We want to Thank You for Flying

We arrived in the town of Sauraha, located just outside of Chitwan National Park, a little beaten up and road weary from our 5 hour bus ride. Our hotel sat on the Budhi Rapti river and within minutes we were lounging on reclining chairs, sipping on crisp lemon sodas, and squinting at enormous crocodile basking in the sun. For the first time in months there were no mountains in sight and the sounds of the jungle overtook us. The hotel we were staying in was trying so hard to be an upscale resort, catering to wealthy tourists with “drink boys” weaving through the thatched cabanas. In reality, it more closely resembled a scene from the abandoned Atlantic Boardwalk, with decrepid furniture and outdated pastel paint which were probably bought used when another establishment decided to renovate. Nevertheless, the chic feel provided a very relaxed environment and fit in nicely with our vagabond travels. There are a multitude of services offered by local booking agents, which include jeep safaris, bird watching tours, dugout canoe rides, elephant rides, and jungle walks. After shopping around for the best deal (i.e. haggling tooth and nail) we settled on a jungle walk and elephant ride. I mean, come on, let’s face it, we might never get the chance again to ride a freaking elephant.

Our guide for the hike belonged to the Tharus people who were native to the area inside what is now Chitwan National Park. About 20 years ago the Nepali government removed all of the Tharus to create more of a protected and uninhabited environment for the endangered Tigers and Rhinos. Now, the only people allowed in the area are guided and paying tourists, such as ourselves, the guides themselves, and Army solders who guard against poachers. The government has granted the Tharus one week out of the year in which they can return to their land to harvest traditional plants. There was supposed to be compensation for the loss of land, but the government has failed to make good on teh agreement. Marco, who was born in the jungle, guided with a great deal of passion and eagerness to show us the creatures of his home. There was no bitterness or resentment towards us, even though indirectly, the National Park was created in part from western pressure to protect endangered species and to make money from tourism. I love spending time in the mountains, can be lost for days in the Pacific Forests, and feel comfortable in the desert. But, in the jungle we felt like we had been smothered in barbeque sauce and declared the House Special. As we meandered through the thickets of bush, Marco pointed out the plethora of plant species, various birds, the occasional deer, as well as peacock. We were definitely sheltered little children who, with each identification asked, “is that poisonous?” or “will that attack us?” Marco reassured us that all we needed to worry about was the rhino, sloth bear, vipor snake, tiger, elephant, and crocodile. In the event of a rhino charging us we had strict instructions to head up the nearest tree.

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle…

The rhino sleeps tonight…

In search of the rhino

We spotted tiger prints, bear marks, snake skins, crocodile trail, and rhino tracks the size of small craters. Marco was encouraged by their freshness and the fact that we were all headed in the same direction to the watering hole. Once there, and in the midst of 10 ft high grass, Marco spotted a rhino in the distance. Without binoculars we were forced to sneak up for a closer look. Our fearless guide pressed further, insisting that “sun makes rhino lazy” and we were not in danger. We were within 20 ft of the armor-plated prehistoric looking beast. Since no climable trees were in sight, if charged, the plan of retreat was to throw the rhino one our little Nepali guides or outrun the European girls to the nearest tree. A group from the other direction startled the rhino and he rambled off, crashing through the reeds and bamboo. When we asked Marco if he liked his job he said, “yes, except Mom thinks it’s no good. Says it’s dangerous and one day I’ll get killed”. Proof that mom’s in constant worry is a cross-cultural trend.

We were feeling hot and dusty from our day in the jungle and after a slight miscommunication, found ourselves on the back of an elephant for bathing time. Ashlee held on for dear life, while I valiantly ducked behind her with each new onslaught of water firing on us from the elephant’s trunk. As the elephant lay in the water to cool off, we massaged it with rocks. The elegant creature was purring as her delicate skin soaked up the water. Her back was like a detailed map of a large landmass, with crevasses, creeks, and ridges covering her body.

The next day we went on an actual elephant ride through the forest. We sat in a basket that perched on top of the lumbering animal while the driver controlled it with his bare feet, steering the elephant’s ears. The thing about riding on the back of the elephant is you can’t actually tell you are on an elephant. There is the occasional instance when the tail raises and cranks out a barrage of cannonball size droppings or when they growl at pesky monkeys. But, other than that, you are so high you can’t see any part of the elephant and simply move along, swaying back and forth with each stride, all the while feeling completely secure and protected on the land’s biggest animal. We definitely had mixed feelings; if we were part of exploiting this beautiful creature and how they were treated after the rides ended for the day.  We comforted ourselves that at least they were getting time in the woods with their herd and it was better than lying around in a zoo. We learned a great appreciation for the majestic elephants who live into their eighties, have brains 4 times the size of humans, and have a complex social structure that seems more humane than any system we’ve heard of.

Our ride

Of all the things we will miss about Nepal, the sea sickening bus rides are not going to be one of them. And we even rode the “luxurious tourist buses!” I realized I sound like a spoiled snob during this portion, but having a car during these times would have been a God send. We arrived at the bus park for our trip back to Kathmandu. Mind you, our booking agent had assured us, “I got you very nice seats.” I told the ticket collector our seat numbers were 16 and 17 and we were told they were good seats. “16 and 17? Today is your lucky day. Great seats.” said another man smiling. “Perfect, thank you so much.”

We stepped onto the bus and there were no numbers. Must be window seats near the front. Wrong. Dead wrong. The back row for you two. “But, I was told we had good seats.” “Oh, these are very nice seats”, smiled the agent. “The back are not good seats”, I argued. He pointed to the middle seat in the back row, “That is not a good seat. But you are lucky. You have the two next to that”.

I should preface this section with a story of a traumatic bus ride in South America that has left me scarred of sitting in the back. It came to be known as the Argentinian Volcano. If you have any affinity for ham or a weak stomach, skip ahead. Ashlee gave me a questioning look when I said I would like this story in the blog.

My cousin, Marcus, and I were traveling through Chile and Argentina. We had just finished a 5 day trek around Fitz Roy and were starving for something other than trail food. Near our bus stop there was a little kitchen that looked anything but promising. The cook had 3 days of salt and pepper stubble and a cigarette with a 4 inch long cherry dangling from his mouth. Initially, I had no idea how the ash of the cigarette had not dropped during our conversation, but now feel it broke off into my soggy ham and cheese sandwich. About two hours of being tortured on a washboard road, the cold sweats began. I tried to talk myself down, “It’s okay, you’re not sick. Just close your eyes and fall asleep”. Not the best idea ever. My stomach was being shaken up like a carbonated beer can and the first wave came quick. I swallowed and looked at my cousin. He knew, eyes wide open, leaning as far away from me as possible. I gestured to the window. He frantically tried to open it, but failed. He looked at me apologetically, pleading for me not to puke on him as he did his best. I quickly seized my 32oz wide mouth Nalgene bottle, opened the top, and let it go. It was nighttime, quiet, and as far as I know, no one had realized what had transpired. As I screwed the cap back on I gave Marcus a shrug of approval, which was met with relief and complete disgust. The second session was not as forgiving. I chewed and pried at the window in complete desperation, only to learn it was sealed shut. False advertising. Back to the water bottle. As my gut recoiled, the container filled and enough pressure was created to break my mouth’s seal. Explosion. Like a volcano. remnants of my innards were strewn about a safety circle that had been given to me. (Do you think these are the details Ashlee was hoping I would leave out?). A fellow passenger had informed the driver and the bus came to a halt. My walk of shame down the aisle would have made any sorority girl proud. I dug out my bag from underneath the bus while the 150+ people watched in horror. I had no pride left at that point and realized I was resented for being the American who made everyone’s ride home a little smelly. I stripped off my clothes, put on my rain gear in case it happened again, and returned to my seat with my head held as high as possible for a public vomitter. The rest of the ride was uneventful, but the memory of riding in the back of a bus was lodged in my brain.

