Category Archives: Text Post

Boston 2021

It felt great to travel again, even if it’s just in the US.

We chose to go to Boston because we wanted to go somewhere we didn’t need a car and had a lot to see. Turns out, Boston was perfect. The food was amazing – our place was right next to the North End so walking into the North End for amazing food and desserts was no hassle. We walked about 50 miles in our six days in Boston and more than offset that calorie burn with huge meals like pizza at Ernesto’s and fantastic desserts at places like Bova’s.

We had a great time in Boston. There was plenty to do and it was super neat to be in Boston on July 4th – the town came alive with all sorts of independence day celebrations. We had a wonderful Chinatown tour and stopped at quite a few of the major sites in town. We walked the entire greenway and stopped at many of the installations along the way.

There were some surprises. On the positive: pretty much everything we ate was incredible, playing on the beach during sunset on Cape Cod is something I’ll never forget, Boston seems to be filled with late risers so walking around in the early morning was super quiet and fun, and there were so many family activities we could do that were free or super cheap – like walking tours and playing in all the fountains along the greenway, and the history / architecture was wonderful; our central location made everything accessible within a 15 min walk. On the negative: Provincetown in Cape Cod was a let down and the weather went from cold to blistering hot to tropical storm. In the interest of making lemonade, we ran around to a couple museums like the old south meeting house and the old state house during the tropical storm and we were the only people there!

The biggest surprise was Tropical Storm Elsa. Elsa hit right as we were about to fly out and we actually flew out of the storm – one of the photos is the edge of the storm as we flew out.

All in all, Boston was 100% awesome. 5/5 would do again. It was cathartic to get out and resume normal activities after being locked in for the last year.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Five Years Home.

Six years ago we packed up all our belongings into a Toyota Corolla and drove from Upstate New York to Minnesota through Canada officially starting our world trip. I can still remember two distinct feelings: the first feeling of being free – it was the first time in my life where I didn’t have a boss, a teacher, or someone else deciding my time, and the second, feeling like I was staring into the abyss and the abyss was staring back at me. At that point in time, I had worked at different jobs while going to school since I was 14; I never had a gap year, studied abroad, took a summer off, or had any other common youth event / engagement that gave me a large break from work or international travel exposure. We had no certainty we would find jobs on our return, lots of people did not recommend we go on the trip, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. It certainly felt like the Rubicon was crossed.

Five years ago I remember landing at Dulles airport in Washington DC and re-entering America. I was kind of nervous since we’d been gone for 13 months and had passports full of stamps and thought that maybe someone would be at least a little curious. It was the most anti-climatic entrance ever. In fact, I’m not entirely sure we entered the US correctly since I’m pretty sure we missed some important steps and no-one collected the customs form we were given on the airplane. All of a sudden we were in the US and that was that! In no time we were able to find jobs and get back to the daily grind.

Little did we know what our world would look like five years after our return home: we’ve had quite the amazing journey. We’ve been successful in our careers, we’ve added to our family, we’ve laid down some roots, and we’ve even had a bit of traveling! Who knew some of the habits we developed when traveling, like what we eat and how we spend our time, would carry over to our daily lives in the US?  We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had great luck in our personal lives and our professional lives since we’ve been back, pandemic included. Knock on wood the trend continues!

We spent a bit of time thinking about the last five years and our perspective on life. Turns out, not much changed in our thinking, feeling, or planning compared to two years ago: https://word.christopherwagner.org/?p=8250 and our thoughts on the places we visited https://word.christopherwagner.org/?p=5912: Shortly after we landed we started thinking about when we’d be able to take a break and travel again; I did some basic math and I figured it would be around seven years. Turns out my math was mostly correct but I hadn’t penciled in a pandemic and travel ban for Americans.

We’ve explored some new and oldies-but-goodies areas of the US and thoroughly enjoyed the sites, the smells, and the sounds. The US is a very special place and we are happy we were able to learn more about the US by leaving and traveling abroad. There seems to be a general dark cloud over the US, especially now with the election, but America is still the best place for someone like ourselves and will probably continue to be a great place for a very long time.

We were able to sneak in a trip to Spain two winters ago and we were looking forward to more international travel starting this year. It seems the world is on hold until a vaccine is released, everyone gets COVID, or people just get sick and tired of staying home. Our hearts ache for all those we met during our travels who’s livelihoods depend on tourism. We met incredible and industrious people who helped us along our way and gave us an incredibly enriching experience. The pandemic is taking a terrible toll all over and it’s not just due to illness. Permanent structural changes seem to be underway and it’s looking the world will be quite changed the next time we want to travel.

Never in a million years had I guessed the five year update of returning home would be a story about how everything is great for us but awful for many others. Hopefully, life resumes quickly.

I put some photos below of some of our favorite events / sites / whatever from the last two years. Enjoy the photos!

The Rona Life

It’s been an interesting four months since COVID-19 ended the daily routine for most of America. We’ve been fine; we’ve had nothing but good luck, and we’re fortunate our time has gone so well.

Normally, we sneak in another trip or two during the spring and summer but this year has been spent at home for extremely obvious reasons. That said, it’s been pretty great for us because we’re still employed and we’re healthy. Given the situation of tens of millions of Americans, I’d say we have nothing to complain about.

