All posts by Mike

Without Even Touching A Dollar

Some trips are an adventure. Marked by stress and the excitement of the unpredictable, these trips are something like work. At times, you might be able to appreciate an adventure when it is underway. Oftentimes though, in the moment, they can be marked with the discomfort of deprivation. Appreciation, really deep appreciation of an adventure, comes after it’s over and you’re able to safely look back on the totality of it. You might even have some stories that are worth telling.  Continue reading Without Even Touching A Dollar

All flights lead to Rome

The prospect of being stranded and overstaying your visa in a weird police state and facing huge fines or even jail time is… sobering. That’s exactly what we were facing at 3 am at the Ashgabat airport. Travel can be stressful, and arguments can happen even on otherwise very nice trips. I’d say most arguments I can recall revolved around delays with food, drink, or a restroom. Or getting lost. Or some combination therein. Thankfully though, when a stressful situation demands focus and cooperation, we’ve been able to navigate things pretty well thus far, and this was no exception. On this trip, we had the added help of our friend Greg. We’ve known Greg a long time and he has traveled with us many times, and we all work together really well when situations demand it. So here’s what happened… Continue reading All flights lead to Rome

If North Korea and Las Vegas had a child

After seeing similar themes emerge in multiple countries, you might convince yourself that you’ve seen it all. And then… you visit a place so off the radar weird that you’re reminded of just how much there is to see in the world. Turkmenistan is one of those places. Over the years, my blog posts have gotten more and more abbreviated. Since 2011, they’ve shrunk from daily posts, to city/region posts, to now single country posts. Most of the recent posts have been an interesting story or two, a synopsis of what we did, and a photo gallery. For Turkmenistan, I’m going to try to give everyone a more thorough recounting of the adventure. Continue reading If North Korea and Las Vegas had a child

The Pensioner Pilaf Trail

Traveling through Southeast Asia, we came to recognize something we referred to as “The Banana Pancakes Trail.” This is essentially a well-worn tourist circuit where one can stay in cheap hostels and make your way across several countries. Most hostels seemed to offer banana pancakes on their breakfast menu, not exactly authentic local cuisine, hence the name. As we saw it, this trail probably runs from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, although you could make a more extensive one looping in Myanmar and Laos. Continue reading The Pensioner Pilaf Trail

Beyond The UPS Service Area

When I read that all private parcel couriers had left Tajikistan, I must admit that I made some assumptions about the country. I assumed their departure was related to either remoteness or violence and instability. In actuality, they were ejected for not playing well with the dictator that has run the country since the fall of the Soviet Union. I didn’t know much about Tajikistan before arriving there, but none of the details I did know sounded very encouraging. Continue reading Beyond The UPS Service Area

The Soviet Bread Line Border Crossing

We’ve been through a few sketchy overland border crossings before. Come to think it, many overland crossings can seem a bit dicey at times. Crossing from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan was definitely one of those times. We had just met our driver Hasan, who spoke zero English, that morning in Almaty. The drive to the border was a couple of hours and took us through some remote and desolate pitstops on the way. When we got to the crossing point, Hasan gestured for us to venture out on foot while he brought the vehicle through. The scene was dusty and chaotic, with a few odd vendors and hustlers before being corralled into a caged area. Continue reading The Soviet Bread Line Border Crossing

Fermented Horse Milk For The Road

I was pretty sure before even starting this trip that gaining any weight wouldn’t be an issue. It’s an active itinerary with a fair bit of walking and hiking, sure, but that can easily be offset by rich lavish meals on a daily basis. So that’s not the reason. The issue really is that Central Asia is not a region you typically seek out for the amazing food. I figured that over the course of a few weeks, I’d probably miss a meal or two. Fortunately, my expectations were low enough from the outset that it didn’t take much to be pleasantly surprised.  Continue reading Fermented Horse Milk For The Road

The era of the “Gaijin Bump” is coming to a close

One of the prize games in Japanese arcades is a variation of the quarter games you sometimes find in American carnivals. The concept is to push a stack of goodies over a ledge into a bin that you open during play. Like many well-designed, profitable, and therefore infuriating prize games, the game provides an illusion of progress early on and becomes deceptively difficult the closer you get to success. Those carnival quarter games achieve these gravity-defying antics with a magnet. However, the nature of this particular game’s deception lies in the way prizes are stacked and the domed shape of the machine. Once the Jenga-style stack of candy or whatever starts moving over the ledge, the plexiglass dome provides another point of contact and support, keeping it from falling in and you walking away with an obscene amount of treats. Continue reading The era of the “Gaijin Bump” is coming to a close

Ejected from Meerkat and Friends

Cat cafes are nothing new in Tokyo and have existed since at least the turn of the century. We’ve visited a couple of them. The concept has also grown popular in a number of other large East Asian cities. In terms of uniqueness as a business model, it’s possible that cat cafes have become a bit passé. In Tokyo at the moment, owl cafes and hedgehog cafes are a thing. It’s a workable model for probably any cute animal that doesn’t smell awful or attack your patrons. Prior to our short visit to Seoul on this trip, we were excited to learn about a “Meerkat Cafe” there. Not just Meerkat… “Meerkat & Friends”. Some small fox and other adorable animals seemed to be in the mix. Our niece Emma is obsessed with cats in the way that a six-year-old can be obsessed. A brief visit to a cat cafe last year made a lasting impression. We held back on this find, the meerkat cafe, as a “surprise” once we got to Seoul. Continue reading Ejected from Meerkat and Friends