Angels Landing

Angels Landing is a tall rock formation in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. It’s an awfully fun hike. It’s about 3 hours roundtrip and the views get progressively more impressive as you go. The last half-mile gives amateurs like me a little taste of the thrill of the mountain climbing I’ll never do. It’s just the right amount of dangerous. There are huge chains to hold on to and there’s only one short section where you can see straight down both sides of the trail.

Adding to the excitement is a sign that informs you of six deaths on the trail since 2004.

6 deaths since 2004

If you’re curious, you can find links to articles on each death at Wikipedia.

My first ascent was in about 1995 when I worked at Jacob Lake Inn at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I took this photo of my feet dangling over the edge and displayed it in the convenience store as “Photo of the Day” for a couple of months. I miss those shoes.

Still “Photo of the Day”

A couple of years ago, I met up with a couple of old friends to celebrate surviving 40 years on earth by risking our lives on the hike. The most dangerous part ended up being almost missing the last shuttle of the night from the trailhead back to the campground.

In 2011, I went with the young men from our ward and encountered a rattle snake on the trail –

On the last visit (May 2015), I found this guy playing the didgeridoo at the peak –

You should go. Just be careful when you back up for photos.

 

More information:

National Park Service

zionnationalpark.com

utah.com

Flash Floods & Falls: Deaths & Rescues In Zion National Park

 

Not dying in Delhi traffic

There are four things I remember from reading Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) –

  1. Never make eye contact at an intersection in Mexico City
  2. Late merging is actually the most efficient use of road space even though it infuriates everyone else
  3. Risking your life to teach a bad driver a lesson is illogical (you’ll never see them again) but it may benefit the rest of society
  4. One in 10 traffic fatalities worldwide happens in New Delhi, India

That last point is of particular interest to me because I visit New Delhi once or twice a year for work. Traffic there is fascinating! I pretty much hold my camera out the window the whole commute, trying (in vain, generally) to capture some of the chaos for later.

Tourist photographing roadside monkeys

You desensitize to it slowly over time. After a dozen trips to India, the driver will still suddenly stop so I can get a picture of another pig in the road. “No, I’m good. Enough pigs,” I say, pointing to my camera to show where all the digital pigs are stored. I think he’s a little sad it has become routine.

Much of the danger and excitement of New Delhi traffic is due to the variety of road users. On a U.S. interstate, you might have variance of 10mph across vehicles sharing the road. In India, you have cars, motorbikes, scooters, pedal bikes, pull rickshaws, bike rickshaws, auto rickshaws (tuk tuks), big trucks, buses, cows, buffalo, pigs, dogs, and endless pedestrians.

Bike helmets are required in big cities (“even for women“, the signs say), but you rarely see them. If you do, it’s only for the driver and not the passenger. It’s common to see a full family on one scooter or bike, with an infant on the lap of the driver.

So much honking! It almost makes you laugh how incessant it is. Honking is a signal, not necessarily a warning. “I’m coming up behind you” or “I plan to pass” or “I don’t plan to stop” or “I notice you have an American tourist in your car”. I’m starting to notice nuances in the length of the honk — there seem to be nice ones and mean ones. Most of the trucks have beautifully-painted “Honk Please” and/or “Use Dippers” (flash your brights) on the back.

Some road signs plead “Lane Driving is Sane Driving” (or the less-rhyming “Safe Driving”). Drivers tend to use the middle of the road when it’s clear, moving to the left only when oncoming traffic requires it. I see a lot of lane-straddling on multi-lane roads.

When a road widens before an intersection, vehicles spread out to consume all available space. Even though they’ll have to squish back down to a lane or two after the intersection. And it works fine. I can’t see this working in the U.S. without gun shots.

Throw in some police barriers, pot holes and sink holes, and you have the makings of an entertaining daily commute.

Road repair

What strikes me most is the lack of anger and frustration. I’ve seen one fist fight and one fender bender in a dozen visits, but their scrappy driving methods work surprisingly well. You can get very resourceful when rules are just guidelines. When a one-way side road backed up due to a wreck, a couple of drivers ran to nearby shops for scrap metal and created a ramp so cars could drive over the median and borrow a lane from the other-direction road. The other drivers just shifted over — it was no big deal to have hundreds of cars driving the wrong way.

I used to play the video game California Speed at a friend’s house and had to concentrate on the drive home to suppress the urge to jump ramps and mount sidewalks like you could in the game. That’s how it is when I get back from India. Here in the U.S., roads are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians. And you can only honk when you really have something to say (and when your wife is not in the car). How boring.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)

Here Comes the Sun at the Pompidou Center

In 1993, I was a Mormon missionary, wandering the streets of Paris, France, to spread the Good News. A favorite place to go for a break when knocking doors wasn’t working (which was most of the time) was Place Georges Pompidou, an open concrete square in front of a modern art museum where street performers, hawkers, caricature artists, pickpockets, and tourists gather.

