For the past month we’ve been spending quality time in two very contrasting worlds. After a few parting tears at the airport near Trieste, Kathy and Glenn’s only request was that we contact them and let them know where we decided to sleep that night, at this point there wasn’t a plan. With a free month at our finger tips and limited Euros in our pockets we decided it was time to WWOOF again. We contacted a dozen farms in Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia and received a lot of responses from people that were really interested in meeting us, but didn’t have need for extra workers at the time. Then we received a reply from a farm in northern Italy that read like this:

“I dont now if our farm the right place it s for you. We are a little farm and we cant say how many hours per day you should help. we like to have people hier thath enjoi want to now, lerning and help in our kind of live that we have choised.”

We knew right away, that this was exactly the right place for us, because, you know... we love: “ to enjoi want to now lerning and we’re intrigued by the live they have choised.”

The decision to join Silke and Nivio for two weeks on their farm/home has been one of our most life changing experiences on this trip. We’ve reached
some pretty serious heights and taken some adventurous routes through undeveloped nations but this was a take home experience. This couple has built up a sustainable farm over the past ten years and they live off the fruits of their labor. With twenty goats, four sheep, two cows, ten chickens, ten bee swarms, a large garden, an orchard of fruit trees and a passion for biodynamics they’ve created a small world of their own. We immediately felt at ease with them as they led us through their daily lives and after only two days we started imagining creating this type of life for ourselves. Did I mention the homemade tiramisu? Well there's that, too. We were meant to stay ten days but that’s just when the weather started getting nice and the actual work started so we stuck around a few more, in the end we ended up living with them for fifteen days. I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to stay in close contact with this couple and pick their brains for the next few decades.

After leaving Silke and Nivio’s world we traveled deeper into the Italian Alps on a week-long self guided bike trip around Trentino and into the throws of Lago de Garda; absolutely breath taking. From there we made our way out of the mountains and down to the sea one last time in search of a different type of world. The grand finale to our backpacking adventure in Europe was spent in fluffy robes, sipping fine wines and eating sushi aboard ‘The World’. This is the true definition of getting soft.

In reflection Italy has been all about getting to know family on another level, whether the separation has been generations, months or states. The most rewarding part of our final Italian leg on the ship, apart from the little chocolate truffles they serve with the cappuccino, was the quality time spent
with my aunt and uncle. Karyn and Geoff have always been a part of my life but I’d never taken the opportunity to spend more than a weekend, a wedding, or an over-crowded family occasion with them. We had a fantastic week with them, wandering the streets of Venice and exploring the many coastal towns of Croatia. We had planned to disembark in Split but were convinced to stay on until Rome, the
convincing took all of about two minutes. Our days were filled with paddle tennis,
excursions ashore and backgammon on the pool deck while the evenings took a
different twist with outdoor movies, endless magnificent meals and ...wait for it.... a vow renewal. My personal favorites were the nights we arranged to sleep out under the stars in the bali beds, a softer alternative to camping. In Rome we reluctantly got our packs out of storage, returned all our barrowed clothes and whittled our packs down to the Ryanair mandatory 15 KG/pack! Reality hits you like a brick.

We headed to the Netherlands to celebrate the retirement of an ex-colleague of Ryan's and a rendezvous with Ade and Barb, a couple we raved about back in Vietnam.

Europe's chapter is coming to a close; one that didn't go so much according to plan, but in the best way possible. Only South America now stands between us and landing back in the USA....and we're going to go out with a bang!

European Vacation

We said goodbye to the relatives with tearful embraces, boarded a ferry in Brindisi and headed to Greece.  There we were scheduled to meet up with friends from Boston.  Before entering these weeks of our trip, Annie and I were a little apprehensive about how dramatic our shift in travel style would be.  As expected going from the coast of Africa to Europe, and to emphasize the fact Roma, was shock enough to our senses and our wallets, but to add to it a vacation style travel plan was going from 0 to 100 mph on the racetrack of luxury.  Hey, you gotta roll with it, right?

Greece is in financial crisis, but their tourism industry seems to be doing alright and everything is so damn what gives, where's all that cash going Grecia!?  We did the "Greece in a week" iterineray with JD and Jenn...Athens, Santorini, Crete, Delphi and Athens again.  Wow, that shit is beautiful and friggin' old.  On crete we walked through Knossos, center of the Minoan civilization dating back to 6000 BC or before..... yeah, that there be one of the oldest civiliations known to man. Crazy.  And yes of course there was classical period of ancient Greece, with the likes of the Acropolis' Parthenon and Delphi's Sanctuary of Apollo and Athena... gulp.  It felt like these guys were doing things before Christ was born that folks in central Africa have yet to figure out (or afford).  Hm, strange how civiliations progress at such amazingly different paces.

