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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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Read the fine print

8 Jan

Hearing the announcement, I felt a pit of anxiety form in my stomach.  Why are they calling my name 45 minutes before my flight?  My seat was confirmed, so it wasn’t that. I wasn’t carrying illegal contraband (that I knew of). Oh, please don’t have me miss this flight, I thought as I rushed to the ticket counter.

Turns out they just wanted to know if I had read the fine print. Which I had – 3 hours ago and $400 later.

Turns out you cannot fly into Argentina without proof that you are leaving. seems like a big detail that I shouldn’t have missed. Well, I hadn’t totally. I had read about it 6 months ago. And at that time I figured no problem, I will surely have my return ticket by that time. But, now it was four hours before my flight, I am sitting in a dumpy hostel room in Saigon that I got for $5 for 3 hours to shower and repack and, thanks to government controls, I cannot access a quarter of the websites I am trying to research.

Panic has begun to set in.

You see, my plans are up in the air. I don’t know when I am returning to the states. I don’t know when I am leaving argentina. All I really know is that I have a flight to El Calafate less than 24 hours after I arrive in Buenos Aires.  That i would really prefer not to miss.  And that Qatar Airways is not going to let me leave Vietnam without proof that i am leaving Argentina.

Finally the interweb, my credit card and government controls have all conspired to allow me to purchase a, hopefully fully refundable (how many times can one read the airline fine print and still be confused?), airline ticket to Chile. Which I hope to not use.

Sure enough, that was the reason I heard my name over the intercom. They let me board the flight. And here I am, 30+ hours of flying time later, listening told men gossip in the coffee shop where I am fighting jet-lag in Buenos Aires.

on leaving…..

6 Jan

As I am about to board my VERY VERY (did I mention very?) long flight to south america, I am struck by this transition.  This feels big — both from the perspective that it is the half way point of my trip and that it is a big transition in location, and away from Asia.

By the way — did I mention that my flight is long?  Yeah — almost 29 hours of flying time, plus just under a 3 hour layover.  how is that for long?!  I guess I am traveling half way around the world.

So, what is it about this part of the world that I have fallen in love with?  I could say that it is the people (which is true) or the food (which is also true), but that is not the full story.  In Nepal it was the moutains, along with the people.  In India, it was the diversity, the food and the people.  In Bangkok and Vietnam, it was how different it was (for me), and the food!

But, that isn’t all of it either.  That doesn’t fully explain leaving part of my heart in India and Nepal.  Maybe it was how hard you (sometimes) have to work in those places to get your big rewards.  Or the contrast of worlds.  Or the interplay of spirituality and every day life – and all the messiness that it brings.  That there is this dicotomy between simplicity and complexity, and how nothing is one or the either.  Maybe it is how much those two countries make me smile (and sometimes make my angry).  Whatever it is, it is powerful.

So — away I go – off to another place, another world.  Which, I am sure will be amazing and full of greatness — just as all of the world have proven to be for me.  But, seeing as I am leaving part of myself here, I will just have to come back some time soon.

See you all in Buenos Aires!

Vietnam

6 Jan

Two weeks is officially NOT enough time to see much of Vietnam! Even with the change in my plans, I feel like I barely know Vietnam. I got so use to really knowing a place (and it is questionable if I even did get to know much about Nepal and India) from being there a longer time, so this two week blitz was definitely different. It felt a little bit more like checking off various tourist sites than really getting to know Vietnam. I have so many questions….

After I left Chloe in Nha Trang, I headed 5 hours up the coast to Quy Nhon, a quiet little city with a beautiful coast. I hung out there for a day — walking through the city, along the beach and to a beautiful little pagoda where I spoke to a monk for awhile. The city is pretty empty of tourists, or at least compared to Nha Trang! I also found a little hotel that for 10$ a night I was on the top floor with a balcony that overlooked the ocean. And the two mornings I was there, it was clear out!

From Quy Nhon I took a 9 hour bus ride to Dalat, which is up in the mountains. It was a beautiful ride up there, past rice fields and lush mountains shrouded in clouds. The actual town is nothing all that spectacular, but made for a nice relaxing day here — lots of cafes overlooking the lake in the center of town and a fun market to walk around. This area is much cooler than anywhere else in southern Vietnam, the temperature difference was a definite welcome! That also means that lots of fruits and vegetables grow here — all the markets had strawberries for sale and there were lots of dried berries for sale too. Here, like everywhere else I have been in Veitnam, the main streets are converted in street restaurants and markets selling just about anything at night. It is amazing to see all the chairs and tables laid out and the stalls appearing out of nowhere. The street food is pretty good (and cheap) – and the pho (soup) was a nice treat on a cool evening. Though, I have tried some things that I am not totally thrilled with — for instance, last night I had a soya bean drink that was warm and sweet – kind of a shake. Not sure what I thought of that. Then today, I had something that looked like a quesadilla, but definitely was NOT one. It had a mild fish taste and was crispy… and i really can’t tell you much more than that. maybe there was some egg in it? it wasn’t all that interesting. There are still a lot of foods that i would like to try – my last day may be a feeding frenzy!

