Friday, November 4, 2016
On Tuesday, November 1st, Chu Sum and I went back to my dad's for a couple days followed by a trip to Mt Saint Helens. It took several hours of riding before Chu Sum and I finally pulled up to our first stop - the Ape Caves.
Upon entering the caves we soon realized that my lamp was rather useless. As we stumbled in the darknees, with occasional illumination from passersby, we found our eyes were able to adjust just enough so that the dim light actually seemed to be helping. Of course this was ruined by every subsequent exposure to regular strength light. What's more, Chu Sum wasn't really a huge fan of my idea of walking with the light off for intermittent lengths of time as a way to improve our night vision. Thankfully we were soon joined by some new friends who had lamps bright enough to light up whole sections of the cave.
Soon we arrived at the end of the cave where we were both able climb up into a smaller area for some spelunking. I had been down there a few years back and knew that it was a tight squeeze so I let Chu Sum have a go at it... Well, poor Chu Sum smacked his head pretty good for the second time of his visit (the first time on a low metal bar at Wild Waves).
That night we set up camp and Chu Sum, motivated by tales of killer bears, prepared to fight for his life. I probably should have clarified how uncommon bear encounters tend to be... seems the idea gave him nightmares.
The next day we drove up to a scenic spot for some photos of the mountain. Already a bit weary, we continued a bit further to Lava Canyon. We took a short walk to a waterfall and some interesting rock formations then decided we were ready to start the bum-numbing ride back to Puyallup.
Monday, October 31, 2016
On Wednesday, October 26th, after I finished work we went to Josh's so we could all make the early morning departure together. When we got there we found out that Josh had bought the Vive virtual reality gear from the meetup the other day so we spent the evening fighting zombies and trying not to punch holes in the walls...
We spent the next day on the road driving for something like 13 hours to get to Salt Lake City, Utah. That evening, and the whole next day, we walked around town. We ended up stopping in at Leonardo's Museum of Flight for some oddball exhibits with mirrors, illusions, general weirdness as well as, believe it or not, some actual airplanes!
Finally, game day arrived so we went to the stadium to hassle the local fans about their signs... as you do. After about an hour of standing in crowds with cameras whipping overhead the others went to the game while I took a hike up to "the Living Room" as it's called. Not being antisocial mind you - we just didn't have enough tickets.
Well, maybe I'm weird, but I'll take mind-blowing views from mountain tops over watching a football game any day. After the hike I went back at Ute Stadium where I met a lady at the crosswalk. She was leaving the game so she gave me her ticket stub so that I could go inside with the others. In the end we cheered as the Huskies won the game then we made our way Boise, Idaho for the night.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
On Tuesday, October 25th, after I finished work, Chu Sum and I hopped on the bike for a two hour journey - destination: Mt Rainier.
As we arrived we found that the weather was turning for the worse. At first this seemed like it might be a bad thing, but then we saw that the rain was actually thawing the roads... the mountain had recently experienced something of a blizzard.
At the top of the access road we pulled into an empty car park. Looking around we realized it wasn't exactly business hours. In fact, the rangers eventually showed up on their way passing through. They gave us a curious look, explained the trails and pointed out the mountain to us. Apparently, if the air was clear, we would have had the mountain dominating the backdrop of the few trees currently visible. Nevertheless, this was the first time Chu Sum had ever seen snow and he was LOVING it!
After making a snow man, we decided to go for a hike along one of the paths. Most people stepped out of their cars, looked around and immediately headed off back down the mountain (one guy was actually wearing shorts and flip flops!). We gave it a fair go though; slipped around on the icy tracks for a ways, saw a river, some more snow and trees... Finally, we took a few more photos in the car park then, on the way back, had a look at Narada Falls followed by the Nisqually River at the terminal end of the Nisqually Glacier.
