Tag Archives: travel
“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.
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!)
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.
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.