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On the Road with Molly and Marisa
Sunday, 13 February 2005
Some final words from Molly
Mood:  loud
Topic: Asia Trip
We have uploaded a number of long-lost photos from India so check them out if it interests you. They are from the beginning of our India trip and will be in the bottom section of the album. We have also loaded the rest of our New Zealand photos so check them out too.

India Photo Album
New Zealand Photo Album

I feel like we have not written very much about New Zealand and I don't want you to get the impression that it was uneventful. I think that the lack of words is because the culture and sights are not that different than ours. With that said, they have some amazing landscape that just makes your mouth drop open. As far as culture goes, both Marisa and I have remarked how we feel like outsiders sitting among other English speaking tourists and the Kiwis. They have so much in common with each other and chat away. The English, Scottish, Irish, Australians and the N-Zeds (the New Zealanders pronounce the letter Z as zed - don't ask me why) with their tea (meaning a small meal - it usually does not include tea) ; breaky (breakfast); pies (just like a Swanson pot-pie, but they sell them everywhere - especially in "tea houses" which by the way is not a place focused on tea) ; posties (cute short name for postmen, they have cute little names for everything) ; uni (short cute name for university) ; and of course the Queen and her dumb family. They even include the Canadians - must be the Queen thing.

Our cycling trip was a real highlight of our NZ experience. We rode about 50 miles a day, which is much shorter than this summer, but the distance felt right. Going unsupported and carrying our clothes has given us a new confidence and sense of freedom. So much so that we rented bikes for two days in Central Otego and did an overnight trip on the rail trail there.

As many of you know, I am a big Philadelphia Eagles fan so Superbowl Sunday (Monday at noon for us) was a big event on our itinerary. We were in Queenstown and found a bar that was having a party and showing the game. The night before we noticed that our waitress was American and started talking. She told us that her roommate was a huge Eagles fan and let us in on where to go to watch the game. As I was waiting outside the bar at 11:30 am waiting for it to open (yes, I was the first one there to get the best seat), I saw a jersey boy coming down the street in a homemade Eagles shirt like the one that I had on. I had written Eagles with a magic marker on my favorite, but grayed and frayed T-shirt. He had a big smile, a beer in one hand and a twelve pack under is arm and was ready for the game. Despite the outcome, we had a good time and it was fun to be among a group of fans, and fun to watch all of those Americans on TV -- being American the glitzy intro, the halftime show, and the players and fans with their celebrations.

After the game, the opportunity finally came my way. I have been talking about Bungy jumping for a long time and was boasting before the trip that I would do it in New Zealand. Well all of our time in NZ and we had not come up on a jump site. On our way out of town we stopped at the famous bridge where it all began to watch the jumpers.

Well I had to do it! Click here to see a bit of the jump

The jump was terrifying! More than I had imagined. I thought that I would be able to enjoy the jump by assuring myself that it was safe, that I had a rope tied to my feet that would catch me. I repeated it to myself, over and over to no benefit.

If you have ever had a dream where you drive off a cliff or fall out of a window, and have woken up to a terrifying panic then you know how I felt. Except that I was woken from my real dream by a wet cold sensation on my head as it was submerged in the cold river, a nose full of water and a disorienting-nauseating-spinning-swinging-will this ever end-I'm going to throw up-upside-down dangle. Then once back on land, I threw up. Hey, but I did it so check that one off.

Now that we are back on US soil, the trip being over, I need to put some thought into some final remarks. Perhaps answer the questions of how have I changed, what have I learned about the world and myself.

I told Marisa a few weeks ago that I think that my mid-life crisis is over. She was as happy and shocked as I was, but it is true. While I have many questions about what I will do with my career and how I will get wherever it is that I am going. I have a renewed interest in "my next big thing".

I left the US feeling cynical and negative. Having a government that I disagree with and that discriminates against you can start to get on your nerves after a while. Smile.

When we started our trip, I was ready to say that we were from Canada for fear of backlash from people and because I was ashamed of how our country is acting globally. Now I see the US for our good and bad. It is funny isn't it? Most people who come back from a trip like this would say something similar, but they would mean that they now see the wrongs we have done - being that they were in the mindset that we don't do wrong. I am just the opposite.

This trip has made me very patriotic. Don't worry DC gals, not in the "these colors don't run" kind of way. We have a lot to improve in our system and the way we practice government and politics but we have some great traditions and a good base system to start with. I ended the trip by telling people I was American and being proud of it. Proud enough to claim it for the good things and the bad things.

The other day I convinced Marisa to get out of the hot afternoon sun and go see a movie. The only thing showing was an overly patriotic firefighter film. While the movie was pointless, I enjoyed the Baltimore scenery and the African American characters. It reiterated the fact that we had not been around any black people for a long time. It occurred to me how unique their history is and how uniquely American they are. There are Asian immigrants in many places around the world (I realize that I am lumping them together) , and European people have migrated around the globe; these immigrants have a similar story to tell. Black Americans story of slavery is unique and special. While I'm sure that most black folk would rather not have that history. We saw many examples of black American culture making it's way into other societies. The Thai kids in Bangkok with their pants hanging low and hats turned sideways, the new fusion Indian rap songs are two examples. The movie made me miss them even more. I also miss Latino people; the Mexican, Central American culture and food that are so much a part of American life. These people make me proud to be American.

Before this trip my view of the world was very narrow, though I did not know it, nor would I admit it. While talking to people who had traveled and hearing them say "you have to travel to really understand", I would nod my head in agreement but inside think them to be arrogant. "Why couldn't I understand? I am open-minded and smart." But now I understand what they meant. A change in geography does give you a different view. Now I have seen two sides of the world. Unfortunately, I still in the dark because the world has many more than two sides.

Marisa and I have discussed several times how different our experiences, comments and feelings would have been had we done the trip in a any other order. How differently we would have handled India. WOW! If we were off to India now you would gave a much different impression from us. As we look back at India now we look with high regard. While you may not have been able to tell, we loved the time we spent there and want to return someday to see other parts of that large country. I have a new appreciation for the amazing temples and historical forts that we saw there. The really are some of the most beautiful treasures in the world.

This trip has given me a new love for world travel and adventure, and I know that I want to make it part of my life. With this said, right now I feel a strong draw pulling me toward couch travel, adventure coffee shops, supermarket trekking, family visit safari and extreme web surfing.

Our trip: 144 days
Northern India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand

Our transportation: horses, elephants, camels, scooters, motorbikes, motorcycles, cycles, sailing boats, junk boats, long-tail boats, speed boats, basket canoes, sea kayaks, moto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, the back of a pickup truck, buses, trains, planes.

Thanks for reading our Blog, adding your comments and sending us E-mail. We spent many hours in Internet cafes writing and hoping for feedback. We will leave this site up for a few more months and may choose to write a boring entry about our job and home search. Yawn.

I think Marisa will be writing in the next week about her final feelings, so come back soon!

