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Monthly Archives: January 2013

‘Straya Day Weekend

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My last weekend in Australia happened to overlap with a national holiday, Australia Day, and gave me a glimpse of Aussie pride at its finest. I kicked the weekend off with my girl Brigette, who Matt met in Aspen and who has taken me under her wing (into her pouch?) since I landed here. On Friday, we had an animal-themed picnic before peeping some local creatures at the Melbourne zoo. Ideally I would have included some kangaroos, koalas, and wombats in the mix, but turns out, there aren’t too many foods that are easily Aussi-fied.20130128-182045.jpg

The zoo was incredible for many reasons, most notably the adorable koala ball, shy wombats, friendly wallabies (who incidentally do not like to be ridden), surprise Missy Higgins show, and Bridge, the most koala-fied Aussie tour guide around.
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After a Saturday morning track session with the Melbourne Uni crew, I then headed to the ocean for the long weekend. Dave, who I met at Falls Creek and who has been showing me all around Melbourne, invited some friends to his family’s beach house in Blairgowrie, about 90 minutes away on the Mornington Peninsula. Along with his buds Dave G, Kate, Tom, Vince and baby Rafael, we spent the weekend relaxing, grilling, beaching, running, and watching the finals of the Australian Open. Basically livin the life!20130128-183837.jpg
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We also spent an afternoon at a nearby winery, tasting some local wines and enjoying the perfect weather.20130128-183850.jpg(If you’re wondering why skin-colored tank-tops are trending in Australia, they’re not. I’m pretty sure my tan lines are permanent.)

And of course, there was some awesome running involved. Dave took us to some of his favorite trails and treated us to a dozen wallaby sightings and some stunning ocean views. 20130128-183854.jpg

I’m back in Melbourne now and am trying to complete my bucket list and see everyone one last time before I head off to New Zealand on Wednesday. The transition should be a smooth one, as I’ve been staying with an awesome Kiwi couple, Neil and Mel (who ironically has a sister who I ran against in Conference USA), for the past 3 weeks. Dubbed the New Zealand consulate for constantly hosting for foreign runners, they’ve been beyond generous and welcoming this month and have made me feel right at home in their adorable pad. Between our barbecues, Doprah watching sessions, restaurant outings (including a complementary meal due to a beetle in our salad), and water-jogging, I’ve had a blast getting to know them and their cool neighborhood.
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One more full day in Australia and then I’m a goner. I’m off to make the most of it!

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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Over the Hump

I’m officially past the mid-way point of my Watson Fellowship year and beyond what I expect to be the toughest parts of my journey: the good-byes and take-off from DFW, the first few country changes, and the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season.

It’s impossible to capture in words everything I’ve experienced, learned, and gained in the past 6 months, but I’ll try to give you a little snapshot of where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to…

Running Tallies

Countries lived in or traveled through: 12 (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Australia)
Planes ridden: 11
Beds slept in: 33
Miles run: 1842

Mid-Year Superlatives: Top Fives (lists in chronological order)

Most interesting meals

  • Ugali (made by Kenyans in England)
  • Haggis (Scotland)
  • Black pudding (Ireland)
  • Donkey meat on pasta (Italy)
  • National dish: injera topped with a variety of wats as well as tibes, shiro, firfir, and a boiled egg (Ethiopia)


  • Favorite running spots

  • Richmond Park (Teddington, UK)
  • Open roads in the town some of my ancestors came from (Kilmihil, Ireland)
  • St. Moritz trails (St. Moritz, Switzerland)
  • Mount Entoto (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
  • Falls Creek tails (Falls Creek, Australia)


  • Coolest animals spotted

  • Huge deer (Bushy and Richmond Park, England)
  • Gelada Baboons (Simien Mountains, Ethiopia)
  • Ibex (Simien Mountains, Ethiopia)
  • Hyenas (Mount Entoto, Ethiopia)
  • Kangaroos (Falls Creek, Australia)


  • Olympic and World Champions I’ve met

  • Peter Snell, New Zealand
  • Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, Jamaica
  • Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
  • Haile Gebrselassie, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Million Wolde, Ethiopia
  • Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria


