A Travellerspoint blog

Professional Pilgrimage

London, England

semi-overcast 75 °F

As you may have seen with my last trip to India, I like to make the most of my layovers. Although I had already been to England with my family when I was fifteen, I was excited to go back because of a famous Londoner I had learned about during my graduate studies.

First stop - London!

John Snow (no, not the Game of Thrones character) was a renowned physician who lived in London in the 19th century. At the time, it was the conventional wisdom that cholera was transmitted through "miasma," a term that roughly means "dirty air." This was a classic case of correlation doesn't equal causation. It was common in that era for people to empty chamber pots into the streets or actually bury their waste under their house, making the surrounding air smell terrible. Cholera was also incredibly common at the time, killing tens of thousands of people a year. The dirtier the area, the more cholera tended to spring up, thus the theory.

Dr. Snow was convinced that it was actually transmitted by contaminated water and spent about ten years of his life trying to prove it. During the 1854 cholera epidemic, he drew a map of all the houses that had cholera and asked each of them where they got their drinking water. This was the first example of the discipline that is known as Geographic Information Systems, or the discipline that uses maps to understand patterns or relationships. Most of the cases were focused around a water source called the Broad Street pump. The few cases that were not near the pump were also interviewed and he found that they came all the way to Broad Street to get their drinking water because of, ironically, superior taste.

He presented the map and his findings to the London Health Commission, and still skeptical, they decided to deactivate the pump. The number of cases dropped overnight, but his work was not over. The health commission enlisted the services of a respected community member, Reverend Henry Whitehead, to investigate whether or not Dr. Snow's claims were true. He investigated the case for nearly a year and eventually concurred with Dr. Snow's theory. Although his theory was vindicated, Dr. Snow would was not formally recognized for his discovery until 10 years after his death.

This accomplishment would also serve as the birth of modern epidemiology, or the investigation of the distribution and the determinants of disease. In simpler terms, this is the discipline that deciphers who gets a disease and what specifically is causing it. This is the field I have been lucky enough to work in over the past five years, and I decided that I wanted to see the site for myself. Although the street is still there, it was renamed to "Broadwick Street." A small memorial is also there, but the real attraction is a pub that was renamed to the "John Snow" pub in honor of the physician. This is pretty fitting considering the only group to NOT get sick during that outbreak was a group of monks who lived nearby but who were strict beer-only drinkers. In that time, beer was not only fun to drink, it was also the only safe thing to drink.

The street where it all happened

The John Snow pub

The sign outside the pub

A portrait of the man himself

A reproduction of the map he drew

Reverend Henry Whitehead

A health alert for cholera

And the inevitable selfie out front

On the way to the John Snow pub, I actually got lost on the subway system and decided to walk part of the way using Google Maps. My one site pilgrimage turned into a public health tour as I accidentally walked up on St. Mary's hospital, the former employer of Sir Alexander Fleming.

Dr. Fleming had gone on vacation to his summer home for a few weeks during the summer of 1928 and forgotten to tidy up his work station before he left. He came back to a bacterial plate that had sprouted mold. While most of us would just throw these things away, he hesitated and noticed that the mold was actually preventing the growth of the bacteria. He decided to synthesize the mold into something he affectionately called "mold juice," and sure enough, it effectively prevented bacteria from growing. The mold was called Penicillium notatum, and so he decided to name his invention, penicillin. Dr. Fleming would eventually win the Nobel prize for his landmark discovery and warn of a world where bacteria may soon become resistant to antibiotics. Seventy years later we face a world increasingly enveloped by this reality, and new mechanisms are desperately needed to combat this ancient foe.

Mind the map

The favorite pub of Alexander Flemming

And his place of business, St. Mary's Hospital

Since I had a few more hours, I decided to walk around and see the typical tourist spots one more time. I made my way down to the Thames to see the London Eye and Big Ben. I got a few more accidental surprises along the way.