Please email us at the addresses at the bottom of http://marisaandmolly.tripod.com to let us know what you are up to and how we can reach you.
Love,
Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 7:32 PM EST
Updated: Sunday, 13 February 2005 8:20 PM EST
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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Mt. Cook, Milford Sound, Fiordland and More
Mood:  happy
Topic: Asia Trip
Well in just two days we will be departing beautiful New Zealand for our multiday trip back to the US. We'll save reflections and final comments for once we're back on our home soil. For now, we'll highlight some of the incredible places and activities we've been lucky to experience over the last ten days.

Working backwards...

Today we wrapped up our travels with perhaps the perfect ending -- a two day self-contained bike trip on the Otago Rail Trail. Over the past two days, we have been weaving our way back into the deep countryside, over mountains, between gorges and through tunnels following the old Otago railway line which has been converted into a 155km dirt bike path. Just us, our bikes, the sheep, the deer and the open, windswept landscape. No cars, no people, just the incredible vast, open, empty space that New Zealand is famous for.

The bike ride was the perfect medicine for Molly who was recovering from her jump off a bridge after her team, the Philadelphia Eagles, lost in the SuperBowl. She was of course attached to a bungy cord when she jumped...but nonetheless, she claims it was terrifying. Poor thing, she threw up three times after her jump. Maybe it was the six beers she had while watching the SuperBowl -- which we were lucky enough to do in the good company of a group of young Americans (hard core Eagles fans) who are living and working in Queenstown.

Queenstown is no doubt the center of all things adventure and the perfect way to spend hundreds of dollars in a matter of minutes. A perfect example was Molly's and my paragliding trip we took. Up the mountain we drove, to the point that Queenstown was just a blurred image in the distance and the grand Remarkables mountain range was at about eye level. We then got strapped to our guides and led the way as we literally ran off the side of the mountain only to be caught by our chute and lifted up with the air thermals to float over the mountains and valleys below. Wow, a totally exhilarating experience. Our interest in paragliding came about in Thailand where we watched a documentary on TV about a NZ paragliding team attempting to fly over Mt. Cook (~ 12,000 feet). It just so happens that Molly's tandem guide on her flight was part of that very documentary and was one of the stand-in flyers when one of the main pilots got injured.

Adrenaline activities aside, we made our way out to Milford Sound. We were blessed with absolutely perfect weather -- sunny and warm -- a rarity in Milford where over seven meters of rain fall each year. The perfect weather conditions created an interesting dynamic inside the sound where the hot air rose creating a vacuum for a cool breeze to blow into the Sound from the Tasman Sea causing seas so choppy that our huge tour boat was being tossed about in what was essentially a protected body of water. As soon as we crossed out of the Sound and into the open Tasman Sea, the water was as calm as a lake. The landscape of Milford is in one word, breathtaking. Everything seems so exaggerated, from the sheer steepness of the cliffs to the hight of the waterfalls and of course, the blue-green color of the water. Definitely a place worth going to. We picked the final cruise to go out into the sound at 4:30 PM which was perfect as we literally had the sound to ourselves -- no other boats out on the water -- perfect for photography. We then spent the night at the only place to sleep in the Sound area -- the Milford Lodge -- a small, no frills place which only has power during the day. Sleeping in Milford enabled us to experience other parts of the Fiordland National Park -- such as the lush rainforest in the Tutoko Valley. 99.9% of tourists who visit Milford pop-in for a 2-hour cruise and then head straight out since there really is nothing there but the boat launch and a restaurant. Staying the night at the lodge is well worth it.

After Milford, we headed to Te Anau which is the starting point for Fiordland National Park and many of the famous great walks. Molly and I did the first leg of the Kepler Track as a day hike. It is a simple, non-technical trail that follows the Waiau River through beech and manuka forest.

Last but certainly not least, was our stay at Mt. Cook. All I can say is wow. This is a must-see part of New Zealand. Yet again, we had perfect weather -- sunny and in the upper 80's. The greatest part of the Mt. Cook village is that you are nestled in at the foot of the huge mountains making them super accessible. From every vantage point, you can see huge snow capped mountains and icy blue glaciers. We walked down through the Hooker Valley along roaring, grey-silt filled glacial rivers to huge glacial lakes with big pieces of ice floating in them. There were even a few hikers brave enough to take the plunge into the icy waters. We, however, were not so brave. Just putting my feet into the water for ten seconds made the nerves and bones in my feet ache to the point of near nausea. For those of you not willing to stay at the no-frills YHA (Youth Hostel), there is the famous Hermitage Hotel where rooms start at close to $400 a night.

We have photos of all of these places, and yes, even a video of Molly's bungy jump which we'll load once we return home. We'll update the blog when everything has been posted to view.

Until then, Molly and I are going to get very well acquainted with 747s, airplane food, and time zones over the next few days.

Bye for now.

Marisa and Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 3:38 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 9 February 2005 3:45 AM EST
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Wednesday, 26 January 2005
New Zealand - Sweet As!
Mood:  bright
Topic: Asia Trip

** New Photos of New Zealand (N. Island) Are Ready to View, Click Here **

=== Molly speaking ====

Our time in New Zealand has been a trip back to the world that we know. From Asia to a British-baby has taken us closer to home. This is ironic considering that we are further from home than we have ever been. Just to let you know how far: when you all were cheering on the Eagles to the NFC Championship on Sunday afternoon, we were cheering them on to inevitable victory at 11am on Monday morning.

Most of the population in NZ is white and are descendents from a country in the United Kingdom, but there is a native population of color called Maori who live mostly in the North Island. This is certainly not like home for us, coming from DC where we are used to living with diversity, but New Zealand does have a growing population of Asian immigrants who live mostly in the cities.

People are nice.. of course.. people are nice all over the world, but our first week or so seemed to be plagued with miscommunications and terse interactions with New Zealanders. We seem to have gotten over all of that - slowing down our speed, changing our tone, and developing an ear for the Kiwi accent, and now we are having a great time learning about NZ politics, social issues and culture from our many inn keepers.

This is the country of French fries, that is chips, or even a wedge. Wedges are different than a fry of course but who is keeping score when it comes to huge bowls of fried potatoes with large dollops of sour cream on top. Now you may think that I am in heaven, and I have to say, I am a fry expert ever since my childhood days of collecting McDonald's fry bags in my sock draw, but I'm kind of over them. Too much already. No matter what kind of restaurant you go to, or what level of fancy, you can get a bowl of wedges. Now Marisa would say that our rejection of the fry is because of the quality of the "Tomato Sauce" that is rationed out with each order. Marisa always says "French Fries are just a vehicle for ketchup"; and since the ketchup has a brown tint and is only available by request and sometimes at an additional price - - well, what's the point?

I will let Marisa tell you the details of our travels, but a highlight for me was sea kayaking in the Tasman Sea in the Able Tasman National Park. We manuvered our kayak around a small seal colony and had the little buddies swimming right under our boats. We were lucky to have the best of weather while we visited Nelson and the Able Tasman and we spent our second day there hiking one of the famous tramps.