  • Most impressive sites

  • Iffley Road Track (site of first sub-4:00 mile, England)
  • Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  • The Pantheon (Italy)
  • Haile Gebrselassie’s house (Ethiopia)
  • Lalibela Churches (Ethiopia)


  • Funniest miscommunications

  • “I’m going to exercise my corpse now”- pretty positive she meant core, not dead body
  • “Do you mind raping those potatoes?”- I do, actually… but I’ll gladly grate them!
  • “Foot fingers”- toes, if we’re being technical
  • “Chessburger and French frize”- seen on a menu in Ethiopia
  • Upon asking for a place to find juice, Dan and I were directed to a Jewish neighborhood. That one took me a whole day to figure out.


  • Favorite artists from different places

  • Alt-J (England)
  • Söhne Mannheims (Germany)
  • Jah Lude (Ethiopia)
  • Teddy Afro (Ethiopia)
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop (New Zealand)


  • Things I miss most

  • My people! Friends, family, teammates, coach…
  • Familiar running spots: White Rock Lake, Herman Park, Outer Loop, North and South
  • A full wardrobe (I forget that I have more than 6 outfits sometimes!)
  • Piano and music collection
  • Favorite restaurants: Hungry’s, Whole Foods, fro-yo, etc. (although I’m realizing more and more that it’s not so much the places I miss as the people who I frequent them with… although I’ll never turn down a Baja Chicken Wrap, that’s for sure!)


  • Most practical items packed

  • Birkenstocks
  • Lulu Lemon tights (thanks, Rach!)
  • SmartWool socks
  • Foldable bags (you’re my girl, Deb)
  • Everything Matt (the gear master) gave and lent me: Osprey backpack, Moleskine notebooks, cocoon, headlamp, towel, pillow, SteriPen…


  • Some random thoughts:

  • Only about half of my original wardrobe remains. I haven’t bought new clothes or gotten any from home, but have worn out, given, or traded a good deal of what I started with. I especially like scattering around Rice apparel and knowing that the Owls are gaining a few more fans around the globe.

  • This is, by far, the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing any of my family members (not counting our regular Skype sessions of course). Anyone who knows how attached I am to my siblings and parents knows how difficult being away for so long is, so I’m massively looking forward to a definite visit from Matt in March and potential visits from Rach and Luke this summer. Kim and Suz don’t think it’s likely that they’ll be able to come anywhere, but I’m holding out hope that I’ll walk into a restaurant someday and there they are, showering me with mounds of confetti and tin foil balls like my sibs and I used to do whenever they came home from trips.

  • While I won’t say that I’ve become the world’s BEST navigator, I’m happy to report that my directional skills have increased (slightly) since I left home. Or maybe I’m so used to getting lost that it doesn’t really rattle me anymore. But some of my most enjoyable moments have actually occurred after taking wrong turns, meeting strangers, and doing a little exploring on my way back. I’m also hoping to prove myself so Jim allows me to do more than straight out-and-back runs when we race in new places.

  • People often ask me how I’m documenting my travels. Well let me tell you! I’m keeping a daily journal (full of interesting/funny happenings, ticket stubs, notes and such), contact information for people I want to keep in touch with, a massive playlist of songs and artists I’ve picked up in each country, a recipe book full of interesting and local cuisines, a huge photo collection, drawings from each month, and notes on different runners, coaches and training styles I’ve encountered. I don’t know what I’ll do with all this when I get back, but I certainly will have some material to work with!

  • Simplicity is way underrated. You can get by with surprisingly few possessions, and it’s actually pretty liberating.

  • After missing family and friends, the next toughest part of this trip for me is never having a normal routine. I’ve had such a predictable daily schedule for the last 5 years– coffee, run, breakfast, classes, lunch, nap, practice, training room, dinner, schoolwork, bed– that it became a security blanket and source of comfort, but also a limiting factor in my life. Now, without a routine to guide my every move, I’m forced to live in the moment, act spontaneously, be more flexible, and adjust to other people’s schedules. I think it’s a positive change and one that I wouldn’t have loved trying out in any other situation.

