We spent a few days in La Paz, Bolivia after our awesome salt flat tour, and every day we’d walk through a market near the hotel to find the woman who made these pastries. She’d be there bright and early with fresh sugary goodness for us to try. We must have eaten dozens of these treats over the span of four days. Delicious!
Khao Sok National Park, despite not having a coastal scene, has some of Thailand’s most spectacular scenery. We took a longtail boat through the lake, which is surrounded by incredible limestone hills that reminded us of Halong Bay in Vietnam and Yangshuo in China. It was stormy the day we arrived, but that only added to the mysterious appeal of the landscape.
Ankgor Wat is undoubtedly the biggest tourist draw for the temples outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia, but there is so much more if you have a day or five to explore. There are dozens of smaller temples in the surrounding area and most of them boast intricate carvings, some of which are very well preserved. These particular figures can be found along the walls near the Elephant Gate, and we were fascinated by the different colors each figure had taken on despite the fact that they are all basically exposed to the same natural elements. Some were simply grey as the stone they’d been carved from, others were shades of green and red. Each figure is unique, and we spent nearly an hour wandering along the wall and inspecting the the details.
We went to Nepal to get away from the cities and the pollution and the general chaos of constant travel. We knew that hiking the Annapurna Circuit would be both challenging and rewarding, and our entire trip to this lovely country revolved around the hike. That is, until I got sick.
We had just finished our 150 kilometer trek and we were incredibly sore, but feeling really good about successfully carrying our own gear and still making it all the way through on our original schedule. I went to bed that night dreaming of relaxing back in Kathmandu with a giant burger and a beer.
The next morning I woke up feeling, off. It was cloudy and we suspected our flight out of Jomsom would be cancelled, but we dragged ourselves out of bed at 6am and headed to the airport anyways. By 8am it was crystal clear that not only was the flight not going to happen, but also that I was getting sick. I spent the next 20 hours attempting to fight off a fever and shivering uncontrollably despite being buried in both of our sleeping bags AND two huge blankets. I figured this was my body’s way of getting back at me for all the long and punishing days of hiking.
The next morning I still felt unwell, but our flight was set to go so I rallied myself and managed to survive both the flight as well as the very long and bumpy bus ride back to Kathmandu. I figured once I had a good shower and some clean clothes I would be feeling much better.
I was wrong.
I woke up in the middle of the night, feverish again, and started to worry that something was really wrong. By the next afternoon I still had the fever and it seemed to be getting worse. We started to think I might have gotten malaria, despite taking anti-malarial meds all through India. Justin called the US Embassy to get a recommendation for a doctor and we were directed to the CIWEC clinic, which caters mostly to foreigners and expats.
A few hours and many vials full of blood later I was informed that I would not be going back to the hotel that day. The good news is that I didn’t have Malaria. The not so good news is that they thought I had Typhoid Fever, though they sent out some blood cultures just to be sure.
Typhoid Fever is typically transmitted to travelers by an infected person who does not wash up properly after using the toilet, and then prepares food. I had gotten the vaccine but the doctor said that while it’s ok to have, it’s really not much more protection than having an umbrella with a huge hole in it during a thunderstorm.
I was started on a series of both oral and IV antibiotics and told that the fever would likely not be getting any better until the infection was cleared. They were right. I had a raging fever, reaching 102.5 – 103 degrees most days, for a total of 10 days. The fever was accompanied by stomach pain, a complete inability to eat more than a few bites of toast at a time, and some of the worst headaches I’ve ever had.
After a few days the blood tests came back, but they were all negative. After that I had to give blood samples every few days so that they could test for other types of bacteria and viruses, and in the meantime they added two more antibiotics to the mix just to cover all the bacterial bases.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity in the hospital, though it was really just about a week, the fever broke and stayed away for 24 hours. Armed with baggies full of the rest of the antibiotics, I was released from the clinic, even though there was never a definitive diagnosis as to what I had. The medical records I was given when we left the hospital state that it was a case of “possible Typhoid” since the blood tests apparently often come back negative when up to 50% of the time they should be positive. It’s been 5 days, I’ve finished the antibiotics, and am finally feeling more like myself again.
After all our time preparing for the Annapurna trek, it’s frustrating that we didn’t have any time to revel in the accomplishment immediately after completing the journey. The illness came on so fast, and so strong, that it seems like that’s the only thing that happened in Nepal. We’ve finally managed to pull the hundreds of photos of the hike off our memory cards and now we need to sit down and make a point to go through them and focus on those 12 days of struggle and success so that the better memories can rise up to the surface and overtake the blur that the fever created.