Sitting in the last row, we felt every little jolt, bump, and sway as the road wound like a coiled snake out of the valley.  Large cheeks built for storing extra food and blowing out hot air were flapping with each bounce. My recently acquired rice belly jiggled like a bowl of jello on a three-legged table shaking during a LA earthquake. Occasionally, on the drop of holes, we would literally be ejected from our seats. But, I’ll admit, the guy in the middle had it worse. It was a carnival ride gone bad and it lasted 6 1/2 hours. Even though memories of Argentina were in my head, we arrived unsoiled. I would have kissed the stained streets of Kathmandu had we not been in such a public space.

We wanted to avoid some of the business of Themal, the major tourist hub in the city, booking a guesthouse in Boudha instead, which is in a Tibetan community. Thousands of Tibetan refugees now reside in Kathmandu after fleeing their home nation since Chinese occupation began in 1959. The Chinese government feels completely justified with their actions by trying to make Tibet “more civilized”. By modern terms, a form of genocide is essentially taking place in the attempted destruction of Tibetan culture. The holy leader of Tibet, the Dali Lama, has been living in exile and when the Chinese kidnapped his anointed successor, a 2500 year old tradition was stalled. It is forbidden for most Tibetans to either leave or re-enter their country, creating a sense of imprisonment. In Boudha, the Tibetan culture is thriving, with multiple monasteries and stupas housing places of worship for Buddhist Monks.

One day we ventured to an area of Hindu worship called Pashupatinath. Relics from the temple indicate the sacred site has been in existence since before 3rd century B.C. Of all the experiences we have celebrated on this journey, this was by far the most eerie and intense. Mixed in with temples and stone buildings were roving mobs of monkeys that seemed to run the place. Religious mystics, known as Sadhus, are covered in ash and have dreadlocks below their waist. They represent the holy men of the public cremation grounds that exist within Pashupatinath. Hindu families from a lower caste bring the corpus loved ones down to the river where they are cremated. The stench and billows of smoke were enough to send us reeling back to the safety of our hotel room.

Prison break

Every time that my discomfort and sadness are pushed to the limits by what we’ve seen, I look to Ashlee who will simply flash a smile, letting me know that the world will be okay. I feel blessed, fortunate, grateful, and the luckiest man alive to have such an incredible companion. In an area where Karma and reincarnation are woven into societies cloth, I must have incurred unbelievable amounts of pain or done something holy in a past life to have deserved Ashlee in this one. And, it has been an amazing opportunity to nurture, challenge, and honor our relationship while being abroad.

We left Kathmandu 4 days ago. I would lie and tell you I am the type of romantic that would fly his wife to London for the weekend, but as it stands, tickets were much cheaper if you took the long way home. We first flew to Malaysia for one night, got a hotel, and had our romantic dinner at a roadside cafe. We woke up early and headed back to the airport via bus, had coffee and breakfast in the airport, then realised we were waiting at the wrong airport. Took another taxi to the right airport, flew into Hanoi, hung out in that airport for a few hours, hopped on a plane and flew to Ho Chi Mihn for the night. Afer a brief tour of the city we boarded our flight for LA.

Over the past three months we have attempted to share our experiences of travel through stories and pictures. Inevitably this has only added to our journey by keeping our friends and loved ones connected to our path. But, if I could stand on a flimsy cardboard soapbox for one moment: get our there, if you can and travel. A mere 30% of Americans hold passports, and if it were not for Canada and Mexico recently requiring them, it would be even less. Stray from that comfort zone, embrace the differences we all share, and gain a deeper understanding of the world and it’s people. Thank you for supporting our dreams and hopefully you can spark your own.

Short note from Ashlee: It has been such a joy to be Morgan’s assistant on our honeymoon blog. Though I cannot control his random capitalizations or his too descriptive stories (as in the one told above), I did my best to act as editor. It has been an even bigger joy to travel with my best friend over the last few months. I’m not sure how I got lucky enough to walk through life with Morgan by my side, but I am so grateful that I do. He is my partner in everything from travel to running to school to life. I’m glad that our friends and family got to take part on our honeymoon by following along on the blog. It has been the best vagabond honeymoon a girl could ask for. Morgan, thank you for making it possible.

Best wishes to all and travel safe,

Namaste

The Davises

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Staircase to the Sky

How is it that one can just walk away during the presidential election?  To turn your back on the Ducks when their undefeated season is put to the test against USC?  To leave the festivities of Halloween dressed only as a dirtbag traveler?  It’s easy…you simply strap on a backpack and disappear into the Himalayas, knowing that good will prevail.  We embarked on an 8 day trek with so much looming in the balance.

Before leaving, we had read a review on the REI website about the same trip we were about to do.  One lovely American stated that if she had known the hike was so difficult, she would have trained on more than just her Stairmaster.  Furthermore, she did not always feel well-informed because her Nepali guide did not speak clear English.

WARNING:  When traveling in another country, you might experience discomfort and need to adapt to your surroundings.

Since arriving in Nepal, everyone we met has asked us what our plans are while visiting the country.  When one of our responses is trekking, they will immediately ask if we have Nepali guide and porter.  Our answer has been no, at which point, without fail, they insist on us using a guide for safety and it just so happens they know the very best.  Maybe our reasoning for declining the offer is based on wanting to be independent, self-reliant, adventurous, not spend the money, or not being able to stomach someone else carrying our bags when we are fully capable.  The porters typically wear flip-flops, have insufficient clothing for high altitudes, range in ages from 16-60, and will often be hauling more than their body weight.

A hefty load to be carried up

Tourists will pay $10 per porter  for a day from which the booking service and guides take a cut, leaving the human mules with a minuscule wage.  Even when lugging up to three bags, some of which have rollers, they display a pleasant disposition and maintain pride in their work.  For the 8 days we were on the trail the porters were a constant fixture that provided the guesthouses with everything from beer to chickens to propane and even the occasional refrigerator. Some of the older porters would have bald spots cut across their heads from where the straps had rubbed their heads raw over the years.  We were in constant awe of their physical prowess as some would cover distances in 1 day that would take us 3 days.  At times, they were literally running down the steeps hills, with over 120 pounds dangling on the ropes the ropes that hung from their heads and down their back.  They would be singing songs about love, Buddha, family or just perhaps, a tune about why this white lady had to pack her blow dryer and make-up.

Chickens for delivery

Taking a break

On the 1st day, we quickly rose up flights of flagstone steps through the farms of rice terraces.  In the beginning sections of the trail there were small villages every couple of hours that offered tea, meals, and rooms for rent.  We wound through the sultry jungle and received our first unobstructed view of the mountains we would be hiking to the base of.

Women working in the rice fields

They seemed more a part of the sky than the land as they crashed through the ceiling of the atmosphere.  Due to the popularity of the hike and the accessibility granted by the legs of the porters, we knew we were going to be fighting crowds for moments of solitude.  But, what we did not realize is the friendships we would forge from our days spent on the trail.  On the first night, we met a Canadian couple, Ravi and Nina, who we would continually spend time with over the following week.

