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Stories from Month 12

Namche Bazaar Area, Nepal

Civilization

timNamche Bazaar: We had just arrived back from our trek to Namche Bazar, the nearest place to what one could call civilization. (That is, if one defines civilization by the number of bakeries with real pizza ovens, stores selling Snickers, electric lights in the outhouses, and telephones - it is still a six-day walk to the nearest road.)

We headed straight down to one of the bakeries, ordered pizzas and beers, and prepared to lounge away the later afternoon in the bakery's comfortable sun room, which had an atmosphere somewhere between a ski lodge and a Starbucks.

A bar out front cranked Bob Marley tunes that seemed harsh to my ear. Bob Marley playing disturbing music? Bob Marley, a man whose tunes provide the ambient noise in almost every guesthouse restaurant in the entire world, annoying me?

It took me a while, but then it hit me. For over two weeks I've been listening only to natural sounds - the sounds of yaks being called and the ring of the bells around their necks, my own footsteps and breathing, wind through the mountains flapping Buddhist prayer flags, birds singing, avalanches crashing in the distance, soft conversation. It has been a quiet two weeks without cars, auto rickshaws, radios, yelling, and other noises of the city. top

A view of Namche Bazaar from above. Seemingly small, this town offers plenty for trekkers to dream about while they hike farther up the mountain - a return to a pizza baked in a real pizza oven and a hot shower. A calf gets a closer look at my camera lens.

Gokyo Region, Nepal

Perfect Colors

michelleDole: Hiking down the thin mountain trail I am in awe of my surroundings. The smell of damp earth greets my nose, I listen to the brook as it flows past my feet, and I try hard to memorize the details of my surroundings: the bark peeling from the trees, the change of light as clouds pass over the sun, the white magnolias as they bloom.

I study the colors and can't help but think they are perfect. Perfect is the green of the moss on the rocks, the red of the bird's belly as it flys overhead, the blue of the sky, the purple of the crocus flower, the white of the snow covering the mountains.

Up here, colors are richer, brighter, and more alive. It might be because the air is so clean and unpolluted that the colors are more vivid. I am more convinced though, the truth lies in the eye of the beholder. Traveling for such a long time has given me new eyes to see. The colors at home are just as perfect û in the flowers, butterflies, and sunsets. But here I see them, appreciate them, and cherish them.

One of the most profound results of travel is my new appreciation for nature, the environment and our need to protect it. Over the past year we have visited rainforests, marshes, desert, mountains, tropical beaches, glaciers, and jungle and seen multitudes of animals in the wild. My heart has been full with the beauty and diversity of the earth. Equally, my heart has been hurt by the pollution, deforestation, and disrespect I have witnessed.

I know I am a changed person for what I have seen. I am now much more aware of how much water and electricity I use, which items I can recycle and which I can not. I feel much more like a partner to the earth instead of only viewing natural resources as something to use - a valuable lesson in today's world.

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A green valley in Nepal meets the snowline. The ice covered surface of the 3rd Gokyo lake.

Market Day

michelleSaturday is market day in Namche Bazaar. Locals walk for miles to sell their wares or buy weekly supplies. The market takes place at one end of town on stone-walled terraced levels, merchants displaying their goods on blankets spread on the ground. Like a department store, everything is laid out in sections: goats, chickens, and butchered meat on the top level, clothes and spices on the second level, and miscellaneous items such as eggs, batteries, incense, and yak cheese on the bottom level. It is a crowded sea of activity with people pushing and shoving to move forward, dogs barking, roosters crowing, tourists clicking cameras, women socializing, men bargaining, and merchants yelling out prices.

Yesterday, walking eight hours from Gokyo, we passed many women walking to Namche for the market. A procession of laughing, chattering women, I could tell this was an important weekly social event. Without radios, television, and roads in this remote region, market day must be an anticipated time to see friends and buy much needed items. top

Trekkers

michelleWhat kind of people hike in the Everest region? We have been pleasantly surprised at the diverse group of people we have met. One would assume a trek of this nature would only be for the young and fit. But we found, more than anything, it is for those with adventurous spirits. For those of you who want to do a trek like this but feel you are too old or unfit, here are some inspiring trekkers we met along the way:

- A 72-year-old Swedish man with a pace maker and replaced hip.