The lockdowns started when the weather was still a bit shit and now we have our plants bearing fruit. I remember the governor mentioning how great Minnesotans were at social distancing when the shelter in place order started. I laughed because the weather was still crap and of course people weren’t going to be out and about. Once weather improved it shouldn’t have been the surprise it was that people got together and were a lot closer. Maybe it takes a non-Minnesota native like me to see the situation for what it is!

We’ve had quite a bit of time to take stock of what we have and make the most of our surroundings. We’ve done our best to enjoy everything to the max.

But life has been strange; it was super strange to see: 

  • almost no one on the road for rush hour,
  • stores out of diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, and medicine,
  • stores running out of food,
  • lots of people going for walks in the neighborhood,
  • lines to get into stores and shops,
  • our jobs transition to work-from-home.

Traffic is picking up, stores are getting the shelves full, and life is sort of returning to normal for us. Restaurants and bars are open and even the Mall of America and the skyways downtown are open. It’s sad to walk around the Mall of America and the skyways simply because no one is around, many stores have closed permanently, and even more haven’t yet opened. I’m hoping life continues to become normal and the mask wearing by most becomes the mask wearing by all.

I decided to add some photos of the last five months. All the photos pretty much come from a three mile radius from our home. Make sense, the world just became a lot smaller with the pandemic.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris

Spain 2019

We decided to go visit Spain in February to avoid some of the dreary Minnesota winter. We were incredibly lucky – we missed -30F weather with 30MPH winds!

I think I could make a habit avoiding winter in Minnesota.

Terrible Minnesota weather aside, Andalusia in Spain was pretty incredible. The sights were pretty fantastic, the food was amazing, everything was super laid back, we chatted with some incredible people, and we had a couple of wonderful cooking classes! We had a brief stop in Gibraltar, a British colony, and it turned out to be a super strange experience. All-in-all, we had a fantastic visit and we were happy with our visit.

It was neat to tour around Spain and see an area where Muslim Moors conquered and set up shop for 700 years. The architecture and artwork of this period is similar to what we saw in India, Singapore, the Middle East, and the Balkan areas conquered by the Ottomans. It was strange to think the Iberian Peninsula is so far away from India yet shared a similar architectural language because of a shared religion! Besides Muslim architecture, we saw some oppulent churches and cathedrals. Spain hit it’s stride right after it drove all the Muslims out (1492) and soon found itself as a major world power and owner / ruler of the new world. All the gold taken from the Aztecs, Incas, and other indigenous peoples ended up lining the walls of huge churches and cathedrals in Spain. Of our all travels, the cathedrals were unlike anything we’ve seen. The blend between Christian and Muslim architecture was a bit schizophrenic – a lot of the buildings looked like the car Homer Simpson designed with all sorts of different styles and features just mashed together.

We probably ate our weight in tapas. It seemed like everywhere we visited we found extremely delicious food. I’m not huge in eating meat and it was surprisingly easy to find delicious vegetarian / vegan food wherever we went. We learned some new favorites, like paella and pisto, while engorging ourselves in olives and bread. If nothing else, Spain is 100% delicious.

No one really seemed to be in a hurry in Spain. In fact, we had to modify our typical eating times slightly to accommodate the issue of a lot of restaurants closing between 2PM and 7PM. We are not really night people so it was a bit strange to eat a large meal early and then try to find a snack in the evenings. In many ways, it was helpful the culture was so laid back. We were able to get around easily and see a lot of sites without being surrounded by people since folks were busy eating at times slightly different than what we were used to!

We had great conversations with folks but there is one experience which stands out – our English paella cooking instructor located in rural Spain. We had an incredible cooking class with her, paella is amazing, but most of all we had a great conversation about traveling, immigrating, Spanish culture, the Brexit, and all sorts of other topics. It was an incredible experience because she and her family went a step further than Jac and I when we were traveling: instead of returning to their home country they decided to lay down roots somewhere a bit more laid back. Anglosphere culture is pretty similar so it was extremely educational to get her perspective on Spain. She informed us of a side of Spain we couldn’t possibly know unless we lived in Spain.

Gibraltar was an extremely strange place. We’ve been to a handful of places that used to be British colonies where driving on the left is the rule and the areas still have a lot of ‘Britishness’. For whatever reason, Gibraltar is right-side driving yet feels very British. This is different than Hong Kong where there is left-side driving there is a giant ‘unweave’ interchange between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to accommodate right-side driving on the mainland. Gibraltar is super tiny and has their own currency to boot so it was weird to pay cash for things and get Gibraltar pounds back. I guess regular UK pounds are valid currency in Gibraltar on a 1:1 basis but Gibraltar pounds are not really valid anywhere outside Gibraltar.

The cities were pretty neat and the Seville Cathedral Roof tour is one of the amazing things we’ve done but I think our favorite area of Spain we visited was the rural areas with the tiny white villages. We had a fantastic night in Zahara de la Sierra and enjoyed visiting the tiny white villages strewn across the countryside. The small towns were a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city centers of Madrid, Seville, Granada, etc. The mountains were absolutely stellar and the countryside just smelled good! The streets were super narrow in the small villages. I ran into a building in Arcos de la Fronteria while trying to back out of a bad situation – the directions I received from a local would have required me to drive down some stairs so I decided maybe that I shouldn’t do that in a rental and ended up driving into a building. We had a new, black, VW Polo with 500KM and ran into a white building. Not great.

Aside from driving into buildings it was very easy to drive around Spain. Drivers were very courteous and pretty much everyone was driving below the speed limit. We were surprised with the narrow ‘highways’ in the mountains. It was incredible to see buses traversing the mountains knowing the road was barely wide enough for two small vehicles let alone a huge coach bus.

