Friday, May 29, 2015

Family Road Trip - Day 4

Tuesday, May 26
Miles Traveled: 561 miles (1780 total)
States Visited: Texas
Cost of Gas: $2.99, $2.49 (two places in Texas)
Breakfast: Good hotel breakfast
Lunch: Fast food in San Antonio River Walk Mall
Dinner: Leftovers and snacks in hotel room
Sites: Alamo (drive by), San Antonio River Walk
Lodging: America's Best Value Inn in Winnie, TX

This morning the kids were impressed because the waffle iron at the breakfast buffet made waffles shaped like Texas. None of the other waffle irons had that kind of state pride.

After breakfast the kids swam in the hotel pool. Our kids always love this the best about any place we stay, but it was so muggy for me sitting on the side life guarding, that I made them leave after 45 minutes. We still had a long way to drive.

We drove across Texas all day. We stopped for lunch in San Antonio at a mall on the San Antonio River. We walked a small part of the River Walk. There were cypress trees there, and cypress knees--which Anika thought looked like a flock of ducks. She was delighted when one of them turned out to be a duck. We nodded to the outside wall of the Alamo, but did not visit. It was hot.

The mall where we ate lunch

From the weather channel in the breakfast room we had learned that there was flooding in Houston from all the rain. We had to pass through Houston on our way across Texas. But this turned out to be the only day so far that it did not rain on us while driving, and we had no trouble in Houston, aside from the confusing toll and HOV lanes.

Back when my parents took our family on a road trip across the country we not only had a larger van, though with more kids in it, but we also had no culture of wearing seat belts. I'm in favor of seat belts, but it does take away your option of sprawling out and lying on the floor and such, like we used to do. On the other hand, we can now watch movies. I think that's all that kept our kids civilized on these really long driving days. That and reading aloud Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Our hotel in Winnie, Texas was kind of seedy. We were a little grumpy from our long day of driving and didn't feel like going to find a restaurant in this smallish town. So we made do with our left-overs, and continued to feel grumpy. We had enough time to watch "A league of their own" on TV-but we shouldn't have, as that was a stupid movie and kept us from getting a little extra sleep.

Family Road Trip - Day 3

Monday, May 25 (Memorial Day)
Miles Traveled: 435 miles (1219 total)
States Visited: New Mexico, Texas
Cost of Gas: $2.53 (Roswell, NM)
Breakfast: Good hotel breakfast
Lunch: French bread sandwiches in car
Dinner: French bread sandwiches in hotel room
Sites: Roswell (drive through), Carlsbad Caverns
Lodging: Hampton Inn in Fort Stockton, TX

Today was Memorial Day. After another good breakfast buffet we drove across New Mexico to get to Carlsbad Caverns. We had thought we might try to see some of the tourist attractions in Roswell, but we only stopped at the Walmart for oil and lunch supplies because we started late and needed to get to the Caverns with enough time to see the place.

We arrived at 3:30 with just enough time to do a self-guided tour around the Big Room. The last guided tour of the day was already booked.

The first thing you do is take an elevator down 750 feet into the main cavern. From there the self guided tour is about an hour and a half walk. We finished just before the last elevator out of there at 5:00 pm.

My attempts to take pictures in the cave were pretty poor. 

Lissa did a better job, but still couldn't do justice to the awesomeness of the place. 

This is the "hall of the giants." On the right is the largest stalagmite ever found (in Carlsbad caverns) --the "giant dome" which stands 62 feet high. 

Rosalie was tired of walking in the mostly dark long before we were done, but the only way out was onward. She got rides from dad and siblings part of the way. 

After leaving the park we drove down a highway in really bad condition until it crossed the border of Texas and was suddenly in really good condition. We drove on this little highway past oil derricks and tons of blossoming yucca all the way to Fort Stockton, Texas to another nice hotel. All that blossoming yucca made me wish we could try out the recipe for "cream of yucca blossom soup" that we saw in the museum at Mesa Verde.

