earthGiles and the Zeff Fellowship

My brother went off with the Zeff fellowship for a year, leaving on July 23, 2004, and coming back on July 31, 2005, following the Portugese Explorer - Vasco Da Gama.

Here are the emails he sent home.

August 13 | September 3 | September 9 | October 1 | October 11 | November 13
Holidays by the Sea - 21 December 2004
The slow rythms of island life
- 24 January 2005
No no no don't waste my water - 25 February 2005
Quick Update: 29 March 2005
So I was doing some calculations . . . - 12 April 2005
Chicken Buses around Mozambique - 5 May 2005
Final thoughts on Mozambique - 25 May 2005
Terra Vista! India at last. - 25 June 2005
Thank You India - 23 July 2005
From Hong Kong to Illinois - 2 September 2005

Friday, August 13, 2004 9:53:04 AM

I have arrived in Lisbon safely. It is almost like being in Brazil again the way the streets are paved and people act. It is nice. Now I have to figure out what I need to do here. However it is nice to know that I will not be spending as much per day and that I will be staying here longer than a day or two. I am done with the tourist part of my trip.

However, it is time to consider buying the final ticket from Mumbai (Bombay) back to Chicago. I was thinking July 31 but anything between July 24 and then is fine as well. If you can give Bron a call and find out what times are available and how much that would be great.

Internet access at the public library is free and since I have more time now I should be able to come more often.

From Lisbon,

3 September 2004, Friday

So here is a group e-mail that really comes from a blog that I posted to heather, amie, seth, sharon, ryan lowe, and lara.

Are there random people who walk around with canes and yell things in the United States? Maybe it is because I am in the streets more here but this type of person seems to be quite common. Then there was teh woman who got up, did a Mary Tyler Moore twirl with her shopping bags and then walked off down the street. But now that I think about it there was the man who walked around the streets near Fountainview and Westheimer who would stand still with his arm raised for hours on end.

Is there nobody to help these people?

This was random but it provides a contrast for the wonderful last two days that I have had. The first I spent comparing the sites of the two world fairs that lisbon held in 1940 and again in 1998. This of course made me think of the Chicago world's fair in 1898(?) that I studied in school. Unfortunately it made me think how little the world or at least Portugal had progressed in the century. I like to think that things can change overnight but unfortunately they take time. The day ended with a wonderful walk along the Tagus and under the longest bridge in Europe, the 11 km long Vasco da Gama bridge (right by the tallest building in Lisbon the Vasco da Gama Tower and not far from one of the new malls the Vasco da Gama center).

Yesterday though rainy was wonderful as I hiked through the mountains above Lisbon and the Palaces of Sintra. The ruins of a moorish castle in the fog of the clouds is gorgeous. When the fog clears just as you reach the top to see the valleys below and the sea in the distance it is breathtaking. When you discover that the only window in the royal chapel has four figures immortalized: The virgin, St. George (patron saint of portuguese armies), King Manuel I (the fortunate and king during the discoveries), and Vasco da Gama (kneeling to his king), you become even happier. Then when you watch the sunset from the point farthest west on the european continent while composing poetry, you realilze how grand life can be.

I will probably be sick from the rain and the cold that has continued on to today but I am happy.

I tried to call Mom while I was the person farthest west in Europe but I think she was trying to use the internet. I got some dialing noise and enough time to say hello twice.

9 September 2004, Thursday

I left Lisbon on Monday to set up a new base farther north that would allow me to make day trips to some sites while paying a decent hotel rate. I chose the city of Leiria with a population of 45,000 people as my center. AS luck would have it, the city is hosting a gastronomic fair and cultural exposition including dances and music. Lucky happening number one.

I have made day trips to the convents in Batalha and Alcobaça both UNESCO world heritage sites. Yesterday I went to Nazaré where there is a shrine that Vasco da Gama visited to pray before and after his first voyage. Sunday I realized that the big religious ceremony for the Virgin of Nazaré was yesterday. Lucky happening number two. I arrived in the city just as the first mass celebrating the saint was finishing and just in time to watch the procession leave the church and move out onto the promontory over looking the city and the ocean. It was great even when it started to rain and I watched in approach from the sea and then move into the city causing sunbathers to scramble frantically for shelter.

When I got back to Leiria I ate dinner and was amazed at the number of people with Portuguese flags and scarves walking around town. I knew that there was going to be a World Cup 2006 qualifying match against Estonia but I thought it was an away game. Therefore my first thought was that this was a very patriotic city and began to think of the implications of this. Then I remembered that Leiria had played host to a few matches during Euro 2004 and began to wonder if the game was going to be here. I went to the hotel dropped off my bag and headed out to the stadium (which has an interesting design and is close to a small cable stayed bridge which would be worth the trip even if the game where elsewhere). As I neared the stadium I knew that the game was indeed here in Leiria as I watched multitudes of green, red, and yellow clad fans descend in a horde on the stadium. Lucky happening number three.

The game was sold out and though I had bought a scarf I figured it was at least worth the trip down to the stadium. Then I met a friendly scalper who I was able to talk down from the asking price of 6 times the face value to a more reasonable mark-up. I had never scalped a ticket before but I figure since I didn´t even know the game was here 30 minutes ago there was nothing else I could do.

The game started out with a 0-0 tie at half time with Portugal dominating possession but never getting a good shot on goal. The same in the second half until there were fifteen minutes left in the game. By that time even the kids with drums and flags sitting next to me had become somewhat subdued. Then, on a well placed centering pass from the left side, Portugal sent a header into the goal and the crowd went while. Flags, scarves, and jerseys flew into the air with ecstasy and waved while the crowd cheered. The crowd began to chant "só mais um" (just one more) and where rewarded with two more quick goals in regulation and one dagger to the hearts of Estonian players in extra injury time. Final score 4-0 Portugal.

I arrived home late, tired, hoarse, and somewhat poorer but it was worth it.

Until the next time,
Ryan Giles

October 1, 2004, Friday

I am at my northern-most part of my trip this week having left Porto last Monday heading up the vineyard covered mountains of the river valley. I visited Sabrosa where Fernão Magalhães (more commonly known by the Spanish Ferdinand Magellan) was born high in the mountains and far from the sea.

Next I stopped in Foz Côa for a few days to visit the largest site of open air Paleolithic rock engravings. I only saw a few rocks in the 17 km long valley but I would have had to hike a lot more than I usually do or have rented a car to visit the remoter parts of the already remote part of Portugal. There is only one bus to my next stop, Bragança a day from Foz Côa.

Bragança is in the extreme northeast of the country. In my hike through the national park near the city I came within 10 kilometers of the Spanish border. Its a nice little city with a great castle on an isolated hill above the city. There is a branch of the church there and it was just the missionaries and I for the first hour when the regular members showed up. They still refuse to accept a three hour church block. I might move to Bragança permentantly, they are really on to something.

Braga with all of its churches was followed by Guimarães the birthplace of the first king of Portugal and the nation's first capital. That puts me in Viana do Castelo today thinking about making a quick swing up north to Spain and Santiago de Compestelo for a pilgrimage before heading back to Porto tomorrow night.

October 11, 2004, Monday

I finished my tour of the North just in time as the last few days have been cold, drizzley, and windy. I am back in Lisbon and familiar territory. I developed my pictures today and am preparing to send a package of things home before heading to Morocco starting Wednesday.

This is my journal entry (abridged) from my pilgrimage to Santiago:

The Zeff Fellow's Tale

Four pilgrims set our for Santiago
Two Portuguesas seeking knowledge,
One Swiss Spaniard returning to his land,
And the Fellow of Zeff, third of that line
Wanting to behold the medieval tomb.
Teh fates smiled not on their chosen journey
Halting their progress in Valença town
Across the river from Galacia
But wondering if they would continue.
A strike and an accident gave them time
To meet, to converse, and to tell their tales
Beside which even Cantebury pales.