We are now on a two week cycling trip that is taking us from the east coast to the west coast and back again. Another coast to coast cycling trip - but this time a lot shorter! We used a NZ company that has planned the whole trip for us and has geared us up with bikes and panniers. They have supplied us with our route sheets for each day and have booked our accommodations for each night. While this is not the most luxury way of doing it, or the cheapest way of doing it - it is our most luxurious portion of our overall trip.

We are staying in very nice B&Bs and homestays. (pst. A homestay is basically a B&B without the business feel, or amenities... you stay in someone's house.) So far we have enjoyed it! Coming up the West Coast we stopped for a night in a little spot of a town - Punakaki - and stayed at a lodge with woodburning stove and a big wrap-around porch. We stayed with a great couple, Ian and Jan in Westport who had us laughing for hours. Breakfast lasted almost two hours because of our interesting conversations and enjoyment. Later while climbing Lewis Pass, we slept a night at a thermal resort in the mountains. We had a dip in the Japanese bathhouse and a good rest for our climb up the pass the next morning. We had a bright, lovely room in Hanmer Springs that had huge windows that looked out on the mountain. This is where we were visited Pheobe the cat in the middle of the night. She climbed in the window from the roof to say hello. The night before last we stayed on a sheep farm in the middle of the mountains. We were surrounded by 3000 baa -ing sheep who all have a unique voice and there own "something to say".

Tonight we are staying in a historic B&B that is in an old convent, and I think the ghost nuns are roaming the halls at night. We have three more days of riding that will take us back to Christchurch. I think that tomorrow night we are booked at an ostrich farm. How about that?

I will leave you with a few New Zealand phrases that we have picked up.

Good on ya!
Sweet As!
GO EAGLES!!

Regards, Molly

Ps. Actually the NZs could care less about American football. I added the Go Eagles. They are really into their rugby and cricket. I have my fingers crossed that we will be able to find somewhere to watch the superbowl. Marisa has turned her back on her New England roots and is rooting for the Eagles! Love overcomes all.

===== Marisa speaking =====

New Zealand is most definitely the land of open space and rugged and varied terrain. Having spent the past ten days crossing the south island from west to east we have seen a lot, and very close up. We began the cycling trip by taking the TranzAlpine train from ChristChurch, on the east coast, up over the Alps to Greymouth on the west coast. It was pouring rain and bitterly cold, so as we have often said to eachother during these travels -- it could only get better (India was the only place where it seemed it could always get worse!). We rode from the train station to our B&B -- approx. 2 km -- and arrived totally wet to the core. Our lovely host there, and most places, seemed unafraid of our wet, stinky cycling clothes and gracefully offered to do our laundry so we could have clean, dry clothes for our ride the next day.

The next two days we hugged Highway 6 heading north up the west coast. The climbs were steep and curvy often leveling out to incredible vistas of rugged cliffs and rough seas. One km we would be in green, lush rain forest and the next we would descend into a dry farm full of curious cows. We stayed in the towns of Punakaiki and Westport before heading inland to the small coal town of Reefton. Reefton reminded us of some of the small "has been" towns in our own western states we cycled through last summer, except Reefton is a little town (pop. 1000) proud of its history of having the first electric streetlight in the southern hemisphere. We stayed in an old cottage built in 1887 and restored to keep many of the old features. That night, the town was all bustling as the locals, and Molly and I, headed over to the town cinema to attend the "We Don't Know How Lucky We Are" tsunami fundraiser. It was totally organized and produced by local residents with all types of great entertainment ranging from dance troups to poetry to nuns singing "My God" (to the tune of My Guy) etc. In total, the community, which was nestled in the most idyllic little setting among the mountains, worlds away from SE Asia, raised close to $3000 for the Red Cross.

From Reefton we headed deep into the mountains to Maruia Springs -- a tiny resort with hot sulphur pools set amidst the mountains with no other towns for more than fifty miles in any direction. It is owned by Japanese, and so in keeping with traditional Japanese culture, the pools are gender segregated and mandatory no clothes. It was a relaxing way to rest our leg muscles to prepare for the next day's climb over Lewis Pass. The climb over the pass early the next morning was in thick fog, so we couldn't tell you what the view was from the top. Luckily we crossed the one-lane bridges (which are all over NZ roads) near the summit before any car came from the opposite direction, because no doubt they would not have seen us pedaling across. The rapid and steep decent led us into a bright and sunny valley on the other side where we were surrounded for the next several days of riding by rugged, dry mountains and turquoise blue rivers that flowed through slivers of the vast rock beds that carved the valley. We rested in the town of Hanmer Springs, which by my basic analysis looks like an incredible place to purchase property -- a small, but growing resort town going for an upscale appeal, consistent 12+% appreciation of property over the last six years (40%/year during their RE bubble), tons of open land and TONS of tourists discovering this hotbed. Anyone interested, I've got all the property listings in my bike bag. :)

From Hanmer Springs we spend two days climbing through the mountains in the hot, dry sun -- carrying all the food and water we needed on our bikes since there were no services for over 100 miles, just a basic farm stay and thousands of sheep -- to finally land at the Pacific Ocean in the town of Kaikura where we sit today.

Just three days of cycling left. While I know I was put on this earth to do a lot of things, one thing is for sure, I am always happiest when I am riding my bike.


Posted by marisaandmolly at 9:08 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 26 January 2005 10:02 PM EST
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Sunday, 16 January 2005
Cycling the South Island
Mood:  not sure
Topic: Asia Trip

Greetings from Greymouth on the west coast of the South Island. Molly and I took the TranzAlpine train over the Alps today from ChristChurch to Greymouth in the pouring rain. We are all geared up with our bikes and fully packed panniers. We begin our trip tomorrow and will be on the road in small towns for the next 13 days, so we will be offline for most of this time. We'll write all about the ride when we finish on January 31. We'll also tell you all about our trip up to the Abel Tasman National Park where we hiked and kayaked, and point you to our photos of the North Island.

Until then...be well.

Marisa and Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 11:43 PM EST
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Saturday, 8 January 2005
New Zealand -- The Beautiful North Island
Mood:  bright
Topic: Asia Trip

(We added more photos to our Vietnam album, and have added captions to all the pictures if you want to revisit that album)

For the record, we'd like to correct a bad rumor that seems to be floating around the travelers' network -- both budget and non-budget: That is, those traveling to New Zealand should head straight to the South Island and skip out on the North altogether. We wholeheartedly disagree. Of course, it does depend on how much time one has for traveling to NZ, but from what we have seen and experienced over the last week -- the North Island of New Zealand is stunningly beautiful and *should* be on the itinerary!

Molly and I are having an amazing time in NZ, just shocked at the prices. (I just looked out the window and it is downpouring...let's hope our tent doesn't leak!)

