Monday, December 31, 2007

Safety Third!

Logan adding decoration to the rickshaw - don't run with scissors!

The Rickshaws Run!

We've driven the rickshaws and they work! I'm currently sitting in Slepak and Lott's room mooching free wireless as we wait for the ferries to take us to the island for the party tonight and figured I would make my first post and give a brief update of the status here. Lott and Slepak's rickshaw was delayed in arrival until late this afternoon so we spent the afternoon driving our rickshaw in loops around the parade ground. Each of us almost made it around the ground without stalling out! For some reason our rickshaw is no longer starting, but we're assuming that's just because it's out of petrol at the moment and we'll deal with that situation in the morning before we leave (we're hoping that's the problem at least). Anywho, looks like we're leaving. Last post of 2007... Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

First glance at the rickshaws

We got our first glance at the rickshaws yesterday - haven't actually seen ours yet, but there were a dozen or so parked for us to see, I suppose there were mostly the ones that had ordered paint jobs (we didn't). They seem kinda nice - at the very least they're brand new, and seem to have a more functional suspension than some of the ones I've ridden in over the past week. 2 stroke engines seem like they could become a pain in the ass, but we'll see, and we do have a stereo system!

Hanging out in kochi

Trying to see if we can blog from our cellphones...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Beginning

I'm writing this from the Orion Homestay where Slepak, Logan and I have just checked in. Supposedly Cyus has a room in the hotel next door. We're in one piece and got suitably excited about driving on Indian roads on the ride from the airport. Next up lunch and some practice sessions on a real rickshaw!

Sri Lanka

So, I have now spent a day in Sri Lanka... What have we learned? Well, primarliy, if you're going to Sri Lanka, better have more than one day to spend here... Not because the country is so fascinating mind you - much the opposite! If you only have one day, you'll just spend it in the capital, Colombo (at least that's what I did), and Colombo is a wholly uninteresting town! I think the basic conclusion is Thailand ans Sri Lanka are both third world countries, but Thailand has tourism, so there's stuff to do and see there, while Sri Lanka is still learning (I hope it's learning anyway - clearly hasn't learned much yet). Now, the Lonely Planet did give me hints - it seemed to be struggling to come up with stuff to do in Colomobo, but there's a lot of interesting things to see in the hill country and on the ocean-side beaches outside of Colombo, but those are all further away, obviously, so it takes more than a day, thus: either skip Sri Lanka altogether or spend a few days here!

Anyway, with that out of the way... there are some interesting things here... First and foremost, the fact that you're really the only tourist around! (which, after Bangkok, is pretty refreshing). Now the plane from Bangkok (flight originating in Beijing) was full of tourists, but they must have all gone away from the city - I did see a bunch at a pool in one of the hotels in the city though, so I guess if you're in Sri Lanka, and you have to stay in Colombo, you just hang out by the pool... The main issue really, is that there just aren't enough tourists, so there isn't enough hotels/restaurants/etc, so the ones that are here are all expensive!

All that not-withstanding, went to see the 'most visually impressive' temple in Colombo (according to Lonely Planet). First part of the adventure is getting there - asked the first rickshaw driver: 1000 Rupee; too much... The guy immediately next to him can do it for 600 - deal! (I had been trying to convince the first guy to do it for 700...). Minor downside - the rickshaw breaks down half way through... After five minutes of futzing with it though, we're back on the road! (and I have one thing to try when ours will break down....). Eventually get there, and there's a stark contrast with Thailand: here the temples are actually places of worship (I think I was the only tourist there), in Thailand, they're alwats tourist attractions... Among other things, it means free admission! And you're also overwhelmed a little by all the people there, who are actually worshipping... I took lots of pictures of it all! The temple, visually, is also not all that impressive. which contributes to the whole Sri Lanka's not much of a tourist destination thing...

Back in town, wonder around see a few more attractions. A few observations: lest you forget, the place was just in the middle of a civil war three years ago, and there's still some tension, so there's soldiers everywhere! Makes you feel fairly safe, once you get past the whole 'there are guys with AK-47's everywhere thing...). Took a picture of a mounted machine gun emplacement - I suspect that picture was highly illegal! There's also 'safe zones' around all the major goverment buildings, major hotels, railroad crossings, etc. Mainly that means that once you cross (and you may have to be searched for weapons/have your passport checked when you cross), you're finally away from the locals, who are trying to sell you something!