Typically, we would wake at 6am, be hiking by 7am, and reaching our destination just after Noon.  Even though the trekking days were shorter than what we are accustomed to, there was significant elevation gain and we had to become acclimatized.

Cozy accommodations

As we climbed, the rhododendron and bamboo forest began to yield to the altitude and the fall season.  Maple leafs crinkled their five points into a brittle fist, before breaking free and sifting to the ground, and covering the floor in a crunchy path.  One evening, the sun set by slipping beneath the clouds and lending the appearance of islands floating on a river of lava.

On our 5th day, we made our final push to Annapurna Base Camp.  The sun began to rise over the shaded valley like a search light combing the darkened hills.  In a moment of perfection, the sun was directly level with the massive peaks causing them to gleam in all their glory.  Annapurna Ice…a new color in the Crayola Crayon Box.  Whiter than a piece of bleached paper.  Paler than my Dad’s legs after 36 consecutive Winters in Eugene.  Brighter than an exploding star light years away.

When all was said and done, we sat at the base of the 10th highest mountain in the world, soaking up the intense sun at 12,000 ft.  Soon, we began into run into friends who had also reached their destination.  The Germans (Jurgen and Eveline), the Kiwis (Chris, Gemma, and Nate), and the Canadians (Nina and Ravi).  We were all smiles and began to exchange stories of the past few days.

Morgan adopts new Duck fans

One particular tale from the trail (told by our New Zealand friends) started with the phrase we have learned to shudder at: “I know not everyone from the US is like this but…

I was waiting outside one the guesthouses when this big old bloke came panting up the trail.  His shirt was soaked through and he peeled it off his back and just sat in this chair in front of everyone.  And I’m not trying to be mean, but he was a big, big, guy.  NOTE:  The Nepalese Culture, like much of Asia, are very reserved and conservative in their dress.  Being in public half-naked is generally not accepted.

The local women began shuffling their children, who were staring in amazement at the size of the man, trying to protect them. Possibly scared if their kids got too close they might contract the disease. A Nepalese guide finally approached the man saying, “Excuse me sir, but can you please put your shirt on? It is making people in the village uncomfortable.” The American replied, “What, I’m hot. All sweaty. They don’t have to look if they don’t want to”.  “Well, it’s just not common in Nepal and to be respectful I would just ask you put your shirt on”, requested the guide. The American argued, “What’s your problem anyway? Why are you checking me out? Are you gay or something?”.

Conversation stopper. Everyone removed themselves from the area, embarrassed for the mans behavior. One can only surmise who this man voted for on election day. Your hope of course is that there was some type of learning that took place as this man was immersed in another culture. But, unfortunately, for a few hiking to Annapurna Base Camp simply remains a mark on a bucket list.

Traffic on the trail

We finished our hike and on our ride back to Pokhara the jeep had a flat tire. The spare tire had brand new tred, but was of course out of air. Without any exchange of words the driver grabbed the spare tire and hopped in the next car passing by. Along with our Kiwi companions and several locals, we were left on the side of the road for two hours, kicking rocks and wondering when he would return. When he finally did come back he had a different tire, which was completely bald. It seemed like a bad deal, but it was good enough to get us back to town. That evening our host, Raj, was turning 37 and we were invited to dinner and cake with his family. Once a bond has been formed with a Nepali, it is unbreakable. You become a part of them and they do everything to make sure you are looked after. Raj, a few beers deep, insisted on that night we were his family. Later that evening we were treated to live music and interesting renditions of the Eagles. The establishment had become one of our favorites and as always, we were greeted by our waiter, Suresh. He asked us to meet him for coffee the next day and we were completely unaware another bond was being formed.

We showed up to a local cafe ten minutes late, which is actually on time in Nepal (another reason we love this country). Suresh walked up at the same time with an ear to ear smile. he had brought with him an entourage, which included Surish’s two sisters and nephew, his best friend and his wife. Suresh was beaming with pride to show off his American friends, as well as connect us to his family. At one point Suresh excused himself from the table, which left us void of our only link to translation. We sipped, smiled, and chuckled the moments until he returned and the conversation resumed. Later that evening Surish gave us his address and asked us to write him 2 or 3 letters a year if possible. He also informed us that the next time we came to Nepal we would stay with his family in their village in Gorka.

The last of our remaining days in Pokhara were spent relaxing and enjoying conversations with our new Kiwi friends Chris, Nate, and Gemma. Tomorrow we are embarking on a 5 hour bus ride to Chitwan National Park where we will hopefully see rhinos, tigers, and crocodiles while being safely perched on the back of an elephant. As we enter out last leg of this journey, we are excited to return home but sad at the prospect of (temporarily) ceasing travel. We would like to congratulate President Obama and thank all that made it possible. He certainly had every traveler we came across, from every country rooting for him. I hope this does not offend any readers, but after visiting many countries we realized that if the world were allowed to vote, Obama would have won by a landslide.

Goodbye Himalaya’s:

Train of porters

Village in the mountains

Greetings from the trail

 

 

 

The Festival

India was tattooed like a badge of survival to our skin. While the rest of the tourists frantically navigated the streets of Kathmandu, we were relaxed as Nepal’s capital resembled a little place called Aspen in comparison to Delhi.

Relaxing on a rooftop in Kathmandu

Everything was calm despite all the talk of “the festival”. Citizens were flying kites from their rooftops to offer gifts to Durga, the goddess who defeated evil. Most places were understaffed because everyone was home with their families celebrating “the festival”. We were fortunate to have booked a room and might not be able to get a bus ticket out of town due to “the festival”. We were encouraged to tip our drivers, distribute handouts, and pay extra in celebration of “the festival”. So, the obvious question and the one we kept asking is what is “the festival” and what does it entail. We would ask locals “where is the festival?” and they would respond “the festival…it is everywhere”. And then, when they would ask us, “are you enjoying the festival?” we began to respond “yes, it’s amazing” (still unsure if the festival existed or if it was a brilliant nationwide tourist-tax). When we would ask what the festival was the response would be, “it’s a celebration…the biggest in Nepal”. Yet, no matter where we went or who we asked the myth of “the festival” grew more elusive. Ashlee would ask if there was going to be dancing at the festival and the response was, “yes, yes, dancing everywhere”. We searched for the festival and dancing in the streets, but came up empty-handed. This all went on for three days.

Nepal’s version of the Mini Van

Finally, on “the biggest day of the festival”  we cornered the proprietor of our guesthouse and learned most of the celebration takes place in people’s homes. The families sacrifice a goat, or if they have the money a buffalo, which is to honor the goddess Durga. The name of the festival is Dashain and it commemorates a victory of the gods over the wicked demons. The main celebration glorifies the triumph of good over evil and is symbolized by goddess Durga slaying the terrible demon Mahisasur, who terrorized the earth in the guise of a brutal water buffalo (hence the sacrifice of the buffalo). The first nine days signify the nine days of ferrous battle between goddess Durga and the demon Mahisasur. The tenth day is the day when Mahisasur was slain and the last five days symbolise the celebration of the victory with the blessing of the goddess. Throughout Nepal the goddess Durga is worshiped with pujas, offerings, and animal sacrifices for the holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood.

