Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick, Part 4

I survived the dentist yesterday. It was HORRIBLE. When they were drilling off my two teeth, it smelled like burnt hair, and bits of tooth were flying everywhere. Dentistry is sick.

Here I am in the chair. Super miserable.

Ok, back to the 'ole car ride from hell. After Mahefa and Lauren chopped down the tree, we figured out a way to try and get the car a bit farther. However the rain was getting very heavy and the wind was picking up too. The muck was getting muckier and the 4 of us had to frequently get out of the car to push/pull/dig. There is no sense in trying to wear shoes in that mud, as its too deep and the shoes would just get stuck. So, I spent the better part of the afternoon ankle deep in cestody-cow-sh*tty-muck. Lovely.

The last hour of driving that day was really quite frightening. Driving in the mud is sort of like driving in snow or on ice. We nearly crashed a zillion times and came seriously close to rolling the car twice. Mahafe really didn't have a choice in the speed that he drives, given that the car only has third gear, so we were perpetually going a bit too fast. We were fish-tailing and sliding and spinning over slippery muddy banks and cliffs. Driving into a tree head-on and rolling the car were real possibilities.

Alas, there were no accidents, as we got stuck again. Stuck deep in the mud. We had pushed our way out of the mud so many times, and did so from the present spot a few times, only to realize that there was no way we could get out. The entire "road" was mud for what looked like miles. It just wasn't practical to spend 45 minutes digging the car out of the mud, only to get stuck again 3 feet away. I was legitimately getting a bit worried at this point. We had plenty of food, but only 2 bottles of mineral water left, and no fresh water. And, there was no way we were getting out using the road ahead of us. Also, there were cows that kept coming out of the forest to stare in my general direction. Weirdos.

Stuck, again.

It was getting windier and the sky was filled with black, angry clouds. Around 5pm we hunkered down into the car. Lauren, who was very resourceful, amazingly created a fire. It was dark, pouring buckets, and so so windy, but he built a nice little fire and threw some potatoes in. He was tired of the toast biscuits and jam we had been eating now for the third day. The potatoes were horrible (burnt, covered in ash, without salt or seasoning), but warm, and I enjoyed mine.

I got the following messages on the satellite phone:

Jacky, in Toliara: "Ok. We leave the first morning with mecainian and other car. It rain here. There are cyclone."

And, my Grandma Audrey wrote: "Gramps got gout."

Help was at least on its way to being on its way. And my grandfather had gout. This was going to be a long night...

Cookies Kill Orangutans

How on earth do cookies kill orangutans?

1. Cookies (and 50% of all processed packaged foods) contain palm oil.

2. Palm oil comes from Malaysia or Indonesia.

3. Malaysian or Indonesian tropical rainforests are logged and burned in order to grow palm oil.

4. Orangutans (and the endangered Sumantran Tiger, and tons of other wildlife) live in tropical rainforests of Malaysia or Indonesia.


A wild Sumatran orangutan (who is used to getting snacks at a feeding platform!). 2006.

A palm oil plantation in northern Sumatra. 2006.

Where did all this come from? On Sunday, I went to a special screening of the IMAX movie "Born to be Wild."

Since she is one of the women featured in the movie, Dr. Brute Galdikas was there. This is an aside, but I've known her casually for a few years, so when I saw her I went over to say hello. Her response to me was "Oh Marni, I need your help!" I wasn't sure if she was going to want me to get her a latte or if she wanted me to fly to Indonesia, but neither would surprise me. Someone else then grabbed her attention and I never did find out what she needed my help with. hmmm.

The movie was really good and did a good job of showing the animals and the problems they face, without being to gory or gloom-and-doomy. However, the take-home message for how to help wild oranguatans survive is to boycott palm oil.

There is tons of info out there on why Palm oil is bad (for your health, but also for the planet). Here are a couple that I recommend, if you are so inclined:

I was surprised when after the movie, during a Q & A session, Dr. Galdikas said that she has been 'palm oil free' for years. This has inspired me to also go 'palm oil free.' Or at least try. You should join me! Maybe this is what Dr. Galdikas needed...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick, Part 3

Seriously, I've got to get serious about finishing the Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick story. Where was I? Oh, last time I left off, there was a cyclone rolling across southern Madagascar, my car was stuck in a lake, it was 2am and I was having a wee (in the lake) and trying not to get permanent ear damage from the screaming frogs. Sounds about right.

