December 26, 2012

A Loose Of Limits Christmas!

Happy Christmas from Pushkar, Rajasthan, India!

While we had our first strong pangs of homesickness this week, we managed to make the best of Christmas in this holy Hindu town.  Pushkar is very devout, so alcohol and meat are banned (even eggs!). I was still recovering from being sick, so we laid pretty low. We took a walk around town, did a bit of shopping for each other, decorated our "tree," opened presents, had dinner, and watched a movie on our laptop in bed.

You'll hear more about Pushkar soon, but, for now, here are a few pics of our small Christmas celebration.

Our Christmas "tree" was really a potted plant from the hotel lobby that we decorated with my earrings and bead necklaces! We used a wool sock as Tom's stocking, and a sport sock as mine! Material scraps and a sarong doubled as wrapping paper!

December 22, 2012

Riding Roller Coasters in India

Of all the forms of transportation we've hopped on and off in India - taxis, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, canoes, trains, busses, airplanes, ferries - the most consistent mode of movement we've ridden is a roller coaster. We ride it every single day.

And while I would be hesitant to ride any actual roller coasters I found in India, we've basically accepted the inevitable emotional roller coaster we board each and every day just by being here.

I Love Hampiiiii! Hampi, I Loooove Yooooou!

First - we need to clear something up. We're a bit behind on the blogging, but we're still presenting it in chronological order for the most part. Right now, we're in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and it's December 22, 2012. We were in Hampi in mid-November, 2012. So we're not there now. We're trying to catch up now on blogging and you'll probably read about where we are now in a few weeks time!

Get ready for a love fest, folks. We love Hampi. Big time. If they had a Nordstrom shoe department and good whiskey, I might spend the rest of my life there. But, alas, the shoe shopping options are limited and the bourbon is crap, so I find myself still searching for mecca.
This is us, loving Hampi

The Least Luxurious Night of My Life quickly things can change. About 24 hours ago, Tom posted on how much we love train travel (read here). And now, only a day later, we are amending that statement. We love train travel for trips less than 10 hours when we're not violently ill and, preferably, for trips during the day. Sometimes, we hate train travel.
This is me, in simpler days, when I
naively loved train travel

December 21, 2012

Come On Ride the Train

After 2 great weeks in McLeod Ganj (more to come), we just got to Amritsar, Punjab, India a few days ago, which is right on the border of Pakistan and home to the Golden Temple, a major pilgrimage site for Sikhs. Leaving, McLeod Ganj, we woke up at 3am (I actually just never went to sleep and Steph only slept for about an hour) and grabbed a taxi in McLeod Ganj to Dharamsala, and then rode a local bus for 6 hours to get here. Like we told you in a previous post, the busses can be pretty scary (read here), and the ride to Amritsar was no exception. The bus was old and rickety and noisy. We were cold. The bus driver was aggressive (like all Indian drivers), and we didn't enjoy a single minute of our journey. After that experience, I thought it would be good to tell you about our favorite kind of transportation in India; the choo choo.
On the top bunk of the choo choo

December 14, 2012

Cocktails & Dreams in Palolem, Goa, India

While we got our first glimpse of the long-term, hippy-twirling, dreadlocked, bare-footed, San Francisco-esque travelers in Gokarna (read about it here), we knew the patchouli-scented masses were waiting for us in Goa, so we took a quick train ride up the coast to Palolem in south Goa. (Get ready for a tutorial on Indian train travel soon...Tom's working on a post.) Our main plan was to do nothing and, after our first few weeks in India, which were great, but certainly an adjustment, we were thinking of our time in Goa as a true vacation. Now, I know most people think of what we're doing as a year-long vacation, and I understand what you're saying. But most people go on vacation so that life is easier, and most of our days in India have been more difficult than our days at home, so I'm not sure most of this trip qualifies as "vacation," but more as "traveling." So we were looking forward to some beach time and I, specifically, because Goa is a little tourism bubble where customs and traditions aren't as conservative (like most beach destinations around the world), was looking forward to wearing less clothing in the sweltering heat. I'd been promised I could wear a swimsuit on the beach without being hassled and even a sundress in the town without being ogled. 
In a bikini and free of ogles

December 6, 2012

Feeling Beachy in Karnataka (Gokarna, Karnataka, India)

Sneak Peek of McLeodGanj
Writing to you today from McLeod Ganj (near Dharamsala) in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. This is where the Tibetan government-in-exile resides, including the Dalai Lama. It's a very special place. We are LOVING it. Hampi (which we'll tell you about soon) and McLeod Ganj have been our two favorite places in India, so look forward to those posts. We are seriously behind on blogging because, in stark contrast from the beginning of our time in India, we've been quite busy - 2 weeks of yoga in Goa, followed by flying to Delhi to meet up with Tom's mom, attending a friend's wedding there and then heading up to the mountains, we haven't had a lot of free time on the internet to post. we are now, with lots to tell you - some bad (India really is a fickle b!+@#), but mostly good. Stay tuned.

November 26, 2012

Udupi'd Your Pants If You Were On This Bus (Udupi, Karnataka, India)

First of all, I'm very proud of this blog post title. Thank you for reading. We mentioned in our posts about Mysore (here, here, and here), that we took a bus to and from Mysore. This was a change from our usual transportation style via train, and it's worth sharing.

By the time we reached Fort Cochin (read about it here), we'd mastered the train system and felt pretty comfortable buying, boarding and riding on India trains. (More on trains later.) We had even started to enjoy them a bit. But there wasn't an easy way to get to and from Mysore via train, so we decided to take the bus instead, having been told that the government-run bus system had Airavat Volvo busses with air conditioning. The ride from Ernakulam (near Fort Cochin) to Mysore was 9 hours long, so we booked a night bus (leaving at 11:45pm) and chose our seats on the online booking system (KSRTC). 

