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Hong Kong Notes


What’s Hong Kong like? I’m done travel blogging it, I think, but here are my notes:

13th: 6 lbs. of Velveeta and I go through 15 minutes of interrogation about its solidity, potential explosive qualities, and my travel history at JFK. We pass.

15th: Killer onion bhajjis. Suit measurement in TST, followed by Kowloon Park (wow, hornbills are weird), Hui Lau Shan (Mango with Mango and Mango Mango in Mango Sauce). Back in Yuen Long, way too much Japanese food and way too much Cantonese dessert (with an English menu!).

16th: The “treehouse” at Kam Tin, a master class in scaring wild dogs, Din Tai Fung xiaolongbao and other deliciousness in TST, having bread thrown at me by a kid (hey, it works on fish!), FROZEN COKE MACHINE!, an open air BYO bar atop ifc.

17th: Delicious pancakes. Horse races at Sha Tin, finally (I’m a slow tourist). Hunting the elusive English menu, Vietnamese food version, through the twisty streets of downtown Yuen Long. More Cantonese dessert, less English menu.

18th: More bhajjis, hurtling completely lost through Tuen Mun Town Plaza and its many friends, Ching Chung Koon, the light rail, as crowded and stinky as ever, a surreal minute or two back in Siu Hong railway station, Tsui Wah and a surprisingly decent beer bar (Beerlao dark!).

Photos of South America


Gotcha! You thought I’d posted some?

I’ve been thinking a bit about how to post photos, or rather which photos to post. I may postpone it further by writing a post about how I intend to post them. I’d like to avoid the visual equivalent of the preceding post — an unyielding wall of similar looking images, all of which I post because they came out in focus and because each little, say, temple near Angkor is different and deserves its own picture. Past victims of my slideshows should be nodding along, if not off. [Though it should be a little easier, at least in theory, to distinguish parts of this post.]

To avoid the yet-another-temple/slab of hieroglyphics syndrome, I plan to try the ruthless approach to photo curation for this trip. Unfortunately, getting to ruthless from 7 GB of photos (from 3 cameras–I didn’t even shoot this trip) is taking about as long as I’d expected. Maybe this weekend. Maybe next trip I’ll even have this in mind when I decide what to photograph. Maybe.

Clearing the backblog


After the three semi-timely posts we turned out in Bolivia, things got complicated. I should really go back to paper–this isn’t the first time I’ve just fallen behind unaccountably. It’s interesting to think about why I’ve been so successful in the act of blogging (with no comments on the results, please) on some trips in the past, and less so on others (including most of the present).

Here, then, I’ll recap the rest of the trip, more or less, in a miles-long post at length to which only the occasional unlucky e-correspondent is normally subject:

Colonial towns in Minas were really worthwhile. No pictures from most of the churches, but the mental images remain, and Ouro Preto in particular is so damned cute to just walk around. A bit pricey in the touristy way, sadly. São João del Rei, near Tiradentes, has some lovely churches and is a bit cheaper and less touristy–more importantly, it has an overnight bus to Rio leaving at 23:59. We saw it almost by accident, thanks to a friend of a friend’s generosity, but were glad we did. Chilly weather in the mountains: our showers were, in rose-colored hindsight, brief and supremely invigorating.

Booked a week in advance or so, one can get super-cheap airfare (to rival the not so cheap fixed fare buses) for the super-quick flight from Rio to Belo Horizonte, where it’s easy to get a bus on to Ouro Preto or any of the other colonial towns.

Rio was lovely as usual.

The tropical jungle colonial beach paradise of Paraty was good to us — we took a boat to island beaches (surprisingly decent pasteles for lunch and excellent fruit chasing) and later a free roller coaster / cheap public bus to the beautiful beaches at Trindade. The water was chilly from the Brazilian winter, but not unbearable–even frigid cave lakes in the Philippines never felt too cold to me after ducking under. We had good food in Paraty, too, from fancy flambé specialists to kilo buffets. I also got to experience the delegacia (police station) where I had to report the unfortunate rerouting of my wallet from my pocket somewhere between getting on the bus from Rio and arriving in Paraty.

We took a night bus to São Paulo and spent a few hours there amid our double overnight bus run — exactly as bad an idea as it sounds, by the way. The view from atop the Banespa tower: ~19 mil. people and skyscrapers in all directions to the smog-choked horizon: positively gobsmacking, post-apocalyptic, distopic, Biblically-awesome, you name it.

Not so many sights, exactly, but tons of museums/culture which we were too tired to see. We did, though, go to the Municipal Market. It’s phenomenal and shames anything I’ve seen. The fruit–crates of mangosteens! The meats–lamb to alligator! The spices! The traditional 400 gram mortadella sandwiches! (Get the dried tomatoes too.)