The next morning, ever resourceful Lanto (my amazing field cook), walked out of the lake and into the forest looking for help. She came back in about 7 seconds, which is a miracle because there are no villages around. The men she brought came and looked at the car (and laughed) and said that they would help for 40000Ar (around $20 US). This is a bit pricy, but it was not exactly time to start bartering.

Mucky flip-flops.

After about an hour, during which time I continued to wallow in stagnant mud and water*, they got the car to move a few meters, but it was then just stuck there. We then needed to completely unload the car in order to lessen the load for the final push. By this time, 3 young boys had also appeared and joined in. Then... we finally got out of the lake!

Piling back in.

Once everything was piled back into the car, we (Mahafe, Lauren, Meghan, Lanto, the two Malagasy men who helped, and I) got back in and drove up the "road" a ways. We stopped where the Malagasy dudes wanted to get out and I handed them the previously agreed upon 40000Ar. There was clearly a problem. I thought maybe I had grossly overpaid and perhaps the price was 40000 Francs (Madagascar's pre-2005 currency), not Ariary (40000fmg = 8000Ar). That was not the case. They were now wise to the fact that we are vazah (foreigners’) and wanted to charge vazah rates. They would not get out of the car and demanded 200000Ar (which is $100 US)! Insane. Recall that a cup of coffee costs 100Ar and a village house costs 100000Ar. Things got heated really quick and it was apparent that they meant business. I hadn't seen an AK-47 on either of them, but you honestly never know. I am not cool with being extorted, but I am less cool about being shot and/or robbed in the middle of a cyclone, in the middle of nowhere.

I said I was out of money, and I was in my wallet, but of course I had more in my suitcase. I was hoping to stall them a bit and not act like and atm. Plus its not like there actually is an atm. The money that I did have needed to last for the next two months. However, others whipped out their cash and by the end of it we paid 100000Ar and a package of 'Good Look' cigarettes. Still $50 US and EXTORTION. Bastards. But, we were then free to get moving again.

We soon stopped at a village in search of a hot drink. There was this tiny little shack with a cut out window and some women preparing foods. We stood at the little window and got coffee for 100Ar (5¢). It was really good. And the boboka (deep fried breakfast cake) from another shack and was outstanding. Again, the boboka were 100Ar (5¢) each. Not bad- breakfast and coffee for five people for 1500Ar or about 75¢.

Coffee shop.

We did make quite a spectacle of ourselves, and as usual drew a rather large crowd. At one point I was in the car and at least 20 people were crowded around and sticking their heads in my open car window. I had no idea what they were saying but Lauren (the poor French dude we picked up yesterday) told me they were saying I was beautiful. I could have cried. I had been feeling so old and ugly. Not to mention being stinky, filthy, sick, and exhausted. I took a photo of some kids and then they wanted a gift. Fair enough. I passed out two empty water bottles, which are highly are prized, and that nearly caused a riot. My goodness. Must remember about userpable items next time.

Local kids.

By 3pm, we made it to about 40km (a really loose guess) from Behelok (a large village) and were yet again at an impasse as the "road" was completely non-functional. Lauren and Mahefa chopped down a tree in an effort to fashion an alternate route for the car. The alternative was a route that Mahefa said was 'very dangerous' and he wasn't sure if he would make it through without rolling the car. He told me this and then was about to go give'r the ol' college try. I said absolutely not. The only thing worse than being stuck in a cyclone out in god knows where with a semi-functional vehicle, is being stuck in a cyclone out in god knows where in a semi-functional-rolled vehicle. And a dead driver. Forget it.

