09 October 2009

usa, mexico and the netherlands

Traveling across the U.S. on our road trip really made me appreciate the beauty of the States, but now, our fearless president is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, too. I don't think there has been a better moment in my lifetime to be American. It feels like the world is becoming a better place already.

And I quite liked this quote: "Some people say, and I understand it, isn't it premature? Too early? Well, I'd say then that it could be too late to respond three years from now," Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said. "It is now that we have the opportunity to respond – all of us."




Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984, summed it up by saying, "It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama's message of hope."

Obama is my hero. And now, back to our scheduled catching up (rather anticlimactic, I realize). But shoot, if President Obama can push us towards world peace, the least I can do is keep my blog up to date. Los Angeles first.

My partner’s a big history buff, so we went to the La Brea tar pits (free on the first Tuesday of the month):

We learned that, right in the middle of what is now L.A., there used to be mammoths, camels, lions, saber-tooth cats, jaguars, cheetahs and bison (and lots of others that I can't remember now). Can you imagine one of those strolling down Sunset or Wilshire? It would be quite a sight to behold. Here's a camel skeleton they found, for example:

They also had a yellow wall with over 400 dire wolf skulls, representing about a quarter of the ones they've found so far. Their theory was that packs of wolves would try to feed on animals stuck in the tar and get stuck themselves:

We discovered that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) next door has pay-whatever-you-want twilight hours (after 5pm), so we went for a quick visit there, too.

There was a neat exhibit on Korean artists that I’d recommend checking out, if you’re in the L.A. area. Photography was prohibited inside, where the best pieces were, but I loved the colors in this one outside:

It was made of cheap plastic bowls, sieves and cups:

I also liked this one, which resembled a fountain of street lights:

We stopped by the Griffith Observatory (which was also free), where we got a beautiful view of L.A...

and saw (through a gigantic telescope) the largest four of Jupiter's sixty-three (!) moons: Io (with more volcanic activity than any other body in the solar system), Europa (covered in water and ice and believed to have twice as much water than Earth), Ganymede (the largest moon in the solar system, larger than the planet Mercury and the only moon with its own magnetic field) and Callisto (mostly ice and rock, less interesting), all named by Galileo in 1610. I know, let me push up my nerdy glasses and go nuts.

Anyway. From L.A., we went to see my partner’s family in Lo de Marcos, Mexico, where we spent two weeks in bikinis and swim trunks because it was super hot and humid.

But, who can complain when you’re right in front of the beach, drinking fresh coconut juice, eating coconut curry (made with fresh coconut!) and spending time with great people? Not to mention how warm the ocean water was—like stepping into cooled bathwater, which was perfect at sunset. We even grilled fresh shrimp, lobster and fish.

(These are the moments that make me feel very grateful for my life and a sense of responsibility, that I really have to give back in whatever way I can to the universe to say thanks for what I have. The hard part is figuring out exactly what that means in practice.) But I digress.

Speaking of food, we also had the most amazing little tacos, complete with cucumbers, beans, a variety of sauces, seasoned cactus, etc. (YUM), which made me look forward to living in California and being surrounded by delicious Mexican food.

We enjoyed spending time with all of the different family members who were with us, but we spent most of our time playing with our little niece (1-1/2 years) and nephew (5 months). I loved running around and generally acting like an idiot with the kiddos, but seeing that you couldn't leave them unsupervised for even a moment confirmed that I wasn’t ready for my own babies anytime soon. (Backpacking for a year is also not the most convenient time to start life with a newborn.)

After L.A., we stopped in New York for a weekend, where we got to hang out with family and eat at two of my favorite restaurants, Saigon Grill (and I don’t even love Vietnamese, usually) and Il Corallo (my favorite Italian restaurant in the States, near Sullivan and Prince). It was a quick visit, but we got to check out the new (to us) pedestrian-only areas of Times Square (a great change):

and the Chelsea Market, which used to be the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco) factory.

It was a beautiful, industrial space with lots of exposed brick, an arch with a clock that looked like the Hulk just ran through, and tons of great food. If you're in New York and haven't been, it's worth a visit.

Then (almost done catching up, finally), we flew to Amsterdam.

We’d stopped in Amsterdam both ways on our trip to Morocco, so this time, we pretty much just spent the day at the Anne Frank House, which was really well done and worth visiting. (And of course, we got our requisite Vlaamse frites.)

We walked around the canals, enjoying the scenery, checked out the flower market, and then went back to the airport to catch our flight to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (via Nairobi, Kenya).

Which is where we are now. We've been without power for a few days, though, so we’ve been unplugged for a little while. But more on Dar in my next post.