Spain was surprisingly cheap. Meals weren’t that expensive and lodging was a bit on the pricier side only because we picked some great views / great locations for lodging. Our rental car was super cheap and it was, in general, just crazy to see how far our dollars went. We were a bit surprised to learn Spain is kinda poor by American standards, especially the rural areas. Average wages are quite low to match the cost of living. There’s a lot of agriculture work and tourism seems to be the big industry in Andalusia so I guess it’s pretty logical wages are lower.

We were lucky to visit Spain when we did. It was neat to see ripe olives on the trees, see almond trees blooming, and enjoy local festivals like Christians & Moors in Madrid. Traveling in shoulder season is truly the best – all sorts of festivals and the earth is active with changes for the upcoming seasons. We also caught a Flamenco show in Seville and were completely floored with what we saw – the music, dancing, and singing was incredible.

We’d happily go back to Spain to eat tapas and hang out in the many white villages in the mountains :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Three years home.

Three year home. It’s hard to believe.

Time flies.

A bit over four years ago Jac and I decided to pack up and leave the US without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. At that point in our lives neither Jac nor I had really traveled internationally, knew zero additional languages besides English, and had a very different understanding of the world at large. Instead of finding danger, confusion, and adversity during our travels we found friendliness, similarities, beauty, and differing ways of living life while still only knowing English. To date, it’s still likely the most risky and most rewarding decision we’ve ever made.

The last two years since my one year anniversary update haven’t been all that different. We were both fortunate to land at jobs where we are treated very well by our respective companies and managers, we go to work, come home, have fun when it’s not work, and make time for travel. One of the bigger differences has to be the home we purchased; we’re actually laying down roots, we’re part of a community, and we’ve turned about 1/3 of our backyard into a garden so we regularly have produce coming out of our ears.

We continually try to get an international flavor by attending local cultural festivals / events whenever possible. It’s not all that hard considering the twin cities has a rather large immigrant population from all over the world so it seems like there are always events to attend or places to visit like the Festival of Nations, Polish Festival, and Hmongtown. Jac and I enjoy attending these events since it gives us a helpful remembrance of our travels.

We reminisce often and chat frequently about a ’round 2′ trip. As time passes our memories of our experiences during our travels become less sharp and harder to recall while our desire to see strange new parts of the world increases. I vividly remember returning to the US with zero desire to ever be in a plane again and now we’re both interested in immersing ourselves into far flung places with new smells, new sites, and new voices. Since we still don’t have a strong desire to grow our careers at the expense of our time, our conversations about our future often drift towards travel and obtaining shared experiences in a new parts of the world.

We were very lucky with our home purchase. We wanted a home that was in the middle of the cities with good access to the interstates so we could have more work options. We found a home that fit our desires for location, layout, and size, in a very small tier one suburb. We originally thought the house was in a neighborhood of St. Paul or Minneapolis and we didn’t realize until after we had placed an offer on the home that the home is in a tiny suburb with it’s own highly rated school district, police force, and local government. So, we actually live in a very small town in the heart of a major metropolitan area and it’s by far the smallest town I’ve ever lived in as an adult. The town truly has a small town feel and has all the small town shenanigans that go with it. I sometimes forget there two cities that touch our suburb that represent the 18th largest city in the nation and we’re part of the 16th largest metropolitan statistical area. Kinda weird.

We’ve traveled quite a bit since our world trip but we’ve chosen to stay in North America for a variety of reasons. We’ve been some incredible places: the Eastern Sierra’s in California, the Canadian Rockies, the Smoky Mountains, and the American southwest. We were lucky to find some new hikes that easily landed on our top hikes of all time:

  • the Gem Lakes / Mono Pass trail in the Eastern Sierras – incredible beauty
  • Eiffel Lake trail behind Moraine Lake in Canada – stunningly gorgeous with very few hikers with only one terrifying run-in with a bear
  • the Golden Wall trail at Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon Nation Park – a hidden gem with no other hikers with incredible scenery

During our travels we’ve also ran into some amazing seasonal, chance, or calendar events:

  • Canada Day on July 1st in Jasper was amazing
  • The Big Bay Boom in San Diego on July 4th was incredible
  • stunning fall colors at Smoky Mountains National Park
  • a desolate and serene bike ride through Zion Canyon
  • Spring bloom of field flowers in rural Texas
  • Rolling Thunder on Memorial Day in DC
  • Lava flow in Hawaii

It appears as though the pattern of Really Bad Things happening to people areas as we’re visiting or shortly after we visited has ended. I wrote about our luck in the post “End to Nomadic Life” where places we visited had horrible, horrible things happen to people around us, like:

  • the banks in Greece shutting down the day after we arrived in Greece – we were unaffected because foreigners were exempt from capital controls,
  • a human stampede in Shanghai occurring a block away from us on the Bund where 36 people died – we were safe because we were on a deck up on the fourth or fifth floor of our building, and
  • bad weather causing an avalanche killing quite a few hikers and guides while we were trekking – we were safe because we were in a valley over while we were trekking in Nepal.