The National Gallery

Memorial to Sir Charles Napier

Another accidental find

The London Eye

A cool structure by the London Eye

The Thames River and Big Ben

Up close

After the walking (and more importantly the humidity) had started to cause fatigue, I decided to make my way back to the tube en route back to the airport. I arrived with two and a half hours to spare and prepped for my second red-eye in two days. As I boarded the plane, I laughed because of the plane's name (see below). It's safe to say that I got the full English experience despite only having six hours in the country.

Oh, James

Posted by mbeymer 09:34 Archived in England

Five Years

Fort Collins, Red Feather Lakes, and Boulder, Colorado

semi-overcast 70 °F

Danielle and I had been together for about three months before I got the opportunity to first meet her family in November 2012.

I had been at a USC-UCLA football game that afternoon, and I was drenched from the rain that had poured on the stadium that day, hoarse from all the screaming, and elated that my Bruins had pulled out a 38-28 win over our cross-town rivals. Exhausted after the match, I meandered back to my car only to wait in 4 hours of traffic to get back home (for context, it usually takes about 25 minutes). I quickly showered and arrived late to waiting Chinese food and the wonderful people that would eventually become my family.

Danielle's brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Marlee, had flown in early that day from their home in North Dakota. They greeted me with warm smiles when I arrived at 8:30 PM despite the jet-lag and the overall fatigue that comes with taking care of a little one (their first born was about 8 months old at the time). I conversed with everyone about the game, sounding like I had been smoking a pack a day for 20 years with the hoarseness in my voice. I found out Chris had played football for Colorado State, and Chris and Marlee had met while they were both living in Fort Collins.

The story goes that he had a hunting hat on and she jokingly quipped, "Oh what, you hunt?" outside of a local bar in Fort Collins. He replied frankly with, "Yes, I do hunt" and she gave him her number before he left the bar. Less than a year and a half after they were married, I would get the chance to meet them. Five years after their marriage, with two more little ones, they invited us to meet them at the place where it all began to celebrate their milestone anniversary. Danielle and I were off to Colorado.

Al, Keri, Danielle and I flew into Denver and met up with the family late Saturday afternoon in Fort Collins. The next morning, the four of us After a headed off to Rocky Mountain National park for a day of exploring. Our first stop was the Stanley hotel, a hotel made famous by the movie "The Shining." Many of the scenes were shot at this hotel, and it was definitely a beautiful space, albeit a bit out of our price range.

The historic Stanley Hotel rests at the foot of Rocky Mountain National Park

The plaque adorning the facade

Not sure how they got this in the lobby

Danielle, pensive in the lobby

The movie that made the Stanley famous

Rocky Mountain National Park itself was wonderful and incredibly large. Although we spent five hours in the park, it felt like we only got to see a very small portion of it.

Smiling (even with the altitude sickness)

Al would often scream "Deer!" when he saw something as I was driving, I'm just glad the roads had guardrails :)

A local having lunch

Two miles up!

We got to visit that evening and the next day with Al's brother, Levi, and his lovely fiancee who had made their way over from Divide, Colorado. He talked about his Alaska adventures and we poked and prodded to get a wedding date from them. The next day, we had breakfast at Cracker Barrel and they wished us well as we all headed off to Beaver Meadows, the site where Chris and Marlee got married five years prior.

Levi and his fiancee

We spent four days at the resort, focusing on family time and getting caught up with one another. I got to be the fun uncle (and sometimes the mean one) and play with Cast, Eli, and Ezri. We went horseback riding, had a water balloon fight, went on walks, and even got to see where it all started. All in all, it was wonderful quality time with three of my favorite people in the world.

Beaver Meadows

Our view from the room

Cast practicing his rodeo skills

Danielle saddled up

Horse view

Ezri unsure of the horse

With mom

There's that smile

Eli was a natural

Eli with mom and dad

With the family and his big brother

Cast gets his turn

Having a moment with his dad

The boys exploring where mom and dad got married

Relaxing on a bench

Grandpa and the boys scouting for fish

Grandpa helping the boys across the stream

Showing Eli how to fish

Trying to blend in

We also got a chance to take a side trip to a local lake. Al went off to fish and Danielle had an impromptu dance party with the little ones.


