Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

It was a sunny day here on the ski slopes, and the locals were celebrating the holiday with some local tunes, so we had to "do as the locals do" of course... don't forget the Gl├╝hwein :) ...

Happy Holidays to All!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Visit to India - Part 2

I just can’t get over how life here seems to be the TOTAL opposite of things in Switzerland... at least for little things like "rules" (!) It's so weird to go from a country where you HAVE to walk between the lines or else you get fined right away, to one where there seem to be no lines at all. Literally or figuratively!

On Tuesday we did the day trip from Delhi to see the Taj Mahal – a very impressive sight...

It was beautiful. Not as huge as we all expected, but the intricateness of the jewels in the marble was very impressive. And as with Delhi it was just interesting to just drive around and see how people live, and the contrast between rich and poor...

Every minute there was something new and different to see and experience. Just the final trip to get to and from the Taj Mahal was an adventure, riding in a rickshaw...

and then having to push through the local street vendors (who always seem to surround us the moment we’re in sight).

On Wednesday we had to get up very early for our flight to Chennai. The Kingfisher Airlines is one of the best I have ever flown - such wonderful service both at the airport and on the plane, it was incredible. When we arrived in Chennai the Abrahams and Chris and Manisha were all waiting and waving for us at the airport -- Definitely a much nicer reception than when we arrived in Delhi!! It was wonderful seeing them again, and having the family connection in such a faraway place.

Our hotel was very nice and we just hung out there for a while to rest. Eventually our car arrived (late) to take us to the Abrahams' for a late dinner. (Everything runs at least an hour late in India – Yet another sharp contrast to the Swiss and their timeliness!) It took almost an hour to go the short distance, because of the traffic here -- It is the worst traffic I have ever seen. We travelled with their cousins who are also staying in a nearby hotel - one is from Australia and one from Malaysia.

We had drinks and dinner at the family’s apartment... The dinner was supposedly "without any spice" but it still seemed spicy, even to me! It was nice to have the family all together on this adventure...On Thursday the Abrahams took us shopping at a nearby "mall" area... and I bought a local outfit to wear to the wedding reception. I wanted to get a saree, but that takes many days to prepare the correct size, so instead I tried on “salwar kameez”’s, which are like a dress with pants underneath, and very decorative.

Since shopping always makes one hungry, we took a break for lunch (a late one, of course). I wanted to try more local cuisine, so my new sister-in-law ordered for me a sort of sampler plate. Lots and lots of different things – and all for the equivalent of just a couple dollars! I don’t know what all was on it, but I just dug in without asking questions. You scoop up the food with the bread and eat it all with your fingers, including the rice. (Washing hands right before and after is a definite.) Needless to say it’s a messy affair, but delicious!

The next day we just enjoyed the warm weather by hanging out at the pool – Nice to get a chance to work on the tan in December! The big event – the wedding reception – was this evening, so we wanted to be rested up. While I laid soaking in the warm sunshine and enjoying the cool breeze, I felt very appreciative again... as I looked around at how nice our surroundings were at the hotel, you could hear all the horns blowing on the other side of the fence from the horrible traffic and know that people are having a much harder life just living day to day.

The wedding reception was really nice – There were over 500 guests, and we felt like sort of guests of honor being the groom’s family from “so far away”. Here's me and the happy couple...

Everyone was dressed to the hilt in all the different beautiful colors of sarees...

and the food was incredibly delicious. It will make going to an “Indian” restaurant anywhere else in the world pale by comparison!

The next day our new “in-laws” took us to a beach area outside Chennai, as well as to visit a temple and a crocodile farm. I can’t emphasize enough how nice it was to have their support there to show us around and help us with everything. I had to leave to fly back home the following night and was sad to have to go. I was genuinely appreciative to have had the opportunity to experience so much in such a short trip. It is definitely a life-altering event to visit a third world country, so if you ever have the opportunity I would suggest taking it.

ChekolaChekola (that's Cheers, at least according to one of our Indian drivers!),

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Visit to India - Part 1

Hello and Greetings from Delhi!!

All I can say is - Whew. And wow! It is all overwhelming. This experience brings back a LOT of memories from Africa. Plus a bit more, since we don't have a tour company taking care of everything we do here. It's just me and my parents, figuring it out as we go!

My brain feels like total mush after travelling all yesterday and everything we’ve experienced today. The trip started out with my flight from Zurich almost not happening. They announced that it was delayed and may be cancelled, but at the last minute they got whatever problem fixed and we were able to take off. The delay meant I had a very tight connection in Paris, where I was to meet my parents on the plane to fly to India together. If I missed the flight I would have to wait until the next day to get another flight, and my parents wouldn’t know where I was or what to do when they got to Delhi. So, I really needed to catch that flight!