Our Host

Raj, our host in Pokhara, gathered his international guests and we were all blessed with a red-dyed rice mix on the forehead and each given a monetary blessing. So, with no fireworks, turkeys, sparkling lights, or commercialization, we participated in “the festival”. It was a wonderful introduction to the people of Nepal and how so much of their spirituality resonates internally.

Celebrating the Festival with Tibetan wine

A 6 hour bus ride from Kathmandu through remote villages, the town of Pokhara stands as a picturesque gateway to the endless adventures of Nepal. Surrounding the lake is a dense jungle covered in banana leaves the size of hammocks, vines strangling trees, rice paddies sculpted into gigantic steps, and streams leaking from the hillside. The whole community seems to operate on island time and if it were not for the 25,000 ft. mountains perched like sentry’s over the valley, we would have sworn we were in Hawaii. Soon after arrival we paddled a canoe across the lake and hiked up to the Peace Pagoda.

Captain Morgan

From there we had an incredible perspective to the vastness of the Himalayas. Pokhara is very tailored to Westerners, with almost every menu offering pizza, pasta, burritos, and “organic” coffee. One in every four store fronts is a guide service propositioning trekking, paragliding, pony rides, rafting, mt. biking, canyoning, and bungee jumping. After much deliberation and with our Mom’s in mind, we chose a 3 day rafting trip on the Kaligandaki river.

The streets of Pokhara

We set out in the morning to raft in a canyon, away from all roads and civilization with the only people living in small villages buried in the hills of Nepal, surviving only off the land. The apparently wise and experienced guide who had assured us of our safety in the pre-trip meeting, suddenly vanished from the bus. We were left with a rag-tag looking group of guides who appeared as “the lost boys” without Peter Pan. Their youthful appearance, some looking as young as 16, and mellow disposition transformed into highly skilled, competent, and just plain bad-ass paddlers when we hit the water.

Before Ashlee splashed Morgan
GO NINERS!

The river is rated as class 4+ and within the first few minutes we were surfing the waves and being tossed around while shrieking like little kids. Shortly after beginning we pulled over to the bank and the guide told us to grab our water bottles and paddles while following him. As the growl of the rumbling river grew louder, we had assumed that we were scouting a rapid.

The crowd waits patiently

A group of children from the nearest village had gathered to watch as we were awe-struck by the power of the water surging through the canyon walls. We were anxiously awaiting our leader’s call to board the raft when they began yelling to those who were holding our boats upstream. Then, to our amazement, with all of our belongings strapped to the raft and no one in it, they gave the boat a shove towards the rapids. Due to the high volume of water and severity of the rapid, they decided it would be safer to “ghost ride” our boat.

Who’s driving this boat?

No sooner were we wondering what was happening did the raft flip, followed by the kids on the rocks cheering in victory. We were they very thankful that we weren’t actually in the boat that was quickly being secured by the kayak scouts. The remainder of the afternoon was one crashing wave, deep hole, and big splash after another as we were continually pounded by the glacial run-off. Views of the Annapurna South were constantly in the back drop while the birds and crickets created an electrical current buzzing through our ears. We were the only group on the river that day and had the sandy beach camp all to ourselves. The full moon began to rise over the walls of the river gorge and painted the water milky white.

Full Moon on the River

The next day was much of the same as the Kalagandaki maintained its ferocious pace. Occasionally we would lose a fellow rafter, who would then be pulled back in the boat looking like drenched cats.

Only the bare essentials

That night the people who lived on top of the canyon carried down a large assortment of booze and chocolate for our group to purchase. By nightfall there was a roaring campfire, beating drums, sharing of songs and dances, and a collection of games being played.

Learning new dance mooves!

The final day was much calmer, as a dam had recently been built to provide the country with power that they could sell to other parts of Asia. Our trip concluded with a 5 hour bus ride that tightroped the potholed roads, filling us with one last bit of adrenaline.

A bathroom view

We took a day to buy trekking permits and supplies before leaving tomorrow to hike to Annapurna Base Camp. So far, Nepal has been one incredible piece to the journey!!

They start driving young over here

Monks with Nikes

The alarm went off at 330am, only two hours of sleep (thanks John).  We of course, had planned on a good night’s rest before our early flight to Leh, but since it was our last night with John, it simply did not happen.  We slept through the first two alarms and after wandering around in the dark, we found our cab driver, who was also running late.  In true Morgan and Ashlee style and after two sever scoldings from airport personnel, we were sprinting through the airport as our name was being called over the loud-speaker to remind the whole airport, that yes, we were a bit behind schedule (thanks John).  The only thing that was enabling us to maintain the sprint at the hour with no coffee was the fear of staying in Delhi one more night.  Soaked with sweat and gasping for air, we made it, no thanks to John.

Only 45 minutes after take off the plane was soaring over a sea of mountains that were rippling out to the sky.  One peak after another was rolling across the horizon in constant sets of crushing white caps.  The thought of spending twelve days exploring the trails and villages that weaved through this trekkers paradise filled us with fortune.

View from the plane

Leh is the main town in the region of Ladakh and would provide our home base.  Nothing that you read in a guidebook or a blog, no less, can prepare you for the actual experiences.  And Leh, with its surrounding valleys and towering peaks, provided just that: an experience.  We felt as though we had slipped back in time with cell phones not working, electrical blackouts, laundry being done in the streams, Yaks and Donkeys roaming the streets, and when you are lucky, a hot shower served in buckets fueled by burning cow dung.

Local tour guide

The beautiful mountain town Leh

The town of Leh

At the same time, there is this clash of Western culture flooding in as kids have on Bulls caps, everyone is sporting North Face gear, and believe it or not, Buddhist Monks with shaved heads and flowing red robes wear Nikes.  And since Nike is a Eugene founded company that funds our mighty Ducks, this can only mean one thing… Monks Love My Ducks!  This is an unspoken bond, of course, but Buddha could be a huge reason for our success (this comment is not sanctioned or approved by Ashlee Jean).

Due to the high elevation of Leh (11,000ft above sea level), we had to spend three days attempting to acclimatize as our lungs were starved of oxygen.  We roamed the local bazaars, sampled plenty of authentic cuisine, hiked to a Stupa overlooking the town, and chatted with Ladakhi’s and fellow travelers.  As we planned our upcoming trek our hearts became settled on an 8 day walk through the Markha Valley.  We bought a book and map describing the trail, learned of the homestays that would provide room, board, and insight into traditional life, as well as talked with locals who said, “yes,yes, go, go.”  But, on the night before our departure, a local guide informed us that the tent which provided shelter in place of a homestay had been removed for the winter season.  This derailed our plans because the mountain temps were plummeting below zero and with our tent being shipped home after Europe, we would be exposed to the bitter cold.  We had to re-group and settle on a 4 day hike that would keep us at lower elevations.

View from the Stupa

Our first day followed the Indus River before heading into the narrow gorge of the Zingchan.  We wandered into the first village, consisting of two homes, both of which offered homestays.  The first home was, you guessed it, locked up for the Winter, so we chose the second.  Bear in mind, up until this point, we knew very little about homestays except that local people opened their doors and gave you a place to sleep.  But, something in our American trained minds, told us to feel uncomfortable as we walked up to a stranger’s home to knock on the door and ask for a place to stay.  Fortunately, the locals acted as if they were expecting us and we soon had warm chai tea in our hands and were provided blankets for our mattresses that lay on the dirt floor.  The home was far removed from any type of civilization and was only accessible by foot or donkey.  We were awe-struck by the mud and brick homes, insulated with hay, sticks, and manure.  When we asked, with hand gestures and motions, where the bathroom was we were taken to a small outdoor room with a hole in the middle of the floor.  This might have been when we started missing the modernized amenities of the United States such as toilet paper and running water.

