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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
— T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

I scrawled these words onto the final page of the moleskin I brought traveling, as a reminder to make my travels worth something more than the time and money that I spent abroad. As a reminder to acknowledge the changes within myself and the adjusted lens through which I now see the world. And with these things in mind, the transition back into America has been a breeze. I mean, spending two weeks basically on vacation in Northern California certainly wasn’t a challenge, but even coming home to Baton Rouge. While I usually curse the town where I was raised for all it’s faults, I found myself looking at the advantages to living here and noting all the improvements that have been made to the city since I’ve been away. But I really felt that I had come back to the place where it all began when we touched down in New York. It’s where the idea for this trip was born, and being back felt like the end — but in a good way. In a, man, we really did it, kind of way.

I think travel affects everyone differently. And I’m happy to say that the things I’ve noticed about myself that weren’t here before are for the majority, positive improvements. I feel more optimistic, more patient, and more accepting of people just as they are. The trick to making long term travel worthwhile is holding on to these things. Not losing the positive effects of being out in the world in strange places surrounded by strange people and eating strange food, but to embrace those things by letting yourself change on the inside and not let go.

But it’s true what Eliot says: We shall not cease from exploration. Everyday can be one of exploration, of satisfying new curiosities. And the way to keep life interesting is to stay curious, even about things just around the corner.

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Stop over in Salt Lake City

by becca on June 29, 2010

When I had the chance to make a four hour stop in Salt Lake City instead of flying direct from Oakland to New Orleans, I took it.

Phil picked me up at the airport and we drove around downtown, admiring the very creatively named streets… they’re all numbered radiating from a single point in the middle of the city where the Mormon Temple sits. We both nursed hangovers at Phil’s favorite little place, Park Cafe (delicious!) and then took a ride through Big Cottonwood Canyon where in May, we had a legitimate snowball fight. I returned to the airport just in time for my flight to be delayed four hours, but it was totally worth it.

Nate made a similar trip a week later. He ended up taking a free shuttle bus from the airport to the Mormon temple where a group of girls gravitated toward him like magnets and “were really nice, but were trying to get inside me.” Metaphorically speaking of course, asking stuff like “Isn’t the world pretty? Isn’t this such a beautiful and fascinating world? Don’t you wonder where it came from? Some one had to make this right? That’s God.” (Insert dramatic pauses at will.) Phil came to his rescue: a romantic spot for the sunset, some chinese take out, and a few beers at Phil’s place. Not bad for an extended layover.

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MiMi’s in the Marigny

by nate on June 24, 2010

This post is a little different. It won’t be enjoyed in a few minutes at work. For this experience, you must take some deep breaths and clear your mind. The real experience is in the audio clip at the end of this post.

This is a little snipit of a random night in New Orleans. There’s a little local bar in the Marigny called MiMi’s, that epitomizes New Orleans. Worn down, grungy, musky, but full of energy as all walks of life  come together for a drink. I had a few beers downstairs before climbing the stairs to uncover the muffled sounds above. I found a little ragtag brass and strings ensemble in the corner of  the little second floor bar room. There were little tables scattered around the room with candles burning down, and tattooed couples two-steping in and around the band. The lights were dim, the spirits were high, and everyone drank and laughed another Monday night away.

Directions

  1. Clear your mind, and 6 minutes of your schedule.
  2. Put on headphones.
  3. Get comfortable.
  4. Press play, then close your eyes and drift.

New Orleans live music: MiMi’s in the Marigny

Live music in New Orleans: MiMis in the Marigny

If that wasn’t enough, we later noticed and chatted with two actors sitting at the end of the bar, Tim Robbins and Peter Sarsgaard, who are filming a movie close to that location.

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Naked Worth

by nate on June 16, 2010

A theoretical room you will exist in for a moment.

I was having lunch today with a friend in Brooklyn, reflecting on the last 9 months of my life. While talking about the lessons, thoughts, ideas, and sensations of travel, I found myself really trying to describe what makes it all worth it.  I was sitting across from her, broke, in need of a haircut, with no job, and all the other realities that come from quitting and rejoining society.