- A woman in a leg brace and limp, hiking the trek for the second time.

- Mark, whose blind brother, Erik, is climbing to the top of Everest! Mark had walked with Erik to Base Camp and was heading back down the mountain when we met him. Imagine, climbing to the summit blind! top

A view of Namche Bazaar from above. Seemingly small, this town offers plenty for trekkers to dream about while they hike farther up the mountain - a return to a pizza baked in a real pizza oven and a hot shower. A calf gets a closer look at my camera lens.

Kathmandu, Nepal

Our Return to Civilization

bothAfter a helicopter ride, plane ride, and taxi ride, we are back in busy Kathmandu. We have returned to the comforts usually taken for granted: sinks, running water, hot showers, fresh fruit, electricity, clean clothes, and internet access.

It is time to give our tired bodies a break - so the most walking we will do in the next day or so is to the nearest coffee shop! top

Butter lamps burn on the stairs of Kathmandu's Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) during Buddha Jayanti, the celebration of Buddha's birthday 2545 years ago. Crowds climb the stairs to the Kathmandu's Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) during Buddha Jayanti, the celebration of Buddha's birthday 2545 years ago. Buddha's eyes peer from behind prayer flags at a stupa near the massive Bodhnath temple. Crowds and incense smoke circle the stupa at Kathmandu's Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) during Buddha Jayanti, the celebration of Buddha's birthday 2545 years ago. A woman sells dried chilies, garlic, ginger, and other dry goods from a booth in Kathmandu's Durbar Square. People gather to talk and buy vegetables from a market in Kathmandu's Durbar Square. A collection of brass Buddhas and other religious items for sale in Kathmandu. A sadhu, or Hindu holy man, poses for a photograph in Kathmandu's Durbar Square. Sadhus are Hindu holy men who live beggar-like existences in their search for enlightenment. This one lives a profitable existence in Kathmandu, charging tourists for photographs. A rickshaw carries its bloody passenger through Durbar Square, located in the center of Kathmandu. Nepalese Buddha eyes peer from the stupa of Kathmandu's Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath). A slaughtered goat gets butchered in Kathmandu, Nepal. Two men try to keep the stupa at Kathmandu's Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) brightly whitewashed during an important Buddhist celebration. A woman stands next to Kathmandu's Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) during Buddha Jayanti, the celebration of Buddha's birthday 2545 years ago. Four rickshaw drivers wait for business on a busy Kathmandu street. A woman buys oranges from a vender who carts his goods around on his bicycle. Colorful decorations adorn the back of a Nepalese rickshaw. A view from up high of Kathmandu's skyline.

Pokhara, Nepal

Tough Life

timThe Lakeside area of Pokhara is a touristy little center that marks the beginning and the end of most trekker's visit to the Annapurna region of Nepal.

We are here with lots of good friends from our Everest trip. Since yesterday, we have done nothing but sip cappuccinos, drink beer, and pack on all the weight we lost from our trek in the areas many fine restaurants. top

Chitwan, Nepal

Jungle Walk

michelleRoyal Chitwan National Park lies close to the border of India, in a subtropical plain. Home to rhinoceros, tigers, sloth bears, monkeys, deer, and over 450 types of birds, it is a superb place to view wildlife. On our first morning visiting the park we decided to take a canoe ride into the park and from there, walk through the jungle on a guided trek. Walking through the jungle is not particularly safe, but it is the most exciting way to see the wildlife up close.

Floating down the river in a dug-out canoe offered a front row seat to the bird life: white egrets stood gracefully on the water's edge, a huge stork (the largest I have ever seen) stood in a small cove eating in seclusion, a rust colored duck dunked happily, kingfishers sang along the shore while sandpipers peered out of their nests, holes in the sandy river bank. The variety and multitude of birds was amazing.

Forty minutes down stream the canoe hit the shore with a thud and our two guides jumped out. Immediately they both started jumping up and down in frantic motions - I thought is must be a strange Nepalese ritual dance asking the gods for protection before entering the jungle. But then I understood their funny movements when I saw a snake slithering between their unprotected flip-flopped feet and escaping into the river. Welcome to the jungle.

