Nomads, noun, people who wander from place to place
Being nomads is not for everyone but if it was easy everyone could do it. Catherine and I have been running all over the world for the last 3 1/2 Years. Overall we have visited over 70 countries and run at least a half marathon in 30 of them.
Not having a home has given us the freedom to come as go as we see fit and right now we average each stay for about 3-4 days. Our philosophy is to stay at Marriott hotels for short stays and Airbnb for longer stays. We cruise several times a year on Windstar Cruise, fly on Delta and there is a Hertz car waiting for us in the US and mass transit or taxi cabs when out of the US.
There is usually a running event ever 2-3 weeks and coming real close to both of us doing a race in all 50 states. Just like everyone else in their 60’s we have some health issues but that does not slow us down. It has given us more of an appreciation for life and we try not to think about what future has in store for us.
We are presently spending our kids’ inheritance, the (SKI) program, but when that is gone we both have a pension that would provide a comfortable lifestyle. We hope to find that perfect place for us to settle down by then. To keep us busy we like to walk/run all around where we presently are and I chronicle our experiences on this a blog called PlayHard-HaveFun.com.
Presently we are on a shorter trip of 2 weeks and for this trip, I have decided to try to carry on bags instead of our usual two 50 pound bags. We have had some bad experiences with our bags getting delayed and or lost recently. I must admit this is going to take some getting used to.
I think I might be getting travel fatigue since I now have a tendency to just drop in somewhere without doing the research like someone else would do or I use to do. This trip is a prime example. First, we went to Seattle to have a follow-up exam for my right iliac artery aneurysm repair, which was done at Harbourview Medical a year ago. The Clinic was highly recommended and a close friend of ours, Kim, who used to work there.
I say, use to, because after being a trauma nurse on the night shift for 30 plus years, she just retired, sold her condo and is headed to Mexico for several months to figure out where to go next. She literally closed her condo while we were there and she was able to pick our brains on some best practices on being nomads.
We don’t like the term homeless. Speaking of which, Seattle has a huge problem with the 12,000 homeless that fill the streets. For some strange reason it is not illegal for them to set up a tent anywhere and as you come and go in the city they are everywhere. It was heartbreaking and especially for Catherine. After all these years Kim would just put her headphones on and not really see them as she would come and go. The city just passed an employer tax on large cooperations to help fund agencies to assist the homeless but Amazon, which is one of the largest, is very upset and threatening to leave.
I understand that they have to think about their bottom line but since they are making money hand over fists, they started their business in Seattle, they should be willing to help. Corporations have a tendency to be successful by not thinking that way.
Nomads move from place to place looking for food but for Catherine and me, we are in search of adventure and or a race to participate in. I once wrote a blog entry called:
“The Trouble is you think you have time”- Buddha
It talks about wanderlust, which is a term I also like but when someone asks you where you live and your answer is that you live a wanderlust lifestyle you get really strange looks.
Most times we simply say Atlanta since that is where we come and go because of Delta. When we get to know folks then we might tell them about being a nomad. Back to travel fatigue. Presently doing a long haul flight to Seoul, Inch-eon International airport, 12 hours, 1-hour layover then 5 plus hours on Korean Air to Bangkok which is 11 hours ahead of eastern standard time.
I was able to use a global upgrade which Catherine and I get 4 of each year for our double diamond status. I say double diamond since we are both Diamond, as I always say, don’t leave home without her. Usually, there is only one in a couple that is Diamond since only one is usually on the road enough to achieve that level. If both are diamonds they are usually not together and as I was told by an agent once, or they are like ships passing in the night.
We got the upgrade to Delta one which is nice but the fare does not allow you to pick your seats on Korean Air. I did not do my due diligence during the booking process and the agent failed to point that out. After hours on the phone when I found this out, recently, I was able to get seats close to each other. Seems like a crazy rule and I was told that it will be going away in the near future. That does not help me now and we will have the same problem coming back.