  • I absolutely love hearing different lingos and learning where they originated. I’m keeping a list of cute/funny/practical words and phrases, and so far Ireland and Australia have provided me with the most to work with.

  • People regularly ask me whether I’m still training seriously, and if so, what I’m doing. The short answer to that is yep, very much so! I’m doing more volume now than I ever did in college (mainly due to injuries and races) and building a solid aerobic foundation that I hope to tap into later on this spring and summer. My college coach Jim Bevan is still writing my workouts and guiding my day-to-day training, after taking into consideration a slew of changing variables (terrain, elevation, training partners, weather, nutrition, etc.). In the past 5.5 years, he’s figured out my body and the way I respond to different stimuli pretty darn well, so I’m extremely grateful for his continued coaching and guidance and that enthusiasm and optimism we all know and love!

  • I’ve realized that no matter where I am or what my life situation is, I’m going to wake up early, fill my schedule to the brim, and try to be productive at all times. No use fighting it… it’s inevitable!

  • I’ve also learned that I’m super easily inspired. I always carry around a little journal and fill it with ideas for training, living, decorating, cooking, crafting, etc. I’m constantly thinking about different things I can try or create and things I want to incorporate into my normal life back home.

  • One of my biggest fears about this whole trip is forgetting how to play the piano. No matter how rusty I am come July, though, I’m committed to making up for lost time and tickling those ivories like old times. Speaking of instruments, one of the first things I’m going to do when I get home is buy a banjo and get pluckin’!

  • Another (possibly more serious) fear is becoming an even worse driver than I am now, after a year away from the steering wheel. Pops, I just might have to hire you for Driver’s Ed, round 2!

  • Turns out my feet aren’t the only things that ramble these days… so do my words! All that being said, if the second half of this trip is anything like the first, I’m in for a real treat. Thanks to every single one of you who have contributed to my journey so far. I’m sincerely grateful for y’all and will always have room for any of you who want to visit Texas (well, not ANY of you… I’m talking about you, Colorado man who sent me 15-page handwritten notes and 10-lb. packages in college!)

     
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    Posted by on January 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

     

    Ethiopia Drawings

    They scanned in a little blurry, but here are some November and December memories in drawing form:

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    Posted by on January 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

     

    The Goss on Melbourne

    Melbourne is my kind of city! Between its warm weather, lofty music and food standards, great running trails, and large bat population, it reminds me of Austin, Texas… but with cooler accents, cuter abbreviations, and more exotic animals.

    For a summer-chasing traveler/runner such as myself, I really can’t think of a better place to be than Melbourne right now. The weather hovers in the high-70s most days (though a few days have been pretty blazing, which I love) and the shining sun offers a constant nudge to get outside and make the most of summer. For such a big and bustling place, Melbourne also has an incredible amount of green space and dirt trails. You can be right in the thick of the city one minute, and the next you’re rolling up to a national park or extensive trail system. You’re always a quick hop away from one of Melbourne’s peaceful, woodsy areas, and can easily be tricked into thinking you’re in some remote rural area and enticed to run a little further than planned.

    Speaking of hopping… While I’m still waiting for my wombat and koala spottings, I was fortunate enough to endure a kangaroo-related delay on my way up to Falls Creek last week. A roo family in front of us was doin their thing, bopping all over the road without a care in the world, including the fact that a powerful vehicle was on their tails. It was by far the most fun delay I’ve ever experienced– I felt like I was in the middle of a cartoon! It also reminded me a little of this, although our guys weren’t so much mischievous as oblivious:

    Another awesome part of Melbourne is its vibrant running scene. I’ve been meeting up for runs with the Melbourne Uni club (although, ironically, none of the guys I’ve been running with are students anymore but in the working world) and have loved their company on the trails and on the track. In fact, I haven’t done a solo run in over a week… some kind of record for me! Their goofy nicknames (Hamster, Animal…) and catchy abbreviations (stress fracture= stressie, Christmas= Chrissy, afternoon= avo…) suggest that my main man Aziz may have been inspired by the Land Down Under in one of my favorite Parks and Rec clip:(Les… P&R will always be funny, but way less so when you’re not beside me, one-sockin it up, rewinding all the funny parts, and seriously trying to impersonate Aziz’s dance moves.)

