Summer Travels

There are many perks of our current overseas life (the challenges have been covered in other posts), and one of the perkiest perks is the chance to travel together during the summer. As a teacher, Tom is used to summers of freedom, but usually watches Melissa leave for work most mornings with time carved out for a short vacation together. This year was different. With seven weeks free for travel, we made the most of it!

The summer was carved into two distinct parts: joyful time with friends and family in the US and blissful travel in Spain. While in the US, we made the most of every opportunity to soak up love and feel the strength of our connections with people in Portland, Hood Canal, Seattle, and San Diego. We had solo dates with each of our nieces and nephews, we had high quality time with family and friends who are like family, we made an Indian feast for 30 people (with a lot of help!), we shared in the celebration of Melissa’s grandmother’s 100th birthday, and we ate at (almost) every restaurant we’ve missed. It was a truly wonderful time that reminded us how important it is to us to stay connected even from a great distance.

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Spain was everything we hoped it would be. We fell in love with Barcelona and now dream of somehow living there some day. The gorgeous Modernisme architecture, the feeling of history everywhere you go, the delicious tapas, the wonderful (and affordable) wine, the cafe culture in every plaza, and the beautiful Mediterranean Sea all beckon loud and clear. At the very least, we will return to see the completed Sagrada Familia in another eight to ten years – what a marvel! Other highlights of Barcelona included meandering through the magnificent Parc Guell, relaxing in plazas with glasses or pitchers of delicious sangria, visiting the Picasso Museum and the Fundacio Joan Miro, wandering the narrow alleys of the medieval Barri Gotic, eating at Monvinic and Disfrutar (the latter with two Michelin stars), and just generally reveling in the beauty around us. Armed with Rick Steve’s walking tours, we feel like we saw a good chunk of Barcelona.

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After a week in Barcelona, we headed to Logroño in the heart of La Rioja wine country. Our hotel was a beautifully restored medieval structure on the Camino de Santiago at the edge of Old Town. We spent a couple days wandering around the lovely old town, driving out into the gorgeous countryside, and going to the Vivanco Wine Museum – well worth the time.Vivanco

We miscalculated a bit when we thought we’d go see some wineries on Sunday, all of which were closed. Happily, though, we found that the Frank Gehry-designed Marques de Rizcal was open for a glass of wine in their visitor center, and we managed to then talk our way into the main building, usually closed to gawkers.Marques de Riscal

One evening, we joined in the touristy fun on Calle Laurel. Each place serves its special tapa and a glass of wine — choice of joven or crianza — for an astonishingly low price.IMG_0750 We enjoyed each treat at the bar or a standing table. We quickly started sharing so we could visit more places! Although the vast majority of them were not vegetarian friendly, we still managed quite a feast with spanish tortilla, vegetable tempura, a cheese plate, patatas bravas, and a queso fundido sandwich. The highlight of our time in La Rioja, though, was our two day tour with Rebeca and Robert of Rioja Like a Native. This coincided with our 7th anniversary and was a true treat.

After five nights in Rioja, we moved on to Girona, an ancient Roman city that was further developed during the Middle Ages. The city walls still stand, offering incredible views, and the crazy maze of narrow streets is a delight. One highlight was definitely a visit to the Jewish History Museum, located in the heart of the Jewish quarter that was destroyed by the inquisition at the end of the 15th century after previous centuries of persecution. It was awe-inspiring to learn about their fierce commitment to their religion and culture, heartening to learn about times of peaceful integration and coexistence, and devastating to learn details of the Inquisition, which was glaringly missing from the rest of the history we came across throughout our time in Spain. They have done a beautiful job of telling the story and amassing artifacts, including many tombstones from the old cemetery. Girona was great – we ate well, we drank well, we walked a ton, and we loved the sense of history surrounding us.

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After a night at the Barcelona Airport Hotel, we began our journey back to Bangalore, feeling happy and peaceful and ready to go home.



