Sunday, November 24, 2013

What This Blog's About

Location: Minneapolis, MN 55410, USA
What's the function of this blog?

I'm going back through my travel journal and reliving my experiences abroad. I'm also postdating these stories to when they happened. This isn't an attempt to fool anyone: it's just my form of record-keeping, so I can jump back and forth in writing these entries (go from Scotland to Iceland to Thailand) but keep the posts in chronological order.

My impossible dream is to be a food writer for travel publications, but I'm untrained in cooking and travel publications seem to be written for people with too much money and no conscience to speak of. Further, travel writing is a highly competitive line of work to break into. I've submitted entries to two writing contests and failed absolutely; I've contributed to various travel message boards with zero acknowledgement. Maybe I have no talent for this kind of thing.

But I love traveling with my wife, we know how to rough it, and we love trying new food everywhere we go. And everywhere we go, we learn how to say three things: hello, thank you, and very delicious. It gets us far. I've tried to take careful notes everywhere we've gone, though some days are too busy to allow this, and I have thousands of photos to tell my stories. Now it's time for me to go through them all and relate them as best I can, for anyone who may be tuning in.

Update: You'll note some of the photos now bear the watermark "C.W. Wilkie" and others say "C. Fredrickson". All photos (unless otherwise indicated) are mine—I'm currently in the process of legalizing my name to "Wilkie", so older photos bear the old name.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fifth Anniversary in Ireland: Killarney

Location: Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland
We woke up in the Carlton Hotel in Tralee at a reasonable hour and went downstairs for the complimentary breakfast. I had some cereal, a selection of fruit and a fat, watery sausage, and Rebecca had access to gluten-free toast with yogurt and fruit. She was in down spirits: something about the struggle to arrange a suitable room last night really affected her, and then she reread the car rental contract and discovered we had to drop it off in Dublin by 1 p.m. We had been under the belief we could return it in the evening, so this caused a small amount of panic. Packing up, we hustled out under gray skies and navigated to Killarney (Cill Airne).

The drive through the countryside was, of course, whatever you could want it to be from Ireland. Plenty of farming landscape, dozens and dozens of quaint little towns that exuded backstory and culture. Throughout these I frequently felt a twinge of robbery, that we simply did not have enough time to pull over and get acquainted with the location for a meaningful period of time. This, of course, was a futile and naive wish as to do any village justice it would surely require around 20 years of getting established and meeting all the right people to hear all the important stories, as well as letting the town's vibe resonate with you and sink into your bones for true understanding. In this way, Ireland presents a lesson in cherishing what's immediately around you as a bulwark against the fear and grief of missing out on all the amazing things going on everywhere else.

This is easier done in Ireland than in Minneapolis, I think. But perhaps an Irish resident would say the same thing of Minneapolis.

Anon, we pulled into the angular network of outer Killarney. I found the town to be narrow and lined with beautiful, classical buildings, the streets very strictly running at right angles. I don't know why I was so impressed with how very sharp the right angles were here. Maybe that was because of how narrow the streets were and how closely the buildings pressed in on us, or that not every intersection was a four-way: sometimes you had to drive straight up to a wall of buildings before you discovered the street jagged sharply to the left, for example. It might also be because the streets and highways around it absolutely do not run at right angles: they run like the paths of a crayon in the hands of a frustrated toddler, oddly enough.

I wondered what it would be like to live in this town, in particular. We were clearly in the shopping district, surrounded by pubs all trumpeting their homeyness; stores for clothing, video games and souvenirs; cafés promoting their fresh-baked wares with quality ingredients; and more pubs. I was aware that the surrounding area was the residential district, but I wondered how many people there could possibly be to fill all the pubs every night, so that they could all stay in business. On the other hand, I know nothing about the turnover rates for pubs in any given location.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Grand Adventure: Entering Singapore, Part 1

Location: Singapore
We spent three days in Singapore. In my travel journal, I only wrote down notes on the third day. On the one hand, I'm mad at myself for not mandating one hour each evening to dedicate to note-taking, to record everywhere we went and everything we did. On the other hand, Singapore is so crammed full of every imaginable thing, it's next to impossible to take a breather to record it all. Therefore, I must rely upon my photographic journal and attempt to fill in the blanks as best I can recall.

