Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books You Recently Added To Your To-Be-Read List

While this blog is mostly a travel blog, it does have a second life as a book blog, although I must admit to having neglected that section in recent months. It is something I feel guilty about. (I do guilt pretty well.)

But, recently, the owner of the fabulous Erratic Project Junkie blog and friend from high school (also my amazing dentist) recommended that I participate in a book-driven top ten list run by The Broke and the Bookish. What a great idea! This will give me a focus for my book blogs that is more than just the reviews I was doing before and hopefully keep the literary part of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk from dying entirely. I can’t promise I will post a new top ten list every Tuesday, but at least this will resuscitate my floundering “Book Musings” tag.

This week’s theme is “Ten Books You Recently Added To Your To-Be-Read List” which is absolutely perfect as my new term at school starts a week from today and I spent this last weekend Skyping with my thesis adviser and creating a reading list for one of my courses. I placed a huge start-of-the-semester order with Amazon yesterday, so now I eagerly await the boxes to come rolling in through our embassy mail room. (It is times like this that two-week mail kills me!)

So, without further ado, here is my inaugural Top Ten Tuesday list.

(In no particular order, but can you sense a theme here?! I may or may not be working towards a thesis about travel literature, so these books are going to be my life for the next year or so.)

                    Ten Books You Recently Added To Your To-Be-Read List
1. Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel by Jeffrey Tayler

2. Methods for Teaching Travel Literature and Writing: Exploring the World and Self (Travel Writing

Across the Disciplines) by Eileen Groom

3. Forgiving the Boundaries: Home as Abroad in American Travel Writing by Terry Caesar

4. The Impossible Country: A Journey Through the Last Days of Yugoslavia by Brian Hall

5. The Long Hitch Home by Jamie Maslin

6. Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World’s Most Dangerous Country by Tim Butcher

7. The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

8. Tourists with Typewriters: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Travel Writing by Patrick Holland

9. Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey

10. Wide-Open World: How Volunteering Around the Globe Changed One Family’s Lives Forever by John Marshall

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Being SCUBA’s Weak Link

It’s official. I don’t belong in the “real world.” I should just ensconce myself in the world of academia for the rest of my life, make a fort of books and live there. That is my spot.

This was once again confirmed for me last weekend as I spent two full days in SCUBA class.

Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent in the classroom, watching videos, reviewing the books and taking the quizzes. This was my happy place. I will read and write and take tests all day long, happy with my indoor habitat.

Afternoons, that is where things got ugly. Each afternoon we had to kit up at the embassy pool for skills practice and assessment. Keep in mind, I am not a water person. I took years of swim lessons at the Caldwell City Pool (always the first session of the season/day, so it was freezing cold and miserable) and when that didn’t work, my parents enrolled me in private lessons with a teenager from church. Still, I can’t swim. I can float okay, but you’re not going to get anything more graceful than a dog-paddle out of me.

So of course, how does Saturday afternoon start? With a mandatory four lap (one lap being down and back!) swim. This was the first indication that I was going to be the weak link of the weekend. While everyone else did their quick four and rested, I slogged my way up and down the pool solo. The trials (I mean, skill tests) continued from there. After successfully getting on the kit, which I would estimate at about 683 pounds (remember, math, much like swimming was never a strong suit for me), we headed into the pool for all sorts of floating and bobbing and breathing exercises. While I was never the champion, I survived each one. Strangely, the worst part of that first day was not when we had our oxygen tanks shut off while sitting on the bottom of the pool, but rather when we had to de-mask and hang out, again on the bottom of the pool, for a full minute. Even with a respirator in, not being able to see clearly about did me in. (In other news, why was the embassy pool so murky?!)

SCUBA from 8AM-6PM made for a long, exhausting day, with the tiredness falling more on the side of being emotionally drained from spending the entire afternoon reminding myself not to panic than it did from the physical work of the lessons.

One day was not enough though.

Back to the embassy we went on Sunday for another day of keeping the terror at bay and trying to act like a normal SCUBA class member. The morning again was fine, with a few hours of videos and quizzes and then a sixty question final exam. Soon though, the clock struck 2PM and it was time to gather poolside once again.

