Monday, September 4, 2017

Stateside Memo

Stateside Memo
05 September 2017

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Since A.J. and I are nearly finished with home leave, I thought an update might be in order. Cue the highlight reel.

Making Plans - Attended a four-day retirement seminar at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. Lots of useful information, although I still have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation of Medicare Part B.

Cinema Review 1 - Went with R & D to see “Wonder Woman” and enjoyed it very much. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are talented and impossibly attractive, and the story/script/direction were more than acceptable for a summer action movie.

Vaudeville Rules - Spent five days in Asheville, NC at ROOTS Week, mostly working on Vaudeville presentations, both academic and performance. Got to pull together a band, which is my absolute favorite thing to do. We rehearsed our asses off, helped organize an epic Vaudeville show, and exited covered in glory.

Moving Day - I once owned a one-room schoolhouse not far from Hot Springs, NC (at the original site of Allanstand, actually), but recently sold it to a dear friend who lives in the area. She very graciously let me keep some things there, so I rented a U-Haul and packed up a bunch of stuff that we subsequently stashed in a storage unit in Fairhope, AL. Had a good run at the schoolhouse and am relieved it’s in good hands.

(It’s a long, yet boring story, but when all our baggage catches up with us in the spring of 2020, the subsequent yard sale will be off the hook.)

The ATL - Parked the U-Haul in Candler Park for a couple of days while we checked in with friends and took care of bidness. Our thoughtful hosts C & D threw a lovely party for us, and it was a treat to hang with a few of our old chums.

And, yes… the traffic in Atlanta is even more heinous than I remember or you can imagine.

Home to LA - That would be Lower Alabama. And, if anyone asks, Fairhope in the summer can be just as wretched as Yangon. Luckily, our house, which is paid for and awaiting pre-retirement improvements, is cool and comfortable. In addition to the usual running about trying to get our affairs in order before moving to Italy, we’ve been doing some quality visiting/dining with A.J.’s family.

Cinema Review 2 - “Dunkirk.” Good movie, although insanely overhyped. And, in my opinion, composer Hans Zimmer’s scores have lately become relentless, ponderous, and intrusive. And actively annoying. And fucking loud. That’s a directorial prerogative, of course, and it doesn’t matter so much in the case of a bad film, say, the recent Batman v Superman disaster. But “Dunkirk” deserved better.

Orlando - Took advantage of a few days with no appointments, cashed in some SkyMiles, and scooted via airborne cattle car over to Orlando, where I spent some quality time with LaBanana and her familia. Even got to sit in on a couple of gigs with Big Tiki and the Mai-Tais, an up and coming ukulele band. Really.

I also caught up with my dear cousin and his wife, who have settled not far from Ocala and have been dealing with a multitude of health issues for quite awhile. They are really nice people and it was very emotional seeing then again. I hope they finally catch a break and get to enjoy their retirement once more.

Another Literary Milestone - The fourth in this correspondent’s series of postings from exotic locales is now available at a ridiculously reasonable price:

I’m sure you will recall that there are three previous volumes:

Collect the set. And coming soon: “Reflections From Rome.” Where we’ll arrive just in time for “water outages.” Merda.

Finally, as always, thanks and all best wishes to family and friends who generously accommodated us, making our final home leave a great success. We are deeply grateful and love you madly.

Fino all'Italia. Onward.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Messages From Myanmar #28

Messages From Myanmar #28
27 July 2017

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Well, I didn’t intend to wait until the last minute, but wait I did. So, for your consideration, here is my last posting from Myanmar. We leave tonight on the 23:15 flight to Seoul, where we connect to the flight interminable to Washington Dulles Interdimensional Airport, thus concluding a two-year assignment here on the other side of the planet. It will be a bittersweet journey.

Saying goodbye to the Americans we have served with is one thing; it’s a pretty good bet one will bump into some of them further on up the road. But it is with sadness and a surprisingly high emotional intensity that we bid farewell to the people we have met and/or worked with who actually, you know, live here. They have all been so sweet and welcoming to us, and we are most fortunate and grateful. We will miss them.