Today's goal was simple: ride the train from Porto to Vigo and then Vigo to Santiago, spend two hours in Santiago, and then ride the rail back again. However, my pilgrimage truly turned into a trial of faith. When I arrived at the train station, the ticket agent infromed me that the Spanish train workers were on strike and the train would only go as far as Valença. The bus from Valença to Vigo was an hour late because it got in an accident on route to pick us up. I missed the bus in Vigo to Santiago by 5 minuytes and had to wait an hour and a half. Santiago was nice but crowded with pilgrims and those seeking eternal salvation. I hugged a golden statue of St. James and bought a scallop shell. The bus back to Vigo was uneventful. I missed the last bus to Valença and had to take a cab the 25 km. The train back to Porto was a slow one and I arrived back in Porto 18 hours after I began and 70 euros poorer.

Morals: Don't listen to your mother and always take your backpack with you. Don't cross a strike line. Pilgrimages are tough.

Okay, that was very abridged the real version takes four pages of my tiny writing.


13 November 2004, Saturday

It has been more than an entire Islamic month since I sent any news out.  So much has happened since then.  I went to Morocco via Spain on the first day of Ramadan and gazed across the Straight of Gibraltar pondering historical questions and Portugal's first non-European conquest: Ceuta, now a Spanish colony.  I fasted a few days in Morocco and broke it each evening with delicious Moroccan soups.  I saw Seville´s La Giralda minaret/cathedral tower and its architectural sister in Marrakesh (after a 9 hour bus ride across the middle and high atlas mountains from Fez and before a 6 hour night train back to Tangier).  I saw excellent Islamic architecture in Granada before spending a week and a half in Lagos hoping the rain would let up long enough to spend some time on the gorgeous beaches.  I also spent my evenings in Lagos at an Orchestra Concert (low mediocre) and the 15th Century Fair celebrating Lagos' role in the Portuguese Discoveries. I also spent a day out at Sagres "the edge of the world" where legend says that the Portuguese had a navigation school.

I have since swung up through Southern Portugal visiting Silves, Sines, Beja, and Vidigueira.  Sines and Vidigueira are important as the birth place of Vasco da Gama and the city where he was made Count five years before he died.  Both are very beautiful but the region right around Vidigueira has to be some of the prettiest I have seen anywhere.  Red hills, olive trees, yellow grape vines, cork oaks and a view of Beja, purple on the horizon, make it memorable.

I have spent the last few days and the last of Ramadan in Évora taking in this city that is a UNESCO world heritage site.  I still think Guimaraes has a better historic center but picking and choosing parts of Évora to preserve would be difficult.

Today I have taken it easy after my 50 km bike ride through the surprisingly hilly "golden plains" of Portugal yesterday.  I went to visit three neolithic stone constructions: a cromlech, a menhir, and a dolmen.  All three are considered the most important and largest of their types on the Iberian peninsula and rank up there with the most important in Europe.  I packed a picnic lunch (mmm goat cheese and tomato sandwiches with banana chasers) and ate all alone in the middle of the cromlech.  It was interesting to think about the religious, scientific, and cultural significance of the rock I was sitting on. The wind could have been turned down a notch but I won't complain about that.  Instead, I will say that I am now sore and have a blister on the right buttock.  I keep thinking that if it scars badly it will match the birth mark on my left buttock and I will be more symmetric. We must always look at the bright side of things.

Until the next time,
Ryan Giles

Holidays by the Sea
Dec 21, 2004

Once again a month or more has passed since my last update.  My blister healed without much permanent scarring.  Evora was one of the last big stops on my tour through Portugal.  I spent a few days in the cities of Estremoz, Borba, and Vila Viçosa famous for their marble queries that have earned them the name of Portugal´s "white" cities. Every house has marble doorsteps, stairs, and decorations and the cranes of the queries themselves dominate the horizons.  I made a day trip to Elvas to visit the well preserved fortifications out of respect for Dr. Gruber (who I imagine no one knows but my family has met).  Spain sat just beyond the river a few kilometers away from the viewpoint in the cemetery honoring the English dead during Napolean´s peninsular war.

I made the mountain city and village of Portalegre and Marvao my last stops in the Alentejo.  The views from the mountain top castle of Marvao are spectacular and again provide a view of both Portugal and Spain.  I walked around Portalegre eating fresh roasted chestnuts to kick the holiday season off a week before Thanksgiving.  The stores and television stations had already kicked the season off a week or too before but I held out as long as I could.  From Portalegre to Lisbon I made a slight  detour to Tomar to visit yet another UNESCO site which was also the headquarters for the religious order that financed Vasco da Gama's voyages and the others of the age of Discoveries.  I returned to Lisbon to secure a visa for Cape Verde which I picked up on Thanksgiving Day.  I spent the rest of the day in the National Library reading.  Lisbon decorates itself well for the holidays and I spent many an evening strolling along the lit streets eating more chestnuts.

For the last three weeks I have been back in Lagos in the extreme southwest of Portugal.  If you count the natural disasters that have happened while I have been here you would think I would not be enjoying it here at all.  There was flooding reported the day after I arrived and on Dec 13 there was an earthquake that I felt just after laying down for an after lunch read/snooze.  The flooding was superficial and though the earthquake was a 5.4 on the Richter scale the epicenter was 120 kilometers off the Portuguese coast and so much of the energy was absorbed by the sea and distance.  The rest of my time here has been spent with the people I have met here and the books that I have bought up until now.  I have also been running in the mornings out to the promontory point 2 km outside of town.  It is gorgeous most days and the blue of the sea is matched by the blue of the sky.  The yellow cliffs break the blue up into gorgeous pieces and the mountains provide an equally stunning view when I turn around and run back.  The temperature is usually 9 as a low and 17 as a high (Celsius) which is nice and sweaters have been sufficient.  On the stormier days I should stay inside but I find the turbulence of the sea fascinating as it assumes a different color and the waves break white over the teal-grey water.

Settling down has allowed me to keep up on the news and much of it has been applicable to my project.  Elections in Mozambique and the 5 year anniversary of Macao's return to Chinese control have occupied the newspapers.  Hopefully, despite the recent declarations of fraud by EU observers peace will be maintained in Mozambique and I will be able to continue my travels as planned.  Of course that is only secondary to the hopes that peace will be maintained for the residents of Mozambique themselves and they can continue to progress and recover from hundreds of years of colonization and two decades of civil war.

I will be here in Lagos until just after the New Year before heading back to Lisbon to catch my flight to Cape Verde on the 7th.  These five months have gone by fast and I have seen and learned so much already.

Boas Festas (Happy Holidays),
Ryan Giles

The slow rythms of island life
Monday, 24 January 2005

Life in the islands is great even if it is a bit slower than I am used to. But I guess a few months where I can relax my shoulders for the first time in years would be good. The problem is I do not know how to slow down and that in itself causes its own anxieties. I need professional help for that I guess.

The holidays in Lagos were great as I got to stay in one place and catch up on some things while still procrastinating others. It was also good to make friends and wake up every morning knowing that a gorgeous view awaited me every time I walked outside.

I spent Christmas Eve with the Borens, a senior missionary couple, playing skip-bo with all the other people far from their families for the Holidays. I won skip-bo with Elder Boren's help starting a trend that would last the holiday season. On Christmas I had planned to go to the beach early but dreary weather stopped that and I played Settlers of Catan with the young Elders (I lost this round being the first time I had played but during the rematch the following Monday I won). When they left I walked out to Ponto da Piedade (Piety Point), sat down and watched a storm come out over the mountains, pass me by causing a rainbow, and then move out to sea. I came back to prepare my Christmas feast of corn on the cob, turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, and rice pudding for desert. It was a different Christmas but still memorable. New Years Eve the weather was better and I took a swim in the Atlantic. Later, I accompanied the Borens once again to the church party in the neighboring city. We got there about ten and didn't leave until 4:30 even though the party was still going on. It was a great mixture of food, dancing and karaoke. There was less salsa and more samba than I am used to but I adjusted and had a great time. I even won the Karaoke contest.

