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The pyramids
May 2nd, 2010 by Tessa

tessa w big pyr

Camels are very terrifying creatures. Especially when you step out of the van with one 10 yards away, which is about as close as I ever wanted to be to a camel. Or will ever want to be. They have two knees, look like they’re skin is too big for them, have a jiggling lump on their back, and their pelt looks like if you go up and pet them you’ll get a handful of grimy, sweaty and possibly snotty fist of sand. They constantly seem to be staring at you as if your fingers are a kind of vegetable, that they know will taste horrible, but deep down must be good for you. They also stand much taller then you’d think. Of course, their 12 feet tall, but when they say 12 feet tall, you don’t except that that’s probably tall enough for a horse to walk under. The camel was so disgusting you couldn’t look away from it, which of course caused the guy holding it’s reins to walk over to our little brigade and ask multiple times if I wanted to get on and ride the camel to take a picture (Not trying to follow Jay Staats example, So I shall NOT ride the camels at the pyramids). I had to wrench my eyes from the monstrosity to look at the pyramids.

They looked- different then I was expecting… They didn’t seem to be the correct size, although I couldn’t remember whether they were smaller then I thought they’d be or larger. They also didn’t look the same size if you stepped forwards. 20 yards away from a dog, you can tell it’s about the size of a coffee table. If you walk 10 yards towards it, it still looks the size of a coffee table. 10 yards back from my current position, I would have said “It looks small,” where as, at my current position I was thinking “Huh that’s strange it suddenly seems larger now.” Within ten more yards I would abruptly stop, look up and have to rethink my whole perspective of it once more because it was now MUCH larger then it had seemed earlier, as if the dog that looked like the size of a coffee table 20 yards away suddenly looked the size of a horse 5 yards closer, and then suddenly looked like a house 5 yards away from it; maybe it was the sand dunes playing tricks on the eyes.

I also expected it to be somewhat smooth. They looked so much different from the ones in the movies, that I think they might have photo-shopped the imagery in the movie. Surprisingly, the best comparison I could come up with for them was the picture on the dollar bill. All I could think of is that someone could make a fortune selling tickets to rock climb those. It’d be a huge seller and would make enough money to repair any damage to the pyramid and more. They’re the perfect size and even a total beginner really couldn’t fall off of them.

On our way to the next pyramid in the famous chain, we stopped by the sphinx. The sphinx has a very long history as our guide informed us. It was originally a cliff that one of the pharaohs decided to carve to make his pyramid’s front look more beautiful. Turns out the nose is missing because napoleon decided to blow it off as a joke. The guide let us stop and offered to take our picture kissing the sphinx. Who can say no to that?

At the next pyramid, my dad and I decided to go into the tomb. We went down a very small hole in the side of the pyramid at a steep decline. The experience was very good practice for crawling through vents, which I one day might need to know as part of my ninja training.

We went down, through a small corridor, up to the chamber, where we were in a very stuffy room. Knowing I could be cursed, I took off my bracelet and waved it around me in a circle before putting it back on. It’d have to do.

We walked back through and emerged into the light, where our guide pushed us along back to the van.

Isn't that just great? You can see up its nose...

Isn't that just great? You can see up its nose...

girls w pyr

(Listen to “Ode to Joy” while reading for full effect)
Apr 15th, 2010 by Kate

At that moment, no-one else in the world was as happy as I was- this, I was absolutely certain. I felt like I was a balloon floating away in a warm breeze. It just felt so right- so perfect. It felt like I belonged to the world again. One of the few great things that I loved about my life in my world was there.

There was toilet paper. A whole entire giant roll of it was sitting on one of those extra large holders. I felt like I had never seen so much toilet paper in my life.

And the bathroom was clean.

And it smelled slightly of citrus.

And the walls and floor were yellow and sparkly and spotless.

I felt like crying.

No, I am not being cheesy. When you are in India for a month, you really start to question if once in your life, there was ACTUALLY something existing called toilet paper. It seems like the clouds, always just out of reach. I swaggered over, half in a dream and took a big chunk off of the roll. I then blew my nose just for the heck of it. I regally threw the tissue into the metal garbage can and took another whiff of what I am sure must have been one of those highly toxic antibacterial sprays.

At that moment, I felt like I could raise my arms up and a symphony would strike up Ode to Joy and the whole bathroom would sparkle in gold. I might have actually cried, but I was too overwhelmed to remember.

Tessa’s take on India
Apr 15th, 2010 by Tessa

India.