First village on our hike

Comfortable accommodations

River crossings are not my thing

The next day we made the trek to the next village. This one was a little busier with nine homestays, but only one was available. We felt that we got lucky because in addition to all the same amenities as the prior home, it came with the best momo’s of all time.

The two of us woke up early on our second morning with high hopes of crossing the Stok pass before a new layer of snow settled in. We had a 7 hour day ahead of us until the next homestay. After a delicious breakfast, we packed our bags, said our goodbyes and set out. Just over two hours into the hike and about 30 min shy of the pass, the snow storm set in. We tried to press forward, but it became clear that the smart decision was to turn back and return the way we had come. With our spirits low, we found ourselves feeling defeated and frustrated with traveling in the “shoulder season”. Walking back into the village, slightly pouting, it was hard not to smile and giggle as we were greeted by the whole village waving at us.

Our mood was quickly lifted with the warm welcome and hot tea. The family that we were staying with consisted of a mom who was widowed, an uncle, and two siblings. The brother was a monk and the sister was our smiling host. After eating our dinner we sat in contemplative silence, observing the family in their element. The uncle sat in his designated spot, whirling his prayer wheel and chanting his evening prayer. The monk sat to the left of Morgan, swaying peacefully. The mother sat to the right of Ashlee, fingering her prayer beads and silently mouthing a prayer. The sister quietly did the nightly house chores, crouching on her haunches, doing dishes with a bucket of water. At that moment we looked at each other, smiling, and shared the thought that this experience couldn’t compare to any mountain pass.

The rest of our time in Leh we watched as the snow-line crawled down the side of the mountains and felt the temperature drop below freezing.  Restaurant workers, tour guide operators, and shopkeepers were all migrating to the warm beaches of Goa.  We were both disappointed with our inability to access the depths of the peaks as passes became filled with snow and we found ourselves sulking like two kids who just discovered Disneyland was closed for repairs.  With traveling, everything seems to be magnified and as the mountain ranges denied us, other experiences began to greet us.  The people of the town were more than willing to share their culture and the region’s complex history.  Bordering Kashmir and located near Pakistan, the military presence was always evident.  Separatists want the area to be part of Pakistan, the Chines recently invaded a portion of Ladakh, and after a Tibetan uprising to the Chinese occupation of their own homeland, Tibetan refugees have found sanctuary in the area.  Hindu Temples, Mosques, and Buddhist monasteries create a religious quilt through the streets that are lined with Tibetan prayer flags.  After having our passport checked 10 times by soldiers brandishing Karishkinov’s, we boarded our plane to Delhi with the determination that the city would not eat us alive.

With our infamous tour guide, John, back in the States, we had to fend for ourselves.  In the morning, we went to the train station to buy tickets on the Taj Mahal Express.  The place was packed to the brim and we were unsure we would be able to purchase our tickets on time.  Then, we noticed a Women’s only line (an actual benefit to the separation of sexes), that was only a quarter of the size.  Of course, we were not the only ones that noticed this loophole and soon men were having strangers buy their tickets for a small commission.  Ashlee, easily head and shoulders above the Indian women, survived the jostling and shoving at the counter to buy our seats for a 4 hour ride to one of the Seven Wonders of the World for only $1.  What a deal!  Or so we learned, only go with the cheap option in India if you are in search of an authentic cultural immersion.  Morgan stood for the first two hours and at every stop an intense shoving match ensued as people were simultaneously trying to enter and exit the train.  The aisles were filled with those either too young or too old to stand, chai vendors, and various performers.  As the ride got longer, we became nervous that we may never get off.  We asked a man sitting next to us if the next station was Agra (our stop).  He responded with the classic Indian head wobble.  Picture a bobble head doll on a dirt road or a baby that is too weak to support their head.  It could mean yes, no, maybe, or I don’t understand.  Lucky for us, the people of India love to become involved in every situation and soon the whole half of the car was adamantly discussing our stop.  Finally, after a succession of multiple head wobbles from the majority of our consultants, we battled our way off the train.

The Taj Mahal lived up to the expectation.  Perfectly symmetrical and hand crafted from marble over 400 years ago, the masterpiece stands as one man’s lasting legacy to his lover while the rest of us are picking daisys.  As what had become common practice in India, we were soon taking pictures with families, posing with babies, and the recipients of long stares and giggles.  The stark contrast to the magnificent wonder, lay just outside the gates as bloody dogs, begging children, and burning tires served as reminders of how fortune and poverty are steps away.  We took a much different train back to Delhi and in the morning flew to Kathmandu, Nepal.

The Disney World of India

Dizzy in Delhi

Imagine being picked up from your heels, flipped upside down, dropped on your head, and then spun like a top.  That is how we can best express our feelings of a transition lathered in contrast as we went from Europe to India.

We spent our final few days in staunch Europe between the cities of Venice and Prague.  Rather than subject ourselves to sleeping with hordes of occupants stuffed into a small dorm room in Venice, we stayed at Bed and Breakfast in the nearby town of Treviso.  The accommodation was perfect and gave us a chance to dry out after we were hit with rain for our last two days in the Dolomites.  The owner was a 70 year old single man, who in a conversation with my five Italian words and expressive hand gestures, concluded that both of us were Rugby players.  After feeling Ashlee’s enormous arms, we went along by nodding and shaking our heads (the universal gesture for I have no idea what we are talking about). The breakfast was what you might expect from a single man running a B & B…packaged croissants with jelly filling, instant coffee that resembled rust shavings, and pre-toasted toast.  We were wee fueled to battle that piles of tourists that filed off the cruise ships and moved around the canal laced city like hamsters on a wheel.  Sometimes, we had the feeling that we were salmon battling up stream as we always seemed to moving against the current.  There were literally lulls in which the fedora wearing cruisers would board their boat, and then bam, an instant flood shopping bags and walkers.  Our only chance was to find ice cold canned beer and relinquish control.  Venice is filled with romance.

How we keep our wits about us in a tourist packed city

The picturesque canals of Venice

Note:  Please do not mistake sarcasm or an attempt at humor to cloud the fact that we are loving every moment and having the time of our lives.

Our next stop was Prague and we both succumbed to the classic beauty of the city.  As a local explained, even though the Czech’s were ready to fight, England had signed a treaty with Germany during World War II that left the nation unscathed.  So, when much of Europe has remnants of the war or was forced to rebuild, Prague stands as a picturesque postcard of medieval magnificence.  In the Old Town, individually carved stones craft the streets and red ceramic rooftops cover the area.  The people, who were placed under the Soviet’s stern thumb for so many years, maintain that stoic expression as a badge of survival.  That appearance and demeanor fades between the hours of midnight and 5am when they throw back with vengeance very, very, very big handles of beer.

Prague Castle

I made a new friend

Throughout travels, one encounters many individuals who challenge perspective, offer differing points of view, and illuminate cultural awareness.  And then there are some who make you scratch your head and think, “Man, where did you grow up?”  One such character we came across at our hostel in Prague.  The conversation went something like this…

Us:  Hey, so this is our first night in Prague.  Do you have any recommendations?

Rafael (from Italy):  Without really knowing who you are, how can I recommend?  If you are asking, what I am doing, I can tell you that.

Us:  Ok.