Family Road Trip - Day 2

Sunday, May 24
Miles Traveled: 326 miles (784 total)
States Visited: Colorado, New Mexico
Cost of Gas: $2.72 (Aztec, NM)
Breakfast: Decent motel breakfast
Lunch: Picnic lunch at Mesa Verde campground
Dinner: Denny's in Durango, CO
Sites: Church at Cortez 1st Ward, Mesa Verde (Balcony House)
Lodging: Homewood Suites in Albuquerque, NM

We had a surprisingly good breakfast at the motel this morning. The kids were so impressed by the waffle iron where you could make your own waffle fresh and hot.

We went to church in Cortez at 9:00 but only stayed for sacrament meeting--mostly because of the need to get on our way, but also because both Meredith and Rosalie had icky runny noses, and I'm sure the members there were not sad we didn't stay to share our germs with their kids.  After we packed up our van, we ate the rest of the Klondike bars that we had refrozen in our motel freezer overnight. The first ones we ate on the side of the road yesterday in a mostly melted state when we realized that the cooler wasn't quite keeping them solid.

When we got to Mesa Verde Park there were picnic tables in the trees so we ate the sandwiches and snacks we had brought from home. Then we toured the ancient homes of the cliff dwelling Pueblo Indians.

This is a kiva--it's a round pit in the ground with a roof made of logs. Very cozy.

We booked a tour of the "Balcony House" that was an hour drive away from the visitor center. Our guide told us some interesting things about the Mesa including: It's not really a mesa, it's a cuesta. A good fire leaves behind black smoke on the ceiling of the alcove while a bad fire (out of control) turns the sandstone dark pink. And only a member of the group that lives here knows where the handholds are to get up and down the cliff face. Someone else could easily get themselves stuck or worse trying to climb up.

We had to climb some serious ladders to get around in the Balcony House. I didn't know how nervous Anika gets around heights before this.

Standing in front of the balcony of Balcony House.

The retaining wall. They had to build this, but they think there probably was one, because toddlers will toddle. 

 Notice we are all wearing jackets--it was cool and rainy all day.
Mesa Verde is a very fun and informative cultural experience. It was cool to go back with my family and remember the time I came here in college with my World Civilizations class.

We spent the evening driving to Albuquerque, New Mexico with an over-long stop for dinner at a Denny's in Durango. The food was good but it took too long and we ended up spending a lot and wishing that we had just gone to a grocery store. We resolved to prepare better the next time we spent Sunday on the road.

It rained hard as we drove after nightfall. Semis would roar past us and spray water vapor in clouds that would block our vision. It was a relief to arrive at our nice hotel.

Family Road Trip - Day 1

Saturday, May 23
Miles Traveled: 458
States Visited: Utah, Colorado
Cost of Gas: $2.88 (Moab, UT)
Breakfast: Cereal etc. at home
Lunch: Taco Bell in Payson, UT
Dinner: Wendy's in Moab, UT (twice as expensive as Ogden Wendy's)
Sites Visited: Payson Temple, Delicate Arch
Lodging: Days Inn of Cortez, Colorado

(Since we haven't had a lot of time to blog yet on this trip, I'm going to just post an outline of where we have been with some statistics, and Edith can come back and fill in the details later.  She's better at that anyway.)

School ended on Friday. We packed and cleaned Friday night, and left our house about 9:15 in the morning on Saturday. We wore our church clothes because we had this idea that we could go through the Payson Temple open house even though we didn't have tickets, and even though it was the last day of the open house. And we could have, but it would have taken 2 and 1/2 hours of waiting in the no ticket line. Apparently there are a lot of procrastinators just like us!
So we decided that we'd just take pictures outside. Anika says it is her favorite temple of them all.

After the temple, we stopped for lunch at Taco Bell where we also changed into hiking clothes. Then we drove to Arches National Park. As we were driving into the park we realized we didn't have enough gas to make it all the way to the trail head for Delicate Arch. So I dropped everyone else off for a different hike and drove back out of the park and into Moab for gas. The traffic going into Moab was bad, but getting back went super fast.
Rosalie had been sick the whole last week of school but was feeling better, aside from persistent boogers. Unfortunately, Meredith was now feeling sick herself. We basically dragged her up the mountain while she protested that her legs were breaking.
The weather was chilly and occasionally rainy, which I prefer to a hike in the heat.
The landscape was beautiful. Meri and Rosie were cold and unimpressed and wanted to leave as soon as we arrived at Delicate Arch.
It was a lot faster and easier on the way down, of course.