I began to realize that I would likely sleep in the car again that night. It was pouring raining and I had been running back and forth between where the tree was being chopped down, and the car, where I was sat phone messaging Jacky about car parts. I was soaking wet, cold, hungry, sick, and a wee bit miserable. Ron sent me a message saying "where are you?" Yeah, about that…


* Everyone knows the rules about wading in stagnant water- you don't do it! EVER. Especially in Madagascar, where there are 19 million people, give or take, and very little public sanitation. Perhaps more poignantly, in Madagascar, there are more cows than people. That's a lot of cows. And the cows carry heavy loads of cestodes (tape worms), which once the rains come are happily released from their dry cow turds and awaiting a lovely foot to penetrate. In addition to cestodes there are a plethura of other wormies, such as nemetodes (eg schistosomiasis), and trematodes, and a slew of other skin penetrating parasites that you don't want.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Short post

No much happening tonight, other than we are about to dig into Dungeness (Crab) LaFleur. Oh, and 'we' are now going by Blog LaFleur.

Here is a short video of Kitty LaFleur, who incidentally, doesn't yet have Pet LaFleur:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kitty's pet

This morning, I went out to find Kitty some gerbils. We've had them before (RIP, gerbils who's names I can't remember), and Kitty would love to watch them. I surprisingly couldn't find any on craigslist or petfinder, so I went to a pet store to inquire. They didn't have any either, so I asked as to when they expected to have gerbils. Get this- the employee told me that gerbils are illegal in the state of California. What? Weird. Something about California's agricultural industry and gerbils being a crop pest. You'd of thought the staffer would have left it there, but helpful as he was, went on to say that I needed to "Vegas or an Indian Casino" to get my gerbils. Seriously? Just picture me (and Kitty) cruising bad neighborhoods looking to pick up gerbils. Asking people on the corner where to pick up gerbils and if we could score some gerbil food.

These were our gerbils:

I suppose I could get Kitty some mice to drool over, but I really like gerbils better. They are much cleaner, being dessert adapted and all, and are very industrious. When you change their bedding, they will work for hours to get it to their specifications. Toss in an empty toilet paper roll, and they will not rest until its been 100% chewed. Gerbils take their work very seriously.

I'd love to have a rat again (RIP Amy, Coco, Baby, Whimpy, and Daisy), but given that I wouldn't want it to be confined to a cage, and that Kitty tries to kill her plastic rat about 100 times a day, I suspect 'Rat LaFleur' would go down the same path as Frog LaFleur (RIP, Frog LaFleur).

Here is sweet Amy:

And Kitty drooling over Frog LaFleur and Fish LaFleur:

I like chinchillas (RIP, Dude), but they are a bit more commitment and work than I really want. Guinea pig? NO F-ing way! Those bastards are annoying as all get out and live forever (RIP Lisa, who was pretty sweet, considering her unfortunate species). Wee wee wee! FYI- In 2005, when I went to Madagascar and Ron moved to Calgary, Lisa went to live with this nice lady named Janet. She, Janet, had the cleanest house ever along with 8 guinea pigs and 3 kids. OMG.

Here is Lisa, looking all innocent and quiet:

Hamsters are another option, but I haven't had one since I was a kid and have a number of traumatic memories surrounding hamster deaths (RIP Peppermint Patty) and escapes. For some reason, I recall my grandpa George performing emergency CPR in one of my hamsters. I have no idea why. The poor hamster probably had traumatic memories, too. CPR from a huge monster and always being stuffed into clothes by a little monster.

Here I am, circa 1982 (?). Look at that poor tortured hammy!

Since there are no gerbils to be found, today Kitty will get some new paper to sit on, which is fairly exciting for her.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Missing Madagascar

I just bought and watched the BBC's brand new show called "Madagascar: the land where evolution ran wild." Much to my surprise, most of the first episode was shot at Tsimanampetsotsa, the park where I was living. Both of the lemur groups I was following are in the video, along with all the forest spots I've come to love.

After all the despair and desperation and disease... You'd think I wouldn't miss Madagascar. Right? I MOST CERTAINLY don't miss everything, but wow, do I miss my animals. And that forest. There is a certain moment when you are out in the forest with the animals, that I miss dearly. It doesn't happen every day. Or even every other day. But then it may just happen every day, if you are lucky.

That moment is when you get a little reprieve from the heat and the bugs and continually loosing the animals. When the lemurs forget that you aren't a lemur, and you forget that they aren't people. Its when you forget that you are even out researching the animals, and are completely absorbed in their drama. You are 100% privy to their lives and have been completely accepted into the group. In that moment, I am completely content and love what I do.

