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8 months in review….

13 May

8 months in review…..

Best Meal:

This is such a hard one…. I have had so much amazing food….  but here are a few of my favorites:

  1. grilled chicken from a street vendor in peru – plate with beet salad, maize and amazing chicken – though this was quickly overtaking by the roasted pig fresh out of the huge oven bought on the street a few days later.  Oh man, I could have had 3 plates worth!
  2. masala dosas in Southern Indian, eaten with my hands
  3. vietnamese soup from a street stall
  4. fresh fruit from the street vendors in bangkok
  5. not quite a meal but…. chai on the trains in india first thing in the morning

drying fish

Strangest food:

Oh man, SE Asia is the place for … different… food.  I wasn’t always terribly explorative but….

There is this sandwich that is really common in Vietnam.  It is combination of the French influence (a baguette) but truly Vietnamese – on one side is a pate-like substance, on the other there is butter.  Then you can choose between pork or a fried egg (or both). Then the condiments and extras include cucumber, tomato, chilies, fish sauce and other unknown stuff.  It is actually quite good – as long as you don’t think about the ‘pate’.

I had some meals in Thailand from the street carts that I have no idea what they were.  Some were strange, for sure.

And if I HAD tried it, baby bird still in the shell would make the top of the list!

Best Book

I have probably read close to 40 books this year.  I am a bit of a voracious reader, which was great because I read a lot, but not good because it meant that I finished books super fast.  So – I cannot remember them all – but one of my favorites was White Tiger by an Indian author.  It is super funny and reflective of life and people in India – I read it while there and I could not stop laughing.

things lost

2 pairs of underwear (but one was not my fault – the laundry service lost them!)

1 pair of socks (damn laundry service)

umbrella  – uh, no idea where I left that…..

my SA cell phone – also no clue….

Best Guesthouse

I have stayed in many many crappy places.  But I have also stayed in some really nice places – whether it was a guesthouse in Vietnam that over looked the beach, or a simple room in a family’s home in Nepal, or a clean room with my own bathroom in Huaraz – the  things that started to matter to me was quietness, cleanliness and bathrooms.  Funny how your needs start to get boiled down to simplicity….

sunrise on the ganges

Coolest Wildlife Sighting

Seeing mama and ‘baby’ rhino from the back of an elephant!  I mean, it was a rhino!  And they look just like the pictures….  (which I know sounds ridiculous but that was totally my reaction….)

going for an elephant ride (not comfortable!)

Most beautiful scenery

How could I possibly pick just one?  I have spent time in some of the most beautiful mountain ranges of the world – Himalayas, Andes, Patagonia.  I have visited Machu Picchu and temples of Bangkok.  I cannot possibly pick one place that was more beautiful than another. But the diversity of Bolivia, the mountains of Huaraz, the raw beauty of Patagonia and the grandeur of the Himalayas definitely stole my heart.

crossing the glacier

Toughest moment

There were definitely times in the fall when I had a crisis of faith what am I doing here?  What am I doing with my life?!  I remember one day in particular.  It was a rainy day in India, I was in Kochi, a city in Southern India.  At that point, I had been traveling for close to 3 weeks or so in India, by myself.  I was enjoying India, at times.  But was also finding it difficult – the constant staring, the constant feeling of being a spectacle, of being uncomfortable.  I was at a coffee shop and just spent the afternoon staring out in space, trying to figure out my purpose….  it was a rough period.

Biggest scam

When I arrived in Mumbai, I had to take a taxi from one train station to another.  It was quite early in the morning, still dark, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to do.  Taxis are always tough because they are really metered, you don’t know how much they should be charging you and how much you should bargain.  I found a driver and thought we had a deal.  When we got there, I paid him with a large bill (I can’t remember what it was, but I was almost positive it was enough to cover the fare).  For the sake of the story, let’s say it was a 100.  But, he told me, no, that is 20.  You need to give me more.  Confused, I handed over another 100.  Again, he told me that it was a 20.

Now, you have to remember that it was still dark out.  There is a chance that he was telling the truth.

