Why I Travel: Because I Love Places of Transit

From Photo Class

Airports. Train stations. Subway systems. Ferry ports. These places fascinate me. I love the comings-and-goings, the people-watching, the hubbub of movement as travelers board, disembark and hurry on their ways. This weekend my sister and I went to see Up in the Air. Some of my favorite scenes were in the various airports. I liked trying to identify the different terminals I'd been through.

From Sydney

Next time you're in an airport or train station, take a moment to observe how such hubs of transport portray themselves to the people passing through. From the architecture to the tchotchkes for sale in the knick-knack shops, I believe you can learn a lot about what locals value and want to share with visitors. The train station in Cambridge, England is positively swamped with bicycles outside. The subway system in Prague is like a city-wide art exhibit. And at 8am every day at the central train station in Bangkok, they play the national anthem while everyone in the station faces a giant portrait of the King and all hustle and bustle halts.

I just love soaking this stuff up.

From Cambridge

From Czech Republic

From Bangkok

It's best when there's a little humor involved:

From London 2007

Between my work and personal travel, I spend a lot of time in airports, so it's a good thing I enjoy them. And it's a good thing I don't get flustered by all the frenetic activity at such places, as most of my travel mishaps have happened at airports or train stations:

2003: got separated from my friends on a train in Italy, ended up in Milan instead of Venice
2007: detained in Heathrow for describing my job as "unemployed" (stupid, stupid. I should have at least said "freelance designer")
2009: purchased a non-existent LAN flight from Lima to Cusco and thus had my hopes to see Machu Picchu dashed, but got to spend a lot of extra time in the Lima airport
2009: forgot to register for an electronic visa to Australia until I checked in for my flight

I tend to collect "oops" moments in such places. At least I can get some good people-watching in while addressing the issue.

Which is it? Exit? Or No Exit? From Sydney


Why I Travel: To Take Advantage of Amazing Subject Material and Improve My Photography Skills

A trip is a great excuse to take pictures because, really, how can you resist capturing memories when the Eiffel Tower/Reclining Buddha/Sydney Opera House is the backdrop? Not only do such landmarks make great subjects, but so do fellow travelers. The adventures, foreign cultures and genial camaraderie combine to make people more open to being in photos.

As I take more photos, I continue to learn how my camera works and how to capture a great shot. I have also had the pleasure of meeting and traveling with other photo nuts who impart tips and tricks that make me a better photographer.

My recent scuba adventure provided me the chance to try underwater photography for the first time. It was equal parts challenging and exhilarating. As if I needed another excuse to go diving again, now I hunger for the chance to take my camera beneath the waves again.


Why I Travel: A Series

Remember back in the day when I used to blog all the time? Back before Twitter came on the scene or Facebook went mainstream? Well, brace yourself, because I have a series of posts headed your way that will make it seem like 2003-2007 all over again. I'm starting a series called "Why I Travel" where I will attempt to make sense of the tug that yanks me out of this country and across this planet. Here's the first:

It's in My Genes
My love for travel and interest in foreign cultures began before I ever had a passport. I have my maternal grandparents to thank for that. As the head of the University of California Alumni Association, Granddaddy led overseas tours for Cal alumni every year. And every year he and Mamu brought back little dolls from the countries they visited (pictured). The ever-growing shelf of international figurines was a constant presence in my childhood. In this way, my grandparents were my first tour guides. I listened to their stories, reveled in their photographs and treasured their dolls and other souvenirs.

When I took my first trip abroad to France in 1996 at age 14, Mamu and Granddaddy sent brochures and maps of their favorite places in Paris and beyond. When I spent a semester in London, I carted with me a token from my grandparents: a folder of pamphlets, a list of England's hot spots and my great-grandmother's personal account of the Chelsea Flower Show. They were my own personal Lonely Planet guides.

This year the roles were reversed for the first time as my grandparents sought my tips for a good time in Hanoi, Saigon, and Bangkok. It was a moment of pride for me. I was finally able, in some small way, to repay them for all their years of inspiration and advice. But I can never thank them for the fostering in me a love for travel, curiosity of foreign cultures and desire to pack up and go see the world.


My First Scuba Adventure

Breathe in. Breathe out. That's all I had to do. You wouldn't think it would be such a challenge. But tricking my brain into accepting that I really could breathe underwater took some convincing. Especially when the last time I talked my brain into such an ordeal the following happened:

A) I descended into the murky waters of Lake (un)Pleasant where I could only see about 2 feet in front of me.

