Cribbage on the roof

This trip has been different from some of our other trips for lots of reasons, but one noticeable one is the pace.  We call it babymoon pace.  The naps are more frequent, the snacks and meals are a little longer, the walks are a bit mellower, and the bathroom breaks are constant.  And although this is new for us, it is not unwelcome.  We end up noticing more things, meeting more people, just simply absorbing more.

And come the afternoon when we’re not tired enough to nap or hungry enough to eat, and when the sun is going down so strolling endlessly through the winding streets becomes a little less appealing, it’s cribbage time.  It’s a nice mix of luck and skill, so even in the heat of competition, it’s also possible to claim bad luck.  And when we run out of things to say, we can just count aloud our scores… fifteen two fifteen four and pair for six. 

So we find ourselves a nice café or rooftop, take out cribbage, order some cava and mocktails, and just enjoy each other’s company over a semi-competitive game.

Inspirational species diversity

Coming to Ecuador inspired me to read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  And at the end of his argument that evolution takes place through a process called natural selection, he writes:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, 1859

It is humbling and incredible to think that evolution encompasses all life for over 3 billion years.  Although evolution is often pitted against creation, there is something wholly, not to be confused with ‘holy’, religious about the evolutionary process.

In a recent read of the “Evolution of God” by Robert Wright, Wright describes religion in many ways, but one that stuck with me was a definition developed by William James: religion consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.  Given our short lifespans, it does not seem a far stretch to call evolution an ‘unseen order’.  And although a Lamarckian inheritance might be closer to us being able to conspicuously adjust ourselves to the evolutionary order, I view the Darwinian inheritance theory to be much more harmonious.

And harmoniously adjusting ourselves is a critical component to James’ definition.  Being humble while adding to and protecting the world’s beauty is how I believe we can fit into the unseen order described by Darwin’s famous theory.

A night in a local home near Sapa

An overnight train combined with hours of carefully teetering over rice fields in the mountains of Sapa left us exhausted. Sam led the way up one last hill in the village of Ta Van to our home for the night. We’d opted to stay in a local house, but didn’t fully understand what that meant until we arrived.

“Hello” was one of the few English words our host spoke. Sam motioned to us to remove our boots and put on slippers as to not get the house dirty. It was dark except for the fire pit in the kitchen. Our host squatted back down over the fire, stirring the vegetables we’d soon eat. The house was large, but empty. The kitchen had only a few low stoops for sitting, a trash can filled with rice, a wooden table for meal prep, and a cabinet with small bowls and chopsticks. A waterspout in the corner was used for washing dishes. There were five red plastic chairs and a folding table that moved from room to room depending on the need. The living room and two beds were not separated by a wall. Behind the TV there was a ladder to the loft where we found two hard mats and a thick blanket: our bedroom. The bathroom was outside and the porch had the most magical view overlooking the village.     


Sam joined our host by the fire. A little boy wandered in watching videos on a cellphone, the only other light in the room. We drank Coca-Colas outside and listened as the oldest of her three sons motioned to us to come and eat. On the folding table was now a spread of chicken with onions, pork with carrots, tofu with chilis, greens, and a mound of white rice. We scooped rice into small bowls and picked at the rest with chopsticks, watching as her sons ate quietly and quickly, eager to get back to their friends in the living room still watching TV. Our host’s husband came home just as we were finishing and insisted on sharing shot after shot of homemade rice wine served out of an Aquafina water bottle.  Not long after the power went out, the boys scattered, and everyone grabbed their headlamps. One single candle was lit in the center of the table.



We slept so well that night, waking early to the sounds of roosters spread across Ta Van. Ducks wandered quietly into the kitchen as we sat outside drinking coffee. They were shooed away, then fed dried corn off the cob. Our host went back to cooking the pig breakfast. We felt so well cared for in her home. We were struck by the obvious: This is very different, but how different was it really? Little boys still watched TV, played with cars, and made swords out of bamboo. The family ate dinner together, talked late into the night, and took care of one another. Even in seemingly tougher areas, home is still home.