3 years ago I would have figured that out right away and would have made the change within the 24-hour change window. Maybe I just have a lot on my mind with our health issues or the fact that Bangkok will be stop number 333. That is a lot of plane train, taxi, rental car, hotel, race registrations and simple logistics to find someplace to eat along the way for anyone to coordinate. As I said earlier if it was easy anyone could do it. But would they?
The next snafu to figure out is the fact while I was concentrating on the carry on bag issue I failed to read all the material on exactly where we are going and what we might wear. I was thinking it is near Bangkok so it will be warm, no brainer.
Yes we will be in Bangkok for 6 nights and it will be warm but Paro, Bhutan is where the race will take place and we will be there for a week. First off they are at 7 thousand feet, second it will be in the mid 40’s, third we will be doing three tough hikes to around 10k feet and last but not least there is rain in the forecast.
Being the person who worked in Management for one of the largest logistic companies for 27 years, UPS, I do love logistics so figuring out at the last minute how to solve this problem is right up my alley. We have been to Bangkok before and you can read about that tour in my blog entry called:
Live life to discover
We loved it then and can’t wait to run/ walk the park near our hotel called Lumphini Park. Every morning everyone stops what they are doing as they play the national anthem and raise the flag at 8 am. They have a full crew that comes out each day to pick up the trash and even the leaves that fell overnight. You will see people doing Tai chi, yoga and using the outdoor exercise equipment. These are people of all ages and it is so inspiring to watch.
The hotel we will be staying at is a Marriott Executive Apartments and the place is fabulous and the people are charming. I hope to take some pictures that will compare the same set three years ago. Our mission while there is to find some appropriate clothes for the Bhutan experience and still be able to do carry on on the way back.
I am sure I will find what I need there and will get my belly full at the same time. Maybe in retrospect, it is not travel fatigue, but I just like to keep things interesting. That would also explain the nomadic lifestyle. You could also say we like to peregrinate, verb, to travel or journey especially to walk on foot.
We only ran into one other couple like us but they are simply between homes while they have one built in Panama City, Panama. Many expats relocate there but I really did not like it there when we visited a few years ago. They did give me some good tips and they had been at it for a few years when we met them last year. They were more of the off the beaten track type of folks which is not my cup of tea. They also were not into athletic activities so our lifestyles were very different.
Bangkok has here one of the largest malls in the world down the street from our hotel. Also in that mall is one of my favorite restaurants on the upper level. First, you get a card then when you go from station to station of food from around the world. You give the card to each of them as you place your order than to a waiter who will bring your selections to your table and then finally hand the card to the cashier on the way out.
Thru a mutual friend, I recently got a comment on this website from a couple that is also traveling the world but they stay put for 3 months at a time unless they are doing a 5-10K race. We are going to try to meet up someplace so we can compare notes and learn some best practices. It is not easy being nomads.
All that and a bag of chips is the best way to describe the Bangkok experience. For me going someplace we have been before, especially when it was great the first time, I have a tendency to be apprehensive. Could it be as good as the first time always make me wonder?
The walks in Lumpini Park were a bit warm and steamy but as pristine as I remembered. Since we had some shopping to do, for some outerwear, the nearby mall had everything I needed. As we explored we came across another mall complex that took up several square miles. Since the sidewalks are usually filled with street vendors we went for the overhead skywalks, where available, to get from place to place. It made it easy to get from one part of the mall complex to the other and made crossing the street below a piece of cake. Above that was the rail system but for some reason, I did not notice either during our last trip here a little over three years ago.
Turns out the different weather apps forecast are all over the charts so we will just have to see how it works out for us, in terms of temperature and rainfall. You can always take off clothes when you get warm but can’t put on clothes that you don’t have when you get cold.
I really love their customary greeting with their hands together as you would for a prayer and a slight bow. Turns out it is disrespectful for someone not to return it but notice that many foreigners do not. They are noted for being the country of smiles so when doing so a big smile is a must. I was able to take some pictures that we had taken when we were here before. All you have to do is to pull up the picture and scroll down to the map view and then tap to get map app pull up and the directions will take you right to that spot.