After killing a day of extra time in Fort Cochin, we took a rickshaw to the bus station and found that, unlike the train stations we'd visited, the bus station was not a tourist-friendly place. No one spoke English, we were given lots of strange looks, and we were the only foreigners there. We weren't even sure we were in the right place, but stood around, hoping for the best and trying to come up with a backup plan if we'd really screwed up. As other (local) busses started entering the station, our anxiety levels went higher and higher because IT WAS CHAOS! People would run alongside the busses, fling open the doors, and jump onto the bus long before it was stopped. And I'm not talking about 1 or 2 people…I'm talking about 20-30-50 people all rushing after the bus and clamoring for a spot on the bus, throwing elbows and completely without sympathy. And the busses were in bad shape - only a few seats, spewing smoke, and absolutely packed with people. We started preparing ourselves to do the same when our bus arrived. 

This isn't our video, but I found it on YouTube and it's what the bus station looked like in Ernakulam. Pure chaos.

November 20, 2012

Wind Surfing on a Rickshaw

Auto rickshaws are a really common and cheap way to get around in India. We take them to and from train stations and around larger cities. When we were in Mysore (read about it here and here) we met a young rickshaw driver, Aslam, who took us to a couple of places around the city. He spoke great English, despite never having been to school, and was a great tour guide. We decided to hire him the next day to go see the Keshava Temple, a temple about 40 km outside Mysore that was built in 1268. After we visited Aslam's house (tea and henna), we headed out into the country. We were enjoying being in the fresh air and quiet and seeing local village life without other tourists. After about 30 minutes, a motorcycle passed us and yelled something to Aslam. He quickly pulled over and realized we had a flat tire in the left rear. We weren't really sure what we would do, because we were in the middle of a rural area - no shops in site. Aslam had a plan, though.

November 14, 2012

Breaking the Budget, Part II (Mysore, Karnataka, India)

Read Part I of our post about Mysore here.

The next day - we set out to really see Mysore. Our first plan was to tour the inside of the Palace but, as we walked that direction after a quick thali lunch, we were approached by a young, friendly rickshaw driver, Aslam, who told us that it was a bad idea that day because it was too crowded. He offered to drive us up Chamundi Hill to the temple, take us to the Muslim Bazaar, and to the palace for 150 rupees ($3). He was enthusiastic, and this was the kind of experience we were looking for, so we said yes (knowing we'd pay him more than 150r and also knowing he planned to take us to shops where he would get a kickback for taking us…and not minding either). 

First, we visited the temple on Chamundi Hill. (Read about Chamundi here.) On the ride, we learned more about Aslam. He is Muslim and lives in a village outside of Mysore with his parents, two sisters, two brothers-in-law, two brothers, and a niece and a nephew. He never went to school, but spoke perfect English because, he said, "God gave him a good brain." His mom gave him a rickshaw when he was 15 and he's been driving it for 9 years. Each day he drives, no matter how much money he makes, he gives his mom 250 rupees that she puts into savings for him. Most of the rest of the money goes to help support his family, though he uses some of it for new clothes. He's silly and laughs a lot and is, thankfully, a good driver. We both like him a lot.

November 12, 2012

The Hampi Frog Project

Remember when we had a third roommate in Alleppey? We loved Barry the lizard. He kept to his corner, he didn't make sudden movements, and he didn't invade any personal or private moments. 

Well, as it turns out, we're not open to all extra roommates. When we got to Hampi and checked into our guesthouse (much more on Hampi and the masses of chillum-smoking Israelis at a later time), we noticed that we shared our bathroom with 2 frogs. Really, they looked like bumpy toads and weren't very cute. One was about the size of a golf ball and he lived in the crook of the toilet, and the other was about the size of a tennis ball and hung out in the corner. No thanks. 

To make matters worse, they would decide to jump towards you the moment you relaxed on the toilet…meaning you could never really relax. We were both dreading taking a shower. The showers here aren't partitioned off. You just stand in your bathroom, next to the toilet and dump water over yourself and the water runs to a drain in the corner of the room, flooding the entire bathroom for a moment. We had this image of the toads jumping around, having a froggy heyday in the water and weren't really excited to share our bathing time with them. Enter: Operation Frog Removal.

The original footage has a Blair Witch-esque quality and the video was taken during one of the many many power outages in Hampi, so I was wearing a headlamp while Tom manned our shower buckets and a stick. I swear, we should be on The Amazing Race.


Update: The biggest toad returned! Amphibians strike back! I was sitting on the edge of our bed, writing this very post on the laptop when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. The large toad was very deliberately and casually strolling across our floor. I mean it. He was strolling. He wasn't hopping. He wasn't jumping. He wasn't being froggy. He was being smug. After I screamed in shock, I noticed there's a huge gap between our hut's door and the floor - a general invite to any and all creatures in the vicinity. Tom chased the frog (Jackson? Willard? Argus?) around the room with our monopod and, as he moved his backpack to find the frog, a lizard darted up the wall. Once again, we found ourselves giving a warm welcome to the lizard (Richard, aka Dick Lizard) and continued to chase the fat toad. We finally convinced him to jump into our shower bucket and we've re-released him to the wild. And now we keep a towel or something jammed under the door to send a message to all slimy and bumpy critters. "Stay out. No vacancy." Who's smug now?

Update 2: The smaller toad came back as well. I give up. Take it toads...the room is yours.

