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Doreen's pre-trip diary

January 12, 2000

Today is about as good as any other day to start a journal about our planned journey around the world. Nothing is booked yet, and the only thing that is absolute is that in our hearts we are determined to go. After twenty years of dreaming about travelling around the world it’s finally within our reach.

After we returned from a one week Nova Scotia trip in July and realized that our next vacation was at least six months away, we decided it was time to put a calendar date to our dream. At first, February 2001 seemed as good as any date, but after consulting my Chinese astrology book I realized the year of the dragon (2000) was a great year for rats, and that if we left then we would get back well before the year of the horse (2002) when rats tend to get trampled. (This might be a good time to point out that, astrologically speaking, we are both rats - if you believe in that sort of thing). So now 2000 looked good cosmically, but the financials were not as promising. Saving became the primary task and ‘budget’ and ‘savings account’ were words that we started to use much more often than in the past. By sometime in August we decided that September of the next year was a possibility and swore we would not tell a soul about our harebrained idea until at least the new year. By the following week, not only did our family and friends know about our plans, but also the dental hygienist and our vet.

The next few months kept us busy planning the itinerary. Nepal, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand made the final cut. South American and Africa, would each have to be a trip on their own. Europe - love to, but, due to the expense, we’ll only make a brief stop in London to stay hello and goodbye to Bill’s relatives and friends. Eastern Europe and Russia, although not as expensive, were just not viable due to our time schedule. China - maybe someday, but not a priority. Everywhere else sort of got axed for one reason or another.

January 13, 2000

For the next several months we will now have to focus on our big budget items. First, the airplane ticket. After many months of research we’ve decided to buy all the tickets prior to departure. This may be a costly mistake – world travelers seem to enjoy purchasing tickets on the fly, which allows more flexibility - but we decided to book and pay for all flights now before any grown-up, rational thoughts enter our brains. Such as: we should be saving for retirement, a year is a long time to leave the work-force, we’ll be broke and unemployable when we get back, etc. Also, we decided to purchase consolidator tickets, which are less restrictive and cheaper than the 'around the world tickets' offered by commercial airlines. We were quoted a rate of $2,400 each, which will cover most of our travels apart from the Australian and New Zealand portion. It also doesn’t cover an unfair trip we’ll be forced to take to Hawaii so Bill won’t lose his resident alien status. Supposedly, a resident alien has to return to the US every 6 months, or else. We’re not really sure what 'or else' is but we don’t what to upset the immigration lads. Conservatively speaking, our tickets should total around $3,500 and they’ll be purchased sometime in May.

The second expense is the laptop computer. We’ve got a vague idea of what we want, (a very light one), but aside from that a ton of research is necessary. Less expensive but just as important is a telescope. This item is not on every traveler’s packing list, unless of course they’re deranged, hard-core, thrill seeking birders. Yes, not only will we be enthralled by the Taj Mahal but equally ecstatic about the Rufous-vented Prinia. Until just now I didn’t know that bird existed but now it’s my lifelong quest to see a Rufous-vented Prinia. Other items, like backpacks, hiking boots, rain gear, etc. will be purchased throughout the year.

January 17, 2000

Over the weekend Bill and I accomplished some very important tasks which we now feel better about. For the first time since we decided to take this trip we evaluated our expense account and it was not a pretty sight. We're a lot further way from traveling than we thought. We need to take some drastic measures if our departure date stands. Absolutely, positively, no more dining out, (or at least not twice a week), no more get-away weekend birding trips until the big one, (or unless a rarity occurs within a reasonable vicinity of our home), and a limited beverage intake, (excluding weekends). So much for the business class tickets to the eco-lodge hidden in paradise. Realistically, economy tickets with hope of bulkhead seats and youth hostels which are friendly to the aging.

On a much brighter note, we did purchase a telescope for a lot less then we anticipated. The reason we had to buy another scope is that our Nikon is excellent but too heavy to take around the world with. The new scope weighs less than 20oz and was under a hundred bucks. Next week we’ll take it to our favorite birding spot and see just how much quality was compromised.

Laptops also got an eyeing this weekend. Although we are die-hard Mac fans, we’re probably going to go with a PC. The Mac Ibook is about 7 pounds whereas the mini PC’s are just about 3 pounds. That’s about as much technical information I’ll be able to communicate regarding the computer.