Once we arrive, we spend a week in DC attending a seminar and generally navigating the DoS bureaucracy. After that, we hit the road, with stops in KY, NC, the ATL, and, finally, Fairhope, AL. In mid-September, we load up our gear and jet off to Rome for our next - and last - posting. I think it fair to say that we’re looking forward to that. Our assigned housing is a nice apartment in Parioli, un quartiere elegante, walking distance from the Embassy.

And, until/unless the idiotic Federal Hiring Freeze is finally lifted, I will be officially retired, (although my position as A.J.’s wingman seems secure). I plan to spend my copious free time (a) pursuing musical opportunities and, since everyone we’ve ever met is making noises about coming to visit us, (b) managing guest arrangements. Nessun problema; I do not fear spreadsheets.

Incidentally, I’m considering a title for my next - and last - series of postings, and suggestions are most welcome. Alliteration (with “Rome” or “Italy”) is a must. Ciao.



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Messages From Myanmar #27

Messages From Myanmar #27
31 May 2017

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

Strange it does seem, but Anne and I have less than two months left here in Yangon, and, as is the case whenever we become short-timers, matters tend to fall into two general categories: (1.) Last chance, like, forever and (2.) Hurry up and wait. The former includes items such as visitors, exotic trips, and shopping expeditions. The latter, well, we find ourselves once again at the mercy of the DoS bureaucracy.

Transfer season is always traumatic and waiting on the essential TM4 Cable (aka “Orders”) is nerve wracking in the best of times. Unfortunately, the hard-working techies who process the paperwork are way behind due to the recent, needlessly idiotic budget impasse. And the fact that our government is headed by a belligerent grifter who actively hates the State Department, and State by an empty suit with no evident regard for the people in his agency, only contributes to the drama.

But while we wait, we continue to check off items in category 1. For example, we just took our last trip in Southeast Asia, spending Memorial Day weekend in Chiangmai, Thailand. A.J. had been there previously on bidness, but this was my first visit to Thailand. Chiangmai is the second largest city in the country and has a rich history in which Burma plays a major role. Surrounded by a moat, but easily navigable by foot and public transportation, the city is lousy with beautiful Buddhist temples, great food, and expat gringos. Notwithstanding the jungle heat, we had a lovely visit.

We returned to Yangon just in time for another cyclone (Mara) and the monsoon season. No worries, we’ll just keep the dehumidifiers and fans going and start our preliminary packing. The plan abides: Leave Yangon on 27 July and report to Rome on 14 September. But for now, we compile, organize, tie up loose ends… and wait.



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Messages From Myanmar #26

Messages From Myanmar #26
19 April 2017

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
 “Ngapali Beach”

Alrighty, then, it’s time to catch up. Rather than bore you with tales of day-to-day life in the Foreign Service (much of which consists of speculation as to (a) the ramifications of President* tRump’s Twitter-based foreign policy and (b) the ramifications of Secretary tRex’s virtual non-existence), I thought I’d bore you with a recap of some recent happenings that arguably bear mentioning.

26 February: Another Musical Triumph - One year after the very successful Album Release Party for “Che, Acordeón,” Anne and I produced another “Small Concert” here at The Shang. I presented a program of Tango, musette, and musical miscellany, and she presented Prosecco. About 40 people, mostly from the Embassy, attended and a splendid afternoon ensued.

02 April: Yet Another Musical Triumph - I have been most fortunate to be asked to perform with The Orchestra for Myanmar on two previous occasions. This was my third and (regrettably) final opportunity and we made the most of it. The Orchestra was joined by members of the BBC Orchestra (serious players), The New Children’s Choir (cats, well herded), soloists from The National University for Arts and Culture (local and very good), and The Strand Singers (expats and ditto).

I was soloist for two tangos by Astor Piazzolla: “Oblivion” and, following a segue of my own devising, “Libertango.” The former is a wonderfully slow, lyrical, and atmospheric piece. The latter, however, is terrifically rhythmic and intense; and the Orchestra, led by our Spanish conductor and driven by the accordionist as well as the Brits augmenting the string section, determined to take no prisoners. The SRO audience in the Strand Hotel Ballroom cheered and we were all covered in glory. I love being a musician.