Ezri playing in the dirt

By the shore

Al showing off his catch

Our last night in Beaver Meadows

On our last day in Colorado, we decided to check out Boulder on the way back to the airport to see the university and explore the town. We even got in a showing of "The Secret Life of Pets" at the local theater.

The University of Colorado with the Flatiron mountains in the background

The university's Nobel laureates

Buffalo v. Briun

The stadium

Art by the science buildings

A last look at the flatirons

The trip was short, but it was great to see my North Dakota family. Only a week back in Los Angeles, and then it's back on the road again to South Africa for the third and final chapter of the 2016 journey.

On the road again

Posted by mbeymer 17:02 Archived in USA

The Fine Print

An Epilogue from a Humbled Traveler

I have committed pretty much every possible travel error on the planet. While many travel blogs paint a rosy picture about the places and things someone has done, I try to give you a balanced perspective on what goes right and what goes wrong. I nearly lost my customs card in Argentina, my ATM card expired in South Africa, and I lost my GoPro in Thailand because of an idiotic belly flop off the top of a yacht in the Andaman Sea. Those were all honest mistakes. I wasn't paying attention, and I paid for it.

Every once and awhile, I knowingly make a gamble that may or may not work out. I took MREs from Argentina to Chile for a 55 mile hike, I have played dumb at numerous border crossings because I didn't want to answer extra questions about benign things, and I sped across the United States in what was not exactly in keeping with public health (it took 40 hours, 17 minutes, and 41 seconds to be precise to go from Sacramento to Ocean City, Maryland). But when you gamble, you're eventually going to lose.

India has a very odd system to apply for visas. You can either send your passport to San Francisco, have them apply a sticker, and wait for four weeks OR you can just apply for an electronic visa. I applied for an electronic visa because of my well-documented lack of patience, but the only hitch was that it was single entry. At the end of our Maldives adventure, I had flights booked back to Hyderabad (since that was my original stop) and then I was hoping to fly back from there. I knew the single entry may cause a problem, but I rolled the dice reasoning that I wasn't REALLY leaving the airports. I thought I could argue my logic and win the day.

I lost. The Maldives airport didn't let me get on my flight, but Danielle was able to go forward since she had a work visa. She was left to go get the bags of souvenirs we had stashed in Kochi, and Wendy and I were left to figure out the next stage of our trip. India was out, we knew that. I talked to Emirates, and they said that we basically had to pay for new tickets since we could not buy tickets to fly to Dubai and then "just resume" our flight.

I was livid. "Do you realize that if you make me pay for a whole new flight back to the USA we are basically stranded here?"

Furious typing ensued. Calls to managers were made. Approvals were submitted to the Grand Sheikh of the UAE. Finally, I was informed that for about 400 US dollars per ticket, I could change the flights for Wendy and myself. Relieved, I hesitantly handed them the credit card. I rationalized the gamble that I am sure that the purchase would give me $8 in travel rewards, the Indian government didn't like me and there was some intricate conspiracy to keep me away, and/or they just didn't understand the nuance of my sophisticated arguments. Ultimately, it was my mistake, and despite the equivocations, I own it as a hand that anted up and subsequently lost.

Travel is really the ultimate gamble, and it's extremely exciting. I've stared down rhinos, raced super-cars, jumped off of buildings, and braved the Pantagonian elements. I won those battles. But the losses are what make for great stories. I have told that damn story about the crooked Mozambican cops that my wife visibly rolls her eyes every time I tell it now. I totally gambled, and pretty much lost, but it's a great story.

I've never wanted to die rich, famous, or even well-loved, that stuff has never mattered to me. I do want to get to my twilight years with a few funny stories, though. I guess we'll add this one to the books.