During my brief stay in Lisbon I got my visa for Mozambique taken care of albeit after paying a little more than I had expected. It was odd being in Lisbon for the fourth time knowing that it would be my last for a while. I will be back for one day in April because of an interesting flight schedule but after that it will be a while again. I do not know why it was so hard to leave Lisbon when I left Houston without much difficulty. Maybe it was because I left, came back, and left Houston again so quickly my last weekend there that I didn't have time to dwell on it. Perhaps I still haven't come to terms with the loss.

The arrival in Cape Verde was difficult as I got stuck on the Island of Sal for nearly 5 days waiting for a plane that was not full of bitter French people to come to São Vincente. It is an island known for its beaches but it also has the highest cost of living and was killing my budget. São Vincente the first time was better though I was still coming to terms with the poverty and my obvious whiteness. I usually do not think of myself as white and feel uncomfortable in rooms with large numbers of white people. However, the begging kids and the souvenir salesmen do not know that or the fact that I have no money to spare. Cape Verde has the highest GDP per capita in West Africa but it is still less than what I am used to from Brazil or Mexico. Away from the city things were better as I visited the beach and the mountain top where the island's agriculture takes place.

After three days however, I headed over to Santo Antão 20 km away by a ferry tossed by the January Ocean causing most on board to toss it themselves. I survived without seeing the feijoada I had for lunch. The port for Santo Antão is located on the desert side of the island and reminds me of the Franklin Mountains in El Paso but with 75% less vegetation. However, the HIACE (mini-van) ride over the mountains passes through the pine and cedar forests of the cloud covered summits before descending into the green tropical valleys of the northern side of the island. It is three different worlds on one island. I took a hike up the Vale do Paul, one of the only places in all of Cabo Verde that has water running in the stream all year, and met one of the many farmers that hack a living out of the mountain side. Johny and I met where the twisty, steep mountain road becomes even more steep and twisty making it impassible to cars. We walked and stopped up the mountain talking the entire time. He eventually invited me to his farm where I shared a lunch of chachupa and inhame with he and the people who work the land. I learned a lot about the post-colonial state of affairs and the aid the EU gives the islands. On another day I met a master shipbuilder who was building two six meter fishing boats. Though he smiled and refused the title of master when I used it, it put an end to his prior reluctance and he talked to me for an hour about his work and life. He doesn't see his work as a continuation of the Legacy of Vasco da Gama and the age of discoveries. I guess only I, the crazy white Portuguese speaking Texan (he didn't know that Texas spoke Portuguese and I didn't correct him as that would mean I would have to admit to being an American), thought about his way of life as a continuation of 500 years of history. I spent a week on the island enjoying the people, scenery, and rain showers.

Now I have been back in Mindelo for 5 days waiting for the next ferry to Santiago and Praia the national capital. I have enjoyed the nightly preparations for Carnival that send the cadences of drums echoing through the town long after I go to bed. Saturday I was lucky enough to be here for the Municipal Day celebration that had brass bands and religious processions around town. Vasco da Gama is very hard to find in the islands and my project is looking more at the post-colonial situation than the man himself. The only trace of the man I have found in Mindelo is a tile panel painted in Porto showing the old Vasco da Gama square. When I asked the locals where it is located no one knows as such names were changed with Independence to erase some to the Portuguese past.

Six months down, and six months to go. I'll email you again from the slopes of a still steaming volcano.

Ryan Giles

No no no don't waste my water
Friday, 25 February 2005

For the El Pasoans the subject brings back fond, if not annoying, memories of children singing on public announcement commercials. The ads tried to encourage water conservation by giving us a jingle that I still find myself singing today. Despite the grim predictions for the water situation along the Upper Rio Grande, we never went without water. However, here on the island of Fogo surrounded by the beautiful blue sea, we just had a water crisis that lasted a week. Apparently it was caused by the City Government not paying its water bill, which caused the water company not to pay its electric bill, causing the electric company to turn off the lights and more importantly the pumps at the water company. End result, the entire population of Sao Filipe (30.000) ended up with no running water.

It all started last Thursday while I prepared lunch. I had just stripped the skin off the half chicken I had bought and cut it up the best I could. When I went to wash my hands, nothing came out of the tap. As an American taught all about the fears of salmonella and E. Coli I nearly panicked as I was afraid to touch anything for reasons of hygiene. Almost miraculously the water started to flow and I had time to wash my hands and the vegetables I had cut for my meal. Then just as suddenly it was out again. The landlord came by just after lunch and showed me how to turn on the water from the storage tank on the roof and I had water in the faucets again. However, I did not know how full the tank was or really how big it was so I was on ultra conservation mode.

For the next week, the women and youth of the city filed past my apartment with 5 gallon buckets of water balanced on their heads. I can not even balance a 5 liter bottle of water on my head (I have tried) so their abilities impressed me. I enjoyed the amazing dance of grace and balance as they climbed up the street from the cistern two blocks away. On Saturday I went down to observe the cistern activity and it was quite orderly due to the two policemen posted at the entrance and excluding the minor arguments over cutting in line. The scene continued Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. However, by Tuesday afternoon, the people were finally getting angry and broke into the gated patio by the cistern's faucets and began to steal the water that everyone needed. The police eventually arrived and sided with "the man" and cleared the people out until the water company man arrived to charge the three escudos for a bucket of water.

Tuesday I had to go and sit in the line twice and carry my full bucket up the hill to wash my clothes. I took a book with me to read as I was told that the line moved very slowly. However, I had no time to read as you must keep your bucket in line by leaving no space between your bucket and those on either side. If you leave an inch in front you are essentially inviting someone to cut in line and the people behind you will move the bucket for you. I was the only white person waiting in line and most found this extremely odd. Some were content because it showed equality between myself and the island's residents. Others felt uncomfortable seeing a white person wait in line and kept trying to have me move to the front. I guess they are perpetuating a racism that I do not agree with and consider themselves and their time inferior and less valuable than me and my time. But I waited my turn, paid my three escudos and got my water just like the rest. However, when I let the gate I thanked the police and money collector out of habit and they both looked extremely shocked at my courtesy. Apparently I am the only one who thanked them for their services since the water went out.

The water finally came back on Wednesday morning. I woke up at 5:25 in the morning to the sound of running water thinking it was a dream. Actually the apartment downstairs had left a faucet open and a large plastic drum was filling with the precious commodity. The water went out again Wednesday morning and only since yesterday has there been a constant flow. The foreigners I talked to wondered why there had been no protests or demonstrations. The Capeverdians all said that things had been worse not too long ago when no one had running water so they are used to it. Where as most consider water a right, they considered it a luxury. For me, cold showers two days in a row has never felt so good.

The following is not as graphic as it could be but be warned that animals died.

Before the whole water crisis, I was invited to another village on the island to attend their big pre-carnival festival. Called Banderona, it is an interesting combination of a catholic procession celebrating Saint John the Baptist and an African slaughter festival. I went up early on the Saturday and waited around while my DJ friend set up his equipment. Before noon, the patio of the mountain side home and its roof were full of people waiting for the slaughter. The procession of a dozen or so white banners with images and symbols of the saint sewn on started up the mountain from the road to the constant beat of the drums that followed them. When they arrived at the house, a few firecrackers were set off to announce their presence. Men in torn, blood spattered clothing holding knives and pokers came behind the procession. These men had a ceremonial exchange of money where US Dollars from the immigrants and the Cape Verdean escudos where shoved into a wad held by the main bloody man. Soon the animals were brought from below the ledge I stood on and women with blood dots on their forehead and big buckets to collect more blood came swaying onto the patio. One, two, three, four goats lost their lives and after the blood stopped flowing the carcasses were carried away to the large kettles waiting in a specially constructed shack of banana fronds. I pig was the next sacrifice followed by a cow to complete the slaughter. With no where else to perform the tasks, the cow was skinned and butchered on the patio in front of me.

