Tag Archives: Travel

Photo Friday – Total Solar Eclipse in Port Douglas, Australia

30 Nov

Before we even bought our first flight for this trip, we had promised my mom we’d meet her in Port Douglas, Australia for the total solar eclipse on November 14, 2012.  Honestly, I would never even have known it was happening, but the timing worked out well since we wanted to be in Australia and New Zealand for this summer.

I remember seeing one partial eclipse as a kid, but this was before the days of disposable eclipse viewing glasses so all I really remember is constructing those little cardboard viewing boxes and seeing the shadow they created.

This time around we were armed with multiple pairs of glasses, including the extra sets we used to cover our camera lenses with.  Interestingly, the only time that you don’t need the glasses is during the ‘totality’ when you can look at the ring of light directly.

It had been cloudy and raining the two days prior to the event, and we were very worried that we wouldn’t get to see it all happen.  Fortunately the morning was only partly cloudy and even though our view was obstructed sometimes, we did get to see many phases of the eclipse, and we even got a shot of the totality before the clouds took over.  The most amazing thing was the eerie silver appearance everything took on just before the drop into darkness that comes with the totality.

It was easily one of the more spectacular things we’ve seen and we’re excited that there will be one crossing over North America on August 21, 2017.  Total eclipses occur nearly every year, but are only visible within a narrow corridor, and not on every continent.  For more information check out NASA’s eclipse webpage.

The professionals get much better shots with their giant lenses and official eclipse lens covers (as opposed to say…taping a pair of cardboard eclipse glasses over the lens of your camera…not like I know anyone who did that…) but you get the idea with these.

The very beginning

Totality. This looks like it was taken in black and white, but it wasn’t.

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Photo Friday – Australian Ants

23 Nov

Ants are crazy.  Maybe it sounds strange, but we’ve noticed that ants here in Australia are much more fascinating than the ones we see at home generally.  I won’t wax poetic about these tiny creatures, but I will say that the amazing thing about what’s happening here is that the two leaves the ants are bridging are from separate trees.  Justin spotted them when they had a huge swarming bridge formed, but just as I got there to check it out a gust of wind came and ripped them apart.  We stood watching these guys climb on top of each other by the dozen until they just barely connected again.  I grabbed this shot just as a small breeze came along and stretched this little guy to his limit.

Thankful.

21 Nov

Thanksgiving arrives a little earlier here in Australia, so we’re busy stuffing our faces even though it’s really still just Wednesday for most of our friends and family.  This is my favorite of the American holidays, so much so that I requested that my mother make the full turkey feast for us on Halloween in 2011 since we were leaving just a few weeks before Thanksgiving.  We sat around the table with construction paper caps – Pilgrim buckled hats for the men, feathered headdresses for the women – and took turns answering the door for the trick-or-treaters.

Just a few weeks later we were preparing our favorites again with friends in Santiago, thrilled that we got to have a second traditional turkey dinner with expats who craved the stuffing and cranberries just as much as we did.

This year we’re in Melbourne, Australia and we’ll probably have enough food left over to have seconds for breakfast on Friday morning, which might coincide nicely with the actual meal time state side.

All month we’ve been reading the ‘Today I’m thankful for…’ posts of our friends and family on Facebook.  One of the side effects of all our travel has been that we realize how thankful we are, not just on Thanksgiving or in the weeks leading up to it, but every day and for all the things we tend to take for granted.  We all struggle in our lives to varying degrees, but this world is filled with adversity on a scale that’s so enormous many of us can’t even fathom it.  This year we’ve seen poverty in such magnitude that we thought our hearts might break on the spot.  We’ve seen sickness that can’t be treated and pollution that may never be eradicated.

On the flip side, we’ve seen incredible love and generosity between people, even in the face of insurmountable hardship.  We’ve also seen some of the amazing things that people can produce – towering monuments and architectural wonders, as well as art that only begins to scratch the surface of mankind’s creativity.

This year we are thankful for everything.  That’s right everything.  We’re thankful for the times we’ve laughed and fought and cried and sang and danced and mourned and questioned and doubted and hoped.  We’re thankful for our families and our friends and even for the people who don’t like us so much. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’re so grateful to have our messy little lives in the midst of this one crazy and beautiful world.

Photo Friday – Uluru Sunrise, Australia

16 Nov

We spent last week trying not to dehydrate in the Outback of Australia.  Much of our time was taken up with hanging around Kata Tjuta and Uluru (commonly known as Ayers Rock).  The most famous photos of Uluru are taken at sunrise or sunset when the light makes the sandstone into a beautiful glowing spectacle.  After 6 months with no real rain to speak of, we arrived in the area just in time for some serious thunderstorms.  Fortunately the rain poured overnight and left a lovely scattered cloud palate for one of our sunrise views.