So I began to describe a theoretical way of gauging this worth which became “naked worth.”

Imagine you’re sitting in restaurant and suddenly, POOF! A bright flash, and everything disappears except people. Your table, chair, clothes, bags, and even your food disappears. Looking around, you notice that  in fact all that’s left is some dull gray walls. As you look at the other people that were in the restaurant, you’re confused because now you can’t decipher  the server, VIP guests, cook, or cleaner. You also can’t remember what you did for a living, any jargon, deadlines, or profession. That information is not important here, because money doesn’t exist here. All that had so easily defined you and everyone else is now gone, and it’s not coming back in this room.

Everyone begins to move around for a few awkward moments, and slowly the chatter begins. New sets of people begin forming and chatting about some really interesting stuff. There’s no stress, just talk. Unique conversation begin because now everyone’s worth to each other is what they share. Personalities, insights, ideas, and gestures begin creating new relationships with these random people, because they’re naked of everything money, status or job related and seen for their “naked worth.”

I think traveling is a great investment in one’s “naked worth,” because:

  • You become a slightly better person to have on earth.
  • You add a little more humanity in the world.
  • You have a more patience, kindness, and  perspective.
  • You have more tales that expand and excite the people around you.

It doesn’t translate to being smarter, making more money, or being more interesting. It can easily be all or none of these. It’s more of a humanity fabric within. So long-term travel will certainly increase your “naked worth,” and when you’re standing naked amongst the other people, you will be different.

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What do you think of when you think of traveling? Excitement? Relaxation? Comfort? I used to, but long term traveling is a different story. Down time. Sitting around. Hurry up and wait. And most of all, transportation. Buses, boats, trains, planes, you name it.

Our time in Asia added up to 222 days, or 5,328 hours. Of this, 627 hours were spent traveling. That’s about 26 days, and 12% of our total travel time.

We used whatever transportation was available to us. In Vietnam we traveled mostly by bus — in fact, overall we traveled mostly by bus: 237 hours total. Cambodia was a combo of bus, boat (across the Tonle Sap) and tuk-tuk. Although they go by different names — tuk-tuks, tricycles, auto rickshaws — they’re all motorbikes with some sort of extra seating, like a cart, attached to the back or the side. In Laos, Thailand and Malaysia, by bus. Philippines by bus and tricycle.

And of course, we spent a lot of time on different kinds of boats — both island hopping and diving. The boats ranged from speedboats to bamboo bankas, large wooden Chinese junk boats to freighter ships used as ferries.

Travel by car was few and far between. Then there are planes. What isn’t represented here is the amount of time lost checking in at an airport, going through security, sitting around waiting for boarding. Flying was probably my least favorite way to travel.

By then end of the trip, a 16-hour bus ride no longer seemed daunting, flying almost seemed like cheating, and we no longer needed anti-motion-sickness pills on boats. Traveling with multiple connections and complicated routes sharpened our senses and increased our ability to act quickly and observe our surroundings closely. Sitting for hours on buses gave us time to reflect on the past and to think about the future. It’s this down time, the time spent quietly and stationary that I felt I got to know myself in a new way, without the distractions of everyday life. It’s when I had the chance to ask myself hard questions and have time to search for the answers inside.

While the active, exciting moments of a long trip may form your clearest memories, it’s the quiet moments of reflection that really shape the new person you may feel like when you arrive home.

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Oakland Art Murmur

by becca on June 12, 2010

There is no doubt about it: Oakland is awesome. I’ve heard people call it the Brooklyn of the Bay Area (which I disagree with mainly because the Bart stops running at midnight and a taxi costs way more than a Lower Manhattan –> Brooklyn ride). Nevertheless, it’s just over the bridge from SF. It has great restaurants, nightlife, and its very own beautiful lake — great for a 3.5-mile jog or an afternoon picnic. And while we were there, we had the privilege of attending the Oakland Art Murmur.