But, I am pretty sure that I handed over a whole lot more than I should have.  My theory is that he dropped the money on the front seat and had a 20 there to show me.  Or, maybe I really was just overtired…..  Want to give him the benefit of the doubt but….. I think that I lost out on at least a few 100 rupees that day!

demon

meeting the locals….

I found the people in India to be incredibly funny and want to talk to me.  Of course, at first they stared, but if I smiled at them, chances were they would smile back.  I remember being in the train station in Varanasi and I had accidentally arrived early.  So, I joined everyone else in sitting on the floor.  There was a large group of women who were staring intensely at me.  I tried to smile, but it was hard to crack their stares.  Eventually, I got one of the little girls to smile at me – which in turn got the whole family to smile and giggle at me.  They waved me over and we spent 30 minutes of them staring at me, holding my hand, speaking to me in Hindu and me just smiling.  As they left, they all wanted to shake my hand.

Getting sick

I am not sure how I pulled this off, but I had it 8 months without getting sick – except for a few times that were pretty minor.  My body had a day or two adjustment from being a vegetarian for 4 months to jumping back on the meat-train (with no easing in).  Then in Bolivia, I got sick a few times, but mostly just for 24 hours or so. And one cold in Peru that lasted 48 hours or so.  Moral of the story? Traveling is really healthy for me.  Oh – and I lost my hand sani early on and never replaced it……  🙂

Craziest public transportation

This one is tough, as I took a lot of sketchy transportation this year.  I have been on auto-rickshaws and bike-rickshaws, motorcycles, buses, trans, cars, elephants.  And, as my brother can attest, I can be a nervous passenger.  But, for some reason, the sketchiness never really bothered me this year.  Maybe it is because people do not drive super fast, maybe it is because the lack of rules in so many places means that everyone understands that and works within those parameters (a lack of rules almost means that you are always expecting the unexpected).  And then there is the simple consolation for myself – well, I am sure the driver doesn’t want to die, so…. he’ll be careful., right?

But the craziest?  It was probably a rickety bus that had to be push started and had 4 out of 5 gears working and I could see the ground through the gear shaft.  And I was on it for 13 hours.  And the driver had to avoid dogs and monkeys and people and motorcycles.

worst food

This is hands down Argentina.  I mean, could the food get any more bland?  Yes, yes, I know – this is the land of steaks and good wine.  And I bet that if you have a lot of money to spend, you can have a really good steak. But, I never had a lot of money to blow.  So, I had some good steaks. And I had some good wine.  But on a whole, the food there is boring and bland.

worst guesthouse moment

This one is easy….  I was in Potosi, Bolivia and had gone to bed early, as I am prone to doing.  The other people in my room got back late – around 2 in the morning.  I was already annoyed with them, as it was a group of 3 and the couple of the group was staying in one bed above me (get your own room, please).  In any case, they were clearly a bit drunk, stumbling around, knocking things over. Eventually, they got into bed, when I heard the guy say to the girl above me ‘uh-oh, I think I am going to puke”.  And though I heard him clearly, his girlfriend seemed confused by what he was saying. In my head, I am screaming at her – get him out of the f’ing bed. But she is slow to respond.  Too slow, in fact.  And he pukes down the wall.  You know, down the hall onto the bed I am in.

Yeah, definitely a low point….

friendliest stranger encounter

There have been so many positive and helpful. Encounters with strangers – people have been kind of helpful to me all along the way.  But one memory, in particular was when I was in India trying to figure out how to get to this festival and I had to take a bus.  I could not find the street that I needed to take the bus on, so I got directions there.  When I approached the street, I saw that there were many buses to choose from – all written in a different language.  How would I ever know?  I asked a woman who was walking towards me – and she brought me over to the street, helped me find the bus and told the driver where I was headed.  When I thanked her, she said, “no problem.  You would do the same for me if I needed help in your country”.  Good reminder of what goes around, comes around….