November 9, 2012

Breaking the Budget (Mysore, Karnataka, India - Part 1)

It happened faster than we had hoped. Tom got a cold and a nasty eye infection. I was desperate for a hot shower. While in Fort Cochin (read about it here), we made the impulse decision to skip Munnar (too many tourists) and Wayanad (too much rain) and head straight for Mysore to catch the last 2 days of the Dasara Festival (also spelled Dussehra), a 10 day festival celebrating the victory of truth over evil and the day when the Hindu Goddess Chamundeshwari killed the demon Mahishasura. The highlights of the festival are seeing the Maharaja's Palace lit up with over 100,000 lights and watching the parade on the final day. We were anxious to get to Mysore, but couldn't find a reasonably-priced home stay, guesthouse or hotel room anywhere in the city on short notice. Realizing that one of the things we promised each other when we planned this trip was that we'd splurge on a nicer hotel when we were sick or burnt out…and that we were both sick and burnt out, we booked 4 nights at the Fortune JP Palace Hotel in Mysore. We got it for a "steal" on the Indian travel website Agoda, but it still broke the budget…and we didn't care. We booked an overnight bus from Fort Cochin (really, from nearby Ernakulam) to Mysore and prepared ourselves for a night of no sleep and terrifying driving. The bus didn't disappoint. The driving was terrifying and we didn't sleep.
Isn't it beautiful?
Just seeing this picture helps me imagine air conditioning and clean sheets.

November 6, 2012

Playing Cricket in Fort Cochin, Kerala, India

We left Alleppey (read about it here) and headed to Fort Cochin (or Fort Kochi), a region in Kochi in the state of Kerala. The area is a peninsula with a really interesting history. Over the past 700 years, Fort Cochin has been occupied by and influenced by Arabs, Chinese, Dutch, British and the Portuguese. All the past influences in Fort Cochin has resulted in some great architecture and a different feel of anywhere else in India we've visited. In the old town, the alleys and cafes have a European feel (plus cows and trash, minus good coffee), and the Kapithan Inn (about $13/night), where we stayed, made a good starting point for exploring the area on foot, which we spent most of our time doing. And, as usual, the best experience of Fort Cochi came without planning. Here's a sneak peek. Details are further below.

November 2, 2012

It's Hard to Enjoy Your Dosa

I'm sure you've heard all about India's free-roaming cows (they're considered holy animals by Hindus and, thus, aren't farmed or butchered, and allowed free reign), but nothing can prepare you for having to compete for precious roadside space with a horned bull until you're actually doing it. In Kerala, most of the cows we saw, while common and in odd places, were tied up and used by families for milk. In Karnataka, things got a little more exotic, and our first few minutes in Mysore included pushing a bull out of our way so we could make it to a street median before local busses, rickshaws and honking cars ran us over. Cows are everywhere. They have no owners, but are taken care of by everyone. People give them food scraps and water, and the cows go wherever they want. They try to enter shops. They roam busy highways, they hang out at temples, and we've even seen them head butt a few innocent passers-by. Due to the head butting and being from a country where it's a known pastime to master this animal (a la rodeo), we are, naturally, a little leery of these animals and try to "steer" clear of them when possible. (See what I did there?) 

A small selection of the (mostly) friendly cows in India

November 1, 2012


This post is long overdue (and Steph has been on me to get on with it), and I agree, it needs to be said.

Our cross country road trip (Read those posts here), took a month and a half, and we spent the last 4 weeks staying with friends and family - from Colorado all the way to Connecticut, and down to North Carolina. We spent nights in 14 different homes, and shared breakfasts, dinners and drinks (sometimes accompanied by a hangover) with many others. Beginning with our going away party in San Francisco, and each time we were moving on to another place, a big topic in the car (which logged 4,800 miles) was how lucky we are to have such amazing people in our lives. (A very small, incomplete sampling below...)

October 29, 2012

Tom Steps in Poop (or, "Alleppey, Kerala, India")

Coming off our super relaxed time in Kovalam and Varkala, we were looking forward to visiting Alleppey (or Alappuzha) and its famed backwaters, a major pitstop on the backpackers circuit of South India. On the recommendation of Rani at Mummy Bamboo in Varkala, we booked 2 nights at the Palmy Lake Resort in Alleppey. Don't be fooled by the word "resort." While Palmy was certainly comfortable, it wasn't a "resort" in the way you might be thinking. On the train from Varkala to Alleppey, we sat in a compartment with 3 French backpackers and a local woman and her adorable toddler daughter. We made friends with the Frenchies and they quickly asked our thoughts about the upcoming Presidential election. Once they realized we are liberals and Obama supporters (and they announced their mutual support for Obama as well), the ringleader of the trio, Yannick, said, "You must have been happy not to have George W. Bush as the President any longer." When I agreed, he shook his head and said, "The shame of the world." WOW! I won't get further political on this blog, but isn't that hard to hear? The rest of the ride to Alleppey was uneventful and we said goodbye to our French friends and hoped we'd run into them down the road.

Alleppey was a bigger town than we had expected, and Palmy was 3 kilometers outside of town, along a quiet stretch of backwater. We were greeted by Macy who showed us to our little cottage on the well-manicured property (that was dotted with bird cages full of pigeons for reasons we never understood). Our room was clean and simple, with a basic bed, old desk, ceiling fan and with the ever-present bucket shower. An extra bonus was the little lizard that lived in the roof in one corner of our room. We named him Barry and he was always in a hurry - running up the wall, running down the wall - and we were happy to have a 3rd roommate. He was so fast that I never got a picture, but this is what he looked like.
Barry's cousin

October 28, 2012

"Can I Touch Her?"

(First: We're a little behind with our recaps, and we'll get those up on the blog soon. In the meantime, we don't want to keep going back in time to write, so we're going to share some of our current travels with you while, at the same time, interspersing some posts from travels a few weeks ago…I hope it doesn't get confusing! This post is about something that just happened.)

One of the most difficult things I've dealt with (probably THE most difficult, actually), has been the unwelcome stares from Indian men. Staring is something we're used to. Everyone stares at us. Kids giggle. Boys point out how tall Tom is. Women carefully inspect our faces. Men look over their shoulders to get another glimpse of us. Sometimes, as we're passing by someone, they'll ask, mid-stride, what country we're from. We'll answer "America…California" and they'll repeat "America!" and, sometimes, "Obama!" which is really fun. They want to take our picture and shake our hands. It's mostly nice. We are, however, almost always on display. In truth, I don't think we were prepared for how few foreigners we would encounter on this trip. Not only are there not a lot of us, but there are a LOT of Indians, so we barely dilute the population. Sometimes, we go days without seeing another foreigner. This means that many locals, especially if they're visiting a city from more rural parts of the country, have had very little, if any, interaction with someone who looks like us. The staring is almost always good-natured and soon followed by a smile. It doesn't bother us in the least, and we do our best to make a favorable impression on behalf of Westerners everywhere. (You're welcome!)