I ran thru the Paris airport and made it on the India-bound plane just in time!... Just in time to sit there for an extra hour before we could finally take off. I could have just taken my time after all! Oh well, the 8-hour flight went smoothly and I had a nice time catching up with my parents with some wine, reading and napping...and before we knew it we were in India! Here we just got off the plane...

When we arrived in Delhi it was almost midnight, and we were welcomed by a mile-long line for passport check. Since we were almost at the end of the line already, we decided to let it shorten a bit while we went to the restroom - only to discover when we returned that two more flights had arrived and made the line even longer - Doh! Ah, the joys and “glamour” of travel. Who would have expected so many people there at 1am?
After surviving the looooong wait and having our passports approved, we went to pick up our baggage - only to find that it still hadn't arrived yet -- and we had disembarked the plane over an hour and a half earlier!! We waited still another half hour watching the baggage belt go verrrrrry sloooooooowly by. There was dust all in the air in the airport, seemingly from some construction they had been doing.

When we finally collected our belongings we looked for our driver who would take us to our hotel. Unfortunately among the throngs and throngs of people welcoming the arriving passengers, no sign had my name on it like it was supposed to. I used a phone to call our hotel and they said that the driver had given up on us since our flight was late and the wait was so long. Well isn't that nice, especially since it was pre-paid!! So we ended up taking a taxi. That experience was a separate adventure in itself - too much to put into words, so just remind me to tell you next time I see you in person. Let's just say we were really glad to finally see the hotel and to arrive with all our bags and all our people together and in one piece!!

The hotel was bare-bones basic, but relatively clean. The windows would not close fully, which was worrisome with mosquitoes and their accompanying malaria risk. There was no tub or shower - just a water faucet on a side of the bathroom.

The noise outside on the streets was never-ending -- horns honking constantly, Indian music playing, bells ringing from rickshaws, people yelling, more horns honking on and on and on... But we were so tired we finally fell asleep and slept thru it all! (of course earplugs are definitely a travelers' best friend).

In the morning we decided that a change of hotels was in order. We got connected with a local tour agency who helped us find a better place and also set up a car and driver for us to get around the next three days. So we moved to the new hotel, which was a very welcome haven after all the hecticness. This one even has a tub AND a shower!

We spent the rest of the day touring Delhi. It is hard to put into words what a moving experience it is to see a place like this in person. There seem to be no rules for driving - the lane lines are ignored, and horns are constantly blared while cars push ahead into spaces you didn't think previously existed, along with rickshaws, bikes, motorbikes, people, ox-carts, camels...

lots of cattle crossings...

everything vies for position to get ahead...

There are people sleeping on the sidewalks and children sitting by fires on the corner of the road...

people selling anything you can think of, and people eating right next to people relieving themselves... I really don't know how to describe it, there was so much to see at once and so many emotions that it created. There are a lot more pics in the picture album here.

For lunch we ate at a wonderful restaurant and it was my parents' very first experience having Indian cuisine. They can't take spicy things, so I knew it might make for quite a challenge here... But they loved it!

And I did too -- so much flavor, what's not to love. Our driver dined with us and helped us pick out things from the menu. He is a great guy and I would recommend him to anyone travelling to the Delhi area.

Well after all this we are exhausted so time to rest before dinner... It was a big day filled with seeing many many different things, and witnessing first-hand how there are lots of people in this world that have hard lives where every day it is a challenge to obtain food and a clean place to rest their head. It especially hits home when I was reading some of my emails just now, and there was one from a company selling things for Christmas which said something about how "the holidays are so exhausting and overwhelming". Of course it is true, in our world it can be a "stressful" time if we let ourselves get bogged down with all the expectations we put on ourselves. But hopefully we can remember just how GOOD we all have it in life - so comfortable, so convenient. We have it downright easy compared to so many other people in this world!!

More later...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Inferno Race Report: Part III: T1, Oh Europe

In most Ironman triathlons, you exit the water and find an army of volunteers waiting to strip off your wetsuit, hand over your bag of cycling clothes, and guide you to the changing tent. It's in this tent where you strip off your sometimes icy swimwear, throw on your bike clothes, perhaps grab a snack, and then head out to receive your bike (which is handed to you by another one of those great race volunteers). This is exactly what I'm envisioning will happen at the Inferno, although as I exit the water and begin to feel my chilled legs come to life again, I see that there is no army of volunteers to strip off my wetsuit, hand me a gear bag, or guide me to a changing tent. What I see is my bike, my gear bag laying where I left it the day before (right under my bike), and a handful of naked butts catching the sunlight like prairie dogs popping in and out of their holes. Yep, this is Europe -- no place for good old-fashioned puritanical American modesty. Apparently the changing tent is ... well, open-air.

So, with fans a clappin' and snappin' photos and with my only coverage a partially-filled row of bike racks, I stripped down, laughed out loud at memories of Seinfeld, and greeted my new homeland in my birthday suit.