3-faced buddha

Number of high passes (over 4500m) crossed (by foot)

  • 3 in Nepal (2 in the Everest region, 1 in the Annapurna region)
  • 3 in Argentina (2 in Patagonia, 1 on Aconcagua)
  • 4 in Peru (3 on the Ausungate circuit, 1 on the Lares trek)
  • and of course, 1 high summit in Bolivia!

how much rice eaten

let’s see….  I have been traveling for about 240 days.  Most of the countries I was in eat rice with their meals.  Let’s low-ball that I had about a ½ cup of rice with each meal.  And then let’s low-ball that 175 dinners were rice dishes, which means that I had approximately 87.5 cups of rice this year.  Which I would say is definitely a low-ball estimate…. which means that is a lot of rice.

Best luck (and worst luck)

I combined these too – because it was really hard to think of a time when I had bad luck.  Because even when things did not work out the way I had planned them, something always good happened to me. There was the time I had a day layover in Bengalore, but I ended up getting to sit poolside drinking gin and tonics.  And then there was that other time that I was delayed in getting to Huaraz, but my timing meant that I met my mountain guide.

poolside! always good to say yes!

how many miles/km walked

Ha.  Try and figure that one out – not only did I trek in Nepal, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.  But I also walked pretty much everywhere.  Like the day in Bolivia where I tried to walk to a school in La Paz – and it ended up taking me 3 hours.  Or all the times I was a cheap-ass and refused to take the bus or the taxi.  I mean, it has got to be 1000s and 1000s of kms….

biggest fear

Rickety buses?  no.

Muggings?  Nope.

Being abducted by a rogue taxi driver?  Hardly.

But being attached by animals?  Yep!  Top of the list.  And not just dogs (though they are definitely scary in South America), but my biggest fears are being attacked – no, that is not the right word – being charged by farm animals – you know, the cows, horses and yaks that are frequently in the areas where I trek.  I know that a cow is not likely to charge me, but surely it has happened before, no?  And the yaks are so damn big.  And donkeys are total spazzes, hard to predict what they will do!

And, just for the record, I was trekking through a meadow last week and a horse did try to charge me (swear to god!) and the dogs that were following me (I might have fed them…) charged the horse and barked at it and scared it off.

So, I think that my fear is justified.  Ok?!

fishing on the China Sea

Best ‘just say yes’ moment….

there have been a few….

  1. Getting invited to a fancy hotel and getting treated to lunch, G&Ts and dinner while sitting poolside in Bangalore
  2. Getting to visit a Peruvian school with a local teacher and meet and talk with her students
  3. Going to review maps with a mountain guide and then spending the next two weeks together!

rule of life — just say yes!

  1. Getting to try delicious food from all over the world when I let the ‘salesperson’ talk me into it!
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So long bangkok, i hardly knew you….

22 Dec

there i am at the wat arun (temple of dawn) with the grand palace in the background

Today was day 3 wandering around the city.  Around every corner is another breathtaking temple (called a ‘wat’) and everywhere there is cheap, amazing street food.  So, why wasn’t I loving it?

I realized tonight, it is because I don’t know it.  I don’t know its stories, I don’t know its people.  I don’t know its needs and wants.  Now, let me say — traveling in India and Nepal for almost 4 months definitely doesn’t make me an expert – and I would never claim to be.  But, over my time there and through my friends who live there, I feel that I have some understanding of that world.  But here?  Nope, no idea.

While I sat and ate my fresh fruit in coconut milk for the 3rd night in a row, one of the waitresses came over and commented on it (that I eat it every night).  We got to talking, first about her name tag that she hates to wear (we commiserated about that and bosses that make you wear them), then her hours and the fact that she lives about 45 minutes away and then about how she is trying to work a lot so that she can make enough money to bring her daughter back.  See, when the floods happened, her place wasn’t impacted because she lives on the 3rd floor, but the whole first floor was flooded, so she could not go home – so she sent her daughter to her village to live with her mom.

Ah, so now Thailand has a bit more of a face for me.  A bit of a story.  Now, I feel a bit of a connection.

