to drink, clear & delicious. Melting snow was an exception to our usual method of just filling up at streams and waterfalls. It’s way preferable to the tap, which is actually treated & chlorinated, yuck! You can fill-up wherever it gushes from forests and mountains, just Not farm-land :)

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the source: Cerro Castillo

Speaking of which, the water I just attempted to drink is frozen! This fire is warm but it ES CHILE out tonight! Tee-hee, (that joke never gets old.) I’m also still up almost 3 hours after Jeff went to sleep.. Me time! Double tee-hee!

Back to the SNOW, I’ve never appreciated it so much before. Usually I wouldn’t be caught dead sleeping outside when it’s freezing. But these white-capped mountains have won my heart. And even more special is seeing it melt, clear veins lined with bright green, cutting though white fields, or revealing the bold colors of crisp mountain faces. Never seen anything like it, feel so luck to be here during this brief and beautiful window.

Snow also makes Nepali/Indian-style RIVER-LAUNDRY possible! After 2 days in what felt like the Outback, with a backdrop of the towering jagged sno-capped Cerro Castillo mountains but without any fresh water to drink, we manifested a stealth campsite next to a raging mountain stream. After hydrating, next order was to FJORD into the middle to wash clothes in a sunny spot on nice big rocks. Now we have clean clothes (and all the Patagonians near the 46th parallel sigh in relief!) Today, in Reserva Lago Jeinemeni, another National Park that we had all to ourselves, it was necessary to ford a river with our bikes to get in. How cool is that?!

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fjorded that, yip!

Ah, the elements. The WIND is so strong these days, great for air-drying! Pitched the tent in a grassy clearing behind a dune for shelter, and near to a fence to hang and let those babies dance! All dry by bed time! Head-winds while cycling, on the other hand, will cut your speed in half & make your life tough, while Tail-winds make you fly like superman.

I’m liking this new weather. No rain lately! Clear skies, 4 days straight. It’s this region on Lago General Carerra, near the Argentine border. Conquered the hills and now the weather is amazing. Still freezing-ass-off cold at night (fogata required), hot & sunny by day. Love it. Love being DRY. Love campfires with dry wood 3 nights in a row. Mmmm! Star-shine & Star Walk-ing.

We’re past our biggest in Chile, but I sure do love those HILLS. They keep me warm, and my legs & core strong (by keeping upright & balanced with so much weight at low speeds). They reward me with the best views, a sense of accomplishment, and speedy downhills (74.7km/hr out of Cerro Castillo!) We climbed in a headwind all day into those glorious peaks, then cruised down easy the next to savor the luxuries of town. Balance.

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Balance.

How good is BEER ON TAP?! My question for you is whether it tastes as good without the sweet triumph of under-age deception? Only the 2nd time we’ve found it in Chile, today’s being a local variety, so good in tall 600ml mugs and with English futbol on the tele. Forgot it’s name, but it’s clever tagline went Patagonia con Cerveza. Heehee, they’re all about conservation down here, (see http://patagoniasinrepresas.cl for more info.) I relished every drop and wanted so bad to Saturday-it-up with another, but we had some riding ahead of us, little did we know it would result in…

SWEET FAILURE, ie. turning back when appropriate. We set out last night on a scenic route to our port town destination, which would pass many lakes & be SUPER-bonita (as my friend Poonam’s doppleganger in the reiki tourist office promoted, who was not the first tourism professional in Chile to use this adorable prefix!) The back-country road was tougher than any we’ve encountered, impossible to stay balanced and moving on our loaded touring bikes up & down relentlessly rolling hills of loose gravel. It was, however, some of the most idyllic scenery to date (sculpted desert canyons w lush green accents), and for that sweet taste it was worth the abuse. (I will be back to Wwoof there, mark my word!)

You can take this city boy far from the big smoke, but you can’t take away my IPOD. Thank goodness for music. I dunno how Jeff does it without. I must be gettin old, but it’s been all 90’s greatest hits in my ear lately: Biggie, Wu-tang, ODB, Kool Keith, SP, Beastie Boys, the Offspring, the Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, Nirvana, Deftones, GnR, NIN, Stereolab, Boards of Canada… in this way I actually feel old, but I’m happy to finally experience this universal age/musical phenomenon first-hand, where my soul sings for the Classics. I listen to new stuff too, but I welcome the Comeback, esp. the old school hip-hop. Joc, is your Classic still cranking out the Modest Mouse?

