It’s a smart thing to have smart friends. That way, when your friends find cheap tickets to the beach and suggest you go over Memorial Day week, you can join them. Also, your friends will probably do all the research and work to find a condo on the beach and rent a car. That way, all you have to do is sit on the couch, eat M ‘n Ms and tell jokes.
(And drink milk, if you’re this guy.) (Hello, farmer’s tan in the back! Ha ha. He doesn’t know I’m posting this.)
I have such friends. And this advantageous relationship led to our spending five days last week in Galveston, Texas.
What do I know about Galveston? Not a whole lot. There was a hurricane there in 2008 that devastated the island, and another one of my smart friends went down to help do clean-up. (Smart, and giving, too!)
But, it’s a beach, and it’s close to Oklahoma. And I love the beach.
Now, my expectations weren’t high. I grew up going to the beach at least once a year in South America, and I lived in the Caribbean for nine months. I’ve lived in Florida near the beach, too. All I needed was a small space of sand and some waves.
Galveston delivered. Granted, the beaches were crowded over the weekend and on the actual Memorial Day, but the rest of the week it was a sleepy little town. We enjoyed the beach, the pool, and exploring Galveston’s eating options. With a two-year-old in tow, we didn’t do much activity-wise, but we swam, dug in the sand, and just relaxed. It was perfect.
You know what is at the beach? Sand. And wind. And therefore? I didn’t take my camera out much. So I can’t offer much in the way of pictures.
And yes, it is Texas. I was surprised every time when a waitress or clerk said, “Ya’ll.” Guess Deborah’s going to have to beat it into me.
And now for the food.
My dad’s friend took us to the best food we had in all of Vientiane: Lao Kitchen. We ate a lot of sub-par food, and not a lot of really local food (in restaurants, that is; of course our friends served us local food all the time. More on that below).
This photo of Lao Kitchen is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Please, please, if you are ever there, go and get the mint-lime smoothie. It’s not sweet or yogurt based, but it was amazing. Huge handfuls of mint leaves with crushed iced and topped with lime juice and soda water. Very refreshing and super unique. We ordered a whole bunch of dishes to share, and they were all good.
This photo of Lao Kitchen is courtesy of TripAdvisor
I was finally taught the proper way to eat the rice out of the little bamboo baskets it is served in: dip your fingers in, roll a little ball of rice, then use that to scoop up the curry or veggies.
This photo of Lao Kitchen is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Pardon the Trip Advisor photos, but I was way too busy eating to take photos. Also, my fingers were sticky. But you can see both the mint smoothie and the bamboo container with the rice in the photo above. I also tried green papaya salad, because it’s traditional, but decided I’m not a fan. Not because of the salad so much, but because green papaya is just not good. My friend had the mango sticky rice for dessert, but at that point, I was way to full.
This was the more typical fare that we ate with our friends. They put all the food on big trays and then set them on little stands like these:
Everyone circles around with their rice bowl, plucking fish, vegetables and meat with their chopsticks into their rice bowls. This day was especially funny, because someone told one of the British guys that the middle bowl was snake, and he decided to fast that day. I was excited to try the snake, before they told me it was just fish.
I love this photo of the fast-moving women in the kitchen where they cooked and cleaned up our lunch.
And this is where we spent most of our time with our friends, in the real world of Laos.
This was my first big trip after taking my photography class, and I want you to know I shot all of these photos on manual. Some of them aren’t as great as I’d hoped, but I’m learning!
We met up with a friend of my dad’s who lives in Vientiane and teaches English. She had to teach later in the day, so she’s wearing a traditional Lao shirt. Unlike Vietnam or China, many Laotians still wear their traditional clothing as daily wear. The school girl’s uniforms included similar skirts. For the most part, women only wear skirts, and they drop below the knee. They also cover their shoulders in most situations, so there was a big contrast with the tourists running around in short shorts and bikini tops.
Even the political heroes get a bow and a prayer, and probably some snacks and a few candles, too. Don’t be like me; take your shoes off before walking up to the shrine.
The interesting thing about Vientiane (and very much in contrast with Ho Chi Minh City), is that there are modern coffee shops, restaurants and shops, but none of them are the international chains. Instead, they all appear to be independently run, local businesses. We sampled mango smoothies and free wifi at a local coffee shop/bakery (and, let’s be honest, the occasional chocolate chip cookie) almost every day. In the morning it would be full of tourist backpackers and expats, but in the afternoons it would fill up with school kids (in private school uniforms, because this kind of a place wouldn’t be accessible to the average Laotian) and young and upcoming urban professionals, a horde of scooters parked out front.
And yet, in the hustle and bustle of modern life, there are the temple complexes sprinkled around the city. This is the largest, with something like six temples tucked around a terracotta tile mall.
That pillow does not look very comfortable. I’d take my tiny piece of hotel foam over that.