We picked up our car on January 3 and headed north to beautiful Gulf Harbour where we picked up our warm clothes and camping gear which we had mailed to my friend Cynthia's parents' house. We spent a lovely afternoon at their beautiful home overlooking the harbor eating a wonderful home cooked meal, touring the back nine holes of the championship golf course which their house overlooks, and getting great advice of places to visit in the North.

That evening, Molly and I headed up the east coast of the N. Island stopping first at Goat Island Marine Reserve. Very beautiful, mountainous coastline. The next day we headed north to the famous Bay of Islands and stayed in the historic town of Russell -- kind of like an old New England coast town. It has the oldest hotel in NZ and several other "oldest" things. They also signed the famous treaty of Warangi (sp?) between the Maoris (the NZ natives) and the English crown re: land issues etc. in 1841. For Molly's birthday we went sailing on a 46 foot sailboat and kayaked in the Bay of Islands off of the boat. We also hiked on one of the islands and had a panoramic view of the Bay and the Pacific Ocean. On the way back to Russell, the sail boat was leaning so far! Molly and I were on the front of the boat with a German tourist and the waves were crashing over the front of the boat soaking us. We had to lay down flat and hold onto the railing not to slide off!!! But our captain has been sailing for years and brings that boat to Fiji each year in the big open water, so I figured 25 knot winds and some choppy bay waves were nothing to him. So I felt safe. :) We camped in Russell for two nights -- it cost 34 dollars to pitch a tent per night! Crazy. It's is beyond expensive here. Then we continued on to the west coast to the famous Kauri Forest -- trees are close to 1000 years old and have a circumference of 40+ feet! It poured rain for two days so we got a tiny little cabin at the campground nestled in the Kauri Forest. We bought some fresh veggies and tofu and made a healthy meal. yum! It was fun to cook. The next day we drove all the way from the Kauri Forest (upper west coast) down to Auckland and then continued on to the famous town of Rotorua. It is famous for geo-thermal activity -- like our Yellowstone National Park. The whole town smells like sulphur. We hiked around a lake, visited redwood forests, learned about Maori culture (saw a live performance) and stayed at a wonderful B&B -- more like a homestay. The house was called Excalibur and so everything had an old English feel to it -- very King Arthur-esque. The hosts were so sweet and the wife cooked the most amazing breakfasts -- literally the size of a king's meal. We couldn't finish our plates either day -- it sure beat the instant oatmeal we'd been having at the campground. :)

The driving has been fine. The roads were far more challenging in the northern part of the N. Island with constant sharp curves and endless up and down mountains on narrow two lane roads. Our 1.3 liter car doesn't like the hills too much. But the driving has been flatter and the roads a bit wider south of Auckland. We're sharing the driving and getting used to the million+ rotaries and of course the left hand driving. Though I do have to admit that I did get into the left hand side of the car the other day, put my seatbelt on and realized there was no steering wheel in front of me. Oops.

On Monday we fly to the South Island, to ChristChurch. We will then take the bus north to Nelson and then on to the Abel Tasman National Park -- supposedly one of the most beautiful! Of course, like everywhere the prices for tours are insanely expensive ($360 per person to kayak for 2 days and one night with camping) so we plan to rent kayaks on our own and paddle for one day, and then do a day hike the second day.

We've starting to see a lot more cyclists on the roads -- weighted down with lots of pannier bags and it makes us nervous! Our bike trip starts in just one week.

We hope you are all well. If you haven't donated yet even just a small bit of money to the tsunami relief effort -- please consider doing so. They need as much money as possible to come in the form of donations and not aid money that they'll have to pay back over time.

We miss you all.

Marisa and Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 10:43 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 8 January 2005 11:42 PM EST
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Sunday, 2 January 2005
A whole new you - in New Zealand
Mood:  spacey
Topic: Asia Trip
Many Australians are missing or killed by the Tsunami, so the news has been on the front page of the paper everyday. The tragedy is overwhelming. We wonder how much it is being covered in the US. We spent several weeks on the beaches of Southern Thailand and specifically several days on Phuket and Kho Phi Phi. It is hard for us to comprehend what Phi Phi island must look like now and what we would have done if we were there sleeping in our beach bungalow or having breakfast by the waves. It is interesting and proves true - no matter how you like to think that it is not - that you care more for the people and countries where you have visited or know someone of that nationality. Having been to India and Thailand, I am extra saddened by their losses. Please do what you can to help these people, what you think is right. Give some cash, if that is your thing; pray is that is your thing.


We are now in Auckland, New Zealand, after spending a wonderful week in Australia. It is hard to conceive that we are starting the final phase of our travels. Sydney was lovely and if it was entered into "THE MARISA AND MOLLY LIVABLITY TEST FOR THE ASSESMENT OF CITIES TO CALL HOME" (yes, we have a spreadsheet); it would score 100%! (but don't worry Phyllis [Marisa's Mom], Sydney is not on the contenders list because it is in Australia and we are American.


Sydney has wonderful weather and we are currently in their summer. It is surrounded by beaches and mountains and has cute walk-able, tree-lined neighborhoods. We explored the area by foot, train and bus. We were greeted in Sydney by our friend Alan and his wife Margaret. Alan was one of the Aussie's who joined us this summer on the bike trip and they were excellent hosts! They were so sweet to take us out of the city to the Hunter Valley for a 2 day trip. We stayed with some friends of theirs who own a hot air ballooning business and had the pleasure of an early morning balloon ride over the vineyards of Hunter Valley! Marisa loved it and could not stop smiling as we floated over the hopping kangaroos.


Returning to Sydney we then stayed at Alan and Margaret's home. Accommodations in Sydney on New Years Eve were hard to come and extremely expensive, and they were so kind to take us in. That morning they took us to Featherdale which is a wildlife reserve for Australian animals. Marisa petted a Kuala bear and a Kangaroo. Marisa and I took the train into the city for NYE and saw the fireworks over Darling Harbor. During our short stay in Australia, Alan and Margaret also took us to see the Sydney harbor, Manley beach, the US Olympic site, an Aussi Workman's Club, and much more. They were wonderful and we are very grateful!


Tomorrow we pick up a rental car - yes, I am nervous about driving on the other side of the road - and head on out to explore the North Island of New Zealand. We are excited. Today we walked around Auckland - the Sunday after new years - which means that every darn thing is closed (shucks). But we made the best of it, exploring the museum and parks. Marisa mentioned that the city reminds her of Anchorage, Alaska and I agree. If you think about it they do have a bit in common. More soon! Happy New Year and happy Birthday! Oops. Did I let that slip... That it is my birthday on the 5th. Bye


Love,
Molly


PS. Did we mention that we miss the prices in Asia? AHHH

Now that we are no longer in Asia and are now in counties that speak English, you would think that we would be able to communicate. But I will tell you that I have a hard time getting my head around that accent and all of those cutesy words. And I have been told - by a bartender who could not understand my order - that the feeling is mutual. Shrug. Allright Mate and Kia Ora

Posted by marisaandmolly at 12:49 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 8 January 2005 10:46 PM EST
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Sunday, 26 December 2004
Christmas around the world - Irony - Timing
Mood:  hug me
Topic: Asia Trip
We flew from Danang,Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand on Christmas eve day. Believe it or not Christmas was in the air in both countries. There are many Christians in Vietnam, and Thailand is into the commercial benefits. We decided to treat ourselves and stay at a non-budget-backpacker hotel for Christmas eve. We checked in around 7pm, assessed the restaurants and got ready for dinner. We looked almost normal because we both had nice blouses made in Hoi An and new shoes, so we were not wearing t-shirts and hikers. The hotel had a nice Mexican restaurant! MEXICAN! I crave it and we had not had a real corn chip since America. The food was great and the band was even better. They played Latino salsa and we had fun.