The week went by too quickly.  We laughed... a lot, drank, ate, played lots of cards, relaxed and just caught up on all things back home Boston. It was great and really good to see and spend time with familiar faces that we hadn't seen in a while.  Although we all agreed that it didn't feel like 8 months had gone by....

So after a short delay on their return flight (some bs about volcanic ash in the atmosphere or sumthin?!) Jenn and Johnny were off and Annie and I were headed towards Italy again. This time north, to pick up my parents for a week in northern Croatia.  We had a one night stopover in a Greek hilltown, beautiful spring meadows anchored sweeping mountains dotted with sheep (I didn't think Greece looked like this) then we got on a two night, thirty-six hour ferry ride to Trieste.  We got deck tickets which means pulling out our sleeping pads and sleeping bags and searching the ship for a quiet place to cleep.  First night OK, second night... BRUTAL (for me atleast) due to a nice mix of a gently rocking boat and two liters of squeeze bottle vino rosso.  Ugh.

It was great to see the parental units, obviously there was lots of anticipation and a tear was shed on arrival.  8 months is a long time not to see people that you love - so darn it, make it a point to visit your loved ones!  We jumped in the car and headed to our base for the week, Rovinj, Croatia, just over the Italian, then Slovenian boarder in the peninusla of Istria.  I recommend this place bar none as a week or longer destination.  Rovinj itself is a charming town, centered around an old city, which was once an island, but has now been connected.  Istria is famous seafood, wine, blue water coasts, a fairland type interior with hilltop towns scattered about and truffles.  Is this paradise?  Pretty close.  Much like our time in Greece this week was magic.  We enjoyed all that Rovinj had to offer, we spent some time inland, had to sober up at the end of the week and get stitches due to all of the laughing.  We had a great time and most importantly to me it got my folks out to see another part of the world.  My hope is that this trend for them of exploring new  continues... and that Cancun, becomes less frequented.

Our 20 European vacation came to a close at the first of May.  Our time reminded us of the great life and community we had before we left and what we'll come back to later this year.  We saw some amazing things, but most importantly we spent quality time with some of our closest people in beautiful parts of the world.
So.... I've written and rewritten this post several times, never be satisfied that the words did the experience, that we had in Puglia, justice. So if it doesn't come out properly, let it be said here... Annie and I were overwhelmed by the generosity, interest and the degree of unconditional love that the Rendinis and Caliandros showed us during the week we spent with them. We want to say thank you and my hope is that soon, we will again be in your wonderful presence.


So from the coast of Africa, Europe ... first stop Italia. We flew in and spent a few days in one of our all-time favorite cities, Roma, then headed south, to visit "the Italian relatives". Seeing how this was THE reason that Italy was included in the itinerary, we were super excited. I mean really, how many people get to meet their mother's mother's father's brother's daughter and her family?

So, a little background. My mother, uncle, cousin and their significant others tracked down our distance relatives from southern Italy a few years ago and actually visited them as part of a trip to Italy in 2008. They only stayed two days, but created a lifetime of memories with the Caliandros and Rendinis in that short period of time. We had heard so much about their visit, from the welcome at the train station, the garden walks in the country, to all of the historical towns, and the banquet held in their honor with over 50 guests...overly gracious hosts, overly moved travelers, to the point of tears. It was amazing to listen to the stories, so we wanted to deliver a thank you to the family in person and spend some time with these obviously amazing souls.

We weren't prepared for the experience to come - not even close. From Roma we took an overnight half bus, half train ride down to Ostuni (Puglia, the heal of the "boot" if you will) 15 minutes drive from Casalini - home of my great grandfather's relatives. We were met first by Maria Caliandro and her husband Giuseppe. I met eyes with Maria, we recognized each other... she let out a short gasp, then began the run/brisk walk towards each other, ya know like movie stuff ... a few kisses, a few ciaos, a few hugs, lots of smiles and lots of cryptic Italian... ok, out to the parking lot, where we were greeted by more people (Leonardo, Mariantonietta a.k.a. Mari), a few more ciaos, kisses, hugs, and smiles later we were off to Nino and Dora Rendini's (Mari's parents) cafe/bar, located in a campground on the Adriatic. Guess what ensued? Ciaos, kisses, hugs and smiles. This type of behavior didn't end... for 7 straight days. Annie and I felt like diplomats, ambassadors, being treated to every important luxury afforded in Puglia. We visited every single local town - Ostuni, Cisternino, Alberbello and others further a field - Matera, Otranto, Santa Maria de Leuca (sourthern most point of Italy), we visited farms, churches and castles, we walked the country gardens, groves and vineyards of the families, visited a famous local cave, and we even went on a car safari, to the metro zoo, and saw a dolphin show (all done at a local amusement park). WWhewff... aren't you whipped just reading that?!