The trend of Really Bad Things continued for a bit:

  • we pulled over while driving highway 1 in California to watch a small brush fire since Jac has ever seen a forest fire. Later we learned the fire turned into the Soberanes Fire where highways were closed for quite some time and people died,
  • we jumped a barrier on the Big Island to watch lava flow into the ocean and had a great time only to learn people were sent to the hospital a few hours later to recover from toxic air and shards of glass called “Pele’s Hair” falling from the sky due to a wind change,
  • part of Canada shut down shortly after we drove thru on our way between Banff and Vancouver due to fires,
  • and that’s about it that I can think of!

We’ve traveled to enough places without incident that I feel comfortable saying we’ve broken the trend. Our travels for about the last couple of years to the Smoky Mountains, Colorado, the American Southwest, Chicago, and San Diego have resulted in no mass injury or damage to the areas. A fresh breath of air :).

I decided to add a few photos to this post; just a handful of favorites from the last couple of years.

Enjoy the photos :).

Chris W.

American Southwest 2018

We had a wonderful two week trip through the American Southwest and saw some incredible scenery. The American Southwest is one of the last areas we’ve wanted to visit in the US since we’re not big into red rocks or desert so we’ve held off visiting the area until now. After our visit, I’ve changed my opinion a lot and look forward to visiting again, hopefully soon!

We drove a giant circle across Arizona and Utah visiting a ton of parks along the way (Petrified Forest NP, Canyon de Chelly NM, Monument Valley, Goosenecks SP, Arches NP, Deadhorse SP, Capitol Reef NP, Grand Staircase Escalante NM, Kodachrome SP, Bryce Canyon NP, Cedar Breaks NM, Zion NP, Grand Canyon NP) seeing incredible sights, eating incredible food, and enjoying spectacular weather.

It’s hard to describe the enormity of the sights. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is the perfect example – it’s a national monument / natural feature that has grand mesas and incredible 1,500ft monoclines climbing stepwise nearly 7,000ft over many miles. The Grand Canyon is just that – grand, and the other national / state parks we visited were equally enormous. The slot canyons, hodooos, mesas, buttes, monuments, ruins, petroglyphs, arches, mountain peaks, desert valleys, goosenecks, orchards, and crystal clear night skies were all incredible. No photo is capable of capturing the sheer size and beauty of the area. I tried, I really did, but I know the photos I took are not representative of the area and fail to portray the area accurately. The area is one of those places a person has to see in person.

The national parks were busy. Very busy. To cope, we did one of two things: we either altered our schedule to minimize the number of people we’d be around or we’d figure out alternate paths / alternate activities. As an example of altering our schedule: we chose to do a lot of early morning hiking. Seeing sunrise on Peek-a-boo trail in Bryce Canyon was an experience I can’t describe and is easily one of the best moments in hiking I’ve ever had. We started hiking when it was still rather dark and had hiked in solitude for about 45min in the dark / shade of the hoodoos before we rounded a corner to see a very large valley filled with vibrantly lit hoodoos from the early morning sun. The colors were amazing and the full body experience was exacerbated by the early morning stillness, early morning animals, and early morning smells. It was stunning. As we finished up our hike we saw humanity pouring into the canyon and it was loud. Screaming, yelling, music playing, and selfie taking made it a bit harder to enjoy the trail. I’m confident we would have greatly disliked hiking in Bryce if we would have hiked at a normal human time simply because the crush of humanity would also be enjoying the trails. Renting bicycles and riding around the canyon floor in Zion NP is the other example of finding alternate activities. Humanity is overrunning Zion – people, people, people everywhere so the national park service runs shuttles to minimize traffic in the canyon. I know there is about a 0% chance I’d cram myself into a tourist shuttle so I looked for alternate activities and found we could rent bicycles and bike wherever we wanted; sounded like a great alternative! Not only was it a great alternative, it’s one of the coolest things we’ve ever done! It felt like we had the canyon to ourselves! Since there was very little traffic we could bike wherever we wanted, it was super quiet, and it was stunningly beautiful. It was surreal knowing that there were a ton of people in Zion NP but that they were relegated to shuttles and wherever they decided to get off the shuttle. Had we not rented bikes I’m pretty sure we would have hated Zion since there were so many people.

Outside the national parks, the solitude was incredible. There were vast expanses where we didn’t see other vehicles or other people, didn’t see planes overhead, had zero cellphone signal, and didn’t hear or smell anything other than nature. For example: Red Canyon right next to Bryce Canyon NP. It’s not even a park but part of national forest surrounding Bryce NP. There are quite a few trails in the area so we decided to hike the area. We hiked in the middle of the day and chose a more popular trail, the Golden Wall trail. We didn’t see a single person, we didn’t hear any sounds of humanity, and only enjoyed nature. The sights were really similar to Bryce Canyon but no-one was around. The hike is one of the better hikes we’ve ever done in our entire lives.

We were chatting with the National Forest Service volunteer at the Red Canyon visitor center and she mentioned Highway 12 is “the second most beautiful drive in the world”. Highway 12 runs between Moab and Bryce Canyon NP and goes through Grand Staircase NM, Capitol Reef NP, and a lo of beautiful areas. We had driven on Highway 12 and thought it was quite pretty so we were a bit surprised to hear it’s the second most beautiful drive in the world. I asked her what the first most beautiful drive was and she said “Milford Sound in New Zealand”. Fortunately for us, we had driven that road when we could compare. I think Highway 12 in Utah was more beautiful only because we didn’t really like New Zealand :/. It’s interesting to think that Milford Sound is internationally known yet I had never heard of Highway 12 in Utah.

