Sunday, September 22, 2013

San Francisco, California


485 Days Since We Last Spoke

It’s been awhile (ok, over a year) since you last heard from us.  Several times we attempted to reignite the blog, but ultimately Ken summarized it supremely -- “after reading about trekking through jungles, I don’t think anyone cares about our weekend trip to Home Depot.”  

So we’ll be brief and summarize a few snippets of societal reintegration from the past year:

#1: Got jobs.  Neither of us really wanted to, but ultimately we decided for our long term stability we should have income.  Ken was shocked to find that the law of diminishing returns applied to television viewing so he stumbled upon a great job leading West Coast Client Services at Turn, Inc (thanks Chris!) -- or as Ken says, “working for the man.”  And I started working at Stanford Hospital and Clinics (thanks Busby!)

#2: Answered the question, “Where was your favorite place?” in a genuine but brief way (we call it the Travel Elevator Speech).  Quick answer: Rwanda and Thailand.

Rear of House#3: Tried to be “normal again”  
  • Went shopping and bought stuff! (doesn’t really matter what we bought, but it’s better that we really didn’t need it)
  • Only referenced travel when prompted, “this one time in Tanzania...” gets really old
  • Painted the house green, planted a vegetable garden, enjoyed the stability of always having a bed at night
We came back meandering, trying to redefine our lives.  It took us months (staring at each other: what are we supposed to do now?) of learning some lessons along the way:

We had to stop comparing life to “how it used to be” and be happy for the moments we are currently living in.  Because let’s be honest, comparing traffic jams to drinking Singha’s on the beaches of Thailand, just can’t compare.

We questioned American culture; we started judging ourselves.  When we first returned we were convinced living with less was a priority, but within three months we were shopping for a BMW.  Then we felt guilty for wanting the BMW.  Ultimately, we’re still trying to find a balance between nomadic austerity and luxurious excess. 

We are so grateful for the fabulous year we have had in San Francisco.  Our abbreviated list of awesome adventures since our last blog ...

Visited family in LA, Wisconsin & Iowa

Camped/hiked at Yosemite, Marin Headlands, Big Bear, Big Basin, and Donner Lake

Travelled internationally for the Calgary Stampede and Shelley/Jeff’s Costa Rican wedding

Hosted visitors to San Francisco: Margie, Myron, Sheila, Roy, Chuck, Donna, Steph, Brian, Theresa, John, Amos, Donna, Lou, Roop, Andy, Jordan, Jim, and Jesell (apologies if we missed anyone)

Witnessed friends’ marriages (Emily/Kyle, Mike/Mahasa, Shelley/Jeff) and Ken even officiated a wedding under the Golden Gate Bridge (Patty/Lex)

Held on to the tradition of TPN - Turkey Poker Night (Vegas - Binu, Daisy, and Andy)

Spent the winter skiing at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows (got our first season passes!) including renting a house with Chris/Brett/Megan/Steve

UntitledTook Kylie around town with a life-size Dora the Explorer piñata, just because it was hilarious

Sailed on the San Francisco bay

Revisited the site of our marriage - Evergreen Lodge (we love it there!) and Maui/Kauai again (our home away from home)

Started classes at UC-Berkeley Extension for a two-year Certificate in Health Advocacy

Reacquainted ourselves with our favorite American stores (Whole Foods, Costco, Bed/Bath/&Beyond, REI) and nestled back into our comfy home (single cup coffee makers, Alhambra water service, king beds with clean sheets, washer/dryer).  

Now that we’re back we love quoting “first world problems” as we experience them and fondly remember our year away as if it were a dream.  (Did it really happen?)  Whenever we recognize our first-world-dramatic tendencies, we cheer “first world problem” and high-five each other!  We welcome you to join our new tradition of ridiculousness.
  • Ken: my high thread count sheets are too slippery
  • Hillary: my new food processor has too many accessories
  • Ken: the new SUV has a built in DVD player and I don’t even want it
  • Ken: why does the cleaning lady have to move everything in the house?
  • Hillary: we have too much food in the refrigerator
  • Ken: the locker room at the private gym is under renovation.  Now I have to change pool-side.
We can’t lie, there are some things about our year away that we seriously yearn for:
  • freedom to see and do whatever we want
  • living with less, no expectations
  • having time to read books, scuba dive, or just be
  • meeting new international friends
Now that we’ve happily stabilized we can look back fondly and remember our lessons learned (advice we wished we had known)
  • travel beneath your means - you’ll experience more
  • get out of the cities, allow yourself to be unscheduled, travel light
  • be overtly kind (overcompensate for the American stereotype)
  • help others along the way
  • be respectful of when and how you take photographs
  • don’t allow fear of the unknown (or work) hold you back
  • never forget that 95% of the world lives under drastically different conditions than in the U.S.
  • go to fewer places, immerse in the culture, stay longer

Friday, May 25, 2012

Kilauea, Kauai, Hawaii

Welcome Home

After a quick layover in Honolulu we arrived to our home-away-from home, the garden isle of Kauai.  Ken’s aunt and uncle live on the island so over the years we’ve begun to think of it as our own.  We pulled into the driveway and were welcomed by hand-painted signs and balloons.  

