In Search of the End of the Sidewalk

In Search of the End of the Sidewalk

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(20)16 Going on (20)17

January 1, 2017

2016 is now officially in the books, which means it is time for a quick round up of the last 365 days. While not a perfect year (is such a thing possible?), this last rotation around the sun was an overall good one for this blogger and In Search of the End of the Sidewalk.  The blog had nearly 9000 views from over 4,000 unique visitors, a number that isn’t terrible, but that I’d love to increase in 2017, so be sure to share the address with your friends -especially the bookish/travel-y ones! (Click here to link to the Facebook page so you never miss a post!)

It has been a year of transition at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk as I’ve focused more time on book blogging with the new “Card Catalog Reviews” that come out on Mondays and Fridays and a bit less on the travel blogging, as being DC-based has cut down on the international travel in the last six months. (With a that said, 2017 is starting off right with a trip to Mexico in January, South Africa in February and then plans are in the works for more adventures mid-summer. Travel blogging is not dead, just not a weekly feature.) I’m hoping to pair with some libraries in the coming year to expand readership of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk and also, hopefully help local libraries encourage reading and book discussions. (I’ve already spoken with three libraries in Idaho –Marsing, Homedale and Caldwell – and hope to partner with even more in the near future!)

All of that is to say, 2016 was a great year in the blogosphere and I’m looking forward to more posts, more readers and more comments in the New Year! To kick things off right, here is a *very* brief recap of last year in both travel and reading. Click on each to link to the original post.

Travel highlights:

Ringing in Chinese New Year in Perth

3 weeks in Ho Chi Minh City (and here, and here, and here.)

Caving adventures in Miri  (and here)

Summertime in Idaho

Revisiting all Washington DC has to offer

Best Fiction:

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Best non-fiction

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard

 

Worst reads of the year:

The Ten Best Days of My Life by Adena Halpern

The Last Girl by Joe Hart

The City at 3PM: Writing, Reading and Traveling by Peter Lasalle

Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South  by Beth Macy

Wild by Nature: One Woman, One Trek, One Thousand Nights by Sarah Marquis

Unfinished business from 2016 (AKA: To be read in early 2017!):

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

 

Wordless Wednesday: Idahome Holiday Village

December 14, 2016

From DC to NYC

November 5, 2016 2 Comments

It took me over three and a half decades to get there, so I guess the fact that it has taken more than three and a half weeks to get a blog entry written up isn’t too terrible of a timeline!  It creates a nice literary parallelism, right? To be fair, much of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk’s time has been dedicated to the new format and kicking off the Card Catalog Review piece for the blog, but the travel portion has not entirely faded silently into the sunset.

The Big Apple

The City that Never Sleeps

Gotham

New Amsterdam

The Center of the Universe

A rose by any other name…New York City may have a multitude of monikers, but regardless of what you call it, New York is a unique experience. (Unique New York. Three times fast. Try it.)

As a first-timer to the city, it was the foundation tourists stops that I wanted to hit. Friends who have lived there sent me itineraries of what to do and where to eat, but they seemed to be made for repeat offenders. I was in for the first time and on a very short sentence, so needed to dedicate my hours to the bedrocks of the city: Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, Wall Street, Rockefeller Plaza, and Central Park.

The Statue of Liberty was everything I imagined. With the sun shining down from a cloudless sky, the statue looked like something right out of my old history books. Since the trip to New York was very last minute (I think we realized we could swing the days off about a week before actually heading out), tickets to the crown and/or torch were not available, but strolling the grounds, getting an up close and personal 360-degree view of the iconic American landmark was not disappointing. (It took a lot of self-control to not buy myself a water bottle in the shape of the torch. In the past, I have been suckered into a giant space shuttle shaped cup purchase, but my newly minimal-living situation just doesn’t allow space for fun kitsch like that…but it was tempting! Instead, I just got vintage-looking postcards for the niblings and a SofL Christmas ornament for myself.)