The evening of March 25, 2011, Rebecca and I boarded an express bus at a gas station and rode on into the night, heading south from KL to Singapore. The setting was clean and utilitarian: fluorescent lights deprived the night-stark atmosphere of any emotion as we waited by our overstuffed travel luggage for the bus; once boarded, we wasted little time in hustling ourselves to slumber.

This was a crime: any bus trip from any nation to another deserves to be stared at, starvingly, through the windows. Every acre of sere clay and scrub merits study; every rest stop and gas station deserves analysis and absorption. The avid traveler must take in as much as possible, in order to place everything in relationship with everything else. How western was that gas station? What was the Asian influence upon that snack bar?

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Grand Adventure: Drawing With Children

Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia
This entry is an aside from the normal journal. It combines a few days in one post, to talk about a specific activity.

In Cambodia, as everywhere in SE Asia, there were children begging in the streets. In Indonesia, they begged on the median of busy highways, waiting for a distant light to turn red and back up traffic so they could rap on car windows. Their families lounged nearby, keeping half an eye or less on their activity. In Lao P.D.R., they haunted temples and shuffled around restaurants, carrying a small cardboard box filled with tiny trinkets, small knit dolls or bracelets. These kids were usually organized by a leader who collected their earnings.

What was different about the children in Cambodia was that their begging was treated more like a formal job, something children did even in average families where there was enough to eat. In the above examples, those kids were part of an ethnic underclass, and they didn't go to school and they didn't eat well. We spoke with a little girl in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, who told us about her busy school schedule, after which she had to hustle books to tourists until 11 p.m., at which time her mom would drive out and pick her up, and she got as much sleep as she could before starting it all again at 7 a.m. She admitted it was exhausting but explained it all to us as a matter of course, like this is how everybody lives.

Think of what effort it takes to ask an American teen to do any small household chore once a week, for a sense of perspective. And this Khmer girl wasn't even getting an allowance, and she didn't even have an iPhone 4 to be withheld for 24 hours as punishment if she failed to comply.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Grand Adventure: Day Two in Nong Khiaw, Part 1

Location: Nong Khiaw, Laos

Rebecca finishes dressing outside Linthavong Guesthouse.
Today we woke up earlier than usual, and after all toilette and pleasantries were managed, we were on the street and operational by 9:30 a.m. This was pretty good of us, considering we would rather have laid snuggling inside a cold bungalow for another hour or so. But we had a sense of duty and we were eager to embrace the day, such as what could be had in Nong Khiaw, this rocky, dusty northern-central Lao outpost.

We had been plotting a trip up to Muang Ngoi, having heard wonderful things about it. Logistics, however, got in the way and we realized this would be impractical. Not only would it take 24 hours to reach it, and cost another 300,000 kip, but it was only accessible by boat from where we were. This was entirely inconvenient, and we put our minds to forging other plans (or leaving ourselves open to whatever the day should present to us).

Looking northwest up the main strip of restos and guesthouses.
Breakfast was had down at Sunset Resto, across from Sunset Guesthouse, just a bit down the dusty path from our place of residence. The pancake I ordered was better than usual, if I can judge this from thousands of miles and dozens of days since my last American pancake, and it was further improved with chocolate sauce and sliced banana. Rebecca enjoyed an omelet with tomato and onion (based on this, she made a spot-on Baron von Raschke reference, which I appreciated). She split her fruit salad with me. I'm quite sure these details will become pertinent later; pretty sure.

I want to reiterate this point: we're really enjoying these meals. We appreciate that they're familiar (if not always accurate), and the ingredients generally are fresher. Nowhere have we ordered a meal that was reheated from a freezer; the fruits and produce were grown within walking distance. It's just a nice touch, you know? If tasting the local cuisine helps you understand a regional culture, tasting very fresh and very local food further impresses you with... where you are. I don't know how else to say it. You're eating things that were grown and prepared right there, and something in your body will respond to that, appreciating it. It's like the function of an organ you didn't know you had, one that crosses gustatory experience with GPS function. That's the best way I can describe this experience.

