Saturday, May 24, 2008

Requiem for the Shades

I went down to my car on Wednesday morning to find both doors cracked open and the contents of their side compartments strewn on the gravel. Obviously, Tuesday night was a bad time to forget to lock up.

The only thing the crooks made off with (apart from a tray full of quarters--damn!) was my sunglasses. My PRESCRIPTION aviator-style sunglasses! Now, honestly, I wouldn't mind giving a pair of shades to some homeless guy who might have an aversion to sunny days. But unless this fellow is as blind as I am, I'm sure my glasses ended up in a ditch somewhere, no good to anybody.

Yes, it could have been much worse. They ransacked the glove box but left the registration and insurance documents. They overlooked the case full of burned CDs. They very well could have trashed the car, but they didn't. I'm grateful.

But my poor sunglasses! I bought them in Seoul for use on my Southeast Asia bike trip, and they were definitely a good purchase. many sights we saw together.

What follows is a visual requiem of sorts. I recommend humming the song "Memories" as you scroll down.

Here were are...

...chillin' with the tomb guards near Hue, Vietnam...

...crossing the Mekong on a wooden pallet in Laos...

...swarmed by grade-schoolers near Siem Reap, Cambodia...

...keeping our distance from Thai elephants...

...crashing the island of the The Man with the Golden Gun...

...admiring the spires of Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers...

...and posing with Mom on the coast of Oahu.

So long, shades. You shall be missed!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dream Trips, Vol. 2: 12 Months, 12 Cities

What avid traveler wouldn't want to circumnavigate the globe? Luckily, there's an airfare deal designed specifically for the journey: the round-the-world (RTW) ticket. Most of the major airline alliances--SkyTeam, Star Alliance, Oneworld--offer one. Basically, you choose a time frame and a number of stops, and you can go anywhere in either an eastward or westward direction, without backtracking, until you make it back to your point of origin.

Combine this product with the belief that it would take a month to truly become immersed in one of the world's biggest cities, and you get this dream trip. A month-long stay in each destination would allow me to rent an apartment, get to know the ins and outs of the local culture and find under-the-radar attractions, and probably take some short side trips as well. Now, RTW tickets, though good value, do cost a pretty penny (which is why this isn't a "reality trip"), but if I were ever able to make this happen, here's a rundown on the cities that would be under consideration.

Region 1: Western Hemisphere
To start off, I'd head to Latin America, probably squeezing in two cities. Mexico City seems like an obvious choice, although that would mean limiting myself to one South American destination: Santiago or Buenos Aires. All three of these cities are situated in regions I'd love to explore, and the fact that I speak a little Spanish would mollify any culture shock or trip anxiety I might otherwise experience.

Region 2: Europe
Honestly, I could skip it altogether. Yes, there are some fantastic cities here, but I've been to Western Europe three times now and I feel done. Stockholm and Belgrade sound the most appealing but would be towards the bottom of the overall list.

Region 3: Africa
My grasp of sub-Saharan Africa is weak at best, so I haven't even thought about the lower half of the continent. Along the Mediterranean, Tunis beckons me with its ancient history, and then of course there's Cairo. But that would depend on what I decided in the next category.

Region 4: Middle East
Yes, Cairo is actually in the Middle East, and it's also quite close to my next two candidates--Istanbul and Damascus. I'd likely have to choose one out of these three. Each has its own unique history, culture, language...I really wouldn't know how to decide. Hopefully I'd be able to make side trips to the two that didn't make the cut.

Oh yeah, and then there's Tehran. I want to go! Plenty of tourists do, and most come back with glowing reports. Come on, the stunning diversity of landscape, millennia of Persian history...the country should be on every traveler's itinerary. (Sorry, Mom, it's a part of the world I just can't pass up!)

Let's sum up. I've mentioned 10 possible cities so far, and there's still a lot of the globe left. This isn't as easy as it sounds!

Region 5: India
My knowledge is lacking, but I'd have to get one city in! Any suggestions?

Region 6: East Asia
Oh, the options. You could easily condense this entire trip within China's borders, so choosing just one city would be difficult. I've been to Shanghai and Hong Kong so would likely opt for Beijing. That would allow me to visit Mongolia again (yay!). But southern China really intrigues me.

I'm saving Seoul for a different trip, but Tokyo would be hard to say no to, even though I've been twice. It's such a major metropolis. And the same goes for Bangkok. Moving on, since Indonesia is one of the few Southeast Asian countries I didn't make it to, Jakarta would go on the list.

Region 7: Australia/Oceania
It's its own continent, after all, so it demands a visit. I hear Melbourne and Sydney are both cool, and perhaps I'd be able to skip over to New Zealand for a week or so. there. The scope of this one couldn't be much broader, but you're supposed to dream big, right?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Taking to the Hills

Last weekend, to take advantage of the tail-end of a period of extraordinarily beautiful weather, I hopped in the car and drove up the coast to Camden Hills State Park. It's a two-hour jaunt along Route 1, through small towns ranging from the quaint and picturesque to the gritty and industrial. The town of Camden itself is probably the most attractive of the bunch. Nestled around a small harbor in Penobscot Bay, its maritime shops and eateries create a pleasant, though touristy, atmosphere.

The park lies just up the road from the town. Bordered on the west by Lake Megunticook and by the sea on the east, there are plenty of fine views once you gain a little elevation. The main park area is dominated by two peaks: Mount Battie and Mount Megunticook. A paved public road climbs to the top of the former, making it by far the more popular, while Megunticook is both taller and more isolated.

Of course, I didn't know any of this at the time. From the parking lot, I struck out on a trail to Mt. Battie, since that was the name I was more familiar with. It was a disappointing hike, keeping me within sight of the road most of the time. Although I was rewarded with some great views at the top, near the tower, my urge to embrace nature had not been satisfied.

I weighed my options, standing there among the Canadian sightseers and local picnickers. I had no water and no map. Oh yeah, and I was wearing flip-flops. Not the brightest choice for footwear, I realize, but having read that the Camden area is known as "the soft-adventure capital of the world," I had figured the park's hikes couldn't be too strenuous.

Despite the factors working against me, I decided to retrace my path and hook up with a cross trail I had seen heading in the direction of Mt. Megunticook. Leaving the road and all its people behind, I set out.

It was a steep climb in spots but not too long, and soon I had reached Megunticook's Ocean Lookout, flip-flops and all. From atop the high cliff, the landscape looked spectacular, the crisp breeze smelled fresh, and I felt fulfilled. Not even the trail mud squishing through my open toes on the way down could detract from the experience. Next time, though, I'll try to put a little more effort into planning!