Tuesday, March 18, 2014

3rd BWW - Day 4

On Monday morning, we ate breakfast and packed up to go. Twila took out the trash and discovered that one of our tires was flat to the rim. After a call to AAA and a change to the donut, we were on our way to Reno. We drove the back roads, along the lake, to enjoy the scenery and avoid high speeds. We returned our ski equipment and swapped out the rental car for one with four normal tires.

We then headed for what Yelp promised to be the best Mexican restaurant in Reno, Mari & Chuy's Mexican Kitchen. We were not led astray, it was fabulous and the owners were super nice. I had an amazing strawberry mojito, fresh-made ceviche and a salad. The rest of the table's food looked and smelled great and we all agreed that it was one of the best Mexican meals we'd had anywhere.
After lunch we checked into the Peppermill Resort Hotel. We went straight for the spa and hung out in the pools, sauna and steam room before our couples massages. I thought it would be a nice way to end our trip before we all returned to hectic, three-day workweeks. We all relaxed and after a lazy afternoon, ate dinner in the hotel, our plans to whoop it up on St. Patrick's Day put aside for a reasonable bedtime and a 6:25am flight. (Photo: Peppermill Resort Hotel)
In all, it was a great trip, one which garnered a "12 out of 10" review from Jason and Twila. It was nice to get away, spend time and catch up with good friends properly and enjoy the great outdoors. Looking forward to Blog Winner Weekend #4!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

3rd BWW - Day 3

Today we arrived at the mountain a little later than yesterday. I decided to take another lesson to get more comfortable with everything - I was stoked that they suggested I skip a level, all the way to level 3. While Brian, Twila and Jason zig-zagged the mountain for different trails, I made my way to the top for a 2-mile run down to the bottom. The chairlift was much bigger and faster (pictured at the top) and the photo mid-left is my "proof I was at the top" photo. In all, it was a fun day and we were all adequately spent when we headed out at 3pm.

We decided to take it easy for the evening. After a leisurely rest on the sectional with nice conversation, Jason hit the hot tub (mid-left), and Twila joined him, to watch the sun set. I watched it from the living room window, while Brian was out picking up some pizzas. We all had a nice, relaxing dinner and watched some television. Tomorrow we will take on Reno's version of St. Patty's Day! Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Third Blog Winner Weekend - Day 1 & 2

We arrived in Reno yesterday afternoon for the third blog winner weekend. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out past posts) We picked up a car, rental skis/boots/poles and ski passes in town and had a delicious lunch (of course) at a place called Süp. I had the yummiest, New York white cheddar grilled cheese with avocado (pictured middle).

After lunch, we drove to the condo we rented in Tahoe. The view from the living room, picture window can be seen at the top, the blue sliver is the lake. After some much deserved naps (bottom right), we headed to Scusa to carb up for today's skiing adventures. My eggplant parmesan was perfect. We all left full and ready for bed - getting up at 3am and tacking on a two-hour time change is a tough way to start a vacation!
The next morning we got up bright and early, packed lunches and headed to Sierra at Tahoe to beat the crowd. Three local Olympic gold medalists came in the afternoon (they are tiny in the top, right corner) and we wanted to nab a parking spot. Jason and Twila (the blog winner weekend winners) and Brian hit the slopes right away and I waited on my lesson. Today was my first downhill skiing experience and I wanted to get the do's and don'ts down to avoid breaking myself in two. Like the last time we were here, I still hate the chairlift but the skiing was fun. It was 50 degrees on the mountain, so we were plenty warm and skied most of the day.
After showers, we headed back into town and walked around a bit (so nice to have regular shoes on after those ski boots - ouch!). We then headed for Off the Hook for a delicious sushi dinner. Brian and I shared the most amazing yellowtail, garlic albacore and salmon sashimi, along with a tiger roll and finished it all off with tempura fried, green tea ice cream.

Fully stuffed, we headed back to the condo for a soak in the hot tub. The moon is full tonight and we could see lots of stars. A perfect end to a wonderful day. Here's to hoping my body cooperates to get out of bed tomorrow to do it all again!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Savoring India

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur. In preparation for an annual partners' meeting and a one-day conference I was putting on for work, I have been pretty heads down, without time to blog. However, that all ended last night (and went very well) and I now I am able to fill in a few missing and interesting details of my trip.

Since the focus of our conference was on the financial sector in India, it was important that we stayed close to the Financial District. We finally landed on having the events at the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai. We were able to get an excellent rate, which made it possible to fit into our budget for the event. If you follow me on Instagram, you have already seen the amazing view I had out my bedroom window. The hotel was truly spectacular - they even give a daily, 75-minute tour everyday - and many distinguished guests have graced its hallways and pillows.
Inside the hotel, there are seven restaurants, one of which is the famous (although I didn't know it at the time) Wasabi by Morimoto. Heralded as one of the top 100 restaurants in the world, the cuisine was out of this world. I went with my foodie co-worker, Nick, who had watched the head chef win the original, Japanese Iron Chef competition. The delacacies I enjoyed were: the amuse bouche (bottom right) which was a light, flaky pastry filled with toasted rice, vegetables and magic; the toro tartar with caviar (middle right), the hamachi/yellowtail sashimi (middle left); and the panko truffle lobster with a side of the most amazing egg-fried rice I've ever tasted.