I really miss that. Oh, and watching the young ones play. I miss that too. But the heat and the bugs and the thorns and loosing the group every two second, I don't miss. I believe I promised to upload this video of my being a huge baby, sometime ago.

Field work can be so frustrating and exhausting, but in the end, is worth it and I am missing it. Here is a video of some lemurs eating dirt. Just for fun.

OOh, and here is a video of a snake eating a skink! Poor thing.

Happy summer everyone!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Finding good grub

Though I may seem foot-loose and fancy-free, it takes a remarkable amount of planning to consistently eat well when out. I like to have a number of places (restaurants, markets, gas station taco shops) noted for every town that I may/will pass through. You just never know when hunger may strike, and can really never be too prepared. Otherwise, you could end up on a low blood-sugar induced killing spree. Or, perhaps more realistically, just end up eating a crappy meal and hating yourself for it. FOREVER.

My sources?

First, TV. Anthony Bourdain is good, but much of his eating is not my style. Such as huge slabs of bleeding meat (from unknown origins). Anyhow, he most certainly did not lead me astray with the Salt & Pepper Crab at R & G Lounge in San Francisco. It is a fast moving, plain looking Chinese restaurant in China Town. They take a live dungeness crab, crack and clean it, and then batter and deep fry the whole pieces. Shell and all. It seemed odd, like, why would you batter a shell that can't be eaten? But, OMG was it good. Delicious fresh crab, with amazing little salty crispy bits here and there. WOW. Later that night, I dreamt that I was Harry Potter (not Hermione, which struck me as odd) and I was zipping around on my broomstick. Now that was some good crab.

Be careful though, as I did have the Maple Bacon latte at Pirate Cat Radio, after Anthony Bourdain, and am still nauseated by the thought of it. Contrary to popular belief, bacon DOES NOT make everything better.

The rendered bacon fat.

The horrible latte, tiny fake bacon bits and all.

Another good show is "The Best Thing I ever ate." From that I discovered cupcakes at Joan's on 3rd (LA), had the mixed salumi cup at Boccalone (Ferry Building, San Fran), and the corn fritters at E & O Trading Co (also San Fran).

Some movies also work. Ron and I have nearly eaten at all places featured in Sideways. The Hitching Post alone is worth the trip to Buellton, CA.

The grilled artichoke appetizer.

Oh, we came across another super loud annoying person at the Hitching Post. She was educating her peeps about the super-continent of Gondwana land and pointed out that Germany- just Germany- was 800 years old. Apparently it was just floating around on its own before hooking up with the rest of Europe. Neat.

Super annoying lady.

Next, I use print. Source numero uno is Sunset magazine. They have yet to steer me wrong. On this trip alone their suggestions enabled me to find great coffee at the Carmel Coffee Roasting Co (Carmel-by-the-Sea), fantastic pizza and escargot at Cafe Rustica (Carmel-by-the-Sea), amazing artichoke soup and sourdough bread at Duarte's Tavern (Pescadaro, CA).

Artichoke soup and sourdough toast.

San Diego Magazine and LA Magazine are also good. This trip we tried Huckleberry, and it was fantastic. They were listed in LA magazine for having the 'Best Sandwich' in the city. Father’s Office was also in LA magazine. It is a great gastro-pub in Santa Monica. They have a fantastic selection of beer on tap and potentially the best burger in LA. I once noted to Ron that Father’s Office would be a good place to find a dude, if one were in the market. I merely noticed that there are plenty of well-dressed, presumably employed, 30-40-something men present. He still gives me a hard time for that innocent observation.

Word of mouth works too, but you must trust the mouth. I can be a little particular (which I’m sure you’d never of guessed). So, if someone recommends I head to "TGIMcFunster's" for the pizza shooters or extreme fajita's, I know it is not for me. But, a recommendation based on the olive oil used or the temperature of a pizza oven? Totally worthwhile.

Last, and if all else fails, I'll try anywhere that smells fantastic and has a line up down the street. We had an amazing meal at La Bicyclette in Carmel this way. Ron and I originally sat down in a different Sunset recommended spot, but the hostess said we had to be out in 45 minutes and there was a screaming 2-year-old at the next table. Not cool. We circled a couple of blocks, smelled the place (I have the nose of a bloodhound), saw the line, and squished in.

