The summer heat, not to mention Arizona’s lackluster coronavirus response, has soured S somewhat on Sedona as a retirement destination. Even so, we are continuing to enjoy our temporary residence in the Grand Canyon state. To escape the heat, we have been exploring the northern ponderosa pine forests around Flagstaff, hiking in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness and birdwatching at the Kachina Wetlands. Last week, taking advantage of D’s mini work break, we ventured a bit farther afield, visiting the Petrified Forest National Park.
Posts tagged ‘adventure’
Several years have elapsed since we last revised our bucket list. Our recent hot air balloon ride prompted us to take another look. The first few years after we had penned this list on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, we updated it regularly, ticking off completed adventures and adding new life goals. We slowed down considerably after having kids. The last time we updated the list we were still a family of three. A lot of water under the bridge, and yet not a lot has changed in the intervening years.
After an eventful week in northern Vietnam, we caught an early morning flight across the border to Laos. Two impressions struck us on arrival in Luang Prabang. First, after relying almost exclusively on Google Translate for communication in Vietnam, it was refreshing to hear English spoken widely. Second, because Luang Prabang is a backpacker haven, a powerful wave of nostalgia swept over us.
The principal challenge with touristing in Vietnam – aside from the arcane visa process – is rooted in the country’s geography. Vietnam is long and narrow – it is barely thirty miles wide at its narrowest point, but extends for more than one thousand miles from north to south. The country’s karst formations, long coastline, innumerable caves, and multitude of rivers ensure that there are gorgeous places to visit throughout. Stringing Vietnam’s top highlights into one trip is difficult, however, as doing so requires a lot of driving in between destinations.
The struggles we faced in Japan were very much on our minds in planning our Vietnam itinerary. The kids were hard to contain in Japan’s big cities, so we scheduled our Vietnam trip to focus on rural landscapes and natural exploration. We also got in touch with a colleague of S’s who is serving in Hanoi. Her kids are a little order than ours, but we figured having playmates might cushion the blow of landing in a new, unfamiliar country, so we arranged to spend our first weekend in Vietnam together in Pu Luong.
It is difficult to predict where one’s career in the Foreign Service might lead. Joining the State Department speaking Russian and Spanish, D hardly expected to spend two of his first three tours in Africa, for example. Similarly, S’s assignment to Manila was far from a no-brainer, as she had scant Asia experience before arriving in the Philippines last summer. It is entirely possible that the capricious nature of the bidding process may return us to Asia again, though given our languages and regional expertise in other parts of the world, we wouldn’t necessarily bet on it. At any rate, we’ve approached this tour as our one unique opportunity to see as much of the region as possible.
Rizal Province, with its jagged limestone peaks, forested views across the Sierra Madre Mountains, and proximity to Manila, is fast becoming our favorite day-trip getaway destination. We loved the Trilogy hike and have found ourselves returning to Rizal with regularity since the Taal Volcano eruption affected the primary route to beaches and other places of interest south of the capital. After some beach time in Palawan with S’s family, we headed back to Rizal for a hike through the Masungi Georeserve.
With barely 24 hours at his disposal to see the Himalayas, D decided to go big before going home. There are two villages a couple hours’ drive from Kathmandu that offer excellent mountain views: Dulikhel and Nagarkot. D managed to hit both, getting up early to watch the sunrise light up the Himalayas before hiking 20 miles from Nagarkot to Dulikhel and back.
A few years ago, the NY Times ran an op-ed encouraging travelers to plan less, ostensibly to reduce stress. It stuck with us, not because we found the advice helpful but rather because we thought the piece thoroughly infuriating and completely out of touch, a flippant acknowledgment that “for most travelers, particularly those with families, such an extreme lack of planning seems impossible, even inadvisable” notwithstanding. We traveled like this during our backpacking days, but that was before grad school, marriage, kids, and careers. Once adult responsibilities entered the picture, such travel became out of reach. During his recent visit to Nepal, D found an opportunity to practice what the article preached. Whether arriving in country with only half of his work itinerary booked led to less stress is debatable, but D did manage to turn a potential bureaucratic nightmare into an enjoyable adventure.