Where do you start?

New Delhi

We started in the capital, New Delhi. A city of cows, honking cars and assorted laundry boiling under a haze of smog- a virtual assortment of chocolates from a brand that my mom doesn’t like.

“AND THIS IS THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT!?!”- Kate Wells.

It is true that their largest, and in fact, capital’s airport seems to be in the middle of a mass of tented houses and slums (for lack of better words). The parking lot was, in fact, a dirt parking lot and we were all in a somewhat temperamental mood after having to haggle and yell at the taxi drivers.

Now, it is very well to keep in mind that I have a VERY strong dislike of Indian food. And when I say dislike I mean that I seriously dislike it. So we set off into the world of India with our 4 backpacks, some tea, and a large container of peanut butter.

We passed Indian food restaurant after restaurant, and eventually came to our “Pearl Plaza” hotel. We hiked up the first floor with our back packs -then the second, then the third, then the 4th until we arrived panting on the 5th floor, where we dropped our backpacks into the room with a sigh. No phone, no pool, no pets (and no internet) had me feeling like King of the Road.

Agra

~See car accident post.~

Jodhipur

We stood at the “from Delhi” carousal a couple days later in Jodhipur. I had gone in 9 months from looking at the sidewalk and thinking “that is Japanese ABC gum” to thinking about how we had ABC gum at home and how I missed the sidewalk in front of our house. It’s strange what you start to miss. I could also look at the bottom of my flip flops or keens and think about how the ABC gum there was like the ABC gum at home.

It didn’t help much that the thing I was looking at on the floor was probably not ABC gum, so I followed my parents out the door with my backpack over my shoulder.

One of about 20 old temple buildings in the garden - pretty cool!  There were a bunch of drunk guys there that kept trying to get us to have barbeque with them - it was just like Hance Park back in Phoenix!

One of about 20 old temple buildings in the garden - pretty cool! There were a bunch of drunk guys there that kept trying to get us to have barbeque with them - it was just like Hance Park back in Phoenix!

The garden was CRAWLING with monkeys.  It freaked Phoebe out a little after "the great monkey attack" in Kyoto, but they had little babies so Phoebe mellowed out.

The garden was CRAWLING with monkeys. It freaked Phoebe out a little after "the great monkey attack" in Kyoto, but they had little babies so Phoebe mellowed out.

Eager to get on with our tour of the city as soon as possible so that we could go visit my Aunt’s relatives in Idar, we jumped to-it and wedged in a trip to a garden on the first afternoon before going to our hotel.

Getting a tour guide is like picking a straw. You could end up with the short end of the deal or you could end up with the longest piece. I now understand why our family is not a tour group family. After just a day of going to three sites and being told everything three times, I was only a straw away from strangling the guide. I found that nodding enthusiastically and smiling usually got me points for good behavior though.

Me in front of the Jaswant Mausoleum.  I will refain from further comment.

Me in front of the Jaswant Mausoleum. I will refain from further comment.

And now I will address the "caste" system in India.  Cultural tradition or not - its is just plain STUPID.  These little boys should have been in school, but they aren't allowed to go to school because they were born into the "musician" cast.  Ah, whatever!

And now I will address the "caste" system in India. Cultural tradition or not - its is just plain STUPID. These little boys should have been in school, but they aren't allowed to go to school because they were born into the "musician" cast. Ah, whatever!

The Majahrah back in the 1930's made a "poverty prevention plan" by building the largest palace in the world.  Now a third is the current Majahraj's house, a third museum, and third 5-star hotel... hum...

The Majahrah back in the 1930's made a "poverty prevention plan" by building the largest palace in the world. Now a third is the current Majahraj's house, a third museum, and third 5-star hotel... hum...

This is a picture from on top of the fort (that is really high up on a mountain).  Johipur is also called the "Blue City" because of all the houses that are painted blue.  They say that the blue houses are for the Brahmin class, but our tour guide said that's a rumor.

This is a picture from on top of the fort (that is really high up on a mountain). Johipur is also called the "Blue City" because of all the houses that are painted blue. They say that the blue houses are for the Brahmin class, but our tour guide said that's a rumor.

Udipur

By this time, I liked India’s hidden (possibly buried under the rubble and trash) charm and mom was starting to get used to it. Our hotel was a small, surprisingly stylish building down a small alley. We loved the Kaeser Palace!!!!! It was owned by a man, his wife and his little brother named Lucky. Lucky was probably one of the first people who was eager to help us who we didn’t know of before the trip in India. He gave my mom the right amount to pay for camel shoes, helped us tremendously with our room arrangement, and directed us to the nearest internet café when the internet was down.