Also interesting - these Sri Lankan kids are very 'couply'! I thought I was starting to notice that at the temple, and then I went to a city park and by a beach, and, man, just add cheerleaders and football bleachers and you're on a set of a stereotypical 50's high school movie! It's all very PG-13, but the park is full of couples in varying degrees of make out... As is the beach, but the couples here are of all ages, not just high school kids at the park!

Well, that'll be about it for now, as internet is expensive at the hotel and my 30 minutes are up, bright and early (4AM early!) tomorrow morning off to the airport to fly to Cochin to meet Lott, Logan, and Cyrus and see the rickshaws for the first time! BTW, I assume the Indian rickshaws are more similar to the ones in Sri Lanka, than the ones in Bangkok... this is too bad because the ones in Bangkok actually had a suspension! I'm sure these do as well, it's just not very good... or maybe it's just the terrible, terrible roads!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Old Habits

How do I always manage to pick the suicidal taxi drivers? Is this my Heroes power? The ability to always choose suspect taxi's? Seems pretty useless and potentially life threatening...

So I arrived last night in Singapore and the very first impression I had was that I was back in Hong Kong. I mean the roads are named the same. It's about the same temperature. They drive on the left hand side of the road in right hand drive cars and all the taxi's are the Toyota's and Hyundai's that are used in HK.

So I hop in a Taxi and the guy asks where I'm going (Perfect English) and I tell him Le Meridien. He says "which one?" I panic. There's two? He says "One near here and one downtown." I say downtown and hope I'm right.

About 3 seconds later as my face is finally starting to relax from the whiplash we are doing 140kph in an 80kph zone flying by all the other cabs. So while we are weaving around the other cabs I casually mentioned that I wasn't in any sort of a rush.
He says "You are in a rush?"
NO! I'm just saying we don't need to hurry.
He says "Oh, OK I'm not hurrying." as he continued to play dodge taxi.
By now I've put on my seat belt (which I pretty much never do in cabs) and am considering that maybe doing a will before I left was tempting fate.. I make it to the hotel alive (always good) and think to myself that maybe crazy cabbies are just a prerequisite for crazy rallys.

This morning I woke up bright and early at 7AM, had breakfast, and decided to go for a quick walk. I'd been walking about 1 minutes when I ran into an old friend.

Now I quit drinking coffee and caffeine about two weeks before I left for this trip. Unfortunately I started drinking it again about 13 days before I left for this trip and this process has continued right up until I ran into this coffee shop. At this point it had been at least 2 hours since my last coffee so naturally I had to stop and grab a quick latte.

I love Starbucks. I can't help it. They are everywhere and while some consider this evidence of their evilness I'm happy I can feed my habit consistently and with the same flavored drug.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

in Japan and on my way!

I'm remembering the strangest things about Japan now that I'm back here. Granted I'll only be here a couple hours but old habits come back quickly. I keep catching myself say Hai, ans Arrigato to everything anyone says to me. Reguardless of if i understood what they where saying...

But hey it always works.. That and everyone is so polite they frequently wont contradict you.

P.S. Alex, and Dave's: I'll be in singapore tonight at around 1am singapore time. I'll try and hop on IM.

First Impressions of Thailand

The very first formattive impression is Thailand is amazing! I've never been to a place where there's so many amazing things to see and do, and I've barely even made it out of Bangkok! And on top of that, everything is ridiculously cheap!

The first actual impression of Thailand is born the moment you leave the airport - hey, did you know we're still a monarchy!? Granted, his majesty celebrate a birthday at the beginning of the month, but there is regalia commemorating and celebrating him absolutely everywhere, and I get the feeling it's not just here because of the birthday... Once you get past that... there's monks everywhere - saw one meditating in the park, and using his cell phone at the same time, I think. There was a group (50+) women doing a step-dancing class in an open public park! There are tuk-tuk's everywhere! And these are different in Bangkok from the ones in nearby Ayutthaya.. which are different from the ones I've seen pictures of in India! I wonder what the ones in Sri Lanka will be like? But the Thai ones do look fairly driveable! Thailand appears to have rather impressive roads! I hear the ones in India are notably worse... There's a log of tour buses here - they all appear to have been decorated by LA gang members, who were enjoying some psychedelic refreshments at the time! Thou shall never pay the price that a cab/tuk-tuk driver asks for! Half maybe! Red curry with chicken in Bangkok tastes surprisingly similar to red curry with chicken in Redmond... the place I had lunch this afternoon had just run out of pad thai, otherwise that's next on the list of things to check. I'm taking an astounding number of pictures simply because everywhere you look, you see something picturesque, unique, and beautiful! Fancy new camera not stolen so far!