Rioja Like a Native

A highlight of our time in Spain was our tour of La Rioja wineries with Rebeca and Robert of Rioja Like a Native. Over two days, we toured six diverse wineries, had two lovely lunches, gazed at the gorgeous Spanish countryside, and had a generally delightful time. Melissa had contacted Rebeca months ago with just the vaguest suggestion of what we would like to do, and somehow Rebeca managed to create the perfect plan, with a combination of old and new, small and large, family and corporate.

On our first day, we started with Bodegas Bohedal, and toured the facility with Leire. Her father is now the winemaker, while she is responsible for all inventory, purchasing, and sales. With a highly refined palate and winemakers on both sides of her family, we expect she’ll eventually take the winemaking reins. In the meantime, one of her responsibilities is showing tourists like us around the winery, telling us stories of generations of winemakers and offering us a unique tasting of a single vintage of tempranillo aged in three different oak barrels: French, Hungarian, and American. Much more difference than we’d imagined! And all delicious.Bohedal

From there, we made our way to Haro, a small town that became a wine region hub when French grapes were destroyed by phylloxera and French winemakers came to practice their craft in Spain. Wineries clustered around the train station to make it easy to get the wine back to France. The town is full of these so-called centennial wineries. We stopped at CVNE (also called Cune due to a long-ago misreading of their name). Their barrel room was designed by Eiffel (yes, of the tower) and is a marvel in its own right. The wines were lovely – Melissa selected one to be her birthday wine this year.Cune

Then we drove to the beautiful medieval town of LaGuardia. High on a hill with a protective wall, this carless town pulses with history and offers spectacular views of the countryside. After a lunch in a restaurant over a cave, we made our way to Bodegas Carlos San Pedro Perez de Viñaspre. There we met with a winemaker whose family has been growing grapes for 500 years in Rioja and who works in a winery over a 600 year old cave which has been used for storing wine for at least 300 years. Wow. It was a fascinating tour where we learned about joven wines which are made for drinking right in the coming year with minimal aging.

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Exhausted from our day of touring (and drinking), we happily collapsed in our lovely room back in Logroño, reflecting on what a perfect combination of wineries we had seen that day. All so different, all so good.

The next morning, Rebeca and Robert picked us up and drove us to Bodegas Valentin Pascual in Cenicero. This family winery makes wine the same way it’s been done since the Romans first brought wine to Spain: carbonic maceration which ages the grapes in stone vats where they are then stomped (during what sounds like a great party!) so that the juice makes its way by gravity down to the giant barrels in the cellar. The ancient setting, the old equipment (including the candle that serves as a CO2 monitor), and the delightful energy of our guide (the son of the winemaker) made the whole thing so fun to see.Valentin Pascual

For a huge contrast, we went from there to Ysios, a large, modern winery that uses all of the latest techniques to create only Reserva wines. While we kind of wanted to prefer the traditional approach, we truly did love these newfangled wines. Had the price not reflected the high esteem in which they hold themselves, we would have seriously stocked up.

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After all that tasting, we were ready for lunch. Rebeca and Robert took us to the most idyllic picnic table overlooking vineyards, in a rare shady spot. They laid out a wonderful lunch. It was perfect! While there, they gave us keychains that Robert had made for us of Rioja corks with copper Euro coin tops in recognition of our 7th anniversary. It was such a sweet gesture, and we will treasure them and the memories they bring up for us.Picnic

Satisfied from our tasty lunch, we headed for our final winery, Bodega Classica, perched on a high hill and looking like it’s always been there. Rebeca and Robert hadn’t been there before, and I think we were all a bit surprised to learn just how new it was. Bodega Classico was less than ten years old and was part of a huge wine organization that churns out 4 million bottles per year under a variety of labels. The woman giving the tour was lovely, though, and truly passionate about wine. And the wine itself was very good indeed.Classico.jpg

Apart from the pleasure of visiting these wineries and seeing the beautiful countryside, it was also a delight to spend a couple days with Rebeca and Robert who made us feel at home, answered every question we had, and ensured that we enjoyed every moment of our time with them. We’re so very glad we chose Rioja Like a Native for our anniversary trip.20180731_183125.jpg

