Monday, May 23, 2011

Backpacking Zion National Park

I haven't been able to work much since I've been home from my trip due to this thing or the other, but one project I was really looking forward to and would not miss for anything was the backpacking survey scheduled in Zion National Park.  I haven't done much work in national parks, none besides Mammoth Cave, and once upon a time it was my goal in life to get a permanent job at a park out west somewhere.  Well, this survey would have to do.  I packed my backpack full of food, warm clothes, and a tent.  We arrived in the southwest area of the park known as the petrified forest at a trail head where we were to hike in a couple of miles to the camp.  The area that stretched before us was burned and desolate with views of the beautiful rock formations Zion is known for in the distance.  We found what was barely a trail and began the march with a huge backpack, and most of us with our work packs on our front.  It was heavy! 

The loss of the trail made it difficult, but we trudged on following a creek bed and using the map to guide us.  After 2 of some of the longest hiking hours I've spent we finally found our camp.  It was perched on a knol overlooking a beautiful stream.  The only problem was that stream was our water source and it was a bit of a hike up and down.  Water is essential so me and my crew made the trip, filtered the water, and came back to camp with enough time to make dinner and go to bed.  The next day we began the survey and discovered exactly what obstacles we were going to have to face.  The terrain was very rocky, strewn with lava boulders from a nearby caldera.  Which if you could see the ground could be dealt with but long grasses that took over after the 2006 fire often came up to my thighs blocking my view of the ground.  Water seemed to be a problem right from the start.  One of my crew members didn't feel the need to bring adequate water so the rest of us had to give up ours for him making for dehydration and frustration.  And the NATS!! Every time we stopped to record something they swarmed and bit.  By the end I looking like I had chicken pox covering my neck, face, ears, and arms.  They were incredibly annoying and itched like mad.  There was no relief so those of us affected the most were almost driven to insanity. 

We were able to move campsites the last 2 nights putting us right next to the stream, which was nice given the difficult days.  I was able take a quick cold bath at night before dinner which really lifted my spirits.  There was a beautiful spring coming straight out of a rock overhang covered in orange flowers down stream a bit which made it even nicer. 

At night we could hear the coyotes calling just after sundown, but other than that it was quiet and peaceful out there.  We managed to finished the survey in only 5 days, which required some 10 plus mile days.  It was hard, hard work and most of us were ready to go.  The hike out proved to be a bit less of an ordeal because we knew where we were going and how far.  I felt a lot stronger and very accomplished when we reached the trucks.  We headed into Springdale for some lunch.  A meal never tasted so good after only dehydrated and canned for 5 days.  Some of my co-workers said they never wanted to do a backpacking job like that again, and although I did share in some of the negativity at times, overall I found it to be an adventure and a good work out, both of which I needed. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guangzhou, China

We arrived in China at 11p.m tired.  We had to go through customs to get a 24 hour visa so we could leave the airport.  The airline had a car waiting and a hotel paid for and ready to go for us.  We got to the hotel, which was nicer than I expected or have experienced in awhile, but this is not to say it was great.  The beds were rock hard.  I am pretty sure it was just a wooden board over springs.  But there was hot water and air conditioning! And no bugs!  We woke up the next morning and headed out into the city to explore.  This proved far more difficult than I expected.  NO ONE spoke English and we were ill prepared.  We hadn't learned one word in Chinese or bothered to look up the exchange rate.  We needed money to eat but had a hard time finding a bank that would take our cards and figuring out how much Yuan we need to get out.  We were lost.  We finally found a man who told us that 650 Yuan equals $100.  That was a strange way to put it, but it was helpful.  We got out around $30 and began to walk around the area.  We were afraid at first to get too far from the hotel because no one would be able to help us find our way if we did get lost.  We found a clothes market and entertained ourselves there for awhile before heading down the main road where we saw the strangest game being played.  It was like something at a fair.  There were all these little cages with bunnies, guinea pigs, or birds in rows.  People had to throw rings and get it underneath the cage to win the animal.  Who goes out in the morning and on a whim gets a pet because they won it on the street?  Seemed like you were looking for a big commitment every time you threw the ring. 

We kept walking and saw the subway and decided to see if it was do-able.  It was!  We figured it out easily and headed 9 stops away to Yuexiu Park.  This is a huge park with lots of stuff to do.  Its full of winding paths and trees.  There's a gigantic pool  and an amusement park in the center.  It was really only about 6 fair quality rides, but it was fun.  I rode the swings and  had a blast.  We ate some popcorn and ice cream and walked around for awhile. 

Back out on the street Jeff had a corn on the cob from a vendor.  I tried to get some chestnuts, but I must have done something wrong because the lady got mad at me and wouldn't give me any.   No nuts for me.  There were some beggars on the street with some very scary ailments.  We decided to get back on the subway and try another stop.  We got off at one that said Cultural Park.  It wasn't.  It was a barren field surrounded by big buildings.  We got straight back on the subway and headed back to our stop, where we found a McDonalds and ate a snack.  We hadn't been able to find a place to eat all day that looked safe or had a menu we could read.  

We walked around some more and found the biggest and neatest market.  It was full of stalls selling all sorts of weird foods.  Lots of vegetables and fruits.  I bought 3 tiny mangoes. There were butchers chopping up chickens and pigs.  There were fish mongers.  The fish were alive when they start to fillet it for a customer.  They pull it out of the tank and with in a minute the fish is in pieces ready to cook.  We saw stands selling live frogs, turtles, and snakes.  We watched a guy kill a cobra, cut off its head, then skin it for a customer.  There were tons of spices and grains in big burlap sacks.  It was fun taking pictures of all the weirdness.  This market was my favorite part of the day.  

We headed back to the hotel to clean up before our ride back to the airport.  Our flight from China was 13 hours to Los Angeles.  Then a quick flight home to Arizona.  We are home now and happy to be with Jeff's parents where we have pillows, good food, and people who love us!  Welcome home us!

