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Birthday celebrations in Tombstone

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
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It’s Sam birthday. So we planned for an easy day and kept the Mexican border formalities for the next day…
After a nice omelette in the morning Sam and Max explored the playground. As it had only little to offer, they soon switched their preferences and went to the pool where they pretty much stayed until it was time to check out. A quick stop at Walmart’s ensured that we had a birthday cake – unfortunately Sam’s favourite apple pie was not on stock, so he had to go for the cherry pie.
And then we got to Tombstone. What used to be a bustling silver mining town back in the 1880’s is now a Western town renowned for its enactments of historical gunfights and for visitors and people living there dressing up just like in the old days. It sounded like a fun place to be and a perfect place for celebrating a birthday (thanks for the recommendation to go there, Rainer and Ulrike!). Our first stop was in fact to see a gun fight – a comedy one as we were promised. And it was fun and we had lots of good laughs.

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But also just strolling through the streets was really nice – there were lots of people looking like they were about to star in the next Western movie and all of that in a really nice scenery. What looked like real life was obviously a lot of acting and really nice costumes. When we had a conversation with one of the cowboys who had been starring in the gunfight, we found out that what looked like a local actor, was actually a long term traveller: he had given up his home after years of working with mentally ill people and later as a professional photographer and now travelled the world together with his dog. He travels on his BMW GS1200 and the dog travels in a side car. He somehow tried the acting and had been doing that for a month. Still, he did not know how long he’d be staying around from there on and where he’d be headed next.

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Eventually it was time to have lunch: a huge burger for Sam, french fries for Max and cheese enchiladas for me. This was actually enough food, but probably it was the name that made us order ‘Death by chocolate’ as a desert. And even though no one of us was really hungry anymore, the portion was gone in what seems like a split second – and we even forgot to take a picture of it before it was all eaten up.

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In a last stop before leaving Tombstone, we went to the Boothill Cemetery. What at first looks funny with lots of signs in the graveyard starring statements like ‘shot by…’, murdered, ‘killed by Indians’, ‘hanged’ or ‘hanged by mistake’ is actually an awful reminder that the old times were in fact very dangerous times and that it was most probably not really fun to live back in these times.

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Our campground for the evening was in Patagonia Lake State Park and it was a real pleasure to cool off in the lake after a hot day.

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One once Max was sleeping soundly in the back of the van, we enjoyed the starry sky and had an attempt at taking some pictures of the stars. The attempt was fun and ended with a long shopping list of equipment that would enable taking really nice pictures of the milky way – given that we came up with a total bill of almost 10,000$ to do that, we concluded that we’d be happy for the time being with those pictures we were getting. And Sam started considering that instead of buying an enduro bike upon his return to Europe, this could be an alternative option for investing his money... With that we went to bed - most likely our last night in the US for a couple of weeks.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 08:18 Archived in USA Tagged lake dinner birthday cowboy tombstone Comments (1)

Back to the starting point and lots of good byes

In Milwaukee, Glenview, Oak Lawn, Los Angeles

rain 17 °C
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We loved our time at the lake in the cabin and could have spent much more time there. Especially as it was perfect fall weather and the leaves just started to turn colors and it would have been just another week or so for being even more colorful.
Eventually we headed off and drove south into Wisconsin. It was a beautiful drive, passing through colourful forests and alongside of a couple of lakes. As we approached Lake Michigan, the sun was covered by heavy clouds and the interstate was not nearly as nice as the smaller backroads had been.
As we plotted out where to stop along the way, Sam realized that we’d be passing through Milwaukee, the home of Harley Davidson. And anyone who knows Sam a bit, suspects already that we would not pass this perfect opportunity to stop at the Harley Davidson museum.
Upstairs all the history of HD was on display starting with the first motorcycle created in 1903 and subsequent developments including some army versions produced for both world wars and racing bikes that set long distance speed records.

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Max enjoyed the collection of fuel tanks in all different colors, the kids’ corner and the movie scenes featuring Harley Davidsons. That left enough time for Sam to stroll around and take pictures of the rather unusual models on display. Last but not least, all of us got to try out and sit on the newest 2017 models such that we could imagine owning and riding them around the world.

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With the stop in Milwaukee, it got late and dark already as we headed into Glenview, where we had headed off for our big journey in early May. About a mile before parking the van the last time, we almost got into an accident – what a shock, just shortly before arriving.
It was good to be ‘home’ and Janis had dinner waiting for us already. So life was good again.
The next morning, we had to get our van ready for potential buyers to have a look. It was the worst possible weather for cleaning the van. By the time the outsides of the van were shining, Sam was soaking wet from the torrential rain and I was the lucky one to finish the insides of the van. At noon, the first couple of interested people had a look at the van and we spent the afternoon talking with some more interested people on the phone.
After that much effort, we went bowling together with Janis. We had lots of fun and also Max enjoyed his first ever game of bowline. With the special slide for the ball and the bumpers up, Max managed to even come in second place behind Sam.