Well, that's it for now... more later, probably... A little more sight-seeing in Bangkok tomorrow morning, then off to Sri Lanka in the evening!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in Denver

has come and gone including the requisite snowstorm. I'm officially on my way to India! Note: DEN security line is slow. But you can blog from a smartphone...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Shasta McNasty

Did anybody ever watch the ill-fated show Shasta McNasty on the WB about 7-8 years ago? I didn't either, but driving by Mt Shasta always makes me think of it... Anyway, the rest of the drive to San Diego turned out to be a lot less exciting - there was a little more winter wonderland crossing the passes near Mt Shasta on Thursday, but it wasn't sticking to the road, so no chains required this time! A few observations on the way:
- Weed, CA? Wonder what the popular recreational activity is around here... I mean, I'm certain nothing illicit ever went on in Northern California - not even at Humboldt State, Lynn!
- Mount Shasta City... Maybe I'm just easily amused on five hours of sleep, but how would you like to be able to say: Where are you from? Mt Shasta City! Yeah, I'm probably justr easily amused...

Odd occurrence along the way South: I catch up with a cop, pass him when he slows down to look at another cop who has somebody pulled over. I keep going at the speed limit, so he quickly catches bck up to me. As he's passing me, suddely the load speaker comes on: "Something driving something something" Obviously, I'm not really sure what he said, but why are cops talking to me on the highway now?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Julia is my hero! (or how the adventures started early...)

So, Tuesday was my last day at work at Microsoft... Wednesday, I were to get into my car and start driving down to San Diego, hopefully leaving around noon, reaching San Francisco Wednesday night, and leisurely doing the rest on Thursday. That was the plan anyway... Instead, errands took longer than expected, so I left around 4PM on Wednesday, which of course left me stuck in traffic all the way from downtown Seattle to Olympia, so I was already way behind schedule, but I thought I still had a good shot of, at least, crossing the California border around 1 in the morning, then stopping for the night a couple of hours later. The driving rain was a little annoying, but, hey, I've been in Seattle for 8 years, I can drive in the rain!

And then, I ran into something disturbing - about 100 miles North of the California border, there was a sign saying "Chains required - 70 miles away". The sign and I had a brief conversation.

me: what do you mean chains required? I don't own any f*!$ing chains, and this car is a convertible, so it's allergic to snow!

the Sign: Chains required - 70 miles away

me: Isn't there some way around this?

the Sign: <disturbing silence>

me: Just you watch - I'll figure out a way around this!

the Sign: inaudible laughter/annoyed grunt

Ths smug sign and I never really got along... So I kept driving, trying to think of ways how this could work... maybe there's a detour, that doesn't require chains? Maybe it's 70 miles in a different direction? Maybe it'll just all go away if I simply ignore it!? Ignoring it worked fabulously for 50 miles... and then:

Revenge of the sign: "Chains required - 20 miles"

me: Uhmmm...

10 miles later

Sign, the 3rd: "Chains required - 10 miles"

me: I guess I have to deal with this... This isn't going to help with getting to San Francisco!

So, I take the next exit, and the friendly gas station attendent shows me the Oregon DOT map, which does, in fact, confirm that without chains, and without four wheel drive, I'm out of luck when it comes to crossing the pass that divides Oregon and California. So, I invest $50 in a set of chains and get a brief lecture on installation - sounds fairly straightforward (and yet, I've heard all these bad stories about it?...)