Posted by mbeymer 07:36

Keep the Robe, I'll Take the Wetsuit

Laamu Atol, Maldives

sunny 80 °F

In my second year at Sacramento City college, I casually mentioned to my Organic Chemistry professor (and now dear friend) that I wanted to stay in school for as long as I could. She pensively looked at me as she always does, squinted, and said, "Well, you have to eventually go out there and contribute to society." Ever the naive 19 year-old, I fell silent and started to ponder her remarks.

After ten years and three degrees, I decided to finally take her advice and start contributing. Although I completed my PhD in November, the pomp of circumstance of graduation was scheduled for June 10th. This event would give me the opportunity to rent an overly expensive robe, have my name announced to an audience that mostly doesn't care, listen to an uninspired speech, and bask in an aura of self-importance while I answered inane questions about what my future holds.

"I've done this before," I thought to myself, "how can I possibly get out of it?"

I've always found graduations silly, but I partook in my college graduation because it seemed like something that was important to other people. The day was hot and the commencement speaker mused about her office-hour conversations with students about their clitoris (seriously). Now this is something you would expect from a commencement speaker whose day job is a human sexuality professor, but it was probably not the best topic for an audience of all ages (especially my young cousins who were in attendance). While I am not exactly the most socially appropriate creature, that experience had permanently turned me off to the whole concept. Well, that and the gripes mentioned above.

So how to get out of this round of ridiculousness? Well, this trip provided a nice excuse. We were originally supposed to get back in early June, but I just extended the trip a couple of days by planning an excursion to the Maldives. I celebrated my graduation in the way I wanted: SCUBA diving on what may be the most beautiful island chain on the planet.

The Maldives is a country off the Southern Coast of India. The highest point in the Maldives is only 12 feet above sea level, and I had seen a spectacular documentary about the first democratically-elected president to combat climate change and subsequently try to save his country. Ever since watching "The Island President," I felt the need to visit the island chain and see what could end up being the first nation to disappear from the imminent sea level rise.

Danielle, Wendy, and I arrived in the capitol of Male and were swiftly met by our hotel representative. We were shown to an airport lounge to wait for transfer to the tiny Laamu atol, and it was obvious by my dozen visits to the buffet that it was my first time in any type of airport lounge.

Knowing that it's probably my first and last time in an airport lounge

I ate so much bacon pizza

After eating my fill of mini Pepsis and bacon pizza, we boarded a propeller plane for Kaadedhdhoo and subsequently were shuttled via a private boat from that island to Six Senses Laamu in the Laamu Atol.

"I'm going to Ka.., Ko..., the first one!"

Highway to the relaxation zone

The staff waiting to greet us

That bed was a welcome sight

I usually view hotels as basically a place to rest my head. I often appreciate the architecture of hotels, but I don't really rave about amenities or anything like that on my blog because it's just not something that matters all that much to me. I found that Six Senses Laamu changed my opinion completely on that. Everything at this place from the over-water rooms to the amazing restaurants to the beautiful dive-boats was incredible. I am issuing a warning that there are probably way too many photos of the hotel and our room, but I felt compelled to post it because it is honestly the nicest hotel I have ever been to on any continent.

After enjoying some french toast in the morning, we were given bikes to get around the island. I took a video of the bike ride since it's hard to explain, but fast-forward to about 2 minutes and you can start to see why I thought this place was amazing.

Delicious mango french toast

Bike ride from the beach to our over-water hut

Our three-day home

My only personalized license plate

From the inside of our hut

The over-water bathtub

...And the over-water toilet!

From the top deck

Facing East

Our private water entrance

Balcony shower?! I call it...Shalcony!

The view from our deck

Our over-water hammocks

And hey, I'll even give you the snorkel tour

After we took an extensive tour of our room, we went to the main area and got to see all the other amenities on display. We booked this particular resort due to its amazing dive sites and wonderful reviews, so the dive shop was already front and center on my radar. The resort also has five restaurants (one Japanese, one organic, two bar restaurants, and one with continental cuisine), and it has an ice cream bar where you can get as much ice cream as you want at no extra charge. There was even a resident fruit bat who was fun to watch as he moved from tree to tree eating nuts and fruit.

