This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 24 - Detroit


By now it’s pretty clear that one of the two courses that make up this 40/40 trip is a sociology course. I try to, from time to time, mention different discussions we have and points of the numerous sociological analyses that we make each day. But that’s only half of the material.

Our other course is in travel writing. In addition to the three required books and two suggested books (of which I’ve only had time to read one so far), we’ve been given 30 writing prompts, 15 of which we need to address sometime in one of our daily blogs. I started out doing my blogs in a chronological day-by-day format, trying to objectively cover the events of the day, but somewhere along the line it’s become more thematic than chronological.

Thematic is good, in this situation; having a theme makes it easier to have a focal point for each blog post and enables me to more clearly address a prompt. So, after a few words on Detroit, I’m going to go into a discourse on civil disobedience. (I know that sounds random, but just wait….I’ll connect all the dots.)

This morning we visited the Henry Ford Museum. After a long tour of the Indianapolis Speedway yesterday I was less than motivated to get up this morning only to endure what I thought was going to be another less-than-exhilarating discourse on vehicle memorabilia. Much to my delight, I only needed to take one step into the Ford Museum to realize that I had been gravely mistaken.

We’ve visited several museums, monuments, and galleries over the past 24 days, but none of them has engaged and inspired me as this experience did today. I must say that my visit to the Henry Ford Museum is the very best museum experience I have ever, ever, had. Ever.

Henry Ford sets itself apart from its counterparts in numerous ways:

  1. Visitors to the Ford Museum aren't treated like a herd of sheeple. There are a minimum of ropes, rails, and other encumbering barriers to protect the exhibits; this minimalist approach provides patrons with an inherently superior visit than they would have at any of the incredibly uptight museums around the country. You really get to get in there and experience history at Henry Ford. (And honestly, if there ever was a museum that had good reason to keep people a football field away from an exhibit, it’s the Ford Museum. I got to walk around and sit in the courthouse in which Abraham Lincoln practiced law in Springfield, Illinois before being elected as President! This building, along with many other originals—such as the Firestone family house, the Wright brothers’ home, and Thomas Edison’s home—was bought by Ford and moved to his Greenfield Village adjacent to the museum.)

  1. Exhibits demonstrate a markedly obvious emphasis on clarity and communication rather than the miniscule details that only your history professor would find immensely interesting. Sometimes I go into museums and wonder if the historians ever took their audience into consideration while dreaming up and constructing the crazy exhibits before me. Such was not the case here. I was especially impressed by the new “Liberty and Justice For All” exhibit focusing on the history of Americans’ fight for freedom—starting with the founding fathers and ending somewhere after the Civil Rights Movement. This elegant multi-room exposition used video; short, simple paragraphs; photographs; sketches; sound recording; light shows; giant timelines; and music to convey a story—a beautiful story that could easily be followed by even grade school children.

  1. Unlike many museums, the Ford Museum shares both sides of the story. There was no political or social agenda; the exhibits did a great job of presenting both the good and bad of American history and culture.

  1. Instead of being singularly minded, Henry Ford was interested in all aspects of Americana. As our outstanding tour guide explained, Ford believed that the collection of items and tools we use every day are part of our own museum that we’ve created—they collectively tell the story of who we are. So Ford collected the everyday items of Americans throughout the years. The museum wasn’t even originally meant to be specifically a car museum. Greg (our guide) pointed out that when the museum was built in 1929 there was not much car history to speak of. It wasn’t until the 1950’s and 60’s that the car became an iconic element of American life.

I am so excited to visit again soon. As everyone drifted into the café about half-way through our visit, I called my dad to tell him that we MUST come here on our next family vacation. I can’t wait to share this amazing experience with my brothers and sisters!

As I promised, here’s the prompt:

From Thoreau to King to Rosa Parks to contemporary protest movements, civil disobedience has been a strong theme in American life. Have you seen anything that would inspire you to commit an act of civil disobedience?

This morning at the Ford Museum I was surprised to find the original Rosa Parks bus on display -- the one in which she refused to give up her seat to a white person in 1955. I was even more surprised when a museum employee came up to me and told me to go on inside it. There was no one else around as I quietly, reverently, stepped onto the sleek 1950’s bus. I started to get goosebumps and was moved almost to tears as I sat there, alone, and listened to a recording of Ms. Parks sharing her experienced. “This is the moment that marked the beginning of an entire movement,” I thought. Since visiting Central High School in Little Rock, breaking bread with Navajos, and sitting quietly through an LGBT film, I’ve realized that racism is real and Americans today are still affected by it. The civil rights movement of today is being fought for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

Thinking back on some of the video I saw at the Central High School museum, I remember growing tense and frustrated as I watched entire crowds of white parents and students gather around, jeering and throwing bricks as the black students emerged from the building. That is something that would provoke me to commit an act of civil disobedience. I don’t know exactly what it would be, but it would be contrary to what would have been expected of me as a young white woman in the South. I couldn’t sit by and watch something like that take place, no matter what the current popular thought suggested.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 20 - Minneapolis


Before going into detail on our day in Minneapolis, I want to quickly reflect on yesterday again. This evening, while lounging in soft grass à côté d’ one of Minneapolis’ 22 beautiful lakes, we discussed the events of the past few days.

We take in so many sights and sounds each day that it’s virtually impossible to process them all. Some of the things I’ve seen are troubling, and questions stick with me for days after our visit to a site. Often it’s hard for me to feel a closure – even temporary closure – until we’ve discussed the issues and events of a certain day.

Here is a summary of some of the points that I’ve been thinking about/conclusions that I’ve drawn:

  • Regarding Mount Rushmore: I was initially disappointed at the size of the sculpture, and felt a bit let down as we walked up to it. Watching movies such as Richie Rich have definitely influenced my perspective of the monument prior to my visit. In this particular children’s film, the sculpture is used as the backdrop for an action scene involving explosives. I believe someone dangles from Lincoln’s nose and one of Washington’s pupils is a hatch window to which you can only get by way of a secret tunnel. I was expecting the faces to be monolithic!

    However, despite my disappointment, it was comforting to hear a new perspective from Jenny and Emma, who had walked down the concrete-paved “nature trail” and situated themselves comfortably on a sunny bench. Jenny said she overheard one family talking in depth about American history, especially the founders. The mom was quizzing her son on Lincoln trivia, and apparently the little tike could rattle off quite an impressive spiel on the former President. Jenny pointed out that even though the monument may not have been very impressive to either of us, she appreciated it because it offered an opportunity to open up a dialogue about American history and our forefathers. I thought that was a really neat insight.