Rafael (still from Italy): I am going to a club tonight,

Us:  Oh, coll.  What kind of a club?

Rafael (looking at our clothes):  Not really the kind of club you could just get into.

Us:  Ah, like a nice club.

Rafael:  No, no.  But still…(snickering).  But now, I must get ready to go out.  I must prepare for the evening,

Us:  Gotcha.  You are going to do a little pre-funking.  Kick a few back before you go out.

Rafael (snobbish laugh only Euros can do):  No, no.  I do not drink when I go out.  Well, I drink juice and water, but not alcohol.

Us:  So, maybe some red bulls and coffee?

Rafael (still snickering):  Of course not.  I have to maintain until 6 in the morning.  Those drinks, as you know, lead to crashing.

Us:  Right,

Rafael:  I need to prepare myself to dance all evening.  One must be intentional about what they eat and drink to do so.
As we watched Rafael stuffing multiple chocolate and sprinkle covered doughnuts in his face, we realized we were witnessing an athlete at their peak.  Presumably carb-loading, Rafael was a purist who would glide through the night unscathed.  Like Michael Jordan, he was finding his raver zone in which he would reach the optimal clubbing level.  Simply, perfection.  Or ecstasy.

Us:  We were thinking more of a live band somewhere.

Rafael:  For that the informative people at the front desk will be of better assistance to you.

Us:  Nice to meet you Rafael.

Without Rafael’s help, we were still able to connect with some other travelers from Australia and Argentina and managed to have a fantastic evening that had us in bed well before 6am.  We spent two days in Prague before embarking on a flight to India that had us Landing in Delhi at 3 in the morning.

Morgan, soaking up a view of Prague

Exiting the airport was a complete shock to the system and within minutes our senses were exposed to crushing sights of humanity.  Delhi seems to function on an above level sewer and waste plan and when mixed with 90+degrees heat, the smell is stifling. As our cab zipped through the city to our friend John’s place, we watched in disbelief as dump trucks crammed with more than 50 men, all worked down to the bone, puttered by. The amount of people on the streets seemingly waiting to die was staggering. The day we arrived happened to be a National Holiday honoring Gandhi’s birthday and we had to pass through several police barricades before arriving at John’s. There has never been a time when it felt so good to see a friendly face.

We spend 5 nights in the city of Delhi, which has almost 14 million inhabitants (not including dogs, stray cattle, and wandering monkeys). Approximately 1/3 of the people suffer from malnourishment, which you see in some who have swollen bellies or other that just never grew into their bodies. Those that live on the street cook their food over two burning sticks, hang clothes from barbed wire fences, and either have a spot under a bridge, on their bicycle-rickshaw, or on the sidewalk to sleep. Generations of stray dogs roam the streets looking for the smallest piece of food in piles of garbage or the tiniest bit of shade. For the first two days that is all our eyes would allow us to see and our stomachs were filled with knots. This is not in anyway to say we grew numb to the depths of the poverty we witnessed, but there is a deeper level of understanding as to how this place functions. If you placed that many Americans with so few resources in such a small place, there would be communal collapse. And maybe that is the most tragic piece: those that live in shanties made of cardboard and tin or those less fortunate who just have concrete, they have almost accepted it as their fate or place in society, as the caste system is still in place. But, the dichotomy of Delhi it is that in spite of having no air to breathe, clean water to drink, or proper food, they all live together in somewhat of harmony. There is something deeper in their souls that allows them to live with so little. As we began to form a greater sense of respect and admiration for the Indian people, our hearts allowed us to see all the beauty in that crazy city.

John, who has been living in Delhi for over a year, is an old friend, a more than gracious host, and an exceptional tour guide. He was incredibly conscientious about the culture shock we were experiencing and started us off with “small missions” in the city to take in some of the sights. Even with all of the chaos of Delhi there are still numerous cultural gems that offer a sense of peace. In fact, we were able to visit three different Wold Heritage Sites, several parks, and various tombs that provide a foundations for India’s rich history.  Many of the relics were close to a thousand years old and had survived various battles and shits in regime. India is a nation that has only been united and independent for just over 50 years. Before that, England ruled and for the 5,000 years prior to that there was little long lasting stability or cohesion due to constant invasion and changes in leadership.

Humayun’s Tomb

Qutub Minar

Every night after we would navigate the city, we would meet John at a restaurant that had us eating simply for the flavor. We quickly became accustomed to riding the auto rickshaws to get from point to point (one of the most thrilling aspects of Delhi). After the customary haggling with the driver, we would cram in for a bouncy and horn filled ride. The traffic in another testimony to the good will of the Indian people. Even though every car, pedestrian, bus, bike, and motorcycle is within one inch of colliding, no one loses their temper. On our last day in Delhi we were exposed to two completely different situations that displays the playfulness of the Indian culture. The first occurred as we all crammed into a subway where the people have smiles as they push and shove to see how many Indians could fit in one subway car. A gentleman, who was literally two inches from Morgan’s face began asking rapid fire questions about our visit to India. The entire car fell quiet as they listened to the conversation. At the end he asked what Morgan’s favorite part of India has been, and while being aware that we were the only non-Indians and that everyone was listening intently, he responded “the people, of course”. A contagious giggle mixed with pride and knowing that he was schmoozing, spread through the crowd. The second display of the playful culture involved Ashlee. We were at the historic site of Red Fort when a woman covered in turquoise cloth approached Ashlee while she was seated and took her picture. Ashlee responded by laughing and taking a picture of the Indian woman. In no time Ashlee was surrounded by their entire family, who all took turns posing with the striking white, American woman.

Morgan in the auto rickshaw (our main mode of transportation)

John, riding shotgun in the autorickshaw

We actually fit four people (three in the back, John in the front)

How it feels to be famous

Our journey continues as we are now in the Himalayan town of Leh, located in Northern India. After acclimatizing to the elevation, we will set off on a long trek to be read about in the next blog!

Italy on a Spaghetti String

Eighty percent of the World’s wheat and flour reserves remain in Italy despite the efforts of Gluten Intolerants.  Seliacs desperately picket the borders of this staletto shaped nation to no avail.  The firey spirit of the independent Italiano keeps a free flow of pasta in the form of fettucini, tordelini, ravioli, penne, lasagna, rigotonin, angel hair, and spaghetti in order to uphold centuries of tradition.  Bread breaks in the form of baguettes, chiabatta, focaccia…and in some magical creation the two are combined to make Pizza!  How long can one survive on solely pizaa and wine, you might ask?  At $6 a pie and $4 a bottle, so far it has been ten days.

We left the mountains and lakes of Switzerland for the Italian Riveria.  The differences between the neighboring nations is, well, like comparing a perfectly engineered block of swiss cheese to a hand pressed, fresh calazone.  The reserved and pale faced press shirt gives way to a cathedral cross dangling from a clogne soaked Tuscan tan.  Architecture engineered for efficiency crumble to the cornucoppia of mediterranean colors.  Viva Italy! 

Hanging out in the tent…the cheapest way to enjoy a bottle of wine!

We pitched our tent in a campground in the town of Levanto where we were sleeping in snoring distance of every Italian and their cousin.  Ironically enough, as some of you know our disdain of the olive, we were camped on a terrace of Olive trees.  And, despite the myth that your tastebuds change every ten years, the olive remains the MAGGOT of the vegetable/fruit family.  Nonetheless, when you are traveling in Italy on a Spaghetti string, you take what you can get, even if your closest companions are phonetically and genetically pre-disposed to yell when they speak and the other is a despised, gritty wrapped pit.