We walked across a sandy area and entered woods. The guides stopped to give us brief "survival" lessons:

Lesson 1: Rhinos have terrible eyesight but have keen senses of smell and hearing. Their bad eyesight makes them vulnerable so they compensate by charging when they sense danger. So upon sighting a rhino, climb the nearest tree, scaling at least eight feet off the ground. If there are no trees, throw your backpack to the ground to cause a distraction and then run in a zigzag line (rhinos have a hard time turning their large bodies quickly). As if that wasn't enough to make me cautious, the guide informed us it was rhino mating season and the male rhinos are much more aggressive than usual. In fact, a Nepalese student had been killed the previous month by a charging rhino.

Lesson 2: Sloth bears can be extremely aggressive. When encountering a sloth bear gather in a close group and start yelling and waving your arms, pretending to be one large foe. Both our guides carried large intimidating sticks to defend the group in case of an attack. Later, they admitted of all the animals in the park, they most feared the bear.

Lesson 3: Tigers hunt by night and would be a rare sight. If one did attack, there is not much we could do about it, so try not to worry. Very comforting.

None of these lessons made me feel particularly good about our walk but now there was no turning back. We were in the heart of the jungle, far from any roads. Lessons over, we began our trek. Every tree I passed I wondered if I could climb. As a kid I climbed many trees, but that was decades ago and I am not so confident in my climbing abilities now. The best time to perfect rusty skills is not when a rhino is charging, but it is a good inspiration to try.

A couple meters later the branches overhead began crashing and swaying. Gray Langur monkeys jumped through treetops, fleeing from our intruding group. Soon we passed wild chickens and then barking deer in a small clearing. Barking deer are quite small and bark like a dog when alarmed. The amount of wildlife we saw in ten minutes of walking amazed me.

Our group left the wooded area and entered grassland scattered with small trees. The elephant grass, taller than our heads, surrounded us and made it impossible to see more than a couple meters in any direction. As we followed a dirt trail the thought we must be crazy to walk in the midst of wild animals crossed my mind several times and I gave Tim stern glances to communicate this. Careful not to make too much noise we talked in whispers and made our steps as light as possible. The temperature was scorching hot and the humidity so thick I could swim in it. Sweat dripped off our noses and down our backs.

Suddenly, both guides stopped and motioned us to stand still. My body froze and so did my heart. Not far ahead two rhinos grazed. I could see the big round behind of the closest rhino and watched as it slowly turned toward us. The guides made quick upward hand movements signaling us to climb a tree and at lightning speed I quickly scaled the nearest tree, my heart beating so hard I was sure it would break through my chest. High off the ground I had a clear view of the closest rhino. It was a magnificent creature with gray thick skin resembling layered metal armour.

It's ears perked forward and it's nostrils widened, taking in deep breaths of human and absorbing our presence. Tim was still looking for a tree to climb when the rhino began running and let out a thunderous roar. I screamed and could only breathe again when Tim was safely high in a tree and the rhino had passed. We waited in our trees for what seemed a very short time when the guides told us to climb down. I think I could have stayed up there all day. I hugged the tree, thanking it for being there for me when I need it and descended. It took all my courage to begin walking again for the last few minutes had been some of the most frightening in my life. Only four more hours of walking left!

The rest of the walk was comparatively uneventful. Thankfully, we had no more live rhino encounters but saw lots of evidence of their proximity - huge fresh heaps of rhino dung, deposited to mark their territory greeted us often and their immense footprints in the soft mud reminded us to remain alert. By lunchtime we were safely back in town and I was never so glad to see civilization. People eating at outdoor restaurants, motorbikes, and souvenir shops insured me there were no charging rhinos around - besides, there weren't any good trees to climb. top

Elephant Safari

timMichelle and I sat on the back of the elephant with two other passengers. The four of us were crammed uncomfortably on top of a square railed platform with our backs to each other and our legs hanging off the corners like the four points of a compass. The driver sat along the elephant's neck. He steered its leathery ears with his bare feet and we lumbered down the dirt road to the Royal Chitwan National Park.

The park entrance is quite far from the elephant camp, so we spent the first hour bouncing through the villages and forests nearby. Quiet village life went on around us - a group of basket-wielding women in hot red and pick saris laughed and socialized on the way to the fields. An old man cast his fishing net across the knee-deep water of a meandering stream. A young woman made breakfast on the adobe hearth outside her mud and thatched wood home. Close to the park entrance, herds of water buffalo grazed in a green pasture. We tiptoed through it on a multi-ton elephant and although I was dying to take photos of the people, I couldn't bring myself to do it from the back of an elephant. It would have had too much of a "look mommy, natives!" feel to it, don't you think?