Sabang Village, Philippines

We spent the last few days of our trip in a small, very touristy village on the northern coast of the island of Mindoro.  It's only 3 hours from Manila so it's a popular destination.  There are 2 main activities that go on here for the traveler.  The first is diving.  There are loads of dive shops.  In fact most buildings along the shore are dive shops.  The second is renting girls.  It took me awhile to fully understand what was going on but with some help from some locals at the dive shop we hung out at we finally began to understand the underworld of this village.  White men, most European, come here, go to the disco, pick out the girl they want, then pay her to hang out with them for 24 hour periods or more.  I had the hardest time with this.  The men grossed me out so bad!  And these poor women!  They had to hang out with them, and pretend to like them!  We were told that most of the women do not come from the area, but were hired from other places as "waitresses" but upon arrival where forced to do this.  There are pimps involved, but I guess after awhile the girls start to embrace their new life because they begin to develop attitudes.  I sometimes got dirty looks because I was with a white man.  I think they thought I was somehow taking a job from them.  They also seemed quite confident.  They strut around like they own the place.  It was really really bizarre.  Maybe I am naive, but I just don't get how any man with any sort of respect for themselves or for women could come here and BUY companionship.  Ok, I'll get off my soap box and tell you what we did here...

I came to the island with a cold so I had to wait a couple of days to dive, but Jeff got right in the water.  He had a great time and saw lots of cool little critters.  When I finally felt my congestion subside we decided to take another class. Nitrox.  We really need to have this class if we ever want to work in diving so we decided to do it.  All it is is reading a 30 page book and taking an easy test.  Nitrox is a blend of gas that has more oxygen than the normal air we breath.  The basic benefit is being able to dive longer because your body doesn't absorb so much Nitrogen (which is bad if you stay down too long).  I am a bit of an air sucker so it didn't really benefit me at all (I run out of air before I even get to stay down longer than usual), but I now am certified to use it whenever I want to.  We did 2 dives on it and saw loads of really cool things.  I finally saw an Octopus!  And lots of really big fish called sweet lips. We loved the dive shop we dove with.  They are locally owned with all Filipino employees and very very nice.  One night we stayed and hung out there just talking with them til 1:30 in the morning (way past my bedtime)-this is when i learned so much about the ladies of the night.  We met some lovely travelers there.  A couple from Vancouver who are Filipino, but their families moved in their teen years for a better life.  They were full of helpful information and so nice to have around in a village full of gross old white men.  

We had fun just walking around through the village.  Eating was a bit of a chore because it was so expensive in most places.  Even for U.S. standards.  We ended up eating 3 out of the 5 nights there at the same restaurant.  It's owned and ran by a local family.  It's set back off the main alley way so they post one of their sons out to get people to come in.

 It worked on us one night and we loved it.  They are so nice and the mom was a really good cook.  Our last day one of the sons gave us the recipes for our favorite dishes.  For breakfast we usually went to the same spot, a little bakery with croissants and muffins.  Lunch was a little less predictable, we just got something cheap somewhere.  Jeff loved the BBQ pork from the street vendors.  They put really small slices of pork on a stick and grilled them, then dipped it in a vinegar sauce.  He loved it.  I wasn't as impressed so I shared mine with a skinny girl dog I found.  

Our last day we decided to go inland a bit and explore.  We wanted to rent a motor bike so we walked down the shore.  It doesn't take long to be hassled about just about anything you could want so we waited only 3 minutes and found a guy who wanted to rent us a motorbike.  Another man we had met the first day and had helped us on occasion confirmed that the guy was trustworthy so we went with him to his shop.  We got on a bike and started down the road.  At our very first turn Jeff managed to not turn and ran us into a wall/gate.  I was a bit mad and refused to get back on the bike.  Jeff thought it was funny.  

I got one of the 20 guys who ran to "help" us after the crash to drive it back to the shop with Jeff on the back.  I walked.  Luckily the guy didn't get mad and didn't charge for the scratches.  He offered to take us around and we agreed.  We piled 3 deep on a bike and headed to some waterfalls.  The falls were beautiful!  We swam in the cold water at the base of them for a bit.  Our driver, Robin, took some pictures for us.  He turned out to be a very good tour guide. 

Our next stop was white beach.  But on the way we were held up by road construction.  They were digging out the side of the hill next to the road and all the big rocks were blocking the road!  I was worried we would be stuck there all day but I guess they know what they're doing because within a half hour they excavated lots, and were able to clear the road for us to pass.

White Beach is a big white beach, as you probably guessed.  Its another tourist spot but geared more toward Filipino tourists.  We were hounded immediately by touts.  I was pressured into buying 2 bracelets.  Neither of which i liked all that much, my defenses just get weak sometimes and I just needed a break.  Sometime the only way to get them to leave you alone is to buy from them.  Jeff swam a bit while I laid on the beach.  We headed back after awhile. We were leaving the next day and needed to pack.  It was an adventure of a day and I was ready to eat supper and go to bed.   

The next day we took a ferry, then a bus,then a taxi, then the metro, then a tricycle, then another taxi to the airport.  We were headed to Guangzhou China for one day before heading home.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Whale Sharks in Donsol

I saw whale sharks!!!  5 of them!  A whale shark, to me, is one of those animals that you are not sure if you will ever see in your lifetime but if you ever do it would be one of the best most wonderful experiences.  And it was.  Whale sharks come to an area of the Philippines near the small town of Donsol on the island of Luzon.  There are very few places in the world like this where they come every year to a place where they are so easily assessable.  And this happens to be the right season for them.  I couldn't justify going any where else in the Philippines for any other reason for a least a day or two of our last few days here.  So this is how the experience went... We flew into the city of Legazpi (which by the way is a no smoking city- you can't be caught smoking on the streets-I thought that was great!) and you take a bus, minivan, or taxi to the town of Donsol.  We took a Taxi because we were traveling with Emma and Chris and could split the cost four ways, and to splurge a bit.  It costs 800 pesos, so about $4.50 each.  Doesn't seem like much of a splurge now that I'm writing it. We got into Donsol, found a guesthouse and decided it was too late to head to the visitor center.  The next morning by 7:30 we were headed that way.  You pay a fee to rent the snorkel gear, then a marine park fee, then you pay for a boat, split 6 ways.  All in all the cost is about $20.  We found another couple to share the boat with to keep the cost down.  A man from Clarksville, TN, which we both found funny, small world, and his very nice Filipino wife.  Not the creepy old man with a little girl kind of situation that abounds here, but a very nice same age couple.  After a short video from the World Wildlife Fund about how to treat the animals to not harm them we got on the boat with our guide Jerry and headed the short distance to all the other boats already out there.  It was a huge adrenaline rush!.  As soon as Jerry said it was time to get in you had to have your fins and snorkel on and be in the water.  We jumped in under the outrigger and glided quickly from under the boat.  We swam our legs off trying to follow Jerry, because we knew he knows exactly were we would encounter the big fish.  The moment had come!  I saw a giant mouth within a meter or 2 of me.  I had to get out of the way of this gentle giant! 