Iguaçu is a world class sight. I may have to try to collect waterfalls, though I suspect most will be ruined for me now. There’s a good racket going there: tourists, including yours truly, will pay more money than one’d think to get slammed in the face by part of one of the most voluminous sets of cataracts in the world.

Local buses seem happy to breeze right through immigration on the Brazilian side if one’s not careful.

Less than thrilled about waiting for the next bus after getting off and going through immigration, we used a taxi to go back to the .br side to sightsee (we stayed on the .ar side at a place called Los Troncos, whose 105/105 positive reviews on tripadvisor presumably need no elaboration here). The .ar side is closer to the falls but the .br side lets one fully appreciate the scale and what one’s actually looking at.

Bird park on the .br side (right near park entrance) was stunning although mostly unheralded. Aviaries full of fantastic toucans (we saw a few in the wild in the .ar falls park, delightfully) coming right up to you,
hummingbirds darting between your legs, etc.

Buenos Aires was accompanied by the most miserable cold rain ever for our entire stay there. Nonetheless, (some of) the food is amazing, despite our disappointing experiences with most of the cafe/confiterias. A place called Cumaná had silly cheap prices and a fantastic cazuela with pumpkin and lomo and Mondongo Argentino (yes, tripe
included, but only a tripe eater could tell). Skip, say reviews, the pasta and pizza. Desserts were great, and wine was as cheap as the rest of the menu.

More expensive (but still silly cheap for what you get) is La Cabrera, for the stereotypical meat fix. One steak is enough — it comes with approx. 15 million sides including a killer creamed spinach. Unfortunately, my steak wasn’t actually that good. Dana’s pork was excellent, as was the champagne thoughtfully provided during our half hour wait for a table.

Our splurge hotel (chosen for location and online booking availability the night before) was the Ibis Obelisco, about 38 USD per person per night with double occupancy. It has a killer location in the middle of the city next to a Subte stop and the budget, spotless, shiny modern conveniences that are the best of soulless international chain hotel life.

At this point, our trip split, Dana going back to the US and the Doisys heading for El Calafate and jealousy-inducing electric-blue glaciers. I forged intrepidly on to Montevideo, Uruguay, where I found…


more miserable cold rainy gray. And some good empanadas, an interesting carnival museum, and an interesting few old buildings. The highlight of Uruguay, then, for me, was the chivito: a beef-and-everything sandwich worth at least a daytrip from Bs. As.

Getting the bus to Colonia was easy enough, but its historic colonial center (roughly like Paraty’s–neither nearly as extensive or, I think, as interesting as the colonial towns in Minas) was still rainy and cold. The weather broke in the afternoon, with beautiful sun and blue skies arriving a few minutes after I’d crossed outbound immigration at the ferry port for my return to Bs. As.

Both Uruguay and Argentina had one more limited-time modern marvel I’ve almost forgotten: a Cadbury almond McFlurry, taunting me from advertizements. If I remember the ad copy correctly, it combined pieces of almond chocolate, “smooth” dulce de leche ice cream, and dulce de leche sauce. Capital idea.

Sucre and Santa Cruz de la Sierra


La Paz leftover: the bowler hats on Andean women were fascinating. We’ve read how they were introduced, but are curious as to whether they’re invariably undersized by necessity or by fashion. Anyone know?

Not much to report since, because there’s been too much to report. Our Aerosur flight to Sucre was fine and came with a free ham, cheese, and frozen butter sandwich. Our stay in a fantastic location (and rather cold, unheated rooms) in Sucre, though, was enlivened by loud protests involving dynamite–said to be normal–in the main plaza a block away. These particular protests were tied to the unrest in Potosí, a 3 hour bus ride away. We’d hoped to visit it, but it’s been blockaded by locals for over two weeks now, and dozens of tourists remain trapped. Even if we could have gotten to Potosí, it seemed prudent to pass it up. With the protests in Sucre, rumors of possible roadblocks there, and not much to see with the time we’d planned to see Potosí, we decided to move up our Aerosur tickets to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, our final stop in Bolivia, for a princely 60 Bs (less than $10).

Meanwhile, Sucre is a lovely white colonial city. It’s officially the capital of Bolivia (La Paz, we learned, having taken the executive and legislative branches in a civil war). We saw some great museum exhibits on local indigenous textiles as well as the Casa de la Libertad, full of patriotic memorabilia from Bolivia’s declaration of independence.

Our flight from Sucre to Santa Cruz took 35 minutes, and replaces a “15-20” hour bus ride per the guidebooks. Worth $60 or so, we thought. Santa Cruz is noticeably more prosperous and tropical than anywhere else we’ve seen in Bolivia, and we’re staying in a (relatively) nice hotel where we got a suite for a song. Our favorite part is probably the jacuzzi in the middle of the room: unfortunately, normal sized people can’t quite fit inside. But the shower’s hot and the room’s comfortable.