Oh, if you ever see cases of artichoke petals outside of a restaraunt, that's a good sign too!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


We can all agree that what happened in Vancouver last night was despicable. I saw two events that made me quite sad.

The first was the at the rink. The Canucks, after a great run, lost. The Bruins won, fair and square, and are the best team in the league this year. The Canucks were crushed. The Bruins were on cloud nine.

I am, and remain, a Canucks fan. Yet, even I got a little choked up to see the joy and tears in the eyes of the Bruins men. Congrats, guys. Anything other than a nod and friendly handshake is unsportsmanly, and in my eyes, un-Canadian. Booing and throwing trash on to the ice while the WINNING team is celebrating, lacks class, and is an embarrassment to our beloved sport.

The second thing that made me sad, is of course the rioting that ensued. Rioting, though violent and dangerous, is a valid form of protest in situations such as, oh, genocide. But following a HOCKEY loss, no, rioting is not ok. I don't really think, however, that the real issue here was the 4-0 game 7 hockey loss.

Last night, in the Vancouver downtown core, there were 100 000 hockey fans, including many families with young children. A few hundred people, decided to exploit the situation, and went on a rampage of theft and destruction. Since many of these people came equipped with pipe bombs and fire crackers, I believe the riot would have ensued had the Canucks won or lost. These select few, planned to get all cranked up and have their way with Vancouver. They posed for and took photos, fought, broke and stole, all because a) they wanted to, and b) they know that the police could not combat the sheer number of people in the streets. Today, some of the less of the less intelligent even bragged about their activities online. Wow.

The two aforementioned groups of people (whom I am very editedly not calling f*$* face, or a%&$#le, anything that begins with 'c', or any other derogatory term [because I will not stoop to their level]), saddened me AND my nation.

Today however, I am encouraged, by once again, two occurrences. First, social media and consequences. Feebly as they may have tried to conceal their identity, rebel rousers are in so many pictures and videos that they will certainly get what is coming to them. Which may in reality, not be much, other than eternal shame, or fear of being caught. Both of which work for me.

The second reason I am encouraged also includes social media. Partially through a facebook page, nearly 15 000 volunteers began pouring into Vancouver's downtown core as early as at 5am. Why? Because they gave a s*&t. They wanted to clean up their city. And the reputation of their great nation.

Thank you to those who cleaned up Vancouver. And thank you to those who remember that the vast majority of Canadians are not f*$* faces, or a%&$#les, or anything beginning with a 'c'.

Viva hockey, eh?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


We made it home after a long-ish drive, and stopping in south-central LA for my skeleton. The poor dude is a bit worse for wear, with broken teeth and ribs (post-mortem), and a titch of vertebral arthritis (pre-mortem, obviously). Don't worry, I am going to fix him up, and pay him the respect he is due.

First order of business is to name him, but what what what should his name be?? Here is a bit more info... He was likely between 30 and 40 years old when he died, and was likely from India. He was tall (6'ish would be my guess), yet slender. He has some unusual wear on his canines, congenital absence of maxillary third molars, and lost one mandibular M3 (a few years before dying). He has an enormous xiphoid process with a complete foramen.

Now that you have a better idea of him, any ideas for a name???

On another note, Ron and I tried a new restaurant in Santa Monica today- Huckleberry- and it was fantastic. I had a green bean salad, and a beet salad for lunch, and then took a salted caramel for dessert. Ron had the Niman Ranch BLTA with salad. Definitely go there. They make everything in-house and don't use factory meats. They didn't even yell at me when I covertly snapped a couple pics.

Here is my lunch:

And Ron's:

Check out the chocolate dip donut. It is dipped on BOTH sides. This is some pioneering donutry. The wave of the future, my friends. Wave of the future.

And some other deliciousness.

I sure am glad carbs are back.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I just had the best lobster of my life, at the Hitching Post 2 in Buellton, California.

But let's backtrack a bit because today didn’t actually start out that great. I woke up rather swollen, from the amazing deep-fried crab and wine of the night before. Then headed out for breakfast at Dottie's (touted and confirmed the best breakfast in San Fran) only to find the diner CLOSED on Tuesdays. Went to the other side of town for the much anticipated bacon maple latte, only to find it unpalatable. Drove to San Luis Obispo only to have a mediocre fish taco. Whaaa, right?!

