Saturday, December 24, 2011

Patagonia visit

Since we were coming to Argentina to spend the some time during the Holidays with my mother, Steve and I decided to do a side trip to southern Chile and visit the National Parks, Torres del Paine and El Calafate in Argentina. The trip started with multiple flights to get to Punta Arenas, Chile on December 15th. It is the first time both Steve and I have visited Chile and the remote south is really beautiful and with very nice, warm and welcoming people. After 5 flights we arrived to Punta Arenas after an amazing flight over the Andes and the souther Cordillera Blanca, we were able to see the third biggest ice fields in the world, exit glaciers and Mount Fitz Roy from the plane. The next day after a morning run along the Straits of Magellan we took a bus to Puerto Natales, a small chilean town were the busses that go to Torres del Paine depart and we're able to secure other busses to go to El Calafate and back to Punta Arenas the following week. The trekking in Torres del Paine was amazing, there are two circuits, a big O that usually requires stay in tents some nights and the W which we were able to do staying in Refugios along the way. We did not need to bring a tent, sleeping bags nor food or cooking gear, the Refugios provided bed linens or sleeping bags and gave us breakfast, dinner and a bagged lunch. The scenery is fantastic, green valleys, waterfalls, glaciers, huge granite mountains, rivers and lakes, the trails are well maintained, December is not too crowded and most people we met were from all over the world and great to share a meal, a room or the trails (France, South Africa, England, Germany, Australia, America, Spain and more). We finished the W in 5 days, with the longest day being 10.5 hours of trekking and the shortest 4.5 hours. Back in Puerto Natales on the 22nd with some time to do laundry and have a nice fish dinner. The past two days we spent in Argentina in El Calafate, where we went to see a huge glacier, Perito Moreno at Lago Argentino. The visit included a boat tour that brings you 300 meters from the glacier and then walking in a series of catwalks to look at the glacier crack and break and fall into the lake. We spent almost 3 hours looking at one spot that kept cracking till the last 5 minutes before our bus left the whole section of the wall fell in the lake making an amazing view with sound effects. Tomorrow it is Christmas day and we will be in busses back to Punta Arenas and on the 26th we will visit a penguin colony before going back to Buenos Aires to meet my mother and go to the beach. More to come.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