Then it was just swimming over him following his every whim unless it took him down to the depths.  He (they are he's here, young bucks there for the plankton) didn't seem to mind at all 6 people swimming with him occasionally diving down to take a closer look at his beautiful poke-a-dotted skin or his sweet little eyes.  After he decided to swim down where we could no longer see him we climbed back on the boat to wait.  A "spotter" sits on a high part of the boat to keep a look out for them.  So every time we hear its time to go we geared up and were in the water within seconds.  It was so wonderful being so close to them.  They are magnificent and so huge!  I have never swam next to something so big.  Their heads alone are the size of a king sized bed.  They have these tiny eyes compared to there big bodies.  At times I was totally taken aback by it all.  What if he decided he didn't like us swimming with him and he got mad.  All he had to do was give one flick of his giant tail and he could inflict some serious injuries.  It is a really good thing they are so docile and sweet.  It seems a bit fleeting now, only 3 hours with them, when the locals get to seem them everyday!  So lucky!  This was a wonderful experience and I am so glad to be sharing with you!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The rest of Malapascua Island

We have already left Malapascua, but there is still so much to tell about it.  It was a bitter sweet leaving with some excitement about traveling again and some sadness leaving the tiny island behind.  We really grew to love the locals and understand their ways better the longer we were there.  We loved all the children.  Even the smallest ones always said Hello with so much enthusiasm.  Many people knew our name even though they had never met us or spoken with us.  We loved the bakeries!  The ladies were always so nice and it was a great way to eat a cheap breakfast or snack.  We even had our own pup on the island.  It was a very sweet small brown dog with beautiful facial markings.  She found Jeff one night when he was walking to dinner.  She was trying to herd him, nipping at his heels and running in front of him.  When he found me at the restaurant she was in tow.  I gave her a long pet before our food came.  She followed us down the beach on our way home, but when we left the beach she stayed behind.  Almost every single day we made a point to go to the beach and find our sweet pup.  She would see us and start running to us.  I loved that sight so much!  She would lean into one of us and just cuddle until it was time to go.  

Low tide was a great time to go to the village beach and find the locals out looking for dinner.  They gathered the hermit crabs and shell fish in buckets.  The kids would go out just to play with whatever they found.  One kid we saw was torturing these giant slug things and making them spit out ink.  Another group of boys was scooping up the tiny fish in schools and separating them.  Don't know why.  Jeff says its because they are little boys.  We finally found some time on the last night to go out and play too.  

The cemetery on the island was very very strange.  They have tombs stacked one on top of the other, you would think to avoid flooding bringing up bodies, but apparently that has failed.  Bones can be found coming out of some of the crypts.  A room at the back of the cemetery with a skull and "Do Not Enter" painted on the door houses all the bones that have come out of their crypts and been gathered in a big heap along with some trash.  It was odd that no one took care enough to keep it clean.  But of course my morbid curiosity gets the best of me and I had to poke around.

We also found a very sweet baby monkey on the island.  It was a pet who had been put in a tree on a rope next to a restaurant half way up the island.  Because he was so far from our main base we only got to visit him a few times.  It wasn't until the end that I worked up the courage to get close enough to see what he would do (bite me, run, or jump on me).  He immediately jumped into my arms and snuggled in.  It was really hard getting him to go back to his tree.  You could tell he was taken from his mom way too early.  He couldn't get enough cuddling.  I was holding him and Jeff came to stand beside me.  The monkey took his sweet little finger and started to pick bits of sand off of Jeff's face.  It was really sweet!  

The food on the island was hit or miss at first but we learned quickly the good places to go and stuck to them the entire time.  A place called Ging Ging's was one of our main staples apart from our own dive shop that has pretty good food, but a bit pricey.  Ging Ging's had about 8 young girls as waitresses who always wore matching outfits.  They get to know the people staying a long time and we give them a big sum of money and get our name in a book.  This way we never had to carry cash, just come, eat, then deduct the amount written in the book.  They had lovely pancakes and really good chicken curry and pork sizzling plates.  When we wanted a real treat though we went to a restaurant called Isla Bonita that had some of the best pizza I think I've ever had and really good pasta.  The waiter there was super nice which always made it even more enjoyable.  I do miss certain things from home like broccoli and hamburgers, but I was happy to find some good food on the island.

We will miss our landlady, Teresa, dearly.  The day before we left she came around waking us all up at 7:45a.m. because she had made us breakfast as our going away meal.  We had rice, noodles with egg, corned beef, and egg rolls.  Not exactly what I am used to for breakfast , but I was so grateful.  She told us a bit more about herself as we ate.  She said they had started out really poor as fisherman.  She said she just got fed up with living like that and saved up 800 pesos (around $18) and started a store selling vegetables out of the front of her house. She has been relatively successful at it for the last 15 years.  She said she had to stop giving the other villagers credit because they never paid her back, but she said she never held a grudge about it because she understands what it can be like.  I think the world of this lady and feel so fortunate to have lived in her home.  

The biggest outcome of being in Malapascua is that I am now a Dive Master!  It was a long and hard road sometimes, but at the end it feels worth it.  We went through the course side by side with a British guy and a Swedish girl who had met while traveling.  We easily bonded with them and they are the reason we were able to move to Teresa's house.  Chris is a fun loving funny guy who was often shirtless and who finds it hard to concentrate and tends to interrupt during class, but he made the whole thing far more enjoyable than it would have been. Emma, his lovely girlfriend, was so so sweet and a breath of normalcy in a group of what seemed to me like strange people.  We all four got banned from doing the shark dive for 2 days after Jeff forgot his weight belt, an important part of diving (you can't go down without it), and Chris swam away from the group.  Two very small things that got the whole lot of us banned.  It is not uncommon to be banned from this site, but I certainly never thought I would!  It's important, more than ever, on this site that you follow all the rules because of the shyness of the thresher sharks.  Emma and I, however, had done absolutely nothing wrong but got banned anyhow.  We of course didn't just take our punishment but put up a bit of a fuss.  This got lots of people mad but brought us 4 closer.  Eventually after some talks and apologizing everything was sorted out.  I do feel like I got a good education, but I also know that I learn better in a nurturing environment and this was not always that.  But it is over now, and we all four are now traveling for a few days together having a lovely time!
                                     Jeff, Kristen, Alex (one of our instructors), Emma and Chris