A short ferry ride around the corner from Lady Liberty’s line of sight, I set foot on Ellis Island, a place where so many feet had tread before my own. The history there is palpable and the National Parks Service has done an amazing job of making it about individuals, pulling away from the masses and examining real people and their stories. Of course, the combination of Thad and a history museum means there is no skipping placards or displays, so much of the afternoon was spent wandering the various exhibits and rooms of the building. I think Thad was in history-nerd heaven, plus he got another stamp his National Parks passport booklet. That is always a bonus on any trip.  (Also, the structure itself is gorgeous. We sat for a bit and just watched the sunlight stream in from the windows on the upper floors, creating beautiful patters against the hardwood floors.)

Living in DC, I am no newbie to beautiful and poignant memorials, but even though I walk past such amazing places each day, I must say that the 9-11 one stands out as exceptional. The waterfalls themselves were stunning and I love the way they sit in the footprints of the World Trade Center buildings. For those of us who never made it to the city while they were standing, it is a great perspective on what existed in that spot before the attacks. The falling water deeply resonates with the images I have from that horrible day, and yet there is a soothing quality that comes from the fluid movement. As solemn as the memorial is though, I love that it is a living, breathing place, with kids and families walking through, lives going on, business and personal interactions striving forward. There is a sense of future in the plaza that I really appreciated.

With so much to see and do, the walking miles added up quickly. Battery Park to Wall Street to the 9-11 Memorial and back. I had some achin’ dogs by the end of that first day, but I’m glad we squeezed it all in.

Of course, no trip to New York is complete without a trip to Central Park, and what an enlightening trip it was for me! You see, my ideas of Central Park are almost entirely framed by what network TV has taught me, namely that Central Park is where you dump dead bodies. Before going and seeing the outstanding space that it is, I was pretty sure that all joggers in the park stumble across at least one corpse at some point in their circuits. (I mostly blame Law and Order for these assumptions, but other NY-based shows are just as guilty.) As it turns out, Central Park is a fantastic green space with trails, a lake, areas for kids to play, a million and one dogs (all of which I wanted to pet, but refrained myself) and runners of every size and shape. Who knew?! I feel like I could whittle away hours of my life on a bench there, just enjoying the view.

In the end, I was given one fantastically beautiful fall day, one slightly drizzly cooler day, and then a final miserably rainy day that made me want to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book, but instead my traveler’s guilt got to me and I (stupidly, as it turns out) tried to hit up the Museum of Natural History, along with every other rain-weary NYC-goer. When the line wraps all of the way around the building and rain is pouring onto the umbrellas of those dedicated enough to wait, I just can’t do it. Rather than wait hours to see the museum, plan B called for somewhere dry and some food. Being a Sunday, a pub with burgers, fries and some NFL fit the bill well.

From Washington DC to New York is just a four-hour bus ride. Why did we not make this trek the last time we were living here? I have no idea, but I do know that our October adventure will not be the last trip we make north. (If nothing else, we’ve got a friend’s wedding to attend next summer, which I am already planning to make an extended weekend to fit in a few of the things we missed the first time around. Broadway play? Yes! Empire State Building? Definitely! The Met? Only if I can wear a crazy ball gown!) New York City, you’ve not seen the last of us!

 

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Card Catalog Review: Girl in Pieces

November 4, 2016

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

girl-in-pieces-card Click here to purchase Girl in Pieces

Changes Coming to a Blog Near You

October 3, 2016 3 Comments

I’ve been hinting at some blog changes recently, and it is finally getting close to time to put them into place. With my move back Stateside for the next year or two (actual length of the DC stay should be determined by early November), the travel part of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk will be a bit quieter. There will still be occasional posts (hopefully one soon about my trip today to the new Smithsonian African-American History and Culture museum and definitely one next week about my first-ever trip to New York City), but it is hard to maintain a SE Asia travel itinerary out of Washington DC. (No Air Asia hub? How can I fly to Singapore for a $23?) So, while travel posts will still come as I am able to indulge, I don’t want this blog to wither away, meaning that much of its focus for the next bit is going to focus on my other love: books and literature. I already have regular book postings, and these will continue. I plan to see out my 2016 Book Challenge (although, I must admit it is getting more challenging as the calendar progresses) and will still repost my regular book review that I submit to The Caldwell Perspective once it is published by the paper each month.