Speaking of national parks and national forests – I continually re-learn that there is a major difference in crowds visiting national parks and national forests. We’ve hiked, a lot, all over the country and I noticed a while back that the folks visiting national parks seemed to be more like city dwellers who wanted to see nature and have access to amenities like shops, rangers, informational walks, etc., and people who visited national forests for hiking seemed to be the type of people who, in general, want to enjoy hiking far away from others. It’s awesome people want to visit national parks; there’s literally nothing else like the US national park system we’ve seen in all of our travels. It’s truly a unique gem all Americans should take advantage of when possible.

This is the first year I’ve noticed something different about the crowds in the parks and other areas we were visiting. While extremely anecdotal, it seems as though the improving economy has brought a different part of society to the parks. Jac and I started visiting national parks in 2008 and witnessed firsthand the utter destruction the Great Recession had on the tourist areas around the parks starting in 2009. Seeing boarded up hotels, closed restaurants, and shut down tourist attractions was common place. This year I noticed far fewer shuttered businesses and noticed the parks were attracting families / individuals who looked different than the typical national park tourist and may have been a lower socio-economic class. It was exciting to see the folks – the recession was awful and disproportionately awful to the lower socio-economic classes so it’s my hope my observations mean the recovery has worked its way to all classes of society. If my observation is true then the recovery sure took its sweet time. 

We were surprised to find out the area has a lot of homemade pie options. It seemed as though every local restaurant we visited offered some sort of homemade pie ranging from the classic apple, peach, etc., to the more adventurous mountain berry and summer fruits mix. This all started at Capitol Reef National Park. I had read that one of the gift shops sold homemade pie inside the park – which I thought was very strange. I had read that tourists needed to show up a bit early to make sure they were able to get pie, even in March / April, since they tended to sell out. First, I don’t recall homemade items ever really being sold inside a national park. Second, Capitol Reef NP is in the middle of nowhere, seriously, look at a map of the US to find a big city in the area and then look at a population density map, there’s nearly nothing in the area. So, we set off early from Moab and arrived in Capitol Reef NP a bit after 10ish or so. We found they were selling small personal pies in the park so bought one pie as a test quickly discovering we needed seven more. From there on out, I think we had pie with every meal and pie at night before we went to bed. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much pie!

Without planning, it seems our timing was right for a lot of things:

  • we weren’t snowed on, at all, unlike what happened to individuals we know who traveled the area a couple weeks before us,
  • the Milky Way was out in the early morning and we ended getting some great Milky Way photos,
  • our driver for the Monument Valley sunrise tour happened to know an incredible amount about photography and taught me a massive amount about night photography in about half of an hour,
  • the fruit trees in Capitol Reef NP were in bloom and it was beautiful,
  • the road to Cedar Breaks NM just opened for the year while we were in the area and the sunset we watched in solitude was incredible,
  • our gravel / dirt road driving went without a hitch since it hadn’t rained in some time and everything is solid,
  • we were able to get a tour of the Glen Canyon dam,

Despite having grown up in an arid climate I had forgotten how bad static electricity can get. I live in Minnesota now, rarely do I ever build up enough static electricity to shock myself or anyone else. Being high in the mountains and in the arid climate reminded me so much where I grew up; it only took a couple of days to get the metal touching habit back to top of mind so I could dissipate smaller amounts of static electricity frequently instead of getting a few doozies J.

Lastly, the food was great; not just the desserts, real food too. We had some extremely delicious Mexican food and it was awesome to get Indian tacos again. I had Indian tacos a lot in school growing up and I’ve come to find most folks in Minnesota have no idea what an Indian taco is or where to get one. One of the best meals we had was an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet in Moab after a long day hiking around Arches NP; we made out like bandits on that deal.

Overall, this trip went well above our expectations. I can’t wait to go back!

Enjoy the photos –

Chris W.

Short album:

 

Long album:

South Carolina Spring 2018

I was sent to South Carolina for work only to be quite a bit surprised at what I learned – South Carolina is a very strange place:

  1. there is a very weird attachment to the confederacy,
  2. the civil war is described as a war between the “Federalists” and the confederates,
  3. locals told me the Columbia area is known as the “armpit of the south” due to how humid and hot it gets,
  4. the magnolia trees are incredible – some fully in bloom and 30ft tall, and,
  5. the poverty is very apparent, pervasive and manifests itself in subtle ways,
  6. it appears as though there is a very bimodal distribution of wealth.

We spent a bit of time driving around the countryside and seeing a confederate paraphernalia wasn’t uncommon. What was strange was seeing Sons of the Confederacy #842 implying there are at least 841 other Sons of the Confederacy establishments. I had never heard of the Sons of the Confederacy so I learned what Sons of Confederacy stood for and promoted which, unfortunately, didn’t clear much up for me. America loves winners. It’s in our blood. Yet, there’s a group of people who cling to the past glorifying a bunch of losers who lost fighting trying to defend their horrific and awful values and morals. We lived on a east coast and we’ve traveled around the east coast quite a bit so we read a lot of roadside historical markers and visited other historical sites but South Carolina is the first place I can recall reading about the “Federalists”. I think this is a purpose obfuscated to change the narrative to States Rights fighting a supreme federal government instead of the Union, preserving the union, fighting against a bunch of renegades who want to enslave people. It’s sad.

It was a bit warm and humid driving around South Carolina but I told we weren’t close to experiencing the worst of the weather. I felt quite fortunate the weather was a nice (?) as it was because it already felt like I was wearing a hot shower.