Heading out past a furniture manufacturer, using local lumber.
After breakfast, Rebecca led us up the road toward some caves she'd heard about. This information either came out of the Rough Guide book we picked up or from conversation with other tourists in town. She's good like that: she can accrue and assimilate information entirely outside of my purview. I mean, I knew nothing of Lao PDR before we showed up, and now I was forming information at the same moment I experienced it. It's not like I was incurious about the travel guides, but with my wife doing the pertinent research, that left me to stumble through and receive every new experience with complete naivete and openness. I had no idea what to expect, but she knew of some caves in the area that were open for exploration, and I was up for anything. After a good breakfast, I'm up for anything.

If you follow on the embedded map here, we were residing in a small guesthouse slightly to the northwest of the bridge over the Nam Ou River. We had breakfast nearly on the shore of the river (more accurately, at the top of the steep drop-off leading to the river), and then we headed up to the northwest to explore the Pathoc caves, the name for which we did not yet understand. Bear with us.

And please bear with the alternate spellings: Lao is transliterated into English by multiple sources, so sometimes the town is "Nong Kiew" or "Nong Khiaw," and "Pathok" is sometimes "Pathoc," with many alternates for each. It was something to get used to while traveling, as a guesthouse could be spelled one way on the building proper and a different way on all the signs leading up to it (and maybe a third way in the guide books).

Welcome to the Manypoon Guest House...
...also known as they Manipoune Guest House.
Well, we made our way up the road, which was highway 1C. The environment was astounding: the one word all the guide books kept repeating was karst, and nowhere did we see this word exemplified better than in Nong Khiaw. Tall sheets of rock shot up into the sky and abruptly tapered off into small grassy patches. In between the bases of these structures we saw thriving green farmland or patches of jungle-like wilderness.

It was amazing to stumble up the road through an environment of powerful, wild life like this. I recall the air being muggy but clean, full of the scent of mineral paths and robust vegetation. There were insects, happy colonies of insects buzzing in constant shrills, rising and falling as we walked. Any time the shrubs on the side of the road cleared, momentarily, we were compelled to peer between them and study the land, where rice paddies sprouted between tracts of water, and sheer cliffs of rough stone erupted and shot upward with no subtlety at all.

Every time it happened, every time the brush cleared, every time we rounded another rocky karst, every time we found a new forest or rice paddy or anything, we had to stop and soak it up. Rebecca was more emotionally moved than I was, perhaps, but I still had to stop and take it all in, breathlessly, soundlessly.

We made our way along in this fashion, slowly but with determination. After a brief detour into some woods, we hiked up three kilometers (or so) to a large blue sign that announced we had arrived at the Pathoc caves.

This sign started a trail off the road, and that trail led downhill to what looked like a small house all by itself. I would have expected a small village or something to be there, but I guess there was room for one household out in the rice paddies, as the nearest town was only a short walk down the highway. That's reasonable, I'm just... used to more congested environments, where people barely have yards and they buy groceries in units of weeks at a time rather than on a daily basis. I have different associations for a wooden shack in the middle of near-wilderness, but that's my cultural bias. I don't know any better, do I.

There was a large hut with walls, which looked like the central living arrangement, and across from the tread-beaten yard was what I would have called a crude gazebo. But it was just this kind of structure that was quite common throughout SE Asia, I found. I didn't know what the particular function was, only that my friends and I had used it as a chill-out area with music and beer, usually with a dense woven carpet and some pillows.

None of those were here; a bag of trash was hanging on one corner and clothes were drying. It was just an... extra structure for chores or utilities, I guess. At times like this I wish I'd had the language to ask them and protracted spans of time to talk about all the details of their domestic life, provided I could do so without coming off as condescending or disingenuous. I really did want to understand what this community's life was like, outside of the tourist industry, but perhaps that's just outside of what I can access as a privileged Westerner. Shucks.

In this area there was a woman tending to two small children, running around the "gazebo" and laughing, in the resourceful and spontaneous way small children will. There were a couple teenagers between us and the structures, and these two were pulling maintenance on a nice scooter. They were dressed more fashionably than the woman, who was clad in pragmatic traditional gear. The teens had stylish hair, tight jeans and fancy shirts, and they peered at the scooter in conference. I couldn't tell if they were actually fixing it or what, but they were focused on it intently, and it served as a convenient excuse to ignore us as we approached.