The sights and sounds of this place are sticky in my otherwise-faded memory. A fat Portuguese caveman breathed fire and let you throw darts at his stomach for 20 francs. A drummer rocked out on a spare-parts set that featured a dangling banana – every so often he would scream “BANANA!” and hit it with his drumstick, flinging fruit flesh into the audience. We didn’t listen to much popular music as missionaries and it was a guilty pleasure to hear bands covering pagan tunes by The Smiths and The Beatles on guitars, violins, clarinets, and the occasional didgeridoo.

One rainy day, probably in May, only the die-hards were out performing. We stood under umbrellas and listened to this guy sing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain? His accent was strong – “I waaaNOOO ha-ye-evah seen da rain?” Sticking with the weather theme, he moved next to The Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun. The small audience laughed and gasped as the sun really did come out on the chorus! I don’t think I was particularly down at the time, but the coincidence brightened my day and has stuck in my aging brain all these 22 years.

"Here Comes the Sun"
“Here Comes the Sun”

In 2008, 15 years after my mission days, I had a business trip in Paris and scheduled some tourist time to visit a few of my old haunts. I went to the Pompidou Center and guess who was performing.

I learned from another YouTube video that his name is Yama Nico. I hope he’s there next time I visit. We need to talk.

Pompidou street musician - Yama Nico
Pompidou street musician – Yama Nico

Zermatt Mountaineers Cemetery

In Zermatt, Switzerland – the ski town from which you can see the Matterhorn in the distance – there’s a fascinating and moving little cemetery behind the St. Mauritius Catholic Church. It memorializes those who died climbing (or descending) nearby mountains.

See also:
http://www.zermatt.ch/en/Media/Attractions/Mountaineers-cemetery

The Matterhorn - The Most Dangerous Mountain: A Live Adventure

Cruesli au Chocolat

The best breakfast cereal in the world is Chocolate Cruesli.

The slogan in French is “le plaisir croustillant”, which is roughly “crunchy pleasure” or maybe “pleasure that crunches”. It’s nothing like Cocoa Krispies or those other fake chocolate cereals – it has real pieces of chocolate in it. Just holding the box, you can tell by its weight that this is no ordinary cereal.

And – one of life’s great injustices – you can’t get it in North America.

I’ve checked everywhere: dozens of U.S. grocery stores, numerous Google sessions (could only find a Dutch store that will ship it for an arm and a leg), international food markets, Trader Joe’s (see below for a decent alternative) — I even made my family wait while I ran down the aisles of a Canadian grocery store during a brief visit to Toronto.

I don’t get it. It’s made by Quaker, which is an American company (owned by PepsiCo). There’s got to be a market for it. My family’s Cruesli consumption alone could keep a grocery store or two in the black. I even write Quaker an impassioned annual letter. No reply.

So, I have to resort to stockpiling. And begging friends and family to send or bring some from Europe. Two of my brothers were missionaries in France and I would send them $20 to ship me some on occasion. One of the young men from my old ward was a missionary in Paris and sent me a couple of boxes. I got some in Barcelona. And in Amsterdam and Paris on business trips, much to the confusion of my co-workers.

Here are a few photos of my relationship with Cruesli au chocolat over the years:

1993 - It's too small to see, but many of the boxes on the top shelf are Cruesli
1993 – It’s too small to see, but many of the boxes on the top shelf are Cruesli

 

1994 - Elder Tobler shows off his cereal collection
1994 – Elder Tobler shows off his cereal collection

 

2005 - Cruesli collection in our crummy but memorable room in Barcelona
2005 – Cruesli collection in our crummy but memorable room in Barcelona

 

2008 - My suitcase in a Paris hotel
2008 – My suitcase in a Paris hotel

 

2011 - 4 very expensive boxes (after factoring in train fare) gathered during a 4-hour layover in Paris. Every grocery store in the area was closed except this one, so I was stuck with generic. Still delicious.
2011 – 4 very expensive boxes (after factoring in train fare) gathered during a 4-hour layover in Paris. Every grocery store in the area was closed except this one, so I was stuck with generic. Still delicious.

 

2015 - Speed Tour of Paris with a stop at Carrefour for 5 boxes.
2015 – Speed Tour of Paris with a stop at Carrefour for 5 boxes.

Alternatives

Just the Clusters1. You can try mixing 50% Trader Joe’s Just the Clusters chocolate almond cereal and 50% Quaker Simply Granola cereal. It’s not the same, but can help with withdrawal symptoms.

2. A friend in Germany sent me some “Vitalis Knusper” cereal, Dr. Oetker brand. It tastes great! And it’s easier to find online. The “Double Chocolate” version is available at Germandeli.com. The regular version (not double chocolate) isn’t an exact match for taste, but it’s good in a pinch.

Warning: do not get the Vitalis cereal called simply “Schoko Musli”. It tastes like dirt. I spent $40 on a few boxes before realizing my horrible mistake. Fortunately, it’s pretty good added to no-bake cookies, so it wasn’t a total loss.