The next morning I woke to a gym sock hanging in the bathroom full of chocolate and a nice card. Marisa was really sweet to give me a Christmas. We went to the gym and then to the free breakfast. Now this is where it all goes wrong. Marisa started getting sick at noon so I asked for a late checkout. We were due to go to the airport at 3pm, so they let us stay. Marisa got sick about 5 times at the hotel and continued until we got on the plane at 5pm. She even puked in a plastic bag in the middle of the airport. That is when I kicked in. I got sick right before take-off and was sick multiple times during the 8 hour flight, choosing to sleep on the floor in the small airplane bathroom. We arrived in Sydney at 6:30 am ( 2am our time) and could not check in until 10am so we laid in a park. It is now 7pm on the 26th - 3am for you on the 26th - and we just emerged from our room for a quick Internet and maybe - maybe some food. I'm sure that we will feel better soon, but right now every part of the body hurts. Sydney seems incredible but we are a bit in shock by the prices, especially coming from Asia.

Irony: That hotel that served us the bad food was the most expensive place that we have stayed the whole trip!

Timing: We just saw that there was an earthquake in Indonesia that caused a tidal wave on the beaches that we visited in Thailand!

love,
Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 3:19 AM EST
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Sunday, 19 December 2004

Mood:  amorous
Topic: Asia Trip
First off - Today is December 20th - Happy Birthday to my sister Gina!

So we left Dalat in the best way possible. We rode bicycles. We signed up (at a price, sigh) for a two day cycling trip from Dalat to the coastal town of Moi Na. It was a great ride on beautiful roads through the mountains and then down to the dry flatlands and eventually to the coast. We were greeted by hundreds of "Hellos". Children laughing and jumping out of their bamboo huts; woman greeting us as they raked their coffee beans in the sun to dry; men cruising by on their motorbikes honking their horns to smile and wave. We seemed to pass through the villages when the school children were on their way home, looking sharp in their uniforms; the boys with blue pants, white shirts and red ties; the girls in similar outfits, or long asian shirts over slacks. All of the children wearing baseball caps and Pokemon backpacks.

Lots of kids on their bikes..some five sizes too big. We passed one young girl with her 16 month old sibling balancing Indian style on the rack. Another one had a 2 year old squeezing her eyes shut and holding tightly around her big sister.

The crops were well cared for and looked lush. The hillside plantations of coffee and tea were manicured by hand by women in conico hats and basket backpacks. As we moved into the dryer terrain, the fields were replaced by the jagged looking Dragon fruit trees. Eventually, we came to the coastal town of Mui Na and checked into a beach side bungalow style hotel. Twenty USD a night.. right on the beach and the weather amazing. We sat under a bamboo umbrella and watched kite-surfers hit the waves. This is a sport that basically attaches a parachute like kite to a snowboard. We watched one man that was very skilled and we saw him fly through the air, lifted by the wind.

Needless to say, we decided to stay an extra day in Moi Na, so we rented a motorbike and took off on a brand new road that meanders up the coast. This road was empty and hugged the coastline through the mountains and sand dunes.

We are now in Hoi An which is a lovely historic town that is famous for it's taylors. We were fitted yesterday morning for power suits, and returned in the evening for the first fitting. FAST. They are really well done and very inexpensive by comparison to home. We will be ready to get those jobs when we return. : )

-All the best
Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 10:08 PM EST
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Sunday, 12 December 2004
Happy Hanukkah from Vietnam
Mood:  special
Topic: Asia Trip
Hello from Dalat, Vietnam.
On 12/3 we arrived in Sapa by over night train. It was just ok. The beds were very narrow, the train very noisy. Once again, as I have on other train trips, I had nightmares of earthquakes. While I'm sleeping I dream that the house is crashing in, only to wake up and realize that it is just a very shaky, noisy train.

Sapa is a lovely village in the mountains of Northern Vietnam. The local hill tribe people still wear traditional clothing. All of it hand dyed fabric of Indigo blue. They grow the indigo plants and make the dye and all the women have stained hands and fingers. I began to refer to the packs of indigo clad teenage girls that would hang around the street to try to sell handicrafts to the tourists as the 'real indigo girls'. The weather in Sapa was just beautiful and reminded us of a nice October day in the Northeast! At night it became very cold so we retired early to our freezing cold hotel room to get under the blankets. We did two nice treks from Sapa out to some local villages and through lots of rice farms. Our guide was a 15 year old village girl name Chi. Four foot something and very sweet in her traditional clothing, modified by a pair of sneakers and a baseball cap. Marisa had a great time playing with the little girls in the street, as they love to hang on you and tell you how pretty you are.

Marisa and I have found a new activity that we enjoy. We go to the most expensive hotel during happy hour, have a drink and hang out. We go without our backpacks and try to look like we belong. We did it in Hanoi on our last day there after Sapa. We went to the Sofitel and played backgammon for several hours. : ) recently, we spent 3 hours at the Sofitel in Dalat playing chess. shrug..

Another fun thing that we did in Hanoi was Karaoke! The way it works here is that you rent a private room. That's right, just Marisa and I in a room that I think was someone's living room. We spent an hour going through songs to see which ones we could sing and which we could not. Marisa is particularly good at Laura Branagan's 'Self Control'. She can also belt out 'Lady in Red'.
=======

We are now in Dalat. This is a town in the Central Highlands that was founded by the French. It has some old buildings from that era. The weather is fabulous! Like an October day in DC and we are loving it but missing home. The original missionaries did really well here. They must have been over-achievers because Christmas is in the air. There are children in little Santa suits, trees on the corners and music in the air. While the town has its share of Budda statues and Pagodas, there are also churches and an occasional statue of Jesus or Mary.