  • Regarding Crazy Horse: This sculpture will be the largest in the world when it is finished, and will honor one of the Lakota’s most revered warriors. It’s impressive, for sure, but its context is somewhat controversial in my opinion. Here’s why:

The project was commissioned by Lakota elders (Crazy Horse was a Lakota warrior) in order to show that “the red man has heroes too.” The United States (as well as much of Europe) has a history of commemorating great citizens by building statues, monuments, etc; they are meant to attract the attention of all who pass by. But this isn’t the Native American way.

When we visited
Wounded Knee, I was in awe of the lack of signage, the wildness, the general playing down of the whole cemetery and memorial. I walked on narrow dirt paths through the 2,000 sq. foot grass plot surrounded by a sagging chain link fence, taking in the graves one by one. Two by fours outlined most of the graves, and, having pushing up through the dirt, wildflowers covered every inch. They were marked by a mixture of granite plaques and simple wood crosses, some of them so worn by the weather as to have become completely unidentifiable. Long, tattered strips of colored fabric danced deliriously in the wind, threatening to fly away from their little flag poles. A rusted arch marked the entrance to the cemetery but visitors opted to avoid the steep crumbling stairs under the arch and took the well-worn path to the side. The site was rugged, peaceful, and left completely to nature. I'm certain those blades of grass have never seen a mower.

This experience is exemplary of my concept of “the Native American way.” Many Native Americans seem to agree….the Crazy Horse monument has created much tension in the Native American community for several reasons.

For one, Crazy Horse is remembered as being a very modest, very reverent man. The mountain on which this memorial is being built is part of the Lakota’s sacred hills. Many Lakotans claim that he would not want to be remembered by way of a grand sculpture, and that he definitely would not want the sacred ground to be blasted away and shaped by humans.

For two, the project was started by Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish man and continues to be run by his wife and ten grown children. The orientation video shown in the Crazy Horse Museum featured several scenes of the crew working on the monument; not one of the workers looked to be of Native American descent, they were in fact very, very white. If the project was commissioned out of need to “show that the red man has heroes too,” wouldn’t it make more sense to see the red man designing and/or building the monument?

For three, the Ziolkowski family has dedicated the memorial to “all Native Americans.” However, as one Lakota woman explained, Native Americans do not identify themselves as one people. Each tribe is an individual nation, and they do not appreciate being lumped together to be honored collectively. The legacy of Crazy Horse is very important to the Lakota/Oglala people, but perhaps carries less meaning to members of other tribes.

On the upside, the grandiose figure is meant to serve as a backdrop to a huge Native American cultural center, complete with hospital, university, etc….A place where all tribes can send students to be educated in order to bring their individual skills back to their hometowns, and a place where the public may come to experience true Native American culture.

Now, for Minneapolis….

I liked the city a lot. My most favorite experience was at the Midtown Global Market. I was expecting one of two things: either (A) it was going to be over-priced, super organic food that tasted gross and furniture that was perhaps recyclable but exceedingly uncomfortable, or (B) it was going to be low quality, cheap imported goods that would fall apart the minute you walk out of the store.

It was neither, to my pleasant surprise.
The market is one very large, square building with concrete floors, set up like an outdoor market. In each stall I was immediately greeted by a friendly salesperson, a native of the country from which his/her goods came. The products were all of high quality and there was a good selection of local food, art, and clothing in each booth.

From an entrepreneurship perspective (my major is in International Entrepreneurship) it was a great opportunity to learn about how each vendor went about setting up his/her business. I didn’t have all that much time to chat, but I did get to speak with one memorable merchant, Peter, from Kenya.

Peter came here 10 years ago. When I asked him our staple question: “What does it mean to be an American?,” he thought long and hard, and then simply replied, “pride.” Nobody had ever asked him that before. When asked what unites us as Americans, he said, “our goals.”

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 17 - Glacier National Park


This is a little bit out of order; we were in Glacier the day before Yellowstone. Both national parks are in Montana but are very different in climate, elevation, and foliage.

Getting ready for the day at Glacier, I felt tragically unprepared clothing-wise. Around 8 am I opened the hatch, licked my finger, and tested the weather as I do every day before going “downstairs” to get fresh clothing out of the luggage bay under the bus. A crisp, 47-degree wind swept by, turning my finger into an icicle in a matter of seconds. I flashed back to the night before the trip when I hastily threw a pile of short-sleeve tees and tank tops into my suitcase along with a couple sweatshirts; I limited my bottoms to several pairs of shorts and skirts, bringing only one pair of jeans and some lightweight cords. I mean, it’s summer right? Thinking I had only a chance of rain to fear, I quickly threw in a trench coat as I shoved a few bags into my car. In retrospect, this stylish yet exceedingly un-waterproof blazer was not the best choice for my one and only piece of outerwear.

After pulling the grey cords on over my sweatpants, I layered sweatshirt over tee shirt over long sleeve henley over tank top over microfiber tank top, secured my hoodie with two scarves, shoved my feet into light and breezy New Balances, and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately I was especially nauseas and carsick that day, so I opted for staying at the camp while a few of the others ventured out for a 29-mile scenic (read “windy”) drive around the park. Despite my best intentions, I spent most of the afternoon curled up in the car, keeping my head on the horizontal and trying, in all earnestness, to produce a much needed blog. It drizzled and then rained. The group’s whiffleball game was interrupted by a grumpy next-door camper and then the rangers, who kindly ushered us out of the camping area.

When the scenic drive group returned from the mountain they were ecstatic; I could feel that they had experienced something breathtaking and awe-inspiring. They assured me they had. Any place that can maintain a glacier through the summer is impressive in my book. I can’t wait to take that drive for myself someday.

But, before my next visit to Glacier I’m going to read up on the history of how it came to be recognized as a national park and research which areas of the park are best suited to the purpose of my trip. One thing I’ve learned during our visits to various national parks is that they tend to be grandiose and multi-faceted. A short scenic loop and accommodating campsite are great for families with young children and those prone to carsickness. A longer, windier, steeper road might require more endurance, but I’m sure the views of the glacier and surrounding landscape are more than worth it.