                                            The Dive Shop (Jeff and Chris are sitting out front)

                                           The Beach outside the shop where we left from
                                           everyday to dive.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Muck Diving

It sounds awful.  I thought so too before I'd done it, but is absolutely thrilling.  Muck Diving is basically diving along or around a barren sea floor (as opposed to a coral reef) where your main focus is all the weird little creatures that make their home in the sand (and mud in some instances).  Several of the dives I have done on a regular bases here include an area of muck diving.  My favorite is called Bantigue, where I have had one of the best dives of my short diving career and where I have seen the most interesting things. My absolute favorite thing to spot is a frog fish.  They are so cute!  They usually are very hard to find and even harder to spot.  Once I sat and stared at one for awhile not sure if it was a rock or a fish, I later was told it was a frog fish. While on a dive at Bantigue I found my first one all by myself.  He was a white one nestled in some fishing debris just being cute.  Another time while assisting an instructor on an Open Water course, which is the first class you take when you want to become a diver, a big orange one just came bumbling by.  It was so funny to watch him with his short front legs just bopping along the sand in a very haphazard way trying to make it to his new hiding spot.  I had a hard time focusing on the student with him walking past!

Another very frequent site while muck diving is nudi branches.  The best way to describe them is a very colorful and small slug.  I have seen beautiful bright purple ones, blue ones with orange stripes, black ones with green and orange, and so many more.  Some are bumpy some are long with strange spouts coming out of their heads, others are just small and simple with two eyes that come in and out of their heads as they walk, just like a slugs.  I think SE Asia is where they reside because I have never seen them anywhere else.  Or maybe I wasn't looking close enough.  

Another really crazy and neat critter I've seen is the Spiny Devil Fish.  They are poisonous and very small.  If you could hold them, the ones I've seen would fit in the palm of your hand.  I just love how them blend in and look so messy and grumpy!

The sea moth was one of the very first really exotic, totally different creature I saw here and I immediately thought it looked like a wounded baby bird and fell in love with it.  I often do a morning shark dive and there is a certain spot where one of these little guys always is.  I love going to look for him and finding him still within his 5 by 5 meter area just putting around.  He scoots along the sea bottom with no obvious destination just as cute as can be. 

I see so many beautiful tropical fish in the reefs, but I really do love finding all these animals.  Its like a treasure hunt and you get the prize almost every time.

(FYI... I didn't take any of these photos.  I don't carry a camera while diving so I rely on the internet or others.  So thanks to everyone who does take a camera!)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sabrina, Karen, & Laura

I finally got a chance to sit and read my friend Laura's blog. Her and her husband recently adopted a little girl from Korea.  I also recently received emails from my friends Karen and Sabrina when they found out the gender of their baby's.  I feel totally overwhelmed with happiness for all three of my dear friends and I want to share it.  It is so special to be blessed with a new little soul that you get to be responsible for and love and I know that these three ladies will be absolutely wonderful mothers and I am so proud of them.  I was sitting here at the internet cafe in the Philippines crying reading Laura's blog about little Olivia who arrived only a few short weeks ago.  I just knew Olivia was meant for her and John as I read each word.  They seem like the sweetest family and I am amazed at how fast she seems to be adapting.  Karen and Sabrina are getting to go through the adventure of pregnancy and are doing it with such excitement and class. They both seem to really relish each new development with their growing belly's.  I have always loved children and am excited to one day have my own.  You ladies make it look even more wonderful!  Thank you for sharing your experiences with me even from across the world.  I love you guys!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Malapascua Island (Philippines)

We arrived in the Philippines to a significant weather and culture change.  All those summer clothes I'd been lugging around I am now putting to use.  We immediately had to deal with swindlers and being lied to as soon as we flew into Manila.  Our taxi driver somehow talked us in to over paying him despite our best efforts to avoid scams.  They use tons of little tricks.  They tell you the meter hasn't been calibrated so its wrong and you owe more (one that didn't work on us) or they may even have a print out telling you a higher price when the meter clearly shows a lower price (we failed miserably on this one).  We spent one night in Manila then got on a plane to Cebu Island to then head straight to Malapascua Island where we are doing our Dive Master training.  The journey getting here involved a taxi to a bus terminal where we were asked several times if we wanted him to take us all the way to the ferry for the low price of 3,000 pesos.  We opted for the 100 peso bus ride which is about $2.50.  When we got to the ferry there were about 10 other travelers waiting to get on a boat.  We noticed immediately the frustration amongst them all.  They had been passed up a few times while locals boarded boats and left.  We only had to wait a half hour til we left, mostly due to everyone else complaining of having to wait an hour and a half.  So thank you to them.

Malapascua is a very small island that you can easily walk around in an hour or two.  There are a handful of villages spread across it but our main hub is the southern end of the island were there is a beach lined with restaurants and dive shops.  The closest village, called "The Village", clever huh?, is where there are various shops and a couple of  internet cafes.  We stayed at BB's Lodge for the first 8 nights which cost roughly $12 a night.  It had huge spiders, tons of mosquitoes, and rodents, which we never saw, but they left their poop behind as evidence.  It was open at the top where the thatched walls met the tin roof so the critters had free reign and came and went as they pleased.  It was incredibly noisy at night. Barking dogs, rain, karaoke (a love of the natives, and humorous to me), and the disco made it hard to sleep at night.  The shower only dripped so we were left using a bucket to shower and there was no toilet seat so I'll let you imagine how hard it was going to the bathroom...  I'm not sure why we stayed so long, but the important part is we are now very happy and comfortable in our new place.  Two other DMT's (Dive Master Trainees) told us about a lady in the village that rents rooms out.  They told us she left out bananas, tea, and hot water everyday and was really nice.  We were sold.  She only charges $4 a night and we get to live with the locals.  Teresa, our landlady, is beyond sweet.  She is always checking on us and gives us free access to her kitchen if we need a plate, cup, or whatever.  She has a maid that cleans our room once a week and does our laundry which is so so nice.  The room itself is a bit warm, but it's neat, clean, bright feel makes it worth it.  One night at around 10pm I was starving and couldn't sleep so I quietly got out of bed to see if anyone in the village was still awake at one of the shops.  I went out and found some yummy peanut butter crackers to fix my hunger.  When I got back I sat in our common area to eat and Teresa came out to make sure I was okay and to offer me food.  This is most of the reason I love staying at her house.  Its like staying at an aunt or grandma's house.  I love it!  