Then and now
Catherine has decided to do a half Ironman in New Orleans in October so we made good use of the great hotel pool while we were there. We both did an Iron Man back in 2011 but after two bike crashes, I am begging out of this one. Turns out it is like riding a bike. After four nights at the Marriott, we transitioned to the Marathon Tours designated hotel, Novotel, located at the airport which made it convenient for our 5 am flight to Paro, Bhutan the next morning. Most of the folks in the group did not arrive until late that night and I felt sorry for those that had to turn right around with the 2 am wake up call. I remember those days, not fondly, so I try not to schedule us like that anymore.
I was unaware that the Paro Airport is listed as number six as the most dangerous airports to fly in and out of. Before that hair-raising experience, we first have to make a short stop in Kolkata, India. From there we did get a glimpse of Mt Everest off in the distance. There are two groups going to Bhutan with Marathon tours. We have been on trips before with about half in our group and the tour leader is the President, Jeff Adams, which we have been on several trips in the past. This is the first time Marathon Tours is doing this trip so once again we are on an inaugural trip with them.
The other group did the China Wall Marathon or Half Marathon this past weekend and are going to Bhutan for the more active experience. They will be there for 8 days as opposed to our 6 and will be doing 2 more hikes than us and will be camping out in tents. Our trip is for more of the culturally minded individuals, wimps.
After our flight, we drove to the old capital city, Punakhaa where we visited the historic Iron Bridge on the way. We then drove over the spectacular Dochu La Pass with amazing views of the Southern Himalayas, and into the Punakhar Valley. We were on our way to the Temple of Fertility and Punakhar Dzong, which is the historic capital of Bhutan.
I will have to look up and see what are airports 1-5 since it was no big deal to me and I am sure I have flown into someplace more dangerous in my 37 years as a pilot or maybe I just made it more dangerous by my shire presence. I will admit the drive over to the former capital of Bhutan, Punakha was much scarier than the flight. Up and down the mountain passes without any guard rails and occasional piles of rocks at the curves did nothing to calm my nerves.
After a good nights sleep, we were off to hike the Himalayan Mountains for over 8 hours. This was a great acclimatization activity with a hike to Soela Gompa via Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten. This hike was approximately 20km. We stopped by one of the many temples we will see on this trip as we made our way to the summit some 10,000 feet into the clouds.
We started our trek at 7K but you would have thought I was on top of Mt Everest the way I was sucking wind. On our way back across and down the mountain, we never thought this hike was going to end. As an added treat many of us including myself had to pull leaches out of our feet by the guides. It was sure real to see my three slivers off into the grass with their bellies full of my blood.
Since I am on blood thinners for my artificial mechanical heart valve it took me awhile to get the flow of blood to stop. It was a pretty gross scene but just another day in the life of a local here in Bhutan. I would say that was the hardest thing I have done in the last two years when we stopped doing Marathons. I kept telling myself as my heart was beating out of my chest that this was a good way to prepare me for the half marathon in three days.
They call Bhutan the land of happiness and they do all seem to be pretty happy and some of what I have seen might have something to do with it. I am sure their Buddhist faith has a lot to do with it. The symbols inside their temples are pretty bizarre and they have one monk they pray to called the madman. We were also able to find Mary Jane growing on the side of the roads and there are a root and leaf, Betel nut, that everyone chews on that gives the people here a buzz.
The next day we were off to the Capital city Thimphu where we Hiked up to Buddha Point and the giant seated Buddha, the Takin Reserve (Bhutan’s national animal), Thimphu Dzong and craft workshops. After lunch, we drove back to Paro visiting the Drukgyel, Dzong and Kichu Lhakhang with the chance to hike part of the marathon route before visiting the Paro, Dzong.
Their Dzongs are these huge fortress looking buildings which use to be their defensive structures but now are their government building in the front part and monasteries in the rear. They have them lite up at night for all to see.