Everything was neon green, just lush, but the 30ft Southern Magnolia trees were a shock. The flowers the size of a small dinner plate and the trees were covered with the flowers. Lots of other plants were in bloom but the Southern Magnolia stole the day – by far. We have magnolias here in Minnesota but nothing 30ft tall!

Rural South Carolina is a bipolar arrangement of abject poverty and well off communities. It wasn’t uncommon to see well-off gated communities near run down clusters of homes. The typical big box stores could be seen in the outskirts of reasonably large communities but the dowtowns were almost always boarded shut or vacant. It was depressing.

I noticed another strange manifestation of the poverty and bifurcated socioeconomic classes when it came to picking restaurants based on Google Reviews. Low cost quick serve restaurants, like Little Ceasers, could easily get 4.2+ stars with hundreds of reviews while high-end steakhouses would score in the 3 star range with hundreds of reviews. Now, while I don’t much for meat anymore, I do remember how a high-end steak tastes and I’m confident all the steak I’ve ever had is better than all the Little Ceasers I’ve ever had, no contest. We visited a steakhouse with 3.8 stars and my colleague had a very large steak so I asked him if the steak was better than all the Little Ceasers he’s ever had, after a chuckle he said, “well, yeah, it’s steak”. The only reasonable theory I have as to why this situation exists is because there’s a bimodal distribution of wealth so different groups go to different restaurants with little overlap: lower socioeconomic classes go to Little Ceasers and well-off folks go to steakhouses.

Socioeconomic divides are everywhere in America, South Carolina isn’t unique. What is unique is how the divide plays out and the apparent valley between the poor and well-to-do.

So, in general, South Carolina is a weird place.

Enjoy the photos –

Chris W.

Canadian Rockies 2017

We recently finished a couple week driving trip through the Canadian Rockies and into Vancouver. What a remarkable time: the scenery was stunning, everyone was super-friendly, the hiking was mindbogglingly awesome, the weather was perfect, the ethnic foods in Vancouver were absolutely delicious, and our participation in the 150th Canada Day celebrations in Jasper was very enjoyable and seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our only disappointment was making our trip too short, there is a lot to see and we know we’ll have to come back. Had we known how awesome the Canadian Rockies were we probably would have visited earlier and visited multiple times.

Our flight to Calgary at the start of the trip was really interesting only because of who we sat next to: an Airbus mechanic. I’ve flown quite a bit so I had an opportunity to ask him all sorts of questions about planes, maintenance, and flying. My most pressing question had to do with the toilet; many of my flights have been delayed due to toilet problems so I asked him whether it was code for something else. He then went into a long explanation about the plumbing in an aircraft and how people flush all sorts of things that cause huge problems and that, no & absolutely not, is a toilet problem code for anything else. It comes down to people flushing things they should be flushing! Very interesting!

We showed up to Canada not really knowing what to expect. We chose the Canadian Rockies because we’ve never been to the area and we figured it was time to visit. In general, we’ve found areas with large amount of tourists rather unenjoyable places to visit because it’s tough to move around, it’s expensive, it’s a poor value, and people with their bad behavior ruin just about everything. As an example: our first stop on our first day in the country was Waterton National Park and a young couple became enraged at us when we took the last available parking spot at a waterfall. Another example would be when we showed up really early to Lake Louise to start the Plain of Six Glaciers hike and were hanging out near the outlet of the lake taking a few photos of  the sunrise on the lake when someone walked over and asked us to move so she could take a photo. It was early so not many people were awake or around and her request took us by surprise. We looked to our left and looked to our right to see another 10-20 people on the near quarter mile paved pedestrian area where this person could have easily taken a photo. Somehow, we had ended up in the exact spot she wanted to take a photo. Baffling.

Fortunately, these were very rare events and discovered pretty much no-one veered far from their car or the parking lot so we were able find pure joy filled solitude in the mountains surrounded by fantastic views, wonderful smells, and the beautiful sound of nature! Our lodging was generally a bit away from the major tourist areas so it was a bit more quiet for us. While things were generally more expensive than in the US, we found pretty much everything to be a good to great value. I can’t really think of a bad meal we had, bad lodging, or anything else that may have been a poor value. We had a lot of great conversations with locals and found pretty much everyone to be happy and very proud of Canada. We used Airbnb almost exclusively and once again Airbnb didn’t let us down at all and very much added to our trip experience. The flat we rented in Vancouver was easily one of the best views we’ve ever had on any trip and it was such as special experience  to be able to watch sunrise and sunset on the beautiful mountains and city every day.

The hiking was some of the best hiking we’ve ever done – the trails were well marked, well maintained, and went to areas of great interest. We were able to complete quite a few hikes but the two hikes we enjoyed the most were the Eiffel Lake trail which runs behind Moraine Lake and the Plain of Six Glaciers trail which runs behind Lake Louise. Moraine Lake and Lake Louise are two of the most photographed / most visited places in Canada so we were expecting throngs of people on the trails but found solitude. The Plain of Six Glaciers has a really cool tea house near the end of the trail and serves some delicious food. We found out the non-perishables are helidropped and the perishables are hiked in when needed. Knowing this, it was surprising the food was so delicious and reasonably priced!