Status quo then, you are thinking? So far, nothing here is new or exciting. (Well, other than then awesome new format!)

But wait!

You see, here is the brain-struggle I’ve been having lately. I read. A lot. And I would like to include more of those book on In Search of the End of the Sidewalk, but the reality is that when I read two to three books a week, I am just not going to write one to two page reviews detailing each one. Laziness? Maybe. But more than that, I am always too excited to get on to the next book in my queue!

Solution: Card Catalog Reviews!

This idea came about after hours of brainstorming and then a few short minutes of inspiration with a fellow blogger and friend. It has taken a bit of time to pull together, as I needed some new low-tech equipment to make it happen, but soon you’ll be privy to several new book reviews each week!

Short. Sweet. To the point.

A card catalog card gives me space for about 125 words. It will be a flash review of what I’m reading and whether I say “run to the library now!” or “eh, maybe wait for the next review.”

I’m excited to get these new reviews up and running on the blog. My adorable new-to-me typewriter is settled on the table and ready to roll, my pile of library-grade cards stacked in a neat pile next to it and now it is time to forge ahead with a new chapter at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk. Look for the first Card Catalog Review to hit the site in the next few days. (They will commence just as soon as I finish with the visual updates on the blog. No need for an introduction there, as if you are reading this, you’ve seen the huge change from a vertical feed to a horizontal one. I’m loving the new “bookshelf” look, but I know it will take us all a bit of time to get used to navigating the new format. Stick with me. I promise you will soon love it as much as I do!)

Until then, thanks for coming along for the ride, and hopefully you will find a great book to read, or maybe one to avoid, but always continue searching sidewalks.

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A Summer of Change

September 2, 2016 1 Comment

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Home leave is always an interesting time. Not to be scoffed at, it gives Foreign Service Officers who have been serving abroad twenty-five days of paid time off between tours, provided they spend the time in the United States.

Yes. Please. Thank you.

With that said, it is often referred to as “homeless leave” by those who have been in the service and experienced it a time or two (or seven or eight). Home leave is paid leave for the officer, but for a trailing spouse, it is just more time of unemployment and a month of a credit card on fire.  We are lucky enough to stay with family (displacing a poor seven-year-old into her brother’s room for a month, one that just happened to span the first week of school), but even with a roof over our heads, purchases like a rental car for the entire time, many, many meals out each week and of course just the lure of American stores makes the numbers on my billing statement raise at a rate that feels commiserate with the national debt. (Have you seen that digital board that constantly rolls through the numbers? That is my credit card right now!)

Nearly five weeks in Idaho, (which included a day trip for me to the Shoshone Ice Caves- a kitschy roadside tourist attraction straight out of 1950s, a shiny new motorcycle license for Thad and lots of time with friends and family for both of us) weren’t the end of our time living out of suitcases through. From the Gem State, we flew to Washington DC (yet again, not a great experience with United, but I’ve chronicled those pains many times on this blog and have given up on public griping) where we took up residence in a hotel.

Hotel living seems like a glamorous proposition: a front desk that greets you by name, maids to make your bed each day, room service any time of the day or night, and a paper delivered to your doorstep each morning. These are all great perks that we’ve gotten over the last few weeks, and yet not enticing enough to make me want to stay longer. Because, although we have access to all of the above, I’d rather have the front desk concierge for the rather expensive apartment I am leasing do the daily greeting, I’ll make my own bed if it means I have a washer and dryer to do laundry on a regular basis, the room service food is terrible and I’ve eaten way too many meals sourced from the nearby CVS and let’s be honest, everything in that early morning Washington Post newspaper I read online the night before.