Waimea Wow

Waimea Canyon was a bit of an afterthought. We’d heard it can get cloudy and wanted to use the morning before the wedding to see if the fog would cooperate. The other couples we’re staying with weren’t as interested in an early morning, so Andrew and I were left by ourselves and out the door by 7:00am.


As luck would have it, we stumble upon a chalkboard sign outside of an old warehouse en-route for coffee. Dark Roost is a small trailer humorously situated inside a oversized warehouse. We order lattes and listen to the Hawaiian roaster cooly tell us the story of how they came to be. Inspired, we buy a mug. Obviously.

The Canyon itself is very beautiful. We give each lookout the appropriate amount of oohs-and-ahhs before proceeding to the next. A Hawaiian guide shares some history. (Add facts about the wettest place on earth, Grand Canyon etc.)


Satisfied, Andrew and I lace up our sneakers and grab our backpack of Cliff bars and water to start our canyon hike. We’d found a quick out-and-back the night before, figuring we’d have only a few hours before the wedding. The eucalyptus dense woods smell of Tiger Balm and the single-track trail reminds me of training in Vermont. Unlike our hike along the Napali Coast, the ground is dry and the elevation gain minimal. We respond energetically with a pace that feels like we’re skipping through the woods.

An hour in, the trees clear, leaving us with the most breathtaking view of Waimea. We at once want to slowly appreciate the beauty surrounding us and excitedly race to see it all, as if beauty like this can’t possibly stay.    

Together, we let the trail lead us the top of the falls marking the end of the hike before turning back to prepare for Drew & Kara’s wedding.



Queen’s Bath

We wake up for an early easy hike to some nearby tide pools named Queen’s Bath in Princeville. We get to the trail right when they “open”, although there really isn’t any opening and closing of the baths (or the hike).  We are back in the mud and immediately reminded of our Hanakapi’ai falls hike, except this time we’re in our bathing suits and sandals.

Hiking to Queen's Bath

The trail isn’t obvious as the mud has washed much of the easy trail indicators away, and we end up on an old trail.  We assume it can’t be too hard, so we forge onwards.  We find small ropes down a cliff side, and we’re happy there’s at least something to hold on to as we slip down the muddy hillside.  We are grateful for every tree root that we can use for support as we repel down.  Although this make it seem like a controlled decent, I feel it was probably anything but.

Swimming in Queen's Bath

By the bottom, due to a healthy fear of heights and a fair amount of exertion, I’m in a full sweat. It takes a little time to calm my heart rate, after which a dip in one of the tide pools is exactly what’s needed.  The crashing waves along the side of the tide pool, the fish swimming through the perfectly clear water, and refreshing temperature of the tide pool made it all seem a little more worthwhile.

Victory at Queen's Bath

Cartagena’s Olga

We arrived to hotel Playa Manglares under less than optimal circumstances. We had tried to contact the host to arrange a car, but she was unresponsive, leaving us in a taxi. A droopy eyed dog with oversized ears swung back and forth through the impoverished streets of Cartagena. We drifted further and further into nothingness on the only road down Baru. (One of us, who will remain unnamed, was certain that this is how the kidnappings happen). We sat outside a large gate on a call with the son of the hotel owner, describing its dark bamboo wood for reassurance that this was, in fact, the right place and we were safe to enter.

“How did you get here?” Olga exclaimed. “I was so worried! I tried to message you!” It was an enthusiasm that never left her voice for the duration of our two day stay. Rolling our bags to the hammocks, we helped ourselves to a drink at the “trust” bar outside, marking off one cerveza and one blanco vino as we tried to calm ourselves enough to see the paradise we had booked just three days before.


