Training for a 53k

What have I done to train for my upcoming 53k race?

-I ran 70-80km a week.

-I did a 34.5km trail race with quite a bit of elevation gain recently.

-I tapered.

-I will carb load today. There are ample Bosnian bakeries around to accomplish this.

That’s about it. I am relying on years and years of running long distances to get me through.

Thoughts pre-race?

I truly never know how I will do until I am in a race. I have these vague ideas of how it might turn out, but really I don’t know what my pace or finish time will be. I am yet to take a DNF (knock on wood). Luckily for my family, the race is providing a live tracker so they know when to be at the finish line.

So, this is how I will kick off my fall break–spending time in one one of the prettiest places in the world. I will run the Dinaric Alps along the Dalmatian Coast, for hours, finding strength in mountains.

Then, I will spend the rest of my break lounging around on the pebbled beaches with my family.

And doing some recovery runs, of course.

Happy running and stay rad, my friends!

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Weekly Running Log Rundown

Sunday: I absolutely love running out here at Vrelo Bosna. It is beautiful no matter the season. Today it was foggy and damp, making it look like the fall in August. There are always lots of runners making their way on the paths. It is a bit of a drive so we make a morning out of it. The kids run and bike while I get my run in, then we have coffee, pizza, and pasta post run for a family brunch.

Monday: I am back to making Monday my day off. I know most people say if you miss Monday, your running week is shot, but it works for me. With it being the first day of the school work week, I always like to sleep in a little after getting that luxury over the weekend.

Tuesday: Two runs today. My normal morning run and the first practice for the cross country team. They did awesome! 4.5km. We even did hills and they rocked it.

Wednesday: Early at it this morning. I am still getting used to this. It always wakes me up to get my morning run done though.

Thursday: I am sort of failing on the photo front, but it was a beautiful, foggy morning. Fall is starting. Effort wise–I think I need to start doing some speed work to get ready for a few races coming up.

Friday: I was getting a little bored of my usual running spots, so I went around some new streets today. Hopefully this weekend I can get work on my pace. I have five races coming up soon!

Saturday: Croatia consistently impressed me. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have seen. Old ruins, mountains that bump up against the Mediterranean Sea, and trails for days. That last 1.5 km up to our place offered plenty of challenge for my hill work I have been needing.

Happy running and stay rad, my friends!

Fit for Life Half Marathon

Race Report: Fit for Life Half Marathon

Boise, Idaho

The day before the race, I fatted out big time. I usually go for a hike or something on my rest days, but considering I had just done a half marathon on Wednesday and had another on Saturday, I figured my body could use a lazy day.

My son and husband went to the garage on a secret mission–to make me a sign for the race the following day. I was reading my book when my son came in, all smiles and told me had a surprise that he couldn’t wait to show me–I had to come see it right then.

Check out my super sweet poster. He worked really hard on it. I am keeping this forever.

On the morning of race day, I woke up before the alarm so I had plenty of time to drink my coffee and read. It was nice to not feel rushed; relax a bit before the race. Lady H and B both woke up on their own, which means they were in pretty good spirits.

I had managed to go grocery shopping the day before, buying the much needed pre-race banana this time ’round. I try not to make the same mistake twice…too many times in a row, anyway. I suited up, compression socks and all. Grabbed a couple gels. My headphones. I was good to go.

The race started at 7:30 a.m. at the Hawks Memorial Stadium in Garden City, Idaho. The day was expected to be pretty hot, so I was bracing myself for that. It was a good atmosphere, as it always is at this baseball themed Fit for Life race. This is the third time I have done it. Each time has been a great, well-organized event. People are friendly and encouraging for the most part. You get the occasional hot-shot that thinks it makes them faster to be a rude hoser. Otherwise, it was great.

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When the race started, I was got a little worried because the first few kilometers felt rough. I was going at a 4:30 per kilometer pace. It felt harder than it should have. This happens to me sometimes and I am yet to really figure out why. There seems to not be much rhyme or reason to it. Within a few kilometers though, I found my stride and felt fine. I ran hard. I was the third/fourth woman for a lot of it, leapfrogging with one other woman.