Pointing us where to go

The dive boat dock, the place I always spend the most time on these types of trips

Three words: ICE CREAM BAR

"Lieutenant Dan, ice cream!"

Good advice

The main restaurant

The main activity area

The resident fruit bat

Over the course of two days, I had four dives planned. I went with other divers for the first day and Danielle joined me for the second day. The visibility was great, but the wildlife was very hit and miss. We would see eagle rays, clown fish, manta shrimp on one dive and then it seemed like a lot of dead coral on the next dive. The best dive was probably the one that had a lot of turtles come up and inspect us as we swam past. I got some good photos of them, and as I was trying to take a video, you'll actually see one of my red lens filters pop off. I thankfully caught it before it hit the seafloor, but it makes for a funny video and really shows the difference between having a red-filtered video versus one where the blue is not filtered out.

Ready to dive

Keep the robe, I'll take the wetsuit

The turtle investigating me

And then deciding he's not interested

...And there goes the lens

A lionfish trying to blend in

First 60 minute dive!!!

After our dives on the second day, we met back up with Wendy and ventured out to the surf shop. Danielle and Wendy learned how to surf and both stood up a few times. I got to watch their awesome rides from a distance, but I unfortunately didn't get any pictures. We enjoyed the beautiful sunset on the second night as our room faced towards the West. We mostly just sat in silence as we watched the world turn towards a new day and appreciated the majesty of the event.

"Danielle was here"

Sunset from the villa

I made some room

Watching the world turn

On our second night, we had dinner at the beautiful Leaf restaurant. The food was absolutely incredible, and I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

"Very sturdy bridge, Dr. Jones"

Delicious scallops

Wonderful lamb

And good ol' apple pie

The last day we just relaxed and recovered from the diving and surfing. We all snorkeled in the morning and took some pictures and then the ladies went off for a massage in the afternoon.

Stairway to the snorkel area

The lady in the water

Wendy in solo snorkel mode

Watching them exercise was exhausting for me ;)

So exhausting that I needed jalapeno poppers to get my energy back

Okay, I finally joined

Clown fish

Fish can be curious too

My snorkel buddy

There were a few hiccups along the way as there always are. Wendy got some pretty good reef burn on her knee while surfing, Danielle opted for a reddish hue in place of a tan deciding she only wanted to use SPF 30, and we donated a fitbit to the Indian Ocean (to join my first GoPro that I lost four years ago in Thailand).

I was just happy that none of us went off the side of the dock on those bicycles. Given my mixed history with bicycles, I definitely viewed not crashing once as a significant personal milestone.

Other than that, the resort, food, service, and everything else were nothing short of perfect. I want to reiterate that Six Senses Laamu is by far the nicest resort I have ever been to across six continents. Should you want an unforgettable experience, look no further than the amazing Laamu atol.

As we boarded the boat, I felt a sadness come over me as I was ushered out of paradise. The boat slowly made its way across the channel towards the airstrip, and I looked on as the resort became smaller and smaller in the distance. Once it disappeared over the horizon, I wondered for a fleeting moment if it had all been a dream. I guess I'll leave that to you to decide and explore for yourself to make your own dream come true.


Posted by mbeymer 06:50 Archived in Maldives Republic

Pleasantly Bored

Kerala, India

rain 82 °F

Kerala is really a country unto itself. Approximately 80% of Indians are Hindu with most of the remainder identifying as Muslim (14%), Christian (2%), and Siekh (1.7%). In contrast, approximately 45% of people identify as Christian in the state of Kerala. India also claims that it is the largest democratic nation in the world. In contrast, the state of Kerala has a long history of governance by the Communist party of India due to the inequality between landowners and farmers, the lack of sectarian violence, and the unusually high literacy rate. Signs of Christianity and Communism are all over the state with churches lining the rivers and Communist graffiti seemingly ubiquitous across the country.

