The Mystery and Allure of Vietnam

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

motorbike with treeWalking in Hanoi always puts us on high alert as we’re pedestrians in a city characterized by its crazy flow of two-wheelers. The motorbikes honk incessantly. They transport whole families, trees, dogs, kegs of beer, and bouquets of flowers. They U-turn with impunity, somehow snake through still traffic (as a taxi passenger, I often consider giving fist bumps to the passersby).

In order to cross the street, you have to walk into oncoming traffic. Just don’t stop moving because the motorbikes and cars will adjust. This can be a terrifying experience.

Nonetheless, Vietnam has been a great and fascinating place so far. If you hear people say that the food in Vietnam is amazing, they aren’t kidding. Count us in as being enamored by the mixture of flavors often available at modest street stalls, with colorful and tiny plastic chairs and tables strewn about. The other day we ate Bánh…

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The Grape Harvest and the Waterfall

No Stone Unturned

This was the first post from the beginning of our current journey.

Roads and Revisions

IMG_6172.jpg Bakvha welcoming a neighbor, a bull, and more grapes.

Strung between two pear trees, the shaded rope hammock beckoned me. My legs were cramping–the feeling brought me back almost 20 years to high school football two-a-day practices, when seemingly endless bear crawls, up downs, and sprints dehydrated the heck out of us aspiring gridiron heroes. I’d been hauling forty to sixty pound containers of grapes for a few hours, and the only route from field to press was a single-track path alongside vineyards sagging under the weight of Tsitska and Tsolikouri grapes, two of over 500 hundred varieties grown in Georgia.

There would be no tractor, no wheelbarrow, no cart. Just two legs, a sore back, and determination. The grapes had to be picked and pressed soon: rainy days followed by sunny weather primed the fruit. The bunches were bursting with juice.

I drew some cool water from the…

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Two Tanzanian Safaris and Five Observations

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

our safari car

Rebecca and I both feel extremely fortunate to have spent six weeks in Tanzania, and we decided that we’d be foolish to pass up observing some of the world’s most awe-inspiring creatures in the wild while we were there. Our travel funds may have taken a huge hit, but two different safari experiences in both the northern and central regions of the country proved to be worth the expense. That said, we didn’t really know what to expect! Below are some of our takeaways:

Seeing Big Game in the Wild is Magnificent

Don’t expect to see a lion chase down a lithe Thompson’s gazelle and snap it’s spine with one crushing bite. Or a cheetah up close and personal when it jumps onto your vehicle. But damn, it was amazing seeing such a variety of beautiful creatures–both large and small, land-bound and in flight–up close in vast and…

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The Pull of Community and Routine

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

IMG_5836 We were warmly welcomed to multiple supras with Natia’s family in Western Georgia–experiences like these help make up for missing our communities and family back in the States.

I miss strolling around Bardstown and Douglass Loop Farmer’s Markets in Louisville, KY, my adopted hometown for over 13 years. Even if I didn’t run into anyone I knew well, the familiarity and routine of being in a place where people share at least some values is something that’s tough to capture with a transient lifestyle. I miss waving to neighbors in Clifton, chatting on front porches of shotgun houses, maybe enjoying a bourbon on the rocks as the freight trains rumbled by on the elevated tracks. Or enjoying collegial relationships at work, when simply socializing for five minutes or productively troubleshooting about how to improve curriculum during a meeting provided a balm for other stressors.

I think about other routines. For…

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Travel: Escape, Growth, and Everything in Between

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

In a region of Central Nicaragua, the sultry air of Muy Muy town put us into a sweaty daze. Rebecca and I took turns swinging on an indoor hammock and sipping warm Toña beer in the musty interior of my friend Angus’s Peace Corps abode, a one-room home constructed with cinder blocks. We swatted flies, sorted beans, and lazily let time pass. Earlier in the day, I had walked the town’s dusty streets in search of a vendor selling shirts sin mangas–without sleeves–because I had to do something to remedy my perpetually dripping back sweat. This was spring break 2011.

Later that evening, or was it another one?, we walked up to visit Muy Muy’s most prosperous hacienda. Angus’s friend, apparently one of the wealthiest men in town, was patriarch of the spread, which contained a significant amount of land, some cattle, a sweeping one-story wooden home fronted by…

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Resonance and Revisiting Past Travels

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

For this latest dispatch, I’ve decided to revisit some travel posts from years past, in addition to sharing a few essays I’ve read while on our current journey. So far, many of the themes and questions found in the posts below–the ridiculousness of American exceptionalism, valuing experience vs. material comfort, mindfulness, and human decency–continue to churn around in my head as we confront new experiences daily.

Thailand: Idealism and Reestablishing the Travel Bug: For our honeymoon, Rebecca and I journeyed to Thailand over Christmas in 2013. As I look back at this post, the themes continue to resonate: while traveling, it’s natural to imagine new possibilities, but with this idealism comes reflection about what it would really look like to move thousands of miles from home.

“Certain travel experiences undoubtedly unearth a sense of idealism and adventure, providing visitors to new places the sense the grass is greener. I…

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The Only Mzungus At Market Day

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

Hawkers selling garlic, fresh ginger root, vividly colored fabrics, flip flops manufactured from recycled tires, and second-hand clothing lined the muddy thoroughfares as Rebecca and I soaked up another sensory-laden scene in Tanzania. The steady Indian Ocean breeze didn’t reach the inland market; the sun beat down on my uncovered head (thank you 50 SPF).

When you’re the only mzungus in a place, you’re going to attract attention, regardless of where you are in Africa. (As a side note, mzungu means “those who wander without purpose” in Swahili and is a term applied to just about all white people in East Africa–this is confirmed by both Urban Dictionary and our host Roy). But we were also with Agnes, our host’s wonderful Malawian housekeeper, who had generously agreed to accompany us; luckily, she likes outings and it’s clear she enjoys showing Western visitors the lay of the land. This made the…

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The Barber Shop Cost of Living Index

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

During our first week in Tbilisi back in September, I got a haircut for four lari–or about $1.60. This was a win. The small hair salon, tucked in a cavernous space below street level in the Vera neighborhood (go to this area if you visit Tbilisi), proved quite the steal, despite the fact no employees spoke English. And my Georgian was limited to thank you, you’re welcome, and no (ara). Before the trim, I pulled out my phone and showed the barber a picture of myself with shorter hair. Thank you, iPhone. I figured ara might come in handy if the buzzcut to my receding hairline was somehow butchered. No problems emerged.

In Sharjah, UAE, I experienced my first local haircut for 10 dirhams, or $2.80. This was a steep increase from my Tbilisi trim, but still cheap enough to excite the pennypincher in me. But no beard trim…

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At least I have craft beer in the fridge

No Stone Unturned

Roads and Revisions

IMG_7045.jpg Various juice concoctions at a restaurant in Muscat, Oman.

More often than I’d like to admit, the stress from teaching nudged me to drink. Not get drunk, but at least capture a mild buzz. To get home, take care of a few things, maybe workout, then enjoy a few beers on my front porch. To think–while driving home after a particularly stressful 5th period classes full of squirrely and disinterested students, in which maybe a quarter of my students demonstrated an inkling of learning–damn, that sucked but at least I have some craft beer in my fridge.

On top of job stress that might spur opening a cold one, Rebecca and I are definitely social drinkers. If friends want to meet up at a favorite watering hole, we usually give the idea a green light. If a family member wants to try a new bourbon, of course! If a…

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