Tom’s quick side note: We loved Spanish wine in general. One thing that we loved about it was the price. One of the many bits of knowledge Rebeca and Robert laid on us was that wine is taxed as a food, not as alcohol, which keeps the price of amazing bottles of wine under five euros. Spanish wine comes in four main classifications: joven, which is very young, not aged in oak at all, and is ready to drink now; Crianza, aged two years, at least six months of which are in oak; Reserva, aged three years, one of which is in oak; and Gran Reserva, aged five years, 18 months in oak. The way we understand American classifications, Reserva just means the pick of the grapes. But then again, old old wine regions like La Rioja have very many rules to protect what it means to be a La Rioja wine.

Tom’s Tales: Year-end Reflections

It’s hard to believe, but we are finishing up our first year here in India. I’m not going to lie. This has been the hardest thing I have ever done, which I guess says a little bit about how easy my life has been to this point, and a little bit about how I just have not been as good at moving to a new world as I wanted to be. Melissa pointed out that this blog has turned into vacation documentation at the expense of all the other things we wanted to document along the way, maybe because so much of the stuff we wanted to document just became part of every day life. I wanted to take the opportunity presented by this one-year milestone to process what I have learned about myself and our life in India.

There is a way that how I try to live my life has saved me, and a way my priorities just simply don’t work here. First, one of my most important mantras comes courtesy of one of the most important people in my life, Jay Watson. He likes to say, “Make new mistakes every day.” I love that, I try to live by that, and I teach it to all my students every year. Jay likes to point out the many things at play here. He isn’t saying “Don’t make mistakes”; if you never make mistakes, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. Embrace the mistakes you make, but learn from them, move on, and make new mistakes tomorrow. Early on, it felt like I was repeating the mantra to myself hourly. I was making so many mistakes every day, many of them only once, but way too many I would repeat over and over again, from mistakes at work, to being too timid in public situations, to I don’t know how many things. My primary correction also comes back to something Jay likes to say often: “If you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen.” I’m getting better at that; not just documenting what we’re experiencing, but trying to learn from my mistakes. Now, when someone is telling me something that I need to know, especially around a mistake that I’ve made, I write it down and repeat to them what I understand about the issue. That gives them a chance to correct my understanding, which again I write down and repeat to them just to make sure I’m getting it.

Another one of the cornerstones of the way I try to live my life is that I know that I don’t know anything for sure (My answer to Aunt Mary’s greeting, “Whatdoyouknowforsure?”: “Not much, Aunt Mary. Not much”). Wow. That has never been more true than this past year. Every time I think I’m starting to understand something fairly thoroughly, something pops up that proves I didn’t understand that thing at all, from paying bills to how Hinduism effects modern Indian culture. Some days it has felt like I don’t know anything at all, much less “for sure”. I hope my attitude has allowed me to learn about all these things I don’t know about, but I’m afraid too often it gets in my way of taking some risks, too. Next year will be better.

While those two philosophies have saved me, there are things that are similarly important to me that just simply don’t work. I like to be deferential to people. I don’t always have to be first, get the best thing, pretend I know the most. Here, it feels like that is seen as weakness, either physically while people are pushing ahead (more on that later) or intellectually when people assume I am not as competent as I hope I am. I’m kind of hoping that I am learning to be more assertive in general, since being deferential often does look weak, and I do miss out on some cool things. Similarly, I think it’s important to leave room for people to make their own decisions, and when a decision is to be made that affects others, that decision should be made as a group. Leaving that kind of space means someone else is going to decide for me. I am learning again to be more assertive and declare what I need to do.