What we didn’t expect was the surprise waiting at the front door: my mom, stepdad and our family friends the Showens!  They made a surprise appearance to welcome us home (and of course they’re also enjoying a tropical vacation).  We were elated to see our family!  We spent the last week in typical island fashion: lounging beach/poolside, drinking cocktails on the lanai, and plotting every possible scenario to extend our stay.  Special thanks to Margie and Myron for sharing their amazing guesthouse with us!


Lovely Ladies
This blog has allowed us an opportunity to share our once-in-a-lifetime experience with you.  We hope you enjoyed the journey with us and perhaps it inspired you, gave you insight into another culture, or just made you laugh.
Thanks to everyone for their readership.  We love you and stay tuned!

Enjoying the final days

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pahoa, Hawaii

ExcessiveAfter the big city edge of Honolulu (or as Shelley described it, “Tropical Los Angeles”), we made a beeline for the Big Island of Hawaii.  We hopped a quick 25 minute flight and somehow Ken charmed the car rental company into a free upgrade to a 4WD Jeep Wrangler.  We instantly got into the rural Hawaiian spirit and drove north to Waikoloa Beach, passing endless black lava fields on either side of the road.  Special thanks to Ken’s mom (Sheila) for putting us up at the luxurious Marriott Resort and Spa!  After backpacking through the third world we were overwhelmed by the opulence: yes, our bed had TEN pillows and an infinity pool awaited us (the world-wide status symbol for  expensive accommodations).  We enjoyed neon-pink sunsets over the swaying palm trees and drives into the village for cheap but amazingly tasty Mexican food. 

View from Room
Getting into the island vibe we toured the north end of the island and ended up near the former sugar plantation turned hippy-enclave of Puna, about 15 minutes from Hilo.  Ken found a perfectly secluded cottage in the abundant fauna and flora filled east side.  We spent our time relaxing in the screened-in living room, falling asleep to croaking frogs, cooking meals (overdosing on coconut, pineapple, and macadamia nuts), taking ample outdoor showers, and reading (Ken’s been seduced by the Hunger Games, I’m deep into the world of Malcolm X).  Unfortunately, we found out the major volcano was not erupting so our plans couldn’t include seeing the red-hot surface lava hit the ocean.  Instead, we’ve decided to pull out the hammocks and acquaint ourselves with “island time.”  


Black Sand

Ken doin his thang

Our Cottage

Hawaii Style

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

She loves to:
unwind on the beaches of Maui with her family
spend time with her grandchildren in Calabasas
support her local temple by sponsoring musically-themed Shabbat services
workout with her trainer
take her family on tropical vacations
look glamourous, as always
She excels at:
baking the best challah bread french toast
managing and renovating properties 
keeping up to date on the latest apps and technologies
video Skyping on her iPad
detecting the best deals and using her powerful negotiation skills
developing her new love for viewing photography (by always complementing my pictures)
She doesn’t like:
winding roads or rocky boats
camping (unless it’s at the Marriott)
being too far away from her sons
She forgives me after I nearly burn the house down (20 years later)
She laughs at my jokes
She knows how to put her family first
She lights up around the high holidays
She is a sister to one, an aunt to two, a wife, a mother of two, and a friend to all
And out of all the mothers in the world, how did I manage to get the best one?
Love Ken
She loves to:
play in her garden and frolic in the flowers
be one with nature and search out heart-shaped rocks
wear anything in her favored color of blue
feed the birds but not the squirrels
dance til the wee hours on the beaches of Key West
bake cupcakes with her granddaughter
She excels at:
juggling six to eight “projects” at any one time
cooking a fabulous meal for 30+ people
painting, crocheting, decorating, and planning unrivaled weddings
expressing her unbounded creativity
playing the role of psychic and therapist
being a genuine friend and dreamer of the infinite
She doesn’t like:
coconut, beer, or avocados
mean-spirited, dishonest, or complaining people
swimming pools, guns, or losing at card games
She endures endless volleyball games
She cries if she sees me cry
She knows grandma’s secret recipe for noodles
She lights up when spring emerges from the darkness of winter
She is a sister to twelve, an aunt to hundreds, a wife, a mother of three, and a friend to all
And out of all the mothers in the world, how did I manage to get the best one?
Love Hillary

