Sunday, July 8, 2012

one year on the road!

"lost my boots in transit, a pile of smoking leather." - robert hunter

getting friendly with the wildlife of cambodia.
one year ago today, we left our home in california for a year "on the road." sixteen countries and nearly 30,000 miles later, we're heading back to the good ol' u.s of a. for a couple of weeks. we're not stopping there, though, but more on that later. we are very much looking forward to some time with family and friends and, believe us when we say this, we can't wait to be in a country where we understand everything that's being spoken around us.

"been lots of places, seen plenty things." - brutha iz

this has been one fantastic year. if we were to make one simple observation from traveling through such diverse cultures, it would be this: the world is full of good people. whether it was the people whose country we were visiting or other travelers with whom we crossed paths, it's the people who have made this such a great experience.

stop #1: berlin, germany. daniel, rick, russ and dan. what better way to begin a trip than to see an old friend, make a new friend, and meet the king of european travel, rick steves.

our most wonderful friend
jayne came to visit us in
southeast asia!
our very first stop was berlin, and we were lucky to time it with a friend from home and his friend from germany with whom we ran into rick steves in a beer garden (a good omen for our travels, we thought). since then, we've been enormously fortunate to meet some fantastic people. friendships grow quickly and intensely on the road and we're the richer for them. we went swimming in the danube river with a new friend wet met in a vienna restaurant, stayed at a farmhouse in slovenia with new friends we met on a train (and we're going back, too!), walked the old walls of dubrovnik with a couple of brits we met on a bus through croatia, and befriended many innkeepers, several of whom we're now proud to call personal friends (hi barbara! hi arianne! hi may! hi mar!)

we call this our united nations night in chiang mai, thailand.
"a spaniard, an indian, a swede and two americans
walk into a bar..."

"baby don't you know, people come and go, oh... just like a rainbow." - apples in stereo

would you like to have your mind blown by kindness? visit southeast asia. thailand on the left, laos on the right. this photo in laos was taken an hour's hike from a small village only accessible by boat, to an even smaller village only accessible by foot.
"people will tell you where they've gone, they'll tell you where to go, but 'til you get there yourself, you'll never really know." - joni mitchell

in yangon, myanmar (burma) we went three times at sunset to what is considered one of the most important sites in buddhism, the shwedagon pagoda. as a result, we talked for hours with a monk who was there each time practicing english, answering questions about buddhism and discussing different cultures, and we became friends. we now chat with him online no matter where we are. a monk! with a chat account! did NOT see that coming when we bought our tickets. 

our new friend, varasami, from yangon, myanmar. a buddhist monk. every few weeks i get a pop-up on my computer with something like "hello my friend! where are you now?" warms my heart every time.

how's this for crazy geography? we met an artist from the czech republic and his swedish girlfriend (who now live in australia) on a boat up the irrawaddy river in myanmar who mapped out a great laotian itinerary for us. and here's a quote: "yeah, we JUST came through laos and wow, was it amazing. i found paper made from cow poop and i'm going to paint on it!" you can't make that up.

michelle with the burmese family that would be happy to adopt her. they owned a street-side restaurant, really a lean-to with some curries simmering away. i think i had to mimic a chicken to be sure we knew what we were eating. laughter all around. we spoke very little burmese (but we tried!) they spoke no english, and somehow we managed over an hour of very exuberant conversation. we went back.

southeast asia has a few well-worn traveler routes which allowed us to meet new friends and see them again in a few days or a month somewhere completely different and hundreds of miles away. we rode scooters with germans (hi lina and flo!) through northern laos. met a few israelis there, too, and a month later ran into them in vietnam. "hey, it's you! let's get a beer." we met an american photographer in myanmar and had lunch weeks later in chiang mai, thailand. 

lina and flo from germany. now that's a couple that enjoys a hammock.

before leaving home we sent a simple email to a traveling couple, already on the road, whom we'd met through their blog. we finally met up in chiang mai, thailand and became very quick friends (hi warren and betsy!). they helped us find a great place to live for a month in the old town and it was like we were home, only on the other side of the world. can't wait to see them again and i know that we will. right now, they're in mongolia and we're in ecuador. summer plans are in the works to meet in the middle.

betsy and warren, two of our favorite people on the road and two people who played a key part in inspiring us to do it. i'm sure betsy's schooling me on why i should live my life traveling. warren is teaching michelle the finer points of pouring wine from a bag. hey, it's thailand, choices are slim.