In that city we also met some children. Their father worked at the shop down the way and their house was a three room apartment(ish) down the alley closer to the lake. One of the girls was 9 and the other was 15. Bittu and I did henna, walked around town and folded origami.

Our friends in Udipur

Our friends in Udipur

Udupur is also famous for its palace on the lake that you can see from our hotel. Mom had big plans to go and eat lunch there like it advertised on their website. So we stalked off to where the tuk-tuk driver told us the ferry was. Chaos rolled out like a nice carpet onto the floor. Mom got in an argument with the guards who wouldn’t sell us tickets to the island, we stalked off to a tourist-information to figure out what was going on, and found that we couldn’t go to the island because it was hotel guests only. From there we stalked back to the guards to find that we could buy afternoon tea on the palace that went up to the water. We bought the tickets for high tea, went up to the palace and were told that high tea was full and that we should go to the pool to be served. We went to the pool to find that there was not high tea, or anything vaguely like high tea, going on. The waiter who spoke English pointed out to us that there was no high tea anywhere in the palace and that we had been over charged by 500 rupees (approximately 30 rupees to the dollar) for our admission fee. We called the manager; sat in an office for a half hour while we argued with the guards over the fact that we had been overcharged 500 and that there was no extra money in the cash box. Mom screamed (editorial comment from “mom”… I did not scream, I spoke to them firmly!)  at them for pocketing the money off of tourists and after sitting in the office for another hour and a half waiting for the top manager (and reading a very interesting article on Alice and Wonderland in the news paper) we decided just to leave. Mom had to go over and “yell” at the guards on our way out one more time about the principle of the thing before we left.

(caption by Kate)  We didn't really want to go their dumb ole island palace anyway, we found a perfectly lovely place to have dinner and watch the sun set that was WAY better than the palace.  AND they didn't try an rip us off for $60 bucks!  So there!  :-)

(caption by Kate) We didn't really want to go their dumb ole island palace anyway, we found a perfectly lovely place to have dinner and watch the sun set that was WAY better than the palace. AND they didn't try an rip us off for $60 bucks! So there! :-)

The road to Idar

So from Udupur, we sardine packed back into our car and set out for the Jain temple halfway in between.

It was better than the Taj Mahal and it deserves more recognition.

One hundred and forty four pillars of intricately and uniquely carved white marble laid out symmetrically house small statues of Jain gods and large 600 year old trees. An aura of peace falls over the place in the sunlight and the high priests come to give free tours and practice their English.

The Jain Temple.  It was AWESOME!  Every single inch of the entire place was intricately carved, and it was massive.  Our tour guide was the head priest and we learned so much about their religion, it was really interesting!

The Jain Temple. It was AWESOME! Every single inch of the entire place was intricately carved, and it was massive. Our tour guide was the head priest and we learned so much about their religion, it was really interesting!

Later on that day, our driver was so pleased that we had enjoyed the wonder of the Jain temple, that he brought us to another one, unaware that today was a holy day and that there was going to be a giant throng of people going to this green temple which was still in use. We were followed by a giant mass of people until gawking citizens cleared a way in our path for our giant parade. We had small boys following us with arrows*, a group of guys about 20 who were making kissy faces at my mom and I, a little group of beggars and a small group of giggling girls that wanted to pet our hair. We went in to the temple, and I tried my best to avoid the people blessing you with the wet yellow bindies (the smell makes me nauseous) as we were shoved and pushed through the crowd.

*WHAT WERE SMALL 8 YEAR OLDS DOING WITH ARROWS?

This is at the green marble temple.  She how my dad and Phoebe have yellow dots (blessings) on their foreheads?  One, the yellow stuff stinks (gag!) and, two, they ask you to tip them - what's up with that?  Eveyone wants a tip in India!

This is at the green marble temple. She how my dad and Phoebe have yellow dots (blessings) on their foreheads? One, the yellow stuff stinks (gag!) and, two, they ask you to tip them - what's up with that? Eveyone wants a tip in India!

Idar

So we arrived at Idar late in the afternoon. I didn’t feel good and was sick for the rest of our stay there. I had a fever and the sniffles. Where does all the snot come from? It’s a mystery to me. Poor Metoo, Jeshal, Raj, and Dolly had to deal with me being sick and not wanting to go to temples the whole time we were at their house. They dragged me around with them in the car and I had a strange craving for only fruit. So I ate watermelon for the week we stayed with them.