Everything was superb. I would've gone back every free chance I had, after eating dinner there on Monday, but after receiving my bill for one (US$212), I had to resist.
Sadly, I only left the hotel in Mumbai long enough to cross the street and see the Gateway of India up close. After that, I walked around the crowded streets with several of my US and India colleagues before retiring to a much less expensive, Mexican restaurant in the hotel.

The remainder of my stay in India includes a farewell breakfast with my Indian co-workers and a blissful massage before hopping on a plane for my 27-hour journey home. This trip has been far more memorable than the last, making me look forward to the next.

Friday, February 21, 2014

India - Take 2

I'll admit, after I came in December, India was not on the top of my "countries visited" list. I found it overwhelming (as people usually describe) in all senses of the word - smell, sound, sights, cuisine, pace, etc. Parts of it were lovely but it was hard for me to focus on them in spite of everything else. Now that I am on my second trip, things are going much better for me. I have been able to relax into things a little more naturally and packed enough snacks to offset the 24/7 spice parade that is most all food here.

After work yesterday, I went to the Rock Fort (pictured above) with two of my U.S. colleagues and together we walked barefoot up all 344 steps to the top temple (lower, right-hand corner). The rock is one of the oldest rock formations in the world, at 3.8 billion years of age. Inside the rock, several temples and a fort are carved - both serving their purposes for centuries -- the first temple was built in 580 AD.

Our transportation for the evening was the lovely, yellow auto rickshaw I am sitting in. In case you want a glimpse of what that was like, I took a short video for you.
The city of Trichy below from near the top of the Rock Fort.
After our temple adventures, we went for a little clothes shopping -- I think I am ready for spring now -- and then headed back to the hotel for dinner. In all, it was a pretty good day. Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you soon.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Out of Africa

On Friday we visited five borrower sites from another one of our partners. We saw shallow wells, like the one on the left, and bathrooms, like the structure to the right. The shallow well is hand dug twenty feet deep with a knotted rope tied to a 10L bucket. I tried my hand at pulling up a bucket and only made it halfway, the rope was digging into my hands. It's amazing to watch the women do it like it's nothing.
After our work was complete in Meru, we drove the five hours back to Nairobi. We headed out at 6am to watch Nairobi National Park wake up (this is also where the movie Out of Africa was filmed). Lucky for us, we had an awesome guide (our driver for all of our field visits this week) who knew exactly where to look for animals. We passed other drivers along the way who said they hadn't spotted anything yet. We saw baboons, rhino, giraffe, zebra, gazelle, antelope, crocodile, secretary bird, vulture, quail, warthog, rock herix and ostrich.

The elephants pictured above were at our second destination, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is an orphanage for elephants who have lost their mothers to ivory poachers. The elephants stay there until they are three, usually, and they work on getting them stronger and releasing them back into the wild. It was quite humbling to see so many magnificent animals in the wild. The baby elephants playing the mud hole was probably the best, enjoy!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Middle of the World

This was taken today. I was so excited when we drove by that I asked the driver to turn around and go back. It just seemed like one of those moments you should capture.
Sorry it's been quiet this week online. Offline, I can assure you, has been anything but. However, it's probably not that interesting to write each day about meetings, car rides, missed meals and water tanks, so I thought I'd bring you a recap towards the end of my trip (and before my free day with my co-workers this weekend before my flight, bound to be more interesting for you at least). I spent my first few days here in Nairobi - first an all-day staff retreat with our local office and then in some meetings with potential collaborators and my U.S. co-workers (funny you have to leave the office to actually get time to talk sometimes).
Yesterday we headed to Myeri to visit one of the branch offices of one of our microfinance partners to see how they were doing with lending for water and sanitation. After meeting with their staff, we headed to the field to visit four of their borrowers.Three of them had borrowed money to buy a water tank to store water, since the local water service in the rural areas only supplies two hours of service three days a week, and the other had borrowed to build a toilet behind her home. (The photo above was taken next to her house.) We complete a survey with each borrower to track how the program is doing and what their experience was like with the loan.
Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel and then out to a hotel (which seems to be interchangeable for restaurant and sleeping place in Kenya and India) called the White Rhino. It was interesting - my salad that was to come with cheese had pineapple in it's place - and not really photo-worthy. It was, however, nice to have a meal together with all my colleagues (three from the U.S. and two from Kenya). After an evening of catching up on email, sleep and (finally for me) a hot shower, we woke up to head out to see a few more borrowers.
One of the borrowers had just purchased two plots of land to build a house, raise goats and cows, and build a home. The next loan she took out was to build this toilet (pictured above) which is under construction. A 25 foot pit was dug and then a concrete slab was poured over it, the little white cup in the far right corner is to keep a vent open so she can have a "VIP latrine." This type of latrine is a pit latrine with a pipe ventilating the inside (once the surrounding super structure is built); the pipe helps with the insects and smells inside the structure and is healthier and more pleasant for the user. The wood in the middle is forming the hole where the toilet itself is. Now you know! :)
The hillside of Myeri, Kenya.
After our visits, which took awhile due to the windy, bumpy dirt roads, we headed to our next destination - Meru, Kenya. On our way, as you can see at the top of this post, we stopped on the equator. I was a total nerd and took a million pictures. Now, I am sitting in my hotel room, waiting for the other car of my colleagues to arrive and then we'll probably get some dinner. Thanks for stopping by!