The property was perfect. Palm trees and fallen coconuts. Untouched sand. White hammocks tied to trees mere steps from the Caribbean water. Light white fabrics moving with even the slightest breeze. But it was also a place that felt more real. Blue tarp to suggest failed construction. Thoughtless knickknacks like a smiling sun wind chime. And a number of workers hacking at thick roots near wheel barrels, a definitive sign that this land is not easy to inhabit. There was an authenticity to this paradise that made it feel more honest. Unlike a forced resort, at this place we could relax without the pressure to be.

Our room was the top floor, open to the elements with a pitched wood ceiling, mosquito net covered bed, and outdoor shower that had only one temperature, turned on and off by a knob shaped like a little bird. Meals were served at a table for six between the rooms and the ocean. They happened when they happened, and were what they were, brought out course by course on a large tray and served on beautiful plates that made even pasta look decadent. A tiny, beaded net covered the fresh juices to keep out flies.


“I bought this property in 1986,” Olga told us as we waited for our cab one morning. “There was nothing here. Not even a road. If we wanted to come, we had to come by donkey.” She went on to tell us that her husband was diagnosed with liver cancer when their children were older. His treatments cost them everything. They had nothing but a piece of land, and doctors told them that he would soon die. So they decided to come, living in a small camp they’d built on the property. They knew that if something were to happen, that there would be no way to get to a hospital. And they knew that something would happen. So they lived, and they waited. “Ten years went by,” she said, “and we were happy.” She went on. “Then one day we were sitting down, talking. He said something funny, and I laughed. He was always so funny. I closed my eyes for only a moment while I laughed, and then I kept talking. I said something else, but he wasn’t there anymore. He was gone. Just like that.”

We don’t know what you would do in those moments, how your mind or body would react. It’s an aloneness we’ve never experienced.

With a gratitude for time mixed with the hardness incited by loss, Olga finished the guest house she and her husband had been constructing. She makes additions when it feels right and meets each visitor with the same enthusiasm, creating the property we had first entered so tentatively. The juxtaposition of the blue tarp with the flowing white fabrics seemed almost reflective of the great beauty and loss in her own life.


After we left, she wrote to us. She wished us well on the next part of our trip, thanked us for coming, and noted how nice we are together. “We hope you’ll keep yourhappy for always,” she wrote. We are so grateful to this woman for sharing her home and her story with us. We’ll treasure this honest paradise forever.

Drawing and painting 101

I want to be able to draw and paint better than at my current 10-year-old level.  Alas, I have decided to do something about this during this trip to Italy.  I spend some time in the Marche region near the small hillside town of Camerino learning just that.  There are four students including myself trying to improve our artistic abilities.  Our lessons are taught by Caroline and they are interrupted at mealtimes by her husband, Andrea’s excellent multi-course culinary concoctions.  Lunches are completed with delicious cheese plates and a cup of espresso or two, and dinners are wrapped up with a smattering of Italian digestives.  The whole group quickly learns that if offered food or snack, I will rarely, if ever, say no.  I think that their large dog, Spike, is happy to see me go because he will again be receiving better leftovers.


Their home is located in the true countryside, complete with the strenuous dirt road to get there and the evening appearances of new bugs and critters.  They have a dog, cats, and a chicken, which is not fulfilling its egg laying duties very regularly.  Their two daughters go to school in the nearby town, and there is a very convenient school bus that comes to pick them up and drop them off each day.

Throughout our time, we experiment with several media including sketching with both water-soluble and permanent pens, capturing landscapes with watercolors, and figuring out some painting techniques using acrylics.  My education includes drawing with proper perspective, creating depth through adding shadows, and figuring out a little color theory.  That said, the biggest lesson I learn is that I need to let go and just draw.  I find that the hardest line is always the first one because I am never sure where to start.  Many times, the best thing to do when drawing or painting is to just start.  We paint things around the home as well as go on field trips into the nearby towns to sketch new things and to enjoy some coffee and gelato.  Wherever we go and whatever we are doing, the conversation in the group never lacks.  We joke, we help each other with our painting, and we more generally just share good stories.