The next day was a bit easier as we now hiked for 5 hours up and down to the famous, Taktshang, Tiger’s Nest monastery. The hike was fairly demanding, The UK’s Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge made the same hike recently. The final portion included 756 steps each way.
An interesting thought came to mind as were instructed to take our shoes off and no cameras and that is the fact unless to come to these places yourself you will never see what those have made the trip will see. There are not even any pictures on the Internet.
They do love to pray here and give you plenty of opportunities to do so. Besides their numerous temples, you have prayer wheels, prayer flags, and poles. It seems their goals are to see where they can put each in the most remote and hard to get to places.
We did have a rest day the next day but instead, we went shopping, had lunch in town and enjoyed a hot stone bath. You sit in a trough and they put hot stones in a separate chamber. The stones would crack open and release minerals into the water you are sitting in. The added some herb, Artemisia, to enhance the experience. Rubbing the herbs did seem to help with the bites from the first hike.
All that is left now was race day. Our hotel was located on the final half mile down a portion of the course. The marathoners had to climb over 3K feet where we only had to do half that. It really does not matter since it was hard as hell for me. The only saving grace was the sights along the way and the fact that it stayed cloudy while we ran the half marathon. Fun fact, they only allow women to run the half marathon. The local marathoner finished in 3:05 where the first westerner in our group came in over 30 minutes behind him.
They had some folks that had done either the half or full on the Great China wall the week prior. We call them gluttons for punishment. Between the two races, they could have chosen our itinerary or a bit shorter trip that included camping outdoors in tents and sleeping bags. There was a third itinerary that had folks trekking for 6 days in tents. Neither of the other group had the added benefit of leaches.
When I turned 50 I decided to train and did the JFK 50 miler. The first half was along the Appellation trail and I use to joke the only thing we did not do is repel during that race. Once again I had the same feeling. We went way off road and had to cross two suppression bridges. They had water hazards, extremely narrow paths with steep descents. Their idea of rolling hills was 1/2 mile climbs and 1/4 mile gradual descents, but at least I won my age group.
Overall it was a great trip but definitely not for the faint of heart. This was a good training run for Catherine’s, state of Wyoming half marathon, next Sunday, in Casper. We met folks that we have seen on prior trips Marathon Tours from Africa, Havana, (Kayna, Bob, and Chris), Petra, and Madagascar, (Mike, Cyrus, and Caroleen). Also made some new best friends, (Randy, Vicki, Julie, and Leslie). This was our 25 trip with Marathon Tours with our eye on about 5 more unless Jeff comes up with some more great destinations.
Presently I am stretched out and relaxing on our 5 plus hour flight on Korean Air from Bangkok to Seoul Korea. There we have a one-hour layover then on Delta to Atlanta for 14 hours. We were unable to check in for our flight and get our seats so we had to wait till we got to the airport.
When we went to the Delta site it sent us to Korean Air and while there they came back with a message that said we needed to contact Delta since we bought our ticket on them. I called Delta and they sent me Korean Air and they said I needed to talk to Delta. When we got to the airport they had already assigned our seats and the agent showed us on her seat map what they were and asked if they were okay.
The Airbus A330 is configured 2, 4 and 2 so our seats were aisle to aisle so was fine with me. When we got to our assigned seats the flight attendant advised me that my monitor did not work and that I was going to have to take the window seat. That allowed me to use the space of both seats and made me one happy man. That is giving me freedom of space to work on this blog entry.
A couple of days ago Delta advised us of an upgrade on their flight and luckily I was able to select the last two Delta One seats together so we should have a pretty good trip back to the States. All we need to do now is avoid any delays en route and make our connecting flight.
Well, we had to do the airport 5K to make it to our connecting flight. Turns out that as we taxied in right on time there was a plane at our gate and we had to wait 15 minutes on the ramp before we got to the gate. At the same time, Delta sent me a text message letting me know that our flight was now leaving 15 minutes early. They were already scheduled to arrive early with the original departure time but I figured out the reason why later.