Tom with some new, random friends

October 22, 2012

2nd Class (Varkala, Kerala, India)

You've heard Steph's first impressions of India (here). Some of my impressions are the same, such as the burning trash and the happy smiling people. Two of my other first impression were about the heat and the food. Having lived in San Francisco for the past 8 years, we're not used to much heat or humidity. And this place has no shortage of either. So far, at least once a day we have been coming back to our room, stripping down and laying still under the fan for 30 minutes to cool off. We are guilty of ducking into ATM boxes to enjoy the AC for 5 minutes (none of our rooms has had A/C thus far). The one benefit of this humidity is that our balled up clothes unwrinkle about 5 minutes after we put them on. The other thing that we have noticed is that, because we're so hot we are only eating 1-2 meals a day. We're just not that hungry.

Appam with Potato Curry
Photo from Yummy Tummy
Puttu for breakfast
Photo from mydiversekitchen

The first place we stayed, Vedic Hertitage House in Kovalam, is run, and managed by two men who have studied Ayurveda and owned Ayurvedic businesses. The first time we sat down for breakfast we had wheat puttu, which was delicious! It's steamed wheat (though traditionally made with steamed rice powder) and topped with fresh coconut that comes out piping hot. You mush it all down on the plate, toss on some mung beans, crumble on some pappadam, sprinkle on some sugar and then take a boiled plantain and mush it all together and eat it all with your fingers. I know it sounds strange, and Steph and I certainly shot each other some looks while our host explained how to eat it, but it was very filling but also very clean-eating. And really, it was very, very good. It's very high in protein, but has no cholesterol or fat. We both ate it all, and it was a lot of food. Usually when I eat a large meal, I feel overly full or tired. But with the Ayurvedic food, we don't get that at all. Instead, it just fueled us for the day and left us feeling satisfied, but not heavy. Another breakfast we had was appam with curry. They soak cooked rice overnight and then mash it and put it through a sieve so it's a batter-consistency. Then they add coconut milk and some yeast and fry it to make a white, spongy-in-the-middle and crispy-on-the-outside pancake. You dip the pancake in a mild potato curry. It is once again very filling, but in a good way. We haven't found wheat puttu since we left Vedic Heritage, but we've had appam a few other times at other home stays. So far, the wheat putty has been Steph's favorite dish, while I love the appam and would love it regularly for breakfast. Another food that we have fallen in love with his Kerala rice. It is a bigger grain and fluffier than normal rice, but once again isn't too filling. We are thinking about figuring a way to import it. (Puttu Recipe , Appam Recipe)

October 18, 2012

Travel 101: Intro to India (Kovalam, Kerala)

I really have no idea how to begin writing this post. There's no way I can relay every last detail of what we've seen and done and how we've felt, nor would doing so successfully convey what India has truly been like to us in this first week. I thought about avoiding the "Intro to India" post altogether and, instead, begin posting about the details - a meal, a person, a place we stayed - and pretend as though our entry to this (very) foreign land was a completely normal and every day thing. But it hasn't been. So you can understand why I don't know where to start. I'll get on with the description later, but I know how important it is to capture the reader's interest early, so I'll start with this picture from our first full day in India. 

That piqued your interest, right?

October 14, 2012

Friends in High Places

I'm writing to you now from our little room in Kovalam, Kerala, India. We're jetlagged and wide awake at an hour when we should not be wide awake. But we've decided not to let it bother us. One of the great things about long-term travel is that there's no rush - we can adjust to the time change slowly.

So, this gives me the opportunity to recap the post-camping part of our road trip, which was really amazing. (See our recaps about Yosemite, Zion/Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches/Canyonlands/MonumentValley, and the roadtrip wildlife). Get ready for a picture-heavy, long post. You can also heck out all of our pics from the friends and family portion of our cross country road trip here.

Simon (3) and Tom

After we finished camping, we drove to Loveland, CO, to see Tom's oldest sister, Melanie, her husband, Brian, and our nephews Simon (3) and Zachary (9 months). We had a lot of fun helping to potty train Simon, which is a hilarious and patience-trying endeavor we were happy to help with. (Just so you know, he's doing an excellent job!) We were pretty exhausted from camping, so we relaxed, had great meals and played with the boys during the day, including a day in Boulder and an eventful day at the bounce house place. It's amazing how quickly Simon changes and we love seeing his sweet personality grow.

Zachary is a very smiley baby and does great things for the ego, as it doesn't take much effort to get him giggling. One of the evenings, we drove to Denver to see my dear friend, Tiffany Colvin, and her scrumptious little boy, Callum (6 months). And before we left Boulder, we drove to the hospital in Boulder, where our friend Allan and his wife, Megan, had just given birth to their first child, Lily. Colorado was really a tour of babies for us.

October 12, 2012

Look! It's a California Condor!

So, we made it to Kovalam in southern India after 33 hours of travelling and are getting settled. We were so bad about posting on the cross country trip due to the heavy socializing that comes with visiting almost every friend and family member we have over a 5 week period. So we'll use the next couple of posts to wrap up that portion of our trip.

One of the greatest parts about the road trip was the wildlife we saw on our drive.

The first thing we were excited to see was the Pronghorn in Bryce National Park. We saw a group of them grazing on the side of the road in Bryce and once we learned more about them realized they are a fascinating animal. It is considered the second fastest land animal in the world, reaching speeds up to 70 miles an hour. It is thought that it evolved this way to help avoid the now extinct North American cheetah. While we didn't see them running it was very cool to learn the history of an animal that I associated with Africa.


October 11, 2012

Layover in Abu Dhabi

Hi All!