    I’ve also had the treat of spending some time with Lachlan McArthur, former Rice runner and Manor resident, and his wife Lisa Weightman, 2-time Olympic marathoner. 20130113-213201.jpg(Lachlan and Lisa don’t always match, but when they do, they look gooood.)

    They’re about as nice a couple as they come and I am so inspired by their ability to balance full-time employment with intense training and preparation for world-class competition. The fact that Lisa is such an accomplished marathoner, yet has always held a full-time job, would blow many running minds out there and maybe even induce some sympathy. But it’s clear that she thrives in a busy and productive environment, and has learned how to manage her time and prioritize her commitments to a remarkable degree. And Lachlan, though no longer competing himself, is the model of a supportive training partner and husband, accompanying her on many runs and riding his bike alongside her on the rest. Although I only met Lachlan briefly in London this summer, it was great catching up with my first Rice face in 5 months and comparing funny stories about track and the ole Rice characters.

    With all the running we’re doing, it’s a good thing Melbourne has an overwhelming number of good places to refuel and relax, whether it’s brunch, coffee, ethnic food, or anything else. Unlike many big cities, Melbourne doesn’t settle for the usual chains or predictable restaurant format. It’s full of trendy, unique establishments, tucked into narrow side streets, that are worth going to for the experience alone. Some of my favorite spots so far include an old monastery that was converted into a cafe, restaurant, bar, and petting zoo; a little noodle place in the heart of the Vietnamese part of town; and a hotel that was renovated into a bar in the style of one of Melbourne’s prototype alleyways.20130113-214213.jpg

    That’s all I’ve got for now! I’m nearly finished with my November and December drawings from Ethiopia, so those are next on the agenda. Also, Lisa’s getting ready to race the Osaka International Women’s Marathon on January 27, so I wish her a smooth, speedy, fun race and safe travels for both her and Lachlan to Japan and back.

     
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    Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

     

    Falls Creek

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    I spent last week at Falls Creek, a pretty ski town 4 hours outside of Melbourne that doubles as a distance running mecca every summer. The elevation of Falls (1600 meters or 5250 feet) is almost half that of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, offering some benefits of altitude training but also allowing for some good speed sessions.

    20130109-093208.jpgFalls has been a post-Christmas training base for Aussie runners for nearly 50 years, and it’s easy to see why. The Australian World Cross Country trials are at the end of January, making it an ideal time for some work at altitude; it’s usually much cooler and drier up in the mountains; there are few distractions from running and relaxing; the trails at Falls are soft but quick; and the sheer number of runners, which reach a few hundred in the peak week between Christmas and New Years, creates an inspiring, competitive, and fun training environment.

    Here’s just one group of many during a 1k repeat session…
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    And here is the front group during Sunday’s long run, featuring 3 out of 4 Olympians…
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    Falls has also developed a unique running culture and a predictable training schedule over the past half century. The weekly workouts, meeting times, and locations change little, if at all, from year to year, making it really easy to plan your training. For example… Wednesdays at Falls? Fitzy’s Hut run at 9:30am. Sundays? Pretty Valley long run at 9am. There are optional runs at 5:30pm every evening too, which begin on the dirt path just above the village, and plenty of aqueducts and lakes to ice in afterwards. It’s odd to be training in 100-degree weather at this time of year, but cheating winter is turning out to be one of my best ideas yet! Feels just like springy Houston, only with a few more mountains, a bit drier air, and 1 less coach pumping alongside on an Elliptigo (when it doesn’t break down on him midway through a 10-mile cruise home… rough day!).20130106-135856.jpg

