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Posts tagged ‘driving’

strangers in a strange land

Since returning from Japan, we have visited Vietnam and Laos, and D has also traveled to Nepal for work. Those trips did nothing to dispel a notion that began forming in our minds as we made our way from Kyoto to the Japanese Alps and back, and which has solidified with our subsequent travels. Part of Japan’s mystique, and the reason we think Western travelers find the country at once alluring and bewildering, is that it feels uniquely foreign in a way that other foreign countries do not.

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Pinoy punk

We’ve written several posts about D’s love of live music, and the dearth thereof at every post we’ve served, but the subject bears revisiting – not only because, as Nietzsche wrote, without music life would be a mistake, but also because Manila figures to be quite different from our previous tours in this respect.

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crossing the Alps

After a pleasant half-day in Matsumoto, we got up early for the most ambitious undertaking of our Japan trip: a full-day traverse across the Hida Mountains, which are known as Japan’s Alps, via the Tateyama-Kurobe alpine route.

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fools in the rain

The upside of hitting rock bottom at the outset is the knowledge that there is nowhere to go but up. After our many misadventures on arrival in Japan, we hoped that a new day would help us turn the page and make the most of our vacation.

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welcome to Japan

Japan – the land of chatty appliances and heated toilet seats; gas station sushi, seaweed snacks, and breakfast udon bowls; tiny hotel rooms and indoor slippers; inscrutable signs with dubious English and incomprehensible (to us) kana and kanji characters – has long been on our travel bucket list. In fact, before D landed an eleventh hour assignment that forced us into a three-month separation, we had planned to visit Japan during our transfer from Washington to Manila. It was only fitting that we’d make the land of the rising sun the first international destination during our first Asia tour.

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into the wash

Lakes, volcanic craters, and mountain trails abound just beyond Metro Manila’s urban sprawl. To reach them, one just needs to penetrate the metropolis’ omnipresent traffic. Gridlock can be a powerful deterrent for a day trip, especially since the only reliable solution for escaping it is to hit the road before the sun is up. There is usually no dodging the congestion on the return trip, but by that point an epic adventure is in the books, which makes a couple of hours in traffic seem like a small price to pay.

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what you make of it

If expectation management is the key to happiness, then we came to the Philippines well prepared. Good friends from all three of our previous posts have either served or lived here, and a friend from our Nairobi days now calls the Philippines home. We did not know exactly what to expect – as so much of one’s experience of the Philippine capital depends on where in the city one lives – but, based on what they shared, we had a fairly good idea.

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hidden beauty

Hands down, the top highlight of our most recent trip to the Southwest was a visit to Chiricahua – a little-known national monument that is tucked away in the southeast corner of Arizona, near the border with New Mexico. The park receives between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors a year – less than one-tenth of the number of people who visit nearby Saguaro, where we had spent the previous day.

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leaving Kigali

After one final morning in the office – to pay bills, tie up a dozen logistical loose ends, and formally hand over to his successor – D walked the 45 minutes home from the Embassy, something he had been meaning to do but never quite found the time or energy for. He got a bit of the typical mzungu treatment – an exuberant shopkeeper offered passport photos, a handful of kids recited “give-a me money” in heavily accented English, several passing moto-taxis honked to offer a ride – but mostly D was left alone with his thoughts as he soaked in the sights and smells of Kigali one last time.

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conventional headache

For the second time during our tour, Kigali this week played host to a large gathering of international leaders as they succeeded in hammering out a significant accord.

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