The thing that is hardest for me related to my life priorities is the importance of asking “Why?” If we can’t answer the why of a process, of an activity, of a purchase, of anything, we shouldn’t be doing it. If the answer to the why of a rule is unsatisfying, we should be advocating for a change. My favorite example of this being anathema here is around my old walk home. There was a fence between our first apartment and the lake that was the highlight of the walk. For a long period of time, there was a hole in the fence that made it a super reasonable walk and gave a little village near the lake access. For an equally long period of time, the hole was sealed, and guards were posted to make sure no one got through. I asked three different guards why. “Why can’t I pass through?” “The fence is closed.” “But why? It makes the villagers’ lives so much easier” “Because the fence is closed.” “But why?” “The fence is closed.” This is the response one gets everywhere. Why this paperwork? Because it’s required. Why is it required? Because we have to follow the rules. Why are these the rules? Because it’s required. Why are we doing this thing? Because it’s the way we do things. Why do we do it this way? Because we always have. But why do we still? Because it’s the way we do it. The worst answer ever for why. It’s the opposite of making new mistakes every day. We’re going to continue to make this mistake because it’s the way we’ve always done it. This one, the only thing I’m learning is to pick and choose whom I ask “why?”, but it’s going to continue to be important to me.

To make some of the harder elements of life less hard, I am constantly reminding myself of the economic situation that surrounds us. By some accounts, India is no longer a Third World Nation, but just barely. Even if that is true, want is everywhere. As a larger culture, it will take a good long time to climb Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. So many people are still, and so many more people are only one or two generations removed from, simply trying to feed themselves and their families,  comforts of more well established wealthy countries are simply unreasonable. I’m talking basics – regular garbage service, clean air and water, expectations of indoor toilets. There are movements underway to try to build the infrastructure and attitudes to address these problems – movements to reduce disposable consumption, clean up the rivers, reduce air pollution, encourage people to use toilets – but it’s going to take a while to see the effects of those programs. In the meantime, we hold our noses as we go by the worst of the spontaneous road side garbage dumps and cross over streams. It’s just the way it is, but people are trying to make it better. Remember, it took us in the West a long time to clean up our acts. (Side political note – hopefully we didn’t do so good of a job that we’re willing to let our current administration and EPA chief undo that work.)

Also related to the economic situation here, people are constantly trying to get money from us, to the point of feeling like everyone is trying to scam us. I continually ask myself, “How much does this person get paid?” The answer is often very very little. The wealth gap, the income gap, all of those gaps we progressives in the US want to address are unbelievably worse here. As a result, we live a life of luxury I can’t imagine living anywhere else. A driver’s trying to get more money out of me? Fine. He probably makes a dollar an hour. I can share a little bit of what I am lucky enough to have. I try to think of it less that people are trying to scam us as they are trying to survive.

There are some things we are trying very hard to not learn for ourselves. We keep being told that any interaction with the police will end up with us handing over shockingly large sums of money. We got into an accident in one of our last weekends in town before leaving for summer, and (thanks to our friend and getting-through-life-in-Bangalore guru Prem) we were able to solve the issue without the police getting involved. The apartment building seems to want a police background check beyond what the immigration folks have already done for us; we keep talking our way out of that. Speaking of immigration, we have been told very clearly that our immigration paperwork, the Golden FRRO, is very important and must be kept in pristine condition despite being required in all kinds of places. We like living here. We don’t want to get kicked out. We keep our FRRO very well protected.

There are things about life in Bangalore that drive me crazy. The bureaucracy. Everyone has to have a say about our choices, and they all have paperwork that needs a passport photo. The pushing. We call it the “It’s always my turn” syndrome. In line at restaurants and grocery stores, in traffic, in any kind of crowd larger than ten. People will push past, through, and over you to do what they need to do right now. The bureaucracy. Every layer has an added cost to it, whether that was made clear at any point in the process or not. Garbage. It is everywhere. Yes, I know, it’s part of what I try to remind myself is part of the developing infrastructure and economy, but it still just makes me sad. The bureaucracy. Just when you think you’ve conquered all possible layers, someone needs to revisit his paperwork because it changed or just because that’s the way we do it. The refusal to say no, even when it means lying to us. I didn’t think it was a Western idea, but maybe it is; I’d rather hear the hard truth than be lied to, since at some point I’m going to learn that I haven’t done something right, and it would have been easier to fix it to begin with. And the bureaucracy. Because it is everywhere.