All by himself was one young man in a red shirt, situated by a small fire. Something about the way he slouched slightly and did not flow with the current of activity told me there was something different about him. He didn't watch the small children, and if he wanted to join with the teenagers, something seemed to hold him back. Of course there's a gulf between cultures, where they have pools of reference that do not resemble each other, but there are also patterns that echo throughout communities, common threads by which travelers can pick up a whiff of familiarity. I understood the preoccupied and vain teens, and I understood the busy woman in her domestic duties. There was something "other" about the teen by the fire, with his short hair and blank gaze.

Behind this camp (not knowing what else to call it), there was a rickety wooden bridge of poles and woven panels, crossing a large stream. There was probably no risk in wading through the stream, beyond getting wet: it wasn't forceful enough to knock a child off its feet—in fact, one of the children fished a small crab out of the stream and tormented it with the other child, having torn off a claw, and watched it crawl in wide, slow circles with a scientific curiosity.

We deduced the way to the caves was across the bridge, but there was no path to the bridge but what led directly through this domestic encampment. I began to suspect these people lived here as permanent guardians of the bridge, and almost immediately we saw a crude sign tacked up to one of the gazebo struts, setting the entrance fee to the caves at 5,000 kip. This was about U.S. 60¢, and how sad would we have been to not have been able to afford that? We paid and received two crappy Xeroxed "tickets" in exchange, then started across the rickety bamboo bridge.

When I turned to get a shot of Rebecca crossing mid-stream, I also captured the dull boy in the red shirt hastening up the steps to the bridge behind us with a pronounced limp. He never said a word but didn't back off when I looked at him, either, not now and not all the way across a cow pasture as we meandered down a rambling dirt path. Once we reached the Pathoc caves, however, he sprang to the fore and, with awkward, crippled gestures, guided us up the steps and into the network of caverns.

The silent, withdrawn boy in the red shirt was now our guide.

Into the side of a prominent karst was built a sturdy-looking concrete staircase with painted metal rails. We went up these without a moment of alarm and found ourselves inside the caverns. The rock walls were blobby and amorphous, as though formed by centuries of dripping, running water leaving mineral buildup behind—no sharp edges, no glassy surfaces. There were plenty of stalactite-like formations, mineral deposits where decades of moisture dribbled down, as well as mossy buildup on boulders and slanted walls. Fallen rocks also canted at odd angles occasionally, lying next to entrances and pathways; if they'd fallen there, it was a long time ago and everything was clearly stable now.

We didn't know the significance of the Pathoc caves, so every discovery was significant and meaningful to us. Rebecca and I conferred frequently as our guide only limped ahead, waited for us to finish chatting, then waved for us to come up and join him for the next turn.

We stood upon a broad stone floor that rose up in a very small mound, and this floor was covered with little lumps the size of baseballs, as though it had a bad case of goosebumps. Some of the mineral formations on the walls looked like beehives, I thought, and it was interesting to see the different effects this formations could create. A break in the wall provided a small window out over the valley of cow fields, the dirt path we took from the small household across the field to this karst we were now inside. When you're touring caverns, any glimpse outside looks especially valuable, maybe.

I did wonder whether the mute boy in the red shirt actually lived at that household, or if he was unrelated to the fashionable teenagers and the hard-working mother but just resided there as a kind of employee. I wondered whether the teens in the nice clothes and stylish haircuts ever led tours. I'm afraid my mind was beset with all sorts of beside-the-point and tangential questions. I just wanted to understand the infrastructure here, in the verdant valley between tall, forbidding karsts.

There was a series of signs in the first chamber, a large and spacious room with a kind of dune in the center of the wall on my left. First there was a blue metal sign in Lao and English that read "Police Unit", without any kind of context: no furniture, no markings on the wall or anything. We puzzled over that.

On a section of wall nearby, prior tourists had taken liberty to scrawl their graffiti in various languages. Other people I know would find this charming but I was irritated at their lack of respect. Tourists from many nations found it more important to carve in evidence of their passage than to afford proper respect to the historical events that made these areas worth visiting in the first place.

Deeper into the cavern we spotted a dilapidated wooden table and benches, quiet out of place on the sandy floor and within the cold stone walls. With this stood another sign: "Art Unit." These two signs, Police and Art, made no sense to us and our guide was unable to decipher these for us—he gave no indication he could speak his own language (as other guides could do, muttering under their breath or stumbling for phrases), much less our own.