8 days in Nepal

Trying to summarize one week in Nepal in one posting is impossible. I have a 7 page journal I am keeping… So here it is my attempt:
Part one: Tucson to Jomsom, Oct 28-Nov 1st. This was a true “journey”: 4 flights to Katmandu, and two more to Jomsom. Steve and I stayed apart for two nights, his luggage and the medical boxes were misplaced. It was really sweet to finally meet in Jomsom on Nov 1st. Jomsom (at 9,000 ft) is where the airport in Mustang valley is and where the main hospital (clinic) was located. The flight from Pokhara to Jomsom was 20 minutes of wonderful views of the valley and the Himalayas and surprisingly smooth.
Part two: Medical mission, Nov 1st to Nov 5th
The team for Mustang had 3 dentists, 3 primary care docs, one OBGYN and several nurses and support staff. We all stayed in Jomsom the first day, even though it started a little chaotic, we managed to see 80 primary care patients of all age, lots of pretty severe high blood pressure and very little resources to care for them. My favorite was the oldest patient I saw this trip, an 85-year-old man who came for a well exam because he had no complaints. We started to get acquainted with Dahl Bat, Steve’s favorite new dish (or not) we had most days for lunch and dinner, the typical Nepali meal of rice and watery dhal made from small beans with some curried veggies and greens. Next day we went by jeep with Siddhartha, the other family doc to Tukuche Village to a health post to care for people from lower Mustang Valley who usually don’t have access to the hospital or any physician. The town was smaller with very little tourism, the health post building was newer but bare of any furniture but soon after we arrived the nurse midwife (an older alcoholic man) brought one exam table and a couple of desks and we were in business. The turnout of patients was amazing; they came from all the adjacent little towns and we managed to see hundreds of them in 2 and half days. Patients of all ages, most of them “untouchables” with access to no health care came with multiple pain complaints, rashes, colds, coughs. The most memorable patient was a 5 year old brought by the mother because she had not learned how to walk, with one look I could determine she had cerebral palsy with spastic paralysis, with no services or special education available for her. Steve was extremely helpful, sitting next to me for hours while seeing patients, he would take the blood pressure, or make dogs out of balloons for the kids and kept a detailed record of all the patients I saw, over 110 in 3.5 days! While in Tukuche we did a couple of short hikes, one to an amazing Buddhist monastery that the community is renovating. The weather was very cold, with no heat in the buildings or hot water. We had 3-4 layers of clothes day and night. The dentists and the other general practitioner came on the 3rd and 4th and we all went back to Jomsom by bus in the evening of the 4th. The bad news was that the weather was bad in Katmandu and Pokhara and there were no flights, the only way to come out of Jomsom if not by plane is by bus, very slowly and bumpy… 180 Km in 13 hours!
Part three: Muktinah, back to Pokhara Nov 5th-Nov 8th
After most of the volunteers went back on the 5th Steve, Bob (one of the nurses) and I stayed behind and went to Muktinah to visit some amazing Hindu and Buddhist monasteries, the trip by jeep was also very memorable: dusty, bumpy and long. The views of Nilgiri and Dhaulagiri were amazing and we walked in spite of the feeling of thin air at 12,000+ ft. On the 6th we woke up to very cloudy skies to the south, which meant no plane, and so we started another unique journey of 13 hours in 3 buses on a narrow dirt road that was very rocky or very muddy at times through a beautiful canyon.
Now it is our second night in Pokhara and we had other challenges, but today the weather cleared, we walked all day in shorts and t-shirts, we’ve had multiple hot showers and were able to eat other things besides Dahl Bat… life has been good to us. Tomorrow we fly to Katmandu for two days and then back home.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Logistical challenges

The good news is that we're both in Nepal and so is all of our luggage and equipment. The bad news is that Patricia and I have been separated for a day and our stuff is spread over 3 cities and towns. The high point was making it to Kathmandu with our bags and medical gear. The first complication was the Nepali medical society's requirement that all of the physicians leave the airport to go meet with them before allowing to practice in Nepal. This meant that the docs would miss our flight to Pokhara and have to spend the night in Kathmandu. OK so far. I took the medical boxes and my bag and headed for the flight to Pokhara. When I got to Pokhara we found that Buddha Air had left about a third of our bags behind since the plane got full. This of course included all of my stuff. 40 hours of travel and I'm stuck in the same clothes :-(.

This morning several us were up early to head up to Jomsom in the Mustang valley. Weather delayed the flight and of course now Yeti Air decided to leave a few more bags behind so more of us were without luggage. Patricia's flight was delayed so now the earliest she will get to Jomsom will be tomorrow morning and who knows how many of the bags will make it.

We started working at the hospital today (really a small clinic). It's been hard to get much productive work done with so many key people and supplies missing.

On the plus side - Jomsom is right next to Nilgiri I which is a little over 23,000 ft. Wow! I will see if I can get a few pics uploaded.

To be continued....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Made it home

After a 23 hour travel day we made it back safely to Tucson will all of our gear intact. Although you can see from the pictures that the integrity of the Amtrak bike boxes was somewhat degraded :-) It was raining in Newark when we got there and the boxes must have gotten a little wet, not a good combo with cardboard. A few challenges along the way but nothing that couldn't be overcome. Patricia enjoyed her thorough pat down from Copenhagen security - by a guy.

We're sorting through pictures now and starting the difficult process of reducing them down to a reasonable number (starting with 1500). We'll probably do a slide show sometime in the fall, let us know if you're interested.