Made it to Buellton only to check my email and find out I did NOT get a job that I really wanted. Super sad. So I am likely doomed to be a failure my entire life and I will never get a job. Or so I thought.

Alas, the day did turn around. I took a nap and watched Sideways (at the skeezy Windmill Inn Motel), in preparation for dinner at the Hitching Post. Ron and I walked over, shared a bottle of good wine and the grilled artichoke. Yum. Then I went nuts and ordered the lobster special. It was shelled and cooked over a proper Santa Maria oak grill. Best. Lobster. Ever.

So, tomorrow is a new day AND tomorrow I get my skeleton! And there is a tiny chance that I may actually eventually be a productive member of society, but we'll have to wait on that one.

Here are a couple of pics from the Boccolone salumi shop at the Ferry Building, in San Fran. The second is the mixed salumi cup. Don't worry, it is all from pasture raised organic piggies.


Monday, June 13, 2011

San Fransisco

I heart this city. However, given the amount of wine that went with my dinner and then the post-dinner hockey game, there is no way I can properly detail the day... Ferry Building (where I hope to go when I die), Alcatraz, Salt and Pepper crab at R & G Lounge (, and then hockey at a lovely dive bar. Awesome. Until tomorrow, when I am puffy...

Sunday, June 12, 2011


OMG. I am too full to blog... I did finally have the artichoke soup today, and it was amazing. Good night San Fran. See you in the morning.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Vacation Eating

First, I mentioned yesterday how of late, I am a little rough around the edges first thing in the morning. Well, here is the proof that I can hardly even believe. I didn't even know one eye was closed. Ah!

Next, I really hate 'wasted' meals. You know when you are starving and grab something crappy, or when you go out and the food just sucks. That is a wasted meal. And, when I am on vacation, wasted meals are not cool. In fact, I almost had a 'wasted' coffee today, but threw it away just in the nick of time. Phew. I am still holding a grudge (against Ron) over a wasted caesar salad I had in Monterey 18 months ago. [Don't even get me started on the peach danish incident from Singapore in 2006]

Thankfully, today, I had no wasted meals and none of my food was stolen.

Lunch was amazing. Cafe Rustica in the Carmel Valley Village. We had wine, shared escargot, which I freakin love, and then perhaps the best pizza* I've ever had.

The escargot:

There was a slight incident with my dunking bread in Ron's butter hole. Let's just leave the butter hole be.

The quatre mushroom and balsamic carmelized onion pizza, with smoked mozzarella:

Drool. The only problem was this hideous woman beast behind me. She was wearing a f*&$ing Chewbacca vest, and had the most horrible overly-loud tone of voice I've ever heard. She was also ignorant, though figured herself a well-informed genius. For example, did you know that pizza was invented in America? Well, she did. Apparently Lombardi's created pizza. The AMERICANS who own Lombardi's, that is. Also, not only were there no Italians in America, but apparently Italians couldn't of made pizza in Italy because they didn't have tomatoes until the 1900s. Where to even begin with was it wrong with those statements. Seriously, you shoulda heard her voice.

Dinner was wonderful. La Bicyclette in the Carmel Village. Every single bite was delicious. We had the following:

First course. Whole roasted garlic, arugula and myer lemon salad, fresh garbanzo bean and mint hummus, smoked paprika pita, grilled eggplant, and spiced blue cheese.

Second course. Morroccan carrot soup. OMG too good to convey.

Third course, which I forgot to get a pic of. Slow braised bison short ribs with sautéed kale and sour cherries, and guajillo chile sweet corn spoon bread. After eating the delicious ribs, Ron forecasted how we would "floss like animals" once we got back to the room. Yep.

Dessert. Wood fired strawberry-rhubarb galette with house made vanilla bean ice cream and dark carmel.

Quite a day. Tomorrow, on to San Fran...

*I thought the best pizza I ever had was at Pizzaria Bianco in Phoenix, but after today I am no longer sure. I’ve got to somehow arrange a Phoenix/Carmel Village taste off. Or, go to Italy. I think they have tomatoes now.