Photo Friday – Longboat in Khao Sok, Thailand

9 Nov

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.

Photo Friday – Cambodian Wat

2 Nov

One of our favorite parts about traveling in Southeast Asia is wandering around in dusty little towns and then stumbling upon hidden gems, like this wat, which we discovered one day while we were riding bikes around the outskirts of Siem Reap.  The temple complexes are often much bigger than they appear at first glance, and we love the bright colors that contrast some of the very old bits of stonework.

 

 

The Cambodia Roundup

30 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –   4

Cities/towns visited – Siem Reap, Chong Kneas, Kompong Pluk

Number of different lodgings – 1

Flights – 0

Bus journeys – 1

Boat rides – 1

taxi  journeys – 1

Rickshaw rides – 7

Bike rentals – 1

Attempted extortion by border officials – 1

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent –$ 348.60 including $40 in visa fees

Average cost per day, per person -$43.58

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $7

We only stayed at one place during our time in Cambodia – The Phrom Roth Guesthouse – $14 for a HUGE room with AC, private bath and wifi.  The only room they had was for 3 people and cost slightly more than we would have paid for a double room, but we arrived at night and didn’t want to waste a lot of time searching for a place in the dark.  We had already looked at a few other places in a similar price range, but this was easily the nicest.  They also had a FREE water re-fill service which saved us probably $8-10 during our stay so it worked out very well in the end.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $9.75  You can eat at anything from local street stands to very nice Western Restaurants.  Some days we spent $12 each on food, other days we spent $6.  We also drank a lot of beer here as there were .50 cent draughts all over the place.

The Best

Angkor Wat – This really goes without saying, but if you are in Siem Reap, this is what you are here to see.  This was my second trip and it was just as awesome as the first time, even with the HUGE increase in tourists.

Too many people to deal with pre-dawn…

FYI, if you want to get the classic reflecting sunrise shot at Angkor Wat, you will need to battle for your spot in the massive crowds that gather along the edge of the little reflection puddle.  We took one look at the mob and opted to go to the other side of the road, skipping the classic shot, but still seeing a lovely sunrise.

Breakfast at Temple Club – This was a pretty good deal for a hearty breakfast.  The cheese omlette is large and comes with a huge baguette, fried tomato, and a tiny little juice for $2.50.

Pumpkin curry from the local food stalls that line the market.

We heart cheap beer.

50 cent mugs of beer from most places in town.

Hammocks and beer.

If you rent a bike you can ride the 11 kilometers out to the boat launch for the incredibly touristy floating village Chong Kneas.  We rode out there, but didn’t end up taking the boat since we found what we consider to be a much better option for whiling away the afternoon.  All along the road before the village are little local restaurants where you can lounge about in a hammock with a beer and a great view of the rice fields.  With the bike you also get the chance to see the villages along the way.

The Worst

The border crossing at Poipet can be a pain in the ass.  If you pay in Thai Baht you are getting ripped off.  If you let someone buy your visa for you ahead of time you are getting ripped off.  If you pay the extra ‘fee’ the border officials ask for, you are being ripped off.  The visa costs – for US citizens at least – $20, payable in USD.  That’s it.  Don’t pay more. When we were asked for extra I smiled politely and shook my head ‘no’.   There is a ton of info about the crossing on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum as well as on Travel Fish so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.

We found the ‘tour’ of Kompong Pluk, a stilted village, to be a bit of a rip off.  The village itself is interesting enough to see, but it takes about 40 minutes in a tuk-tuk (about $15 round-trip) to get to the boat launch, then an hour in a little boat to get to the village itself.  We were taken around in the boat for about 20 minutes through the main town area, and then returned to the boat launch.  In the guidebook the price was listed as $8 per person, but when we arrived it had risen to $20 per person.  We balked at this and turned around to leave but it was low season so we ended up getting a ‘discounted’ price of $25 total.  It just wasn’t worth even the discounted cost for how little time you actually spend in the village, especially considering our boat guy didn’t say a single word to us the entire time.