The next adventure is a medical mission to remote parts of Nepal in 2 months. That should be a little different. Then next year maybe southeast Asia for some more touring.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Back to Copenhagen (again)

Through the magic of 2 rolls of saran wrap we made it back to Copenhagen today. We were finally able to attach the wheels to the bike frames on the side with even more wrap, which enabled me to carry both bikes and the wheels. Patricia was left with the 4 panniers which were quite a load. We came early for the first train and it was already in the station. We loaded up with no problem even though there was no bicycle approved car. Our tickets were checked and we were on the way. We dreaded the transfer to the bus halfway to Goteborg. Fortunately it was a short walk from the train to the busses. There was room in the baggage compartments and they had no problem with me sliding in the bikes. Whew!

Upon arrival in Goteborg we were dropped off a good distance from the train terminal, so we decided to have Patricia go ahead and get the tickets for the rest of the trip to Copenhagen while I started re-assembly of the bikes. That went pretty well and soon we were riding the bikes (instead of carrying them) to the next train. 3 hours later we're in Copenhagen and a short ride across the city later we're at Ignacio and Lindsay's for our final night's stay. Most things are repacked now, it's off to bed soon and an early taxi to the airport. Looking forward to being back in the USA and being back home :-) It's been a great trip - 5 countries, countless bike paths and beers!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Norway and a new challenge

The good news is that after a nice stay in Stromstad, we found our way to Norway. A very hilly and scenic ride, with some ugly looking shopping areas in the middle with the worst of the US, McDonalds and Burger King, and many Swedish candy (Godis) and Tobacco (Tobak) stores. The border crossing is over a fjord through a beautiful bridge from 1946. The weather was spectacular today, the warmest, driest and calmest day of all the trip. We came to Halden, a nice town on the fjord that separates Sweden and Norway. The hills were significantly steeper and higher and the traffic pretty bad. we had a bike path around 1/4th of the time. We found the train station and a hotel across from it without a problem. Now the plan is to go back to Copenhagen by train tomorrow because our flight leaves on Sunday morning. After lunch we went to the train station and had to deal with the auto-ticket dispenser since no one works at the station. It was not clear if the train will take bikes and we got our tickets anyway. Steve went to the station while I was getting the hotel room and saw no cars with the bike sign on the train...fortunately he kept looking into it on the internet and found out that as they are repairing parts of the single track sections between Halden and Goteborg (our connection to Copenhagen) there is half of the trip that is done by bus... They are not allowing bikes on the bus unless they are packaged. By now it is after 6 PM everything is closed so we have no other option than going to the supermarket and buying saran-wrap, tape and black garbage bags. The picture shows my idea on bike packing. Tomorrow is probably our biggest challenge in this trip. Like the Rogers' Zippy the Surlys are taken apart and wrapped . Stay tuned...more adventures to the very end!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Blue Skies

It was a beautiful day in northern Sweden today. Partly cloudy in the morning as we headed out of Lysekil and then completely clear later in the morning. Temps in the 50's and 60's made for perfect riding. We picked a route that went mostly on secondary routes through the countryside and along the coast. Very scenic all the way. We ended up with about 66 miles and 3100 feet of climbing and are in Stromstad for the night.

We're about 10 miles from Norway, so things look good for spending at least one day and night in Norway. Saturday will be another train trip back to Copenhagen to get ready for the flight home on Sunday :-( The 4 weeks has gone by too fast!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rain, sun, wind, Swedish fjords, bridges and 3 ferries