Friday, June 10, 2011


I have been a major dead beat blogger. Mid-way through the Car Ride from H-E-double-hockey-sticks and I lost my momentum. I don't know where my time goes every day, but I am always surprised when it is 4pm and time to make dinner (I actually only make dinner once a week, but the 4 o'clock does surprise me daily). I will get back to the horrible car ride. And I still need to write about the mosquitoes in Madagascar and the poor little lemur named Sid. Another day. I promise.

Anyhow, Ron and I are on vacation for the next week, and since I am eating my way through Central and Northern California, I am going to blog about it.

We left early this morning- poor Kitty was all distraught. Don't worry too much, as she does have a panda keeper from the San Diego Zoo sleeping over all week. Right?

Our first stop was the 85 Degree Bakery, in Irivine. I've heard lots about it, so I decided we needed to brave the lines and check it out. It is a Taiwanese bakery, whose specialty is an 85 Degree Sea Salt Coffee drink.

It was good but kinda weird. Like a really sweet, yet salty, coffee milkshake 'ish'. I don't think I'd get it again, but it did give me a crack-like high and leave me wanting more.

I've been complaining that I haven't had a decent pastry since I left Madagascar. Odd, I know, but Madagascar was a French colony until the mid-1960s and at least in the cities, the pastries are amazing. AND, the 85 Degree Bakery KNOWS how to make pastry. I had a cherry thing (mmm), a cheesy thing, and a bun-y thingy. Light and flaky and sweet, but not too sweet, and wonderful. Ron had the pizza-y thing.

See, I liked it. Oh, and I got up at 5am and look a bit rough. I was getting up at 3am to chase lemurs, but now 8am is barely civilized.

A slight aside, but hopefully everyone there remembered, or was guilted into, washing their hands.

The 85 Degree Bakery also had a "giant butter brioche" which I thought was ridiculous at the time, but kicked myself all day for not buying. I think we will have to stop on the way back.

Oh, and the peaches in SoCal are ready for consumption. Heaven.

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick, Part 2

Just wading in some dirty water. One cestode is good for digestion, right?

Just rocking the bank, in the sideways rain.

So where was I with this story? Oh, yes, the huge cliffhanger of how we needed more (wo)man-power, but there was no way we could find any help as there weren't any villages for hours in either direction.

Well, sorry to of lead you on, but a man and three boys came waltzing around the corner like angels sent from the good lord above. Very wet angels. With no shoes. And rice bags on their heads. It was pouring rain, after all.

The oldest boy, who was maybe 14 or 15, was extraordinarily bossy. He barked at the others, including the full grown man, orders on how to proceed. I immediately liked this kid and think he should storm the presidential palace to take power of the country, or perhaps- and this is a long shot- run in an the next presidential election. They proceeded to push and pull and dig, and create a series of raft-type apparatuses. In the midst of all this, through my near hypothermic haze, I noticed that the kind man helping us had an AK-47 strapped to his back, under his jacket. As one does. The butt end got dipped in the mud a few times and so he would break for a minute to clean out the chamber. As one does.

After 45min or so, the car was finally freed! I was drenched, frozen, all jacked up on adrenaline, and exhausted. We all were. It was dark, but we were on the road. Finally. Mahefa was kind of driving like a maniac, both because there was only 3rd gear, but also because he was tired and not making the best decisions. And it was raining sideways and really difficult to see. I suggested we stop, sleep and start again as soon as it was light, but Mahefa insisted we continue. Which is what we did for about 10 minutes, until he drove us into a lake and we were stuck. Again. Super stuck. In a lake.

So that is where we slept. We ate a few crackers and no one really said anything. Since it is normally tumble-weed dry in southern Madagascar, you don't generally come across many amphibians. But, apparently they are just waiting for rain to come, because they were out, and calling at deafening levels. I had to put my Ipod on maximum volume just to be able to hear Harry Potter over the frog screams.

Mahefa, checking out the lake.