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a couple more classics

Even though I’m happy spending these hours writing to you, I don’t miss the net at all. I love being UNPLUGGED. Even though I’d Skype you up if I could to wish you well-done on achieving legal drinking age, the slow satellite connections here probably couldn’t handle it anyway. You can barely find pan (bread) in a village on Saturday let alone find an Internet connection. So all I’ve got are these thoughts of you, my iphone to write ’em (just recharged via my wee solar panel!), and my analog cosmic vibrations.. hope you feel ’em!

Te Amo, JOCELYN, debajo de (from under) tu constelación, Libra. (Yes, I can see you getting fresh tonight, snuggled up between Venus & Mars!) Wishing you a naughty birthday from Chile Chico, 15km from Argentina, our last stop in Chile! Tomorrow, when we cross, it will be our 1000km milestone! Neat huh?

Besos, Anthony

Back on track

Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010. 9:26 PM
Daisybank, Otago, New Zealand

Yay, I’m cycling again! And writing, two days in a row for once, from outside a village that’s actually called Daisybank, and I’m happy to report banks lined with red growth, but these fresh water plants aren’t daisies. I’m at perhaps the sweetest camping spot EVER, and it all feels so right.

I did do a ride last week out to the albatross colony at the tip of the Otago Peninsula, but it was only a day ride, hailed by Lonely Planet’s Cycling NZ book (Nov’09) as the best ride in the country, AND I cheated, taking a lift up with some friends and skipping at the “spirit-crushing” 13km uphill, and enjoying the sweeeeeeet views and wind in my dreads for long downhill return into Dunedin. I also saw THE coolest sheep yet: about 25 black and white calico in one field, then THE biggest flusters in the next field, so close-up that I got to see these microwaved marshmallow boundin’ away (as the all do, scaredy-sheep!) in magnificent detail. I rather like cheating when the occasion is right, and it was, not to mention I did clock over 65k anyhow. After two months without a serious ride, it was a superb ice-breaker.

The Central Otago Rail Trail IS awesome, as I’ve heard from SO many people. It’s a popular ride, and I did see many cyclists today, but really it wasn’t bad at all. Surprisingly, most of them are pretty old, which made me feel pretty young! They’d say things like “oh you’re young and fit and can easily reach Hyde today”, which I did and then some. While it’s pretty flat, (as it was a railway track not too long ago), it reaches it highest altitude 1/2 way through the four-day ride, so the first two days are an easy uphill, the second an easier downhill. But as I say, there’s never an easy day on the bike, and the rail trail has its challenging conditions as well: It’s a gravel path, so it’s slow-going (I averaged only 12km/hr) and a little dangerous (I heard many people fall and get all scraped up); there’s often a mean head-wind, which is often the case most anywhere in New Zealand; and finally it’s blazing hot with little or no shade, so you bake. It’s a dry heat though, and after cold and damp Dunedin (only an hour’s drive away), it really feels like summer again.

When I found this campground, I exercised my favorite new pastime, which is stripping naked and jumping in the stream. All clean, I rinsed out my clothes and put them out to dry in the sun, which they did in a matter of 30 minutes. Luckily, I hung my clothes on a fallen tree which was none other than that magic juicy red wood (… I forget …) that you buy for fire-starting, so I snapped off a couple dead branches and made a fire in a small rock circle by the river. I was starving, so a big pasta dinner was in order, with a little salad of freshly-picked chard mixed-in, which I picked some ‘samples’ of in the fields alongside the trail. It took me a record 1 minute to get a good fire going, and I was chowing 1st dinner in no time. (I made enough to eat again 2 hours later, as I knew I’d want to!) Exploring the region a little, I found the sweetest place to pitch my tent, an embankment just beside the gurgling river, lined with moss and pretty red algae, opposite the craggy rock faces, which someone had set-up like a camouflage bunker, surrounded by a wall of fallen tree branches and brush. So happy to camp without the rain-fly for once, I was excited for bedtime. (I can see the stars above, and for 10pm it’s still warm enough to wear shorts and tee :) I took a walk and found some sheep just over the hill, which I watched for a while, along with the sun setting in one direction and the moon rising in the other. The light is really brilliant here, so soft and pastel after the daytime blaze. I ran out of water, so I got a chance to use my new methylated gas stove (which is sort of like a refillable sterno can) which is, in my opinion, more eco-friendly than the propane cookers with the canister waste, albeit a slower option. It uses this purple gas which is like rubbing alcohol, which you can buy in any hardware or general store.) As I write from my rock and railway steel desk (it’s quite perfectly set-up here eh!) my quiet little boiler is flickering away, and I just heard a rustling, so I went over and petted a timid little hedgehog, playing dead with not-so-sharp quills alert. Yes it’s all quite neat.

