Sunday, August 1


I've decided to embark on a 31-day exercise in discipline. Recently, it's dawned on me that the longer I consider 'what to do' - the longer I'm not doing much of anything. I've always wanted to learn how to play write something cook really practice grow a garden...the list goes on. This month, my intention is to practice asana for (at least) 10 minutes a day and meditation for 5 minutes. Fifteen minutes each day that is totally self-indulgent and self-exploratory. I've always had an active mind and attention that doesn't rest fully very often or for very long. I know that it's possible to train my mind and my body to do nearly anything I decide I want to do. So it begins today - no more excuses.

Though I'm trying not to 'expect' anything from this little journey, I can't help but feel like it'll be more difficult than it sounds. I hope to chronicle my challenges and successes here - and will do the best I can to reflect on these things as they unfold. But I will also do my best not to judge myself if I fail to do that. First, I begin with the discipline of asana/meditation. Perhaps even these two commitments are an ambitious beginning - we'll see!

Sunday, August 16

Kuta, Bali.

It’s the first time I’ve traveled abroad during ‘peak’ season. We’re in Bali in August – along with half of Australia, one third of France, one sixth of Japan and what seems like 10,000 other people from various Asian and European countries. No more of the near-empty beaches and restaurants of shoulder season. No more off-season bargainable rates. No more showing up without a reservation. The bombs that tore through the Ritz Carlton and Marriott in Jakarta last month have had no effect on the sun and sand seeking droves that descend on this tiny island during the month of August. Most people think of Bali as the quintessential ‘tropical island paradise.’ If you’re spending US$500 a night and have an infinity pool obscuring the private crystalline white sand beach that lies between your cabana and an endless expanse of ocean, you will probably continue to consider it just that. If you’re traveling on a budget and tend to veer off the beaten path, Bali – at least in August – is likely not your cup of java.

We arrive on July 29 to full rooms, crowded streets, and touts every few steps. Dolce & Gabanna, Hard Rock CafĂ©, Quicksilver, Starbucks, Levi Strauss and Co., RipCurl, and even Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. (among others) line the narrow, one-way avenues that make up Kuta. Every few meters is a restaurant promising fresh fish, authentic Mexican food, wood-fired pizza, Cornish pasties or the coldest beer in town. Spaces between are crammed with small storefronts selling ‘traditional Balinese crafts’ – what at first appear to be unique wood-carvings and fabrics soon become pile after pile of tourist-trap items, hot off the assembly line. I imagine a monstrous, black smoke belching factory – most likely in China – that spits out all of the ‘crafts’ that fill the shops of every tourist-laden market in Asia. It’s an ugly idea, and I try to squelch it with the notion of a squatting, dark-skinned man wittling away for hours outside his thatch-roofed hut. But the piles of cock-shaped bottle openers (wooden, no doubt) I pass every few minutes make this task supremely difficult.

We finally find a vacant room at US$30 a night – what is more than an entire day’s budget over the last five months. Discouraged by peak-season rates, but thrilled by the presence of air-conditioning and a pool – we unpack our bags and crash for the night on a real spring mattress– exhausted from sixteen hours of travel and the remnants of my most recent bout with ‘digestive complications.’

We spend two more days and nights in Kuta (find a room the next day for half the $) – clouded in a blur of overstimulating sidewalks, abominable traffic, overpriced food, clubs thumping until 4am, and a seemingly endless sea of people on the beach and in the water hoping to catch the perfect wave. If not for the need to fix yet another camera problem (mine ceased turning on a couple weeks ago), we would not be here. We don’t even go to the beach more than once – it being over-crowded with surfboard-wielding bros and bettys that are here to party and show off every possible fraction of bare skin acceptable in Westernized countries. I’ll admit I’m a little surprised and slightly offended by this – recognizing the alteration of my perspective from the past five months spent in conservative cultures. It’s nice to be able to wear a sleeveless shirt without feeling too bare – but I’m not ready to let it all hang out.

So far, Bali is not the relaxing tropical paradise I’ve always envisioned. We’re going to try to find it over the next few weeks – but for now, I’ve seen enough skin, Bintang koozies, and KFCs to last me a lifetime. I’m starting to wonder if monsoonal rains might have been a better, more authentic experience.