Sorry for being MIA for so long. After camping, it was a whirlwind of friends and family until about 24 hours ago when we left Wilmington, NC, drove to Raleigh, NC, flew to JFK and then to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where we are now, on a layover, waiting for our next flight to Trivandrum, India (Kerala).

We have several posts that will go up in the next few days but, in the meantime, just wanted to let everyone know where we are. The trip is off to a great start so far - no travel hiccups. We've just finished our 13-hour flight and have one more flight (5 hours) ahead of us. And we've met a very interesting guy who just took a teaching job in Abu Dhabi (working for the government) along with his wife. Hi to Chris (and your wife, Melanie)!

If Abu Dhabi Airport is any indication of how amazing Abu Dhabi and the rest of the UAE is, we will definitely be back here at some point in our lives. It's over-the-top beautiful and luxurious. It seems like a place we would love to explore.

Inside our terminal at Abu Dhabi Airport
Stay tuned for more posts from us, including posts about the wildlife we saw on our cross country road trip, a wrap-up of our visits, and an important message to our friends and family. (You're intrigued, aren't you?)

In the meantime, we'll likely either be A) in the air, B) waiting in a line, or C) jet-lagged and grumpy.

September 25, 2012

The Country's Most Beautiful Drive

After exhausting ourselves in the Grand Canyon and leaving a day early, we took advantage of the extra time and drove through Monument Valley, which was like driving through Mars. That place is insane.

It's honestly the coolest drive I've ever taken and I was constantly exclaiming around every corner. I've never seen anything like it. Not only are all the formations just crazy beautiful, but they're all different, which was what was so amazing to me. Some were smooth and rounded and others were pointy and textured. Some of the spires were thin and fragile-looking and others were massive and solid. And all of these were right next to each other. 

September 17, 2012

For Experienced Desert Hikers Only

Check out all of our pics (including Grand Canyon pics) on THIS PAGE!

I was PSYCHED to go to the Grand Canyon. I'd never been and it seemed like an important place to check out before we went abroad. After we left Zion and Bryce (see Tom's post here) we made the long drive to the Grand Canyon and arrived at the East Entrance just as the sun was setting. We raced to the Desert View Watchtower and Lipan Point to catch a few pics of the setting sun. Unfortunately, pictures just canNOT do the Grand Canyon justice. We tried anyway.

After a few shots, we made the rest of the Desert View drive and to our way to our campsite in Mather Campground, where we planned to spend 3 nights. Mather is a large campground and I had expected it to be pretty generic and crowded. Surprisingly, the sites are well spaced out, quiet, and well-shaded. At this point in our trip (and after sweating like crazy in the desert), I was in desperate need of a shower and raced to the coin-operated showers in the campground. It was amazing. It may have been the best $2 I've ever spent. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the water at the bottom of the shower was brown...BROWN....from my dirt-covered self.

September 12, 2012

Utah Rocks

Check out our pics from Zion and Bryce on our Pics Page.

Today, we're in Colorado, visiting my sister and her husband and our two nephews and, now that we have Internet, we're catching up on blog posts.

After leaving Yosemite and stopping in St. George (check out Steph's post here), we picked up some groceries from a weird supermarket in Southern Utah (I got a strange look when asked the check-out guy where we could find a liquor store), and we headed into Zion National Park. While driving into the park the landscape changes and large red and orange sandstone cliffs start towering all around you.

Zion NP entrance

Cliffs at Zion

September 4, 2012

The Adventure Begins - Yosemite National Park

First - if you want to skip this post and just see pics, you can see all the pics from the first 3 days of our trip here. (I haven't had a chance to organize, clean-up, or caption them yet...but you'll get the idea.)

Now - The past few days have been a crazy whirlwind - from the moment that the storage pod arrived, we've been non-stop.

When they came to pick up our storage pod on Saturday, I noticed that, with everything we owned was in the storage pod on a San Francisco street, Tom had forgotten to lock it up overnight. Thankfully, no one noticed or, at least, no one sketchy took advantage. Lucky for Tom...he would have been in the shit house for years if EVERYTHING we own was stolen. Great job, Tom. That night, we had quality time with Bernie, Todd and Q before we finished our time in SF with drinks with a friend in from Miami. The next morning, we were both overwhelmed with excitement and a constant feeling of, "Is this really happening?"

In front of our house - right before we hopped in our car and left town!

August 31, 2012

I Get So Emotional, Baby (RIP Whitney)

Let me just tell you about the past 10 (or so) years of my life. I'm 29 now, so what I'm saying is - let me tell you about my adulthood. (It's a good thing I get to share this with you from behind my computer screen and not in a live monologue or something, because I'm already crying. You're welcome.)

Here I am, barely 18,
fresh-faced and wrinkle-free
I graduated from high school in 2001 and, just a few weeks after I moved into my college dorm room, 9/11 happened...rough entry to adulthood, huh? I tend to think about people my age as different from those even a few years older than me. We're the first group to only have a post-9/11 adulthood. I wonder what that means about us.

August 29, 2012

This Is Really Happening...

We've had our going away party. I've had freak outs. I've cancelled the Internet and handled our finances. Friends are rifling through our refrigerated/frozen/dry goods (which I call the Swain Market). I only have a few more boxes to pack. The storage pod gets delivered tomorrow. We hand over the keys to our subletter on Friday. We leave on Sunday morning. The U.S. portion of The Trip is about to begin. This is really happening.

And this is what my living room looks like.

Sorry posts have been light the past week or so. I'm dealing with all the final details and I think my head might explode. Tom had his first "holy crap" moment today, which felt oddly comforting since I've been having one long "holy crap" moment for the past 2 weeks. It's about time he joined me.

I'll try to get another post up before we leave. And, if not, I'll talk to you from the road. Wow.

I'm so, so, SO excited. I can't even explain it. Wow.