I am ready to give up my not-so-glamorous hotel living to move into my apartment. It might be small. It might be one bedroom. But it is mine.

I’m ready now.

Today.

Heck, I was ready yesterday.

But, there will be no grand move or end to suitcase living until our shipments arrive. While we have a cute apartment down in Chinatown, it is unfurnished and as much as I’d like to move in today and settle in, we are without a bed, without kitchen supplies of any kind and missing most of the essentials of daily living. (Although, in a brilliant end-of-tour-my-mind-is-mush decision, we did include our TV and PS4 in the air shipment, so that is here and will be delivered Friday. I have nothing to sleep on or cook with, but I can run over some innocent bystanders in Grand Theft Auto, I can score a touchdown or two in Madden NFL, and I can boogie and bop the afternoon away with Just Dance. Decisions were made. I must stand by them.)

Back to that poor seven-year-old I displaced for five weeks: I am feeling her pain. While we were home, both she and her little brother went back to school (second grade and kindergarten, respectively.) The transition was not easy. The school day itself went fine, but once they got home, it was as if all their crazy energy they corralled during the school day was released, a bit Exorcist-style. At the time I was amused by it (mostly because I was not their mom or dad, trying to find a way to channel the changes into positivity), but now I feel a bit more empathy for the disruption they felt in their little minds.

Change is tough on the brain.

We’ve been in Washington DC, hotel-living, for going on three weeks now and in all that time I’ve yet to come up with a regular schedule/rhythm. I find myself watching hours of cable TV (something I’ve not had the luxury of doing in years, but also something that has made me love commercial-less Netflix with a newfound passion). In the last few weeks I’ve read a mere three books (less than half of what I normally do), but I have said yes to 492 dresses, I’ve learned that being naked in the jungle makes one afraid, and that it takes about $50,000 in renovations to flip a house. All quality pieces of information. I’ve been to the hotel gym zero times and this is my first blog update in well over a month. (The first one is laziness and a ridiculous notion that I will wait for “my” gym at the new apartment and the second I partially blame on the fact that our hotel internet only works in the entryway to the room, so all web-related tasks have to be done sitting on the floor in what amounts to a small cubby, laptop plugged in around the corner and pillow under the butt for a bit of cushion. (My once-broken tailbone is hollering at me right now, as a matter of fact.)

That air shipment that is scheduled to arrive on Friday marks the beginning of the end to our summer of suitcases. It isn’t enough to get us fully situated in the new place, but enough to hopefully get my mind wrapped around the next year of DC-living and start to settle my boggled brain into routines that will soon be comfortable norms. (And hopefully get this floundering blog back on track!)

 

 

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A Little Climbing and a Little Wet

July 7, 2016 2 Comments

Pencils skirts and heels: those are my comfort zones. Give me a light cardigan, a chunky necklace and some brightly painted nails and I am right at home. My toes can be smashed into heels for hours at a time; I’ll jingle around the office in a pile of bangles with a cute pen or two clipped to my lanyard and I am ready to go.

Sports bras and tennis shoes: not my comfort zone. As I’ve discussed many, many a-time on this blog, Sporty Spice I am not. Occasionally I try and at times I overestimate my abilities/desires, and usually I end up with a tinge of regret for my choices during the actual event, but also thrilled to have seen the top of that mountain, to have swum with tropical fishes (and poisonous sea snakes) or to have that tiny “M” marking my driver’s license as both automobile and motorcycle classed.

It was in just such a situation that I found myself last weekend.

To be fair, the overestimating was not totally my own fault. I lay a good deal of blame on the park literature that *way* understated the day’s activity levels.

But, to be fair to the awesome park, even if the literature had been honest, I probably would have gone anyway. Peer pressure. I wasn’t backing out when everyone else was signing up.

Signing up for what, you may ask? Just a trek to Eden and back.

Who could say no to that?

