Early June, we just had to get outside: the weather fine, the parks just one state away open for camping. And now we’re out here again: a car spewing PM 2.5 like any other affordable vehicle, tracing down the 101 while fires rage and, after six or seven months of quarantine, still skirting six-foot circles around masked strangers.

These are times I hope to keep as only a legend from memory: remember that one year when the world went mad? …

Steam curls from each of our cups of tea. We pass the teapot around on the lazy Susan of our round table.

Our packs are propped against the wall: my blue, Jon’s orange, Rick and Eileen’s gray ones in classic backpacker style; Ert’s blue one incongruously cubic in shape despite its Osprey branding. The packs are a weathered pile, showing dirt and wear from sweat, bus holds, long trails.

This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.

It’s a typical dinner scene. We’ve pointed at vegetables that appeal, and they appear as hot spiced dishes. …

Firecrackers are going off down the street in a barrel.

The morning is cold: our breath fogs, and I wish I had gloves as we walk through the empty courtyard of the hotel to the street in search of hot breakfast.

The local specialty is translated “muddy flesh ersi”– a soup noodle dish made with fatty meat and a self-serve selection of red pepper, garlic paste, green onions, MSG, ground star anise, and some other pastes and powders I can’t identify. I add them indiscriminately to my bowl. It’s delicious. We eat streetside, soup steaming into the chill.

This story is the continuation of a series that begins here.

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