For the most part, we have never had dangerous encounters with wildlife while traveling. Our luck turned this trip when we encountered a grizzly bear on the trail during the Eiffel Lake hike. We had started our return and I was about 150ft ahead of Jac when I came face:face with a grizzly about 20 feet ahead of me as I rounded a blind corner. Fortunately, I had read the bear safety pamphlet the night before. Unfortunately, I completely disregarded all advice and recommendations in the pamphlet due to fear and panic.  So I turned and ran back to Jac while shouting many curse words intermixed with ‘bear’ and ‘run’. I looked back periodically only to see the bear coming our way on the trail at a nice pace causing further panic. We eventually ran into a couple on the trail and asked if they had bear spray. They told us we should not run from a bear. Right about that time Jac slipped in some snow and was no longer standing so I couldn’t help but think it wasn’t really the best time for a conversation. We soon noticed the bear that had been following us on the trail once we started running had lost interest and was running into the valley below us. Jac and I don’t have any desire to come into contact with animals while hiking. Nature is very dangerous and even non-meat eaters like moose, elk, mountain goats, etc., can really mess up a human. We neither think seeing bears is cool nor strive to see apex predators in the wild while we are also in the wild because we both know six in claws don’t mix well with a human’s desire to thrive. Once we continued our return hike we warned hikers about the grizzly bear only to get replies like, ‘oh, cool!’, and ‘nice, I want to see one!’ WTF is wrong with people!?

We were lucky to be in the tiny town of Jasper (pop. 2,500) for Canada Day on July 1st. It was the 150th anniversary so the festivities were bigger than normal. We started Canada Day by going to an all-city pancake feed in the park, went to a flag raising ceremony where birthday cake was served, watched a parade and finished the day watching fireworks. Canada Day was awesome and we were lucky to have been in Canada for their special day. We saw locals sitting around, BBQing, and enjoying the day. While Americans celebrate July 4th right, I think the Canadians give us a run for our money when it comes to celebration our respective nations’ birthdays.

Eventually we made our way down to Vancouver. Shortly after we arrived we found out Vancouver is a food mecca and we were able to get all sorts of authentic food in Vancouver that we haven’t had since our world trip. We had amazing bowls of Japanese ramen, delicious Malaysian char keow teow, fantastic Vietnamese crepe, real-deal Syrian baklava from a guy on a street corner, authentic NYC style pizza, and even found the real-deal elephant ear donuts! We ate our way through the city so it was great we walked 45 miles in total as we walked from place to place over the course of five days. I am an early riser so I would walk around Chinatown while the area woke up. Chinatown wakes up a bit earlier than the rest of the city so I was able to snag fresh/warm apple turnovers at the many bakeries while it was still very quiet. I did it enough times to call it the Tour de Apple Turnover and even found a Chinese favorite bakery.

After our world trip I pretty much lost my apprehensions about being around dingy or unsavory areas. We discovered people are people and they, like everyone, pretty much want to be left alone. So walking around homeless areas and or dilapidated areas really hasn’t been a big deal to me. Well, I went for a walk around 5AM near our place in Vancouver only to find a massive amount of addicts hanging out around the safe injection site / needle exchange. I walked through the area and it was a surreal experience – these individuals had set up a market in a similar style to what we saw in the third world countries we visited and were selling items that looked like their personal possessions like used clothes, toiletries, and so on. People were yelling, people were passed out, people were talking, people were holding each other, people were helping each other do drugs. I was the only one like me and I haven’t felt that uncomfortable around a group of people in a long time but no one looked at me or acknowledged my presence. It was quite the sight to see. I walked through the area on a later day around 10AM only to find the market was gone and very few folks were around but the folks that were around now talked to me and said things like, ‘I’m going to kill  myself’, and ‘I see you following me, I see you’ while staring at me with pinpoint pupils. What a weird experience.

Vancouver is a really interesting city. There have been many migrations of foreigners and pretty soon there will be no majority race / ethnic group in the city. It’s also a very rainy city and it apparently rains 300 days a year so we consumed nearly 10% of their sunny/non-rain days per year during our visit! I always like to see if it’s possible for me to get a job in any area we visit and what wages would be like relative to the cost of living. I was a bit surprised to find Vancouver would easily be one of the worst places we could move. Once currency translation and generally lower wages for engineers are taken into consideration I would be making about half what I make now but also have nearly four times the housing cost. I was blown away by the idea I would be making less than I did when I graduated from college 10 years ago and have living costs many times higher than now. Vancouver has very expensive real estate like Seattle, San Francisco, LA, and San Diego, but unlike those places the same type of very high paying jobs don’t exist in Vancouver. Even after five days in the area and many conversations with the locals I’m still not sure how people make a go of it in Vancouver.

All-in-all, our trip to Canada was amazing. There were many other things we did, like watching and listening to avalanches, riding a bus type thing one a glacier, taking a boat cruise on the pristine Malign Lake, and many other hikes and tours where all of it was awesome but I want to wrap this up. I can state with certainty we found another area of the world that falls on our favorite list. We’d happily go back and I’m sure it would be just as enjoyable.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

 

Hawaii 2017

Hawaii is a fantastically weird place.

Hawaii has natural beauty and is very diverse: amazing mountains, lush rain forests, desert plains,fertile farms, barren lava flows, gorgeous beaches, craggy/rocky shorelines, wonderful sunshine, monsoon rains, ridiculous humidity, dry breezes, wonderful smells, and crystal clear air with stunning night skies. The range of climates on those tiny islands was truly astonishing.