Everything changed once we entered the fringe of the park. The foliage deepened, the bird life hummed around us, and we spotted a rhino after only five minutes. To our surprise, the elephant driver bounced us to within a foot of the mud puddle the two-ton animal wallowed in. The rhino barely lifted his head to look at us before dropping it back into the mud apathetically.

He was built to fight, like a prehistoric tank. Thick wrinkled body armor protected him from head to toe and even his tail fit neatly into a protective fold that kept it free from danger. I could picture him fighting off anything from a Jurassic Park movie.

Seeing a rhino on an elephant was light years away from yesterday's experience on foot. We didn't need to worry about climbing trees, for one thing. But even more amazing is that the animals in the park seemed oblivious to our presence. We were invisible to everything, like the two sleeping sabar deer we spotted. If they had spotted us on foot, I would have only seen their rear ends running away. But today, they simply looked up at us a few feet nearby and went back to sleep.

After we realized that we were safe up high on our elephant, we began to talk freely. The rhino's diamond shaped ears perked up with catlike twitches, but his eyes told him that the elephant in front was too large to charge. He looked up at us only occasionally and pretended we weren't there.

Shortly after we moved along, a brilliant blue peacock sailed from tree to tree above our heads. We passed rhesus macaque monkeys on the ground, cuckoos calling their own names, and wild chickens scuttling in the underbrush. But I really wanted to see another rhino and was happy to see not one, but two munching on grass in a clump of trees. Again, we stepped in close and watched freely as they ate.

Five minutes after leaving this pair, we crested a small hill and almost - literally - ran into a rhino on the other side. The driver looked as startled as us.

When it was time to leave, we ambled back to town alongside another group on an elephant. The drivers joked and knew each other well and egged on by us, soon started racing each other down the dirt streets through the village. Racing clearly wasn't a common occurrence here, because the same villagers who didn't look up this morning now shook with laughter as we passed.

Our elephant deftly lumbered into the lead, but the opposition was clearly faster. So our driver zigzagged us across the road like a racecar driver guarding his lead. But our lead proved hard to hold and the challenger soon raced ahead of us. Happily, we stole back to the front when the other driver stopped paying attention.

It has to be said that racing an elephant is really uncomfortable. It is like racing in a car with wood seats and egg shaped wheels - you just bounce in all directions. But in the end, we arrived to the finish line first and were rewarded by being the first group to hop off and soothe our aching butts. top

An Asian rhino takes a break from the heat in the Royal Chitwan National Park. XXXXThis park, located in the lowlands of southern Nepal, covers 932 square km and protects Asian one-horned rhinos, crocodiles, sloth bears, leopards, and Royal Bengal tigers. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Moments before this photo was taken, this family was fishing illegally from the Rapti River in the Royal Chitwan National park. They are seen here being yelled at by a park ranger who is sharing my canoe.XXXXThis park, located in the lowlands of southern Nepal, covers 932 square km and protects Asian one-horned rhinos, crocodiles, sloth bears, leopards, and Royal Bengal tigers. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. A man crosses the Rapti River of the Royal Chitwan National Park. XXXXThis park, located in the lowlands of southern Nepal, covers 932 square km and protects Asian one-horned rhinos, crocodiles, sloth bears, leopards, and Royal Bengal tigers. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Athens, Greece

Arriving in Greece

michelle11 a.m.: Out the airplane window I stare at the blue sky and white cotton ball clouds. Blue and white - the colors are a reminder we are flying to Greece, home to the blue Aegean Sea and white-washed buildings perched on island cliffs. We are excited to eat Greek food (feta cheese, olive oil, kalamari...), to see the Parthenon and other ancient ruins, and to island hop, basking in the Mediterranean sun. Tim's good friends, Bill and Cecilia, are getting married on the Greek isle of Santorini on May 20th, and we are thrilled to join them for the celebration.

A few days ago we started our eleventh month of travel. Leaving Asia and entering the West once again is evidence we are slowly making our way home. My emotions are mixed as our trip is drawing nearer to completion. I long to see family and friends but will miss the constant adventure and growth that travel gives.