Today we went from Stenungsund to Lysekil, 39 miles with 2300 feet of climbing. The day started gloomy and rainy, it had rained all night with some good thunderstorms. The scenery was spectacular, the Swedish fjords are a mix of water, big rocks and pine trees. There is a lush vegetation on the side of the road including wild flowers and ferns. There are many rolling hills and some a little more sustained and a couple of switchbacks. The weather forecast said 30 % for precipitation and I guess it did rain or drizzle the first third of the ride. But then it got sunny and windy, mostly headwinds from the NW, which blew the rain away (I take the wind over rain today).
We went over at least 3 amazing bridges with bike lanes and 2 free ferries that function as a bridge and then a longer ferry for people and bikes from Fiskebackskil to Lysekil.
We were able to find a pretty fancy restaurant for lunch which we had skipped the last few days, it was the best and most expensive lunch this trip, I had 6 different kinds of herring...yum! and Steve had the best fish burger I ever tried.
Since we arrived to Lyseki early we went on a walk to the local church, found a cheap pizza place and walked around the town, lots of great pictures... hard to choose them for the blog. Tomorrow we will try to ride longer to see if the last day we can make it to Norway trying to enjoy the last few days and not think too much about work. This is me, Patricia...of course :-(

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Touring in Sweden

Bottom line: I haven't seen this many Volvos since I last shopped at La Encantada. They are pretty much everywhere. We got away from Copenhagen late morning on Monday. Apartment was all cleaned, Federico and family were on their way, and Florencia was left in charge. We headed north following a route along the east coast of the island towards Helsingor, Denmark. A short way out of the city we met a young German cyclist named Robert touring by himself. We stayed together and chatted until we made it to Helsingor and boarded the ferry to Helsingborg, Sweden in the early afternoon. Following a group hunt for the tourist information site and loading up on Swedish Kroner we parted ways with us heading north and him south.

Our northern trek took us to the little coastal town of Angelholm. We had a very nice stay in a small hotel and a very nice breakfast this morning. We weren't sure on whether we wanted to ride some or take the train to Goteborg to be able to see more of the northern coast. When it started pouring down rain during breakfast it was an easy decision. A nice 2 hour train ride north we were in Goteborg around 11 AM. After a bit of a hunt to find our way out of town we used as many bike paths as we could find before resorting to the GPS to find the way. As usual it did a fine job. landing us in Stenungsund in time for a little walk around town before dinner. It's getting hillier and rockier along the route and the scenery along the coast just keeps getting more beautiful. We're looking forward to even better stuff as we head up towards Norway.

We could tell a difference in the bike culture as soon as we rode off of the ferry in Sweden. It's still bike friendly, but a step down from Denmark and The Netherlands. I read somewhere that it may be in part due to the fact that Denmark and The Netherlands do not have car manufacturers, so when someone proposes something pro-bike you don't have the aggressive auto industry bribing, er... I mean lobbying the various lawmaking bodies to vote down anything that is not pro-car. Just a fundamentally different attitude. Sweden is about halfway between Denmark and the US.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The wedding

Steve thinks not too many people would be interested in details of the wedding, but I wanted to put some pictures so you can see Steve with a suit and tie and the Lebensohns in their best outfits. The wedding day went very well with a simple ceremony at the courthouse in the morning and a party at night in a Hotel 12 miles north of the Copenhagen. We biked there because we were too many for the taxi... We had no problems in the way in, after a nice dinner and some dancing and especially after Steve got sober enough he could stay straight on the bike we went back at 2 AM and did fine until 1 km before our apartment when we got drenched with a shower but we were in bed dry by 3 AM. More on touring on Sweden next.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Family time in Copenhagen

Everyone made it to Copenhagen. Our apartment is in the 5th floor (equivalent to 6th in the US) and no elevator which made it very interesting coming up the stairs with everyone's luggage. We are in Noreborro, a neighborhood north of the centrum, with a heavy muslim and middle eastern population. Stores have signs in Danish and Arabic, lots of pizza/kebabs restaurants which seem to be the favorite combination for fast food.
We are forced to walk a lot because the metro is about 1.5miles away and the rest of my family is staying at the centrum. Steve prefers to go by bike, it is so easy to do and faster but with the baby we push the stroller everywhere.
Tuesday was arrival/collection of family members/ Wednesday went to Christiania, a very interesting area that was taken by a group of anarchists, one of the photos is the mural at the entrance, marijuana plants grow everywhere and they sell it freely in little stands on the inside streets, pretty unique... and can not take pictures inside for obvious reasons.
Thursday we went to a family picnic and then Federico, my son went to a ultimate frisbee practice while I ran around in the park and ended the day with our first pizza/kebabs meal.
Steve and I take off each morning before everyone is up and ready to go and explore the city on the bike, it is really easy and fun to get everywhere by bike and be surrounded by cyclists, there are no streets that are off limits for cyclists, only the big highways.
Today we might do a water tour of the city to try to bring everyone together, tomorrow is the wedding, and the next post will be on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Back to Copenhagen