We visited a lovely Buddhist Monastery and Meditation Center that we reached via a skycar. It was on a hilltop overlooking a peaceful lake. The lake reminded us of our bike trip this summer.
=========

So here is something that I have learned about the world.. and it is not what you think. Before this trip, I and others would say that I was going to learn about the poverty in the world and feel gratefully. So I was expecting to see poor children and people living in shacks. I expected to see things done by hand and traditional ways of life. So in the end, that was not my lesson at all! Not the new truth and understanding that I am taking home. I think that we all would have thought that this would have been our lesson. We as Americans assume that "3rd world" countries have these issues and live years behind us! Now I realize the arrogance and malarkey of it all. (I am not just pointing at you - I'm pointing at me, and I am just speaking from personal discovery and acknowledgement of my own arrogance) The real lesson, what I did not know about the world is that they are not behind us! That they are smart, driven, technically savvy, modern, funny, and guess what America... THEY ARE HAPPY! Just because they ride a motorbike or a bicycle, or because they wear traditional clothing, or because they snack on dried fish instead of dehydrated potatoes does not mean that they don't call home on their cell phone, chat on the net, follow the latest fashion trends, follow international politics and speak 3 languages. Because an Ox plows a small farm more efficiently than a $500,000 John Deer does not make them behind us.

So I have learned a lesson... sigh, and I am inspired. We have met so many driven people who work all day and take English lessons at night. I had lost that drive for improvement..Oh, I still wanted to get smarter and better but I was not willing to make a sacrifice for it. I was so comfortable that I got lazy. I figured that my life was good so why rock it.

I now plan to come home with a bit of their energy and spirit and a true appreciation for the small, small world that we live in.

And for you the rest of America.. We need to wake up. No wonder we are getting beat economically around the world. We have it so good that we get lazy and risk-adverse. We figure we have a good life, why rock it by taking classes on the weekend, or volunteering, or studying a new trade or new career.

Love you and miss you.. thanks for listening.
Molly

We rearranged our photos to make it easier. Follow the links below.
New India Photo Album
New Thailand and Cambodia Album
New Vietnam Album

Posted by marisaandmolly at 11:58 PM EST
Updated: Monday, 13 December 2004 1:24 AM EST
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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Greetings from Hanoi, Vietnam
Mood:  happy
Topic: Asia Trip
Greetings from Vietnam.

We arrived to the northern part of Vietnam five days ago and we are already enamored with the Vietnamese people and culture. Before we arrived, I (Marisa) was a bit nervous. This is the first non-democratic country that I have traveled to and I was unsure what to expect. Perhaps also the knowledge that America fought a long war here and eventually lost -- ceding to the communist north which reunified North and South Vietnam into a communist country. But after just a few days, it is so very apparent that not only is Vietnam a socialist country (not communist) but it is a bustling and prosperous country. Sure there are signs of communism -- the basics: the flag is red, the police and many other "official" people where army green uniforms which have a very military look to them, and the more significant: people don't own the land that they farm, they must rent it from the government and pay a portion of their profit to the state, and finally the most interesting...each day at 6:30 AM, the government run news agency broadcasts the days news over a speaker system through the streets of Hanoi - it includes domestic and international news, and the weather report. But each morning when I hear the broadcast, I can't help but imagine what this city-wide broadcast system has been used for in the past -- communist propoganda, war information etc.

These unique differences aside, we have noticed in our days traveling around the northeast region of the country that this nation is bustling. Everyone seems to be going somewhere, on their way to work, transporting goods, working on new construction projects, farming the fields, running shops -- Vietnam in summary shows a drastically different view than our experience in India, where day after day we saw hords of people simply standing around with nothing to do while the country seemed to barely be standing on its feet in terms of infrastructure and basic services for its people. Their is an odd sense of efficiency fostered by the communist background in Vietnam that seemed to be totally lacking in democratic India.

We spent our first day in Hanoi taking a self-guided walking tour through the old quarter. The small streets are bustling and overcrowded with motorbikes constantly screeming by with their horns blaring. It is not easy to walk in this city -- even though there are sidewalks on most streets, they are used as parking lots for all the motorbikes. Each street in the old quarter is named after the item that is currently or historically was made on that street, for example shoe street, sweater street, metal street etc. There is virtually no English except for on the menus and numerous tourism offices selling packaged tours -- however, because Vietnamese the language uses latin letters, and not characters, it seems as if we can read every sign and so we feel less lost trying to find our way around.

We spent three days in the famous Halong Bay -- a huge bay witb thousands of limestone grottoes as their called -- basically jagged, tall rock islands that jet out of the water like pinacles with no seeming connection to any other grottoe near by. It is a totally different type of mountain structure than anything I've seen in the west. Incredibly beautiful! The Bay is very touristy. When we arrived to the port town, there were hundreds of other tourists boarding dozens of traditional wooden boats -- called "junks" -- and it seemed as if we would be on a cookie cutter tour. We were pleasantly surprised when our boat seemed to be on its own route, seeking out quiet, more remote parts of the Bay. We docked up to a floating house in a floating village where each family sells fish from a series of floating docks attached to their tiny floating house. We also had the opportunity to hike deep into a village nestled among the mountains of Cat Ba island in the Bay away from all the tourism and all the people. We hiked to the top of one of the mountains and had a simultaneous view of Halong Bay and the tiny farming village nestled in the middle of this island. We booked our tour with EcoTours in Hanoi and we recommend them!

Tonight we will take an overnight train to Sapa in the mountains. There we will trek and visit some remote moutain villages. We had planned to visit Hue and Hoi An -- two of the most famous parts of Vietnam on the coast -- but the typhoon that desimated the Phillipines also took its toll on Vietnam and these towns have been under 3+ feet of water for several days now.

We hope you are all well and we will write more soon.

-Marisa and Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 8:26 AM EST
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Saturday, 20 November 2004
Timing
Mood:  lyrical
Topic: Asia Trip
There is this thing about travel that is very dependent on time and yet we have more time on our hands than we ever have before. Or wait, should I say that the thing is Timing - not Time. It is all in the timing: which bus you get on, which Tuk, what ferry, which Trek, cooking class, guesthouse, or restaurant. In this regard I consider us lucky and unlucky. With the India Trek we were lucky to be with such nice people, yet unlucky with the weather. We had bad timing to get on our particular bus to Siem Reap, yet good timing to be with the nice Spanish couple, English Boys, and to meet (English) Donna and Neal on the road and then again on the street in Phnom Penh. Our Trek from Chaing Mai Thailand had bad timing because we were mismatched with a group of young Irish boys and the rest of the backpacker lot. But not a bad price to pay for having met (German)Mark and Mathias on Kho Yai Noi, and then meeting (German) Betina and (New Zealand) Michael on the bus to Pai. Smiles. We also met a US Cyclist who rode into town as we were eating. Randel from Detroit has been cycling around Asia and New Zealand since last January and was a great inspiration.

We went for a one day Trek from Pai yesterday with Betina and two young American guys from Maryland. They were great company and both have a "secret apreciation" for orchids. It was a great hike and our guide Yi was a 4 foot tall walking machine. She lead us through two local villages where they were farming garlic and then the trip ended at a waterfall where every traveling hippy in town was hanging out and smoking.