Fortunately during the waking hours we were set free to relax on glorious beaches and hike along the Cinque Terre Trail.  The walking path wound through five Italian coastal villages with each providing their own distinct flavor.  Wine groves were cut into the hillsides centuries ago and still bled down hillsides into the expanse of the Liguarian Sea.  As we peered down the sandstone cliffs, the royal blue water woven with tisel from the glistening sun, offered a glimse into the world below.  Dropping into the next village, buildings of stucco craftedfrom the golds of honeycomb shavings and the pinks of salmon fillets created canyon like alleys which clothes were strung across drying.  Even though the towns were bustling with tourists, we felt like we were simply guests visiting a very large Italian family.

A village on the Cinque Terre

 We left the Italian Riveria and headed to Florence or Firenze. It was quite a shock to go from the beach life to the city streets. Nonetheless, we stayed with the dirtbag theme and camped for the 3 nights we were in Florence. During this time our pasta bellies hit their full capacity and we began craving some American Cuisine such as BBQ, Tex-Mex, Thai food, Sushi and so on.

Admiring the view from our campground in Florence

We are not sure how the Euro’s do it, but all they seem to have for breakfast are flimsy crossaints or rolls covered in Nutella or Marmalade. It’s cute and yummy at first, but after a couple weeks we were craving some bacon, hash browns, eggs, and a big pot of coffee. The only thing Italians use eggs for is baking and their coffee comes in a cup from the Easy Bake Oven tea set. Of course, part of traveling is embracing all of the strange and weird things other cultures do, so we pressed forward. Don’t take pitty on us or anything. We have gladly sucked it up and had another fresh baked slice of pizza or homemade pasta or delcious, fresh from the oven, sweet treat.

Some say that when Florence was at the center of the Rennasaince Era many other nations were undertaking Global Exploration, such as Columbus landing in America. Durning this time Italians were introspectively creating artistic masterpieces, inevitably leading further growth in society. Florence has maintained much of that period and the cities beauty is captivating. But, when we attempted to be sophisticated and appreciate a museum, we got bored after two hours and went to enjoy a slice of pizza. To each his own, Michaelangelo!

Where’s Morgan?

We were happy to leave the city and head to the Dolomiti Mountain Range. Our train got in close to dark, and as we were walking towards the campground we decided to stealth camp. In most of Europe they frown upon this, aka, it’s illegal to pitch a tent wherever you see fit. So, stealth camping is basically a one night stand with the forrest. You show up just as it’s getting dark and in the morning, before anyone realizes you were there, you take off to avoid any akward feelings. The guilt is minimal in this case.  

It seems as thought the sea floor has simply risen 8,000 feet as we walked on sun bleached, coral-like rock. One day in particular we got hammered with rain so we walked to town to re-connect at the last surviving internet cafe. The world has gone wireless and we are stuck rubbing two sticks together in a dark cave. The rain turned into a full blown storm and the claps of thunder rattled through our valley. Our trusty REI tent (seeking sponsors) held up as drops splattered and the wind ripped the nylon walls. Our tradition on rainy daze held true to form as we got a bottle of wine and holed up in the tent with a deck of cards and a few good books.

Just as quickly as the front came in, the sky cleared and we were blessed with a gorgeous morning. We took to the hills outside of Cortina and there was a fresh sheen over the land. The glowing sun caused steam to rise from the misty greenery and by the afternoon we were hiking with guns blazing.

Morgan, admiring the views

 

We tried to plan our trip based around weather and lower tourist volume. Traveling in the “shoulder season” has worked out well for the most part, but we have been compromised on a few occasions. For example, restraunts have been closed down, bus services limited, and now the campground which has been our most recent home is shutting down. The campground that was once bustling is now a ghost town and we are the last settlemet on the edge of the wilderness. We literally believe the employees are waiting around for us to exit so they can close up shop until the ski season. We fear that if we leave for the day our things might be on the curb like a bad break-up. We are camping there for one more night before heading to Venice for a couple nights. Following Venice, we head to Prague for two nights, then it is off to India!

A little love in the Dolomites

Until next time dear friends and family!!

Ah, Amsterdam. There is nothing like landing in a new continent and having our first stop be the pillar of a free society. After a 10 hour flight, one stamp on the passport, no bag checks or customs, and released into a city that was just about to fall asleep. As we wandered to our hostel at 8am bars were still cleaning up from the night before. Half smoked joints littered the alleys like dogs who had been abandoned by their owners. Small pods of lost souls were still reeling from the mushroom shakes, copious amounts of booze, plethora of pills, or a combination of everything that still flooded their veins.

We stood in amazement of the organized chaos that Amsterdam presented. A delicate dance was in constant motion as the majority of morning commuters weaved on their 1970’s cruiser bicycles through the maze of canals, traffic, and pedestrians. Women in skirts and heels texted while balancing on the spinning wheels. The men also take their style to a different class. If they were in the US they would be considered metrosexual, but in Europe, well, they are Europeans.

Finding our way

We had to almost sneak Morgan into the “youth” hostel as he nearly exceeded the age limit. Our accommodation was dingy at best, but provided us with a central point for come classic people watching. It had the kind of shower that if you accidentally touched the curtain, you needed another shower. We had to find humor in the fact that on our honeymoon we were in bunk beds, sharing a room with four others. Nonetheless, we enjoyed all of the other amenities that Amsterdam has to offer and found ourselves eating romantic dinners consisting of falafel and pizza before gazing around various museums and lounging in parks.

Enjoying a cup of coffee

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Although we enjoyed being in the city, we were very content after two nights to throw our things together and catch a flight to Switzerland.

Our friends from Bend, Brad and Amy, moved to an area outside of Zug about a year ago. They were kind enough to let us stay with them in their new home for about a week.

Sunset walk in Zug

The four of us and their dog, Simba, piled in their car on Friday and made the drive to the town of Lauderbrunnen. Brad was slated to run a marathon the next day, which climbed over 5000 feet to the base of Mt. Eiger. After passing through the town of Luzern we received our first vied of the Swiss Alps, which blew our minds. The limestone peaks  shoot straight up from the lush valley floor and pose and intimidating stance as they peer down on the towns below.

We began to boil with excitement as we pulled into our campsite. that sat in such close proximity to a mountain playground. Fortunately our tent was near a creek that drowned out the sounds of Eurocampers who see camping more as a social event than a chance to get away from people.

Sunset view from our campsite

Mountains and glaciers all around

The next morning Brad began his slog up the mountains while we felt comfortable with just hiking it. The Swiss are definitely a proud culture, equipped with mountain lungs and stork legs, giving them the ability to walk by us like we were standing still. Their trails crisscross through towns that are cut off from roads and are only accessible from foot, train, or cable car. If we had so chosen, or I should say if money allowed, we could have potentially drank a beer and eaten any number of offerings from the “Wurst” family every few kilometers. The higher we climbed the more jagged the Alps appeared. I know normally you talk about how beautiful mountains are, but these are just some mean and sharp looking statues of rock. The classic North face wall of Eiger climbs 6000ft. on a sheer face of ice and stone. Glaciers frozen in their flow come to a halt hanging over the valley. Breathtaking to say the least, but definitely not soft and pretty with Heidi and her pigtails dancing across.

Villages on the hike up

Waving the flag

Taking in the views

 

Eiger!