A day in my life here goes like this.  I get up, sometimes as early as 4:30 or 5:00am, eat a quick breakfast of oatmeal or bread,  head to the dive shop, pack my box full of all the gear needed to dive, then I get on a little boat which takes me to a big boat.  If I am on the early morning dive we are looking for Thresher Sharks, which the island is known for.  We take a 15 minute boat ride out, jump in the water at around sunrise, then sink down to a shoal (a sunken island) that rests at about 22 meters below the surface.  Then we usually wait, and wait in hopes of catching a glimpse of this beautiful fish.  I have seen it twice now and Jeff 3 times.  They have really long tails that they use to hunt little fish.  We are way too big to be food.  It is so wonderful to see them after getting up early day after day.  

We also see big devil rays and sometimes manta rays flying by.  After this dive we go back to the shop and if we are hungry we eat or study then go on another dive.  Then its back for lunch, then another dive, then more studying.  So basically our day is filled to the brim with diving and studying.  I now have 50 dives so I am further along in the process.  Now we are doing more underwater workshops were we learn things like search and recovery, finding a lost object on the sea floor, and deep dive planning.  There is so much to learn and pack in our heads.  We have skill circuits sometimes where we are graded on how well we can perform certain skills like taking off and putting back on your mask underwater.  This particular skill happens to be my personal nemesis.  The first time I was supposed to do it I panicked and refused.  I wanted to cry, but found that difficult underwater.  One of the instructors had to take me out on my own to practice.  Now I do it beautifully, or at least I think so.  We have also started assisting instructors with classes.  I helped one of my favorite instructors with an Advanced Open Water course (what I did in Honduras).  The girl's name was Anna.  I had to make sure she set up her equipment right then help her if she had in problems in the water.  It was fun, and I really liked her!  Eventually I will lead dives, but that's not until closer to the end of the course.

I am learning a lot but in all fairness it has been a bit difficult here.  I have gotten so angry and frustrated on more than one occasion.  To the point that I wanted to leave.  I am going to stick it out because I owe that to myself and to my wallet, but I anticipate more frustration to come.  Sometimes the people we work with have horrible attitudes which totally affects my morale (I'm working on not letting it), then the next day they are really nice.  I am not only getting a lesson in diving here, but a lesson in dealing with difficult people.  2 for 1 :)  I do really love the diving and I know I am very fortunate to be doing this.  I just have to try to keep that thought in my head when it gets tough.  More later when there is more to tell......

 This is the mandarin fish.  I think it is one of the most beautiful I've seen here.  We go on night dives to watch them mating.  Its amazing!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jordan: Aqaba & Wadi Rum

It is taking me quite awhile to finish up Jordan, I know.  We have been super busy and on top of that the internet is super slow.

Our remaining time in Jordan was spent partially in Aqaba which is located at the southern end of the country on the red sea.  We went there because if we weren't getting to dive the red sea in Egypt we wanted to at least get a dive or two in in Jordan.  We got into Aqaba after dark and found a horrible room near the water right in the middle of the city.  The music playing beneath the window made it an even worse nights sleep.  I hated it and couldn't wait to leave there.  The next morning we jumped in the car and drove south along the coast to the first dive center we saw.  We went in and were able to do a dive within an hour.  It was amazing!  We walked right into the ocean behind the dive center with all our gear on.  The coral was so colorful and there was so many beautiful fish.  Not just the colorful tropical fish you normally think of, but tons of little wierdo animals you couldn't even imagine.  We both really really loved it!  We opted out of a second dive at that shop to drive down the coast toward Saudi Arabia to see what else was out there.  We stopped at the marine sanctuary visitors center which wasn't much, but we got some sandwiches for lunch from a very nice man working at the restaurant.  We continued driving toward Saudi Arabia just to do it but as we got closer we it became really industrial and we weren't sure if we were allowed there plus Jeff said I shouldn't get too close to the border anyway because I am a woman and I was probably breaking 10 laws just sitting there!  Ha!  We turned around and found a nice quiet area with a few beach hotels and dive centers.  This was so much better than the night before.  We attempted to do another dive.  We got all our gear, put on wetsuits, and drove to the beach just to be turned away because of the wind causing waves.  We were disappointed but decided just to go back and enjoy the beach near the hotel.  I collected sea glass and even got Jeff to participate.  Now I have red sea glass that is green :)  We ate a lovely dinner at the hotel of Arabic salad and chicken.  The sleep didn't improve at all however, because of all the mosquitoes in the room, but it was still better than the night before.

The next day we drove north to Wadi Rum.  Wadi means basically canyon, sort of, in Arabic.  This is a very scenic one that most people visit when coming to Jordan.  We drove in a bit to a village and stopped for lunch.  Then we walked up to some ruins of a 2000 year old temple.  Beyond that we hiked up to the cliff face where we ran into a Bedouin couple herding some goats.  The view from up there was great!  We couldn't stay long because we flew out in the morning and had to make it back toward the airport so we jumped back in the rental and drove another 3 hours north.  

We stayed in a town called Madaba south of Amman about 25 minutes, a bit closer to the airport.  The town is well known for old mosaics found while people were building.  After looking around we decided to stay at a Pilgrim House located on the grounds of the Greek Orthodox Church where the most famous mosaic was found.  It is a map of the holy land including Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Lot's Cave, the Dead Sea and tons of other Biblical places.  They told us when we got there that we wouldn't able to see it because they had mass the next morning and they had to lay out carpets for it.  Luckily the lady at the Pilgrim house talked to one of the clergy men who let us come in after they had just finished a meeting to see it.  It was pretty neat.  It covered only a fourth of the floor and some of it was missing but you could see fish swimming in the river Jordan trying to get away from the salty dead sea.  I loved that part.  The mosaic was (I think) made in 300A.D.  The Pilgrim House we stayed in was so much different than any other place we have stayed.  Women ran it and they dressed in what I consider normal clothes.  They talked to us, helped us, and were very friendly. It was nice being able to interact with women more than we had been.  We slept well then woke up early to catch a flight to Bahrain where we had a 5 hour layover before we headed to the Philippines where we are now.  There is so much to write about what we are doing now, but it will have to wait til I have the energy and time.  I hope you enjoyed Jordan!