    In other words, barring injuries or other unusual circumstances, the Falls Creek atmosphere makes training (and recovering) hard pretty easy. In between runs, there are a few coffee shops and restaurants to hang out at, a nice swimming hole is only a quick drive away, and it seems like a nap is always on the horizon. I stayed in a lodge with members of the Melbourne University Athletics Club and really enjoyed getting to know them over meals, runs, chats, movies, and a birthday dinner. 20130109-093156.jpg
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    Hamish Beaumont specifically, president of the club and quite possibly the most well-connected runner in Melbourne, has been incredibly helpful and inclusive since I landed in Australia. In addition to letting me snag some of his pictures for this post, he found me a ride to and from Falls, saved me a room in the lodge, introduced me to some great music, landed me accommodations in Melbourne, and welcomed me to train with the club while I’m here. Thanks so much, Hamish!

    So here I am, back in Melbourne for 3 more weeks of sea-level training and lots of exploring. I have to admit that while I’ll miss the mountains and trails, after almost 2.5 months of altitude training, it’ll be nice to get back to some quicker workouts and a bit of flat running.

    And one last thing… Shout out to the sweetest, smartest, hippest grandma on the planet who’s birthday is coming up on the 10th. I miss you and love you tons, Grammy, and hope your day is full of warm fires, a completed NYT crossword, and lots of love from all your rellies! 20130109-095240.jpg

     
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    Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

     

    Northern Ethiopia, Part II

    Leg 2: Gondar
    After 3 nights in the Simiens, Dan, our new friend Katie and I headed back to Gondar for a quick afternoon of exploring and an early morning flight out. We spent a few hours meandering through the neat little town, stopping in markets and coffee shops along the way. We also did a couple laps of the Gondar castle and a massive tree in the middle of town. We stayed in a tiny “hotel” that wasn’t much to speak about but that provided some new friends, card competitors, and dinner companions from New Zealand, England, and Finland. 20130104-143405.jpg

    Leg 3: Lalibela
    The next morning, Dan and I woke up early to catch a flight to Lalibela. I thought we were pushing it when we showed up to the airport just 90 minutes early, but we ended up waiting behind a closed gate for 15 minutes before the staff started rolling in. Promptness is overrated over here… or nonexistent to begin with!

    With one full day in Lalibela, we hit the road as soon as we landed to explore the monolithic rock-hewn churches the city is famous for. There are 11 in all– 2 clusters of 4 and 5 each and 2 on their own, and they were created in the 13th century to offer Ethiopian Orthodox Christians a more accessible holy land. Lalibela is now known as “The New Jerusalem” and has become a high place of Ethiopian Christianity.

    Carved entirely by hand, the stone churches are easily the most impressive human creation I’ve ever come across (barely edging out the bejeweled leprechaun trap I made in elementary school. We did good, huh, Suz!?). It was difficult to grasp the reality that human hands carved such intricate structures out of massive pieces of stone in the ground, and further chiseled down the rock to create doors, tunnels, elaborate designs, and small rooms where Communion was prepared.
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    The coolest church in my opinion was St. George, which is probably the best recognized of them as well. It’s in the shape of a cross and features a beautiful church inside, accessible only through a narrow stone passageway. Dan and I happened to be the only tourists there at the time and an old woman escorted us into the church so we could sit in on the end of a service. Those 15 or so minutes were pretty powerful and inspiring, and one of those special travel moments you can’t possibly plan.20130104-143416.jpg

    We also enjoyed moseying around the streets of Lalibela. Their “supermarket,” ping-pong competitions on every corner, and music store where “DJs” burn mix CDs for their customers were some of the highlights.
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    Goodbyes in Addis
    After an amazing trip up north, I had a few days left in Addis to wrap up life in Ethiopia and get ready for my next stint in Australia. Saying goodbye to the people who contributed to two of the best months of my life was hard, but I was fortunate to walk away with some unbelievable and hilarious memories and excitement for future trips to Ethiopia.
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    So here I am in Falls Creek, Australia, getting in one last week of altitude training before I finish off the month in Melbourne. I’m missing Ethiopia for sure, but having a really nice time so far in the land of the kangas!