At the 10.5 km turn around point, I spotted these guys cheering me on.

That was some good motivation. I am always so proud to see my crew. I sort of look at the other runners, like “Yeah, they are mine.”

Mr. G even ran a few seconds with me to give me a boost. It was pretty sweet.

After the turn around point, I finally succeeded in over-taking the woman I was leapfrogging with, but two other women passed me, putting me in 5th, where I remained the rest of the race. I am truly only racing against myself, so that didn’t phase me. I just kept an eye on my pace. I thought maybe I could PR on this one, but during the last 7 kilometers, I knew I wasn’t going to. My muscles still hadn’t recovered from the half marathon I had done two days ago. I did end up getting nearly the exact same time as Wednesday’s race…improved by 6 seconds, putting the Fit for Life race as my second best time.

Just as the elongated shadows started to shorten, I found these guys waiting for me before the final shoot onto home plate.

My heart.

Race Challenges:

-It was warm today, but it ended up not being quite as toasty as I expected. If I had been out there for even 10 more minutes, I think it would have wore on me. I made it just in time to take shelter by the beer tent.

-In the last kilometer, I developed a side ache, which I just ran through.

-I could have used a bit more water. I survived.

-My calf cramped slightly. Meh. I’m okay.

-I got tired. 

After the finish, I stood around chatting with a couple of the women that finished before me–super nice people. One woman had also been at the Firecracker Frolic two days ago. The other woman that finished a few seconds in front of me seemed semi-famous among the Boise runners. Everyone knew her. Pretty cool to see so many tough women finishing strong. Everyone was really positive and supportive–the running community tends to be. Runners be cool.

I finished in 1 hour, 44 minutes, 44 seconds.

I had two of those beers. They were hella good. Hop Valley brewhaha.
Watching runners come in on the baseball field with my beer and medal.
I received the second medal for 2nd place female in my category (5th place overall woman).

One cool and unusual thing I saw today was a lot of younger people out there racing. A 10-year-old even did the half! The second overall male was a teenager, as was the 3rd, 4th, and possibly even 5th place. It makes my heart happy to see kids getting involved in running. Maybe it is the teacher/parent in me, but I clapped extra loud for those kids. It also has me scheming to get B into a 10 k race soon.

Where did you race this weekend?! Tell me about it in the comments.

Happy running and stay rad!

A Year in Sarajevo

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”

-Andre Gide

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One of the first pictures I took of the area. This is over Vogosca, outside of Sarajevo about 8 km.

Our first year is coming to a close in Sarajevo. We will be back for another, but I thought  it warranted reflection after having some time to take in our new home.

The year was full of celebrations, festivals and activities at our school, exploring new restaurants and foods, seeing ancient castles, fun runs, long runs, learning about Balkan history through people, books, and museums, experiencing a new culture, making new and interesting friends, and encountering ample travel opportunity. To keep it real, the year also brought some of my most stressful times. I had my first panic attacks. It is hard to move to a new place, figure out a new job, figure out where things are, learn how the country ticks, always be emerged in an unfamiliar language–all of that with two little people that take priority and need their well-being taken of, along with some normalcy. There are certainly trade-offs living overseas, but they are well worth it to us. I think we came out the other side stronger and more capable, so I am going to focus on the positives and be grateful for all that we have and get to do. We live in a strong and vibrant international community, have excellent teaching jobs and consequently, an excellent school for B, and get to travel the world.

Seasons are really how I experienced Sarajevo. After the endless summer that is Thailand, the changing seasons helped mark the time. I am going to break our experience into fall, winter, and spring. 

Fall

This is my absolute favorite time of the year. It was the first time we had experienced cooler temperatures in years, and we soaked it in. Sarajevo is a city packed with trees and foliage, which naturally is striking in the fall. The changing colors made me fall in love with this city.

We were introduced to much of Bosnia in this first season. I’ll start with the food–it is mostly meat, cheese, and bread. Ćevapi is the main dish, which is pita bread and a type of sausage.  There is burek, a flaky pastry with meat, cheese, or spinach inside. There are large meat platters that are popular. They have klepe and dolma. But, some of my favorites things are the Bosnian coffee and the baklava, preferably served together. Also, the wine and beer have been a pleasant improvement from previous places we lived. I should also mention that it is all really affordable. It is far cheaper than surrounding countries in Eastern Europe. One can buy a meal of burek for 3 km, or about a $1.70 usd.