For a moment I played with a scenario in my head, in which something unfortunate had happened to one of us and someone had to rush off for help. It's good to think of these incidents in advance, but this was a pretty grim one: if I got hurt and he had to run back to his house, how could he communicate to them what had happened? He'd have to convince the woman to pull herself from her chores and follow her into the cavern, leaving the small children unattended (which was probably safer here than in the States, honestly), where she'd appraise the situation before laboriously running back out to convince one of the trendy teenagers to bike back into the village, assuming their scooter was working... I resolved to not get into nor cause any accidents that would snap our limbs.

Across the corridor from the Art Unit was a much older sign, in a state of disrepair, that said, "Provincial Art Unit." The extra wording didn't provide any useful additional information, so we stumbled on in confusion, waiting for more clues. There was more graffiti here, as though tourists took it as a cue to provide their own artwork. And I dunno, maybe that would be appropriate here. If only every historical society had the foresight to leave one blank wall for idiots to commemorate their passing, they might preserve the rest of their artifacts and edifices.

All the way in the back of the cavern, which stretched on like a wide hallway, where light began to grow dim over a damp and sandy plateau of flooring, there was a raised ridge reinforced by a wall of bamboo. It looked to us like a small, makeshift fortification in a recessed bunker. The sign here said, "Sand Unit to Protect Bullets." I supposed the word against may have been missing from this sentence, if this bunker was a defensive posture, though maybe it was also a storage area for ammunition. It was impossible to tell, even considering the previous three signs.

The sign "Meeting Hall of the Provincial Governor" greeted us in the next cavern, with another table made out of bamboo and more signs alluding to governmental and administrative positions, so at least a pattern was forming. We inferred that this had been the meeting place, at one time or another, for local government. Flush with our "discovery," we were honored to be escorted to these traditional, perhaps ancient civic meeting grounds.

Our guide took us all the way to the back of this cavern, where the floor began to slope downward. At the end of this, not far ahead, the ground finally broke up and emptied into a small chasm. The young man walked nearly to the edge of it and waved us closer. His widened eyes and slight grin indicated he was excited about something: he picked up a few small rocks in the area and tossed them over, one by one. It was a while before we heard them hit anything, and when we realized the depth of their fall, our surprised expressions delighted him. We each had turns at tossing a couple rocks over and listening to them strike.

He also seemed to enjoy Rebecca's behavior in the large cavern: she stomped around and whistled to listen to the various echoes that came from different directions. Wordless as ever, his face lit up to watch her antics and hear the effects. Along the tour, however, I noticed he seemed to suffer from a rattling cough, and occasionally hacked up and spat a pale yellow sputum. I tried to think of what sophisticated Western medicine we might have brought with us, but all we had was aspirin and that was back at the guesthouse.

When we milked as much amusement from this as could be extracted, we proceeded carefully down the rocky path. Abruptly there was a jagged, broad portal and we found ourselves on the edge of the cow pasture once again. Obviously we were further along now, we couldn't see any of the docile herd that eyed us at the start. The valley ran on for a long while, it seemed, and it would've been a pleasurable afternoon to stroll the length of it (as long as we weren't transgressing farmers' property), just to look up at the rocky cliffs and examine the groves and brush.

Everything looked so healthy and thriving; either the air was cleaner here or sensing that was a placebo effect from seeing so much raw, jagged rock and robust vegetation. Constantly I tried to remind myself that what I was perceiving was not necessarily so, but it was fine to revel in how things seemed to be, in the moment.

Down the path was a new entrance to some new caverns, and this time there was a clear, hand-lettered sign posted overhead: "The Bawk (Bank) Office of Luangprabang, between 1968−1974." That was the exact moment when our naïvete fled and we finally clued into what we should have known all along. We could easily have prepared for this if we'd read up on the caverns in any guide book, I'm sure.

These caverns were where the local Lao communities hid while the U.S. bombed the shit out of their countryside for nearly a decade. The U.S. military did this without permission from Congress, JFK called it a "mission of peace" and the next two U.S. presidents lied through their teeth about its existence.

Now, I have a hard time finding "Pathoc" anywhere online, except when Google turns up my own blog posts. My understanding of the Secret War changes every time I read new information, but my understanding is that the Pathet Lao ("Land of Laos") were a left-wing Communist movement that fought both the government of Laos and the anti-Communist Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. "Pathoc" appears on maps and books and signs throughout Lao PDR, but the online databases insist on the spelling "Pathet," so either this is a bizarre linguistic corruption or they actually mean two different things that no one can explain to me currently.