I now have grand plans to continue drawing and painting when I return home.  I collected the names of art supply brands and look forward to experimenting more with these art media.  I hope that I continue, but I also fully realize that dedicating vacation time to it and trying to do it after work or on weekends are different animals, but I optimistically plan to at least do some occasionally back in Boston.





Ciao, Amalfi

After leaving Vico Equense, I drive half the Amalfi Coast and then start climbing until I reach Ravello, a villa-filled town that often overlooks the sea.  I visit a couple of the more famous villas, as I gather this is what is supposed to be done in Ravello, and then I grab a panino in the main piazza before heading onwards to Ronciglione.  The day is a success in terms of weather, my driving, and not getting too lost along the way.




I arrive in Rome’s airport after having been delayed for about eight hours in Addis Ababa. Immigration and customs were about as fast as I’ve ever seen them.  My passport is stamped without any questions and the rather sizeable line disappears in little time.  I cannot decide if I am happy or nervous about this.  I progress through the airport following signs for rental car agencies.  When I arrive, I shop around at a couple of them until landing on Avis.  They tell me that for a reasonable price they have a small-sized, automatic-transmission rental available, and I am thrilled.  He prints up the paper work and as we are going through it, I notice that next to transmission, the word “Manuale” is printed.  I hope that this is a typo.  I am told to sit tight while he double checks to see if there are any automatic cars available.  We wait about ten minutes for someone from the garage to return with keys, but none of them are listed as automatic.  I am then informed that if I did want an automatic transmission car, I would need to rent a much larger vehicle, which would also significantly affect the price.  I guess manual transmission it is, but if this is going to be the case, I at least need to make sure I am getting the very Italian Fiat 500.  I’d prefer red, but I am willing to settle for black as long as it’s a 500.


I collect my keys, find my car, and start praying to the gods of manual transmission.  In my life, I have driven a manual transmission car twice.  Once was when I was about thirteen years old on a family safari in eastern Africa, and the second was as a senior in college when I received a short lesson from a friend in a parking lot.  I would not call this driving experience extensive, and thus my anxiety level is a bit high.  Knowing that there was a chance I might get saddled with a manual car, when I was delayed the night before in the airport, I watched a couple YouTube videos with driving instructions, but unfortunately something as tactile as this cannot be learned well through video.  Regardless, I try to convince myself that if millions upon millions of people drive manual-transmission cars, why couldn’t I.  I understand the failure in this logic, but I was determined to believe it.

A couple days earlier, I found a nice bed and breakfast in Vico Equense, a small town near the Amalfi Coast, so I get into my beautifully-sized 500, and I plug in the address to Google Maps.  But before I hit start on the directions, I attempt to familiarize myself a little with the car.  I practice moving through the gears trying to learn what it “feels” like.  With a nicely elevated heart rate, I am fiddling with the gears trying to get into reverse.  After a brief moment of panic thinking that I might need to confess my ignorance to the rental agency, I realize that surrounding the stick shift is a metal encasing that can be pulled upwards, which in turn allows me to reach “R”.  First challenge completed.

I pull my left foot off the clutch so gently that based on the physics of a manual car I believe it is almost impossible to stall, and I start reversing.  Luckily, the steering works very similarly to an automatic car, and in Italy, everyone drives on the right (pun intended) side of the road.  I reverse out of my parking spot, manage to get the car in first gear and rolling forward, and I pull up to the gate.  Of course, here I stall.  Not once, not twice, but three times.  Whoops.  My cover is blown, but because they assume I am not crazy enough to rent a car that I cannot drive, they suggest that the parking brake is still engaged.  I nod, as this is an out from complete embarrassment.  On my way out of the garage I find a level that is relatively free of parked cars and traffic, and I practice going around in circles.  Stopping, starting, changing gears into second, then back to first, and repeat.  I am far from smooth, and I stall with reasonable frequency, but I need to stay optimistic about making it to Vico Equense.