Monday, October 24, 2016
On Thursday, October 13th, Chu Sum and I rode the bike to Hong Kong Market in Tacoma. We thought it might rain so we covered up head to toe in rain gear... the sky opened up. We bought our Cantonese cooking supplies before starting the journey back during which time our rain gear was fully put to the test. Despite the low visibility, we took the freeway all the way home where we were pleased to find that our luck had held out - totally dry!
Over the next week I worked a bit but we managed some trail riding on the dirt bike, a couple meals out with friends, a little fishing at Spanaway Lake in my raft, and a virtual reality demo in Seattle with Josh and Jason.
Finally, on the 22nd, we went to Schilter's Farm to meet up with my sister, Jennifer for another pumpkin patch experience. There Chu Sum got to see a few different animals than at Lattin's Farm as well as my brother-in-law's real-life gun (a novel experience for a Hong Konger). After that we went to Wild Waves for Fright Fest.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
On Monday, September 10th, I took Chu Sum way out to the boonies! Well, to my dad's house but... same thing. Though, first, we stopped off at my old stomping grounds in Vaughn (a place I haven't been for years) to see the farm and a local swimming hole called Jackson lake - a place where I probably made a majority of my childhood memories.
Next we headed over to my dad's for dinner and politics - my dad loves his country and wasn't about to let Chu Sum go without a thorough rundown on US history/politics. Finally, we packed up the paddle boat in preparation for a night at the secret camping spot.
The next day we took a drive over to my property to have a little fun. Chu Sum thought we were there for him to earn his keep but it was really, mainly, a good opportunity for him to experience his first bonfire (originally bigger than in the picture...)
The next day I did some teaching work online before taking Chu Sum out to Twanoh State Park for a short hike in the woods.
That night we brought out Monopoly Deal (Hong Kong version) - a game that I bought at the wet market in Hong Kong. I usually do pretty well but I guess Chu Sum saw me coming. The next day we stopped at the Purdy Spit to skip some rocks on our way back to a place Chu Sum undoubtedly thinks of as an extension of the boonies (that is when you compare Puyallup to the metropolis that is Hong Kong).
Saturday, October 8, 2016
On Friday, October 7th, I picked up my friend Chu Sum from the airport. He'd never been to America so he and I made plans for him to come visit for a month - a long visit to some but completely reasonable when you consider our history. I met Chu Sum back in 2014 in Hong Kong at a couchsurfing meeting at which time he agreed to put me up at his place for a while until I finally started work... this ended up taking about two months. Nevertheless, accommodation in Hong Kong is prohibitively expensive (everything else is pretty affordable though) so he insisted that I enjoy his family's hospitality until I had a reasonable financial situation.
Chu Sum's introduction to America was basically a crash course. He had only just got off the plane when he learned that our public transportation system was a little less convenient than what he was accustomed to. Upon making contact over the airport wifi he let me know that he was on his way to my house.... of course, I had to explain that this was not really a practical undertaking in this part of the world - in fact, nobody does that. Coming from a city where literally everything is connected by bus, subway and train, Chu Sum hadn't quite figured out that virtually all travel (despite aggressive political efforts in my region) is done by car. After a short drive (a long trip by Hong Kong standards), we arrived in town and I started introducing him to everyone. First he met my mom, Brian and the dogs then we stopped at the college so he could meet my coworkers/friends there. Later that evening, I took him to meet my friends Josh and Jason at a movie night that we just so happened to have planned for that evening.
The next day we went to the Apple Festival at Lattin's Farm where Chu Sum had his first taste of American farm life. After seeing lots of different farm animals, checking out his (first?) pumpkin patch and eating a fresh apple fritter, Chu Sum finished his second day in America - the land of the free and the home of McDonalds.
Thursday, October 6, 2016
On Monday, June 13th, I arrived back stateside only to start experiencing culture shock... in my own culture. I don't know if recent events are to blame but I was a bit disappointed by the behavior of my fellow Americans. During one of the flights I had a lady in front of me who, during meal time, decided to put her seat back. This, of course, spilled my drink all over my lap. I tapped her on the shoulder and calmly explained my predicament... to which the polite response would be "sorry", right? Nope. She didn't even put her seat back up for me.