Sunday, July 12

Borneo: First Impressions

Traveling and writing seem like activities that go hand-in-hand. Turns out, it's very difficult to keep up with posting these blogs! Every day, I think - I have so much to write about, I need to post a blog - and then I realize how much has happened that I haven't written about and feel like I need to catch up and get frustrated and end up not writing anything. Or - the battery is dead on the computer and we don't have the right adapter to plug it in. Or - I haven't checked email in so long that when I go online I spend the entire time sorting through my inbox. Or - there's so much happening I literally can't write for a while. All these 'excuses' - eh? Tonight, I've decided to skip the past six weeks or so that I haven't written about yet - trekking in Nepal, climbing and beaches in Indonesia, etc. - and share my first impressions of Borneo.

For those of you who only heard of Borneo when a season of 'Survivor' was filmed here - it's an island off of the SE Asian peninsula that is home to states of three countries. Kalimantan, Indonesia takes up most of the island - Brunei is one of the smallest countries in the world and occupies the space between two Malaysian states - Sarawak and Sabah are somewhat autonomous, but still part of the Malaysian Republic. We decided to fly to Kota Kinabalu and spend about 18 days in Sabah - climbing rocks and a volcano, snorkelling, maybe diving, and seeking out some of the rarest flora/fauna in one of the richest areas in the world in terms of biodiversity.

These activities - as well as the references you might have heard regarding Borneo as a place where undiscovered species of plants and animals are continually found - might lead you to believe that the island is exotic, uninhabited, and almost entirely wild. At least, that's what I expected when we booked the ticket.

My first impression: Borneo is more like the USA than any other place we've been in Asia. On our way out of Kota Kinabalu today, I saw more townhouse-style condominiums than the East side of Seattle! There are big trucks and SUVs everywhere - guzzling down Esso, Shell, Mobil, and a few other Asian brands of gasoline. We've seen Starbucks, Pizza Hut, 7-Eleven, Dunkin' Donuts, McDonalds, Burger King and about a dozen KFCs in the past two days. And tonight, we went looking for an adapter (we didn't know outlets are different here than in the rest of Asia) and found one in a store that very much reminded us of - dare I say - WalMart!? It wasn't quite as big - and thank god, WalMart hasn't actually tainted this 'exotic' island yet - but still, I have been not-so-pleasantly surprised by the degree to which this area has been developed.

That being said, we've only been here about 24 hours and stayed in cities both nights (there are 'cities' on Borneo!?!?). The bus ride across the island today was beautiful - Mount Kinabalu (the highest point between the Himalaya and Papua) and acre after acre of palm forest. Sometime in the next weeks, we'll visit orangutan and sea turtle sanctuaries, spend a few nights in the jungle looking for wildlife, and probably pay a visit to 30 newly-developed sport routes on an island just off the coast. We'll also be looking into a technical route up the massive chunk of granite that tops Mount Kinabalu.

So, I don't think we've even laid eyes on the surface of what Borneo truly has to offer. I'm really hoping we find a place that's 'away from it all' to spend some time here and experience the magic that 'Borneo' implies. But most of all, I hope we don't find that the magic is dissipating precisely because tourists like us keep coming to visit it!

Tuesday, June 23


The man standing by the truck is wearing all white – pants and a long tunic. He is slender and soft-spoken at first. We introduce ourselves and our bags are packed into the rear of the truck as we join a young man in the back seat. As the truck is steered assertively along a bouncy country road, we begin to know the driver and head of the ashram to which we are headed, Ramchandra.

The grass is blanketed with children as we pull into the yard. The headlights of the truck pierce the thick darkness of power-less, tropical night and cause the children to pick up their plates and scatter. We have just driven through their outdoor dining room and I feel a little anxiety in leaving the security of our vehicle. Though I’m sure they knew we were coming, I’m not sure what they’ll think about us being here.

We are shown to our room and told to come down for dinner as soon as we want. It’s a large room with windows on two sides, two short single beds with mosquito nets, a table, and simple wardrobe. There is an attached bathroom with Western toilet and shower – though it smells as if the toilet has never been flushed. There are toothbrushes and soap and long black hair in the drain – stoic images of elderly relatives line the wall above the table. We wonder whose beds we’ll be sleeping in.