07 April: Family Visit - My brother is a sincere evangelical Christian. I am sincerely not. But he’s a good guy and we get along just fine. Anyway, he was doing his thing in the ‘hood (Vietnam) and came to Myanmar to meet with some like-minded folks. Naturally, he stayed with us and we had a fine visit. He’s very personable and a good storyteller, and was quite favourably impressed with Myanmar and its people. We avoided talking religion and politics (mostly) and spent time doing normal things and catching up on family stuff. It was nice.

12 April: A Week at the Beach - As previously noted, Thingyan is the celebration of the Burmese New Year (Happy 1379!). It is also a good time to get out of town, since everything (including the Embassy) closes for a week. This year, we headed for Ngapali Beach, located in Rakhine State, a mere 45-minute flight from Yangon. Since A.J. has points with the Hilton chain, we booked a nice place at their resort; lagoon side, of course, because who can afford a beachfront villa?

Us, as it happens. For mysterious reasons, we got bumped up to a very nice place on the beach, complete with its own “plunge pool.” Was not expecting that… did not complain. The deluxe accommodations, along with the Asian lunch/dinner buffets and infinity pool made for a very relaxing week, something we (and by “we” I mean Anne) really deserved. In addition, the staff were all very courteous, considerate, and good at their jobs. Good thing, too.

On our last night, we received word of a tropical depression developing in the Bay of Bengal, making its way to the Myanmar coast. Over the course of the evening, it developed into a deep depression, and finally a cyclonic storm worthy of an actual name: Cyclone Maarutha. We’ve been through hurricanes before, but it’s still a bit unnerving to be hunkered down near the beach, waiting for a cyclone when you have a plane to catch the next morning. The staff, however, was on the case and we made it through in fine form with a nice vacation and a good story to tell.



Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Messages From Myanmar #25

Messages From Myanmar #25
07 February 2017

Hello there, Rodger French here.

We find ourselves in an odd sort of twilight zone these days. No more major trips are planned, no more visitors are scheduled, and we leave Post in late July in order to report for duty in Rome in mid-September. From this travel correspondent’s perspective, life in Myanmar is currently a matter of quotidian routine.

Not to say that there’s nothing afoot. Anne is working very hard (as always) to get the new American Center ready for dedication, although the date remains uncertain. I am still working in Diplomatic Security and have lately been asked to help out with visa applicant screening in the Consular Section, where the rubber, truly, meets the road.

[Diplomatic Sidebar - Since Myanmar is not on the list of countries cited in President* Trump’s spectacularly ill-conceived Muslim immigration ban, we are, for the moment, carrying on bidness as usual.]

So… no breathless descriptions of the wonders of Southeast Asia and no dramatic photoz today; just a shout out to say hello and let you know we’re doing alright and representing as best we can. But, just to make this a bit interesting, permit me to offer up a few of the things I will and won’t miss about living in Yangon. Because, why the hell not.

Yes - The people, who have been very nice to us; especially the Embassy staff, who are just terrific.

No - The traffic, which is unpredictably awful and getting worse, despite the fact that Yangon does not yet allow the chaos of motorbikes on the streets. Most traffic signals are still controlled manually by the police, so we regularly encounter red lights that last 10 minutes or more. Who thinks this is a good idea?

Yes - Breakfast at the Embassy’s Shwe Café: Tuesday, Shan noodles; Wednesday, Nan gyi thohk; Thursday, Mohinga. (Feel free to look ‘em up.)

No - The jungle heat permeates. The jungle heat is out to get you. The jungle heat always wins. (Although, to be fair, in 18 months, I’ve only worn socks once, and that was to the Marine Ball. I don’t mind that.)

Yes - Urban wildlife, particularly the feral dogs and the crows.

[Urban Wildlife Sidebar - I was walking on the sidewalk one day and came across three crows having a committee meeting, debating the disposition of a dead rat. Respect.]

Yes - Shwedagon Pagoda is the essence of magnificence. I pass Shwedagon twice a day going to/from the Embassy and never get tired of looking at it.