At about 2 am, I could take it no more and had to venture out for a pee. I opened the car door, which was almost level with the water. A bit of water gushed in and I immersed my legs in the cool mud. Thick, sticky, frog-screamy, cestode riddled mud. I waded to the edge of the lake and squatted down, with my hands over my ears. How very odd, I though. How very odd.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick, Part 1

1. I've been a real deadbeat blogger. I blame the microbes. Oh, and the comforts of home, along with Ron and Kitty. I mean, who wants to be on their computer when they could be eating cake and snuggling? Right?

2. Tumblr drives me nuts, so I am back here at blogger for the foreseeable future.

3. I keep meaning to share the epic journey that I have dubbed the 'Car ride from H-E-double-hockey-stick.' The adventure ensues...

I really don't like to spend long periods of time in a car. I half joke but am also half serious that I can only stand 3 hours a day in a car. After that magic 3hr point get uncomfortable, hungry for a real meal, and a wee bit cranky. Realistically, I can do about 6 hours and then like to stay somewhere more comfortable than a car seat or say a Motel 6.

That being said, during my time in Madagascar, every other month I made the trek from Tsimanampetsotsa National Park to Toliara. This journey was necessary not only for my sanity (which is questionable), but also my sustenance, as there are only so many rice/beans/cookies you can fit into a car at one time. This drive takes -get this- 10 hours. And it is a rather unpleasant drive. Only 30km of the "road" is paved and the remainder is varying degrees of "bad." There are, for example, potholes the size of school busses.

We (Mehgan [trusty research assistant], Lanto [world's best camp cook], Mahafe [somewhat questionable driver], and I [odd looking one with an attitude]) left Tolaria at 7am hoping to get to camp at TNP before dark. A reasonable goal. The weather wasn't great- Cyclone Bingzia had touched down on the East coast of Madagascar and was threatening to pass over the West as well. Mostly it was just windy and I was glad to get moving inland. About an hour into the drive I noticed Mahafe, the driver, pumping the clutch. Hmm. A bit disconcerting. Then perhaps two hours in we stopped and Mahefa opened the hood and got out some fluids. Oy. The fluids seemed to help, but Mahafe said that we would need to "fix" the problem once we got to Betoiky (about 5 hours from Toliara). By the time we got there, the clutch was functioning about half the time, such that when Mahafe went to shift the car may or may not go into gear.

We made it to Betoiky and the Mahefa took the car some where to do some thing with it- I shall not pretend that I have any idea where to get a car fixed in Betoiky or what for that matter was done to the car. We went into a restaurant, got lunch and watched some odd fuzzy Malagasy tv. At the table beside us, three gendarme sat, drinking beer and eating something meaty. BTW it is perfectly acceptable to either lean your AK-47 up against the table or lay it haphazardly on the floor. A couple of hours in to our pit stop, it started to rain. Brutal, tropical, cyclone, raining up rain. Finally after 3 hours, Mahafe returned with a fixed car, and since rain had let up a bit, we set off at once. Clearly, we wouldn't make it to camp by dark, but we could still make it at a reasonable hour. Oh, and we agreed to take another vazah, Lauren, to Efotse which is the village nearest camp.

The roads are really bad- intermittent dirt, rock, water, muck, and as noted earlier, with potholes the size of school busses. That and the rain was periodically really bad as well. And now the rain had its friend, the wind, just to spice up our journey. We continued along, slowly, and once we were just a bit too far away to turn around, they clutch gave out completely. Perfect. Mahafe was still able to drive, by ramming it into gear, but it was just making the drive much more difficult. Some of the "road" was like quicksand and slowing to slam the car into gear, even for a few seconds, could get us stuck in the thick goopy mud. And that we did. Mahafe revved and rocked the car and repeatedly jammed it into gear, but we were still stuck. We all got out so he could rev and rock and jam some more, but the car wouldn't budge. We pushed and pulled and dug, but to no avail. At one point we all sat precariously on the hood while Mahefa did the super rev, but no luck. This car was st-uck. It was pouring rain and cold and I was completely soaked and covered in mud. Shivering, while looking and likely smelling, like a wet dog. Keep in mind that I also had a serious calcium deficiency (like a smooth-muscle-won't-work, cardiac arrest, type of calcium deficiency), and had incidentally spent the previous 5 days vomiting and in bed. What we needed was a bit more person-power, but we were in the middle of no where and there simply no people around.