I like Vietnam, though I feel that I need to spend quite a bit more time in Southeast Asia to feel like I get it. It is pretty different here from India and Nepal (obviously) – and so I just don’t think I get it all. I kind of keep expecting people to act like they do in India and Nepal — which of course doesn’t happen. But, people are very friendly here, and I love seeing people smile at me even with their face masks on (they are real into those face masks — makes me wonder what I am breathing in!).

It is interesting being in a communist (er, rather, socialist) country — though there are not too many obvious signs of it other than flags and facebook being banned (you can get it some places, but most wifi signals do not allow you to get on). I was in one town where all the sidewalks had little communist insignias all along the sides (little stars and hammers and sickles and some other little symbols). But, there are flags everywhere! People seem very proud.

All through my journey, when I say I am American (which people almost never guess — I hear Italy, Spain and Israel mostly but rarely American), people all over respond with “obama!” which is a fun response. He is a big time celebrity in India and Nepal, at least. But here, I wondered what it would be like. I felt shy saying I was American – after all, some of the hillsides are still denuded from Agent Orange, and people are still having birth defects and health problems from it. But, it does not seem to be a problem here — people are quick to smile and are kind and helpful. Just like all the other places I have been.

(No pictures at this time…. the connection is not good — but i promise to post some good ones!)

Plans are meant to broken…. or something like that

2 Jan

I knew I had a short time in Vietnam, so I asked around — where should I go, what should I do?  Following a lot of questions and a lot of research, I had a general plan of 2 days in the Mekong Delta, 2 days in Dalat, a few days on the beach and then Hoi An.  Everyone recommended Hoi An.  Great — sign me up!  It seemed that it was do-able, though I would have to be careful about getting back to HCMC for my flight — but no worries.

Then, a few months later, I got great news that my friend Chloe was also going to join me in Vietnam – so I shared with her my plans.  It turned out that we would overlap by a week – so emails went back and forth, trying to make plans and confirm itineraries.  Which… turns out, is not so easy.

Long story short, we spent a lot of time together trying to figure out how to make our plans work for each of our schedules, needs, budgets, wants, etc.  It turns out that they could not mesh.  So — I am not going to Hoi An.  Instead, I have come to Quy Nhon, another beach town, though less touristy.  And then I will go to Dalat and then head back to HCMC for my 28 hour flight.  And Chloe?  She has headed north – she is going to Hoi An.

It was tough and frustrating trying to figure it all out. I’ll be honest, I have gotten use to planning on my own.  And I also am use to the ease of getting around – India made it all so easy – why is the rest of the world not like that?  I was bummed we had to split ways, as I was glad to have a travel companion.    But, at the same time, I am continuously given the lesson that I need to be flexible with my plans.  That I need to be patient and flexible, creative and willing to see the good in no matter what happens.  I guess until I have that lesson figured out – I will keep getting ample opportunities to learn it.

chloe and i on the beach, Nha Trang, before heading separate ways

So, here is to unexpected adventures, trying to keep an open mind,and (re)learning to be patient and flexible.

Reflecting back, looking forward

1 Jan

Happy new year friends.

Nha Trang beach, where I brought in the new year

I have never been a huge fan of new year’s — seeing as it seems so artificial (why is this the new year?  being an east coaster, in the dead of winter, it is hard to feel like it is a new year) and it always carries such high expectations, which never seem to pan out exactly the way you hope.  Though, I do like the idea of making resolutions — or at least reflecting on your life in the past year and looking forward.

For me, this past year has been tremendous – from making the leap to buying my ticket, to planning this journey to setting into motion all the small things that got me here.  I am a planner – I love the work that leads up to the big event – so this year was great for me.  And then — I left and started the journey.  There were some hard moments, for sure, but thinking back on the past four months, I marvel on my growth, my perspective and how grateful I am.

reclining buddha at the pagoda in Nha Trang

I knew it would be good.  But — was it going to be one of those type 2 fun things?  You know, the things that are fun after the fact?  Or would it actually be fun in the moment.  I guess I have to say that there is both types of fun.  But – what has surprised me – is just how good it is.  Just how much I don’t want it to end.  Just how much I want to keep journeying and seeing and experiencing and meeting and …. living.

So – this past year has been about opening up – embracing the world and all of its amazingness.  And its messiness.  And its craziness.

So – this upcoming year?

