Cycling the parkways

The Icefields Parkway, a.k.a. Highway 93, is heralded as a top drive of a lifetime.  National Geographic rates it as one of the top drives in the world.  

This road is well-traveled, especially when nearing a magnificent view point like Lake Louise or Moraine.  Getting to experience each lake late at night, then early in the morning, and getting to approach each vista by bicycle is now the only way we could ever imagine doing it.  All vistas require a climb, and biking that climb makes the view all the more beautiful.  We crest a hill, we pause, we photograph, we snack (a lot!), we hydrate, and we marvel.  The longest day we ride is 110 km, the shortest is 50 km, and the climbing never stops.

We bike from hotel to hotel, and the views from our rooms don’t disappoint either.

Dry Tuesdays

We land in Bhutan on a Tuesday, and although we are not ones to seek out lots of drinks when we travel, I do appreciate a local brew and Lindsey a specialty cocktail.  However, because it is Tuesday and therefore a legally enforced dry day of the week, we’ll have to wait.

Naturally, we wonder why there is such a seemingly arbitrary law.  We ask around, and as we suspect, alcoholism is a serious problem.  In 2017, alcohol became the top killer in Bhutan.  The highest numbers of hospital cases are alcohol related, and many more of those who lose their lives because of alcohol are undocumented in rural villages.  This leads to another question that we can’t yet answer: why in a country known for being so happy is alcoholism such a problem?

On a lighter note, as part of alcohol/bar culture, the Bhutanese play Snookers.  There are places to play throughout Thimphu.  Our guide challenges us to a game, we can’t refuse and find ourselves in a basement bar being heckled by 10 year olds who aren’t impressed with our abilities.  Having played pool before, playing snookers feels like playing basketball with larger balls and smaller rims.  In other words, it feels like I should be better, should know what I’m doing, should have some technique down, but nothing seems to work because the game is just no longer as forgiving as it used to be.

Tuesday does eventually become Wednesday, and on Wednesday, we head to Mojo Park just down the street to taste some local classics like Druk and Red Panda (a wheat beer), both satisfying.  Lindsey tries a local vino called Vintria – turns out Bhutanese wine is just okay, but we still appreciate that they have the option.

Lao spicy


On our last night in Laos and our last night on this journey, we take a Lao cooking class, and the class fully exceeds expectations.  The chef is delightfully entertaining, the food is delicious and very cleanly prepared, the other classmates are fun and easy going, and the setting is serene.  The Tamarind cooking class did not disappoint.  When we get back to the States, we may take a break from Asian food for a little while, but we are excited that we can now make a couple easy dishes of our own as soon as we start missing the tastes and smells of Laos.



A classroom experience

On our first afternoon in Luang Prabang, we meet an ex-San Franciscan who has stationed himself in Laos teaching English.  He runs a non-profit school, inviting any and all who wish to learn in what little free time they have. After only a brief conversation, we are invited to his evening class to be interviewed by his students and then join the group for dinner.  We immediately accept.

We’re picked up by students on motorbikes and then make our way to the classroom (and home for some of the students).  The class starts with the students asking Lindsey and me about our jobs and soon morphs into us also asking them questions about the Hmong and their lives.  The students, all boys, are from large families in poor villages.  In most instances, they are the only English speakers in their communities. In Laos, an education is not free. Their families have worked hard and sacrificed greatly to enable them to attend school. But the school system in Laos is insufficient. Teachers are paid sporadically and won’t show up if they have a better offer for their time. It’s not uncommon that teachers don’t know about the subjects they’re teaching, so classes are often spent copying pages from a textbook. We learn that the non-profit English class we are attending strives to supplement the education from Laos schools. The boys learn about the countries that surround Laos. They learn how to maintain a budget. They learn that anything is possible if they can imagine it. The experience is both humbling and inspiring.