Back on the highway, a couple of miles later, everybody is off putting chains on... I pass a truck with a 'Chain Service' sign and scoff at the idea of spending more money on this enterprise! Pull over and start putting chains on - they go on, I have no idea if it's correct or not, but they're on! Let's try driving... The chains make a horrible racket, but the traction does feel, uhm, different? Drieve for a little while - all of a sudden the left side chain stops making noise... what happened? did it just align itself better? I wonder... Maybe I should check... A little more procrastination and I stop to discover... that the chain on the left tire isn't making any noise because it's gone! Well, I wasn't going very fast, or all that long, I'm sure I can find it - and 15 minutes later, I do! Now that I've got both chains back, it's probably time to admit that they weren't installed properly - let's try taking the other one off - unfasten the outside hook, jiggle the chain a little, still can't reach the inside hook... Maybe if I move the car (and spin the wheels) forward a little? That's a little better, now back a little? Try a couple more times... Houston - we have a problem! The inside hook is still fastened, but the chain is now wrapped around the rear axle! You know what would help with this? A jack and a flashlight - I have both! Unfortunately, the flashlight is packed somewhere with all my stuff, while the jack is underneath all the afore-mentioned stuff at the bottom of the trunk! (As an aside - any car designers out there, bottom of the trunk? Really? Do I really have to empty the entire trunk every time I need to use the jack?). It is now approaching 2:30 in the morning, and I'm feeling rather inclined to give up... so it's time to walk back and look for the Chain Service truck I had scoffed at earlier and see if they can help...

This is where it finally gets better! Because I finally meet Julia (who is my hero, by the way) and her husband, who are helping people put chains on. I explain my predicament and she agrees to come with me to take a look (taking a pair of wire cutters just in case we can't rescue the chain...). The weather gets worse once we get back to the car - now 35 degrees and a lot more wind/rain/snow/ice mixture! Julia, however, is undeterred and after 15 minutes of struggling with the elements, the chain is free! I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel - she can put chains on (correctly) and I can drive off, and maybe still get to Claifornia somehow... A brief detour to warm up with some coffee and by about 3:30, I've got chains! All this for a low-low price of $25... I paid $40, since I was quite grateful, but the chains are now running almost $100...

At this point it gets less exciting - I drive off into the winter wonderland... Am greeted with a very Central Asian-style police checkpoint (but minus the clearly visible AK-47's) and these guys are actually just making sure I've got chains - I do, so I go through. There is quite a bit of snow on the ground, and more coming down... Eventually, it cleats out, and you can see a beautiful, star-filled, night sky! The temperature drops as low as 29 degrees. I am curious how the car would have done withtout chains? I think the 5% grade descent at the end might have been a problem... By 4:30 I'm into California - hooray! Chain removal process is still more complex than I want to deal with at this time of day (and weather), but eventually, the car's free again, and by 5 I finally have a room in scenic Yreka, CA... Where I am informed that there are more mountain passes along the way south, and it remains to be seen whether or not I'll have to put on chains for those too tomorrow! I don't really care - off to bed... $75 for all of 5 hours of sleep is a rip-off, oh well...

Lessons learned (pertinent to, say, driving a rickshaw across India)
- I'm clearly not capable of doing even fairly simple mechanical repairs... this is a bad thing!
- I am capable of rallying help to work around the problem if need be!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

International Driver's License

Just when you thought you were done with the paperwork it rears its ugly head again. This time it came in the form of an email from the organizers, “It is essential that you obtain this category of driving license [UK B1] as failure to do so will invalidate the rickshaw insurance and would result in us not allowing you to take part.” Not being British getting a B1 certification would be tricky. AAA will give you an international license but they said it would only be good for whatever it was good for in the US – and rickshaws ain’t exactly street legal around these here parts. So we compromised – since we already have car licenses, if we got motorcycle licenses too, on average we could drive a rickshaw. Slepak would be in charge of explaining this math to any Indian police officers we encountered.

After 3.5 exciting hours Thursday evening in the classroom, we showed up at 7:30 am Saturday to learn to ride. But the parking lot was covered in ice and snow. So we went home and drowned our sorrows in bacon and bloody marys (maries?) – because by the time we could have grabbed our snowboarding gear and hit the slopes it would have been 1pm. The next week we sat through the exact same class again on Thursday, but on Saturday it was just cold, not cold and wet! After two days we now know just enough about riding to get us in trouble (don’t worry Moms, rickshaws will be 50% safer than motorcycles). And for $25 the Department of Licensing (who’s not open Mondays, grrr) gave us shiny new licenses with endorsement “3 – Two-wheel motorcycle only.