We had originally thought we might camp or stay in a hotel close to Moab, but we accidentally picked the busiest weekend of the year--Memorial Day--so we instead we drove to Cortez, Colorado. Just as we were arriving we could hear a rattle in the engine that sounded ominous--turns out we were completely out of oil, but I had been worried that might happen, so we had some with us and we saved it from seizing. I had taken it in for an oil change and inspection before we left, but now we realized we'd have to check it more often.

We checked in to our seedy little motel room about 11:30 and were asleep as fast as we could--the end of the first very long day.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Chennai--Day 10 and Day 11--the trip home

Casey and Dan left for work Wednesday morning after another lovely buffet breakfast. Gracia and I went back to our rooms to organize the luggage and make sure everything would fit and not be over weight. That really didn't take very long for me, but we had told the driver not to come until 2 o'clock, so I killed time writing down notes on what we'd done so far, and then watched some of an American movie about a high speed train (starring Chris Pine and Denzel Washington.) The Indian commercials were half in Tamil (or another Indian language) and half in English. There was one toothy announcer guy whose name made me laugh--Manish Paul. Also, his hair made me laugh. Here he is:
He also reminds me of my cousin Ryan. 

While I regretted having little to do during those hours, I have to admit I got an interesting perspective on Indian culture just by channel surfing their TV. A lot of the commercials focused on romantic love. Also, most of the commercials (and roadside billboards) featured very light skinned Indians or Caucasians.

Our driver called at 1:00 to say he was at the doors to pick us up. It is difficult to communicate sometimes, even when you do speak the same language. When you don't . . .  We told him we'd be down in 20 minutes, since we felt bad making him wait longer.

The only plan we had for the day, since we were going to meet Casey and Dan and the Cognizant team at 4, was to go see the church where St. Thomas was commemorated. It was supposedly just behind the LDS chapel, so we told our driver to take us to that neighborhood and then we'd find it. He asked a person or two, and it didn't take long.

So who knew that the Apostle Thomas (doubting Thomas) went on a mission to India? Millions of people, I'm sure, but I didn't. Not until Sister Roslyn told us on Sunday and said we should go and see the "hole in the rock" where he'd hidden from the soldiers of the shah.

There is a little church built over the cave, and lots of commemorative statuary all around the site.

We were met by a security guard who proceeded to boss us around, telling us what to take pictures of and finally just taking our cameras so he could do it for us.
You can see what he looks like in the reflection.

The cave. There is a rock with some grooves in it that the guide told us was worn that way from Saint Thomas leaning his arms there to pray. 

Back upstairs, our guide took a picture of us having our picture taken with some other visitors. (They asked us.)

Then he took us around the back to a little house built around a spring.

 Actually, it just looked like a puddle--no springing that I could see. (His foot.)

Then he handed us a little metal bucket on a chain and told us to get some of the water. Now, there was no way that I was going to drink that water, and I didn't know what else I should do with it, exactly, so I just put some on my forehead and then handed it off to Gracia.  And she did the same.
Then the guard had us sign the guest book (complete with addresses--I let Gracia's suffice for both of us) and told us to tip him 50 rupees. Gracia took care of that, too, as I had no cash on me at the time. Thanks, Gracia.

Then, since we didn't have any other plans, we had our driver take us to the office where Dan and Casey work.
They weren't expecting us so early. We had to be checked in and get temporary id badges. Then Vigna came to a conference room with us and talked to us for an hour or so. Again with the making her miss work . . .

At last Casey and Dan and the rest of the team came down and we gave the team Karachi Biscuits and we had our pictures taken with them and said goodbye to most of them.

Then the rest of them took us to Chokhi Dhani, a replica village from northern Indian, Rajasthani culture.

It took about an hour to drive there. 

We were met at the entrance by a woman who gave each of us a red dot (bindi) on our foreheads with some paste.  I had to remind myself not to swipe at it while it dried.

We spent the next couple of hours going from display to display seeing various aspects of Rajasthani culture. First stop: the paddle boats.
We weren't allowed to steer.

And then four guys from the team tried to beat our time.
Kite flying. Who knew?
Dancing with fire.

Breathing out fire.
Eating fire.