Class wraps up with the some of the students playing guitar and all singing along.  Then some have to leave, but we stick around for more conversation over dinner.  The students prepare the dinner and while we eat, we learn the aspirations of everyone around the table and the challenges that they will need to be overcome to achieve them.  The goals we hear vary from becoming a journalist and a teacher to finding love and starting a family.

Lastly, before parting ways for the night, we get the chance to help one of the students with an essay for an application he is working on, which is inspiring both because of the deeply intense subject matter and because of how much he had to get through to get to this point in his life.  Through this essay, we learn the student’s path of many trying and difficult jobs and experiences that led him to today.  We wonder how he ever came up with the idea that things could be different when he had never been presented with an alternative way of life. We’re not sure we would have had the motivation, energy, and general street smarts to even come close to what he has been able to do.

We make plans to meet up again tomorrow for the Hmong New Year’s kickoff before being motorbike back to our Guesthouse.

Surprises of the Hmong

The Sapa Sisters tour that we took while in Sapa is run by local Hmong women. Sam was our wonderful guide!



1.) As recently as 20 years ago, the Hmong women got married at just 14 or 15 years old. A man would decide which woman he wanted to marry, then find 10 friends to help him kidnap her at the market. (We’d hoped kidnap was a more playful term here, but it isn’t.) He’d take her to his house for three days and rape her, then bring the child back to her parent’s home. Her parents, fearing she’d be pregnant, would force her to marry the man, meaning she’d move to his village and spend the rest of her life caring for him and their children.  The practice was officially banned when women started committing suicide as a result.  However, this still happens some today, but less and less.



2.) The Hmong continue to put a wonderful energy into making their local clothing when western style clothes have become cheaper and more plentiful.  To begin to describe this process, the Hmong women start with hemp, patiently turning that into string during a 3 to 4 month process.  They dye it a deep blue from a plant, leaving the skin on their fingers permanently a greenish-blue. They weave the string into fabric with a loom and then very carefully hand-stitch together many delicate patterns and designs into the fabric. The Hmong women are supposed to make one outfit for every member of their family every new year. Making these clothes is so clearly a labor of love, pride, and appreciation for their own culture and tradition.




3.) Most of the Hmong people practice a religion described as shaman. When you get sick, it means your spirit has left you. You go to the shaman, a very old woman, and she tells you how to get better. If you have a headache, she prescribed boiling water applied to your forehead for 20 minutes. If this doesn’t work, you go back and the shaman gives you a silver bracelet. If, after a few days, this still doesn’t work, you go to a new shaman.



4.) Hmong parents want sons. Though daughters may help them with housework, a son will care for them when they’re old. Often, women will have 3 or 4 girls, hoping the next will be a boy. Sometimes, they’ll buy a boy from another family who has a few or whose parents are addicted to opium. If a woman produces no sons, she stands the risk of her husband divorcing her. Women, on the other hand, would have a very hard time divorcing their husbands, even in situations of abuse or alcoholism.



5.) Dozens of little girls ran to us along our hike, selling bracelets for 10,000 dong (equivalent to 50 cents). We had to decline though, in the hopes that their parents would begin sending them to school instead of off to work. It wasn’t until recently that the Vietnamese government helped to build schools, dotting every village in yellow buildings. Sam, our guide, never saw the inside of a classroom as a child.



6.) Our Hmong guide seemed so satisfied and fulfilled.  It is so easy for us coming from our western ways to pass judgment on what success should look like, or on what everyone should be striving for in their life.  Sam, our guide, however, seems to have life more figured out than most of us.  She loves being a guide, and she hopes her daughters also get to be guides when they grow up.  When asked where she would want to visit or travel, she said to a beach.  Not somewhere too far or too foreign, just something a little new.  Sam is in the process of building a wonderful and simple new home, which she was so proud to share with us.  She sends her daughters to school every day, takes care of the home, spends days at a time with tourists sharing her countryside with them, and just has a zeal for life that was contagious.  Thank you Sam for sharing a piece of your world with us.




