January 6, 2009

Photos of Grand Canyon Trip

Filed under: Uncategorized — dwmcloda @ 12:41 pm

Picture this: 9929

 

This is not really the Grand Canyon. This is in Lombok.

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March 13, 2008

Living In District 7

Filed under: Uncategorized — dwmcloda @ 12:36 am

A little slice of Singapore in Ho Chi Minh City?

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March 12, 2007

Mountain Toubkal Summit Attempt FAILED

Filed under: Uncategorized — dwmcloda @ 5:33 am

Friday

Marcus and I had reached the village of Imlil, a 60 km drive from Marrakech, and our goal was to reach the summit of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa at 4167 meters.

The guides around the tourist office insisted that cramp-ons and ice axes were necessary to negotiate the snow and ice during the final day of ascent. Incredulous and fearful of losing $20 in unnecessary rental fees, Marcus and I decided to survey the town for more advice. A pair of French rock climbers told us that yes, cramp-ons and trekking poles are necessary. Thank God we took their advice. Slipping and sliding along we would have certainly given up from pure frustration.  At worst we would have plummeted to an icy death.
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Saturday

Leaving at 6 in the morning, a half hour before sunrise, we passed by the local boulangerie and added four warm loafs to our stock of dried apricots, almonds, and Snickers candy bars. After an hour of hiking, we stopped at a small village for a pot of mint tea and had our fresh bread with Happy Cow cheese and spicy olives.

The dirt road took us through one last village before ending at a vast dry river bed covered in smooth stones of green and grey. From here transport continues by mule, of which we saw many, their droppings littering the path in front of us. We followed a narrow track in a valley above the river bed with dwarf junipers here and there, the rest of the land covered in thorny bushes. Herds of shaggy goats and black-faced sheep were everywhere but remained well hidden and nearly invisible until we were a few steps away. Most of them ignored us altogether, too busy nibbling at the odd patches of green amongst the grey. Others called to us in eerie and disconcerting child-like screams we tried to dismiss but instead left us disturbed and strangely amused.

After a couple of hours of winding and steadily climbing, the valley revealed a mountain range with shadows highlighted by streaks of snow. The ice was melting a little each day, and a little more each day after, and tiny streams rushed down the valley as we steadily moved in the opposite direction in defiance of gravity and the natural order of things.

I spotted a lizard sunning himself on the rocks just beside the trail, a golden opportunity to meet my lizard catching quota – I’ve caught at least one in every country I’ve backpacked – so I toss my gear and flip my sunnies onto my head. He retreated a few meters away but I mirrored his every move, gliding into position with my right hand raised and poised for a strike. With cat-like reflexes and clinical precision I swooped down and pinned him to the rocks being careful not to break his tail. Although he thrashed and squirmed, I had him in the perfect position, right behind the head where he couldn’t bite. Upon close examination our cold-blooded friend revealed some delightful surprises. His underbelly was a brilliant yellow, white, and black.  He had distinctive brows with four scaly eyelashes and a very silly grin that made me feel as if he knew something I didn’t. He agreed to stop squirming and let me take a few macro shots before I released him on the rocks.

Having caught my requisite lizard, the rest of the journey is quite peripheral and I hesitate to continue, except for the summit attempt that I am obliged to recount…

We arrived at the French Alpine Club refuge in late afternoon just as the last of the skiers were coming down the slopes, who in good fun insisted on spraying us in snow as we relaxed on a nearby stone wall. At six o’clock we gather together inside the refuge, hikers and skiers from France, Spain and Poland to share from a communal bowl of spaghetti, before retiring to a sitting room heated by a fireplace. Our plan was to rest until 2 AM before setting off to reach the summit before sunrise. At 10:30 however, the terribly rude mountain guides shut out the lights and demanded $50 from us or threatened to toss us outside the refuge.
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Sunday

At 2AM we slipped quietly out of the dorm rooms, bundled up in five layers of clothes, strapped the cramp-ons to our boots, and with ski poles in hand quickly dispatched ourselves out into the dark cold night. I was discouraged by the first one hundred steps in which fatigue and weariness preoccupied my mind. The next one hundred steps, the snow crunching underneath, the distance between us and the refuge increasing, brought a glimmer of hope. And when we had reached the crest of the first hill a warmth and determination took control which carried us to then next hill and further still, until a hunger caught hold of us. We crouched beside a boulder and ate a Snickers’ bar each before continuing.

We thought it would be easy to follow the footsteps of previous trekkers that were left in the snow. It was true enough the first three hours but at 3856 meters we reached a vast snowy basin and the footprints suddenly disappeared. We attempted to climb higher using our cramp-ons to dig in and ascend step-like a shear vertical wall of ice. Then a terrible wind began to lash us, relentlessly biting into our cheeks and numbness started creeping into our fingers. We had lost the path and sunlight was still hours away. No longer were we hot shot conquerers of mountain peaks. We had become specks of frozen flesh clinging to a wall of ice.  Fatigue and despair had emptied our spirits and we made the pride shattering decision to descend back to the refuge without reaching the summit. 

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December 25, 2006

All I Want for Christmas is a Good Bowl of Pho?