That Friday night we wandered through the streets of downtown Oakland weaving among hipsters young and old, (really cute) kids, and some perfectly average looking people. In my opinion, a great mix. All sorts of multi-wheeled transportation crawled through the crowds — I’m talking about really big bike type things with 4′ wheels that seat up to four people. The proud owner of snail-shaped iron contraption invited kids to hop in and pull a “reign” that blew fire from the snail’s antennae. Most of the art was all right, but there were some cool crafts, like miniature origami earrings and a guy with a 1920s manually operated sewing machine that would custom stitch names and shapes onto swatches of canvas for a dollar.

After a couple hours imbibing on a local gallery/bar patio, we headed a few blocks away from the crowds to Creative Growth. Creative Growth Art Center serves adult artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities, providing a stimulating environment for artistic instruction, gallery promotion and personal expression. Artwork fostered in this unique environment is included in prominent collections and museums worldwide. And while I realize I’ve been out of the country, not in the epicenter of art culture like I was in NY, I still think that the art on display was the best I’ve seen in recent memory. The walls are covered in art — all for sale, but much of it already sold. I loved the paintings of jellyfish and birds, owls and cats. There were pedestals adorned with paper-mache masks and an entire warehouse full of ceramics. The place was inspiring and I’m sure the photos don’t do it justice.

Next stop was a place called the Fort Gallery. The neighborhood was a little questionable, and ironically I think it’s really close to our new place. There was a sort of make shift bar in the place selling two things: “Health juice” and absinthe. Evidentally “health juice” was a concoction distributed in very small quantities (less than half a solo cup), made of ginger paste, absinthe (minus the wormwood) and ginger ale. We had a great time watching music in this unique space, but the next day, after ONE of these absurdly named drinks, I felt like I got hit by a bus and struggled to maintain casual conversation.

All in all, fantastic night in Oakland. I think this experience sold me on kicking off our Bay Area residency in this sweet little city.

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Getting to know San Francisco

by becca on June 11, 2010

When moving to a new city, I think it’s important to do a round of touristy stuff to get to know the city from that point of view that you may never have again. While we stayed with Leah in April and May, we made sure to do just that.

– Clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf, check.
– Pier 39 to see the sea lions, check.
– Night tour to Alcatraz, not checked off just yet. We talked about it a lot and we sat on the bay and looked at the little island. Who ever comes to visit us first, you’re in for a treat ;)
– Musee Mechanique, check. This place is awesome. Just a warehouse full of vintage coin slot games.
– Street car ridin’, check.

I have a feeling I’ll do these things many times before it’s all over — and there were a few other little outings better fit for residents. Like enjoying Saturday afternoon in Delores Park or a day trip out to Marin County for a hike. Like accidentally strolling through the Tenderloin or checking out a new bike shop and taking a prototype for a spin on the Embarcadaro and around the Giants’ stadium.

Looking back at these photos makes me really excited about our big move to San Francisco in just under two weeks — so friends and fam start planning your visits!

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Hop in the car with some of your favorite people. Roll the windows down. Turn up the music. Stop when you have to pee. Stop when you’re hungry. Stop when you see people kite surfing and you want to have a closer look. It’s a real road trip — something completely different from what we, as backpackers in Southeast Asia, had been experiencing abroad.

Now, I’m a big fan of public transportation. I love trains. I’ve grown to appreciate buses. Subways, trams, trolleys, sign me up. But after over seven months of depending on bus companies to get me from point A to point B, it’s a relief to go on a proper road trip. And last week when we drove down to Santa Cruz, a bus just would not have cut it.

Every turn down highway 1 unveils another breath-taking view and the control of being in the driver’s seat allows you to stop and appreciate these views instead of honing your drive-by photography skills. As we traveled up and down the coast, we got up close and personal with a beach full of kite surfers and a lone sunning sea lion; went thrift store shopping, which lead to Leah purchasing a pair of rollerblades for $1.30 and proceeding to cruise around for a few minutes before heading to the beach; and stopped at a roadside diner for hot chocolate to sip as we watched the sunset over the ocean.