Ramchandra’s mother is one of the first women we meet – and though she doesn’t speak much English, she tries to communicate with a huge, warm smile on her face. We are handed stainless steel plates and stand in queue for rice, dhal, potatoes, and chapatti. Ramchandra’s diet requires more simply prepared food and as guests, we are offered some of his steamed greens, as well. The food is deliciously straightforward and we will eat it twice a day for the duration of our stay.

We learn there are about fifteen adults and thirty-five children that live at this ashram. Ramchandra ran away to India and lived an extremely difficult street life as a child. He eventually educated himself and began studying the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, a teacher who believes strongly in the discipline of hard and selfless work. Ramchandra began an ashram just outside of Kathmandu about 17 years ago that is now producing its own goods to sell and purchase the materials it needs to operate a meditation/yoga centre, school, and guest house. This land on the Terai plain in southern Nepal was purchased a few years ago and he has envisioned building a self-sustaining community here, as well.

The people that live and work here do so free of charge – and everyone contributes. The land is farmed, animals tended, and meals cooked in seemingly perfect harmony. The children have all come from difficult circumstances – some with their mothers/families. For many, this is the first time they’ve had consistent nourishment and any sort of formal education in their lives.

The main building is less than two years old – and money ran out before the third floor could be finished. The first floor is communal – with space for cooking and serving, food storage, and dining in the rainy season. The second floor is lined with rooms for the children and ‘suites’ for the adults – including hallway bathrooms for the children to use at night, but which are locked during the day so that they have to use the composting toilets outside. The third floor is half completed – it lacks windows, doors, furnishings – and this is where the children attend school. A chalkboard leans in the corner of a large room with thin carpet fragments covering the cement floor; notebooks are piled in the corner next to the chalkboard. There are no other books, pencils, or papers of any kind – no chairs or desks – no glass to keep the weather out.

Everyone is up by five o’clock in the morning. Breakfast is prepared (the same rice, dhal, chapatti combination as dinner with slight vegetable variation) and ‘chores’ are completed. By the time we make it downstairs, the children have eaten and begun working. A young French man has been living here for a few months and he is helping to physically build Ramchandra’s vision, also studying the natural environment and its medicinal properties. While looking through the jungle a couple days ago, he discovered the seed pod of a certain tree that contains a really sticky, clear substance. Everyone thinks they might be able to use this substance as a form of glue – so today they are harvesting it. These particular trees on their property have been climbed by some of the older (eleven year old) boys wielding sickles and they are hacking off the branches while younger children drag and carry the fallen ones across the fields to the barn. A large pile is forming and being sorted through by the older girls and adults – the pods being pulled and thrown into buckets – the branches being broken down to compost. The children think it’s funny when Dan and I try to help and I sense uneasiness from the adults. We want to help - they want us to feel honored as guests.

Ramchandra takes us for a walk and shows us the property, sharing his ideas for development. A meditation center was the first thing completed – indicating the central strength and importance of faith. It is a circular building surrounded by gardens of trees and flowers and grass. Tonight, we will practice meditation with them – hear readings from Sri Aurobindo’s writings and songs/chants created by fifty harmonious voices. He will lead tonight’s practice in English, Nepali, and French so that everyone has the opportunity to hear the passage’s message. We will sit quietly in the darkness of nightfall with incense wafting through the open air and understand a little bit of these people’s lives.

The property is primarily farmland – rotating between corn, rice, and wheat – also gardens of other vegetables and trees of mango, banana, plum and lychee. (If you have never eaten a ripe, juicy lychee directly off the tree and warm from the afternoon sun – I highly recommend it!) There are about ten cows and a bull or two – the milk and curd we eat couldn’t be fresher. Their dung is collected and processed into compost with human waste and other natural materials. Ramchandra has purchased a couple pieces of machinery to help with the farming and harvest – so a garage is being constructed to shelter them from the upcoming rain. There is a building across the yard from the main house that accommodates the wood fire kitchen – and I will enjoy watching the production of tonight’s chapatti there later this afternoon.
There is no other word to describe this place than ‘organic’. Life here is about as basic as it gets – no phone, intermittent electricity, simple furnishing and methods of preparing the food that was produced on this land and by the hands of the people who are consuming it. The process of living is repeated in cycles that coincide very naturally with the cycles of days and seasons in the year. The quiet, simple serenity is refreshing for our battered psyches.