I love camping!! It really feels like I’m on vacation, which is funny for obvious reasons. I want to write about Dunedin, but I think it’s sleepy time now. I want an early start, to beat the heat so I can hopefully find a great camp spot again to while away the afternoon. I feel like reading my Australian book… perhaps that’ll be the next jump. Although there are many possibilities marinating. This is too fun, goodnight!

Camping Out

Friday, Dec. 19, 11:13PM
Song: Crickets, the river’s gentle murmur, a dog barking
671km

Today was such a great day! We woke up in Shithole, Nepal, and it was actually raining slightly and overcast. The feeling was unanimous that we wished to lay in bed, watch a movie, read our books, maybe go spend some time on the internet (when the power came on), and even maybe have a hot shower or go see a movie. Unfortunately we were speaking of luxuries only available in dreams, as none of this was possible, nor did we want to linger unnecessarily in our unsavory guest room. We walked around searching for our power-food, alu paratha (big spicy potato pancake and curry), and we actually found it! Hot damn they were good! (I’ve probably written about ’em more than we’ve actually eaten them, today being only my second time in Nepal), so how could it not be a spectacular day!?

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I had a surprising amount energy today. I lead the pack, cruising up our mountains with sheer conquest pumping through my legs, and it was the most beautiful scenery we’ve had in 2 weeks. Sun dissolved the clouds, and I was actually Happy to have big hills, because that means big beautiful mountain scenery. Unlike the mountains I know back home, which are big, gradually rising grey giants, the Himilayas are the product of post-Pangea India crashing into the Asian continent, causing countless rippling hills, closely packed together as far as the eye can see. Anyway as long as they’re not too steep, it’s a pleasure to see and worth the upward effort (and downward reward.) At one pass Jamey and I got ambushed by about 20 students and we spent 30 minutes taking pictures and hanging out. Everyone wanted pics with us, wearing our helmets and posing on our bikes. I wanted one of their email addresses so I could send them the pics, but unbelievably None of them had one! I especially like the little baby sitting on my back rack for a shot.

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Not far out of the mountains we saw a neat-looking clearing (that didn’t look like anyone’s farm land) which we thought might be campable, but I insisted we bike along the footpath leading into the woods to see if we could get nearer to the river, and we found the sweetest place to camp right on a cliff overlooking the valley. This place is incredibly sweet! So tonight we pitched our tents, washed up in the river, boiled water to drink and for tea, and now we’re sleeping in a peaceful quiet spot under the stars.