B) My dive instructor, Andy, took me through (what felt at the time like) tortuous training procedures such as turning off my air supply and making me flood my scuba mask with water.

The last time my brain did anything like this, my air supply was (momentarily) cut off and my sight was (temorarily) taken away from me. Can you blame my brain for objecting to sinking below the waves? I fought that first descent; I didn't get even a half meter below water before I kicked wildly back up to the surface, nearly hyperventilating. It was a true mind game to force my brain to accept my commands to breathe slowly--in...and out...in...and out--as my shoulders, then my mouth, my nose, my eyes, the top of my head sank beneath the surface of the ocean. I was underwater, and my lungs could handle it. Finally, that brain of mine stopped protesting and started to absorb the total awe of the setting. And, oh, how great it was once I convinced my brain to cooporate, to forget about the fact that humans aren't built to breathe underwater!

Scuba diving felt like the most primative, and yet the most hi-tech thing I have ever done. Surrounded completely by water, the only thing I could really hear was the regular in-and-out of my own breathing. Seriously, how primal can you get? And how soothing. Yet this simple act, the very first thing we do without effort or thinking the moment we enter this world, requires complicated, carefully assembled devices, monitored with a computer, and proper training. There I was, 15 meters below water, and I could breathe!

Once I wrapped my mind around that little miracle, I headed off through the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, following Alan, one of the dive crew. I felt quite clunky on my first few dives; I bounced around the Great Barrier Reef like a yo-yo as I tried to get control of my buoyancy, struggled with equalizing my ears, and spent more time thinking about myself than the sights I was seeing on the reef. However, by day two of my dive trip, I had gained confidence enough to really enjoy it all.

It's truly amazing to be in the middle of a world that is so very foreign. It reminded me a bit of standing on a street corner in Hanoi, Vietnam, watching the cars/buses/motorbikes whiz by, completely clueless as to how the system works. I felt so totally out of my element, yet so totally consumed by the experience at the same time. It was all my high school biology textbooks come to life. It was an IMAX movie in 4-D. It was REAL, live fish and turtles, rays and coral, SHARKS(!) and baracuda! And I was in and amongst them. It was simply exhilerating.

I can tell that scuba diving is addictive. There absolutely no way I can let the Great Batrier Reef be the only scuba experience I have. There must be other trips, more adventures, more bio textbook pages come to life for me. I'm hooked.

Tweets from Oz

My blog has really suffered a lack of attention since I took up Twitter. Short bursts of commentary at Erica2point0 have pretty much replaced descriptive passages of experiences here on Terra Incognita. Since I knew my wifi access would be limited during my trip to Australia, and thus my Twitter access limited as well, I thought an appropriate plan of attack for sharing my thoughts and experiences in Oz would be a hybrid approach. I used my iPod Touch to write 140-character tweets that I would normally have posted on Twitter; instead of posting them immediately, though, I saved them in the iPod Notes application. Now, I present them to you in blog form. This way you can feel like you're experiencing my Aussie adventure at my side. Enjoy, mate!

30 September

Completely spaced getting an electronic visa to get into Australia. Oops! Thank God (& my sis Ally!) it processed immediately!

Fun day in San Francisco with my aunt. The California Academy of Sciences is way cooler than it sounds. I highly recommend it!

1 October

Thanks to crossing the International Dateline, the day of October 1, 2009 will never have existed for me. So trippy!

2 October

14.5 hours. Longest flight I've ever taken. Amazingly, it wasn't the excruciating torture I expected.

It's fitting that I flew through San Francisco to get to Sydney b/c SYD totally reminds me of SF just w/ a lot less fog.

4 October

Who cares about the cloud cover? Gloomy weekend on the Hawksbury River w/ friends is wonderfully relaxing.

This has been the easiest round of fighting jetlag I've ever had. Hope it repeats for my trip back.

Jon & Steveo have been navigating our houseboat using iPhone apps. This makes me smile.

Playing the role of 7th wheel. I rarely feel the urge to hurry up & get hitched, but the Tidds, Lords & Wheelers make it look fun.

5 October

Being around a boatload of Brits causes me to lapse into a weird Yank-Brit accent. Biscuit, anyone?

I've been trying to teach little British toddler Elsie an Americanism. So far, "What up, yo" sounds more like "Dudda woah".

I do not row row my boat very gently down the stream. In fact, I'm rubbish at manning the oars of a rowboat.

Finished the second Twilight book while on the houseboat this weekend. I begrudgingly got TOTALLY sucked into the story.

My goal to exercise every other day has been replaced with eating every three hours. Oops.