Now you triathletes out there will get this I'm sure -- for the rest though, you see -- triathletes can be a bit obsessive-compulsive. One of the things we're really good at is visualizing and worrying about every single detail of a race starting months before the starting gun is fired. Now I had envisioned this transition many times and never in my visualizations did I think through the feeling I would have standing in an open field surrounded by a hundred bikes, a dozen athletes, and more onlookers than I care to consider, approaching the whole disrobe, dry off, re-robe transaction. Had I actually visualized this, I'm sure that I would have thought through the impact of recently cut grass, an early morning sun angle, the right towel coverage technique to facilitate a clothing swapperoo, and I don't know ... maybe the best direction to face during the whole episode or whether or not I should go for a full towel-off or just hastily slip on bike shorts while still dripping wet. Since I never, ever, ever, thought about this scenario, I just had to stand there for a minute thinking "Is there really no changing tent here? Am I about to make a fool of myself by stripping down in the open only to find out that in Switzerland there's some rule that you have to walk your bike out of the transition area before you enter the changing tent?"

Well, you only live once and with more than a dozen hours of racing ahead of me on this day, I made the best of it, plopped down on the grass, and did what had to be an even less graceful move than the "whale dance wetsuit re-zip" to get my clothes on and off. In hindsight, I think I should have also done the naked dance and ran a couple laps through the transition area to air-dry off. My modesty got the best of me though and before I knew it I was out of T1 and starting off on the first of two bike segments.

Inferno Race Report: Part II - The Swim

COLD! As my feet hit the water, this is the thought that shocked my state of zen into the state of PerplexiChillituity .. yes, a made-up word describing the seemingly never-ending, rattling, and quite disturbing feeling that one is about to enter really cold water for an hour or more, just for sport!

One of my challenges for this race is that I didn't really train for the swim. You see, things are often a bit crowded in the Netherlands and swimming pools are no exception. In the States, I found it mildly annoying to have to share a swim lane with someone else. In Holland, I was lucky to share a lane with less than six people. I promise you, I'm not exaggerating here! My most enjoyable swim ever was in a large crystal clear lake in Maine during my first season of triathlon. In a lake that was at least 10K long, Becky and I were only joined by a sail boat on the far end of the end. Me, my wife, a sail boat, and fish ... that was it and it was thus a beautiful swim. You're probably with me now on how I didn't enjoy the swim training in Amsterdam and why I entered the water in the Swiss town of Thun thinking three things 1) wow, this is really cold; 2) seriously, really, really cold, and 3) maybe I should have trained for this swim because I can't even see where we're supposed to exit the water because it's so far away.

Ten minutes into the swim and I had confirmed to myself that lots of my new Swiss friends were serious swimmers (it felt like all of them!) and that the value of preparation can never be under-estimated. Maybe 3 sessions in the pool wasn't enough for a big race like this ... hmm, time will tell. It seemed like the swim lane was 100 yards across and I often wondered if I was on track as I really felt alone (and slow)! As I continued to plod my way through the water, trying to sight the castle-looking building (which was probably a real ... castle), my wetsuit zipper decided that now that the thin later of water between the suit and my skin had warmed up a bit (thus creating the insulation that keeps you from turning into an ice block in cold swims like this), it was a fantastic time to reintroduce ice cold water to Jeff's back. The zipper somehow snuck its way past the little safety velcro and completely opened all at once. Voila -- ice cold water, meet Jeff's spine. Not so fun! What's even more 'not-so-fun' is the whale dance you have to do to re-zip the back-mounted zipper in the middle of a deep lake!

With that challenge past and the whale dance re-zip completed, I continued to fight boredom, enjoy the occasional peak at the mountains on every right stroke, and fight the sensation that I was getting colder - especially my legs. That's when the cramps started. It started in my calves, but moved on to my quads and hamstrings. I've never had this happen in a swim and I've done cold swims before -- perhaps the wetsuit that I haven't worn in a decade had something to do with it! Yeah, and that whole lack of swim training thing. Nonetheless, the cramps were so bad that I couldn't move my legs at all lest a cramp start. This causes several other problems though -- first, it makes you swim slower (yeah I know, the no-brainer). Second, it takes away the one thing that could generate heat -- which makes you even colder. The last half an hour of the swim was a real challenge as I was forced to keep my legs completely still. I tried to stay positive (which is certainly the key in long multisport races), enjoy the occasional views, and think about the great mountain scenery that awaited me later in the race.

I was thrilled to reach the exit, but the moment I tried to stand I realized how frozen my legs were. I could barely walk to the transition area. Doing a goofy waddle (can a waddle ever not be goofy??) I made it to my bike, pausing only to say hi to Becky and to mutter with a frozen face "cold, legs cramp, cold, hi, swim over".
Stay tuned for part 3 as the real fun begins!