I went to another home where the slaughter had taken place earlier and was given a plate of food before the rest of the waiting crowds. As the white person present at the festivities it was an honor to have me eat with them and I had not realized I had been stolen from the house I was originally invited to. The food was good and since I had not seen these exact animals slaughtered, the illusion maintained itself somewhat and I ate without regret. Dancing continued apparently non stop until the end of Carnival but I left Saturday night in the back of a pick-up truck listening to the banter of my companions and counting the stars. Without Houston's light pollution there are more than eleven.

Carnival was small but nice. Everything else has been daily life and catching up on my journal that is even later than these e-mails are. I will be here on Fogo another two weeks before going to Brava and then back to Praia and Sal. I am busy planning my time in South Africa so if there are any suggestions let me know. Right now I have a loop of Jo-burg, Cape Town, Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, Durban, and back to Jo-burg with a 4 day Kruger park safari squeezed in at either Jo-burg appearance. Let me know.

Until the next time, this is
Ryan Kent Giles da Gama

Quick Update: 29 March 2005

Modi ki bu sta?

Though that is not the extent of my Krioulo abilities but I never did become fluent in the language.  I can talk to the begging kids until they lose interest in me and my wallets and teach them a thing or two about Vasco da Gama.  I have spent the last few days in Cidade Velha, the oldest Portuguese and European city in the tropics and I am surprised how many kids and adults do not know who Vasco Da Gama was or that he stayed in their city 500 years ago.  I guess that is asking too much of an already strained education system.  The sadder part is when I ask them what they want to be when they grow up and when one has a dream the others try and belittle it and call him stupid for wanting a better life.

The last month has been one of extreme ups and downs.  Just after my last installment, I climbed the old volcano on the island of Fogo. With 2830 meters of altitude it was quiet a challenge.  I went with a French couple, a Swiss mother and daughter, two of my Capeverdean friends (Isaias and Itamar Daniel and Maria's kids that Judith knows), and a guide from the crater town.  You start half way up the 2830 meters on the floor of a much larger ancient crater.  The French woman quit not even a fourth of the way up but the rest of us made slow progress up the volcano.  Four hours later, we were in the oxygen poor and sulphur rich air of the summit.  Even though this cone had not erupted in over 200 years, a smaller one on the opposite side erupted last in 1995 and the lava flows are very visible and interesting.  The run down through the ash and gravel took less than an hour and was great fun.

After the exhilaration of climbing the volcano, I had the depressing experience of being on the beach when a local kid died.  I was sitting on a rock cleaning the sand off my feet when some one from the cliffs above screamed to get the attention of the kids playing soccer in front of me.  All attention was soon directed on the sea and many of the bigger soccer players stripped and dove in to try and save him. However, despite their attempts, they tired before they encountered the body and returned to shore in tears.  I have often looked at the sea and admired the beauty, but that day the sea lost its innocence. Just a few days later, I was on a yacht being tossed around by the stormy sea.  It was exhilarating despite my throwing up, getting completely soaked, and thinking about the lost boy.

The sea provided another adventure when an American dentist doing charity work in town for a week invited me to accompany he and his wife on a fishing trip.  The waves were coming up over the port's 20 foot walls but we set out in the 6 m wooden boat with a detachable 8 horsepower motor, assured by the fisherman that is was completely safe.  Once away from the sudden breakers of the port the sea calmed and after a 45 minute ride down the Fogo coast we cast anchor and put a few lines tied around old oil cans in the water.  We caught a grouper or two and some goat fish.  However, the highlight was catching a baby great white shark and watching the dentist smack it over the head with a broom stick.  It took a few whacks but it eventually entered the boat and then made its way to the fisherman's dinner table.  I am not sure that international law permits killing great white sharks so do not spread this one around to much.  They did try to get it off the line but as experienced as they are, they too did not want to put their hands too close to the three foot shark's mouth.

More recently I have spent a few days doing odd tasks.  I spent an entire morning husking corn and talking to a family on the outskirts of the large town Assomada in the middle of Santiago.  I also spent an entire night making bread in a wood oven in Tarrafal.  I still do not think I have recovered completely from the latter.  I am amazed at the mother of that family who helps make the bread almost all night and then makes cookies all day.  The husband wanted me to give her my clothes to wash while he was at his day job with the telephone company but I did not want to give her anything else to do.  Both of them together sleep about 8 hours on any given day except Saturday to Sunday when they do not make bread.

I have less than a week to go here and am anxious to move on.  I have had a few problems with South African arrangements but I have come to expect that.

Té mas logu,
Ryan Giles

So I was doing some calculations . . .
12 April 2005

There have been quite a few coincidences on my trip so far. For example I arrived in Nazare in Portugal on the festival day of the Mary apparition that Vasco da Gama prayed to without planning on doing so. Today is a coincidence of a different type. According to my little computer's date calculator, I am 9000 days old today. Yippee for me. You may say that is all well and good but where is the coincidence, eh? It just so happens that today also marks my 900th full day out of the United States based on passport stamps. Erie, no? That means that as of today I have spent at least 10% of my life away from my birth country for those who did not do the mental calculation in your heads. Now if that is not just a weird coincidence, 9000 days of life, 900 days of "life", I do not know what is.

Well, though the above is reason enough to send an email, I also had some fun experiences in South Africa that I should tell. First, I was not mugged in Johannesburg on my 24 hour visit even though I had to go downtown to pay for my train ticket. I hope that three more trips into and out of Jo'burg will prove as fortunate. 27 hours on a train took me to Cape Town. When I arrived, the sun was shinning and the "tablecloth" hid Table Mountain's summit. The next day, as I explored the city and arranged for car rental, there was not a cloud in the sky. The clouds were thick and threatening as I began my Cape-tacular Adventure. So I got to see Cape Town in all its different phases all in three days.

Giles' email proudly presents

The Cape-tacular Adventure

One man
One car
One dent
Three Capes

The rental company was late dropping off the car so my Cape-tacular Adventure began punctually on African time. For those of you who know me well, know I hate to drive. Even deciding to rent the car was a big ordeal as my normal anxiety combined with having to drive on the left side of the road and in my "shot-gun" seat did not help anything. I started off slow on the nearly deserted Sunday morning roads and though strange, I got through it okay. It did take three tries to get the turn-off onto signal hill for an amazing view of the city.

From the city, I drove down the Atlantic coast suburbs past blue seas rough with the wind and brewing storms crashing onto smoothed granite boulders and white sand beaches alternately. Driving on scenic drives for someone who likes to look out the window but not drive can be dangerous but obviously I survived. I got down to Cape Point and joined many tourists on the climb to the lighthouse. I drove to the Cape of Good Hope a short distance away and saw my first wild baboon strolling along the road in the wind. That makes two capes in about an hour. After seeing some ostriches on the coast near the Cape of Good Hope I spent some time looking at the monuments built to commemorate the Dias and Gama voyages.

To get to the third Cape I drove up through the False Bay suburbs stopping only to see the Penguins nesting at Boulders near Simon's Town. Then I drove along the scenic beach road which is only scenic on the bay side as one of the many Townships is not scenic on the shore side. Then I went over the mountains to the Overberg and nearly one hundred kilometers of larger than rolling hills of recently plowed earth destined for wheat fields. The clouds that had been low covering the mountain tops and creating wonderful atmosphere at the Cape of Good Hope aka the Cape of Storms began to poor rain. The drive began to remind me of Tropical Storm Charlie that my parents and I drove through on my way to O-week at Rice. Large drops of rain smashing onto the car and gust of winds made steering interesting. Luckily again the streets were nearly deserted. However, driving on the left side of the road through unfamiliar scenery with no one else on the road reminded me of playing Need For Speed on Venkat's X-box. However, this time, bouncing off the walls, launching off hilltops, and using the parking break to spin out were not options as I had to remind myself there was no reset button.