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Ćevapi
Rezultat slika za burek
Burek
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Yikes! That is a lot of meat.

I have observed that Bosnians seem to have found a good balance between being extremely friendly and strong-minded. Sarajevo is a small city with a population of about 275,000 and I think that adds to the small-town vibe where you see people stopped in the middle of the road, talking with their windows rolled down. You see people constantly running into people they know. I have had strangers help me, whether it was giving me their gloves in an unexpected snowstorm, or seeing if I needed help after twisting my ankle on a run. People generally seem to look out for each other more here.

Bosnians are predominately Muslim. One can hear the call to prayer five times a day here. It is currently Ramadan now, where most people are fasting for a month (they are able to eat and drink water before sunrise and after sunset). I think most would describe them as more liberal Muslims. There are few countries in Europe that are Muslim, so they are in a unique place.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina went through the longest siege in modern warfare during 1992-1995. The horrendous Siege of Sarajevo killed nearly 14,000. They are certainly still recovering from this.

Arriving to lush green space, great European coffee (albeit small), and our creatively decorated school. 

Finding new running spaces.

Landmines are a legit concern here. During the Siege of Sarajevo, landmines were placed all over the mountains and there is little chance of them all being cleared, ever.

I learned you have to stay on the path, pay attention to landmine warning signs, and know that they move with the seasons.

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Sarajevo Tunnel Museum

Fun run with the kids. NGO Marathon Sarajevo is a great running group that organizes lots of cool races in the city.

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“Lila” as Lady H calls her has taken such good care of our little girl while we are at school. This was, by far, the biggest stress of moving to a new place–making sure our daughter was cared for properly while we were away. “Lila” helped make this transition much smoother and are so grateful.

Birthday celebrations with new friends. Luckily, B made quick friendships with his classmates, as his birthday happened not long after arriving.

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Sarajevo is famously known as a foggy city.

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Going for a walk through zoo next to our house.
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We managed to find a bike for B before winter set in. We also found a great path by the river to ride it on!
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Exploring popular hiking trails.

Castles, archery practice, and fall colors. This is at Vranduk Castle near the town of Zenica, about 45 minutes from Sarajevo.

Fall Festival costumes and Halloween cookies. Baking in the fall is the best.

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Pumpkin carving!

If you know our family at all, you know we love Halloween. And by we, I mean me.

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Costumes, take two. They got to go trick or treating with the US Embassy families this year.
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A morning run in the dark, before everyone was bustling around the city. This is Pigeon Square, aptly named, as usually there are flocks of pigeons swarming.
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Playing in the leaves at Vrelo Bosne, the spring of the River Bosna at the foothills of Mount Igman. This is one of our favorite places to frequent on the weekends.
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More of Vrelo Bosne. You can see why we go there so much. There are paved and trail paths to run on, great restaurants, and carriage rides. It makes for a nice Sunday.

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A brisk hike with the family to the beautiful Skakavac Waterfalls before winter arrives. I was so proud of B that he made the whole 12 km hike.

Warming up with tea time after playing outside.

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Cheers to beer sampling and friends. 

Winter

Winter started off strong. We had a busy and productive first semester at our school, Lady H saw her first snowfall, and B reveled in snow forts and snowball fights. The house was cozy–there was baking, hot tea, wine, spices, and lots of good food. We snuggled under blankets and stayed inside more than we usually do. That meant movies, popcorn, museums, and having friends over to share in the holiday season. We did manage to defy the icy roads and dark days by getting out into the mountains for some snowy hikes and to escape the pollution that hangs over the city in winter. We traveled over our three week break. Everything is so close so we drove to Slovenia, Austria, Hungary, and Slovakia in that time. Around February I decided I had had enough of winter and it really started to get to get into my head. It seemed longer than I remembered from my Kazakhstan and Idaho winters, but maybe it wasn’t. Running in snow, ice, and pollution eventually got to me, too. At first it seemed novel and exciting, then it felt tedious and frustrating. Let’s just say, I was beyond thankful when temperatures slowly started to increase and the days started to get longer. My body soaked in every extra drop of Vitamin D until I felt normal again.