5 p.m.: Now we are sitting at an outdoor cafe, eating kalamari and drinking beer under the shadow of the Acropolis. It is amazing how an airplane flight can transport you to another world in a matter of hours. We spent the afternoon walking around Plaka, the old city of Athens, next to the Acropolis. Souvenir shops line the narrow streets selling leather goods, reproductions of ancient Greek art, T-shirts, postcards, and other touristy paraphernalia. People sip coffee in outdoor cafes, flowers decorate balconies, and dogs sleep in the sun. I am overwhelmed at the striking difference from Asia. Gone is the land of Buddha, Hindu gods, and temples. Now we are in the land of Greek gods and Christian churches. Gone are the trash lined streets, shoddy constructed buildings, and beggars. Instead, we are surrounded by spotless streets, renovated buildings, and chic stylishly dressed city-dwellers. The prices are different too. The cost of a cup of coffee here is the same amount we paid for a decent hotel room in Kathmandu. It depresses a budget traveler! I predict a lot more self-catered meals, dorm rooms, and much less shopping! top

Back in Time

timWe ascended the Acropolis with flocks of noisy Greek school children who were herded quickly up the hill by fast talking teachers whose expressions clearly told each passerby, ""I don't get paid enough for this crap."" But as much as I enjoyed watching the action of the comical crowds, I forced my attention away from the present and towards the past. I wanted to feel the history of what I was about to see.

It seems little coincidence that the Delphic Oracle planned the site 2500 years ago as the province of the gods and dedicated it to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. For here is a heavenly connection to the root of wisdom in every western nation. Our philosophy, architecture, democracy, literature, art, drama, and even sports owe a debt to the culture that erected these buildings. And so, the Acropolis is a direct link to our own past.

Walking with the school children, we passed the Theater of Dionysus. This 17 000-seat amphitheater was built in 161 AD and in its day, hosted dramas by Sophocles, Euripides, and other well-known writers.

Rising higher up the Acropolis, we entered the top of the plateau through what remains of the Propylaia's immense solid gates (erected in 437 BC). We passed though towering pillars and the view opened up to reveal the area's crown jewel: the famous Parthenon, one of the wonders of the world and an instantly recognizable symbol of international history.

One must have a grand imagination to envision how this building looked in its prime.

I always thought of it as white marble. But in fact, brightly colored sculptures depicting marriage feasts, contests with centaurs, and mythic battles encircled the top of the building. A 12-meter high ivory, gold plate, and jaded statue of Athena stood watch inside. Above her, a blue ceiling hung decorated with gilded stars. I built a fuzzy reconstruction in my mind and transported myself back hundreds of generations.

Just down the hill, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle presented ideas that changed the world. A few hundred years later, the Apostle Paul argued the new religion of Christianity and won over Greece's first converts.

The Acropolis is a wonderful place for people with imagination and time to kill. For the majority of visitors, like the Princess Cruise group that I saw, a tour guide fires a 30 second history lesson into a crowd and sends them on their way with 20 minutes of free time. I was glad we were on our own to linger and enjoy. top

Food for Thought

timSomewhere in life I picked up the notion that Athens was a polluted city with crazy drivers. But having just traveled in India and Nepal, I feel I've arrived to a relaxed spotless wonderland. Nobody is coughing up gooey wads of phlegm from the depths of their lungs as they do every five minutes in Kathmandu. Nor are vehicles zigzagging at top speeds and full horn through twisted pedestrian lined streets as they do in India. It seemed so clean in Athens that when I looked down at the trash-free sidewalk, I had the disgusting thought that it was clean enough to lick!

On the other hand, costs are much higher and the mentality of the west is freaking me out. I am now sitting in a coffee shop with a cup of black coffee that costs five times more than it would in Asia. It is essentially the same coffee, even if it tastes like it has been smoldering on the burner all morning. Gone are my days of lounging in Asia at pennies a day - they have been replaced by the European need to move. Time is money. Even sitting here, cell phones break my peace and I feel the cost of my hotel nearby.

Everyone in the west moves with a purpose. The streets are no longer full of people with idle hands and lots of time. Instead, the masses are hustling from place to place or hidden away in office complexes being productive. In this respect, the streets feel almost dead. In many ways, the life of a small village in Nepal feels more alive than the huge city of Athens.