P.S. - This post really deserves some pictures. Unfortunately I haven't been able to upload photos from my camera since I misplaced the cord (along with my iPod charger and a variety of other items that seem to disappear easily). For now, check out Chris' photos -- he is our official trip photographer and has been sponsored by Canon USA with over $10,000 of great cameras and lenses.

Day 11 & 12 -- Los Angeles


The day kicked off with a blessing in disguise....the steep driveway of our hotel wasn't conducive with Big Mama's (our tour bus) parking needs. We drove around L.A. for another hour and a half (giving me a considerable amount of additional sleep) and ended up in Marina del Rey....at a hotel that was literally on the beach. We didn't spend much time there, but it was nice to come home at night to see the moon reflecting off the gently swaying little bay and lights flickering atop the sailboat masts a few hundred feet off.

Our first stop on Day 11 was CBS Studios; one of Chris' friends, Canaan Rubin, is a top producer of CBS' Entertainment Tonight and gave us a fantastic tour of the CBS complex. Did you know Seinfeld was filmed in L.A., on a fake street--the buildings were all a façade!?? I always thought it looked so genuine.

Here's Rashina in front of the facade street where Seinfeld was filmed; since Seinfeld went of the air it's been transformed into the set of another series--I'm not sure which.

Entertainment Tonight wasn't supposed to be filming the day that we were there, but Mary Hart (one of the ET anchors) had her family in town and they had the set all lit up for them. The camera crew were very generous with their time. They showed us how everything worked, answered all of our questions, and even took a group photo for us on the set!

I was surprised at how genuinely friendly and down-to-earth everybody at CBS was; there was no trace of the snobbish moviestar attitude with which I expected to be greeted. I was rather amused, however, when one of the fact-checker supervisors told us that ET differs from other news sources in that they report primarily on celebrities, but that they approach their reporting with all the seriousness and preciseness of any respected media outlet. I’ve watched the show on and off during the past 10 years, and I must say, I almost laughed when he said that. It was obvious to me early on that much of the show was based on speculation, or reading an entire story into one photo. But everyone in the whole complex seemed to enjoy their jobs; many had been there upwards of 20 years. Taking the tour confirmed some of the feelings toward the TV world that I developed during my internship at a local NBC affiliate….it’s not as glamorous as it looks!

We concluded our tour and then drove down to Santa Monica for a healthy lunch at Shoop's European Delicatessen (where I found Speculoos, my favorite Belgian cookie) and walked the block down to the beach for a little fun in the sun. I was so exhausted from the traveling though; as soon as I spread out my beach towel I went to sleep and didn't even go down to the water.

We drove down to Huntington Beach for an annual surf festival, had dinner at a great little Hawaiian place, and watched some amusing street performers. 5 or 6 young men in their early 20's had prepared a synchronized routine which consisted of break dancing, call-outs, big flips (over people), and clever means of asking for money. Their tagline was, “Stay in school, don’t do drugs.” I wondered if they were really concerned about school and drugs, or if they just thought it might earn them a few brownie points from parents, the ones with the wallets.

We spent an incredible amount of time in traffic during both days. As much I was bothered by carsickness and the inherent noise level of 12 people stuck in a small area, it was a good experience. I feel like I got a small insight into what it would be like to live in LA as opposed to just visit.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 18 - Gardiner, Montana / Yellowstone National Park

As we headed home from white-water rafting on the Yellowstone River and soaking in the Chico hot springs nearby, Andi and Ken gave us a little pep talk about media relations. We're all set to meet with The Today Show tomorrow and possibly some other news sources in the near future. Several students from the 40/40 group have already spoken with reporters from the San Francisco Weekly, Roswell's Daily Record, and most recently, the prestigious Chronicle of Higher Education. So we have a pretty good idea of what kinds of questions we might be asked, but it's always nice to get a little refresher the night before in order to keep certain ideas fresh on my mind.

Some popular questions have been:
  • What has been the most inspiring moment on the trip so far?
  • How is living 24/7 with 11 other people? Has there been friction between group members?
  • What do you think it means to be an American?
  • What experience are you most looking forward to?
  • What are you hoping to take away from this experience?
Every time these questions have come up in conversation I find that I have a different answer. It depends on the time of day, the context, and my mood, among other factors, but I never fail to come up with something completely different from the last pondering. Today one question in particular stayed with me long after the discussion was over.

What has been the most difficult thing about this trip?
My immediate reaction was to deny any difficulty. That's how I cope when I travel. If I get sick, if I forget something, if disaster strikes, if my plans fall through, if I find myself in an uncomfortable situation--no matter what--I put on a smile and just don't allow it bother me. Period. To be able to do this--to be able to make my happiness independent from my circumstances--has literally been a lifesaver during past experiences overseas. My continuous optimism and good attitude made it possible to take advantage of numerous "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities and really enjoy them despite some inconveniences.

But as I continued to think on the question, I realized that not everything on this trip has been easy for me. Our "tricked out" tour bus, the group of students/faculty, the itinerary, and the people we've encountered along the way have all been great. My difficulty has been personal, not thrust upon me by physical circumstances.

It was a hard thing to swallow when I finally realized that I haven't been fully experiencing the events of the past two weeks.

The whole routine of being in a new place and adapting to the culture and environment has become exactly that -- a routine. Since 2006 I've visited 20 countries and had amazing experiences in all of them. My goal has always been to "live like the locals" whenever and wherever I go. But I've started to take for granted the privilege I have to travel, to witness new places and new ways of life. During the past 18 days I've visited 17 different cities and gone through the motions of "exploring" them. It's been fun. But have I genuinely taken the time to seek out and appreciate the uniqueness of each place? For most of these cities, the answer is a resounding NO.

Thinking back, there have been plenty of warning signs. I was frustrated with my blogs; I wasn't feeling inspired to write as I usually do when I travel. I commented to several people that I felt like my blogs held nothing of value. And while their kind encouragement was genuine and much appreciated, I knew it wouldn't change the fact that I wasn't proud of any of my articles. My writing has lacked enthusiasm and true inspiration; each night I've struggled to piece together some coherent thoughts about the day. Were it not for the class requirements, I wouldn't have published any of these pieces except for my response to our day on the Navajo Reservation.

I could be devastated at how much of the trip I've seemingly wasted. But I'm thankful for having learned this lesson, and I'm looking forward to being fully present, physically and mentally, during the 22 days that lay ahead. Don't get me wrong, I fully expect to have setbacks, but I'm going to make a conscious effort.