We survived the 6 trains and 5 transfers to celebrate my birthday. The transfers turned out to not be so difficult, even the ones that were 11 minutes. The weather is great now in Copenhagen, perhaps even a bit warm. This week is the gathering of the Lebensohn family for the wedding coming up on Saturday. Everyone should have arrived by this evening.

On the 2nd to last train we met a nice Danish woman who is a fellow bike traveler. It turns out she lives near where we are staying in Copenhagen, so she volunteered to show us the way which was particularly nice since it was dark when we arrived. You just meet the nicest people while traveling by bike. Today was a little shopping and visiting the various sites around town where the family members are staying. All working well so far!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Amsterdam, where bicycles rule!

We got to Amsterdam yesterday, after a really enjoyable stay in Alkmaar and a great ride almost 100% on bike paths along the country side and little towns into Amsterdam, Centraal Station.
Alkmaar, the cheese city, is about 33 miles north from Amsterdam. We missed the Friday cheese market but you can see one of the cheese vendors in the market in one of the pictures. By now we are experts on finding our way in The Netherlands via the biking scavenger hunt. Even coming into Amsterdam we were in the countryside up until the last kilometer. Once we crossed the canal into Centraal Station with a free ferry, a sense of bicycle chaos and tourist invasion came upon us. We did not have a hotel reservation but we got one at the tourist information office across the street from Centraal Station. Getting to the hotel was a little challenging, the GPS did not recognize the street name so we had to do with a paper map. Between the narrow streets, canal crossings, cars, scooters, hundreds of bicycles, pedestrians, and let's not forget the trolley tracks, it was a miracle we made it without falling or crashing into something (I was really close). Our hotel was thankfully a few blocks away from the centrum, it is near the museums on a quiet street. We changed clothes and went for a walk, in the old centrum, red light district, market place, all very new to us and intense. Both Steve and I agree we prefer the small cities out of the tourist's path, but Amsterdam is a city to visit at least once. Today we went to the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums and traveled the city by bike, having coffee and lunch along the way in different outdoor cafes. It is really fun for me to feel entitled to ring my bell and make people move out of the way, and cars wait patiently behind me while riding on a narrow street. Tomorrow we will have an interesting celebration for Steve's birthday, yes it is August 1st and he will be 53... a year older than me. We will travel by train to Copenhagen, it is not a direct train... we will be in 6 different trains and have to do 5 transfers with the bikes, and in a couple we have 11 minutes to make it. Next post will be on the 2nd when we and my family all meet in Copenhagen for a fun family week and wedding celebration.

Friday, July 29, 2011

On to Holland

After a 70 mile day we're less than a day's ride north of Amsterdam. It was mostly cloudy with a few showers on the ride today with a strong breeze out of the NNW. Fortunately it was mostly a cross or quartering tail wind. One of the highlights was an 18 mile dike separating a huge man made lake from the ocean. Since a good portion of the country is at or below mean sea level the Dutch have to be clever in managing the flow of water out. When the tide is low they let water flow out, when the tide is high they close the gates.

Tonight is in Alkmaar. Once again we seem to have found a local festival and the party is underway. A good thing about spending many hours on the bike is that sleeping is usually not a problem, even when it's noisy. We took advantage of the extensive Dutch bike route system again today, as well as the Garmin 800. Both have proved to be very valuable.