Unfortunately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in it — I got sick during our first night here, and I’ve spent most of the rest of the time in the room waiting for it to pass. We were thinking of taking a daytrip to one of the Jesuit missions or to a nearby town, either a bit toward the forests, but I haven’t been well long enough for us to be confident in putting down a deposit. Dana’s been checking out the Cruzan cinema and grocery stores while I debate the merits of the white bread roll and the cracker, my new staple foods. To give an idea of how embarrassingly little these cost here, a package (a day or two’s worth) of crackers goes for 2 Bs.

Tomorrow’s our last full day in Sta. Cruz. Hopefully I’ll be able to get out and about and see some of the sights — thanks to ornery museum schedules, tomorrow will be our first and last opportunity for some. The next day, we have a 4:40 a.m. flight: the first in a series that should get us to Rio by midday Monday if all goes well.

As usual, I’m being very slow about posting pictures. Maybe we’ll get some uploaded tomorrow.

She says- La Paz


It’s our last night in La Paz, and I can’t believe Daniel Harris described what we have done as “intense lazing around.” Pfff. DH’s idea of “taking it easy” somehow involved more than four hours (!) a day of some of the most intense walking I have ever done. Friends, this is some extremely high and extremely hilly country. You lose your breath just going to the bathroom! It is, however, totally lovely. I’ve been amazed at how peaceful it has been here. Apparently Egypt was just lousy with tourist touts and harassment, but La Paz has been a remarkably hassle free place. And, unlike Cairo, no one has yelled “fuck you, American dogs!” (at least that we know of) yet, so that’s a plus. As a down: there are no pyramids. And quite frankly, not that much to do, which is ok, given that it takes hours to walk anywhere with the hills and the altitude.

We haven’t been doing too much authentic Bolivian eating yet, partly due to a misguided trip to the ATM which resulted in very large notes. For anyone that has ever traveled or lived in South America, a very annoying fact of life is that no one ever has small change– really– and getting it can be extremely difficult, especially in a country like Bolivia where everything costs roughly 2 dollars. I somehow had blacked this part of the Chilean experience out of my mind, but here it is again! We did eat at a Bolivian vegetarian buffet today (sorry, Mom, and yes, Daniel got some meat this afternoon), which I enjoyed, but left DH feeling very hungry.

Also today was the Museum of Musical Instruments, which was bizarre and wonderful. Pictures of Daniel playing a harmonium to follow….

Tomorrow we depart for Sucre and Potosi. Really looking forward to seeing more of colonial Bolivia.

La Paz, Bolivia


We’ve almost caught our breaths in La Paz after two days of walking uphill everywhere and intense lazing about. Time to leave: we’ll fly to Sucre (scheduled at 45 min. vs. the 14 hour bus ride) tomorrow midday.

Our flight from Miami to La Paz was delayed several hours on the tarmac: ICE had a couple people on a list who were “unfortunately not able to continue with us to La Paz,” according to the pilot, and unloading and reloading all the plane’s luggage took as long as one’d expect.

Not detained were Stryper, flying in coach on our cramped little 757 (verified by their tour dates and the cameras not waiting for us in the arrivals area at LPB).

Fortunately, however, our airport pickup from our splurge of a hotel was still there several hours later, and we made it quickly to “Hotel a la Maison.” The tariff is nearly unconscionable for a Bolivian hotel (i.e. not bad), but we wanted to give ourselves a cushy landing while we adjusted to the altitude. It’s done well–the room is huge and kitchen-equipped, the breakfast rolls are deliciously crunchy, and it’s in a quiet and utterly untouristy part of the city (uphill, yes).

The city has been much more relaxed than we expected. No trouble from the shoeshines, despite previous rumors, and very little hassle at all, at least in comparison to Egypt or India. Yes, an unfair comparison. We’ve been to a few small but lovely museums (for roughly $0), missed the opening hours of several others entirely (same price), and had some reasonable Dutch, Surinamese, and Indian food (a few bucks). We probably saw a church or plaza or two, too. Most dramatic, though, are the fleeting views of the city spilling down its encompassing canyon, with cameos from the stunning Illimani.

How to walk or bike the Triboro (Triborough) (Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge


This image would have been quite helpful in my trek from Manhattan to Queens. Find me, Google!:


Great views.

Galle and Ella


Saw my first international sporting event in Galle — part of the test cricket match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. I understood some of it. The stadium is brilliantly located, with views of the ocean and fort. The fort ramparts have their own views of the stadium, which many were taking advantage of.