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The next day we were invited at Carol’s birthday party. After great (and too much!) Mexican food, we could not resist to eat large amounts of angel food cake with chocolate cream and berries – yummy! But eventually we had to leave and say good bye to Carol, Pete and the kids. Let’s hope it’s not too long until we’ll see each other again!
That evening we watched ‘Easy Rider’ – the Harley museum in Milwaukee had inspired us. The popcorn was great, some of the pictures of the American west reminded us of our trip, but overall we were a bit overwhelmed. Crazy times.
Our last full day in the US was pretty much dedicated to packing and getting paperwork sorted. These rather tedious tasks were only interrupted by long walks in the park and excellent lunch. My mom had brought all the ingredients for making my favourite food: plum dumplings (Zwetschgenknödel). As she was unable to find the usual kind of plums we use in the stores, we used what was available and it was great. Thanks, mom!
While we had contemplated five months back that it would be nice to spend another day in Chicago towards the end of our trip, by now our interests had shifted. We enjoyed being around our and Janis’ family and had not the slightest interest in doing any sightseeing.
The next morning, we tried to stay as much outside as possible. We’d be spending anyhow lots of time inside of airports and planes. Janis treated us to Mexican food for lunch – including my favourite refried beans. It was great and once more tempted us to eat much more than needed. Both Sam and I agree, that the last two weeks of our stay in the US, we both gained a bit of weight. It was just too good!
After lunch Janis made already the first tour to the airport and we had to say good bye to my parents. It was great that they had come. And while we (ab-)used the opportunity to get rid of many things we did not need on our further trip anymore, I do feel sorry that they had to take baggage home at the absolute upper limit of what’s allowed.
Until Janis came back for the second trip to the airport with us, we enjoyed one last hour at home. We hugged the van good bye one last time and exchanged hopes with Phil, Sam and Janis that we’d hopefully see each other again before too long. One last wave back and off we went to the airport.
In a certain way this was a déjà vu, going back to the starting point. It felt not too different from going to the airport in Munich those five months ago. Once again, we’d have new adventures, and a new continent waiting for us.
At the airport we were a bit disappointed that American Airlines had recently implemented a practice of not checking bags through whenever flights have not been purchased at the same time. So in retrospect it did not help us to book with them, even though they are affiliated with Air Tahiti Nui in the Oneworld Alliance.
So once we arrived in Los Angeles, we had to retrieve our bags and the car seat, haul them into the next terminal and check them in again. But as we had enough time to do so, this did only represent an inconvenience and no real issue. And we even found a kind employee of Air Tahiti Nui who offered to post our postcards for us (since 9/11 there seem to be no mailboxes at US airports anymore) - written last minute like in every vacation.
We have travelled via plane very often with Max before and visited lots of countries. At practically all airports so far he had been our super joker: we were usually allowed to skip waiting lines and to board first. Not so in the USA: it's first the people who booked first class, then those with senator status, then those with other miles status, then the holder of certain credit cards - you get the message.
As our flight only left LAX at 11:40pm but despite the two-hour time difference vs. Chicago, Max had managed well to stay up as long. But by the time of boarding he was really tired. So it took a bit of convincing to be allowed to board in wave 1 of the non-priority economy passengers instead of wave 2. And it was good that we did that: Max fell asleep pretty much as soon as we had found our seats in the plane and slept until breakfast was served.
One last wave back towards the continent that hosted us so nicely during more than five months and off we go...

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:42 Archived in USA Tagged rain airport museum leaving harley birthday van bowling sale bye Comments (1)

Trekking in the Himalayas

Phedi, Dhampus, Landruk, Ghandruk, Naya Pul

semi-overcast 23 °C
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Max’s birthday marked our first day of trekking. After singing him ‘Happy birthday’, he got to open his present and wear his birthday crown with a big ‘5’ on it for breakfast.
And then it was time to head into the mountains. We were excited. As we left Pokhara, we got to see the outlines of some snowy mountains. They were a bit hard to distinguish from the clouds, but here they were, the peaks of the Himalaya that we had been waiting to see for so long! Not sure if we’d ever see more than that, we took some pictures from the moving van.

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As we reached Phedi, it was time to shoulder our daypacks and to head up the mountain towards the town of Dhampus. We were a group of six: In addition to our guide Prakash, Hom and Bir joined us as porters.
It was 9:20 am when we headed off. We were off for a tough start: the trail consisted of steps that led us up along the steep hillside. And the blazing sun did not help to cool us down. I was relieved when after half an hour we reached a first settlement and got to see down into the valley where we came from. We had already covered quite some distance and altitude.

