Grand Canyon: Sunrise at Yavapai Point & Apache Stables

Managed to get up after four hours’ sleep and go to Yavapai point. I took the blanket from my bed and was happy I did, though it was more like 60s than the 30s that had been the low that night. Several Japanese at the lookout point with expensive cameras pointing at the canyon that was being lit stripe by stripe from the rising sun.

Sunrise at the South Rim

So surreal – to be near something that you’ve heard about and seen so many times, like a famous person. You flip back and forth between living in the moment and the impulses to capture it either in your memory or on your phone, that fear of losing it, particularly as we age and lose so many memories. I wish I’d had cell phones and digital cameras in 2003 and 2001 on those trips.  

We came home and slept for a few hours and are going out to the trip I took yesterday along the south rim. We went from Mather Point to the geology museum and back again, though there were no elk, lizards, or squirrels this time. Melissa is having a soul-searching trip and was struggling with the heat and walking a lot.

I went horseback riding at Apache Stables off Route 328 with two other sets of folks – a couple from Connecticut and two women. I was behind the trail boss, for lack of a better term, and we rode through the sage brush and pines for an hour, which felt like three hours on my cushionless ass.

Apache Stables, about 15 minutes south of the South Rim

I had trouble putting on my helmet, which was a first for horseback riding, but if I use one on my bike, I can certainly see using one on a creature that can throw you 10 feet. My horse was named Mustang and stopped to pee about four times on the way. I was envious and have often wished I could do the same on a trail without stopping, though I think I’d at least step away from the crowd.

There was a beautiful blue bird with a long tail, and a few other tiny ones, but no other animals that we saw. But the grey-green tiny leafed sage brush and tiny grassy clumps of something-or-other were beautiful along the narrow dirt trail. I kept trying to grab my camera, then chickening out, because I didn’t want to be the one to drop it on the ground and have the boss man have to stop to help me grab it. I’d already been the “My helmet’s too tight” girl.

I also found Yavapai Point again about an hour before sunset. This is where we went with the jeep tour group the day before and is my favorite spot in the Grand Canyon so far.

Yavapai Point

I might go back for sunrise tomorrow, which is what we wanted to do today – we were in the same lot, just didn’t go far enough to the west. It’s by the Trail of Time (or something) that has a little monument showing the geological epochs. What a vista! There were nice camera set ups and couples waiting for the sun to go down. I finally got back on a high and have a ton of energy that I hope will dissipate, because it’s 8:22pm and I took my trazodone and need a good night’s sleep tonight. No stars for us tonight. I miss Button!!! Melissa and I are both sitting here looking at photos of our cats. I have some cute ones of Button and me spooning. It’s my favorite thing.

Crazy giant panorama (click on it) of sunset at Yavapai Point, sadly not on a great camera

Grand Canyon: Mather Point and Jeep Tour

While accidentally trying to get back to our room from the main lodge, we ran smack into the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. One of the great things about living near a crevice the size of Trump’s ego is that you can’t get too lost without eventually running into it. This is also the great thing about living near the Pacific Ocean or any mountain range that blots out the sun if you stray too far from noon. It’s a godsend for those of us with no sense of direction.

Amazed and elated, Melissa and I parked next to what I elegantly labeled Nature’s Vagina and ran to the edge to see what coins, phones, and bodies might be at the bottom. It was a perfect day – azure skies dotted with dainty white clouds and travelers quick with a friendly greeting scattered among the juniper pines and smooth rocks. I met a guy who was sleeping in converted van. He was forced into retirement after 35 years in engineering all over the world due to Covid and was working his way around the West Coast. He’d just come from Zion or somewhere else in Utah that I’d never heard of but found myself suddenly desperate to visit (Edit: Moab!! And now I’m going in March 2022). Like a well-placed tattoo or a freak thunderstorm, a gaping hole in the earth is a great conversation starter, and it was easy to chat with any passer-by. My convo was cut short, however, by my desperate need for the loo. 

Melissa stayed to sleep, but I packed my water and sunblock and hit the South Rim to walk the famous path between Yavapai Geology Museum and Mather Point, the famous lookout near the main Visitor Center. The sun turns the rocks a broad and altered spectrum of muted purples, greens, and blues, or vivid reds, oranges, and beiges, depending on its angle. One side is usually brightly lit and sharp, the other soft and shadowed. Like Nature is putting different Zoom or Snap Chat filters on different sides of the canyon. Because I’m a previously medicated nutjob with a punch card full of hospital stays, the contrasts of bright/sharp and dark/muted also reminded me of bipolar disorder. Sadly, my cell phone doesn’t even begin to capture the beauty.

