From Detroit, we drove to Bloomington, Indiana, home to the Indiana University, Hoosiers, and the center of Buddhism in the Western world.  We originally were drawn to Bloomington for permaculture roots, and the value of local food and agriculture. One of our favorite magazines, Permaculture Activitst, is published here, in addition to well-known permaculture teachers.


We visited Keith Johnson of Permaculture Activist Magazine at his home.

We visited local permaculturists Keith and Peter’s home. Keith was kind enough to show us around as he worked in the gardens. Their yard is a permaculture paradise, with food forest, ponds, rain catchment systems, and more. Every system ties into every other system.


Peter and Kevin’s permaculture home in Bloomington, IN

Bloomington is also home to a lot of innovation in terms of where local policy and roll-your-own buildings can meet in the middle. The local government is really receptive to new ideas, rather than just applying the same standard zoning molds to the whole city.

One place that has taken advantage of this environment is Dandelion Ecovillage. They are planning and starting initial constructions for several homes built from scratch, as well as cooperative business ventures from massage therapy to machinists. They will have no private automobile ownership, and will have small-scale commercial farming on the property.

Nathan has a sweet spot out in the woods where he lives with his family. He, too, has hand-built buildings and a commercial farming operation. He even has a goat!


Nathan, the goat, and Stu!

One of the surprising things about Bloomington, being a town in the Midwest, is the great diversity of food available there. There are great restaurants from many cultures. We had amazing Turkish food at Turkhuaz Cafe and tasty beer at Upland Brewing with Stephanie (our friend Kat’s sister) and her husband Brian. They were great company. We also ate Nepalese food at Anyetsang’s Little Tibet and really great local organic brunch from Farm Bloomington. To top it all off, Bloomington has a local food co-op called Bloomingfoods and a great farmer’s market that is even running during the winter.


A nice collection of cafes, too… at Blu Boy Chocolate Cafe and Cakery

One of the ways that we knew Bloomington was a cool place was that we had met so many people in San Francisco and in our travels who are from Bloomington, or have friends in Bloomington.

Our former SF roommate Katie has a friend, Kirsten, in Bloomington and hooked us all up together. We went to Kirsten and Frank’s house for dinner. Frank’s brother, as well as some other friends and some young travelers were over for supper. Frank made really excellent Indian food, and then a small concert broke out later.

While in Belize, we met Megan, a teacher in Mags’s Mayan Abdominal Therapy class. She and her partner, Brian, live and work in Bloomington. We met up with them for the farmers market as well as a visit to the lovely Tibetan Cultural Center. The Dali Lama’s brother lives in Bloomington, and the Dali Lama visits every couple of years, so Bloomington is seen as the center of Buddhism in the United States.  Megan clued us into the health and healing scene which is thriving in Bloomington.  We stop in to Thrive to check out the space as a potential place for Mags to work and get some Community Accupuncture.  We also meet up with Megan’s Aunt Ann Kreilkamp, who actively pushes for zoning changes to allow community gardens, and started Green Acres Neighborhood Eco-village, a retrofit cohousing community. We were impressed with how nice and welcoming the community was.  Thank you to all we met and shared your time with us!


Trees are knit and cozy in Bloomington town square, City Hall in the background.

Being a good-sized town of 80,000, with a major university, Bloomington has a really great downtown. It is quite walkable, with a nice library, book stores, and anything else you could want. Boxcar Books especially was a great volunteer-run anarchist bookstore.


To anyone considering moving to Bloomington, I would recommend locating yourself along the B-Line Trail. It allows you get into downtown by bicycle or foot even from several miles south of downtown. You could even get a few acres to run a farm along this trail!

For full pictures from this part of our trip, click here.

Posted in Bloomington, farming, Intentional Communities | 3 Comments



The famed GM Renaissance building and mall, sold as a way to revitalize the city.  Since when does a building save a city? .

Detroit, former land of milk and honey for the auto industry, now has a bad reputation.  When we shared our plans of visiting Detroit, many people made a face like they ate something foul and asked, “why Detroit?”  Thoughts of urban decay, high crime, unemployment, and desolation turn many folks away.  Yet, what is growing there attracts us to visit and strongly consider Mo-town as a city we may want to live in.