This couple sang us a lively song. I don't know what you call that instrument he's holding, but he played it like a fiddle and the bells on the end of the bow were part of the percussion. We never saw her face.
A dare-you-to-drink-this-station. Don't drink it. Just don't. 

The signal drum tower. It's harder than it looks. Makes you feel kind of foolish.
Riding camels. 

Casey being a good sport. They wanted us to dance a lot. After the first time, I was done.
Pottery making. This guy was amazing. There was a long line of people waiting to try this.
Casey, the only one of us to ever use a pottery wheel before, is the only one who didn't completely mess up his piece. 

The mosquitoes began to be a problem and I wished I had some of those long leggings with extra bagginess around the ankles. I ended up with about a dozen bites, all on my legs. I am always the designated meal at any mosquito gathering. Good thing I was taking malaria pills.

This lady danced around with 6 separate clay pots on her head, and then bent over to pick up some money with her teeth. 

There were signs around the village that said we shouldn't be asked to give tips, and yet I still got the idea that they were hoping . . .

After a life-sized game of Chutes and Ladders we had dinner. It was entirely vegetarian, and the most unusual food that we ate in India. Rajasthani cuisine seemed quite different than what we had eaten before this in India. Some of it was very strange but most of it I liked. Especially a fried, syrup-coated sweetbread that they gave me far too much of. I think it's called Malpua.

These young team members had so much fun. Honestly, half of our fun came from watching these guys laugh it up. Only Vibra, on the far right, is married. The rest are waiting to be matched. 
On our way out of the park, we passed the magician. He invited a few people up, including Casey, and did some tricks. Then he did one where he had the audience (all ten of us) rub the backs of our hands together with our neighbors, and then we'd smell our favorite flower. Well, my hand smelled strongly of some kind of flower, but not one I recognized. Though it did smell different than the hand of my neighbor, so, good trick. 

Other things we saw or did while there: puppets, shooting balloons with a pellet gun, totally failing to shoot an arrow at a target because the arrow had no nock, a high-walled maze that was closed (too bad), and replicas of some very short houses (picture below.)

It was late when we got back to the hotel. This was our last full day in India. One of the team asked us what we liked best and worst about India--we each could think of so many things that we liked, and very few things we didn't like. It was such an amazing place. In the end, the best part was seeing how other people live--and those people we met made it such a fun and memorable experience. I'd love to go again.

Day 11- We didn't leave until evening on Thursday. So we spent the morning packing, and the afternoon buying a few more things, of course. We went to a place called Sri Krishna Sweets, which is a chain store where they sell Indian candy. Mostly nut based and very yummy. My favorite was the almond Halwa. (Carrot Halwa is also very good, and I plan to try making it someday.) We wanted to roam a grocery store to see what kinds of snack foods the locals regularly eat, but we couldn't quite make our driver understand. I know they sell a lot of the same kinds of snacks that we have in America, plus Cadbury, plus Tang. (I have unresolved childhood issues with Tang.) Their Cheetos look a little different. Anyway . . . 

And then we sat around in the lobby of our hotel for an hour or so. With the fancy ducks.

And then we flew home. It took a really long time. And this time, Casey and I were in the coach seats. Still, we had the same access to all their movies and TV shows, so when we couldn't sleep, we could at least be entertained. They fed us a lot, too. And the guy next to us in the aisle seat was asleep almost the whole time. How do they do it?

It was so fun to be able to see the ground rising into mountains as we got closer to home. 
Dan and Gracia's daughter-in-law picked us up from the airport and kept us entertained on the ride to Ogden with Taylor family news.

Anika met us in Ogden to take us home and kept us entertained with Songer family news, including a summary of her Prom date.

Our daughters Meri and Rosie and our nieces Chloe and Ellie had made us a welcome home sign for the door. We arrived just as they were walking home from the bus stop. We had to drive to the Mckays' and Harrises' houses to get our older kids. Then we were all together again.

It was good to be home. 
We knew we should try to stay awake until bedtime, five or six hours away, but my legs were swollen from the flight, so I had to put my feet up. Just try staying awake while lying down after a 28 hour trip. I kept being asleep without meaning to. We got over the jet lag a lot faster at home.

Two days later I woke up with regular legs again--whew, I was starting to think I must have gained weight, no matter what the scale said.

And that was our trip to India.