Bonus Feature - Actual business names. Granted, Ghana will always be the champ in this category, but these are not bad:

- Big Boss Brothers Service Co., LTD
- Brother Billions CCTV and Security
- Golden Happy Hot Pot
- Micky Mouse Bar
- Sweety Home Spring Mattress
- Tony Tun Tun Beauty Spa



Friday, December 30, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #24

Messages From Myanmar #24
01 January 2017

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

The Irrawaddy River flows through Myanmar from north to south for a distance of some 2170 km (1348 mi). It is the country’s most important waterway and one of the world’s great rivers. It is wide, shallow, and treacherous to navigate. It is also “The Road to Mandalay,” an epithet bestowed by Rudyard Kipling, poet and noted mad Englishman.

At one time The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC) operated several hundred vessels on the river, the largest fleet of riverboats in the world. Many of these came from Scotland, where they were built, then disassembled and shipped to Burma (a riverboat with a three-foot draft is not meant for the open sea), and subsequently reassembled in Rangoon.

The fleet moved freight, primarily natural resources from the north and manufactured goods from the south, as well as passengers intent on business and tourism. Sadly, the flotilla was largely scuttled in 1943 in order to keep the boats out of the hands of the Japanese army. But the river, and commerce, flowed on.

Since A.J. and I had never been on a river excursion, we decided to take a cruise on the mighty Irrawaddy to see Mandalay and Bagan. It was pretty epic.

[Visitor Sidebar - We were joined by our friend H, who has visited us twice before in exotic locales.]

We spent seven nights aboard a faithful reproduction of the IFC P.S. (Packet Steamer) Kalaw, a well-appointed and very comfortable boat. Passengers came and went, and we averaged a small but convivial company of 14 along with a crew compliment of about the same. The staff could not have been nicer, and both our Purser and Tour Guide kept us well informed and squared away. That said, cue the highlight reel.

Architecture - A few definitions are in order. Temple: A place of worship for the followers of Buddhism. (Always remove your shoes.) Pagoda: Buddhist temple, typically in the form of a multi-tiered tower. Stupa: A dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine. (One cannot actually enter a stupa.) In central Myanmar, these structures number in the thousands and we visited a slew of ‘em in Mandalay, Mingun, Sagaing, Innwa (home of the world famous U Bein footbridge), Pakokku, and especially…

Bagan - A 42 sq km World Heritage Site and home to roughly 3,000 monuments, some of which, having recently suffered earthquake damage, are wreathed in elaborate bamboo scaffolding while being repaired. Bagan is an Angkor Wat-caliber tourist destination and is lousy with gringos, especially at sunset. But it is worth the hassle. Seriously, check out the photoz.

Commerce - We visited two pottery villages (glazed and terracotta), a stone carver’s street, a goldsmith shop, a cheroot factory, a silk weaving workshop, and several local markets. And, as part of the price of admission, we were besieged by hawkers and hustled, sometimes successfully, at every turn.

[Local Colour Sidebar - Pandaw, the cruise ship company, supports a number of schools in the area. We visited a couple of them as well as a The Mingun Buddhist Home for the Aged. Donate some money, make some merit. That’s the deal.

Transport - Besides the Kalaw (which stranded on a sandbar only once), we got about by bus, truck, ferry, tuk-tuk (a rickshaw pulled by a motorbike), rowboat, and horse cart (less fun than you might imagine).

Shipboard Life - In addition to three squares a day (the food was outstanding), we also were treated to a variety of presentations, including: lectures on Burmese customs and history; cooking, dressing, and make-up demonstrations; Burmese dance and puppet shows; and movies. Oh yes, and cocktail hour every evening before dinner. Very. Civilized.

The River - But as wonderful as the sightseeing and other activities were, what Anne and I enjoyed most was sitting on deck while the Kalaw was underway, catching the breeze, and watching scenes, some of which would have been familiar a century ago, flow by. We felt like we too had played our small part in the story of the Irrawaddy.



Friday, November 18, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #23

Messages From Myanmar #23
20 November 2016

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
 “Ha Long Bay/Hanoi”

For my generation, “Vietnam” was definitional. In 1968, the Tet Offensive was raging when I reported to Navy boot camp, and the war would not end until 1975, three years after my discharge. I served, rather undramatically, on ships in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, facing only the quotidian risks of naval sea duty. I was not involved in combat and never went anywhere near Vietnam, which was just fine with me. Understandably, my view of the country itself, while not uninformed, has long been quite abstract.