August 23, 2012


As our days in San Francisco wind down, I have to admit that I'm freaking out a little bit. I can hardly fathom the thought that we're heading out in just 10 days to begin our adventure. I'm completely preoccupied with thoughts of what the next year of my life will be like because it's right around the corner and I have no idea what to expect.

ooh la la!
I'm in the process of packing our apartment up and it's really hitting me - I'm giving up the concept of "home" for more than a year. And that's scary.

The other day, I was making coffee. Almost every morning, I have coffee from the same coffee mug. I love these mugs. They're Ittala's Taika mug in white. Every day, using this coffee mug makes me happy. When I use that mug, it gives me the smallest feeling of comfort and joy. I don't get that feeling with my dinner plates or my couch cushions or many other "things" in our apartment. But I love these coffee mugs. Every time I get one down, I think, "I'm so glad I bought these mugs." And that moment gives me the smallest bit of joy and comfort every day. Recently, it occurred to me that I would be losing that small comfort (and tons of others) for a year. I told Tom about this and he said, "You're going to miss A COFFEE CUP while we're on the trip of a lifetime?" And I said, "Of course not! If you ever hear me actually talking about how much I miss the coffee cup, smack me in the face. What I WILL miss, though, are those small moments of comfort." What if I don't feel like me for an entire year?

I just can't believe that we're leaving in 10 days. You hear people say, all the time, that something is "surreal," and I've said that a number of times in my life also, but I don't think I've ever meant it as much as I do now. I can honestly say that this is a truly bizarre feeling. I'm so excited/nervous/sad/happy and, honestly, it's giving me indigestion. Pile that onto the HUGE list of things I have to do and, well, I've had my share of freak out moments this past week.

Don't get me wrong - I'm still super excited. And I'm, in no way, regretting this decision. But it's almost Go Time and the reality is intense. And the unknown is scary. 

August 21, 2012

A Fight to End PKD

We are a short 12 (TWELVE!!!) days away from beginning our cross-country roadtrip (Part I, Part II,Part III) that precedes our one-way flight to India! Our roadtrip includes a stop in Cleveland to see our friends Emily and Terry. Terry is one of Tom's best friends from college and was even the best man at our wedding. Terry has always been one of my favorite people, so it sweetened our friendship even more when, several years ago, he introduced us to his new girlfriend, Emily. To say that we loved her instantly is no exaggeration. And, just like that, one of our favorite people became one half of one of our favorite couples, and we were thrilled when they got engaged and planned their wedding for October 1, 2011.
Terry and Emily at our wedding

August 17, 2012

100 Wonders of the World

Get ready for an overload of gorgeous. This is a picture-heavy post, but it's getting me SO amped up for our trip!

Several years ago, our awesome and travel-loving friends, Kristy and Dave, gave us one of the most awesome gifts ever when we moved into a new apartment. They gave us this book of 100 Wonders of the World and a personalized stamp that says "Tom & Stephanie Were Here" and a change-able date. So now, when we visit any of the places in the book, we can stamp it with the date that we visited. Awesome, right? It's one of my most favorite gifts ever.

When they first gave it to us, we flipped through to see what places we'd already been to. Tom had been to several of them but, sadly for me, I'd only been to 1 or 2 places. This past week, we flipped through the book an HOLY MOLY - We have the opportunity to visit a ton of these wonders on the trip. We won't be able to take the book and stamp with us, but we're going to keep track of the dates so we can update the book when we get home.

August 15, 2012

The Tom Haul

Last week, I shared the contents of my pack, and I expressed how incredibly over packing our bags I am. This is doubly true because I made most of the decisions regarding Tom's pack, too. This is good for both of us because, if Tom did the packing/planning, the inside of his bag would resemble a junk yard. Soon after we met and started living together, I had to relinquish the top drawer of our dresser and designate it as "Tom's Drawer." It's not for clothes or accessories. It's for crap. Reaching into that drawer could introduce you to a chewed piece of gum, a lost $50 bill, or a sharp poke in the finger from a safety pin. It's not safe. It's not sanitary. It's....Tom's Drawer. (The last few sentences, by the way, were verbalized in my head in Robin Leach's voice and would serve as the introduction to a segment on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous about Tom's eccentric habits of collecting used dental floss.) I'm not a super tidy person, but I desperately need everything to have a place it belongs, so Tom's Drawer gives me anxiety and I try to pretend it doesn't exist (except when I want money, in which case, it's a jackpot).

Just as I spent a lot of time researching for the contents of my bag, I spent a lot of time planning for Tom's bag as well. Each of us is carrying any belongings that are solely our own, as well as quite a bit of "communal" stuff. And here's Tom's bag, dumped out on our living room floor in horrible lighting.

August 13, 2012

Unnecessary Crap and My Life Plan

There have been a zillion things we've been doing to prepare for this trip - boring things that don't deserve their own post. But I thought maybe you'd like to know a few of them anyway. Actually, that's probably not true. You probably don't want to know. But I need to tell you anyway. Some of this stuff is from the To Do List, and some of it's just extra crap that I thought up to make life more complicated.

Somewhere on the Web, I read that it's a good idea to make contact cards for the road. (Once again, the Internet introduces me to brilliance.) I am highly susceptible to influences regarding cuteness and unnecessary crap, so I ordered some, obviously. I have secretly wanted a reason to purchase Moo Cards for a few years now, and this was the perfect excuse.  I had also read that it's a good idea to put your pic on the cards instead of just your info because, after you give your info to some random person you meet on the road, they're going to forget who that email address belongs to. But, with our new snazzy cards, they'll say, "Oh right, this was that awesome American couple we met at the karaoke bar in Bangkok!" I even put the cards in these little self-laminating luggage tags on each of our bags.
Wanna see the cutesy, unnecessary addition to our packs?

Seriously cute and unnecessary, right?