In the meantime, we are hanging out in Thailand, re-acquainting ourselves with our old friend ‘beer’, and making plans to go visit my brother, who lives a life full of awesome on a little island in the Gulf of Thailand.
The Taj Mahal is one of the worlds most well-known pieces of architecture, and seeing it in person is just as impressive as you think it will be. We certainly took our fair share of the standard straight-on photo from the beginning of the gardens, but we also liked the views you get as you peek out massive doorways of the mosques that sit on either side of the Taj Mahal.
* Right now we should be somewhere around Jagat on the Annapurna Circuit, in Nepal*
The Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Israel surround the Shrine of the Bab, the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Baha’i faith. There are 19 separate terraces of gardens, stretching from the foot of Mount Carmel to nearly the top. There are only 3 sections that are open to the general public without a guide, and while they are lovely, they are very small. We decided to take the hour-long free guided tour so we could walk through the entire length of the garden, and that proved to be a fantastic choice. Our guide was very informative regarding the origins of the Baha’i faith, and we learned quite a lot about the foundations of the faith, and the basic beliefs of its followers.
There is no doubt that the main attraction at Petra, just outside of Wadi Musa in Jordan, is the incredible stone Treasury building. However, we’d like to argue that the massive monastery is just as impressive, and if you come during shoulder season as we did, you might have it nearly all to yourselves. Both buildings have been carved right into the sides of the mountains that surround the area, and both will absolutely take your breath away. The Monastery is high on a hill at the end of the tourist section of Petra, and getting there will require that you haul yourself up somewhere around 850 stone stairs. We made it without too much of a struggle in the oppressive mid-day heat of late June, though we imagine it’s probably much more pleasant in the early morning, or during the winter.
As an alternative, you can hire a horse or a donkey to cart you most of the way up. If you must go this route, I’d advise you to chose your vendor carefully since we saw more than one animal being openly mistreated, and we even witnessed one man punching an uncooperative horse in the face.
Our mantra whenever we get off a bus or a train in India has been,
“Nobody here is trying to help us. Nobody here is our friend.”
Do I like this mantra? No, not at all. Is it true? Yes. Absolutely.
We’ve had to be cautious upon arriving in new cities all around the world, but it’s really been taken to a whole new level in India. We’ve never been so absolutely inundated by touts and scam artists as we have been here. From the second we step off the platform, and in some cases even before we’ve done that, we are bombarded with cries of “Where you go? You have a hotel? You are going the wrong way! This way sir! Madame! Over here! You need taxi? Come with me! You need rickshaw? Exit this way!”
Rickshaw and taxi drivers will claim your hotel is full, roach-infested or burned down just to get you to go to a place of their choosing. If you insist on your original destination, they often refuse to take you or double their prices. On the occasions that we aren’t swarmed by drivers wanting to take us somewhere other than where we intend, we are quoted absurd prices for travel. We once had a team of men attempting to get us to take a rickshaw to our hotel for 150 rupees. After a few minutes of searching around, we found a driver willing to take us and use the meter for the rate. The cost was 21.
At the New Delhi train station, one of India’s major transport hubs that has a fantastic foreign tourist ticketing office, the scams are so thick that the tourist office has signs all over the place warning you to not pay attention to those who attempt to lead you astray.
Scammers will attempt to steer you away from the tourist office and into a travel agency where you will be bamboozled into buying train tickets for far more than the actual ticket cost. If you are particularly uninformed they may convince you that there is no train to your destination and you might wind up handing over absurd amounts of money for flights, luxury bus services, or totally unnecessary private car transport. Another common scheme is to try to stop tourists at the security checkpoints and tell them that their train tickets need to be ‘validated’ for a hefty fee or you won’t be allowed to board. There are dozens more tales of travelers being manipulated as they attempt to board trains – your train has been cancelled, your train is not longer going to this stop, your train is delayed 22 hours…come with me, I can help you make other arrangements!
Recently we had two separate sets of people attempt to tell us we were headed towards the ‘wrong’ exit for the train station upon arriving in Jodhpur, despite the enormous “EXIT” signs we were following, and the fact that literally everyone was headed the same direction. Justin laughed heartily in the faces of these touts and we kept going our own way.