I finally press start on my Google Maps directions, I head toward the garage’s exit, stall again just before leaving, and am sort of on my way.  Eventually, and fortunately rather quickly, I find myself on the highway, where as long as I don’t do anything too stupid, it’s hard to stall and easy to keep making forward progress.  About halfway along this three-hour tour, I pull into a rest stop with its big open parking lot, so I can practice a couple more drills on relatively flat ground.  As I begin to approach the coast, swing by Napoli, and head South, I realize how hilly a location I have chosen to learn to drive a manual car.  The beauty of this coast in fact comes from the cliffs that drop into the sea.  I exit for Vico Equense and there is not a flat road to be found.  Another miscalculation.  Finding my bed and breakfast is struggle in itself.  I find myself driving up rudely steep cobblestone roads, asking anyone and everyone for directions all the while trying to plan an escape route for the next time the Fiat stalls.

After a couple wrong turns, multiple driving blips including getting myself stuck in the central piazza of town and having to restart my engine at least twice, I decide to park and find this place on foot.  The town is small, and the car has only become an obstacle at this point.  Even by foot, finding this bed and breakfast is no easy feat.  Upon reaching it, I realize that going by foot is in fact the only way to find it because it is on an un-driveable road (expect for scooter or motorbike).  Bartolo, one of the hosts, greets me, and I semi-desperately ask him to park my car in his little, hard-to-access, parking spot in the center of town.  He obliges.  Somehow, I’ve made it from the airport to my host with hurting myself, the car, or anyone or anything around me.  Success.

On day 2 in Italy, I take a break and find a ferry to the nearby island of Capri, where I intend to rest, explore, eat gelato, drink coffee, and take lots of pictures.  The car remains untouched on this day.

Day 3, however, has a different fate for my relationship with the Fiat.  In a stroke of luck, Bartolo offers to give me a driving lesson in the morning.  I accept eagerly!  He exits his garage, finds a slightly quieter road, which is on quite the hill, parks and tells me to switch into the driver’s seat.  We will be practicing using the handbrake to start moving from a stopped position on a hill.  I will always be grateful for his patience through several false starts.  He realizes how much of a beginner I am, and he questions how I made it all the way from the airport.  After my lesson of about an hour, I drop him off, and I continue on to the Amalfi Coast.  Trial by fire.  I try not to think about the worse that could happen.

Before I continue to describe my experience on the famous SS163 Highway that stretches the length of the Amalfi Coast, I will first try to paint a picture of the road itself.  In 1953, John Steinbeck described the road as follows:

“Flaming like a meteor we hit the coast, a road, high, high above the blue sea, that hooked and corkscrewed on the edge of nothing, a road carefully designed to be a little narrower than two cars side by side.  And on this road, the busses, the trucks, the motor scooters and the assorted livestock.  We didn’t see much of the road.  In the back seat my wife and I lay clutched in each other’s arms, weeping hysterically.”

The only real difference from this description is that there seems to be a lack of livestock today, for which I am grateful; however, I imagine that the number of busses hasincreased.  There are also the other cars and semi-reckless drivers to be mindful of such as when a new Ferrari was closely following me.  But the skies are blue, the cliffs are magical, the houses perfectly painted pastel with a worn look that only be described as loved, and I feel I am competent enough in the car not to roll into anything or anyone.


I turn on my Italian soundtrack, put my camera at the ready on the passenger seat, and keep my hand anxiously on the shifter.  Despite the challenge of the terrain, the road is incredible.  The houses have all found small semi-stable patches to rest themselves on the hillside.  Balconies extend outward to the sea from every door and window.  The road follows the contour of the cliffs both side to side and up and down.  The day is sunny and clear, and everything but the shear amount of concentration needed to keep driving onwards has me feeling at peace.  I complete the entire coast from Sorrento to Vietri and I decide that it is only safe to take the highway back as it is both getting late and I am quite spent.