It's a bit disconcerting to weigh myself on a metric scale. The # looks way too small, considering all the food I packed away this weekend.

The crew has introduced me to an Aussie favorite: chips (chunky fries) dipped in mayo and sweet chili sauce. Yum!

Burned the top layer of taste buds off my tongue: a hazard of trying to eat tasty hot chips too fast.

Love the Aussie toilets that give you the choice between a Number 1 or Number 2 flush. A #1 uses less water than a #2. :)

I keep forgetting to check out the way water swirls the in opposite direction down the drain here.

6 October

It's Tues but feels like a Mon (yesterday was an Aussie bank holiday) but not too much like a Mon since I'm not doing the whole "work" thing

Brilliant! Virgin Blue has passengers board from the front and back of the plane at the same time!

There's a woman across the aisle from me on my flight to Cairns wearing combat boots, a corset & strumming a ukulele. Hm.

Despite all the prep I did for this trip, this has to be the most disorganized I've ever been while traveling.

Resolved: I will breakdown & buy a pair of skinny jeans when I get home.

I'm repeating in my mind "'Cairns' sounds like 'cans'" over and over yet that pesky "r" keeps inserting itself when I say it.

Stumbled upon a Nando's. This vacation just keeps getting better!

When I travel like this, I feel like I'm doing what I was MADE to do.

Took a quick night class about the history & life of the Great Barrier Reef when I got into Cairns. So glad I did. Learned lots!

Did you know (DYK): the Great Barrier Reef is 1/2 the size of Texas!!!

DYK: Nemo is an anemonefish. Get it? An aNEMOnefish.

DYK: if Nemo's mum had died in real life, his dad would have changed sex to become female, & Nemo would've matured quicker to mate w/ "Dad".

DYK: coral is made up of calcium carbonate, which is essentially limestone. Interestingly, coral is an animal, not a plant.

DYK: coral is naturally white in color. It gets its pretty hues from the algae that live on it.

DYK: the first color to disappear from the spectrum as you descend in the water is red.

7 October

Australia really is a dry country. There are several patches of brush fire outside of Cairns as we head out to sea.

Wow. Just surfaced from my first dive. This is going to require a proper blog entry. 140 characters won't cut it.

Three dives in. Favorite sight so far: an awesome green turtle. Have also seen stingrays, giant clams & some really amazing fish.

I haven't seen any sharks so far, but several others on the boat have. A couple even spotted a barracuda!

I was really nervous about doing a night dive and almost didn't go, but now I'm so proud of myself that I did it.

It's not a true adventure out on the open waters until you use a seasick bag, right? Well, consider this an adventure now. ;)

8 October

My underwater camera only goes 10 meters down, so I rented one for one of my dives. Underwater photography is TOUGH!

End of Day Two on the dive boat and still no shark sightings for me...

I'm the slowest eater ever; always the last to finish my plate. Or maybe I just talk too much during meals? ;)

Don't know why but I get a kick out of hearing Aussies say "Good on you" instead of "Good for you".

9 October

I saw my shark!!!! And 3 barracuda! AND a rare eagle ray! Totally worth the 5:45am wake up call.

Just came up from my last dive of the trip. Saw another shark! And joined a green turtle for his lunch. Love this scuba stuff!!!

I snorkeled for the last dive since Queensland law says you can't fly if you've dived in the past 24hours. It just can't compare to diving.

Total number of dives in 2.5 days: 10.

I am so hooked on scuba. Got a 10% off voucher for my next booking with ProDive. Hmmm... Do I really need to go home?

I'm off the boat but still feel the room rocking around me. I'm hoping a couple of drinks w/ my dive friends tonight will counterbalance me.

Um...not sure if the drinks counterbalanced me or unbalanced me. Either way: fun night out with new friends.

10 October

Ugh. Slept funny on the hostel bed last night & now my hip is all out of joint. Please don't tell me I'm becoming an old lady already!

Woke up in the middle of the night thinking I was underwater watching fish swim by.

Glad to see that my gaydar gets reception across the Pacific. :)

Somehow I made it all the way through check-in, security & boarding at the Cairns airport w/o ever showing my ID. Not exactly comforting.

There's too much Comic Sans in Sydney!

Pretty sure I've never had so many cups of tea as I have this week with all my Aussie & British friends.

11 October

Kookaburra sighting! It was sitting right outside Megs & Jon's back window!

Sun finally came out for the afternoon of my last day in Sydney.

Lunched w/ Jo & her parents at Ripples, the restaurant at the Olympic pool, looking out over the Harbour Bridge & Opera House. Lovely!