The Nepal Roundup

23 Oct

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country –  31

Cities/towns visited – Kathmandu, Bhulbule, Ghermu, Karte, Chame, Upper Pisang, Manang, Ledar, Muktinath, Kagbeni, Jomsom

Number of different lodgings – 16

Flights – 1

Bus journeys – 3

Taxi  journeys – 11

Rounds of antibiotics – Justin-1, Ashley-5

The Budget

Total US dollar amount spent – $1289 including visa fees of $80 for the two of us and $188 for air tickets from Jomsom to Pokhara.

In addition, we incurred $1500 in hospital bills.  Our insurance paid for everything except the overnight fees, which were far more than the maximum covered amount of $50 per night that World Nomads provides.  We didn’t include that bill in the general roundup cost breakdowns since it was more than we spent otherwise for the entire month.  Incidentally, if you get very ill while in Kathmandu, the CIWEC clinic, just across from the British Embassy, is the place to be.  It’s clean and staffed with mostly Western doctors who speak a variety of languages.

Average cost per day, per person – $21.50 If you take the plane tickets out of the equation (you can take busses that will save you nearly the entire cost of the flight…though we felt the cost was WELL worth it considering how scary the bus rides were) that number drops to around $18.  If you only ate at cheap local places and really hunted for the most basic economic rooms, you could probably live on $12 per day.

Average lodging cost per night, per person – $2.70

Most expensive lodging, per person – $5.60 for a double room with bathroom and AC at the Karma Travelers Hotel in Kathmandu.  We booked this online specifically because they included an airport pickup and it was recommended in the guidebook.  We stayed only two nights before we found better, and cheaper accommodation elsewhere.

Least expensive lodging, per person –  $.56 for a double room with shared bath at the Hotel Nilgiri in Manang on our Annapurna Hike. This place had fantastic yak cheese and fresh bread for sale.

Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $8.90.  Breakfast was not included at any of our hotels and we generally ate three meals per day.  Accommodation is cheap on the Annapurna Circuit, but you spend quite a bit on food.  In Kathmandu we ate at more Western-style restaurants, which were more expensive, but it was what we were craving after 13 day of Dhal Baht on the trail. We had only four beers the entire time we were in Nepal as it was relatively expensive and we didn’t drink while trekking.

The Best

Rooftop at the Hotel Backpackers Inn

Hotel Backpackers Inn in Kathmandu – We stayed here for 2 nights before our trek, and then for two weeks afterwards.  We left our luggage there during the trek, including our computers, and there were no problems since they have lockers that you can store your valuables in and you are responsible for the keys. Pre-trek our room was $9 per night for a double room with a fan, private bathroom, TV, and wifi.  After the trek we negotiated a rate of $6.75 per night since we knew we were staying for longer than a few nights.  Prices would definitely be higher during peak season.  The managers were very kind and helped Justin with contacting the embassy for doctor recommendations when I was sick.

OR2K in Kathmandu – This restaurant has good Middle Eastern food, including a mezza platter that was big enough for Justin and I to split.  They also make really good salads.

Beef Noodles

Chinese (Sichuan) Restaurant next to Hotel Backpacker’s Inn in Kathmandu –  An excellent spot for a cheap meal, they have some hilarious menu translations that include things like ‘Tiger Skin Fry Pepper’ and ‘And Pulled A Red Leather’.  We ate a variety of things there, but our favorites were the Rice with King Pao Chicken and the Beef Noodles, which is a HUGE and delicious vat of soup.

Northfield Café in Kathmandu – Justin has a burrito problem.  This was the only place we had been in the last few months that served a burrito that was even close to what he wanted it to be like.  They have a good mix of food, nice outdoor seating, and live music every night.  It’s a little pricey, but that’s what you have to expect if you want passable Western food.

Monsoon season? I don’t see any monsoon!

The Annapurna Circuit – We dove right into this classic hike, despite the fact that it was the middle of the monsoon season and we were in no kind of shape for a trek this big.  It turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of our lives and I wouldn’t go back and change a single thing, leeches, blisters, dramatic meltdowns and all.  We met wonderful people, pushed ourselves harder than we thought possible, and fell in love with the spectacular scenery.  If you are in Nepal, make time for a trek, even if it’s a short one.

The insanity that is the backpacker area of Thamel in Kathmandu. You can buy just about anything here…

Shopping – We didn’t do much shopping here, partly because I didn’t have the energy after I was sick, and partly because we don’t have any room in our packs.  However, if you want cheap mountain gear, this is the place to be.  There are literally hundreds of stores selling knock-offs of everything you can imagine, from backpacks to down jackets, to sleeping bags and poles and water bottles and….the list goes on and on.  Certain things, like backpacks and boots, I’d be wary of since they won’t fit or function as well, but otherwise you can get some great deals here.  We rented knock-off sleeping bags for the trek (at a whopping .50 cents per day) and they were fantastically warm and comfortable.  We could have bought a down “North Face” sleeping bag for about $20. When we come back I’m going to arrive with an empty suitcase and just buy all my gear there.  Make sure you bargain, the first offer price is usually very ambitious.