We decide to stay only two nights. We don’t feel like now is the time for us to be here – though we will consider spending more time here in the future. There is a lot of work to be done and the more people to contribute, the better. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to visit this place and will take many elements of this existence with me – the reality of people living harmoniously with each other and with nature. It’s interesting to think that we are in one of the ‘underdeveloped’ countries of the world – learning and witnessing a far greater understanding of meaningful life than we find in ‘developed’ places.

A raucous bus rolls through the early morning and jolts us back into the reality of this traveling life. We have many days to live through on the road to ‘recovering’ from India – and this might have been a swing too far in the other direction for us at the moment. Dan is anxious about his camera and we're so close to the Himalaya we can feel their presence looming in the distance. We will ride into the Kathmandu valley feeling much better about life and our place in it, ready to do some laundry, and eager to get into the colossal mountains that surround us.

** For more information about this ashram and Ramchandra’s work, go to – and if you’re traveling through Nepal or looking for a place to spend some time restoring balance in your life or contributing directly to something meaningful, feel free to contact him by email – they’d be happy to have you! **

Oh - and it's right next to a national park and sometimes they have wild rhinos run through the property!

Monday, June 22

Border town.

I know, it’s been a long time since I posted again. It’s amazing how time gets away from me sometimes! I don’t even think I said anything about Nepal yet and we were there for a month – and are now on to Indonesia! Already, when I think back over the past couple months, our time in Nepal seems a bit overshadowed by our experience in India – and the prolonged experience of dealing with Dan’s broken camera. Perhaps this is a reflection of the dynamic between the two countries in a larger sense, too – Nepal trying to find its own way, but having immense political, financial, and social influence from India (and China) to negotiate as well. (This is too much for me to tackle here and I don’t know enough about it.)

We could sense the difference as soon as we walked across the border. The bus dropped us off about 100 meters from the big line, so we walked the last bit – and as we turned into the Nepali immigration office, we felt immediate relief. The guy behind the desk actually smiled at us! Quickly, we learned that we had forgotten to get our Indian visa stamped for exit. The guy at the Indian immigration desk 50 meters away grumbled, “Where are your bags?” as we approached. No smile. We explained our mistake and with a grunt, he stamped us free. We walked into Nepal for the second time and didn’t look back.

Border towns are an interesting phenomenon. No one stays very long, so no one really cares about them. The solid black line on the political map is blurred by the constant flow of people and goods. This transience attracts a breed of man that eludes the legal systems of the countries on both sides of the border. When you’re a tourist crossing the line, you draw the attention of these men.

We needed to find an ATM in order to by bus tickets. Our Indian rupees were almost gone and we let them run out since we were getting started in a new country anyway. We hadn’t really thought about arriving at the border in the heat of mid-day, hauling our packs around, trying to solve the transportation puzzle that defines overland travel, and needing to find money. At least we were two – I stayed at the bus station with the bags and Dan set out to locate those magic little pieces of paper that everyone seemed to want from us.

The bus station was hot, dirty and full of men’s leering eyes (same as India here) – there was something wet running past my foot, a mangy dog passed out behind me, and manic flies everywhere. I had to pee and couldn’t see any sort of public toilet (not unusual in the past 2 ½ months) – and couldn’t leave our packs anyway. I thought of Dave, our friend who was mugged at this crossing – lost his camera, cards, and some money. Time kept passing, my bladder nagged more urgently, and I started to become concerned with the length of time Dan had been gone.

Finally he returned, purchased our tickets, some snacks, and water – and released me to relieve myself. I could tell he was agitated and when I got back from the hole in the ground, he told me why.