August 10, 2012

For Better or For Worse - Stick a Fork In Me

I can't even tell you how much research I've done on what to pack for this trip. I've scoured the internet, Thorn Tree, and the packing lists of dozens of other backpackers. I've read reviews on Amazon, and Tom and I each tried on 20+ pairs of travel/outdoor pants to compare. We each ordered 4 different pairs of shoes to try out before settling on our final choices. Never in a million years did I think I would hear myself comparing the virtues of various (gasp!) convertible and roll-up waterproof cargos. Only a fanny pack and a set of matching t-shirts separates Tom and I from this:
God Bless America

August 7, 2012

Why Do I Travel? - From The Impatient Traveller

I've mentioned my friend, Stephanie Stokes from The Impatient Traveller (henceforth referred to as Stokes), several times on the blog so far. The reason she gets a lot of airtime here at Loose of Limits is because she's amazing. I'm not just saying that because we went to college together, lived across the hall from each other, think each other is hilarious and share a common moniker. I'm saying it because she is truly a one-of-a-kind gal. Stokes is, like myself, a Missouri gal. She's a school teacher and LOVES it. She's the kind of teacher that cause parents to lobby for getting their kids in her class. She has an infectious interest in everything and, in teaching, has found her passion - something most of us never find in a career. Stokes also has wanderlust. And, until fairly recently, that wanderlust was unexplored. Then, without ever having left the United States before, she took a job teaching at an American school in England. Just like that, her world expanded. These days, she is an exploring fool, hopping around Europe like it's her job (which, sometimes, it is.) This summer, she's taking a break from England and spending time in Barcelona as part of a program with her school. (Read about her background and her new-found passion here: Part I, and Part II.) 

One of our goals in creating this blog was that we wanted our friends and family to see that exploring the world isn't impossible and that there are countless ways of achieving it. I asked Stokes to share some of her experiences and her thoughts on travel, and she has written this amazing (there's that word again) post. I hope you'll find inspiration in her story and begin to think about the best way for YOU to explore. ~ Stephanie

From Stokes:

Why do I travel? 

To gain knowledge. To gain my own independence. To gain perspective. 

Fish Sculpture - Port Olimpic, Barcelona

August 4, 2012

Plugged In, but Checked Out

Remember back in this post when we listed all the electronics and gadgets we were taking on The Trip? We posted this great picture of Inspector Gadget and called him the ancestor of the modern-day San Franciscan?

Go ahead...go back and read it. I'll wait. Need the link again? It's here.

Done yet?

I'll spare you from reading the explanations or rationalization for each product. Instead, I'll just show you some pics of the electronics and tell you what's in the pic. (Sorry for the poor picture quality - taking a picture of your camera means you have to use your phone to take the pic.)

August 2, 2012

A Little Blog-Keeping

A little blog/travel housekeeping (blogkeeping?) for you today.

First - Most of you know I'm not really working right now, so Tom is our one and only breadwinner. He is busting his buns to bring in as much $$$ as possible in this last MONTH (yes, just one month left, as of today) in San Francisco. So, for that reason, the blog is going to be heavy-Stephanie and light-Tom until we take off in early September. It's not that he doesn't have things to's just that he doesn't have time to say them. (More on Tom's job later.)

Also - a few insider tips about the blog (by popular demand).

July 30, 2012

It's Gettin' REAL People! (and...Toiletries)

We're a short 33 days away from leaving San Francisco and I can't tell you how insane that is. I'm finishing up my vaccines, I'm starting to clean out closets and think about packing. We decided to sublet our apartment, furnished, and we're finalizing those plans. We've purchased everything we need for the trip. And I'm obsessing over details late night until I go crazy. Last night, I woke Tom up at 2am and frantically asked/said/yelled...

"Do our sleep sacks have pillow holders?!?! ThePillowsAtThePlacesWe'llBeStayingWillBeGrossAndWeMUSTCoverThem! 
Maybe we need to bring pillowcases! We can use the pillowcases to store dirty clothes!"

I really thought this was a completely important conversation that needed to be discussed at 2am. He disagreed. The conclusion? We still haven't spoken about it. Stay tuned.

This is basically what I look like at night,
thinking about the trip

July 25, 2012

Juneau, Alaska - June/July 2012

This post is really late, but Steph and I wanted to give you the quick summary of our trip to Juneau, Alaska, a few weeks ago and share photos. So, I'll give a little bit of info about what we did and share a lot of pics. Visit our Flickr page to check out all of our Juneau Pics.

My middle sister, Zelda, lives in Juneau with her husband, Jacek, and their two daughters, Iza (6) and Zosia (4). It was important to us to see them (especially the girls) before we head out for so long. They change so quickly. They all used to live in Anchorage, but now they live right on the coast in Juneau - and we spent our time whale watching from their front deck. We didn't snag any photos of the whales, but we saw humpbacks and orcas right out in front of their house. Steph had never seen a whale before, so she was pretty excited. I lived in Juneau for a summer after college with some buddies and worked on a fishing boat, and I've visited several times since then, and I always love it up there.

After arriving late on June 27, our nieces greeted us and we tried to get some sleep despite the brightness of the night and the cruise ships passing by outside our window. The next day, we bundled up in waterproof gear and headed to Tongass Mendenhall Glacier. It's been a long time since I've seen the glacier and I was sad to see that it's melted so much.

July 12, 2012

It's in the Bag

It's getting to be that's that time when we start going through our packs and reevaluating everything we've chosen to take - Do we need it? Does it weight too much? Is there a better/lighter version? Tonight, for example, our conversations have included a lengthy debate about flip flops, and walking around the apartment in one of the 3 pairs (each) of walking/hiking/water shoes we purchased to try. Exciting times at the Swain residence. You know what else is exciting? 3-day juice cleanses. We've done the Blueprint Cleanse before and we tried a more intense version of it this time. We're at the end of our 3rd and final day - I'm not nearly as hungry as I expected to be, but I'm really looking forward to my veggie omelet tomorrow morning and I'm even more excited about dinner with my girlfriends this Friday at Boxing Room - there's no better way to break a cleanse than with gourmet hush puppies, fried chicken, jambalaya and beignets... Right?