     
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    Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

     

    Out of Africa (but not without a bang)! Part I

    After some teary farewells and a 36-hour trip (that would have been pretty dull if it weren’t for the on-plane arrest of an unruly drunk man), I made it to Melbourne, Australia just in time to ring in 2013. I’m now up at Falls Creek, about 4 hours outside Melbourne, to get in a bit more altitude training and to experience the hot spot for Aussie distance runners this time of year.

    I was extremely sad to leave Ethiopia– it’s the longest by far that I’ve spent in a single place in the past 5 months, and saying good-bye made that fact all too real. Thankfully, though, I went out on the best note possible, venturing up to northern Ethiopia for a week with Dan and making it back to Addis to celebrate Christmas and wrap up my amazing African stint.

    Leg 1: Simien Mountains
    Dan and I caught an early flight from Addis Ababa to Gonder and then took a 3-hour taxi to Debarq, the registration point for the Simien Mountains. We rented some camping gear, grabbed a few things from the market, and hired the mandatory scout as well as a guide, mule, and mule man. Our scout didn’t speak English but was clearly a boss, hiking all day in jelly sandals with his big gun slung casually over his shoulder. And our guide Ishoo was hilarious, friendly, knowledgeable, and down to walk quickly and trek off the beaten path. 20130102-112408.jpg

    That first afternoon, our driver dropped us a few hours from Sancobar, our first campsite, so we could start hiking. From that first bit and for the next three days, we were spoiled by stunning surroundings that looked and felt like the Sub-Saharan Africa I always imagined, but prettier.20130102-112419.jpg

    We walked through little villages, animal herds, and pods of shepherd children selling crafts and playing homemade instruments.20130102-162257.jpg

    This little guy was good! (and pulled off the pointy hat much better than me)

    The highlight of the entire trek came in the form of tons of friendly, furry gelada baboons that only live in the Ethiopian highlands. We passed through a few big packs and were able to walk right up beside them– prime viewing for critter-picking off each other’s backs, piggy-back riding for babies over 3 months old, stomach-clinging for babies under 3 months old, and a few raucous skirmishes I assume were over some fly-looking gelada ladies. 20130102-162221.jpg

    Another awesome part of the trip involved sharing a coffee ceremony and campfire with all of the scouts and guides and a few other trekkers. It was hilarious watching the scouts, still clinging to their guns, snuggled up in blankets, sipping from tiny coffee cups, and eating small handfuls of popcorn. Equally funny was watching Katie, a solo traveler from Melbourne who I’m going to visit next week, try to teach the Ethiopian men to moonwalk by the fire. They didn’t quite get it, but they sure did try! 20130102-164041.jpg

    The great hiking, pretty views, and neat animals were never-ending! In addition to the baboons, we also spotted some ibex, a bushbuck, Lammergeiers (huge bearded vultures), and tons of ravens that I mistook for frogs when I heard them outside our tent. Their croaking is impressive!
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    Other undocumented highlights included:
    –Sharing a cooking hut with a very experienced gourmet chef that a family hired, and asking him to borrow a pot to make a meal out of the only 2 ingredients we had left: pasta and hummus. Needless to say, I don’t think he was very impressed with our culinary skills or tastebuds. But he was probably too busy whipping up a simple meal of crab cakes, beetroot salad, and grilled Nile perch to notice.
    –Trying tej, homemade honey-wine that’s popular in Ethiopia (and featured in 2 collages above). I won’t say it was delicious, but it was interesting and definitely worth the try!
    –Moseying off on a few “runs” in between and after the hiking. We reached 4,000 m (13,350 ft) at one point, so calling my rambles “runs” isn’t totally accurate. But it sure was fun and hard work!
    –Competing with Dan over who slept in more layers. We were pretty even with 5-6 on top and 3-4 on bottom, and we needed every one of them… especially the night it rained and a little hole brought in a nice stream of water through my sleeping bag. Nothing a t-shirt-turned-hole stopper couldn’t sort out though!

    Part II of my trip, including Gonder and Lalibela, is coming soon. Cheers to a new year and living the dream no matter where you are in life or the world!

     
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    Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Uncategorized