Some might wonder why Dan was the one who went to find an ATM – the guy doesn’t have the greatest sense of direction, and we had just arrived in a new, unknown town. He was, however, the bigger and stronger of the two of us – so we figured it was safer for him to wander around. He asked a rickshaw driver where the closest ATM was – unfortunately, the driver couldn’t hear him over the rumbling din of hauling trucks and Dan had to repeat himself – “ATM?!” – even louder.

This attracted the attention of a young man nearby, who immediately came to Dan’s assistance. “ATM, this way,” he said – and started to lead Dan across the street. Now, we had decided to start over in Nepal – forget the mistrust that India had ingrained – our nature is to want to trust people and believe we all look out for each other. So Dan started to follow him, but instinct quickly kicked in and alerted him not to rely on this guy. He ducked into the lobby of a nearby hotel and asked the man at reception. Apparently, the ATMs in town were all in the opposite direction. And in the time it took Dan to communicate with the guy and understand him, the young man had found two friends and was waiting at the door.

Dan walked through the group of three on the way out and let them know he didn’t need their help – yet they continued to follow him. He dodged along the street and behind a line of trucks trying to lose them – but they persisted. He was starting to feel really alarmed – heart racing, temper flaring, heat pressing – and outnumbered. Instinct reached his right hand to his pocket and closed around the handle of his knife. With a quick about face, the blade flipped open and caught the afternoon sun. “What do you want!?!”

Fortunately, the guys were shocked by this gesture and dispersed. Dan continued on his way (via bicycle rickshaw) to four different ATMs before he found one that worked. When he returned to me almost 30 minutes later, his hands were still shaking.

I was in disbelief at first – and heartbroken. The biggest concern was obviously his physical safety – and that threat had been avoided. And it’s not that we would have lost anything – I had everything valuable back at the bus station, and Dan had very few rupees left in his wallet. Psychologically and emotionally, though, we were spent before this most recent test. After it, our resolve was totally exhausted.

The bus arrived twenty minutes later and removed us from the volatility of the ‘border town.’ As India drifted further away behind us, our spirits lifted and our tenacity was restored. We were almost ready for adventure again when the bus dropped us off on a stretch of dark road in the middle of a small, power-less town. A smiling face with inquisitive eyes granted me access to his phone in lantern light and I called the man who was to pick us up. While we waited, three different people offered us help, a ride, and a place to stay if we were abandoned. I don’t think people saw Western tourists very often in this town – we were finally ‘off the beaten track.’
We weren’t abandoned. And in a few minutes of dark, still night, a thread of our faith in humanity was restored by the friendliness of these few people.

** Charlotte – I know this is probably going to worry you quite a bit – please know that we are safe and well and this was an isolated incident! **

Wednesday, June 10

I'm an aunt!!

A few nights ago, I woke up shivering and having to pee really bad - but feeling really nice from a dream. I was with my sister and her husband and my new nephew when he was a few months old. He was smiling and cute with reddish blonde hair and a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. All I remember other than his face is saying to my sister, "It's amazing how such little creatures have the ability to reach right into your heart and wring some tears out."

It was about 1:45am in Ghorepani, Nepal at the time - we were on a trek through a portion of the Annapurna Conservation Area of the Himalaya. After I got up and used the bathroom, I looked out the window and saw clear sky for the first time since we arrived. I immediately woke up Dan, because across from us were the two largest peaks I have every laid eyes on. We were one night away from the full moon and the mountains were illuminated fully, with a backdrop of brightly twinkling stars. He took some photos and we both laid there quietly for a while - awed and unable to sleep with those peaks looming so close. My thoughts kept drifting back to the sweet, young face I had seen in my dream.

When we returned to Pokhara and checked email, I learned that my first nephew Miles had finally joined us (about a week late!). He was 8 lbs. 4 oz. and 21" long and as I read the date and time of his birth my mouth dropped open. Tears of happiness and sadness (for not being there with my sister!) were filling the corners of my eyes when I realized that he was born about 20 minutes before I woke up from my dream of him!!

Now, I've been coming to understand very strongly that we are all connected...but this amazes me. That I would have a dream of him just after his birth from halfway around the world makes me feel a little less far from home. Of course, I really can't wait to meet him - but we'll probably be home by the time he is able to remember us anyway. At least that's what I tell myself to feel okay about missing it.