As I wrote this post, I tried to tie this trip to how influential the mode of transportation is on personal experience while traveling (which is it). But in the end, this post is just in homage of the road trip – the quintessential American travel experience — and the memorable day with friends that Leah’s little Dodge Neon helped shape as we cruised down the coast of Northern California.

There are more (and probably better) photos from Phil’s new camera found here.

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Decent wine and real cheese are hard to find in Southeast Asia. And while we wouldn’t call ourselves connoisseurs, we missed both dearly while abroad and thought it necessary to spend a few days catching up with our old friends. What better way to reacquaint ourselves than a day trip from San Francisco up to Sonoma County?

A drive through Dry Creek Valley, north of Sonoma, got us off the beaten wine-tasting path and into some small, family run vineyards with $5 tasting fees. Lush fields dotted with grazing cows, a mountainous skyline, rolling hills covered in rows of grapes, and the sky — varying between cloudy with light showers, to brilliant sun beams poking through cotton balls — served up a feast for the eyes. There are over a dozen vineyards in the area; we visited five, and our decision making process was pretty random, Was it one turn away? Did we like the name? Was it open? The only real requirement was no tasting fee over $5.

The area specializes in Zinfandels — we tasted a lot of spicy wines. Of the vineyards, my personal favorite was Bella, where the tasting was inside a cave, the walls lined with contemporary barrels. The only bottle we purchased was a Savingnon Blanc from Quivira, where our host described tastes in terms of the optimal food pairings. The Food & Wine section of their site does something similar, handy for those of us who are looking to extend our wine knowledge. We checked out the friendly farm atmosphere at Preston Wines, where Leah’s roommate suggested we have lunch in their outdoor area, complete with sheep and picnic tables — but the tasting was $10 and the weather less than optimal for doing anything outside. Our final stop was Zichichi Family Vineyard where the wine selection was limited, but we did a barrel tasting. Gotta love the wine thief. At our very first stop of the day, Wilson Winery, our hostess told us about a lookout point, where after a long day of tasting we went for a bird’s eye view of the valley.

On our way back to San Francisco, we wound our way up and over forested hills and through small, charming California towns, to get to Highway 1. We definitely took the long way around thanks to the lady in the GPS, and our friend Phil wrote an interesting post inspired by this experience (travel with versus without digital navigation). Either way though, we reached the stunning Hwy 1 and stopped to hike down to the beach and watch the strength of the Pacific pound the dark sand. The rest of the drive put some of the most beautiful views in America on display as we hugged the coast back down to San Fran, eventually entering the city via the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Welcome to America!

by becca on April 27, 2010

We’re back in the states and experiencing less culture shock than anticipated. We arrived in San Francisco where we’ll spend a few weeks with the lovely Leah Wolfe (Nate’s sister, my good friend, and our match maker) who’s big smile and palpable energy greeted us at the airport. To our surprise, as we exited the terminal, a hula-hooping trombone player, a dancer with a horn and a cowgirl waving a map of the world as a flag, began dancing and playing, I don’t even know what, something American. We stood in amazement as they finished their performance, yelled “Welcome to America!!” and walked away.

Wow.

“You’ve never seen everything,” noted the security guard as we met the red-white-and-blue-clad crew and thanked them for their spirit. A big thanks to Leah, who’s vast spectrum of friends includes girls attending circus school who will travel out to the airport to put on the smallest of shows. Talk about the most amazing welcome home ever.

Before leaving SFO, we picked up our friend Phil, who flew in from Salt Lake City — the four of us will be camping and exploring various places down Highway 1 this week. Before we settle down and get jobs Nate and I will be doing a bit of adventuring in the states, so stay tuned to the blog for a bit of Americana travel writing and photos.

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