The mentality of the west is efficient - like the woman in the sandwich shop in Athens who prepared food at a pace unseen in Asia. She was a one-woman production line who oozed perfection and made every movement count. I was amazed as she lined four bread rolls up and sliced each one with a quick swipe, concurrently checking her computer screen for orders. Then her hands went to work in a flurry of motion customizing orders and handing them out. Her movements ticked with all the precision of a Swiss watch.

The pace of her life was as "west" as the pace of a travel agency we visited in Kathmandu was "east." When we purchased tickets in Kathmandu for a simple flight, it took three people three hours to complete the task - they offered us tea, the office power went out, the modem connection was lost, and we chatted about the small things. The hurry was gone, replaced by casual conversation and a slower pace of life.

The mentality of the west is also material. It is a place where shiny glass and advertising frames stores selling luxury items such as designer clothes, cell phones, digital cameras, and leather shoes. At home I remember a feeling - a sick hunger almost - that urged me into stores and made me want to buy. This feeling literally made my mouth water and filled me with the anticipation of pleasure - a promised prize awaited my purchase, whether I bought a new CD or a new computer. And yet here in Athens, the advertising messages that surround me don't seem to have the same effect. I've slowed down to the pace of countries where the advertising is less conspicuous and people have only a fraction of the disposable income of the west.

When you trek in Nepal, there are no televisions or billboards. You have no need for fashion, as you wear what keeps you warm and you are not out to impress people. Your attention turns to your surroundings - to places that are magnificent. But after almost three weeks in the mountains, I leafed through a German fashion magazine that a tourist left behind in a mountain lodge. Its glossy content promised all image and no substance. I saw the whole fashion industry in a new light - where I once saw glamorous women, I now saw emaciated models with ridiculous makeup and clothes that cost more than the average yearly salary of a Nepalese porter. I laughed. The existence of the life in the magazine felt light years from mine.

So what will I be like when I have a new job and money? Once the precise targeting and name branding of western advertisers makes its way back into my consciousness? I'm sure I'll revert back to my old habits. But perhaps I'll be a little wiser all the same. top

Folegandros, Greece

Blue and White

timThe ferry dropped us off on the sleepy island of Folegandros with a handful of other passengers. Only 561 people live on the island year round, but the population swells with tourists in the summer. By the look of the empty streets we had clearly arrived outside of high season.

An empty bus hauled us up to the cliffside town of Hora on a road flanked by terraced farming hills. From above, the island probably looked like a life size topographical map. But from the bus, the dry rocky terrain outside of town looked desolate - supporting only desert shrubs, dry grasses, and a few stunted trees.

Once in Hora our bus driver discreetly asked if we needed a room. His shady demeanor made us a little nervous and his offer sounded too much like a drug dealer offering "good stuff." But we followed him anyway and found a room far nicer than any we had stayed in months. With a TV, phone, fridge, and lots of other details not typically present in our budget trip, shady or not, the deal was too good to pass up.

The town looked fantastic. Wasting no time, we dropped our backpacks and left to explore.

Hora's adobe-styled buildings reminded me of the American Southwest - thick walls, rounded corners, and graceful archways. But the brilliant whitewash and deep blue trim that covered the town set it apart from anything I'd seen before. The contrast with the clear blue sky and surrounding sea was fantastic. The blue and white landscape felt uniquely Greek.

Seven hundred years of history graces Hora with a timeless feel, from the old domed churches that cast white crosses against the Aegean sky, to the play of odd angles in the medieval section of town. A soft peace floated through the air and quieted my mind like meditation.

Looking through town was the visual equivalent of a deep breath of fresh country air, where my vision became clearer and crisper than normal. Perhaps it is the dry air, strong sun, or contrasts in color that heightened my senses. But for whatever reason, I felt as though I just removed a pair of sunglasses only to discover that they were filthy and obscuring my vision. Suddenly, everything became sharp and beautiful and Hora was of my favorite destinations from this year of travel. top

Idyllic Day

michelleToday we wandered along the stone walkways of Hora, the charm and quaintness of the place beckoning us to explore every nook and cranny.