The extent of white privilege here has been a surprise. Maybe being a foreigner plays into it, too. Probably those two things really get wrapped up in to the same thing. My assumption was the opposite. White people did terrible things to this country. It was one of the richest regions of the world before Europeans discovered that fact. Seventy-one years after independence, India is still trying to get to its old status. I thought people would be pissed at people who look like me. Instead, people treat us like we’re special before we have done anything to deserve such a thing, and even when we do something to deserve quite the opposite, people give us a wide berth to make mistakes. The down side is that people definitely try to profit off us whenever possible. As I mentioned before, though, it’s not a completely unreasonable thing. We do have means many don’t. It does get frustrating, though.

Not all surprises of the past year have been difficult. There are a lot of things that I love about this place. There is a generosity that is the foundation of every relationship that is simply heartwarming. Everyone seems to talk to strangers on the street as if they’re old friends, creating an atmosphere of community we don’t have in the States. South Indian breakfast is AMAZING. Seriously. Why have Americans not discovered the joy of masala dosas? Vada? Idly and sambar? Uttapam? We talk a good game in the US about cultural diversity. The beauty of the cultural tapestry of Bangalore is incredible. South Indian cultures have their subtle differences, then you go North and expectations are totally different. Northeast is its own little world. The Himalayas feel like they have more in common with Nepal than with Kerala. One of the best things about Bangalore is that one of the reasons it has grown so unreasonably in the last ten years is that people from all those regions have congregated here, so all of those cultures are present in this one city. This one huge, crazy, unreasonable, amazing city. And mangos!

Lastly, and this does not fall in to the category of something I learned this year, but something that was confirmed over and over and over again. Melissa Parkerton is amazing. I have had a rough year; my lows have been very very low, and my highs have been fleeting. The number of times I have broken down at her expense is quite frankly embarrassing. Her patience, her eagerness, her joy, her unending compassion have kept me as sane as possible. Then there’s the work she does. She is in Bihar, the poorest, least literate state in India trying to help hospitals reduce infant and new mother mortality despite challenges we in the West simply have never considered. She is at Shanti Bhavan, creating a mentorship program for graduates. She learned that one of the challenges they were facing was figuring out what the world of opportunities meant to them; she didn’t shake her head and say, “Ooo, that’s so sad.” She’s doing something about it. She makes my life better, but mostly she makes the world around her better.

I don’t make New Years resolutions, but it was important to me this year to make one – I resolved to do what needed to be done to look forward to returning to Bangalore in August. Without Melissa, I don’t know that I would have made it. I won’t know until August rolls around, but thanks to her support and the changes we have made in our life in the past few months and the things I have learned about this place and about myself, I think I made it.

Melissa’s Musings: Karnataka Elections

I have a relatively superficial understanding of Indian politics. I know that the BJP is the Hindu Nationalist party currently in power at the national level, but that it has not been in control of any of the southern states where the Congress party and the Communist parties have generally prevailed. I know that the political system is corrupt and that politicians are known to be involved in bribery and fraud of various kinds. But this post is not about the electoral winners and losers — that I am not in a position to explain. This post is about what its like to live through the election season in Karnataka as an outsider.

For weeks in advance of last Saturday’s election, there were groups of people marching daily through the neighborhood that we overlook. They would drum, chant, speak through loudspeakers, and knock on doors (not our door on the 16th floor, though). There were frequent cars or trucks driving around slowly, blasting loud pre-recorded messages. Mostly the voices we heard were male and vaguely angry, but there was an occasional female voice in the mix, usually sounding calm and steady. We didn’t understand what was being said, and generally found it all a bit intrusive. Alcohol also began to be rationed – at the wine store, we could only buy three bottles at a time – so that people’s votes couldn’t be purchased with alcohol. The part that we enjoyed, though, were the fireworks that we frequently watched from our balcony, apparently from rallies.