A church on the riverfront

The hammer and sickle emblem of the Communist party

We came to Kerala to finish our chapter in India with a bit of relaxation. Tigers in Tala and monuments in Delhi were fun, but my wife (and pretty much all of the people who know me) say that I need to learn how to relax. I was able to do this somewhat during the food riots in Mozambique and at the resort in Fiji, and Kerala would give me the opportunity to relax on a houseboat for the very first time.

Kerala is also unique in India because I have been told by many Indians that it is the place they most want to visit. Many Indians actually come to Kerala for their honeymoon, and they take large boats on river tours throughout the massive channels of Southwestern India. Wendy, Danielle, and I rented an air-conditioned houseboat for the evening and relaxed as civilization (and cell service) slowly drifted away.

The houseboat afloat

Lunch time

A delicious local river fish, Karimeen

This traffic was a nice change of pace

Docking for the evening

We arrived on the houseboat the day before the official start of the monsoon season. While the weather may not have been ideal, the falling rain really did bring us all some much needed relaxation. We returned in the morning to our hotel and relaxed a bit more, me enjoying the view of the passing ships from the hotel room and the ladies enjoying a much needed massage.

A view from the room

Ships passing...

...And my interest waning

This chapter in our trip was pretty much us on a boat followed by me watching other boats from a hotel room surrounded by rain. I'm glad I came to Kerala, but it is definitely a sleepy place. If you like relaxation, this place is definitely for you. For those who are more into monuments and adventure, the previous stops are probably more suited to your tastes.

As my time in India comes to a close, I want to reflect on the myths that were told to me and conclude by giving aspiring India adventurers tips for navigating the massive sub-continent.

Let's start with the myths:

1. "You WILL get sick": I heard this from damn-near everyone that I talked to. I had been told this so many times that I actually started to believe this fiction. The first 14 days that I spent there, I was completely fine. On the 15th day, I decided to be bold and drink hotel tap water. I paid for that 12 hours later, but the sickness didn't last that long. For those of you who want to come here but are afraid of getting sick, I'd say that's not a concern if you wash your hands and only drink bottled water.
2. "The roads are so dangerous!": No, they are not any more dangerous than the United States. In fact, I only saw one accident there in 2 weeks. I see one A DAY in Los Angeles. Yes, they honk a lot which can be intimidating at first. Yes, there really isn't such a thing as "lanes" in India, but it seems to work for them. Remember, just because something is different doesn't mean it's wrong.
3. "It's so hard to get around": This is partially a myth because it is NOT hard to get around if you know the right people, which brings me to my next post-script.

Danielle was in India for two months before I arrived, so I benefited greatly from her experiences. In my opinion, you should not drive in India because the rules are really different when compared to other places (not dangerous just different). That being said, you should get drivers for wherever you go. I've listed a few resources below that will hopefully assist in your adventures:

1. For Jaipur: Kailash Rao is a professional guide whose English is perfect. He is very courteous, professional, and he has his own tour agency. His rates are great, and he knows the city and surrounding state very well. You can email him directly at Kailash94606@gmail.com to set up driving tours.
2. For Delhi: Jimmy Sharma has a Master's degree in history and knows everything worth knowing about Delhi. His English is also perfect, and he is extremely kind and professional. If you need a tour of Delhi, contact him at jimmy@261151@gmail.com.
2. For other spots in India: Taj Mahal Tour operators has an excellent two day tour of Delhi and Agra for around 250 USD which includes transport and guides. When booking the tour, ask for Jimmy (mentioned above). However, her company also arranges cars for nearly everywhere else in India, so this company should be your go-to contact when arranging travel. They respond to emails very quickly (which is the exception and not the rule in India), so definitely contact them for your travel needs. My specific contact is Sheena, and the email is info@india-tajmahal.com.

It's off to surf and sun in the Maldives, check in with you all more soon.

Posted by mbeymer 03:09 Archived in India

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