Sorry for the tangent - I haven't eaten food in 72 hours. Soon, we'll post our full packing list (you're excited, aren't you?) but, in the meantime, we thought we'd start sharing bits of what's in our pack. (Also, stay tuned for an update to this post....I'm sure all these cliffhangers have you hanging on to the edge of your seat.) Every travel blog says that the best way to keep your pack organized and to minimize your headaches on the road is by compartmentalizing everything. (Digging to the bottom of my huge backpack, looking for a Chapstick several times a day is not my idea of being loose of limits.)

Let's get started with some of the compartments that are complete, shall we?

July 6, 2012

Shaping Up & Shipping Out

Comfy place to hang out for 9 hours....
One of the less obvious things we've been doing to prepare for the trip is getting in shape. Traveling for a year is a great adventure, but it can also be mentally and physically grueling at times. To keep ourselves mentally healthy, we are purposely taking a slow pace for The Trip and allowing ourselves longer stays to regroup if we get burnt out from the constant moving, packing, unpacking, trains, and packed busses. And, physically, we're about to put our bodies through the ringer; the overnight trains, cramped buses and lumpy hostel beds, the foreign foods and contaminated water, the constant walking and heavy backpacks. This part is especially concerning to me, as I have always had slight scoliosis and I also herniated the L4 and L5 discs in my lower back about three years ago (and trained-for and completed a triathlon without knowing it). Since then, I've had two major flare-ups that were pretty debilitating for a few weeks. It's painful and limiting, and I really don't want to have that happen on the trip, so my main physical focus over the next couple of months is getting more limber and strengthening my back and core.

July 3, 2012

Eating My Way Across the Country

Tom's working on a post about how we're getting in shape before we put our bodies through the ringer on our trip.

But, on the COMPLETE other end of the spectrum, I saw this article today and wanted to post quickly about it.

Delish: All-American Eats: Must-Try Foods From the 50 States

This got me really excited about our road trip, because I usually make decisions with my stomach and because I take this kind of an article as a challenge. Where will we be driving through and what are the "must-try" foods? (I didn't include California, since we live here and because I eat the "must-try" California avocado almost daily.)

June 26, 2012

I Promise To Travel With You

Have you seen my engagement and wedding rings? They're gorgeous. I love them. After 5 years of dating and countless conversations about getting engaged, we knew we were ready to take the next step back in 2009, and I started showing Tom the ring styles that I liked. While we were browsing, there was one ring from Yael Designs that stood out among the rest. It was gorgeous. I loved it. I dreamed about it. I secretly hoped he would pick that one.

And he did! On September 12, 2009, he proposed in our backyard and I said yes! He presented me with this gorgeous ring and he also had the matching wedding band waiting.

When it was time to get his wedding ring, he had very basic rules - it must be white gold (or the like), it must be very lightweight, and it must be very, very simple. No diamonds, no filigree, etc... We found what he wanted and we've worn our rings every day since.

Jewelry by Yael Designs, Photo by Choco Studio

June 24, 2012

By Popular Demand - My Concerns

Last week, I asked my extended circle (via Facebook) what they wanted to hear about on this blog. Both my mom and my best friend's mom (who is like a second mom to me) want to hear about my concerns for The Trip. I'm guessing this is because they themselves have some concerns about The Trip.

Certainly there are a lot of things I could be worried about. I could worry about money or safety or being away from loved ones. I could worry about getting sick or getting jobs when we get back to SF. 

But I don't worry about any of these things. Want to know why?

June 22, 2012

I Love the Skype Life

I'm sorry for my horrible attempt at a play-on-words using Skype...I sat here for several minutes trying to think of something witty and this was my best attempt. Please hold your judgement.

All I want to say is that we've added a Skype button to the blog - see it on the right side of this page, just below our picture?

It looks like one of these images:

Isn't that nice? When we're on the road and you're reading our blog (which I'm sure you'll do religiously), you can see if we're available to chat and just click on that button to Skype with us. Until then, feel free to add us on Skype. Our handle is SFSwains and we have embarrassingly few contacts.

Now, this is a trial run. If any of you (ahem, Mom) start getting crazy about this or stalking us online, just waiting for us to sign on for one second so you can inundate us with questions about how we're eating and if we're being safe, we'll remove the button as fast as you can say, "When are you coming home?" Consider this your warning.

June 20, 2012

Did You Know I Went to Russia?

I did. And it was so fun!

(Side note: Tom visited Russia over 10 years ago on a backpacking trip with a buddy, so it's somewhere we've both visited, but not together.)

I'm going to give a quick and dirty rundown of the events of September, 2011, when I visited Moscow with 2 girlfriends and a guy friend (boyfriend? Why isn't there an equivalent word that doesn't imply dating? Bro?). But, if you want an exhaustive play-by-play, which I highly recommend, check out Lauren's posts: Part Adeen, Part Dva, Part Tri and Part Chetyre (That's one, two, three, and four for you non-Russian speakers. You can also count these posts in the voice of The Count, who is not Russian but is European and mysterious.) You can also see all of my Russia pics here.

So, how did I end up in Russia? As you'll read over at Lauren's blog, Food, Shoes, Booze, our friend, Rosley (that's her last name, but that's what we call that's what you should call her, too), has been obsessed with Russia for a long time. I don't really know why and I'm not sure there really is a "why." She just has been. She's taken Russian language classes, Russian history classes, and she is always spouting out random factoids about the Motherland. I'm always interested in visiting new places, but I can't say that Russia was ever at the very top of my list. But, when the opportunity came up to go for very cheap (thanks to airline pilot friends and Rosley's employment at Holiday Inn), I signed up for a week in Moscow with Lauren, Rosley, and our other friend from college, Ian.

Second side note: Lauren takes pictures of everything on trips...the food, the pillows in the hotel, toll people. I'm not kidding. So I apologize that her posts on the trip are certainly more entertaining than this will be. But I'll try.