The other cool thing that I realized - it was June 6th in the USA when he was born, so that is officially his birthday. However, it was June 7th here in Nepal - so Miles is going to have a special birthday with his Aunt Lisa for the rest of his life!!

Monday, June 1

Residual India.

After three months, we are finally ‘settling in’ to traveling life. We talked for many months about spending a year abroad, without really thinking about what that would actually mean. The romanticism and anticipation of adventure overshadowed the emotional, psychological, and physical stress of our daily lives as nomads – and only now are we beginning to understand how our expectations have been fulfilled and disappointed, how our bodies have been strained, and how to endure and handle the constant barrage of tests we face.

In another ‘careening down the mountainside’ type of event, our lunatic bus driver sped through 5km of unfinished road that was littered with piles of materials and potholes. After being tossed around for about thirty minutes in the middle of the night, the bus finally dipped into one fateful crater. The back wheels were under our seats – and as they crested the far edge of the hole, everything on the bus was launched over a foot in the air. Dan cracked his head on the overhead bin, a sleeping child plummeted to the floor, and the unassuming camera bag came crashing down into the aisle. Through the roar of the engine and the moaning and creaking of the beaten bus, I felt silence as I turned to Dan. He bent down and picked up the bag in slow motion. As it rested on his lap, he turned to me and said, “I don’t even want to look.”

Sure enough, the lens had snapped – virtually in half. Torrential emotions shook both of us through the remainder of the ride, and when we arrived in an unknown city at 3:30am in the middle of a pre-monsoonal downpour, the driver shrugged his shoulders at our fate and yelled at us to get off the bus. Adding insult to injury, our bags had been tossed in a puddle and as we bent to pick them up, the bus tore away – blasting thick, black exhaust in our faces.

Dan ended up sending the lens and camera body to a Canon repair center outside of Delhi, India. It took almost a week to communicate with an assistant manager there regarding our circumstances – the need for the repair to be expedited quickly and for the equipment to be shipped on to Nepal. The fix was estimated and completed within a few days – at which time we were told that they wouldn’t accept a credit card as payment and that we’d have to wire/transfer money directly into the company’s account. For five days, we scoured the city for an international money transfer service or bank that would make this transaction. We were online and on the phone with our banks in the U.S. – all of which declined to make the transaction (quoting too significant a risk). This coincided, of course, with the bank holiday here from Friday afternoon to Sunday, the change over from WaMu to Chase (online banking and banking in general were disrupted for three days), and Memorial Day weekend.

Ten days into our 30-day Nepali visa, we had yet to leave Kathmandu city limits. India, it seemed, was haunting us. We finally convinced the assistant manager to ship the equipment without confirmed payment – but with at least the payment details of Dan’s credit card. The time on our visa dwindled and the monsoon season loomed, but with six days to wait for the camera and tracking number in hand, we gratefully headed out to see if we could find some of these so-called mountains.

A great sense of relief and optimism washed through both of us as our bus maneuvered above the pollution-riddled cloud of the Kathmandu valley. I realized, with a faint sense of amazement, that it was the first time I had felt ‘relief’ in almost three months. Though the camera is still not physically in Dan’s hands, the opportunity for us to put India behind us is near.

The three weeks we’ve been dealing with this camera situation have ranged from intensely aggravated to mildly irritated to supremely discouraged – sprinkled with the humor of disbelief and the faith that we won’t be handling such relentless challenges for the entire year. The Nepali people have generally been welcoming and helpful. And in retrospect, the time we’ve been ‘stuck’ in Kathmandu negotiating this elusive transaction has provided us an occasion to decompress. Certainly, we knew we’d encounter difficult times in the course of our travels, but India – overall – was a harsh, taxing place. This is not to say we didn’t see things of remarkable beauty and experience moments of tremendous humility. However, I am just beginning to process it all and it will likely take some time.

In the meantime, we are set to receive the camera tomorrow. We’ll then go to Pokhara, from where we embark on a seven day trek through the Himalaya. Dan’s ankle is feeling pretty strong. Our bellies have had only minor complications. And we are finally feeling rested and ready to take on the next thing. Of course – we hope whatever it is will wait a few weeks!