Some edges are fenced off to keep you from becoming turkey vulture kibble, while others allow you to poke your toes off a precipice if you dare. There’s an instinct that rears up inside you as you edge toward a cliff. While you’re sure of your footing and the rock is flat and secure, there’s always a tingle of horror at the thought of slipping or jumping into the abyss below (or within??).

You can see snippets of the green Colorado River snaking its way at the bottom. It looks narrow as a finger but is wide as a football field is long. The horizontal layers of rock and sediment types tell a 70-million year old story of DUDE (Deposition, Uplift, Down cutting, Erosion).

Our first evening was our only touristy thing — Grand Canyon Jeep Safari Tours, led by Shiela. Shiela is our trusty, crusty, well-informed (hence DUDE), and charming guide for the three-hour tour. She transports 1,200 gallons of water in her truck at a time and lives off solar power in the woods. It sounds doable, even fun, until I realize that my Delonghi Magnifica espresso machine would eat up my power, and the local vermin would eat up my cat. Water here is as rare as an honest senator, and even $800k houses have no water piped in.

Here comes an awkward segue about cats being killed. I was glad to hear that cougars are doing so well that they are allowed to be hunted, so that the elk don’t go extinct (circle of life, folks). You can be fined if you approach an elk and they bitchslap you, but one approached me (I nabbed him on video, below) as I stood on the South Rim one afternoon and walked by me as though I were invisible. As a 47-year-old female, I realize I should get used to this treatment. The turkey vultures catching thermals was my favorite thing about the canyon – it’s always the animals some way or other that I love best.

The limestone stripes show that the canyon was under water many times and has lived thru many environments, though the past several million years have disappeared through erosion. The top 5,000 feet of the canyon are gone, as are the stories they would’ve told us. The North Rim is 10 miles away as the crow flies, unless he’s drunk and gets lost. If you hike it on the Bright Angel and North Kaibab Trails, the distance balloons to 24.6 miles. I committed to do this some year.

I was considering the whole mule thing, but Shiela said the mules that take you to the bottom step along the edge and it’s an eight-hour ride as uncomfortable as a blind date with an ex. Also, you have to watch a video before you book a trip (two years in advance), and more than half of folks bail out after watching the video. I guess the better way is to hike down and visit a petting zoo to get your mule fix.

You can see the Bright Angel trail cut its way through the forest below the South Rim. The giant trees look like teeny shrubs, or even grass. Photos don’t do the Canyon justice, but neither do your own eyes. They can’t fathom the depths below and objects are much farther than they appear, like your corneas are side view mirrors. The North Rim also has a ton of trees, three times the snow, and is 1,000 feet higher than the South Rim. I’ll likely never see it, because you have to drive around (cars can’t fly or hike), and that takes an extra 2.5 hours from the Phoenix Airport. I’ll hike an extra 2.5 hours, but I won’t drive it – especially if there’s no good espresso on the way.

Shiela brought us to Yavapai Point, which was my favorite view of the Canyon for the entire trip. She also had us taking creative photos and doing touristy shit that would make teenagers balk, but when your life is already half over at best, you adopt a different attitude.

How it was done: Shiela was behind the wall that we were pretending to fall from.

I like to get things from cultural centers that I’ll actually use – a double win of supporting them and getting something useful but also cool or sentimental. Being doubly nerdy (books and science), I got a bookmark and socks that were striped like the sediment and rock layers of the canyon. Each layer’s name is even typed. Wearing these in high school would get you shoved into the nearest locker, but I’m almost 50, so I’m exempt. I don’t know who needs thick knee-highs in Arizona, but they come in handy 11 months of the year in Seattle.

My sun hat got stuffed into my suitcase after being folded in four, so the circular wire snapped, and it looks like a box for my head in all of my photos. My sunglasses also broke and my sandals are falling apart, so I might be doing some legitimate shopping in Sedona. (Edit: I did not).

Yavapai Lodge is a decent place to stay. The vegetarian breakfast burrito, vanilla latte, and cranberry orange muffin are quite good, and they have vegan chili and a Southwestern salad on the menu that I never got to but looked promising. We had dinner this night, however, at Big E Steakhouse Saloon instead, because where else would a sober vegan eat?

The place had a copper ceiling and old-timey Western spittoons, dark leather couches, fringy bordello lamps, and oriental rugs. It felt like Texas, where everything is huge and testosteroney and Old West, except that I’ve never been to Texas. So what I really mean is that it looks like when Marty McFly and Doc visit the Old West in Back to the Future Part 3. We also both ducked behind a slab of something-or-other and peed outside the general store the first night, which is very Old West to me.