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Next was an easy bit: we got to hike through some terraced rice plantations dotted with small little houses. People were working in and around their houses or in the fields with their buffaloes. Compared to the start, it felt like we were able to stroll through level terrain – even though we consistently headed upwards.

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The steep steps started soon enough again and before we knew it, we had climbed the 600 m of altitude to reach Dhampus (1770m) where we’d be spending the night. From the saddle, we had to still head along the hillside to the other end of the settlement, where our Eco-Lodge was located.

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Max had walked everything on his own – supported by Sam who kept telling him stories and kept him motivated. At 11:40am, we made it – way quicker than what we had assumed given that we had been planning on three hours walking time.
We sat in the sun, enjoyed the view down into the valley below us, used the wifi to receive some birthday messages for Max and eventually had lunch.
We only realized when a heavy thunderstorm started how lucky we had been that we arrived so early at our lodge. The clouds were thick, there was constant lightening and thunder all around us and lots of rain. On the corrugated sheet roof, the rain was really loud. I mean really loud. The rain also marked the end of the internet connection and unfortunately also the end of the warm water supply. Prakash had been smart enough to shower right away while there was still enough solar water available. We learned a lesson and promised to ourselves not to make the mistake of waiting too long anymore.

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At dinner time, there was a big surprise: Max got a birthday cake decorated with a 5, ‘happy birthday Max’ and two sparklers. He was thrilled and we were happy that he seemingly enjoyed his birthday. And best of all: contrary to many cakes we’ve eaten abroad, this one tasted excellent!
We had an excellent night’s sleep. The rain had cleared the air, there were no dogs around and the exercise probably helped as well. As I had gone to bed quite early, all of the above helped that I woke up before sunrise and could not resist to wake also Sam to be part of the spectacle.
It was a fabulous sunrise! With the air crisp and clear, we were treated to a panorama that is hard to be matched: with Machapuchare (also called Fishtail Mountain) dominating the scene, flanked at both sides by various peaks of the Annapurna Range. At 6,993m it has never been climbed, as it is considered sacred by the local population.

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As the sun came up, the hues of red and pink emphasized peak by peak as the sun came up high enough to illuminate them. While there was no wind where we were, it obviously blew mightily further above and created snow banners which were really nice to look at.

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We had a typical breakfast in Gurung style – the Gurung being the major ethnic group in the region. And then it was time to head out into this marvellous landscape around us. What a pity that yesterday we had not even realized how beautiful it was.
The path was very nicely laid out. We hiked through a small settlement and once more we heard a welcoming ‘Namaste!’ from all sides.

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As we headed in the shade towards a small stream, I was startled by one of our porters: I had a leech wandering on my left hiking shoe. He quickly helped me to get rid of it before it could start sucking my blood and I was very alert from there on. In the next couple of minutes, I got rid of another three little fellows who found their way onto my shoe. Luckily enough, the spell was over then and we did not see a single leech for the remainder of our trip.
But there was also bad news: seemingly we had managed to wander off the path that we were supposed to take. Prakash decided to head on and after inquiring with some local farmers we started heading straight up the hill. I was devastated. For one thing, I would clearly prefer a slight incline vs. a straight line up the hill. And the other thing I need to have is a regular pace – which does not work when your guide and porters don’t know the way themselves and have to ask around here and there.
After what felt like 200m of altitude on narrow paths up the hill, we finally reached the official trail again, which was wide, laid out with stones and was ascending only slightly. What a relief. Five minutes later, we reached the settlement of Pothana, where an official checked our trekking permits.
The view from there was stunning and with it my mood was right back where it should be. All along the next stretch we got to see alternating views of Machapuchare, Hiuchuli (7441m) and Annapurna South (7219m).

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After some nice up and down we reached the highest point of our trekking round at the little village of Deurali (2150m).

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As the view suddenly expanded to the West, we got to see one of the top 10 mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri at 8167m is the seventh highest mountain. So far in the distance, it did not seem nearly as tall and without knowing, I would have never guessed that I’m looking up at a peak that is more than 6000m of altitude above us.

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We also got to look back towards Dhampus where we had stayed last night and Pokhara with Phewa Lake in the background. Just that morning with the sunrise above Dhampus and this view from Deurali was worth all the effort of coming to Nepal and hiking all the way up here.
From there on we headed down a steep descent towards Tolka where we had a great and relaxing lunch. By then we had walked already more than 7km and had 4km more ahead of us. But at least most of the 670m ascent and 790m descent we had done already and the rest was an undulating path along the steep hillside.