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

We made it to Hawaii

Time travel at its finest thanks to the international dateline: we departed Christchurch at 4pm and arrived into Honolulu at 9am on the same day!  Since our airline, Jetstar, cancelled our original flight we set off from New Zealand a few days earlier than anticipated.  No big deal though since that meant tropical Hawaiian sun!
We scoured up a super-cheap but surprisingly upscale condo one block from Waikiki Beach -- the oasis of Japanese tourists, flawlessly tanned surfers, bikini-clad girls, and amateur weightlifters.  Our week in Oahu included hiking Diamond Head (a volcanic crater that overlooks the city), driving to the rural north shore, laying on the Kailua Beach, playing tennis in a windstorm, and receiving a history lesson at the Pearl Harbor Historic Site (U.S.S. Arizona).   

In our first days back on U.S. soil, we basked in the comforts of home we had forgotten:
  • Unlimited TV channels (especially Sportscenter as Ken became “Bob-Costas-deficient” after an entire year without U.S. sports commentary).  On the rare occasions of TV access, it included BBC World News or football (soccer) matches.
  • Unlimited food selection at grocery stores: the endless rows of colorful packages and organic goods at the Whole Foods marveled our minds and melted my heart (of course, we had to fill our cart with liberal hippie goodies like non-dairy almond milk ice cream).
  • Unlimited internet: New Zealand tested our patience, as we spent too much time on a game we liked to call “internet-hunting” (as in, where could we hop on free WIFI without getting kicked off?).
  • Unlimited clean water from the faucet: we completely took this one for granted pre-trip - we are so excited that we are over-hydrating on like 10 glasses a day now (and a related side note: no traveller’s diarrhea to worry about, woo hoo!).
  • Safe streets: we don’t miss the adventure of crossing the street (shout out India).
  • Plush beds: or better yet, not having to find a bed to sleep in every night.
  • Dresser drawers: as opposed to stuffing everything in a wrinkled nylon sack.
  • Washer and dryer: (confession) number of times we’ve worn the same outfit without washing.... hmmm....we are embarrassed to say it’s measured in weeks, not days
  • Microwave: it’s a beautiful machine that works like magic.
  • No beggars: no more getting hassled for money (except from your wife - love you dear).
  • Time difference: knowing that we are not accidentally calling the U.S. at 3am (sorry Mom).
  • No currency conversion necessary: no job, no currency conversion = our brains are turning to mush -- back to the land where everything makes sense: Fahrenheit, miles, gallons, and pounds.
  • Native English speakers: we’ve missed you, although Ken became skilled at miming and saying “I’m sorry” in 24 languages.
Unfortunately, we rediscovered a few annoyances we had forgotten about until we returned (apologies for some minor venting):
  • U.S. Currency: seriously, why are we still using pennies and nickels?  We can’t buy anything for less than 25 cents, so they seem totally irrelevant.  Plus, all the bills are the same color and size... boring!  
  • Pharmaceutical ads: completely forgot about these, ugh, they are everywhere!  If you are reading this blog you may become inflicted with boredom, lethargy or jealousy.  If you are aware of any of these symptoms make sure to immediately contact your travel agent.
  • Paying retail: it was so nice to get movies for $1 each from the “DVD store” aka the guy on the street
  • Paying for parking: with no car for the last year, we totally forgot we have to pay to park our rental car - we could have survived for three weeks in Cambodia on that!
And in the category of “still on the fence:”
  • Driving on the right-side of the road: we have mixed feelings as left-side driving grew on us ... unfortunately, it triggered major mental blocks.  A) Regarding blinkers and windshield wipers: if you see us in an intersection with our wipers on and it’s not raining, have compassion. B) Regarding crossing the street, we are afraid to step into crosswalks now without looking both ways about five times.
After successfully reintegrating into Hawaiian society, we’re heading to the natural wonders of the Big Island.  Aloha!

Need a Light

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Christchurch, New Zealand

Ba a a a

The devastation of last year’s earthquake was clearly apparent in Christchurch as it’s boarded-up downtown and deserted streets reminded us of the natural disaster at every street corner.  We shunned the GPS to the glove box, as it continued to direct us towards demolished buildings via closed roads.  The infrastructure revitalization was underway with construction crews dominating the cityscape - we can only express optimism that the city regains its vibrance in the next few years as structures and roads come back online. 
We elected instead to tour the “Alpine Pacific Triangle,” a scenic tourist driving route from Christchurch north along the ocean to Kaikoura, then westward through the mountains to Hanmer Springs, and finally back to Christchurch.  