Be the change you want to see in the world.

Urban farms spawn on acres and acres of open space and uncared for real estate. Condemned abandoned buildings are regularly razed to the ground, creating a vacuum for the earth and community to reclaim with plants, animals and artistic expression.  In fact, the city government allows anyone to adopt and plant on city-owned abandoned lots (at least temporarily until the lot is sold, or other more lucrative use).  Planned and unplanned pocket parks dominate the landscape in many neighborhoods. Interestingly enough one real estate agent we met with saw neighborhoods with “a lot of green” as negative, meaning a neighborhood was in decline. We saw many organizations, stores, and farmers markets that support local agriculture.  We noticed  groups of concerned citizens banding together and creating changes in their neighborhoods for the common good.  This continual grassroots organization inspires us for social change.


A Meeting Place: Cottonwood Tree in Louisa Mays Seed Park.  Gardens in Brightmoor Neighborhood Farmway are named for the former residents of homes that previously existed on the lots.


Boarded up home turned public art, community message board, and meeting place


Curtis Green Pocket Park, Brightmoor, Detroit

Billie of Neighbors Building Brightmoor meets us and takes us on a walking tour of the community. Active creek in the background.



Park-like neighborhood or urban decay?  Blocks like this may have had 20-40 homes on the street at one time, now just a few homes stand on each block.



She fosters a community garden with summer and after-school programs focusing on getting local children to safe places and engaged in growing and eating healthy food.

Many small farms cluster in the vacant land of Brightmoor for market and for family livelyhood.


Fields lay fallow under rows of shredded leaves

Brightmoor lies at the northwestern border of Detroit. The expansive borders of Detroit historically have largely been neglected or ignored by investors, and are food deserts.  Often a convenience store may be the only place to purchase. Food security and racism are big problems here.  The need for healthy food drive many forces behind urban farms.  This small area of Brightmoor has gotten lots of attention in the media because of how the farms and neighborhood residents have changed the community.  Yet, just a few blocks away still in Brightmoor, we see evidence of devastation.  Arson in Detroit peaked in 1984 with over 800 homes set aflame in just three days. Today, arson is far less of a problem, but one evident in almost every neighborhood.  The city can’t keep up with costs of demolition.





All over Detroit we see beautifully crafted homes, churches, and other historical buildings next to crumpled decaying structures, graffiti and street art.  We eat at a nice restaurant and just a few windows down we see



Bullet hole in an otherwise nice neighborhood

Downtown and areas close to downtown are thriving economically.  Corktown and Midtown are experiencing a cultural renaissance of tasty local restaurants, boutique stores and art with Wayne State and Detroit Institute of Art (DIA to locals) as anchors.  Detroit attracts many young professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, and farmers with a low cost of living.  City lots may sell for as little as $500, and stripped mansions for $40,000.  We gaze at an 11-unit apartment building with, neighboring empty lot, and neo-classical marble lobby for $200,000.  We eat amazing BBQ with fixins at Slows BBQ, and delicious crepes at Good Girls Go to Paris Creperie.


Cute strip of Corktown



Slows BBQ! Local brews, memphis dry rub back ribs, pulled pork, mac n cheese, green beans and black eye peas Finger lickin good!

Mags gets a fantastic massage from the, and wanders DIA gawking at five massive murals of Detroit Industry, while Stu relaxes in the stone vaults of Detroit Public Library.


Vincent Van Gogh, Bank of the Oise at Auvers, 1890


Deigo Rivera’s huge fresco room on Detroit industry is quite spectacular.  I could easily spend an hour here staring at the massive and detailed murals.


detail from mural

We love seeing street art, from colorful expression,


near Woodburn

to social satire,


Captain America, just West of Woodbridge

pride in heritage,



and fun




Heidelberg Project on the East Side

We go to Sunday service at the Unitarian Universalist church, followed by a group visit to the free grand re-opening of the Detroit Historical Museum.  We go to a Pistons game, and explore the city in a rented car.  We attend a post-auction meeting, hosted by .  Over 200 Detroiters gather to discuss the city’s assets and how best to serve the populations.


Detroit Tiger PAWS visits the Museum and hangs out with Mags


Tim and Frank from the UU church join us at the Detroit Historical Museum


Pistons win!