Well, more of the same, right?  More living and experiencing.  More rambling and exploring, climbing and peak bagging, breathing deep and sitting quietly (thanks Ed Abbey).  But, to tell you the truth friends, i am feeling a little sad.  Because I know it will come to an end.  That this year it ends.  That my journey will end and I go back to my life before.  But, it won’t be the same, will it?  My world is so much bigger now.

boats in the harbor outside of Nha Trang

Last year, a friend suggested making some intentions for the new year around 3 different focuses (foci?) – personal, professional and health (or something like that).  Following an early morning run on the beach, I sat with coffee and thought about my intentions for this upcoming year.  I reflected on where I have traveled, and thought ahead to where I am going.  I definitely do not have it all figured out, but I also know that I have much more clarity than ever before.

Thank you friends, for being with me on this journey, for giving me courage when I was missing it, for celebrating my successes and reaching out when I was lonely.  I am so excited to share the next 4 and a half or 5 months with you (see — i am sad.  that seems so short!).  I am so grateful for you all.

How did you bring in your new year?

Buddha, overlooking the city

you remember, I show you

28 Dec

“you remember, i show you”

I heard that line at least 20 times from my cyclo driver.  Don’t worry — I have no idea what he meant either.  I thought I was getting a deal — a ride to my next town and my homestay covered.  However, all I was getting was a ride to a very touristy guesthouse and dropped off there.  Not quite what I thought.  And all through the 3 or so hours we toured back roads, he spoke, I understood about 1/16th of it, and then he would say “you remember, I show you” – and I would have no clue what he was talking about….

Yeah – that is me looking like a dumb-ass in my helmet.  The really sad part about it is that helmets are mandatory here so they are a major fashion statement.  There are tons of stores with all sorts of super cute helmets and helmet covers.  Seriously great options.  Unlike mine…

nice helmet……

But, back to what matters, right?  So – I have spent the past three days touring the Mekong Delta in one way or another.  The first day I took a super touristy tour of the delta — it involved a big boat, small boats, trips to try local honey and coconut candy, lunch and was all around fairly lame — we were pretty much being shuttled from spot to spot — very little detail in what we were seeing.  But — it was my ride into the delta (i stayed when all the rest of the tourists left) and it was a cool way to see a lot of different stuff in a very short period of time.

woman paddling in delta

traditional vietnamese tombs at a family house in the deltasmall boats used in canals

The next day, I took my motorcycle ride to near Vinh Long – further into the delta.  Though it was a bit of a rip-off for what it was, it was cool to take back roads.

women working in the field

I stayed at a guesthouse last night that is billed as a homestay — but the place was so big and the daughter who served me looked so pissed off (damn sullen teenagers! 🙂 that I did not feel like a homestay.  I was also the only person there (once all the lunch tour groups left), so it was a bit awkward.  Though the food was good — I had elephant ear fish — which is basically a whole fish they give you and you roll spring rolls for yourself.  Then there was a huge prawn and pieces of other fish with rice.  And soup.  Maybe the girl was just pissed off because she had to bring out all that food.  The high point of staying there was getting a chance to take a long walk along the canal – i felt i got a good chance to see how people live in a not very touristy place.  It was beautiful – green, lush and full of fruit trees (banana, coconut, jackfruit and papaya!).

couple riding their bike along the canal

Then, today, I took another boat tour (it was sort of set up by the moto dude — plus i had to find a way to get from the homestay to the city of vinh long, so it worked out ok).  This one was with a super nice man and his super cute little girl.  He took me through the canals – we also visited the honey production and the coconut candy — plus popped rice and he had me sample the rice alcohol (at 8 in the morning!).  Then we went and saw the floating markets near Vinh Long — which are just that — markets that are floating — they are on boats.  It was pretty cool to see.

woman heading to floating market

woman headed to floating market

boats with their goods for the floating market

In Vinh Long I toured the markets.  Vietnamese markets sell just about anything — from live to dried fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, packaged goods, food stalls, eggs — pretty much whatever you want!  they are fun to walk around.

all sorts of different eggs to eat! i bet some of those are baby birds

dried fish in the market

yeah, that is a real snake in there…..

My friend Chloe arrives tomorrow — we will meet up in Can Tho and figure out our plans from there.  I discovered that it is not super easy to travel by yourself in this country — nothing like in India!  the buses and whole tourism industry (which is co-owned by the government) pushes you towards certain places.  I think that the ideal way to see Vietnam would be bike-touring (note to self for next trip here).

Tonight after having dinner in the market (no idea what I ate – as is the case for most of my meals), I went to the cafe that is on the water front.  There was some terrible karoke going on.  And I am so curious why the Vietnamese are SO into the neon flashing lights…..

more soon….

hope all is well — love – aurora