Torrential rain made my slog to the bus stand at 5 a.m. the next morning less fun. I was thoroughly soaked by the time I made it to the Badulla bus, and continued that way until after arriving in Ella around 8 hours later. However, I found the amazing Rainbow Inn guest house, which made things better with sensational home-cooked Sri Lankan food. After generally lazing around and hiding from the rain yesterday, I took the beautiful walk up to “Little Adam’s Peak” today and enjoyed the views of Ella Gap, including the hair-raising roads I’d traveled the day before. The hills and valleys are quite beautiful here, and the weather is cool enough at night to sleep without a fan.


Tomorrow morning, I’ll take the train to Nuwara Eliya (an old hill station and even colder), where I’ll spend a night before moving on to Kandy on my way out of the country.

Pushkar, Mahipalpur, Colombo, Galle


Pushkar was in sad shape, as the lake all its temples surround has been replaced by a mostly-dry trash pit. There was delicious health food to be had, though.

I stayed in the “Eurostar International” hotel near the Delhi airport — completely clean with a fair price for airport transfers and generally a phenomenal value at Rs. 1430 nett. Nearby was Coco’s, the food counter section of a spotless and well-air-conditioned Korean grocery, where I had a “combo” of mostly-onion veggie pizza and a piece of (American-style) fried chicken.

New Terminal 1D at DEL is a standard new airport terminal, with check-in islands and lines which weren’t so terrible at 5 a.m. I think it’s supposed to be given over exclusively to low-cost carriers after the “real” new domestic terminal is finished, which almost makes the use of bus to plane transfers forgivable.

Flights were fine. In Bangalore’s airport, which was sadly lacking in concessions but otherwise a standard new-ish place, I walked by a Kingfisher sports bar before being offered a can of Kingfisher lager on my Kingfisher flight to Colombo.

I have been enjoying Sri Lanka so far — navigating the roadblocks and literal police state in Colombo can be trying, but the city is much less squalid than I’ve become used to recently. I had a lovely long walk between Galle Face Green and the ocean when I arrived, with cool breezes and cooler rain making me very happy.

I’m now in Galle fort, which is nice enough. One thing I’ve particularly enjoyed about Sri Lanka is that the touts have turned it down several notches from Delhi. I’m planning to make it to the nearby beaches, if it stays nice, and then figure out how to get up through the Hill Country before I leave in the early morning hours of the 25th for Hong Kong via KL.

Most of the rest of Rajasthan


Bundi was lovely — small, relaxing, etc. I got good news while I was there, and savored it from a rooftop looking a well-lit palace enjoying my first (and likely only) beer of the trip. Kingfisher lager. Not terrible. A bit sweet. Cold.

The next morning, I was the first person to brave the local fort, Taragarh. I beat most of the monkeys to it, too. Great views, and amazing to be the only one enjoying them for the first hour or two. Bundi’s wildlife was nice: in addition to the normal livestock, I saw monkeys (fairly normal, but I’d never seen one steal nan before), brilliant green parrots, and a host of butterflies.

Some of the baoris (stepped wells) in the area were nice, too.

From Bundi I went to Udaipur, called (somewhat wishfully) (by travel writers who’ve had too much bhang lassi) “the Venice of the East.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful city from the right angles — especially from the Monsoon Palace, Sajjan Garh, on a hill a few km away — but I don’t know about Venice. The Lake Palace was impressive, although I’m nowhere near being able to afford even the right kind of shirt to think about having a meal there.

On the way to Udaipur I saw the fort at Chittor and felt all six droplets of rain I’ve crossed paths with on this trip. The fort is big, but spread out and wasn’t a particular highlight. Perhaps my memory is colored by having the driver try to rip me off at lunch that day — just as in China, finding the real menu and demanding repricing did the trick, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Between Udaipur and Jodhpur I stopped at Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur. Kumbalgarh was very impressive. I’m finding that I enjoy the views of/from forts far more than what little is left inside them; I guess I have more temple fatigue than fort fatigue. Being able to walk a substantial portion of the ramparts was a plus. The Jain temples at Ranakpur were also quite impressive, even given my temple fatigue — lots of impressive (and quite literally unique) marble carvings.

Jodhpur was a quick stop–just one night. The fort, in addition to being a normally impressive Rajasthani fort, has an excellent group in charge of it, very informative signs/included audioguide, and a well-curated collection of items.

I’m now in Jaisalmer, where I will see the fort and then head out into the desert. Having no great love for either camels or blistering heat, I’m going to forgo the standard camel safari itinerary and drive out to the local dunes tomorrow evening at sunset (after trying to catch the fort, which really does look like a sandcastle as LP claims, in the morning). The camel safari can give me something to aspire to when I finally make it to Morocco.

From here, I’m planning on a full day of driving and two nights in Pushkar, followed by another day’s drive to Delhi and flights to Colombo on the 16th.