The tiniest of summaries accompanied beautiful photos at Mulu Park’s headquarters, mentioning that hikers might have to climb over a few rocks and might get wet, but would be rewarded with tea or coffee at the end of the day. Seems like a deal to me!

I should have taken those “mights” a bit more seriously.

Our hike to Eden was a full-day adventure; one we felt comfortable embarking on after the previous day’s four-hour trek into Morlock-land with just some snazzy yellow hardhats and blinking headlamps.

The first part of the day was simple enough- just a couple kilometer hike on maintained boardwalks to the main bat exodus viewing area. Everyone was upbeat and excited for the day’s adventure, getting to know each other and chatting, stopping to look at a snoozing pit viper and to admire a giant walking stick insect, who didn’t enjoy our company as much as we did his. (Our guide picked the walking stick up to give us a closer view since we all had a hard time spotting him through his awesome camouflage, but the little critter instantly went in self-defense mode, regurgitating some kind of viscous, yellow liquid all over the guide’s hand. I was impressed that his seemingly tiny body could hold so much fluid! Gross and fascinating, all at the same time.)

Once we got to Deer Cave, we followed the normal boardwalk pathway used by visitors on the “show cave” tours, but soon I literally found where the sidewalk ends! We scrambled over the railing and went off-road, for the rest of the day. Once we’d left the trail behind, the next few hours were spent bouldering, up and over and through, anyway one could find to get to the other side. I must admit, the whole thing was a lot of fun, until my arms started to run out of strength. (See the last blog post about how my army crawl became an unsightly barrel roll in the previous day’s cave.) At one point, I got myself into a rather sticky situation, not able to go up or down, perched on a log and needing to somehow heft myself another four feet up. After trying numerous options and finding none that didn’t feel like imminent death, the massive Dutch man behind me just said, “Want a boost?” in his lovely European accent, to which I nodded and before I knew what was happening, he basically pushed my rear up and over my head, rolling me onto the top of the boulder, a move I was grateful for, but that left me covered in bat guano from head to toe. (Interesting side note: bat guano is not as disgusting as one would think. It has a distinct and heavy odor, but not a gag inducing one. It is dry and grainy, like a black sand, only covered in cave cockroaches and other spindly-legged creatures. These guys are grosser than the poo. On a poop scale, I would say bat guano comes in as as some of the least rank crap around, and thank goodness, since I spent most of the day enjoying a free exfoliate from Mother Nature.)

Exhausted, but proud to have survived the bouldering, I was buoyed to see a beautiful river. I thought we must have arrived at Eden, where we could rest, have lunch and enjoy the sunshine far from humanity.

Boy, was I wrong.

We were only halfway there.

The river was a turning point, in that we went from the “might have to climb a few rocks” to the “might get wet” part. The river, mostly ankle deep, did drop off as it exited the cave, hitting me at the top of my chest and making the shorter folks in our group full-on swim. We followed the river upstream (followed= waded) for about another kilometer, before veering off into the rain forest, where our guide promptly announced “This is where the leeches start.” Hmmm…I definitely do not remember anything about leeches in the literature.

Leeches were the least of my concerns. This third leg of the trek was the toughest for me, basically an uphill climb through dense rain forest, where the temperature and humidity were at levels that an Idaho-girl should never experience. My body was raised on dry heat, the kind that a bit of sweat cools. It does not know what to do with instant flush and dripping pores. At one point, bringing up the end of our line of trekkers (7 of us in total), I realized I was stumble/walking across a ridge between two parts of the mountain, with verdant and foliage-hidden drops just a few feet on either side. That’ll help you regain your focus quickly!

Just when I thought I could go no farther, the beginnings of heat exhaustion starting to manifest, I heard the waterfall that indicated Eden was just over the next ridge. I may have almost died (okay, a bit of hyperbole, but let’s be honest, I was in the middle of nowhere with walking out the only way back and running on energy reserves; it didn’t feel like hyperbole at the time) but the view from Eden was spectacular.

