Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Megan Miller

Mount Pleasant, Iowa, November 26, 2005

I'm in Montréal and I'm about to ride Via Rail home to Ottawa. This has been a bit of a grueling holiday (too many nights trying to sleep in coach-class train seats) but I've enjoyed it. The best scenery was the Canadian Shield, the Rockies near Jasper, the Cascades near Seattle, Richland WA and Glacier National Park in Montana. (Sorry, Minnesotans and Iowans!) The best part of all though was meeting and re-meeting Christa, Matt, Kathleen, Lucas, Jenny, Caitie, Cynthia, Tom, Chan, Mari, Ben, Megan, Jim, Elaine, and José.

Monday, November 28, 2005


[Image and caption removed by request.]

Feeling much more refreshed after a night at the Hampton Inn in Albany - although I feared for a while last night that I was going to go hungry. The only place I could find to eat was in a dingy bar/restaurant with one other customer - a drunk. In order to get him to leave as soon as his beloved Redskins had lost on the TV the staff pretended to close down, turning off the lights, but whispered to me "You're OK Sir, it's just him we want to throw out". I had an actually very good hamburger but it came with potato chips and macaroni and a pickle, which inspired me less. The two Coronas were up to scratch though.

Now I'm about to work out what I've bought here in the US for Canadian customs declarations. I think we're looking at:

  • Two t-shirts: one of the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City (where I ate in the seat once used by President Clinton) and one of Schuhs' Saloon. (I am in negotiation to be the Schuhs' Saloon VP in charge of overseas franchise development. I have already done some foreign beer research consultation.)
  • six-pack of socks
  • a copy of Kangaroos with a picture by me on page 14

I'll be riding Amtrak's "Adirondack" to Montréal.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Poor sleep in the North East

[Image and caption removed by reqest.]

Had a pretty brutal night on the train. Tried to sleep on the floor but never got much rest. We left Chicago about 1½ hours late and now, after Rochester NY, are running over 3 hours behind.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Crossing America

Somewhere in Minnesota
November 21, 2005

I'm writing this aboard Amtrak's "California Zephyr" riding from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa to Chicago, Illinois. Scenery boring - except the bridge over the mighty Mississippi. Have just finished most of the Midwest component of my North American railway adventure. After two uncomfortable nights on the train from Pasco (but actually Spokane) I had seven hours to kill in Minneapolis - St. Paul before collecting my rental car. I doddled over breakfast at a Perkins and ambled around downtown Minneapolis, feeling perhaps colder than I can ever remember. It was only a few degrees below zero (C) but it was bitterly windy. Luckily, it seems that everywhere you might want to go in Minneapolis is connected by wind-proof bridges.

Then I drove to Mankato, Minnesota, to meet friends Tom, Chan and Mari. The last part of this drive was tricky because I'd been told to take the downtown exit off the highway. Before I saw any urbanization that looked like 'downtown' I'd left Mankato completely. Hm - need to re calibrate my 'downtown' and 'rural' sensors. City boy!

The rendezvous was to be at the 'Nile' restaurant in Mankato, which I assumed was Egyptian. As soon as I entered and saw the manager's face I knew it was either Ethiopian or Eritrean. She said she was Ethiopian, which was just a tiny bit of a pity because while I can remember quite a few words of Tigrigna, I only knew about two words of Amharic. (At the end, when I asked how to say 'goodbye', she said 'Ciao'.)

I stayed the night at Tom and Chan's wonderfully renovated hip-style house on the Mankato parade route but first zoomed to Mari's house in Mapleton to make portraits of her and her rabbits. One or two of these will be posted when she's given approval.

The next morning I drove to Iowa City, Iowa, to meet Ben and Megan. I've known Ben since we were roommates in Eritrea seven years ago. Megan is very much his better half. Both are wonderful friends and very very funny. It was so great to see them again. The next day was American Thanksgiving and 'we' hosted Ben's parents Jim and Elaine and Ben and Megan's friend José. Mr Hippen is a retired historian and he and I talked on and on about railways and bridges - I could see Ben and Megan smiling at our fit. I learned a lot. José is a visiting doctor from Mexico working at the University of Iowa. Megan's Thanksgiving dinner was perfect and I think a splendid time was had by all. The next day Ben, Megan, José and I saw "Good Night, and Good Luck". Yesterday Ben and Megan and I went to West Branch, IA, and toured the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Museum and visited the Hoover grave. I had known nothing about his first career as a mining engineer (working in Australia and China) or his post-WWI work on European and Asian famine relief. The library definitely supports the view that Hoover was not to blame for the depression but did so in quite a fair way and did not stray from criticizing him in certain aspects. Megan and I both remarked that his pre-White House career made him look (at least as interpreted by his library) much more liberal than one would expect of a Republican.

Last night we collected José and and drove to Merion, Iowa, to see Nick Parks' "Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit". While these films could not be more different they were both very very good.

I was sad to say goodbye to Ben and Megan this morning in Mount Pleasant but it's good to be moving on towards home and Liberia. This train takes me to Chicago and then I'll travel overnight to Albany. The next day takes me to Montréal and finally on the 29th I get home to Ottawa.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Nearly missing The Empire Builder

Amtrak "Empire Builder" traversing Montana
November 21, 2005

Finished a few days visiting special friends Jenny and Caitie in Richland, WA. Currently traversing Montana - back on the
Amtrak "Empire Builder". Said goodbye to the girls last night and headed to the station where I was told the train in from Portland was 1½ hours late - and running without a coach car. Settled down to watch most of 'Fargo' on DVD and then casually asked precisely when the train would arrive. Learned then that passengers without sleeper accommodation were meant to be on a bus to Spokane (where we would meet the part of the train that originates in Seattle) - and which was just about to leave. Wanted to ask sarcastically when they would have told me this but instead just ran to the bus. Rode to Spokane and waited (partly in a student bar) for three hours for the eastbound train.