In the week before the election, tensions rose. Some (but strangely not all) ATMs had decreased limits so you could only withdraw a maximum of 4,000 rupees rather than the standard 10,000 — we were told that this was to prevent buying votes. As the week went on, many cash machines simply ran out of the money, so there were flurries of WhatsApp messages with people telling each other where they could find cash. On Thursday before the election at 5 pm, Karntaka became a dry state. Not only were all liquor stores closed, but most restaurants that serve alcohol were also closed. We were warned that we should be careful toward the end of the week and through the following Tuesday. Votes would be cast on Saturday and counted on Tuesday with winners then announced. On Saturday at midday, I walked over to the nearby shopping mall, usually bustling with people and saw that it was completely closed and silent. I quickly walked back home and decided I’d just stay inside. The most tense day was Tuesday. Some said that if the BJP lost, there would be demonstrations which would likely turn violent. Some said that if the BJP won, there would be demonstrations which would likely turn violent. Everyone seemed to think it was at least possible that there would be violence after the votes were counted, and recommended again staying indoors. I did.

And then it was over. There was no violence, the stores reopened, and life went on. The BJP won but didn’t get a majority of the seats so the Congress and JD(S) might be able to put together a coalition so they also won. We’re yet to see what the impact of that will be, but for now, we’re just glad to be beyond the upheaval.

Tom’s Tales: Trek to the Himalayas

I took my first Melissa-less trip since moving to India. Along with three colleagues, I chaperoned 28 young folks to the top of a Himalayan mountain. Even with torrential rain, a little bit of snow, and some freaky heat, the only real problem was the Melissa-less part. It was an incredible trip, like a magazine spread.

The way Canadian International School’s schedule sets up, Grades 12 and 10 finish with classes in late April in order to take IB and IGCSE exams full-time (I’m working myself up to writing about my somewhat strong feelings about such things). While they are out, we send our grades 11 and 9 out on excursions. The grade 9 kids went to the Andaman Islands, an Indian state in the form of an archipelago about two-thirds of the way toward Thailand across the Bay of Bengal. Grade 11 kids went three places: Thailand, Dehradun to work with Habitat for Humanity, and the Himalaya.

With the help of Indiahikes and our fabulous guide Geet, we climbed Kedarkantha, a 12,500 foot peak in the state of Uttarakhand. We took 28 kids to try to get them out of their comfort zones and challenge their sense of self.

We started and ended at our “base camp,” which was actually an adorable little guesthouse in Gaichawan Gaon, a crazy eight hour drive from Dehradun. Perched on the side of a hill in a valley that makes the Columbia River Gorge look like a ditch, the seven girls and four of us adults slept in one building with private rooms. The 21 boys were divided between two dormitory rooms. The grounds were swarming with cows, sheep, and dogs, the last of which would soon follow us all the way up the mountain. That first dinner was our first one with the incredible, very un-camp food-like meals IndiaHikes would feed us over the next several days.

The first night in the mountains we experienced a heck of a thunderstorm. The way the rooms were set up, we were able to go to sleep to quite the light show. All the while, we were feeling for the other group of CIS trekkers who left a day earlier so were out in tents during that storm. One result of the storm was that we woke up to a dusting of snow in the hills above us. Nearly half of our kids had never experienced snow, so it got them mightily excited for the adventure to come.

Our first day on the trail presented us with six hours of some pretty rigorous hiking. Mid-way we came across a cute village where some of the men have set up an omelet and Maggi station for hikers. The kids loved it. Once we got to the campsite, we got dumped on by another thunderstorm. This time, it was our turn in the tents. Jeremy, Ganesh (the other two male chaperones) and I were distressed that our tent that had a little leak in the downhill side of the tent where the water was gathering, and that there was a river running underneath the tent. Then Elsa (our one female chaperone) described her tent as “a swimming pool”. The three guys were ok by comparison. The most impressive part of the storm was when Geet and another one of our hosts came around in the worst of it with tea and a kati roll. Otherwise, the three of us played cards in our damp tent until dinner time.