Of course we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to volunteer at Earthworks Urban Farm,  which feeds hungry people through Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Many farms do not primarily seek a profit, they feed, empower and educate.  However, it is possible to make a living as a farmer. The gigantic Eastern Market complex sells goods all year round.  I was impressed that Earthworks farms all year round, even in the frozen winter under plastic hoops and greenhouses.


One of 6-10 buildings in the Market




This one man band was amazing!

We meet up with local Detroiter Couchsurfers, Sue and Paul, for dinner and a tour of the city with history through their lifetimes.  Sue takes us to the Dequinder Cut, formerly a railway, later known for drug use and prostitution, now a lovely park trail heading to downtown.


Sue and Paul at Marge’s Bar and Grill


Stu likes the design of this modern bench in the Dequindre Cut.


Sunset view of Downtown from Belle Island, an island city park with zoo and ice skating ponds

Detroit gives us so much to think about.  We were very impressed with the kindness and can-do-attitudes of Detroiters.  Even in run-down neighborhoods people wave and say hi.  Most folks we spoke with wanted us to live there.  Most small businesses and restaurants are doing very well.  Locals are eager to support local business, even in the same line of business.  As one local said,  “Competition? There really is no competition.  Detroit has unmet needs in practically every field.  We are loyal to folks who are providing needed services.”

Do we want to move to Detroit and be a part of the urban renaissance?  Stay tuned as we travel to our remaining cities and choose in the next few weeks!

Many more photos here


Sunset in Detroit

Posted in Detroit, farming, food, urban | 6 Comments

REWIND: Kumano Kodo in Japan!

During our travels, there have been so many individual segments. Sometimes, like in Taiwan, we mostly do the same thing for three months. Other times, like in Japan, we have whole new experiences every few days. In a perfect world, we would love to have a blog post about every single discrete experience, and beyond that, we’d love to have the posts all published within just a few days of the events happening. As you can easily tell, that rarely happens perfectly with us! But, we keep plugging away, posting on our blog, because we want to document it for ourselves, and especially because of how many times people have told us they are following our blog.

Of course some trips get missed on our blog entirely. One such trip is our hike on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail in Japan, which for both of us was one of the highlights of our entire year of travel. Thankfully our forever-memorable Couch Surfing host Mayuko recently reminded us to post about it, because she will soon be hiking on the trail herself.


Want to be surrounded by idyllic scenes like this for a few days? Then hike the Kumano Kodo.

What is the Kumano Kodo, you ask? To Wikipedia!

The Kumano Kodō (熊野古道?) is a series of ancient pilgrimage routes that crisscross the Kii Hantō, the largest Peninsula of Japan. These sacred trails were and are still used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site “Kumano Sanzan” (熊野三山), or the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano: Kumano Hongū Taisha (熊野本宮大社), Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社) and Kumano Hayatama Taisha (熊野速玉大社). The Kumano Kodō pilgrimage routes that lead to Kumano can be geographically categorized into three sub-routes: “Kiji”, “Kohechi” and “Iseji”. The Kumano Kodō and Kumano Sanzan, along with Koyasan and Yoshino and Omine, were registered as UNESCO World Heritage on July 7, 2004 as the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.

We took the train down from Kyoto to Kii Tanabe, where we had a great small-town start to our adventures. The hostel we stayed at directed us to a little sushi restaurant where we were treated like old friends. They even rung the bells for good luck when we departed!


The best sushi chef/owner at Shinbe Resturant makes us a platter of octopus, abalone, tuna, salmon, shrimp, halibut, and other delicacies.


Stu makes friends with Tanabe locals in Shinbe

The next morning, we picked up a scheduled bus from the Kii-Tanabe train station to the Kumano Kodo trail head. Incredibly, we got lost within the first couple of hours, but as far as I can remember it was our only major mistake. Having lost an hour or two, we got back on track and hiked through to Chikatsuyu-Oji. If you’re hiking the Kumano Kodo, you’ll want to print and study these maps ahead of time.


absolutely gorgeous forests


Cute stone paths straight from The Shire but rough on your feet over time.