These past blog posts will forever serve as a record of my embarrassingly bad first attempt to discover America, but everything's about to change.

Days 15 & 16 - Portland & Seattle


Even though I’m from Medford, only 5.5 hours south of Portland, I haven’t spent much time in our state’s biggest city. Every athletic Oregonian kid goes up to Portland for at least one sports event: I’ve done my share of swimming and gymnastics meets there, too. But I’ve never really gone out and explored the city.

We only had one day in Portland, and one in Seattle, so we didn’t have much time to see different areas of either city, but I thought it would be interesting to spend most of the day in one area and become somewhat familiar with it rather than jet all over the city with a brief stop here and there.

I saw Voodoo Doughnut featured on the Travel Channel and even though I guessed it would probably be pretty touristy, I decided that it merited a visit for our Saturday morning brunch. As we drove by the storefront, searching for a parking spot, I heard a lot of comments from the back seats about how the 35-person line out the door and down to the street corner resembled the one that forms in front of Nashville’s famous “Pancake Pantry” every weekend.

About 30 minutes later we stepped over the threshold to be greeted by a long list of sexual innuendo-laden doughnut choices. Their slogan, “The magic is in the hole,” is available on t-shirts and underwear. The doughnuts turned out to be average, and the prices were too. $1.50 isn’t bad when you think about the average cupcakes that are sold in Nashville as specialty items for upwards of $3.00! Voodoo even offered an entire 5 gallon bucket of day-old doughnuts for only 8 bucks. It was nothing extravagant, but people loved it.

After grabbing a doughnut we headed down a block to the Portland Saturday Market, under the famed Burnside Bridge. White vendor and exhibitor stalls were set up in a grid format through which wandered mostly middle-class families, often toting babies in an African-style body wrap or in strollers. An unshaven, raggedy performer on a drum set, complete with hands-free harmonica set-up, drew in handfuls of children joining in with the various musical instruments – maracas, triangles, and mini-djembes – that lay at his feet. It was a community oriented, family-friendly atmosphere. Even the 30+ homeless people sitting against walls and in front of the central fountain seemed happy. Among them were two families that I found myself thinking about later on in the day. One family consisted of a mother and father, seemingly in their early 30’s, a pre-teen daughter, and an 8 year-old son. They had a dog with them too. The young son was skipping around, collecting some scraps of paper, and ran up eagerly to show his dad, who smiled and congratulated his son on the find.

What struck me though is that these homeless families appeared to be part of the larger Portland community, not living on the outskirts of society, in some park that no home-owning person would ever venture into, like so many of the homeless in other cities we’ve seen.

The next day in Seattle we visited Pike Place Market. I was interested in comparing the atmosphere and visitor demographics of these two markets, seeing as they’re both set downtown in major Pacific Northwest city-ports.

Pike Place had a very different vibe. The first thing I noticed was the diversity of its patrons. Asians, Native Americans, Germans, Northern Europeans, Mexicans, French, Moroccans, Greeks; they all blended together into a steady blur of passing sights and intelligible sounds. The demographic was more upscale, wealthy people, and the street musicians followed the same trend. The market consists of an abandoned warehouse, renovated and divided into stores, and during a few days of the week local farmers may set up tents in the courtyard to sell their fresh produce.

Off to the side of the market, in a little grassy knoll overlooking passengers boarding a Norwegian Cruise Line ship, surrounded by 40 foot-tall Native American totem poles, was a group of Chinese immigrants practicing Fulan Gong (seemingly similar to tai chi) and protesting the alleged death camps instated by previous Chinese president. Volunteers with heavy accents requested several times that I sign a petition demanding President Bush to speak up against the camps (although since he’s no longer President I’m not quite sure what they were hoping for), but they couldn’t coherently answer many of our questions about the situation and their goal.

Seattle’s Pike Place Market wasn’t as stable a community as Portland’s Saturday Market; there was more traffic and less fellowship. I enjoyed the vibrant feel that reminded me of the excitement I feel when I go into an airport, the hustle and bustle of people going places. But I also enjoyed the leisurely quality family time that I saw taking place in Portland.

Seattle’s market was focused on commerce, fast and dry transactions, getting in and out as quickly as possible. Portland’s was slow-paced, enjoyable, focused on the arts. Both have their place.

I think of these cities in conjunction to different stages in life. Heather mentioned the other day that she thought of Los Angeles as High School and San Francisco as College. In a similar analogy, I think of Seattle as great place to spend my young adult-hood while my interests and focus are on building a career, meeting new people, spending time on the go. Once I get married and want to start a family, I think Portland would be a great place to settle down and raise my kids in a stable and friendly community.

But before I do either I’m going to have to get over my dependence on sunlight. Neither Portland nor Seattle seem to offer more than 10 or 15 sunny days per year!


I know it's been a week since I've blogged. I'm sorry!!

Between a late start/end to some days, a catch-up day in which I managed to hike in nature instead of catch up on my blog, an entire week of being sick and somewhat sleep deprived, being in charge of the schedule as the ambassador to 2 of the cities this week, and a generally hectic schedule, I've put sleep before blogging the past few days.

But that must change, and will. Today.
I'm almost finished with my commentary on Portland and Seattle, and then I'll backtrack and take care of LA, San Francisco, and the Redwoods in the next day or so.

We're currently leaving Glacier National Park and heading over to Yellowstone and then South Dakota, so we may be out of cell service areas and internet range for a few days. Don't panic! We're still alive and will be back in contact soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 10 - Las Vegas


Las Vegas was a lot bigger than I expected. My brothers and I had a Nintendo game years ago in which one of the car racing courses was Las Vegas; you could drive around the city, crash and burn, and even shoot down the ½ scale Eiffel Tower. It was rather entertaining. But, it only had one big strip and a few side roads.

So that was my impression of Las Vegas: small town, kind of junky, in the desert (minus the armed race cars). It’s funny how experiences from your youth can really shape your perception of the world without you even realizing. (Yet another thing my parents were so right about!)

Leading up to our arrival in Vegas a few people were talking a bit negatively about the whole idea of a “Disneyland for grownups.” The hyper-sexual advertising and legal prostitution really disgusts me, and gambling isn’t really my thing (although if it’s someone else’s money I’m sure I could have some fun for a short time), but the whole idea of Vegas as a little break from real world stress isn’t something I’m totally against. Most everything is okay in moderation.