On day two, my “big step” into the pool was much less spastic and I wasn’t always the last one to take that leap, so that was an improvement, but once again there was a series of skill that needed to be demonstrated before we could call it a day. Getting weight belts on and off under water was no problem and I was even able to drag a “non-responsive” swimmer (Thad!) to the other end of the pool, but swimming the length of the pool and back with no mask was less than pleasant. (I think this gets to the heart of my underwater issues. I don’t like not being able to see what is going to get me!)

Somehow, I passed each of my skills and ended the day with the thumbs-up to go on the sea dives in a few weeks. I’m not sure whether to be happy about that or not. It is one thing to be nine feet under the water in a pool and another to step off a boat into the great open sea. I’m hoping that the underwater world is as amazing as I’ve been promised, making these lessons worth all of the dread and anxiety. Right now, I’m leaning towards being a snorkeler for life, but maybe, if I spend some time where the “seaweed is always greener” and “all the fish is happy as off through the waves they roll,” where the clams all know how to jam and the slugs can each cut a rug, I’ll change my mind and dream of spending my days down under the sea.

(Sadly there are no photos of this crazy weekend adventure. I took my phone along, but my focus was on breathing regularly so that my lungs didn’t explode like crazy blown-up balloons and making sure my kit was fully assembled and attached at all the right points each time I had to take it off and on. So, no pictures, but believe me it happened. Hopefully there will be pictures from round two of SCUBA certification when we go to Tioman Island in a few weeks.)

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Wordless Wednesday: Taxi Rules

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The “Bear” Necessities

Everybody’s got their travel “thing.” Some people hop on planes in search of culinary delights (or disasters, whichever the case may be), while others want whatever death-defying experience there is to be had (skydiving and bungee jumping and ridiculously terrifying roller coasters come to mind). Some folks want to scale peaks or reach unknown depths of the ocean.

Me? It’s all about the critters! When I travel, my main goal is to hold/touch or at least visit the native fuzz balls.

I couldn’t spend four years in China and not touch a panda (click here for that story) or move to Malaysia and not go hang out with the elephants. Christmas in Thailand saw me snuggling with a monkey named Jackie (click here for that story) and I didn’t leave New Zealand without hunting out a kiwi named Kevin.

Of course, no trip to Australia would be complete without cuddling a koala. This was not as easy of a task as one might think! In many places Down Under, restrictions have been placed on koala-holding, meaning you can easily get your photo posed *next* to a koala, but it’s hands-off. But, there is no way I was finally going to make it to the land of shrimp on the barbie and not make physical contact with what must be the world’s cutest marsupial. A little research online lead me to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary outside of Brisbane, which meant our trip planning immediately took a turn to the north. No longer was Sydney going to be the home base of our southern hemisphere adventures, as there were koalas calling my name in Queensland.

Vacations may be for sleeping in and taking it easy, but when koala-holding day arrives, there is no need for an alarm. I was up with the first rays of the sun, dressed and ready to head out to the sanctuary before the crowds arrived. I wanted a non-molested marsupial!

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is on the edge of Brisbane, in what appears to be a residential neighborhood. (I would buy a house there in a heartbeat and then be the crazy lady who comes to the sanctuary several times a week, soon starting to pick up the crazy laugh of the kookaburras that live there!) We got there just after opening, traded in the tickets I had pre-purchased online (no waiting means getting to the koalas sooner!) and quickly scoured the map for the location of the koala cuddle station. Our beeline to the station meant bypassing the cobbled-together critter that is a platypus and the gum-tree dwelling kookaburra, as well as the giant field of free-roaming kangaroos and emus. While those were all on the must-see/do list for the day, they fell below the main attraction and life-long dream of holding a koala.

With just a few folks in line in front of us (how that is possible, I have no idea!), I purchased my picture packet, which was weirdly reminiscent of picking the photo packets for school pictures. Which combination do you want? How many wallets will you need to pass out to your friends? I definitely needed postcards to send home to family and friends and for just $2, a calendar for my desk at work was a yes as well. Simply put, I got all the things! If it was an option, I chose it.

Before long, it was time!

I quickly hopped into the picture area where I was promptly handed Minty, a dark gray koala bear with pink ears and a rubbery black nose. I was prepared for the adorable fuzziness and even the cuddliness, but I was not ready for the weight. Koalas are dense animals! You’d think that little guy would be mostly fur, but really their hair is quite short and the majority of their mass is body. Their heavy, eucalyptus-fed bodies.  My few minutes with Minty were up much sooner than I would have liked, but it was awesome to get the chance to hang out with him.