Stars were even better this night than last night. Too bad it’s impossible to capture them on any camera under $5k, but it just means I’ll have to go back. We returned to Mather Point parking lot and leaned against the car to watch the stars pop up in our increasingly light-sensitive eyeballs. Not at all creepy like the first night, because we knew what was around us. It was odd to know that we were only 100 feet or so from a gaping hole in the earth, but what you can’t see sometimes doesn’t seem to exist. Cats test this theory when they bury their snouts in your elbow to make themselves (or you) invisible. It’s amazing what can be right next to you without your knowing it. Apparently if you are in the forest you are seen by a cougar once every eight hours. I don’t know how they figure that out, but Sheila told us and I trust any woman with as many guns as she must own.

Off to the Grand Canyon!

Eagerly anticipating a week of NOT looking like a bank robber in beanie-hat-to-toe black with long sleeves. I got to the end of the light rail 10 minutes before Melissa and spent the time squatting and leg-lifting away alone on the platform. At the other end of the platform, a guy in a white and black bunny suit was asleep on the ground, his bag for a pillow, legs curled in the fetal position. My first thought was that a Saturday night rave in an abandoned bank building went faaaaar too long, and he was crawling home Monday morning. It reminded me of an old Burning Man photo I had.

Temple of Joy casualty at Burning Man, circa 2001

Then I remembered this isn’t 1990s Los Angeles. And that I now get up, not go to bed, at 5:15 am. I resumed my squats. It was just us – me and Mr. Platform Bunny. Clouds creamy and white as whipped cream dollops billowed in the blue sky. It was such a perfect day that I almost hated to leave Seattle. Almost.

Finally, I saw Melissa waving from the far end of the light rail – dressed in all black with an olive-hued, hard suitcase, like a ninja with a case of explosives. This freecycled, dented green monstrosity could’ve fit two of me inside it, though it strained to keep its mouth zipped shut like a gossip with a juicy secret. I know this, because it was three pounds over the 50-pound limit when we went to check it at Alaska Airlines, and Melissa had to either pay $70 or take out three pounds worth of bare necessities such as eight pairs of shoes, beach towels, or SPF formulated specifically for your hands. This was the woman who only a week ago had presented me with about 100 pairs of shoes for the taking, bringing out bag after bag from under her bed and in her closet. I think she had more shoes in her suitcase than I had in my apartment. She shoved several sandals and slip-ons into her carry-on tote, and the airline woman weighed the suitcase again. Still too heavy.

artist’s interpretation

Fortunately, one bag full of liquids had nothing larger than a three-ounce container, so she stuffed that into her tote as well. I took her Slim Shake powder mix, which I’d first thought was a canister of sanitizer wipes. After all, we were going to Arizona. If they could try to flip back the election six months after the fact and frequently had raging anti-maskers booted from flights, I could see them banning all antibacterial items on principle #CovidIsAHoax #JesusIsLove. Trying to cram everything back in to close the suitcase was like trying to shove a Tempurpedic mattress back into its plastic packaging, but with four hands, we forced it shut. “I swear in 50 years this is the first time that has happened,” said Melissa. “It’s my first hard suitcase in forever. They’re heavier. If it were soft, it wouldn’t have been over.” This is a factual statement. However, stocking your luggage like a suburban Target outlet can also tip the scales.

We zipped through the body-and-bag check (no TSA groping for me), but my backpack and carry-on got tagged. “Is there a canister of powder in here?” the security guy asked, pulling my KEXP backpack toward him. He opened it and pulled out the Slim Shake. Melissa balked from the bench she was sitting on 20 feet away. He disappeared, then returned looking like he’d opened and tasted it and was now wiping his fingers. “You’re fine. But what’s in here?” he asked, pointing to my suitcase. “Do you have a container with a liquid in the center?” I couldn’t imagine what that would be. He felt around where the x-ray indicated until his hand locked on the suspicious item. My oversized water bottle with a cylinder of liquid in the core to keep water chilled. There were colorful cats all over it – Siamese, calico, tabby – a sure sign of a terrorist IED. He smiled and began to push it back in, but froze when he saw was shoving it down between my bras. “Um, I’ll let you do that.” That was as close to being felt up as I’d been since my mammogram a few months back. The highlight for me was strolling by the pet station, complete with fire hydrant.

I got a window seat toward the ass end of the plane, which I love, because I stare out like a nine-year-old the whole way. Taking off always makes me think of scientists and Enlightenment minds like Newton and Franklin. How amazed they’d have been. Back when I was terrified to fly (from the Flight 800 and Value Jet crashes of the mid-1990s), I used to remind myself how many generations had dreamed of seeing the tops of the clouds. I passed by Mount Rainer. You can tell who has cash in the desert, because there are squares of land green as money itself, dotted with homes and enclosed by a wide road that separates the oasis from the endless flat expanse of caramel-colored dust.