I think nearly every conversation I've had w/ friends this week has included a discussion of America's abysmal vacation policy.

2 weeks of holiday is just not sufficient!

12 October

Wish I had brought my big backpack instead of my huge suitcase. I find it much easier to handle.

Props to the United check-in agent who didn't charge me for my overweight bag!

It looks like everyone's boarded the 13.5-hour flight to LAX & so far no one's joined me in my row. Can this be true?!?!

Score!!! 3 seats all to myself! Maybe I'll treat myself to a glass of Champagne & pretend I'm in first class. ;)

Bugger. Another man has joined me in my row. There goes my glass of Champagne.

Tip for anyone flying out of Sydney: get a seat by the window on the right side of the plane. You get an awesome view of the Harbour!

Yay! My fickle seat mate has changed spots again so I DO get the row to myself. Just in time for beverage service!

Never mind RE: Champagne. Apparently it really is only for first class. A mini bottle of Cab will have to do.

Water in the bathrooms on my United flight circles clockwise, the northern hemisphere way. Wonder if it goes the opposite way on Qantas. :)

Goal: attend my workout boot camp 3 hours after landing in PHX. That means it's time to catch some Zzzs now.

Got sent to 3 different security checkpoints at LAX. So unorganized here!

Back in PHX. 1 load of laundry done. 2 more to go. But first: off to boot camp! This will be interesting.

Oct. 12, 2009, has been the longest day of my life. Literally. From midnight to midnight, today will have lasted 42 hours for me.

Back to work tomorrow. Really wish I could take another day off to recover, but I have to be in Denver Wednesday. Back to the grindstone.

Overall: one of the best vacations EVER.


Funny Sentences in My Inbox, version 12

I'm going to ease back into the blogging realm with a new edition of Funny Sentences (Without Context) in My Inbox. Enjoy.

So yeah, now I'll have to go unspread the word.


Personally, I believe that this printer is plotting against us and though it has won this battle, the war rages on...BTW ­ just in case the printers do eventually win, let me be the first to put it in writing that I welcome our printer overlords and look forward to their benevolent reign.


Macs are largely immune to these problems so those of you with Macs can continue to feel smug.


we are in luzern switzerland and will be home late the 30th. < i am reachable by my cell phone right now but would be best to start after i am back if possible. Thursdazs and < mondazs are great weakdazs for me and weekends . < this kez board is hard to manage...sorry..


One of my friends is in charge of hiring an intern at his (non-journalism-related) job. This is a cover letter he got. From a grad student.


i saw ur post about a intern on the [company] website. if u are still looking for someone id like that job.

see ya,
[his name]"

Apparently this gentleman has a degree from loltech. I weep for humanity.


If you require wireless access today for whatever reason, please contact [that guy] or [this guy] for support. We can set up a series of smoke signals and carrier pigeons to provide rudimentary connectivity until we have the problem permanently solved.


How often do you get to say, "There's a kid in a gold boxing robe next to a chick singing Mariah Carey?"


The recruiters at Glacier were more than happy to hire anyone who could speak rudimentary English and had basic motor skills. Luckily, I fit the bill. Two weeks later I was on a train from Chicago to Glacier Park with 3 boxes clothes and only a slight idea of what I was getting into.


But will there be a good crowd?? Lots of cute boys for the single ladies? That is important. Maybe moreso than the food.


My golf game turned out much better than I thought, in that nobody died.


I have tried to study Spanish and am feeling overwhelmedo and very stupido


Uhm....your royalties will consist of complimentary air and sunshine....at least once every other leap year. Does that work?


As far as I'm concerned the state of Oklahoma is only good for musicals and tornadoes (aka I'm still in denial).


There is nothing more depressing than calling the unemployment office and having the cheerful automated voice tell you, "Due to high call volumes, you must call back Tuesday. Goodbye!"


My dog's name is Bob. If you shout M-I-Z during the games, he will bark Z-O-U. I'm not sure he likes having "big cats" on his collar most days, but he gives it his all on game days. :-)


But what if I don't wanna pull the president's face off ... ? :(


I can think of two stories (the spitting cobra or the horny elephant...), in particular, about nearly being eaten / smooshed (three if you count the time I was chased off site by a lion - not really as dramatic as it sounds, and four if you count the time I chased a lion - also not very dramatic, nor intelligent, but necessary at the time, I assure you...).


My specialty is geeking out over numbers and data and research.


If you're in the market for a great TV stand that has glass doors, a deep drawer and doesn't talk during your favorite shows, keep reading. If not, you're done. Thanks for your time; I'm sure you have other emails to read.