I have spent lots of time comparing Bangkok to Nepal/India and here are some of my thoughts:

  • Nepal and India – it was easy to eat vegetarian.  Not so here (though I am sure you could manage).  But here, seems to be easier to eat meat.  It is everywhere.  From the dried fish to fried chicken to grilled hot dogs.  I had beef and pork for the first time in almost 4 months.  And then there is the unidentifiable meat….  yeah, had some of that too.

fish market

  • like india and nepal, there are temples everywhere.  and i mean, everywhere.  Whereas in Nepal and India, there were small ones hidden around every corner, here they are all huge and golden and ornate.  How many pictures can I take of Buddha?  apparently, i have yet to discover that answer

yeah, another buddha

more buddhas

  • there is no honking in bangkok.  seriously.  it seems SO quiet to me.  and there are lights and lanes and people adhere to them….  whoa….
  • there are women everywhere.  women shopping and cooking food and … well…. just doing the sorts of things you do when you live some place.  they are working alongside men and talking to them.  it is definitely a different feel.
  • people dress very differently — short skirts, lots of skin (it was almost shocking at first).  and the hairstyles?  awesome.  lots of faux-hawks and punk styles.  love it.  i feel so plain.
  • they are use to tourists here.  they don’t stare.  in fact, i am kind of invisible.  once in a while i get a bit of a smile — but for the most part, i am totally non-existant to them.
  • the markets here sell everything.  today i walked around chinatown  — everything from jewelery to clothes to rebuilt engines for cars to sex toys to chinese herbs to kitchen sinks to ….  really, whatever you could ever want.
  • people don’t harass me on the street.  no one is asking me where i am from (ok, a few of them did here and there) but for the most part it is hassle free.  no tuk-tuk drivers asking you if you want to go somewhere.  no sketchy dudes asking you where you are from to lure you into their shops.

HUGE reclining buddha

  • the street food is safe and it is the norm.  today, i had a lot of it (i kind of can’t stop myself…  which might be why i am way over budget….).  I had chicken noodle soup, pork noodle soup, some sort of curried stir fry with rice this morning for breakfast with an egg, a mango smoothy and fresh slices of pineapple.  and there were so many other options…  it is almost overwhelming…  and some of it i don’t have the courage to try….

dried fish for sale

In other news…  I had two big spends today.  One was buying two pieces of fabric for skirts – though that was just about 9$ for each one and it is thai silk (or so I hope!).  And the other big ticket item was sending the fabric home, along with a nepal guide book home (that belongs to katherine — thanks Kat!) and my india guidebook home and the two books and other material i have collected along the way.  So — that _should_ arrive in the states in 2-3 months or so….  expensive, but necessary.

I want to describe my breakfast to you — I had rice with a chicken red curry and then some sort of octopus (I think?  or maybe squid?) that was with green beans and spicy.  SO good.  and then I followed that up with an iced coffee (heavy on the carnation condensed milk) and then fresh slices of mango.  All for about $$2.  So, again, you ask me why i am over budget?  ok….  so all the fresh fruit — how can you indulge just once a day?  and then you can have fruit shakes with said fresh fruit.  again – how can you do that but once?  i guess it has been some time since i had fresh fruit like this….  It’s my christmas present to myself, right?!  (too bad my account didn’t know we were celebrating xmas).

demon

First thing tomorrow morning, i head to the airport and by 9:15 am, I will be in HCMC.  I have a reservation for the first two nights and then…  not sure.  I always get nervous when I travel some place new.  Once I get use to it and figure out how to negotiate my new world, i am ok, but until then, I get really nervous.  I will be by myself from the 23rd until some point on the 29th when I will meet up with my friend Chloe.  Not sure what my plans are…  i tried to make some plans, but have not heard back from any of the guest houses, so it will have to be on the fly planning!  my favorite….

in any case — happy solstice to you all.  much love as we start this new year.  i am so thankful that you are all with me.  i feel your energy, love and courage.  thank you.

welcome to bangkok!

20 Dec

statues like this are everywhere — and i love them!

Welcome to Bangkok – where the temples are golden, the tuk-tuk drivers take you to shops to sell you custom-made shirts and orchids adorn your freshly squeezed juice.

I got in LATE last night — after 4 or 5 hour sleep in which I slept very little.  We landed around 12:30 or so India time, which meant it was about 2 in the morning or so.  And then between going through customs, taking a taxi to my hotel and then trying to unwind, I only got a few hours of sleep.  I did not want to waste the day, though, because I only have 4 days in bangkok to explore and EAT.