In another instance, we had gotten off a bus at a fairly large terminal, and I needed to use the bathroom. As I walked up to the clearly marked women’s restroom, a man ran in front of me carrying a table. He put it down right in front of me and demanded I pay him to go in. I refused and walked away. We’ve had to pay numerous times to use restrooms, but this time just seemed like extortion. I really did need to go, so I went to the station manager’s office, asked where the bathroom was, and asked if there was a charge. I was directed back to the bathroom I originally tried to use, and told that no, there was not a charge. When I went back, the guy was nowhere to be seen so I went in. As I was closing the stall door the man ran in after me and tried to come into the stall, demanding I pay him. I yelled “NO! GET OUT!” and pushed back on the door harder than he expected, causing it to slam in his face. Justin came storming in as this was happening and dragged the guy out of there to the station managers office where he confirmed, no, we didn’t have to pay.
*I wrote this post and the next day we went to visit the Amber Fort near Jaipur and the bathroom thing happened AGAIN! This time though, there was a huge sign right in front that announced it as a free bathroom, and a woman inside still tried to insist I had to pay her to go in. Unreal. *
This kind of thing is both exhausting, and infuriating.
Hence our mantra.
One way to avoid the hassle of haggling with rickshaw or taxi drivers is to go to the pre-paid stands that are just outside most airports and trains stations. Even then, you need to stay on your toes as we learned just minutes after arriving in Mumbai. We had gone to the pre-paid taxi stand at the airport, where we were told it would be 480 Rupees to get where we needed. It wasn’t until we were out of the terminal and into the taxi that we looked more closely at the receipt and realized it should have been 430. The woman at the counter had written the ‘3’ so it looked sort of like an 8, and when we added up the charges, sure enough, it was 430. Lesson learned – pre-paid services can be handy, but check the receipt CAREFULLY before you hand over your cash.
At this point, we try to always have a plan for where we are going before we even begin the journey to our next stop. We contact local hotels and ask what we should be paying in a taxi or rickshaw to get to them. When we’re in doubt or need help the ONLY place we go is to the police or the tourist office. If someone tries to check our tickets, or charge an entrance fee for something, we only allow them to do so if they are in uniform, in an official booth, or if the guidebook says there is a fee. If those things aren’t in place, we ask a security guard, police officer, or station manager if we should be paying extra.
It can be extremely aggravating, but by following these steps we think we’ve managed to avoid the worst of the scams, at least so far.
The Ajanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are located about 100 kilometers outside of Aurrangabad, India (it takes about 7 hours on a train to get to Aurrangabad from Mumbai) and while the oldest of the caves date back to the 2nd century BCE, they weren’t widely known until 1819 when a British tiger hunting party stumbled across them. The caves are a series of 30 rock-cut caves that depict Buddhist religious art. They range from small and very simple to multi-storied ornate spaces. They’ve been fairly well-preserved, with some of the interior cave paintings still in decent condition.
Number of days spent in country – 25
Cities/towns visited – Istanbul, Goreme, Kahta, Sanliurfa, Harran, Olympos, Selcuk, Kusadasi, Pammukale
Number of different lodgings – 9
Flights – 1
Bus journeys – 11
Boat rides – 3
Combi/collective/taxi journeys – 13
Total US dollar amount spent – $2,445
Average cost per day, per person -$49
Average lodging cost per night, per person – $14.63 – We generally stayed in private rooms, often with our own bathroom, but in simple guesthouses. In Istanbul we stayed in dorms because of the high lodging cost.
Most expensive lodging – Shoestring Cave House in Goreme for $22.50 per person. This was our splurge because we wanted to stay in a cave hotel, of which there are zillions to choose from. You can do this much cheaper if you want to stay in a dorm. We ended up being upgraded for free to the penthouse room with our own balcony that looked out over the town and surrounding countryside. There was a good breakfast included, wifi, and a pool.
Least expensive lodging – Dorm bed at Red River Hostel for $11.00 per person. This was a good little hostel, brand new, near the Galata Tower in Istanbul. It’s a bit off the main roads, so it’s nice and quiet, but still right in the area you want to be in. Breakfast was included, and there was wifi.
Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $13.50 – Breakfast was included everywhere we stayed, but we ate out for pretty much all dinners and most lunches. The food was such an interesting change from S. America that we couldn’t help ourselves! You could probably cut this number in half if you stuck to kebabs or wraps, self catered some lunches, and ate at really basic places for dinner.
Olympos – The tiny village of Olympos is on the southern coast, near Antalya. The thing that makes it so great is that it combines two of our favorite things – Ancient historic ruins, and awesome beaches. At the end of the main road, which is really just a string of lodgings on a dirt path, is the ancient ruined city of Olympos, which dates back to, well, a very very long time ago. You can wander around in the ruins for a small entrance fee and at the end is a gorgeous stretch of beach on the Mediterranean.