They drove us to Ahmadabad the day we were leaving so that we could go to UAE. In the time before our flight we went to the malls and tried to find a DDR machine without success.

We left India with a sigh the next day.

Spray it with bug spray, tuck it in, and pray nothing gets in!
Mar 19th, 2010 by Tessa

“Who has the key?” Phoebe asked automatically as she stepped onto the wooden porch, that really didn’t deserve the right to be called a porch. It was really a bunch of wooden planks nailed to the underside of our cottage with a railing on the edge that would probably drag you down with it if you touched it. The house was on stilts and overlooked the sea. The builders must have been pressed for space because they had decided to build our cottage over the rocks leading into the water. We were IN the rocks to the point that one of our walls was half of the boulder that the right side of our cottage leaned on. Dad, leaned against the boulder and mom sat on the chair on the porch. We spilled into the room like a wave of water spills onto the sand. Dad quickly flicked on the fan and I climbed up into the loft that was serving as our room. I grabbed my book off the ladder on my way up.

My mattress was on the floor, so I took a special care in tucking in my mosquito net in to keep the cockroaches out. I stuffed the mosquito net farther under so that the mattress weighed the sides down. I was not tolerating any bugs tonight. I folded the mosquito net neatly behind me so that the entrance overlapped. I swung my legs under the covers. I paused just long enough for a seven inch brown rat to bolt out from under the blankets, run up my arm, over my shoulder and into the mosquito net behind me. I watched it flailing in the net from across the room.

“Wow,” Phoebe said from the top of the ladder, “You just FLEW across the room.”

The Royal Palace of Thailand
Feb 18th, 2010 by Tessa
Skyline inside the Wat - the golden onion and it's friends

Skyline inside the Wat - the golden onion and it's friends

One would expect people to be flouncing around in fabulous, flowing silks and feathered hats with their dainty toes in fabric shoes as they gamble around the cobblestone entryway to the Grand Royal Palace of Thailand.  A white wall skirts the outside of the palace grounds.  Not even reaching 10 feet tall, I doubted that it would withstand an attack from even the olden times when the palace was in full swing.  If we hand not walked all this way to see this specific site, and if it had not been so vast an area (not to mention the fact that there was a golden- onion like thing in the middle of the grounds), I would probably have assumed it a simple Holiday Inn enclosed in white walls with a very well tended garden.

The giant, onion-like figure glowed like a light bulb to our left.  I only had enough time to glimpse intothe small shops lining the walkway on the way to the temple (golden onion?) before I fell down the stair in a mess of a skirt. Mom constantly adjusted her new polyester jacket (and by new I mean new to HER) as if it would somehow make it go away. I pulled up my skirt, not really caring if my ankles showing was disrespectful, and hopped down the stairs, mumbling about borrowing the “appropriate” (and very hot) clothes from the “room for people who had forgotten to wear clothes that covered their shoulders or passed their knees.”

Lonely Planet did me wrong!  I was not allowed to wear my stylin' capri pants into the Wat, and instead had to "borrow" this awesome skirt...

Lonely Planet did me wrong! I was not allowed to wear my stylin' capri pants into the Wat, and instead had to "borrow" this awesome skirt...

The throngs of people bustled about and we eventually found ourselves in a museum displaying amazing works of gold and silver, studded with diamonds and other rare gems. The carpet looked like it needed some major vacuuming and the wood was a scratched chocolaty brown. Our little troop of four was herded into a corridor, passed the room displaying the clothes that the Emerald Buddha wore at different times of the year, and were eventually deposited in front of what, from afar looked like the golden onion.

To my surprise, the giant structure wasn’t painted gold, but was covered by hundreds of thousands of little golden, reflective, glass tiles. And up close, it gave me the impression of a giant salt/pepper grinder instead of an onion. True, it had the bulbous shape of and onion at the base, but then its long neck shot up skywards to be topped by a little flourish. And behind it was another building, with patterns sewn onto it in the same sized, mirror like tiles. The building, sparkled, glimmered and rippled in the sun like the green tail-feather of a peacock. Purple and blue and yellow and green appeared to move and dart to and fro on the walls like tropical fish.

The hordes of people seemed to all converge on the building’s tall doorway and the basin of water and flowers in front of it.  With both hands, they would firmly hold the flower between their palms as if preying, would dunk the lotus head into the water, and quickly dab their head with the flower before the water ran off in small, cold trickles. The doors were white and painted elaborately with dragon and flower patterns, crossing and crawling and weaving their way up the door.