There were 1,000 stars overhead at the lodge but I know there are 10,000 more up there waiting to be seen in more complete darkness. We had pizza and Caesar salad at a pizza and pasta spot and had a bit of confusion getting into the Yavapai Lodge, but it all worked out.

On the way out of Phoenix, I couldn’t help but giggle at what passes for a forest in the West.

Grand Canyon and Sedona

Rim shot

Newly flipped Arizona, here I come! This blog is titled Bapeabroad, and Arizona isn’t abroad, but I’m traveling and I’m a broad, so it’s close enough. Sadly, I haven’t boarded a plane for vacation since my Asia trip eight years ago (also logged here), but hopefully this jaunt will kick off many adventures packed with TSA gropings and screaming toddlers kicking my economy seat.

I finally tired of soggy, snowy, failed camping trips in Puget Sound to see the Milky Way and decided to scamper to a sure thing — the expansive, legendary Sedona Night Sky whose spray of stars looks as Photoshopped as a Vogue model.

Apparently, Sedona has seen more aliens than the kitchen of a diner at the Texas border.

That was my sole purpose, but then a friend signed on, and now I’m set to hike the red rocks, chow down on overpriced Mexican grub, and toss my tourist dollars at the local crafters like a drunkard at a strip club.

I’m also going on a late-night astronomy tour, because my zip code is Nerdville even when crammed between past-life psychics and patchouli-scented, pottery-throwing Communists. Also because it will help me navigate home after being abducted and anally probed by the aliens Arizona is so famous for. Who knows? I might even visit a psychic for kicks and sit back smugly as she expounds upon my love life, unaware that my only bed partner EVER is my delicious cat.

How will I sleep without this for seven days?

This is my first post in eight years, so if you’re on the All Blog Posts homepage, what’s below was written when I was half as wrinkly and had ten times the hair. Literally.

Arrival in Kota Kinabalu

A NEW POST!!

First, a note: WordPress doesn’t allow you to post new stuff at the bottom of the page. It posts things in reverse chronological order — which means that if you want to add more than one post, people have to read from the bottom post upwards, which is confusing. So I’m writing a single GIANT post. That way, everything will be in chronological order. This is what you get when you choose a free blog without checking the features first.

Second, I must begin with a little RANT.

BAD HAIR

I ran into someone a few weeks ago that was complaining about how bad her hair was when she was growing up. This middle-aged ***** had that shiny, poker straight luxurious hair that women flaunt at you in Pantene commercials.

perfect-hair

So if you are a former New Order-listening, hair-crimping, giant belt wearing 40-year-old, I donwanna hear about how bad you had it in 1986 because you couldn’t get your BANGS right.

bangs

I stood for 90 minutes every week while my hair was blown straight and then straight-ironed until there was a strange burning smell. I endured a helmet of frizz after a P.E. class of swimming. I suffered “Are you a boy or a girl?” queries when Mom had had it, and my hair was cut down to two inches. I waited patiently for three years while my hair grew out. The SunIn bleaching debacle was my fault, but I suffered through that too.

frizz

So suck it up, ladies. Just like I have no right to whine about my trials in front of someone who had cancer when they were 13 and had to go through high school in a headscarf – which, when you are 15, is probably even worse than chemo. When it comes to teenage girl hair, there is something known as the Chain of Suffering. And if you are whining in the vicinity of someone higher up the chain, a FLYING B*TCH SLAP is in order.

So back to my trip…

THE RE-RETURN

Yes, I promised I’d finish this thing, but then I took the summer off. I got home June 2nd, which I suppose means I took the last three weeks of spring off as well. But my blood is 100% Italian and we do that sh*t. Give your country no guaranteed vacation (yo) and they run the world. Give it seven weeks (Ciao!!) and they run the mafia. You may have noticed I bleeped a word. This is because apparently some of my parents’ friends are reading this, and in deference to my elders (I think half of them are no longer reading as of now), I am bleeping things like sh*t. It may be slightly annoying, like those neon signs atop cheap grocery stores that can’t bother to change their bulbs (you know who you are, W*lm*rt). But I turned 40 in August and am trying to be more grown up. I decided to split the difference. I’ll still tell you that you need a FLY*NG B*TCH SLAP, but I’ll say it with asterisks. Then I’ll make some 12-year-old joke about the first syllable of the word asterisk.

ARRIVAL IN KOTA KINABALU (May 23)

It seems that my first hour in any new country is a bit humiliating. Not entirely a bad thing, as things can only improve from there. My first of three stops was the toilet, which in this case consisted of a hole in the ground with a hose attached about 4 feet away. Not unexpected and not a problem, per se, but I would’ve been happier if I hadn’t foregone working out the previous 3 weeks and had wobbly balance from an entire day of travel. The main challenge with this system is that if you don’t position yourself properly, you have to adjust mid-flight. I still can’t fathom how pregnant, aged, injured, or obese women use these things. You’d at least think they’d have handle bars or something. In my defense, there was no place to put my bags down, so I was balancing with a backpack on my back and a purse in my arms. This could be an Olympic sport or some sort of humiliating frat hazing ritual.