The next day, I conquer another mountainous road on my way up to Bomerano, a part of Agerola, from which point I can start my hike along the Sentiero degli Dei (The Path of the Gods).  This road gives me ample opportunity to practice my hill starts and changing gears between first, second, and third.  At the end of the day, the way down is much easier than the way up.  By this time, however, I am becoming confident enough driving a manual car that I am no longer concerned about being able to do a certain maneuver or being able to avoid damage.  I still stall from time to time, but it usually only takes one re-start before I continue onward.

At the end of the week, I have another adventure into Ravello, a beautiful town full of villas that overlook the Amalfi coast.  The road becomes so narrow at points that there is a stoplight that effectively alternates the direction of the road to allow cars both up and down.  Unfortunately, I find myself pitched upwards and stopped at this light again feeling anxious about a hill start, but to my surprise the start is not only successful, but it is also fluid.  In such situations, I usually find myself opening the window so that I can better hear the noises of the Fiat, and in this particular case, I had forgotten it is down when I give a little yelp of joy that I was so successful in this latest challenge.  After enjoying some wandering around and some lunch in Ravello, I continue onwards to Ronciglione, a small down about an hour north of Rome, where I will be spending the next two nights.  There is limited excitement with regards to my driving on the way to my new host; however, the next morning when I venture to see the local palace, things get a little more interesting.

Somehow, I find myself pinned between two hills of significant grade and am not sure which to attempt.  The roads are narrow, steep, and ill paved.  I try one direction and am only presented will more poor options.  I somehow turn around and am back where I began.  I try the other direction (from where I came initially), and realize that the hill is a bit much for my 500.  I stall in the middle of the hill.  Take two involves me staying in low gear and building whatever momentum I can along the way.  This is also unsuccessful, and after stalling, I am forced to reverse down this rather unpleasant slope.  Finally, on my third try up the same hill, I remain in low gear and keep my forward momentum as high as possible, and somehow make it to the top.  What a relief!

After a week’s time, returning my car to FCO airport before making my way to Italy’s Tuscany region is a nice moment.  The memory of leaving the same parking garage just a week ago is still fresh, and I am pleased of the improvement I have made when it comes to manual transmissions.  This will be an adventure I will not soon forget and it will be a new skill that will hopefully again be useful.

Support me in bicycling for affordable housing

After finishing grad school and before I go back to work, I’m looking to do something adventurous, something that is in my wheelhouse but still forces me to stretch, and something that will let me reminisce about the impact I had, the friends I made, and the places I visited. In short, I have decided to be a Trip Leader for a non-profit organization called Bike & Build.  The organization’s mission is to raise awareness and money for affordable housing across the United States, and from mid-June through the end of August, I will be one of several leaders taking a group of 30 bicyclists 4000 miles across the country, stopping to help build homes along the way.

Before starting this adventure, I need to fundraise at least $4500 for Bike & Build and for the cause of affordable housing.  If you are interested in supporting my Bike & Build fundraising effort this summer, please visit the Bike & Build website to make a contribution sponsoring me.  You can also donate by making out a check payable to Bike & Build, Inc., writing my name in the memo line of the check, and enclosing the tear-off part of this pamphlet.

I feel it important to promote the cause of affordable housing given the not far removed housing bubble has left many hard pressed to find homes, and more specifically find credit to finance those homes. In the last several years, affordable housing has become a much larger national issue, and I hope that by participating in Bike & Build, I will help to bring more attention to it.

I’ve been lucky to drive across this country twice, experiencing its spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties, but to bicycle across the country will more deeply connect me to the route. I look forward to the burn of my quadriceps through mountain passes and to the full body jolts from the all too occasional potholes. I’ll get a chance to more viscerally feel the vastness, the diversity, and the character of this nation, while at the same time learning about one of the more serious issues facing so many of its inhabitants, affordable housing.

Donation website: Support me here

My rider profile: Bike & Build Profile