Sorry there are no pictures.  I was walking down a dark path to my room at the red sea and took a bad fall busting up my knees and my computer.  I was very very sad about the computer.  It won't turn on.  I am hoping it can be fixed. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jordan: Petra

We drove straight from Karak to Petra arriving at 2pm.  We checked out a couple of hotels on our way in to get an idea what we were in for.  Petra is of course the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan so there is little doubt this would be used to everyone's advantage in the form of ridiculously high prices.  We were surprised to be able to significantly talk them down on room prices, but we waited to make a decision so we could have more time in Petra our first day.  We went to the entrance and paid the 55 dinars (around $) for 2 days.  Its 100 dinars if you only stay one day, don't ask me why.  We walked the 15 minutes to the opening in the narrow canyon that led into the main canyon.  We were hassled light heartedly by people offering horses or donkeys down.  They asked if we needed a taxi or maybe a Ferrari.  We said no about a million times and went by foot down the narrow windy canyon.  Along the way were remnants of ceramic piping used to get water down to the people, also, parts of the cobble road was still in place.  We stopped for lunch along the way enjoying the canyon and eating our packed chicken sandwiches.  We set off again, soon to round a corner to get a glimpse of a tomb through the opening of the canyon.  It was the Treasury made famous in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  It was incredible.  It was carved right out of the canyon wall.  A line of camels waiting for passengers lay in front of it making it even more enchanting.

After filling our eyes with the treasury we continued on down the canyon as it widen out a bit.  There were lots of tombs carved out the rocks on either side most of which you could go into.  The inside of the tombs were far less impressive than the outside.  It was usually just one room, often filled with trash and the smell of a bathroom.  There were lots of natural openings in the rock utilized for centuries as tombs, sleeping quarters, or stables.  We spent four hours exploring before it began to get dark.  We started heading out the way we came when we were invited to tea by some Bedouins living and selling their goods in the canyon.  We excepted despite the encroaching darkness.  We sat around a small fire built at the opening of a shop with 4 men in their early 20's.  They spoke only a bit of english, but were entirely friendly and told us a bit about their life living in Petra.  We discovered there is a village at the other end of the canyon where many Bedouins live who walk in everyday.  Alot of them just sleep in their shops or have found one of the caves that suites them and sleep in there. One of the Bedouins told us his 2 donkeys, named Shakira and Isuzu, also had there own caves.  At the end of the day, they were simply released and they would hike up on their own to their chosen abode for the night.  We stayed for a bit longer then decided it was time to go.  It was almost completely dark.  We hitched a ride to the top on a carriage pulled by a beautiful white horse itching to get home.  I was scared I was going to fall out most of the ride up.  He knew he was going home and was ready to be there already.
We stayed the night at the Sella hotel.  A supposed 3 star, which was nice in a lot of ways, but many things didn't work.  We enjoyed our rest though and the next morning we got up early, picked up a lunch to pack in, then took a taxi to the Bedouin village were we hiked in from like the locals.  We were the only tourists there so we had many of the tombs on the way in to ourselves.  We hiked into what is called Petra city center where there is a temple, a street lined with columns, and lots of other ruins.  All of which were beautiful and fun to explore.  We hiked up a side canyon to what is known as the Monastery later that morning.  It was my favorite place in all of Petra.  The hike was a windy trail up the canyon and when you got to the top there was the most spectacular tomb.  From there you could walk out to the edge to a beautiful but very windy vista.  It was far too windy to stay at for long with the sheer drop offs on all sides. We stopped for Bedouin tea on the trail with 2 women who had seen us hiking in from their village that morning.  They were very sweet and welcoming.  One woman's baby walked over to me with unsure footing and crawled into my lap.  He reached up to my shirt and start to pull on it.  The women laughed when they saw my eyes get big.  They said, "He just wants your milk!"  It was pretty funny.  When we were getting up to leave the baby had a tight grip on my hand and wouldn't let me go.  I gentle freed myself and gave him a big smile, but he still cried as I walked away.  It was sweet. 

We spent the afternoon wandering about looking into the various, tombs, cave, and rooms in the rocks.  We hike up a hill poking into all the nooks and crannies.  Our goal was to make it to the sacred high place, but as we were trying to find our way a big sand storm blew in darkening the surrounding hills and canyons.  There would be no point in going up there now.  We were getting pelted by sand so we headed toward the canyon we came into the first day that led to the entrance.  We stopped for a bit at the Treasury again and just admired it before heading up.  By then it was nearing 5pm.  We had finished with our time at Petra, but felt like we could have easily spent several more days there.  There was litter, bad smells, and annoying salesmen, but it was worth it all.  Petra is beautiful and an impressive example of human ability. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011


We got into Jordan very very late (1:30am) and got a taxi into Amman city center where we had a reservation at the Jordan Tower Hotel.  We got put with the youngest taxi driver of the lot who zoomed out of the airport, immediately lit a cigarette and started sucking on a bag.  It was late and he was annoying me, but I tried to have a positive attitude.  He didn't know where the hotel was and I tried to give him the address and phone number but he was content on driving around with his neck craned searching.  But I'm the one who eventually found our hotel.  He was very nice as we left to his credit.  There was a strange noise coming from the pipes in the hotel which drove me mad all night.  I got up several times to remedy the problem, which means I got up stomped around, listened to the walls, and turned the heater on and off.  Nothing worked.  Eventually I fell asleep.  I woke up the next morning tired but so excited to get started but not having a clue what to do or where to go.  We went down for breakfast, which came with the room, and had cucumbers, cheese, tomatoes, and bread.  Simple, but very tasty.  We discovered that an English lady ran the hotel.  She helped us arrange a car with a rental company for the 6 days we would be spending in Jordan.  While we waited for the car to come we walked across the street to the ruins of a Roman Amphitheater.  We climbed to the top of the amphitheater and could see the whole downtown area.  It looks pretty much like you would picture a middle eastern city.  Cinder block construction dominated, with a brown backdrop.