However, for us the most enjoyable part of the entire time was mealtime - we sat down together, always being served homemade, traditional food, with loads of local products always on the table (I mean stuff made by them like olive oil, wine, limoncello!) and it all just kept coming (don't ask me to count the courses we ate over the week)... and of course it was all accompanied by broken English, even worse Italian and lots of hand waving. So, Annie and I know exactly how our elder generation felt... and we are so so lucky to have these relatives in our lives. It was also very special to be able to celebrate Mari's brithday with her and members of Dora's family...even taking part in making part of the meal - the pizza! So fun... Nino's got quite a knack for the food stuffs.... Bravo!

So the story must go on... Vermont folks are chomping at the bit to get back over to Casalini to help with the olive and grape harvest, Casalini folks would love to get to America....and they would be hosted like the Kings and Queens that they are. I know that the hosts in Vermont would at least try their best to come within shoutin' distance providing the hospitality shown to them while in Italy.

Hospitality means different things to different people. It could mean anything from answering someones question, to letting someone use your phone, to hosting a dinner for twenty, to any number of other things. In Italy, when you are the host, hospitality is taken very very seriously and I really cannot imagine anyone taking it more seriously than our relatives in Casalini. There was never a question... Annie and I were going to be treated very well, special, because we were guests and that's hospitality. A new standard, that I'd like to live up to.

So it's difficult to put into words for me. From my parent's visit in 2008, I had heard so many things about the "italian relatives", but could all of these glowing blah blahs be true? Hells yeah! And more, beyond your wildest dreams....really...

I'm also so thankful to the crew that made the trip over in 2008. It is hard to believe, but if they had not broken ground with the family in Casalini back then, who knows if the relationship would exist now and if Annie and I would have made the trip. Boy are we lucky.

Grazie mille to the Familia di Casalini! See...still working on the Italian...

Familiar Faces in Foreign Lands

We landed in Europe just over a month ago, haven't had more than 2 days to ourselves and it's been great.  After two days in Roma, awh Rome you hold a special place in my heart, we headed south to meet "The Relatives"... in Puglia region.  We spent a week meeting, greeting, eating, kissing (as part of the greeting that is), drinking, eating, eating and being merry with the most gracious family in the World - seriously, we feel like the luckiest people in the world to know, let along be realted to the Caliandro's and Rendini's of Casallini, Italia.  More on them and our time there later.

We then ferried over to Greece to meet friends from Boston - Johnny Divincenzo and Jenn "You" Nunes.  We spent the next week bouncing around the Greek heard me, just bouncing around the Greek f-ing isles.  We hit Santorini and Crete, combined with some time in Athens and then a side trip to Delphi ... wow - how old is this stuff?  And how delicious is their ho-hum day-to-day food?.. olives, feta, oil, gyros, moussaka.  We sadly said goodbye to JD and Jenn after a great week and were on our own.  For a couple days at least... we headed to the interior to the mountains for a day in Kalabrita - felt more like Tyrol austria - lush green rolling hills, rocky outcroppings, sheep, hearty farmers and husky waitresses.... the good life.

It was short lived as we had plans to meet my folks in Northern Italy, before heading to the Istrian peninsula of Croatia for a week.  Another ferry ride (I think we'd be able to navigate the Adriatic with a spoon, some tinfoil, the wind and the stars at this point) had us in Venice, hopped a train to Trieste and picked the folks up.  We spent a great week with my favorite parents (I mean people) based out of Rovingo, Croatia.  Have you been?  Go!  It's beautiful, old, on the water, near mountains, has great wine, olive oil, fresh seafood, and is supposedly the world's capital of truffles - but my view may be skewed by the company we kept.  More and more and more to write...but now again Annie and I sit here... after dropping of my folks at the airport this AM, on our own.  We're used to it, but it's been different this past month... so now we have to getting planning again!  Doesn't take us too long...

We're now trying to piece together a 25 day itinerary, since at the end of May we're scheduled to meet Annie's aunt and uncle back in venice... so for starters ...we've just booked travel to vienna to catch a band from the Boston we like and to check out one of the most ornate cities in the world, sooooo that should be nice..then we THINK we'll do 10 days of wwoofing (farming) in northern Italia and 15 days of hiking/biking from the Dolomites down to venice... that's the current plan, but hey...who knows.  what do you think?