But when you take up residence in Southeast Asia, a trip to Vietnam is definitely in the cards. A.J. and I decided to go to Hanoi, with a side trip to Ha Long Bay, over the Veterans Day weekend, seeking respite from the recent American electoral unpleasantness.

[Post-Election Sidebar – I have successfully made the transition from a state of debilitating sadness to one of simmering fury. Yeah, I can work with that.]

Cue the highlight reel.

Motorbike Madness - We arrived at our very nice, and not too expensive, hotel in the Old Quarter, an area that has been inhabited for over 1000 years. The scene was chaotic. Hanoi has a population of 7.6 million, and, like, 4 million motorbikes. (By comparison, Yangon: 6 million people and, due to a military ban, 0 motorbikes.) Intersections in Hanoi are not for the faint of heart.

Ha Long Bay - A UNESCO World Heritage Site and big-time tourist destination, roughly four bumpy hours by bus from Hanoi. It is spectacular and peaceful, and enormously popular. If you’re in the ‘hood, you really should go. We spent a night on the water, paddled to a fishing village, and ate ridiculously well. Speaking of which…

Vietnamese Food - Now officially in my Top Five World’s Greatest Cuisines (along with Iberian, Louisianan, Mediterranean, and Peruvian). It is fresh, healthy, and evinces “proper balance.” Of course, this does not necessarily apply to street food. Speaking of which…

Street Food Tour - Our exemplary hotel staff booked a guide who took us and four other touristas on a three-hour tour (insert Boomer musical reference here), stopping in who-the-hell-knows-how-many places; each unique, each delicious. Plus, it was Sunday night with a full moon and everyone in Hanoi was out in the streets. The effect was downright lysergic.

Museums - The Vietnamese Women’s Museum, the Viet Nam Fine Arts Museum, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum. Each was very well composed, being both entertaining and informative. And if one were anticipating some commie propaganda, one would not be disappointed. What we call the “Vietnam War” is still a BFD in Hanoi.

[Ho Chi Minh Status Sidebar - We considered going to see “Uncle Ho” lying in state, but as his remains had been shipped off to Russia for periodic maintenance, we demurred.]

Other Attractions - The Special National Vestige Sword Lake and Ngoc Son Temple: Hanoi's most visited temple sits on a small island in Hoan Kiem Lake, connected to the shore by an elegant scarlet bridge. It also houses the stuffed remains of a much-revered giant turtle, reputedly several hundred years old when it died as a result of wounds sustained during an American air raid in 1967.

Lotus Water Puppet Theatre: Traditional Vietnamese water puppet show, featuring traditional Vietnamese music. Absolutely charming.

[Bonus Veterans Day Sidebar - We were walking by the lake and I passed an old Vietnamese gentleman proudly wearing his military medals. I nodded to him in respect. He responded with a smile and a salute. A good moment.]

Finally, in other news… since some of you apparently really want to know, here’s the word on our next (and last) State Department assignment, scheduled for fall 2017:




Saturday, October 15, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #22

Messages From Myanmar #22
15 October 2016

Hello there, Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:
 Angkor Wat

I am a big believer in the philosophy, “Sometimes you just get what you get.” This proves a particularly useful attitude when considering the touristing possibilities this planet affords. Though our world is, as Carl Sagan described it, “… a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” it still takes no small effort to get to many of the places one should visit while one is still able.

There is, of course, a distinct advantage in residing within (relative) striking distance of these assorted wonders, natural and human. When we lived in Buenos Aires, for example, there was never any doubt that we would visit Machu Pichu in Peru. Hell, we were on the same continent, how could we not? Now that we’ve taken up temporary residence in Myanmar, the same holds true for Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat itself is one of many temples/cities erected by a succession of Khmer kings, both Hindu and Buddhist, between the 8th and 13th centuries. The level of scholarship brought to bear on the study of these magnificent ruins is extensive and somewhat daunting, and, should you thirst for detail, I recommend the book “Ancient Angkor” by Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques. But I do have photoz (linked above).