we also had one of our best friends in the world fly from the u.s. to meet us in laos and continue with us through cambodia. new friends are one thing, but seeing friends from home while thousands of miles away? most awesome. and to all of you who have dropped by to say hello, or followed along, or given us tips  through facebook, twitter, email, skype... thank you! it seems we've been in better touch with people while thousands of miles away than we ever were while sitting at our desks at home. distance is funny that way.

there is so much to say, so many stories to tell, but we'll have to do that over beers some day. we're heading back to the united states for two weeks on our way back to europe for the summer. our "one year on the road," including a bonus day brought to us by leap year, has been extended by a few months. those friends in slovenia we mentioned? they've invited us to farm-sit for them over the summer. ask yourself, how many times does an offer like that come your way? well, for us, only once so far and because we enjoyed them so much we immediately said yes. wish they were going to be there with us, though.

so, if you're surfing around websites and looking at travel options, be careful out there, it's a slippery slope!

we'll report back.

more friends from home! bangkok, thailand. after six months on the road, we met up with jai and alan and their two friends from home. jai is from thailand and it was a welcome break to have her guide us through the language complexities and steer us to all the good food. thanks for being our bangkok guide, jai.

budapest, hungary at the bellevue b&b. it was like having an aunt and uncle look over us in eastern europe.

in chiang mai, thailand, our old friend alan, visiting southeast asia on his own. really great conversations.

vienna, austria, where we stayed for three weeks in august 2011, and our friend barbara, owner of our "home" there. we've rented from barbara a couple of times now so we not only are assured a great place to stay,but we also have a friend in vienna. and just look how badly she wanted us to travel even more. "go visit jordan."

just LOOK at all of those consonants. photo taken near mike and paula's farm in slovenia. can't wait to go back! that red dot with the white center is a trail marker and these hills are lined with a great trail system.

kep, cambodia. michelle hanging out with the buddhist nuns we came across having lunch while we were hiking through the nearby woods. so gentle, so inviting.

kep, cambodia. we hung out on the beach with this family for a few hours (they all swim in their clothes). the grandmother of the group fell in love with michelle. but we didn't know that at first, because she just walked over, sat down and stared at her. we both thought "well, ok, let's just see what happens." hours later we were all hugs and goodbyes and "we'll see you next year!" this is them waving goodbye at the end of the day.

dubrovnik, croatia. emily and pascale!
walking the old walls of dubrovnik on the adriatic sea.
we all met the day before on a bus ride from split to dubrovnik. dem's good people.

hoi an, vietnam. the woman on the right is named "yummy." she said, "it means delicious." 

although you can't see everyone, this was quite the international soccer game. three ecuadorians, a cuban, an egyptian and one american. puerto lopez, ecuador.

sarajevo, bosnia & herzegovina.  neno was our guide for the day. we don't usually hire
guides, but the complexities of eastern europe made us find a history major to walk us around the city and help us understand the balkan wars. 

koh lanta, thailand, happy hour. what a beach should be. and our new friend daniel from swittzerland.
he and his wife saraina spent five months traveling through southeast asia. this was their last stop. not a bad way
to close out a trip!

with tarek in cuenca, ecuador. he's an egyptian traveling through south america and volunteering at different eco-resorts to understand how they work. he will one day open the finest, most tasteful resort somewhere in the world (egypt?) all his own. after hanging around in puerto lopez, on the coast of ecuador, he followed us up to cuenca and stayed for a few days. good times.

last, and certainly NOT least, our new friends holly (that's the human being with michelle), her husband brian (sadly, no picture), ramona and doyle (the dogs). we spent a month "living" in cuenca, ecuador taking care of two very characterful bull terriers who were impressively well-trained by holly. glad to add four more wonderful new friends.


  1. Hello from one more "innkeeper" who remembers you fondly. Loved reading this traveloge!! So sad we didn't get to reconnect in Ecuador (I'll be in Quito Mon nite thru Wed noon- do you fly thru there - my cel: 084257482) Abrazotes! Jill Sare

  2. What a trip, Russ and Michelle. I'm really going to miss living vicariously through you, but if you make San Francisco just another stop on your itinerary we might even be able to hook up for a beer after all these years. ;-)

    - Sven

    1. sven, my brother, we're not done yet! we're heading back to europe in two weeks after visiting friends and family here on the east coast. keep following along. :)

      hope you're quite well.

      russ and michelle

  3. Replies
    1. jayne,

      you're in our blog and in our hearts, always. *gush*

  4. Dear travellers, hard to imagine how it feels having been on the road for a year! And not even stopping yet, wow! Any chance that you're coming to Crete after farm sitting? Would be so nice to see you again. Lots of love, Arianne