Don't yell Bingo!!

A couple friends and I went to Ireland in 2007. We stayed in a lovely cottage in a town called Hollywood. It's in the county Wicklow. It was about 45 minutes south of Dublin. Some might call it a small town: one pub and a church. One day we decided to walk into town and look around. While walking around the church we saw a flyer for Bingo on Thursday night. Now, some people may look at that and ignore such a 'normal' activity that could be done back home. Good thing I'm not that kind of traveler :) We planned our entire Thursday around getting back to town in time for bingo. And for that we were rewarded with a fun evening playing an old game in a whole new way.

We got to church and found it surrounded by old women smoking cigarettes outside. Open entering the church social hall we paid our 10 euro to 'buy' into the game. We all noticed instantly upon looking at the cards that this game was not what we were used to playing. Each sheet represented three games. The first game was covering one row, second game was covering two rows on the same grid, and the third game was covering all three rows on a grid.

Each sheet had six game boards on it. Each table was 3 columns by 9 rows. And over all six game boards would be 1-99. A single table looked liked this:

6 __ 25 __ __ __ 66 76 81
__ 19 26 30 __ 55 __ __ 82
7 __ __ __ 44 __ 68 79 87

We were a little embarrassed to ask for help since we'd never played this form of bingo before. Finally we asked the old ladies in front of us how to play. It was a bit hard understanding the announcer with his thick country Irish accent. Luckily they posted the numbers up too. One of my friends hadn't quite picked up on the game rules completely and had one row covered during the second game of the card. She yelled out, "BINGO!!" First, she needed two rows covered, and second, they yell "cover" not "BINGO!" Well, we quickly became the three odd Americans who didn't really know what they were doing.

On the plus side, two of us ended up winning games that night. I won 20 euro which was great since it was towards the end of the trip and I was running out of money. On top of that I couldn't remember my pin number to get more money from my bank account. It was a fun evening getting to hang out with the locals and get laughed at a little.

A Hammock and Only One Tree? No Problem

With the huge success we had finding awesome campsites only a couple weeks earlier in the Carolinas, we thought we'd try our "make no plans" method again. Yosemite, turns out, is not the best place to use this method. We landed in San Jose, got our rental car, and commenced to driving another three hours to Yosemite.

Since there are about a million Mexican restaurants in California, we didn't look for one with the Garmie and found the first one once we got hungry. The food was decent, but my friends said the margaritas were really good (I'm not a tequila fan).

We knew all the campsites inside the park were full. You have to make those reservations about six months in advance. Because there was nothing in the park we tried a couple campgrounds in the nearest town. All booked. Ok, maybe the lack of planning was not going to work out for us this time. Next option: fork out the money and stay in a hotel. We pulled into the Best Western to see if there was any rooms. The lady at the desk said they had no vacancies, but she did have lunch the other day with the lady who owns the Mountain Trail Lodge (559-760-3864) and she might have a room. She called her up and the lady said she had one room left. Awesome!

We got back into the car and checked out a couple other hotels before calling the lodge. Finding no other vacancies, we gave the lodge a call. Apparently while she was saying they had a room, her husband was renting out the last one. Dang it! My friend explained that our original intent was to go camping, but all the campsites were full. The lady called around to a couple RV parks and sure enough, no space at those either. Finally she asked, "So you all are prepared to camp?" "Yes, we have a tent and everything." "Well, you just come on over and we'll let you pitch the tent behind our lodge."

When we pulled up she was waiting for us. The owners showed us the "utility closet" where we could shower and brush our teeth. And then they walked us up to this ridge behind the lodge where we could camp. It was an awesome view of the sunrise.

One of my friends brought her hammock and decided to sleep in it that night. Only problem was that we could only find one tree. Problem? No. We'll just use the car! So we pulled the car up close to the tree and tied one end of the hammock onto our friend's luggage inside. Hey, it was a fifty pound bag, it worked great. And the campsite was free.

It Must Be Safe, Old People Are Still Walking Around

I love maps when I'm traveling. I like to know where I am in relation to everything else. I find it fun to figure out the transit system. Even though I enjoy it, sometimes it takes me a while. And sometimes I miss a valuable piece of information that leads to a very exciting tale.