Bajillions of tiny gold tiles, yes bajillions!

Bajillions of tiny gold tiles, yes bajillions!

Teeny tiny tiles everywhere

Teeny tiny tiles everywhere

My bare feet pattered on the floor boards as I entered from the doorway that seemed most quiet. I knelt down, imitating the others all around me. In front of me was a large display of what looked like a mountain of stacked furniture (although, very symmetrical stacked furniture).   Every object that wasn’t a painting, the wall, or the floor was covered in golden paint.  The tables were covered in golden paint and sparkled as if they were really solid gold.  Giant six foot statues were painted gold down to their shiny bare toes.  The lampshade-like contraptions that “levitated” around all of the golden statue’s head were  gold and the wooden clouds were gold as well.  It didn’t take very long for my eyes to be drawn to the one non-golden object in the whole room (except for the donation box of course, which a monk rudely placed in front of me while I was looking at the statues).

The Emerald Buddha sat in the middle of the heap of golden furniture.  He himself wasn’t gold (he was obviously green) but the statue was cloaked in robe made of pure gold.

I suddenly felt very uneasy standing in the large, beautiful room with all the golden statues looking at the little crowd of people kneeling with their foreheads touching the wood, so I got up and quietly left the room to go find Phoebe, mom and dad.

Us with one of the Emerald Buddhas giant guards

Us with one of the Emerald Buddhas giant guards

Don't know what her job is, but we thought she was pretty

Don't know what her job is, but we thought she was pretty

Sitting buddha outside of the temple

Sitting buddha outside of the temple

Skydiving.
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Tessa
The jumpers suited up!

The jumpers suited up!This is the extent of our "safety" training - "put your hands up like this when we jump, and when your insturctor taps you on the shoulder, put them down. Also, make your body in the shape of a banana." Seriously?Cool sign, but it would have been so much funnier if his head would have been cut off!

Us walking towards the perfectly good plane we are about to jump out of!

Us walking towards the perfectly good plane we are about to jump out of!

I have a theory. It may already be proven, but my theory is that the human brain releases a chemical to numb the “common sense” portion of our brain to make death easier. I have come up with this theory because of the fact that for the 20 minutes before we were jumping out of a plane, we were all giddy and happy like we were going to some special event. I have to admit though, the only thing I can remember that didn’t seem like a dream was the instructor telling me to sit on his lap so he could properly strap me in. I’m not sure if everything was echoing because I was light headed (not in the sick way, in the OMG what the HECK am I doing way) or because I had something strapped to my head that covered my ears.

I remember looking up at around 6000 feet and thinking, “There is no way in the world I am jumping here”- but after we got to around 10000 feet, and the squares of farming land melted together like a bunch of chocolate squares, I thought “huh. I can’t even see the ground. I’m glad we went to 12000 instead of 6000”. I watched as my Dad crawled to the edge of the plane. The plane was traveling so fast that I didn’t even see him falling, only him zooming out to the left as the plane traveled away from him. Olivia had a more dramatic fall and I could see her falling out of the plane before flipping backwards. I remember STARTING to crawl towards the whole in the side of the plane, but I don’t remember the actual crawling itself. I do, of course, remember dangling over the side of the plane 12000 feet in the air right before we jumped.

"Ah, the serenity"

"Ah, the serenity"

OMG - what have I done!

OMG - what have I done!

My stomach felt like it was in my throat as we lunged out of the plane, but was gone in an instant. I wouldn’t have realized my mouth was open if my teeth had not instantly felt cold and my mouth dry. It felt like I was standing in a very cold wind on the edge of a cliff EXCEPT for the fact that my feet weren’t touching the ground, and I was plummeting to the earth. It was oddly discomforting to have someone strapped to my back- and if I ever go again, I want to take a solo course so that I can go by myself.

Lisa Barrett - this one's for you!

Once the initial shock was over, it was AWESOME! Lisa Barrett - this one's for you - peace sister!Our cameraman was below us falling like he was dead! My "free fall" lasted for about 45 seconds and was my favorite part of the jump.Still in free fall - about to go through the clouds which I didn't even notice!

I swear that my cameraman was dead (or at least unconscious). The camera man had originally been my back up plan if our parachute didn’t work (that if my instructor fainted, the cameraman could probably rescue us) but now I was afraid that we might have to rescue him. He was sitting there so peacefully and it looked like he was either savoring the moment, or was knocked out cold. I decided to go for the savoring the moment assumption and continued to smile at the camera strapped to his head. Then he pulled the shoot and we were drifting. It was kind of awkward having a guy strapped to my back.