Everything was so inexpensive, but needed to be paid in Lao kip. Our hotel was something like $18 a night. It had hot water, a/c, and a rock hard mattress that left me with bruised hips. But it was clean!
If I ever lived in Laos, I’d probably go into the power-washing business. At little water pressure would do wonders for the gray on the shrines.
After a while, all the gold and ornate-ness becomes overwhelming to the senses.
This was a working monastery; where the monks lived in the building next door, and ate and worshiped here.
So here’s what I learned in photography class:
In a lighting situation like this, you can either expose for the outside light or the shadowed interior area, but not both.
Two weeks in Vietnam and Laos wore me out. They wore me out so much that I nearly forgot my blog password.
But a reminder from my sister, then a haiku (no less!) from my dad in Central Asia has prompted me to get off my duff and show you some pictures.
Check out Vientiane’s version of the Arc de Triomphe.
For something like 50 cents, you can hike the stairs to the top for a sweeping view of the city.
Unfortunately, it was a gray day the morning we were there, but we were grateful that the heat wasn’t terribly intense yet.
There’s the presidential palace on that end of the boulevard.
I expected Laos to be a lot more like Vietnam, but it’s really Thailand’s less-developed cousin. Geographically it makes sense, but for some reason I’d always lumped them together in my head. Vietnam is communism, commercialism and hard work, whereas I felt like Laos was a more slow-moving pace of life. There were plenty of people up at 6 a.m. exercising along the Mekong river. But as they passed the huge religious statues, many would pause, bow and say a short prayer.
There were temples on nearly every street block, and because Laos recently celebrated their New Year (April 13-15), most of them had been topped up with a new coat of glistening gold paint.
I suppose when I pictured the temples, I thought of them more like operating houses of worship. In reality they are more of large structures built to show the benefactor’s religious devotion. Some sit empty, while a few have monks that live on the premises. Few are given much maintenance, with the exception of their New Year’s paint job. And not all the temples even got that.
Today I’m headed for Laos, and by Monday, I’ll make my way to Vietnam. Stay tuned for new pictures in a couple of weeks!
On Sunday, my little guy and I headed to the park. Spring in Oklahoma is amazing, though short. It’s fairly bug-free, and the temps are pleasant.
I’m also enrolled in a photography course at the local community college, so I brought my camera along.
This little kid loves to run and play and climb and jump. He refers to the park as the “party”, for obvious reasons.
And when he got thirsty, he knew right what to do.
He ran over to the drinking fountain and drank out of the dog bowl.
I guess it’s toddler-sized, too.
Fast-moving little boys sure are hard to capture, but I got a couple that I liked.
That’s dirt on the face, father. It was a perfect little boy day.
I’m pretty jazzed that I finally know how to work my camera a little.
I’m going to miss this little turkey for the next 10 days!
Do you know where the Canary Islands are? No, really. Like could you point them out on a map?
That’s what I thought. Bonus points if you can tell me which country they pertain to. As in, whose government runs the show?
We arrived in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria after a year in the Caribbean and Africa.
Specifically, we arrived in Las Palmas after two and a half weeks in Sierra Leone, among the poorest nations in the world. Las Palmas looked like heaven.
Our berth was 100 yards from a gleaming white shopping mall, it’s neon lights piercing the night and the sun reflecting off three stories of floor to ceiling windows in the day.
After the dust of Africa, it was clean and quiet. After the colorful cotton patterns of West Africa, here girls were wearing skinny jeans, peasant skirts, flats and jelly shoes.
I was in my element speaking Spanish again, though with a strange accent even different from the mainland.
Shops closed between 1-5, and the restaurants on the boardwalk stayed open until midnight even during the week. I saw children on the playground at 11 p.m.
I started out spending the weekend with some girlfriends away from the ship in a borrowed flat.
We enjoyed simple pleasures: cooking our own dinner, relaxing on the balcony and giggling on the couch until late.
During the day, we walked along the seaside cliffs and marveled at the beauty of the island.
Back at the ship, we hosted a cultural expo on the ship, and turned our smaller bookstore room into a coffee house where the Canarios could linger and chat.
Later we went on to one of the other islands in this archipelago, and spent time in Tenerife, apparently a huge vacation spot for Europeans for its warmth and beaches.
Life there was slower than the main city.
I love the Canary islands. I’d love to go back and visit again some day.
But I think the reason why they are most special is that after spending some of the five days sailing from Sierra Leone talking on the decks with this guy, in Las Palmas we made it official.
He left the next day for Norway, and I wouldn’t see him for four months. I got to know the call center (a place with phone booths that sells telephone minutes; they’re very common in ports. Perhaps not so much now that mobile phones are king.) near the ship in Las Palmas quite well.
The journey with this funny Dutchman began here.