Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Adventurous, World-Traveling Nieces

My brother and his wife are world travelers. For many years, as their two daughters were growing up, they owned a commercial travel video company and traveled from country to country filming for host tourist boards. Their two daughters would go along, of course, and so they grew up knowing and experiencing a potpourri of countries. Dawn was "toilet trained" in Bali, basically by running around naked with Balinese toddlers. I have a photo of Niki, at the age of maybe 4, at the helm of a very large sailboat in Tahiti.

Dawn is now 22 and Niki is 26, and recently they've been back to their world adventures, and this time each of them has been traveling alone -- beautiful blond American girls, traveling alone in far-away lands, really immersing themselves in the culture! I both envy them and think they're a bit crazy -- in the best way, of course!

After reading Niki's e-mail today (and I'm posting one of Dawn's letters from earlier this year), I'm almost embarrassed to be so excited about a simple touristy trip to Maui!

Here -- enjoy for yourselves:

From Niki, in an e-mail I received this morning. Niki just got her masters in family counseling and is taking some time out. (The picture is of Elisabeth and Niki. I wish I had photos of the girls on their trips, but alas...)

Hi all!
I'm having a great time in Belize, although I'm being very lazy! When I got in on Monday morning the airline had lost my bag. Thus I spent my first two and half days in the same clothes that I put on Sunday morning before leaving California. I can't tell you how happy I was on Wednesday when I finally got clean clothes and my bathing suit. So even without a bag I didn't want to stay in Belize city when I arrived on Monday. Instead I held to my original plan and jumped on a water taxi and came out to Caye Cawlker. I found a cool hostel right on the beach for $10 a night and share a room with some very nice Dutch girls. I spent all day Monday sleeping since my actual flight was not very long and I didn't really sleep the night before.

On Tuesday I walked around the town and went to the phone company a bunch of times trying to figure out my whole bag situation. Luckily I got it back Wednesday morning, and I have to say I'm actually glad the airline lost it because I have never been so happy to see a piece of luggage in my life. It was seriously like Christmas! On Wednesday I also got to talking with a local guy (originally from New York) who said he was dealing a texas holdem' poker game at one of the local bars. I figured that this was a tourist game and so I ventured over later that night to check it out. (For all you worriers I want you to know that this tiny island feels very safe. It is so small that there are no cars on the island except for golf carts and a very chill Reggae vibe).

Anyway it turned out that this was actually the local weekly game for all the bar owners and that they have never had a girl play with them before. So here I am playing a private poker game with a bunch of rich locals (most of whom are fat white retired Americans, and although I didn't win I stayed in for a long time and won four big pots. The coolest part about all of this is that I know so many locals now, and when the girls and I go to the disco and bars at night the owners have been buying my drinks. Like I said I've been really lazy, laying around by the water all day and hanging out with a bunch of cool people. Many of the people I have met are Dutch, but I've also been hanging out with a couple of Americans from Texas and Alaska. Its funny cuz we all refer to each other by where we are from, thus I've become "Cali."

We have been fishing off the dock in the evenings and cooking snapper all together at the hostel for dinner at night. Last night we saw a great reggae band at the disco and eventually I'm planning on getting my ass in gear and going diving. I've been asking around and it seems like I have some options if I want to dive the blue hole. Right now I'm leaning towards getting my advanced open water certification so that I feel more comfortable diving to 130 feet! We'll see though. At the rate I'm moving I might never get around to doing more than snorkeling. Honestly its funny that its only . . . well whatever day it is cuz I already feel like I've been here for a month. A local rasta that we have become friends with took me on a tour of the island yesterday afternoon and showed me how to open coconuts local style, taught me the names of the birds, and found a big ass crocodile for me to see and take pictures of.

I'm not sure when I will leave here, but my next stop will probably be Guatemala, although Alaska and I are talking about flying over to Cuba for a week first. The guy from Texas was just there and said it was amazing and everyone was really nice, and that it felt safer than most of the other areas he has been in. Any thoughts mom and dad? Well that's it for now, I'll keep you all updated and send personal emails if you write me or if you don't like the mass email format. Love you all so much and really really wish you were here with me. Love, Niki

From Dawn, earlier this year (the picture is of Dawn with another niece, Olivia):

I cannot even begin to tell you all the adventures i have had in the last few days. Where to start? I decided to ride a bike down the worlds most dangerous road instead of try to survive the bus ride because just last week 28 people died on a bus that went over. This road is the only way to get down from the mountains to the north, and it is absolutely horrible. To say the least, it deserves the title.

We left La Paz at 7 am and rode down this dirt road for 5 hrs. It was one of the craziest things i have ever done... crazy...crazy! At first it was freezing cold, and as you go down you begin to shed layers... as you pass through different climate zones, seriously. One of the guys riding in our group crashed the first hour and had to get rushed to the hospital... crazy. Birds would fly on the drafts coming up off the cliffs and as i road down, flying like a bird, i could see miles and miles of mountains below and above me. It was so beautiful. We rode under waterfalls and down,down, down... the whole time on rocks and gravel while buses barely made it by us. I can't believe I did that. We went from freezing cold to so, so hot! On a bike...crazy.

So, i met some people doing this and by the end i decided to screw my plans and try to get on their bus to Rennebequa (in the Amazon). So... its 3 pm and we are at the end of our ride, completely dirty from the bike ride, sweaty...disgusting and without a shower or anything i went with them to catch their bus (which was 2hrs late...Bolivian time is worse than island time).

It gets better... i was a stow-away because the bus was full. For 17 hrs, all through the night, on roads almost as bad as the one we just rode down, while at least three people were throwing up out the windows of the packed buss... i road on the floor with nine new friends. No sleep. But, in the end we made it, somehow. We got to Rennebequa at 8 am and were supposed to go into the jungle at 9am for three days on a pampas tour (once again i didn't have this ticket either). So, we jumped in a quick shower (the first in two days of horrendous filth) and then, off we went into the jungle for three nights. It would be impossible to try to explain the jungle here in this email. Its like nothing i have ever seen. Pink dolphins in muddy brown water with crocodiles and parana all around? What? Its loco, it just doesn't make sense to me. More birds than i knew existed, snakes... all that and more. So, what can i say? Adventures, for sure. I decided today that i needed to travel alone a bit, since i have been with so many people. Three weeks here is not even close to enough! I could stay in South America for a year and not see everything. I cannot believe i have to comeback so soon. its really strange to only get a peek into the key hole, and then have to come home. It doesn't make sense. it feels right to be here. Its strange, i cannot explain it. The first few days are always difficult in a new place, and La Paz is certainly a unique city. Tomorrow i fly back to La Paz, and from there i take a fourteen hr. bus ride to the highest part of the mountains where its even colder than LaPaz. How weird it is to be going up and down and up and down. But this place is supposed to be amazing, i have been told i cannot miss it. The problem is I dont have enough time. I am going to try to get my flight pushed back a few days when i am at the airport tomorrow. If i can get an extra two days i can go to Sarata, and i really want to go. I am learning Spanish...but i keep getting it mixed with my French... its funny. i could write forever... thank you all for writing to me. All my love, Dawn

And I'm thrilled to be going to a condo in Maui. Am I old, or WHAT?!

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