On a personal side.. we are both doing well. Thailand has had decades of foriegn investment, and a fast growing economy. Because of this it is very easy to travel and tour but not easy to learn about the culture - or should I say that it is too easy to avoid the culture. I'm glad that we came up here to the mountains to do some treking and see some real life, though this town is crawling with matted haired, youthfull europeans and americans. Don't worry Phyllis, Marisa's hair is still the same, though I keep trying to convince her to let me roll it into one big lock.

A few weeks ago in Phuket, I got a hair cut and a dye job and am now back to a standard brown. Marisa was having trouble seeing with her old glasses that she brought, so she had a new pair made with her current perscription. SHE SEES! It is great and they look cute. Planning while on the road is kind of hard. We are trying to decide what to do tomorrow, while studing about Vietnam and schedualing activities in New Zealand. We are also going on 6 months of being together every day.. ALL DAY.. so sometimes get cranky, but we are learning alot! That 6 month thing is also a milemarker for wearing the same clothes! I am so sick of my clothes. Folks from the bike trip can apreciate the mind-dulling effects and the damage to self-confidence. ;-)
love ya.
Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 2:56 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 20 November 2004 3:12 AM EST
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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Trekking, Cooking, and Chilling in Chang Mai
Mood:  chillin'
Topic: Asia Trip

************NEW PHOTOS!!!**************

We have uploaded 200+ new photos of our time in Cambodia and Thailand. Click on the Asia Photos link on the homepage http://marisaandmolly.tripod.com -- the photos come after the India photos in the album.

***************************************

Greetings from the north of Thailand. We finally peeled ourselves away from the beautiful beaches and headed to Chang Mai in the northwestern part of Thailand. Chang Mai is a city of 1.6 million people and sits in the foothills of the mountains. It's a great place to relax and a very livable city. The locals are super friendly and we are enjoying just staying put and getting to know the local Thai life.

As part of our explortion of this region, Molly and I went on a three day, two night trekking trip up near the border with Burma to stay with mountain tribes. We booked it through our guest house, Libra Guest House (very organized and friendly, we highly recommend it!) We were with nine other westerners -- four guys from Ireland all traveling together for a year, two women and a man from England who all went to law school together and are traveling for their last long vacation before starting work, and two young guys from Seattle. While the group was nice, Molly and I definitely felt like outsiders. They were all between 21 and 23 years of age and were incredibly talented at staying up until 2:00 AM drinking locally brewed moonshine and keeping the village up with their graceful use of the word "f*ck" every other word. Nonetheless, we trekked through beautiful mountains: part lush jungle and thick bamboo forest and part dry, hot pine forest. At night we stayed in mountain villages where no electricity existed, but where most of the locals dressed in modern clothes. We all slept in a large bamboo cabin on stilts with locally sewn mats on the floor and mosquito nets suspended from the center beam. The bathroom was a tiny hut shared by several families with a squat toilet, a spicket with a concrete basin from which you used the same water to wash yourself as you did to flush the squat toilet (we're starting to get used to these toilets...sigh). We opted to use our wet wipes to "wash" ourselves and leave the spicket water for flushing only. At night it was so dark it was freaky, you couldn't see anything, not even your own hand in front of your face. I had a hard time adjusting to the total darkness as did some of the others. One of the Irish men woke up in the middle of the night not knowing where he was (a little too much moonshine) and needing to leave on his flashlight for about 15 minutes just to cope with the darkness.

As part of our journey, we floated down a river on rafts made of bamboo, using long bamboo poles to steer through the rapids. One of the rafts seemed to be sinking and several of our trekkers fell off and into the river, so the local guide had us all get off the rafts and he hiked up a steep cliff to cut down some huge bamboo plants that he then attached to sinking raft to make it a bit more boyant. We then continued for another two hours down the river. I sat in the middle of the boat holding onto a thick bamboo pole and let the rapids just wash over me -- Molly managed to stand the whole time and not get knocked off. The next morning we went for a elephant ride through the area outside the village and greeted the local farmers who were slashing and bundling grain. Molly and I laughed as our elephant kept stopping to eat off the trees and then proceeding to walk us through the branches as she got back on the trail.

The day after we returned, Molly and I took an all day cooking class taught by the cooking school
owned by our Guest House. It was amazing. We began by shopping with our teacher at the local market learning about the local ingredients we would use to cook our dishes. She had us sample some fruits and snack foods which Molly and I can now buy on our own on the street. We then returned to the cooking school, put on our chefs hats and aprons and began by using a mortar and pestal to make our own green curry. We learned all the secrets that I now realize my American cookbook lacks...for example Thai ginger is a totally different ginger from Chinese ginger a.k.a. common ginger and that one must not substitute them in a Thai dish, but rather just add more lemongrass. We told the school in advance that we are vegetarians and do not eat any seafood nor fish sauces -- fish sauce is the staple of almost any Thai dish...We were so happy that they made everything for us 100% vegetarian. And the best part was that each of our dishes tasted so incredibly authentic Thai even without the fish sauce. We cooked seven dishes and had three eating sessions throughout the day. At the end, they packaged up each of our leftovers and then stored it all in the kitchen back at the guesthouse so that when we want to eat a meal, we just go to the kitchen and pick what we want to eat and they heat it for us and provide us with plain
white rice all for 5 Bhat -- that's about 10 cents!

Last night Molly and I headed over to the soccer stadium for the FIFA (Soccer) Women's International Tournament being played throughout Thailand this month (we eventually learned it was the U-19 tournament -- Under 19, but it was still fun to watch). When we got to the door we said to the woman collecting tickets that we needed to purchase tickets. She just smiled at us and said, "Tickets?" and then proceeded to stamp our hands with a VIP stamp letting us enter the stadium for free for the entire evening -- 2 games worth. We watched Nigeria and Italy tie 1 to 1, and we left half way through the second game since Australia was beating Thailand 4 to 0.

So all in all, we're having a great time. We will be continuing on to Pai tomorrow, a small town in the mountains about 4 hours north and west of here.

xoxo,

Marisa and Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 1:46 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 17 November 2004 1:52 AM EST
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Tuesday, 9 November 2004
Island Hopping in Thailand
Mood:  happy
Topic: Asia Trip
Greetings from the islands of southern Thailand in the Adaman Sea. Sorry we have not written in a while. Let's just say that like many Americans, after the election we needed a vacation!