I may not be a sky or SCUBA diver (although the latter is set to change this weekend) and I don’t need to search out roller coasters or challenge my stomach with foods from afar, but if there is a furry animal to be held and I can get there by plane, train or automobile, it will happen.

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Wordless Wednesday: Working the MATTA Travel Fair with the President

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Chasing a Waterfall…or Two

Idaho is a pretty outdoorsy place. We’ve got skiing and white water rafting and kayaking and mountain biking and hiking and camping and…and…and. If you want to spend time under the great blue sky, Idaho is the place for you. Sadly, being born and raised in Idaho didn’t do a lot for my outdoor-aptitude.

I went skiing once. It was the 6th grade ski trip, sponsored by my middle school. I have no idea why I thought it would be a good idea to sign up: I hate the cold, I am not naturally athletic in any way and skiing wasn’t exactly on my radar. All I can figure is a friend wanted to go, so I wanted to go too. All I remember of that evening was that I wore jeans (terrible choice!) that got soaking wet when I rolled down the bunny hill and how miserable the long ride home from Bogus Basin to Caldwell in wet pants was.

I’ve been white water rafting and lake kayaking many times. Generally a non-swimmer (which will make next weekend’s SCUBA lessons an interesting experience), I braved each of these events with a tightly lashed life vest and long bouts of screaming.

I don’t hike and I am not really sure why one would chose to sleep on the ground, hobo-style, when there are perfectly good hotels with beds and bathrooms that don’t double as grasshopper breeding grounds.

All that to say, I somehow missed the genetic line where the outdoor skills were handed out.

But, when traveling, certain experiences present themselves and regardless of personal issues (fear of heights, being a non-swimmer, needing a hot shower, etc.) go out the window. Such was the case in New Zealand. As we wended our way from Auckland to Wellington before taking the ferry to the southern island, we decided to head to Waitomo to check out the much raved about glowworm caves. There were tours to walk through the caves or to take a small boat, but we both knew instantly that we needed to do the rafting tour. Wet suits? Inner tubes? Hard hats with lanterns? That sounds like an adventure I wouldn’t have anywhere else!

Excited about black water rafting (black water being cave rafting, in contrast to white water with rapids), I probably spent less time reading through the details of the excursion than I should have before signing away all liability on the dotted line. Needless to say, once I had squashed and squeezed myself into my wet suit (I don’t think there is any graceful or pretty way to get one of those on!), I was more than a bit horrified to hear the words “waterfall” and “jump” in the same sentence.

That’s right. As part of navigating the underground cave/river system, we had to jump off of not one, but TWO waterfalls.

Basically, to get from the top of the waterfall to the bottom meant backing up to the edge with your tube held tightly to your bum, counting to three and bailing off the edge. The guide, not trusting that any of us would jump out far enough, put a little extra heft behind each jump, pushing each person out and away from the wall. When my turn came to make the leap (second, because Thad was loving it and headed up first!) , he said “Ready?” to which I promptly replied “Nope.” I guess that doesn’t mean the same thing for the Kiwis as it does in the good o’ US of A, as he continued to count to three and over the edge I went.

Word of advice to newbies in the cliff jumping business: Close your mouth before you hit the water. As I smacked into the water, I inhaled a good portion of the freezing cold cave water- straight into my lungs. Needless to say, there was endless coughing and sputtering as I tried to refill them with oxygen, rather than the liquid they were currently harboring. After nearly drowning myself, I was ready to continue on the journey through the caves. (This breathing-in water incident would come back to haunt me two days later in the form of a lung infection, but that is a story for another day.)

Amazing!

With our headlamps off, the roof of the cave glowed like the night sky. It was spectacular. Constellations of glowworms wove together to make a glittering galaxy above us as we floating serenely along the quiet river. I have never seen anything like those caves and quickly forgot that my face and fingers were nearly numb with cold and that I had just bailed off two different waterfalls, backwards. None of that mattered as I marveled at how something as unappealing as a florescent maggot could create such a beautiful scene.

TLC may have warned us all off of chasing waterfalls, but I must say if I had stuck to the rivers and lakes that I was used to, I would have missed out on a spectacular adventure! I am gonna’ have it my way or nothing at all, which means taking the plunge into a pitch black cavern with just an old inner tube on my rear. How’s that for claiming the insane T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli?

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Wordless Wednesday: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s THAD!

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