“So… Those things that look like little grains of rice down there… Are those sheep…?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wow. They’re like…really small…”

“Uh-huh.”

“And…Um… Where are we landing this thing?” Suddenly a hand came over my shoulder and pointed at a small green patch with larger rice grains on it (planes, not cows. You can still tell the difference 6000 feet in the air).

“How cold is the lake…?”

“`Dunno…”

I gave up trying to make conversation with the guy strapped to my back after a couple more efforts at small talk. I don’t know how high we were, but at some point, he explained how to land to me, and we landed. Olivia and my dad were already inside getting unsuited. I wasn’t aware of the fact that I had a huge grin on my face until my mom ran up and hugged me.

Back to earth - check out my perfect landing form (the instructor told me what to do about 10 seconds before my feet touched down!)

Back to earth - check out my perfect landing form (the instructor told me what to do about 10 seconds before my feet touched down!)

Thumbs up!  First thing I said to my mom... "that was AWESOME - they have a $50 off coupon for my next jump!"

Thumbs up! First thing I said to my mom after landing... "Oh my god that was AWESOME - they have a $50 off coupon for my next jump!"Post jump reunion - we're all ready to jump again - solo next time!

I loved the whole thing! Even drifting with the instructour was great! I’d go again in a heart beat.

We have a teenager!
Jan 23rd, 2010 by Kate

Tess turned 13 on January 5th.  Can’t believe it.  My baby. 

A black "emo" jacket, a "peace" bikini, and Twilight - is she a teenager or WHAT?

A black "emo" jacket, a "peace" bikini, and Twilight - is she a teenager or WHAT?

 Of course for her birthday she wanted to do something “awesome”, which of course, for Tessa, means hurdling herself into harm’s way.  Skydiving was her first choice, but we have heard over and over again that Queenstown is the place to be for skydiving (we’d be there in a week) – so we needed to find some other extreme sport to satisfy her need for danger.

Tessa ZORBING!

Tessa ZORBING!

 So we went “ZORBING”.  It’s pretty much a huge clear hamster ball inside an even larger hamster ball.  They take you up a giant hill, put you and a big bucket of water into the inner ball, and roll your butt down a steep, curving track.

 Tess tried her best to run inside the ball, but the water and the centrifical force turned her into a laughing tumbling dizzy mess.  It was totally hysterical to watch. 

 Phoebe and Olivia faired little better, but had a blast and all came whoosing out of their balls with huge smiles on their faces. 

Phoebe, Olivia, and Tessa - post-zorbing

Phoebe, Olivia, and Tessa - post-zorbing

 A totally awesome birthday for a totally awesome kid (if I do say so myself!).

What are you talking about? That water is BELOW freezing!
Dec 9th, 2009 by Tessa
Dad and I diving "Rico's Wall" at about 12 meters - check out my awesome 5mil wetsuit - I was STILL FREEZING!

Dad and I diving "Rico's Wall" at about 12 meters - check out my awesome 5mil wetsuit - I was STILL FREEZING!

I was in debate on whether I should write about my scuba diving adventures or not- because, frankly, scuba diving doesn’t make for the most entertaining subject. But due to lack of ANYTHING ELSE super funny happening in the last couple of weeks, (besides the fork episode, of which I will post next) I will proceed to inform (and hopefully mildly entertain) you on the vast array of scuba diving equipment.

To start off, they give you a book. In the 3 hours I had before I went to bed, I had to read 175 pages of- not exactly the funniest book I’ve read (but the dive instructor did complement me on my artistic talent that I displayed on the margins- he also commented on my notes arguing with the ways they explained the laws of gravity and my notes saying that liquids, could indeed be solidified under extremely high pressures that caused them to compress. He responded by saying we were not going anywhere that was near absolute zero, so I would have no need to worry.). I then went back to the dive center and watched 3 hours of factual “how to take off your mask” videos that were periodically interrupted by a tourist on the screen (obviously an ignorant American ^_~) doing all of the WRONG things.

In the afternoon I was told to do 200m of straight laps and then tread water for 10 minutes. After passing both of those, they tossed the mass of equipment into the pool and had me demonstrate the skills I had learned on the tape/reading the book.