On the next flight I had another pleasant experience - this time with the stewardess. I asked for a drink that was free on the previous flight and she insisted that I had somehow paid for it on the last flight (without knowing it?) and that it was the same price this time... apparently the customer is always wrong.
The fun continued with TSA delays... and confiscation of the Swiss bacon I bought in Zofingen. I had made it all the way home and was going through my last level of security when they decided my rather pricey, vacuum sealed chunk of deliciousness was too high a risk to national health and safety to be allowed into the country. I even asked if I could just have a bite but apparently that'd be a threat to national security or something...
Over the following weeks I signed back on as security at Pierce College and spent time with family. We had BBQs, went hiking at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, wake boarding, shot off fireworks for the 4th and enjoyed motorbike rides to local restaurants. My bike (the one that no mechanic will touch) actually needed a little TLC and, fortunately, the neighbor down the street had experience with the unexpectedly challenging job of spoke repair.
During my first trips out on my little enduro I began to discover just how bad road rage has become in my neck of the woods. I had a guy swear at me for lane splitting (which was technically legal here in Washington State at the time and is commonplace/accepted in most of the world) and, at other times, people actually tried to run me over! One guy in a truck sped through a light and increased his speed as he approached my rear tire causing me to skid into an evasive turn almost sliding sideways into the side of the car coming from the other direction! Thankfully, my little bike is highly maneuverable and it wasn't too overly difficult to regain control.
Over the following month I continued pulling scotch broom on my property, working for my neighbors for extra cash and I even got a new job teaching online! I had previously tried to get students through a webpage that I made called Simple English and, of course, through networking in general, but nobody was really willing to commit... turns out you need to build up a bit of a reputation before people really take interest in what you're offering - even if you're the only option they're aware of! Interestingly, a friend of a friend was teaching in Spain and she had found a job with a company in Turkey called English Ninjas. She referred me to them and, as a result, I can now add "Ninja" to my rather long list of work experiences!
Sunday, June 12, 2016
On Thursday, June 9th, I rode over to Zofingen for the street market and found some parking in front of the co-op around the corner - perks of having a scooter in Europe (park anywhere). The street market was pretty busy and had lots of interesting stuff - the best of which had to be the food... the kitschy stuff I could do without. The first place I stopped at was a candy stand where I met a girl from the Dominican Republic who was only too pleased to meet another Spanish speaker. We talked a bit and she gave me a deal on some caramels and even a bag of coated nuts - gratis! Next I stopped over at a bacon stand and got some Swiss Bacon... a bit pricey, but quite nice.
After having my fill of walking around the market, I had a kebab and made some friends at a bratwurst joint. They spoke excellent English so we had a good chat about travel and life living in the Swiss countryside.
The next day I went to Zofingen again with Stefan to check out a scenic spot which included a view of his town Brittnau (left) down the road. Finally, the following day, I packed my gear and Stefan took me to the airport. I then spent the next two days traveling to Portugal, Boston and, my final destination, Seattle.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
On Tuesday, June 7th, I rode over to Stein am Rhine for a visit to the very well-preserved and beautiful medieval town there. It was a real treat walking around the cobbled streets of a town with so much art in its design work - literally like being in a painting.
Next I rode over to Budensee to see the big lakes there before heading back west to the little town of Kobletz.
Koblenz didn't actually have anything much to see so much as it was just a historical point of interest. The remaining late Roman watchtower is listed as a heritage site of national significance but I didn't see it... oh well.