I do not have a guide book for here, so I came in with no real expections or plans.  I had booked a guesthouse before hand, (which turns out to be great place — i have just decided to stay here all 4 nights), but other than that – no plans or even ideas of what to do!

So, this morning, I bought a map, had the woman orient me and off I went.  My first plan was to visit the touristy area (I am fortunately not staying in the heart of it) to buy a guide book for Vietnam.

On my way there, I took a detour into a side street which ended up being a seemingly endless market.  there were vegetables and fruit and eggs (and pink eggs!) and then fish – of all sorts.  dead fish and LIVE fish.  there were several buckets of catfish – next to one was a little guy who was trying to get away.  Then there were buckets of eels – big and small sizes.  It was so fun to walk up and down the aisle.  I always feel bad when I take pictures of their food instead of buying it, so I don’t — but maybe more tomorrow.

On my way there, I was befriended by a Thai boxer instructor who helped me figure out what I should visit.  Then he told me it was a holdiay, so the temples were all open and the tuk-tuks were less than a $1.  In hindsight, I am not sure if that is all true — but the temples were all open and the tuk-tuk eventually ended up being free.

Basically, the way it shook down is this:  I had a tuk-tuk take me all over the place — I visited a few different temples (and given how tired I was, this was probably good to get driven to them all).  but in between, he carted me to different government stores — either jewelery or clothing places – where I could buy stuff.  He told me he got a coupon for gas at those places.  Well, since I am not a huge fan of shopping, nor could I afford AT ALL the clothes and the jewelery — I was not a good commission (if that is what it was).  And then, since I spent so much time at each temple, he had to leave while I was in one place – so I never had to pay for a tuk-tuk (my cheap-ass victory!).

The temples were gorgeous — so different from India and Nepal.  Golden buddhas, ornate bejeweled temples, and flowers and sculptures.  It was all so amazing.  Here are some pictures to highlight what I saw.

temple — and this one is kind of dull

amazing buddha

for some reason, i can change the orientation of this buddha but….. i thought it was too good to not share!

Then, I had the tuk-tuk driver drop me off at the main touristy area.  Holy Snickes….  talk about culture shock from India…  it was consumption central.  Maybe kind of like times sqaure – but with dreads being made, pad thai being sold for a dollar and being able to get anything you want.  And thailand is where all the tourists come, apparhently…  definitely a different feel than anywhere I have been in a long time.  I found my book and took off.  I don’t mean to be anti-social, but I just cannot imagine sitting at the Irish bar there, surrounded by other tourists.

my plan is to turn in early tonight and get up and take a water ferry tomorrow to the royal palace area for more sight seeing.  Not sure what I will do on wednesday and thursday.

Note:  i wrote this yesterday, but then could not get online….

p.s. — the grand palace was amazing — I will definitely share pictures

p.s.s. – the city is super easy to get around, signs everywhere

p.s.s.s – the carnivores in the audience would LOVE it here — fried/grilled meat everwhere.  some of it — i have no idea what it is — but you buy it all on the street.  In face, that is how you eat here — on the street from all the stalls.  it is great and fairly cheap (see below).

p.s.s.s.s. — i am SUPER shocked at how expensive it is here.  I am well over budget every day — and that is eating on the street for most meals!  Ok, I have indulged in the fresh fruit in coconut mile last night and tonight — but still….  I am not sure people would do this on less than 30 a day – unless they only had one cup of coffee (i might have had two and an iced coffee today) and no beer (i just had one, my first in weeks) and they eat all 3 meals on the street.  I guess I am just use to Nepal/India prices where I could manage for 20-25 a day easy.  and here — it would take work to be at 25.  And the grandpalace was not good — since that was almost half my budget for the day….  😦  trying to tell myself it doesn’t matter but…  it kind of does!

ok — there will be another post soon with new pictures!  it is really beautiful here – and so clean and quiet!

hope all are well and surviving tlhe lead up to the holdiays!

there i am, in a temple