January 22, 2000

On Thursday Bill and I braved the first winter snowstorm to met with our travel doctor for a consultation. The list of vaccinations that we’ll need seem endless, or maybe I should say expensive. The rabies shots alone will be $450 for each of us. The consultation turned into a real shot in the arm, literally, when we each received our first round of hepatitis A shots. Before Bill and I went to see the doctor we had decided not to take Larium (to combat malaria) due to the all the reading we’ve done on the web. Our decision was to take Doxycyclene because the side effects seemed to be less risky. Now, after talking with the doctor, we’ve decided to try the Larium and if we encounter psycho-paranoid mood swings, then we’ll switch to Doxycyclene. Exactly when we decide it’s the drug and not our normal New York style paranoia should be interesting.

One of the reasons we had to visit the doctor several months before departure is that the hepatitis A vaccination is a two shot deal with six months in-between doses. Another reason is to space the visits over the next seven months so the economical impact won’t be as severe. Most of the vaccinations we’ll be taking would not be recommended if our stay was shorter and limited to the major cities but, since we’ll be birding for much of the time, rural areas and mosquitoes come with the territory.

January 31, 2000

Last week we purchased a Sony Vaio computer. Yikes. I’m not sure, but maybe we should’ve stayed with a Mac. Bill spent six hours trying to remove several annoying icons from the desktop. I had difficulty with everything. The following day we decided to put the computer away until we get a copy of Windows for Dummies. In the coming months we’ll slowly wean ourselves off our Mac and learn all about the wonderful world of Windows.

This past weekend we took a road trip to Connecticut to visit my parents and then to Rhode Island to visit Liz. This was the first time we saw her new condo and the future temporary home for our three cats. Her place is great and both Bill and I couldn’t be happier that our cats will be in the best of hands.

On the way home from Liz’s we stopped off in Connecticut to bird at Hammonasset State Park. This was the first chance we had to evaluate the new scope and tripod. The scope is passable. It did allow us to identify a Rough-legged Hawk sitting in the conifer trees about a quarter of a mile away. This was not only our first US sighting of this bird, but also a much better view than our original sighting in England. The tripod, on the other hand, may poise some problems; it’s lack of height might prove to be too much for Bill’s back. The need to travel light versus comfort and familiarity seems to be an ongoing struggle for us. My fear is that we’ll end up traveling around the world with lightweight crap.

February 15, 2000

I’ve made progress with the computer. I know how to find Hearts and haven’t lost a game yet. The thrill of victory! Speaking of hearts, yesterday was Valentine’s day so Bill and I broke our economy drive and went to John’s Restaurant on 12th Street. It has the best, bar-none, Eggplant Parmesan in NY. After dinner we rented one of my favorite movies "Kiss Me, Stupid" which I would highly recommend anyone to watch on any occasion. Although this movie was considered vulgar when it was first released, nowadays it seems more of a romantic comedy with a gentle twist, satirizing greed, ambition, and sexual morals.

Since my last entry we’ve acquired a few more 'toys' for the trip. Mosquito net, Swiss Army knife, inflatable pillows, and some more odds and ends. We have also been honing our itinerary - we’ve decided to skip Singapore so we could add days on to Australia. We found a pelagic tour that leaves Wollongong, Australia on the fourth Sunday of every month. So, although we might be vague on the other 364 days of our trip, we know that on Sunday, June 24, 2001 at 6:45 a.m., we’ll be 80km south of Sydney. That narrows things down a bit. This will give ourselves almost a month to travel from Darwin through Alice Springs to Adelaide, then on to Sydney. We’re guessing that this should be enough time to bird, enjoy and drive, and if it’s not we can always sacrifice enjoy.

Aside from Australia, we’ve worked on India’s routing and added Tibet to our list. We’ve e-mailed a few tour companies in Kathmandu that offer trips there and from their responses we’re considering a Landrover drive in and a flight out. This adds a couple hundred dollars onto the trip, bringing the total cost to around $1,000.00 per person for eight days in Tibet. Of course, if money is a problem than we can kiss the Landrover goodbye and grin and bear the bus ride.

February 26, 2000

The last weekend of the slowest birding month is finally here. February is a harsh month in the northeast, because of the combination of bad weather and the limited amount of birds around. Only a few more weekends till our warblers come back, hurray! Thanks to our strategy of buying trip supplies well in advance, this winter we spent more time in camping stores than outside in 20 degree weather wondering where the ducks go when the pond freezes over.

This past week we booked our first week’s accommodation in Nepal. Although Bill was just trying to clarify the weekly rate, it somehow got translated as haggling, and we ended up with an exceptional deal – we hope. Although it’s tempting to book everything in advance online, the only hotel bookings we will definitely make will be for the nights we fly into a new town, so we can take advantage of the free airport pick-ups offered by many hotels. We also confirmed our Australian pelagic trip for next year - we really had to beg the guy to take our reservations so far in advance (for July 23, 2001). Yes, it’s pathetic, but it’s very important to us that we go on this tour. We also contacted a jungle resort in India by fax after some unsuccessful telephone attempts. Unfortunately they don’t have their Christmas rates available yet, but quoted us last year’s prices. Even more unfortunately, we can’t afford last year’s rates.