Since we were not able to check in we did not have a boarding pass for the next flight so we had to stop at the transfer desk to get one which took an additional 5 minutes. Low and behold when we were handed our boarding passes the nice lady advised us that Catherine had been selected for additional screening.
Just what we needed but after security gave us the once over we were met by an agent with a walkie-talkie in hand and directed to the other side of the terminal to gate number 255. I used my 13-minute race walking pace and we ended dropping the agent somewhere around gate number 252.
We arrived with at the gate with 6 minutes to spare with our carry on in tow. I knew there was a reason we chose to carry on for this trip. As I mentioned additional screening for Catherine so once again she got the once over at the gate. We arrived out of breath but with our dignity and then waited for the original departure time.
Turns out they send out these messages to connecting passengers in ICN so we will all do the Airport 5K and not have them wait for people taking their time to get to the aircraft. It is a learning experience for us here in Korea.
No complaints from me since it makes for a good story and also I always to fly on Delta’s flagship A350 and we were not disappointed at all with the layout in Delta One. You have your own little suite but now all I need to do is figure out how to manage our sleep since we are basically going to arrive one hour after we depart in Seoul.
I am thinking next time we head to Asia we might make a stop in Seoul for a few days each way to break the trip up. I saw a sign for the on Airport hotel during the airport gauntlet and that is what we are going to use next time to give our bodies time to adjust on the way back to ATL next time. In November we are headed this time to Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) for another Marathon Tours trip to do the Bagan Temple Half Marathon.
Here are some fun facts about Bhutan, not in any particular order.
Over 90 percent where the traditional outfits and since most are employed by the government they can be fined if caught not wearing them.
Most if not all restaurants have the same meals for tourist since they will all trained by the master chef and the government wants consistency for those visiting their country.
People traveling from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives do not need visas to enter Bhutan whereas it is required by everyone else.
Blue Poppy is the national flower and name of the government-owned company that provides tours of the country.
You seek the name Druk everywhere and it is their dragon symbol on their flag.
Dogs are plentiful and you can not go a few feet without seeing one or more everywhere.
The artwork on the houses is spectacular.
Can you imagine working on a house standing on bamboo poles?
Our good friend Kayna was wearing a sweatshirt that had the words, Not all that Wander are lost. As nomads, I can agree with that statement. Being on the road for the last 3 1/2 years has taught me a lot. I have learned to be very flexible and also not take life too seriously. Along the way, we have met some great people and I have learned a little from all of them.
I cherish the memories and hope to have plenty more along the way. They all seem to have their own goals that are designed especially for each of them. Some I make note of as something we might do in the future and others are simply out of our reach. One thing that I did learn on this trip is that difficult challenges are good for Catherine. The mental challenge of climbing the mountains during the hikes and the race seemed to forge connections in her brain that were at one time broken.
I had read about how music and dancing help those with Early Onset Alzheimer’s and I could see how the concentration necessary to not trip and fall while trying to balance on rocks, roots and uneven surfaces could only benefit her. I do not like trail runs but will be looking for some good places to hike during future trips.
I often wonder if our lifestyle of being nomads is beneficial or harmful to Catherine. I have done a lot of reading on the subject and they all suggest having as much routine as possible is best for folks like her. My gut tells me otherwise. I have listened to my gut in the past and base my decisions on it, backed up with experience, sound judgment and research from experts.
Since the medical field has not provided much help with this disease we are planning on keep being nomads as long as we can. Short-term memory is damaged by ALZ and my hopes are that these exciting experiences will go into long-term memory and there they will reside for a lifetime. Instead of her being frustrated on a daily basis about forgetting what she had to eat for breakfast we can reminisce about the extraordinary trek of the Himalayas.
The socialization of being on tours like these is also very beneficial since folks with ALZ want to withdraw from others which only execrates the disease. Last but not least, physical activity and her desire to meet or exceed her goal of at least 10,000 steps per day can only enhance her mood coupled with that very important endorphin boast. Time will only tell if we were right or wrong but until then we are going to enjoy the ride.