ExodusNepal_61_blogExodusNepal_64_blogSunset food run

When we’re not staying on a farm, in a guesthouse, or at hotel, (ie. in a school or in the woods), two of us will bike to the nearest town to pick up some food for dinner and some fresh fruit for breakfast. It was Bonnie’s & my turn, so we biked 5km in a spectacular sunset to a town that sounds like BallBang. We did well, scoring chowmein, samosas, and veg. fritters for dinner, and tomatoes, cabbage, garlic, green beans, cilantro, oranges, bananas (and salt) for a fresh fruit & veg breakfast salad tomorrow. We made this once before, trying to re-create a tiny salad we were served at the best little hole-in-the-wall in Demauli, plus one important lemon — I had a little English-speaking guardian angel taking me all around town asking for one! — but no lemons in town. What fun it was! The town was dark except for a dozen fires here and there… it was so surreal, all the fires in the street. We went down a dark side street to find take-away soda (most soda is in glass bottles which you drink there at the store or restaurant), and the boy took me to 8 different stores and hotels. I never in a million years thought I’d feel so perfectly at home walking down a street lit by firelight in a foreign country, holding a 4th grader’s hand, shopping for dinner, and here I am. We always create a stir wherever we go, but now I’m totally used to it, and it’s pretty fun. When I came back from my hunt with the boy to find Bonnie waiting for our hot food, she had no less than 20 kids crowded around her. Each of them took turns shaking her hand and practicing their English on her. Soon we were on our way with a massive amount of food for $4 (incl. 4 kilos of fruits & veg!) and we enjoyed our nighttime ride home lit by our bike lights. We stand out so much from the other on the road as we’re the only ones with lights! (One girl on the road the other day said ‘Goodbye tourists!”) Save for some rough pavement, it’s pretty safe!

ExodusNepal_57_blogExodusNepal_59_blog Camping spot by the river

It’s SO nice to be camping out. I love the farms and the country, and love a little time in the cities (to get my fixes), but I really can do without the in-between towns that are basically crappy urban centers, devoid of the riches of agro-Nepali country goodness. You’re paying to stay in dirty dingy guest houses, and despite the people’s consistent friendliness it’s like purgatory, and you can’t wait to get out. A few kilometers out you let out a sigh of relief at the green fields, goats jumping (well there are goats everywhere but city goats are all shabby), clay homes with thatch roofs, clean streams… Anyway camping is the best, and this spot is glorious. Plus, there’s nobody peering in our window (like in the school house). Actually, there’s nobody, except for some apparently beautiful girl passing through that Jamey and Cara went down to the river with to fetch some water, whom they shared a long silent moment just sitting and enjoying the peace.

At first I used to think it was weird, but Nepalis just come and chill with you, whatever you’re doing, often times without saying a word. It’s not like they’re just staring and being weird, either. And it happens everywhere: on the side of the road a whole family or two will just come and stay with you while you do your thing; at a store; in the hotel… today the 18yr (newlywed) girl just came into our guest room (for the 5th time, unannounced) and just hung out while we were carrying on, goofing and cracking jokes. It’s funniest in the restaurants — the server will sit at the table; or the whole family, with friends and neighbors, will just sit and watch you eat. This may all sound rude or invasive, but really it’s not, because the vibe is so much less formal and impersonal like in most businesses we know — it’s we who are the guests, and we have stepped into the lives of these families. A server isn’t really a server, but the inn-keeper’s son or cousin. The cook isn’t a cook, he’s the owner of the guesthouse or kitchen you happened upon. On the street when we ask someone for help, everyone around is interested, because they all want to know (innocently enough) what’s happening in their town, eager to help with no motives or $trings attached.

I went down to the river after dinner to wash up, and walked around with my headlamp off (ie. in total darkness save for the moon and it’s reflection on the water) and I realized, as I’ve done repeatedly, that I’m in Nepal! Orion is looking down at me from above, just like at home, but instead of being surrounded by millions in an orange cloud I’m in dark, in the quiet, alone. Ahhhhhhhhh. I see a headlamp across the way and hear a Nepali voice. I’m in Nepal!!!! It’s my extreme privilege to spend time in this alternate universe on Earth. I can’t believe it’s true, that I can just hop on a plane and be in a place like this. This is the miracle of our day, of our good fortune, of our good planet that we can do this. It is everything I’ve wished for. And I’m going to do it, again and again and again. The only thing that would make it more perfect here is You.

We came up with a Christmas plan tonight. Just before the border there is another National Park. Hopefully, we can camp in it and enjoy the peace of Nepal for one last night.

I can’t believe we’re going to step into another world yet again, so soon. But for now it’s time for me to sneak behind my eyelids. I imagine being curled up on the comfy couch, my belly full on eggnog and the white glazed Christmas cookies, glowing embers in the fireplace, the Christmas tree and manger still yet alive in frozen timeless time. It’s time for bed! Goodnight, my beloveds!