I wouldn’t spend more than a weekend there every now and then – the flashing lights, noise, excessive stimuli, personal unproductiveness on my part, and the cost (!) would get to me. But I did enjoy the experience of walking down the strip and exploring some of the mega-hotels and their many chocolate shops and high-fashion boutiques. I could definitely see myself lounging blissfully by one of the giant pools and drinking pineapple margaritas!

Something that seems to go hand in hand with Vegas is capitalism; in fact, we’ve seen it in play in every city we’ve visited. Capitalism is an integral part of America. However, I sense a general vibe of displeasure with the capitalistic system from some of my friends, both here on the trip and at home. Some of the more outspoken individuals tend to voice that being in certain places (such as the big store next to the Grand Canyon or an extravagant high-end mall in Vegas) “disgusts” them because of all the commercialism and capitalism.

One of the main arguments is that capitalistic corporations, like Wal*Mart (a recurring topic of discussion on this trip), take advantage of people in foreign countries. Okay, so don’t shop at Wal*Mart, but ask yourself: “Does its unethical practices really have anything to do with capitalism?” Unethical businesses exist all over the world in all different types of economic structures. I’m no economist—economics is something I still have yet to master—but I’ve been enough places to know that capitalism generally promotes a higher standard of living for everybody.

One of my most vivid memories of encountering a system other than capitalism took place in China, last summer. I went to China having learned a little bit about communism (China’s goal) and socialism (the reality). I know that socialism is based on the principle of collection and equal redistribution of resources by the government. The goal is that everyone receives equal opportunity and equal access to resources. (I don’t think that an equal voice in the government is something they try to provide for their citizens….China is far from a Democracy….a few leaders control everyone else.)

Anyway, I went to China expecting to see a more or less equally rich/equally poor people; I expected to see a society in which every individual put the good of the group before his/her personal gain. Instead, what I saw was a wealth disparity the same as—if not larger than—the disparity we have here in the U.S. And it’s not like this is a newly instated program—the wrinkles should have been worked out by now.

I still have a lot to learn about both systems. But for now, I’m not convinced that capitalism is evil….in fact, I like the whole “reap what you sow” idea. It only seems fair.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 9 - Salt Lake City


I’ve got to be honest: Salt Lake City was not what I expected. As Ken mentioned over dinner, most of us had our minds made up about the city before even getting here. Some didn’t see it worthy of a whole day of our trip. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about Salt Lake City is that it’s an ultra-religious epicenter, LDS headquarters, and nothing more.

In fact, it’s much more.

Our drive from the Grand Canyon up to Salt Lake City took 5 hours more than planned (due in part to a truck that tipped over with horses inside that had to be rescued) so we didn’t pull in to SLC until about 11:30. We effectively missed church, but rushed to get a bit of shower time before our appointment with a local news reporter at 1:00. Alas, there was breaking news and since we were just a “fluff story” we didn’t get any airtime. But we did have a delicious lunch at Tony Caputo’s Market and “Mom and Dad” (Andi and Ken) treated us to the world’s #1 chocolate at Carlucci’s next door. Yummmmm.

After some quality time at the local urban mall, it was off to Temple Square for us. It so happened that tours were being given of the complex…..very interesting. Our tour guides looked slightly drugged, rather slap-happy, and instead of answering our questions, which were rather basic in nature, shoved brochures at us. Of course, most of the tour guides we’ve run across were somewhat glossed over—I think it’s just part of the job; but I just didn’t get a good vibe from my experience in the numerous visitor centers and at Temple Square in general.

Directly following our tour of LDS Headquarters, we showed up at a theatre across town to see OutRage, one of the headliners of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) Film Festival. This was the first time I had ever the acronym LGBT or had seen it referenced in print. I feel like I’m a pretty aware citizen, so, “Surely,” I thought, “this must be a small subculture I've never heard of because it's so off-the-wall.” I was not at all expecting a packed theatre—practically no open seats on either the first floor or balcony.

Even though this was a totally new environment for me, I felt more comfortable sitting in the theatre with the gay community than I did in the temple. Alternative sexual orientations are not something I’m very familiar with, and even though I don't personally agree with the gay nor lesbian lifestyle, there is an element of honesty about the whole thing that I can respect—everything’s out in the open—as opposed to the temple where certain topics were shrouded in a cloak of mystery.

We’ve experienced several religious/spiritual situations since embarking on the trip; I’ve been surprised to see the quantity and diversity of belief systems within our borders. I’ve learned that several people can each call themselves Christian but may have very little in common when it comes to what they actually believe and practice. In the last week we’ve attended a Pentecostal-like “awareness center” service, we interviewed a rather evangelical representative from Alien Resistance, we listened to the faith-infused life stories of our Navajo host family, and we toured the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City.

You probably wouldn’t have noticed by my behavior, but my inward reaction to each situation has ranged from volatile objection to skepticism to bewilderment to overwhelming agreement and inspiration (this list of reactions is not respective to the experiences listed above, but you may be able to guess from my previous blogs which reaction goes with which experience).

All in all, the Salt Lake City atmosphere was somewhat relaxed and enjoyable. I don’t think I would ever move there, seeing as it’s out in the middle of nowhere, but I might visit from time to time.

P.S. – I’m a little bit behind on my blog….we are just now pulling out of Las Vegas. But I figure that as long as I get my blog up within a day or two, I’m doing okay. Plus, it gives me a few hours to think about my experiences and process my emotional responses before writing about them!

P.P.S. – Please leave me some comments so that I know what you’re liking or disliking about my blog content, writing style, website format, or anything else! Even though online blogs aren’t supposed to be geared towards a specific audience, I don’t write just for my own benefit. My goal is to communicate what I’m learning and feeling, in hopes that my experiences might inspire readers and start a dialogue on these important topics. But I need your feedback! In case you’re unaware….you can leave a comment (anonymously or by identifying yourself by first and/or last name, screen name, etc.) by clicking “comments” at the bottom of each article. Clicking this will prompt a little pop-up box where you can read other people’s comments and scroll down to leave your own.