All that said, the people and culture of Hawaii is incredibly strange. Jac and I aren’t ocean people, we don’t snorkel, we don’t scuba dive, we don’t fish, we don’t hang out at the beach, we don’t eat much for fish/seafood, we don’t eat much for meat, we don’t really consume much for alcohol, we don’t like big crowds, we don’t do all-inclusive type activities, and we dislike touring with groups. So, we spent time off the beaten trail talking to locals and learning about how Hawaiians make Hawaii, Hawaii. After all of our experiences, I can honestly say that if someone told me Hawaii was an English speaking anglo-centric independent county in the Pacific and I knew nothing else else, I would wholeheartedly agree. Why? Well, it’s complicated but here are my best guesses:

  • I think most folks fly down to Hawaii to go to their all-inclusive resort to get wasted all day long or go sleep on the beach to get wasted all day longi. I don’t think most people see the side we saw or even look for it given what most visitors want to do in Hawaii.
  • Few people are from Hawaii. It seemed like 98% of everyone we met are from somewhere else and moved to Hawaii because they fell in love. It’s a lot like California or DC in that regard. When no-one is from the area then it always makes the area seem a bit different.
  • No one is really in a hurry. As Jac said, “when everyone is on vacation is anyone in a hurry?”
  • The descendants of the Japanese immigrants from 100 years ago still keep parts of the island feeling like Japan. During one of our Airbnb stays we went to a restaurant called Teshima’s and had a bowl of udon soup very similar to what we had in Japan. Of all the cultures who migrated to Japan, it appears as though the Japanese are the only ones who tried to keep their culture. The Chinese, Africans, SE Asians, etc all assimilated and we couldn’t find authentic restaurants for those cultures.
  • There is still a very strong Japanese influence in Hawaii since Hawaii was about 40% ethnic Japanese at the time when the US took over Hawaii. We can go to local supermarkets and see a Hello Kitty section that is a non-trivial amount of space in a tiny store.
  • We only went to Maui and the Big Island. Maui seemed a lot of Vegas where lots of folks are there to party and then there’s the support network while the big island has a lot of agriculture and ranching. Two very different feels.
  • There aren’t the typical buskers and homeless people commonly found in warmer climates. I’m not sure if busking is illegal but they just aren’t around. I think it’s because folks need to actually fly to Hawaii via an expensive plane ticket and can’t hitchhike or take a cheap grayhound to a place where the cold won’t kill them.
  • If you’re white you’re a haoli (howly). I guess until the 1950s/1960s or something white people were the extreme minority. Then jets were invented and tourists started flocking to / moving to the islands so all the other immigrants from 100 years ago treat the white people a bit differently and view them as non-local.
  • We’ve been told by multiple people that moving to Hawaii is hard and there can be difficulties in assimilating. Visiting is fine and welcomed but moving to Hawaii is somehow viewed differently and negatively by the locals.
  • There are only a handful indigenous Hawaiians, like the people who migrated from Polynesia a long time ago, left. Because the pre-contact Hawaiians were such a warring culture there are a ton of battle sites and grave sites everywhere. This causes construction projects to be cancelled / strung up in court since it’s pretty much a guarantee construction workers will hit piles of bones at some point. Huge developments get abandoned because the developers run out of money fighting the court battles with the indigenous peoples. Even repairs to weather damaged areas get strung up in court – a beautiful valley we tried to hike in had its trail system destroyed by a 100 year flood a couple months back and the indigenous people are claiming ever rock and rock placement is sacred so they are trying to prevent any sort of repair work.

Of all the things we wanted to possibly see in Hawaii it was lava so we were very lucky we visited Hawaii in April. As it turned out, the volcano was somewhat active and it was possible to see lava flowing into the ocean from the 61g flow and see lava bubbling to the top of the Kilauea cauldron. We were fortunate because the volcano generally isn’t this active and we had an opportunity to watch quite the show!

It was so strange to be continually reminded of Japenese culture – from amazingly complicated bidets to amazing meals. We loved our visit to Japan and it was like some parts of the island were ‘Japan lite’; just enough to remind us of Japan but not different enough to feel like we were outside of the US.

So, all-in-all, we enjoyed our time in Hawaii while finding is a very strange place. I made two different photo albums, one of just the highlights in Hawaii and the other with a ton of additional photos or random Hawaii stuff.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris

Highlights:

 

Big album:

Photos from 2016

It seems like 2016 flew right by and now we’re in 2017. I only have a few updates on the website so I figured I put some of my favorite photos from 2016 up and write a little about the year.

First, the year’s statistics:

  • 1 house purchased, up substantially from 2015
  • 2 of 2 us were employed, up 100% from 2015
  • 1 business trip, up substantially from 2015
  • 10 flights, down 60% from 2015
  • 6 driving trips over 100 miles, down 90% from 2015
  • 50lbs lost, from 2014. Total weight down substantially from 2015
  • Trace amounts of meat consumed, down 100% from 2015
  • 17,000 photos taken in 2016, down 80% from 2015

So, we’ve obviously had some ups and downs :). Overall, the year was fantastic and things are going well for us. We’re happy to be back in Minnesota and we’re happy to be back in the day to day swing of things. One of the biggest changes, becoming a vegetarian, was quite a bit easier than what I thought it would be simply because we had so much vegetarian food while traveling. We’re fortunate we took a lot of cooking classes from all over the world because we have a ton of recipes and food styles to draw upon for inspiration.

I put some photos in the album below. They are random photos from the year that I really enjoyed, there’s no rhyme or reason to the photos other than I really like how they turned out.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.