When the rental car arrived we were driven to the edge of town where we were told it was easy to navigate from.  The city center is kind of a maze for the novice.  Jeff jumped in the drivers seat, put it into first and we were off.  Only to miss our first exit.  We got turned around and headed the right way just in time to miss another turn improperly signed which took us awhile to remedy.  From then on out we would stop periodically and ask if we were headed the right way.  Our destination was the dead sea.  Everyone proved to be super helpful.  Everyone and anyone was willing to help and wanted nothing in return.  Our first stop was at the north of the dead sea near where the river Jordan empties into the dead sea.  It is the baptismal site of Jesus.  Archaeologists have been able to pin point the exact location from books in the new testament and other records.  The area has changed drastically in the past 2000 years.  The place we saw no longer had water flowing, but was a muddy hole.  There were remnants of Byzantine era baptismal fonts built 300 years after Christ.  They think they know the exact spot Christ walked into the water, but I don't know how.  I expected the experience to be somber and reflective, but it is in an area only recently (the past 15 years) where tourists have been allowed because its on the Israeli border.  ( we stood within 10 feet of the border)  So strict tours are given on a tight time frame.  It was a bit of a rush through the site, but I did enjoy it and appreciate it none-the-less.

We drove to the dead sea after leaving and arrived at the "Amman beach" just as it was beginning to get dark.  We paid the exorbitant price, threw on suits, and got in.  The air was a touch cold but the water was warm enough to glide right in.  It was wonderful!  The water felt heavier than normal water with all the minerals and salt in it.  We floated easily, with little choice but to do so.  It was advised not to get water in our eyes or mouth and one accidental taste told you why.  It didn't taste just like salt, it was extremely bitter and weird tasting.  There were salt crystal formations along the shore were I cut my foot in four places coming in and I could feel it burn.  But I didn't care, it was great being there and we both enjoyed it more than we expected.  

Because it was getting dark quickly we got out and jumped back in the car to drive to the town of Karak, about an hour and a half away.  We were advised by the English woman at the hotel that morning not to drive in the dark not knowing the winding roads, but we didn't listen.  And I was glad I didn't.  It was a breeze getting there and if those roads are so curvy they are considered dangerous, she hasn't driven much.  We got to Karak and found all the roads to be one ways in one direction.  Or at least it seemed that way.  We finally got to the hotel we had been looking for and got out of the car to a man who was telling us where we could park.  He followed us to the two hotels we check prices at and then asked if we would eat dinner at his restaurant.  We agreed, although,  I'm not sure how much choice we had at that point.  I asked to use the bathroom and was taken into the kitchen, if you can call it that, to the corner where an accordion door separated me from him.  I quickly went and exited looking at the sparse set up for cooking.  To my surprise the food was excellent.  I got a breaded chicken and Jeff got kebab and we shared a stewed tomato dish.  And we didn't even get sick!  The hotel we stayed at was pretty awful.  It had nice views of the valley but the room seemed wet and mold was growing on the walls, not to mention it was very cold.  We made it through the night and got up to walk around the Crusader castle just outside our door. The castle is the main draw to the town.  It is set on a hill with great views all around.  There were lots of underground passage ways and rooms making it fun to explore.  We really liked it but had to leave for the 4 hour drive to Petra.  I was too excited to put it off any longer......

Monday, February 14, 2011


Spain.  Well, only Barcelona actually.  Our time here has been spent walking and sleeping and working out flights and hotels for our next destination, Jordan.  We've walked, what feels like all over the city.  The first day here we set out to see the architecture of the famous Gaudi who lived during the late 1800's and early 1900's.  He built some really cool crazy buildings with all sorts of neat twists and curves.  We walked by a few but saved our admission money for the HUGE cathedral he was in the process of building when he was hit by a tram and died.  They continued his work and are still building it.  When its done its going to be massive and very neat looking.  The inside is done, but he had plans for lots of spires and gargoily things.  The whole thing has a very naturey theme.  The columns on the inside are made to look like trees and on one side of the outside there are scenes from Christ's life mixed with lots of animals (turtles, lizards, frogs, chickens, etc).  The main doors going into the church have the Gospels of I think Matthew and John, or maybe Luke, written in full.  Jeff said it is the best Cathedral he's ever been in and I would have to agree.

We've spent some time at the beach, fully clothed in pants and coats because its in the 50's here but I can't say that for everyone there.  There was a man with nothing on, no shoes no hat nothing, walking up and down the sidewalk that goes along the beach.  He seemed to feel so comfortable in his nudity.  It just grossed me out.  We saw what we joked and said was his wife later down the beach in the exact same apparel.  :)  The mediterranean is beautiful and seemed clear, but very very cold right now.  The beaches here are spacious and really nice for such a big city.  We watched some street performers juggle and spin their bodies in giant hula hoops things.  There were people building elaborate sand castles and dragons for money.  One even had a waterfall and a fire!  And dumb me wasn't carrying my camera.

We went to the Picasso museum the 2nd day and with hopes of not making people mad I would just like to say he paints like a 5 year old (No offense to any 5 year olds I know).  There is this beautiful painting done  by a guy named Velasquez that I happened to really like.  Its a gorgeous painting that Picasso tried to recreate and totally mucked it up.  Not to say I don't like some of his stuff, I do.  It's just not my favorite.  They had a room of ceramics that he did and let me say, the only reason they are in a museum is because of his name not because he is a good ceramicist.  If this makes die hard Picasso fans mad, I apologize.  Sort of.

There's a big hill on the west end of the city with some museums and the Olympic stadium from 1992.  Anybody remember those?  We hiked up a dirt trail overlooking the mediterranean then walked across the hill to the olympic swimming pool and then the stadium.  The views from up there were incredible!  We opted out of the art museum and went to the archaeology museum which had tons of really cool artifacts.  I absolutely loved it, but unforunately it was all in Catalan, the language a lot of people speak here.  So I didn't get to learn specifics but it was still a really good museum.

Yesterday morning was spent at the park after going to the train station to go to a nearby town and discovering we were at the wrong train station.  And because we were sick of walking at this point we opted not to walk across the city to the other station.  And by the way, there is public transportion here, and I'm sure its very good, but it's costly and we decided we have legs that would get us where we need to go if we needed to go bad enough.  So the park,  it was a huge and lovely.  We came across a movie set!  That was fun.  We sat and ate our packed lunch on the steps of a gazebo and watched them do their thing.  We found ping pong tables in the park which made Jeff's day until he realized we had no paddles and balls.  We almost got drenched by sprinklers that came on while we were walking across a grassy area.  We ran so fast and luckily stayed dry, but I am convinced they were motion sensitive.  We sat for a while and people watched.  We saw a couple fighting in the middle of the sidewalk at a busy intersection.  She was yelling and flailing her arms and her boyfriend was quiet as can be.  He tried to hold her hand and hug her but she pushed him away.  And then she stomped off so he went the other way, but the dummies just ended up crossing the road and heading the same direction.  She saw him up ahead and started running after him.  As you can see it was very entertaining.  We sat and disected the whole situation as it unfolded.  Oh and the dogs!!  People in Barcelona love their dogs.  There are tons of sweet pups all over the city and they are all so well behaved.  Hardly anyone has them on a leash.  They carry the leash in their hand which is how you know who the owner is and the pups keep a close distance but still get a little freedom.  The dogs were so much fun to watch, but not many wanted to be pet.  They are definitely city dogs.  They were totally used to hoards of people and were all on a mission.  I only got to pet one chihuahua the whole time