If you’re there for a few days, buy the 10 entrance pass, it’ll save you a bundle since you have to pay to enter the ruins even if you are really just headed to the beach. Many accommodations include breakfast and dinner. We were there at the very beginning of June, just before the peak season hit, and had perfect weather, and a fairly peaceful stay. We hear it gets slammed in the summer, so if you are looking for a more laid-back time you should stick to the shoulder seasons.
Muze Pass in Istanbul – This was the best deal we’ve gotten on sightseeing in ages. The Muze Pass gets you into a heap of different attractions in Istanbul and is valid for 72 hours. If you get to 5 places, you’ll get your money’s worth, and if you hit up at least 6, you’ll be saving yourself some cash. You can buy it at any one of the attractions, and having it lets you skip the sometimes obscenely long ticket lines.
Vardar Pension in Selcuk – Most places we stayed in Turkey were pretty good, but we liked Vardar Pension in particular. Breakfast was served on the roof terrace, which had a great view of the countryside. They provided nice fluffy towels, each room had a little balcony space with ample laundry lines, and the mattresses were temperpedic-like and super comfortable. Finally, the bathrooms were IMMACULATE. That rarely happens, and I really appreciate having a bathroom where I don’t feel like I have to wear my flip-flops to shower. It was also very well located, right down the block from where the bus drops off, a half-block to the local markets, and walkable distance to all the ancient sites in town. The family who runs it is kind and accommodating, which is just a bonus at this point.
Tomatoes and cherries – Literally the best tomatoes and cherries we’ve ever had. We bought them all the time from the fruit and veg stands. We were there starting from mid-May, so perhaps it was the right season, but still….amazing. You can get more than 2 pounds of cherries for about $1.50!!!!
Ozturk Restaurant in Istanbul – Galipdede Cad #72, near the Galata Tower – This is really a pretty standard type of place, but it has consistently good food (we ate there three times…) and won’t break your budget. We were drawn to it initially because the menus are actual photos of the food. Normally this would make me avoid a place, but when you can’t figure out what anything on the menu is, it’s a lifesaver. The mincemeat pide is particularly good.
Getting scrubbed at the Hamam – Hamams are old-school bathhouses that are found all over Turkey. They come in every variation imaginable, from the super basic local operations to uber-expensive spas that cater to wealthy tourists. The gist of it is that you go in, get mostly naked (they give you a little modesty towel for walking around in), get a mud mask, relax in a sauna for a bit, lay down on a marble slab, get covered in bubbles, and get the top 14 layers of your skin scrubbed off by a burly Turkish woman (or if you are a man, you get a male attendant) who may or may not shake a mitt full of your dead skin in your face and chastise you for being so filthy. Afterwards you can usually go for a swim or another round in the sauna. I know, it sounds odd, but I swear, it was fantastic. You can also get massages and facial treatments at most places.
Mado Ice Cream – I am fairly certain their secret ingredient is crack. Justin and I both agree that this is hands down, the best ice cream we’ve ever had. That’s right, ever. It’s a traditional ice cream made with goat’s milk, kept in a big metal bin, and dished out on a huge stick by a guy who seemed to hate his job. There are LOADS of imposter ice creams that are served in the same fashion all over Turkey, but the original, and clearly the best (we know, we sampled…a lot) is Mado. On our Mount Nemrut tour it was actually a specific stop in the little town it originated in to taste it at the source. We weren’t supposed to stop there again on the way home, but we all begged the guide and driver and they finally relented.
We don’t have much to say here about places or activities in specific. There were things that were just ‘meh’, like the tour we took to Mount Nemrut…and really that’s just because we had a lapse in judgment and forgot how much we dislike being with tour groups…but otherwise, nothing stood out as really terrible.
Perhaps the thing that annoyed us the most was how despite the fact that most of the tourist parts of Turkey are pretty well organized, there is still a huge issue with littering, especially on the beach. People just leave garbage ALL OVER the beach. It’s awful. Beaches where you pay to have a chair have guys that pick up everyone’s trash, but we watched numerous sets of people just leave all their garbage behind on the free beaches (including newspapers, food scraps, soda cans, etc) when they left. We picked up after a bunch of people, but it really pissed me off that we were at this amazing place and there was such a lack of give-a-shit about leaving your trash everywhere.