Tomorrow after breakfast we head south to Amsterdam for a 2 night stay and I'm sure a few new adventures.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Into the heart of Fryslan

This was a full and interesting day: started with breakfast at Niko and Esther's house and stopping at the train station in Groningen to find tickets to come back to Denmark on the 1st. The station is a beautiful old building and has the biggest bicycle parking we have seen so far as documented in the picture. The computers were down and had to wait a long time, and we did not get the direct overnight reservation because there was no room for the bikes... instead we got a reservation where we go in 6 different trains and have 5 transfers... I am sure it will be a relaxing time to read (while on the train) mixed with being frantic during transfer times. By the time we got our tickets it was noon, and started on this interesting system of bike paths through fields, dikes, forests and canals they have in Fryslan, it was like a game...a scavenger hunt to find the next number. Niko had prepared a route for us that would be fun and interesting. We started getting soaked with a short but moderately intense rain shower. The bike path system is really amazing, we only had to back track 3 times, Lots of bicycles along the way, people going to work, families with kids, many older couples (60s,70s) going for a ride or having a picnic along the way, one tandem, as Steve said before, this is bicycle wonderland!
The goal was to get to Sneek (pronounced snake), or for the Fryslanders: Snits. In order to get there we had to cross an area full of canals and lakes with few roads so we had to catch 3 short ferries and since we started late it was the end of the hours they functioned, got a rush making it to all 3 and saved 10 extra miles around the park. We got to Sneek around 7 PM with the sun slowly setting. The hotel we found is in the main street on top of a restaurant and pub. The street was closed with barriers and the entire town was on the side walk waiting for something to happen ... when we came down to eat after showering we discovered that is was the local sport: couples go around in little carriages dressed like the old times, the man manages the horse while the woman tries to get a ring from a post with a big wooden stick!
We have many more stories for today.. we are saving them for the slide show. Next to north Holland to see the beach, tulips and cheese.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sightseeing around Groningen

We're staying two nights with friends Esther and Nico, so today was spent touring the countryside around Groningen and a short trip in to the center of the city. The weather just keeps getting better every day. It was sunny and calm in the morning with a temp in the 60's. Partly cloudy later in the day but only a few drops of rain all day.

Riding through the countryside was like being in some kind of bicycle dream. Bike paths literally going everywhere, and people of all ages using them by the hundreds. Families, older people (even older than us), touring cyclists, and just people out for a nice ride. Lots of sheep, dairy cattle, horses, and shetland ponies to be seen everywhere. Canals are pretty much everywhere as well. With the land at or below sea level all of the water has to be drained in a complex system of ditches and canals. Amazingly it all works (at least until sea level rises too much)

Dinner back in the city center. In the morning we'll be fully loaded and off again headed towards Sneek. Amsterdam in another two to three days.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We found the flat lands: the Netherlands!

Another excellent day of riding with a little over 72 miles to Groningen, a nice University City out of the usual touristic route where our friends Esther and Niko live. If it was not for the overpasses and the dikes it would have been a perfectly flat route. Coming out of Germany, there were bike paths all the way, we stopped in a few places for pictures, like Papenburg, a small town with canals and replicas of old ships. Rheden, a border town where we had lunch and had a hard time getting a low fat meal...even the salad is covered by creamy dressing, cheese and some bright orange yolk, I was scared to eat (I will have to postpone working on lowering my cholesterol until I come back home). The garmin GPS, was amazing in bringing us right to the door our our friends country home through streets and roads that had bicycle designated paths. Amazing scenery with fields of wheat, corn, cows, sheep, horses and ponies feeding on the grass and canals with children fishing or people on boats and canoes.
After cleaning up and starting laundry we went off to town with Niko to dinner to a nice restaurant in the old part of town while Esther was at work. We finished the evening with a delicious chamomile tea and great conversation.
We are staying one more day in Groningen exploring the surrounding areas, I want to go to the "tea" museum and some older towns closer to the coast.