The first day was rough, but arrive we did at Chikatsuyu-Oji. I don’t think they were exactly expecting any travelers, but they were no less accommodating. We didn’t see any indication as to where we should sleep for the night, so we walked into a little corner store to ask… in English, and about ten words of Japanese. Thankfully, among a group of men hanging out inside, there was one very helpful man with a very helpful translation app on his phone. He was so kind to make a phone call to ask about sleeping accommodations for us, drive us to the grocery store for food, and then drive us to the bath house, which had one room for overnight guests.

It was our most basic accommodations of the Kumano Kodo, but no less comfortable, and certainly beautiful.


Tatami floors, futons, and a water heater. Adjacent to the bath house. Perfect!


The views from this mountain town bathhouse were incredible.

The next day was our most difficult day of hiking. We hiked 14 miles to arrive at Yunomine Onsen. (See the pink trail on this map.) Many times Mags wished she was a goat or other ungulate on the trail.


We met this nice couple along the way who provided us with kind words of encouragement.

Right after we passed by these wooden people, we saw some red-faced gray monkeys in the trees. They howled and growled, sounding a lot like the howler monkeys in Belize! It was too difficult to get a good picture of them from afar, and we didn’t know how to ask them to come closer in Japanese.


Miles of stone path looked like this.  At times the path turned into a seasonal stream. Watch your step on moss covered rocks!


Of course most of the views are beautiful, but we also came across this sad sight of a clear-cut monoculture tree plantation which gave way to erosion.


Do not disobey this chipmunk.  He guards against forest fires.

As our weary feet landed at Yunomine Onsen, we sat down on the curb for a moment to decide our next move. A man from the onsen across the street came and greeted us, and we didn’t have to think for very long before we decided to stay there for the night. This was the most luxurious night of our Kumano Kodo trip. There were baths inside and out, and the town had a steaming hot stream running through the middle of it. We ate soba, and eggs cooked in the hot spring for dinner, and soaked multiple times in the hot baths.


Outdoor hot spring bath.  You can see the greenish hue of the mineral waters.

After the excruciating hike from the day before, and on account of the day’s rain, we opted to continue on for a day by bus. We arrived at our first grand shrine of the trip, the Kumano Hongu Taisha.


Kumano Hongu Taisha grand shrine.

This was the entrance to the original temple site. The grounds are considered sacred and seasonal festivals still take place.  The villagers and monks moved the temple up the hill in the last 100 years.  The grounds felt so quiet, rich with energy and life.  Photographs are not allowed inside the temple itself but these shots give you a tiny taste.



Special raven mailbox. The crow is the sacred religious icon for this region, the three-legged crow is particularly holy.

For more on the story of the sacred raven look here


Ladles for self-purification before entering the Shrine grounds


Entrance shrines at Hongu Taisha

We find some tasty treats to relax inside and hide from the rain.  The Wakayama prefecture prides themselves on orange cultivation, over 70 varieties are grown in the region.  The only varieties we found for sale may have been known for essential oils, and fragrance.  When we ate oranges, the insides were stringy and sour.  The zest however was thick and sweet smelling.


Delicious regional orange candy, red bean cake, and Kumano Kodo Beer, a special brew for the region/trail, and the best beer of Japan.


After Kumano Hongu Taisha, we took the bus to Koguchi to spend the night near the trail head for the next day’s hike. Mags used her Chinese reading skills to notice signs for a guest house. One would otherwise not notice it, as it is basically a house, in which an older couple rents out two rooms. In fact, you should probably call ahead. This may be the only lodging in town. We were fortunate that one of the two rooms was available when we arrived. Note: do not try to bargain. The price is firm 🙂

There is a small general store in town where you may purchase items to prepare for dinner using the water heater. An excellent breakfast is provided by the hosts in the morning.


breakfast at the guest house in Koguchi


hand crank phone

Along the trail, we saw snakes, lizards, and crabs from the river. Most of the crabs we saw were dead. For a while, we couldn’t figure out where they were coming from, all the way up in the mountains. Stu was convinced a practical joker planted them there. But of course they came from the river.


mountain crabs of the Wakayama forest province




We then set out for Kumano Nachi Taisha. This was a much larger shrine and town than the others. I would definitely call ahead and make a reservation at this one, because this is the only place where our “wing it” strategy didn’t work.