Filed under: Uncategorized — dwmcloda @ 1:11 am

A bowl of Vietnamese “pho”…. Beef Noodle Soup. I couldn’t have asked for better gift this bright-and-shiny Christmas morning. Just me and my pho.

The ritual of pho preparation is my anchor, a predictable and simple enjoyment to start my day. I love everything about it. Vietnamese is a mono-syllabic language, and ordering is easy: “pho bo, ca fe da” are the magic words, and the only ones you need.  The girl in pajamas brings to the table a mound of herbs, a tray of condiments, a bowl of soup, an iced coffee and a cold wet towel.

Before the operation begins, you must disinfect the tools. The spoon and chopticks are wiped with square bits of grey paper. This doesn’t remove microscopic germs of course, but everyone is convinced that this works, so it doesn’t matter.

I like to jazz up the beef broth quite a bit. It’s really an artform because you never know the the saltyness of the nuoc mam – fish sauce – or the spicyness of the chili sauce. But with some experience you can learn the subtleties: the oily crushed chilis make an intense broth down to the last drop, while the fresh slices tend to localize and vary the hotness from bite to bite. I always put in a little bit of both because, you see, I like it hot through and through with a few firey bombshells thrown in for good measure.

Then I paint the top with a quick-brown-squirt of bean curd paste – more for color than for taste.

Squeeze in a quarter of lime then brush on top the steamed bean sprouts.

My favorite pho stall offers a little bonus compared to the others – they provide a jar of marinated garlic cloves. I use my chopsticks to fish out about four our five of these little treasures. 

Adding fresh herbs is the final step. This morning, my personal herb tray contains three varieties, but I don’t know their names. All I know is that each one tastes fantastic in its own special way – infused with tasty molecules that only God could have created. Use as many as you’d like in your pho, the girl in pajamas will bring more if you need.  

Mixing it all together with spoon and chopsticks is a joy. While the soup takes the herbs, the chilis take the soup and the pho becomes ONE – More than just the sum of it’s parts, it’s a now masterpiece.

The final step in the process is my savoury satisfaction in every single bite.

A bowl of pho may seem like a trivial thing to celebrate on this Christmas Day. But that’s the point.

It’s not about what’s under the tree this year. Gadgets go obsolete and playthings get old. Let’s enjoy a bowl of pho together and thank God that we already have all that we really need.

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November 3, 2005

The First Day of Eid (Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan)

Filed under: Uncategorized — dwmcloda @ 11:30 pm

As Afghans are little inclined to celebration, I was surprised to hear brass band music coming from the direction of Hazarat Ali’s shrine.  I ventured outside my decrepit hotel to see what was happening and found a convoy of military and police vehicles blocking the street in front of the shrine.  There was indeed a small brass band, but the celebration was short-lived and they had dispersed.  Thousands of devotees began to swarm across the gates to get kneeling space in the courtyards outside the mosque to pray and listen to the preaching of the local mullah.

Today marked the first day of Eid and the end Ramazan, the month of fasting and abstinence.  It has been announced by the mullahs at the first sighting of the first sliver of the waxing moon. 

I stood near a fence minding my own business when some guys in suits asked me, “What do you want?”  I had no answer to this odd question so some soldiers searched me and my bags.  These guys were unnecessarily rude and therefore ruffled my feathers more than normal. I demanded to be taken to the police headquarters since the curious group of onlookers that had gathered around me was very unnerving.  Instead, I was merely ejected from the park.

The novelty of being regarded a suspicious foreigner was now warn away.  I desperately wanted to be regarded as a strange, clumsy, tourist again.

I decided I should check the Buzkashi field to see if I could get information on when the next game would be.  The grounds are a thirty minute walk directly south of the shrine along a paved road that abruptly ends in a desert. 

Being the first day of Eid and a major holiday, men and women were dressed very well.  Of course the ladies were all covered in burkas (some of them baby blue, the others white, but not one black one did I notice.)  Prepubescent girls were all adorned in cute little dresses and gobs of makeup.

Just where the paved road ends is a huge, yellow Russian-built silo and granery.  Behind this is the desert-like Buzkashi field, at this time completely empty except for a old plastic bags that stuck to the weeds and flapped in the wind.  I sat down on the wood bench next to a little shop built into an metal box that turned out to be an old trucking container.  These converted ready-made shops can be found all over Afghanistan’s cities.  This shop sold a variety of cheap colorful kites, along with some biscuits and soft drinks. 

A Hazara boy invited me to his house for some refreshments a few minutes away.  Behind, of course, a tall dirt wall, was a scrubby but clean courtyard, then two “houses” each one only a single room.  The interior of the room followed that plan typical of Afghanistan: thick cushions cover the perimeter and against the walls lay matching pillows for back support.  In the middle of the floor was rolled out a big sheet of vinyl and individual settings laid out of pistachios, raisins, dal and chick peas.  For lunch the boy’s little sister made us scrambled eggs wth tomatoes, and over tea we watched Iranian bootleg dance videos on the computer.  It seemed very Western and progressive with bellydancing girls wrapped in albino snakes in very elaborate sets.

In the evening, of course, I visited with Rafi but also met another tourist, Stano, from Slovokia.  He traveled overland through Iran and across the rugged central route of Afghanistan and was taking lots of photos with his nifty new camera.  I agreed to meet him in the morning to show him the Buzkashi fields.

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