We reached the top of our hike to find a full on party commencing. Over 4000 were competing in the Jungfrau Marathon that day (another 4000 the next day) and at least double that had either taken the alpine train or scooted up on a cable car to soak up the festivities. The small resort area at the top of the pass was transformed into a small town of spectators, athletes, and beer drinkers. If you have ever watched any park of the Tour De France on TV you have been exposed to the sights of crazed and impassioned fanatics that line the course with flags, cow bells, and signs. This event was no different and the energy literally spilled onto the course as fans would seemingly spontaneously combust with excitement and jump over the barricades to run alongside the competitors before being ushered aside by officials.

Fans waiting for runners to finish at the base of Eiger

The town filled with spectators

Although Brad did not win the race, he did extremely well and was even up for going on a hike the next day. From our campsite we were able to walk to the end of the river valley before traversing up to a different mountain village. We were able to sit on the deck of a hostel enjoying cheese covered potato wedges and a pitcher of beer. We have a great appreciation for the Swiss way of hiking. They may not have a wilderness that you can disappear into for days and go unseen, but they do recognize that after a steep hike up, there is nothing that hits the spot more than a cooked meal and a cold beer!

Morgan, Brad, Ashlee
At the top of our hike

Brad and Amy drove back on Sunday, while the two of us stayed back and camped for another two nights. We continued to be blessed with gorgeous weather and took advantage by continuing to explore the trails. As mentioned earlier, the Euros have a different style of camping than what we are accustomed to and there es a chance we quite possibly appeared homeless to them. Picture brand new VW Westfalias and Mercedes camper vans decked out with full cabineted kitchens and plush beds. Come meal time their owners would break out a table that would have place mats, napkins, silverware, wine glasses, and an assortment of food. Now, throw in a small little tent in the corner with clothes strung up to air out, boots lying around, and a greasy couple with their backs propped up against a tree, sipping on a can of beer. It is no wonder that on our final morning there, when we were choking down dry granola, an Austrian man name Wolfgang (no joke) insisted that we use their milk and join them for coffee. We forgot our coffee mugs in the States and therefore sipped the caffeinated nectar out of bowls.

Grateful for a free bowl of coffee

We had great conversation ranging from politics to the economy to skiing. Wolfgang gave us his card in case we were ever in Austria and needed a place to stay. We were grateful for the genuine kindness of strangers, reminded that this is one reason we love to travel. Shortly after we packed up our camp to catch the train back to Amy and Brad’s place.

After spending two more nights with our more than hospitable friends we will be taking the train to Levanto, Italy where we will be hiking along the Cinque Terre for a few days. From there we plan on going to the Tuscany region before heading up to the Dolomites to do some extensive trekking.

We hope this all finds you well and love to all our friends and family!

 

Just The Beginning

The trip of a lifetime. A vagabond honeymoon. Traveling around the world together. What is a dream to some might appear to be an irresponsible decision to others. “Shouldn’t you get a job?”, “How are you going to afford it?”, “What about student loans?”, “Are you sure you two can travel together for three months?”. These were all questions that loved ones, friends, and colleagues posed when we talked about our dream. Over time those doubts and concerns even began to creep into our own heads, blurring our focus on making that dream a reality.

For those of you who don’t know, we are about to kick off a trip that we have been planning for quite a long time. We are taking a three month trip around the word: 27 days in Europe, 26 days in India, 21 days in Nepal, and 20 days in Vietnam. We hope to keep this blog up as we travel, keeping our family and friends informed about our adventures and misadventures. We wanted to start by sharing a little about our last couple of years, how this trip came to be, and what our thought process has been.

We began graduate school at Oregon State University-Cascades in June, 2010. Two months prior to that we had traveled in New Zealand together for three months. We both have what we like to call “happy feet”, so a two year commitment to school seemed to be much more of a lofty goal than traveling. Staying in one place, meeting a seemingly infinite amount of requirements, sitting still during lectures, being on time to class (which never really happened), and going into insurmountable amount of debt all seemed crazier than taking a trip around the world. But school is a sound investment into your future, one that will open doors to your professional career, provide you with an education to move up the pay scale…blah, blah, blah…what about the investment into our souls? How about a little time to wander and experience some new adventures?  Don’t get us wrong, working with adolescents and counseling are both passions for us, and we truly do feel that the two years spent in graduate school was worth every minute and penny. It is just equally important to us to feed our other passions as well. For us, it makes more sense to drain our savings, move everything we own into a storage unit, fill our backpacks with only what we need, and go see what the world has to offer.

Our dream of doing this trip only picked up momentum as we were immersed in the counseling program. We learned a few things during graduate school, such as coffee really does make you smarter, how to dodge books as they come flying across the room, the reality that, despite what teachers warn, you can continually wait until the very last possible minute to write papers, people who have the most to say in class and use the biggest words aren’t actually the smartest, and if you attend graduation in Bend instead of Corvallis you get to hear a guy speak about ice cream instead of Michelle Obama. But most importantly, we realized the only way were going to make it through two years of school was if we created a huge reward that would make it all worth it. That’s right, we bribed ourselves! Like a mom who takes their kid to get ice cream when they fill the chore chart with gold stars, we gave ourselves a graduation present.

In one of our classes we learned that the three main reasons for divorce is financial stress, lack of intimacy, and graduate school. I am pleased to announce that we are comfortable being broke, discovered intimacy is great for study breaks, and we actually got engaged and planned a wedding while getting our Master’s Degree. I use the preferable “we”, but in all reality Ashlee and her mom planned the wedding while I completed my menial but crucial tasks, such as picking our the booze for the big day.

Just one month after sweating it out in our black graduation gowns, we got married in Bend, OR. To tell the truth, that special day was actually a week worth of festivities. It started when Ashlee’s friends from Texas showed up and did not end until the last guest left town. Between the micro beers and the exercise, Texas had not gotten an ass whooping that bad since the Alamo. And they enjoyed every minute of it! At one point after peddling around on the cycle pub, which is exactly what it sounds like…a bar on wheels, they were unable to move for the rest of the evening. I think we actually broke them. Our company got to the point where they would sneak out of bars when we went to the bathroom, celebrated drinking Budweiser, and unionized a boycott of walking “just a few blocks” to the next stop.

The wedding itself went off without a hitch. Thanks to the hard work of Ashlee’s mom, E-Dog, and her entourage, the hall was beautiful. Ashlee was as gorgeous as ever and even showed up on time! Some of our favorite parts of our wedding day were: the amazing speeches given; Ashlee’s dad carrying the bouquet down the aisle; the bride being corrected on her vows and being asked to start over from the top; the talent show; which included an auctioneer; bag pipe playing; and a white, middle aged version of Young MC; the groom’s infamous toe touch on the dance floor; the bride doing her first ever keg stand and in her wedding dress no doubt; a Texan defending the keg of Budweiser like a bear protecting her cub; and at the after house party, even though we are all adults, when the neighbor had to come over to quiet us down, we all ran and hid for fear the cops were being called.

So many times we have looked at each other and asked, “Are we actually going to pull this off?” and “Are we crazy for doing this?”. Well, the answer to both of those questions is YES! The storage unit is packed full, backpacks are weighing in at 34 pounds apiece, diplomas have been earned, wedding rings are on our fingers, maps of Europe, India, Nepal, and Vietnam are symbols in our bags of adventures to unfold, and our minds are open to new experiences as the journey begins.