We flew from Phnom Pehn, Cambodia directly to Phuket island - sometimes referred to as the Cancun of the Thai beaches. We treated ourselves to two nights at a nice resort set among old growth jungle on a hill overlooking Karon Beach. On Tuesday, November 2 we searched for several hours to find a hotel with satellite TV so we could wake up on Wednesday morning and watch the election day evening coverage on CNN. In a way, we almost wished we hadn't, because it just made us even more depressed. At 1:00 PM (1:00 AM EDT in the US), we had to check out of our hotel to catch a ferry to another island, so we left not knowing the real outcome. But what followed the nightmare was a true gift that has brightened our travels immensely. As we got off the small ferryboat at the dock in Koh Yao Noi -- a small undeveloped island with small fishing villages and family run rubber processing shops -- we approached the only 3 other westerners who were on the ferry with us and asked them if they wanted to share a tuk tuk. We all hopped
on and we decided since we hadn't picked a place to stay that night, we would join these two German guys who had already identified a place. Well we really lucked out. We arrived at the small row of spartan bungalows on a fishing cove and decided to check in -- after all, for $9 a night, this would help our budget a lot. But best of all, Marc and Mattias, the two guys from Berlin have now become good friends of ours. Molly and I thought we would remain on this island just one or two days, but our friendship with Marc and Mattias made it too hard to leave, so we stayed for five days with them. We feel so lucky to have met them. Mattias, a PhD in business heading off to work at Booz Allen and I loved talking business. Marc, a nurse, who was wearing a Dolce & Gabana t-shirt the day we met him with the word, "Hedonist" on it, has the best smile of anyone -- yes it rivals Molly's -- and a heart of gold. They don't know this, but the morning we left them to continue to a new part of Thailand, I cried, because we had made such good friends and had to just leave and say goodbye indefinitely. This is the hardest part of traveling -- meeting new friends and then having to say goodbye to maybe never see them again, or at least not for a long time. But Molly and I are sure that we will be making our way to Berlin soon.

Oh I can't forget to mention the highlight of Molly's time on Koh Yao Noi...she got to rent a motor scooter and ride around the island! And I did pretty well as a passenger, much to my amazement. We spent the time on the island hiring a local long-tail boat and hopping to small remote islands to snorkel and relax. At night, we hung out at the small restaurant at our bungalows and ate yummy yellow curry and vegetables, drank local beer out of a can, and played a fun German strategy game that Marc and Mattias had brought. Life on Koh Yao Noi was great.

Now we are on the island of Koh Phi Phi -- the island where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. While a culture shock compared to Koh Yao Noi, it is nice because there are no cars -- so getting around is by foot, bicycle or boat. Today we went snorkeling all day to make the most of our final beach day. Tomorrow we head to Chang Mai to see northern Thailand and hopefully go on a trekking trip.

We miss you all a lot. Even though we don't send individual e-mails to you, please know that we think about you all the time and wonder about each of you. I (Marisa) am thinking about you all and home probably a little too much. Somehow, even though I am seeing so many new places and experiencing new cultures, my mind seems to always wander, drifting to what job I might get when I return to the States and how I will manage to explain this huge gap in my worktime when I apply for jobs. Which really is a crazy way to spend this time...but I guess after two years of business school, which really is a life break, I'm feeling more ready than ever to begin work. I never imagined I would feel this way, but I do.

Love to you all.

Marisa and Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 9:07 AM EST
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Friday, 29 October 2004
Living well in Cambodia
Mood:  quizzical
Today we are in Phnom Penh Cambodia and will be here until Sunday. The are having a coronation of their new King today so the riverfront is decorated with flags and streamers. While there were fireworks over the water last night, the celebration is mostly behind the walls of the palace. The people seem to be going about their daily lives and are left out of most of it, but we still hope to get some information on a parade or festival.

We spent several days in Siem Reap which is the town closest to the Angkor Wat temples. It is a town like no other in Cambodia and has benefited/suffered (depending on how you look at it) from an influx of foreign dollars. There are large beautiful hotels and resorts being built everyday. Everything is advertised in American dollars (not reil) and prices are jacked up. The effects of the civil war and other wars is apparent. There are many many amputees begging for money, or selling books and souvenirs. The land mines are still an issue in the countryside. We went to a landmine "museum" which was really just a shack with stories, pamphlets and artifacts from the war. It had many different kinds of mines and dramatic images of war. I found it empowering how the amputee children where working the museum and playing soccer out front. This charity serves as a home for many of them and ensures that they are educated.

We visited the temples at Angkor and got on a bus for Phnom Pehn. This is the capital of Cambodia and sits at the confluence of the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River. Our hotel overlooks this spot. Yesterday we went to visit a museum that is in a Khmer Rouge Prison camp. We learned about the torture and brutality of the regime. We then went to the killing fields and learned about the genocide that happen, and saw the 8000 skulls of the dead. At the museum there were photos of the people who had been held and torture there. This was in 1977! I was a kid at the same time as the kids in the photos, but lucky enough to be born in the USA.


Posted by marisaandmolly at 1:55 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 29 October 2004 1:59 AM EDT
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Sunday, 24 October 2004
Yikes! but still smiling
Mood:  don't ask
Topic: Asia Trip
It all sounded so nice and easy in our last posting. "We are taking a bus to Cambodia" How ignorant and naiveI was. I read all of the guildbooks, learned about the "great bus scam" and figured that it would not happen to me. Well, it didn't, not that scam - - a new one (sigh).

A mini-bus picked us up at our hotel at 7am yesterday and drove us to a large tour bus. We got on with about 17 other travelers and headed out. All was well until about noon when we reached the Cambodian border. We were processed to exit Thailand then went to the Cambodia entry point. Our "tour guide" collected out passports and had visas processed. I was wondering when I was going to pay the Cambodian Gov for the passport. It was suposed to cost $20US. We were then taken to a restaurant where we were told to exchange money because we needed Cambodian Reil. The rate was terrible so I exchanged 3000 Thai Bat ($75) Far TOO MUCH. Then the men asked us to pay THEM for the visa and charged and extra $12US for the service. UGH!

So we are sitting and waiting for a new bus to pick us up to take us to Siem Reap. We find out that we are at some new obscure border crossing -not the one that is closest to Siem Reap and that we have a 7 hour drive on bad dirty roads. OK, sigh, I can deal with it. Three pm rolls around and the men start putting our packs in the back of a pickup truck. Soon they are ordering us to get in the back of the truck - with the packs - 15 people. When we start saying NO that this is not acceptable they get mean and say that we can stay there. UGH. So we all pile in and on top! French, Spanish, Brittish, Sweedish, Malaysian, Canadian, Slovakian, alike.
Now these dirt roads are dry, and dusty, and very very very full of huge holes and it does not take long before we realize that the sun screen that we quickly applied before the truck started was not needed because we were protected by a thick layer of dirt covering our entire bodies. Marisa and I did the bandanna over the mouth and nose and sunglassed to cover the eyes. This trip was really bumpy and Marisa's little body was flying. We are both sore from the journey, but did arrive in Siem Reap around 11pm so covered with dirt it was funny. A guy at the hotel said that we looked like we had been through a war zone.
Have no fear -- we are here and found a nice hotel called Molly Malones that has an Irish Theme. Who knew that in Cambodia? We got to see lots of Cambodian country side on the journey and will tour Anchor Wat tomorrow. I took our shoes and bags outside this morning and paid a little boy to help me give them a brushing. I sent our clothes to the laundry and washed my hair three times. Although I continue to blow dirt out of my nose, I think that I got it all out of my ears.

-later
Molly

Posted by marisaandmolly at 1:34 AM EDT
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