Day two was easier and beautiful. The first sign that the weather would be better was when I got up in the middle of the night for reasons old guys like me have to get up in the middle of the night. The sky was full of unbelievable numbers of stars. The walk involved several pastoral high mountain meadows with our first vistas of the expansive scope of the Himalaya. Once we got to the high camp we found the remnants of the six inches of snow the first trekking group was getting while we were flooding our tents. We arrived early enough that the kids had a fabulous afternoon exploring the area, playing games, having snowball fights, building snowmen, and resting for the early wake up the next morning. I had a concern about my blood oxygen levels, so I decided to not push it. I found a nice place to rest while watching storm after storm roll down the valley, almost entirely missing us. One short snow flurry got the kids fired up, and then it was time to prepare for our early summit push and get to bed early.

Summit day was incredible. The kids did great. One student turned around after falling ill, so 27 of our 28 students made it to the top despite a couple of them having quite the struggle. We were so proud of them. Meanwhile, the summit lived up to what one might expect from a Himalayan peak. The size of each mountain, the size of the visible part of the range, the size of the valleys. Everything was like nothing I have never seen before. After spending some time taking in the views, we started heading down. There were several stretches the kids were allowed to slide in the snow, so that was a good time.

By lunch time, we made it all the way down to the first camp where we got flooded the first time. On this day, it was warm enough for shorts and sandals, more games, and resting up from that early morning and extraordinary exertion.

One more hike downhill; one more stop at the omelet stop; one more day (of 90 degree weather) at base camp; one early morning drive to the airport in Dehradun. The whole experience was just fabulous. We had some superficial issues with language and some other stuff, but the kids were by and large amazing. As for next year, I’m of mixed feelings. I would happily do this again. I also wouldn’t mind doing an excursion to another part of the world (or at least the country).

Random Notes:

The excursions are done as part of the IB CAS process. IB makes an effort to make learning a more all-inclusive experience. Kids need to participate in, document, and reflect on a number of activities with the goal of making them well-rounded, life-long learners. Kids of course take this process more or less seriously, but we were excited by the number of times we heard the exclamation, “CAS photo!”

Dehradun is the base for an important religious pilgrimage. Hindus believe the mountains are the birthplace of Shiva, and there are four holy places in the mountains surrounding the city, 100s of km away from each other. Travelers take 10 days to visit them all on a trail called Char Dham Yatra (Hindi for something along the lines of journey through the four holy places).

I had a number of experiences throughout the week that just felt like quintessentially Indian moments. For example, one of the things I am most impressed by about Indian culture is that people talk to each other as if they already know each other. Our bus driver took this to a whole new level. He seemed to know everybody. Every once in a while he would stop in the middle of the one-lane, curvy road with a cliff on one side and a drop off on the other, in order to exchange words and a handshake with drivers going the other way. Or the gentleman we gave a ride several miles down the road as he stood between the driver and the front passenger. So many elements of this moment would never happen in the States: a stranger on a bus full of students, standing unbuckled in the middle of a van, someone simply asking for the ride in the first place.

Our biggest hurdle was the travel. Somehow, our flights were changed back in March and no one, not IndiGo (the airline) nor Windstar (the travel agency) bothered to notify us. As a result, about half of the group that was supposed to be in the group a day ahead of us along with one of their chaperones missed their flight. We ended up with, instead of two roughly evenly divided groups, one group of about ten people including two chaperones and one of 32 people including four chaperones. All I know is that we had a great time with all of the kids we had and were super happy to have the addition of Jeremy on our team. It also inspired us to check, or rather ask Melissa to check from home, our flight home. If we hadn’t done that, we would have ended up missing our flight in Dehradun, probably requiring us to stay there an extra 24 hours. Thank goodness we checked. The irony is that our new flights were way better than our original flights, but because both agencies failed so badly with the communication, we certainly aren’t using Windstar again, and we’ll try to avoid IndiGo (though I also get the sense this is SOP for Indian airlines in general).


It’s Mango Season!