Thanks to those of you who have followed my blogs for the past three years and four continents….I appreciate your continued support, feedback, and prayers (if you’re the praying kind) J

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 8 - Grand Canyon

My favorite moment yesterday was seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. We entered the park and were driving along; the scenery around us hadn’t changed at all for 50 miles, when, out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the opposite side of the red-, orange-, purple-, and yellow-striped canyon wall. Both vans immediately pulled over and we piled out at Mather Pt., completely in awe of the great crevice and the ledge that dropped off inches in front of our toes. The North Rim, at 8,800 feet, loomed 1,800 feet above us as we stood at the edge of the South Rim. The Colorado River raged 6,000 feet below us.

The whole experience seemed surreal; my sense of depth-perception was non-existent. It was as if someone had hung a sheet in front of me and painted a colorful, hazy horizon, a breathtaking illusion.

I was bold at first, clamoring around rocks and tourists to get a good view on one of the broad ledges. But as some hung back in fear, it started to hit me that this wasn’t an illusion; just one wrong step and I could be well on my way to the bottom of the canyon. I sat down on a sunny rock and tried to minimize my movements. My muscles started shaking uncontrollably; my voice became quiet and wavered softly. I watched groups of thrill-seeking visitors step confidently to the very edge of the outcropping, turning their backs to the canyon to pose for pictures that would be the pride of their vacation. When they recounted to their friends the dangerous nature of their recent escapades they would not be exaggerating. To sit at the edge of a 6,000 foot ledge and dangle one’s feet into a canyon, leaning over periodically to view the raging Colorado River below, requires a grave malfunction of the amygdala or a serious case of misinformation about the law of gravity.

After thoroughly examining the canyon from our viewpoint at the South Rim, we headed into the Grand Canyon Village to stock up on water before setting out on a hike. A wise hiker advised us to take minimum 1 gallon of water per hour for each hiker. I had brought exactly one half-drunk 16 oz. bottle of water, and no one else had brought much more than that, so it was clear that we were going to need some supplies. The general store was nice and new, but generally way overpriced. And walking into a giant grocery offering 6 brands of water took a little bit of the cherished ruggedness out of the experience. I would have preferred a little shack offering one flavor of ice cream cone, a rain poncho, a lone bottle of ketchup on the shelf, and a water spicket out front to this commercialized version of adventure.

In thinking about the greatest trips I've ever taken, it's not the most comfortable ones that make the Top 3. In fact, it's the emergence of happy moments in miserable conditions that truly make a trip memorable. Upon leaving the all-in-one grocery/deli/bakery/hardware store/sport apparel shop, I took a moment to mourn the loss of small town general stores and their delightful meagerness.

I soon forgot my shopping sorrows as we descended into the canyon by way of the Bright Angel Trail. The plan was to go 1.5 miles to the first water station and then turn around and hike the 1.5 miles back up. Halfway to the water station I looked up, saw a good 300 feet above me, and started to wonder if I would make it back by dark. I started scoping out little nooks in the canyon wall along the trail, making note of where would be a good place to curl up for the night--just in case. There is nothing that I feared more than being stuck on the trail in the dark--it was sandy, rocky, slippery, full of branches, and had absolutely no guard railing at any point. To make matters worse, I had just listened to a grocery store attendant tell a woman that, "More people have fallen in this year than normal. Each day we have a few fall in. Not all of them die though."

I found my only comfort in my dad's last words of our conversation the previous day: "Feel free to go get hurt; I already paid the insurance deductible for your brother's surgery this year, so you're totally covered." At least they won't leave me to die on the operating table for lack of insurance coverage, I thought. I mean, really, how many general insurance plans would usually cover falling into the Grand Canyon? I felt lucky to say the least.

It really didn't turn out to be all that bad. We made it down to the water station in about 45 minutes, filled up our bottles, and headed back up. Emma and I started to feel lightheaded on the way up--probably due to a combination of elevation change, sun, and no food--so we stopped a few times to rest for a minute or two. But an hour and 15 minutes later we arrived at the rim, tired, but safe and sound.

We had an hour and a half drive ahead of us to get back to the bus in Flagstaff, but hunger won that battle and we stopped for dinner in Williams. Pizza! I can't tell you how good it is to be out of the South and away from all their fried food. There are a lot of things I like about the South but you must understand, fried food is not one of them.


We had a great day in Salt Lake City today, which I'll tell you more about tomorrow. For now, we're on our way to Las Vegas. We have plans to visit a wedding chapel tomorrow afternoon, and there's been some talk about a possible impromptu marriage, so if I come back from this trip married, you'll know what happened!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 7 - Navajo Nation


This marks the end of our first week on the road. So far, we’ve visited Memphis, Little Rock, San Antonio, El Paso, Roswell, and the Navajo Nation.

My preconceived notion of each city’s contribution to the American identity has been proved incredibly wrong.

As we drove out towards Navajoland this morning—20 miles from our driver’s hotel in Gallup, NM—I anticipated teepees, leather chaps, sweat houses, and women weaving

baskets. I was concerned about how the day would go. The serious hayfever I thought I had grown out of years ago came back with a vengeance a few weeks ago when I went into a bad case of anaphylactic shock—swelling of the whites of the eyes up over the pupils, intense sinus pain, constricted airways, heightened sensitivity to light and noise, among other symptoms.

So as much as I wanted to participate in sheepherding and other activities with the group, all I could foresee was several hours, possibly days, of misery in my near future.

Our first stop was the rest stop at exit 396 on I-40. Lee Silversmith, a full-blooded Navajo who currently resides with his family on the reservation, had graciously offered to act as our tour guide to Navajo history and culture for the day. His land starts from directly behind the rest stop, so it was a logical place to meet. Lee gave us a brief overview of the Navajo people—all information that was new to me—and then took us to his home where his parents had prepared delicious Navajo Tacos for lunch.

The traditional Navajo home is an 8-sided hogan (ho-gone). Their nation’s boundaries are delineated by four sacred mountains located in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado; according to traditional folklore the Navajos were conceived in the heart of these four mountains. It was quite an experience to sit in pews around the Silversmith’s hogan-turned-church and listen to “Grandma and Grandpa Navajo” (as I affectionately call them) tell their life story.

As opposed to the Northwest Indians I’m familiar with that rely on salmon for their medicine and food, the Southwest Indians are an agricultural pastoral society; sheepherding, raising horses, and planting crops such as corn are an integral part of traditional Navajo life. It was refreshing to learn that the Navajos were one of the last tribes to embrace the gaming industry; it wasn’t until just recently that they built their first casino—which, by the way, “is doing great,” Lee said, “despite the economic downturn.”