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By the time we reach the Tibet Guesthouse in Landruk (1640m) in the early afternoon Max was really tired, but he continued to refuse being carried by one of our porters. We were proud and celebrated our great day and achievement with a warm shower and a beer. And then it was time to play Uno – an easy card game that we also introduced our porters to.

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The guest house was beautifully located with a view straight up towards Annapurna South – well in theory that is. Soon after we left our great outlook in Deurali, clouds had started forming around the highest peaks and by the time we reached Landruk, we could only guess that there were high peaks surrounding us. The downside to the guest house was that it was not really clean. It seems that the floors had been swept, but fresh linen seemed to be an overrated luxury. I was delighted to be able to sleep in my cozy sleeping bag and just tried to avoid touching anything. Still, the beauty of the location and the nice outside areas of the guest house with its many butterflies were just superb. And it is absolutely surprising what delicious meals can be prepared on a simple wood fire!

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By the next morning, the clouds had vanished again and we got to see Annapurna South in its full beauty. On the other side of the valley, Ghandruk – our destination for today - was already lit by the first rays of sunshine. If it would not have been for the steep descent into the valley before being able to start the climb into Ghandruk, the walk would have been almost too easy.

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This morning we took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast. We left at 8:40 am, hiking through Landruk and down the steep steps towards the river. Only 40 minutes later we reached the lowest part of today’s journey, the river Modi Khola (1320m) and had 730m of ascent laying ahead of us.

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Making our way slowly upward, we were passed by many porters loaded with the bags of trekkers or with all kinds of wares. At that stage, we realized that there was no need to feel bad about the loads our own porters were carrying. With one of them carrying our 20kg backpack and the other one a bag in addition to their own packs, they must have felt like in heaven compared with their usual job. And given that Max had up to now blatantly refused being carried, we could have done the trek with a single porter up to now. Still, it was great to know that they were there.

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Two hours later we had made it all the way up. We passed a donkey / mule caravan that had brought supplies either to Ghandruk or potentially as far back as the Annapurna Base Camp. The animals seemed delighted to head down without any loads and their bells were jingling cheerfully.

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Once we reached the Annapurna Guest House, we had the whole rest of the day for ourselves. Sam used the opportunity to recover some sleep, while Max and I played extensive rounds of Uno with Prakash, Hom and Bir.

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Time has passed so quickly and we had a hard time to believe that this evening was already the last one of our trekking tour. We celebrated extensively and not only played Uno, but even introduced our team to Farkle. Like all other good acquaintances (well, except those where we forgot about it) we met on our journey, they got to write into our traveling guest book which proved to be a bit of a challenge but was successfully completed with the help of Prakash.
That night we were kept awake for long: the six dogs we had seen already all afternoon around the guest house did not believe in the advantages of night time sleep and made an effort to enforce that believe also with the hikers.
The hike down from Ghandruk was beautiful, but crowded. Contrary to the last couple of days, today we found ourselves in the middle of big groups of people. The stretch from Ghandruk to Naya Pul is not only the final stretch for the round we had done, but is also done by all people who either target the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp), the Poon Hill Trek or who are doing the Annapurna Circuit – one of the most popular treks in Nepal.
It was a long and nice hike down the hill to the settlement of Birethanti. We saw another couple of caravans, passed though many small settlements, mostly on stone-paved steps.

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After more than 10 km, Max finally gave in and allowed our porter Bir to carry him for the last remaining kilometer. Still, it had been a brave achievement that he had made it so far without using any help.

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We had lunch at the fishtail restaurant which probably boasts an excellent view of the mountain of the same name. But after our four days of experience in the mountains, we were not surprised that by noon time it was hiding in the clouds. We had a last lunch together with our porters Bir and Hom. After lunch, we had to walk only another 20 minutes until we reached Naya Pul, which marked the end of our hike.

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There our taxi waited for us. We were not pleased at all with our taxi driver. He drove like a maniac, was constantly distracted by his mobile phone despite the heavy traffic on a narrow road (which was deteriorated to the point that it seemed more like a one-way road than a two-way major highway). After five anxious minutes of observing what was going on, we asked our driver to stop talking on his phone while driving. Two minutes later we had to specify that that rule included writing text messages. He was less than amused when he realized he had to stop while talking on the phone. But that did not stop him from accepting more than ten calls and having to see how others were passing him in the meantime.
While we headed down in to the valley of Phedi, we got to see the full path we had taken on day one of our trek. It had been a really nice hike – probably one of the highlights of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:17 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains rain view trekking river sunrise clouds valley hill hike birthday lightning Comments (0)

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