March 5, 2000

Many kudos to our dear friend Liz who decided to take it upon herself to get us on the right track to cyberspace. Quite impressively, she taught herself the magic of web building and encouraged us to get motivated. We now have a web site with a picture of an Australian Crane and a brief introduction by Bill. Except for a minor problem - the apostrophes have turned into question marks - it?s looking good. We must visit Liz so she can coach us on maintaining and updating the site. We should also thank the legendary Wreckless Eric for the song "Whole Wide World", which is what Bill and I decided to call our site. Red-faced loons and wandering tossers were some of the names we chuckled about but, for various reasons, Whole Wide World was the keeper.

June 24, 2000

Three months have gone by and the only update made on the web site is that the question marks have been changed back to apostrophes. We must apologize for our neglect and blame it on an exceptional spring migration. Twenty-one species of warblers in one day is nothing to sneeze at.

Last week we decided to go ahead and buy the tickets for the first six months of our itinerary, which would bring us to Bangkok. At first we wanted to buy all our tickets in advance, but since our itinerary has changed again, (Turkey added, Tibet eliminated, and Portugal possibly winning the European Championship), we’ll wait and purchase the rest of our tickets in Thailand .

June 28, 2000

Today the tickets arrived via Federal Express. I came very close to giving the FedEx man a great big hug. Luckily I was able to restrain myself. We booked our tickets through Airtreks.com, and I must say it was a pretty painless experience.

We’ve also been booking some hotels via the internet. We have the Hotel Turkmen in Istanbul reserved for four nights, with an airport pick-up. I was extremely pleased with this find because it’s cheap and the price includes breakfast. Unfortunately, after much research, the only review I found on the web regarding Hotel Turkmen said it was terrible but cheap. Well, maybe not the most encouraging way to start the trip but they were very nice and did answer our e- mails promptly, and anyways, how terrible can terrible be? We’ll keep you posted.

July 11, 2000

For various reasons we’re still having difficulties sorting out our reservations for Delhi and Goa. We e-mailed the Amit Guest House in Delhi, waited several days, got a reply and sent another e-mail asking for confirmation of our reservation and time of arrival. We waited several more days, resent the e-mail a few times, and then received a reply from Hotel 55 (strangely enough, another place we’d considered) confirming our reservations…huh? Somehow we’re totally lost in India and we haven’t even left the apartment yet. Anyway, our confusion led us to do more research and we found a website for the Raja Hotel in Delhi and it’s sister hotel, the Solluna Resort in Corbett National Park. The resort seems fairly reasonable ($60.00 per cabin) compared to many other lodges located in the park. They also provide transportation between the two hotels. Although it’s not cheap, ($67.00 for an air-conditioned taxi), we’re assuming it’ll be easier than dealing with Delhi’s dynamic infrastructure. At this point I must say we’re trying not to jump to any conclusions about India, but we’re also aware that it may be our most challenging county, and a slow and gentle approach may be better. OK, we’re wimps.

The Goa reservations present a different degree of difficulty. The first problem is the timing of our arrival in Goa - it’s peak holiday season and, aside from all the hotels tripling in price, most places get booked many months in advance. Of course we’re well ahead of the booking curve, but the ideal place we would like to stay doesn’t have a telephone. Do we risk showing up on December 23 without a place to stay? (Oh, no rooms available…. but the manger does have a ocean view!) The second problem is that Panjim Inn requested a deposit of $75.00 to hold our reservation, but the total for the three nights should have only been $60.00. I’m sure if we'd contacted the hotel again a more reasonable rate might have been agreed upon. But since we weren’t emotionally attached to the place, and more importantly it didn’t have cable TV or a pool, we decided to move on.

July 29, 2000

Everything’s coming up Millhouse! We now have a website, and for the most part, it’s working. I can’t believe we got it together. I use the word ‘we’ very loosely here, since all the laurels go to Bill. We, (again loosely), discovered that tripod.com and Front Page work well together and an added bonus is that tripod.com offers 50MB of free space. 

Bill and I decided to take the month of August off so we can work on the website, clean the house, pack up our stuff, and visit our friends and relatives before our trip. I’m confident that we’re ahead of schedule, but people who have left home for extended periods of time say the last few weeks tend to be the most stressful and chaotic. I guess we’ll find out shortly. 