Anne and I flew on AirAsia, a “low cost carrier” (motto: “You thought water was free?”) from Yangon (via Bangkok) to Siem Reap, the town nearest the temple complex. Tourism has been very, very good to Siem Reap, and the main road from the airport is fraught with large hotels and tour buses. We stayed at a quite tasteful, kinda swanky place in town, where the very obliging staff arranged a car, a driver, and a guide for our visit to the Angkor World Heritage Park.

The day was hot… like, jungle hot, and the park was very crowded with visitors from all over the world, even though this is reputedly the “slow season.” Certain locations, in fact, resembled anthills as people queued to clamber up temple steps, the better to take selfies. Most of them were nice enough about it, although I did find myself occasionally longing to snatch someone’s stupid selfie stick and whack them about the head and shoulders with it.

But that would have been undiplomatic.

Our guide was well informed and most attentive as we spent the better part of six hours schlepping among various ruins. It was actually a bit overwhelming and I’m still processing the experience. What I can tell you is that A.J. and I are sincerely grateful that we had the privilege of seeing such an estimable place. In my travels, only Machu Pichu and the Forum in Rome compare in terms of personal wonderment.

[Royal Sidebar: Of all the Khmer kings, my favourite is Jayavarman VII (1181-c.1220), the last great king of Angkor. Among his many architectural contributions was the construction of 102 hospitals spread across the empire.]

The following day, we elected to go to the Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap. This is actually a private institution, but they’ve done an excellent job gathering together tons of sandstone statuary and other items previously squirreled away by the government and private collectors, thus creating a very fine and comprehensive exhibition. Indoors and air-conditioned, too.

From the museum, we took a “tuk tuk” (a rickshaw pulled behind a small motorcycle) downtown to score some lunch, after which we headed back to our hotel, because it was just… too… hot… for meandering gringos. Later that afternoon, as Anne got a pedicure and I a Swedish massage (excellent and reasonably priced), the heavens opened and a thunderstorm of majestic violence let loose. It was wonderful, although it no doubt made selfies inconvenient.

And now we’re back in Yangon, plotting our next adventure: Hanoi and Hạ Long Bay in November. After the U.S. elections. When we’ll all need a vacation.



Monday, September 12, 2016

Messages From Myanmar #21

Messages From Myanmar #21
Australian Vacation Special - Part 6 of 6
14 September 2016

Photo Update Alert:

Day 16 - Tues., 08/30 - Hobart

The agenda called for yet another leisurely drive, this time to the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, via the coast road. We stopped for a photo break (also, post cards and Glucojels) in Swansea and a lunch break in Sorell (great fish & chips, restroom at the McDonald’s across the road) before arriving at Lenna of Hobart, a fabulous hotel set in an 1874 sandstone mansion, as well as a more modern annex. It was very deluxe and a short walk from the harbour, and we spent the evening just poking around the ‘hood.

Day 17 - Weds., 08/31 - Sydney

It was our last day in Tasmania, but we had plenty of time before the flight to Sydney, so we took a walk up the hill to Battery Point and then decided to embark on a short harbour cruise; which, much to our chagrin, doesn’t operate on Wednesday. Instead, we went to the Maritime Museum of Tasmania, a small gem located in the Carnegie Building (the same Carnegie, alright) and packed with interesting displays and artifacts. Hobart has a complex and fascinating maritime history.

We took lunch at Mures Lower Deck, a sprawling and obviously very successful family-owned operation on Victoria Dock at the harbour. Anne and I agreed: The crumble-battered scallops were the best we’ve ever had. And then it was time to go.

We drove to the Hobart International Airport, home of the easiest rental car gas fill-up on the planet, turned in our excellent vehicle, and caught the plane to Sydney. Our hotel, conveniently located near the Sydney Airport, had an early morning shuttle, so there was plenty of time for last minute repacking.

We ate our final meal of this epic adventure at one of the hotel restaurants. It’s called “La Boca” and bills itself as “Vibrant - Unique - Argentinian.” It even has an asado. Lo prometo, esta es la verdad.

Day 18 - Thurs., 09/01 - Yangon

No surprises today. We arose well before the sun, caught the shuttle, did the standard airport security kabuki, and got on the plane. We had decided to spring for exit row seats and the added legroom made it easier to face an eight-hour flight to Singapore. Good movie flight, too - caught up on two big, dumb “Marvel Universe” flicks. From Singapore, it was three hours to Yangon, where an Embassy motorpool vehicle was waiting (a most convenient feature of R&R). Then, heavy rain and massive traffic backups. Welcome home.