We were most captivated the town's un-touristy simplicity - no crowds, souvenir shops, disco bars blaring techno music, or trendy boutiques, just a few small grocery stores and plenty of outdoor cafes to sit and relax away the day.

During our exploration we bought fresh pastries at the town's one bakery, cherries and tomatoes at the one produce stand, and then bought picnic items for lunch. Perched on a stone wall, we nibbled on bread and cheese and watched the local life: an old man and his donkey passed, a gang of five tiny dogs raced by, looking like they owned the streets, children on bikes whizzed by, and then an old man shuffled by, still in his pajamas.

I needed to buy a dress for the wedding we were attending in a couple days but there were no clothe shops to be found on the island. I wondered where the locals bought clothes. It is obvious they bought them somewhere -they all seemed adequately dressed (except the old man in pajamas - he could have used a new outfit).

My dress dilemma was solved when I discovered a man selling clothes out of a van in the main square. He had arrived on the morning ferry. His green van was stacked high with blue jeans, t-shirts, dress shirts, and a couple dresses. I browsed through the van door while waiting for some local women to make their purchases and then I bought a simple black and white dress. Perfect!

Hora sits on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea and in the afternoon we stopped at a white washed wall to gaze at the aqua blue sea below. I could stare at the water all day, letting my eyes swim in its rich, deep color. A cat approached and rubbed against my leg. The population of Hora might be small but its cat population is thriving. Cats roam the streets freely and can be seen rummaging through trash bins, emerging from small crevasses, sunning on walls and doorsteps, and begging beside cafe tables. It is hard to resist their huge cat eyes begging for food. But give a tiny morsel of food and soon your table is surrounded by cats of all sizes and colors serenading your meal in a loud symphony of meows.

Late in the evening we walked up a stone path to the church overlooking the town. Along the way we met some of the local residents: a snake, a donkey, and a herd of goats. I could have done without meeting the snake! We ended our idyllic day by watching the hot pink sunset from large rocks on the edge of a cliff. top

A blinding-white home in the strong sun of Folegandros, a quiet less-visited island in the Greek Cyclades. A blinding-white home in the strong sun of Folegandros, a quiet less-visited island in the Greek Cyclades. A burro stands ready in the small medieval capital of Hora, on the island of Folegandros. Cats in Greece seem to be treated as royalty. This one peers inquisitively from her perch on a café chair. A Greek church overlooking the dry rocky fields of Folegandros. This slow-paced Cyclades island is visited far less than its touristy island neighbors and sizes up at a mere 32 square kilometers. A blinding-white home perched on the top of a cliff burned by the strong sun of Folegandros, a quiet less-visited island in the Greek Cyclades. A bright orange moss covered boulder contrasts with the blue sea on the quiet island of Folegandros. Deep Aegean blue water stands in contrast to the dry hills of Folegandros. This slow-paced Cyclades island is visited far less than its touristy island neighbors and sizes up at a mere 32 square kilometers. Greek church bells from the Pantanassa Church on Folegandros. This slow-paced Cyclades island is visited far less than its touristy island neighbors and sizes up at a mere 32 square kilometers.

Santorini, Greece

Looking Sharp

timIt isn't easy looking distinguished when you are a budget traveller. After all, I've worn the same Teva sandals and two pairs of travel pants for a year straight. But when a good friend of mine got married in a Greek Orthodox cathedral, I needed to clean up my act.

I started in Nepal two weeks ago with a 14 cent haircut. I couldn't beat the price, but I could do without the careless speed that the barber wielded his a huge pair of rusty scissors. But all things considered, my haircut doesn't look much different than a $35 salon cut in the States.

I had my suit and shirt custom tailored for $33 in Vietnam. Strangely enough, these clothes have travelled almost as widely as I have. First they took a three month cruise on their way to my mother's house in Florida (thanks Hahn!). Then a fast UPS flight to Washington, DC (thanks Mom!). Living the jet set life, they immediately got dry cleaned, met up with a tie, and were hand carried to Santorini on the back of my friend's back (thanks Bob!).

Another wedding guest lent me dress socks (thanks Ali!). And I purchased shoes just 30 minutes before the start of the wedding at the only shoe store in Santorini open on a Sunday (thanks Visa!).

I looked so sharp that Michelle almost didn't recognize me after a year of dressing dingy! top