Lady H turned two this year! She loves Elmo, her brother, her new friends and nanny, and cake. She was happy little girl to have all of this in one place. 

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A family hike up to Bukovic.

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The night of the Christmas performance.

The staff Christmas party and the Goldfish Bar with new friends. 

The Gaines’ crew still gets outside, even in winter. Some are happier about it than others. I won’t name names.

We got to celebrate Christmas at home before heading out on our European vacation. Santa brought presents and sparklers.

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A small but mighty girl.
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Sarajevo has a small, lovely Christmas Market.
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Like I said earlier, food!
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Exploring old forts.
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Our school takes all the students on a literal ski week. B got to go to the mountains every day for a week and learn how to ski. He loved it! He said, “Now I know what the snow is for!”
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This girl had fun building snowmans with her nanny.

Spring

I don’t think I have ever felt more grateful for any other spring in the histories of springs. Hyperbole? No. Winter was rough, spring has been gorgeous. Everything is so green and the sun is blazing. Bosnians are emerging from their homes, the city seems alive and active, shops have reopened that were closed through winter, and the pollution has lifted. We have gotten outside every single opportunity possible.

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Technically, this was first day of spring. Winter lasted way toooo long.
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We had very special visitors! Nana and Grandpa Mike came to visit us in the spring. How lucky are we?!
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Goates Bridge in Sarajevo, a 16th century bridge that was used during the Ottoman Empire.
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Our school put on a really nice International Day. Lady H even got to join us!

Enjoying the sun on a hike above Hotel Cavljak. There is a cool little tea shop at the top that we always stop at to enjoy the view.

You know it is spring when you get the bubbles out. Playing with our lovely neighbor friends.
Watching the clouds go by with friends.

Beautiful, warm spring morning runs. The first picture is known as the Latin Bridge. This is where Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg were assassinated, starting World War One.

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Sarajevo has got it going on.

Vrelo Bosne in the spring–she’s a knockout.

B doing his 5k. We had a nice post run meal at Vucko, our favorite restaurant in Sarajevo.

I’m a lucky lady to have these people as my tribe. The spoiled me for Mother’s Day by taking me to Four Rooms.

And again, they spoiled me for my birthday. Mr. G made me a strawberry birthday cake and we went to another favorite restaurant, Blind Tiger.

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B learning some track skills by his amazing PE teacher.
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Orlovača Caves, a little outside of Sarajevo city center.

A solo run and then hike with the family around Trebević mountain.

I would highly recommend traveling to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think most would consider it is a little known place, but there is so much see and do here. We are looking forward to seeing new places next year, like Lukomir, Kravica Waterfalls, Štrbački Buk, seeing more of Jahorina, going to the National Theatre, maybe find a vineyard to visit, check out Tito’s bunker, do some Visočica hiking, possibly see Srebrenica if we can handle the heartbreaking recent history there, and Počitelj (an old Medieval castle and town outside of Mostar), and possibly check out Jajce (the old capital in the 14th century when it was the Kingdom of Bosnia. Cool factor–it has catacombs). There is so much to see and do, and we haven’t even scratched the surface. It takes time to become familiar with a new country and I would say we are still sussing out how it all works here. We are really happy we made the leap and decided to explore a new land, even if it did mean we lost sight of the familiarity from our previous homes. 

Upcoming Races

I always like to have a line-up of races on the docket to look forward to. Spring to fall are prime race seasons, so there are a lot to choose from–it was hard to decide!

Idaho, USA 🇺🇸

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Hiking in the mountains of Idaho

Update: I accidentally signed up for two more races in Boise.

July 4th, Firecracker Frolic Half Marathon. It’s the first edition of this race and I wanted to get in on it.

August 4th, 10k Run for Your Life. I have been looking for a 10k race, as I want to try something different–it isn’t my usual race distance.