By the time the hills gave way to the Agulhas Plain, I had driven out of the storm and now I was in a race to get to Cape Agulhas before the sun gave out. The tourist office had told me that it would take two hours but with the rain and cautious driving I was pushing four hours. I got to the Cape Agulhas, Africa's Southern most point, in time. The storm deterred most sane people from venturing out so I was all alone facing where Africa ends and the Atlantic geographically meets the Indian. The sea foam green waves (no really they were) crashed into the rocky shore reaching heights of 8 to 10 feet. I stood there watching the powerful display until the rain caught up to me.

I took a different way home to try and avoid the mountain passes and the lighting and nastiness that I imagined were happening up there. However, this meant for scenic roads twisting and curving along the cliff faces of the bay. More Need for Speed thoughts were interrupted when coming around a blind hairpin turn (at a safe speed) I ran over recently fallen branch (the cause of the small dent on the right front wheel well). The lightning lit up the night sky on the horizon creating a gorgeous silhouette of Table Mountain and Lion's Head. I made it back to the B&B fifteen minutes before 9:00 pm the deadline I had told everyone to send out the search parties if I did not make it back.

I am sure most people would have preferred to do the trip without the rain but to me it was great because it represents the monster Adamastor the Luis Camoes created as Da Gama's enemy in the national epic of Portugal. This former titan banished to the end of the earth caused the storms that wrecked the ships that passed as vengeance for Da Gama's audacity to disturb his realm. I saw the Cape of Storms at its most powerful. I am now in Mossel Bay and while talking to a woman on board a Portuguese built replica of Bartholomeu Dias' ship I learned about the true force of the storm. The storm continued yesterday with the same force and the towns that I drove through Sunday have been cut off due to destroyed roads. So I close with the coincidence that I got to see the storm just before it became impossible. If I had waited a day I would have not been able to get to Cape Agulhas and renting a car would have been in vain.

So tomorrow I push the 10% limit.


Chicken Buses around Mozambique
5 May 2005

I have spent more time on buses of various sizes and comfort since I left Cape Town then I can even imagine. I have travelled from sunrise to sunset seeing most of the near coastal country that Vasco da Gama discovered. Which I think is fine because the sea swallows all remains while the legacies of the voyage are only visible in the people and civilizations on land. I have seen very little of the actual shore line but what I have seen has been varied and beautiful. The shrub covered coast near Cape Town, the rolling wheat fields of the Overburg, the barren hills of the Homelands, the striking mountains of the Drakensburg, the dry savanna leading to Maputo, the lush coastal forests of coconut palms of Gaza, the twisted masses of baobab trees in Inhambane's interior, the subtropical forests of Gorongosa National Park, the flat coastal plain approaching Quelimane, and the granite inselberg outcroppings all the way to Nampula have all passed by my bus window.

Here in Mozambique I think you can see and meet almost the entire country without leaving the bus seat. Fresh tangerines, oranges, coconuts, bananas, pumpkins, manioc, potatoes, and pineapples are some of the produce brought right to the bus window as soon as it slows down from the not-so-break-neck speed of 60 km per hour that it usually travels due to poor road conditions. Other window purchases can be bread, sandwiches, sodas, wood carvings, reed mats, capulanas (wrap skirts), chickens (wings still flapping and the roasted variety), crabs, dried fish, batteries, sunglasses, condoms, honey, vegetable oil, cookies, and the list goes on and on. I have only bought tangerines this way however the locals buy bulk of everything to resale in the cities and reduce their travel costs. By the time we reach the final destination, if there were to be an accident, my remains would be found buried under a very large and tasty fruit salad. (knock on wood)

My mode of transport has gotten progress has gotten progressively worse. The South African buses played decent movies and I usually had a whole seat to myself. The bus from Maputo to Inhambane sat 5 people across but had air conditioning. To Beira the radio worked and I at least had a seat the entire trip (including the 4 hour sleeping break starting at midnight). To Quelimane the bus was a 25 seater with little padding no radio and an obnoxious beeping noise when it went over 60 km an hour. The chickens being stored under my seat also made an annoying noise when I stepped on them or we hit a big pot hole. On the same bus I crossed the Zambezi river.  We had to get out of the bus and load ourselves onto a ferry behind a truck full of cows. The ferry was built of pontoons tied together and not far out into the river water surged up between the cracks and soaked my feet. So in the end it was a wet foot chicken squawking bus ride.

I am finally on Vasco da Gama´s discovered country. I left the "river of good signs" this morning where he first found spices and silks that had come from India so he knew he was on the right track. I have been eating curry and seeing Hindu temples since Cape Town but the farther up I come the less European it becomes and the greater the mixture of African, Arab, and Indian cultures is. With the change in cultures there is an accompanying change in food for which I am most glad. After nine months of having fired potatoes accompany almost every meal Portuguese style, the curries and spices of Indian and African cuisine are very appetizing.

I am still not to my final destination in Mozambique and I have been here for over two weeks. Admittedly I stayed a little longer in Maputo to go to a craft fair and in Inhambane chasing after records of the statue to Vasco da Gama that was erected in 1951 and then torn down in 1974 during the transitional government. The statue now sits behind the provincial courthouse under a mango tree and someone has used a black marker to color in its stone beard and moustache. I convinced the museum curator to let me scan some pictures of where it stood from a scrapbook haphazardly on display. I felt productive so the delay was worth it. It would have been better if the weather had allowed me to enjoy the nearby gorgeous beaches in my downtime but I will live.  But because I am still traveling north I am looking into flights back to Maputo so as to avoid the week long bus trip back.

Even on the days where I take a break like today, my sleep schedule has been completely interrupted. I could not sleep past 5:30 yesterday and was sound asleep by 8:00 in the evening. Today I had to be at the bus park by 4:00 to fight for a seat on the best bus so far but the worst road to date. It was mostly a dirt road with large erosion channels running every which way through it. Tomorrow again begins with a 4:00 bus ride to Mozambique Island where I plan on spending at least a week-more if I decide against heading further north to Ibo Island. We´ll see how I feel in a few days.

Happy Mothers Day and Graduation to those whom it applies.

Um Abraço,

Final thoughts on Mozambique
25 May 2005

All good things must come to an end.

I leave Mozambique tomorrow morning to head back to South Africa for a mini-safari and then my flight to Dubai early next week.  As I sit here with my last 700000 meticais to spend I can ponder my time here and craft another long email update.  My Internet time is the same as always but has virtually increased considerably since I do not even want to look at a sports page while the Astros are making a run at being the worst team in baseball.

So I still have two months and five days of travelling before I arrive at the Chicago airport to start the next adventure in life - grad school - but today is my last day in the Lusophone world.  Goa and Macao are former Portuguese colonies but English will be a more useful language in them both.  Hopefully I will lose my German accent by the time I arrive home after spending time in India.  I think it is funny that speaking Portuguese makes me speak English with supposedly a distinct German accent.  When I got back to Houston after being in Brazil people mentioned it and I have been told twice by other English speakers on this trip the same thing.  Most recently while on Mozambique island.