Stop #2 was the first—the only, actually—shop I saw on the way out: Dunkin Donuts. There was even a police man buying a jelly-filled, so of course I had to get a photo after I stopped laughing. Donut-scarfing cops are like tourist-gauging taxi drivers—a universal phenomenon. Their glazed looked a bit slimy, so I opted for a sugar. How can you mess that up? Apparently you can—though I suppose a flavorless stale donut is what you deserve for ordering an Asian airport donut at 6:30 pm.

Stop #3 was the taxi line, which took me a few minutes to find, as it was about 100 feet from the exit, which also took me a few minutes to find. With every few steps I passed by another cab front seat window, bobbing my head down to peek in upon an empty seat, then bobbing up again, like a demented pigeon. Finally I found someone who explained that I had to go back inside and purchase a taxi voucher. This was a relief, as it meant I’d get a flat rate. I wasn’t in the mood for my first conversation in Malaysia to be with a shifty taxi driver intent on conning me out of my newly purchased and delightfully colorful Malaysian Ringgits.

Back inside I went, bouncing from counter to counter like a pin ball in search of the taxi service. I returned to the taxi line, ticket in hand, threw my stuff in the trunk of the first taxi in line, and slid into what I thought was the front passenger seat, as the back was littered with stuff. No one told me these people drive on the left like Brits, so my elbow banged against the steering wheel horn, alerting Kota Kinabalu to the fact that Kristin Fiore had indeed arrived. I slithered out and went around to the left side of the car. At least the horn blast told the driver that I needed a lift. He was about 20 feet away chewing on a cigarette. The ride was about 30 minutes—made even more awkward by the fact that I was next to him in the front seat. It felt like a teenager’s first date. It’s awfully quiet. Should I say something? Maybe he doesn’t even speak English. He probably thinks I’m an idiot. Does he think I banged the horn on purpose?

The hotel room was nicer and bigger than I expected (in Hanoi, I could sit on the bed and put my feet on the wall), though I didn’t stay more than 3 minutes. I packed my bag and scooted out into the night in search of food, following the smell of fish that’s overstayed its welcome. I found a large, familiar set of Vietnam-style food stalls along the water, though these were fancy—the plastic chairs were grown-up sized and they had proper plastic tables. Classy. People were washing dishes on the floor, but no one was cooking there.

I decided that fried rice with seafood was the least risky thing on the menu and scarfed it down in about 5 minutes before moving on to see if I could find the family. I didn’t see them until I returned to the hotel and meandered into the restaurant area. I had a great surprise – The Godfathers had joined us. Chuck (Uncle Cocktail) and Tim (Uncle Cookie) flew in from San Francisco to join in the festivities and help my mother navigate the perilously potholed and uneven sidewalks of KK. I stepped in a three-inch deep, water-filled pothole within an hour of my arrival. I call them “urban ponds.” Fortunately, my Keen shoes are waterproof. If you are not from Seattle, let me now introduce you to the ugliest shoes ever to crawl from the imagination of a product developer:

keens

Even better when worn with socks, which is inevitable after 2 ½ weeks of walking 6 hours per day:

keens-socks

KOTA KINABALU

I’m not ordinarily a pool person, but I must explain my present change of heart:

  1. Pools here don’t stink of chlorine
  2. Pools here are 85 degrees, which is about 15 degrees cooler than outside, and they are only slightly wetter than the air
  3. Mosquitos can’t swim
  4. Pools rival Angry Birds as Fiore girl babysitters, diffusing nieces Ari and Lexi’s energy and inevitable sugar binges

Ari and Lexi spent a few hours each day in the pool, dutifully toted around on the shoulders Chuck and Tim, while John and I “rode the couch” in the shade, as he put it. As I dug into the 8th chapter of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, I began to understand the ulterior motives for inviting the Godfathers, whose usual nicknames had been put on hold in favor of “Pigtail Panda” and “Pancake Panda.” I can’t figure how Chuck got pinned with “pigtail,” though I suppose “Shaved Head Panda” doesn’t have the same ring.

The group also hit the shopping mall only a few steps from our hotel, though within 10 minutes the men had fled and we ladies found ourselves alone among tables cluttered with Hello Kitty, glittering headbands, and all things girly. Most shops were surprisingly Western, with tee shirts, flip flops, electronics, and trendy get-ups, peppered with noodle stands and the odd Reflexologist. Within a few days, mom, Michelle, Jazz and I would hit the upstairs massage place for the indulgence of our choice. Mine was a no-frills back and neck thrashing that would make 50 Shades of Grey sound tame—courtesy of Paul and Jazz.