We love mangoes. Truly, if you’d asked us last year, before we came to India, we would surely have told you all about how much we loved mangoes. The very idea of mangoes was one of the lures of India.

One of Melissa’s favorite childhood memories is of her father coming home with a big box of mangoes, so excited to have found them at the store (back in the 70’s when they weren’t always so easy to find in the US), and teaching her how to cut out the pit at an angle, slice the fruit into long strips, and then scrape the flesh off the peel with her teeth (this last bit of the lesson might explain why he was so frequently ill in India).

When we got here, we looked at every street vendor’s cart, eager to buy our first Indian mangoes, but could never find any. We briefly imagined that the tender coconuts we saw everywhere were mangoes, but were quickly corrected. Oh, the disappointment when we were told that we’d have to wait until April for the start of mango season, and that the really good mangoes wouldn’t appear until May!

And now they’re here, in all their glory, and entirely worth the wait. In the US, we’re only aware of two kinds of mangoes: the larger, green and red ones with orange flesh that are usually just listed as Mangoes, and the smaller yellowish ones that are usually listed as Champagne Mangoes. In India that are over 20 varietals. Some are tart, some are sweet, and some are both. Some taste so floral that they nearly seem perfumed. Some are large, firm, and dark green, used for grating into salads or making chutneys. Some are so soft that they’re difficult to cut without mashing and they melt when they hit your tongue.

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Every year, a mango market suddenly appears for the few months of mango season. While every grocery store has a proud mango display with at least six different varietals on offer, the mango market is where you can find at least 20 booths with every single kind of mango and buy them from the farmers who grow them. We were so excited to join a tour of the market put on by Five Oceans because it seemed so daunting that we wouldn’t have known where to begin on our own. With the tour, we got information sheets to describe many of the different types and then had the opportunity to taste 12 kinds. Sadly, we mistook our bite of raspuri for a sendura and failed to win the blind taste test at the end. Shame. We consoled ourselves by buying a big bag of our favorites: Sendura, Alphonso, and Mallika. We have since returned for more of the above plus some Raspuris. It’s our intention to go every week and eat mangoes every day while we can. We hear that we can cut them into chunks and throw them into the freezer to enjoy off-season as well. We’ll certainly do that!

Back home with yesterday’s mango haul and an alphonso mango cut up for snacking.

We learned a new trick to preparing mangoes to add to Melissa’s dad’s instructions. After cutting around the pit and slicing the fruit into long strips, slide the mango along the rim of a glass as close to the peel as possible. It gets every bit of the fruit while avoiding any bacteria on the peel.


A Weekend in Goa

With only one three-day weekend left in Tom’s schedule before summer vacation, we wanted to make the most of it. We’ve been hearing about Goa since before our move to India,  so it’s been on our list for a long time. Part of what we’ve heard, though, is that is has a reputation as a hippie party town. Hanging out with scantily clad 20-somethings who are trying to pick each other up at yoga class before heading for drinks at the pool isn’t really our thing. So we were delighted when a couple different people recommended visiting Agonda Beach in the South of Goa, with a reputation as a sleepy, pristine place to relax. It totally lived up to its billing.

We took a 75 minute flight on Friday night, and returned home on Monday afternoon. While there, we stayed in a beach hut that opened directly to the beach with a private, shady area to recline and read. Most of our meals were enjoyed at the Sea Star Resort restaurant situated right behind our hut, and most of our time was spent reading, walking on the beach, and gazing at the water.  The only other notable moment of the weekend was discovering our friends were staying just up the beach from us, so we were able to have dinner with them one night. Not much to say about a weekend without much activity, so we’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

Perfect view through mosquito netting
Beach view from our private chaise lounges
Sunset comes to Agonda
The beautiful sunsets deserve two pictures.
Our hut is just to the right of the sign.
Beautiful beach view from our deck
Beach cows (and babies!) wander near our deck
Friendly gecko visited us for breakfast.
It’s not a great picture of anybody, but dinner with the Bergstrands and Kirti.
Lovely old Portuguese church
Boy greets beach cows
Big, quiet beach