Morning Shot
Kaikoura, a small hamlet set on the eastern coast between the snow-capped mountains and the ocean, was residence for dolphins, whales, and seals.  The inland drive westward led us between mountains teeming with thousands, no tens of thousands, of sheep, cows, and llamas.  (And for context, Ken’s first electrocution occurred via electric fence trying to snatch the top picture in this post for me: what a great husband!)  

The Shining
Hanmer Springs presented itself as a high-end spa/golf/ski destination, famed for its hot springs.  The swimming pools seemed a bit manufactured, so we instead took advantage of a nature hiking opportunity through towering trees.  

Hammer Springs

All Around Me

We rounded out the drive by returning to Christchurch, stopping at wineries along the way.  Our final day was consumed re-packing our worn backpacks, donating our accumulated campervan gear, and returning our faithful Big Green to its owner as we departed to the international airport.

Up for a Drink
What can be said about our tour of two idyllic islands?  We met new friends, witnessed magnificent scenery, lived in a campervan, all the while wandering to our hearts content in a land of endless national parks and amiable, rugby-loving Kiwis.  The humble country welcomed us with open arms as we lived out the final weeks of our international globe trotting.  It was a fitting transition to bring us back to the United States after ten months of gallivanting.  
We are eagerly anticipating our upcoming tropical adventure.. to be continued...

Bye New Zealand

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

On Thin Ice

Our journey up the west coast with Phil and Tanya culminated in an epic day at the pinnacle of the south island: the Franz Josef Glacier.  The glacier’s blue crystal ice accumulated between two towering cliffs as it slowly progressed out towards the Tasman Sea. 
While the majority of tourists could only gaze upon the frozen mass from afar, and a few lucky ones had the opportunity to hike to the edge, the slim minority had the fortunate chance to HELICOPTER onto the peak and CLIMB through it’s ice formations.  That’s right, with the generous sponsorship from Margie and Mryon, we couldn’t turn down the phenomenal opportunity.  Forgetting the irksome sandflies, we screamed with glee as the chopper transported us for major aerial sightseeing followed by a snow landing atop the awe-inspiring glacier.  

Our experienced guide, TJ, then led us through blue ice caves, moulins (active rivers flowing deep into the glacier), and remarkable surface formations caused by rain and wind.  With crampons securing our feet to the ice steps (hand-made by TJ’s pick ax), we marveled at the glacier for three hours.  Our obsessive picture taking and claustrophobia-inducing climbing were brought to an end as we flew off the glacier in pure happiness.
Here are the highlights from our superb glacial adventure.  For more pics, check out the New Zealand (South Island) folder on the Galleries tab

Glacier from Above

Bro Time


Thank Goodness for Family

Crazy World

Tanya Chillin on the Ice

10 Years

Got to Have Some Fun

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wanaka, New Zealand

Road to Milford

The two and a half hour drive from Te Anau to the Milford Sound matched our expectations from fellow travellers: overwhelmingly high reviews.  The ever winding road led us between walls of steep rock cliffs (watch out for tree avalanches), up and over rolling rivers, past tranquil “mirror” lakes, alongside rushing waterfalls, and through a mountain tunnel where we reached the famous waterway.  
We leisurely cruised around the sound for an hour - and especially enjoyed sidling up to a waterfall (free shower!) and surreptitiously gawking at the Gucci-clad Japanese entourage that spent the entire cruise taking self portraits.  However, we had to concede that the spectacular car journey to the sound overshadowed the actual destination.

The next day a tour agent sweet talked us into a second cruise, this time an overnight on the Doubtful Sound (ten times larger than Milford with significantly fewer tourists).  With high hopes, we embarked upon a one hour jaunt over Lake Manapouri to the hydro power plant (or in the words of Ken, “that’s the end of the dam(n) tour”).  We then boarded a 45 minute bus ride over a desolate mountain pass to the sea channel.  The sandfly infestation (those blood-sucking pests) would have gotten the best of us had it not been for our high priced, non-toxic spray and the ever fashionable “pants-rolled-into-our-socks” look.
WhilstAbout 50 guests then clamored onto the larger cruise ship, which ferried us out to the Tasman Sea.  We weren’t sure how Phil maneuvered it (charming lawyerly persuasion?), but the staff upgraded us from a four-person, lower deck room to two double rooms overlooking the sea.  Ken and I twirled around our spacious 160 square feet of freedom, basking in our good fortune (not that we didn’t want to bunk with our loving family members, but after living in Big Green... our own room was pure extravagance).
Phil, Tanya, and Ken delighted in kayaking along the calm water’s edge and watching fur seals, “whilst” I played paparazzi (just had to throw that term in somewhere).  Our relaxed evening proceedings included penguin sightings, substantial overeating (it was a cruise after all), and a rousing game of Uno con White Wine.  The following morning we returned safely to civilization (Queenstown) where we polished off gluttonous Fergburgers before journeying north.