According to the 1987 Global Multi-level Mall Ordinance (GMMO-87) enforced by Interpol, there must be a food court on the top level of any large shopping establishment, and this mall complied. We had quite a gang up there one afternoon, as we always did on this trip, but I had hit my limit of oily noodles with stuff, fried stuff, stuff with meat in it, oily fried meat stuff on noodles, and stuff I can’t identify. If there is anything green on your plate at all, it’s likely a garnish. I ducked out with Michelle and had a much-needed Waldorf salad at Chili Vanilla, the restaurant we’d loved the previous evening. We managed to find several good places to eat over the week—including a fabulous sushi place and the restaurant at the resort where Paul and Jasmah had their civil wedding. Something amazing they have here are super-fresh-squeezed juices, including pineapple, apple, and watermelon. The apple is so fresh that it oxidizes before you can get to the bottom. To avoid this, you have to guzzle it like an Alpha Delta Pi girl on a Saturday night.

The main drag of Kota Kinabalu is only one long street, plus another that runs along the water, so we didn’t have the issue of getting lost or of spending six hours per day scouring the town. My feet loved this. We spent a lot of time by the pool, or eating. In typical Fiore fashion, we spent half of one meal discussing where we were going to eat the next one.

THE VILLAGE RESORT

Any time we went somewhere, the 11 of us (Mom, Dad, me, John, Michelle, Ari and Lexi, Paul, Jasmah, Chuck and Tim) piled into a giant white van, Scooby-Doo style, with Elmer at the helm. Elmer (as in Gantry or Fudd, depending on your maturity level) was a friend of Jasmah’s, our chauffeur, and a most exquisite guide, not least because he tolerated toting around a throng of sweaty, silly Fiores for more than a week.

Jasmah’s village, Tuaran, is a 45-minute ride into the hills of Sabah, Malaysia, through fields and clusters of rustic houses. There are a ton of dogs, several tiny, mangy, short-tailed cats, and the occasional water buffalo. As we passed a few, I wondered if we were to eat one of his cousins some upcoming evening. As you will hear later, everyone in Tuaran is a cousin. I had trouble keeping my mitts off the kitties, but between my promise to my travel doctor, my desire to avoid rabies, and the obvious eye infection that the first two cats I encountered were sporting, I managed to resist. This is not to say I didn’t contort to jut my head under the table and squeal every time I heard a meow. I meowed in return. This is the second time I meowed in public on this trip.

Our first dinner was a bit of an adventure. By the time we got there, the buffet was nearly gone (I think Paul was the only one who ventured that for his meal), so most of us got roti, which is like Indian naan, but filled with whatever you like. I got vegetable and egg. I asked for cheese, but they didn’t have any. Another reason Asians aren’t fat. I also tried coconut milk for the first time. And last time. I love coconut milk—the stuff that adds 1,000 calories to any Thai meal, but the water tasted a bit, well, wrong.

The resort where the civil wedding took place could rival any in a posh city, with multiple pools and a water slide that everyone under 50 in our group repeatedly enjoyed (the civil wedding was Saturday, but we all returned Monday to enjoy the resort for the day). Those of us over 90 pounds had to shoot out stiff, like the nut jobs that fire themselves from cannons. Otherwise you got a tailbone full of pool cement, as the pool was only about 4 feet deep there. They also had golfball-sized scoops of ice cream for $3. Another reason Asians aren’t fat. The ice cream by my apartment has a sign that reads, “SINGLE SCOOP (two scoops); DOUBLE SCOOP (three scoops).” The Asian scoop is the size of the taster spoon you get in America. This is why their “large” tee shirts cut off my circulation (I’m an American size 2 petite) and their “smalls” are the size of mittens.

My next post will be about the village and resort weddings. I’d post about it now, but my journal is in my new apartment, which I have yet to move into. I’m currently enjoying free dinners by Mom and dish-washing by Dad, who often insists on pulling my sofa bed out because of me achin’ back. I make toast, and by the time I turn around to put the jelly back in the fridge, Mom has already washed my knife, put it in the dishwasher, and cleaned the counter. Actually, I could get used to this.

Stopover in Kuala Lumpur

stewardess-1950sThe airlines have a commonly enforced rule that you can’t get somewhere you want to go without going somewhere else first. They have another rule: the longer your layover in said somewhere else, the more somewhere else is likely to suck. But I digress. Which I do a lot. Try to keep up…

I had a very short layover in Kuala Lumpur — though I could’ve made do with a longer one. Thanks to the authorities at the Kuala Lumpur airport, I got my triathlon practice in for the day (the mad dash, the cart dodge, and the carry-on lug). The gate for my Kota Kinabalu flight was changed three times, and the gates were literally as far apart as two gates could have been in the domestic terminal.