Finally on the second day we (my dad the instructor and I) headed out to the REAL Ocean. The sea churned the in the same way someone would imagine a witches pot to. The gray sky started to drizzle, and everyone moved to the back of the boat to avoid the spray of the waves that lashed out like arms over the front of the boat. Everyone suited up in there 3 millimeter wetsuits, and I got into my 5millimeter. My dad informed me on more then one occasion that 5millimeters weren’t for tropical oceans, they were for places like; quote: “I don’t know CANADA?” I told him that if I was ever going to go diving in Canada, I would have a custom made arctic dry suit. The dive instructor thought that was really funny. He also laughed at my habit of eating butter right out of the container or having butter, a can of tuna and a bushel of leechee nuts as my lunch everyday.

On the dive trip (once I got used to how COLD the water was) we practiced dive routines like filling up my mask and clearing it, The CESA, and calculating how long we could stay underwater without freezing too much nitrogen in our blood so that when we go up to the surface it doesn’t boil in our veins (charming- isn’t it?). We didn’t see much because we were practicing our emergency routines.

The next day, we had to get our equipment read ourselves. So I got all of my stuff (fins, goggles, snorkel, BCD, butter, leechees, wetsuit, etc.) and put it on the boat. If yesterday the witch was churning the ocean, today she was whirling it with a mad passion, laughing hysterically at the poor little people on boats. The sea frothed and I suddenly felt bad for the people who had to stay on the boat while we dived… And for the 20 people sitting on, what looked like a small bamboo raft that was being paddled out to the sea. Well… that was Vietnam for you.

The visibility was horrible that day, and my dad says we passed by him quite a few times before we actually SAW him. Never the less, the ocean was very beautiful (and cold, but also beautiful). Plus, we weren’t actually scuba diving for pleasure; we were more scuba diving to get me certified so that in better places (in BETTER weather) I could go scuba diving with my dad- which is exactly what we did in the Philippines.

A coral head in the Philippines - check out all the zillions of little tropical fish in the background!

A coral head in the Philippines - check out all the zillions of little tropical fish in the background!

"I shall call him Squishy, and he shall be mine!"  (a sea slug really, but isn't he cute!)

"I shall call him Squishy, and he shall be mine!" (a sea slug really, but isn't he cute!)

The Philippines was wonderful! The sea was clear- the locals had a fishing law so the reefs were protected! Boulders of brain coral anchored themselves to the sandy plains. Fields of anemone like animals thrived over table coral and colorful fish meander across the sun like swift silver clouds. It was almost as wonderful as hanging up silk curtains of every color all right next to each other, and then standing right behind them while the wind picked them up and swirled them around you.

There were this many fish (sometimes more!) everywhere you swam.  The colors were insane!

There were this many fish (sometimes more!) everywhere you swam. The colors were insane!

At some points I just wanted to lay down in the water at the bottom of ocean, feeling weightless and fall asleep, but I knew that that was one of the signs of multiple illnesses related to diving, and that everyone would freak out if I just stopped moving. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Philippines hanging out on the boat and laying in the sun. It was a good day.

A Frog Fish.  These apparently are really rare.

A Frog Fish. These apparently are really rare.

This was eely eely cool

This was eely eely cool

Lion fish:  Pretty and DEADLY (dun dun dun...)

Lion fish: Pretty and DEADLY (dun dun dun...)

A good day on the water!

A good day on the water!

Our bargain tour of the Mekong Delta
Dec 2nd, 2009 by Tessa
Mekong River tributary & the bow of our boat
Mekong River tributary & the bow of our boat

Mekong tessa 2

So, we continue on with our adventures… Since no trip to Vietnam is complete without seeing the Mekong Delta (and since Phoebe had been assigned the “homework” of researching it) we decided to try something different and go on one of those organized tours.  We found the “exact” same tour offered from $9 a person to $46 a person, so being the budget travelers that we are, we of course chose the $9 tour. 

 We woke up early in the morning and walked to the “bus parking area”. Our guide passed all of the big fancy busses full of German tourists, until we finally arrive at our little, broken down “special” bus. Laughing about our bad bus kharma (and at our cheapness), we boarded the bus and set off for a 2 hours ride to the Mekong Delta.  My mom had the illusion that once we got out of Ho Chi Minh proper, that we’d come across quant rice fields and banana fields, but it was like one giant suburb all the way.