Its name was not hyperbole.

The gorgeous waterfall, huge boulders to rest on and sun shining through the trees were only part of the draw. My favorite thing about this spot was its remoteness. Although I know they take small groups of hikers there a couple of times a week, this place felt like we were the first ones to ever see it. Nothing man-made, nothing electronic, nothing that didn’t come in with us and go back out with us.

Pristine. Untouched. Unspoiled.

Amazing.

Worth the effort.

At times, I questioned my choice to sign up for this trek, but in the end, I would do it all again. I’d roll through the bat guano, hoist myself up rock ledges, ford a river, hike/stumble through a forest filled with biting critters, all for a view that so few get to witness.  (Thad paid for the view with a more personal form of currency- his blood. He picked up not one, but two leeches along the way. One he was able to pull off before it got a good latch, but the second make a full meal out of his upper thigh. For the record, leech bites leave huge, target-shaped wounds, with an open sore in the middle, ringed by concentric layers of bruising. Not a pretty sight and probably not so fun to sit on! Also, itchy. Very itchy.)

As promised, our day ended with a mug of hot tea as we curled our filthy bodies onto benches to watch the bat exodus right before sunset. I can’t think of a better ending to a day where Mother Nature tested my mettle than with her gift of wonder, as three million bats went hunting, as if on cue.

 

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Caving in the Wilds of Borneo

July 3, 2016 1 Comment

As a child, Borneo held a place in my mind right alongside the mystical lands of fairy tales and mythology. It seemed just as likely that I would encounter the last unicorn or lose a glass slipper as I was to wander the lands of sultans and pit vipers.

And yet…

You just never know where life is going to take you. I’ve yet to save a race of mythological creature or fit my foot comfortably into any shoe in Asia, but after last weekend’s adventures in Sarawak, I do feel like I have partially conquered Borneo.

Mulu Caves, located in basically the middle of nowhere Borneo, came highly recommended as a long weekend getaway. Famous (relatively, as many of my local colleagues were either unware of its existence or utterly uninterested) for the nightly bat exodus from Deer Cave, Mulu also has a variety of hikes and caves to be explored and not wanting to let our last month in Malaysia slip away without another weekend-quest, I bought plane tickets, reserved hotel rooms, packed clothes that I didn’t mind destroying and headed out to see what the magical land of Borneo had to offer this time around

Getting to Mulu is no easy task, in and of itself. When I say it is in the middle of nowhere, that is in no way an understatement. The fastest way is to fly, which means landing in Miri and then taking a thirty-minute flight on a prop plane over the mountains to the one-desk airport that is the transportation hub of Mulu. I’ve flown on countless flights over the years, some a bit bumpier than others, but rarely have I been on one that made my nerves wiggle like this one did. My only mental saving grace was the fact that the one flight attendant was strapped into his jump seat, looking bored, like a kid who has ridden the same roller coaster too many times. Unless I spotted a tinge of panic in his eyes, I figured I had nothing to worry about. And there was no tinge. Just boredom by an amazing view that had become commonplace for him. (And possibly the thought that the rest of his day included handing out boxed Milo to disembarking passengers and then the daily return flight back over those mountains to Miri.) If the flight, short as it is, doesn’t appeal, travelers can always opt for the river-route, but that is a painful seven hours, that while I am sure is stunningly beautiful, is not meant for foreigners, but rather a way of life for those transporting goods up and down the river. There are no roads, a fact that becomes quite obvious flying over the rainforest that is just a carpet of green broken only by the brown serpentine river making its lazy way through a land from another era.

Arriving in Mulu is another piece of the adventure pie, as the airport really does have a single desk. The one runway is just long enough for a small plane to touchdown and get the brakes on, make a U-turn and pull up in front of an open-air building. (On our way out of the area a few days later, a Hungarian guy we were sitting with decided to go ask when the flight would depart, as we were told it would be at least a half an hour late; it had not yet left Miri. He came back to our table with a smile, saying the desk attendant told him that when he heard the plane, it was here. That really was the way the airport worked. When you’ve only got two flights a day, it isn’t hard to keep track of them. They arrive when they do. Or, they don’t arrive at all and you go back to your hotel for another night. Nothing to get worked up about.)