 

 

  1. July, Fit for Life Half Marathon (Idaho, USA)

This was the first race I ever did back in 2012. It was a few months after having my son and I remember being so nervous to do it; really unsure if I was capable of running a half.FitForLife.jpg

It is at a perfect time of year for us, as we have the summers off. Consequently, this will be my third time racing it.

  2. July, Idaho Falls Full Marathon (Idaho, USA)

I signed up for this one because although I have done a few marathons, only my first two were flat. The last race I did without big elevation gains were a few years ago in the Thailand heat. Between more years of experience running and not being in such a hot and humid environment, I would like to shoot for a PR. We’ll see…IdahoFalls.png

It is a ‘Christmas in July’ theme, so that should be fun. I will need to brush off my red and green compression socks and maybe find some candy canes instead of gels. I don’t know. I don’t Christmas well.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 🇧🇦

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Running the hills of Sarajevo

   3. September, Sarajevo Half Marathon (Bosnia and  Herzegovina)

This is a great event. I did it last year. Well-organized, fun, and really close to my house, so it is an easy one to get to.

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 4. September, Skakavac 32km (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

This is a tough race. I also did this one last year and it was nuts. I got lost (I will actually blog about this in the future) during a full-on blizzard. They moved it up a couple of weeks into September instead of October this year for weather reasons, I assume. It is in an absolutely gorgeous area–the mountains of Sarajevo and Vogosca. The after party skakavac-3-300x160.pnglooked really fun, but I was too out of it last year to fully enjoy it. Here’s to hoping this year I can enjoy the band, food, and drinks after the race a bit more.

Croatia 🇭🇷

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Croatian coast

   5. October, Dalmatia Ultra Trail, 53 km (Croatia)

Croatia is one of my favorite countries and this race follows the Dalmatian Coastline, so what wouldn’t be to love? It also lands over our school holiday, so I could enjoy it more without feeling too rushed to get back.

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The trail for the 53km Dalmatia Ultra

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6. November, Mandarine Half Marathon (Croatia)

23316673_273164346538840_2142668723357438451_n.jpgWe will be making this one into a mini-holiday as it is over a regular weekend. Luckily, it isn’t too far of a drive—four hours or so. It is in a little town we have yet to explore, so this will be our chance to see a new area. It looks like a fairly low-key race, which I love. I am not a huge fan of overpopulated races. I am looking forward to this one!

What are you signed up for? Share in the comments!

Wanderlust, from Burma: A Throwback

Traveling to Burma with a 17-month-old is not for the faint of heart.

The idea to travel to Burma started in 2010 when they opened their borders, allowing the Burmese to explore the world and in reverse, allow others to experience their country. I believe it is because of this late acceptance of tourists in this Southeastern Asian country, that it has remained culturally rich and a place resistant to the changes of our current, fast-paced, consumer oriented, and slowly homogenizing world.

I should preface that my husband spent nearly two months collecting facts, papers, and 42 emails in an attempt to get our visas for our family of three. He did forget about Beck’s, but was gently (ha!) reminded by me that Beck probably needed one too. This spurred the last 20 or so emails and Beck’s was presumably ready for our arrival.

I’ll glaze over the driving, waiting in airports, and the actual flights, as few want to hear about how long you had to do this for. Just remember that it is in-between these paragraphs, and let me remind you, we have a 1.5 year old that is extremely verbal, has a passion for refusing naps, has a strong leaning toward cranky when he doesn’t get said naps, is determined, stubborn, and like all toddlers, active.