The Worst

Typical crowded bus

The bus rides.  I mean, we thought we took some scary rides in S. America, but the rides in Nepal were literally the most terrifying experiences of our lives.  I am not kidding when I say that more than once I thought we might actually tumble down a cliff in one of these death traps on wheels.  In fact, according to some statistics (please know that in a place like Nepal the statistics are a bit vague, so don’t think these numbers are carved in stone…) there are over 1,500 deaths per year due to buses tumbling off the sides of the mountains.

On our bus from Kathmandu to Besi Shahar to start the Annapurna Circuit, we saw the wreckage of one bus that had already crashed down the cliff to the river below AND we passed a dump truck that had just started to go over the edge, fortunately it was only half off the cliff and I’m pretty sure that was only because the back end was full of rocks.

We took a smaller bus to another little town that same day and it was swaying back and forth as it tried to go up a tiny cliff-side road that was completely washed out in some places, and so muddy and rutted in others that the wheels were spinning and we were almost sliding backwards at one point.  The bus was completely overloaded with four people in seats made for two, and yet more people packed like sardines into the isle.  In addition, there was something like 15 people on the roof (which, as it turns out, might be the safest place to be since in a fall you can just fling yourself off the bus and hope for the best instead of tumbling all the way down the mountain inside it), along with everyone’s luggage, a goat, three or 4 baskets full of chickens and 8 or 10 full propane tanks.   I was having a visible panic attack at this point and a little boy next to us decided this would be the perfect time to pipe up and proclaim “This very danger part! Sometimes the bus fall down…”

We had a choice of transport – airplane or bus – to get us from Jomsom to Pokhara at the end of our trek.  We know a couple who opted for the bus route back to save money, and after one day they decided they would just walk for the next four days to get back rather than risk one more minute on the bus.  We went for the plane, which brings me to the second worst thing in Nepal.

Our itty bitty plane

The tiny 15-seater propeller airplanes that fly through the mountains – we took one of these from Jomsom to Pokhara to avoid two or three days worth of bus rides like the ones I just described, and it comes in a close second as far as scary moments go for us.

The flight in and of itself turned out not to be so bad, but the anticipation was pretty awful since we could see the wreckage of a flight that had crashed into the mountain right above the town just a few months before.

Not my favorite thing to look at while heading down the runway.

It freaked me out just having to look at it from the town, but when we got into the plane and I realized I could see it out my window as we were heading down the runway I just about lost it.  I’ve never had so many panic attacks as I did in Nepal.  The woman sitting behind Justin had a death grip on his shoulder and was praying vigorously the entire flight.  Still, given the choice between this and a bus, I choose this.

Photo Friday – Himalayan Horses

19 Oct

We’re getting ready to post our ‘Nepal Roundup’ early next week and we came across this snapshot while we were sifting through our Nepal photos.  These types of horse caravans carry everything from construction supplies to fresh eggs to some of the hardest to reach villages along the Annapurna Circuit.  The men who lead the horses walk beside them and direct them almost entirely with different whistling sounds.  On this particular day it was incredibly foggy and at times we couldn’t see more than 10 or 15 feet in front of us.  The horses wear bells to alert walkers to their presence and we heard this caravan for quite a while before we came out of the mist and almost crashed right into them!

Rediscovering Our Travel Style

16 Oct

Over the last two weeks, between bouts of lazing around on a variety of Indonesian beaches, I’ve had an overwhelming feeling of needing to do something.   Something we can’t do back home.  Something that will capture the essence of the foreign land we are in. The problem was that I couldn’t figure out quite what the something was.

photo by Jaymis on Flickr

Getting sucked into yet another guidebook…

In the last 6 months our travel has been faster paced than we are used to.  We’ve focused on visiting some really historical places, some of which we probably won’t get the opportunity to visit again, and we wanted to make sure we really used our time well.  The problem with this that we lost track of how we usually like to travel, which is slowly.  When I imagine a perfect day I see myself sitting at an outdoor café all afternoon just people-watching.  Or perhaps I’m wandering through the neighborhoods, checking out the houses, peeking into the local restaurants, or drifting around in the market.  This doesn’t mean I don’t also want to take a walking tour in a new city, or check out the museums and galleries, or hit up the famous towers and temples and churches, but I need there to be a balance between these different kinds of days.   Unfortunately, somewhere between dashing around to ancient holy places in Israel to making our way all over India by train and then being hospitalized in Nepal, we let ourselves get pretty unbalanced.