Once we checked into our hotel (a very nice Marriott that is about as malapropos as possible in the rustic setting), we embarked on what would be a weekend of adventure.

A weekend of more adventure than I bargained for.

With midday upon us, we decided upon a four-hour afternoon “adventure caving” trek that would put us back at the main park in time to witness the famous bat exodus. (Who can pass up the chance to see three million bats leave a cave at the same time? Not I!) The write-up on our little outing said that we might get a bit dirty and since we would be off the trail in the cave, might have to crawl through a few tight spots. Getting a bit dirty sounded like a fun way to spend the afternoon, as an embassy job rarely offers the opportunity for more than a minor papercut and claustrophobia has never been an issue, so I readily agreed to whatever was in store.

In pouring rain, we set off on our cave expedition. It’s Malaysia; you can’t let a spot of rain stop you.  The first leg was in a longboat, headed up river to where a path leads into the jungle and to the entrance to the cave. Soaking wet before we even reached the rainforest, but yellow hardhat adorned with a headlamp perched on my noggin, I was ready for the afternoon. For the first half an hour or so in the cave, I was skeptical about the hardhat that really just made us all look like giant minions. Yes, we were deep underground and there was rock everywhere, but anything that came crashing down was going to be instantly lethal. The hardhat seemed to be mere decoration. (There were no US-style waivers of rights and responsibilities signed. This was definitely an “each for herself” type operation.) Not long after my musings on death-by-boulder though, those hats started to earn their keep. We quickly left the main path and headed into utter darkness, the ceiling lowering with each step we took. At first, it was merely a matter of crouching below a stalactite or two (thank you Mrs. Ketterling for the awesome 8th grade earth science lessons that taught me the difference between stalactites and stalagmites -no need to fact check that one!), but the crouching soon became huddling, which became crawling and then before I knew it, the “might have to crawl a bit” disclaimer on the adventure outing information went out the window and I was doing an army crawl, shoving my trusty Jansport backpack in front of me, foot by foot. At one point, pretty exhausted (my upper body strength leaves much to be desired and I may be contemplating a 2017 New Year’s resolution to successfully complete a single pullup), I called out to Thad who was maybe ten meters behind me, saying that I was leaving the backpack. He could pick it up as he came by or it would be forever lost to the gods of Borneo, but it wasn’t going with me for another foot. (This was about the same time that I began to think the army crawling was never going to end and with quivering arms, gave up all attempts at grace and just went with a barrel roll for several rotations. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job!)

Eventually we reached a cavern that opened up to normal human height again (some of the shorter folks in our grouped skittered through Hobbit holes that left the taller of us questioning the height advantages we garnered throughout our lives.) The cave floor was made of solid rock covered in a light layer of dusty clay, which when mixed with our rain and sweat drenched bodies, became a lovely paste, head to toe. Never was I so grateful for my cheap shopping habits that had me outfitted in $15 Target yoga pants rather than their $40 (but beautiful!) Lululemon counterparts.

While we were inside the cave, the rain had let up and the sun came out, making our reemergence from Morlock-land quite spectacular. The hike back to the river was an easy one, with no crouching, crawling or rolling required, just a couple of kilometers of verdant green vegetation, a stop to look at a pit viper and a huge walking stick insect and a comfort from the rhythmic banging of my hardhat against my thigh. (Needless to say, that goofy yellow hardhat saved me several stalactite-induced concussions after all.)