The trip to Rome was over the New Year's. And we were determined to be "touching antiquity" at midnight. To this end we found ourselves at the Coliseum. From the bus information signs, it appeared that our bus would stop running at 12pm, so we would need to find alternate transportation back to the hotel. Easy enough, we'd just barter for a good price on a taxi. If not we could take the subway to the outer rim of town and walk to the hotel.

Travel tip: beware of flying (or thrown) fireworks in Rome on New Year's :)

The taxi option didn't work out because they all wanted to charge us like $70 to drive 30 min (which is only 15 min Italian taxi speed). We proceeded to the subway and rode it to the edge of town. Funny thing, it really didn't get us any closer to our hotel beside putting us on the right side of town. We stepped out of the subway station to see an empty parking lot, a bunch of apartment buildings, and the outer rim highway. Great, where the crap are we and how do we get to our hotel?

No worries, we are professional adventurers. We took a final look at the map and figured out approximately what direction we needed to head. And our first direction got us closer to the highway, but not the hotel. Dang, turn around. We felt somewhat safe walking around the outskirts of Rome at 2am since we still saw old people out and about. It was New Year's after all.

On our second route we passed a man selling flowers. One of my friends studied in Rome the year previous so her Italian was amazing...if we had been ordering food. For getting directions it sufficed. She gathered that we needed to keep in the direction we were going and we'd find a bus station (turned out to be more of a bus stop) and we would then take a right. My friend did yell at me once to put my map away. I'm sorry, I was just curious where we were. I know, cardinal rule, don't show you are lost when you are lost in what could be a bad part of town.

After walking for an hour and a half down empty roads, a couple alleys, by abandoned fields, and in the middle of the night, we found our hotel. Even more impressive, when we looked at the map we realized we had take the shortest route possible to reach our destination. We all three went to bed happily knowing we could have been boy scouts.

Four Gunshots and Two Rednecks

A friend of mine had given me this book, Vagabonding, to read earlier in the summer. It's all about the art of long term travel. One of the neat elements in the book is the idea that sometimes it's better not to plan. This traditionally goes against all my natural inclinations. Fortunately, I've become a bit more adventurous and spontaneous the older I've gotten.

We decided to put this idea into practice during out last rafting trip. Now, we had reservations for the rivers, but we made no reservations for camping. We looked up a couple sites on the web and headed out. We actually ended up a ton closer to both of our rivers then we would have had we chosen the places we found on the internet. The first one was right on the Ocoee with amazing trails literally right behind our campsite. And it was only $12 a night :)

On our way to the Chattooga (our 2nd river) we made a slight side trip to hike Rainbow Falls and slide down Turtleback Falls.

Travel tip: If you've been to this trail in the past, be
aware that you now have to park in the new state park and walk about 2 miles to get to Rainbow Falls. The hike starts from the bottom of the Falls instead of the top. To avoid this you can park down the street at the Baptist church and walk from the top. Just pay no attention to the "Danger!" and "Path Closed" signs. The old path has not changed, they just don't want you using it. :)

When we got back to our car at the Baptist church parking lot, one member of our group started up a conversation with a group getting ready to start the hike. Turned out one of the guys was a raft guide on the Chattooga (he worked for another company and gave us a hard time about not choosing his). He did give us a few names of campsites near the river. The one we chose was Woodall Shoals. It was free. We plugged the street name into Garmie and headed south.

Right before we made the turn onto the street for the campsite we spotted what looked to be a promising place to eat dinner, "Two Redneck Chics Cafe." It didn't take much convincing around the group to agree on it. First we needed to find this free campsite. The road to the park was gravel and the driver of the car I was in grew up in the mountains. This turned out to be a fun combination for her, and I bit unsettling combination for myself. "Gliding" around blind turns is not exactly my idea of fun, but she kept reassuring me she had complete control of the situation. I will admit this did not easily settle my anxiety over the activity.

When we arrived at Woodall Shoals it was just a parking lot. "Great, where do we camp?" Naturally, I went to the information board at the front to try and figure this place out. The rest of my group decided to look down the paths and see if there were campsites anywhere near. After a very short walk down the trail we found a great campsite. And from it we could hear the rapids of the Chattooga.