Monday, June 6, 2016
On Monday, June 6th, I went off on a road trip to Schaffhausen to see Rhine Falls. During the ride I experienced what the Swiss refer to as a "Reinfall" or "fail" - my engine overheated. I went to a local mechanic who then dumped loads of oil in it for me (free of charge) and sent me on my way. I talked to other mechanics over the following week but I never did find an explanation for the problem. At one point we thought maybe it was water in the oil but that somehow cleared up... so it's a real mystery!
At Schaffhausen I walked around, got some good shots of the waterfalls, and went in to check out the castle. The walk around was a bit rough with all my camping gear on my back but, fortunately, there was a ferry back across to the castle for a couple francs more. The castle, called Schloss Laufen ("Castle Run" in English), didn't seem to offer much. Though that might be due to the fact that there's no real access to the interior.
Back on the bike I made my way to the camping spot I had scouted out on Google Maps beforehand. It had a few mosquitoes, and the creepy animal growling sounds were a bit much but, otherwise, it turned out to be a totally awesome spot!
Sunday, June 5, 2016
On Thursday, June 2nd, I woke up after sleeping for an entire day/night and had some Rösti - a typical Swiss dish that is basically like hash browns. I didn't do much else till the next day when I got on my bike and rode to Rapperswil to visit some friends from the ski resort in New Zealand (we had a lot of Swiss ski instructors there). After chatting a bit we went for dinner at an Italian place where it turned out our waiter was from Malaga in Spain. So, much to his delight, I got to use my Spanish one more time. The funny thing was that he thought I had been there the other day and proceeded to give me a high five before I could say otherwise. I'm guessing he was too excited to care in any case - certainly isn't often that he meets someone there who speaks his language.
After bidding my Swiss amigos farewell, I slowly made my way back to Stefan's place in Brittnau... very slowly. With the heavy rain and dark clouds, I could hardly see at all - this difficulty was compounded by headlights from oncoming traffic refracting in my visor. Naturally, this caused me to miss my exit at one point (didn't help that the construction made it look blocked off) and I experienced a little déjà vu as I found myself trapped in endless tunnels. By the time I found some open highway where I could exit and turn around I was all the way down in Lucerne - my one-hour drive had become a three-hour journey...
The next day we went to the bakery and had some nice bread then spent some time resting. Finally, on Sunday, we decided to go on a trip to Tessin (Ticino) - a town in the Italian part of Switzerland. Fun fact - Switzerland actually has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh.
On the way to Ticino, we stopped for some Swiss mountain cheese (very strong stuff!) and had a bratwurst while looking at one of the most epic mountain views I've seen... and I've seen a few. Finally, we arrived in Ticino and started a hike into the hills.
Near the end of the hike we found a manmade stream flowing into a small mill and out the other side. In front of the mill we found a bunch of really nice waterfalls where we stopped to re-hydrate. After that we finished the hike and started the three hour drive back to Brittnau.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
On Monday, May 30th, we started driving back toward Casa Blanca. Anthony was in a bit of a hurry to catch his flight so he drove... not a good idea. Turns out driving when you're in a hurry results in 300 Dirham fines. Fortunately, we made it there with enough time for Anthony to join us for a relaxing visit to the hammam. There we dumped buckets of hot and cold water over ourselves then went into a steamy room with a hot floor and laid there while smearing solid olive oil cubes all over our skin. Not super exciting but not a bad experience either.
After that we dropped Anthony off at the airport and made our way over to the Medina for a smoothie and some pasties. Then we tried getting to the beach... which turned out to be a bit of a hassle. It would seem that the local Moroccans in Casa Blanca don't believe in beach access. We parked and walked along the boardwalk for a while until we got hungry and stopped for a kebab. After eating we continued walking until we finally found a place where we were allowed access to the beach.
It was a nice beach, but hardly worth the journey to be honest. Finally, we hiked back to the car, which was a lot further than either of us remembered, and began our two day, nonstop journey up to Switzerland!