Coconut Boat

Coconut Boat

Coconut candy making factory, when its done it's like a coconut flavored "Bit-o-Honey"

Coconut candy making factory, when its done it's like a coconut flavored "Bit-o-Honey"

We arrived and got into some small boats that took us to a coconut candy factory; As our group learned the process of making the coconut candy, I hung in the back and proceeded to eat all of the samples I could get my hands on. They use every part of the coconut to make the candy, they even use the husks as fuel for the fire that they cook the over. We also learned that if you bought 5 bags of the candy (each with about 50 pieces in it) you get one free! =D What a deal! I reminded my dad that us buying the candy helped the local people, so now have 300 pieces of candy – sucker!
Maggot tea!

Maggot tea!

 We got back into the boat and went to the honey farm. They poured bee pollen, fresh honey, lime and tea into my cup. Gazing over the rim, I couldn’t help but notice (and  announce) that there were maggots in my cup! I flicked them out onto my plate and watched them as they crawled away. Well, now I had something interesting to write about… Mekong boat w fam

 We got back into another little boat, with two paddlers that harassed us whole way for tips and “big money”.  But my mom was okay with it, because Phoebe and I got to finally wear those cool pointy hats so she could take our picture in them. The next stop was our lunch place. Because we didn’t order the giant fried fish that was 15 dollars (and kind of freaky looking – they stood it upright in this dead fried fish contraption) and everyone else did, we were the last to get served (but who cares ^_~ cause we had coconut candy!

After lunch, Dad fell asleep in a hammock and almost got left behind, and on my 5th piece of post-lunch coconut candy I managed to pull a tooth out!

 When we get back to the bus, we are tired and worn out.  After about 15 minutes on the bus, the driver pulls off on the side of the road into some random parking lot and the tour guide says “everyone who is on the 2 day trip, stay on the bus, everyone on the one day trip, get off the bus.”

 One day trip… right that was us!

 We got off the bus and the guide brought us over to another bus. All 14 of us clomped down the parking lot to find that the new bus only had 2 seats open.  “Hmm. That’s strange,” the guide said, and then he went to a 2nd bus to see if they had and seats open.  The driver said he did – and so our guide said “BYE” and with that, he jumped onto the bus and drove off, leaving 12 of us in the parking lot without a bus!  Well apparently the other bus didn’t really have any seats, as they said “sorry” and drove off without us too!!!   There we were, stranded in the middle of the Mekong Delta suburbs with no ride home.  Not to fear though, we wouldn’t starve (after all, we DID have about 250 pieces of candy left) and one of our new friends from Australia (hey Ian!) reminded us all that we weren’t really stuck – because in Vietnam we are RICH and could just hire a taxi all the way back if we wanted. The adults dispersed and started waiving down other buses that passed, asking for a ride. Eventually we found one of those “luxury” buses that had room on it and we drove back to the bus area in comfy leather seats and air con.  So yet again – it all worked out great!

The Tradegy
Oct 19th, 2009 by Tessa

 There are four bunks per room in a train car. The one across from mine is empty. My mother should have been there. The bed is cold and stiff and the blanket and pillow are untouched.

A perfectly dramatic way of describing a sad scene in yet another novel in which the mother has died don’t you think? Fortunately, my mother is not dead. Unfortunately though, train tickets are not refundable.

Due to an emergency, my mom had to fly back to Shanghai. She didn’t want to because she thought she’d be lonely. Just to make sure that she isn’t lonely while we’re gone, I am not going to tell you what is wrong with her! (Forcing you to email her to figure out what’s wrong!!! I’m a genius!)

EDIT- My dad is forcing me against my will to write about what happened. But I still think it was a great idea.

The day after we went to the Zoo (in Chengdu, China where the giant pandas are), where I swear that Phoebe was the main exhibit because of the amount of photographs people took of her with their crying small children, we met Tom again for Tex Mex. As soon as we got there, I attempted to converse with the Chinese waitresses in Spanish. I quickly realised that NO-ONE in this restaurant spoke Spanish, much less English. Mom dove for the chips and Guacamole- but no she isn’t food poisoned. We were all finished with the meal, it was probably the best Mexican food I had eaten in China (which really isn’t saying a whole lot, but still, it was okay….). We were all convercing when mom suddenly brought her hands to her mouth- no, she doesn’t vomit either! Her eyes went wide and she simply said, “I think my crown just came off!”

So we call the consulate. They give us a hospital. We get to the hospital and they have an English speaking doctor who put a temporary cap on her tooth and we shipped her back to Shanghai where she has instructions to harass the FedEx people until they fork over our new Kindle. Oh, and hopefully she can get her tooth fixed while she’s there.

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