We arrive in the Mandalay International Airport. At this point, we are that family that no one really wants to make eye-contact with due to our verbal (this sounds nicer than loud) toddler. We follow the sea of people, noticing that there seems to be a fair amount of distance that fellow travelers are keeping from us. The flow of people slows around customs. This is the moment of truth. The haves and the have-nots. The group diverges. Those looking so smug and confident that they had done their research, and then the group that is furiously rechecking the papers they have. We fend for ourselves with the latter of the groups in a small and quite crowded room. Within seconds, we find ourselves swarmed with at least 10 Burmese visa officials crying “Baby, baby!” and trying to hold Beck.  I look at him, throwing an all too familiar tantrum, and don’t hesitate. I hand him over. He quiets, laughs, and then plays with them contentedly for the duration of our time in the visa office. With the nicest, most genuine smile I have seen in a long time, the visa lady asks where one of the forms is in the already huge, disorganized pile of papers that I had handed over. I look at her, panic in my heart. “Don’t send us back. Please,” I am thinking. I tell her, no we don’t have the paper in question. She smiles, and offers me her phone to call our visa agent. Feeling ill-prepared at not having his number, I have to ask her if I could use her computer to look online for it. She looks at me, smile fading. Concerned she says, “No internet.” This is the airport. There is no internet in the airport. No. Internet. This is where I fall in love with Burma.

After a couple of hours trying to sort this out, and many conversations about sending us back to Bangkok to see out our holiday, they shrug and say, “No problem, don’t worry,” and give us our full page visas, sans photo and a few other important pieces of information. I notice that our visas say they were issued on February 16th and valid until February 16th. If this works for them, I won’t point it out. They are letting us in, however illegally. I think they just like our baby.

We have plans to fly from Mandalay to Bagan after our two day stay in Mandalay and it is protocol to pick these up in the airport a few days before. Two hours behind schedule, we head over to the lone man standing behind the Air Mandalay counter to ask to pick up our tickets. He leads us past bag security, past a desolate airport check-in, and into a homey room with a few other friendly and excited tourists from Seattle. There seem to be a lot of tourists from Seattle landing in Burma. They are trying to make small talk, while I ignore them and scan the room for one of those small credit card machines to indicate they will take my card. My hopes are feeble and for the reasons I fell in love with Burma, I am realizing it is going to be the reason that I shake my fist at it. Intense love that proves the most challenging, is the most worthwhile and rewarding though, so I am not deterred and am ready for them when they inform us “cash only.” Now, I knew it was a cash only country, but for the same reason I thought they would have internet, I thought they would take credit in the airport. The problem with cash in Burma is that it is hard to get it. The cash needs to be USD, the serial numbers cannot include AB, AC, or CD (thanks to North Korea trying to launder money a few years back), they need to be printed after 2003, and of course, flawless in every way. You are supposed to arrive with the amount you will spend, as there are only a few ATMs in the biggest cities of Mandalay and Yangon and the banks, strangely, don’t have cash. What the banks do, I am yet to suss out. We leave without our tickets, but with promises by Air Mandalay that they will hold our places on the plane for us if we will bring them the money two hours before the flight. In Asia, they tend to tell you what you want to hear, but I truly believe them. The Burmese are honest in their want to help.

We are down but not out at this point. We head to the taxis. I hand one of the many that swarm our address. He says, “Not Mandalay.” I shake my head, not willing to believe this. I move to the next taxi man. He shakes his head, “Not Mandalay.” I assume they are reading it wrong. Next driver. “Oooh. Three hour drive. Not Mandalay.” The problem about hotels in Burma: you have to organize these months in advance. With the new influx of tourism in the last three years, they haven’t had time to catch up and there are just too many tourists for the amount of hotels. It’s a bottleneck effect. They are almost always fully booked. Most of them were fully booked two months ago. This is where I feel like we may be properly screwed. A hint of dejection settles in. My love falters. No visas, no flight, no hotel. I know my love is strong though. It can get through this. They are all very willing to help. Picking up their phones, they are all trying to find a place for us. Time and time again they echo “fully booked,” but there is one driver that finds one hotel with one room left. Without missing a beat, we take it, hop in his car, and make the hour drive to our hotel. In that hour I settle into how incredible it truly is here.

Up until this point, I had only seen the airport. Now I am seeing Burma.  People are paving the roads…by hand. I mean, literally by hand. Older women are crushing the rocks, stirring the tar, laying the gravel using their hands. We drive by farmland, huts, cows pulling plows.

The driver honks the horn and Beck laughs. The driver laughs. The tourists we are sharing the ride with laugh. This repeats for the duration of the ride. So. Much. Love.