Of course, we couldn't help but take the scenic route again and, by the time we got to the ferry, it was quite dark. In fact, I almost hit a sign! This was no ordinary lapse in judgment though... actually, believe it or not, it was by design - they had no reflective surface on this sign and it was blocking off half of the highway. What's more, they had a large cement blockade behind the sign so that our car would be sure to come to a DEAD stop upon impact. Well, while I'm pretty sure I got onto two wheels during this death defying maneuver, we managed to evade the "tourist trap" without incident.
We caught our boat to Spain shortly after that and then drove to Sevilla. We needed to stop there for some special gas that Stefan's car uses but, alas, no station. Oh well, we continued like zombies back to Belmonte and loaded up my bike on the trailer. Finally, we pressed on for the next day and night of driving so that Stefan could get back in time for his military service - apparently he'd have to face a court marshal or something if he was late. We kept switching drivers every hour or two until, after 41 hours of testing fate, we reached Stefan's home in Switzerland. I then proceeded to sleep for the next 24 hours straight.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
On Sunday, May 29th, we woke up and had some traditional Ramadan desserts for breakfast. I think we had Halwa Chebakia (sesame cookie), almond milkshake and dates. The rest was some sort of bread (Batbout?), which we dipped in olive oil, and some yellow stuff. Yummy!
After that we went to the mountains to visit the village that we were supposed to be staying at the previous night. There we met a girl named Loubna; she had really good English and so she became our guide.
She took us on a wee hike and showed us a place for taking mud baths. Following her lead, we took some of that mud and started smearing it all over our faces and arms. Apparently it was something especially healthy - the mud and the soda water we drank at a natural spring before that... which wasn't all that great in my opinion. We then went to her dad's place and had some Moroccan mint tea before heading over to a hut to have lamb Tajin with her family.
Finally, we left the village and headed back to Marrakech to visit the Medina there. We had more tasty sugar cane juice and tried to get to the Hammam for a steam bath... but we were too late.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
On Friday, May 27th, Anthony woke us up at 5am... but we went back to sleep. Later we went to get a sim for his phone and started venturing out into what Anthony coined as "French-Arab-Africa". According to Anthony's experience as a native of the land (born in Uganda), this was a good description of the local culture - Moroccans speak French, drive like arabs and, of course, live in Africa.
After walking around a bit, we were ready for brunch so we went to a good kebab joint with lots of good hummus and other flavorful dips. Then we went to the King's Palace and wandered around the palace grounds for a while.
They had a lot of military at the actual palace itself and, as we approached, it became clear that we were not welcome... we got that message when they grabbed their guns and started yelling at us.
Around that time we decided to head over to the Medina. It was there that Anthony met a guy who showed us his secret stash then took us up on his terrace to show us the view over Rabat. After that we went to Chellah - an ancient citadel with Roman ruins and landscaped gardens. Unfortunately, we couldn't get in without a special pass so we.made our way over to a cool restaurant for some dinner.
We actually had to find a guy with a lantern whose job it is to lead us the place. Then we went down some stairs into an underground entrance leading into a dining area that was literally quite "cool". After eating some Tajin, and other traditional Moroccan food, we went back to the flat and Anthony went across the street to haggle for some dresses - for his sisters... of course.
Apparently, they locked the doors and tried to rob him. Fortunately, Anthony didn't have $5000 on him so they let him go across to our flat to get it. He locked up the flat and hid in his room while the ladies yelled and hammered on the door all night. Strangely enough, Stefan and I didn't hear any of it but the next morning Anthony assured us that we had indeed been under siege for a good while.
The next day we went to a church where they sang for us and then we went to the Medina again for some delicious sugar cane drink. Later, for lunch, we had some Tajin with chicken and then hit the open road passing through Casa Blanca on our way to Marrakech.
We had a little car trouble on the way, and had to get a pull start from some guys, but eventually we arrived in town. From there we were guided up into the mountains by our host who, after meeting us in a small town, decided to call up his buddy so we could stay at his place which was a lot closer.