After getting our campsite all set up (we were pretty much pros at this point so it didn't take long), we piled into one car and headed to the Two Redneck Chics Cafe. The food was amazing. It's in Long Creek, SC (14387 Long Creek Hwy) if you ever want to try it. One member of our group was almost thrown out by the owner because she was wearing Auburn shorts. Turns out the two rednecks are from southern Alabama and are huge Roll Tide fans. We actually ended up back at the restaurant for breakfast before rafting the next morning.

Now, for those of you not familiar with the Chattooga, it's the river Deliverance was filmed on. This is important to note when trying to understand our reactions to the events that conspired during the night. At about 3am we were awaken by a gunshot. It sounded fairly close to the campsite, but no one in the tent said a word. Two minutes later a second shot was fired. "What the crap was that SARAH?!?" "A gun shot." And then the tent went quiet again. During this time, all but one person in the tent were devising plans in their heads on what to do if a crazy hillbilly with a shotgun showed up at our tent door. My friend from Tennessee just thought, "hmmm, must be a gunshot," and went back to sleep. The guy from Louisiana tried to see, from his bed, if there was a spotlight. Apparently, that is an indication of coon hunting. My friend who is a Marine, was convince that the boys would kick her out of the tent and make her go fight anyone who came up to our campsite.

Over the next few minutes we heard two more shots fire out, and each one seemed a bit closer to us than the next. Why we all stayed in the tent is beyond me, but we all ended up back asleep and joking about the event in the morning.

Dreaming in Different Time Zones

A fun comic a good friend drew for me.

Traveling Light

I always seem to be the one with the lightest luggage. I'm a minimalist (don't look at my bookshelves to draw that conclusion) when I travel. But I'm not a light traveler. Since my first mission trip just after high school, I've been to eleven different countries. My trips have included mission work, going on pilgrimage, and just plain vacation.

More recently I've had people ask if I'm writing anything down about my trips. Beyond my travel journals and pictures, I've done very little to share some of the fun adventures I've had. GK Chesterton said once, "An adventure is just an inconvenience rightly considered." I firmly believe it too. The funniest and most exciting stories have come from mishaps, or bad planning, or a complete lack of planning along the way.

And so, I've decided to start writing down some of the stories. I'll be the first to admit, some of them may be funnier in my head than they are in print, but I'll do my best to give you a full picture of the situation. I hope you enjoy them, I know I've enjoyed experiencing them.

How to Gauge Your Trip to Rome

It wasn't my turn to book the accommodations for the trip. I arrived into Rome a day earlier than my friends so that I could sleep off the jet lag. Remembering none of the five years of French I took in school, and knowing no Italian, I thought to myself, "how hard could it be to find the hotel?" I figured out how to buy a metro ticket from the tobacco shop, hopped on a bus with a print out from the hotel website and headed to the east side of Rome.

About 3/4 of the way there the bus stopped. The bus driver said something and everyone starting getting off the bus. Well, everyone but me since I had no idea what he just said. Luckily, there was a college student on the bus who realized I didn't have a clue. She explained that the driver was not continuing on the route and we all had to get off and wait for the next bus. Apparently this is not unusual for the bus system there. Drivers just decide to go back and they kick everyone off the bus.

The girl who helped me spoke really good Italian, but had, to my ears, an English accent. I asked where she was from and she said Australia. Who knew there is a huge Italian population in Australia? The things you learn. I thanked her for the help and asked if she knew where my hotel was located. She asked the guy next to us at the bus stop. He seemed to think it was just a few blocks down the street, so with my backpack on I took off on foot.

After several blocks I came to the hotel he thought was mine. It wasn't. I ended up walking another five blocks to get to mine. Along the way I passed by a dead cat. While insignificant, yet sad, at the time, I didn't realize how valuable the cats would be in gauging our trip. You see, the more alive the cats were we saw, the better our trip went. And the last couple days when we saw no cats, well, those were amazing days.

Here's how it looked in my journal:

Cat Status
Day 1: Dead - side of the road - orange
Day 2: Alive - sitting still - calico
Day 3: Alive - running
Day 4: Alive - one eye missing, teeth missing, wanted to be petted
Day 5: Dying on side of road - orange
Day 6: Dead - side of road - grey
Day 7: Alive - black
Day 8: Monday - No Cats
Day 9: Tuesday - No Cats - No rain either
Day 10: Wednesday - No cats till I got home. Mine were all fine :)