Goodbye London

London definitely has a certain charm about it. I’m not sure if it’s the accent or the history or the posh style or something else, but there’s something about it that makes it feel like I may be living in a movie.  To drum up this feeling even more, Lindsey and I tour Soho, where we drop in every other coffee shop for a flat white.  The sun is out, the pastries are warm, and the coffee delicious – overall, a great morning activity!

London street scene

At another break in wedding activities, we head over to Kensington Gardens, again met by Lindsey’s friend, where we enjoy a refreshing (and very sweet) Pimm’s Cup complete with Pimms, fruit, cucumber, lemonade and mint.  To complement the Pimms, we eat some delicious scones and other snacks.

Pimms in London

No British experience is complete without fish and chips, and maybe some chicken mushroom pie, both some of London’s delicacies that can’t be passed up. Between the wedding, seeing old friends, and diving into London’s sights, sounds and tastes, we leave the city with a true appreciation.

The London Eye

The British Wedding

The wedding is the main reason for this European adventure.  One of my closest friends from grad school is getting married in London.  It is an Indian wedding complete with many days of festivities, lots of delicious Indian food, beautiful flowers, British hats, big red buses, afternoon tea, and a grand finale in London’s Natural History Museum.  The wedding is spectacular.  Each venue is beautiful. Catching up with old friends is long overdue and feels great. The bride looks radiant. Each event features her in a new sari or dress.  We felt so happy and honored to be able to celebrate with the very happy couple.

Natural History Museum in London

Me at the wedding in a RR

The Globe Theatre

We remember first hearing of the famous Globe Theater back in middle school while reading Shakespeare and learning how it was first performed.  Watching The Taming of the Shrew did not disappoint.  The cast was spectacular.  Their over-exaggerated expressions, the silly props and costumes, and the playfulness the actors and actresses have with each other on stage make the event wonderfully entertaining.  Even when I mishear a line or don’t always understand Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, the acting makes the scene come alive, and I feel as though I understand it all.

Globe watching team

Accompanied by one of Lindsey’s friends, we watch standing near the front stage left. The open air theatre provides a fun appreciation for sunset as the first half of the play goes on.  The many levels in the theatre, all of which don’t extend far back at all, make the theatre seem very intimate, which is aided by the actors engaging folks standing in the first row to help participate in their jokes and puns. Watching this Shakespearean comedy at the Globe Theatre is definitely one of our London highlights.

Globe Theatre

A beautiful wedding

From the top of an old sugar plantation overlooking most of the island, the wind is blowing strong yet peacefully, and the light continue to play games with the clouds and the grounds as it sets over us.  The groom, one of my best friends, and the bridge both exchange heartfelt vows that bring tears.  One highlight of the evening is a very moving flower lei exchange between families as they welcome each other into their lives.  Along with being so happy for them, I thank them for creating this chance to reunite with so many college friends and enjoy an adventure of a lifetime here on Kauai.

Wedding ceremony

Hawaiian wedding outfits

Champagne Sabering

A highlight that capped our day of relaxation at the St. Regis Princeville was the opportunity to saber a bottle of champagne.  We had heard that at 7pm, a bottle of champagne was to be sabered at the bar, so at 6:30 we venture over, grab a cocktail, and find our seats to enjoy the spectacle.


Like a good tourist, we ask the man who just completed the sabering deed if he would pose for a picture with us.  He did one better and asked if we wanted to come with him to saber our own bottle.  Yes! There was no doubt that this is what we wanted.  After some quick instruction he hands me the bottle of champagne and the saber, directs me to the edge of the balcony, and lets me work my magic.

I successful saber, pour some champagne into flutes for Lindsey and myself, and thank the saber master many times over.  Lindsey and I are left on a balcony overlooking the ocean together sipping our freshly sabered champagne, watching the sunset.

Successful saber


Sunset at the St Regis