Mozambique island was sort of an anti-climax.  The image of what I had built up in my mind was nothing like the reality that I found.  The whole island is designated a UNESCO world heritage site and a few years ago received a much needed face lift to principal buildings and the creation of a tourist information center.  Now, the tourist information center and the rest is once again in shambles.  The red paint that in recent pictures was crisp and clear is now faded, cracked, chipped, and running down the stone work.  I did finally get the museum guard to open up the office and found a decent place to stay but the helpful youthful workers have long left the island. Instead, a series of uneducated teenage boys roam the island looking for tourists to guide around/prey on.  They are not as pesky as the olive pit throwing ones of Morocco but they are getting close.  While I waited for the tourist office to open, they all tried to out do each other with their knowledge of the island and Vasco da Gama - whose statue we were sitting under.  However, they began to drift away and become less bold when I knew the history better than they did and posed questions about the island that they could not answer.  I gave the most persistent one two tangerines mostly because he made me laugh when he offered to get me a prostitute for the week.  Perhaps I should not have encouraged such behavior with fruit.  However, he also told me only the second legend that I have found about Vasco da Gama so we can say that the tangerines were for letting me record his story. Unfortunately he had to look up how to spell his name for me on his identity card and even then had difficulty writing it.  I wish I could have given him a future instead of tangerines.  His friends ironically spend most daylight low tide hours sifting through the sand looking for beads from the trade goods the Portuguese brought with them over the last 500 years.  What their ancestors once exchanged for obscene amounts of gold and ivory are now being sold back to the Portuguese descendants (and other Europeans) at much less spectacular sums.

The best part of my stay on Mozambique island was when I was invited by the local volleyball team - sponsored by the MuCHIV (mulheres contra HIV - women against HIV) an organization with the FRELIMO (the ruling party) - to watch and then officiate a game in a neighboring village.  It is interesting to see what skills we learned in school come in the most handy.  I have not had to integrate or solve a system of differential equations, but offering advice on concrete water content and officiating volleyball have come in handy.  Being an impartial foreigner and using correct hand signals kept the situation under control.  The Island women won easily and quickly so they played 5 sets even though they won the first three, the final score was 4-1 giving the home team some consolation.  So since we had come all the way, the men of the two villages decided to face off and emotions started to get very high.  I had to use the whistle and pauses to keep things at a reasonable level.  The island won the first set and the continent won the second.  As daylight began to fade, the third and final set was 11-11 before the continent finally pulled out the victory to the jubilation of the crowd.  It was an interesting experience that would have been better if I had not thrown up before we left and been sick most of the day. After my week in Mozambique Island, and lingering intestinal problems. I headed up to Pemba by way of  a mini-van, a flat bed truck, and a semi truck.  The semi truck broke down and I spent a few hours in Chiure before it was jerry-rigged and we made it to Pemba at night without the use of headlights.  As I look back on my trip despite some unsafe behaviors I have come through alright.  I stayed in Pemba long enough to go to the doctor (a pleasant Spaniard who did not like to answer my questions).  I spent a whopping $0.22 on 32 pills to treat my case of girardia and a precautionary de-worming.  It had been a few years since I had been de-wormed so I went along with it.  In the Mozambican currency it cost 5000.  The money here is technically divided into cents but each cent would be worth less than the coin or scrap of paper it was written on.  The Portuguese term  conto -meaning 1000 currency units - is the basic unit here.  Both the Portuguese and the Capeverdeans use the term they have different dollar values( $70 in Portugal, $15 in Cape Verde, and $0.05 here in Mozambique).  The Portuguese still refer to 1000 escudos which is worth 50 euros confusing matters for everyone but them.  Still, I have somewhat enjoyed taking out 3 million at the ATM but wishing I could take out 6 million to reduce my ATM fees.

After a day of sculpture shopping and taking medication, I deemed myself fit to travel and headed up to Ibo Island.  The trip up was hellish crammed into the back of a flatbed with boxes of batteries, sacks of corn, and 35 other passengers over a potholed dirt road.  The improvements trying to channel water over the road where the worst part and caused the most bruising as my rear hit the wooden plank and my back smacked into the steel bar serving as my seat and backrest. However, the island was an electricity-less paradise where I spent time reading, writing, and watching the wading birds looking for dinner when the tides went out.  I was the only tourist on the island and had the hotel employees all to myself.  They put my napkin in my lap, changed my sheets after a mid-afternoon nap, and moved the dinner table to the patio so I could watch the sunset.  It was nice to be pampered at the same cost of staying in less hospitable places.  Since my own sleep patterns are in tune with the sun now I did not mind when the generator was turned off at lights out at 8:30.  I had nearly forgotten the bumpy road back but after a dhow ride on a stormy sea I got a good reminder.  Even though I flew back to Maputo as sick days and pampered days made the overland trip impossible, I still am sore and bruised in some places.

In all I have mixed feelings about Mozambique.  At times I have wanted to stay and explore more.  I do not feel I understand the people and culture as well as I do Portugal and Cape Verde - which are actually much smaller by area and population anyway.  Other times I have not wanted to wait to leave the frustrations and challenges behind. Regardless, it has been productive and insightful.  I am still excited about what is to come as I continue my progress around the world.


Terra Vista! India at last.
Saturday, 25 June 2005

So I left Mozambique with only my backpack, many memories, 5 pounds of tangerines, and 2 pounds of cashew nuts. I bought the produce with the last little bit of meticais I had left just before getting on the bus. The stewardess accused me of moving in on her side business selling tangerines and cashews to the passengers. I promised not to sell them and she showed me where to hide them during the customs check at the South African border. The tangerines went fast at the hostel but since most people could not figure out that if they took the remaining skins off the roasted cashews, the bitter taste would go away. Even monkeys can figure that one out but I have often wondered about most of the "backpackers" I have met along the way.

I spent my last four days in Africa on a safari to Kruger National Park. It started out ominously - the driver cum guide - a boisterous and jovial Namibian born Swedish-German - backed into the closing security gate and knocked it off its track. Before leaving Jo'burg, we picked up two other guys - an obnoxiously hormonal American from DC studying in Cape Town hoping that his American accent would be a hit with the South African women (it wasn't), and a recent divorcee from Lichtenstein hoping he would forget his sorrows by learning English in South Africa (he didn't). I sat shotgun and wondered what I had gotten into. After a Denny's style breakfast where the American turned out to be a vegetarian on principal but he continually asked the guide what every animal tasted like - be it Zebra, hippo, or baboon - claiming that if we killed one he'd eat it.

A few hours into the trip, we drove through Belfast, a two stop sign town, poking fun at its size and night life offerings. Little did we know that 5 km down the road our engine would explode in a wonderfully smoking boom. Lucky for cell phones, the guide called the company and asked for another vehicle. With nothing to do we tried to flag down a tow back to Belfast. We finally succeeded and found ourselves with time to kill in the exciting metropolis. With nowhere to go, nothing to do, and four hours to kill, we went to the town's only tavern, the Pig & Pickle, to see if anyone else started drinking at 10:30 in the morning. Since I do not drink, in addition to chatting with my group and the bar tender I watched ESPN highlights of rugby and cricket, ate cashews, and admired the old map of South Africa on the wall. My companions drank a pint or two and the American managed to offend the bar tender in under half an hour. This incident caused the guide designated my nationality as officially Canadian for the trip to save me any grief the American caused. It came in handy as the locals started to come in at noon to start the afternoon off with a stout one.

The car troubles meant the scenic route would be skipped on the way to the park and my travel plans and those of the American meant it would have to be skipped on the way back as well. So all in all, not the best start to the safari. We spent the next two days driving around Kruger National Park hoping to see some wildlife. On the first, apart from a few impala, a kudu or two, and some gnus drinking at a water hole, we had little success until late afternoon. To save the day, we found a herd of elephants that were in the open and closed to the road. After a few minutes one of the juvenile bulls still in the herd had made his way to within 5 meters of my open window - a few photos later we were off to give the multitude of cars an equal view. The night drive provided a glimpse of bush babies and rabbits and a very faint lion's roar emanating from 7 kilometers away.