KLairport

It was hard to miss our group of passengers, which got larger with each pilgrimage. First it was a few families and myself, then a 20-teenager strong sports team in full dress joined us. Finally, four women in full hijab and burqa (body and head covering) joined us. Even their eyes were covered, and there wasn’t a finer mesh in that area so that they could see. I never heard them speak. They looked sort of like this. I didn’t want to photograph them — though I guess they wouldn’t have seen me do it anyway.

muslims

In addition to the creepiness of seeing women shroud themselves under sheets like furniture in a macabre vacation home come September, you’d think there would be something more practical in 100-degree heat than a black, full-length beekeeper suit.

beekeper

The airport also had multiple men’s and women’s prayer rooms. I was tempted to go in to see what the women’s was like, and then peek in the men’s to see if it was nicer (who knows? Maybe Muslims are better at the whole “separate but equal” thing, though my mosque visit in Vietnam suggests otherwise — the women had to sit on dirty rugs and peer though the kind of screens we use to keep flies at bay).

The vegetation in Kuala Lumpur as we landed was surreal – luxuriously full, stout palm trees packed against each other for miles on end, crowding the jungle mountains. These photos don’t do it justice — with the window goo and glare and plane’s speed.

palm trees in KL

palmtrees

Final Night in Vietnam

Tonight (May 22) I went to the Rex Hotel, which has been around since before the Vietnam war (just to remind you, I haven’t).

rexhotel

Generals used to go here to “debrief” for three minutes, then get pleasantly hammered and sing along to American music until it was time to refill the foxholes with a fresh batch of gun-toting 19-year-olds (anyone around in 1985 can’t forget this #1 ditty) …

I just went there for the rooftop view, and to avoid the supposed throngs of well-heeled (men) and high-heeled (well, mostly women) jet-setters and tourists drinking $20 martinis at the other hotels in Ho Chi Minh’s main square.

Rex’s rooftop lanterns and cool Asian looking thing behind the band that’s oddly playing American music. Cooler when you click on it to enlarge.???????????????????????????????

But before I even got to (read: found) the elevator, I met yet another horde of Australians and spent the evening watching them sling Singapore Slings and Tiger beers. Two of them were Vietnam vets returning there for the second time, surprised to find luxury hotels in place of dilapidated buildings, and McDonald’s in place of agricultural swamps. The only constants seem to be excessive heat, even more excessive alcohol, and hordes of Australians absorbing copious amounts of both.???????????????????????????????

I must admit I had no idea they were so involved in the war, but apparently they rode America’s tattered coattails down the rabbit hole (Iraq, anyone?), and their drafted soldiers came back to hostility and condemnation. I spent about 15 minutes dancing with one of the middle-aged wives, which the husband greatly appreciated, though neither one of us could figure out how to lead.

The most surprising comment of the evening was that the punishment for owning a handgun in Australia is 14 years in prison. That’s what happens when there is a minor gun incident in other countries. I Googled this and didn’t find consistent corroboration (there are so many gun laws and changes there), but I’m not gonna argue over gun laws with anyone who spent years shooting them at stuff.

As always, I had a great time with so many Australians on my Vietnam leg. But they are so ubiquitous, even in Europe, I sometimes wonder if there are any Aussies left in Australia. Maybe that’s why so much of it looks like this:

australia

o o p s ** BEGINNING OF NEW POSTS IS HERE **

Hello again!! Yes, I have an excuse for blowing this off for 2 months. See, my dog ate my sick grandmother’s car accident, and my dentist appointment has the stomach flu, and …. oh screw it. I got lazy. Though I do have an excuse for not writing during late May.

Between singing karaoke, chasing down restaurants with A/C, photographing mangy cats and zoo tigers, and riding shotgun daily in a Scooby Doo style van of 11 people (which I will justify henceforth), I had better things to do than write dutifully every day in my awesome Doctor Who Journal (River Song’s T.A.R.D.I.S. journal — squee!) while in Malaysia…

Doctor Who JournalSooooo….  2+ months late, I’m catching up by wrapping up Vietnam and moving onto Malaysia. That part isn’t going to be in exact chronological order, as (1) I can’t be bothered to sort all of that out, and (2) our Malaysian gang spent 4-5 days in a row sunbathing, swimming, scarfing, sweating, singing (no shame), and sharing a great time together. Do you really want to hear four consecutive blog posts about the same shenanigans? No, you don’t. Besides, I have totally ruined the point of having a blog, which is supposed to have a modest post every day or two, not a sprawling novella that’s airdropped every month or two like a carton of foreign aid.