Anne and I find ourselves in a line of work that affords wonderful opportunities for travel. We have served on four continents (counting North America) and, by my count, have traveled together to nineteen different countries in the past ten years. This is not what I expected to be doing at this stage of life and I am grateful every day for the opportunity to see so much of the world. It is something that we never take for granted.

Thanks for letting us share our journey with you. Next stop: Angkor Wat.



Messages From Myanmar #20

Messages From Myanmar #20
Australian Vacation Special - Part 5 of 6
13 September 2016

Photo Update Alert:

Day 13 - Sat., 08/27 - An Epic Drive

We spent the morning in Lonny, seeing the sights. After purchasing some homemade beef jerky and more Glucojels (because you just never know), we departed Launcetown and, without getting lost, thank you, headed west to Cradle Mountain.

It was a beautiful day for a drive and the scenery featured rolling hills and more sheep than we’ve ever seen. Our directions were clear and our fuel level decent, but we decided to top off the tank at Mole Creek. Which is just as big as you think it is. This turned out to be the best decision we made all day.

Aussies are (generally) very friendly, chatty people, and I got into a conversation with a fellow who had been spending a lot of time helping his neighbors recover from the disastrous floods that tore up northern Tasmania this past June. We learned that one of the main roads to Cradle Mountain was still closed and a significant detour was in our future.

No worries. The drive was awesome, with beautiful landscapes, lots of mountain curves, and not a hell of a lot of room for error. Our revised directions were perfect and we arrived at Pepper’s Cradle Mountain Lodge, in a windy drizzle, well before nightfall. The lodge, adjacent to a national park, is an enormous operation, and our cabin was quite a schlep by foot.

Since we were booked for only one night (insane, I know), we immediately put on our hiking gear and hit the “King Billy Trail,” named for a local variety of pine tree. They grow up to 40 m in height and the forest is loaded with ‘em. The hike itself was pretty moderate and kind of mysterious; the forest being full of ferns and fallen trees covered in moss. It was an excellent walk for a cold and wet afternoon.

That evening: Dinner, build a fire, take a hot bath, go to bed. Big day coming up.

Day 14 - Sun., 08/28 - Freycinet

The drive from Cradle Mountain southeast to Freycinet Lodge, located in the Freycinet National Park on the east coast, is roughly 350 km (218 mi), some of it on the same mountain roads we traveled the day before. But a sunny day (and noticeable improvement on the head cold front) made for a beautiful journey through eucalyptus forests and past bucolic fields full of sheep and, occasionally, a flock of foraging white cockatoos. After a magnificent morning’s drive, we had lunch in Bicheno, a small village on the coast.

From there, it was on to the Freycinet National Park, where we learned that our prepaid park entrance fee was superfluous, seeing as how it was the 100th anniversary of the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service and entry was gratis the next two days. OK. Once we got our (free) park pass, we arrived at Freycinet Lodge in time for sunset and dinner.

Day 15 - Mon., 08/29 - Wineglass Bay

By this time, we were up for some more serious walking around. So, we elected to hike to the Wineglass Bay Lookout, a journey supposedly 40 minutes in length. For those of us approaching geezertude, a more relaxed pace was appropriate, nay, unavoidable. Once there, it was picture postcard time again. But the most sublime moment came when A.J. spied a small whale lollygagging near the shore of the bay, a very rare sighting at this time of year.

Our next, less strenuous walk was an easy stroll to the Cape Tourville Lighthouse, featuring a gorgeous, if considerably more distant view of Wineglass Bay. And 1000 km to the east? New Zealand. To finish off the day, we had ice cream at the only store in the town of Cole’s Bay and then meandered around Honeymoon Bay, near the lodge, where we watched sea birds perch and Japanese kids take selfies.

[Gustatory Sidebar - The eating on this trip was generally very good, especially aboard The Ghan, where they fed us three squares a day. But the single most spectacular dish was the seafood bouillabaisse at Freycinet Lodge. Scallops, prawns, fish, clams, and mussels in a creamy tomato concoction… oh, my.]

To be continued...