The second day started with a glimpse of a rhino and it young as they caught our sent and ran off. But seemingly endless driving resulted in more impala, zebras, and giraffes. The guide remarked that this was the worst trip for animal spotting that he had been on in the last six years. Despite our efforts and driving, only a lone bull elephant scratching himself on a tree proved exciting. We had seen no buffalo, lions, or leopards and only a glimpse of rhinos leaving much to be seen of the "Big 5." The third and final day in the park started out no better than the first two and I had resigned myself to the fact that I had played the wildlife viewing bingo and lost. Then, on the road leading towards our campsite and the exit, a road we had used more often than any other, we saw about 5 lionesses and their cubs. We watched the lionesses relaxing in the shade and the cubs playing with each other and trying to climb the trees from 5-10 meters away. When traffic got too bad and the lions started to move away, so did we. I felt better about the trip. 500 meters later we saw a herd of bull buffalo coming out of the bush into a meadow and moving straight towards us. We watched for a few minutes before driving the remaining two kilometers to the exit. Kruger waited until the last possible moment to unveil its residents but in the end I ended up only a leopard short of the "Big 5 Bingo."

Dubai was interesting. I had originally planned on seeing Venkat (my roommate for 2 years at Rice) and his family who live there. However, Venkat stayed in the US for the summer and changing my flight around would have been both expensive and a hassle. Having never met or talked with them except for a few brief times on the telephone when Venkat was not home, I was reluctant to just show up at their door. After a day in the city I decided to at least stop in and say hello. They invited me in and insisted that I stay and we traded embarrassing stories about Venkat for the next two days. I knew Venkat had changed his birthday (April 1 from May 5) but I had not know he had also changed his name. His parents did not realize just how famous he was for keeping chocolate in his desk drawer and we all laughed together. The whole family was a wonderful host and though I still feel like I just kind of barged in, I thank them for taking me in. Dubai itself was interesting to me because of how it has chosen to deal with its urban development and its unspoken competition to build the most distinctive sky scrappers. I also impressed a belly dancer for the second time in my life with my outstanding hip control (or "wiggling" as some deem it) so overall it turned into a nice "vacation" before heading to India.

I spent a few days in Bombay before taking the train down to Goa and the capital of Panaji. I arrived before the monsoons really started. It would rain in the early morning and then be very humid and hot the rest of the day. It would have been uncomfortable to travel around Goa but doable had my giardiasis not relapsed. This time the doctor spoke English but as soon as I mentioned my treatment in Mozambique we did the whole consultation in Portuguese and he was much more amiable. The ability to speak Portuguese is like the magic key to a club of academic elite here in Panaji. Both the librarian and archivist became more helpful and less bothered when they discovered my lingual abilities. In the end, the archivist in the end was no real help, but I fared better than if I had only spoken English. That said, English has its own clubish elite and I can gauge how much I will pay in a restaurant by the conversations I hear as I walk in. If I understand it, I can afford it but I could get it for half the price elsewhere.

Now that I feel better and would like to travel around a little more, the monsoon has really begun. This is good in that I do not have to drink 4 litres of water a day and still worry about dehydration and the temperature has dropped to the point where I ask them to turn on my water heater in the mornings, but traveling is not desirable and the guest house owner refuses to rent me a scooter. My only excursion in the rain has been to Vasco da Gama to give the town a whirl and determine if there was anything of interest there - there wasn't.

The rain here has been constant and heavy the last few days. It reminds me of tropical storms and the like with its sights, sounds, and smells. However, I have finally caught up with da Gama and am in India about the same time he was so, like the storms at Cape Town I see things in a little different light. Nevertheless, I have come to think that if I could give the storm a name, like we do for tropical depressions, storms, and hurricanes, I might feel better about the whole thing. I guess I could just call it Monsoon 5 but that might get confused with the music group, includes the morning rainstorms before this week, and still does not have the same ring as my tropical depressions/storms/hurricanes Charley (, Frances (, or Claudette ( The worst of it should be over in the next few days and I will be able to roll down my pants and not have to wade through four to five inches on water in the streets to get anywhere. Of course, I have exposed myself to who knows what bacteria and worm infections by wading through the murky waters filling the streets and I may be sick again before the rain clears out. But as it is, I am fighting with the rats and cockroaches in the street for the not-so-wet ground during the day and waging chemical warfare with the mosquitoes at night.

On that pleasant note I say goodbye.


Note: Lisa (my sister) is keeping an archive of these e-mails if you missed one because I forgot you once or I did not meet you until later or I just get your e-mail again. Go to:

Thank You India
Saturday, 23 July 2005
The pounding, constant, flooding rain of Goa's monsoon comes in bursts. Three or four days of straight rain are followed by three or four days of rain in the morning and evenings only. Renting a scooter for a week put me out is both phases. Technically you do need a motorcycle license to rent a motor scooter in Goa despite what most "renters," tourists, and guidebooks say. The apprehension on my renter's face soon reflected my own as I tried to drive the thing for the first time. I almost gave up right then but the only alternative would have been a standard transmission car that I do not know how to drive. I stuck with the scooter and after a few hours driving on some of the quieter streets of Panaji I felt comfortable on it. Of course, in a city of more than on hundred thousand people, Panaji has no stop signs let alone lights/traffic signals/robots. Traffic just seems to flow and surprisingly no one dies. Defensive driving and respecting traffic laws, signs, lane division, and right of ways are all exchanged for large amounts of honking. The rules of the road are 1) The bigger your vehicle the less you have to follow the written rules and the more right you have to the road 2) You are only responsible for what is in front of you, rear and side mirrors are therefore useless and not worth replacing when they are inevitably broken 3) Honk at anything that moves in front of you. That is it for the rules. I hate driving in "friendly" Texas so needless to say my knuckles were whiter on the handlebars than on any roller coaster I have ever been on.

So what were the final results? I used the scooter to get to some of the places that public buses can not reach either  conveniently or at all. The best drive took me to a thirteenth century temple in the middle of the foothills to the Western Ghats. The black stone building sat in a small clearing in the mist filled green jungle hills. Only my own footfalls interrupted the jungle's music as light rain danced off coconut fronds, the monsoon waters rumbled down the river bed, and the wind whisped the mists through the sky. A worshipper had come before me and left white flowers on the carved Nandi and lingam stones that had been hauled across the mountains 200 years before da Gama arrived. It was sublime. The drive itself was not. Though I saw monkeys and working elephants, most of the 60 km out and back were on the main road going east and west through Goa. That meant that I "shared" the road with huge trucks full of iron and manganese ore belching warm exhaust and spraying my face with a thick film of red mud. Toward the end the rain started to pick up a little but as evening approached I did not want to stop and try and drive at night so I pressed on with the drops stinging my skin. Another day, 10 km from Cabo da Rama and its fort, I tried to wait out some rain but after an hour I gave up and spent the next 3 hours driving to the fort and back to Panaji in the rain. Ironically the rain let up just as I arrived at the fort, started up when I was leaving, and then let up again after I had driven 50 of the 60 kms home.

After a week of scootering through the monsoon, besides getting a moldy passport and shoes that will perhaps never dry, I got to see the country side from a different perspective. I stopped and admired the rice paddies surrounded by coconut trees. I listened to the water buffalo wallowing in the paddies and laughed at the soccer goals sticking out of some of them. I guess you can't play soccer in the monsoon so you might as well grow some rice on the field. I actually think Disney should make a movie a la Mighty Ducks about Goan kids playing soccer in the rice paddies. True Goans and their descendants, not the post 1961immigrants, love soccer more than cricket. I still see stickers and banners for many Portuguese League teams and I have had more than one conversation about the past season with some of the old timers.

I also got pulled over by the police, pushed off the road, completely lost, and nearly hit many times. No more scooters for me. However, I do not think public transportation is much safer. I think most auto-rickshaw drivers have an adrenaline addiction and have more near misses than I can count. Buses, though larger, are not safer either since five men stopped my bus and then pulled the driver out and beat him. I stayed until the police came around and then he drove me and three others who stuck around (out of a bus crowded with over sixty) to our destination. The other day in Calicut another brawl erupted between two rival bus drivers and their collectors just out my window in the Calicut bus station. The police standing at the chai stall did nothing.