I was very touched by the warm welcome we received from all the Navajos we met. Lee had arranged for us to meet with some of the staff at the Navajo President’s office, so we headed out to government headquarters at Window Rock (pictured below at left) after lunch. The Federal Grant Writer/Progam Manager gave a phenomenal presentation for at least an hour; I could hardly believe what I was hearing.

The Navajo nation is made up of 110 communities throughout New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Besides being divided into districts (at three levels) by the Navajo government, they also have to deal with the U.S. Federal Government and individual state governments. They have a working relationship with the Federal govt. on a nation to nation basis, but any authority that Congress gives to the state then has be dealt with on a state level. Never mind that this is an unnecessarily complex system; it is especially cumbersome when it comes to issues such as education and health care.

For example, for the past 50 years many Navajo children have been separated from their parents and sent off to boarding schools around the country. At boarding schools they were heavily discouraged from speaking Diné (Navajo language), in fact, if caught speaking Diné—or accused of speaking it by another student—they would be punished with a spanking, mouth washed out with soap, and extra chores. Upon returning to the reservation students seemed disconnected from their families, communities, and Navajo heritage.

In 1975 the Navajo people were finally given a say in their children’s education and were allowed to construct schools on the reservation. However, Navajoland consists of 27,000 miles and reaches into three states. Since public schools are primarily state-run, the Navajo Nation has to deal with three sets of requirements, three curricula, three standardized test methods, etc., when running their schools. By incorporating Navajo language, culture, and history classes into the curricula, the Navajos began to make some headway in preparing their children and young adults to be productive citizens in the Navajo community. Ensuring that students felt comfortable and connected with their communities helps ensure that they will do well in school and then stay to help make the reservation a better place for everyone; it helps minimize the number of students who decide to move off to the big city because they don’t “fit in” on the reservation as a result of their strictly western education.

So here they are, finally making some progress, when the people of Arizona vote in the bill that makes English the official language of the state and instates the infamous “English-only” reform that makes English the only language of education in public schools. Now they’re back at square one: after devoting time and money to developing a curriculum targeting Navajo children, this curriculum is prohibited from being taught. Of course, if they established private schools they could teach whatever they want, right?

Sure, sounds great. But remember….the Federal Government owns the land (they recently put the Dept. of the Interior in charge of Indian reservations, along with National Parks and such) so no property taxes can be collected from the people living on it. And where does funding for schools come from? Property taxes.

Another big issue: development and the "Bennett Freeze Box." The Hopi and Navajo tribes were in a dispute, for a long time, about territorial boundaries. Everyone recognized that this was a dispute between governments, not between the people. Nonetheless, citizens of both tribes were banned from development until the dispute was settled. For forty years no one could make any changes to any building, no matter how old it was or what condition it was in.

So, say your kids are playing baseball in the front yard and a stray ball flies in a busts a window in your hogan. You absolutely may not fix it. Say you live in your great-great-grandmother's 150-year-old hogan, if a door falls off, the roof leaks, a rogue sheep busts a hole in the side--no matter what--you can not do a thing to improve your living conditions. This ban was recently lifted, although I'm not quite sure of the date or even the details of the treaty.

Having just created an International Entrepreneurship major for myself, I was especially interested in this next subject: the process of starting a business. According to the Navajo Program Manager, starting a business in the U.S. includes about 3-5 steps and is possible to do in one day. To start a business on Navajo land the process is bumped up to 52 steps and can take anywhere from 5-15 years. Is that not ridiculous?

The unemployment rate for years has hovered at 55%. There are 320,000 Navajos on the reservation; the average annual income per family is $8,300--well below the poverty level in America.


In 1863 the U.S. Cavalry took the the Navajos from their homeland, moved them to Oklahoma--a centralized location--and made them live there alongside Native Americans from all over the country. Many of them, knowing the in's and out's of the canyon, successfully hid from the cavalry, but many more were forced to go on The Longest Walk to Oklahoma. Transplanting the Navajos became costly and U.S. taxpayers started to protest the tax raises needed to complete the Navajos' relocation. Eventually the Navajos were allowed to return to their home, but only after signing a treaty in 1868 that gave the U.S. government the right to do away with the reservation at any time.

Then, in the 1870's zinc, copper, lead, asbestos, and coal were discovered in what is now the Grand Canyon and the homeland of the Navajos and four other Native American tribes. Although many of these natural resources proved too difficult and costly to extract from the canyon, coal in the nearby, less mountainous region seemed to be a lucrative pursuit. The government proceeded to mine this coal--employing many Native Americans to do the work--and paid only pitiful amounts for what they took. It was recently uncovered that, in one coal contract, the Navajos were only receiving 15 cents for every ton of coal that was taken from them. If they were to have been given fair market value for the coal they would be one of the richest peoples in North America.


During the Cold War Navajos were offered jobs mining uranium. In doing this they were subjected to radiation; Navajo men came home every day with uranium in their clothing and on their bodies. They brought this toxic element into their one-room hogans where their wives and children underwent radiation as well. To this day Navajos are dying because of the effects of the radiation and a large number of Navajo children continue to be born with birth defects.


In one area of the reservation there was a large train crash years ago in which toxic substances were spilled and soaked into the ground. It was given back to the Navajos after being deemed too dangerous a place for Americans to live or work. However, Navajos were encouraged to build homes in this place, raise their livestock there, and eat the crops they grew in the toxic soil.


It seems that the U.S. government has done everything short of genocide to rid themselves of these people. And yet their spirits are not broken. These are a strong people--in body, mind, and in spirit. And though I spent but a day in their company, I have learned so much about perseverance, hope, respect for the land and its resources, and trust in God through them. Throughout generations of nothing but hardship, they hold onto a joy and a hope that surpasses all of my understanding.

After setting out to bring the sheep in for the night, we arrived at the place on the other side of the canyon where we thought they should be, only to find that they had, in fact, found their way home on their own. Lee led us, weaving in and around groves of cacti, up a rocky mesa to a beautiful layer of red sandstone rock where we took some memorable group photos and just spent time talking and laughing.

We learned to identify a few plants, such as the famous Navajo tea they had served us at lunch, and then started to head back down. As we reached one of the last vistas we spotted--not sheep--but a small herd of the Silversmith's horses. The mares, foal, and stallion have miles and miles of grassland at their disposal. With only the canyon walls to keep them close to home, they live basically as free agents. It was beautiful to watch these unbridled, unharnessed creatures roam the canyon floor as they wished. They looked happy and healthy--I could tell they were happy and healthy from a half-mile off.