By the time we got to Thailand I was feeling some serious burnout.  Yes, that’s right, I was burned out on travelling, which is something I never really thought I’d say.  I’ve read about other long-term travelers having this problem, and I figured it would just take a few weeks of lazing around to get myself back together.  Having already been to Bangkok a few times, I didn’t feel too much pressure to go sightseeing, though there are a few sights I’d missed in my previous trips and we figured we’d hit up one or two of those so as not to seem like lazy travelers.  We ended up seeing none of them.  Instead, we spent our days eating absurd amounts of Pad Thai, having massages, and going to the huge and fancy movie theaters at the top of the big malls in the downtown area. Once or twice I’d feel a pang of guilt at not being motivated enough to do something more, but I justified it by reminding myself that it had only been two weeks since I had been released from the hospital so I really should just be taking it easy still.

As we made our way out of Thailand and into Cambodia, then back into Thailand and down to Indonesia, we felt a bit like we were on a huge pendulum, swinging back and forth between bouts of frantic ‘tourist stuff’ and complete sloth.  The thing is, with the exception of Angkor Wat, none of the ‘tourist’ stuff was really impressing us anymore.  There comes a point when you just get so templed and museumed out that you can’t imagine having to go to yet one more of them.  I know, these are not pressing issues compared to most of life’s problems, but it was unsettling because we felt like we should be enjoying ourselves more.  One of our problems was that the cost/interest level wasn’t balancing out.  In Cambodia we had paid something like $35 to go see a village built on stilts, but we both walked away feeling like we had totally wasted our time and our money.  $35 isn’t much by Western standards, but keep in mind that for us, that’s one half day’s allotment of our expenses.  We paid this to essentially be scooted along in a boat for 30 minutes through this village which, while interesting to see, just wasn’t $35 for 30 minutes interesting.

For nearly a month we tried really hard to figure this out because time and time again we simply weren’t feeling the love with our sightseeing choices.  What could we see that might re-energize us?  What could we do that would make us feel like we were getting our money’s worth out of the visit?

Eventually we gave up and just went to the beach.  I kept arguing with myself that we are all the way across the world, in this place that’s nothing like where we live usually, and we can’t find anything better to do than lay around at the beach?

Who wouldn’t want to lounge about here?!?!?

There are plenty of things you can do as a tourist here, but what we kept running into was that pesky cost/pleasure problem.  Do we really want to pay $200 to hike up a mountain at three in the morning to see the sunrise with 35 other people?  Do we want to pay $80 EACH to ride an elephant for 30 minutes (especially when the same thing costs $20 in Thailand where we just were)?  We neither dive, nor surf, so that takes away another chunk of options.  I get wildly seasick, so the boat trip to Komodo and Flores is a no-go.  We intended to go to Sulawesi, but that island is huge and we’d only have a few days there, which would definitely make us feel frantic and rushed.

I felt like I was losing my mind.  Here we have the trip of our lives and I already felt like we’d been lazy travelers in Thailand so I didn’t want to just waste time while we were in Indonesia.  Then, finally, it hit me.  This was the trip of OUR lives.  Ours.  Who said a ‘good’ trip is filled with non-stop sightseeing, especially if that’s not what you want to do?  There are other ways to experience a place, and they don’t all involve a tour guide or a rushed itinerary.  We totally knew this, but had somehow lost track of it along the way.  We started looking at our options through a different lens.

Why were we beating ourselves up over lounging on the beach when that’s something we love?  Colorado doesn’t have beaches with fabulous turquoise water, so it’s not like this is something we can do back home.  We decided to give ourselves 5 more days to explore the beaches around southern Lombok.  When we’re done with that we’re heading back to Ubud, in Bali, where we’ll take 5 or 6 days of introductory yoga classes and at least one cooking class.  In our spare time perhaps we’ll rent bikes and ride through the rice terraces, or maybe we’ll just find a lovely café and read.

It was incredible how much better we felt after that shift in perspective.  Making these decisions served to remind us, as we head into the next few months of travel, that this trip is for us and we will only be making the most of this time if we do things because we are interested in doing them, not just because they are in the guidebook under someone else’s list of ‘must see’ items to check off a list.

What are your favorite things to do when you travel to far away lands?
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