Although the food was different and much spicier than during the rest of my trip, the rest did not feel that different at all. The architecture was so similar that even the Hindu temples would not seem out of place in Portugal. The people have the same easygoing Portuguese relaxed attitude that I have encountered everywhere (though to a slightly lesser degree in the new Europeanized Portugal). I could even had still gone to Catholic mass in Portuguese if I had wanted. 450 years of colonialism is a long time.

The last week and a half I have been travelling a little in some of the rest of India. I made a three day excursion to Hampi, the ruins of a great inland empire contemporary to the Portuguese arrival. All hints of Portuguese influence had disappeared (as did the rains) when I stepped off the train. This was an India where sarees out numbered skirts (wait, there where no skirts) instead of being in equal numbers in Goa. I biked around the first day with some friends I had met in Goa and then randomly met again in Hampi. No blisters this time but I did get slapped by one monkey and another stuck its hand in my pocket looking for peanuts but leaving me feeling slightly violated.

Then I went to Cochin, where Vasco da Gama died in 1524 and lay buried for 14 years. The Portuguese ruled there for 163 years before the Dutch and British took stints at Colonial rule. Oddly enough, Cochin was not founded until 1341 and if you consider the current Indian republic as a different ruler than the original Rajahs, the Portuguese can claim the right of having ruled the city the longest (by 4 years). The mixture of the Dutch and British over the Portuguese base is interesting and my few days in the vicinities of Cape Town made for a good comparison. Even the "Anglo-Indian" families of the city all have Portuguese names like Cruz and Fernandes.

The other day I wandered up and down the beach where da Gama first landed near Calicut. There was no memorial, just fisherman going about the same business they have been for the last 500 years since the event.  The nets are nylon but the rest has not changed much. Women still dry clothes in the sea breeze, men still spend hours mending the nets, and thankfully the tides still flush away the excrement left on the beach twice a day. After Goa's "developed" beaches (the Algarve still ranks as the most over developed beaches I visited) to see this one still in its pristine state was refreshing.

From this afternoon's stay in Bombay I leave only this quote of mine that I uttered to a kid pointing to the hole in the plastic sack I was carrying. "A monkey bit my sack." The kid nodded with a look of understanding and sympathy.

After much rambling, I draw to the end. I left the US exactly a year ago today. I still have a week in Macao and Hong Kong before I head "home." The concept of "home" is strange right now. What constitutes a home:  family, friends, prolonged residence, sense of belonging, happiness, hats? I think it has to be hats. Speaking of hats, the Astros have turned the train completely around and are now doing very well giving Venkat no reason to jump ship to the Red Sox just because he will be going to MIT in the fall. Since my two soccer teams are currently both the European (Liverpool) and South American (Sao Paulo) club champions I must say  I can pick teams better than he can. Or maybe all this just means that home is where I can get ESPN, KNWS, and other sports channels.

Waiting for my flight to Hong Kong,

From Hong Kong to Illinois
2 September 2005

So where was I? That is now a two edged question. It could either literally mean where have I been over the last year or it could just mean where have I left off with recounting my adventures. Since the first involves 14 countries and 2 Special Administrative Regions and literally a hundreds of "cities" I will try and answer the second question.

My flight to HK was scheduled for 4:50 am July 24th.  Since you are supposed to be there from 2-3 hours yearly for international flights I decided not to pay the extra $20 for a hotel room and then extra for a night cab as well.  Instead, I showed up at the airport before midnight and decided to just wait it out.  Not soon after sitting down I noticed a kid with a Texas Society of Professional Engineers shirt sit down across from me.  He looked as bored as I was so i asked if he was from Texas.  He said yes and so I asked from which city.  He said El Paso so I asked which high school.  Now he looked at me funny but it turns out they live about a kilometer from where I used to live and their piano teacher lives on my street.  He and his sister caught me up on all of El Paso's west side gossip for the next few hours.  The world can be a very small place sometimes.

Macau (or Macao in English) fascinated me.  It seemed more Portuguese than Portugal at times but had much better Chinese food.  The familiar architectural styles from the last 400 years of Portuguese history all had an example among the many churches, convents, forts, and barracks. All the signs are in Cantonese and Portuguese but I could find no one to speak Portuguese with in the few days I was there.  I did find a USA v Italy and a Brazil v Belarus under-18 women's world volleyball championship game to watch.  The new multi-sport arena with sexy curved steel trusses faces the square dedicated to Vasco da Gama and the 104 year old statue in the middle of it.  The Portuguese food on offer in the restaurants was less than completely authentic but the Macanese dishes combining Portuguese imperial and Cantonese cuisines was interesting.

It was exciting to see Linda in Kong Kong.  Neither of us would have ever thought that we would be spending a few days together in Hong Kong a year ago but not everything can be planned so far in advance. She showed me around, ordered food for me, and listened to me rant and tell stories.  Basically I ate and shopped with a few tourist moments like going to the top of Victoria Peak at night to see the spectacular cityscape below.  I would say my personal highlight of Hong Kong was finding pants that fit and better yet on sale.  Usually in the US I have to settle for pants that are too big because no one carries 29 inch waists or smaller.  I guess I am more Chinese in build than Texan.  I should have bought more pants than the one pair but I was only looking for an outfit to wear home so I could discard the five shirts, five pairs of socks, three pairs of pants, and the single pair of shoes that I have been using for over a year.  The pants had worn thin in various places and I had darned all the tan socks in orange and green thread when my tan thread gave out but they were still "usable."  The shoes however, after seeing daily use including climbing a volcano, getting soaked by the Zambezi River, the Hampi river, and two oceans should have  been donated to scientific research. I eventually bought an entire outfit including spiffy new silver shoes.  A more detailed version can be found on Linda's blog at  go to the Aug 1 entry.

On July 31, 2005, after 373 days abroad, I boarded a plane to come back to the United States.  The flight took 14 hours and after a sunset and sunrise in the upper atmosphere I arrived in Chicago July 31, 2005 two hours after I left Hong Kong - such is the wonder that is the arbitrarily place International Dateline.  So with my new outfit and grimy green backpack I stepped onto US soil and went through immigration and customs, according to the date stamped on my passport, on July 29, 2005 - such is the wonder that is the Department of Homeland Security.  I feel safe, don't you?

My entire immediate family was there waiting for me.  After the hugs and an hour or two of happy chatter I succumbed to the exhaustion of one year abroad, the jet lag of a 14 hour flight, and the cold I brought back as a souvenir from Hong Kong.  Except for the odd hour or two of semi-alertness, I slept for the next week.  When I woke up a week later my sisters had gone, grad school at the University of Illinois loomed closer, and the IRS wanted more money.

Two weeks later, on Aug 21 (my 25th birthday) I moved to Champaign, Illinois to start school.  Ironically, I moved to Houston to start school on my birthday in 1998 and since things went well at Rice I think it is astrologically determined that things go well here at Illinois.  However, I have to get over the culture shock of being back in the United States and at a new university.  The first few times I drove, I had to remind my self to drive on the right.  Portion sizes, pants sizes, and price tag sizes are all taking a little getting used to.  I despise having sales tax added at the register and I almost lost it yesterday when I could not find anywhere that sales just a single bar of soap.  I ended up buying a 14 bar "economy pack" cursing under my breath that I would rather spend the extra 1 cent per bar and not have to store 12 bars in my small apartment.

I think all this is worse that I am "returning" to unfamiliar ground.  When I came back from Brazil, I had already spent a year at Rice and knew the ropes.  Yes the first organic chemistry test I took was a shock and I had to remind my self what the integral of sin(x) is but I knew where to go and what to do.  I might as well still be abroad since I have spent more time some isolated villages than I have in the state of Illinois and this is as much of a challenge as any of them were.  Classes here are bigger and the campus is more crowded but the traffic is less than Houston and the corn grows a short walk away.

I guess I will adjust as the adventure continues.