Then we went by AAA to get the internationalized versions and try to sweet talk our way into a B1 license. Much to our surprise the check box that our motorcycle license got us read: “Motorcycles, with or without a side car, invalid carriages and three-wheeled motor vehicles with an unladen weight not exceeding 400 kg (900 lbs).” So as long as they’re not too heavy we’re safe! Well, legal.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A route to Kathmandu?

We've been talking a little about a route across India... The Darjeeling entry point, however, has made things a little more difficult - so far, we've just come up with places we'd like to see, whether or not we get to all of them remains to be seen for the time being:
- Kochi
- Cape Comorin, at the very southern tip of the subcontinent
- Mysore, fomer seat of the maharajas for the 'princely state of Mysore'
- Hampi?
- Goa
- Mumbai
- Ellora/Ajanta caves
- Agra, and maybe Dehli (even though I keep being told to avoid Delhi)
- Varanesi
- Darjeeling
- Sikkim?
- into Nepal, and over towards Kathmandu

all in a few short weeks...

And so it begins!

So, I sold my house last week, and this morning my co-workers found out that I'm quitting, so I think I'm pretty well committed to going around the world now!

Also talked to Liz, a friend who's lived in New Zealand for the past seven years, she doesn't seem to think that climbing Mt. Cook down there is a good idea, as she kept using phrases like "guaranteed to die"... So, maybe I'll just limit myself to taking a picture of Mt. Cook!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Nepal Entry Point Confirmed

There has been lots of debate amongst the various teams as to where we're going to enter Nepal. Apparently a 2-stroke rickshaw is difficult to get across the border if you're just on your own. So the organizers have pulled some strings and we'll all be able to cross into Nepal at Kakarbhitta. Kakarbhitta narrowly edged out our favorite city, Nepalgunj, in the voting. Nepalgunj would have made a route heading up the west coast of India then cutting across to Nepal. Kakarbhitta is on the eastern edge of Nepal, near Darjeeling. Definitely some interesting, different sights, but potentially more driving. Guess it's back to the drawing table to get a new route (or a dart board - throw a couple and connect the dots. That would be interesting!)

In other news, now that the entry point has been determined, Logan dropped by the Nepalese Embassy to get our Visas. We've got the Indian ones already. And mailed back the contract. So the paperwork is (hopefully) done.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

It may be a sign!

Went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner over the weekend - came back with a rather interesting fortune:

"You will step on the soil of many countries"

Adding "in bed" to it actually doesn't work for once, but it sure does sound rather prophetic...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Safety Third Goes to Mongolia!

The third registration stage of the 2008 Mongol Rally has finally yielded two spots on the Mongol Rally - one for me, and one for Cyrus! We're going back to Mongolia, this time I intend to actually make it all the way to Ulaanbaatar!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Long live the sharks!

A few more updates to the site, including a much more interactive route section, and we've got a new charity to support:! If it's a LandSharkRally, we should try to do something good for the sharks of the world, shouldn't we?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Rickshaw Run

Well, I don't know if I'd call the Rickshaw Run well organized so far, considering that we've had a chance to pay, have the money get returned to us, and pay again, slighlty more the second time, but I do think that we are officially registered now to drive a pair of three-wheeled monsters from Cochin, at the southern tip of the Indian sub-continent into the Himalayas, ending up in Kathmandu, Tibet! Team One - Safety Third: Team Two - I'm not sure, Cyrus had Project RR initially, but I can't seem to find it now...

All we've got to do now is come up with about $2500 per team for charity (Mercy Corps, a Nepalese charity named Maiti Nepal, and a local Indian charity named Naandi) and if you're reading this, hey, you too can help: Oh, and plane tickets... plane tickets to Cochin, India are going to be complicated...

Monday, September 24, 2007

The website

This website is taking more effort to put together and maintain than it really ought to... Well, we now have a website, a blog (soon to be integrated into the website!) and a whole email account on the website... There's more stuff planned, I think...

Next step - charity funcraising site via

[Update] - charity page is up and running: $5000 suddenly sounds like an awfully ambitious target - damn exchange rate!