20 minutes later we arrived back at the Silversmiths, getting ready to say our goodbyes and head back to Gallup to grab a quick dinner before class and bed. As we pulled up the drive there were tables and chairs set up in the front yard. Lee came out and announced that Grandma Navajo was cooking again -- she wanted to feed us before we set out. Over dinner Lee talked about his trip last summer; he walked from San Francisco to Washington D.C. with a group that re-enacted The Longest Walk as a memorial to their ancestors and awareness campaign for Native Americans. Tribes across America welcomed them each night and offered food and shelter. It was really neat to see his pictures and hear the stories of the people he met along the way. Lee talked about how close he had become with the band of strangers who walked for three months together and the impact some individuals had had on his life. He said that the Lord has everything happen for a purpose; that we had a purpose for coming to spend the day with him on the reservation. How right he was.

In addition to bringing away numerous life lessons from this day, I started to see a general trend in the people we've met so far on this trip...

The people who have the least are the people who give the most.
It doesn't take riches or fame to make a difference in the world; it takes a joyful heart, a respect for others, and a passion for service. I'm no longer going to wait for a raise or new job before donating to this charity or that church group. I'm no longer going to wait for the semester to be over or for my vacation to end before I volunteer.
I only have a short time on this earth; the time to serve is now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 6 - Roswell - UFO Museum and more


While we were visiting the International UFO Museum this morning, I got talking to an elderly couple who lived in Florida but had been on the road traveling around the country since mid-May. I asked them what brought them to Roswell; they said they always wanted to visit the museum, so as they were passing through it made sense to stop.

“What does it mean to you to be an American?” I asked.

He responded, “Well, it’s the best place in the world. I never even wanted to visit any other place. You can do things here you can’t do in other countries….the living facilities are better…”

This vague, “it’s better here” answer is rather typical of what we’ve been getting in every city so far. But of course, we want specifics, so I probed.

“What are some of the things you do here—or you’d like to do—here in America that you wouldn’t be able to do in other countries?”

He paused for a few seconds, questioningly, then timidly replied, “Ummmm….I don’t really know. All I know is that I can go wherever I want and do whatever I want.”

I was really disappointed and frustrated during the week before our trip started when I was asked to write an essay about what it means to be a Patriotic American Citizen. I had a general idea, I could name a few characteristics of each, but I really couldn’t give a working definition of any of the three concepts. I attributed this to my ignorant youthfulness and recent absence from the country. But I’m beginning to think that that’s not it. In the past few days I’ve talked to many people from many states, young and old, and few have been able to give a response that had any real substance when asked, “What does it mean to be an American?”

There was one man, however, who won’t be easily forgotten. Yesterday in El Paso we visited Fort Bliss – the second largest military base in the continental U.S. We were shown around the base by some very friendly folk and ate lunch in the mess hall. The high-ranked soldier who ran the dining services came out and gave us a brief presentation on how he and his staff prepared soldiers to cook tasty dishes for the troops once they were deployed. At the end of his talk, we asked him the famous question, “What does it mean to be an American?” I can’t even remember exactly what he said because I was in such shock with how quickly he responded. He didn’t hesitate even one ½ second (and no one tipped him off that this was question was coming). I’m sure that what he said was brilliant, but all I could think about was how it made sense that it would be on the tip of his tongue: Why would you put your life on the line every day for something which you could only vaguely describe?

P.S. -- we stopped off for a photo-op at the "Alien Zone." Here I am in the UFO!

Day 6 - Roswell, New Mexico


Good morning from Roswell!

When I was greeted this morning by an alien giving the weather forecast in the local newspaper, I knew I couldn't be anywhere but Roswell, New Mexico!

We're heading out for a fun-filled day at the UFO museum, interviewing locals at the "Out of This World Cafe," and an afternooon at the lake. I'm extra excited because today happens to be shower day and laundry day!

(I know I skipped Day 5 in El Paso, but I'll make sure to add more on that tonight.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 4 - San Antonio - The Alamo and more

We arrived at the Alamo around 10am on Tuesday morning. The lilting breeze and visitors strolling through casually landscaped desert gardens, weaving in and out of 19th century adobe architecture, gave the place a sense of serenity. As the historian presented the history of the Alamo as the founding of Texas, the pride in his voice reflected the way a young father might talk about his first son. The crowd's attentive silence during his speech confirmed my impression of the Alamo's status as a shrine for Texans.

We were given some time to explore the Alamo on our own after the short tour. One of my professors was remarking on how shocked she was at how the Alamo's surroundings have changed since she was last there in 1984. It used to be all dirt, nothing but dirt and dust, and it gave the Alamo a very authentic feel. Today, cheap touristy shops selling all the same things line the street opposite the sacred fort. A hotel salesman sets up a stool on the sidewalk, luring in tourists as they make their way towards the Alamo. It's sad to see such contrast between the legacy of the venerable historic site on one side of the street and its commercialized identity sold on everything from shot glasses to boxers to teapots on the other.

Around noon we walked a few blocks down to Casa Rio, an authentic Mexican restaurant. After some chicken fajitas we broke up into small groups and headed out to explore the Riverwalk and talk to some locals. Upscale restaurants and hotels lined the Riverwalk on both sides; as two of the guys and I strolled by I noticed this façade pictured at right. Two tattered flags--the American flag and the Texan flag--hung from the ceiling and tied up as a decorative touch.

Two weeks ago I wouldn't have thought twice about this, but we were just talking about flag desecration (its protocol and limits) last week before we left on the trip. I've kind of been on the lookout for flag situations throughout the first 4 days of the trip, and I've actually been surprised at how many times I see the flag being displayed in a less-than-respectful way. I'll make sure to cite them when I see them!

Regarding the picture at the top left....I just wanted to show something that I found interesting as I walked around the city....even though the Native Americans were there first, they really regard and play up the Spaniards as their founders. So that photo just shows some art we found in one of the beautiful Riverwalk hotels--paintings and sketches of their "forefathers."

And lastly, a candid shot of our home sweet home....our rockin' not-so-humble abode! This bus is great, and my bunk gets more comfortable every night!

I took this picture from the back of the bus, looking towards the front. The "thorax" of the bus is lined with bunks, six on each side. You can only see a corner of my bunk, in the very bottom left corner of this photo.

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