Covered in sweat and dirt, I felt pretty proud of my adventure caving prowess as I headed back to the hotel that evening looking forward to a hot shower and a hearty meal. If only, if only, I knew what was headed my way day two of Mulu adventuring, when we signed up for the eight-hour trek to Eden and back. (After the “a bit muddy and a bit of crawling” disclaimer, I should have known that “a bit of bouldering and a bit wet” meant more than it said. But, that is an adventure for another blog. Stay tuned…)

 

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Rolling Stones Searching for Sidewalks

June 19, 2016

Foreign Service moves are a way of life and there are certain aspects that go get easier each time. Our very first pack out, the one that took us from Idaho to Washington DC was basically a blind-leading-the-blind situation. We had no idea what we were doing and the acronyms were coming fast and furious. (Much like the movie franchise, they seem endless.) UAB? HHE? PCS? I had no idea what any of it meant, but luckily I had a handy-dandy million and a half page “help manual” sent by State to read through time and time again. By the time the movers came (who also knew nothing about State Department regulations when it comes to moving, as Idaho has a very small representation in the Foreign Service) I had highlighted and dog-eared so many sections of that tome that I felt like I was back to square one. (Somehow we ended up with most of the things we wanted in Chengdu and Kuala Lumpur, but I must admit to some low-level terror coursing through my veins and I contemplate what exactly I put in those boxes that went to permanent storage. Did I really keep my lawn rakes and shovels? What exactly will I do with those in downtown Washington DC? How many sweaters/shoes/shorts did I put into storage that I am 100% sure I have no intention of ever wearing again? Why didn’t I just send them directly to the DI from our place in Nampa? Do I have seventy mugs in storage? Fifty dishtowels? And let’s not even contemplate the number of boxes of books that will be headed my way soon…)

With a few moves under our belt, I’ve gotten pretty good at sorting both the acronyms and the UAB from the HHE. I know what is going to go in my 450 pounds of air shipment (more like 400 pounds of stuff and then 50 of crazy packing material!), leaving just a few larger items to go by ship. The physical packing up and moving part has become doable (although not totally stress-free), but the packing up of friendships and saying goodbye to a place is always a bit tougher.

Two years goes by in the blink of an eye. Maybe a really slow blink, like when you are sitting in your 8AM freshman year physical science 101 course, trying desperately to keep your eyes open while the professor lectures about Occam’s Razor, but a blink nonetheless. Over the last 100+ weeks, we’ve put a lot of miles on our baggage and added some pretty, shiny new stamps in our passports. We’ve been to New Zealand, Australia (twice), Thailand (too many to count…maybe five in the last two years??), Vietnam, Singapore (again, a ridiculous number), and all over both peninsular and island Malaysia. And yet, I still feel a bit of anxiety about where we haven’t been. Next weekend we’re heading to Mulu (Malaysia) to do some caving and hopefully see a spectacular bat exodus and then weekend following we are headed to Langkawi for one last resort-y type stay before heading back to the States for at least the next year.

It’s always amazing how when we touch down somewhere new, the calendar seems wide-open and sidewalks are endless, but soon that calendar is filled with dates and outings and sidewalks get shorter and shorter. We have zero full weekends left in Kuala Lumpur. With just three weeks left (we head to the airport three weeks from today), I am not entirely sure how we are going to fit in all of our goodbyes, but in the end, it always seems to work out fine.

Our last three weeks in Kuala Lumpur are going to fly by (the fact that two of them will be short work weeks will make that time go even faster- by my count, I have nine days left in the office) and then our five weeks in Idaho will push right into the middle of August when we both start new jobs in Washington DC. (Thad will be on the INR Watch and I will be working in FLO- both at Main State.) Apartment hunting will commence and before we know it, bidding season will be upon us (so much to think about- a new travel radius!) and then another move will pencil itself onto the calendar.

A rolling stone may gather no moss, but it does gather friends and experiences and memories that go with it wherever it heads. We’ve been lucky to have an abundance of all of these in Malaysia and while our stone is nowhere near coming to a halt, we’re thankful for our time here and are excited to see what lies ahead!

(Photo overload alert: the slideshow is 100+ photos of friends/adventures from the last two years.)

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