August 9, 2000

We’re back, after surviving another Cape Cod family vacation. Overall it’s a wonderful experience being with kind, caring and humorous siblings. The only family member who tends to push the envelope is my dad. How can a man, who’s so hard of hearing that he has the TV volume at an ear-bleeding level during the day, enforce quiet hours after 10 p.m.? Or proudly tell complete strangers that I’m travelling around the world but refuse to let me out of his sight once the sun sets? Thank god he’s very endearing or I’m sure a mutiny would have occurred many years ago.

Anyway, on the morning of our departure to Cape Cod we got an e-mail from the Raj Hotel in India saying that they had not received the deposit we wired to them two weeks ago. This was a little upsetting because we’ve never had to provide proof of a wire transfer before and we only feared the worst. We didn’t have time to double-check whatever receipts we’d saved from the transfer and assumed all might be lost. To add to our anxiety, we’d also sent a second transfer to another Indian hotel the day before, and were now worried that money would be lost too. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything we could do until we returned to New York on Tuesday.

Today we went directly to Chase Manhattan Bank, armed with a copy of the bank transfer form and their letter of confirmation, ready for a battle. The bank person was extremely helpful and actually started a small brawl with whomever she contacted by telephone. Although we’re still not clear as to what the problem is, we now think we haven’t totally lost the money (yet). Our bank is going to put a trace on the transfer and we’ll call back in a few days. Thankfully we’re still in New York and have time to sort this sort of thing out. Today we also received an e-mail from the second hotel confirming receipt of that particular transfer, which made us feel much better.

August 18, 2000

Well, what can I say except we are dumbfounded. A few days ago we received an e-mail from Marc Brosius, (author of Marc Brosius’ Round-the-World Trip website) asking why we had to fly to Hawaii to maintain Bill’s resident alien status. He explained that, unless the laws have changed, a simple form will allow residents up to two years travel outside the US. This was hard to believe, since we’d hired an ‘expert’ immigration lawyer to advise us on this situation and she’d never mentioned form I-131. We originally hired her because Bill’s green card was going to expire this year and we wanted an ‘expert’ to expedite the renewal process so that it wouldn’t get re-issued while we were out of the country. That part of our deal with her worked out fine, but Bill specifically asked her how long he could stay outside the country before jeopardizing his status. Based on her ‘expert’ advice (and a lawyer’s advice ain’t cheap) we decided to return to US soil half way through our trip. This would mean a costly and exhausting detour to Hawaii, but we just didn’t think to question the information she provided.

Today Bill contacted the lawyer and yes, she is aware of form I-131 and yes, she will fax that to us. I’m still in shock that we received better information via the internet - for free. Thank you Marc! The only problem now is that the form will take a couple of months to process, and we’ll be out of the country when/if it arrives. If we only knew about this back in January. Oh well…. what was Shakespeare’s quote regarding lawyers?

Now on to bankers. The money we wired to Delhi has still not arrived. Our bank tells us that money wired to India can take up to two months to get to its final destination, due to the State Bank of India dragging its heels. Fine, I believe them. They’re the experts.

August 29, 2000

A brief update before our morning chores begin. Our backpacks are packed and waiting for d-day. They seem heavy but until we’re on the road I’m not sure if there’s anything we can live without - well, aside from the extra large vitamin tablets that Bill refuses to leave behind. Scurvy, it seems, may be our number one enemy on the road.

We also have visas for Nepal and India. Both were pretty easy to obtain, but I have to add that calling the embassies in advance and checking their visa application hours saved us any unnecessary trips uptown.

All our precious stuff is now in storage, or accidentally tossed out, but that’s something to worry about on another day. The last two details we need to address before we leave are the cleaning of the apartment, (which we’re in the middle of), and the transfer of our cats to Rhode Island, which we’ll do on Friday.

September 5, 2000

Let’s hope that tomorrow doesn’t turn into a scene from "The Out-of-Towners". Today I telephoned a car service to schedule tomorrow’s ride to Kennedy Airport. I was told that horrific traffic problems are being caused by the United Nations conference and that tomorrow will be the worst day due to Fidel Castro’s arrival. It was strongly recommended we schedule the car pickup two hours earlier than usual.

This weekend we said our good-byes to my family, our cats, and our best friends. It was the weekend which I’ve been dreading since the beginning, but thankfully everyone (apart from our beloved cats) was extremely supportive and excited about our adventure.

Well comrades, it’s all down to the next 24 hours. Tomorrow we’re off (or stranded on the corner of 3rd and A.)


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