But it was the Communist Lao who took over the nation, and it was the Communist Lao the U.S. was fighting, attempting to destroy the supply lines between Vietnam and Cambodia. In the meantime, vast populations of uninvolved people were bombarded in explosions and driven into cavern networks like this one. We were in the financial and police system, apparently, and (as I learned from a German woman, later this evening) other nearby karsts housed business networks and government networks. Lao farmers risked their lives racing across the landscape on horseback just to access the mountain under which the makeshift hospital had been set up, for example. Whenever the environment seemed clear, any available resources and materials were harvested and carted off to each cavern network, in an attempt to keep their society running while JFK's "mission of peace" erupted the earth in fire and shrapnel.

Though he couldn't speak, the young man in the red plaid shirt very effectively used facial expressions and some simple, clear gestures to direct our attention to areas of interest. For example, we were entering smaller natural passageways and going deeper into the earth. Our perception of the air went from refreshing to chilly, and the rocky slopes felt damp with cold. It was plenty humid, despite the cold, and I couldn't stop sweating profusely.

There was no light where we were going and our guide would have halted us and turned us around, but as it happened we brought the rinky-dink little LED flashlights we picked up in Luang Prabang, so he extended the tour into deeper and darker recesses. Midway through, he gestured for us to wait and pointed up, where we found a natural chimney directly overhead. The sides were nearly white, smooth and gently lumpy, and after a minute of studying them we realized that a small colony of bats had roosted at the very top of it: most of them were sleeping but a few flitted about when our man whistled up at them. He was confident so I tried to stifle my own nervousness about this.

And our guide took us as far as he could, as far as was safe. We absolutely trusted him and we saw some amazing things, with no overt or needless risk to our safety. My impression was that this was where he personally played, exploring during the dull moments when he was permitted to go off and wander. That's the story I told myself, anyway.

My recollections of the cavern were recorded in fresher condition in 365XN, my photo-a-day blog, at the time.

We three went into  yet another network of caves after this, but this was full of sharp, plunging ledges and very narrow passageways. Sometimes I had to remove my backpack (we brought a small bag along for water, first aid, etc.) to squeeze through, and I'm surprised these features haven't surfaced in my nightmares, frankly. I really did have to work to push my panic down and remind myself that I could back up and find my way back at any point. It took more work not to fantasize about a rock coming loose and blocking off a venue of passage.

To take my mind off things, I started to pick up trash along these corridors, and shamefully there was no shortage of this. However, I'm willing to be generous and not blame this entirely on tourists: it's possible these caverns provide a fortuitous getaway for local teens to get drunk and make out, as teens will. They're perfect for that, being both secretive and slightly dangerous. It was my good luck that someone had actually discarded a small pile of plastic grocery bags, the better to collect the detritus and clean up the area with.

Our young guide led us out of the caverns and back into the sunshine. The cows were no more or less excited to see us—complacent as they appeared, they were still powerful enough that we didn't desire to approach them.

 But the biggest surprise was when the young man, whom we fully believed to be incapable of speech, actually started to speak. It sounded as though he were stammering through two or three words, repeating these slowly. Despite not having any grasp of the Lao tongue, it was clear to us that he was shyly requesting a gratuity. This was no problem: the personal tour was so exceptional we were looking forward to tipping him nicely.

On the way back, across the field, we ran into a young and beautiful Belgian man who intended to tour the caverns without any guide at all. Perhaps he thought he was saving himself a lot of money? 5,000 kip was only about €0.44 to him. Maybe he just wanted to explore it with fresh eyes and figure everything out for himself, which is still risky in poorly lit caverns of slick rock and sudden precipices. After some polite arguing, we at least persuaded him to take our batteries for his headlamp, so maybe we spoiled the surprise of darkness, but perhaps we spared him the surprise of breaking his leg at the bottom of a chasm.

There were two more backpackers approaching the cave, and once we crossed the stream and returned to the clearing, we found more people lining up for the cavern tour. Heading back down highway 1C into town we passed another large group of hippies, and we considered ourselves very lucky to have gotten up so early and hit the caves before the rush.

And this entry is so long, I'll break it off into a second one—coming soon.