This place was incredibly beautiful. Think Rivendell from Lord of the Rings. Beautiful Japanese temple town on a steep stone cliffs with mountain waterfalls in the background. Nachi Falls are one of the tallest falls in the world at 133 meters. We had read that you can sleep in the temple for a low price after 5pm.  However, we arrived at 3pm and we couldn’t speak enough Japanese to find out more information.  We walked down many flights of stairs through the scenic grounds to the guest house in town.  Unfortunately, there were no rooms available for us, so we could only briefly enjoy the beauty of this area.

We hopped on a bus, intending to head down to the next town that had a train station. However, Mags noticed a guest house on the map, which was on the bus route before the train station. So we got off early, and walked down a suburban street that ended in a public garden and historic site. We found the place, and knocked on the door, only to be greeted by a very confused older Japanese woman. Her husband also joined in the “discussion,” as there wasn’t a common language shared by the two parties.

It turns out that their house used to be a guest house… a hundred years ago. Now the map just referred to it as a historical point of interest. Oops! The good news was that the gentleman offered to drive us to the nearest hotel, which was about 20 minutes away.

We were certainly a bit disappointed that we weren’t able to spend more time in Kumano Nachi Taisha, but at the same time we were blown away by the generosity of the gentleman who drove us to our hotel. And, in fact, we had a great time in the working-class fishing town of Kii Katsuura.


We found this fish market in Kii Katsuura, which had a public access viewing deck above.

We attempt to spend a day at a sandy white beach with aqua waters of the Pacific, miss a turn and find ourselves in the cold yet beautiful bay instead.


On a walk in Kii Katsuura, we found a rocky beach island with a shrine, which I suppose you could access at low tide.

Throughout our Kumano Kodo hike, we were surrounded by amazing views of nature, near and far.



We also came across many old shrines, sculptures, historical ruins, and signs with tales of retired emperors on their pilgrimages.


Small shrines like this were common on the trail.

The archway denotes sacred land.  In the mountain religion, all things of nature are sacred; rocks, trees, mountains, streams and earth all embody God.



I would recommend hiking the Kumano Kodo trail to almost anyone. And, in fact, I really hope we get to hike it ourselves again sometime.

Just a few tips from experience for the Kumano Kodo hiker:

  • Pack light. I’d recommend two sets of clothes, a first aid kit, a camera, cash (not credit), plenty of water, and enough food for two lunches and snacks. You should be able to eat dinner and breakfast in town, and resupply your trail food in town.  There may not be potable water during your hike.
  • Plan one day ahead. Like us, you may find yourself wanting to take one day off unexpectedly, but at the same time you don’t want to unexpectedly find yourself without a place to sleep in the town you wanted.

For the full set of pictures from this portion of our trip, click here.

Posted in Japan | 2 Comments

Massachusetts, Maine, and Maryland


Colrain, Massachusetts


Mags with Emma and Ed, in front of their beautiful Katywil home, and masonry wall by Justin

We start our search for our future home town in earnest.  We visit Katywil, a cohousing community in rural Colrain, just 2 miles through a state park to Vermont, about 30 miles from Amherst.  The folks here welcomed us with dinners, potlucks, and tours of the local area and their 117 acres.  We had a busy schedule packed into 3 days.  It was great to meet local farmers, beer brewers, activists, and community members.

Katywil Potluck with 20+ people and many delicious dishes

At Katywill, each household privately owns 3/4 of an acre and their home, as well as 1/18 of all the common land.  Most of the common land is managed forest preserve with trails, streams, and a river, other parts of the land have flat fertile farm land, orchards, greenhouse and even a solar array for energy.  Katywil would be a great place to farm and live in an intentional community.

The homes here are very well designed with energy conservation, sustainability, and comfort in mind, foot thick cellulose insulated walls, solar water heating and radiant floor heating, passive solar heating, and large south facing triple-glazed windows.  We were inspired by the tight-knit community of Katywil and the residents of Colrain. Thank you for being such great hosts!