Our hotel was located in the Gothic Quarter, my favorite part of the city.  It was full of narrow alleys and cobble stone streets barely big enough for cars, which not many ventured in.  The hotel itself was on the 3rd floor above a jewelry shop so you had to have a key to get in at street level when the shop was closed.  It made you feel like a local.  The small streets were bustling during the day but by 10pm all the shops pulled down a graffiti filled garage doors which totally changed it from a crowded winding path through the city to a desolate, dark, alley.

We have left Spain and are now in Jordan having a grand time.  More soon!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Belfast & Dublin

Belfast is 4 hours from Galway back across the country to the opposite coast then straight north.  Misty, John, Jeff and I got there with daylight to spare to walk a bit around the downtown area.  Despite the dreary day(s) it was a beautiful downtown.  Nothing like what I expected.  I was expecting all the turmoil Northern Ireland has had to be evident all around, but it didn't really show through.  We ate lunch at the Kitchen Bar right downtown where I had potato and leek soup and Jeff had the Irish roast of the day, which was pork chops, potatoes, and vegetables.  It wouldn't be a meal in Ireland without potatoes and I am a bit potato'd out to be honest.  I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked the city.  The architecture was lovely and it was easy to navigate, which always makes me like a place better.  
We got all gussied up that night and went to hear some live Irish music.  It was pretty good, but my heels were killing me and I am not much of a night owl so I was happy to return to our nice hotel for a good nights sleep.  We ate a big Irish breakfast of bacon, beans, eggs, and potatoes the next morning at the hotel then set off to do a little sightseeing.  We went in search of the famous murals depicting the troubles between the catholics and protestants.  On our way we passed a couple of riot police vehicles riddled with bullet holes.  Finally some colors were showing through.  The murals were extremely interesting.  The one that stood out the most was the hunger strikers.  They were prisoners who refused to eat and wiped their feces all over.  There is lots more to the story, but you'll just have to google it.
After the murals, we headed down to the docks.  The very docks where Titanic was built!  We drove around for a bit looking at the boats and the ship building stuff, but in order to get to Dublin before too late we soon headed back south.  Misty and John dropped us off in Dublin where Jeff and I spent the next day exploring.  We stayed in the Charles Stewart Guesthouse, which had a great location near the city center but far enough off that it wasn't loud at night.  We spent the next day walking all over!  We went to the Temple Bar district where there are lots of cute pubs, St. Stephen's Green, a well known park, and visited the Dublin castle, not that great, and ChristChurch Cathedral.  
Later that afternoon while walking to a restaurant they put in an old church (yep a church, weird) I saw a shake place with millions and millions of ingredient choices.  Oh my my my was I in heaven.  I made Jeff take me back there after the Church restaurant thing.  We shared a brownie banana shake, a large even.  If I lived there I'd go every day.  After I was blitz'd on sugar we headed to the Jameson distillery where we took a tour of where they used to make Jameson whiskey.  Since I love factories and getting to see just about anything being made I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see the real process, but they made it fun and had good replicas, so it was good still.  Dinner was Supermacs, which is a lot like McDonalds, but the Irish version.  I had to try it just once, but once was enough.

The next morning we woke up and packed as fast as we could so we could get to the Archaeology Museum right when it opened.  We were supposed to leave for the airport that morning so we had only 1 hour in the museum and had to walk across the city and back before time to get on the bus for the airport.  The museum was a bit of a whirlwind but it seemed like an excellent museum that I could have spent all day in.  Next time.  (I've got lots of next times)  We jumped on a bus to the airport as easy as can be and flew to Spain, where we are now...

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I have been in Ireland now almost a week.  My friend Misty picked us up at the airport with her boyfriend, John, and her 2 year old boy Finn.  I rounded the corner headed toward the exit and little Finn saw us coming and ran and jumped into my arms.  It was the best welcome I could have asked for.  We headed to their home near Galway on the west coast of Ireland.  It was so nice staying at a friend's house and not having to worry about getting around and finding a place to lay our head every night.  We cooked big dinners every night and baked lots cookies.  We spent our days going and seeing the sights.  We drove 2 hours to the Cliffs of Moher, which are a famous natural landmark in Ireland.  They are, as the name suggests, tall vertical cliffs.  It is really a stunning sight.  I had seen them before when I traveled to Ireland, but they were even prettier this time. 

We went to a couple of castles in the area, one with a little river running underneath it built on limestone cliffs.  It was a neat setting for a castle.  It was closed, but that didn't stop Jeff from going underneath the bridge and walking over to the lawn to take some pictures of the inside for me. 

Downtown Galway is full of  beautiful old buildings, some dating back to the 1300's.  Jeff and I saw a cheesemonger shop, and since I love cheese I had to go in.  We sampled lots and bought a couple to take home for dinner.

Evenings were my favorite.  I got to sit around with my best pal and chat for hours, while Jeff usually played with Finn.  Finn got a tool set for Christmas so him and Jeff spent many hours "fixing" the couch, the chairs, the doors, the TV and just about everything else.  When I was packing my bag to go Finn asked me where I was going, so I told him I was going to Belfast.  He said "Ok, but Jeff's not going, he's staying here".  Then at breakfast John sat next to him and Finn promptly told him "You better hurry, Jeff's sitting by me".  He informed us all that Jeff was his best friend.  It was pretty cute to watch them together, even though we all had to take a back seat to Jeff. 
We have 2 and a half days left in Ireland, which we will spend in Belfast and then Dublin.  Then its off to Spain.  We, of course, have canceled our our Egypt leg of the trip, which really makes me sad.  I was looking forward to the Red Sea most of all.  As of now the area we were going has been safe, but there is no telling what could happen given the situation in Cairo.  We are now going to go only to Jordan then straight to the Philippines.  I guess I will save Egypt until next time.