Unfortunately had to share a pair of seats on the train and never got comfortable. Spectacular mountain, then foothills scenery is now competing with my eyelids for attention.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

New job offer

Seattle, Washington
November 15, 2005

I'm having such a great railway holiday - except for the sad farewells (which began with goodbyes to Christa and Matt in Toronto). On Monday I was so sad to say goodbye to my dear friends Kathleen and Lucas, who had looked after me so well in Penticton. However, I did enjoy the Okanagan scenery on my bus ride back to Kamloops. From there I finished my ride on "The Canadian" (Via Rail's flagship train) overnight to Vancouver and then took a Thruway bus to Seattle. Friendly US border guards confiscated my pepperoni sticks because they contain Canadian beef but I saw it coming and gobbled two of them down first.

I've always liked Seattle. It was nice to walk to my hotel and I had a splendidly decadent (and very non-vegetarian) dinner at the '13 Coins'.

Today I head to Richland WA by train. First I take Amtrak's "Coast Starlight" to Portland OR. Then I'll take the "Empire Builder" to Pasco, WA, where I'll get off to visit dear friends Jenny and Caitlin for a few days.

To celebrate receiving and accepting a new job offer from Merlin (I will fly to London on December 3 for headquarters training and then to Monrovia on December 7. Soon after that I'll get to Harper where I will be Merlin's Project Coordinator. I'm looking forward to it.) I've bought myself a handy little point-and-shoot camera - a Canon PowerShot A410. Of course it will never be anywhere as good as my Canon 20D but that's not the point: it's very small and light and that's why I wanted it. It worked well enough for the picture above. It's pretty hopeless in low light though.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Job interviews in but not for Penticton

Am enjoying a lovely time in beautiful Penticton, British Columbia, with my friends Kathleen and Lucas. Had a second phone interview this morning for a Monitoring and Evaluation volunteer job in Malawi (although they also want somebody for Botswana). I think it went well. Yesterday I had a phone interview with Merlin for a (paid!) Project Coordinator job in Liberia. I hope I get at least one job offer from these. I've been invited to a training session in Ottawa (December 12-16) for the first one so that's encouraging, and Merlin have asked me for a second interview so that's a good sign too.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Crossing Canada

Carnaval Itajuba, Brazil
February 6, 2005

Approaching Sioux Lookout on Via Rail's "The Canadian". I left Ottawa on Friday by train for Toronto where I met my friends Christa and Matt. Left Toronto yesterday morning and last night was my first of two I'll spend riding west towards Kamloops, British Columbia. One hour out of Toronto found us in wilderness. Most of the way since then has been through beautiful Canadian Shield, filled with tranquil lakes, scrubby pines, and granite outcrops. There's about 2cm of new snow everywhere, but the lakes are not yet frozen. I woke up early and went to the Vista Dome to watch the dawn. It turned out that I got there about 90 minutes early but it was nice to be alone and quiet. The first glimpses of misty lakes was well worth it.

I had the rather expensive breakfast in the dining car and met a wheat farmer called Roger from a bit west of of Winnipeg. He farms on both sides of this track and has seen a lot of change in his career. His wheat used to go Thunder Bay, Ontario, for shipping (through Hudson Bay) to Europe. Now it goes west for shipment from the west coast to Iran. What he's noticed about the actual railway going through his farm is that it now carries mostly containers instead of mostly wheat cars.

I'm very happy with my decision to bring Lappy along after all. Who was I trying to fool when I thought of leaving her behind? Last night I watched "Contempt" by Jean-Luc Godard and now I've got my iTunes on shuffle and I feel very well equipped. I'm not quite sure when I'll be able to upload this - I had a few minutes of wireless connectivity when we were stopped at Washago, Ontario but this wasn't ready then. If I not sooner then I'll upload at my hotel in Kamloops tomorrow night.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Back in Ottawa

Idaho Falls, Idaho,
December 7, 2001

I'm in Ottawa! I got back, tired and happy, on October 31 and have been resting, doing errands, raking leaves, job-hunting (no luck yet) and catching up with Dad, Breeda, and Bailey ever since. But a good friend just asked me if I can ever be still - because tomorrow I start my next adventure: a railway trip across Canada and back through the States, visiting several of my most special friends.

My camera, laptop and I have come to the agreement that we need a little time apart. (They're heavy and I'm tired of packing them up, carrying them around and protecting them.) But I'll go into withdrawals though, specially as my trip will put me in three different Hampton Inns, where guests can enjoy free wireless Internet. This will also impact my blogging, but I'll see what I can do... I think it's fair to expect an update, authored and uploaded somehow, from Penticton, British Columbia, and from Richland, Washington. [Later edit: In the end I couldn't resist Lappy along..]

I'll be back in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 29.

Dad and I have just completed a crucial rescue project. Three years' worth of my photos were on a failed Maxtor external hard drive. Dad (who is an Electrical Engineer) obtained some replacement parts, performed surgery on the printed circuit board, made an organ transplant, and resuscitated the data. It took 30 hours to transfer it to a new Comstar drive, which I will back up properly! Thanks Dad!!!! (See my first rescued image above.)