Once we hit the roundabout, it turns full on. Mandalay is a city. A busy city with people buying, making, and living their lives like they do in any other city, except it seemed to be standing still in modernity. There aren’t any western franchises, tall buildings, or stop lights. The roads are dusty. Pot-holed. Perfect.

Our hotel is in the heart of the city. It has *gasp* internet! It includes breakfast. It is moderately clean. They serve beer. It is all we ask for in a hotel and then some. The desk points us in the direction of a place to eat. We ask for a map, they laugh. “Just walk that way. You will find it,” and we do. In seeming contrast to all things Burmese, the streets are extremely well marked and organized. We are the only tourists we see on the walk. Actually, we only see four other tourists in our two day stay in Mandalay, outside of our hotel. Because of this, we stand out. Really, Beck stands out. A fair-skinned, blond, blue-eyed baby in a Kelty backpack isn’t a sight they see often. Everyone that we walk by stops, points, smiles, and wants to play with him. He loves it. When we got to our restaurant, we order one meal each, and receive 15 bowls of currys, rice, and soup for $5. For two and a half people. I thought something must be lost in translation but, this is how they serve meals here. We get Beck out of his backpack and are preparing to eat a meal like one does with a toddler, disastrously, the waiters swoop down, pick him up and play with him the entire time. They teach him how to write in Burmese and show him off to the cooks. Josh and I have a conversation. I could get used to this.

And so went our stay in Mandalay.

I go for a run and find myself soaking in the local morning routines. Monks take my picture. I wander through a market of homemade sausages, shark, stalls selling army gear, spices, art. The streets are full of old bicycles and cars from the 60’s, reminiscent of an Orwellian era.

With the help of our hotel, we find the one ATM in Mandalay that would recognize our American debit card. Things are working out. Flights to Bagan, check.

Bagan. One of the most beautiful and pristine places I have yet to see. In an attempt to describe a place that holds its own, the best I can say is that it is slightly reminiscent of Angkor Wat’s spirituality, with the laid back, untouched feel of Luang Prabang, Laos. Their bright red mouths stained from betel nut reminds one of India. The dirt roads are groomed, lined with temples, pagodas, and stupas. In its time, between the 11th and 13th century, there were 10,000 Buddhist temples. Over 2,000 remain with another 2,000 under renovation after an earthquake in 1975.

We hire a driver, U Aung, to take us to so many temples and pagodas that we lose count. They are as beautiful inside as out. Along with massive, gold Buddhas, they have the original paintings, doors, and bricks poking out of the necessary renovations. Eventually, we have to call a nap hour for Beck though. We make plans for U Aung to pick us up in the late afternoon so we could see Bagan at sunset. After going back to our hotel, laying Beck down in his bed of blankets, and drinking a much deserved beer on a hot day, we start to waver about leaving the quiet of the moment. This was the climax of our trip though. We rally. No rest for the weary. When our driver arrives, I scoop a sleepy Beck up and set off.

Our driver takes us to a remote pagoda, off the dirt path that already had little, to no traffic. He meets up with his friend that unlocks the doors for us and leads us inside with flashlights in the quiet dark, spotting Buddhas recessed into the walls. Light is shining through the windows. If I were the type to believe, this is where one could find religion. Even Beck quieted. There is peace in this place.

Truly, there aren’t going to be the right words to describe the sunsets, the temples, the inherent kindness of the people, and the slow, peaceful way of this place. If you do find yourself in Burma, tread lightly and appreciate the kind soul of this country.

Love.

“True and sincere traveling is no pastime, but it is as serious as the grave, or any part of the human journey, and it requires a long probation to be broken into it. I do not speak of those that travel sitting, the sedentary travelers whose legs hang dangling the while, mere idle symbols of the fact, any more than when we speak of sitting hens we mean those that sit standing, but I mean those to whom traveling is life for the legs, and death too, at last. The traveler must be born again on the road, and earn a passport from the elements, the principal powers that be for him. He shall experience at last that old threat of his mother fulfilled, that he shall be skinned alive. His sores shall gradually deepen themselves that they may heal inwardly, while he gives no rest to the sole of his foot, and at night weariness must be his pillow, that so he may acquire experience against his rainy days. So it was with us.”

 

-Henry David Thoreau