The Swahili coast has been magnetic as we work our way up the coast line one island at a time.  We started in Mafia Island and fell in love with island life, the people are a little more relaxed and less likely to try and sell you a safari package.  Our initial draw to Mafia was the prospect of fulfilling  Ryan’s long time obsession with whale sharks.  So the story goes Gramma Sullivan had only two truly good books at her house one was Mike Mulligan and the Steamshovel and the other was Sharks, Sharks, Sharks.  The obsession started early with these plankton eating fish that are the size of whales.  When we heard it might be our luck that these beautiful animals were in our neck of the woods so B-line for the small undisturbed island of Mafia.  Flying as first mate in our twelve seater from Dar es Salam Ryan started his search from 5500ft but it wasn’t until we were inches away swimming next to these massive fish that the obsession became a reality.  Really where do you go from here??
  …Zanzibar of course.  Our initial thought was that the more popular island, Unguja would be too touristy and may have lost its local charm.  But we quick found that if you hide away in the narrow streets of Zanzibar town (Stonetown) long enough you can’t escape into the charm of this multi-cultural neighborhood.  The Swahili coast has an interesting mix of cultures brought from Africa, Arabia and India and nowhere is that more apparent than the faces, architecture, food, and attire of Stonetown.  After absorbing some of Stonetown’s charisma we headed to the islands true draw- its beaches.  The sand is so fine it squeaks beneath your toes.  At high or low tide you’ve got long spans which extend into crystal waters that you feel you could float in for days.  The only ocean we know back home has always been chilling to the bone, this is more like bath water, sometimes even boiling from the mid-day sun.
  We thought we must be on to something with this island hopping so why end a good thing?  Jumping on the first night ferry north we landed in Pemba at sunrise.  Pemba is the answer to anyone’s off-the-beaten-path island hopping dream- sign us up.  We instantly felt a part of the small community of Mkwoani, hanging out in the shade of the market and joining a local basketball team for an afternoon game.  We found our second home on the island after a random ride with new Italian friends up to the northern part of the island.  After going by a makeshift sign on our way back from the beach we made a quick decision to let them carry on without us, while we pitched a tent on the shores of Verani Beach a.k.a. paradise…think breezy nights, evening swims and fresh grilled fish…it all made us question why we would ever leave.
(Over to RyBoy)
Alas… our desire for progress, as it often does, pulled us away.  What would we do with our last couple of weeks in Africa? TBD, but we knew the first step would be to get back to the mainland.  How to do this was the big question.  Backtrack to Unguja, Dar then up the coast to Kenya?  If you know us you may know that we hate hate hate backtracking, so that option was out almost immediately.  There were two other options - passenger ferry to Tanga Tanzania, then a bus north to the Kenyan boarder OR - talk to local dhow captains headed to southern Kenya and hitch a ride.  The dhow is a traditional sailing vessel long used to move cargo around the Indian Ocean… it is the maritime symbol of the Swahili Coast…nowadays dhows come in various shapes, sizes and levels of safety.  Can’t you see it now?  Annie and I with eye patches fixed, smelling of cloves, cinnamon and ginger.. saying things like “darrrr”, “land ho!” and “matey!”,  pulling fish from the sea and gnawing them raw, having the other grisly Tanzanian sailors telling us jokes in Swahili and laughing heartily and slapping each other joyously as we understand every word… well stop picturing that immediately, the actual scene is quite different (but no less of a tale).…. Annie and I sitting atop scrap metal, working to keep all exposed skin out of the sun, trying to drink enough water to stay hydrated, yet holding in pee as the stern shows the only prospect of a toilet, not understanding any conversation although something must‘ve been funny, ‘cause there was plenty of laughin‘, and feeling bad about eating anything we had picked up at the market that morning because no one else seemed to have any food (there wasn’t enough to share among everyone)… and that was the happs.. for SEVEN hours.  But did I mention that we saved $20!  Score!
Truth be told the trip was ACE (thanks for that Sir Alex) - blue water, dolphins, flying fish, lots of smiles if not good conversation from our mates - and an unforgettable trip which would have been uneventful comfortable and boring otherwise.  That’s how you make memories… proactively.

With a week left before our flight out of Nairobi we sat in Mombasa contemplating our next and final move in Africa ….a few more days with animals, some hiking in Kenya, back to city life in Nairobbery or finish what we started on the Swahili Coast? We both decided to finish with a little more island time… off to Lamu.  Lamu is a group of islands on the northern coast of Kenya, kilometers away from Somalia.
(back to AO)
We finished our Swahili tour in Lamu, taking in as many white sand beaches, turquoise waters and friendly mixed culture faces as we could in a week.  It was great to be in one place for a week and get into the maze of narrow streets at a different level.  On our way out of town we ran into a couple we had meet two months earlier on our flight into Nairobi, a interesting cross of paths, they were also leaving Lamu but they had been there SINCE they left Nairobi.  They had rented a house and enjoyed the relaxation of staying put, getting to know a place and being able to cook their own food.  In that same period of time we had climbed Kilimanjaro, seen the big 5, swam with whale sharks, visited over 5 different islands, traveled by bus, boat, plane, land cruiser and donkey, hiked an active volcano, shook hands with Masaai, and smoked with the Hadzabe… wheeewf… I think we both realized that although we had an amazing time in Africa, perhaps it was time to slow things down a bit.  Goooooood luck with that!