Stu, Justin, Haines, Katie, and Nancy

Since we were already in New England, we took up an offer from Jim Murphy to visit Starks, Maine, a small rural farm town in Northern Maine.  The citizens of Starks are very progressive, and have pushed through legislation that protects sustainable farmers from damages caused by GMO’s and industrial chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides.  As a town, they want to see more small farmers, and are creating community resources that can support local agriculture, and agro-businesses.  Jim has a passion for cooperatives and provides educational lectures to anyone who wants to learn about co-ops.  We play Co-opoly, a fun board game where everyone plays on the same team.  The main goal is to create a successful cooperative business, you can earn money through “work” mini versions of charades, pictionary, and taboo.


We play Co-opoly with Jim in Starks, Massachusetts, a game where everyone cooperates to wins or everyone loses


We play a couple rounds of Co-opoly, losing one round to lack of health insurance, and another to a broken roof.

From New England, we take the train to Maryland to visit Stu’s family for Thanksgiving. We stayed with Stu’s brother, Rich, his wife,  Wendy, and their two kids.   We had fun raking leaves and jumping into the huge piles with Anna and Lucas.


Wendy and Lucas


IMG_2588.JPGLucas loved rolling in the leaves, eliciting a constant stream of giggles from himself


and everyone around him

We visit Stu’s Mom Emma in Baltimore and eat great local grub at Hon Cafe.


Crabcakes hollandaise


Lucas and Rich


Anna, Elvis and Gammy at Hon Cafe, Baltimore, MD



Gammy with her grandchildren

Need more cute kids?  Here you go.


Story time

We had a lovely Thanksgiving with the Matthews family and friends! Thanks to Uncle Chip and Dana for hosting the feasting.





Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Another Cross-Country Amtrak Trip, and NYC

After two months in Irvine, where Mags was able to recuperate from her bicycle accident, it was finally time to hit the road again, or the rails, as the case may be. For the fourth straight winter, we took the train cross country.


chillin’ like a villain in our Amtrak roomette

I highly recommend traveling by Amtrak to anyone who can spare the time. It takes about three days to get across the country. It is best if you are able to travel with a companion, as it makes the roomette accommodation more practical, money-wise. The roomettes come with three meals per day in the dining car, morning coffee and newspaper, and use of the shared restrooms and shower. The roomette itself is pretty comfortable, with bunk beds that tuck away during the day for a nice sitting room.

This year’s route took us from Irvine to Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City.


We had some great views such as this on our Southwest portion of the route.


We did get to spend several hours in Chicago during our layover.

Finally we arrived in New York City, where we stayed with Javon for a few days. This whole portion of our trip was actually brought about by a bet about the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The result of the bet was that Peter-man, Javon, and I would meet in person for top-shelf whiskey.


Javon, Stu, and Peter getting ready to be up to no good

We all checked out the American Museum of Natural History.


Javon and giant sea turtle from the age of dinosaurs


We’re blessed to have friends and family in many different parts of the country. We met up with Cousin Jodi, a talented actress and film producer.  She showed us around the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the first snow storm in two years. Jodi works at a really great vegan restaurant called Angelica Kitchen, which we went to twice during our stay.

We went with Jodi to the Rubin Museum of Art. It is a museum focusing on Himalayan art, featuring detailed icons of Buddhist and Hindu art. Afterwards we went and got Tibetan food!


Fierce Durga with her lion companion overcoming the demigod Mahisha who endangered the order of the world.


Tibetan food with cousin Jodi

We also got to spend a fun-filled evening with Mags’s friends from working at Burningman 10 years ago, Bea and Manny, and their son Ezra. We all shared memories, and Bea and Manny told us what it was like for them during Super-storm Sandy. Thankfully, despite some power loss and loss of some personal property due to flooding, their family was safe and healthy throughout the storm.


Friends Bea, Manny, Ezra on City Island, Bronx

Mags caught up with high school best friend Egbert, whom she also hadn’t seen in years.


Egbert and Mags, friends from high school, at the Ace Hotel


Peter-man and Stu goofing around

What a packed few days in New York City! Of course there is so much to do and see in the city. Special thanks to Javon who shared his home with us during our stay!


Jovan and the boyz with their hands on their heads during a party game we came home to


More photos from this part of our trip on our Picasa page.

Posted in Amtrak, New York City | 1 Comment