Looking for some adventure

Lessons learned in Fiordland:
  1. Tanya can pop a squat anywhere
  2. Hillary’s driving is just bad enough to make Tanya nauseous but not enough to vomit
  3. Duck is to water as Phil is to kayak
  4. Ken is the Captain of his own ship
  5. Big Green maxes out at 30 km/hour when transporting four Altmann’s up the mountain
  6. And for those trivia junkies: there are 60 million sheep, 20 million possum, and four million people in New Zealand!  Sweet as!
Ahoy Mate

High Heaven

Friday, April 20, 2012

Te Anau, New Zealand

All in the Family

They made it!  Phil (Ken’s brother) and Tanya (sister-in-law) joined us for ten days of excitement, which kicked off in Queenstown - the adventure capital of New Zealand.  We began by hiking to a peak overlooking the town (we gave each other accolades for taking the “difficult route” as 99% of the tourists rode the gondola to the summit).  The weather cooperated so we caught a panoramic view overlooking Lake Wakatipu and city below (pop: 11,000).

Queenstown Pano
We purchased three rides on the hilltop “luge” - essentially a three wheel go-cart type track near the top of the gondola.  The “advanced” track was far superior because we could gain speed on our mini carts as we sped around the banked corners.  To reward our efforts we opted for the easy route down the hill - the gondola.

Bros Luge

The drive through the local wineries in Gibbston Valley gave us views of the autumn-colored foliage (remember it’s fall here in the southern hemisphere). We sampled a range of excellent wines (the region is known for pinot noirs but we actually preferred the whites).  Our favorite was a sauvignon blanc flavored with feijoa, a local green fruit similar to a guava with a tart apple flavor.
We enjoyed a luxurious lunch on the winery’s sun-filled patio, but the eatery winner was the perennial favorite “Fergburger,” where we gorged on ginormous “best burgers in town.”  What a great first day!  
The following morning began with a thrilling ride on the “shotover jet,” a hover-craft-type speedboat ride along the shallow and rocky Shotover Canyon.  The wet and wild ride included 360 degree spins and near cliff swerves.  The guys definitely rated this as a highlight as we all screamed and threw our hands in the air (the blistery wind nearly froze our faces but we didn’t care).

Im on a Boat
Ready to get Wet

After driving an hour along the lake towards Glenorchy we found a recommended  nature hike.  Tanya and I power walked while the guys took a slower “photographers pace” (we later learned their slow pace was because they got lost).
We drove south to Te Anau and walked a brief hike along the Kepler Track - or as we called it: Moss Mania.  Moss blanketed the trees and ground like a soft layer of green foam and wild mushrooms grew abundantly.  Later that evening Tanya and Phil visited the glow worm caves, but Ken and I declined as we had our worm experience earlier in the trip.  And now... we’re off to the raw wilderness of the Milford Sound!

Special thanks to Mom for sending us her camera to get these shots!

Moss Mania

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wanaka, New Zealand

If you are going to hike...

The manager of a campervan park where we stayed, “Big Mike,” highly recommended a scenic hike that would provide us summit views of the two nearby lakes - Hawea and Wanaka.  “Perfect!” we thought, as we anxiously set off for the nature walk.  Four hours later after a grueling climb through sheep pastures and logging trails we summited over the 4,000 foot ridge line to a magnificent view of the valleys below on either side of the ridge.  We joyously pointed and waved at the tourist-filled helicopters that were flying in and out of the ravines BELOW us.  

Mountains to Greeens to Lakes

What a Lake
We bemusedly found out later that night, after pressing Big Mike about how he could have possibly completed the vertical climb he so vehemently recommended, he confessed he “summited” the mountain via his 4-wheeler... hmm... why didn’t we think of that ?!?!
As we drove off into the sunset towards Queenstown (to pick up Ken’s brother and sister in law)... we sang (and Ken took it literally)... “On the road again, Ken just can’t wait to get on the road again.” 

Road Kill