And so, to completely confuse you while retaining the LAW of BLOG, I’m going to add sections normally, which means you won’t be able to begin at the top (early Malaysia) and read down to the last new post. You will have to begin here in mid-blog and crawl your way to the top like a corporate stooge. ENJOY!!

stooge

Love Song to Seattle, sorta

I really am planning on doing the entire rest of this blog over the next week or so, I’m just swamped until then with other stuff. So here’s a poem to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound.” One of my favorites. Click here if you don’t recall which song it is.

I’m sittin’ in a far-off nation
Got mosquito bites and constipation
On a tour of Vietnam
(“I wasn’t born when we dropped the bombs!”)
Then to Malaysia’s coal-hot sands
Where Pauly Bear will give his hand.

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Puget Sound!
Home, with the tolls and gun fights.
Home, with the endless grey nights.
Home, where my kitties
Dream of cuddling with me.

Everyday our Deet-sprayed team
Snag cheap massages and ice cream.
Washing panties in the sink.
And, “Are those ice cubes safe to drink?”
And every stop without A/C
Reminds me that I long to be

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Puget Sound!
Dodging commuter bikers.
Potheads, gays, and recyclers.
Home, where my kitties
Dream of cuddling with me.

Our hosts survived our wedding song
Of Karaoke gone so wrong
Huddling under ceiling fans
With pit stains, cameras in hand.
What do you think gave us away
As the non-Asian folks that day?

Homeward bound
I wish I was
Puget Sound!
Home, I want $5 coffee!
Price-gouging rent? Lay it on me!
Home, where my kitties
Dream of cuddling with me.

Day 13: Gooooooooooodbye Vietnam!!

I leave for Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia tomorrow at about 9 AM, so this is my final hurrah in Vietnam. I was debating donning decent clothes and make-up, as I’m heading out to a swanky rooftop bar for overpriced soda, but when it’s hot out, my standards tend to slide into the gutter, where they mingle with the minds of most men.

I spent the morning at the fascinating — yet sweltering and cramped — Ben Thanh Market, fondling the merch and trying to slither away from shopkeepers (as you can see below, there isn’t much room for avoidance). They have a three-prong attack:

Ben Thanh market (this times 400, no joke)SONY DSC

(1) Spam: as in, the ubiquitous unwanted sales pitch. Every 5 seconds. “Scooze me Miss, would you come inside have a look? What you want to buy? Nice thing for you.” Actually I let this one slide, because I haven’t been called “Miss” in the USA since I was about 28.

(2) Tailgate: They then case you so closely that if you stop short, their nose hits you right between your shoulder blades. Sometimes I do this on purpose just to make them feel like a jackass.

(3) Illuminate: This is where they pick up every handbag or figurine under your nose and explain it to you, as though you’re either blind, retarded, or both. “Nice purse, see flowers. Rabbit puppet. Buddha key chain.” That is what I’d do when my nieces were 2 years old and I was teaching them basic vocabulary. My advice? Wear headphones when you go, even if they aren’t connected to anything. Not earbuds — you want to make sure people see them.
headphones

I bought some gifts and lumbered into the sunlight to find the Reunification Palace. I found my corner on the map but had no idea which direction I was facing. I thought I’d be clever and navigate by the sun. I then realized that I was at the %$#@! equator and it was noon. So much for that. Before long I realized that I’d passed right by the palace on the previous block. I didn’t bother to go back. A palace is like a party — if you can’t even tell when you’re passing it, it’s certainly not worth going to. Clearly, the Vietnamese didn’t perpetuate the grandiose opulence of their French former occupiers.

Here is what Google Images has to say about the palace, which looks like a giant office building from the Mad Men era, if you ask me. I sort of wished I’d stopped in, though, as that fountain looks inviting.palace

I bought two pain au chocolat and plodded home to shower off the sweat and sales pitches. When I got up to my room, the cleaning girl was lounging in my chair with her bare feet on my sheets. Really?? She jumped up when she saw me, the way you jump off Facebook when your boss walks by.

I did meander through a nice park though. Socialist / Communist countries always seem to have a nice abstract sculpture park.park_bird

park_elephant

Eat your heart out, Picasso…park_woman

park_wave

A final word on Asian stereotypes: If you think Asians can’t drive, let me tell you that in spite of the constant horns, absent lanes and stop lights, texting motorbikers, and six inches of space between cars, I haven’t seen one fender bender or heard anyone yell. Even the horns are not “Screw you!” New York horns, they’re for letting you know that a car is coming up behind you. About six inches behind.

Time to get ready for my evening, which consists of redoing my bun and shedding my jammies to reinsert myself into the afternoon’s sweaty pants. I will put on a clean top, though. I’m not an animal.