I'll be sneaking out a little early this afternoon to catch Barack at ASU. Pending an invitation to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, I'll be back in the office bright and early tomorrow morning.


You probably noticed that the two photos I sent yesterday looked amazingly similar. The technical term for this condition is "human error."



I'm slowly going through the process of uploading my pictures. One of the detriments to taking 1,200+ pics is that then I spend way too much time sorting through them to pick the best shot. And one of the curses of knowing my way around Photoshop is that I also want to touch up and color correct every picture I post. I've tried to limit myself to Photoshopping only a handful of pics. Here are a few of my favorites. More still TK.

Peruvian espresso. From Around Lima

Enjoying said espresso. From Around Lima

On the rocky beach. From Around Lima


Entering Detox Mode

Oh the irony of that previous post. After I gushed about the joy of travel, I managed to sustain one of the most disappointing travel experiences of my life: I missed the opportunity to see Machu Picchu. There are details I'm still trying to figure out, but right now it looks like the LAN flight I purchased to Cusco (the small town where people start their journey to the breathtaking Inca ruins) never actually existed. It was some kind of glitch in the computer system at the moment I purchased my online ticket. LAN, the airline company, hasn't said as much, but they put up no fight when I requested a full refund for my round-trip tickets, claiming that the time had been changed for my flight and I was never notified. The interesting thing is, the LAN timetable is quite consistent. Every day in January, the latest flight to Cusco is 15:00. My flight was supposedly scheduled for 16:45. Other details just don't jive, and I'm hoping it will support my case for a full reimbursement for the costs of the tour and hotel I had booked. I'm not holding my breath, and it'll probably take a bit of a fight (they're not answering my emails so far), but I'm not going to give up without trying. After all, no reimbursement can replace the wondrous experience I missed out on because of their error.

Overall, though, this was a fabulous trip. Much needed. It had been 15 months since my passport had been inked by an immigration officer, and I think it (read: me) was feeling a little restless. Oh, it was a great trip. People think I'm an odd one for taking trips like these on my own when I don't really know the people I'll be meeting up with. But I love getting to know new people. And besides, when it's a well-oiled meeting (read: plenty of alcohol), the ability to make new friends is infinitely easier. A couple of pisco sours (the local Peruvian drink of choice) and everyone's out salsaing on the dance floor with their 20 best friends.

The Dance floor. From New Year's Eve Peru

To give you a sense of how much alcohol was consumed, I kept a loose tally of what I drank during the week...and I was the lightweight of the group. I'll preface this by saying that everyone was safe, no one drove and no one (that I heard of) ended the nights hugging the toilet.

Empty glasses. From New Year's Eve Peru

Here's my week in drinks:

Rum & Coke
Rum & Coke
Pisco shot
Rum & Coke
Pisco shot (I think this was a half a shot...Gino knew I was nearing the end of my night)
1/2 bottle of Pilsen beer
Cusqueña beer
Hazelnut/coffee drink thing
Strawberry pisco sour
Maracuya sour (passion fruit-flavored pisco sour)
Maracuya sour
Maracuya sour
Pisco shot (small)
Maracuya sour
Maracuya sour
Rosé wine
Rosé wine
White wine
Maracuya sour
Maracuya sour
in-flight red wine (Lima - San Salvadore)
in-flight red wine (San Salvadore - LAX)

I will repeat again: I was the light drinker of the week. All those pisco sours (well, the passion fruit-flavored pisco sours) with the white of a raw egg in each one might have been the contributor to my digestive issues at the end of the week. Oh well. The sacrifices one makes for a good time...

Pilsen Beer (one of the local faves) and some salsa. From New Year's Eve Peru

I have to sort through my 1,200+ pictures. Hopefully I'll post those by the weekend. To hold you over for the rest, I've provided a few previews from the New Year's Eve Party.

The Bride (Laura), her mom (Cheryl) and her sister (Shannon) ring in the New Year. From New Year's Eve Peru



About a month or so ago I got tagged twice to do a whole post about things that give me joy. I don't have much time before my flight from Lima to Cusco leaves, but I was thinking this morning about the joy I get from traveling and exploring. I've felt very much in my element the past few days. It's been a great combination of being surounded by people I know, people I've never met but who have become fast friends (even if a few of them are Jayhawks), and the anticipation of setting out on my own for a little trekking around Machu Picchu. I feel so invigorated on this trip, even as I'm exhausted by all the salsa dancing and pisco shots. Pictures TK.